Fantasticoe Fall 2004

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The Jackal

Melissa Mickael


      'The Jackal is a bloodthirsty creature that preys on little boys."

      "But that's…"

      "That's why you have to be good, sweetheart. Because he's always there, always around, waiting for his next victim. Oh, he'll eat anyone. It doesn't matter to him, as long as he finds his food for the night. He loves it when they're young… tender… fat. He feeds on the flesh and soul until there's nothing left. Not a bone."

      "Mama… I'm…"

      "He never dies. He's always been in this city; it's his home, his nest. His feeding ground. He prowls the streets at night, looking for the best specimens. His teeth are sharper than steak knives, like a fox or hyena. His eyes are crimson red, his hair the color of ivory skeleton, his hands like a spider's legs, long enough to grasp you so that you can't escape…"

      The little boy begins to sob.

      "That's why you have to be a good little boy, darling. Good, so good, that you do whatever your Mama tells you to. She's not going to let you run away like Charlie. No, you have to be good for me. Else he'll get you."

      "Mama… don't… no…"

      "He'll live longer than you do, longer than forever. So you have to be good."

      "I will! I will, I'll be--"

      "You've got to be good or the Jackal will use his teeth to bite and--"

      "I'll be good! Mama!"
 
 

      The First Night at St. Marcus




      He was only ten years old when he first saw the Jackal.

      Ten years was not enough to cure his fear of dark places, not even in the familiar underbelly of the city where he lived. The shadows of the alleyways curled around his ankles like twisting serpents, hungrily devouring the sidewalks and their broken light poles. Though he often walked to the grocery store a block over, the path seemed to twist and contort at night. Even the makeshift fires in the oil drums, carefully tended by the homeless men with hoods covering their faces in blackness, could not throw out enough light to make it seem less eerie. The telephone poles stretched towards the sky in long, crooked lines--the 00934 line followed straight to his apartment building, and that's how he knew he was going the right way. When all was dark, it was how he found home again, by touching the humming trunks to remember the way.

      They gave him little comfort now. He was running too fast to touch them, too fast to look up and catch sight of them. His ragged sneakers slapped against the sidewalk in short, desperate strides. Clutched tightly in his little hand, the grocery sack swung back and forth. The cottage cheese and lettuce slapped against his hip.

      He could still hear the men shrieking with laughter behind him.

      'Mama will be angry if I let it go,' he thought numbly. His heart pounded madly in his ears, the beat pulsing with every half-gasp he took. 'She'll be angry that I was late.'

      Ten years was not enough in any way. They weren't enough to keep running forever--they didn't give him legs long enough to do that. They hadn't given him enough time to know each of these slinky alleyways and where they lead. How to explain to Mama, who would be waiting, slumped in the purple, moth-eaten chair in the living room, that he had a good reason to be late. She would only laugh at him with sour, stinking breath, and there would be punishment.

      Ten years wasn't enough for him to think about letting the sack go. It wasn't enough period, because Collin wasn't going to disappoint his only family.

      "Keep running, you little brat!" one of the men shouted hoarsely, wobbling around the corner. Collin couldn't see anything but the glazed white glow of his irises in the darkness. The other two men weren't far behind him.

      "That's right… make it fun!"

      They were like the men Mama brought home sometimes, Collin thought in panic. His fingers clenched harder around the plastic sack handles. He should have known better than to kick that man. It didn't matter if he'd insulted his dirty face, his gritty, un-cut brown hair, or the ruins of his clothes. Shouldn't have kicked him. Should have thought about the consequences. Wasn't Mama always telling him about consequences? Everything has an effect. Wasn't that what she'd said?

      He stumbled against a trash can and let it spiral out of his way and onto the ground, a coagulating liquid spilling across the pavement. Kept running. One of the men cursed behind him as they landed in it.

      "Fucking--"

      "I'm sorry!" A strangled cry ripped from his throat. It was caught on a sob. Collin whirled around another corner, too terrified to look behind him to see how close the other men were. "I'm sor--"

      He slammed into something solid.

      When he crumpled onto the brick and mortar pavement, the cottage cheese cracked open in the plastic sack. He could feel it spill out as it did so; that was the first thing he noticed. Before processing the sharp string in his palms where he'd caught himself, or the dampness that soaked through his thin wool coat, a soft, choked, "Oh no," escaped his lips for the groceries.

      He sat laying for a second, winded, dazed, knees aching from the running. The moisture from the street was seeping through his shorts. Collin sniffled, for a moment forgetting the men chasing him, as he looked up to see what wall he'd run into.

      That was the moment he realized that, no matter how little time ten years was, it was all he was going to get.

      "You should watch where you're going," the thing said, its voice low and gravelly. It towered above him, looming like the skyscrapers of the city over his head. Right in front of him, its black boots gleaming like beacons in the night, its body covered with a beaten trench coat of the same color. The hem was nearly brushing its toes.

      It raised its head, face shadowed by a fedora that enveloped its features in inky blackness. There was the flash of a white smile, teeth bared. "You never know what you'll run into."

      Collin stared up, transfixed. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

      "Hey, kid, have you--" The drunken mens' voices stopped. There was a dead sort of silence, and Collin wondered if they'd run away, but he couldn't stop staring at the Jackal, the monster in front of him, the bloodthirsty creature he'd heard about in stories.

      It wasn't looking at him anymore.

      One of the drunkards spoke up. "Look, buddy, we don't want no trouble with you… it's the kid we're after. He's ours."

      That must have amused the thing--it laughed, raspy and hoarse. "Why would I want the kid? He's your prey, isn't he?"

      There was an uncomfortable quiet.

      "We were…" The man faded out, and then more strongly, "We were just going to teach him a lesson."

      "Funny, so was I." The Jackal looked back down at Collin, frozen on the ground with eyes wide enough to swallow his face. "Not the kind you were, of course."

      Collin's heart was so loud in his head that it was going to deafen him any second now. He squeezed his eyes shut, his panicked breathing making it hard to focus--there was an iron band choking off his lungs. He couldn't move. Couldn't speak. Couldn't even beg.

      'You've got to be good or the Jackal will use his teeth to bite and--'

      "It's a good thing I came by this route tonight," the thing was musing softly. "I haven't eaten a hearty dinner for a while."

      Collin opened his mouth to scream again.

      The other men cried out first.
 
 

      ~      ~      ~      ~      ~




      "Kid. Kid, wake up."

      It wasn't right. Nothing about this felt right. His bed was much harder, much colder than whatever he was now laying upon--the fabric was soft, the surface soaking up heat like the space by the window that he used to lay in. That space had been too small for his body for a long time, however, and certainly had never carried the scent of dust and burning oil. No one had ever shook his shoulder so carefully, either, as though they were almost afraid to wake him.

