Lullaby

I squeezed the segments of the orange in my mouth, sucking them hard until the juices burst and ran down my throat. Mashing the skin and veins against my teeth until only the dry thin membrane remained. Spitting the leftovers on the fence of Jones’ old house. My mums on and off boyfriend she would always say. Working in the sound part of the television. He had the responsibility in choosing the sounds that get the best response and make sense. I always imagined if he got it wrong we would hear a cow bark or the boiling kettle give off a scream instead of a whistle.

Climbing over the fence, I stared at the windows at the back of the house. Only darkness inside; a void which in my mind was filled with someone watching, waiting for me to just step down onto the lawn and get a little closer. It was Halloween in just two days and the films last night haunted my mind. Freddy Kruger’s knife fingers luring me closer, tapping on the door frame in eagerness.

I dropped down. The grass hid the thud like a mattress. Frozen, I looked at the windows, waiting for some figure or sound to emerge and catch me. My scalp began to itch with a prickly heat. Creeping closer to the back door. A dying breeze softly rocked the open door, as if drifting off to sleep. The thought of exploring the empty house tickled my mind. Mr Jones was sure to be at work, I had seen him scarcely return in the day. The slam of his white van always woke me up in the middle of the night. Poking my head through the gap, twisting my neck into unthinkable positions, I managed to see the kitchen. A similar layout to my mothers. She always made me dry the dishes. After every meal, I would stand to attention beside her – faithful lieutenant. Careful not to let the plates slip from wrinkled fingers. Many cups had lost their arms to my ‘misplacement of attention’ as mum would say.

A large bowl winked at me from the counter of Mr Jones’ kitchen. Covered in ghouls and pumpkin pictures, the purple plastic bowl was filled with treasure. Treats and sweets; from chocolate cups to sour twisters that stained the inside of your lips. Gumballs of every colour poked their bald heads over the top, waving at me. My mouth began to water, pooling behind my bottom lip under the teeth. One sweet. Just one.

Stuffing the crinkled wrappers into my pockets to hide the evidence, I had eaten too much. Mr Jones would surely guess someone had been eating them. Some sneaky boy he would think, perhaps the boy next door? And come for me, telling my mum of my thieving. She would slap me. There were no packets in the cupboards forcing me to creep into the living room to find where the large packet was to fill the bowl back up. Everything sweated in a thick heat, the shag carpet sank under my sneakers. The wallpaper was covered in a pattern of leaves and trees, peeling up around the wooden skirting. Beside the sofa and armchair, a long desk with computers and machinery lay. A green light pulsed from the screen. Scanning the desk I saw a microphone tilted upwards. A long grainy scratch filled the room, originating from the speakers attached to the screen. I waved my hand over the mouse, brightening the screen. Video and music files marked with women’s names. Sliding the icon towards the first name, Delilah, the preview image looked like a face. Red and white smudged over the skin.

‘What are you doing Sam?’ said the voice from the doorway. The shock rattled me, almost forcing me to fall back. I stammered, watching Mr Jones, leant against the door frame, looking back at me. He was unshaven, white whiskers gathering on his chin and cheeks, his blonde hair fell over his forehead. ‘Did your mum ask for me?’ He was in a checkered blue shirt and jeans. His bare feet sinking quietly into the floor like a cat as he approached. I nodded and darted my eyes from his. He stood over, looking at the screen I had just been nosing into.

Mr Jones’ hand curled over my shoulder. I could feel each finger tighten for an instant, the tips digging under my collarbone. The pressure from his eyes drilled into the back of my skull, filling it with a tingling. ‘Is this work?’ I said. The hand lightened.

‘Yes Sam, its work. I work for the television…this in particular is for all those Halloween shows you kids love to watch. You like to watch scary things right Sam?’ I turned to look at him. He smiled at me, encouraging a response.

‘Mum thinks they give me nightmares.’

‘Do they?’ Mr Jones said. The heat in the room caused the skin on my scalp to itch beyond relief. I dared not scratch. ‘My mother never let me watch television, she was always so strict. Only classical music I could entertain myself with. Never the good stuff.’ He grinned.

