Cold wrists and a cold heart that barely dared beat, lest he think her willing. She let it tremble – he wasn’t here today and for that she was truly grateful.
They peppered every spare space in the poorly-lit basement. She’d given up trying to count them because whenever he came down and did what he did to their tiny corpses, he’d throw them back into the room afterwards, discarding them, forgetting them until the next time he got the urge. Some lay at her broken feet now, gazing at nothing; once demure.
The tears came again. Incarcerated without the need for chains in a hovel of her own stupidity. “Look at you,” her friends had said. “You’re gorgeous. Why would you want to look like someone else, especially her?” And they spoke her name with such malice, such disgust… she should have listened.
Outside, a thin mist of snow swirled in widdershins along the streets of Southwark, whipping around ankles and stinging pink faces. Walkers slid and laughed in some kind of wonder.
It should have been magical, but the winter weather brought no joy to the basement, instead a new fear poked insidious fingers at its resident. The only light to penetrate the square room came from the small, grubby window below pavement level. When that became obscured with freezing flakes the basement would be plunged into a murky darkness. The waiting, the dread of hearing his lumbering footsteps on the stairway would be magnified. At least with a little light there were distractions, albeit pitiful, but to be blind in this place of torture…
And then there was the noise from the streets; voices bantering, buses roaring past too fast. The snow would insulate her against those sounds. All she’d be able to hear would be muffled mouths, crunching feet, tyres spitting sludge.
He didn’t come that night.
Nor the next.
She slept right through, starving and exhausted, not caring if she crossed over into death’s cold embrace.
A dull yellow hue greeted her when she finally awoke, drowning the basement in a weak shade of sulphur, jaundicing her skin and that of all the little corpses. She realised she could still see.
An inch, two inches of snow carpeted the pavement above, but the window was completely clear, save for a spattering of white along the bottom frame. She shivered beneath the rough blanket and watched as her breath crystallised before dissipating up, up, up toward the street and the great outdoors.
It’s stealing my warmth.
She understood. Any heat produced by her emaciated body, any breath rasping from her lungs was escaping through that thin, single pane of glass. It was enough to melt the snow before it settled.
So that was it; the end. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, walk or take a pee without help – and now even her breath was not her own. She felt her gut judder as a familiar wail of despair began to grow. When it came out, it was a skinny whisper, as skinny as she.
“Did you hear that?”
“Yeah, what the hell was it?”
“Sounded like a fox.”
“Too high-pitched. Anyway, it came from down there. There’s no garden, just a basement by the looks of it.”
Naked limbs hit the floor. Heads twisted on half-broken necks as they tumbled in a pile of wild hair, the expressions on their faces unmoving. She picked one up and threw it at the window. It missed by several feet.
“Help. Help me. Help me.”
Two pairs of black-booted feet shuffled and stamped in the snow outside on the pavement but by some miracle did not wander off.
“Hey!” she tried calling again.
She grabbed more of her silent companions and aimed them at the wall like fleshy darts. Weak. She was too weak. Every muscle, every sinew screamed in her wasted body as she twisted around in the bed, dragging her useless feet over the bare mattress. The new position gave her a mildly better view of the pavement and she jumped as two purple buckets dropped to the ground beside the feet above, to the jovial sound of laughter. She looked down at her own bucket on the bare floorboards, brimming with stinking waste. From nowhere a rage of adrenalin burst its way into her blood and she screamed again, a whistling, shrill banshee call that failed to penetrate the lively chat of the charity collectors outside her window. With one last cry and a double lunge at the glass, she gave up.
The world fell silent.
She couldn’t see them but the two young men on the pavement looked at one another, and turned. One crouched down to stare through the small opening in the building behind him. He reached forward to wipe the filth-speckled glass.
“What is it? What can you see?”
“It’s dark man, but it looks like… fuckin’ freaky. There’s dolls, millions of broken dolls, all over the place. And, oh. Oh Jesus.”
She didn’t hear them break in. The copper that skidded on rubber limbs snapped his wrist as he went down, his colleagues tripping over his back.
“Get up, idiot. Leeson; call for back-up and an ambulance.”
Breath in her face; old coffee and stale smokes, but not booze or the reek of loose teeth in rotting gums she’d become so accustomed to.
“Look at the state of her, guv. She must have been here for ages. Can’t have been dead long though.”
Sighs all round; what a waste.
“Ah shit. Look at this.” A clang of metal sliding on metal.
She can’t speak and she can’t move but she knows what they’ve found behind the curtain that hangs from the rafters.
“Don’t touch anything. What…? I can’t even work out what I’m seeing here.”
Behind the policeman the corpse began to hiss from the bed. The copper turned to stare, eyes bulging in disbelief at the bubbles spilling from the mouth. Dead, but not dead.
“Blood, and piss, and white fire from his… his…”
“She’s alive! Leeson; where’s that ambulance?” He bent over the life-sized, shrivelled Barbie doll on the bed. Her eyebrows appeared permanently arched on the high, white forehead, topped by a mop of greasy brown hair studded with wilting platinum extensions. Sharp cheekbones, clearly chiselled by a surgeon’s knife, poked out from her face with no meat in the sallow space below. But it was her whispering mouth that chilled him as it chattered on with lips tattooed in an everlasting pink smile.
The ambulance bluesed and twosed away, carrying a clumsy constable and a nameless girl who’d only ever wanted a slice of the plastic pie, to be perfect, to be wanted.
Across the street, pacing the apartment where he lived with his trophy wife, Ken removed his false teeth and tongued the gaps in his gums. They’d take his collection away, he knew it. But after buying that last live one from an ad back in the summer, it had kind of ruined the thrill anyway. Smelly. Wriggling in the bath, objecting to his manipulations and penetrations… that’s why he’d not been back for a few days now.
No matter; he had spares.
He opened the door to his bedroom and struggled to wade through the heads and torsos that spilled over his brogues. His wife was in here somewhere; he could do with some company.
Bio: Lily Childs is a writer of dark fiction, horror and twisted crime. She lives on the south coast of England, a stone’s throw from the sea. Lily has been published many times in anthologies and collections, most recently in The Bestiarum Vocabulum, Fresh Fear and Bones. Her own collection, Cabaret of Dread is available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon. Lily is currently completing her first novel, a supernatural horror. Find out more on her blog, The Feardom at http://lilychildsfeardom.blogspot.com