The convention had been long and tiring, and Fiona stifled a yawn. Then she caught the eye of the man in the elevator, the man whom she’d met just hours before, and giggled.
“Long day, eh?” he said.
She nodded, too shy to say more. It was unthinkable almost. Unthinkable that a man so attractive, so well dressed, so . . . what was the word? Cosmopolitan, that was it. A man so cosmopolitan would be interested in her. But then hadn’t the last few days been unthinkable? She thought back to the plane trip—her first—taking her away from Montana. She’d landed in the bright lights of San Diego, yet another first. It was no wonder she was tired. Perhaps that was why she’d thrown caution to the wind and accepted the invitation of the man who was now impatiently hammering at the “door open” button, gesturing for her to go first. Well, that and the fact that he wasn’t a damn cowboy and had manners, she thought.
She stared around, taking in the artwork on the walls, the deep pile of the carpet under her feet, and the shining wood of the doors in the corridor, as the man held his key card against the lock, buzzing them into his suite. The interior astounded her. He’d laughed when she had stoutly declared that she wouldn’t go to his hotel room, and now she could see why. This was an entire apartment with no bed in sight to remind her of the things she refused to do on a first date. There were enormous plate-glass windows lording over stylish furniture. A big bowl of fruit sat on the counter of a well-equipped kitchen.
“Wow!” she said, unable to stop herself.
“Quite something, isn’t it?” he said. “Glad I’m expensing this rather than footing the bill.”
He was a sales rep, he’d told her. Must be pretty good at his job to merit a hotel like this.
“So, Fiona Turner,” he said, eyes flicking down to the name badge that was still pinned to her chest. “Let me get you a drink. I’d say we deserve one, wouldn’t you?”
She nodded and walked to the windows to look out over the glowing city below as he strode to the kitchen area. She heard the pop of a cork as she tried to locate landmarks below her. She felt the cool touch of glass against her hand, and turned to take it from him.
He stood next to her and they sipped while watching the city move toward slumber for the night. At times, she could feel his stare on her in the glass. Whenever she tried to catch him, he would take another sip to hide his eyes.
She wasn’t sure when she knew that something was wrong. At first it was nothing, a little blurring around the edges of her vision, a slight dizziness when she went to sit down. Perhaps the wine was hitting her harder than she’d imagined. She shouldn’t have skipped lunch to attend that talk. On the other hand, she thought, perhaps she was just dehydrated. She took the last sip of crisp pinot grigio in the stemmed glass. It was the last thing she remembered.
Her mouth was dry. It took a moment to realize it wasn’t from dehydration. There was something in there—a piece of cloth. Her eyes were open, but the room was so dark that she could see only lumps of shapes, nothing more. All around was the sound of rustling, a kind of sighing noise, almost as if the room were breathing around her. Her heart beat hard in her chest. She struggled, but the restraints that held her to the chair wouldn’t give.
What the hell had she done? She’d heard of things like this—of course she had—but things like this didn’t happen to her. Didn’t happen to nice girls from Montana who still had their high school boyfriend’s letter jacket in their closet. Blood thrummed through her veins, and as the restraints refused to move, she panicked, working harder until she was sure her wrists were bleeding. Only then did she realize she wasn’t going anywhere. There was no escape, and she was going to become a statistic. A flash of the man’s face came to the forefront of her mind, and she could hold it back no more. She screamed as loud and long as she could, the sound muffled by the gag, barely making any noise at all. She tried again and again and again as tears poured down her cheeks.
The door made no sound as it opened, and it was only when the light hit her face, burning orange through her eyelids, that Fiona knew someone was coming. It was the police, she thought, her pulse quickening. Police flashlights—that must be it. For a brief millisecond she held onto the thought of rescue, the fantasy that anyone knew where she was, and then steeled herself as she opened her eyes.
A figure was moving, certainly not the police. Average build, slim, the figure moved with grace, but not with authority. She blinked, her eyes adjusting to the dim light. There was crackling and rustling, and now she knew why. Everything was covered in industrial plastic, huge thick sheets covering the furniture, walls, and ceiling in a layer that looked almost like water. She screamed again, but this time there was only a gurgle from her raw, scratched throat.
