Money for New Rope by Michael McCarthy

Friday, October 19, 2012
A writer's boundaries begin to break down as he is haunted by the killer he is writing about, by Michael McCarthy

Part 2 (Click here for part 1)

The man who is going to kill me is looking at me from my screen saver.

I turned on my computer and there he was.

If there was somewhere to run to, where he would never find me, I'd be there.

But there isn't.

What he does, killing people, he does for his own fulfillment.

It really is that simple.

I know him. I know what makes him tick.


There is no trigger.

He just does what he does.

I'm a writer and ironically my impending demise has lubricated my creative juices and, of course, my topic is my executioner, Yeats.

Briefly, we encountered each other a short while ago when I was trying to break my writer's block. He was trying to sell me disturbing images, one of which proved to be of a particularly grisly murder.

I realized, then, that I was next, or at least somewhere on his list, and destined to become one of his images.

I can't avoid him forever and so I've decided to put my house in order. My three siblings are scattered far and wide and, although I'm not the most successful writer ever to put finger to keyboard, I've made a few bob and that and my royalties will be distributed amongst them.

I've made an appointment with a solicitor friend of mine; ironically I first met Yeats in a spare office in his practice.

Irony seems to govern my life.

Living under this threat, it's amazing that there are still distractions that can take my mind, albeit temporarily, off Yeats.

A new couple moved in to the flat upstairs from mine. Young, well dressed, radiating the aura of success.

In the mornings I heard them passing my door, or rather I heard him. We also passed each other on the stairs most days. Like me, they avoided the lift.

They looked good for it.

The first time we passed she gave me a lovely, demure smile. She's just my type, blonde and pert.

I gave her my 'in need of mothering' smile, women lap that up. She certainly did. I can tell. I know women.

Her partner just ignored me completely. He's always jabbering into his smart phone.

Anti-social bastard. He certainly doesn't deserve her.

Anyway, we're becoming quite friendly now, me and her. I was the driver in this, smiling and nodding, slowly increasing the size of my smile, until my jaw began to hurt and I began to wonder just how big a smile could become. Then I found out.

I met them on the way out of my local pub, they were on the way in. This time I gave her the full wattage. I could tell she was touched, the way she glanced shyly down at her feet, but I could also see she felt inhibited by her partner's presence.

He never noticed. I get the distinct impression he treats her like some kind of chattel, doomed to traipse docilely in his magnificent wake.

One morning, I heard him braying into his phone, he woke me up actually, but I didn't hear her.

I lay back imagining her lying in bed, under a crisp, colourful quilt, with just the top of her head visible. Beginning to stir and stretching those lissom limbs. I don't think she's the negligee type, I can see her wearing boxer shorts and a t-shirt.

Then rubbing her eyes and yawning. Suddenly she springs into life, kicks back the duvet, jumps out of bed and starts her exercise programme. Lots of bending and stretching and Pilates.

I can imagine she likes a little musical accompaniment, nothing too hectic, but a bit of melody, something to help her gradually get her thoughts together.

Then it's into the shower. She doesn't wash her hair every day. Doesn't need to. It's got that lovely, vital, natural bounce to it. It hangs just below her jaw line which, by the way, is exquisite, and that little snub nose, well...

That's the joy of her, I just lose myself in her.

Now, I'm sitting on her bed observing all this. She comes out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, collects a glass of juice from the kitchen, swings open her wardrobe and ponders what she should wear today.

For me, she could wear a bin bag.

She's not one of those who lays her clothes out the night before, no, she's spontaneous, she doesn't know how she's going to feel tomorrow.

She dances around the room, almost floating, choosing her ensemble for the day and then, suddenly, she's not there.

I stood outside my friend`s legal practice - he's a one man band - at the appointed hour. The door was locked, which is most strange, he's usually an early starter.

'Come on Terry. Get your act together. We're supposed to have an appointment,' I yelled through the key hole after about five minutes knocking on the door.

I rang him on my mobile. I could hear his phone ringing inside. All I got was his ex-girlfriend's dulcet tones asking me to leave a message.

It was when I turned away that I noticed the acrid stench of tobacco hanging in the air.

I waited for Terry to ring. I rang again a few more times.

I went round to his flat, a couple of days in a row, and rang the bell and banged on the front door.

But nothing.

All I succeeded in doing was raising the ire of one of his neighbours.

'You know, you can come around here a hundred times a day and disturb us by banging and shouting up at the window, but if he's not in, that isn't going to make him be in, is it?' An aged, ex- army type with sleeked back white hair shouted from the window of the flat beside Terry's.

'Well, do you have any idea where he is? Or when he might be back?' I asked.

'This is obviously going to come as a big surprise to you, but I'm not your friend's keeper.' He slammed his window shut.

