Dark Corners by Theresa Ann Curnow

Posted on Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Collector

It was when he was twenty-one that he acquired his first girlfriend. He met Beth in a coffee shop in the nearby town of Penzance. She was the waitress who served him. She was quiet and serious and was soon besotted with him, he discovered. He hadn’t really thought about the reasons why until he studied himself in the mirror. He took a step back and saw his image in the way others saw him. He had thick, dark hair that fell over his forehead and deep chocolate coloured eyes framed with long lashes; high cheekbones and a square jaw line with smooth creamy skin. He was mysterious and pretty and the girls adored him. This bemused Henry at first but then he realised that he could use his looks to his advantage. Beth gazed at him with her big, blue, watery, innocent eyes and bit her bottom lip whenever she talked to him, and he loved it, got an erection every time. She was a fairly plain girl and slightly overweight but she had extremely beautiful hands. Unlike the rest of her, they were slim and elegant with long fingers and perfectly manicured nails. He found himself staring at them on more than one occasion, and then one evening in December he decided that while he didn’t love Beth, he did love her hands. It was then that the thoughts that had been lurking in the back of his head began to form into something more substantial; something that took his breath away and made his heart beat hard.

His aunt was on a Christmas cruise with her women’s institute buddies and Emily was staying overnight at a friend’s. He invited Beth back to the house on the pretence that they could consummate their relationship in private.

The house was the perfect setting for what he had in mind. It was so isolated, with the nearest neighbours a good mile and a half away. The first thing he did was get Beth tipsy, then he told her that he had something to show her in the workhouse outside. Beth had stood shivering in the middle of the shed, a slightly bemused look on her clumsy face. She had her beautiful hands clasped together in front of her as if in prayer.

“What did you want to show me?” she said, her words slightly slurred.

He walked towards her with his quiet, sweet smile and tried not to let his excitement make his hands tremble.

“This,” he said, and plunged a carving knife into her heart, careful to avoid her hands.

It had been the sweetest night of his life. That evening, after burying Beth’s body in the field behind the back garden, he stored her hands in the old chest freezer in the back of the shed where, years before his death, his uncle used to keep fishing bait. He carefully placed the hands at the bottom and imagined how the perfect body would look.

That had been eight months ago and since then he had been desperate to find someone else for his collection straight away but knew that he couldn’t rouse the suspicions of the police. Beth’s disappearance had been all over the local news for a while and posters had been put up in shops and on lampposts.

Now, he stood in the shed and checked again that the door was securely locked then he turned and walked over to the work bench. He gazed at what lay in front of him and a thrill coursed through his body, making him tingle. Beth’s hands had deteriorated somewhat despite having been frozen but they were still beautiful. He reached out now and traced a finger along the cold skin and felt himself becoming aroused.

He thought of the next woman that he had lined up. She was a homeless girl who sold the Big Issue and he had first met her as he had been scurrying through the street under the glare of an unusually hot Cornish sun, hurrying to the job centre to sign on. She had been standing outside Pound Stretcher, a baseball cap obscuring half her face, moving from one foot to the other. She was an average looking girl with pouty full lips but it wasn’t her lips he was interested in; it was her long slender arms. He had stopped and bought a magazine, and she had smiled and said thank you. Her face was lightly tanned and slightly spotty but her arms were what made her stand out. They were slim and brown and blemish free; covered with fine blonde hairs that looked golden against the brown of her skin. He couldn’t tear his eyes away and he longed to press his lips to her arms, to kiss the beautiful, perfect skin. But he didn’t. He just gazed at them until he could tell that she was becoming uncomfortable with his direct stare. He hadn’t said a lot to her then but he had filed her away in a dark recess of his mind.

He looked down again at Beth’s hands; at the shape of her elegant fingers, the beautiful pink painted nails. They were slightly spoiled by blood and discolouration but not enough to detract from their beauty. He thought he could still detect the perfume that she wore. The fingers were frozen into a claw shape and for a moment he imagined the hand moving and scuttling across the bench, maybe in search of the body they were attached to. He picked one of them up and laid it against his face, the coldness chilling his skin but warming his heart. He pressed his lips into the palm of the hand and kissed it, and then he placed it back into the plastic bag and into the freezer. After padlocking the freezer shut, he left the shed and then did the same to the double doors. He had fitted two padlocks to it just in case Aunt Maggie decided to come out here and nose around.

He stood for a while listening to the night and breathing in the crisp air. The sky was completely clear and he could see hundreds of stars, and the more he stared the more he could see. As he returned his gaze to the house, he thought he saw movement in an upper window; a shadow flitting behind the net curtains. He frowned because he knew that his aunt was not in. He continued staring at the window but nothing moved; after a while he realised that it was probably just a cloud passing over the face of the moon. He shook his head then headed for the house.

It took a few days before he discovered the name of the girl in town. She was called Clare and she was wary of his questions at first but then when he offered to buy her coffee she warmed to him, probably because she could envision tapping him up for money. After the third cup of coffee, she agreed to go back to the house with him. It was the middle of the morning and according to the note he had found on the kitchen table, his aunt was away on a break in Devon.

He gazed at Clare now and she looked coolly back at him. She wasn’t the same as Beth, more wary and a lot sharper, her senses honed by her experiences on the streets.

“So, why are we in the fucking shed?” she asked, touching the work bench.

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Genre – Supernatural

Rating – PG13

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