thriller

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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.

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.’

A Dangerous Lady

Published October 14, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I knew she was trouble the moment my eyes groped her in The Horseshoe Saloon. She was sat at the bar, her long legs twisting around the bar stool like a boa constrictor squeezing its prey. A lucky red velvet dress caressed her in envious places. Her skin was the colour of milk, full fat, and I wanted to test my lactose intolerance. Liquorice spiraled hair cascaded down her back and as I positioned myself next to her I could smell the aroma of bergamot and marzipan.

She glanced my way as I ordered a bourbon, drink not biscuit, a flutter of her emerald eyes enticed me out to sea without my water-wings. I didn’t see the sharks swimming around us, I was too distracted by her chest, bobbing in front of me like a life raft, I wanted to cling on and float away to heaven. I should have walked away right then and there, but I didn’t, those sticky red lips pouted and stuck my feet to the floor like lead bubblegum.

She asked the barman for a pen, her voice like smoky syrup, and wrote a number on a crisp white napkin, instructing me to call her. Sliding off the stool she sashayed away, her curvaceous bottom swaying like The Golden Gate Bridge in high winds. I followed. How could I not. I was a fool.

I know I’m a fool as I am now looking at her body. Her perfect dead body. She’s still a little warm, like a hot water bottle at 2am. I shot her in the heart, I couldn’t bear to disfigure that face. That face with blood red lips that lured the sharks, and sucked me in too. How could I compete for her affection, I was too far out of my depth. I should’ve walked away, I couldn’t.

Blood pools around her and feels like sticky molasses on my fingers. I hold her close to me, clinging on to my life raft. The gun is cold in my mouth, and the metal clinks at my teeth like ice in a glass as I place it in position. I don’t know if we’re going anywhere after this, all I know is that I can’t live with her, nor can I live without her. I should’ve walked away at the bar, but I’m a fool who fell for a dangerous lady.

 

CHAMELEON

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

 

‘Argh! Jesus fucking Christ Jemma!’ Carl screamed. ‘What was that!?’

‘That, my love, was me injecting air into your vein, sixty millilitres of it to be precise and you have approximately fifteen minutes left before you die.’

‘What!?’

‘The air bubble will work its way up your body and when it fills the chambers of your heart it will cause a cardiac arrest.’ Jemma slid the silky black blindfold from Carl’s eyes, smiling sweetly as he blinked in defiance of the light. ‘A post mortem will reveal just that, a plain old boring heart attack, brought on by an energetic afternoon of sex and alcohol,’ she continued smiling at him, ‘a lot of men would think that was a good way to die.’

Carl attempted to move his arms and legs but he was still securely handcuffed and tied to all four iron bedposts with Jemma straddled across him. ‘Is this part of the game? Jem?’

‘No silly, I’m not playing games now, this is real and your time is ticking. Tick tock.’ She tossed the empty syringe to the side of the bed and ran her hands through her hair.

‘I don’t understand?’

‘I know you don’t, that was my plan. If you’d understood you wouldn’t have been so easy to manipulate. I’ve had an unfair advantage, like playing chess with a monkey, and now its checkmate to me.’

‘You’re not making sense.’ Carl tried to move his arms again. ‘C’mon Jem, unlock these. I love you.’

Jemma leaned forward and kissed Carl’s forehead gently. ‘I know you do baby, I made that happen. But I don’t love you, I just pretended to.’ Her smile dropped, leaving behind bitter cold eyes boring into him.

‘For eight months?!’

‘Yes, for eight months. I’ve hated you for eight months. And loathed you for longer.’ Jemma reached over to the bedside table. Sipping champagne from the glass her breasts in their cream lace cups lingered teasingly over Carl’s face. She felt his body respond below her and she sat back, adjusting herself against his naked sweaty flesh. ‘So predictable.’

He bit on his lip, struggling to reverse his primitive reaction. ‘You never loved me?’

‘No. Now baby you need to be thinking quicker than this to work out why I’m murdering you. I’d like to see the realisation on your face when you do, that would be an extra thrill for me, but your death is the end goal of my project. Tick tock.’ The icy eyed smile manically returned.

