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Authors: Gary McMahon

Tags: #Horror

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BOOK: Silent Voices
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Banjo shook his bandaged head. He’d reached the door now, and his back was pressed against it. Giving one final, vigorous shake of the head, he spun around, opened the door, and ran outside. The door swung slowly closed, and Brendan watched the slim, shattered figure of the junkie as he pelted towards the Needle.

The clicking sound had stopped. Outside, there was no wind. The night was calm.

“Clickety,” said Brendan again, but he had no idea what it meant. “Clickety.”

He walked over to the door, pulled it tight to the frame, and locked himself inside the cabin. He would not make another circuit of the site tonight, and he certainly wouldn’t be going anywhere near that damned tower block. Something had spooked him, and it was more than the noise, more than the word he’d uttered three times now. Perhaps it was the same unimaginable thing that had scared his guest enough to run back inside the ruined walls of the Needle, that somehow made him feel safe there?

Perhaps it was something they should all be afraid of; the whole estate, and everyone who lived here. Maybe it was a sign that something was coming. Something from the past: something that had always been there, biding its time and waiting for the right moment to return to finish what was started twenty years ago, when three boys had lost a slice of their lives and emerged at the other side bloodied, abused, and bearing much more than physical scars.

Brendan looked down at his feet and saw the large acorn on the floor. It was at the side of the door, as if Banjo had dropped it as he ran out of the cabin. The acorn was turned over onto its side, and roughly three inches long by an inch broad. The seed shell was turning brown but the acorn had not yet fully matured; it was still set firmly in its cupule.

Bending down to pick it up, he noticed some kind of markings on the acorn. When he examined it closely, he saw that there seemed to be two letters cut into the meat of the seed: B.C.

He felt dizzy, so straightened up, still clutching the acorn.

His name: Brendan Cole. Somebody – perhaps Banjo, perhaps someone else – had etched his initials into the acorn. The work was clumsy, childlike, but there was no doubt that the scratches were meant to stand for his name.

He pocketed the acorn, turned back towards the window and looked out into the darkness. His reflection stared back at him from the black glass. He looked thin, pale; a ghost of himself. The thought unsettled him even more, so he turned away. He was clenching his fist around the acorn inside his pocket. For some reason this disturbed him, so he took his hand out of his pocket and stared at his fingers. They were fine. Had he really expected them to be tainted in some way?

Brendan sat back down at the table and drank the rest of his tea. It was cold now, but he barely even cared. The rash on his back was burning. It felt like someone had laid a hot iron between his shoulder blades and pressed down on the handle, applying as much pressure as they could.

He couldn’t wait to get home and take off his shirt, have Jane apply a soothing balm to his pustules and cysts, and then go to bed and chase sleep so that he might put this strange night behind him.

CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

T
HE SUN WAS
shining when Simon woke up late the following morning. Pale fingers of daylight reached for him through the window, clutching through the space between the curtains he’d neglected to close when he arrived at the flat last night.

He was sprawled face-down on top of the bed sheets, with his legs dangling off the side of the bed and his hands and forearms jammed under the pillows. His neck ached. His mouth tasted stale and salty, as if from the residue of bad takeaway food. He pushed himself off the mattress and stood before the full-length mirror, struggling to open his eyes. He had not slept long; after driving back from the Needle he remembered drinking a large whisky and then stumbling to bed.

He scratched his head and cupped his balls. Then, yawning, he headed towards the bedroom door, and went through into the bathroom. He brushed his teeth – twice, to remove that terrible taste – and sat down on the toilet. The seat was too small. He’d owned the flat for almost ten years, a bolt hole he’d never used until now, but had felt like a lodger as soon as he stepped inside. This was not his home. These unknown rooms did not readily accept his shape within their walls; the flat seemed to fight against his presence.

