April 27, 103 PN
With my eyes peeled to the cracked tile floors, I grudgingly stepped towards a dim room, catching the rhythmic scratching of pen across paper. My heart fell to the bottom of my feet; the vulture was roosting in his nest, waiting to snap at the simplest sign of life passing his doorway. I stopped at the last second, scowling at the rusted nameplate nailed to the wall. Lawrence Fergus McDougal, Chief of Medicine – scribbled beneath, someone wrote 'King of the Grumps', and I couldn't help but grin at the truthful statement. Other names, such as 'British Bore', 'Stubby', and the classic 'Tommy Redcoat' were splashed over with paint or crossed out, but that did little to discourage the anonymous vandals. Gently, I pulled my duster closer to my body and turned.
“Running like a frightened mouse won't do much good for your shoulder, miss Edahsra.”
I shuddered at the scratchy, droll tone sifting down the hallway and pulling at my ears. Dammit, I was so close...! The metal legs of a chair screamed as they were pushed across the tiles while a wooden cane began to clop closer to the entrance. I sharply swore under my breath and whipped around, fingernails digging into the seams of my jacket as my boots scraped their way into the vulture's lair.
“Well, well, aren't we in a jolly mood?” McDougal was leaning beside his desk, one hand gripping the window pane while the other tapped the cane against a corroding examination table. My lips twisted at the sight of the room: a flickering light bulb hung low from the ceiling, with countless wires taped together and dangling from the socket; metal trays were piled in a corner, spilling outward bloodied gauze pads, clamps, and sutures; the two windows, albeit small, were broken and covered by yellowing newspaper; McDougal's desk was pinned to the wall, with medical reports mounted on top and crammed full into the drawers.
“If it suits miss Edahsra, I'd love to get this done by my next birthday.” He smacked the cane on the floor and limped to the middle of the room, a dour frown creased onto his filth-ridden face.
I glanced to the side. “It looks more like an autopsy table. Did you fish this out of the morgue...?”
He shrugged. “We can't be choosy in times like these, now can we?” he tottered over to the metallic slab, dragging his chair and a clipboard along.
“As long as this is still a checkup, then no,” I muttered, slipping off my coat and folding it over my good arm.
“Ah, ah, ah. You know the rules.” he lifted his cane and gestured to my belt. “No weapons.”
“It's not even loaded, doctor.”
He shook his head, planting his rear into the chair. “No weapons.”
My eyes flashed daggers at him, but I knew arguing would be useless. I jerked my revolver from its holster and placed it onto the table before hoisting myself up, holding in a shiver as I fought back the image of how many bodies were cut open and dissected on this cold sheet.
“Now then,” McDougal began, easing into the creaking chair with a groan, “how about we take a look at this, er, injury.”
“The quicker the better.” I sat up straight, gritting my teeth as I slipped my right arm out of the sleeve. McDougal scratched under his chin before looking in my direction, eyebrows furrowed at the large mass of dark blue and purple splattered on my shoulder.
“Ah-ha, ah-ha... I'm seeing a moderate to serious ecchymosis contusion... twenty centimeters in all.” He nodded to himself, scribbling notes onto the clipboard.
I scowled. “Is there a way I can get the English version?”
He tapped the pen on his knee. “It's a big bruise, no doubt caused when you rammed that motorbike of yours into a wall at, what was it... forty-five miles an hour?”
“Twenty-five, and I didn't 'ram it into a wall', I was avoiding gunfire and sort of lost control.”
“Maybe I should check for a concussion as well.” McDougal pushed himself up and stepped towards the table. “On a scale of one to ten, how great is the pain?”
I attempted a shrug. “I'd say a five or six... no wait, no more than a five.”
“Mhmm...” He pursed his lips together, then quickly jabbed the butt of his pen into my bruise. I gasped loudly and slapped it away, watching in secret relief as it bounced into the hallway.
McDougal cocked an eyebrow, softly drumming his fingers against his cane. “No more than a five, eh? Could have fooled me.” He pulled a broken pencil from his coat pocket and continued to write. “I recommend a mixture of RICE and light massage. That should encourage the blood to get flowing again, and hopefully this treatment should last no more than a week and a half, considering you actually listen.”
“I'll make a note of that when I'm back from Baltimore, doc.” I hopped off the table and wasted no time holstering my revolver.
“We're not finished just yet, miss Edahsra. I still have some questions for you.”
I turned to him, inching my arm back into the sleeve. “Look, like I said, it was twenty-five miles an hour, you can even ask Gerald after I see him...”
“It's not that.” He limped to my side, his lips a rigid line. “I'd like to ask about this.”
He raised a finger and lightly prodded a cracked fingernail into my forehead, close to a small, round scar resting above my right eyebrow. I stumbled backwards, almost flinching at the contact. McDougal stood there, stunned, but quickly masked it over with a coarse sneer.