      "Mama," he mumbled.

      The hand paused, still pressing against the back of his shoulder. "No, not Mama. Kid? Are you listening to me yet?"

      He had been getting groceries for her. Things they didn't need, of course, but he wasn't going to argue with her when she acted like that. Swaying about the house, sniffling in the kitchen and bemoaning the loss of his father. Drinking bottles and leaving them to roll around on the floor. He didn't know what to say to make her feel better. So he'd get the food supplies, things she'd berate him for getting in the morning…

      And there had been someone chasing him, he thought idly. He sleepily nuzzled the warm bedding. Someone chasing him, and… then a thing in the night…

      Collin's eyes flew open.

      The hand withdrew quickly. He sat up, scooting back on instinct until he hit the headboard of a large bed. The room was dark; he could barely make out the navy walls and their barren, empty faces, but there was a table beside his bed with a little oil lamp burning, and a shadowed figure leaning forward in the chair beside him. A long, tattered coat lay on the bedspread innocently, beside a pair of gloves and boots.

      It was staring at him, and for a long time Collin just stared right back.

      "Are you feeling better?" it asked him finally.

      He should have been frightened. He'd been scared before, to the point where he thought he would die, but his initial terror was already dimming. For all the cold-sweat fear running through his system, there was only one honest thing hovering on his lips.

      "You're just a kid!" he blurted out.

      It blinked… and scowled at him.
 
 

      ~      ~      ~      ~      ~




      "I'm not a kid, as you so eloquently put it," it grumbled darkly, pouring the last remains of a clear broth into a bowl. The pot once full of chicken noodle soup was placed in the kitchen sink, which looked as though it hadn't been used in quite a while. Collin wrinkled his nose as a moth, floating down from the ragged yellow curtains above the sink, landed on the grimy surface of the faucet. "Even if you were going by physical age, this body is still twenty. I don't have to take that from a little pipsqueak like you."

      "I'm sorry," Collin replied, obediently. He kicked his legs against the chair, his hands resting politely on the top of the table. It, too, had been messily constructed--a cloth tugged from deep in the linen closet to hide the scratches embedded in the oak. "Mama said you'd be older."

      "I am older," The Jackal muttered. "I am far older than anyone I dare say you've ever met."

      "Oh. How old are you?"

      "Older than your great-great-great grandparents."

      "Oh. How old were they?"

      The Jackal set the bowl of soup in front of him with a sharp finality, standing back to purse its lips at him disapprovingly. "Eat."

      "Okay. Thank you." And he did so, starting in quickly on the third helping as though the creature would change its mind any minute. Which it may have very well done. Either way, Collin knew--guiltily--that he was pushing it. He'd never eaten this much at home.

      The Jackal was still talking, a rattling in its throat making it sound very much like the uncle Collin once had. The one that had died of lung cancer. "Children should be fatter than you. You're stick-thin. Doesn't your mother or father feed you?"

      "Don't got one."

      "One what?" It frowned at him.

      "A father," Collin mumbled, his cheeks flushing red in embarrassment as he ducked his head. "I never met him. Mama says it's 'cause he's a good-for-nothing louse. What's a louse?"

      "Something you don't need to know," it replied, raising its eyebrow. "Ask your mother. She feeds you, right? It's not healthy to look like that," it added, gesturing towards him. "I wouldn't have touched you, you know, if you hadn't decided to faint on me." It plopped down in a chair, crossing one of its legs roughly. "You're very troublesome."

      "Fowy," Collin mumbled. He swallowed. "Are you making me fat so you can eat me?"

      It scowled at him. "Just eat. I'm not interested in little boys."

      "That's not what Mama said."

      "Your mother worries me intensely." It sighed, tapping the table surface with a long, skinny finger. "Just eat. Honestly, what was I thinking? Taking home a…" It groaned low under its breath, rubbing its forehead. "I really am a fool."

      Collin only quietly ate his meal, trying not to listen impolitely to the low mutterings of his host. It had given him warm clothes, new clothes--the fabric was smooth against his skin, and although it hung slightly on his slender frame, the cloth was cleaner than anything he'd ever worn. It had also let him wash his face and hands in the sink--"You're not touching anything until you've properly washed yourself, kid," it'd said crossly--and was feeding him. It was hard to be frightened of it after all of that.

      "You still look like the kids at the older school," he said after a long pause, swallowing a steaming spoonful of broth in between his next words. "You look like… a movie star. Like the guy on the detective show Mom watches sometimes. He's smart."

      It raised its eyebrow at him. "Thank you. That is an… interesting compliment."

      It really did, Collin thought. Now that the trench coat and hat had been cast aside, and it was walking around in jeans and a sweater like anyone else, it looked like another man. Maybe one of the student teachers at his school. Long blonde hair was shoved back in a messy ponytail, strands escaping to hang in its face, and there was nothing inhuman about its features. It was slightly pale, the lips were slightly puffed--and Collin knew there were sharp teeth behind that mouth, had seen them in every smirk it threw at him--and there was an unearthly savagery about his movements, but that was all.

      Except for the eyes. They were a rusted, orange-red that was almost swallowed by the black of his pupils.

      "Did you like the soup?" it abruptly asked. "I haven't cooked for… well, years, really."

      Collin nodded hurriedly. "It's great." He shoved another spoonful in his mouth to prove it.

      It smirked again, baring rows of jagged canines. Later in the years, Collin would wonder how it managed to do so without hurting itself, but now he only felt his eyes train in on them, mouth drying immediately.

      The teeth disappeared. "Stop looking like I'm going to attack you," it said flatly.

      "Did you eat those men?" Collin asked.

      It glanced up at him through its pale fringe of hair, frowning absently. "You ask morbid questions, boy."

      "My name is Collin," the little boy said, though he wasn't entirely sure why. It just popped out. Perhaps years of reinforced manners at school, or perhaps he truly wanted the monster to know it before it possibly decided to eat him, but he said it. "Collin Donovan."

      "Ah." It paused. "Do you know who I am?"

      "The Jackal."

      It looked thrown for a moment. "Is that what they're calling me now?" it finally asked curiously, leaning forward to slump on the tabletop. "There have been so many names…"

      "That's what Mama says you're called."

      "Your mother sounds awful. I don't call her names, do I?"

      "She says you eat people," Collin continued, now slightly timid. He played with his spoon, training his eyes down on the whirling currants in his soup bowl. "Um, she says you live forever, and eat bad little boys."

      "I have yet to eat a 'bad little boy,'" it corrected firmly, red eyes narrowing. "She is right on a few accounts, of course… I do live forever, I suppose. I'm not entirely sure. I haven't lived forever yet."

      "And you eat people?"

