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For those of you following Demon Haunted Boy, thanks! But I must interrupt your regular viewing for this broadcast: I’m leaving for Vietnam in the near future, and so on top of continuing my latest novel, I’m creating a backlog of DHB so you won’t be deprived of Will’s latest adventures while I’m gone. Until then, enjoy this thing I wrote for Reddit’s Nosleep thread…

This story was brought to you by Absinthe – the preferred drink of mad men and women all over the world.

 I Drink to Still the Demons

My psychiatrist tells me in his stilted voice that I must have something in my past, in my preconscious childhood. He refuses to delve deeper, and gives me no explanation, which is fine by me. I don’t want to know any more than he does.

The drink, like everything else in my life, is a ritual, as predictable as the sun rising in my bedroom window the next morning, burning me with maddening heat. It begins with a shot glass, an expensive crystal piece I bought in Russia, I don’t remember when. I set the glass down on the desk and take my favourite bottle of absinthe from the cupboard – Green Fairy – and place it beside the glass. Then I write in this journal. I never read back over previous pages. I believe that the past is dead and gone and not worth dwelling over, and so I turn over a fresh page and write on clean paper. The bottle sits untouched, the beautiful green liquid drawing my gaze, until I’ve finished at least one page. Then finally, I fill the glass and stare at it, hypnotised, for several minutes.

At last, I drink. It tastes like liquorice flavoured fire.

That one shot is all I have, and I go to sleep shortly afterward, just as the pleasant buzz is settling into my brain.

That was the drink; now here are the demons.

There are two of them, and they appear to me at random times during the day, without warning. The first demon looks just like a man, and yet at the same time is so monstrous that the sight of him makes me want to run in the opposite direction until you collapse from exhaustion. The only reason I don’t is that I know he would follow me, striding with legs as thick as tree trunks, each pace longer than several of mine. He stands and watches, a seven foot beast with rank hair the colour and smell of garbage hanging over his grinning face, leaning back as if to survey me. His arms – strong enough to choke a gorilla, dangle by his sides, and he holds a wicked blade in his right hand. It’s the blade that gets to me the most, because I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life. It has the sterile sharpness of a surgeon’s tool, but I can’t imagine what practical function it could serve: it curves away from the handle in three different directions, hooking and curling and twisting. Capable of delicate work… but what work, I dread to think.

He knows. It’s in his grin. I can never move an inch when I see him, and only when my eyes begin to sting and I blink does he vanish.

The other demon is me. Or at least, he looks like me, if I’d spent the night in the sewer. His hair – my hair – has grey streaks in it, wild and torn out in places. His face is dirt streaked, and his clothes look and smell as though he’s been panic-sweating into them for weeks. He is more terrifying than the other demon, because of what he tells me, in my own shaking voice. This world is not real, he says. Stop taking the drink, and you’ll see: This World Is Not Real. He takes me by the shoulders and shakes me, staring desperately into my face, and then vanishes abruptly.

My psychiatrist comforts me, saying that the fact I know the demons are hallucinations is very promising. He’s missing the point, and I don’t bother to correct him, because I suspect he’s no more able to help me than I am to help myself. The point is that there was never any doubt in my mind that the demons aren’t real – what I’m not so sure about is whether or not Demon number two is telling the truth. After all, why would I lie to myself?

*

The thing is…

The thing is I keep noticing things.

It’s been a week now since I saw the demons, and now and again I have a moment of relief, when I think it’s all over and I can get on with my life. And then the coffee cup won’t be where I put it down a second ago. I sit down on my couch with the paper and put the steaming cup on the glass table beside me. I read the paper for a minute or two to let it cool, but when I reach for it, it’s gone.

Why is it I can’t go around to places in my neighbourhood I’ve never been before? I go on a walk, take a turn up Wightman. I never take a turn up Wightman – never. I always do the same route around the block when I’m walking. But just yesterday I decided to take the turn up Wightman. And a minute or so along I started recognizing houses, and I realized I’m not on Wightman at all, I’m on Richmond, the route I always take.

I’m starting to feel like a rat on a treadmill. The rat runs faster and faster, but he can’t get free – the only way to do that is to stop running and step off. I have to step off.

