Every Nine Days
By Adrian Milnes
The screaming woke me as usual, but this time it was different, alarming. This time it was a day early. It had never been early before. Once or twice a day late, but never early. Things had seemed to settle into a pattern. Every nine days this happened.
I glanced over at the blinds, but didn’t move. From here on the fifth floor I could look over into the dark depth of the park, but I knew I’d see nothing. I turned over and tried to get back to sleep, but it continued. Definitely a man screaming.
Nobody would call the cops. They never came around to a neighborhood like this unless they came mob handed, coming in for a major drugs bust. That’s why I chose this place. The rest of the sad people around here couldn’t afford to live anywhere else, or they were like me, hiding from something.
The screaming came to an end. I listened carefully, waiting to see if it had really finished, or if it would start again. Don’t ask me why, I wasn’t going to do anything. Keep my head down, keep away from the window, don’t say the wrong thing, and hope I could get out of there as soon as possible.
Once I went into the park the day after, just to see what carnage was left behind. There was nothing. No blood or bones. I’m guessing that’s what the first cops back in the day would have discovered, if they’d ever come here. I’d heard this area didn’t use to be so bad, but since the happenings, it had naturally gone to hell. The cops would have come around, found nothing, put the reports of screaming down to a rape. And if nobody came forward, well that’s it, case closed.
I tossed and turned trying to get back to sleep. I never could before, so I don’t know why I was trying this time. Eventually, I gave up and walked into the kitchen, grabbing two glasses and a bottle. I knew Steve would be around soon. I glanced up at the clock, just past two. Ah well that was it for tonight. Just as well I didn’t have anything to do tomorrow.
I put the glasses and bottle on the coffee table, and went to open the front door, leaving the security gate closed. It would be safe enough by now, so I opened the living room drapes. Sat back down. With just a little light filtering in from the corridor, I poured myself a drink. I took a light swallow, no need to rush it, and looked out at the blackness beyond. No stars, no moon, and definitely no streetlights that hadn’t been smashed.
“Hey.” From the corridor. It was Steve. I put the glass down and went to open the door.
“Hey,’’ I said, “I figured you’d be around.’’
“Yeah,” he said. He came through and closed the security door behind him. “Guess everyone heard that one. At least it was quick.”
He went to sit down in his usual seat, filling his glass without asking. I joined him.
“Cheers,’’ he said. We clinked glasses.
“What the hell are we celebrating?” I asked.
“Staying alive,’’ said Steve. “Happy that tonight it’s some other poor bastard and not us.’’
“There’s that,’’ I said. “You’ve got to get me out of here.”
“I’m working on it,’’ he said, “but you know what it’s like. The Navy is cracking down on suspected insurgents. Hardly any illegal traffic these days.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. I’d sure picked the wrong time to go on the lam. It was so hard to get even drugs in nowadays. The pilots were charging ridiculous prices, and getting them. The availability and price were so bad people were trying their own labs.
“But just keep looking for me,” I said.
“I’m looking,” he said, “but the only guys willing to make a route are way out of your price range right now.”
“I know,” I said.
“Just keep your head down same as the rest of us. Wait for all of this to end.”
Our glasses were empty, and I refilled them. I gestured towards the darkness of the park.
“And what about this? You think that’ll ever go away?”
“I guess,” he said. “Nothing lasts forever. But it’s been there since before I got here, so I don’t see it ending any time soon.”
“I guess not,” I said.
He drained his glass. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You’ll be out soon enough.”
He stood up and walked to the door. “See you tomorrow night?”
I got up and followed him.
“Oh, for sure. Highlight of my life.”
The day after a killing is always the best. I pushed open the door of the bar and straight away walked into the crowd. Everybody celebrating it wasn’t them that got it. Tomorrow would be a bit quieter, then it would all tail off as the dread began to set in. There were always rumors who it was gonna be. Sometimes people said they could see it in somebody’s eyes that they knew it was their turn. I’d hear the next day whoever it was had walked out towards the park in a trance, knowing it was their time. I’d never seen any of this. It all seemed like superstition to me. I didn’t come out of the apartment much, just waiting my time to leave. The night after was the only time I permitted myself to go outside.
I saw Steve talking to a couple of dodgy looking types. I caught his eye from across the room. He said his goodbyes and squeezed his way through the crowd towards me.
“Hey,” he said, “let me get you a drink.”
“Sure thing”, I replied.
The bar was three deep. Without Steve ordering I wouldn’t even try it. The crowd parted for him, and soon enough he was back with two bottles of beer.
