Cover Art

Face Of The Enemy

by

Matthew Kresal

On a journey that takes him in search of his mother's killer, Hamish Wilson discovers the price of revenge and the opposite of love.

Face Of The Enemy

A Thriller

When you see something on TV, it never quite feels real. Even if it's a vicious fight, a car accident, blood and guts all over the place, it isn't quite real. A screen separates you from it and it isn't happening to you.

Then there comes the moment when it does happen in front of you. For Hamish Wilson, he had been seventeen.

“I'm home!” He shouted as he came through the front door. “Work sucked!” He added feeling tired and greasy after a double shift at the local fast food place. He had never wanted the job but his mum had insisted, something he reminded himself of as he slipped off his filthy work shoes and flexed his stiff toes.

“Well?” He called out as walked down the little hallway and towards the sitting room. As he walked, he was surprised by how loud his footsteps seemed. He puzzled over it until he realized that the TV in the room, always on and set to some channel or other, wasn't on.

He stepped around the corner into the sitting room. The lights were off and only the faint hint of an orange street light illuminated a faint line across the floor. From memory, Wilson stepped into the room and flipped the light switch to the 'on' position.

As the light came on, he felt cool liquid soak into his socks, a feeling which caused him to instantly recoil. He looked down out of instinct, wondering what it was he had stepped into. When he saw it, he screamed like a little girl.

Then he felt the combined force of both a broadside impact and the wind being knocked out of his body. The sensation of being in mid-air, that almost dreamlike sense of falling through space, registered briefly before another sensation took its place. He yelled out from this sensation, thinking he could hear bones crunch as he hit the floor.

“Shh,” came softly from somewhere close by. Wilson struggled to breathe but pushed himself onto his back anyway, staring up at popcorn style molding on the ceiling. He could only watch as a man's face drifted into view. He looked at it, a sense of ever growing panic rising within him along with the terrible realization that there was little he could do about it.

“Well, well.” The man spoke with the sort of accent heard in one of the old movies mum liked, a kind of posh voice that people used to speak in. “A child.”

The man reached down with one hand and took the front of the young man's uniform in his fist. Gripping him by the collar, he lifted Wilson up onto his feet. The younger man felt unsteady, his knees buckling under the strain of trying to support him, the man's grip being all that kept him aloft.

Wilson had a chance to look into the man's face. His features were stark, boney almost, with sunken cheekbones that made him look almost emaciated. Yet the look in those cool brown eyes showed this was not a man who was starved of anything. He had his attention focused on Wilson in a way that was downright sickening to feel.

“Then again, I did not expect to have two meals in one sitting either.” He spoke with a bold smile. The smile seemed to ever widen and it was then that Wilson noticed that the man's canines seemed to be growing ever larger. He shuttered his eyes, thinking maybe he was having a nightmare or perhaps that he had been given something by a drug taking co-worker.

This can't be happening.

“You need not worry son,” the man tried to reassure him, “if you behave this will only take a moment.”

Wilson opened his mouth, forming soundless words. The man who held him seemed bemused by this. He leaned forwards a little towards the boy, a foul stench like rotten eggs emanating from his mouth.

“What was that, son? I could not hear you.”

Wilson forced himself to take a breath, filling his lungs with as much air as he could.

“I said,” his voice came out as a near whisper. “I am not your son.”

The man's smile formed again and a great fart of laughter exploded from within him. Wilson was glad for this as it gave him a chance to reach his hand over to the table next to him and grab that empty vase that sat on the table. Summoning up another deep breath and some energy, he lifted it up and brought it down against the man's head.

The man was laughing when it made impact. His reaction wasn't clear as he let go of Wilson and Wilson crumpled to the floor, letting out another cry as he landed. He didn't stay down long, that 'fight or flight' sense he had learned about in school giving him a kick up the backside. He forced himself up onto his feet and towards the door, praying that he would the chance to make it outside.

The man must have sensed this was his plan, even as he was cursing in some foreign tongue that the boy had never heard before. Wilson fought the urge to be an Orpheus, to look back behind him. He focused all of his attention and effort on making it to the door. Even as he heard footsteps and felt hot breath on the back of his neck, he kept on going.

“No need to rush son!” The man called out so loud and so close that Wilson felt like his ears were being pierced. Though he kept moving, he realized that his movements were futile. He braced himself for what he was sure would happen next, already thinking ahead.

He was twisted around with the ease of a child with a doll and was face to face with the man again. The man was smiling still, no humor to it but a sense of menace and greed. The eyes, sunken as they were, seemed to be bulging in expectation.

