Tag Archives: serial killer

Wednesday Writing – ‘Spotlight’

Image: unsplash.com

Image: unsplash.com

Spotlight

Driving home, she allowed her mind to wander. Her hands flashed through the motions, adjusting the steering wheel, flicking on the indicator, correcting the volume on the radio. Click was an image of her changing from third gear to fourth. Click, and she was applying the brake, gently, to avoid a swerving cyclist. Click, a stylish black and white shot in which she squinted against the sun, creases framing her dark-ringed eyes. As her car wheels ate the miles, the desire she thought she’d quelled began to pulse through her again like a tree root, pushing out all else. The deliciousness of it buzzed through her veins like an electrical charge, the suggestion of it making her knuckles whiten on the wheel.

Coffee. She needed to think.

She pulled over and let the car sit, pink-pink-pinking gently as its engine cooled, while she rummaged in the glove compartment for change. She shoved aside a random purse, an identity card spilling out of its unzipped opening, showing her a face she’d already forgotten. Several sets of keys to houses and cars she didn’t own rattled beneath her questing fingers. Finally, she found the stash of dusty, fluff-covered coins kept for emergencies, and she tossed them into her palm.

Emergencies. Like ‘My car’s broken down; do you mind if I come in and just call a garage? I’ll pay for the use of your phone, ma’am.’ Or ‘Have you seen this little girl, here? Please, ma’am, I need your help! Just sit into the car, for a moment, and take a better look.’ Or ‘I’ve just been mugged. Everything’s been taken, my wallet, my keys – can you please spare just a few cents, ma’am, so I can call my husband?’

She looked at the wedding ring she always wore, and grinned down at it. Inside, it said Cedric, April 28th 1976, Eternally, but she’d forgotten where she’d found it.

Snapping shut the glove compartment, she unfastened her seatbelt and pulled on the door release. She stepped out onto the pavement, whistling softly through her teeth as she checked for anything in uniform, but everything looked quiet. Still, she reasoned, fingering through her coins, doesn’t hurt to stay on the right side of the law. Smiling, she strode to the parking meter and fed it enough money to last the half-hour she felt she needed to get settled over a cappuccino, maybe read a newspaper. Flirt with a waitress or two.

But on her way back to the car, she saw her. Across the road, against the brickwork, holding a panting dog on a straining leash, laughing as she pressed a cellphone to her ear, a dark-haired beauty stood. The spotlight descended upon her like the finger of Heaven, shining on her nut-brown head and freezing her beneath its glow like a fly caught on a pin, and watching all this, she knew. She knew, just looking. Her blood jumped, like someone had slapped her, and she knew.

This was the one.

Quickly, she yanked open the car door, flung the ticket on the dash, and grabbed up the crumpled map she always kept on the passenger seat. She licked her lips and stretched them out, baring her teeth, warming up to a smile, before backing out and slamming the door shut again.

Look left. Look right. Cross. The sleek dark girl was still on the phone. The dog saw her coming, and released a yapping growl.

God, Christian, all right! Jeez. Okay. I’ll come over.’ The dark girl was laughing, and for the first time in a long career, she waited, holding the creased map, still practising her smile, one that looked open but not stupid, trustworthy but not weird, friendly but not too friendly.

And she waited.

‘Hang on, Christian, okay? I’ve just got to…’ She trailed off, muffling the phone against her chest. ‘Hello? Do you need help with something?’ She’s talking to me.

‘Oh, gosh. Um. Please – finish your call! I don’t want to impose -‘

‘No, it’s fine. Honestly. Do you need directions?’ Her eyes were brown too, clear, guileless but wary. There was no smile on her face.

‘Sure, sure. Um. Hardacre? Is it around here someplace?’ She fumbled with the map, the wedding ring winking in the glow of the spotlight.

‘Please, don’t bother with the map. Please! Just listen, okay?’ She looked up, and the dark-haired girl was earnest, staring, one hand on the leash and the other on the phone. She started to give directions and the other woman pretended to take them in, even asking questions and clarifying details, before the conversation tapered off.

‘Okay. So, you’ve got it?’ The girl’s eyes were wide, wanting to help.

‘I sure do,’ she replied, wrapping up the map. ‘I sure do. Thank you, ma’am.’

‘Wow. Ma’am is for my mother. Please! You’re welcome.’ She nodded, just once, before picking up the phone again and turning, the dog’s straining making her leash-holding fingers turn yellow. She began to walk away.

‘Hi, Christian? Yeah, sure. No, no – just a woman lost, needing directions. Okay, so where were we? Oh, really…‘ The girl’s laughing voice left a trail, like scent, in the air, and she didn’t notice she was gripping the map hard until she heard it tearing in her hands. She took two strides to the nearest trash-can and threw it in.

Her calf muscles were tensed and her shoulders taut. Her fists clenched and her jaw set and she wanted to, so badly, but she’d blown it. She’d gone off too early, using the map trick. Now, how was she going to approach her again?

Before she knew it, she was halfway down the block, keeping well back. The spotlight moved with the dark-haired girl, and she shone within it like a newfound pearl.

She’s been chosen, you know, she heard, inside. Not by you. By someone higher than you. Through your hands, His will be done.

