MY HUSBAND (SHORT STORY)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON REDDIT'S "NO SLEEP" COMMUNITY
I may have completely lost touch with reality and I am reaching out for somebody to listen to me.
I know that my husband will kill me; I think that my husband is responsible for the five murders in town. A host of young women found just outside of the village of Plante in the outer woodlands known as The Shades, going back nearly twenty years.
Each girl younger than twenty-one had been dismembered and ravaged in unspeakable ways and this is the first time I am saying (or writing) out loud that I think my husband Dr. Richard Kurt is the man responsible. You will think I am crazy no doubt; and I think I have been going crazy these last few months –I just need to speak to somebody. Even if these are sick, crazy delusions to accompany my constant hallucinations and tiredness; I need a forum to discuss it. These could be the last words I write down. I don’t want you to go to the police, I don’t want you to call for help – I just want to be heard. There is something very strange about my husband and he is not the man I married.
He is no longer the Dr. Richard Kurt I fell in love with.
It started with a Tinder profile. I was nearing ever closer to my thirties, I had never had a serious, committed boyfriend. I lived in a shared apartment, with my cat Pippa and I was desperately lonely. I didn’t want to admit I was lonely because I was a popular and outgoing girl that was living in a big city and I was constantly meeting different men and having fun but as I was getting older I found it harder to meet someone that I could connect with on a higher plateau. I felt disaffected by the dating pool. So, I set up a dating profile and I tried to find someone I could settle down with, what I wanted more than anything is somebody I could talk to and this was perfect because it allowed that initial communication before deciding to jump head first.
Isabelle (26 Female), London:
Hi, I am Isabelle. I don’t know what to say, this is the first time I have done something like this. I am fun and outgoing, work as a legal secretary and I have a cat called Pippa ☺ Must be an animal lover, kind and a good conversationalist! Also, please don’t write to me in text talk. I hate that.
And that was it, that was me in a nutshell and that was what I wanted. I didn’t want to start off with a load of demands of what I expected from a guy (muscles, tattoos, six foot whatever). I just wanted somebody that was kind and caring. That was all I wanted. Was it so hard? I am not an overly complex person with complex reasons behind my actions. I take each day as it comes and I try to be positive but this was an intimidating experience for me.
The first few weeks there were as to be expected. My profile picture was from a holiday in Spain, so I was naturally showing my body and it wasn’t tasteless but I think there is a certain kind of man online and that’s to be expected in that kind of meat market. I got opening messages like:
Want to come over tonight?
I went on dates and guys asked me after a couple of first drinks if I wanted to go back to theirs. Another guy asked me if I was open to sharing them with another girl or with another guy – one guy described his violent sexual fantasies to me and I had to leave out the back door of the pub. The entire experience was deeply depressing. It was an experience of lost faith. I was actually going to deactivated my account and try and meet somebody in a pub or bar until I was mildly impressed by this tall, handsome ‘Doctor’:
Doctor Richard (34, Male) London:
Hi, I am Richard. Looking at my phone and searching for a reason to stop looking at my phone. Please be that reason...
I messaged him first. I never did that. But his ironic sense of humour made me smile and his picture was so warm and welcoming. He had this great, big photogenic smile which just filled you with warmth.
Hey yourself ☺
Waiting outside a bar in Liverpool Street on a cold, wet night, this handsome, tall and friendly looking man appeared in a slow, disarming trot that put me immediately at ease – his first words to me were:
You must be cold, let’s go inside.
He smiled and when he smiled the city pretty much lit up alongside that large white, friendly smile. He was soft in nature and he was comfortable and put me at ease. He did all of the conventional archaic things you’d expect from a gentleman but he didn’t do it with a trace of irony or falsity. He did it because that was him. He held the door open for me, he pulled out my chair, didn’t swear or use foul language when he spoke, he helped me with my coat – small things that sent a big message about the kind of person he was.
I think within an hour of our first drink I felt like I wanted to drop everything for this man, and I did end up dropping everything for him latterly. He just had the kind nature I was searching for – it was a relief.
He told me that he was really a doctor. It wasn’t a nickname or pseudonym. He had studied medicine for so many years and moved away from his small home town to London and he had been working locum and on-call at all hours. The hours were stressful but it gave him a chance to be out helping people, which he said was his calling. He earned good money, he rented a flat in West London (just him) but any time he had a day off he’d return back to his hometown of Plante and spend time with his mother and father. His father had dementia, and he tried to help his mother cope with running a five bedroom house as much as possible. He said he was and always had been a mother’s boy from a young age and it caused a lot of bullying and torment in his hometown when he was a kid. He seemed kind, he was successful and he was family orientated. The best thing about him was that he actually listened to me too. I told him that I was a legal secretary, had a cat and there wasn’t much else too exciting about me except I am hoping to enrol in a law course and that my parents died when I was younger and I only really have my aunt in Ireland, and we weren’t speaking anymore.
Nothing too exciting. I said.
I don’t believe that for a second. He said and he grasped my hands. He smiled again.
We had sex after the first two weeks; we dated for a month and after two months we were serious and I had moved into his flat in London, cat in toe. It was fantastic. We’d go to the museum; we’d go to the art galleries and cinema. He was intelligent and I found him interesting, he had so many interests that I just wanted to consume with him – the art, the literature, the history. I still kept in touch with my old roommates and girlfriends but I did initially feel like I had dropped the entire world for this man. The only problem was that he was back at his mother’s every weekend and I felt offended that he never asked me to go with him (dare I even mention it to him) and he worked so much during so many awkward hours.
