Ice Cream Man – Part 2
Winmalee, New South Wales
Continued from yesterday …
He pounded down the sidewalk, racing for the house. He climbed the porch steps two at a time. Tate was still in the house. Some father he was. Leaving his boy behind. He cursed himself, knocking back the front door as he crossed the threshold. In the lounge rom, Renee was porcelain white, her body limp. He inhaled a deep, rattling breath. No. Don’t look.
He bounded up the stairs, his breath ragged and hoarse, the blood running hot down his chin.
He made the top landing, pausing by Tate’s bedroom. He opened the door by an inch, peering inside.
He slumped with relief. Tate sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. He squinted, his hair fluffed up to one side where he’d been sleeping.
The relief washed through Paul in a wave: overwhelming and instant. On dead legs, he rushed to the bedside. He sunk down on the doona, collecting Tate in a tight embrace.
‘Oh, thank God,’ Paul mumbled.
Tate moaned, wiping the sleep from his eyes. Paul looked him over, studying his face.
‘You okay buddy? You feel alright?’
The boy nodded, startled by the blood. Paul quickly palmed the blood from his nose. Wearing a tight smile, he tucked the boy back under the sheets, answering the question on the boy’s face.
‘It’s okay. I just tripped. You go back to sleep, okay?’
Tate shook his head.
‘I don’t want to. I want ice cream.’
Paul’s face darkened.
‘Did you see the ice cream man?’
The boy nodded, scrunching up the sleeve of his pyjama top.
‘He said that we were next.’
Paul’s blood ran cold. No. Hell no. He stared hard at the floor. He had to be strong. He had to be strong for Tate. There was no way that son-of-a-bitch was coming back for his boy.
The boy watched him, his stare cutting through Paul’s grimace and in deeper. He didn’t ask why Paul was crying. But Paul was sure he was thinkin’ about asking. He was like that. Quiet, always wondering. The child held his gaze for a brief moment before rolling over under the sheets.
Paul stroked the boy’s hair lightly, the tears coming hot and fast. He gathered a deep breath, leaving the boy to his sleep, afraid of what he’d find down stairs.
Paul sat at the dining room table, whisky bottle on the table, tumbler in hand, cigarette loose between two fingers. He pinched two fingers on his strapped nose, wincing when it came back tender.
He poured himself a healthy serving of Wild Turkey, loosening his tie. He’d never appreciated the starchiness of suits. This one was hot and scratchy, like wearing a woollen rug in the dead heat of summer. Whenever he wore his father’s hand-me-down suit, he reeked of the old man. The material gave off a musty, salty odour, like the sweat and sea water his father used to battle on the fishing trawler. The material had absorbed as much of Paul as it had his Dad. It had a fabric memory of cigarette smoke and cologne, the last being from his wedding day a couple of years back.
Paul knocked back his head, downing the whisky. The liquid branded a stinging path down his throat. God, he hated funerals. Every single one of them. But Renee’s had to be the worst. Family and friends from both sides paid their respects. He was sick of people saying sorry for something they didn’t do.
The coroner’s report stated Renee suffered from heart failure. Heart conditions were hereditary, something common in her family. So one day, someone figured that, like her late grandmother, Renee might die young, that her heart might just … stop working.
He took a long drag on his cigarette. He gritted his teeth, tears brimming in his eyes. He wiped them away furiously, breathing deep. Keep it cool, keep it cool. The knot in his throat made it impossible to breathe.
He didn’t tell the others what he’d seen. Who would’ve believed him? They would have thought he was losing his mind. He had doubts himself. But the thing was, it had been as real as anything.
He watched the burning embers on the end of his cigarette, tapping the shaft on an ashtray. The ash crumbled, greying, the embers dying in a wisp of smoke. He mashed the spent cigarette in the tray.
