‘Bright Eyes’

Anna parked outside her home. The Sun left a red trail behind as it slumped down the sky and into cover behind the trees which cocooned the cottage. She adjusted the rear view mirror, taking a wipe to remove any make-up that remained, pulling at the bags under her eyes. She ran her fingers through her hair a couple of times and revealed a necklace from underneath her jumper before nodding in the mirror.

“Can’t believe I’m wearing this thing.” She said.

The wind battered the car door as she battled to leave. The trees around the house brawled with one another unable to hold onto their faded façade of green and brown, soon there would be nothing left to hide their shame.

She stood at the head of the path which the surrounding grass smothered as it hissed at her approach.

The porch welcomed her with a reluctant creek. She paused at the doorbell before pulling a key from her pocket, the keyring missing its photo, and unlocked the door.

Barging past three suitcases she ignored the stairs as she entered the house, instead heading into the living room. The windows howled as she entered, clouds were confronting the sunset. Framed memories of smiles and hugs judged her every step.

She approached the mantelpiece and examined a vase which held captive some drooping flowers, drained of colour. She rubbed the stock between two fingers which prompted petals to drip into the embers of the fireplace below.

Anna looked at the mirror which hung from the wall. Her grip tightened around the vase as she caught sight of a picture of Mark and David which hung on the opposite side and she launched it across the room crashing into the wall. The picture remained, defiant, as pieces of glass clung to the wall. She stared at the picture as the trickles down her cheeks grew into streams.

“This isn’t my fault, it isn’t!” She said.

“Mum?” Asked a face half hidden by the doorway.

“Oh David, I’m so happy to see you!” She said.

David recoiled as Anna approached but she snatched him up, clutching him close at her shoulder.

“I’m sorry Mum.“ He said, trying to separate from her.

“It’s okay, David.” She said, pulling him in for a hug.

“Are you going to leave?”

“Leave?” She asked, yet to release him.

“Dad packed your clothes up.”

“Your Dad’s just a bit confused, David. It’ll be fine. Mum’s here now.”

As she separated from David, Anna looked past him into the mirror hanging on the wall. A sliver of smoke rose from the fire below, the last of the petals had been consumed.

“Put him down.”

“Mark, I-“

“Put him down, Anna.”

“Right, yes.” Anna replied, freeing David.

He scuttled across to Mark’s side, facing Anna and revealing a dark circle which consumed his eye before hiding behind Mark’s leg.

“David, why don’t you head up to your room while Mum and Dad talk?” He said, ruffling David’s hair.

David fled the room and Mark entered, leaving the door open.

“Mark, I’m sorry.” She said.

“David doesn’t know that. He still thinks he did something to deserve it.”

“I’ll make it up to you both, I promise.”

“This isn’t like missing a school play! You can’t click your fingers and make things fall back into place!”

Pieces of glass slipped from the wall and onto the floor.

“God damn it Anna! You can’t even control yourself around a fucking vase! How are you supposed to be a parent?!”

“I’m not a good parent but I want to be.” She said, moving closer to Mark who stood arms folded.

“And you thought by turning up here and what, smashing a vase and trying to smash a picture would show that? You’re crazy.”

“Give me a chance, one more chance. Help me get past this, we can get through it.”

Anna placed her hand on his wrist.

“I don’t believe you.” He said, swiping her hand away.

“I can be better, I don’t want to lose David.”

“You lost him the moment you lay a hand on him like that.”

“I’m sorry. I know it’s my fault, what else do you want me to say? To do?”

Mark slammed the living room door and it rebounded open.

“There’s nothing you can do. It’s not safe to have you around him.”

“Mum? Dad? What’s going on?!” David asked.

“Nothing, Anna’s leaving now.” Mark said.

He grabbed hold of her wrist now and dragged her out of the living room.

“Let me go you piece of shit!”

Mark opened the door. By now it was raining heavily. He threw two of the suitcases outside before opening another and throwing the contents to the whipping winds outside which littered the garden with garments. Anna crashed into him as she raced outside, trying to collect each piece of clothing.

