From the darkest
corner, the chatoyant eyes watched the shadow rise and move silently to the
bottom of the wooden steps. Reaching up, it pulled the cord, and her world
resumed its dark silence.
Abby Swann gave the appearance
of the headstrong rebel. The pretty face, once full of such youthful optimism, was
now etched with worry and stress, as the slim fingers of her right hand held
firm the delicate digits of her six-year-old, and her left, clutched equally as
tight, the smaller hand of her three-year-old.
Abby turned her back
to the departing taxi, and stared at the imposing Victorian house towering formidably
in front of her, confirming that the number scribbled on a scrap of paper
earlier in the day corresponded with that of the polished brass in the centre
of the wide front door. Smiling, but without any nuance of humour in her eyes, she
bent and gently cupped the tiny face of her eldest, whilst asking.
‘What you thinking,
‘Is it all ours, Mom?’
‘No Babe, only the
‘Cos someone else
lives in the bottom.’
‘No Mom,’ she
laughed, ‘how come we gotta live here now?’
‘Not my choice, Babe.
Daddy got angry again, and I was told it would be safer if we didn’t live with
Daddy going to visit us?’
it’s not bloody fair,’ Abby thought, but actually replied, ‘Well Babe, if he
does, it won’t be for a long time.’
Abby left the ‘I
hope,’ off at the end. It was something best unsaid, behind that of a split lip
and swollen jaw.
Foraging for the key
given to her by the agent, whilst opening the gate to the entrance of a short
path, the heavy red door of the house swung wide, and an elderly man with a
crinkled smile appeared, standing much taller than his five- feet-ten would
‘You must be Abby?’
enquired in a gentle voice.
Abby Swann. These are my kids, Hannah, she’s six and Ella’s three.’
‘Hello Hannah, hello
Ella dear, I’m Dennis. Come on, Abby, let’s give you a hand with those bags.’
Standing in the
lobby of the house, they faced three further doors, Dennis explained, the one
painted green on the left, led to the upstairs apartment which was to be theirs.
The door on the right painted blue, was the door belonging to Abby’s new
landlord. The much smaller door in the middle was painted white, and appeared
nothing more than storage space, however all three were furnished with shiny new,
‘Would you care for
a drink? I might even have some cocoa and cookies for the little ones.’
Mr Hutchinson, but it’s late, and I need to get these little monsters upstairs,
washed and into bed. It’s been a really long day, and we’re pretty much worn
‘I understand, but
please no more formalities, call me Dennis, okay?’
Abby looked into the
kindly eyes of the old man, before giving a tired smile.
‘Maybe we could have
that cup of tea another time if that’s okay.’
‘That would be lovely
listened to the pleasant chatter of childish voices drifting off upstairs. A wide
smile filled his craggy face, as he reached into his back pocket, withdrawing a
silver keyring, secured by a chain to the belt around his waist. He inserted
the chosen key into the lock, and silently opened the small white door
There were boxes stacked
towards the rear, but otherwise the cupboard appeared empty. Reaching down, he
pulled back the edge of a small rug, looping his fingers through the recessed ring,
he eased the hinged trap door up. Looking down he was able make out the first narrow
step, the rest disappeared off into a black hole. Closing the cupboard door
behind him, he ascended into the dark silence, pulling the door down above his
head, he mentally counted thirteen steps to the hard concrete at the bottom.
Once there he stopped, before reaching above and finding the dangling cord of a
single, low watt light bulb, pulling until it clicked, illuminating the whole
of the cavern in a soft, warm, glow.
Turning, he walked
to a table in the corner.
‘Won’t be a
my darlings,’ he whispered to no one in particular.
‘Feels chilly down
here tonight, shall we put some heating on?’
