Denton Fetch had never liked his given name, but he despised the label he’d been given by the national newspapers, The Holy Cow Killer. It sounded cartoonish; he imagined himself as a man-sized, shotgun-toting turkey whenever he heard that name on the news. His work deserved more consideration than the first clumsy appellation spewed onto the newspaper pages page by a half-witted local journalist, but he was getting the attention he merited from the press coverage so Denton had dismissed the idea of removing the said journalist’s spine and continued his project. He enjoyed his work, taking time to plan an abduction and taking even more to slowly exact his will, making sure everything was precisely as he envisioned; his subjects were chosen by his mind’s eye, which showed him images of what they could become under his knife. He never knew who his mind would choose, and sometimes he would be walking down the street passing many normal looking people when suddenly he would be confronted with the image of a person beautifully dissected and presented before him, then the image would clear and he would notice that same person sitting in a coffee shop, or passing him on the street unawares. The images were all different, and all exquisite. It was all he could do to stop himself becoming aroused when he saw the sinewy tendons and torn flesh in front of his eyes. Recreating these images once he’d obtained the subject was a joy; meticulously cutting, flaying, and removing until each grisly portrait became a reality. He was glad that he had this gift, and he enjoyed seeing his work made world famous, but he hadn’t been born with it; he was an intelligent man who had excelled in public school although he’d always been withdrawn and socially inept, and his childhood had been riddled with episodes of violent sodomy at the hands of an abusive uncle. Denton had never been strong enough to defend himself and even now, as an adult, his frame was slim and agile more than muscular. The visions had started about a year ago; his mother and father had died in a house fire and Denton, being their only child, was left to arrange the funeral. Like him, his parents were not social creatures so he hadn’t bothered to send out invitations, and had planned on being the only attendee, but somehow his uncle had heard of their death and when he showed up to pay his respects Denton didn’t see the withered old man that he had become, instead he was shown a flash of glorious red by his mind, an instruction on how to take revenge on his vile relative; he saw his body crucified on a tree in the middle of a vast empty field, the skin of his face, peeled outward from the centre, was pinned to the trunk like the petals of a gruesome flower with bony dental stamina at its centre glistening polished white through the meaty tapestry of torn facial musculature. A thin branch penetrated his anus so deeply that it thrust his pelvis forward and could be seen pressing out against the inside of his stomach like a tusk. The blood from the rectal intrusion trickled down towards the trunk and turned a rich, sticky brown as it soaked into the gnarled bark. Denton had taken his uncle for drinks after the burial in lieu of organising a formal wake and, when he had passed out drunk, taken him to his parents’ farm and recreated the gloriously gory scene from his mind, or rather he attempted to. Fuelled by adrenaline and hatred, and being inexperienced in murder at the time, his hands were clumsy and his incisions shaky; instead of delicately peeling the skin from his uncle’s face, he tore away the flesh in irregular bloody handfuls and when he attempted to insert a branch into his rectum it had snapped several times, leaving splinters jaggedly protruding from around his uncle’s anus, the skin of which was slashed and gaping. When he’d finally advanced the branch far enough, he had become overzealous and thrust it through the skin of his uncle’s abdomen, sending rivers of faecal-stained blood gushing onto the floor. In the end he had buried the remains, too ashamed to display his work, but the images had persisted. At first he’d ignored them, but the more detail they showed him the more lustful he’d felt about killing and, through his yearning, he taught himself to be dextrous with blades and knowledgeable about human anatomy; the former he had achieved through capturing and killing animals – he didn’t want to attempt a recreation until his skills were honed – and the latter was accomplished through studious reading, and re-reading, of anatomical textbooks designed for the medical profession. Feeling suitably prepared he had restarted his work on humans a month ago, abducting the teacher and dissecting him expertly to be presented as his first real work of art. Since then his mind had chosen two further subjects; a fat old security guard, who he’d already presented to the world, and the young lady currently locked in the walk-in refrigerator across the hall. After his parents’ death Denton had inherited the family farm; situated on only four acres of muddy land, the cows had served as welcome test subjects while he refined his art but now the land was bare, all the previous bovine occupants now slaughtered. Beside the rickety fence enclosure that had once housed the cows but which was now no more than a muddied arena ploughed by hoof prints that were now frozen in their mould, was a large wooden barn. The outside was painted red but was faded and chipped through years of erosion. Different shades of scarlet adorned the wooden panels where