Our man Abel cannot sleep. He cannot think. He is writhing and naked on a white sheet on a thin mattress.
He cannot sleep because he is psychically aware of the gory misdeeds of others, they saturate his mind like salt in water, in open wounds, as soon as he closes his eyes. As we find him now he has not slept in four nights and three days. He should be exhausted, fatigue should set in of its own accord, but his body is hard and over-trained, and will not rest without the permission of his nightmares.
Eventually he will give in. He will relinquish a portion of his conscious self and become semi-automatic. He will move with consideration, but without thought. He will absorb himself into a matte black suit, skin tight and rough – think of a snake shedding in reverse. He will affix a hard black mask to his face. He will equip knives to himself, the metal brushed so as not to cast any reflection. He will leave via the window of his bare apartment and the moment he is beyond the light he will become indistinguishable from the shadow. His movements will hold all the tension of wound steel, wound around itself. His breath will be cold, and scarce.
He will find the sinners in the night, the bloody-handed, and will in turn bloody his hands upon them. He will kill until he can sleep.
Let us begin.
Can’t sleep. Fingers teeth and toes all grinding. Teeth especially. Whole mouth like an engine, hot and asphalt. Eyes can’t open. I’m locked in. Don’t know how long. Eyes rolling like bullets, want to burrow back into the bone. Can’t move, toes twisting like roots. Don’t know where my legs are. Arms neither. Could be anywhere. I could be anywhere. Suffocating. Bottom of the ocean, the black part. Try to scream. Swear I hear it, a hollow build, a groan like a shredded deer. But no sound. Head sound, no sound in the air. Sound behind the eyes but not in front of them. Head sound soon to be replaced. I beg and pray, comes out as hisses between the teeth – here it comes –
The hammer falls with method and prudence. There is no wasted energy, only the measured application of power. At the zenith of the hammer’s journey it hovers over a twitching shoulder – at its end point it strikes the face of a once beautiful young man. His features, now denied symmetry, are in the process of being reduced to disorganized viscera. The man with the hammer exhales sharply as the thumb of the hand wrapped around the boy’s throat slips into the hot, slick open flesh of what used to be a chin. His eyes swell and his penis throbs almost painfully in anticipation of defilement-
I scream (roar) and throw myself bodily from the mattress. My hands, the palms cut by the digging of my nails, have left bloody prints on the sheet, and now the floor and wall as I attempt to sit up.
It has been a while since I last spoke. My voice is thin and spare. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”
On my way to the apartment block in which the man with the hammer is now rutting the kid’s corpse, I bump into Jack. Jack, like me, spends some of his nights pursuing sin and its perpetrators. Like me, I suppose, he is doing so in the hope of some personal salvation. I say this because he doesn’t seem to have given himself much of a choice. Once I asked him why, and he said ‘keeps me in shape.’ He is also a veteran, like me. Unlike me, he is not psychic, but he can mute any sound which originates from a three meter radius around himself. We have never seen each other’s faces.
“Hey, Abe. How’s your sleep?”
“That’s a shame. Explains why you’re out, anyway. What’s on for tonight?”
I gesture towards my destination. “Murder-rape. Done with a hammer. Pretty nasty.”
Jack spits and curls his lip. “These people make me fucking sick. Hell Abe, you might be crazy but I sure as shit feel better knowing you’re out at here at night. You know I have a niece in this city? Not far from here, too. I’m always telling her mother to move, move away, it’s not safe for a girl, but that prick Henry’s job – Ah, now you got me talking. Hey, give that fucker one from me when you find him, alright? Or two (laughs). Yeah, you’d have to be crazy to raise your daughter here, all this fucking scum that’s around.”
I let him simmer in this thought, then say:
“What’s got you out, Jack?”
“It’s a big one tonight. The whatchamacallits, y’know, the Asian fellas, making a truce with the Mexicans. A lot of big names coming to seal the deal. I’ve brought Ophelia, could really put a dent into the whole hierarchy of these gangs, choke the dope supply coming in. They’ll be here, down there on neutral ground, in about an hour. I just wanted to get set up first.”
Ophelia is Jack’s sniper rifle. He’s a good shot, but he’s naïve, and occasionally suicidal. Tonight he’s even more worked up than usual, and there’s a decent part of him wants this to be his final mission, his blaze of glory.
He hasn’t been taking his medication, but, then again, neither have I.