The next morning I heard Mr. Smartphone cursing loudly under his breath as he barged his way down the stairs, but there was no sound of, what shall I call her?

She looks like a Jessica.

Maybe she was still in bed.

I peeped out of the window and saw Smartphone with a suitcase, a briefcase and what looked like an iPad, struggling to hail a taxi while barking into his phone.

I found myself standing outside Jessica's flat door. I didn't know what I was doing there.

Just ring the bell and let inspiration strike.

Weighed down by his luggage, impatient and as distracted as ever by his appliance, Smartphone had pulled the flat door to, but had not closed it.

It was slightly ajar.

At this juncture in my life, it's probably sage advice to live according to the old maxim, 'Who dares, wins.'

Their bedroom door, like mine, was directly opposite the flat door, separated by a small hall, and it too was open, although just a few inches. I entered the hall and stood in front of the bedroom door.

I felt like I was just about to make one great leap for mankind.

If nothing else, I could probably use this for a future story, if there are to be any more.

I stood just outside the door breathing in that stale sleep smell. Her odor was probably still mingled with Smartphone's, which would soon fade.

He could at least have opened the window before he left.

I waited and then I detected her true scent. A fresh, understated, flowery emanation which, I must admit, I found quite beguiling. I bet he never noticed her smell, just took her for granted.

I could hear her breathing, with just a slight snoring effect, as the air caught somewhere in the back of her nose. Not disruptive. I could learn to live with that.

Then, she spoke.

I felt my heart freeze, mid beat.

'Is that you?' she asked. Her voice a little croaky.

I realized that was the first time I'd actually heard her speak.


Although I'd have to make allowances for the fact that she was still half asleep.

'Yeah,' I grunted.

That's how he spoke into his phone. The same lack of respect for whoever he spoke to. I'd heard it enough. I'd even repeated it, after hearing him, so I knew my rendition was pretty accurate.

'Is something wrong Roger? Did you forget something?' she sleep slurred.

I made another guttural sound.

I heard her rolling over in bed.

Changing her position, probably for the hundredth time.

I could tell she was uncomfortable, restless, unhappy.

I left as silently as I had come.

She'd be none the wiser.

The next morning I was awoken by the warbling of my phone.

I held it to the side of my face under the covers.

'Um,' I yawned.

Then I retched.

The handset reeked of cigarette smoke.

Before I flung it across the room, I thought, or maybe I imagined, I heard a gentle lilting titter coming down the line.

I busied myself with research on mass murderers for the next couple of days, just tying up a few loose ends for my epic about Yeats.

But I was becoming more and more disconcerted about the disappearance of my solicitor friend and the growing re-appearance in my life of something I was still not prepared to acknowledge.

Smartphone was back from wherever he'd been. He'd probably been at some unimportant seminar, getting his leg over some junior, infatuated member of staff, who was eager to make an impression and secure her long time career prospects.

But he came back to an empty flat.

I hadn't seen Jessica for a couple of days and, naturally, I was a little concerned.

I'd really been putting in the hours on my research, so it was impossible to say how long it had lain there.

But it was on a toilet break that I saw what I thought was an envelope, apparently slid under my front door.

It was actually a photograph.

At first, I thought it was of the magician, Houdini.

On closer inspection, I realized it was my friend, the solicitor.

He was hanging, his handcuffed hands over a hook secured into the ceiling of a semi-darkened room or cellar.

My eyes were drawn to his face.

Now, I've seen some sights.

In my line of work, I sometimes have to view the latest explicit horror movies, for research purposes only, you understand.

And sometimes I've followed links to the real thing.

The expression of sheer, naked terror etched into the face of my friend trumped anything I'd ever seen before.

I threw the photo to the floor and actually stamped on it, in a fit of impotence, frustration and a slowly growing feeling of guilt.

Now my concern for Jessica was gradually turning to a fear.

I bolted to the fridge and upended a bottle of vodka down my neck, coughing and swallowing at the same time.

I slumped to the floor and tried to evaluate the situation.

What's to evaluate?

He's back.

He's never been away.



What about my friend?

Call the police?

If I know Yeats, and I'm sure I do, my friend is already beyond help.

If I go to the police, even if I could convince them to go after him, I'd be finished.

Forget the police.


That's up to Smartphone.

I tried to fill my days in a normal manner. But that was impossible. When you can't sleep at night, how can you function in any way approaching normality?

I collided with Smartphone a couple of days after the appearance of the photograph.

'Sorry,' I said.

He just glared.

'I haven't seen your wife around lately. Is she OK?' I asked.

He ignored me, jammed his smart phone to his ear and growled into it. 'Yeah.'

To be honest, his reaction made me feel a bit better. About Jessica.

Then he disappeared.

