Chapter 1

   Green eyes the color of moss growing on rocks. Nice. He liked them. No, loved them, had to have those eyes, watch as they turned into liquid pools of black and the soul seeped out of them and into him.
   He couldn’t see it happen but could feel it. That hot tendril of life pierced his chest and curled lazily in his gut.  That’s what happened with the first one, and oh it felt good—a sensation so tangible that, if he tried, he could reach out and snatch it from the air.
   But he didn’t want to taint her soul; to do so might lessen the effect and he wanted to experience every pulsating moment. Tightness spread through his groin. He breathed deeply, exhaled and stared at the woman on the splintered floor.
   Kneeling, he pressed two fingers against her cool neck. He could barely feel life pulse through the latex glove.
Folds of her cream-colored dress tangled about her thighs, covered in pasty white stockings. Her hair—ratted, sprayed and stiff—resembled steel wool. The heavy makeup looked just as unnatural.
   He returned to the bathroom with pull-chain toilet and enamel sink, cracked and loose from its pipe. A single flame from the grimy lamp sent shadows twisting over peeled wallpaper, fissures in the ceiling, and boarded-over windows through which weak shards of twilight seeped. He spread plastic over the rust-stained bathtub, tucked it into place, considered taping it down but why bother. She could no longer struggle. And there wouldn’t be as much blood as there had been with the first one.
   With his fists he pushed himself up, stepped into the front room and let his vision readjust to the dimness. He needed to collect the fragments hidden in three women’s souls, the pieces that would blend into the single woman he’d lost years ago.
   After this, all he required was one more. Already he’d found her. Tonight he would give her the gift of his reflection. Wherever she went, he would know. Whatever she felt, he would feel. And when it was time, he’d capture her eyes—those inquisitive, haunting green eyes.
   Three Mason jars sat on a two-by-four brace between wooden supports, exposed where the sheetrock had been ripped away. One held milky orbs, slightly flattened, their color faded now that Stella’s soul was gone. The other two waited to be filled.
   “One more,” he whispered as he set the battery operated CD player to repeat. Soothing music caressed the air.
   He returned his attention to the woman on the floor, gripped beneath her arms and dragged her toward the bathroom. Her foot caught where age and moisture had rotted the wood. Sweat broke out across his upper lip. With a sharp tug he freed her foot. The force sent him crashing against the doorframe. Her head struck the floor. She moaned softly with a hint of vibrato. He hadn’t made a mistake; she had an exquisite voice.
   He reinforced his hold, pulled her into the bathroom, propped her on the tub’s edge and rolled her inside.
She peered up at him. Her eyes, black framed by thin green rings, widened. Then the lids drooped. Still drowsy. He’d get her to open those eyes, but didn’t want a fight. Didn’t want to hit her.
   There had been enough fighting in his life. After those long nights when Mom suffered the beatings and she screamed—oh, how she had screamed—she had taken him into her room. There, she played beautiful music and told him stories.
   Love. Betrayal. Revenge. Triumph.
   All those years ago, as a child huddled in fear against her breast, he’d made a pact with himself that he’d never hit a woman.
   Killing them. That was different. It was what he had to do.

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