Next to a broken set of drawers is a couch with the seat pillows missing and on top of the couch is a mattress and between the mattress and the couch is a dead body. I’m pretty sure it’s dead. The arm dangling down the side of the couch is bloodied and one of the feet are missing from the legs sticking out the other end. I squint and take another bite of my Crunchy Nut. Yep. It’s dead alright.
I think about calling the cops. I’ve never called the cops before. I Google to see if I can just book them online or something but they said in a case like this I should call. They need an app for these sort of things, like an Uber for the police. I decide one of the neighbours would probably call instead.
That night my alarm goes off reminding me to put the bins out. My roommates are away so I can’t ignore it. The dead body is still there but the mattress is gone which means now I can see his face. He’s lying face up, his head tilted to one side so he’s looking straight at me. The blood from his arm stops at his elbow and his mouth and eyes are open. Mosquitoes fly lazily between what’s left of his teeth.
The next morning I rush out the front, half asleep and already late for work. My car starts on the second try and I look over my shoulder to check for oncoming traffic. One of the ladies from down at the retirement village is out walking her dog and I watch her stroll by the dead body. She lets her dog leap up onto the guy’s lap and lick his crotch. I get a funny feeling in my stomach that I pretend doesn’t happen then take off with a squeal.
When I get home the couch is gone but the body is still there. He has been rolled off the couch so now he has his face in the dirt and arse in the air. I feel a sense of loss and sadness come over me. I liked that couch. I ignore the bins so I don’t have to take them back inside.
I get woken up in the middle of the night by my roommates who are home and without keys. I glare when I open the door but manage a bleary hello. Reluctantly I follow them to the kitchen and ask them about their trip. After they’re done I ask,
“Did you see the body?”
We all wander outside. The gravel of the driveway hurts my feet and they walk ahead of me. When I catch up I point across the street but the body is gone.
“That’s a set of drawers.”
I shrug, “Someone must have taken it.”
“Should we grab the drawers?”
“Nah they’re broken.”
A wind whips down the street and I shudder. We argue over who should take the bins inside.
I check the cable ties again and frown. He’s sweating and keeps moving about so much I’m worried he’ll get loose. I’ve always trusted rope more than these stupid bits of plastic but the company won’t fork out for anything these days. ‘Superfluous and unreliable’. Idiots. I use a second tie around both his wrists and ankles. How’s that for superfluous.
He woke up about twenty minutes ago and he hasn’t stopped screaming. I can tell because spit and blood keeps dripping out from underneath the duct tape across his mouth. I’m listening to an old ‘Pavement’ record and can’t hear anything he’s trying to say.
I double check the chair he’s strapped to, kneeling down and running my fingers over the bolts connecting it to the floor. No bends or movement. Good. He’s thrashing pretty badly but the second lot of cable ties are doing the trick despite my misgivings. His head is flopping around something chronic so I loop a final length of plastic around his neck and pull it tight against the back of the chair. His chest is heaving but he’s not moving any more.
I pull a checklist up on my phone and make sure I haven’t missed anything. In my head I tick things off. Towels in the corner are fresh. Three separate drains are clear. I walk around the small five by five metre space we are in and run my fingers along the padded foam walls. No cracks. No gaps. Perfect.
I take a pack of cigarettes from my pocket and place one unlit in my mouth. I stand in front of the chair and for a moment, take him in. His eyes are wild and red-stained and snot is hanging out both nostrils. He hasn’t stopped crying since he woke up. Pathetic. I’ve left him in only his underwear and he’s shiny with sweat.
I think about letting him have a cigarette and think of the irony of giving him a final gift. Instead I step forward and punch him across the jaw. What a piece of shit.
I open the roller door and step outside. It shuts again behind me.
I light the cigarette in my mouth and take a long drag before closing my eyes, letting my body lean against the wall of the storage container. It’s cool out here. It’s hitting the low twenties now that the sun is down and the wind against my face is a dream.
The screaming behind me is dull which means the soundproofing is working. I make another tick.
It’s a beautiful night.
Headlights enter the storage yard and I watch them cut in and out of gaps in containers before turning down the lane where I’m standing. I wave them in and put out my cigarette as the van pulls up in front of me. I can see pink cursive lettering written across the side but can’t make out what it says in the dark.
