Supposed to be a normal Monday evening, Zoe does what she always does after a nerve-straining day at work.
The sun disappears behind the trees, just as she finishes washing out her brushes and returns to observe the unfinished portrait in the dim candlelight thoughtfully.
The dreams accompanying her restless sleep have become more vivid over the passing weeks. So has the dissatisfaction with herself for the choices she made. Guilt gnaws sadistically on her spine. At any hour of the day.
Not wasting another depressing thought about it, her dull eyes skim over the bookshelf without interest. Choosing a rather heavy lecture, she crosses the room and sits on the creaky chair by the table. The monotonic movements of her pained body feel heavy and somehow pointless to the young woman. Lately, it proves increasingly difficult to look past the self-loathe and continue on as if everything is still the same.
But nothing is anymore.
A deep sigh escapes her, before she places her failed attempt at entertainment on the rustic wood, next to the self-made candle. Sooner or later she will have to face her fears. But not tonight, her alarm will ring in a few hours. Each day she comes up with new, lousy excuses, one more desperate than the last, in an effort to avoid the clawing demons buried inside.
Just as she attempts to lift herself out of the chair, her attention catches by a large shadow in the corner of her eye. A shadow that has not been there before. Like a deer in headlights, her body freezes mid-air. A manly figure stands in the frame, the small kitchen light behind only illuminating the outline of its disguise. Her dreams have warned her. And she has ignored them in spite, knowing fully well they have never misled her before.
The neighbour's property is far away. So is any attentive ear that could catch the cries for help which beg eagerly to be released. The woman doesn't even bother with the consideration of it.
That's what you get for choosing isolation, Zoe.
She will have to get through this by herself. Just like everything else. With a newfound acceptance for the predicament she is in, her thin body falls back onto the chair with a squeak, feeling surprisingly empty. The tall figure moves without a sound. Stalking out of the shadows, it oozes of danger. The light reflects within the metallic mask, blinding her momentarily before she faces away in defeat.
Who wants to live forever, anyway?
Her lidded eyes take on the colour of the moon as they gaze absent-mindedly into the hot flame beside her. When they shift back to the stilled human form they are nothing but two glowing lumps of coal, burning meaningfully with the fire carried within. She is not afraid of death. Neither is she afraid of him. Her fears go deeper than that.
Hidden from view, a smirk appears behind the raven metal. But, the only reaction visible to her is the controlled curling of the glove by his side, capturing the air between. It is her who ends the appropriate silence.
"Who are you?" There's no need to ask. She knows who he is.
"I am who you see, Zoe."
Distrust evident in her fallen face, she listens to the mechanical words reaching through the distorter inside his mask. The alien sound seems to fit right into the unfamiliar scene playing out around her. For all she knows, she might as well be talking to an entirely different species.
Any detail which could identify this man is concealed. Every inch of skin and hair has been carefully covered in the shades of the night. Nobody before has lived to tell what the Key Killer is like.
And nobody probably ever will.
At least, she gets a chance to see the real monster behind her reoccurring nightmares. Which she, hopefully, never has to dream again. There's maybe even the possibility to sate her desire for understanding. Anything, to explain the cruel state this man's mind must be in.
The Key Killer seeks revenge for social ridicule which has been ignited by daringly satiric journalism, written with her ever obedient mind and hands. Yet, the young woman can't blame him for it. Not for her own inability to stand up to her managing editor, even when she knew it would have been the right thing to do. Instead, she has chosen the comfort of a stable income over the values of her soul. Readers before justice.
In the end, everyone will get what they deserve. He is here for that now. The dark thought humours the twisted woman. More than it probably should.
"Do you hide from all your victims," The words escape her before she can hold them back, "or just the special few?" Somehow, her sarcasm has returned. Being in the proximity of someone who executes such vile acts of torture seems to ease her guilt. A bit.
The Key Killer takes a casual step towards the unfinished painting waiting atop the splattered easel, turning his back on her without a worry in the world. "Just the special few." The distorter crackles unnaturally as his gloved index carves gently through the drying paint, seemingly tracing a tender memory.
"Not gonna tell me your name then?" She asks as her long fingers begin to play with the orange flame of the candle indifferently, resulting in softly dancing shadows on the table below and the wall beside.
"Haven't you already gifted me with one?"
