The End of Innocence

by Dr. Ruthless

Vic/Nathan, Horror | Rated M | 2002 | 8,500 words




It was a dark and stormy night. Nathan Muckle had heard a lot of jokes that started that way. Too bad this isn't a joke, he thought, as he heard the unmistakable sounds of someone - or something, he added with a chill of fear temporarily flooding his body and making him sweat. - trying to find a way into his house.

When he'd first heard the noises, he'd opened the front door to check what it might be, and been terrified by the sight of a small, simian face with bright, malicious eyes that glowed in the flashlight beam, and the glint of metal in the creature's hands. He'd surprised it rattling at one of his basement windows, and then slammed the door hastily before the creature could capitalize on his folly.

All night, Nathan cowered, terrified of what might happen if the nightmare creature succeeded in breeching the defenses of his home, listening to every rattle and tap on the glass. By the time the morning came, he was crouched in his bed, the covers pulled tight over his head, trembling and sweating as he patiently waited for death.

As he climbed shakily out of bed to greet the dawn, the relief that flooded him made him light headed. If it happens again, he told himself, Victor will help me.

Victor will help me.


Tuesdays are never good days; that is axiomatic in the world of working stiffs. Tuesday is sufficiently far from the last weekend for the euphoria to have worn off, but there's still a hell of a long way to go before the next one. The best thing we can say about Tuesday is that it passes if we wait it out.

The world of the shadowy government agency is no different when it comes to Tuesdays. Victor Mansfield, LiAnn Tsei and Mac Ramsey had been given a pile of research to do, guaranteed to make Tuesday stretch on ad infinitum; a low key, boring day that would have no relief from tedium other than that offered by constant bickering.

Our three agents were sitting around the table, poring over files when it happened. Mid morning brings its own crises, and this was no exception. Having slept really badly the previous night, Vic was in dire need of something that would kick-start him. Breakfast hadn't worked, and he was relying now on Agency coffee. Standing up to head for the coffee machine and a hefty jolt of caffeine, Victor slipped on a paper that he hadn't seen float from the table.

Even as he went down, limbs flailing wildly, he knew that he'd done something stupid, and as his head impacted on the back of the chair in which he'd been sitting, he saw the starburst flash, heard the birds tweeting, and felt something like a lightning strike steal away his senses.

By the time that LiAnn and Mac had risen to come to his aid, he was lying on the floor, out cold and somehow vulnerable. When the Director strolled into the conference room, all long red fingernails and sarcasm, it had become obvious that Vic had done himself a mischief, and finally a doctor was summoned.

He checked the fallen man and ordered X-rays just as Victor was beginning to come around. Later on, in his bed at the hospital, the three who waited were given the news. Victor was concussed, but other than that he would be fine.

Leaving him to sleep it off, Mac, LiAnn and the Director returned to their shadowy government agency, there to continue their research.


The day was getting late. LiAnn finally closed her laptop and pushed back her chair.

"I don't think that I can take much more of this today," she said as she gestured vaguely at the piles of data she had been studying. "If everything hinges on me discovering something interesting about the Peruvian Government before morning, I guess that the world will come to an end."

She stalked away, a tall, slender, graceful figure, leaving Mac to sit and watch her go. Sighing, he began to gather his own papers together. He had just finished his preparations for leaving, when his phone rang.

"Ramsey." His voice was curt. LiAnn had left him to it, and Vic was currently lounging around in a hospital with hot and cold running nurses fussing over him. He felt a certain air of grievance. How come he was the one who had been left behind to clean up?

"Uh... Is that Mac? Mac Ramsey?" The diffident voice on the other end of the phone connection was one that always made Mac groan. Nathan Muckle wasn't his favorite person at the best of times. Mac saw him as a useful person to have in the library because he appeared to have an encyclopedic brain and came up with the goods more often than not. In Mac's view, Nathan was nuts, utterly nuts, and he didn't have the patience with him that one needed to get sense out of him. Victor seemed to manage it, but that was just because Nathan seemed to think that Vic was some sort of high-up mover and shaker in the Illuminati instead of the dumb schmuck Mac considered him in actual fact to be.

"Yeah, this is Ramsey," he said, cagily. He was nervous of Nathan. Ordinarily he left interaction with the strange librarian to Vic, but today Vic was out of action and wasn't going to bail him out. "What's the problem, Nathan?"

Mac had always had difficulties understanding Nathan. He was the first person to admit that it was because he wasn't interested in the oddball ramblings of the weird man. Today, however, the note of genuine fright in Nathan's voice brought an uncharacteristically cold chill of concern into Mac Ramsey's self-centered soul, and for once Mac stopped to listen.