‘My mum is wrong. They don’t scare me. Monsters aren’t real.’ He brought a finger to his mouth and gave a quizzical look.

‘Do you want to hear something scary I’m working on for tomorrow?’ I nodded. His lips parted, teeth like Wrigley’s gum all in a row, and leant over. Hair tickling my ear as he took hold of the mouse and clicked a folder. It opened up to reveal a list of other names, some boys this time like John and Malcolm. ‘You’ll be helping me on a very special project. Something everyone has wanted to know about for a long time now.’ He slid the microphone over.

I never told my mum what had happened in the house. I was a burglar, breaking into his home and stealing those sweets. Mr Jones would have me thrown into jail. Alone with the killers she would always warn me about. There were no killers here in the village. Girls ran away all the time. Their faces on the telly and stuck on lampposts, mothers gathered like turkeys gobbling and wailing.

Gwen chased me through the house, never catching me as I was always too fast. She was a way better babysitter than Jude. Jude always just sat on the sofa and cried over some guy named Harry. I think he was in a band. Maybe she ran away with him last spring.

I hid in the coat closet, wrapping an anorak around me, feeling safe from sight. Gwen finished counting down. A small sliver of light came from the partially open door. I was so stupid to leave it open. Gwen was in the living room. Flickering the lights to try and scare me. Nothing could scare me. Monsters didn’t exist. The front door handle rattled for a second or two. I watched from the crack in the door, how it twisted around. Gwen had locked it after the trick or treaters had all gone home. Maybe it was mum.

‘Help…’ whispered from behind the door. Little hairs rose on my neck and arms. It was a boy’s voice.

‘Help…me.’ It said again. Again and again it said help. Gwen shouted my name from down the hallway. I didn’t respond. I couldn’t let her catch me just yet. She walked down towards the door.

The boy asked for help.

‘Sam? Why are you outside?’ Gwen said, looking through the peephole. I wanted to jump out and say it wasn’t me. It sounded like me but wasn’t. I was me. The voice broke out into a blubbery cry. Gwen put her hand on the door handle. Was she scared? ‘Wait there Sam…I’m going to phone the ambulance.’ Silence. Gwen looked through the peephole again. ‘Sam?’

‘Help me I’m hurt! I’m hurt and it’s bleeding everywhere. Help me…’ The boy said again. I knew those words. The same words I’d read aloud. Gwen slid the lock from the door. The crying stopped. Cool air swept through the crack. I opened the closet door a little wider. Gwen stepped out into the porch.

I called out to her. Watching her turn to me, her foot stepping on something. Smiling at finding me in the closet she bent down and picked the object up. The small black box caused her to frown. She clicked a button. The boy began to cry again. Then I saw him, the boy who had been using the box. Standing behind Gwen – bright blue eyes like a baby shining out from the cut open holes of the bag on his face.

‘I’m coming in.’

Jabberwocky

Twas Nochi and the rozz did patrol and grumble in the grove. The bogaty would raise their nose to the wheezing of the urchins whose sweating phalanges were marked on the knuckle lead me, a fellow kind, to the Jabberwocky. My father warned of its igra to love would vred like a razors blade and shiv from sharries to yarbles. But he did not say to the licking pleasure that oozed over your skin with zoobies biting so gentle but naughty and volos that tickled and teased.

I slingered closer to the door, remembering the devotchka I lived with between months, playing with the Jabberwocky under tempest nights. All our dreams spilled out like ghosts as we lubbilubbed until the moon turned blue. I preached and prayed the daily dose but her appetite grew too large. Nagoy and bezoomy she sprang into traffic as I followed – spotlights blinded like the stars. Devotchka spread her crurals and smiled with those perfect goobers as a double-decker ran her down. A quick striking to the door with barter and sweating and I had that little creature in my sight. Oomny or nazad I cannot decide for I am now the monster, a terrible bloodsucker.

Antidotes

I had never met Haddy in any personal way; she was, in my mind, just the beautiful girl who would ignore us all at the group meeting every Thursday. Her iPod would usually drum just a little quieter than the person chosen to speak about their motive for being here.

