(By "One picture. That's all it took. Just one." Zarla)
(Warning: Contains graphic violence and some dark themes.)
"I envy your conviction."
Brief, short, thorny words. Despite what he was sure Johnny intended to be a comforting or encouraging farewell, Edgar was not at ease. As he had said just earlier to his captor, he would rather not die, but apparently that was not his decision.
He was not afraid. He just did not want to do it. On the positive side, at least the pain would be over shortly.
He was watching the thin, skeletal hands reach for whatever mechanism would bring him to his premature end when a sharp noise cut through the air, startling both into looking upwards towards where it had originated. It sounded peculiarly like someone being electrocuted.
Edgar tried to put together everything that his recent experiences with Johnny and his quick survey of the room to make a general hypothesis about what had created the sound. "Is that-"
Johnny cut him off, holding up one hand as his eyes slowly moved downwards. "Someone..."
Relief flooded through Edgar Vargas' body. Johnny had not wanted to kill him, but had to do so for some strange reason that did not make a whole lot of sense. If someone else were to come, perhaps someone more deserving of this fate than he was, then maybe he would not have to die...
"Someone at the door?"
"Shh." There was a growing sense of aggression and frustration in Johnny's voice. He was apparently thinking deeply or considering what he had to do - definitly not focusing on immediate reality at that moment. Johnny's silence was not good.
Edgar decided that, if his life could be ended at any moment, he may as well attempt to stall or avert that decision. "If that is someone else, then maybe could you kill them instead of me...I haven't hurt you or annoyed you to my knowledge. If someone is coming here to your house to really bother you without asking then maybe..."
Edgar did not pause to consider the irony of his words. After all, Johnny had somehow captured him, trapped him in this ghoulish machine, and was planning to use his blood to paint a wall and he had definitly gone about it in a very unsolicited manner.
Johnny turned back towards him, narrowing his eyes at Edgar dangerously. He wondered if he was going to go on another rant about people and how terrible they were. This curiousity turned to worry as he saw Johnny's eyes dart towards the knife he had left on the floor.
Another buzzing shriek. This galvanized the dark maniac into action, the knife flashing into his hand in movements too fast to register.
"You don't have to kill me-"
"Shut up!" Johnny was apparently tormented by the decision the shriek had now posed him with. While Edgar was here and readily available, he did not deserve death. On the other hand, someone was waiting rather impatiently outside his door who would in most likelihood easily earn an early end.
Edgar would have found the decision easy to make, but then again, he was not in control. He also was not insane, which he was sure was a fairly large part of Johnny's inability to make a decision.
"Just shut up!"
"I beg you to reconsider-"
The ability of Johnny's mood to change abruptly from quiet sadness to abrupt fury had been made clear to Edgar earlier in their conversation, such as when Johnny had reacted almost violently to Edgar's logical pleas for mercy. Although he knew that Johnny was capable of such mood swings, it did not make him any more prepared when they actually occurred.
Fury crossed Johnny's face, quick and terrible, and he lashed out at Edgar. The way that Johnny moved his arms and hands made it seem more as if Johnny was gesturing, sweeping his arm out to illustrate a point, and had merely forgotten that he was holding his knife. Although this was possible, considering the man's mental state, it was also possible that this was entirely deliberate. Edgar did not presume to know nearly enough to judge the actions one way or another. There wasn't much he could do about it anyway, restrained as he was.
The blade cut into his cheek beneath his glasses, sharp stinging followed by the uncomfortable feeling of blood welling within the wound. He barely registered the pain before a second strike mirrored the first on the other side of his face.
That kind of ruled out Johnny doing it by accident.
As Johnny raised his knife for the final downward plunge into Edgar's body, he could not help but notice that as Johnny moved, he seemed to be fighting something. Whatever deranged internal arguments he was having with himself no doubt caused his delay in answering the shriek, but also seemed to stay his hand...to prevent the final lethal stab and to make what could have been damaging blows to Edgar's face something only glancing.
The lost expression in Johnny's eyes made it clear he was not entirely present at the moment, although in what sense Edgar was not sure. Maybe he really was hearing something, perhaps some strange form of a demon or an angel on his shoulders, although he doubted Johnny had such a defined set of ethics.
His closest logical guess was that Johnny was weighing the merits of going upstairs and killing someone or just killing someone right now. Laziness? That seemed so mundane.