small areas had been repainted. The roof, once white, was a dingy, streaked brown where the paint had been worn away by rain and the colour of the wood had started appear through the gloss as it was washed down its slope and into the home-made guttering that skirted the building like a the rickety marble-run game Denton used to play as a child. There was a small door at one end of the barn that opened into a narrow corridor running its length, to the left of the hallway was a single room, connected to the enclosure by a locked door, with trampled straw and dried mud covering its floor and two steel tables in its centre; the first table was a large metal gurney, its dented legs terminating at the floor in wheels made rigid by rust, its top, furrowed along the middle to collect and drain fluid, was stained brown in the creases of the metal sheeting from repeated dousing in blood that had been inefficiently washed away. The second steel table was far smaller, about the size of a coffee table, and stood next to the gurney. On top of the smaller table were piles of gauze and surgical instruments; scalpels, retractors, clamps and sutures. The equipment was far cleaner than the surface of the gurney, and glinted under the large light that hung from the ceiling in the centre of the room. The area to the right of the entrance hallway was sectioned into four small rooms; the first of which Denton’s parents had converted into a walk in refrigerator to store their cows’ milk in. The subsequent three were pens segregated by metal bars like prison cells, in which the cattle had previously been placed temporarily whilst awaiting milking, or if they had become ill in order to isolate infective diseases from the rest of the herd. The refrigerator was lit on the inside by a light that was permanently on, illuminating the small room and reflecting off of the clean white interior walls, preventing the subjects that he imprisoned there from sleeping and helping to break their willpower before their transformation. The cells held no light other than that which leaked through cracks in the barn’s shell, and still had straw and old, hardened cow dung on their floor. It was in the farthermost cell from the door that Denton kept the only victim not chosen by his mind’s eye; Quintin Jarrod was a lawyer working for a well-known prosecutor’s firm in upstate New York. He had crossed paths with Denton in Central Park one afternoon several weeks ago, before he had moved from his performing his animal experiments and progressed on to human subjects. The lawyer had been strolling hurriedly past his subsequent captor, clutching his briefcase in one hand which swung to and fro with his rushed pace, and hadn’t been paying attention to the other patrons in the park when his shoulder had collided with Denton’s. The subsequent eruption of mustard from the hotdog Denton was lustfully consuming – he’d always loved hot dogs, and enjoyed the thought of what stray pieces of offal found their way into the meat – had landed on the lapel of the lawyer’s perfectly laundered black Armani suit, besmirching the perfectly congruent fabric with a smear of greasy yellow. Quintin hadn’t halted his advance on his office, but had offered a disdainful glance back over his shoulder at the man who had cost him another dry cleaning bill. Little had he known that this man was harbouring within him a gruesome desire to inflict pain and depict the rabid, bloody beauty he found in the inner workings of the human body. Because of his disrespect, and also because the assailed hotdog had fallen from its bun onto the dirty path and was no longer edible, Denton had marked this man’s card to be his first human victim. He’d followed at a distance until the lawyer disappeared into his office building, a vast mirrored obelisk rising almost unendingly into the sky, and waited in a coffee shop across the street for seven and a half hours until, just before ten o’clock at night, Quintin had re-emerged out into the freezing, dark night. He no longer had his briefcase with him and instead clutched his hands tightly around himself, pulling his grey woollen trench coat closed against the frigid wind. His collar was pulled up to protect his ears from the chilliness and so Denton had found it easy to sneak up behind his prey and, once they were off the main street, knock him unconscious and drag him to his car. Once they were back at the farm however, things hadn’t gone so smoothly; Denton had faltered in his zeal to ascend to human subjects, and his conscience had prevented him from killing Quintin. Instead he had imprisoned him in one of the cells, metal cuffs around his hands and feet attached to a bracket on the wall by thick chains capable of detaining even the strongest bull held him firmly in place. The lawyer was restrained so that his hands and feet were bound behind him, his torso protruded forward in an unnatural convexity as he lay motionless on his side, and he was powerless to prevent Denton pulling his head back his hair and force-feeding him litres of mustard and pulped hot dog sausages until he passed out. In the following weeks Quintin had grown weak and malnourished through his limited diet, and now resembled a zombie from a 1970s horror movie; his skin was grey through lack of adequate nutrition and it clung tightly to his bones, exposing his ribs and pelvis where the overlying muscle had atrophied. His eyes had sunken into deep, shadowy pits in his skull and stared out pleadingly whenever Denton approached, and his voice had long since left him.
