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R. A. Stapleton




‘The Collector’

The story of a man who is cursed with visions of people in trouble and a boy who is haunted by a serial killer from his past.

The Collector

Summer nights in the city, Lenny thought, were far too long and hot. Lying in a sweat drenched bed in the small hours with the windows open he still felt the heat of August pressing down on him making it impossible to sleep. Outside the piercing sound of a police siren and the ever-present growl of the inner city traffic hung in the air like mist crawling from the canal. Coupled with this was the intermittent cacophony of late night revellers going home from the pubs and clubs and the pulse of a distant car alarms. This was the familiar sound of the city at night. The sound that he had heard all his life. He smiled to himself as he moved to the window and gazed out from his bedroom at the dark shapes that made up the city’s skyline. He felt he was safe as he lodged under the shadow of its tombstone like buildings or at least he had done until tonight. The reason couldn’t sleep had nothing to do with the sounds outside. Usually he was oblivious to them. Neither was it he heat. No, this had more to do with the noises he heard inside his head. It was a voice. An old, familiar voice. Calling him from experiences past. Letting him know that he was not alone and that he was needed. Letting him know that his time would come. Lenny had broken into a sweat not because of the heat, but because he was back.

The voice was growing more persistent. Not only was it calling his name but it also beckoned him. Come to me it sang. Come play with me. The song of the Sirens never sounded so sweet. He could do nothing but obey. Resistance only meant pain and pills and he knew his mother couldn’t cope with that on top of the other troubles. So pulling on his clothes he slipped out the back door into the night and towards the voice.

He picked his way through the graveyard of kitchen appliances that was his back garden and clambered over the wall into the allotments beyond. The streetlights illuminated his path showing him the neat furrows where avid gardeners had meticulously arranged their crops that had now been trampled by bored kids and the girls entertaining their clients. He pressed on through the estate to an area of waste ground that once was the foundations of a factory. Here and there burnt out vehicles carried the trappings the indigenous addict population with foil and needles discarded like hamburger wrappers or chewing gum packets.

Come to me, Lenny, sang the voice again, and again he was obliged to comply. He cautiously climbed a mound of concrete and moved on over the waste ground. In the cool blue glow of the moonlight he instantly found what he wanted him to see. It was the body of a young girl. He slowed his pace and shook his head violently at the sight before him. Tears began to well in his eyes as the realisation dawned: It was happening again. Then, he began to run. His feet pounded the ground with the same rhythm as his heart. Maybe there was hope, he thought. Maybe she could be saved. Maybe he wasn’t too late this time. But, like always, he knew it would be. He dropped onto the sparsely grassed ground beside the girl. His head fell forward. How old was she? Eight? Nine? Lenny didn’t know. What he did know however was that she was dead.

“Why?” he stuttered breathlessly through his tears.

Because it has to be so, said the voice without hint of emotion.

Lenny turned to the figure that had appeared beside him. It was dressed in black, and, although the moonlight was abundant it seemed unable to illuminate him. He remained like a shadow: almost two dimensional. In it’s left hand it held a small plastic bag whose sides were sticking together due to the damp nature of its contents.

“No!” Lenny spat, stroking the girl’s hair. “It doesn’t have to be this way!”

You know it does, Lenny. This is way it always has been, and always will be. The figure then dropped the bag at Lenny’s side.

“What’s this?” he asked opening it and observing the contents.

"A present. For old time’s sake, let’s say."

Lenny cupped a hand over his mouth as waves of recognition and nausea struck him. He fought hard to prevent himself from vomiting.

"Well," said the figure, "what are they?"

“You know what they are!” Lenny wanted to throw the bag as far as he could but found himself drawn to the contents like a magnet.

"Remind me."

Lenny shook violently from rage and horror. How could he do this? What type of being was he? But Lenny knew the answers all too well. He turned to face the figure:

“Eyes” he said quietly through clenched teeth. “They’re her eyes.” ~0~ Mike Denizen awoke suddenly from the same dream, on the same sofa, in same clothes that he had for the last three days. Perspiration collected in tiny rivers on his forehead and ran down to where several days' growth of beard sprouted from his unwashed face. He wiped them away with the back of his hand and panted heavily as he rubbed his bloodshot eyes and fought to sit up, making a move into the land of the living once more. His head ached. His back ached. In fact his whole being ached from the uncomfortable position he had been in, and , from the deprivation of sleep he had endured over the last three days.

