An uncovered secret Kirsty will regret.
For the past five years, schoolgirls have disappeared on the same day, each of them abused and murdered. None of them found.
Kirsty is playing chase with her cousins, when she decides to take a break. Running to the end of the garden, Kirsty unearths a secret that will change her life forever. And it will make her realise you can't even trust your family.
The sound of screams filled the air.
Kirsty and her cousins had been playing in the garden, weaving around the adults who stood pretending to get on with one another. For the past few minutes she had been unable to keep up. They were so much younger and more energetic and more athletic than her. She was only nineteen and already felt as if she had the lung capacity of a fifty-year-old chain smoker. Mum didn't need to know about her filthy habit - the one she had worked so hard to hide. She wouldn't understand that Jason was actually a really nice boy, and he was only looking out for her. That she wouldn't smoke for the rest of her life. That it was a phase which would eventually pass.
Kirsty's cousins, Alex and Reece, stopped by the leg of the gazebo at the bottom right of the garden. Kirsty joined them, their heads coming up to her belly button.
'Sorry, guys,' she said to them between heavy breaths. 'I'm beat. Give me a break, and then we can carry on playing after.'
The boys moaned, and then after being distracted by one another, darted off behind her, sparking a new game of chase. Kirsty watched them knock into her second- and third-cousins who were probably discussing something intellectual like the tension between America and Korea, or the devastating impact plastic was having on our planet. And there she was, sitting down at the far end of the garden, in her own bubble of tranquillity, eager to find out the latest gossip on Daily Mail, or find out what her friends were doing on Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter. She made the most of the opportunity and free space; she hated family gatherings. Especially around her aunt and uncle's. It was a well-acknowledged rule that mobile phones or tablets or computers were banned in the household. Apparently, it was bad for everyone. Apparently, nobody communicated anymore.
Kirsty opened Facebook Messenger, read a message from Jason and clicked on the link he had sent her. It took her to a news page about a girl who had disappeared this time last year. According to the article, it was the fifth time this sort of thing had happened on the exact same day every year. The article said the police were now suspecting a serial killer was on the loose.
A pair of feet distracted Kirsty from the article. She recognised them at once. Fuck sake, she thought to herself. Is there no such thing as privacy nowadays?
'Have you tried some of the salmon cakes?' It was her grandmother, the one she hadn't seen in months, yet whenever they did meet, still pretended as if she were the greatest nan on the planet. Making small talk. Asking the same questions she always did. Pretending she took an interest in Kirsty's life.
'No,' Kirsty replied. 'I don't like fish.'
'What? Are you crazy?' someone said from behind her jovially.
Kirsty turned to face them. Uncle Robert. The reason Kirsty was there. It was Robert and Susan's wedding anniversary. Their sixth one, Kirsty thought. Although she couldn't be sure. There had been so many they all blended into one.
'How can you not like fish?' Robert asked. His breath was heavy with the stench of alcohol.
'I just don't. It smells like shit.'
Robert flinched. Her nan shuffled away silently. The sound of discussion and laughter filtered through the air.
'Where did you come from?' she asked.
'It's my house, you know.
'No shit, Sherlock.'
Robert shook his head. 'You know I don't like swearing, Kirsty.'
'Why? You swear all the time in your books?'
'Bad things happen to girls when they swear.'
'I really couldn't give a fuck.'
Robert shook his head, tutting. 'You're a defiant little one, aren't you?'
Kirsty didn't say anything. She had heard it so many times she ignored anything anyone ever said. Just as her uncle was about to open his mouth, Kirsty's mum appeared from behind his shoulder.
'What's going on here, then? What's my little darling done now?' Her mum's brow furrowed.
Robert glanced at Kirsty, a scathing look deep in his eyes, before turning to face his sister.
'I was just explaining to your lovely daughter that we don't swear in this household. And that those who do get into serious trouble.'
'Seems like you can't do anything at all,' Kirsty said, rolling her eyes.
