By day the building looked nothing more than a complex of flats, but at night when the pitted face of the moon illuminated its malevolent form it was clear that this place had witnessed hell. Being a former mental asylum it wasn’t surprising the place felt strange. Many of the occupants swore they heard the wailing of the nuts once imprisoned here, some even vowed they’d witnessed phantom forms wrapped in straitjackets running down the halls; in search of their sanity perhaps. Christian often joked with himself that he was one of these spectral psychos; lost in eternal illusion.
It was November and the kind of cold that’s clean and clears the mind swam in the air. Christian stepped from the pub with Motorhead’s ‘Bomber’ churning in his brain, the cleansing cold soaked into his skin and was quickly warmed by the whiskey singing inside him. The song mixed with the burning amber liquid; pumping adrenaline through his body. He jumped into a run and sprinted home.
Perfectly decent people lived in this building; psychos made of flesh and bone, brilliant minds and losers. Every community has its night lovers and day dreamers but there’s no way to distinguish the normal from the abnormal - you can judge by appearance but it’s not an accurate method. Plus, there’s always disguise. The buildings weirdos didn’t don costume in order to exist, they simply went about their business in their individual ways, separating themselves from their crazy neighbours – how the hell do you define abnormal anyway?
Christian placed himself somewhere between ordinary and extraordinary, leaning further towards the latter but certainly not crazy. He had his obsessions of course, as everyone does, and was a little more idiosyncratic than the people he knew, but he was a decent bloke - everyone said so.
Christian reached his front door; heart pumping wildly, mind whirring manically; and fumbled in his pockets for the key. Damn idiot, he cursed himself for forgetting something so vital as the key to his home then pounded the door with his fist. The spare key sprung from the dust smothered door frame and crashed to the floor. Christian grabbed it and let himself in.
Lights flickered on to devour the darkness draped over the flat. He groaned at the state of the living room. To describe the flat as chaotic didn’t cut it. If Christian claimed to be an artist you’d think this was supposed to be conceptual art – Tracey Emin-esque – the physical manifestation of the mess within a person. Dirty plates decorated the table, the floor was home to a mass of takeaway tin foil, beer cans and overflowing ashtrays, underwear and dirty clothes were strewn obscenely over the sofa and any floor space otherwise unoccupied. Then the stench of grease and cigarettes would coat your tongue and nostrils and you’d know this was natural, not deliberate.
Christian poured himself a glass of water, set it down on the coffee table then slammed his body into the sofa, sighing loudly as the battered cushions consumed his weight. He pulled a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it, letting the smooth smoke caress the depths of his lungs before slowly exhaling. He flicked the TV on and was greeted by the local news updating on a missing person.
“22-year-old Anne Evans
was last seen at her place
of work on Friday the 8th
of November. Police are
treating the case as
The newsreader relayed a phone number then reported details of a sex scandal involving two politicians. Christian frowned, draining his cigarette – the girl had only been missing a week and already her disappearance was being treated with suspicion, what the bloody hell does that mean? Christian squashed his cigarette into an ashtray, turned onto his side and drifted into dream.
Although the living rooms artistry was accidental, one wall was a conscious collage of photographs, most of which depicted an auburn haired woman in her early twenties, with flawless creamy skin and full lips painted pink. She posed for the photographer or was snapped off guard, in some photos Christian accompanied her, his arm draped over her shoulders, shielding her petite form with his muscular frame, they touched lips in staged kisses, her smile reaching her eyes. Big, brown and beautiful was how Christian described them; like deep, dark wells.
A girl lay on a bed, wrists and ankles twined tightly and tied to the metal frame with fraying rope. A sock had been squashed into her mouth to muffle her sounds and limit her breath. At first she had struggled against the bindings, causing the rope to rub her skin so thin that coppery blossoms bloomed and turned the flesh raw. Her body was patterned with deep, indigo bruises - like blackberry juice stains, and sore from lying with her arms above her head. She was exhausted; her throat so dry she thought it could strip the floorboards of their varnish.
