horror

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The Good Samaritan

Published March 31, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Joe closed his eyes and felt the cold rain slap his face. It was perfect. It would be over soon. No more pain, no more anguish, no more self-loathing that consumed every cell in his body. He loosened his grip on the rail and took a deep breath.

‘Hey!’ A voice shouted louder than the rain.

Joe tightened his grip again, opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the voice.

‘Hey, what you doing?’ The voice in the rain belonged to a man in his thirties, black rain mac, dark hair made darker with the rain.

‘Isn’t it obvious? Go away.’

‘Well I can’t do that now.’

Joe stared back down into the agitated river. ‘Why?’

‘I couldn’t forgive myself.’

‘There’s nothing to forgive. Walk away, this’s nothing to do with you.’

‘It is now.’ The man took a step towards Joe. ‘You’ve kinda made it my business by doing it out here on a public bridge.’

‘I couldn’t find a private bridge.’

Again, the man took a step forward and was almost in touching distance of Joe. ‘Come down here, you’re making me nervous.’

‘Go away then.’ Joe stayed transfixed on the rushing water below.

‘Told you I can’t. Not gonna happen.’

Joe leant forwards with arms locked straight behind him. A glimmer of moonlight illuminated him, rain running down his face, like a marbled figurehead on the bow of a ship.

‘You’re really kicking off my anxiety here.’ The stranger shouted up at Joe.

Joe stayed poised in position.

‘My name’s Mick, what’s yours?’

‘Joe. And you’re an annoying bastard Mick.’

‘Technically correct on both counts, my dad ran off and didn’t marry my mum, and I have been told many times by many people I’m annoying. Usually by ex’s just as they dump me.’

Joe relaxed his arms and leant back against the rail. ‘Jesus Christ.’

‘I don’t think he’s here, it’s Good Friday, I imagine he’s busy, so I’ll have to do.’

‘What do you want from me?’

‘I just want you to come down here, stop me feeling anxious. And I’m getting soaked. I’ll probably get pneumonia. Do you want me to catch pneumonia Joe?’

Joe closed his eyes. ‘I just want to die.’

‘Can we make a deal? Some kind of trade off?’

Joe remained anchored.

‘If you come down, come back to my place and talk things through, if you still want to jump off a bridge I’ll find you a private one to do it from.’

‘Are you nuts?’

‘Says the man about to jump off a bridge?’

‘This makes perfect sense to me. More than you. You don’t even know me.’ The rain whipped at Joe’s face.

‘If you jump now I’m always gonna be thinking I could have saved you, and wondering why you jumped. Plus, there’s a crowd gathering here and I don’t want to look like a shit negotiator in front of them.’

Joe opened his eyes and turned his face to Mick. Looking down he saw five people clustered together. ‘Oh Christ.’ He turned his face back to the river. ‘Alright, make them go away and I’ll come down.’

Mick turned to the little group behind him and started waving them away. ‘You heard him folks, go on with your whatever you were doing.’

‘Should we call the police?’ A large woman in a navy anorak peered at Mick from under a pink polka dot umbrella.

‘No, it’s gonna be fine, I got this.’ Mick smiled at the lady. ‘I’ll look after him.’

She smiled back. ‘God bless you.’ She then dispersed into the night with the other onlookers.

‘Ok, people shooed away Joe.’

Joe turned and checked there was no audience, then climbed back over the rail and down onto the pavement. He stood face to face with Mick, inches apart. ‘You can go now.’

‘Are you kidding me? As soon as I walk off you’re gonna be straight up there again.’ Mick gestured to the bridge girder. ‘Look, I just live around the corner, come back to mine, chat, eat, drink, and like I said, if you still want to end it all I won’t stop you.’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. ‘Do it for me, give me a clear conscience when you jump.’

Joe stared into Mick’s eyes, the deep blue seemed to swirl like the river. ‘Ok.’

Mick patted Joe’s shoulder again and grinned. ‘Good, come on.’

Mick ushered Joe into his basement flat. ‘It’s not a palace, excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company, although to be honest I probably wouldn’t have tidied anyway.’

The living area was a riot of colours. Reds, oranges, pinks, and greens.

‘Let me get out of these wet clothes and I’ll get you something dry.’ Mick disappeared through a door at the opposite end of the lounge.

Joe stood in silence, dripping onto the doormat. He surveyed the room. A tired sofa had an orange woven throw draped over it. A terracotta tiled coffee table was adorned with different varieties of cacti and a New Scientist magazine. And the kitchen area in the corner, painted bright red, had dishes stacked up high on the draining board like a modern art installation.

Mick returned through the door, wearing jeans and a blue and white striped shirt. ‘I’ve put some clothes on the bed in there, you look the same size, and put your stuff on the radiator to dry out.’

Joe fiddled with a button on his jacket. ‘I’m ok, don’t want to be a bother.’

‘You’re bothering me dripping on my floor.’ Mick held out his hands. ‘Jacket.’

Joe slipped his jacket off and handed it to Mick.

‘Now go change.’ Mick smiled and hung the jacket up on the bulging coat rack behind the door.

Joe re-emerged from the bedroom in bare feet, with grey jogging bottoms on, and matching sweatshirt.

Mick was in the kitchen, the kettle boiling. ‘Sit yourself down. Tea, coffee, something stronger?’

‘I’m an alcoholic.’

Mick shrugged. ‘Ok. Tea or coffee then?’

‘Tea.’

‘Sugar?’

‘One please.’ Joe sat down and sunk into the sofa.

Mick pottered about and carried over two mugs of tea to the sofa. He handed Joe his tea and sank down next to him. ‘So. Cut to the chase, why do you want to kill yourself?’

Joe took a sip of his tea then placed it on the table, he shrugged. ‘I just don’t want to live anymore. I’m a failure, I have nothing to live for. I can’t go on anymore.’

‘Friends, family, colleagues. There must be people that wouldn’t want you to kill yourself?’

‘The only friend I had ran off with my wife, my parents are dead, my sister is a self-absorbed bitch who lives in France, I’m self-employed, well, I was, my business has just gone bankrupt. So, you see, no one would care if I’m here or not.’

Mick took a sip of his tea. ‘Ouch. That is pretty shit.’

‘Yep.’

‘There’ll be other women, I’m sure your wife wasn’t the first woman in your life and she doesn’t have to be the last. You’re a good-looking guy. Granted you haven’t got a lot going for you right now, so more of a potential catch than a current catch, but you’re not dead in the water in that department yet.’

Joe shook his head. ‘I could never love anyone again. I could never trust anyone again.’

‘You will.’ Mick combed his hands through his damp hair. ‘You can get another job easy enough, might not be your own business but you can earn money. What did you do?’

‘A chef, I had my own restaurant.’

‘There you go, everyone needs to eat, you can get a chef job anywhere.’

‘I’m too tired to start again from the bottom.’ Joe leant forwards, cradling his head in his hands. ‘I just can’t. I don’t want to.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Thirty-six, why?’

Mick tucked his legs up and under himself. ‘Hardly past it. You could have an exciting bright vivid future. Starting with this blank canvas in this moment right now. The future can be anything you want it to be.’

Joe lifted his head from his hands. ‘That’s just it, I don’t want the future to be anything, I don’t want a future. I’ve had enough.’

‘I think you’re lying.’ Mick took a gulp of tea and then placed his mug on the table.

‘What?’

‘I think you do want a future.’

‘Look, you’ve been kind to me, but you don’t know me, I want to die.’

‘Nope, you’re a liar.’ Mick folded his arms.

‘I’m not lying.’

‘If you’re not lying to me you’re lying to yourself.’

Joe sat up straight, frowning. ‘With respect you’re talking shit.’