I’d spend my weekends and evenings alone and I would have to make the most out of it by immersing myself in my poetry; something I have done since I was a child. I felt sad and lonely during the times he was away but I understood that he wanted to spend time with his family and help his mother and I didn’t want to be too needy, too quickly. And like always, I had Pippa and her soft growls to keep me company while Richard was away.
After six months he turned to me and he said it out of the blue, having just returned from his mother’s that weekend:
Let’s get married. I think it’s time for me and it’s time for us.
I was in shock, but I felt like I’d caught lightning in a bottle with this relationship and I was drunk from the fast pace. Richard had money, he had property in his home town and he was an upstanding and decent man with good principles. I would be a fucking fool to say no to this man, and there was plenty of beautiful women in London that would have said yes. I immediately agreed and we began planning a shotgun wedding on the cusp. Registry office, a couple of my girlfriends, a couple of Richard’s colleagues. Nothing big and nothing fancy. But it seemed odd he didn’t mention any of his own family during the planning.
And what about your parents? I asked.
They can’t come. He said.
But surely, you are so close to your mother, they’d have to. He said.
They won’t and they can’t. He said sternly. I let the matter drop.
It all happened so quickly after that, and it really was not the wedding a young girl would dream about, but the suddenness of it all was intoxicating and exciting. I had bought a slim fitting white dress from Oxfam and a white veil from eBay over the weekend, my girlfriend Chloe did my make-up and applied these huge, tarty eyelashes – I called on an old college friend Reece who was a big time hairdresser to put my hair up and I asked my flatmates Molly and Deborah to be our witnesses.
We found a registry office outside of Wembley that could marry us on that following Thursday and we booked out our local pub for the evening drinks – Richard did this with the intention of being back on call for the following Monday and back to his parents that weekend to share in the news – Richard was not even giving himself time off to get married. We knew the wedding was going to go ahead at break-neck pace but we promised ourselves a honeymoon in New Zealand “one-day”. When life stopped moving so fast and our fast romance hit the brakes we’d go away just the two of us – find a sitter for the cat and immerse ourselves in nature for a time. I knew this was all a delusion; Richard being anywhere away from his parents for longer than two-weeks was never going to happen as long as they were alive.
It was on that day of the wedding, in a second-hand dress and walking down the tattered carpet of the aisle, looking over the ceremony hall at my six friends and Richard’s empty groom-side that I felt, for the first time in this romance, a wave of sadness. My parents died when I was a child and the aunt that raised me ceased contact with me some years ago over some petty slight – I cannot even remember what it was over - so I kind of expected my wedding day to be one without any family and the disappointment of not having a family for me was a lost feeling. But here was a guy that devoted every weekend to his family, every spare moment he got away from work was for his mother – and yet he didn’t feel the need to invite them to his wedding. And then I wondered if he even told them he was getting married. And then I thought, maybe they don’t even know who I am? And I felt utterly sad, for Richard, for me – for us, this was no way to start a marriage. Two lonely people that didn’t really know each other getting married in a registry office with no family, no friends and no grand ceremony. A sobriety came upon me and I feared that this would signify a change in our relationship. As kind and as beautiful I thought Richard was and he was all of these things to me; I still thought every day – I do not know this man.
We drank until 10pm on my wedding day, and we didn’t have sex on our wedding night. Richard put his phone back on loud and lightly slept, half awake, awaiting a night-call. Richard always made a show of putting that phone on loud and that he was this in-demand doctor on late night calls; but I never actually heard that phone ring. I never heard Richard take a call and I never overheard anything to do with a medical emergency. Sometimes I’d gaze into that phone like an undetonated bomb, just waiting for the blue screen to appear and some tone to blare out but the screen always remained permanently darkened. I couldn’t raise it as an issue – the house was paid for, and he always had money so I assumed that there was always work and I must’ve not been perceptive to these phantom beckoning calls. At about 3am that night Richard slowly rose, trying not to wake me – putting his trousers on and as I rose he whispered:
I have a call. Go back to sleep.
I enjoyed married life, despite my initial creeping inconsistencies about this man I married. I still loved him; he was still sweet and kind. I loved getting to know him as much as possible. He kept a shroud of mystery around him about his family and about his work but I figured he was just a reserved person that didn’t like to disclose too much information. One day early on I asked him:
Why did you want to get married so quickly? Why did you want to get married at all? My first attempt at assertiveness in this marriage.
Because, I fell in love with you. He said and after a pause... And I am compulsive in nature.
But, you still don’t let me know anything about you. About your family. About your life.
Because, there isn’t much to know. My father is sick, he is really sick and I don’t want to burden you with all this right now when you have your own things going on. I don’t want to burden them with it, while he is so sick. He said.
So I am a burden then?
Of course not. He said. You are the love of my life...
I dropped it, like I dropped most issues of contention between us. But I wondered and wondered and it was my main barrier that stopped me getting too close to him anymore. Why get married when you have all of this shit going on in your life? And then I came to a stark realisation about myself. Who better to marry than the girl that cannot stick up for herself? I’ve never been able to stick up for myself – ever – not to my parents, not to my aunt and not to my friends. And in matters of love, I wasn’t going to start.
Richard soon became moodier, more reserved, he was difficult – his warm and gentle nature had a metamorphosis into this cold and grumpy man - older beyond his years. We never argued, we had still not argued at that point – but he became silent and pensive and you could sense the irritation burning off of him – he became hateful and sneering towards Pippa. She became wary and timid of him in return.
