Amy has found the perfect place to stay - kindly landlord, beautiful gardens, just perfect
Mrs Bower had the kindest twinkling blue eyes behind her pink framed spectacles. Amy immediately took to the older woman, seeing the grandmother in her that she never had.
Over a cup of tea and biscuits they got to know each other, and by the time Amy was shown into the room she was inquiring about, both Amy and Mrs Bower were comfortable that they would be able to make things work.
The pretty brunette moved in a week later.
As per agreement, Mrs Bower was to provide breakfast and dinner each day. " I insist dear" Mrs Bower stated firmly, "you can't be eating out every night and there is no sense in me cooking for myself and then you come along and do the same! Tell you what - you cook two evenings and I will be very obliged."
Amy was only too happy with the arrangement, seeing that she had to deal with a new job in a new city as well.
On the first evening the conversation during dinner picked up where it left off, with Amy telling Mrs Bower what it had been like to grow up with relatives and then in foster homes after her parents had passed away, and Mrs Bower regaling Amy with stories of her own childhood, how she met her husband and their life together.
After the meal Amy helped Mrs Bower clean up and then they settled in the lounge to enjoy a cup of tea.
Amy remarked on how quiet and well behaved Mrs Bower's two French Poodles were. Throughout the evening the dogs had not made a single sound or tried to beg for food.
"They are all the company I have now" Mrs Bower responded. "they aren't as sprightly as they used to be, but they will probably outlive me."
Not wanting to intrude on her kindly landlord time too much or cause offense for seeming disinterested, Amy excused herself to her room just after they finished their tea. She was happy that she had found a safe haven in the big city.
Two mornings later Amy met Paul.
Mrs Bower had mentioned him and that he was responsible for the upkeep of a few of the gardens in the area.
What Mrs Bower failed to mention was exactly how big Paul was. The man was at least six foot six and half as wide, and because he was a manual labourer there was barely an ounce of fat on him.
But what unsettled Amy was Paul's way.
Mrs Bower had mentioned him being a little dim, but there was something about that he moved and acted that made Amy skittish...
Amy had been there for almost three weeks when the detectives showed up to speak to Mrs Bower. It seemed that the girl who had boarded with Mrs Bower before Amy moved in, had disappeared. Mrs Bower was distraught. She told the police that when the girl moved in, she had told her that she had no family and no relatives. The girl's name was Francis and she started going with a boy about two months before she decided to move out and move in with the boy. Mrs Bower had only seen him twice and "she did not like the looks of 'im'. She had tried to convince Francis to think things through, but the girl had her mind set on moving and she became "huffy" when Mrs Bower persisted.
What distressed Mrs Bower the most was that if she had known that the girl had family, she would have called them to intervene.
"She was a beautiful child - and so innocent in the ways of the world - I just hope she is all right and that you find her soon."
The detectives did not waste any time on Amy, and speaking to Paul bore no fruit as he barely understood what was asked of him.
A week later Amy was walking in the garden when she chanced upon Paul quite unexpectedly as he was tending Mrs Bower's roses.
"The roses are beautiful Paul" Amy said, for lack of anything else - but it was the truth - the blooms were blood red and bigger than her fist. Paul bobbed his head in acknowledgement, glancing around as if he was afraid of somebody seeing them together.
"They smell wonderful" Amy continued, breathing in the sweet aroma of the flower closest to her, "how do you do it?"
Looking around and swallowing repeatedly, Paul finally responded, "secret!"
Amy smiled: "Don't worry - I won't ask your secret - but the flowers are wonderful!"
Paul seemed mightily relieved and even managed a stiff smile. Amy set off to the house thinking that she may have been wrong about Paul - and maybe the problem with him was that she was not the only one to judge him before getting to know the truth.
The next morning at breakfast Amy commented on her brief talk to Mrs Bower. Mrs Bower smiled:
"Paul has been tending the garden for years - he is as harmless as the beautiful blooms he cultivates. The boy can hardly speak three proper sentences, but he sure has a secret when it comes to gardening - the Lord may have taken from that young man but he blessed him with green fingers!"
Becoming pensive for a moment Mrs Bower continued: "I have even thought of helping him enter some gardening competitions, but the poor dear would be terrified of the crowds."
"I never even thought that far!" Amy exclaimed, "surely there must be a way we can help him?" Ideas were now milling in her head - many of those the result of the twinge of shame she felt for having thought ill of Paul on first sight.
