Kim Kimber - Winner

Competition: Crime or Thriller Short Story Competition

Kim Kimber is a copy-editor from Essex and an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). In her spare time, Kim enjoys writing fiction. She is a founder member of WoSWI Writing Group, whose book Ten Minute Tales won the Writing Magazine Writers’ Circle Anthology Award 2016. Kim’s stories have been shortlisted previously in WM but she is delighted by this, her first individual win.

Kim Kimber

Number Seven

Sexy 145: Hi! How r u today?
Bad Boy Ben: Good thx. You?
Sexy 145: Ok!
Bad Boy Ben: Only ok?
Sexy 145: Had another argument with Mum.
Bad Boy Ben: Sucks…What about? I’ve been thinking about you.
Sexy 145: Same…’Bout make-up. Says it’s too much. She treats me like a little girl…
Bad Boy Ben: Parents suck…
Sexy 145: Yeah! I’m 13.
Bad Boy Ben: Almost grown-up then…
Sexy 145: Yeah!
Bad Boy Ben: Send me a pic, let me see.
Sexy 145: See?
Bad Boy Ben: The make-up.
Sexy 145: I shouldn’t. Mum said…    
Bad Boy Ben: I’ll send you one then…
Ping!
Bad Boy Ben: Do u like it?    
Sexy 145: Yeah!
Bad Boy Ben: Send me one, go on, I wanna see what u look like.
Ping!
Bad Boy Ben: You’re beautiful…
Sexy 145: Gotta go, my mum’s coming. Love ya x
Bad Boy Ben: L8tr. Love ya 2

I hang up in satisfaction, picturing the scene on the other end of the phone, the secret smiles, fantasies fuelled. It takes a while to build up trust and reel them in, but I have time, lots of it and patience too. In any case, the slow build heightens the pleasure of the final act.
I am always surprised by how gullible they are, how easy it is to dupe them. How simple to feed their late night dreams and delusions. It’s about giving them what they need, telling them what they want to hear. I am a friend when everyone else is against them. They always believe the pictures are of me too; a photo doesn’t lie. It’s so simple to download an image, the internet is awash with them and they are too stupid to check. I can be anyone I choose, the perfect on-screen partner. To them I am real, the truth buried deep in a fantasy world of my creation.
I pour myself a drink, something I do a lot these days. The whisky slides down my throat, thick and hot, burning a trail through my insides. I sit back, smiling to myself, wondering if my new ‘friend’ will be back online any time soon. My stomach grumbles. I should get something to eat but I am reluctant to leave the computer screen, in case Number Seven returns. I started numbering them early on, after Number One was so satisfying and I started grooming Number Two. I have each of their photographs pinned above my bed with their number scribbled on in black marker pen. My own personal shrine. I like to look at them and remember – they deserve to be remembered. After all, I’m not without feelings.
I have been grooming my latest conquest for a while now and we are almost ready for the final act. I can sense it. It won’t be long before Number Seven agrees to meet up with me and then… I have to be careful not to be traced. It is easier to track someone’s digital footprint these days than to follow them on the street. But I know about computers and the internet and how it works. It has been essential that I learn.
Ping! The screen lights up. Number Seven is back.

Sexy 145: You there?
Bad Boy Ben: Course. For you, always. You ok?
Sexy 145: Yeah! Can’t stay long. Mum says I spend too much time online.
Bad Boy Ben: Yeah! Mine too. But she can’t tell me what to do.
Sexy 145: You’re 16. Wish I was.
Bad Boy Ben: I’m not that much older than you.
Sexy 145: Mum says it’s different for boys.
Bad Boy Ben: Your Mum’s right, but I’m not like other boys… you know that right?
Sexy 145: Yeah, course! What u up 2?
Bad Boy Ben: Not much! You?
Sexy 145: Same. I’m supposed to be doing homework.
Bad Boy Ben: Boring!
Sexy 145: Yeah! Maths…    
Bad Boy Ben: The worst.
Sexy 145: Ikr! Can’t wait to leave school.
Bad Boy Ben: Me too… then we can be together!
Sexy 145: You mean that?
Bad Boy Ben: Yeah, obvs, I like you. Wanna meet up soon!
Sexy 145: Same! I can hear Mum. Gotta go do my stupid maths.
Bad Boy Ben: Ok L8tr. …I’ll message you. Love ya babes.

The room is dark, lit only by the unnatural glow of the computer screen. I glance at the clock. It is late. I should go to bed but I know that I won’t sleep. It is always the same when I get this close, the anticipation keeps me awake at night and I lie in bed, imaging the moment when we meet. The realisation on their face when they know that they have walked right into my trap. That no one is coming to save them. I hold all the power and I can do whatever I like, the adrenalin pumping through my body as I taunt and torment.
I shiver as I remember the first time. Nothing will ever compare to the thrill of Number One, the excitement and expectation. It will always be the best. I promised myself that I would stop then, that it would end there, expecting to be arrested and spend the rest of my life away from people, behind bars. But no one came. In spite of the fuss about that, and subsequent, murders in the media, they have never found me. Sometimes, I wonder if the police are even looking. It’s so easy. I really should try and sleep. It is time, tomorrow I will make my move…

Sexy 145: I’m not sure…
Bad Boy Ben: Please… I really want to see you.
Sexy 145: Mum says…
Bad Boy Ben: Don’t you love me?
Sexy 145: ‘Course but…
Bad Boy Ben: You don’t…
Sexy 145: Mum won’t like it…
Bad Boy Ben: Don’t tell her. You’re your own person.
Sexy 145: She’ll go mad if she finds out…
Bad Boy Ben: She won’t, you know the place I told you about…
Sexy 145: I’m not sure…
Bad Boy Ben: Come on, it’ll be fun, our secret…
Sexy 145: Ok…    
Bad Boy Ben: So you’ll come?
Sexy 145: Yeah!
Bad Boy Ben: After school… you know where I’ll be?
Sexy 145: Yeah!
Bad Boy Ben: Remember, you mustn’t tell anyone... excited
Sexy 145: Same!
Bad Boy Ben: Love ya babes.
Sexy 145: Love ya back.

