Paper Starlings: a scene

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Paper Starlings is the first of six books in the not*the*same*river series.

The series features vampires, angels, demons, werewolves, vaewolves and other vae breeds. It’s set mainly in Oxfordshire, England.

This is part of a scene in chapter ten.

Context: After a childhood in care, Violet meets her dead mother’s sister who had been told that Violet was stillborn. Aunt Eden is driving them to her home in Oxfordshire for the first time.

***

When Eden pulled out of my street and onto the main road, it was already dark. Rows of houses flashed by, punctuated by lit windows displaying homely tableaus, like a gallery of yellow paintings. Trying to get out of London on a Friday night was slow. There were so many lights, it was painful to look at: dazzling white headlights like the ethereal glow in paintings of angels, and fiery red taillights like the eyes of demons retreating in the darkness. I closed my eyes and let the music wash over me.

“What is it?” I said, turning my head against the headrest.

Eden grinned. “I thought you’d dozed off.”

“Just listening,” I said.

“One of my students sent it to me.” The music was melodic and ploddy, with pretty highs, like life in the summer. “You like it?”

“Yeah, it’s … mellow. I don’t like tinny music. It irritates my ears. And I don’t like singers that whine or scream or bellow. Or sing in fake accents with fake feelings about inconsequential crap. Or when they sing all the notes just to prove they can. Or worse, when they warble a million notes to a one-syllabled word. There should be penalties for that.”

Eden smirked. “So what do you like?”

I shrugged. “I don’t really go out of my way to listen, you know? I mean, I hear it, I’m exposed to it, but it’s just background. Noisy wallpaper. I think maybe I skipped the music-loving gene when I was born … silent.”

“You were born unable to see too,” Eden said softly. “But that didn’t stop you breaking out the paints, did it?”

“That was years later.”

I’d never been able to describe the way my sight came to me without sounding like I was taking hallucinogenics. I was five when it happened, and my understanding of the visual world was limited. Everything I saw was too much, all of it imagined, rendered with the incomplete knowledge of how colour and form combined. Like a child’s drawing. Things just didn’t look that way anymore.

This is what happened: Colours exploded behind my closed eyelids, swirling like petrol in a puddle, polluting the dark-light reality inside my head. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was worse colour. Formless and toxic. Its boldness frightened me, and I squeezed my eyes shut against it, hoping it would go away. It never did. Then came form, shapes and patterns. They moved. Some drifted, some sped, some spun. All made me nauseous. If I’d had access to a camera back then, I could’ve slowed down the world one frame at a time. Nothing stayed still long enough for me to catch it, to really see it. It took only moments to realise what my sight had cost me. The shadow girl. Amethyst.

“They said you painted though, even before you could see. That’s amazing.”

When my brain registered her comment, I said, “What? I didn’t.”

Her gaze flicked from the road to my face. “You don’t remember?” I shook my head. “The occupational therapist sent the paintings to a specialist. He said the only explanation was that the staff must’ve coached you after you got your hearing, but before you got your sight, because the pictures were too realistic. That’s professional speak for, I don’t have a clue how to deal with it because my brain is a wasteland consisting only of outdated information and tick boxes.”

I laughed. “Ouch! What do you have against so-called professionals?”

“Trust me, that is not a topic you want to get me started on.”

“So what were the paintings of? Do you know?”

“Birds,” she said. “Well, the same bird over and over.”

“A starling?” I said.

“Yes. You remember?”

“No. Not the paintings. Just the sound. The first sound I heard was a starling. I mean, I do remember painting and drawing starlings, but it was later. When I could see.”

I didn’t remember closing my eyes the second time, but when I opened them again, London was far behind us. The tightly packed houses had given way to tightly packed trees and hedgerows, and the car lights were sparse. The music had been turned down and Eden hummed gently to herself. Every so often, a break in the hedgerow gave us far-reaching views across darkened patchwork fields, where light trails in the distance showed another road carved into the landscape.

“Where are we?” I said, stretching out my back muscles.

“About twenty minutes from home, maybe less.”

