This is the second last chapter. Almost there…
A Place for Strangers and Beggars
The sign said ‘Modern Modes’.
The lights were off, and the shop had a sign saying ‘Closed’. There was no-one in. Carter looked up and around suspiciously, yet a little nervously all at the same time. It was a shop in a bad neighbourhood, the streets prowling with gangs, vandals, robbers and other sorts of thugs Carter did not want to confront at any point of her lifetime. She pursed her lips and slowly backed to Rorschach’s side, “Is…Is this it? This is where Blair is – ? Oh my god… well, what the hell are we waiting for??”
Before Carter could run inside the shop, Rorschach grabbed her back by the scruff of her collar and she rebounded back to his side. “Rushing headfirst into things. Foolish.” He snarled at her, making her wince.
“But – “
“Check surroundings first.” He pressed on, having to grit his teeth together, and she bit her lip and nodded.
“Okay.” Carter replied as he moved away from the front of the shop, towards the fence surrounding the rear yard, and she followed him behind closely, quietly.
They worked their way around and arrived at the fence; Rorschach pulled away a loose board and peered through. Two dogs, German shepherds – were present in the backyard, growling and biting at something on the ground. The more Rorschach squinted, he could see it was a bone. He let Carter peep through and she stared around; the backyard was a mess – the lawn needed to be trimmed and was completely filled with junk and waste – a dumping ground. She shuddered and stepped back, as Rorschach replaced the board.
“Guard dogs.” Rorschach muttered, gesturing to the two snarling dogs who had not sensed their unwanted presence yet.
“…Looks clear.” Carter murmured under her breath, as she looked through a small gap, back at the rear end of the building; the lights were closed, too.
“We should head back.” He said, and he wandered off back to the front of the shop, with Carter following again.
“What do we do now?” She asked, as Rorschach went up to the front door.
She didn’t have time to move; he kicked at the door and she squeaked out when the lock practically jolted within the door and then plopped off; dangling on the length of the knob. He opened the door and stepped inside, Carter shut the door behind them, then turned back round, facing a long corridor littered with discarded boxes and the odd sewing materials on the floor. The shopfloor did not look any different than the junkyard outside.
The air was musty and humid, the walls crumbling of dust and derelict. There were a lot of doors; some of them were closed, others open and displaying small, derelict rooms with naked mannequins and furniture covered by thin cloths. It looked like someone lived here. She looked around the floor, seeing a cockroach scuttle across the ground at her feet now and then, and whimpered, deciding to concentrate her gaze on Rorschach’s back directly in front of her.
Rorschach pulled out a flashlight and tapped it on.
She nodded, holding her breath. “…Blair?” She called out quietly into the darkness, “Blair…are you here?”
Perhaps Rorschach could feel it too. She knew Blair was here. She just didn’t know where.
Rorschach turned a corner and she followed him into a room filled with standing mannequins, like the ones she’d seen before in the other rooms. In this room, there was a stove. Curious, Rorschach walked up and put a hand over the top. It wasn’t covered in dust. He took off a glove and squatted down to small flap, and opened it.
He handed her the torch for the moment.
“What are you looking at?” Carter asked, looking around shiftily. She peered curiously at his human hand, noting the back where a few ginger hairs sprouted out, and his fingernails – they were encrusted with grit and dirt.
“Quiet.” Rorschach snapped back. He was onto something. He rummaged around inside the stove, feeling the brittleness of the coal that had been used inside the stove. It had been used recently. His fingers traced soft material, and he pulled out a pair of knickers.
Carter shone the torch’s light on the material. Teddybear-print. She stared, hard, and dropped the torch. It clattered loudly on the ground and they both involuntarily leapt slightly.
“Carter.” Rorschach hissed out.
“I-I’m sorry…” She picked up the torch off the ground and swallowed down. “I…I don’t think…”
Without another word, Rorschach put the underwear back into the stove and shut the door, replaced his glove back over his rough palm. “Hurm. Let’s go to the next room.”
He marched out before she could say more.
Carter began to feel sick. She didn’t know whether she should follow him or not. She wasn’t sure anymore. He was already at the doorway, and he turned, surprised to see that she had not followed.
“Aren’t you coming?” He grunted under his breath.
“What is it.”
Carter threw her glance away from the masked man and back to the creaky floorboards, refusing to meet his gaze.
“Hrm.” He grunted out, “Hiding from truth.”
She flinched. “No. I just…I’m…”
“Scared.” Rorschach snarled back, before she could protest. “Fine. Go back.” He stormed through the doorway, and Carter whipped her head back up. She squeezed her eyes shut and hurried back out, following him to the kitchen.
It got worse.