The abandoned building is dark inside, the late winter gloom failing to penetrate through the murky windows, a depressing place to spend your final hours. The location is different every time and the element of surprise is essential. I have arrived early so that I can prepare. I flash my torch around the foreboding space and familiarise myself with the layout and exit routes, just in case my prey decides to run. I am eager now to finish what I have begun. It isn’t long before everything is in place. All I have to do is wait.
I hear footsteps, someone is moving cautiously through the empty rooms, calling my name; my fake online name. I stay hidden, out of range of the torchlight that now flashes around the corners. I remain out of sight, until I hear Number Seven moving deeper inside and then I follow stealthily behind.
It is crucial to move quickly, to catch them off guard. I have my own, well-rehearsed modus operandi. I run up silently behind them, sinking the blade deep into the back of their thigh. This causes their head to drop as they flail around, trying to locate the source of their pain. I move quickly, throwing the sack over their head and then, with practised dexterity, I snap on the handcuffs. With one final shove, they keel over and I tie their feet together. Only when they are fully secured do I remove the sack.
I like my victims to see me, to understand what I am going to do them and why. I enjoy hearing them whimper, beg and plead for their life, knowing that it will make no difference. I hold all the power. They are going to die, slowly, in pain, and I am going to enjoy every exquisite moment of their torture.
Number Seven is of slight build and yields easily, falling silent in shock after the first agonised cry, and is now trussed up in an undignified heap at my feet. I pause, breathing heavily, heart pumping, savouring the moment. I switch on my camping lamp and position it so that I can inspect my latest victim. A damp patch spreads out from between Number Seven’s thighs – they often wet themselves in fear. Pathetic!
‘I’m going to remove the sack,’ I say. ‘Make a sound and you die.’ I press the blade up against Number Seven’s neck. ‘Don’t imagine for a second that I won’t do it. I will. You’re not my first.’ At the feel of the knife, Number Seven begins to convulse violently. I decide to be merciful and despatch this one quickly. I’m not heartless, after all.
With my free hand, I pull the cover roughly from Number Seven’s head and look deeply into the heavy-lidded eyes, enjoying the surprise etched on the sweaty, pock-marked face. ‘Not what you were expecting?’ I laugh. ‘A little too old for your tastes?’
Number Seven squirms against the sharp knife, shaking uncontrollably. ‘This is for my daughter, Ellie,’ I say, ‘and for every other girl, preyed on by scum by you.’ I slice the blade expertly across the pervert’s throat and watch as the life twitches out of him.  

Judges Comments

Contemporary psychological thrillers are all about the twist and the tension, and in Number Seven, Kim Kimber uses both to chilling effect - it was an outstanding entry in our competition for short crime and thriller stories.

As readers, we are as manipulated by the author, who plays with reader expectations about who is the prey and who is being preyed on, as the victim in her story. Grooming is a contemporary issue that it's impossible to feel neutral about; the whole sympathy is with the (usually) female victim of an older male. But Kim cleverly inverts the expected stereotypes: her non-gender-specific 'groomer' is engaged in an act of revenge. And not just that: they enjoy it. We may understand their motive, but not the pleasure they take in serial killing, which suggests psychopathic tendencies of their own. Kim has created a chilling and disturbing anti-hero and although even in the most skilfully crafted crime and thriller fiction the reveal is often softened because the reader has already worked out the identity of the perpetrator and their motive, in this case the last two lines really do provide a twist in the tale.

Kim's used her wordcount economically and effectively, structuring her story in three tight sections like a classic three-act drama. In the first half of each section, the online conversations move on the plot and create reader expectations which are then reinforced with the interior monologue that forms the second half of each 'act'. There isn't a wasted word: everything in Number Seven combines to build up tension and the implication that we recognise what's going on. Instead, we find that the 'victim' we have been sympathising with is a psychopathic serial killer. The fact that this story's actual victim is guilty of grooming is another layer of nastiness. Number Seven is like a 21st-century update on the 16th-century revenge tragedies, where the revenger takes justice into their own hands, and the fact that there is poetic justice in the vengeance meted out to the groomer means that the reader is implicated in in the moral ambuigities this story generates.

 

 

Runner-up in the crime and thriller short story competition, whose story is published on www.writers-online.co.uk, is Andrew French, Redcar, Teesside. Also shortlisted were: Dominic Bell, Hull; SM Beneicke, Alcester, Warwickshire; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Peter Caunt, Harrogate, North Yorkshire; Charlotte Fowey, Porlock, Somerset; Alyson Hilbourne, Penrith, Cumbria; Andrew Hutchcraft, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Elinor Lobban, Wendover, Buckinghamshire; David Woodfine, Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire.

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