"War is like love: it always finds a way." - BERTOLT BRECHT, Mother Courage and Her Children
"Becker!" Anson cried, eyes wide in utter shock.
"What?" Becker replied as he took a drag on his cigar. "A man can't have a celebratory smoke after beating up a girl?"
He looked over at the unconscious form of the redheaded girl who had tried to mug Anson mere moments earlier with a sneer. She hadn't even put up a decent fight. It was more like one dropkick, a straight right to the temple, and she crumpled like a stack of wet cardboard.
"You're alive!" cried Anson, standing up slowly.
"That I be." Becker replied calmly, coughing on a rough drag.
"Buthow?" Anson asked earnestly, grabbing Becker by the shoulder, if only to ensure he was real and not a ghost.
"How?" Becker snickered. "By breathing."
"No, I mean" Anson trailed off. He sighed, then gave a smile at the man he had presumed dead for months. "II was at your funeral."
"I know," answered Becker, "but you'd be surprised how no one really looks in a casket at a funeral. You know, I died in a fire. No one wants to see the body of a burn death."
It was then Anson witnessed Becker turn his head lazily to the side to take one last puff of the cigar. To his utter horror, in the dim light, Anson saw the huge, wavy burn scars running down the right side of Becker's face. Becker sighed heavily, exhaling the mouthful of smoke into the night air.
"Sh*t." Becker muttered. "I never expected to see you around here again."
"I didn't either." Anson replied, looking down at the unconscious girl before them.
"Wait, if you weren't dead, you"
"Faked my death." Becker said matter-of-factly.
Becker smiled smugly, and tossed the butt of his cigar to the sidewalk. He lazily ground it into the sidewalk with the ball of his left shoe.
"To find out what we were always wanting to know"
"The Shredder." Both said simultaneously. Becker looked to Anson with amusement in his eyes.
"So you know, too?" he asked Anson, looking out into the dark street, as if to check if anyone were listening. He looked back to Anson with concern. "Right?"
"Yeah." Anson sighed, reaching into his pocket. He slowly removed the lighter that he had received at the beginning of his journey away from Harmony Hill. He handed it to Becker, who glanced at the iron cross on the front, then slowly turned it over and stared at the name "Zippler" engraved on the bottom.
"Jana." Becker said quietly. Anson nodded.
"The fiery red hair. Like the fire that burned down their home." Anson stated plainly, taking back the lighter and stuffing it back in his jeans pocket. "She gave it to me when I left Harmony Hill. Like a taunt or something. As if she were saying, "Since you're leaving, you should know I killed Becker.""
"She's insane, you know." Becker added. "That Zippler family gene of madness. Cuckoo crazy. I'm not sure what drives her."
There came a ring from Anson's pocket. He immediately knew who was calling; it was Charlie's ringtone. Anson had just gotten his cell back from his house and charged it to full battery.
"Madness drives her, Beck." Anson replied, reaching into his pocket, then placing the cell to his ear. "Yo?"
"Anson, you're not going to believe it." Came Charlie's excited voice.
"Try me." Anson smirked, looking to Becker, the dead man.
"There's a fourth Zippler."
"Really?" Anson asked, turning his back to Becker and placing a hand over his other ear for clarity.
"Yeah, I went to Jana and Eric's to try out my ankh theory." Charlie said. "It, worked, by the way. And as I'm passing through the halls, Jana tells me her dad had a kid with another woman after Eric."
"Jesus." Anson muttered.
"Yeah. Lauren Zippler."
Anson suddenly pulled the phone away from his ear and put it on speaker. Becker would want to hear this, Anson knew.
"It's crazy. Jana told me she looks like her. The red hair gene is on the second X chromosome."
Becker turned his head sharply to look at the redheaded girl on the ground before him. He kneeled down beside her and ran a hand across her face. Yes, he thought, she looks like Jana.
"Jesus Christ." Anson whispered to himself. "Wowwow, that's cool."
"Yeah, man." Charlie continued, changing tones. "And dude, it worked."
"It worked?" Anson repeated.
"It worked. Eric's awake. I'll be back home by quarter to ten or so. See ya. I got things to organize."