      It frowned a bit, looking uncertain for the first time. "I… have the right to live, don't I? Like anyone else?"

      Collin blinked at him. It wasn't a question he understood. "Do you just eat drunk guys?"

      "I always take those that don't deserve the life given to them," it said coldly. There was a hard glint in its eyes now, savage and ugly. "I take what I have coming to me. The ones who do wrong, the ones no one will miss… no one thinks about it if a horrible person disappears."

      "Oh." The boy slowly spun his spoon around in the broth. "Okay. But no little boys?"

      "No. No little boys." Whatever vicious edge had overtaken it, it was gone now. The Jackal's gaze softened, ruby-red irises fading into the black of his pupils as he lowered his head. "I will take you outside now. You can walk, right?"

      He could.
 
 

      ~      ~      ~      ~      ~




      They were in the middle floor of a rundown apartment complex. Many of the buildings were ruined in the city, and this didn't surprise Collin, who scrambled down the concrete stairs as though he'd been doing it forever. They quickly reached the door out, which the thing opened with a sigh of relief, muttering, "Here you go. Go on. I'm sure you can either find your way home or find someone around here to take you."

      Collin stepped outside hesitantly. It felt odd to feel the cold when he was in such new, fine clothing. He shoved his arms together, mashing the fabric so that it created a pocket of warmth around his chest.

      "Good luck, boy."

      Timidly, he turned around. "Can I… can I come back here?"

      The Jackal stared at him, brow furrowed in surprise.

      "I just…" Collin paused uncertainly, eyes flickering down to the ground again. "I just thought…"

      A hand landed on his head. Willing his heart to stop beating so loudly, Collin swallowed and glanced up to see the strange thing smirking down at… no. No, it was smiling at him. The foreign curve of his lips seemed awkward, but utterly honest.

      "Of course… if you can find it again, boy." It paused mischievously. "And I very much doubt you can, but I'll let you visit if you do."

      He nodded hurriedly. "Okay! Um, thank you… again. For everything."

      "Off with you," the Jackal said. He gave the boy a tiny shove and turned to go inside. If he knew that the child was waving at him, he didn't show it. Instead, Collin slowly let his hand drop as the door closed, and turned to stare unsurely at the streets around him.

      And then he stopped. He blinked at the phone pole beside him, its line number stamped on in gray metal strips, and grinned widely.

      He wasn't going to tell the Jackal that this telephone line led straight to his house… and back.
 
 

      Seven Years Later: Time Turns Things Around




      When the morning came, Collin peered blurredly out the window to the street below. The gray skies already warned of oncoming rain, but there were still people milling about on the sidewalks, packing up their stalls or vender booths. A list fog covered the pavement completely.

      He grinned. 'It's a perfect day for a field trip.' Never minding that there was no field trip scheduled for today's class.

      He shoved on the closest pair of jeans he could find, cursing as another stringy hole stretched further on the knee. His sneakers were under the bed, along with an abandoned carton of cigarettes and three empty lighters--he snatched them up while looking around for a semi-clean shirt to wear. He hadn't bothered doing laundry for two weeks now.

      Pulling on the Radiohead shirt, he paused a moment to check in on his mother--still sprawled in the aftermath of another drinking binge on the sofa. The television was blaring; he switched it off.

      "Mom… hey, Mom, I'm leaving for school."

      Squinting at him through red-rimmed eyes, the dark-haired woman scowled. "Get out."

      "Do you need anything from the store?" he asked, crouching down beside her.

      "No… get the hell out… jus' like your fa'her…" She spat weakly at him, slumping back down to the cushions. Closing her eyes, she mumbled angrily, "s'always leavin' me… just like he did…"

      Sighing, Collin dragged a ratty blanket over her still form. After gazing at her for a moment longer, he slipped out of the door and into the morning.

      Traffic was fair. He passed through the string of alleys, running his fingers idly across the telephone poles he crossed. Years later, a few of them were out of order--this city removed nothing if it required money--but he didn't need them anymore. He knew this path by heart.

      The door to the abandoned apartments was always unlocked now. Ruffling the tousled strands of mahogany, he tried to make his hair look semi-presentable. Then he trampled up the concrete staircase and popped his head in the second floor door. "Jackal! Hey, are you in?"

      "In the living room," a voice drawled. He followed it to the living room, closing the door respectfully behind him. The Jackal was leaning back comfortably in an armchair, wearing a plaid shirt and reading Catcher in the Rye. He looked up at Collin with an exasperated eye-roll.

      "You're supposed to be in school."

      "Day off for parent-teacher meetings," Collin lied cheerfully, plopping down on the lime-green sofa. The dust clouded up around him, but he'd long grown used to that. "So I thought, who haven't I visited for a while?"

      "For three days," the Jackal said, but he finally smiled. "You little liar."

      "Eh, but you like me for it."

      The older being huffed, opening his novel again. "I hardly like you at all."

      "Now who's the liar?" Collin chuckled, throwing his legs up on the coffee table. Then, as though suddenly remembering it, he eyed the Jackal's lengthy white hair. "Why don't you ever cut your hair? I was just thinking about it yesterday when Morris cut his hair. You should, too. You look girly."

      The Jackal sputtered momentarily, putting down his book. "Girly?"

      "That's what I said, isn't it?"

      "My body doesn't age, remember? My hair doesn't grow; the cells are long dead," the seemingly-young man stated firmly, folding his hands above his book in a small arch. "Why this sudden concern over my hair?"

      "You should cut it."

      "I could never grow it out again. It's warm."

      "Girly," Collin said, and swung his feet to knock against the low table again. His heels hit the glass plate on the top with a sound that made the Jackal flinch in distaste. "You never grow with the times, do you?"

      "There's not much point. What if it becomes fashionable to have long hair later? I would be stuck."

      "Bah," the teenager said. He lolled his head back against the sofa. "You're just too traditional."

      "Well, you have an earring," the blond exclaimed. It sounded as though he considered it blasphemy. "You called me girlish and you have an earring?"

      "That's different," Collin muttered, feeling his face flush as he fingered the silver stud in his left ear. "It's style."

      "It's barbaric."

      "Says the man who terrorizes half the city," drawled the youth, twisting his piercing around nonchalantly. "This, however, is a symbol of individuality."

      "I never terrorized the city," the Jackal protested mildly, eyeing his motions with clear distaste. "I have been here longer than they've been; they should think about settling elsewhere if they are so terrorized. It's not as though I go hunting every night. I only take what I need."

      "It's mostly the stories that scare people. You know, the weird creature prowling the street… living in the sewers. That kind of exaggerated garbage. Even the adults believe them--no matter how much they say otherwise, they're still lookin' over their shoulders at night,' Collin commented. He smirked, the expression not completely unlike that seen on his friend at times. "They call you the Slasher now, you know."

