This one started off on a bizarre premise and then, halfway through, turned into something else entirely. Reading back over it, it almost looks like two separate stories, haphazardly melted together. Both of the characters in this are disturbed in their own ways, so don’t be too quick to pick sides… Enjoy
I’ve Seen the Ghost
By Ben Pienaar
She made a few mistakes that would have been innocent enough if he hadn’t already picked her out. As it stood, they would cost her dearly. She took the bus home, which was bad, and she got off a stop early to walk off the burger and fries she’d had for lunch, which was worse.
He got ahead and waited at a payphone nearby, with his back to her and his eyes on his watch. He was an exact man, and he didn’t make many mistakes. Not that there were many to make: she was a woman of routine, and like all of his victims, she would become a victim of it, too.
Her routine was flexible in some ways, but not all. Every morning, she took one of the bottled waters from her fridge and kept it unopened, until after her lunch break. Usually the salt from the fries left her thirsty and she’d drink the whole bottle in ten minutes, which meant she’d finished it at about one forty. It was now six twenty, and she was starting to stumble.
She hadn’t felt sick all day, but suddenly her stomach wasn’t agreeing with her, and her mouth was numb. This was important in case she tried to call for help. He waited for her to pass him and then put the phone down. She’d stopped near the alley and put her arm out for balance. It rested on the trunk of an old brown car that looked like it had seen too many years. His car.
He saw her sinking slowly to her knees and stepped up in time to catch her before she hit the ground. He eased her into the back, giving the area a quick check before he closed the door and got into the driver’s seat. The whole thing lasted about eight seconds. He’d set up a place close, but not too close. A fifteen minute drive out of the city, then into the parking lot of a factory scheduled for demolition. He dragged her into an empty office on the ground floor, where he’d left all the other equipment.
She was going to wake up in about ten minutes, maybe more if he’d miscalculated her weight. But then, he was careful as well as exact, and within five minutes her hands were tied to one of the exposed rafters overhead and she was half standing in the corner of the room. He took another moment to blindfold her thoroughly, padding, duct taping, and then tying a cloth around her head.
She began to wake, shifting uncomfortably in her position, her feet looking for purchase and finding it uncertainly on the rough carpet. She groaned. He ran off the check list in his mind: black clothes, gloves, tools? Check. Bag for disposal and place to dispose? Check. Woman immobilised? Check. It was time to have some fun.
‘Hello, Miss Hopkins,’ he said, adding an unnatural rasp in his voice. He’d seen in done in the new batman films and thought it would be perfect for him, too. It served to both inspire fear and disguise his voice. ‘How are you today?’
‘Wha?’ She was still struggling to keep her position, her knees shaking. She was still groggy, probably hadn’t quite realised her situation yet. Her hands were straining against the binds and confusion began to register. He went to the old wooden table opposite her and sorted through his tools, excitement building. He wondered if she’d scream loud, or plead with him. At length, he picked up thin, curved blade that could cut through flesh like butter.
‘Where am I? What’s… What’s going on?’ Her voice was harsh with fear, and he saw a light sweat on her brow, hidden by the long dark hair.
‘Well, let’s analyse the facts, shall we? You are a woman of science, aren’t you?’
She didn’t respond, but he noticed she’d stopped struggling and was standing up straighter. Terrified, but composed. That, he didn’t like so much – but never mind, they always screamed in the end.
‘You are restrained and heavily blindfolded in an isolated location. You are a woman between the ages of nineteen and thirty. Your kidnapper is speaking in an obscured voice, and sounds relatively intelligent… If I do say so myself.’ He chuckled. ‘You were taken on your way home from work, after nightfall. Does any of this ring a bell?’
She stared in the direction of his voice, her face blank with shock. ‘Holy shit,’ she said. ‘You’re him? You’re the Ghost?’
‘Yes, that’s right. Though I wish they’d come up with something better. Ah well,’ he waved a hand dismissively. ‘Media.’
Bizarrely, she began to laugh, tentatively at first, and then hysterically. She shook in her bondage, letting out shrieks of laughter, and when it died down at last she looked almost sick with herself. She stared blindly at the ground, suddenly deep in concentration.
He watched all of this patiently, not knowing whether to be annoyed or amused, and when she was done he leaned forward and cut a line straight down her suit top, severing the buttons so it fell open but no touching her skin. She gasped, but otherwise gave no reaction.
‘What was the meaning of that outburst?’ he asked, honestly curious.
‘I… I guess I’m just relieved.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Well, you never kill, do you?’
