Mary’s Night

A typical night in Accident and Emergency.

It was rough, loud and potentially dangerous. Luckily it was also exciting. These were the longest shifts and went by so quickly. Mary loved it, was born to it. Also, with only a few years under her belt she was still a newbie, as the older nurses regularly reminded her. Give it time. The love may fade, but the vomit and blood are permanent.

This latest admission was particularly vile, a strange and quiet little man who had walked in alone, checked himself in and sat there silently waiting. Not complaining, or coming up to the desk to ask how much longer or making little moans to prove he was genuinely ill. He was odd enough to capture Mary’s attention. It was the quiet ones you had to watch as her dad used to warn as she left for a night out, before himself quietly nursing a bottle for the remainder of the evening, and his life. Drink had been his downfall and she was reminded of it again every weekend in this place. But this new patient wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t rowdy, and it only him even more intriguing. Short, balding, overweight and dressed from the charity shop reject box. His top lip curled upwards and looked swollen. Mary didn’t like to be cruel but she knew it would be a serious stretch for anyone to find him attractive. He stared straight ahead with large glassy eyes that barely moved but still gave her the feeling that she was being watched, examined.

He had sat unmoving and quiet for four hours before projectile vomiting across the entire waiting area. Then stench was unbelievable, the sticky shiny brown liquid had spattered even to the far wall. The few people sitting near him, not freaked out by his unusual demeanour, had leapt aside and away, sprains and ailments be damned. Just eager to be as far away as possible from the acidic reek.

The patient himself hadn’t moved though. He sat solid and still. Chin dripping, mouth open, lip curled, and his lazy glazed eyes, staring at nothing and right through Mary at the same time.

“Are you ok?” Mary’s latex gloved hand gently patted his back.

He flinched violently. Pulling away from her.

“It’s ok, its ok. Are you Ben?” She soothed.

“I’m sick.”

“So I see. Can you stand up?”

“I’m sick.”

“OK love. Just you sit there and I’ll…”

Ben roared as his mouth opened. The volume of his roar was almost as impressive as the volume of his vomit. Mary screwed her face up and screamed back at him as it coated the thin plastic apron that was supposed to protect her. She tried in vain to move out the way. Tried to use her hands to protect herself. It just made the splashing worse. A riot shield wouldn’t have helped. It was in her hair, on her face, in her mouth! She looked around for support. The waiting room was all but empty. Patients and staff alike had found hiding places out of the danger zone.

An hour later and she was washed as best she could be, in a clean uniform, standing by his bed.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok Ben. These things happen.”

The waiting area had been taped off and hosed down and mopped up. The stink of bleach mixed with the sickly-sweet aroma of Ben’s insides and wafted through the corridors. The queue had gone down by half. A lot of the patients had decided their drunken injuries could wait till tomorrow.

Mary couldn’t just go home and get away from it. She could taste it. Endless gargles of mouth wash and even the salts hadn’t helped, nothing would shift it.

“’I’m sick.”

“We know you are love. We’ll make you better.” She went to pat his side but remember the way he flinched before and reconsidered.

There was a cardboard bucket by the bed. He had been sick twice more since the initial incident. It was all just retching now. He was finally empty. Thank God.

Mary wrote on his chart and stood to the side as Dr Ann Salmond entered the cubicle.

“Hello Ben. Feeling a bit poorly yes?”

“I’m sick.”

“So we see. It is more than a little food poisoning, isn’t it? Have you been doing anything that you shouldn’t have?”

“I want to go home.”

“Soon I hope. I think its best you stay in tonight though. We will find you a bed upstairs. Somehow.”

“I need to go home!”

“Soon Ben. We will look after you, alright.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!”

He got over excited and started retching again. Pushing and heaving into the bucket. Mary and Dr Salmond stood back a little just in case. A wet croaking noise accompanied his tortured strains. The Doctor looked at Mary and with a tilt of the head motioned for her to move the curtain.

“Hi Mary. How are you?” Ann smirked. She knew fine well how she was.

“I don’t think I will ever feel clean again.”

“Yes I heard.”

“The whole building heard.”

“Did you also hear what was in it?”

“In what?”

“The cleaning team. They found meat in the vomit. Raw meat. Undigested.”

“Oh my god.” Mary turned pale.

“Yes I think Ben will need someone from psych.”

“But he was sick all over me, I can still taste it in my mouth.”

“I can still see it in your hair.”

Doctor Salmond pointed at her hair. Marys hand went up to her temple. A piece of undigested muscle fell onto the floor.

“I’m going to be sick.”

She burst into the cubicle and took Ben’s cardboard bucket and filled it up for him.

“Sorry about that.” She looked embarrassed and terrified.

“I want to go home.”

“So do I.”