Wilson tried to strike a blow. The man caught it with ease, but that was what Wilson wanted. He took his house key out of his pocket as he had been turned and he turned it towards the man like a blade, a move he remembered being told to girls at his school if they were being threatened with rape. It was drastic but Wilson had none others as he found the soft skin in the right side of the man's neck and shoved it in.

The man's eyes widened and bulged further still, though not in expectation. A sense of surprise came over them and the man relaxed his grip on Wilson. The younger man kicked out, striking his would be attacker in the groin though this didn't seem to register as much as the stabbing had. It was enough to give the boy the chance he needed.

He turned back around and crossed over to the front door, his right hand securely around the knob. He turned it but the door didn't budge. Wilson cursed involuntarily, forgetting that as always he had locked the door behind him. His grip faltered and he fumbled with the latch for a small age, hemorrhaging precious time.

The latch flipped and the door knob turned. Wilson flung the door wide open, the last rays of the afternoon sun sinking into evening. He felt the need to run but heard instead a scream of agony from behind him. His body carried him forward out the door but he turned and looked behind him, his feet finally stopping beneath him.

His attacker was cowering, arms over his face. The exposed skin changed from pale to red, like an instant sunburn. He was retreatingback into the house. Wilson considered for a running after him, even took a step back towards the open door. His brain caught up and instead relayed one message throughout his body, and he ran. Ran down the path and flung the gate open out onto the road. He wouldn't stop until he reached the house of the old couple two doors down.

His story though was only one of many that day. The day that the world learned what had long been whispered around fires for countless years. This was the day that the world learned that their fear of the dark was not irrational and that monsters did, despite what their parents had taught them, really exist.

#

“So why do you want to join?” The recruiter asked him. Wilson would later wonder what he'd looked like to this guy, a non-commissioned army officer sitting behind a cheap desk in a rundown shopping center. Especially since the crease lines on his forehead suggested he'd seen a thing or two in his time.

“Do I need a reason?”

“We all have a reason.” The man sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Maybe you like guns or blowing things up? Maybe you actually want to serve your country? Maybe you lost someone-”

“Like I said, do I need a reason?” Wilson had been bold in choosing to interrupt the recruiter. The man raised an eyebrow and the hint of a smile curled up on one side of his mouth. He gave the young man a slight nod.

“Who did you lose?” The recruiter was trying to be friendly, sympathetic at least. Wilson refused to answer him, allowing silence to cover the desktop between them. “It's a legitimate question.”

“Does it matter?” Wilson muttered in reply. The recruiter sighed and shook his head.

“Someone close then?” Wilson remained silent but the older man merely nodded after a moment. “I'm sorry you lost someone-”

“He got away.” Wilson suddenly blurted out, almost shouting. “He drained my mum and got away. I want to find him, that's all.”

The recruiter nodded his understanding. “I see. Are you sure this is the path you want to take?”

“Is there another one?”

“There are choices until you force yourself into a situation. Until that moment, you still have a choice.”

“What else do I do with my hate?”

The recruiter gave out a huff. He opened a drawer in the desk and pulled out a stack of papers, pulling an ink pen out of a mug on his desk. He pushed them both towards the young man and Wilson sensed that his life would never be the same after this moment.

“You know hate isn't the opposite of love, right?” The recruiter's words fell on deaf ears. Wilson took the pages and began filling them out.

#

“The Reds do not care about your religion!”

That was something that Sergeant-Major Hopkins had been quick to tell them. The Sergeant-Major was a tough looking Scotsman, clearly unimpressed by those standing in front of him. That was his job though: to toughen them up.

“Whatever else you may think, they only see one thing and that is a target of opportunity. Therefore, you'll need to know how to fight off an attacker, especially one with the kind of skills and reflexes they have. To do that you must be in peak shape.” Hopkins paused. “Got something to say, Wilson?”

The verbal lashing was enough to make the young man realized he had slouched. He stood straight, hoping to avoid anything further but the damage had been done. It wasn't to be.

“Am I boring you, son?”

“I am not you son.” Wilson instantly regretted saying it. Hopkin's dark brown eyes seemed to instantly be set ablaze and he was in Wilson's face the next moment.

“I am your father for the next few weeks, if not longer!” The Sergeant-Major informed him, relishing the chance to make his point. “Is that clear, son?”

“Yes sir!” Wilson yelled out though even this did not seem to appease Hopkins. He saw the Sergeant-Major's eyebrows lift and he instantly knew what he should have said. “I mean yes Sergeant-Major!”

