She was strangely attractive once she was dead. A pool was spreading from her and her skin was colourless. She was completely still. Hacked into messes. Unrecognisable as human. He'd never seen a corpse before. It was his best friend who he had planned on marrying when he was older.
An unfamiliar feeling roused in him, his blood flowing…
She was lying on the pavement in the high street, a crowd surrounding her, and Phil was at the forefront. The police arrived and directed everyone away. Most found it easy to stop looking, but not Phil. He stared until he was forced to move.
Something changed in him that day. The image never left his mind.
"Shut the fuck up!"
The burst of frustration was inevitable. All he had heard tonight was the screaming from the crib and the rain heaving against the campervan windows. He was parked off the edge of the road.
He poured himself a strong drink and sat down and sipped away. An ambient noise faded in from the distance, and he became tense, full of fear. The fear built until it overtook his mind. They were here. Finally they had found him.
Then the noise faded out again. Just another late-night traveller. How long would it be before the bastards found him?
In the back of his mind rested a possibility. If he started the engine and got moving there was no doubt they would lose track of him. The thought accumulated until it was the biggest thing in his head, but then, exhausted, it lay down and disappeared. You can only run for so long.
He reached down and unzipped his bag. Sitting on top of his pile of clothes were two gold-framed pictures. The first was of a group of casually dressed men standing together. On the far left was a black haired guy with a big build. Himself. He was in mid-laugh, as were the rest of the group. Next to him was a big bald man, Nigel, and further down the line, a smaller guy, Jack. A smile almost formed on his face. He'd known Jack in secondary school. The two of them had been closer than anyone else they had met throughout the years. They sat next to each other in almost every lesson, shared much common ground. Jack had always been a ladies man, always had his eyes on somebody, and had many girl friends. The only reason Phil had female friends was because of Jack. He didn't enjoy their company, every time he looked at one he saw them lying bloodied on the ground. He once passed out thinking about it.
The number one thing Phil remembered about Jack was him being a mummy's boy. He talked a lot about his mother, showed a perverse amount of affection for her. Everyone ripped into him for it. He had another significant memory, which was of Jack's violence, when someone on the courts had rudely walked into him in an effort to leave in a hurry and Jack had rushed after him and confronted him. Phil didn't get a glimpse of the exchange but it ended with the lad on the ground with Jack kicking him repeatedly in the abdomen. Phil had to pull Jack away to stop him. The lad spent a night in hospital. There were many happier memories, but this one had the most prominence to Phil at this point in time.
Because now Jack was gunning for him.
He had met Nigel through work. He remembered it well, remembered Jack landing the job at the club. Bouncing. Then, a few months later, he applied for the same job. His and Jack's friendship was lost at this point, simply due to a lack of communication, and he looked everywhere else for some line of work where his past would not be his puppeteer, but he needed income, and when the opportunity came he realised he'd be stupid not to take it. Then he and Jack became good friends again and Jack introduced him to Nigel.
He remembered shaking hands with Nigel, telling him that his name was Phil and Nigel welcoming Phil with open arms. The most striking thing about him was his eyes, they were big and blue and wandered as if he had lost his sight. Nigel invited Phil round to his home one evening and they drank beer and conversed. Nigel told Phil about his late wife, Karen. Phil had spotted the picture hanging brazenly on the wall. She had beautiful blonde hair and a pretty face. She had been dead six months, Nigel explained. Died from falling off a cliff in North Devon during their holiday. It was simple clumsiness, he said. They had been walking along and she had lost her balance. Phil developed a great amount of respect for Nigel after that.
Phil didn't enjoy the job, he had to train himself not to make eye contact with the attractive females, for fear of them transforming into a corpse.
He used to let underage people in if they had an ID, which made him favourable to the people. Nigel never did this, he was fixated on the rules, and whenever the arrogant kids got confrontational he taught them a harsh lesson. He was crazy. That was for certain.
