My name is Martin Hollis and I’m a serial killer.
But you can call me Marty.
Most people die once in a lifetime; I’ve managed it twice. Once in 1970 and then again in 2010. The last time was frightening and painful but at least it was quick. The first time was slow and agonizing, made all the more so by the realisation that I’d effectively killed myself.
Embarrassing, to say the least.
Now I’m alive for the third time.
It hardly seems fair, does it, for a degenerate murderer like me to have three shots at life when good people and living saints only get one?
Maybe there’s a skewed moral in there somewhere…
Or maybe not.
The first time I died was in a secret room behind a cellar in my own house in 1970, when I was thirty five years old. There were six big trunks in there, the kind that look like pirates’ chests, and five of them were occupied by people I’d put there.
People I’d murdered.
Well, I did say I was a serial killer: we don’t just stop at one - then we’d just be killers and that sounds kind of boring. The sixth trunk was empty as I’d been caught before I could find someone to occupy it, but I escaped easily from the police. I ran to ground in my secret room, behind a bookcase in the cellar. Then police came to search the house. I heard them through the wall.
I stood and listened to them as they clumped about. They jeered at my choice of reading matter and called me all sorts of slanderous names.
And then for one horrible moment I thought they’d discovered the bookcase that swung forward.
That was my big mistake.
One moment of blind panic.
I leapt into the empty trunk and pulled down the lid.
Unfortunately, I also pulled down the large metal clasp which swung down over the lock and clicked into place. The trunk was shut. Tight.
Oh, the irony.
The police never found the hidden entrance behind the bookcase and I suffocated alone in the cramped darkness, cursing my own stupidity and the resilience of late nineteenth century locks.
If my memory serves me correctly, I went into a sort of darkness and slept until...
Fast forward forty years to 2010 and I came alive again, still aged thirty five, and able to travel back and forward between then and 1970.
All this was due to a random connection with a fourteen year-old boy who also travelled through time. I thought this was my chance to continue my work and I’d chosen my next victim when the connection broke, I was stuck in 2010 and I’d aged forty years.
I collapsed with a heart attack. A fatal one.
And now?Immediately after that last death I resurfaced in an empty motorway service station. Outside the windows was swirling blackness and inside was grey linoleum, blue Formica-topped tables and a soundtrack of popular songs from the 1960’s played in a bossa nova style on the Hammond organ.
Whoa. I hoped this wasn’t heaven.
I figured there was a reason I’d been brought there and waited expectantly for something or someone to appear. I didn’t have long to wait. I heard footsteps on the long expanse of linoleum behind me and spun around.
There was no-one there.
I turned back round.
A small dark man in a red suit was standing inches away from me.
For crying out loud.
Nearly another heart attack.
“Martin Hollis? Known as ‘Marty’?”
“Uh…yes.” I found my voice as he gestured towards one of the empty tables.
“Have a seat, Marty. And a coffee. And a doughnut.”
Coffee and doughnuts were now on the table. I took a seat and a sip of stewed coffee and thought, this can’t be heaven. There’d be cappuccinos or skinny lattes at the very least…
My companion slid into the seat opposite and I checked out the slim-fitting red suit, black shirt, red tie and black pointy shoes. He couldn’t be an angel…unless angels were shopping at ’Pimps ’R’ Us’.
So…if this wasn’t heaven then it must be the other place. Made sense, I suppose. I had killed a few people. I looked at the man’s dark skin and pale blue eyes and then scanned the thick black hair for any sign of protruding extremities. He caught my gaze.
“I’m not him. Get a grip.”
“I’m Mr. Scarlet.”
“Any relation to Miss Scarlet from Cluedo?”
He raised an eyebrow and gave me a look which sent my heartbeat into a mad rehearsal for playing with Ozzy Osbourne.
I shut up.
“I’m your supervisor. We’re in limbo…for want of a better word.”
“Why am I here?” I thought this was a sensible question. Unfortunately, it would be the only sensible question I would ask for the rest of our meeting.
He sipped his coffee, grimaced and pushed it away. I felt hungry, sank my teeth into a doughnut and found it to be soft and greasy. Perfect.
“Here’s the deal. The Committee have had a meeting -” he forestalled my unspoken question. “Don’t ask. I don’t have the time. You’re getting a second chance. Well, technically a third…although we weren’t responsible for that second resurrection. Anyway, you’ve been a serial killer and now we’re giving you the chance to be a…serial…saver.”
“A serial saver? Like in a bank account?”
“No. Like in saving lives. Saving people who are going to be murdered and doing some good for a change. But first you’ll have to travel back in time, to meet your first potential victim and save their life.”
I considered this.
It was a chance to live again.
Sounded good …apart from the saving bit.
“How do I stop these people being murdered? By killing whoever is going to kill them?”
“No! What part of ‘doing some good’ don’t you understand? There will be no killing by you. You will save the intended victim each time and move on to the next one.”
“Right…” I finished the doughnut and washed it down with the awful coffee. “And how do I support myself? Get around and whatnot?”
“You’ll have money. Clothes. Whatever. We’ll make sure you fit in with whatever time period you’re sent to. The stuff will just be there. It’s how everything works. Oh, and you’ll be ageless.”
“What? How do you mean? I thought I was still thirty five.”
He screwed up his face and sighed.