Nathan told a tale of a strange, monkey man that was stalking his home, scaring his mother and terrifying him. Mac wasn't convinced that there was a monkey man per se, but he recognized Nathan's fear, and for once, he didn't blow the man off. He considered for a moment. Despite the constant sniping that the two of them indulged in, Mac liked his partner Vic, though wild horses couldn't have dragged that admission from his lips. Victor would have gone leaping to Nathan's rescue, and so, lacking Vic, Mac would, too. It was the least he could do for his fallen comrade.

"Okay, Nathan, give me your address, and I'll come over to check it out for monkeys. Hold on and let me find something to write with." Sighing, Mac fumbled around on the desk for a piece of paper and a pencil, and prepared himself for a very boring evening.


Mac Ramsey was utterly confused and rather more than exasperated. He'd spent a fruitless evening going over the Muckle household with a fine-tooth comb, searching for signs of an intruder, but there had been nothing that he could see.

The house had been as secure as any, and Mac had no idea where Nathan's fears were coming from, nor did he particularly care. He'd been sitting in the living room with Nathan, drinking a cup of coffee and attempting to allay the librarian's fears so that he could make good his escape, when it had begun.

"Nathan?" The woman's voice was harsh and unpleasant, and the strident tones had an obvious, negative effect on the young man sitting opposite from Mac.

"What, Mother?"

"Have you got someone with you?"

"Uh... No, Mother. It's just the telephone." Mac could see the sweat start to stand out on Nathan's forehead, shining up his face until it looked wet and unfinished. Moving uneasily, Nathan stared upwards in the direction in which Mac presumed Nathan's mother's room lay.

"You're a liar!" The screeched abuse made Mac jump, and Nathan winced visibly.

"Excuse me for a minute." There was something furtive about the way that the strange, skinny librarian scurried away. "She has agoraphobia," confided Nathan over his shoulder as he left, almost as though that was the only excuse he needed for a situation that was perfectly normal. Mac grimaced and then nodded, watching Nathan as he disappeared through the door.

My work here is done, he thought to himself. Time to get out of this place before he starts to give me other little jobs to do, or he's going to be asking me to send messages to Alpha Centauri or something like that. Setting aside his coffee mug, Mac stood up and went to the door of the living room to listen. He could hear Nathan's voice, and then another, answering him. Figuring that Nathan would be busy for a short while, Mac made stealthily for the front door. He had reached it, was in the act of opening it, when a faint sound from behind him alerted him to the fact that there was someone - or something - behind him.

The last thing he saw as he tried to turn and face the newcomer was the glint of lamplight on steel, then the world exploded in a red glare that flashed, faded, and was gone.


The shadowy government agency was apparently unchanged when Vic Mansfield walked through the doors three days later. He still had the headache and the ringing in his ears that was the legacy from his fall, but on the upside it was Friday now, and Friday was always a far easier day to get through. He strode through the apparently deserted corridors on his way to the conference room and the Director's summons, wishing, as he always did, that he could be elsewhere.

As usual the long, polished table stood in the center of the room, and LiAnn had arrived before him. He walked to his regular seat and took it, leaning forward against the table as he smiled at LiAnn a little sadly.

"Hi there. How are you? Miss me?" LiAnn rolled her eyes at him, and he shrugged. He was about to ask her why she was being so curt when the purring voice of the Director reached him.

"Ah, Victor. Welcome back to our happy little home. I'm so glad to see that you're fit for duty once more." As she came down the steps, dressed in a fedora and a man's charcoal pinstripe suit without a shirt beneath the vest, she waved a cigar at him airily. "Now, if we can just find out where Mr. Ramsey might be hiding, we can get back to work."

"Hiding? What do you mean, hiding?" Vic split his frown between the two women that flanked him. "Where is Mac? You're kidding me, right?"

"Unfortunately not, Victor." The Director's voice was worried, and Vic suddenly felt anxiety strike into him like a thump to his gut. "Mac hasn't been seen since the evening of the day you were taken into hospital. He hasn't been home and his bed hasn't been slept in. Ordinarily I'd suspect that he'd done a deliberate disappearing act, but for the fact that his car has been found abandoned in a parking lot in False Creek, and there doesn't seem to be a trace of him other than that. He didn't pack any clothing or take any of his personal belongings, not even his toothbrush. I'm becoming a little concerned about our Mr. Ramsey."

She finished speaking and took a drag from her cigar, allowing the smoke to curl lazily around her face and the brim of her hat as she fixed Vic with a stare that made him think of venomous serpents he'd seen once on the Natural History channel. He felt unpleasantly like the guinea pig that had been selected by a cobra for its next meal as he watched her watching him. In short, it was business as usual.

"I haven't seen him," Vic said without much hope of being believed. LiAnn let out a snort as he spoke and it was almost with relief that he heard the Director hush her.

"Come, come, LiAnn," she said throatily, stalking around the table in her high heels to stand behind Victor. "Our Victor only came out of the hospital yesterday. He hasn't seen Mac since before his... unfortunate accident. While we certainly must expect him to assist us in finding Mr. Ramsey, we have no grounds for believing that Vic might be concealing him" She began to run her long fingernails down over Vic's cheek until they ended up hovering over his throat. "Vic is going to find him for me. I'm sure that it won't take long for an experienced detective such as Victor. I'll expect to see our wandering boy back at work tomorrow, won't I, Victor?"

