One Page Stories – Third Web

The New Army

Officer Baines stepped aside as the water delivery man wheeled a cart full of five-gallon bottles down the narrow hall. The delivery man nodded at Baines, and Baines nodded back before continuing down the hall to the interrogation room at the end. He walked into the room, shut the door behind him, and sat down at the table across from Neil.

Neil was a personable young man – much the way the surviving party-goers had described – whose pleasant smile was infectious. He had refused to give any other name than Neil, but since he had rented the house, Officer Baines figured they could find out who he was easily enough. He gazed at Neil, wondering how such a seemingly nice man could be the killer the party-goers said he was.

“Neil,” he began, leaning forward. “Can you explain what happened at the party?”

Neil shrugged and sat back in his chair. He seemed completely at ease. “I was choosing people for the new army.”

Officer Baines was surprised. He hadn’t expected Neil to reveal even that much of the truth. “New army?” he repeated. It was the same phrase that Dana, one of the survivors Baines had found at the house, had used – the one she said Neil had kept using. “What exactly is this ‘new army’ for?”

Neil smiled. “There’s always a need for a competent army,” he said. “To protect the world from its foes. And believe me,” he added, glancing up at the ceiling and then back at Baines. “There are plenty of foes.”

“So what happened to the unlucky ones, Neil?” Baines asked. “All the ones who died? Are they ‘foes’?”

“Not at all,” Neil answered affably. “They’re just exactly what you said – unlucky. If they were meant to be in the new army, the candy wouldn’t have killed them.”

“Is that right?” Baines said, frowning in irritation. “You think candy can decide if people are worthy?”

“Not worthy,” Neil corrected him. “Able. Only those who could process the candy will be able to fight those who threaten us.” He looked again toward the ceiling and back again. “It won’t be a fight that just anyone can win.”

“So you knew the candy would kill people?” Baines asked.

“It’s a necessity of war, Officer Baines,” Neil explained placidly.

“You’re pretty calm for someone who just admitted that he killed people,” Baines said. “There are dozens of people dead, and it’s all being pinned on you. If you can avoid the death penalty – which doesn’t seem likely – you’ll die in prison.”

“I doubt it,” Neil replied. He tilted his head as though listening for something. “I don’t think I’ll be here much longer.”

Baines was used to this kind of “positive” thinking on the part of the suspects; he ignored it, and continued asking Neil questions about the party, the candy, the deaths, and this “new army”. Neil remained cheerful, even jovial, and was so forthcoming that Baines began to wonder if this was some kind of dream he was having instead of a real interrogation. He listened as Neil detailed the wretched manner in which some of the party-goers had died, and pretended that it didn’t faze him to think about the bloody crime-scene he had waded through yesterday.

Suddenly Neil paused, and looked again as though he could hear something in the distance.

Baines thought he could hear a commotion from the main lobby, but this meant very little; there was almost always a commotion out in the big room. The commotion grew louder, though, and sounded like it was coming closer. Baines could hear people shouting. He glanced toward the door, wondering if he should check it out.

“I told you I wouldn’t be here much longer,” Neil reminded him, smiling softly.

“What are you talking about?” Baines asked him. “You’ve been identified by five different people as the one who gave out the candy. You’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

The commotion was now right outside. Baines got up and went to the door, looking through the little window and down the hall. What he saw was so unexpected that he couldn’t process it for a moment, and stood paralyzed and helpless. “What?” he muttered, blinking in consternation. His hand reached out to open the door, but something told him he was safer in this room. “What?”

“It’s not just candy, Officer,” Neil said. “Sometimes it’s water.”

Baines watched as the delivery man strode down the hall, stepping over the writhing bodies of a dozen poisoned police officers. He made eye contact with Baines as he approached the interrogation room, and Baines backed away, pulling out his gun and aiming it first at the door and then at Neil. “What the hell have you done?” he shouted. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

“I’ve escaped,” Neil explained, still as cheerful as he had been at the beginning. “Like I said.”

The door swung open and the delivery man walked in; Baines fired at him, again and again, but none of the bullets had any effect. The delivery man ignored the impact, and the bullets themselves disappeared without a mark into the man’s body.

“What are you?” Baines screamed.

“I’m part of the new army,” the delivery man told him, and wrapped strong fingers around Baines’ throat. He squeezed until Baines lost consciousness, then let the officer’s body drop to the floor.

“Get me out of here,” Neil suggested, raising his cuffed hands. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.” He glanced through the open door at the scene playing out in the main lobby. “We’ve got some new recruits.”

 

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