*

This morning, the second demon wrenched me from my bed. He was right in my face, shaking me, screaming at me. Wake Up! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Jesus, I was so scared I wet the bed. I haven’t done that since I was a child, but I couldn’t help myself, seeing those familiar features twisted with insanity, the terror in his screams. I’m shaking, even now.

Tonight, I will not drink the absinth. My psychiatrist says it’s a good idea. It’ll do wonders for my health, he says.

*

The sunlight pierces me soon after dawn and I roll over the side of the bed in agony. I feel like I’ve crossed the Sahara desert naked, pale skin exposed to the African sun for days, my tongue thick and dry. The light struck my left eye so badly I haven’t regained the sight in it yet.

I call in sick to work, and Terry, my boss, takes it in his stride. His voice is almost relieved, as if to say: oh, thank God, you’re human. I haven’t called in sick once since I started there three years ago, or done anything outside of punch the clock exactly on time and do everything asked of me to the letter and not an inch more. When I think of it, I’ve lived the same day without variation for all those years. Never a fresh face, never so much as a skipped meal. I didn’t visit family. Never once did I stay up late, or have drinks with a colleague. I try to think back to the last conversation I had. Did they tell me anything I didn’t already know?

*

The pain is worse the second day. I crawl from my bedroom, teeth gritted, and pull myself down the hall. I have to call an ambulance, but I left my phone in the lounge downstairs.

Why does my house look so different? Everything is made of concrete instead of wood and carpet. My windows have thick bars across them, and the sunlight that comes through has a distinctly artificial hue – like the fluorescent lights in a hospital. My body is different, too: my skin is raw and bruised, and with each breath I take I wince from a pain in my chest, as though half my ribs are broken. How did this happen?

I drag myself down the stairs, gasping, and collapse at the bottom, paralysed for a minute. When I regain my senses I roll over and look down at myself, and discover the reason I’ve been crawling: both of my legs are severed at the shin. Stained trousers that I don’t recognize are tied off neatly at the stumps.

I scream.

*

I must have died at some point, because when I next wake up I am in hell.

I’m lying spread eagled on a stone slab, arms stretched taut by chains that have rubbed my wrists bloody. I’m already screaming when I come to my senses, because the first demon is leaning over me, his enormous mouth leering with pleasure and breathing his reek into my face.

He is working on me with his special knife, the one with curves and hooks I was so curious about before. I’m not curious now. He draws the blades across my flesh almost gently, with the flourish of an artist with his brush as he makes the final touches. The wounds he makes are shallow, superfluous, and excruciating. He takes his time.

He unchains me before he leaves, but I’m so drained I don’t move from my position, and simply stare, drooling, at a grey wall. Once the pain dulls to a bee sting hum, I allow myself to drift away.

*

It takes me another hour to make it off the slab, and when I hit the ground, fresh waves of nausea roll over me. I grit my teeth and lie down on the cold floor until the urge passes. Then I drag myself into the far corner, beside a cracked toilet. I take the room, and with each passing second it grows more familiar to me – more so even than my comfortable home and my well-lit white wallpapered office. While I went about my day, walking around the neighbourhood, lying down in my soft bed at night – this place was there all along.

This is my real home: a cell, perhaps twice as large as the average prison cell. The floor is covered with brown and black stains and scratch marks, and everything smells strongly of raw meat and excrement. A bedsheet is rolled up in one corner, and I read bloody letters on the fabric. Funny, I always wondered, writing in my journal, why the pen ran out of ink so frequently.

When I look down at myself, I begin to weep, even though I know what will be there before I see it. My emaciated body is so covered in scar tissue, blood and sweat that I can’t recognize it. My stumps are not halfway down the shin as I’d initially thought, but at the knee, and there are no trousers to hide the stumps. I put my hands up to my face and feel features that are just as mutilated as the rest of me: I was drooling earlier because I’m missing at least half of my teeth, and my gums hurt to touch. I have a beard and matted hair, and my nose has been broken at some point, though it doesn’t hurt, now. I try to touch my left eye and my fingertips, moving beyond where my pupil should have been, touch something tender in my socket. That is when I break.

I curl up on the floor and weep tears of despair. I don’t even know where I am, or who has done this to me, or why. I try to recall a true memory and arrive at a vision of friend’s face – his name comes to mind like a welcome breeze: Miles Neiman. He’s grinning, and he says: ‘It’s gonna be a good trip, Matt. Stop stressing, it’s about time you got out of the rat race for two weeks.’