I replace the cigarette with gum as a woman in a red jumpsuit steps out of the driver’s side. We nod to each other and I open the side of the van. Already out of her seat, Clara steps towards me. She puts a hand on each of my shoulders and I grab her waist, helping her down onto the bitumen.
Tall for her age, but thinner than she should be, Clara takes a moment to breathe in before looking to me. Her head has been shaved since I last saw her and there’s a clear tube running from her nose and across her cheeks, underlining her eyes. Sunken into her skull they are two pits of fire, a contradiction to the fragile frame around them.
I smile at her when I see she’s wearing the yellow dress that she got for her thirteenth birthday. Clara doesn’t smile back.
“You’ve been smoking.” Her voice is faint and she’s breathing rapidly.
“Is he here?”
My heart thumps uncharacteristically and I nod before stepping aside. Clara walks towards the storage container and stops. Her thin fingers are fists and they’re shaking.
Gently I take one of her fists in my hand. It melts and loosens in my grip. I pull out a hammer from my back pocket and place it in her now open hand. There’s hesitation before the fist closes shut again.
I hold my hand under hers for a moment.
“Are you ready?”
I can see trepidation run across her face, closely followed by steely determination. She adjusts her grip around the hammer and nods. I nod back and let her go.
I hit a button besides the door and watch light grow up from the bottom of the roller door. It travels up Clara’s legs, chest and finally her face. There’s a moment of quiet. A muffled recognition. And then screaming that fades as I drop the shutter back down with Clara on the other side.
I sit on the ground, back against the corrugated steel of the container and the woman in red sits down beside me. I light another cigarette and pass it to her. The orange glow as she inhales lights the embroidered pink logo on her breast.
‘The Make-A-Wish Foundation: Dreams come true.’
I suppose it wasn’t that long ago when the star fell from the sky. He was surprised at how small it was. Some may describe it as tiny. Though tiny, he reminded himself, is a relative term. I mean compared to an average sized elephant he was tiny. But compared to his old skinny jeans he was not.
Anyway. The star, relative to him, was smaller than how big he imagined a star might be.
Although small the star was indeed beautiful. Beautiful in the way that all bright lights are. Like when you step out of the shower and stare at a fluorescent until you feel it in the back of your skull. Beautiful like that one second you’re blinded by a passing car that accidentally left their high beams on.
He decided he was going to touch it.
Now he wasn’t a physicist, he didn’t study astrology and he barely went to school. But he had Google and an imagination and he believed that this gave him at least some claim to the nature of stars. At least enough that warranted a further exploration of the matter.
So yeah, he was going to touch it.
It was cold in the woods and his breath warped in front of him, blurring the fallen star light steaming in the snow. He could feel a comfortable warmth coming from the star, even through his gloves. It felt safe.
He smiled and with face lit up by the soft glow he reached out.
There was a soft push in his belly, like a gulp moving backwards. Like when someone meets the person they’ll marry. Like when parents hold their child for the first time. Like when a child meets Santa and asks for a wish. He touched the star.
And was instantly incinerated.
Turns out stars are relatively hot. Maybe not so much compared to even hotter stars, but definitely when compared to an average sized human being.
Ash fell in a pile. The star continued to glow.
His phone was dead and the dirt and rubble didn’t allow sunlight to reach him. How long had he been down here? Something hard and cold was impaled through his side and it was difficult to breathe. The ground above and below had him pinned looking down so his face was in the dirt and he couldn’t move.
He couldn’t move.
How long had he been down here?
He knew if he didn’t starve first he would bleed to death. Rock and broken glass was bunched up around his face, neck, ribs, stomach. His lungs and stomach were coated in a thick layer of dust, every inhale turning his insides into mud. Dust and dirt and rocks and glass. He was dissolving into the rubble from the inside out.
He was cold. He couldn’t think. He was cold. He couldn’t move. He had to do something.
He couldn’t think.
He was told in situations like this humans were supposed to gain some sort of inner magical strength. In the face of certain death his survival instincts were going to kick in more potent then ever before. Adrenaline would pump. Muscles would strain. An unstoppable force would fill him and destroy an immovable object.
