Dennis Simpkin blew sharply on the end of his rifle to cool it down, watching his breath condense in the bitter winter air, then placed the gun on the wooden floor beside him. He had to act fast. He pulled the book from his old shoulder bag and flipped to the page marked with a dog-ear, then crossed out the name Peter Dougal. Only one more to go. He checked his watch. 8:37 pm. Sighing, he piled his things into the bag, checking he didn’t leave anything behind. Which, of course, he didn’t. He knew what he was doing.
It was New Year’s day, 2019, and Dennis had just assassinated his eighteenth person that week.
He rushed out of the abandoned workshop as quickly as he could without drawing the attention of anyone looking up to the building from the crowded street below.
Shuffling into a nearby coffee shop to establish an alibi, Dennis recounted an early memory of his. It was from when he was only 8 years old, back in 2007, and he had just returned home from a day at school. Dennis hated school. School meant homework and tests and projects and people and bullying. He couldn’t stand the bullying. That day, Dennis had run off the school bus to his father, his face damp and shining with tears. Dennis’s father knew not to ask what was bothering his son, as it would only bring more tears, but he did have an idea of what might cheer him up.
He left Dennis on the couch to calm down with a glass of milk, then went out the back yard to the old wooden shed his grandfather had built. Inside, he found his rifle, from when he used to hunt with his friends when he was younger. He smiled, remembering the fun they had had bringing home deer or birds for supper. He brought the gun to the house and set it on the counter to dust off, before presenting it to Dennis. Dennis really loved the gun. He also loved shooting cans propped up on tree stumps in the yard.
He especially loved imagining the cans were his classmates.
Those classmates, the ones who had bullied him, were the reason Dennis was where he was then, in the coffee shop in his old Canadian hometown. He had spent the past three years tracking down his former class and shooting them right through the heart, where they had hurt him all those years ago. Dennis knew he would be caught some time, and live out his years in prison, but it didn’t matter. He wanted revenge, and revenge only. That’s where his New Year’s tradition had come from: each year, he murdered as many classmates as the year indicated. In 2017, after he had graduated, he shot 17. From Bradley Abbot to Mohammed Abdallah. In 2018, he shot 18. From Rachel Benedict to Neil Carson. And now, 2019, he had shot only 18. From Lucy Crowley to Peter Dougal.
All that remained was Alissa Daniels.
Dennis remembered Alissa. She had been a pretty girl with lots of friends. Many people had seemed to like her, but Dennis never understood why. He had seen through her disguise as a friendly, good-doing child right from the beginning. He could see what she really was: a nasty, rotten, spoiled bully. She had made fun of Dennis when he started at the school. She made fun of his large ears. She made fun of his voice. She made fun of his stutter. Dennis was very self-conscious about his stutter from a very young age, as it set him apart from his classmates. He didn’t want to be bullied.
He wanted revenge.
Dennis had been tracking his former classmates all year, but Alissa had been the hardest to find. He now only had a few hours to take her down to complete this year’s streak. Pulling out his phone - untraceable, naturally - he pulled up what he had found out about Alissa so far. She worked in a bakery on the other side of town, working the night shift, and rarely had a predictable schedule. But Dennis had been waiting. Watching. He would succeed no matter what it took. Alissa had to pay for what she’d done. He pulled up her address on Google Maps and compared it to the location of the bakery and the coffee shop he was in. It was a thirty minute walk or a ten minute bus ride, but he couldn’t risk his ticket purchase being traced. He sighed and stood up, leaving a five on the table for his coffee.
It was just his luck that it began to pour rain two minutes later. It was luckier that he was prepared and had brought an umbrella. He made light of the long walk and pictured the short look of shock on Alissa’s face as he shot her. He wondered what her last thought would be. What she would leave behind.
It was precisely 8:20 pm when Dennis walked past the bakery. Through the window he caught a glimpse of a blonde woman he assumed was Alissa, but be couldn’t be sure with her back turned. He began scouting the area for a place to hide with a good vantage point to the front door. There was a hotel Just a few buildings down across the street, and Dennis figured he would have enough cash to book a room. He entered the lobby after wrapping his scarf over most of his face.
“Good evening, sir,” said the man at the desk.
“Good evening,” said Dennis, putting on an accent. “I would like a room for the night.”
“Are you foreign?” asked the man, eyeing Dennis over his computer screen.
“Yes. Canada is quite cold in winter, no?”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Yes, it is. We have two rooms available. One on the second floor and one on he first. Both are for 76 dollars.”
“Second floor is good, please.” said Dennis, pulling cash from his wallet, receiving another raised eyebrow from the worker.
“And your ID?” Dennis showed his ID - fake, of course.
“Filipp Lebedev,” the man read, as he typed the name into the computer. “Very well.” He handed Dennis the key card and Dennis carried his bag to the elevator, keeping his face covered to hide it from the security cameras. He pressed the elevator button impatiently until the doors closed and he was brought to the second floor.
The room was incredibly small. Dennis was very glad he wasn’t going to be staying there. Alissa was supposed to be off work around 9, but he removed his binoculars from the bag and kept watch of the bakery door just in case. His heart was pounding in his chest. He was always nervous before a kill, but this one was so very important for him. He wished he could hear Alissa’s heart stop for himself. He wished he could hear the gasps as the shot rang out. He wished he could see the blood, pouring from her body.
After what felt like hours, Dennis could see the bakery door begin to open. He grabbed his gun, worried his pounding heart would make him miss hers. He saw a head of blonde hair move through the door. He aimed carefully and then -
A gun shot rang through the air.
But Dennis hadn’t pulled the trigger.
He felt blood seeping down his front and pain beginning to blossom through his chest.
He turned around slowly, and saw Alissa Daniels holding a pistol pointing right at him.
“How?” he choked out, blood gushing from his mouth. He looked at the closed hotel room door.
“Oh, I can be very quiet if I want to,” said Alissa, in that sweet voice that Dennis had always hated.
“How’d you-” Dennis choked up more blood. “Find me.”
Alissa smiled wickedly. “I’ve been looking for you for a while, Dennis. I realised that our classmates were being killed. It took me until last year to realise you were going through the yearbook, though. I knew I was next. And who did I find was killing us off? Why, wee little Denny, who never had any friends. Denny, who’s one moment of popularity was when he told everyone his father had given him a gun. You killed my friends, Dennis. And now, I’ve killed you.”
Dennis realised he had been alive for too long to have been hit in the heart. “You missed.” he said, feeling faint from blood loss.
“No I didn’t.” said Alissa, still smiling.
“You missed my heart.”
Alissa laughed at that. “I didn’t want to hit your heart silly. I wanted you to feel the pain. To bleed out slowly. To know you had failed.”
“You’ll go to jail for this.”
“Oh, I know. But I’ll go to jail knowing I killed you. You’re going to die knowing you failed.”
Dennis’s vision began to fade, and it was at that moment he realised she was right. He was going to die. Nobody would find him in time. And he had failed. Alissa had beaten him. She had won. He was in so much pain in that moment that he barely heard Alissa’s footsteps walking away from him.
Everything was black.
And then, nothing.