“If I deal with this guy in time I’ll come back round and help you out.”
“Alright. Thanks, Abe.”
The violence of my world is not my own. It leaks into my head through a hole left by a psychic drill. What I see are not hallucinations, they are actual events happening in real time. They appear with little warning and vary in duration. They are synesthetic- I do not only see them, but feel them also. They are focused and clear, and wholly paralysing. They are recent, a spike in my abilities caused by the rotting effect of some old trauma, but have come to define my life in its entirety.
As the violence enters me it is part of a system, one it absorbs me into, forcefully. It’s tense- it demands balance, response- immediate in both cases.
The scenes of mutilation injected into my half-conscious mind always occur within close walking distance. Never more than three miles. Their location is included as meta-data within the psychic packet, a radar with a constant, lurching pulse. Sometimes the perpetrator will move on and I must stalk them through the thick of night, blind to light and seeing through my skin like a great black worm. So far I have never failed to catch one. I’m not counting how many there have been.
At present there is nothing to my life outside of these episodes, since otherwise I am asleep or dazed. They follow the same pattern, always. First, I will wake up. Then I will have a drawn out, rasping panic attack. Then I will try to return to sleep. Then, I’ll see what’s put in front of me, and I’ll go out to find it. Between seeing and finding there is a transition of self. I am never so aware of my situation, my stark, cold, and insular existence, the enormity of my self-disgust, the horror I drag behind me by my neck and ankles, its unsustainability, the wasting away of my time; its death, as I am when I exit one of these nightmares. However, these feelings slip away as I prepare myself to leave. They are replaced by a serenity. A calm. The psychic throbbing which draws me to my target is needful, but not painful. It is accompanied by a singularity of purpose. In fact, it is at this time alone that I am at any kind of peace- following the completion of the act I am generally exhausted and twitchy. I go on to sleep for days, eating occasionally, not tasting. On none of my expeditions do I fear for my life. Various clandestine occupations have made me difficult to kill, and at ease with killing.
I am at the command of something I cannot control. That is all I have to say about it. I am not callous, nor am I sentimental. I cannot afford to be either of these things. Empathy and malice are both resources generated by will. My will is forfeit. My motivations are non-existent. There is no psychosis, no revenge, no lust. I do these things simply because if I do not, I cannot sleep.
The violence is circular, and my night is not complete until equivalent destruction has been measured out.
I find the killer in the throes of ecstasy. As I approach the room from the outside, scaling the wall towards the window, the waves of evil are so intense that I nearly lose my grip. The window is unlocked and he is so distracted that he doesn’t notice me slide it up.
I crawl inside and make quick and silent work of him. After, I pick up his limp arm to check the time on his watch, but need to wipe away some blood before I can see the face. I have about seven minutes if I want to help Jack. Usually I would crucify him but there isn’t time. Instead, I fashion a noose out of the bedsheets strewn across the floor, tying one end around a bedpost and the other (the noose end) around his neck. I remove his shirt and carve ‘MY SINS ARE MURDER AND RAPE’ onto his torso. Just before I throw him out of the window, I pull his pants to his ankles and castrate him.
Using his phone, I call the police.
“What’s your emergency?”
“I’m reporting a murder – sorry, two murders.”
“…It’s you – listen, you need help. We can help you. Stay where you are. Hello? Stay where you are.”
I give the dispatcher the address of the apartment and hang up. I navigate back out of the window and past the suspended corpse, now leaking profusely from between its legs, blood flowing all the way down the brick wall of the building, which faces the street.
When I return to the rooftop where Jack was I see that he is dead. He has been shot, from a distance, and is in his sniper’s prone position, arms now draped still over Ophelia. My guess is that the information regarding this deal was leaked to Jack deliberately, by whichever hitman was hired to kill him. He’d been causing more and more trouble for these gangs, and in his distracted, wired state he hadn’t been aware enough to notice the gunman on another roof.
Jack had done some bad things, but he wasn’t a bad person. There’s nothing I can do for his body now, but I take one of his bootlaces as a memento. Don’t ask me why. It’s probably because he’s the only person I’ve talked to in months, except for various police dispatchers, and I’m not sure those count. I leave his mask on, but make sure to close his eyes. Morbid, I know.
I wonder if I’ll miss him.
At least now I can sleep.
Words by Olubenga Chesterman. Art by Eve Robson-Rooney.