But he had tried.
He had strained.
And he was still trapped.
He shouldn’t have been shocked. Getting out from underneath an entire office building was always going to be difficult and the earthquake had been thorough. He tried to remember how many floors were above his own when the building collapsed. Maybe if he knew he could figure out how deeply he was buried.
But he couldn’t. Think. Do. Move.
Blood from a cut on his forehead pooled at the sides of his eyes. Now that he had stopped crying the blood had hardened making his face tight. He struggled to keep his eyes open.
He never imagined much of a future but what he had hoped for was far better than this.
He shut his eyes.
A shift above him.
There was a grinding sound as rock moved against rock and he felt dust fall against his cheek. He opened his eyes and watched cracks of light split the darkness above him, gasping when moving rubble grazed his nose. The light that dripped through cracks now poured. Temporary blindness from the sudden light gave way to tears and then to a dust-choked,
Lifting his head was ecstasy. He couldn’t keep the grin from his face as he looked up, squinting as his pupils contracted and adjusted to what was in front of him. He could see a floodlight pointing down at him from far away. It was bright enough that he couldn’t see past it, couldn’t see the sky. At least not yet. And that was okay. Soon. He was safe, he was-
A black shape moved and blocked the light. His pupils widened. With the light behind the figure he couldn’t make out the features of who it was that was in front of him. He could make out shoulders, a neck and a head but that was it.
He didn’t mind. He was safe, he was-
“Do you prefer sir or madam or other?”
He laughed, then groaned.
“You can call me whatever you want.”
“Sir or madam or other?”
He laughed, quieter.
“Sir is fine.”
The silhouette turned and pulled a transparent clipboard out from behind their back. On the surface of the clipboard swirled different colours. He watched dark purples and bright greens shift and change, mixing and separating seemingly at random. He could make out letters and numbers briefly but they disappeared as soon as they came. Whatever they were he didn’t care. He only wanted to know one thing.
“Can you get me out?”
The silhouette ran a finger over the glass. Colours moved and he watched as two brighter swirls darkened and spun a little tighter.
“Perfect, let’s do it.”
“Depends on what?”
The silhouette cleared its throat.
“How would you describe yourself in ten words or less?”
“How would you describe yourself in ten words or less?”
His smile froze then fell.
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you have a family? Any children?”
“No I don’t. Please I think I’m badly hurt.”
“And would you describe yourself as lower, middle or upper class?”
He stared at the silhouette, confused. He searched for a pair of eyes or a mouth, something to understand but he couldn’t see either. Black fingers spun across the board and colours spun with them.
“I don’t know. I’m losing a lot of blood.”
“Let me simplify that. What is your yearly income?”
“I-I’m on casual rates. I’m not sure. What is this?”
The silhouette made another mark against the clipboard. The colours respond, pooling to the corners of the screen. Their spinning slows.
“I need a hospital.”
“Where did you go to school?”
“Where did you go to school?”
“What do you mean?”
“Was it a public or private institution?”
“What is this for?”
The silhouette tapped the centre of the board. His neck was hurting from looking upwards and for a moment he lets his head drop back to the dirt. When he lifted his head back he gasped as the movement shot pain up his side.
“What is your sex?”
“Get me out.”
“Answer the question. We don’t have much time.”
“Answer the question.”
“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. How would you describe your sexual orientation?”
“Please I need help. I think I’m dying.”
“Sir, the faster you answer the questions the sooner we can decide what we need to do.”
“We need to get me out of here.”
“Not until you answer these questions. We must determine your worth.”
“How much society needs you sir.”
His chest tightened. He felt nauseous.
“Can we proceed?”
“Can we proceed?”
“Get me the fuck out of here.”
Fingers tapped against the glass of the clipboard. Colour swirled and tightened.
“Are you religious? Muslim? Buddhist? Atheist?”
“Does it matter?”
“That’s up to you sir. Hot tip, the Pope has tweeted that he is ‘Praying for all the Catholics in the area’ which could boost your average.”
“My average what?”
The silhouette sighed.
“We can’t keep going over this. I have other people to save.”
