The Fear: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 800 words.

In the space of six weeks, I managed to accumulate a great many insects and spiders from numerous sources. The neglected greenhouse in my garden was full of spiders of various types, as was the wooden shed, which hadn’t been used for years. Some digging in the borders provided an assortment of beetles and grubs, and I was able to find some caterpillars on the bushes and trees at the back of the property.

Nothing exotic though, naturally. For that, I ventured over fifty miles away, to a specialist pet shop I saw online. Pretending to be keen to start a collection, and paying full price in cash, I rapidly accumulated a considerable number of creatures, mostly quite repulsive things. I also needed the tanks, heaters, and lights to keep them alive as well as various disgusting foods for them. The shopkeeper thought he had an easy target for his suggestions, and kept promising me more and more exotica. After spending a substantial sum of money, and also buying books about how to manage all the different invertebrates, I had enough to have opened my own attraction, I was sure. The best thing was that the owner of the shop didn’t have to know my address or real name, as I always went there in person.

Hundreds of locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers, as well as a selection of exceedingly large tarantulas. There were massive centipedes and millipedes, and an assortment of cockroaches, including an enormous hissing cockroach; also stick insects and praying mantises of different sizes. At the prompting of the shopkeeper, I had also bought some large black scorpions, though because they were potentially poisonous, they would mainly be for show.

My next problem was how to arrange to get Danielle to my house. She rarely had anything to drink except tap water, and that usually from a glass that she filled herself, and drank immediately. She had never shown any interest in me romantically, so suggesting a date was out of the question. But when she offered me the chance to stay behind one evening to join her in Chinese food as a thank you for my hard work, I pretended to be busy that evening, immediately suggesting that we do it on the following Monday instead. I also told her that I would go and collect the food, and she could pay me later. She agreed happily, which gave me the chance to prepare.

That day, I arrived with a hefty dose of sedatives already diluted into a syringe. We worked as normal, and later on she showed me a menu, and where the restuarant was. She chose a very spicy dish, chili king prawns, accompanied by fragrant rice. I drove off in my van to get the food, waiting for it to be cooked fresh, and paying in cash of course. On the way back, I stopped in a quiet lane, and injected the sedative solution into the sauce surrounding her prawns. Back at the house, I served it onto plates, strirring well as I did so. My own bland meal was completely different, so no danger of any confusion.

Danielle wolfed the food as if she hadn’t eaten for a week, washing it down with some apple juice drunk straight from the container. I watched her as she ate, her sweatshirt and leggings completely covered in animal hair of various shades and lengths, her legs pushing away the collection of cats gathering at her feet under the table. No doubt she had a habit of sharing morsels with them, when I wasn’t there. When we had finished eating, I gathered up the containers into a plastic bin bag, saying it was to stop the cats from still trying to get to them. I took the bag outside to the bin, but put it into the back of my van instead. Then I offered to wash up the plates and cutlery, and she was happy to let me do that.

As it was getting dark by then, I said I had better go home. She insisted on giving me the money for the food from her purse, telling me she felt unusually tired, and might go to bed early. I walked to my van, saying I would see her the next morning. But I didn’t go home. Instead, I drove to the nearby supermarket, and parked at the edge of the car park. I sat there for over an hour, just to make sure, returning to Danielle’s house just before nine. I knew the side gate was never locked, and reached over to flip the latch. She was where I expected to find her, slumped over the kitchen table, with the back door still unlocked.

I had guessed that the sedative would work quickly, and it had.

The Fear: Part Seventeen

This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 805 words.

Danielle had a list of jobs ready for me once I arrived the next morning. My role was mainly to let the dogs out of their runs or cages, and clear up whatever they had deposited on the floor. Then I replenished the water in their bowls, gave them some food, and had to take them out two at time for a walk across the field at the back of the house. I had never had a pet of course, and it seemed that the dogs sensed something different about me. An old greyhound bared its teeth at me, and Danielle put a muzzle on it. Even a tiny one-eyed miniature Schnauzer was reluctant to walk with me, and kept its lead at right angles all the time.