Our group only dealt with one topic – irrational fears. Most Thursdays we would just listen to the same people drone on about their daily struggles and wars with that fear, for instance a recurring speaker named Kelly Whitlow had to deal with a fear of balding men. The name escapes me for this but it was shown just a week ago how bad her condition was when a newcomer named Jim, who only attended that one evening, arrived with an eight ball head- all shiny and round it reflected the surroundings like a fish eye. With one glance of each other Kelly had saddled Jim like a neglected bull and began to strangle him with her own mangy hair. After we managed to pull Kelly away, it was Jim’s turn to go crazy on us, shaking in his chair like he was having a heart attack. What we all found out was that Jim had some strange phobia of women with long hair. Polar opposites attract as it goes. You would have thought the group would have some sort of admin to prevent this.

Today was different though, I decided to tell everyone my fear.

With a half eaten doughnut in my lap I spoke of how I think the fear began and what I did to control it. There is a frightening feeling with telling another your fear.  It is like opening up your armour for their dagger. I liked having the weird power of knowing their fears however; to just throw a button towards Jacky or sneeze in front of William if he ever stopped giving me free latte’s. After the clapping, patting of the back and that warmth in our hearts we began to call it a day. While helping myself to the free food and drink, which were all neatly placed in germ free Tupperware with stickers to allocate who brought their own in, I felt the presence of someone beside me. Turning I saw it was Haddy; ear phones out, dimple on left cheek from smiling, crystal eyes on me. She said, in her Swedish accent, that she enjoyed a new speaker in the group and asked if I’d like to go for a drink.

It was just turning twelve as she opened the door to her room and invited me in; I followed her and closed the door behind me. The room was quite tidy but due to the size of it being a student dorm even the smallest pile of clothes would get in the way. Haddy pushed me down onto the bed as she sat opposite, resting against the work table, her hips poking from under her obscure band t-shirt. Test-Icicles? She pouted before licking her lips. I leaned back and felt a plastic packet under my fingers before picking it up. A pack of party balloons, all shapes and sizes plucked from a rainbow. I squeezed the balloons between my fingers as I looked over to Haddy.

‘They’re for you Milo, let’s blow some up’ She said with excitement in her eyes.

‘And why are they for me?’ I said smiling back. Her hands slid over my cheeks. I gazed up wide eyed; now knowing I had drank too much.

‘I’m trying to set the scene and you’re not helping.’ She squeezed my lips together.

‘Anyone would think you’re trying to seduce me,’

‘Not yet…but blow them up for me while I go get changed.’ She walked to the bathroom as I tore open the packet. She was probably just going to want to chat in her pyjamas or something. But I could not forget that this was the first time I’ve properly met Haddy, and we are both drunk and in her room. I placed the opening of the balloon to my mouth and blew, listening to it strain and inflate. An image of yellow teeth and Cheshire cat smile flashed in my mind making me wince.

‘There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask Milo.’ She said through the bathroom door, still busy.

‘What is it?’ I said between tying a knot into the long pink balloon and plucking an average blue one to inflate next.

‘I want to know about your fear, you only grazed the tip in the meeting but it was why I plucked up the courage to talk to you.’

‘Coulrophobia. I got it when I was about six or seven. It was Halloween and a friend of my fathers had come round drunk and angry about something. I remember looking out my window and seeing him dressed up, breaking our fence down. He then saw me peering down at him and tried to climb the drain pipe up at me.’

‘That’s a horrible image. I know you’ve probably heard this before from all those student psychologists and counsellors but that man is not a clown. He is just some drunk who your dad probably hit for scarring his child.’ She was right, I had heard all of this before but it still didn’t sink in. ‘I want to show you something.’

The door opened slowly, I couldn’t see anything too clearly as the bathroom light was off. The light from the lamp beside me did not reach that corner. The shadow of Haddy was larger than her frame; the silhouette of her hair seemed hilariously large and curly, her clothes flaring out like a dress.  A dress with the prints of apples and oranges stitched over it.

