My mother cost 10,000 dollars. That’s the standard price for a hit. My father was 25,000 because he was considered an “important person” — at least important enough to demand a formal investigation into his death. From what I’ve heard, the police never found anything besides the single razor blade used to cut each of their throats. Of course I know who did it — I even saw it happen — but I never had the chance to tell anyone before I was taken.
No kids. That’s Mr. Daken’s only rule as far as I can tell. The killer doesn’t like to leave behind orphans either, so after my parents were dead he took me with him. I remember being too afraid to even look him in the face. I just stared at the blood dripping from his black leather gloves while he talked, not hesitating to obey when he told me to get into his car.
When you’re not looking at the black gloves, Mr. Daken doesn’t seem like a killer. His face is warm and doughy with nothing but a mischievous twinkle in the eye to hint at what he’s capable of. His voice is soft and low: a patient professor subtly guiding you toward discovery. A couple of the kids even like him, although they were the ones who were taken so young that they barely even remember the life Mr. Daken stole from them.
We don’t see the assassin very often. Mostly it’s just his mother who all the kids call Sammy D. She keeps the place clean and cooks for us — not survival food either, real home-cooked meals with favorites that our own mothers used to make. Sammy D gives us all chores too, but she works harder than anyone. She even splits the kids up by age and spends an hour a day with each group to home-school us and assign reading.
It’s not nearly enough to forgive them, but I haven’t tried to run away either. I don’t know where else I would go, and besides, the other kids were quick to tell me what would happen if I did.
“We’ve had two runners this year,” Alexa told me the first night after steering me to my bed in the dormitory. She’s a late teen a few years older than me with tight blond braids and sharp, humorless features. “They’re buried out back next to Spangles, the old cat we used to have.”
No kids and no witnesses. I guess Mr. Daken has two rules, and the second is more important than the first.
“Doesn’t anyone try to fight back?” I asked.
“I did. I almost got Sammy D too,” a younger boy around twelve said from his adjacent bed. “I had a kitchen knife and hid behind the door —”
“She knew you were there the whole time,” another boy, probably the older brother considering they both sported the same mass of unruly brown hair. “She just wanted to test you.”
“It wasn’t a test,” the first insisted. “If you’d grabbed her legs we could have got her.”
“Did you get punished?” I asked.
They looked at each other and shrugged.
“If it was Mr. Daken we would be dead. Sammy D just took the knife away,” the younger brother admitted.
“And showed us a different grip,” chimed in the other. “Said we were wasting our body weight by slashing upward when we didn’t have to.”
They both began to mime a controlled slashing motion in the air.
“That’s Simon and Greg — Simon’s the younger one, but they’re both idiots,” Alexa said. “Don’t listen to them. Fighting is only going to make it worse for you.”
The comfortable routine may have been enough to distract us during the day, but the nights were harder. The darkness would blur the unfamiliar room into ghastly shuddering specters. The heavy silence did nothing to distract each of us from reliving our private nightmares, and I grew accustomed to falling asleep listening to the muffled sobs of those who couldn’t drown out the sound with their pillow.
I almost wish we were treated worse. That we were beaten or forced to work to destroy this facade of family that Sammy D tried to shove down our throats. I didn’t want to wait so long that I became indoctrinated into complacency like the others though, so I knew I had to act.
I tried rat poison the first time. I mixed it in the brownie batter to disguise the taste and warned all the other kids so they’d stay away from it. Sammy D figured it out somehow though; she threw away the whole batch before Mr. Daken even came home. All she said was:
“You better think hard about who your friends are before you try something like that again.”
Try something like that again. It wasn’t a warning, it was an invitation.
I didn’t sleep much the next few nights. I found a vent which opened into the AC ducts, but Simon was the only one small enough to climb around. I kept watch for Sammy D while Simon explored until he found the place directly above the kitchen. There was a heavy iron light fixture that I thought we could drop on someone, but it was screwed into place so tight that Simon couldn’t find a way to budge it.
“Think I heard a wild animal skittering around the crawlspace last night,” Sammy D said the next morning while laying out plates of scrambled eggs.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. No-one looked up from their plates.
“I just hope he’s smart enough not to be crawling around when my son is here,” she added innocently. “We’re running out of space in the backyard.”
Nobody had anything to say to that. Not until that night when we all started arguing.
“That’s mine, give it back!” Greg was saying.
“You’re just going to get yourself killed.” Alexa dodged away from Greg’s lunges.
