/ Language: English / Genre:antique

Spare Key

Frederick Hamilton

...This was the way it always started. First he would see them and the air would thicken. Then the image of them bound. Then came the screaming and the Red Room would appear with the glittering, new meathook waiting just for them. And there in the Red Room he could play for as long as he wanted... This volume also contains the short ­stories 'The Filmmakers' & 'Writer's Block'. Review Graphic and gruesome, Hamilton's novel explores voyeurism, sexual predators, child abuse, murder, torture - things I wasn't expecting in a horror novel from Australia. It's not that they don't have horror novels Down Under. It's just that this one is so lean and mean. Spare Key is actually only 170 pages - there are two short stories, The Filmmakers and Writer's Block included (nasty little stories they are as well). But Spare Key is the eye-opener. Think if Edward Lee had a child who grew up Down Under and you might get the general idea of just how horrifying this book is - sexually explicit and violent with an ending I really didn't see coming. --Fatally Yours, September 16th, 2009 But don't be fooled. Hamilton sets out to shock and disgust, making this material limited to a tailored horror audience. The violent sexual nature of many events throughout these stories may see readers placing Spare Key in the "too nasty" basket. So what realm of disgusting and shocking are we talking here? Probably somewhere between Stephen King's darker moments and Bret Easton Ellis's least shocking, and I'm not surprised to find these two authors on Hamilton's list of influences. --[As if!], July 1st, 2009 R. Frederick Hamilton is a young writer going at it hard and heavy in a competitive market. There's a lot of promise in this, his first book. Mark the name down, Hamilton is going to be a voice to be reckoned with in the coming years. --Scary Minds, January 15th, 2010

SPARE KEY

and other stories

by

R. Frederick Hamilton

* * * * *

PUBLISHED BY

LegumeMan Books

Copyright © 2008 by R. Frederick Hamilton

Cover Photograph © 2008 by Jennifer Wilson

Design © 2008 by The Spatchcock

CONTENTS:

SPARE KEY

THE FILMMAKERS

WRITER'S BLOCK

Thanks go out to the Brothers Gunther for all their hard work. To Kat and Jen for their proofreading chops. And to the Minx for everything.

SPARE KEY

THE BRUNSWICK BULLETIN

Monday, 17 May 1982

Quick Action Saves Elderly Neighbour's Life

A local lady is today being hailed as a hero by the close-knit community of flats at 578 Albion St for her swift actions that saved the life of her elderly neighbour, Thea Toso, 76.

Nurse Jennifer Morton was returning from a late shift at work when she heard a commotion from the flat next door. What she heard was a shattering lamp as Ms Toso, who is unmarried and lives alone, suffered a major coronary at approximately 1:30 am.

After unsuccessfully trying to rouse Ms Toso, and finding the door to the premises locked, Miss Morton raced next door to her flat to retrieve the spare key Thea had entrusted to her care.

Miss Morton performed CPR on the scene and managed to revive the unconscious pensioner.

Although the paramedics who attended stated 'without a doubt she (Miss Morton) saved this woman's life,' Miss Morton is playing down the situation saying much of the credit must go to her elderly neighbour for her forward planning. 'She knew something like this might happen and was prepared for the eventuality. There wouldn't have been much I could do if we hadn't swapped spare keys.'

Despite her modesty, other residents of the flats are already pushing for her nomination in the next Community Service Awards to be held in September.

THE BRUNSWICK BULLETIN

Sunday, 21 August, 2005

Brutal Murder Rocks Community

The local community is today reeling at the news of a brutal murder that has occurred in its midst.

Police responding to a call to a block of flats in Brunswick West, at approximately 5:30 pm last night, discovered the grisly remains of Jennifer Morton, 56, in the lounge room of the two bedroom flat she owned and lived in for nearly thirty years.

Maria Horne, a concerned workmate and close friend of the decease, began to worry when Miss Morton, a nurse at the West Brunswick Aged Care Clinic, failed to show up for work. Unable to contact her by phone, Mrs Horne visited her flat at approximately 4:45 pm.

When she received no answer to her repeated knocking, she contacted Police who entered the premises with the landlord to find what has been dubbed 'a slaughterhouse'.

Although Police are not yet releasing details, in a statement, Detective Inspector Douglas Green, the lead investigator on the case, has described the crime as 'horrendous in its brutality'.

Described by her neighbours as an 'all around good person', who would, 'go out of her way to do you a favour', the stunned residents are unable to comprehend who would do this to 'such a sweet lady'.

Her next door neighbour of ten years, Kosta Tsiakis, described her as a 'gentle soul who kept to herself a lot. Loved her cats. Neve hurt no one'. He couldn't think of anyone who would hold a grudge against her. 'I don't think I've ever heard a bad word said about her'.

Police have no leads as yet while stunned neighbours struggle to cope with the tragedy that has unfurled in their midst.

APRIL 2008

DAY 1

The estate agent was beginning to look a little flustered as he struggled with the lock but Ben’s eyes weren’t on him. As the fat, balding man cursed under his breath, Ben Fowler’s attention was all focused on the shapely woman attempting to unlock the door of the next flat while juggling four overloaded bags of shopping.

He could feel his penis stirring to life at the jiggle of her buttocks as she shifted her weight and managed to lodge her key in the lock. His gaze stripped away her black skirt revealing the flesh underneath and a shortness of breath hit him as he scanned upwards, peeling the black T-shirt away to reveal the slope of her breast with just a hint of nipple visible beneath the cascade of red hair that hung over her face like a curtain.

‘You, my friend, are a godsend.’

Ben started. The image of her flesh banished in an instant as he shot a glance back at the estate agent. The man smiled toothily at him, obviously unaware of how his flop sweat glinted beneath the fluorescents that lined the stretch of brown-brick flats. He was still jiggling the key in the lock and seemed to be trying to cover his difficulty with what he no doubt thought was slick and charming small talk. Ben wasn’t impressed but kept silent. It wouldn’t do to get off on the wrong foot. Not when he was trying to start over again; start over and leave the past behind.

‘The last tenants left us in a pretty big lurch,’ the agent continued, ‘gambling debts apparently. Legged it pretty damn sprightly.’ Ben snorted before he could stop himself but the agent seemed to take it as agreement. ‘That’s what I thought. Left owing about four months…’

The agent’s voice drained away as Ben turned his gaze back to the lady. She’d managed to open her door but had paused on the threshold. Ben gaped when he saw her smiling at him and the air seemed to press in too close, thickening until it felt like he was gulping mouthfuls of sticky soup. The angular features were there. Just like what he used to look for. The hair colour was right. The eye colour too. And the figure…The figure was perfect.

As he watched he could see those luscious lips ripping open in a rictus-scream, the eyes widening with realisation and his mind jumped to the jar of pills that Slavia had given him.

Where were they? In the car still? Stuffed in the duffel bag with the other things? The other things that he still wasn’t certain why he’d retrieved from their hidey-hole. It was stupid of him to leave them there. Even if he was currently having doubts about their effectiveness. Who cared what his brother’s girlfriend had said, surely they wouldn’t have released him without proper medication. Surely not...

…Maybe he should have brought the whole bag with him… Shit, no, that wasn’t right. He was starting over. He couldn’t afford to get caught again. He’d been lucky last time. If the boyfriend had been ten minutes later…

Ben was uncomfortably aware of the full-blown erection that was tenting the front of his trousers. The smile had dropped from the lady’s face and she was now peering oddly at him. He attempted to mould his features into a smile but had no idea whether he succeeded or not; whether his muscles were obeying him. Maybe he should go and say hello? No that would just make it worse… He should really stop staring. Ben tried but he couldn’t take his eyes away. Thankfully, before even the faintest glimmer of red walls could appear in the background, the lady disappeared behind her slamming door and the air thinned again. Ben gulped it down as he peered across the weed-choked gardens that pathetically bordered the front car-parks.

‘Used to be prime rental property here but then the murder happened and suddenly no-one wanted to stay anymore.’ The agent was still focused on the lock and apparently blissfully unaware of the moment that had transpired between Ben and the lady. A fact Ben was immensely grateful for. He had to be much more careful. Dr Slavia had told him how difficult it was going to be. He’d said you have to want it to work. And he did want it to work… Didn’t he?

…But that was part of the problem wasn’t it? The fact he had to want it to work. Exactly what did that mean? Maybe Mandy had been right. Maybe the pills were nothing but placebos… No that was ridiculous; they never would have released him… Surely not…

…Of course not…

‘Only the really desperate folks stay here now…’ The estate agent looked up sharply from the lock. ‘Not that I’m saying you’re desperate or anything like that. Don’t take it the wrong way or anything.’

Ben dismissed his comment with a shake of the head that was more directed at the rapidly spreading stains that were dyeing the man’s voluminous and immaculately pressed white shirt yellow.

‘Are you having some trouble there?’ Ben coughed and muttered when he saw that the agent was expecting some sort of verbal response. His voice came out all cracked and croaky though as just briefly, flitting across the mental equivalent of his peripheral vision came a glimmer of red. It was only a hint. The briefest suggestion of a hue but it was enough to start Ben’s heart pounding. He needed his pills…

‘Nah, there’s just a bit of a knack to it you know.’ The agent paused and looked up at the rapidly darkening sky as he mopped up some of his brow-sweat with his sleeve. ‘Don’t worry,’ he continued, renewing his struggle, ‘nothing to worry about. It just sticks a little… Ah there we go.’

The agent sounded ridiculously triumphant as the tumblers clicked and the door swung open.

‘After you good sir.’

Ben took a last, lingering look at the closed door of the flat next door, focusing on the tarnished number seven screwed to its front, and then allowed the agent to usher him over the threshold.

The erection was still hot against his thigh.

* * * * *

‘As you can see, quite a bit of work has been done to fix the place up. The landlords sunk a fair wad of cash into it, getting it back up to scratch after the last tenant legged it,’ the agent called from the living room as Ben stood surveying the kitchen. Yeah right, Ben thought as he ran his finger over the bumpy laminate of the bench, his mind transforming its cool surface into the warm flesh of her body beneath his touch. He tried hard not to think of the flash of red and when he realised his touch had become a caress, he removed his hand and shook his head to clear the image. Looks more like a weekend’s work from a couple of mates.

He wished that the estate agent would just fuck off so he could take his pills. Although he’d only seen the lounge and kitchen so far, it was enough for him to know that a professional had not set foot in the flat. The revolting, lime-green walls were patchy and lumpy from shoddy plasterwork and the joins in the cornices were almost shapeless blobs, giving the impression they had melted. The paint must have been on sale because everything was lime-green: the walls, the trimmings, the doors, the light-switches. The only thing breaking it up was the off-white ceiling that sported a rather large water-stain across its middle.

Even the carpet – a deep, burgundy colour that clashed horribly with the walls – was thin and cheap-looking and, judging by the way it was lifting in the corners, poorly tacked down too.

‘Ah, admiring the kitchen I see.’ The agent poked his head around the door. ‘That oven’s brand new, so are the bench-tops.’ Although poorly fitted, the bench-tops did look new but judging by the grime encrusted on its front pane of glass, the oven had been in place for a good many years.

Why the fuck was the agent still giving him the spiel? Ben had already signed the lease back at the man’s dingy office. If anything the man’s continued rabbiting was just going to lead him to say fuck off, I don’t want it anymore. Ben rubbed at his temples as he watched the agent’s mouth flap. He’s probably just a lonely old guy. Doesn’t get much of a chance to talk to anyone. Wife’s probably dead, kids moved away, probably going home to an empty house…

No matter how much he tried to justify the man’s behaviour, Ben still wished he’d just leave him in peace. He needed time to relax. To take his pills; stop the thoughts before they could coalesce; before the glimmer of red could solidify and spread. Because the lady next door was not her. He forced the thought forward strongly, just as Slavia had taught him to. It’s not her.

‘So are you happy or what? Such a bargain too.’ The agent was now resting on the bench, balanced on the crook of one arm in a manner that suggested he was settling in for the long haul. ‘The only place you’ll find in Brunswick for under two hundred a week.’

Ben bit back his irritation and forced a smile as he thought about just abruptly punching the man. Feeling the gristle of his nose crunch beneath his fist. It was only the absurd image of the man crumbling then rebounding immediately like a bop bag, still chattering away, that stopped him. With some people it was just futile trying to stop them once they were in the swing.

‘Anyway,’ the agent made an exaggerated show of checking his chunky, plastic watch and hope bloomed in Ben’s chest. ‘I should be letting you settle in.’ He held out the keys for a moment but then gently placed them on the bench when Ben made no effort to take them.

‘I’m just so glad to finally rent this place out you know. The landlords are a nice old couple. Good people. Sort of got suckered into buying this place by another firm. Lot of bastards out there you know. Didn’t tell them the history. They had no idea how hard it would be to rent.’ The agent paused and leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘Also as a quiet aside, there was a bit of a bet back at the office. You my friend have just won me two hundred bucks. The boys thought it would be impossible to rent this place again after the last guy legged it. Been empty a couple of months now, even with the rental crisis…’

The agent beamed at Ben but then looked embarrassed when he merely stared back stone-faced.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Blathering away again. I’ll leave you to it. Just remember six-fifty a month. Cheque or money-order. None of that fancy bank-transfer stuff. Just drop it into the office.’

Ben nodded and gratefully trailed the agent to the door. It doesn’t matter, I won’t be here in a month anyway. The thought formed automatically and Ben had to remind himself that it wouldn’t be like that this time. That he would be settling down. Looking for work. He wouldn’t need to be gone this time, he thought as he watched the agent waddling down the driveway past the flickering light outside number three.

He tried his best not to glance at the strip of light visible through the chink in the curtains next door but his eyes drifted to it of their own accord.

* * * * *

Sam Tramontano glanced back over his shoulder as he shuffled across the road towards his immaculately polished Kingswood. The guilt was heavy in his stomach, making him feel all gassy and bloated. He knew his indigestion would be acting up again tonight.

Shit, almost spilt the beans a couple of times there, he thought as he unlocked the door and heaved himself into the seat. And maybe I should have…

Yeah but then what? He’d probably want to go to the police or at the very least not want to stay there anymore and he really needed his commission on this one. Not to mention that extra two hundred. He needed to get that fucking bookie off his back. The smug prick was sending final demand letters and Christ, friggin’ Maria had almost got the last one.

And then the landlords would find out too. Sam shook his head as he slotted the key into the ignition. It was just lucky he’d got there first. Got to scope it out a little. Had a chance to clean up before they’d dropped by.

As he started the engine, Sam tried hard to convince himself he’d done the right thing but didn’t quite succeed. Shit, what could he have done, huh? He needed the money and the landlords would have just freaked out. Besides, he didn’t really know what had happened to the last tenant. The man was a fucking nutcase and with that friggin’ ridiculous get-up he used to go around in… There could have been any number of explanations for the stains. Guy was probably holding some sort of satanic rituals in there or some shit.

Despite his justifications, as he shifted into gear and pulled away from the curb, Sam still couldn’t help feeling guilty. Maybe he should have said something. Given the new guy a heads-up. The guy had seemed nice enough, a little spacey maybe, didn’t say much, but still…

…Fuck it. What could he do? He needed the money.

Nothing will go wrong, he assured himself as he pulled away into the night.

* * * * *

It took two trips to his beat-up Magna for Ben to move in. After pulling into the car park out the front, Ben made one trip to retrieve the inflatable lilo from the boot and a second to remove the two duffel bags from the back seat.

Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he couldn’t resist a peek on the last trip as he passed the chink in his neighbour’s curtain. He didn’t dare linger though and his glimpse revealed nothing more than a tantalising swath of colour. He needed to check things out first. Make sure she didn’t have a boyfriend like the last one. No one to disturb him. He needed to…

… He needed to take his pills, he thought as the door slammed shut behind him, shocked at how easily he’d dropped back into the old thoughts and trying to suppress the doubts as they bubbled up. Of course the pills would work. He was just being stupid. What the fuck would Mandy know about medicine anyway? She was a fucking PA for fuck’s sake.

Ben dumped the bags next to the lilo on the floor and crouched beside them. Carefully, he pushed the khaki one off to the side, wedging it against the wall. He still wasn’t certain why he’d retrieved it from where he’d stashed it. It wasn’t something that he’d need in his new life. When Slavia had finally signed off on his release from the clinic and he’d stepped up to the bus stop, he certainly hadn’t intended to get it. No, he’d headed straight for his brother’s house to begin getting his life back on track.

It wasn’t until he’d overheard the argument, until he’d heard Mandy say the word placebo, that he’d found himself heading over toward the footbridge that crossed the freeway at the end of Hope St. He hadn’t known that at the time though. It wasn’t until he was clambering down the scrubby embankment and levering himself up the concrete pylon into the underside of the bridge that Ben had realised where he was going.

What seemed a lifetime ago, he used to live in a small group of flats one block across in Cumming St. The spot where it had all gone wrong for him last time, and after the boyfriend had walked in to find him looming over her, he’d sprinted away desperately searching for a place to stash his tools before the cops caught up with him.

And almost instinctively his feet had taken him to the footbridge.

It was his special place from his childhood. Back when he lived in the commission house on Albion. An almost sacred place for him. The place where he’d hole up from all the unpleasantness; hide away from the horrible rasp of her voice. The place where he could just escape it all for awhile, daydreaming as he stared at the underside of the bridge. The place where revenge had first crossed his mind. Where the Red Room had first come to him, slowly coalescing as he’d stared in frustration at the lines of cigarette scars littering the lengths of his arms like sucker marks from a tentacle.

His special, secret place that he had told no one about…

And when he’d clambered up onto the concrete ledge, just over a year from the day he’d stashed his tools, he’d just known that they would still be there. I don’t have to use them again, he clearly remembered thinking as his hand had probed around the girder and found the crack in the cement underside. It would just be… nice… to have them. And he had felt a sort of completeness when his fingers had finally found the strap and he’d dragged the bag clear. A sort of completeness that now, as he stood peering at it against the wall, seemed totally unfathomable to him.

He deliberately forced his eyes away from the bag even though his fingers were twitching to open it. To rummage through and pull out his playthings. Instead he yanked open the blue bag and removed a bottle of Southern Joy Bourbon and, after a bit of further pawing through the change of clothes inside, a small, orange, plastic vial of pills.

Ben popped the top and looked at the little pastel pink spheres inside. He only hesitated briefly before shaking two out into his hand and washing them down with a swig of bourbon. He sat back for a moment and treated himself to a cigarette from the crumpled pack in his pocket as he waited for them to take effect. Each drag, however, only seemed to lead to more doubts.

Would they work?

Of course they fucking would.

It wasn’t long before the doubts forced him to his feet, dragging back deeper and deeper on his smoke until the last half disappeared in one suck. Frustrated, he dropped the butt to the floor and ground it into the carpet with his heel. He really felt like another but forced himself to sit back down and take a swig of bourbon instead. He was down to half a pack of smokes as it was and he had to make them last. He only had the hundred bucks his brother had snuck him while Mandy wasn’t looking to tide him over – the rest of his savings had been sucked dry by the bond – and twenty of that had gone on the bottle of bourbon. Who knew how long it would take to find work? It wasn’t something he’d had to worry about before.

The alcohol helped a little and he sighed as his eyes drifted to the brittle and tattered cloth blind over the window. He saw the faint glow of the outside fluorescents around its rim and without a thought he was rummaging through his duffel bag again and removing a thick, silver roll of duct tape. The rip as he tore a strip free evoked earlier memories but the pills had made them blurry and indistinct: just the odd glimpse of flesh and the merest whisper of a strangled scream.

Had they really though?

When the curtains were all sealed shut, Ben sat back down and sighed in relief as he took a swig of his bourbon. The pills were making him feel a bit listless - see nothing to worry about - and it was a struggle to summon the effort necessary to blow up the lilo that his brother had given him, along with the cash, as a little gift to help him cope with the guilt of having kicked him out. Ben didn’t blame him though. He knew it wasn’t his fault. He could still hear her voice even through the fuzz of the pills: but he’s fucking creepy. How long is he going to stay? I don’t feel safe sleeping in my own bed…

Wil was a good guy and despite the fact Ben couldn’t understand why he’d hooked up with such a bitch, he hadn’t wanted to ruin the life his brother had built for himself. Sometimes, looking at him, Ben couldn’t help wondering about how different his own life could have been.

With another sigh, Ben leant his head against the wall and wondered once more whether he should have ever agreed to Slavia’s experimental treatment. It had led to his early release but maybe it would have been better for him to stay locked up in the psych ward. Maybe he hadn’t been ready? He’d already retrieved his tools. There had been flickers of the Red Room. Even just thinking about Mandy seemed to have lessened the effect of his medication. Things just didn’t seem quite so hazy and that scared Ben a lot because he did want this to work… Didn’t he? And then there were the thoughts he’d been having about Mandy herself… and she didn’t even really look like her.

There was a faint murmur drifting through the wall and without thinking, Ben twisted his head and pressed his ear against it. The lady’s image floated up in his mind but despite his doubts, the pills had reduced it to a misshapen blob.

The screams his mind summoned sounded more like the mewling of kittens than anything else.

Still, he found his penis rising to life again.

* * * * *

Rachel kicked the door shut behind her and dumped the groceries on the couch, sighing in relief. As she stepped over to the kitchen for a glass of water, she flexed her fingers, wincing as the circulation restarted and pins and needles prickled down her hand.

This is just getting ridiculous, she thought as she sculled down the water, leaning back against the counter. Surely it can’t take two weeks to change a fucking radiator.

Fucking rip-off merchants.

The walk from the tram stop was killing her. Although it was only fifteen minutes, after spending the whole day on her feet, bustling between tables, it was the last thing she fucking needed. And then there were the tram trips with the fucking inconsiderate fucks who just made you want to brain them for their fucking stupidity: blocking doors so you had to squeeze past them, not even caring if you were struggling with a full load of groceries. Sitting there playing their fucking ring tones to each other, the constant little bleats and bleeps, not even caring that they were slowly driving the other passengers insane…

…Okay time to calm down, Rachel thought as she sculled another glass of water and made her way over to the couch to rest her aching feet. As she threw herself down, narrowly missing squashing the bag of oranges, she deliberately forced her mind away from the indignities of the tram trip and onto the man she’d seen next door.

New neighbour… She thought as she pondered the odd look he’d been giving her. Hopefully he’ll be a little better than the last one… not that he could really be much worse. At least this one looked relatively normal. A bit dishevelled and could certainly do with a shave and a haircut but he was sort of cute, she supposed. If you were into the scruffy type. There had been holes in the knees of his pants and the jacket he’d worn could only be described as threadbare but at least it was better than the freakish get-up the last guy got around in: the leather pants and mesh shirts, showing off the ridiculous tattoos he had. The make-up he’d worn. The patently absurd eyeliner and his, clearly dyed, black hair. And then the piercings…

But his appearance hadn’t been the worst bit; Rachel liked to think she wasn’t that shallow. It was the way he glowered at you, trying to make out like he was some sort of tough guy; edgy and all that, but really just coming across as a complete and utter tosspot…

And then there was the fucking music: blaring out of the speakers at all hours, the fucking parties that went on to the early hours of the morning. As far as she’d been able to tell, he’d had no job and when she thought of the hours of sleep he’d cost her; the zombie-like days she’d spent at work; it made her blood fucking boil…

But you don’t have to worry about that now. He’s gone so there’s no point letting it get to you…

It was difficult though. It was beyond her comprehension that people living in such close proximity could be so inconsiderate of their neighbours. At least the new guy looked semi-normal, although the way he’d stared at her had been mildly disconcerting. It would be just her luck that after two months of blissful peace from next door she’d get another freak moving in.

Come on, be charitable, the voice chirped up and Rachel acquiesced. She pushed off the couch, snagged the bags of shopping and hefted them to the kitchen to put away. You only saw him for a second. Who knows, maybe he’s just shy or something?

That’s true, she admitted. At least he smiled back at her. It was better than the leering glare and cat-call she got from the last prick.

Rachel winced as she saw the mouldy remnants of last week’s vegetables in the bottom of the crisper. She knew she should really get around to cleaning it but at the moment she just couldn’t be bothered. She still had to wash her uniform, ready for tomorrow, after that fucker at table twelve had spilt soup all over her; no doubt, Maree, her bitch of a supervisor, would give her hell if there was even a hint of a stain.

Better do it now, she thought as she lobbed the fruit onto the bottom shelf instead and stacked the remaining groceries away neatly in the cupboard. Even with the thought fresh in her mind, she paused briefly to open the bottle of white wine and take a quick swig. For fortitude, she grinned even though she had been trying to cut back. She just hadn’t been able to resist the lure of all those shiny bottles when she’d stepped out of the supermarket and passed the liquor store. It didn’t really matter if she got a little tipsy anyway - it wasn’t like there would be anyone to judge her. Besides it was, and had been for a while now, her deep-seated belief that alcohol was the only thing that allowed human beings to tolerate each other in close proximity. The only thing that allowed them to overcome all the petty annoyances. It had certainly saved that bitch Maree from a slap or two. Somehow, after a nice bottle, throttling the whining tart just didn’t seem worth it.

Rachel could already feel the calming effect of the alcohol and as she headed for the washing machine - despite her recent resolution to drink less - she made a conscious decision to polish off the bottle that evening. It’s just what I need, she thought as she stripped off her skirt and lifted the stained shirt over her head, a nice night on the couch, a couple of DVD’s and a bottle of wine. Should tide me over nicely until the weekend.

As she stood in her underwear, pouring detergent into the machine, her mind drifted back to her new neighbour. He really wasn’t half-bad looking. She recalled his muscular frame and his intense blue eyes. Maybe a session with Walter would be in order as well tonight, she thought as she realised she was dwelling a little excessively on the man. Must be getting a little antsy… Well it has been three months.

DVD first though, she thought, that’ll put me in the mood.

She left the washing machine to its chugging and headed back to the kitchen for a wine glass.

The light was flashing on the answering machine as she passed on the way back to the couch and even though she doubted it would be good news, she pressed the button. When the thickly-accented, over-loud voice of the mechanic boomed out of the speaker, Rachel had to resist the urge to hurl the glass into the wall. Instead she forced herself to sip slowly at the wine as she listened to him rabbit on about how there had been yet another delay with the parts and hopefully they’d arrive tomorrow.

Great, another day of tramming it, she thought, biting back her irritation. Come on now, none of that, don’t let it ruin your evening, the voice gave its usual pep talk and Rachel determinedly picked up the DVD case and read the back. Slaughter Orgy, it proclaimed in lurid green font. It was a film she’d been wanting to see for a while and as she read the back, she had a fair idea who she’d like to see participating in the film’s antics.

Fucking mechanics, she thought as she made her way to the DVD player.

* * * * *

Ben sat on his inflated lilo, his back pressed to the wall, studying the bottle of pills as he slowly rolled it back and forth between his fingers. He knew he should take more soon but instead took another swig of his bourbon. The images were gaining clarity in his mind and he was intrigued by their slowly sharpening focus. There was a growing feeling of giddiness in his stomach; a gnawing excitement that was thickening his penis and leaving his mouth dry. The red was bleeding through the blurred edges; exhilarating as it suffused into the fog and even though he knew it was wrong, that it was how he used to be; Ben couldn’t bring himself to stop it. He just wanted to enjoy it for a moment longer. Then he’d take his pill. Maybe just until the eyes formed; until he could see that glorious look of recognition, that now it was her who was powerless in front of him. Not vice-versa. She was at his mercy and he could do what he pleased to her…

… And then the red began to seep, running through the fog and as it coalesced into shape - a hint of cornice, the vague outline of a light fitting - Ben’s breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t been here for so long; not since he’d stood over the last one and watched her breathe deeply in sleep.

The Red Room.

He felt dizzy as it crept down, the red dripping like fresh blood, spreading out to form a roof, rivulets snaking down gradually revealing walls and the figure was becoming clearer now, twisting and thrashing in its centre, its face an overlayed collage; a mesh of all their faces, all of them screaming and screaming and…

Sweat soaked Ben’s face and his cock felt like a length of hot iron along his thigh as the knocking boomed and he snapped back, starting up so he was on his feet before he even realised he was moving.

He searched his mind for it but it was gone again - had it even reappeared? It shouldn’t be possible. Slavia said it was gone forever. His great success story, that’s what he called him before he’d signed him out. His greatest success story…

The knocking continued, the beats forming a vaguely familiar tattoo and slowly Ben turned to the door. His breathing slowed as he listened, his thumping heart gradually settling back into its normal rhythm. And the knocking just went on and on… Ben didn’t want to answer it. What he really wanted was to sit and think but it was unrelenting and he couldn’t form a coherent train of thought with it pounding away in the background.

His erection still pressed against his thigh as he stalked over and cracked the door, squinting out at the short, old man standing half-turned away from the screen door.

‘Oh hello.’ The man turned to face him and Ben could instantly tell what he wanted by the way his neck craned. He was snooping, ‘I’m Theo, I live up at number twelve. Saw you moving in today, just thought I’d drop in. Say welcome and all that.’

Ben deliberately positioned himself between the gap in the door as the man’s neck craned further, trying to see into the flat behind him. Ben couldn’t help but wonder if he’d even heard of the concept of subtlety.