Now, stood beside the instrument table in his barn Denton was staring at the door to the corridor that bisected the building, idly fingering some steel forceps while he planned his next move; he could spend some quality time with his favourite lawyer, or get to work on his latest victim, who was currently incarcerated in the refrigerator. He inhaled deeply, assimilating the odour of rotten cow faeces mixed with the clinical aroma of medical-grade cleaning products into his soul. A smile began at the edges of his mouth, stretching the skin of his chapped lips and exposing his plaque-laden teeth as he replaced the forceps, a tinny percussion penetrating the silence as he did so, and picked up a length of hosepipe from the table. The rotting straw and dried mud crunched under his boots as he crossed the room and exited into the corridor, bowing to collect a slop bucket full of liquefied meat as he did so. He could hear Quintin’s raspy breathing hasten as he drew nearer to the cell at the end of the hallway; his victim could hear him approaching. To prolong the lawyer’s anxiety he stood still for a moment, the intermittent crunching of his footsteps disappearing as the barn was once again plunged into silence, and listened for the strained wheezing breaths to relax and resume a more natural rate before continuing down the corridor, the resulting renewal in his victim’s panicked breathing broadening his smile even further. Quintin was lying on his side, motionless and staring up at Denton from deep pits in his cranium as his captor slowly opened the door to the cell, which was not locked seeing as its inhabitant was incapable of escape due to his wasted state. Quintin’s head rested lifelessly on the grimy floor, and the dirt around his mouth and nostrils plumed into the air as his breathing became more forceful with every step of his abductor’s approach.
“You look hungry, are you hungry?”
Denton’s voice was eerily high-pitched, almost squeaky, and was a searing affront to Quintin’s eardrums, that were now accustomed to silence. The sound of the metal slop bucket clanging to the floor was deafening, reverberating around the cell and echoing painfully down Quintin’s ear canals as he urged the muscles in his neck to flex and allow him to crane his head and follow Denton as he stepped behind the stricken lawyer and out of sight. All of a sudden, a sharp, dagger-like pain erupted at the back of the lawyer’s skull as a handful of his thinning hair was clasped and wrenched backwards, forcing him to look toward the ceiling and causing further, more aching but no less distressing, pain to explode in the withered muscles of his shoulders. Before he could figure out what was going on the end of a hose was thrust into Quintin’s mouth, the PVC scratching at his dry tongue and the inside of his cheeks as it filled his oral cavity with the taste of oily rubber. Quintin tried to resist the assault but was too weak to move, and he choked and spluttered against this oral intrusion as the tube abutted his epiglottis again and again before finally finding its way down into his gullet as it continued to be pushed down further. Denton was panting maniacally as he advanced the hose. Quiet, high-pitched laughter punctuated exhausted breaths and droplets of sweat fell from Denton’s brow and erupted in globules of moisture on the lawyer’s arid skin like the first drops of a rainstorm in a scorched desert. Before long the hose had reached its intended destination in Quintin’s stomach, and he felt one more jerk in his throat as Denton forced a funnel onto the other end. Quintin was lying helplessly, still on his side with his head turned up to the ceiling. He could see wafer thin shards of sunlight penetrating the out wall of the barn and beaming across the room like a spider’s web made of fiery lasers. This view was interrupted by the appearance of a dirty iron bucket, which was held over his head for a second before being tipped so as to release its contents down into the funnel that now occupied the other end of the hose. Quintin felt the satisfaction of satiety rapidly fill his stomach, and this quickly exceeded a comfortable level as the hot-dog-tasting slop rose in his oesophagus and began to bubble over the entrance to his airways. He began coughing against the liquid, his torso jutting painfully as he did so, but was unable to prevent the meaty broth from trickling down into his lungs as the bucket continued to fill the funnel connected to his stomach. He could smell the hot dog brine and his chest began to burn as the air inside it was replaced with offal, and he soon lost consciousness morbidly thankful that his suffering was at an end.
