As you might know, I'm writing two novellas at this moment; a zombie book with no official title, and a murder mystery called The Artist, about a serial killer who turns the human body into works of art. On this blog you can read the first 5 chapters of the zombie book HERE, but I haven't posted so much as an excerpt of The Artist. Here is the first chapter of The Artist:
A Serial Series Book 1
By Diana Graves
Copyright © 2016 Diana Graves
All rights reserved.
She didn’t smell as bad as I thought a dead body should smell. There was no hint of rot or decay. Instead she smelled of bleach and a strong floral perfume, the cheap kind that some women seem to bathe themselves in. The smell reminded me of going to church on Sundays in the South, in which older women boldly wore a choking musk that lingered in the air and tainted everything it touched long after the wearer had gone. Standing as close to the corpse as I was, I could taste the perfume on the back of my tongue, and I imagined that’s what hairspray must taste like.
The body was hanging on a crucifix that was nailed to the old oak book shelves. Her wrists and feet were nailed into place. I was eye level with her stomach, where all her insides were coming out of a perfectly carved hole. Her intestines were draped around her hips, creating a scarlet skirt that hid her womanhood. Her white-blond hair hung heavy over her shoulders, hiding her bare breasts. I had to wonder why the killer took such great lengths for modesty’s sake, when every other part of her was exposed. It was usually a sign of remorse, but displaying her so bravely in public challenged that notion and pegged the killer as an attention seeking narcissist.
As deplorable as the murder was, I had to admire the killer’s workmanship. Meat from the woman’s back had been skillfully pulled out in ribbons and attached to her outstretched arms, like ruby-red wings. But for all the gore, every inch of the woman was expertly painted; from her lily white skin to her cherry red innards. Perhaps reality wasn’t as pretty as the killer had hoped. The whole image was breathtaking, but the red mask covering her face was bothering me for some reason. It begged to be removed.
Jim, the head librarian, whispered sharply, “Carmen,” when I reached a hand up to lift the girl’s mask off her face. I glanced back at him for only a second before looking back at the body. I couldn’t stop staring at her.
“Carmen,” he said again, and I looked back at him. He was motioning with his hands for me to take a step back and I begrudgingly obliged.
Satisfied with my compliance, he walked away to attend to other patrons and I watched after him as he did what he could to comfort them. I’d known Jim for eight years. He was an unassuming man of average height and body type, but his smiling brown eyes and mousy brown hair made him look far younger than his forty-seven years. The goatee and walnut shaped prescription glasses did much to mature him.
I was alone standing in the aisle, mere feet from the body. Everyone else was sitting in the heart of the library, waiting to be allowed to leave. I could understand why most people wouldn’t want to look at the dead woman. Not long ago it was a person, and what had been done to her was horrifying. I, however, felt compelled to stare at her. I was captivated by her from the moment I ran into the large aisle, curious about all the yelling. This section in the public library was designated for religious literature. I’d never stepped a foot in it until now.
With Jim out of sight, I inched closer to the body. I had to keep my arms folded over my chest, so I wouldn’t lose myself again and reach out to her. I bent my head to the side to try and see her face under that mask. The closer my face came to her, the more I could smell raw meat gone bad under all that paint, bleach and perfume.
“Carmen, step away from the body, step away. The police will be here soon,” Jim said as he walked by the aisle to check up on me.
I rolled my eyes, but he was right. Getting too close to the body was stupid. I backed away from the woman slowly, rubbing my sweaty hands on my jeans, but I stared after her. The word breathtaking kept coming to mind, scary too...but so breathtaking.
“What do you think?” asked Amber as I stepped out of the aisle. Amber had long black hair, a thin body type, and a frumpy sense of fashion. She had a naturally beautiful face, though; big eyes, small nose, plump lips, tapered chin. All the things our culture teaches us to find attractive. But she didn’t seem to grasp her potential. She looked plain when she could have looked gorgeous with very little effort.
I shrugged my shoulders to evade answering her question, because I knew she wouldn’t like my answer. She never liked what I had to say. Never.
I’d known Amber for years, because like Jim, she worked here as a librarian, and I spent a lot of time here. I could have stayed home and read all these book via a digital download, but I adored the smell of books, the feel of plopping a heavy tome on the table and poring over it for hours, filling my notebooks with facts, ideas and sketches. Flipping through the pages and soaking in the knowledge gave me a sense of purpose and a natural high that scrolling down a touchscreen tablet could never achieve. Plus, libraries are free.
Amber was an apt enough librarian but she was easily offended. With my interests in abnormal psychology and criminology, I’ve offended her quite a few times over the years without meaning to. Apparently she didn’t like me telling her all about Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer who raped, murdered and ate seventeen boys and men. She filed an official complaint against me. She called it gross intimidation and harassment. That overreaction almost got me banned from the library altogether. I didn’t talk to Amber after that, so you can imagine that she was the last person I wanted to talk to about the dead woman hanging on the cross.
But she was also an emotional wreck because she was the person who found the body. It was her hysterical cries that brought me into the aisle, along with the rest of the library patrons, employees, and singular guard, Chuck. He was a big guy, with what seemed to be equal amounts of muscle and body fat. Six feet tall, bald head and small squinting eyes. His tan uniform didn’t fit well. It was baggy around the groin and chest, but stretched too tightly around his stomach and shoulders.
Chuck was standing at the entrance of the library waiting for the police and making sure nobody left. The police asked him to do this, and in a booming voice he announced said request over the library intercom shortly after the body was found. There weren’t that many people at the library at ten in the morning on Tuesday, but we few were now prisoners of circumstance.