Above the table lay
a row of plugs inserted into a white extension, the heavy cable running up through
the floorboards to his own apartment above. Dennis Hutchinson flicked the
switch, and the computer came to life, swinging gently from side to side in an
old leather chair, he reached across the table, pulling the computer’s keyboard
forward, typing in the password. There was a low whirring as the electronics woke,
and the monitor’s screen glowed an eerie incandescence within the underground
Images blinked, as
he witnessed the multiple screens of the apartment above his own emerge into
view. Now displayed in sections upon the large multi-screen, was the whole of
the top floor, with Abby, minus jacket, boots, and socks, padding barefoot about
the kitchen, the children, now in pyjamas, sat at the table, glasses of milk in
front of them. With the mouse in his right hand, he clicked onto the split-screen
image of the kitchen, filling the whole of the thirty-two-inch monitor.
Smiling, he spun around
to face the two young women seated on the far side of the crypt. Silently they
watched, their wide feline eyes glaring at him. Lying on the bed was Brenda,
his wife of forty-three years. Her eyes seemed to follow him as he rose from the
chair, undressed, then climbed alongside her. Softly he stroked her long hair,
whilst pulling her body towards his own, kissing her lightly on the lips.
Dennis Hutchinson had the touch, he was an artist, and it showed in almost everything
he did, but never more so than in his love for embalming beautiful women.
He was awakened by the
computer’s alarm system, as the movement sensor was triggered and he watched as
Abby jumped out of bed, stripped, and took her shower. Once she’d finished dressing,
and was seeing to the children’s breakfast, the aging landlord made a bee-line for
the stairs, turning everything off before making his way silently to his own flat
on the floor above. There, he donned fresh clothes, before wheeling the green garbage
container around from the back, ready for the refuse collectors.
His timing was
impeccable, as Abby and the two children exited the front door. Being the
gentleman he was, the elderly landlord smiled and stood, politely holding the
gate open, allowing Abby to wheel Ella through in the buggy.
morning ladies. Everything alright last night? All settled in okay?’
‘Fine thank you Mr….
ah…. sorry, Dennis. Yeah, everything’s fine thanks, I’m going to the precinct to
pick up some groceries, so I will call on you when I return, and pay the rent?’
‘Perfect, Abby. Do you know where everything
‘Yeah thanks, I’ve a pretty good idea,
we like exploring anyway. I only owe the first month don’t I Dennis?’
‘If you don’t mind dear.’
‘We’ll see you later then?’
‘You will, my dear. Bye for now,
Hutchinson swung the gate closed
behind his new tenants and waved as they ambled along. By his reckoning he
should have at least an hour before they returned. Standing a few minutes
longer, he watched as his new occupants turned the corner. Taking note of the
time by the watch on his left wrist, the elderly landlord re-entered the house,
extracting the keys from his pocket, choosing the one that fit the green door.
Entering, he climbed
the stairs, taking two at a time, stopping at the top. The apartment, clean and
newly decorated, was devoid of any personality twenty-four hours earlier, but
now looked lived in and sociable, however it wasn’t the clutter that stirred
the emotions within him, it was the odour. It was the distinct aroma of
femininity that aroused his cravings.
The kitchen had been
carefully wiped, with crockery neatly piled, ready to be washed. Picking up the
mug, not long since handled by Abby, the cold dregs forming a ring in the
bottom, and her pink lipstick smeared around the edge, he placed the mug to his
own mouth, tasting where her sweet lips had so recently touched, before placing
the cup carefully back where it had been.
Slowly he entered
the bathroom, smelling and handling the multitude of female paraphernalia along
the tiled windowsill, before picking up the discarded towel flung carelessly
over the side of the bath. He immediately recognised it as the one he’d watched
Abby use the night before, and again this morning.
Holding it to his
face he drew in its damp fragrance, inhaling her body odour, allowing his
imagination to run full rein, as he remembered the sight of her nakedness, so
recently enwrapped within the heavy terry towel. Finally, he entered the master
bedroom. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he raised the discarded pyjamas from
the floor, feeling their texture, closing his eyes in ecstasy, he devoured the
musky scent emanated through the night from the heat of her young body as she
Upon their return, Dennis
invited the Swann’s in for refreshments, however Abby was far from expecting the
scene which confronted her. The way in which she perceived the elderly landlord,
was that of a mild-mannered widower, and was half expecting to find his apartment
similar to the upstairs, with maybe a few extra overstuffed chairs, with chintzy
patterns adorning them.