For a moment, the fiery look in Hopkins eyes changed. What was there in its place? Had he been impressed that the young man had corrected himself? Was he pleased even? Whatever it was, it was gone the next moment.

“Time for a wee bit of exercise I think!”

#

“Wilson!”

The Sergeant-Major's voice called out across the field. Wilson looked up from the target he had been aiming at, lowering the sniper rifle as he did so. Hopkins was standing next to a man in civilian clothing, a tall man in a dark suit and overcoat.

“Get over here!”

Wilson handed the rifle off and began the process of walking across the field, looking at the Sergeant-Major and this new figure. He had the stance of a military man but had clothing too expensive for someone on an officer's salary. They suggested one thing: intelligence.

“This is Wilson,” Hopkins indicated to the suited figure. “He's been bloody good. Haven't you?”

“Not for me to judge, Sergeant-Major.” The suited man smiled at Wilson's remark and Hopkins raised one of his thin eyebrows. “This gentleman would like to have some words with you so listen and be smart. Understood?”

“Understood.”

With that one word, Hopkins walked off. Wilson turned his attention back to the man who in turn studied him intently. He wasn't as tall as he had looked, being someone who shrunk rather than grew as one approached them. It wasn't the height that caught Wilson's attention up close but those cold, intelligent eyes.

“The Sergeant-Major tells me you're the best recruit he's seen since this business started.”

“Are you here to flatter me, sir?” Wilson asked with smug annoyance. The suited man gave a thin smile.

“He also said you weren't one for nonsense.” The man began to walk and waved his for Wilson to walk alongside him. The man asked Wilson the usual questions and he answered them but he could not shake off the sense that the man already had all the answers.

“You lost your mother, I do believe?” The man finally asked. Wilson said nothing for a moment and then gave a nod. The man looked at him sideways out of one eye before stopping and turning. “A note from your recruiter indicated you that was why you were doing all this. Was he correct?”

Wilson said nothing.

“Well,” the man's face twisted slightly as he turned and looked back across the field, “it's why I'm here.” Wilson stopped walking, confused, but the man continued. “If I gave you the chance to join an organization whose sole mission was to remove the Red menace, would you be interested in joining?”

Wilson's mouth opened but no words came out. It was almost too good to be true. Was this just because his mother had been killed on that first evening? Was there another reason this man was trying to, well, recruit him?

“I know what you'd like to ask so I'll answer your questions.” The man seemed to have read his mind. “I'm not just here because your mother got drained by one of these freaks. I'm here because you're young, bright, and capable. That you have a personal stake in this conflict means you're likely to take risks and go farther than most would in pursuing this cause. True?”

“Perhaps.” It was all Wilson could think to say. The man seemed to accept this and gave a smile, extending his hand out towards him.

“My name is Foxley and welcome to the Firm.”

Wilson accepted the hand.

#

Nine months later, just before his birthday, Wilson finally got the chance to see the enemy again. He had never forgotten the one he'd seen that day, the one that had fled that day. In the time since he had joined the Firm, he had heard much about them, seen drawings and the like due to the fact that getting a good picture of one was damn impossible. It was odd but electronics couldn't catch them for whatever reason, meaning that the only way to see one them was in the flesh.

If what the Reds had could actually be called flesh.

Even as he thought that, Wilson couldn't help but note how ordinary looking the Red behind the table looked. He could have been almost anyone. His hair was short looking more like blond stubble than a head of hair with grey eyes that sandwiched in an undersized nose.

Wilson blinked and shook his head. The Red tilted his head to one size slightly, those eyes surveying him before finally the man smiled coldly.

“First time meeting one of us?” The inquiry was in English, surprisingly non-accented. Transatlantic was the correct term as Wilson reminded himself from Professor Barton's lectures. “Well son?”

“I am not your son.” The question had brought Wilson to the here and now, this tiny windowless room in an nondescript piece of South Wales industrial estate. The Red considered this and gave a precise nod of understanding.

“You will forgive me if I do not stand,” the Red indicated the chains holding him to the chair. Wilson didn't nod. Nor did he take advantage of the empty chair. Instead, he stood and rested his hands upon it.

“You know why I'm here?”

“Given how long I have lived for, surely you do not expect me to talk?” The Red's tone was of mock amusement. “What can you do to torture me?”

Wilson reached behind his back and drew out his Browning. Those grey eyes focused on it but showed no fear. Instead there came a great eruption of laughter from across the table.

