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The New Rumplestiltskin

Graham twitched awake and immediately found himself not only bound and gagged, but in deep confusion about how he’d ended up in that state. As his eyes dragged painfully open, they adjusted to the low light and the truth began to filter into his consciousness. Within a couple of minutes, his brain had managed to piece together each disparate and seemingly irrelevant memory, and the picture this left him with was almost beyond belief.

Images of his tiny daughter, also bound and gagged, were printed onto large posters which also displayed a few scrawled words of black marker pen startling against the flat white background. “Fess Up Or She Gets It” the posters said.

This was not where he expected to find himself when he’d woken for the first time that morning. At 7am his alarm had run and he’d speedily dressed, ready to leave the house. He’d been positive and cheerful, looking forward to his meetings that afternoon, and to the kids’ party to be held at the indoor play area just down the round. His daughter, aged only three, had been awake for two hours, bouncing around happily, excited at the prospect of princess dresses, snack food, sweeties, and running round with friends.

But he’d opened the fridge for a rummage, looking for an individual tetrapak of orange juice to take with him in the car. He’d heard a noise, and after that could remember nothing.

Graham Harvey had been living the weekday morning dream. Then he wasn’t.

He looked again at the “Fess Up Or She Gets It” poster: a sheet of A4 with letters scrawled onto it with a thick royal blue marker pen in uneducated script.

Torn, as he usually was, between two different and diametrically opposed dialogues, he queried his senses about whether it would be best to shout out and demand rescue, or whether it would be wisest to sit still and wait. He decided on the latter, mainly because he didn’t had the energy for confrontation, and the bleeding cut at the back of his head was still both seeping and throbbing. After all, he’d been removed forcibly from his home and had been brought here. Surely that meant that the kidnapper must have been expecting something from him that wasn’t just money. He could have done it in a very different way if he’d only wanted the money. Still, it was an unusual way of demanding a ransom – to take the payee and leave the tiny, defenceless child.

Was that what had happened to his little girl?

And what did ‘Fess Up’ mean?

The thought hadn’t occurred to him till that moment.

His senses perked into action and he realised, for the first time, where he had been imprisoned. He was in Travis’s basement. The unused weight training equipment and the overstuffed, fading corner sofa gave it away. He’d been down there many a time watching football or rugby, knocking back a few cans, and shouting with jubilation at every goal.

So, Travis had found out. Graham should have anticipated such an extreme reaction. After all, a man was really asking for it when he embarked upon an affair with his best friend’s wife. Damn it.

That computer obsessed geek, Travis must have got away with it too, otherwise Graham would not be in this position - tethered and forced to stare at images on the walls of that small room.

Woozily, he attempted to rise from his position on the floor, and as he did so, the television sprung into action. Graham struggled to his usual seat on the sofa and watched as the screen came to life in a psychedelic swirl of garish colour.

The voice of a person he’d considered a friend, began to speak.

‘Mr Graham Harvey. You’ve been a bad, bad boy, haven’t you? Oh, yes, I know all about you and Debbie. She confessed. I admit under duress. And now it is time for you to fess up to your lovely lady wife, Shelley. She’ll be wondering where your sweet little daughter has got to, and wondering if you’re with her. Poor woman, it’s so cruel to rid her of the two millstones round her neck. But not as cruel as having an affair. With MY wife.’

Graham sat open-mouthed.

‘So, there are two things you need to do. First, you need to write a letter to Shelley. You need to tell her exactly what has been going on. No coded sentences. No clues as to your position or welfare. When finished, you need to push it under the door. I’ll deliver it to Shelley.’

‘What’s the second thing?’ asked Graham.

The voice cut in. Clearly a recording. ‘You’ll no doubt be wondering about the second thing. You’ll find out soon enough.’

The television cut off and the room’s lights came on, exposing a pad of lined A4 paper and a blunt but still useable pencil on the coffee table. Graham leaned across and began to write.