What she was unprepared
for was the bold bohemian influence, with carved tables, ferns and palms flowing
from gaudy coloured pots, with innumerable cushions strewn indiscriminately about
the floor, which in turn was covered by gaudily patterned oriental rugs.
It was a fantasy and
she felt she’d entered the cave of the forty thieves. All of which was nothing
compared to the many stuffed birds and animals dotted about. Some of the
smaller ones, encased within glass domes, whilst others, hiding between the cushions
and chairs, with larger ones free-standing in corners.
There was everything
from miniscule hummingbirds, hovering before dainty flowers, to the snarling fox,
crouched in the far corner of the dining room, but each of them stuffed. Every
creature within the downstairs apartment, with the exception of three Swanns
and an elderly landlord, were devoid of life.
Abby was not
offended, nor was she frightened by what she saw, everything seemed naturally
in a place of its own. It was as though the landlord had created a garden of Eden,
exception being, no Adam, Eve, or a possible serpent.
‘Wow!’ Was Abby’s
‘That’s often a first reaction, my dear.’
anything like this.’
the second. Some feel a bit uncomfortable here, how about you?’
‘No, I can’t
am. I never expected any of it, that’s all.’
‘It started many years
ago. As a boy, my family lived in the countryside, where I would regularly go
hunting with my father. Anyway, my father was friends with a local taxidermist,
and I spent most of my free time accompanying him in his workshop and studio.’
‘So, you don’t
‘No, my dear, in this
modern world, what I do is generally frowned upon, so I keep it all much to
‘What about your
The elderly landlord
looked startled, ‘What about my wife?’ he queried.
‘How did she feel
‘Hated it, and made
no bones about it either. That’s why I built the workshop at the bottom of the
garden. She wouldn’t allow my work in the house.
Abby stood barefoot in
her own kitchen, preparing the evening meal, whilst openly smiling as she pondered
the day’s events. Dennis seemed nice enough, the girls liked him, and she’d
struggled to get Ella to leave.
Abby also quite
liked the quiet-spoken landlord, who seemed to have a gentle way in which he
addressed both her and the girls. Dennis Hutchinson seemed an old-world gentleman.
Two floors down, the
landlord was busy massaging oils into the skin of Dawn Boff, the petite student,
who never got further on her date than the downstairs front door, before a glove-encased
hand containing a chloroform soaked rag, was held across her face. Her limp
body carried into the kitchen of the downstairs apartment, her head left to dangle
over the edge of the table, as her clothes were cut away.
A heavy catheter was
inserted into the left subclavian vein, allowing the blood to drain into several
metal buckets on the kitchen floor, until such time as the young woman’s heart eventually
A second catheter was
fit into the right femoral artery via a small hand pump, with the precise mixture
of embalming fluid injected, until all liquids exited the left subclavian clear.
Once clear, the same process was employed with the addition of a rose-coloured
dye, enhancing a more natural skin tone to the now-dead body.
After massaging and
applying moisturiser, a small incision was made in the lower abdomen, whereby the
landlord inserted his naked hand into the torso, and whilst slowly cutting away
the visceral organs, luxuriated in the sensation of warm entrails sliding
around his forearm.
With the exception
of the liver, which he fried with shallots and mushrooms later in the evening,
the remainder was placed handful by handful into a black refuse bag. The brain was
removed through the eye sockets, first having removed the eyeballs, then slowly
scooping out the remaining skull cavity with a sharpened sundae spoon. It took
a while, but the landlord was becoming experienced in his new embalming
techniques, a hobby he’d acquired after the death of Brenda, his wife of so
The two cavities now
empty, with the cadaver looking somewhat hollow, the landlord went to the back
of the kitchen and from a cardboard box produced a litre spray of polyurethane
expanding wall filler, which after fitting a long tube to the nozzle, placed
into the eye socket of the young woman’s head, filling the cranium until the
foam packed the empty space and exiting the second eye socket.