“What’s that?” I asked, nodding at a huge cluster of lights ahead in the distance.

“Oxford. We’ll be turning off in a minute, so we won’t go through it, but I can take you in the week if you like.”

“Yeah, alright. I suppose it’s much nicer than where I live.”

“All places have their charms. Besides, being with the right people can make the dullest of places brighter.”

“Leia’s moving to Cornwall. School will suck without her.”

“Oh, Violet, I am sorry.”

“S’alright. We’ll still be able to talk. It won’t be the same but …”

I stared blindly out the side window, shortening my focus to track the droplets of rain that raced down the glass. I listened to the sound of the engine, soft and puttery, with a slurred rumble beneath it. It sounded like a bored fish lounging on the back of a sleep-drunk bear. The backs of my thighs had gone to sleep.

“Listen, we’re nearly home. If there’s anything you need to know, I’d ask now. Seth and Archer have taken the twins camping for the night to give you some breathing space. It’ll just be Dad, Magnus and Glenda, but even so, we might not get to chat later.”

“Who’s Glenda?”

“That depends who you ask.” She shook her head. “She’s my best friend. But if you asked her, she’d say she was the housekeeper.”

“So, she isn’t the housekeeper?”

“Oh, she is. It was the only way she’d agree to stay with us. She’s not happy unless she’s earning her keep.”

“Right. So, there is something I wanted to ask … about my mum.”

“Shoot.”

“Do you know why she ran away from home?”

“Yes, but it’s not a pretty story.”

“My life’s not a pretty story.”

“Alright. But tell me if I get a bit TMI. I’m a very blurt it all out sort of parent. I don’t believe in coddling when it comes to the truth.” I nodded, warming a little at her use of parent, and she continued. “As I said before, Dad didn’t know if Amy was his or not and my mother kept us away for a long time. The purple eyes are a genetic trait from Dad’s family, so the moment I met her, I knew she must be his child. Amy’s step-father, I only met a few times, but he seemed a nice man. He committed suicide when Amy was fifteen. My mother blamed Amy and she ran away.”

“Why did she blame Amy?”

“When I confronted my mother, she told me that her husband was in love with Amy, that he felt guilty about his feelings for her and killed himself. I don’t know how true it is, but I don’t think Amy did anything to encourage it. She was just a kind person, everything my mother wasn’t.”

“And you don’t know what happened after she left? You don’t know where she went?”

“There were rumours. I checked them out myself, but they never led to anything. I even hired someone to look for her, but every lead turned up cold.”

The roads were so quiet and dark now that only the dipped beam of the headlights lit the way. Up ahead, the glow of a fox’s eyes reflected back at us before it dashed out of our way. We turned left into a road full of little cottages, some with B&B signs outside. A post office, a butcher, a corner shop and, at the end of this rare cluster of life, a village pub stood, muffling the voices within its ancient walls.

“This is us,” said Eden, pushing the indicator stick up.

The car swung to the right into a barely noticeable gap between the trees. A statue stood on each side of the narrow road, partially covered by greenery and glowing eerily in the darkness. A long drive stretched out ahead but there were no lights, no house. We drove past several fields, and down an avenue of trees. The road was so bumpy there, that Eden and I bounced in our seats. Eventually we turned onto a small wooden bridge. I looked down into a stream that glittered in the moonlight. The car slowed again when Eden turned onto a gravel parking area surrounded by a high hedgerow on three sides.

A stone building towered above us on the fourth side. Most of it was covered by some kind of plant, but it was too dark to tell what it was. A downstairs window held a faint glow but there was otherwise no sign of life.

When I stepped onto the gravel, the chilly air wrapped around me, but instead of feeling cold, I felt comforted. The rain had sent the ancient pulse of the earth to the surface. I felt it beneath my feet. The air was tangy and charged with the scent of storms and well-fed trees. I felt them stretching towards me, to welcome me home.

***

The source image is from makamuki0 on Pixabay.

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No Good Comes: a scene

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This is the first draft of what is currently scene 3.