‘Sooo… welcome to the neighbourhood.’ Theo’s thickly accented voice was beginning to bear signs of irritation and Ben realised that obviously some sort of social interaction was expected.

‘Thank-you,’ he murmured and Theo grinned toothily at him as an uncomfortable silence descended. Ben could clearly see the silver fillings that dotted his teeth. Judging by the man’s fidgeting, he was expecting further conversation or maybe even an invitation to enter but Ben didn’t have the energy to talk to him and there was no way he was letting him set foot inside.

‘Okay then.’ Theo’s head was still bobbing and weaving as he tried to peer past Ben and he had to resist the urge to slam the door in his face. ‘Just trying to be friendly. Be seeing you. Welcome again!’

Ben almost grinned as Theo stalked away, his body language clearly stating to anyone who cared to notice: I’m in a huff!

Fucking nosey bastard, Ben thought but didn’t dwell on it. He heard the screen door squeak open next door and suddenly Theo and his nosiness was the last thing on his mind.

He watched her walking to the rubbish bins set out on the edge of the empty car park outside her flat. He drank in every subtle shift of her figure beneath the flannelette pyjamas as she dropped an empty wine bottle into the recycling bin and a small bag into the rubbish.

As she turned and headed back, just briefly, she glanced in his direction and for a fleeting second she was framed by ghostly red walls…

…Then she was gone, back through the screen door as it banged shut, leaving Ben a little breathless as he closed his own door and headed for his pills. His hands were shaking wildly as he emptied two into his palm and gulped them down, his heart thumping heavily in his chest.

There’s nothing to be scared of, he told himself, but somehow the statement didn’t ring true. Because for a second there. Just briefly. Oh so briefly. She had looked exactly like her.

DAY 2

It took only three economical strokes as he savoured the lingering images and then Ben’s jism was spurting hotly across his stomach and up onto his chest. It was only as his post-ejaculatory bliss descended that he even realised what he’d just done. That he’d ever so easily slipped back into his old habits. That this was the way it always started. First he would see them and the air would thicken. Then the image of them bound. Then came the screaming and the Red Room would appear with the glittering, new meathook waiting just for them.

And there in the Red Room he could play for as long as he wanted…

Although he wasn’t consciously aware of having visited it as he slept, Ben could think of no other explanation for his excitement and the thought of it sent him scurrying for his pills despite Mandy’s words flashing through his mind again. Even though the jism was rapidly cooling and scaling it still seemed to burn into him as he tipped two of the pills into his hand. It was supposed to be the start of his new life today. He needed to go find work. He couldn’t afford to be distracted. He got lucky last time. He couldn’t do it again. If he was caught…

Even as he swallowed the pills, Ben couldn’t stop his doubts from surfacing again and the argument played on a loop through his mind; much as it had everyday since he’d overheard them. The shrill whisper of his brother’s girlfriend that still penetrated through their bedroom wall with ease, reaching his ears as he lay sleepless in the spare room. He still remembered it word for word and as he sought out his cigarettes in the puddle of his clothing on the floor, her wheedling voice played through his mind once more.

…And it’s not just that. Experimental remedy? What the fuck is that meant to mean? You don’t even know what the fucking kook of a doctor put him on. It could be placebos for all we know. For Christ’s sake, I don’t even feel safe sleeping in my own bed, I just picture him looming over me at night. I know he’s your brother but…

And as Ben laid there, trying hard to block out her words, the doubt had began to creep in. What were the pills he was on? Surely they weren’t placebos. Surely they wouldn’t have let him out if they were. Slavia knew more than the cops had. The Red Room had been revealed to him in the therapy sessions. Surely he wouldn’t have… But even as he’d worked hard to convince himself otherwise, Slavia’s last words to him had continually played through his mind.

Now this will only work if you want it to.

And as he lit up a smoke and stared down at the scaly jism on his front, they played through his mind once more.

Now this will only work if you want it to.

* * * * *

Rachel lent back against the graffiti-streaked side of the general store, resenting the group of schoolkids congregated around the tram stop bench. As she stood, willing the tram to arrive before the already substantial crowd swelled even further, Rachel glowered at the kids. Even though they themselves were not using the bench, they were blocking it so no-one else could either. She knew her resentment was ridiculous, that the kids probably weren’t even aware of it and that if she just asked them they’d probably happily move away but at the moment she didn’t care.

She was feeling decidedly seedy and the hastily sculled coffee and brisk walk through the cool morning air to the tram-stop had done nothing to improve her condition since she’d peeled back her eyelids that morning. Even passing the fenced-in building site hadn’t cheered her like it normally did. The bottle of wine had been a bad idea last night and as she stood, her cheeks numbed by the cold, Rachel was not looking forward to her eight hour shift one iota.

Her mood hadn’t been helped at all by the icy-cold shower she’d had to endure that morning thanks to the fucking hot water service conking out moments after she turned the tap. And she wasn’t looking forward to calling the landlord to get it fixed once she got to work. Sleazy was the most appropriate word to describe the man but his cousin - who he insisted on calling in to fix any breakdowns - was infinitely worse. Last time he’d been in to fix the stove he’d addressed all his questions and conversation to her breasts and whenever she’d looked up from her book, she found him staring at her, a slight grin on his face. He’d made absolutely no attempt to hide his clear erection and when she complained to the landlord, he’d laughed and fobbed her off: That Henry, he’s quite the ladies man!

And to top off the killer start to the morning, it now looked like the 8:13 tram was a no show and consequently she was going to be late for work and boy was that going to get that bitch Maree going… And the tram would be packed… And that would just piss her off for the start of her shift… Then she’d have to deal with all those picky fucking diners with their picky fucking requests… And…

And…

Was that her neighbour?

The man caught Rachel’s attention as he shuffled across at the lights, head down, occasionally snatching furtive puffs on the cigarette wedged between his thumb and forefinger, cupped protectively in his palm.

It was too.

She was studying the far away look in his eyes and wondering whether she should say hello when he looked up and saw her. For a second, he looked truly terrified, like he was about to turn and flee. But it was only a brief flicker that left Rachel wondering whether she’d really seen it or not. He gave her a bit of a shy smile and a nod and halted a good five metres away, making a show of reading the tram timetable.

Fair enough, shy one, she thought and peered down the road, hoping to glimpse a tram on the horizon. All she saw was gridlocked traffic and before she knew it, her eyes were drifting back to him again.

There was something she definitely found intriguing about him but she just couldn’t quite place it.

Rachel caught the faintest of jerks in his neck as she looked over. It was as though he’d been staring at her but had turned away when he saw her head moving. Yes, there was something very familiar about him… Even more so when she saw him in profile… Of course, it was fucking Jacob he reminded her of. That American twat friend of Mary’s. Rachel had made the mistake of getting briefly involved with him a few years back. They had the same sort of look going on: the dishevelled chic sort of thing. Although in Jacob’s case it had all seemed a little forced; after all, he was a painter. He had to maintain his image.

She almost laughed out loud as she remembered the way he used to preen in front of the mirror in the morning only to emerge an hour later, looking like he’d just woken up. The laughter died instantly though as she remembered how he used to cheat on her all the time as well; remembered how embarrassed she’d been when she found out…

Somehow she couldn’t imagine this guy preening though – cheating yes; it was all too easy for her to imagine him cheating – but the more she looked at him, the more it looked like he was on some sort of medication. There was a weird spaciness in his eyes as he slowly scanned the area in front of him. And there was definitely something about the way his gaze would stop short that told her he was desperate to look at her but not while she was watching.

Did he fancy her?

Wow, someone’s full of herself, she thought as the tram finally made an appearance and she was nearly bowled over in the rush to get on board. When she saw how packed it was though, she decided it just wasn’t worth it. Fuck Maree, she wasn’t going to spend the journey pressed between a group of sweaty commuters.

Fortunately as the first tram ground away, another appeared on the horizon. Shouldn’t be a long wait, she thought as she glanced back and saw that her neighbour was still there. This time she caught him staring. Okay now that’s getting a little creepy.

She glanced back at the tram but it was still halfway up the hill, stuck behind traffic. Only a smattering of other passengers had vetoed the packed tram. Finally some good luck, she thought.

She looked back and saw the man look away again. Okay that was getting fucking irritating now.

Before she even really thought about it, Rachel walked across, holding out her hand.

‘Hi, I’m Rachel. I think you just moved in next door…’

* * * * *

Okay, so he’s not the talkative type, Rachel thought as she took her seat and he strode straight past the empty bay in front of her and lodged himself in a stairwell. No law against that.

At least he’d seemed friendly enough when he’d introduced himself as Ben. He’d smiled at her and appeared willing to talk but had clearly been uncomfortable. His answers to the few general questions she’d squeezed in before the tram pulled up had been unhelpful, monosyllabic grunts and his actions on boarding the tram showed that he clearly had no interest in continuing the conversation.

You should be happy, the voice told her, it’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? A neighbour who is nice and quiet; keeps to himself.

Well that’s true, she thought, but there was still something slightly off about him.

Just as long as he keeps in line, she decided, trying to resist the urge to turn around for a look.

She could feel eyes boring into her.

* * * * *

Ben stroked frantically at his cock as the walls of the Red Room formed again: the red flowing down and across, fleshing out more of its features this time. A hint of bare floorboards. The low bench up against the right hand wall, piled with his tools. The row of meathooks lining the left side; the silhouettes hanging off them, still buried in shadow.

He began kneading his scrotum as the table formed in the middle of the room and groaned aloud as he ejaculated all over his stomach. It only added to the scaly mess already in place and it did nothing to relieve the throbbing. His erection didn’t subside at all and as the shadows started to pull back and he recognised the figure strapped on the table, he couldn’t help it, he began rubbing his slimy penis again.

He’d been wanking constantly since his encounter with the lady on the tram but it was doing little to relieve the pressure building in him: the urges and desires. When she’d talked to him, he barely heard her words. He’d been too awe-struck by the red walls that started closing around them and the way her features had morphed until her vague likeness was transformed into a mirror image of her. And he’d almost cringed away, catching himself at the last moment before he could cower.

He had known right then that the rest of the day would be a write-off. That it would be futile to look for work. That he wouldn’t be able to focus at all. Instead he’d followed her for a bit and discovered she worked at a café down Swanston St. He’d watched her through the glass for a while: saw a brief altercation with an older woman; saw her bustle between the tables; saw her smile…

… But the smile had started to split into a seductive scream and he’d felt his cock pressing against the glass and some small part of him had known it was very dangerous what he was doing; that she had made him see the Red Room twice now and he knew what happened to the ones who made him see the Red Room. The ones who looked like her and would take her place for the revenge he’d never been able to have…

…Ben had slipped away home but the images had stayed with him through the whole tram trip and when he’d realised he’d forgotten his pills he’d wondered how he could have been so thoughtless. Wondered whether maybe, just maybe, he’d done it a little on purpose.

He knew he should probably take some now. It was the first thought he’d had as he stormed back into his flat but the pressure had already been building and building. In his mind, the roof had already been in place and it was just so beautiful and his worries had faded away and he’d just wanted to slip on the leather apron and now they were coming back again, the shadows slipping away one by one to reveal their simultaneously terrifying and beautiful visages and even though he knew he should take his pills, another idea was forming now and it just excited him so much…

It’s not a good idea.

But he needed to do some research.

He’d get caught.

But he needed to know more…

… Like whether she has a boyfriend…

… But why did he need to know that?

… Just take a quick look…

… Just a quick look couldn’t hurt…

* * * * *

Ben carefully eased himself over the fence and dropped onto the cracked concrete of the courtyard next door. He breathed evenly in and out for a moment, calming himself as the adrenaline spiked through his body. He forced himself to be still as he crouched, listening intently. The strange jittery feeling that he’d felt as he’d daydreamed under the bridge was flowing through him and even though he knew what he was doing was wrong – that it was stupid, that it wouldn’t help anything – he seemed powerless to stop himself.

When he’d calmed down sufficiently and was certain that his entry into the neighbour’s yard hadn’t been detected, Ben stood up and drank in his surroundings. Unconsciously he rubbed at his still erect penis as he studied the clothes fluttering on the retractable line that stretched across the small enclosed space.

He couldn’t have asked for more appropriate backyards than the ones this block of flats offered. High wooden fences; perfect for covering any prowling.

Ben’s hand was shaking slightly as he reached out and rubbed at a pair of silken panties strung between a pair of tracksuit pants and a T-shirt. In his mind, he could see her strapped down, lying there immobile, as he slid them down ever so slowly… Don’t think about it… He saw the tender flesh revealed… She’s not her… saw the tuft of hair… She’s not her… and then the glorious wound and before he knew it, her figure was cast in a red hue and he was stumbling over to the small table and chair set, almost scattering the pot plants, trying to push it out of his mind. He couldn’t afford to go to the Red Room now; he had to keep his wits about him. It was stupid to have come here.

He sat breathing heavily for a moment, calming himself down until the red filter disappeared from his vision. When he stood, he fully intended to walk straight to the fence, climb back over and return to his flat. Instead he found himself with his eye pressed to the blind in front of him. He couldn’t see much but what he saw instantly told him the flat was far better appointed than his own. There was a glimpse of smooth, beige walls; another world compared to the garishness of his own next door and he could see the edge of a sink with a wine glass perched on it. Although it wasn’t much, he took the solitary glass as a good sign and moved along, past an impenetrable frosted pane over to another window whose blind, he saw with growing excitement, was half-raised.

Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look. He looped the thought in his mind but it was futile.

He crouched and peered in at a bedroom that had clearly been left in a hurry that morning. Through the open doors of the cupboard, he could see neatly folded clothes and the sheets on the bed were scattered messily as though she had just thrown them back and bolted. He scanned over the walls, the small television in the corner and the bedside table but couldn’t see any photos or other evidence of a boyfriend.

That’s good, that’s good, that’s…

Ben’s breath hitched in his throat as he saw the vibrator lying down next to the bed, placed on top of what looked like a leather-bound photo album. Now that bodes well, he thought as he pictured her writhing there on the bed with it buried in her to the hilt; just like those times she’d let him watch. The times she’d called to him.

Was that buzzing he heard filling the air?

His cock throbbed at the image and also at the thought that last night only a solitary wall had separated him from her splayed out on the bed. He reached down, unzipped and freed it from his pants. His penis was burning hot in his palm as he began to twine them around it… twine what? Ben was shocked to find the silken panties in his hand and see he had wrapped them around his shaft. Shocked… But it felt nice. He could kind of imagine her fingertips dancing lightly across the tip of his cock.

He eased them up and down, his eyes drifting back to the wrought iron bedhead and he couldn’t help thinking how perfect it would be; easy to secure her to, have her there spreadeagled… Don’t think about it… She’s not her… He thought desperately but it was too late…

… Suddenly she was there before his eyes and he was shucking furiously at his cock and the room was bathed in a red light and they were appearing, overlaying one by one there on the bed, their ghostly limbs solidifying and melding until a mass of her lay before his eyes. And he was there too, with his bag of tools and he was unrolling the sheath of knives as the heaving mass writhed against their restraints…

* * * * *

His jism erupted, spattering against the glass, ropes dripping over the sill as he made the first incision, the red spray pumping in exact time to the pulses of his ejaculation; the pleasure spasming his muscles into rigidity; making his legs feel all weak and rubbery as he dropped down panting.

When he came back, he was gasping for air, his throat bone dry and the panties, still wrapped around his wilting penis, were sodden beneath his fingers.

The realisation was both horrifying and exhilarating. He’d been back to the Red Room. And not for just a peek this time but for a play. It was the first time since the nights preceding his bungled attempt on the girl in Cumming St and they’d all still been waiting there for him. All of his girls had been waiting there all along. All the variations of her. Hanging patiently on their meat hooks and he’d almost forgotten how nice their play sessions could be. And that thought terrified him.

Now that he’d seen the joys of the Red Room again, his resolve was wavering. He wasn’t certain he could resist if it came again and the empty meathook had been there waiting just like it had been all those other times and Ben could just see his new life wilting and shattering before his eyes…

I need my pills, the thought broke through his mind as he realised he was now standing by the back door, rattling the lock as he tucked his slimy penis away.

I need my tools, he thought but shook his head. No, that’s not right, I need my pills.

But even as he backed away from the door his doubts were echoing back at him. Mandy’s voice: they could have him on placebos for fuck’s sake. Dr Slavia’s: you need to want this to work.

Maybe Mandy was right?

He’d been back to the Red Room. He couldn’t write it off like he had the glimpses. It shouldn’t have been possible. Maybe Slavia had put him on placebos…

Or maybe the reverse…

…Maybe it was the doubts? If a placebo could make someone feel better wasn’t it possible that the reverse could happen too?

If he was really convinced they weren’t working then maybe he was the one overriding his pills? Overriding them with his doubts? It had only started after he’d overheard the argument. Everything had been fine before that. It was only after the argument that he’d retrieved his tools…

Could it be him?

Ben hoped not. As he scrabbled back across the fence into his own yard, he tried desperately to convince himself that the growing certainty inside him wasn’t true. But if that was the case, then maybe he hadn’t wanted them to work. Really, deep down inside. Maybe he hadn’t had enough of his revenge yet…

He only realised that the panties were still stuffed into his pocket and remembered the jism splattered across her window when he was safely back on his side of the fence, gasping as he scrabbled for a cigarette. He didn’t dare go back though.

No, he needed time to think. He needed to take his pills. He needed to stop his doubts. They’d work… He needed to stay away from next door…

He couldn’t go back there…

… Well not yet anyway…

* * * * *

As she sat sipping her wine, Rachel’s mind was churning with fury that clamped her jaw and had her grinding her teeth in frustration.

Fucking Maree, she fumed, the alcohol doing nothing to dissipate her anger. She’d only been ten minutes late yet that bitch had acted as though she’d just butchered her first-born. Rachel had known it was coming as soon as she’d stepped through the door and seen her there behind the counter, her chest puffed up with self-importance but really… fuck… REALLY… was the dressing down in front of the other staff necessary? Rachel had seen them giggling away behind their hands and had hated herself for the blush she hadn’t be able to keep from her cheeks.

Didn’t she realise it was just a fucking café? It’s not like they were working for the UN or something. There had been a grand total of one customer in the store when she’d walked in for fuck’s sake.

And then the bitchy manner in which she’d reported it to André, the owner, when he’d dropped by. Rachel had been washing up dishes at the time and had clearly overheard her. Overheard how she kept the details vague. Made it seem like Rachel had strode in around lunchtime rather than the ten minutes late she had been.

Washing that large cake knife had been quite a job for her. She’d barely been able to refrain from rushing over and planting it in the bitch’s back. As she’d watched it glint under the kitchen lights she had just imagined the shocked look in Maree’s eyes. Imagined how good it would feel to scream at her: was it really so important!

Even just a slap would have been eminently enjoyable but she’d restrained herself. She couldn’t lose her job, not while she was saving for her house. There weren’t many jobs going around for a university drop-out that paid as well as her current one did.

It was just that fucking Maree…

Rachel knew she shouldn’t be brooding on it so much. That she was wasting her time ever hoping that vacuous bitch would see the error of her ways – not to mention wasting the blissful hours she had free until she had to go back there – but she just couldn’t help it. It was just so infuriating and as she sipped her wine, she couldn’t help replaying it over and over again in her mind.

Maybe Ana was right, she mused as she polished off the glass and rose to get a refill. Maybe she did need to get out more… Or get laid as Ana phrased it when she’d called at lunchtime to bully her into a girl’s night out. You spend too much time alone, Ana had told her, it makes you self-obsessed. You sweat the small stuff more. Suddenly everything seems to be about you. Little things just get blown out of proportion…

Although Rachel had been mildly offended by the whole exchange, she had allowed herself to acquiesce. Not that she was entirely certain it would do any good. She usually found things were great while she was by herself. It was invariably other people that caused the problems. Still it would be nice to blow off some steam tomorrow night… And then there would be two blissful days off after that. Two glorious days of peace that Rachel was already planning to spend tucked up in a doona on the couch with a big stack of DVD’s from the video store.

Rachel sculled the glass and immediately poured herself another. She could finally feel the effects of the alcohol loosening the tension. Looks like Maree survives another day… She laughed out loud as she picked up her wine and made her way back to the couch.

Now to just get through tomorrow…

* * * * *

Ben snapped awake and raised his hands but the blood wasn’t really there. Instead, gripped tightly in his hands were the jism-streaked underwear and a small, brass key.

He stared at the key in confusion for a moment, utterly baffled as to how it had come into his possession. Then he lifted the plastic tag it was attached to, read the name Thea, printed in neat script across the back and it all came flooding back to him.

He’d returned from next door in a panic, the Red Room creeping back in despite his best efforts. All the pretty playthings lined up neatly on the meathooks along the wall. He’d been able to feel it building. The urge. The desire. And even after he’d scoffed a couple of pills it had been there. The image of him waiting for her in the bedroom. Seeing her walk in… Seeing her shock as she surveyed the tools laid out by the bed… The image of that empty, glinting meat-hook… He’d known he’d had to distract himself somehow and his attempt at masturbation had only increased the vividness of the images. He’d began searching the flat instead.

It was something he always did at some point or another in every flat he’d ever lived in. He’d poke around in any crevice he could find, searching for some remnant of the previous tenants. He rarely, if ever, found anything but occasionally he’d find something so bizarre, he’d just have to stop and wonder why anyone would have left it there.

Like the time in High St out in Preston, where he found a mattress, a collection of women’s magazines and a couple of candles laid out on the insulation of the roof or the time in Bent St out in Reservoir where there was a photo of a woman dressed in a santa suit tucked under the lino in the kitchen.

Usually he only found scraps of old newspapers or the odd pen or stray bit of cutlery and at first the search of his current flat had seemed like it was going to yield similar results. There were a couple of issues of The Age from 1993, inexplicably sitting directly on top of the manhole and a small ball of string down the crack between the bench and the side of the oven. He’d been surprised to find a false bottom in the bedroom cupboard but when he lifted it up, its only contents were a few dustballs in the corners.

He’d been about to roll back the carpet when the set of the drawers in the kitchen had piqued his interest. He’d removed them all and spotted it down the bottom, tucked into a corner like it had dropped down the back.

Now as he studied it, the same tantalising questions were floating through his mind as when he found it: What was it for? Why was it in the flat? And who was Thea?

His mind jumped briefly to the woman next door but he knew that it was just wishful thinking. She’d already introduced herself as Rachel at the tram stop but still the idea persisted. It would make things so much easier. Lower the risks immensely. If he could just quietly let himself in and wait for her. He wouldn’t have to worry about a nosey neighbour hearing him; wouldn’t have to worry about the thrilling tinkle of glass…

Don’t… His mind barely had time to protest before Ben ran with the thought, picturing how it would play out. He wouldn’t even have to do it right away… He could come and go as he pleased… Watch her while she slept… Drag it out… Enjoy that delicious feeling of power, knowing that the new meathook was awaiting her in the Red Room whenever he wanted…

Even as his mind screamed no, no, no, Ben was freeing his erect penis from his pants and wrapping the sodden panties around it again.

A smile split his face as he stroked and even though he knew it wasn’t right, the thought formed.

Yes, it would be so nice…

* * * * *

Ben was still sitting, staring at the key when the pounding started on the door. He just couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of it and the question played over and over in his mind. What was it for? It was similar in design to the key for his flat but he’d tried every lock on every door and window and it hadn’t opened any of them.

He ignored the pounding as he pondered, running it over in his mind. It would just be so perfect if it was the key to the flat next door but he knew how improbable that was. It was far more likely the key to some forgotten tenant’s parents’ house – probably miles away in the country or something.

‘IF YOU DON’T OPEN THE DOOR, I’LL KICK IT IN!’ the voice boomed and Ben looked from the key to the door. A second later it shuddered in its frame and he heard a muffled curse from the other side. Well you wanted a distraction, he thought. He took a swig from the bottle of bourbon then walked over and opened the door.

An Italian man who looked about twenty was crouching outside, prodding experimentally at one of his boots. When he heard the door creak, he quickly stood up, puffed out his chest and affected a menacing stance… but not before Ben caught the slight wince as he put his weight down on his foot.

Ben took in the leather jacket, the slicked back hair, thick with oil and the clipboard tucked under one arm. Debt collector. The thought was instantaneous. He had to stifle a grin as he enquired whether the man’s foot was alright.

‘It’s fine,’ the man snapped in a nasal whine and locked eyes with Ben, trying to stare him down. Ben stared back impassively.

‘Can I help you?’

The man looked immensely irritated at Ben’s unwillingness to lower his eyes and darted a quick glance at the clipboard.

‘Are you Stephen Jacobs?’ he challenged. His demeanour and body language had Ben stifling another laugh. The man was clearly gagging for a fight but that didn’t really bother him. Despite the fact he was fairly bulky and clearly spent a lot of time in the gym, Ben wasn’t impressed. There was something about the man that just suggested he was trying too hard. Ben toyed with the idea of showing him in; maybe showing him the contents of his duffel bag; see how tough he really was.

‘Are you, mate?’

‘No.’

‘You’re not?’

‘No I’m not,’ Ben paused and savoured the moment before asking the question that he knew from experience all collectors hated. ‘Why?’

‘Well if you’re not him, I hardly think it’s any of your concern buddy. Who are you?’

Ben couldn’t resist the smile this time. ‘Why do you want to know?’

The collector’s eyes blazed anger. ‘You think you’re smart do ya? Huh? How do I know you’re not him? You got ID.’

‘No. Don’t you believe me?’

Ben heard the creak of the next flat’s door and saw the lady walk out carrying an empty bottle of wine. She kept glancing across at them as she walked and Ben felt the collector’s presence just drifting away as he watched her body shift beneath her flannelette pyjamas.

‘Look buddy,’ the collector took a step forward and jabbed a finger in Ben’s chest, ‘stop fucking about. Are you Stephen Jacobs?’ The man’s nasal whine was rising in volume and Ben looked back at him with sudden anger blazing in his eyes. For a moment he’d nearly forgotten the man was present. ‘What, you think you’re a tough guy, huh? You looking for a fight? Answer the fucking question.’

In his mind, Ben could see himself just backing down: apologising, saying he’d had a bad day, inviting the man in; I just have to get my ID; it’s in the duffel bag over here…

A slight smile began to twitch at the corner of Ben’s lips.

‘Are you Stephen Jacobs?’

‘No he’s not.’

Ben snapped out of it and saw the lady from next door standing just a few feet away. God, she was so beautiful and so hideous all at once, he thought as the meat hook glinted seductively in his mind.

The debt collector was scowling at the lady, clearly irritated by her interference.

‘He only moved in a day ago. Stephen Jacobs left nearly three months ago now. This is close to the fucking tenth time I’ve told you wankers this.’ There was a pulse in her temple, just the slightest hint of a bulging vein and Ben’s breath caught in his throat as he watched it. Suddenly he was transported back, the vague resemblance transforming through the one gesture into a spitting image of her. The same pulse that would jump at her temple as she approached with the hand hidden behind her back. That low gravelly voice emerging from the clouds of smoke, so removed from her normal one as she rasped, who’s been a naughty boy…

‘Who are you?’ The collector seemed edgy and off-guard and was half-turned as though undecided on who he should focus on.

‘Who I am is none of your business.’ Her face was getting red now and Ben felt like he was falling headlong into blackness, spiralling down into the loop of: who’s been a naughty boy, who’s been a naughty boy, who’s been a naughty boy… He felt like he could cry. You shouldn’t do that to Mummy…

He wanted to hurt her; to cause her pain but he couldn’t because she was raging and when she raged, she was a sight to behold; a force of nature and he was so young and small there was nothing he could do…

‘Who are you? What right do you have to be bothering people who haven’t done anything, huh? Do you have ID on you? I wonder if your company would be interested in knowing the tactics you use? What do you think?’

Ben was clenching and unclenching his fists by his sides. It’s not her, it’s not her… he thought desperately but it wasn’t working. Everything was beginning to be suffused with a red glow.

For a second it looked as though the collector was going to jump across and throttle her. His face flushed bright red and a judder of repressed rage shimmered through his frame. If she noticed it, Rachel – it’s Rachel, it’s not her, it’s Rachel – didn’t seem to care and Ben was enthralled watching her.

Although her anger wasn’t quite as overt as the collector’s, the gleam in her eye suggested that if the man did try and attack her, he would receive a quick knee to the nads for his troubles.

‘Look lady, this is none of your business…’ the collector began through clenched teeth.

‘None of my business? Do you know what time it is? And you’re out here yelling away. People are trying to sleep you know. Maybe I should call the police. See if they think it is any of my business. The man told you he’s not who you’re looking for. I told you Stephan Jacobs is long gone. Are you a fucking moron?’

The collector sputtered in outrage and took a step toward her just as a cab turned into the driveway, bathing them both in its headlights.

With a muttered, ‘Fuck this shit,’ the collector turned and stalked off, shooting a glare at the Indian man behind the wheel as though it was all his fault.