      "Barbaric," drolled the being, his eyelids sliding half-shut into slits of lethargic red, seeming nearly as animalistic as the things he was admonishing. "Humans are barbaric."

      Collin was studying his sneakers. "Yeah? Should I call you The Slasher now?"

      The Jackal was startled--he nearly dropped his book in his lap. Collin's gaze remained steadfastly fixated away, unseeing the fleeting surprise of that pale face.

      "… you can call me Jackal."

      "Did you ever have another name? A human one?" Because there was no doubt in Collin's mind that he'd once been human--beyond that defiling appetite, the odd bestial quality in the manner in which he slunk against alley walls, and the unnatural color of his physical elements, there was an underlying intelligence and ability to adapt to time that only mankind had achieved so effortlessly. Though he'd asked about his past before, Collin had never gained a

      straight answer. He hardly needed it to know, however, that this man was not a beast by original nature. He was almost gracious at times, and certainly retained the keen mind of a human being.

      The Jackal showed it now by thoughtfully resting his hands on his lap, folded into elegant planes of knuckles and nail. "Perhaps.. long ago, there may have been a name. I've failed to keep it close to me, however, so 'the Jackal' will be sufficient for now."

      Collin nodded as though he expected this and, standing resolutely, bid his farewells with a curt, affectionate wave.

      "You have somewhere important to go?" the older blond asked in surprise. "It's not like you to chat and leave so quickly."

      "There's a girl," Collin shot back, ears turning bright red at the tips. He ruffled his hair again, distinctly embarrassed. "Okay? I promised her lunch."

      The Jackal smirked. "Ah. Don't let me deter you from your primitive mating ritual."

      "Jealous?"

      "Hardly. My original sin of preference was always gluttony, not lust."

      "She's beautiful. She's so damn beautiful," Collin swore softly, the mocking tones of his face smoothing out in awe. "Got the prettiest smile… I'm gonna sweep her off her feet."

      "I don't doubt it. Just don't let her see that travesty you call 'style'--metal should not, under any circumstance, be punched through your body."

      "Ha ha. When did you get so funny? You used to have the social skills of a pregnant bear, Jackal."

      The Jackal bared his teeth tauntingly in retaliation, but Collin had already ducked out of the room, ignoring the call of, "It was your fault, brat!" behind him. As he weaved through the kitchen towards the door, though, an ugly sound wailed through the makeshift apartment.

      He stopped in his tracks. Again, as though it sensed him listening to its cries, the groan of agony sounded again from up another floor. The trapped staircase all surrounded by concrete and a single locked door--he'd seen it only once, too many times, and knew what it was used for.

      In the doorway, languishing against the frame, the Jackal asked to his stiff back, "Does it really bother you so much?"

      His lips were suddenly dry. He licked them, closing his eyes with a flinch as another pathetic moan echoed up from above. "What… what did he do?"

      "He peddled child pornography in a shop downtown," the Jackal said quietly.

      It was easier to breath now. Easier to open his eyes and turn to flash a forced grin at his old friend, ignoring the choked crying. "Dinner, eh?"

      "And breakfast," the Jackal said.

      He left to eat lunch with the girl, but his appetite had suddenly disappeared.
 
 

      One Year Later: The Downward Spiral




      When he entered the kitchen, it hadn't occurred to him to knock on the door. He hadn't been doing so for months now, after all.

      Except he'd never walked in to find his friend gnawing at a dead hawk.

      "Oh, fuck…" He whirled around violently, stifling his words by pressing a hand against his mouth. His stomach was lurching, the taste of bile rushing up through his throat, and he leaned heavily against the wall to calm the churning in his organs. It felt cool. Comforting.

      The sickening squelch of raw meat stopped for a moment, followed by heavy panting. It was a purely bestial, guttural heaving of breath--coming from deep in the Jackal's throat, vibrating and raspy.

      Then, with an almost painful moan, it began again. The disgusting sounds of teeth ripping into the feathery body, tearing, chewing--the crunch of small bones dissolving under those awful teeth--

      He should leave. He should say something, yell hysterically at him to stop, because didn't he know Collin was watching, listening to this obscene act? Couldn't he tell? Did he know the youth was pressed tight to moldy wallpaper, shaking in his tough-guy boots?

      Another low, primitive groan of want and pleasure rose from behind him. And then, abruptly, the crunching sounds ended, and the Jackal was almost whimpering on the floor with quiet, uncontrolled whines of protest.

      And then nothing.

      It was a long time before he heard anything besides his own heartbeat, his ears almost flattened by the hands he'd subconsciously raised to them. Then, the familiar sound of the trash can closing in the back of the kitchen was heard. Hesitant footsteps.

      "Collin…?"

      He gasped out an affirmative.

      "Collin…" the voice was now at his back, regretful and struggling to become soothing. "I'm sorry you had to see that. I wasn't expecting you tonight."

      His voice was extra hoarse from swallowing the powder of willowy bones, Collin thought wildly, madly. The bird.

      'But you've always known what he is, haven't you? What his true diet is?'

      It was different. It was so different, Collin wanted to argue, but it was right on some levels… if he turned away the Jackal now, was he only in denial for the past years? Only being a hypocrite? Hadn't he always known…? Uncontrollably, he turned to look at his friend.

      The creature had crossed to the sink, and was studiously washing slick streams of red from his fingers. His claret gaze was fixed on them, avoiding his friend's searching eyes.

      "Sorry," Collin finally said.

      "Don't be," the Jackal said, his tone tired in a way it rarely was. "I'm not; that bird was my first meal all week."

      "What?"

      Rubbing the bridge of his nose, the man sat down in a kitchen chair. "It's because of that murder case downtown. Police are everywhere, and I'd rather not go to the hassle of taking care of so many. Not to mention, they're keeping the notorious of the city off the streets."

      "Your main food group," Collin guessed, understanding with dawning concern. Now that the dim lights of the room were playing across the sallow complexion of his companion, he could see the sunken, caved quality of his once-healthy face. Even his eyes were dull and unlively. His sweater hanged off of his wiry form in clumps of sagging fabric. "Are you…?"

      "I'll be fine. I've weathered worse." The Jackal smirked faintly at him, though it was a pale imitation of his usual look. "Sixty-eight years ago, I went without for months. I can sustain off of rats and small birds for the time being."

      "Ew."

      "Beats starvation, Collin." He paused, glancing at the clock in something akin to confusion. "But… really, are you alright? You haven't visited me this late for…"

      "Mom was drunk. She brought home some guy," he said. The Jackal's face immediately darkened perceptively, and he rose with an intent to head towards the cupboards.