“Come on Mary, let’s get you along to the staffroom for a sit down and a cup of tea.” Dr Salmond took Mary by the shoulders and guided her away.

“I need to go home.” Ben repeated.

“You will get to go home soon. We just need to make sure you are ok. I will be right back to see you in five minutes.” Dr Salmond pulled the curtain behind them.

They walked the short distance to the staff area and sat together on the uncomfy chairs. A plastic cup of dirty brown liquid was put in Mary’s hand. She looked away hurriedly and set it on the floor.

“This has been the worst shift of my life Ann.” Mary held back tears.

“That’s good, get a new benchmark. None of the other nights will seem so bad again.”

“Ha, thanks for the support.” She said sarcastically.

“Anytime.” She smiled. “So I better go tell Ben he’s headed upstairs for the night. And call psych. Bit of a weirdo isn’t he?”

“A bit? He’s like an extra from the walking dead!”

“He gives me the chills. Those eyes. I would hate to know what he is thinking.”

“Not sure he’s thinking anything at all. I’ll tell him. He’s my mess. You crack on.”

Mary made her way back to the cubicle. She just had to get through this. Get him moved upstairs. Get the area cleaned out and prepped for the next unlucky soul who had to follow. Then she could go home and fall asleep in the shower and hopefully forget tonight ever happened.

“Time to get you a bed for the night.” She said as she pulled the curtain back. Ben was gone. The bucket of sick was gone too. God, why! She thought. We got a runner.

Remo, the verger

The church steps. Daytime.

“And who found the body?”

“Remo, the verger. He is always the first one here. It was him that called the ambulance. Too late of course.”

Father O’Malley looked down and made the sign of the cross. He didn’t go on to say what had been on his mind all morning. That Remo should have told him first. All parish matters were supposed to come through him and Remo knew that. He would have to have a quiet word later.

“Was he one of yours? A church member I mean.”

“We get so few nowadays, outside the big holidays. No, no he’s not one of mine.” Father O’Malley shook his head.

The body lay just a few feet away under a sheet, the cruciform shape obvious nonetheless.  Police in various uniforms busied themselves about it.

“Any reason anyone would do this, that you can think of?” The detective maintained eye contact relentlessly. It made Father O’Malley nervous. That was probably his intention though, to shake his interviewees up. He had nothing to hide here.

“None at all. We’re such a quiet parish.”

“Can we speak to the man who found the victim? This Remo?”

Changing the word from body to victim. How he hated that word. Wasn’t everyone a victim? One way or another. Eventually everybody fell victim to something. A crime, a vice.

“Of course. Although I think he will have left by now.”

The large dark oak doors behind Father O’Malley opened slowly revealing Remo’s shiny round face. He pulled the doors back one after the other and slotted the big grey bolts into place.

“Remo, there you are.” O’Malley expressed with some surprise as he glanced between the detectives and his assistant. “I thought you had gone already.”

“I gotta get ready to clean. Clean the steps.”

“Good man, yes. But first this man would like to speak to you.”

Remo shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other as he sized up the detective. His eyes were just as busy, never resting anywhere for too long.  O’Malley stood right next to him as he answered. Now and again Remo would look to O’Malley, as if for guidance, there he would find O’Malley’s soft and patient face, and continue. The questions were concise. His replies cursory, enough to deter any more for now.

Afterwards Remo skulked away to attend to whatever dust had his attention today. As he passed he looked at the body as if it were more of an inconvenience than anything else. Dirtying up the steps that he needed so badly to clean.

Father O’Malley read the expression on the officer’s face and felt the need to speak on Remo’s behalf.

“He is a good man and an excellent caretaker.”

“Has he worked here long?”

“As long as I have, at least. Some twenty years.”

“Ah, so he would have been here last time this happened.”

“Now we come to it.” Father O’Malley had been expecting this.

“Come to what, Father?”

“Well, I assumed you would be only too aware of it. Well, I can assure you that Remo had nothing to do with that or this. He is a good man. Incapable of hurting anyone.”

This much was true at least. Father O’Malley firmly believed Remo to be a good man. And incapable of hurting anyone. He knew it in fact.

That a similar murder had happened here just a few years ago and Remo was the first person on the scene that time as well, was a coincidence. He was always the first person into the churchyard in the morning. It was his job and he did it religiously.

“You weren’t here the last time, were you?” The detective glanced at his notebook.

“No, I was travelling. In Asia. Doing the Lords work.” He offered a crisp smile.

“It was a Father Lilt, standing in for you. Is that right?”

“Yes, a young man but very keen.”

“Any idea where we can find him?”

“I think he is in Asia now actually. I’m not sure exactly where. I would be happy to track him down for you.”

“That’s ok. No need. For now.”

