This is all 30 parts of my recent fiction serial, in one complete story.
It is a long read, at 24,060 words.
My first memories are far from happy ones. They are mainly of feeling constantly hungry. Then the faces of babysitters and child-minders, names unknown, or since forgotten.
And from the time I could understand a sentence coherently, I knew I was bad.
I was a killer. I had killed my mother. I knew that because my father told me. He told me at least once a day, sometimes twice. Killing mother wasn’t intentional, you understand. It was just that I was such a big baby, and she was such a tiny woman. After a long and weary labour, I was finally released from her body by means of surgery. That operation should have been routine of course, but she didn’t survive it, despite their best attempts to save her.
Father told me that my weight at birth was record-breaking in the county, at almost twelve pounds. As their colleagues fought in vain to save my mother’s life, the maternity ward nurses crowded around the scales to marvel at my size.
I would never be overweight again, father would see to that.
Under his strict observation, I was fed just enough to keep me alive and growing, not one ounce more. I had killed the only woman he had ever loved, and he would forever hate me for that. I suspected the only reason he didn’t murder me in retaliation for my unintentional crime was in memory of her. Because he did seem to truly love her.
Although I never met Paula, I came to know her well. The house was adorned with photos of her, in every room save the lavatory. Her things still hung in the wardrobe of her dressing room, and her dressing table was as she left it the day she went into hospital to give birth. And I was named Paul, after her. The guilt was all-encompassing, and overwhelmed my childish brain.
My father married late in life, having met Paula on a short-haul flight to Brussels to do a business deal. She was an air hostess, he a wealthy passenger in Business Class. And she was a full twenty years younger than him, a prize catch indeed. She wanted children, he didn’t. He was used to getting his way, but not that time. So I came along, and killed the mother who had loved me for nine months before I appeared. She didn’t even get to see me, as she was still sedated when I was grappled from her womb.
Father would talk about that night in the hospital over dinner, usually as I watched him eat after I had finished the tiny portion of food I was allowed. He talked about it to make me understand why I had killed her, and why I could never be allowed to become fat again.
When he finished the story, no matter how many times he told it, he would point his fork at me, and ask the same question. “Now do you understand, boy?” I would nod that I did, but truthfully had no idea what he was talking about. How could I have known how big I was? What possible reason could an intelligent man have to blame his only child for a medical emergency surrounding a birth? But he did his job well, as no amount of rational explanation could assuage the overwhelming guilt I felt, looking at the photos of Paula as I walked upstairs to bed.
My family was rich. Grandfather, who had died long before I killed my mother, had invented something that revolutionised the car industry. I was never too sure what it was, but it was tiny, and had made him wealthy. Father continued the family tradition of inventing, in his case a computerised machine that operated a bench drill, and did away with the need for a person working that drill. I had no interest in the thing, and only knew what he liked to boast about.
Part of the land backing onto our subtsantial house had been used to build a complex of workshops, and that was where father spent most of his time. He only appeared in the house for meals, prepared by the timid housekeeper, Mrs Foyle. She always seemed terrified, and eager to get out and go home as soon as we had finished eating.
I sensed her fear, that fear of my father.
And I wondered about that fear.
Father did not appear to do anything to cause Mrs Foyle to be so afraid of him. Admittedly, his manner seemed curt, and his interaction with her was businesslike and superior. But to my knowledge, he never shouted at her, threatened her, or intimidated her in any way. He paid her well too, and allowed her time off when required. She didn’t have to concern herself with me, as sitters and minders were employed separately. But despite all that, she was undoubtedly terrified of him. Perhaps she needed the job so badly that she feared losing it? She was a widow, and not well off, by the look of her. She had never once seemed to be afraid of me, despite my facial similarity to father.
For some reason, that upset me. I wanted her to fear me.
I continued to grow slowly, always feeling rather weak and tired from lack of nourishment. My performance at school suffered as a result of course, but my poor school reports were never a matter of concern to my father. However, I grew something inside, a burning resentment of father’s poor treatment of me that became a quiet hatred as I passed into my teens. Sports and games at school were beyond my capability, and that was eventually noticed by the authorities. Letters were sent, and I was called into father’s study one day. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to engage with anyone at the school about my weight or development. It should always be referred back for him to deal with.
Some years later, I discovered papers revealing that he had paid a doctor friend of his a substantial sum to verify that I had some kind of illness that could not be accurately diagnosed. He referred to it as M.E., and added sufficient scientific mumbo-jumbo to dissuade anyone from investigating further. After that, I was excused any physical activity at school, though I received extra support with my studies, treated as if I was some sort of invalid.
There were no friends in my life. Nobody was allowed to come to the house, and I was banned from visiting anywhere else. Both were pointless anyway, as no other boys at my school showed any desire to befriend me. If anything, they avoided me, presumably thinking that they could catch whatever it was I was supposed to have. Sometimes when I got too close to someone, I could sense a moment of fear as they thought I might touch against them. They didn’t exactly fear me, but feared what I might have.
That was a good thing. I enjoyed seeing their fear.
The only social life I had known was the company of those minders and babysitters when I was young. But they mostly watched television, earning their money easly, and leaving me to read a book, or play with some of my few toys. One of the kinder young women remarked to me that I never cried. She asked me why I didn’t, and I had to admit that I didn’t know. Once I was ten years old, father told me that I no longer needed watching, and I should learn to look after myself.
As a result, I spent most of my time at home sitting alone in my room. It was a good room, it has to be said, probably larger than the flats many people lived in. It had once been two large rooms at the top of the house, and at the insistence of mother Paula, it had been converted into a subtsantial sleeping area and adjoining playroom, ready for my arrival. What had once been a walk-in dressing room had been made into a bathroom before I was born. She had been thinking ahead. So I was self-contained, with the only change over the years the replacement of my cot for a single bed.
I only ever left that room to go down for meals. It was where I felt at home.
There was no TV in my room. I didn’t really like to watch anything, as most shows or films eventually showed families or couples being affectionate, joking, or enjoying activities together. That sort of thing had never been a part of my life, so I chose not to be reminded that it was normal for almost everyone else. I preferred books, non-fiction ones. Other than the compulsory books for school, I didn’t read novels.
They often had happy endings.
Eventually, I did become closer to my father, though only physically, not emotionally. He informed me that I was expected to take over the family business one day, so when I left school that summer, I would be trained by him. University was out of the question anyway, due to my poor academic performance, so being taught how to invent things and continue to run the existing company was my only option.
There was to be no salary of course. I was provided with bed and board, and Mrs Foyle was given money and intructions to buy my clothing and toiletries. But as a concession to my new status, I was given a password and account details so that I could buy books online. The bill would obviously pass through father’s account, but as his finances were managed by an accountant and lawyer, it was unlikely that he would ever check what I purchased.
Just in case, I began by buying some technical books on electronics and computing. I already had a laptop that had been used for school work, and a basic knowledge of how computers worked. I struggled to understand them at first, but constant re-reading helped me to work out many things that had previously been a mystery to me. Once I found out that he definitely was not checking the parcels of books arriving, I started to buy books about things I was actually interested in.
Psychology, phobias, and fear.
The day would begin with me accompanying father to one of the many workshops on the property. Though drab outside, the interiors were bright and spacious; well designed, and packed with anything a modern inventor might need. I wondered why he bothered, as the computerised drill business was booming, apparently. But I wasn’t about to ask him. Once a month, we went by taxi to the factory, twenty miles west. The manager would fawn over my father, and the workers at their benches look down deferentially as we passed. As far as I could tell, he was a decent employer. Fair rates of pay, good conditions, and pension benefits. People liked working at Wilkins Engineering. They just didn’t care too much for the arrival of my stern father on his regular inspections.
Lunch was always taken at midday, though father remained in the workshop while I went back into the house to eat my pathetic repast. Mrs Foyle would take him a tray containing a substantial lunch, avoiding my gaze as she prepared it. From 1 pm, I would continue to be trained by father. That mainly consisted of me being told to watch carefully what he was doing, as I took copious notes in one of the large books he had provided for that purpose.
The same kind as the one I am now using to write this.
Precisely at six, we finished for the day, and went back into the house to eat the meal prepared by Mrs Foyle. Conversation was non-existent, and as soon as I had finished I would go up to my room. At weekends, I was not required to accompany him, though he worked seven days of every week. He suggested I use my free time to study the notes I had been taking. I nodded agreement, but as soon as I was alone, I would open my psychology books, reading avidly late into the night. On Sunday afternoons, I allowed myself some time on the Internet, to discover the society that was progressing well in my absence. It was fascinating what people wrote about themselves for anyone to read. Those who would never dream of leaving their front door open were happy to discuss their deepest secrets with strangers.
