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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Monster Idol

‘Thank you.’

Fearne watched with distaste as her dad handed over the money, replacing the void with the camera hanging from his neck. He snapped a picture of the handle as the door closed in on them, the flash flooding the dimly lit staircase in an ungodly white that stung her retinas. It felt cold in here now that the door was closed, she didn’t like it, but she seemed to be the only one fazed by it.

‘Move.’ Fearne threw her weight to the left and clung perilously to the banister as her brother pushed past, just about catching sight of the placid expression on his face as he sought to reach the bottom of Satan’s pit. It was after all, the only reason he’d agreed to go to Austria in the first place. The freak. And by the time she got back to college he’d have plastered the images all over Facebook, overshadowing her pictures of the amazing ski slopes from their time in The Arlberg somewhat. He’d probably started salivating as soon as they’d left their hotel in Salzburg and started heading North East. She’d fallen asleep in the early part of the journey in some lame attempt to hurry up and get this horrible part of their visit to Austria done and dusted before they made their way back home to the UK.

She held onto the side as she let her parents pass, not really wanting to go down. She’d have stayed there at the top if she could, but her mum tugged at her elbow and offered a sympathetic smile. So listlessly, she followed them down into the gloom.

The bottom step opened out into a narrow hallway with two identical wooden doors on either side. The one on the right was closed but the one slightly further down the wall on the left and she just saw her mum vanishing inside catching up to the others. Bracing herself, she followed on inside.

The room itself was bigger than she expected. The walls were grey and unpainted, the floor hard and concrete. In the corner of the room was a bundle of old quilts and pillows but other than that the room was empty. She was surprisingly underwhelmed, maybe she’d expected to see signs of struggle; scratches on the wall, a bloodstain – a pile of chains maybe? Something more than this.

It hadn’t dampened her brother’s spirit however. He was bouncing around with his mouth agape, covering every square inch with his digital camera and his stare going distant in places as his foul imagination painted some very vivid pictures. He even went so far as to sniff the bed linen. Probably crack one off as well, she thought, if it wasn’t for the company.

After his big whiff he turned round and saw her staring,

‘This is where the magic happened.’ He said, hideously triumphant. He’d be a real danger to society one day, she had half a mind to try and lock him in and leave him here to spare somebody the trouble down the line, but her dad had tried to reason with her that this morbid obsession with all things twisted was just a phase – four years ago.

‘Probably used the same sheets for delivery.’ He mumbled to himself. Then he turned to his dad who had his back to him, also taking pictures. ‘I’m gonna go and check out some of the other rooms.’

‘Hold on. Let’s wait for the guide to come back first.’ Malcolm whipped out a piece of paper from his back pocket.

‘No need, I downloaded a fact sheet from the same website.’

‘All the same, Son, I paid fifty-five Euros a head for this. I’ll be damned if I don’t get the full experience.’ Fearne was shocked.

‘You paid two-hundred and twenty Euros for this? What the Hell!’

‘Oh because skiing is much cheaper isn’t it?’ Malcolm snapped.

‘What? How can even compare the two? This is sick!’

‘All right you two, you’ve both got something you wanted from this holiday.’ Fearne whirled on him.

‘That’s not the point! This is so wrong! Don’t you even know what happened down here?’ She didn’t like the pause. ‘…Dad?’

‘He held his daughter and her kids captive down here didn’t he?’ He looked across at his wife for confirmation. ‘They got out though didn’t they?’ She looked equally as lost.

‘Yes… I think that’s what happened.’ Fearne looked across at Malcolm, he was just as shocked as her. His parted lips turned into a sly smile.

‘You mean their kids?’

‘No… I…’ His expression sunk. ‘Oh God.’ Their mum hadn’t quite caught on yet.

‘What’s going on Peter? What happened?’ Peter started squirming on the spot. Fearne couldn’t believe he hadn’t heard all the gory details back when it was plastered all over the news. Then again when it came to these things he had a tendency to keep his head down and ignore it, so it wasn’t too far a stretch. The fact that he hadn’t read up a little when Malcolm had told him where he wanted to go though did surprise her, benefits of the trusted first born was all she could chalk it up to. Malcolm seized his opportunity.

‘”Elisabeth F disappeared 28th August 1984 when she was eighteen years old.”’ He paused and turned to Fearne. ‘Just like you.’ She almost bolted at him, but her dad shot out a restraining arm.