“Come on, Carmen,” Amber prodded. “You study this...stuff. What do you think?” Her eyes were swollen and rimmed in red from crying. She was in distress and maybe she thought some kind of answer would make her feel better...
“Fine. She was killed, obviously. She was cleaned with bleach, cut up, painted in red and white and posed like a sculpture. She’s a work of art,” I said quietly. “At least, I hope it happened in that order.”
Her hazel eyes zeroed on me and her top lip curled up, like she smelled something awful. I sniffed the air, but I didn’t smell anything save for the bleach and perfume.
“What is it? Did I forget to brush my teeth this morning?” I hid my mouth with my hands until Amber shook her head and grunted in frustration. I gave her a raised brow.
“Art?” she asked. Her words were hushed, but her tone was aggressive. “The cross, the angel wings…clearly this is a terrorist attack on Christianity.”
I looked back at the body again. She was nailed to a cross, and her insides were strewn about her, making her a gruesome angel. She was even placed in the religious section of the library, but it didn’t feel like an attack on anything. It felt like a showing, a display of something the killer was proud of. It was a gruesome display of love. It was a statement piece, but I couldn’t quite grasp what the statement was.
“A lot of religions have angels and crucified gods or heroes in them,” I said. “Dionysus, Horus, Krishna, Mithra, Attis of Phrygia.”
Amber shook her head, looking at me like I just didn’t get it, whatever it was.
I shrugged. “You asked my opinion, I gave it. The killer may have used religion as his artistic inspiration, but I don’t think religion was the reason this woman was killed.”
“That makes absolutely no sense,” chimed in a white haired man in an argyle sweater. “Obviously the killer was a Satanist, and she was his human sacrifice.”
It was a drive-by comment. The man made his thoughts known and exited without waiting for my rebuttal, which was, “That’s a ridiculous suggestion based on religious and cultural bias. How does this in any way resemble the work of a Satanist?”
But I was talking to myself. Amber left the conversation with the man, and I was left standing at the entrance of the aisle alone. I looked out at the library. A handful of people were sitting at a long table. Most of the people were quietly consoling each other, talking in their usual library voices. As if anyone was reading a book. It was then that I noticed the first suspicious look in someone’s eyes. A woman looked at me from the safety of her husband’s arms. It was the same look Amber gave me earlier; as though she smelt something awful. I didn’t know her, so I shrugged it off and looked back at the body.
“Carmen,” said Jim from behind me. I looked over my shoulder at him. Jim had a perpetual boyish charm about him that made me smile. He looked small standing between the broad shoulders of two tall crime scene techs in white jump suits. I looked up at them with awe. Wow, real crime scene technicians wearing real white suits with masks and everything just like on television! How cool was this?
“Make way, please,” one of the techs said.
I stepped aside and let the techs pass me, though it was unnecessary. The aisle was big enough for the four of us. Without a word, one tech began snapping pictures, while the other wrote notes on his clipboard. I wondered how many crime scenes they’d processed, and if this one was more outrageous or gruesome than the others. By their blank faces and relaxed manner, I’d guess they’d seen worse. I’d seen worse too, but only in pictures and on TV.
“Come with me,” Jim said, taking my attention away from the men.
“What is it?” I asked aloud, deciding that whispering seemed silly.
Jim led me into the next section of the library without a word. We found ourselves in the children's section, surrounded by bright colors, stuffed animals and miniature furniture. He walked me deep into the open area and looked at me with the same kind eyes I’d come to expect from him over the years. I smiled and he frowned.
“What?” I asked again.
He looked down, searching for his words maybe, and then back up at me. His face was more guarded somehow. I wasn’t used to that. Jim was an open book, always ready to talk or dish out bits of wisdom. Seeing him look at me cautiously made my stomach sink.
“Now that’s the reaction you should have had twenty minutes ago,” he said quietly.
He raised one eyebrow, and gave me a flat look. “Uncomfortable, Carmen, sick to your stomach. Not curious, not enraptured. It’s a dead body for Pete’s sake.”
I looked at him with a tilted head, my brows pressed together in confusion. He wasn’t making any sense. Killers, serial killers were my passion. Their motives and their personalities intrigued me. I had a deep yearning to know and understand the minds of killers. And their crimes are their personal demons manifesting themselves in the most horrific way imaginable. That body out there was a treasure trove of information more telling than anything else he could have left behind short of a DNA sample.
“But…you know how I feel about murder, murderers in particular. What reaction would you expect me to have?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I did expect curiosity, but do you know what people are saying out there? They’re saying that you enjoyed looking at that body. They’re saying that you could have done this, Carmen. That’s what they’re going to tell the police.”
“So what if they do? There’s no evidence to support their preposterous theories. I'm a killer based on what? Curiosity?”
He stepped into my personal bubble, my two feet of comfy-space radius that no one was allowed to enter, not even my mother. I backed away and he grabbed my arm to stop me.
“Let go of my arm Jim.”
He brought his face within inches of mine. It was a kissable closeness, and I could smell the toothpaste on his breath, and the faint sweet smell of cologne or aftershave.
“The police are going to question you. They might even ask me for your book check-out history. They’ll be suspicious. What are you going to tell them?”
What would I tell the police? I thought about it for a moment, staring down at our shoes. He wore highly polished black dress shoes, which matched his polished style perfectly. I was wearing my usually sneakers. Slowly my lips grew into a long red smile.