It wasn’t long before I joined many of the groups and associations. Using false names and identities, I became popular online in a way I never could have been out in the world. I took photos from the Internet, and used them to represent me. I was hardly going to post an actual photo of the emaciated, pale skinned young man that I really was. I learned how to ‘chat’, something new to me. I picked up colloquialisms and expressions, and how to appear to be flirting with someone when I knew nothing at all about romance or sex.
There had never been any celebration of birthdays or Christmas in the house. After all, my birthday was also the day of mother Paula’s death. And Christmas was just a reminder of how much she had loved that season. However, I was coming up to a significant birthday, according to a telephone conversation I overheard. Standing outside the door of father’s study one morning, waiting to accompany him to the workshop, I heard him talking to the family solicitor, Mr Dean.
“That’s correct, Dean. He will be the only living relative, and will inherit everything. He is twenty-one next month, so time to write him into the will. Get it done”.
That was music to my ears. I could now plan his death.
Naturally, the actual day of my twenty-first passed wthout remark. It was just a normal day in the workshop. As I watched father busy himself with his new project, the idea came to me immediately. That was what I would do, as soon as I had learned enough about the equipment to be able to make an accident look convincing.
There would have to be a decent time delay allowed as well. I wouldn’t want anyone suspecting a coincidence between my coming of age, and father’s death. I was used to a lot of things. Hunger, humility, solitude, and patience. And it would be patience that I relied on for over a year as I carefully studied the new machinery, and father’s habits around it. I also needed a short time window of opportunity, and that came three weeks after my unnoticed and uncelebrated twenty-second birthday.
Father announced that I no longer needed to accompany him on the factory inspections. Everyone knew who I was now, and he wanted me to start work on a new device for a drill that replaced its own bits, by sensing when one was worn out. This involved designing and building a cartridge system not unlike the magazine of an assault rifle, though on a much larger scale. It would remove the need for someone to constantly have to replace the bits in the automatic drilling machines he was still selling all around the world.
Having already practiced assembling the metal box that held the drills, I had it done very quickly. I only needed one more hour to work on sabotaging his latest project, and knew he would not be back for at least three. As I studied the circuits of the computer-controlled device, I reflected that I was glad that I had spent so much time alone reading about electrical engineering. It had served me well.
On his return, he wanted to inspect my work on the drill-holder. His expression inscrutable, he made no complaint, but I knew he would have to find some reason to make me reassemble it. And of course he did. I worked quickly, suppressing a smile. My plan was set, and tomorrow would be the day I would free myself of this man.
That day started like any other. I ate a meagre breakfast as I watched him devour three sausages, two eggs, and four slices of bacon. Mrs Foyle hovered in the utility room, waiting to start her cleaning regime as soon as we had eaten. Once in the workshop, father directed me to continue working on the small part that would attach the new holder to the existing drilling machines, and he wandered over to his latest project, taking measurements, and nodding with satisfaction.
He was constructing the prototype of an automatic circular saw, fitted in a portable bench. The computer that controlled the machine had been reduced to the size of a mobile phone, and enabled anyone to use the saw with no training. The simple icons were self-explanatory, and the saw itself was full of innovations. It knew when to stop cutting, as a safety measure, and to save electricity. It self-adjusted the speed of the large spinning saw blade, depending on the thickness of the wood, and a photo electric cell immediately cut off the power if anything other than the wood in contact with the blade crossed the beam.
Undeniably, father had almost finished inventing a useful saw that would be a boon for the retail domestic market, as its safety features were second to none. It would also be very affordable, portable, and could use any blade currently sold.
An hour later, he was running another test. I walked over, feigning interest as he watched the blade sawing through different lengths and thicknesses of wood. But when he tested the safety beam to shut off the power, it didn’t work. Becoming increasingly annoyed, he waved his hand back and forth through where the beam should operate, frowning as it quite obviously was not going to shut off the still spinning saw blade.
Back then, I was not very strong of course. Much lighter than father, and a full two inches shorter. But surprise is a useful weapon, and the one I employed that day.
As he peered onto the place where the beam should be working, I grabbed the collar of his warehouse coat and pushed him violently to his right side. He wasn’t expecting it, so had no time to even shout or resist before the jagged blade made contact with his neck. Even though I arched my back, jets of blood and ragged lumps of sticky flesh still hit my face and neck, as well as covering my hands and arms.
It would not have been realistic to allow the saw to sever his head completely, as much as I would have enjoyed watching it roll onto the bench.
When he had stopped making the strange gargling noise, I pulled him back off the saw, and let his twitching body drop to the floor. There was a huge hole in his neck running from under his right ear, all the way to the left side of his chin. Blood was still pouring from it, and I could clearly see his jawbone through the opening.
I stood and watched for a moment, until he was no longer moving
Mrs Foyle took one look at me as I ran through the back door and dropped the bucket of soapy water she was holding. Her mouth wide open, she crossed herself, muttering something unintelligible. Pushing past her, I went to the telephone extension on the kitchen wall. I rang 999, asked for an ambulance, and ignored the barrage of questions from the call-taker. I said there had been a terrible accident, gave the address, and told her I would wait outside.
It took a long time before a motorcyle paramedic turned up to find me waving frantically at the end of the driveway. Looking at the state I was in, he presumed at first that I was the victim, then huffed and puffed behind me carrying his heavy equipment as I showed him where my father’s body was located at the rear of the property. An experienced man, he took one look, and immediately decided he could do nothing. Then he reached for his portable radio and put in a request for the police to attend, before suggesting we should wait outside.
My role of being a shocked and distressed son had been as carefully planned as the deed itself, and I gave a very convincing performance of acting confused and terrified. For the next few hours, the industry of death meshed its gears around me, as technicians and detectives joined the two police officers who had originally attended. Statements were taken from myself and Mrs Foyle, some background established, and with my permission, a rudimentary search of the workshops was carried out. When father’s body was eventually removed into a black unmarked van, it was close to Mrs Foyles regular time to leave.
Findng her with her coat already in her hand, I requested that she cook me two rump steaks, medium rare, along with four fried eggs. I was going for a shower and would be down to eat the meal before she left. Finally clean, and wearing a dressing gown, I told her she could go home as I began to slowly eat the meal. I intended to relish every mouthful, and was not about to spoil the experience by gulping it down. After I had eaten, I sat and made a list of everything I would need to do after the Coroner’s Inquest.
1) Sell the company.
2) Sell the equipment in the workshops and convert them.
3) Give Mrs Foyle notice, and pay her off.
4) Learn to drive.
5) Become fit and strong.
6) Get a job.
7) Continue my studies.
8) Learn to swim.
9) Get a passport.
Number six might seem strange, given that I would inherit the company, the house, and a lot of money. But I wanted to be around people, and get to know how to behave in society. It seemed to me that a menial job of some sort would be ideal for this. My explanation for number three was that I did not want nor need to have a nosey housekeeper around. I could learn to cook and clean, I was sure of that. As for number ten, I had never been anywhere except this house, my school, and the factory where the drills were assembled. Once I was fit, and had worked out my routine, I thought foreign travel would be the perfect thing.
A detective came to the house to tell me that it seemed likely the cause of death would be confirmed as an industrial accident, but it would all take time to be official. He was very sympathetic, it has to be said. Meanwhile, I told Mrs Foyle that she was no longer required, and arranged with the company to pay her salary until the end of the year, by way of compensation. She gave no argument, and asked for no reason. It seemed to me that she was pleased to go.
As she left that afternoon, she handed me the house keys, and the spare money from her housekeeping box. There were no fond farewells, no parting gift or speech. Halfway along the drive, she turned and stared at me as I stood in the doorway. She looked at me in the same way she always looked at father. I closed the door and stood with my back against it, grinning.
Now she was afraid of me.
Three years is a long time when you have not had much of a life. But I saw it as an investment. Three long years to learn, build, develop, and study. Three years to allow people to forget Andrew Wilkins, and his accidental death in a workshop at his home. Three years to learn how to be alive, and explore the possibilities of that life.
The first year, I waited deliberately; acting bereaved, confused, and in need of support. I got that from Mr Dean, the family lawyer, after he told me my father’s death had been ruled accidental, and I would inherit everything. I asked him to arrange the funeral, a quiet cremation. Naturally, I was too upset to attend, so father left this world in the presence of the staff from the undertaker’s, the officiating clergyman, and the manager of his factory. Dean told me that there was so much money, I would never want for anything. When I saw the figures, I knew he was telling the truth.
So I waited that full year, before asking him to arrange the sale of the factory as a going concern, knowing that our biggest competitor would be keen to acquire it, if only to close it down. I learned to drive by paying for an intensive course, and applied for a passport by visiting the local post office and filling out some forms. There was no need for me to own a luxury car, so I bought a small commercial vehicle that would appear innocuous to anyone passing.