That’s all I have, but just beneath the surface is a whole life lived, thirty – no thirty three years. I don’t know how long it will take to come back for me, and the more I strain my memory the more I despair that I’ll ever find out how I’ve got to this dark place, and who I’ve left behind.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…’ A dry sound comes from nearby, and I’m crying so loud I don’t hear it at first. I have to wipe my eyes and prop myself up against the wall, sniffling, to listen. It sounds again, and this time I recognize it as a human voice.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh… Yesssss. You’ve stopped taking your medicine, haven’t you?’ The voice is coming from somewhere beyond my cell door. I crawl over to it, wiping snot from my nose and gasping as the cuts along my chest reopen from the movement. When I arrive, I see a small plain shot glass sitting beside the cell door.

‘Can you see me?’ The voice enquires. I peer through the bars into a narrow hallway. The walls and floor are all made of dusty concrete, and although the ceiling is lined with fluorescent lights, at the moment only one is lit, and it barely reaches me. The voice is coming from a gloomy cell opposite. A man stands inside, two wide eyes gleaming in a silhouette. I’m almost jealous of him, until I look closer and see that he is standing on his right leg, and holding the bars with his left arm: his other limbs are missing. He smiles at me, and his teeth are in about the same condition as mine. He has a deeply lined face and shoulder length grey hair. ‘There you go,’ he says. ‘I’m so glad you’re awake.’

‘Where am I?’ I’m shocked at the sound of my own voice – it is the voice of a broken man: soft and scratchy; helpless.

‘Back in the real world. You are embracing the truth at last, instead of the lie you’ve been living for three years.’

‘Oh, God. Three years.’ So I had never moved house, never got the new job. They were all hallucinations of comfort and sedation my mind had conjured up to keep me happy.

‘It’s a long time to be asleep. I took the drink for a full year.’

‘Who are you?’

‘Me? My name is… Life.’

‘Life?’ I say.

‘Yes. You wanted to know who I was before, though, didn’t you? Before, I was George. A banker. Rich, comfortable, content. Too much fat around my belly, too little going on,’ he tapped the side of his head with enough force to bruise himself, ‘in here. Now I’m alive. I feel everything, I taste everything, even the gruel that he brings. I still have power. Look!’

I watch while he lowers himself into a squat on his leg, keeping perfect balance all the while, and then rises up again. ‘I grow as strong as the food allows me – and he doesn’t skimp on gruel, no he doesn’t!’ He chuckles.

I am afraid to ask, but I do. ‘Who is he?’

‘Aaaaaaaahhhh. Our Nemesis. Our Captor. Our Sworn Enemy. Let me tell you about him. I have been studying him for all my stay here, and over the course of my attempted escapes, I’ve learned much. If I die, you may have to continue my mission, so listen closely, my young apprentice.’

He leans in to the bars, pressing his dirty face right up against them so that his eyes bug out, his pupils contracting to small points against the harsh hallway light.

‘He calls himself Master, but I always call him Slave. He doesn’t like that at all. The first time I did it, he cut off my arm. The second time, he took my leg, but I kept doing it, and he wanted to keep me alive for as long as he could. That was my first victory over him. The first step to proving who is really the Master.’ He laughs again, and winks at me.

‘He is a slave to his pleasure, you see. He’s a sadist in the purest sense, unable to live a normal life. He’s driven by a desire to control, and as a result he will never experience anything else life has to offer. That is a shame, because he is an incredibly intelligent man – a genius, even – and in prime physical shape besides. He could do and be anything anyone could want, and yet he chooses instead to live in a rundown house, pouring his savings into this elaborate basement: this obsession of his.

‘And it is an obsession, oh yes. I have personally met two men and two women, in your cell and the cells just adjacent to yours, and besides them I can see two more cell doors on your side of the hallway, and I believe there must be four doors I that I can’t see on my side. I estimate that he’s ended the lives of at least thirty people over the last four years, but it’s impossible to know. I can’t communicate with any of them, because they always take the drink. You’re the first to refuse it for two years. Congratulations.’

I stare at him in horror. He grins back. Insanity.

