Special

By Jeremy Courville

EARNHART’S footsteps echoed heavily in the cool, dim hallway. The place had a fancy, yet not quite prestigious look to it; fine art decorated the burgundy walls, all depicting classical paintings. And, he noticed, each and every one contained nude women. The floor was wooden—some dark and sturdy class of tree, he imagined. The doors he passed, all closed, were of a matching wooden finish, decorated with simple yet fetching inlays of gold. He felt more like he was in an upscale hotel rather than . . . well, rather than where he was.

He gripped his suitcase tightly, eyeing the man who led him forward. The manager had not asked to look inside yet; Earnhart could only hope he wouldn’t.

A strange, muffled sound came from one of the doors as they passed, and he glanced at it awkwardly. Something was going on in those rooms. He really preferred not to think about it.

“This your first time?” the man in the lead asked, turning sideways to look back at him.

“Of course not,” Earnhart replied as if mildly offended. “If it were, would I have known how to contact you?”

“That’s not what I meant,” the manager said apologetically. “I mean, is this your first time with . . . one like her?”

“Oh . . .” Earnhart bowed his head a moment thoughtfully. “Yes.”

“You nervous?”

“How could I not be?” he asked sincerely. “This is a very unusual thing for me, in concept and act. But the thought of it . . . and the pictures were inescapably enticing.”

“Wait till you meet her in the flesh,” the manager noted with a wicked grin. “Perfection, my friend, feminine perfection!”

Earnhart gave the man a worried look. “And she’s not dangerous? You did say she was the hardest catch you’ve ever made.”

“She was,” the man agreed. “Took us ages to find her, longer to catch her, and that was only by chance. But . . .” the man waved a dismissive hand, “no need to worry. She’s totally harmless, now. Couldn’t hurt a fly.”

“I guess that explains the price tag,” Earnhart muttered, though he’d no intention of hiding his words.

Sure enough, the manager overheard. “You’ll find that she’s worth it, sir. Not many can pay the price, true, but for such a fine specimen? And besides, she killed eleven men before we caught her, and severely injured several others. The pricing is unavoidable.”

 Earnhart gave the man a frightened look. “If you don’t want me to be afraid, don’t mention the head count!”

The manager laughed. “Sorry about that! Seriously, she’s harmless now. Not exactly obedient, but she won’t fight you. Ah, here it is . . .” The man paused before one of the doors, this one with a special lock on it. “Now remember, you’re free to do whatever you like over the next twenty-four hours, but if you leave the room your session ends: The door locks when it closes and only I can open it from out here.”

“I understand.” Earnhart nodded seriously, hoisting his suitcase for comfort. “What if she were to try to escape?”

“She can’t,” the manager replied simply as he pulled out a card and slipped it through a slot in the door. “The entire room is covered in barriers. The only way she’s getting out is if someone holds open the door for her.”

“Ah,” Earnhart nodded, “I’ll be sure not to do that, then.”

“Even if you did, she wouldn’t get far,” the manager observed, opening the door quietly. “I don’t see why you would want to; there’s nothing you can do out here that you can’t do in there.”

The manager stood aside, gesturing for Earnhart to go in, but he held his suitcase and stood still for a moment, eyeing the door. After a couple seconds the manager, smiling encouragingly, gestured again. “Well, go on. She’s waiting for you.”

Earnhart eyed him uncertainly, then slowly stepped into the room. It was a large bedroom, with dark red walls to match those in the hallway and dark wooden furniture. The floor was carpeted, soft and in a red color similar to the walls. He glanced about, ignoring the massive bed and other furnishings. Where was . . .?

There. She was sitting on the floor in the corner, tucked into a ball and head hidden by her knees. She was wearing a yellow sundress with red highlights, barefoot, skin pale. Her hair was white . . . with just a hint of blue. He could see the metal collar wrapped about her neck, and the chain that extended all the way to the foot of the bed. A victim, trapped in this twisted place. He couldn’t help but shiver with delight at the prospect of what was coming.

“Does she have a name?” he asked, glancing at the manager curiously.