‘”A letter was sent to her parents in her handwriting asking them not to look for her; it was assumed she ran away from home. However, according to her testimony to police, after 24 years of captivity, that day her father, Josef F, lured her into the cellar, drugging and handcuffing her before locking her up.”’ His mum looked around, bemused. So far it sounded to her like an ordinary kidnapping, if there was such a thing.

‘Can we get out please?’ Fearne asked, still fighting against her dad’s arm. He just stood there rooted to the spot and eventually she gave up her resistance. It occurred to her that in terms of the whole twisted son thing maybe he needed to hear this. To see how much Malcolm was enjoying and admiring it.

‘How did he get found out?’ He asked tentatively. Malcolm was enthusiastic to carry on his education.

‘”The situation came to a head when Elisabeth’s nineteen year old daughter, Kerstin, was admitted to hospital with a serious illness, which she developed in captivity with her mother and two other siblings. When doctors appealed for Kerstin’s mother to come forward and provide details of a medical history Josef released Elisabeth and the two remaining children, telling his wife Rosemarie that Elisabeth had chosen to return home.

‘”Police arrested Josef shortly afterwards and took the children into care, along with the three other children already adopted or fostered by Josef, a seventh child having died soon after birth…’ Peter was staring in disgust at the crumpled pile of bed linen. As he returned his gaze towards his son he felt the cord of his camera rubbing on the back of his neck and using the arm he had around Fearne he groped it. It swung heavily like a pendulum as he advanced, shame rising up in his stomach like bile.

‘…”Rosemarie appears to have been unaware of the suspected crimes of her husband.”’

‘Malcolm. Give me your camera.’ Malcolm looked up from his fact sheet, his sneer fading when he saw the look of determination on his dad’s face.

‘What? No!’ Peter gritted his teeth.

‘I wasn’t asking, Son. Give it to me.’ He snatched out a hand but Malcolm turned his body to the side just in time to see the arm shoot out across his chest. He had little time to react however, as his dad’s other arm caught hold of his shoulder. As a reflex, he dropped his piece of paper and clamped down with his hand on the assaulting arm, trying to squeeze himself free.

‘Gerroff me!’

‘We’ve got to get rid of those pictures!’

‘No way! They’re mine!’

As the two of them continued to struggle Fearne’s mum seemed to turn a blind eye, still trying to figure out what had happened. She turned to her daughter.

‘I don’t understand, where was Elisabeth’s partner in all this? Did he hand over his children willingly?’

‘No, Mum. Josef was the father!’

‘What? No, I mean the father of the children.’ They both reacted to the thud, which came from Malcolm gaining the upper hand in the tussle, spinning his dad around and pushing him into the wall.

‘They’re the same person Mum. Josef raped her!’ Her stare went vacant.

‘Oh…’ Her eyes wavered with an untold sympathy for the victims and she reassessed her surroundings.

Meanwhile Peter was fighting back, using Malcolm’s own surprise at his insolence to force the boy back into the centre of the room. He grasped hold of the camera itself now, Malcolm grabbing the other side, the strain showing in the pressure white of their fingertips.

‘Why do you want to keep these pictures, knowing what’s happened here?’

‘You were quite happy to take your own, when you thought it was just a kidnapping.’ The struggle forced him to take in a coarse breath. ‘Tell me Dad, where exactly do you draw the line?’

It made Peter question himself. Malcolm took advantage of his lack of concentration, bringing up his right knee into his dad’s chest, winding him.

‘Dad!’ Fearne started to run over. Malcolm towered over his stricken father.

‘The man’s a legend. I only wish I had that much courage and conviction!’

Fearne leapt onto her brother’s back and started clubbing him around the side of the head with big, ropey swings. Her mum took advantage of the distraction to run toward her husband. She could barely see through her waterlogged eyes, trying to help him up.

Malcolm threw Fearne off and she landed hard on the concrete floor. She scrabbled backwards as best she could through the pain but Malcolm started to eat up the ground between them with big, meaningful steps. As he stooped down and raised his arm he was startled by his mother’s squeal.

When he turned around all he saw was the outline of a fist before it came crashing into his face. It threw him about a foot to the left, dropping him like a sack, his body a crumpled heap.

***

Fearne blinked open her eyes to see her dad leaning over her and offering a hand.

‘Are you okay darling?’

‘Yeah.’ She said, taking it. As he hauled her up onto her feet her mum came bounding over, wrapping her arms around her tightly and smothering her with quick kisses.

Peter wandered over to Malcolm, who lay on the floor with his head in his hands and moaning feebly, not quite out cold but not all the way into the station. He took the camera in hand and yanked hard, snapping the cord. Malcolm reacted too late, flapping a hand at it and exposing the flowing red drops originating from the right side of his nose.

