Ted liked Ralph, he really did. Ted found him at the park, one of the few places to which Ralph could still go. Mostly, however, Ralph stayed in his house.

"Hey, Ted," Ralph said, opening the door to his large and lavishly furnished home. He lived alone, his wife and children abandoning years ago on account of his affliction, treating him like a leper. A fire crackled in the hearth. "Glad you could make it."

Ralph was smart, too, a doctor, and Ted liked that about him. He couldn't practice anymore, which Ted thought was a good thing, but Ted enjoyed the long, intricate conversations about politics and bioethics and the challenging games of chess, usually accompanied by a good scotch, jazz or classical playing in the background. Today they were to go to a museum.

Good looking, too. Black hair and mustache dusted by grey. Body trim and fit.

"Me too," Ted said. He knocked the snow off his boots and came inside. "Man, I'm freezing. Think I'll keep this coat on a while."

"Suit yourself. Fix you anything for the road?"

"Not yet."

Generous and friendly, that's Ralph. He could've been a good guy. That's what made the visit a little bittersweet for Ted. It took a while for Ralph let fall the layers preventing people becoming friends, but Ted remained persistent, and they had over the months become as close as two men swiftly approaching middle age could be. Secrets shared. Personal histories expanded upon. Still, Ted had no qualms about what to do.

"Before we go, let me show you something," Ralph said. He led Ted down the long hall to his study. Dark wood bookcases held hundreds of hardback medical tomes. A globe sat on a corner of a massive mahogany desk, a stack of papers, a phone and a silver cube containing expensive pens surrounding it like impromptu moons. A black computer hummed like a sleeping cat on a table behind the desk.

"I think you and I have the same interests," Ralph said, sitting in a large leather swivel chair. "The same desires." He touched Ted's hand and Ted held it. Ralph turned and touched the spacebar.

The screen jumped to life, and Ralph's eyes stayed riveted on the glowing image of a naked young boy, no older than eight, posed seductively, his smooth face a dull mask of confusion and panic. Ralph clicked to the next one and the next. Ted held his hand tighter, and he saw Ralph's eyes dance across the pixels, lapping every prepubescent photon.

"Good stuff, isn't it," Ralph said, not looking away from the screen.


Ralph continued stepping through the file, and he released Ted's hand to point. "I know this one personally."

Ralph couldn't have given a clearer signal, Ted thought. He leaned closer to Ralph from behind the chair, draping his arm around him as if in an embrace while reaching in to his coat pocket. They held hands again, and Ted leaned close to his ear to whisper.

"Let's have a long look at this one, shall we?"

Ted pulled the icepick from his coat pocket and drove it in to Ralph's ear with one elegant move. His embracing arm held Ralph's head as he quivered spastically like an eel on a cutting board. He turned and pushed the icepick, screwing it in on vicious threads, scrambling neurons, blood vessels and brain matter until it stopped at the hilt.

Then Ted did the same with Ralph's heart. This time the pick went in much easier, and when he finished he was positive that the organ was no longer recognizable.

Ted retrieved wire cutters from another coat pocket and snipped off the pick handles. He used a handkerchief over his hand to lock and shut the front door behind him, and he crunched across the snow to his car on the driveway. His breath puffed easily before him. Not a single cloud touched the brutally blue sky.

Ted stood next to his car, opened his wallet and looked at the picture in the clear plastic cover. His son, Gordon, then sixteen, hiking in Yosemite, looking so happy and carefree, a brief respite from the nightmares and depression he'd battled for eight years, living with guilt and fear as a child no adult should endure. The picture was taken a year before the dragons, as Gordon called them, won and burned him to ashes.

"I'm getting closer, buddy," he said to the picture. "This one won't do anymore damage."

Ted flipped the wallet and took a folded sheet of paper from between two twenties. He unfolded it carefully, the creases worn and separated in places due to repeated use. At the top of the page a title stated: "Registered Sex Offenders and Pedophiles." Below it ran four single-spaced columns of names.

He unlocked his car and pulled a pencil from the door compartment. Absently he licked the tip, and then, laying the list on the car roof, carefully scratched through Ralph's name, joining two and a half columns of others.

Ted surveyed the list. "Hm," he said. "All the lay people completed." He folded the document reverentially and placed it in his wallet. "Now for the priests."

Sliding it under the door of The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest.

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