"Yeah, me too." Anson said, slamming his phone closed. He was suddenly very much out of breath. Weak in the knees, he turned to Becker, who was smiling over the face of the half-sleeping/half-knocked out girl. He flashed the most diabolical smile Anson had ever seen, then whispered:
"Looks like we just gained some leverage."
Lauren Zippler was awakened by the sound of shuffling, then a small bang followed by someone cursing. She fluttered her eyes open, suddenly aware she was not at home. By the feeling of gravity on her heavy head, she could tell she was sitting up. Her eyes finally found their place, and she immediately saw clouds of sawdust before her. Then her nervous system kicked in, and she realized she was bound to a wooden chair.
It was too dark to see anything, but she knew it was nighttime. As she attempted to move her hands, she found her wrists bound together behind her. What with, she had no idea. All she knew was that she was in deep, deep trouble.
"Oh, she's awake." Echoed a voice in the room. By the echo, Lauren could tell she was in a very large room. The voice was dark and unfeeling. It seemed almost artificial.
"Dear, dear Lauren." Said the voice. And then, in a single flicker, the fluorescent lights came on, row by row. Lauren winced at the sudden brightness, and when her eyes readjusted, she saw before her a boy with slicked-back black hair, wearing a black dress shirt above a plain white t-shirt and black slacks. He smirked with a meanness Lauren had never seen before in her 16 years on Earth. This man, she knew, was pure evil.
"Do you mind if I call you Laura?" the man asked, pulling up a metal stool and taking a seat. He seemed too calm for the situation. Lauren didn't say a word.
Looking around, she realized she was in a warehouse of some kind. To her immediate left, a set of metal stairs painted green led up to a balcony that ran about the left and front sides of the room. To her right was an expanse of blank gray floor covered in sawdust and assorted planks of plywood. She inhaled deeply, trying to remain calm.
"You don't mind, then?" the man asked, then grinned again. "Oh, where are my manners, Laura? My name is Hank."
"ListenHank." Lauren began, her voice quivering. Hank smiled at the mention of his own name.
"I-I don't know anything about anyone." Lauren continued. "I just w-want to go home."
"Ah, but what is home?" asked Hank, holding up an inquisitive index finger like a college professor. "I know no home. And you've just found a new one. The Zippler siblings."
He chuckled chillingly, staring Lauren in the eyes. His eyes were cold and dark, and revealed nothing about himself. They were frozen, blank slates. The windows to his soul had the blinds pulled shut.
"I want to know about your family." He continued. "Namely, Jana."
"What about her?" Lauren asked as tears welled up in her eyes.
"Calm down, silly." Hank assured her. "I won't hurt you.assuming you cooperate."
"Oh, I-I will , sir." Lauren piped in immediately.
"Good." Said Hank. He stood up from his metal stool and shoved it aside. He began circling the chair Lauren was bound to like a shark. He smelled blood.
"Now" he sighed, placing his hands on Lauren's immobile shoulders. "What has she told you about herself?"
"Uh, well, she uh"
"Take your time, dear."
"She just gave the basic info. I mean, I showed up three weeks ago, and she"
"Yes, yes, I know YOUR history. Now give me hers!" Hank demanded, running a hand along her neck. Lauren knew he could choke her out in an instant. He had strong hands, it seemed. It was only a matter of slipping up once
"She just said she had figured out about her siblings a few months ago! Please"
The hands retreated, and Hank walked back into her field of vision. He smelled of ammonia, and Lauren's eyes watered severely. She had always hated the smell of ammonia, ever since she was a child.
"Looks like she's been lying to you, too." Hank muttered. He then violently kicked the stool he had been sitting on moments ago under the stairs, much to Lauren's greatest fears. He was becoming frustrated. But then, he suddenly calmed, trying to catch his breath. Lauren stirred uncertainly.
"Then it seems you have one use left, then" he said quietly, then marched past Lauren to her left and rounded up the metal stairs.
Lauren's eyes grew wide. Her mouth gaped open in abstract horror at Hank's words.
"No, no! Please! No!" she cried, but it was too late for pleading. Hank was walking over to the front of the warehouse room and toward the plain gray-green door at the end of the balcony.
