IT wandered aimlessly down an alley, akin with the darkness and aimless in ITs tasks for the night. IT still didn’t fully understand not just what had happened, but what IT was at all. IT remembered standing above the one that had killed ITs wife, waiting to taste the sweet nectar of vengeance. Yet IT also remembered cowering in fear at the feat of the one whose wife IT had killed, dreading the biting sting of a husband’s wrath.

The two images were one and the same, yet so different they tore ITs mind in opposite directions. Thus IT had given in to ITs remaining urges and set upon ITs task with the bound woman on the palette. Yet before IT could finish, a tiny voice in ITs mind had taken control and dealt pity and mercy.

Again, an irreconcilable difference – murder and mercy. Both coming at once from ITs mind, yet battling with one another in execution.

IT tore at ITs head in frustration, wanting at once to silence the schismed voices in ITs mind while willing them to speak louder at the same time. Driving them to battle would result in one vanquishing the other, a more lasting peace of mind than if both merely silenced for a time.

The part of IT that was John reveled in ITs victory over the police. Somehow, IT had died yet escaped the icy grip of mortality to continue ITs game with the woman. IT didn’t care so much how, but IT was mildly curious why the world looked so different. As if looking out through a new set of eyes, taking in every sight anew.

The part of IT that was Richard writhed in agony over what IT had done. IT had murdered a woman IT had intended to protect and had consumed the being of a man so black in soul that ITs own was mortally tinted beyond recognition. IT knew exactly what had happened, understanding the events not through ITs own reasoning, but through the blessed curse of Akasha’s infinite knowledge. IT had reached out with a thought and bound John’s soul to ITs own, consuming his vessel with fire and forever removing his individuality.

IT became one with the one IT had destroyed, binding his soul to ITs vessel and intertwining their ties to the library. IT was stronger than before, able to summon visions and information from lifetimes distant to ITs own, but IT was weakened by the very nature of ITs new strength. IT had destroyed a human life and by that act become unworthy of the collective knowledge of humanity.

Akasha rejected ITs reach, but was powerless still to prevent it. IT knew all that IT willed to know, and IT knew the other was as yet unaware of this.

The part of IT that was John walked the earth as a human, displaced from his circumstances and given new life with which to wreak havoc on the world. The part of IT that was Richard was bound in its resolution to protect what little humanity remained in IT – knowing that to surrender to ITs duality of being would be to loose an unfathomable evil upon the world.

But IT as a whole had become a dark thing – a black soul melded with the darkened spirit of a man possessed by vengeance. What remained of Richard fought against this reality, but saw only the unending summit of futility.

IT had killed. IT would kill again.

Not just that, IT had to sustain itself. ITs tie to the library was only strong if it remained unused. The part of It that was Richard clung to this tie, using the strength provided through it to stand against the part that was John. As the hours grew longer, IT could feel the tie beginning to weaken, and IT knew only one way to strengthen it.

Only one way to keep the darkness from overtaking IT completely and loosing an unstoppable killer on an unprepared and unarmed world – to give in to ITs desire for blood. To kill again and meld a clean tie to its weakening and ever-darkening one. To darken ITs own soul once more in hopes of not drifting fully into the darkness.

The part of IT that was John smiled at the relevation. IT would taste death once more.

The part of IT that was Richard screamed at the impossible paradox – and loosened ITs grip on the other to pursue a new victim. To pursue a new trophy. To pursue a new weapon with which to prevent the other’s bloodlust from consuming all.

The bickering voices stopped, and ITs thoughts turned instead to the hunt. First, though, IT would find Cari. Both parts of IT had unfinished business.

Cari was tired of running. Actually, she was ashamed she’d even started. He had caught her nude, with her lover, in a moment of vulnerability and she’d given in to that brief feeling of exposure and ran. It was embarrassing to have held all the power and been reduced to a fearful, screaming wreck.

For a moment, she had become a little girl again, and she hated him for it. More than she hated anyone else. More than she hated her father for what he’d done. More than she hated herself for letting him. If she ever saw that man again –his name was Dick, right? – she’d make sure he could never take that dignity from her again.

