Nip Point

TW: violence, suggestions of rape

Summary: A woman unwittingly falls into the hands of a killer the moment she walks into work.

Liz saw them as soon as she walked into the reception area of the Chippewa Paper Mill bright orange helmets lined up outside the doors to the machine floor. Each helmet sat atop a pile of meticulously folded clothes.

She immediately recognized a turquoise blouse as Autumn’s. There was Marvin’s helmet with the Red Wings sticker slapped crooked on the front from when they’d won the Stanley Cup back in ‘08. She spotted a pair of khaki pants in another pile with a crease so sharp Liz imagined cutting her finger on it. She guessed they were Derek, the night manager’s. And at the end of the line she saw her husband Ron’s black and red striped polo shirt. Eleven piles of clothes and helmets. One for each person that worked the night shift.

This must be a weird joke, Liz thought. She let out a half-laugh when she realized the joke must be meant for her. They knew she’d be the first one in for the morning shift; she and Ron liked to steal time together before he went home and she began her day.

As Liz walked onto the machine floor, she found work boots blocking her way. Someone had tied their laces together and strung them like a gate between the pulp tanks. She noticed red smears on their heels.

“Ron?” she yelled, and the room returned her voice. She realized that this end of the factory was silent the loud agitators in the pulp tanks, the pulpers, the boilers held their breath; the sprayers crouched overhead mid-pass. Yellow and black signs saying NIP POINT stared out at her from the walls, unblinking reminders of how dangerous the machinery was when the mill was fully active.  

“This isn’t funny, guys.” The echo repeated eyes.

As Liz untied the boots, she felt a presence. Derek was standing behind her, naked, pointing a gun at her head. Liz saw that underneath the pressed creases of the khakis he wore he hid a myriad of tattoos. Bible verses twined around his biceps and thighs, circled his pecs, and fell like vines down his abdomen.

“Hands,” he commanded. Liz stuck hers out and Derek tethered them together. Then he marched her down the aisle past the row of freight elevators. One of the doors was cracked open. Liz saw Marvin, the hockey fan, inside as she walked by. His naked body slumped on the floor; the eyes in his severed head stared back at her from the top of the utility table.

“Why did you come in here?” Derek whispered. “You should have heeded my warnings.”

He walked her into the farthest of the freight elevators and used a piece of rope already hanging from the railing to tie her up. Ron was there, too. In the back. He was naked, gagged, and strapped to a chair. Blood pooled at his feet. Liz could see that the blood came from Ron’s hands; all of his fingernails had been removed.

Liz screamed Ron’s name. She fought hard against the rope that bound her hands. Derek quickly pulled the gag out of Ron’s mouth and forced it into Liz’s. He replaced the gun in his hand with a boxcutter he grabbed from underneath the chair, pinned Liz’s legs to the floor and cut at her clothes as she tried to buck him off. He hummed to himself as he worked. When he had ripped her bra off, he left her alone in the elevator.

After a few moments she heard the low hum of one of the machines starting up. She began to tremble. She knew what these machines did. She imagined being crushed or boiled alive.

Liz snapped her mind into focus. Ok, if I can hold him off the rest of the morning shift should be here any minute. She surveyed her surroundings. There was Ron either passed out or dead in the chair, his blood on the floor, and nothing else. The elevator’s operational buttons shone bright just above her bound hands, but she knew the elevator wouldn’t move unless both the wooden gate and the jaws of the heavy automatic doors were closed. Flinging her legs, she reached toward Ron. When she felt the warmth of his blood on her, she used her body to wet the floor.

“Looks like we’re meeting our Lord and Savior together,” Derek sing-songed as he stepped back into the elevator. He slipped immediately in Ron’s blood and threw his hands out to the walls to steady himself. Liz instinctively tried to block his fall with her arms, but the rope strangled her wrists. When she looked up, she saw Derek’s hairy torso above her. He had become aroused. She focused her gaze on the ceiling.

“Tricky girl,” Derek said with a grin. He righted himself and reached over her head to press the button that closed the automatic doors. A NIP POINT sign stuck to the top door blinked into view. When the elevator started moving, Liz remembered that they were in the broken one. It still moved with the gate up.

They stopped on the second floor. Liz knew there was only equipment and nip points to the open vats of the pulp boilers up here. Derek pressed the button to reopen the doors. She waited a beat and then kicked her legs back, pressing the Close button at the same time. Derek fell forward, his head poking through the still-open doors until they clamped down on his neck. Liz heard a crunch before the doors’ safeguard stopped it from closing.

His naked body was angled over her and his arms and legs kept convulsing, grabbing, stretching. She heard the whirrs and crackles of Derek trying to inhale. It only took a few minutes for his arms to fall limp, resting on bloody hips. All she could do now was wait.

This story was a submission to a judged flash fiction contest. Here were the judges’ comments:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –

{1686}  The story sets out on a dark path from the beginning, with the initial misdirection creating a greater sense of alarm when it is revealed that this is no innocent joke.…  {1614}  I like how the protagonist manages to save herself and her husband through resistance and cleverness. While Derek tries to take away her choices, Liz ultimately decides who lives and dies, showcasing great agency.…
{1702}  I like that your hero makes it out alive! Good for her, being super resourceful under intense amounts of pressure. Your story’s pacing is also incredibly fast, which is great. Your descriptions, such as the one about the Red Wings sticker, are fantastic because they’re so specific. Great job there.…

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –
{1686}  While the events of the story are horrific and there is a lot of violence and action, consider playing with suspense and more understated ways of raising readers’ hackles to bring out a deeper sense of horror. In some places, less may be more; for example, leaving the last sentence off this paragraph could actually increase the sense of foreboding:  “After a few moments she heard the low hum of one of the machines starting up. She began to tremble. She knew what these machines did.”

The beginning is headed this way already.

Perhaps expand on Derek’s ideology or show more subtle signs of his emotional imbalance.…

{1614}  A little more background on Derek and what’s driving his psychopathy would help ground the narrative. Additionally, you might consider revisiting the moments of action and adjusting the prose to read more quickly. For example, taking advantage of more frequent line breaks.…

{1702}  After reading you story, I feel like there were several unanswered questions that, if answered to some degree, might make your story stronger. Why did Derek want to kill the whole night crew? Moreover, how did Derek kill 12 or so people in the span of a few hours without anyone apparently noticing? What’s a “nip point?” Did the broken elevator’s safety not work? Is that how it was able to crush his esophagus? Answering or clarifying these questions to varying degrees could really help strengthen your already strong story.…

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