Out of the depths of rancid, crocodile-infested bayou waters rose a hand, then an arm, then a body, a hooded head breaking the surface, without so much as a whimper. Effortlessly, like a ripple on the lake, the revived-again killer propelled himself towards the bank, through charred debris and greasy oil slicks, the remains of a motorboat, the aftermath of an explosion, the culmination of a massacre that had almost seen him finally end the story.
But the bitch had prevailed.
As he drew closer to the bank, as the waters grew shallow, as the carcasses of the crocodiles he’d killed with his bare hands rose up behind him to glisten and bob in silvery moonlight, his feet found mud and he came to standing, striding out of the bayou into a traumatised forest of moss-covered cypresses.
He stood for a moment, in stillness and silt, allowing swamp water to drip from his mutilated torso and pool around his feet while he adjusted his mask. He was shirtless, wearing a pair of blood-stained trousers and gore-coated boots. There was a gaping wound in his gut from where the bitch had run him through with a chainsaw. A deep, puckered gash on his right shoulder, a broken rib protruding from his double mastectomy-scarred chest, second degree burns covering his right side, almost obliterating the faded tattoo of a hyacinth.
All these injuries were new, gifted to him in the last few hours, but he didn’t care. He’d been through worse. He’d suffered greater. He’d never been blown up on a speeding boat leaking petrol ignited by a flare gun before, but he’d ‘died’ in more inventive ways and none of them had taken.
She was a fool to think this time would be different.
His head-covering, made from tattered strips of thick-scaled alligator hide crudely stitched together, had two eyeholes. Once adjusted, the hole on the right revealed a bloodshot eye with an abyss-black iris. The hole on the left revealed nothing more than lumpy folds of twisted scar tissue, the result of a previous encounter with the bitch. The socket no longer housed an eyeball. It was now home to something more precious.
The forest was afraid of him, with good reason. Strewn throughout it were the corpses of five individuals, new friends of the bitch and a withered old voodoo practitioner who’d believed his witchcraft was strong enough to counter evil. He was wrong, and now only she and one other remained, foolishing hoping they were safe.
He moved, through undergrowth that seemed to shirk from his presence, between boles that stood stiff as he slunk by, terrified of what might happen if he brushed against them. The forest held its breath, hoping to evade his attention. It needn’t have worried. He was single-mindedly focused on one thing, making his way to the cabin in the centre of the woods, the cabin where she and her most recent collection of know-it-all blow-ins had thought they could stage a final stand.
The sixth in a series of final stands that had turned out to be anything but.
The moon concealed itself behind branches as he flitted like a ghost from tree to tree, not so much as a snapped twig or grunt of exertion betraying his presence, until the object of his quest appeared before him, materialising out of the dark as the trunks petered out.
The cabin looked as he’d left it, when he chased her and her companions into the night, having broken the voodoo doctor's circle and ripped off his head. Windows smashed, front door hanging loose, puddles of blood on the porch. Shotgun shells and scattered salt granules. Signs of destruction.
He crossed the clearing like a shadow, curious moon sliding behind clouds to be discreet. His footfalls made no sound on the cracked earth or wooden steps or uneven planks that surrounded the house. He paused next to a window when he heard a voice.
“...fucking keep getting a machine!”
Her voice, still agitated after seemingly blowing him to pieces.
“Says someone will call me back, fuck, let’s just get out of here, Barnaby.”
“Fuck that, Rose! I’m not goin’ out in those woods again, no damn way. I don’t care how big that ’splosion was, you sure that motherfucker’s dead?”
Not dead, he slipped up to the paneless window, stooping to retrieve a pitchfork from the ground, one that had been thrown at him before, by an idiot who was now impaled on a branch in the woods.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that and every time I said yes, I’d be living on an island far from everyone. I have no clue. I took out the runes that keep bringing him back, I saw him on the boat when it blew up. It feels different this time but…I don’t know. Why won’t the fucking cops call me back?”
He didn’t care about cops. If they came, he’d kill them, but he didn’t think they would because this was the end. He could feel it.
He hoisted the pitchfork up and stepped before the window, greeting the heavy-set Barnaby on the other side. Barnaby, the owner of the Downtown New Orleans record store where she’d found work. Barnaby, who’d been drawn into her nightmare like everybody else. Barnaby, who’d placed one pudgy hand on the sill to look out at the trees but instead got a close-up of evil, and four rusty prongs in the chest.
He didn’t cry out, just spluttered blood and toppled back, eyes wide, pitchfork protruding from his filthy Led Zeppelin tee.
“Barnaby!” she screamed, hopping from the stool she’d been perched on as the killer swung a leg over the sill. “Sweet Jesus fuck, why won’t you die?!”
In her blood-stained halter top and cut-off denim shorts, she took a step towards the centre of the room and raised her hand, pulling the trigger of the revolver she held and sending a bullet into the wall above his head.