I had little to do with the animals inside, though I did have to muck out the small horse and feed it. That animal appeared to be happy enough in my company, though probably because I was giving it extra carrots and apples. Danielle provided me with a lunch of sorts, which on that first day was three nut bars and an orange. She didn’t care for tea or coffee, so offered tap water to drink. I decided that I would bring my own refreshments in future. Over that lunch, she explained something of her life story.

The house we were in had belonged to her grandmother. Whe she died, she left a reasonable amount of cash, and the house, to Danielle. She had recently married an accountant friend of her father, a much older man. He wanted her to sell it, and for them both to continue living in his smart flat in town. But she had her dreams of an animal sanctuary, something her new husband thought was ridiculous. So the marriage was over almost as soon as it had started, and she moved into the old house, using the money to set up the sanctuary, and what was left of her own savings along with any donations she could beg. Seven years later, and she was struggling financially, as well as running out of space. Vet bills were one issue, and inspectors from the local Council also made her make constant improvements.

She was now living in one room of the large house, as every other inch of space was given over to the rescued animals.

To be honest, there wasn’t that much work. Walking the dogs took the most time, as there were seventeen of them. But the routine cage-cleaning and feeding was far from arduous, and I was convinced she could easily have coped alone. I concluded that she was lonely, and required the company of a volunteer more than the help with the work. She stayed inside most of the time, looking after the small animals and cats. Because the Vet charged to come out to her house, she now took all the animals, bar the miniature horse, to the Vet in her own car, a delapidated Peugeot. I didn’t offer the use of my van, as I didn’t want anyone to know I was working there.

When a month had gone by, we had settled into a routine on my four days there. The dogs still didn’t like to be around me, and one of them, a Lakeland Terrier, became so agitated when he saw me that I was no longer able to take him for a walk. Inside the house, the cats didn’t trust me that much either, so Danielle made sure to always handle them. She made no effort to find homes for any of her charges. She didn’t want to chance them being neglected, so continued to take in anything that someone brought to her door, or dropped off in a box outside. Knowing how low she was getting on animal food, I gave her one hundred pounds one afternoon, and told her to use it for the animals. That brought tears to her eyes, and she hugged me again.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, the doorbell sounded. She left me in the kitchen, and went to see who it was. After a long conversation with someone, I heard the door close, and she came back into the room. “It was some guy with two chameleons. He is having to move with his job, and can’t take them. He tried selling them, but no luck. I told him to try a zoo, as I can’t take them”. I asked her why she wouldn’t take them, wondering if she had some fear of lizards and reptiles.

“It’s what you have to feed them. You know, grasshopppers, bugs, grubs and the like. I cannot stand anything creepy-crawly, Paul. I am terrified of all those things, even earwigs and spiders. Funny really, considering how much I love animals”.

I drove home smiling.

The Fear: Part Sixteen

This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 783 words.

So there was to be no valid experiment involving Edward Cobden. Even his fear of the birds did not overcome his rage at them stealing his fruit, and he had been determined to scare them off with his shotgun.

I disconnected a cable inside the bird-scarer, so that it would fail to work if tested. That would provide a reason for Ted to have arrived with his shotgun, and the accidental shooting that followed. Naturally, I would leave his body in the field, to be discovered in due course. As nobody had any idea that I was working there, I could take my time removing any trace of my stay at the farm.

There was reason to be thankful for Ted being such a private man.

Packing away my clothes, bedding, and toiletries was easy enough. I contemplated removing fingerprints, but that would also have removed Ted’s, making it suspicious. And there would be no reason to treat the house as a crime scene, once it had been concluded that it was simply an accident. After loading everything into my van, I went back inside, and wandered around. I imagined that I was a policeman, looking for any trace of someone else being there. At the last moment, I remembered to check the washing machine and drier, finding some underwear of mine still inside. As time was getting on, I thought about staying the night and leaving first thing. But I was reluctant to tempt fate, with Ted’s body nearby.