Context: After he is murdered, Stephen King (no, not that one) is buried for forty nights, after which he will rise a bloodborn vampire with his soul intact. Until then, his soul comes out at night to feed, and he is bombarded with memories of his human life.

POV: first person, Stephen’s perspective.

***

Dreams flew at my face like a life flashing before my eyes. It was the same every night, the moment I escaped my grave. A shadowy, brutal part of me detached itself for feeding. Even as I tore into another squirrel—let’s call him Duncan the sparrow slayer—I felt my human side recoil, taking joy instead in the dreams that might’ve been my life.

I saw my grandad, camera swinging from his neck. I remembered the first time we traipsed into a field to take photos, avoiding divots and piles of horse shit.

Everything for miles was a sunlit beige. Hay bales, rough beneath my palms. An old twitchers’ shed with a crinkle-cut roof and drunken door. Logs with caramel burns and treacle cracks. Abandoned eggshells that had birthed things so tiny they couldn’t possibly have survived in this empty place. Mushrooms, wizened and deformed, like they’d crawled out of eggshells. Fuzzy grasses, soft as feathers, tiny pods popping off when I dragged my hand up past the stem. Little grains of it stuck to my sweaty palm. I remembered sniffing my hand, thinking it would smell like cereal, but it just smelled like dirt.

Grandad said we were on an island made up mostly of marshes, where bird watchers sat for hours. There was a horrible plant smell, the kind that made your cheeks bunch: acidic, sugary. And there was an industrial fog smell, like burnt rubber and dog biscuits, that came from the power station floating on the river.

Grandad photographed all the beige things, from afar, close up. Sometimes he moved the things around to create little collages of beige. Sometimes the collages looked like Dad’s cooking: rice, beans, mushrooms. Beige, beige, beige. Nuggets, chips, coleslaw. Beige, beige, beige.

We went to the island lots of times, sometimes to the woodland part, carpeted in bluebells, mushrooms climbing the trees, sometimes to the cherry orchard, where we’d discuss the ripeness of the cherries, then I’d stuff myself until I looked like I’d been gorging on blood, sticky juice smeared across my cheeks. Grandad said I looked like a little vampire.

I borrowed one of his cameras every time, sure its weight would turn me into Quasimodo before my next birthday. I photographed the beige things. I photographed the sky, which was white, grey, gold, blue, purple.

I remembered the day I found a bird skeleton, lying there on its side, picked clean, picked beige. I felt like I’d found dinosaur bones. I didn’t want to move it; something so delicate would break. Its beak was hollow, its ribs like the husk of a great spider, its legs were fuzzy twigs. I photographed every bit of it, paying attention to Grandad’s instructions. Sometimes, he said things that seemed both obvious and obscure, like he was talking about something else.

“Fill the frame with everything you want to see, so that when you look at it, in weeks and years to come, you remember how you felt at this moment. Listen to the nightingales, the cuckoos. Breathe in, Stephen. The smell will bring you back here too. Smell memories are the strongest of all.”

Sometimes he said things that were more useful.

“Think about the shapes things make, turn your camera around to capture different angles. Think about the shadows cast by other objects. See, here,” he said, drawing lines in the air with his fingers. “See how the tips of the grass glow, and how the bottom of it is almost black, the middle brown. Like a flag. Capture it like a flag, Stephen.”

When I’d captured the three stripes of the flag, I tilted the camera, so the bottom line of the golden tips ran from corner to corner, creating a triangle of light and a triangle of shadow.

Grandad had a dark room that I wasn’t allowed to go in. Chemicals are dangerous, he said. Film was expensive, he said. He couldn’t have me wandering in there when he was mired in the delicate process of exposing film.

He’d bring my photos round the next night, and Dad would cook him tea. Beige food. Then we’d discuss the photos. He said I was learning fast. He said I’d be a great photographer one of these days. Dad was always in a bad mood after he left. I don’t think he’d ever told Dad he was great at anything, and I didn’t think he ever would if Dad kept cooking. I liked his food, but Grandad liked meat with everything, and if there were green vegetables on his plate, they’d better be boiled to death. He smothered everything in salt and white pepper to make up for the dead nutrients.

