Joseph stared at the body that lay before him on the bed. He was about to remove the skull mask from the man's face, the mask that had covered his true identity for so long – the mask that had covered Thanatophobia's identity for so long.
Joseph was a detective, and had a name for solving very difficult cases. Because of this, he was assigned to go on the trail of the gang of murderers known as The Shadow. Now he was standing here, in a morgue, because one had been reported dead.
Joseph braced himself for the difficult task that would come: identifying the man, before slowly reaching down and peeling off the mask. He gasped when he saw who the man was. I- impossible! Surely it can't be... The man he was looking down at, the one who had killed so many with The Shadow, was James Dredd.
James Dredd was not some low-life deadbeat that just went around killing people. At least, that was not how Joseph remembered him. He had known James, in his childhood, when they were both at school. James had saved his life. James had later become very successful, eventually becoming a local hero. But, one day, James disappeared, and was never heard from again.
Something was not right here. What could drive a man, especially one with James' standard, to be reduced to running around, committing seemingly random acts of murder? Questions were flooding Joseph's mind, questions with no answers. He then looked into the glazed, unseeing eyes of James, and whispered, “My friend, how did it come to this?”
Something caught his eye, gleaming. It hung just out of James' left pocket. It was a key. Joseph was surprised that it hadn't been removed sooner, with all of the weapons. As he took it, a small slip of paper came out with it.
He picked it up, eying it suspiciously. He then unfolded it, wondering what he would find written there. To his delight, an address was written on it: 24 Renshaw Drive. This could be a lead in the case, and I'm going to follow it.
He left the morgue, heading towards his car, which was parked out the front. On the way to the house, he briefly wondered what he would find there.
It doesn't matter, whatever I find will hopefully help me solve this case, and put the rest of The Shadow behind bars before they can kill any more innocent people.
Joseph pulled up on the driveway of 24 Renshaw Drive. He then recognised the house immediately: it was James' home before he disappeared. He then approached the door, not knowing if the key would even open this door. Maybe it opened another door somewhere else.
Turns out that the key did indeed unlock it, and he opened the door wide. Shadows that had not seen light for years fled at the sight of it, and Joseph walked inside.
He flicked a switch, half-expecting the lights to be dead. Surprisingly, they flickered, and then turned on completely.
The house had not changed one bit since he had last seen it, when he had come to look when he heard that James had disappeared. The blood still stained the ground where James' girlfriend's mutilated corpse had once lay. Now Joseph had suspicions that it was indeed James that had killed her, and then run away.
He then wandered around the house, searching for any clues, anything, that would help him better understand the nature of what changed James from a hero to a psychotic killer.
Nothing was there. He couldn't find anything.
He then thought harder. There had to be something, something there that wasn't before. This new idea sharpened his senses, and he began to search the rooms, this time observing every detail. He then noticed something very peculiar: a set of footprints.
They weren't just any set of footprints, they were recent. Joseph studied them closely, and took note of which direction they were facing. He then stood in them, and found himself staring at a painting. Observational skills, don't fail me here. He stared at the painting, which was of a dark forest shrouded in fog.
He looked at all of the trees, and noticed that there was a very odd shape amongst the trees. It was a shadow of a tall, thin man with what looked like branches coming from his back.
Instinctively, he reached out and touched it. He then stood back when he heard a shudder. The wall then slid forward slightly, then to the side, revealing a wide opening that led into darkness. Joseph had come prepared, though. He had brought his flashlight when he assumed that the house would have no electricity.
He flicked it on, shining it into the darkness, and saw what appeared to be a secret chamber, with more of Thanatophobia's bone spears, scythes and skull masks. He then saw writing on the wall, scrawled with blood, as well as newspapers which reported Thanatophobia's many victims.
Then something else caught his eye: a large metal table in a shadowed corner of the room, but it wasn't the table that interested him; it was what was on the table that made him curious.
It was a book, laying closed on the center of the table. Joseph cautiously opened it up, expecting something to jump out at him. To his relief, nothing did. Seeing this, he calmed down and began to read.
11th of February, 2001.
I am James Dredd, this is my first entry of my journal. I will be completely honest in saying that I don't know how this is supposed to go; what I am supposed to write. So please bear with me as I write this.