"It's a pity, Laura!" he called from the balcony, not even bothering to look at her. "This could have been quick. But instead"
He opened the door and turned to face her, a wicked look within his visage. Those dark eyes stared her down, all-seeing and all-knowing. His hand floated to the light switch next to the door.
And with a flick, the lights went out, and Hank was gone.
The next morning, Charlie found himself standing outside the hospital with Kristin by his side. He had figured if the ankh had worked on Eric, it was bound to work on Jay, as well. Kristin had been utterly shocked at his arrival on her doorstep and had figured he was there for one of his "chauvinist male fantasies," but soon learned he wanted to know where Jay was. She had the displeasure of directing him to Saint Mary's Mental Hospital, where she and her parents had been forced to send him.
The two approached the locked door and rang the bell, explaining their purpose for being there: to visit Jason Zippler. The guard rang them in, and they immediately set to work locating Jay. The front receptionist directed them to the fourth floor wing for autism. Charlie scoffed: first, at the idea that the hospital hosted both dangerous insane criminals and simple autistic patients in the same building, and second, at the idea that everyone considered Jay's newfound disorder autism. It was more of PTSD, like Eric.
Charlie and Kristin took to the elevator and stood in utter silence as it ascended. The doors soon opened and the duo walked to the nurse's station, passing by a few cars full of needles. Charlie piped up to the nurse at the desk.
"Pardon me, ma'am. We're looking for Jason Zippler."
The nurse sighed in an annoyed fashion and reached for a clipboard. She looked over it for a moment, then looked up at Charlie.
"408" she said, then went back to her keyboard, typing away furiously.
Charlie rolled his eyes and proceeded down the hall with Kristin at his side. She gave him a look of doubt, as if to say "this won't work."
The two rounded the corner and opened the closed door, only to find something unforgettable. Jay's bed had been pushed up against the front wall, allowing a short bit of height. Just enough, it seemed, to give Jay enough height to reach the window several feet above the floor. Charlie ran over to find the window smashed outward. Jagged edges picked at his throat as he stuck his head out, to discover the glass shards of the window on the muddy ground four stories below.
He quickly pulled his head back in to shout back at Kristin, only to discover she had already hailed an orderly, who pushed Charlie aside and looked out the window himself.
"Oh, no." the orderly whispered, then turned back toward the hall and shouted. "Escapee! Call security! Escapee!"
The orderly ran out in a hurry, and Charlie jogged back to the doorway, where Kristin was standing with her hand over her mouth. She lowered it, eyes still wide with shock.
"Oh, god." She whispered as the two made their way back to the elevator. "Where would he go? Why would he go?"
"Why the hell would a mental hospital have windows?" Charlie added as the elevator doors opened.
As they descended, Charlie paced nervously, one hand on his chin in thought.
"Okay, f*ck, f*ck. Where would he go?"
Then, it struck him.
"Kristin, do you know the way to Karen's old house, or at least where it used to be?"
"So are you coming back to school?" Anson asked. The caf was much too quiet for his liking. He needed the hustle and bustle of a diner; the noise always masked his deeds done in the dark.
"No." Becker replied simply. He took a sip of his tea. "At least, not yet."
"Too many loose strings. If I were to suddenly show up alive there'd be questions. And my mom would probably come back. Too many obstacles, and not enough space. School will be an obligation. Just another fault in my plan."
"Your plan?" asked Anson as he took a look past Becker's head at the cute girl passing by. He smirked.
"My plan." Becker muttered, noticing Anson's gaze slip past his own. "For revenge."
Anson chuckled under his breath.
"Revenge. Kinda trivial, if you ask me."
"Revenge in the form of justice." Becker clarified, taking another sip of his tea. "We're going to reimburse Jana for all her trespasses. Twofold."
Becker straightened in his chair. His blue eyes darkened in the light of the afternoon, and narrowed, staring deep into Anson's. He smiled a knowing smile; caught in the madness wavelength again.
"You tell me, Hank."
Anson looked up in horror. Deep inside his mind, something stuttered. His blood began to go cold in his veins, and his gaze darkened. He returned the evil smile, once again becoming everything he had never wanted to be.
He was Hank again.