The beige wasteland wasn’t the only place we went to take photos. There were old forts on the river, there was a dockyard, castles dotted all over Kent. I just remember the beige place most because one day, it was flooded red.

***

Source image from Momentmal on Pixabay.

DeMobbed: a scene

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This is a first draft of what is currently scene 22.

Context: the runaways have just spent their first night on the run in a motel room. They wake to find a man where there should be a dog.

Note: a springer is someone who can boost locks just by running their hands over them. The kiss alluded to sounds like Vlad kissed a dog. He didn’t. He was kissed by someone unexpected to distract him from river lust (the overwhelming urge to throw himself into a river – a vampire thing).

POV: third person, Jay’s perspective.

***

As soon as Jay Looper rolled onto his back, the kid scrambled away and jumped out of the bed, flinging the covers at him. A blonde girl he hadn’t seen before was peering over the dark-haired girl’s shoulder, a wary look on her wide-eyed face. The vampire was watching Sunny with amusement.

“Whoa! Who the fuck are you?” Sunny shouted. “What have you done to my dog?”

“Do I look like I’m in any position to do anything to anyone?”

“I dunno, man,” said the blonde girl, her voice husky with sleep. “You looked like you were in a position to bang Sunny good and hard.”

Jay grinned as he raised his arm above his head and stretched his body beneath the covers. “Get attached to the dog did you?”

“Where is he?” Sunny whistled. “Tripod?”

Jay groaned. “How can we be related?”

“Related what? Who are you?”

“Jay Looper,” said the blonde girl. “That’s right, isn’t it? The cherry guy.”

“The cherry guy?” said Jay, pushing himself upright against the headboard.

“I served you at Lucky D’s a couple of days ago,” she said.

“Nah, that was a guy,” said Jay. “Where’s my arm?”

Everyone seemed to notice Jay’s missing arm at once, a collective gasp rising, and all eyes momentarily on his shoulder before flicking to his face.

“That was me,” said the girl, turning into the blonde guy from the bar. His voice deepened. “And your arm is still in the van.”

“Can you get it for me, Sunny,” said Jay, looking up at the mussed-up kid still standing there, hands on hips. “And my clothes. They were behind the passenger seat.”

“How do you know my name?” said Sunny, pulling on his shorts.

“Even if he hadn’t already said your name just now,” said Jay, running his hand lazily down his chest, “I’ve heard it enough times in the last thirty-six hours. Besides, I came back to Vegas to find you. Or Jenna did. Fuck, I’m starving.” He threw the covers back and dropped his feet to the floor. “You got anything to eat in here?”

Jay had never been shy about his body, which was just as well, because everyone was looking at it while he paced around the room looking for food.

“You mind covering up your ass?” said Freya.

“You don’t like it?” he said, flexing his cheeks.

“It’s not as good as Indy’s,” said Freya.

Indy blushed, and Jay smirked. “Hurry up and get my clothes, kid. This lady is offended by my arse.”

“I’ll go,” said Indy, sliding out of the bed so he didn’t let any heat escape. He pulled on a pair of jeans from his suitcase, then looked up at the vampire. “What? I was too hot to keep the shirt on.”

“Vlad, right?” said Jay, a wicked grin on his face. Vlad nodded. “That was one hell of a kiss yesterday.”

Vlad scowled at Jay.

“Key?” said Indy, holding out his hand.

“You won’t need it,” said Jay. “Jenna trusts you by now.”

“Who the fuck is Jenna?”

“The van,” said Jay.

“Speaking of,” said Indy, “Astaroth said we need to change it. Any idea what that means?”

“When you get my stuff, tell her I said she needs a paint job.”

Indy put on a different face, and trotted outside barefoot in just his jeans. Freya snuggled further under the covers when the vampire looked at her. Jay wasn’t sure whether she was hiding from his body or hiding her own.

“I need food,” said Jay. “But not more than I need a piss.”

“Jesus, do you just say everything that comes into your mind?” said Freya.

