It did not think like a human, but had learned to perfectly
mimic Its prey, and so It smiled and nodded with apparent
empathy as Mrs Titmangel chattered away.
“. . . yes, my Brian was
in sales too. Always on the road, away from home. Hardly noticed
when he took off ten years back -” she broke off abruptly.
“Anyway, hope you haven’t left Mrs Black at home while you’re on
the road, nice young man like you?”
It had only the most rudimentary understanding of human
language. But the few words in her conversation It did
understand, combined with a brief assessment of her tone,
expression, body language and pheromones, were sufficient for It
to draw an appropriate response from a vast store of memorised
phrases. “No. I am not married.”
She nodded happily. “Best thing really. Puts too much strain on
a marriage being a travelling salesman. S’pose you get to see
the country, though, don’t you? Prob’ly wouldn’t even think of
staying in a little guesthouse in a backwater like Hindmarsh if
you weren’t here on business. Will you be staying long?”
“I shall be staying for one week. May I pay in advance?” The
query would secure her trust.
Mrs Titmangel beamed. “Of course, darl, whatever you like.” She
accepted payment, noting it in the reservations book on the
front desk. “There we go. Now, I’m usually on the desk until
nine p.m., but after that I’ll be in my room —” she
indicated a door under the staircase, “ — so just knock if you
need anything. Now, any bags? Just the one? Full of samples, I
s’pose. My Brian had one just like it. You can carry it
yourself, can’t you? Big strong boy like you. I’ll show you up
to your room. Just you staying here at present, but I’m happy to
open the dining room for you. Breakfast’s at seven, dinner’s at
seven-thirty, although if you prefer to eat at one of the local
cafes, just let me know —” and so on, all the way up two
flights of stairs to room 31, where It finally took possession
of the key, and – still nodding and smiling – closed and locked
the door on her ceaseless prattle.
It put down the bag and regarded the darkened room. Small,
dominated by an ancient wooden bed. Tiny ensuite. A chair.
Television. Beverage-making paraphernalia. A big window, with
heavy curtains tied off to the side. It stepped forward and
stood for a moment, looking out over the town, lights twinkling
in the dusk.
A new hunting-ground.
It carefully untied the curtains, letting them fall across the
Then, with a moist sigh, Its skin seemed to turn inside-out,
clothes folding away like the wings of a cockroach. Muscles
churned as ropy tentacles uncoiled. Its body collapsed in upon
itself as painfully posed struts of cartilage relaxed. Human
features sloughed away as It fell to the floor, adopting Its
natural form. It flexed luxuriously, then scuttled under the
bed, where It curled up and fell immediately into a deep yet
Several hours later, with the town in darkness, a black shape
skittered down the side of the guesthouse, vanishing into the
shadows of a neighbouring alley.
It stared impassively over the rim of Its cup at the bold print.
The disappearance of the policeman would suggest the involvement
of organised crime, rather than a lone salesman passing through
town, but It did not wholly comprehend this. It simply knew from
experience that Its actions would deflect suspicion for the
duration of the feeding cycle.
“Not hungry, Mr Black?” Mrs Titmangel folded the paper away,
nodding towards Its untouched plate of bacon, eggs, ham steaks,
liver, kidney and black pudding. It usually found such fare
perfectly acceptable. But cooked . . .
“My apologies,” It said. “I had a late dinner.”
She nodded understandingly. “My Brian had a full fry-up every
morning. Used to say it was the best thing after a night on the
town —” she stopped, then smiled nervously.
“S’posed to be terrible
for you, I know. All that cholesterol. Still, young man like you
should keep his strength up. Cup of tea’s not enough. Nothing
like a nice bit of kidney to keep up your iron, ‘specially if
you’re running around town all day, chasing sales —”
It smiled and nodded. “Well,” It said. “I expect I shall be
hungry again by dinnertime.”