I must say, life is good; I've got nothing to complain about. I'm seen as a bit of a hero here, and I have an amazing girlfriend, Sarah (who, by the way, got me buy this journal to write in, saying that it will probably make a fortune one day), and I have a great job as a computer clerk in the hospital, and my parkour friends are helping me improve.
OK, I'm running out of ideas of things to say, already. As I said before, I don't really know what I'm supposed to write, so I'm gonna wrap it up for now.
13th of February, 2001.
Hello, it's me again. I just got back from work, and it turns out I'm getting a promotion to being head of the I.T. staff, which means I'll have even more money that will hopefully send me and Sarah on a wonderful holiday.
That's all I really have to say for now. So, I guess this is it for today (maybe just keeping it brief is a good idea)
16th of February, 2001.
Today I got something really odd; it was the newspaper article that had a picture of me in it as a child when I saved Joseph from a car. Whoever had sent it put a red circle around a tall man in the background of the photo, with the words “CAN YOU SEE IT?” scrawled onto the page.
I don't know who vandalised the newspaper, but whoever did has to be mad.
I don't know why, but something makes me think that this person is going to do something else. I will report anything else that happens in this journal.
19th of February, 2001.
I received a letter in the mail, scrawled on it were the words “COMING FOR YOU”, and a picture of a tall man. I don't know what the person is trying to say, but the riddles are beginning to annoy me. What does this tall man have to do with anything?
I'm suspecting that whoever is sending me these isn't actually posting them to me. Rather, they live close by and are running around, dropping them in my mailbox, because there's no way that the postal service would have delivered the letter to me if there was no sending or return address.
I'm going to keep a closer eye on my mailbox, and see if I can catch the mystery mailer in the act.
I will keep you updated on any events that occur.
20th of February, 2001.
The reason I have updated so soon is that, when I was on my way to work today, I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched. I looked around, but nothing was there.
I continued, but I couldn't shake that feeling. The more I walked, the more the feeling grew that I was being followed. I looked back, but this time I thought I saw something, even if it was only for a split second.
I thought I saw a man standing next to a tree. It was a well shaded area, so I couldn't see any details. I might've imagined it, but something tells me that it's not just paranoia.
Something else is at work here. I don't know what is wrong, but I intend to find out.
Joseph read on, and saw how quickly things changed for the worse for James – times of sleeping and not waking up for days on end, nightmares, people in dark hoodies watching him, as well as the mysterious figure that stood always in the background, observing – until it seemed that only the journal had been keeping him sane. Joseph then flicked to a certain page that crushed his spirit.
14th of May, 2001.
I have lost everything. My boss fired me because I kept disappearing for sometimes weeks at a time, and it would only feel like a day. My parkour friends have given up on me because I kept missing meetings with them. My good deeds are practically forgotten. Funnily enough, I used to want them forgotten, and everyone to see me as their equal. Now I don't have that respect, I kinda miss it. I'm nearly broke, and Sarah doesn't know. She's all I have left, and this journal.
That thing... that tall, faceless thing, I wish I had never come across it. It has ruined my life. I want to die. I don't want it to have me.
There were many blank pages after that, until Joseph came across a particular page. When he looked upon it, he was suddenly sucked into the diary, into another world…
He saw James standing at a beach, holding what Joseph recognised as his lucky golden watch. Obviously he was contemplating on whether he should sell it or not. He then walked away from the water, new hope in his eyes, “This can get me back on track...” He heard James mutter.
Joseph realised that he was in James' memory of what took place twelve years ago, on the 17th of May, 2001. The day James disappeared.
James was heading to the jewelers when a young boy, Max Baker, was riding recklessly on his bike and spun out of control, slamming into James, thus knocking the watch out of his hand and down a gutter.
James got up, dazed. When he came to his senses, he scrambled on the road, looking frantically for his watch. He then looked at the gutter, and just stood there, unmoving.
Max climbed to his feet, groaning with pain. He then saw James there, staring at the gutter, eyes screwed shut, muttering to himself. “...wecanmakeitworkwecanmakeitworkwecanmakeitworkwecanmakeitwork...”