‘But what… There must be some way we can escape? I’m not taking the drink – I can help you.’ He nods eagerly, as though he’s been waiting for me to say this. My heart lifts. There is hope.

‘Yes. I have made many attempts over the years. I have learned two things. The first is that it is impossible for us to leave this place. The second is that our freedom lies within easy reach – inside ourselves. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that brilliant? Our salvation has been within our hands all this time. We have only to accept the truth.’

I close my eyes and swallow. Please, I beg a God I do not believe in, please tell me he has real plans to get out of this place. But before he can speak another word, a door cranks open and heavy steps sound in the hallway.

*

Two days go by.

When he slides the gruel through the tiny slot beneath the door, I eat it ravenously: tasteless grey mash. When he gives me the glass full of green liquid, I empty it into the toilet before temptation overtakes me. Each time, Life claps his hands and grins at me with his ten remaining teeth.

Three times a day, the footsteps thump down the hall. Twice, food slides through the slots at the bottom of our doors, the lukewarm sludge that Life seems to relish so much. Once a day, someone gets the knife.

I say once a day, but I don’t know, because the ones who take the drink don’t scream. Life tells me there is someone in the cell beside mine, which he can see into. A young woman, he tells me. Missing her ears, nose, tongue and arms. She takes the drink every day, he says, for two years, and on the days the footsteps stop in front of that cell and I hear the door creak open, I never hear a peep. Who knows where she is, while he does what he wants to do with her.

Life guides me, in some ways. He shows me how I could dig at the crack in the corner of my concrete cell, and cover my progress by tossing the bundle of sheets in the corner. ‘Who knows?’ he says. ‘If you can make it through the wall, perhaps you can crawl to safety. Devote your life to that crack, and you might well escape.’

And I do, I dig and dig and dig, with my fingernails, then with shards of harder concrete that broke off during my excavation. The Demon is not thorough in his visits. He is here only to satisfy a need. I can’t dig on the days he chooses me – I can only shudder in the corner and weep, while Life urges me to continue.

*

Life fights every time, but it seems only to delight the ‘Master’. Nevertheless, over the past two weeks I’ve never seen someone fight so furiously against an opponent who so obviously outmatches him, even if he were given all his limbs. Master spends longer with him than with anyone.

*

I am losing my mind. Yesterday, after a month of digging the crack, until it had gotten deep  enough that I could feel soil with the tips of my fingers, and wide enough that I could fit my head inside the cavity, He found it and moved me to another cell.

Life told me that would be the first of many times it would happen. The he laughed madly, and shouted at the top of his lungs: ‘NOT FOREVER! NOT FOR ALL OF US!’

I noticed the lock of my new cell was rusty, and I scraped a piece of the wall away and started chipping away at the rust.

*

Life died yesterday.

I heard him, I heard when the blade cut deeper than skin and his screams turned from pitch to gurgle. Four years, he fought. Four years. He died screaming my name.

At this point, I’ve chipped almost half of my ancient padlock to dust. My body is a mess, but I have all of my limbs. I chip, I chip away at the lock. Footsteps come thumping down the hall, louder than usual. He is angry, and tonight is my turn.

*

It was a pleasant day, today. I don’t seem to get many of those anymore. Old age has brought me much pain. As a youngster watching an old man hobble across a street, I never guessed the agony he would feel just to move the way I always took for granted. But on the other side of the coin, small things give me a pleasure they never could previously.

A hot cup of tea, a good meal, and a long sleep is enough to keep me happy. My routines bring contentment: my morning coffee, my office job, my nightly walk under the starry sky. My life may be plain, boring, mediocre – but it’s a good life. I tell people I drink to still the demons, and they just laugh, because what demons could a man like me have?

My psychiatrist tells me in his stilted voice that I must have something in my past, in my preconscious childhood. He refuses to delve deeper, and gives me no explanation, which is fine by me. I don’t want to know any more than he does.

The drink, like everything else in my life, is a ritual, nothing more, nothing less.

 

 

Dunno really how this story came about, except that I’ve been watching a lot of American Horror Story and I wanted to try and capture the creepy, disjointed mood you get in the intro to the episodes. The idea itself is actually pretty run of the mill, and I’ve done similar ones before, but I’m a solid believer in the old ‘it ain’t the story, it’s how you tell it,’ directive. Hope you enjoy!

