This story became the novel Day Boy. It was shortlisted for best horror short story in the Aurealis Awards in 2008.
I like the novel a lot more, but this still has pretty much all you need to know. I guess it comes down to whether or not you want a sketch or canvas.
Didn't sleep much last night, because the master Dain's all up and lecturing, about attrition and the eternal conceit: which is the long life and its possibilities. Shit, mate, I'm the eyes and limbs diurnal: not compassionate leave. Screw the doubts and the cry of blood, I'm a Day Boy. Been as such, getting on six years, which makes me as fifteen, close enough. Another two then that's it: Dain'll take another, that's how it's done. I'll be promoted, more'n like, or not: he's a moody bugger. Thirty years of Day Boys and he's but done it twice. Fella can't set his clock by him, that's for sure.
Still, up with the sun and the house is all quiet, the master in his rooms, so I'm having breakfast: milk's off, so it's just apple, writ on note is: Get Milk, can smell it from my room.
Truth is I've been a bit gut off last few days: embarrassing I didn't get it before now. Excuse is lame, but I've been distracted, late. Busy. Shit there's a list as long as my arm. Errands. Errands. Bloody errands, that's the Day Boy's bread.
I light out of there.
Oh, the day's a beauty, for all my work, even if it's rubbing it in: the sun's just sitting and glaring-warm, not too hot, and the sky's as sweet as autumn skies can be, blue, as my eyes, and tangy, like the day was a spice. You can even see the moon, in all that blue, clear so you can see those Mares. Seas, dark dusty seas in the sky. I'm all sceptical wonder at that, but Dain says it's so, that people walked `em once, drove cars through `em and shit. Now that's something. I'm puffing on a smoke, and stomping down the road, the big house behind me, and my master's colours on my arm. Might be some rain this evening, keep an interest, though I'll be abed, listening for the whispering of them corrugations, and the soft rustling movement of the Master, out and about. Most nights I wake some time, to the sound of the truck door slamming, and the sanguine whistles of me boss.
Conalinen St is the main, and I'm there, hitting it about the same time as most of the other Day Boys. We nod, Jas at the front, all the others deferring all the way back to Orville, couple of mocks are thrown, nothing too serious, `ain't no duelling now. And we'd not put our masters' backs to no battles, might well as cut our own throats.
There's some girls, coming out of Mary's and I make eyes at them. There's a few giggles, mostly they're just staring back, eyes wide. These are newbies, don't see them before, but they know me, by my colours, by my proud stomp. Our town ain't the only ones with Day Boys and, as Mary says, we're all of a type. I like Mary, close as a mother to me, since that thing with my parents. Certain says she's about the oldest person in town, closest to wisdom that `ain't a master. Now I don't know about that but she's clever, and her shop's the best.
"Ladies," I says, dip my hat too.
"Off with that hat in here, charmer," Mary says, and I'm quick to it. "What's the old man want?"
I place the list careful down onto her counter, and Mary squints at the spidery hand, and sighs: it's a long list. "I'll have it ready by three."
I nod and duck out, not before I snatch a handful of sour sweets. "On the Tab," I shout, but we both know that is empty, there's no tab, she just throws a curse word or two my way. What else can she do? I'm a Day Boy.
Mary once asked me what it's like, being a party to all that terror, and being its Day Boy? But I don't think too much on it. You can't. I know the history of it, and the Herrenvolk. Thirty years back. The dark coming: the trucks wheeling into town. The doors broken down, if you locked em, and if you didn't, sometimes that was just as bad. And there was nowhere to run, because it was that way everywhere. The fight was knocked out of the place, bled out, pretty quick.
So, I'm back to the house, and cleaning, picking up stuff, then onto the lawn and the push mower. It's hard work even in the relative cool, and I'm breaking sweat by noon. Damn lawn, not that there's many more weeks of growth to it. Soon the cold will break, come slinging its way down, and breathe a stillness upon the land. The road will jewel up and my mornings will be all breath-cloud and shivering, and I'll out, to find the master's footprints in the ice, maybe drops of the red, all crystallised and I'll warm up quick with the scrubbing brush, because they don't like the taint, the guilt that follows their wide ranges.
