Nathan stayed in the rest of that Saturday. Although the mysterious girl and his doppelganger hadn’t reappeared he couldn’t help feeling something was wrong. Several times he caught himself staring at his bank account dismayed at the amount he had; the Spencers were always glad to help him if times were truly dire but that was their money, he woke up with the urge to gain more himself. It didn’t help that throughout the day he kept peeking at fashion brands he couldn’t afford. You don’t need a watch you have a cellphone! He had to remind himself after nearly adding one in the six figures to his shopping cart.
He didn’t know where these sudden desires came from and he didn’t know how to make them go away. To distract himself from this he devoted himself to watching the news. He stayed glued to the hypnotic screen searching for even a glimmer or a sign that the man’s corpse had been discovered; that the hook killer had returned. But it of course never came; he didn’t expect it to, regardless of how he felt about Umbra now he couldn’t deny their power.
That same evening Joseph called again; he had nearly forgotten the devil promised to contact him in the morning and grudgingly took the call.
“You gave us quite the headache last night,” Joseph said smoothly. “You didn’t exactly give us a lot to work on to find the body, and the blood was splattered everywhere, it took forever to clean. And get this,” He paused obviously waiting for Nathan to inquire. When Nathan didn’t respond he coughed and continued. “The man you killed was one of the Evans’s brother’s gang. You did the city good killing scum like that.”
Nathan’s jaw clenched. The Evans were well known throughout the city; it was an open secret that they were basically a modern-day mafia. One of his coworkers once wrote an article about their ties to drugs in the city; they found his body weeks later and charges were never brought against the family.
“They… They wouldn’t come after me, would they? I mean they couldn’t find out I was involved right?” He asked slowly.
“I don’t like repeating myself Nathan. We’ve been doing this for years now, there won’t be a trace of you left in that alleyway; with any luck they’ll think it was a homeless man now that Foster cancelled the job program,”
Nathan raised an eyebrow. He didn’t know why he hadn’t heard about the program being shut down. He figured he must have been busy shopping but made a note to see how Sammy was handling the news later.
“Although I do have to say it was foolish of you to abandon your shirt,” Joseph continued. “For all you knew you could have left a hair on it and that would have been it for you. Take better care next time.”
“There won’t be a next time!” he shot back. “I’m taking the dagger in on Monday and then I’ll watch your empire fall on Tuesday!”
“Scary, scary Nathan,” Joseph said sarcastically. “But I do wonder, why wait? If you’re so sure of your victory then why not take it now? Regardless we’ll be in contact with you later. We used to call for daily updates, but it’s been suggested to me that may have helped Alice’s destabilization, either way, be sure to keep the beast at bay for a while.”
He made another note to wrack his brain to remember if he’d seen Alice take daily calls as he ended the call. Joseph’s words stung him deeply. The dagger hadn’t left his side since he woke up. It’s one sparkly ruby jewel had a strange allure over him. And the thought of being the only one to possess such a coveted item was a strong one. As long as he never used it Umbra wouldn’t be able to kill anyone he reasoned.
That day passed quickly but Nathan’s affliction only seemed to grow as time passed; soon he found it wasn’t enough to look at luxurious things through his phone he needed to see them in person.
And so the next day he drove downtown to Vreport’s heart. As he entered the jungle of high rises and high fashion boutiques he couldn’t help frowning. He never liked that part of the city; the whole thing was designed for a very specific sort of clientele; that being wealthy twenty-somethings which he was not.
There were brands everywhere his eye could see, from luxury clothing stores he might not even be allowed to enter to professional sporting stores whose prices would go deep into the thousands.
The store that caught his eye was called ‘Cavalini’. He didn’t know much about fashion but he was certain he couldn’t afford anything in there. The store was dimly lit, giving it a haunting feeling.
Once inside he hurried over to the watches and smiled like a child in a candy store. Seeing them now made him feel like an idiot for not appreciating them sooner. Their many moving pieces were mesmerizing to behold. One was designed to mimic the solar system, another decked out in so many gemstones he couldn’t see how one could tell the time. The one that stole his attention most was dusty black with a golden clock face; its surface was a majestic display of twisting gears moving in harmony with the clock’s hands.
He could have stood there for hours just imagining how it would look on his wrist had it not been for the watchful gazes of one of the shop keepers.
The shopkeeper lapped around the shop before pausing just behind him. As annoying as it was Nathan understood his suspicions. In his haste to get out of the house he had forgotten to dress up, the shopkeeper probably thought him a thief.
“Finding everything alright sir?” The shopkeeper asked cordially.
“Oh yes,” Nathan lied. “I was interested in that watch there.” He said pointing to the black watch.
