Friday, 5 December 2008

Following Annabel (part two)

His juddering hand pressed lightly upon the white door, to see if it could be pushed open. The door felt like ice. Such a jolt of cold went through him when he touched it that it almost repelled him from the house altogether. But then came the moans of Annabel filtering through the cracks around the door, he had to enter.
Wrapping his hand in his sleeve, he gripped the door handle. It seemed almost frozen to the touch but it turned and the door slowly opened before him. He took a step back as a blast of icy, reeking air flowed out over him.
The man staggered a little under the charnel stench, but stumbled forward into the room. His senses were reeling; he rubbed his eyes and lurched towards something he might hold onto. In the strange twilight of the room, he saw red carpets running into purple walls. He found a supporting pillar and leant against it in a daze.
There was a strange fog in this room, it was stopping him from understanding quite what was real here. He tried to look through it, to peer through the wisps to the motion beyond, the place where he could hear Annabel struggling.
He stumbled on then, brushing the effervescing smoke away and walking into a couch, which he rolled over and lolled upon in a stupor. He could see her now, Annabel in the fog. Her eyes were closed and she was leaning back against the cloud that enveloped her. Her black blouse had been removed and she was twitching a little and murmuring in seeming ecstasy.
Around her, the cloud was snaking into some kind of form. Nothing precise and definite, but there was a sensation of form, of a grey shape stroking her body and holding her in space.
The sight of Annabel’s bare white breasts, moving in the asphixiating room, shook the man and angered him. His fear draining away, he ran to the girl and grabbed her, wresting her from the spectral form that danced upon her flesh. She opened her eyes then, but her pupils had rolled back in her head.
She pushed the man back against the wall, kissing him and scratching at his neck. He wanted to succumb to this, all of this, the reason why she brought him here, the limits of strange lust and desire, the complete wanton destruction and devastation of the soul. But he opened his eyes then, and saw the fine grey mist grow thicker and less gaseous. Its form grew darker, like an oily pulp, pulsating and flowing forward towards them.
A thousand futures seemed to race through his mind as the sludge descended. Would he give himself to an eternity of urges and feelings?
Instead, he pushed Annabel hard, back into the open arms of the thing that possessed her and ran for the door. He flew from the room and bounded down the stairs. He noticed a thin layer of smoke trailing from under the doors in the ground floor rooms and he kicked at the grey mist as he pulled open the front door.
Spying a motor-scooter further down the street, he hopped on and forced the engine to start. He heard the gutteral scream of a young woman from a room somewhere above him and saw thick black smoke pouring from a shuttered window. Not for a second, though, did he think to go back for her. Not for a moment.
Soon he was propelled along upon a moped, whizzing out of the warren of the back streets; every second getting closer to sanity.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Following Annabel

He bought a new hat before he met her today. He wanted to look a little offbeat, out of sync with the world around him. He felt sure that would appeal to her.
She was so cool, so sure of herself. She didn't look like an Annabel. Her hair flowed pitch black down her back, her blue eyes stoked those around her with intense excitement; her lips, ruddy and enticing, she'd bite them when she was thinking. She'd bite sometimes while she was kissing, too.
She didn't mention the hat when she saw him, but she looked at it and smiled wryly. She kissed him slowly on the cheek and drew her fingers slowly down his face as she withdrew. Those same fingers then wrapped tightly around his hand and she set off, running at a startling place. "There's somewhere wonderful I've found," she shouted back at him. "I want to show you."
They danced through the back streets of the city. Flying down alleyways and along narrow streets he saw a world that he'd never noticed before: the city in daylight as a warren, almost deserted.
And then on a thin, overhanging street she slowed and walked quite genteelly to a door ajar. "I don't know how I found it, the first time," she said softly to him, smiling excitedly, "But it welcomed me, all the same. That's how it felt, anyway."
The girl shook her head then, as if she had been speaking gibberish and undoing all the hard work she'd put in establishing her casual persona.
When he stepped through the door, the young man was surprised to see the still furnished hallway of an apartment building. There even seemed to be a communal phone connected there.
Annabel looked back at him from the staircase. She’d already bounded halfway up one flight. Her head was turned towards him. She bit her lip and held her hand out, beckoning him.
He wanted to go upstairs with her, so much, but something about the house left him uncertain and uneasy. He stepped slowly towards the stairs, listening intently for some sound from this dead house. There was nothing. He stepped onto the first step as Annabel said, “Hurry! Come on!” and disappeared up the second flight. He heard her padding on across the landing. He was so scared of going up there with her, he looked for a reason not to go. Was that blood on the stair carpet? He almost wanted it to be, but he kept on, plodding up the stairs, feeling colder and more awkward with each step.
It seemed to take an age to clear the stairs and reach the landing. Why did he feel such dread? There were four doors, all closed, and the window shutters were all fastened. Where was Annabel?
He saw more stains on the carpet of the landing, more stains on the wall and, then, a bloody smear upon the old white door. Second to the left, a shaft of light illuminating the streak of red dried upon it. His body shook. What happened here?
He heard Annabel then. She was on the other side of this door. She was whimpering. And she was speaking to someone.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