“James, I'm sorry, are you alright?” Asked Max worriedly.
James didn't respond, rather shutting his eyes tighter, his muttering getting more intense, “...wecanmakeitworkwecanmakeitworkwecanmakeitwork...”
Joseph saw what had happened: James' sanity had given out, and he was trying to convince himself that there was still hope.
Max approached James, more concerned now, “James?” he asked. His first mistake.
James' eyes snapped open, gone was the friendly light that once existed in them, now there was evident madness in them, and they were blood red in color. “We... can make it work. With a different path.” He then looked down at Max.
Max didn't know what had happened, as he wasn't as observant as Joseph. “What are you talking about? Make what work?” His second mistake.
Run, thought Joseph frantically, don't talk to him, just run!
“My life, I can make it work. I can make it straight, if I follow him; do what he says.” Replied James, a wicked smile on his face.
You don't mean... Thought Joseph, already knowing how this would end.
“What's wrong with your life?” Asked Max. His third mistake.
No! That came out way wrong! Joseph wished he could intervene, but this was a memory, not the present time.
James eyes flared up, and he grabbed Max and covered his mouth, taking him down a dark alleyway, where he shoved him to the ground, the evil smile still on his face. “I'll tell you what's wrong! He's been trying to show me the whole time. I just wasn't paying attention, so my life seemed to come crashing down.” He leaned in close. “And now, it all makes perfect sense.”
Max then got up. “I'm gonna get you some help.” His fourth mistake.
James then tackled him to the ground. “Help? Do I look like a guy who needs help? You’re the one that needs saving” He then looked down the end of the alleyway; concentrating, as if listening to a voice that only he could hear. Joseph then followed his gaze, and saw the monster from the journal: the tall, faceless man in a black suit and tie. James nodded, “Yes… he does…” he whispered.
Max began to cry, “Let me go.” He begged, “I won't tell anyone, I swear!”
James looked down at Max, his eyes turned blood red, “I'm going to give you to him. He can save you, just as he saved me.”
He then began to brutally beat Max, causing him to scream. “Quiet.” He commanded, when Max didn't, he began digging in his pocket, looking for something sharp. He pulled out his house key, and began to stab Max, intending to end it quickly.
Blood went everywhere, and Joseph tried to close his eyes, to look away, but he was forced to watch every sickening moment of it.
When it was all over, James stood up, hands, clothes and face covered with blood. “He is yours.” He said, looking once more to the monster. Joseph felt a chill run through him, and the monster was standing over the corpse of Max, now mutilated beyond recognition. And then, in an eye-blink, both corpse and entity were gone.
James seemed pleased at what he had done.
Joseph was sick at heart at what he had just witnessed, he had almost forgotten what had brought James to this stage, what had changed him into a sadistic murderer. Joseph then looked at the two: The people who had suffered and been brutally murdered, and James, who had been just as badly tortured, and wondered who he felt sorrier for.
He was then was forced to follow as James headed towards home. “Let's see what we got…” Joseph heard just before James jumped impossibly high and pulled himself up onto a streetlight. He then chuckled silently to himself, “Now that is impressive. But what of my other gifts?” He looked as though he were about to do something, but then stopped. “No, not on the streets, no-one will see me, and I'll get run over.”
He then thought for a moment, “Oh, I know: I'll scare Sarah.”
He then began to jump from streetlight to streetlight, landing them perfectly, as though he'd done it all his life. When he ran out of streetlights to jump to on the way home, he jumped onto the ground and began running. He then stopped abruptly, looking down at his legs.
He then began to sprint at high speed, faster than what was normal for a human being. He began to laugh psychotically, obviously impressed at his new abilities.
He was home in no time, and Joseph had felt like he was on a conveyer belt the whole time, following James through his memories.
When James got inside, he took his hands and smeared the blood all over his face, as though he'd been beaten, and then he lay on the ground in the kitchen, seeming to be concentrating, as if trying to force himself to do something. He then began to cough, and his hands flew to his heart, as one would in a heart attack. He seemed to have died there, on the kitchen floor. Joseph then went and looked down at James. Somehow, he was able to check James' heartbeat and pulse. There were none. James was dead.