Call to the Dark

Ben Pienaar

 

It was his first abduction, and he had to admit he was nervous.

In retrospect, everything had gone perfectly, even though all of his plans had been rendered pointless in an instant by that miracle, unheard of in this day and age, of a little girl wandering alone. He’d seen the opportunity, taken it in one swift minute, and there hadn’t been a single eyewitness. The Crimestoppers ad concerning her had only mentioned that she’d last been seen skipping class at school and heading home, and that her usual route was being searched. The presenter was urging anyone with information to come forward when Derek turned off the live news stream on his laptop.

So after weeks of planning and sweating, it had gone without a hitch. Only now he was like the dog that caught the car: what the hell did he do with her?

He had ideas, of course. He wouldn’t have gone to all that effort if he didn’t have thoughts. He wasn’t a sicko or anything, all of that disgusting stuff was off the table. He just wanted to hurt her a little. And she hadn’t seen his face yet, so he could always let her go afterward. It wouldn’t even matter if she could lead them back to this place – it was just a rundown old house he’d been lucky to find. And the moment this was all done he was flying back across the pacific. Even if they somehow managed to catch him, he’d only be up for a few years of hard time. Not murder or paedophilia or anything like that.

But that was half the problem. He’d been so careful, coming all this way, going to all this effort – only now that he had her did he realise the true value of the situation. It would be years before he could contrive this situation again. So how could he make use of it? How could he suck every last bit of joy from this whole experience?

He sat on a moth eaten couch and stared at one of the boarded up windows. He lit a cigarette with a shaking hand and tried to think.

 

Connie didn’t like this house, and it had only a little to do with the man who’d brought her here – a stinking, pasty white man with yellow eyes and fumbling fingers. Lying here, tied spread eagle on a bed with rotten mattress that smelled faintly of urine, she had her first chance to get her bearings.

It was a basement with a tiny window directly above her, yellow afternoon light streaming down from above. If she craned her neck she could see the stairs leading down from the ground floor, but not much else. A broken bulb hung from the ceiling.

The first sign that something about the house was wrong was that the darkness moved. Even in her panic when he first dragged her inside, gagged and struggling, she’d noticed this in some peripheral part of her mind and it came back to her now, confirming her suspicions: The darkness moved.

It was physical. This basement was quite large, but even so the light from the little window should have been more than enough to reveal every corner of the place. Yet she couldn’t see more than a meter or so further than the edge of her bed: there, the darkness loomed like an ill-defined wall. Upstairs, she’d seen similar things: an open cupboard which was pitch black even though there was enough daylight in the house by which to see; a space behind the couch in the living room that was similarly impenetrable.

And she heard things. Voices, so distant it was as if they called to her across oceans.

Connie remembered that the man had given her a prick in the neck when he abducted her. Whatever he’d given her had made her body relax, flooded her with a kind of benign weakness, but maybe there was more to it. Was she hallucinating? It must have been working, because she’d been thinking about the shadows all this time instead of trying to escape. She hadn’t even struggled against the ropes he’d cinched around her wrists and ankles. She thought she could fit through the window if she could only get free long enough to open it.

Instead of trying, she turned her head and stared into the darkness, so close beside her, wondering if her eyes would grow accustomed to it. Maybe then she’d be able to see what dim shapes moved there, or from what recess the voices came.

 

Derek mixed a fresh batch in a milk bottle using the chemicals from the back of his car, which he lined up on the dirty sink. It was a lot, but then he wasn’t sure how long he was going to be here. Every time he set a limit for himself he daydreamed and the next thing he knew, he’d stretched it. One day only. But maybe he could make it last two, or three, or a week. He could keep her alive that long if he paced himself.

She didn’t seem afraid when he descended the concrete steps into the basement, deliberately moving slowly and taking heavy steps. It was all part of the routine he’d set up in his mind – the way she’d scream and struggle and plead every time she heard his big steps thundering towards her. Fee Fi Fo Fum. Screw her. He’d make her afraid. The chemicals would help with that.

She didn’t even look at him as he stopped at the foot of her bed, staring instead into the pitch black basement. Why was it so dark in here, anyway? This whole house was full of odd angles that manipulated things in the corner of his eyes all the time. He kept getting the creepy feeling that there were things moving around him that stopped when he looked at them. Never mind. He could always burn it down after. In fact, that would be the best way to get rid of any evidence.

