FICTION: Chapter 1

1
I don’t know how to begin to tell you about today. You’ll never believe me, no matter what I say. And I guess that’s fair enough, too, I suppose, with my history. Mum always telling me off for making up lies. Lying about lying. Sometimes not even caring if I get caught out. So I know what you’re thinking. I know. You’ve heard me tell so many stories, why should you believe this one, especially when it’s so–God, I hardly know how to convey the size of this thing, the scale of it. It’s a mountain of a story, and it happened last night, in my bedroom, and I was fast asleep and never heard a bloody thing. I never saw it happen.

The first I knew of it was when I woke this morning around six–the smell woke me. It was a hell of a stink, of piss and shit and a lot of blood, and something else, something old and rotting, something disgusting. It reminded me a little of stagnant water in ponds, with bugs hovering, and brown weeds growing under the surface. That sort of eggy smell. Rotten and gone off. And my bedroom was full of it. It woke me up, that stink, as if it were alive, shaking me awake out of a dream. At first I thought I was going to be sick it was so bad. I felt my whole face screw itself up, and I felt my breath holding itself so it wouldn’t have to breathe it in, and I sat up, and that’s when I saw what I saw.

There was a man lying in a blood-soaked heap on the floor, slumped against the door. The blood was still damp in places. My eyes, for a long time, refused to take in what lay before them. They stared and stared, but I didn’t realise it was a dead man for some time. I knew something bad had happened, so bad I could not even begin to register the most basic detail–a dead man in my room. I’d never seen a dead person before. I’d only seen dead people in movies, and on TV. But I knew, as soon as I saw this man, I knew he was dead. His eyes were not quite closed, and one was a little more open than the other. There was no movement. His mouth hung open, and his black tongue stuck out a bit. And the ashen colour of his skin, that made me think of fruit that had spoiled, was shocking in its own way. I’d seen dead animals, dead insects, but this was another thing entirely. I couldn’t stop staring. It was repulsive, but also kind of revoltingly interesting. A little voice inside me was telling me, pay attention to this. This is important. You won’t get many opportunities to see something like this, a real dead person. Make notes. This will be useful in your writing later on.

But I was also distracted by the other thing.

I’d spent enough rainy July Saturdays watching old movies to know what a room looked like when professional bad guys had turned it over, when they’d been searching for something, pulling out and emptying every drawer, every bookcase. The dead man was covered in old Panther and Granada science fiction paperbacks. Their pulpy paper had soaked up quite a bit of blood. Some of them looked ruined. Some had been torn into shreds. My schoolbooks, which had been on my desk were now also strewn across the floor. My Maths 1 homework assignment, worth ten percent of my mark for the term, was ruined, and I needed to hand it in today at school. My chess set, an expensive glass set that had been a treasured Christmas gift from my grandparents, had been crunched into fragments. The walls of my bedroom were covered in posters of sci-fi art posters lifted from the pages of a British magazine called SF Monthly. I recognised many of the paintings as cover art of some of my favourite books, including lots of Chris Foss’ deliriously chunky colourful spaceships. Now a lot of those pictures had streaks and dots of blood. Some had been torn down.

My whole life had been destroyed, defiled and ruined. Outside this room, out in the world, life was awful. My mum and dad were always fighting and arguing. School was a constant torment of bullying kids and even teachers. But here in this room I could be myself, lonely miserable freak that I was. But now? With that smell clinging to me, somehow sticky and alive, crawling on my skin and up my nose?

I needed to breathe. I needed my heart to slow the hell down. It was in my ears, booming. My stomach was in my mouth. My brain was staggering about, as if drunk but ready to kill anybody who looked at it wrong, alert, panicking, freaking out. There was no free space on the floor where I might stand. I knew my room was now a crime scene. But I needed a piss. I needed to think. Somehow I had to let my mum and dad know, but I already knew they were going to blow a gasket. Somehow, in their minds, this was going to be my fault. Because everything in this house was my fault. Mum and Dad, even last night, with Dad so angry I lay in bed listening to Dad packing a suitcase, even Dad’s strange and unpredictable moods were my fault. I was a bad kid, a bad student. I didn’t or couldn’t apply myself. I was moody, and a bit weird about things, especially about food, and about some people. And I sweated buckets. I was always sweating, and I’d get all stressed out about it and that would make me sweat more. I always had to take a spare shirt everywhere I went.

I didn’t mean to be a bad kid. I tried as hard as I could, but it never seemed to work. It was never enough. If I got 8/10 for a test or assignment, I’d get yelled at, “how’d you lose those two marks?” Only full marks, only perfection, was okay, and I was far from okay. I was a disappointment. Mum was always sighing. That was her way of letting me know she was too tired to fight me now, she was past that point. Now she was just tired, and she sighed, exhausted from simply trying to talk to me. If only I would tell the truth about things. If only the truth, the real truth, didn’t burn, or fill me with so much anger and shame.

And now this, all of this. I didn’t know what to do. I was about ninety percent sure it had nothing to do with me. I had no memory of waking during the night. I heard nothing. You’d think you would hear someone murdering a guy, and the guy falling dead against your bedroom door, but you’d be wrong. I never heard a thing. And my room had been turned over, searched from top to bottom, again without anyone noticing. Not even the dog, Zonk.

Was Zonk all right? I had to know. Because while it was true that
Zonk could sleep through an earthquake, she was also an excellent guard-dog. If there had been intruders in the night, Zonk would have been onto them. She would have barked the house down, and would have tried to attack them. She was fearless. She was only a little three-legged Jack
Russell cross sort of thing, but she would take on a Rottweiler if she thought she needed to, if the Rottie was intruding on her turf. So had they, these intruders, these killers, hurt Zonk?