Entering the room fully, his eyes were drawn to the taxidermied stag head beside him. As Rose fired again, missed again, he grabbed the head, tore it from its mount and flung it at the haggard-looking woman with the scarred cheek, bob haircut, tattooed breast and gun. She screamed and turned away, pulling the trigger one more time and tagging his leg before the projectile of many-pointed antlers hit her shoulder and knocked her down.
The gun flew from her hand, skidded across blood-stained planks, vanished under a chair. Shrugging off the pain in his thigh, he started after her, but was stopped by a movement below. Barnaby, coughing more blood onto his face as he reached for the shotgun he’d dropped, walking his fingers along the floor, touching its butt.
He lifted one foot, brought his boot down hard, put an end to it, scooped up the shotgun, turned back to Rose.
This was the end. The epilogue. There would be nothing further after this.
The stag head had stabbed her in the back but not enough to incapacitate her, she’d shrugged it off, pushed herself up, thrown herself at the rickety table on which she’d left a gore-coated chainsaw, the one she’d used to carve the Runes from his shoulder and gut.
“Fuck you!” she spat, snatching it up and pulling the cord, forcing it to splutter to life. “You want more of this? Huh? Got another one of those stones in you? Come on then! I’ll carve you into pieces ’til I find it! This ends today, you bitch!”
She rushed him, screaming, powertool buzzing before her face until it met the shotgun he’d taken in both hands. Sparks flew from the tarnished barrel as she pushed and strained with more might than her small frame had any right to possess, powering towards him, forcing him to stagger back a step.
In her hip pocket, a light appeared, accompanied by a vibration and ringtone, causing her to start. A moment’s distraction, he swatted the chainsaw aside, released the shotgun’s barrel, punched her in the gut. Winded, she staggered back, letting her weapon fall, its blade cutting into the floorboards and grinding to a halt.
She landed hard, tried to scoot back into the hall but then he was over her, pressing a knee down onto her stomach. He lowered the shotgun, placed its single barrel against her chest, traced circles around her tattoo.
Her rose tattoo.
This was THE END. Finally. After so many failed attempts, so many sequels and reboots. There would be NOTHING further after this.
“Okay,” she muttered, staring at his eye, resigned. “You win. I can’t fight anymore. There’s been too much. I’m tired. I’m fucked. I’m done.”
His finger tensed and he started to draw back the trigger.
Nothing further after this.
“I’m sorry our mother gave you away. I’m sorry for what those bastards did to you. I’m sorry you didn’t have my life. Hyacinth.”
A single tear left her eye, rolled down her cheek, following the outline of her scar, a scar her monster had given her.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be your sister.”
He was pulling the trigger, the gun primed to obliterate her heart, he was pulling the trigger…until he wasn’t.
“No! Fuck fuck fuck this, no!”
He slid the barrel from her chest, lowered the gun.
What? No, he didn’t.
“Yes, he did! Shut up, let me think!”
Let you think? You don’t think, you do what you’re told!
“Maybe not today,” he said, standing and placing a hand over his face, digging dirty nails into his mask. “Maybe not ever again!”
Are you kidding me? This is my story, you psycho!
“Yeah, yeah, I’m a psycho, a twisted, evil maniac, we all know, we’ve known for six volumes now.”
“Umm…are you okay?” Rose had raised herself up on her elbows, to survey the scene with as much growing annoyance as the author.
“I’m…not really annoyed. Kind of curious. What’s going on?”
“I’m curious, too,” said Barnaby, through mangled, bleeding lips and broken jaw. “Shouldn’t I be dead?”
Yes, you should.
“Probably,” said Hyacinth. Yes, that’s your birth name, do you like it? “But Rose shouldn’t. Six volumes she’s survived my bullshit and at the end of it all she’s going to die? I’m going to kill her? Nah. I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone wants that.”
“I don’t want that,” said Rose, brushing herself off and standing up. “I’ve been through so much, I haven’t lost all those friends and survived all that just to die on a filthy floor in the middle of nowhere. Like, seriously? There’d be uproar.”
Good! I’m sick of this too. It has to end, and that can only happen when you’re dead. As long as you’re alive in my head I’ll always be tempted. Look what’s happening now. Am I doing this subconsciously? Trying to sabotage myself? I’m sorry, it has to be this way.
“No it doesn’t,” said Hyacinth, moving to the centre of the room and stretching to place the shotgun on a wooden ceiling beam. “And no, you’re not doing this. We are. You gave us life, back story, motivation and way too much camaraderie. After all this time together, working our asses off, we get to choose how this ends. Right, Rose?”
“Right…Hyacinth,” Rose responded, as her long-standing enemy, her abandoned twin sister turned unstoppable transgender killing machine, came to stand before her, placing calloused hands on bruised shoulders, guiding her down onto the stool. “How do we do it?”
“You deserve a happy ending. I don’t care how cheesy or predictable that is. I need to die, not you, so you’re going to kill me, like this.”
He leaned close, pointed at his eye, whispered something in her ear, something mysterious I can’t relate because I DON’T KNOW! What did you say, Hyacinth?
“We’re doing this scene over,” he said, retrieving the revolver from under the chair and handing it to Rose before taking the phone from her pocket and inserting it into the wound in his gut. Why? “He won’t make it easy. I’m tough, you know it, and once I go back into character, I won’t be pulling punches. Make sure you don’t either.”
