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