Throughout the pandemic my writing group has been meeting regularly over Zoom to do a couple of hours writing together. Despite all my best intentions it’s pretty much the only writing I do now, as if the sheer effort of dealing with all the change that’s going, of creating a new life more or less on the fly on is using up all my creative energy. Each session we do a few short exercises and one longer one, usually based on a picture generated by this site. Today the picture was this one, and I wrote a short story.
“’Canal Killer on the rampage?’ Police fear that a serial killer may be attacking victims in the Twiningly area. Over the last three months several victims have gone missing in the area around the Twiningly lock, and, despite extensive searches, no signs have been found.
Chief Inspector Stafford of the Airesly Police Force reported today at a press conference that there are six presumed victims of the Canal Killer. When the first two victims disappeared there was little concern; both men, who vanished within a fortnight of each other, were itinerant and homeless, and it was assumed that they had moved out of the area. However, in the last two months four more people have disappeared from the tow path in the vicinity of the lock. In April a teenager vanished, followed by a dog-walker last month, and, on Sunday, toddler Murray Vine disappeared completely from under his mother’s nose. Despite extensive searches of the canal no trace of the boy could be found, and, in the succeeding publicity, a further disappearance has been linked when a sex worker reported to the police that a client of hers had vanished in the same area. The client has been identified as married father of two Simon Hawthwaite, who left his family home in May and has not returned.”
“Pff. Tosh. Utter tosh. Sensationalist crap. Just what you’d expect from a free local rag.” He chucked the paper aside. “Six people though” Kerry remarked, pouring herself another coffee. “Six people! Two homeless blokes who’ve either killed each other or died of drugs or gone back to Poland, a teenager who’s run away from home, a depressed middle-aged woman who’s probably topped herself and a toddler who fell into the canal because his chavvy mother wasn’t watching him. Oh, and a bloke who’s walked out on his wife. Load of crap.” He bent down to check the laces on his running shoes and glanced at his Garmin. “I’m not going far. I’ll be back by 12.” “Fine.” She’d picked up the discarded paper and was leafing through it. “See you later.”
Once out of the house he headed downhill towards the canal. For a moment he wondered if he should head to the common as he usually did, but he was short of time, and anyway, the newspaper report was a load of rubbish. “Serial killer my arse!” he muttered under his breath. He apparently wasn’t the only person to have read it, though. The towpath was usually fairly deserted, running as it did through a semi-derelict industrial area, the haunt of drug-dealers and the homeless, but today he didn’t see a soul as he pounded along, sweating in the humidity. After a couple of miles he checked his Garmin again. Just time to get to the lock and turn around. As he came out into the area by the old factory he nearly turned his ankle and realised that his running shoe was coming loose. He bent to tie it, then saw an old chair dumped against the concrete wall of the little loading dock. It was an ancient chair with grimy upholstery and he had no intention of actually sitting on it, probably wet through and soaked with the urine of whatever elderly person had last owned it, but he perched his buttock on one arm of it to retie the shoe. He loosened the laces, pulled it off and checked the lacing, then, as he bent over to put it back on, he felt the chair jerk. He started up and looked around, assuming someone had grabbed it to frighten him. Nothing. Trick of the imagination, or maybe the arm was loose. He realigned his weight and bent down again.
No mistaking it this time, the chair actually jerked, hard, throwing him off-balance so that he tumbled into the stinking padded seat. “Urrrgghh!” Fear and disgust galvanised him, his assumption that the chair was collapsing under his weight making him thrash forwards, trying to regain his feet. Without success. The seat of the chair was sinking under him, causing him to drop backwards, his buttocks down and his feet coming up. Retching, he tried to grab at the wooden arms, but they swung back at him, rapping his knuckles painfully. He was right down now, head well below the back of the seat, feet pointing upwards as the front of the chair pushed back. What the hell? Was it over a hole, or something? Some sort of obscene practical joke? A trap? He thrashed desperately, trying to grab the edge of the seat, the armrest, anything to get purchase to pull himself back out, but everything was slippery cold satin, clinging foam, vile, stinking cushions sucking him in, closing over him, smothering him, at the last pressing slickly, wetly, over his contorting face until he could no longer even breathe.
Silence, stillness on the canal. One running shoe on its side beside an ancient, stained, discarded chair. Nothing else. Stillness, silence. Until, just once, the chair burped.