Go in fer a drink, all wet and hot, and the place stinks. Even I can catch it. There's a death stench in the air, and I wander into the master's rooms, and he's lying their half burnt up: bloody great big light-welcoming hole in the ceiling, and I know he's dead, and I'm a goner.
I look at the master's corpse, and I go all bitter, start looking out at the sky marking the hours. "Aw, shit."
I'm out of there, once I drag him free of that light. He ain't stirring. He's just stinking bones and stringy tendon, and I don't care what rumours go whistling about recuperative tendencies, there's no coming back from that.
So it's to Certain I go. In the truck, engine running smooth as it ever did thirty years back. `Ain't much I don't know about engines, service all the other masters', just have the knack. None too good at the driving though.
Ah, Certain know's something's wrong the moment I show up. He's off for a steadier, a bottle of rum, hands it to me straight, with those rough old hands of his, shaking. Drink burns on the way down, and I doubt my steadiness.
"Dead then?" he says, and I blink at his perspicacity.
"Deader than a stone."
Certain's an old boy, done his time, never got no gift. Said he didn't want no curse blessing: like's his old bones and his simple pleasures, and I dig that. You hear the master's whine, and you've got sympathy for those who don't want it. He likes me, because I'm the only Day Boy that sees worth in him. The rest are all mock. He sets me with a steady stare, near as steady as the master's. "Well, you've got some choice. Flight or murder."
I puff up my chest. I'm a Day Boy. "`ain't no runnng."
`cept I'm not a Day Boy any more, and vengeance is hard, less you got a master backing you up. Can't see none too good in the dark, and my driving's all grind and crunch.
"Well, you ain't got long, and there's gonna be all hell. Jeez, you sure you don't want to run?"
On the road, or in the scrub and sprinting, I'm just as dead, and Certain knows it. Matter of time either way. The one's what did this won't let a Day Boy stand. There's too much fun to be had, and pay backs. I'm thinking about the boys, thinking if any looked too smug, or anticipatory. None what I can remember.
"You start this, and all of them…"
"I know," I says.
He passes me a knife, one that means business, curved and meat-ready. I snatch it out of his hand before either us changes our determination. Got killing to do.
Jas is sitting on his porch, yard immaculate, and he sees me coming. He's working on a flute, made it out of bamboo, he's good with his hands. There's carvings all along the porch. Elephants, roos, there's a wombat wearing a hat, all muddle-headed, loved that one when I was younger.
"Eh," he says, and I nod. He don't seem fussed.
We're mates. Done shit together, sat in our master's halls and made faces at their solemn dreams. They sleep heavy, and you can get away with a lot. Sure we're respectful, but we're Day Boys, got limits to stretch. And Jas and his master's the peak, biggest house, cruellest sentiments. There's a grin on his face, but he's already rolling me a smoke when I knife him, quick, and he looks at me knowing what I snatched. And I'm feeling bad, but you've got ta take the head, and start down, that's tactic one, and I'm pulling him into the house with me. He's coughing, and light, and there's blood trailing back to the porch, but we're used to blood.
"Sorry," I'm in his ear. "See you soon enough I reckon."
"Do the same," is all he says, and then he's still, and pooling on the living room floor, blood dripping through to the dirt beneath. I'm quick to his master's hole.
The fella's all whistley breath, and still upon his bed. You could slap him about the head, there'd be no waking, but I'm cautious yet, unless all I know is just a lie. They're canny buggers, yes. The room's dark, even with the door open; I'm quick to start the downward stroke. Right into the neck, it's rubbery and his eyes open for a moment, but I'm already cutting through. Grab the head and bring it to the porch, swing it out onto the road. It smoulders there. And I've got my first pair of deaths, and the bitterest taste in my mouth.
You're lucky to be a Day Boy. That's driven in from day dot. Privileged. Shit. Privileged to lose your family, first night, all of them gone, because you can't have no links with anyone by blood, just the Herrenvolk, just your master. Privileged to work your fingers to the bone: them first years all spent in terror. Because your master is death. All glorious, maybe, but death walking and brutish, for all the airs and graces. You can't pretty that up.
