Catheryn had finally found the One. They say that soulmates don't exist. But Damian Blackwell was something else. He was tall, stately and alluring, not to mention he had the softest black curls and the deepest blue eyes Catheryn had ever seen. She didn't even have to look at his Tinder profile twice before swiping right. Tinder. Her friends had rolled their eyes. How could she be dating someone she met online? They told her it was dangerous, that you'd never know who you would meet online. Catheryn was glad that she had ignored them, for she had finally met her soulmate.
It was true that Damian wasn't like other guys. He was thoughtful, unlike most of the members of the male species. In fact, he was so in sync with Catheryn's thoughts, it was almost as though he was reading her mind. On their very first date, Damian knew that Catheryn's favorite entree at the local diner was a cheeseburger with crinkle-cut fries on the side. He had other quirks too, such as his obsession with spraying air freshener wherever he went. It was as though he was afraid of releasing his body odor. But Catheryn didn't mind, she loved Damian, quirks and all. It was meant to be.
After six months of a blissful relationship, Catheryn had finally agreed to move into Damian's house. It was a Victorian manor located fifty miles north of the city center. It was colossal, with more bedrooms than Catheryn could count, but so ancient that paint was peeling off the walls and the metal hinges of every door whined. Damian had inherited the mansion from his parents, who had inherited it from theirs. He belonged to House Blackwell, he had claimed proudly. It was a legacy that had spanned from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to the present day.
"You must be a part of that legacy," Damian had said, looking at her adoringly. It gave Catheryn shivers of delight just to think of it. Her and Damian, a family? It was more than she could ever have wished for.
Living together with Damian was more trying than Catheryn had expected. She always had the odd feeling that someone was watching her. Maybe it was the way the fire alarms blinked at her every time she entered the room. The alarms had been a new addition to the old house, Damian said. According to him, it was simply a malfunction in the wiring. More importantly, during her first time visiting the house, Damian had informed her that the basement was off-limits. It was for a project, he told her, a secret project. Catheryn had never been bothered much by it. A man deserved to have his secrets. After all, hadn't Damian more than made up for that one tiny little secret with the abundance of love he showered on her every day? Whatever was down there, it couldn't be too bad… Or so she thought.
Catheryn inherently knew that Damian didn't like the house. Every room, every wall, every nook of the house reminded him of the unhappy childhood he spent there. Damian's parents had been strictly against toys, as they believed that toys had no real purpose other than to waste one's money and idle one's children. Damian was forced to stay in his room, alone, with only the children playing on the other side of the glass window pane for company. Not only were his parents strict, they were also distant. An exchange of words between him and his parents was a momentous occasion. More often than the exchange of words was the deliverance of beatings, which often ended with Damian being locked in the basement for hours.
Catheryn understood why Damian didn't want her to go in there. He probably didn't want her to enter a place that had scarred him for life.
However, although Damian had deterred her from entering the basement, he would frequent it, which baffled Catheryn. She often found him spending more time in that room than he would with her. His visits to the room puzzled her. She would often hear loud thumping noises coming from downstairs, and Damian's gleeful laughter after every episode. Catheryn imagined that Damian was simply relaxing in the basement; there was probably a private bowling alley of some sort downstairs.
But how often would one receive packages for a bowling alley? Damian received packages for his "project" every week or so, which he would diligently track and regularly ask about. The arrival of each package would send him into a euphoric frenzy, after which he would make a beeline straight for the basement.
"Was he storing toys down there?" Catheryn wondered.
The thumping noises she heard could well be Lego blocks and he was probably excited at having received a new piece for his playroom. The man had never held a toy in his hands before; it was natural for him to get so worked up about it. Catheryn hadn't been bewildered, simply hurt that Damian didn't trust her enough to tell her about his newfound toy craze. They were soulmates, weren't they? She wanted him to be able to tell her everything; his hopes, his dreams, his fears. Even if it was just about some toys for toddlers, Catheryn wanted to be involved. The curiosity was killing her.
A curious mind is a dangerous thing. In the beginning, the mind is pristine, uncorrupted, one might even say content. However, the tiniest vector of curiosity swirling in its depths can lead to its ruination. With time, all of Catheryn's thoughts began to revolve around the contents of the basement, causing the subject to fester and grow until it consumed her every waking moment. Catheryn became a slave to her craving for knowledge, her desire to discover, to explore, to know.