Early evening sunlight streaked through a gap in the ill fitting curtains and illuminated the flat beyond. The carpet was awash with old newspapers and takeaway cartons some still containing traces of that Chinese or that curry. Used crockery, long since forgotten, lay haphazardly over the coffee table and spilled onto he floor. Clearing up hadn't been high on Denizen’s list of priorities.

The TV chattered almost inaudibly to itself as Mike attempted to come to terms with consciousness. He raised himself from the sofa stretched his limbs mechanically and went into the kitchen area to splash water over his face. Flies buzzed around the decaying foodstuffs that clung to the unwashed crockery in the sink and perched on the lip of the neglected overflowing bin. Mike ran the tap and splashed the water over his hot sticky face. Then, the reason for his insomnia struck again. A pain of jagged fingernails being dragged down the inside of his skull assaulted him. He screamed and clamped his hands over his face. Then fell helplessly to the floor. Then came the image. The montage of colour, light and sound that invaded his dreams was now persecuting him in his waking hours. In the maelstrom he could just pick out the vivid images of a young girl, a man in his twenties and a piece of waste ground being played over and over like some dread film show at some macabre cinema. Such was his curse. Obviously there was some connection and, if only to preserve his sanity, he was going to have to find out what. The pain passed as quickly as it arrived and Mike lumbered back into the lounge..

The TV was still chattering to itself as Mike sat back on the sofa. He only ever switched it on to drown out the monotony of the silence his own company gave but rarely watched it. Now however the picture he saw forced him to scrutinize the screen. He rummaged under the detritus on the floor for the remote and turned up the volume.

 "Bingo!" he said and chuckled with the celebration of recognition. Maybe, he thought, my prayers have been answered. He then switched the TV off with smug triumph. It was then that he became aware of a banging on his front door and a woman’s frantic shouting that accompanied it. Upon opening it he found Mrs Clapp from across the hall with a less then happy expression on her face. She began to shout in her usual shrill voice about the noise and the smell from his flat and what was he going to do about it. Mike looked at her for split second and pushed past taking the evening newspaper from the letterbox of the flat next door. He then descended the stairs with the threat of Mrs Clapp calling the council echoing down the stairwell. ~0~ The short train journey across town gave Mike the opportunity to familiarize himself with the facts the paper offered. He flicked through its gray interior under striking key phrases with a chewed black pen, committing the necessary information to memory. He enjoyed the loneliness of rail travel. The silence that encapsulated everyone that sat inside the steel hull of the train and stared out of the windows at the gray, weather stained city beyond. He enjoyed the non communicative nature of the passenger arrangement: travelers sat facing the same way thus negating the need for interaction and discouraging the act of almost catching one another's eye. It made it less complicated. His stop was announced over the train’s tannoy, and finishing his notes, he shambled off the train into the fading sunlight that was flooding the platform of the small station.

The images formed a tainted map aiding navigation through the estate. Here and there he saw the explosion of poverty that gripped the estate in an iron fist. Discarded car parts, burst refuse sacks and half bricks formed a putrid layer on the scuffed tarmac streets. Graffiti clung to every surface like spray canned lichen declaring whose territory this block was, or who loved who, or which football team was currently en vogue. Mothers scalded children who were playing in the street and some dragged their offspring, still kicking and screaming, into their dark houses. Fear and anger had manifested itself in their acute paranoia. Some regarded Denizen as he walked passed whispering to partners and neighbours. Children pointed. He walked on.

The area of waste ground was partitioned off from the rest of the world by yellow police tape. A police car sat idly to one side its officers gazing out to space drinking coffee or tea from plastic cups. Mike approached and cautiously maneuvered himself around them. The image scythed through his head again. This time without the lancing pain, but it still made him stumble slightly. He steadied himself and pulled the crumpled paper from his pocket. It was as he was reading what he had singled out on the train that he became aware of someone behind him. He turned slowly expecting it to be the police. Instead it was a small boy with a semi-deflated football under one arm. The boy asked what he was doing.

