Jodi Hall slammed the back door to her ambulance shut. It crashed into its housing with the sound of an oil drum struck with a metal rod, the reflective yellow and orange stripes across the rear of the vehicle were slanted down from each side, meeting in the middle of the double doors and giving the appearance that the ambulance was sporting a luminous maniacal grin. Jodi was the only person at the ambulance station; her last call-out, a teenage girl who had opened up her wrists with a razor after her boyfriend had dumped her, had taken her past the scheduled end of her shift so she’d missed out on grabbing a beer with the rest of the guys. By the time her and her partner, Anthony, had got back to the station at Maricopa Medical Centre even the night crews had left, all called out on jobs, multiple shootings so she’d heard on the radio. Jodi had let her partner leave while she checked the interior of the ambulance, replacing the oxygen masks, drugs and IVs that had been used during the day. It had been one hell of a busy day, and neither her nor Anthony had eaten during their 13 hour shift, so Jodi had insisted he go home to eat and rest. He’d tried to object but was obviously too tired to fight with her, a twenty year veteran of the Arizona Ambulance Service and someone far more used to gruelling days than his three months in the job had prepared him for. After snatching his coat and bag from the staff room, Anthony had stuck his head into the back of the ambulance to utter a weary goodbye before trudging away into the street, rucksack slung over one shoulder, towards the stop for the number 10 bus to his home in Manhassett Square.
Jodi stood, hands on hips, scrutinising her distorted reflection in the door; the image bent and waved like a circus mirror in the warped contours of the metal, making her chubby frame seem rounder than it already was. She turned to one side then another in an effort to use the distortion of her reflection in a more flattering manner, but only succeeded in magnifying her forehead as if it had been blown up like a balloon. The ensuing frown twisting her features further so that the person staring back at her now more resembled a Klingon from Star Trek, but for its neatly cropped blonde hair; Jodi had always struggled with her weight, jumping from one fad diet to another, and this had impacted her skin, which was greasy and blemished, and accordingly she looked far older than her 44 years. Her hair had always been something she could make pretty though; she took pride in her blonde crop, keeping it short enough to allow her to do her job but just long enough so that she didn’t get any grief about being a stereotypical lesbian, even though she liked guys too. She was a happy person, despite her concerns about her appearance, at least she tried to be; she’d worked for the ambulance service in Arizona for twenty years and had seen many colleagues come and go in that time, she was the longest serving paramedic in her unit and she’d always gotten along fine with everyone she’d worked with, greeting each shift, and each heart attack or stabbing, with a cheery optimism. The rapport she shared with her colleagues had not leant itself to her personal life however; Jodi was single and lived alone in a small apartment close to the hospital, she didn’t spend much time at home, preferring to pick up extra shifts when they became available or to spend her free time eating out or drinking at her favourite bar, Ed’s. She did have a cat to keep her company, Withnail was a grey and white Maine Coon, but he was far too similar to his owner and preferred to be outside, only returning to the apartment to eat or sleep. He probably wouldn’t be there when she got back tonight, and even if he was he would be fast asleep, spread out over her sofa cushions like a matted throw. With a sigh she turned away from the vehicle and made for the automatic doors leading into the hospital where the changing rooms were located, it had been a difficult day, and she needed a drink.
Ed’s Bar was equidistant to Jodi’s apartment and the hospital, she stopped there on her way home, pulling open the green wooden door by its brass handle and getting hit in the face by the stench of old beer and pipe smoke; it was an uplifting smell to her, a signal that the comfort of alcohol was near. She often found comfort at the bottom of a glass, and attributed this to her abandonment as a child and subsequent raising in an abusive, alcohol-dependent, adopted family. She had never known her parents, nor had she ever been inclined to search for them, instead choosing to focus on saving others by means of her work. The smell reincarnated memories of smoky, drunken tête-à-têtes with strangers, discussing the merits of drafting a strong-armed quarterback over a pacey running-back. She smiled as she entered the bar anticipating the chill of the glass in her hands as she accepted her first drink of the night, the heavy, windowless wooden door swinging shut behind her with a thud. From the outside the bar wouldn’t have appeared open; there was no sign over the visually impermeable door, and the blinds were always kept shut. This appealed to Jodi, who felt special as one of the patrons who had stumbled across this secret, boozy sanctuary. Inside the building were six men, including Ed, a severely overweight, balding man who stood cleaning glasses behind the bar. Jodi had met Ed a few years back when he’d had his third heart attack; after fifteen minutes of CPR and a week confined to a hospital bed he’d sought her out and offered her access to his bar as a way of thanks. One of the other men inside the bar was Walter, a dishevelled, elderly English guy who was permanently sat in the same seat in the far corner, ignoring the ‘no smoking’ signs. Jodi had shared a drink with him on a number of occasions but knew little about this scrawny, un-groomed man; he wasn’t forthcoming with details about his life and Jodi didn’t even know how old he was, although if she had to guess she’d say at least ninety. She had never been at Ed’s and not seen Walter sitting in his seat and, given the amount he drank and smoked, she was amazed that she’d never come across him in her professional life. Tonight, Walter was asleep in his chair, head slung back so that his mouth gaped open as he snored loudly, a cigarette burning, unattended, down to its butt in the ash tray on the circular table before him. The other men were silently nurturing their drinks, and didn’t look up from them as she entered the bar, except one; a thin, pale man with beautiful dark eyes and shabby hair sat upright at the bar smiled lustily at her, his pallor striking against the depressing interior and blending into the smoky air around him.