"If you can think of something we can do, we will do so my dear" Mrs Bower answered, "but promise me we will discuss it first? I know you mean well, but I have known Paul a long time, and I know that anything outside of his flower-world terrifies him."
Amy nodded her agreement, knowing that she would not rest until she found some way to see Paul receive some recognition for his talent.
The following day was a typical rainy British day - the type that became a typical rainy British week. Amy was immersed in her new job, but the idea of helping Paul was never far from her mind. If he could win just one prize he would never be just a gardener again.
Walking the garden on the afternoon that the rain finally broke, Amy came across Paul where he was fussing around the roses.
"What are you doing Paul?" Amy asked, watching him work some kind of fertilizer into the soil around the bushes.
For a moment it looked as if he was going to ignore her, but then after looking around furtively he responded: "Too much rain - must help the roses."
Amy smiled - Paul was very much a child trapped in a man's body.
"Other people should see your beautiful roses" she stated.
"Not my roses - belongs to the Missus. I don't show the roses to anybody" Paul responded. He glanced towards the house, "You are nice to me, but you must leave now, I must work."
Amy was undecided for a moment, then she smiled and responded, "Okay Paul, I understand. We will talk again. Bye."
Paul did not respond - he merely continued fussing over his roses.
That evening when Amy returned to her room after dinner, she found a red rose on her bed. For a moment she felt panic welling in her chest. There was no doubt that it was one of the big blooms from the garden, which meant that the flower must have been placed there by Paul while she and Mrs Bower were having dinner.
Somehow Paul had slipped into the house to leave the flower on her bed and nobody had seen him. Amy found it disconcerting that he would do something like that - it felt as if she was being stalked.
After a moment or two, sanity prevailed. She had repeatedly expressed interest in the roses so Paul wanted to give her one. Being shy he did not want to risk rejection, so he left it in the one place he knew that she would be the only one to get it.
Satisfied with that explanation, it did not take much to convince herself that it was quite sweet, but somehow she had to convey the message to Paul that he couldn't just come into her room like that. Maybe she would chat to Mrs Bower to get an idea of how to deal with the matter...?
The next morning over breakfast Amy broached the subject with Mrs Bower.
"Any idea what I should do?" Amy asked after she related the whole story.
Mrs Bower seemed pensive.
"Paul is the most likely candidate" she agreed, "but either way, you will scare him out of his wits if you ask him about it. Is there any chance that somebody else may have left you the flower - a secret suitor perhaps?"
Amy smiled at the quaint language - it was only someone from Mrs Bower's era who would still refer to a suitor or use some of the other phrases the old lady used.
"No suitors that I know of!" she responded with a smile, "but I guess you are right - speaking to Paul would probably do more harm than it is worth. But I would still prefer him not coming into my room again like that."
"Leave it to me child" Mrs Bower responded, "I will speak to him gently so that he understands."
That afternoon Amy again ran into Paul in the garden. This time he seemed genuinely frightened to see her. Amy smiled at him to let him know that nothing was wrong, but he still seemed ready to bolt. When Amy reached out to reassure him, he moved quickly shuffled away in an oddly stiff gait glancing around in what seemed a genuinely fearful manner.
"What is wrong Paul?" Amy asked.
"Nothing wrong!" Paul responded, "got to do more work!"
"Thank you for the rose" Amy said on the spur of the moment.
Paul stood there fidgeting for a moment, and then he turned back to his work, "have a lot of work here, you must go!"
For a moment Amy did not know how to respond to the abrupt dismissal, then she turned away saying "Okay Paul, I will see you tomorrow."
"No!" he responded in a hiss, as he quickly swung around to face her.
Glancing toward the house he continued, "You go! Dogs are evil!"
Even before a look of puzzlement could flash across Amy's face or she could open her mouth, Paul shuffled off stiffly.
That evening dinner was filled with the usual polite conversation. Amy had come to think of Mrs Bower more as a grandmother than a landlord, so she shared all her daily experiences with her. Mrs Bower in turn had taken a real interest in Amy's well-being, and she would not hear a word of Amy retiring to her room until they had their ritual cup of tea after dinner.
For Amy the routine was comforting and homely. She felt safe and at peace.
That evening when she got back to her room there was no rose waiting for her on her bed, and Amy could not help but feel a little relieved that the security of her little world had not been breached again.