Back at home, I ordered some Indian food to be delivered, and left a message on Mr Dean’s answerphone to tell him I was back. After eating, I looked online at local job advertisements. Ted hadn’t paid me of course, but that wasn’t an issue. I had more money than I could ever spend, but I wanted to get back out into the world to find a new subject for the next experiment. Office work didn’t appeal, as there were too many people gossipping about your business. And I didn’t want to work so close to home again, particularly as Shell was still officially missing. At the end of the vacancies, I spotted a different category.

Volunteer Opportunities.

Most of the advertisements were for charity shops looking for volunteer staff. In the middle of the page, I noticed one for help wanted at an animal sanctuary, and clicked on the link. The place was little more than a large detached house, about fifteen miles south. The gardens had been taken over by a series of enclosures and sheds, and according to the blurb written by the owner, she was in need of someone else to help, for as many hours as they could offer. There was no pay, obviously, and also no expenses paid. The woman ran the place on a shoestring by all accounts, and scraped by on whatever donations she could get. There as a short personal bio of her too, with a photo.

Danielle Goldman. She looked to be around thirty, and to go along with her name, had the appearance of someone who might be Jewish. I thought that it was unusual to find a Jewish person running a sanctuary. Father had always told me that Jewish people were sharp in business, and were good to have as friends. Danielle’s dark hair and brown eyes were accompanied by a prominent nose, and a wide smiling mouth. She was not conventionally attractive, and quite obviously very overweight. There was no mention of any other staff, or of a husband or children. I sent her an email offering my services four days a week, from eight until four.

When I checked my emails the next morning, I saw that she had replied during the night. She obviously stayed up late.

The reply was enthusiastic, asking me to call on her any day before six in the evening, to look around and see if I would be happy to work there. I telephoned the number she gave on the email, and arranged to visit her at four that afternoon. Danielle answered the door wearing a stained tracksuit, and Croc sandals on her feet. The smell of animals from inside was overwhelming as she ushered me in. She was surprisingly short, definitley under five feet, and almost as wide as she was tall. After showing me around the various cages and pens containing cats, dogs, hedgehogs, injured birds, and even a miniature pony in a shed at the end of the large garden, she turned and smiled. “Well, Paul. What do you say?”

I told her that I would be happy to start the next day, and was surprised when she leaned forward and hugged me.

The Fear: Part Fifteen

This is the fifteenth part of a fiction serial, in 940 words.

According to Ted, it was now necessary for me to get out into the fields at first light, as the birds could do too much damage before my normal arrival after breakfast. He woke me up extra early, and sent me out with a flask of tea and some sandwiches while it was still dark. As there were no neighbours nearby, he was also unconcerned about the noise from the scarer, telling me to use it as early as I liked. I set the machine to a random programme, and retired under some trees to enjoy my tea and sandwiches.

Just after nine, I saw his big van drive along the track, heading for town. Once he was out of sight, I switched off the machine, and began to walk along the rows, loosening the pegs that held the netting in place. It was hard work, and I used a big screwdriver in the eyelets, twisting them around until they were no longer holding in the soil. The birds were congregating in the trees behind me, unsure what was going on, but emboldened by the lack of noise from the scarer. I knew that harvest was imminent. The fruit looked plump and ripe, even to my inexperienced eye, and I could smell the sweetness in the air too.

I had managed almost one full row before I heard his van return.

It had obviously occurred to me that I could not capture wild birds in sufficient quantity to transport them to my house for a proper experiment. For one thing, I had nowhere to store them on Ted’s property. I considered buying a large number of birds like parrots, or other types kept as pets, but that would leave a suspicious trail of purchases. My conclusion was that I would have to see the effect of Ted being scared by the birds actually at his farm, and not drug him and remove him to my workshops. So my first idea was simple enough.