Lightning split the warring clouds for a moment’s truce as the sky roared. David sat at the bottom of the stairs, unmoved, wrapping his arms around his knees as he watched.

‘The Longest Moment’

He thought of she and him, breezing round the coastal roads on his old Gran Royale Bicycle. They installed a second seat at the start of summer and though he opposed the pink; she was the one with the skills. They shared an earbud each, as they listened to the soundtrack of their rural montage. He nearly crashed when he skipped that Switchfoot song in jest, he was unsure what impressed her less but the clasp of her hand on his waist never wavered.

As he lay on the ground now, breathing heavily, he could still feel that hand clenching his hip. His whole body was clenching. He moved his own hand to his side. He winced. He heard Tatsuro Yamashita playing on the earbud which remained intact, the other stricken on the cold concrete his cheek rested against. His mind wandered to her head leaning against his back, listening to Magic Ways.

She would caress him with her black hair as he peddled, nuzzling as they passed the tides which stroked the golden beaches. The gulls glided along beside them, sniping suspicious looks. He liked to think they had a mutual appreciation for the scenery, an understanding that transcended language but they were probably just eyeing up the picnic basket.

He spent all summer in that highlight reel by the sea, maybe he should have gone with her to Uni. He wouldn’t be in this situation if he had, he knew that. It only served to elevate this pain. He could feel trickles of heat sliver over his hands, but his body grew cold.

Fresh from sunbathing the sea massaged her shoulders as she raised her head out of the warm water, sliding her damp hair behind her ear. He placed his hands at her waste and ran his fingers over those stretch marks at her left side, she stood on her tip toes and kissed him. They later laughed at how rude it was for the gulls to pick that moment to pilfer the picnic.

He felt saliva seep down the side of his cheek onto the concrete, escaping his now coarse throat, as he wriggled his brittle bones against the slates. He had once snapped a picture of the cafe tiles for his Instagram, now they were ruined by a growing pool of red.

He recalled Pineapple Sand, how she cast her chair aside and bounced to her feet when they planned their future, selling bicycle decorations made of sea shells out of a camper van. The clock in that coffee shop had a heart shaped time piece. It swung slower now.

The music got quieter. He could make out a woman yelping. He mustered a couple of splutters, warmth splattered across his lips and smothered the dryness in his throat. He could hear sirens.

They lay upon a bed of green, she rested against his bare chest with her hand placed upon his side as clouds gathered on the horizon.

He heard the music no longer, nor the sirens, though they continued to ring. The heart shaped time piece had come to a halt.

‘The Journey’

Olivia noticed a few undesirables further up the bus and placed her bag on the seat next to her.

“First step to avoiding people,” she thought.

The stale cocktail of body odour and fuel stung her nostrils as she pressed back against her seat and scrolled through her Facebook feed.

“The only thing more uneventful than this bus journey,” she thought, looking out the window now at the sun’s dying light playing hide and seek in between buildings that were getting smaller the further the bus went.

The driver’s eyes snared hers through the mirror but she was freed by the ringing of her mobile phone.

“Hey Mum, how are you?”

“Hi love, I’m good thanks. Are you on your way?”

“Yeah I’m on the bus just now, we’ve just stopped at Upperton to let a few people off.”

“Sorry I’m so late. I’ll be home soon, it’s my stop next,” Olivia said.

Her eyes were lured back to the driver’s mirror, his own gaze now distracted.

“Oh good! You know how I worry.”

“It’s okay, the rough one’s just got off the bus,” she said, looking around behind her.

Olivia noticed she was alone now.

“How was your day mum? Tell me about your day. Did you do much? How was work?”

“It wasn’t bad. I did have a minor disagreement with that bastard at work. I’ll save that for when you get home.”

“How was-“

“There’s the dinner ready love, I need to go, see you soon.”

“Mum!”

Olivia continued to hold the phone to her ear. Her eyes coaxed back to the mirror and the leer of the driver.