      "Ah, I see. Would you care to stay the night? I'll make something hot to drink."

      "Thanks. You don't have to do this for me anymore, though," Collin mumbled, resting his forehead on the table in humiliation. "I'm a big boy. Too old for this kind of stuff, y'know?"

      The Jackal smiled at him. "Not so old, not to me. This doesn't count."

      "I just…" He was having a hard time getting the words to come out. "It makes me so mad. She can't get her act together, but she's always yelling at me like I've done something wrong. She thinks I'm gonna leave her like Dad someday."

      "Will you?" the Jackal asked quietly. Collin blinked at him.

      "What?"

      "She's not…" He hesitated warily. "It's not my place, Collin. But in the entire time I've known you, your mother has always been…"

      He didn't say it. But Collin heard the words, anyway. His mother had been like this for as long as he could remember--drunken, bringing home men that stank of bars and sweat, screaming about his father and her lost chances in the world. She had fed and clothed him despite this, though somewhat sparingly, and he had a hard time trying not to defend her even as he hated her for all of her habits.

      She was his mother. In the end, that's all it came down to--he couldn't leave her alone like Dad. Not ever. He wouldn't become what she always accused him of turning into, no matter how hard she shrieked at him. No matter how many times she called him names or threatened to throw him out. She was all he had; and likewise, he was all she had left in the world that gave her more than a tumble in bed or a stiff drink.

      That didn't mean it had stopped hurting.

      "You always have a place here, you know," the Jackal said softly. Collin's head jerked up, his eyebrows knitting in confusion. Though the creature looked a little embarrassed, he repeated again, "You can always stay with me. I won't turn you away."

      The lump in his throat was heavy, but he forced it down to say, "Thank you, Jackal."

      "Hot tea or hot cocoa?"

      "Cocoa," Collin said, and didn't even bother to tell him that there was still blood smeared across the corner of his mouth.
 
 

      Two Years Later: I Try So Hard




      When he opened the door, every light in the house was turned off.

      "Mom?" Awkwardly stepping into the darkened living room, Collin fumbled for the light switch. "Are you home?"

      The light flickered on above him, weakly bathing the room with pale yellow streaks. There was an arm hanging off of the side of their couch, limply dangling in midair. Kicking aside a stray newspaper and beer bottle, the young man cautiously peered around the sofa. "Mom?"

      She looked up at him woozily. "Charlie?"

      Collin's breath caught. "No. It's Collin, remember? Not Dad, Mom. Just… here…" He knelt to rearrange her splayed limbs, studiously ignoring the damp way her dress clung to her, the sharp scent of liquor, and her high-pitched giggles. "Look, do you want to go to bed?"

      "I knew you'd be back," she murmured breathlessly, eyes glazed over from the alcohol. She looped an arm around his neck. "S'good to see ya, baby… so good…"

      "Come on, Mom," Collin said softly. "Do you want me to put on some coffee?"

      The woman squinted at him, as though finally looking at him. "Why'd I wan' coffee?"

      "Mom--"

      "Don't call me that," she whispered abruptly, her face paling to a deadened white. "I don't wan' you to call me that."

      "Okay. Okay. How about we just get you to bed, okay?" He struggled to lift her dragging body from the sofa cushions, taking her arm.

      "Ouch!" She shrieked and hit him, falling back. "You--"

      But Collin was looking at her arms.

      Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised. He knew what kind of crowds his mother ran with--wild men, girls who begged for money on the street corners, the people huddling in the alley corners and exchanging bags of booze. He knew that eventually something like this would happen. But he'd always played it off. Always thought, 'But isn't drinking and sleeping around enough?' Because in the end, he really didn't know what to do to save her.

      He wasn't his father, after all.

      "Mom?" If his voice was trembling, he didn't care. "Where did you get those marks?"

      She hid her arms, tried to stuff them down her dress to cover the needle marks and white scratches. Sniffled a bit, wild-eyed, and said, "Don't call me tha'."

      "Mom!" He snatched her right arm back, turning it over to glare at the marks. His harsh voice raised in the air, drowning out her whimpers. "Who gave you it? Was it Clancy? Did you pay for it? Goddamn it, Mom, out of everything it has to be heroin? Didn't you--"

      "Don' call me that!" she howled, and hit him.

      She'd hit him before, but not like this.

      Dazed, sitting on the moth-eaten carpet, Collin raised a hand to the scratches across his cheek, feeling the hot pulse of blood against his fingers. His mother was scrambling over the couch, her face twisted in rage, and she leapt on him like a creature possessed--something dark and horrifying, something he'd only seen in glimmerings in her eyes sometimes at night--and her fists rained down on him. Nails clawing, her screams frantic in his ears, and even though Collin tried to cover his eyes, she was ripping at them, trying to tear them out of his skull--

      "I wish you were never born! You were the reason he left! Give me back Charlie!"

      A ringing pain in his head. She slammed it back against the floor again. He shoved her off. Tried to turn over and scramble away. Heard her screaming. Heard himself saying something, gasping, mind blank, and he couldn't hear his own words no matter how hard he tried.

      "I wish you would disappear! I hate you! I hate you, hate you, hate--"

      She brought down the lamp on his head then. It was all he remembered.
 
 

      ~      ~      ~      ~      ~




      "Collin," the Jackal said.

      He couldn't see straight, so he'd never know what expression crossed the creature's face at that moment. He wasn't even sure how he managed to drag himself here, whether he clawed his way across the brick walls of the alley or managed to limp up the stairs by sheer will. His head was a pounding mess of pain, the world spinning on its every axis, and sprawled on the ground he could feel the cold radiating from the cement stair block.

      "Collin…"

      Blood spilling over his face and into his mouth, metallic and sour, and his hands were quivering from the effort to keep him propped up from the earth, and Collin had never felt like his stomach had been ripped out from him before. Glass was still in his hair. Shards. Pains.

      He opened his mouth. He wanted to say that it would be okay. That all he needed was a place to clean up, a bed to spend the night in.

      "Collin!" A rush of air in front of him, arms reaching out to catch him.

      The world went dark, and he fell into cold hands.
 
 

      One Week Later: And Still I Think of Shadows




      When he first woke up, he had nothing to say. He couldn't have spoken if he tried, anyway. The dim lighting of the bedroom--the same one he'd spent some time in as a child--seared his eyes painfully. Collin blinked at it, wiling the ceiling to come into focus.

      The Jackal had been there, murmuring low words, but he wasn't sure what he'd said.

      The second time he'd woken, he'd tried to explain what had happened, only to have the creature hush him, smoothing back his hair. He finally succumbed to sleep.

      It continued on as such for the next two days, when Collin finally started coming around for longer and could see his surroundings. There were bandages wrapped securely around his temple, tape closing wounds on his back and shoulders. His fingertips could trace the jagged edge of stitches on his forehead, though he didn't try pulling at them to see how sturdy they were.