She kept walking, her throat sore from holding back a sob.

This will be the last one, the voice inside her whined. Just one more, and that’s all!

But that’s what you said the last time, she answered.

And the time before that, sang the voice. And the time before that, and the time before that.

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Shining Girls’

I can’t quite believe, after so many months of wanting to get my hands on ‘The Shining Girls’, that I’ve finally read it. It’s been experienced. I can never experience it again. Time’s sort of funny like that, isn’t it? It only goes one way.

Unless you’re Harper Curtis, that is.

Image: forbiddenplanet.co.uk

Image: forbiddenplanet.co.uk

‘The Shining Girls’ has one of the best central ideas I’ve ever heard of – a serial killer who can travel through time, meaning that his crimes are pretty much impossible to connect to one another. In other words, he is untraceable, unstoppable and terrifying. Harper Curtis is this serial killer, a man who has been psychopathic from childhood (a chapter detailing his role in an accident involving his older brother, a truck and an unpulled handbrake was, to me, one of the most chilling episodes in the entire novel – and Harper was only eleven at that time.)

Early in the book, we see him gain access to a mysterious House, one with eerie capability; he comes across the key to this House through committing an act of violence, and that same violence powers the House. At various junctures in the book, when characters peer in the windows, the House looks like a rundown flophouse, ransacked and ramshackle and unfit for human habitation. But when Curtis enters (along with several other characters, who seem to be able to ‘see’ the House properly), it becomes a well-appointed, attractive place with fixtures and fittings from Chicago in the 1930s. When he opens the front door again, Curtis steps out into an entirely different reality, years in the future. The time-travel has sensible limits on it; Curtis is always in Chicago, and he cannot seem to travel to any point earlier than 1929 or later than 1993, but he always has one thing on his mind – the destruction of the Shining Girls.

And who are the Shining Girls? They are young women who burn and sparkle with potential. They are dancers, performers, scientists, journalists, architects, welders, wives, widows, maidens, mothers… all manner of womanhood is here. For reasons we are never truly privy to, these girls must die, and their potential – their shine – must be quenched.

Curtis has been murdering women since the 1930s, taking a token from each woman and leaving it on the body of another victim. When he first arrived in the House, he saw a list of names scrawled on a wall, in his own handwriting, and he knew what he was going to do – in a way, because he had already done it. His actions were inevitable. We encounter him first in 1974, when he meets the six-year-old Kirby Mazrachi, who we know is one of the Shining Girls. The darkness within Curtis as he interacts with the innocent Kirby is like a miasma around him, like a stench emanating from him. I’ve never been so repulsed by a character, and I mean that as a compliment to Lauren Beukes’ writing. We see him give Kirby a plastic horse, a toy which becomes vital to her story at the end of the book, and we know he will be back at some point in her future.

Kirby meets Curtis again in 1989, when he attempts to murder her. Out of all his victims, she is the only one to survive – and, at that, only by pure chance. For a long time Curtis thinks he has been successful in killing her, but when he realises that she survived, he becomes determined to finish what he started.

I wanted to love this novel. It’s exactly the kind of thing I enjoy – time travel, compelling characters (particularly compelling female characters), an excellent core concept, a bit of mystery, psychological intrigue, crime – but I can’t say that I did. I really, really liked it, and I would recommend it, but… I’m not sure. There was something missing, for me, at the end, perhaps as a consequence of having spent so many months looking forward to reading it. Some readers were disappointed by the fact that a lot of the mystery at the core of Curtis’ time travelling ability is left unexplained, but that didn’t bother me at all. I was perfectly willing to accept that this House (it deserves the initial capital, believe me) was able to transport its occupants to any point in its own timeline, and I was perfectly willing to accept that it would draw a man like Harper Curtis to itself in order to carry out the murders it felt were necessary. I loved the concept of the ‘shine’, the potential for greatness that existed within each of the victims, even though they were divided by time, race, sexuality, ability and age; I loved every character (from the point of view of how well they were created, that is, not an actual ‘love’ of their personalities.) I can see why some readers would find it hard to suspend their disbelief, but it didn’t cause any issues for me. I loved how Beukes handled her time-travel. Still, having said all that, something about the ending felt flat.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving away pertinent details, because this is the sort of book you really don’t want to spoil for other readers. I will say this much: I read it all in one sitting, I found it hard to put to one side, and Lauren Beukes is a massively talented writer. The story is gripping, though a little hard to keep straight in your head due to the shifting, hopping timelines, and the crime sections are gruesome but extremely compelling. The investigation Kirby launches against the man who almost murdered her is a bit so-so, but the reader has to remember that this part of the book is set in the early 1990s when investigation techniques were not what they are now (I’ve read several reviews of this book which slam her weak investigation into her attacker – but it was a pre-internet age, we can’t forget), and I really enjoyed reading about the lives of the Shining Girls, each of them interesting enough for a novel in their own right.

The book is gory, with scenes of extreme and misogynistic violence, and I do think readers need to be aware of that. It’s not an easy book to read, but it’s a powerful and important book, and as such I would recommend it. The statement Beukes is making – that the world itself conspires, at times, to snuff out the light of its Shining Girls – is one that needs to be heard and heeded.

Happy weekend, y’all. Happy reading!