‘With no respect, you’re the one talking shit.’ Mick grinned.

Joe stood up. ‘Thanks for the tea, I’m going.’

‘Where to? In my clothes? Gonna jump off the bridge again, oh no wait, you didn’t jump did you, because you don’t want to die.’

‘I didn’t jump because an asshole like you came along and interrupted me.’

‘If you really wanted to die you wouldn’t have let an asshole like me stop you. You’d have just jumped. You wouldn’t have even chosen a busy bridge to jump from if you were serious, you wanted someone to stop you.’ Mick uncrossed his arms and uncurled his legs. ‘Sit down Joe.’

Joe sat slowly back down. ‘If you didn’t think I was going to really jump why did you stop.’

‘Why didn’t you choose a whiskey?’

‘What?’

‘When I offered you a drink, you told me you were an alcoholic and you chose tea.’

‘So?’

‘If you were an alcoholic and wanted to die you’d choose a whiskey. Why stay sober if you don’t even want to live?’

‘Habit.’

‘Bullshit. You’re self-indulgent, loving to be the centre of attention in the drama you create.’

‘I don’t have to sit here listening to this crap.’ Joe stayed seated, his shoulders slumped forwards.

‘No, but you are, because you love being the centre of the drama. You certainly don’t want to kill yourself.’

‘I do. I’m just a coward.’ Joe started to sob. ‘I don’t want to live but I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. How pathetic is that.’

‘That’s pathetic.’ Mick sighed. ‘And sad. Pathetic and sad.’

‘You should have left me on the bridge.’ Joe wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and sniffed snot bubbles back up his nose.

‘To do what, be ‘rescued’ by a different passer-by?’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s knee. ‘This cycle would just keep repeating itself, wouldn’t it? The torment would never go.’

Joe nodded. ‘I’m such a failure I can’t even kill myself.’

‘Do you know what’s not a failure Joe?’ Mick stared into Joe’s eyes. ‘Meeting me. That’s a definite result on your part. Do you know what I do Joe? For a hobby that is, my day job is butchering.’

Joe shook his head, his eyes not breaking connection with Mick’s.

‘I watch the bridge. I was in the café watching you. I sit in the window there and watch for leapers. Lost souls that don’t want to live anymore. Then I talk them down, just like I did with you Joe. A few leapers have a cup of tea with me, are grateful for my intervention, and go back to their lives, thankful for the stranger that saved them.’

‘You have some sort of a hero complex?’

Mick removed his hand from Joe’s knee. ‘Oh no, I don’t enjoy helping people walk back into their dreary lives. I enjoy helping the people who really want to end it all.’

‘I’m confused. You talk them out of jumping.’

‘Watching someone jump to their death is not a thrill Joe. Helping someone to their death is.’ Mick relaxed back into the sofa, resting his hands on his thighs. ‘When someone tells me they really want to die but can’t do it themselves, I help them. Assisted suicide.’

Joe turned to face Mick more, perching on the edge of the sofa. ‘How? Drugs.’

‘Administering drugs and watching someone slowly slip away is also not a thrill Joe. And it’s not good for the decider either. If you decide you want to die, you want it to be over with quickly. Don’t you?’

Joe nodded. ‘What do you do then?’

Mick’s eyes sparkled. ‘I use a knife. Quick and easy. People can request where they want to be stabbed. Throat or heart are the most popular.’

‘What happens after?’ Joe frowned. ‘With the bodies?’

‘What’s it matter? They’re dead. No one loves them enough to want to bury them.’ Mick sighed and stood up. ‘Your clothes might be dry now.’

Joe stared up at him. ‘What?’

‘Your clothes, dry. You can put them back on and go back to your life of drama.’ Mick started walking towards the bedroom.

‘Heart.’

Mick stopped mid step and turned to Joe. ‘Pardon?’

‘Heart. I want you to stab me in my heart.’

Mick walked back to the sofa and crouched down, he held Joe’s hands. ‘Are you sure? I don’t think you really want this.’

‘I do. Please.’ Joe squeezed Mick’s hands. ‘I can’t go back. I don’t want to.’

Mick’s voice was almost a whisper. ‘Only if you’re one hundred per cent sure. I’m not a murderer. I’m a suicide assistant.’

Joe gazed into Mick’s eyes. ‘I’m sure.’

‘Ok.’ Mick nodded slowly. He stood up and slinked silently into the bedroom. When he came back out he had an eight inch hunting knife and some plastic sheeting which he laid down on the floor, moving the coffee table slightly to make room. He indicated to Joe’s clothing. ‘Take my tracksuit off and lie down.’

‘I have to be naked?’

‘It makes it easier to clean up after, and saves me a tracksuit.’ Mick grinned. ‘Coz you’re gonna shit and piss yourself, everyone does. It’s perfectly natural.’

‘Oh, ok.’ Joe nodded, stone faced, and stood up starting to undress.

‘It’s only a naked body, I’ll only be looking where I’m stabbing.’ Mick started to unbutton his shirt. ‘I’ll take this off to avoid blood splatter. Dry cleaning bills are a bitch.’

Joe stood naked in front of Mick, his hands hung loosely in front of him.

‘Lie down Joe.’

Joe led down on his back. His hands alternating between by his sides and covering his privates.

‘Relax Joe, leave your hands by your side.’ A topless Mick straddled Joe and lined up the knife on his chest between the fourth and the firth rib, the tip of the blade resting gently on his skin. ‘Whenever you are ready I need you to say to me ‘please take my life’.’

Joe nodded. His breathing deepening. Mick leant over Joe, his two hands gripping the knife. The two men stared into each other’s eyes. The silence was deafening.

‘Please take my life’.

Mick thrust the knife at an angle into Joe’s chest, swept it swiftly along, then removed it rapidly. Joe’s eyes widened like a goldfish as a jet of blood volcanoed upwards splattering Mick. No scream came from Joe, just a gasp and a gargle, his eyes scared and pleading faded to acceptance and regret as he drifted down into deaths warm embrace.

Mick leant forward and kissed Joe gently on the forehead as the last beat of life left him. He sat upright on Joe and, with his head back and back arched, he massaged the blood that was decorating him into his chest. Licking his lips he started to undo his trousers.

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The Snow

Published March 4, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Day 27 – I’ve done it. I’ve eaten human flesh. I’ve eaten Mark. Not all of him, just his leg. He tastes good. I’ve buried the rest of him in the snow. For later. Except his head. I can’t look at his face. I’ve covered it with a Waitrose carrier bag. He has a judgmental frown frozen to his face. I don’t know why, he’d do the same. I’m going to dig more fridges outside. Now I know I can survive and look after Kate.
***

Day 1 – I wish the news would stop whipping up a media frenzy re the weather. I’m sure they’re given a backhander from the bakeries to make people go crazy on the bread buying front. And I wish the sheeple didn’t go and clog the supermarkets buying six loaves per person. Crazy people.
Kate dumped me today, I don’t think that’s helping my mood. I knew it was coming though, I’ve known about her and Mark for weeks. I should’ve kept going to the gym, if I had a six pack like him she might not have looked elsewhere.

Day 2 – Advice today on the news on how to keep warm in the impending cold storms, some prick telling me to ‘layer up’ and not just wear a jumper. If someone needs to be told how to keep warm, then they shouldn’t be wasting my air space. Why not layer up with all the bread you’ve just bought you nutters. Maybe shove a couple of croissants in your pants too.
Kate texted me, she asked me to gather up all her stuff ready for her to collect. I got excited when I saw her name ping onto my phone, part of me wanted her to say she’d made a mistake, part of me knew I wasn’t that lucky.

