ATTICUS by Dave Ludford
As a child, Atticus Riley never mixed with the other local kids. Never kicked a ball with them in the street, never climbed trees or scrumped for apples with them. He was never invited to any of their birthday parties or to any sleepovers. He was short, obese, wore thick-lensed spectacles and suffered with rampant acne. He was the constant butt of everyone’s jokes, including those of some of the other kids’ parents. Other boys bullied him, girls just sniggered and made fun.
Atticus was stubborn, moody and wilful and constantly in trouble both at home and school. His parents, for the most part, ignored him, believing Atticus to be some freakish throwback, an aberration. His mother often entertained the idea that perhaps she had been given the wrong baby in the maternity ward, and that her real son was out there somewhere also, like Atticus, with the wrong parents. The boy was a complete misfit: ate dirt, spat worms and weevils, and grew into early adulthood hating the world he lived in, including everyone in it.
“Hey, toad-boy, fancy a dance?”
Atticus stopped and turned to regard the heavily made-up woman who had spoken to him from the shadows of a back-alley doorway. Aged anywhere between forty and fifty, she contrived to contort her mouth to form a thin, tight-lipped smile that demonstrated little in the way of allure or professional entreaty but more a weary resignation. This potential customer sure was ugly, but any port in a storm; business had been slow this past week. She thought of her unpaid rent and made a valiant attempt at raising the smile that little bit higher but only succeeded in accentuating the wrinkles around her squinting eyes. An additional part to her opening gambit came in the form of a mumbled “Only offer you’re ever likely to get, mister.”
“Sure!” Atticus replied, raising as much enthusiasm as he could but nothing else. He waddled towards the waiting escort, stopping just a few feet from where she stood expectantly to pick up a fist-sized rock, which he used in a whirlwind frenzy to beat her repeatedly about the head until she no longer smiled or even breathed, her screams going unheard, carried off by the slight breeze blowing from one end of the alley to the other. Atticus’ heart and pulse rates had barely increased; he felt exhilaration beyond measure and felt—at last—that he’d found his true vocation.
"What about the army, son?”
Atticus gave his father a withering, contemptuous look.
“You’ve just left school and, let’s face it, you’re not suited to further education, so college is a no-go. The army will teach you a trade, help set you up for the rest of your life. Give you a sense of belonging and discipline.”
Atticus snorted his derision.
“Then want do you want in life, huh? What do you want to be? Tell me.”
Striding away from his father Atticus paused briefly in front of the living room door, glanced briefly over his shoulder, and murmured:
“What do I want to be? Pure fucking evil.” With that, he was gone.
His favourite place was beneath the canal bridge just outside town. There he could be alone, could spend as much time as he liked just thinking, brooding. He’d cleared the place of its three resident vagrants a couple of weeks ago, slitting their throats effortlessly with a suitable kitchen knife as they’d slept, each in a drunken stupor, then rolled their skinny, malnourished bodies into the fast-flowing water. He’d been proud of his tally of three in one night, a record so far, but one which he was hungry to exceed. He felt good, invigorated and electrified with a mission, a sense of purpose: kill as many as possible; anyone, everyone, as many as it took so he could keep on feeling this way. Kill for the thrill and buzz of it. A wide grin split his face; he closed his eyes and began a low, guttural gurgling while grabbing his crotch. After several minutes of this, the gurgling having built to a crescendo, he dropped to the ground and sat cross-legged then began to scrabble at the mud with his bare hands, scooping up as many bugs as he could and shoving them into his mouth ravenously. Far better than the shit his mother served up and laughingly called dinner. Fuck her and her fancy online recipes.
Having eaten his fill, he began to smear his face with mud and recommenced the gurgling howl.
“What about the army, son?”
The soft, gentle voice of his father came from somewhere behind him. He bolted to his feet, spun around, and stared, squinting into the gloom. But the figure he beheld just a few metres away was not his dad, but a short, skinny girl dressed in a black suit jacket, white shirt, blue jeans and sneakers. Something in her posture... defiance? Aggression? Both? Something made Atticus feel distinctly uncomfortable. When next the girl spoke it was in her own quiet but calmly assertive voice.
“Took me a while to track you down, toad-boy.”
Atticus thought back to when he’d last heard that insult. He felt bewildered, ill-at-ease; no mere girl had ever spoken to him in such a way before. It took several moments for him to recover his wits.
“You going to say sorry for what you did, toad-boy?”
“Sorry for what?” Atticus replied. “I ain’t never done nothing to be sorry for, you skinny little bitch.”
He barely noticed the subtle flick of the girl’s wrist, or the flash of metal fizzing through the air; only felt a sudden, sharp stabbing pain in his left shoulder. He stared in disbelief at the small knife protruding from his own flesh.
“You bitch! You crazy fucking whore! You are so dead.”
Atticus began to waddle towards the girl, whose next action was to repeat the first; this time the knife rammed home in his other shoulder.
“Keep coming, toad-boy. The nearer you get, the better my aim becomes, and I’ve come prepared with an impressive array of kitchen utensils.”
“Fuck you want? What is this?” Atticus sobbed, tears and mucus pouring down his face, which he made no attempt to wipe away.
“Fancy a dance, toad-boy?”
“Those words… how did you know those words?” Atticus had staggered to a halt, now frightened to such an extent that he could feel the shit gushing down both legs.
“You just called me a whore, toady. Well, strictly speaking it was my mom who was the whore, not me. But she was still my mother despite everything and I loved her. Then you murdered her.”
“But how could you know, you weren’t there, and my dad’s voice, how did you do that? You’re scaring me, stop it, help me, I’m sorry, okay?”
“I’ve got a little demon pal who helps me with all sorts of problems, and he’s taught me so much good and useful stuff. Things the likes of you will never understand, dark stuff. But, okay, I’ll help you, and fully accept your apology. Here, wipe away that snot and those tears and then I’ll get those knives out.”
The girl advanced towards Atticus proffering a handkerchief. When she was near enough to do so, she suddenly whipped away the white material to reveal a large carving knife, which she plunged into Atticus’ gut with a force and strength that belied her meagre stature. As Atticus sank to his knees, the girl leaned in towards him and pulled the knife free.
“Deceit and sleight-of-hand are just two of the things my pal has taught me, toady.”
Having freed the knife, she grabbed Atticus by the hair and dragged him screaming in agony towards the canal, again showing strength she in no way looked capable of, then kicked the lump of blubber unceremoniously into the oily black water. She stood for some moments watching bubbles rise to the surface and when these ceased she turned and walked calmly away.
“Pure fucking evil,” she muttered, heading back towards town.
"How’d I do, Malachi?”
“Oh, you did well, Sasha! Real good! I taught you just fine. My star pupil you are! The Queen of Badness round here without a doubt! You make an old demon very happy. Oh happy, happy days.”
Sasha grinned at the squat, goblin-like demon sitting next to her on the park bench, who was swinging his short legs back and forth like a schoolboy. “Now you must go forward and do many more great things!”
Sasha rose and walked a few steps forward, turned, and said: “Well, I’ll see you around, Malky. Look you up soon.”
“You know where I’ll be, Queen!” the demon replied. He watch the diminutive figure recede into the distance, then drew a knife from a pouch on the leather belt at his waist. Then ran silently, swiftly after her.