Ben found himself alone with her and was both terrified and exhilarated at the same time. He watched her standing there gulping down air and flexing her fingers. He could feel himself stiffening as he imagined striding over, imagined knocking the knife from her hands, clamping a hand over her mouth; dragging her into the flat… but she didn’t have a knife, not really. Because she wasn’t her. But the resemblance was great and he could still make her pay, add another to the Red Room to settle the account, wipe that self-righteous anger from her face but… No that would be stupid. Not out here, people could see and he wasn’t going to do it again, he was starting a new life and…

The red was creeping across his vision again, solidifying into walls and his dick was lengthening and now she was smiling at him and it was a smile like those ones she wore at the apology breakfasts and he could see she was going to walk over and it would be so easy, it was like she was giving herself to him and the meathook was there in his mind just waiting and he knew he wouldn’t be able to resist, not now.

‘Thank-you,’ he barked and slammed the door, scrabbling across the floor for his pills. He needed control. He needed the images to disappear. To rid himself of her advance, the dead, angry look in her eye, the hand hidden away there behind her back…

But as he wrenched off the lid and dry-swallowed two of the pills, he knew that he wasn’t looking to stop it now. He was only wanting to delay it. Control it so he didn’t do something rash. Because now he knew he would do something. The anger was rising in him, rising above the layered guilt and shame. The anger and the hunger for revenge and there was really no longer a choice anyway. Because as the red walls formed this time, it was plastered there above the empty meat-hook. The white label reading number 12. And once the Red Room had named its victim, Ben couldn’t help but obey.

* * * * *

Well fuck you too, Rachel thought for a second before the anger dissipated and she blushed bright red as the door slammed shut in her face.

Oh fuck, she’d done it again. Fucking flown off the handle at something that wasn’t any of her business. Shit, no wonder he’d beat a hasty retreat. Probably freaked the shit out of him. He’s probably sitting in there now wondering who the fuck is this psychotic woman next door.

She just hadn’t been able to help herself. There was just something about debt collectors that really, really pissed her off. And especially the ones who came looking for the fucking bloke who’d used to live next door. Rachel would love to know exactly what sort of shit that guy had been in.

The collectors invariably, after finding no-one at home, wended their way to her flat. And to call these guys hostile was an understatement. It was right off the bat, straight into it, giving the impression it was all your fault. Like you had the person hiding in your fucking backyard . She was just so fucking sick of them and when she’d seen the smarmy fuck hassling the new guy; it had been like a red rag to a bull.

It hadn’t helped at all that his appearance had coincided with her realisation that she’d forgotten to call the landlord about the hot water service that day and consequently was brooding on the cold shower that awaited her once more in the morning.

Just trying to do him a favour, she thought, still fuming a little. Could have at least spared a second to say thanks…

But he did say thanks, the voice reminded her.

That stumped her for a while.

Well he could have said a proper thanks, she retaliated as she stomped back through the door into her flat.

* * * * *

He was in the Red Room now, lowering number three from her meat-hook. She was one of his favourites; her resemblance was uncanny and his erection pressed hard against the cool, leather apron he wore. She hung over his shoulder, limp and unresisting as he hiked over to the table and slapped her down, all pallid and cold. 

He buckled her into the restraints one by one, his eyes roving over her sheer gown to where his tools lined the bench.

As the last of the restraints tightened around her ankle, she burst into life, colour flooding her pale flesh as she bucked tight against them. Opening her mouth, she screamed and screamed.

It was music to his ears.

This was the best part. Taking them was fun but this was better. Outside the Red Room he had to hurry; he had to be careful. He couldn’t let them scream like this but inside he could do as he pleased. No-one would hear them and they were always ready and waiting. He had them forever. He didn’t know who cleaned the Red Room when he was gone but when he returned they were always waiting again, neatly aligned on their hooks. Always ready for his revenge.

But as he made his way to the bench and played a hand over the lined up tools, he knew something was wrong. As the delicious screams played out, as enjoyable as any choral arrangement, his eyes kept drifting back to the shiny, new meat hook and when they did it sent quivers running through the Red Room’s walls.

He shook his head to clear it and reached across for the bloodstained hacksaw, his free hand reaching beneath the leather apron, clenching around his cock as he imagined the coming spray of red…

…But when he turned back, the far wall was gone and instead he was in front of a window, its blind half-raised, peering in at the lady on the bed.

Rachel… He whispered it as he stroked, his eyes drinking in her curves beneath the flannelette of her pyjamas. His mind imagined the whispers as he cut them free of her body. She was obviously a restless sleeper as she’d kicked back the covers and was sprawled, tangled slightly in the fitted sheet that had lifted from the corner of the mattress. She was so beautiful and in the dim gloom, her resemblance was even greater than number three’s had been and Ben both hated and loved her at the moment. He could see the vibrator lying near the foot of the bed and it was transporting him back to the calls of his mother. Benny, mummy needs you, Benny, mummy needs you… and he’d always go, even though he knew he’d later be punished for it and as the washing flapped gently against the back of his head, Ben was cumming.

He stiffened as his ejaculation spattered fresh ropes over the congealed ones of yesterday. Unaware, she slept on, her legs splayed lewdly, as Ben’s eyes gradually refocused and his desire ebbed back to a controllable level and suddenly she wasn’t quite so beautiful, she was hideous and he was panicking slightly because he had been a bad boy – he shouldn’t do that to mummy – and he knew he would be punished for it. He felt a strange urge to head for the bridge again, to climb up and tuck himself away safe beneath its girders.

Rachel didn’t stir as he clambered back over the fence and lay back panting against the other side, his panic already receding and a slow, burning anger growing back in its place.

He was older now. He was older and stronger.

And he could stop her…

The thought brought a smile to his face and as he pushed himself to his feet, the image of her hanging limply there in the Red Room played tantalisingly across his mind.

DAY 3

When Ben’s eyes sprang open he immediately knew he had done something stupid. The problem was, he couldn’t figure out exactly what. There were only fragments of it floating around his brain and he had the feeling that maybe he might have just dreamed the whole thing. He certainly hoped he had.

He tried to think back but the last thing he remembered was having a smoke on the lilo. The rest was just snippets: images of him in the Red Room, him wanking outside her window as he watched her sleep, his cum spattering her window pane.

Surely it was a dream. He wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Wouldn’t have done anything so dangerous… Would he? No, he thought as he pushed himself to his feet. But he couldn’t help staring at the wall that separated them as though he could somehow penetrate its depths and see what was transpiring on the other side. Was she at the window now? Was she bent over, peering at the glass, her confusion turning to anger and disgust as she realised what was spattered on the pane? Would she call the cops? Maybe they were already there now, taking notes, collecting samples, collecting evidence. The urge to go and peek over the back fence was almost irresistible. Just a quick look; see if he had really done it…

But despite its tempting nature, Ben resisted the urge. What if she was in the backyard now and saw him peeping over the fence? It wouldn’t take her long to put two and two together… No, he’d just have to wait; hope she didn’t notice it before she went out, then he could slip next door and clean it up…

What time was it? Has she already left? Ben walked over to the window, peeled back the strip of tape a little and peered through. His stomach was gurgling strongly as he pressed his eye to the crack and Ben realised he hadn’t eaten for a few days. That he should probably get some food into him; keep his strength up. But he couldn’t do that until he’d cleaned up his mess.

That’s if there was a mess at all…

Ben watched the Indian cabbie a few doors up kiss his wife good-bye and head to his taxi. He assumed it must still be early. Along with the hunger, there was a jittery feeling in his stomach as he settled in to wait.

* * * * *

Rachel stared at the stains spattered across the window, her brow furrowed and her hand frozen half-way to the clothesline. The sopping underwear was sending drops of water snaking down her arm and wetting the sleeve of her work-shirt but Rachel barely noticed. There was a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as she looked at them there on the window.

Was that cum?

Rachel stared. It certainly looked like it but it was just so unexpected that Rachel was having difficulty believing it could be. It wasn’t everyday that you went to hang out your washing and found someone had sprogged on your window. Rachel wasn’t entirely certain as to what she should do. She was already running late for work as it was and had only been out because she forgot to hang out her second-best pair of underwear last night. Fuck knows what had happened to her best pair. She could have sworn she’d washed them with the last load but when she’d brought that in last night, they hadn’t been present. She’d just assumed they’d disappeared into the abyss that was her over-filled laundry hamper. Now she wasn’t so certain.

She felt dirty just thinking it. Violated but… No, surely not, she told herself. It just seemed so ridiculous that someone would have been standing outside her window, wanking away. Oddly it seemed more bizarre than creepy to her at first: why would they want to? But it wasn’t long before irritation began to creep in. How fucking dare they? And why did they have to take her best underwear? There were a couple of grandma-pants pegged out as well. Why couldn’t they have taken those?

Rachel mused on the thought for a while before it dawned on her that she wasn’t thinking at all clearly about this. That she should really be more alarmed by it and well, she sort of was… There was alarm bubbling in her gut but she supposed it was being held back by shock.

Surely it can’t be jism, she reiterated it, snapping back as she realised her work-shirt was now sodden to the elbow.

‘Fuck it,’ she hissed and pegged up the underwear. But as she shook off her dripping hand and the water splashed down next to the stains, she couldn’t think of anything else it could be. And instantly her mind jumped to her new neighbour. And just as instantly her anger burst through all the other conflicting emotions.

… Fucking hell, that’d be right. Fucking three in a row. What was she? Fucking cursed? Why did she always get the fruit-cakes next door? First the fucking old bitch with those fucking cats whining about the fucking key. Whining about fucking Thea. Then the fucking tool with his music and parties and now this fucking pervert. And it was the same in the last place too. It was like Mrs Stephenson moving had triggered some sort of curse. Four different neighbours in four months. All of them fucking selfish pricks. It was why she’d moved in the first place. Not that it had done her any good. The fuckers were just as inconsiderate wherever you went. None of them gave a fuck if they were interrupting you, disturbing you. As long as they were fucking happy everything was peachy. It fucking made her blood boil. It fucking made her want to put her fist right through the fucking window. It made her want to…

Rachel yelped in sudden pain and looked down shocked to see blood dribbling through the fingers of her clenched fist. For a second she just stared at it in disbelief. Then she took a shuddering breath and mouthed wow quietly. She giggled a little nervously as she opened her fist and studied the red crescents her fingernails had carved into her palm.

Easy there tiger, she thought and winced as pain shot up her arm when she experimentally flexed her fingers. Suddenly it felt as though she’d just run a marathon. She just felt like curling up back in bed. Slowly, she turned her hand over and watched as a droplet broke free and arced to the concrete, splattering at her feet.

Her mouth felt a little dry as she caught a look at the dial on the back of her wrist.

Great and now I’m going to be really late.

There was a slight flash of anger following the thought, like an ebbing aftershock of an earthquake, as she pictured Maree’s response. She clamped down on it though and forced herself to move. She’d have to worry about it when she got home.

As she entered the back door, snibbing the lock as she closed it, Rachel was surprised to find her hands were shaking slightly. She left a small, bloody smear on the handle as she fastened the chain, then walked to the sink to wash her cut.

Strangely she was feeling a little guilty about how she’d ramped up at her neighbour. She liked to think she was fair-minded and not quick to judge. It was part of what pissed her off so much: that others didn’t follow suit. But what had she done? She’d just played judge and jury and if she was being honest, even contemplated executioner. And based on what? That he was new? That he seemed a little spacey? Suddenly the idea of him outside her window wanking; the idea of him stealing her underwear just seemed ludicrous. Even though she was alone, she found herself blushing with embarrassment.

Fuck it could have been anyone. Imagine if she’d confronted him – she’d been angry enough to. Imagine if she’d done that and it hadn’t been him. How would she have been better than any of the other fuckers she’d just railed against?

As she watched her watered-down blood swirl around the plug-hole, Rachel just couldn’t help her suspicions though. It was just the way he’d been staring at her. The odd feeling she got around him. Maybe it was possible?

All she knew was that if she didn’t get going, she was probably going to lose her job, which wouldn’t help matters. The fucking bitch Maree was probably waiting there now with a stop-watch and would see to that. And as much as she hated her job, she needed the fucking money. If she was ever going to get a place of her own, somewhere nice; a big yard so she didn’t have to be crammed in with all these inconsiderate fucks all day, then she needed to keep squirreling away her money.

But it depressed her how far into the future that seemed. With house prices the way they were, the idea of her own place just seemed like a pipe-dream and sometimes Rachel just felt so trapped. Like she would be stuck in her flat forever.

It was a feeling she got quite often to varying degrees but as she stalked to the bathroom for a bandage, it rose up with particular vehemence.

Sometimes she wished the whole world would just fuck off and disappear.

* * * * *

Ben didn’t know how to interpret her demeanour as he watched her storm off down the driveway. She was clearly pissed off and cast a lingering glance at his door before stomping away but he couldn’t tell if it meant anything. Was he just being paranoid?

He waited until she’d stalked out of view before he sealed the tape back up and returned to his lilo to think. At least the police hadn’t shown up. Surely if she’d seen it, the first thing she would have done was call the cops. He could still fix this little mishap.

Ben couldn’t suppress a smile as he rose to his feet and walked to the back door. His stomach was knotting with hunger but he ignored it and stepped into the courtyard. He’d clean up the mess, then he’d go and get some food. Maybe even pay a visit to the café where she worked, watch her dart between the tables…

Ben toyed with the idea for a moment before dismissing it. No that would be really pushing it. Just get this mess sorted out.

The sense of relief he felt was immense as he scaled the fence into her yard. It was like it was only just dawning on him how concerned he’d been. But it hadn’t been the sort he’d expected. It hadn’t been the worry of getting caught exactly but more that he’d get caught before he could add her to his collection.

* * * * *

As he sat in the café a few doors down from the tram stop, Ben held the key, slowing turning it in front of his eyes. The relief he was feeling was huge – he had made a mess but he’d fixed it now – however it was nothing compared to the excitement that was welling in him.

Could it be possible?

He reread the name on the tag and then turned his attention to the company logo engraved on the base of the key again.

Guardian.

Ben’s excitement jumped another notch, just as it had when he’d seen the name the first time. When he’d first sat down, ordered and removed the key from his pocket. Because Guardian was a word he’d seen earlier that day. When he’d been toying with the lock on her back door, it had been there, printed neatly around the tumbler.

No, he couldn’t be that lucky. Why would it be hers? There were probably a million locks out there with the same word printed on them. But the idea wouldn’t go away and even as the waitress arrived with his plate of scrambled eggs it lingered at the back of his mind.

But if it was her key, why was it in his flat?

Ben fed a spoonful of eggs into his mouth as he searched for an answer, and chewed slowly, only realising what he’d done as the flavour exploded across his mouth. Scrambled eggs. It was a dish he was only able to stomach when he was building up to another addition for the Red Room. His own personal sort of ritual. It was only then that the nausea didn’t kick in. Because it was always the dish she had served. The apology meal, his brother had always called it. When they would wake up in the morning, the bruises showing, the cuts and burns beginning to scab, limp to the kitchen and she would be there, chain smoking in front of the stove, the smell suffusing the kitchen despite the ashtray of crumpled butts on the counter.

And she would turn and smile and the evil would be far back in her eyes and her face would be puffy and red like she’d been crying and she would turn and face them and tell them to sit down; tell them that mummy loved them very much and that she was sorry…

Ben had hated those breakfasts so much; hated her for them. The pretence that it had just been a one off snap; that it wasn’t going to happen again that night.

And it had always been his dream hadn’t it? To sit quietly through the breakfast, forcing down each and every choking mouthful and smile sweetly the whole time. A sweet smile to match hers and then when he was done, stand up, retrieve a knife from the sink were it would still be stained with their blood and just sink it into her gut…

But she was gone before he’d had his chance. In a way though, he still kept his dream alive. His fantasy. Whenever he took one of her surrogates, he always ordered his apology meal first. And the fact that he had ordered it this time without thought left him a little dry-mouthed. It was too soon, he wasn’t ready yet. He needed to prepare, he needed to be sure…

He needed to try the key.

The thought was irresistible and Ben pushed away the plate even though he was only half finished. He had to try it because now she was stuck in his brain again; the mental image of her wreathed in smoke; smiling down at him. And that image was leading to others.

As he queued to pay, Ben fanned his fingers in front of his face, staring at the white dots that ran the length of his fingers, the faint scars of what had once been glistening holes in his flesh. The pain and the smell came back to him. The sear as it sizzled beneath the cigarette’s tip. But now Ben smiled instead of screamed. That was in the past where it could no longer hurt him and his revenge was where it always would be: in the future.

* * * * *

The key felt hot in his pocket as he forced himself to keep a steady pace back to the flat. He couldn’t stop playing with it: turning it over and over, running his fingers over its corrugated edge. He could feel his penis swelling at the possibilities the key might represent and he had to force his excitement down as he walked past the rows of houses and flats. He had to tell himself repeatedly that even if it did work, he wouldn’t be doing anything yet.

It was just an experiment to see if it worked or not. He wouldn’t be retrieving his duffel bag and going in to wait for her yet. He wouldn’t be spending the day perched on her bed, waiting to hear the door swing open…

He was passing the building site a few doors up from the flat, peering at the worn signage that suggested construction had been stalled there for a very long time, when he felt eyes on him. He looked across the road to see a group of schoolgirls – posh ones, judging by the ties and blazers – congregated around the bus stop, giggling as they shot glances at him. Even when they saw him looking they didn’t stop and Ben was momentarily confused until he looked down and saw the way his hand was working in his pocket; saw the bulge at the front of his pants.

He almost echoed their laughter as he walked on, imagining what they must have been thinking. Just another dirty old man. But it didn’t worry him for long – although you really need to be more careful; don’t draw attention to yourself – and they had pretty much slipped his mind as he turned into the driveway. He had far more important things to focus on. The schoolgirls were outside the realm of his revenge and therefore of absolutely no consequence.

Despite his previous resolve to not get his hopes up, Ben’s heart was thumping wildly as he trod down the concrete drive. He looked around, already scanning for even the merest hint of movement; the slightest indication he would be interrupted.

Everything seemed to be clear: there was no-one heading for their cars or the mail boxes, no-one out dumping rubbish in their bins. He checked each of the blinds, searching for even the slightest crack; even a hint of prying eyes.

Nothing. Not a thing…

Ben had to resist the urge to sprint forward: to dash to her door and jam the key in the lock. To just get it over with. But he couldn’t. It would be the quickest way to draw attention to himself.

He walked on, his heartbeat thumping a rhythm to match the slapping of his feet on the concrete. The driveway seemed to stretch for an eternity in front of him. The seconds felt like hours until he was standing at her door, his mouth dust-dry as he swallowed painfully.

The excitement was immense as he looked around once more. It reminded him of the jittery feeling he’d had all those years ago, safe under the bridge, when the red walls had closed in on him the first time; when the idea had first arrived. The idea that he could hurt her back.

It had been spartan back then, when it first formed, much as his ideas had been abstract and fragmentary, but on subsequent visits to his haven he’d fleshed it out. Added the trimmings to match the ones in the room he shared with his brother, installed the table with its restraints, the bench – which back then had only contained a set of kitchen knives to match the ones she used. He’d constructed it all. The delicious fantasies of what he’d do to her there once it was complete. And then the first meat hook had arrived and he’d so enjoyed the idea of her hanging there limply, just awaiting her fate…

Ben wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he strode forward. The key was strangely heavy as he lifted it from his pocket and his head was full of contradictions: It’s not going to work, it won’t even fit the lock - it’ll work because it was meant to be, his revenge needed to be taken.

He held his breath as the key slid into the lock. He could feel sweat on his brow and his pulse pumped loudly in his ears. The key slotted in perfectly. His clammy fingers slipped around its edge as he began to twist it. It resisted at first and Ben’s heart fell…

…but then it was turning, gliding smoothly around the tumbler and Ben heard the noise he had hoped for but didn’t dare expect: the click of the lock unsnibbing; and for a moment sheer disbelief flooded him and he stood staring down at his hand, his excitement exploding again as the realisation hit him. What this could mean…

He heard a screen door bang and was moving before he was even consciously aware of it. The key slipped from the lock and he palmed it into his sleeve as he turned and walked forward, fixing his eyes to a point up and off to the left, where a large gum tree was visible, as though that was what he’d been staring at all along.

He could see Theo hobbling toward him out of the corner of his eye and Ben forced himself not to turn and flee. Had he seen him? Ben hoped not. He had nothing personal against the man and sincerely hoped he wasn’t about to become an obstacle to his revenge.

‘Nice day, huh?’ Theo commented as he drew even and Ben tried to convince himself the nosey bastard wasn’t staring at him oddly. That it wasn’t suspicion in his eyes.

He mumbled a reply and Theo shot him a wide grin.

‘You’re a lucky prick you know that. And you sure move fast too. She’s a good looking girl.’ Theo inclined his head towards Rachel’s door with a giant shit-eating grin plastered across his face. A grin that said: oh don’t worry, I’m on to you, I know what’s going on.

Ben peered after the man in confusion as he hobbled off and it was only once he was safe, back in his flat that it occurred to him what Theo could possibly have meant.

He couldn’t help the chuckle that burbled from his lips and when he caught a whiff of the stale odour that emanated from his armpits, his laughter only increased. Shower might be in order, he thought as he tried to remember when he’d taken his last one. Change of clothes too… After all, I do have to look my best for my new girlfriend…

* * * * *

There was a strange feeling welling in the pit of Rachel’s stomach. An odd sensation that she couldn’t quite define. As she stared at the clean pane of glass, she wasn’t certain if she was angry, freaked out or just plain confused. She looked down at her bandaged hand as though to reinforce the fact that it was still there; that this morning had really happened.

Her stomach had been a twisted knot the whole way home on the tram as she’d sifted through her options and wondered what she should do about the stains. She hadn’t even contemplated the possibility that they would be gone, and combined with the fact that she’d forgotten to lock her door on the way out that morning – something she’d never do; or so she’d thought – left her doubting whether they had even been there in the first place. Which was dumb. She knew it. They’d been there; she’d seen them. Hadn’t she? Of course she fucking had. But what did that mean? That whoever had sprogged on the window had come back and cleaned it up? If that was the case why hadn’t they done it earlier?

Still she couldn’t stop the slight doubt. Did I imagine it? She’d been pretty frazzled that morning. I mean I forgot to lock the door… God, imagine if I’d forgotten to snib the deadbolt too… Anyone could have just strolled in. Gone through her stuff… Gone through the photo albums…

Although she knew it was silly, that the deadbolt had been locked, Rachel felt a tingle of alarm at the thought. She snagged her underwear from the line – still a little damp but it’ll do – and walked back inside, looking around carefully; searching for the littlest item that had been left out of place.

… Had she left the cushions on the couch like that? And the DVD’s… Had the cover been on the top of the tele this morning? Had it been open like that? Rachel couldn’t remember and even though she told herself not to be stupid, the idea of someone in here, pawing through her stuff, made her physically nauseous. She could picture them so easily, skulking around, lying down on her couch, freeing their cock from their pants, stroking away at it.

She could see their cum spurt onto the cushions even though they bore not a hint of a stain.

She pictured them rising and heading to the bedroom and she followed their ghostly silhouette, her eyes still darting to and fro. She’d left the bed messy this morning so it was impossible to tell if it had been altered. Of course it hasn’t, she told herself but the silhouette was now sprawled across the sheets, its cock in its hands once more and it was just so easy to believe…

…And the silhouette was gaining a face now as she knelt down and slid the box from the space under the bed and it was the face of her neighbour and it was just so easy to believe it was him. As she lifted the lid on the box, she felt so angry. She wanted to leap on the silhouette screaming how dare you! She wanted to lay into it, tear at it.

Rachel set the lid aside and stared at the contents inside. Everything was as it should be. The two leatherbound photo albums were stacked neatly with Walter, her vibrator, slotted down in the gap between them and the side of the box.

She sighed in relief, feeling the tension drain out of her. She reached out and ran a finger gently over one of the albums just as the phone began to ring.

That’ll be Ana, she thought as she slotted the lid back in place, pushed the box back under the bed and levered herself to her feet. As she walked back into the living room to get the phone, she could only shake her head at the absurdity of her actions.

* * * * *

It was Ana on the phone. The one teetotaller out of Rachel’s small group of friends and consequently the perpetual designated driver. Ana was probably as close to Rachel as she would let anyone get and as soon as she’d started talking, Rachel smelt an ambush. Apparently Ana’s friend Mitch had “abruptly dropped in from out of town” and would unfortunately have to accompany them that evening. The fact that Mitch was apparently gorgeous and currently single – two things Ana had stressed during the call – was seemingly just a coincidence.

So much for the girl’s night out, she thought as she hung up the phone. She wasn’t too pissed off though. Usually she would have been – especially considering the calibre of men her friends had set her up with in the past – but this time she didn’t mind at all. It had been a good while since last time and it might be just the extra release she needed. Things had been building up a lot the last couple of weeks and she really, really needed to blow off some steam.

Fuck, she’d nearly decked Maree at work today and she was pretty sure that Maree had known it too. Maybe she’d read it in her eyes. Who knew? But whatever it was, she had backed off right away and pretty much left her alone for the rest of her shift. Fucking stupid bitch, Rachel shook her head in disbelief, saying I’m not fit to provide service just cause of a bandage on my hand. Argh!

Rachel deliberately forced her mind off of the issue. Work was finished for the week; she had a good night out planned and a blissful weekend to follow. There was no need to ruin it with thoughts of Maree. No need to brood on it.

Not when compared to the other matter…

Rachel had no idea what to do about that one. She couldn’t very well call in the cops now could she? What would they be able to do about it? Sure they could come and take a statement in case it happened again but with the cum cleaned up would they even believe her? Rachel berated herself for not doing anything that morning. She should have reported it straight away. Or at least taken a couple of photos or something.

So what, are you just going to ignore it? The voice chirped up in her head.

What am I going to say if they ask why I didn’t report it straight off? That’s exactly what I’m going to do, she countered instinctively. It might have just been a one-off. If it happens again I’ll do something.

Are you sure you’re not just looking for an excuse again? The voice persisted but Rachel forced it out of her mind.

Right now, she thought as she caught sight of the clock, I have to get ready.

Ana would be dropping by to collect her in an hour and if she wanted to look her best for the “accidental” tag-a-long, she’d better get started. It was just a shame about her hand. Rachel unwrapped the bandage and peered down at the cuts across it. At least they weren’t too deep and had already scabbed over. She’d just have to be a little careful with how she held her hands.

It was only as she made her way to the bathroom that she realised she’d forgotten to call the landlord again.

She could have screamed in frustration.

* * * * *

His eyes were on her as she locked the door and started down the driveway to where Ana was waiting in her old beat-up Mazda. She caught a brief glimpse of him throwing an empty bottle into the recycling bin but beyond that, refused to look at him.

It might not be him, the voice chirped up.

Yeah right, it’s just coincidence that he moves in and suddenly there’s sprog on my window and my underwear goes fucking missing… And does he really have to fucking stare like that?

Rachel could feel his eyes boring into her back.

Was he just waiting for her to leave? He’d be in for a surprise if he was. There wasn’t a skerrick of clothing on the line now and she’d taped an A4 sheet of paper to the window. That ought to give him a shock, she thought as she ran the message she’d scrawled on it over in her brain: I know you’re watching. There is a camera set up. Smile.

Although it was a blatant lie, Rachel still grinned a little as she imagined his reaction.

You don’t know it’s… The voice began again.

Oh shut up, Rachel cut it off even though experience had told her it was best to listen to it. A conscience? The voice of reason? She didn’t know what it was. All she knew was that it had reined her in many times before. Cutting through when she got a little too worked up about something. Not that it meant she always had to listen to it though. No, sometimes it was eminently more satisfying to just ignore it.

She was well aware that it might not be her neighbour but it was easier to focus her anger if she had a scapegoat. It wasn’t like she was going to do anything anyway… Well, not unless it happened again…

‘Come on, move those feet!’ Ana bellowed from the open window of the car, ‘There’s fun afoot!’

Rachel couldn’t help but grin. Although she was the resident teetotaller, Ana was also the resident nutter of the group. Loud and bubbly, a little scatterbrained, erring just on the right side of irritating but hilariously funny too. Rachel shuddered to think what she’d be like under the influence of alcohol – something Ana had never touched in her whole life. She was the sole remaining friend from her school days and although sometimes she grated a little, her presence always ensured that an evening, at the very least, would not be a dull affair.

‘Come on, come one, move those little legs,’ Ana cheered, clapping her hands in an impatient rhythm as Rachel reached out and opened the passenger door.

She could still feel her neighbour’s eyes on her as she slid into place and was strangely thankful that there was a good chance she wouldn’t be coming home alone that night.

‘So what’s doing slapper?’ Ana grinned infectiously at her, ‘What say we go get you pleasantly smashed?’

‘Sounds like a plan,’ Rachel replied and despite her uneasiness concerning her neighbour, found a smile spreading across her face to match Ana’s.

* * * * *

Although he knew he was being a bit obvious, Ben couldn’t wipe the smile from his face as he stood poised over the bin, his hair still wet from his shower, watching her walk toward the car at the end of the driveway. He could have her whenever he wanted. He could be waiting for her when she got home. The feeling of power was immense. A far cry from the impotence of his youth. The knowledge that he could do it whenever he pleased.

But be patient, he cautioned as he watched her go. She was clearly dressed for a night out in a slinky black dress, heels and make-up. Was she going to meet a boyfriend? Ben didn’t know and it was the last obstacle causing him to hesitate. Although there was no indication she did have a boyfriend, there had been no indication that the last one had either. And that had backfired on him immensely.

