I’m not usually a writer of the crime and thriller genre. I wish I was, to be honest; it’s such a lucrative market. I do, however, love narratives offered by a hauntingly inappropriate narrator, so I hope you like this.
Strangled at fifteen, Isobel Lafait was the talk of the town. They’d found her body in the woods behind my house. I’d been walking the dog in those woods the day before the discovery, no doubt inches away from her dead eyes staring through the bushes. My ankles were itching from the summer dust and the rapeseed fields – offensively bulbous and yellow – made my eyes stream.
Eyes were streaming at her funeral too. I remember a lot of adults talking about how she’d been such a good girl. Pure. A virgin. I was a virgin myself, and I couldn’t really see why it mattered one way or the other if she was dead.
Looking back, it was all very humble, very small-town, but it flooded through the world like electricity.
I’d had a paper round that summer, and I remember seeing her face a hundred times over, folded in half through a hundred letterboxes. And later, on the telly, gazing from the grave. She’d been wearing a blue polo shirt with our school emblem on it. An oak tree growing from an acorn. I wonder if the killer had placed her body under such a tree, to match her shirt. I’d scoured each story desperately, but the papers just didn’t cover things like that.
Isobel Lafait. With a name like that she should have been a movie star. I have her picture on my living room wall even now, to remind me of that summer.
Of course, the kids at school called her Isobel Lafat. I imagine her parents naming her, a beautiful baby girl with a bow tied around her bald head. Our little Isobel. I wonder how they felt: watching her grow, observing the widening of those hips. The unsightly acne. The unseemly scent. Knowing that she would never bring a boy home. And then, suddenly, everyone in town knew her name. She was in my History class, though the only thing we shared was our invisibility. I remained invisible until the day I left. Isobel, though, was important. The teacher had cried at her empty chair.
It’s funny that I should have her picture on my living room wall because she’s nothing at all like the people I kill.
That summer, though, I was inspired. Dumpy little Isobel Lafait, forever famous. Standing room only at the funeral. The most popular girls in our year were dabbing their eyes and talking about how much she’d be missed. Even Chloe Arnold was there, arm-in-arm with some handsome boy whose name escapes me, sniffling over how they were ‘so close’ at primary school. Days before, she’d tripped Isobel over deliberately during netball practice and spat in her packed lunch.
Had she been there, Isobel would have been thrilled.
It was on this day that I realised that death is a transformation: a shortcut to becoming the best version of yourself. I remember looking at every single person at the wake, nibbling on dry egg sandwiches and small pork pies cut in half, and I suddenly thought, every person in this room will be more loved when they are dead. The idea coursed through my body as naturally as my own blood. The brown and grey and black of my life transformed to ruby; sapphire; emerald; gold…. Oh, the lives I could change!
It’s summer again, soon to be twenty years since I discovered my purpose. It’s been an oppressively cold June day, and the harsh wind creeps in, uninvited, whenever someone opens the pub door. I detect the faintest scent of rapeseed and my mind is filled with yellow.
I’m going to make someone else famous tonight, and he doesn’t even know it.
That one, over there.
Later, I’ll saunter over to him and he’ll think he’s won the lottery. I observe him a moment. I’ve been watching him for weeks now, obviously, but I allow myself a few more moments to make sure that this is the one for me. The men I choose would never be able to spend an evening with someone like me, normally. He is sitting at the bar alone, staring intently at his phone. He’s so big, the bar stool might buckle under his weight, and his stomach hangs over his jeans like it is a separate animal. Everything about him seems thick and flabby, and his huge lips squash against his beer every time he takes a drink. He is very pale, making the dark stubble on his chin seem even darker.
Always approach when they are about to order another drink. After seven encounters like this, my technique is honed.
In the mirrors at the back of the bar, I see a second me slide next to him and brush his arm with hers. He shifts an inch or so away from her – me – and looks back at the reassuring white glow of his phone.
