The Tally

By Michael Rees

From the case files of Mitchell Shelly:

I had been very careful lately. I thought I had, at long last, broken the nasty habit I had acquired. Less than twelve hours after arriving in Crucible City that all changed. I died again.

For most people that would be the end of the story but for me it was just another painful chapter. You see some years back a mad scientist gave me the gift of immortality. Not that I am invulnerable; I can still be killed, just not for long. I always come back and each time I do it's with a new power. Since that time I've been going through more lives than a cat.

Part of being immortal is that I don't age. Unfortunately I didn't get this power until after I was a middle aged man and my hair had already turned white. I also seem to be cursed with a perpetual five O'clock shadow.

My life had just been getting back on track, I had settled down with a woman I loved, set up a detective agency and managed to limit being killed to a once monthly affair (falling from the top of a department store is what got me the last time and that resulted in me gaining light emitting finger tips for my troubles.)

Things could have remained like that until I saw the news reports of a serial killer loose in Crucible City. An item of news almost hidden by the main headline of a mass jailbreak from Gotham City's Arkham. I only noticed it because Crucible City held a special importance to me.

After the gift of immortality my mind was kind of hazy and so I stumbled across America with no memory. It only started to come back after I died in Crucible City. Some one helped me there and died because of it. Now was as good a time as any to repay the debt.

A four-hour Greyhound trip took me back to that cold stone bricked Industrial City.

I wandered the litter-covered streets, talking to cops, newspaper reporters and the countless homeless who huddled in dark alleys.

There had been ten killings, one each day. So far the victims had been both men and women, young and old and across an ethnic band. The only linking factor was they had all been stabbed to death with a knife, first on the neck and then on the body. Whoever the killer was they were fast, skilled and insane.

The police were being closed mouthed about any other evidence they had discovered and the press was trying to play down the whole thing, apparently pressured by the city council that didn't want anything distracting from the grand opening of a new bridge.

It was while wandering down a dark alley at night in search of some down and outs that might have stumbled across one of the bodies when I became the eleventh victim. I heard light footsteps behind me and turned, instinctively using the lights from fingers to search for my stalker.

All the pale yellow light revealed was a damp, cold alleyway. I back tracked, looking for whoever was following me. I should have looked up because if I had I might have noticed the fire escape and I'd have been be prepared when someone dropped down.

As it was, by the time I heard the thump of someone landing behind me the knife was already at my throat. Strong arms pushed me forward into the knife, which was already cutting my skin. Shouting for help became impossibility with cut vocal cords. Swiftly the knife moved to my body, my attacker "punching" the blade deep inside me again and again.

I never enjoy dying but drowning on your own blood while your internal organs are cut to shreds has to rate pretty high on the worst ways to go. As the pain subsided and I blacked out into my temporary death I remember thinking " I hope I get some good powers out of this."

From the mental journal of Mr Zsasz:

I savoured the white haired man's death, watched him collapse, clutching his blooded throat, his life fluid soaking his blue shirt and long black coat. Who was he? What did he do? Did he have any family? None of it mattered, this was the only time he was truly alive, when he realised that he was mortal.

As my breath slowed the feeling evaporated. The man was now just a thing. A ruined piece of flesh lying in an expanding pool of blood. Once again I was alone, surrounded by lifeless things only thinking they were alive.

To recapture that feeling I turned the bloody knife on myself, drawing a small line next to the ten new marks on my upper chest. The pain reminded me of what I had felt when I killed him, the pain, and the exhilaration, blood running.

Leaving Gotham had been the best plan that the Joker had ever come up with, and despite his protests I had followed them in their escape from the Bat.

Crucible City was a perfect place for me to continue my tally. Each drone would know the meaning of life, one by one adding a mark to my body. I closed my eyes and imagined the whole city living on as marks that would cover my skin.

The sounds of the city made me aware that I had to move, to retreat ready to strike again. My eleventh victim would soon be discovered, my handwork and signature. People would know that it would soon be time for them to feel my blade.

