newer abandoned story

First there are only hazy memories of a plane, because that was what you were dreaming. You were standing, safe on two feet and all you could see were planes falling from the sky. You didn’t know who was safe and who wasn’t, but all you see is the plane silently plummeting, and disappearing over the hill before you could even tell if it was crashing in the first place.
You stand, hands compressing your own head, inside a dream, and you think, This is just like that fucking dream I already had.
It wasn’t a plane you’re remembering now, it was a car. But inside your head like a rattling money box, everything’s been thrown in and mixed up. That dream about the planes, and the memory of the car about two seconds before your thought process hits a wall. The two have become one, because you aren’t conscious enough to separate them. After the car there is nothing. Before the planes there is nothing. Just wild, suicidal vehicles, and soft darkness.
The way you drag your way out of this hole, feels like waking up, but you have a vague feeling like you’ve been awake for a long, long time. The way you feel is disorientated, like waking up on a friend’s couch when you were expecting your own bed. Opening your eyes and your brain convincing you the ceiling above you is your own, when it’s not. You forget where you went to sleep, or maybe the memory just gets stirred in with all the other times you’ve woken up. None of them feel any different from the last hundred times, or the hundred times before that.
The first thing you feel after the dread of crashing planes is that this is no different from anywhere else you’ve woken up recently.
But you’re wrong. You’ve never been here before.
It wasn’t a plane, it was a car.
From his own, echoing, cavernous, dream-addled head, Derek _ _ _ _ _ emerges, and is flung back into a conscious world. Immediately after the feeling like he’s breathing for the first time since falling asleep, the darkness around him fades to grey, and his throat is thick with dust.
He rolls from his front to his side, choking, spitting out grime and grit from the surface his face was just connected with. His eyes spring wide open for the first time, and it’s as if the surface of his skin is cracking. His mind was so disconnected from his body less than a minute ago, and it’s an effort regaining the sense of control over his own limbs. One hand lifts of its own accord, rubbing his face. When it comes back, there’s blood under his nails.
There’s something stopping him from remembering how to breathe. He can still taste, grit and dust and now blood, and he keeps his lips clamped together, short breaths through his nose. His chest feels compressed, leaving no room for his lungs to inflate properly.
His three remaining limbs, heavy and dead, they convince him he can’t move. It takes a surge of panic and adrenaline, like two working arms, that push him up into a sitting position. The swift motion sets his stomach churning, and there’s a sudden sharp pain in his head. He’s so numb he can’t tell if the pain is inside or out.
He was lying on one of his arms, and having set it free, it tingles all over, his fingers too weak to ball into a fist. He shifts himself, still struggling to breathe, and his right leg moves automatically, he hears his boot scrape across the floor. The other remains like stone, unmoveable and numb. It might as well be someone else’s leg, and yet he has the distinct, sinking feeling that if he so much as touches it, the pain will be very much his own. Where it is, it’s disconnected from his body, the nerves lying dormant beneath the surface of his skin. All it would take was reaching out and lightly brushing his fingers across his shin and everything would reconnect. Like an electric current, the sensation would rush through his body, straight from the point of contact and into his brain.
As uninviting as this thought is, he can’t stand the idea of sitting here, anchored to the spot by this thing. It’s as if he’s grown stone roots, and the only way to get himself away would be to chisel is fucking leg out of the ground.
In this moment, he would rather have woken up with it chopped off. He would rather have woken up with it absent altogether. He has to do this. Lifting his numbed but thawing arm, he shoves his fingers in his mouth and bites down. Dull as the sensation is in comparison to his pounding headache, he needs something immediate to distract himself.
Derek’s not stupid. He knows his leg’s broken. He knows double-checking is going to get him nowhere; and yet as every single ache and pain has been slowly making itself known across the great expanse of his body, his brain has been racing faster and faster, knowing that as soon as he comes to terms with the physical, he’ll have nothing else to do. He’ll have to lift his head and look around him. He’ll have to think about the fact he has no idea where he is, or why, or when, or how. He’ll have to acknowledge the unfathomable situation he’s awoken into.
His hand won’t be enough. Without looking, his fingers are scrabbling about in the dirt and dust, searching for something bigger. The gross sensation of unidentifiable grime gathering under his bitten nails is stopping him thinking.
He likes having answers, and this makes the choice very simple.
Is your leg broken? This is a Yes or No answer, and something he can find out on his own.
Where are you? This is far more frightening than any physical pain he might be about to put himself through.
His fingers brush something other than dust, and his hand curls its way around something heavy and cold. He dares glance sideways.
It’s a metal pipe, a right-angle joint at one end. He drags it his way, lifting it with both hands. He’s growing less numb by the second. He can’t imagine a situation where he feels any more fucking terrified than this.
It’s very likely his leg is already broken, but if it isn’t? This will give him something else to focus on. He lifts the pipe above his head.
‘Don’t do that.’
No hinges squeaking, no soft footsteps. There is only silence, and then the voice. She could have been here a while.
