He breathed in deep the scent of blood spilling from the wound he’d carved. The heady smell filled him with a sense of completion, sated the nauseating swell in his body. The taste of death swam sweetly over his tongue, a tongue that spoke one language, one word: survival. To survive, to thrive, to live he had to kill. He’d become skilled in his dark art. A stout blade expertly ministered severed flesh and bone and sinew. He worked while his victims still breathed, while they remained conscious of what was happening. His mind swam not with bitterness or self-loathing, or even guilt, but from the deliciousness of the moment. Doubt had left him long ago freeing his mind of constrains, of responsibility. His lover had taught him how to treat his victims till it was time to take them. She watched him now, her face lit with praise and encouragement. The other woman, his victim, was used and abused by others before him. Now horror and blood choked her lying as she did on the mattress of their four-poster bed with its ghostly pall. She was beyond pain now yet after all she’d been through her heart was still young and vital enough for his lover’s needs. He watched her care-worn face twitch out its last impulses. They had what they wanted, what his lover desired and craved. His latest victim’s lifeless body dribbled on the stained white sheets while her severed heart lay limp in his hand. This woman’s death would give his lover renewed energy in her struggle for immortality.
He stared down at the vacant eyes staring up at the ceiling. As he stuck the blade into his victim’s flesh he always noticed their eyelids shoot open. When life had passed from them that familiar blank look spread across the eyes. A few weeks ago she had a blankness of a different kind from her profession as a working girl taking money from men who abused her. After they picked her up he and his lover replaced that blankness with fear while keeping her in captivity in a bleak, dank cell. Three weeks later he offered her hope of salvation and escape. It was the same with all his victims. This hope played on their naïve assumption that there could be a rational conclusion to the nightmare surrounding them. That conclusion always involved his pleasure, his lust sated. Eventually, his victim would promise herself to him for her liberty. She was used to selling herself, and then being told what to do by men. She, like all the others, followed his concise instructions. He told her to strip and lie on a bed in the room he took her to, and told her to keep her eyes closed at all times. She was naked while she waited for him, and was willing to have him. She waited for him. He entered the room quietly, climbed on the bed beside her, and plunged his weapon deep into her. He struck quickly in the moment, before she could change her mind, before she could react or utter a scream.
He often wondered what actually kill his victims. Was it the sudden pain that surely must accompany her chest being torn asunder, or was it simply the shock of an unprovoked attack? He didn’t know. But really, he didn’t care.
He never took his victim’s body, just her heart. He smiled with satisfaction at the lifeless corpse. As the nauseating swell abated he felt satisfied with his work. Then as his lover took the flaccid, dripping muscle from him.
Autumn's winds felt harsh in the post-midnight street where she stood. Hugging her coat close to her she paced the damp paving trying to keep warm. Everything was cold and wet and bleak as she strolled about looking at the blank walls and boarded up shops, and into the windows of those still bold enough to trade on that parade. Few people lingered on Crown Common Lane at any time of day, but at night the underworld ruled. Fewer still ventured out now the pub was boarded up, and now the day was old, now the year was cold and the Mythford Ripper stalked the Town.
A pang of fatigue stopped her under a lamp and she stared into the dark distance two thousand yards away. Yellow light hung from the string of black lampposts lining the empty street. The frigid air caused her breath to rise in wafts of steam. How she loathed that place. Why here? Why had John chosen this place of all places? If it was some sort of joke, she didn’t find it particularly funny. In fact she felt quite insulted by it. Did he want to degrade her for some reason? Was he reminding her where he’d found her? Was he suggesting this is where she belonged?
When they were together, she thought and believed he had a higher opinion of her but that street had felt her feet so many times in the past.
In the past.
She paced the pavement to keep warm.
Headlights came into view. Like a predator the car slowed as it drew near closing in on its kill, hunting for an illicit carnal feast. She turned her back on it. The engine revved and the car accelerated away.
A leaflet caught in an eddy of wind fluttered towards her. She glanced down at its sodden surface sticking periodically to the floor. Stop Boverte Woods Development! the headline proclaimed as rainwater drained the ink’s potency. Protests over John’s plan to build on ancient woodland were growing louder and stronger. She remembered a demonstration had been staged that afternoon in the town centre. Perhaps that was why John wanted to meet her here at this time. He wanted to avoid any stray protesters.
John kept telling her his plan would create jobs and new homes, and a bigger and better community for Mythford. Public opinion didn’t seem to buy that view. He seemed to have fewer and fewer allies. However, such a development would make John very rich, and would secure her future too. So John kept telling her. They were going to be together, forever. So what did she care about a few old trees and a few acres of woods if she didn’t have to work in a crummy office again, or stand on any more street corners?
Another car crawled slowly along the road. She turned away again. One of the occupants called from the window: “Oi, darling, how much?” She ignored him. The car stopped. “Hey, love, can you do three of us?” She walked further down the road. The car drove on but she caught the verbal abuse above the noise of acceleration.
She'd come early for their elopement eager to leave that place, that life. That reputation. They could flatten the whole town and replace it with a multi-story car park for all she cared. It was nothing to her. All she’d got in Mythford were painful memories, neglect and torment and pain, and a liberal dose of abuse thrown in for good measure. She had good reason to want out. The elegant watch on her wrist reminded her he was late. John was never late. Had something happened? Had he changed his mind? Where was he? Her feet hit the pavement with purpose as she strolled back and forth in front of the derelict pub. Her pace quickened. Old demons clawed at the back of her mind. Abandonment stared at her from the bleak recesses of the street. It was as if the old corner itself had turned its back on her. She leaned against the pub’s facade and took out a newspaper from her bag.
