Hi, my name is Russell. Please don’t laugh…Well, OK, laugh if you want to. After all, I laugh at it every day.
Here I go, heading off to work in the library. It opens at ten o’clock. I’ll get there at nine-twenty, going at this rate; but now I’m speeding up and…I’m running to catch the bus! Why? Because the library is an erotic place filled with young, bored women who want a quickie before opening time. Well, one bored woman in her forties. I’m in my forties too, but only just.
The doors are locked. She should be here by now. Wait, here she comes. Look at her legs. She’s all right. I mean, for a librarian she’s OK. I get a kiss on the cheek. I’m lucky I’m getting that, to be honest. Discretion, you see, is a must, because Sarah (or Sadie) is married.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ she says.
‘That’s OK, honey.’
‘Don’t call me that.’ She’s laughing a little as she says this, so it’s OK. We’re not really fighting. ‘Not here.’
‘Not here? You think Danny -’ that’s her husband – ‘might see us?’
Inside: it’s a really nice library. Well, I mean, it’s all pretty basic, but I like it. Where’s Sadie?
‘Shut up. Come up.’
There she is. How did she get up there? That’s my favourite thing about this library: the winding, black metal stairs in the middle of the floor. I used to run up and down them when I was a kid.
I’m running up them now, checking my watch. Forty-five minutes until the doors open. We can take an hour if we want, really. We won’t. Well, we might. You never know.
I think I’ll take her into the newspapers and magazines room. No, wait – she wants to do it in the children’s section. That’s good too.
‘Wait, I’m not sure I like the idea of that.’
‘Don’t be an idiot, Russell.’
‘An idiot? I’m not an idiot.’
‘Get in here,’ she says, dragging me into the children’s section. She clears some Harry Potter books off a low table and we do it right there. ‘Oh, Russell,’ she moans. ‘Do it. Do it, Russell.’
When it’s over, we have a coffee. I have a coffee while she clears up the books. Or I clear up the books. I’m not all that keen on coffee. I don’t mind it, but I prefer tea.
Listen, I’ve been meaning to ask you, do you think I look…odd? Not odd. Do you think I look strange?
Sadie says I’m fit. I think her and Danny are going through a bad patch.
If this story hinges on one moment, then it’s the one coming up now. Here I am coming out of the children’s library, passing the reference library, coming down the stairs. It hinges on the moment I turn the corner as I come off the final step. I see Sadie lying on the floor.
She’s bleeding, and she has her hand on her stomach.
‘Sadie. Bloody hell.’
Yes, that’s what I said. I can’t believe I said it, but I did. Nothing’s ever going to wipe that from my memory.
‘Bloody hell, Sadie…’
Not once, but twice. That’s got to be…Well, I don’t suppose it’s a record or anything.
I kneel down beside her. I want to take her head in my hand the way they do in films, but I’m frightened of getting blood on me.
I say: ‘Sadie. Jesus.’ I stand up. ‘It’s OK. It’s OK, honey, I’ll phone an ambulance.’
My god, she’s talking.
‘What is it, honey?’
As I’m saying this, a thought occurs to me; and even as I fight to repress it, to argue internally against its insanity, I’m rushing forward to make it a reality.
I wait until Sadie’s dead, and then I get some packaging tape and bin bags. I wrap her up like the Christmas present from Hell. I keep saying that to myself as I’m wrapping her up: you’re like the Christmas present from Hell, honey.
So, it’s mop-up time. The blood is everywhere by now, really messy. I’m pretty good at things like this. Not covering up murders, but cleaning.
Twenty minutes does it. I place Sadie in the storeroom with the buckets and the other cleaning equipment, and I start worrying about what I’m going to do with her as I open the doors. Old Pete, an eight-book-a-week octogenarian, shuffles in.
‘I took one of your recommendations.’ he says a few moments later, having quickly selected his books. He’s holding up a copy of Lucky Jim.
‘Yeah, that’s one of my favourites.’
‘This was inside.’
He hands me a folded-up piece of paper. My name is written on it in red ink.
I’m pretty excited at this point. This is all very weird. Well, it’s a bit weird anyway. It might not be anything, to tell you the truth.
I unfold the piece of paper. It reads: ‘Russell, I am not there anymore. You may look for me, but you will not find me. Love, Sadie.’
Upstairs, I find a length of orange cord lying on the floor. This mystery is put to the back of my mind as I head for the storeroom.
The storeroom: The door is still locked. You see? I didn’t take any chances. I make sure the coast is clear, unlock it and there she is…No, wait, she’s gone. Shit. You see? Sometimes caution is no safeguard against disaster.
I am minus one dead body. Was she dead? She looked dead. I don’t suppose that’s any guarantee, though. Maybe death, like a lot of other things, isn’t what it used to be.