He'd left the door open a crack and, after about 10 minutes, the door swung open widely, and Sarah, with a look of suspicion on her face, stepped inside cautiously.
She then gasped in horror and sobbed silently when she saw James on the floor. She went over and checked him, “James? James? Wake up! JAMES!?” She began to try CPR, but he just wasn't coming through. Joseph couldn't help but think that there was something missing. If Thanatophobia was James, and James died then...
He looked right at Sarah, Who was Thanatophobia?
A cough brought him to his senses, and James' body sat up, a malicious smile on his face. This sent Sarah into a panic, and she shrieked in terror.
James laughed. “Oh, I got you good! Heh heh heh!”
Her screaming died down. “Wha- James! How did you...?” She stuttered, unable to find the words to describe it. “You were dead! Literally dead! How did you come back to life?”
James laughed again, which unnerved Joseph. “Dead? No, not dead. I was nearly dead, but not entirely.” He walked towards her, and she shrank back, “James! Your eyes! They're-”
“They're perfect, I know, you don't have to tell me.” He finished for her, a wicked smile plastered on his face. Joseph immediately knew how this would end.
Sarah gaped, mortified at what James had become. “James, just sit down on the couch, I'm going to get you some help.” She spoke in a low voice, but James' reply would stick in Joseph's mind for the rest of his life.
“Me? Needing help?” He chuckled, “No, you've got me all wrong. I've never been better!” He then stopped dead, and seemed to be looking behind her, right at Joseph. Then a low, whispering voice was heard in his head. She needs help, James. But it is up to you to do so. Spread my influence, since I have given it to you.
Joseph looked behind himself, and the creature was standing there. “Yes Master.” Replied Dredd, right before he looked at Sarah, insanity in his gaze. He then continued to walk towards her, “Sarah, just stay there for a moment, I'll get you some help, you seem to need it more than I do.”
Sarah watched as he slid towards the cupboard, and began digging around in there. She then got up and bolted to the door. Joseph saw why, as he saw the cupboard that James was going through, and he pulled out some knives.
“SARAH!” James bellowed when she ran. His feet pounded on the ground as he went after her.
He then jumped on top of a streetlight, and began hopping from light to light with ease. He caught up to her quickly without her noticing his presence. He then threw a knife down at her from his perch. It clipped her shoulder and she screamed in agony, slowing down.
He then hopped to the next light and threw another. This one got her in the calf muscle, and she collapsed to the ground, faceplanting onto the hard bitumen.
He then hopped to the ground and dragged her back to the house. “You mustn't do that. Running away from someone who offers you help? How rude of you.” He scolded her.
“Please,” her voice came out heavy and ragged, “please, James, don't do this.”
James looked at her, “I know it's hard. Trust me, I really do. But it has to be done. Let him save you, as he saved me.”
Sarah sobbed, accepting her fate. Blood was flowing out of the wounds in her shoulder, her leg, and her head from where she hit the road.
He pulled her inside, and took out a particularly large knife. He stood there for a few moments, ready to drive it into her heart. Joseph was forced to watch as Dredd, now Thanatophobia, brought the knife down. Sarah let out one last scream, before she choked, and died.
Joseph felt a dizzying sensation that brought him back to reality, and he vomited on the ground. What he had seen was almost as horrible as the things one would see in a Satanic cult; he now knew how a near-perfect man with a heart of gold could become a demented, cold-blooded killer.
He left the secret chamber, and burned the diary. He then left the house. As he was walking out, his cell phone rang. “Hello?”
“Joseph, is that you?” Came the whispered reply.
“Marie?” Joseph asked. It was one of the receptionists of the morgue.
“You have to come quick, or get the police.” She cried.
Joseph dreaded why that might be. “What is it?”
“He's alive. He's killed everyone.”
Joseph's worst fears had come true. “ Stay there, okay, I'm going to come and get you out.”
He heard a crunch, followed by a thump. Silence.
“Marie? Are you there?” He stammered in fear.
There was then a fumbling sound, as if the phone was being picked up. He then heard a voice that struck sheer terror into Joseph's heart. “Hey Joseph.” It was Thanatophobia.