Carl squirmed and the metal circling his wrists cut in causing him to recoil into the bed. Jemma steadied herself with her hands on his chest. She smirked at him. ‘Steady there bucking bronco, you know, I’m actually getting turned on knowing that you are about to die. Up ‘til now I’ve had to fake every moan and groan that I made when you touched me. I wanted to vomit and scrub myself with bleach after having sex with you…’

‘But you were…’

‘Lubricant. If you cast your tiny mind back to every time we’ve had sex you’ll remember I always excused myself first to “freshen up”. What I really meant by that was that I had to prepare myself with lubricant because the thought of you touching me made me as dry as the Sahara.’

‘Didn’t know I was screwing a psycho,’ Carl’s confused face morphed into anger, ‘you’ll get locked up for this.’

‘I won’t get locked up silly, everything has been planned. A post mortem won’t show up anything other than a tragic accident of nature. A tragic accident that happens in about,’ Jemma glanced at the clock on the wall, ‘ten minutes.’ She pursed her lips and blew him a kiss, ‘tick tock.’

‘What about where you injected me you stupid bitch?’ Carl sneered.

‘Oh, you mean the injection hole in your arm? The same one where you gave blood from this morning?’ Jemma fluttered her eye lashes and spoke in a high husky voice, ‘Oh Carl, there’s a blood bank outside Asda, you could be a hero and donate, and then I could reward my hero with fun and naughty games.’ She focused sharply into his eyes and dropped her voice back down, ‘I think those were my words to you. A rattle of handcuffs and your brain sank to your dick. Sadly predictable, again, but simple for me to work with.’

Carl’s sneer had gone. ‘You fucking bitch.’

‘Yes, I suppose I am. I’m going to take that as a compliment.’

‘Why do you want me dead Jemma? What have I done to you?’

‘You ruined my life. So now I’m taking yours,’ she pressed herself down, her lips just millimetres from Carl’s, ‘and my name is not Jemma.’ She winked and stretched across for the champagne bottle. ‘We’ve drunk it all. Oh, there’s a little left.’ Holding the bottle above him she poured the last drops onto his mouth, arched down and licked his bottom lip provocatively.

‘What the fuck?!’ Carl wrenched his head away from her, ‘you’re crazy! Who are you?’

Jemma laughed. ‘I’m totally sane. And I created Jemma just for you, you should be flattered really.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I know. Poor baby. I’ll tell you more. Do you think we have time to open another bottle? Shall I risk it? Yes I think I will. This is definitely a celebration moment.’ Jemma dismounted Carl and sashayed out of the bedroom in her patent stilettos. For a brief moment Carl’s eyes strayed from her heels to her suspenders and bare bottom before she disappeared from view. He frantically tried to sit up, twisting his legs but they were firmly tied with rope and his wrists were not going to slip free of the handcuffs. Lying back despondently Carl shut his eyes.

His mind drifted back to when he first met her. Eight months ago, a hot August day, he was wilting, selling flowers on his stall when Jemma breezed by to buy some. She was as fresh as a daisy, smooth blonde hair perfectly in place, a thin blue dress that hinted enticingly at her not so hidden underwear, bright blue mesmerising eyes, red stilettos and a killer smile. That smile. She bought yellow roses to celebrate moving into her new flat, which happened to be just around the corner from his, he asked her out for a drink to celebrate properly, ‘can’t have a celebration without a bit of bubbly’ he’d said. How could she have played him when he was the one who chased and caught her?

The pop of a champagne cork shocked him back to the present. Jemma emerged back into the bedroom with the bottle fizzing over. She looked slightly different, he squinted at her trying to work out why.

‘Good, you’re still alive,’ she strode back over to the side of the bed, watching him study her, ‘oh, yes, I’ve taken my lenses out. No need for me to pretend I have blue eyes anymore. Quiet a relief really, they make my eyes tired and itchy.’

Carl’s voice was almost a whisper as he frowned in confusion. ‘You’ve got green eyes.’

