The Collectors

John Helden


The girl rang the bell and made her way down the aisle of the bus.  I held back a little then followed her. When she got off I kept my distance. Tell you the truth I was a bit nervous. I always am when I’m about to approach a girl. Silly isn’t it. It’s not like I haven’t done this plenty of times before. But at the same time it’s kind of romantic with the butterflies in your belly and the sweaty palms. After about five minutes she turned off the main road and onto Rookwood Road. I looked up ahead and saw that the street curved away to my left and half way down, on the right, there was a break in the row of terraced houses. It was so dark that I couldn’t tell exactly what it was but there was no lighting so I figured it must have been a field or a car park or just a piece of wasteland. I edged closer and closer until we were half way past what turned out to be a field when I pounced. I reached forward to grab a patch of her hair and, with my other hand over her mouth; I dragged her down onto the grass.

“Don’t move,” I said. “Just lie steady and you won’t get hurt, OK?”

By that point they’re usually so terrified they can barely breathe let alone fight back but this one was a bit feisty. She bit down hard into the soft flesh at the top of my right hand but I managed to pull it free. Then I pushed her head into the dirt, put my knee between her shoulder blades to keep her there, then started cutting away at her ear. But she insisted on squirming around so it’s hardly my fault that I made a slip or two here and there. Finally I got my prize and I left the girl lying there, sobbing, in the mud. I think my guardian angel must have been holding my hand that night because I made it home without bumping into a soul. I washed up and burnt the clothes in the dustbin in my back yard. I put the ear in the freezer than gave Gerry a call. He’s an undertaker by trade but his vocation is taxidermy. I knew that by the time he had worked his magic the ear would be in pristine condition and, with the correct storage and lighting, it would stay succulent for a hundred years.

A couple of weeks later I got the call I’d been expecting. I knew it was Carl before I picked up the receiver. I just knew. That big eyed bastard was going to have a field day with this.

“Hey, Roland, long time no see. How are things with you?”

“Come on Carl, why don’t you cut to the chase?”

“So it’s like that is it?”

“Oh please. You read about my last hit in the paper and you’ve phoned up to gloat. Well get on with it.”

“You know, you never used to be like this. And now you come to mention it, yes, I read the papers. Talk about amateur hour. Did you forget everything I taught you?”

“What you taught me? You taught me how to cut the eyes out of a corpse on a slab.  What use is that when I’ve got a woman squirming around on the ground?”

“Well, if you insist on your ridiculous policy of not killing them first then you’ve made your bed haven’t you? You know I’ve got a chain saw you can borrow the next time you’re out on the prowl. Or why don’t you find a pit bull terrier that can teach you how to gnaw the ears off?”

“Ok Carl, you know what, I’ve got things to do today so if that’s it….”

“You know it might be to your advantage to treat me with a little more respect.”

“Yeah, whatever.  I think were finished here,”

“As you wish, old boy, as you wish.” and he hung up.

I used to have a lot of respect for Carl. I stumbled in on his first kill when I was creeping around the Aylesburg Street lockups looking for something to steal. He could easily have killed me, but when he saw that I was more fascinated with what he was doing than repulsed or afraid, he gave me the benefit of the doubt and it all went from there. He told me that he saw something special in me which was more than anyone else ever said. I told him about my own tastes and at first he was very encouraging. He gave me tips on stalking, let me use his treadmill and weights to get in shape, and he showed me how to use a knife like a surgeon. And he knew what he was talking about. When he removed a pair of eyes his victims own mother wouldn’t have noticed they were missing unless she peeled back the lids.