Joseph decided to keep him busy. “Hey James, how are you?”
“Better than ever. I just saved over twenty people for my Master. You wouldn't believe how hard he works.” Replied James. “We should catch up, face to face.”
“Uh, sorry James. But I don't think that will be possible.” Joseph was trying to blackmail James to give himself time to escape, although he didn't really know himself why he wanted to do so. What was he so afraid of?
“Sure it is. You're at my house, aren't you?” Joseph stopped dead, his eyes wide. How did he know that? “How did you enjoy reading my diary? I left it there for you, you know.”
Joseph swung the door to his car open and jumped inside, slamming the door shut behind himself and locking the car. He then jammed the keys into the ignition and started the car.
“Joseph, what are you doing? Don't leave!” Joseph ended the call, reversed out of the driveway and drove off at full speed. After a few minutes, he then began to get the feeling that he was being... followed.
He took a quick glance in the rear-view mirrors, Thanatophobia was there, sprinting on the road effortlessly with his scythe and bone spears, ready to attack. He then threw one of the bone spears at the back window, which bounced off harmlessly thanks, in no small part, to the glass being bullet-proof.
He was catching up though, and Joseph couldn't drive forever. His fuel reserves were running low. I knew I should've filled up on the way here... He then decided that he would do something noble, brave, and completely insane. He accelerated in an effort to put some distance between himself and Thanatophobia, and then did a U-turn to charge it at him.
But he had a fast reaction time and made a small hop to land on the bonnet. He then drew his scythe and struck the the bonnet with the blade, easily tearing through the armor and into the vital mechanics under the hood.
In a panic, Joseph braked abruptly, sending Thanatophobia sprawling onto the road. He then drove it in an effort to run him over.
His opponent was too fast, and rolled to the side to avoid the car. He then sprung to his feet and charged at the car, which was beginning to slow as the oil leaked out. He went to the driver's door, raising the scythe and swinging it so that it pierced through the door, and just stopped short of Joseph's chest.
Thanatophobia couldn't get the scythe out, so Joseph took the opportunity to swing open the door, which hit his pursuer right in the face.
Joseph jumped out of the car, rushing at his former friend, who was already getting up. He tackled him to the ground, trying to keep him pinned.
“Why, James?” He cried. “Why did you do it?”
Thanatophobia snarled and managed to push Joseph off of him. “What did I do wrong?” He spat.
Joseph was shocked. “You've been killing people, James, not helping them or saving them! Killing them.”
They were both on their feet, staring each other down. Cars stopped, and people began to gather at the scene. “Do you not understand, Joseph? Do you not understand why I kill? Then let me... enlighten you.” He then charged at Joseph, who dodged to the side just in time to avoid the tackle.
“It doesn't have to be this way, James. You don't have to do this. That thing doesn't have to dictate your life.”
Thanatophobia was up again. “Is that what this is about? My Master?” He scowled, “I'd like to point out that I quite like serving him. He has told me and the others nothing but the truth!”
Joseph knew there was a point in this somewhere. “Get to the point.” He urged.
He heard a gunshot, and people started running, screaming in terror. Suddenly Joseph saw them all, walking side-by-side to join Thanatophobia. There was Surge, Pyromaniac, Razor, Dr. Freak, The Spectator, Screecher, Mannequiller and Ghost Hacker. The Shadow had arrived.
Thanatophobia sneered at Joseph. “The truth is: the world we live in is evil, and most people make it all about them and what they want. You see: they are better off dead if that's what they're going to be like. I'm saving them from themselves and their evil desires. As are the rest of us, we all have a job to do: Surge takes out police, which can be very corrupt; Pyromaniac shows the world the truth, lifting the shroud of falseness and showing them the true horror which is everywhere they look; Razor acts as our inside man, often hearing plans from police when he 'accidentally' messes up and gets caught; and Dr. Freak? He helps people to relax by giving them sedatives to help them sleep when our Master wants to have a bit of fun with people before they are taken. Screecher provides people with the songs of truth that our Master gives her; The Spectator makes sure that all of our good deeds are documented; Ghost Hacker makes sure that we can continue our deeds by monitoring the actions of the intelligence agencies and making sure that we are always a step ahead; and Mannequiller, while slow-moving, is a very useful example of what can happen to you if you try to avoid Our Employer’s plans for you.”