Undressing quickly, she made her way to the shower. Enjoying the steaming hot water she soaped herself from head to her painted toes. Suddenly she caught a glimpse of a movement in the reflection in front of her. Startled she spun around, but there was nothing to see.
"Probably just the steam" she decided, after all the water was so hot that it turned her skin pink and there were clouds billowing around her.
As she rinsed the conditioner from her hair she felt a cold draft steal across her body. Spinning around there was no doubt in her mind that this time the movement was real - and that it was outside the bathroom door that was now open much wider than before.
Before Amy could form a coherent thought she screamed - a high-pitched, roof-lifting screech that would have brought every Bobby for six blocks running, had there been any of them in the area.
Following the scream, Amy's next thought was to cover herself - after that all she wanted to do was to get out of there which came in immediate conflict with the third thought, which was to rather lock herself inside the bathroom.
It was a minute or two later that she heard Mrs Bower calling out to her. The elderly lady had obviously made her way up the stairs from her own rooms on the ground floor to investigate Amy's scream.
Almost reluctantly Amy unlocked the bathroom door. In the movies this was where the psycho was standing behind the old lady - the old lady being completely oblivious of her impending death of course - but breathing a sigh of relief Amy saw no psycho.
"What on earth happened child?" Mrs Bower asked, taking in the still running shower, billowing steam and the towel wrapped around Amy.
"Somebody was in my room" Amy responded with a quiver in her voice, "somebody was watching me in the shower and when I screamed he ran off!"
"Are you sure child?" Mrs Bower asked urgently, "the doors into the house are all locked and your window is two stories up."
"I am positive" Amy said firmly. "the first time I thought it was just the steam playing tricks on me, but the second time there was no doubt - somebody was standing in my room, watching me take a shower, and when I screamed he ran off."
"What makes you so sure it was a 'he'?" Mrs Bower asked playing Agatha Christie.
"Why would a woman want to watch me shower?" Amy responded in an annoyed tone, "and how would a woman get into the house - and then just to sneak up here to watch me shower??"
Then Amy saw the twinkle in Mrs Bower's eyes.
"Really Mrs Bower! How can you make fun of me? This is serious!" But Amy couldn't help but squeeze out a smile and a giggle herself.
"Hush child, there is no disrespect intended. I can see you got a huge fright, but if a woman couldn't get in here, how would a man? Don't you think it is more likely that the thing with the rose spooked you and when you thought you saw something move in the reflection behind you, you panicked?"
Amy was still far from convinced, but there was definite merit to the alternative Mrs Bower offered.
"Come sweetheart, get dressed and then you can check all the doors and windows yourself - you can even check the rooms if you want. We will have a cup of tea and then a good night's rest."
After Mrs Bower left, Amy turned off the shower, checked her window and the curtains before she dropped the towel to slip into her PJ's. Suddenly her skin crawled - what if there was somebody under the bed? If she turned her back or went anywhere near the bed...
Heart thundering, Amy dropped to her knees to catch a glimpse of what was under the bed -if she saw something she was far enough away to scream and run...but other than a dusty twilight there was nothing to see under the bed. Amy heaved a sigh of relief - she really had to get a grip on herself!
Turning, she headed purposefully for the cupboard - enough jumping at shadows! Pulling open the cupboard there was a loud screech and rattle as the hinges screamed in protest and a spare bottle of shampoo fell onto the floor.
Amy had to swallow three times before her heart settled back into her chest - the villain is always in the last place you didn't look...
Having learnt her lesson, Amy locked her bedroom door behind her when she strode downstairs - at least she now knew of one room where there was nobody!
Mrs Bower was waiting in the kitchen snuggled up in an old house coat.
"Would you like me to walk through the house with you dearie?" she asked gently.
Amy could see that she was not being made fun of - and now she was beginning to feel kind of silly. How could she go traipsing through Mrs Bower's private living areas looking for a Bogeyman that would have snatched her half an hour ago had he actually been in the house?
"There is no need Mrs Bower - you are probably right - I am scared of my own shadow. I am sorry."
"No need to apologize child" smiled Mrs Bower, "these old houses sometimes have a life of their own. I already made you a cup of tea - let's go to the living room so that you can make yourself comfortable on the couch, and I will tell you some of the history of these houses."
Settling in and sipping the tea, Amy could feel her fluttering insides relaxing. Mrs Bower was recounting the building of the houses during the 1930's and how three of them had been flattened during one of the German bombing raids in the Second World War.