Phil remembered a particular group of boys he had let in who returned the following weekend. But this time they had to make it past Nigel. The front man of the group became confrontational, claiming that the "other guy" had let them in last time and Nigel warned him not to walk up on him, and the group tried to force their way through but Nigel pushed them all back with his arms. The front man smacked him and he lost his head. He threw the front man down the steps and punched another of them in the face. The second and third sprinted away. Nigel walked down the stairs toward the front man and picked him up. Nigel's expression showed that violence was inside of him, that all he needed was a push. Phil could see the fury in his eyes. He hurried toward him to appease the situation. Luckily, he was successful. Hell knows what might have happened otherwise.
Phil said, "Don't worry abou' 'em, mate."
Nigel turned to him, and in his eyes there was no longer fury, but cold disappointment. "It's your fault," he said, "you let 'em in."
He turned his back and walked away.
Phil never interacted much with Jack. Every time he tried to talk to him he felt that there was a part of him missing, as if a light had gone out that used to shine so brightly. One time Phil brought up a funny incident from years ago, and Jack let out a short gust of a laugh, said "Yeah," and that was the end of the conversation. Things just weren't the same anymore.
A discussion he observed between Nigel and Jack was what you would do if someone crossed you. Nigel claimed that the answer is to harm them to the same degree. This was preying on Phil's mind now.
Everybody else in the photograph was now faceless. Guaranteed Phil had had good times with them, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't recollect a single memory. All he could think about was Nigel and Jack hunting him down.
The rain hammered violently and his child continued to scream.
"Please, stop it! I can't think straigh'!"
He put the photograph down and picked up the other, and as he looked at it the rain and the baby's crying subsided.
It was of him, Coral and their baby. There was joy in that picture. He remembered Coral's smooth black hair and her bright eyes. When he met her all the perverse thoughts that had coursed their way into his head disappeared. He had everything in common with Coral, they were able to sit and talk to each other for hours on end. One time they stayed up until the early morning without realising. It was a match Phil had never thought possible. They were together for a month before moving in together, and eight weeks later they were getting married. All his life Phil had been against the idea of jumping to decisions about relationships, but with Coral things were different. He knew it was right.
From that point on he was damn good at his job, there was no more avoiding anyone. His self-confidence elevated to an all-time high. He was free.
The birth was the peak of his happiness. It was when he realised how full his life was. It was all he wanted, all he needed. He remembered picking up the child for the first time, looking into her eyes. She had Coral's eyes and Phil couldn't take his off her.
A tear landed on the glass.
Coral's death was vivid.
Phil and her had made the decision to spend some time out of the house, and arranged a babysitter. Jack invited Phil out for a drink when he told him of their plans.
Phil was happy about it, saw it as a chance to reignite the spark, but was disappointed when he discovered that it was just the same shattered friendship as always, except now they were at a bar. All up until Jack said: "How's your wife then?"
"Not bad, why?"
"I've been thinkin' 'bout it a lot lately…they say that gettin' married and havin' kids and that changes your outlook on life."
"I was wonderin', has it changed you?"
Phil thought about it. "Yes. Yeah definitely."
"How?" Jack was looking at him intently.
Phil thought about it. "Well, I feel a lot…calmer, I suppose. When I was in school and…well, my whole life really, I had…well I had a lot of grim stuff going through my head. Life was almost unbearable sometimes, to be honest."
"What? What went through your head?"
The only time Phil had shared it with anyone was as a joke. "Remember that girl I told you about?"
"Well, I could always see her." Jack was looking him dead in the eyes. "And I was fascinated…don't get me wrong, it was horrible, but I kept obsessin' about it. About death and dead people…silently, of course. I hated it but I couldn't help it. And, well, that's all stopped now."
"You're happy now?"
"Yeah, happiest I've ever been. Why'd you ask?"
"I'd quite like to be the same way. It's so weird, I never imagined you like that. Married so young."
"We're not that young anymore, mate." Phil laughed.
It was quite enjoyable in the end. But then, before they left, Jack said, "We know about you, Phil." His expression was even more intense.
"The kids you let into the club, we know about it. We're not gonna tolerate it anymore."
"It's…you know what it's like at that age…"
"I don't care. Nigel ain't gonna take it lightly if you keep on doing it, me neither. You stop breakin' the rules or you'll be put in your place."
"I suppose you're right. You should be allowed to break the rules every now and then though."