He can’t keep this up. He only pauses for a moment or two to look at her, but his hands start shaking and he drops the pipe. Keeping his teeth gritted against the ever present headache, he says, ‘Who are you?’
It’s all he can think of, but that doesn’t mean he cares. He sounds choked up with the amount of dust still in his mouth. He spits again, but his mouth’s too dry. He barely wets his lips.
‘Your leg’s broken,’ she says, just off to one side. He can’t make himself turn his head. ‘I think you know that already though.’
‘What did you do to me?’ He coughs, trying to give his voice more strength. His hands go for the pipe again.
‘I didn’t break your leg,’ she says, and she takes a few steps round to face him. ‘That was your own fault.’
He would have heard her walking. She walks with loud, obnoxious strides, stopping in front of him, with her legs apart. She isn’t overly threatening, even up above him, arms folded. She’s so calm, she’s not even really looking at him. Her eyes are pleasantly vacant.
‘What?’ she says, sticking her chin out as he stares at her. Everything about the way she looks and her demeanour would be weirdly sexy on any other girl. Somehow the red lipstick and the cigarette make her look pathetic.
‘Why am I here?’ he asks, without caring about the answer. He’s not afraid of her. Somehow she looks as silently desperate as he feels.
‘That’s a big question,’ she says. The cigarette stays in her hand, but she never puts it near her mouth. ‘Without getting into it too much, I want you to know that you’re here to die.’
She’s trying too hard. He doesn’t believe her, and she knows it.
‘Are you going to kill me?’
‘Maybe,’ she says. She sticks the cigarette in her mouth in order to tuck her hair behind her ears. ‘Don’t worry. I won’t make it painful. I’ll do it in your sleep if you want. You don’t even have to know about it.’
He holds the pipe a little harder. ‘I don’t want to die.’
‘Yeah, you do,’ she says, shaking her head dismissively. The cigarette is back in her hand. ‘Don’t play games with me, I know you do.’
Derek swallows. ‘I don’t.’
Her expression changes a little, and she walks back to his side. This time his head follows her automatically, though he’s convincing himself he still doesn’t believe her.
‘You don’t remember,’ she says, dropping to her knees behind him. ‘But you will.’
Her arms go round him, pulling the pipe out of his hands. She tosses it across the room.
‘Leave it,’ she says. ‘We both know you’re not going to use it.’
‘What are you doing?’ he asks, because he feels like he should. His mind is blank. Every time he plunges into its depths hoping to come up with more than planes or cars, he is disappointed. He can’t think of anything, but what is happening to him right in the moment, and the surrealism of the situation can’t fully dawn on him, because he’s finding it hard to remember anything outside this room. He can’t remember feelings before the dread or watching the planes crash. He wonders if maybe he’s already dead.
She winds a thin cold arm around his neck like a snake, and presses their faces together, cheek to cheek.
‘Close your eyes,’ she instructs, and he does so.
It’s like that, back in the darkness, the planes and the car is back. The way she’s so close, this warm pressure behind him, an arm compressing his throat, breathing in his ear.
‘Honey? Honey, are you okay?’
The car is only a feeling, the same dread as watching the planes, but he remembers thinking it strange that his wife was the one dragging him off the road.
‘Yes, yes, he’s my husband… Call an ambulance, he’s still breathing!’
Only she wasn’t his wife anymore. They’d gotten a divorce last year. She was the one who initiated it, so he can’t understand why she wants to be the one peeling him off the road.
Back in the dirt and dust wherever he woke up, this girl, softly suffocating him again. She gives him a mocking peck on the cheek and says, ‘You’re okay, Honey. I’ve got you.’
His eyes spring open again, but she doesn’t let go.
‘You were asking for it walking out like that,’ she says, right in his ear. ‘So don’t tell me you don’t want to die, because I know you’re lying. All I want to do is make it easier for you.’
‘I didn’t do it on purpose.’ The wall in his brain is crumbling, and he’s remembering how to act like a human again. ‘It was an accident. I walked out by accident. I don’t want to die!’
There’s a pause, but all she says after is, ‘Well, it’s too late. Mistake or not, it was stupid. Stupid people deserve to die.’
‘What?’ For the first time since waking up, he makes some of his distress audible.
‘I said stupid people deserve to die!’ she snaps, still clinging on. ‘I don’t care that you didn’t mean to do it. You would have died without me. You should be grateful for this extension of your life, normally I don’t put this much effort in. If you don’t want to die, then you should, the way your fucking life is going.’
‘What…?’ The way it felt waking up with pain scattered throughout his body, like something biting at him every time he moved. Every moment since she kicked his mind out of the gutter, more and more memories and feelings are resurfacing, every one of them telling him he doesn’t want to fucking be here. He shouldn’t fucking be here. This kind of thing doesn’t fucking happen.
‘I don’t want to die…’ he stammers, his voice still ragged from the dust in his throat. His eyes are burning. He shakes his head slowly. ‘I have a family…’
She splits his head open with her sudden yelp of laughter. He arms slide from around him and she crawls round to kneel at his side. She drops her cigarette to grab his collar and pull his face right up to hers.
Nose to nose, she says, ‘Do you ever watch movies?’
‘What…?’
‘I said do you ever watch fucking movies?’ she yells, right in his face.
‘What…? Yes – yes… I don’t understand…’
‘Then if you watch movies you should know that that never fucking works,’ she says. ‘Your wife could be fucking pregnant for all I care. She could be totally devoted to you. Your kids could all love you. They could all be relying on you right now, and I wouldn’t care. It’s totally irrelevant, but you know that’s not even true. Your wife left you, and your kids hate you, and either way, you walked out in front of a car. Conscious of it or not, that told me you wanted to die. And so you’re going to die.’