I am using a sleek black clutch bag tonight, deep enough to rummage through in faux desperation. I smile sweetly at the barman, and say, “I’m so sorry. I seem to have misplaced my money.”
The barman doesn’t even look up from his magazine, “Sorry, missus. Can’t do anything about that.” He can’t be a day older than seventeen.
I sigh and prepare my Damsel-in-Distress routine, but thankfully it is not needed. My new acquaintance cuts in, “What would you like?”
I shake my head ever so slightly but also flash him my best smile. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly.” I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, colourful and sleek next to his pale and fleshy form.
He shrugs and starts to move away so I lean forward, grasping my chance. “But I suppose I could use the company. I’ve had a very lonely day.”
Regarding me now, his pupils dart up and down. His eyes are irritatingly small. “I doubt you’d be lonely for long,” he says.
This is the worst part of it, allowing these men to undress me with their eyes. I realised a while ago that it is a necessary evil; they trust me and then I save them.
It doesn’t take long. A drink or two and we are on the tram back to the city. I moved out of our town as soon as I was able to, but I always find my men in the back end of nowhere. Like a talent scout, I pluck them from obscurity.
His name is Toby. As the tram clatters into the town centre, the abrasive lights of a Saturday night flood the windows, and his face is illuminated. He is a little older than me, I think – teetering on the right side of forty – but he seems to carry with him a certain childish innocence: probably a result of his parochial existence. He doesn’t speak much, instead preferring to drink me in like some kind of luxurious wine. I chatter about this and that. My nine-to-five existence. My relative academic success. I’m the last person he will ever speak to. It seems like the least I can do. No need for dishonesty. My secrets will be safe.
My flat never fails to impress. I give him a moment to run his hands over the sleek white gloss of my kitchen. His fingerprints come to life on my stainless-steel sink.
I open a cold bottle of Budweiser and hand 1 to him. The poison will start to work soon. He will sink into a peaceful and luxurious sleep, and then my work will begin. Tidying. Cleaning. My stunning panoramic windows make the aftermath of these evenings tricky, but they’re worth it for the views.
He’s in my living room now, the place where I usually show them Isobel’s picture. I’ll explain to him how lucky he is as the poison takes hold. Sometimes, they don’t really understand it: that what I am giving them is a gift. Enjoy it, I might say, I’m making you a star.
Swiftly, I place myself in front of him and smile, reaching out to his forearms. He is looking right over my shoulder, though, taking mechanical sips of his beer. He gestures with the bottle at the wall behind me. “Why is Isobel there?”
It’s not unusual for someone his age to know about Isobel Lafait, of course. He hasn’t used her surname, though. I find that a little odd.
I shrug, thinking blasé is best. “She was in my year at school. I like to remember her, that’s all.”
Suppressing a shudder, I stroke his arm and offer him another drink, but something is wrong. He is absolutely stationary. Hasn’t he ever seen a photograph before? Fat, slow tears begin to glisten on his cheeks.
“All these years,” he mutters, “I thought it was over. But here she is, again.”
A couple of years older than me. Podgy. Dark hair. From my childhood town. Of course, I know about Isobel Lafait. I remember her brother at the funeral, slimmer than now and even more awkward than her. He had been silent and left early.
Now, he is in my living room sipping beer and crying.
The shattering of the bottle seems to wake him from his reverie. His voice is shaking, desperate. “You know, don’t you?”
Backing away, I smile, holding his porcine gaze. “Know what?”
The door is too far away. Behind him.
His deep voice is an octave higher, but the tears have stopped. I sense the resolution in his voice. I recognise it. His words drop into the living room like bricks. An accident. Play fighting. Too rough. Crushed her neck. Mum and Dad knew, I think. He rubs his face, snivelling again, before continuing, “All these years,” he repeats, “All these years…”
His podgy hand lifts the broken bottle from the floor. This is it. Despite the quaking of my legs, I cannot help but feel my heart lift a little. I think of the poison surging through his veins, soon to change him forever.
And now, at last, it’s my turn too.
We’re going to be famous.