Day 3 – The snow has fallen here now. Fed up already of seeing posts on Facebook re snow days. Seems most of my friends are now five-year old’s making snow angels on their lawns. I’m probably only grumpy because I want the day off from work too, or a week, having to be nice to customers when inside I’m crumbling is draining me. But no, I live within walking distance from work, according to Mr. Jacobs, so I’m the sucker trekking in while Ben is warm at home drinking hot chocolate with whiskey and watching Netflix marathons. Twat.
Haven’t heard from Kate today.

Day 4 – Suggested we close today as we didn’t have any customers, but Mr. Jacobs said no. Who the hell wants to have their eyes tested in a blizzard? Unless they’re worried that all they can see is whiteness. More snow forecast on the doom and gloom box. I think I’ll throw a sickie tomorrow, I can’t take anymore of rubber band ball boredom. And sneaking onto Facebook to see people enjoying the snow is annoying me now.
Kate changed her profile from ‘in a relationship with Adam’ to ‘in a relationship with Mark’. It physically hurt to read that. She could’ve at least had a day of being ‘single’. And all her friends obviously knew as there were just thumbs up and heart reactions to the post. I wanted to write something stinging in the comments, so Kate would know how much I was hurting, but what’s the point, she doesn’t care anymore.

Day 5- Tried to order extra warm gloves from Amazon and they’re not offering next day prime delivery due to the weather. No local shops are open due to the weather. So, I guess my hands will just have to be cold, due to the weather. At least I got sent home early from work today. Mr. Jacobs has had enough of sitting in a silence, and watching me make a ball from elastic bands was probably doing his head in just as much as mine. Only one supermarket open in town, it’s starting to look empty. Those stupid people bulk buying have stripped it. Selfish twats.

Day 6- It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day watching the news, snow, snow and more snow. More due, no end in sight. I might go back up to the supermarket today, get some tins in.
Waitrose was the only shop open in town, full of people like me who had braved a walk in, covered in snow and looking for essentials. Not many essentials left though. I bought tins of soup, packets of cereals, jelly cubes and chocolate. There was no bread, but packets of cream crackers a plenty, got loads of those. Not many staff in so a bit of a queue. There was a strange eerie vibe amongst us in there. Seemed like we were all sizing up each other’s baskets, and each other. The checkout lady said they were closing in an hour and didn’t know when they were going to open again. I went back around and got dry roasted nuts, Battenburgs, and Jaffa Cakes. I’m so cold my bones are numb.
Packed up Kate’s stuff, some toiletries, some clothes, and ‘The Secret’ book. The irony isn’t lost on me. Oh, and a pot of Nutella in the fridge which I’m keeping. Not much really considering she stayed here a lot. I guess she always knew it wasn’t long term for her.

Day 7- Lights have flickered a bit today and the tv keeps threatening to go off. I’ve charged up my kindle and phone. I’ve fished out some torches from the shed and dotted them around the house. The Granger’s packed up their four by four and drove off, I guess they’re going to stay with one of their kids and their families. That only leaves me here and Mark down the lane now.
Kate texted, she’s on her way to collect her stuff. I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means, because I know she can’t get here from her parents’ house in this snow. I have her belongings in a cardboard box on the dining table now, it looks like a weird mini shrine.
I just cried for the first time since my mum died. I feel such an idiot. Kate picked up her stuff. She looked beautiful, all wrapped up with her pink wooly hat on, rosy cheeks, and smelling so wonderful with that jasmine perfume on. She didn’t want to stay for a drink, didn’t want to bring snow into mine on her boots. She said she was glad we could be grown up about things. I just smiled and watched her walking down the lane to his house. That’s when I cried. I’m glad I didn’t do it in front of her. The thought of her in his bed tonight, cuddling up to him, the thought of seeing them as I walk to work, life you are a bastard. I hate Mark, I hate myself, I hate the world.

Day 8- I’ve given up clearing the path from the lane to the house, the postman has stopped coming now anyway. It must be three feet deep out there now. I don’t want to go outside, I don’t want to see them, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Day 9- More snow overnight, what a surprise. Four feet now. News channels are showing carnage all over the country. Roads unpassable. Looting in cities. I’m glad I live here in the sticks. Well, the one exception. I’ve seen Kate through the window, trying to walk Mark’s dog. The dog doesn’t want to go, he just pees in the garden and they go back in. I stand to the side of the window, I don’t want her to see me watching.

Day 10- The internet has gone. Well, the landline broadband. Mobile phone internet is still up and running. The news is all the same though, no end in sight to the big freeze. Reading more now, classics, Kate always said I should read more, of the quality kind. Frankenstein is my current one. Different to the film. I prefer the film. I bet Mark prefers the book. I wish I’d picked up more varieties of soup, I’m fed up of tomato now. It’s Kate’s favourite flavour.

Day 11- No mobile signal. After an initial panic I’ve realised that no one phones me, and I don’t phone anyone. Only Kate, but not anymore.

Day 12- The satellite signal has gone down. No more TV for me. At least I have lots of DVDs I can watch. Time for a Lord of the Rings marathon. More snow. Less soup.

Day 13- Now the electrics have gone. Cold soup is gross but better than nothing. Going to bed when it gets dark so that I can save the torch batteries. Got all my clothing out to keep warm, layering up.

Day 14- Still no electricity. It feels weird being cut off from the rest of the world and not knowing what’s going on. The snow isn’t stopping. I cleared a path to the shed and found the camping stove. At least I can heat my soup. My last can.

Day 15- Snow.

Day 16- Snow.

Day 17- More fricking snow.

Day 18- I have no food left. I’ve even eaten Kate’s Nutella. I feel I need to go out and look for food, but I’m also worried about conserving my energy, it’s a six-mile round trek into town, and what if it’s for nothing? I wonder how much food Kate and Mark have.
Struggled into town, my legs hurt so bad walking through the snow. No surprise that nothing was open. It was like a deserted ghost town. I only saw two people, one man pulled his hood up and walked in the other direction when he saw me, the other man just blanked me when I said hi. Weird. I wondered if I’d imagined him. A few shops had their doors broken and had been looted. I stood and stared for a while, surprised this had happened in this small town. I’m ashamed to say I went in and took items too. I’ve written them down and will pay the owners when this craziness stops. I took cheap wine from Bargain Booze, someone had beaten me to all the spirits, and throat sweets and paracetamol from a ransacked chemist, all the stronger drugs had gone.
I saw a dead cat on the way back and was tempted to bring it home to cook it. But then I thought it might have died from a disease and not just the cold. How has it come to this? Stealing from looted shops and eyeing up dead animals on the roadside. Life is a bastard.

Day 19- I’ve woken up cold and hungry. I thought about setting traps to catch rabbits, but the snow is so deep it wouldn’t work. And I haven’t even seen any rabbits.

Day 20- Mark came outside with the dog today. I hope Kate is ok. He cleared the square in his garden and left the dog out while he popped back in. Christ, I felt myself wondering how the dog would taste.

Day 21- I stared at myself in the mirror. Having not shaved for weeks I saw my dad staring back at me. How I remember him anyway, he’s probably dead by now, I wouldn’t know, he didn’t want responsibility. He didn’t want me. Did he feel a failure like me? Is that why he walked away? If I had kids they’d be better off without me.
I saw Kate at the upstairs window. I waved. She didn’t wave back. She probably didn’t see me, the houses are quite far apart. She’s the only person that wanted me. Until Mark stole her away from me. Now I just have wine and pills to look forward to.

Day 22- Wine, you taste like cheap vinegar, but you make me forget what a loser I am. For that, I love you.