She gave Vic's throat a little squeeze, nails raking the soft skin and leaving score marks, surprising a small sound of protest from him. Then, much to his relief, she turned to leave.

LiAnn shrugged eloquently as he turned to her after the Director had left them alone. "Don't ask me," she said. "He was here when I left on Tuesday evening, but he didn't show up for work on Wednesday."

Sighing, Vic took the paperwork she was holding out to him and began to read through the sparse notes containing all the information that had been uncovered about Mac's disappearance.


The library, as usual, was cluttered with piles of books and folders. Papers protruded from manila files like so many white tongues to lick at the tables on which they lay; tomes and binders were strewn like confetti over every available surface, although the shelves still seemed to be crammed to bursting point with reference material.

Into this domain came Victor, reluctant to expose himself to Nathan's loony theories, but aware that the man would always find something useful for him, if only he, Vic, could keep his temper long enough to profit from it.

Today, Nathan was nowhere to be seen, and for once Vic was annoyed. He'd been expecting, even hoping to come face to face with the strange librarian. Nathan's absence felt like a personal affront. He stood in the center of the library, fuming impotently at the empty room. He had just given up and turned to leave once more, when he heard Nathan speak.

"Are you leaving so soon, Victor? I suppose that you've succeeded in deciphering the blue prints for the speed-reading device the aliens left with Jerry Springer."

Vic looked up to see Nathan perched on top of one of the stacks, cross legged and resembling the kind of large stork that certain Europeans believe brings good luck if it nests on their roof.

"Uh, hi, Nathan. I need to talk to you. No speed-reader yet. The great minds of the Illuminati are still working on it. C'mon down. I want to ask you some questions about Mac. You know that he seems to have disappeared?"

Nathan unfurled his length and slowly made his way down from his perch. "Mac? What about Mac?" he asked.

"He's vanished. His car was left on False Creek by a woman, sometime on Tuesday night. She was seen climbing out of it and walking off towards Granville Island. I need to know about any other, similar occurrences. Also, I ran a check on the phone calls he took on his cell, and you were the last one to talk to him, early on Tuesday evening. I wondered if you had any clue as to where he could have gone?"

Nathan appeared to ponder, his face pale and sweaty in the low light of the library. "There was an intruder at my house - a monkey man. He was trying to get in and scaring my mother. Mac came over and checked things out for me. He said that there was nothing to worry about, and went away. I guess that must have been about eight-thirty that evening."

"Did he give you any hint where he was going when he left?" Vic frowned. Mac had gone to Nathan's house without being roped and dragged? That was most unusual behavior for him. Vic would have bet that Mac would head in the opposite direction from chez Nathan at the first suggestion that he visit.

"I don't think so. Mother was fussing, and he let himself out while I was upstairs taking care of her. He'd gone by the time I got back down the stairs." Nathan turned intense eyes onto Vic. "The monkey man didn't come back that night though, so he did manage to scare that away. I wanted to say thanks but I haven't seen him."

There was little further conversation. Vic left the library with the promise that Nathan would look into the records and discover any other cars that had been abandoned in the same area that had been tied into abductions. As he went back to the conference room, he replayed the conversation. Monkey man? What the hell was that? Trust Nathan to get weird. Vic didn't know why that should surprise him. Shrugging the entire train of thought away angrily, Vic went back to rejoin LiAnn.


Nothing. They'd found nothing at all that would help.

Vic had been through Mac's apartment with a fine-tooth comb, and turned up nothing that gave any indication why he might have left. Clothing was there, as were other personal effects, and most disturbingly, a bunch of photographs of himself beside Mac's bed. He didn't want to think about that too hard.

There had been no clue as to where the man might have gone, and Victor was frustrated. The day had been fruitless. Questioning the witness who had seen the woman drive up with Mac's car revealed only that the female concerned was old, rather gaunt, and not even slightly like any of the women that ordinarily attracted Mac.

It was with a feeling of extreme frustration that Vic returned to his truck to drive back to the agency. He unlocked his truck despondently and climbed in behind the wheel. As he settled himself, his cell phone rang, and sighing, he prepared to withstand an onslaught from the Director. Nathan's panicky voice at the other end of the line was a surprise that made him do a double take.


"Nathan? Is that you?" Vic glanced at his watch. Surely Nathan was at home by now. "Did you find anything out?"

"About Mac? I don't know," was the oddball's response.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" Vic's voice was terse.

"I didn't find anything out at work, but the monkey man is back. He's prowling around the house again, and he's the one..."

"The one? What do you mean, he's the one?"