‘They want me to do things,’ she said in a small voice.

‘Oh, you’ll do things, little girl. You’ll scream.’ He was speaking in his horror voice, a deep rasp he’d taken from the latest batman movies. It went well with the mask he wore, a

 

Version of the Donnie Darko evil rabbit mask he’d found online. It had terrified even him; he couldn’t imagine what it would do to a small girl who was tied to the bed and awaiting pain. He felt a thrill ripple through him at the thought of the fear he inspired, and when the girl finally looked at him and recoiled against her bonds, the thrill became bright excitement. A taste of what was to come.

‘You will drink this,’ he said in his rasp, and went to her bedside. He pinched her nose shut with one hand and, when she finally opened her mouth to take a breath, he tipped the milk bottle over her mouth and poured until she choked on it. He left her spluttering and took the bottle back upstairs. He waited for a few minutes before he returned, letting the drugs work.

Once again, she was staring into the dark, but now she had a slightly gazed look. She’d be physically weaker and uncoordinated, and her mind would be slow, but she’d be perfectly capable of feeling all the pain he was going to inflict on her. And she could scream. That was important.

This time, he didn’t say anything, only stood beside her bed and waited for her eyes to focus on him. They did, but it took so long that he felt awkward. He was considering saying something in his voice when she finally looked up, first at him, and then at the sharp knife he held in his right hand.

And there it was: the delicious terror, the widening eyes and quivering mouth; the welling tears. He could feel her quick heartbeats as though they were his own. When he lowered the knife to her bare shin, the beats quickened, his own breathing as fast as hers, and her whimper as the metal touched her flesh sent shivers up his spine.

The scream was even better.

 

Connie thought she was going to die, sure that each time he cut her he’d push the blade deep into her and twist it. She screamed as much for fear as for the actual pain, and when the man finally stepped back to observe his finished work and then miraculously just left her, she broke down with tears of relief.

The voices came to her again when he was gone, and soon she stopped crying and tried to listen. Some of the things they were telling her gave her hope, even though she knew they were bad voices. She knew that because they wanted her to do bad things, and they wanted to join in. They wanted to be inside her when she did them.

Let us in, they whispered.

Don’t let him do this to you, another said, running its cold finger along one of the cuts he’d made in her leg.

It will feel so good, said another.

She could make out some of their forms, now and again, but only in the corners of her eyes. They would be there, clear as day, even in the darkness, and then her eye would flick over to that corner of the room and there would be nothing there. She didn’t like what she saw at all. Yes, they were definitely bad things. They had big teeth, much bigger than the ones on the man’s mask. Some had claws and some had spider’s eyes and some were insane.

But she was so scared, and they were not.

They knew what to do.

 

When he came back, he noticed she’d loosened both of the nooses around her wrists, to the point where they’d almost slipped off. That was bad. He tightened them until they cut into her skin and then forced her to drink more from his milk bottle. He couldn’t risk her getting free – not in a house as unsecured as this.

She moaned and said gibberish things to him, and he laughed in a cold voice, feeling the power he had over her fill him up like fine wine. He was having fun alright, even more than he’d anticipated, and he’d dreamed about this moment for months. It was only the second session, and he planned to have another one before night. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. He laughed again and she cried.

He cut her shirt to threads and focussed on her torso this time, always small cuts – he was only just beginning after all, but deep enough. She was so young, she’d never experienced pain like this before in her life, and it was all because of him. Sometimes when she begged him to stop, he did, and other times he did not, and the power was in his hands. Imagine if I just kept going, he thought more than once with a burst of excitement so strong he broke out in a sweat. What if I went all the way?

            He managed to pace himself, but he left her sticky with blood and already half mad with the pain. He wondered if he could break her mind. Something to think about, anyway.

He went back upstairs and stood in the badly lit living room, smiling at nothing.

The thing came at him out of nowhere, a vast shadow, an eight foot tall monster that rose from behind the couch and lunged for him. He cried out and lashed with his knife even as he fell backwards, his feet slipping on the hardwood. It cut nothing but air and as he landed he saw that there was nothing there. Christ, but he’d seen it! He was sure he had.