The calm of realising that you have lost the only dead body you’ve ever tried to hide.
Of course, things are not always what they seem. For example, you may think I’m an ordinary-looking guy. You may not think I look ordinary at all. Come to think of it…Look, this all comes down to what I was talking about earlier on: do you think I look strange? You don’t have to answer right now, but this is a subject we’ll return to again and again. It concerns me…Let’s forget about it.
I’m not ordinary. Surprised? Well, obviously not, there’s nothing to be particularly surprised about yet. But listen: I’m a killer. Maybe that’s not the right word. Murderer is more like it. I’d say I’m from the anorak-wearing school of grey pavement stalking, with the slow crawl past the school gate, garden gate, or…Gates are great. You can always depend on gates: the comings and the goings. I especially like mid-mornings: Dad’s gone and the kids are away, and here comes Mum, all alone, all preoccupied, and I make my move. Yes, I’d have to say that gates plus mid-mornings equal success.
So, I stabbed Sadie. After we had sex, she went downstairs. I waited for about a minute, and then I followed her down.
So (wow!), Sadie’s gone. I’m not fond of the storeroom either. I mean, mops.
Who knows where she’s gone? She’s walked out before, but that was then, and this is now. Things have changed, for Sadie perhaps more than any of us.
She was definitely dead when I last saw her. I know dead. Dead is my thing.
OK, so someone’s obviously taken her. The list of suspects is surprisingly small at this stage. Aliens, maybe. That would be good. Aliens would be unlikely to go to the police.
Now, let’s skip ahead a few hours. I’m in Danny’s haunt, a pub with zero charm.
Danny thinks it’s nice. He’s sitting across from me now.
‘Want a drink?’ he asks. He’s a pretty decent guy.
What am I supposed to do, just come right out and say it?
‘I know Sadie’s seeing someone,’ he says.
‘Yes…It’s not you, is it?’
‘What if it is?’ Why did I say that?
‘You mean would I break your neck? Probably.’
‘It’s not me, Danny. I came here to ask you something.’
‘Did you do it?’
‘Please, Danny, don’t mess me about.’
‘Are you insane?’
‘No, I’m not’
I try to make it sound like a joke, but I suppose, in a way, he’s right.
‘Are you taking the piss? I knew it was a bad idea agreeing to see you. You’re a weirdo, and if I find out you’re who Sadie’s seeing, I willbreak your neck. Bet on it.’
Having watched him storm out, I decide to head to the toilet, and it’s in here that things take on a new colour.
Your senses become heightened when you’re doing a shit in a cubicle with a broken lock. I can hear noises on the old cobblestones outside. It’s either high heels or hooves.
I sit there for about ten minutes, the shape of the toilet seat getting imprinted on my arse. I sit and I rationalise: I mean, even if there is someone out there, so what? I stand up, wipe my arse, step out of the cubicle and take a deep breath.
I’m about to walk out when I hear it again, that movement outside: clip-clop. I can see something through the frosted glass.
I put my ear to the window. Whoever it is has stopped moving.
This is it now: the precise moment when things change. Even as it’s happening, this mad event, this cosmic moment, I’m wholeheartedly rejecting it.
You would reject it too–I know you would. If I could ever bring myself to tell you what happened to me next, you would reject the whole thing. You would agree with me. You would think, Yeah, Russell’s right; that couldn’t have happened; that’s total bullshit.
I am in total denial about what happened in that toilet, and I’m determinedly going about my business as normal.
At least I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to put Sadie. That would have been a real problem for me. You see my old plot has gained a little heat. One of my old victims has been unearthed, and it’s been all over the local rag.
Wherever Sadie’s gone, she obviously doesn’t want me following her. Relationships end, and that’s the truth of the matter. People drift apart.
Actually, I think I’m starting to look more normal by the day. What do you think?
A pale-faced little Harry Potter fan chucked up his lunch, so I need a mop. I stand before the storeroom, stare at its closed door. Don’t be an idiot, Russell. Oh, Russell. Do it. Do it, Russell. Here goes; I’m going to do it. I reach out, turn the handle, and…Pow! I burst into the room.
Oh, holy crap! How the hell do I describe this?
It looks like a woman, but her hair is moving. The face is covered in sores or wounds, and these sores or wounds have maggots crawling out of them. She’s naked.
This is the same thing that attacked me in the gents. It crashed its head through the window as I stood listening. I dare say you can understand why I suppressed that shit.
I’m moving at such a rate that I fall down the stairs. I’m pretty clumsy, actually, when it comes right down to it.
I’ve been working out. I like the gym. I like watching T.V. on the exercise bike.
Oh, Christ, get off me, you stinking bitch. I…That hurts…She’s just grabbed my balls. The bitch has me by the balls.
‘I really love you, Russell.’
The voice rings a bell.