“No names,” the man replied directly, his face serious. “People have names. Our products are chattel . . . and those like her less than that.”

“I see,” Earnhart replied thoughtfully, giving the girl a long, studious look. “Well, we shall see what she can offer. One question, though: What on Earth made you decide to start selling . . . girls like her?”

The man smiled lightly, almost sinisterly. “Well, there is a small niche. But honestly? People aren’t looking for girls who are dead. Nobody misses her.”

“Ah,” Earnhart whispered, “I see. Can I remove the chain?”

“Of course,” the man nodded. “You’ll find the key in the dresser, top drawer on the left. We only keep it on her as a reminder of what she is.”

“Very good, then.” Earnhart walked to the massive, red-quilted bed and set his suitcase down. “Twenty-four hours, is it? I’d like to get started.”

“Alright,” the manager agreed, turning for the door. “Have fun, and don’t worry about harming the merchandise; another great thing about dead girls? You can’t spoil them.” The door closed with a quiet click.

Earnhart stood, hands atop the suitcase. He remained there for several seconds, waiting to make sure the manager wouldn’t come in to note some rule or obligation. He did not want to be disturbed at all once he’d begun.

At last certain of his isolation, he turned quietly to the girl in the corner. For that was all she was . . . a girl. A teen, to be certain, but definitely too young for this situation. At least physically. “So . . . no name, huh?”

The girl did not move, only remained huddled in her little ball. He approached her, slowly, nervously, and knelt beside her. “You really don’t have one, do you? Even before all of this, before you became what you are. Just a nameless girl.” He reached a careful hand forward, touching her hair. It was cool and soft like silk; she turned her face away. Her hair was long and straight, reaching down to her shoulders. Her bangs too were long, covering her eyes so that they were impossible to see. He tried to move them, but she shifted away again, trembling.

He sighed sadly and pulled his hand away. “I know all about you,” he whispered quietly, soothingly. “They found you on some pier in Nova Scotia, but nobody knew who you were or where you came from. All they knew was that you were dead. They tried to bury you—civilly, properly—but you wouldn’t stay down in the ground. A dead girl . . . who is responsible for the deaths of over fifty people in the past twenty years.”

The girl said nothing. Still nothing.

“The people who brought you here,” he whispered, glancing toward the door darkly for a moment, “they say you shouldn’t have a name. I disagree. It’s not dignifying.”

He stood and walked back to the bed, carefully opening his suitcase. He went on, conversationally, as he began to remove the strange objects. “These people, they think I’m here to ‘play’ with an obedient little female body.” He set the objects aside, uninterested in them. They were only there in case the people decided to search his belongings. They hadn’t, and they would regret it. “I’m not here for that.”

He reached into the suitcase, which now seemed empty, and found the hidden latch. The bottom opened after a hard jerk, and he set the fake piece aside. He stared at the object within quietly for a few seconds. “Oh, I almost forgot.”

Earnhart walked to the dresser and looked through it. He found a number of clothes, all female, all clearly designed so that he could dress the girl up in whatever fetish he desired. He tossed them aside, disgusted, and found the key the manager had mentioned. “Ah, here it is. You can’t do anything without this.”

He walked over to the girl and knelt beside her once more. He reached forward, but she again pulled away. She pressed herself against the corner, as if it might provide some protection, and the chain rattled quietly from her movement.

He reached forward and grabbed the chain just below her neck, moving gently. “I don’t know if it’s true that you can’t feel pain, but please: I do not wish to harm you.” The girl remained silent, but he thought he heard a slight whimper from her throat. “I know,” he whispered, reaching forward with the key, “you’ve heard that before.”

His bare wrist touched her shoulder as he set the key inside her collar. She was cold . . . but not as cold as he’d expected. After a moment the lock snapped open, and he pulled the collar off her neck. “You’ve no need for this anymore.” He tossed the collar aside, the chain clunking loudly on the carpet.

The girl reached a hand for her throat, as if reaching for something that wasn’t there. Still she kept her face hidden from him with her hair.

