Serial Killers: La Serenissima (Part 4) 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.

She crept on cat paws past offices crammed with the sediment of theatre life; costumes, moth-eaten tutus, chipped headdresses with holes where rhinestones used to be, tattered feather boas that cast odd shadows in the light of her mobile torch. Cobwebs fluttered in the weak breeze her passing created.

“Kian,” she whispered as loud as she dared. In one of the rooms she found a back door that looked promising. To reach it she had to move the boxes piled in the way. She was almost there, the door almost uncovered, when she must have budged a broom. It fell with a deafening clatter. Holly stood trembling, hearing nothing apart from her own thundering heartbeat. Her only hope was that so deep in the bowels of the building the people at the front couldn’t possibly have heard her. After counting to hundred she went on dismantling the box fortress. The swirling dust twisted her nose and she muffled a couple of sneezes in her sleeve. She had just one more box to go. 

“Move away from the door and out to where we can see you.”

Holly felt like her heart would fall out at the bottom of her body. She was so close! There was no use resisting; there must have been at least a dozen of them. It was hard to tell in the glare of torchlights. She’d be lucky if she got away with just being kicked out of the theatre. 

They marched her back to the front. “We found her backstage,” the leader of the construction workers reported to the council suits. 

“Who is this?” one of them asked. 

“Just what were you thinking, lady?” the one that seemed to be the boss asked. 

There was nothing Holly could say. She was about to lose her job; they might even press charges against her for trespassing. 

Chief suit turned to her guard. “Call the police, they should sort this out.” Then he turned back to his phone, already forgetting about the whole incident.

Holly looked up at box 5. Where was Kian when she needed him the most? Was he just a figment of her imagination after all? The contractor nudged her towards one of the exits. Chief suit droned on behind them. Holly and the man were almost under the gallery, when his speech was abruptly cut off. The momentary silence was replaced by the frightened clamour of men as they nearly trampled each other on their way to the exits. Her escort turned to see what the commotion was about. The metallic twang was too soft to hear over the ruckus, but there was no mistaking the crossbow bolt sticking out of the chest of Chief Suit, his limp body draped on a seat, crimson flowers blossoming on his expensive white shirt. His right hand man turned to see the source of the confusion. 

There he stood on the stage, melting into the background apart from the gaily painted mask, the crossbow leaned against his shoulder casually. Holly’s companion stood rooted to the spot, his mouth agape. 

The remaining Head Suit lifted his hands. “Now mister, there’s no need–” 

He was cut short by the bolt in his throat. That was enough to jolt the contractor into action; he bolted and Holly was left alone under the glass ceiling lights. The smell of blood mixed with the building’s smell of dust and age. The silence was broken only by the gurgling noises coming from the dying man’s throat as he was slowly choking on his blood. She watched his thrashing and gradual quietening with a sort of fascinated horror. 

Kian leaned the crossbow back on his shoulder. “Figured you might need some help.”

Her whole body felt numb and strangely disconnected from her. “You killed them.”

“Would you rather they called the police on you?” He jumped off the stage and headed her way. She backed away. 

“Holly,” he stopped and reached out to her, “you have no reason to fear me. Told you they can’t raze my theatre to the ground.”

Harmless fool, my ass. She took another step backwards, her glance jumping between the mask and the extended hand. Four grotesquely tall and thin figures Holly had seen in the Underneath before separated from the shadows and carried the bodies away. 

 “They will send more people. Are you planning to kill them all?”

“There is no need.” He spread his free arm to encompass the building. “This old girl knows how to look after herself. Come.”

Holly didn’t move. She had a choice between a man who killed without a second thought, a possible sociopath, and… what? Nothing. 

“I can’t go back to my job,” she muttered, assessing the damage, rather than talking to Kian. “Or to my life. Not after this.” 

“I know. Come.”

Holly took in the clothes sack, the vibrant colours of the mask, the outstretched hand. On her way down she daintily stepped over the still glistening patch of blood. 

***

The construction of the new office building was carried out later that summer. It was riddled with malfunctions from the beginning, and all kinds of urban legends sprang up around it. There were some who claimed it was haunted, that it was built on an ancient graveyard or that there was possibly a portal to another dimension hidden somewhere deep within the cellars. There were whispers about freak accidents during construction, about forbidden, clandestine rituals. No matter how many times the bulbs were replaced in the surrounding street lamps, they all started blinking and died within a few weeks. Ghostly lights flashed in windows that nobody noticed during daytime, strange characters lurked in nooks that weren’t there before. In the twilight gloom the building didn’t look like an office building at all. It must have been because of the faulty street lights, but it looked like something completely different. 

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, including Flame Tree Press' A Dying Planet and Nosetouch Press' Fiends in the Furrows. She is the author of gothic novella, Bottled, from Silver Shamrock Publishing and the novelette, Asylum of Shadows from Demain Publishing. Her first novel, The Way of the Mother, is due out in October, via Silver Shamrock. She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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