“Sir I don’t think that would be wise. This watch is of very high quality. I don’t think someone of your…” He waved his hand up and down Nathan’s body. “Status, could afford it…”
It felt as if a snarling animal had been let out in Nathan’s chest. Who was this shopkeeper to tell him he couldn’t afford the watch? And why shouldn’t he have it? “We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we? Ring it up.”
The shopkeeper sighed. “If you insist sir.” He unlocked the watch’s case and brought it to the register.
The second the watch was rung up the beast in Nathan’s chest whimpered and covered its head.
“Well sir that will be six thousand dollars. Paid upfront of course. Or we could end this farce and we can both go about our day, shall we?” The shopkeeper said with a devilish smile.
The beast growled but still refused to uncover its face. Nathan pulled out his wallet and flicked out his card. Buying the watch would devastate his savings for years to come.
“You really have nothing to prove. There’s no need to bankrupt yourself over silly avarice.
“You’re right I don’t have anything to prove but I want it and I’ll have it,” Nathan said as he handed the card over.
“Very well then…” The shopkeeper said as he swiped the card. For a moment it looked as if he was hoping for it to be declined but instead just shook his head when it was accepted. “You’re receipt, sir. Have a nice day and do remember, we don’t do refunds.”
“That’s good because I’m not returning it.” Nathan said with a smile.
The second he was in his car he slapped the watch on his wrist. The animal inside him purred contently at his conquest. He didn’t know why besting the shopkeeper was so important but he had done it, the watch was his.
“Since when did we care about things like that?”
Nathan willed his eyes away from the watch to see his doppelganger sitting in the passenger seat resting his head in his hand.
“You had your first real taste of power two days ago and now you’re buying watches? The younger Nathan asked. “Is this really more important than the dagger? Finding out the truth? That bitch said he was messing with our Alice. We should go along with his plan until we get close enough to kill him ourselves.”
This sudden outburst overloaded Nathan’s thoughts. He wanted to know why the phantom was still appearing even after he slept. Instead of talking back he admired the watch one last time before starting the car and driving off.
“I don’t want anything else to do with the dagger… I killed that mugger in self-defense that was the end of it. The police will handle Joseph.” Nathan said.
The younger Nathan laughed. “That so? Then why do you keep it so close to you?” He popped open the glove compartment where the dagger was hidden.
Nathan nearly slammed on the brakes when it opened. He couldn’t have opened the glove department unless he was physical. His theory of the doppelganger being an apparition was out the window.
“You, you opened the glove compartment!” Nathan said as he slowly regained his composure. “That means… You’re not a…”
“Finally caught on have you? Don’t worry our pretty little head, I’m not quite real but more than a phantom.”
This isn’t happening! Nathan thought. This must be what Joseph was talking about! The psychological effects the dagger has. It must be coated with mercury or something that’s why he carried it on a pillow!”
“It looks like you’re gonna need more time to digest this Nath,” The doppelganger said. “No worries I’ll give you your space. But the dagger won’t.” He said tapping the glove department.
He glanced down to see a pulsing crimson light emanating from deep within the compartment. Even without seeing the dagger itself he knew it was the source.
By the time he parked in his driveway the doppelganger had disappeared leaving him alone with the dagger. Examining it he found the source was from the daggers second jewel.
It’s hungry… Nathan thought. The thought appeared suddenly and was gone just as quickly. He pocketed the dagger promising himself he would get rid of it soon and find himself a therapist.
He had barely swung his leg out of the car before a familiar voice boomed behind him.
“Nathan! Good to see you!” Sammy said.
“Sammy.” Nathan said with a nod. He covered his wallet pocket knowing what Sammy would ask for. The money he just spent meant he couldn’t afford generosity anymore. Besides the money’s yours you worked hard for it. Why should you share with a common street beggar?
The thought sickened him to his core as it hit. Sammy was his friend; he didn’t want to think like that. He quickly walked past his car and nearly tripped as Sammy grabbed his shoulder.
“Woah hold on Nathan what’s the hurry?” said Sammy. “Have you been watching the news lately? They canceled the jobs program! Out of nowhere too, something about having to cut back. Can you believe it Nathan?”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Nathan said attempting to free himself.
“Yeah, it’s sad, things were finally looking up for old Sammy,” He said glumly. “But you have to keep moving forward, don’t you? Something will come up. But until then…”
Nathan felt they had reached the crux of the conversation. He didn’t want to turn Sammy away but he needed to get inside.
“I was wondering if I could borrow a bit more than our usual Nathan. Maybe a hundred or two, just to tide me over until something turns up.”
