By Matt Handle

From CHM #30 December 2022

As the elevator doors opened, soft music within was joined by the sounds of muffled conversations and muted footsteps. Blindingly bright midday sun gleamed through tempered glass across the tower foyer. The slightest of smiles touched Victor’s thin lips as he dabbed a spot of blood from his ear with a tissue which he then absent-mindedly stuffed in his pocket. Light warmed his face and beckoned him to cross the lobby and exit into the downtown district beyond.

He stepped through the revolving door and onto the sidewalk outside where he marveled briefly at the level of surrounding noise. Car horns honked, brakes squealed, people talked on cell phones, and somewhere high over head, the distant roar of a jet could be heard as it streaked its way across the sky to some unknown destination.

Victor couldn’t recall what brought him into the midst of this urban cacophony. For a moment, it troubled him that he couldn’t remember how he got here or why he came. But the thought passed quickly, vanishing into the sea of tranquility that was his subconscious. After all, bunnies were destroying the garden. He had work to do.

He reached the front door of his one-bedroom apartment and turned the key in the deadbolt lock without thinking about it. Victor wasn’t sure how he’d gotten back home, but the air-conditioning within was a welcome respite. His shirt stuck to his back and sweat dripped from his temples. It was hot outside. He must have walked.

Victor locked the door behind him then stripped off his jacket and tie. Once upstairs to the bath he turned the shower faucet and peeled off the rest of his clothes.

The water felt good, so icy it made him shiver. Victor whistled a tune as he lathered up his hair and body with a cheap bar of orange-colored soap. Clean and refreshed, he turned off the water and exited the stall as he wrapped a fresh white towel around his waist and headed for the closet.

He dripped on the floor as he surveyed the dozen matching suits that hung like executive scarecrows inside the folded doors. Below the suits, three pairs of identical dress shoes were lined up in a row. Victor toweled himself dry and pulled one of the wooden hangers off the metal rod. He laid the suit out on his meticulously made bed before he retrieved a pair of underwear and socks from the nearby chest of drawers.

Dressed, Victor went back to the closet and reached up to the shelf that spanned the shallow space just over the metal rod. He pulled down an 18-inch black case and laid it down in the same spot on the bed where his clean suit had been minutes before. He opened the case and smiled. Every workman needed the right tool for the job.

As Victor’s hands busied themselves, he thought about the fact that bunnies could not be tolerated in a garden. They simply couldn’t. There was nothing more damaging to fresh, green crops than a hungry, freeloading bunny. Everyone had to earn their keep. If they didn’t, one needed to weed them out. It was just another part of tending the harvest.

After he inspected the contents of the case, Victor closed it and carried it with him out of the apartment. He passed his pretty neighbor on the sidewalk as she walked her miniature poodle. The neighbor wore a clingy red t-shirt and cut-off denim shorts that showed off her lean, tanned legs. Victor smiled as he passed. The dog yapped. The neighbor averted her eyes. People didn’t talk to Victor much. They didn’t seem to understand the importance of his work. The truth was the details of his work were a little fuzzy to Victor too. That was all right. He knew he was good at what he did.

Victor caught the bus two blocks away. It was well after working hours now and he only had a few fellow passengers. They kept to themselves, absorbed in their own little worlds. No one looked at him as he made his way to a seat in the back. He plopped down onto the hard molded plastic and placed his case in the empty seat beside him. He hummed “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” as the bus rolled down the darkening city street.

Soon enough, the bus arrived at Victor’s destination. As the vehicle pulled away in a cloud of exhaust, it revealed an expensive high-rise hotel on the opposite side of the street. Victor glanced at the elegant building with its colorful faux-brick front and thought for a moment he could smell the rich aroma of fresh-tilled earth and ripe vegetables. He turned his back on the hotel and stepped toward the entrance of an office building.

A security panel with a glowing keypad was mounted beside the front door. Just above it was a security camera. The power light on the camera was dark and lifeless. Victor offered the blind eye a brief smile then turned his attention to the panel. His fingers deftly keyed in the entrance code. When the door buzzed open, he ducked inside.

He strode across the lobby to the stairwell against the back wall. The stairs were steep. Every concrete step echoed as Victor methodically worked his way up all five flights.