I asked around among the neighbours, whether anybody knew if Jessica and Smartphone had gone on holiday.

I was met with blanks every time. Although some hinted darkly that she had run away.

'You only have to look at him,' one said.

One early morning as I sat cradling a bottle of vodka, the phone snapped me out of my inertia.

This was to herald the tone for the next few days.

Every time I answered it, I was met by the stench of cigarette smoke and then the line went dead.

It actually seemed to be emanating from the phone, as though he was exhaling directly into the instrument and it was emerging through mine.

Now I know a lot of people smoke. But none quite like him.

Yeats enjoys smoking. I mean he revels in it. It's like his calling card.

So when he rang, always in the early hours, I'd automatically look to the door and there, with sickeningly regularity, would be another photo of my friend shoved under it.

Included among the images of him, he was shown: rolled up defensively in a ball, with his cuffed hands covering his face on a shiny wet floor; chained spread-eagled to a damp white wall, with his eyes squeezed shut; and hanging upside down, from the hook in the ceiling, hands secured behind his back, over some kind of open box.

Even from the photo it was plain to see how my friend was trying to recoil from whatever was in the box.

In the background on some of the pictures, I could see what looked like a video screen but a cloth had been draped over the centre. On either side of the cloth I could see what looked like the blurred, frozen edges of a film.

Presumably what my friend had been forced to watch.

On each picture the expression on my friend's face took on a new dimension of absolute wretched, hopeless fear.

He'd undergone or witnessed something his mind was evidently trying to bury away somewhere, something unimaginable that he would have to somehow learn to live with.

But never would.

There was still no word about Jessica and Smartphone and I felt the crushing weight of my own ego smothering me.

They had, it began to seem, also fallen victim to Yeats.

When it didn't seem as though matters could get any worse, they did.

One early morning a delivery van was seen pulling slowly away from the building housing my friend's offices.

The driver was not apparently in any hurry and so it did not attract more than passing attention.

The load he delivered did.

When they took a closer look.

A coffin shaped and sized box had been dumped on the pavement.

Because of a series of suspicious noises coming from the box, the police were called.

They quickly established that it contained a live body.

Gagged and manacled.

At about the same time, my phone rang and stopped, causing me to glance to my door, as another photograph came sliding across the floor.

I half stumbled to the door and prised it open, just in time to see a halo of cigarette smoke slowly descending to the floor.

Sitting in the doorway, shaking, I slowly turned over the photograph.

It was for me the most alarming of the pictures Yeats had recorded.

My friend was pictured kneeling, his wrists chained to his ankles, which in turn were secured to the floor. His neck was enclosed in a form of collar, attached to a steel pole bolted to the floor behind him, so his head was locked in a position where he was forced to look upwards, into the camera.

And, judging from the angle, the video screen.

Apart from his expression - which I am unable to describe, I just don't possess the vocabulary to record his pain - tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Yeats has form in breaking people, reducing them to empty husks.

Later, I found out what little there was to find out.

Terry had been well fed and given sufficient to eat and drink. He was clean and dressed in fresh clothes, royal blue overalls.

There was not a mark on his body.

But he was so severely traumatized that doctors could not begin to hazard a guess as to when, if ever, he could be interviewed.

I waited for the inevitable phone call and it came, quicker than I'd thought. I'd fully expected him to prolong my agony.

'Hallo Yeats.'

I had deliberately consumed as much vodka as I could, without being physically sick.

I needed something to support my wavering resolve.

I sat sobbing in front of the television, watching the report on the discovery of my friend and, not unnaturally given my profession, wondering how I could exploit it for a story, and then realizing what I was considering and bashing myself on the head as hard as I could with the bottle.

Yeats knows I'm writing about him and yearns for my book to come out - it is that good, believe me. I know he won't do anything to me until it comes out.

He feels it will bring him instant notoriety.

And no, he's not worried about the police. He's never left a clue. Ever.

Identification? He doesn't care. He's not one step ahead of the law, there's a whole marathon separating them.

So, as long as I hold out, I'm safe, with the added bonus that I'm frustrating the hell out of him.

'What do you say?' he asked as though speaking to a small child.

'I can think of a number of things,' I answered cockily.

'Didn't you learn as a child to say thank you when somebody does something for you?'

I knew what he meant. He was telling me I should be grateful to him for supplying me with a series of images for my writing.

'Actually, Yeats, I think you need me more than I need you.'

Even on the phone you can sense, even hear when somebody's bravado has been punctured.

Then, while he was off balance, I asked him about Jessica.

'Where is she, Yeats?'


'A good friend of mine has disappeared.'

He may be a lot of things; actually he's only one thing, a killer. But he would have told me.

If there was anything to tell.