Carter completely froze, watching Rorschach inspect a cupboard affixed to the wall above a random kitchen counter with an assortment of knives hanging from meathooks. The following included a cleaver, a sharp-end poker with a file-edge and handle, a trench knife, a bread knife and a saw. Rorschach had then took out the cleaver and lifted it up; the entire room looked red, from the setting sun and the dawning darkness in the horizon. No matter what, Carter was reminded of blood.
Rorschach took the torch back off her and told her to stay close again. Carter did not abide; still standing limply near the fridge, away from the door. He then averted the rest of his attention to the chopping board on the counter. It was the ones used for large slabs of meat, so thick, that when the knife would hit the meat, the impact would not break the thing underneath, ie, the counter surface or table. The chopping board’s thickness absorbed the blow.
There were a lot of marks, streaks of a rich, dark red substance embedded in the indents. He used a finger to trail along. It was definitely blood. He pondered for a moment, with his hand under his chin, contemplating hard. The dogs outside were barking and growling, hindering his thoughts.
Rorschach looked back up, then outside. He watched the dogs, had a closer look at the bone the two dogs were viciously biting on and fighting over. He knew.
“What is it?” Carter began, and she moved to the window beside him and stared out at the yard. “What are you looki – “
There was a silence.
She stared at the two dogs, her eyes landing on the bone, then turned to Rorschach. He didn’t look at her. “Oh…Oh no…no. No. No.”
“…Evelyn.” Rorschach began, as she stumbled away from him to the side, almost tripping on her own feet in progress.
As soon as she collapsed to the ground, she threw up violently in the corner. Just the thought nauseated her. He watched her, and he waited; but she never got back up. She was clutching at the edge of the cupboard for support, breathing heavily. She wiped at her mouth, squeezed her eyes shut and made one weak sniffle.
She started to cry; her chest lurched painfully and betrayed her, making her gasp and wheeze out throatily in between heavy, uncontrollable sobs.
“Evelyn.” Rorschach said again, reaching an arm hesitantly to her, but then –
She got back up. Rolled her sleeves. Left the kitchen. And into the courtyard.
“Shoo!” Carter yelled at the dogs. “Shoo, shoo, shoo!!!”
The dogs growled furiously at her as she approached them, not intent on returning the bone, but when Rorschach approached, they backed away slightly. The bone clattered to the ground.
Rorschach called after her, but she ignored him.
She slowly made her way up to the bone with the shoe and the little ripped, raggedy sock and reached out a shaking hand – but then quickly withdrew it in terror.
And before long, Carter collapsed.
“Evelyn.” He shook her viciously by the shoulder.
There was no response. She was out cold, her eyelids closed, mouth slightly parted. Stunned for a moment, Rorschach trailed his fingers over the slight bulge of her lips, like the way she had done to him before. He noticed the gentle heave of her chest, and he watched her; she looked peaceful. He retreated his finger away before his eyes could stray anywhere else.
“Hrm…” He muttered under his breath, and he lifted her up, back into the building and propped her up against a random counter, then he turned back to the window, plucking out the butcher knife from the cupboard and then headed outside to the backyard where the two dogs were.
Gerald Grice limped through an alleyway, half-drunk, half-delirious. He arrived at a familiar alleyway, and knocked on the fence with his clenched knuckles, “Hello, Fred? Barney? I’m home. C’mon…Who’s got a bark for daddy?”
He waited, but there was no response. “Hmph.” He kicked a stone in his path and made his way to his shop.
As he arrived at the door, he stuffed the key and realised it swung open rather easily compared to usual. It was almost as if someone had tampered with it before. He rammed his keys back into his pocket and stepped inside, switched on the light. Then he made his way into the kitchen and walked to the window to look out the backyard when –
“AAARGHH!” He screamed, stepping back in fright when something big and hairy went flying through the window, landing at his feet. It was one of his dogs, drenched in blood. Dead. “Argh, oh god! Ugh…W-Who is it??! Who’s out there??!” He stepped back into the landing, just near his front door.
He screamed out again when something slammed into his back from the window of the door, and he tripped up, toppled onto the floor with the thing that had rammed on him, on top of him. When he flailed and wriggled, he realised it was his other dog. “Eurgh…G-Get off! Somebody get this off me!” Breathing heavily, he writhed furiously but then came to a stop when he heard footsteps. Terrified, he looked up, at the faceless man who had approached him from the other end of the end. The front of his jacket was coated in blood.
Rorschach reached down and grabbed him by the front of his collar, and immediately, Grice blubbered helplessly at the vigilante, “I haven’t done anything, I swear. I…Oh no…No, please…I haven’t done anything…Oh, wait! Please, what are you going to do…?!”
