Lay out everything in the correct order: red shower gel, raspberry shampoo, razor, deodorant, red spice body-spray. One neat row across the bed. Then the second row: underpants, T-shirt, well-worn but freshly washed jeans, grey hoodie, brand new pair of red socks, condoms (red wrapper). Down in the garage, the third row of essentials was already prepared and waiting, just in case. He just had to put them in his ‘tool bag’. Things were coming together. It was almost time.

Next came preparation of the self. He took his time in the shower, stroking himself to make sure he was in the zone, ensuring every inch of him was cleansed and shaved. He stepped out of the shower onto clean plastic sheeting and proceeded to complete his toilet and get dressed, donning the clothes in the order he religiously followed every time.

The ritual worked. It would work again.

Leaving the house, he locked the dull red front door behind him and placed the keys under the nearest broken flowerpot. It was late afternoon, with approximately three hours of daylight left: the best time to go hunting. You saw more people, and they were mostly approachable. People became more guarded after dark.

Taking the car from the garage, his ‘tool bag’ in the boot, he drove to town, cruising slowly towards and then around the centre: alert, watchful, on the lookout for the right one. But there were too many people and none of them were right.

He continued across town, towards the outskirts, the place where wild and urban merged. That was when he saw her. If someone had set out to create the perfect object of his obsession, they could not have done better. Young, a girl rather than a woman, but trying so hard to look grown up for a night in town. White blonde hair with something red caught up in it. She was sporting bright red lipstick, foundation that was way too heavy for her and thick, black mascara. Tight black leggings outlined her slim legs, and a flimsy white camisole top highlighted her small breasts. Across her shoulders she had an ostentatious white and beige feathered jacket. It reminded him of the plumage of a bird, but he couldn’t recall which one. In any event, she was trying way too hard and looked oddly out of place, standing all alone at the bus stop.

Up a nearby side street, he did a U-turn and drove back to the bus stop, pulling up slowly alongside the girl while winding down the passenger window.

“You look cold. Want a lift? You’ve got a long wait till the next bus.”

She looked startled and a bit confused. Up close, he could see the red thing in her hair was a fake flower, made from feathers. He imagined she would be soft to touch, and it wasn’t just the preponderance of feathers. He grew hard at the thought. He grinned encouragingly at her.

Pulling the feathered jacket closer around her thin frame, she took a step forward and peered at him with stunningly dark eyes. “It’s a fifteen-minute service, isn’t it? I’ve been waiting over ten minutes already.”

He tapped the side of his nose, “They say fifteen minutes, but it’s usually more like half an hour. You could still have a long wait. I can drive you. Where do you want to go?”

She remained hesitant, “I was going into town. I’m meeting someone.”

He smiled, “You’re doing something special tonight?”

She half-smiled back, “Yeah. A special event, sort of, but I’ve got to meet this person first before it gets dark. I don’t want to be late.”

“So, hop on in.” He pushed open the passenger door and patted the passenger seat in an inviting manner. “You’ll save the time you’d have spent waiting for the bus.”

She smiled uncertainly, but walked over to the car and got in. He locked the doors centrally as she was putting on her seatbelt so she wouldn’t hear the click.

She wasn’t exactly the most forthcoming passenger he’d ever had in that seat but by the time they’d reached the environs of the town centre, he’d noticed she had warmed up physically, the nipples of her small breasts were no longer pressing hard against the thin, soft, flower-embellished material of her white camisole, plus he’d learned that people called her Maidy, and she had forgotten her mobile phone. Fate was a wonderful thing.

They had made it beyond the centre of town and were heading towards the town boundary when she noticed something was wrong,

“I thought you were taking me to the town centre? We’ve gone past the turn.”

“No worries. There’s just something I want to show you first.”

“But I’ve got stuff to do. People are waiting, and I can’t be late.”

“I said no worries. There’ll be more than enough time for things. Promise.”

But she was growing anxious now and was fluttering on and on about not being late. Physically, she was perfect, but she had developed a mouth on her, and it was beginning to annoy him.

He had planned to take her over to the reservoir. It was pretty, secluded, and the water was very deep. But on a gut-felt whim and in growing frustration, as she whined—yet again—that people were waiting for her, he cut the drive short and took a sharp left out of town, and up onto the historic downs that edged this side of the modern conurbation.

Technically, the route they were now on was an old bridleway, a remnant of a line of ancient footpaths that had crisscrossed the area for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, but it was broad enough and flat enough for a car and it was barely used. At the end of it were some old, grassy mounds and the remains of a partially collapsed barrow tomb. You could crawl into the tomb, if you’d a mind to, and he’d used it on at least three other occasions. It was a bit cramped but very private and a lot closer than the reservoir.

She was still gibbering on about being late, and her tone was becoming annoyingly screechy. He longed to slap her silent, but it was difficult from his driving position. Instead, he slammed on the brakes and she jolted forward, only the seatbelt stopping her from smacking her head on the windscreen. She shrieked in surprise and, then fell silent.

“That’s right. Be a good girl and stay quiet. We’re just going up here, and then I’m going to show you something. There’s old barrow graves up here, you know. All very eerie.”

Her oddly dark eyes were wide open in surprise. He was expecting her to be scared by the thought of graves, or anxious about what he was planning on showing her. Both were responses he’d routinely had in the past and they fitted his expectations of things. Instead, she continued to stare at him and said, “You’re choosing to go up to the high graves with me?” She seemed almost curious. That was not the response he was expecting.

“I’ve said so, haven’t I? I’m going to show you something up there. You and me are going up there together so I can show you something – a surprise.”

She continued to look at him but said nothing. The remaining few minutes of the drive were conducted in blessed silence.