‘How can you idolise this… this monster?’ He said as he fiddled with the camera. ‘You need help Son.’ He extracted the SD card and put it in a pocket to wipe later, then dropped the camera on Malcolm’s stomach before he headed back over to Fearne and her mother.

‘Come on.’ He said. ‘I want to try and find out where this “tour guide” has gotten to. See if I can shut this thing down. Hand me that fact sheet Malcolm, it might have the web address on it.’

‘No.’ Malcolm said defiantly.

‘Don’t be a muppet.’ In some form of protest Malcolm grabbed the sheet from the floor and began reading again, see if he could get a bit of atmosphere going or something.

‘”The small town of Ansfelden, about 130 kilometres west of Vienna, with its well-kept gardens was in shock –‘ Fearne interjected.

‘You mean Amstetten, idiot.’ Malcolm was frustrated.

‘No, idiot, I don’t.’ She was pensive for a moment.

‘You sure that’s what it says?’

‘You saying I can’t read?’ Confused, Fearne wandered over to him and snatched the piece of paper from his hand. Sure enough, he was right.

‘Where did you get this?’ She asked, managing a smirk.

‘From the website.’

‘And I bet this website doesn’t get many hits does it?’

‘Well it wouldn’t would it?’

‘You idiot.’ She said again. Malcolm started scowling.

‘What is it Fearne?’ Her dad called out, breaking the deadlock. She walked over to him.

‘I thought I recognised the description. His little fact sheet has been lifted almost exactly from the BBC report on their website. I read it before we left.’

‘Well that’s hardly a revelation, I imagine these kind of facts are hard to come by.’

‘Yes, you’re right. But I thought something was strange when I came into this room. I remember now reading the description of the place, it’s all meant to be very narrow. I mean, does this even look narrow to you? It might feel it, considering what was supposed to have happened here; evil has a tendency to bring on a touch of claustrophobia when you’re contained inside, it’s oppressive. I’d say this place is quite spacious actually.’ She watched as Malcolm struggled to his feet. ‘Elisabeth said it was continually being enlarged as well, but I see no sign of any construction, homemade or otherwise.

‘It’s in the other room.’ Malcolm said. You’re so desperate that you probably believe it, she thought.

‘Except on Malcolm’s fact sheet the entire description of the place has been cleverly omitted.’

‘What are you saying Fearne?’ All the tension was seeping out of her, she could relax at last.

‘I’m saying that I wish I’d stayed awake in the car over here. As soon as I saw a road sign I could have saved us all the journey.’ She turned gleefully to Malcolm. ‘We’re in the wrong place.’

‘What? No.’ Malcolm started storming towards the door.

‘There’s only two towns in the whole of Austria that start with the letter “A”. They literally just swapped the name.’ She held up the fact sheet to her dad, pointing at the word “Ansfelden”.

‘You’re wrong! I’ll prove it!’ Malcolm shouted. She followed after him into the doorway, waiting for him to open the other door.

***

When he reached it he paused for a moment, doubting himself. He turned back to see Fearne watching him and his face scrunched up in anger. He shot out an arm and grabbed the handle, twisting it and pulling the door open.

Out of the dark an old broom handle fell apologetically against his shoulder before landing with a dull thud on the floor beside him. Still refusing to believe, Malcolm felt around the inside of the door frame and found a switch. He flicked it on and the pale yellow light from the dirty bulb revealed a single shelf with an unopened pot of paint resting on it barely two feet in front of him. If this had been Josef’s idea of an extension, Fearne didn’t think her dad would be hiring him to sort out the loft conversion they had scheduled for when they got back.

‘So this website Malcolm found…’ Her dad said over her shoulder.

‘Is probably a dirty little tourist trap set out to ensnare the dirty little sickos who’d find it, knowing that anybody interested probably isn’t going to be the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. I have to say, they captured their target market superbly.’ Malcolm finally turned around, the heavy weight of resignation sagging his shoulders. Fearne let out a tired sigh. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be so happy to be scammed.’

‘Do you think there’s any chance we can get the money back?’

‘I don’t think so, Dad. They’d have cut all ties as soon as they got your money. The guy who let us in has probably made it out of town by now.’

‘That’s a shame.’ He said, resting his hands on her shoulders gently. ‘I could have used it to help pay towards the extra few days at The Arlberg slopes, should you be up for it.’ Fearne smiled.

‘Thanks Dad.’

Malcolm grunted at her as he led the exodus to the top of the stairs.


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