I sat hunched up on my bed, mouth-breathing, blankets bunched up around me, in the corner as far away from all-of-that as I could get. I had no idea what I was going to do. I couldn’t even figure out how to get out of this bed. It was a life-raft in dangerous seas. I could see drops and spots of blood on the top blanket. I could not get warm. Sometimes I shivered, and sometimes I was too warm and the sweats started. The bloody sweats! It was unusual for me to have only one shower in a day. Two or three was more like it. But today, now, with all this, and that smell, that unliving stench, I could not imagine ever washing that off. It would cling to me, get in my hair, up my nose. It would precede me everywhere I went, announcing or maybe warning of my imminent arrival. “Run for your lives! He’s coming!”

“Bloody hell,” my Dad was saying, yelling, in the next room, the master bedroom. I guess he didn’t leave last night after all. What a shock! It had been the third time he’d threatened to leave, had gotten the suitcase out, had started to pack his undies and his socks, and Mum had done what she always did. She called his bluff. “Fine,” she would say. “Off you go.” No fuss. No big dramatic scene. No yelling or begging. She’d watch TV or read a book, or otherwise go about her usual business. It drove Dad mental. He’d yell and scream. “I’m going, you know!” “Okay, so go! Could you maybe pick us up some milk while you’re out? The boy’s drunk it all again.” Mum could be amazing sometimes.

“What is the bloody stink? Christ! Can you smell that?” he said.

Then Mum’s voice, weary, quiet. “I can smell something.”

I banged on the shared fibro wall. “It’s in here.”

“What?”

“The stink. It’s in here, with me.”

“What the hell have you done now?”

“And where’s Zonk got to? Is she in with you?” I asked.

“We thought she was in with you.” Zonk often slept on the end of my bed.

That was weird, and not in a good way. “Could she be out having a dump?”

Dad said he’d go have a look out the back, an I heard his heavy footsteps along the hallway, but they slowed and stopped outside my door. There was a long pause. “Holy God Almighty on a stick–what have you done in there?”

“I didn’t do it! I swear!” No-one would ever believe me. I’d played this scene with my parents many times now since I was little. It was never my fault, I swore I was telling the truth, every time, I swore, I absolutely swore. I could hear it in my voice even now, when something had happened and it really wasn’t my fault, but even I didn’t believe that tone in my voice. I couldn’t help it. “I promise it’s not my fault this time.”

Dad tried to open the door, but of course the body was slumped against it, a dead weight in more ways than one. “What the hell? Rob? I’m in no bloody mood, all right? Can we just skip the usual bullshit?”

“I’m not blocking the door.”

“Well bloody open the bloody door then!”

“I can’t.”

Then Dad said something funny. “What, have you got a dead body in there leaning against it or some bloody thing?”

I laughed but it wasn’t funny. “Dad…”

“Come on, mate. Just open the bloody door. Just show me what you’ve done. It’ll be okay. Promise I won’t blow me stack. It’ll be okay. Promise.”

I was looking around the room, at the closed windows. The dead man on the floor was most likely killed by another person. How did that person leave? How do you close and lock a window after you’ve climbed through it? Because if the body has already collapsed against the door, it’s going to hard to get through it. The room is small. The body takes up a lot of space, plus all the blood and mess.

And there was still no sign of Zonk.

“Is Zonk out the back?” I asked Dad. “Can you have a look, please?” Because either she was out the back, or she’d possibly got out, maybe under the side-gate. She’d managed that trick once before, and ran away and we were lucky to catch her before she wound up in trouble or worse. I was also thinking the other thought, the bad thought, that someone might have tossed a poison bait over the fence. Such things were rare, but did happen. They once happened to a dog of ours, when I was little, to the first dog I’d ever known. Ever since, as a family, we all feared baits. The thought of a great, feisty little dog like Zonk, as fearless a creature who ever lived, chomping down on a sausage full of rat poison, I could just see it.

I asked Dad again, and he said he’d have a look. He thought it was odd not to see Zonk, especially given this godawful stink. It was exactly the kind of smell that would interest a dog very much. She’d be throwing herself at the door, trying in her fearless, crazy Jack Russell way to break down that door so she could get in there and just roll around in the stink, the way she liked to roll around in other dogs’ shit.

I heard the back fly-screen door slam closed. I heard Dad swearing, audibly upset. “Jennie? Love?” He was calling Mum. His voice was broken into pieces.

“What?” Mum said, coming down the hall. Then she must have seen Dad. “Oh no.”

“Dad?”

Dad tried the door to my room. “I need you to come out now, son. I need to have a grown-up talk with you, okay. Promise I won’t yell at you. I promise, hope to die. But you need to come out. I can’t talk to you like this, all right?”

I couldn’t speak. My throat was choked tight. My eyes stung.

There was nothing else for it. I had to try to move the body. I had to leave the security of the bed.

It was just about impossible. The dead man weighed a ton. And he was locked into that posture, as he had fallen against the door, so he was kind of at right-angles, and his legs were spread out. He’d landed in the most awkward position imaginable. “Come on, son!” Dad was yelling at me. The dead man seemed somehow to stretch as I heaved on his legs and his arms. And the blood had essentially glued him to the floor. Plus there was really nowhere for me to stand. I was violating a crime scene, too, I knew that for a fact. I was destroying evidence. No-one would ever believe me. It was all going to land on my head. My life was over. I was done. Whatever the hell this was, it was the end of me, and I never even knew what it was.