"I called Mac on Tuesday because he was prowling around." Nathan seemed almost hysterical in his need to have Victor understand his reasoning. "It was the monkey man that took him, I know it was. Help me, Victor."

There was a pause. Nathan could be heard breathing heavily over the phone as he awaited Victor's decision. Vic felt very strange as he contemplated the concept of this monkey man and its possible involvement in Mac's disappearance. It was something out of a cheap sci-fi pulp, and, as such, utterly silly, but at the same time Vic couldn't deny that Mac was missing.

"Okay, Nathan," he said. "Give me your address and I'll be right over."


As Victor drew up outside the small, dilapidated house, he could see that there were no lights on, and for a moment he thought that he might have the wrong house. He checked the address once again and shook his head, leaping out of the truck to go and ring the bell. If this were really Nathan's house, then it was obvious that there was some problem, and unease began to nag at Victor.

He sat for a moment, studying the house. It remained stubbornly in darkness, and although Vic watched intently for over ten minutes, he could see no movement in the immediate vicinity. Taking a deep breath, Vic hopped out of the cab and went to ring the doorbell.

There was a pause, and Vic was about to turn away when the door opened and Nathan's voice hissed at him to hurry up and enter. He slipped through the door swiftly, and the door was closed behind him, leaving him in the gloom of Nathan's hallway.

"Nathan," he said, his voice sounding very loud in the gloomy, silent house. "What the hell is going on?"

He could feel Nathan flinch beside him. "The lights aren't working. I think that he's done something to the supply." Nathan's body pressed close to his side, and Vic could feel him shaking, terrified.

"It's okay. Don't worry. I'm here now," said Vic, not actually sure how that would make the terrified man feel better, but needing to say something or go crazy himself. Instinctively, he drew his gun as he crouched in the hallway.

"He's here. I heard him." Nathan whispered, and there was a gasping hiss as he took a hit from his nebulizer.

"Who's here?"

"The creature. The monkey man. The one that captured Mac." Nathan was about to say something further when there was a yell from somewhere in the recesses of the house.

"Nathan?" Vic shuddered as he heard the voice, rasping and unpleasant. "Nathan? You've got someone with you."

"It's Victor, Mother. He's come to help us." Vic shook himself and stood up straight as Nathan answered the old woman. "The monkey man is lurking around, and Victor has a gun. He'll shoot him if he tries to do us any harm." There was strain evident in Nathan's voice.

"Get rid of him. I don't like strangers."

Vic frowned. "Why don't you go and reassure your mom, while I take a look around and see if I can see any signs of an intruder?" As Nathan nodded gratefully, Vic moved away, gun in hand, to check all the windows and doors. Absently, he could hear the movement of the other man somewhere upstairs, and then all was still as Vic methodically checked all the possible means of entering the house.

The house seemed secure. The lights were still out, though, and Vic wondered if there was a power outage, although there were lights on in the street outside. He was heading for the telephone to check if it too was out of order, when the faintest of sounds behind him alerted him to the fact that he was no longer alone in the room. He half turned, the faint rustle enough to worry him, and as he did so, there was an explosion of white light behind his eyes, pain bursting through from the air behind his head to rock him.

Falling to the ground was easy. Black and agonized sleep was on him in seconds, shoving him away from the light and into shadow.


Muffled sounds and curses that might have emanated from the air itself, but which were wearing his voice... There was the faint scent of something old, corrupt, and pain like a toothache, only it wasn't just teeth that ached; it was his head that felt close to bursting as he clawed his way back to reality.

The groan that he heard was his own. The cold, hard surface on which he lay made him shiver, and his head was swimming with pain. He couldn't move.

That thought made him panic, and he struggled, feeling sick as the futile movements caused the blanket of darkness to crackle around him once again. A shocking torrent of cold water on his face made him gasp and open his eyes. He made a useless attempt to try and see in a darkness that was almost complete; screwing his eyes up and squinting to try and make out where he was.

He could hear someone close by and tried to free himself again as he called out to the unseen presence.

"Who are you? Where's Nathan? Why are you holding me here?"

For a few moments the silence dragged on. The presence that Vic had sensed remained close but didn't speak, and it seemed as though it had ceased to move. Again he called out, more desperate now, but still there was no response, save for the vague shuffling as his unknown captor moved closer. "Nathan? C'mon. This isn't a joke."

A light flared, dazzling his eyes, as a flashlight played on him, preventing him from seeing the face of the person standing beside him. Eyes watering, he squinted into impossible darkness, but could only make out what seemed to be stiff taffeta skirts and ankles that were clad in wrinkled support hose.

"Who are you?" Vic was confused now. This was patently not Nathan, or indeed the 'monkey man' he had been half expecting. "What have you done?" Vic renewed his struggles to be free, battling to burst his bonds, until he finally succeeded in rolling over. His blood ran cold, and his thrashing ceased abruptly as he suddenly came face to face with the full horror of his situation.