He had to be careful this time.

Make sure his research was thorough.

He didn’t want anything to interrupt his revenge. Not this time.

So although it was tempting to use the key again, Ben restrained himself. Instead he waited until the car started to pull away and then jumped into his own.

Call it a research trip, he thought as he reversed out of his space, his smile still firmly in place.

* * * * *

Rachel shook her head in disbelief, laughing in spite of herself as she listened to Lena’s story - punctuated by shrieks of disgust and amusement from the four other ladies who were present.

Lena, who had apparently decided to set the pace for the evening, was onto her fifth glass of the house white and was not leaving out any of the sordid details.

‘He said… he said…’ Lena was having trouble forcing her words past the chuckles that burbled from her lips. ‘… just think of it as warm… as warm tea. Warm tea!’ She banged her hand on the table for emphasis, making the congregated glasses rattle and garnering a few odd looks from the couple of old guys seated at the bar. ‘And on the first date no less!’

Rachel shook her head again as the group broke into shrieking laughter. She looked across at Mitch and smiled when she saw him blushing furiously at the crude tale. Talk about a trial by fire, she thought. Although to the man’s credit, despite being clearly uncomfortable, he was trying to make a good show of it; smiling along. Something in his manner told her that this little get together had been sprung on him as well. Fucking manipulative bitches, Rachel thought, but it was without malice.

He seemed nice enough, although she hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to him yet. He’d had a warm smile when they’d been introduced and although his looks weren’t up to Ana’s hype, he was still very pleasant to the eye. Already he was shaping up to be far better than any of the previous guys her friends had tried to set her up with. The odds were definitely in his favour for a good time that evening.

‘So did you do it?’ Sarah asked, the breathy tone she affected ruined by the giggle at its end.

‘I certainly did…’ Lena sipped at her drink as a shocked gasp spread across the table. ‘… not. What do you take me for?’

The group broke into laughter again as Rachel scanned the relative levels of the glasses and decided another round was in order. Was it her shout? She’d already lost track. Might as well get one in, she thought as her eye drifted to the bar. Although the Duke was rarely busy these days – the fact that it remained open was one of the more inexplicable things in the world to Rachel – the bar staff had an amazing ability to absent themselves when it came time to order drinks.

It was a pretty dodgy pub but that’s why Rachel and her friends preferred it. It rarely got busy, especially since the kitchen was closed down for health reasons, and the few regulars were older guys who, although they certainly didn’t mind a look, had neither the inclination nor urge to hassle them. It made a refreshing change from the more popular places that were, as a rule, packed with alcohol-fuelled would-be Romeos. Last time they’d been at Bridie’s, Rachel had ended up storming out in a huff after the fifth pass was made at her.

When she spotted the man staring at her from the bar, she automatically scanned over him, assuming it was one of the regulars copping an eyeful. Her eyes found that the staff member was present and waiting and it wasn’t until she’d turned back to the group for orders that her mind processed who was perched on the barstool.

Her neighbour, Ben.

Staring at her again.

Her eyes darted back and locked with his.

Ever so slowly, a grin crept across his face as he waved. He didn’t even blink.

Rachel waved back automatically even though alarm bells were ringing.

What the hell was he doing here? Had he followed her?

Don’t be ridiculous. Why would he have followed you?

Was it a coincidence? How long had he been there? How long had he been staring?

A hand fell on her shoulder and Rachel almost screamed aloud.

‘Whoah, easy there tiger.’ Sarah grinned at her. ‘Who’s he?’ She nodded toward Ben at the bar as the group cracked up at the dénouement of Lena’s story. ‘You been keeping secrets from us?’

Rachel looked back across at Ben. He was still staring at her intently.

‘It’s my neighbour,’ she whispered out of the side of her mouth, ‘he just moved in next door.’

‘Where the lady was murdered?!’ Sarah rendered Rachel’s whisper redundant with the volume of her reply. It would have been clearly audible from where he was perched at the bar. ‘What happened to Mr. Freaky? I was looking forward to the latest listing of his transgressions.’

‘He went away.’ Rachel forced her eyes away from Ben but when she turned to Sarah, she found her friend staring intently at him anyway.

‘Intense, isn’t he?’ she laughed, ‘He seems quite taken with you. Can’t take his eyes off of you.’

No, he can’t, Rachel thought and was relieved when Ana pushed back her chair, bellowing in what she could only interpret as an attempt at a pirate’s voice. ‘Argh, it be my round.’ Suddenly she really didn’t want to go anywhere near the bar.

‘He’s pretty cute. You should invite him over.’

‘No,’ Rachel hissed but Sarah was already waving at him. ‘What are you doing?’ Rachel tried to grab her arm but Sarah just laughed and batted her away. Rachel felt like she could have just slapped her.

She peeked up and breathed a sigh of relief as it looked like Ben hadn’t reacted to Sarah’s summons at all. She looked away, over at Mitch who had Bec rabbiting in his ear. He was nodding occasionally but looking from her to Ben. There was a flicker of something in his face – was it jealousy; oh, get over yourself – and Rachel’s heart fell as she looked back and saw Ben unfold himself from the bar stool. He retrieved his glass from the bar and moved slowly toward them.

Oh fucking great, Rachel thought a little bitterly as Sarah gave a mock, excited yelp.

‘Oooh, here he comes.’

* * * * *

Rachel was doing her best not to let his presence at the table spoil her evening but as she listened to Mitch explain about his job at the local TAFE – as it turned out he wasn’t really an old friend of Ana’s but rather a colleague who had only started working there a month ago – inside she was fuming.

Fucking hell, she’d come out tonight to get away from all this shit and then he had to go and fucking turn up… And then that fucking bitch Sarah.

Her motives for calling him over had become abundantly clear now. Rachel knew she was probably being rude not talking to him after a brief introduction to the group but she supposed it didn’t really matter anyway. Not when he had Sarah fawning over him, chattering away.

And every time she glanced at him it was there again. That flicker of movement as though he’d just swivelled his head away at the last second. Rachel just couldn’t relax with him there and she knew she was churning through her drinks too fast; that she would be absolutely shit-faced in the near future if she didn’t slow down, but it was the only thing keeping her irritation at bay.

At least Mitch was turning out good. Although Rachel was fairly certain he had close to the most boring job on the planet, he was nice: softly spoken, self-effacing, one of those guys who just struck you as inherently good.

Why don’t you marry him, she thought sarcastically, you barely know him, he could murder people in his spare time for all you know. It was hard not to see him in a pristine light though, when compared to the fucker staring at her from the other side of the table. Rachel had already decided she was going to sleep with the man. Now it was just a matter of letting things take their course.

But there were still those eyes boring into her. Rachel fought the urge to grind her teeth and instead smiled at Mitch who had apparently wrapped up his usual day at work even if Rachel had missed the end bit.

‘So, have you been up to anything exciting today?’ he asked, smiling that self-effacing grin. The one that told Rachel he was well and truly aware of how dull his job was. She couldn’t help liking him for that.

‘Well…’ she began, readying her usual stock answers: nothing really exciting, the usual, work and stuff, but stopped as a new thought occurred to her. ‘Well now that you mention it, I don’t know if it’s exciting but, well something definitely different happened today.’

She looked across at Ben to make certain he was watching. She wanted to see what his reaction would be.

‘I had a peeping tom.’ She said it at the just the right volume to cut through the hubbub of conversation from Ana who had embarked on some sort of stream of consciousness rant.

It worked perfectly. Ana’s jaw clicked shut and the group turned toward her in near perfect unison. Even Sarah momentarily halted the moon eyes she was making at Ben.

‘Okay, now that sounds far more interesting,’ Ana crowed, grinning, ‘Do tell.’

* * * * *

Rachel sculled the dregs of vodka and coke from her glass and broke into a coughing fit as a bit of ice lodged in her throat. God she was pissed. She’d lost track of the number of drinks she’d downed after ten. Whatever the number was, it was clearly the magic one. Even Ben’s presence at the table had stopped irritating her.

His reaction to her story hadn’t been what she’d hoped for. He’d remained completely stone-faced and unreadable throughout and she couldn’t help but wonder, once again, if he was medicated.

Not that his lack of response was bothering Sarah, she thought as she spluttered. She’d obviously set her sights on him for the evening and Rachel shuddered a little to think what that said about her: that she would be attracted to a man who basically ignored her.

‘Ya right? Got bones in it has it?’ Mitch’s face loomed into view.

He was a little rosy-cheeked and there was a slight slur to his voice that in her intoxicated state, Rachel viewed as decidedly cute. He had a fair few drinks under his belt now and once he’d settled into the evening and the alcohol had started to ease his awkwardness, he’d revealed himself as quite the silver-tongued charmer.

Rachel searched for a witty reply but the drink had made her brain an alarming blank. Mitch’s hand, that had started out patting her back, was now rubbing circles across it which Rachel was finding immensely enjoyable.

Better get out of here soon before I pass out, she thought as she spluttered one last time before straightening in her chair. It was enough to send hazy swirls shooting across her vision.

Definitely time.

She attempted her best come-hither smile for Mitch as she eased her hand onto his thigh. She had a clear image of what she was going for in her mind and only hoped her face was obeying her. Mitch stared at her evenly for a second, just long enough for the doubts to start up – oh God, what if he says no, says I’m not his type – then he leaned in close and began whispering. His line was abrupt and to the point and Rachel was very thankful for that. It led to a very simple and easy to think through reply.

‘Do you want to get out of here?’

‘Yes.’

Business done.

The catcalls from the group started the instant they stood up, as though it hadn’t only been Ben who’d been staring at her all night. They continued as they headed to the door and Rachel turned just before opening it to shoot them the finger. It only doubled the calls and despite herself, Rachel found herself blushing.

The only one not cheering was Ben and for a second the old doubts and irritation began to creep back in as she watched the smile spread across his face. But then Mitch grabbed her arm and dragged her out the door, spinning her into an awkward hug and as her lips met his, she decided there were far better things to occupy her thoughts.

DAY 4

Rachel peered down at Mitch’s head wedged between her splayed thighs and forced a moan of pleasure. Although he clearly knew what he was doing and his tongue felt nice as it plunged into her vagina, something just wasn’t right. His tongue worked away and the usual worries were at the back of her mind – does it smell? God, she should have showered, probably all hot and sweaty down there – but they weren’t the problem. She just couldn’t stop shooting glances at the window, certain she’d see him hunched over, his face pressed to the glass.

Even though only darkness met her eyes each time, Rachel still lamented that her blind had been perpetually wedged half-open since she’d moved in. She never got around to fixing it and cursed that fact now. Although it was flimsy and the Venetians were all bent out of shape, at least it would have offered some mild protection.

Come on, forget about it, focus on the job at hand, she told herself as she forced another moan while Mitch went to work on her clit, tonguing circles around it and sucking it into his mouth. Her forced moan turned to one of real pleasure as the sensation exploded through her but it wasn’t enough. She already knew she wasn’t going to cum; she was too distracted for that and before she knew it her eyes were drifting over to the window again.

And the seething anger that was building inside her didn’t help at all. She tried her best to hold it back but it just kept bubbling up, slowly gaining momentum.

Fuck it! It was meant to be her night of blowing off steam. A fun, relaxing evening with friends. A night she had desperately needed. And now it was all fucked. And she knew who was to blame. Fucking Ben. She knew she was being childish about it but even if he wasn’t responsible for the sprog and the missing underwear, she currently hated him just for the tatters he’d made of her evening.

Fuck, if he was present she could just happily stab him.

‘Everything alright?’

Rachel realised she’d stopped writhing and Mitch was looking up at her with concern on his face. She could see her juices glistening around his mouth and although it was arousing, she was tempted to just say, yeah, I’m afraid so, just not really in the mood at the moment.

But it wasn’t his fault and just because Ben had ruined her night didn’t mean she had to ruin Mitch’s. Without a word, she pushed his face back into her crotch and began to grind at it as he moaned in obvious pleasure. At least someone’s enjoying themselves, she seethed inside at Ben. She’d been so fucking horny on the cab ride back. Mitch’s hands had been all over her and she’d been so looking forward to it. Her pelvis had been almost aching in anticipation.

But now she found herself shuddering to a faked orgasm that released no tension; that afforded her no pleasure, only added to her anger and frustration. And as Mitch clambered up her body, pressing kisses across her stomach to her breasts, and she felt his erect cock nudging at her slick entrance – at least she was well lubricated; hard to fake arousal when you were as dry as the Gobi desert – she couldn’t help it. She began to fantasise. And even though the voice spoke up, suggesting it probably wasn’t the best idea, she ignored it. It was the only way she’d salvage at least a modicum of enjoyment from the evening.

As he plunged into her, she pictured Ben gagged and bound to a chair; his flesh parting like her vulva as she eased the knife in ever so slowly.

The orgasm rocketed out of nowhere.

* * * * *

Ben was lost in reverie, his cock like a heated iron bar in his hand as he pressed his ear to the wall. He could only hear vague noises but he knew what they were doing in there and when he thought of it, Rachel turned into her and his mind was summoning up images of the past. The part of it that had always seemed to leave him so conflicted.

It would have been easier for him if she had just been violent. If it had just been hatred she’d shown him. But that hadn’t been the case and as he tried to focus his attention on the woman next door, the images kept intruding until they merged into one and Ben’s horniness only increased as he was transported back to those afternoons after school…

When the butterflies were heavy in his stomach as he sat on the couch. A giddy feeling mixed with fear and desire and the horrible knowledge that it was wrong. Oh so wrong. But even though he’d be scared, his cock was always hard in his pants. Even though he was always punished for it.

Even though he knew that later she’d be enraged.

He always hated himself for the way he eagerly listened. Both wanting to and not wanting to hear her call: Benny, mummy needs you…

His ear pressed to the wall, Ben held the key up before his eyes with his free hand. The urge to use it was nearly overwhelming. He had the power now. He didn’t have to wait for her summons. He could just stroll right in if he wanted. Maybe with one hand hidden behind his back?

But that wasn’t right was it? It was the key for next door he held, not the one for her bedroom. But it was hard for him to tell the difference as her summons sounded in his mind.

Benny, mummy needs you…

And suddenly Ben felt sick with excitement as he stroked away. He knew he shouldn’t, that he’d be punished, but he also knew he had no choice. Even if he hid she always found him and the longer he made her wait, the worse the punishment would be.

And her voice called again.

Mummy needs you…

And in his mind Ben pushed through the door and she was splayed out on the bed in front of him. Her legs spread so it yawned like a cavern before his eyes, the noises from next door just perfect and apt. His neighbour’s cries growing in volume, matching beat for beat her groans of pleasure.

Ben couldn’t take his eyes away as the buzzing surrounded him like a swarm of bees. As he watched her slide the vibrator in and out. Watched how it glinted beneath the lights. His dick rock hard in his pants as he wondered if he’d only be watching today.

Or would she let him touch her? Would she touch him?

Ben longed to take it out and stroke it but didn’t dare. Not with her looking at him like that. A look that made all the old scars itch. And even though he felt sick to the stomach with the thought of the pain that would be coming, Ben couldn’t stop himself from moving toward her.

There would be pain anyway because his whole life was pain.

And she called to him again as the flesh of her pussy slurped…

Benny, mummy needs you…

And Ben couldn’t hold back. He ejaculated in thick, ropy jets across his chest, his body spasming with pleasure, as in his mind he clambered onto the bed.

But suddenly everything was wrong. It had all changed and the bed was gone and he was sobbing in the corner as she stood over him, her eyes blazing and he knew what was hidden in the hand behind her back. And as she shrieked at him, flecks of spittle dotting the corners of her mouth, he just couldn’t stop cowering.

How dare you! How dare you do that to mummy! I should cut it off! That’s what I’ll do! Cut it off..!

The vision took Ben by surprise, burrowing into his post-ejaculatory bliss and briefly his face cracked as a sob ripped from his lips. The sounds from next door seemed to have disappeared and Ben couldn’t help wondering if maybe he’d imagined them in the first place. He sobbed again and felt wetness on his cheeks but he didn’t want to cry. He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction and anyway, it was always worse if he cried.

They were the rules: you didn’t scream and you didn’t cry, or it got worse.

But the fear barely had time to creep in before the red started to close across his vision and his sobs cut off before they even really began. Replaced by a smile as the walls and ceiling began to form. Because he wasn’t the helpless child he was then and the power had been switched around.

Switched around so it was time for his revenge.

And the bench formed before his eyes, loaded with the arsenal of playthings he’d built up over the years to complement the original set of kitchen knives and it was so tempting to take the key and go next door and take her but he knew he needed to be patient; that the man she left with looked strong and that he could cause problems.

But that was okay, Ben thought, his grin spreading wider as he realised he was now inside the Red Room again. His erection jutting out hard against the leather apron as he studied them hanging there limply; just patiently waiting for his ministrations. There was plenty to keep him occupied here.

…And in his mind the two images arrived simultaneously, flashing up in split screen. In one she was writhing on the bed and there was love in her eyes. Love mixed with desire and adoration but in the other the shutters had come down and her face was wreathed in smoke and her eyes blazed with anger and disgust and he fucking hated her so much but he loved her too but hated her for making him feel so conflicted. Hated her for the mix of arousal and hatred the images caused in him.

And he moved over to number six, hanging on her hook, bathed in the glorious red hue. Her resemblance was slight: the same hair and eye colour, a vague likeness around the jaw, but she fought so much when he took her and even if she wasn’t one of his favourites, Ben wanted one that struggled now. He wanted her to fight hard. He wanted to watch as the realisation hit her. That despite her best attempts to escape, despite her belief she was a strong person, there was nothing she could do. That she was helpless.

He yanked her down, the hook slurping as it emerged, shiny with a deeper red than the light that bathed it and slung her over his shoulder, his hands roving over her cold and lifeless buttocks as he marched over to the table and slung her down. The screams she’d unleash were already playing in his mind making his penis throb, and when he reached down to touch it; it was already slick with pre-cum.

When he raised some up to the red light, it glistened just like blood.

He’d tie her face down, he decided; face down so she’d look even more like her.

He wrenched her legs and arms into position and slowly strapped her in. He watched the colour spread through her pallid frame, hunkered down so he could watch the sentience return to her eyes; watch the realisation of the situation dawn on her.

She bucked hard and her screams were everything he’d hoped for. He watched fascinated as the restraints cut into her wrists and ankles, chafing free the skin, sending trickles of blood snaking down her limbs. He stood and circled her slowly, drinking it in, his mouth dry as he caught sight of her pussy, the lips parted by the splayed position, peeking at him from between her spread thighs.

He’d start there this time. Start at the place she’d used to imprison him for so long.

He stood and made his way to the bench and ran his hands over the array of knives, past the hacksaw and surgical scalpels, across the claw hammer and the two chipped and stained chisels. His hands gripped the power drill and just the feel of it had him gasping for breath as he slowly twisted the chuck and selected a bit from the pile on the bench.

It was long and thick, the length of it covered with hooked and glittering barbs and the way they whirred as he experimentally depressed the trigger sent him weak at the knees with excitement. He could see it going in, grinding away. He could feel the flecks spattering against his skin and as he stepped toward her, his hand slipped beneath the leather apron.

He began to masturbate…

* * * * *

When he snapped back, Ben was outside her window again and they were both stretched out in front of him, naked and sprawled, the man’s cock, limp against his thigh, still glistened with her juices around its base. Ben could see the filled and tied off condoms beside the bed and his breath caught in his throat as she shifted position slightly and he caught a glimpse of her pussy, smiling wetly between her thighs.

He thought back to the minced one he’d left behind in the Red Room, the way the drill had gone in so easily, pulping and shredding. The screams she’d unleashed as he’d wedged it in, ramming it to and fro. He thought back to it and overlayed it onto the scene in front of him now and before he knew it he was ejaculating again, thick ropes of his jism spattering the glass much as they’d sprayed across the ruined snatch of number six.

Ben was digging in his pocket, about to head for the back door when his eyes fell on the sheet of paper taped to the window and he felt something inside him shrivel as he realised she must have known about the cum and the fact it had disappeared would have only made her more suspicious. Did she suspect him?

He read over the note again but it was hard to focus with his heart hammering away in his chest. The note didn’t mention him by name but who else would she suspect? Ben cursed his foolishness. What, he thought it would be fine? That it wouldn’t look strange that all this stuff just happened to occur a couple of days after he moved in?

Quickly, he stripped off his t-shirt and mopped at the new ropes of sperm. But she hadn’t called the cops, he thought, his panic receding a little as he thought it through, she must still have her doubts. This didn’t mean he necessarily had to abandon his revenge. He’d just have to speed things up. Maybe do it now?

No that would be stupid.

But the key for his flat worked on both the back and front doors. Maybe this one was the same?

If it was he could do it now.

Ben crossed to the door, his heart pounding with excitement. What did it matter if the man was there? If he could enter silently, he could take care of him before he became a problem. It wouldn’t be like the last time, the man wouldn’t be unexepectedly coming home from a business trip. He could do it.

He could…

Ben hadn’t even realised he’d inserted the key until he heard the lock click open.

It worked.

The rush of power hit him, stiffening his cock. The idea that he had her in his power. He twisted the handle and the door began to swing open, the gap gradually growing tantalisingly wider.

I need to get my tools, he thought, picturing where he’d start. He’d use the large carving knife on the man. Just quickly and efficiently slit his throat; get him out of the way in a hurry. He didn’t want him flailing about and waking her. No, he wanted that privilege for himself. He’d press the knife to her throat. He wanted to see the confusion as she awoke to the feeling of cold steel on her skin. Then he’d slowly hold up the duct tape so she could see it…

The door halted an inch open and Ben ground his teeth in frustration. He had to restrain from just ramming it when he poked his fingers through the gap and felt the chain holding the door shut. It was so tempting. But how loud would the splintering wood be? He couldn’t risk waking them.

He scrabbled around in the gap for a moment but there wasn’t enough room to get his hand in and he couldn’t slide the chain free. He bunched his hand into a fist, fighting back his irritation. He could be in there now; he could have already started…

The laugh ripped through the air, ridiculously close and Ben flinched, the irritation disappearing as he stifled a scream. What the fuck was that? His mind raced even though he instantly realised it was coming from the neighbour’s yard. There was a faint murmur of voices and then another laugh exploded followed by frantic shushing noises.

How long had they been there?

Had they heard him?

Suddenly it was like Ben was waking from a dream as he realised how close he’d come to doing something stupid. How close he’d let the ridiculous panic over the sign push him into rushing things. Why did he need to rush? Even if she told the police, what could she prove? And even if she knew it was him, she couldn’t possibly know that he could get in. That he had the key. She had no idea how close he could get to her. All he had to do was be patient and wait until she went out again. If he went through the front door there’d be no chain to stop him and he could have all the time in the world to make his preparations.

Ben began to move back towards the fence, careful not to make any noise. He was so focused on his task that he almost went past his shirt, rumpled on the ground, and he shook his head as he snatched it up, trying to focus. He was making far too many little mistakes and he wondered whether it was some lingering effect of the pills or was it just that he was out of practice?

How long would the medication take to wear off? For that matter, how long since he took the last one? Ben tried to think but couldn’t remember. Not that it really mattered. Especially not when he passed the window and saw her sprawled out once more. He couldn’t help pausing and pressing his fingers to the glass, remembering how often he’d stood over her body at night, his cuts throbbing, the knife in his hand. All those impotent nights where he’d tried to work up the courage to take the revenge he’d fantasised about for so long. All those wasted opportunities, before the overdose had taken her and they’d been shipped off into foster care, washed over him and a brief sadness gripped him. But it wasn’t long-lived.

Because although he’d squandered those opportunities, he’d since found a way to have many, many more and those ones… well those ones were never ever wasted.

* * * * *

Rachel’s head was throbbing as she pressed the phone to her ear and was bombarded with Sarah’s cheery voice babbling out from the receiver. She shot a look at the clock; saw ten-fifteen glaring back at her and politely refrained from asking what the fuck Sarah thought she was doing ringing so early.

The fact there wasn’t a trace of hangover in Sarah’s bubbly voice and that the voice gave the distinct impression she’d been up for hours already didn’t help her irritation at all. She shook her head to clear away the sleep and immediately realised that it was a bad idea. It only increased the throbbing and as she peered around sleepily, she realised that Mitch had indeed legged it.

She’d suspected as much when the phone had woken her alone in her bed but she’d held out hope that maybe he was in the kitchen making breakfast or something. But apparently not and her irritation spiked again. No good-bye, no thanks for last night, no note, no nothing. Fucking great. It wasn’t like she wanted to fucking marry him and have his babies or anything but fuck, there was such a thing as common courtesy.

Sarah was still babbling away and Rachel realised that she’d missed almost everything her friend had been telling her. Her stomach was starting to somersault and even though she really didn’t give a fuck what Sarah had to say, she snapped a reply. ‘What?!’

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line and Rachel realised she might have been a little abrupt. Not that the bitch didn’t deserve it after last night.

‘Well, well, is someone feeling a little seedy this morning?’ Sarah’s voice was so bright and cheerful that Rachel was glad she wasn’t present. The temptation to stab her would be just too much. ‘Speaking of which, how’d it go last night? Come on, gory details.’

‘It was alright,’ Rachel croaked and had to remind herself it was allegedly one of her friends she was talking to.

‘Just alright? Come on.’

There was a pause and Rachel rubbed at a bleary eye with the palm of her hand.

When Sarah’s voice came back it was still cheerful but there was a slight edge of irritation to it.

‘Well, I’ll expect a full report once you’re feeling a little more sprightly but that’s not really why I’m calling. As I was saying, even if some of us weren’t listening, it’s about that guy last night… Um… Your neighbour… What’s his name again?’

Sarah’s voice dropped out just long enough for Rachel to form the thought: like you don’t fucking remember.

‘Ben. That’s it. It’s about Ben.’

‘What about him?’

‘Well he’s a strange one for sure.’

Which is why I didn’t want you to fucking invite him over last night.

‘It didn’t seem to bother you that much,’ Rachel said, attempting a jovial tone. It didn’t work. It came out bitchy. Fortunately Sarah answered with a throaty chuckle.

‘Well, I was also pretty drunk last night.’

Not that you sound it bitch.

‘But he is a weirdo if you ask me,’ Sarah continued, ‘he’s pretty obsessed with you.’

Rachel ground her teeth a little, ‘Why? What did he do?’

‘Well first promise not to freak out. That you won’t do anything stupid.’

Rachel ground her teeth some more. Her hand was starting to cramp from how tight she was gripping the phone. ‘I promise. What’d he’d do?’

‘Well, it’s just that he kept asking questions about you. Stuff like whether you had a boyfriend and that. If you were close to your family, that sort of thing.’

‘What did you tell him?’ Rachel could feel a slight pulse beginning to beat at her temple. As the bitch hesitated she felt like roaring: WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU TELL HIM?!!

She’s not a bitch. She’s your friend, the voice spoke up and Rachel caught herself just as she was about to let rip.

‘What did you tell him?’ she repeated through thin lips in a near whisper.

‘Well in all fairness I will say that I was really fucking drunk and, you know, I thought he was interested in you. Thought it’d be a good back up plan if Mitch didn’t work out.’

Like fuck you did, Rachel screamed in her head. She could feel her eyelid fluttering rapidly over her left eyeball but, despite her best efforts, couldn’t seem to stop it.

‘I sort of told him it all, you know. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. It wasn’t like he was asking what sort of underwear you preferred or anything.’ Sarah’s voice dropped out for a second as Rachel focused on breathing in and out. When it came back it was a little more tentative. ‘Look, I’m sorry but seriously if you heard what I told him, you wouldn’t be at all pissed off. I only rang you because of what happened when you left.’

Rachel worked her jaw carefully for a moment before replying. The tension in her body was knotting her neck, clamping pain in a line that was spreading down her shoulder and radiating through her arm. ‘What happened?’

‘Well it was as soon as you and Mitch left. He just stood up and followed. I mean I was halfway through a sentence and just boom, he was on his way to the door. And he had this really intense look in his eyes you know.’ Sarah paused but Rachel didn’t trust herself not to scream at her. ‘But that’s not the really odd bit…’ Sarah paused again, ‘Are you alright? You sound like you’re hyperventilating or something.’

‘I’m fine. What happened?’ Rachel hissed it before she could stop herself. Sarah sounded far less certain of herself when her voice came back.

‘Well, as I was saying, I was fairly drunk at the time. And, well, all I can say is… well. I mean God it sounds ridiculous but he was pretty cute you know. I thought, after I saw you and Mitch getting along so well. I thought I’d… well it’d had been a while for me too you know. I thought I’d see if there was any interest.’

You fucking bitch of a lying slut. You were all over him the whole time, don’t try and justify it now.

‘You seemed pretty into him for most of the night from where I was sitting.’ It came out sounding really bitchy this time but Rachel was beyond caring. At this moment, she was so pissed off; she could happily see herself ruining their friendship forever. What did she fucking need her friends for anyway, they only fucking caused problems.

‘Did I?’ Sarah sounded offended now and the voice chirped up in Rachel’s head, laced with sarcasm. Wow, good job. Mission accomplished. ‘Are you pissed at me? I didn’t know you fancied him.’