‘But I don’t want to…!’ he spits, tears rolling down his face. It comes out has a desperate gasp. She’s not listening.
‘Stop it!’ she snaps, angrily. ‘You shouldn’t be so fucking unhappy. I’m not some psychopath. I’m not going to torture you or anything. I’ll make it really quick. But it has to happen. That’s just the way it is.’
‘No… oh god…’ he stammers. His chest constricts again, he can barely breathe. ‘No… no… I don’t want to… please, don’t fucking kill me… I don’t want to fucking die!’
She sighs deeply, and stands up. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘No! Oh my god… no! Don’t do it, you can’t do it, I can’t die, I’m not ready!’
His vision is blurred as he watches her cross the room, helplessly taking in his surroundings for the first time. The windows are thick with grime, letting in a vague, yellowy light. Planks of wood are nailed across them. The floor beneath him is stone, covered with a layer of dried mud, cracking where she steps on it. Behind him are steps, and an open door. It seems miles away.
He turns back to look at her, and she’s walking his way. One arm swings casually by her side, her fingers wrapped round the handle of a knife. Her other hands tucks her hair back behind her ears.
‘Don’t scream,’ she says. ‘Or you can if you want to. If it helps.’
Derek’s breathing picks up the pace, his pleas become more frantic. He’s watching her walk toward him, and he knows there is absolutely nothing he can do. He believes her when she says she won’t hurt him, but he’s not scared of pain.
He doesn’t want to die. Death terrifies him, he doesn’t want to fucking die.
She circles back round behind him, dropping to her knees again.
The worst part is he can’t think about anybody but himself. He’s trying to make himself think about his wife, or his kids, and he doesn’t see them much as it is, but now he won’t see them at all. Much as he tells himself he’s crying about that, the all-consuming fear is for himself, and the unknown.
He doesn’t want to die.
Her arm coils around his neck again, and he clenches his fists.
‘Stop crying,’ she says, and she shows him the knife. ‘It’s very sharp. You’ll barely feel it. I’ll cut your throat, and it’ll all be over in a second.’
This was her mistake.
The second he knows where her hand is, he grabs hold of her wrist, and elbows her in the stomach.
She gasps and coughs behind him, and he pries the knife out of her hand and throws it across the room. It hits the pipe she’d taken off him with a clang. He drops her arm and rolls over onto his front to get a better hold of her.
This is the first time he’s dared move his leg, and it’s fucking agony. She starts laughing beneath him.
‘Moron…’ she mutters, still out of breath.
‘What the fuck did you say?’ He’s suddenly furious with her. Fear does that to him.
‘Moron!’ she snaps, and then she spits in his face. Without standing up the best he can do is grab her by the shoulders and smack her head off the floor. He leaves her groaning and writhing, and drags himself off across the floor toward their discarded weapons.
The pain he’s in is impossibly huge and overwhelming, but so strange it’s as if it’s not even a part of him. It’s so intense he can recognize it as it is: just a feeling. He can’t take his mind out of his body, but he can take his mind out of his fucking leg.
He can hear her regaining her senses, and she starts crawling after him. The pipe and the knife are just in reach, and he makes a split second, possibly unwise decision – and grabs the pipe.
She comes up behind him and he turns and whacks her round the head with it. She crumples back onto the floor, gasping, and he struggles up onto his knees, using the pipe to balance.
On her back, eyes blinking heavily, she lifts a hand to smear the blood off her face. She’s barely conscious. Derek picks up the knife, hovering above her. Adjusting his grip, he lifts it above his head.
The second before he stabs her, her eyes fly open and she kicks him in the ankle. In this moment, where all the pain he’d been staving off with pure willpower washes over him, she snatches the knife out of his hands.
For a tiny split second, he passes out and the black hole that opens in his brain is filled with crashing planes. She rolls out of his way and he collapses.
He’s on his front when he regains consciousness, only a moment or two later. All he can see is her feet, but he knows she’s standing over him, knows she’s reclaimed her knife. He tried, but there’s nothing more he can do.
Only now, in this acceptance, does he take a second to think about his family. It doesn’t feel like sadness, but he’s starting to wonder if he still hasn’t woken up yet. This could all be a hallucination. It feels like his brain’s been dislodged slightly, or like he’s on a boat. He’s lying flat on the ground, and he feels motion sick.
‘You tried to kill me,’ she says, and he can’t read her tone without seeing her expression, so he doesn’t try.
‘You tried to kill me too…’ he mutters.
There is only silence.
‘Oh god…’ he groans, from some dark place. ‘Just fucking do it…’
The way the pain had hit him, it was like very suddenly falling down a well. There was the intense stomach flip, the rush of plummeting, and now there’s only darkness and broken bones. For the first time since waking up he just wants to die. He wasn’t built to withstand this kind of torture.
‘You tried to kill me…’ she says again, and she goes down on her knees beside him. He closes his eyes, but all she does is gently roll him over, onto his back.
Up above him, her head multiplies and melts back into itself. Her hair falls forward, brushing his face, it feels like the walls of the well all around him. He can see right through her head and up to the grimy ceiling, the off-white plaster, the way the sky would look from all this distance.
She pulls a face at him.
‘This changes everything,’ she says slowly, and not exactly happily. Then she wipes the sweat off his forehead with her sleeve.
‘Don’t die,’ she sighs, and then she stands up. ‘I’ll be back.’

