It was always a surprise each time he did it. The straight-line electric burn as the blade shocked its way through the skin and into the meaty pulp just beneath the surface. This always triggered the sequence of stinging pain and then the pulsing rhythmic throb as the blood pumped from the straightedge wound and welled to pool then drip in the same rhythm from his thumb, or finger tip, or the meat of his big toes. A different location each time (have to give the others time to heal completely before revisiting old ground), and then he could feel what they felt as his knife parted their skin to separate the flesh beneath in thirsty red furrows. He wanted that soupçon of flavor; that pale taste of what they were to feel before his shallow, talismanic slice stopped bleeding into his leather glove, or his black running shoes. Before his own small cut scabbed over, another of his enemies would be butchered and chosen parts parceled for special things.

How he got to where he was on the mental health scale is hardly a story worth recalling. Mundane as all the rest, it was both familiar and possibly touching, depending upon your bent or your perspective, certainly depending upon your career niche; because if you were a psychiatrist he was one thing; a sociologist would insist he was something altogether different, a piggy-faced, bloated police investigator would have a more pedestrian opinion and a politician would have a suitable aggregate of them all. Truly it was a violent and abusive story, painful for those who did hear it, to listen to. Indeed, something should have been done years ago to help him, my god! What parent would allow those horrors to continue? But nothing was done, because those things simply weren’t done in those days and in those circles of society. It wasn’t de rigueur to interfere in another man’s discipline of his children and definitely not in his dealings with his spouse. And if a child exhibited antisocial or unfathomable behavior, well the rich had their sanatoriums and the poor had a welfare system that takes children away from one abuser and delivers them into a factory of highly refined and legally sanctioned abuse.

It doesn’t matter, therefore, how he got to where he was, what was immensely intriguing was that it took him so long to snap and lose what sanity he clung to throughout his childhood and early adult life. It must have been due to his high intelligence and hopeful innocence that he suppressed his real nature for so long, and wore the face of normalcy those who knew him came to expect. His inner belief that somewhere there was a god who would lift the waves of suffering and reward them with a blanket of balm was the central sustaining pillar to his self-constructed world view. And one night recently, that crumbled with a cerebral crack, and his eyes opened to a clear moon glow, a sharp contrasting clarity that peeled his vision of that unnecessary layer of human warmth. His reality altered to accommodate. He went insane and the Rim Walker was born.

And that was ten years ago.

Anonymity, that’s the secret. The years present so many opportunities to act through obfuscation, to remain an aspect of that shadow which muddles by secretly pointing elsewhere to nonexistent causality. Oh, and vocabulary; that too is the secret. Intellect begets vocabulary and vocabulary begets obfuscatory concretization in the mind’s eye, which leads to perfect planning and execution. What a lovely word, that, execution. He can dwell on that image elixir for days, recalling facets of his collected executions—the sounds (so tumultuous and cacophonous in the beginning and so soft and faint in the dénouement) and the sights, so clanging and brightly red, even the smells, noisesom as they are, cannot be omitted from the reliving. But to be anonymous is to be safe and to be safe is to be wise.

Never pick a popular one, and never pick one you know, don’t ever pick one you’ve been known to fancy and never, ever pick one who knows who you are. Remember anonymity. Choose at random, in different ways each time, so there’s never a pattern for some clever dick to follow, because unfortunately, no matter how gruntingly piggy-eyed they may seem on the sweaty surface, those porcine, shit-legged crush of low-IQ bunglers are nevertheless far flung and the oddity among them will be struck with the occasional epiphany and your career must not hang on the burgeoning wakefulness of any one borderline, smart-alecky policeman. Choose always with care and variation. Vary the times in between choices; vary the ages and sexes of the kills, travel far afield to collect them, vary the means of transport and ultimate delivery, if that’s part of a varied plan, and always take a different keepsake for those quiet times when fantasies need fueling.

Well he kept largely to that schema and always did well to leave no footprint in the fog.

He had many blades for many jobs. All finely honed and polished with a special paste he got from Norway when he bought a new filleting knife from the Internet broker he preferred. Not all his knives were hunters or skinners; some were surgical collectibles and others simply pretty. But he whetted and wetted them all, eventually. Stone and blood—a yummy combination. Just witness what could be done with a fine Buck knife and an old lady, for example. As neat a flaying job as you could wish. And right on to skin three cats without a single strop of the whetstone. There’s quality, he thought as he stepped naked from the kitchen into the hallway, smiling, wearing only disposable hospital slippers and latex gloves.