“Usually,” said Jay, heading for the bathroom.

He slammed the door shut behind him, but he could still hear them talking. He stared at his reflection in the mirror above the toilet. Who the fuck puts a mirror above a toilet? Do normal people like to watch themselves pissing? He still looked like a dog. He needed a hairbrush and a shave. It didn’t look like he had any new scars, though there was a bruise on his ribs where the pain had hit. He had no idea what kind of curse would’ve turned him into a dog.

He flushed, washed his hands then threw water on his face. Someone banged on the door.

“What do you mean we’re related?” Sunny yelled.

Jay opened the cupboard beneath the sink, where there was a bundle of new toothbrushes. He chose a red one.

“Are you a fucking dog? Damn, that’s a bad trick to play on a guy. Were you my dog?”

“Of course he was your fucking dog, you moron,” Vlad mumbled.

Jay snorted a laugh, then brushed his teeth.

“Hey, are you listening to me?” Sunny banged on the door again. “I liked that dog. You suck.”

“What are you, four?” said Vlad.

“Shut up, Dracula. And how did you know I was in Vegas?”

Jay opened the door, and Sunny fell into him, straightening quickly.

“Don’t make any one-armed bandit jokes,” said Jay, narrowing his eyes as he looked down at Sunny. “I see how your mind works.”

Sunny scowled. “I wasn’t going to.”

“Good. Because even with one arm, I could knock the living shit out of you. I’d use my prosthesis as a club. How about that?”

“I’m sorry I called you Tripod,” said Sunny, looking contrite.

Jay thought he was adorable. “I’m just kidding.” He slapped Sunny’s shoulder. “Hey, lighten up. I was kidding.”

“He doesn’t like being touched,” said Vlad.

Sunny spun around to look at Vlad, then back at Jay.

“You’ve been snuggling up to me for thirty-six hours straight, dude,” said Jay.

“British guys shouldn’t say dude,” said Sunny, a sulky pout overtaking his mouth. “Y’all sound stupid saying dude.”

“One’s criticism is duly noted,” said Jay, in his best imitation of the Queen. In his normal voice, he said, “No comment on the snuggling?”

Sunny shrugged. “You were a cute dog. So … we’re related?”

Jay nodded. “Brothers,” he said, as Indy came back in with his arm and caught an eyeful of genitalia.

“Still naked?” said Indy, throwing the clothes on the bed, and handing Jay his arm. “You couldn’t wrap it in a towel or something?”

Jay sat on the bed. “What took you so long?”

“You didn’t tell me I’d have to coax the door open. I damn near had to seduce your van to get it to let me in.”

“Did you call her an it?” said Jay, turning away from everyone as he set about attaching his arm. “She doesn’t like being misgendered.”

“Man, that ain’t funny,” said Indy.

“And I ain’t laughing. She doesn’t like being called it. Vans can have feelings too, you know.”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Sunny’s hands were up in the air, and his head was down. He looked like a preach meme. “How can I be your brother?”

“Willow Wyatt is my mother,” said Jay.

“But you’re British.”

“English, yeah. So?”

“So how can we be brothers?”

“You’ve heard of travel, yes?” said Jay, raising an eyebrow. “I guess our mother got around. I don’t know. I never knew her.”

“You don’t look like her,” said Sunny.

“I look like my dad,” said Jay, a thunderous feeling starting to build in his head. He pulled on his jeans, then his t-shirt.

“I look like my mom.”

“I know. I’ve seen pictures of her. She’s very beautiful.”

“Are you saying I’m beautiful?” said Sunny.

“Dude, you’re my brother.”

“Dude, no dude.”

“I can’t help it. I had an Americanised childhood. It was traumatic and left me with linguistic throwbacks and cultural scars.”

For a moment, Jay thought Indy and Freya were shagging in the other bed, then he realised that Indy was sitting on the floor by Vlad, who was still huddled beneath the blankets on the tiny sofa.

“What are you doing?” said Jay. “You look like Houdini trying to get out of a sack.”

