His hands grasped for memories about the space beneath the bed. Out came a wooden chest more ancient than the room around him, model aeroplanes still tethered to the ceiling on cotton strings.
He unmasked his sacred haul. An identity parade of conquests, his penchant for redheads. He leafed through the driver’s licences. Yet something felt off. Everything was not in its place. Not in the order he’d left them. His mother, stretched by the years, lived alone in this dilapidating townhouse home. The boredom since he’d moved out. It felt such a nuisance to have to take measures now.
I take bets on suffering, a bouquet of cash in my fist. Bright faces of boys beam and roil in the sway as the two fighters start to trade bareknuckle blows. More money to my name than I have ever known. Only one way of leaving this park of gutted automobiles with it all.
The two men swing at each other until teeth and ropes of blood arc over the dirt. No-one knows the dramatic climax is scripted. A pipe spins, coiling sparks, the crowd kicking it blind under their soles. Summoned on the promise of a bloody spectacle, so they shall have it. The fuse soon to run out.
The tree trunk curled across the way. Burnt matchstick roots scattered to the dust. So far up into the mountain that those on the ground shrunk to the size of plastic army men pressed about the sand. It was up here that the boy cycled from person to person, grown many times in size by the curvature of the lens. Black lines intersecting over women, men. Other children.
Some cooked. Some cleaned pots in the stream that bent around the sanded field where baseball was once played, presently a place to grow leeks. The barbecue pits turned communal kitchens. Earlier a party he tracked back here came on his camp in the night. They had nearly tripped over him as he had imagined himself a stone. Walked on by. He had not seen their faces then. He wondered if he saw them now.
It almost did not feel fair, what was going to happen to the people he watched. Before they had a chance to react. That they would go from content and full stomachs to grief. By then he would already be on the move. Impossible to catch. That they shall be afraid to be outside was no victory, but it would bring him some redress.
The act leaves him counting the paper and coins pressed into his palm, that he must spend at a different store. Even though most no longer have the tape for their security cameras, he feels safer that way.
The act doesn’t change. Come on, come outside. There’s something cool to see. Air hockey. Arcade cabinets. In the poorer towns, a promise of food. When he was growing up there were words for men like him. Strangers, he recalls. How little changes. How everything changes.
He thought the amount would have taken a toll on him by now, but he had found his peace. If he refuses, he will be the next one hooded. Put in the van. All monsters have to come to terms with what they are sooner or later.
He went to work with the lump hammer and chisel. A condiment of dust filtered down to the floor, collected in piles about his boots. He saved time by making every stone in advance.
A woman who came in today needed one for her husband. Cancer, the poor fellow. He started work on hers too. The increased stress of burying him would be the end of her.
He formed the designs she would ask for, hydrangeas and lilies, but put his tools away before names or dates. Too early would seem beyond coincidence. Too prophetic. An advertisement for witch hunters.
Come, I’ve something to show you.
Bold strides through patches of long grass fighting the breeze. Edges sharp enough to cut. The girl leads me down a trail trodden, down the long road of their garden. A yard far bigger than one could know from looking. A secret way for secrets hidden.
Trees arrive over our heads and my guide’s voice fades. Patchwork light of canopy leaves. Cool gloom over the weeds. Out that muted green a barn looms, the scent of paint and fresh timber and whitewashed stones, surrounded by those long blades and boughs that hiss at passing gusts. Daisies smothered in the scrub. She appears, pressing a finger to her lips, her hand around my tiny wrist.
We’ve got to be quiet, and we can’t go inside. Otherwise we can’t play here again.
We circle around, cautious pacing, my heart a frightened bird. I’m afraid to breathe. The whole clearing the sensation of a tomb disturbed. Grave-robbers and ghouls are we in this strange sea. Her figure consumed then returns.
This is why we have to hide. Mother says he doesn’t like animals anymore.
In her palms the skull of something small. Its bed an assortment of broken similitudes. The white in the grass is not the white of flowers at all. A woman’s voice calls a name from behind the trees. My guide, her face, as pale as what she holds.
He held the ID between fluttering fingers. In his wallet it had waited for this day of purpose. From the comparison with her faded photograph cascaded two decades past. The high street confectioners where they met. A bench just wide enough for two at a volcanic lake, the spot on which he proposed. Two children, both grown, who he liked to imagine were alive someplace, though he could not tell you where.
The days without food gave no hindrance to his recollection. Neither the chalk powdering her hair into a banshee white or the facepaint of woad mixed with her enemies’ blood. The joy that came from recognising her crept darkly through the floor of his stomach as she took his hand in the same way she used to after a vicious argument. His words gathered and died in his throat. They descended earthen stairs together to a pit hastily dug, while the other cultists stood vigil, breath smoking in the torchlight. Whether or not she still remembered him mattered very little at all.
It was the second day of Phil’s new job and he collapsed to his knees once more. He squeezed the hilt of the shovel tight and tried to raise himself back to his feet. Regretted letting his father find him work. The first grave he had dug had been easy, but the fourth may as well have been a mountain for how exhausted he was. His hands blistered in ways he had never known possible. His whole palm a map of pus.
Phil had to dig more than one a day because of the man watching him. Told him it was so that his spirit wasn’t to know the one he would end up in. Which would get filled first or last. But still, he figured it was better to be out of the house, away from the others.
He woke alone to the smell of someone else’s sweat, a fit of self-medication for anxiety ending predictably. He slithered arms through the bedclothes until he found the razor blade, his failsafe. Restoring it to a nest of tissues in his breast pocket, he considered this place an improvement on the public bathrooms and roadside bushes of prior occasions.
He drew himself out of bed. Ate at someone else’s table from a fridge of things he didn’t like. In the bathroom mirror he found a curious old man staring at him. Drew a smile on his wrist and noted the success of his pain. This is definitely who he was. He should try accepting it for once.
Mary ran her fingers through the fair strands of the mare’s mane. Ghosts of her fractures still shooting phantom pains up her shins. From long days in a hospital bed, her legs barely held together by pins. She pictured this day to get her through the worst.
Tedious years of rehabilitation and excruciating efforts to walk set stepping stones to returning to the saddle. Many had called her short of sense.
Had the same injury happened to the horse, it would surely have been euthanised. A fact that she mouthed silently as she had selected the very beast that threw her to be her mount. On her entrance to the riding club, Mary had eyed the field’s surface. Uneven after a night of ceaseless rain. Hazardous. Perfect.