The Ghostwriter

Horror short story because why not

1962

The water is lukewarm. I flex my ankles against the taps and lie there, floating, staring up at the hum of the light switch and the white of the ceiling. I can’t rinse away the numbness in my limbs.

It’s a while, several minutes, until I can feel my palms and feet. I’m suddenly overcome with exhaustion, too tired to sit upright and pull myself out. I let the weight of my hair drag me down and the water envelop me. The silence is loud, echoing with the movement of my body. Feel nothing, I command myself. Rest and feel nothing.

The vision of his face interrupts my orders and bursts into a wide laugh. White teeth, wolf teeth, slick old money, hands deep in pockets, grinning at the flash of cameras. Anger burns me and I rise above the water, inhaling the water as I do so. The memory doesn’t stop, I cannot run from him. The words graze at my body like a child flung to the concrete from a swing.

“Thanks Harry, I try.” He winks at the journalist, spinning on a handmade heel. A young woman leans across the barriers, flinging the book at him with a bluster of praise. He grins at her, signing the copy with a casual flippancy. “Glad you liked the book, kid.”

My book

My book. My book, my book, my book, mine, mine, mine

“I need a really scary concept,” he had barked from the back seat of his car. “It’s been six months, Carolyn. Six fucking months.”

“I can’t just come up with a premise like that, sir.” I had replied. “A book isn’t like a new slogan for soup cans.” His eyes reminded me of a stoat, darkening to pitch and sensing the prey in my voice.

“Are you saying no to me, honey?” he leaned forward, grabbing the collar of my coat until it tightened at my trachea. “It’s a bad economy to be saying no to a man like me.”

I knew better than to reply and prod the embers of his ego. I fastened my gaze on the snow outside. My silence rattled him. “You’re fucking nothing without me, Carrie. Without my name on your work, you’re nothing. No one takes a kid like you on. That’s what they see. A worthless kid.”

“I could tell. I could tell everyone who writes Mr Bachmann’s books.” It was a stupid thing to say, and I already know the answer.

“I’d sue you to hell and back for breach of contract. I’d ruin you. I’d watch you starve. I’d enjoy it.”

Silence is strength. He gave up, letting go of my collar and flinging me back against the seat. “I think Miss Walker can get herself home from here. She needs the time to think.” His chauffeur stops. I grapple at the door. The coldness of the street breaks my chest.

“It’s cold out there, baby.” He called out. “ Looks like you need to save for some new shoes. Have that draft at my office by next week. And don’t worry, I won’t fire you for this. You need the work, kid.”

I have the idea as I reach for the tap to pull myself upright. The power I have over him thrills me. I barely bother to throw on my dressing gown before racing across the hall to my typewriter. I hate him. I’ve never hated anyone as I hate him as I push the papers into the lock and sit there, shivering in the dark. I enjoy the delicious seconds before I begin to type his downfall.

I shut my eyes hard and imagine the type of woman he’d want. Small. Blonde. Soft voice and pale blue eyes. Yes. I’ll write his victim as he’d want her. I need to be authentic here, something raw with the honesty he doesn’t have. I’ll make him boil and warp into the monster I see behind the curtain. I’ll make his worst fantasies simmer up from nightmares. I’ll write his life for him. I’ll write every brick in his cell and every globule of saliva that will be spat at him in the street.

I run to the window and watch the women hover below the street lights. Yes, I thought I’d seen her there. I needed details that made her real. She was older than I’d thought, late forties, tired, claw handed around a wilting cigarette. Her hair was cheaply dyed, grey at the roots. What should I call her? Even Bachmann wasn’t stupid enough to keep her name the same in a novel. Una. She looked like an Una.

All I needed now was a time when he could have done this. Tonight would be spent with his pretty assistant in Knightsbridge, and his usual decadence assured witnesses. Thursday was also impossible, he had a dinner with the board. He’d be so hungover he’d spend the rest of the week in bed, although few would know that. Yes, Friday would do nicely.

I smiled to myself, tidying my desk and sitting down to start my first chapter. Una would be a good start, but I’d need more victims to really make a monster. His favourite number was eight. Eight it was, then. A cruel, strikingly real first hand account of a serial killer. I’d be kind, revolver to the head and the rest prop arranging. The police would know that only the killer would have known the details in the book. And I knew enough of his intimate life to corner him into the alleyways of London. I just needed a title.

I’d Enjoy It

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