Brothers

The front door slammed. Gary bustled in and planted himself at the head of the kitchen table. A place has been laid for him. Peter paused from eating his breakfast and raised his left eyebrow.

“You’re late.”

Gary sneered.

“The world doesn’t revolve around your watch.”

“Pity. Otherwise you would have been on time. Shall I cook something for you?”

Gary thumped the table with his fist.

“I’m not here to eat fucking bacon and eggs!”

Peter shrugged.

“Just offering.”

“Do you have it?”

“No.”

Gary is half out of his seat in disbelief.

“Are you fucking joking?”

“It is not time yet.”

“Yes! Yes, it is!”

“You rush into things.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are reckless.”

“And you drag your heels. Peter, the patron saint of detail.”

“Miaow.”

“I’m glad you think this is funny. You’ll be laughing right up until you have a bullet in your head.”

“It will work out fine.”

Gary almost to himself.

“They’ll kill us.”

“That is not part of my plan.”

Gary raises his voice.

“The plan was to secure the package this morning.”

Peter looks at his watch.

“It is still morning.”

Gary throws his empty plate and it smashes up against a cupboard.

“The Russians don’t give a shit about semantics! They’ll blowtorch our balls off!”

Peter sips his tea.

“The Russians are not the problem.”

Gary is confused.

“Then who is?”

“You are.”

“What…what do you mean?”

“I know what you have done. The Russians do too.”

Gary is ashen-faced.

“You’re making a terrible mistake!”

“My mistake was trusting my brother.”

Friendship

When Steve was away, she only had two tasks to complete in the squat. Feed his cat and clean the litter tray. Except the cat didn’t like her. It always hissed and spat at her. Putting his food down or cleaning his toilet did not mollify Lucifer. It was a good name as this particular cat probably had been cast out of heaven for bad behaviour.

Lucifer would often follow her then hide in the shadows only to rush out to try and trip her. He often did it when she was at the top of the stairs. That bastard cat was a reincarnated killer, she was sure of it.

Sometimes she would be sat at the dirty kitchen table smoking a cigarette and Lucifer would be sat in the opposite chair, staring in the impassive way cats do. You know, the ‘Exactly who the fuck are you?’ look.

She could hear his thoughts and they would talk telepathically.

“Look at the state of you! I don’t know what Steve was thinking, letting you into our home.”

“At least I am a human being.”

“Sister, we both eat out of tins so don’t play the human card.”

“You eat mice!”

“Okay, I’ll let you have that one.”

The odd thing was, when Steve was back, Lucifer would seek her out, not him. She realised she spoke to Lucifer as if he was a human all the time now, Steve thought she was mad. Reality was, the conversations with Lucifer were better. All Steve had going for him was the squat. Lucifer still tried the stair trick but it was more a game rather than malicious intent.

Breakup

Peter steps out of the lift, level one of the car park. He is smiling to himself. He stops in his tracks. Wendy, his wife, is standing by his car and her blouse seems soaked. Peter quizzically looks beyond the stone columns and sees he is correct, it is a sunny day, no rain at all. They have been married for twelve years so Peter can read Wendy’s body language easily enough, she is pissed off.

“Wendy, what are you doing here? Has something happened?”

Wendy slaps him hard in the face.

“You bastard!”

Peter staggers back. Wendy pummels and flails at him with her fists. He grabs her arms.

“Stop, just stop! What the hell is wrong with you?”

Wendy gazes into her husband’s eyes, she is crying.

“I know about her!”

Peter feels the fight drain out of his wife.

“Her who? You are making no sense.”

Wendy frees herself from his grasp.

“Your slut of a secretary!”

“Nadine? She is on holiday in the Algarve.”

“No, she isn’t! She is floating face down in our bath.”

“Have you lost your mind? You have started drinking again, you promised you would stop!”

“Typical love cheat! Blame the wife, it’s always her fault, she wasn’t paying me enough attention so your zipper had to be loosened elsewhere. Exactly how am I to blame if you stick your cock inside another woman?”

“Please tell me this is one of your episodes because you are drunk? You know the term ‘ugly drunk’? That’s you down to a tee!”

Wendy shows Peter her phone. There is a photo on it. Peter retches.

“Oh my God, what have you done?”

“Twelve years. TWELVE! I deserved better than this! How old is she? Half your age? You sad pathetic twat!”

Peter is not listening. He is dialling his phone.

“Hello?! I need an ambulance sent to 46 Forest Green Avenue. Possible drowning in a bath.”

Peter hangs up.

“Wendy, you are ill, you need help…”

“Fuck you! You’re the one that needs help!”

Wendy pulls out a kitchen knife and Peter starts to run…

Guest

Before her life changed, she dreaded going to weddings. Everyone looking, staring, gossiping, judging. She wouldn’t eat for several days afterwards, convinced she was too fat, too ugly.