MISSING — POLICE URGE CALM
“Knocked on your door last night,” Mrs Titmangel remarked
casually, nibbling a piece of toast. “Remembered your minibar
was out of milk, so I knocked, but you didn’t answer. S’pose you
must’ve been asleep. Early though, only about eight-thirty, just
after dark. P’raps you were out on the town.”
It sensed the query behind her prattle. “I must have been
asleep. I had a busy day yesterday.”
“Mm. Only I did knock quite loudly. Not that I wanted to wake
you, but I would’ve thought the noise’d wake you if you were in
there. Just thought it was a bit odd.”
It remained silent, pretending to study the newspaper.
“Well,” said Mrs Titmangel, after a pause, “none of my business
if you were out and about. Just thought it was odd ‘cause you
would’ve had to pass the front desk to go out, so I would’ve
seen you, or at least heard you from my room, and I didn’t . . .
Caution. Suspicion had been aroused. But prior experience had
provided a variety of appropriate responses. It leaned forward,
favouring Mrs Titmangel with a vaguely flirtatious look. “I can
assure you that I was fast asleep, Mrs Titmangel. Which is a
shame. Attractive ladies do not come knocking at my door every
“Oh goodness!” she said, giggling. “Just the sort of thing my
Brian would’ve said. A real ladies’ man, he was. Always the
charmer.” Her eyes darkened. “Bit too much of a charmer, as it
happens. Got him into no end of trouble. And who was it always
had to bail him out . . .?”
It smiled and nodded, sipping Its tea.
HINDMARSH SLASHER RETURNED, TEN YEARS ON?
She had remained silent through breakfast. Unusual behaviour,
which made It wary. It did not comment, merely sipped Its way
through a cup of tea, then made as if to rise.
“So, where were you last night?” she asked, coldly.
It assessed her tone, stance and body-language, and opted for a
polite but enquiring smile.
“You weren’t in your room. Knocked on the door to say goodnight,
but you didn’t answer, so I thought I’d better check.” Her eyes
glittered. “Where were you?”
There was something almost predatory in her demeanour. A danger,
to be removed. But to kill so close to the nest before the
hunting cycle was over… It hesitated, searching for a suitably
pacifying response. “Mrs Titmangel, I appreciate your concern
for my welfare, but I do not feel my whereabouts last night are
any of your business.”
She stared back impassively. “Out at all hours, just like him,
getting himself into trouble, bringing back his little mistakes.
Mistakes, he calls them! My God! Expecting me to tidy up after
him. Terrible man!” Her eyes narrowed. “I know what you’ve been
up to. I imagine the police might think it was their business.”
There was a long pause.
“I … apologise if I have upset you,” It said, eventually.
She shifted slightly in her chair, waiting.
“I shall stay in tonight.”
She nodded guardedly. “Well … it’s a start. You do get me so
upset sometimes, Brian.”
It rose from the table. “I shall eat here tonight, if I may,
although I shall not be back until about nine o’clock.”
Her smile did not touch her eyes. “Well then, I’ll prepare
something special. We can eat in my room. Make it a cosy night
Dangerous, said her body language.
Feeding cycle ends tonight. Then move on.
It arrived back at 8.30 p.m., deliberately early, quietly
closing the door behind It and setting Its bag down on the
floor. The hallway was dark, the front desk deserted. The door
under the stairs was slightly ajar; a thin sliver of light
spilled from the gap, cutting across the floorboards. It moved
to the foot of the stairs and stood for a moment, listening. No
sounds of life from the upper floors. No new guests. It walked
over to the door under the stairs, and knocked softly.
Carefully pushing the door open, It entered the room beyond.
Small, cosy, well-lit. Pastel prints on the walls. Two-seater
couch. Thick white carpet.
Mrs Titmangel was nowhere to be seen.
It could smell her, though; feel her warmth. She had been here
only moments ago.
The hunt was on.
It grinned, a thin trickle of drool leaking from a seam under
Its human jaw. So much more satisfying when It had to work for
Its meat. And the inevitable conclusion to this particular hunt
would be especially sweet. Annoying woman . . .