“I know you gentlemen need to look into every nook and cranny but I assure you. There will be nothing to find here. We are a quiet, little parish. This is the work of…” He trailed off.

“Yes, Father.”

“Well, it really is a terrible thing to think.”

“No worse to say it out loud.”

“I suppose not. You know we used to open the doors here, all night. Anyone was welcome. This is Gods house after all.”

“Used to.”

“Well, we had to stop. The homeless. They aren’t all bad. But we can’t have trouble you see. Some troublemakers made it impossible. Fighting, arguing. Stealing. It just isn’t fair on everyone else. We had to stop. So, we started locking up. But they still come. They sleep here in the churchyard.” He gestured with a wave of his hand.

It was a perfect night-time spot for the homeless. There were miniature mausoleums dotted around the wall and many of these were open on one or more sides. They provided cover from the elements and a place to hide from the other elements, those of the underworld that was the homeless in this city. There were worse things in the night than the cold and the rain. The police were only too aware of the killings. Bodies turning up in River Forth. Unreported and unclaimed. People with no one to mourn them. The numbers of homeless killed in Edinburgh had went up dramatically the past few years. No one cared though. No one complained so it wasn’t a priority. Why would it be?

“You think this was a homeless argument gone bad?”

“Well, I saw him. ~He certainly looks homeless. The last, poor soul, it was the same wasn’t it. Homeless?”

“And the positioning of the body?”

Father O’Malley had spent many nights thinking about that. After he was told about the last one. Was it a message?

Was it a sign? Jesus God.

“The mind of the sick is a terrible thing indeed.” Was all he could reply.

Remo appeared at the door again. He sidled over to Father O’Malley and whispered something in his ear. His eyes moved over the corpse again and avoided the detective.

“Well, I am sorry I have a phone call. It will be the bishop no doubt. Bad news spreads much faster than the good, unfortunately. If you will excuse me.”

The detective stood still and watched them till they were out of sight.

Remo stuck closely by his side as they walked around the outside of the church to the gate at the back of the churchyard. The gate was always locked. Remo took the bundle of keys from the ring on his belt and opened it. It didn’t make a sound. Everything was well tended in this parish.

They walked the short distance from there to the parochial house. Where Father O’Malley lived, and did most of his work. Wordlessly he took out his own keys and unlocked the little side door to where his office was. He changed his shoes for his slippers as Remo shut the door behind them.

“Go into the kitchen Remo and put the kettle on.”

Remo obeyed without a word. Father O’Malley heard the loud whooshing of the cold water filling the kettle and the click as Remo plugged it in. He started counting in his head as he walked into the office and picked up the phone.

“Hello, bishop. Sorry for the delay.”

He listened intently. His lip twitched slightly. His eyes pointing straight down. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen.

“Terrible business, terrible. Yes I understand.” Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three.

“Please don’t worry about a thing here. I will take care of everything. Yes. I will speak to you soon.”

He walked from the office back to the hallway and through to the large airy kitchen.

Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven.

Counting had always been a coping mechanism for him. He had done it from such a young age. It helped him focus, when there was a task to do.

The kettle began to whistle softly. Steam started to rush out. Remo stood next to it with Father O’Malley’s cup and saucer on the worktop in front of him.

Father O’Malley took Remo’s hand in his.

“forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.” He said out loud.

He turned his hand and pushed Remo’s flat palm against the side of the metal kettle as it steamed. His own hand covering Remo’s. Pressing it in as Remo opened his mouth wide and screamed silently as the kettle whistled.

Ben’s Time

A long walk at night was Ben’s solace, a little peace from his world. That infernal house and the constant noise. It made him angry sometimes but he knew anger was bad. His left hand flitted around and around the rosary beads in his pocket. Mumbling hail Marys under his breath.

Walking soothed it. Praying soothed it. He often thought of drilling a tiny hole in the top of his skull to let out the built-up pressure, like steam from a kettle. He needed it. He would spend hours walking some nights. In his old cracked leather jacket and bright orange trainers, ill-fitting jeans that sagged under his stomach. Ben’s right hand circled through his long spindly hair that in turn circled his shiny bald head. He knew they laughed at him. Kids and adults. All of them. Night time was better. His Time.

As he walked down the cobble stone lane enclosed by the high wall of the churchyard on one side and the old stone wall of some fancy house on the other, he felt a safety, a security. He was getting closer to her. The streetlamps hummed softly. The gentle orange glow the closest he got to sunlight.

His peace was broken by a muffled shout. This was the worst thing about his Time. There were others. People who also liked the night. On the weekend so many and so loud that he couldn’t venture out at all. Drink done for them all. He was forced to just watch from his high window. But in the week, the others were different. They had their own missions. Their own reasons to walk. He never looked directly at them. Eye contact led to nothing good. Another shout. Closer this time. Be resolute. He turned the corner at the end of the lane and walked towards the front gate of the churchyard.