As I was not allowed to return for lunch because of the imminent harvest, I knew that Ted would be bringing me something to eat and drink in the blackcurrant fields. So I secreted myself out of sight, and waited until the birds had discovered the loose netting and the absence of a patrolling human. It wasn’t too long before they did, scuttling under the billowing nets in large numbers, and squabbling among themselves as they gorged on the fruit. By the time that Ted appeared carrying a plastic lunchbox and flask, almost half the row was full of birds.

Ted didn’t notice at first, as he was looking around to see where I was. After a while, he stopped and shouted. “Boy! It’s lunch, boy! Where are you?”
After all this time, he had still never asked my name.

Venturing into the second field, closer to where I was hiding, he noticed that some of the netting had come adrift. Setting the lunchbox and flask down on the ground, he grabbed some of the loose pegs and began to push them back into the ground, using the heel of his boot. As he worked his way along the row, he suddenly noticed the birds on the bushes some fifty yards ahead.

Without hesitation, he turned and began to run back in the direction of his house. A man of his age and physical condition does not run that well, especially over broken ground in a field. Even more so, when he kept stopping to look back to see if any birds were in the air close to him.

For me, this was very interesting of course. Would his heart give out with fright? Would he fall and injure himself, unable to get up again? I had to get up on my knees as he got further away, so I could see every moment of his escape. But he made it off the fields eventually, and I watched as he ran into the smaller of the two barns. I had expected him to remain there until I got back, so I was very surpised to see him making his way back to the bushes within a few minutes.

As he got closer again, I could see he was carrying something, stopping to fumble with it. It was a double-barrelled shotgun, and he was trying to load some shells into the open barrels as he was walking. Eventually, he had to stop to make sure the shells were seated properly, then I heard the metallic sound as he snapped the weapon closed. He started off again, making a bee-line for the bushes that were still covered in feeding birds. But as he raised the weapon without stopping, he dropped it.

The noise of the gunshot made me jump, and also caused some panic in the birds. I stood up, and could see Ted lying on the ground some one hundred yards away. I ran over quickly, yelling that I was sorry, but had fallen asleep. I thought a cover story might be necessary. But as it turned out, it wasn’t.

The effect of both barrels of a shotgun at close range is most interesting to observe. Falling with the barrels pointing upward, the jolt as it hit the ground must have caused the ancient firearm to discharge. Ted had a hole in his body just above the belt around his overalls. It was big enough to be able to put my fist into, had I chosen to do so. His sightless eyes stared up at the sky, as the noisy birds circled above. I was rather annoyed.

That wasn’t supposed to have happened.

The Fear: Part Fourteen

This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 870 words.

Working for Ted, I soon found out that I was the one doing the real work. I tended the bushes after the briefest instruction, hauling the hose on its trolley to the standpipes dotted around for watering. Then spraying the roots with weed-killer using an ancient hand pump attached to a tank I wore on my back like a rucksack. After lunch, I was expected to fix up the buildings; rehanging doors, and stopping up leaks and gaps in the woodwork. It was just as well he fed me such a lot of food, as I had never worked so hard.

For his part, Ted kept the house clean and tidy, did the washing, and prepared the food. He drove into the nearest town every morning after breakfast, insisting that he liked to buy the food fresh every day. He had a big panel van which was signwritten with ‘Cobden’s Fruits, Cobden Farm’. It didn’t even have a contact phone number on the side. He kept it parked out of sight, behind the biggest barn. In the afternoon, he had his ‘rest’, while I carried on with whatever task he had assigned me. I was allowed to finish at five-forty-five every evening, so I could have a quick wash before dinner at six.

After the evening meal, he always liked to chat for a while before I went upstairs. But despite showing willingness to engage in conversation with him, I never managed to find out that much personal information, and nothing at all about whether or not he might have some genuine phobia, or fear. It went on like that much the same every day for weeks, until the fruit started to ripen.