“Cheers”, he said.
Time for the usual conversation. “So?” I said. “You know who it was?”
“Steve shrugged. He’d had this conversation about a dozen times already most likely, but he didn’t show any frustration. “Nobody missing as far as I can tell,” he said. “There’s talk it was a homeless guy.”
“Well that’s bullshit. Means nobody has a clue. I doubt homeless people would find their way around here.”
“I’ll let you know if I hear anything definite.” He can make promises like that because in two days it’ll be forgotten about, then the talk will be about who will be the next one.
“Any news of getting me out?” I asked. Now he shows a bit of irritation.
“Still hard,” he said. “Those two guys I was talking to? They were part of a crew that used to do a Coke run. Not any more. Now they’re reduced to asking me for work. Used to be they didn’t give me the time of day. Things have changed.” I opened my mouth to speak, but he jumped in. “I’m still looking,” he said. “I’ve asked them to contact their old skipper. Get him to ask around. Had to offer a fair bit to get their co-operation. Any operation right now is high risk. They’re keeping it as quiet as they can.”
“I’ve just had enough here,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “Me too. Soon as I’ve earned enough, I’ll be on the same route as you, but it’s not going to be easy. I don’t see things calming down for a while yet.”
He took a swig of his beer. Then he saw a woman looking at him across the bar. He smiled, gave me a nod. “Anyway. Enough of that. Enjoy the night. We can deal with all of life’s troubles tomorrow. They’ll still be waiting.” With that he was gone.
I stayed too long. I always do. As time went on people started to disappear, either because the moment had run out, or because, if they were lucky, they’d hooked up. I’d got lucky a couple of times, but most of them could smell my bad attitude a mile off and stayed clear. The fact that I wasn’t one of them didn’t help either. As the crowd around the bar thinned, I drank more and more.
Finally, I began to realize I’d had too much, and stumbled to the door. As it slammed behind me, I stood there, staring out at the absolute darkness that was the park. Screw it, I thought, and started walking right towards it.
It wasn’t until I was past the gates I started thinking straight. Was this it? Was this my time? What the hell was I doing here? I remembered it had only been one day since the last death. I’d be safe and I kept walking. I still didn’t know why I was doing this, but I just knew I didn’t care any more.
I stood there in the middle of the path looking around. Heartbeat going full speed. The first excitement I’d had in months. It felt like it did when I was pulling my earliest jobs. Not knowing who was gonna try something, or even if I’d make it out alive.
A rustle behind me. I turned, breathing fast. Staring into the dark. Waiting to see what would come.
Then I realized something that really scared me. The people were killed every nine days. What if they were caught at any time, and whatever it was only fed when it was hungry every nine days? My palms were sweating now, but I didn’t leave. I guess because I loved the feeling of being on the edge. Instead of leaving like a sane person would do, I had to push it, just like I’ve done all my life.
“Come on then,” I said, raising my voice. “Come on, let’s see what you got.”
I tried to listen beyond my fast breathing and blood pumping in my ears. Nothing. I looked beyond. Where would this thing live. There must be cave or a burrow.
Finally, I realized I’d had enough. I started backing away. Another rustle. I turned. Still just quiet. I wasn’t gonna run. Just started walking, forcing myself not to look back.
I made it to the entrance, and permitted myself one last look. If it was gonna strike, this would be it, just when you let your guard down. Nothing. Still just the darkness.
I crossed the road back to my building. Opening the door, I had a final glance. I couldn’t see or hear anything, but I felt that whatever it was out there, it was laughing at me.
Back inside I slammed my apartment door and went straight to the bedroom, making sure I didn’t look out the large window. I collapsed on my bed, hardly believing what I had just done. What an idiot. Of course I was an idiot. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have ended up here. I’d be going to bed in a safe neighborhood, with a safe, boring, wife.
The next morning it all felt like a dream, but I was still annoyed that whatever it was had been laughing at me. I didn’t even see or hear what was out there, but I knew it had been doing that. I tried to stop myself. Thinking like this had cost a man his life a long time ago. I’d probably been wrong about that one, too.
I paced the apartment, with nothing to do, just winding myself up, getting more and more aggrieved. I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t even grab a jacket, just walked straight out, down to the street, then across to the park.
It actually looked quite pleasant. Another time, another place, who knows? I walked in, straight up to the bushes that were rustling last night. Pushed through, looking around. I scanned the ground but there was nothing there. I kept walking through the undergrowth, checking, always checking. Blood, animal tracks, bones. Anything. Anything that would say there had actually something there.