‘Bingo. We have a winner. I’ll let you into another little secret Carl, I’m not a natural blonde. But I think you might have guessed that already.’ She gestured to her pubic hair which was on full display to him.

‘Who are you? What do you want?’

Jemma placed the bottle on the table and sighed. ‘Carl, you are wasting time, your time, not mine, I have all the time in the world but you have limited minutes to work it out.’ She sat to the side of him on the bed and stroked his hair. ‘You know what I want, I want you to die. That is going to happen. And you met me before, before I became Jemma.’

‘I’ve never seen you before, when you moved here that was the first time I saw you, I swear. Maybe you’ve mixed me up with someone else?!’ He swallowed hard and his eyes pleaded.

‘I would never get you mixed up with anyone else. I introduced you to Jemma last year but you saw the real me two years ago.’ Jemma studied Carl’s eyes as they flickered with thoughts and questions. ‘As well as my green eyes my hair was brunette and short. And I dressed quite plainly. Not a girl you would’ve looked once at.’

Carl’s breathing grew more rapid and his hair was wet with sweat. ‘I’m not feeling good. Phone an ambulance Jem. Please.’

‘If you say my real name I might phone for help.’ She poured champagne into her glass.

‘I don’t know who you are.’ Carl closed his eyes.

Jemma clenched her jaw, her cheek pulsing with rage. She downed the contents of the glass in one gulp and hurled it full force at the wall. A startled Carl reopened his eyes, he’d never seen her angry before. She scrambled back on top of him, grasping his hair tightly in fierce fists, pinning his head down savagely. She thrust her snarling face into his.

‘You do know who I am! Say it!’

Carl trembled beneath her. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Sorry for destroying my life?’

‘No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I don’t know who you are.’

Jemma’s hand released Carl’s hair and swung out and back slapping forcefully across his face. He gasped, wide eyed. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a few silent seconds and then gently placed her hand on his cheek where a red imprint was already rising up. ‘I shouldn’t have hit you. There’ll be a mark there when they do your post mortem. I’ll say I slapped you during sex because you asked me to.’ Jemma’s hands trailed lightly down Carl’s torso and she gazed at his chest lost in thought, her shoulders now rounded forward.

Carl was hesitant to interrupt her eerie trance but the ticking of the wall clock in the silence mocked him. ‘Why Jemma?’

Jemma lifted her head up. ‘Hmm? What?’

‘Why did you come to me as Jemma and not the real you?’

‘To snare you. I stalked you for months before. I followed you to pubs and bugged this flat.’

‘You bugged my flat? Is it still bugged?’

‘No. I don’t need it anymore. It served its purpose.’

‘Which was?’

‘To find out what you liked, what made you tick. I needed to be the perfect woman for you. And I was wasn’t I?’ She searched deep into his eyes for confirmation.

‘Yes. Was it all lies?’

‘Yes.’ Jemma seemed to re-inflate herself with a large nasal breath, shoulders back, simulated smile reapplied. ‘You prefer blondes with blue eyes so I dyed my hair and started wearing blue contacts. You like long hair so I grew mine. You like your girlfriends feminine and sexy so I changed my fashion choices. You love girls wearing killer heels, a challenge for me as I have always just worn flat shoes, so I had to teach myself to walk on four inch spikes. Am I correct so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘I listened to your boring chat with your boring friends, Dave and Paul have got to be the most infantile jerks ever, and discovered your favourite films, music, football etc… did you really think I watched football let alone supported the same team as you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I even learnt what you liked in bed by listening to you having sex with the random slags you brought back from the pub. Did you really think I enjoyed doing that?’ Jemma raised an eyebrow at the question but Carl just stared at her mutely. The sadistic smile spread like a stain across her face. ‘You really are so gullible. Are you ready to tell me who I am yet? You only have a couple of minutes left.’

Carl started to sob. ‘I don’t know your name. If I did I’d tell you so you’d phone the ambulance.’