      Whenever he tried to talk to Jackal about going home, the creature would disappear from the room or change the subject. Or he would say, vaguely, "You can stay here a while longer. I've taken care of things," with a preoccupied, somewhat defiant look on his face. Collin hadn't seen that expression before, but he allowed himself to be subdued for a while longer.

      Around the fifth day of staying in bed, he began to become quiet.

      The Jackal must have known what was running through his head, but he didn't say anything. He bustled around, redoing bandages and bringing Collin food, disappearing sometimes at night to hunt--but he rarely left the boy's side. Even when Collin began to silently refuse to eat, or stared at him for minutes upon end with a shadow ever growing over his face.

      After a week, he made his first trip around the house. He walked to the kitchen, leaning in exhaustion against the doorframe, and glared at the man sitting down at the table. The Jackal put down the tea he had been making for them. "You're on your feet. That's good. You should probably take it easy for a few days, though."

      "You killed her, didn't you?"

      The Jackal poured the tea.

      Something ugly and raw was boiling inside of Collin; it had been for days on end now. Black and ashen, it covered every inch of his feelings, until all he could manage was a bitter laugh. "You can't give me a straight answer? Don't have the decency to tell me?"

      "Sit down, Collin."

      Ignoring him, the man strode forward, hysteria in his movements. "Did you eat her, too? Did you even leave a corpse for me to bury? Any bones? Or did you crunch those down, too?"

      "You're still injured. We can discuss this later," the creature reminded him, though there was a tired confirmation that said everything they needed to discuss in his face. "Collin, you--"

      "Did you pick her flesh out of your teeth? Did she fucking taste good, my mother--"

      The Jackal slammed the tea cup down on the table, shattering it into pieces. He glared fiercely at Collin, his eyes burning a hideous shade of claret. "She nearly killed you, you fool!"

      "She was my mother!" he screamed. Fat tears burned trails down his face, and that surprised him as much as the wince the Jackal gave when he heard him. Ignoring it, Collin staggered over to the table, slamming his hands down on it and letting out a bellow of anguish.

      "You murderer, you--you're a--and I--"

      "Collin…"

      He crumpled to the floor, the wounds in his back aching fiercely, and buried his face in his hands. The sobs came messily, loud and hard enough to wrack his entire body, shuddering on the floor like an animal. "I… I…"

      A hand hesitantly rested on his hair, twining strands together between the soft junctures of its fingers. "I… didn't want you to find out until later. Collin, I know you are upset. I know what she meant to you, how afraid of failing her you were, but…" Angry now, he hissed, "She was a monster, Collin. She would have killed you. She wanted to kill you, obviously."

      "My mother," Collin whispered hoarsely.

      "She deserved what she got," the creature said lowly. "Just like all of the other lowlifes I feed upon."

      He thought about all the people--the pedophiles, the drunks, the thieves, the killers, the molesters and ruined people of the city--and shuddered.

      "Why?! Why did you do it? Why do this to me?" Collin demanded suddenly, staggering to his feet as hot fury filled him. "You're a fucking monster, you know that? Monster! You're not human! I should kill you. I should--"

      Something lit up in the Jackal's eyes, and it was a lot like rage.

      "You," he snarled. "You're the idiot! Who did you think I was, Collin? Who do you think I am? Yes, I'm a monster!"

      That wasn't what Collin wanted to hear. He keened again, his voice cracking as he stumbled to the wall and leaned against it heavily. "No…"

      The Jackal slapped both of his hands on either side of Collin's body and leaned forward to hiss in front of his face. His red eyes were glowing now, furious, and his teeth were fully bared into sharp rows. "Who do you think I am? I kill people, Collin. I murder. I eat them. I eat the flesh off their bones. Oh, I'll eat anyone. It doesn't matter to me as long as I find my food for the night. I feed on the flesh and soul until there's nothing left. Not a bone. I eat their bodies, I rip at their faces, I chew them--"

      "Shut up, shut the fuck up!" The world was wailing at him, tearing at him. Collin ripped at his hair desperately, pushing him away. "Shut up…"

      "I don't even pick the criminals because they're bad people!" shrieked the Jackal, throwing a chair to the ground. "I do it because no one notices they're missing. Because they taste like sin and greed, and last longer than any pure blood. Why not, anyway? Don't they deserve to fuel something even more evil than they are? I have no emotions like mercy, Collin, nothing like regret. I'm a monster, remember? Have you figured it out yet? I do this to survive!"

      "You like killing people," Collin rasped. "You've lied to me…"

      "I have no true appetite for flesh anymore," the Jackal murmured, suddenly quiet. "I just want to live. That's always what I wanted. I'll do anything to live, even enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. Over time, it became so easy. Eating people. Taking life to live."

      "Shut up, shut up, shut up--"

      "I'm the Jackal!" the creature snarled. "Didn't you remember?"

      Collin turned and ran for the door.

      Down the stairs--

      'So stupid, so stupid, Mama Mama Mama Mama Mama--'

      And then from behind him, pounding footsteps after him. A call.

      "Collin!" From behind him, the creature snatched his arm. "Collin--"

      "Let go!" The boy attempted to jerk it away, nearly dragging the older being off of the staircase with him. "Don't, Jackal--"

      "I'm sorry, Collin."

      Collin froze. The foreign words hung in the air between them as though strung up on a bloody canopy. Jackal fell to the floor, his knees hitting the stairs with a thud. He bowed his head, breathing deeply, unevenly, and clutched tightly to Collin's limp hand with a fervor neither could understand. "Please… I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"

      "It doesn't make things better," the young man choked. He refused to look down, refused to give into the temptation just to sit on those steps and cry, and hold his head in his hands, and let the world just carry on by him. "It's not that easy… you monster…"

      "You're right," it mumbled. "I'm a monster. I've lived for hundreds of years off of… but I'm not sorry for that. I can't be. It's been too long."

      Collin tried to jerk his hand away, but the Jackal clung tighter.

      "I can't cry for her, Collin. I can't grieve or feel upset because of what she's done. What she's done to you." When the Jackal shuddered deeply, he looked up, and then Collin turned and saw an unmistakable, heart-wrenching thing lined in every edge of his face.

      Fear.

      "But I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do this to you. I didn't mean to… I don't know. I don't know how to say it, Collin. I don't want you to leave," he was saying, voice shaking with the volume of suppressed emotion behind it. "I didn't mean to push you away. I'm weak, you know. I'm so weak, I…"

      His eyes weren't burning any less. He wanted to kill him. Wanted to hurt him. Wanted to turn around and say it was alright now. Wanted to rip his hand away. Wanted to make everything go back. Wanted his Mama. Wanted his friend.

