You haven’t felt alive before you’ve killed someone. The symphony in your nerves in that moment will drown out every thrill you’ve ever had. I’ve never seen a color brighter than Mr. Daken’s blood, nor heard a sound truer than the death-rattle rasping from his final breath. And if I go the rest of my life wading through a sea of muted colors and muffled sounds, I will accept it gracefully because I know I have tasted of the forbidden fruit and hate myself for how sweet the juices ran.

I didn’t waste time plotting counter attacks or defensive measures. I stashed my money in a shallow hole and ran the whole four miles to the nearest police station. The blood had stopped running from the gash above my eye, but no-one needed to look twice at me to know I’ve been through hell.

“We’re going to send a squad car with two officers to investigate the premises,” the man in the station told me. “Do you feel comfortable going with them to show where the bodies are buried?”

Of course I wasn’t comfortable, but neither would I be okay sitting at the station and letting two men go unprepared into that den of evil.

“Two won’t be enough,” I said. “You’ll be walking into a war.”

“We have no intentions on fighting anyone. We’re just going to take a look around, and we can always call for backup if anything doesn’t feel right,” Sergeant Sinclair said. He had enough gray hair around his temples to know better, but he talked with a rigid arrogance that left no room for debate. Sinclair and Deputy Erikson escorted me to their cruiser and told me to sit in the back and I allowed them to take charge. One way or another, this would all be over soon.

I hadn’t wanted to sabotage my own credibility by telling them the assassins were children. I’d only said that I knew who killed my parents, knew where the orders were coming from, and knew where at least three bodies were buried. I didn’t work up the courage to tell them more until we were already parked outside Sammy D’s house.

“She brainwashes people,” I spluttered without context. “She kidnaps children and she brainwashes them to fight for her. You can’t let your guard down, not for a second — not with anyone.”

“Stay in the car until we come back. You’ll be perfectly safe,” Sergeant Sinclair said.

I nodded rigidly, my face pressed against the window, straining to get a glimpse of what might be in store for them. Maybe Sammy D just took her money and ran for it. She must have some contingency plan in case she was discovered, right? She couldn’t intend to could take on the whole town.

The officers were about a dozen feet from the parked cruiser when Maker appeared around the side of the house. He was limping in an exaggerated motion, his face and body further smeared with blood and bits of gore. He was crying and wailing for help, but the moment the police started advancing Maker turned and began staggering in the opposite direction.

It was so real it made me sick. At least until Maker skipped a step, accidentally limping on the wrong leg, but I don’t think either of the cops noticed.

“Don’t follow him! It’s a trap!” I shouted through the glass.

“Stay in the car!” Sinclair barked without turning.

Erikson had already disappeared around the corner after Maker. Then came a shrill scream from the yard on the other side of the house, and a moment later Sinclair was gone too. Just me, pressed against the glass and wondering if it was already too late to run again.

Then another face — an inch from mine peering through the window at me. Alexa knocked sharply and said:

“Hey, can you hear me?”

She must have been kneeling beside the car because her body was obscured behind the door. I couldn’t tell if she was carrying a weapon. I triple checked that all the doors were locked before I replied.

“It’s over Alexa. Turn yourself in or run. You don’t need to go down with these people.”

“You still don’t understand, do you?” she asked. The sincerity in her voice and the pleading furrows in her smooth skin were disarming. “Sammy D is going to take care of us forever. She loves us.”

“Like she loved her own son?”

There was a gunshot from the yard. I jolted so bad that I hit my head on the ceiling. Alexa didn’t even react.

“Like everything was so perfect before,” Alexa said, her voice still gentle and coaxing. “Do you know what would have happened to Maker if Sammy D hadn’t saved him?”

Saved? I couldn’t believe my ears. Why was there only one gunshot? What the hell was going on over there?

“We’d go weeks at a time without even seeing our parents,” she continued. “Sometimes they’d remember to hire someone to take care of us, sometimes it was just me and Maker. Even when they were home, we weren’t allowed to leave our room when they were partying out there, and with the meth that could sometimes go on for days at a time.”

A second gunshot. A third immediately afterward. That wasn’t a warning. That was an execution.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to hold your little brother and wait for him to stop shaking? Only he wouldn’t stop because of the chemicals going through his veins, but I couldn’t understand that. I thought was just scared, and that it was my fault I couldn’t get him to feel safe.”

Two more gunshots in rapid succession. I could imagine Sammy D kicking over the second officer’s slumped corpse so clearly that I might as well be staring at it.

“Maybe it wasn’t like that for you, but someone must have wanted your parents dead for a reason. Ever think about what they were hiding that made this happen? Ever wonder if they deserved it? Everyone out there deserve to die, everyone but us. Sammy D wants to give you another chance to join the family.”

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to see what was going on. If the police were dead then staying here wouldn’t protect me anyway. Alexa stepped back as I slowly opened the door. It was impossible not to notice the razor blade clutched between her fingers.

“What’s it going to be?” Sammy D was walking around the house, a handgun casually hanging from her fingers. That was it then. It was over. Alexa grinned, moving to stand in solidarity beside the old woman.

“We’re leaving here within the hour,” Sammy D added. “You’re coming with us, or you’re staying here. Doesn’t matter to me either way.”

Sammy D’s finger twitched around the trigger. She might pretend to be relaxed, but I could see the tension which twisted her fingers into a claw around the gun. I didn’t have any delusion that “staying here” meant anything other than buried in the backyard.

“What’s the matter?” her voice was a gravel avalanche. “Too scared to answer?”

I shook my head. “You taught me better than that.”

Half a smirk played about her lips before they drew back into a tight line. Alexa was still smiling.

“You taught us all better than that. Except for Maker, right? You never seemed to care that he was out of control.”

Alexa’s smile flirted with a snarl.

“I couldn’t understand why, but I see it now,” I said. “You never thought he had what it took to become an assassin, did you? You never even bothered to show him how to defend himself, because you only ever planned on using him once.”

The front door opened and I could see the rest of the children huddled inside. They were laden down with duffel bags and suitcases, ready to go wherever they were told.

“You’re better than that though,” Sammy D said. “I’m not going to throw you away. I’m going to take care of you.”

Alexa’s eyes flashed across the children. She ran back to peer around the side of the house. I could practically see the gears in her head turning beneath the frantic lashing of her braided hair. Two gunshots for each of the two cops. Where did the first shot go?

“Sammy D no —” Alexa started, her words dying in her mouth.

“Your brother was a hero, Alexa,” Sammy D cooed. “We all owe our lives to him.”

I caught the eye of Greg and Simon inside the house. I didn’t miss the curt nod. I didn’t underestimate the light burning in Alexa’s eyes. None of us needed so much as a word to know what had to happen next.

Sammy D felt it too. Her gun was leveled in a flash. One bullet escaped the muzzle, but I was already behind the armored door of the police cruiser. She never got a second chance. Children were pouring out of the house, leaping on the old woman and dragging her to the ground. The flash as Alexa’s razor traced a line in the air like a spear of light.

It wasn’t the death-rattle or the color of blood which filled the air though. There was no sound so haunting as the pitiful howl which ripped itself from somewhere deep inside of Alexa. There was no color like the fire in her eyes being tempered by the rush of her swelling tears. The thrill of the kill was still hanging in the air, but one look around was enough to know that it was nothing compared to the burden of loss.

We had money and a chance at a new life together. The most important thing we gained from the assassin’s orphanage is knowing you can’t buy yourself a new life at the price of someone else’s though. Life can’t be bought or sold or stolen in any form. It can only be built, and it’s a whole lot easier to build when you have a real family like I have now.

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