‘I don’t. What happened?’ Rachel’s entire body was trembling now. She felt strangely light-headed despite her thumping headache. Was she going to pass out? Have an aneurysm?

‘Well…’ Rachel could just see Sarah toying with the idea of being a bitch and hanging up. She restrained from growling into the receiver: just fucking tell me. ‘Well, I was feeling good to go by the time you walked out, you know, and when he up and left, I was a bit offended too. I thought we were getting on pretty well and stuff. So I followed him. Pretty much threw myself at him outside the pub and that was when it got a little weirder.’

Rachel felt like shrieking laughter when it occurred to her what her friend’s problem was. He’d said no. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Come on be charitable, the voice spoke up again but Rachel was in no mood to listen to it. Sarah was a pretty vain woman. The sort that spent a lot on her body: gym memberships, facials, waxing, solariums. What a blow that would have been to her ego. Fucking bitch deserves it after how she was acting… Even as she thought it though, it segued into a more disturbing one. Why would he have said no? It wasn’t like the money hadn’t been spent well. In fact, thinking back, Rachel struggled to remember a time when anyone had said no to Sarah.

‘I got no reaction. Like none at all. I was pushing up against him and everything. It was like kissing a marble statue. I even accidentally grazed his penis. I admit I’m not the most subtle person when I’m drunk and there was zero reaction there. So I got a little shitty and I must admit, I started making a bit of a scene, but while I berated him, he just stood there and took it. He didn’t seem to be at all bothered. Sort of stone-faced and dreamy. Fortunately Ana heard me and came and got me before I did anything really dumb but just before she did, this smile spread across his face and it was so friggin’ freaky and when he talked it was just this stilted monotone. Shit, I couldn’t even attempt an impersonation. He just said: sorry you’re not my type, you don’t look like her”,’ Sarah stopped talking and barked a nervous laugh.

‘Shit, it doesn’t even sound that bad repeating it but I swear there was just something about the way he said it. Freaked the shit out of me.’

‘Okay.’ Rachel’s voice sounded dry and crackly to her ears. A new thought was growing and as she listened, she slowly, with a somnambulistic step, began to walk back to the bedroom.

‘… But I thought I should ring and tell you, you know, as he seemed rather caught up with you. I’m telling you he’s a freak.’

‘I know. It’s the main reason I didn’t want you to call him over last night if you recall.’ Rachel stopped dead as she reached the bed; its sheets still rumpled, and studied the glass.

‘Well I didn’t know, I was trying to do you a favour…’ Sarah’s voice was carrying an edge of righteous indignation that Rachel just couldn’t swallow at the moment. As her eyes locked on the faint smears at the bottom of the window, Rachel knew she had to get off the phone or she’d take it out on her friend.

‘I’ll have to call you back,’ she hissed and hung up without waiting for a reply.

For the longest second, she just stood there, her body quivering with rage, the shooting pains of cramp infusing her whole left side now.

Well mission accomplished, you’ve successfully pissed off your friend, the voice spoke up. What’s next on the agenda…

Rachel roared aloud in frustration, stopping the voice dead in its tracks as the irritations of the last week began to pour into her: her fucking broken car, the fucking tram trips, the fucking missing underwear, fucking Sarah, fucking Mitch not leaving a fucking note, the fucking pervert next door and his fucking staring, ruining her fucking night out, fucking Maree giving her shit at work, the fucking broken hot water service that she still hadn’t called the landlord about and now fucking this. He’d been again. She was certain of it, he’d been out there watching. He’d cleaned up or at least tried to but she could still see a few smears and it just made her so fucking angry. What fucking right did he have? He was just like all the other ones: the fucking inconsiderate pricks.

The fucking old bitch, ‘I don’t like to keep my babies locked up.’ Babies, they were fucking cats!

The fucking goth wanker: ‘I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you show me your tits and then I might turn down the music.’

All of them. Fucking one after another. All she fucking wanted was to be left alone. Just some fucking peace but no…

Rachel roared again, a tense choking sound that did not relieve the snowballing rage one iota. It just kept building and building and building.

The phone shattered very satisfyingly as she hurled it into the wall.

* * * * *

Ben sat, slowly smoking as he rolled the bottle of pills absently in front of him. He really wished he’d bought another bottle of bourbon. Something to distract himself with but he didn’t dare go out now to rectify the oversight. He didn’t want to miss an opportunity if she went out.

That was if she did go out today.

Did she have work? Ben had lost track of time. He had no idea how long had passed since the pub. He was a little hazy on the time before then as well but assumed it had been a Friday on the pub night. But how long had passed since then? Ben had been slipping in and out of the Red Room since his near-mishap outside Rachel’s window and it had been hard to keep track.

He pressed his eye to the crack between the blind again as he saw a shadow flit by. He didn’t recognise the chubby man in a matching green tracksuit set. He was probably from one of the flats up the other end of the block. Any of the tenants not immediately bordering him could have been in another world for all Ben saw of them.

He returned his attention to the pills, rolling them back and forward between his fingers, wondering how his mind-set could have changed so much in so little time. He’d been going to start a new life, all this stuff had been in the past, but as he tried to conjure up the man that had stood watching the agent struggling with the lock only a stranger appeared to him.

It was impossible for him to think of a new life when the images kept bubbling up in him like they were now. The anger and the humiliation still fresh each time, never fading. No, he needed his revenge. It was the only thing that helped.

The pills certainly hadn’t. Ben gave them a last roll across his fingers and placed them on the sill in front of him. It certainly looked like Slavia wouldn’t be getting his great success story now. He almost felt like writing the Doctor a letter. Dear Slavia. Thanks for trying but sadly your pills don’t work. Just thought I’d drop you a line while I wait for my next victim to leave…

He wondered how many people like him the doctor had unleashed on the world with nothing but a vial of pills in their pockets.

He wondered and realised that he didn’t really care.

Maybe his note should be more of a thank you one. Thank you Slavia for not reporting me to the cops when I confessed all. This one’s for you…

Ben smiled to himself and pushed his eye to the crack again. No one was stirring. He stood and stretched, his joints crackling, and his grin spread a little wider as he saw the glimmer of red, out of the corner of his eye. Just a quick visit, he thought and the red began to spread…

No, no, no. He couldn’t afford it. What if she left while he was away? He shook his head but for a moment it looked like he wasn’t going to have any choice in the matter. The red kept spreading and spreading but then stopped and Ben breathed a sigh of relief. There’d be plenty of time for that when he was done. And by then he’d have a brand new plaything too. For what felt like the hundredth time that day, he patted his pocket and felt the comforting outline of the key.

The brief glimpse of red had stirred his penis to life again and for a moment Ben stood rubbing it through his pants until his eyes fell on the khaki duffel bag, propped against the wall and it swelled to a full erection.

He walked over and picked up the bag. It made such a satisfying clink as he carried it back to the front window. He freed his cock from his pants and crouched down in front of it, pressing his eyes to the crack for one last look before he unknotted the drawstring.

With gentle strokes he began to wank as he removed item after item and laid them on the sill next to the pills. The thick roll of silver duct tape came first and he pictured tearing off a strip and twining it around her mouth. Then came the plastic ties and he saw himself securing her to the bed. Next he removed the large hunting knife in its sheath, slipping the buckle so an inch of the glittering blade slid free. It was pristinely clean. He only ever used it for the fear it evoked and to remove the clothes.

Ben sped up the rhythm of his hand as he removed the canvas knife roll and laid it on the sill. He slowly pulled the bow, his fist turning to a blur as the string dropped free and the canvas slowly unfurled. He glimpsed the first of the stained blades, the old blood crusted black across it and he began to cum, grunting with each spurt as they flashed before him. Each incision he’d made with every blade played over his mind as one by one they were revealed.

The large paring knife that he’d used on number four in St Kilda.

The strips that he’d cut had been so thin they were almost translucent.

The serrated steak knife.

The pooling blood as he scooped out the eyes of number seven in Preston.

The bloody razor blade and the intricate patterns it had sliced over number ten in Glenroy.

They were endless: the images. And the appearance of each knife was accompanied by fresh gouts of jism as wave after wave of excitement washed over Ben’s body. When it was finally over, he was spent, gasping and staring in disbelief at the sheer quantity of his cum on the wall.

The unfurled roll left them all laid out before him and he ran his finger over each of them as he pressed his eye to the gap again.

* * * * *

Although it was close to the last thing she felt like doing, Rachel had to get out of the flat. Her hangover only seemed to be increasing the longer she was awake and she knew she had to go for a walk or just do something. Burn off some of the anger before she did something stupid. Before she used it again; she’d sworn she wouldn’t use it again.

Staring at the remains of the phone on the bedroom floor and the dent its impact had made in the wall only fuelled her anger as she yanked on some clothes and stormed to the door.

And to top it all off the fucker had made her ruin her phone. Rachel hadn’t tried to fix it yet but the shattered circuit board visible suggested it was pretty much a write-off. Just another little irritation to add to the list, she fumed as she slammed the door behind her and stalked off down the driveway. Rachel forced herself not to look back at the pervert’s flat. She didn’t dare. It would be too easy to turn back if she did. Just turn back, march up to his door and start pounding. And when he answered she’d…

And then you’d do what? The voice broke through her fuming as she turned and walked blindly down the street, almost bowling over Theo who was just turning into the driveway. Three in a row, that won’t look half suspicious… The voice continued but was cut off.

‘Hey, watch where you’re going,’ Theo grumbled.

Watch where you’re going you fucking nosy old cunt, she felt like screaming but just kept walking.

‘Geez, you’re just as fucking rude as your boyfriend,’ Theo grumbled.

Rachel stopped dead in her tracks.

‘What?’

Theo kept walking, muttering away to himself.

‘What did you just say?’ Rachel called after him, her voice unbelievably hostile to her own ears. She realised she was losing it; that it was pointless to scream and rave at Theo. He was a man who thrived on that sort of thing.

Still she couldn’t seem to stop herself.

Theo had sort of half-turned and was staring at her with one cocked eyebrow.

‘What? Now you want to talk to me?’ He puffed his chest up in indignation.

Rachel forced a deep breath; fought back the urge to leap on the man and claw at his eyes.

‘Look I’m sorry but I’ve had a bad morning. What did you say about a boyfriend? I don’t have a boyfriend.’

A shrewd, calculating smile split Theo’s face and Rachel hated him so fucking much at that point. ‘Ha, sure you don’t. What, you think I don’t know what’s going on?’

‘What are you talking about?’ It was getting harder and harder for Rachel to control her irritation.

‘You certainly play the field don’t you?’ Theo’s grin spread a little wider, ‘Got a few on the board at the same time.’

Rachel knew that it was only giving Theo what he wanted, letting him know he’d upset her, but she couldn’t help it and blushed bright red; a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

‘What I do is none of your fucking business,’ she snapped.

‘Yeah, well you might want to tell your boyfriend next time you bring a new guy home. I saw him last night and he looked pretty pissed off.’

‘I don’t have a boyfriend…’ Rachel started through gritted teeth but her words trailed off and her heart skipped a beat as a new thought occurred to her. One that left her feeling jittery with sudden adrenaline. ‘Who do you think is my boyfriend?’

Theo barked a short laugh. ‘Oh don’t worry; I know what goes on around here. Didn’t take you long to shack up with the new fella next door did it?’

Rachel’s heart skipped another beat as her saliva dried up.

‘What?’ she croaked.

‘Oh what? Are you gonna deny it? I saw him. Even had a key for the place. Guess things move a little more quickly than they did back in my day. Back when we still had a little decency.’

‘What?’ Rachel repeated, suddenly sick to the stomach.

‘Well we didn’t go around shacking up with anything that has a heartbeat for a start.’

Rachel could feel the pulse building at her temple again. ‘What do you mean he had a key?’

That fucking old bitch!

Theo was looking at her oddly now and it dawned on Rachel that her eyelid was rapidly fluttering again.

‘He was locking up as I walked past. Fucking prick wouldn’t give me the time of day. Too busy to stop and say a few words…’

Theo’s voice drained away into the background as Rachel tried to compute what he was telling her.

It was a strange, almost dream-like state that descended on her as she slowly eased herself back a few steps and looked back down the driveway.

And there he fucking was…

Had he been heading for her door?

He was making a beeline for his car now but it looked faked and forced; like he’d taken a few too many steps forward before changing tack.

Had he only moved after he’d seen her?

And what was that he was stuffing back into his pocket? Was that the glint of metal in his hand?

Rachel stood and stared at him; stared at him and at the duffel bag he held, tucked under one arm. The cramping tension spread through her body once more.

She watched him open the door of the car; watched him fumble around inside; saw the furtive glances he was shooting her through the back window.

He didn’t look back at her when he headed for his door but Rachel watched him the whole way. The cramp stinging as she slowly clenched and unclenched her fists.

The fucking bastard. The fucking bastard… It looped in her mind as she dug her nails into her palm, reopening the scabbed crescents that ran across it.

Come on, don’t… the voice began but Rachel roared shut the fuck up and it promptly disappeared.

‘…Are you alright? You’re bleeding?’

Rachel felt a hand on her shoulder and whipped around to face Theo, her anger blazing.

‘I’m fucking fine,’ she hissed and Theo recoiled, cupping his hand to his chest like he’d just touched a hot-plate. He opened his mouth, thought better of it and closed it again.

Rachel left him standing there as she slowly walked back to her flat. The loop played repeatedly as the blood dripped through her fingers.

The fucking bastard, the fucking bastard, the fucking bastard…

* * * * *

Ben felt all his worries melt away as the red enclosed him. The last lingering shreds of his panic dissipated. The fear that had gripped him after he’d almost been sprung. Dissipated in its comfortable embrace.

It had been a close thing. A stupid thing. He should have been tipped off by the fact she wasn’t in her uniform. If she’d been a minute later. Even thirty seconds, he would have had the key in the lock…

But at least he knew it was the weekend now, even if that meant another night or two’s wait.

That was okay though. He could keep himself occupied. He grinned now as he remembered the agonising wait with his back pressed to the door; certain that she’d seen through his ruse; that she’d seen the key in his hands; waiting for the first siren to sound. None of it mattered now though because he was back in the Red Room with his leather apron on and he had the whole night to play. He didn’t have to emerge again until she left for work.

And then the real fun would begin…

…He stood and surveyed them hanging there on their meat hooks and his hand slipped beneath his apron as he saw her in all her infinite varieties. He stepped across and lifted the thigh of number two – she’d been naked when he’d taken her – and revealed the slit between her lifeless thighs. His fist pumped and pumped.

He dropped the leg back down after a minute and his eyes drifted across to the empty hook as he hoisted her down. Soon, it would be so soon. It was becoming his favourite refrain.

He slapped her down onto the table and strapped her in. He waited patiently for the life to return to her eyes and timed his punch to perfection. It connected just as she opened her mouth to let rip and his penis pulsed as he felt the teeth give way beneath his fist.

The wide eyes flooded red as she bucked in shock and agony, bursting the blood vessels as she strained. He clamped her jaw hard, forcing it open and studied her now ripped and torn gum line while she choked on the blood trickling down her throat. He flicked aside the apron as his orgasm approached, manoeuvred into position and ejaculated into her open mouth, the semen splattering in thick ropes across the shattered fragments of her teeth.

He threw her head back down. It impacted with such a satisfying crunch. He smiled as he watched her lying there dazed, choking and spluttering at the horrid cocktail in her mouth. He especially enjoyed the confusion in her eyes. As he slowly walked over to the bench and surveyed his tools, the look stayed with him the whole way. It was just so fitting. The perfect visual to sum up how he’d felt the first time she’d come for him in the middle of the night

She was trying to talk behind him but the words only came out as gibberish. He picked up the carving knife from the bench, his cock already swelling to life again. He held it up nice and high so she could see.

He circled her and listened to her sobbing. He did three circuits and then stopped at her feet. Gently, he prodded the sole with the blade’s tip.

She bucked but there was nowhere for her to go.

He prodded harder and flicked the blade down, tracing a red line over the sole.

He watched the blood well for a moment.

She heaved and panted; heaved and panted.

He pushed the blade more firmly this time. It took two hands. It sank through flesh and gristle. It grated against bone. His penis throbbed as he watched it slowly emerge from the other side. The blood flowed down over her ankle in a slowly increasing river.

Her back arched off the table, she froze in an agonising rictus. Blood and jism sprayed from her mouth as she screamed long and loud. Her breasts were framed perfectly against the red hue of the background, the nipples stiff and erect. He decided he’d work on them next.

But first finish with the foot…

He began to saw, yanking the knife upwards. The sound of grating bone filled the air. He got the blade up a centimetre and it jammed. He tore it free and studied the gobs that spattered on his apron for a moment.

Vomit bubbled from her lips.

He smiled as he returned to the bench and let the knife clutter back among the tools. He picked up the metal shears and returned to her. She’d passed out so he slapped her back awake before he returned to her feet. He locked eyes with her as he opened the blades. She mouthed something that looked like no.

Three snips took care of the remaining join. The crunch of the bones forced a dribble of pre-cum. She passed out again as he levered the two sides apart. Two toes to the left; three to the right. He studied the inside, his hand, finally freed, slipping back beneath the apron.

Yes there would be plenty to keep him occupied until morning… plenty indeed… for a start he would use the skewers on the breasts…

* * * * *

Rachel sat on the bed, staring blankly at the wall ahead as she cradled her wounded hand. She had no idea how long she had been there after she’d locked and chained the doors; no idea how long she had basked in her seething anger. She knew she should really bandage her hand again but couldn’t force herself to move.

Occasionally the voice would chirp up: some sort of justification or a suggestion to call the cops, but Rachel clamped down on it quickly. She was beyond hearing the voice of reason at this point…

It had gone too far for that now.

She felt like screaming. Like smashing things. She just couldn’t stop each indignity from spiralling through her mind, looping to and fro, feeding back into her anger; restarting, over and over again.

It was beyond anything she could tolerate. Beyond it all. She had to fucking do something about this. She just fucking had to.

And that fucking old bitch! It looked like she had another shortcoming to add to that bitch’s list. She’d whined enough about the fact the spare key to her flat hadn’t been in Thea’s belongings when she died but never even mentioned she still had a spare key to Thea’s flat.

TO MY FUCKING FLAT!

The thought made Rachel’s blood boil and naturally segued into one of the fenced-in building site down the road where construction had been halted for a good three years now. A thought of the bundles stacked inside the concrete tube and a thought that there was plenty of space for more…

But that’s really what you wanted all along isn’t it? The voice chirped up.

Oh fuck off! Rachel screamed in her mind. This isn’t what I want. I just want to be left in peace. I just want people to be a little fucking considerate…

Really? Would they ever be considerate enough?

‘Oh, fuck off.’ She said it aloud this time, spitting it out viciously and the voice beat a hasty retreat.

Something was definitely going to be done.

She just needed to calm down first. In the state she was in she was going to do something stupid. She needed to focus, get control, but the anger was ever present. Boiling away inside her.

‘Fucking pervert,’ she hissed it as she pictured his stare and finally her paralysis broke. She lent over, reached down and slid the box from beneath the mattress.

She just needed to blow off some steam. Get herself thinking clearly again. She’d have to be so damn careful this time.

Rachel scooted herself back up the bed, dragging the box with her. When she was lying back against the pillows, she levered the lid off the box and set Walter down beside her. She lifted her hips and dragged off her tracksuit pants and underwear in one motion, kicking them free as she lifted out the first of the photo albums.

She ran her fingers over her cleft as she laid it down on the bed beside her and flipped open the cover. She rubbed as she studied the pages, her pussy moistening and spreading at her touch. She reached for Walter and twisted the base; felt him vibrate to life beneath her fingers as she turned the page, feasting her eyes on the photos, slowly bringing Walter up, trailing him along her thigh, the buzzing tingling her skin.

Some of the tension began to finally eke out of her in the face of her growing arousal.

She turned another page and slid Walter in, gasping out loud and wishing she’d taken the time to heat him up a little first.

Just blow off a little steam, she thought as she flipped another page and pictured the key hanging on the hook in the drawer.

Just get myself thinking clearly again.

DAY 5

Rachel didn’t look back as she locked the door and headed down the driveway. Despite her fatigue, she felt exhilarated. Her anger was still there, bubbling away beneath the surface but it had lessened somewhat after the lengthy session with Walter and the photo albums. Lessened as the realisation had grown that yes, she was going to do this.

She hadn’t slept at all the previous night. She’d spent the time sitting on the bed, staring out past the half-wedged-open blind. Staring and waiting but he hadn’t made an appearance.

So instead Rachel had sat and stewed.

The voice had made a few, last-ditch efforts but had finally given up with a disgusted sigh and left her to it. She had sat and thought and watched as the sky gradually lightened outside.

When the alarm sounded, she’d stood and slowly walked over and turned it off. Then stowed Walter and the albums back in the box and slid it safely under the bed, pleased that there was only a slight tremor in her hand.

After dressing mechanically her hand had been scabbed and crusted with her blood so she’d washed and bandaged it again. Then she’d gone and packed.

And as she hefted the overnight bag and settled the strap more comfortably on her shoulder, Rachel ran a mental list of its contents and a smile broke across her face as she made her way down the driveway.

She could feel his eyes on her the whole way.

* * * * *

Ben watched her go; his eye pressed to the crack as he rolled up the canvas and stuffed his knives back in his duffel bag. One by one he fed the other items in as he watched her walk out of view. Watched the way her figure shifted beneath her clothes, the erection hot against his thigh as he imagined it being revealed to him in its fullest. When he would remove more than just the clothes; strip it right back to the bare bones. He watched her until she was out of sight and then turned and sat in a crouch with his back to the wall as he knotted the drawstring of the duffel bag.

He sat and waited, staring down at the bag as he listened intently. He wanted to make certain she was gone this time; didn’t want a repeat of yesterday. Although she was in her uniform, it was best to be certain. There were niggling doubts in his head about the bag she had slung over her shoulder – was she going away? Did she somehow suspect and was going to stay at a friend’s house? He pushed them out of his mind though. It didn’t matter how long she was gone for. Once he got in, he could wait.

In fact, he found the idea rather alluring.

Ben fingered the key in his pocket as he slowly began to count in his head. He’d wait until he got to a thousand and then he’d head out.

* * * * *

As he reached nine hundred and fifty, Ben heard an engine roar to life outside. To be safe, he went to two thousand.

His heart was racing as he exited the flat, casually looking around while he locked his door. He found it strange that the estate agent had so much trouble with the lock. The key always seemed to glide smoothly for him.

It was difficult to control the excitement that was racing through him. His mouth was dry and as he looked around, he felt the air thickening, just as it had when he’d looked over that first time and seen her standing there.

His legs felt like jelly as he took the first step, still scanning around. Her door was only twelve steps away, but to Ben, it seemed a marathon. He couldn’t stop looking toward the end of the driveway, certain she’d reappear at any moment. He gulped down the thick air as he reached into his pocket and exchanged his flat’s key for the other one.

The beating of blood in his ears was deafening and Ben felt a slight panic as he realised he wouldn’t hear a door open. That someone could sneak up on him now. He forced himself not to look around again. He was being too suspicious; darting glances left and right. It was just too easy to imagine Theo or one of the other neighbours watching him. Watching him and then reaching for the phone to warn her. And then she’d be in there waiting for him, her face wreathed in smoke and the kitchen knife in the hand hidden behind her back.

You’re being ridiculous, he told himself as he drew level with her door but the air didn’t thin at all and the duffel bag was dead weight in his hand. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what you’re planning, he repeated over and over to himself, much as he had all those nights that he’d stood over her as she lay in bed. She doesn’t know what you’ve planned; she doesn’t know about the Red Room that you built for her…

But his thoughts couldn’t allay all his fears. She was his mother; she knew. She always knew what he was thinking… Ben drew the key out of his pocket. The sight of it forced an exhale from his lips. He shook his head. What was he thinking? He wasn’t defenceless now. He would have the upper hand; the element of surprise…

Despite his best intentions, he looked around once more as he slotted the key into the lock. Everything seemed clear but his nervousness lingered. Maybe he should wait? Maybe it wasn’t time?

No, he pushed away the doubts; they were what had cost him his revenge in the first place. There was no need for hesitation.

Ben turned the key and the lock clicked open. His doubts began to fade as he twisted the handle and eased the door open.

* * * * *

The air thinned the instant the door closed behind him and Ben stood, gasping, his heart pounding with excitement as he surveyed the flat.

He could smell her in the air: a heady mix of shampoo, perfume and deodorant with a faint undertone of make-up. An undeniably feminine smell that evoked such memories of his mother’s bedroom that Ben almost expected to hear her summons. It thrilled and disgusted him equally but his penis, still half-hard, immediately sprung to life at the connotations and as he looked around, Ben reached down and eased it from his pants.

It felt silky between his fingers as he walked a few paces inside, his mind already seeking out a linkage, something he could use to tie this back to her. It didn’t take him long but then again it never did.

The interior of the flat was a world away from his own. The wall separating the living-room from the kitchen had been knocked through, opening it out, combining with the beige walls to give the interior a light airy feel. And it was in the kitchen that he found the linkage: the slightly battered looking knife-block with the black handles jutting from the top. It was nearly a replica of the one she had owned and the empty slot in it only added to the realism. He could picture her there beside it, her face wreathed in smoke; that one arm twisted behind her back.

It was perfect; it was what he needed.

He saw there were more links too and he circled the room, slowly building it up until she was inhabiting the space. Until the horrible things she had done had taken place here. And if he thought the excitement he’d felt earlier was immense, it was nothing compared to the sensation that swelled through him as he pictured it all.

He was back in the house now and she had gone out. But she would come back and this time he’d do it. He wouldn’t hesitate. This time he’d take her.

Well then you better get ready, he thought and headed for the bedroom.

* * * * *

Ben stripped the mattress bare and ran his hand along it, imagining her stretched out before him. His penis throbbed with excitement as he moved across to the cupboard and yanked some of the clothes out and scattered them on the floor.

The bedside table was disappointingly empty except for a freshly opened pack of condoms that Ben assumed were the leftovers from the man’s visit and a small box. When he opened the box it only contained a few cheap looking necklaces but Ben grabbed them anyway and stuffed them into his pockets. Might be worth a couple of bucks. As a last touch he swiped the clock radio onto the floor. It clattered down and his eyes followed its path and fell on the shattered phone. He looked up and saw the dent in the wall and then looked back down in confusion.

A slight worry began to creep into the back of his mind. It was undefinable, not really focused on the smashed phone itself but more a general unease. He clamped down on it quickly. It’s good, he convinced himself. Shows she’s a fighter, a little bit fiery. He would be prepared.

Still it was unsettling and as he crouched down beside his duffel bag, he couldn’t stop shooting glances in the phone’s direction. Must have been one hell of a bad call.

His worry vanished as he unknotted the drawstring on his bag and slipped open the neck. He saw all his tools in there and a smile split his face as he lifted them out one by one and reverentially placed them on top of the now empty bedside table.

The duct tape.

The plastic ties.

The hunting knife…

He removed the canvas roll of knives last, laid it on the floor and slowly unravelled it. His mouth felt a little dry as one by one they were revealed. His fingers found his penis of their own accord and began to pump.

The bundled underwear on the floor caught his eyes and his hand snaked out and snagged one from the pile. When he brought it up to his nose, it smelt mainly of detergent but there was a faint lingering hint of another odour. One that excited him immensely.

He pictured her there in front of him, slowly lowering the underwear; slowly revealing her slit while he wanked for her. He wrapped the panties around his cock and imagined it was her tight grip. His orgasm rocketed out of him as he heard the echo of her voice.

Mummy needs you…

His smile grew even wider as he studied the sodden panties in his hand. He knew there would be no punishment this time. As his orgasm subsided he began to wonder if there were any eggs in the fridge.

* * * * *

The smell of it surrounded him as he sat down on her couch with the plate of scrambled eggs nestled in his lap. The ghost of her had been there with him the whole time he’d cooked. Standing just off to the right, smoking steadily, the wisps framing her dead eyes.

He’d had to restrain from giggling as he’d scraped at the pan. He hadn’t wanted to give her any idea of what was happening. What was going to happen.

Ben swallowed his first mouthful as he looked around. The taste of it was momentarily sickening but the sensation lessened with the second mouthful. His eyes continued to rove as he ate mechanically until they fell on the remotes lying beside him on the couch. He picked up the first one and the television burst to life at his touch, displaying a blue background with AV1 nestled in the corner.

He studied the other remote for a moment and located the play button. He paused before pressing it and looked around at the scattered covers. The scream ripped from the screen unexpectedly, causing Ben to jump and drop the remote.

He scrambled with the television remote and turned the volume down a few notches, his heart rate gradually settling as he stared in fascination at what she had been watching.

The film had obviously been shot on a shoe-string budget. The lighting, the framing, the actor’s dismal attempts to indicate pain all pointed to it but what money the production team had possessed had obviously been funnelled into the make-up and effects.

As he watched the lady drilling into the man’s skull, Ben was momentarily taken aback at the realistic blood spray and the chunky goop that was seeping down from the drill bit. The colour was slightly off but apart from that it looked like the real deal and for a moment Ben watched fascinated.