The bad news was brewing, almost like he knew already and I immediately sensed that he’d known for a little while when he hit me with it:
My mother died. He said.
He didn’t cry, he didn’t break down and he wasn’t alarmed. I was. He just said it matter of fact and remained his horrid new-self.
What? How? When? I said stunned.
This week. My father didn’t realise for a few days – the hospital called me. He was malnourished when they came to the house. He said.
Well, how was she found? How didn’t he realise? How did she die? I had so many questions.
Was that all you were going to fucking give me – one line when the woman you loved most in the world had died. One fucking line.
It was sudden. It was a heart-attack. He said.
He wasn’t going to tell me anymore than that I knew. And I wasn’t going to stress myself by continuing to probe this brick wall.
Well, we need to go there. We need to get help for your father. We need... I said.
I will do all that, you stay here, continue working. I will sort everything and hopefully come back for you when it is all sorted.
He needed comforting at this time, the man had just lost his mother and it was not the time for my insecurities. But there was no way I was going to stay here in this apartment on my own indefinitely, while he went back to Plante to care for his father. What kind of relationship was that? I let it drop. But I had one point to push further and I was not going to lose it:
I am coming to the funeral. I said.
No, I really don’t think that is...
I am coming to the funeral and that is that. I said.
He bowed his head. He knew it was time to stop keeping his two worlds separate.
It was an uncomfortable few days before Richard arranged to go back to Plante. I tried to keep conversation down to a minimum, sensing his grief and devastation – I knew that in those situations any word is going to be the wrong word.
Richard I realised was a blank canvas and you could throw whatever emotion you wanted at him and he’d absorb it and project the art he wanted you to see. When I first met Richard I threw love and a need for security and friendship at him and he responded in kind with this gentle, caring image of gallantry – a man of high calibre in every respect. Once we were married and the facade of kindness had gone, Richard was absorbing all of the pain and anguish from his mother dying and projecting back an image of dark turmoil. What was most unsettling was the erratic behaviour from Richard which I hadn’t noticed during all of these months, revealing itself in a few days. I’d hear Richard in the bathroom talking to himself. I would catch the back end of what he was saying but I am sure of some of what I overheard:
... It’s pointless to pretend now she’s gone...
... you are what you are...
... the reasons to stop no longer exist… She is gone…
... go back to it...
One morning at the slightest frustration I heard him throwing a glass against the kitchen wall, screaming FUCK – he never swore before.
He got a “call-out” at four am to go visit a patient and as he was getting ready I said:
Surely you’re not working while you are grieving still?
Yes, I am a doctor. Of course I need to keep working. People depend on me. He said. That was a fair argument, I left it.
As he was leaving the apartment, I said:
You’re really wearing trainers to go visit a patient?
He looked down, realised and quickly changed into his black shoes. After he left I noticed that his car keys were still on the bedside hook. His call out must’ve been walking distance. He later came back, his hair dishevelled, out of breath, dirt on his fingers and under his fingernails, thick mud on the side of his shoe rubbed off onto the carpet:
You get lost in the woods? I asked. He shot me a look that could’ve cut me in two and went back to bed.
At the end of that time, before leaving to go visit his father he embraced me in the doorway and said:
You are seeing a side to me I didn’t want you to see. But this is a side of me. It exists. I just hope more sides don’t begin to show themselves.
He was grumpy, angry, agitated, aloof and now he was being ominous. I began to regret marrying this man. But I was determined to not show myself as a failure – I wanted to make it work. After all, love is about acceptance.
Hi, it’s been a few days and I haven’t heard from you and I noticed you haven’t been on WhatsApp either. I know you are busy but can you please keep in touch.
Again I find myself emailing you, I would like to know when the funeral is. I have tried to call but I cannot get through. Can you please get back to me.
I understand that you are going through a lot but I will pack up my things and I will leave you & you can come back to an empty flat here if you do not respond.
He called, a few days after sending that final angry email during which I found myself seriously contemplating leaving him - I was looking at loans online so I could get the deposit to go, flat hunting online, speaking to the girls again for my old room back and then, finally he called. It was late and he sounded drunk, although I wouldn’t know as I had never seen him drunk. The hysterical sobs were unsettling because I’d never seen or heard him cry either.
He said that now his mother had died, something had broken inside of him and that whatever it was that kept him stable and normal had now gone. He said I could come down on the Saturday for the funeral because he desperately needed somebody there with him and that I was to bring Pippa because nobody could come to his place to feed her. I said I had to book time off of work and he said that I may as well quit because it looks like we are going to be remaining in Plante indefinitely. I couldn’t just quit my job; I figured I’d ask for an indefinite leave using all of my remaining holiday for the year and see if we can work something out. The last line of our phone call left me with a false optimism and at the same time a sense of dread:
Whatever is happening now, I will try and change for you. I will try to go back to what I was. I just need you here… This town is destroying me again. I’ve done something stupid again.
I took the train out of London to Plante and had to change for another train and then two different buses. Plante is a tiny suburban village outside of London. It has a muddy smell, with thatched cottages and rolling hills on top of cycle tracks, winding back roads and no roundabouts or traffic lights - a rural, foggy, green place of idyllic boredom. The town was encircled by vast forestry which linked onto Epping Forest and what locals called “The Shades''. The trees rose so high that the entire forest was a shaded entity. Once in the village centre and passed the shades; Richard picked me up as I was waiting outside of the local church and drove me to his house. Poor Pippa was in her cage meowing like a lunatic during this entire ordeal. The house was a breathtaking sight, it looked like the house next to Bates Motel but it had an English countryside vibe to soften the dark and unsettling edge; a mixture of gothic and good old English country living. It was intimidating as we approached the large wooden fencing that was encircling the property’s garden. I read the sign nailed to the fencing:
The Wood House, Plante.