Apparently Johnny's internal battle ended and he finally moved from his frozen position, his hand lowering itself back to his side. The knife remained clenched in one tight, thin fist as Johnny backed away with a sudden realization of what he had done. He stared at the tiny trickle of blood slowly making its way down Edgar's sharply defined face with deep disgust, although with no concern for Edgar's wellbeing.
That was confusing...if he needed enough blood to paint a wall with it, then how could the sight of so little disturb him so much?
On a slightly related note, why had he not finished Edgar off? Maybe the knowledge that he liked Edgar had stopped him, but that didn't seem to have an effect on Johnny when he was about to kill him only moments before. That didn't really make sense either.
Edgar wasn't sure what to say in response Johnny's actions. There was silence as Johnny pressed his hands against his head, the knife still held in his bony fist, his eyes shut tight almost as if he struggled to keep whatever internal demons within him trapped in his physical prison.
Two buzzing shrieks in rapid succession.
"You should answer that." Edgar ventured in his calm, level voice. He had to keep calm, anything to calm down the man in front of him. The minor injuries he had suffered would almost be like gifts if he could escape this alive.
Johnny looked up at him with sheer hatred for a moment, dark eyes piercing him even through his thick glasses. It was the same look that was present when Johnny was trying to explain why Edgar should appreciate the pain he was going through.
In a way, he understood now what Johnny had been trying to convey, although it was all still hideously twisted. This certainly would make him appreciate his life.
No doubt Johnny was upset that Edgar himself was not upset. That, unlike many other things, did make sense.
Edgar watched as Johnny stood there, hands still pressed against his head tightly, looking down with his mouth open. No sound came from him, but Johnny shook his head back and forth slightly after a few minutes, unable to keep the battle entirely internal. After what seemed like hours, Johnny finally pulled his hands away from his head, the pressure leaving white marks on dark skin, and he looked at Edgar with an unreadable expression.
Was he really going to die this time?
Johnny stared at Edgar for some time, studying him, thinking. He did not look as tormented as he had before, but he still seemed to be making the difficult decision. Edgar was worried that words would only antagonize Johnny into finishing what he started.
Almost with a slight nod to some unknown entity, Johnny turned and walked quickly and silently away, leaving Edgar to his own devices, so to speak.
Incapable of movement and not finding much else he could do in his current situation, Edgar decided to revisit what had happened in his mind, hoping that it may give him a clue to help make his escape.
How had he got here? One day he was walking home and then he was here...had Johnny knocked him out? He had no physical injuries when he woke. Had Johnny somehow talked him into coming back with him? He would have remembered that. His memory was so indistinct on what had exactly happened and that was extremely irritating.
Why had Johnny chosen him? Edgar could not help but feel that it had been a mistake. After all, Johnny had lectured Edgar on the reprehensibilty of mankind and had quite obviously not expected intelligent and understanding answers. He had expressed regret at having to kill him and had called him his friend. Edgar could not believe that Johnny had been tracking him this long for whatever sins he had commited. It had to have been random choice.
That made Edgar feel slightly better. At least there was nothing he could have done to prevent this.
Two, perhaps three hours passed before Johnny returned. The blood on Edgar's face had dried, although the spatters on Johnny's seemed much more recent and fresh. He looked at Edgar with an extremely confused expression, as if he had completely forgotten he was there. Maybe he had...Edgar would not put it past him.
Johnny narrowed his eyes at him, staring at him like someone watching a peculiar insect. Again the faintly lost look in his eyes was present, the definite impression that he was listening for or to something. Finally, he moved back and brushed off his shirt slightly self-consciously, although the red stains were far too permanent to be removed so easily.
"...Vargas?" The thorns were still present: they were always present. However, they lacked the kind of malice and hatred that had been present before, and Edgar's hope for freedom was reignited with more fervor.
At the sound, Johnny smiled in a very strange way. It was almost like some kind of pressure had been released. Edgar had not seen him smile since he had first mentioned his nickname at all. On a normal person, the pleased smile may have been disarming, but Edgar was not about to let his guard down around him. Johnny had said himself that he was quite hideously insane and Edgar had absolutely no reason to doubt him.
Johnny tilted his head to one side again, staring at him from a short distance away. The confused, appraising look was gone now. If Johnny was capable at all of slight affection, this had to be it. It was the same look he had when explaining how his name was to be pronounced. Edgar couldn't trust it, but it was reassuring in a strange way. Maybe he wouldn't die after all.
Edgar couldn't help but smile in response, hoping that Johnny wouldn't feel threatened and decide to kill him anyway. "That's right. Was that...?"
