“Mandy, tell me what happened at the Gamekeeper’s lodge?”
I had been staring at my hands for what seemed like hours. The outlines of the bones that were prodding against my knuckles and the creases where the skin had folded over. The little hairs that flickered and twitched beneath a hidden current of air that was blowing through the room and a smell like turps. The warmth of flesh as I brought my fingers together so that they created a lattice at the centre and my fingers hidden. An old nursery rhyme turning over and over in my head. The memory of the little rhyme being sung with someone else. My pinky fingers opening out into a small triangle and my thumbs like doors that were slowly opening. A voice turning over and over in my mind and calling out to me from the half-remembered past.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.
My lattice web of fingers turning over as I pivoted each wrist and the little fingers revealed beneath and wriggling away down there.
Open the doors and here’s the people.
The distant echo of a half-remembered voice. My heart beating so hard against my chest that I was sure that at any moment it would explode right through the ribs and the gristle and thrust right out before me and whip from side to side like that crazy-assed scene from Alien. My body a lifeless kernel as it fell back against the little plastic chair and the blood pumping out from the terrible wound that was riven against my chest. As I breathed my last breath and closed my eyes a final time. And I wished for it. I really did.
“Mandy can you still hear me?”
She’s someplace else bitch!
But I swallowed the words down this time so that they remained lodged within my throat as though I’d swallowed my Mummy’s golf ball down. The little ball that was pressing against my larynx and my windpipe from the inside out. The little pimples that were pressed against my voice box. The memory of my Mummy from the day before and the terrible wound I had seen sliced against her neck. The knowledge that death sought her out.
“Mandy, are you still with us?”
A sound like thunder that exploded within my head.
My head flew back, and I closed my eyes from the blazing light and allowed the darkness to wash over me.
A sensation as though I were falling. My tummy lurched upwards and my arms flew up on either side. My hair that whipped from side to side above my head as I fell towards the darkness down below. The air that whistled against my ears so that for a moment I could hear voices, children’s voices, and they were calling out for me to join them. To join them in the place where they were hiding in the darkness. And I longed for it. I longed to join my friends and play a while with them.
The sound of Lucy’s voice calling out to me and the tears that stung against my eyes as I fell, as I fell. And so, I opened my mouth and called out to her, but I couldn’t make a sound as the golf ball remained lodged firm against my throat so that I couldn’t breathe at all. My body twitching and buckling a final dance as I fell through the darkness. The flesh, even now, resisting the final moment of death. But my soul screaming out for it and the tears that stung like a viper’s kiss against my skin as I fell towards the darkness and the bottom of the well rushed up towards me.
“Mandy. Are you there? Is Mandy someplace else?”
My eyes flicked open and a searing white light that flooded in. A room that was revealed before me in exquisite detail. White rendered walls that surrounded me on all sides. A slate grey metal door. Black and white floor tiles that reminded me of a chess board. I turned my head slowly from side to side and something not quite right with it I thought, the muscles all knotted and buckled beneath the skin. A furnace fire that throbbed beneath my veins and quickened the pulse.
Something flashing in the corner of the room. A little metal box and an eye that blinked red and studied me as though I were some curious beast. And I didn’t much care for that one-eyed demon. I didn’t much care for it one bit. And so, I threw my arms up towards it but found that I was hostage here within this curious room where I had awoken. The sound of buckled metal as the shackles bit down against my wrists and my ankles. The pain that rushed through my body and consumed my thoughts complete. I blinked towards the manacles that were fastened against my wrists and my little pink hands that were poking through and the fingers so fragile and so delicate looking that I had the strangest notion that I might pull each little finger through the steel clasp. The little bones within those hands that would buckle and snap. And the thought excited me and quickened the pulse.
The smell of something sweet upon the air. Something sweet and spoilt somehow. I lifted my gaze from those funny little hands and delicate little fingers that I longed with all my heart to break. My eyes that came to rest upon a woman who I discovered seated before me and studying me as though I were the latest curious beast that had been shipped to London Zoo from the deepest corners of the empire. I did what any gentleman should when presented with the unexpected pleasure of a beautiful woman and lifted myself from my chair to greet her. But I quickly discovered that I couldn’t move and the shackles that rattled against my ankles and my wrists.
“Hello.” I announced to the beautiful young lady who was seated before me, and my voice that wasn’t mine and in place of my deep baritone was something childish and sickeningly sweet.
The lady smiled, and I noticed how the painted rouge against her lips appeared to flake away so that something dark was revealed beneath the makeup. And the sight of it excited me and brought the strangest sensation of warmth that flooded through my body from head to toe.
“Hello Mandy.” The lady said in reply, and I didn’t have the heart to explain to her that she had mistaken me for someone else and decided to let matters rest for now and hear what the lady had to say.
