In The Bag
by Emma Newman
read by Emma Newman
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She sipped at the wine, tasting its quality, savouring the cool touch of the crystal on her lips. The fire roared to her left, in a stone fireplace that was large enough for her to stand up in, and to her right the rain lashed at the huge windows. She smiled at her host, taking in his dark eyes and wide cheekbones. There was something of the eastern European about his features and she liked the way he smiled back.
“I’m going to miss coming here every day,” she said, picking up her spoon again. “I can’t believe it’s over.”
“I’ll miss having you here,” he replied, and she believed him.
She tilted her head and curled her lip in the way that she knew men found irresistible. “Really? Most people are relieved to see the film crew disappear, it’s so disruptive.”
He shrugged. “It was nice to have the old house filled with people for a change.” he picked up his glass, regarded her over its rim. “And it gave me the chance to meet you.”
She looked back down at the chocolate dessert, enjoying the warm rush his obvious infatuation pumped into her chest. She’d indulge just this one evening, and then tomorrow it would be back to London and this place would fade in her memory just like all the other film sets she’d acted in. The latest crush on the leading man would fade with it, along with the memory of these weeks of flirtation with the venue owner. All part of the job. She knew to expect the low days at the end of the project, knew it was just the flavour of exhaustion and that she’d pick up again. But tonight she was still glowing with the thrill of the final cut.
“It’s entirely mutual,” she purred back. “You’re so lucky to get to stay here! Has the house been in your family for a long time?”
He nodded. “Several generations.”
She waited for more, usually these rich men were more than happy to pour information on their fantastic estates over her, given the first opportunity, but when nothing more came, she said; “Funny to think that after all these weeks of seeing each other every day, this is the first time we’ve been alone together.”
“Yes,” he smiled, never taking his eyes off her. “I’m glad you stayed behind. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
She swallowed the last of the pudding and dabbed at the corners of her mouth. What would it be this time, a gift to remember him by? A marriage proposal? A desperate plea to accompany him on his yacht for an upcoming trip to the Mediterranean?
“It’s something very important,” he continued. “And something I would never say to anyone without a great deal of consideration.”
Ah, a marriage proposal, she thought. That would be number… six?
“Oh?” she asked innocently, keeping her green eyes large and round in the way that men like him found attractive.
“But I know this is the right thing to do, that you’re the right one,” he continued, still holding her with the intensity of his gaze. He stood, dropped his napkin onto his chair and walked the length of the table to her. He held out his hand and she slipped hers into his, blushing at the discrepancy between his earnest ardour and her interior world.
“Rosalind,” he said softly, his deep voice making its syllables resonate in her chest, as he pulled her gently to her feet. “I want you to stay here, with me. All of this can be yours too.” He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, looking down into her eyes as he pulled her closer. “You are so beautiful. You should always stay this way. Youth should never leave you, and if you stay here with me, it never will.”
It was the strangest marriage proposal she’d received yet. Something about the intensity of his offer made a giggle slip from her tight throat. Maybe she was in trouble here? Maybe he was a madman, and, oh God, the rest of the crew were twenty miles away by now at least.
“Are you trying to do some kind of ‘Twilight’ marriage proposal?” she said clumsily, taking a step back.
He frowned. “It’s dark. And I’m not talking about marriage, but if you married me, it would be even more perfect.”
“Um, what exactly are you talking about?” She tried to slip her hand out of his but his grasp tightened.
“I’m talking about you and me living here, forever. Never growing old Rosalind, never being lonely…”
She pulled her hand away and took another couple of steps back. “You’re getting a bit intense,” she said nervously, watching the frown form. “I… I don’t quite know what to make of this…”
His frown melted into a smile. “I know it must seem like a strange offer,” she followed his eyes as they glanced briefly at a large sack in the corner of the room, tucked behind the chaise lounge. She hadn’t noticed it before, and the sight of it washed out the last of that excited glow she’d had only moments before. “But I assure you, it’s not a trick, and I’m not mad. And I’m not going to hurt you, far from it. I want to take care of you. Treat you like a princess. Give you everything you deserve, and more.” He closed the distance between them and swept up her hand to touch it with his lips. “You were made to be taken care of; the world is too harsh for someone as lovely as you.”