"Looking for someone," replied Denizen simply.

 "Who?" asked the boy.

"The boy who found the dead girl" Denizen said simply tucking the newspaper back into his pocket.

 "I know where he lives" the boy said and gave a smile so wide Denizen thought his whole head would split. "I'll tell you if you like."

The sun was slowly sinking behind the estate's tower blocks and casting long morbid shadows when Denizen pushed open Lenny's broken gardens gate and shambled up the path to the front door. This information that led him here had cost him. That boy was no fool, Denizen thought. It is a shrewd businessman indeed that knows the price of information and gets it.

Lenny's mother opened the door when Denizen knocked. She looked at him wearily.

 "Can I speak to Lenny, please?" he asked with his best smile.

 "Are you the press?" she asked shielding herself with the door.

  "No," said Denizen, "but I need to speak to him. It's important."

 "Are you police?" she probed, shuffling uneasy feet. "Because they've had down that station every day this week and I keep telling them he's done nothing!"

 Her voice spiraled ever louder and suddenly she burst into tears.

 "Look," Denizen sighed, "I'm not her to upset you. Just ask Lenny to meet me here." He handed her a scrap of paper on which an address was written. "I can help him, and i know he can help me."

She took the scrap and slammed the door. Denizen slowly walked away looking back over his shoulder as he went.

 Inside Lenny put his hand on his mother's shoulder as she sobbed. He toyed with the scrap.

"I'm going out," he said to her and left her alone with her tears.


 The darkness crept quickly around the streets and buildings of the city caressing the concrete with its inky blue stain. Mike Denizen sat alone in a café staring blankly at a cup of frothy coffee. Outside the creatures of the night began to collect at their usual haunts. Denizen looked up and regarded them for long minutes wishing that he could for once walk amongst them without the threat of his curse hovering over him.

"You wanted to speak to me," said a voice above him. Denizen broke off his thought processes and looked up. Lenny glared back. "You've got five minutes. Start talking."

"Take a seat, Lenny" said Denizen. “I can help. But you've got to tell me the whole story."

"How can you help me?" spat Lenny. "You know nothing! What gives you the right to come to my house and upset my mother? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t take you outside and beat the living daylights out of you!"

Denizen exhaled deeply. Maybe this was a bad idea, but he knew full well the pains and the visions weren’t just going to vanish. He rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands.

“Okay,” he said, “here’s the deal: I haven’t slept for three days. That, in itself, puts me a foul mood. And, when I do manage to close my eyes, all I see is your pig ugly face and the ‘thing’ that cut out that little girl’s eyes. That puts me in an even fouler mood. Now, Lenny, I don’t want to be rude, but there are two things that give me the right to come to your house: firstly I know what’s happened and we need to stop this sick bastard before he strikes again. And second,” Denizen paused and smiled, “I need a good night’s sleep.”

“You’re saying you’re psychic?” Lenny asked perching himself on the molded plastic chair opposite Denizen.

“No” Denizen shook his head. “I’m just sensitive to certain events. Like this one.”

“You’re a loony!” Lenny scoffed folding his arms tightly across his chest.

“Maybe I am,” Denizen said smoothly. “But right now I’m the only one between you and a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Remind me: how many other suspects are there in this case? Oh yes – none! Whether you believe me or not you’ve got to trust me or it’s the slammer for you. Are we understood?”

Lenny reluctantly nodded. It was obvious from what the police had said in their countless interviews with in that he was the prime suspect in this. Anyway of proving his innocence – however odd it sounded – was a good thing.

“What do you need from me?” Lenny asked nervously stroking his hair.

“I need the background on this thing that killed the girl” Denizen barked. “ I need to know what it is and how you came to be involved. The whole story. Not the crap the police got. The real thing. Understand? Right, start from the beginning.”

"Okay" Lenny's head sank into his hands. "I was about sixteen. Got in with the wrong crowd. You know how it is, right?"

Denizen gave him a stone-faced glare.

"Right" said Lenny. "Anyway, it was like this..."