He spooned another mouthful of his eggs and then set the plate aside on the couch. He chewed slowly as he walked over and sorted through the scattered cases on top of the screen. Another little warning bell went off in his head as he perused cover after cover. Each seemingly more and more garish with its gruesome imagery and hyperbolic promises of gore and horror.

So she likes horror films, he told himself, trying to pinpoint why he seemed to find that fact so disturbing. Lots of people do, he thought and pushed the niggling doubt to one side. But there was something still bothering him as he returned to the couch and his plate of eggs. The scene had changed and now showed a buxom, young lady in a cheerleader’s outfit, hacking at a man with a machete. The man was backed into a corner, his hands raised in a pitiful attempt to ward off the attack and just briefly, it was his face the man was wearing and the demented leer of his attacker belonged to her.

The nausea flooded through him and he spat the half-chewed mouthful onto the plate. He switched off the television and paced for a moment until the sick feeling cleared.

Don’t be stupid, his mind raced as doubt flooded in, she doesn’t know, she doesn’t know. How could she? She’d never think you’d…

He needed something to steady his nerves. That was all. He glanced at the clock on the way to the kitchen and saw it was eleven o’clock. Plenty of time to relax. Plenty of time.

Although wine wasn’t his favourite choice of alcohol, when he rummaged through the pantry and saw the bottles lined up inside, he was more than happy to make do.

* * * * *

Ben’s excitement was growing as he looked up from the two empty bottles of wine on the bench to the clock again. Four o’clock. It was so close to time.

The wine had left a sickly sweet taste in his mouth but had also banished the strange, momentary dread he had felt. Now he was ready, oh so very ready and even though he didn’t know the exact time she’d be coming home, he decided to move to the bedroom now; move and wait for her there.

He stowed the empty bottles back into the pantry and wiped the large streak of semen from the door of the cupboard – he hadn’t been able to help it; while he’d waited the red had encroached. He didn’t want anything to tip her off if she walked straight into the kitchen before heading to the bedroom.

Only two minutes had passed when he glanced at the clock again on his way to the bedroom. Time was slowing down as he waited but that was okay. It would just build the anticipation. He sat down on the bare mattress, the delicious images filling his mind. Images of her flesh and the way it would yield to him. He wished he could smoke but didn’t dare. He didn’t want the smell to alert her. The light airy fragrance that permeated the flat would do nothing to hide it.

But that was alright too. Just more anticipation. It’d be the first thing he’d do once she was strapped down: light a smoke as he stood above her and then… then he would put it to good use, he thought as he raised his hand and studied the faint scars dotting his knuckles.

The thought of it alone was enough to send his hand scrabbling across his lap, searching for his penis.

What time would a waitress normally finish work? He wondered as he began to tease it erect again.

* * * * *

The leather apron rubbed just perfectly against his skin as he ran the scalpel across her stomach, the red slowly welling in its wake. He raked it down until the line parted the curly hair of the pubic mound and joined with the natural incision between her legs.

He could hear her muffled screams against the gag in her mouth – unnecessary maybe, since he had already excised her tongue – but he quite enjoyed the idea of her being forced to swallow her own blood. It was that or choke.

His hand was trembling as he reached out and eased a finger into the cut, teasing the two sides apart. He hadn’t gone too deep – not yet – but the blood was still flowing fairly steadily and Ben had to stifle a giggle as he watched it. She had no idea it was coming. That the power in their relationship had been about to do a complete one-eighty. And that just made it all the sweeter.

He dug his fingers in a little deeper and her body convulsed beneath his touch. He wormed his fingers and wet, tearing noises reached his ears as some of the flesh eased free of the subcutaneous fat beneath it.

It gave him an idea.

He removed his hand and flicked his wrist, spattering her breasts and face with her blood and a few dots of flesh.

Her eyes bulged large; almost to comic proportions; yawning open until they seemed to inhabit her entire head. He looked from them to the scalpel in his hand and a better idea arrived. Suddenly his breath was ragged. It was something she had always threatened to do and he remembered only too well the paralysing fear as he laid there, her hand around his throat and the knife’s tip hovering a centimetre away. Seeing her vacant glare and not knowing, just plain not knowing if she would let it drop.

See how she likes it, he thought, easing the scalpel closer and closer. Her eyes only bulged wider as it neared and Ben roared with laughter.

‘You’re only making a bigger target,’ he informed her but wasn’t certain and didn’t care if she understood.

The scalpel glinted as he homed in. Jabbing it forward and easing it back, getting closer and closer each time.

And then he touched the tip to the glossy white surface and he ejaculated without even touching his cock. The blade was sharp and as she blinked automatically, her eyelid parted beneath its own weight and a surprisingly strong gout of blood jetted free. Ben pulled the scalpel back again and watched her eye socket flood red. There was something else there too. Something clear and pus-like that oozed from the pin prick he’d made.

The other eye’s pupil was so dilated that Ben could picture himself toppling forward and disappearing into its depths, swallowed whole by the yawning black and suddenly the excited giggle that had been on his lips died as anger flooded him.

It was more a growl than anything that escaped his lips as he rammed the scalpel into it. Felt the eye give, felt the wet spurt hit his face, hot like ejaculate.

But it wasn’t enough and he burrowed deeper, using his free hand to scoop out the ruined remains, plunging his scalpel past the tattered optic nerves, jamming it into the soft matter that was deeper inside.

And when he couldn’t reach any further he pulled it out and slashed at the bridge of her nose, at the skin around the socket, widening the gap while her feet beat out a frantic tattoo as her entire frame started shuddering. Widening it until his fingers could fit. Widening it until he could drag out handful after handful of the gunk inside.

Widening it until he could clear it all out; destroy everything she had ever been.

* * * * *

Ben blinked and started as a gobbet of his cum splattered across his chin and the vibrator dropped from his hand onto the bed beside him.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, his mind screamed through the mental equivalent of gritted teeth as he pushed himself up and wiped the semen from his chin. How long had he been gone? He looked down at the front of his shirt and the cum stains that now dotted it. How long?

Shit! He’d known it had been a bad idea; he just hadn’t been able to help himself. When he’d found the box under the bed and opened it and seen the vibrator there, it had just been too much. And then when he raised it up and caught the hint of the lingering scent, he’d instantly been transported back. Just heard her voice once more in his mind.

Mummy needs you…

And it had sprung up clear as day. He’d pushed open the door, heard the buzzing and she had been there, legs splayed. He’d been wanking before he was even aware of it and once he’d cum and the red had started closing in, he hadn’t resisted.

Which was stupid.

What if she’d come home? Seen him lying there? Ben realised he wasn’t really thinking clearly as he pushed himself to his feet; that if she’d come home and seen him, he’d probably be in hand cuffs right about now but still he felt nervous.

How long had passed? He stooped next to the clock radio but it had unplugged when he’d swiped it off the bedside table.  He glanced toward the window and saw it was dark outside but that wasn’t very helpful.

There was a flicker and he looked up sharply, almost expecting to see her leaning against the door frame – and what exactly do you think you’re doing? It would sound so casual as she puffed at her cigarette but the hand would be there, hidden behind her back.

The doorway was clear though and Ben started to relax as he crept out of the bedroom. He still listened intently; certain he’d hear the click of the lock opening. That he’d see the door swing wide in front of him.

He moved forward until the clock was in view and then stopped dead when the time registered. 10:30, he read and forced himself to swallow.

Something was wrong. She should have been home by now. Surely…

He retraced his steps and perched himself on the bare mattress again to think. Something could have come up. Maybe she was meeting someone for dinner? Maybe…

Ben thought of every excuse he could but in the end, he had to admit that he just didn’t know. He hadn’t spent nearly as long watching her as he usually did and now that he thought about it, that fact left him a little confused. It was like finding the key had somehow added a dimension of urgency to his actions. That if he didn’t use it, it would disappear or something. As well as a layer of complacency that, as he looked back over his actions, startled Ben immensely.

The urge for a cigarette was overwhelming and Ben had a lit one in his mouth before he was even aware of what he was doing. He puffed hard for a moment and then it clicked. He was forcing himself to stay despite his doubts. He couldn’t very well leave now with the place reeking of cigarette smoke. If he did and she came home, she’d know immediately that someone had been in her flat and he’d lose his chance forever.

It’s just jitters, he told himself as he scooted back into a more comfortable position. It’s been a while. You’re just a little nervous.

He tapped his ash onto the carpet and took another drag on his cigarette, his eyes drifting over the shattered remains of the phone once more to fall on the opened box beside him on the bed. He’d been too entranced with the vibrator earlier to pay the photo albums in the box any attention but he did remember seeing them before, laying beside the bed on his first visit to her bedroom window.

It would be something to pass the time. It might be a bit late now but he could learn more about her. He knew it was wishful thinking to believe he would glean any explanation for her late arrival home but as he lifted the first one free, he couldn’t help hoping.

* * * * *

The clock read 11:15 when Ben was finally satisfied that he’d gotten the flat into an approximate facsimile of the condition it had been in when he entered. He’d refolded the clothes and placed them back into the wardrobe, replaced the jewellery, reset the alarm clock and repacked his duffel bag with the exception of the hunting knife, which was lodged within easy reach in his pocket. The cum-stained underwear and cloth were stuffed in his pockets. Along with the missing eggs, he’d just have to hope they were something she wouldn’t notice.

He’d found a can of air-freshener beneath the sink to take care of the cigarette smell but he sincerely regretted ashing on the carpet now. He’d cleaned it as best as he could but a faint ghostly outline was still noticeable. Again, he’d just have to hope she didn’t notice.

After remaking the bed, Ben had flipped through the albums once more before stowing them back in the box with the vibrator and sliding it back under the frame. Now as he made his way to the door, the Polaroids inside replayed across his mind and a strange, giddy feeling invaded his stomach. This was just too strange; too freaky. He needed time to process it. Sort things out.

But what he really needed to do was to get out of here now. It was just a possibility he’d never considered; one he’d never ever dreamed of.

He paused as he reached for the door handle and listened intently. It would be just his luck that after waiting for so long, she’d arrive just as he wanted to leave. He couldn’t hear anything though, just the sound of his own breathing and the pumping of blood in his ears.

It was okay; he could fix this. He’d just go to his flat, pack up his stuff – there wasn’t much it wouldn’t take long – and then he would move on. Just chuck his stuff in the car and go.

Things had definitely taken too much of a leap into left field for him.

He slid the hunting knife from the sheath in his pocket and stashed it in his sleeve as he twisted the handle. It was stupid he knew. She wasn’t going to be waiting out there with one hand hidden behind her back. But he wanted to be careful nonetheless.

And the giddy feeling in his stomach only grew as he saw the deadbolt on the door. Saw that the green circle was showing and that it hadn’t been locked. As he searched for a reason why she wouldn’t have snibbed it when she left, Ben suddenly felt like an animal that had been lured into a trap. The sight paralysed him for a long moment and Ben strangely felt the urge to burst into tears.

Just get out of here! his mind screamed and Ben pushed.

Oh God, she’s going to be waiting out there…

The door swung wide, revealing no one standing beyond the screen door and Ben snorted to himself; well what were you expecting? Though he still winced as the hinges on the door creaked noisily.

He peered around as he locked the door behind him but the end of the driveway and the garden beds were swamped in shadows. Ben was painfully aware of how exposed he was beneath the glare of the outside fluorescents. She could be there now; crouched down beside the car…

She could also be turning into the driveway while you stand around just outside her door.

The thought was enough to get him moving, grinding his teeth as he eased the screen door closed and it unleashed another shuddering creak.

He quickly paced the steps to his door, unable to stop looking over his shoulder; back up the driveway, the photos playing over again in his mind. The ones of the cats. Then the old lady. Then the second album with the Polaroids of the goth-looking guy. The one that looked uncomfortably similar to the description of the previous tenant the estate agent had given him.

It was with some relief that he reached his own door, yanked open the screen and slotted the key into the lock.

* * * * *

He knew something was wrong even before he heard the door creak closed behind him and the burning fire ripped through his ankles.

He went down instantly; his legs just crumbling beneath him.

The latch clicked shut as he tried to rise but there was something wrong; there was no strength in his legs and he crashed back down, gritting his teeth as the pain hit. Sharp, stabbing pain that rocketed through his body.

He looked down and a choked, half-sob ripped from his lips as he saw the blood flowing; saw the two large gashes just above the line of his shoe; saw the exposed tendon through the cuts in his trousers.

Then he looked up and saw her and another sob ripped from his lips as she stood above him, naked beneath the clear, plastic poncho, her erect nipples taut against its surface; her pubic hair, clearly visible, forming a neat triangle between her thighs. And what was that behind her back?

Ben froze as he stared up at her; saw that look that he knew so well. The rage, disgust and hatred and it paralysed him because she knew. Mummy knew. She knew what he’d been going to do.

And it was her too. For the briefest of seconds she was there before him, reincarnated and Ben’s brain felt like it was shutting down. The hunting knife slid from his sleeve and hit the carpet with a soft thunk. He didn’t scream though, oh no, if he screamed the punishment just got worse.

Then the image disappeared; the features morphing into that of his neighbour, her face twisted with rage. She was making a soft, hissing noise as she stood above him, reminiscent of a cat with its hackles up.

Ben’s paralysis broke and he scrambled backwards as she swooped, the hand emerging from behind her back clasping the black handled kitchen knife. He grabbed for his own on the carpet but it was so hard to coordinate through the pain and he missed as she closed in. The blade sliced into his forearm as he raised it defensively. The pain was hot and immediate but he pushed it away. If there was one thing he was used to it was pain.

As she drew back for another slash, he reached out and grabbed her ankle. He yanked her feet from under her and she toppled backward. She hit the ground hard and Ben managed a tight-lipped smile as he heard the breath whoosh out of her. He tried to rise again but his legs just wouldn’t take his weight and crumpled beneath him.

She was still sprawled as he grabbed the hunting knife from the floor and starting inching towards her. Anger was pumping through him as he approached. He could clearly see her vulva between her splayed legs and he knew where he’d stab first.

It was okay; he’d fix this. In a way the pain would be even better before he took her… Just another link…

He reached for her but didn’t see her legs curl upward. He didn’t see them flying toward him, only heard a sickening crunch, had a brief taste of blood in his mouth and then slumped as the darkness seeped in.

* * * * *

The pain was everywhere as he came to. He was sitting on something cool and hard and if it wasn’t for that, he could have almost imagined he was back in his bedroom, waking after one of their sessions. The same question was playing over now as it did back then: oh God, how bad is it?

He coughed and spat as he felt the coppery taste of blood trickling down his throat but his lips were dry and swollen and it only dribbled down his front. He felt it on his skin and realised he was naked and he remembered the sickening crunch as the foot impacted and suddenly it made sense that his breathing was so harsh in his ears and that a slight whistling noise filled the air every time he inhaled.

His eyes snapped open as he tried to move and realised he was strapped down. He tried to yank himself free but that only caused more pain. And there was something wrong with his sight too. It was blurred and ringed with fuzzy darkness as though his eyes weren’t opening wide enough. He didn’t have time to dwell on it though. With a whirring click, the whole of his vision exploded into bright light, its dazzling intensity forcing his eyes shut again.

There was another whirr and then the light exploded again; bright even through his closed lids. Another whirr…

He waited, his eyes screwed tightly shut but the flash wasn’t repeated. After a minute he cautiously opened his eyes again. He saw her through the black spots that dotted his vision. She was standing in front of him, still in the plastic poncho, her head cocked to one side and the Polaroid camera held limply in a hand by her side.

As her stare pierced him it was hard to keep calm. Her face kept morphing. It was Rachel. It was her. It was Rachel. It was her. He couldn’t help it and a whimper escaped his lips as she started to move. It forced a smile to Rachel’s face that instantly twisted into her demented leer and he flinched back, instinctively trying to raise his hands for protection but they were pinned to the chair. He tried to speak but all that came out was unintelligible babble.

Rachel’s grin spread wider as she slowly stooped and placed the camera on the floor and Ben realised she hadn’t been going to attack him in the first place – despite what he’d read in that leer. Maybe he’d had all his punishment for tonight? That was often the case wasn’t it? Some nights it would be worse than others. Maybe this was one of them?

But it’s not her, he reminded himself even though the face was morphing before his eyes again and his mind flipped to the photo albums once more and he began to get really scared. His heart thumped as they flew through his head. The sheer violence of them: the mutilations, the old lady’s body torn to ribbons; the goth, his eyes wide, staring at the bloody crater between his legs. And she had done them…

But that couldn’t be right….

Mummy always stopped before she went too far…

But she’s not her, she’s not her, she’s not her. He forced the thought into a loop in his mind and the face before him morphed back to that of his neighbour. She was still standing in front of him, smiling. The bottom fell out of his stomach as he saw that the kitchen knife had somehow reappeared in her hand.

He could feel his eyes widening and his already ragged breathing getting rougher but he just couldn’t help it. Her face, despite his efforts, was wavering again and all he could seem to think was: don’t scream, don’t scream, it’ll be worse if you scream.

‘How do you like it, huh?’

There was such anger in her voice as she spat it out that Ben was unable to speak. He was back in his bedroom cowering as she stood above him. He knew he was helpless; that he couldn’t stop her; how could he stop her? He could see his blood on the blade still, glistening under the lights as she raised it up and pointed it at him accusingly.

‘You know I just thought you were some sort of pervert.’ The voice was so reminiscent of the tone she had used and the words in his head overlapped the ones Rachel was saying, only confusing him further as they layered. ‘But I’ve just been through your little bag and I now see you’re something far worse.’

Ben could see her eyes were just as focused on the blade’s red tip as his were.

‘You just have no fucking respect,’ she spat. ‘What the fuck have I ever done that would make you think I deserve to be treated like this? What fucking makes you think you have the right to be so fucking inconsiderate?’

She paused and glared at him but Ben didn’t reply. Even if he could have, he wouldn’t dare. He knew only too well that you didn’t talk back. Talking back just made her angrier.

‘You fucking steal my clothes; my fucking underwear. You fucking peep through my window. You fucking stand outside my window and wank. You fucking wank and cum on my window. But are you satisfied with that? Noooo… Then you fucking invade my home. You go through my stuff. That’s right I’ve been back while you were out. I had to get the chair since you have no fucking furniture. I saw what you did. You ate my food. You went through my clothes. You fucking ashed on my fucking carpet. I ask you again. What fucking right do you have?’

Ben stared at her his heart thumping.

‘Huh?’

He couldn’t think. He couldn’t reply. Even breathing was getting more and more difficult.

‘I said what fucking right?’ Her voice rose in intensity but not too far, not loud enough to alert the neighbours. Ben could only stare dumbly, the images, the voice. All of it tumbling head over heels through his mind, mixing with the pain until he didn’t know who he was anymore; didn’t know who she was anymore.

Even the familiar surrounds of the kitchen were beginning to blur and shift, the colours and shapes morphing until one moment he was in the flat, the next he was back in his bedroom; then in the kitchen; then in her room and the air was thick with the sound of buzzing and the smell of eggs.

There wasn’t even time to flinch as she suddenly leapt at him. Not that it mattered. He had nowhere to go anyway. The knife embedded in his shoulder, just below the collarbone and pain erupted through him as she twisted it and yanked it down. He opened his mouth to scream but clamped it shut – don’t scream; it’s always worse if you scream – instead he stared with wide eyes and trembled as the muscle of his pectoral split apart beneath the blade.

With her free hand, she raked his face, her nails carving furrows while the knife continued downwards, bisecting his right nipple. The agony was so blinding that Ben couldn’t help it. Despite his resolve, he opened his mouth to scream long and loud.

‘Oh no you don’t.’ Her voice was calmer now and suddenly Ben was choking as she rammed something into his mouth. He tasted the salty, metallic tang and realised it was the cum soaked panties he’d stuffed in his pocket earlier.

She stepped back, apparently momentarily sated by the violence. Ben’s pain dissipated in the sudden struggle to breathe. He could feel the fuzzy borders at the edge of his vision growing as he tried to suck air around the fabric in his mouth, his ruined nose, seemingly unable to compensate.

‘You’re not the only one with a spare key you know.’

Her outline was blurry as he struggled for air but Ben could see enough to know that the poncho was now bunched up around her waist and that her hand was working between her legs. His sight was rapidly diminishing as he frantically tried to suck oxygen into his lungs but even so, he clearly saw it as she morphed and she was there before him, spreading the lips so he could clearly see the glistening insides and even though he knew that there would be pain. That she’d be angry. His response was instantaneous.

Even as he blacked out, his penis was stiffening

DAY 6

The flash brought him back and as his eyes flew open, the pain hit him like a freight train and Ben screamed from the very depths of his being. It was like all those sessions he’d had with her rolled into one. The panties were gone from his mouth but something was still covering it. By its feel and shape he suspected it was his duct tape. His screams were only muffled groans but he still knew he’d made a mistake. That he’d screamed and that now it would be worse.

The dread flowed through him but then he looked down and before the hysteria overcame him, he had time to clearly think: how could it get any worse?

The camera flashed again as he saw the ruined organ, the skin flayed and peeled until it looked like little more than bloody gristle. The head of it was cross-hatched with cuts, reducing it to a mass of fleshy slivers.

The blood was everywhere. His thighs were coated in a sheen of it. It soaked through the fabric of the chair and he could just glimpse the puddle of it, spreading around his feet.

He couldn’t quite describe the feeling as he stared at all the blood and at the ruined mess of his penis. The pain was immense but he’d experienced immense pain before and, after the initial shock of the first hit, it was beginning to become bearable again. It was more the enormity of what she’d done. The sheer irreversibility of it all. Even if she stopped now he was ruined for life. There was no way to come back from the totality of this and it was that thought, that idea, that was forcing the screams as he thought back over all the times she’d threatened him.

I’ll cut it off. That’s what I’ll do. Cut it off. And now for all intents and purposes that was what she had done. And seeing the greatest fear of his childhood enacted was more than he could cope with. His brain reeled as the flash popped again.

He could hear her giggling but he didn’t look up. He couldn’t take his eyes off the ruined mess in his lap. No matter how much he wanted to.

‘Do you like it? When you passed out it rose to full attention and I couldn’t help wondering what you’d been planning to do with it. What you were planning to do to me with it. Do you think it’ll be much use to you now?’

She giggled again and the camera flashed once more. Ben saw her move across the periphery of his vision but didn’t look up.

‘What’s the matter? Nothing to say?’

Ben thought that summed it up perfectly. He could feel the blackness creeping further and further across his vision; an encroaching void of nothing, spreading out to encompass everything he saw. How much blood had he lost? Surely he’d be dead soon?

‘Not even a little curious to know how I got this?’

Ben heard her place the camera on the ground. Little more than a blink seemed to pass before his eyes reopened and suddenly she was there in front of him, crouching down, something shiny dangling from her fingers.

It took a long time for Ben to focus enough to discover it was a key.

Even when he did, he found he had no opinion on the topic.

‘I bet it didn’t even cross your mind as to why there was a key to my flat in yours, huh? Didn’t even think about it, just took it as a fucking sign to do whatever the fuck you wanted. Bet it didn’t even glimmer on the horizon that if there was a key for my flat in yours there might be a key to your flat in mine… It was the old lady you know.’

Rachel seemed to take offence at Ben’s confusion.

‘Oh don’t talk shit; I know you’ve been in my flat. That you’ve looked through my photos; it’s just another reason why I’m going to kill you. You saw the old lady.’ Ben couldn’t be certain with his hazy vision but it seemed to him that her mouth was definitely turned up at the corners. ‘You saw what I did to her. Fucking cut the bitch to ribbons. Fucking turned out to be just like you. Just another inconsiderate prick. Wouldn’t dream of keeping her cats inside, oh no, even when their fucking yowling kept people up at all hours. Even though they dug up all my pot plants and fucking shat in them. In my own back yard, mind you, and then when I complained what did the fucking bitch say? “Oh, I couldn’t stand for my babies to be locked up.” Well I fucking showed her. Her fucking babies just began to fucking disappear and then that bitch had the temerity to fucking look at me with suspicion. I can only imagine what she thought when she got the fucking photos in the mail. But still she wouldn’t fucking let up. But fuck that bitch. Fuck her good. I fucking got my own back, fucking carved her up a treat because that’s all that you fucking pricks deserve. For your inconsideration and your fucking self-centredness and your complete lack of respect. I told her all that too as I cut her. I told her all that and watched her eyes widen with realisation and that’s why I’m telling you now. Are you fucking listening?’

Ben’s drooping head was forced back up, his chin clenched tightly in her hand, her fingers digging painfully into his cheeks. He tried to blubber a response but only succeeded in unleashing a flood of blood-filled saliva down his front. She stared piercingly at him for a moment and the fires blazed behind her eyes and her face began to waver around the edges again. He waited for it to come and embrace him, come and release him from all the pain, but the fire died back abruptly and Ben only became aware of the knife pressed to his throat when it dropped away.

‘But that’s beside the point. I was talking about the key. The key. The spare key.’ Rachel said it slowly to herself as she released her grip and let Ben’s head droop again. She walked off a few paces and stood with her back to him. He blinked again and she was back under his nose, a second key dangling next to the first one. Ben started and stared at her in disbelief until he realised that the most likely explanation was that he’d just passed out for a second. That was it. He’d just passed out. There was no way anyone could move that quick. Not even Mummy.

‘Thea. How many times have I heard and cursed that fucking name?’ It was Rachel’s voice but the blurry face belonged to her and Ben began to blubber as she leaned in closer and closer and he could smell the cigarettes on her breath. She didn’t even appear to notice his tears. ‘Thea never minded. It wasn’t any bother for Thea. Thea was fucking Ghandi, the Dali Lama and God Almighty all rolled into one. Not that I can hold that against her. I never knew her. She died a few months before I moved in.’

The slap came completely out of nowhere and Ben reeled as it knocked his head sideways and fireworks exploded in his brain. Rachel continued as though nothing had happened. ‘But every fucking argument I had with the bitch next door always winded its way back to her. Probably a couple of lesbians or something. Fucking hell, the bitch was certainly in love with her. They had a bit of an arrangement. The bitch was a nurse or something. Thea was an old lady. They swapped keys in case she needed some help in the dead of night or something, I don’t fucking know. All I know is it turned out to be a good idea. The fucking bitch even got a commendation or some sort of shit for saving her life. But it also turned out to be a blessing for me.’

She stood up again and the knife flicked through the air. Ben heard it but if it had cut him, he couldn’t tell. He didn’t feel anything.

‘Every fucking time I saw the bitch she asked about the key. Every fucking time. Apparently it hadn’t been with Thea’s effects after she passed on and the family packed up. Probably should have kept her fucking mouth shut. I hadn’t found the key when she fucking mentioned it the first time but I certainly began looking for it. The bitch never said anything about still having a copy of the key here when I returned it though. Lucky I made a copy too huh? What a blessing it’s been since then. Two headaches so far and you’ll be the third that it’s helped me sort out.’

Rachel paused and looked down at the key in her hand. Ben was startled by the true sadness in her voice when she continued. ‘She was just so fond of saying it. To quote her, it’s not something you could do these days: give a spare key to your neighbour. It was like she wasn’t even fucking aware of how insulting that was to me.’

Rachel shook her head and the sadness disappeared, replaced by a bitter smile.

‘But that’s all by the fucking by isn’t it? I think this flat might be cursed or something. I’ve never had a problem with the tenants in number six. Three different sets. All of them kind and keep to themselves. No it only seems to be this flat that attracts the pains. In a way I suppose that’s good because in this flat I can do something about them. I don’t have to put up with it. I don’t have to just tolerate it. There’s really something of a perfect symmetry to it all really. Not that I imagine you’ll appreciate it at the moment. I know the last prick didn’t. I did a similar thing to his penis before I told him all this. And there I was at the time thinking that he was the worst. That it wouldn’t be possible to get a worse neighbour than him and then you came along to prove me wrong.’

Suddenly she was right back in his face, pressing closer and closer until Ben was certain she was going to kiss him. Somehow it was even more horrifying than the pain; that foetid cigarette breath on his face as she smiled at him. Smiled at him long and hard as the buzzing filled the air once more.

Rachel reached out slowly and Ben saw what she was going to do a second before she did it. The no that was on his lips transformed into a muffled roar of agony as she held her hand above his crotch and almost daintily flicked the ruined mess of his penis. The pain that flew through him was beyond anything he’d ever experienced before. Even when he saw fresh blood spurt from the tip there was no alarm. There wasn’t room for it. All his brain could comprehend was the mind-blowing pain. The pain. The pain. The pain…

* * * * *

He opened his eyes and the scream died on his lips as he was bathed in the comforting red hue and his eyes saw the roof and the wall, the red pulsing warmly at him. He breathed in relief, feeling the familiar rub of the leather apron against his skin as he blinked to clear the strange grogginess he felt. Slowly it dawned on him that he was lying on the table and confusion descended to replace the grogginess. He must have laid down. Why would he have done that?

The confusion turned to alarm as he tried to rise and realised he was strapped down. That something wet and hot, something that felt familiarly sticky, was seeping down his thighs beneath the apron. He began to blubber as the realisation crept in that something was very wrong.