He flushed the toilet and took a long shower, trying to wash away the layers of exhaustion. Last night he’d driven right up to the hoarding that surrounded the Needle, parked the car, and stared at the portion of the old tower block that was visible above the timber boards. He knew the place well, but mostly from his dreams. He hadn’t set foot inside there for two decades – not since he and his friends had emerged from the building into early morning sunlight, blinking and stumbling as they walked hand-in-hand away from the centre of the estate.

The blood had stopped flowing, the scars had healed, but the damage done to their minds had sent shockwaves into their future – a future that had too quickly become the present. Even now, all these years later, he was afraid of cramped spaces and hated the way early evening shadows moved lazily in a dim room. The sound of rustling – bushes, leaves, even papers disturbed by a breeze through an open window – brought him out in gooseflesh.

He wondered how his friends had managed for all this time, living in the shadow of that building, and the darkness it generated. How had they survived the rest of their lives after the puzzling, nightmarish thing that may or may not have happened to them all?

Simon had built fragile barriers of wealth and success; his business deals and property developments formed a vulnerable defence against the blackness that he sensed radiating from this place like ripples on a pond. He had escaped, leaving the Grove when he was only sixteen; this distance alone had prevented the ripples from reaching him. But his friends had stayed behind, like ancient guardians or gatekeepers: holders of the flame. What coping mechanisms had they erected to protect themselves from the lack of memories, the lacuna in their recollections from that long-lost childhood weekend?

Once he was dressed, Simon made a cup of instant coffee. Black. There was no milk in the fridge; he’d forgotten to take some from his fridge back in London or pick some up at a service station last night, on his way here, even though he’d remembered to bring the whisky. He would need to go to the local supermarket for supplies, later, once he’d come to terms with being back here, right at the heart of his broken past.

After the coffee, he ate some stale biscuits he found in his briefcase, and then left the flat and checked the rental car hadn’t been broken into. The doors were secure; nobody had tampered with them. The alarm had not sounded during the night, but still, it paid to be sure.

Simon left the car where it was, parked at the kerb in a narrow lay-by, and walked west along Grove Road, tracing the perimeter of the circular streets at the core of the estate. Even this place, he noted, looked okay when the sun was shining. The sky was clear; the glare was powerful enough that he put on his shades, and the clouds were high and thin and wispy. Yet still, beneath the scene, he was aware of the darkness twitching.

Passing the north end of the old Grove End Primary School, he glanced through the railings. He’d gone to that school, had spent his infant years playing and dreaming inside its gates. He could not remember what he’d learned there, other than how to survive, but suspected that the lessons had served him well.

Last night, after he’d made his abortive drive-by of the Needle, Simon had attempted to explore the area around it and reacquaint himself with the streets he’d once known. But after years away from the estate, the Grove made him nervous. The sounds of revving motorcycle engines from the direction of Beacon Green, the loud voices carried on the night-time breeze, the barking of dogs, the intermittent wail of a car or a house alarm from one of the streets adjacent to the Arcade – these had all set his nerves on edge. So, instead, he’d retreated inside the flat and locked the door, watching the estate through the windows as he slowly unpacked the few clothes and belongings he’d brought along with him.

Now, during daylight hours, the threat was a lot less apparent. Yet still, as he walked the streets, Simon felt like a stranger, an interloper. He’d been away too long to consider himself a native, and he knew that if he tried to pass himself off as one they’d smell it on him like shit on the soles of their shoes. The people who lived in the Grove were insular; they had their own defences. There were good folks here, people simply trying to get on with their lives, but also a high proportion of scroungers and criminals. The trick was to recognise which was which and make sure you moved in the right circles.

So he walked with his shoulders hunched, and kept glancing over his shoulder. He didn’t want any trouble. Not here, not now. He’d paid his dues to this damned estate years ago, and he refused to allow it to take anything more from him than it had already stolen...

Brendan Cole lived in a small three-bedroom, semi-detached council house overlooking the Embankment. They were all the same, these properties: identical dwellings built for identikit families. Even the gardens looked similar, with their overgrown lawns, wild borders, and children’s bikes and scooters and trampolines littering the space like the detritus from a rowdy street party.

