Sunday 17 May 2009

IN THE BAG - by AJ Humpage

Very topical this one...


It was the same old story. Travel across town, turn up at the interview and give the performance of a lifetime. Engage, entertain, answer the questions succinctly and, importantly, don’t ‘um’ or ‘ah’. He had to make each word count, he knew he had to sell himself, sell his soul if he had to, because there could be fifty people vying for that very job.

But today was different.

Mark Murcer adjusted his tie and stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He’d had good vibes about this job interview. It had gone very well. The interviewers laughed in all the right places, and smiled an awful lot. Mark had answered their probing questions carefully and he’d given them exactly what they wanted to hear. His knowledge and skills gained over the last 20 years would nail this job. Oh, yes he could do this. Team player? Absolutely. Hard working? Always.

He was made for this job.

He rinsed his hands beneath the warm water, thought about his journey to this moment. Six months ago, he’d lost a job that he loved, one that he’d done well for the last 10 years. Credit crunch, they called it, and he’d been truly crunched. Now surplus to requirements, it was scrapheap time for Mark at the age of 42. He’d become a victim of the economic downturn.

But it wasn’t just the job he’d lost. Somewhere between then and now,he’d lost his self-belief, his self worth, the very core that made him whole. Frustration with the world hung heavily over him like a bank of fog, spliced periodically by faint flashes of light. He felt suffocated by a darkness he couldn’t quite control, and sometimes he caught sight of a demon squatting in his eyes whenever he looked at his sallow reflection. He was changing; becoming thinner, paler, his personality was breaking down, and up until now, he’d been unable to stop it.

The loss of dignity that came with unemployment felt as though his skin had been stripped from his body; he was more naked than he’d ever been.

With no children and no dependents, Mark was now worth a mere £60.50 per week, which would not pay his mortgage, or food, or utility bills. The car had to go. So too the frivolous spending and the regular nights out with friends. No more Sky, no more mobile phone, no more gym membership –all gone. Now it was nights in, lights off and no heating. He existed on a bland diet of baked beans and bread.

But of course, all that was about to change. The job he wanted so badly awaited him. He was waiting for that magical phone call. It was just down to two candidates, they said. An achievement, getting this far, they said, considering the high number of applicants. And you have excellent IT skills, they said.

Oh yes, 21 years worth, Mark thought, staring at the demon in his eyes.

But Mark quickly discovered that experience alone meant nothing. He’d spent countless hours filling in numerous applications, and he’d spent a small fortune to attend 37 interviews. They were good interviews - he’d put everything he had into every one - yet each time, the obligatory opening line of the letter pushed through his letterbox would read: ‘Dear Mr Murcer, following your recent interview, unfortunately on this occasion...’

Mark half smiled to himself. Well, on this occasion, he was going to get this job. After searching for so long, he deserved it.

He turned off the tap. The last of the water, and blood, swirled into the plughole. He used a nearby bath towel to mop around the basin and clear the few bloody droplets remaining. It was clean again.

Mark thought about yesterday, the day of the interview. The day he saw Jackson Page emerge from the interview room with a smile so wide it must have hurt. Jackson was a young, arrogant kid, not yet humbled by life. Mark used to work with him, before their ex-company went bust. Jackson had worked in the same department, and Mark was his Manager.

Jackson approached. ‘Nervous, Murcer? You should be, ‘cos I got this one in the bag.’

Mark slowly met the younger man’s gaze, his eyes grazing across a doughy expression. ‘You always got it in the bag, Jackson. You never change. You always thought you were the best, except when you made mistakes. You’re young and stupid; you’ve no experience and no formal qualifications. You got nothing.’

Jackson Page’s effort to smile turned into a derisive snort. He leaned in, his green, lizard-like eyes widening. ‘You’re finished. They don’t want useless old men like you, Murcer. They want fresh new talent. And that’s me.’

Mark watched Jackson Page strut to the exit door. Somewhere inside him, molten urges bubbled beneath an expressionless gaze. There was no way some cocky, illiterate runt would get this job. No way. But when the white envelope dropped onto the mat the next morning, he didn’t need to open it to know the content. If they had wanted him, they would have telephoned. But they hadn’t, and instead he faced rejection yet again.

