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He liked returning home to his possessions. Of course, better when he hadn’t had to pay to  acquire them, which was rare and thus, made the mere thought of owning them all the more  powerful. Owning them, of course, was only the beginning of all that was so lucrative about  having them at his behest. It was what he did with the sense of ownership, the authority, and  the imagination, that counted and made all those futile fights worthwhile.  

Recently there had been ongoing trouble with the whole process of getting his hands on, what  he liked to call, his canvas. He liked them young. Soft, a rush of melanin preferred, strong boned, but most of all, he preferred them full of life. Knife blade slowly trailing down the  side of their face, so close to the eye that it could poke in a little any time and draw blood – oh, the defiance in those eyes. It made all the difference between a satisfying last scream  from the pit of their abdomen through the mouth and into his ears, or a satisfying vision of  blood slowly and gradually draining out over the naked flesh, leaving the face a perfect hue  of violets and blues and splashes of grey around the eyes where life almost seemed to flick  over like a filmstrip reel. One last time. The sweat all over skin, the way the body writhed in  the last vestiges of struggle, the passion to hold onto life and to attempt one last unfortunate  survival stance – could he just stand and stare? As a last touch to his handiwork, he often  liked to leave his fingerprints all over the skin. In parts where indents from the knife hadn’t  yet sealed shut, parts still left untouched by the edge and all for him to caress and own as the  last of their breath fanned his face, stretches on skin that demanded his careful attention with  the throb of a dying pulse and stretches on skin so tender, with veins in perfect tributaries  underneath with hardly any blood to carry through – all for him to worship one last time with  all his own before he bade goodbye; before the ritual carried forward the tradition in a new  vessel, a new canvas for him to allow to bleed out in its full glory.  

____ 

The one he had in his arms tonight, as he unlocked the door and let himself in, had to be paid  for. Not a favourite, he had to admit. Young, yes. Too young, in fact. He set down on the cold  floor, spread out and watched over the fresh canvas.  

And closer to the ear as he lowered himself to level, his voice soft and gentle, he spoke, serve  me well. Almost simultaneously with the end of his gentle cooing, he’d lodged his knife with the right hand into the left upper thigh of the canvas, through a thick fabric and into flesh. It  was now sedated enough to entirely fail to put up a scream show. The eyes flicked open and  stared stark at him for a few seconds before squinting in the disbelief of a slow-burn pain and  he smiled, satisfied. He’d always loved the first suddenness of the act, and the way the  acceptance crept up into the eyes after the first few slice-openings of skin and the sight of  their own warm blood smearing his face and his fingertips.  

He walked up to the sink, washed the blood off – now flaked – off his fingers and deciding on  an injunction of nicotine into his system, walked over to the balcony attached to his room a  hallway away from the dining space where the canvas lay in the brief blissful  unconsciousness.  

He leaned against the balustrade, humming a favourite in his baritone. They did say, he’d  make good addition to the community choir but he’d decided that walking around in circles  and vocal exercises that mimicked bird trills would be a shameful way to engage his 

imagination and stimulate his nerves. The job at the local store kept him going for now, when  all he looked forward to was returning home to his canvas. And today, that very store that  he’d loathed for the ever-cheery visitors in broad daylight and yet thanked the Lord for, as it  gave him the perfect background to entirely fade into, had provided him with a new canvas  just when he’d dreaded having to go without the pleasures of one for a second consecutive  night. He’d taken the new one to dinner. It had been fairly simple to get that far, given, all  that he’d had to do was sound interested in the struggles of attending high school and pay for  a decent salad for dinner. He had sensed the beginning of suspicion from one of the women  sitting at the table next to theirs when the slightly slurred speech of the canvas had caught her  attention.  

He’d paid for a beer or two, whisky to celebrate the imminent end of high school, and mint to  keep mummy off the suspicion radar.  

He hadn’t paid much thought to it then, being more engrossed in the tattoo poking out from  underneath the shirt on canvas’s collarbone. A sparrow, from the looks of it. The curves that  could be traced by a smooth, sharp and cool edge was what had clouded his mind, as he  further could clearly imagine the cherry-musk whiff off the skin as he bent in too close to  trace her skin with bare fingers soaking in blood. 

____ 

He returned to the canvas. In the dining space, he now faced two armed police officers, and a  woman in uniform attending to the canvas, waking and sitting it up. A shred of the name,  Ames, caught his senses but then he’d never cared for names so that thought didn’t count.  What counted was the nicotine in his veins, the rush of laughter threatening in his throat and  the sudden flurry of movement by the end of which he’d had the cigarette knocked out of his  shaking fingers and his wrists now in handcuffs.  

He had taken his precautions and had trampled the mobile phone on the canvas right after it’d  passed out on his arms at the gate of the eatery. What remained was his carelessness. Given  even the beginnings of a suspicion, he should have taken a different route home or not home  but dumped the canvas on an empty street and ran off, alone. What also remained were  regrets – he should at least have treated himself to one scream of his newest possession  before they snatched it rudely away from him, or him away from it. One sliver of open flesh,  the sight of one bruise around the neck, the shock in the eyes as he – 

He felt a sting on his right cheek. He hadn’t been hearing all the questions subjected his way  as he was dragged out of his house, onto the cold night air, the car with the sirens blaring. He  was now partially out of his regrets and fully here with the sting slowly and excruciatingly  satisfyingly spreading across his cheek.  

He caught snatches of conversation now. And, the last human voice he heard for the rest of  the night before returning to his head, had been – 

“Sir, we need you to tell us your name and what have you done to the girl?”

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