He giggled and lit a cigarette. I could hear the click of his lighter and then, after his deep inhalation, I could almost feel the blast of the smoke as he filled the receiver with his exhalation.

'Don't play with me writer.'

In my research, I had found out that people like Yeats, with some massive personality disorder, often have an almost overpowering need for control.

'I know you know I've been writing about you. Well, I`m not going to bring it out.'

There was a long pause.

'You will.'

'I won't.'

'Then, I will...'

'You wouldn't know how.' I cut him off, taunting him. For the first time, I felt I was getting the upper hand.

'You misunderstand,' he whispered.

He waited for my reaction. I tried to wait him out. I couldn't. I had to fill the empty gnawing silence.

'What do you mean?'

'Then, I will... make you bring it out.'

'You don't scare me.' I swallowed, audibly.

'Yes I do.'

Of course he did. I put the phone down, gently. It was the only thing I could do to him.

At least, I seem to have bought myself a little time.

Although, at my worst moments, I just want it to end.

I literally tremble when I think what he's dreaming up for me.

I began to wonder if Smartphone had actually done something to Jessica, and wondered how I could persuade one of my fellow tenants to contact the police.

Then the police came to me.

Jessica had reported me to the police. They gave me an unofficial warning; they would be watching me from now on, they said.

She reported that some perv had come into her bedroom and had hovered in the doorway, grunting and breathing heavily. She couldn't prove it was me, she stressed. But I had made her feel uneasy, because I had leered at her a number of times on the stairs and in town.

She hadn't mentioned her suspicions about the identity of her stalker to Smartphone. He had a record of shooting first and asking questions later and would be looking at a custodial sentence if caught again.

Now they'd moved out.

And I had nothing else to do but wait.

Part 3

On the face of it, it was obviously a horrible murder and one with tragic collateral damage.

But there was more.

A middle aged widow was found slumped over her kitchen sink. She'd suffered a massive heart attack, in fact she'd died of shock.

The estimated time of death was put at the early hours of that morning.

A morning that was to have been the happiest of her life.

She'd been due to be reunited with her son, whom she hadn't clapped eyes on for more than twenty years.

Her only child, who'd disappeared at the age of ten when she had turned up late to collect him from school. She'd dallied a bit longer than usual while visiting a friend.

A special friend. A very special friend. Her lover.

A child who, although he hadn't seen his mother for most of his life, was known to be still alive.

Nobody knew the facts behind his disappearance, but it was obvious he'd been kidnapped, although no clues were ever found.

Every year, at different times, no pattern could be established, the grieving mother received photographs of her growing son.

He looked physically well, at least at the beginning. But as the years passed his face became ever more strained, his skin grey, his eyes dead and his smile well, there wasn't one.

That was it, just photos. There was never a message or anything else. No demands. Nothing.

That's what killed the father, the uncertainty, the not knowing.

His mother was made of sterner stuff.

Or was it guilt?

Every envelope bore a different postmark, some from different parts of the world.

No pattern.

Then, finally, on the day before she died, a photo had arrived with a message scribbled on the back:

'Hallo mummy, I'm coming home.
I'll see you in the morning.
Love Richard.' XXX

The handwriting was that of a young child, of primary school age.

Whether he actually did see his mother cannot be determined.

His mother saw him.

That's why she died.

He was hanging from the branch of a tree, directly outside her fourth floor kitchen window.

Friends and relatives and the local police were quick to pay tribute to a loving, dedicated and broken mother who'd always clung to the hope that she'd see her son before she died.

Well, she did.

There was much speculation in the media as to the mental state of the person who could conceive and carry out such an abomination.

To me, it was obvious.

But why release the son now?

To me, that was also obvious.

A warning, for me.

This was a man who delighted in causing unspeakable suffering and then selling images of this suffering.

I'm a moderately successful writer and I was offered some of these images, by this man, to help me over my writer's block.

His name is Yeats and I'm writing about him. And he knows it.

And he wants it.

And I'm destined to be one of his images.

I know he's coming.

I visualize him swooping into my life like some kind of avenging angel. Although what he's got to avenge is beyond me.

I've moved into a new, ground floor flat, in the same neighbourhood I've always lived in.

I had to move, not to hide from Yeats, that would be pointless, but life in my previous residence had become a little complicated, and there are unpleasant memories associated with it.

I think he's already lurking.

The other night (at least I can sleep again, albeit fitfully), I was awoken by a frantic whispering sound just outside my bedroom window.

I never used to be such a light sleeper. But living with the threat of death is not exactly conducive to a sound sleep.

I lay there listening, but the words were just not clear enough or loud enough to make out.

It happened again the night after.

This time the curtains on my window blew in, in time to the hissing sound, knocking a vase over and soaking my papers.

Now it`s only a matter of time.