The inside of the house was dusty and the upholstery was like a tacky 1970s. Lots of rugs, lots of dirty Aztec carpeting, lots of dusty Yellow sofas with cheap fabric. The house was in need of an uplift on the inside but the outside was spectacular. I immediately gained the impression that his mother was a stubborn woman rigidly set in her ways; willing to rest on the beauty of the outside to the rest of the village while keeping the inside dormant and ugly. I let Pippa free and she immediately ran to the back garden to explore the vast new territory. Richard was nervous and agitated as he was showing me around and the house was much too large to really do it justice in a fifteen-minute tour and as Richard held me by the hand and began showing me the house he said:
This is it. You’re here now. You’ll see a new me, I promise.
There was a basement (which was a study for Richard and apparently “off limits” to me due to his confidential medical work), a large kitchen and a dining room. There was the master bedroom which we were going to be staying in and then there was his father’s room and his father Troy. His father was seated in a wooden wheelchair with the handles, indicating he needed to be pushed everywhere. A line of spittle ran from his mouth down to his thigh and if he acknowledged my existence he made a good show of hiding it - he just stared off into space, catatonic and totally unresponsive - the man was shaped like a fat, round potato, he was bald with skin peeling off of his head, his face, his hands - the worst case of eczema I had ever seen. Richard looked embarrassed and said:
This is my father Troy, but as you can see….
And he left it there with a sigh. It made more sense now. The constant trips to Plante, the secrecy (or embarrassment perhaps), the mood-swings, the refusal to invite them to the wedding. It all made sense.
We sat down on the cheap furniture to a glass of wine and clinked glasses. Richard had a bit more of that warm smile I’d not seen in a while returning to his face. I told him I can’t just quit my job to live here and he said that I had nothing to worry about. He had taken up residency as the local doctor “on-call” and he was also working in his basement on something that was going to change our lives for the local pharmaceutical company and that I could easily quit the firm in London and we could start a family in this house, in Plante. It’s what his mother would have wanted he told me. He told me he cannot leave his father and he cannot put him in a home and once the father dies they can do whatever they want to the house and whatever they want together… It sounded so perfect.
I have tried to run from this place but it always always calls me back. He said with that warm smile returning.
I need time to think about it. I said.
The funeral was an event. Like a lawn party hosted by royalty. The entire town must have come to show their respects and some of the surrounding villages as well. Everybody was in their well-to-do clothes, tears were flowing and all that day I heard about what a “lovely” woman Mrs. Josephine Kurt was.
She was a lovely woman.
She was such a lovely woman.
What a lovely woman.
Everyone is always so lovely once they die. The entire circus was like a strange dream in soft focus. I felt myself dizzy and disorientated at the falsity of these Stepford guests throughout the day. People were braying over Richard like an anointed prince, queuing up to shake his hand and wish him and his father well and then it dawned on me; with the big house, well-wishing crowds and large funerals that they were almost royalty in this small town. The town seemed to gravitate towards the Kurt family and all of what they possess - a gravitational pull around that scary Bates House.
As the day wore on and on I found myself drowsy and almost half-drunk; even though I’d hardly drank anything except for the wine Richard gave me. I sat down to rest and found myself talking to the most peculiar man:
You’re with the Kurt boy are you? He said.
Yes, I am Isabelle.
Aye, you watch that family. They’re all liars. He said and spat - wiping his spittle on his sleeve. You were to Plante before that Kurt lad took you here?
No, I… I said.
Have you ever read about this place? He interrupted.
It’ll make the hair on your arms stand up. He said.
Plante? I asked.
You like it here? He said.
Well, I hardly have been here long… I said.
Young girls like you don’t last long here. Look it up - 2003 and 2008. Every five years they say - although it seemed to have missed the last anniversary. Girls found out there in the woods. Their insides cut up, raped. This place is damned famous for it. The unsolved murders of…
Ian, will you stop bothering that young girl you old letch. A woman was damned near sprinting towards us with her finger waving at old Ian and dragging him away.
With a sigh I slumped down on my seat and fell asleep.
I awoke in our bed back at the house, the entire sky darkened. Time was lost to me. Richard was there, his tone disapproving:
Embarrassed me at my mother’s funeral. Falling asleep. Drunk! At my mother’s funeral.
I felt mortified. I’d completely lost my memory of the events.
Not once in all this time had I seen you drunk and you pick today. He yelled, spit flying from his mouth.
I have to be on-call. You sleep it off and we will talk about this tomorrow. He said.
I felt so ashamed. But I had hardly drank anything.
I checked the time, it was 3am. I decided to explore more about what that old man Ian said. And so I looked it up - I googled on my phone:
PLANTE MURDERS 2003
PLANTE MURDERS 2008
PLANTE GIRL MURDERS 2003 2008
A lot of conspiracy. A lot of strange coincidences and speculation; but the old man was right. There were 2 murders in 2003 and 3 murders in 2008 and nobody was ever caught. It didn’t make national news the same way the 100s of murders per month don’t make national news in London. But it certainly made news:
MADDIE FISCHER (17) was found mutilated and strangled in the small Essex village of Plante. This murder has lead to some speculation due to the similarities to the 2003 murder of Olivia Shaw and Geraldine Buffet. Police are following up on leads from the 2003 murder but believe that it could be a copycat killer.