“Read,” she told herself aloud: “John’ll be here... Relax.”
The headline in the Mythford Messenger made her feel colder still. A former colleague, Isabel, was missing. Her disappearance was part of a report on another woman who was the latest victim of The Ripper. There was another reason to get out of Mythford, she reflected. In an article under the main the parents of a missing schoolgirl, Lillian White, pleaded for their daughter to come home.
“That's more than mine ever did”, she said bitterly to herself and folding the paper up. She strolled over to the road. Lillian was probably on her way to that place, she thought. She was Lillian’s age when she’d started out as a working girl.
Where was John? She wondered.
"Rachel," said a voice behind her.
She turned and saw a tall man standing by the corner of the pub. He wore a black leather jacket with a hood that shaded his face. There was something familiar about him, something in his stature, in his voice. Still she hesitated a moment, then she said: "Who’re you?"
"John sent us," he said.
"Where is he?" said Rachel.
"Waiting for you," said a warmer voice behind her: "We’ll take you to him."
She turned to look into the face of a young woman she knew well, and said: “Ema.”
“Rachel,” said Ema, smiling: “Are you ready and willing to be part of John’s life?”
“Yes,” Rachel said: “I’m ready.”
“Good. Then let’s go.”
My name’s Kevin Harken and this is my story… and that of a cat, too. When I was about six-years-old my mum walked out on us. That’s the beginning of my part in this tale. At least I believe I was six when she left. My memory’s hazy and dad and Linda never talk about it. As this saga begins I hadn’t spoken to my brother in years and there was very little chance of ever doing so on account of his being dead. However, I’ll tell you more about that later. All I knew for sure was when my mum left us it felt like someone had torn my heart from my chest.
I loved my mum. Every memory I had of her was warm and giving. Of all the birthdays I’ve had I can clearly recall my fifth above all others being special. I remember mum giving me a big card as we sat on the living room floor by a little electric fire set in the old mental piece. I felt so safe in the glow of the bars and my mother’s love. She encouraged me to open her card before dad got home. I said he’d be upset if we did that but she told me not to worry. Her smile was still deep and rich, if a little… I don’t know. Perhaps it was just the distortion of time and the fallibility of the human memory colouring in areas that weren’t really there. So my little fingers tore open the envelope with a toddler’s panache to reveal a smiling spaceman standing on the moon carrying a big number five. I beamed with delight. As I pulled the card free of its sundered cover a slip of paper with some strange shapes on it fell from the fold and drifted to the floor. As soon as I saw it a draft caught it and carried it to the fire. It burned brightly for a few seconds then it was gone. I wondered what it was.
“O, never mind about that, darling,” mum whispered, as she saw my concern; “it was just some rubbish I expect. Look at your lovely card, my sweetheart.”
Later dad brought some presents and well had a wonderful tea with my favourite cakes. Just the four of us. My family.
That was a truly happy day for me. Perhaps the last I can actually recall.
When I was about three years old a red-hot iron fell on me. I still carry the scar on my forehead. Apparently, Mum was doing the laundry and I was playing with my favourite toy nearby. She turned and accidently dislodged the ironing board. The iron, on its hottest setting, toppled over and struck me on the head. The memory of mum’s tight embrace as I cried with pain and shock, and bled from the wound inflicted, has warmed me for a long time since.
The strangest thing I recall from that incident though was a curious voice calling to me, warning me. It wasn’t mum I’m sure of that. It sounded too close, almost inside me. Kevin, watch out, it said, and I looked up. The iron struck my forehead instead of somewhere around the back of my head. My injuries there would have been far worse than those I did receive. Even so, the pain I felt that day was keen and vicious. The burned and gouged flesh seared. Blood poured down my face. I was hurt and scared. But my mum was there for me.
That pain was nothing compared to what I felt when mum walked out on us. And it has been nothing compared to the pain of loneliness I’ve felt throughout my life since that car took her away.
I still have dreams about that day …
I hear voices. Mum and dad. They’re loud in the darkness. I’m in my room, scared. I want them to stop and be happy. Like usual... I can’t make out words. Only tone. Why are they arguing? A door slams. Dad shouts. Fear grips my heart. There’s another bang. I cry. A crash. Tears roll down my cheeks. Light from a car’s headlights fills my room. The front door’s thrown open. I run to the window. I hear dad. He shouts my mother’s name: Laura! I watch. Mum opens the car’s back door, throws her suitcase and climbs in after it. I knock on the window crying, mummy! But she doesn’t hear me. She doesn’t look back. The front door slams, the car pulls away, and mum’s gone… I know Cayin’s in his room. I go to him. His bedroom door is locked. I can’t get in. Who is it? he says. I tell him it’s me. He laughs and says, “Go away.” On the landing I feel someone’s presence. “Mummy?” I say. I suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of coldness. I become afraid, scared, and look around but can’t see anyone in the darkness. The landing stretches away from me. I run. Someone is behind me, chasing me. I call to my brother, but he just laughs. I run, and run. I trip. Then I’m falling…