Day 23- Why aren’t the military or the police dealing with this shit? We’re all going to die. Maybe most people have. A second ice-age? Is this what happened? Everything just froze to death.
I broke into the Granger’s house this afternoon. I didn’t need to clear a path as the snow is so deep and compact you can just walk on top of it. They had porridge oats in their cupboards, I have no milk to make proper porridge but at least I can eat the oats. I took their drinks. Whiskey and a collection of wines. Some vile sherry too, it wouldn’t be my first choice but wasn’t going to leave it behind. I also got a pot of mustard, a jar of lemon curd, jars of tomato pasta sauce, tinned vegetables and tinned fruit. I had a good look around their house. Mrs. Granger has a nice collection of lingerie, not what I would have expected for an older lady. Mr. Granger has a rifle, I didn’t know that. I took that too, with a packet of bullets. Maybe I can hunt something. The food I’ve taken from them won’t last long.

Day 24- Feeling better today, could be the food, could be the better wine. I’m going to see if I can find anything to hunt to day. I’ve never shot a gun before. I’m strangely excited.
Nothing, not even a bird in the sky. The only movement I watched through the scope was Mark and the dog. They went into the garden again for the dog to do its business. Mark went back inside to give the dog some privacy. I followed the dog with the rifle scope. It didn’t have much energy, it must be hungry itself. It would be kinder to put it down. I haven’t seen Kate in a while now. I hope she’s ok.

Day 25- Mark came outside with the dog again. Where’s Kate? What’s he done to her? I’m going to go check on her. Tempted to take the gun with me but if he sees me walking towards him with that he could kick off and I don’t have the energy to waste. I’ll take the small vegetable knife from the kitchen with me. Just for self defense if he tries anything.
Smug bastard. He was in the garden with the dog. I asked him where Kate was. He said she didn’t want to see me. I asked him to ask her. He said she was ill in bed. I asked to see her. He said no, she was sleeping. Bastard. He’s not looking after her properly, like I would. He went in and locked the door. Stupid twat left the dog outside. I can see him now out the window, shouting for the dog to come to him. You’ll need to shout louder Mark, he can’t hear you with the boiling water bubbling around his ears on my camping stove.

Day 26- I slept well. Surprising what a good protein meal can do for you. I feel stronger today. That’s good, Kate needs me to be strong now. She needs me. I’m focused now. I think I can do it. I know I can do it.
I might have a long wait. He won’t be out for the regular dog toilet breaks. I’ve opened the window slightly, enough for the tip of the rifle to poke out. And I’ll wait. As long as it takes.
Two hours. That’s all I had to wait. He went outside calling for the dog again. My first shot missed. Excited fingers. Luckily Mark didn’t twig what the noise was until I lined him up again for another shot. I got him in the chest. He hit the ground hard. I watched. Ready to fire again. He didn’t get up. I ran down the stairs and down the lane. He was still on the ground. The snow under him was vivid red. I stared. I looked up at the window, no Kate watching. I dragged him back here. Exhausted now. Must rest. Kate needs me.

Battenburg

Published May 6, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I can’t move. I’ve got my eyes open, but it’s too dark to see anything. I can smell cake, and I can feel the weight of something against my face. I try to recall my last memory. Sleep. I was in bed, going to sleep. I’m not in my bed now.

I can’t hear anything so I open my mouth to shout, or say hello to anyone nearby.

‘Hello?’

My voice sounds muffled and distorted. I’m not sure if that’s because my ears are covered, or if there’s something in front of my mouth. I slowly force my tongue out of my mouth. It protrudes out for about half an inch before touching a surface, then retracts quickly back in. My taste buds tell me the surface it met is sweet. I persuade my tongue to venture out again. It complies.

My tongue gently licks the object in front of my mouth. Cake. It’s cake. I move my jaw out as much as it will extend and scrape my teeth along the cake surface. My tongue escorts the cake into my mouth. It tastes delicious, a light sponge.

Am I surrounded by cake? Is that why I can’t move? I think I am. How is this possible? If it were a dream I wouldn’t be able to taste and smell the cake, and I can. Someone must have drugged me and put me in a cake. That just doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense.

I feel my chest tighten as a panic attack attempts to take control of my body. I can hear my pulse rate speeding up through the blood vessels in my muffled ears. I inhale a deep breath, cake fumes filter into my lungs. I tell myself I am calm, and all is well. My body knows I am lying to it, but it plays along with me, for now.

I must eat the cake. That is how I will get free. I will eat my way up through the cake. There will have to be a surface, no cake goes on for infinity. I feel calmer, I know I can eat a lot of cake. My teeth start excavating the sponge in front of me.

The more cake I eat, the more I can move my head. My spirits are lifted. I’m feeling confident. I can angle my head back now to reach the cake above me with my mouth. I move up an inch at a time, shuffling my body up with my shoulders, arms still by my sides, my face facing to the top.

I’m starting to feel sick now. I want to take a breather and rest a little, but I don’t want to risk falling asleep and running out of air. My body keeps trying to remind me I could suffocate easily, it does this by squeezing my lungs periodically while making me want to breathe faster. I tell myself I can do this, and I will be out of here soon.

I think it will be soon. I’m starting to see now. I can see the cake above me, it’s yellow. I must be near the top of the cake for the light to be penetrating down to me. I can do this. I eat more cake. In my excitement, I bite off a bigger chunk, but almost choke on it. My legs attempt to kick out and my arms try to lash out too. I spray my own face with regurgitated cake. It takes me a few moments to compose myself. I continue eating through the cake.

Bright yellow. I can see bright yellow above me. My relief is joyous. I eat on. I can smell marzipan. A heavenly smell. Almond ambrosia. I devour the final layer of sponge between me and the marzipan. I push my face against the marzipan, attempting to break free with the force of my facial features. The marzipan just stretches with my face, and lowers back down with it. I lick at the marzipan, and try to bite at it. It just moves playfully with my tongue and teeth, keen to flow in the same direction. Marzipan, I’m finding out, is non-confrontational, eager to please, and far too flexible. I try forcing my face up through it again, but this time the marzipan, wet from my saliva, sticks to my face. The almond assassin clings to my nostrils and my mouth. I try to breathe but the overpowering essence blocks my airways. My lungs clench and scream pain I didn’t think possible. I feel myself zoning out, drifting away from my physicality. I’m going.

Air violently invades my face. My marzipan death mask is being ripped open. My mouth and nose compete for the air. My lungs stop screaming and merely shout instead. My eyes are blinded by bright whiteness. They struggle to compute my surroundings. I feel my head become free of the marzipan, and I feel hands pulling me out of the cake and place me on a hard surface. My limbs feel numb from their cocooned entrapment. I feel cold, and loose.

My eyes adjust in the harsh lighting. White floor, white walls, white ceiling. There is a man in a white biohazard suit stood stationary over me. A giant Battenburg cake is in the center of the room, crumbs scattered onto the floor, no doubt from when I emerged. A camera in the corner of the room rotates around to face me. The man in the white suit puts his hand to his ear, then nods.

‘Come with me,’ he says.

My mouth is dry. ‘Why? What’s happening?’

‘You failed. They don’t want you now.’

‘Failed what? Who are they?’ My legs allow me to stand up, but threaten to drop me at any moment.

The man walks towards a door. ‘You only had to get out of the cake. You failed so you have to go back.’

‘I don’t understand?’ I follow him to the door.

‘You should have eaten horizontally, not vertically, as there’s no marzipan on the ends of the cake.’ He swipes a card in a panel by the door with his gloved left hand. ‘You could have made it out alive that way.’

The door slides open with a faint hiss. The man steps out of the room, so do I.

‘But I still don’t understand what’s going on.’

‘It’s better that way. Believe me.’ The man walks off down the narrow corridor.

I follow.