Next!

The selection of his kills was as fastidious and structured in his thought process as it would appear scattered and random in the mind of a less involved observer. He never killed for its own sake, like so many others he’d studied over his prolonged career; instead he only killed those who met his strict criteria. There was no point in wasting the gift of death on strangers. That’s how killers got caught. They killed in hot blood, or they killed for money, a purse, a wallet, the hope of a joyride or they killed for selfish gratification. No, the pleasure of murder was one earned by identifying one’s enemies and knowing why they were enemies. Something rang constantly in his mind while he sought out his next choice; a phrase from a biography he thought—a book he’d read; “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

He relished the hot closeness of every new choice he made—the wet, slick, sticky touch of each one of them.

He chose them by knowing them. It happened sometimes over a period of time, sometimes with just a word, a look that he knew was condescending and rude, sometimes a jostle in a grocery store brought him nose to nose with a new enemy. A bump, a dropped quart of buttermilk, shocked eye contact and a hurried apology from the other and he knew she was a serious and deadly enemy. And then his ritual would commence and again he was suspended in bliss while he stalked, and watched and planned and finally arranged to meet—he and his knife—that evil old woman at the Piggly-Wiggly who walked dead from the first moment she stopped short to reach for a can of cat food and caused him to bump into her, dropping his quart and making an embarrassing scene.

He almost always entertained his fantasies in the safety of his own domain. So much safer there, and secluded. But occasionally opportunities presented, (there we go again, see? opportunities to obfuscate) and he took his cue from his surroundings. Knocking on the old woman’s front door with a bag from the Piggly-Wiggly in his arms, he seemed such a safe and natural man. She must have, indeed, left one of her bags at the checkout counter (though for the life of her, she didn’t remember) and this nice man has come to deliver it in person. Oh, where’s my purse? “No don’t close the door, they won’t run away once their tins are open.”

And he closes the door anyway and follows her inside and down the hall making like he’s reaching into the Piggly-Wiggly shopping bag for whatever imaginary groceries she thinks she left in the store. But inside the bag is a slender ebony case housing a keen set of shiny blades.

However, there were times when his kills were more a result of divine intervention than eenie meenie minie moe-ing among his upcoming crop of careful culling. Every so often a choice presented itself as a fully blossomed plea for excruciating execution and the impact of sudden epiphany (there’s that sly word, working both sides of the fence now) was too much to ignore, too electrically orgasmic not to be manna from the divine realm—or the greasy guts of screaming hell.

During that time all caution is forgotten and the hammer comes out and the skull is cracked and the limp flesh doll quickly rolled into the van and in a red haze, he made for his special place where hooks and blades and buckets and mirrors await his leisure. And in spite of all his smug talk, his cherished anonymity and intellect slide out the window with the pig shit. These heavenly/diabolic flashes of emotion come only rarely, and always as a result of a trigger mechanism that take him back to that dark corridor of childhood he so successfully left behind, never to think of again in waking states.

One such chance encounter was the result of a child crying inside a baking car on a summer afternoon in a mega-mall parking lot. He was walking through to buy hack saw blades when he heard the weak coughing cry of an infant and saw the tiny, red-faced, teary-eyed thing on its last breath, buckled into the safety seat in the back of the dark blue SUV. He watched as the child cried itself into swollen silence and moved back to wait. The young father eventually came to the car, carrying bags of snacks and a large box of beer.

As the young father opened the car door and the sweltering heat spewed out with the stench of shat diapers and vomit, he took the young father deep into the car and made him quiescent. Then he drove to a nearby hospital and delivered the near dead child to a startled taxi driver in the patient pickup area and drove away with the young father, bound and gagged in the back of the van.

Eventually the young man awoke. And the fun began. He used his folding Buck knife mostly, that night, since its keen edge did all he asked of it, and slowly. Into his own thumb first, went the eager little edge, and the shock of electric pain jolted him into full sympathetic frenzy. Little slices were called for in this case, no hacking, no chopping. Even slicing, and then smooth paring of the arms and hands and fingers. Long cuts into both legs, just into the meat, not too deep, and then the point of the blade under the lip of the skin to coax the puckering elasticity away from the muscle—then a long pulling rip away from the limbs as the scream, hoarse as it was, gargled up again to fill the space and the eyes of the young father rolled whitely wide again, on the point of unbelieving horror and insane pleading.

