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Life is simple, for Ramon. Being a drug dealer isn’t a problem – it’s easy to find justifications, he doesn’t think of himself as a bad person. But one day, in an abandoned house, he kills a client for no reason. He’d like to forget about it but it isn’t easy, also because he realises he has no control over his actions anymore. Someone is using him to feed themselves. Someone who forces him to kill, to sacrifice what he cares about the most. There, in that house, destroyed by a fire. Someone, someone who lives there, who is never full. Who enforces a constant tribute of human lives. The only hope is to be able to fight that fatal and invisible presence. But the price for freedom might be prohibitive.
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Illusion Novella # 12
Original title: Il pasto
Translated by Eleonora Passelli
© 2018 Illusion
© 2016 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
The place for the meeting was in the outer city, a big house that had been destroyed by a fire. Ramon had no way of knowing when that had happened; he hadn’t frequented that area for long. The fire couldn’t have been recent, anyway: maybe five years earlier, maybe more.
The palace must have been a beautiful place: a four-story rectangular complex, divided into about thirty apartments. The fire had broken out on the second floor, and it had devoured the upper floors, reaching the roof. The first floor was still intact, and because the building was a condemned.
It was curious that they’d never repaired it, maybe it wasn’t worth it. Too old and out of the way, the owners hadn’t thought it necessary to invest more money in it.
It was fine for Ramon. There was a vast courtyard around the house that separated it from the buildings next to it. It was dry, and the few shrubs that had been able to take root had yellow and sickly leaves. A strange smell filled the area as if the smoke from the fire had saturated everywhere and it didn’t want to leave anymore.
Rox lived there, or at least he’d moved there a few weeks earlier. Ramon had never known his real name – after all, he preferred using a fake one, too. In certain situations, it was better not to deepen the acquaintance.
Every once in a while, some drifter went to take shelter there – that’s what had happened to Rox. He’d heard people say that his parents had kicked him out of the house, he’d stolen from them one time too many.
Ramon didn’t like going into that house; the building was too shaky for his taste. Transactions usually happened at the entrance, and it took a few minutes. But that night, he didn’t find anyone waiting for him.
There was no light, and the broad stairs that led to the upper floor were fit for a horror movie. He was uncertain before going up, but he decided not to call him at the end. He had no idea who else could have taken shelter there.
The walls had panels of woods, which were partially rotten. The staircase’s wood balustrade had embroidery, and it must have been stunning once. By now, it was all chipped and shaky.
He noticed it as soon as he put a hand on it and he felt something pricking him. He shook his hand to free it from the splinters, and he took care not to lean on it anymore. This irritated him.
Why did he always have to do what they wanted? What the fuck was he doing there? Couldn’t they set up an appointment in a decent place?
Rox said he was unwell and Ramon knew well what his problem was. He felt like a doctor visiting a patient. He had the cure, but he wanted to get paid. Rox had no money; he was sure of that. If he’d had it, he wouldn’t have holed up in that dump.
It was strange for a house like to be without graffiti, and it was even odd that some of the apartments had furniture. The doors of the long corridor were all open, and Ramon found his client in one of the central apartments.
There was still a mattress, which he’d laid on the ground. He used a gas lamp to fight off the dark. Rox was sitting on the mattress, hugging his knees, and he looked worn-out. Ramon grimaced because that place smelled.
Rox stood up suddenly as soon as he saw him. “Did you bring it?” he greeted him.
Ramon was disgusted; he tried not to touch anything, especially Rox. He had to keep away from him. He wasn’t even twenty years old, and he already looked like an old man. He had a constant tremble, just like an alcoholic. Ramon didn’t pity him at all; no human being should reduce himself like that. The fact that it was precisely himself who sold him drugs was irrelevant; no one had ever forced him to buy them.
“Let me see the money, first.”
The terror left Rox’s eyes. “You know you can trust me, I’ve always paid you.”