At the top floor, Victor swung open the heavy door to the interior hallway and glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Seeing no one, Victor stepped onto the plush carpet of the hall and walked silently past a trio of office doors before he arrived at the one he wanted. He reached up to the top of the door frame, brushed his hand along the polished wood, and came away with a small key that shone in the pale light of the hallway lamps. He turned the key in the door lock and slipped inside.

The small office was dim, lit only by the city lights outside the large windows. Victor crossed the room and slid open one of the windows. He kneeled down on the wooden floor and laid the case at his feet. He opened it to reveal an ugly black bolt-action rifle fitted with a suppressor. A thin tripod was folded up beside it. The weapon gleamed softly in the darkness. Victor ran one hand reverently along its length then removed the gun from the case. He checked its sight as he pointed it at the hotel across the way. Satisfied, he set up his tripod in front of the open window. He settled into position and aimed the weapon at the hotel’s entrance six stories below.

The sight’s magnification provided Victor with a perfect view of the hotel’s glass doors and the sign just above them. It read “Chelsea Gardens” in a bright, inviting shade of green. Victor glanced at his watch then refocused on the target. Almost 9 o’clock.

He tensed as the doors slid open. A middle-aged couple walked arm-in-arm out onto the sidewalk to hail a cab. They smiled at one another, and the woman laughed as the man told some small joke.

That’s not the bunny.

A cab soon arrived and whisked the happy couple toward their evening adventure. Victor remained still. His finger rested on the trigger as he stared at the doors.

Here bunny, bunny.

A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his face, but he ignored it. The sun may have gone down, but the city still sweltered. There wasn’t even the hint of a breeze. 

The doors swung open again and a tall figure in a gray suit carrying a leather briefcase stepped out. He glanced down at the expensive watch on his wrist. After three paces, the man looked up toward the street, revealing his face. He had a familiar face. Maybe even a famous one.

The bunny.

Victor calmly squeezed the trigger. He watched as his shot made a hole in the man’s forehead, just below his graying hairline. The man crumpled to the ground. His briefcase clattered as it bounced on the cement before it came to rest two feet beyond the body. Victor watched a minute more. Satisfied, he got up and quickly packed his rifle and tripod. He exited the office and left the building via a maintenance door.

A dark sedan waited in the alley outside, windows tinted, engine running. Its parking lights were two yellow eyes in the gloom of night. The back door of the car opened. Victor slid inside without hesitation.

The creature inside was cloaked in shadow, so large it took up almost the entire backseat. Its gray flesh pressed upon Victor’s side sending a wave of revulsion through the assassin even in his current addled state. Victor swallowed a mouthful of bile and closed the door. The car glided out of the alley and onto the city streets.

The creature’s tentacles undulated as it spoke, the words silent in the car, but slithering inside Victor’s head.

“ThE bUnNy Is DeAd?”

Blood began to ooze from Victor’s left ear. He winced as he replied.

“Yes, I did what you wanted.”

“VeRy GoOd.”

Victor covered both ears with shaking hands and gritted his teeth.

“Please, it hurts.”

“PaIn Is FoOd FoR tHe WeAk.”

Tears welled in Victor’s eyes.

“No more. Please, I’ll do whatever you want. Just make it stop.”

“We WiLl HaRvEsT aLl. ThIs WoRlD iS nOw OuRs.”

Victor nodded. Tears streamed down his face.

Two of the creature’s tentacles reached out to clasp the assassin’s head. The slimy suction cups lined along the dark flesh caressed Victor’s smoothly-shaved cheeks, sucking up his tears.

A dreamy look came over Victor’s face, his eyes unfocused and dim.

“I am the instrument of my own destruction. I am the tool of our vermin race’s demise.”

The creature’s tentacles stroked Victor’s hair like a treasured pet, small and helpless, caged yet eager to please. And the car drove on.

The End.

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Matt Handle lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he juggles the reality of being a husband, father, and software developer with the imaginary characters and worlds that constantly vie for his attention. His longer work including his debut novel Storm Orphans is available on Amazon. His short stories can be found around the web including at Dark Recesses Press, Daily Science Fiction, Verbicide, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Fabula Argentea

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