This was taking on the feel of a bad film, one she hadn’t signed up to star in. Time to get her bag and go, before he got any more insistant, she decided, beginning with a trip to the bathroom to break the tension.
“Could I-” her question was interrupted by a loud pounding coming from the hallway. The doorbell was rung, once, twice, then the pounding continued. Oh thank God, she thought, one of the crew has forgotten something.
“Damn,” Michael muttered and stormed out into the hallway. She knew he’d given the staff the night off, presumably to ensure they wouldn’t interrupt the proposal. She followed him, eager to catch the eye of who ever it was.
The door was unlocked and a man staggered into the hallway, carried forwards by the momentum of his fist in mid pound. She recognised him as one of the sparks in the lighting crew, but he had looked very different when she’d waved them off earlier that evening. He was drenched, thick mud caked around his boots and a cut above his left eye sent blood diluted by the rain water streaming down his face. He was so white, it frightened her to look at him.
“What happened?” she gasped, as Michael pushed the door shut against the driving gale.
“I need to use your phone,” he panted. “Christ, something… Christ!”
Michael propelled him into the dining room to stand in front of the fire, grabbing a dry coat from the coat stand as he passed to drape around the man’s shoulders.
“It’s…er… Bob, isn’t it?” Rosalind asked.
He shook his head. “Rob, I’m Rob, I’m one of the trainee sparks, Miss Wilder.”
“What happened? Where are the others?” She grabbed her napkin and gave it to him to staunch the bleeding, but he just held it in his hand, shaking.
“There was an accident. The bridge… there was a flood and the bridge… and the rig crashed, the coach went into it and … oh Christ.”
Rosalind looked at Michael. “We need to call the police! Our mobiles don’t have any signal out here.”
Michael nodded and hurried back out into the hallway as Rosalind took the napkin and with a shaking hand dabbed ineffectually at the wound.
“That’s not… not all of it,” Rob stammered, teeth chattering. “The people… oh Christ they got up again.”
Rosalind frowned. “That’s good, that means-”
“No,” Rob interjected. “You don’t understand. The dead ones got back up again!”
“Is this some sort of sick joke?” she asked, and he gave her a look that made her shiver too.
“The lines are down,” Michael announced grimly as he came back in.
“Are you joking?” Rob winced and snatched the napkin from Rosalind’s hand.
“It’s not unusual when it’s stormy,” Michael replied tersely. “We are in the middle of nowhere as your producer was so fond of saying.”
“Should we go and try to help?” Rosalind asked.
“No!” Rob exclaimed. “I told you, the dead got back up again, like some bloody zombie movie.”
“You must have made a mistake,” she replied. “You’re in shock.” When he shook his head, she said “Look, if this is some sort of “end of shoot” joke it’s not funny. Right Michael?”
She turned to see his face, but saw that he was hurrying to the window to look out at the storm. His glance toward that sack didn’t escape her notice. He pulled back the curtain and pressed his nose to the glass, cupping his hands around his eyes to block out the glare from the room behind him. “It’s filthy weather out there, no wonder the phone lines are down.”
“This isn’t a trick,” Rob said in a shaking voice. “I saw them-”
A loud thunk against the window cut him short, they both turned to see a man the colour of china clay pressed against the window, his head lolling at a nauseating angle. He banged on the window, then drew back before hurling himself through the glass and into the room as Rosalind screamed. The wind blasted into the room with him as he grabbed hold of Michael and knocked him to the floor, clawing at his face and neck.
As he held the man’s hands from his throat, Michael yelled “The sack! Open the sack!” but Rosalind couldn’t move, it was like her brain had disconnected from her body and all she could do was watch through the two small windows of her eyes.
Rob on the other hand sprang into action like a movie hero, grabbing the large candelabra from the middle of the table as he scrabbled across it. He walloped the attacker across the head, and as his head was knocked back, Rosalind realised that the slavering, grey skinned attacker was the Director of Photography.