PLANTE once again finds itself in the news after the mutilated body of Simone Appleby was found in the local “Shades” woodlands. Simone (15) was last seen walking home from school and the discovery of her body concludes a 7-day search. This is now the fifth murder in a series of murders in Plante (2003-2008) which the police believe are NOT related. Simone was from the neighbouring village of Ware, Essex.
I felt a cold chill about this town.
Pippa had been missing for four days. I hadn’t noticed because I’d spent most of that time asleep. I was scared that the stress and the sudden changes in my life had caused me to have some sudden sleep disorder; resulting in my constant fatigue and these blackouts but Richard told me that he ran a blood sample and I was perfectly healthy with normal blood. But with Pippa missing, I began to worry if the sleep was affecting my responsibilities. I mean, my main responsibility was a cat and I’d slept too much to notice that she was gone. I rarely saw Richard and I rarely saw Troy; when I did see Richard he’d be handing me a cup of tea or bringing me food in bed like I was living in a hotel and then I’d be out cold across the next few days. Troy, I assume, was being fed and washed by Richard in his room but I just wasn’t awake to see him or how they were getting on. I felt a bit guilty that I wasn’t chipping in to care for the man but Richard seemed fine with it and disturbingly unphased by my constant sleeping. I was starting to worry; I was worried about my constant sleep and now my missing cat.
The rest of the week, between my sleeps, I spent most of my time calling for Pippa in the morning and walking the block searching in the evening, looking throughout the town and putting posters on every parked car and lamppost offering a large reward. I was frantic in searching for this cat. Richard was dismissive:
I am sure he is just exploring the area and getting used to Plante. Cats do this all the time. He said.
Pippa was a she. A fucking she. What happened to the attentive man that paid attention to so many small details just a few months ago. A man with an encyclopedic attention to engrossment in me. I cried deeply for Pippa. She was the only family I had before I got married. She was there throughout my bitter estrangement to my auntie, she was there when I was a lonely, single living in London and she was there throughout Richard’s time away from me during the early stages of our marriage. No matter who abandoned me, who left me behind and no matter how isolated I felt - Pippa was always there. I wanted her back more than anything. Richard of course could still charm when a hysterical woman was on his hands, he put his arm around me and assured me that pets don’t get run over or die suddenly in this town. He handed me a glass of wine and told me that he put his life on it that Pippa would return. I drank the wine and once again found myself drowsy and in desperate need of sleep.
I remember I started having these horrendous and vivid dreams. With Richard always waking me up in the middle of the night to go on call, I wasn’t sure if they were real or fantasy and the line between the two was getting more skewed. I’d have visions of Richard in full Dr. Kurt garb standing over me with a scalpel in his hand muttering:
It’s not me, it’s the town. It’s the town.
I’d dream that I would hear the mother alive and locked up in the basement, banging and screaming to let her out. The noise of what I imagined was the chair she was tied to going thud-thud-thud against the wooden floors throughout the night. I dreamed that Troy would scuttle around the hallways, half spider-half man, creeping up the staircase on the top of the bannister and hanging himself perpendicular on the doorframe - while whispering to his captured wife to shut the fuck up. I dreamed that Dr. Kurt was shifting into some demonic adversary and that he changed his name to Doctor Nemesis. And Doctor Nemesis wasn’t Dr. Kurt at all. Doctor Nemesis had blackened eyes with no whites - so you couldn’t see the direction Doctor Nemesis was staring in, all you knew was that Doctor Nemesis was staring right through you - peering into your privileged being and judging whatever was between the walls. Piercing you with his blackened eyes and canine smile. Telling you that it was the town that was doing this to him and he still wanted to be the man I met on Tinder. Dream Isabelle wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him. And always, I would awake to Richard bringing me toast, eggs and a cup of tea - smiling, assuring me that Pippa would turn up, that the town wasn’t so bad, that Troy would not be around forever and that everything was ok. Once I told him about my Nemesis dream, skirting over the details of his mother and father and he burst out laughing, shaking his head and repeating to himself:
Doctor Nemesis, I like that. I will tell my patients that. Doctor Nemesis….
I’d pretty much forgotten the old chatty pest at the funeral whose name I was struggling to remember (Iain I think his bitchy wife called him) when I was taken back to that lucid conversation and my sudden, deep passing out. I was holed up in bed all the next day in that dusty, damp house, reading on forums about other people that are afflicted with my sudden heavy fatigue, trying to speculate on the cause when I saw it - on the right hand side of the website under “suggested articles”:
HE IS BACK - The Peril of Plante. There was a picture of a silhouette in a fetal position, buried under dusty, brown leaves.
The Peril of Plante - I had never heard that before, standard tabloid naming rituals. My heart dropped into my stomach and I knew immediately before even clicking on the article what I expected to find.
Young girl found in The Shades - I was correct.
Disemboweled and dismembered - I was correct.
Speculation linked to the 2003 and 2008 murders - I was correct.
A list of suspects called into questioning - I was incorrect.
The body of Diane Perveler (16) was found in “The Shades” marking a speculated return to a series of murders dating back to 2003 of young girls in the town of Plante. Most of the girls come from the surrounding areas.
When Richard came home I hit him with a barrage of questions about this village legend, about the man at the funeral and about the recent news without trivialising a tragedy which had rocked me to the core. At the end of the day, I was a young woman living in a town with a history of young women being violently murdered and I wanted reassurance on this.