"Once the houses were rebuilt there were stories of ghosts and all kinds of things that go bump in the night, but it is only natural that any old building will have such stories connected to it" Mrs Bower was saying, "this block has a particularly interesting - or grisly legend. Apparently during the bombing when the houses were flattened, a bomb also destroyed the bomb shelter down the street.
The legend goes that a small girl, her mother and two brothers were in the shelter at the time. Apparently in the chaos following the bombing, the little girl ran up and down this street asking several inhabitants and bystanders to come and help her free her mother and brothers from the rubble. Unfortunately as often happens in a situation like that, everybody was so preoccupied or busy that it was some time before anybody got to the shelter to respond to what they had been told by the child."
Amy had by now finished her tea. There were some questions forming in her mind about the tale, but she gave up on properly formulating them as Mrs Bower's soothing voice turned the legend into something more like a bedtime story.
"Legend has it that by the time help arrived the whole family was dead. The mother had slowly bled to death, but from the scratch marks around her it looked as if she had been trying to get to the boys or that somebody had tried to get her out. The boys had been crushed by the debris - some maintained that they did not die immediately, but whether that is just a tail added in time I have no idea.
The problem was the little girl - there was no doubt that she had died instantly - her skull had been crushed. Despite this, there were several people living on the street who insisted that the girl had approached them. They could describe her down to a T - probably as some of them recalled that she had been as clean as a whistle - not a smidgen of dust on her or her clothes.
Ten years later the story resurfaced when one of the ladies living on the street was arrested for murder. To all accounts it was a gruesome scene - she had taken to her husband with a knife and done a good job of it. When the coppers arrested her she did not deny a thing - but she said she had no choice - the little girl demanded blood and it she didn't give it to her, she would take it from the woman's two sons.
So now the tale goes that every so often, on the anniversary of the bombing, the little girl returns to claim blood for blood - voluntarily or otherwise."
Mrs Bower seemed in deep thought as she finished her narration, but by now Amy was fast asleep...
When Amy woke, it was to a marching band playing drums inside her head. The sharp white light around her stabbed at her eyes, and squinting she tried to make sense of her surroundings.
It was then that she discovered two things: The first was that she was tied up - more like crucified - against a post and the cross-member above it. The second was that she was naked.
Blind hysterical panic welled up instantly and for the second time that evening Amy screamed - only this time she screamed until there was not an ounce of breath left in her lungs. After the second try her throat was raw and no help had arrived.
It was then that she noticed the drips inserted into her arms and just above her ankles. The pipes were filled with her blood up to the small taps at their ends.
"Noooo!!!!" a voiceless scream reverberated through her mind - it couldn't possibly be! This was some horrible nightmare - or was it something else? The legend simply could not be true - nobody could seriously believe it!! And who kidnapped her to this place and where was she?
It was then that Amy noticed the dogs watching her. Mrs Bower's French Poodles.
The dogs were watching her intently, showing not the least sign of emotion. Amy felt the cold coils of dread threading their way through her insides.
"Please help me!' she whimpered softly, hoping to wake from this nightmare.
"I am sorry sweetheart, but nobody can hear you down here, and nobody can help you either" Mrs Bower said, stepping around her.
Amy felt a new wave of terror swamping her as she watched Mrs Bower. The kindly old lady suddenly moved with much more confidence and power - almost an effortless grace - and the kind blue eyes were suddenly very different.
"Please Mrs Bower, please! I will do anything, but please let me go! I won't tell anybody about this I swear!"
Mrs Bower just smiled.
"You are right about one thing child" Mrs Bower responded, "You will be doing exactly what I want - because you will have no choice about it while you are hanging up there!"
The horror of the situation was clearly written across Amy's face.
"Please Mrs Bower! You cannot do this to me! You cannot believe the legend is true!!" For a moment Amy hesitated before she voiced her fear, " you cannot be the girl - and you cannot really be offering her my blood!"
Mrs Bower laughed softly, "Dear child I am almost tempted to string you along some more, but we need to move things along. Of course I am not the girl and of course I know the legend isn't true - I made that story up - and it is a doozy isn't it? Well in some versions the little girl only has one arm and a knife in the other, but either way it enthralls audiences!"
"So why are you doing this to me?" Amy asked in a small voice.