He did the same to
the hollowed torso, using two full cans and massaging the outer dermis and soft
flesh of the belly, into a shape he quite enjoyed the look of. Whilst this was left
to dry, two ceramic balls were glued into the eye sockets, and after setting,
he fit a nice ocular prothesis of his choosing.
Within the shed, he
had a specialist order of eyes that would normally be used when mounting the head
of large cats, but he quite liked the idea of this pretty woman wearing them
instead, it would be something just that bit unusual, rather than the everyday
The last stage,
before applying makeup, false eye lashes, and nails, was to massage the body thoroughly
with more oils, keeping the skin subtle before wrapping it in clingfilm to carry
it down into the cellar.
The following day he
carried out a similar procedure on the young red head Tracy Walters as she was
leaving, before she had time to realise her flat mate would never be returning home.
It all seemed so
long ago, when in fact it was only several months since the two students first moved
in. Brenda had died two years earlier of heart failure. She’d suffered for a
considerable time with related problems, and went quietly in her sleep. At
least that’s what the family practitioner believed, and signed on the medical
The whole of the
house was silent. Abby had gone to bed earlier and the images on the computer
screen, showed her to be breathing undisturbed, in a deep untroubled sleep.
landlord rose from his chair. He’d spent the earlier part of the evening
watching the upstairs, whilst massaging body oils into the skins of the three
women he shared the basement with, trying his hardest to keep their skins from
drying out and fragrant from any unpleasant odours of decay. In reality they
were thin emaciated frames, with dehydrated leathery skin stretched across. He’d
sat admiring his handywork, but an urge had taken over his mind, and he knew from
past experience it was an urge he was not going to be able to control.
Silently he ascended
the wooden stairs. Withdrawing the keys from the back pocket, he quietly unlocked
the green door. Pulling it across, the shadow of the elderly landlord slowly advanced
the wide staircase.
Her eyes opened
wide. Something had disturbed her and she knew whatever it was, might be waiting
for her on the other side of the bedroom door. The door that was always left slightly
ajar, due to the fear she felt of the dark, but it now allowed her to see shadows
playing across the landing walls, and in her childish imagination, Hannah Swann
had visions of monsters prowling outside her bedroom, all of them ready to
pounce and eat her up.
Clutching Bossy bear
to her chest, she climbed from the top bunk and down the few steps of the short
ladder, standing perfectly still and listening, her heart thumping rapidly in
her small chest. It was the creak of the old floorboards, perfectly
synchronised with the great shadow crossing the landing that made Hannah catch
her breath. In a flash she opened the door wide, darting across the carpeted expanse
of the landing to her mother’s bedroom, diving under the bedcovers to the
safety and security of her mother’s protective arms.
Bleary-eyed and half
asleep, Abby Swann stirred, feeling the trembling little body curled next to
‘There was a monster outside my room, Mom.’ came the almost silent whisper
from under the duvet.
Abby relaxed, cuddling the small child close to her.
‘There are no monsters Babe, you were dreaming, that’s all.’
‘No Mom, I heard it and I saw it’s shadow on the wall.’
‘You probably heard the floorboards creak; they sometimes do that when
they cool down at night.’
‘But I saw the shadow.’
‘It was probably some fluffy cloud, drifting past the man in the moon
through the skylight, go back to sleep.’
‘Can I stay in your bed tonight Mom?’
‘Uh-huh, but only if you go straight back to sleep. Come on, it’s
‘Does the Bogeyman live downstairs?’
‘No Babe, that’s just a story silly grownups tell kids to frighten
them. There’s only Dennis downstairs, and he doesn’t look much like a Bogeyman
‘No, he’s really nice.’
‘Then let’s go back to sleep.’
Within a few short minutes the landlord, who stood watching and
listening from the shadow next to the wardrobe, could hear the two of them
breathing heavily again. His own heart pounding as he leant against the wall,
waiting for a time he felt safe enough to move.
Several minutes passed, before he heard the child snoring, and her
mother breathing heavily in deep slumber. Silently on the balls of his feet, he
stepped from the shadows to stand alongside Abby’s side of the bed, leaning
over her recumbent body.