That morning, Ted accompanied me to inspect some of the bushes, and seemed to become agitated. “We need to get back and get the netting, boy, right quick”. I followed him to one of the low outbuidings, where he showed me lots of rolls of fine mesh black netting. He explained that I should load one onto the big metal handcart, and walk along the rows of bushes unravelling it. It was wide enough to completely cover the bushes once it was dragged up and over them. Then every dozen or so bushes, it had to be secured into the ground using metal pegs, not unlike tent pegs.

I came to hate that job. The netting was difficult to get into place, as it caught on anything and everything. Then hammering the pegs into the hard ground between the rows was back-breaking. It took me all of that week to finish off, using every roll of netting in the storeroom, back and forth collecting each roll in turn. On the Saturday, he made me what he called a ‘special meal’ of sirloin steak, and thanked me for my hard work. Following a substantial dessert of bread and butter pudding with custard, he informed me how to set up and use the bird-scarer. This device consisted of a long tube of plastic attached to an electronic box, and according to Ted, it made a sound like a gunshot at random intervals.

Sure enough, Monday saw the arrival of many birds. Starlings and pigeons in the main, but also crows. Lots of crows. The birds could sense that the fruit was ripe enough for them to eat, but it was not yet ready for harvest and sale to the juice manufacturer. Ted remained edgy. “This is the crucial time, boy. We have to keep them bloody birds off until harvest time soon. Those buggers will ruin the crop, given half the chance”. He told me that the netting was enough to protect the fruit from the smaller birds, but the large crows would hang onto it, and tear it with their beaks. That’s why he needed the scarer. Even with that, the crows could become accustomed to the noise, so a large part of my job would be to keep a presence in the fields, to frighten them off. I was even excused the afternoon repairs for that.

After hauling the scarer and its long cable out into the fields, I set it up and switched it on as he had shown me. The loud bang made me jump, and sent the flocks of birds flying out of the trees where they sat waiting. But not for long. They circled for a while, and then returned to their perches. After a dozen or more of the bangs, less and less birds left the trees, so I made sure to patrol the rows so they could see me.

Over dinner, I suggested to Ted that it might be a good idea if he patrolled with me the next day, as two men in the fields could cover more ground, and distract more birds. He put down his knife and fork, shaking his head. “No boy, not me. Got a thing about them birds, especially the big crows. Sounds silly to tell at my age, but they terrify me, with their flapping wings, and squawking. I’m likely to piss myself with fear if they get around me. You’ll have to do your best”. Cutting into my chicken pie, I smiled.

So that was his fear.

The Fear: Part Thirteen

This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 700 words.

Considering his personal appearance, and the run-down exterior of the farm buildings, Ted’s house was remarkably clean and tidy inside. Upstairs there was a small living room, a double bedroom, and a bathroom and toilet combined. The fixtures were dated, but all serviceable, and the small flat screen television in the living room was a modern one.

As he watched me moving my stuff from the van, he called out various things as I went up and down the stairs. “Dinner is at six. Nothing fancy, you understand, but I’m a fair cook”. “The phone signal is not too good here if you have one of those mobiles. There’s a phone in the house, but make sure you leave the money for the call in the box next to it”. “Oh, and I don’t know if you have a computer or such, but we don’t have that Internet here”. “Breakfast at seven sharp, I can wake you if you want”.

While making my bed, I tried to imagine how anyone could run a business, even a farm, without Internet access. By the time I had unpacked, I could smell the dinner wafting up the stairs. And it made my mouth water.

The portion was huge, and I ate heartily. Sausages and onions, served in a fluffy Yorkshire pudding, accompanied by mashed potatoes and peas. There was bread and butter on the table too, and the promise of a dessert. “There’s steamed sponge and treacle after, boy. You will eat well here, I promise you”. As we ate, he chatted as if we were old friends. I was amazed how trusting he was, as he hadn’t so much as even asked my name.