Imaginary Spider

Published March 27, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I saw a spider that wasn’t really there,
It made me jump, it gave me a scare.
I saw it sprint across my wall,
It gave me the creeps and made my skin crawl.

Imaginary spider hiding in my head
I will hunt you down until you are dead.
If I don’t, you will eat me alive,
Survival of the fittest, I will survive.

Eight eyes watch me from a secret hidey hole,
Far from cuddly like a velvet mole,
Waiting, you plot my grim demise
As you stomp across my petrified eyes.

Imaginary spider keeping me awake,
Trying to tell myself that you are a fake,
Can’t shake the feeling that you are really there,
Waiting to use me as a breeding lair.

Marzipan Cat Zombies

Published February 1, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Phil pushed the bookcase against the door then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his Captain America t-shirt.

‘That’s pointless, cats can’t open doors,’ said Joe, slumping onto the bed next to Rohan.

Phil looked across at his two friends. ‘Just in case. Cats don’t normally turn into marzipan and eat people either, we don’t know what they can do now.’

‘I don’t think they’ll be able to open doors.’ Joe raised his eyebrows.

‘Well, just in case. Humor me.’ Phil paced across to the bed and kicked Joe’s foot.

‘Hey, guys, c’mon,’ said Rohan.

‘Sorry Ro, you ok?’ Joe asked.

‘Of course he’s not ok numbnuts, he just watched his sister being bitten by a marzipan cat, and then turning into marzipan herself!’ Phil pulled up his desk chair and sat down opposite Joe and Rohan.

Joe stretched out and kicked Phil’s leg. ‘I’m aware of that numbernuts, I saw it too. And old Mrs.Terry on the corner, all her five cats had marzipaned, she had no chance.’

‘What’s happening guys? What we gonna do?’ Rohan’s eyes flicked back and forth between Joe and Phil.

Phil sighed. ‘I don’t know.’

‘When will your mom and dad be back?’ Rohan threw his question in Phil’s direction.

Phil rubbed his eyes, his hands slightly trembling. ‘They won’t be coming back. It was on the TV before you both got here, it’s all over the place, the cats, they’re everywhere.’

Joe pulled his legs up onto the bed. ‘They can’t be everywhere.’

‘They’re everywhere,’ said Phil, through gritted teeth.

Rohan knelt up on the bed, surveying out of the window. He could see yellow cats, lots of yellow plastic looking cats, prowling and pacing along the hydrangea lined neighborhood. ‘What we gonna do?’

‘We can stay here? Wait for help.’ Joe nodded at his own suggestion.

‘Help won’t be coming.’ Phil swiveled left and right on his chair. ‘Everybody bitten or scratched turns to marzipan and dies.’

Joe joined Rohan looking out of the window. ‘Why aren’t the cats dying? When they turn to marzipan, why aren’t they dying, like the people?’

‘I don’t know, I didn’t create the mutant marzipan moggies did I?’ Phil rubbed sweat off his forehead again. ‘And the people, after they’ve turned and are dead, they come back to life.’

Joe spun away from the window and looked back at Phil. ‘Shit.’

‘So they are ok then?’ Rohan turned to join the other boys’ stares.

‘Yeah they’re fine.’ Phil’s fake smile turned into a glare. ‘Of course they’re not ok, they’re made of solid marzipan, doofus.’

The three boys sat silently. Joe bit at his nails, Phil rocked on the chair, and Rohan stared at his red socks. A clock in the shape of a rocket ticked behind Phil on his desk. Loud meowing and human screams fought for airspace outside.

Rohan looked up from his socks. ‘If no help is coming, we’re going to have to kill the cats ourselves.’

‘And just how do you kill them?’ Joe got up and started to pace the small room. ‘I mean, I know how you’d kill a normal cat, but one that’s made of fucking marzipan?’

‘Your mum would freak at your language,’ said Rohan.

Joe stopped his pacing. ‘My mum is probably almond paste right now, I don’t think she’d fucking care.’

‘You’re such a grown up.’ Rohan pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.

‘Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.’ Joe continued his pacing.

Phil stopped moving on the chair. ‘We have to eat them.’

‘What?’ Joe stopped in his tracks.

‘The cats,’ said Phil. ‘It said on the news, the only way they can be stopped is by eating them.’

‘Eating them?’ Rohan grimaced.

Joe swung his arms animatedly. ‘Can’t we just chop their heads off?’

‘If their heads are chopped off they just morph back together, same if you squash them,’ Phil mimed squishing and growing with his hands, ‘they just go back into their cat shapes. Guessing it’s the same for the people too.’

‘I can’t eat people,’ said Joe.

Rohan wiped his hands down his thighs. ‘I can’t eat cats. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘It’s bloody marzipan. Without the blood.’ Phil twirled around in the chair to face Joe. ‘Just like eating the marzipan fruits your Auntie Gayle gives you at Christmas.’

‘Eating a non-moving marzipan apple the size of my thumb is a bit different to eating a full sized marzipan cat in attack mode, or a relative,’ said Joe.

Phil stood up and walked across to Joe. ‘We can stun the cat, or person, first, by whacking them with something, then eat them quickly.’

Joe shrugged and fiddled with his belt. ‘At least we won’t have to worry about finding food.’ He attempted to laugh but just made a snorting noise and twitched his lips.

‘Maybe we can make a pact though.’ Phil patted Joe’s shoulder.  ‘I don’t think any of us want to eat our own family.’

‘No!’ gasped Rohan.

‘Gross,’ said Joe.

Phil looked across at Rohan, then back to Joe. ‘So why don’t we agree, that if we get in a ‘situation’ with family, one of us others will deal with it.’

Rohan started to cry. ‘I can’t.’

Joe slunk over to the bed and sat next to Rohan. ‘Look Ro, I know it’s hard but we gotta pull together here.’

‘No, I mean I can’t. I can’t eat marzipan.’ Rohan stifled his sobs. ‘I’m diabetic.’

‘Shit.’ Phil kicked the bookcase.

From the other side of the door there was a hiss of a cat. Phil leapt away from the bookcase and door and almost landed on Joe’s lap as he launched himself onto the bed. The cat started scratching at the door.

Joe gripped Rohan’s knee. ‘Christ, maybe it’ll go away?’ The scratching at the door continued.

Rohan swallowed hard. ‘How can marzipan make a scratching noise like that?’

Joe realized he was holding Rohan’s knee and let go. He frowned at Rohan. ‘I don’t know, shall we open up the door and find out?’

Rohan hugged his legs again and lowered his head.

‘Sorry Ro,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not feeling myself.’

Phil shuffled across the bed a little. ‘You’re looking a little yellow Joe, you feel sick?’

Joe shook his head. ‘No, just a bit spaced, like you? Don’t you feel spaced?’

‘Wired, I’m feeling wired, not spaced.’ Phil turned his head to Rohan. ‘Ro?’

‘Not spaced, hyper ventilating.’ Rohan edged away a few inches from Joe.

Phil stood up slowly. ‘You haven’t been bitten have you?’

‘No,’ said Joe.

‘Or scratched, you might not have felt a scratch while we were running over here.’ Rohan slid off the bed and stood next to Phil.

‘No, I’m fine.’ Joe clenched his hands.

‘You’re definitely more yellow now. Look.’ Phil pointed to Joe’s bare legs, not covered by his shorts.

‘It’s the light in here.’ Joe grabbed the pillow from the bed and tried to cover his legs.

‘Shit Joe, you’re turning, look at the scratch on your arm!’ Phil took a step back, bumping into the chair.

All three boys looked at Joe’s arm. His skin was buttery yellow. There was a gaping gash, about an inch long, and thick yellow pus paste oozed out from it.

‘No! Oh God no. Guys you have to help me!’ Joe cried as he stared at his changing body.