Rob pulled him off Michael, who struggled to his feet and then leapt for the sack. He grabbed it, all the while the wind’s howl, the guttural moaning of the assailant now fighting Rob and Rosalind’s screams filling the room. Rosalind felt a hand seize her wrist, took a breath to scream some more, but realised that it was Michael pulling her out of the room with him.
She was half dragged up the stairs, hearing the crashing of more windows breaking, her flimsy high heels inadequate for their flight. When she slipped on the stairs, Michael hefted her up onto his shoulder and she found herself upside down in a fireman’s lift, her head next to the sack which was hung over his other shoulder. It smelt musty, and cold radiated from it, like she was hung next to an open fridge.
She heard Rob calling for help, but before she could gather her thoughts she found herself being carried up a second staircase, three stairs at a time, towards the top floor of the mansion. He ran the long corridor which formed the spine of the house, the moans and crashing sounds muffled by the floors and ceilings below them.
She was planted back down on the floor, as Michael reached up toward the ceiling at the end of the hallway. He hadn’t switched on any of the lights, she could barely see her hand in front of her face, so she clung to him, feeling his body stretching upwards.
There was a loud creak and he moved her aside as he pulled down a loft ladder. She was ushered up it as he followed with the sack still over his shoulder, to then pull it up behind them, gathering in the cord so it wasn’t exposed below. For a few moments there was nothing but the sound of them panting.
“Is there a light?” she whispered.
“Yes, but we should leave it off.”
“They won’t see it in the attic, will they? Please, please turn it on,” she whimpered.
There was a long pause then she heard him move, a click and the loft was lit by a single bulb hanging from the eaves. The attic space at this end of the house had been converted into an extra room with stud board walls, and those walls were covered with newspaper clippings, movie posters and pictures.
Every single one featured either her name in the headline or her photo and most often both.
He stood beneath the light bulb, the sack still gripped tightly but now by his side, blushing.
“I don’t know what to say,” he mumbled. “‘I’m your number one fan’ it seems…”
“It’s okay,” she lied, feeling that none of this was even remotely okay, but the last thing she was going to do was antagonise a stalker with zombies rampaging downstairs. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “Rob! We left Rob behind!”
He shook his head. “We can’t go back down there; I heard more of them coming in.”
“What are we going to do?” she whispered, trying so hard not to look at the pictures, or him, or the creepy sack for that matter. She resorted to staring at the loft hatch, the ladder folded beside it.
He didn’t answer immediately, but sat down next to her and put his arm around her. She wanted to push him away, but she had to be careful. He was obviously insane, this was all insane. She had to hold it together now.
“I meant what I said downstairs, before all this happened,” he whispered, curling a lock of her long blonde hair around his finger.
It made her feel sick.
“I don’t even understand what has happened,” she replied, steering away from his obsession. “Don, the photography director, he looked… like his neck was broken.” She felt him nod, but kept her eyes fixed on the hatch. “Rob was right, it is like a zombie film. It can’t be real, surely. They must all be down there right now, having a drink and laughing their asses off. Right?”
He turned to look at her, it was clear he didn’t agree. “I think I know what’s happening,” he said softly. He looked down at the sack.
She remembered when he was attacked. “Why did you want the sack to be opened?” she asked hesitantly. “It’s a weird thing to yell, you know, when… you know.” When he didn’t reply, she came out with it. “What’s in the sack Michael?”
He looked at her, his dark eyes shadowed by his frown. “Death.”
She blinked. “Death?”
“Yes,” he replied flatly. “I caught Death in this sack. I did it for you.”
A loud thump made her jump, made him tighten his grip on her. A moan rose through the floorboards; a zombie had followed them up the stairs, down the corridor, and sounded like he was prowling the hallway below.
“They followed us,” she whispered.
“They can sense it,” he replied, stroking her hair. “They’re looking for Death, I’m sure of it.”