It had been a week since her ex-lover had drugged and shackled her. He’d been in and out of the room seeming oblivious to the torture he was inflicting on Anne, carrying one-sided conversation and joking lightly.
He fed her soup, and let it dribble down her chest to dry into a crust, making her feel dirtier than she was in her sweat saturated skin. A tall glass of water had been left on the bedside table, another intricate torture device.
The building had always terrified Anne. She heard the moans of deceased lunatics and saw them on the periphery of her vision; bashing translucent heads against the walls, eyes glowing with madness. If they weren’t mad in life they certainly were now, souls doomed to seclusion.
Lying in the room of blinding black, Anne tried desperately to shut out the phantom sounds and visions but they screamed constantly. If her mind was inventing them she couldn’t tell and would prefer if it wasn’t, she was not crazy.
Besides these spirits all Anne had for company was a strip of pale yellow light seeping through the crack where the door met the floor, assuring her she wasn’t alone – it brought no comfort.
As Christian slept on the sofa the alcohol sloshing in his blood made his dreams a confusing mixture of lucid and murky, a swampy sauce he’d grown used to. He dreamt he was in a room of lurid light - an operating theatre - a crowd had gathered, shoving fistfuls of popcorn into their cavernous mouths. Christian saw the gleam of a scalpel as it ran along his hairline then pried the flesh from fat and bone. The surgeon fitted Christian’s face onto his own like a mask, stretching it into place and securing it with big black stitches.
The man’s new lips opened to show a small tumour spinning on the tongue, gaining speed and size until it exploded into a bright-red-scream, like the shrill noise of a fork dragged across china but amplified a trillion times.
Christian shot awake. That bloody alarm, why did it seem so damn loud when he was asleep? He smashed his hand down on the stop button and swung his feet to the floor, smoothing a map of fabric indentations from his cheeks, then paced over to the bedroom.
While she languished on the bed Anne began to understand the fragility of mortality, she felt it humming in her muscles, singing in her sinew, howling up her spine. She would not die here in this rich womb of anguish, she wouldn’t become another tortured soul to roam the floors and grate her nails on the walls - this was not Anne’s fate.
Okay, so she’d been foolish enough to let her ex trick her into a ‘chat’ and even stupider to drink the sedative laced wine he offered her - but surely she didn’t deserve this.
She felt disgusting in the sultry darkness but strangely detached; as though her mind and body were separate entities. She hadn’t cleaned her teeth in seven days; her mouth was infested with plaque and most certainly perfumed the air with its acrid aroma.
The pale strip of light turned into a semi-circle and spread up the wall as the door was pushed open. Christian stepped inside and switched the light on.
Anne kept her eyes closed, feigning sleep. She couldn’t face his meaningless conversation and longing looks. The gag reflex tugged at her gut when she saw that dusky skin and oblivion black eyes. It was safe to act comatose.
She looked delicious when she slept, delicate as a leaf skeleton. Christian ran his eyes over the ornate decoration of Anne’s flesh; the blood blossoms and opaque mounds of bruising, then moved over to the bed, floorboards rasping as he stepped.
He crouched and stroked Anne’s hair, it was greasy - maybe he should wash it. She always liked baths, with plenty of glistening bubbles and near-boiling water.
The clock/radio shone 1:15 at him, he tuned into a local station and listened to Johnny Cash sing the hurt of his heart, Anne hated this song. He turned it up but she slept on. The music faded to another reminder that a girl had disappeared from the area.
“…police are asking for anyone
with any information to come
forward, no suspects are being
held at this time but the investi-
gation will continue… Miss Evans
is Caucasian with auburn hair,
5”5 and of a slight build… any
information is welcome…”
Christian decreased the volume. “Hear that baby? You’re famous.” He continued to stroke her grease-slick hair then moved down to feel the pimples on her face and the warm pulse of her neck. He placed his ear to the smooth skin between her breasts where the deep throb of her bloody heart and stifled lungs invoked life like ancient divinity.
Filled with tranquillity he parted Anne’s thirst-cracked lips and pulled the saliva sodden sock from her mouth.