Year two saw me clearing out the workshops, using a local company to sell off most of the equipment. The things I wanted to keep, I stored in the smaller one, as I got busy converting one of the others into a home gym. Shopping online worked well for me, and I maintained my high-protein diet carefully, to ensure I could build muscle, and start to look like someone my age should, if they had led a healthy life. I paid for swimming lessons in a private pool, using the new-found skill to increase my strength further. And through it all, I continued to study the things I was interested in.
I even purchased a new television, so I could learn about what the people around me were watching. Most of it was appallingly inane, but I took notes, and studied the popularity of the shows that were supposedly all the rage. I stopped keeping up with the social media groups I had once belonged to, and they soon forgot about me.
Once I no longer looked like the Paul Wilkins I remembered, I kept up with my exercise regime, and sensible eating. I certainly didn’t want to become one of those musclebound stereotypes. I wanted to look as normal as possible, not stand out. Then year three was occupied with my own building projects, converting the largest workshop into the laboratory I had carefully designed using some of father’s graph paper. In some way, I followed in his footsteps, working long into the night, seven days a week. What I didn’t know how to do, I learned by reading how to do it, and by trial and error.
The day after my twenty-fifth birthday, I was ready.
Mister Dean was still the family lawyer, though we had little contact. I telephoned him and asked him to supply me a reference, stating that I was of good character, and had previously been employed in the family business as assistant to my father. If he was confused as to why I wanted it, he didn’t say. I already had a National Insurance card, discovered during an extensive search of my father’s study, though my employment and tax history had been dealt with by the company accountant. I had to presume that they had kept records, and started to look for a real job.
One of the huge online goods suppliers had opened a distribution warehouse some ten miles north of the town, at the junction of two major roads. Watching the local news on TV, there had been a report about them soon becoming the largest employer locally, so I applied for a job there. It was a simple job, picking and sorting deliveries. There was no fixed contract, and the wages were just the national minimum. I was asked how many hours I wanted to work, which suited me. I chose a four day week, from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon.
That left me three days a week and every evening to do anything else I wanted.
Most people know about phobias. Common fears include spiders, snakes, heights, even flying in aircraft. Some brush them off, by saying things like “I don’t like spiders”. But for a few, the sight of a single spider can leave them paralysed with fear. One person might be afraid of a snake, and transfixed by terror. Another equally terrified of the snake can yet muster the courage to kill the serpent. Knowing the difference was the main object of my study.
Then there are the lesser-known, but equally powerful fears. Hemophobia is a morbid fear of blood. It might make someone unwell, but is unlikely to induce the sort of fear that can cause their death. Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns, something exploited by films in the horror genre. In the right circumstances, that can induce real terror in the sufferer. I included fear of dolls and puppets in that category, especially that rare fear of a ventriloquist’s dummy. It was obvious that all four had something to do with the faces. A very serious fear was claustrophobia, whether involving the ancient terror of being buried alive, or simply being confined in a small dark space.
That one was of special interest to me.
Being out in the world at work felt as if I had been dropped inside a madhouse. The noise, the people, the vast spaces inside the warehouse, and everything appearing to move at breakneck speed, I thought it might be impossible for me to endure. I learned to pretend though. I became a very good actor. After the shortest of training sessions, I was assigned to a team. We had to literally run around pushing a huge cart, using an electronic barcode device to register items listed on computer screens attached to the cart as we loaded them in. Then we rushed to the packing benches to unload, where another line of people began to wrap them up, and place them inside cardboard boxes.
Just to receive our hourly rate, we had to pick a set amount of items in a given time. Failure to do so resulted in a warning, and after two warnings, most were dismissed. There was no shortage of unemployed townsfolk waiting to take the job. The young man who trained me was called Adam, and the leader of our team was a woman named Shell. When I said I had never heard of that name before, they both laughed, and told me it was short for Michelle. During the whole shift, we were given just two breaks of twenty-five minutes each, and if we had to use the toilets in between, it was frowned upon.
Most of my colleagues were unhappy with the job, and constantly dreamed of the time they could leave to do something else. I didn’t mind it at all. Though it was physically demanding, I was fit enough, and I was rather fascinated to see the vast array of items that people were buying online. Once I got used to the noise and the number of people, I settled down, strangely feeling that I was part of something real, at long last.
It took a while for me to notice that Shell seemed to like me. According to Adam, she liked me a lot. He winked at me, warning that she was known for having a roving eye, and that in his opinion she would eat me alive, given the chance. It had never occured to me that I might be attractive to anyone, let alone this popular divorcee. And though I had no experience of carnal pleasures, or any desire to experience any, I knew what he meant when he said she would ‘eat me alive’.
After I had been there for a month, Shell came to talk to me one morning before we started the shift. The depot manager had noticed that I had a driving licence, and asked her to find out if I wanted to drive one of the delivery vans, instead of being a picker. She looked worried, and I immediately realised that she was afraid I would say yes. I shrugged, and told her I was happy being on her team as a picker, and she should tell the manager that I didn’t want to be a delivery driver. Looking around quickly, she reached up and stroked my face, her mouth opening up in a huge smile as she spoke.
Experiment One. Part One.
Subject: Michelle O’Connor.
At work one day, I heard Shell on the phone to Emma. It seemed that Emma had fallen off of her bicycle on the way in, and had to go for treatment on cuts to her leg. Michelle was not pleased that Emma would not be coming into work, but was sympathetic about what might happen at the hospital. “Oh no, not stitches? That means lots of pain-killing injections, and a big Tetanus jab in the bum after. Ugh, needles make me shudder, I’m terrified of them. One of the reasons why I never had kids, I’m sure”.
Without even having to resort to subterfuge, I had discovered Shell’s weakness. She had a morbid fear of hypodermic needles that was sufficient for her to forego childbirth to avoid them. I doubt she knew the name of that phobia, but I did. Trypanophobia. It was so extreme in some sufferers, that they deliberately refused medical treatment involving those needles. No doubt some may well have died of self-neglect, rather that tolerate being injected.
It was very easy to become closer to Shell, knowing already that she found me attractive. I smiled at her a bit more, came back early from my breaks to appear keen to be around her, and one day I noticed that her hair was shorter, so said that it suited her. Not long after that, she passed me a note instructing me to meet her in the rest room after the shift, for a performance appraisal. She asked the two other people there to leave and give us some privacy, and immediately cut to the chase. There was no performance appraisal of course, and instead she suggested that we might go out on a date. “I know I’m a lot older than you, but I think I look good for my age, so what do you say, Paul?”
She was nothing if not confident.
I said what she wanted to hear. I liked her, didn’t care about the age difference, and would be happy to collect her at her house and take her out at the weekend. I lied about my own circumstances, telling her I only lived in a rented room in a big house, and my accommodation was embarrassingly poor. She wrote her address down on a napkin, and said to pick her up at seven on Saturday. As I left she spoke quietly. “It has to be our secret though, honey. After all, I am your team leader, and I don’t want anyone to know I am seeing you outside of work”.
That suited me perfectly.
Parking my car in a side street nearby, I walked to her house as it was getting dark. A busy road, with lots of cars on it, but few people. Nobody noticed me in my dark raincoat, I was sure of that. I had brought along a screw-top bottle of wine, carefully resealed on one of the work benches before I left. After she invited me in, I suggested a drink before we left to go to the Chinese restaurant that she had recommended. Opening the top of the bottle in front of her, I almost filled her glass, pouring myself little more than a mouthful. As I was driving, that was a good enough excuse. The strong red wine contained enough sleeping tablets to knock down a bull, but she didn’t notice the finely-ground powder as she quaffed it down.
During the time I had been pretending to be depressed and upset about father’s death, the family doctor had gven me a lot of medication quite happily. Sleeping tablets, sedatives, even drugs to control depression. I hadn’t taken any of course, saving them all up for other uses.
As she seemed to be in no rush to go out, I topped up Shell’s glass, and engaged her in innocent conversation about her background. Divorced for over ten years, she had no siblings, and her elderly mother was resident in a care home some distance away. She told me she had once wanted to be a teacher, but hadn’t done well enough at school. When I saw her grab the arm of the sofa to support herself, I guessed my concotion was working.
She excused herself and went up to the bathroom, obviously wondering what was wrong with her. I waited long enough to appear respectful, then went up to find her collapsed and unconscious on the small bathroom floor, breathing loudly.
As I had no intention of getting my car and moving her until everyone was at home with their curtains closed, I went back downstairs and made a few notes in a small notebook. After that, I boiled a kettle, and washed out the wine bottle and glasses, placing them inside one of the kitchen cupboards.
Checking my watch, I decided to wait for one more hour.
Experiment One: Part two.
Subject: Michelle O’Connor.
Healthy eating and exercise meant I was sufficiently strong to be able to carry Shell downstairs easily. I took her handbag, coat and shoes, leaving her mobile phone connected to its charger in the kitchen. My small van had a folded duvet placed in the back ready, and I reversed it up the short driveway, close to her house. Wrapping her in the duvet, I placed her still unconscious onto the floor of the vehicle, then locked her front door after turning out the lights. The route back to my house had been chosen carefully, avoiding main roads with traffic cameras and speed traps. I drove carefully, giving no passing police cars any reason to stop me.