‘What is this?’ I half joked as my brain pulsed and arms tingled. She walked closer into the light. Revealing a large orange bow now visible just under her neck – her skin white as porcelain.

‘I want to give you the cure Milo…I want to be your antidote to end this fear.’ She was dressed as a clown. Her large red nose bulged from the fat wrinkles of her ghost-white face as she smiled. An insidious smile just like that clowns. Yellow teeth reeking with disease and madness.
I pulled myself back against the wall, swaying my head from side to side unable to move. The bed sank to the weight and I knew it was coming for me. That sick, Haddy-faced clown, was climbing towards me and I could do nothing.

Night Terrors

As brief as it was, the discussion was over. Richard remained on his side of the bed – the comfortable side – with his back facing me. Perhaps he could feel the cold stare piercing the skin, tapping inside his brain. Secretly pretending to be asleep so we wouldn’t have to talk. He had become selfish, seizing areas around the flat. Practically drawing a line of salt around the television and home cinema system like I would corrupt it. Jenny said I shouldn’t worry – it was natural for men to do this. He was in the throes of leaving his single life behind. Pinching her fat red lips together as the duck gyoza slipped from her chopsticks, men are dogs just pissing on what is theirs she snarled.

Tapping. Objects falling onto the ceiling. Pressing down onto me, all over the cream duvet. I am alone in the bed.
It was hail. White little pebbles. They rattle away harder from the corners. Bouncing off the boxes, eternally falling – never settling. A distant loop. A man stares in from the window. Smiling. The black feathers in his hair ruffle and grow from his scalp. Red face-paint dripping down off his nose. Piercing the glass, flowing through it.
Grinding teeth. Distant loop.
The man laughs and crawls through. Bleeding trail follows. Hidden now. Hail continues, filling my sight. Frozen limbs, betraying my escape. 
Sinking teeth into soft mush. The loop is a noose. 
It hails harder. It isn’t ice that falls but acorns. Bleached white in their millions. So heavy on the bed. I scream and bite the acorns that fall close to my mouth. The man’s head creeps up to my left. Crying as the blood streams from the pores of his forehead.
Swallowing and biting. 

Richard’s screams bubble to the surface. I leap from the bed. Wiping the dribble from my mouth, failing to scream. I turn back to see Richard, coiled up and crying. Edging closer, terrified to speak his name. Reaching out to the side lamp, fingers frantic for the switch. I click. Richard cowers on the bed, clutching a bloody wrist. He screams at me, calling me a fucking bitch. I see the little piece of flesh, like a missing puzzle piece, bitten clean off. 

Cimmerian

Amongst a lush garden of chrome and glass, where business towers loomed over squatted suburbia, it was nice to know the roach motel would linger forever on. David slid an ice cube from the sweating glass into his mouth, cracking it on his back teeth. Picking up another, he placed it onto the front of his wrists. Matilda had taught him this. For a seven year old that little sprite always had her head inside books and magazines. He would catch her lying under the coffee table, engrossed in one of the nature and scientific zines. Then the quiz would begin, with her little fat hand tugging on his sleeve, always at that specific slot of time when he would be deeply engrossed in work. Matilda soaked all she read in as fact even though she was not old enough to understand. Just a blind faith in words. A blind faith that never left us, even as we grew rigid exoskeletons created from sense and crippling self-doubt. Underneath we were all saturated gluttons feeding on engineered truth.

Outside, over the street, projected screens circled with news footage. David could see his name small and almost unnoticeable, followed by the red figure of sixty percent scrolled under stock footage and headlines of teenagers taking to the streets in protest of a teen idols court case. The young man’s lawyer trying to argue that the fan had a stable mind when signing over their body to be eaten. Switch to breaking news of terrorism in the community. Fear the stranger. Fear the stranger, buy the state certified.

The plastic cord from the lamp grew heavy on his leg.