But not yet.

After the skinning, the salting. Sea salt bought in bulk is the best for this kind of game. Packed thinly over all the seeping, hot, bloody meat, it soaks up immediately red, then as the outer crust begins to dry; it pinks prettily in the cozy light of the workshop. After the blood is fully staunched, the Rim Walker looks to his wall of favorites and contemplates the glistening array of possibilities. Now perhaps a little hacking and chopping, or do we want the wheeze and cough of the hacksaw? Oh, what to do, what to do?

He kept only one vertebra from that particular encounter. He dug it out with a Bowie Knife while the young father screamed and bucked on the workbench. Dug it out through the young father’s stomach, working through the guts and spinal cord and sundry viscera with the heavy, wide blade. And then the Rim Walker took the limbs away from the torso like working the wings and legs away from the undercooked holiday turkey. Always a hard job. Always rewarding in the end.

But that was so long ago that the incautiousness of it could be forgiven, since nothing ever came of it. No knocks at his door in the middle of the night with the thick voice of the law demanding his presence “down at the station” for a few words. No sirens following him on his daily perambulations throughout the urban labyrinth and no twinge of anything amiss in his extra sensory radar to perk his ears to danger.

This time, he was on safari for a specific creature, one that shattered all of his carefully maintained safety precautions and could leave him open to peril because he would be courting catastrophe—just for the sheer need of it. What a wicked, wicked boy! He chuckled as he walked, hands in his pockets, right thumb caressing the raised knob on the blade of his evil looking flick knife, hidden so deeply inside. When he was sure nobody was around, he’d slip the knife out into the evening air and with a short flick of his wrist, snick the heavy blade open with a satisfying sh-click. It was oiled and opened with a minimum of movement, didn’t need the thumb knob at all, and he’d admire the shine in the lowering light, then slip it, expertly closed, back into his jacket pocket. His left hand, the sinister one as it were, ever gripping the hammer in his belt through the false pocket of his special jacket.

He was determined to take a celebrity kill, this time, and perhaps catapult himself into legend, if he could do it quietly and under the noses of the filthy swine sweating through their uniforms and scarfing donuts by the fistfuls. He had devised a plan, which if followed without variance (I know what I said earlier about varying times and means and ages and sexes, but this is different. Sometimes variety is a bad thing) he could pull off and be free as that dandelion seed wafting up there in the breeze. (Is that a dandelion seed puff or something else? Looks pretty.) Timing and distraction and a little of the old obfuscation were in perfect balance and awaiting his initial move.

The limo, (ridiculously it was an enormous pink Jeep—no a Hummer, by god), pulled up to the Marquee and disgorged the four Femme du Jour on the red carpet. The gathered crowd of squealing little girls and horny boys and old men, well warned in advance of the spectacle repeated all this week at the Marquee Bar and Grill, were not to be disappointed in their long wait. The four young celebrities, one or two famous for actual starring achievements, and the others simply for being famous, all emerged in their finery and posed for the ubiquitous paparazzi, flashing smiles and the hint of bare skin. (Ooh, the pale, soft, sweet supple skin; how he anticipated its coy, puckering slide away from his tracing blade to reveal the grinning gash of ruddy meat beneath!)

There would be ample confusion to disguise his plan. He had many plans, actually, a variety (ha!) of scenarios and each designed for a separate eventuality. Only a man of his rarified intellect could have achieved this level of preparedness. He was ready to act or react based upon the whim of chance or the decree of determined—oh stop gloating will you, and get on with it?

It was the one who had no talent that interested him most. The one he deemed the corrupter of the others, the temptress. She was a true enemy of good taste and he wanted to add her screams to his memories and this was his chance. So, among the throng he mimicked, slack-jawed and wide-eyed along with the rest, as cameras snapped and flashes popped. He wore beneath his special jacket the uniform of a wait staff at the Marquee, so if they went in for drinks, he’d be ready. He had other things in his van for other eventualities, as well.