“The main job here is keeping the birds and vermin away from the fruit. As soon as those blackcurrants start to appear, they are all over them. Then there’s watering, I have a cart for that, and some weeding. But I mainly use chemicals and such around the bushes, to save the back-breaking stuff. Once the season warms up, we will have to get the netting on the bushes. That’s one hell of a job, I tell you boy. I see you have some decent tools, so I was wondering if you could fix the doors on the main barn? Otherwise it wil be hard to store anything in there, come harvest”.

He talked like this throughout the meal, never waiting for me to reply or comment. He also told me that he lived downstairs, with a small living room and bedroom combined at the back, and a toilet too. “I don’t need any bath, shower, or such. I just have a good wash in the sink”. After we had finished all the food, he offered me beer, which I declined. Then he suggested Port Wine or Brandy, but I said no. When I offered to help clear away and wash up, he surprised me by telling me he had a dishwasher in a utility room at the back. “Also got a nice washing machine and tumble drier there boy. Next to the freezer”.

I had imagined that he would have no such conveniences.

Ted remained sitting at the rough wooden dining table for some time, drinking his beer. He told me about how he, his father, and his older brother had run the farm together after his mother had died of cancer. His blackcurrants were all sold in advance, used for fruit drinks made by the brand leader in those products. But the price depended on the abundance of the crop at harvest, and could fluctuate wildly every year. “What we want is a good crop, in a bad year. Do you get my meaning, boy? Then we have the edge, something to sell that they need”.

I slept well that night, with Ted telling me he would wake me in time to bathe before breakfast. I couldn’t recall eating such a big dinner in a long time, and I had quite warmed to my new employer.

It almost seemed a shame that I would have to discover his weakness, before he died of it.

The Fear: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 785 words.

The house at the end of the long track was well hidden from the road. It was more a collection of buildings, one of which appeared to be inhabited, judging by the curtains in some windows, and a pair of boots outside the main door. In the distance were two large barns, at the end of the continuation of the track. Old machinery was scattered around, mostly rusted and bent. I stopped the car fifty feet from the house, and looked to my right as I got out.

There were some large fields bordering the property, each planted with neat rows of small bushes. In contrast to the buildings, the fields were neat, and the bushes stood in their rows like soldiers on parade. I knocked on the door with my fist, and stood back.

With a scraping sound the door opened slowly, and a man’s voice called out. “What you want? I’m resting”. I couldn’t see anyone, and felt awkward speaking into the gap. I told him I was there to see about the job, and mentioned the sign on the road. With that, the door opened all the way, revealing an elderly man in filthy blue overalls. He looked me up and down, with no effort to introduce himself, or excuse his rudeness.

“Well you look young and strong. I need help with the blackcurrant bushes. Weeding, watering, and such. Then harvesting when they’re ready. And some help around the farm fixing up buildings and such. You get lodging and food, but no pay until the crop is sold. How would that suit you?” He was certainly blunt, and had offered me the job with no formal interview, and not even a single question about my situation. When I didn’t reply, he carried on. “You would have to bring your own bedding and such, but there’s the first floor, you can have that for yourself. No hours as such, and we work until the work’s done. Yes or no?”

Smiling inside at how many times he could say the word ‘such’, and how an old-fashioned shabby looking man like him still managed to run a fruit business in the modern world, I had already decided. The remoteness of the location appealed to me, and I told him I would take the job, returning in two days after I had gathered my things, and made arrangements. I extended a hand to shake on the agreement, but he was already closing the door as he spoke.

“Take down the sign on your way out”.

The next day, I packed some clothes, towels, and bedding before telephoning Mr Dean to inform him I would be away for some time. He assured me that he would see to my house and property while I was gone, and I made him take a note that nobody was to try to enter any of the workshops. The grounds would be maintained, the windows cleaned, and utility bills paid. He sounded happy to hear from me again, no doubt pleased that he would be able to send me a substantial bill for his services at some stage. I also asked him to engage an accountant on my behalf, to show me as being self-employed, for the purposes of tax, and other matters. He could supply most of the information required, and I would provide some evidence of what I was doing, in due course.