She couldn’t stop herself from shaking. “Stop it, you’re frightening me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just telling you the truth. It’s how I could make you that offer. I caught Death in this bag so you and I will never die. We’ll stay as we are. Together, forever.”
She clenched her teeth, forcing herself to think. “If that’s true,” she said, “surely we’d still get old? We’d just never die, it would be awful.”
“No, I don’t believe that,” he replied quickly. “Death ages us by stealing the life from us every day. Then in the end he takes your whole life. Now he’s in this sack,” he tilted his head towards it, “he can’t take anything from us.”
The sound of the moaning was getting louder, a chilling harmonic of differing pitches below.
“But it also means that they’re not dead, when they should be,” Rosalind reasoned, pointing a finger at the loft hatch. She struggled to believe that she was even saying these words in real life; she wanted someone to call “Cut!” but she had the feeling they weren’t going to do that.
– Hide quoted text –
“I suppose so,” he said quietly. “It wasn’t part of the plan.”
“You planned this?” the question escaped her lips before she could rein it in.
He nodded. “I saw that the studio was scouting for a location and I’d pieced some clues together that it was for your next film. Once you were here and I got to know you, I knew my love hadn’t been wasted. You were just as beautiful as in the films. No, more so. Perfect.” He gazed at her hair. “I knew what I had to do, so I did it, I caught Death this evening whilst you were waving everybody off. I knew he’d be here, I planned everything.”
“How did you know he’d be here?” she asked, drawn in, believing him despite herself. He didn’t reply. He simply looked away towards the sack. Desperate to keep him sweet, she tried again, “How did you trap Death in that old sack?”
“It’s not just an old sack,” he whispered. “It’s been in my family for generations. An ancestor of mine, a soldier, traded it for his last biscuit. It traps anything that I order into it.”
She couldn’t recall whether it was better to encourage a psychopath’s delusion or to challenge it. “If you opened the sack, would he come out?”
“If I released him, yes.”
“Then those zombies – I mean people – would die… properly, and we’d be safe, right?”
“Yes, I suppose we would be.”
“Then Michael, please,” she implored, not even sure what she believed, “open the sack.”
He sighed and loosened his grip on the Hessian. “Death, I give you permission to leave,” he said, loud enough to make the zombies gathering beneath them moan even louder.
The light flickered. The room smelt of damp earth briefly and Rosalind felt something like a cold sigh waft past her, then there was the sound of several thuds below them, and the moaning finally stopped.
Michael sighed. “It’s done.”
She extricated herself from his grip and lifted the hatch slowly. She squealed and dropped it when she caught sight of her make up artist’s glassy eyes staring up at her. Several other bodies, mercifully still, were down there too, but she didn’t give herself time to take it in. Good God, did this mean he’d actually been telling the truth?
“It’s over!” she said, sinking to her knees, feeling suddenly exhausted. She expected him to say something, anything, like any relieved person would, but he didn’t. “Are you alright?” she asked, wondering if shock was setting in.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It depends on you. Will you stay with me? Even though I can’t give you eternal youth?”
She bit her lip. “Look, Michael, I’m flattered, but after tonight, I just want to go home to London. And see my therapist. And my manicurist. This place… well, I just don’t want to stay here. It’s been…” she glanced at the clippings all over the walls, “wonderful to meet you, and you have a beautiful home, but I have a life in London. A career, you know?”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” he sighed, opening the sack slowly. “Rosalind Wilder, I command you to get into this sack.”
She found herself walking towards it, even though she didn’t want to, even though she started to scream inside, even though she willed her legs to stop walking. As she climbed into the musty sack, tears rolling down her cheeks, her breath catching in her lungs, she saw him smiling at her. That same smile as the one downstairs over dinner.
“I’ll take care of you,” he whispered as he tucked wayward strands of her hair into the sack. “You said in The Daily Mail on October 4th 2009 that you’d be happy to be a kept woman, that there was no shame in being taken care of by a man that loves you.” She strained to call out, but nothing emerged. All she could do was curl up as the fabric was gathered, the gap closing above her. “I love you Rosalind. I’ll never let you go.”