“Mind your own business!”
Alexa sighed and dropped a heavy object wrapped in wires on the floor. An electric screwdriver and an extension cord.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked.
“Sammy D must have left it here,” Greg said. Simon was already unrolling the cable to measure how long it would stretch.
“If she knows then Mr. Daken knows,” Alexa snapped. “It’s just another test, and you’re going to get killed if you try something.”
“She never told Mr. Daken about the rat poison,” I said. “Or if she did, he didn’t do anything about it.”
“Well if she doesn’t tell him then I —” Alexa caught herself mid-sentence.
Simon and Greg were so busy with the drill that they didn’t seem to notice. Alexa caught me staring though, and she dragged me aside to whisper in my ear.
“I can’t reason with them, but I need you on my side. If we don’t warn Mr. Daken then he’s going to —”
“Not if he’s dead.”
“You can’t be serious about this. After everything they’ve done for us —” Alexa coughed and looked away. She must have become aware that the brothers were staring. As she was pulling back, she muttered: “He’s going to know and you’re going to be sorry.”
This wasn’t the first time someone tried to kill Mr. Daken or his mother, but they always seemed to know about it beforehand. It wasn’t Sammy D who was telling him though — if anything she seemed to be helping us. It was Alexa. She was the one foiling the plans, and if any of us were ever going to get out of here, then we’d have to account for that.
Alexa was standing in the driveway waiting for Mr. Daken when he got home. I couldn’t hear what she said to him, but I saw the smile wrinkle up his pudgy face like an old pumpkin. The glimmer of a razor blade appeared in his hand. I don’t think any of us are going to get a second chance.
Sammy D was waiting in the doorway. She helped him with his coat and tried to steer him toward his recliner in the living room, but he had only one thing in mind. He wordlessly stalked around the perimeter of the kitchen, carefully eying the iron light fixture from all angles. The whole while he paced, he kept playing with the razor in his hand, letting the light sparkle for everyone to see while it danced through his fingers.
“Where is Simon?” he asked at last. No-one replied, but I caught Alexa glance up at the ceiling. Mr. Daken must have noticed it too. His eyes twinkled.
“Don’t bother coming out, Simon. The hunt is my favorite part,” he called.
“Be careful, it’s going to fall,” Alexa said.
“Don’t worry. We’ll take the light down,” Greg said, winking at Alexa’s confusion. I helped Greg carry a chair in from the living room that he could stand on.”
“What are you doing? When he catches Simon —” Alexa hissed.
“Shhh,” I muttered. Greg was already climbing onto the chair.
Mr. Daken was still fixated on the light fixture, chuckling to himself.
“Now!” I shouted, flinging myself at Mr. Daken to pin his arms.
Simon exploded from his concealment in one of the kitchen cupboards to latch onto the man’s legs.
“Behind you!” Alexa screamed — but it didn’t matter anymore. Greg had already launched himself from the chair, using the extra elevation and his body weight to drive a knife deep into the man’s back with vicious force. I latched on even tighter as the blood started flowing over me, our combined weight forcing the man to the ground. For a second his hand holding the razor blade broke free, but it twisted into a feeble claw as the thrusting knife drained the last of his strength.
It only took a few seconds before the rest of the children joined in. Stomping, kicking, scratching, biting — all piling on top of the man who killed their parents, tearing him to pieces like a hundred years of decay condensed into a second.
“What about Sammy D?” Alexa was screaming.
“Who do you think gave him the knife?” Sammy D asked, leaning in the doorway.
“But he’s your son!” Alexa wailed.
“He’s my assassin,” she corrected.
Mr. Daken wasn’t moving anymore. One by one the kids pulled themselves off the body, some giving a few more swift kicks as they parted.
“But I only lost one assassin,” Sammy D said, “and look how many new ones I have now.”
We were all frozen in place, trying to read all the other blank faces in the room. Sammy D fished inside her purse and pulled out several large wads of cash wrapped neatly in rubber bands.
“20,000 dollars because he was dangerous. That was your first job,” she said. “You have a family here, after-all. A home. A way to make money and even help people if you choose the right targets. The first one is the hardest, but after that it’s just practice. I want all of you to clean this mess up and wash before dinner. Training begins for real tomorrow.”
She left the cash on the ground, but none of us followed her. The thrill of the kill was still hot in our blood. Could I do it again? Almost definitely. From this day on, I was a killer no matter what else I did besides.
No kids though. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.