From the workshops, I took some good tools that I suspected I would need at the farm, and packed them into a smart toolbox. All my notebooks and video recordings were sealed in a locked box, and placed under the false floor of one of the workshops, next to the large drum containing what was left of Michelle O’Connor. Then I took the sign that I had removed from the road near the farm, and burned it in an incinerator in the garden.

When I got back to the farm the following afternoon, the door opened without me having to knock. Still wearing the same overalls, the man appeared outside, his mood greatly changed. This time he extended a hand and smiled warmly, showing many missing teeth. “I forgot to tell you my name. Edward Cobden, of Cobden’s Fruits. You call me Ted. I used to run this place with my brother before he died, and can’t manage it now, being on my own and such. Come in, and I will show you your rooms”.

My best guess was that he was at least seventy years old, maybe more. As I followed him upstairs, he held his hand against the wall for support, and appeared frail.

I was wondering what he might be afraid of.

The Fear: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 769 words.

It wasn’t long before everyone at work was talking about Shell not turning up that Monday. She hadn’t phoned in sick, so I was told, and she wasn’t replying to messages left on her phone. As she had been so secretive about our date, I had no worry that anyone would associate me with her, so just got on with my job. Adam stepped up to replace her as Team Leader until she came back.

By Wednesday, another Team Leader had called at her house, reporting back that there was no answer to repeated knocking. That afternoon, the depot manager phoned the police with his concerns, and they took a missing person report over the phone, advising him that they would investigate. It took over a eeek for the rest of the news to filter down to me, through Adam gossiping. Shell’s phone had been traced to inside her house, and her car was found parked in the next side street. Concerned police officers had forced entry using a locksmith, but found nothing to give them much concern. There was no trace of a handbag or purse, the house was clean and tidy with no evidence of a struggle, or break-in. They concluded that she must have gone to visit a friend or relative, and not bothered to tell her employer. It was even suggested that she might have run off with a lover.

The fact that this was abnormal behaviour for her didn’t seem to impress them.

Of course, I had to look surprised and concerned, every time a snippet of what was going on was told to me. I think I did very well, considering that I knew her handbag was under the metal drum full of acid containing her dissolved body, and that was stored in the false floor of my second workshop.

Some ten days later, there was a short appeal on the local news for anyone with information about her disappearance. She had not visited her mother in the care home, and she had also not used her bank card or credit card. There was no CCTV evidence of her moving around the town on the night of her disappearance, or since, and she had not boarded a bus or train. They were finally treating the case as suspicious, with no leads to follow. The next morning, two officers arrived at the depot to take statements.

They got to me after the first break, and I was allowed the time away from picking to talk to them. From the start, I could tell they were not that interested in me, and they asked me a lot of questions about Eddie, one of the delivery drivers who had apparently once been Shell’s boyfriend. That was easy, as I didn’t know him, and had never met him. The female detective smiled at me quite sweetly as she told me I could go.

If I was to continue my experiments, I couldn’t stay working there of course. Another person going missing would be too much of a coincidence. But I had to bide my time, as my sudden resignation while they were still looking for Shell might have been noticed. For four months, I turned up for work every day as usual, and one day I was told to report to the office of the manager. Momentarily, it crossed my mind that the police were going to be waiting there, ready to arrest me and haul me off in handcuffs. But I knew better, so was unconcerned as I entered after knocking.

Far from any prospect of arrest, I was actually offered Shell’s job as Team Leader, to my obvious surprise. I thanked him politely, suggested I wasn’t ready for the responsibility, then mentioned that I was thinking of leaving anyway. That caused him to change his manner completely. He said that I might as well give notice officially, and leave at the end of the day. He didn’t want anyone working there who was thinking of quitting.

Perhaps I should have told him that most of the staff were doing exactly that. But I left him in ignorance.

