Scarlett Lawrence dropped her pen onto her notepad and sighed. The lecture hall was almost empty, people were too afraid to leave their homes. There had been a rash of disappearances in the last nine months and the police were clueless. No bodies had turned up but all those that had vanished were presumed dead by now. The first to disappear was a lecturer at the university, Devine Lewis. Scarlett had had a class with her and had liked the woman; Devine was unmarried and had no children. The papers had said she was lonely but how they could know that was anyone's guess.
The next to vanish had been an elderly librarian named June Eades. Scarlett was often in the library and had also liked June. She was funny and helpful and knew everything there was to know about Greek history which was a passion of Scarlett's. When June had vanished, the police had finally begun to take notice. Two women missing in the space of a month turned into big news. But when a waitress at the local café, The Coffee Bean, went missing too the media fairly exploded with it. Becky DePalmer had been taken in broad daylight in a crowded street and nobody saw a thing. The town was terrified and people were running for the hills.
Scarlett left the lecture hall and walked down an almost empty corridor and through a set of double doors into the bright sunlight. She huffed and pulled off her grey cardigan to reveal a blue summer dress and matching flip flops, it was turning into a beautiful day. Scarlett crossed the campus and entered the housing project. She had been lucky in getting a place in these rooms. The uni had received a large donation and decided to build actual houses for the students. Each one had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. They were fully furnished and to get a place in one of them, the uni had played a kind of lottery. Scarlett had won a place in her house with Thomas Chadwick and Brooke Tilly.
Scarlett was just opening her front door when the voice of Homer Simpson floated from her bag.
"Spider Pig, Spider Pig does whatever Spider Pig does." She flipped open her phone, cutting Homer off mid song and smiled at the flashing name.
"Where are you, Lettie? I'm not dealing with Creepy Mandy on my own!" Scarlett laughed and said to give her two minutes before hanging up. She opened her door, threw her bag inside and closed it again before walking three houses down and waving at the waiting girl. Lillian Lavene wore a black rib top and deep blue skirt, her feet were bare as she danced about on the front step and her black hair was cut into a sharp bob.
"It's about time!" she called. Scarlett laughed and followed her inside, she always found it creepy going into another of these houses. They were all decorated in the same way; it was like coming home but not.
Lillian had invited Mandy Hallett for a coffee the afternoon. Mandy had only been in town for the last nine months, she had arrived on the day Devine Lewis had vanished. Despite the fact that dozens of other students had arrived that day too, Lillian was absolutely convinced that Mandy was in some way responsible for the disappearances. Scarlett had tried to reason with her friend but Lillian wasn't having any of it, Mandy was the kidnapper and that was all there was to it.
The doorbell rang and Lillian dashed to answer the door.
"Where are your housemates?" called Scarlett.
"Same place as yours. Mummy and daddy called them home until the police pull their finger out" replied Lillian. She took a deep breath and opened the door. Mandy Hallett was a tall slender brunette; her hair was pulled back into a high ponytail. Her skin was dark as were her eyes and today she wore a white vest and back skinny leg jeans.
"Hello, I'm not late am I?"
"Nope, just on time. Come on in." Lillian led the way back to the living room and introduced Scarlett. Never being one to beat around the bush, Lillian dived right in with her questions.
"What do you think about all these disappearances? Did you get to meet Divine before she vanished? You were in one of her classes weren't you?" Mandy blinked a little under this sudden onslaught, Lillian was peering at her like a bug under glass. Scarlett cleared her throat and excused herself to make the coffee. She closed the kitchen door behind her and took a deep breath.
"Blimey Moses" she sighed. Scarlett placed a tray on the counter; she added three cups, milk and sugar and then filled the coffee pot. Taking a deep breath, she went back out to the living room and placed the tray on the small table. Mandy's dark skin was looking a little paler and Lillian had a spot of hard colour high up on each cheek.
"Let's drink our coffee, okay? We can talk about something else for a bit. Milk and sugar?" asked Scarlett. Mandy almost seemed to drag her gaze from Lillian, she managed a small smile and nodded. Scarlett gave her the coffee and then added milk and two spoons of sugar to another cup before handing it to Lillian, who accepted with a slightly shaking hand. Scarlett left her black, no sugar, and settled back into her seat.
