Jenna laced her boot up once again and repositioned her rucksack while standing back up and stretching. She looked at the map again, hoping that the mud covering it was dry enough to pick off to reveal her surroundings. It wasn’t. Tripping into a squelchy mud patch was the final straw in her nightmare day.
Three of them had set off that morning but only a mile into the trek Frances had sprained her ankle jumping off a style. Becky had insisted she would take her back while Jenna went on ahead to meet up with the others waiting at the Windy Tor youth hostel. ‘No point in all three of us missing out on the weekend.’ She’d said.
Jenna was wishing she’d gone back now too. The map was unreadable, her phone wasn’t getting any signal to use the GPS on there and it had just started to rain. She shoved the map in the rucksack and pulled the hood of her anorak up and tightened the cords, a pale round face in a cocoon of blue nylon. She ploughed on through the field, looking for any features in the landscape that would guide her in the right direction. Only trees and fields were visible through the hazy drizzle. Until she reached the top of a small hill and saw a farmhouse another field over.
Relief lifted Jenna’s weary legs. She would either go to the youth hostel or go back home, wherever was the nearest. Maybe if she was really lucky someone at the farmhouse would give her a lift instead of directions. And maybe something to eat, Jenna’s emergency cereal bar had been eaten a while ago. And a cup of hot tea. Jenna smiled at the thought of a hot cup of tea.
The farmhouse looked a bit foreboding and neglected to Jenna, maybe it was just the rain and the failing daylight that was clouding her opinion. As she approached the weathered door she was desperately hoping someone was at home. She tapped with the rusty lion door knocker. And tapped again. No answer.
‘Hello!’ she shouted above the rain that was falling heavier now. ‘Anybody here?’ She looked around the yard, there were a couple of outbuildings and a barn but they looked quite deserted too. She knocked again, but louder. Still no answer. Jenna tried the handle of the door. It was unlocked. Biting the inside of her cheek she pushed the heavy door open. ‘Hello?’
Jenna stepped in out of the rain and onto a well-worn mat. ‘Is there anyone here?’
The only sound was the ticking of a grandfather clock in the hallway where she stood. She slipped her rucksack off and dropped it to the floor. Taking her phone out of her pocket she saw that there was still no mobile signal and slid it back away. Releasing the toggle of her hood and removing her wet anorak she told herself she would just find a phone and call Becky and to try and get a taxi, which was going to be a challenge as she didn’t know where she was. She placed her anorak on top of her rucksack and closed the door. Removing her muddy boots and leaving them neatly by the door too she moved into the next room.
A tatty floral sofa and armchairs filled the room as did a musty aroma of mildew and mincemeat. Dark wooden floorboards creaked as she walked across to a looming Welsh dresser; cluttered with paperwork, a book of pressed flowers, a half empty mug of tea and a half eaten pork pie. She tentatively picked up pieces of the paperwork, looking for a letter or something that would have an address on it to give to a taxi company.
‘What are you doing?’ A soft monotone voice behind her said.
Jenna spun around and saw a man stood in the doorway of the room. Black receding shiny hair, a double chin and a checked shirt that needed a wash months ago. His arms and hands hung loosely to his sides like they didn’t belong to him and his narrow eyes stared stagnantly at her.
‘I, I was looking for an address. I’m lost.’ Jenna said. ‘I’m sorry, I knocked and shouted.’
‘I was out the back. No one can hear you out here. There’s no one for miles. Mr Evans over at Croft Cottage is the nearest. But he’s deaf.’ The man just stood motionless and continued staring at Jenna.
‘Oh. Ok.’ Jenna’s stomach knotted. ‘Do you have a phone I can use?’
The man was vacantly fixed on her and Jenna wondered if he had heard her.
‘Don’t need a phone.’ He eventually said.
Jenna nodded, wishing she’d kept her boots on. ‘Can you tell me which direction the nearest town is then?’
The man took a step forward and Jenna instinctively stepped back, jolting the dresser. The mug fell to the floor and smashed, splashing cold tea over the dresser and the floor. The man howled and ran towards her with wide eyes, his hands now animated and holding his head.
‘I’m so sorry!’ Jenna stepped to the side behind one of the chairs, pulse racing.
He ignored the broken mug on the floor and picked up the book of pressed flowers, desperately wiping tea from it and its pages with his shirt. He looked up at Jenna, his icy eyes brimming with raging tears. ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’
Jenna bolted from behind the chair and ran to the hallway, disregarding her boots and rucksack, she reached for the door. As her hand touched the latch her head was yanked backwards as the man pulled her hair by the roots and smashed her face into the solid wood door. Warm blackness covered her.
Jenna could taste the metallic iron of her blood. Her tongue explored and she winced as it aggravated a split in her top lip. She lifted her hands to her head and again flinched when her fingers touched her broken nose. She could only see out of her left eye, her right eye was puffy and closed. Levering herself up from the stone floor she was lying on, her one eye adjusted to the dim light. She saw she was shackled to the ground. A heavy chain bolted into the floor led to a solid metal cuff around her ankle. She reached down to it, it was attached securely with a padlock and was too tight to slip over her foot, but she did try. There was a faint noise across the room.