“Is that the best instrument you have?” The Red demanded of Wilson. “I have seen racks and torture cells, Nazi camps, Soviet gulags, and you threaten me with a mere firearm?”
The laughter emitting from the bastard's mouth was annoying Wilson. He wanted the Browning tp cough twice and do its work. He took care to line up the sights. A little bit of pressure and he would never laugh again.

Wilson lowered the pistol and put it back behind his back. He felt the tense loosen throughout his body and he pulled the chair out. For a moment he considered sitting in it and then another thought occurred to him.

With speed that seemed to take the Red by surprise, he flung the lightweight chair off to one side. Stepping forward, he gripped the underside of the table and began the motion of turning it over. Still moving, he occupied the space where the table had just been, and grabbed the Red by the right ear.

Despite everything the Reds said, they weren't tougher than ordinary mortals. They could be wounded, though they seemed to heal faster than the average person. Which made it easier in Wilson's mind to justify using the Red's ear as a handle.

The Red gave out a yelp upon impact with the floor. It was more from the shock of the impact, the sudden change in equilibrium more than physical pain Wilson reasoned. It wasn't like he felt pain the same way a human would.

“I have rights!” The Red squawked from his new, lower position. Wilson took a step over and stood in front of the Red. He looked down at him.

“Human rights you mean?”

The Red nodded. Wilson put his foot into the Red's stomach thrice in quick succession. Wilson looked up and aside for a moment before casting his gaze back down upon what had once been a perfectly normal and ordinary man reduced to a creature of terror. Wilson at once he felt both good and ill, a sick feeling in his stomach and a little voice in the back of his head telling him this wasn't right. He ignored that thought and said what Foxley had told him to say:

“Well it's a shame you aren't human then.”

#

“I want to be sure you're ready,” Foxley said before anything else. “You've been after this fellow a long time...”

“I'm ready” Wilson said the words as if he believed them, trying to convince himself of the fact as much as Foxley. Wilson had watched those grey-brown eyebrows furrow and settle before Foxley nodded.

“Then I'll be blunt: We think we've found him. I want to stress think above all else. The Reds are hard to track as you well know. Their human allies are far easier. Your interrogation of that Red six months again came up trumps after all. Remember that Czech he mentioned?”

“I thought he was confirmed dead in that Czech drone strike?”

“He was but there's a brother we started tracking. We've monitored cell phone calls thanks to a source in Prague and we discovered he was lying to his mother.”

“Lying to his mother?”

“It's what he's lying about that's the issue.” Foxley said as if he hadn't noticed the younger man's irritation. “What would you think if someone told you they were in one country when they were really in another one all together?”

Wilson raised a curious eyebrow.

“Exactly. The winter soldiers downstairs suspect he's a courier for your man based on other intel.”

Wilson couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had to ask the obvious: “Are you telling me that one of the world's most wanted blood-suckers has been hiding out in Scandinavia?”

“I said the same thing,” Foxley agreed. “Their work looks sound and I took it to the PM of course. I reminded the PM of the mess with the Poles after we started drone bombing villages willy-nilly. Last thing we need is turning even more of the world against us.”

“Agreed.” Wilson could see the TV pictures that had been beamed around the world and across the internet. “You convinced him to take the quieter approach?”

“If you think you can be quiet.” Foxley said as he folded his hands together to rest his chin upon them. “I know how important this is to you and, I have to admit, I was tempted-”

“You don't have to worry about me.” Wilson cut him off, sounding as polite and respectful as he could. He looked into Foxley's eyes, the men sharing something silent between them. Finally there was a nod from the superior.

“Your flight leaves tomorrow morning at seven.”

#

This cold wasn't meant for humans. There was a reason why humans had evolved on the African landscape and not here. Yet here he was, sitting in a freezing cold van as it drove by a house.

Even though the van wouldn't stop, Wilson still had one hand on his Browning. The silencer was in place, risky given that if the bullets weren't at the right velocity they wouldn't even penetrate the skin. It was worth the risk not attracting more attention.

“Looks like their lookout is checking.” Wilson heard the driver say. He turned slightly.

“Has anyone else stepped out yet?” The driver shook his head and Wilson gave a heavy sigh, looking at the pistol in his hand. “Wait until you see someone and then go.”

The van stayed down the street, just enough to be out of immediate line of sight. Wilson leaned back, considering more coffee, when the driver let forth an exclamation. Wilson forgot the coffee and braced himself for acceleration.

The van moved steadily along. Too fast or too slow would arose suspicion, giving the target enough time for them to react before shots could be fired. Wilson could only hope that the driver had timed everything right as he counted down from thirty with every second placing the van was a couple of feet closer to the house.