His mind wandered, his eyes open, but unseeing. He kept returning to the ice cream man and his van. Was it real? He let the thoughts run over and over through his head. He found the freak at the oval on Sunday. So maybe he’d be there again. Then Paul could prove to himself that the monster wasn’t something living in his imagination. If he found the freak, he’d teach that son-of-a-bitch a lesson. He’d burn that motherfucker’s truck to ash. That crazy freak was gonna pay for –
A swell of nausea hit him hard in the gut. He keeled over, his teeth locked tight. Stitching knots clenched his stomach, a cold sweat breaking loose over his skin. The tumbler slipped from his grasp, knocking to the floor. The bile rose and settled hot in his throat. Ugh. The sickness was back. It came back every hour or so. Just like Renee’s had. He swallowed down the vomit, laying back on the chair, weak, stiff and trembling. He was next for sure. So was Tate. That was why he’d sent Tate to Renee’s parent’s place for the weekend. The kid couldn’t stay here. Not now. It was too dangerous. Paul had to hunt down the truck and its driver. And soon. He could feel the shadows creeping.
The warehouse was on the West side of Penrith, the truck depot squared between a Smash yard and an auto mechanic. After following the ice cream truck all day, he’d tracked it from the streets to the warehouse. By the time the ice cream truck had parked in the depot garage, it was about nine o’clock at night. Darkness fell quickly. Paul had to work in the dark.
Paul placed the wire cutters to the linked fence, clipping bit by bit. The black balaclava on his face itched. The hoodie was no better. He worked quickly, patching open a gap in the wire. He crawled through, carrying a red jerry can beside him. It sloshed as he walked, heavy with petrol. Slinking in the shadows, he crept across the courtyard, creeping down a side alley. He looked out for a back entrance. He found one close by. He slotted a bobby pin into the lock, fixing the lock to an angle with a screw driver. He was no expert at lock picking, but with a bit of home invasion, theft and a year of juvie on his rap sheet, he could say he had a bit of luck in forcing the lock. The door gave way, Paul slipping in with the jerry can.
The garage was musty and dark, heavy with the stink of burnt rubber, engine oil and exhaust fumes. Paul flashed the beam of a torch across the room. Heated motors clinked under bonnets, settling in rest. He crept down the lines of trucks, stopping short. Gotcha. He found the ice cream truck parked between two semi-trailers. How didn’t anyone notice something so out of place?
Paul set down the torch, casting light on the truck. He knelt down on one knee, working the jerry can lid loose. The lid screwed free, the scent of petrol fumes hitting him in swells.
A wrench tumbled off a distant work bench. It clanked on the concrete. Paul jolted, startled. The sound carried in echoes. He had the shivers again. The air chilled around him. His breath misted, gooseflesh rippling down his arms. Gathering a deep breath, he continued, the freezing air stinging his throat.
He hoisted the jerry can up, tipping the contents over the ice cream truck, petrol chugging over the bonnet. He worked quickly, dousing the truck from bumper to boot, tossing the can aside. He reached into his pocket, finding a silver zippo lighter.
‘You plannin’ a bonfire son?’
Paul jolted. The lighter slipped from his grasp. It clattered on the cement at his feet. A silhouette framed in the flash light. He swivelled on his heels.
The ice cream man stepped out of the shadows. Paul scrambled back. He reached under his hoodie, pulling a glock .22 from his belt, a little something he’d snagged back in juvie. He pointed it dead straight at the ice cream man. Paul held his ground.
The freak dissolved in a swirl of black mist. Paul’s limbs locked. He wheeled around, alone in the torch light. Breath coming hard, he jerked left to right. His heart thundered, throbbing in his temples. Shit! Where did he go?
‘You think you can kill me?’
The southern drawl seethed in his ear. A stinking hot, candied breath brushed the nape of his neck. Paul jolted, spinning on his heels. He came face to face with the monster. Its black eyes glinted in the torchlight.
‘Go ahead. Shoot,’ it snarled.
The ice cream man circled him in a saunter, gun at his chest. His figure dissolved in and out at the edges, like television static.