“Fourteen years and still touchy about it, I see,” he said, rubbing his finger along his coat. “Amusing how someone who labels themselves as 'strong' can become a mouse at a simple gesture.”
A wave of insults rocked on the tip of my tongue, but I cleared my throat and replied, “If you were face-to-face with a walking nightmare, you wouldn't be so quick to belittle me.”
“When I was your age, I had something called common sense; you should try it out sometime,” he snapped. “I knew when to stay put when a serial killer was on the loose.” He then paused and rolled his shoulders, mumbling incoherently. He moved to his desk and jerked the top drawer open with a grunt, ignoring the few sheets that fluttered out. He cocked his head down and in the faint light, I was sure I saw his knuckles turn white as he choked the cane handle. I tapped my boots against the metal legs and he quickly returned, slapping a piece of paper on the table.
“If you be as so kind as to sign this release form stating I saw to your needs...” He held out the broken pencil.
I snatched the pencil from his grasp and scribbled my name across. “I take it this means I'm free?”
“Be on your way, Edahsra. I would like to examine your shoulder upon your arrival from Baltimore, if it's not too much of an inconvenience.” McDougal's voice was suddenly calm as he grabbed the form, wobbling back to his desk. As I threw my coat on, my eyes caught him standing beside his desk, staring again at the floor. I crept backwards to the doorway, leaning my head in hopes of catching a glimpse, but only crinkled pages and newspapers where all I found.
"So hey, I'll just go ahead and see myself out. Massage and ah, RICE, got it. Will do, doc."
Silence was his reply.
When my family still lived in the bomb shelter, I came to know an elderly woman and her grandson, a young man named Gerald Tridal. In the beginning, I thought of him as strange; every time my brother and I came across his path, his face was crammed into an old world magazine or book. He was shorter than most children in the shelter, and sporting a body a straw would laugh at. For hours I would stare at him from my room, perplexed at how someone could remain seated on the cold floor and take pleasure from dirty sheets of paper. One day, my curiosity took control and I picked up a thick magazine depicting worldwide skyscrapers and monuments in unique detail. I became absorbed at the first article about the Sears Tower, and Gerald soon appeared at my side; we stayed there well into the next day, passing out on each other sometime in the evening. However, after we reached Hudson, Gerald and his grandmother left us to find a more secure colony, and I feared I would never see my friend again. It wasn't until I volunteered for the Crossers that we were reunited, and the runt of the shelter towered over me while he nearly smothered me with his thick arms.
I poked my head into the entrance and saw my friend sitting upright in his bed, pulling apart the back housing of an old radio with a rusty screwdriver. He swore as he pulled forth two frayed wires, shoving them back inside and slammed the radio onto the nightstand, growling in disgust.
He looked my way and straightened out, tossing the screwdriver aside and folding his arms across his chest, shaking his head and scoffing. "I am so deeply disappointed, missy. I don't recall you coming to visit before now. Where's that undying loyalty you're always blabbing about!"
"Oh, do forgive me, Your Highness." I half-curtsied, lowering my head in shame. "Next time you're out cold, I'll remember to cuff myself to your bedside."
"That's more like it!" He stared at me sourly, then a wide grin played on his lips. "You know, for a second back there, I thought you'd be the one strapped to this bed instead of me."
"I imagined the same; they probably thought yours was a better prize than mine." I shifted in my stance. "So, uh, how's the, um..." I paused, then pointed to my own head.
"Oh, that. Well, as far as I know, it's still in tact, don't feel anything bouncing around." He brushed his fingers above his bandages, nearly wincing. "Your dad was here earlier and dropped this off, said it'd stop almost any bullet from now on." He gestured to a steel helmet at the foot of his bed. "You know, if you put aside the swarms of Irons running around, cars and buildings blowing up, taking refuge in a cramped sewer tunnel, and this minor scratch, I think the mission was a huge success."
"I think you're enjoying the painkillers a little too much." I dragged the chair across the floor, cringing at the screech before plopping down, taking care not to move my shoulder.
"You did get that looked at, right?" Gerald frowned. "I swear, I'll bring the nurses in."
"Hold off on your horde, it's been taken care of. Unfortunately, I think Stumpy had a blast with it."
"You got stuck with McDougal? Oh, girl..." He shook his head, feigning sympathy. "I'd be more than willing to leap into Orleans turf than re-enact his version of Jekyll’s fun-time."
"It's a wonder Commander Tull keeps him around. I know three doctors who are more than qualified to replace him, and they got both feet to boot."
"True, but like it or not, he does whatever necessary to keep you alive and kicking." Gerald hunched forward, trying to glimpse past the doorway. "Speaking of the crippled chap, I've noticed something. It's only been a couple days since I woke up, but around what, two in the afternoon, he leaves his office and walks by my room, all quiet-like."