“Hello.” I replied, and that dancing choral chime against each syllable and I was sure that I had died and was visited by angels, such was the sweetness of that little voice against my ears. So that I laughed a little at the sound of it and my eyes widened with excitement. The lady before me blinked, I noticed, and I wondered if she had noticed a change in me somehow? I studied her as she leaned a little closer towards me so that her hands came to rest upon her lap and her fingernails that were painted red.
“You were telling me Mandy what happened at the lodge. With your friends.” The lady said, “On the night of the sleepover.”
And I was sure at that point that she must have me mistaken for someone else because I had never entered into conversation with this woman my whole life. I shook my head and blinked and lowered my gaze briefly towards those delicate little hands of mine that were shackled and resting against my lap now. The little fingers that wiggled away down there as I brought my hands together and clasped the fingers firm.
“Was I?” I replied, bringing those delicate fingers together and raising the little fingers into a peak and bringing my thumbs to open and close. “I don’t recall.” I replied, and for a moment I was sure that I might cuss. But swear words are for the devil and so I held my anger down for now.
“Yes, you were Mandy, do you remember? You were telling me how the four of you had packed up your belongings and you had led them across the chalk downs until you led them through Deadwood. All the way to the lodge.”
The woman leaned in a little closer and I glanced towards her and for a moment I was sure that I spied a familiar darkness that flashed briefly across her eyes, but I didn’t mention anything about that for now.
“Why the lodge Mandy?” The woman asked, her eyes that were like two narrow slits now, I thought, and reminding me of a serpent I had once known. “Why did you take your friends to the lodge?”
And I could have replied that I didn’t take the three of them to the lodge that night. That the whole idea had been Lucy’s and that the bitch had had it coming to her. That the bitch had planned the whole fucking thing and I was pleased that she was dead and her body rotting at the bottom of the well with all the others that had been taken there across the years. And the taste of flesh upon my tongue and the scent of death. And the scent of death. AND THE SCENT OF DEATH. But I decided to let sleeping dogs lie for now and lifted my face towards the woman who was seated five yards before me and too far for me to lunge towards her and rip her limb from limb.
“I thought that it would be quiet there. You know. Some place secret.” I replied, remembering how the young boy Ben had leaned in towards me in the lodge as the flames had flickered before us. The scent of alcohol upon his breath and the urge that had boiled within my guts to kill him there and then. And how hard it had been for me to resist the urge to kill. TO KILL. But resist I did.
“But why the lodge Mandy?” The lady repeated, “Why did you take the three of them to the lodge?”
I shook my head. Mandy with me now. Beside me. Inside my head. And I didn’t like it. The touch of her against my skin and the sound of her voice that was speaking through my lips. The words that were on the tip of my tongue and the memories that flashed before my eyes of the three of them in the lodge with me. Adam and Ben and Lucy too. And the memory of Lucy as I had watched her fall towards the darkness of the well.
“He told me to.” Mandy cried.
“Who Mandy, who?”
“The goblin.” Mandy said through my lips, and I hated her for that, I really did.
“Goblin?” The lady said, leaning in and studying me as though I was something else.
And I was sure then that this beautiful lady that was seated before me was not to be trusted with her beauty and her words. Because any old fool knew within this neck of the woods that the lodge was his. The Gamekeeper’s. And no good would come of slumbering there for the night.
I shook my head, the muscles that were tight against my neck and the loose hair that flicked against the side of my face and made me itch. And I was sure that I was quite bored of this feeble body I found myself entrapped within already. And would return to sleep for an hour or two. A great lethargy that seemed to wash across my body from head to toe so that my head began to bob a little from left to right. The white room that fell in and out of focus.
“Mandy!” The woman’s voice snapped. “What Goblin?”
And I lifted my face towards her and studied the lady through eyelids that were closing now. And for a moment I was quite sure that I remembered this woman from someplace else. A striking memory of her in a pit somewhere and flames that were lifting on either side of her. The taste of sulphur upon my tongue. The sound of screaming all about us. But I was tired. So tired. And my body weak. And when I spoke again, I couldn’t be sure whether it was my voice at all because the words did not make a single piece of sense to me.
“The goblin who killed my sister.” The voice said.
“Sister?” The lady asked. But I was tired. So tired.
And then my eyelids closed, and the darkness came rushing back. My body flying upwards. Shooting back towards the light. Until finally my eyelids snapped open and Sister Dixon was revealed seated before me.
An expression upon her face that I couldn’t quite read.
“Where’s Rag n Bone?” I asked. “What have you done with him?”
Sister Dixon blinked. Her eyes that appeared completely devoid of colour somehow like a serpent. Her lip that snagged against the corner as she smiled.
“He’s in the chapel.” She said, the cruel smile against her lips. “He’s resting now.”