“I don’t know all the details, I’ve just been told what to report to you. You’ll feel the same as you do now…and most adults feel about eighteen or twenty inside…so that’s the age you’ll look to whoever you meet. You’ll be a young man, effectively.”
I thought about this. It sounded like a good deal. Then I thought, what was to stop me disappearing wherever they sent me and not saving anybody? I could change my appearance and carry on with my total. I’d only managed nine murders…not a great deal as far as serial killers go. A bit embarrassing, in fact. I’d been aiming for double figures.
“And don’t think you can go off and do whatever you want.”
Holy…was this guy a mind reader?
“I wasn’t,” I said, and tried to look innocent. I must have failed because he did the raised eyebrow thing again.
“Any deviance from the plan and you’ll be vaporised to black nothingness. For eternity. No more chances.”
“This is kind of…a trial. A social experiment. If it works with you we may widen it out across the board. And you won’t have to worry about your compulsion to kill anyone.”
“We’ve deprogrammed you. You won’t be physically capable of causing harm.”
My mouth fell open. Not a good look for me but I was stunned.
“But that’s my work…my aims and ambitions. I won’t be me if I can’t be a serial killer.”
“Rubbish. Anyway, I told you, you’ll be a serial saver.”
“Will you stop saying that? You make me sound like a bank manager.”
I crossed my arms and sulked for a while.
Mr. Scarlet examined his black nails. They weren’t varnished…they were just black. I wondered briefly if he’d shut them in a door or something. Then he looked at me.
“We didn’t want you to be completely alone in this experiment, we didn’t feel that would be healthy or helpful. So…we’ve arranged for company for you.” He looked pointedly towards the seat on my left.
My spirits rose.
I thought of someone tall, blonde, shapely.
I followed his gaze.
And saw something squat, brown and hairy.
“It’s a dog,” I said in disappointment.
The dog turned, looked at me and curled his lip.
“Frinkin’ balloobies. You don’t miss much do you?” Except he said it in a broad Glaswegian accent: “Ye don’t miss much, dae ye?”
“Wha…huh…?” I looked from the dog to Mr. Scarlet who grimaced.
“I know,” he said, “We reprogrammed him not to swear but he’s found a way round it. Still manages to sound fairly obscene.” He shrugged. “He’s called Weedgie.”
“Too frinkin’ right,” Weedgie said.
Now I’d completely lost the plot. The conversation had started out a bit strange, taken a decidedly bizarre turn somewhere in the middle and now it had gone completely off the scale of weirdness.
I took a deep breath and addressed Mr. Scarlet.
“My problem with, er, Weedgie is not so much the language he‘s using…it’s more the fact that he’s actually talking…?”
I looked from Mr. Scarlet to Weedgie and back again. Both had expressions which plainly said; And your point is…?
“Forget it. I’m good. Talking dog. No problem.”
I sat back, stared at the tabletop, and then jumped as Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf rang out. Mr. Scarlet delved into a pocket and produced a slim silver rectangle. He glanced at it and stood.
“Sorry, I have to take this. Talk amongst yourselves.”
He pressed the phone to his ear and strolled away. I heard him say, “Mum? I’ve told you not to call me at work…”
Weedgie and I sat in awkward silence. I squinted to my left and studied him. He was roughly the size of a Labrador but had scrubby brown hair, a bit of an Elvis quiff and a whiskery face. To my horror, his teeth looked human and he had big lips for a dog. He looked like Mick Jagger…if Mick Jagger had covered himself in glue and rolled around in a bath of brown hair.
I wondered if he’d been human but had done something so awful he’d been turned into a mongrel.
“So…Weedgie.” I tried to forget I was opening a conversation with the canine equivalent of the lead singer with The Rolling Stones. “I’m here because I’m a serial killer and now I have to save people, but why are you coming with me? What did you do?”
“Bit the postman.”
“Oh. So…you’ve always been a dog, then?”
“Whit? Ye’ve never bitten a postman?”
“Um…no.” I didn’t know if he was being serious. “So you were human once?”
“That means no, right?”
“And that means yes. But do you mean yes it means no or do you mean yes it means yes?”
Weedgie turned to face me and grinned with his big, scary mouth. He laughed a deep, creepy laugh.
“Heh. Heh. Heh.”
“What’s so funny?” I shrank away along the seat.
“Yer a numpty.”
“A poultice. A daftie. A pillock. A complete -”
“Okay, okay! Enough with the insults. I’m not taking this from a stupid dog.”
“Oh, aye? You have nae idea, pal…” He leaned closer and snarled.
“Are you trying to scare me?” I was a bit scared but I was still angry. “With a name like Weedgie? Huh. Sounds like wedgie.” I sneered at him.
His eyes narrowed.
“And your name’s Marty? Rhymes wi’ farty.”
My blood pressure soared.
“Right, that’s it. You little -” I launched myself at him and my hands reached for his throat. Then something totally unexpected and disturbing happened. Instead of strangling him, I was stroking him and fondling his ears. He bent his head towards me and purred through his Mick Jagger lips.
“Aargh!” I leapt back.
“Heh. Heh. Heh.” He grinned at me. “Cannae hurt me, can ye? Cannae hurt naebody. Some serial killer you are, pal.”
I was speechless.
So it was true. I’d been deprogrammed and lost the ability to kill or even maim. I slumped in my seat and sadly contemplated my new future…as a serial saver.
Weedgie leaned towards me, rested his head on my shoulder and gazed up into my eyes.
“Numpty,” he said.