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old abandoned story

It was a Tuesday afternoon. You finished work early. There was this thing with the thing, and you got to go home. Because they didn’t need you. You don’t know why. You don’t really understand your job sometimes.
The front door was open. I figured she’d just forgotten to close it. She does that sometimes. Then inside, she was just there. The first thing I saw. She was lying on her back with her arms spread out. And she was looking up at the ceiling, but not seeing anything. She has really pretty eyes, except for this time they were all glazed and empty. And they were still the same colour, just not the same intensity of that colour or something. And then I looked at the blood. It wasn’t like I’d just noticed it, it just wasn’t what I was focusing on at first. There wasn’t even that much. Not an obscene amount or anything.
I just kind of stood still and stared at her for a long time after that. Because I don’t know what to do, or how to start doing it. It wasn’t even sad, it was so intensely, overwhelmingly terrible that I couldn’t even be sad. I could have screamed if I’d thought about it, but I don’t really do that. So for like, a solid minute it was just nothing. I felt absolutely nothing at all. I didn’t move from the doorway. And I didn’t cry, or speak, or even open my mouth. Time stopped, for like a couple of minutes, while the unreality of it all failed to take effect. It wasn’t like if you react you’re admitting it really happened. I wasn’t trying to pretend it didn’t happen. It was just like I didn’t really believe it. But not that at all, at the same time. I could see it was real. I knew it had definitely really happened. It was just like, what’s the point in reacting? There’s no point.
I could have screamed, like I said. I could have dropped to me knees and cried. Or, you know, kicked things in a blind rage. Gotten on the ground and started shaking her.
It’s not real, I could have pleaded. I don’t believe it. And you know, been all dramatic, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. She’s still dead. She was dead then, and she’s still dead now. The fact that I stood still and did and thought and said and felt absolutely nothing for a little while doesn’t matter even the tiniest, littlest bit. Didn’t then, doesn’t now.
I wasn’t even telling myself to try and think rationally, it just happened that way. I don’t know why.
The five stages of grief are supposed to be like you’re sad, and then you’re angry, and then like, denial, or something. And then acceptance. I think. But that’s only four. So maybe the first is nothing. For the first five minutes you feel absolutely nothing at all.
And that’s stage one.
Done. Dusted. Dead.
And then you’re on to stage two. And you’re in this room, you can’t remember where. Or how you got there. There’s this woman asking you questions, but you can’t think about the answers properly. Though you’re trying, because she’s really nice to you and just trying to do her job properly.
But it’s just too hard. You try, but every time you think about it, it’s like it’s happening all over again. And it’s too hard. It’s too much. It’s too awful. Too awful to be happening to you.
‘You didn’t see anyone around or outside the house?’
She’s talking really soft. Like that makes a difference.
‘Or anything suspicious at all?’
‘No. I didn’t see anyone. I’d been at work all day. I didn’t see anything.’
I can’t keep it together. I’m trying to speak, but at the same time swallowing obsessively. It’s too much to take and I can’t keep it down. I can’t stop crying. And my nose is running, and I keep wiping it on my sleeve. It’s my work shirt. They’re going to kill me.
She offers me a tissue. ‘You can’t think of anyone who would want to hurt her?’
‘No.’ I can’t think straight. ‘Why would I know?’
‘I’m sorry, I have to ask. It’s standard procedure. She hadn’t mentioned anything strange, or suspicious to you the days before?’
‘No.’
‘She didn’t seem different at all?’
No. No. No. She keeps asking questions I can’t answer.
‘I can’t tell you anything, I don’t know anything. I know you’re just doing your job, I wish I could help you, but I can’t. I just can’t.’
She hears that and she nods. ‘Alright.’ And stands up. ‘Thank you for your time, Mr _ _ _ _ _, I’m very sorry for your loss.’
‘That’s okay, thank you.’
Why am I thanking her? And it’s not okay. It’s not even a little bit okay.
