Authors: Graham Masterton
‘Hey, Sticks,’ he said, but Sticky Man continued to stare at him and said nothing.
Although he had eaten only one slice of his pizza at lunchtime, David didn’t feel particularly hungry, so he opened a can of Heinz vegetable soup, heated it up in the microwave and ate it in front of the television, watching
Afterwards, he showered and brushed his teeth and climbed into bed. He tried to read
The Girl With
The Dragon Tattoo
for a while, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Alice, and what she had said about inanimate objects coming to life when darkness fell. He still couldn’t remember exactly what it was called. Crispucular automation?
Just beware of the darkness. Treat it with respect. That’s all I can say. And if you see a dressing gown that looks as if it might come alive, then believe me, it probably will.
After his parents’ murder, David had been brought up by his Aunt Joanie and his Uncle Ted. They had bought him a new dressing gown, a tartan one, but on the day that he had left home he had thrown it in the dustbin and he had never bought himself another one since. He never hung any clothes from the hook on his bedroom door, not even a scarf. Even before he had talked to Alice, he had always kept his clothes shut up in closets and wardrobes, out of sight. No jackets were hunched over the back of his chair. No shirts hung drip-drying in the bathroom, like ghosts.
He switched off the light and closed his eyes. He felt very tired for some reason. Alice had disturbed him quite a lot, even though he found it very hard to believe everything that she had told him. The statue of the weeping woman he found quite unsettling. And he wondered what Rufus’s story was? Rufus was so pragmatic, and so straightforward. What on earth had appeared out of the dark to frighten Rufus?
He slept, deeply, for over an hour, but then he abruptly woke. He was sure that he had heard a clicking noise. His bedroom was unusually dark, and when he lifted his head from the pillow he realized that the digital clock beside his bed was no longer glowing. There were no street lights shining outside, either. There must have been a power cut, which might explain the clicking noise that had woken him up: the sound of the central-heating pipes contracting as they cooled down.
As he laid his head back down on the pillow, he heard more clicking. More like clattering this time. He strained his ears and listened. There was a lengthy silence, and then a quick, sharp rattling sound. He thought he heard a door opening.
He sat up. Something was outside his bedroom, in the hallway. Something that made a soft, dragging noise. It sounded as if it were coming closer and closer, and then it bumped into his bedroom door. Not loudly, but enough to give him the impression that it was big and bulky.
His heart was hammering against his ribcage. ‘Who’s there?’ he called out. ‘Is anybody out there?’
There was no answer. Nearly half a minute went by. Then suddenly there was another clatter, and he heard his door handle being pulled down. His door swung open with the faintest whisper, almost like a sigh of satisfaction.
He waited, listening, his fingers gripping the bedcovers. What had somebody once said about bedcovers? Why do we pull them up to protect ourselves when we’re scared? Do you think a murderer with a ten-inch knife is going to be deterred by a quilt?
‘Who’s there?’ he called out, hoarsely.
For God’s sake, who’s there?
It was then that the power came back on again, and his digital bedside clock started flashing green, and the central heating began to tick into life again, and he saw what it was that was standing in his bedroom doorway.
It was his navy-blue duffel coat, with its hood up. It looked like a dead Antarctic explorer, somebody whose body had been found in the snow a hundred years after they had died.
Beside it, tilting this way and that, as if it couldn’t get its balance right, was Sticky Man. Sticky Man must have opened the door to the closet, in the hallway, so that the duffel coat could shuffle out, and Sticky Man had opened his bedroom door, too. There was nobody else in the flat, so who else could it have been?
It was then that he realized that on the night his parents had been killed Sticky Man hadn’t been trying to warn him. Sticky Man had probably been trying to wake him up, so that he too would go into his parents’ bedroom, to be garrotted along with them.
You traitor, Sticks
,’ he whispered, but of course Sticky Man wasn’t a traitor, because Sticky Man was a creature of the dark, just as much as his dressing gown, and his duffel coat. It wasn’t
, in themselves. They were only inanimate objects.
David’s duffel coat rushed across his bedroom floor toward him. He lunged sideways across to the other side of the bed, trying to reach his phone.