‘See, you really are gullible. I won’t be phoning for an ambulance. Well, not while you’re still alive. I’ll phone when you die and do my best acting, I’ll be hysterical when I beg for help because my boyfriend has stopped breathing. They’ll talk me through CPR while the ambulance speeds towards me, I will of course convincingly pretend I’m doing it, but really I’ll be finishing off the champagne, toasting your death.’ Jemma looked across to the smashed glass on the floor. ‘I’ll have to clean that up before I phone, I don’t want anything niggling at an over-zealous policeman. That air bubble must be nearly at you heart.’

‘Just tell me who you are. Please.’ Carl wept.

‘You first saw me two years ago. Two years ago today actually. It’s an anniversary.’

Carl’s eyes dilated and fixed on to Jemma’s eyes with tortured recognition.

‘I was sat in a car, travelling home from my honeymoon. Buzz in when you know the answer by the way; that air bubble must be knocking on the chamber door. I was in the passenger seat, my husband of seven days was driving. His name was Jake. Jake Jones. Do you remember that name?’

Tears plummeted painfully down Carl’s face.

‘I thought you might. Well, I hoped you would. You do don’t you?’ Carl didn’t speak. ‘Just nod if you remember his name.’ Carl nodded. ‘Good. I assumed if you kill someone you remember their name. I’m disappointed that you don’t remember me. But after all, you weren’t even looking at us when you hit us were you? Texting on your phone the judge said. You didn’t even realise you had drifted over to the wrong side of the road as you were so busy telling a girl what you’d like to do to her later. We didn’t stand a chance the speed you were doing. I was told I was lucky that I didn’t die too. Well I did. I died that night too.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ Snot and saliva mingled with Carl’s tears.

‘Did you know I was pregnant?’

Horror swelled in Carl’s eyes.

‘I was fifteen weeks pregnant. I miscarried two weeks later. On the day I was burying my husband. You killed her too.’

Guttural sounds came from Carl, he closed his eyes but the tears still surged.

‘Do you understand now? Do you understand why I want you dead?’

Carl’s voice was barely audible. ‘Yes.’

Jemma slid off Carl’s body and retrieved her skirt and blouse from the floor. She pulled the skirt on, zipped it up quickly and started to button the blouse. ‘I’ll leave the door on the latch, someone will find you.’

Carl observed Jemma with confusion, a heaving chest and stuttering sobs. The stench of urine filled the room as the sheet below him darkened. ‘Don’t go. Please. I don’t want to die alone.’

‘You won’t.’ She fastened the last button and smoothed down her skirt. ‘I didn’t inject air into your vein. I just stuck the needle into you.’ The painted on smile had been erased from Jemma’s face, she was now expressionless and detached.

Carl’s crying had ceased, a baffled snotty mess focussed on Jemma. ‘What? I thought you wanted me dead?’

‘I do. But I’m not a killer. Like you are. I want you to suffer as much as I do every day. I will make your life a living hell. I will make you wish you were dead too. I will make you kill yourself. This is just the beginning.’ She scooped up her handbag and the syringe in one swoop from the floor and headed out the door. ‘Tick tock.’

STILL HERE

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

The rhythmic low beeping of a machine lures my consciousness from its hibernation. I can also hear what sounds like a small bellows breathing life into a small fire. I try to open my eyes to see where I am but the inky black darkness remains. I can’t even feel my eye lids attempting to open; I can’t feel anything. I try to move my arms, legs, anything I can but I have no sensation anywhere. It smells of a hospital wherever I am. That acrid clinical smell, sterile and sour.

Why am I in a hospital? How did I get here? I have no recollection of an accident or any explanation of why I would be in a hospital, I remember eating out with Michael. His sister Grace and Harry just got back from their honeymoon and we were having a post wedding celebration. We’d dined at The Maple Tree as it was Grace’s favourite – Michael thought it pretentious and over-priced with smarmy waiters but is always generous with Grace. I think he still carried the guilt of her blindness, even though he was only young at the time of the accident. Maybe I’ve gone blind? Oh don’t be stupid, people just don’t go blind for no reason, and even if they did they would still be able to move or feel something. Surely?