She closes the door. And you bury your face in your hands and lose control of your breathing. It’s not like you even wish it hadn’t happened. It’s still happening, you just want it to be over. Not back in the past, this morning, when you left for work. And it was the worst thing, because you hate your job and you keep thinking, why is this happening to me? Why don’t I just quit? I can’t stand it.
You’d still be unhappy. If it was this morning, you’d still have to work most if the day. And then you’d come home and find her again. And it would all happen again.
Not the past. The past is no good. You’re not happy now, but you weren’t happy then either. The future. You want it to be the same life, your life. You don’t care that it happened, because years have passed, and it doesn’t hurt really at all anymore. Because it happened then. Maybe even months away you’ll be able to stand it. Maybe just a week or two. Not tomorrow. It’s not going away by tomorrow. And not now. Not right now.
In this moment, it’s so bad it’s like a physical thing. An actually piece of you that someone could hold in their hand. And then drop. And grind it into the ground with their foot. And with each twist of the heel, it’s like your dying. You feel it. Every part of it in every other part of you.
You can’t stop crying, but you’re not trying to.
Jack?
It’s the future. Not years, not months, not even days. It’s been an hour, and you’ve stopped crying. Kind of. You’re still crying, it’s just by now your eyes are all dried up.
You’ve lost the will to live. You have such an intense headache, you’re aware of people flinching and wincing when they come near you.
Jack?
And now my sister’s here.
‘Jack, can you hear me? I just heard what happened. I’m so, so sorry, Jack… I can’t even imagine…’
She does sound sorry. And sad. But not so sad, because she knows she could never really understand. She knows that whatever she thinks or feels right now, it’s not what I’m thinking or feeling. She’s somewhere very far away, and she can’t go where I am right now. But she’s not trying to pretend we’re at the same place. She’s good like that.
Why are you here?
‘They called me. You’d stopped responding, they said. They found my number on your phone and they called me.’
‘Oh.’
‘Yeah.’
I have nothing left to say.
‘What’s going on, Jack?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You probably don’t want to talk about it, but they’re saying… they’re saying it was… that someone…’
‘I know.’
‘Oh, god…’ She bites down on her thumb. ‘Oh my god…’
‘Yeah.’
‘There’s no point in asking if you’re okay or anything… obviously you won’t be, I’m just thinking of the practical. It’s all I can really do. So come on, we’re going. They said you’re allowed to go tonight. And you can stay at mine… for as long as you like, and we’ll just… see. Tomorrow. And you can talk to me. Whenever you want to.’
You’re at your sister’s apartment. And she’s talking to you, and offering you food and drink and hospitality. But you don’t want it. You don’t want anything. You don’t want nothing. You are nothing.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
And then your sister’s boyfriend shows up. Your sister’s boyfriend’s name is Roman Tyson and you don’t know how long they’ve been together, but you don’t remember a life without Roman Tyson in it. Not anymore.
And you don’t like him, and it’s unlikely he likes you. Your sister knows.
‘This isn’t a good time,’ she tells him. In hushed tones. And he looks confused in the most obnoxious of ways as she tries to push him back into the hall.
I’m sitting at her table, and behind her back I stare fixedly at his hateable face. He grins.
‘Hey, Jack. What’s going on?’
‘Nothing. We’ll talk about it later.’ She walks him out, closing the door behind her. He waves at me and I don’t wave back.
Time slows down again, and they’re gone for a long, long time. You’re alone at the kitchen table. You can’t think about it, because you’ve thought about it so much it’s stopped making sense. You won’t sleep tonight. You don’t know if you’ll ever sleep again. You’re wide awake on the first day of a strange new life. You didn’t want it, but here it is. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Everything was already always ending, but you want it to end now.

curiosity #2

The houses on the first street are all boarded up. Dark and silent windows, forbidding signs, stating ‘That despite obvious dilapidation, any offers are welcome, and then refurbishment will commence immediately.’ The words are almost as old and worn as the houses themselves. Nobody comes here anymore. The man on the train said ‘Something was up’. Clearly.