At the point where the bridle path became impassable by car, he pulled over against the high, overgrown bank and stopped the engine.

“The grave is just over the brow of the hill. We’ll have to walk the last bit. We’ll walk up there together. Stay put while I get something out of the boot.”

As he unlocked the driver’s door, he heard her say, “You want to climb up there with me?”

“Yeah. It’ll be fine. It’s not that steep. I’ll take you.”

She said nothing more, so he got out of the car and went round to the back to retrieve his carefully packed bag. It contained, amongst other things, duck tape, a length of rope, and a large Stanley Knife. They called them “box cutters” in the States. He knew that from watching American TV programmes. It gave him a sense of satisfaction that he had chosen to use a knife referenced widely in crime thrillers as a blade that high-profile American murderers used. It was confirmation that he was doing things right –— how they should be done. The thought alone gave him a hard-on. He paused to enjoy the moment.

Inside the car the girl was apparently trying to get out of the passenger door and had started screeching again. Though at least this time it was muffled. Then suddenly it wasn’t. He must have been distracted when she spoke to him as he was getting out of the car and left the driver’s door unlocked, because she had clambered over the hand brake, the gear stick and the driver’s seat and was out of the driver’s door and running away from him. That was not supposed to happen.

On the plus side, rather than run past him, she was running up the hill towards the location of the mounds.

Swearing roughly under his breath, and clutching the all-important bag, he ran after her. He was taller and stronger than her. It shouldn’t be difficult to catch up with her and bring her under control, but she was over the brow of the hill and had disappeared from sight before he’d reached her.

Just as he crested the top of the hill, a large white bird swooped out of the nearby trees and almost struck him.

“What the fuck!” It was a barn owl. They didn’t normally hunt in daylight. By the time he’d got over the shock of the near miss, the girl was nowhere to be seen. Then he caught a flash of white behind one of the mounds. She was trying to hide close to where he’d planned to take her.

 Yes! The fates were so on his side today.

He moved quickly, but quietly, approaching the mound from the side and from behind the other tumuli where she wouldn’t be able to see him. From time to time a brief flutter of white shone out against the lush green of the mound to let him know she was still there. He was getting excited, and growing hard again.

One final dash forward. He lunged round the side of the tumulus. She was crouched down beside the mound with her back to him, her feathered jacket flaring in the breeze. He bent down, grabbing her arm viciously, twisting it and her up and towards him. At the same time he dropped his bag of ‘tools’, reached out with his other hand, grasped the thin white material of her camisole top, and ripped.

The woman standing before him was now bare breasted, but she wasn’t the quaking, pubescent, small-breasted girl he was expecting. Challenging dark eyes stared across at him. The breasts he’d exposed were full and mature and belonged to the well-formed, muscular upper body of a woman in her prime – a woman who, far from being embarrassed or scared by his assault, was about to hit him with a lump of rock held in her free hand. He ducked her blow just as something hard, heavy and unseen smashed into the back of his skull. Everything turned dark green and then plummeting black.

He came to lying on his back on what felt like stone. Everything was hurting, though his head hurt worst. It was throbbing so much he felt sick. Sensing he might vomit, he tried to roll on his side, but couldn’t. He swallowed hard.

Lying on his back he could see the red glow of a vibrant late-sunset beyond his feet, but everything else around him was dark. He was inside something. Then he realised he was in the remains of the old barrow grave, his feet pointing towards the entrance where it faced the setting sun. He tried to move again, but still couldn’t. Behind him, in the bowels of the grave, a voice said, “He’s conscious.”

He managed to turn his pounding head to one side. He couldn’t see the speaker, who sounded female and elderly, but in the fading red glow he could now make out his ‘tool bag’ and laid out beside it a neat row of three red wrapped condoms, a roll of duck tape, the Stanley Knife, a pair of pliers, matches, and the remains of the rope. There was also something curved, metallic and sharp looking. He worked out it was a traditional hand sickle. That wasn’t one of his tools.

 He made another try at moving and then finally realised he had been trussed up with the rest of his rope.

Behind him, in the dark, he heard movement, and then the elderly voice began softly to chant. He had no idea what, if anything, she was intoning, but the sound was disturbing, frighteningly disturbing.

Everything returned to black as a slim, girl-shaped figure ducked down and hunched into the tomb, briefly blocking the last rays of the sun as she did so.

“We are here together, just like you wanted. Now it is time to cleanse what you have profaned. It takes blood to wash away blood and pain to purify pain.” Her voice blended with the chanting behind him, echoing the word, ‘pain’.

“What’s going on? What the fuck are you doing?”

A third female voice, seemingly half way in age between the other two, answered as a broad-shouldered female silhouette could briefly be seen at the mouth of the grave, before she too entered the tomb and turned everything dark once more.

“You have spilled blood here three times and we have responded to your call.”

“What…?”

“Sshh.” A firm hand was placed across his mouth.

“The lives you took were unwilling sacrifices. We will not tolerate such abominations. It takes blood to wash away blood and pain to purify pain. We offer you three-fold what you took uninvited and discarded on this ancient, sacred soil.” Her voice suddenly grew louder, “Who brings this sacrifice?”

The other two voices responded, “He brings himself.”

The first voice then asked, “Willingly?”

The voice he recognised as Maidy’s replied, “He chose to go up with me to the high graves, to walk with me, to climb up here with me.”

He tried to remonstrate, to say it hadn’t been like that, but a pair of hands reached for the duck tape and fixed it firmly across his mouth.

A final chink of fading red light found its way into the grave and shone off the sharpened edge of the sickle as it was picked up by a second pair of hands, whilst he felt a third pair undo the flies of his trousers. He tried to scream, but his muffled shriek was drowned by the raw, timeless sound of three women chanting.

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