I find I write better in the pub these days, especially my new local and especially late afternoon, when sometimes, like today, I'm the only customer. I sit there with my pint, my pad and my pen and it just gushes out.

I've actually finished my book on Yeats, it's a mixture of fact and fiction and a good deal of embellishment. He doesn't know I've finished it yet.

Now, no doubt inspired by Yeats, my mind is concocting a series of horrific short stories which, to be honest, read rather well.

The last time we spoke, I hung up on him after telling him I wouldn't bring the book out. He craves the superstar status he believes it would bring him and, no doubt, the affirmation of fellow psychopaths.

It puzzled me for a while, the fact that the prospect of being caught didn't seem to trouble him in the least.

Then I realized.

Like others of his ilk, a part of him wants to be caught.

Then, suddenly, like at our first meeting, there he was, this time preceded by a plume of cigarette smoke falling slowly onto my half empty pint.

'Don't you know you're not supposed to smoke in pubs?' I asked him, my voice shaking.

'I don't think that applies to me,' he answered languidly, coiling himself into the chair opposite mine.

He placed a battered, silver cigarette case and an old, red disposable lighter proprietorially on the table.

'I have something very interesting to talk to you about, Writer.'

'That sounds ominous.'

'Don't be so pessimistic.'

'Excuse me. Smoking isn't allowed in here.' A gruff, confident bellow emanated from the bar.

Yeats looked slowly in the direction of the voice.

'I've just been telling this gentleman, that doesn't apply to me.'

I took a peep at Yeats' face. He had adopted a wide-eyed, innocent expression.

'Well on your bloody bike then!' The publican shouted, opening the bar flap, with a slam. He was a tall and stocky character, middle aged with a puce face and a manner that did not brook disagreement.

I could see Yeats` expression changing, darkening like a storm front and his eyes narrowing.

'Run along and get me a pint of your most expensive ale, my man. On the house,' he breathed, huskily. 'Oh. And another one for my friend here.'

The landlord held his ground for a second, opened his mouth, clearly thought better of it, went back behind the bar, grabbed a glass and proceeded to do as he was told.

'Where were we?' Yeats mumbled, half to himself, drifting off somewhere.

The pints of beer were placed reverentially in front of us, together with an ashtray. Yeats smiled at the rapidly retreating landlord.

'Thank you, my man.'

We sat together in silence, an uneasy silence, while Yeats sipped his beer reflectively. His face, caught in the dust swirling motes of sunlight lancing through the pub windows, looked incongruously like that of a writer seeking inspiration.

'I've been thinking, Writer. And it goes like this. Ready?'

'Do I have a choice?'

'Now, Writer, play the game.'

I sank back into my chair, took a fortifying swig and waited.

He put his cigarette out slowly, staring straight ahead, and retrieved a crumpled sheet of paper from a side pocket.

'Now, when I begin, Writer, I do not want to be interrupted under any circumstances. Is that clear?'

He glanced at the bar and I followed and saw the landlord scuttle timidly away.

'I'm waiting for an answer.'

'Yes. It's clear.' I answered, begrudgingly.

He cleared his throat theatrically and started speaking.

'The figure emerged from the dank, dark subway onto the badly lit, rain swept streets of the capital. His city.

Yes, his work was done for now, but sometimes he felt the strain. So much to do and so little time to do it in.

He was a magnificent specimen. Tall and rangy like The Man with no Name.

Except he had a name. But was it his real one?

He lit a cigarette and blew a perfect smoke ring above his head. It lingered there like a halo and enhanced the fleeting pose he struck, one hand on his hip, the other holding the cigarette, coquettishly, a thin trail of smoke disappearing over his shoulder.

He'd modeled this aspect on the stick-like symbol from the 60s TV series 'The Saint', and had had cards printed with this motif, which he left at the scene of his completed tasks.

He allowed himself a small smile, as he contemplated his next assignment.

And there was always another assignment. And there always would be.

That's what drove him, and the need to supply answers to the questions that formed in his head.'

I sat silent and still.

'Well, what do you think?' he snapped.

'What's it supposed to be?'

He squinted at me, forcing me to look away, pitifully.

'What's it supposed to be? It's not supposed to be anything. It is the intro to our book. Which, incidentally, I have yet to read, and to which I will no doubt have to make further additions and corrections.'

'Our book?'

'Our book. The one you should have finished by now and are going to bring out to jubilant acclaim for writer and co-writer and subject.'

'I've scrapped it.' I blurted.

The only way to buy more time with Yeats was to tantalizingly dangle a distant completion date for the book in front of him. Of course now I had to find a place to hide my completed manuscript. I was getting worried constantly carrying it around. I even slept with it taped to my stomach.