Bending over her face, he could smell her warm breath, inhaling a
lungful of vaporised nectar, as it exited the young woman’s mouth. He desperately
needed to touch her, he wanted to feel her warm skin against his own as she
slept. Cautiously he peeled back the duvet covering her slim shoulders, but the
pyjama’s, completely covered her to the neck and long tousled hair, the rest of
Gently he stroked a clear space from her face, and with the back of
his once strong, now wrinkled hand, stroked the soft cheek of the young woman
who slept so peacefully, a few inches from his own furrowed face.
Slowly pulling himself upright, the landlord turned and silently left
the room, crossing the open landing as the dawn’s first light made a glimmering
entrance through the skylight.
Abby’s eyes opened. What had she heard? What was that strange smell?
Had it been a dream or was that her door she’d just heard closing?
The landlord returned to the cellar where after first setting up the
motion sensor on the computer, stripped naked, spreading himself on top of the
Rising the following morning, he noticed a third much smaller head
poking out from the top of the duvet on the upper floor, and smiled as he
realised who might have set off the alarm through the night. Dressing quickly,
the landlord switched off the computer and after saying goodbye to his ladies,
turned off the light, making his way to his own humble abode on the ground
floor. There were urges that required fulfilling.
Saturday mornings would normally see Dennis driving into town to
pick up his weekly provisions. Out on the outskirts it wasn’t unusual to observe
several homeless individuals encamped alongside the old underpass, today
however, there was only one, and it was female.
With it being the weekend, it was too early for the town to be busy,
so pulling the big car into the layby, the landlord sat observing with
fascination the skinny, short haired waif in her oversized clothing, as she
pulled something from inside the sleeping bag, she herself had only just
In her hand was a small untidy ball of fluff which squirmed in her grimy
fingers. She sat up, crossed her legs, placing the kitten into the nest of her
lap. Unconsciously the landlord opened the door and stepped onto the narrow foot
path, walking the few short steps to the underpass, where he stopped to look
down upon the despondent looking female.
A smile broke out across the old man’s face as he asked, ‘What’s
The girl looked up, but said nothing.
‘He must have a name my dear, everyone has a name.’
‘It’s a girl,’ she answered sullenly.
‘Sorry, it wasn’t meant as an insult. How old is she?’
‘Dunno, found her scavenging behind the Italian restaurant.’
‘So back to my original question, does she have a name?’
‘I call her Kitty.’
‘May I ask, what they call you?’
‘So I know to whom I’m speaking.’
‘My friends call me Dot.’
‘Is that short for Dorothy?’
‘Dunno. It’s cos I’m small. Everyone just calls me little Dot.’
‘Where are your friends, little Dot?’
‘They said they would be coming, but they didn’t turn up last night,
and I couldn’t be bothered lookin’ for them.’
‘Do you fancy joining me for breakfast, my treat?’
She looked up at the seemingly kind face of the elderly man, and
after some deliberation, slowly nodded her head.
‘Good, shall we gather your things and throw them in the back of my
car. I believe there’s a fast food, drive through up ahead, who specialise in some
sort of sausage, egg, and cheese, all together in a single muffin. We could
call there, and then I could drop you off back here, or anywhere else you might
‘What do you want?’
‘What do you mean, dear?’
‘What do you want? I don’t do sex, or drugs or anything like that, you
‘Oh, heaven forbid dear, no I don’t want anything from you. No, no,
you’re perfectly safe. I simply saw you and thought how lonely you must feel. I
live by myself, so I’m fully aware of what it can be like. I thought maybe we might
share each other’s company for a while, you would be doing me the favour.’
Slowly the two of them gathered Dot’s meagre belongings, and
pulling on a pair of worn sneakers, she climbed, the kitten secured in the
crook of her arm, onto the leather passenger seat of the large four wheel drive,
as the old man unceremoniously pulled away from the kerbside.
The landlord sat in the basement, glancing at his watch whilst noting
Abby and the children now fast asleep. All was quiet as he climbed the wooden steps
and exited the front door. Walking silently around the back, he crossed the damp
lawn and within the shadows of the high walled garden, produced the keys from
his back pocket, unlocking the heavy wooden door of the garage. Closing the
door silently behind him, he listened, hearing only the white noise within his
own head, he opened the rear door of the car.
