I registered my mother’s voice and held back the knife just in time. My mind raced, thinking about the entire night. Had I seen Natalie? No. Everyone from the library, almost everyone in town was here except Natalie.
“What?” I said.
Darling laughed. He held his injured arm and backed away from me.
I stood up straight and thrust out. The knife tip went through the shirt and into his skin. Red appeared in half a second and Darling jerked farther away from me.
“Where is she?” I asked.
Darling had stopped laughing. He looked from me to the knife, his eyes wide and wild.
“She’s where she needs to be, sir,” he said, his voice higher than I remembered, “She’s where you can never get to her in time to stop what needs to happen. Or is she?”
He tried to pull away as I reached for him. Little trick: when someone attempts to get away from you, stop their feet rather than their body. I stuck my leg out and hooked his ankle. I was clumsy and out of practice, but Darling was panicked. He hit the floor with a thud and I dropped down on him, my knee in his stomach and the knife at his throat.
“Stop talking in riddles. Where’s Natalie?”
“If you let me go, you might see her again before He rises. If not... There’s always the fire, Mr. Banned.”
I held the knife tight at his throat and looked around to see the shadows of fire licking at the Christmas tree. A man in a tuxedo was hitting at the flames with a knife. Mom still stood at the other side of the room, one hand at her mouth. She was watching me.
Darling laughed again, the pitch almost inaudible and insane. It was grating, a gnawing sound that scraped the inside of the ear. I can only imagine what it felt like to feel that sound come from inside you. Hell, I doubt by that point you would not even care. Then I realized something...
I took the knife away from Darling’s throat and stood up. He jumped up, almost danced as he shook with the adrenaline My own heart raced and I felt the red cloud of rage peaking near the edge of my vision as I thought about what might be happening to Natalie.
“Take me to her,” I said.
Darling clapped his hands in front of his face, then peaked the fingers, “Oh, oh, you know the game. They said you would. A Banned will always come. Let me go and you will see her. I promise.”
I just nodded. I could not think of what he could mean, but I wanted to know who they were. I wanted to know... I wanted to know Natalie was safe. Darling was no threat anymore. I was what he wanted.
I walked across the room where the others were gathered, “Mom...”
Mom threw her arms around my neck as I leaned down. I looked past her to see the bodies lying motionless on the floor. The officers were still.
She started talking in my ear, “He shot them. He just came in and he shot them and then he shot Mr. Baker... I think he left and then the fire started. Are you okay? You should put that knife down, baby, before you hurt yourself...”
I pulled her arms from around my neck, “Mom, I gotta go with him.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at my face, scanning every inch, “No. No you will not.”
“He has Natalie, Mom. Look, I need you to help the others. The fire and the people outside, okay? I need you to help them. Find Caleb.”
She nodded and put a hand on my cheek. From behind me, that laughter grew. She nodded again and looked in my eyes. I saw her face turn to stone as the panic was driven out by her own rage. I come by it naturally.
“You find Natalie. I will stay and help, and if you need to you go and you find that girl.”
“Then you kill that son of a bitch.”
“I will do my best, mother,” I said and turned away from her.
Darling did a skip as he walked through the kitchen door, pushing it forward. I heard Bern scream from the other room. I moved to the kitchen behind the short man, but saw the girl only standing and staring at Darling. She was frightened beyond reason and screaming into the face of a madman. The stench of urine filled the air.
“Voice of an angel,” Darling said, then he hit the teenager in the face with a plate that had been lying on the counter. Bern fell and did not get back up. I brushed off my shock with a surge of fury.
I traded the knife from one hand to the other, then I punched Darling as hard as I could in the back of the head. He fell to his knees and I crouched in front of him.
“That does not happen again,” I said pointing at the unconscious Bern, then lifted the chef’s knife, “Or instead of a punch I bury this in you.”
“And risk losing your beloved?” he said.
“It’s a small town,” I said, standing up. I gripped his collar and pulled him with me.
People stared as I hauled the madman out to my SUV. People stared as I put him in the driver’s seat. People starred as it took us several minutes to adjust the seat because of the height difference. Finally, people watched us drive off into the darkness.