At fifteen seconds he would sit up on his feet, lifting himself off his knees by gripping the door handle. He would cross his right arm over the top of his left, using the latter both to open the sliding door and to brace the former to allow him better accuracy. The door would open when he had three seconds left and he would start his work.

The door began to slide open. Opening it so early might have allowed some of the Reds enough response time to play merry havoc on him but Wilson knew he needed the time to ascertain everyone's exact position. Wilson reminded himself that 'who dares wins'.

The chill hit Wilson hard. He had known to expect it but that did not make its impact any less real or easy to shake off. He looked out as the van beginning to come around the edge of a parked car. Whatever else happened, the parked car could not leave its spot.

The van came around the car and Wilson had two seconds to survey the scene. Five men in a diamond formation with four protecting a figure in the middle. It was a classic Red Pack and Wilson found it hard to believe they wouldn't have thought up something more elaborate.

Two of the Reds saw him and reached for their sides. Despite their immense strength and abilities, at distance they tended to be a lot like your average human and preferred firearms. They could draw faster but they could still be caught off guard.

Wilson pulled the trigger on the Browning four times in rapid succession, moving it with a grace akin to a dancer. The pistol gave out a series of low coughs and Wilson watched as crimson ejaculations erupted from each chest, one bullet into the heart and another severing the spines. They would writhe for a moment but would never get up again.

The two remaining guards began to react. Wilson turned his pistol slightly to his left and watched as the guarded Red sprang forwards towards the car. One of the guards was staying with his charge, raising a pistol as they moved. That was exactly what Wilson wanted as the Browning gave out two more bursts and the guard collapsed.

The last guard hadn't reached for his gun and was instead rushing forward. This was not what Wilson had planned for, expecting to have the crucial 1.25 seconds the Red needed to draw his pistol. Wilson had already moved forwards, his foot nearly touching the sidewalk and closing the distance between them. Wilson could only hope he could-

A series of clicks and soft poofs seemed to come from the air itself, cutting off Wilson's line of thought. The guard did a macabre dance there on the sidewalk and then he fell sideways onto the sidewalk.

Wilson did not allow himself the opportunity to see where the shots had come from, imagining it for the moment instead. He did not even given the fallen guards another look, turning as he stepped out onto the sidewalk towards the car. The lanky figure they had been so keen to protect was hunched over, trying to open a car door when it was capable of defending itself easily.

Wilson raised the Browning. The pistol coughed only once andno great dramatic cloud of red mist accompanied it. Instead there came a raw cry like that of a wounded animal. The Red fell against the side of the car, a hand still on the door handle.

“Why do you not kill me?” The figure asked in a familiar sounding male voice. Wilson kept his pistol trained on the Red as he pulled it away from the car. There was a howl of pain as Wilson dragged it towards the van.

The van was moving before Wilson had even closed the door. It traveled as it had before and , with any luck, minutes might pass before anyone noticed the bodies and the local police would be able to take in the fact that a Red cell had occupied their small little town without them even knowing it.

Not that Wilson considered that. Instead he looked down at the gaunt, skeletal face with its distinctive cheekbones and sunken eyes. Eyes that looked out at him with years behind them and pain filling them.

“Nice to see you again,” he offered to the pained Red. The figure lying on the ground merely shook his head at him, groaning from the effort between labored breaths.

“I should have drained you when I had the opportunity...”

“Like you did my mother?”

“My how you have aged since then!” The Red let out with a fart of pained laughter backing it. “One of us should have killed the other that day.”

“Except we didn't,” Wilson countered as he aimed the pistol at the Red's chest. The Red merely stared back at him.

“Then why did you not kill me in the street, my son?”

“Because it's like what I told you then: I am not your son.”

The Browning coughed. The Red screamed in agony, a piece of silver imbedding itself in the lower stomach between the ribs. A normal man would have bleed to death from such a wound but one of the joys of shooting a red was that you had to put bullets in the heart and spine to kill them. The bullets would be pushed out eventually but until then they would hurt like hell.

“I've got orders to take you to London with me. You get to stay alive a little bit longer.”

As the van went along and the Red moaned, Wilson felt empty. He had expected to feel something, elation at a job well done, disgust at taking so many lives. All he could feel was the cold seeping the heat out of him.

He remembered the words the recruiter had said to him. He had ignored them then, almost forgotten them. Now he understood them.

“You know hate isn't the opposite of love, right? It's apathy, not caring anymore.”

 

Sitting in a freezing van, Wilson decided the man had been right all along.

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