I tried to write a horror story. It got funny. Then unexpectedly poignant. Then creepy. Then weird. So I edited the fuck out of it, killed a bunch of darlings, sobbed, ate Nutella, discovered that the road to hell really is paved with adverbs, watched Fight Club, procrastinated, and got this.
Technically, I can add the obligatory horror movie tagline: Based on terrifyingly real events.
Anyway- enjoy! 😀
Vlad the Impairer
The first thing Lex notices about Vlad are his teeth, because they aren’t his teeth at all. They’re Gollum’s. The last thing Minti notices about Vlad are his scarred triceps flexing as he plunges the knife into Lex’s chest.
Motherfucker sure is fit, she thinks before the scream escapes her lips.
“I fucking hate the gym, Lex.” Cigarette smoke tinges the air between them, making Lex cough involuntarily. “I’m not joining one. We can find another way to bond.”
Lex toys with the spoon of her porridge, watching her breakfast gloop down into the bowl. The merciless traffic on the street beside her seems to have a direct line into her temporal lobe, and her head throbs as they vroom past. She’s hungover. Brutally so. Her loquacious girlfriend, Minti, is, too; and, while Lex usually enjoys having her silences neatly punctuated, today she wishes that Minti would just shut the—
“Fuck up.” Minti continues, raising an eyebrow. “You know I’d just fuck up. I don’t do physical fitness and I won’t run unless I’m being chased by something. Look, I know how much you love your hippy-dippy, macrobiotic vegan bullshit, but come on,” Minti’s slender fingers graze Lex’s wrist as she lifts her tone to beseeching. “Don’tcha like me just the way I am?”
Lex eyes the large plate of congealing cholesterol that sits, untouched, before Minti; who is enthusiastically smoking and ashing onto the pavement in an act of defiance against the cafe’s no smoking policy. Pushing her own bowl aside, Lex wonders—not for the first time—how she can convince Minti to choose life as opposed to death by artery malfunction. I love you, she wants to scream at her. I’ve always loved your uncouth arse, and now I have you, I want you to live a bit longer. I’m not trying to change you. I’m trying to keep you. Forever.
Minti picks up her cup, considering its contents. “Isn’t it funny that coffee is the only thing we can agree on? What’s this one?” Her voice turns pompous, “A complex, single origin blend of Guatemalan hayfever and Cambodian citrus guano?”
“Colombian,” Lex corrects, putting her forehead on the table and speaking to her thighs. “Cambodia doesn’t do coffee.”
Minti’s dimples retract as she grins. “Feeling a bit poorly today, love?” She stubs her cigarette onto her bacon and eggs and shoves the plate aside. “That’s why you should pollute your liver—test that shit out a bit. If you weren’t so clean living your body wouldn’t be shutting down right now. See, my liver is like—”
Lex lifts her head. “Minti. Honey. Baby. Please, please stop talking.”
The waitress clears the plates in the brief silence that follows, grimacing at Minti’s makeshift ashtray. Lex hands her the porridge and orders a juice.
“That’s a cold pressed juice,” Minti advises the waitress. “She’d like Peruvian goji berries and, ah…Bolivian orphan sweat—if you’ve got any on hand.” She winks at Lex, “All pressed between the buttocks of a Cuban farmer. Please.”
“Orange is fine,” Lex assures the waitress.
The waitress rolls her eyes before sashaying away.
“We should find another cafe,” Minti says, lighting another cigarette. “Surely this can’t be the only place serving all-day brekkie?”
“Minti. Honey. Baby—”
She exhales smoke. “I know, I know. Stop talking.”
The waitress returns, plunking the juice on the table. Both girls stare at it.
Lex takes a sip and rotates her finger through her wrist, inviting Minti—who is simmering with barely restrained glee—to talk. “Go on, then. Out with it.”
“I fucking knew it’d be in an old jam jar! Oh, this place is so wanky. I’ve died and gone to hipster-hell. I’m picking the cafe for breakfast next time.” She sits back in her chair. “I’ll take you to Macca’s. Corrupt you.” She checks her watch. “Oh, fuck me.” The cigarette is turfed unceremoniously onto the street. “Come on, Wonder Woman,” she says, smacking the table with both palms. “We’ve gotta go meet Vlad.”
“Meat,” Vlad sneers, “is what you are.” He thoughtfully runs his finger along the dull edge of the knife. “Just pieces of meat.”
Blood is everywhere. It fills Lex’s nose with an acrid tang that knots her stomach. Behind her back, her hands desperately grapple with the ropes that bind her.
“And I butcher.” He steps towards Minti, who is lying on the floor, gasping like a carp. “I cull herd.” Minti stirs and whimpers. He waves the knife in her direction, nonchalant. “Exterminate.”