 Fearing a break in his willpower, he stood up from the stool, dragging it into the centre of the room. He had pushed the bed into the corner, placing the mattress on the floor beside, to stop his legs from finding a place to hold his weight. On the dresser, lay his gold watch and money from his wallet. He had tucked the leather wallet into his sock to prevent the possibility of it being robbed before the authorities arrived. CL Incorporated would not take his company peacefully; it would all be scrapped and picked clean by the shareholders. Better to end it with the roaches. Eloise and Matilda would be well looked after – with his death, all his fortune would be tied up with inheritance.

Wrapping the black cord around his throat loosely, looping it into knot with ease, that skill had never left him since his summer days in the college’s yacht club. Swinging the other end over the overhead beam, he tightened and prepared himself. He had not noticed he was talking to himself, whispering his final words of love and forgiveness; to his first wife and the second, to the brother who he never visited, to his assistant who would call in and find him. This is it, he said alone in the room, you’ll be better off now Matilda. Kicking off, he swung forward, blood rushed around his ears and drummed. Bucking forward, tears streamed down his face. The pain inside his chest failed to burst free but instead spread out into his body like a thousand fire ants; biting the flesh relentlessly. Just let me go up. Up, up and away he wished and sputtered. He twisted around to face the tangerine wallpaper, ghastly pattern of swirls and dots. Disgusted that this would be the last thing he saw before he closed his eyes.

 As if slipping from the sides of a boat, he crashed down.

‘Breath, Mr Colette. Breath…’ said a man’s voice over him. Turning over, David saw the tangerine wallpaper and questionably stained brown carpet.

‘This isn’t heaven,’ He croaked, still trying to pry the plastic lead loose.

‘Well, I don’t think you have any good authority to prove it otherwise. Sit up Mr Colette.’ The man said, placing the mattress back onto the bed frame.

‘Who are you? An enforcer doing the rounds?’ David questioned. This stranger certainly didn’t have the clothes or mannerisms of an officer. He was below six foot, with sharp shoulders that thin arms dangled from. Dressed in a simple black suit. His skin was clammy due to the heat, patchy skin tones of peach and pink mingled together. The sun never shined but the heat remained, cooking all from the inside out. His hair was gelled to the side, yet a few strands had fallen over his brow. What perplexed David most was the strangers face; an oval head, with baby-fat cheeks. He looked as if he was still twenty yet everything else gave off the impression he was in his thirties. The stranger sat down on the edge of the bed, watching David finally manoeuvre himself onto the stool he had previously kicked over. 

‘Well…’ He paused to check whether David was paying attention. ‘I would actually call myself an over-glorified accountant.’ When the man smiled, his piggy eyes sank deep into the fat, and thick black wrinkles crept out over his face.

‘You stopped me?’

‘Of course, I had to cut the cord.’ The overpaid accountant replied amused.

‘But…’ David could only manage to say. The man leant over to the dresser and picked up the glass of ice cubes. Pulling out a black handkerchief polka-dotted blue, he placed the ice cubes into the centre and wrapped it up.

‘This should help with that neck of yours.’ He passed it over to David. ‘I have to apologise Mr. Collette, if a certain chemical department had been doing there job right, this would not have happened yet. The estimate on dosage was completely wrong.’

‘I might still be out of it but I thought you said, just then, that it was your fault I chose to kill myself.’

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying, although only half right.’

David sat back, dabbing the iced cloth around his neck. ‘Are you some actor hired by CL to mind fuck me?’

‘No.’

‘Then why are you here? And if not CL, then who would be poisoning me?’

‘I am here on behalf of the NE-Four; it’s a compact organisation which maintains dominancy and monopolises over specific markets. Obviously you don’t know the name as it’s a silent overseer – currently owning one hundred and forty businesses internationally.’

‘So just what is it NE-Four does?’

‘They are the butterflies that cause hurricanes.’ The man had obviously rehearsed that line many times. Yet he was claiming to have been a part David’s suicidal resolve to wither. Was he some sort of sign? A second chance to not allow his pride and hatred stain the very lives of his loved ones. ‘I have a very promising deal to make with you David.’  

‘There is nothing you can offer a dead man.’ David replied feeling his resolve bubble back to the surface. He could see a bead of sweat run down the man’s neck, soaking into the damp white fabric of his collar.