Air rushed down Anne’s trachea, quickening the chant of her heart and serenely filling her lungs. She had to suppress a smile but let a slight gasp filter through her lips. His hands were tracing the edges of her limbs, prodding the bruises, stroking the dark lawn of hair which had grown from her armpits. Jesus, she felt vile, and probably looked it too.
Then came the nauseating repetition of her name, “Anne. Anne. Anne…” He let the syllable linger on his lips before beginning again. Like Hail Mary’s, Christian intoned her name. But there was no gentle clinking of rosary beads, nor the dusty church silence that made Anne feel as though she’d eaten a wholesome meal after a week of salad.
He stopped, lifted the glass of water to his lips and filled his mouth. Anne felt Christian’s plump lips press into hers, parting them enough to let the stagnant liquid trickle into her mouth. She opened her throat and let it soothe her oesophagus; it felt like ice in her stomach. He refilled his mouth and repeated the sequence, this time forcing the water faster than Anne could swallow. She spluttered against his lips until he pulled away.
Eyes slashed open, she glared at Christian. Hostility gushing from her like lava. A smile spread on his lips, “I was hoping you’d wake up soon baby, I was getting bored.” That voice made bile rise to the pit of Anne’s throat, she swallowed and fixed her dry eyes to the nicotine swirled ceiling.
“Un-tie-me”, the words staggered out one syllable at a time. Christian laughed softly and to Anne’s surprise began uncoiling the rope from her ankles.
Cool air slithered around the thin skin, embracing it like an old friend. He worked carefully, forehead creased in concentration, then slid his arms between her body and the mattress and propped her against the head board.
She stared at the wall opposite, willing her glare to smash it up and pull her through the wreckage. Christian walked around the bed and thumped down beside her, jolting Anne’s fragile body. He lay there and watched her breathe; ribcage expanding then collapsing like the sliding of the ocean.
“D’ya want a bath babe? You’re starting to smell, I wasn’t gunna say anything but…” he waved his hand down her body as if to say ‘just look at it’. Anne gritted her teeth and pulled air deep into her lungs.
She had been naked for seven days, it didn’t feel natural as you’d expect; she’d never liked the look of her body, it made her feel vulnerable which, of course, she was. She couldn’t flee the flat without clothes, could she? Now unshackled, Anne stretched, feeling the delicate crack of joints and the popping of tension laden muscles, then swung her legs over the beds edge and stood, legs threatening to collapse beneath her.
Her feet crunched as she pushed them in circles into the floor, energy suddenly awakening and beginning to flood her veins. She bent to pick up a t-shirt, Christian’s eyes on her, then pulled it over her head and walked through the open door.
Christian stared, too shocked to form coherent thoughts. He expected to hear the front door slam as Anne made her escape. He wouldn’t stop her; that’d be too easy.
Moments later Anne staggered into the bedroom, dressed in Christian’s clothes and devouring a stale sandwich she’d found in the fridge. Christian smiled; this was nice, just like it used to be. His smile dimmed as he saw the glint of metal in Anne’s right hand – a kitchen knife.
Ah, the perfect revenge, the perfect escape, the perfect end. He lay back into the pillows, letting them hold him while Anne straddled his hips and tore the t-shirt from his chest.
She looked into his eyes and smiled. He smiled back. The knifes tip touched the skin at the centre of Christian’s collarbone, cold and angry, then plunged in. She dragged the blade in a straight scarlet line down his chest, smoothly splitting the skin. Pain seared Christian’s nerves – exquisite pain – warming him as blood oozed thickly into the sheets. He had not thought death would come so peacefully, a release; like the first drag on a cigarette.
The black vacuum of eternity yawned out before him as he stared into Anne’s eyes, they were his oblivion. Then he was sucked into the spirit realm to join the translucent psychos in their eternal search for sanity.
Anne stayed until Christian’s blood spilled no more and the chaotic light went out of his eyes, then kissed his cheek and thrust the knife deep into his quiet heart. Just to be sure.