He could hear a strange scraping over by the bench but no matter how hard he craned his head he couldn’t see in that direction. The buzz of mummy’s vibrator sounded briefly in his head until he realised that what he was in fact hearing was the rattling of metal. He turned to them hanging on the meat hooks and his earlier scream came back, this time ripping from his lips as he saw them convulsing up there, their limbs flailing as they tried to get free. Their eyes wide with hatred. He could see his murder in them as he screamed, the desire to tear at him. To rip him to ribbons.

They saw him looking and they began to screech. A tone that wasn’t really loud but cut through him to the bone. The multitude of voices, far more than there should have been, all joining in unison on the one line: Mummy needs you, Mummy needs you, Mummy needs you and all Ben could do was stare in disbelief as they flailed in front of him, dancing away like out of control marionettes.

His eyes ran over the row of them and then stopped dead as he saw the last empty meathook and his dread spiked tenfold as he heard the scraping over by the bench again and he knew, he just knew, that she was here now. That she had invaded the last sanctuary he had and he screamed again as he heard the footstep’s behind him, each booming like a drum as she approached but he wouldn’t look; no he wouldn’t look. She shouldn’t be here. She couldn’t be here. But the footsteps kept approaching and the struggling ones on the meat hooks kept screaming: Mummy needs you and he could see that blood was flowing down their backs and forming puddles beneath their feet as their struggles to get loose tore their flesh. Ben could feel their hatred coming at him in waves and he was so fucking scared because they all wore her face and they would get free, they would get free and tear him to pieces…

* * * * *

He wasn’t sure how long it was before he came back, panting and wheezing into the gag. The taste of blood and bile in his throat. He could hear her giggling out there before him but the blackness had telescoped across his vision and it was difficult to see anything that wasn’t immediately in front of him.

‘In a way, I suppose, I should be thanking you. This is exactly what I needed. I’d been so stressed lately and, well, you’ve certainly helped me blow off some steam.’ He saw her walk across into the centre of his sight and crouch in front of him. He saw her raise the camera a second too late to close his eyes.

The blinding flash invaded everything.

* * * * *

At first there was only darkness and Ben sighed in relief as he realised that the pain was now gone. That he’d just be able to drift away; that it was all in past; that it was all over now. He barely even noticed the pinprick of red that invaded the darkness, not until it was too late and it was spreading.

He opened his mouth to scream as it rushed to embrace him because he knew what it meant. It wasn’t a feeling he would have been able to voice in words but a deep-seated dread inside him. But he couldn’t move; he couldn’t struggle. He could only lay immobile as the red spread out about him and he found himself back on the table and the chant filled his mind and he felt her hand lifting up the leather apron as he screamed and screamed and screamed.

DAY 7

Rachel set the new photograph album on the table and opened its cover. As she reached across and lifted the first of the Polaroids off the stack beside her she hoped she’d gotten them in approximately the correct order. It had gotten kind of intense toward the end there and with the blood and all the cuts it was difficult to tell what came before what.

She lifted the polyurethane sheet and slid the first of the photos in, smiling as she studied it before reaching for another. Who cares what the fucking voice said. It may have been a stupid thing to do but it needed to be done. And fuck had it been satisfying.

There were other ways, the voice chirped up but Rachel squashed it and dismissed it from her mind. She didn’t want the irritating fuck to ruin her mood. No, she hadn’t felt this good in months. There would be plenty of time for the annoying crap to creep in tomorrow when no doubt she’d cop hell from Maree for not turning up to work today and the no-doubt exorbitant bill would arrive from the mechanics and she’d have to finally fucking sort out the hot water service and then there was fucking Theo… She’d have to deal with him too…

Enough. Enjoy the moment. Don’t ruin it.

But it was difficult as she sat placing Polaroid after Polaroid into the album. All the little niggles kept bubbling to the surface. After all, she still had to do something about the segmented body wrapped in garbage bags next door. Then the messy clean up. And the more she thought about it, the more Theo could be a problem for her. He’d seen her getting a little freaky there and if Ben just suddenly disappeared he might start getting suspicious. And she didn’t have a spare key for his flat…

But that’s okay, worry about all that tomorrow, she told herself but the frustrations were still there, churning away no matter how hard she tried to repress them as she continued placing the photos in the album.

Despite her best efforts, the smile slowly started to slip from her face.

THE FILMMAKERS

Jacob was uncomfortable as he fidgeted on the couch. Both with the images on the screen and also his reaction to them: the bulging erection was hot against his thigh and he could only pray it wasn’t visible from where his elder brother Michael sat perched at the opposite end. His cheeks felt hot and he knew he was blushing furiously but he couldn’t stop himself. This was a good part.

No violence and a lot of skin.

‘Enjoying the show, little bro?’

His brother snapped his eyes around and Jacob quickly looked back to the screen as he croaked out an affirmative reply. His voice sounded strange in his ears; all high pitched and cracking and he couldn’t stop himself from glancing back at his brother, hoping he hadn’t noticed. He relaxed as Michael cracked open another of the beers he’d nicked from their dad’s fridge, his eyes riveted to the television. Relieved, Jacob followed his gaze and winced as he saw the scene had changed. Now, instead of the shot showing the girl raising the hem of her dress, the frame showed one of the boys urinating in her hair. Jacob looked away quickly; he didn’t want to see that.

His brother’s cheeks were flushed when Jacob’s eyes, seeking something other than the onscreen antics, turned back to him. The beer stood, forgotten, half-raised to his lips as his eyes drank it all in. Jacob had noticed this trend throughout the three videos his brother had shown him. His brother would maintain a blasé attitude toward the nudity and sex acts – that time the thirteen year old had given a blowjob had almost made Jacob cream his pants – but when the heavier stuff started: the beatings, the humiliations, the girl’s hair being set on fire; it was like his brother transformed into a different person. One that made Jacob feel very uncomfortable.

Once he’d even seen an erection bulging his brother’s shorts as he’d watched the young girl in the circle of boys being pushed to and fro, slapped and pinched, until she was just a shattered wreck, sobbing in the fetal position on the ground.

Jacob deliberately didn’t look down now. If it was there, he didn’t want to know about it. Instead he focused on his brother’s beer and wondered if maybe he should have one this time. After all, his father was usually too pissed when he got home to notice there were fewer beers than before. Jacob just guessed that his father assumed he’d drunk them himself. Michael usually offered him one on his nightly raiding of the fridge but so far Jacob had never built up the courage. He couldn’t shake the feeling that his dad would just happen to march in unexpectedly when he had a can raised to his lips.

It would be just his luck.

He’d seen his father angry before: at the footy, at the news, at the women they saw passing in the street. It wasn’t something he cared to draw toward himself. And it was impossible to predict when he’d decide to return from the pub. It was Jacob’s experience that the time varied greatly: anywhere from seven till four in the morning. Jacob wished he had his brother’s courage on that point. The fear of being caught seemed not to concern him at all.

Probably why he’s Mr. Popular and I’m just…

Jacob’s thought cut off abruptly as Michael jumped from the couch, his gangly limbs in motion as he moved towards the television. Jacob quickly whipped back and was greeted by a close up of the girl, her hair matted down by urine, as one of the boys slowly drew a razor blade down her face. Jacob’s hard-on wilted instantly at the sight. Although garbled and distorted by the poor sound quality, the girl’s screams were all too real and Jacob’s mouth dropped open as a sick churning began in the pit of his stomach.

‘Mikey?’ he stammered.

His brother wasn’t listening. His eyes locked on the screen, he stooped closer, until his face was almost touching it, blocking the view. Jacob was thankful for that at least; he only wished the volume would disappear as well. The girl’s screams were building to a crescendo, leaving Jacob in little doubt something horrible was happening to her.

‘Mikey?’ he tried again, but his voice fell away into a mumble as he heard the sound of a zipper being opened and saw Michael’s shoulder begin to jiggle. Jacob traced down his brother’s arm to where it stretched around his front, confused by his actions. Then it dawned on him what Michael was doing and Jacob just didn’t know what to think. This wasn’t like the other ones. The violence of those had been troubling for him but this was different. This time there was blood. A strange lump had formed in Jacob’s throat and it was making it difficult to breathe and even though he knew he should get up and leave, he couldn’t bring himself to move. What if Mikey saw him? He could just hear his taunts now. Chicken, bwack, bwack, bwack. He couldn’t stand the thought of his brother calling him a coward.

Michael groaned from where he sat hunched in front of the television screen and his body went suddenly still. Fucking hell, Jacob thought, he jacked off to that? Without a word, his brother rose to his feet and Jacob caught a quick glimpse of his slimy penis as he tucked it back into his pants. He ejected the DVD and turned, glancing briefly at Jacob, before stalking out of the room, DVD in hand. Jacob sat in shocked silence. In that brief moment, with his cheeks flaming and that glint in his eye, Michael had not seemed like his brother at all.

He stared after him for a moment, his heart thudding as he swallowed nervously and then slowly looked from the door back to the television. Michael’s half empty beer stood propped on top of it and the screen now only showed a blue background with the CoNIS brand affixed in its centre. It wasn’t the logo he was looking at though; it was the spatters that flecked the screen: the ropes of jizz that slowly eased their way towards the bottom.

He sat watching his brother’s sperm ooze for a moment before he stood up to fetch a cloth. After all, who knew when dad would decide to make an appearance? He couldn’t even imagine what the old man’s reaction would be to the current scene.

As he made his way toward the kitchen, Jacob told himself that he was doing this for his brother. That he didn’t want to see him get in any trouble. But underneath the thought lay another that was really too disturbing to focus on; the reason why he didn’t tell on Michael the first time he’d caught him watching one of his films. Although Jacob didn’t like the violence; he did like the girls that starred in the films. He liked seeing them naked and he liked seeing them touched too; not beaten, just touched. And for once he wished Michael would leave a DVD after he had shown him. Jacob would always hurry to his room to jack off afterwards but just once he’d like to wank while he watched one. Maybe he could now though. After all, his brother had got that particular ball rolling…

Although he doubted he’d be wanking today.

That final scene had somewhat obliterated the urge.

* * * * *

They called themselves The Filmmakers and all this started out innocently enough: filming stunts they did on their bikes and boards, filming themselves being fools and joking around, making the odd, horrible short film but primarily just filming themselves on their regular drinking expeditions down at the Claypits, the series of clearings that were left by the clay mining operation that stretched from the highway out through the Whipstick forest. Just eight friends, all male, all late teens, bored with life in the small town of Muirtly. Just fifteen minutes from the admittedly less than thriving metropolis of Bendigo, it was a quiet place: population three hundred, a pub, a general store and a fish and chips shop its entire CBD.

They were essentially carbon-copies of each other. All desperate to rebel and claim their individualism but defeating that purpose with their equally desperate adherence to the latest fashions and brand names. All attended the same school, Epsom High, a short bus trip away. All were of average to high intelligence but insisted on swamping their minds with excessive data about the latest musicians and television shows, comic books and other crap; anything to avoid facing up to the reality of the world. You know the sort. The kind that think politics are pointless despite the fact it decided the future of their country. Cloaking themselves up in the mantle of angst to avoid failing by just not trying in the first place.

I know all this because I know the Filmmakers well. I have been watching them for a long time now and I have finally run out of patience. I’ve seen them on their drunken outings, breaking things just because they could, getting into fights because they claimed they were bored. That it isn’t their fault; there’s just nothing to do in this town. Obviously the idea of opening a book has never occurred to them. Nor any of the constructive arts: paint some, draw some, build something, fucking knit if you have to – just don’t tell me you’re bored when there were so many options you haven’t pursued…

Anyway, back to the point at hand. The Filmmakers were heading towards a fall. I knew it was coming but even I – in my infinite wisdom - couldn’t have foreseen how quick they’d degenerate. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact start of their decline but as far as I can tell it all began to change when Steven killed that dog for whatever fucking reason he had. To be honest, I know for a fact he had no reason. He was just bored and wanted to see what would happen. He even muzzled the thing first – a true sign of cowardice if I’ve ever seen one; didn’t even give it a fighting chance.

He staked it down out in the fifth Claypit, right near the big dam and set to work. Michael manned the camera, while the other boys ringed the beast. I must give them this: the majority of the boys were hesitant. Well at least to start with. They didn’t hesitate long once Steven threw the first rock though. It struck the dog dead in the centre of the head and it went down with a strangled whimper. The poor mutt was dead long before the other boys started lobbing their rocks but they didn’t let that stop them. They kept hurling them until the dog was little more than a mess of pulp on the ground.

And I had to watch it all.

I can tell you I seethed with anger. But I held back. It’s a real problem of mine you see. I only really want to see the best in people.

You’d think by now I would know better.

It only got worse from there. It became apparent that the boys had gotten a taste for the sadistic. For awhile they contented themselves with a few more dogs and a litter of kittens but apparently that wasn’t enough to sate them. It was Matthew that suggested they take it further. It was also Matthew who arranged it all with the retard they went to school with. It was sickening to watch. The way the boy went about gaining her trust. Buying her little gifts and letting her hang around during lunchtime. Telling her she was his special friend and that they would be together forever. The elaborate setup was what frightened me the most. Especially when you consider all he’d really had to say to her was turn up here at this time and the poor girl would have been there. There was something of the ritual about how that boy lured her onto the bus and over to Bobby’s parents’ property.

And that was where the humiliations had started. The poor girl had been expecting to meet the love of her life for a romantic interlude. Instead she found herself surrounded by eight boys with wickedness on their minds. They teased her. They slapped her. And they made her expose herself. Then they set fire to her hair and pissed on it to put it out. And I was forced to watch all of it.

I had to watch it all.

Watch how The Filmmakers left her in the big shed down the bottom paddock of the property while they walked off to play their latest computer game. Watch them laughing and joking and giving each other high fives while she lay there sobbing.

Eventually she dragged herself to her feet and was picked up four hours later by a friend of the family as she trudged down the highway in the opposite direction to her house. She was never persuaded to tell what had happened to her and she never returned to school. But the worst bit is: I can see her future now and I can see how this event changed things and that just makes me even angrier.

At the time I knew the boys had well and truly overstepped the bounds of decency but I also knew if I acted in the mood I was currently in then I would almost certainly do something I’d later regret. So I gave myself a few days to cool off, to allow myself some perspective.

It was a mistake. I admit it.

The boys used the respite to up the ante once more.

A DVD of the assault began making the rounds of Epsom high school. Sold for five dollars a piece, it showed in graphic detail the girl’s trauma and almost overnight became required watching for the cool kids. I must admit I was unprepared for the sheer number of people who looked on it as a joke. Something to giggle at. The sick fucks.

After the latest provocation, I couldn’t wait any longer so I decided to act. Nothing over the top – as I’m sometimes prone to do – but I acted nonetheless. At least I can say that…

* * * * *

Jacob laid in bed, his thoughts whirling, conflicting desires waging war inside. The DVD’s were getting worse. Getting more violent and he was torn between his conscience that was telling him to tell someone: his father, a teacher, the police, anyone; and his loyalty to his brother. But underneath that to and fro, a far more disturbing desire lurked: and no matter how hard he tried to ignore it, it just wouldn’t go away. It was the voice telling him not to dob so he could see more naked girls and it made him feel so fucking disgusted with himself.

He knew he was a geeky looking kid. A mélange of carrot top hair, a rounded face and freckles interspersed with just budding pimples. He’d never even kissed a girl before and didn’t like the chances of doing it in the near future. He knew the girls at school thought he was a joke. The fat red-head that only incited mirth. Where else would he ever see a pussy except on the video?

Besides what good would it do to tell? Nothing had happened when the DVD had been discovered circulating the school and that had been months ago. Despite the shoddy camera work a couple of the boys involved had been identified. Jacob still saw them around. As far as he was aware, the police hadn’t even charged them.

So what was the point of saying anything? The cops had already been out to interview Michael on suspicion of being involved in the DVD’s distribution but he had denied it and his father had told them in no uncertain terms to go fuck themselves. He’d been fairly wasted at the time and, although Jacob was fairly certain that the cops didn’t believe his brother’s story, they hadn’t returned. Not even when the other girl had disappeared.

Why would it be any different this time?

Jacob didn’t know what to do and every time he tried to get it straight in his head, his mind kept drifting back to the girl from the DVD that afternoon. He didn’t know her name but he had seen her around school. She was a year older than him and Jacob thought she was the prettiest one so far. Not beautiful but pretty nonetheless.

The way, at the start of the film, she’d danced around between the boys, her underwear around her ankles, flashing herself at them. Before it had started to get heavy, she’d looked like she’d almost been enjoying herself. Jacob’s penis stirred to life as he remembered the way she’d laid back, her legs raised to the sky, the pink lips parting slightly as her thighs spread. He didn’t even notice he was masturbating until his sperm splashed hotly on his stomach.

But once he’d cum though it was a different story. The images that had followed the good bit came rushing in.

They had ringed her and began to poke, prod and tickle her. It hadn’t been too bad at the start but then one of the boys had reached down and pinched at her flaps until she squealed. It had been the signal for it to degenerate. She laughed along with the others – who thought it was hilarious – but you could see that something had changed in her eyes. That fear had begun to set in. She’d been reluctant to show her pussy again but the boys had bullied her into it. Then three of them had held her down while a fourth had urinated in her hair. Jacob felt physically ill as that image flooded his mind. The piss pouring down her face as she struggled to free herself, desperate to scream but knowing she’d end up with a mouthful if she did. And then the cutting had started…

Sleep didn’t come easily for Jacob that night.

And the next morning things weren’t made any easier.

* * * * *

I think I was in denial for a long time after my original plan didn’t work. It’s the only excuse I can come up with. Sounds like crap I know but it’s the only reason I can justify why I allowed it to continue for so long. I just couldn’t believe they got away with it. Even after I made sure the video fell into appropriate hands. I mean, some of their faces were on it for fuck’s sake. It just didn’t seem possible.

But no, the parents of the girl seemed more ashamed of her than anything. They didn’t want a fuss made and didn’t press charges. They left town soon after and The Filmmakers… well it didn’t faze them at all. They just got more careful. They started wearing masks for one thing. They also stopped selling the DVDs at school. Now it was just for them. For their own personal amusement and edification.

The next girl was nine and those boys pretty much ruined her for life. No one should have to see what I saw that day. I mean one of them even tried to force his cock into her. It was just fortunate it wouldn’t fit but unfortunately he made up for that by wanking himself until he came right in her sweet little face. She was almost paralytic with shock at that point and didn’t even seem to notice it.

They dumped her body further from home too. Another sign of their caution. I can’t imagine what the girl’s thoughts were when she woke up in the Claypits – almost at the exact location where they stoned that first dog. Her feelings when she tried to stand and the pain ripped through her body. Surely they couldn’t get away with this, I told myself. It’s just not possible.

With hindsight, I know I should have interfered again but it wasn’t in my nature. I have my rules to abide by. And the main one is: first and foremost, you go through the proper channels. It’s just unfortunate the proper channels failed me. I should have seen it coming – more and more these days they seem to – but as I said before, I want to see the best in people. It’s my real downfall. For awhile I thought I’d made the right decision. The police rounded up the boys and brought them in for questioning.

Once more I was disappointed.

Lack of evidence was the official line. The poor girl was in no condition to testify and the police efforts to garner DNA samples were stymied by the boys’ parents who couldn’t believe their little angels had anything to do with it.

Unbelievable I know. I suppose I’ll be kind and write it off as the blind love of a parent. Even if in some instances I know for a fact that wasn’t the case. Gotta keep up those appearances – if you know what I mean.

With the official channels exhausted, I set off on another tack. Instead I went to visit the victim’s father. Unlike the previous victim, this one’s parents were not ashamed. They were not embarrassed by what had happened to their little girl. They didn’t seek to hide it

She was their only child. Their pride and joy, the apple of their eye etcetera, etcetera. And I know some would say I was wrong to do it but I just couldn’t help it. I gave him a little nudge in the right direction. Sadly, as it turned out, it might have been too much of a nudge. The morning following my visit, as one of The Filmmakers – admittedly a periphery player; he’d watched but not participated; that not really being an excuse – was striding toward the bus stop, a dusty, red Fairlane careened into him at seventy kilometers an hour. The boy, Jenkins, died instantly. Unfortunately the father of the victim, who’d been behind the wheel, lost control moments after hitting him and plowed into a nearby pole. He’s also gone now, although he lasted a little longer than Jenkins. It was internal bleeding that got him.

He never woke from his coma.

No doubt you’ve already guessed how horrified I was by the results of my interference. Keep repeating the same old justifications, don’t I? Like they’re some sort of acceptable excuse. All I can ask is that before you judge me, you walk a day in my shoes; see how you would’ve played it.

Sure, looking back now I’m not entirely certain what I thought the man could have achieved. But I know I didn’t mean for him to kill the boy. It’s just the way it worked out. It’s often hard to predict what my influence will do to a person and, well, I guess you can only live and learn. At least for awhile, as unfortunate as it all was, it seemed to stop The Filmmakers in their tracks.

I hoped it would last but I knew it was wishful thinking. Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to get back at it. Jenkins was barely in the ground when they struck again.

The next one was a thirteen year old. A skinny, underdeveloped runt of a girl named Sarah. This one was from out of town. They lured her via the internet. Apparently Matthew had been busy during the brief down time. He’d posed as a uni student on a variety of forums: handsome, kind and desperate for love. Saying he was looking for someone to run away with. Sarah, a girl who’d had a lot of troubles – let’s just say that daddy had roving hands – brought it hook, line and sinker. I must have been a little complacent. You know, certain that the death of one of their buddies would have slowed them down. And, I mean, this wasn’t the only thing on my plate. You need to know that too. I mean, it’s not an excuse but… well I suppose it is an excuse but anyway.

Before I knew it she was stepping off the bus outside the general store. Matthew was there to meet her. He was bigger than average for his age. He did look like a uni student. And by now he had his patter down to a t.

He took her back to his house and she was midway through fellating him when the others burst in with the camera. They forced her to continue. This time they were able to get inside and they all took a turn. Between goes they amused themselves, zooming the camera in close on the cum leaking from her pussy, laughing like it was the most hysterical thing they’d ever seen. Then they started on her with the belts and one of the sick fucks even shit in her mouth much to the amusement of his comrades.

Then the inevitable happened. If you haven’t guessed already, it’s what this has all been building up to. That’s right. They only went and upped the ante once again. I suppose they took it to the only logical conclusion it could build to from here.

Well at least Matthew did. When they dragged the unconscious Sarah and dumped her out in the scrub, he told the others he’d meet them back at the house. Said he wanted one last go. But sex wasn’t really the thing on his mind. As soon as they were out of view, he reached down and efficiently strangled the girl then ran to catch up with his buddies. Just like that. No hesitation. No nothing. Seemed it had finally dawned on the boy that Sarah had known him by face; something his fellow movie makers didn’t need to worry about.

Her body was found two days later by a couple of kids riding their trail bikes. The feral cats had been at her. Let’s just say it was not a pretty sight. This time I knew the boys had gone too far and when the police arrived to round them all up again, amid cries of harassment from their parents, I was certain I’d seen the last of them. But oh no, that wasn’t the end of the story. Because onto the scene stepped one Sergeant Timothy Collins and it was all I could do to restrain from striking him down on the spot.

He was a Sydney copper and had been investigating Sarah’s disappearance. Unfortunately, he also turned out to be a man who could hold a grudge. And he held a big one against the investigating officer from the Bendigo force. They’d worked together ten years ago, when they were both on the Melbourne force. I’m not sure exactly what caused it, but boy was there bad blood between them. With their constant bickering and outright attempts to impede the other’s case; somehow the fact a murder had been committed seemed to fade away. Whatever evidence they’d found got contaminated. The boy’s families pooled their money and got a few lawyers. And before I knew it The Filmmakers were set loose again.

I watched them closely during this stage, certain that Matthew killing the girl would cause friction. But no, once again I was disappointed. The general consensus seemed merely to be: why didn’t you let us film it. An oversight they acted fast to rectify. Acted with a bravado that showed their distain for the authorities and their certainty they’d never be caught. Before the dust had even settled on the investigation, they pulled a double header. And this time the razor blades came out.

They didn’t even bother wearing the masks. They knew that they wouldn’t have to worry about being recognised.

With the first girl, they built up to it. With the second, it was plain, sadistic mutilation from the get go. That poor girl’s shrieks will stay with me forever. As will my inaction. The fact I stood there and watched as they repeatedly dragged the blades down her soft, perfect skin. Watched as the skin split apart and her blood bloomed forth. Watched their mirth as they carved the words into her: slut, whore, bitch, lezzo; words the poor thing had no comprehension of. But what six year old would? They carved and carved, continuing even after the girl was dead. Flaying her skin, ripping free chunks of flesh and slitting her belly to plunder her viscera while all the while the camera rolled. Capturing not only their atrocity but also the sheer delight they took in executing it. By the time they were done, what an hour before had been a human child, was now scattered debris. As a final ignominy, they congregated in a circle and pissed on her remains before Michael spent, what they found an amusing moment, pretending to fuck the carcass before they wrapped filming.

I know I have no excuse for not acting during those last two murders. I couldn’t blame it on my wanting to see the best in people any longer. It was clear The Filmmakers were a lost cause. The only excuse I can give was that I was frightened. Not of them. No, not of those fucking cowardly boys. I was scared of myself. I am not by nature a tempestuous being but when pushed to anger I knew what I could do. I know that is no excuse and I really hope that maybe one day those two young girls will forgive me.

My inaction was over though. It had officially gone beyond anything I could tolerate and I knew it was time to do something. And if I had any last lingering reservations they certainly disappeared when those fuckers went and took it one final step further.

They began to recruit.

* * * * *

Jacob stared back at his brother in shocked silence.

‘What?’ he mumbled, even though he’d heard him the first time. He was just stalling, trying to wrap his mind around what his brother was telling him.

He studied Michael’s grinning face for any hint that this was some form of joke. He didn’t see any as he struggled to think of a reply. After the poor night’s sleep he’d had and then the DVD Michael had just shown him, he was at a loss as to what to do. It seemed like he was trapped in some macabre nightmare. He could still feel the acrid taste of the vomit in his mouth. Could still see what they had done to the girl.

And Michael was a participant. Although Jacob had kind of a gut feeling that was the case, he had sort of managed to delude himself he wasn’t. That his brother had just bought them off a friend like he’d claimed. But there was no denying it now. He’d been involved in it all. The filming of it. It made Jacob’s head spin. The sight of him wielding the blade, his lips drawn back into a hate-filled sneer. It just didn’t add up with the cheerful grin in front of him.

‘I said do you want to see it live? We’re going to do another one tomorrow. Clint’s lined it up. It’s going to be his sister.’ His brother sniggered slightly and scratched at the side of his nose. Jacob could see he’d missed a few spots of jism on his fingers.

His brother had beaten off again and this time he’d taken his time. As disturbing as the DVD had been, it was even more disturbing how Michael had kept glancing across at him as he’d played with himself. It was like he was getting as much pleasure from Jacob’s discomfort as from the action on screen.

Jacob realised he’d kept silent a little too long but just couldn’t think of anything to say. Panic was beginning to set in as he saw the strange look his brother was giving him.

‘What? Chicken are you?’ his brother goaded. ‘Hey, I thought you were a big boy now. I told the boys we could trust you. Don’t tell me I made a mistake, Jake. Don’t tell me that. Don’t…’

‘Okay.’ Jacob was startled by his agreement. It was out before he even realized he was going to say it. ‘Sure, why not.’ He hoped his voice sounded calmer than he felt.

His brother let out a hooting laugh and clapped him on the back. Jacob tried to ignore the fact he used the hand with his cum on it.

‘I knew I could count on you. You’ll see. It’s gonna be fucking awesome. It’s so fucking intense. You have no idea.’ Suddenly his brother was all energized. Waving his arms about as he spoke.

Jacob managed a wan smile in reply as Michael lifted the remains of the six-pack from beside the couch and tore two cans free. He handed one over and Jacob didn’t dare refuse it.

‘About time you had your first brew.’ His brother slapped him on the back and winked before cracking open his own can. Michael took a long swallow and Jacob fought his nausea as he watched his adam’s apple bob. He saw his brother peering at him over the rim and quickly popped open his own can. He took a hesitant sip and gagged slightly at the bitter tang. He forced himself to swallow before he looked up to see if his brother had noticed. Michael was peering at him with that strange look again and Jacob forced another swallow down.

Alarm bells were ringing in his head.

If Clint would do that to his own sister…

* * * * *

I was heartbroken when I saw that he was going to be there. That poor boy should not have to see what was going to happen but I just couldn’t wait any longer. I’d delayed long enough as it was… but I can’t help thinking how different things might have been if he’d just said no…

* * * * *

Jacob’s throat was dry as they marched in a group to the seventh Claypit. Not only had it been a long hard walk – he’d never been this deep before – but every time he looked over and saw Clint’s sister skipping along beside them, he felt like vomiting. His heart was thudding painfully and he could taste something strange and coppery at the back of his tongue. He really didn’t want to watch this. He really, really didn’t want to see what they were going to do.

He knew he shouldn’t but he couldn’t stop looking at Clint’s sister. She seemed unconcerned, bouncing about between the boys, happy to be going on an outing with her big brother. Jacob didn’t know what excuse they had used to lure her out here. He didn’t really care. He just wanted to get out of there. Even the thought of seeing her pussy, the first he’d ever see in real life, didn’t really excite him. Because he knew what would happen after. The memory of the girl on the last DVD rose in his mind and Jacob felt bile creep into his throat.