“You’re not saving anyone at the moment.”
“Pro-life or pro-choice?”
He was crying again.
“Liberal or labour?”
“I don’t know. I don’t vote.”
The clipboard darkened.
He could feel himself slipping.
“Socialist or capitalist?”
“Whatever you want me to say I’ll say it. Just get me out of here please.”
His mind was foggy.
“Black or white?”
The shadow paused and looked down before bringing out a torch and shining it in his eyes. It hurt.
“There is no point in lying sir, you’re only slowing things down.”
“I don’t. I don’t have long.”
“Where are your parents from?”
The silhouette’s voice was fading.
“What are your opinions on climate change?”
His eyes close.
“Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?”
His mouth falls open.
“A genocide occurs. Do you celebrate it?”
Spit dribbled out of his mouth and he could feel it. He could feel it drip warm over his lip. A singular blob slowly stretching as gravity forced it over the edge of his mouth and down towards his chin. He felt it cool and stick to his face, falling no further as it mixed with the dust in the air and became mud. Something shone in his face and his eyes opened.
“Sir we are almost done. Please watch this short video.”
His head droops forward. A hand lifts his head back up and his eyes meet the outstretched clipboard. An advertisement for the new half-chicken half-beef Maxi-Splosion burger from McDonalds plays.
“Sorry about this, it’ll be over in thirty seconds.”
The main video begins.
A crowd of protestors chant something unheard then scatter abruptly as a van plows through the centre of them. A woman is struck and she is seen spiralling through the air, crashing into the camera. Smash cut to a man with a swastika tied around his arm, shouting in the face of a person in a large grey hoody. The person in the hoody throws out a fist and knocks the Nazi to the floor.
The silhouette chuckles.
In the dirt he shuts his eyes.
Without an audience the video continues.
A politician stands at a press pedestal and flips off the camera. A house is on fire. A family can be seen on the top floor staring out the window. A crucifix stands in the front yard and the family waves it goodbye. Smash cut and the whole world can be seen as if from space.
It is on fire.
The silhouette chuckles again.
“I love that. Now you have a choice of four answers to give in response to this clip. Do you either A. Comment below, outraged. B. Report the vid-Sir? Sir are you paying attention?”
The silhouette moves their hand from the man’s chin to his neck. He doesn’t react. The man’s head is dropped, slumping into the dirt. The silhouette makes a note and the clipboard goes black.
The rubble is replaced.
She didn’t know how long she had been down there. Her chest ached. She couldn’t feel anything below her stomach and she was scared. Something shifted above.
Light broke through.
A shadow of a face loomed over her, a colourful screen swirling next to it.
It was a once in a ten year storm. Catastrophic. Never before seen, heard or imagined. That’s what the media told us. In our current climate it felt like we had one of these almost every other week but we didn’t care,
Tonight felt like something special.
I chucked on an old shirt and my roommate’s thongs and flagged down my friend as she drove past. On the way to the beach we listened to Violent Soho’s ‘Slow Wave’ and I watched the sky, waiting for it to break apart.
The beach is the best place to be in a storm. The only thing between you and the sky is flesh and blood. The danger is electrifying and real. We were going to live forever and this is how we showed the world that we weren’t lying when we said that.
Half a bottle of red with ‘Medium Strength’ written along the side gets passed around the group. It wasn’t enough to get drunk but that was fine. We were fucked already.
Faces were grinning. Fingers tapped against thighs. We giggled and tripped over our own feet. Everyone could feel that tonight was something different.
The whites of our eyes reflected back in each other’s mad stares.
We ran down the sand screaming and yelling like we didn’t have jobs anymore,
we didn’t have houses anymore,
we didn’t have our selves anymore.
Me and my best mate waded out together, further than anyone else. We went so far the horizon stopped existing. The sea joined the sky seamlessly and nothing but blackness lay in front of us. He said the water looked as if it never had end and we wondered how far we could walk until we drowned.
Someone behind us told us to look out for crabs and we told them to get fucked. When something touched my leg I screamed and we splashed back to safety.
The storm didn’t come. That night I left my window open and listened to Violent Soho quiet enough hoping when it came I could hear the rain.