James then charged at Joseph, this time he was ready for the dodge, moving to where Joseph was to land the solid tackle that sent him to the ground. He then bashed Joseph across the face, evil delight in his eyes.
Joseph could only brace himself against the blows, and they still hurt like nothing had ever done before. What made them hurt most was the fact that they had been delivered by the man he had once called his friend. “Please, James, don't do this.” He pleaded.
James' eyes turned from blood red to brown. War was raging in his eyes. “I- I can't.” Immediately his eyes turned red again, “Yes you can.” He responded to... himself? His eyes turned brown. “I- I wish I could take everything back!” He yelled. His voice then became choked and kept changing tone. “i'M SorRY! I'M so sORry! taKe tHiS buRDeN OfF oF Me!”
He screwed his eyes shut, and when he opened them again, his eyes were still flickering. Thanatophobia grabbed Joseph's head and bashed it on the road. He then grabbed one of his bone spears, and was about to stab it into Joseph's chest, but he stopped himself and jumped off of Joseph, arm shaking, he dropped the spear and grabbed his head. “NO! NO! NO!” He roared, “I CAN’T! I WON’T!” His eyes stayed brown as he gestured weakly to Joseph. “GO! RUN!”
Joseph didn’t need any more motivation; he ran away from the group of murderers, all but Dredd pursued him.
James was trying to stop himself from reaching for another spear, but the will of Thanatophobia was not going to let him go so easily. He reached for the spear as Joseph ran, and primed it to throw at him. He hesitated to release it; he had to hold off until Joseph was at a safe distance. He then turned his aim slightly and tossed it at Surge. However, he had deliberately aimed it so that it would knock the gun out of his hand; nothing more, nothing less. Surge stopped and turned turned as he felt his gun leave his grip, and saw that James’ spear had done the deed. He then cursed as he saw Joseph getting away: Mannequiller was too slow to do anything; Screecher would have to stop to take a deep breath before screaming, and so would the others to block their ears, and even then Joseph would be far enough away so that it wouldn’t be very effective; Ghost Hacker and The Spectator didn’t have any weapons to attack him with; Razor and Dr Freak would have to get to close quarters to do any real damage; Pryomaniac’s gas grenades had no guarantee of affecting him, as Joseph would likely be ready to hold his breath for a few seconds until he cleared it; Thanatophia was losing to James’ will and Surge had lost his gun in the long grass on the side of the road because of it. Joseph had every advantage at this point.
Or did he?
“Master! He’s getting away, will you not do something to stop him?” He shouted.
The Employer appeared beside Surge, looking down at him, I’m sorry, Surge, but I missed the part where I gave you authority to order me around.
Surge looked up in confusion, “But… didn’t you want him caught? I thought you-”
He was cut off as the area around them darkened, and The Employer increased in height and the telepathic voice grew deeper, I wanted you to catch him, and you failed, now you can accept the consequences.
Surge backed up in terror, “But… Master, please… it wasn’t my fault, Dredd-“
I DON’T WANT EXCUSES! YOU HAVE FAILED; NOW YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN WITH THIS ONE!
With that, The Employer left him shaking with cold fear. This wasn’t right; he had never known The Employer to just leave like that.
He saw James revert back to Thanatophobia, and he went up and punched him. “Imbecile, you ruined everything.”
Thanatophobia took the hit, “Apologies for that. James won’t be interfering anymore.”
Surge nodded, and went to the others. “Our Employer has left it to us to finish the job; we won’t be getting any help from him with this one.”
There was a murmur amongst them, “What?” Dr. Freak asked him, “That’s awfully strange of him, wouldn’t you agree?”
“It matters not,” Screecher replied, “if it helps to get us to our destinies, then who are we to argue?”
“Indeed,” Surge agreed, “Our Employer is the only one that fully understands The Game, and he leads us on the path to our destinies. If he says we have to do this ourselves, then we will.”
After a moment of silence, Thanatophobia asked “So, when do we start?”