A loud gasp arose from the crowd and the Rim Walker came back into the moment to witness the four young celebrities huddled in a circle and bent forward to expose their smooth stardom to the startled gathering. And it was just then that his plans collapsed and folded like a cheap deck chair. An upwardly mobile young mother barked at her son-in-tow, bent nose to nose and slapped the little boy across his startled face. She then yanked his arm with forceful violence to break him away from the spectacle of the bare bums.

The Rim Walker became ice and his flinty attention gouged into her angry, embarrassed face, memorizing its contours for later rearranging. The little boy was wet with tears as she dragged him toward the subway entrance and the Rim Walker followed, trancelike, in step behind her. His thumb kissed deeply the open blade in his pocket, so that the blood flowed rhythmically with his even steps.

He tracked the woman down into the bowels of the subway station and into a variable he never saw coming. He walked into a carefully planned trap. A trap, had he known about it even he would have applauded its ingenuity, that had taken so many to plan and execute (oh lovely word). And he was so focused on chastising the abusive young mother that he failed to feel the three beefy coppers gumshoeing fast on his heels, or to see the anomalous figure standing alone on the subway platform. Had his thoughts been clear he would have known that the subway platform was never empty this time of evening. Had his thoughts been clear he would have noticed the child scamper away quickly and into the embrace of a seeming stranger off to one side while the focus of his rage continued to walk toward the lone figure on the platform.

The Rim Walker, firmly fixed on his goal, sliced through the distance separating him from her and nearly caught up to the woman as a subway train screeched into the station, then immediately another, headed in the opposite direction, screamed into the empty cavern. The woman was sucked into the train as its doors scraped open and the Rim Walker quickly slipped into an opening further down in the same car. But as the doors hissed shut, she bolted out of the car and stood staring grim-faced, as the train pulled slowly away from the platform.

He was stunned.

With a creeping realization, he knew he’d been had. Played like a harpsichord.

He stood, his thoughts fogged and roiling with little explosions, keeping his balance by subway surfing, arms out and stiff, eyes staring blankly ahead as he worked things out, flashing epiphany by flashing epiphany. But there were pieces that didn’t make sense. He’d planned for a different scenario. How did he get here? His tools were back in the van; the drop sheets and tarps, duct tape and zip cuffs. He had his waiter suit on under his special jacket. But here he was in a subway car holding only his black and chrome knife in his right hand, blood streaming from his throbbing thumb. And who was that cowering at the end of the subway car? Some bum? A homeless guy sniveling, “please don’t cut me, mister.”

The Rim Walker, frustrated, enraged and trying to cut a swath to reason through this non sequitur, moved unsteadily toward the crouching figure as the subway train slowed, pulling into the next station. Fully intending to open his throat to shut his mouth, the Rim Walker broke free of his confusion and strode to the cowering figure, only to recognize it as the lone man from the platform. The man rose suddenly and drew a nine-millimeter Glock from its hidden shoulder holster and identified himself as a policeman.

Just then something blew into the Rim Walker’s eye and he recoiled as though struck, raising his knife hand inadvertently to rub at the offensive intruder. (He thought incongruously of the dandelion puff from earlier and wondered…no, impossible.) And the officer with the Glock must have taken that for a threat because he opened fire and ripped two rounds into the Rim Walker’s solar plexus, driving him backward and down to the car’s dirty floor.

The train stopped then and its doors hushed open admitting the three backups from the car behind, all with fists full of their own pistols, cocked and aiming at the prone suspect. The rush of air as another train pulled into the station from the opposite direction dislodged whatever blinded the Rim Walker and whisked it up and out of the car. The Rim Walker lay on his back staring up at the ceiling of the car; vaguely he noticed a mote swirl around the roof and vacuum out into the station. Damn, he thought, my van’s gonna be towed, then they’ll know who I am.

But the police already knew, since the brutal death of the young cop who’d left his infant son in his steamy SUV. The startled taxi driver recognized the Rim Walker from the Piggly-Wiggly.

The rest is too mundane to mention: just the sordid, bloody trail of a broken mind.

“He was always such a shy, quiet man…”

“Always treated me real nice…”

“Best damn manager in the whole Piggly-Wiggly chain. You just never know, do you?”

No, I guess you don’t.