Despite the sultry summer heat baking all of Chattanooga, the deep limestone cave was pitch-black and extremely cold. The man with the high-beam flashlight slowly made his way down through the connecting tunnel, turning on the electric lanterns hung at intervals along the way. He wasn’t a killer yet, but he soon would be. He was tired of waiting, tired of the years of pain and heartbreak and the suppressed fury locked inside his head. He stopped and rubbed his temples with his fingertips, feeling the onset of another violent headache.
The lanterns cast a strange white light that sent elongated shadows onto the craggy rock walls. It was damp so deep in the earth, and rife with the smell of mold and rot and sulfur. Once he reached his secret room, he pulled on a heavy military-green parka. He kept it hidden there for times such as this, for days when he wanted only to retreat from the real world and everybody in it. For times when he hurt so bad inside that he couldn’t stand it a minute longer, couldn’t stand to go about and pretend to have a normal life or be a decent human being. He wasn’t normal, not anymore. He might even be going insane. Maybe he was already. Maybe he always had been. He didn’t really feel insane, not all the time. The actions he was contemplating now were completely crazy. He knew that. Still, he craved them. Savored the gruesome details of his murderous fantasies. Thought of little else but finally, after all these years, exacting his righteous revenge.
Moving across the big cavern, he sat down in an old brown rocking chair at the crude table he’d made out of planks and sawhorses. He gazed down at the objects he’d placed on the table, caressing each one. Everything was ready now. He’d purchased all the supplies he needed for his first kill. He’d been careful, had planned for years how he would carry out the darkest of his fantasies. He had driven all the way to Atlanta to buy the yellow ski rope. He’d selected a small sporting goods shop in Powder Springs, one without a surveillance camera, run by a teenage clerk that didn’t have a clue. The twelve-inch fillet knife was purchased in Knoxville at a seedy fishing and hunting discount store in a strip mall. Some of the other things he had made himself, to suit his specific needs. Yes, it was all coming together nicely—all the errands run, the knife sharpened to a razor edge, the coins polished and counted out in distinct piles.
The large Murder Book was also on the table. He had spent years collecting and pasting photographs and newspaper articles on its pages. There were a dozen people who had to die; maybe more, depending on what his victims told him before they took their last breath. The book’s pages were separated with numbered tabs. He had placed each person in the book in the order they would die. He pulled the book onto his lap and opened the unadorned black cover. There, on page one, staring arrogantly at the camera, hiding all his wicked vileness behind a smiling facade, was victim One, the worst of the rotten, lying lot he was going to enjoy killing.
A white Bible lay beside the Murder Book. He opened it to the page marked with a narrow, red satin ribbon. The book of Proverbs. He found the right page and placed his finger on the verse that gave him permission to do the deeds he contemplated. The familiar peacefulness flooded down over him like a soothing balm, and he grew strangely calm and determined. The time had come. He would start tonight. He would take someone’s life for the very first time. He had it planned down to every detail, every exigency, and every possible eventuality. He would kill and mutilate and wreak God’s vengeance on the guilty and wicked.
But could he do it? Could he go against every principle he had believed in for his entire life? Could he get his revenge? Kill in cold blood? Murder with pleasure? Did he have the stomach for the gruesome, bloody acts he had dreamed about doing for so long?
Oh yes, he thought, staring down at the smiling photograph of One in his Murder Book. Yes, he could. And he would. Soon.