The church used to be open in the night. It used to be open all the time. You could go right inside and pray, anytime. It was where he received his first communion and made his first confession to Father O’Malley. In recent years, the other night people started to come there. Sleep there. Then they started locking the church doors. But you could still get into the graveyard, where his own mum was laid to rest. Once he found a man sleeping on his own mum’s grave. He had cried and asked him to move but the man was drunk sleeping. Wouldn’t move. No matter how much he pushed and pulled at him. the next few nights after that there were loads of people there. Police. He couldn’t get in. Couldn’t go near the gate even. Too many people. Tonight was quiet though. He would be able to see her.

Approaching the large black wrought iron gates always felt good to Ben, like a homecoming, the intricate curves and spikes looked nice. When he was a boy he could get his entire head through them, he would play around them as his mum spoke to the Father O’Malley. He entered the churchyard just as a man came running out. The man barged right into him and looked. Looked right at him. Ben looked back. In his eyes. He didn’t mean it. It happened too quick. That happened sometimes. In the supermarket or on a bus. Sometimes if you weren’t careful you could see someone’s eyes and they seen yours. It was scary. He froze, completely still. His arms by his side, looking at his feet. The man didn’t stop he just ran off straight down the road. Ben didn’t know if he looked back or not. He didn’t move for about a minute. Just wanting to be alone.

Mum would help him. she always helped him when he was scared. He remembered when he was little, he was being bullied by a boy in the street. They stole his bike. He was only five. The boy had a knife. What could he do. His sister ran and got his own mum and she had come and scared the boy off and held him so tight for so long that all the badness went away and he didn’t even think of it again that often.

He walked through the quiet graveyard towards her grave. She had a lovely spot. In the middle near the church but also next to a lovely big oak tree. She loved it there but she missed Ben.

He crunched along the grey gravel path and could see her stone now. She would be happy to see him. she would make him feel better too. He’d give her a kiss and it would be ok and he wouldn’t be scared anymore.

A man stood up. He had been hiding behind her tombstone. The man pulled up his pants and trousers. Ben looked at the grass. There was fucking shit everywhere! All over his own mums grave and her stone! The man looked Ben in the eye.

“Alright pal.” He rasped.

Ben screamed a guttural roar. His hands went around the man’s neck. How dare he, how dare he.

Ben held tight as the man lay down. Onto the grass. Onto the shit. He wept as he squeezed. He had never been this angry before. He knew he shouldn’t be, but couldn’t stop squeezing.  His eyes moved to his mother’s name on the stone and he let go.

“I’m sorry mum!” still weeping.

They were both covered in shit. It was all over Bens jacket and his jeans. He couldn’t touch his rosary beads. They would get dirty. Everything was dirty. Had to get it clean.

He stood up and dragged the lifeless man to the path and up the steps to the large dark studded doors of the church. The man didn’t have a cross or beads or anything around his neck. Another soul too late to save. You have to try though.

He began stripping the man. He stunk. Not just of shit. He needed a bath. Shouldn’t judge though. There are many less fortunate than us. That’s what mum used to say. He took off the mans’ socks and shoes. And put them neatly on the step.  He took off his trousers and dirty hoody. And folded them and placed them there too. Then, once he was naked. Used his t shirt and underpants to wipe him clean. Cleanliness was next to godliness. Once he was satisfied he made sure the man’s feet were together and positioned his arms out at ninety degree. Had to be certain God could see him.

He took the man’s clothes and went back to his own mum’s grave and used them to mop the stone clean. He wiped and wiped until it was as clean as could be. The little green plastic vase of pretty flowers had been knocked over and cracked when he was strangling the life out of the man. Ben straightened it up and took the new flowers out of his pocket. A tiny posy of daisies he had picked himself this morning. Then he knelt next to her and gave the stone a kiss.

“I’m sorry mum.”

It began raining.

Homeless

A graveyard. A dark night.

“He’ll be deid.” a hushed raspy voice.

“Gie him another ten minutes, make sure he’s out.” a voice like gravel.

“Fuck it lets just roll him now.”

“No, wait. No yet.”

They were no more than 12 feet away, behind one of the larger gravestones that served as upright pillows for the living damned, but the voices carried in the still autumn night. Fra lay perfectly still. Foetal position. His back to the voices but ready to turn any second. Clutching his knife close to his chest and playing out scenes of chaos in his head.

“You got any fags left?”

“Here. Leave me twos.”

The scratch and click of a lighter. The deep intensity of that first inhale. Fra imagined what they looked like. Big, unshaven, unkind. Mercenaries against the weak. He knew he had to get out of here. The black of the night was punctuated by the orange glow of the lampposts that surrounded the graveyard like sentinels keeping the darkness in. The darkness that was supposed to provide sanctuary.