      "Please. Everyday is the same. I wake up every morning and nothing has changed."

      Collin was silent.

      "Everyday for an eternity." the Jackal's voice was lower than ever, his face hidden by curtains of blonde hair. "Everyday the same, eating to survive… and then you come along…"

      "I have to go," Collin said. He needed to collect the body. If there was one.

      But he didn't move.

      "You make me…" the Jackal trailed off uselessly, his hands tightening on the hem of the shirt. "You make me… for one moment…

      "You make me human…"

      They stood there like that for a long time, saying nothing as the darkness fell around them.
 
 

      Three Years Later: Never Become Like Me




      "You look horrible," was what the Jackal told him.

      "I've been worse," Collin replied evenly, shutting the door carefully behind him. He stood awkwardly in the kitchen, jeans ripped and shirt saturated with drying blood, and rubbed at the wound across his cheek. "It might scar, but I'll live."

      "I wish you didn't do these things," the Jackal murmured, but he patted a hand on the kitchen chair nonetheless. The first aid box, now in easy reach on the counter, was opened.

      Sprawling out in the chair, the man shrugged. "It's not like I have a choice. Gotta protect the integrity of the gang and all that."

      A few years ago, he would have quipped 'What integrity?'--those days had long ended, however, and the Jackal was silent as he opened a tube of antibacterial cream. The young man--who now looked older than his immortal counterpart, with his stubble and broad shoulders--wrinkled his nose at it, but said nothing.

      Finally, as he was gently applying the salve to the cuts nicked all over Collin's face and shoulders, he spoke.

      "Did you kill them?" the Jackal asked, quietly.

      Collin said, "You fucking hypocrite."

      The being didn't answer, only set his jaw grimly. He dabbed at the wound with a piece of gauze again, bringing it away pink.

      "I didn't want you to get involved with them, but I wasn't going to stop you," The Jackal finally said. "It wasn't my place then. But I still don't know why you did it. A gang, Collin?"

      The young man smirked coldly at him. "Always liked the idea of family, you know. Just seemed like a good idea at the time. Having people to trust."

      If it stung, Jackal didn't say anything. He only pursed his lips and continued carefully cleaning the wound, his fingers cold on Collin's face.

      "They keep me off the streets," the man continued carelessly. He closed his eyes and deepened the twist of his smirk, tilting his head back towards the ceiling. "If they want some favors, who am I to disagree?"

      "Who was it this time?"

      "Dunno." A single shoulder raised and fell. "Some chick and her boyfriend. She used to date our leader, but then she tripped out on us."

      Fleetingly, sorrow passed over the creatures face. He set the gauze down and picked up another tube of cream, smearing the paste over his fingers. "I wonder if her parents missed her."

      Collin's hand snapped out quicker than a snake--he clutched the pale wrist of his old friend tightly, squeezing it with an unspoken warning. His frozen blue eyes narrowed at him. "Watch your mouth, Jackal. You're a fine one to talk."

      "I'd hoped you'd be merciful," the Jackal whispered, tugging his hand free. Collin let it go without protest, leaning back again in the chair. "I hoped you wouldn't become like me… cold and remorseless. A killer. It's not who you are, Collin."

      "It's not like you haven't done worse. Fucking hypocrite. I'll do what I want to do. I don't need you to watch over me like some stupid parent."

      The Jackal carefully applied a bandage to his shoulder. "It's my right to worry, even if I can't stop you." His eyes suddenly sharpened, seeking out the bared skin of Collin's forearm. "And obviously I should be very worried."

      The heroin marks were easy to see. Collin jerked his arm away, hiding it against his chest with anger burning in his eyes. "It's not your right."

      "Collin--"

      "Fuck you!" And then he was up on his feet, and he struck him--so hard that it sent the Jackal flying to the floor, crumpled on the old tiles of yellow. For a long moment, Collin stared down in shock and, stirring suddenly, pride.

      The Jackal spit out blood. He looked up, face expressionless.

      "You're not my father," Collin said, voice sounding strangled with triumph and fear. It was shaking. He was shaking. "You're not my friend. You're just a monster."

      That face was so unreadable. It had always been so.

      "A goddamn monster!"

      When Collin left, it was still laying on the floor, its face in its hands.
 
 

      Three Years Later: Take Me Home




      "Kill me. Please, I want to die."

      The Jackal stood in the doorway, staring down at the skinny, pathetic creature wallowing at his feet. In the streak of light from beyond the kitchen, Collin looked up at him with shrunken cheeks and hollowed, bloodshot eyes. His clothes were coated with garbage and blood, his entire body shaking violently. His arms were near destroyed by needle marks. They couldn't even support his weight, as light as it was.

      "Collin," it said.

      "I can't do this anymore… I want to die. So much." He grasped the Jackal's bare foot with trembling hands, moaning in his throat. "I have no money to get my… stuff… and it's too much. I can't do it, Jackal."

      "God, Collin, it's been years. Where have you--" and then, changing his mind, Jackal shook his head rapidly. "Nevermind." He knelt down, carefully looping one of the ravaged arms around his shoulder and lifting the man off the ground. "Come on. I'll get you to bed."

      "No… just want…"

      "I know," The Jackal said. "But I'm not going to give it to you. I've let you have your way. Now it's my turn."

      In his ear, Collin started crying.

      "I-I won't eat," the man sobbed. "I w-won't drink, either… j-just kill me… tha's all I want…"

      The Jackal mumbled soft words to him, but they fell on unhearing ears.
 


      ~      ~      ~      ~      ~



      True to his word, Collin didn't eat. He barely drank--the water slid over his chin and between his lips, but he often choked it back up again, writhing in pain on the sheets. A heavy sweat always covered his body.

      It didn't seem to be any better.

      Still, the Jackal brought him food and tried to coax him to eat. He made jokes, read exerts from passages in his newest books, and kept a wet rag across the man's forehead. Every time Collin flung it off, he brought a new one and laid it just as gently as before across his head.

      Sometimes he said words, but Collin couldn't hear them anymore. In the dark of the night, he only kept calling weakly for death, for the end, until the purple, bruised shadows under the Jackal's eyes were so deep that his face drowned in them.

      By the end of the week, Collin had only eaten what the Jackal forced into him. He continually hallucinated. Always begged for death.

      They both looked like they were dying now.

      ~      ~      ~      ~      ~



      That Tuesday, Collin woke to a navy ceiling that he'd seen two times before. His head was surprisingly clear of pain. He blinked and coughed weakly. He tried to sit up, but could only prop himself against the headboard. He turned his face, planning to call out again for an ending.