At his side, glassy eyes filmed and sightless, lay the corpse of Mac Ramsey. In the harsh illumination, Victor could see that Mac's throat had been cut, and now gaped, a second smile below the full-lipped mouth that would never again crack a joke. Mac had bled out where he lay, and Victor was securely bound to the body that lay in a welter of dried blood. The pale flesh of Mac's face had taken on a faint greenish tinge, and as Vic struggled, the faint scent of corruption became more pronounced, its origin now made hideously apparent. Victor moaned, his stomach rebelling against the sudden realization that Mac, his partner for the past couple of years, was dead. Not only dead but already beginning the long, slow slide into decay that was death's companion.

"Mac?" he croaked, his voice panic stricken, and then, "Oh, Jesus, Mac."

"Be quiet!" The hiss of the woman's voice was sudden, a whip cracking in the darkness of the room where Vic lay, and he started at the sound of it. "Be quiet or I will cut out your tongue."

"Who are you? Why are you doing this?" Despite the warning, Victor couldn't stop the questions that bubbled from his lips, chattering nervously until the flash of a knife just in front of his eyes accompanied another hissed command.

There was a further pause, and Vic could hear the woman moving around beyond the pool of light although he could see only the vaguest of shadows in the gloom. He was drawing breath to begin his questions all over again when he felt a hand seize his hair roughly and the unmistakable prick of a knife tingled against his neck. He froze.

"You've corrupted my son." Vic felt hot breath on his ear and heard the malevolent hiss of the woman's voice almost as a vibration through his skin rather than as a sound. "Nathan was a good boy until you came along and seduced him with your promises of the Illuminati. You've taken him from the path of righteousness. He's a sinner, and it's all your fault."

"Mrs. Muckle?" Victor's voice rose, incredulous and breathy as he finally began to understand his predicament. "I haven't done anything to Nathan. He works with me at the agency is all."

The lashing sting of a hand across his face stopped his bluster. The sharp crack sounded like a gunshot in the small, dark room, and Vic fell silent.

"Be silent! I didn't give you leave to speak." Mrs. Muckle's angry voice cut the air, following on from the slap. "I'm going to see that you're punished. You took my good boy and made him think about the flesh. For that you pay." The knife was suddenly removed from the throbbing pulse point in Victor's throat and he exhaled, a noisy gust of relief that was soon over as it moved lower to cut the button that held his jeans closed. "I'll cut off your genitals. He'll never know them."

"Jesus, lady..." Vic's exclamation was a yelp. "Let me go. Please don't do this." He began all over again to struggle against his bonds but froze as the knife pricked into the soft flesh of his defenseless dick.

As the old woman laughed and began to press the knife home, the unmistakable sound of a doorbell chiming came from the direction of the stairs, and the woman poised, listening, before turning without a word and leaving him alone.


Back in the dark once more, Victor lay shivering as he contemplated his position and tried yet again to struggle free from his bonds. His head ached, and he was bathed in a sweat that had nothing at all to do with the temperature of the room.

Calm yourself, Victor. You're not going to get out of this if you panic.

He'd been in sticky situations before, and this one was only different because it was *now.* When he was free, and running for home, he would look back at this and see how silly he'd been to lose his cool. The puff of a draft against his exposed genitals suddenly sent a cold thrill down into his belly, and he writhed, unable to prevent himself from wincing, from cringing away from the imagined slice of knife into flesh.

He hadn't had much chance to use his dick lately, but for all that, he liked it. He didn't want to lose it, that was for certain, and what was all that claptrap about Nathan? How was anything Nathan thought or did his fault? Nathan was a fruitcake. He couldn't help the nutty thoughts that ran through the strange organ Nathan used for a brain.

Think, Victor, think. Mac's dead. You will be soon as well. They carve off your penis and you'll bleed out in this dark place. Then, doubtless in the afterlife you'll spend eternity chained to Mac Ramsey. You want that?

No. Didn't think that you did. So get a grip!

He tested his bonds thoughtfully, although his fingers were numb from the tightly tied leather that held him to Mac. He was attempting to loosen one of the strands around his wrist, when he heard the sound of shuffling feet approaching, and froze. This was it.

"Victor? God, Victor, is that you? What has she done to you?"

There was a pause whilst Vic processed the fact that he might be out of here, might be saved from whatever fate the old woman had planned.

"Nathan? Help me, Nathan? I'm all tied up."

Light pooled around him very suddenly, revealing the strange, birdlike figure of the librarian, who seemed rather more unkempt than usual, his sweater fraying, his chin unshaven and his hair wild. He dropped to his knees beside Victor, his face a mask of concern.

"Victor," he said again, and stooped, folding his gangling length almost in half as he bent, first to touch Victor's face, then, with a strange, fey look on his face, to place his lips against Vic's, kissing him, mouth astonishingly soft against Vic, despite the prick of the whiskers on the unshaven chin.