“I’m getting dressed,” Freya hissed.

Jay laughed. It earned him twin glares from her lover boys.

“So Indy? You can flip between the D and the V?”

“You’re a gross little man, you know that?” said Indy. “I liked you better when you were a dog. Speaking of, it’s a bit rich dragging me for flipping when you can turn into a dog.”

Vlad sat up, which tugged at the covers behind Indy. He leant forward and turned as the covers slipped off Vlad’s chest. He might’ve had more scars than Jay. He watched the two men look at each other, and a wave of shame washed over him.

“First,” said Jay, “I wasn’t dragging you because you can flip. I was, as you say, being a gross little man. I forget sometimes that other people are … people. I’m not fabulous at being around others, so sorry for being offensive. And second, I can’t turn into a dog. I don’t know how that happened. I was cursed or something, and it somehow wore off.”

“It didn’t somehow wear off,” said Indy. “Whoever cursed you is dead. That’s how this shit works.”

“He was fine when I left him,” said Jay. “Well, not fine exactly. Maybe he was eaten by wolves.”

“Some guys came into the casino looking for you,” said Indy. “The day after I served you at the bar.”

Jay had heard them discussing it in the van, but he really wasn’t ready to talk about any of that. “What guys?”

“Angels,” said Freya, emerging from her cocoon fully-dressed. “There’s a photo of one of them in your van.”

“I doubt it,” he said. “I don’t know any angels.”

“They know you,” said Freya. “The one in the photo has blue hair now though.”

Jay’s grin was so instant that he knew he’d given himself away. “I told you—”

Freya rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, you don’t know any angels.”

“She says I’m an angel,” said Sunny. “That my real father is an angel.”

“I know one angel,” Jay amended.

“So, it’s true?”

“Yeah. You’re a springer, so it’ll be Sandalphon. His whole line would make a fine organisation of burglars if they weren’t so angelic.” Jay snorted as he remembered the not-so-angelic branch of Sandalphon’s tree.

“The angels were from Cascade,” said Freya. “That makes you as wanted as we are. Isn’t that fun?”

***

The source image above is from Activedia on Pixabay.

NaNoWriMo: Day 19

So I typed these words today.

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The end of part two came a bit faster than I thought it would. It leaves me somewhere between a tiny pickle and extreme happiness. I’m only at 43.5 thousand words, leaving me 6.5 thousand short of the NaNoWriMo target. This in itself is not a problem. Book four is ready to go. It doesn’t have a full outline yet, but I know where it starts and I know where it ends. I have some early scenes well-outlined. I don’t foresee any problems with wading straight in.

The problem begins when I try to stop writing at the end of November, which I will have to do, since the end of November heralds the start of December. December is the time for cleaning frantically, watching shitty movies that would cause me to kick my telly in the face at any other time of the year, and pretending that I’m going to make all that Pinteresty stuff. I’m totally going to make all the things this year. So yes, I’m going to start enthusiastically writing a new book later today, then after eleven days, I’m just going to stop. I’m not going to stop, am I? My house will look like Primark on Boxing Day. But it’s okay really, I’ll be way too happy to notice.

 

NaNoWriMo: Day 18: Sneaky peeky

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Another first draft extract from book 5. The scene is a long one so I’ve just included a few paragraphs about the experience. Violet finds herself in the Himalayas for what War calls “pinballing” but the local wildlife has to get used to their presence first.

The sun cast its gold over the mountains in the distance, dripping down slowly like yolk from an egg, swallowing the shadows made by the mountain beneath my feet. Part-buried lumps of snow-striped rock leapt from the mountainside like giant, angular zebras. Wispy clouds hung above them like puffs of breath.

*****

I was about to ask who they were when I heard them. Just a few at first, warbling and chittering. Fat little birds, round and speckled, with pale brownish bodies, veering towards a rusty red at their upturned tails. Then more came, chirruping and whistling so fast they vibrated. A wall of puffy little birds, yellow diamond mouths open in chorus, sang to us. In the mountains. Musicals begin this way.