He smiled.

The bus bounced with the grace of a rhino at a jenga convention. The road crackled below as though they were driving over an ocean bubble wrap. She switched her attentions to the window, greeted by a foreign darkness that smothered seas of what she could only guess were crops.

“D-driver?”

“Driver, is… this the right way?”

“I think so.” He replied.

“I-I don’t recognise it.” She said.

“Well, I’m the one in charge. You’ll have to trust me.”

Olivia abandoned her bag and ran for the back of the bus, crunching her wrists down upon the step, her progress halted by the bus’ breaks, screaming as she pressed to lever herself to her feet. The driver caught hold of her foot and dragged her to the floor once more, she kicked for his chest, she kicked for his balls, she kicked for his face, she kicked for her life.

He roared as his nose spurted blood, Olivia clambered to her feet again and kicked open the emergency door, dropping out of the bus and fleeing into the fields, running at awkward angles until she dropped to her knees.

The crops hissed as the wind harassed them. She bit down on her trembling lip, her forearms numb, fluid dripped from her fingers. Blood or sweat? She couldn’t tell. She heard the driver curse then cover it with laughter but he was far away now and the bus engine had started again. She dare not leave the crops. She was alone.

Olivia slumped over and let her eyes close, joining the darkness around her.

‘The Voice’

It’s been so long since I did anything like queue to post a letter. I’m starting to miss it. There’s no talking in this queue, there’s never been any save for-

“Room number four, please.” Right on cue. She even sounds like the automated post office voice.

Room number four. So far as I’ve ever been able to tell there’s little reason for numbering other than for us to distinguish which job is which. I never understood it, the end result is the same. It’s not a glamourous job, but it’s an easy job in terms of effort. One clean shot does the trick, the money gets transferred in and we return to the queue.

I walk through the double doors which open politely for me after I scan my card and select four on the elevator. There’s never any noise. I’ve never figured out what direction this elevator goes in, it doesn’t seem to move at all. I think it’s the quietest job I’ve ever had.

Some days I wish I could hear another human voice but I think that luxury has been stripped from me due to my line of work. Sure I could call up some seedy hotline but it’s not real, there’s no face to the name. Sally’s probably some overweight monster with a surprisingly sexy voice. I could leave the apartment in my downtime, but I don’t trust myself out there anymore. Not like in here. The bell rings and that annoying automated woman reminds me: “room number four.”

I step into the small hallway and flash my card again, the door zips up into the ceiling. I enter into the bleach bright white of room number four. I collect the pistol from the table and wait.

The panel in the floor opens and up shoots a chair with my next job roped to it, squirming as it always is. I put the clip into the pistol and load the chamber.

“H..ELLL..P.”

The gun falls from my hand and I slam my hands down on the table, looking at the sheets. It struggles harder, faster, thrashing back and forward that if the chair were wooden it would already have cracked under the strain.

“Room number four, please finish your job.” That automated bitch.

“HEEELLLLP.”

“Room number four. We will incinerate the room. Finish your job.”

“HEEELLLLLLLLPPPPPPPP.”

What the hell is this? Damn it shut up.

“HEEELLLLP”

“Room number four-“

“HEEELLLLPPP”

I pull the trigger and silence is restored.

I used to tell myself they must have done something wrong, then it was I needed the money. I even told myself it’s the only thing I’m good at. Once that stopped working I decided they didn’t matter, billions of stars and planets out there, we’re just another light on the grid. Nobody notices if it gets a little darker. I’m still searching for an excuse.

‘What’s yours is mine’

“Maybe they’ll send us more…”

“Comm’s have been dark for months, there’s nobody left.”

“Maybe it was a mistake splitting our supplies.”

“Do I have to take the water?”

“Of course I do, there’s no other option.”

“But he’ll die if I take it…”

“I’ll die if I don’t.”

“I’m taking his water.”

“He’s been stealing my supplies, he’s brought it on himself.”

“It’s not even his anyway. It’s my water.”

