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Short Stories


By November 14, 2022No Comments


I’ve never understood why they call it hogtied when you fasten hands and feet together. In my village, when we slaughter a pig, we just leave a trail of apples from the pen to underneath the killing tree. The pig snuffles along, greedy as ever, until one of its back legs lands in the noose we’ve concealed on the ground. A quick jerk on the rope draped over a branch to tighten the loop round the leg, and in seconds Mister Pig is hanging head down, swinging and screaming. Just the way humans would, if I didn’t put the noose around their necks instead. Then we put the buckets underneath them to catch the blood and set to work.

I got to the house in Tungush without any problems, apart from the bitch not making a sound in the back of the van, and that worried me a little. I didn’t want her dead  –  at least, not yet  –  but I didn’t want her working out a way to attack me when I opened the van doors either. People are either sheep or wolves. No question which Saltanat Umarova was.

When the winter comes to my village, we know the wolves are going to come down from the mountains in search of food. It’s illegal to kill a wolf, obviously a government policy decided by someone who is happy to eat meat five times a week, as long as it didn’t travel in a pack. Try telling that to a farmer who inches a little closer to poverty every time he loses one of his flock.

We would pick the oldest, weakest sheep or goat, tether them to a post, cut them so the scent of blood rides on the wind, and then we waited. A wolf pack is cautious, alert to any possible danger, but hunger will always win out in the end. And that’s why you’ll find villagers keeping warm with  coats and ushanka hats made from wolf pelts. Protect what you have, make the most of what you have to do.

We were in the back room of the house. High walls around the building, no way anyone could look in, watch us out of curiosity. I’d never seen my neighbours, fitted the doors with an electric control so I could drive in, remain unobserved. It’s always best to remain hidden, but sometimes in my line of work it’s essential.

A forensic team could examine the house for weeks and they’d find nothing. No bloodstains or spatter on the walls or floor, invisible except when subjected to a luminol examination. No torn fingernails fallen down a loose-fitting floorboard. No body hairs clogging up a drain or a plughole or a standpipe. I know what I’m doing.

She’d not given me any trouble getting into the house. No point in screaming if no-one can hear you, especially if there’s a knife nice and snug against your windpipe. Her eyes were still red and swollen from the pepper spray, and the knees of her trousers were ripped where I’d dragged her across the car park tarmac. But I wasn’t stupid enough to imagine she wasn’t still dangerous.

I helped her lie down on the mattress in the soundproofed room. No need to cause any more pain than you have to. And people usually think you won’t hurt them if you’re gentle to begin with. The room smelt of damp, peeling plaster, broken hopes.

‘Your colleagues raped Sayara?’

It wasn’t a question, and her voice didn’t tremble. I shook my head.

‘Not on my instructions. Not my style,’ I said, ‘Unprofessional. And you leave forensic prints a blind man could follow.’

‘So they raped her then, while you were busy blowing the head off her husband?’

I wanted to tell her you just can’t get the staff these days, decided levity wasn’t appropriate. She probably wouldn’t be afraid of me, but I needed her to be cautious. You could pump six bullets into this woman, and she’d still keep coming at you until her legs gave way and her heart quit.

‘Does it matter?’ I asked, ‘They’re both dead now anyway.’

‘Don’t tell me you’re a feminist?’ The sneer in her voice was unmistakable. I had to admire her spirit; a lot of people have shat themselves in her situation, begged to be spared, offered money, sex, anything I could ever want. 

But I can honestly say, male or female, it makes no difference to me. Most people think nudity highlights the difference between men and women, focuses on a shrivelled penis, milk-emptied breasts, sparse hair clustered between the legs. It’s not true. Being naked, stripped of everything you thought defined who you were and your place in the world? All you’re left with is clumps of meat wrapped in skin, a mouth begging for mercy, forgiveness or a quick end.

‘If you’re planning on having someone rape me, there’s something you should know,’ she said, staring at me, giving me the hard eye.

‘Go on,’ I said, ‘I’ve heard all the excuses, you’ve got your period, the clap, whatever.’

‘I was raped once before,’ she said, and there was a steel in her voice that could shatter glass, ‘By two men. Well, one man to be precise, the other one couldn’t get it up.’

‘Sorry to hear that,’ I said, found to my surprise I actually meant it.

‘They’re both dead now. Painfully. I used a broken glass to cut the first one so badly he bled out on me almost before he could get off the bed or out of me. The other one got attached to the electricity mains. A shocking way to die, quicker, but no less agonising.’

‘Good for you,’ I said, ‘The two gopniki that raped Sayara were worthless pieces of shit, just hired muscle there to back me up. Once we were gone, so were they. Disposable.’

‘So if you don’t want to fuck me, and you haven’t already killed me, what do you want?’

‘Good question,’ I answered, nodding as if considering the right reply, ‘This was meant to be a simple job, a collection of monies owed, accounts to be settled. You know what I mean.’

‘Husam owed money?’ she asked, frowning as she tried to resolve the puzzle.

‘Yes, big time, and to the wrong people,’ I said, ‘But that wasn’t the main reason behind all this.’

I knelt down beside the mattress, put the blade next to her cheek. I know if there’s one thing women fear above everything else, it’s being sliced, a nice reminder of their stupidity every time they see themselves in a bathroom or catch a glimpse in a lift mirror. If you’re ever in an unruly situation with a woman, it’s a good tip to know.

‘You’re something on the end of a hook,’ I said, ‘Tasty and wriggling, and your struggles attract the attention of the bigger fish.’

‘A lot of trouble to go to,’ she said, ‘If you’re hunting Akyl Borubaev, there have to be easier ways to do it.’

‘A sudden bullet in the back of his brain?’ I asked, miming firing a gun into my own head, ‘Where’s the fun in that?’

I smiled, put the blade flat against her cheek, rested it against the crotch of her jeans, along the line of the zip.

‘Surely you’ll allow me a little bit of fun,’ I asked, putting on a sad face and tone of voice, ‘Life gets so boring otherwise.’

I stood up, looked down at her. Defiant, but underneath it, I hoped perhaps a little fearful. The way a woman looks at you when she hopes her gender will save her, prevent you from punishing her the way she deserves. It’s frightening the power women have over men. Not with sex, the swell of their breasts, the weight of their buttocks. But because they rear you, mould you, fit you to suit their purposes. Women set out to control people, to own them, which is why you have to learn to control yourself. 

She stared at me, unflinching, unblinking. I couldn’t help admiring her, felt my blood rising.

‘Don’t cut me,’ she said, her eyes never leaving mine, ‘I’m pregnant.’

That was a new excuse for me, and I had to give her credit. But I didn’t believe her, not for a second.

I hate being lied to. Liars need to be taught a lesson.

So I kicked her in the stomach. But only twice.

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