KendallReviews brings you Chapter One of dark crime thriller Enter The Dark, the debut novel from Chris Thomas.
An anonymous website, a few clicks, and Joe Henderson’s life is changed forever.
‘The Red Room’ is the only place where the failings of a weak justice system are righted and where the line between good and evil becomes blurred. When the lights go up, viewers bid, criminals are punished, and the Brotherhood of the Righteous broadcasts a show like no other.
The room has remained hidden until now, when a video arrives in the inbox of the Metropolitan Police Cyber Crime Unit. But outclassed, outplayed, and torn apart by corruption, is there anything Detective Pete Harris and his team can do except watch?
Their only lead may be the room’s latest bidder, Joe Henderson. Because when Joe found the Red Room, it found him too, and now the Brotherhood are watching through the wires, willing to do wrong for a righteous cause.
As they pull Joe deeper into the dark web, will he find any mercy or a way out? And could he be the Red Room’s next volunteer?
Enter The Dark – Chris Thomas
“Ladies and gentlemen of the deep web, I bid you welcome!” said the figure striding towards the camera. In one outstretched hand he held a microphone, in the other, a gold clipboard. He wore a dark grey boiler suit, patterned like a tuxedo, and if it wasn’t for the white and green clown mask obscuring his face, this could easily have been mistaken for any primetime Saturday evening family variety show.
His footsteps echoed as he walked across the cold grey floor of the warehouse. Behind him, a white glow from the double doors illuminated the cloudy fog of dry ice through which he had just walked. The doors closed. Above them hung a large sign, red letters and yellow light bulbs blinking hypnotically, spelling out The Red Room.
In front of him were the camera operator and two others; one tapped away on a laptop, the other fiddled with a small box of controls. The latter turned a small knob on the control panel and the thumping techno soundtrack that had accompanied the man faded out to silence. All three gave a thumbs up. The lights came up and the man stopped.
“Good evening,” he said, holding the microphone to his mouth. “Welcome to the latest instalment of The Red Room. We’re The Brotherhood of the Righteous, I’m the Host, and have we got a show for you tonight! Please say a big hello to our latest ‘volunteer’.”
With that the doors opened again, and silhouetted against the light were two burly masked figures, goons, wearing 1980s-style red tracksuits with white stripes on the legs and arms. In between them, struggling for all his worth, was a portly figure dressed in a tight white t-shirt and white y-front underpants. On his head was a hessian sack marked with a big red ‘V’.
They frogmarched him down towards the Host, who spoke into the microphone.
“Here he is, people. Mister Gary Sweetman. You may remember him from twenty-twelve, when he was arrested for grooming and holding hostage two thirteen-year-old boys from the football club where he worked as a youth coach. Because of serious flaws in the police investigation, the judge could only jail him for a maximum of… wait for it … four months. Well, tonight you’re going to put that right. Start placing your bids!”
A large monitor descended from the warehouse ceiling on two heavy chains. On it were a list of ten indiscernible nicknames, and next to each was a number.
Slowly, the numbers began to change, and with them the order of names, ranking from highest to lowest. After a few seconds, the screen resembled a stock market trading screen; a flashing, blinking mix of names and numbers as more people joined in, bidding higher and higher amounts.
The two goons sat the man down on a wooden chair and buckled his wrists and ankles tightly to it. As he struggled in vain to free himself, the Host reached out and grabbed the top of the sack.
“Ladies and gentleman, I give you …” and then he quickly pulled the sack off, revealing the face of a chubby man with bruises and dried blood around his eyes and mouth.
Sweetman blinked and shook his head, desperately trying to acclimatise his eyes to the bright light that beamed down on his face. Clearly, he had no idea where he was; this was the first light he had seen since being snatched from outside his house two days ago.
“Where am I? Who the fuck are you?” he spluttered, his eyes wide with terror.
“Gary, Gary. So many questions,” said the Host, sympathetically, as he walked around the chair, placing a comforting hand on the man’s shoulders. “You’re here because you’re special. A chosen one, if you will. You were convicted of committing the most heinous of crimes and yet you received a punishment that has been deemed unacceptable.”
“What? Unacceptable by who? I served my sentence, I’m a free man, and you have no fucking right to do this,” he retorted, mustering a little more defiance.
“The people, Gary. The people whose taxes had to pay for your charade of a trial. The same people whose taxes will have to pay to support the young boys as they try to recover from the ordeal that you put them through.”
“You can’t do this. Let me go!”
“Sorry, Gary. The rules are very clear on this. You have been chosen and you will answer. These good people have paid their bitcoins and there are a few things that they want to know.”
“This can’t be–” he started, but was cut off by a hand over his mouth whilst the Host turned to face the screen.