One day he called me round and, there on his slab, there was an Italian girl, about twenty five years old, with the most beautiful ears I’d ever seen. When he went out and left me to clean up I helped myself. I knew he’d be mad at me but I figured it would be worth it. Well that was a big mistake. I’d never seen him so angry. He went off on a rant about how he wouldn’t get the credit when the body was eventually found because it wasn’t his MO and about how I’d messed with his legacy. By the time he had finished telling me what he thought of me there was no going back. That phone call was the first time I’d heard from him since we’d had the fight and I thought that it would be the last but I was wrong. With all the stuff in the newspapers I decided to head off to Brighton for a few weeks to let things calm down. I took a shower but, as usual, when I tried to wash my ears properly it’s like I’m back there, a little kid getting looked after by Auntie Rose. And she always has the curtains drawn in the living room and you can smell cigarettes and that mangy dog of hers that growls at me every time I go around. She says it’s a nice dog but she has to put it in the kitchen so it doesn’t bite me.  And when she goes for a nap she takes me up to the bedroom with her and grabs me by the ears and makes me go down on her. And if I’m not doing it right she twists them until I do. I dried myself off and gave the floor one last sweep then I packed a small travelling bag. Just a few shirts and a couple of pairs of jeans and my toothbrush. And I always take my camera in case I see some pretty girls and of course the photo of Auntie Rose because I don’t sleep so well if I don’t have her looking over me. I was almost out the door when the bell rang which was pretty unusual but no need for panic. I never kept anything around the house that had any connection to my adventures apart from the ears themselves and, take my word for it, they are so well hidden not even God could find them. Another thing Carl had taught me was never to hesitate when answering the door. A few minutes delay could set all kinds of alarm bells ringing in a good detective’s head so I didn’t bother with the chain or the spy hole, I just opened the door and there he was, Carl! I’m not sure what happened after that. All I know is that I woke up in his lockup, fastened to the table with duct tape.

“Ah, sleeping beauty awakes, so glad you could pop in, old boy.”

It took me a few moments to drag myself back up into full consciousness. My mouth had never been drier but when I spoke it felt like I was drooling.

“What’s this all about Carl I…”

“You know, after I read the news, I went to the hospital to see the girl you chopped up. You made such a mess of her. Talk about unprofessional.”

“Yeah, well, that’s just your opinion. And what about you, cutting their eyes out when they’re already dead. Where’s the sport in that?”

“There it is, you see, in a nutshell. To you it’s just sport. Like a game of football, or going to a dog fight. To me it’s, well, no offence old boy but I’m not sure you could take it all in. You know, there’s a video doing the rounds on YouTube called how to amputate a girl’s ear with a broken bottle in five easy swipes. You really should take a look.”

“Yeah, very funny, maybe I’ll do that one day. Come on, Carl, let’s get this tape off. We both know you’re not gonna cut me up.”

“No, you’re spot on there, old boy. But I’m not too sure about Mary.”

A figure emerged from the corner. As it came towards me and stepped into the light, it removed its hood and her face was hideous. It was like someone had taken a carving knife and…

“Has the penny dropped?’

He stuck his face a few inches away from mine and smiled.

“Oh my, yes, I see it has. But don’t look so terrified. She’s not going to kill you. Poor thing, every boy she ever loved treated her like a dog then you sliced your way into her life to pop on the cherry Of course if you hadn’t tried to decapitate her I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital to see her and we might never have found each other so clouds and silver linings and all that. Maybe you’ll let us cook you lunch one day, as a little thank you.”

The girl, Mary, went over to him and put her arm around his waist. She tried to smile but it looked like the stitches that criss-crossed her cheek would only allow a little movement. He kissed her on the forehead then she walked over to the table on my left. She folded back a black cloth to reveal the set of knives I’d seen Carl use on so many of his victims. She chose his Yanagi Ba knife then moved closer to me. Her rasping breath I put down to restrictions caused by the stitches in her neck, the sterile smell some kind of ointment or cream on her wounds.

Carl appeared again and rolled up my sleeve. Then he went over to the table and returned with a hypodermic needle. He pushed up the plunger to clear out the air bubbles then looked down on me with a pitying smile.

“Don’t look so worried, Roland. Your eyes are as safe as houses. No offence but adding those dull orbs to my collection would be like mounting a pair of glass marbles next to The Great Star of Africa. Now, you’re going to have a little nap then I’ll drop you off somewhere where you’ll be easily found. You should be up and about in a few weeks, as good as new. Well….almost, but you might want to lay off the jogging for a while. Just to be on the safe side.”

As he leaned over to jab the needle in my vein Mary started to undo the fly on my jeans.

“Yes, that’s right. So tell me, have a little guess, old boy. Before you nod off, what do you think Mary likes to collect?”




John Helden is originally from a city called Leeds in the North of England. He graduated from university with a degree in English Literature. Since then he has been travelling and teaching in Europe and Asia. He has lived in London, Amsterdam, Seville, Taipei, Seoul and Saigon. He is currently living in Binh Duong New City in Vietnam. He has had one short story published in Heater magazine.