‘Emergency, which service please?’
Then a struggling sound, and a thin, reedy gasp, followed by a long continuous tone.
It was what the dark does.
SAINT BRÓNACH’S SHRIFT
od has forgiven you, Michael,’ said Father Bernard. ‘Now you have to find it in your heart to forgive yourself.’
‘And do you honestly think that I haven’t tried?’ Michael retorted. ‘I’ve even tried mortification of the flesh. Stubbing out cigarettes on the back of my hand. Hitting my head against the wall again and again until I couldn’t see for the blood running down my face. I had to tell Kate I hit myself on a cupboard door.’
Father Bernard shook his head. ‘That’s not the way, Michael. Castigating yourself now isn’t going to change what you did all those years ago.’
Michael was standing by the window, looking out over the steeply sloping garden. It had started raining again, and he could hear the raindrops crackling through the hydrangeas. At the bottom of the garden ran the River Lee, the colour of badly tarnished silverware, and beyond the river rose the misty hills that led to the airport, and beyond, to Riverstick and Belgooly and Garrettstown. And of course to Kinsale Sands, where day and night the grey Atlantic washed, and washed, but could never wash away Michael’s guilt.
Father Bernard said, ‘Nobody blamed you, Michael. Your parents didn’t blame you. The Gardaí said there was no cause to think that it was anything else but an accident so. Even your Kate didn’t blame you.’
Michael turned away from the window. He had celebrated his thirty-fifth birthday only last Thursday, but he looked much older. His light brown hair stuck up like a cockatoo’s crest but it was beginning to thin and recede at the temples, and there were deep creases in his cheeks as if somebody had cut him with a craft-knife. When he sat down the daylight was reflected in his rimless spec-tacles, making him look blind.
Father Bernard leaned forward and laid a liver-spotted hand on his knee. ‘Would you care to pray?’ he suggested.
Michael said, ‘What’s the use? The only person who can answer my prayers is me.’
‘You’re still having the same dream?’
‘Are you not still taking the pills the doctor gave you?’
‘Twice the dose, Father. Washed down with two glasses of Paddy’s.’
Father Bernard sat back. He steepled his hands and stared at Michael for a long time without saying anything. He was obviously thinking hard. Behind him, the pendulum in the long-case clock wearily swung, but the passing seconds couldn’t help Michael, either.
‘Try once more tonight, Michael,’ said Father Bernard. ‘Try it without the pills and the whiskey. If you have the nightmare again, come back to me in the morning, early. Before ten if you can. I have to be visiting Mrs O’Leary in Ballyhooly. Poor old girl may not last another week.’
They both stood up. Father Bernard’s knees clicked like two shots from a cap-pistol. His eyes were a very pale agate, as if they had been leached of their natural colour by all the years of pain that he had witnessed, and the endless rain.
He laid his hands on Michael’s shoulders. ‘O my God,’ he intoned, ‘we love You above all things, with our whole hearts, because You are good and worthy of our love. We love our neighbours as ourselves for the love of You. We forgive all who injured us and we ask pardon of all whom we have injured.’
Michael said, ‘Amen.’ When he looked up, his eyes were glistening with tears, and he had to wipe his nose with the back of his hand.
Little Kieran had been fractious all day and Kate was exhausted by the time Michael put the key in the lock and stepped into the hallway.
He hung up his coat. He could hear Kieran upstairs, honking in his crib like a baby seal. Kate came out of the kitchen in her apron, all red and flustered, her russet hair awry. She smelled of frying onions and ground lamb so he guessed it must be shepherd’s pie tonight. He kissed her and then he said, ‘Sounds like he’s teething again, poor little beggar.’
‘It’s those two big back ones,’ Kate told him. ‘I gave him Calpol to take his temperature down but he’s still so miserable. He nods off but then the pain wakes him up again.’
I know the feeling
, thought Michael.
It’s the pain that can follow you everywhere, no matter how many glasses of whiskey you drink, no matter how many Sominex tablets you swallow. It comes after you through the fog of your exhaustion like the crocodile coming after Captain Hook and its ticking is the ticking of your bedside clock.