Jenna held her breath and listened. Nothing. She thought she had imagined it but then heard it again. A faint gasp. It sounded like someone struggling to breathe.
‘Hello?’ Jenna quietly whispered.
No reply. She held her breath and listened again, squinting through the shadows of the room with her one good eye. The faint gasping breath came again. Jenna’s breathing became more rapid. She crawled slowly in the direction of the noise, the metal of her ankle chain scraping across the floor.
As she got a little nearer she could make out a shape in the corner. It was small and round and seemed to be a bundle of rags or blankets. She edged closer but the chain tethering her had reached its full length and jolted her to a stop. She lay herself flat to the ground so she could reach out a little closer. Stretching her fingers she could just reach the hem of a blanket. Manoeuvring it with her finger tips she managed to grasp it. She pulled it towards her. It flowed freely, revealing the source of the strange soft sound. A child, foetal and motionless, emaciated, a small skeleton covered with pale paper skin like a decaying butterfly.
Jenna screamed then froze. Her eye and her brain not wanting to compute the image she was seeing. Thin matted hair clung to the head of the near dead child and she guessed an age of four or five.
‘Hello, can you hear me?’ As Jenna asked she knew there would be no answer, this poor little corpse was beyond help.
The door to the barn slid open. Dusk light silhouetted the man. He stood looking blankly at her, then turned his head to the child. He smiled.
‘You sick bastard!’ Jenna screamed at him.
He walked towards Jenna, she saw he was holding a flower, an iris. He kicked her in the face, pushing her away with his foot. She sprawled backwards, her nose and lip spurting blood again and the pain ricocheting through her body. He crouched over the small body in the corner.
Jenna spat blood out of her mouth. ‘Stop it! Stop it you fucking monster, stop it!’
‘It’s ok,’ the man looked over his shoulder at Jenna, ‘I’m just taking care of his soul.’ He turned back and placed the flower into the child’s mouth. He then rested his hand on the child’s neck, monitoring the pulse.
‘You’re crazy! What are you doing you fucking psycho?’ Jenna tugged at her chain constraint and frantically scanned the bare room for something to free herself. The man stayed silent and kept his back to her, his hand still gently resting on the child’s neck.
Jenna stopped fighting with the chain. Her breathing was rapid and laboured. She spat out more blood that was pooling in her mouth. She suddenly remembered her phone was still in her pocket. Hope only lasted three seconds. There was still no signal. She let the phone slide out of her hand next to her on the floor. She reached into her other pocket. Her hand closed around her metal nail file, she dared to hope again.
The man sighed and bowed his head. ‘He has gone, I have his soul.’
‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ Jenna’s anguish and horror had turned to anger.
The man opened the dead boy’s mouth and retrieved the flower. ‘When they die I capture their souls in the flowers.’ He smiled at Jenna as if they were having a perfectly rational conversation. ‘I press the flowers and keep them in my book, the little children can stay pure and innocent forever then.’
‘There’s going to be a special place in hell for you.’ Jenna gritted her teeth and pulled herself upright, sliding the nail file out of her pocket. It was concealed in her hand, she was gripping it so tight it had started to cut into her hand.
The man stood up and frowned. ‘You nearly ruined my book. I have to kill you. I’ve never killed anyone before, you’ll be my first. I have to do it. I will kill you when I’ve pressed this soul.’ He held up the iris.
‘Never killed anyone before? What the fuck do you think you’ve just done?’
The man looked at Jenna and smiled again. ‘I didn’t kill him, you saw, he just died by himself.’
Jenna couldn’t comprehend the monstrosity in front of her. ‘How many ‘souls’ have you pressed?’
‘This is number twelve.’ He smiled proudly and started to walk towards the open door.
Jenna focused on not being sick, the urge to vomit was rising. She had to stop him leaving, she couldn’t let him abduct anyone else. She had to make him come close to her.
‘I’m going to burn your flower book.’
He stopped and turned to her, no longer smiling.
‘Yes, that’s right,’ continued Jenna, ‘I’m going to burn your flower book and set those souls free.’
The man placed the iris gently on the floor, balled his fists and strode towards her. Jenna backed up to the wall and crouched up on her feet. As the man swung his fist to her face she ducked and sprang to the side. The chain attached to her and the floor caught him just below his knees. It was enough to send him off balance and he crashed to the floor, landing on his back. Jenna quickly scrambled to him, taking advantage of his winded hesitation. She plunged the nail file into his neck with a force she didn’t know she possessed.
Blood spewed out and she stabbed again and again, raging for the twelve children that had a long and agonising death here. The man held his throat, gargling his blood.
Jenna leaned over him. ‘No one is going to save your soul you sick bastard.’ She stabbed the nail file into his right eye. He stopped writhing, his left eye stared motionless at the ceiling. The blood from his neck flowed to the open door, carrying the iris with it.
Jenna rolled off of him exhausted. The adrenalin surge in her had powered down. She led back on the concrete and wept.