A man at your mother’s funeral told me about this town having such a violent history. I noticed him cringing at the word mother’s funeral.
What man? He said.
Iain, I think his name was. I think? He was mentioning that there were murders in this town going back nearly twenty years. I said.
There wasn’t anybody called Iain at that funeral. He laughed.
Did you see how many guests were at that funeral? How do you know Iain didn’t go to that funeral? I said.
Isabelle, I have lived in this town most of my life. There isn’t anybody called Iain in this entire town. There isn’t anybody called Iain that knew my mother. There wasn’t anybody called Iain at my mother’s funeral. He said. I saw him cringe again at those words - my mother’s funeral.
Fine then. He wasn’t called Iain. I got the name wrong. A man was talking to me about the murders. It was right before I passed out. I said.
Exactly, before you passed out drunk. I was there, watching you. You weren't talking to any man. You were by the ladies toilets when you collapsed. He said.
No I wasn’t. I said.
Yes you fucking was. He shouted and slammed his fist on the side of the wall - I heard Troy grumble and spit from his room.
Another point I was having to let drop again to placate this bully. I tried to bring out my reasoning so we could at least discuss this cordially.
Look, Richard - I am a woman, and I stay a long time in this house alone. There is a history of violence in this town and another young girl found dead - all I want is to know that I am safe here. I said.
Of course you are safe here. I am a doctor, not a policeman, I know nothing about these cases - or the same thing as you and whatever you read. But anyway, these girls are really young. You are safe, you are one hundred percent safe - we are one of the richest families in town, nothing is happening to you. He said and apologetically kissed me on the forehead.
Anyway, what are the chances of it actually being you - it’s never actually you, always just somebody you read about. He said.
In some ways I felt embarrassed at being so dramatic about the murder of somebody else. I thought perhaps the boredom of the town and the house alongside the anxiety of losing Pippa and my constant torpor had led me to create some fantastic narrative where I was the heroine of my own horror plot. I decided to try and not obsess on the matter and focus my energy on adapting to the town and finding Pippa. I told Richard that I wouldn’t leave this town without finding her first. Richard smiled at this prospect.
I started to feel that my health was dependent on leaving this man and leaving Plante along with it - if I left here I could go back to a regular sleeping pattern and regular dreams, go back to the job I loved so much and a cosmopolitan city where I wasn’t afraid to leave the house and be consumed by the homogenous narrow logic.
The reason I didn’t leave is because I had a deep fear of abandonment that obviously stemmed from the death of my parents and my fractious relationship with my auntie. Besides, I had committed to something and I wasn’t going to crawl away from it. And I couldn’t walk away even if I wanted to until I knew what happened to my dear Pippa.
There were things I still loved about this man and I was trying to love him warts and all the more I got an insight into his mood swings and aloof behaviour and the appropriate remedies. I mean, I wasn’t exactly perfect myself and I hoped that he was accepting of my flaws including my timidity and lack of assertion along with this building hysteria I felt deep within me.
To distract myself from the local news, the fatigue and missing Pippa I tried to forge a closer link to Troy and take more time in nursing him when Richard was on his calls and out about town. I told Richard I would try to rouse myself when I could to give him his bath, read to him (at least for my own pleasure) and try to make the man’s time in the house as comfortable as possible.
I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming again or not. It must have been a dream, it wasn’t possible. I was washing Troy, him sitting naked in the bathtime with a complete lack of any inhibition or humility and yet, despite his moronic oblivion he turned to me and said in pure cohesion:
How are you finding Plante? He asked.
What? I said aghast. The only noise Troy was ever capable of was spits and grumbles. I pulled back, water splashing the floor.
Horrible town isn’t. Truly ghastly. I begged Jo to find us somewhere else to live, but she had so many ties here. Had her father’s company, had her spastic brother, all her money was here - this ugly fucking house was here. I was imprisoned in this shit-hole by her. And now she’s gone, I’m too fucked to leave. He said.
Troy? I said. What has gotten into you?
Same as you, exactly the same. Trapped here. Plante the prison. He said.
I squinted my eyes and peered at him closely, trying to summon my ears to tell me the truth. There he was; a senile old man, naked in the bathtub. This was just in my head surely.
The thing is,I knew that this place had some strange grip on that boy all those years ago, especially when those girls started showing up dead - just a phase Josephine used to say. It took a lot to get that woman to send him away, send him to university to get that medical degree. But then he came back and it started again, so we had to send him to London - buy him that flat. He shook his head.
I tried to piece together exactly what he was telling me. Thirty years of family secrets spilled out in one sentence.
Nobody notices these things in London, I used to tell her, it happens all the time there. Let him do this in London and be damned with it. But now he’s back and now Jo’s dead; so, who knows what will happen to him and us. He continued.
What are you trying to tell me Troy? I said.
She was his lynchpin, his anchor. He said.
I neared closer, I still was sure if this was a dream - everything was feeling so real - I touched the bathroom tiles to find my reality - they felt so real. I was in a sleep so deep I must have felt I was awake, or I was in a state of waking sleep. He grunted one final time, turned to me and gave me a big long wink.
He is going to need you. Need you like he needed Josephine. I don’t think he would hurt you. Not somebody he knows. He said - and then farted in the bathtub.
I was dreaming. I was dreaming. I was dreaming. I told myself. I got him out of the bathtub and into bed, before going there myself.