Do you think I can trust an addict? He was demanding too much. “You haven’t got a cent on you,” he established.
Rox almost shouted. “Don’t leave!”
Ramon wanted to see him crawl, and only then would he grant him half a snort. He always did that; those outcasts were a gold mine. Of course, he was generous. If Rox had no money, he would have found it. He was ready to do anything to get it. His family was wealthy; Ramon knew that – it was an investment, after all. But that day there was something different, that pathetic wimp disgusted him.
“You can’t leave me like this!” shouted Rox. “I’ll find it, I swear! I need it, I’m dying!”
The boy made a grave mistake, with a dash he clung to his arm. “I implore you!”
Ramon was furious. All his reasoning he’d done up to then melted like snow in the sun. He tried to shake him off. “Don’t touch me! You disgust me!”
He didn’t obtain anything; Rox clung even harder. “You cannot do this to me!”
The youth’s hands were greasy and sweaty; Ramon’s disgust got even stronger. The anger went to the point of blinding him. He violently pushed him away, and the boy ended up belly-up.
“Don’t you touch me ever again!” he shouted. “Ever again!”
He was fed up with having to do with that scum; he couldn’t stand them anymore. It wasn’t his duty to go pick them up from gutters and garbage dumps.
Rox crawled. “I beg you; you don’t know how I feel. I’ve been dry for the past two days. There’s a fire inside me; I’m going crazy!”
Good, that’s what Ramon wanted to see him writhing on the ground. “Call me when you have the money.”
He was about to leave when Rox clung to his leg. “No, please!”
Ramon shook it off, trying to kick him, but it was useless. He punched his temple. “You mustn’t touch me; you get that? Don’t ever touch me again!”
But Rox wouldn’t let go. He sobbed, and he held stronger and stronger. Anger blinded him completely. He punched his temple twice again, and the boy finally fell to the ground with a shriek. Ramon kept kicking him on the hip.
“You disgust me! I can’t stand you anymore!” he shouted.
Ramon felt no pity, even when he saw him numb in a fetal position to thwart his kicks. It irritated him that he was cowardly and that he didn’t try to defend himself. He kicked him twice on the kidneys, making him scream.
Then he was on him. He immobilized him to the ground, and he started filling him with punches. The boy tried to protect his face, and he cried, but Ramon was relentless. He threw a lot of insults at him, shouting incoherently, and he saw the blood spatter.
At that point, there was no way of blocking the anger anymore. He kept hitting him like a piston, and when Rox’s arms collapsed, leaving the face uncovered, Ramon butchered it, breaking his teeth and nose and reducing him to a lump of living flesh.
In just three minutes, he’d disfigured him; he’d reduced him to a puppet floundering while trying to breathe, while he was chocking in his blood.
Ramon looked at his bloody hands without feeling any remorse. However, the disgust made him suddenly stand up again, and he was about to vomit. He regularized his stomach by taking big breaths.
What had happened? What was the matter with him?
Rox was in bad shape; his body trembled in shallow breaths. The bloody mouth exhaled an asthmatic rattle. Then, suddenly, it stopped.
The silence became absolute.
He didn’t move anymore; he was a broken mannequin. Gazing at his breast, Ramon waited to see him stand up again, but it didn’t happen.
He was dead. He’d killed him.
It only filled him with anger He’d asked for it! He’d wanted it! Why had he called if he didn’t have the money to pay? He’d warned him not to touch him!
He struggled to think straight; he just wanted to get away from there. He couldn’t stand looking at him anymore.
He turned and ran away.
It wasn’t immediate. He first washed and changed clothes. He took care of his injured hands. He had a lavish meal, and he fucked sensationally, too. It was a magnificent evening. Only later, in bed, lying next to Nadia, he realized what he’d done.
His first reaction was of astonishment: he’d killed a man.