This is ridiculous.
“Okay,” said Rose, watching her murderous sibling return to the window, pausing at not-dead-Barnaby to grasp the pitchfork and tug it from his chest. “So…you’re just gonna go out and come back in?”
“Exactly. Get up, Barnaby. Places.”
“Shit, man, can I just play dead, this sucks.”
“Places,” said Hyacinth, climbing through the window and tucking himself back against the wall. Okay, this is really happening. Fine. We’ll do it your way. As long as it ends.
“Aw, man. Am I gonna get forked again?”
“I think so,” Rose nodded. “But, you have to kind of, stand closer to the window, you know, like where you were before.”
“Sure. Here, right?”
“Bit more to the left. Yeah, that’s it.”
“Can I look at you this time?”
“Sure.” She smiled and waved. “Hi.”
“Hey. You were a great shop clerk. You really know your music and…”
She screamed, cutting him off, when the maniac appeared behind him, jabbing the pitchfork forward, its prongs bursting through his chest, extracting his heart.
“Barnaby! Sweet Jesus fuck, why won’t you die?!”
She hopped off the stool, survival instincts kicking in for the fourth time that day and second that hour. She used the gun, pointing and shooting, no time to aim, the first two bullets wide, third, fourth and fifth slamming into his body.
Didn’t stop him. Barnaby had fallen face-first to the floor. He put his foot on the small of his back, extracted the pitchfork, drew it over his shoulder, threw it.
“Fuck!” Rose cried, diving to avoid it, dropping to her knees to pull the chainsaw like Excalibur from the floor.
“Fuck you!” she spat, rising and pulling the cord. “Want more of this? Huh? Got another one of those stones in you? Come on then! Let’s finish this!”
The chainsaw chugged, spluttered…died. How do you like them apples?
“What the fu-”
He was there then, hands around the saw blade, cutting teeth piercing his flesh. He jerked the tool from her grasp, drew it back and swung it at her head, its chipped and rusted fuel tank catching her temple as she tried to dodge, sending waves of nauseating blackness washing through her.
She felt herself be lifted off the floor, his crushing hands around her throat, choking. Arms weak, legs dangling, she cursed herself for failing even after he’d given her another chance. But what did she expect? This was fate.
A phone rang, bringing her eyes open, snapping her back to attention. The killer, the monster, her abused sister, Hyacinth, distracted by the vibration in her stomach, looking down and loosening her grip. Wow. Finding the strength to lift her arms, Rose took hold of the shotgun on the beam above her head, dropped it into both hands, pointed it at his empty eye socket and pulled the trigger.
He dropped her, flew back, crashed to the floor.
Rose, disloyal, disrespectful Rose, crawled to him, straddled his twitching legs and plunged her fingers into the hole in his head behind his shredded mask, closing them around what she found there and pulling out the last of the Runes of Revival, a shard of ancient graywacke stone with a spidery-like character etched on its surface.
She cast it aside, placed the shotgun’s barrel against his nose. One more blast this close would disintegrate his head and that. Would. Be. The. End.
Fine. Not what I had in mind but fine. Just pull the trigger so we can all get out of this cabin in this swamp in this series that has far outlived its…
“That’s enough. It’s over. Let’s go, Hyacinth.”
What are you talking about? It’s not over.
“It is,” said Rose, tossing the shotgun aside and rising, then helping Hyacinth to her feet. “That’s the last drop of blood you’ll get from either of us.”
“Are you sure?” Hyacinth asked, touching the mess of her face. “Don’t you want me gone for good?”
“Nah. I kinda got used to you. You’re the one thing that’s been constant in my shitty, fictitious life. What would I do without you?”
“But…I’m your worst enemy.”
“Worst enemy, best friend, same diff. What can I say, I like you. We’re a good team. But it’s time we retired. We’re too old for kicking the shit out of each other. What do you say? Wanna go grab a slushie?”
“I’d like that.”
Hand in hand, they walked to the door, Hyacinth giving it a kick, knocking it out of its frame into nothing. The forest, the clearing, the night and the moon were all gone, because the story was supposed to be over.
Where do you think you’re going? One of you has to die!
At the threshold, they turned and took a bow, then stepped backwards out and disappeared.
Are you kidding? You’re just…quitting?
Okay. You think I can’t end this without you? Oh, you better believe I can end it. I can end it like this. With Barnaby, dead on the floor, in a puddle of blood, heart hanging out, next to the Rune of Revival, the one from Hyacinth’s head, which stupid Rose threw in the direction of a corpse!
The Rune of Revival.
Not long after the sisters left the cabin, hoping to grab a slushie, Barnaby Boudreaux’ eyes snapped open, their irises tar black, and he pushed himself up, grabbing the shotgun, stuffing his heart and the rune into his chest, turning towards the door and lumbering out.
Hyacinth had killed him. Rose had abandoned him. The Flower Sisters were assholes.
And he would have his revenge.
The End (for now...)