Grace always amazes me, some moments it’s easy to forget she’s blind as she moves with the elegance of a dancer and seems to glide effortlessly through life, enchanting all who meet her, while I’m a clumsy klutz always managing to trip over my own feet. I wish I could feel my feet now. I wish I could feel anything now. Grace certainly lives up to her name. She reminds me of a ballerina, willowy thin with wispy blonde hair always tied up in a bun. Michael has the same blonde hair, short but still wispy, and the most vivid green eyes. His eyes were what mesmerised me when we met, almost recognising each other from previous lives. The five years we’ve been together seems like a glorious lifetime and I can only remember my life before him in fuzzy detail, but my life with him is always clear and in sharp focus.

I hear a door open and the squeak of rubber soled shoes on a floor. Hello. Can you hear me? The squeaky shoes move towards me. I can hear paper moving. The door opens again and another pair of shoes enter the room to wherever I am, not so squeaky though as the first pair of feet.

‘Oh, you nearly done? Her parents are on their way up.’ My parents are here?

‘Yeah only jotting down the vitals.’

‘Anything changed?’

‘No, nothing.’ Nothing? What do you mean nothing? What’s going on?

 The squeaky shoes and the not so squeaky shoes fade out followed by the door closing. Come back, I’m here! My parents are on their way up, I must be in a hospital, I must have been in an accident, why can’t I remember and why can’t I move? I listen carefully but only the noise of the machine beeping and the bellows blowing disturbs the silence. Time drags like weighted quicksand.

The door opens, slower and more cautiously than before, a few seconds of silence and machines pass. Did I really hear the door open? A clip clop of heels accompanied by heavier solid footsteps move towards me.

‘Oh George, she looks like she’s just sleeping.’ My mother’s voice is such a wonderful sound to me even with its forlorn tone. Mum! I’m here! I can hear you! I can smell her Nina Ricci perfume. Is she kissing me or stroking my hair? I can’t feel her but a sudden waft of strong scent must mean she’s close.

A chair scrapes the floor, heavy legs on tiles, being dragged towards me. I see a blue plastic chair in my mind. Why am I seeing a blue chair? Is my brain trying to compensate for my eyes not working? I hear a faint deflating sound as someone sits close by. My Dad? Why is my Dad not speaking? The image of the chair in my head changes from blue solid plastic to green padded vinyl, morphing Dali-like in my mind, playing tricks. I picture my Mum sat in the chair, fluffy plum cardigan with deep pockets like abysses that can produce tissues, nail-files, cough sweets or mints on demand, red floral skirt and tousled uneven bob, the same shade of chestnut brown as my hair.

‘Here.’ Mum says. Yes! I’m here Mum! Can you hear me?

‘I’m alright.’ Dad says. ‘I don’t need it.’ Dad! Can you hear me?

‘It’s ok to cry,’ says Mum, ‘let it out.’

‘Don’t fuss woman, I don’t need to let anything out.’

I’ve never seen my Dad cry, I can hear him sniffing, is he crying now? Don’t cry Dad, I’m here. They sit in silence, an occasional sniff from my Dad and some throaty sobs from my Mum is their only dialogue. I float helplessly in black space, tortured by their emotions, longing to move my arms to hug them. Concentrate. Think about moving your arms and make it happen. As much as I will my arms to shift even slightly I still cannot feel them. Are they even still there?

Why is Michael not here with me too? He could comfort my parents for me. Oh God, he might be in another room injured too. If we were both in an accident. Or if Grace was in the accident too he would be in her room knowing my parents were here with me. Yes, he must be at Grace’s bedside. She’s the only blood family he has.

I try desperately to remember more details, panic is scattering my thoughts like disturbed cockroaches and my claustrophobic cocoon closes in. Think. Focus. Go back to the restaurant and remember.

I remember the desserts, key lime pie. We all had the same. Well, we nearly all did. Grace squealed when Harry told her key lime pie was on the menu as they’d had that on their wedding day in St Lucia. She insisted we all had it. Unfortunately the waiter informed us that they only had three pieces left. Grace said that she and Harry simply had to have the same, they had also done this with their starters and main courses, so I opted for the raspberry cheesecake. I remember dropping the red fruit sauce onto my pastel pink dress giving the illusion that I had been shot, and Grace apologising to me for missing out on the key lime pie as it was so divine. I remember Harry having too many tequilas and being told off by Grace for telling us rude jokes and I remember Michael taking Harry’s car keys from him and nominating himself as driver as he had only had two whiskeys.

