THE FEAR MASTER

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Chapter 7: CORRESPONDENCE

SEE NO EVIL.

That’s what was scrawled across the class photograph in an angry hand. There were Vic, Stevie, Debbie, Betty, all gathered around the scarred old reading table, and there was Keith … his eyes burnt out (with maybe a cigarette or stick of incense), his mouth smiling, and the black holes where his eyes had been staring blindly out of the picture.

Keith checked the envelope it had arrived in – plain brown with a typed address. He flipped it over. No return address on the back; just three little letters: TFM.


Betty was approaching the last leg of her nightly run. Usually at this point, she would slacken her pace in preparation for a turbo take-off in the home stretch. But tonight she kept the pressure on.

She had considered not running the night after their adventures at St. Sebastian’s. But she had. Then and every night since. She’d faced the fear and beaten it. No hearse had been waiting in a dark alley to mow her down and cart her off for a premature burial (or suck her blood for sump oil like in that Cutter Cade story); she had gotten home unscathed.

But still, four nights later, she had more than ever the feeling that he’d seen them, had known what they were up to, and had not approved.

Their tiptoe-through-the-tombstones had been exciting and drenched with dread, and by the time she and Keith had gotten halfway across St. Sebastian’s on their way to the house (ducking behind tombstones, hugging the shadows), Betty had been sweating like Debbie in a sauna. Keith had gone squinty-eyed and silent, as if afraid The Fear Master would start shooting at them from an upstairs window like that Charlie Whitman wacko, the one the fear got.

But no shots had been fired. No corpses had risen. No zombies had given chase.

When they’d stepped through the cemetery’s broken fence and into the overgrown back yard of the (maybe haunted) house, they’d looked at each other – paused – and, not knowing what else to do, continued forward … along the side of the house … toward the front yard, where a nasty-looking rosebush had scratched Keith badly enough to draw blood.

Their biggest fear had been of going into the house. Neither of them had a torch, and the thought of venturing into what might be a trap left them scared and confused. So their gasps were as much of relief as surprise when they saw that the hearse was gone.

Once it had turned in here and been lost to view, they’d assumed this was its destination, if only temporarily. Maybe he’d stopped for a minute or two, but the tyre tracks told the tale – The Fear Master had come and gone.

“Look,” said Keith.

Betty followed him to where the car had been. “What? Is there something funny about the tyre tread? That’s how crooks get tracked sometimes in stories.”

“Better,” said Keith. He picked up a flat rectangular object and started to clean it off with his shirt.

“Is it …?”

“Yes – we got his number plate!”

“Show me,” she said excitedly.

“I told you I saw FM6.” He continued rubbing, cleaning the plate.

“Suddenly I’m not so crazy about this,” said Betty.

Beaming, Keith held up the polished plate: TFM666.

“The Fear Master,” said Betty.

“Followed by six six six.”

“The Devil’s number.”

Sweat streaming down her face, Betty took the final corner and her building came into view. With a groan, she pushed herself even harder.

Just as she’d wanted to get the hell out of there the minute she’d seen what was on the number plate. But Keith had wanted to stay and hunt for clues.

Finally, she’d convinced him there were no other clues to find (if the number plate was there, it wasn’t because it had fallen off, it was because it had been left there for them to find) and they’d retraced their steps across the cemetery (still no zombies, still no wraiths) and headed home.

Keith claimed his father knew someone who worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles and could have the plate traced. “Then we’ll have him – lock, stock and front-page interview!”

Betty said nothing; she’d had enough of playing Lois Lane for one night.

Disgusted with the way she smelt, Betty jogged the last few steps to the lift. Pushing the button for ten, she ran slowly on the spot until she reached her floor. She already had her key out. Man, a hot shower was gonna feel great tonight!

Entering the stale-smelling flat, she glanced at her father, passed out in front of the TV, tiptoed past her mother’s dark bedroom (both parents slept there but somehow it always seemed like her mother’s room) and smiled as her hand hit the cool tile and she felt for the lightswitch in the dark bathroom. The light flashed on, and Betty gasped.

What was that? Some stupid practical joke played by her drunken father?

No. not his style. Humourless and comatose – that was his style. This was decidedly different. It had the look and feel of a joke – a sick one – something so grotesquely off it made you laugh and cringe at the same time.

Her favourite, Catnip – a cherished toy from childhood – her dressing gown’s sash knotted round its neck, was hanging from the showerhead, twisting slightly in the breeze from the tenth-floor window, as if it had just kicked a chair away and committed felicide. Attached to one furry foot like a mortician’s toe-tag was a note scrawled in angry black handwriting: Curiosity killed the cat!

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