She wasn’t even invited to this wedding. No one knew her. Both sides of the families assumed it was some wacko cousin that had randomly turned up. Who else would come to a formal occasion looking like Pris from ‘Bladerunner’?

Free food and booze, it was fantastic.

No one had the balls to turf her out.

The braver souls attempted to socialise with her.

“How do you know the bride and groom?”

“Ex-lover.”

“It must have been an amicable split then?”

“Ex-lover to both of them.”

Silence.

She could chop off any conversation to avoid the one question that would unhinge her…

“What’s your name?”

She can hear the screams in her mind.

Sometimes the screams are hers

Pain

Anguish

Loss

Silhouette

I have no name

I have no identity

People look right through me

I am invisible

I want to be noticed

I want to be loved

I do not know who I am

People seem so happy so normal

Is something wrong with me?

I need to exist

Where am I?

I peel back my soul

Unleashing chaos from the void

I will create a new me

I will be seen

I will be noticed

I will be feared

I will haunt your dreams

You shall never know my name

The Photo

Ruth Walker was battling to stay awake. Others had succumbed, heads drooping wearily onto their chests. It was always the same after the bustle of the plates and cups being ferried back to the kitchen, the classical music cd went on and the carers would regroup for a cup of tea.

Ruth was holding a black and white photo. She was focusing on it, trying to make the memory play out again. The photo had seen better days. The corners were slightly curled inwards and it was a bit worn from where it had been held so much. Where had the photo been taken? She couldn’t remember things easily. Silent terror was buried deep in her mind. Where am I? Who am I? The carers would prompt her like she was an actress who had forgotten her lines and coax back her memory from the shadows. The silent terror. Each time this happened, the shadows crept closer.

Charles was truly the love of her life. Ruth had never faced such a fear as the possibility of forgetting her darling husband. How could fifty years of marriage be clouded by the onset of age? It wasn’t fair. The photo was a window into the past. She stared at the photo. Who were the smiling couple? Charlie and Ruthie! Yes, that’s what they called each other. The carers could add a detail so Ruth could continue with the story. They had heard it before. Ruth had probably told it a hundred times. She had a tendency to repeat herself. Sometimes she sensed she had asked the same question seconds before and became angry with herself. The questions were echoes travelling in her mind and if she forgot the answer, the echoes would fade away; if she remembered, the echoes bounced back to her.

It had been a shock to realise her memory was failing. Ruth was a proud woman. She could cope with physical decline, the loss of her mental faculties was unacceptable. She took to writing journals. The carers would read from the pages. Ruth didn’t recognise her writing but the stories seemed familiar, they made her smile, she could hear the echo. Writing became more difficult then impossible. If her hands were not rigid with arthritis, she was either falling asleep or taking twenty minutes to think of a word.

Ruth had several photos of her and Charlie on a mantle in her bedroom. The photo she held each day was her favourite. The two of them had gone to the beach. They were very much in love and it was on that day Ruth realised she would marry Charlie. She had never been to the beach before. Her mother had insisted on making a new dress especially for the trip. The sewing machine chattered away in the early evenings. When Ruthie put on the dress, she squeaked with joy. It was the most delightful dress she had ever seen. She ran into the dining room, where her father was reading The Observer. Ruthie was twirling around the floor and the newspaper was lowered, this brouhaha had to be investigated. Her father squinted, puffed his pipe twice and uttered gruffly, “Very becoming.”

Ruthie had never been outside of London before and now she was on a train to Brighton. She was bubbly with excitement. The countryside swept past the window as the train clackety-clacked its way to the seaside.

When they arrived, they headed to the pier. Charlie had saved some money up for the arcade. It was such jolly fun! Ruthie was treated to a toffee apple and ended up with toffee on her nose. How Ruthie blushed and how Charlie laughed! They wandered down to the beach and bagged a couple of stripey deckchairs, just like they looked in the postcards! They took it all in – the glittering water, the shrieks of children retreating from the surf, the dry rustle of stones as people walked past, the squawks of circling seagulls. It was a splendid day.

When Ruthie felt the pangs of hunger, she loosened the cloth over the picnic basket. A bottle of homemade lemonade, or fizzy pop as Charlie called it, a ham and mustard sandwich each plus two pieces of fruit cake. Charlie kept an eye on the feathered blighters as no seagull was going to pilfer from their picnic. Ruthie giggled.

Charlie had a fancy camera and he flagged a chap down to take their photo. The two of them stood close together, arms around each others waists, they beamed for the camera. Charlie turned to her and said it would be the first of many photos.

Love’s beauty was eternal, the soul’s joy, surely such a powerful feeling would keep the shadows away and stop the fading of beauty, of memory, of life? Ruth’s eyes were getting heavy. The photo fell from her grasp. A carer walked into the lounge. She could see everyone was asleep. They looked so at peace, not a care in the world. She noticed the photo on the floor and picked it up. She carefully placed it in Ruth’s hands. The carer was new to the home. She hoped Ruth would tell her about the photo, it was obviously important to her because she had fallen asleep with a smile on her face.