“That bag looks stuffed full.”

“Aye, wee man’s got plenty.”

“Probably got cash, looks fresh.”

“Gimme that fag.”

Fra instinctively moved his hand towards his left foot. His money was wrapped up and tucked in. He had about twenty pounds left. Hiding it felt pointless now. These men would take it and everything else in his keep bag and his carry bag too. He was scared to move too much. If they knew he was awake they would come for him right now. At least if they were speaking about it they weren’t doing it. He imagined his knife slipping into them. Up and under the ribs, the long thin blade penetrating and panicking them, forcing them away. Or slashing at their faces, the sudden heat from the warm blood on their cheeks, would it be enough to deter them? What would be better?

“Come on man let’s just take him.”

“I dinny want to fight him.”

“Just fucking gut him then.”

The fear was absolute. Spreading out from his throat and down through his chest. Hitting his stomach like a cut pint glass and churning inside him. He resisted the urge to retch. Eyes scanning his surroundings for hope. The thick old oak trees of the grave yard reminding him suddenly of being a child. Playing by the tiny trickling burn near his family home. Laughing and splashing in the water. A million lifetimes ago when happiness was absolute and guaranteed and all it needed was some sunshine and some friends. How he ached now for that feeling again.

“I’m dying on a shite.”

“Fucking what?”

“I need to go man.”

“You’ll wait 5 minutes. Let’s do this.”

He had to move. Checking the straps on his keep bag around his shoulders and eyeing up the wall of the graveyard. It was close and there was a large stone tomb he could easily get up onto. His carry bag would have to be left behind. His shoes were always tied tight. Take a deep breath. Count to three. One, two …

“I’m going for a shite. I’m gonna shit masel!”

“Fucksake. Do it over there ya dirty bastard.”

He could hear Raspy Voice moving. Careful steps taking him further away. This was his chance. There was only one of them. He silently folded his blade and slide it into his jacket. Real slow. His carry bag was under his head. Taking it would slow him down but it was all his clothes and his photos were in there. They should have been in the keep bag. That was a mistake.

A grunt and a delicate splashing pitter patter of crap in the near distance. Fra got on his feet in one movement, let his blanket fall and grabbed his carry bag, moving away, keeping low. Deep voice wouldn’t be able to see him from here. A head start would help. He crept towards the wall. Looking up at the moths dancing and dodging around the warm sodium street lights. Fra longed for the peace and warmth those moths had.

“Cunts running!”

“What?”

“Come on!”

Run run run run towards the grey tombstone with the aged religious relief. He knew he could scramble up. Loud footfalls behind him. Now on grass. Now on stone. Getting closer. Fear gave way to survival. Raw and dangerous. When any animal in the night with teeth can kill. Fra could kill, in that instant he knew it without doubt.

“Come on!”

There was still only one of them.

Fra reached the wall and threw his carry bag over and sprang onto the warm stone tomb. His fingertips finding a faded virgin Mary. His toes clinging to a decaying dais that was once a widow’s catharsis, now a climbing frame for a vagrant’s survival. The buzz of the orange lamp so close. The dance of the moths like night time fairies performing just for him as his fingernails ripped and he climbed, climbed towards heaven and salvation and light. His hand reached onto the top of the wall. One big push to get up and over and away. His hand dug deep into the sharp shards of broken glass that had been cemented into the wall years ago to keep his kind out.

Instant pain and understanding. Fra couldn’t hold in a cry. Blood came quickly and ran down to his fingers. He fell back onto the hard, flat stone below. Staggered to his feet and turned to face his challenger.

Standing panting after such brief exertion. The cool air burning his lungs. Deep Voice stood in front of him. Stoic and still. Somehow Fra expected a grin. Like a cartoon villain who revels in wrongdoing. This man didn’t grin. He looked devoid of emotion. Looked like it would mean nothing to him if any of them lived or died. Blood dripped from Fras bent fingers onto the slab under his feet. Filling the carved words that defined the life of a man long dead. They stood in slow complete silence. A loud fart and a flurry of slurry onto already wet grass. Raspy Voice was too preoccupied to join this fight.

“I’m no gonna hurt you.”

Fra stared back at him. the complete lack of menace more fearsome than any threat of violence.

“I’ve got nothing.”

“ye’ve got your health and your legs lad. Be grateful for that.”

“I don’t want to fight.”

“you’re no gonnae. Be clever.”

“I’ve got fuck all!”

“then it’s no gonnae hurt to lose it, is it?”