She had long since stopped driving and ditched the truck. The real owner would report it stolen soon and the last thing she wanted to do was get picked up for car theft. Cari cursed her lack of composure before and set off down the freeway with a single shoe and her thumb out. Hopefully someone would pick her up before long and she could steal a full pair. Considering she’d stolen these just over a week ago it was time for a change anyway.

John was evil incarnate. He hadn’t always been that way, though. Like all others, his soul had entered the world pure, white, and clean. It was his tormented childhood that had soiled his mind, his conscience, and the essence of his being. What began one day as a light gray mottling had grown darker and denser over time. One abuse led to another. A history of neglect adding to the equation and creating the horrific result: a deeply troubled and twisted man.

Therapists would claim that his parents weren’t entirely at fault. His mother had tried to be there for him. At least when she was sober. His father had tried to keep a strict hand and maintain discipline. Perhaps a bit too much. But researchers would still say that the seed of darkness had been there from the start. That John was doomed to tread a path of hatred, deceit, theft, and eventual murder.

And they would be wrong.

Like all other little boys, John had started with a bright open future. His mind was clear, his thoughts pure, and his only interest lay in being loved by his parents. This sheet of white earned its first spot the day his mother was too drunk to remember to feed him. He cried and cried, reaching for his mother with his feeble young voice, but she didn’t come. After a while, he stopped crying; out of defeat, not disinterest. She wouldn’t come, and his heart hardened a little with the disappointment.

As soon as John could walk, he wanted to go to his father. His mother had disappointed him often enough that even his 2 year old brain had written her off as a neglectful, vacant drunk. But just as soon as he could wander hopefully after his father, his father struck him back to the ground. Whether for spilling his applesauce at age 3 or getting sideswiped in a parking lot at age 17, nothing was good enough.

Every time, John took the beating as if he deserved it. Not questioning his father’s wisdom and turning the powers of his mind to discover what he’d done wrong. Every strike destroyed his concept of good behavior; he was struck for doing the right thing as often as for doing the wrong. His tattered white sheet was stained with darkening splotches now, the wide-eyed hopeful young boy lost to the angst-ridden teenage outcast.

John left school, knowing he’d be beat just as much for going as for skipping; a knowledge that negated any benefit of an education. The first time he stole from the grocery store, though, was out of desperation. His mother had run off again, and his father hadn’t left the house in weeks out of misplaced self-pity. John knew the food was gone at home, and his father had drunken himself out of a job and couldn’t afford to replace it.

The first time, he stole for the right reasons, if there is such a thing. He stole so he could eat and so his father wouldn’t starve either. All the same, the theft darkened his sheet even more. John was racked with remorse for a whole day – until his father thanked him for the meal.

A lifetime of beatings, hatred, and dismissals met with the first real display of gratitude from his parents. John had done something right. The remorse he’d felt quickly lent way to a rush; to the excitement of doing something he thought was wrong, something he knew to be wrong, and being rewarded for it. This was a blessed feeling. Almost a drug in its intoxicating strength and power.

He wanted more.

Larger stores were more of a challenge. They had more customers wandering the shelves. They had more secure front doors. They had security cameras. A small voice in John’s head warned him the first time he ripped off an electronics store. He felt that sneaking around to take something that belonged to someone else was wrong. But taking the stereo got his blood pumping. Running from the screaming store owner spiked his blood with adrenaline. Hearing his dad’s surprise when he found the new stereo on the table sold the deal.

The voice in John’s head became somewhat weaker, struggling to cut through the darkness that now covered his sheet like a patchwork quilt. It was so quiet that it had become a mere annoyance, no longer the heft deterrent of his youth.

As John grew older, he grew wiser, but not in any way respected by the rest of society. He learned better tricks for casing stores, he learned how to pick locks so he wouldn’t have to rob them in the daytime, he even learned how to disable security feeds to get away without leaving a picture of himself. At 25 years old, his targets were larger and more profitable than ever. John kept moving around, making sure not to hit the same store too frequently and keeping track of heightened police patrols. He learned more and honed his skills as a thief, each time adding more soot to the sheet and further quieting the cries of his conscience.

The first time he killed a man, though, was an accident.