It is hot. It is bright. I left my sunnies in the car and my head hurts. There is a pimple on my neck and I scratch it idly. I turn to my cousin who is a cunt.
“Hey can I borrow your sunnies?”
I squint up at the monolith in front of me. All cement and words that I can’t read in this sunlight, the Wright Brother Memorial didn’t seem like much. At least not enough to make me care about the first manned flight and blah blah blah etc. The only reason I had come was the dickhead next to me. I tried glaring at him but that didn’t add much to my existing squint.
“Amazing.” He whispered to himself.
He ignores me. My nail catches the tip of my pimple and nicks the top.
“Shouldn’t do that.”
“Why not dickhead.”
“Pop a pimple, tug a mole. Turn into a big black hole.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“Something mum used to say.”
“Your mum’s an idiot.”
He turns away from me and I rub the side of my neck. I watch him staring up at the memorial like he’d never seen stone before. I wish I had my sunnies. Fuck this place. I want to go back to the beach. They have two metal busts of the Wright brothers facing towards us and I flip one off. I sigh and lean forward, resting my elbows on my knees. Gotta cut this trip short and being obviously annoyed isn’t helping. Different tactic.
“I heard they were massive creeps.”
Even in the sun I can see my cousin twitch. Perfect.
“Total loners. And from what I hear it was completely by choice. Two brothers with that sort of fame and they couldn’t even use it to get some poon? They must have been fucking each other.”
Houston we have liftoff.
“What? It’s fact. Two bachelors, tucked away in a tent in the middle of nowhere. You choose that kind of isolation for a reason.”
“I have heard they had a sister too,” I leaned into his ear, “Do you think they took turns, or was it a ménage a trios sort of situation?”
He shuffled uncomfortably away from me. “No one asked you to come.”
I leant in closer. “Your mum did. She really loves you you know. You must be pretty close what with the two of you, tucked away in those woods all alone. Pretty romantic I’d say.”
My cousin stood up abruptly. Even in this light I could see how red his face was. His hands are now fists and I laugh.
“What are you going to do shitface?”
He mutters something quietly.
“What was that?”
He sits down. I lean over and snatch the sunnies off his face.
“Ah sweet darkness.”
I lean back and stare up at the monolith in front of me properly for the first time.
“Actually it’s not that bad. For a pair of sister fuc-ow, what was that?”
The side of my neck is stinging. I turn and my cousin is staring at me but he looks different. His eyes are red and he is whispering something fast and indistinct under his breath. I can see a small amount of pus and blood on his outstretched thumb and index finger. I reach up to my neck where my pimple once was and my hand falls through nothing.
“What did you do?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
He pulls the sunnies off my face and puts them on before standing up. I watch him walk away as my body collapses under itself. I go to scream but the sound disappears into the black hole where I once stood.
“Kids, your mother and I have something we need to tell you.”
Peter paused. He relished the tension reflected in the eyes of his three children and forced himself not to grin as he took a deliberate sip of tea. Susan, his wife, sighed and squeezed his shoulder.
“Come on Peter, you’re being cruel.”
“Yeah, what’s going on?”
Peter giggled as his youngest child Frank frowned up at him. He patted his son’s head and Frank responded by kicking him in the shins. Peter’s smile didn’t shift as he knelt down and grabbed the back of Frank’s head, pressing their noses together.
Without breaking eye contact with Frank he said “Kids. We’re going on holiday.”
Frank gasped. Susan grinned. Martha, the eldest, spoke quietly, “Wh-where are we going pa?”
Peter looked up at his daughter.
“Oh. I think you know.”
A penny dropped and the kitchen exploded. Martha screamed and shoved her fist in her mouth. Sally, the middle child, squealed then slammed her head into the dining table. She immediately fell to the floor. Frank gently placed his hands on either side of his father’s face and kissed his forehead.
“Thank you father.”
Peter nodded solemnly then stood back up. His wife, leaning against the sink, wiped a tear from her eye. Peter smiled at her, she smiled back and they embraced. Their lips locked and tongues slipped happily into each other’s mouths. They stayed this way until the room fell silent once again.
