Always arrive five to ten minutes early on the first date. This isn’t so much for your date, as it is for the parents. After all, a teenage boy isn’t exactly considered the most respectful of people, but if you arrive a little early it shows you at least respect the commitments you’ve made.

This stood as one of the first rules Vince followed. He told his friends he’d write a book about it one day, and in fact had already filled a notebook up with his rules and tips. He sold a ten-page set of guidelines to some of the guys at his school. At the age of eighteen, high school dating had become a form of art.

So to follow his own advice, Vince’s car pulled up in front of Karen’s house at exactly ten till six. He parked on the curb rather than the driveway—tip number 47 on page two. After all, he had waited for up to a half hour for a date to get ready in the past, and if someone needed to leave the house in that time, and he happened to be blocking them in, well, that didn’t look good, now did it?

Vince stepped out of his car and started up the front sidewalk. He took in the house with a smile. Given all he’d seen of Karen so far, the house fit perfectly.

The two-story house was painted white with blue around the window frames. He saw two windows on the second floor, a light on in one of them, probably Karen’s room. Three windows were visible on the first floor, curtains drawn on all of them. Bushes lined the front of the house, and flowers along the front walkway. The house looked quaint, just like Karen, but then, those kinds of girls had the wildest sides.

When Vince reached the front door he rang the doorbell. His black hair was slicked back. A nice pair of slacks and a button up, blue shirt made up his outfit. They weren’t going anywhere special, but still, he liked to look nice, mainly for the parents. It showed he really cared about the date with their daughter.

No part of Vince expected the man who opened the door. He stood over six foot two at least, probably a little taller. A broad, strongly built body complimented the height. While by no means like a body builder, this man looked strong, his muscle probably gained from years of working construction or something similar. He wore a short-sleeved plaid button up shirt and blue jeans along with steel tipped boots on his feet. Dark, scruffy brown hair topped his head, and coarse, black hair covered his arms. From under his bushy eyebrows, two dark brown eyes glared at Vince, this man obviously aware of Vince’s intentions. And to compliment everything else, a large, rather deep scar had been carved across the man’s left cheek. It began just beside his left eye, and ran almost to his mouth.

Without opening the screen door, he asked, “What do you want?”

Vince didn’t falter or back down, nor did he take on an air of arrogance or challenge. “I’m here to pick up Karen,” he said in a conversational tone.

Karen’s father stared Vince down for a few more seconds, before he finally grunted and opened the door to let him in. Vince offered the man a smile as he passed, and paused in the front hall.

A nicely decorated house greeted him. A staircase stood directly in front of him, a living room to his left, and a hallway to a dining room and kitchen to his right.

“You must be Vincent,” Karen’s mother said as she walked out of the kitchen. Vince made sure not to let even a hint of surprise touch his face. Behind him Karen’s father still stood motionless as if waiting for Vince to do something.

Karen’s mother fit the mental image Vince had formed based on Karen. The mom also fit the house itself. At only five foot five, perhaps shorter, she looked like a midget when compared to her husband. She also had brown hair, pulled back into a bun, a warm smile on her face. She wore a day dress and had an apron on over it. Behind her Vince saw a pot on the stove.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Williams,” Vince said, and reached out his hand to shake. Mrs. William’s happily accepted his hand and gently shook it.

This seemed to be enough proof for Karen’s father that nothing bad was going to happen. He closed the door and walked into the living room.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” Mrs. Williams said, “but I’m preparing dinner for me and Herb, so I won’t be able to talk much. Karen should be down in a few minutes. I’ll go up and tell her you’re here. You can wait in the living room if you want.”

Vince offered the friendliest smile he could, and said, “That sounds wonderful.”

While Mrs. William’s left to tell Karen about Vince’s arrival, Vince walked into the living room. Numerous chairs lined the walls, all aimed at the TV on the other side of the room. Each chair had different floral designs sewn into them except for a recliner in the corner where Herb sat. The old, beaten up recliner fit him perfectly, and looked just as out of place as Herb did.

Vince chose the couch and sat down. He stared at the football game on the TV. Tip number 61 said to always make conversation with a girl’s father. Vince knew what he needed to do, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came out, so he sat in silence.

“You know something about computers, right?” Herb broke the silence and looked over at Vince.

His knowledge of computers was one of many over-exaggerations Vince had made when he first started talking to Karen. He knew more than enough about computers to use them, but little past that. However, even though deep down he knew where this was going, he still felt it best to stick by the lie in hopes he might have a chance to get in good with Herb.

