LAST HOUSE ON VECTOR STREET
by CHRIS CASTLE
Richard Keane waited in the empty house and thought about his life. For a moment he remembered his young wife, both aged eighteen, running up a seaside boardwalk, hand-in-hand. Old people looked on, disapproving, and Richard felt invincible as he gripped her hand tighter in his. That was the moment, when the time came, that he would hold onto, above all others.
The knock on the door was gentle and that surprised him. It was the apologetic tap of a neighbour, not a killer. ‘Yet’, Richard reflected as he pulled himself out of the chair, ‘what was the man on the other side of the door, if not both?’
“Hello, Mr. Keane,” The man said, waiting to be invited in. Richard nodded and stood back, waving him in. No scent came off him, which should have been peculiar but Richard felt was in perfect keeping with the man and his idea of him as a ghost. The two of them walked into the sparse room and again, the man waited to be offered the seat. Again, Richard waved his hand, almost finding humour in the ridiculous situation, before re-claiming his own seat.
“So, it’s time,” Richard said and felt his voice crack. He hated himself for the weakness, though was unsurprised at it. The man nodded solemnly and again, Richard was interested to see the compassion in his eyes. Richard had known what a killer looked like- all he had to do was look in a mirror- and yet, there was a kindness in this man, a softness that just did not fit with his actions.
“It’s time,” the man said, looking around the room. The bottles were all emptied, the women now removed. Richard gazed after him, reflecting how dull vice could be after a time. For a moment he understood the concept of the idle rich.
“Will it be filmed, like the others?” Richard asked, feeling a sudden, bizarre need to tidy up the room, to make the place look presentable. He wondered if the man’s gentile ways were somehow infectious, like some sort of benign virus. Maybe, before his heart stopped, he might indulge in a little light dusting.
“Streamed only to The Owner and nothing else,” the man said, bringing his gaze back to Richard. “You have my word. The contract is binding, no exceptions.”
“How would I know anyway, right?” Richard shrugged, for a second feeling helpless and weak.
“I’d know,” the man said and the sudden flash of indignation in his eyes revealed the killer in him. Richard flinched but felt oddly reassured at the same time. His death would be a vile thing but only seen by a paying few and not the masses. He took solace in that, he realised. The sort of comfort only a man with a death sentence could take.
“I have your word?” Richard went on, needing that final seal of assurance that he knew only the man could provide.
“You have my word,” the man said simply and nodded.
“So how do we do this?” Richard said, fidgeting in his chair. After six months of every available vice, he had become accustomed to the frenzied buzz of activity that sin brought. Now it had been drawn to a close, the silence and stillness haunted him. It felt as if he was present at his own wake, a time before his execution.
“The Owner has requested a gunshot but there are three over options available to you that he is prepared to accept.” The man paused and looked over to Richard, waiting to see if he wanted to hear the other choices.
“I’ll take the bullet,” Richard said as gruffly as he could manage. Inwardly, his stomach was beginning to dissolve. A sudden bolt of fear ran through him: he didn’t want to soil himself in front of anyone, even if it was only the man and The Owner.
“I want to be clean,” he blurted out and the man’s eyes again shifted into warm, kind orbs.
“I will provide the necessary tools to provide you leave with dignity intact, Mr. Keane,” he said quietly. Richard nodded his thanks, wondering for a moment how he knew he meant his bodily functions and not some loftier, religious ideal. He laughed in spite of himself; no doubt The Owner had been watching his behaviour over the last six months and realised he was not a religious man.
“So how long do I have?” Richard asked, shuffling in his seat once more. It reminded him of the first time he’d sat inside an airplane, ignorant of how to even lock the seatbelt straps together. Eventually a man, a businessman, had done it for him, saving him the embarrassment of having to ask one of the pretty stewardesses. He had been twenty two and his life was still a bright, open thing. Two years until the mistakes and the consequences.
“The Owner would like it be conducted within the next hour, Mr. Keane. The broadcast dictates it so.” A little of the gentleness fell away from his eyes and Richard again swallowed hard. Dying time, a voice inside his head whispered.
“How does it feel for you?” Richard said and was surprised how it came out. He’d almost spat the words out at the man.
“I can’t talk about my own situation, Mr. Keane, as you well know,” he said, not unkindly. Richard realised he was trying not to antagonise him and to his surprise, it worked.
“I just…” Richard thought for a moment what it was that was tapping away inside him, inside the blind fear and rage and panic. In a moment it struck him: it was absurdity.
“I just never imagined I’d be talking to the guy who was going to kill me,” he said, realising that this was the last itch that needed to be scratched in his brain.
“The world has changed since you and I were forming our ideals, Mr. Keane,” the man said and Richard nodded along, again only realising now that the two of them were roughly the same age. “Are you ready to be prepared?”
“Yes,” Richard said quietly, desperately trying to think of a way to prolong this, his last conversation on earth, but failing miserably. Instead, he allowed himself to be taken by the crook of his elbow and into the bedroom at the end of the corridor.
Richard Keane returned back to what he now thought of as his favourite chair and sat down. A final tumbler of whiskey was in his hand, his clothes changed and fitted with what was necessary. The man framed the small camera a few feet away and within a few seconds the red light appeared at the top left hand corner. Showtime, Richard thought miserably. The man looked up and Richard nodded.
“Are you, Richard Keane, ready to be inducted?” The man asked, his voice slightly more formal and unreal sounding.
“I am,” Richard said and swallowed the last of the whiskey.
“Richard Keane, the last member of the houses on Vector Street, has given his permission to be inducted into the files: Case 132, private channel AB/23.” Richard watched as the man spoke, his face free of the camera in order to be heard. Richard had been present to witness the other seven executions in the other seven houses: it had been part of the torture to know what was to become of each of them in the end.
The man stood to one side and carefully removed the revolver from his inside jacket pocket. As he aimed it, Richard looked away from the gun and to the red light that was glowing in the darkness of the room. He did not close his eyes and he did not beg. His eyes remained open and yet he still saw the image of a young woman, a promenade and outstretched fingers, before a faraway sound bellowed and brought his role in the broadcast to a close.
Chris Castle is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published over 300 times and has been featured in various end of year and best of anthologies. He is currently writing a novel. His influences include Stephen King and Ray Carver. He can be reached for feedback at email@example.com. Chris has become a regular contributor to our Journal. Chris’ stories; “Grid”, “Slumber”, and “The last House on Vector Street” consecutively appear in the January, April and June issues of HelloHorror.
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