Windblown silk ruffled endlessly in the breeze as the moon beat down its soft haunting light on the city of London. The silvery clouds drifted lazily across the night sky, slowly but never ceasing. Shoes tapped on the paved streets as a dark figure drifted down the deserted side-walk. Most had already been called to bed by the chilling song of the night and drunkards, party-lovers and gang members now ruled. But then- there were people like him- creatures of the night, chained to the darkness; thugs, rapists, and killers.
They call him the Black Shroud. Named for the baggy black flowing clothes he wears, and decorating the front covers of papers with a crimson background, the Black Shroud terrorizes London, striking fear into every young woman's heart. For this killer's victims are always women. Young, lovely and always very beautiful. Some say that he kills out of jealousy, others that he drinks their beauty like a vampire. But in the end- no one knows. Nobody has even seen his face; the Black Shroud is London's greatest mystery, and its greatest tragedy.
Katherine stepped through the open door to her house, shopping bags in hand. She dumped them in the kitchen and started piling the tins in the cupboard with vigour, almost dropping the baked beans in the process.
From where she was standing by the doorway, Katherine's mother laughed. "What's the rush, kiddo?" She asked her daughter, still smiling.
Nervous instincts kicking in, Katherine spun round to face her mother, "Uh, um- nothing really. I just wanted to get my chores done early."
"Going out again tonight?"
"Yes, well… I'm meeting some friends at a nightclub."
"Be careful of that killer on the loose, did you hear the news? They found another body on the streets last night. Must have been the seventh one, it's getting really bad around here now…" Mrs Howard said with a note of genuine concern in her voice.
"I'll be fine Mum, don't worry. I'll be very careful."
"If you say so dear. I'm just happy that you've started getting out again. After all the trouble you've had in the past few years, I'd wondered if you'd ever get back to being your old self again." Her mother smiled sincerely at her daughter as Katherine gave a funny little half grin and turned back to her tin stacking duties hastily.
As Katherine threw herself into her chores, her mother gazed lovingly but sadly at the photograph that sat on the mantelpiece. A younger version of herself smiled back out of the picture as she stood next to a tawny-haired man with two young blonde children at their feet.
It seemed all so long ago to her when this picture was taken, for her husband had abandoned them long ago and her other daughter Judy, rebellious about everything, had run away at age fourteen. As for Katherine, she was unrecognisable. The Katherine today had not an ounce of the beauty she had as a child. At six, the age in the photo, Katherine was lively and adorable, the envy of all parents. She would wave to neighbours in the street and chat merrily with her friends.
But then it had happened.
When Katherine was still very young she was invited to many parties. This particular party was for one of her many friends birthdays and had finished early because some of the other children had pulled down one of the curtains in a fit of bad behaviour. Clucking angrily like a mother hen, the proud owner of the curtains had shooed them all out and told them to go home. Many of the other children had scampered off to the nearby park, including her younger sister Judy who was being very badly behaved. The ones that lived near had walked home already. Katherine quickly found herself sitting alone on the stone wall. Her mother wouldn't be here for several hours yet and the darkness was growing unbearable. She sat, swinging her small legs, still wearing her party frock, her long blonde hair in cute blue ribbons.
A car pulled up. Katherine watched the expensive Aston Martin DB9 travel down the road and slowly come to a stop. She looked up, wondering who it was as the driver flung the passenger door open. The driver was a young man, in his late twenties or early thirties with a bit of brown stubble on his chin.
"Hey kid," He said gruffly to Katherine, "Yer' Mum asked me to pick you up, climb in."
She looked hesitantly at him, remembering how her mother had always told her not to talk to strangers and definitely not to get in a car with them, even if they gave her those sweets in the nice shiny wrappers. But then again, if her mother had asked him to pick her up, it was okay, right?
Still nervous, Katherine jumped off the wall and hesitantly climbed into the car, shutting the door behind her. The man drove off, not saying a word to his young passenger.
After a few minutes of silent driving however, Katherine realized something was dreadfully wrong. "Um… I thought my house was in the other direction?" She said, her voice trembling.
"We're not going to your house," The man said, discreetly pressing the switch that locked all the doors.
"Then where are we going?"
Her kidnapper smiled darkly and drove the expensive car into the dark alleyway. "To paradise." He said.
Her assailant approached and she screamed as her small world tumbled into oblivion. He had raped her, whispering words from his putrid breath into her ear. "You're so beautiful." Her life as she had known it had ended that day, giving way to something much darker.
Heavily traumatised, Katherine became more introverted with each passing day. She would sit inside alone, staring at nothing for long hours and became increasingly jumpy. One day, her mother found something that would stay in her mind forever; It was her daughter, slumped by the wall, pieces of her now broken mirror scattered all over the floor. Mrs Howard rushed over, desperately wondering what had happened.
Katherine's face had been completely destroyed; millions of cuts adorning her face, blood dripping off her chin. She had smashed her own face in the mirror.