From a beautiful balcony

From a beautiful balcony she saw the world. It was a world of constant blossom and energy; the kinetics of motion seemingly drawing a performance of life on and on before her lookout post.
She, Sarah, was a tender girl of 20 years; soft of face and lustrous of hair. Her young love, Theo, was the reason she watched out so much.
On the days she knew they would meet, she spent at least an hour before his arrival looking down upon the speeding world. This panoply of colour and sound would bring such a delighted smile to her mouth that she would often start to tremble with sheer joy, or perhaps shed a little tear for the world and all the beautiful things it had to show her. Even on the days it rained, she was happy by the teeming water tapping at her window.
When he eventually came (always five minutes early) she would see his black head bobbing along the street from quite a distance. Immediately her heart rate would increase and she might feel a little bit sick, but she would take a deep breath and follow his progress with her eyes.
When he got near to her balcony he would always look up to see her, but she was able to time this to perfection and always rolled away and around, back into the living room, to keep him waiting for his glimpse of her, to heighten the anticipation of their imminent embrace and kiss.
There was one day, just one day, when she looked out for him, looked out long and hard and she couldn’t see him. Her eyes flicked like a hungry tongue around the street, crossing to the other side and then back again. She felt sick, she was trembling, her eyes were tearful, but no sign of him. ‘He must just be running late,’ she told herself over and over. ‘He’s okay’.
But when the time came when she would usually twirl around away from the window, she simply fell to the floor, covered herself in her dress and wept. Not for long, though. It dawned on her that her Theo might be in trouble, somewhere near by. She must look for him, at least. She must do that.
And running down the stairs, without stopping to take a coat or change her shoes, she flung open the double doors of the house and then stopped dead. There, upon the first step, was a bouquet of delicate white roses, and smiling next to them was her love.
She stepped over the flowers, then, and threw herself into Theo’s arms, weeping some more and kissing his face, almost falling from the weight of the contrasting feelings she had been subject to these last minutes.
But he held her up and kissed her eyes, and found that he was weeping too.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The queen of all she surveys

She looked out, across the flaming grass, upon a hot and salty scene. They’d left her there, while they played, or sat to talk and read; they left her there, in the shade.
It wasn’t as if they were thoughtless children or mean. It’s not as if they sought to dump their infirm gran as a young mother might disregard her newborn’s pram.
No, they thought she liked to sit alone, as regal as a queen upon her throne. They would slowly turn their heads to spy; see her relaxing and smiling or staring at planes in the sky.
They never knew what thoughts blistered her head, what screams twisted her dreams. Her smiles and waves were enough to share; they’d get no closer than when pushing her chair.
It was a torment to her, you know? Every moment she was propped before that show. With the pantheon of summer laid out before her – all pumping limbs and cart-wheeling hair – there’s grandma with the brakes on and the wheelchair, frozen in leering frustration before them, like a garden gnome.
The hours there, broken only by the short straw and trips taken to the lavatory door, until four o’clock comes and it’s not quite so warm. They forgot her cardigan you see, they forgot to leave it under the tree; so it’s time to stop having fun, ‘cos grandma might be getting cold. It's time to load her into the back of the car and drive her home.

Monday, 1 December 2008

In the undergrowth

You hear people talking all around you when you’re a child. You’re too busy to listen, of course; it’s more a constant buzzing that encircles you, filled with boredom.
You learn to respond to certain tones or commands; else you’ll be grabbed, slapped or worse. But soon you find that the odd word begins to slip inside; is allowed through the net of interference and white noise.
I remember, when I was six years old, I heard my parents use the word murder in front of me for the first time. It’s funny how with some words you just know what they mean. Straight away, I knew this word was tinged with violence and death. I was scared of this word, but more I was scared of something I’d seen the week before.
On the bus on the way home from school, I’d seen a man lying in the undergrowth. I told the children on the bus and they laughed. I told my mum when I got home and she told me to stop being silly. When I insisted, she dismissed me by saying: “He was probably just having a lie down.”
I thought about it all night and in the morning, when dad was helping me to get dressed I told him I had seen a murder. He was shocked, of course, but from my description he soon realised my misunderstanding of the word ‘murder’, for it was the victim I thought I’d seen.
He didn’t tell my mum where we were going but we set out on his bike, me riding pillion and going faster than ever before.
I remembered a patch of “yellow flowers”. Weeds they were really but I called them yellow flowers. There were so many patches of these plants, from Naylor’s Farm all along the lane to Turnpike Road. It all seemed so familiar and my dad was shouting at me to remember and to stop bloody crying.
And then I saw the hand; rising from the grass like it just wanted to shake mine. I jumped up and down and moved in to grab it, but my dad stopped me. I looked once and saw a huge beetle perched on a white-brown index finger. I looked away then, for as long as I could.
I listened to what the noises of the undergrowth could tell me. I heard my dad flagging down a passing car. I heard him speaking something to a man and him joining us at the roadside. I heard one of them break a branch to use as a stick. Then rustling in the grass and the buzz of insects. Then a cry from a man and the sound of retching.
I opened my eyes and saw a stick lying on the roadside. My eyes scanned around it and there, in the undergrowth lay the uncovered hand connected to an uncovered arm, which was unconnected from anything else.
Everything else about that day fades away into a soft-edged dream. Mists come all over and swathe my memories in ambiguity. But I remember every detail of every moment I’d looked upon that repugnant limb.
I’d stared so hard at the severed arm; it felt like my eyelids had frozen. I’d stared until my dad regained his composure and picked me up and held me close so that I couldn’t see anything anymore.
Later, he would say sorry and hug me in front of my scowling mother. Later still, he would take it upon himself to come and comfort me, at my bedside, every night that I woke up screaming.