The gate was too far. He would never be able to run past this man. The wall was too dangerous now. One handed, over glass. It couldn’t be done. Blood dripped by his side. Warm in his palm but cool by the time it dripped off his fingers. The folding knife was right there in his jacket. His good hand held it tight. Bad hand started to sting. Adrenaline wearing off. It started to throb. How long till agony? His hand tightened around the knife. What to do? Pull it out, blade out. One motion. There wouldn’t be time for a mistake.

“Is it worth it lad? For a few measly quid? What is your life worth?”

Drippy sticky wet shit sprayed out again in the dark distance. Deep Voice turned to shout at his accomplice.

“Fuckin hell man you no done yet!” The world changed forever.

Fra moved forward at the same time as he drew the knife. His bad hand gripping the blade and opening the knife as he lunged. His good hand lifting the knife out and up as he leaned down. Deep voice turned his head back towards him. too late to dodge out of the way. Raising his own weapon ready to strike but too late again as Fra slammed the knife full force into his lower leg. The thin filthy tracksuit bottoms tearing like expensive silk as the point of the blade entered his flesh. The folding knife’s blade sprang back onto Fras fingers. Deep Voice roared. Fra pulled his hand away but the blade sliced up his fingers. The dull metal not sharp enough to slice right through but enough to make a rough rugged cut. Deep Voice drove down hard with his own knife. Down into the back of Fras neck.

The blade was the cleanest thing Deep Voice owned. The flesh gave way so easily to the hard shining steel. There was hardly any blood at first. It was so clean.

Fra didn’t even make a sound.

Falling forward. Face down on the grass, surrounded by the peaceful dead.

His throat gave a gentle gurgle like a burn in the summer. With midges everywhere and children playing and raspberry brambles in the thickets.

Fra heard himself dying.

Life wasn’t worth shit.

Tourist

She wore a long wraparound top with loose trousers underneath, like so many of the other travellers. Designer glasses on her head and a long tacky glass bead necklace were all that stood between her and no accessories whatsoever. This truly was a place of adventure.

The market was bustling with friendly locals and eager tourists. She allowed the throngs to carry her this way and that. Not looking at anything in particular and no plans to buy anything at all, unless it was cute.

She could see other members of the tour group scattered around, haggling with stall holders, eating exotic fried insects or other things the locals found would sell. A troop of children ran by laughing and jostling each other and careless of anyone in their path. They bumped her and surrounded her and were away again. She laughed at their backs.

The sun was beaming down from its azure kingdom; everything was bathed in light and bright and beautiful. An old man smiled at her and proffered whatever he was selling. A polite smile and shake of the head was enough here. She wandered on with the crowd. Enjoying the smell of the pipe smoke that constantly clouded the men.

The phone buzzing by her side turned out to be a phantom vibration. Her hand went to her pocket and the panic at finding it empty was immediate. Her hands moved from one pocket to another desperately searching but she knew it was gone. She looked around the market place. As if it would offer an answer. The laughing kids, the friendly vendors, the smiling tourists, none admitted to taking it.

It would not ruin the day she persisted, but was unable to shake off the sense that something had spoiled this perfect place.  She arrived at a large covered arcade with brass lamps swaying by the entranceway and a scent of jasmine and lemongrass enticing her. Inside were far fewer tourists and her eyes struggled to adjust to the relative darkness. She walked on by mysterious shops selling god knows what and the stares from the shopkeepers were less smiling, more eager. She kept her eyes down and moved onwards. An old lady crouched by a wall and rocked back and forth chanting to herself in a mumbling mantric drone, a pipe smoking in her hand.

She increased her step, looking for a way out now, looking left and right for an exit from this depressing den. Each way she searched looked the same. Rows of crowded clustering stalls and dull hanging lamps. Staring eyes and ugly unwelcoming expressions. She glanced back over her shoulder looking to retrace her steps. The crowd blocked out any light or hope of egress and the unfriendly eyes of those behind her urged her onwards and away from them.

The old woman droned on, just audible above the stifling din. Panic began to claw at her, where was the way out of here? She strode on, trying not to hurry or look harried, desperate to stay calm, this was a holiday. She turned a corner into another endless avenue of shop fronts and foul faces. Here there were only men. Sitting or squatting at low tables drinking tea from tiny cups and smoking those godawful pipes. All eyes came up to meet hers, there were no smiles here, the teeth only showed to sneer.

She was wishing her head was covered, she was wishing she had stayed with the group. Her eyes found the floor and she took a sharp left down a narrower alley. She had to get away from those men. The smell was worse, mixed now with urine and poultry and the complete lack of fresh air. She passed a tiny girl cradling a baby who babbled at her incoherently as she tracked her with her red eyes. She dodged puddles of piss and empty upturned baskets on top of others full of chickens and other animals. On each dark curtains shielded god only knows what from her sight.