It was absurd, impossible; he wasn’t able to. He’d never hurt anyone in his life – not with his hands, anyway. Even when there was someone who needed a lesson, he always asked for help from someone more expert than him. He’d never dirtied his hands. And a client, too!
You don’t kill clients, whatever they do. Heck, he didn't kill the one who had tried to mug him, two years earlier. He’d just had someone give him a lesson. Clients were a gold mine, they had to be used to the very last drop, and Rox more than many others. Only a madman would have hurt them.
It was a brainwave; it hit him. He’d heard about it, but he didn’t think it was possible. Not to him, anyway.
His second reaction was fear. Terror. He started trembling, and he wasn’t able to stop. He was forced to get up not to wake up Nadia. He took shelter in the bathroom, and he turned the light on because he couldn’t stand the dark anymore.
What had he done?
He’d killed him with his bare hands! He’d escaped! He’d left traces, which would have led the police to him. There was no way of getting away with it. He was a previous offender, and he’d left prints everywhere. His blood was on Rox. His hurt hands accused him. Not only he hadn’t killed that boy for no reason, but he also hadn’t done anything to hide the traces. Was he crazy?
His head was hammering painfully; it was difficult to think. Why had he done it? That was the most pressing question, but it wasn’t a priority at the moment. How to get away with it, he should have asked. What did he have to do not to end up in jail? How did he have to behave?
Nadia would have offered him an alibi if he’d asked her, even if she didn’t approve his job. But it would have been useless; the evidence would have nailed him anyway. Was there still time? Had the body been found yet? He doubted it that house was empty. If some hobo had noticed the corpse, it was unlikely they’d turn to the police. That sort of people didn’t want any troubles.
Was there still a chance, then? To go back, to cancel any trace or even make the corpse disappear. Would he have had the courage to do that?
Ramon was a faint-hearted guy. He’d raise his voice only when he had the certainty that he was superior to his enemy. But it wouldn’t take anything to make him bow his head. The idea of going back to that abandoned palace in the middle of the night terrorized him, but he had no choice: if he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, he would have been forced to do it.
He dressed up, trying not to wake Nadia up, and he went out of the house tiptoed. He wasn’t ready for the job he’d thrust upon himself, but he didn’t know what else to do. How to make a corpse disappear? How to delete the evidence? There was an oilcloth in the trunk, and he found clothes and detergent in the garage. He took a pair of rubber gloves, too – the kitchen type, because he couldn’t find anything better. He didn’t have any shovels; he would have had to make it work some other way.
The journey was hellish. His ability to focus diminished up to the point of putting his safety at risk; he even risked crashing against a wall. He couldn’t understand how it could have happened. Ramon didn’t see himself as a delinquent; he’d turned to drug dealing because of the circumstances. That didn’t hurt anyone, after all. However, what had just happened went beyond any imagination. More than the homicide itself, the fact that he’d ignored any precaution. He left after a mental paralysis had hit him, absolute that it scared him.
His hands were trembling, and when he reached his destination, he remained in the car for several minutes, without daring to get out. The entire street was deserted, clouded in sleep. The palace was even more lugubrious in the dark. Nothing could have pushed him in there, but the perspective of ending up in jail for the rest of his life.
When he found the courage to get out, he took the flashlight from the footboard drawer. With the absence of weapons, which he’d never felt a need for, he equipped himself with the jack lever. He didn’t take anything else for that first inspection; he had to be certain that no one had found the corpse.
Going up to the first floor was a tough feat and the closer he got to the place of the murder, the worse he felt. It wasn’t remorse, not even then; it was just a lot of fear for the future. He had to stop halfway through the corridor to gather his strengths before facing what was waiting for him. He was worried he’d start vomiting, adding new traces to the already existing ones.
He stopped in front of the window, and he lighted up the interior with the flashlight. He saw the mattress; he saw the bloodstain on the ground. He shouted.