I cocked an eyebrow. "Shocking, but he is a living being, Gerald. And last time I checked, it's normal for living beings to move around and get some food once in a while."
"Not like that, you dummy! Geez, you're almost as bad as your dad. Anyway, he comes out at around four--"
"What happened to two?" I smirked.
He threw his hands into the air, glowering. “Can I finish! You get shot in the head, and all your partner does is sit back and mock your state, no respect.” He let out a loud 'hmph' and eased into the pillow. “Unless I am going to be so rudely interrupted a third time, hush up and listen. He comes out and heads over to the Victim's Board and just...” he leaned in and whispered, “He just stares at it. One of the nurses said he was out there until about eleven last night. Says nothing, does nothing.”
I looked to the doorway, eyebrows cocked. “That list hasn't been updated in weeks; why would he be suddenly so interested?”
Gerald clicked his fingernails loudly, shrugging. “Nurse said he's been going since they nailed it up. Maybe he knew one of the victims?”
We froze at the arrival of wood smacking the tile and eased our heads back to the door. There was a pause, a quick falter of footsteps, and McDougal appeared, lurching his cane forward and stumbling after it. His free hand hung limp at his side, the tips of the fingers trembling. His eyes were to the floor as he slowly moved past, lips flashing gritted teeth. I glimpsed to Gerald, who gestured to the hallway with his arms. I stood and peered from the doorway, keeping only a fraction of my body visible as McDougal stopped mid-step before the board, ignoring the stares of those passing by. He raised a paling hand upwards toward the list, brushing his fingernails down the printed names. I almost flinched when he stopped in the middle of the page and his teeth pierced the bottom of his lip. Nursing staff and fellow Crossers slowed their pace in the middle of the hallway; one of the Crossers smirked and nudged his friend. I frowned and moved from the doorway when a loud tear echoed down the hall. McDougal slashed through the air with his cane, the crumpled remains of the list trapped beneath trembling knuckles.
The smirk from the Crosser had vanished as he fell to the floor and scrambled to the nearest wall, the heels of his boots squealing as they wildly looked for an escape route. McDougal threw the cane, pinning a hand against the exposed brick for support, eyes blazing towards the frightened boy.
“You think this is a joke?” McDougal screeched, throwing the list aside and thrusting a finger in his direction. “That demon continues to build on his graveyard, and you get a sick kick out of it! You dare wear the badge of those giving their lives to stop him... Get out of my sight. Get!”
On all fours, the boy whimpered and hurried to the door, his friend in tow. McDougal shuddered and slid to the floor, his body quaking with every exhale. No one dared to move close, the nurses slipping into rooms and Crossers turning the other way. I took a step forward and knelt down, my hand reaching to grab the cane when the list appeared in the corner of my eye. I swiftly shoved it into my pocket while my other hand wrapped around the crutch. I rose and walked over, looking to the side as I held the cane out to him.
The wood jerked from my grasp as he dropped it to his feet, a hand over his eyes. I said nothing, simply nodding his way and marching back to Gerald's room. In my head, the scenario played over and over, and I had felt—I stopped, pulling the list out and ridding most of the wrinkles. The names of 89 victims ran down three columns, from the oldest to the most recent of last week. I skimmed down the names until I saw, under the name of Kathryn Werner, an addition:
90. Lawrence McDougal
I turned my head, my heartbeat vibrating along my bones as McDougal looked my way, fury still smoldering in his eyes.
“Why were you picked to die before... Why did he choose you.” There were tears brimming in his eyes and he glared. “What made you so special?”
All I could do was gawk at him, dumbfounded at the notion. The scene rushed before my eyes and I stepped backwards; and as he was screaming at the boy, his knees buckling from the exertion, something registered in my head.
I wanted to scream at him as well— no, I wanted to do more. I wanted to pick him up by the hair, slam his face into the wall until my strength gave out. My hands shook uncontrollably with excitement, as if I had him by the shoulders at this very moment. Every take of breath and I was dragging his worthless body to the window, holding him by the scruff of his jacket as I...
I paused at the edge of the stairwell, my foot hanging inches in the air. I moved it back, slumping against the wall and running a hand down my face. Unknown words escaped my ears as they fluttered out of my mouth and drifted away. I took a deep breath, exhaled shakily, and looked to the list for a final time.
Only 89 victims were able to be identified, but it was common knowledge that the Hangman's true count exceeded this single sheet of paper. On 25 June of 79 PN, twenty-five settlers were found hanging from the water tower of Brollen Grove, their uvulas forcefully cut out. The murders became increasingly worse, bodies appearing days apart, suspended by meat hooks, rusted wires, chains, and often times, their own intestines.
McDougal's pen lay close to my foot. I snagged it between two fingers and shoved the paper's rim firmly into a crack below the wood paneling, etching out the hobbling moron's name until it tore a hole. I steadied my hand.
91. The Hangman, killed by Alice Edahsra