“I know a decent amount, yeah.”

“I want you to look at something.” Herb said as he rose from his recliner.

So Vince followed Herb. He actually liked this, the previous hostility Herb had aimed at him momentarily departed. Tip number 24: make yourself as helpful as possible.

They walked into the kitchen and then through a door into the basement.

While the house was obviously designed by Mrs. Williams, the basement was Herb’s domain. They descended down a narrow, wooden staircase, and into an unfinished basement. The floor was cement with a drain in the center of it. They ended at some worktables against the far wall. Boards covered with tools filled the walls.

An open computer tower had been laid out on the table. “Damn thing stopped working. Normally I can fix just about anything, but this kind of stuff, it’s beyond me.”

Vince looked at the circuit boards, clueless about all of it, and said, “I’m afraid I mainly deal with programming. I’m not much for hardware.”

From upstairs, Vince heard Mrs. William’s call down, “Karen is ready.”

Vince turned away from the table and towards the stairs, when something beneath them caught his attention. In the darkness that filled the space below the wooden staircase he saw movement. “Hey, what’s under…?” Vince began, and turned to look at Herb as he spoke.

Had Vince turned any later, he wouldn’t have seen the hammer clenched in Herb’s hand, about to swing down, or the look of almost sympathy on Herb’s face. Instinct far more than any rational thought made Vince move before the hammer could find its target. Rather than take a blow to the head the dull tip of the hammer drove into Vince’s shoulder.

He screamed and fell back in pain. All of his rules and tips left him as he inched across the floor while Herb brought the hammer up for another swing. Then a tip did flash through his mind, but not one of his own. If you’re fighting a big enough guy, especially one with a hammer, dignity doesn’t matter anymore. Kick him in the balls.

Vince took his brother’s advice, and buried the tip of his shoe in the space between Herb’s legs. The action did the trick, and the hammer fell from Herb’s fingers.

As soon as the hammer struck the cement Vince scrambled to his feet.

From under the steps a man erupted with a metal collar around his neck. Dirty hands slammed into Vince and knocked him into the wall. Tattered clothes covered the man’s body, who, as Vince saw, looked the same age as him, perhaps even younger. The boy’s shaggy brown hair and almost apelike features told Vince he stared at Herb’s offspring.

A chain had been fastened to the metal collar, and fortunately for Vince, the boy’s shove had knocked Vince just barely out of reach. Bony fingers with overgrown nails clawed at the air, and from deep within the boy’s throat Vince heard a vicious growl.

On the ground Herb began to recover. Fear and hysteria overtook Vince’s mind. He had to get out of the basement, and now. Without thought he lashed out at the chained boy, and managed to drive Herb’s offspring into the side of the steps. The pain made the boy recoil, and allowed Vince to sprint past him and up the stairs.

He envisioned Karen’s mother with a kitchen knife in her hand as she waited for him at the top of the steps. Vince knew this aggression against him probably wasn’t a lone assault by Herb. Whether Karen knew about it Vince couldn’t say, but deep down he figured she probably did.

Vince didn’t falter at the top of the steps, ready for an attack against him as he hurried through the open door, around the corner, and right into Karen. She had been walking into the kitchen apparently, just as surprised to see Vince as he was to see her, and the two collided with each other. Immediately Vince tried to get to his feet for another dash for the door, but before he could he felt strong fingers wrap around his arm.

Herb had made it to the top of the steps. Vince couldn’t bring himself to move as he saw the hammer raised above Herb’s head. From the ground in front of them, Karen screamed at her father, and from within the kitchen Mrs. William’s ran forward with the very kitchen knife Vince had envisioned her holding.

“Herb!” she screamed, and the combined yells proved enough to make Herb stop. He stared at the two women, his wife with the knife aimed at Herb’s face. The hammer still in his hands, still ready to strike, Herb’s eyes flickered down to Vince. Mrs. William’s quickly brought the tip of the knife closer to Herb’s face. “Don’t make me cut you again,” she hissed.

With a sigh Herb lowered the hammer and let go of Vince’s arm. He had no chance to make another run for it before Karen kicked him in the same placed he’d so recently kicked Herb. Vince curled into a ball and coughed. Herb once again grabbed him, and began to drag him down the steps, Mrs. Williams and Karen right behind him.