The container I placed her in was not unlike an incubator, except that it was adult size of course. A circular hole at the bottom would enable any human waste to be collected easily, and strong manacles would secure wrists and ankles. The lid could be locked in place if necessary, and two video cameras would record every reaction. Shell had to be naked of course, but the workshop was heated and air-conditioned, so clothing was not necessary. The reinforced perspex could not be easily damaged by anyone inside it, even if they were able to get free.
As I fastened the metal restraints, her naked female body obviously got my attention, as it was the first I had ever seen. But it did not arouse me in the least, and my only interest in it was clinical. When she was secure, I went to the back of the workshop to find the box I had prepared earlier.
Father has collected syringes of all shapes and sizes over decades of experimentation and invention. He used them for injecting lubricant into tiny gaps, or inserted them through spaces to be able to apply fine oils to complex parts. My intention was to use clean new ones, which I had found in abundance when clearing out his workshops. But I had kept the old ones too, in anticipation of just this situation arising. While Shell was still deeply unconscious, I scattered some around her, and on her body too.
It would be interesting to see the effect of them when she woke up. She would be unlikely to rouse for some hours, so I unfolded a camp-bed next to one of the benches, and got some sleep.
Her screaming seemed to be in my dream, and it took some time to realise it was actually happening. I wasn’t concerned of course, as the extra insulation I had built in not only kept the workshop much warmer, it served to deaden any sound too. Rolling off the camp-bed, I went and set the cameras to record, ignoring Shell’s hysterical babbling. Then I opened a notebook and began to jot down my observations.
She soon seemed to work out that struggling against the restraints was pointless. Instead, she tried to appeal to my better nature, asking to be freed, why I was doing this to her, and vowing to never tell anyone what had happened if I would only let her go. My refusal to engage with her in any way apparently made her angry too, and it was some time before the tirade of swearing and personal abuse subsided. Shell then resorted to offering me sexual favours in return for her release. All manner of strangely perverted sex acts were discussed in detail, with her assurance that I would find her both willing and enthusiastic.
I was careful to note those down, so I could look them up later.
When she finally stopped talking, I brought a bottle of water, and poured some into her mouth. She gulped it down greedily, dried out by the drug I had given her, and more than thirty minutes of screaming and chattering. There was a very interesting expression on her face as she watched me writing calmly. That caused me to change the lens setting on the camera above her head, zooming in to record the upper half of her face, including her eyes. I wanted a record of what I was seeing, so I could study it at leisure.
Thinking what to write down about my impression of this, I settled on the correct two words.
Once the notes on her awakening were complete, I opened the box of new syringes and needles, choosing a suitably impressive 60 mm syringe, and attaching a large hypodermic needle, similar to the ones used for lumbar punctures.
As she saw me approach with it, Shell didn’t even scream. She just shook her head from side to side, the tears streaming down her face.
Experiment One: Part three.
Subject: Michelle O’Connor.
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.
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.
HELP WANTED. LIVE-IN.
I stopped the car, reversed back a short distance, and turned left up the rutted path next to the sign.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before I bothered to deal with Danielle, I had to make sure the animals were okay. I opened the back gate at the end of the large garden, leading onto the field beyond. Then I filled all the food and water containers, before opening all the cages and sheds containing every animal. For those kept inside, like the cats and hedgehogs, I left the back door wide open, and emptied the surplus food onto the lawn. At least they could all make their escape, if they chose to do so.
Danielle was short, but she was heavy. It took some effort to carry her out to my van, and roll her onto the duvet stored in the back. Once she was on her side, and covered by the quilt, I went back to retrieve her handbag and mobile phone. I wanted the outside world to believe that it had all become too much for her, and she had just freed all the animals, then left. I didn’t even bother to lock the front door with her keys, just closed it behind me.
Guessing that she would be asleep for up to twelve hours, I had plenty of time to get some rest before arranging things. I undressed her and put her into the same container that had stored Shell, before going up to the house to get some sleep. I set an alarm for six in the morning, which I was sure would leave me sufficient time. Danielle had been a tight fit in my container. Despite her short stature, the amount of fat on her sides and legs had necessitated stuffing some of her flab tight against the reinforced perspex. I was hot and tired by the time I got up to the house, so had a shower before bed.
The next morning, I was up before first light to check on Danielle. She was still sleeping soundly, so I attached my recent purchase of a blood pressure monitor that also gave an indication of her pulse rate. Then I went to collect my insect and arachnid menagerie from the heated storage. I opened the main lid of Danielle’s container, and carefully placed some of the larger creatures inside using tongs. Then with the lid half closed, I added the numerous crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts before quickly securing the lid in case some escaped. Increasing the heat and humidity inside the container, I watched as the various different creepy-crawlies walked around her unconscious body, finding places for themselves in the crowded space.
Some of them began to fight, others were obviously eating each other. The full horror and carnage of the insect world was being played out before my eyes, and I switched on the cameras, sure that Danielle would soon be awake. My notes were compiled in a fenzied manner, completing a full page in moments. Even though I knew I could review the video footage later, I was keen to write things down as I saw them happening. As she still appeared to be deeply asleep, I placed the scorpions into some perspex boxes, and put them on top of the container, just above her face.
With her seemingly unable to be roused, I went to deal with the dilemma of an acid container. It was plain to see that the one I had used for Shell would not be big enough, so I took up my welding torch, and began to fashion one suitably large enough from three metal plates in the corner. It had to be completely watertight of course, as I would not have wanted the acid to leak later on. The one I was constructing would then need to rest for at least one hour before use, to harden.
I was sure that I would have that time to observe Danielle, and more besides.
Once my construction was satisfactory, I used a wheeled dolly to get it into position under the tank full of acid. Sure it was reliably seated, I went back to watch Danielle wake up. She was still snoring, and I had an idea that I might have to physically wake her. But my access portholes were closed tight, to stop all the invertebrates from escaping. I sat back and made some notes, so this problem would not happen in future experiments. Then a rattling sound from the container attracted my attention.
Danielle had woken up and was pushing against the sides, as best as he could, She was making no sound though, so I looked over at the view inside.
The giant hissing cockroach was completely covering her mouth.
Experiment Two: Part One.
Subject: Danielle Goldman.
Her eyes were so wide open and bulging, I thought the eyeballs might burst. The blood pressure and pulse rate monitor attached to her showed both were above normal, especially her pulse. When the hissing cockroach finally crawled off her mouth, she began screaming. No words, and no pleas for help, just constant screaming, at a volume I hadn’t thought possible from a human voice. Then she spotted the black scorpions scuttling around in their clear containers abover her face, and for a moment, I thought she might stop breathing.
The creatures inside with her didn’t appear to react to the noise at all, which interested me greatly. But when a giant millipede began to crawl across her breasts, Danielle lost control of her bladder into the container below. Although she could clearly see me by turning her eyes to her right, she made no appeal to me, and did not use my name. It was as if she had always known this might happen, though of course I knew that wasn’t possible.
Some of the bugs that could fly began to do just that. Crickets and Locusts started to try to escape the attention of some of the more voracious predators in Danielle’s container, and most settled around the top section, in her hair. This caused the Mantises and Spiders seeking prey to start to crawl up her legs in the direction of her head, and with that, her screams began in earnest. I had to step back a few paces, to protect my hearing. Even confined in the container, the sound was incredible.
Rumbling in my stomach suggested it was time I had something to eat. Leaving the cameras running, I went back up to the house and made a toasted cheese sandwich. As I ate, I pondered her reaction. Definite fear, bordering on terror. This might be the most successful of my three experiments so far, considering Ted had stopped his short accidentally.
Back in the workshop, I could see that Danielle was almost able to move her container by the actions of her body inside it. I immediately noted that, deciding that I would have to make some kind of frame to secure the container on its stand. Her pulse rate was approaching 200, and I guessed she would be unable to maintain that, together with a blood pressure of 190 over 100 for too long, before some damage was done.
Perhaps fear could kill after all?
Opening one of the ports carefully, so as not to let anything escape, I offered some water in a plastic bottle. She shook her head violently, no doubt fearing more drugs in the fluid. A piercing scream shook me away from my note-taking, and I stood up to see that a Praying Mantis was on her left cheek, eating a live cricket. It was so close to her left eye, it was all she could see. Then when a red-kneed Tarantula settled on her right collar bone, she passed out.
I knew she wasn’t dead, as the monitor continued to show her pulse and blood pressure. But the arrival of the arachnid had obviously been too much. Her troubled brain had shut down, and she was deeply asleep. Excited by the first day of the experiment, I retired into the computer room to review the film footage.