*****

“What are all these other birds?” I said, waving my hand delicately to our left, trying not to offend anything. I turned at movement behind us. “And what the hell is that? Is it a yak?”

A golden, shaggy thing stood on the rock above us, about twenty feet away, all horned and majestic.

“Some kind of goat, I think. Or maybe a sheep. But those over there…” He pointed to our right. “Those are yak.”

They looked like horned, black cows that had been over-fed, squashed until their shoulders humped over, then draped with shaggy carpet. They slouched away, unimpressed. The majestic enormo-goat still stood behind us, staring down in silent rebuke.

“So what are the birds?” I said.

“Do I look like David bloody Attenborough to you?”

*****

NaNoWriMo: Day 15: Sneaky peeky

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Another extract from the first part of book 5. It’s still in its first draft, but I’m pretty happy with it. It’s hard to fight an enemy that’s become part of someone you love.

Caleb was in the lounge, sitting beneath the window in a puddle of glass and blood. His black hair was wet with it. Rusty red streaks had dripped and dried on his chest, his arms and his cheeks. His abandoned t-shirt crouched at the edge of the puddle, sucking like an animal.

“Jesus, Caleb,” said Daniel, squatting down in front of him, his boots grinding the glass into dust. “What the fuck are you doing to yourself?”

Caleb didn’t even look up. He drove a shard of glass into his palm, then pulled it out again, letting the blood drip onto the floor. And when the wound healed, he did it again. And again.

Albert and Daniel exchanged a look and I stepped back. They each grabbed one of Caleb’s arms and hauled him upright. His eyes were dead. His mouth flatlined. He crushed the glass in his fist.

“Can you get rid of the glass, Violet?” said Daniel, as he held Caleb against the wall.

I peeled his fingers away and the shard hit the floor. He seemed to notice us then. His head rolled back and his eyes blazed with something wild and untameable. Sobs tore up his throat, shoving past his gritted teeth. He pistoned his shoulders into the wall, trying to shake Daniel and Albert loose. While they struggled to keep him still, he threw his head forward and nutted Albert, knocking him on his butt. I rammed my head under Caleb’s chin, then dug my right shoulder into his chest, and wrapped both my hands around his wrist. He wriggled, but he wasn’t going anywhere. He tried to kick, but I stomped on his foot.

Daniel grabbed my shoulder and the world blinked. The three of us landed in the bath. It felt like an ugly poem. We pushed Caleb down, smearing blood across the tiles. I sat on him, pinning his arms with my knees, while Daniel stepped out and turned on the shower above Caleb’s head. He spluttered beneath the spray, shaking his head from side to side, as his legs cycled furiously behind me. When he tried to buck me off, I grabbed his throat and squeezed. He went still. His face was hopeless. The sadness in his eyes carved its way into my chest, hollowing it out so that every heartbeat felt raw and unloved.

“Pins and needles,” he whispered, wriggling his fingers beneath my shins.

“If you try anything funny, Caleb, I swear I’ll murder you,” said Daniel.

I rocked back a bit, releasing Caleb’s hands. He gave them a shake then ran them through his dripping hair. Together we washed the blood away. I laid down, resting my head next to Caleb’s, letting the water cool me down. It was too damn hot anyway. He wrapped his arms around me, and Daniel sighed. Then he wandered off to perch on the toilet.

“It’s not even lunchtime, Caleb,” I whispered, rubbing the last of the blood from his hair. “What time did you start drinking?”

“Before I got up. It’s the only way.”

His voice was ragged with whiskey burn.

“It’s not the only way. I’ll find you a better one.”

“You can’t fix everything, angel.”

“I can fix you.”

“I’m not broken, I’m dead.”

“That’s the exact opposite of what you are.”

“Do you have to argue?”

“Do you have to ask?”

He chuckled into my hair. “I didn’t drink all that much today.”

“You were unresponsive, Caleb. You were making holes in yourself.”

“I know. I was trying to go somewhere else.”

“Where were you trying to go?”

“I don’t know. Some place where nobody expects me to hold on. Where I can get washed away in peace.”