When they reached the bottom of the steps Herb pulled Vince into the middle of the room. The boy had retreated further under the steps and huddled up against the wall. As soon as Mrs. Williams saw him she hurried over and knelt down beside the child.

“What happened?” She asked as she pulled the boy close to her.

“Dad tried to hit him, but he hit dad first. I wanted to stop him, but I couldn’t reach, and he hurt me mom. He hurt me.”

“It’s okay, now. You tried to help, and that’s what counts. Just sit back while we handle this.” She stood up, and when she turned around, the boy’s eyes moved away from Vince to Karen.

“He’s looking at me again mom,” Karen said, and immediately Mrs. Williams turned around and smacked the boy across the face. He recoiled from the blow and nestled further against the wall with his hands now over his eyes.

“What the fuck’s going on?” Vince screamed. Immediately Herb kicked him in the side.

“Don’t you swear. There’s women present.” Herb said.

“Yes, act like you’re on our side again,” Mrs. William’s spit out. “You tried to kill him, didn’t you?”

“No, I was just trying to knock him unconscious. That’s all.” Herb still refused to make eye contact with his wife.

“Don’t think I’ll forget this,” she said, and then turned back to Vince, motionless on the ground as he stared up at them. “I suppose I should thank you,” she said. “If you had let Herb kill you, then we wouldn’t be able to give you your proper punishment. Herb never did have the guts to do what needs to get done.” She shot her husband a scowl.

“Why are you doing this?” Vince whispered.

“I know what you were planning. You wanted to steal my little girl’s innocence just like all the others. Just like Ethan wanted to when we first adopted her, but I put an end to those thoughts.” She glanced back at her whimpering son in the corner. “I made sure he never had those evil thoughts again. But there will always be others, and from what our little Karen has told us, you’re one of the worst.”

Karen walked forward, a familiar little book in hand. She handed it to her mother with a look of amusement on her face as she stared at Vince. He suppressed a groan.

“Don’t you worry though, we’ll get those nasty ideas out of your mind soon enough. First, we’ll let you think about what you’ve done. After that, well, a crime needs a punishment, doesn’t it? Herb, put him in the room.”

Herb grabbed Vince’s arm and pulled him to his feet. Vince didn’t even try to struggle against the large man’s grip. He had no illusions that he might actually be able to get away from any of this.

Their destination was a small stone hallway along the wall near the steps, and at the end of it a metal door. Behind them, Mrs. Williams and Karen waited while Herb opened the door. Immediately Vince smelled something horrible inside that pitch-black room. He screamed, and for the first time tried to struggle against the inevitable.

“You should’ve just let me kill you. Better than what you got coming now,” Herb whispered in Vince’s ear right before he shoved him through and slammed the door shut.

Vince pounded on the metal door and screamed his protest, not that any part of him thought this would do any good. On the other side he heard as the three of them walked up the stairs, and clearly heard Herb get scolded some more. Then the kitchen door slammed and Vince was alone with the smell.

With no other options, he turned around and stared into the darkness. His fingers groped along the wall for a light switch. Cautiously, he put out his hands and began to walk forward, until he felt something dangle across his face.

His fingers closed around the string, but didn’t pull right away. Did he really want to see what produced that smell? He knew he didn’t, but then, what else was he supposed to do as he waited for them to eventually kill him, and yes, that was exactly what they were going to do. Maybe if he searched the room he could find a weapon to use against them, or maybe even another exit. He needed to at least see, so without further delay Vince pulled down on the string, and instantly light flooded the small cement room.

It took him only a few seconds to take in the five hanging corpses. Metal hooks had been driven into the cement ceiling, and a rope was tied to each. At the end of each rope, a corpse hung from its hands. All five were male, all of them about Vince’s age. And most of all, what Vince couldn’t take his eyes away from, was the bloody stains between the legs of each where something had been cut off.

With a jerk Vince, pulled the string and returned the room to darkness. He slammed his fists into the metal door and screamed until he had no voice to scream with. He slid to the ground and huddled in the corner of the room. He saw the look of pity on Herb’s face as he held the hammer above his head, and heard the words whispered into his ear.

In a little while they’d be back, and Vince would be given his punishment.

He couldn’t stop screaming.

# # #

By Association by Philip Roberts
originally published April 17, 2009



Philip Roberts lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and holds a degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Film from the University of Kansas. A beginner in the publishing world, he’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, and has had numerous short stories published in a variety of publications, such as the Beneath the Surface anthology, Midnight Echo, and The Absent Willow Review. More information on his works can be found at

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