Catheryn decided that she had to show that she was capable of handling it. She had to prove to Damian that she loved him unconditionally. In order to do that, however, she had to follow a very detailed game plan. First, she would wait for Damian to go to work in the morning. Next, she would go to the basement and find out the magnitude of this toy wonderland Damian had begun to build. Then, she would broach the topic of toys very carefully with him at dinner that night, and reassure him that she supported him and loved him.
Catheryn did not have to wait long for her plan to take effect. The very next day, when Damian had gone to work, she scurried down the stairs to the basement. Very cautiously, she turned the metal doorknob, which let out a small squeak of protest before opening the door. She fumbled for the light switch, promising herself she would make it up to Damian. When the lights were on, however, all thoughts vanished from her head, save the one telling her to escape.
In her direct line of sight lay two bodies, handcuffed to the wall with the skin peeling off with their clothes. There was scarcely any flesh on the first one. It had been lacerated to the point where it could not even be identified as human. Both corpses had a ball gag in between their jaws, preventing their owners from screaming or crying out as these horrific deeds had been done to them. Blood pooled on the floor, a river between banks of rotting flesh and yellowing bone. The metallic tang of the liquid caused Catheryn to retch her breakfast all over the granite.
On a shelf beside the light switch lay a row of jars, each containing a different body part. One had eyeballs, pulled directly from their sockets, another had fistfuls of hair, ripped from the scalp, while a third contained fingers of all shapes and sizes. They all seemed to contain an embalming agent, a preservative, preventing the gruesome collections from decaying.
The same could not be said for the bodies. Upon stepping into the room, Catheryn noticed there was a line of them from right to left. They were all chained to the wall by their limbs, which was where the similarity ended. The rightmost body was nothing more than a pile of harrowing bones, while the leftmost had a distinct human form, with arms outstretched and lips begging mercy. Catheryn could not decide which was more jarring.
A computer screen flashed on the far right of the room, capturing her attention. Catheryn walked up to it, her eyes growing wider as they scanned the screen. In monochrome, she saw split screen footage of every room in the house. There were no cameras in the house as per Catheryn's knowledge. Unless…
She glanced at the footage again, confirming her suspicions. Each segment showed the room from the point of view of the fire alarms. Catheryn's gut wrenched, as her intuition begged her to leave. Choosing to ignore it, she scanned the computer desk, finding ripped open packages that previously contained whips, gags and a container of formaldehyde. Her eyes caught onto the leather bound book on the computer desk. Was it really leather? Or some warped variant made of human skin? She ignored her thoughts, flipping through the book as her heart thumped wildly. Inside, she saw pictures of women, complete with their names, their ages, and their times.
At first, Catheryn thought the time was in terms of weeks they had dated Damian. However, at a second glance, she noticed that the time represented the number of weeks taken by each victim to die. Her heart palpitated wildly as she read the last page. Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl. It seemed to be saying with each beat. How could she have been so foolish so as to trust someone so openly? The last page featured a picture of Catheryn, as well as notes about her favorite food, her best friends, the names of her family members, even her Facebook password, which she was yet to divulge to a living soul.
Catheryn glanced at the picture of herself, at a younger version of her smiling innocently at the camera. How Catheryn longed to go back to those days, to days untouched by this satanic evil.
She had to leave before this horrific man returned, before he did do to her what he had done to all those before her. She had to leave, she knew that. She had to get away from Damian, from his house, from his basement. She had to escape before he found out she had been there, before he entered his lair like a monstrous spider finding her entangled in the web he had woven. Oh, what a naive creature she had been. How had Catheryn slept all those nights, with a murderer beside her? How would she ever get a night's sleep again? She had to leave, she had to get out, she had to pack her belongings and leave the city, leave the country if she must. She had to leave, she had to leave, she had to-
Catheryn's insides screamed as she felt his warm breath on her neck. Tingles of attraction that previously ran down her spine had transformed into shivers of terror. She whimpered, her breath shaky as she felt his fingertips glide slowly up the length of her forearms. It was over. He was here.
Damian smiled deviously behind her. "At last."