Danielle was proving to be an excellent subject for my studies.
Leaving her overnight was the next step. I left all the lights on, as I didn’t want her not to be able to see her tormentors. Before I retired to bed, I offered some water, and food in the form of a cake and nut bar. But she shook her head, no doubt unable to think of food at such a time in her life. She had still not said my name, or requested that I remove the creatures, ceasing her torment. I concluded that she knew her fate, and welcomed it as a release from her terror.
Sleep was hard to come by for me that time. I was busy taking extra notes, and drawing some conclusions based on the video evidence I had spent so long watching.
This time, I was absolutely sure that fear could kill.
Experiment Two: Part Two
Subject: Danielle Goldman.
Having set an alarm to wake me, I was up early, keen to check on Danielle and review the camera footage from the overnight recording. My initial observation was that none of the creatures inside her container appeared to have harmed her in any way. During the night, they had congregated by species in distinct areas, with only the single creatures and spiders choosing to rest alone in the corners. The monitor attached to her arm showed she was not doing very well. Her pulse rate was dangerously low, and the blood pressure hardly registering. Whatever terrors she had experienced as I slept had taken their toll, and she was barely conscious.
Using a long spout attached to a bottle of water, I tried to force some into her mouth, sure she must be incredibly thirsty by now. But she clenched her jaw, and moved her head to one side, her eyes firmly closed. I thought I might need to stimulate the insects into activity, so I increased the heat setting inside the container, and threw in some vegetable matter that they might feed on. Within moments, the plant-eaters were scurrying around, keen to eat, and the predatory creatures attacked them, attracted by the movement.
Despite the veritable hive of activity happening on and around her body, Danielle did not stir. I was beginning to wonder if anyone can become used to their greatest fear if exposed for long enough, when the alarm sounded on the monitor. I walked over and muted the high-pitched sound, noting that the pulse and blood presure were no longer registering, and the numbers had gone, replaced by a flashing red warning.
After waiting a few moments with my notebook poised, I concluded that Danielle had just died, and wrote down the time.
Reviewing the video footage took a long time. For most of the night she could be seen wriggling around as best as she could, trying to dissuade the insects from settling on her face and head. But by five-fifteen, she was undoubtedly exhausted, and seemed to be deeply asleep. By contrast, her companions in the container were active for most of the time, before settling into their chosen spots by six fity-eight, not long before I arrived in the workshop.
It was midday before I had finished, and I decided to go back to the house for lunch before the task of clearing away the experiment began. I was distracted as I ate, very excited by the prospect that my second experiment was successful, in that it might well have proved that someone could indeed die of fright, given the right set of circumstances.
When I had dressed in the protective clothing, I went to the container and removed the cuff and monitor lead from Danielle’s arm. Then I sealed the access ports tight, before attaching the nozzle of a compressor to the underside. With that in place, I connected the hose to an extraction pump, and turned it on. Though very noisy, it would suck all the air out of the container in a very short time, killing all the creatures inside without me having to resort to using insecticide or other means to dispose of them.
When nothing inside was moving in the newly-created vacuum, I unlocked the lid and opened the container. It took some time for me to go and retrieve the drum of acid containing what was left of Shell, but I could see no point in using up any more of my supply. Using the hoist and chains, I poured that into the larger box I had built the previous day, and allowed it to settle as I swept out the insects using a dustpan and brush. After filling a large plastic box with the dead creatures, I added the boxes containing the scorpions, and dropped the whole thing into the acid. That bubbled away nicely as I began to attach some hoist straps to Danielle’s body.
The creaking sound given off by the straps as the body was lifted out of the container gave me cause for concern. It seemed that her weight was close to the maximum that the hoist would bear. Once her body was lowered into the new tank, I went and made some notes and calculations. I would need a stronger hoist, I was sure of that.
There was not much more I could do that day, as I now had to allow a full twenty-four hours or more for Danielle to dissolve before I could pour her back into the drum and return it to its concealed place. So I changed out of the protective clothing, and went back into the house, satisfied with my work.
Something nice for dinner would be in order. I decided to drive into town and buy some Chinese food to bring home.
I might even try chili prawns.
Emptying the new container back into the drum was a tricky task, trying to get everything in without spilling the dangerous acid. When it was done, I used the wheeled trolley and small hoist to get the sealed drum back into storage under the floor of the smaller workshop. Before going back up to the house, I cleaned and disinfected the container where I had kept Shell and Danielle, ready for the next experiment.
There was nothing substantial in the house to eat, and I needed to drive to the supermarket for groceries. On the way, I wondered how long I could possibly wait until exploring the next opportunity for an experiment. Of course, writing up my notes and editing the video footage would take some time, and I wanted to be completly certain nobody had associated me with Danielle’s disappearance, and the freeing of the animals from the sanctuary. Back at home as I ate fresh some soup and warm French bread, I searched my mind to try to think if anyone who called at her house might have seen me. Happy that they had not, I still had to consider that she might have told someone about me working there.
I would have to wait for a while, to make sure she hadn’t.
Over the next few weeks, I was certainly tempted at times when it seemed I could easily take advantage of a situation. The man who delivered most of the parcels I ordered online was middle-aged, and small in stature. I felt he might be easy to overcome physically, if I had no chance to drug him. But his vehicle would be tracked, and his deliveries too. It would be so obvious where he had gone missing. Besides, I would have to engage him in a long conversation to discover his secret fear, and that might make him suspicious.
Then there was the woman cashier in the small petrol station where I habitually filled up my van. She made no secret of being attracted to me, and was keen to tell me as much of her life story as possible, in the short time it took to pay for my fuel. She would have been so easy, as she would undoubtedly have willingly met me elsewhere, had I suggested it. But even that humble business had CCTV, covering both the forecourt and the interior of the payment area. Should she go missing, I would become the number one suspect immediately.
Finding a new job and going back to work was definitely necessary. I had to be around a wider selection of other people to be able to pick someone suitable. Casual work seemed to be the best option, and I looked online for employment where there would be few questions asked, and nobody would care too much about my tax and insurance records. But there was nothing that felt safe for me, and the weeks passed, leaving me frustrated.
Taking a trip to the coast one day for a change of scene, I saw a notice attached to a tree in that small town. As I walked along the street, I saw other identical notices stuck on walls, or attached to cardboard hanging from some railings. Cheaply printed, the message was simple. ‘Agricultural Work Available. Cash Paid Weekly. Accomodation Provided.’ Underneath was a mobile phone number, and I entered into my phone contacts before driving home.
The man who answered my call was gruff, and had a heavy foreign accent. He told me that he was recruiting people to work tending crops in greenhouses. All he required from me was the ability to work hard, make no trouble, and be reliable. I would be paid in cash weekly, and static caravans were provided for the workers to stay in. He gave me a postcode for use in a Satnav, and told me to turn up anytime before Friday to be shown around. Checking the location online, I discovered it was almost one hundred miles from my house. The weather was changing, so I packed some warm clothes. The next morning, I telephoned Mr Dean, and told him I would be away for a while. He assured me he would look after the property in my absence.
The greenhouses were nothing at all like I had expected. There were six of them, each the size of a football field. Purpose built on some unattractive land in the middle of nowhere, they looked new, and inside they were very hot. Though I had never been abroad, they felt just as I imagined the tropics to be. The man I had spoken to showed me around. He said his name was Anton, and he looked more like a soldier than a farmer. Although his European accent was strong, he was easy to understand, and used colloquialisms that suggested he had lived here for some time. Behind the greenhouses were rows of unattractive static homes that looked shabby and unloved. He told me that each one held four people, and if I stayed there some rent would be deducted from my pay. I would also be provided with food, as they ate communally after work.
He looked surprised when I accepted the job without even asking the rates of pay, and seemed delighted when I told him I could start as soon as he wanted me to. He gave me a black overall, and said I had to wear my own shoes. I could settle into the accomodation that day, and start work at seven the next morning. There was no Internet access, and any mobile phone signal was erratic in that area. I shrugged at that, as it didn’t concern me. He produced a notebook from his trouser pocket, and asked my name so he could add me to his gang list. I told him my name was Richard Turpin, fairly certain he wouldn’t know the name of a famous historical highwayman. He smiled.
“I call you Ricky, okay?”
The old mobile homes had been stripped out inside, leaving room for two mattresses in the front section, and two more at the back, behind a sliding door. The small kitchen area had just enough utensils for four people, and the tiny toilet cubicle also had an overhead shower that ran away through a drain in the floor. Basic wasn’t enough to descibe the dismal interior, with dirty curtains that didn’t fully close, and one small electric fan heater in each of the sleeping areas. No table to eat at, and no television or radio. I wondered how long I could stand this place being my home. There were some things piled in the far corner, and the crumpled bedding suggested one person was already living there.