You're there to make sure it works. And when it all goes to hell, you're there to make sure it all burns. None knows as much about killing masters as a Day Boy. We know all the tricks, let me say. The masters train us up that way. We're not just limbs and ears but insurance against the other Herrenvolk.
I set the next two places alight. Can hear the screaming, but I close my ears to it. There's always knife work and a chill anger, and I scare myself with my efficiency.
By the last, I'm bloody, and Orville's waiting, his knife out, and a scared look on his face. Never seen a Day Boy so pale.
"Just you and me," I say, sun low behind me.
"No, just me," Orville says and he's on me with the knife, and we're rollin in the dirt, swinging and shielding and grabbing at each other's throats. He's smaller than me and wiry as all hell, and I'm tired. The knife draws a line o blood across my back, deep wound, but not enough, I'm already pulling away, then stabbin in. Cut him above the eye, and it's spilling and he's blinking, and I'm back in quick, through the heart, and he's dead.
I'm running into the house, but it's too late, and I know it. Orville's Master's up, his pale face, twice as long as mine, is twisted in dismay or murder I'm not sure.
"What you done, boy?" He asks, and there I am standing and bleeding and bloody with my blood and the blood of the other Day Boys.
"Making revenge," I say.
My master's name burns me."You're the last."
He slumps for a moment. "You killed em all?"
But he's just being rhetorical and I don't answer, my presence here is answer, because he has always been the least of them. He opens his wide mouth and there's all those rows of teeth. And I know he's still muddy with waking, and my blood is confusing the issue, so I'm dashing towards him.
He grabs my throat casually and lifts me up, and twists. Something goes crack in my back, oh, but it is pain, and for the first time I'm crying. He shakes, more pain, and I'm dropping my knife, and he's bringing me down to those teeth.
Then there's a noise, a burning keening in my ears, and I'm on the floor, and his body's on the floor, and Certain's holding his head. He sets a light to it, and it's quick to go up.
"You hurt?" Certain asks.
I can't even nod my head, from hurt, and he crouches down. "What do you think?" I says and cough so brutal that I'm crying again, and tasting blood.
"Jeez, Troy, you made a go of it. A serious go."
"Yeah," I smile a bit, even smiling's a hurt. "None of em knew, not a single one."
"Course they didn't," Certain says. "You've done good by this town."
My eyes are widening. Shit, I've been played a fool. "But I'm a Day Boy."
"Ain't day now." He strokes my head. "Never was too bright."
"There's always more."
"Yup, but we'll be waiting."
There's still vengeance in my eyes. I'm burning with it, even if I can hardly move. Certain sighs. "You want the one that killed your master, you're looking right at him. Not a single regret neither. Dain told me he was coming. As a Day Boy ex, I get that courtesy. Didn't expect that I'd do what I did next. Was pretty certain you'd do the follow through. Didn't have the swifts for what had to be done. Ain't a boy any more." His voice is soft, calming me. "See there's an awful lot of fear in this town. The masters take a lot of time growing it. But you've set an example, shown they can be beat."
We both listen to the dark, there's nothing predatory out there, just a rising wind.
"Thirty years ago there weren't no Day Boys. Thirty years ago people didn't disappear in the night. And then it came on, fast, no-one was ready for it."
"I'm dying," I say.
"Maybe, maybe not," He picks me up, careful, but it's still a bitter hurt. "Taking you to Mary's, she's waiting. I was a Day Boy once, and I'm not now. There's life after."
I'm in the truck, and he's holding me, gentle and he says stuff after that, all the way into town, but I'm not hearing much of anything. Rain's coming in, and the dark is silent, but for the rain itself and this lone truck following the smooth curve of the road into town. Things will come creeping back, but not tonight.
Mary's waiting out the front of her place. She smiles when we pull in, but frowns when she sees me.
"Awful hurt," Certain says.
"Just bring him in." Mary touches my face. "Welcome home," she says.
This story originally appeared in Murky Depths 4.