Vic froze, surprised. His lips tingled as Nathan mouthed them, and all he could do was think, ‘Well, fuck!' Afraid of antagonizing Nathan, the only man in a position to set him free, he didn't resist, merely permitted Nathan to kiss him, suffering the wet lips as they slid over his, the tongue that probed between his lips to taste him. His mind raced. It was patently obvious that he had to get away. Nathan loved him; that's what the old woman had said. Nathan wouldn't want him mutilated and dying. Nathan would help him to escape.

He waited until Nathan had finished, terrified with each passing second that his time was running out and that he would hear the scuff of her approaching footsteps before he'd had a chance to persuade Nathan to get him out of there.

As the lanky librarian drew away from him to sit back on his heels, Victor gasped and began to gabble, the words falling over each other breathlessly in their efforts to be free of him.

"She's going to hurt me, Nathan. She's going to cut me - cut off my cock. She said that it was because you love me. Do you love me, Nathan?"

Birdlike, Nathan surveyed him, his head cocked on one side. "Don't listen to them if you aren't sure who they are, Victor. You're special. You have to take care."

"How can I, Nathan?" Vic fixed his companion with the most intense stare he could manage. "I'm trapped here. I'm going to die if you don't set me free. Untie me, Nathan and let me go?" With every ounce of his will he tried to make Nathan do his bidding. The gaunt man seemed to lean in closer for a minute, and then, just as Vic was sure he was going to swoop down again for a kiss, he seemed to start upright, head poised to listen to something that only he could hear.

"Oh, no, Victor. I can't let you go. She... she'd hurt me. She'd kill me. Help me, Victor, I'm so afraid of her." Normally pale, Nathan's face was now white and mask-like as he withdrew his inhaler from somewhere in his clothing and applied a squirt to the back of his throat.

"C'mon, Nathan. She's gonna kill me. She's gonna chop off my dick, for fuck's sake. If you love me, help me get free."

Once more, Nathan stooped, reached for the knots in the bonds of his wrist, and tugged at the first a little frantically. Vic felt the warm flood of relief surge through him. He would be okay. Nathan would free him and he'd be out of this charnel house, away from the corpse that lay beside him, away from the woman who wanted to mutilate him.

Suddenly Nathan cocked his head once more, shoulders tense and nostrils quivering. "I can't. She's coming." Rising swiftly, the librarian turned out his flashlight and Victor heard his feet recede from where he was lying.

"Nathan? Oh, God, Nathan, don't leave me. At least give me a gun or something? Nathan?"

There was no reply, and at last, Victor broke down, sobbing.


Time passed. Vic had no idea how long he'd been there. It could have been minutes, or days. He could no longer feel his fingers or his feet, and cramps made him moan. His bladder was bursting, and after what seemed like forever, he let his urine go, feeling the heat, and then the chill of wet clothing as the pool spread around him.

He'd stopped crying, stopped calling out. Nathan wasn't there, or if he was, he was too scared to return to his side. He was going to die, and there wasn't anything he could do about it. He was going to die lying in a pool of his own piss, trussed ignominiously to a man that he really didn't like very much, and when it happened, it would be a crazy old lady that did the deed. That was fucked up. He hadn't thought too much about his own death, but he would never in a million years have come up with such a stupid way to go. He was furious.

Somehow, he drifted into a painful, fitful doze. Images flickered by him, tormenting him as he lay and waited. Pain became the constant, and waiting for it to end his only goal. The sounds of someone approaching brought him back to consciousness with a start, and when the light shone into his face again, he blinked hard against the tears that sprang to his eyes. "It's time now." The hateful, hissing voice was enough to tell him that his time had come. Squirming backwards against the cold comfort afforded by Mac Ramsey's corpse, Victor did his best to render himself invisible. His reward was a peal of mocking laughter.

"It thinks that it can escape." Vic's hackles rose, the hairs on the back of his neck pricked him as the gooseflesh crept across his body. The voice was insane. He could hear the madness in it, cackling and gibbering as she gave it expression. "The fool thinks there's a way out for him, but there isn't."

"Let me go. Please let me go." Vic's voice, hoarse and rusty from fruitless screaming, filled the dead air of the basement. The woman's only response was another sniggering laugh that stung his skin and made it crawl. The sound that followed it, the grate of metal on stone, caused his eyes to open wide, and squinting into the light he could see that she had a knife in her hand, was sharpening it by the simple expedient of grinding it against the concrete floor.

The sight of the methodical passing of the knife over the same small area of the floor was mesmeric. He stared, his whole life condensed into those rhythmic movements, and faintly he could hear someone whimpering.

A stinging slap brought him to himself. It was followed by the prod of the knife against the corner of his eye, and he froze.

"Be quiet. You deserve this. Don't think you can escape your fate." There was a pause, and the woman bent closer, gaunt face seen dimly through the blinding light. "Nathan treasures these eyes. I may well take them for him. He'll like that."

