|Candy had heard all about the dangers of online relationships and internet dating, but this was different. Luke was different. He was so special and he loved her. She dressed with care, both nervous and excited. Finally after two months, she was going to meet him today.
"Ooh, you are dressed up," Abby raised an eyebrow when she saw Candy. Black miniskirt, high wedges, and her fluffy pink jumper. She had make-up on and looked much older than her fifteen years.
"You know I'm meeting Luke today," Candy beamed, "I'm so excited. I have to look at least seventeen. I told him I was. Did you remember to bring your scarf?"
"Yes, here it is. It's the same color as your jumper. You sure you don't want me to come with you? It's not a good idea to meet guys from the internet. He could be an old guy - at least thirty!"
"Rubbish, I showed you his photo. He's nineteen. And he’s hot." Candy laughed as she draped the scarf around her neck.
"Where are you meeting him?"
"He has a car. He's picking me up and we're going to the Wimpy so it's all legit. Stop panicking."
"Well bbm me so I know everything's all cool."
"I will, I promise. Remember my Mom thinks I'm with you."
Candy saw the old Ford come up alongside her and Luke pushed the passenger door open and shouted for her to get in, as a car behind him hooted. She scrambled in and he pulled off.
"Sorry about that." He said smiling, "the traffic's hectic."
"It’s fine," she said nervously. He looked different - older than his photo. But he was still hot. He took her hand, squeezed it.
"You nervous? You don't need to be. I don't bite," he laughed and she relaxed a little. He kept her hand in his. She liked the feeling.
"I just have to make a quick stop at my place. I left my wallet behind." Immediately she stiffened. She knew enough not to go to a guy's house. He noticed and laughed.
"It's cool. If you don't trust me..." He cocked an eyebrow at her, "you can wait in the car. By the way, I'm really glad you remembered to wear a scarf." He winked.
“Well, you asked me to.” She smiled, relaxing.
“I did. I have a thing about scarves. They’re so feminine, and so… durable. I love the way they wrap around a woman’s neck.”
They pulled into the driveway which ran around the back of a house alongside a small cottage at the back.
“You wanna come see my pad?” he asked, “Oh, I forgot. You’re scared I’m the big bad wolf.” He grinned, baring his teeth menacingly, and she felt like an idiot.
“No, it’s cool. I’ll come in with you.”
The cottage was dark, curtains drawn with a peculiar smell. Candy didn’t like it much. She stood hesitantly just inside the front door and waited for Luke to come back. For a long time.
“Luke?” she called out. Should she go back to the car, she wondered. The house was quiet, no sound at all. She waited a while longer, slowly started walking down the passage towards the back of the house. It seemed bigger than it had from the outside.
“Luke?” she called out again.
“I’m here,” he replied from beyond the closed door, “Come in.” She pushed the door open and it creaked ominously. A flash of light blinded her. It was Luke taking a photograph of her.
“Oh, you startled me,” she said, her heart pounding. He laughed as he put the Polaroid camera down.
“I needed a photograph for my collection,” he said.
“Collection?” she asked, her eyes slowly adjusting from the flash.
The room was dark, one wall lit by a track of small spotlights, illuminating a row of framed photographs. Below each frame, was a hook, and from each hook, hung a scarf. She was drawn there automatically, taking a closer look. Each girl was wearing the same scarf that hung beneath her photograph… wearing a scarf, just like she was. Some of them looked familiar but she wasn't sure why. On TV maybe? The thought slipped away. A puzzled frown furrowed her brow.
“Are you a photographer?” she asked.
“No, I’m not, not really, my darling girl. I’m what you’d call a preserver. I preserve the essence of life – their beauty, their ideals, and their unfulfilled dreams. I immortalize these girls… beautiful young girls in the prime of their lives.” He moved closer to her as he spoke.
“Just like you.” His fingers stroked her soft face, his eyes glittering in the soft light.
“This is the perfect time. Before the lines of age, stress and sordid lifestyles mar your looks. This is my Gallery of Perfection.” He moved round to stand behind her. His hands caressed her shoulders, lifted her hair from the nape of her neck, and neatened the folds of her scarf. “They never age. These photos are the last photographs ever taken of them…”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand…” her words tapered away as she swallowed, the fear rising up in her. His arms reached around, crossed over in front of her, grasping each half of the scarf, halfway down, and pulled them tightly up and around her neck, strangling her, yanking viciously as he did so. She grabbed at the scarf beneath her chin, trying to pull it away from her throat, but he was too strong.
She couldn’t breathe. Her heart pounded. She screamed internally, wildly, Red sparks burst behind her eyes. Her last thoughts - Internet dating…it was all true…