My van was parked out of sight of the complex, and I had brought along a rucksack containing my clothes, not wanting anyone to know I had access to a vehicle. I took some cans of soft drink from that, and opened the miniature fridge to find it empty. Thinking better of putting my cans into the dirty fridge, I opened one and drank it, putting the rest back. Trying to kill some time, I walked around a bit, but there was little to see. At the rear of the first greenhouse, I discovered two very smart motor-homes, which I guessed where were Anton and his fellow gangers lived. I got back into my dingy slum to find a young man sitting on a mattress next to the stuff in the corner. He was eating something from a large plastic container, and spoke to me with his mouth full.
“Yours is over there. You Ricky, Yes? My name is Roman, I speak good English. You English? Nobody English work here but you”. I turned to where he had indicated I could find my meal, and picked up the container, which felt microwave hot. Taking a spoon from the small drawer, I opened the lid, and looked at the contents. It was a red-looking stew of sorts, with visible chunks of beef and potatoes, all sitting on a big portion of white rice. Roman spoke again. “Eat. Good. Goulash. Nice food.” I took it over and sat next to him, eating slowly as it was so hot. “Just you and me here in this house, Ricky. More come next week, then we be full. Maybe you and me take room with the door? We share, yes?” I nodded as I ate. He looked to be younger than me, maybe only eighteen or nineteen. “I from Poland, Ricky, near Lublin. No work. Where you from?”
I decided to lie, and told him I was from Bristol. “Not london then? I want go London. Lots of Polish there. When I pay back my loan to Anton, I move to London”. When we had finished eating, he took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, offering one to me. I shook my head, and he lit one, blowing smoke all over me. “I have beer, Ricky. You want beer?” I shook my head again and watched as he reached under the pile of clothes and retrieved a can. “Tomorrow, I go get our breakfast and bring it back, okay? Then we have lunch break at job. Start seven-thirty, finish five thirty. Day off Sunday, okay?” It seemed he had been designated to be my mentor for now, so I nodded and smiled.
The evening dragged, to be honest. Roman told me a great deal about his life in eastern Poland, his family, and his decent education. Then we moved his stuff into the closed off bedroom, and I joined him in there with mine. He seemed to want to talk all night, but I was aware that we had to get up early. With no Internet to speak of, the evening was dull, and I used what was available on my phone to look up the places he was talking about, and his reminiscences of life in Lublin. At no time did he mention being afraid of anything, despite my occasional prompting by lying about having various phobias.
Then as we started to settle down for the night in our shared room, he rolled over and looked at me.
“Do you like boys like me, Ricky? It’s okay if you do. I like you a lot”.
After thinking about what Roman had said for a moment, I explained to him that I was not at all bothered about sex, whether with other men, or women.
I assured him that I was not offended by his own sexuality, or his offer, and that now we were sharing a room he should know my feelings. He thought that was highly amusing, chuckling away and talking in his own language. As he turned over to settle down to sleep, he called back to me. “You try it sometime, Ricky. Very good, you will see”.
He woke me the next morning, holding a small thermos flask containing coffee that was already sweetened, and a plastic box in which there was a piping hot substantial omelette and two slices of buttered toast. “Eat quick now, Ricky. Work start in twenty minutes”.
There was no time for anything other than a cursory wash, before getting dressed to report to Anton. He assigned us to a group with four others, and told us in English that we would be picking cucumbers in the second greenhouse. I watched my colleagues as they went inside, stripping off any warm or heavy clothing as they entered the humid interior. I followed their example, and Roman gave me a small knife and a bottle of mineral water. “No crooked ones or too small. Only the long straight ones. Fill the box and place it on the trolley in the centre, get another box.”
That seemed to be the extent of my training, and I took my place at one of the rows, opposite a dark-skinned woman who looked like a gypsy. I watched her work for a few minutes and quickly got the idea. It wasn’t as difficult or as frantic as I had expected, but it was mind-numbingly dull. With Roman working across the other side, and the gypsy woman appearing to speak no English, I just got on with the job. Lunch was a bauguette containing something resembling salami, with spicy pickles inside. We ate it leaning against the trolleys in the greenhouse, sweat dripping down our faces from the humidity.
When all the boxes were full, some other workers arrived to wheel them out, and bring fresh empty ones. The gypsy woman looked at me, and startled me by speaking in perfect English. “They take them to the sheds at the back, for the machine that wraps them in plastic.” As we carried on that day, I spoke to the woman, finding out more about her. Her name was Marta, and she was from a city called Craiova in Romania. Despite her appearance, she was well-educated and had once worked as a teacher. But the regime change in 1989 had left her unemployed and unpopular, and she had moved to Britain as an illegal immigrant with no work permit in 1990. Since then, she had drifted around doing casual work all over the country. And she was older than she looked, stating her age to me as ‘over sixty’.
Over the next few days, I spent some time in her company after work, sitting in her static home with the three other Romanian women she shared with, listening to them talk about their hard lives in that country, and how they had hoped for better things in Britain, but were little more than slaves to Anton and his company. They told me that they were charged a lot of money for the food and accomodation, the bottled water, even the overalls they had to wear. On Sundays, Anton would open his ‘shop’ in one of the storage sheds, and allow them to buy things like sweets and cigarettes, toiletries and other essentials. They were not allowed to go into town, and were moved around from job to job in minibuses. All of them owed Anton money, so received no actual pay for the work done, just an allowance against the ever-increasing debt.
Each night when I got back to my room, Roman would laugh. “You been with that old lady girlfriend again, Ricky?”
That Sunday morning, I went with Roman to Anton’s shop. I was surprised to see some new faces, tough-looking older men that appeared to be in charge of Anton. They were arguing with him in a foreign language, and as the queue of workers waited patiently in the cold morning, the argument erupted into a fight, with Anton punching an older man very hard. The man got up off the floor and walked over to a black-painted van, returning with a fierce large dog that was snarling at everyone and pulling hard at the strong chain around its neck. As it got close to Anton, it jumped up, jaws snapping. We all backed away, in case the old man released it.
With his back against the wall of the shed, Anton scrabbled around inside the chest pocket of his coat, and handed over a large wad of money to the man holding the dog. In that moment, I clearly saw the terror on Anton’s face.
And I knew he was afraid of dogs.
When the older men with the dog had left, Anton opened his shop. Calling me over, he checked his notebook. “Okay, Ricky. You good worker, now you get paid. Less your food and rent, the water and clothing, I owe you forty pounds, okay?” He gave me four ten-pound notes, and turned back to his line of cutomers. I had worked for four days, and forty pounds was an insult of course. I said nothing, and put the money in my pocket. When my turn in the queue came, I told him I didn’t want anything from his shop, and he looked angry. “You should buy something. Here, how about vodka? I like vodka, Ricky. You will too. Make you relaxed.” I agreed to buy the half-bottle of vodka at his inflated price of ten pounds, and walked back with Marta to her place.
It wasn’t difficult to get Marta into conversation about Anton. She had worked for him for years, and knew all about him. When I tentatively suggested it might be possible for us to collude in her escape, she jumped at the idea. Taking me into the room at the back, she asked the woman she shared with to give us some privacy. The woman smirked as she left, saying something to Marta in her own language. Marta grinned, and when the woman had left, she leaned in and spoke quietly. “They think we are going to have sex, but don’t worry, I will let them think what they want”.
She was very keen on my suggestion that I could employ her as a housekeeper, though obviously confused why I would be working picking cucumbers when I had a big house all to myself. I told her it was because I had led a sheltered life as a child, and wanted to get out in the world to meet people, but I had no idea whether or not she believed that story as her face seemed to hold the same expression whatever she was saying. “He used to rape me you know, Ricky. Some years ago, when I was still good-looking. That’s why I stopped trying to look nice, so he would choose someone else. He is a bad man, and deserves a bad fate”. I put my arm around her in a consoling gesture, and said that a bad fate for Anton could be arranged, if we planned carefully. At that her eyes lit up, and she kissed me softly on the cheek.
“Then we will plan carefully, sweet Ricky”.
After that conversation, we were more careful not to be seen together that much. Though Anton didn’t seem to be that interested in any of us, it was wise to take precautions. Marta deliberately contrived to appear to be generally happier, and I was always very friendly to Anton whenever I saw him around. Roman noticed that Marta was in a better mood, and teased me relentlessly. “So you make the old lady very happy, Ricky. I think you and her do boom-boom a lot, and she feels she is young again”. I didn’t rise to his jibes, though they became tiresome after a week of them.
Marta and I decided that a simple plan would be best. No need to over-complicate things. She told me that he was not paying his bosses the full amount he should, and that was why the older men had come to humiliate him in front of everyone. She was sure that if he disappeared one day, nobody would be looking for him. And if we both left at the same time, it was likely they would think he had taken us to work elsewhere. One good thing about the black economy that was becoming clear to me was that when you are cheating illegal workers and not paying any taxes, there is no chance of resorting to the authorities for those involved. The police would not be informed, and nobody would be listed as a missing person.