‘Not yet. I fashion myself as more of a catch and release kind of person. Murder is messy, after all.’
‘Exactly. Besides, it’s all about causing pain for you, right, Mr. Ghost? You wouldn’t murder unless it was necessary. So no matter how bad this gets, I’ll still end up alive.’
He nodded to himself, a small smile playing across his lips. ‘You do seem to understand me very well, Miss Hopkins, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised considering your profession… But I think you’re dismissing the pain a little too easily.’
She looked slightly worried at those words, and seemed on the brink of saying something, but a second before it reached her lips she shut them and shook her head. ‘You won’t believe until you see,’ she said, and at that cryptic remark, fell silent.
He was certainly curious now, but above all else he was frustrated. Small electric pulses of anticipation set his hairs on end and had him licking his lips. To hell with this, he thought –time to play the game.
He usually liked to start slow, but not tonight. He lashed out with the blade and cut a neat crescent out of her shoulder. She didn’t make a sound, but her head flicked up to look at him and she said, quite calmly: ‘you just cut me, didn’t you?’
Irritated, he sliced again, and this time he made it a long one, from her left breast down to her right hip. That one was deeper, too, and blood descended from the gash like a red curtain.
‘Oh, that was big. I think I might faint.’
He stared at her for a moment, but all he could see in her face was a kind of nervous fear, like someone waiting for a root canal, an unpleasant but necessary ordeal, to be over. Usually, they were desperately pleading with him by now, or at least screaming at the top of their lungs in agony.
‘What game are you playing, bitch?’ he said, and this time that rasp in his voice came naturally. ‘You think you can take away my joy by clamming up? Like you could possibly keep your mouth shut for ten minutes under this blade? Have you even seen some of my victims?’
She nodded, and he saw with some satisfaction a sickly expression on her face. ‘I know all that. It’s just… You don’t know about my condition, do you?’
‘Of course, you’d never have picked me if you knew about it,’ she went on. ‘It’s a genetic disorder called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain. I’ve had it since I was born.’
He said nothing, and the silence hung over them like death. Her voice beginning to shake from fear, she hurried on. ‘I have to check myself for injuries daily, head to toe. When I was a kid I used to hurt myself all the time and the wounds would get infected because I didn’t know –’
‘Stop.’ He said. She closed her mouth, and the look on her face was almost apologetic.
Slowly, quietly, he sank into a crouch in front of her and rested the point of his knife in the flesh of her thigh. He applied pressure and watched the point disappear under her skin and pierce the tissue beneath. He looked up at her face.
‘Why are you biting your lip?’ he said.
‘The blade… it’s so cold,’ she said.
He drew it out and felt the base of it, which hadn’t entered her yet. It was cold.
He stood up and threw it into the corner of the room with wild fury, and then let out a stream of the vilest curse words he knew at the top of his lungs. ‘What the fuck are the odds of that? What the fuck are the odds?’
She cringed away from him. ‘I don’t know, like, I don’t know, one in a million or something. It’s really rare. I’m sorry.’
‘NO! Fuck that. You’re sorry. Bullshit! You better scream or you’ll be my first murder, you understand? Scream like you’re dying or believe me, that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.’
With that, he ran to the table, picked up a pair of scissors and turned on her. The Ghost was an angry man tonight, that he was, but he was also a careful man, and though he tore her skin and sliced her in his rage, he kept away from the arteries.
She screamed alright, but in her fear she overdid it, or at times forgot and then underdid it, and even when it seemed right it was still horrible, wrong, unsatisfying, because he knew it was all a lie. At last, he threw down the scissors roared in pure fury.
And then, a split second later, it was all gone. He looked at her hanging there, bleeding in a few places, terrified but also sickeningly, frustratingly, without pain. He looked at the floor and shook his head, before going over to equipment table and picking up a syringe. He pushed the plunger and flicked the needle. There wasn’t much in there – this mixture was of a very different order to the one he’d given her earlier that day. When he jabbed it into her neck, she didn’t react, but she was out in less than a minute, and in two he’d cut her down and taken off the blindfold.
In twenty, the place was wiped clean of any trace of him, and in twenty five, he was gone.
Jenna Hopkins woke up after about half an hour and realised she could see again. The Ghost had left the light on and the fluorescents stung her shrinking pupils. That was the first of the pain to return to her, and the least of it. As it came, she crawled to one corner of the room and stayed there until she’d accounted for all of it and found she could take it, after all.