He sat there for a few shocked minutes and let his breathing steady. It was just nerves. He got up and went into the kitchen, where he’d left his laptop. He sat at a table so rotted the wood was soft to touch, and surfed the internet mindlessly, looking for things of interest or games to play, nothing stimulating, just to calm himself.

When dinner time came, he went to a drive thru McDonalds. No danger there, either. He somehow couldn’t imagine the bored girl in the window speaking to a cop later. ‘Yes officer, I remember exactly, out of the hundred customers I had there was a regular looking guy who got a big mac.’ No – she’d forgotten him even before she took the next order.

 

He returned and locked the door, savouring the way his heavy steps echoed through the house. He imagined the girl flinching with every sound. ‘Honeyyyy, I’m home!’ he said in a sing song voice. Already the thoughts of what he might do tonight made his stomach churn with anticipation. He forced them away for now in case they stole his appetite. He needed all the food he could get for the coming days. He had a small bag of white pills that were going to give him all the energy he needed to run far away.

He’d take one as soon as she was dead.

No, no, you’re not going to kill her, remember? She still hasn’t seen your face.

Of course, of course.

He paused halfway through his burger, something twigging in his mind that something was wrong. He chewed the last bite slowly and then held his breath, listening. Silence. That was it. When he left, he’d been able to hear her moans and whimpers from up here, and even when she wasn’t making sounds deliberately he’d heard the bedframe creak every time she moved. Now there was nothing at all.

He stood up quickly, his stomach flipping over and threatening to send the burger back the way it came. She’d escaped. And for how long? Perhaps the sirens would sound at any moment. But she was drugged – and he’d barely been gone twenty minutes. Surely it would be hours before they could get her name out of her, let alone a location.

You’re panicking. Stop it.

            He lifted his knife from the kitchen sink, only at this moment realising how foolish he’d been not to take it with him while she was gone. Imagine if she’d taken it and ambushed him? Still, the fact that it was still there, and that the front door had been closed, gave him hope. Dried blood flaked off the dull metal.

He paused again halfway down the stairway, just when he could make out the foot of the bed, and the darkness. Everything was so quiet. He decided to scare her, if she was there – sleeping perhaps, and in a booming voice he chanted as he came down the stairs. ‘Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum…’

And stopped, now two steps from the bottom, staring at the bed. The ropes he’d tied so snugly were severed, cleanly cut at all four points. The second thing he noticed was that the small window just above the bed was still tightly closed, and unbroken. So where had –

A small, high voice sang out from the dark to his right. A pretty voice, in any other context, the kind that might even one day grow to be a real talent, finishing his rhyme for him: ‘I smell the blood of an En – glish man…’

He came the rest of the way down and stood facing that second dark half of the room from which the voice had come. He knew he should feel relieved: that she was still here, that she was cornered, that she was still heavily drugged from the sound of it. But for some reason his gut was still churning, and no longer in a pleasant way. He opened his eyes wider, trying to see into the dark, but it was impenetrable despite the last golden rays of sunlight coming in through the window.

The girl didn’t show herself, nor sing again. He wanted badly to leave and fetch a flashlight from his car, but who knew where she’d be by then. He had to get her back on the bed as soon as possible. Glancing back at the reddened sheets, he saw a trail of blood drops and barefoot smears on the cement floor. It led straight into the dark.

‘Little girl,’ he said slowly, forgetting his rasp and realising as he spoke that he wasn’t wearing his mask, either. ‘If you come to me now, I’ll let you live. If you try to escape, I’ll make sure you die. Slowly.’

He waited, but there was only silence. Then he took a step forward and thought he heard something, a school girl giggle, hand to the mouth and eyes twinkling with mischief. She’d lost her sanity. He had succeeded in breaking her after all, because if that wasn’t the sound of a broken mind, he didn’t know what was.

He came forward one more step, watching his peripheral vision in case she tried to slip past him. She didn’t so much as shuffle her feet, though, and when he moved even further into the dark he found he could see something, after all: a pale white form not far from him, almost luminescent in the dark.

It occurred to him that she shouldn’t be standing at all. Besides the hundred or so cuts he’d laid out across her upper and lower body, he had finished their last session together by severing her Achilles tendons. At the time he’d been almost feverish with excitement, but he remembered doing it distinctly. Yet there she was, standing before him.

