Blond hair flashed as she ran into the bedroom. The door banged against the frame. When he tried to edge inside, just to finish the conversation, she threw something at him. It shattered against the door where his head had been only moments before.
“Christina!” he yelled. “Are you trying to kill me?”
Another object smashed as it hit the door.
Brad pounded on the door. “Christina, let me in!”
There was no reply, only the sound of drawers opening and closing and the occasional sniff. Moments later he heard something scraping against the wooden floor until it stopped on the other side of the door.
That was it for Brad. He’d had it.
“Have you seen Annie and Mark Matherson lately?” said Shontay in her typically obnoxious drawl.
The women she was standing with tittered their denials.
Shontay smirked. She had them hooked now. “Well, last night I heard,” she began with a grandiose gesture to herself, “their little boy screaming of hours and hours. You know I live just next door? It was the loudest thing; I nearly called the police! But I don’t want to tell anyone how to parent their own child. My Olivia is doing just fine though.”
Shontay gestured towards the swing set where an eight-year-old girl, tall for her age with syrup coloured hair, was kicking her white sandalled feet out in front of her, trying to touch the sky. She watched Olivia whoop with delight then returned her gaze to her audience, a smug smile on her face. They however were no longer tittering with delight.
“Why didn’t you?” said the one with the short brown hair, a serious, almost appalled, expression on her face.
Shontay felt her smile slip just a little. “Why didn’t I what?”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” piped up the blond one. A few of them nodded in agreement. The brunette simply stared at her.
Shontay crossed her arms, clearly uncomfortable.
“You know that family, they let the boy stay up until all hours, give him anything he wants. Ice cream for breakfast! Have you ever heard such a thing? I thought he was just overtired.” Her expressive voice regained its theatricality with each word. “When Olivia was that age, if you didn’t put her down at 2 PM on the dot every day she was a thorn in my side until goodness knows when! I learned that one straight away. I’m sure you all had the same experience.”
As she swept her hand around the group, a few of them nodded.
Later that afternoon, Shontay was helping Olivia with a homework problem when she noticed the silence coming from next door. She went to warm up some malt milk in the kitchen and set up Olivia in the study with a glass, taking the rest over to the Mathersons’ for their unscrupulous little boy but when she knocked on the front door, she found it ajar. Thinking that was odd, Shontay called out for Annie and Mark. No reply came from within the house, although their red Hiyundai was parked in the driveway and the soft murmur of daytime television hummed through the windows of the loungeroom.
Shontay nudged the door open a crack, set the jug of malt milk drink on the hall table and started to poke around. She switched off the television set and picked up the cushions on the ground. There was an upended water glass on the carpet, which she put on one of the Monet souvenir coasters resting on the wooden coffee table.
Thinking she should soak up the spillage to prevent any mould from growing, Shontay set about to find the kitchen. The house had an eerie feel to it: it wasn’t exactly cold but there was an absence of life to it that felt the same as coldness did, as though it had been vacated for a while. In the dining room, the highchair was on its side, pees sprinkled across the ground.
Shontay passed the chair, paused over the mess and decided to move on. A small ball of panic knotted in her stomach. When she arrived at the kitchen, it was thankfully undisturbed. Shontay turned on the tap and reached for the tea towels hanging from the oven door. It was only as she was leaving that she saw the knifeblock and the handle with smallest smear of red on its pale wooden surface.
Brad finished his beer and slammed it on the counter top of the pub. After an hour or two he was hoping Christina would had cooled off enough to talk calmly with him. She was obviously being unreasonable about the whole situation. It was just a few bad deals at the insurance company, a maxed out credit card from her outrageous shopping habits…
On the fourth floor of a relatively small apartment block, the curtains twitched open just a crack. It was late at night. Danny didn’t know how late but sky was dark outside, the stars winking in the spare patches between clouds. His window looked out over the parking lot across the street and a few warehouses either side. It wasn’t much to stare at but he liked to count the number of white lines painted on the black tarmac and watch for birds or bats or rabbits.
Car headlights lit up the street and an old tan Ford slid into view. Danny pressed his ear to the glass, the faint sound of guitars and drums carried through the Ford’s open windows. When the car was parked, a women with a red Fedora got out, carrying a paper bag in one hand and a box propped on her hip.
A man strolled into view, caught sight of the woman and sped up, his hands deep in the pockets of a billowing overcoat. His footsteps echoed off the warehouse walls and the woman finally noticed him. She broke into a run towards Danny’s building and the man raced after her, the blade of a knife flashing in the orange glow of the streetlights. Danny gasped.
“Mum!” he yelled. “Mum! Mum!”
Not hearing any movement from his mother’s room, Danny pressed his hand to the glass then ran to get her.
“Danny, what? What are you doing still up?” She sat up, rubbing her eyes. Her hair stuck up and she reached to smooth it down. Danny grabbed her hand and dragged her to his room, all the while she protested, too dazed to be angry.
Danny shoved the curtains aside and pointed into the parking lot. His mother squinted seeing nothing.
“Danny, darling, go back to sleep. I don’t know what you’re worried about but everything is fine. It’ll beautiful and sunny in the morning, you’ll see. Go back to bed, sweetheart.” She ushered him under the covers, pulled the curtains closed and switched on the nightlight.
“Mum, can you stay a while?”
She smiled. “Sure, honey.” Danny moved over and she lay down beside him.
And then they heard the scream.
The shortcut Brad had decided to take passed through the local reserve. There was a playground with a swing set and slides, a broad grassy field and a path bordered by rocks that divided the sand and water from everything else. The beer Brad had taken with him was nearly empty; he took the last swig and bent down to leave the bottle jammed in the rocks.
Just as he stood a tiny flash of light caught his eye. It was a knife, a long wicked think with a pale wooden handle and a dirty blade. Crude but it would do the job.
Brad picked it up and surveyed it.
No. It couldn’t be that easy. But it would solve all of his problems. Christina was an only child from a wealthy father who’d passed away only a year ago. Her mother had died in childbirth and she had no extended family to speak of. No one would miss her.
No one would suspect… Not if he did it right.
“I want my mummy.” This was the voice of a child.
“Oh sweetie, it’s ok. I don’t know where your mummy is but I’ll take care of you until we find her,” said another voice. It was high-pitched and female, nurturing.
“I’m not sure we will find her.” That was a new voice, a young woman, all husk.
“What are you saying?”
“Where do you think we are?”
“I… I can’t… I don’t know. I don’t see anything.”
“It’s because we’re dead.”
“Sh, sweetie. Give me a minute…
“If we’re dead then what is this place?!”
“Hell if I know! Man came after me with a knife and I was in a hell of a lot of pain. And then nothing.”
“Oh no. Brad, he finally did it… He killed me… My husband killed me for my money… And I was pregnant.”
“What’s dead?!” screamed the child.