‘A dead man needs nothing David, your right, but what of his legacy?’ From this, he pulled out the scroll. Two chrome cylinders the diameter of a straw, pulled out at both ends revealing a thin sheet interconnected; light and translucent as spiders silk. Pressing the small button on the side lit up the fibres, levelling out and turning the material rigid. A series of documents and programmes phased onto the scroll, switching between folders and files with the flick of the man’s forefinger. David leant forward, trying to catch a glimpse of what the man was searching for. ‘I need you to listen carefully.’

‘No. I am not some blue level worker you can threaten or talk over. I am David Collette and not just any statistic. You will have nothing. NE-Four will get nothing.’ He spat out coarsely, due to the grating pain around his Adams-apple. Defiance, he thought, my one true defiance. My family comes first.  The man raised an eyebrow and had a forlorn expression between the folds of baby fat. Double tapping the scroll, it flicked over to a small recording. He stood up and passed it over to David, the defiant, watching the man’s face crumple slightly at the sickness that stabbed his heart when he looked at the silent recording. Through the pixels he saw Matilda, at home with Eloise, walking hand in hand from school. Trying not to step on the cracks, Matilda hopped about as the tether of her Eloise’s arm stopped her from flying off.

‘We know what you were planning David, because we were chemically altering you from the beginning. It’s in the coffee you have every morning, the bowl of cereal you give to Matilda, even the food you eat. It’s all there to keep your depression levels from lowering. Only when we had you take the government issued hypoxia jab, would the antidepressants you were already consuming turn you numb. You feel numb right? Eighty percent of our test subjects felt the same, along with partial bouts of insomnia and anxiety. Someone in the chemical department seemed to have smudged up your dosage though; I almost had to run here when I was given the call you were ending it two weeks faster than anticipated. I know this is a lot for you to take in but listen carefully…’

He leant in and merged two files simultaneously. A document appeared, already opened on the last page, David saw his capitalised name and knew already what they asked of him. He would have to be quick, he thought, he would turn around sharply. Wrapping the chord, still in his hand, around the man’s neck and twisting it tight. Turn him blue. ‘Now if you decline this deal, here is the course of action: You will remain alive, constantly monitored, every action to take your life will be prevented by members of our team. We will change the mandatory dose to your wife and daughter. We will also plant indecent pornography onto your network. You will live to a very old age David, and everyone around you will suffer.

David tightened his hand around the chord. ‘And if I accept?’

The man smiled, from this angle he could the fold of fatty skin under the chin hang over the collar. ‘Well…your family gets a very nice package. We will give Eloise a promotion or two.’

‘And Matilda?’

‘She will be given top tier academic levels and a state scholarship when she comes of age to a high graded university of her choice. She will have every opportunity at her disposal.  Even imagine with her current test scores, she would take to an ivory collar position with ease. All she needs is you to sign on the dotted line.’ David stood up and made his way to the window. The news on the building had been replaced with a few adverts. A large milk glass, half full, filled the screen. Sporting the tag: DRINK TO YOUR HEALTH. DRINK MILK. He was dancing on a string, with both ends lit on fire. All his suspicions were very much real. Swiping his initials over the blinking line, he signed the company over.

‘You’ve done the right thing.’ 

‘And what happens to me now?’

‘You take this pill and it all ends. You will barely feel a thing.’ He opened up a small matt-black case he had plucked from his jacket pocket. David took the two capsules willingly as he sat down on the bed.

‘How long does it take to work?’ He slurred, noticing he could no longer feel his mouth. His arms flopped down oblivious to his commands to move them. The paralysing agent seeped further into his core. All he could control were his eyes, which followed the man who removed his jacket and placed it on the doors coat hook.

‘We have to finish where you left off.’ He said, unbuckling his belt, sliding the leather loose. David tried to speak out but he found himself unable. He was a living corpse. He could not feel it, but as his vision fell down onto the ground, he knew the man had laid him onto his belly. Then he saw the belt strap descend past his eyes, down to his neck. ‘Steady now’ the man puffed. Then, on that questionably stained carpet, David’s head flung back. And white turned to black.