"We're not at school anymore, Phil."
As he walked home on his own, his phone went off. He put it to his ear.
The voice was authoritative. Phil confirmed himself and the voice said, "It's your wife."
He ran to the crime scene, anxious, tears teetering on the edge of his eyelids, his heart thumping painfully. When he reached it he broke through the crowd and dropped to his knees, crying beyond his control. He shouted her name over and over, and screamed raucously.
The image was there every time he closed his eyes, tormenting him. Coral's mangled body. It was agonising. There were no witnesses, but the evidence suggested she had been beaten to her death.
Death, he thought.
Two nights later he managed to get to sleep, but the second his eyes were closed the dead plagued him. He saw the dead girl from school lying before him, just like it had first happened. She opened her eyes and spoke provocatively at him. Then she melted away and he saw Coral. "It's me," she said, "It's just me. There's no difference anymore…"
He woke up in a cold sweat. He opened the curtains and it was still mostly dark, the sun peeping over the grimy landscape. "Fuck off." He said, and the room darkened again as he let go of the curtain.
Who had done it was not a concern until, during his mournful reminiscing, he remembered Nigel's disturbing claims of what he would do to someone if they crossed him. Phil thought of the night the underage boys tried to get into the club… and there and then it struck him.
Why had Jack invited him out that night of all nights? Clearly he wanted to warn him, but he knew that Coral was out. Phil knew. It was to distract him, so that he and Nigel could be sure he wouldn't be around. Jack distracted him while Nigel…
He despised them.
He was going to get even with them. He was going to take someone close away from both of them. They had murdered his wife. It was their fault his life was in ruins. If he could have, he would have gone after Jack and Nigel directly, but they were still in police questioning. It was better this way. This way they could feel just like he did.
In the present, he refilled his drink, lay back, closed his eyes, and the memory was there before him, replaying as if it were the first time.
Breaking and entering was pretty damn easy when the victim left the doors open all the time. Hopefully she hadn't heard. He crept up the stairs and found the bedroom door, and pushed it open. Inside there was a strange light, the moon glowing through the red curtains. Underneath the quilt, he could see her.
He grasped the axe - it was a little rusty, it had been sitting in the shed a long time - and walked up to the bed. She looked the same, except she was greying. He remembered many occasions when he had stayed overnight, and how when he had arrived home his mother had asked him how it was, and how he had always made exclamative statements about how Jack's mother was the nicest mother he had ever met.
Times certainly had changed.
He made no effort to soften his footsteps. What did it matter?
He raised the axe until it was almost touching his back…
And her eyes opened…
An explosion of blood as the axe ripped into her. She screamed in agony. He wrenched the axe out and launched it in again. Blood and innards covered his face and the walls. If only you could see it, mummy's boy.
She looked him in the eyes and uttered something unrecognisable as a human sound, blood gurgling in her throat and pouring out of her mouth. Phil pulled out the axe, placed it at her neck, raised it once more, and while looking into her face of horror, her bulging eyes praying for the end of this wide-awake nightmare, he threw the axe down.
She was still, her eyes wide and absent. She was dead. Phil could feel his blood begin to flow increasingly fast, and he climbed onto the bed. If she had been alive, this would have been impossible, but she was something different now that she was no longer breathing. He mounted her…
He opened his eyes.
He didn't regret it, not at all, just wished he could have seen Jack's reaction. Considering his contacts, he probably wouldn't even have called the police. Nigel would have convinced him not to, of course. Jack was a pussy.
He looked at his watch. Half an hour had gone by. How he had slept for so long was beyond him. But he realised, the rain was only lightly pattering against the window now, and his child was asleep.
He went over to the crib and picked his child up and placed her in her lounger. She had always liked this chair for some reason. If he had come to his senses he would have put her in it much earlier. She didn't make a sound as he strapped her in.
He placed his empty glass on the kitchen top. His vision was unsteady. He made his way back to the sofa. He would have been completely calm if it weren't for the underlying dread of the inevitable. He would die tonight.
On the sofa, he thought more about what he had done, and the second memory came back to him easier than the first.
He landed conveniently on his feet. Lucky for such a drop. The gate was large.