His response was silence, but Rorschach cornered him back into the room with the stove, where Grice could see a girl propped up against one of his mannequin stands, her eyes closed, as if she was asleep. Stunned, he flicked his attention back to Rorschach, who had protruded out a pair of cuffs and promptly snapped them around his wrist.
“Look…Look, I know what you think…You think I’m something to do with that little girl. Well, I’m not, okay? Okay? Oh god, please…what do you want? Y-You can’t prove anything. I mean, wh-where’s the evidence? You can’t do anything to…”
Rorschach snapped the remaining cuff to the stove pipe, then lifted up the saw.
Grice finished the remainder of his sentence, leaving it to trail in a pathetic silence, “…Me.” He swallowed down. “Hey, wait a minute! That’s mine! What is this?” He then stuttered out, “You’re giving me this? Is that it? Look, please, if you’d just say something…”
Rorschach bent to the side and picked a small metal can from the corner, and unscrewed the top, then let the contents pour out around him, coating the cuffed man in a pile of strong-smelling, petrol slosh.
“Hey! Hey, are you crazy??! That’s kerosene!”
Rorschach put the can back down and walked over to the girl who was still lying unconscious beside the mannequin, and bent over to pick her up into his arms, her head lolling to the side over the crook of his arm, the other arm under the bend of her knees. He moved to her the doorway, set her down again. Then he turned to Grice.
“Yes.” He said, “Wouldn’t bother trying to saw through handcuffs. Never make it in time.”
Grice stared back up fearfully at the man, “What do you mean? What am I supposed to – “
He was promptly silence when Rorschach lit a match.
“Oh god, oh Jesus, NO. You’re kidding. You have to be kidding – “
Rorschach dropped the match.
The sound of Grice’s screams echoing throughout the building was music to his ears. He picked Carter up again, and left the shop.
Carter woke up with a jerk and immediately leaned to the side, vomited violently. She wiped her mouth and sighed, then looked around, her eyes catching sight of the shop. It was ablaze.
Rorschach stood beside her, watching the building burn down, watching the black clouds rise into the foul air, lingering before evaporating only in a matter of minutes. She looked around, forgetting to smooth down her clothes or clear up the remaining vomit that had been smothered to an unwary side of her cheek when she wiped at her mouth. Her eyes were still swollen and puffy, red and blotchy. Her lips were pale and her cheeks were suddenly hollowed out. Carter looked up at him for a few moments, then slowly averted her gaze back to her front.
“What happened to the shop?”
He said monotonously. “Rorschach burned it down. Gerald Grice is dead.”
She watched him briefly, then looked down at the ground. “Oh.” She uttered out hazily, as she gathered herself up, before rocking herself gently with her arms wrapped around herself. “…I…guess I…should say thank you…”
Rorschach looked away from the burning house and swerved his eyes down to the girl, she sat dejectedly at his feet, staring into the gutter, not at the house. She didn’t even look up at him when she felt his gaze on her back. In her hands, she was now holding the photograph of Blair, rubbing the smiling face with her fingers gently.
She said, “All this time…I thought I knew how the world worked. There would always be right and wrong…light, and darkness. But the light is becoming so weak….”
He remained silent beside her.
“And now…Blair is…” Her voice broke, a few sobs escaping, “I couldn’t save her.” Then she promptly burst into tears again, crying hard as she pressed the photo tightly to herself.
He had no idea what to say. He had never comforted someone before. So he let her cry. He let her cry for a long time. The house had finally stopped burning, but Carter hadn’t stopped crying. They stayed there in silence, watching the horizon. A few moments later, and a fire engine’s siren could be heard wailing in the distant.
Carter smothered away at her eyes and she stood back up. “…I guess this is it.” She muttered out wobbly, not looking at him at all. “…Thank you. Thank you for your help, Rorschach.”
Without another word, she turned away and began walking down the street.
He watched her, a pang of worry stabbed him in the stomach, “…Carter.” He eventually called out.
Slowly, she turned round.
“…Will come to see you one day.” He muttered out after a light pause, feeling a little awkward, “See how you’re doing.”
A silence spawned between them, then Carter nodded slowly. “O-Okay…I-I’ll…I’ll see you then, Rorschach. Thank you.”
With that said, Rorschach cleared his throat and turned the opposite direction of her, and walked back towards the direction of the alleyway. He kept his head down low and his hands in his pockets, resisting the annoying urge to look back over his shoulder to see if she was alright. He could hear her distant footsteps, however and could tell Carter was limping slowly away, probably towards the train station.
They walked their separate paths, secretly knowing that they would never see each other again.