      The Jackal was sitting beside the bed, his face buried in his hands. Short strands of gold fell around his knuckles. The dim light from an oil lamp made his stark outline gleam.

      "You cut your hair while I was gone," Collin rasped. He smiled.

      "It looked girly," the creature whispered, his voice muffled. "I decided this suited me."

      Letting his eyes slide shut, the man mused, "It does."

      "How are you feeling?"

      "Why am I still here?" Collin asked instead of answering. The Jackal didn't raise his head, but he gave a strangled laugh.

      "I've never asked myself that question. All I've ever wanted to do was be here. To be alive. I was willing to do anything to keep it that way."

      "Being alive…" The ruined man let his lips fall open as though inaudibly speaking still, trailing off for a moment. "Y-yeah. But I'm not even alive. Not anymore."

      "My mother was a kind woman," the Jackal said.

      Collin opened his eyes. He turned to him, twisting around in the bed slowly, eyes blank.

      "She used to tell me that I had to be strong, had to watch over my little sister," he continued, his face still buried in his hands. "That's what she said before she died. Illness. My father was lost to a war. My sister followed my mother not long after. I was left alone in the world… completely alone. No one had time for a scrawny orphan--I was too old to be taken in, but too young to make it alone."

      "You were scared," Collin murmured.

      The head dipped in acknowledgement. "I… too many people, Collin. I lost so many. My family, my friends--everyone dies in the end, they told me, but I hated it. I was so stupid. Such a frightened, silly little kid. I wanted to live so badly."

      "What did you do?"

      "I went to see people. Everyone I could find that promised me something. None of them worked out." He slowly raised his face, eyes glittering with rueful sorrow. "I went to priests. Witches. Cursed ones. The wolves. I tried everything. I didn't want to die, not like my parents. I was scared I'd get sick just like my mother and leave the world forever."

      He paused, eyelids fluttering shut in remembrance. "It was an old woman in the end. She gave me a distilled liquid and told me to drink it. She said that as long as I was willing to take life to keep my own, I would survive as long as I had the will to live. As long as I…"

      "…kept eating," Collin whispered. "Jackal."

      "I didn't even know when it happened. I couldn't feel pity or guilt. I couldn't feel the brush of pain, nor the agony of age." He lifted a hand, turning it as if studying it. "This skin never changes. It became so easy, so quickly. Sometimes I would tire of the routine, but then something always came along…"

      "Like me?" There was as much hatred as love in the words. The Jackal smiled faintly.

      "I didn't expect you would come back. I thought I'd take care of you that night because it was something new. Something I hadn't done before. I didn't even think about it, but… going through the motions, acting human… it felt good. So good."

      Collin's fingers were starting to spasm. He gritted his teeth in pain, recognizing the symptoms of another withdrawal attack. His voice cracked as he told him, "I'm sorry. I've really fucked things up, Jackal. Haven't I?"

      "No. This has been all of my fault." A realization was dawning on the Jackal, and when Collin let out a wretched cry, he saw a flash of despair come across his features. The next jolt sent the boy stretching off of the bed, eyes wide with desperation.

      "J-Jackal--"

      "Shh. I know."

      Then he knelt beside Collin, infinitely gentle hands clasping the man's face like an embrace. In the lamplight, his features were basked in orange and yellow.

      "I should have never saved you. I should have left you alone," Jackal whispered sorrowfully. The red of his eyes was tinted with the oddest shade of gold. "It wasn't my place, and I've led you to this… this is my fault. All of it my fault."

      Collin let his shaking hands reach up to grasp those around his face--he felt the long, spidery fingers twitch under his own. They were warm to the touch. So warm, just like he remembered them. "So… good… thank you…"

      "I'm such a fool, Collin." The Jackal closed his eyes, lowering his head for a quiet moment. "I could have saved you years of suffering."

      "So… good to…"

      And the creature--no, the man--pressed soft, fleeting kisses over the smooth plane of his forehead, the sharp arch of his cheekbones, the slope of his nose. Those lips brushed against his jutting chin, the utter humanity of his jaw line, and the corner of his quavering mouth.

      "Ja… Jack…"

      His friend murmured against his ear, low and regretful, "Forgive me, Collin. Forgive me for being weak, and always letting you return to me."

      And then he bit down.
 
 

      The Last Night at St. Marcus




      The boy looked up at him, frightened and wide-eyed.

      Perhaps once, the Jackal would have had something to say to him. Whatever flippant words of admonishment he'd used once had vanished, however, leaving him staring at the quaking child at his feet as though he were being introduced to his personal nightmare.

      When the kid had run into him from around the corner, it hit his stomach pretty hard. It still hurt. He'd been feeling sick for weeks. It was hard to get used to, but he'd eventually stopped caring. Whatever was causing the churning rebellion could mean an ending. It could mean anything. Either way, the damage had been accepted. The inevitable embraced, should it ever care to happen.

      Perhaps he was waiting for it to happen.

      "I… I'm…" The boy was stammering. Terrified.

      The Jackal wasn't looking at him, though. He was now staring at the men on the other side of the alleyway, frozen and glaring at him suspiciously. They obviously didn't realize who he was. What he was. He'd been keeping a low profile lately, after all, so perhaps things had quieted down. No one remembered stories of the Jackal any longer, after all. Just fairytales. Urban myths. Puffs of smoke.

      "We just want the kid," one of the men said.

      The boy whimpered.

      The Jackal took his gloved hand out of his pocket… and hesitated.

      His stomach was lurching. This was a path he could not take again. Not anymore. It had already been too much. The Jackal abruptly shoved his hand back in his pocket. He nodded to the men, to the boy, and without allowing himself to think, turned around to walk in the other direction. The shadows soon swallowed him.

      The boy was screaming before he reached the end of the street.

      Somehow it didn't feel like mercy.

      The End


Acknowledgments:
    I would like to thank my parents for always supporting me in my choice to become a penniless, cynical author.  Likewise, I am grateful for the support and wisdom of my teacher, Terry Heller, and the class of the FYS Creative Writing Fall Term session.  They made this story what it is today with their helpful advice, inspiring thoughts, and encouragement.  You have made all the difference, guys.  I'll never forget it.
   Thanks to Aaron, for knowing German and always telling me when my revisions were due, Jessica, for being a sweetheart, and Liz, who will one day reclaim the Auror's coffee if I have to set rabid Nifflers on them all.
    Kudos, as well, to the insane amount of music on my computer because of various people who tell me, "You have to have this!"  Nothing's better than writing to The Rasmus, I've found.  Also, my eternal gratitude to late-night television shows and ramen cups, both of which keep me going on the worst days.
    I would also like to thank the library for the paper and ink.  I love your printer.  Madly.  If it ever disappears, you are not allowed to go looking for it… it's at a good home.