A dull light was just around the next corner. She was drawn to it like a desperate moth to its blissful death. The air was so dense here, she struggled to breathe. She rounded the corner, her hands clinging to the bare broken bricks and was immediately face to face with a large bearded man. He spat words of disapproval at her. Another man appeared at his side. They approached as she backed away stuttering apologies and longing to be as far away from this place as possible. She backed into another man, just like the others, plain robes and dark hair and eyes. He started shouting at her. Louder than the first had.

Surrounded now and delirious with heat and panic she took off her necklace. Offering it to them. Trying to buy freedom or a moment to think. Someone grabbed her arm. Another hand on the other side. Screaming now. The necklace ripped apart spilling beads across the dirty ground. She tried to pull away but they forced her forward. She stumbled and they pulled at her again half dragging her. Her legs kicking, her lungs bursting with the effort. The young girl with the baby watched her wordlessly as the men shoved passed towards one of the darker curtained areas. They pulled the black sheet to the side and dragged her through into the black. she kicked one of them in the crotch, he cursed and immediately slapped her hard across the face. She cried out again. The little girl started crying and received the same back handed slap, it reeled her onto the floor where she stayed, eyes down, the baby quiet too.

The biggest of the men grabbed her roughly by the neck and pushed her forwards against the wall. Pinning her against the grimy brick. Tears streamed as she gasped soundless sobs. She could feel him standing right behind her, his stinking breath invading her. His hand appeared above her head, the black hair on his hand contrasting the plain gold rings of his fingers as they wrapped around another black curtain and pulled it aside. He shoved her roughly out into the blinding light of the outdoor market. Barking at her, berating her loudly. She fell in a heap on the ground. The people of the market looked on and laughed at the scene. The tourists stared, not laughing, not sure. The little gang of children trooped past her again. The big man grabbed the smallest child, murmuring something at him. The tiny hand reached into a pocket and handed over her mobile phone. The man tossed it to her and re-entered the darkened arcade laughing. The curtain closing at his back.

Thief

This place was perfect. Not too big to have cameras all over it, big enough that they must be rich. Far enough from the road to be quiet and dark. Not so far as to have guard dogs or flood lights.

He’d watched it for a few days, it was a quiet place and he knew everyone was in bed. He threw his hood up and slipped over the wall. Landing gently under a large oak that would help him get out if all went to plan. If the plan failed, he would get out the front gate at full sprint.

Mary’s voice was in his head. Had to get rid of it. No distractions.

He stole over the large lawn. His eyes on the windows on the top floor, zero movement, it was good. A quick try on the lock of the sliding glass door let him straight in to the kitchen. The door left slightly open behind him. He immediately crouched behind a large dining table and surveyed the scene, letting his eyes adjust. A gentle breeze stirred the net curtain to show him the exit.

He got to work. Silently sliding open drawers and doors in the dining room. Looking for anything small but valuable. His back pack filled slowly with the usual items. Satnav, mobile phone, a man’s wristwatch, all dropped softly into the towel and half wrapped, noiseless. A locked gun cabinet in the study opened to reveal a selection of handguns and rifles. He selected the two nicest looking handguns and closed it again. After 10 minutes the whole downstairs was gently ransacked. Time to go.

Back now through the large hallway to the kitchen and past the tall staircase. A light came on. He froze. It was upstairs. Tiny footsteps. He didn’t breathe. A large solid steel baby gate covered the top of the steps. A small boy walked past into the bathroom, another light on, an extractor fan hummed. Long thin bars of light leapt from the gate down the stairs to where he crouched. Time to go.

Slowly through the living room again towards the kitchen. The white net still waving him to the way out, to the night. He listened for the light clicking off, footsteps led back to the child’s room.  The fan stopped humming. Another sound was there. The front door. A key scraping? An explosion of splintering wood. Two black clad men like returning warlords, dark masks and shotguns. He dove to the floor beside the long couch. Heavy boots trooped straight up the stairs. Thundering into a bedroom. Two loud blasts shook the house. The neighbourhood would be awake. A woman’s scream. Another blast. The scream just stopped. Time to go!

Onto his feet and ducking from no one’s eyes he crouched and ran to the kitchen. The white net curtain ripped to one side and through. The large oak like a living ladder ahead of him. He was up in one two steps and onto the wall. Astride it he paused, risking a glance back. From here he could see a black four-wheel drive in the road, could hear the engine idling, a driver waiting. The pause led to thought. Dropping from the wall into the road would mean being seen. Staying on the wall would risk being seen. Going back in the garden would mean back towards the men but the cover of the trees… Details of such importance should not be agonised over such short seconds. His eyes never left the driver in the vehicle. Movement at the house. The little boy. He was standing on the inside of an upstairs window. No lights were on. The boy fumbled with the handle of the window. The thief slid back onto the ground.