Vic gasped, too scared to say anything, and after another second, the knife was removed from his flesh as his tormentor turned away. He peered through the light, saw her fumbling with something, and as she spread it on the ground the unmistakable smell made him realize that it was a rubber sheet.

"You've already made a mess of my nice, clean floor. Can't have you leaving filth everywhere." The voice was bright now, a nursery nurse telling her charge about the treats that lay in store for him - a fact that chilled him more than the venom that was in her voice earlier had done.

"Let's get this over with, shall we?" asked the hateful voice, and rough hands began to drag him over onto the sheet. Mac's inert mass, already beginning to lose the rigidity that death brings, made the transfer a difficult and exhausting task, but after a painful, degrading struggle, Victor found himself lying on his side over the rubber sheet, and the crazy old woman. As she dragged his jeans down his body, exposing his genitals once again, Victor couldn't speak, could no longer feel much of anything except hopelessness.

Silent, unable to move, he could only watch the knife gleam in the bright flashlight as it slowly drew closer to his flesh. The first touch, when it came, tickled him, and he would have bucked had his bonds not been so tight. The faint sting as the blade began to slice through the skin of the base of his penis was almost welcome. So he would die. At least he didn't have to wait any longer. Fascinated, he watched his own red blood well up along the path of the knife, and realized, with a kind of fatalistic horror, that this was not to be done quickly - that rather the old bitch was going to torture him, castrate him by degrees, and the thought made the world grey out for him.

The knife pierced his skin in shallow cuts around his pubis, and he suddenly knew that she intended to skin him. Bile rose in his throat at the thought of what he was about to endure, and he moaned, receiving a sharp blow to his face as a reward.

He drew breath to scream, knowing that once he started he wouldn't be able to stop ever again, and suddenly he heard a sound, an unmistakable crash, and then footsteps on the floor above his head.

The woman heard them too. Dropping her knife, she stood listening for a moment, and then uttered a most unladylike curse before moving off out of Victor's field of vision. Seconds later, he heard the stairs creak as she ascended.

She was gone, and for a moment, he was alone. He gazed at the knife that lay so close to him, and willed it to rise and cut him free. It didn't move, and frantically he started to struggle himself closer to its freeing blade. Mac was heavy, but terror gave Victor strength and at last he succeeded in flipping himself over until his left hand lay almost on the knife. His fingers were numb, empurpled and swollen, and he sobbed as he tried to make them do his bidding, but at last he got the blade positioned so that it would slice the thong that held him to Mac. Jerking to and fro, he sawed vigorously, ignoring the gaping wounds that he was inflicting on both himself and Mac. Blood was pouring from his wrist by the time the strands of leather parted, and at last his hand was free.

Then followed agony. His hand, so tightly bound, began first to prickle, and then to burn with the searing flood of returning circulation. He didn't dare wait until the pain subsided, and gritting his teeth until they ached, he forced his hand to pick up the knife.

Twice, he dropped it. Twice he gathered it up once more, panicked as he anticipated the old woman's return. At last he had it against his right hand, and began to cut through the bonds. Insecurely held, the knife slipped in his hand and he felt it grate against bone as he impaled himself, but by this time he was too afraid to feel anything but his own terror. When his hand fell free, he didn't hesitate. Sitting with difficulty, he fought off waves of nausea to begin working at the bonds holding him around his ankles.

Finally, he was free.

His feet wouldn't bear his weight yet, of that he had no doubt. His left hand was cramping, but seemed to be usable, and he had a knife now. The old bitch wouldn't be cutting him any more. He would die first, if he had to. He attempted feebly to fasten his jeans, but his fingers couldn't seem to work the zipper, sodden with his urine and crusted with his blood as it was. Finally he gave up, trusting that they wouldn't fall down and get in his way as he crawled over to the stairs. There was no sound now from the house above, and it seemed to Victor that there were malevolent beings all clustered around the door, awaiting his emergence from the basement.

Time passed, and Vic waited, unsure whether he would live or die if he tried to escape from the basement. He sat on the top step, his ear pressed to the door and listened for sound - any sound - that would indicate the return of his tormentor was imminent.

For what seemed like eons he sat, rooted in his place. His hands and feet burned, and only the pain let him know that they still belonged to him. His senses, dulled by panic, gradually sharpened, until finally he became aware of a sound - a bubbling, gasping sound that he couldn't quite identify. There was nothing else to be heard. At last, Vic dragged himself to his feet and leaning heavily on the wall, opened the door to the kitchen.

The fact that it was daylight - mellow afternoon sun pouring in like honey to glaze the room - seemed astonishing to Victor. It had been afternoon when he'd entered this house, and somehow it felt as though all that had happened to him had been totally divorced from time, as though he had stepped through the fabric of reality into the kind of world that Stephen King wrote about in stories that Victor wished now that he had never read.

