Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story


Gordon Weetman


All summer the Killer terrorised the city, and by mid-August Maria and I had given up all pretence of working. Instead we stayed glued to the television screen like flies to a strip of poisoned paper.

‘It’s unbelievable.’ Maria shook her head as the death of yet another victim was announced. This one found in the middle of the Parque Central by an old man who had stumbled upon the woman’s bloodied corpse whilst taking his dog for its midnight walk. The blood was still damp when he found her.

We listened incredulously as the newsreader detailed with something approaching weariness the way in which the woman had died. She had been stabbed over fifty times in the chest, after which her heart was excised – ‘Like the Aztecs,’ gasped Maria – and her limbs arranged in the shape of a crucifix.

‘You don’t think,’ Maria said. ‘You don’t think she was used as some kind of… sacrifice?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s ridiculous: horror-movie stuff.’ But there was no conviction in my voice. In truth, my thoughts had been running along pretty much the same lines.

I waited a few moments, then said, ‘I’m going out.’

Maria whirled round with a fearful expression on her face. It was the first time all night that her eyes had left the television screen. ‘Where are you going?’

‘To buy some cigarettes. I’ve run out.’ I picked up the empty carton, and jiggled it to illustrate this fact.

‘But – but, you can’t,’ said Maria. ‘What about the Killer?’

‘I’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘The chances of anything happening are a million to one.’ It astonished me that I could display such courage, which I did not remotely feel. I wondered whether all bravery was like this: an illusion, a sham, a piece of cheap theatrical trickery. 

A memory from childhood suddenly came into my head: an image of myself prodding at an ant nest with a stick, then reeling back in horror as the little black soldiers – armies and armies of them: an insectile Third Reich – came pouring out.

‘Besides,’ I said to Maria, aware that some time had passed since either of us had spoken, ‘Parque Central is over on the other side of town. Right?’

She nodded. The slowness of the movement somehow accentuated her mestizo features: the high cheekbones, the broad, flat nose, the folds at the corners of her eyes that even made her look slightly Chinese. My little Indian, I used to call her. Though she denied all knowledge of her roots.

Right now, my little Indian was avoiding my gaze. I leant over and kissed her on the forehead, causing one of the stray black hairs of her fringe to adhere to my saliva, and fairly leap into my mouth. Furtively, I extracted it.

‘Don’t worry.” I said. ‘At least try not to worry. I’ll be back in ten minutes, I promise. Fifteen minutes max.’

‘Okay.’ Maria still sounded uneasy.

‘Do you want anything?’

‘No,’ said Maria. ‘Actually, a carton of kreteks, please.’

Clove cigarettes – disgusting things, in my opinion.


‘Hurry back,’ said Maria and something else I didn’t hear because by that time I had already closed the door behind me.

Outside, the streets were dark and unpeopled. It was the height of summer; the temperature of the air felt as if it was the same as that of blood. Everyone’s staying inside, I thought with a shudder of nausea. 

It’s just a short walk from our apartment block to the cigarette kiosk on the corner. Short, but dark. On one side is the local park, named after a corrupt politician, where there are no streetlights. On the other side are houses with gardens overflowing on to the road, where streetlights are few and far between. 

On the way to the cigarette kiosk I thought about the nature of fear, how it seems very precise, almost geographical. Fear, I decided, is a place where your footsteps sound like the footsteps of a pursuer.

The cigarette kiosk on the corner is manned by old Alfredo. All day until about three o’clock in the morning, you can find him standing there at his post. Alfredo gets good custom from people going to and from the Metro; the stop is just over the road. Alfredo is also a lifeline for the many students who live in this neighbourhood, for as well as over fifty brands of cigarettes and almost every type of chewing gum, he sells good quality American rolling papers, which can be hard to get your hands on.

‘Hey, Alfredo,’ I said. ‘How’s it going?’

‘Same as always,’ said Alfredo. Always this exact response, morning, noon and night.

It suddenly occurred to me that I had never seen Alfredo’s legs. Maybe he didn’t have legs – for all I knew, he could have been an amputee from the waist down. But, no (I peered over the lip of the kiosk counter): there they were, swathed in dirty linen. Peasant trousers, I thought. The curious thing was that although I’d never paid attention to Alfredo’s legs before, once I’d seen them I realised they couldn’t be any other way.

‘What’ll it be?’ asked Alfredo.

‘Oh, uh… two cartons of Marlboros, please, and a carton of Kreteks.’

‘These ones?’

‘Yep, those are the ones.’

‘Here you go, cowboy,’ said Alfredo. 

It’s an old joke, but Alfredo still manages to get some mileage out of it. The joke refers, of course, to the fact that I always buy Marlboros. Imported, they’re expensive, but I rarely smoke anything else.

‘Thanks, Alfredo.’ I handed over a couple of notes, badly crumpled because I’d been playing with them in my pocket on the way here, squeezing them into a tight little ball. A ball of fear, I thought, my stomach clenching

‘Thanks, cowboy,’ said Alfredo.

As I walked away, I decided that Alfredo would be the perfect victim for a serial killer: he works alone until the early hours of the morning and there is often no one around to witness a crime. Not even a policeman, tonight – which was odd, considering. But then again, most of the city’s police force was probably downtown combing the park for evidence, either that or fucking hookers in exchange for some sort of amnesty arrangement or police protection.

Anyway, that was all beside the point. The point was that I could have killed Alfredo – I could have easily killed Alfredo. And I could have just as easily got away with it. All I’d have to do would be to take a sharp knife out with me, which I could wrap in a rag or a piece of cloth, and then conceal in my jacket pocket. Then, when I reached the kiosk, I could casually lean over the counter as though I were about to whisper something into Alfredo’s shrivelled ear, to impart some tantalising secret. But instead I would drive the knife swiftly into his belly, or his ribcage. I would clamp the cloth over Alfredo’s mouth, which would probably drown his screams just enough. Then I’d stand back and watch the life drain out of his eyes, and I’d feel a warm sense of satisfaction spreading through me, upwards from my crotch.

Why am I thinking all this? I wondered, as I reached the entrance of my building. As I climbed the stairs to our apartment, I experienced a curious feeling of vertigo, as though my past were falling away from me. By the time I reached the top, I had trouble remembering my own name.

Cautiously, I pushed open the door to our apartment. Silence. The television had been turned off at some point and its screen was now blank like the face of an animal. I felt fear – not just abstract fear, but real, concrete terror. Maria was nowhere to be seen.

‘Maria,’ I whispered hoarsely. I felt like shouting, but couldn’t bring myself to do so. A loud noise at a time like this would precipitate disaster, I felt, causing fate to descend upon my head like an avalanche in a snow-covered valley. ‘Maria,’ I repeated. I heard the noise of a toilet flushing. Relief: the purest of all human emotions, purer even than fear.

The sound of a door unlocking. Maria emerged from the bathroom. But what I saw in her eyes was not relief, but something else, something darker, contaminated. For a moment – only a half-second or so, but in life it’s often these forgotten half-seconds that matter most – she looked at me as though I was a stranger.