He had been casing a liquor store for weeks and decided a twilight raid would be the most effective. The owner closed every night, but only emptied the safe on Thursdays. John waited until just before closing time and headed into the store. The owner was always cautious right before close and had one of the double doors locked already.

John noted the woman in the back near the beer. He hadn’t expected anyone else to be on the scene and wandered to the opposite side to pretend to shop for mixers. The bystander might ruin the whole deal. He might actually have to buy something. John swore under his breath and counted the coins in his pocket. Two quarters, a dime, a Canadian penny, and pocket lint. Not enough for even one of the small liquor-flavored candies near the front.

He had just turned to leave when the pandemonium started.

Another thief barged through the door and pointed a revolver at the owner.

“The till! Empty it!”

“Sure, just don’t shoot,” the shaky owner said.

He slowly reached to the till and opened the drawer. As the thief reached over the counter to shuffle bills into a grocery sack, the owner reached for his own gun – a shotgun hung below the counter. He pulled the trigger once, shooting through the side of the counter and ripping apart the thief’s gut.

As the shot went off, John dropped to the ground. In all his time as a thief, grifter, and burglar he’d never heard a gunshot before. At least not out of the movies.

The woman in the back screamed, “baby! No!” She started running to the counter.

The thief looked in her direction as the light in his eyes gave out. His synapses fired sporadically, and his finger twitched on the trigger, sending a bullet directly at the last thing he’d looked at – his girlfriend and accomplice, Cari.

John saw the woman go down and had a relapse of conscience. Now that the shooting had started, he crawled in her direction to help. She had crumpled halfway between the beer cooler and the counter, having been shot in the left shoulder. More of a graze than a shot, John thought, reflecting on the various military shows he’d overheard as his dad watched TV. He bent to help her and absently noticed the thief’s discarded handgun sitting nearby.

The woman was in shock, but was slowly regaining an awareness of her surroundings. She looked at John, not knowing him and wondering why he was so close. She tried to push him away but felt a horrendous shooting pain in her arm. Then she remembered. The gun shot. The counter. Her man, shot in the gut by their mark. Wait, their mark!

She looked past John and saw the store owner pointing his shotgun over the counter at them. She screamed and ducked behind John for protection.

John didn’t quite understand what was going on. He’d seen the man shoot this woman, and now she was screaming and hiding behind him. He looked up at the beer cooler and caught the reflection of another gun in the window. There were two of them!

John grabbed the discarded handgun, turned, and unloaded it in the direction he thought the second assailant was standing. It was his first time shooting, and the power of the revolver caught John off guard. He shot 6 times, wildly, with only two bullets finding their mark. One hit the store owner in the hip. The other glanced off a rib and severed his aorta.

To John’s horror, the store owner dropped dead almost immediately, the shotgun sliding out of his hands and falling to the floor. John stared at the gun in his hand and, deep in a neglected part of his mind, wanted to cry.

Cari sprung to life, seeing not only that her man was gone, but that she had a new recruit willing to kill for her. She moaned helplessly, pouring on the charm and falling into the stranger’s arms. He tried to throw the gun away to help her instead but she stopped him.

“It has your prints. Bring it with you or they’ll find you. You just killed a man.”

Cari blackmailed her way out of the store and into John’s house. She had him wrapped around her finger from the first sentence they’d shared. Maybe he’d be more successful than the last one. What was his name again, anyway?

John had turned out to be the perfect little soldier. All she had to do was show him the tiniest affection, a smile after sex, a brush against his arm before a job, a calming hand on his shoulder afterwards, and he had him hook, line, and sinker. He’d do just about anything she wanted, but she was still working him up to the ultimate challenge.

She used sex as a training tool. First she’d talk him into a job. They’d case a building for a day or two to decide whether or not it was worth the effort. How much work would the job take? What would the payoff be? After she’d decided it was worth it, she’d tell him so. It was a matter of fact. Whether he had doubts or not made no difference. She silence his reservations with charm.

“You won’t even do it for me?” She’d pout and act dejected; a fair performance for someone so flatly manipulative. Eventually he’d break and rationalize the job to himself as well. He’d repeat her arguments again as if weighing them with new information that suddenly made the most difficult job sound like clockwork.

