Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Weekly Short Story: The Tradesman

writing, fiction & once upon a time 4 min read

On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including science fiction, horror, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published four ebooks and one paperback anthology of those stories so far.

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The redecorating work at our rental property is virtually done now, and I’ll soon forget all the effort that went into it, only to be surprised by it again the next time we’re between tenants.

When I work, I tend to wear overalls because it’s convenient. I don’t have to change my clothes entirely, and when I’m done for the day I can just take the overalls off, leave them ready to pick up again the next morning, and get straight into the car. They also provide practical protection against various stains and hazards. I leave them on for my meal and snack breaks, and often I’ll wander outside with my flask of coffee to just sit on a step or on the kerb, and watch the world drift by. In doing so, I quickly notice the particular kind of invisibility that workwear confers.

I think that we’re interested in others for as long as it takes to categorise them, then our interest wanes. Unambiguously self-defining is a way to accelerate that process, and when your chosen category is a mundane sort of archetype, the recognition process is so quick that it’s almost like camouflage. I truly believe that most of the people who saw me in my paint-spattered working clothes wouldn’t have been able to remember me at all, even moments later — and there’s power in that realisation.


After I kill them, I mow their lawn.

Or something equivalent. Sometimes I mend a fence, or touch up some paintwork. I’ve replaced broken panes of glass in outbuildings, tidied flowerbeds, and I have even repaired a faulty sprinkler system. A neighbour will always come over eventually, and I speak to them pleasantly but briefly, explaining that the homeowners contracted me for the work but were unexpectedly called away on some family matter.

Without fail, they forget me within moments.

There are socioeconomic factors at work, of course. I never kill anyone who lives in the sorts of places where tradesmen make their homes. The places where they are seen as people, rather than something else; those who visit to perform work, and then leave again, taking away their mess and their tools and their cigarettes and their slack diction.

I kill where I can be invisible, shielded by prejudice that’s so ingrained as to be invisible too.

I think I could drag one of their bodies from the front door in a black waste sack, straight to the tidy bins hidden by a custom-made wooden enclosure, and wave to their neighbours on the way. I think I could get away with even that. I’d like to try someday.

Today, I’ve chosen a prosecuting attorney and his family. There’s no reason behind it, because reasons are links and connections, and they lead only in one direction: to prison. The truly random killing is always the safest. I don’t discriminate — unlike many of those whose lives I’ve taken.

There have been exactly forty-seven to date, spanning some thirteen years and substantial distances. I’m in no hurry. I have no agenda. I simply enjoy my work. The police have never connected the dots, because there are no dots to connect. There’s no open case file on a serial killer. It would be amateurish to allow such a situation to develop.

The lawyer went easily enough. I arrived in an unassuming, battered, and never again to be seen vehicle, removed a small toolbox that I’d kicked for almost an hour last weekend before leaving it in a greenhouse overnight, picked up a tin of paint in my other hand, and went straight around to the back of the house. My gait spoke of calm, weary, resigned confidence; I was completely entitled to be there. I left the toolbox and paint near the back entrance, knocked the door, and it was answered by the puzzled and slightly irritated-looking lawyer a few moments later. I put a blade directly into his left atrium, and another into his brain stem.

It was a silent kill, as usual. I knew that the only other person in the house was his wife, and I could hear a hair dryer running upstairs, so I took the time to shut the door. Their vehicles were inside the closed garage, hidden from the street, and I’d been watching for several hours beforehand to ensure none of the neighbours had seen the occupants today.

I approached the wife and had almost reached her when she shifted her gaze in the mirror. The look of surprise and fright was short-lived. I put her corpse in the master bath, and when I went back downstairs I pushed the husband’s body down the basement steps. With that done, I attended to cleaning the public areas of the house that had been sullied with blood, and then I went outside. My toolbox contained a few craftsman’s essentials but also brushes, and so I set about painting the three back steps from top to bottom. I used single-coat weather seal, which in the climate and conditions would be touch dry in less than an hour. A second coat would be preferable, but for practical reasons I decided against it. The red was going over brown, so the finish should be acceptable.

When I returned to my van, an older lady walking an impractically small and defenceless dog smiled at me, and nodded at my burden.

“Good to see a man doing some honest work at this hour,” she said, in a tone that was simultaneously solicitous and judgemental, and I just nodded humbly and smiled in a dull-witted sort of way.

I don’t exist to you, I thought. And in a moment I’ll vanish.

She seemed satisfied, and she led her little toy animal away. I watched her go, knowing that if I called out to her, she’d be startled to recall that anyone else was there. But I didn’t call out, and my only regret was that I couldn’t come back to claim her too.

Instead, I put my meagre things into my van and I drove away — out of her entire world forever, in search of someone new.


That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions; I’d love to hear from you; you can find me on Twitter.

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