'You're lying.' His voice was shaking now, with barely suppressed rage.

'To do it properly, I need to know about you, your past, why you do...'

'That's the trouble with people, especially writers, your weakness. You always think there has to be logic or reason for what somebody does. You like to tie things up in a pretty bow. My past is irrelevant. I do what I do, because I do it.'

'Your past has a bearing on your future and...'

'Past, present, future, I'm a work in progress, Writer. A glorious work in progress.' He gazed dreamily into nowhere.

'Believe me, Yeats. I'm a perfectionist. I want this to be my defining work, a book people will talk about in the future. My life`s work?

He actually smiled at me. It even looked genuine.

'Not bad, Writer. Almost convincing.'

Then he drained his glass, collected his cigarettes and lighter and stood up.

'I'll be seeing you soon, Writer.'

'Not if I see you first.'

'You won't.'

I could smell the cigarette smoke even before I reached my flat door.

His cigarette smoke. Think what you like. I know his cigarette smoke.

His exhalation contains something of him.

I had, by now, taken the reluctant action of severing contact with all friends and acquaintances. I couldn't take the chance of anymore of them falling victim to Yeats, as a solicitor friend of mine had.

On my pillow, lay a crumpled sheet of plain white paper with a set of instructions. I was to follow the instructions implicitly, any deviation, however small, would result in instant and final reprisal.

Once memorized, I was to destroy the instructions. He knew I would.

There was a set of directions to a body of water, quite far from here. Once there I was to view, and only view, the image. I could view it for as long as I wanted. But no, absolutely no, photographs were to be taken and no, absolutely no, recording devices of any nature were to be used. And finally, no, absolutely no, attempts at communication were to be made.

And, I was not to TOUCH IT!

Finally, he added, it was best to visit the location in daylight and, to best take advantage of the current beautiful weather we were enjoying, I was to take a snack for myself and a cool bag with a couple of beers.

I actually spewed up all over my bed, barely contained frustration and almost uncontrollable fear erupting from my quaking body.

Of course, I didn't know what I was going to see, but, whatever it was, it would bear Yeats` unique signature.

I left early; sleep had been even more difficult to summon than usual.

I followed the instructions to the letter, which involved taking trains and buses, then walking back in the direction I had come until I reached a telephone box, crossing the road, then down a lane, walking around in circles three times, looking for a certain type of tree and on and on and on.

Then I had to look around until I spotted it, the image. Which may take a few minutes as it was moved regularly to ensure it was not unnecessarily exposed to too much direct sunlight.

Which I did, after about five minutes.

It was a truly idyllic spot, looking out onto an endless expanse of calm, blue, shining water.

In his list of instructions, he'd further urged that, before viewing the image, I should take the trouble to fully appreciate the view and surroundings.

I stood there breathing in the cool air, looking at the lake, trying to relax.

Well, I tried.

He stressed, it was important that I really take all this in, realize how privileged I was. Learn not to take anything for granted, especially the simple things in life.

I was dreading this and I began to feel like some kind of accomplice, because I knew that whatever I saw, I was not going to contact the police or I would, more than likely, end up the same way.

Just in front of an impenetrable looking forest, was a fairytale-like glade, containing a copse of fir trees nestling in thick, luxuriant, deep green grass.

It was propped up against a tree, the middle tree at the front of the copse, as if somebody had left it there for a few minutes and had gone off to run an errand.

It was a box.

The lush grass was still damp from the dew. Staring through a canopy of interlaced branches, I could see a perfectly cloudless, light blue sky. It was a truly beautiful spot, off the beaten track, but silent, strangely silent. Not a bird in the sky. Nothing. Total peace.

A dirty, old, bashed about box.

Its surface was gouged and scratched and the original paint, light green, was almost worn away.

It was about six feet long and at the top it had a window in it. A grimy window about four inches square.

I began shaking and breathing rapidly.

I dropped to my knees and crawled to the box.

I stood up beside it. I could see inside the window and, as expected, I saw a face.

A man's face.

He was alive. He blinked. Although the window was dirty, I could see that his skin had a spotty, grey pallor to it, starved of light. He looked at me.

I nearly jumped out of my skin.

He didn't look shocked.

We just looked at each other. It's difficult to be sure, but I feel I saw something in his eyes.

A flicker of something.

It wasn't fear. It wasn't hope.

No, it was just a blink.

There was nothing else for him but abject resignation.

Then again, I'm sure he was beyond even that.

I just fell to the ground, like I'd been deflated. I cried, great heaving sobs. I thought my chest was going to explode.

I think I must be on the verge of some sort of breakdown.

I'm drinking too much. Not eating enough. Not sleeping properly. I'm a bag of nerves. I'm in a constant state that I can only describe as petrification. And my guilt ridden conscience has just assumed another load of blame.

