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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.’

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.’

 

 

 

 

THE FLORIST

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

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.