Serial Killers: La Serenissima (Part 3) by Susan Anwin

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The theatre wasn’t locked up yet. Holly raced up to box 5, then stood there waiting to catch her breath. 

“Kian, it’s an emergency, where are you?” she panted. “Kian!” 

The echo seemed to amplify the urgency bordering on panic in her voice. “Kian, this is important. Please!”

Was it all just a dream, after all? Was it just her imagination offering escapade from her bleak existence? It felt so real, but then don’t her dreams usually feel more real than reality?

“Kian!” There was a hysteric edge in her voice that Holly didn’t care for. 

“Alright, alright, no need to howl.” 

Holly startled with a small scream. His bodiless voice came from the pillar on her right, but he was behind her, sporting this time a plain white mask, that seemed to hover above his usual dark clothes sack.

Holly’s words came tumbling upon each other. “You guys have to move or do something, the council wants to demolish the theatre!”

Kian didn’t seem to be shaken. “Why don’t we discuss this in more comfortable circumstances?”

***

For the last twenty minutes he had been painting the mask with vibrant colours and glitter galore. He was a better hand at makeup than her, she had to admit. It was oddly comforting to watch him. Holly knew she’d eventually have to bring up the topic again, but for now she was content to admire his artistry.

“Kian.”

“Hmm?”

“Why do you put on such a wild makeup? It’s a bit drag-like if I want to be honest.”

He was applying golden fake lashes above the meshed-over eyeholes. “Because I’m flamboyant, that’s why.”

Holly hesitated. She had a hunch she was about to breach a touchy subject, but she had to know. After all she hadn’t even seen his eyes yet. “And your real face?”

Kian didn’t miss a beat as he proceeded to stick rhinestones on the hard white lips. By now it looked like a Venetian mask. “I’d rather forget about that.”

“What happened to you? Who are you?”

Kian turned to her, the painted glory of his mask in full view for Holly to admire. 

“Who are you, Holly?” He turned back to the mirror to brush some more blush on the cheeks. There was a stack of papers on his cluttered desk, that looked like a manuscript. Holly lifted the cover page. There was no author’s name, just the title in the middle of the sheet; 

A Load of Pish & Bollocks

“You seriously give that title to your work? What is this?”

Kian was putting a beauty spot above the lips with liquid liner. “It’s the Next Big Thing.”

She dropped the cover page back on the stack. “You’re not making any sense. Do you want to publish this thing?”

He admired himself in the mirror. “Of course. It’ll blow the masses away.”

Holly wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Kian, the council wants to destroy your home and build yet another modern garbage in its place.”

“Oh.” He turned this way and that to check the play of light on the mask from different angles. 

“Do you hear me? They–”

“What they want is irrelevant. They can’t touch us.”

“How do you know?” she snapped, “how do you mean to stop the bulldozers? You guys have to move.”

He proceeded to put away the make up and the glitter. “Where to?”

“I don’t know, just… maybe back to your family, or wherever you came from?” Holly fell silent. It sounded stupid even in her own ears. “What do you want to do then? Don’t you understand? They want to destroy the only home you know.” Her voice was raising steadily as she tried to get the message through. 

Kian contemplated her with maddening patience. “Have you seen nothing of this world?”

“What do you mean? I’ve seen what you’ve shown me and that was rather fragmentary, so I’m inclined to think the whole thing was a dream.”

“That so? Then why are you worried?”

“What?”

“They can’t destroy dreams, can they?”

“What are you talking about? This is an actual, physical place that they want to raze to the ground.”

“No need to shout.” He rose and before Holly could protest, he whisked her out of the room and into the whirlwind of colours, shapes and smells that she came to think of as the Underneath.

***

There were two weeks left until the bulldozers would erase the old theatre from existence. Two weeks, and her surreal adventures would be over for ever and the crazy characters she met in the Underneath turned out to the streets. Holly sat brooding in box 5. The golden paint chipped off the 5, and the velvet upholstery of the seats frayed, the filling spilling out from underneath. The cover must have been a rich, deep wine red once, but by now it was a uniform dirt colour. She listened to the secret life of the old building, the creaks and squeaks. 

“Why so gloomy?”

Holly flinched. She was still not used to Kian’s acoustic antics. “You scared me.”

“I can tell.”

He had the mirror mask on. Holly turned away; she contemplated the stage rather than her own morose mug.

“I wish I could stop them somehow.” She pulled on a loose thread of the parapet. “Or that I could escape into this world.” 

“So why don’t you?”

Holly looked up. She couldn’t tell if he was joking. Give up her colourless, flavourless life for the unpredictable mayhem of the Underneath?

“This place has no future. What am I gonna live from? What will I do?”

The mirror mask turned away. The sunlight bouncing off it painted spots of light on the patchy silk wallpaper of the opposite wall. “Office buildings have no future.”

Holly uttered a humourless bark of a laughter. “How I wish you were right.”

He was just a harmless fool, a daydreamer like the rest of them and they stood no chance against progress. 

***

On the day of the demolition she comforted herself by binge-watching How Far is Tattoo Far? on YouTube in the company of an XL pepperoni pizza with sour cream and garlic dip. The view from her window showed the littered parking lot behind the neighbouring cookie-cutter block of flats. The sky had the same nondescript dirt colour as the firewall of the building under all the graffiti. Holly dragged the nylon curtains shut. It was 10 am; she planned on spending the day in bed, ready to forget about the world. Yet she couldn’t help keeping a mental track of time; the machines would get there around noon. The dip dropped on the duvet cover. On the screen an upset chav revealed a busty lady on her belly that looked like the doodle of a preschooler. 

Had she done all she could? She’d talked only with Kian, not with Lady Cherlindrea or the gargoyle guy. Kian refuses to acknowledge the facts, but it might not be too late for the others. Holly slammed her laptop closed. She pulled on some clothes she found scattered on the floor, snatched her coat from the peg and stormed down the stairs. 

The area was closed off with yellow tape, but Holly spent enough time here to know where to sneak in unnoticed. People were standing in the corridors between the rows of seats, construction workers and some of the brass from the council, gesticulating towards the stage. She had to find the entrance to the Underneath, but she had never gone down by herself. Avoiding the creaky spots she sneaked down the shadowy corridor running along the two sides of the stalls. She slid behind the heavy curtain. From its shelter she watched the men as her fist closed around the handle of the door that led backstage. Please, let it be open, she sent out a silent prayer, and pushed. It stuck at first, but then yielded with a creak. There was a pause in the flow of speech at the front, but after some minutes the people went on talking. Holly blew out the air and slipped into the darkness beyond the door. 

Susan Anwin

Originally from Budapest, Hungary, Susan Anwin graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2019 (Creative Writing postgrad). She has 50+ publications to date; my flash-fiction Talk of Armadale trees was published in the anthology My Favourite Place (Scottish Book Trust, 2012). Her name appeared on the cover of Aphelion Webzine in March and July 2017, February and August 2018 and November 2019. Starting in March 2019, Art Here Art Now serialized her stories. Reprinted in Horror Without Borders, an international anthology, one of her stories has been translated into Russian.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.