From the case files of Mitchell Shelly:

Earning my name as the Resurrection Man I was reborn in the alley with four men covered in dirt and ragged clothes fighting over my belongings. The sight of a dead man sitting up was enough to cause them to run, taking my watch and wallet with them.

The position of the Sun in the sky above me told me I'd been dead for over ten hours. The killer must have done a lot of damage for it to take me that long to come back.

I wandered the city, silently berating myself for letting myself be killed. I didn't even see who my attacker was so I was no closer to solving this case. Worse still I now didn't have a dime to my name.

Just as I was thinking that I could really use the cash an ATM machine started to spit ten-dollar bills out on to the street. Quickly I scooped up about a hundred dollars and then wished that the machine would stop before anyone noticed. Obediently it did just that.

So at last I was technically minded. This time round I had the ability to control computers. All I had to do was think what I wanted and the computer would fall over itself to please me. It almost made the savage knifing worth while, almost.

After I had brought a new set of clothes to replace the ones that had been cut to pieces and grabbed my first meal of this life I made my way to the library. It was one of the few places I had actually visited the last time I was here. The place where I had learnt my name. It seemed like a good place to find out who the killer was.

Finding an available computer I made my wish. Instantly it was as if there were a link between the computer and myself. It asked hundreds of questions and my brain instantly provided the answers it needed to search for the killer; the style of killings, the approximate height and weight of the attacker, the number of victims, all of this information flowed into the terminal.

It's modem fired into life and in some way I could feel the computer searching the information highway, making contact with other computers who were just as eager to provide me with the information I needed.

All this took less than one minute before information scrolled on to the screen. Other news stories charted the killer's path to Crucible City from Gotham City. It even provided a piece of information snatched from the security of police data banks. Traces of the attacker's blood had been found at several of the murder scenes and identified as belonging to the serial killer Mr Zsasz.

My worst fears had been confirmed, a villain who gave Batman a run for his money was now loose in Crucible City, some one who had a pathological need to kill more and more people with no remorse. No wonder the police had kept this piece of information secret.

My head spinning I stumbled out of library, desperate for air.

From the mental journal of Mr Zsasz:

For most of the day I had felt an unusual amount of discomfort. Running my fingers over the most recent tally marks I found that while the previous four were leaving distinct scarred lines the one from the last night remained red and raw, frequently bleeding.

To further annoy me the mindless television reporters claimed that no one had died that night. They claimed the serial killers reign of terror had ended. I could almost feel the cloud of fear I had worked so hard to create, lift with every news report. This would not do at all.

It might have been a mistake to kill the white haired man. He was probably a simple homeless man, a zero in a city of numbers, his passing unnoticed. This thought convinced me that the next victim had to be taken during the day, when their absence would be noticed most.

Wandering through the city I struggled not to recoil in disgust as the lifeless creatures moved about me, deluding themselves that they had places to go and things to do. My knife longed to show them that their only purpose was to bleed for me.

The flow of people eventually brought me to a library. A green dress caught my attention, fuelling a desire to see it covered in blood. The wearer of the dress was a young lady, with red hair neatly tied back, sporting a pair of large glasses that dominated her tiny features. In her hands she clutched a pile of books, as if their knowledge could protect her.

Following her I waited till the street cleared of people. Here the shops were closed for lunch, their windows providing a dark mirror for my activities.

The only sound made was a clatter of books as the knife cut into her neck. All that she was flowed over the street with each slice of the blade. I held her close as I gave her my gift, savouring the smell of fear and life. Finally letting her drop on to her books.

Quickly I pulled up my shirt and made the cut, placing the young lady among my honoured victims. The pleasure of adding her to the tally almost distracted me from the irritation of the mark from the last killing.

Pulling my shirt down I made my way back past the library. A familiar figure pushed through the building's door, stumbling out into the street. It was that damned white haired man.

Darting into a doorway I stifled a scream of rage. Some how he had survived. His very existence made my tally a mockery. If some one hadn't died for each mark it made the whole thing pointless. He had to die.