He rang that night. My eyes had just closed and I was sinking into a much needed state of unconsciousness.

'What do you think, Writer?'

My eyes and my body felt so numbingly heavy like I'd been working non-stop down a mine for days. Even my mind felt shattered.

'I think I fucking hate you Yeats. I absolutely despise you. I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire.' I said it slowly and without emotion.

'Writer, Writer. What's come over you?'

'What are you doing to that man? How long has he been in that box? How much longer does he have to stay in it?'

'One question at a time. Nothing. Years. Don't know.'

'Why do you do these things? You're not human.'

'Among other things, I feel it's important to observe the trials and tribulations of my fellow man. You can learn so much.'

'You're so fucking twisted...'

'Now just a minute. I move that box around regularly. He prefers to watch the sunset, he doesn't like the sunrise. I feed him, give him water, exercise him, sort of. What more can I do?'

'Let him out. That's what you can do.'

'Too late for that. He wouldn't survive. It's like those wildlife programmes. You know when they try to reintroduce some creature into the wild? Doesn't work. Anyway, he's a commission.'

'A what?'

'Yes. I'm branching out.'

'I don't believe anybody could be as sick as you.'

'You'd be surprised.'

'Leave me in peace.'

'If I told you who'd commissioned me, a top drawer writer, you'd go green with envy. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a hero of yours. You do have literary heroes, don't you, Writer?'

'What the hell do you want?'

'Let me finish. He's one of those much garlanded literary lions they're so proud of in America and, well, he was looking for something for his new work.'

'I don't want to hear anymore.'

'Listen. How else do you think the descriptions in some books are so vivid? Anyway, he wants to observe a scenario, and then incorporate it in his next opus.'

He was relating this like a museum guide to a group of art lovers.

'I knew you were responsible for the hanging man.'

'The penny has dropped. There is a similarity between the two. I'm glad you picked up on that.'

'I haven't picked up on anything.'

'Where do you think the hanging man had been all the time?'

My fear, disgust and incomprehension had assumed physical properties. I felt as though something was slowly crawling over my entire body. My skin was tingling and a horrible sensation was spreading out from the pit of my stomach.

'No. That's just too mind numbingly horrific to take in.'

'Do you think they noticed how perfectly his body was framed in the kitchen window, just like in a painting? I bet they didn't. He was my first, actually.' He reminisced, as though discussing his first serious girlfriend.

'I want you out of my life.'

'But you're good for me, Writer. You've given my creative side a much needed boost.'

'Creative side? You're just destruction personified. Nobody could make you up. You're sick.' I was screaming, it even began to feel cathartic, therapeutic.

I could hear him lighting a cigarette. I could sense his enjoyment as he puffed happily.

'Writer. You haven't studied my images. They're not random you know. They're planned. Take those spinning heads for example. Remember them, from our first meeting?'

It was indescribable listening to him, his cool and calm speech, as though he really was discussing some abstract piece of art.

'Now those heads, each one was suspended on a different length of rope and at a certain distance from each other...'

'I've had enough of this...'

'This is just the beginning. We can do things together, Writer. Books, films. I was even thinking, when our book comes out, it's bound to be a huge success, they're going to want to film it. But who could play me? It's a pity Clint Eastwood is so old, otherwise he would have been perfect. I can't think of any other actor who could exude that certain malevolence that I possess. What do you think?'

This was surreal. It was like some kind of script meeting.


'Please get the fuck out of my life.' I slammed the phone down. I really only had one option. Not one I believed in, but my only hope, however slender.

I went to the police. I didn't ring them. I went to them. To say they were a tad skeptical at first, would be an understatement.

They knew me already, there had been some silly misunderstanding between me and another neighbour at my previous flat.

'You know, you're not the first crackpot writer who's come here thinking he can solve a murder.' That was the closing salvo from the first detective, after I'd spent I don't know how long telling them the unlikely sounding story of Yeats.

But his partner, who had said next to nothing during my interview and who had been studying me closely the whole time, gave me a thoughtful look.

'You look like shit,' he said finally. 'And you're a nervous wreck. I'm not saying I believe you. But I'm not saying I don't.'

'We`ll look into it,' they allowed.

'Just one more thing,' I said. Detective One sighed with exasperation.

'Sometimes you keep something back from the general public and the media, something you discover at a crime scene. Something that only the killer could know about. Or an informed member of the public.'

'Like you?' said One.

'Like me.'

'What have you got?' Two asked, less abruptly.

I told them about Yeats` cards, with the symbolic stick figure.

They exchanged glances.

'As I said we`ll look into it. You`ll be hearing from us,' One said, too quickly. That convinced me I was right.

'OK?' One ended the interview.

