With twenty miles north still to go, the car started to rumble, a deep mechanical sound which made the ears of everyone tingle in annoyance who had the misfortune of being in the near vicinity. The rumbling itself should not have been troubling – the car had seen the best of its days already – yet, it came at a rather inconvenient time. The rain had been pouring for the better part of an hour and showed no signs of stopping. Sighing, and with the odd feeling that today, despite the promising start, was simply not his day, Jack slid out of the car.
Luckily, he found a footpath quickly, following it for ten minutes or so, until he reached the outer edge of a town. He distantly remembered having seen a sign somewhere but couldn’t recall the name on it. The weather didn’t bother him much after a while – too used to it from his own country – although he certainly would have preferred it slightly less wet. The rain left such unattractive stains on his coat and his trousers were soaked already. Altogether a rather unpleasant cold had started the ascend up his legs. He shivered. It had been a long time since he had felt like this.
He wandered aimlessly through the streets, marvelling at the pumpkins, displayed decoratively in every other garden. In his time, people hadn’t done that. Halloween had been a sacred holiday, not something as trivial as pumpkin spice latté and some childish pranks. Ghosts, he mused, were frighteningly real and should be regarded as such. He guessed; it would all be due to the change in society. The old gods being forgotten, as were the values. Distinctly, he remembered how, as a child, he had sought cover under his blanket whenever his mother had told him about the day of the dead. The living, he thought, should cherish their lives more. Instead, they indulged in retched behaviour, chasing pleasure where none was to be had. His fingers itched towards his belt, but he didn’t reach for it. Not yet.
First, there was a meeting to be had, a plan to be laid out. He had never done anything without proper thought. It had kept him safe all these years, safe and undiscovered, in the middle of the crowd. His name had been mentioned, once or twice in passing, but never with serious intent. He had never had actual danger reaching for him, long fingers clawing their way into his chest. Jack shivered, almost feeling their press against his neck. He shook it off like the rain. Although, he paused, having to admit, it had indeed vexed him, being disregarded so quickly. Almost like he hadn’t possessed the qualifications the job required. He had had to actively stop himself from doing something drastic like paying for an announcement in the papers. While it would have given him eternal satisfaction to claim responsibility, he knew better.
The streets he walked were dull and void of people. Not one man crossed his path. He couldn’t help but feel disappointment rise steadily in his core. Before he lost himself in bemoaning the dire circumstances, he turned a corner. There he was, dressed in an all-black ensemble with a hat large enough to hide his face from view. His acquaintance, friend would have been too strong a term. On the way over, whirling his cane in his left, he pondered again. How he would have liked to know his name – his actual name – but, thus far, the man had been unforthcoming. His work though, was something to behold, quite similar to how his own had been. And what a name he had chosen for himself. It sounded infinitely better than Jack. Always too plain, too common for his taste. Then again, that had been the entire purpose. A mask to hide behind an alias so bland, no one would ever make a connection. To be fair, the addendum had a nice enough ring to it as well. Once Jack reached the other man, the two exchanged a shake of hands, both seemingly attempting to break the others hand while they were at it.
“Made your choice already?” the voice was much too gravely for so early an evening and without any cigarettes in sight. Jack supposed, a life of altering one’s voice would have to leave a lasting impact. He denied having made a choice, despite protocol granting him first call of the night. “Mind if I have my pick then?” Another shake of his head accompanied by a certain hand gesture and the man before him floundered off in the direction of the next house. Jack watched him leave, with a spring in his step which spoke of what was yet to come. He went into the opposite direction, not particularly interested in watching another’s work. The night was too short for that.
The next street he wandered through, each house had its windows wide open, despite the rain. Jack heard it then – with a satisfying rush of adrenaline – the rebirth of the 20th century, just before the roaring twenties had taken over. A renaissance of style, the blues setting his blood aflame. Each house, without exception, was playing Jazz, so loudly, they were steadily overlapping in a heady mixture of artists. He had already arrived then, patrolling the streets, searching for a house – any house – which had not heeded his warning. Jack didn’t doubt, he would find one.