Anton’s love of vodka was legendary, and Marta told me that he got drunk on his own almost every night. She thought it would be easy to suggest a small party in his motorhome, if we supplied the vodka. So for the next two Sundays, we both bought vodka from his shop. He noticed that I was spending all my pittance of wages on it, and winked at me. “So, you like your vodka now, Ricky? I told you it was good, didn’t I? Don’t let it affect your work now.” For her part, Marta had bought various foodstuffs from him, and stored them away. He smiled at her one Sunday as she bought more. “Looks like you are going to cook something good, Marta. You make sure to save some for Anton, okay?”
The scene was set, and we picked the time and place.
Working on a plan with someone else was a new experience to me of course, but Marta seemed to have embraced the idea with a real sense of purpose. Although I had told her something of my background, I had not let on about my previous experiments, naturally. She left it to me to suggest a meal and drinks to Anton, with the venue to be his motorhome the following Sunday. Few of the workers were around on Sunday evenings, as they mostly enjoyed their one day of rest by spending it with their housemates. And the other men who were supposed to be supervising things left every night, driving the two cooks to somewhere where they all stayed.
One other man had joined me and Roman in our hovel. He was small and wiry, perhaps forty years old, and spoke only broken English. Roman told me his name was Bogomil, and he was from Bulgaria. I kept away from him as much as possible, unsure how well he knew Anton.
Just when I was wondering how to broach the subject with him, Anton came and spoke to me as I was leaving work in the greenhouse the next day.
“Hey, Ricky. A little bird tells me you have hooked up with old Marta. I tell you, she was good once, but now she looks bad. You like her? I am surprised”. I lied easily, telling him that we were indeed romantically involved. No point trying to keep our friendship secret now that someone else had told Anton.
I suspected Roman of course, as he liked to joke about it. Then I said that we were thinking of inviting him for a special meal that Marta was cooking on Sunday, a speciality of her homeland. I reminded him that there would be as much vodka as he could drink too.
He seemed to be genuinely touched. “You invite me? Nobody ever invites me. But I am not coming to your stinking house, Ricky. I tell you what, why don’t you two come to my place? I have a nice table with benches, and it’s warm too. Good heating in that motorhome you know”. I hadn’t even had to suggest we go to him, he had cooperated with our plan without even knowing about it.
That Sunday morning, I took my bag and Marta’s and stored them in my van. We both left enough things around to avoid any suspicions or questions. She spent most of the day preparing the food to take, before making an effort to look nice, with what she had available. An old-fashioned dress, clean hair, and some make-up took ten years off her, but no amount of cosmetics could hide the steely hatred in her eyes as we approached Anton’s motorhome just before seven that evening. He opened the door before we knocked, and seemed to me to already be drunk. Marta allowed him a continetal style kiss on both cheeks, though I saw her back stiffen as he touched her.
She walked past him, and went inside with the large covered dish of food. He went to get three bowls and some cutlery, which he casually dropped onto the small table under the window. Finding a big spoon in his kitchen area, Marta dished out the spicy-smelling casserole, adding noodles from a separate container she had carried underneath the pot. Anton poured me a vodka, splashing the drink into a shot glass. Marta refused his offer of a drink, and got some water from the kitchen.
Tucking into the food, he failed to notice that I wasn’t drinking at all, and when he drained his glass and shook the now empty bottle, I brought one out from the carrier bag next to my leg. It was full of diluted sedatives, and though the seal was already broken I made a show of opening it, wrapping my hand around the top. When he downed the first one in one gulp, I refilled it immediately, distracting him by asking meaningless questions about his life in Poland which he answered with his mouth full.
With his bowl still half full of food, he had drunk four large shots of my spiked vodka on top of whatever he had consumed before our arrival. Rubbing his eyes, he shook his head, gazing around the inside of the motorhome as if trying to focus on something. Then he slid sideways off the upholstered bench, and hit the floor heavily.
Marta was up in a heartbeat, clearing away the plates and cutlery. She stepped over the unconscious form of Anton and scraped the uneaten food into a carrier bag, before taking the crockery and cutlery over to the small sink and carefully washing it up. By the time she came back for the drinking glasses, I had him securely wrapped in duct tape, taken from one of the greenhouses earlier in the week.
Her eyes gleaming, she grabbed my face with both hands and kissed me full on the lips.
“Now you go and get your van, Ricky”.
By the time I drove along the lane at the back, to get to Anton’s motorhome, Marta had cleared away the crockery and cutlery, the bag of uneaten food, and any other sign that Anton might not have been alone. She helped with his legs as I got him into the back, then covered him with the old duvet I kept there. Then we drove off, keeping to the traffic regulations for the three hour journey back to my house.
Marta was excited and impressed by the size of the property, and the spacious house. I left her looking around inside while I drove to the workshops at the back. Using a wheeled trolley, I took Anton into the back of the smaller one, locking him securely inside a windowless metal storage container. I estimated he would be asleep for at least nine more hours, so I would see to him in the morning. I wanted him to be thirsty enough to drink some water.
Up in the house, I showed Marta to a guest room, and she seemed surprised. “That’s okay, Ricky. I sleep with you, keep you warm sweetie”. I hadn’t bargained for that, and had to tell her that wasn’t part of the deal. She just grinned. “I wait, no problem. You will soon want my company”. She had no idea how wrong she was. After sleeping for just five hours, I went over to the workshop. Freeing the still unconscious Anton from the tape bindings, I placed a large bottle of water next to him, and locked the container again, leaving the interior light on.
Chatting to Marta over a rudimentary breakfast, it seemed to me that she had some expectation from living here that exceeded my offer of her being the housekeeper. I had to tread carefully, so as not to give her the wrong idea, but to leave her willing to stay on. I told her that she would just have to do some light housework and cooking, and she would be well paid, living as if family. She smiled as she accepted my offer. “Ricky, I will do as you say, but when you want more, you only have to ask. Her high opinion of herself as a prospective sexual partner confused me immensely, given the difference in our ages.
I told her to stay inside when I drove to the supermarket to stock up on food the next morning. I didn’t want anyone to know she was there of course. In the shop car park, I telephoned Mr Dean and advised him I was back, and he should cancel any arrangements regarding the care of the house. When I returned, Marta was already busy dusting and cleaning, though she was acting more like a housewife than a housekeeper. The provisions I had bought impressed her a great deal, and she droned on about all the delicious food she would be preparing over the coming winter. Leaving her to arrange things in the kitchen cupboards, I went across to the workshop to check on Anton.
As I had suspected, he had drunk a lot of the water. The half-empty bottle was on its side next to him, and he was once again deeply unconscious from the sedatives I had put in it. He had wet himself too, and I could see the stain across the front of his trousers. I placed a rough travel blanket over him, and took off his left shoe. Attaching a circular metal hoop tight around his ankle, I threaded a strong chain through that before securing the chain to a metal ring on the wall of the container using a stout padlock.
He was good for another twelve hours in that position.
True to her word, Marta was combining various ingedients into a delicious-smelling meal by late afternoon. She said we would be eating at six-thirty, and that we should have some white wine with the chicken dish she was preparing. As she left it cooking, she said she was going upstairs for a bath. “You could join me if you want, Ricky. The bath is big enough”. The strange leer that accompanied her invitation made her face contort in a very unpleasant fashion. I acted shy, and laughed it off.
She came back wearing the same dress she had worn to Anton’s place, with a great deal of make-up on her face. As she served the food, I poured the wine, and lit two candles that I had taken from the mantlepiece in father’s study. Marta seemed put out that we were eating in the kitchen. “You have such a grand dining room, Ricky. From now on, I think we should have dinner in there”. During the admittedly delicious meal, she chattered on about how we would deal with Anton, and what a great time we would have living in my big house, and spending my money. “I will need some new clothes, nice ones. You take me to the shops this week, yes?”
Fortunately, they were the last words she said that evening, as her head slumped forward, almost ending up in her dinner.
I already knew enough about Cynophobia to be aware that fear of dogs was never going to kill anyone in itself. In Anton’s case, he would almost certainly resort to fighting any dogs that I acquired to scare him, left with no other option. The only thing likely to happen was that the dogs would eventually kill him by biting him, which was of no use in my field of interest whatsoever. He was not a good person, as evidenced by his shady past, but his only use to me had been to provide a reason to make Marta want to leave the workplace with me, believing herself to be colluding in his demise.
Now she was unconscious, and would not be asking to see him, I could just leave him locked in the container without food and water. Nobody would hear him shouting for help, and unless he was capable of biting off his own leg, he could not get free from the chain. Even if he did, the lock on the door would not allow an escape. It would be of minor interest to me to see how long it took him to die, as I suspected thirst would kill him before hunger. For now, I had to prepare Marta for my next real experiment.