Michael was driving, I was shotgun and Grace and Harry were in the back. Harry’s tequila’s had hit him hard in the fresh air and he had tripped on the gravel in the car park and head-butted his car. He kept saying sorry to Michael, thinking it was Michael’s car. We were winding around the country roads, no other cars, just our headlights on full beam. Harry had shouted that he was bleeding, his head was bleeding. Grace was demanding Michael drive us to a hospital, faster. Michael was telling me to get a tissue from the glove box, it was only a little cut to Harry’s head. I got a tissue and tried passing it back to Harry but he was too drunk to take it, holding his head and moaning loudly. Grace was too busy telling Michael where the nearest hospital was. I reached behind me as far as I could to Harry but my seatbelt kept jamming. I undid my seatbelt.

‘The doctors will be here soon.’ Dad says.

‘No.’ Mum says. ‘Don’t let them. Don’t let them take my little girl away from me.’

‘She’s already gone Mary.’ No Dad! I’m here! I’m still here!

My Mum’s sobs increase. Don’t cry Mum, please don’t cry, I’m here, right here. Just listen really hard and you’ll hear me.

‘It’s only the machines keeping her body working,’ says Dad, ‘you know that. They explained it.’ His voice is monotone, detached, as if he too is trapped somewhere else. No Dad, make them give me longer! I’m still here! Your little girl who used to be your best garden helper, remember? We grew the greatest tomatoes that one summer, they were so vibrantly red and perfect in shape, remember? You said it was because we grew them with love. Give anything love and it will flourish you said.

The sound of the door opening is followed by footsteps, too many for me to distinguish. A mixture of squeaks and thuds my only clue as to my executioners.

‘I’m so sorry we couldn’t do more Mr and Mrs Grant.’ Says a solemn male voice. ‘Would you like to stay here or wait in the relatives’ room?’

No, no, no! I’m still here! Please, someone hear me!

‘I want to stay here.’ Mum says. ‘I can’t leave her.’ Yes, Mum. Stay here, don’t let them turn the machines off. I just need more time. I haven’t told you how much I love you, you need to know that. When I was younger you would kiss my forehead when I was ill and tell me you’d made the germs go away as they were scared of you. I need you to do that now Mum, I need you to make these doctors go away, because I’m scared Mum, I’m scared.

‘Come on Mary,’ Dad says, ‘she’s already gone. Let’s get out of the way and leave the doctors to do what they have to do.’

A scrape of chairs and my mother’s cries are overwhelming. I don’t want to listen to this, why did my hearing have to stay with me, Mum, please don’t cry, I can’t bear this.

‘Goodbye sweet pea,’ whispers my Mum, ‘I love you so much.’ I love you so much too Mum. Don’t leave me. Mum!

‘Nurse Barter will look after you.’ Says the solemn man. ‘Linda, take Mr and Mrs Grant to the relatives’ room please.’

No! Please! I’m still here! Mum? Dad? My Mum’s guttural wailing ebbs away in the distance and I imagine my Dad’s big strong arms wrapped around her, holding her up, holding them together as they grow smaller in the corridor outside.

I can hear the click of switches and paper rustling. Is this it? Is this how it all ends? I’m not going to go with the click of a switch. I’m going to bloody well stay here until I can move my useless body again! You hear that? Can you hear me you stupid people?

‘They can’t hear you.’ Michael says. ‘Your shouting is wasted.’

‘Michael! You can hear me?’

‘Of course I can silly.’

‘I knew you would! I knew you’d hear me!’ Its ok, everything is going to be ok. ‘You need to tell them quickly, the doctors, tell them you can hear me.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘They can’t hear me either.’ He emerges from the darkness, I can see him so clearly. He is so handsome and radiating a soothing glow as he smiles at me. ‘I’ve come to meet you, we no longer belong here.’

Michael holds out his hand to me. My hand reaches out to his. I can feel his touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.’