It was difficult to express all he needed to say in words, and without his wife in front of him. Really Debbie meant nothing. It was all about sex. There was no love involved, but how could he ever get Shelley to understand? He rubbed his eyes with his palms then placed the pencil’s lead on the page. He began to write…

There’s no need to go into detail about what his letter related. Suffice it to say it was the same excuse-making self-pitying rubbish that every other similar letter would include. It wouldn’t be enough to stop Shelley being upset. But nothing in this situation would be enough.

Graham got up with a little struggle, and made his way to the door at the top of the wooden basement steps. He pushed the paper under the door, in silence, and returned to the sofa.

He watched the clock. Six minutes later a voice came from behind the door. It was the same voice as had appeared on the television earlier.

‘Your letter is inadequate, but, quite frankly, anything would be inadequate. She deserves better.’

‘I know. I’m sorry, Travis.’

‘It isn’t me who needs the apology, is it?’


A silence.

‘So, I’m just going to wander round to see Shelley. I’m going to hand your letter to her, and comfort the poor girl in whatever way I see fit.’

Graham winced. No, not that.

‘What about the second thing I have to do?’

‘Ah yes, my nasty neighbour, Graham. Your next task is to guess my name.’

‘I know your name. You’re called…’

‘No. Travis is a name I’ve been using for quite some time, but it’s not the one I was born with. Give it a thought, and I’ll be back later.’

‘No, wait… Why are you doing this to me? When are you going to let me out? What are you going to tell Shelley?’

But it was too late. Travis was gone.

How the hell was Graham going to work out the name of a man he could only see as Travis Fylde? Sighing and aching both physically and with the agony of heartache at the upset his wife would be experiencing, Graham again picked up the paper and pencil and began to write.

He had fallen into a disturbed slumber by the time Travis returned and again stood outside the basement door.

‘Graham,’ he wheedled. ‘Where are you, lovely neighbour?’

Graham woke with a jump. ‘How is Shelley? Is she alright?’

‘Dear dear,’ said Travis. ‘We can’t ask questions till we’ve answered the one I asked. What is my name?’

‘Why do I have to do this?’ Graham asked. ‘It’s like that scene on “Father Ted” where Mrs Doyle has to work out that a priest’s name is Todd Unctious. Or when the girl imprisoned and forced to work to spin something or other into gold, was forced to work out the name of Rumplestiltskin.’

‘Ah yes,’ said Travis. ‘Only on this occasion, there’s a lot more at risk than a little bit of forced imprisonment or forced labour. But, as you’re so ridiculously stupid, I’ll go easy on you. I’ll allow you to guess my two names independently. Right. On your marks, get set go.’

Graham stumbled to turn back to the correct page in the notepad. Mentally he extracted all the first names from the list, and he reeled off each one. Alex, Sam, David, John… then some slightly more unusual names – Sheldon, Gabriel, Cameron. The silence was deafening. Graham continued with a few other more of the uncommon names – Vincent, Frank, Albert…

A shout from outside the door informed him that the last name he had read out was correct.

‘So you know I’m Grant,’ he said. ‘Second name. Ready steady, go…’

It was a lot more difficult and it wasn’t helped by the fact that Graham was still dopey from his kidnapping. He listed surnames from his family, his friends, his work colleagues, famous singers, famous writers… but still there was silence outside the door.

‘I can’t think of any more,’ he said, with a massive sigh.

‘Oh dear,’ said Travis/Grant. ‘Shall I give you a diddy little clue? Alright, dear neighbour, I’ll do you a tiny poem. My first is in love but not in hate. My second’s in pear and also in date. My third is in lemon but not in crime. My fourth is in punishment and also in lime. Have a think about it. I’ll be back.’

Graham spent almost an hour trying to work out all possible configurations, and there was only one name he could come up with. Vale. Grant Vale. But he was sure he knew the name from somewhere. He must have picked it up from the television.

But then it sprung into his consciousness. Oh no. Oh, very, very, definitely no.

Grant Vale. Grant Vale.

Serial killer Grant Vale. Revenge killer Grant Vale. Gone to ground Grant Vale.

And it was at that precise moment that Graham Harvey realised that pretty much the most inadvisable thing you could ever do was to have a love affair with a serial killer’s wife.

He lay on the sofa and resigned himself to his fate.

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