"Why did you do this Kate?" Her mother had asked, crying and holding her daughter close.
"I don't want to be beautiful anymore." Katherine had replied.
Black clothes ruffled again as the dark figure stepped once more into the night, the Black Shroud's silky garments blowing in the wind, as he headed towards a popular nightclub that was renowned in this part of London. He hid by the alleyway outside the nightclub, a low buzzing entering his mind, his hearing increasing, even with the loud beat of the nightclub, he felt he could hear a pin drop. He knew these symptoms well; it meant he would soon kill.
He felt no nervousness or anxiety, because he knew what he was doing was right. It was his job to eliminate all beauty, to destroy it and all the evil it caused. He was the avenging angel, there to purge the world of all its sin.
Crouched in the alleyway, he waited. He knew it wouldn't be long now, he could smell it, he could taste it on his tongue. The lovely stench of an approaching death wafted though the air.
Out of the pulsing nightclub stepped three girls. They were all laughing and smiling, and obviously had a good time. All his senses pinpointed onto the three girls as his heart rate increased.
Unfortunately for him however, two of the girls climbed into a nearby taxi and sped away, waving to their friend. The killer frowned and turned back to the remaining young woman and studied her. She looked to be in her late teenage years, perhaps early twenties. The Black Shroud couldn't see the girl's face yet, but she had all the curves in the right places and pretty blonde hair, to his joy, she was heading in his direction!
Pressing himself against the concrete vandalised wall, the killer waited for the perfect moment to strike, the buzzing in his mind building up to the perfect chord where knife and flesh became one.
Breathing heavily, the Black Shroud listened to the approaching rhythmic clacking of footfalls, a smile on his face. The clacking got louder and louder as the blonde girl approached. He drew the silver knife from his pocket, his heart now pounding to the beat of his next victim's shoes.
The buzzing drew into the beginning of a climax, he flew from the wall, drawing his hand roughly round the young woman's mouth and dragging her deep into the alleyway. The girl struggled against him and bit his fingers hard. The killer recoiled and clutched his knife harder in his sweaty grip, the buzzing now deafening.
"What do you think you're doing?" The girl cried angrily.
The buzzing softened, its high notes dropping into light undertones.
"Judy?" Asked the Black Shroud softly, "Is that you?"
Dim lights from the street lamps barely penetrated the dark alleyway, but from the soft glare of the moon, he made out the features of what was going to be his next victim and found that he recognised her.
Judy squinted hard at her attacker as the killer pulled down his hood, revealing a mutilated face. But, although damaged, it was a woman's face, not a man's.
The Black Shroud- Katherine, stared at the sister she had not seen in five years, and Judy stared back, "Kate?" Judy whispered in a deathly quiet voice, "You're… You're the Black Shroud?"
"I…" Katherine fumbled, unsure of what to say, what to do.
Staring at her sister, Judy abruptly laughed, "Very funny Kate! It seems like you've regained your sense of humour since I left, you almost had me here! I actually thought you were a murderer!"
Feeling a bit confused by the sudden turn of events, Katherine merely looked down to the floor, staring blankly at the concrete.
"But…" Said Judy quietly, as though to herself, "How did you know I would be here? You couldn't have known, I've only just got into town…"
"I didn't." Said Katherine, eyes still locked with the ground.
"But then… You couldn't really be the killer, could you? I mean… Why would you? You're not the Black Shroud, are you? All those girls, you wouldn't kill them…" Judy seemed to fighting an inner battle within herself. Katherine's next words however were crystal clear.
"I had to… You wouldn't understand, I had to destroy all the evil, all the beauty." Katherine hissed the word as if it was the vilest most awful thing in the world.
"You mean… You really are the killer?" Her eyes sparkled with tears as she struggled with this realization, "Please, stop kidding around! This isn't funny you know!" She started forward, reaching to hold her sister's hand.
"No, stop!" Katherine raised the sweaty knife again, warning Judy to stay away.
Judy looked at the knife in her sister's hand and something clicked in her mind. "Why Kate… You're not going to kill me… Are you? I'm- I'm your sister!
Katherine, about to form the words 'no' with her lips suddenly stopped. No longer a joyful sound, the buzzing started again, compelling her hand with an invisible force.
"No, no, I don't want to!"
The buzzing hummed back violently like a swarm of bees, commanding her to kill for their cause, telling her that all beauty must be squashed. Even Judy's beauty.
"I'm not going to kill my sister!"
"Kate…You're scaring me…" Judy took a step back, not understanding what her sister was talking about.
"I won't do it, I won't!"
Katherine lunged forward, crying, in an attempt to destroy the buzzing that seemed to be coming from everything. She stabbed and crushed, she ripped and tore, she smashed and threw, until there was absolutely nothing left. Her sister's screams engulfed by her own.
When at last the buzzing died down, Katherine found everything was gone, and now broken in both mind and body; she crouched down by her sister's lifeless body and wept for this hateful thing called beauty.