“I don’t like Ed, that new boyfriend of yours,” my fellow lodger said.
I looked at Steph warily. “We’ve only been on a few dates,” I said. “We’re not serious.”
“He gives me the creeps,” Steph said. “He only turns up after dark.”
“It’s December,” I said. “The sun sets around 4pm. By the time I get out of work, it’s dark so of course we don’t have dates in daylight.”
“He never suggests you go out in the day at weekends,” Steph said.
“We’ve only had a few dates,” I said. “There hasn’t really been a chance for us to meet at a weekend.” I didn’t want to admit my own feeling of unease was growing.
“And two nights ago your nightmares woke me up even though I’m sleeping like the dead in the other side of the house,” Steph said. “Seriously, he’s creepy.” She looked at me closely. “Has he talked about moving in together?”
“It’s too soon for that,” I said. “Because, like I said, it’s just been a few dates.”
“But he has mentioned it,” Steph said. “I can see it in your face. And have you noticed the extra rats around.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” I asked.
Steph shuddered. “I just think that he’s creepy,” she said.
I looked at her thoughtfully. “I don’t think that he’s a serial killer,” I said.
Steph sniffed. “Everyone says that. The bodies will be being dragged out of the basement and a reporter will be interviewing a sweet old lady who will swear that the serial killer was always lovely and polite and she can’t believe it.”
“He’s picking me up tonight,” I said. “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure. I’ll see how it goes.”
“Don’t let him guess what you’re thinking,” Steph almost shrieked. “You’ll never make it home.” She checked her watch. “What time is he getting here?”
“He’s coming around 9pm,” I said. “We’re going to a club.”
“You’re going to the club in the dark,” Steph said. “He drinks coffee, doesn’t he?”
“Yes,” I said. “Why?”
“I’ll be back in about an hour,” Steph said. “Don’t leave the house until I’ve spoken to you.” She grabbed her coat and bag and raced out of the door.
Steph was back before Ed called. “Look at this,” she said, holding up a glass bottle.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Let me show you,” she said and dived into the tiny kitchen. She returned with two glasses and poured a smidgeon into each glass. She took a drink of one. “Go on, try it.”
I looked at her through narrowed eyes and then drank it down. “It’s just water,” I said.
“But I want to add it to Ed’s coffee,” she said.
“What’s the catch?” I asked.
“Well it didn’t hurt me or you, did it?” Steph said. “So how can their be a catch?”
“Do you think he’s allergic to something?” I asked. “Is it infused with peanuts or something?”
“You would have tasted it if it was,” Steph said smugly. “That’s the door!”
I answered the door and brought Ed through to the living room. “Can we have a quick coffee before we go out?” I asked. “I’m parched and you know how expensive the clubs are.”
“Sure,” Ed said, dropping gracefully on the sofa and spreading his arms along the back. He smiled up at me, his teeth gleaming white and his dark eyes burning into mine. I could feel myself drowning in his gaze, losing all sense of time or place. I jumped like a startled cat when Steph came back with coffee.
“Here’s yours,” she said, handing me my usual coffee with milk and sugar. “And here’s yours, Ed, in a nice cup.” She handed the black coffee over to him.
“I’m glad that I’m appreciated,” he said smoothly. “Perhaps you could come out with us as well, Steph? I’m sure we can all have a good time.”
I took a quick mouthful of coffee to cover my expression. There was no way I was going on any date with him after tonight. “Mmm, nice coffee,” I said to cover my reaction.
“I’ll only come out if we go now,” Steph said. “It’s now or never.”
Ed smiled wickedly. “Then let’s make it now,” he said.
I watched him stand with exquisite grace and drain the cup of coffee. He froze and stared at Steph. “What have you done?”
Steph took a step back. “What do you mean?” she said, her voice shrill and nervous.
Colour was draining from Ed. “Are you okay?” I asked.
He stared at me, shaking his head and clawing at his throat. He staggered towards me, his eyes wild, before collapsing in front of me.
“We need to call someone!” I yelled, pulling my phone from my pocket.
Steph held my arm and shook her head. In front of my horrified eyes, Ed was crumbling. First his mouth and throat collapsed into dust, then inch by inch the rest of him vanished, swirling into a sad stain on the carpet.
I turned to her. “What was in that water?” I whispered.
“I didn’t think anything would happen,” she said. “I thought I was being silly.” She looked at me, her eyes wide. “I thought I was letting stupid books get into my head. There wasn’t anything in the water. It was the water itself. It was Holy Water.”