Father had constructed a large metal-framed watertight glass tank some years earlier. I had once asked him what he intended to use it for, and he had touched the side of his nose and grinned. “That’s for me to know, and for you to find out”. It was stored in the back of the largest workshop, as I had a feeling it might prove to be useful one day. Leaving Marta unconscious at the kitchen table, I went out to the workshop and uncovered it. Using the hoist, I manouevered it into position on top of the biggest workbench, as the elevated position would enable me to observe what was going on inside from every angle, and also allow my cameras to record the images through the glass.
There were lots of metal plates in the workshop, and it was easy to find one heavy enough and big enough to place on top once Marta was inside. It would be too heavy for her to dislodge, I was sure of that. Using the industrial pillar drill, I made a suitable sized hole in it, and used the hoist to move it closer to the tank. When everything was prepared, I set up the video cameras on tripods and stood back to check on my work. The glass tank was almost six feet long, five feet deep, and four feet wide, covering the bench and overhanging the edge slightly. It was ideal for what I had in mind.
Although I was getting tired, I had to go back to the house to get Marta. I was strong enough to carry her over my shoulder, and laid her on the workshop floor as I undressed her. A small set of steps gave me the extra height needed to place her body inside the tank as gently as possible. I didn’t want to injure her. Using the hoist to move the heavy metal plate in position was trickier than I had expected, and I had to stop it swinging around in case it cracked the side panel of glass. When I was satisfied that it was in position and secure, I turned off the light and went back to the house to have a shower and get some much-needed sleep.
Obviously, Marta was awake when I got back to the workshop after breakfast. She was visibly afraid, and also looked confused. “Ricky, what’s going on? Where is Anton? Why am I here? Did you drug me? Tell me what you want from me”. Although the heavy lid and glass walls muffled her voice considerably, I could still hear her through the glass. I deliberately failed to respond, instead busying myself by turning on the cameras before walking to the back of the workshop. I returned with a hose and a connector, the exact size of the hole I had drilled last night. Once it was secure in the lid, I walked back to turn on the tap. Slowly at first, little more than a trickle.
During one of our conversations in her static home, she had told me that she had crossed the English Channel illegally in a small boat. Shuddering as she recalled that night in rough seas, she closed her eyes. “I don’t know how I survived that night, Ricky. I hate being on the water, as I have always been terrified of drowning. I couldn’t even learn to swim as a child. Even being close to lots of water makes me feel like I might just die of fright”.
She should never have told me that.
Experiment Three: Part One.
Subject: Marta Dalca.
Age: Approximately 65.
After the tank was half full, I changed the hose input to warm water. I didn’t want Marta to die of hypotherimia. Nobody is scared enough of hypothermia to die from that fear. They just die of the cold. She had soon worked out that I was not going to engage in conversation with her, so stopped trying very quickly. As the tank filled, she seemed to be remarkably unconcerned. Her age and life experience had taught her that whatever happened, she could not survive to tell the tale. I made an excited notation in my book.
Marta was undoubtedly aware what was going to happen. Even as the water reached above her shoulders, she remained remarkably relaxed. Looking at me through the glass, she raised her right arm, and pointed at me. With a glint in her eye, and a firm set of her jaw, she began to speak in her own language.
“Te blestem, băiat rău. Ești rău și nu vei ști niciodată pacea. Îi chem pe strămoșii mei magici să-mi păstreze spiritul pentru a vă bântui până în ziua morții tale!”
Naturally, I did not understand the Romanian language, so I translated it on my laptop.
“I curse you, wicked boy. You are evil, and will never know peace. I call upon my magical ancestors to retain my spirit to haunt you to your dying day!”
She repeated this constantly, like a mantra. When the water was up to her bottom lip, she still kept on saying it. As it started to enter her mouth, her words changed, and were less intelligible, but she repeated them enough that I could note them down.
“Nu vei cunoaște niciodată pacea. Eu, Marta, voi fi cu tine mereu și nu vei putea să părăsești această casă sau să cunoști compania umană. Voi fi aici întotdeauna, și mă veți vedea tot restul vieții”.
I quickly translated that, though of course I was unconcerened.
“You will never know peace. I, Marta, will be with you always, and you will be unable to leave this house, or to know human company. I will be here forever, and you will see me for the rest of your life”.
I didn’t want to drown her of course. My interest was in seeing if the fear of the water would cause her to die from natural causes. She spat water from her mouth as she spoke again.
“Ești un monstru, iar Marta știe asta. Te voi bântui până când veți fi vechi și gri. Am o strămoșire a vrăjitoarelor vechi. Ai ales un tânăr prost, prost. Vei regreta această zi, deși nu știi asta acum”.
I made some notes, and waited to translate what she was saying.
“You are a monster, and Marta knows that now. I will haunt you until you are old and grey. I have an ancestry of old witches. You have chosen badly, foolish young man. You will regret this day, though you do not know that now”.
I was becoming rather bored, and went to the back to increase the flow from the hose. I got it just below her nose, and she turned and smiled at me.
To be honest, I had been hoping for a great deal more fear.
Frustrated, I waited until the water covered her head, and reached the top of the tank. Even as she fought for breath, and bubbles rose around her mouth, she continued to stare at me with a terrible glare. As the water began to spill from under the firm lid, I rushed to the back to shut off the tap.
The experiment had failed badly. She had chosen to drown.
Now I knew that I had no choice but to pump out the water from the tank, and consign Marta’s body to the acid the next day. I was displeased, to say the least. I had been unable to induce sufficient fear in the woman to make her die before she drowned naturally, and by choice.
It was time to rethink my tactics.
Disposing of Marta’s small body was easy enough. After just eighteen hours in the acid, she had completely dissolved, and was poured into a new drum that I stored next to the one containing the previous two experiments.
As for Anton, I decided to just leave him alone to his fate, and let him die without further human contact. I didn’t go back to the container, and never opened the door again. After all, he was never one of my experiments, and I hadn’t even bothered to open a file on him.
For a few days, I scanned the job vacancies, not really finding anything suitable for my purposes. I considered advertising for an assistant, hopefully someone who would have a dark fear of something, and could become my next project. But anyone who came to be interviewed would undoubtedly tell someone about it, and if they went missing, I would be suspected. Up to now, I had managed to avoid any hint of suspicion and I did not want to let my desire to continue my studies create a situation where I could not work unhindered for fear of discovery later.
After two weeks of sitting around getting restless, completing all my files and video edits of my previous experiments, I realised I was running short on basic supplies, and decided to head out to the supermarket to re-stock. I might even see if that company had any vacancies in a branch somewhere else, where I wouldn’t be known. As I opened the door to leave the house, I stopped at the sight in front of me, unable to move.
Marta was there.
She was hovering just in the entrance. Her feet were off the gound by a good few inches, and her expression was a knowing smile, with that glint of hatred in her eyes that I had seen when she looked at Anton.
I slammed the door, and stepped back, hardly believing what I had seen with my own eyes. Pausing a moment, I opened it again, jumping back voilently with the shock of her being just inches from my face now. I was shivering violently, and had dropped the car keys on the hall floor. I grabbed them up and headed for the back door in the kitchen. As soon as I arrived in that room, I could see her face at the window, still grinning. I considered just barging through the door and ignoring the apparition, but something held me back. It was something that I had never experienced before that day.
It was obvious what to do. I would order the food online, and it would be delivered. No need to go out. As I logged on to my laptop, the usual screensaver provided by the software had been replaced by Marta’s face. The small jingle that usually accompanied the startup was absent also, replaced with a cackling laugh that I knew was Marta’s. I went over to the house phone, and dialled the number of a local shop I used on occasion. They would deliver all I needed. After three rings, it was answered.
But by Marta, not the shopkeeper. She didn’t speak, just laughed. When I tried to call Mr Dean to arrange food deliveries, the same thing happened. I tried some other numbers at random, and every time they were answered it was Marta. I tried using my mobile phone, and Marta’s face appeared on the screen as I was tring to dial. It was getting dark by the time I decided to try going out the front door again. I went downstairs to get my keys, but stopped at the first landing.
On the bottom step was Marta, floating gently above it.
I turned and ran back up, looking over the bannister rail from the top. She was already on the first landing, so I retreated into my room. I was shocked to discover that I had wet myself, and pulled off my soiled clothes. As I turned around to walk to the wardrobe, Marta was floating outside the window, and I could hear that cackling through the glass. I ran over and pulled down the blinds, so I didn’t have to see her.
By my estimation, that was almost three weeks ago. I am ravenously hungry, but at least I have water from the sink in my en-suite bathroom. Marta is outside the bedroom door now, her cackling never ceases, day or night. I don’t know how much longer I can go on, so I am making a record of this for posterity. You might think I should just open the door and walk past her, I understand that.
But I am too afraid.