Go over and say hello.
A female voice in her head that she didn’t recognise coaxed her forward, but she was already making her way to take the seat next to the man.
Jodi had enjoyed her evening talking to Aaron, he had been pleasant company and his nervous yet excited demeanour had given her a confidence she rarely felt with men to whom she was attracted. They had shared drinks together, this guy could handle his booze, and he’d seemed genuinely interested in her life, asking about her work, friends, and even her living situation. He’d been a perfect gentleman in the taxi on the way to his place, not ravaging her in the back seat or even letting a hand stray toward her intimate areas even though it was obvious that they were going to have sex. Now, crossing the forecourt of the Garden Lodge Motel, Jodi could feel her libido coming to life. She guessed Aaron was in town for a conference given his current accommodation. She’d rescued many similar, though far more drunken, out-of-staters on numerous occasions at work and now she was going to fuck one. The thought brought a smile to her lips, and she felt herself begin to salivate as she watched Aaron walking two paces ahead of her; his gait was determined but slightly clumsy, like he had an old injury that restricted the range of movement in his legs, or maybe the alcohol had started to work. He reached the door to his room without looking back at her, slid the key into the handle with a clunk, and pulled it ajar before standing to one side and turning to face her with an eager smile. Jodi looked at him quizzically for a second; his smile seemed forced for the first time this evening, and his eyes seemed far darker than she could remember but they were wild and alive, swimming with activity. She hesitated, taking a slow half-step away from the door.
You’re not seeing clearly, the unfamiliar female voice again, it’s dark and you’re drunk. Stop worrying and go have some fun for once!
Aaron held an arm out toward the door, gesturing her to enter, and, seemingly reassured, Jodi returned Aaron’s smile and stepped into room 114. The room was pitch black, no light coming through the windows, and she moved forward to allow Aaron to enter behind her. He flicked on the lights and Jodi’s smile and sexual anticipation were immediately dispelled by what she saw; the once-white bed sheets were neatly made but saturated with old, dark red blood, which also decorated the wall behind the head of the bed in great arcs of droplets criss-crossing and circling one another like a grisly game of tic tac toe. The blood from the bed had seeped down its sides before drying and now hung, frozen, like painted red/brown stalactites pointing to dried pools on the floor. Smudged footsteps inked in blood made their way to and from a leather chair in the corner of the room, which itself was relatively clean but lightly smeared with red at the ends of its arms as if gripped by murderous fingertips. On the floor next to the bed, the side closest to Jodi, was a heap of torn flesh and severed organs; two bloodied legs lay on the floor, as if their owner were lying face-down, but between the calves was a face contorted in a mixture of agony and despair. The head was face up, with its forehead closest to the feet as if this person had been folded in half backwards, and its eyes were open, staring desperately at nothing in particular and now greying, glazed and lifeless. Its mouth hung open to one side as if dislocated, now frozen in a permanent scream by rigor mortis, and was missing several teeth. As Jodi scanned this horrific expression, feeling her legs weaken as she took in the streaks of blood and stretched skin of the head, she saw yellowed, bony spikes protruding from one of its eyes. She shook her head in disbelief, tears welling up in her eyes, as she followed the legs up to where the abdomen of the body sat, torn open like a giant, fleshy venus fly trap facing the wall, shards of bone stuck out of the hole and the shrapnel from the obviously broken spine stuck to the folds of the gaping wound, which were now dry, cracked, and yellowing at the edges. Clumps of flesh decorated the wall behind the bed, punctuating the arterial sprays with stodgy, pink-white interruptions. Jodi was now quaking where she stood, sobbing uncontrollably so that her tears blurred her focus on the ghastly scene in front of her. She began to wretch as she felt her stomach convulsing; it felt like she was being strangled from the inside, her skin was pin-pricked with goose bumps and hypersensitive to the air surrounding it, which seemed to exert a painful chill on her exposed arms and face. The room was humid and the air stuck to her like tree sap, suffocating her pores, and the smell invading her nostrils as she inhaled deeply was tacky, sweet and metallic but before she could charge her breath with a scream, the door slammed shut behind her and a blow to the back of her head knocked her unconscious.