Directly below one of the masked men stepped through the sliding door. The white net wrapping over his black mask turning him ghost grey. Shotgun by his side. The boy opened the window, stepping out onto the ledge. The murderer looked up. Stepped out onto the patio raising his gun. The thief dipped his hand into the bag, his fingers curled around the handle of a gun. The boy looked down, eyes widening.

They paused.

The thief watched, gripping the tree that was protecting him from being part of the scene.

“No.”  Hardly a whisper.

The murderer swung, looking directly at him. Their eyes locked. The boy looked too, leaning too far forward and slipping on the ledge, falling, falling.

The boy hit the concrete with barely a sound. The gunman ripped his mask off and fell to his knees cradling the boy. Sirens in the distance getting louder. The second masked man appeared at the door. Staring at the unmoving boy. Noticing the thief, barely acknowledging him by raising the gun so slowly.

The thief bounced up the tree, the murdering man picked up the unmoving boy and carefully carried him around the house. Holding him close. The other walked behind, watching the thief in the tree, he watched back.

He landed on the pavement as the car sped off.  Flashing blue lights exploded into the trees and he melted into the night. Mary was going to be pissed.

 

 

 

 

 

Nun-ra 2 – God Speed

Sister Mary Joseph pulled the club out of Father O Malley’s neck. Blood was everywhere. His body slumped on top of his old acquaintance, they often “worked” together, now there were dead together. Still she felt nothing, no joy no relief, nothing.

She stood still, surveying the gentle carnage. The red stained the brilliant white of the alter cloths and the cold grey of the granite steps as it poured endlessly down. There were 10 pints of blood in a human and it covered an incredible surface area. These two were barely human though, undeserving of the word, monsters was more suitable, and they deserved death.

Pulling a cigarette from her sleeve she lit it up and drew a long slow pull of the sweet smoke. Her eyes moving as she did, her mind calculating her next move. It had to be fast. She didn’t have long. She exhaled through her nose and dropped the cigarette casually to the floor, half-finished after one puff, she crushed it out under her black hobnailed boot.

Her club was still dripping with globs of blood. She dipped it into the pool that was growing at the bottom of the altar steps. Swung it around and started writing on the large white pillar that was by the side of the aisle. Drips and drops of blood went everywhere; it was a blood spatter experts dream, she thought, or nightmare, depends how close to the edge they are. Maybe that was what the difference was, between the bad people that do bad things and the bad people that just think about it. The ones that do the bad things, they are concerned about how they see the world. The ones that just think about it, they are more concerned about how the world sees them. That fear of being judged or caught or punished is what keeps them in line, stops them doing the things that lurk in the darkness of their minds.

Some people, she thought, as she looked again at the piles of flesh that were once men, some people couldn’t hold it down though, couldn’t suppress that darkness. These were the people that made nightmares for the rest of us. She suppressed the urge to spit on the vile bodies of the pair as she dipped the end of her club again into the puddle of blood. It was already starting to congeal around the edges and was stickier now. She dragged the club across the pillar again. She felt like a Japanese calligraphy artist, using all the strength in her wrist to steady the club as she wrote with a flourish.

In the still and quiet of the lifeless church she always felt her peace. When she was alone in the house of God she could truly believe. It was a rare feeling and a welcome one. She knew a higher power was controlling her. Her actions and her thoughts were her own but she was doing God’s work.

She finished writing and stood leaning on her club for a moment while she surveyed her work. It should have been satisfying, like a labourer after a hard day looking back and feeling proud of what was achieved while simultaneously glad it was over. Instead she felt nothing. She removed another cigarette from the recesses of her sleeve and lit it up. Calmly cleaning her club with a perfect white handkerchief that she found somewhere about her person. She seemed to have an endless supply of them. Quietly polishing the nails and barbs that protruded from her club she again looked over what she had done today. Still no joy or guilt, no feelings at all, feelings had been taken away from her a long time ago.

Suddenly sirens.

In the distance, but certainly heading this way, Sister Mary Joseph didn’t doubt that at all, she had called them. She finished polishing the club, took a final drag of the cigarette and pinged it behind the altar towards the anteroom, where the cans of petrol she had brought and poured around for the very purpose quickly caught. The majority of the old stone building would be unharmed. But the small wooden anteroom would definitely go up. She glanced at it again. Watching the handle as it shook violently. He would start screaming any second.

“Sister Mary! Please! Have Mercy!” The voice shouted.

“Only God can give you mercy now.” She said quietly, maybe to herself.

The screaming started. The flames climbed higher and harder. The door shook as boots on the other side kicked. There was no point. That was the first thing she had checked. The door would hold.

The sirens grew louder.

She dropped the white handkerchief into the coagulated puddle by her feet as she swung the club over her shoulder and strode out the side door.

One word was painted red on the pillar.

Sinners.

The End.