‘We can’t do anything,’ said Phil, gripping onto the back of the chair. ‘There’s no cure, we can’t save you.’

‘Then you have to kill me.’ Joe stopped crying and sniffed. He held his arms out. ‘Eat me.’

‘You’re not fully turned! I can’t eat you yet.’ Phil grimaced.

Joe lowered his arms. ‘Ok, well, get ready.’

‘I don’t think I can do this,’ said Phil, sitting in the chair.

‘You have to,’ Joe pleaded. ‘Rohan can’t or he’ll go into a diabetic coma.’

Rohan shifted slightly from side to side, sniffing.

‘There are bits of you that I really don’t think I can eat.’ Phil nodded towards Joe’s crotch.

‘Christ Phil, you can’t leave just my wiener running around after people.’ Joe rubbed the pus paste into his arm as a bit more oozed out. ‘What kind of sicko does that.’

‘What kind of sicko eats your wiener!’ Phil made a snorting noise as he laughed and stifled a cry at the same time.

Joe laughed and wiped yellow tears away with his sticky fingers.

‘Can’t you just leave?’ Rohan mumbled. ‘You could eat that cat on your way out.’

‘Wow, really finding out about my friends now.’ Joe smiled at Rohan.

Rohan limply smiled back. ‘It’s because we’re your friends we don’t want to eat you.’

‘C’mon Joe.’ Phil stood up. ‘We need to throw you under the bus.’

Joe looked to Rohan then Phil. ‘What bus?’

‘It’s a metaphysical bus.’ Phil took a step closer to Joe and hovered his hand over Joe’s shoulder, gently tapping with his fingers. ‘C’mon Joe, take one for the team, I’d leave if it was me infected. I’d push you out the door but I don’t want my fingers sinking into your fat marzipan middle there.’

‘I’d eat you if we were switched numbernut.’ Joe stood up and stepped towards the door. ‘I’ll eat the cat, then I’ll run away from the house, draw any others away.’

Rohan moved closer. ‘Thanks Joe.’

‘Sorry bud.’ Phil’s voice started to crack.

Joe nodded. ‘Get ready to slam the door shut.’ He started to shove the bookcase out of the way but his thumb mushed into the wood. Sighing, he scraped it off, remolded it, and stuck it on his head.

Phil laughed. ‘Numbnut.’ He dragged the bookcase away from the door and held the door handle. He locked eyes with Joe. ‘Ready?’

Joe nodded, and smiled at Phil and Rohan. Phil yanked the door open and Joe shot out, Phil slamming the door behind him. Phil leant against the door and closed his eyes. Rohan sat on the bed, leant forward, and held his head in his hands. The boys were silent as the wailing of a cat and scuffling outside the door took place. There was a final high pitched cat screech then the landing fell silent too.

After five minutes of stillness, Phil stopped leaning against the door and turned, pressing his ear up against it. ‘Joe? You still there?’

‘Yes,’ said Joe from behind the door.

Rohan lifted his head from his hands. ‘I thought you were going to run away?’

‘I was.’ Joe’s voice sounded muffled. ‘I don’t want to die out there on my own. I’m scared.’

‘He’s going to fully turn any minute.’ Rohan whispered to Phil.

Phil nodded, then talked to the door again. ‘Did you eat the cat?’

‘No. Well, I tried to eat it, but it’s very struggly. I ate its leg. It’s not happy with me. It’s just staring at me now. I’m sorry’

Phil placed his hand flat against the door. ‘I’m sorry too Joe’. He turned and looked at Rohan, and raised his eyebrows.

Rohan nodded and stood up from the bed. Phil slowly twisted the door handle and opened it. Joe was sat on the floor, not only was his skin bright yellow but his hair had turned from dark brown to yellow chunky strands. His thumb was still on his forehead.

Phil opened the door wider. He could see an angry looking marzipan cat in a crouching attack position further along the landing. ‘Let the cat come in. And put your thumb back where it should be.’

‘If you’re going to be marzipan, we will too,’ said Rohan.

‘No, you can stay safe.’ Joe shuffled to his feet, removing his thumb from his head and molding it back on his hand.

‘No one is safe. If we don’t have our families we only have each other, but if we don’t have each other, what’s the point in hiding out.’ Phil shrugged.

The cat suddenly rocketed itself into the room, hissing and lashing out in a frenzied Catherine Wheel of almond rage.

‘It got me!’ Rohan rubbed his leg.

‘Me too,’ said Phil.

The cat limped out on its three legs, tail twitching like a caffeinated cobra. Joe shuffled into the room and slumped onto the bed. His eyelashes had turned to marzipan strands.

‘Do you think we’ll know each other when we turn?’ asked Rohan. ‘You know, when our brains are marzipaned?’

‘Yeah, sure we will.’ Phil patted Rohan on the shoulder. ‘Friends and numbnuts forever.’

THE BEE KEEPER

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

 

I’m in a moving vehicle. It’s too dark to see anything, but judging from my aching body in an unnatural foetal position, I’m in the boot of a car. I hear a whimper behind me and I hold my breath. The sniff of a nose and a small sob are centimetres away from my ear and I can feel faint breathing crawling through the hairs on my neck. I slowly exhale. ‘Hello?’

No reply, just another whimper. It sounds like a child. ‘Hello? Who’s there? My name’s Lucy.’ The whimpering has stopped. ‘What’s your name?’

There is a strained silence.

‘Joseph.’ A small wavering voice says.

Silence again.

‘Hello Joseph. How old are you?’

‘Five.’

I pause for a moment, trying to keep my voice sounding calm and soothing. ‘Well Joseph, I’m twenty two, a really old grown up, so you don’t have to be scared because I’m going to make sure we get out of here and get home safely. Ok?’

‘Ok.’ His voice sounds less shaky now.

I try to move my legs but they are too cramped up. My shoulder is aching from the angle it is in. I want to hug Joseph to comfort him but there is no room to stretch let alone turn around. ‘Do you know how you got here or did you just wake up in here like me?’

‘The bad man put me here.’ Joseph’s voice trembles a little.

‘What did the bad man look like?’

Joseph is silent again for a moment. ‘Like a bad man.’

I try not to sigh out loud. ‘Ok, what were you doing just before the bad man put you in here?’

‘Riding my bike.’ No pause, he is confident with this answer.

‘On your own?’

‘Yes, I’m a big boy now and I can ride my bike on my own.’

He sounds so proud. I imagine his mother telling him those words and waving him off as he rides around a corner somewhere. I want to cry for her but I keep it together for Joseph. She must have alerted the police by now, they will be out looking for us. ‘Where do you live Joseph?’

‘With my mum and my dad and Alfie.’

‘Oh ok, I mean which town do you live in?’

Joseph is silently thinking. ‘Cardiff.’

‘Ok, I was in Newport before I was in this car.’ We are heading east, out of Wales maybe.

‘Were you riding a bike too?’ His innocent little voice asks me.

I retrace my last memory in my head. ‘No, I was walking home from the shop with some milk.’ I see the milk carton hanging on my finger as I swing it while walking along the lane behind my house. I heard footsteps behind me but before I had time to turn around everything went blank. Like turning off a television channel. And now here I am in a different show. My head hurts.

The rhythmic hum of the car engine stops and we jerk slightly as we come to a standstill. As much as I want this journey to end, I don’t want to meet the bad man. A car door slams and slow footsteps grow louder. The boot opens and my eyes squint to focus. I am instantly confused as its night time and not the daylight I last remember. My confusion quickly retreats when I see the bad man. He is staring down at us, motionless, expressionless. He has a dark shirt loose over a dark t-shirt. I try and memorise his face, to describe it to the police, but he has no distinguishing features. He just looks average with dark hair, dark eyes, not thin, not fat. Just an average man, who has a woman and a boy in the boot of his car.