She was whispering something in a low voice and he found himself listening for the words intently. Was he going insane, also? Was he hallucinating all of this, just like the shadow that had attacked him upstairs? Nothing seemed to make sense to him. The words she sang were disjointed, the tune erratic but strangely beautiful.

‘Don’t fear the night. Don’t fear the night.

            Taste the blood and feel the heart.

            Lick it clean, make it cry.

            Yours to die, yours to die.’ A lullaby sung by a child to give an adult nightmares. She had lost it, and the sooner he had her on the ground or under it, the better. This was getting too much for him.

As the last word echoed around the basement, he lunged for her, aiming the point of the blade at her lower abdomen. At least then he’d be able to make her death last, like he’d promised himself.

The pale form blurred and his blade hit nothing. He took a giant step to avoid falling head over heels and then spun around, waving the knife blindly. ‘Fuck!’

At first he thought she’d made a bolt for the stairs, but then he blinked and she was there, coming straight for him with unnatural speed. He sliced for her head and missed. She collided with his midsection head first, winding him and pushing him backwards into the concrete wall. The knife fell from his limp hand on impact and he heard it clatter to the floor somewhere to his right. That was fine – he’d be able to grab her from behind as she went for it.

But she didn’t go for the knife, nor did she take advantage of his state to make a break for it. Instead, he heard something tear as she ripped at his crotch with sharp fingernails, her head pushing against his hips like a battering ram. He rained blows on her upper back, expecting such a small girl to collapse immediately, but she didn’t so much as cry out. There was another rip, and then a sensation of hot breath on his balls a moment before she bit. The pain didn’t come then, just a pinching around the base of his genitals, followed by a tugging sensation. The two of them stumbled a couple of steps away from the wall. He screamed, but only in surprise. What was happening?

She pulled away and he felt a surge of satisfaction as one of his panicked blows caught her on the side of her head and her teeth cracked behind the force of it. He heard her rolling over the floor nearby, but couldn’t see her. He turned that way and heard her quick feet scrabbling up and then backward, not running, just putting distance between them.

He took one step before the first wave of pain struck him and he dropped to one knee on the hard floor, both hands dropping to the suddenly very wet place between his legs. He felt shreds of his pants and something soft that didn’t feel like anything he recognized. It was impossible to tell how much damage she’d done – the agony was so all consuming that it was numbing. He didn’t know whether she’d torn his ball sack or bitten it off completely.

He turned and crawled toward the place he’d heard the knife fall, moving awkwardly with one hand pressing on his wound, his eyes wide in the dark, grunting like a pig with each movement, still in a state of total shock. What’s happening what’s happening what’s… his mind ran on blandly, his free hand scrabbling for the weapon that didn’t seem to be anywhere.

His whole body was shaking, and he felt another wave of pain so strong he vomited his big mac across the floor and then collapsed, pools of black swirling into the darkness in front of him.

 

He was unconscious, he didn’t know for how long. He had a minute or so of lucidity, his eyes opening to focus, unblinking, on the pale silhouette of the girl standing nearby, her stance lopsided because her hobbled feet were at right angles to the concrete. There was nothing but the sound of breathing.

And of chewing. He could hear her chewing something, her teeth grinding rhythmically.

 

A few seconds (minutes?) later there were small hands around his ankle and he was being dragged along the wet ground, the smell of blood and vomit thick in his nostrils. He was bathed in cold sweat and his whole body felt weak. Was he dreaming? There was no way to know what was going on, or where he was. Too much pain.

 

He rolled over on a bed and found his arms and legs tied tightly to the posts. Where was he? The room was utterly dark, though he could make out a small square window somewhere above him backlit by moonlight. It wasn’t enough to penetrate this place. He couldn’t feel his genitals, only a burning so hot it made him groan aloud.

‘Oh, God. Help me.’ His voice was weak and raspy. Where was she now? He strained his ears for sirens, certain he must have been lying here long enough for her to get help by now. She would have tied him up and gone straight to the nearest police station. It was only a matter of time before the police come and, please god, the ambulances…

But he heard no sirens: only a little schoolgirl’s giggle from the foot of his bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?’

 ‘What?’

 ‘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.

   e sHekajdfs

 

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