They’d chosen Jackson Page, that son of a bitch.

Mark dismissed the memory. He leaned forward and wiped a large globule of blood from his thin, blond beard. He tidied his hair, looked down. Blood had spattered his jacket and smeared his shirt, but it didn’t matter. The evening was drawing in. No one would notice.

Mark moved away from the bathroom and calmly returned downstairs. He stood in the doorway leading to the front room. It was quiet, still, yet something thickened the air; an abject fear clung to the walls, like sticky residue. That fear glowed crimson.

Jackson Page was sitting on the sofa in front of a silent TV.

Mark turned away from him and wandered into the kitchen. Unlike the rest of the house, the kitchen was messy; the floor, the counter tops, cupboards. Footprints and hand smears – the only signs of violence. He leaned over the sink; saw a tooth and some hair clogging the plughole. He was too tired to clean up. He would have to return tomorrow and sanitise the rest of the kitchen.

Outside, Jackson Page’s large Rottweiler patiently sat nose to glass. The dog had watched him at work; curious yet silent. Mark stood at the door, looked down at the intensely blackened eyes glaring back at him.

‘You hungry, boy? Yeah, of course you are.’ He turned to the counter top and grabbed the dish he’d earlier filled with meat. He stared at the glistening membrane covering the grey coloured lumps piled into the bowl. It looked so good, so nourishing.

He unlocked the back door and opened it. The dog rushed in, instantly smelled freshly killed meat. He found a dark red pool of liquid on the floor and eagerly lapped it up.

Mark caught the dog’s attention. ‘Hey, this is better.’ He made the dog sit. Thick strands of saliva hung down from the dog’s jowls like vitreous stalactites. Mark slowly lowered the large stainless steel bowl onto the floor. ‘There you go. Tuck in. This organ stopped thinking just over an hour ago.’

The dog dived in, snatching hungrily at the slimy lumps of brain, chomping loudly. Mark watched with a strange fascination as bits of Jackson Page’s brain slipped from the dog’s mouth - like squirming eels - and bounced onto the bloodied, tiled floor.

Mark looked at the severed head he’d placed on the counter top. The tip of the skull was missing. The hacksaw had done a clean job on the bone. He had needed hardly any effort. He’d used a spoon to scoop out the brain tissue.

Jackson’s eyes still glistened, but the way they stared into a universe of nothing made Mark shudder. The boy’s mouth had sagged, corners pulled down by an invisible force. The face of misery. Mark reached forward and poked a finger into Jackson’s cheek. Dough-boy was still soft.

Mark pulled a carrier bag from one of the drawers. He lifted up Jackson’s head and dropped it into the bag. The hollow skull bone clunked heavily against the counter. He placed the top of the skull, replete with fine dark hair, next to the face. He lifted up the bag and carried it out of the kitchen.

He stopped briefly at the doorway to the lounge and once more stared at Jackson’s bloody, headless body sitting upright against the sofa. Mark smiled. Jackson Page no longer needed that job. Mark had already prepared himself for the good news phone call.

He opened the front door and stepped out into the evening. Things were definitely looking up. He walked down the path, lifted the lid of the wheelie bin and dumped the carrier bag inside.

‘You were right, Jackson,’ Mark said cheerily into the bin. ‘You definitely got it in the bag.’

AJ works full time for a local authority, but in her spare time she write articles for local business magazines, short stories and poetry, and has just completed her first novel.


  1. Quite a chiller, AJ.
    Very Lecter-esque spooning the grey matter!
    I hope he got the job!

  2. Ooh, ghoulishly unexpected, AJ. Well done.

  3. No better way to start the day than with a good gory chillers, nice work.

  4. Great story, AJ, dark and chilling. Nice job!

  5. I like it when a story gets progressively nastier. Well done, AJ

  6. gruesome, nice details :-)

  7. This was an absolute joy to read. Gory and clever, and all sounding such a logical reaction when surely...?

    I'd have loved to have known if when Mark got home and bothered to open the letter, it told him he'd got the job!

    Looking forward to more.