'What have we discussed, Kirsty?' Her mum placed her hands on her hips and pursing her lips. Kirsty ignored her. 'You're banned from your phone for the rest of the weekend!'
Kirsty didn't object. She had heard it all before. She knew that as soon as she got home, her mum would be back on the alcohol and would have forgotten about the empty threat.
'Now I want you to apologise to Uncle Robert.'
Kirsty looked her uncle in the eyes.
'That's alright, Kirsty. You are forgiven. But if I hear you say it again, I won't be so lenient.'
Kirsty watched Robert go, and then her mum sat beside her.
'Come on, Kirst,' she said softly. 'You know the rules. What are you playing at?'
'I'm bored. I want to speak to my friends. I want to socialise. They're all down the park chilling and I'm fucking stuck here. I'm going insane. Even reading a book would keep me occupied.'
'Well, your uncle's got plenty of those.'
'His books are shit. Everyone knows they are. But somehow he's managed to make millions from them.'
Her mum slapped her on the knee. It wasn't as hard as it could have been, but it was enough of a warning. 'Stop swearing!'
'Fine. I'm going for a walk.'
'Around. This place is big enough.'
And it was. In the years since Uncle Robert had left his job to become a full-time author, his books had sold in their millions, and he had taken out an entirely new mortgage and new Bentley because...well, he could. And he didn't mind reminding people of the fact. He was in the public eye and he wanted everyone to know he had made the jump from a poor, working-class man to a rich, arrogant upper-class arsehole. The mansion had an acre back garden, five bedrooms, two living rooms, and a playroom. It was big enough for their family of four and would have been far too much for just Kirsty and her mum. The sheer size of the property amazed Kirsty every time she went there because she would always discover new things when she strolled around the grounds.
Kirsty started off towards the vast expanse of green in front of her. She strode through a patio alleyway adorned with fluorescent coloured flowers. In the far left of the field was a large tree. Next to that, running behind it along the perimeter of the grounds, was a small river Kirsty had fallen into when she was ten. She had been alone, but a few seconds later Uncle Robert had appeared out of nowhere to rescue her.
Kirsty stopped by the base of the tree. The old rope swing she and her dad had built three years ago before he passed away was still there. It was a constant reminder of him, and it was her only place of solace. The rugged and worn rope felt hard and callous in her hands. She placed the wooden plank between her legs and began swinging.
Pushing herself back and forth, the rope's fibres began to chafe her thighs. Kirsty soared higher and higher. Higher and higher until she reached maximum velocity. The weathered rope gave way and she plummeted to the ground. Landed hard on veiny tree roots and fallen twigs. Dirt and gravel broke the surface of her skin. Blood seeped through the wound and her hands stung. But that wasn't the most disturbing part of the fall. No, she had been sure, in the whirlwind, there had been someone - something, a silhouette - standing there. But when she looked around, they were nowhere to be seen.
Kirsty lifted herself to her feet. Her upper body ached, and her lower back took the full brunt of the fall. Rising, she placed a foot on a flat piece of ground. It made a sound. Hollow. As if the earth beneath her was empty.
She bent down and brushed away the debris, ignoring the pain.
Her finger found a small hole in the ground. She dug her finger in, stepped to the side, and pulled. The ground moved away from her feet, revealing to her a hidden chamber.
'What the fuck?' she whispered.
Consumed by curiosity, Kirsty descended deeper into the darkness using a set of steps already in place. Light flooded in, highlighting a switch next to her head. Kirsty flicked it on. Four light bulbs, incandescent and harsh on her eyes, illuminated the rest of the underground cellar. Kirsty scanned her new surroundings, absorbing the smallest of details.
The first thing she noticed was the temperature.
The next was the smell. Damp. Old. Sweat. Bleach. Wait... is it? She couldn't be sure about the last one. It either smelled like bleach or semen. And she had known from experience how similar both of them were.