Still curled in a foetal position was the young waif, earlier
enticed by a simple happy meal. Made unconscious by a chloroform-drenched cloth
held across her mouth, and after securing her in the back of the car, an
intravenous drip was hung, with the precise equation of distilled water,
midazolam, and diazepam, into the radial artery of her left wrist. The kitten’s
lifeless body lay carelessly alongside her.
The kitchen had been earlier prepared, with plastic sheets covering
the floor. Metal buckets were positioned, with blades, scissors, and plastic
tubing laid out as would be found in a major trauma unit of the accident and
emergency department in any hospital.
With large scissors, he cut away the dirty clothing, leaving Dot’s
body exposed across the tabletop. Taking a cloth dipped in soapy water, he
proceeded washing the ingrained grime from the small undernourished figure,
prior to positioning the catheter into the main artery of her neck. It was then
the eyes opened, and the girl looked up at him, her thin arm raised, making a futile
attempt at pulling the tubing.
Still in a drug induced state, holding her was little effort, as the
old man gently spoke.
‘You’re perfectly safe my dear, nobody will hurt you anymore.’
Looking into the ancient eyes of the old man, the girl in an almost
unintelligible whisper, murmured. ‘Am I going to die?’
Gently, the landlord stroked a loose hair from Dot’s forehead and
nodded his head.
‘Yes, my dear. It will all be over with soon.’
As he spoke, little Dot relaxed her tired body, whilst a teardrop
trickled from the corner of her pale blue eyes, running unhindered across her
colourless cheek. The blood continued to gurgle through the plastic tubing from
her neck, into the cold steel bucket below, as finally her young heart
For the remainder of the night, the landlord continued the gruesome
task of embalming the tiny body, which only hours earlier, had revelled in the somewhat
divulgent luxury, of an over-cooked burger, dry, heavily salted fries, and a drink,
which should have carried with it a toxic health warning, for the proportion of
sugar it contained.
It was as the sun’s first rays crept across the windowsill, he
completed the long process, and after tidying the kitchen, carried the light carcass
over his shoulder, placing little Dot where Brenda had once lay, and after
undressing, crawled alongside her on the bed.
It was now a month since Abby had found sanctuary within the
apartment. Both her and the girls had settled happily into their new surroundings,
and were able to consider finding a place of their own. Abby had discussed this
with Dennis and he had kindly shown them properties in pleasant areas, within a
price region, Abby might be able to afford.
The landlord sat before the monitor, watching his tenants, fully
aware time was fast approaching that which must be done. It was late and the
whole of the upper apartment silent, with everyone fast asleep. Reaching into
the drawer of the table, he extracted the brown bottle, and removing a clean
cotton handkerchief from his own pocket, set off towards the steps.
Abby was disturbed by what she thought might be the downstairs door
closing. Through a blanket of sleep, she heard the creak of a floorboard and
threw the bedding back in preparation for receiving a visit from Hannah, but
what was the smell, she recognised it from some past memory, but it was
becoming stronger and by the time her eyes opened enough to see the hand
reaching to cover her face, that was all she would ever see.
Facing the monitor, he watched the new tenant unpack her
belongings. She was a professional woman, very pretty, but not quite as young
as the others, nevertheless he would enjoy getting to know her. He swung around
in his chair, a crinkled smile upon his face, whilst on the other side of the
dark cavern, seven pairs of chatoyant eyes watched his every move.
Owen Barry is a British writer, born and living within the north east of
England. Earlier years were shared between both Canada and the UK, but he now
resides permanently within the Northumbrian countryside. Together with short
stories and poetry accepted for publication in magazines and journals, he has
independently published two mid-grade novella’s ‘Granule Speck and the
Ichkin’ and ‘Granule Speck, the Witch and the Princess’, together
with two adult crime novels, ‘Brutal Retribution’ and ‘The Gemini
proud member of both the Society of Authors and the Alliance of