"How do you like our strange little town?" said Scarlett. She tried to keep her voice light but ended up sounding like an air hostess pointing out exits.
"It's very pretty. I like the uni too" said Mandy. She sipped her coffee and grimaced a little at the bitter taste but she took another sip. Scarlett smiled as she spotted Lillian pulling a face too but, just like Mandy, she was too polite to not drink her coffee. Good manners made things so much easier, Scarlett had always found.
"The . . . Uni . . . Is . . . Lettie?" Lillian's voice was slow and she seemed to be having trouble following a train of thought. The coffee cup slipped from her grasp, Scarlett managed to catch it before too much coffee could slop onto the carpet. She placed the cup back on the tray and turned to Mandy. The girl was leaning back in the chair, her eyes were closed and she seemed to be sleeping. Scarlett plucked the cup from her fingers and added it to the tray. She placed two fingers on Mandy's neck; the pulse was strong and steady. Scarlett nodded and turned to the now unconscious Lillian and did the same, strong and steady. Lovely, always good to check these things.
Scarlett picked up the tray and took it back to the kitchen; she washed up everything, especially the sugar bowl, and replaced it all in the relevant cupboards. Once she was satisfied, Scarlett walked across the living room and opened the front door; she poked her head out and checked both directions before nodding approval. Nobody was about, it was too early. The second lectures were still going on and wouldn't be finished for another two hours. She turned and walked over to the two slumped bodies in the living room.
Lillian groaned and opened her eyes. She was lying on a grubby looking mattress in a large room that looked just like the basement of her project house. Only this basement didn't have any stairs leading up to the kitchen door, just a rather nasty looking drop which Lillian now found herself at the bottom of. At least the explained the mattress, it made the drop a bit easier and a lot less painful. But I didn't explain the line of sleeping bags against one wall and the little pile of tinned fruit and beans in one corner.
"Hello?" called Lillian. She staggered to her feet and spotted a line of legs sticking out of the shadows on the opposite wall.
"Hell? Can you help me?" Lillian frowned when she didn't get a reply; she moved across the basement and prodded the nearest leg. It was solid like a lump of marble under her fingers. Lillian swallowed and moved away from the shadowy figures. A light suddenly went on above her head and the basement was thrown into stark brightness. Lillian screamed and scrabbled backwards towards the mattress again. The shadowy figures were clearly corpses and they had also been there for a while but they didn't appear to be rotting and there was no smell. On the right was a grey haired lady in a tweed skirt and white shirt, she still wore a name tag that read June Eades.
"The missing librarian" whispered Lillian. She ventured a little closer and swallowed. The figure next to June was a younger girl in a black skirt and a grey shirt, she too wore a name badge but this one said Becky.
"The missing waitress." Divine Lewis was next in line and, to Lillian's amazement; Scarlett's housemates were on the opposite wall. Brooke and Thomas stared out at the basement with almost glass like eyes; their mouths open in silent screams.
The door above them swung open with a little click and then another limp form was rolled over the edge and tumbled down to land on the strategically placed mattress. Lillian was frozen in place, her eyes glued to the figure straightening up in the doorway.
"Alright, Lil? Have you met the others?" asked Scarlett. Her voice was happy and she smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. Why had Lillian never noticed that before?
"Others?" she repeated, unable to tear her eyes from her friend.
"Yes, you must remember June from the library and of course you had a few classes with Devine so you two will have lots to talk about I'm sure. Then there's Becky and over there is Brooke and Tom. Becky and Brooke don't get on, that's why they won't sit together. Obviously you've met Mandy." Lillian's head was spinning, the only thing that was obvious was that Scarlett was nuts.
"It was you. You made them disappear" Lillian sobbed. She crawled across the concrete floor and lifted Mandy off the mattress, only wanting to get her as far away from Scarlett as possible.
"I was lonely. I'm used to a big family, you see. But now none of us will ever be lonely again. You'll never be alone with us, Lil. This I promise you and soon there'll be others to talk to if you don't get on with these guys." Scarlett gave another of her half smiles and turned away, slamming the door on Lillian's screams.