He stepped out of the house and pulled the door closed. The wind had picked up, taking the last leaves on the tree from their final grip to life. He looked along the quiet street. Lights were on in most of the houses. But there was no soul on the street. Using his hat as a shield to the wind, Helland lit a cigarette. He saw the blood of the man on his knuckles. He thought of wiping it away. Instead smiled. At least the kid had given a little bit of fight. Helland didn’t like it when murder without a weapon just felt as easy as stepping on a bug. His hand was swinging as he strode up the road towards his car, parked behind the Buick and Plymouth.
It hadn’t been as Helland had intended to begin The Fury. Two could never appease hell’s gluttony for the fresh dead. But it was a satisfying start, just the same. The Knights had travelled with him, also to commence their new wave in Honahee that night, as he’d instructed them. Slipping into his car, Helland made his way to them.
Driving down the street, he thought about what was to come. When this town would burn. There were more sects of the Knights of the White Camellia to persuade to his ways. If he could turn those small town boys as quickly as he had, he knew that others would only have to see their achievements to want to join with. Those small town boys had responded dutifully to threat.
As he turned out onto the main street, his pistol started to appeal to him. He looked at the faces, this society of vermin. The potential that lay in his firearm. He eased off the gas. Keen for some kind of approach. Any excuse to kill. Temptation tickled at him. Yet no one paid any particular attention to the vehicle. Helland picked out faces; individuals to recognise when he returned for them. The walking dead. Not one of them would ever know that death had driven through their midst.
The town slipped away behind him until it became a dot in the side mirror, one that Helland could not take his eyes from. Eventually the view behind turned to black, his headlamps blazing into the dark ahead. It was not long before they lit upon a gathering of trucks by the side of the road, alongside a bridge. Helland slowed. The boys from the delta town were standing about the trucks.
‘Fuck you doin’ waitin’ here?’ Helland said, stepping out of his car. ‘Told you we’d meet further outside town.
‘Got you your revenge, boss?’ a man asked, looking at Helland’s hands in the headlights.
‘Arksed what you doin’ out here,’ Helland said, stepping up to the man.
They were of equal height. The man’s long hair and beard hid most of his face; the light creating pits in the shadow of his eyes. ‘We got somethin’ that’ll make you mighty pleased, boss,’ he said. ‘Down under that there bridge. Had us a little revengin’ of our own.’
‘What is it?’ Helland asked.
‘The body of a man not yet dead.’
‘Whyn’t you just kill him. Why do I gotta see you do it?’
‘It was you said to create the fear first,’ the man replied. ‘Before The Fury.’
With a glare at the man, Helland walked towards the bank. Flashlights showed him the way down. The other men followed him. ‘Just down under,’ one said. Helland turned to him, paused a moment until the man looked away, and then continued down.
He faced into the darkness beneath the bridge. A man stepped to his side, between the river and Helland. He shone his flashlight beneath the bridge, towards the water. ‘Here,’ he said, taking a step forward. Helland followed.
Out of the darkness, a pickaxe handle jarred into Helland’s face, breaking his nose and knocking him down. He was up again in an instant, withdrawing his pistol. From behind, another thick handle smashed into his hand, knocking the gun to the floor. From behind him, a handle hit across his head at the same time as one slammed into his legs, sending Helland to his knees. Two handles in his collarbone pinned him down, piking into the flesh each time he made to move.
The hidden man stepped out of the darkness, a tall, stooping shadow, the bandage over his nose stark beneath the depths of the bridge. ‘You come into my clan an’ think that you can start takin’ control, huh?’ He stopped the length of a man from Helland, looking down at him.
With his chin jutting out, Helland looked long at each face, storing the details. He shifted. The handles dug into his skin. ‘You think that you can kill me?’ he said, smiling. He coughed. Spat blood into the dirt. He spat again at the feet of the man. ‘You think that pussies like y’all is match for me? I’ll raise another crew an’ wipe y’all out first, even before the niggers.’
‘Your ways ain’t how we do down here,’ the man said. ‘We ain’t but one sect of the Knights. Plenty more boys out there doin’ their way an’ we do ours, stickin’ to our own agenda. We have our turf, an’ we do what we do just fine where we are. Ain’t comin’ out here an’ stormin’ a town.’ The man looked around at the other men. They nodded, lifted their handles, and hollered their agreement. ‘Say we pussies now, boy,’ the man said, stepping closer. ‘No? Well, okay.’ He turned from Helland. ‘Prove to the man that we can kill him. Just don’t do it too quick,’ he added.
The pack fell upon Helland. Handles beat down on him. He fought to stand. Attempted to pluck a handle from an attacker. He yelled. He threatened. He spat. And the handles rained down. His knees broke. His arms. Helland squirmed on the floor, still trying to fight back, screaming threats. Growling; spitting; lurching; grabbing. There were too many for him to cause harm; too fierce an onslaught. A handle landed on his back, creating a spasm in the writhing body. Another crumpled his jaw. And the handles rained down, one breaking upon his hip. And the handles rained down.
The leader of the Knights of the White Camellia watched on from beneath the bridge. Some looked to him. He looked back, impassive. He did not interrupt his men. Only when he saw that the man was nearly dead did he speak: ‘Throw him in before he’s all dead, boys. See if he can float with them broke bones.’
A glimmer of life returned to Helland as he broke through the dark surface. As his head splashed above and beneath the surface, gurgled growls rippled over the water. Flashlights shone on him, the men watching the helpless struggle. They laughed and pointed at the broken creature’s desperate failing lurches for life.
The leader of the Knights was watching from halfway up the bank. When he was saw that the struggle had ceased, Helland floating face down in the water, he spoke to his men. ‘We ride home now, boys,’ he said. ‘Ditch the sticks in the river.’
As he walked up the bank, the sound of the sticks plunging into the water followed him. At the top he looked one last time at the outline of the figure in the river, floating with the fallen leaves.