"At last you are asking the right question!" Mrs Bower replied, the smile on her face becoming something dark and menacing. She gestured to the dogs with her head and they immediately jumped up and approached Amy where she hung suspended two feet above the ground. Amy tried to move her feet away when the dogs started sniffing them, but they were bound tight to the post. The one dog gave her a warning growl.
Amy suddenly realised that she didn't know the dogs names. "Who cares about their names?" a tiny voice screamed inside her mind.
And then to her horror the dogs started licking at the drops of blood splattered on the floor when the drips had been inserted into her body. Once the floor was clean they started licking at the taps themselves!
...the dogs are evil...
The warning rang in her mind. Paul had tried to warn her but she didn't listen!
"What is going on?" Amy asked, her voice cracking.
"Well my little lovies developed a taste for a particular type of fresh meat when they were younger - the same time when I inherited this house to be exact. Now they don't want to eat anything else."
This was madness! Amy was shaking her head, trying to escape this reality.
"You are going to feed me to your dogs?" she whimpered, "you can't do something like that!"
"Well to be specific" Mrs Bower replied, "I am first going to bleed you dry - you see the dogs have a particular taste for blood as well. They don't really take to water, but if I run low on stock, I can get them to drink water by adding a few drops of blood to it, or sometimes they will eat other raw meat as long as I pour some human blood over it."
Amy was horrified, and her face showed it.
"Relax sweetheart!" Mrs Bower beamed, "the worst is over and you slept right through it! Putting in the needles hurts - you won't feel a thing when I bleed you - you will just pass out. And you are doing it for a good cause - would you believe these two honeys are twenty years old? How old do you think I am? And people run around looking for the elixir of life and spinning yarns about vampires? You won't live forever, but you will certainly live longer and better!"
The newest horror took a few seconds to register - then Amy paled even more.
It was then that Amy noticed the door behind Mrs Bower opening quietly. For a moment Amy almost could not contain the urge to react, but when she saw who it was, she forced herself not to look in that direction.
Slowly Paul crept up behind Mrs Bower, so totally focussed on her that he seemed oblivious to all else - including the dogs who were still licking at the pipes dangling from Amy's legs.
Then he was a step behind her and even as she and the dogs sensed a presence at the same time, Paul's hands flashed over Mrs Bower's head. The dogs were in motion, Amy screamed to distract them and at the same moment Paul's hands closed over Mrs Bower's eyes.
"Stop your silly games Paul!" she chided as the dogs jumped up and down against him.
It was all too much for Amy and her face showed it. Mrs Bower saw the expression on her face and giggled like a little girl.
"You thought he was here to save you, didn't you?" she teased.
Then her face turned ugly: "Paul belongs to me! How did you think you got down here in this old bomb shelter - did you think I carried you? Did you think I picked you up and tied you to that post?"
"But he tried to warn me?" Amy responded weakly.
"Of course he tried to warn you - he always tries to warn the girls but they never listen - and then Paul gets his hiding and then his conscience is clear because he tried!"
Seeing the confusion on Amy's face, Mrs Bower gestured to Paul to take off his shirt. The man was a veritable mountain of muscle, almost disproportionate but for the fact that everything about him was huge. When he turned around Amy couldn't help but gasp - his back was a mass of scars left from previous whippings - with the bloody welts of his latest rescue attempt were tattooed across his entire back.
Mrs Bower was now on a roll.
"We will enjoy some of the fresh blood now and the rest will be bagged and refrigerated. The meat will be frozen and the bones cooked clean and then ground up - you wanted to know the secret to the beautiful roses? Well now you know!"
It was at this point that Amy realised that a miracle was not going to happen tonight. There would be no hero and no change of heart.
Mrs Bower stepped forward and opened the tap on her right leg slightly. She had told the truth - there was no pain, but the Poodles were in an instant frenzy, licking and slurping at her slowly draining life. As if sensing her eyes on him the one dog turned and snapped at her foot. Still the pain was nothing - but the sight of the crimson mouth and demented eyes was etched in her mind.
Looking up she was introduced to a new horror. Mrs Bower has disrobed and handed the pipe attached to Amy's left arm to Paul. Then she took the other pipe and put it into her own mouth. Simultaneously they opened the tapes on their pipes and having taken a first deep draw, they started kissing passionately, the pipes dangling from the corners of their mouths.
As the greyness closed in Amy could see the crimson waterfall dripping between their intertwined bodies - his muscular and strong, hers sagging and wrinkly.
Then she saw dogs in the park and red roses - but she felt no pain...