I tried to look online for any update into the murders and saw that the internet was disconnected. I tried to look on my phone but my phone was disconnected. I searched the house for a weekly local newspaper and there wasn’t a single bit of reading material. I had nothing, no updates, I was shut out of the world’s events. I was afraid to leave the house and walk to the shops because I didn’t trust myself to remain awake on the outside - paralysed by my drowsiness. There could be more girls found butchered, more leads, more suspects, more to fear from this town and I didn’t have any way of finding out. When Richard returned home he told me that he changed bank accounts and the internet provider must have shut off the connection when the direct debit lapsed - he would call them tomorrow when he had a spare hour and sort it out.
And what about my phone? I asked.
That, I can’t answer. He shrugged. It’s your account.
I can’t phone them and find out now can i? I said.
Perhaps it will do you some good to get your face out of your phone for a little while anyway. He said.
I wish I’d thought of that back in London instead of signing up for a Tinder account. I said.
He came back with my dinner and a tall glass of Apple Cider he said was homemade from the local butchers, a needy look on his face. I’m not sure what it was tonight, but I had this compulsion to not eat or drink whatever Richard gave me. I thought that if I my suspicions were nonsense, I could confirm this by not eating or drink whatever it was and perhaps the hallucinations and the dreams would stop - dreams like the one I had today - I would have to start the fasting tomorrow - Richard was standing over me urging me to finish what he brought me.
One morning I tried opening the basement door but it was bolted tightly shut. I turned at the foot of the stairs to see Troy smiling at me, sitting in his wheelchair from the top of the staircase.
Where’s Richard? I whispered.
He moved his eyes to the front door, I walked up the stairs defeated and wheeled Troy into the kitchen. I wondered what I was expecting to find in there. Josephine? Pippa? Another Diane Perveler?
I told myself that this was all the fantasy of a bored housewife with nothing else going for them beyond a stay away husband, a missing cat and a dying father in-law. That was it. I was bored. This was all a fantasy just spewing out from my boredom. I stared at Troy:
I won’t tell if you wont. Troy said.
I once again went back to sleep. That night I started to wonder how many more girls were being found daily that I didn’t know about because I was stuck within the walls of this house. How many more bodies were being found and how hysterical was the atmosphere out there? Was I quarantined away from the grief and madness outside? I peered out the window expecting to see police, news-reporters, a melee of incidents - it was just foggy, dark nothingness.
One morning, I finally managed to get out of eating and drinking for the day. Richard was preoccupied with Troy, and I threw the contents of the food into one of my handbags along with the coffee. I later threw it into the toilet and buried the handbag in the front garden. It seemed irrational but I knew that I had no explanation for Richard as to why I couldn’t eat and without even crossing that bridge, I just knew that my refusal to eat would turn into a big drama and a big argument - Richard acting like a controlling, petulant child. It was easier to just lie, fast for twenty-four hours and confirm to myself that this was all some weird case of sudden paranoia.
I pretended to sleep all that day - pretended to Richard and pretended to Troy. I was bored out of my mind; sometimes I’d sneak my book under the covers and begin reading in small spurts when Richard wasn’t in or was occupied but I just couldn’t sleep. I was desperate for a connection to the outside; sometimes I’d put my book down, close my eyes and visualise a conversation with the main characters of my book - just for somebody else to speak with:
What do you mean Rosemary? You think Guy is in on it too? Surely not; he’s not that good an actor….
Guy - why would you do this to a good Catholic girl like Rosemary?
Will you just leave Rosemary alone!
It soon dawned on me that, whether I noticed it or not, my relationship within the house and with Richard had become that of captor and hostage. Through manipulation and fear; I’d suddenly become imprisoned in the house and I hadn’t left it in weeks, since we’d moved here. I was left to have fictional conversations in my head, pretending to sleep and afraid of whatever was in the basement. It was exactly like I was imprisoned.
I decided however that I would finally leave the house; I was going to try to follow Richard on-call over the night, I was going to leave the house and see what he does in Plante. It would be hard; he usually went on-call in his car and I had to try and trail him on foot. But I knew that wherever Richard goes; he would end up in The Shades, I could feel it and I knew that if I lost Richard; I’d find him in The Shades - that was the rendezvous point.
I tried to stay up all that night; but the effort of staying up sent me to sleep. By the time I had awoken Richard had already left for work but I wasn’t going to be deterred. I dressed all in my gym clothes, picking the blackest possible colours so that I wouldn’t be seen in the dark night. I slipped out quietly so that Troy couldn’t hear - I looked at the time, it was four in the morning. I felt bad leaving him alone; I wasn’t sure if I would come back to the entire house on fire. At the same time, I was sure Richard left him alone during his London/Plante double life and the house didn’t burn down during that time. And was Troy even sick anyway? It seemed like some big rouse.
The town was damp and foggy with a wet dew in the air. I decided that I would take a quick walk around the residential area of the town and try to find Richard’s car. If it was parked outside a patient’s house and the house lights were on, then I would know how ridiculous I was being and I could put everything to bed. The town is so tiny that I could easily scan every block of houses in the area within fifteen minutes and hopefully come home safe in the knowledge that this is all a fantasy.
I didn’t see Richard’s car parked outside any of the houses and cottages. Instead, after an hour of walking it was outside the cemetery - the licence plate reading DRK7RT; I walked over to the car and the keys were still left in the ignition. The car was completely off. I went behind and opened the boot - empty. I checked the back seats - empty. Why was the car parked here? Away from any potential patients and their pleasant houses? Why the cemetery? It wasn’t as if parking was few and far between at 5am in the village of Plante.