Lex glares at Vlad with barely suppressed hatred. Her elbow slips out as she scrabbles at the ropes. Vlad spots the movement and points the knife at her like a finger.
“You try escape?” He titters. “Naughty girl.”
Lex stills. She daren’t speak.
Vlad looks at Minti. Back at Lex. “Why for you escape?” He squats and, looking directly at Lex, slowly slices through Minti’s calf, leaving a red gash that quickly seeps with blood. Minti groans. Lex thrashes against her bonds, yelling, crying, tears pooling on her chin.
He carefully wipes the blood from the knife and studies his reflection in the blade. “More you escape,” he looks up, smiling hideously. “More I cut.”
Hold on, Minti, Lex thinks, her right thumb tantalisingly close to freedom.
“Hold—Minti…fuck—stop!” The Volkswagen Beetle mounts the curb before a nondescript grey building, skidding to a halt. Lex had been white-knuckling the strap above the window and she relaxes her grip, massaging her fingers. She glowers at Minti. “You drive like Caligula.”
Minti shrugs. “Life’s too short to drive slow. You miss out on shit.”
They’ve driven to an industrial area where the buildings rise from the street as jagged stalagmites, and orphaned, burnt-out cars linger like Palestinian children. Lex gets out of the VW and shivers, throwing on her hoodie. “Where’d you find this guy?”
“Google.” Minti slams the car door. “Apparently, Vlad’s the motherfuckin’ elite when it comes to car stereos.”
They walk to the entrance, a forbidding metal door scrawled with graffiti tags. The orb of a camera watches them. A sign above the bell proclaims, ‘RING ME’ in messy red marker.
“You’ve taken me to a sex club, haven’t you?”
Minti rings the bell once, twice, three times, leaning down on it for an even four. Through the metal, it buzzes consistently.
The slot in the door opens to display a pair of deep-set blue eyes. A thick Russian accent asks, “Da?”
Minti waves. “Hello, my Soviet comrade. I’m Minti, this is my girl-toy Lex, and we’re here to buy us a motherfuckin’ stereo.”
A bolt slides across and a six foot knot of muscle and keloid scars fills the doorframe. The creature studies them, cracking his knuckles. He spits on the pavement and offers a smile that exposes a medieval graveyard of teeth, brown and jagged.
“Minti. I am Vlad.” He sucks air through the gap in his incisors and settles his bulk within her personal space. “Show for me your car.”
Lex swallows, her throat impossibly dry. Suddenly she has a bad, bad feeling; and when Lex gets this sensation, when something as thin and fine as gold filigree plinks in her stomach, she listens to it. Minti is oblivious, having already lit a cigarette and begun her spiel. Lex tries to catch her eye, silently willing her to look over Vlad’s shoulder.
Minti is still in the exact place where Vlad dumped her like a pig’s carcass after carrying her into the room over his shoulder. She is drowsy. Groggy. She coughs. Sags.
“I should’ve listened.” Her voice is small. She seems small. Fragile. The bravado she wears as war-paint is all but stripped away. “You were right,” she whispers, scooting across the floor to snuggle into Lex’s chest.
Lex was right, but there’s no point in thinking that now. Now, they are trapped in a room, with no windows, no exits, and no hope. The door to their left is locked from the outside. On the other side of it, Tim’s screams permeate the wood.
Lex doesn’t know how much longer they have before Vlad returns, and her panic bubbles. A phone, she thinks. Tim had a phone. But behind the Iron Curtain on their left, Tim’s voice has become thinner, higher, pained. Lex shudders. Minti plugs her ears with her fingers and closes her eyes, wincing. Lex hugs her girlfriend protectively, scanning the room, spotting something on the door that makes a bud of hope uncoil within. She walks over to it, reaching onto tip toes, clumsily grabbing at it, losing grip, wiping her hands, and trying again. The splinter pulls away from the frame with a crack, leaving a wooden stake in her hand. It’s about twenty centimetres long, pointed, something that Buffy would wield. She looks at Minti, whose hands have dropped from her ears. They gaze at each other in silent comprehension, and Lex tucks the stake in the sleeve of her hoodie.
Minti is gawping at Lex, speaking in a stage whisper. “No fucking shit you’ve got a bad feeling about him. He looks like something spat from a Gulag.”
Lex eyes Vlad, who is horizontal in Minti’s Volkswagen, his pale, hairless legs sticking out the driver’s door, tinkering with her stereo. “Let’s just find somewhere else.”
“Okay, sure,” Minti pauses. “Somewhere you can buy a backbone, as well?”
Vlad folds himself out of the car, wiping nonexistent dirt from his hands. “I do for fifteen hundred.”
Minti’s sneaker grinds her cigarette into the pavement. “Get fucked,” she says indignantly. “That’s what the fucking car’s worth.”
