The view beyond the confines of the bay window was still as banal as ever, thought the man, tall and thin, his eyes pressing themselves past the icy glass out into a world icier still. With a casualness bordering upon the sly, the man grinned to himself, an endeavour of expression that might almost have been a sweet nothing at all were it not for the light in his dark almond eyes that begged to differ. Yes, this part of the world was truly an abhorrence, but that, as a fact, was quite academic now. Soon enough, he’d be away from it altogether, free to settle down somewhere new to make his mark. Someplace comforting. Someplace warm and unconditionally welcoming. Somewhere he’d actually want to stay this time.
In the meantime, however, there was still work to be done. Drawing the curtains shut on the view outside, he turned away from the shuttered window and flicked on a light switch. It was imperative he didn’t leave any one of his pre-packed bags in some unanswered shadow or other where they might be forgotten about. This was always the way of it, he pondered calmly, every time he came to leave a place, the same careful routine administered over and over again. Practice made perfect though. He liked that idea. It felt clever and self-congratulatory. He even chuckled at it in something of a low purring fashion as his hands, wiry and dishevelled, hauled what cases and bags he had to carry over toward the doorway so that come the appointed time, they could all be snatched up in one fell swoop.
As he did so, the man suddenly recalled a comment someone had made to him at some past juncture. Yes, he continued to remember, scanning the room for any last thing he might have overlooked; they’d questioned him at length, hadn’t they, whoever they’d been, all but grilling him on his… oh, how had they put it? Ah yes, that was it – his need for permanent efficiency. His desire for a perfection they’d insisted could simply never be. What rot, he’d countered, monstrously offended by what he saw as total defeatism. Anything was possible, he told them, anything could be achieved; one just had to have a mind and will strong enough to make it happen, that was all.
Off in a far corner, the man spied the silent mass
of the television set, nestling in half-shadow whilst
above it hung numerous generic portraits. Apart
from them and the worn three-seater leather settee
slouched behind him, of course, the room was
practically empty now, a shell of shadows and
disinterest. Solemnly, he nodded, as though ticking
them off on an invisible itinerary. All the items could
easily be replaced as and when they were needed,
he thought, eyeing the remnants of the room with a
stolid sweeping gaze. Replaced. Yes.
Once again, he brought to mind the questioner from before, heard the way the voice had first reasoned, then later pleaded with him, all the while trying to break his resolve and unchange his mind on that balmy night, some six months ago now. In the end, it had all been so much wasted air. He had not been swayed. Indeed, the only part of the whole affair that he had later cursed himself on had been in letting the speaker keep on speaking for quite so long as she had. After all, he’d gone to the lengths of binding her up from top to bottom – why then not have gagged her too? A mistake, of course; he’d been too kind-natured back then. But mistakes too had there symmetry. They could always be learned from and solved.
Moving to the main outer door, the man opened it quietly over the thick carpet and then, placing the various bags outside in the empty foyer, turned back around and let himself inhale the overpowering aroma that currently owned the flat. It was really only logical that he should, he thought, drinking it in as one might a pleasing bouquet. After all, why shouldn’t he enjoy the fruit of his own labours? At that he giggled stupidly, like a child almost as he looked back at the four items laid out before the fireplace.
The largest of them was a woman in her late twenties, the two immediately next to her, her children, one five, the other seven. With a dispassionate eye, the man watched them as they struggled against their bonds, pleading with him through watery eyes not to do what came next. For, from the empty vessel laid next to them marked PETROL right through to the fragrance of its contents spread throughout the room itself, there be could be no doubt about what it was he intended. Still, at least on this occasion they weren’t actually able to talk to him; the gags provided were more than adequate for that job. Symmetry then; calm ordered symmetry. Just the way he liked it.
Next time you’ll get it right he told himself, as he’d told himself many times before, always meaning it, always searching for that perfect family life he knew was out there to carry him forward. With a flicker of his skeletal fingers, he lit the lighter caged in his fist and looked down at them, savouring the fear flooding off of them with a leer he couldn’t suppress any longer. Then, without even blinking, he tossed it right at them before closing the door behind him forever.