‘I’m going to let you use the toilet. If you run I will shoot you. If you shout for help I will shoot you. If you try and attract attention I will shoot you.’ The man pulls aside his shirt to reveal a gun tucked into the waistband of his trousers. ‘Understand?’

I nod my head as my eyes move from the gun back to his face. He leans forward and pulls me out in one effortless movement. I’m not heavy but the ease at which he did this makes me realise I have underestimated his physique. As he pulls Joseph from the boot I quickly glance around. We are parked in the far corner of a service station car park, there are only two other cars parked up. The man is about a foot taller than me, there is no way I can overpower him. Joseph stands next to me and his hand reaches for mine. I hold it and give it a squeeze. I don’t know if I’m trying to reassure him or myself.

‘Move.’ The man indicates towards the lit up station.

We walk towards it, my heart is hammering against my chest and I just want to run and scream but the image of the gun in my mind stops me. We enter the station. It’s only a small place, and one lad is manning a till, watching something on his phone. Only three other people are there. One middle aged man in a suit is looking at magazines while a young couple are using a self-service coffee machine. No one looks over as we walk on past to the sign posted toilets. We stop outside the ladies.

The man touches my shoulder. ‘I’ll be waiting right here. Try anything funny, I’ll shoot you.’

I nod, again not trusting myself to speak without screaming. I lead Joseph into the toilets, leaving the bad man guarding us outside. A quick scout around reveals no alternative exit, nothing to write a message for help with and nothing I can use as a weapon. We use the facilities and dry our hands under the noisy dryer.

‘When we get outside Joseph,’ I whisper, ‘I’m going to distract the bad man and I want you to run as fast as you can and keep running as far as you can. Ok?’

‘But I’m scared.’ His face puckered.

I crouch down further and rest my hands on his small shoulders. ‘I know you are, but I need you to be a big brave boy and run really fast and get away and get help. Can you do that for me?’

Joseph nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘Good boy.’ I splash cold water on my face and quickly wipe my hands on my jeans. I take Joseph’s hand and open the door to the toilets. I look down at the bad man’s boots, I don’t want to look him in the eyes in case he can read what I’m going to do.

We start to walk forwards, the bad man behind me, the people in the shop are still oblivious to us. The couple who were making their coffees are now sat on a table just to the right of me. The young man glimpses me in the corner of his eye. My heart feels like it’s going to explode in my chest. Now or never. Without hesitating I snatch the paper cup of hot coffee from the table and twist round, throwing it into the bad man’s face. I hit my target full on. He cries out. I let go of Joseph’s hand and push him away.

‘Run Joseph, run!’

He runs.

The coffee couple are frozen, open mouthed and wide eyed. I am about to shout for help when I am thrown by the head into a shelving unit. I am on the floor amongst boxes of breakfast cereals, stunned and disorientated, when the bad man looms over me.

‘You have blood on your hands.’ He pulls the gun out from his waistband.

I close my eyes in readiness for the shot. I hear the shot but fling my eyes back open, it’s not me that’s been shot. Another shot follows. The coffee couple are now on the floor. Motionless. Her eyes are open and looking at me but there is no life in them, they are like fish eyes, glazed and unblinking. Blood pools out from her head and ebbs across the cream floor tiles towards me. A stream of coffee runs alongside the blood then merges as one river. The river has almost reached me now, transporting a rogue raft-like cornflake with it. I am transfixed with watching these fluids until another shot slaps me back to the present. Then another. Four shots. That’s everyone who was in here. No shot for Joseph, he’s got away.

I listen intently to pinpoint where the bad man is. Complete silence. I wait. I don’t know how long I’ve waited for. I gingerly stand up and look over the top of the shelving stands, knees slightly bent, ready to drop down before a shot is fired at me. The bad man is not here. I know he will be back though. I frantically route around for a weapon. I can find nothing sharp or pointy or heavy enough to inflict serious damage. Armed with just a plastic spoon from the coffee self service area I head to the door.

I can see the car we arrived in still parked up. He must be waiting for me outside. Making my way back to the till area I find the shop assistant on his back, a hole in the centre of his head. His eyes stare at the polystyrene tiles above him. I crouch down and prise his phone out of his hand, almost expecting him to turn his head and look at me. Standing back up, I have dialled two nine’s when I hear a noise behind me. I spin around in time to see the gun handle heading towards my face at speed. It connects with an almighty force, blackness descends and my plastic spoon bounces gently to the floor.

*

I’m in the boot of the car again. The familiar hum of the engine and my cramped position tells me this. There is only my breathing though. No whimpering or crying. Joseph escaped. There is more room in here without him but there are plastic bags next to me, I can feel them and hear them rustle as I move and the bad man has put me facing inwards this time. I release my arm from underneath me and cautiously reach out. Definitely plastic bags, there are two. I feel the first one, it feels like cuts of meat. The top of the bag is tied in a knot. I move my hands, as much as I can, to the second bag. Again it feels like joints of meat. The top of the bag is not tied up. The car corners a bit fast and something thuds out onto my leg.

‘Shit.’ I fumble about to retrieve the beef or pork or whatever meat has landed on me. I feel a hand. A small hand. Joseph’s hand.

I scream and my head bangs on the lid of the car boot as my body tries desperately to recoil away from Joseph’s severed hand reaching out to me. I vomit over myself. My chest squeezes tight, I am clammy with a cold heat engulfing my whole body. I pass out of reality, relief drapes over me like a dark curtain.

*

I am awake. I am not in the car. I am sat on a wooden chair, tied with rope and I am naked. I am in an empty room that looks like a warehouse or garage. It is bright, a single lightbulb hanging from a cable is above me.  I try to move but I can’t. There is movement behind me. And buzzing. I can hear buzzing. Like bees. Footsteps get louder and the bad man appears from behind me. He stands in front of me and smiles with one side of his mouth.

‘I’m going to have fun with you.’ He walks back behind me and I hear the dragging of a large object. And the buzzing gets louder.

I see the object as he drags it in front of me. A beehive.

‘We’re going to play a game. If you can get stung one hundred times without flinching or making a noise, then I’m going to let you go.’

He stares at me, expressionless. I’m not even self-conscious about being naked anymore. My thoughts are just on those bees. I don’t think I can get stung without crying out or moving. Can a person even survive one hundred bee stings? My mouth has gone so dry. He moves the bee hive closer to me. The noise vibrates through me.

‘If you do make a noise or move then that’s game over. I win. And if I win I will sew the bees into you. I will put them into your mouth and sew your lips together. I will put them into your ears and sew your ears up, I will put them under your eyelids and sew your eyelids shut. Everywhere I can insert them I will and I will sew them all inside of you.’ He smiled his half smile again and slowly put on some thick black gloves.

Opening up the hive the bad man plucks a bee out and replaces the lid. He steps closer to me. My breathing is rapid and my pulse thunders in my ears. I’m praying for blackness. It doesn’t come.

‘Where shall we start? An easy one on your arm I think.’ The bad man places the bee he is holding between his gloved fingers onto my upper arm and squeezes.

The bee stabs me with its sting. I clench my teeth. I scream silently inside my head.

The bad man discards the used bee on the floor and plucks another from the hive. ‘Number two.’ He studies my body. ‘Lip next I think. Bee sting lips are all the rage I believe.’ His face has come alive.

Bee number two approaches my lips. Its loud buzzing alone near my face is making me want to duck away. But I don’t. He squeezes the bee. It spears my lip. Silent screaming commences. Bee two is tossed to the ground. My lip throbs. He goes in for bee three.