He went into the living room and unscrewed the half-empty bottle of Jacob’s Creek shiraz that was standing on the sideboard. He could see himself in the mirror as he poured out two glasses. He didn’t think that he looked like himself at all, more like some rat-faced private detective who had been hired to see what he was up to. His eyes were so dead and watchful, in spite of all the turmoil that he was feeling inside.
He took the wine through to the kitchen. Kate was standing over the range, stirring the lamb in a large saucepan. The kitchen floor was only half-finished and every time she wanted to go to the cupboard she had to step over a missing floorboard.
‘You should have booked a babysitter,’ he told her. ‘We could have gone to Isaac’s for dinner tonight, and given you a break.’
Kate said, ‘You’re joking, aren’t you? I wouldn’t wish Kieran on anybody right now. Besides, we can’t afford it. And you look like you could do with an early night.’
He intercepted her as she stepped over the missing floorboard and picked her up in his arms. ‘Hey!’ she said, with a wooden spatula in one hand and a jar of dried thyme in the other.
‘You’re the one who suggested an early night.’ He smiled, and kissed her on her perspiring forehead.
kind of an early night. I’m totally flahed out.’
‘We’ll see.’ He kissed her again and let her go. She went back to stirring the lamb and he pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down to watch her. He never tired of it, she was so magical, even when she was hot and messy like this. Her red hair, her high forehead, her wide-apart blue eyes, so blue that they were almost indigo. Her little straight nose with the spattering of freckles across it.
Most of all he loved her slight overbite, the way her top teeth rested on the moist pink cushion of her lower lip.
She was small and trim with narrow hips and she could dance like a flame-haired fairy, her eyes full of mischief, spinning around and around and always seeming to be teasing him, because she shouldn’t be his, not really. Not that she should have been Sean’s, either.
They ate on their laps in the living room, watching television. Upstairs, Kieran was sleeping at last, snuffling as he slept, his cheeks as red as tomatoes.
‘Did you sell that gorgeous house in Lover’s Walk yet?’ asked Kate, flapping her hand in front of her face because her mouthful of shepherd’s pie was so hot.
Michael shook his head. ‘They wanted me to drop the price by another two thousand. I told them to stuff it. Not in so many words, though. Polite, like.’
‘How’s your old mamo?’
‘Oh, she’s grand, except for her knee.’
‘You should see her more often.’
Michael didn’t answer. Calling in to see his grandmother in Glanmire had been his pretence for visiting Father Bernard at St Dominic’s Retreat House. He had confessed only to Father Bernard what he had done, nineteen years and two months ago. At the time, he had told the Gardaí what had happened, blurting it out between his tears, but he hadn’t told them that he had done it deliberately, nor what had provoked him to do it, and he had never admitted it to Kate.
He had never told Kate what he had seen through Sean’s bedroom door, either. Sometimes he wondered what would happen if he did. But it didn’t take much imagination to realize that it would bring down every ceiling in the house, and their marriage would be over, and little Kieran, like Michael, would be fatherless.
He placed two Sominex tablets on his nightstand, next to his alarm clock, just in case he really needed them, but Father Bernard had given him the courage to try to sleep without them.
God has forgiven you
, he told himself.
Now you have to find it in your heart to forgive yourself.
By the time he had climbed out of the bath and towelled himself, Kate had climbed into bed, switched off her bedside lamp and turned her back to him. The freckles on her bare shoulders looked like a faded map of the stars. He eased himself into bed, leaned over and breathed in deeply, just so that he could smell her. Chanel Eau Premiere, light and flowery.
He knew that he wouldn’t be able to go to sleep immediately, so he propped his pillows up behind him and watched a nature programme about fishermen somewhere off the coast of east Africa, keeping the volume muted so that he wouldn’t disturb Kate. After a while one of the fishermen came walking along the glossy wet sand, holding up a feathery-looking fish. It seemed to take him hours to approach the camera, but when he finally came close enough he gave a gappy smile and waved the fish from side to side in front of the lens, and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘
You see this, Michael?
This is a devil firefish, Michael! It stings! Very dangerous to humans! A fish like this can take a terrible revenge on you!