“Is good price.”
“Call it an even grand and you’ve got a deal.”
The graveyard glints as he smiles at them. “I not like barter.”
“Then,” she says giving Lex a nod, “There are plenty of other motherfuckers around that do.” She turns, her negotiation tactics as effortless as breathing.
“Stop,” Vlad says.
And as effective. Minti halts, smirking.
He takes a deep breath. “If you listen for presentation tonight at seven,” his accent turns the number into syeven, “I do for eight hundred.”
Lex frowns. “Presentation?”
“Da,” he cracks his knuckles. “For Redox. Is health water I sell.”
“And what,” Minti scoffs, “We’ve gotta buy this crap to receive a discount? What is it, some sort of Marxist pyramid scheme?”
“Niet crap. Is Redox. Is for many ailment—it cure everything. You listen. Hear how Redox work. People tell stories. You like. We very,” he pauses, his knuckles making individual pops as he searches for the word. “Persuasive.” The graveyard reappears.
“So how’d you get roped into this nonsense?”
Cheeks pulsate as he chews, cracker crumbs snowing onto his beard. He grimaces. Swallows. “Ugh.” He wipes his mouth and searches for water. “These biscuits are terrible.”
Lex hands him her cup.
He drains it before finishing. “Thank you. Sorry, what did you say?”
Minti punches him in the arm. “Admit it, you cheap bastard. You’re after a discount, too.” She beams at Lex. “I fuckin’ love this dude!”
He smiles briefly, his tongue moving around his mouth, excavating cracker crumbs as it goes. “Don’t eat those,” he points to the bowl. “They’re revolting. So bitter.” He holds the cup up at Lex. “Where’d you get the water?”
She points to the small sink in the corner.
Minti picks up a handful of crackers. “Lex doesn’t eat or drink anything not organic. Some say ‘paranoid’.” She shoves the biscuits in her mouth, speaking around them, “I say,” she chews thoughtfully, pausing, “fuck me!” She spits the wad into her hand. “These taste like fucking shit.”
The bearded man stares at her. Shakes his head. Weaves his way through the furniture scattered around the room to refill the water.
“What was his name again?” Minti drops the half-masticated crackers on the floor.
Minti studies him. “Tim’s wrist is limper than overcooked spaghetti.”
Lex gives a tight smile.
Sensing her discomfort, Minti digs a crumb from the roof of her mouth with her finger and proffers it at Lex. “Want a bikkie?”
Lex pushes her hand away. “I’ll be right.” She glances around the room, noting the rusted tables, the Cold War relic overhead projector, and the car stereo paraphernalia. At the front of the room, four men speak Russian in hushed tones. One of them is filling Tim’s cup with liquid from a plastic jug. “How long do we have to stay?”
“Until eight hundred.”
“What if I give you three hundred to leave now?”
“You don’t have three hundred dollars.”
“I’ll buy you dinner.”
“Three hundred dollars worth? What’ll I be eating? Truffles served with a side of Navajo breast milk—”
Tim has returned, phone in hand. “My partner’s caught at work.” He clicks the button on the side to lock it. “Typical for him to bail on me.”
“Yeah, I pretty much had to drag Lex here by the pubes.”
Lex points at his phone. “How’d you get that in?”
Vlad had snatched theirs upon entry. Security reasons, he’d said. No phones. Minti was livid. Then huffy. And finally, sarcastic: “Think I’m broadcasting to the Ukrainian government?” Vlad hadn’t laughed.
Tim looks flummoxed. “They never asked me about it. I never told them…”
Lex raises her eyebrows. “Don’t let them see it.”
He stows it in his pocket and takes a long swig, grimacing again, putting the cup down on the table beside them. Vlad enters the room, and the quartet of Bratva begin to skulk towards them. One picks up the crackers.
“You,” he shoves the bowl roughly at Lex. “You eat.”
“She’s allergic,” Minti says airily. “We’re hoping Redox cures gluten intolerance.”
They speak in Russian. Minti and Lex glance at each other. A blonde man with exquisitely small fingers picks up Tim’s cup, holding it towards Lex so the liquid sloshes over the side. “You drink juice.” His voice is wet bitumen.
Lex crosses her arms. “No, thanks.”
More Russian. Tim’s hand rises to his stomach. His cheeks puff out. “I don’t feel so great.”
Vlad’s graveyard appears and Lex’s chest tightens. Beside her, Tim doubles over in pain. Fear becomes Lex, her palms leak sour sweat and her inner monologue halts to one word playing on a loop of terror: Shit, shit, shit…
Minti is staring at Tim. “The fuck is going on?” She looks up at Vlad, who is still smiling. Her voice hardens as the realisation dawns. “What the fuck was in that food?”