Sally stood back up, wobbling slightly. There was a slip of blood down the side of her forehead and she was smiling.
Peter sat down at the head of the table and gestured for his children to do the same. Susan turned to the sink and on her tip toes pulled a small velvet pouch from the cupboard above it. She opened the bag and placed three thin black objects into her husband’s waiting hand. If there was any excitement left in the room it immediately dissipated. Tension returned and Martha whined.
“Ma this is no fair, I was up last time.”
“It is fair young lady, you know this is how we do it. We are all equal.”
Martha crossed her arms and frowned. Peter slammed his fist on the table and threw her an accusatory finger.
“None of that attitude miss. I mean it.”
Martha uncrossed her arms and shoved them in her pockets. Peter did not put down his finger. He pointed to each of his children in turn.
“We are a family. One unit. One body.”
The children in unison repeated, “One unit. One body.”
Peter put down his hand. Carefully, so the children couldn’t see what he was doing, he covered the three objects with his fist, leaving only their top halves exposed.
“Alright children. Everyone choose a straw.”
The Fife’s basement was as large as it was clean. Which is not to suggest either. Most of the area was shut off due to a flooding earlier that year, except for a raised tiled island in its centre. Above that dangled a lightbulb and below it a flat metal bed. There Frank lay with his father standing beside him. Peter was in front of a wooden bench, rearranging objects unseen to Frank.
“Can’t I just do this next time, I’ll be bigger then.”
“I’m sorry Frank, you drew the short straw.”
“Are you sure?”
Peter chuckled. “Of course I’m sure.”
The basement echoed with the sound of metal scratching against wood. Frank wriggled restlessly.
“Can I have the oxy Dad?”
Peter sighed and turned to his son, “I’m sorry Frankie but we’re almost out. We have to save at least a little for the trip.”
“Aw come on, just a bit.”
Peter placed a hand on his little boy’s cheek. Frank pouted and Peter chuckled.
“God forgive me I can’t say no to a face like that. Here you go son.”
Peter pulled a small glass vial filled with white powder from his shirt pocket. Frank grabbed it greedily, twisted off the top and carefully tapped a pile onto the wooden bench. As he bent over to rail the line his father laughed and tousled his hair.
“That’s enough now son. Let’s get this sorted or we’re going to be late.”
Frank turned back to his dad. His eyes were half closed, his mouth smiling and his nose powdered. He laid his head back down on the headrest behind him.
“We’re going to have fun aren’t we Dad?”
“We sure are son, we sure are.”
Little Frankie closed his eyes and his father lifted his right leg. He placed a two-by-four underneath his son’s shin and from the bench behind him he pulled a claw hammer.
“I love you son.”
“I love you too Dad.”
Peter pushed a stray hair behind Frank’s ear, leant down and kissed his forehead. He looked so much like his mother, he thought to himself before reaching over and flicking on a nearby radio. ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee filled the room.
Peter sighed and rolled his shoulder’s back. He smiled.
Upstairs Susan, Martha and Sally sat around the kitchen table. Sally was six spaces away from the end of Chutes & Ladders and things were tense. The three tapped their feet along to the beat coming from downstairs.
When little Frankie woke up, it was to paradise. ‘Despacito’ thumped loudly but there was no basement anymore, only sunshine. His head felt heavy and though it was an effort he tried to lift himself. A large soft palm pushed him back down and Frank welcomed his father’s smiling face into his vision.
“We’re here Frankie.”
Frank blinked and his eyes focused. Bright colours and blurry shapes became roller coasters, became people, became music, fun and happiness. A disembodied mouse’s head leered down at him from every available surface.
They had made it.
Frank laughed without meaning to. He could see his sisters running ahead, his mother chasing gleefully after them. He was moving forward. No. He was rolling forward.
Peter pushed along his wheelchair bound son with care. He slowed down as a group of children ran in front of them and took time to avoid any cracks in the pavement. When they reached the first line for the first ride the pair looked at each other and scoffed. Peter’s wife put an arm in the crook of her husband’s and one of Frank’s sisters sat on his lap. Together the Fife family laughed and laughed and moved straight to the express lane for the disabled.
Little Frankie smiled and fell back into unconsciousness.