As Big Ben struck midnight, the sliver of the moon slipped behind dark grey clouds. What little light remained illuminated the path of a man, barely a shadow, slipping between buildings. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of the street, lifted his nose to the air, and turned into a seemingly random alleyway. Prostitutes called out to him as he walked down this alleyway. The man ignored these calls, moving in a direct line for the brothel at the end of the alleyway. He sniffed the air again, smiled and walked inside. The man slowly made his way into the parlor where all of the prostitutes lounged on stained sofas and faded armchairs. The man moved to the center of the parlor and asked for her "services", paying in cash. He led her out and away from the brothel, choosing instead to walk about a block or so to another alleyway for "privacy." The prostitute simply smiled saying that it was no problem at all. The man gave her an odd look, as if he had sensed something was slightly off but continued walking. Once the pair reached a fairly secluded part of the alleyway, the woman knelt down reaching for the man's trousers. His hands reached her first. In an instant, the prostitute found herself losing the ability to breath. She clawed at the man, unable to scream. The shriek of a whistle pierced the cool night air as a policeman intervened, waving his baton and blowing his whistle. The man immediately let go, stammering out that this was just a misunderstanding. He was promptly beat down, put in handcuffs and dragged away as he pleaded with the officer.
Seeing that struggling and pleading was pointless, the man reluctantly allowed the officer to lead him away. The prostitute, now alone, slowly began to make her way back to the alleyway. She rubbed her throat, looking at her reflection in the glass of a now-closed storefront and noticing red hand prints forming. She was so focused on her reflection that she never noticed a shadow drifting towards to turned back. By the time she did notice and attempted to scream it was too late. A hand clapped over her mouth and nose with a foul-smelling rag. She tried to fight, but found her body heavy and unwieldy. Soon she lost consciousness.
A light appeared from the window above the storefront, followed by the storekeeper. An old woman of about 75, her eyesight left much to be desired. Looking outside, she saw two figures outside her storefront. She called out to them, squinting to see why they were at her door.
"Don't worry Madame." one of them quickly responded, "I have taken it upon myself to escort this young lady back to her home. Consider it my good deed of the day. Goodnight."
They promptly walked away before the storekeeper could respond. Confused, the storekeeper made her way down to the front of the building. Lantern in hand, she groaned about her bones as she looked for the pair and checking to make sure no damage was done to her store. She went back inside, losing sight of the strange pair and satisfied that there was no damage on her store. She went back up the stairs, grumbling about the cold.
. . .
A block away, a silhouette slipped back into the darkness. This silhouetted figure had watched the storekeeper from afar, up to the point where she went back inside. He wouldn't want any unfortunate things to happen to that old woman, especially because she wasn't his type. His perked up as he heard a small moan escape awaking lips of the prostitute and smiled. He walked over, checking her bonds and pulse before slowly slinking into deeper shadow. Her time had come.
A sharp snap woke up the prostitute from her drug induced sleep. She looked about, having no memory of how she got to this alley. She struggled to get up and after failing to do that, tried to scream. The hairs on her arms began to rise. She realized that she was out of earshot of the nightlife of the street, the buildings surrounding her were completely barren and stripped of color and life. It was then she felt the hairs on the back of her neck begin to rise. Somebody was here with her. She craned her neck, trying to see this mysterious person. Then a shadow broke off from the decrepit wall of a nearby building and moved towards her.
"Hello, my dear. Did you enjoy your impromptu nap?" the shadow said. The voice chilled her to her core, raising goosebumps. Her instincts screamed at her to get away, but alas all she could do was watch this man get closer and closer. She began to cry and plead. Seeing this, the man continued in a cool tone.
"Shhhh. There there, do not fret dear girl. There is no need for you to plead for your life, I promise that it will serve a better purpose. Try not to overwhelm yourself please? I would hate for you to overexert yourself and die. It would take all of the fun out of it." he laughed at this, still keeping his cool tone. If the woman hadn't already been scared out of her mind, his words and laugh would have been the tipping points. She began to push against her restraints again, trying anything and everything to distance herself from the man to no avail. This earned her a sing-song warning from the man.
"It's pointless." said the man, advancing ever closer, "These knots are meant to get tighter as the prey struggles. Please, be still, try to relax."
This last phrase froze the prostitute in place. It was laced with hidden menace, a promise of unrelenting pain and suffering. The shadow continued, seeing that she had stopped struggling.
"Thank you. You know, you have to be one of the only people who have listened to me this past week." the shadow said, squatting down next to her. This confused her. There was no reason - at least in her mind - why he would suddenly launch into such tame conversation.
"You see," the man continued, "I have gone through some very aggravating days this past week and I have a lot of pent up aggression. Each day, I wake up to see more libel written about how my 'murders' must be stopped. Do they not understand art that I lay before them? Why must they offend me in this way? They have labeled me as 'mentally unstable' and a 'madman'! As you can see, my dear, I am definitely not a madman!"
That was exactly what she thought about him. He was mad, mad as anyone possibly could be. But wait. What had he said earlier? Murders? Her heart skipped a beat. Was that to be her fate? Another pale corpse, dismembered and deconstructed? Why? Oh God, why? Why her? She then realized that his ramblings had ceased. She turned her head to look at him. His face flickered with a visage of pain and anger, but as soon as it was there it disappeared again. He stood up abruptly, walked a few steps in front of her, his back turned. She heard him mutter something under his breath. He looked back at her, adopted a smile, and turned around.
"Apologies. I was preoccupied with a personal matter." He said, withdrawing a thin blade from the depths of his coat. The prostitute's eyes widened with realization and she began to cry again. The man inhaled deeply, as if he could smell her desperation and fear. Her tears seemed to feed something deep inside him. A carnal need. He toyed with his blade, making his way to her.
"I must thank you, my dear. You helped ground me again." he paused and tilted his head, like a cartoon character deep in thought. He continued after a few beats.
"It is settled. I have decided to give you my best gift. I shall slit your throat before I cut you open. You are the first to be given this gift. You should feel honored. I give you my word that you wont feel a thing."
This only furthered the distress the prostitute felt. The tone was a genuine one, at least on the surface. Just how many people had this stranger killed? He began to walk towards her, describing to her his "artistic process".
"You see my dear, you are my medium, my clay. I find that the human body and its systems are the best to display my art. Oh I have tried many a time on animals but to vary degrees of beauty. Nay, humans - especially women - are the best clay I could use. Slitting your neck will make for an odd addition, but sacrifices must be made and I did give you my word."
The almost poetic description of her demise garnered disgust, and she promptly spat at his feet and cursed at him. The man was unfazed. He grabbed her by the hair, inhaled her scent one last time, before slicing open her throat with the flick of his wrist. She lay gasping for air a second time, her eyes focused on her killer. For the briefest of moments, the moon shined through the clouds and illuminated the man's face. All she could see was his smile, an animalistic grin. As her life's blood left her body, she saw moonlight glisten off of his now-bloodstained blade and heard the very last words she would ever hear.
"Shall we begin?"