The figure was fiddling with something just out of sight. Fiona couldn’t identify the strange scratching noise until the record began to play on the old gramophone. Her eyes wide with fear, she followed the figure as it swayed to the music, an old nursery rhyme, a song she barely remembered from childhood.
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” croaked the voice from the speaker.
Suddenly there was light, real light, and Fiona slammed her eyes closed.
“Open your eyes.”
She shook her head.
“Open your eyes.”
The voice was pleasant, a deep alto or a high tenor. Male or female, she couldn’t tell. Not disguised, but neutral. Fiona swallowed. Face things head on, she thought; that was the only chance of her getting out here. Open her eyes, be obedient, do as she was told, and perhaps, maybe, there would be a chance of escape. Be compliant. Blinking, she managed to squint her eyes open, then open them fully.
“. . . and pretty maids all in a row,” sang the gramophone.
The figure was in front of her now. All dressed in black, a black hood, a black balaclava. Close enough that Fiona could smell the comforting scent of wet, fertile earth.
She was sitting in a circle of light. The figure stretched out a gloved hand and stroked her cheek. Fiona forced herself not to flinch.
“So beautiful. So beautiful.”
She fought against the desire to close her eyes again, to move instinctively away from the hand.
“But not as beautiful as you’ll be when I’m done with you.”
Her eyes flickered away, anything not to look at the figure in front of her. She caught sight of the glint of something just outside her circle of light. Metal. A lot of metal. Tools maybe? She analyzed what she was seeing, hoping to figure out what was going on. She could come up with only one theory. Her eyes closed again against her will, a scream ripping from her throat but making no sound.
“Eyes open,” reminded the figure.
But she couldn’t, just couldn’t.
“Mary, Mary,” began the record again, the voices of small children singing now.
There were sounds of footsteps on the plastic, the clink as metallic objects touched, then a breath of air as the figure came back. The touch of metal was cold on her skin, the light entering her head as her eyelid was lifted, burning into her mind. And the pain was excruciating. So much so that she barely noticed as the same action was done to the other eye. With no escape to darkness now, she could clearly see the industrial stapler in the figure’s hand.
“That’s better. I wouldn’t want you to miss anything.”
The figure reached out, pulling the rolling tray of tools toward the light, letting them shine and glisten as if showing them off. Pruning shears, knives, gardening scissors—Fiona could name them all, but her shaking body was so full of pain and fear that she barely saw them.
“Do you have any preferences for which I should use first?”
She was trembling now, unable to control herself. A trickle of warmth came from between her legs, rapidly strengthening until she had completely emptied her bladder and only the gentle tick-tick of drops on the plastic sounded.
“No preference then?”
The figure picked up the pruning shears and admired them, clicking the handles a few times, letting the blades slip together with a satisfying clash. Fiona could barely think now. What had she ever done to deserve this? Random pictures flitted in and out of her mind: her puppy, her mother’s face, the new couch she’d just bought. And all the while the shears came closer and closer. Her fingers gripped the arms of her chair, but she didn’t have enough strength to stop what was happening. Her finger was suddenly touching sharp blades followed by a sharp crunch, and again she tried to scream. Her always-open eyes saw her right index finger roll away across the plastic, leaving a smear of blood behind it.
“. . . cockleshells and silver bells and pretty maids . . .” sang the children.
The figure nodded in approval, satisfied with the tool. The shears moved, and for a moment Fiona felt relief, but then they were back and the feel of metal on her face was burning cold. She had no sound left inside her to do anything but sit mutely as it happened. Her nose joined her finger.
“So beautiful,” said the figure, moving the shears toward Fiona’s ear. “So beautiful.”
Blackness was closing in now. She managed to stay conscious through both ears and another finger. The figure wiped off the shears, cleaning them before reaching for a tree saw. Fiona moaned as her shirt was ripped open, as the knife slit through her bra straps. The serrated edge pricked her skin. As it began to saw through her breast, she finally, mercifully succumbed to the void.
They were the last words that Fiona Turner ever heard.