Things cheer up a little when he reaches the square. There’s a juggler on the street corner, and a girl by the fountain, head in a book. Shops are still open, and general chatter drifts out onto the street mixed with the crackly radio at the juggler’s feet. A black cat streaks past. More bad luck, exactly what he needs.

‘Any boarding houses round here?’ he asks the girl. She looks up from her book, the tiny bells on her earrings jangling. She gestures with an arm.

‘Right off down that street, there’s one at the end. More of an inn, if I’m entirely honest. But it’s cheap and cheerful, guaranteed. If you want a proper boarding house you’d have to go further in town, but your bags look heavy, and I thought I’d try and save you the walk.’

‘Thank you. That’ll do for now.’

‘My pleasure, Sir.’

Again, with the Sir. He closes his eyes tight and walks away. Almost nothing is worth strangling someone over. Certainly not the irritating misuse of a relatively harmless title.

The street she mentioned is a long one, with many more disused, and generally deteriorating buildings to the left and right. Right down at the end is an immeasurably tall, thin house with rickety front steps and hundreds of mismatched windows.

It’s pretty. It’s bizarre. It towers over the whole street, and blocks out the fading sun. He’s walking in its shadow long before he’s close enough to read the signpost.

Warm light spills out the door, and voices, many voices. As he approaches, they become less of a distorted hum and turn into shouts and screams.

curiosity

‘What’s it like being a twin?’ Brodie asks, tired of listening to the talk of travel. Reece and Ed look at each other, attempting to give the same answer. They open their mouths at the same time.

‘Magic,’ Ed says.

‘Overrated,’ says Reece.

They look at each other again, this time with entirely different expressions.

‘Well done, Brodie…’ John mutters. Brodie almost smiles.

‘I’m sorry. Forget I asked.’

‘No, it’s okay,’ Ed says, looking martyred. ‘We can have separate opinions, we’re separate people. I mean, I’m obviously the brains of the operation.’

‘Yeah, sure,’ says Reece. He rolls his eyes at Brodie. ‘But I make up for the stupidity with quick wit and general good looks.’

‘Good looks!’ Ed snorts scornfully. They bicker on. Lilly catches Brodie’s eye.

‘Do you think we should tell them they look exactly the same?’ she whispers.

work in progress

The men with guns never stayed out too late in the woods round Jaundice Hill. Jaundice Hill was an old, old manor house, with fading yellow brickwork and a sliding slate roof. The house was hidden deep in the middle of the woods, and the estate belonged to Charles Malkovich. Charles Malkovich was old, old man, with fading yellow skin, and thinning slate grey hair.

‘Stay late and try your luck with the birds and the deer and the rabbits,’ Mr Malkovich said. He spoke with a growl and an accompanying twitch. ‘Stay late and shoot them all. They aren’t doing me any good.’

Like the inevitability of death, Mr Malkovich took comfort in the punctual sound of birds wings and gunshots. He hated the animals and the way their legs worked. He hated the animals in their youth an innocence. He was reassured by the men with guns and their basic instinct to hunt.

All day they’d come up from the village, and desecrate his forest. From sunrise to sunset there was always half a dozen men with guns peppering the air with shots. Then darkness would fall, and they’d all pack their things and leave, quarry or no quarry.

‘Stay as late as you want,’ Mr Malkovich would tell them. ‘Stay all through the night if you want to. I don’t care.’

But they never did. Stay out too late, and Janet Wilcox would come down through the trees in her indecently short skirt. With her sultry pout and her eyebrows plucked like a turkey.

They didn’t know the first time. She walked down as they built a campfire and laid down their guns. She walked down and she saw what they’d done; and she put her hands on her hips, and stuck her chest out.

‘Hello, men with guns,’ she said. Innocently the first time. ‘I’ve come to collect your fee.’

Nobody minded the prospect of a fee, because Mr Malkovich’s land was rich with game, and the girl that asked them was attractive in a dark and dangerous way.

Nobody minded except plain Suzy Crawford with her rabbit fur scarf; rocking her baby by the fire. Her husband had a look in his eye.

‘Mr Malkovich never mentioned a fee,’ she sniffed. ‘Never mentioned nothing of the sort.’

‘Didn’t he?’ Janet said, and there was a gleam in her wickedly dark eyes. ‘That’s because he’s gone in the head. Has trouble with the memory. But I remember.’

She looked at the dead rabbits and the dead birds, in a pile by their feet.

‘Well, it’s simple. Kill and eat our animals, and we take your children.’ Janet Wilcox made a grab for the baby. ‘Pay up!’

‘What?’ screeched Suzy Crawford, who tended to overreact. ‘You’re a madwoman! I’m not giving you my child!’