She dismissed the thought.
In the near right-hand side of the room was a desk. Placed upon it was a pile of paper. Kirsty walked to it, grabbed the top document, and read.
It was a newspaper clipping from two years ago.
SHOE FOUND AT RAPE CRIME SCENE:
On August 18th, two weeks before her seventeenth birthday, Jessica Harland was raped and kidnapped by an unknown attacker. All that was found at the scene of the crime was a missing red shoe. Jessica is the third teenage girl to have been raped and gone missing in the Hampshire area in the past three years. The attacker is still at large.
Kirsty stopped reading. She recognised the name. Had heard it on TV after school one time. A girl from the local area. Went to a nearby school. No trace of where she was and how she had been taken. Just like that. Gone. Never to be seen again.
Kirsty placed the document on the table, gave one last look at the image of Jessica Harland's red shoe, and grabbed the next newspaper extract. It was a similar article, with the exact same date, only three years before. The missing girl's name was Marianna Drummond, and she had been raped and kidnapped in the early hours of the morning.
Eighteen-year-old Marianna Drummond has been declared missing. She was last seen at 4 a.m. on August 18. The clothing she was last seen in was discovered in a park on the outskirts of Wellsley High School. Blood and semen were also found at the scene. The only known item to be missing was a scarf. There have been no eyewitness statements, and the police are urging anyone with information to come forward. Her parents do not wish to give a statement.
Kirsty put the piece of paper down and swallowed deeply, fighting to keep the bile from her stomach down. She had known Marianna. Had been her friend in science. But then when Marianna didn't turn up one time, Kirsty had thought her parents just picked up their stuff and left. They were prone to doing that. Military families and all that. But why hadn't her mum or the school told her about it? Why had they kept her in the dark for so long? And why were these newspaper clippings down here? What was this place?
Kirsty moved around the room. At the back were a series of boxes. She lifted the lid from the top and grimaced at the smell. Before she was about to peer inside again, something behind them caught her eye.
On the floor, covered in layers of dust and cobwebs, was a shoe. It was red, and at once Kirsty knew what it was. She bent down. Picked it up. Inspected it. The shoe felt cold in her hands.
A sound overhead distracted her. She darted her head to the entrance, but there was nothing there. Kirsty returned her attention to the shoe. Sniffed it. A decaying smell of perfume combined with bleach climbed up her nostrils and she held it at arm's length.
Placing the shoe back on the floor, something hidden in between the boxes brushed her arm. It was a soft, woollen material. Kirsty pulled on it and revealed a scarf. Dusty and encrusted.
'Oh, my God,' Kirsty whispered.
Before she was able to comprehend anything, the same noise she heard moments ago echoed around the basement.
Uncle Robert's face appeared in the tiny hole in the ceiling.
'Yes?' she swallowed deeply, frozen to the spot. Afraid.
'How did you get down there?'
'You're not supposed to be there.'
'What is this place?'
'Where I killed some of them.'
Kirsty didn't respond at first. She was too focused on thinking about what he had just said. How her uncle was a serial killer and rapist. How she had stumbled across his secret. How she didn't really know him at all.
'What are all of these? Why have you kept them?' Kirsty pointed to the scarf, shoe, and pile of newspapers.
'They're my rewards, Kirsty. My prizes. For doing what I did to those girls. All five of them. Every year, treating myself to a little bit of fun on my wedding anniversary. Anniversaries are supposed to be a celebration of marriage, but your aunt hasn't seen it that way for years, so if she won't put out, I just have to find someone who will. And it seems like you'll be next.'
Uncle Robert shook his head and looked to the ground.
'Oh, dear,' he said. 'What did I tell you about swearing? I told you bad things would happen if you did it again.'
Robert moved to the side, grabbed the wooden trapdoor, and closed it, encompassing Kirsty in darkness. The slab landed heavily and deafened Kirsty.
She screamed, but no one could hear.