The Host glanced over his shoulder at the laptop operator, who prodded the enter key and gave another thumbs up. Turning back towards the screen, the Host looked up.
“And it is… ‘SliderMonkey’. And with a massive seven bitcoins as well, fantastic. Welcome to the show, Slider, what’s your question?”
“I’m not answering anything, you bastard,” shouted Sweetman, shaking his head away from the hand. The Host slowly turned around to face the chair, then, quick as a flash, smashed the clipboard around the side of Sweetman’s head. Sweetman hissed in pain, then dropped his head to his chest and started crying.
“My apologies, Slider, go ahead,” said the Host, turning back to the camera.
There was silence as the screen behind filled with words, the first question of the night.
Do you have any comprehension of the amount of pain that you have probably caused those boys? Pain that will stay with them for the rest of their lives?
“Good question, Slider,” said the Host, as he scratched the top of his head with the corner of the clipboard. “Well, do you?”
Sweetman stammered. “I, I, I was convicted and I served–”
“NO!” shouted the Host, barely two inches from his face. He slammed the clipboard down into the man’s lap, causing him to wince in pain. “That isn’t the question!”
Sweetman struggled to talk in between his deep breaths. “They were… They… I loved those boys. They weren’t entirely innocent in all of this. They led me on.”
“Oh I see,” said the Host, softly, as he walked around the chair like a buzzard circling a piece of carrion. “You hear that, folks? I guess it was the young children’s fault. It was their fault for just being too sexy in the first place. I’ve heard enough. Slider, choose your punishment.”
“What?” shouted Sweetman, as he strained to look behind him at the monitor, which once again displayed an incoming message.
The camera panned up so all the viewers could see the statement, Start with stomping the groin, but leave some for the others.
Before Sweetman could protest or effect even the vaguest attempt at closing his legs, the Host swung around and planted a boot square in his groin. Sweetman screamed in agony, desperate to grab his crotch to ease some of the pain searing through his body.
The Host swung back round to face the camera and held the microphone to his mouth.
“Time for another question, I think. Let’s see who’s at the top now.”
The leaderboard on the screen stopped, before flashing up another name.
“Clearly this chap has got a lot of you wound up. The winner, with nine-point-five bitcoins, is CruelJudge.”
“You can’t do this. I have rights,” gasped Sweetman, as he struggled to hold his head up.
The Host walked over and gripped him by the throat, smacking his head back against the seat.
“That’s what they all say. But just what exactly are you going to do about it? Sue us?” He forced Sweetman’s head to face the camera, which started to draw closer. “There, see that? You’re in their hands now. Let everyone take a nice long look deep into your eyes. The window to the soul, apparently. If you even have one, that is.”
Sweetman began crying again, whimpering, “You can’t do this… You can’t.”
The question began to materialise on the screen.
Hopefully now you are starting to feel just a fraction of the fear that those boys felt. What I want to know is, did you apologise to them after doing whatever it is you did?
“A very interesting question, thank you, Judge. Not the sort of question that the legal types would bother asking at your trial. As we all know from past experience, some abusers will ‘apologise’ to their victims after causing them unimaginable suffering. They think it redeems them, causes them to feel less guilt perhaps in the misguided delusion that the victim will forgive them. Is that how it happened, Gary?”
“I can’t remember…”
“You can’t remember? You can’t remember if, after you assaulted two young boys, you said sorry to them?”
“I might have done, I don’t know.”
“Of course you do!” the Host roared.
“OK, OK. Yes, I said sorry.”
“What did you say sorry for? At your trial you completely denied any sort of assault took place.”
“And the case was thrown out,” said Sweetman, desperately, spitting out a mixture of tears, saliva, and snot. “I was jailed for false imprisonment of those boys; I wasn’t convicted of assaulting them.”
“Not convicted doesn’t mean you didn’t do it though, right, Gaz?” replied the Host, calmly. “You just told everyone that you apologised to the boys and I very much doubt that was for imprisoning them. Judge, pick a punishment.”
“No, no please,” begged Sweetman, who had by now lost control of most of his bodily functions, as clearly visible through his underpants.
The screen went blank before one word appeared: kneecaps.
A track-suited goon stepped forward and handed the Host a baseball bat; he placed the clipboard and microphone down on Sweetman’s lap.
“Hold these, please. One or both, Judge?” shouted the Host, to the camera. The words just one appeared on the screen behind. “Well, Gary, looks like someone is being lenient! Aren’t you lucky?” He brought the bat crashing down on Sweetman’s right knee, causing him to scream out in agony. “Actually, better do both just to be certain.” The resulting pain was too much, and he passed out.