‘Don’t look so scared,’ Janet Wilcox said. ‘I only want to look after it.’

‘You’re crazy!’ Suzy Crawford insisted. ‘Don’t come anywhere near us! John, do something!’

‘You must be mistaken,’ John Crawford said dumbly. ‘Mr Malkovich never said anything about this. You can’t be serious.’

Janet Wilcox’s mouth set bitterly, and she snatched Suzy’s rabbit fur scarf.

‘Disgusting,’ she spat, and she dropped it on the fire. ‘To kill and wear something so innocent. I wouldn’t trust you around children with that kind of behaviour.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Suzy shrieked hysterically. ‘You’re crazy, you’re mad!’

‘Get out!’ Janet Wilcox yelled directly in her face. ‘Go back to your village, woman. You’re raving like a lunatic. I can’t understand a word you’re saying.’

‘Hang on now,’ John Crawford said calmly. Janet Wilcox was too captivating in her tight clothes, with her dark hair; and they couldn’t be angry with her. ‘That’s my wife you’re talking too.’

‘Poor you,’ Janet Wilcox said. ‘Watch she doesn’t skin and your baby on the way home. I’d start hiding the carving knives if I were you.’

Suzy screamed something at her, and Janet Wilcox turned and marched back up to the old manor house. The men with guns still hunted in the woods round Jaundice Hill, but they knew when Janet finished working, and they never stayed after dark again. Never long enough to speak to her. But sometimes they’d watch as she walked down the front steps to ask for their children.

Janet Wilcox was mad, they all said. But Janet Wilcox was not mad.

little section of an abandoned story

Melody doesn’t know who Mr Boboguard is, but she doesn’t doubt Jake will rat her out the first chance he gets. Still; so far, she’s been lucky. She grins in Jake’s direction, and he glares back so hard she can almost feel it.
Having finally managed to rouse sleeping Victor; Aiden rises swiftly to his feet, pulling his reluctant brother with him.
‘Vic, we warned you to be careful with this fragile human body,’ he tuts. ‘It’s broken now, look.’
They both stand facing each other; Aiden authoratively holding Victor’s forearms; and Victor’s head hanging forward. Out of fatigue rather than shame, Melody thinks. He keeps irritably trying to free himself as he says, ‘I’ll get a new one.’
‘You can’t just get a new one, dummy. That’s not how it works. It’s not like when we were kids and they warned you not to be too rough with your toys. You can’t just swap it for mine this time – you have a hole in your face, did you know?’
‘Yes, I know!’ Victor snaps. The question awakens his dead demeanor; straightens the slump out of his shoulders. With a sudden burst of energy, he yanks his arms away, and puts several steps of distance between them. ‘I brought you all dinner, so you can let me go now.’
‘You mean Melody?’ Aiden says, giving her an appraising look. ‘To be honest, I think she’s more trouble than she’s worth, little brother. Judging by the state of you. And she pushed me, you know? It’s not that we all wouldn’t love to eat her, I assure you –’
‘Not Melody!’ Victor interrupts. ‘She’s mine and she’s a guest. Dinner’s in the drive.’
The light spilling from the hall and down the front steps doesn’t reach far enough to illuminate the ice cream truck; but Aiden glances out into the pitch darkness and seems to see it anyway.
‘Ice cream?’ he says, disappointed. ‘We don’t eat ice cream, Vic. Are you sure you’re alright?’
Victor rolls his eyes. ‘No wonder they don’t let you out, Ade. Don’t be so stupid. The driver’s dead in the back.’
‘Oh, good,’ Aiden says, ignoring the other comment completely. Though for a second his pale eyes seem to deepen a few shades. ‘Jake, go get the body inside, and park the truck round the back. Don’t get blood on the carpet, and take Melody to the great hall. Make sure the others know she’s out of bounds will you? Vic, wait.’

Ed’s Moon (oldish short story)

‘You know what I like about the moon?’

Pete sighed and stared at the ceiling, suddenly brought back to earth. His mind had been wondering limitlessly, swirling round and round the black hole in his brain, trying to avoid being sucked in. Pete had a loose grasp on science, he was less than sure how black holes worked. Perhaps it was more like a whirlpool. But regardless, now he was back on earth, away from space and sea. Stranded, flat on his back on Ed’s bed.

‘What do you like about the moon, Ed?’

As if Pete was the one who had started the conversation, Ed shrugged disinterestedly and didn’t look back.

‘I don’t know. It’s just… Cool. You know? Does that make sense, or am I just saying words that aren’t registering in that overactive brain of yours?’

‘Are you high?’

‘What? No. Can’t a guy appreciate the moon in his own home? I’m not always high!’

He’s laughing now. Pete is far away. He feels lost in the shallow waters of the conversation.

‘Isn’t it your mom’s home?’