Another corner and he came into view, whistling on the sidewalk, the axe swinging in his hand like it weighed nothing. There was a certain aesthetic to it, to this man so unbothered by the rain, waiting for his next victim while humming Armstrong. Jack walked towards him, touching his hat in greeting. “Was waiting for you, old pal,” came the answer from the man with too much smoke in his lungs. A wicked grin tugged on his lips that didn’t fit the outward display of reputable businessman. “He comin’ too?” Jack affirmed, nodding his head. He didn’t particularly feel like talking when he had been mocked relentlessly for his accent the year before. “Ya’ not still mad ‘bout last year?” The answer must have been visible on his face because Joseph threw his head back and laughed. It should have been a friendly sound, something pure and warm, instead, it had an edge to it, unhinged. “Learn how to take a joke, man,” he chuckled, waving a hand absent-mindedly, like it wasn’t a big deal, like it didn’t matter. To Jack, however, it had felt like a stab wound. In his time, his colleagues had said the same thing. His lisp, his funny accent, it had made him the bottom of so many jokes, he had entertained the thought of cutting the throat of each and every person commenting on it. The impulse was barely resisted even now, after being reminded so painfully of what had triggered his spree in the first place. He saw Joseph glance across the street multiple times before either of them moved. He would have never considered working with his other acquaintance, not even on a night like this, but Joseph was different. Even though, Jack used another instrument, he could appreciate the beauty of Joseph’s choice. A rather crude way, though, he supposed, not as elegant as it could have been. He shook his head, shook off his thoughts with it and rolled his shoulders, fingers tightening around his belt.
This house – the one extracting itself in its full grandeur before them – lay in complete silence, windows closed and darkness radiating from it. The contrast to the other houses could not have been more distinct, they were illuminated so intensely. If only the light could keep out all evil in the world, Jack mused. One room – the dining room, if he wasn’t mistaken – was especially bright. Someone was evidently still awake, despite the lateness of the hour, and bold enough not to have turned on the very music that would have saved him today. Jack stepped forward until his fingers could trail the doorknob. He could turn it now, without resistance, despite the lock firmly in place. Deciding against it, he simply walked through the door, hearing Joseph follow right behind him. They exchanged smiles which spoke of hunger, of starvation, a year’s worth. After all, he had always had a penchant for dramatics.
Their chosen target sat in his living room, reading a book. The man didn’t look up as they approached. Joseph, beside him, was brimming with energy, a wicked streak curling around his lips. Jack held up his hand, waiting until the man finally noticed, he wasn’t alone anymore. His scream was silenced almost immediately as the blade in Jack’s hand cut effectively through his vocal cords. Blood, rich in colour, rushed down his shirt, staining the carpet. Jack – breathing hard through his nose, oddly fascinated as if it were the first time – gestured at Joseph to move in closer. Even though the light was so dim, Jack saw the axe glimmer before it sliced through the man’s torso. A noise on the stairs made both of them halt. They turned, slowly, without any haste and spied a girl, not older than twelve staring at them. Her mouth was opened in a perfectly round O, her eyes wide as saucers. Jack chuckled lowly, delighted in the turn the night had taken. Never had he dared hoped for the opportunity to rip apart a second body.
The morning sun, always blinding in its glory touched the steps leading up to the porch. Jack turned a wistful glance back, soaking in the destruction he had caused tonight. It wouldn’t be enough to satisfy him for long. He felt the insistent tugging in his core already, just before the first beam of sunlight crawled up his feet. In just a minute, he would disintegrate, like he had done each year on November 1st since 1895. What a surprise it had been, to wake up on All Hallow’s Eve, dressed in his suit and another year older without having aged a day. It had taken him the entire night to find out, he had been gone from this earth for far too long. Before he had fully realised all the implications that came with an existence which, all things considered, should have been impossible, he had disappeared for another year. The following All Hallow’s Eve, he had started wandering his streets again, relishing London air. Even the filth hiding in every corner lured him in, pulled him in. It had started again – like an itch underneath his skin – this drive, this insatiable hunger for flesh. He had killed that night, and every following year, satisfying this insistent need for bloodshed. Joseph had joined him a little after, appearing a man with similar tastes, a hunger to match his own. Jack had been delighted when he had learned the legend that was the Axeman of New Orleans. H.H. Holmes had followed, as had the Zodiac and so many others, likeminded, equally dangerous, haunted by society for their minds, their work of art. For the first time, Jack had felt understood. A rare smile grazed his lips when he waved at Joseph, wishing him goodbye until next year.
He couldn’t wait. And when the sun banished him from existence, like it did every year without fail, he felt the tingling of anticipation. His hand twitched around his blade, the stream of blood already palpable on his tongue.
It might take him a year to return, but he knew, in his fading bones.
Jasmin Fürbach, geb 1997, BA in Deutsche Philologie. Currently studying at the University of Vienna for the BA programme English & American Studies and the MA programme Deutsche Philologie. Published short stories: "Asche zu Asche", "Schau nicht in den Spiegel", "Du sollst nicht töten", "Das Lied der Tiefe".