The key killer's head turns lazily over his shoulder as if in honest curiosity. She can't see, but feels his cold gaze on her heated skin for the briefest of moments.
"Your earlier work has been more than entertaining, I must admit," he declares whilst turning to face her straight-on, his presence calm and collected, "especially the religious satire, sated with your raw, factual honesty, has impressed me."
Cautiously, the unwelcome intruder moves towards the young journalist. Remaining quiet, she shifts her attention back to the bright light of the candle, stops the play of her fingers and returns both hands into her lap.
"But lately, your research and delivery have disappointed, majorly so..." Even with his mechanically disfigured voice trailing off at the end, he does not seem emotional or tense as he stops his large body just short from her wooden chair. The folded pair of clammy hands within her lap a dead giveaway though for what she is expecting to happen.
"Such a waste of talent." Anxious grey eyes shoot up at his foreboding speech. The man's arms hang casually by his sides, and despite his straight posture, he seems calm and relaxed. How can he be so freaking calm? It shouldn't surprise her though, having studied the Key Killer case for a long time. If there is one thing, she should expect, its that the Key Killer is always in control. And no mercy.
A light chill lays itself over the woman's numb skin, and she knows, his hidden eyes are on her. They both remain, frozen in time, waiting for the other to react. She knows, she cannot see his eyes, nor a patch of skin. Yet, their interaction feels intimate. Too intimate.
Something in his black leather glove catches her attention. Something which has not been there before. It reflects the hues of the candlelight like the mask has done before. Her throat dries up as she studies the Key Killer's infamous accessory with morbid fascination. The small scalpel for which she has mocked him plenty for the world to read.
'A coward's tool, slightly larger than the Key Killer's own balls. Can we judge a lonely man for wanting to feel something big and powerful between his wrinkled fingers for once? I guess we can.'
Oh, how she loathed writing that part. It has taken her hours to find the right formulation and wording, and it still sounds like a disaster. The killer isn't wrong in stating that she has lost her journalistic edge. Amongst other things.
The woman has always prided herself on the accuracy of her independent reporting, the untainted truth she has blessed her readers with. Up until the moment when her editor Steve has called her into his office, ordering her to focus her satire away from her usual, mainly political taunts and entirely onto a newly-emerged serial killer. One, that has been gaining increasing attention through ungodly acts of self-proclaimed justice.
She has seen the unblurred and unmodified images of the victims when she studied his case in order to get her creative juices flowing. Any human being able to commit such horrid and blood-curling murders must surely be a long-gone psychopath, secretly longing for the relief of the electric chair. At least, that's what her publisher has made her write after Steve has returned the first draft of her column with obvious disdain for what her mind is able to produce without his guidance. Let's just say, the men above cannot appreciate her factual and open-minded interpretation of the Key Killer's actions. Quite the opposite.
"Sometimes, I make the right decision," she whispers faintly, "and sometimes, I make the decision right."
Her soft voice seems far away when she speaks, the killer shifting balance with the sounding acceptance of her impending fate. Sweaty hands wipe themselves on the cotton of her brown skirt before she lifts herself into a standing position. Her eyes transfixed on the 'coward's tool' inside his hand, knowing full well that the only coward wide and far is undeniably her.
The air inside her home is growing hot and uncomfortable the longer she waits until she decides to ask the question, which drives continuously through her otherwise numbed mind, "Where?"
The Key Killer observes her patiently for another moment, before slowly stepping aside and motioning towards the wide-open door leading into her small home office. Of course, he wants her in there. Where her sins have taken form.
Her eyes fall on the black material across his broad chest, noting the increasing rise and fall of his wide shoulders. He must be excited. Without hesitation she glides past him, leaving a considerate distance between their bodies, and steps into the room which she has been dreading to enter for weeks. Despite the silence, she cannot hear him following but assumes him close behind.
Ready for the sweet promise of death, she turns to face her judge only to find, there is nobody there. Heartbeat quickening, her legs carry her back into the living room.
Nothing seems out of place. Her previously abandoned book still waits with open pages for the return of its reader whilst the candle dances wildly in a stream of cold air. The soft ends of her ponytail caress her upper back, gifting her with a layer of goosebumps, as she turns her head towards the source of the draft.
Facing the tree line of the dark forest, the window stands wide open. All that remains of her nightly visitor are the carvings in her drying paint, spelling four letters. One simple promise.