I walked from one end to the next. There were no caves. Whatever it was out here it had to be living in a burrow. Well, I thought, any animal would know how to disguise where it lived so no use looking. I felt better. Almost like I’d stared it down. I walked out of there walking a bit taller than I’d gone in.
There was no point going to the bar that night, so I stayed in the apartment. There’d be a smaller crowd, and the ones that were there would be trying too hard. Trying to forget another day had gone by. Another day closer to when it would happen again.
I sat there in my apartment, staring at the dark, barely touching my drink. Just thinking where I’d gone wrong in life. Was there any decision I’d made that had set me off on this course? The truth was there was not just one thing, there were millions of them, and I was going to make the same mistakes time and time again. I’d either have ended up dead, in prison, or here. I tried to make myself feel philosophical about it, accept my fate, but it didn’t work. It had all been a waste.
There was suddenly a banging on the door. I jumped up to answer it. It was Steve. I opened the door and he barged through.
“Get your bag, you’re out of here.”
“You what? You got me a boat?”
“Yeah, and it leaves in two hours. Get moving.” I went to take another sip, and he slapped it out of my hand. “You wanna go or what?” I stared at him in shock for a second.
“Yeah. Yeah, I wanna go.”
“Grab your goddamn stuff then.” I walked quickly to the bedroom, grabbed my bag and came back. He all but pushed me out the door.
“Go, go,” he said. I looked behind as he let the security door swing behind him.
“I need to lock up,” I said.
“Forget it,” he said impatiently. “What do you care? You’re not coming back here.”
He hustled me down to the street where a dirty white van was waiting. He pulled open the door and pushed me in. Inside the van two men each pinned an arm behind my back.
“What the hell,” I yelled.
Steve trussed me up expertly with a tie wrap, then slapped some duct tape over my mouth. Then a hood came down, and I was thrown to the floor. The door slammed, and we drove off.
We must have driven for about ten minutes, then we stopped, the door slid open, and I was dragged out, down some steps and into a cold damp room. I was thrown down onto a stone floor. And left there. I don’t know how long it was I was there. Long enough to piss myself. I’d held it as long as I could, but then I realized nobody was coming. Eventually two men came in.
“Jesus what a smell. He’s pissed himself.” It was Steve. The other man didn’t reply. “Leave us,” said Steve. The other man left, not saying a word.
The hood came off and I was looking right into the eyes of Steve. They seemed colder. I’d seen eyes like that before, and it never ended well for those being looked at. Then off came the tape. I spat out the taste from the tape, and stared at him. I had questions, but I wasn’t gonna give him the satisfaction. Eventually he broke.
“You not gonna ask me why I’m doing this?” he said.
“I know why,” I said. “I’ve been lying her for while now, with nothing to do but think.”
“Nothing to do but think, and piss yourself,” he said, a wicked smile starting to creep on his face.
I gave him that one, but I wasn’t gonna reply to it.
“There is no monster,” I said. “All of this bullshit is just to cover the sick antics of you and your creepy mates.” Then he did something I wasn’t expecting. He laughed. He stopped and stared at me.
“Wrong.” I still wasn’t gonna break. “There is a monster, and you’re gonna meet it.”
“Why?” I finally had to ask. “Why me?”
“It’s got to be somebody. Better you than one of us, somebody from the neighborhood.”
“So who else knows you’re doing this?”
He smiled again. “Everyone. Everyone that matters.” I had nothing else to say.
They came for me a few days later. I’d had nothing to eat or drink, I was really in a bad way, barely able to put up a struggle. Back in the van with the tape and the hood on. I was trying to think of a way out of this, but came up blank.
The van stopped. The door slid open, and I was pulled out and thrown to the ground. The hood was ripped off, and there was Steve.
“Enjoy,” he said. He gave me a mocking pat on the cheek, and left. They got back in the van and drove off. I was in the park. I watched them go, and then tried to get to my feet, but I was too weak. I tried crawling. I knew where the gate was from here. I could make it.
Then I heard a rustle from a bush.
About the Author:
Adrian Milnes is a Brisbane based screenwriter. Bloodthirst, a post-apocalyptic vampire movie starring Costas Mandylor and Tara Reid, will be released in April through Lionsgate.
Also upcoming is Bridge Of The Doomed, a new take on the zombie movie starring Michael Paré and Robert LaSardo.