The Cabin

Katie adhered to conformity, did the salaried job thing, had an accidental boyfriend here and there then she would dance over the line, getting wasted at festivals and starjumping with druids at Summer Solstice. Cider, herbs and unicorns…the rainbow was everywhere if you stared hard enough.

This was one of her many random moments. Between jobs, trying to kickstart her creative writing juices, she had noticed an advert in some obscure magazine she had bought when she had wandered into a WH Smiths half-pissed. ‘Cabin of Doom’, it said. ‘Dare you send a week in an isolated forest where ghouls and goblins roam?’ Fuck yeah, she thought! Especially as 2k was on offer. She rang the number and an old guy who sounded high answered. Katie started having doubts. Was this legit? Maybe he was a perv with a sex cellar? Three hundred quid was transferred to her PayPal account to cover petrol and sundry costs. Pete e-mailed her a map.

Katie drove to Suffolk and left her car at Last Outpost. It wasn’t so much a village as a scattering of houses whose inhabitants were one lobotomy away from being Grade A drool machines. It was all a bit ‘Wicker Man’. Katie had marched away from the village, ignoring their furrowed frowns and their sibillating whispers. It was one of those villages where everyone knew each other because in some way they were all related. Katie imagined them sacrificing a fatted calf to a pagan goddess. Bunch of banjo strummers!

Summer’s warm glow had faded over the months. Now the bright sunshine ushered in brisk crisp air as the light retreated across the cloud-tinged sky. Leaves clung wistfully to gnarled branches and an autumnal hue coloured the woods with reddy-yellows and orangey-reds.

Two hours later Katie saw the gleam of a lake in the twilight. She was getting close. Just as well. The backpack stuffed with her supplies was getting heavier and heavier. The lake was deathly quiet. No birds were on the water or in the nearby trees. It was weird. She took a photo of the lake. Soon after, she reached the cabin. How could she describe it? Stoic? Arcane? Expectant?

Pete had told her three other intrepid adventurers had taken up his challenge and disappeared, never to be seen again. Bollocks! It would have been on the news. Despite her bravado, she hesitated before opening the door…and when she did she almost pissed herself. A bat flew out! A motherfucking bat! Oh yeah, it was on now. Katie could see through it all. That consummate twat Peter had obviously been to the cabin and put the bat in there. He wouldn’t be laughing when she rinsed him of 2k. Boom!

She lit some candles and placed them on small plates. Last thing she needed was the cabin going up in flames. No electricity or gas. Well, she had a little gas stove with her. She could cope with a brisk cold wash but a hot meal was non-negotiable. The decor and furniture had been abandoned decades ago. The faded orange sofa was a wonder to behold. Katie wondered why someone had even bothered to put up the brown curtains which were now tatty from hungry moths. She had a good view of the lake from the window though. Katie fired up the stove and ate.

It got real dark, real quick. Katie could see the lake glittering in the moonlight. Her bravado levels had dipped somewhat. It was unsettling being away from the hustle and bustle of city life. She was used to the whoosh of cars, the wheezing of buses, the vomiting of uni students. She stood at the window drinking Merlot straight from the bottle, listening for a noise of any description. “Neighbourhood Watch, mofos!”, she said to herself. There were no crazy-arsed calls, yelps or screams from the usual nocturnal animals. What was she expecting? Pervy Pete jumping out from the darkness in front of the window? If he did that she would shit herself. Then bottle him. Katie watched the lake for a while. It was hard to tell if the water was moving or not.

When she finished the wine, she shoved a candle into the neck of the bottle. Old school Gothic. Sweet. The small bedroom didn’t take her fancy. There was a bed base with some slats missing and no mattress. The bathroom looked like a crime scene, although the cold tap in the basin worked, which was a bonus. Turned out the orange sofa from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ textile school was the best place to lay her sleeping bag on. The candles had warmed up the room. She snuggled into the sleeping bag, facing the window. She wasn’t worried about the the front door or the one that led to the other rooms because she had wedges underneath them. She stared at the window. There was nothing to see. It was so dark she couldn’t even make out any trees. Yet, she could not look away. She thought if she did, someone or something would appear at the window. That was what happened in horror films, shortly before the killing started. There was always a killer at the window. Fuck this! Katie got up and pulled the curtains. Did that make it better or worse? What happened if she heard a tapping at the window and had to pull the curtains back to see what was making the noise? It would only be one thing, a masked killer with a fucking axe! Why in hell had she agreed to do this? It was pretty hard to write a best-selling novel if some nutter had decapitated you. She rummaged in her rucksack and pulled out a hunting knife. It had a calming effect on her. She slipped back into the sleeping bag and nodded off. The curtains rippled and all the candles went out.