Tracey peered through the hatch into the waiting room. Hannah had already shut down reception and locked the surgery door, but there was one client waiting. A tall man wearing a blue suit and a felt hat – was it called a fedora? – with a grey and blue plastic cat box resting on his lap.
She stretched, trying to work the kinks out of her neck. It was already nearly 8pm and after seeing the last client of evening surgery and making sure the admitted animals were sorted for the night, she’d be lucky if she got home before ten. She had a cold dinner and an even colder shoulder from Steve to look forward to by the time she climbed into bed.
The computer said the man’s name was Mr Thread and he was bringing in his cat, Tickles, because there was something wrong with his tongue.
“All right, Mr Thread, you can bring Tickles in to me now.” Tracey called through the hatch as she spritz down the examination table with disinfectant.
The man was so tall he had to stoop as he walked through the door, and his body was concentration camp thin. He wore a black mask, obscuring his face, the colour at odds with his immaculately tailored blue suit. Tracey felt put back. Despite the man’s lean frame he seemed to dominate the room, looming over her. She didn’t like that all she could see of his face was a strip of shadow between his mask and his hat where his eyes should have been.
“Thread. That’s an unusual name. Any relation to the tailors on the high street? My husband, Steve, got his morning suit there for our wedding.”
The man inclined his head in reply. He placed the cat box on the examination table.
“So Tickles is poorly. How long has he been sick? Has he been able to eat or drink?”
Tracey undid the locks on the mesh door while she spoke and reached carefully into the cat box. She didn’t encounter the warm fluffy body she expected, but something cold and leathery instead. She gripped it and pulled it out. She held a huge old black boot, the upper coming away from the sole and the tongue flopping out at an odd angle.
Tracey didn’t know what she was looking at. It was so different from what she expected. She looked up at Mr Thread, frowning. “Is this a joke?”
Mr Thread’s voice was a mixture of the gurgle of man drowning in his own blood and the screech of nails on a chalk board. He reached into his jacket and extracted a roll of tools, which he carefully laid out on the examination table. Tracey recognized the gleaming instruments. They could have been the tools of a tailor, or a surgeon.
She shrank back against the wall of medicines. Mr Thread stood between her and the door. The surgery was located down a lane in a little courtyard, well away from the other businesses. No one would hear her scream.
As the man’s long fingers carefully extracted what looked like a filleting knife from his roll of tools, Tracey filled a syringe with anesthetic. When he reached for her, she plunged it into his wrist, hoping she hit as near to a vein as possible. She fought him, but he was too strong. Suddenly he lurched, collapsing against the exam table. She flung herself at the hatch and wriggled through with a speed that surprised her. She fell onto the reception desk and rolled onto the floor, collapsing against something wet and squishy.
A woman, expertly skinned.
Tracey scrabbled to her feet and ran to the surgery door. The locks wouldn’t cooperate but then she was outside and running up the lane, screaming for help with words that came out wrong.
A group of teenagers caught her as she exploded onto Main Street. A couple of girls gave her vodka from their juice bottles while a boy phoned the police. They waited with her until the flashing lights and sirens barreled up the road, and then they melted away into the darkened alleys.
The police shouted into crackling radios as they ran down the alley and searched the surgery with German Shepherds. They found Hannah’s skinned body, but Mr Thread, his tools and his catbox, were gone.
This story is dedicated to Bruce Goodman, an amazing author and a good friend.
Somehow Mister Thread has squeezed his way into Bruce’s stories. Click here to read about him.