Written by James McCann
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
That thought echoed through Marty Dunlop’s head, occasionally giving way to the painful pounding that flared-up and settled-down, just to flare-up again at the back of his head. Although his arms were tied to the chair (his entire body was bound, he couldn’t move his legs so much as quarter of an inch either), he could feel that the back of his head had swollen up in the area where the hair had been matted down my something sticky-
blood blood it’s your blood
and damp and warm back there. The room swam in and out of focus, partly because of the hit to the head, partly because his left eye had already swelled shut, and although he had no way of seeing it, he knew it would look like he had a large purple plum growing out of his face.
Best he could, Marty saw that he was in a kitchen, that much he could sort of remember, though it was still dark, the only light coming from the full moon in the night sky. It bathed the room and everything in it in a pale blue. Turning his head brought on a fresh wave of pain washing across his brain, and a feeling of nausea was growing in the pit of his stomach. It was then that he noticed the tight ropes that secured him to the chair were also wrapped around his groin, and pressing hard on his right testicle.
Christ, things weren’t supposed to have gone so badly. How, how for Christ’s sake, could things have gone so badly?
Last Marty remembered, he and Alfie Harris (and it had been Alfie’s idea to hit this apartment, Alfie was always making the decisions) had come in through the kitchen window that was level with the fire escape. Alfie had led the way up, and then when it had come time to go in through the window, Alfie had let Marty go first, hell, he’d insisted on it, and wasn’t Alfie always doing that? Leading the charge right up until contact, and then handing things over to Marty.
Once inside the kitchen, Alfie held Marty’s shoulder for a few moments, listening. Upon deciding that it was safe (read: the apartment was empty), he gave the order for Marty to check all the rooms on the left of the apartment while Alfie himself took all the ones on the right.
That much Marty could remember.
Where it all got hazy was when Marty was in the apartment’s small bathroom. It wasn’t even a bathroom, really. It had a dank shower cubicle, a washbasin and a toilet. The seat and lid of the toilet, like the base of the cubicle, were of a thin, flimsy plastic. All were the colour of gone-off mustard, a shade that Marty thought of as a darker shade of pus. Alfie had been in what Marty thought must have been the bedroom when he made a peculiar couplet of noises. First, he made a high-pitched startled shriek, which got choked off, followed quickly by a strangled noise and a loud thump, which Marty thought was either something falling over or something being pushed against a wall.
Marty had forgotten all about sweeping the bathroom cabinet for drugs, and stood, motionless, in the doorway.
‘Alfie?’ he whispered in that odd whisper that isn’t truly a whisper. He leaned his head slightly further out of the bathroom, and listened. His face had taken on a sheen of sweat and his shirt had clung to his lower back. The only noise he could hear was the sound of his own scared, anxious breathing. ‘Alfie?’
Then another noise came from somewhere in the darkness, and any and all thoughts of waiting for Alfie or of finishing the burglary went out of the window, and Marty bolted for the kitchen window. He was, somehow, aware that Alfie’s days of breaking and entering and looting and plundering were long gone. As Marty approached the kitchen door, he was vaguely aware of a leather glove swinging out of the darkness at him. Which was fine, that led him to believe that he and Alfie had had the misfortune, or stupidity, to break into an apartment already being robbed.
Except the glove looked to have thick, sharp black talons at the ends of the fingers.
Marty didn’t know exactly how much time had passed since he and Alfie had entered the apartment, but as it was still dark out and the moon looked like a giant cue-ball on black velvet, he guessed it wasn’t too much time. His head hurt worse than any epic bender’s hang-over, his stomach felt like nothing but water that was preparing to come up at any moment, and the rope on his balls was sending burning flares through his body periodically. He found it close to impossible to move an inch, so getting a look around him was not going to happen, although he did believe the kitchen window that he and Alfie had jimmied up had now been closed again behind him.
‘Alfie?’ Marty called, no-longer feeling the need to keep his voice at a whisper. And Christ how his head did hurt. ‘Alfie, are you there?’
No reply but the sound of footsteps, slow and deliberate, in the darkened hallway that led to the kitchen. Even in his very confused-
state, Marty knew that those footsteps were supposed to be intimidating. They were designed to scare him, and kudos to whomever they belonged to, because they were working, and very well.
‘Who are you?’ Marty asked. There was a tremble in his voice which he wished hadn’t been there, but he supposed playing brave wasn’t going to help him much anyway. ‘Where’s Alfie?’
What Marty wanted to ask was, “What have you done with Alfie? What have you done to Alfie?” but he couldn’t bring himself to say it, couldn’t bring himself to really accept the truth that Alfie, his closest friend (if he could be called that) and partner in petty theft and ‘house calls’ for the last three years, was dead. Marty wasn’t too heart-broken about Alfie being dead, it was just that the admittance of that would lead to the next logical conclusion; Marty would soon join him in the clearing at the end of the path, say thankya sai King!
The footsteps came closer, reaching the doorway to the kitchen. The moonlight showed only to the end of the linoleum floor, so whomever-
whatever whatever it’s a great big ugly fucking whatever
was in the apartment with Marty was still in shadow.
‘Ah-Alfie..?’ Marty asked, his voice cracking in the middle to a dry screech.
‘No,’ a calm, powerful voice replied from the darkness. ‘But then, I think you knew that already.’
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