‘I’m no ice cream man. This is just a soul I collected in Louisiana, sometime in the 1950s. My real name is Siylar. But I can be anyone I want, Paul. Anyone –’
He dissolved, the black mist taking shape. Renee paced the floor in front of him. Paul jolted, hands trembling on the gun. He looked just like her. Every detail was right. If he didn’t know better, Paul would’ve thought she was alive. He managed a stammer, tears brimming in his eyes.
‘W … what are you?’
Renee smiled, looking him up and down. She stalked with a cat-like gait. He could smell her perfume. He spoke just like her.
‘A demon. I collect souls.’
She flashed a smile, her lipstick cherry red. Her jeans were tight, her white tank top plunging low at the front. Paul swallowed hard. Her eyes darkened.
‘Looks like you’re next.’
She lunged, fingers curling like claws. She locked her legs tight around his waist, hitting him with a loaded left hook. He teetered back under her weight, stunned. He went down hard, the gun knocking from his hand, skidding across the floor. He gasped under her, sprawled on the floor, nose bleeding hot and fresh.
Straddling him, she urged her fingers into his chest. A blazing bolt of electricity seared through his body. He screamed. Out of the corner of his eye, the lighter glinted in the torchlight. He reached for the gun, fingers edging across the floor.
Her fingers sliced into his skin, sinking deeper. He squirmed, his teeth locked tight. Jolts of electricity blasted through his body, lighting up his nerves. He shrieked, his cries wet and guttural. She flashed a shark tooth grin, her eyes gaping black eye sockets.
He reached across the floor. His fingers closed in on the butt of the gun. Got it!
Renee shrieked, jolting backwards. Blood splattered the floor. She snarled, scrambling back. The electrifying pain was gone. She clutched her face, blood seeping through the gaps in her fingers. Gasping for breath, Paul scrambled to his feet, lunging for the lighter. He snatched it from the floor. He worked the flint wheel, the lighter sparking. If he couldn’t kill the demon, he needed a distraction to get out alive.
Renee pulled herself from the floor, blood pulsing from her gaping eye. She staggered after him, seething.
She jolted back, a neat bullet hole cut in her forehead. She staggered back, teetering with the impact. She regained her balance, coming back strong, her face a scape of blood and shattered bone.
She noticed the lighter. Her face twisted into something furious and ugly. She charged.
Paul flicked the flint wheel. A flame bloomed to life, hot and full. He threw the lighter. The flame sparked in the petrol slick.
Fire licked the shell of the ice cream truck, consuming it, growing bright and intense. Hot, choking smoke billowed from the burning truck, filling the room quickly.
Renee jolted, shifting in and out of focus. The ice cream man reappeared. He screeched and squealed, his pointed teeth gnashing.
The torched truck blazed fiercely. Paul staggered back, shielding his eyes. He watched the writhing ice cream man. Siylar screamed, staggering on dissolving legs. A great glow of fire travelled up through his legs, burning him deep to the bone. Blue flames licked his skin, dissolving his body as it crept up from his arms and legs, consuming his torso, neck and face.
The ice cream man screamed, dissolving into a swirling cloud of black mist.
The fire raged on, smoke thick and choking. Paul ducked down low, racing to the exit, leaving behind the blazing fire and the swirling black mist.
Paul took out a crumpled packet of cigarettes from his pocket, giving them one long look. He sighed, tossing them in the bin. He’d give up smoking. Clean up his drinking. It’s what Renee would’ve wanted. He grimaced, wandering out into the corridor. It’d been a few days since the fire. Renee was gone. Both Tate and Paul were still working through that nugget.
The house was quiet at this time of night. Too quiet. Paul climbed the stairs, exhaustion settling deep in his bones. He lingered at Tate’s bedroom door, nudging it open by an inch. Tate was sleeping. Dreaming all sorts of things. Hard times were coming. But Paul would work it out. He’d look after his boy. No bogeyman would ever touch Tate, not even the monsters under his bed. He was safe now. He left the boy in peace, shutting the door behind him.
Tate stirred under the sheets, watching the door close, his black eyes glinting in the glow of the night light.