Simon crossed the road and stood in the bus stop adjacent to Seer Park, an old patch of ground that had once boasted new swings, a slide and a roundabout, but now had become a dumping ground for empty beer cans and fast food wrappers. The remains of the swings – a buckled, rusty tubular steel frame – looked more like a hangman’s gibbet than a plaything. He leaned against the clear PVC panel, squinting through the marker-pen mural of ancient graffiti, and watched the house.

He tried to remember what had been here before the bus shelter, and an image of an old-fashioned red telephone box came to mind. He’d used it to speak to girls so that his parents couldn’t overhear his conversations, and had once even phoned emergency services to report a traffic accident he’d witnessed from the same box.

After about twenty minutes, a woman with dirty-blonde hair pulled back into a severe ponytail – what he’d heard referred to as a ‘council-estate facelift’ – emerged from the front door. She was wearing white running shoes, baggy grey sweatpants and a voluminous purple sweatshirt with the words ‘Will Dance for Money’ printed across the front. She carried a large sports bag to the silver Citroen people-carrier parked on the drive, opened the boot, and placed the bag inside. She jogged back to the front door, closed and locked it, and then climbed into the car and started the engine.

Simon knew her. It was Jane Fell – Jane Cole, now – the girl he used to go out with, back in the day. A twinge of what might have been guilt or simply regret tugged at his guts. He knew that he’d done wrong by the young girl he had left behind, but he was glad that the woman she’d grown into had found someone to settle down with – even if it was one of his best friends.

He watched her from the bus shelter as she sat in the car fiddling with the dashboard stereo, looking for a song she liked. She used to be beautiful, but now she looked tired, worn out. She was old before her time. He knew that the Coles had kids, twins: a boy and a girl. He also knew that she worked part-time in a Pound Shop in Near Grove, just to help out with the bills. Her hair was a dull shade of yellow rather than the pure blonde it had once been. She was carrying two, maybe three, extra stone of weight. He guessed that she was going to the gym or a dancing class – which would explain the obscure slogan on her sweatshirt. He wished that he could walk over there, open the car door, and say hello. Just say hello to the girl he’d once loved, who was now trapped inside the body of a woman who looked too exhausted to even care.

Smiling – presumably she’d found the right song – she pulled out of the drive and turned left, heading back the way he’d come. Simon huddled inside the bus shelter, tilting his head down but still managing to keep track of her as she passed him by.

For a moment he felt stranded there, caught in a moment between the past and the present, but once the car had turned the corner and vanished from sight he was able to shake the feeling and break free. She was no longer the girl he had known. She had a life now, a family. He had his own story, too, and it was a tale of success and hard work, of money and models and penthouse apartments. They were both different people, now; they were not the kids they had once been. All that had changed, it was gone.

He turned his attention back to the house. The bedroom curtains were open wide, which meant that Brendan must be up and about. Simon checked his watch. It was 1:30 PM. Perhaps, like him, Brendan had trouble sleeping. Maybe he sat up drinking after his night shifts, trying to quieten his demons.

Simon left the relative safety of the bus shelter and walked across to the house. He stood on the pavement outside, feeling exposed, trying to see through the net curtains strung like giant grey cobwebs across the ground floor windows. He could not make anything out: the place might even be empty.

“Here we go,” he said, blowing air through his lips.

Simon walked through the gate and along the front path, took one hand out of his jacket pocket and knocked on the door. Then, impatient to get this over with, he rang the door buzzer. Through the etched glass panel, he watched a blurry shape appear at the far end of the hallway, grow closer, and finally reach out to open the door. He almost ran away then; his instinct was to bolt, to get the hell out of there and never come back. But he put his hands back in his pockets and stood his ground, remembering that they used to be friends. Best friends. He tried to focus on that fact more than any other, because it might just stop the man who was now opening the door from punching him in the face and kicking him into the street.

BOOK: Silent Voices
13.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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