‘Okay, you can shut up now, smartass.’

Pete considers the uninviting prospect of sleep and silence and he sighs. ‘What do you say we go out and appreciate that moon of yours together? I feel like this is a waste of a perfectly nice night stuck in here.’

Pete knows Ed’s weak points. The kind of person who will drop everything for a midnight adventure is the kind of person he despises. Why would they want to do anything else, when they can sleep and sleep and maybe one day never wake up. He’s never been that lucky so far.

A spark ignites in Ed’s eyes. ‘Oh, you know me too well, Peter. You know me too well.’

‘Yeah, sure. Don’t call me Peter.’

One day Pete will escape this house, this town, this world if it were possible. For tonight, this house is enough.

Ed’s moon is a day away from full, and so bright it makes the frosted grass sparkle. They track through it silently, and Ed tries to take Pete’s hand but Pete rejects it like he always does. Ed doesn’t care, he rarely does. Pete would give anything to have such an innocent carefree existence. He wishes things were as simple and round and bright and beautiful as the moon. He considers how infinite the sky is on the way into the woods.

‘Don’t you get bored, Ed?’

‘Maybe. Bored of what?’

‘Everything.’

‘Pssh. What’s the point? That would be boring.’ Manic laughter at his own pathetic excuse for a joke. Pete just stares at him.

‘Are you sure you’re not high?’

Ed stands stock still, staring upwards at the branches silhouetted against the sky. The light reflects in his eyes, glittering mischievously.

‘I will be in a minute,’ he says, and Pete says, ‘What?’ though he knows what Ed means.

‘Come on, come up with me.’

‘Nah, I don’t want to.’ Pete folds his arms and shakes his head. ‘You climb the tree. I’ll stand here and watch. Don’t die on me though.’

‘Pssh. Come on. As if I’d do that. You’d crash and burn without me.’

‘No doubt. But it’s getting cold. So get it over with.’

Ed scampers up the tree like a monkey, light and agile. Pete watches him idly, thinking he’ll pause on the biggest branch, the one overhanging the ground he stood on a moment before. He’ll wave and laugh and boast about how skilled he is. Then he’ll jump down, trying to make a grab for Pete’s hand again, and they’ll go back inside. Pete will feel exactly the same as he did when he suggested they go out. But at least they passed ten minutes or so getting some fresh air.

But Ed doesn’t do as predicted. He doesn’t stop. He pauses on the biggest branch, then whoops in excitement and keeps going.

‘Pete, this tree is awesome! I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before, it’s just like a ladder! I could totally get right to the top!’

‘Good for you,’ Pete says dully. ‘Be quick about it.’

‘You can’t rush perfection! I’m going to be so high!’ Another manic howl of laughter. Pete glances down at the wet grass and wonders if it’s worth sitting down. Moments pass. Ed’s head suddenly appears up at the top of the tree, his triumphant expression just visible.

‘Dude, I’m so high up! You should totally join me!’

‘Yeah, no thanks. Now come on, you’ve had your fun. Get down here.’

‘Give me a minute to bathe in my own glory! Oh, you should totally try it! It’s so easy, even you could climb it!’

‘Thanks. Come on, Ed. It’s cold.’

Ed laughs. ‘Look, no hands!’ He waves wildly, and Pete’s heart jumps into his mouth.

‘Quit it, Ed! You’re going to -’

Reckless laughter, a movement too swift. He slips, falls, the tree swallows him and the black hole in Pete’s brain implodes and takes him over completely. He feels nothing, knows nothing, is nothing. He squeezes his eyes tight shut and locks himself in his own head.

The branches shake, there’s a thump. Pete dares open one eye and Ed’s lying lifeless in the frosted grass.

‘Ed?’ Pete’s voice sounds weak. He tiptoes closer and nudges Ed’s side with his foot.

‘Are you dead?’

He’s dead. He’s gone. Pete is gone too. He closes his eyes with the intention of never opening them again. There’s nothing worth opening them for anymore.

A sudden scream of joyous laughter. ‘You thought I was dead?’

Pete opens his eyes again and Ed jumps up and points and hoots with laughter. ‘You fool! Come on, as if I’d die after I promised you!’

‘That’s not funny!’ Pete snaps. He hits Ed’s arm. Then hits it again. ‘Stop laughing at me!’

‘I’m sorry, it’s just so funny. I’ll shut up. Let’s get back in the house before we freeze.’

When Pete wakes up the following morning, he feels hopeful and clear headed. The sun glints through the window, and Pete shakes Ed again, just to double check he isn’t dead.

‘Ed? You know what I like about the sun?’

‘What do you like about the sun, Pete?’ Ed mumbles, face in his pillow. Pete smiles.

‘Everything. It’s just cool, you know? Come on, let’s get out there and climb some trees.’

 

The End