'Don't leave it too long,' I pleaded.

'What's that supposed to mean?' asked Two.

'I'm not being melodramatic. But I really don't know how much time I've got.'

'We'll be in touch,' One said dismissively.

They were. Quicker than I thought.

Within an hour, we went to where I'd seen the box. Needless to say, there was no trace. They snooped around, but there was nothing. Nevertheless, I think even One believed me. They asked me to come in again, for more questioning.

'There's no record of this Yeats character, nothing. Not a trace. We've checked everywhere and everything,' Two informed me.

'That doesn't surprise me,' I said. 'No offence. But that's how he's always one step ahead of the law.'

'We haven't given up yet. Don't go planning any long journeys.'

'There's nowhere far enough.'

Back in my flat, I felt that I'd taken the most positive step I'd taken in an age. But I also knew that Yeats would know what I'd done.

If he comes - no, when he comes - let him come. I can't live like this anymore.

But I won't give up without a fight.

The next day I went back to the box site. I'd found a place a bit deeper in the forest and buried my manuscript. It was the last place Yeats would think of looking.

That night, I drank till I passed out.

Although alcohol only keeps you under for so long.

I was awoken by the whispering again. More intense and hurried.

In a half stupor, I grabbed a claw hammer I'd started keeping under my bed, and went into the garden; it was pouring with rain, adding to the threatening atmosphere.

I looked at the dense shadows, waiting for a movement, then I'd let him have it. Right in his face, claw first.

Then I heard him whispering, behind me.

I spun around; there was, of course, nobody there. I looked down at the rainwater, whispering and gurgling down the drain.

I laughed aloud, looking up into the torrential downpour, delighting in its refreshing feel on my face, and went back to my flat.

But I walked straight into a cloud of cigarette smoke.

His smoke.

I spun around again, he wasn't there.

In my flat I closed the windows and checked on the doors.

I grabbed another bottle and fell onto my bed.

Onto my manuscript.

I pulled it out from under me. One of his new cards had been attached to it. There was an untidily written message on the back:

'Writer, our book should be titled Unfinished Business.'


  1. Very descriptive and chilling. I did find it the emotional roller coaster somewhat unnecessarily repetitve especially when all parts are read back-to-back. But, all in all, I enjoyed it.

  2. I loved it,best one yet I think. Of all the stories I have read from Mike on Fiction on the Web thus far, favourite genre. I didn't want to hurry it , I wanted to scroll at the same suspenseful rate as the story was unfolding. Really liked it. Teresa

  3. what a story - excellent and creepy at the same time. should be made into a movie right on time for Halloween here in the US.
    Mike, keep on writing these amazing stories. Can't wait for the next one!


  4. Gabi: A breathtaking and gripping story! As usual written in an impressive and brilliant language. Mike is terrific at portraying characters and situations.
    The plot is out of the ordinary and might - in my opinion -make a very productive basis for a whole book, a thrilling page-turner.
    By the way, I think the "Writer" is kind of a monster himself and matches the perverse killer Yeats in some disturbing ways.

  5. Another special product of the author. Horrible but bloodless. Thrilling. Let's never lose control of imagination and reality. Norbert

  6. Very very clever. Liked it a lot.

    Regards Ray

  7. Excellent! Will there be more?

    1. thank you very much.
      yes there will be more!

      Michael mccarthy

  8. All I can say is "wow." Someone above said they didn't want to hurry it and read it at the scroll rate, which is exactly what I did. A really nice piece, Michael. And creepy!!!

  9. Hi Jim,

    it´s a lot to read!
    thanks for taking the time and your comments.


  10. Yeats's debut, I'm assuming? There's a slight continuity issue, as Yeats referred to the hanging kid as his "first one". It could be explained as his first captive and not his first kill, I suppose.
    Other than that, Yeats is classic. A cult of personality type character that kept me more interested in his next appearance than the protagonist's feelings. I found the Writer to be a somewhat unlikeable character, and his background wasn't very filled out. In this case that was ok. I'm actually sick of mainstream author's gimmicky serial killers, but Yeats runs the show with just enough believability but also with a sick omnipresence that creates a mythology and romance about his character. After reading so many books with either hacked out or unappealing serial killers, Yeats is a breath of fresh air, er, a breath of fresh cigarette smoke I suppose. The origin story boosted my expectations and excitement, and the story delivered.

  11. Special note: When I said unappealing serial killers I meant, non-threatening or simply not compelling. Appealing as a ficticious villain, don't take it too literally. I'm prone to being misunderstood, part of my struggles as an author I suppose.

  12. Hi Pathos, I understand what you mean and agree completely! I didn´t want the writer to be some goody goody. I`ve written a few other stories and the writer will appear again. I just have to figure out the continuity.

    Thanks again