‘You’re braver than I thought.’ He studies my body again. Mischief dances across his face. ‘Eyelid.’ The sacrificial bee buzzes towards my eye. ‘Close your eyes.’

I close my eyes. I grit my teeth. I brace my stomach muscles to keep me still. The bee stings my eyelid. The pain is immense. My head moves. I open my eyes. My eyelid is swelling and my eye is watering. The bad man is shaking his head.

‘Game over. I win.’

He stares manically at me. I think he wants me to say something, maybe beg him to let me go. I won’t give him that satisfaction. I know he won’t let me go.

He walks to the side of me and crouches down, he whispers in my ear. ‘I’ll just go and get my sewing kit.’

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BOOK MAKER

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Michael fiddled with the button on his cardigan as he gazed out of the shop window into the narrow dusty alleyway. The few Denke Street traders were packing up for the day. Old Mrs Sampson had already closed and gone home, her vegetables long sold and bubbling away on customers’ stoves right now. Shivi yawned as he pulled the shutter down on his jewellers, Mr Bergen locked the door to his barbers and nodded his head at Michael, smiling briefly before turning and walking away. Mrs Klum hoisted up the awning over the cheese emporium while her daughter Freda smiled and waved at Michael. He half waved back, a hint of a smile flickered across his face as he retreated back from the window into the shadows of the shop.

Mother and daughter bustled away, Freda glancing over her shoulder toward Michaels’ direction, while winding her blonde ringlets absentmindedly around her fingers. Michael was about to turn away when the figure of a man came distantly into view. Dressed in a long billowing overcoat, topped with a fur hat with stray ear flaps, appearing to breathe smoke in the dusk autumn light, Michael recognised Mr Ingle. The dragon man.

As Mr Ingle grew larger Michael’s father entered the shop from the back workshop, wiping his hands on a tattered cloth. ‘Has everyone gone home Michael?’

‘Yes Papa.’ Michael turned to his father. ‘The Dra.., Mr Ingle is coming up the street.’

‘Ah, good. Go upstairs and wash up for supper, I won’t be long.’

Michael disappeared through the back door, closing it behind him as he always did when after-hours customers called. Before letting the latch slide into place he spied his father remove a wooden box from one of the cupboards and place it on the gleaming walnut counter. Michael knew that the wooden boxes were for the special books requested by the after-hours customers.

The regular books that were sold in the shop had hand stretched leather covers, binding together the palest of yellow parchment. Michael loved the comforting smell of leather and paper. He would watch for hours in silence as his father crafted the covers from pig or calf skin, whistling as he worked. The special books had soft leather pages as well as the leather covers, Michael’s father made those at night while Michael slept. But Michael always sought them out in their hiding cupboard to marvel at the workmanship.

The bell of the door jangled sharply as Mr Ingles entered. He looked directly to the crack in the door and through to Michael’s bones. Michael’s father turned his head, following Mr Ingles’ stare. Michael quickly closed the door.

‘No one else knows about my book Mr Jacobs?’ Mr Ingles said.

‘No, no.’ Mr Jacobs moved around the counter and locked the shop door, pulling the blind down before resuming his position behind the counter. ‘Just you and I.’ He slid the wooden box slightly towards Mr Ingles and removed the lid, placing it carefully on the counter. He gestured with open hands. ‘Your book.’

The stern expression dissolved from Mr Ingles and a greedy smile replaced it. His eyes devoured the book before he slowly reached in and picked it up. He held it to his face and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes as he exhaled. He then reopened his eyes and traced his fat fingers over the blank leather pages before placing the book back in the box and replacing the lid. Still smiling.

‘Excellent job Mr Jacobs.’

Mr Jacobs bowed his head a little, the light above him illuminating his new bald patch as he did. ‘Thank you.’

Mr Ingles removed a sealed brown envelope from inside his coat pocket and placed it on the counter. ‘As we agreed.’

‘Thank you. It was a pleasure.’ Mr Jacobs slid the envelope into his apron pocket and moved across to the door simultaneously with Mr Ingles.

‘Goodbye Mr Jacobs.’

‘Good night Sir.’ Mr Jacobs locked the door. ‘Come out Michael, I know you are still there.’

The door to the back slowly opened and Michael stepped into the shop. ‘I’m sorry Papa.’

His father sighed, then smiled. ‘That’s ok, it’s time I showed you the special orders. You’re a young man now. You’ll take over one day and need to know everything.’ He unlocked a display cabinet and took down an ornate carved leather book, placing it on the counter. ‘Here, come closer.’

Michael creaked across the floorboards.

His father fanned his hands out in a magician-like gesture. ‘Go ahead, touch, look.’

Michael gently let his fingertips trail over the embossed detailing on the cover, he opened the book and felt the silken texture of the blank pages, they felt comforting to him and as he turned the pages he rubbed them lightly between his fingers, like a child with the edge of a much loved blanket.

‘That Michael, is a special book. Our clients that order these are totally secret and expect privacy at all times. There is no paperwork, no records. You agree a price, in person, ask the details, remember it all, don’t write it down, and give them a date to come and collect.’

Michael continued to stroke the pages. ‘What details? What details do I need to ask and remember?’

‘Details such as where the carcass for the leather will be collected from, if we need to kill or are we just collecting. There will be a price difference of course for either options.’

‘So we don’t use Gwil’s butchers as usual then?’ Michael frowned slightly.

‘No son.’ Mr Jacobs smiled. ‘Specials are special due to what they are made from. Mr Ingles’ book was made from his wife.’

‘Made for?’

‘No, made from.’

Michael drew his hand back away from the book and took a couple of deep breaths. ‘Human leather?’ He stared at his father.

His father stared back. ‘Yes. Sometimes people don’t want to just bury their loved ones, alone and deep underground, they like to keep them closer by. On a bookshelf, on a table, by the bed. It’s the same way we use pig and calf, but with the specials we use all of the skin to make the pages too.’

‘You said ‘if we need to kill’. If peoples loved ones have died… I don’t understand.’ Michael ran his hands through his hair and then started to fiddle with his cardigan button again.

Mr Jacobs shrugged. ‘Sometimes someone wants a book made and the person they want to use hasn’t died yet. If they are too squeamish to do it themselves then I do it, for a much higher charge.’

The button fiddling stopped. ‘You murder people?’

‘I kill them humanely, just like the pigs and calves. It’s no different really. You use the captive bolt pistol into the head, then slit the throat to bleed out quickly before the stun wears off. I’ve only had two specials not bleed out and die before the stun wore off. I just stunned again. There was only a second or two of consciousness. I am a professional.’

‘I, I don’t, I can’t…’ Michael steadied himself on the counter with his trembling hands.

‘Of course you can my boy, it just takes time. That’s why we will start now. Build you up. It’s actually quite relaxing, watching someone die in front of you. Sometimes I even hold their hands, and more.’

Michael pushed his hair out of his eyes once more, the clammy sweat fixing it to the side.

Mr Jacobs laughed. ‘Don’t worry, you can work with me on the next one before doing your first solo one. You want your first one to be precious, memorable. And you want it to look exquisite, not shoddy.’ He cocked his head slightly to side. ‘I see the way you look at the young lady opposite. She would make a good first book. Soft pure pages.’

Michael stared down at the book on the counter. His face blank but his eyes tumultuously trying to process the unprocessable.

‘That is my first book. Beautiful isn’t it.’ The pride was clear in Mr Jacobs’ voice.

Michael continued to stare at the book. ‘Yes.’

After a small suffocating silence Mr Jacobs took off his apron. ‘It’s getting late, supper will be over cooked.’ He patted Michael on the shoulder as he walked past, heading towards the back. ‘Lock your Mother back up in the display cabinet and let’s go eat. I’m famished.’