He blocked his mouth with his hand to prevent himself from doing it again. There was no corpse. For a moment, he felt relief. He hadn’t killed him that was clear. He was wrong, Rox had revived, and he’d left. He wasn’t dead.
That image plagued him. He’d reduced him to a pitiful state; he couldn’t have gone too far either way. He let out a sob because he finally felt a little bit of remorse. He looked around, lighting the pavement.
He let out another moan: there was a blood trail directed precisely towards him. Had Rox crawled away from there, looking for help?
Ramon had conflicting emotions. He exulted that Rox was still alive, but on the other hand, he worried that he’d gone to denounce him. He feared the moment when he’d find him because he had no idea how to behave.
Logic suggested him that Rox must still be there. It was unlikely that he’d managed to get away from the house. If he’d done that, at his arrival, he should have found the police. Dead or alive, he couldn’t be far.
The blood trail continued along the corridor, but in the opposite direction from the one, he’d come. It was a constant trail as if someone had crawled on the ground. It was strange.
The trail was perfectly straight, and it was unlikely that a wounded person could move in that way. Ramon kept following. What were the implications, if someone else had moved the body? Where had they taken him and why? It was clear that they didn’t want to have anything to do with the police; perhaps the other inhabitants did it drifters like Rox.
Maybe the boy was still alive, and they meant to cure him.
This last hypothesis, as much as he hoped for it to be true, was implausible. From the signs left on the floor, it was evident that the body was motionless.
At the end of the corridor, there was a second staircase, and the blood trail continued, towards the lower floor. The fact that someone dragged down the stairs annoyed Ramon, and it increased his apprehension. Rox was dead – whether there was a corpse or not, he was still an assassin.
He went down carefully, trying not to step on the blood, but when he reached the ground floor, the trail didn’t stop. It continued through a new staircase, always directed downwards: the basement.
It was beyond his possibilities, but that was a particular case. He gulped and kept going down.
He ended up in front of a long corridor that seemed to be crossing the building entirely. On the opposite side, there must be the second staircase, those that led to the entrance. The floor was crude and uneven, and the stains got less and less evident. There were many doors along the corridor, each leading to an apartment’s basement. As the whole hallway was bare, Ramon went on with caution.
He didn’t try to open any door, and he always stayed at the center of the corridor. When he’d almost walked through it all, he realized that the last room was the biggest one of the building.
From the tubes crossing the ceiling, he guessed it was the boiler room. The old machinery was old and dusty, an iron cylinder occupying the center of the room. In that situation, he found it creepy. But something else immediately caught his attention.
There was a table in front of the boiler, with four chairs next to each other. They were the only furniture there, placed right in front of the stairs leading to the upper floor. Something, or rather someone, was lying there.
Ramon froze, agitated. He tried to light up everything around, but it wasn’t easy. The room was too big, and the flashlight couldn’t reach the opposite wall. He feared an attack by then, and he wondered if it was wise to go on.
He lighted the table, even if he didn’t want to, and he recognized Rox. Mostly from the clothes, as he couldn’t see his face from that angle. There was blood, but that didn’t scare him – neither his stillness scared him, as he had now accepted he’d killed him. He was disturbed by how he was lying in the center of the table, with all those chairs around.
What was a table doing in the boiler room? Who gathered there? Why had they placed Rox there? Maybe it was just hobos trying to cure him.
Waving the metal bar in front of him, he strolled, because he needed to know. The table looked as if they’d been eating. It was by no means a formal meal, the plates were unlatching, and there were glasses of all shapes and sizes. There was no food on the table – or better, the food was Rox.
He couldn't get his eyes off it. An arm had no flesh; you could see the bone. A large portion of flesh was missing on a hip, too. The clothes were ragged in many points. The corpse’s face had the signs of his fury, and it was extremely pale as if it did not have any drop of blood.
Ramon started shaking. Again, he couldn’t reason, he was too shocked by what he’d just seen.
The slaughter must have just started. It was still going on. Someone was eating him!
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