With this new resolve I followed the white haired man, burning with hate. The mark on my body mocked me as it bled. Eventually we arrived at the side of a river, the cool air flowing over us.

The white haired man rested on the railings drawing in deep breaths. Each intake of air only urged me on in my desire to stop him. Knife drawn I advanced towards him, my footsteps ringing hard and fast on the pavement.

All too late he turned to see me, his eyes grew wide and he put up a hand to stop my blade. It cut straight through and plunged into his body. He screamed in pain as the blood spilled outwards.

The struggle was brief, he was stronger than I remembered but in the end my knife cut deep into his neck. Before he died he rasped out my name. Learning from my mistake before I spent the next ten minutes cutting him, skewering his insides. Finally I pushed him into the swirling river, his body sinking quickly, pulled under by the weight of the stone I had placed in his pocket.

I slipped a finger under my shirt and pressed my finger against his tally mark. Placing the blood on my tongue it was good to taste the evidence of his death. My tally was correct now.

From the case files of Mitchell Shelly:

Water swirled about me, as I was reborn. It was impossible to tell which was up and which was down. This was an important issue as my lungs were screaming out for air. I knew that if I didn't want to die again I needed to get out.

Discarding my coat, which had been loaded with stones, I floated up, kicking as I went. Things didn't look good for me as the cold water numbed my body and everything became dark. Then I felt air flowing over my out stretched hand.

Seconds later I was on the surface of the river; the water sweeping me along. The stars smiled down at me telling me I'd been dead for a long time again. I had found Mr Zsasz but failed to stop him.

Swimming to the side I clutched at the stone sides, desperate to find some purchase so I could pull myself out. To my surprise there was "snirkt" sound and I suddenly stopped moving. My nails had formed sharp points and extended into the wall. Experimentally I found that the nails would recede with only a thought.

Pulling myself out of the water I was pleased that I now had a weapon to fight Mr Zsasz. Now all I needed was bait. When Mr Zsasz had attacked me it was with an uncharacteristic frenzy. Everything I had read about the serial killer showed he was almost devoid of emotions. Unable to relate to normal people except when he killed them. For some reason I broke through this and really annoyed him. Guess I just had a way with people.

So now I had to find a way to get him to take the bait. I couldn't depend on luck having us cross paths again. A noise from up the river gave me an idea on how to achieve that.

From the mental journal of Mr Zsasz:

My motel room provided me the refuge I needed to plan for the next killing. Looking out of the window I could see the fear in peoples faces. The young lady from the library had been found. Already my presence was destroying their lie of security. Now they knew I could take them any time I wished.

For hours I watched the television, watching for the new reports. As usual the media tried to hide my work with the coverage of the opening of a bridge. Another meaningless event to revolve their lives around.

It didn't matter to me. Instead I watched the crowds form, as one would study a restaurant menu. Which one of those faces would show the most horror as I cut into them? Who would put up the most fight? Who would plead for their life?

Then I saw him. The white haired man, wet but alive. He pushed through the crowd, constantly trying to appear in shot of the camera. He grinned at me, waving from within the television.

Picking up the bedside cabinet I threw it at the television, causing a burst of electricity and a shattering of glass. This man was as bad as the Bat. Worse than the Bat because I had made sure this white haired man was dead.

Storming out of my room the motel owner protested about the smashed television. I showed him my knife and he dropped his complaint. In other circumstances I would have added him to my tally but I had more pressing business to attend to. I needed to find the white haired man and eat his heart. Let him come back from that.

From the case files of Mitchell Shelly:

Waiting to be killed is not my idea of a good night out. Especially when I was soaking wet. The jeans and black T-shirt I had brought earlier that day clung to me, chilling me to the bone.

Rubbing my hands I moved through the crowd looking for Mr Zsasz, hoping that he had seen me on the television. It looked like most of the people in the city had turned up for the bridge opening. Hot dog stands wafted the smell of cooking meat and onions over the crowd. Even though I had lost most of my money along with my coat I had enough change in my jeans to buy one hotdog to warm me up, especially with mustard piled up on top of it.