Now he was really wishing he hadn’t said okay but he knew it was a bit late for that. Sure he was scared of disappointing his brother, but what really stopped him from just turning and fleeing was that look that Michael kept shooting him. It was the same look he’d worn when he put the proposition to Jacob in the first place. The look that had said there was only one correct answer to the question. That the wrong answer would mean he’d end up like Clint’s sister. That his brother would say one day let’s go kick the footy or want to come with me to my mate’s house and they would be there waiting for him with the camera rolling.

‘Here we are,’ one of the boys announced as the group straggled to a halt. Jacob couldn’t remember his name. He’d been introduced to the boys when they met up at his house for a “pre-game drink” as they termed it but in his state of mind none of the names stuck. All he could think of was what he’d seen them doing on the DVD.

‘So what are we doing?’ Clint’s sister asked innocently, a slight look of confusion on her face and Jacob felt the pit of his stomach drop out.

The chuckle started with Michael, who stood behind the girl’s left shoulder, and spread out on both sides of him, taken up by the other boys as they formed a circle around the now very confused girl.

‘What are you doing?’ The fear was creeping into her face and Jacob felt like something inside him was breaking.

Even though he’d been asked along it appeared as though the others had forgotten him. All eyes were focused on Clint’s sister. When he looked into their faces, he was glad of that fact. He took a step back but it was like all the strength had leached from his legs and he staggered into a crouch, his hands held up to the side of his head.

Clint was the first to show his knife. The others quickly followed suit.

As he watched the girl’s face crumple in fear, Jacob felt wetness on his cheeks and abruptly realised he was crying.

‘No,’ he tried to scream but it only came out as a breathless whisper.

He managed to turn away and waited for the screams to start.

But perversely, when the first one rent the air, Jacob couldn’t help but look. His head spun of its own volition and he glimpsed the girl on the ground, ringed by the boys, hooting and hollering at her as she attempted to hold on to the flap of skin they’d sliced free of her cheek. He couldn’t help himself then. He fell to his knees and vomited…

* * * * *

That poor fucking boy. That was all I could think as I came upon the scene. That poor fucking boy. He didn’t want it. I knew it. But what else could he fucking do? The knives were out. The boys were in the swing. I don’t blame him for what he did. What choice did he have? It wasn’t like he could very well say no was it?

I saw the look he wore the whole time. I knew what he thought and I was just glad I was able to restrain myself long enough to let him leave. Even if later I came to question the decision, at least he didn’t have to see me at my worst…

* * * * *

Jacob couldn’t help it. As he slid in, he was crying, bawling like a baby. It wasn’t anything like he’d dreamt it would be. Sure it was a moment he’d never thought would arrive; a moment he had fantasised about for so long but there wasn’t any excitement for him. There wasn’t any pleasure. Not with the ring of boys surrounding him, wanking away as they taunted the girl.

His brother kept yelling at him, ‘Shoot it in there. Shoot it right up in there.’ But Jacob knew that was impossible. He couldn’t even keep his hard-on going despite how tight the hole was. It was just the thought of all that combined jizz he was sliding into – both his brother and Matthew had already shot their loads – and the way her eyes were bunched up beneath him. Her lips opened wide in a long soundless scream. And the blood that already coated her.

The cheek flap jiggled with every thrust and whenever he looked up the boys were there leering at him and the lens of the camera was unflinchingly focused on him and he felt so sick and disgusted but he just couldn’t think of anything else he could do but keep thrusting.

‘The fucking pussy’s crying. I thought you said he was up for this?’ one of the boys called and Jacob felt his heart go cold. It only made it worse and he slid out as his dick went limp.

He tried to stick it back in but it was impossible and when he felt the hand on his shoulder he started to blubber.

‘No, no, no, no, no.’

It dragged him back and although he was glad to be off her; glad he didn’t have to look at those blood-drenched features anymore, he was terrified. The hand released him a few metres away and he just crumpled to his knees.

He thought he’d pass out as his brother hunkered down beside him.

‘What the fuck’s wrong with you?’ Michael hissed in his ear as a shriek ripped through the air from the congregated group. Jacob didn’t want to know what they were doing. He just felt dizzy and sick and there was a strange roar in his ears.

‘I said, what the fuck’s the matter with you? You can’t fucking do this. You’re fucking embarrassing me man.’ Jacob just blubbered in reply as another shriek ripped through the air and one of the boys crowed, ‘That’s the way, fucking slice her up.’

‘Fuck it.’ Jacob could see his brother peering between him and the action and any last ideas he had of Michael being human just disappeared as he saw the blood lust etched on his face; saw that he didn’t want to miss a single second.

It just made the tears worse. Especially the way his brother looked at him with such sickened disgust.

‘Don’t fucking move,’ Michael hissed and turned back to join his comrades.

Jacob leant forward and vomited again.

It was only a thin trickle of bile this time but the pain of bringing it up wracked his entire body. And it just stunk so fucking bad. Far stronger than vomit should have.The smell of it filling his nostrils, scorching them, making his eyes water, causing him to gag again. It kept growing and growing, building impossibly until he thought his head would explode. It seemed impossible that it could reek that bad.

Then he felt rather than saw the presence behind him and realised it wasn’t his vomit he’d smelled at all.

The voice boomed in his head, RUN, and then it was past him and moving towards the circle. The boys slowly raised their head from their antics and their catcalls died down as the smell hit them one by one. Jacob scrabbled backwards, skidding on the loose rocks amongst the dirt as the voice boomed again.

RUN.

He still hadn’t put his dick away but he barely noticed it begin to jet urine. He couldn’t take his eyes off the figure as it closed in on the boys.

RUN, it boomed one last time and Jacob obeyed, turning and pelting headlong through the shrub, branches whipping his face and arms. Scrabbling for purchase, tripping, falling, getting up and running. Not even paying attention to where he was going just trying to block out the noises he heard from behind him.

A small part of his brain wondered who exactly was screaming.

Whether it was his brother.

But he didn’t stop running.

* * * * *

I am not at all proud of what I did to those boys. At least I have the comfort of knowing that it had to be done. But in the end, I can’t help questioning whether maybe there wasn’t some other way. I just keep telling myself I gave them ample opportunities.

And that poor girl. When I looked at what they’d done to her I had to put her out of her misery. It was the only decent thing to do. She probably could have lived but I knew she wouldn’t want to. Not with her face cut up like that. Wounds like those would never heal right. For all intents and purposes she was already dead. Another victim to add to their list.

But what’s done is done and there aren’t any do-overs. No matter how often I wish there were.

I often wonder if maybe that should have been the end of the whole sorry affair; right there and then. Ending back where it began in those Claypits… but I just kept finding myself coming back to the boy I let go. Wondering if maybe that had been a mistake. I mean I didn’t regret letting him go but I just had to be certain. I had to make sure a seed hadn’t been planted in the boy’s mind. Despite what some people believe, I don’t necessarily see everything and I just wanted to make sure that nothing was taking root. I just couldn’t let it go until I was certain…

* * * * *

For a long time Jacob didn’t leave his room at all. Not to eat, not to drink, not even to relieve himself. He just sat in the corner of his room sobbing, pissing and shitting in his pants as the urge came. He had no idea if his father was home. He had no idea if Michael’s absence had even been noticed. He had no idea about anything.

Not even how long had passed before there was a knock on the door and his father entered; beer in hand. He didn’t particularly care though.

‘Why aren’t you at school?’ His father’s question at least told him it was a weekday. Jacob could feel the anger seething off the man but it didn’t bother him. He just shrugged and his father glared at him for a moment as he took another slurp of his beer. ‘Have you seen your brother, the cops have been looking for him again.’

Jacob shook his head.

‘You sure now?’

This time he nodded and they lapsed into silence for awhile.

‘Well get to fucking school then, I’ve got work to go to.’

Obediently Jacob rose and his father’s face wrinkled in disgust.

‘And take a fucking shower why don’t you, you smell like you shit yourself.’

Jacob didn’t comment on the hypocrite’s own thick stench that engulfed him as he followed his father out into the hallway. He’d already pushed it as far as he dared.

* * * * *

When he arrived at school, the rumours were already spreading thick and fast. Apparently the cops had been out that morning, questioning the students. Jacob ignored them as best he could but it was clear to him that things had changed. That his fellow students had realised the full horror of what the original DVD had grown into.

He felt the eyes on him the whole time. He saw the way the others shied away. Particularly the girls. It was easy enough to see it was going to be guilt by association. That, in the boy’s absence, they’d already decided on their scapegoat. He knew it was pointless trying to explain. That he hadn’t wanted to be involved.

Apparently they’d been spotted going into the Claypits by a couple of teens heading there to ride their bikes. They’d seen both Jacob and Clint’s sister with the other boys and when her body was found, it hadn’t taken them long to start blabbing it all over school. Jacob knew there was no point trying to defend himself. That no one would believe him.

It was a complete one eighty in opinion and he couldn’t help wondering exactly when the DVD’s had stepped across the boundary. Exactly why the other kids who had raved about the first DVD’s coolness were now sickened to hear what it had grown into.

Jacob couldn’t stop wondering what it had taken. Had it been blood? Was it all right so long as the slaps and pinches didn’t break the skin? Was it no longer hilarious if they weren’t just molesting the girls but also killing them?

What was it?

He didn’t know and the worst bit was, the longer it went on, the less he really cared. The less he felt the victim in his own mind. Because deep down inside, he really felt he deserved it. He could make all the excuses he wanted but he just couldn’t make himself believe them. Because he had been part of it all. He’d known from right near the start and he hadn’t breathed a word.

And now every night when he closed his eyes, he saw her face. Clint’s sister’s and her screwed up eyes beneath him.

And things only got worse.

Although Clint’s sister’s body had been found, the boys had just disappeared and the cops made it clear what they thought of the story Jacob told them. That it was bullshit and that he’d only get in more trouble for covering for the others. Jacob tried to explain that he wasn’t; tried to explain what had happened down at the Claypits but the more he spoke, the more ridiculous it sounded to his own ears. He knew there was no hope of convincing the cops he was telling the truth.

Then after the police had finally released him – with stern words about seeing him again once the DNA tests were done – he learned that he’d been blacklisted by the school. That they’d sent out a notice to all parents warning them about him. And he knew exactly what that meant. It was the end of any hope of a friend in Muirtly again. That a girlfriend was something that would remain a dream forever.

He’d already made up his mind before the first DVD arrived in the mail addressed to him.

It was just the finishing touch really.

* * * * *

As he looked at the plain white envelope with his name scrawled across the front and his fingers felt the shape through the paper, Jacob thought he would be sick. By the time he reached the DVD the sweat from his palms had left visible imprints on the envelope.

He had already sort of guessed what it would contain even before he flicked on the television and loaded the DVD. He paused for a long time before he hit play. The thought playing over and over in his mind. They never found the boy’s bodies.

As he depressed his finger and the screen burst into life, Jacob felt the first tears on his cheek.

It took him a moment to recognise his brother for all the blood.

As he watched, the camera panned down the body to where a razor blade slowly flayed the skin from Michael’s penis, baring the gristle within and Jacob dropped to the floor.

* * * * *

I am the first to admit that things don’t always turn out the way I intended. I think I said earlier that it is difficult to imagine what my influence will do to a person. It was a bad call. I’ll admit it. I never intended for the boy to take his own life. I just wanted him to see what it was like. To banish any ideas he might get of following in his brother’s footsteps. Stupid I know but let me ask you one thing. Would you have done it differently? Would you have let it go and taken the risk it’d start up all over again?

Make no bones about it, the whole thing doesn’t really sit easy with me but I just couldn’t see any other way it could play out.

Sometimes I even think it might have been for the best seeing as what his life was about to become. Both the cops and the community were eager for a scapegoat.

Other times I don’t.

Usually I just try and put the whole sorry affair out of my mind. I don’t want to sound callous but there is a lot of other stuff to worry about.

Most times I just try to write him off as the final victim of those fucking cowardly boys because then I can comfort myself with the knowledge that The Filmmakers will never take another life again.

WRITER'S BLOCK

So I sit in the room that has become my cell and I write, hoping this time it’ll be what she wants.

The words do not come easily. They dribble free in fitful, disjointed spurts which I alternate with staring around the spartan room that has become my entire reality. Cream walls, white roof, no windows and only one exit: a sturdy oak door that I know from listening to the tumblers click is at least triple-locked. The furniture is a wire-framed bed with its thin mattress and doona and this writing desk and chair that I sit in.

The only other objects are the empty food tray propped on the floor beside the desk and the overflowing bin in the corner of the room that I refuse to look at. It has somehow come to symbolise my failure. Oh, and there is the camera: sitting on its pivot up there in the corner of the room.

I always seem to forget about the camera

Time grinds onward; just as it always does.

When I look down at the foolscap sheet in front of me and the words on it that seemed to take an eternity to write, I no longer know what they mean. It had been there briefly, a fleeting image in my head, but has promptly vanished. In frustration, I screw up the paper into a tight ball and lob it into the bin.

I sit back uncomfortably on the chair, its seat just too narrow to accommodate my ever expanding bulk. I know she is watching me and that she will be disappointed, but I can’t help that.

She thinks she is helping but she isn’t.

I lean back and try to remember what the sky looks like…

* * * * *

…The sound of the tumblers clicking snaps me from my reverie and quickly I scramble for my paper and the chewed nub of my pencil. As the second tumbler clicks I begin writing hastily; just scrawling random words. I know it is stupid. I know I can’t fool her. I am well aware that she has been watching me on cameras and knows that I haven’t been writing but I scribble away anyway.

The door swings open, creaking on its hinges and I see her figure filling it. It disgusts me but I cannot look away. She is wearing a tank-top that displays her bulging muscles in grotesque detail. The thick ropes that stretch down her arms bulge and jump beneath the room’s fluorescent globes. She must have oiled herself up again.

She barely looks female anymore. The swell of her breasts has been transformed into hard, jutting slabs of muscle. Her former hourglass figure - now nothing but a dim memory - has been sculpted by the weights into a taper from shoulder to hip.

In her hands she grasps a laden tray. On top I can see the cut up pieces of a full family-size pizza, a side of potato chips and a two litre bottle of coke. As always I can’t help but wonder if she is a feeder. The pockets of her gym shorts bulge and I just know that they are stuffed full of candy bars. It has been this way since my last attempt to escape. She doesn’t want me strong so she feeds me this junk. Vegetables are just a distant memory.

She is transforming me into a blob.

She wants me helpless.

I have long since given up not eating what she brings me. The last attempts have failed miserably. My determination always seems to fizzle out before hers. If everything on the tray isn’t finished she won’t bring me any more.

Even her tread on the threadbare carpet seems threatening as she moves over toward me. She no longer even bothers locking the door behind her. She knows there is nothing I can do.

That I am powerless to stop her.

It is quite a blow to one’s self esteem to know that your mother could kick the shit out of you. I’ve only tried to escape once and my leg has never really set right again; despite the splint she’d applied later.

‘Oh good, your writing again,’ she coos, her soft tones completely out of tune with the hulk of a body. Even her jaw appears to have gained muscles; widening it until she resembles some sort of American action hero. I almost expect to see stubble.

‘It’s not very good… It needs a lot of work,’ I stammer out. Suddenly ashamed of the scribble, I attempt to cover it with my arm.

I should know better; I can’t fool her.

She deposits the tray on the desk beside me, reaches out and effortlessly moves my arm away. My eyes fall on the veins bulging prominently through her forearms and I feel like vomiting.

Doesn’t she know what she looks like?

I can feel my heart start to beat a little faster as I watch her scanning over what I’ve written, trying to gauge her reaction from her eyes. As always they are unreadable. The same as they’d been everyday since he left. Since she’d started to feel unsafe. Like if she showed any emotion it would be a weakness that others could exploit.

Especially me. It was as though she thought that I could somehow capture her in one of my stories and force her to leave. Just like I had done to him.

It was only once he left that she bought the first weight set. I need to be strong, she’d told me, there is no on else to protect me now. She hadn’t said thanks to you but she hadn’t needed to, I knew she blamed me.

‘What’s this?’ she asks now, her voice deceptively light. I wince inside not knowing what to say. ‘I think someone is being a little silly.’

To a stranger listening in, it would be easy to miss the underlying menace in her voice. Unfortunately, I can hear it all too well. Suddenly my bladder seems too full. I fight against the urge to release it. She won’t bring the bucket in for my toilet break just yet and I shudder to think what she’ll do if I soil myself.

Her hand snakes from the page to slide through my rumpled hair and I can’t help but cringe away. I hope I’m not whimpering as her fingers close and I feel her pull my head back to its original position and resume her stroking. The power in her grip makes me think she could crush my skull like an eggshell if she so desired.

What a relief that would be. To feel my brain just oozing out through the cracks, dripping over my ears, down my cheeks. Knowing that it was over and I could finally stop thinking. Stop wracking my brain for what she wants.

Stop trying to write the masterpiece that I know is just not in me.

Her hand slips from my hair and she steps back a pace. I sigh in relief as I realise their will be no punishment this time.

‘Eat you dinner,’ she commands, ‘and try to write something, huh?’ The way she phrases it is like I’m the unreasonable one. Like what she wants me to do is perfectly simple and fair but I’m just being a naughty boy and refusing to do it. ‘I’ll be back soon to give you a bath. You smell a bit off… Have you been masturbating lately?’

The question comes from nowhere, catching me off guard. I can’t seem to make myself meet her gaze. I think about the crusted semen on the underside of the desk and blush brightly. It is the only place where the camera cannot see.

She reads it in my face of course.

‘We’ll talk about this later.’

She rumbles back through the door.

I imagine that the room is shaking with each step she takes.

I listen as one by one, the tumblers click.

I realise I am crying…

* * * * *

…It is a masterpiece she wants and I can trace this whole thing back to a single story I wrote in Year 7. Probably the only decent thing I’ve ever written. It had been about him, the man who wasn’t my father, and the things he’d done. Things he’d done to me.

I thought I’d hidden that well though. The part about it being based on me. The teacher had been shocked by the piece and stunned by the maturity of it. Personally I hadn’t thought that much of it. I’d tacked on some fantasy happy ending where everyone lived happily ever after – once the man had been brutally murdered of course.

The teacher had taken me to one side after class and spoken to me about the story, about where I had gotten the idea from. He’d seemed like he was very concerned.

He’d talked very softly and gently.

I’d told him that I read a lot.

I thought that was the end of it.

That was until I got home. My mother had been alternately weeping and furious.

He had been packing his bags. Apparently the police had been around.

She said nothing to me that night when he dragged his bags out the front and disappeared into a taxi. She didn’t need to. Her eyes had said it all.

This is all your fault.

The days immediately following his departure were a whirlwind of activity. People flashing badges, being shunted between a nice, wood trimmed office where a kindly man handed me a doll and asked me to point out where he’d touched and a brightly lit doctors surgery where the severe looking doctor asked me to take off my pants and parted my buttocks. Then there was the long stay in the corridor sitting on an uncomfortable, plastic, moulded chair while stern looking men conferred with mother behind a glass door.

I had no idea what was happening at the time. I think I was in some sort of daze. How could a story have caused all this? The car trip home had been icy. She hadn’t talked; just glared ahead, out of the window.

She’d come for me that night, just as he’d used to, waiting until the grandfather clock in the hall chimed eleven. Her breath hot in my ear as she’d pushed my face into the pillows, stifling my breath. This was back before the weights so I probably could have overpowered her but the shock of it momentarily paralysed me. My head was still thick with sleep and it took me a moment to focus on her low voice as she hissed my fate into my ear.

You want to write? Well you’re going to write. A masterpiece… You’ll write me a masterpiece… Now he’s gone you need to start pulling your weight… This is your fault… You had to write your little story didn’t you…

Suddenly she’d been gone, leaving me with just her wet spittle on my ear to let me know she’d ever been there.

The next day she bought her first weight set…

* * * * *

…I force down a slice of the pizza. Familiarity has dulled its taste to cardboard. I long for the time when she still allowed me books. Back before she realised they were more of a distraction than an inspiration.

Anything to distract me from the blank sheet in front of me.

I take a slurp of the cola, feeling my heartburn protest fiercely at its bite. The sheer quantity of sugar in my bloodstream is making me feel giddy. I check the six hundred mil bottle of water on the desk but it is empty. I have no idea when she’ll bring me another because I can longer remember when she brought me the last.

Time has lost all meaning for me. The clock was one of the first things to go.

Suddenly an idea strikes and I grab my nub of a pencil, scrabbling for a piece of paper. I have a moment of alarm when I think it’s gone but as the lead touches the paper it begins to flow. I write and write and even begin to find a smile crease my face.

It feels good.

It feels right.

Maybe this time….

* * * * *

… Or maybe not. The hard-on pressing against my thigh is the first thing that tips me off. It’s more of the same. More filth as she termed it. More fantasies of the sex that I’ve finally convinced myself I’ll never get. My whole sexual experience started and ended with him. Never even been kissed. Hard to kiss when you’re bent over on all fours, a hand pressing your face into the pillows.

The thought of it kills the fantasy and in frustration, I screw up the four pages I’d written and hurl them at the bin. I want to scream but I don’t. I just sit there, uncomfortably aware that the image of him, whilst sickening, is not enough to make my hard-on wilt.

I sit very still, willing it away even though I know it won’t.

Time passes.

I have no idea how long.

It becomes too much and I slowly let my hand creep down over my gut and into the loose tracksuit pants I am wearing. Guiltily, I peer over my shoulder at the expressionless lens of the camera as though I would be able to see if she was watching.

My fingers pluck my erection free of my bulging thighs and I awkwardly scoot my seat forward so my actions are hidden further in the shadows under the desk.

I wish I hadn’t screwed up the fantasy. Because now as I begin to gently jiggle my wrist, trying to keep my upper body as still as possible, so if she is watching, she can’t tell what I’m doing; now as I begin to stroke my cock, the only thing I can think of is him hunched over and grunting in my ear…

* * * * *

…I often wonder why no one has come for me. Admittedly I was never the most popular kid at school but I did have some friends: Thomas, Mikey and Steve. Surely one of them must miss me? And I was officially enrolled too. Aren’t there people checking up on these things? Surely I couldn’t have just been yanked out in the middle of semester and no one would wonder where I went. We must have moved several times or something. Although I know she is an accomplished liar, even she couldn’t just make me disappear.

She used to drug me a lot back in the early days. I’m certain of it. Well, fairly certain anyway. She told me I was being ridiculous when I asked her about it but I know for a fact my first room didn’t look like this. She was a nurse – hell, she still could be for all I know – she had access to the drugs necessary. I find it difficult to imagine that she was still treating people though. Picture coming out of anaesthetic and finding her hulking form looming above you. You’d be back in surgery before you knew it.

But she must be getting money somehow, so maybe she is still in the nursing game.

Not that that mattered to me now.

I am fairly certain she hasn’t drugged me in a long time.

I don’t know if that is scary or not.

It does occur to me that she no longer needs to move…

* * * * *

…The tumblers click and I am awake in an instant. My back screams in protest as I bolt upright; stiff from sleeping hunched over the desk. Another click resounds and I frantically run over in my mind why she is visiting. I have no idea how long has really passed but it just seems too soon for another visit. Has she already bathed me? I think she has but I cannot be certain. I remember her saying she would but I don’t remember it actually happening.

As the third tumbler clicks, my eyes dart to the food tray which is my best way of judging time passed. It lies empty even though I have no recollection of having eaten it. The door swings wide just as the scent hits me and looking down I realise my t-shirt is spattered with vomit. I have no time to process this before I hear her stomping across the floor and my mind freezes.

‘Now look what you’ve done.’ Her voice drips with concern but I’m not fooled by it. I can sense the anger seething underneath. ‘I only just washed you.’

Well at least that solved that little mystery.

Suddenly her voice is very close to my ear. Very soft and full of venom.

‘You fucking stink. I should let you wallow in it.’

Her voice is gone and I am finally able to expel the breath I’ve been holding.

I hear the slosh of water behind me and wince inside because I know what is coming.

‘Get up,’ she orders and I obey instinctively, not even considering the possibility that I could do otherwise.

I turn to face her but keep my eyes down not wanting to see her. I can’t avoid the bulge of her calves though. I can see the muscles straining as though they want to burst through the skin.

‘Turn around.’

I feel her approach from behind and wince as her hand slides up and grips the neck of my t-shirt, bunching the fabric into her meaty hand. Then she yanks and I can’t help the girlish yelp of pain that escapes me as the t-shirt bites into my flabby skin. The pain is only momentary though and then the shirt tears, sending splatters of my vomit shooting across the desk in front of me.

I begin to sob as I hear the shirt splat to the ground. Her hand hooks into the waistband of my tracksuit pants and wrenches them down. I stifle a second yelp as the friction burns at my thighs.

I wear no underpants and vulnerable does not even begin to describe how I feel.

I can feel her eyes boring into my back. I can sense her disgust at the sight of my body. At my weakness.

Suddenly I am angry.

Fuck her, I think, she made me this way.

I hear the splosh of a sponge entering a bucket and then the droplets as it is wrung out and my anger dissipates quickly in a rising fog of shame. The sponge slaps against my back and the breath whooshes out of me at the frigidity of the water. She rakes it down, scoring my flesh as though the only way to get it clean is to remove the entire epidermis.

‘You’re fucking disgusting,’ I hear her mutter and then the sponge dips lower, running over my buttocks and into my arse crack.’Your fucking arse stinks.’

Her hand grips my shoulder, the fingers digging painfully, and she spins me like a rag doll. I close my eyes as I turn so I won’t have to look at her.

The sponge makes its icy way down my chest, over my stomach and down towards my genitals that have already shrunk in anticipation of the chill. Her fingers cup around my scrotum and I momentarily stop breathing, the certainty overcoming me that she is going to crush them. Perversely I feel my penis begin to swell to life and blind panic grips me. I know that if I get an erection, I will be punished. She wouldn’t even have to flex those forearms to reduce my testicles to paste.

‘You like that don’t you?’ she breathes in my ear. With my eyes closed it sounds sultry. Like what the voice of all the beautiful women I imagine sounds. This doesn’t help. As my erection rises to life I hold my breath, waiting for the blinding agony as she clenches her fist.

It doesn’t happen though and I feel her hand drop away.

The sponge splashes back into the bucket and her footsteps recede across the floor. She pauses in front of the doorway and when she speaks it is in a new tone of voice I haven’t heard before. It is a sad tone. Full of not feigned but genuine disappointment.

‘You’re not the only one being imprisoned by this... I’ll bring you some new clothes soon.’

I don’t know what she means or what to say in reply. For once I am relieved to hear the lock click shut…

* * * * *

… I awake with a start, disorientated by my sudden flight into awareness. Something woke me; a loud sound. I’m certain of it. It sounded like a gunshot or a car back-firing. Or was it just a dream? I hold my breath, listening intently but the noise is not repeated.

Hope surges through my frame as my over-active imagination churns out a reason for the noise: the police have found me; even now they are heading for my room, guns drawn, ready to set me free while behind them she lays slumped on the floor, a bullet-hole in her head.

I listen hard, willing my ears to here the slap of footsteps approaching but there is nothing, just dead silence. Maybe it was nothing? Maybe it was just a dream?

Disappointment hits me hard and fast. Before I know it I am sobbing. Through my tears I can see something on my desk in front of me. A piece of paper and a pile of neatly folded clothes next to it. It is only then that I realise I am still naked. I don’t know why but the fact that she hasn’t woken me to dress me fills me with a horrible foreboding. Usually she would never trust me to dress myself.

My sobs have stopped and I wipe away the tears from my eyes so I can read the note next to the clothes.

It is short so it doesn’t take me long.

I really wish it was something I’d written and just couldn’t remember but I know it isn’t my handwriting.

I let it fall to the floor when I am done and my sobs come back full force…

* * * * *

… I take the shirt off the top of the pile and slide it over my head. Even this minor exertion causes me to pant slightly. I can feel beads of sweat break out on my forehead. Carefully I lift the razor blade from where it nestles on the fresh set of tracksuit pants.

I struggle into them, wincing as my bloody knuckles, stripped raw by the repeated pounding of the door, glance off the desk’s corner during my struggles.

I don’t want to be naked for this.

I have finally decided to do what the note suggested. But before I do, there is something else I must do first. It has finally come to me, now, when it is too late.

An idea.

I can see it crystal clear in my mind. It may not be a masterpiece but what does that matter. My only critic is never going to read it. I sit down at the desk and peer at the razor blade for a moment, glinting dully under the fluorescent lights before reaching for my pencil. I look at the small nub that she left me and hope that it will be enough to get the job done.

I have yelled myself hoarse and I have beaten on the door until my knuckles are bloody. I know that no one is coming. I wonder if they will ever find me. Soon it won’t matter but for now I will write. I hope it will make it seem that this all had a point to it. That my life didn’t just evaporate when she first turned the key in the lock.

So I sit in the room that has become my cell and I write…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

R. Frederick Hamilton is a young up and comer.

LEGUMEMAN BOOKS

www.legumeman.com

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