This is the first (and probably final) edit of "A Chilling Wind." I got some outstanding feedback from my writer's group - the North County Writers of Speculative Fiction - and wanted to put this up with some of their suggested changes.
** Actually, this is now the last edit. I have submitted this for competition and have made a few tiny tweaks here and there.
A Chilling Wind
Fifty-four stories over the city, a blond man stepped out onto a small patio. Shirtless, he buttoned his jeans closed as he stepped to the railing. A chilling breeze tossed the curls around his ears and neck and puckered the sweaty skin of his chest. He started to rest against the wrought-iron railing, but his left hand slipped. He wiped it on his leg and grabbed the rail again. Leaning over as far as he could, he gazed down into the steel and concrete canyons below him. In the movies, one could always hear sirens and screams and watchdogs barking. In reality, from this height the air was mostly silent; the wind across his ears was the dominant sound.
He’d left the woman in the bedroom, lying spent on damp sheets. To be honest, which he preferred to be, he couldn’t remember her name, but he thought it started with an M – a Michelle, or Melissa, or Melinda perhaps. Her two sons were sleeping in their bedroom. He’d done his best to avoid waking them as he left their mother’s bedroom and came outside. There was no reason to scare these children. It would be pointless and cruel.
Fear was contagious, and there was no one for them to share their fear with. There’d be no comfort from their mother, no rescue from men in uniforms. Like most apartments in buildings this tall, the rooms were nearly soundproof, and even if he left the door to the patio open, any noise they made would simply be lost in the silence outside.
He turned and went back into the living room. Leaving the lights off, he made his way past darkened modern furniture and went into the kitchen. He found and flipped a switch. Overhead lights flickered a moment and came on. Glancing around, he found what he was looking for a few feet away. He began to reach for a knife block and stopped. He raised both his hands. His right palm was somewhat clear of blood, from when he wiped it on his jeans. The left was stained and beginning to dry. For a few seconds, he rubbed both his hands on his pants. He would wash them, but it might make the knife slip, and he wanted this over with as quickly as possible.
It was a distasteful thing, killing children.
He yanked the largest knife from the block and hurried from the kitchen. As he passed their mother’s bedroom, he pushed the door open again. “M” lay on her back on red sheets, her eyes open, her face disfigured from the beating he had given her before using a small razor to rip her throat open. He gave his handiwork only a moment’s more thought, then moved on to the boys’ room.
He was quick. In all the years he’d been doing this, he’d never enjoyed killing the children. He’d never call it a necessary evil, but it was that. Neither boy woke as he worked. He breathed a sigh of relief as he finished. It was much easier if the children never woke, never cried, or screamed or begged.
He tossed the knife to the floor and left it. Fingerprints weren’t something that worried him; no one had ever printed him. He left the bedroom and went back to the patio, flipping blood onto the glass door as he passed it. Again he grabbed the rail and let the wind caress him.
“Why do you persist in doing this?”
The blond man didn’t startle or jump at the voice from the living room. He didn’t even turn to see who it was or bother to answer.
“Not even we do this,” a dark man in the darkened room stated.
“Yes,” the blond man answered. “Yes, you do.”
“No,” the man said from inside. “My people have no hand in that. You forget what we do.”
The blond man turned around and leaned against the railing, letting the air cool his sweaty back. From here, he couldn’t quite see his opponent. A moment later, he saw a dull red glow at around head height.
“Are you smoking?” The blond man asked.
“I usually do. It’s how I handle fear.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“You. Your people. Your side.”
Reaching out to grip the railing, the blond man laughed. “You people always get things wrong. We offer hope. We offer security. We offer—”
“Safety? A world free from psycho killers, someone that will murder a single mother and her two boys – is that what your side offers?”
“And you think we get it backwards. You traffic in terror, fear. It’s your side that has spent all these years trying to frighten the people – not us.”
The blond man pushed away from the railing and walked back into the apartment. His opponent sat on one of the modern chairs, a cigarette in his hand.
“It’s your side we’re keeping them from,” the blond man said. He’d had this conversation before, so many times. He had answered, using the same points he always did.
“Why?” the man asked him. “We’re not the party of the first choice. We’re the party of failed expectations. We’re those who aren’t perfect. Of course people will come to us. Your side asks for too much. You always have. You’ve seen that striving for a narrow definition of perfection doesn’t work, so you’re trying to frighten them to come to you.”
“One should always strive for perfection,” the blond man said, as he turned and walked out onto the porch again.
“One can strive and seek, but one should be allowed to fall short.”
“No,” the blond man said, as he rested against the rail. “But they do, time and again they do.”
“So instead of seeking perfection, the people seek sanctuary. That’s been your go-to move for a very long time. Offer them hope, offer them security, then offer them…”
“Salvation,” the blond man said.
“Keep doing that,” the dark man said, and stood. “Terrorize the people, frighten them. Give them enemies of the world, enemies of the country, enemies of God, enemies on their own block. Give them a world to be frightened of, and then…” He waved his hand toward the bedroom. “Show them that some things really are as terrible as they’ve been told.”
The dark man walked to the doorway and grinned at the blond man. “And you wonder why we’re going to win. We don’t have to do a thing.”
“You can’t,” the blond man said, glancing over his shoulder at his opponent. “We have all the power.”
“At this point,” the dark man said, “all you have is the power to frighten. What’s worse – the horrifying acts of a madman, or the terrifying hand of God?”
The blond man leapt up onto the rail. He wavered just a moment, then caught his balance. He raised his head and looked up into the sky. His wings unfurled, grasping at the breeze. He turned once more and looked at the dark man, waiting in the doorway for an answer. He gave him the best one he had:
“Does it matter?”
His feet left the railing and the chilling wind played across his face and body as he rose into the sky.