The cemetery backed up into The Shades and the two seemed to merge seamlessly with some older graves overlapping into the woodlands. I walked over to Josephine’s grave (fresh and at the front of the cemetery) to see if Richard was perhaps carrying out some strange late-night grieving ritual. There she lay:
JOSEPHINE KURT 1953-2019 - WIFE, MOTHER, FRIEND. Could they not think of anything original.
I decided that I had no choice but to look deep within The Shades - if he parked his car here, he could be dragging the next body out into The Shades. There I said it; he was dragging a body into The Shades - that was my suspicion. I used the light on my phone to help my footing as I descended further and further into blackness. I could hear every owl hoot, every leaf crunch, every twig break - I could hear the symphony of the night and I was disrupting it. Further and further I went in and the more I was encompassed by fog and black; my weak blue light doing little against the tide of darkness. I looked around to see if there was any other activity and there was nothing; I wondered why the police didn't do this? They know where the bodies are being dumped (they have done for nearly twenty years), they know he comes here late at night and yet nobody is around staking out The Shades at five am - well not nobody, I was.
As I walked further in, I saw a pack of rats by a small pond gnawing away at something frantically. They were ravenous and the noise was a rapid click click click; the rats were all in harmony with their munching. As I approached with my light I wondered if it was the body of another girl succumb to the fate of being rat food. It wasn’t; it was Pippa. Her guts were hanging out and spewed across the floor and the rats had made a feast of her soft, fleshy body. I didn’t stay to analyse what killed her, how she died or when she died - I felt too devastated and emotionally wrecked by what I had seen. I decided that enough was enough of this little expedition; I would go home, pack my bag and leave this place forever. As I began to run, I realised that I had walked further into this place than I expected and I was lost.
I was hysterical and I just began running until I could see the dim lamp light of the town. As I did, I tripped and fell. Getting to my feet as quickly as I possibly could I realised what I had fell over, a leg, a human leg. I grabbed the leg and felt the soft, warm, tender flesh - I knew instantly that this wasn’t a decomposing body left there to rot; this was death as fresh as they come. I feared touching it anymore to implicate myself in some nasty legal coincidence. So, I began running again - my chest heaving and burning, it was the most running I’d done since I was a very young child and I had to run to my parents because a strange car was following me home from school. Upon reaching the end of the cemetery I faintly saw Richard’s car lights turn on and the car begin reversing - he was here - Richard, a faint black figure in the driver’s seat. He was obviously going to get home before me and I would have to make up some bullshit about looking for Pippa. But did I really want to start lying to him in my emotional state? I began conjuring up my lies there and then in my head, my explanations and excuses for being out of the house at this time of night.
I ran to home, jumping over every fence, garden and taking every short cut and by the time I opened the door and ran up to the bedroom, expecting to see a disappointed Richard condemning me for being out this time of night - I saw nothing. The bed was how I left it; unmade and the sheets pulled back. I stripped to my underwear and crawled into bed. I could have done with one of Richard’s spiked drinks, it would have been perfect. I tried to go to sleep. The events of the night tumbling around in my head.
Richard wasn’t here in the morning either. I rolled over and felt the cold side of the bed. I got up, got dressed and decided to confront this head-on. I had to walk for an hour and a half to the next town to buy a new mobile phone from the nearest market.
It has to have the internet. It has to have the internet. I shouted at the disturbed salesman.
I had expected my bank card to be shut down like my mobile phone and the internet was, I was using my last £300.00 on this phone and I held my breath until the transaction beeped on the card reader - approved. I was so relieved, I breathed out deeply.
I tapped into Google: Plante “Essex Live” News, and there was the story I half expected:
THIRD BODY FOUND - UNIDENTIFIED THIRD VICTIM
An unidentified third victim has been found this morning and police are trying to locate the victim’s identity. This could be the successive girl to be from outside the area of Plante and taken into The Shades…
The police have no further clues or links but I know what I know, I know the truth.
I walked home another hour or so, my feet aching, the soles of my shoes were rubbing off. I knew that nobody would believe me and I had no proof that if I took this further like to the police or something, I would be putting myself at risk with the man I lived with, if I was to report this. I knew that I was no longer crazy, no longer in a hallucinatory state, I knew that I had touched base with reality but I had no way of telling anybody - I only had one option. I needed to confront him with what I saw. What did I see?
Once I got home I saw that Richard was still out. I went to the kitchen and I picked up the biggest bread knife I could find - just in case our conversation got out of control. Troy was within the doorway staring at me dumbfounded. I pushed his chair to one side and said:
This doesn’t concern you old man. Go back to bed.
I sat down in Josephine’s armchair in the living room and I waited. I have now been waiting for six hours for Richard to come home - in the same place, the bread knife sitting on my lap, my feet trembling, Troy sitting in the hallway outside the kitchen door interrupting me with spitting, laughing and cat calls.
I wish I thought of that. He was yelling and laughing.
Six hours I have been typing this on my phone - please excuse any grammatical errors or typos. My thumbs and my fingers ache but it is all out there now - this is my testimony to you, my fair audience.
I am just waiting for this man that I never knew to get through that front door. I have Queen stuck in my head (I wonder where I’ve recently heard this tune), those lines repeatedly playing like an old, dusty cracked broken record - again and again and again:
Is this just real life, is this just fantasy, caught in a landslide no escape from reality….
Mama, just killed a man...