The odd gurgling sound he'd heard before was louder now, but something held Victor back from going to investigate straight away. His right hand, slowly recovering its function, was curled around the handle of the old woman's knife, gripping it as tightly as he was able to manage, but even so he felt exposed, his knees weak with fear as he lurked in the shadows that lay in the doorway to the basement.

As he loitered, gathering his will to go and find out what was happening, the sound began to fade a little, and finally, he could stand it no more. He began to pick his way along the wall until he could peer around the corner into the living room.

The first thing that he saw was the dead man.

He lay on the floor in a pool of liquid that looked too bright, too red to be blood although the scent, acrid and coppery, told him otherwise. He wore a garment that was made from fur. It covered his head and upper body, stopping short at his waist. His arms were flung wide, and he wore gloves from the fingers of which protruded wicked metal claws, bright and burnished on the left hand, blackened and bloody on the right.

His throat had been cut, and there was a yawning slash across his face that made identification of him as a man unthinkable for a minute. Vic gaped at him, failing to process the reality of the creature. Was this the monkey man that Nathan had been so afraid of? He dared to step closer, fear prickling his spine although it was all too apparent that this hollow shell was not going to rise up and harm him.

Taking care not to step into the blood with his stockinged feet, Vic examined the creature. He couldn't see the weapon that had killed it, and that worried him, but even more, the sound that he'd heard before made his flesh creep. He couldn't immediately see the source, and he moved painfully around the body on the floor, approaching a high winged chair that stood in front of a desk to one side.

Keeping well away from the chair itself, he moved around to a vantage point from which he could see what it contained, and as he finally realized the source of the sound the bile rose again in his throat and he found himself dry-heaving - the contents of his stomach long gone.

She sat in the chair, and her throat was a red ruin. She wasn't dead - not yet; but death was close. Vic realized suddenly that the sounds that had plagued him were her attempts at breathing. The dead creature had slashed her throat and chest before she had killed it, and she still clutched the axe with which she had ended its life, too late for her.

As Vic stood looking, the woman opened cloudy eyes, and saw him.

"Victor? Victor, please help me."

He froze, looked at her as the life ebbed from her, took in the bony nose, the gaunt face and the ill-made wig that was lying askew on her head...

...His head.

Nathan. It was Nathan.

Victor Mansfield allowed reality to slip away from him as he slumped to the floor.


The Director arrived very quickly once she was summoned, and Vic was taken to hospital for the second time that week, stitched, treated for shock and blood loss, and finally permitted to sleep. When he awoke, a great many hours later, she was sitting beside his bed, patiently awaiting his return to consciousness.

"They're all dead," he said, when he saw her realize that he had awoken.

"They are indeed, Victor," she replied, her usual sarcasm strangely absent as she regarded him. "We nearly lost you too. I have an apology to make to you for that."

The words didn't register with Vic at first. This was the Director. She coerced rather than persuaded - and she never apologized, yet, here she was, apparently doing just that. He looked over to her, raising an eyebrow in fascination. "Oh yeah? How so?"

"It seems that our librarian was a very different young man, Victor. He succeeded brilliantly in fooling our profilers. He showed up as harmless on all of their tests." She wasn't smiling, and her usual mocking demeanor was absent. "You know that Mac Ramsey is dead?"

The memory of Mac's corpse, bound so tightly to his own terrified body, flashed before him, and he paled.

"Yeah. I... I saw." He spoke with difficulty as his throat closed in panic with the memory of what he had been through.

"That isn't all, Vic. We found six other bodies in that basement. Heaven knows who they were. We're still trying to identify them. Not only that, but when the house was searched, we found his mother upstairs." She stopped speaking as Vic turned away and began to retch, swiftly passing him a basin from the counter next to the bed. As the attack passed, and Vic lay back against the pillows again, pale and horrified, she continued.

"She was dead, Vic. She'd been dead for months. There was a knife in her throat." She stopped talking and waited, while he glared at her with ill-suppressed fury. "So, Victor, I... I'm offering you what you've said that you wanted all of these years." As his eyes flew to her face, she finally regained something of the sarcastic aura that was her usual character.

"I'm offering you freedom, Victor. You don't have to work for me any more, unless..." She pursed her lips in a smile that seemed to transform her face. Victor gasped. Free? It was true that he'd dreamed of being able to go back. Now, with that within his grasp, he suddenly felt unaccountably cold.

"Unless?" he murmured, groping for some way of remaining safe, and not even realizing what he was doing.

"Unless you want to stay," she murmured, throatily. "I need you, Victor. I need your experience, and your expertise. I don't want to lose you."

As Victor joyfully seized the security that she was offering, it dawned on him that he was, after all, happy where he was. Nodding, he sank down into the bed, his head spinning. All he'd ever wanted, after all was said and done, was to be needed, and now, here it was.

As he drifted off to sleep, it occurred to Victor that with Mac gone from their lives, LiAnn might just come back to him. Who knew? The world was full of possibilities.



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