She loosens her grip. My balls will hurt for a few days, no doubt about it. Complete bed rest for them, I think. I’ll pamper them.
‘Kerry, is that you?’
‘I saw it, Russell. I knew it would happen.’
Now, Kerry is definitely dead. She was also, until very recently, buried in the woods behind the crematorium. No one knew where the body was. I was careful. I’m always careful. The circumstances of the discovery were bizarre in that the body was dug up and just left there. No one alerted the police. Some kids playing cowboys – presumably the only children on the planet who still do this – took credit for the grisly find. They didn’t dig the body up though: the authorities were confident of that. So, who did, and why? And how did they know where to look?
I’m lying at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at them as they spiral up into the infinity of my ebbing consciousness. To be floating in that infinity now, with Perseus, Zeus, Pegasus and Andromeda, as they take more definite form out of the constellations. I am here, though, with my ex straddling me.
‘I really love you, Russell.’
‘I know you do, honey.’
‘I saw it, Russell.’
‘What did you see?’
‘I saw what you’d do.’
‘Really?’ Really? She saw that?
‘I saw you killing me. I read it, Russell. I read your journal.’
That’s right, I keep a journal.
As she talks, her features soften. She is becoming the Kerry of long-cherished memory.
She’s talking about the day she stumbled across my journal. We’d been together about seven months at the time. I knew what I was going to do to her; I had it all mapped out in my head. She was a bit special, though, so I kept putting it off. She was into magic and things like that. She used to take me to these shops where they sold a lot of weird stuff.
‘Your journal is the most frightening thing I’ve ever read.’ I think that’s putting it a bit strong. She’s a bit irritating. If you were going to choose any of your murder victims to come back to life, Kerry would be at the bottom of your list.
‘It was all there: everyone you’ve murdered. And then I saw it, Russell: I foresaw my own death. I could smell the woods and the grass under my feet. You were behind me. You were talking about films; and then you put the knife in my back and held your hand over my mouth as you lowered me gently to the ground. I saw all of this as I sat at the desk, your journal lying open in front of me. You came into the room then and asked what I was doing. I closed the journal over as quickly as I could, but I think you knew that I had been reading it, and that was what made up your mind. The only thing I could think of to do was cast a Vengeance Spell.’
She used to say crap like that all the time. She had a spell for everything, but they didn’t have anything going for them and seemed to revolve around incense and potpourri.
‘I would use seven knots to bind my spirit to earth.’ Knots! See what I mean? ‘I took a length of orange curtain cord and sat in a circle of altar candles. I tied the first of the seven knots in the middle of the cord. I recited the spell: ‘I’ve knotted one, the spell’s begun.’ Then I tied another knot at the extreme left end: ‘I’ve knotted two, it cometh true.’ Another at the extreme right: ‘I’ve knotted three, so will it be.’ Between the left and the centre: ‘I’ve knotted four, its strength is more.’ Between the right and the centre: ‘I’ve knotted five, it comes alive.’ Midway between the knots on the left-hand side: ‘I’ve knotted six, the spell to fix.’ And midway between the knots on the right-hand side: ‘I’ve knotted seven, the stars of heaven.’’
To be honest, at the moment magic cords are the least of what I’m willing to accept.
‘The idea of the Vengeance Spell is that, seven days before her own death, the next victim will be drawn to the cord. She’ll untie the knots, which have bound your spirit to earth and, at the moment of her death, she will be possessed with this self-same spirit.’
What else jumped into Sadie’s body? Maybe there were a few demons kicking around in the spirit world with Kerry after Sadie released her from the cord.
‘So, you had the cord on you when I killed you? And then Sadie was drawn to it and dug you up to get it.’
‘Yes. Don’t worry, Russell, you’re not going to jail.’
‘Where am I going?’
‘I haven’t decided yet.’
‘What’s it a choice between?’
‘Staying here and going to Hell.’
‘So, if you leave me here and don’t take me to Hell, will that mean you’ve decided to let me off the hook?’
‘That all depends on whether you behave or not after I let you go.’
‘I promise, Kerry. Please.’
She says she’ll watch me for a while and that will give me time to think about it, too, give me time to consider whether I even believe myself. Will I kill again? Good question.
When she goes, it’s like losing a memory, and I hate that.
First, I lose the sense of what she looked like: was she solid or transparent like a ghost? Then I lose the memory of her return and of Sadie’s death.
Finally, I lose the thread of what I have been thinking for the last few days. I’ve been talking to you. But who are you?
Where was I? Oh yeah, my name is Russell. Please don’t laugh…Well, laugh if you want to. After all, I laugh at it every day.
I am forty-six and am currently working on a new horror story while editing various other pieces and trying to place them with publishers and agents. I live in Scotland with my two daughters. My main literary influences are M.R. James, Stephen King and Martin Amis.