Waves of it rolled over her and then settled into a dull ache. His cuts were numerous but shallow. Still, those last screams had been genuine, and she was sure he’d have known it if only he hadn’t already believed her lie. Oh, but it was close. The scream she’d turned into a gasp, the neutral face she kept while she squirmed with agony beneath the surface, each moment a hair’s breadth away from betraying herself. If she had, she’d surely have ended up like his other victims, alive but torn beyond recognition.
There was something else, too: She knew his voice. In his moments of rage he’d screamed in his true voice, and she heard not only his tone but the slightest Dutch accent.
The pain was becoming background noise now, except that hideous throbbing where he’d pierced her thigh… And how she’d wanted to scream then! Her mind had gone blank in that moment, but her face had remained a mask. She wiped the tears from her eyes and stared around the room, not looking for anything in particular and not missing anything, either.
She found what she was looking for without even moving from her little corner, because it wasn’t in the room at all but on her. She remembered him screaming at her, feeling something wet land on her right foot, and there it was still, diminished but far from evaporated. His rotten saliva. She stood carefully and, supporting herself on her good leg, dragged the other along the floor, being careful not to let any of it slide off her skin.
He’d left her bag undisturbed just outside the office door, and before tying her to the rafters he’d taken off her reading glasses and folded them neatly on top of it. She didn’t put them on now, but took the lenses from the frames. She scooped up as much saliva as she could on one and then pressed the other on top, like a blood slide.
DNA and a Dutch accent. Was there anything else? She had to think now, while the
memories still burned fresh in her mind. She slid down in the doorway again to ease the pain in her leg. She closed her eyes and thought, long and hard, the lenses held tight in her hand. Yes, there was a smell, too. A faint cologne. She didn’t know the name, but she’d smelled it before and it wouldn’t take long to find it again. Like wood and almonds, very distinctive – and expensive, too; few people would be able to afford such a thing. Then there was his breath. He’d come very close to her at one point, and she’d felt his breath on her neck. She was tall for a woman, but he must be short for a man, somewhere between five seven and five nine.
She thought of these things for some time, and almost swore she could see him in her mind’s eye. A small, quiet man, probably well presented and conservative. By his voice she’d put him no older than forty and no younger than twenty five. The profiler studying the case had already filled in the other basics, but these details would narrow the search immensely. Then there was the saliva. It wasn’t quite as much as she’d been hoping for, but it was more than enough to go on.
Clothes torn, covered in dried blood and shaking from cold and shock, Jenna Hopkins smiled to herself. She was mad – sure she knew she was mad in her own way, but look where it had gotten her. Look who it had gotten her!
She got to her feet and picked up her purse, before staggering for the exit. Her stride, uncertain and pained at first, grew steadier as she went. She’d been expecting worse, after seeing the previous victims, but those same pictures had given her the strength she needed. The press wouldn’t need to hear any of that, of course, or that she’d been aware of him days before he attacked – not of who he was, but of his presence. They needed to see her as the sharp witted victim, not a woman obsessed to the point of madness as she really was. Not that she thought and planned and that she’d perfectly predicted his reaction to her ‘condition’. Who was going to believe it, anyway? No one would buy that book.
She made it out of the factory and stumbled out towards the road, where someone would see her covered in blood and pale with shock, and take her to the hospital. She’d be mad at first, almost babbling with fear, and that wouldn’t be hard at all after what she’d just been through. She wouldn’t remember a thing at first, except the importance of the lenses. Then the other details would slowly come to her, and she’d tell her story reluctantly, embarrassed. Let the media talk of her bravery and clear thought under pressure – her own modesty would only serve to make it more plausible.
She hit the road and her face became a mask of blank terror. She made sure to lean too much on her bad leg once in a while to make her slip a bit and wince. The good Samaritan would be interviewed extensively as well, so it was important to look as traumatized and wounded as possible.
In ten seconds a car skidded to a stop beside her and a man got out. He stared at her for a moment, unable to believe what he was seeing, and then he rushed forward with his arms outstretched. She stumbled again and let him catch her, at which point she broke down into tears which were, to her credit, mostly real.
‘Jesus lady, what happened to you?’
‘The Ghost,’ she said, her voice weak with terror. ‘I’ve Seen the Ghost.’ She wouldn’t remember this later, but when it was retold to her she would nod, looking thoughtful and a little disturbed, and it would eventually become the title of her tell all novel.
She let her full weight rest on him as her body gave out, but she made sure she kept a solid grip on the lenses in her right hand. The man laid her down gently and called for help, even as he took a mobile from his pocket and dialled an ambulance.
Not long now, she thought. Not long now.