An ammoniac burning in her nostrils brought Jodi nauseously out of her slumber, the smelling salts lingered at her nose long enough make her wretch; it smelled like a tramp had urinated on her face. She tried to roll onto her side to be sick but found she was being held down; through watered eyes she could make out Aaron’s form straddling her, leaning onto her arms and holding them down across her chest. She tried to cry out but found the noise blocked by something in her mouth, a slimy tube was coiled round and round in her oral cavity. It was cold and tasted of iron, and Jodi turned her head to see that its slimy, glistening and bloodied tail trailed off the bed towards the window. Remembering what lay on the floor next to the bed brought a fresh, more violent wave of nausea through her; her torso bucked forward, the veins in her neck distending as it extended fully. Her face went red, and veins protruded on her forehead as the pressure built up inside her, she felt the burning torrent of vomit rise in her oesophagus, as if she was about to breath fire, only for it to be prevented from leaving her body by the entanglement of Peony Piper’s intestines in her mouth. Wave after wave crashed against the blockage, which refused to yield, sending jets of vomit up through the back of her mouth and out of her nose giving her the feeling she used to get as a kid when she accidently inhaled the chlorine-rich water of her local swimming pool. The stinging in her sinuses watered her eyes once more so that tears now rolled down her cheeks, and she could feel the pillowcase chill under her head as it absorbed them. Aaron had been motionless, watching intently with black-saucer eyes, but now began to move; he pulled Jodi’s hands over her chest, arms still crossed so that folded unnaturally over her. She felt a compression in her chest as her ribcage was squashed, restricting her breathing and stabbing at her lungs, and the tension in her shoulders made them feel like they would pop out of their sockets at any moment, sending shockwaves of pain up into her neck. Despite the pain in her torso, Jodi could feel Aaron’s grip on her wrists thrumming against her; his grip was tight and she could not pull free but it felt like his fingers were moving, like something was moving under his skin. The fear of what might be controlling Aaron disappeared with a tearing, popping sound as both her shoulders dislocated and her arms were flung further across one another. Dual bolts of searing pain shot down Jodi’s sides and across her back as she felt the crunching of her shoulders being simultaneously wrenched from their housing. Her arms were still connected to her body by skin and muscle, and were subsequently able to stretch farther than before, and as Aaron continued to pull them apart Jodi felt her scapulae being pulled around her back, scraping across her ribs and vibrating like grinding teeth until they reached her breasts, augmenting them into a ghastly flattened chest-plate of bony armour. Throughout all of this her screams were muffled by the entrails in her mouth, and through her tears she stared disbelievingly and red-eyed at her captor, who continued methodically to pull her arms from their rightful place, shifting his gaze alternatively between her armpits to see the ensuing damage and occasionally meeting Jodi’s eyes as if gauging her suffering. Jodi finally broke his stare as she felt the skin of her arms and muscle of her shoulder girdle give way; she clenched her eyes shut and gave a muffled cry as her arms were torn from her torso, sending jets of blood from the resulting ragged wounds. Aaron held her dismembered limbs aloft by the wrists so that they dangled over his victim, blood seeping back from the vessels and dripping onto Jodi’s face as she fought to remain conscious. Before too much blood was lost, Aaron threw the decapitated arms onto the remains of Peony Piper and fetched a blowtorch from the other side of the bed. He lit the torch and approached Jodi, who was still conscious but too weak to move, slowly and provocatively waving the linear, searing blue flame over her body like a magician waving his wand over the girl in the box before he cuts her in half. Aaron applied the flame to one shoulder stump, then another, the smell of burning resembling a steak grilling on a barbeque. Jodi offered no physical resistance, such was her dilapidated state, and only managed a weak verbalisation of protest which was almost inaudible against the roar of the blowtorch, muffled as it was by her visceral gag. Once the bleeding had been cauterised, and rancid smoke wisped upwards from Jodi’s now crusted and blackened shoulders, Aaron turned off the flame and plunged a hand into her mouth, grabbing a fistful of intestine and removing it with a dismissive flick of his wrist. Air poured into Jodi’s lungs as she reflexively gasped, drawing in the thin streams of blood that had gathered across her lips, causing herself to cough weakly. Her chest began to move more freely as it filled and emptied with air and, satisfied that his victim was not imminently going to die, Aaron bent to pick up a large hunting knife from the floor. Jodi’s breathing became rapid as the fear rose inside her, but she was unable to move due to her recent blood-letting and the overwhelming pain she felt from her wounds. She could only watch as Aaron made an incision along the top of her pelvis, pulling her ample stomach high into the air as he peeled back the fat, extending his horizontal cut upwards as if he was skinning her, fat and all. Jodi could feel the pain but couldn’t localise where Aaron had reached with his cutting, her entire torso and abdomen sang with pain, an indescribably severe combination of heat and stinging. She did feel when he reached her chest, his knife imbedding in the cartilage around her lower ribs and the jolt as he pulled it free and continued to peel her breasts back away from her ribcage. Shortly after that jolt Jodi lost consciousness once more, but Aaron continued to remove her flesh, rolling it up over her until he reached her neck. He lifted the enormous fleshy strip and folded it over so that it consumed Jodi’s head, suffocating her while he watched her exposed lungs take their final breaths, each inflation subsequently more feeble until they were still, blood pooling in their fissures. Aaron felt alive; he felt his skin blooming and his eyes were wild and active, scanning the room in search of the seductive Melody. He wanted more, needed more. The suffering he’d seen left his mind feeling renewed and powerful, he could feel the blood rushing through his veins and his senses were alive and hypersensitive. He longed for more of this grisly elixir but his muscles felt weary, he slid backwards off of Jodi’s body, made his way back to the chair, and slumped into it, hands resting on its arms. He would have more, that was for sure, but for now he needed to rest.