He picked up the shovel, which he had tossed over beforehand, and pulled the torch out of his pocket, and then began walking. He had a vague memory of where it was, the recce seemed much more beneficial now. He flashed the torch over each gravestone. He didn't expect to find it straight away but seeing each of them gave him a hint as to how far away he was, and how much time he was going to need.
He heard a rustling from behind him and froze. He turned slowly, and with dread.
He was staring face to face with his imagination.
He continued, consistently reminding himself that nobody had seen him, nor could anybody conceivably discover him, the graveyard was isolated from civilization.
He walked on for about half an hour, searching each new area, shining light into the darkness, until at last he knew he was close. He envisioned where he had found it earlier. He remembered a large tree…
He could see that tree directly ahead of him. He approached it. Crooked and solitary, underneath its branches was a single grave. He flashed the torch over the text. Good to finally meet you in person, Karen.
He sunk the shovel into the earth. The ground was hard at first, and it drained his energy, but gradually, the earth became softer. He went for hours, digging a deeper and deeper hole, until finally he struck a hard surface. Excitement and dread coursed through him, and soon he could see the wood. He raised the shovel and stabbed at it, splinters flying in every which direction. He didn't even run out of breath.
He had made a hole in the wood. It was easy to expand it. As he stared through the blackness of the hole the image of the dead schoolgirl flashed before him…
His fury sped up the job.
The hole was big and out of it escaped the stench of death. He threw the shovel away and reached into the coffin. Peering in, he could taste the decay of a body half decomposed, then his fingertips made contact with it, then he grabbed it and wrenched it through the hole.
He dropped the corpse and jumped back. Her skin and lips had deteriorated grotesquely, and her hair was like thin strands of rope. Her eye-sockets were empty but they still managed to glare at him. Phil stared, terrified, but as his imagination raced ahead of him, he slowly became aroused.
He reached down and undressed Karen and tossed away her clothing. The time had finally arrived. I hope you enjoyed her, you bald cunt, because now it's my turn…
He unfastened his trousers, stooped, and thrust inside her. It was surreal, unlike anything he had ever felt. And it was fantastic. After fifteen seconds, the climax had built up inside him, and he exploded into her.
He climbed out of the hole, leaving her the way she was. Karen had gone down with dignity in Nigel's mind, Phil was aware of this. Now his only memory of her would be a violated, decomposing corpse.
Phil picked up the shovel, turned around, and launched it at Karen. It landed sharp end first in her face and her skull cracked. Then he relocated his torch and began the journey back to his campervan, where he found his child right where he left her, fast asleep. He started driving. He needed to get far away from here. It had been an exhausting evening, and Nigel and Jack would be on the hunt for him very soon.
The noise shook him out of his thoughts and he stumbled onto his feet. It was the sound of a car door closing.
They were here.
He ran to the kitchen, pulled open a drawer, and withdrew a large knife. He backed against the wall beside the door, and waited.
This wasn't ending now. Why should it? He wasn't guilty, they were.
Silence except for the heavy rain hammering the roof and windows.
Nothing. It wasn't them. Of course it wasn't. They wouldn't wait around. People might have stopped here, but it was probably just a coincidence.
He took a deep breath. It felt glorious.
He wanted to make an escape. No more standing around waiting for the inevitable, it was time to get the vehicle moving, and travel far away. How long he'd last was beyond him, but he had some money. Enough to make a start.
He threw the knife onto the sofa.
As he caught sight of his daughter in her chair he was overwhelmed by guilt. He had yelled at her earlier. There would be no more of it. No more negligence or impatience. It was time to make things right. He packed the two photographs back into his bag.
"Let's get away from here."
With a deafening bang the front door flew off its hinges. Nigel, his eyes spitting fire, stormed up to Phil and swung a bat at his face. An explosion of blood and Phil was on the floor, cupping his hands around his face.
"You sick, twisted cunt!" Nigel yelled.
A second person entered. From the floor, Phil saw his short black hair and eyes. Next thing Phil saw was a foot, and it violently kicked him in the abdomen repeatedly. With each strike came more agony, and eventually he threw up. Alcohol ridden vomit spewed onto the carpet.