"Hmm?" Confusion for only a second. "Oh...you...proved to be correct on that point." The cold, angry tone was entering the thorns of his speech again. "A solicitor...someone who was more deserving of being burned." Johnny glanced at him for a moment, as if worried that Edgar would not remember his previous justification--burning an effigy--for ending his life. Edgar did remember and nodded for him to continue, which seemed to satisfy Johnny.
He moved his focus from Edgar to the knife, which again seemed to have appeared in his hand, stained a dark brownish-red. Johnny played with its edge as he spoke, bitterness and barely repressed fury giving the thorns new points and renewed danger. "Thoughtless, careless human beings. All of them...I would have killed her even if she had not decided to insult me. She was large." A twisted smile came across Johnny's face. "She had a lot of blood. Convenient, really."
"Then you don't need me, do you?"
Johnny looked at him, then back at the knife in his hand, looking almost genuinely surprised and perplexed by the simple question that Edgar felt followed his story logically. Johnny thought for a moment before looking up with a strange expression on his face, as if he had reached some kind of spiritual epiphany. He turned and took slow steps towards Edgar, inciting the instinctive fear response in him. Johnny was a predator...everything about him bled predator, and it was hard to stifle that response, even with Edgar's fatalistic view of death.
"No...no, I suppose I don't."
"Then, would you let me go? Because I really would like to go...this is still kind of painful..." Edgar touched his words with a light sense of humor, hoping that it would help pacify Johnny's homicidal urges.
Johnny inclined his head at him again. In a way, Edgar felt as though he was being elevated: elevated from the lower creature that Johnny must have viewed him as in order to kill him to the level of a decent human being. He had thought that originally this would save him beforehand, but it turned out necessity--in the terms of the required blood--had forced him to be relinquished back to an object. Johnny had apologized and expressed regret, although what little good that would have done Edgar, before he had prepared to kill him. But now, he felt as if he had gained that respect once again. Johnny's "bestest bestest friend", as he had put it.
At least, that's how he hoped Johnny was able to kill people. That was the only way that made sense to him.
Johnny reached upwards with his long, almost impossibly thin arms, undoing the tight buckles that pressed painfully against Edgar's chest. The release of pressure was wonderful, as was the removal of the threat of his demise. Despite the smell of blood, death, and the vague scent of cherries in the air, he breathed deep and cherished it. One by one, the restraints around his wrists and his ankles were released, and he stumbled to the floor unsteadily, his legs weak. Johnny watched this with the same sense of detachment he had before, his hands held behind his back.
"Alright." This simple word seemed to amuse the maniac greatly, and he smiled with a kind of insane abandon that Edgar had not been familiar with. It was very unsettling. "Alright, you can go. I don't really need you after all."
Edgar struggled to keep calm, still not trusting the blue-haired man who stood nearby with such a manic smile on his face. He smiled weakly back at him, again hoping not to antagonize him further. "Thank you."
Johnny's eyes widened for a moment and once again, he leaned his head to one side, a look of classic confusion on his face at Edgar's words. Johnny then shrugged and began walking off, guessing correctly that Edgar would follow him in a desperate attempt to get out of this basement.
"...That's alright." Everpresent barbs in his words, but underlaced with a kind of confusion.
Edgar wondered briefly if Johnny really would have been sorry if he had ended up dead. Was this show of sympathy just that; a show? Would he have gleefully reveled over his mangled body? It was a unpleasant train of thought, so Edgar struggled to move on to others.
He studied the walls as they passed by, finding disturbing paintings of frighteningly beautiful quality as he ascended what felt like endless stairs.
How had Johnny dragged him this far down? Was he that strong?
"Um...Nny?" He felt a kind of apprehension at using the nickname, still fearing the man who walked in front of him with such quiet dangerous confidence.
"Yes?" The confusion was lessening now.
"Can I ask you something?"
Johnny turned his head slightly to one side, looking at a wall as he passed by, apparently regarding this carefully.
"A few things really..." Edgar fumbled for some words, already piecing together an apology in his mind should Johnny turn vindictive. "If that's alright with you..."
"It..." Clawlike fingertips brushing against the wall as he walked upwards. "I suppose..."
He didn't need to warn Edgar to be careful with his words.
"You mentioned something about you not being able to die..."
Johnny was silent for a very long time, nothing in his posture or gait indicating that he had heard the semi-question at all. Edgar began to feel extremely self-conscious as they made their way through endless rooms, each with their own bizarre form of torture device. He lost count of how many they walked through while Johnny maintained his silence.