It glanced around carefully. In the far corner of the room, the
carpet had been folded back slightly, revealing a wooden
trapdoor set into the floor; heavy, with a large brass ring
attached. It stalked over, reaching out, felt the warmth
increase, hooked a finger through the ring and pulled firmly.
The trapdoor rose soundlessly on well-oiled hinges. A rickety
ladder lead down into blackness.
It leaned forward, peering into the dark. There was nothing to
fear, yet It remained cautious, not knowing the exact location
of Its prey. Occasionally, prey fought back. Their teeth and
nails could cause minor, if inconvenient damage. Quickly and
quietly, It descended the ladder.
Reaching the bottom, It paused, adjusting Its vision, trying to
take advantage of the faint wash of light from the open
trapdoor. But the light merely provided a contrast to the
surrounding darkness, making it seem blacker still. It strained
Its remaining senses. There was dirt beneath Its feet, and the
space felt considerably bigger than the room above. Something
moved slightly behind It, dry soil crunching almost
imperceptibly as bodyweight shifted from one foot to the other.
Flesh rubbed against fibre; fingers on a pull-cord light switch.
Beneath Its human visage, muscles flexed. Tightly-pressed
membranes peeled back slightly, ready to fly open. Wait for the
light. Allow the prey to see. Those hormones gave the meat a
wonderful flavour. It grinned, anticipating the expression on
“Just like my Brian,” said Mrs Titmangel. “Always creeping
around where he shouldn’t, off with his girls. Coming home
covered in blood, and worse. Mistakes, he’d say. Just mistakes.
And always burying his damned mistakes in my fruit cellar. Until
eventually I couldn’t take any more. Had to send him away. But
damn it, here you are again, creeping around, up to your old
Click! The harsh light of a single, hanging lightbulb spattered
the interior of the cellar. Dappled the cobwebbed shelves and
dust-covered jars of fruit. Spilled across the earthen floor.
Pointed gleeful yellow fingers into the shadows in front of It,
at the row of seven aged, decay-scented mounds of soil; at the
deep, freshly dug hole at the end of the row, a shovel thrust
into the pile of displaced soil beside it.
“Expecting me to fix things,” continued Mrs Titmangel, bitterly.
“Never cleaning up after himself, stupid man. Blood everywhere.
May as well have left his business card at the scene. Well, I
did what I could. Hid ‘em away. Buried ‘em. But there were too
many questions, people starting to wonder, police closing in. So
I had to fix that too, of course. Hide him away where they
couldn’t find him. Thought that’d be the end of it. But if you
will insist upon coming back —”
She picked something up, flesh against wood. A piece of
shelving? Arming herself.
It spun around with a hiss, membranes expanding, fingers of
razored gristle reaching out, jaws unhinging to bite and engulf.
She swung the axe once, the heavy blade splitting Its skull.
“And let that be the end of it,” said Mrs Titmangel, sternly.
'Predatory Instincts' was first
Borderlands, September 2003.
and was noted in Ellen Datlow’s 2003 Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
Recommended Reading List.
was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1970, and still spends much
of his time there, he says. Despite his BA in Professional
Writing & Literature, he really only turned to writing
professionally in order to avoid getting tied down to a 'proper'
job - having also worked as a pamphlet distributor, commercial
artist, performing waiter, tele-marketer, entertainment
consultant, restaurant manager, Amway rep (sorry),
'rat-wrangler' (don't ask), TV actor, retail
store manager, club DJ,
writing tutor, and a strip-show MC.
Chuck's publishing credits
include the SF comedy novel
Worlds Apart, and (as co-editor)
AustrAlien Absurdities: Comic Tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy
& Horror by Australian Writers,
as well as sales of short
fiction and articles to
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine,
Orb Speculative Fiction,
Read an interview of Chuck
And what is it about
Chuck and Giant Monsters?
Confessions of a Pod Person. a collection by Chuck
McKenzie. Look for it in late 2005, published by
Chuck McKenzie can be contacted at
chuckmck1 (at) optusnet.com.au