Then he felt something that stopped any rational thought. Cold metal pressuring his temple.
"Jack, mate, not yet!"
"What the fuck are we waitin' for? He ruined everythin'! He don't deserve nothin' else!"
Phil looked up at Jack. "What've you become?"
Jack looked straight back at him. "What've I become?! I can't even look you in the eye anymore!" his voice was breaking. "You were s'posed to be my best friend!"
Phil broke eye contact. In his next words was nothing but sheer truth. "I've always been this way, but I never thought I'd see you like this."
There was silence for a moment, then Nigel said, "Listen mate, this prick don't deserve death. Death's too good-"
A loud complaint from across the room. Nigel turned to face the baby.
"Now there's somethin'. Pass the gun."
Jack stepped back. "Nige…no…"
"Pass the gun!"
"This is too far! He's the one we're here for," Jack pointed at Phil.
"I'm not gonna shoot it!"
The idea seemed to settle on Jack's face, and he handed the gun over.
"Make sure that scumbag's payin' attention."
Jack said "Pay attention now!" but Phil was already watching.
Nigel pointed the gun in the face of Phil's child and she went silent. Everything was silent.
"Nigel, please…" said Phil.
"Seems only fair to me. You 'ave no idea what it's like bein' called in the early hours and told that your partner, your bes' friend who you've 'nothin' but fond memories of, has been dug up 'nd…you're a sick fuck, a mad dog that needs puttin' down. And for what? I never did nothin' to you!"
"Don't take her…"
"She's the only memory I have left…of Coral."
Nigel laughed. "Her? I do remember her. Maybe I should've dug 'er up and done some nasty things to 'er! I ain't like that though. I'm a man."
"Don't kill her, pl-"
Pain struck his abdomen once again. Jack said, "I've 'ad enough waitin' around, are we gonna kill 'im or what?"
Nigel's face became intense. His eyes threw daggers. He pressed the gun firmly into the child. Phil was enraged and terrified. He didn't believe Nigel would do it.
"Nige, don't!" yelled Jack.
Phil, panicking, looked toward the sofa. The knife was lying there. Without thinking, he advanced, grabbing Jack and tearing him to the floor. In his stride, he grabbed the knife, and turned just in time to see the gun go off.
His child exploded into messes. Brain embedded itself into the wall and skull shattered like glass.
"Nige!" Jack yelled.
Phil dropped to his knees screaming. Nigel stood upright, laughing.
"You got nothin' Phil. Nothin! You made the biggest mistake o' your life!"
"Nige, let's get the fuck outta here!"
Jack was already making his way to the door.
Clutching the knife with unbelievable grip, Phil looked at his childhood friend.
Nigel walked out the door and then they were out of sight.
Phil rose to his feet and charged after them. He reached outside and there was Jack, directly in front of him. Just like when he had slain Jack's mother, he made no effort to soften his footsteps, and Jack turned to defend himself as Phil slashed the knife, and in half a second, Jack's throat was wide open, gushing blood. He collapsed to his knees, his hands covering the wound. His eyes were almost apologetic as he fell onto his front.
Nigel managed to climb into the car but Phil grabbed him and wrenched him out. Nigel dropped onto the concrete, his head hitting it hard, and Phil thrust the knife into his side. He yelped, holding the stab wound.
"Get it over with, Phil! I don't fuckin' care! You've got nothin' to get back to! You're life's nothin' but wasteland!"
Phil looked deep into Nigel's eyes and said, "You know what? You're right. I've got nothin'. But neither do you. You never did. You never had any more than I had."
"Fuck you starin' at? Just do it! Kill me. I'm tellin' you to do it!"
"I'm not gonna kill you. You're right, I'm staring. I've always wondered what it's like to look into the eyes of a blind man."
Nigel screamed and flailed as Phil inserted the knife into his eye. Once the job was done, Phil pulled it out and began work on the other. Strange liquids oozed out of each socket, and the helpless man continued to scream.
He dropped the knife. It was done. Everything was done.
Phil, as ever, was stood in the middle of nowhere. He looked up and down the road. It didn't matter what he chose to do. No matter which direction he took the outcome would be the same.