Alone in a nondescript flat, nestled among countless identical, soulless boxes in a drab tower block, he sat, immersed in his critical task. The walls, paper-thin, whispered secrets from adjacent lives: a TV's muffled dialogue next door, the sharp crescendo of arguments from above, doors slamming in frustration and anger. Below, shadowy figures with hoods and masks congregated in groups on the bleak concrete outside. This cacophony of life, echoing through the walls and floors, served only to emphasise his solitary confinement.

As he worked he seethed with a quiet rage. This wasn't his world; he was an outcast, forced into a new existence in sharp contrast to the exalted status he’d once held. The room he sat in now was bleak and unadorned, a daily affront to his former life of respect and privilege. It held only the essentials: an old camping table with rusted joints, a tangible symbol of his descent, and a sleek, new Wi-Fi router, an incongruous beacon of modernity in this god forsaken space. The pedestrian carpet, stained and threadbare, was another testament to his current, dismal circumstances, so at odds with the polished floors and richly hued luxury of his past. Every corner of this meager existence was a bitter reminder of what he had lost, fueling a resentment that continually simmered beneath his methodical calm.

Condensation wept down the windows, blurring the outside world. The persistent moisture gathered in droplets, slowly pooling on the sills, where it would foster patches of dark, creeping mould if he didn’t scrub it daily. On the table, a collection of boxes and packages lay in wait, each marked with the impersonal precision of QR and barcodes. Under the harsh glare of a single bulb, he prepared for his meticulous task.

At a second table, scrubbed clean and reeking faintly of bleach, a plastic box of cleaning supplies nestled beneath. Half the table was occupied by a collection of petri dishes, each labeled with painstaking care. The other half held a padded envelope, identical to the others he had collected earlier that day.

Donning sterile, latex gloves with exacting precision, he lifted the package, placing it before him with reverence. He carefully scrutinised every millimetre of its surface through a magnifying glass, his bald head and bare brows reflecting the stark light, his smooth jaw and cheeks obscured by a medical-grade mask.

The search was methodical, almost ritualistic. If fruitless, the package would join the discarded pile. But today, fortune favoured him. A single hair, partially ensnared by the sealing tape, glinted like a precious jewel. With the patience of a surgeon, he wielded scalpel and tweezers, liberating the hair, its follicle a reward for his patience and dedication.

He sealed the hair in a petri dish, then, with a marker pen, inscribed a name and address in neat, precise block capitals. Hours at the table had etched pain into his back, neck and legs, but it was a trivial price to pay for his triumphs this evening. His gaze lingered on the six petri dishes he’d filled that night – six lives, six souls, unwittingly ensnared in his macabre collection. He nodded with a shiver of pleasure, a small, sinister smile crossing his lips as he contemplated the next phase of his plan.