That weekend, I took a rare trip to the coast, just to walk along the beach and have a change of scene. Something my father had never allowed when I was young. Driving back through a country district almost sixty miles from home, I spotted a large hand-written sign at the entrance to a track.

I stopped the car, reversed back a short distance, and turned left up the rutted path next to the sign.

The Fear: Part Ten

This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 840 words.

Experiment One: Part three.
Subject: Michelle O’Connor.
Age: 44.
Gender: Female.

Shell screamed as the long needle went into the side of her right buttock. I was using one of the circular holes running along the side of the container, which gave me access without having to open the lid. The sight of the syringe and needle had made her very scared, but not as much as I had thought it might. So I decided to insert the needle itself, and watch her reaction. Despite her yelling, and begging me to take it out, she did not pass out from fright, and she certainly did not die of it either.

Leaving the first needle in place, I chose a smaller, conventional combination, holding it over her face so she could see it. That only brought on more head-shaking, and further pleas for me to desist.

By the time there were six more needles placed into various parts of her body, she was no longer shouting or screaming. I hurriedly made some notes, interested that continued exposure to her greatest fear seemed to have removed that fear by familiarity. I gave Shell more water, and offered a sandwich up to her mouth, so she could eat. But she clamped her jaws shut, and shook her head, refusing the food. Turning off the cameras, I left that area, and went into my newly-constructed office along the corridor, to review the film footage on a computer screen.

One thing was abundantly clear. The fear was not going to make her die. She was not about to expire from panic or shock, and appeared to have learned to tolerate the injections, as well as the needles being left in situ. After spending three hours watching and re-watching every detail of the filmed evidence, I wrote my detailed notes into the book reserved for this first experiment, then decided to return to the house for some lunch.

Feeling surprisingly hungry, I ate four fried eggs with some toast. All the while I was considering my next step. The experiment had failed in its intention, but had been no less interesting for that. Now I had the problem of what to do with Shell, as it was obvious that I couldn’t just let her go. I had a plan in place, and decided I would implement that the following day. For the time being, I would leave Shell where she was, and spend the rest of the day in the house.

Waking up late on Sunday, I didn’t bother to shower, and dressed hurriedly. Shell had been on her own in the container since the previous day, and would surely be thirsty and hungry. I prepared a bottle of water for her, and took some chocolate bars too. As I understood it, most women had a weakness for chocolate.

She was undoubtedly distressed when I arrived, though my appearance in the workshop seemed to calm her down. Perhaps she thought I was just going to leave her there with the various needles in place, until she died of hunger or thirst? Anyway, she actually smiled when she saw me. That smile soon faded when she realised I had not come to release her. As I removed the needles and syringes, she tried to talk to me, but her lips were swollen and cracked, and her voice croaky from screaming. I presumed she must have spent a great deal of time screaming while I was up in the house. No doubt she had some idea that someone would hear her.

Pouring the water into her mouth, I showed her the chocolate bars, and she nodded as she swallowed the cool water. When her thirst was satisfied, I broke off pieces of the creamy chocolate and fed them to her one at a time. When one bar was finished, I checked my watch. No time for more chocolate, as the drug in the water would act in less than ten minutes. I walked to the back of the workshop, and began my preparations.

Father had stored a variety of industrial acids during his years as an inventor, and I had kept them safely hidden away since his death. I had also held on to his protective clothing and mask needed when using such dangerous and caustic chemicals. I knew from my own research that untreated sulphuric acid can dissolve a human body completely, in twenty-four hours. But you had to remember any dental work, fillings, and metal implants. Also prosthetics, like artificial joints. They would not be dissolved, and had to either be removed before immersing the body, or strained out after. Even after there was no trace of the body, microscopic remains would still offer forensic evidence to any investigators.

With the container filled, I wheeled the hoist back to Shell. Deeply unconscious, she had no idea what was happening as I removed her restraints and attached the straps of the hoist around her. I lowered her into the acid head first, and very slowly.

I had to be careful of splashes.