“Right, we have just about time for one more question. Get your bids in while we revive our volunteer.” As the two goons wafted a vial of smelling salts under the unconscious Sweetman, the Host went behind the camera, lifted his mask, and took a sip of water.
“How’re we doing?” he asked the laptop operator.
“This is one of the biggest yet. We’ve got just over four hundred people viewing, most of them have only paid to watch. But around twenty or thirty are bidding heavily and I reckon they’ll follow on to the end,” they replied.
“Good. Let’s get this done and get out of here.” He replaced the mask and headed back towards the chair.
A groggy Sweetman raised his head as best he could, but it kept flopping to the side and to his chest.
“Don’t worry, Gary. This will all be over soon,” whispered the Host, softly, in his ear, as he stood behind the chair, massaging both shoulders with his hands. He picked up the microphone and spoke to the camera. “Alright, everybody, this is it, the big one. The final question. Let’s see who it is…”
The lights around the screen flashed and up came a name, Dredhed.
“With a massive thirteen bitcoins, it’s Dredhed. Dred, what’s your question, my good man?”
By now, Sweetman was incapable of mustering the energy to even attempt to look at the screen. His knees had swollen up like melons and his underpants were sodden. His once pristine white t-shirt was stained with a mixture of spit, snot, and blood, into which he now added vomit. As the message began to appear, letter by letter, on the screen, the Host read it out loud, propping Sweetman’s chin up with the corner of his clipboard.
“Right, the final request is… ‘Firstly, can you tell Gary that I think he is the most wretched, despicable excuse of a man and he deserves every ounce of pain that he is in right now?’ Okay, will do, Dred. Gary, did you get that? DID YOU?”
Sweetman gurgled a vague attempt at a reply.
“I can’t hear you, Gary! This is what people, decent, ordinary people, think of you and your sordid crimes. You should defend yourself!” shouted the Host.
But Sweetman either couldn’t speak or wouldn’t speak, as the message carried on coming through.
“OK, let’s see,” continued the Host. “‘Secondly, if you could speak to those two boys right here and now, what would you say to them?’ Great question, Dred. Let’s see. Gary? Those two poor young boys, remember them? The ones that you kidnapped from their warm, loving families and subjected to who knows what kind of depravity. The same ones that you tried your damnedest to make out in court were liars and fantasists just in order to save your own sorry self. What would you say to them?”
Sweetman raised his head as far as he could, spat out some frothy pink liquid and looked at the Host.
Very softly he said, “I would forgive them. Forgive them for ruining my life.”
A pause, before the Host turned to the camera and spoke. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, in case you didn’t hear, Gary here said that he would forgive the boys. Forgive them for ruining his life. Time to end this I think. Dred, you have the honour of removing this man. Did you know they’re becoming something of an endangered species now, ‘Garys’, there’s not many of them left. Anyway, would you be so kind as to select an ending?”
The message on the screen disappeared and then showed up a single word: knife.
“Excellent choice. Well, I hope you have enjoyed another episode of The Red Room with us, the Brotherhood of the Righteous. I think we can all be satisfied that this sad little sicko understands that if the pathetic justice system in this country won’t give the people what they want, then we will. We’re going to switch the exit nodes on this transmission now. If you want to see the ending of this trial, you’ll need to transfer another two bitcoins and reconnect to the settings that will be sent upon receipt of your funds. If you have seen enough, thank you for watching and keep an eye on the message boards for upcoming editions of The Red Room.”
The Host stopped as one of the goons handed him a pristine silver hunting knife. He ran his finger along the blade, pretending to test its sharpness before putting his face up close to the camera.
“See you after the break!”
Enter The Dark is published by Bloodhound Books
Amazon Link – Kindle
Amazon Link – Paperback
Chris Thomas was born near London in 1978 before moving to Buckinghamshire a few months later. He attended the University of Bristol, graduating with a degree in psychology in 1999. It was here that he developed his interest in criminal psychology and serial killers.
After a brief stint working at an investment bank in London, he left the City to work for his wife’s family business, a position he still holds.
Chris is an avid film fan, especially horror, thrillers and dark comedy- something that he tries to blend in his writing. After attending a creative writing course, he gained the confidence to pursue his dream of writing a novel. He self-published his debut novel The Red Room in February 2017 before joining the Bloodhound Books stable and re-releasing the book as Enter The Dark.
Further works are already in the planning, including a sequel to Enter The Dark, which is intended to be even more dark and disturbing!
In his spare time, Chris enjoys karate (holding a black belt) and spending time with his wife and two young daughters.
You can keep up to date with Chris via the following methods…
Twitter – @cthomasauthor1
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/christhomasauthor/