Denton dropped the bucket next to the lifeless body of Quintin Jarrod with a clang. He had a warm feeling in his stomach, pleased that he had finally overcome his first obstacle into human subjects. He’d removed that monkey from his back and could now focus fully on his work, but there was a sense of anti-climax about the lawyer’s demise; his body had been far too rotten and wasted to display and so his death had a lesser meaning than those of his murals. Denton felt his pulse thrumming in his temples as a headache began to pulsate at the back of his head, his palms grew sweaty and the room began to spin as anger rose within him. He needed his work to be seen, and by toying with the lawyer as long as he had done he’d ruined any chance of adding to his portfolio. Dizzy with rage, Denton stomped back down the corridor and into his slaughter room. He staggered into the instrument table sending its contents scattering over the floor in a cacophony of metallic eruptions, and steadied himself against the cool metal frame bent-double as he closed his eyes and slowed his breathing, his senses returning to him one by one as he regained his composure. He retrieved his instruments and placed them haphazardly back onto the table, usually they were placed in a particular order but he decided not to arrange them fully just yet, after all he’d soon have to clean the blood off of them anyway. He picked up the small wireless radio that shared the table with his implements and turned the dial until it clicked and the radio hissed to life. A low buzzing sound filled the room as the radio struggled to find reception, and after a minor repositioning of its antenna this was hissing was replaced by the gentle crooning of an operatic aria; an Italian widow pining for her lost husband and vowing never to love again. Denton closed his eyes, imagining the look of gratitude that would adorn the woman’s face for reuniting her with her husband as he gutted her, naval to neck. He waved a hand slowly through the air as if tracing each note of the widow’s song with his fingertips, and slowly made his way back out into the hallway and to the entrance to the refrigerator. The door was metal, with stud bolts around its edge to hold it together under its own weight, and a lever at its side was connected to the locking mechanism that held it tightly shut, sealing the inside away from warmer temperatures. The lever clunked loudly as Denton pulled it, temporarily interrupting the opera as the lock disengaged, and the door swung open easily on well-oiled hinges revealing a single inhabitant; a girl sat shivering in the corner, knees drawn up to her chest and mouth gagged with dirty cotton rags, her mascara had run down her cheeks and frozen so that her cheeks were streaked with glistening black crystals, and her skin was pale as her body redirected its peripheral blood flow more centrally in a struggle to maintain a workable temperature. Her hair was platinum blonde and had been in pigtails but now fell awkwardly about her face, shaken free by her struggles.
“Hello, my dear.”
The poise had returned to Denton’s haunting voice, and he smiled as Alice van der Linden looked pleadingly up to meet his gaze. He gestured with one hand back towards the two tables in his slaughter room and Alice began to struggle desperately against the cable ties that bound her wrists and ankles, her eyes wild with fear.