He avoided Sammy’s gaze as he said, “Sorry I can’t do that. And I don’t think I can help you anymore Sammy.” He moved to leave again but this time he was caught by the wrist. Before he knew what he was doing he slapped Sammy’s hand away as it grazed the watch. It was precious much more precious than his or Sammy’s life.
“Woah, sorry there Nathan,” Sammy said with reproachful eyes. “How much did something like that cost?”
“None of your business,” he said. These harsh words poured out of him without him even meaning too. The beast inside him was more than satisfied with it though.
“You know I didn’t mean it like that. I was just thinking perhaps you could return it and help me out you know. We could work something out.” Sammy pleaded.
He looked down at the watch. Somehow it sparkled even brighter in the sunlight. Sammy had been a longtime friend not just to him but also Alice, but he wouldn’t give back the watch even if Cavalini’s gave refunds. He feared what he might say if he voiced this though so he just continued back to the house.
“Nathan!” Sammy yelled. Sammy grabbed Nathan’s wrist even harder this time.
Nathan felt the watchband crinkle against his wrist. He saw red as the animal inside him roared. His fingers closed around the dagger; it was beating even harder now. He did the deed in one strike, the dagger sunk deep into Sammy’s throat.
Sammy’s eyes widened as his hands probed for his throat. “Nathan…” He gasped as he realized what happened.
For a sick moment Nathan took pleasure in the attack, he was simply defending his property. But then the dagger blazed red and the feeling evaporated at once. He stared down at his dying friend as he realized the gravity of what he had just done.
He flung the dagger aside and quickly knelt beside Sammy and applied pressure to his wound. “I’m sorry Sammy! Everything’s going to be alright you’ll survive this.” Nathan said. With his free hand he dug in his pocket for his phone and quickly dialed the police. He paused before hitting call, if the police were to come, he would certainly be arrested.
“If you’re trying to save him why are you calling the police?”
Nathan looked up to see the younger him had returned once again. Even if he wasn’t real Nathan was glad he wasn’t alone. “Help me!” He begged the mirage.
“I’m trying to. You know who you have to call if you want to save him. You, more than anyone know that no doctor can save him. But perhaps the dagger’s true owner could do something. The choice is up to you but you better hurry, he’s not looking so hot.”
He looked back towards Sammy. His face blanched and he was shaking considerably now. Throwing caution to the wind he called Umbra once more and placed them on speaker. Unlike before it took a while for Joseph to pick up all while Sammy was growing colder.
“Now Nathan you do know I’m still a CEO, don’t you?” Joseph said swiftly. “I’m in a very important meeting so what exactly do you-”
“For once in your life shut up!” Nathan snapped. “My friend is dying and I need you to fix him.”
“Understood, you’re progressing faster than the others. We’ll have to meet. Don’t worry about a thing, everything will be fine.” Joseph said hanging up the phone. Nathan swallowed somehow he felt even less reassured now.
Minutes passed, Nathan could tell Sammy was just hanging on by a thread; his breathing was haggard, and his skin felt cold.
He was ready to give up hope when an ambulance drove down the silent street.
He called an ambulance! What the hell was he thinking!
Nathan got his answer as the ambulance stopped in front of his house. Two of Joseph’s thugs jumped out of the back while the man himself hopped out of the passenger seat. He walked towards Sammy and stood over him with an inquisitive eye.
“Homeless, probably no family, good, good. He said under his breath. “The longest anyone’s lived after getting stabbed by the dagger was about forty minutes. Your friend must be a fighter.”
“Forget that!” Nathan said. “You have an antidote don’t you? Special doctors just in case the wrong person gets cut?”
“Of sorts…” Joseph said. He snapped his fingers and motioned for Nathan to move aside.
One of Joseph’s men knelt beside Sammy wearing a blank expression. To say Nathan was worried was an understatement, the man didn’t look like a doctor and Joseph didn’t seem to have a high opinion on homeless people. Then with speed so quick Nathan could barely see it the man produced a knife and promptly stabbed Sammy in the chest. Samuel’s eye’s bulged and locked on Nathan as if begging for help, his hands formed into claws, then his body fell limp with his cool blue eyes still staring at Nathan.
“Hey!” Nathan yelled. He rushed the man and began wildly wailing at any area he could reach. “Why did you kill him!”
The man growled and punched Nathan in the chest. He fell to his knees as the air was forced from his lungs. The pain was so sharp he thought he’d pass out.
“What did I tell you about hurting our guest!” Joseph yelled.
Nathan fell to his side clutching his chest. What happened next seemed like he was viewing it like a movie. One of the men threw a tarp over Sammy’s body and loaded him into the ambulance. He tried to protest but his voice only came out as painful wheezes. There was nothing he could do even as the ambulance drove away. Joseph picked up the discarded dagger and laid it beside him. When this was all through he sat next to Nathan giving him concerned glances.