And she’d reward him with sex.

Then, before he’d even had a chance to come down from the high of arousal, she’d force him back into the car and they’d do the job. The mix of post-intercourse endorphins and pre-job adrenaline was more powerful and addictive than any drug she’d tried on the others. It kept him cool and controlled all the way through the getaway. Then she’d let him down easy from the high; again with sex.

It was essentially a drawn-out form of foreplay. Gentle, rewarding sex to reward his agreement to the job followed by rough, punishing sex to reward him for completion. Always with a larger climax at the end, always enough to keep him coming back for more.

After a few months, they’d robbed enough small-time joints that Cari was comfortable with the control she wielded over her new pet. He’d obediently take any job at any level of difficulty. She was confident he was ready for the next step – none of the others had ever made it this far.

So after a dinner of Bacardi and Big Macs she proposed their next job.

“We’ve never done anything residential before, are you sure we can do it?”

“Come on, baby, it’ll be easy.”

“But how can we case the place beforehand? It’s not like a drug store where you can walk in and look for the valuables the day before. How will be know where the good stuff is?”

“Like I said, we’ll get them to invite us in for dinner the night before.”

“But they’ll know our faces …”

“Baby, pleeeease?

“Well, going to dinner would give us a run of the house …”

Cari started massaging his shoulders, trying to get his mind off his doubts and back onto pleasing her, the only place his mind should ever be.

“I guess we can do it. After all, it’ll be easy, right?”

Cari looked into his eyes and smiled a devious smile. Then she rewarded her pet for his good behavior.

An hour later, the two were dressed, cleaned up nice for the first time in their long and illustrious relationship. Cari had been so confident in her powers of manipulation that she had set up their little dinner date before even getting John on board.

Part of him knew he should be mad, but it was miniscule in comparison to the other part that was waiting in pressured anticipation for what it knew would come after a job well done.

John knocked on the door of their new marks and held his “wife” close. He heard the door handle start to move and they both put on the best fake smiles they could.

“Mark, Sara, so good to see you!”

“Do it.”

“Are you sure.”

“Yes. She deserves it. And you need to do it. I need you to do it.”

John looked at where Sara was tied to the table in the utility closet of the run-down office building. He had no idea where Cari had come up with the idea to use this building. Then again he had no idea why they now had a need to use it.

His mind wasn’t clear. He was still high on the sex and wanted just a minute to clear his head.

“Baby, let me think about this …”

“No! Do it. Now. I want you to. I need you to. You know you need to do it. So just … please. Now.”

John looked at the obvious pleading in Cari’s eyes and made his decision. He turned back to Sara who, just a few hours ago, had been their hostess at dinner. As he carved the skin from her left shoulder she began to scream. Cari moaned with arousal and John forced his mind to go somewhere else. He silenced Sara’s screams first by thinking back to the pleasant dinner they had had the night before.

When that no longer worked, he focused instead on Cari’s impassioned panting from the other side of the room. Listening to her heavy breathing took his mind places. He skipped ahead to what he knew would come next and started carving faster in anticipation.

“No baby, you can’t rush it. Punish her,” Cari’s words echoed menacingly through the room, drowning out the dying whimpers of Sara’s last few breaths. In a moment, she was gone. John stepped back to put away the tools they’d brought but Cari stopped him.

“Finish. Then I’ll let you finish.”

John leaped back to the table in excitement. The animal part of his brain, the only part still functioning through the flood of arousal, fear, anxiety, and adrenaline remembered the pleasure it would soon experience. It ate hungrily at John’s entire mind, forcing his fingers to glide across his victim with unnatural speed and precision.

As a finishing touch, he removed Sara’s right kneecap and placed it in a pocket he’d carved under her left breast. A plate to protect her heart from the pain of a neglectful mother, a small gift from him to her to guard her against the horrors that had started him down this dark path.

And as John finished his last twisted act, his mind turned to another conquest. He cleaned his hands and stared back at his woman with an unnatural, ravenous look. As he took her as his prize, the last innocent part of his soul died. Wrapped and entombed in the black fabric that had become his being. John’s conscience utterly silenced forever, his mind was finally clear to pursue its sickened fantasies.