Earnhart frowned and reached a hand, touching her cheek. “Won’t you at least look at me? Just a glance?” When she didn’t move, he slowly, gently pressed her face toward him. She trembled, biting her lip, as he reached up and carefully brushed that strange hair away.

Her eyes were brown. A soft, gentle brown, and for how dead her body was they were very alive. For a crazed, murderous dead girl, she appeared very afraid. If she could cry, he suspected she would at the moment, but there were no tears. Only a deep, fearful sadness.

“My,” he confessed upon seeing her soft, pale face and eyes, “but you are pretty.”

The girl pulled away, her face pained as she turned from him and let her bangs fall back over her eyes.

Earnhart sighed, his heart saddened. “They’ve done terrible things to you here, haven’t they? That man, how many men has he sold you to?” She only trembled in response, curled up in her tight little ball.

He stared at her for a moment, pity and sadness overwhelming him just a bit, but then that sadness shifted to something else. Something darker. He leaned closer to her and whispered conspiratorially, “I know what you’re capable of. I know what you’ve done, and could do, if only you were allowed to. The manager himself admitted that capturing you was nothing short of blind luck. So tell me something: If you had the opportunity for revenge, would you take it?”

The girl’s trembling stopped. Slowly, so very, very slowly, her face turned to his. He couldn’t see her eyes through her bangs, and her mouth was set in a frown of mild suspicion. But the message? It was there.

“That’s what I thought,” he noted seriously, standing up once more. He returned to the suitcase and retrieved the object hidden within. He came back to her and knelt once more; she was still facing him. Though he couldn’t see her eyes, he had the distinct and rather creepy impression that she was staring at him.

“I have a name for you, my special little dead girl,” he whispered, raising his closed hand before her face. He opened it, and a necklace dropped into the air. He held it up by the tiny silver chain, displaying an oval pendant at the end. The thing snapped open as it reached the bottom of the chain, revealing a family of four. “That name . . . is Charon.”

The girl’s face lowered, as if to stare at the pendant, and he heard a gasp from her lips. She gaped at the thing, transfixed. He reached his free hand forward, catching her chin gently, and raised her head to face him once more. “Do you know where that name comes from?”

For a few seconds there was a long silence between them. And then, slowly, the girl nodded.

“Please,” he whispered, grasping her cold hands, “avenge yourself, and my sister, and all those who have been brought to this place. Be my Charon.”

He set the pendant in her hands, then stood and walked to the door. When he turned around, the girl was on her feet, slowly sliding the necklace about her neck. For a moment she stood there, grasping the pendant as if it were something precious that she’d lost long ago. Stolen was the better word, though. Finally, she looked up at him. Her motion suggested . . . disbelief.

He reached for the door handle and slowly opened the door wide. “Go on,” he whispered coldly. “Do what you want to do.”

He turned and sat down on the bed. He didn’t watch her, but he could sense her presence. It was no longer that of a frail, trembling girl. The thing that he felt now was ominous, sinister . . . powerful. He felt fearful, for this was the one part that he’d been terrified of; what if she turned on him? But he wouldn’t blame her for anything. She had a right to be furious with the world. If this meant he’d have his revenge, he’d accept it.

At last he couldn’t help himself; he glanced to the door. The girl stood there, halfway outside the room. She glanced about as if uncertain, then turned to look at him over her shoulder.

And then she gave him a slow, warm smile.

She was gone. Earnhart sighed heavily in relief and laid himself on the bed. He didn’t want to move, or think, or remember anything. He wouldn’t feel comfortable until he’d heard proof that his actions were vindicated. He closed his eyes and listened in silence for something. He hoped very much that the first thing he’d hear would be a pitched scream.

Time ticked by. Slowly, quietly, nervously, Earnhart waited.

Ah, there it was.

It was such a sweet sound.

___

Jeremy Courville was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana and spent most of his young life traveling around the world with his family. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Louisiana Tech University and worked as both a research assistant for an engineering firm and an English tutor at Louisiana Tech University. He very recently moved to Japan to pursue a teaching career in Osaka.


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