‘Stripped’

“Olivia?”

“Brad… how is the group doing?” Olivia said, her back still facing Brad.

“They’ve taken it pretty hard. Nic’ was a popular girl. To lose her… well, everyone’s shocked. They’re hurting, they still can’t believe it.”

“I see.”

“I just wanted to check in, see how you were doing? It must have been horrible for you, being there when it happened.”

“Me? I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem fine; you’ve hardly said a word. They’re worried about you, Olivia. The group’s lost someone they looked up to so naturally they’re asking questions.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Questions that need answering, they want to know what happened out there. You’ve still got Nic’s gun, how did that happen?”

“We… we got overrun by a herd of zombies, we got careless Brad. Now I’m here and Nicole’s gone. She’s gone because of me. What is this about, Brad?”

“I’ve wanted to bring their concerns to you. You’ve already said you got overrun but how, where? They want to know.”

Olivia thrusts an arm out as she faces Brad.

“They want to know?! Why didn’t they want to know when Ted died? Why didn’t they want to know when Paul died? What’s so special about Nicole?”

Brad shrugged his shoulders, his mouth ajar with no words to fill the void.

“The group wants a leader until she makes a tough decision they don’t like. I’ve told them everything without going into the gory details. What’s this really about?”

“It’s about Nic-“

“You’re supposed to be with me, Brad! You’re supposed to be on my side!”

“I’ve always been on your side-”

“Don’t lie to me. Do you want to know what happened to Nicole, Brad?”

Brad took a couple of steps back, his body turning slightly.

“She got cornered by a group of them.”

Olivia walked closer.

“She’d gone for more supplies and left her gun with me while I was on watch.”

She walked closer, looking past Brad.

“I got distracted, just for a second and before I knew it her flesh was being stripped like bacon from a roast. She begged for me to shoot her, she begged until the blood filled her throat and she could beg no more.”

“But there were so many…”

Brad’s turned completely, his back now facing Olivia.

“I ran. I grabbed what supplies I had in my pack and I ran.”

‘Ice Cream Truck’

“You don’t see any reason for me to be suspicious?” He asks me.

“No, of course not! We’re in a great place right now love. Honestly, owning an ice cream truck is a great business venture.” I say. Obviously it’s not.

“Don’t lie to me, Sophia. I know when you’re lying because you always start by saying honestly.”

I pull my hair behind my ears and open my eyes wide but as I do he’s already mentioning the second clue.

“There it is. Expecting me to get lost in those hazels. You’re up to something!” He refutes it, but Tony still allows my eyes to seduce him, he is weak after all but I like him just the way he is. I don’t enjoy it, but what harm can it do? As long as we both know my excuse isn’t exactly true then that’s honest enough.

As my phone rings he sighs and backs down as expected. I shoot him a sheepish smile and he returns the favour with an added eye roll. My wonderful but predictable husband. I walk out the room before answering the phone.

“Have you taken care of our problem?!”

“No, I’m just on my way to do so.” I reply.

“C’mon! I’m getting edgy!”

“Just remember it’s only our problem because I’ve chosen to help you. After this week our business is going to expand exponentially so everything needs to run like clockwork, understand?”

“Yes ma’am, it’s just-”

“Just nothing. I’m going to collect the gasoline. I’ll call you when it’s done.” I reply.

Harold’s loyal, but Jesus he’s a pain in the ass sometimes! I blame the parents for that terrible upbringing.

I delve into my pockets and grip the contents of both. In the left is my mentors pocket watch, the woman whom I prematurely inherited this business from. In the right, a box of matches. I’d like to think she’s watching me and she’d know that what I’m going to do is for the best. I’d certainly convince her it was.

I place the watch back into the cover of my pocket and tighten my clutch on the matches. I can’t imagine a more horrible way to go but for the business; we need to make a statement. I’m sure the smoke will let them off lightly anyway.

“I’ll be back in a few hours, honey. Try not burn the dinner to a crisp tonight.”