The mayor and other city council members sat on a platform in front of the new bridge. A red tape was behind them, ready to be cut on the appointed hour. I wondered if I would live to see it.

Suddenly a face caught my attention at the back of the crowd. It's hard to forget the face of the man who killed you. Mr Zsasz was tall and lanky, with short blond hair; his eyes were blacker than the night. His scarred body was covered by a green shirt and long sandy coloured coat, a tell tale bulge showing his knife was in the coat's pocket.

Without anyone noticing I flexed my nails assuring myself that they would still work. With purpose I advanced on Mr Zsasz, hoping I could be as quiet as he had been when he had killed me.

Reaching the edge of the crowd I rushed out, side blinding Mr Zsasz and pushing him away from the people. We stumbled into a dark street, lit only by a street lamp, its lights flickering.

Before he could recover I extended my new claws and swiped at him, his coat and shirt ripping to shreds revealing his scarred body. It was horrible to think all those marks represented a person he had killed. There must have been over a hundred there.

Backing away from me Mr Zsasz pulled the fragments of his clothes off so his top was bare, exposed to the cool night air. His knife was already in his hand, capturing the light from the street lamp. It seemed to hunger for my blood.

" Give it up Mr Zsasz" I shouted showing him my claws " One more move and I'll scratch you to bits."

" You won't kill me." He hissed back with more confidence and certainty than I have ever managed.

" No." I admitted, realising his skill with the blade and my own limitations " But it'll ruin your tally."

This seemed to have the desired effect as he lowered the knife. His eyes were fixed on the razor sharp tips of my extended nails. For a moment I'd thought this was finally over. Then he struck.

The knife moved quickly, a white line slicing through my nails. They clattered to the floor leaving me completely undefended. Mr Zsasz smiled and drove the blade into my chest.

Falling to the floor, dying for the third time since my arrival here and I couldn't help but think that this wasn't the way it was supposed to end.

From the mental journal of Mr Zsasz:

So this white haired man was at least revealed for what he was, a freak. A super powered fool who thought he could defeat me. The nails had surprised me but they had proved no match for my own weapon.

Standing over his collapsed body I positioned my knife, ready to cut open his chest and remove his heart. I placed a hand on his neck to hold him still. To my satisfaction I could feel no pulse.

Just as I plunged the knife downwards there was flutter under the hand on his neck. The tip of the blade was inches away from his skin when the white haired man's eyes flicked open and my head exploded with sensation.

Unable to cope with the pain I fell backwards, the blade dropping to the ground. I covered my head, trying to block the pain. Strange feelings swirled inside me and something wet rolled down my cheeks. With some horror I realised I was crying.

From the case files of Mitchell Shelly:

Empathy. That was the gift I had been reborn with. Most people had it already, the ability to feel what other people are feeling, to put yourself in their position. Mr Zsasz had never had any, other wise he'd never be able to do what he did. My power gave him empathy.

The sudden inflow of emotions had over powered him just in time. Slowly I got to my feet as Mr Zsasz rolled about clutching his head, tears flowing down his face.

" How could I have done it?" He sobbed " Those poor people, their families. Why did I do it?"

Mr Zsasz didn't even resist as I took him to a police officer. He just kept crying as the police officers handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a police car, only stopping now and then to ask for someone to kill him for what he had done.

I spent the rest of the night using my new power to feel what the crowd was feeling. The excitement of the new bridge that would provide a better trade route to the city, a joy about what the future would bring. I even cheered when the mayor cut the ribbon officially showing the bridge was now open.

All the happiness almost drowned out my worries about how long the empathy would last before Mr Zsasz returned to his old ways.

From the mental journal of Mr Zasz:

When my mind was my own again it was a simple matter to escape from the police who were escorting me back to Gotham. I could not go back yet; the tally drove me on. It needed to be corrected. Hungered for lives to be added to it. Wandering into the night I obeyed my master. The tally.

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