"That." Dangerously soft and without emotion. Edgar already regretted his question, wishing he had thought of something less volatile. Why on earth had he asked a question like that? The only worse possible question would have been asking why Johnny was crazy in the first place.
He looked to one side in their current room of death to find what looked like a gutted body hanging from a wall and a severed foot on the floor. Johnny stepped over the lone member without thought, but Edgar swerved around it, struggling to keep his composure.
"I don't think I can die." Finally a response came, in the same emotionless tone as before. Johnny reached forward and opened a door, finally revealing a room that finally seemed to be above the earth. The semi-boarded window had a view of stars, the moon, and other houses.
Another rush of relief flooded through Edgar's thin frame at the thought of freedom being so close and yet so far.
"Alright..." Edgar did not want to pursue the topic further, fearing an attack, and watched carefully as Johnny made his way across the barren floor, past a ratty couch and a TV, to the one other door. He opened it with an almost dignified air, revealing the outside world only footsteps away. "I probably shouldn't have asked."
"That's alright." Johnny stared at him for a moment before the smile returned to his face. "After all..." The manic smile returned. "I don't think you'd understand anyway."
He had to say something...but what?
"Thanks again for letting me go, Nny."
He winced inwardly. Brilliant.
Again, the nickname came from him with some degree of awkwardness, still not used to its sound or function. It again elicited the same pleased response from Johnny, a strange sense of bewilderment and pleasure at being called by such a familiar name, even one that he had given himself. It was peculiar and Edgar did not quite understand, but that was not really important.
He felt the grass underneath his feet through his thin shoes as he truly walked outside, unmolested and unimpeded, turning to see Johnny standing in the doorway of his house, staring at him again. Something seemed to be wrong...Johnny was looking at him in the same confused way, apparently not sure of what he should say or do.
"Bye." Edgar ventured to raise a hand to wave, and Johnny, seemingly relieved, waved back silently. The door slammed and Edgar stood on the lawn for a moment, unable to comprehend what had happened. A tortured scream of a human being came from the boarded house he stood in front of and next door, the squeaking of what must have been a frightened child followed.
Without hesitation, Edgar turned and ran for the nearest police station.
"You made a friend, Nny."
Johnny was sitting on his couch, contemplating what had just happened with confusion. Nail Bunny's voice was currently dominant and in fact, the one that had stopped him from killing Edgar when the chance arose.
"I don't make friends." Johnny remarked casually, looking over to where the rabbit had been attached forcibly to the wall. "It doesn't really work with me."
"This Edgar guy seems kind of nice. It's good you didn't kill him."
"I didn't need to." Johnny did not really see the point in this conversation. It was rare in his life that he felt rather complacent and not agonizingly tortured by his existence, so he was kind of enjoying it. The wall was fine, he wasn't hungry, one of his favorite shows was on...
However, Edgar did not fit into this picture of happiness. Johnny felt this strong sense of unfinished business for a few moments after he left, then the spectacled man was blissfully forgotten. He would be like the others that he had released; forgotten after they served their purpose.
He doubted Edgar would come back. Ever. It was not like he had a motive to do so. "Besides, I don't think he was a friend anyway. He won't come back."
"This time you didn't just ask him to do something for you though, like some of the others. You actually talked with him, remember?" Johnny did remember actually, which presented another confusing element to his rare, satisfied state. "And he didn't inspire you to kill, either."
"That is true."
"You had a sane conversation with him." Bunny paused for a moment. "Mostly. And he was a decent guy, right?"
Johnny felt like he was losing an argument, although he did not know who it was with. He and Bunny weren't really arguing...at least it didn't seem that way. "True..."
"I told you they were out there. You should talk to him again. He could be your friend."
"You know what happens to my friends." Johnny normally would have made his words dangerous and intriguingly dark and mysterious, but enthralled in the television as he normally was, they only came out with the same kind of flat certainty that his original assessment of his friend-making abilities had. "They all turn into the others, those bloated ticks..." Johnny seemed to muster up his normal righteous anger, but in the end subsided back into the couch. "You know what I mean."
"Despite what you may believe, I think Edgar may be different. You should give him a chance."
Johnny waved a hand in Nail Bunny's direction, fully intending to never initiate contact with Edgar again. "Alright, if you think that's a good idea."
Nail Bunny lapsed into silence and Johnny was left to the television.
"I'm telling you, this psychotic maniac kidnapped me and ranted semi-coherently about deeply philosophical topics."