Lex grasps Minti’s hand as the circle of men close around them; and the girls stand, fingers intertwined, quietly summoning strength from each other. Minti’s hand seems impossibly warm as terror courses cold through Lex’s veins. The gravel-voiced man drops the cup. The juice pools like urine on the floor. He grabs Minti in a bear hug, violently wrenching her away from Lex.
Minti hammers his shins with her heels furiously. “Let me go, you communist fuck! I’ll fuckin’ kill you!”
Lex can’t think, can’t speak. Tim is spitting strings of blood onto the concrete floor; and Vlad is stalking towards them, languid as a jaguar. Lex looks up, her mouth slack. Reaching her, Vlad studies his fingernails, closes his fist, and punches her in the jaw. The room goes black.
Lex’s thumb is finally free, and the Chinese finger trap ropes are unwinding around her dexterous fingers. Vlad’s back is to her. He stands at a table, lovingly feeding the clump of hair that he has just wrenched out of Minti’s scalp into a glass jar. Minti is still on the floor, her breath frighteningly shallow, her eyes closed.
It was some sort of miracle that stopped Vlad from noticing the stake when he tied Lex up, and she pulls it carefully from her sleeve. She rises to her feet, staggering, the world tilting as her blood pressure drops. Minti’s eyes crack open. Vlad turns, knife in hand. Lex stops, the stake in hers. They consider each other for a millennium before Vlad steps forward, blue eyes narrowing as he lifts the knife. Without thinking, Lex lunges at him. Vlad brushes her arm out of the way like the inconsequential thing it is and plunges the knife deep into her-
“Fucking nuts?” Lex is shrieking at Minti. “Hmm? Are you nuts? We aren’t going.”
Minti smiles, the fact that Lex has just used the word ‘we’ to describe them not escaping her. “Don’t you wanna hear how Russian scientists cure shit with miracle water?”
“It’s probably in a dungeon where they make you drink their rape-water and molest you to Pussy Riot.”
Four hours after meeting Vlad, the girls are tangled on Minti’s couch, bickering and googling Redox.
“It’s saline, Lex. Literally. The ingredients are ‘salt’ and ‘water’.” She takes a drag of her cigarette. “We should’ve asked if he had any magic beans to sell us, as well.”
Lex grabs the phone from her, scrolling with her thumb. “There’s testimonials: ‘After one course of Redox, my son’s cerebral palsy almost disappeared’,” she hands the phone back. “People are that stupid? What is this shit?”
“The bottled tears of customers?”
“Can’t you just go to JB Hifi?”
“Oh, fuck!” Minti holds the phone up like a sceptre. “I’ve found Vlad’s LinkedIn profile. Apparently he’s a health and wellbeing enthusiast who believes the apocalypse is coming.” She cackles. “This is a riot. Hey,” her green eyes widen with mischief. “You’ve gotta come tonight—we’ll turn this riot into a pussy riot!”
“You do know what Putin did to Pussy Riot, don’t you?”
Minti strokes Lex’s leg. “Ah, come on babe, don’t be such a drag.”
It’s not what she wants to say. What she wants to tell Lex is, I love you. Always have, and now that we have each other, let’s live a bit instead of watching life pass us by…
People say that your life flashes before your eyes when you die.
Lex wouldn’t know about that, but she does know that getting stabbed in the shoulder fucking hurts.
The force drives her backwards, off her feet and to the floor, winded.
“Unnnh.” She coughs, her diaphragm spasming.
Minti unleashes a scream. It’s wordless. The sound of pure anguish.
And it becomes Lex’s adrenal surge.
She pulls the knife from her shoulder, millimetre by excruciating millimetre, not even pausing to consider how a little metal thing almost ended her life. This seemingly innocuous utensil withdraws with a wet squelch and she fixes her attention on Vlad, who has arrogantly turned his back, displaying a very juicy-looking Achilles’ tendon, just begging to be slit open. She has but seconds to spare.
“Now,” Vlad says to Minti. “You watch me—”
Lex slashes the blade across his ankles, felling him like a rotting redwood. Lifting herself, her bones aching, she drives the knife into his chest. Over and over. With a rage she never thought herself capable of. Blood slides up the hilt and her hand slips. She cuts herself but doesn’t stop. She can’t. Then, crying, bleeding, and with her last modicum of strength, she wedges it into his jugular and sits up, panting; watching the light fade from his cold blue eyes.
Vlad is now nothing but a mangled bag of blood and bone, his scarred hands strewn with defense wounds.
Vlad is dead.
And Lex howls, her grief finally petering to a hoarse cry. She takes a ragged breath as Minti stirs. All is silent.
Lex blinks. There, winking at her from Vlad’s pocket, is a familiar-looking iPhone. She grabs the life raft with shaking fingers, dialling the greatest number in the world: Zero. Zero. Zero.