“Sorry Nathan, it’s impossible to find good help nowadays,” said Joseph. “Those gorillas can get the job done but they lack tact.”
“Why are you talking like we’re friends?” Nathan said slowly. “And what did you do to me? I haven’t been myself, I’ve been obsessed with these- These things!” He said displaying the watch. Its gaudiness repulsed him now as if he had just come out of a long stupor. There was no reason for him to own such a stupidly expensive item; he didn’t know what possessed him to buy it. That money could have gone towards paying down debts or paying for a trip somewhere. Instead he had a stupid piece of glass and metal made irrelevant by cellphones.
Joseph paused for a long time. “You’re right. We’re not friends, hell we barely… Well, you barely know me at least. I’ve known about you for quite a while, so how about we level the playing field.” He said with a sly smile. “My ride is still en route and you must have questions. So why not fire away?”
This was unexpected, but Nathan didn’t care. No amount of answered questions would have been able to sate his anger but he decided to play along regardless. “Alright then, first things first, you said you offered Alice something in exchange for her helping you, what was it?”
“Ooh, finally came around to believing Alice worked for us did you? Then I won’t mince words. What she asked for was her daughter back, I think her name was Alexis or something li-”
Nathan slugged him square in the jaw, his sunglasses went flying. All his reason went out the window; he grabbed the dagger and climbed on top of Joseph. “Alexis’s death ruined her,” he spat. “It was you! You drove Alice insane with your insane little game. And now you dare speak Alexis’s name?” He edged the dagger closer to Joseph’s heart.
“Not yet Nathan,” The younger him said while gripping Nathan’s shoulder. “He deserves it but you can’t kill him yet.”
“And why shouldn’t I!” Nathan said. “This monster admitted to killing dozens and if he’s to be believed his family has killed scores more!”
“Hearing voices Nath?” Joseph asked.
“Shut the fuck up!” Nathan said. The tip of the dagger was now touching Joseph’s suit. All it would take was one small push and it could all end. “I’ve already killed twice, what’s one more?”
“Now that’s what I like to hear! If killing me will lead you down this road then do it!”
Nathan’s grip on the dagger loosened. He didn’t want to admit it but his doppelganger was right. The sociopath in front of him didn’t value his life, let alone others. Killing him wouldn’t serve any purpose no matter how good it might feel. He threw the dagger into the street just as a black car pulled up to his driveway.
A woman in a sleek gown got out. “Am I interrupting something?” she asked.
“No, we were just finishing up here. You disappointed me again Nathan,” Joseph said solemnly. “I thought I saw a hint of the wild animal we were looking for but it seems you’re not quite ready.”
Joseph got up and moved to the back of the car. “We’ll have someone to come wash the blood from your driveway so don’t worry about it. Also, I don’t think we’ll be able to keep the whole hook killer thing under wraps much longer with the rate you’re killing at. Just be prepared to write about yourself if we decide to reveal the bodies.” With that he got in the car and the woman drove off leaving Nathan alone with his doppelganger.
“We’re just letting him get away with this?” Nathan said through clenched teeth.
“I know you saw that. Killing him now won’t hurt him. You need to make sure he regrets everything he’s done.” The younger Nathan said. “You should make him number seven. Take him right to the edge of his goal, make sure he can see the finish line and then snatch everything away from him.”
He pondered those chilling words, somehow what his doppelganger said made sense to him before he realized what his plan entailed. “You want me to kill four more people? I won’t do it,” he said. “That girl was right… I should probably just toss the dagger in the middle of Lovers Lake and be done with it.”
“And why shouldn’t you kill four more!” The doppelganger said indignantly. You just need to be selective. Not everyone in this city is Sammy Nathan. I’m sure you could find at least four others like that mugger or Joseph. People who prey upon the weak, people who deserve to die.”
Nathan couldn’t stomach the thought. He didn’t even believe in the death penalty, the idea of being some kind of reaper of death was impossible for him. There wasn’t anyone he could think of who deserved to die. Besides who was he to decide that?
“Look, you don’t have to decide right now,” The doppelganger said. “We’ve had quite the day, go inside, watch the news and get some rest. There’s still work tomorrow and you can still need to grieve your friend.”
Nathan nodded and lugged himself back to the house. He paused at the door and looked back at where Sammy had just been. Don’t worry Sammy… I won’t let them get away with this. I’ll find my own way to make sure no innocents get involved again.
Another Monday, another chapter. Keeping the end message short again today but this should be one of the last times. See you on the other side of these exams and projects.