The officer looked at Edgar with tired boredom. "Uh huh. And why have we never heard of this..." She paused. "Johnny C. is it?"
"Yes." Edgar was now irritated, becoming more sarcastic than he intended. He had assumed the police would do something to help him, but as it turned out, Johnny had no criminal record. Despite the sheer amount of dead bodies in Johnny's house, the police apparently had not noticed he liked to kill people.
It was almost if Johnny didn't exist.
Maybe that was why he couldn't die. But now wasn't the time for that.
"And you say he killed people?"
"Lots of people. He would have killed me, but he let me go at the last minute."
"In favor of someone else."
"Did you catch their name?"
Now that would have been helpful. "No...That didn't really come up."
"Where did you say he lived?"
Edgar had tried to memorize the street that Johnny lived on and the number of his house as he ran, but he wasn't sure if his information was reliable. Sure enough, as soon as he told the officer what he did recall, she looked back at him with now irritated boredom.
"That street doesn't exist."
Edgar looked at her with a strange expression. "Doesn't exist?"
"No record." She flipped through her papers, trying to convey the feeling that she was doing something useful or related to their conversation. "Are you sure you weren't having a weird dream or something?"
"Normally, I wouldn't doubt that." Edgar had an abnormal amount of sarcasm in his voice. "But then again, normally I don't cut myself when I'm dreaming either."
"Are there any razors in your house?" She looked down at her papers, returning back to tired boredom.
"Yes." Edgar fought the urge to roll his eyes. What house didn't have razors? Especially considering he kept such carefully cultivated facial hair. Did she think he'd be foolish enough to cut himself? What would be the point?
He took a deep breath and decided to calm down and take a more passive approach. Just drop it. "If you want, I can try and take you to the street."
The officer rolled her eyes before straightening papers entirely unrelated to Edgar. In fact, he wasn't sure he saw her write anything he had just said down at all. "Not tonight. It's late. Go home and get some rest. Come back here tomorrow."
The tone in her voice made it clear that she fully expected Edgar to not come back and to dismiss what had happened as a bad dream. But the wounds on his face did not make that a likely possibility.
"Thanks for your trouble." Edgar did not want to say that, but he felt it was the best response. He left the police station feeling deeply unfulfilled and somewhat angry.
As he walked home, he found himself confused as he mused over his recent encounter. There was no way that Johnny could murder so many people and not get caught...how did he do it? Didn't their families notice members missing? A beloved notice her boyfriend missing a head? Johnny got away with an obscene amount...no, an impossible amount of violence, so much so that he could not blame this on police incompetence.
Maybe someone was paying to hush it up? But there was no way someone would pay to keep that many murders quiet. It wouldn't really be a good investment on their part. Someone was bound to notice. Then again, so far no one had.
This was all very confusing.
Edgar kept running through the conversation the two had had and finding it more frightening. He could not believe he had made it out alive. Every word and action and logical conclusion pointed to him being nothing more than specialized paint at the moment, and yet here he was.
Alive and well and on slightly-better-than-neutral terms with a deranged serial killer.
He could not believe he made it out alive. How many people had died before him and would die after him? He didn't know. It was a disturbing thought to consider himself the only one to survive such systematic human destruction.
He wondered exactly what troubled Johnny. Edgar was sure that Johnny was pretty much beyond any kind of help, but he wondered with a kind of scientific curiousity. Maybe voices? He did seem to listen intently at times when Edgar had heard nothing. Did voices tell him to kill? Even he grimaced at that thought. That would be far too trite and cliché. Johnny seemed fully aware of exactly what he was doing.
Edgar could somewhat understand his origins from the fractured and illogical conversation they had had, but that did not lessen the fear and confusion he felt when he thought about him. Killing other people...that was so...how could he do that?
As he had mused before, he doubted Johnny had a very clearly defined sense of ethics. Edgar would have been his opposite in this regard...he had a very clear, although somewhat lenient, definition of right and wrong and Johnny fit squarely into the latter category. Edgar may be forgiving, but murder was something that he did not approve of, no matter what the justification. Although he could understand and to some point sympathize with Johnny about why he wanted to kill people, he did not think Johnny should have actually done so.
As he reached his small, sparsely furnished apartment, he shrugged his shoulders, wishing to remove the matter from his mind entirely. If there was one thing he could at least be sure about with Johnny, he was never going to see him again. And that was good enough reason to sleep peacefully and put the matter to rest, which was exactly what Edgar did.