Monday, 4 March 2013

WHEN THE SAINTS by Lee Hughes

TK'n'C stalwart and our former in-house Horror Editor Lee Hughes is in the mood for a party. What could possibly go wrong...?


WHEN THE SAINTS
by
Lee Hughes

They knew there would've been a big 'Welcome Home Heroes!' party for them, though one pint had turned to two, which turned to six so they'd missed it. They stood on the platform of the village station. The village street lay ahead, shouldered by the heights of the valley. The houses, some, but not all showed lights in the windows; their kin having lost hope and returned home.

Charlie noticed it first. He'd expected bunting hanging from the eaves of the train station. Yet none drifted in the night breeze in lapsed revelry. He broke the strained silence. “Surely if we weren't on the six-thirty they’d have returned for this one to greet us?”

Jack shrugged. “Maybe they got tired of waiting, it wouldn't have taken them long to realise we'd gone drinking.” He couldn't remember the name of where they'd been drinking and it annoyed him somewhat, like he needed a place to blame. Without word they started on that singular vein of road which coursed through the arrested pulmonary that was the village.

Charlie frowned; there was a new butchers. He hadn't been expecting changes. Though, admittedly he hadn't really put any thought into it, the only thoughts of home he'd had were just of getting back there in one piece.

“Me mam never mentioned nowt about old feller Dickinson selling up.”

The butcher had always crowed on about how he was looking forward to his shop becoming 'Dickinson and son.' When Arthur came back home. They shared a look. Neither had heard anything about Arthur Dickinson getting dead in the trenches; that didn't mean it hadn't happened. The folks who were sat writing letters at home didn't want to send out bad news.

At the threshold of the street they saw a small boy wandering down the cobbled centre. Charlie recognised him. It was John Derby's lad, William. Charlie had gone away at the start of the war and little William had been about five years old then, that was seven long years ago and the lad still looked the same age.

He shouted: “William.”

The boy continued walking towards them. The feeble light from the lamps did little other than give him more shadow than his small stature deserved or warranted. He looked at them with puzzlement.

Jack noticed the marks on the boy's neck before Charlie. “What happened to your neck, William?”

The boy, wearing muddy shorts and a slackened woollen jumper didn't smile, didn't frown, just answered with. “Mr. Jones, he did it.”

They knew who Mr. Jones was. He was the head-teacher at the village school. They both knew him to be a hard task master, and a bit of a brute to boot, both of them having been thrashed by him for little to no reason when they'd been under his tutelage. But the marks about the lad's throat were savage. Jack knelt down before the lad and asked. “What the bleeding hell did you do to get him to go so hard on you?”

William shrugged. “He found me.”

“Where?”

“Alone.”

Both Charlie and Jack exchanged a puzzled glance. Charlie spoke up. “Come on, William, let's get you home.”

The boy's eyes hardened. “No.”

“Why not?” asked Charlie.

“I don't want to go there.”

Jack took a go and asked. “Why's that?”

“I just don't.” The boy turned on his heels and ran back the way he'd come until the shadows took him in their snuggle.

Charlie watched the darkened end of the street. “The war's done damage to all of us.”

Jack nodded. “I'm in enough trouble with the missus, I'm gonna head on home. Catch up with you in the morning, Charlie-boy.”

“Aye, I'll get an ear-full of it from me mam too, you know how she gets.”



Charlie walked through the hallway, smiling, seeing the pictures still hanging on the walls. His late father in his uniform, a picture of himself looking proud within the threads of his own. Inside he felt awkward, even though he’d failed to get on the earlier train it wasn't like his mother not to have come to meet him no matter how chagrined she was with him, under her stern words and charcoal stare burned love. He wandered past the door to the parlour, which was only used for Christmases and funerals. At the door to the back-sit he could hear the crackle of the fire through the timber of the door. He took a deep breath and entered. There she was, looking older than the last time he'd seen her, she'd been on the turn to grey then, now her hair was tarnished silver. She didn't move as he entered, sitting holding a photograph in her lap.

“Mam,” he ventured.

She ignored him.

He groaned inwardly, perhaps this time her wrath was for real. He took a step deeper into the room, feeling like a trespasser whose feet were too clumsy and whose shoes were too noisy. “I'm sorry I missed the train, there...” He left it hanging, knowing she could tell a lie long before it was even dry from leaving his lips. The fire had been banked high as she was wont to do when she planned to snooze away the night in front of it. Charlie lowered himself so he was on his haunches. He was about to reach out to take her hands and show her that he was sorry when he saw his cigarette case on her lap, peeking out from beneath the photograph. That was his cigarette case, had been his father's before him and it was in his pocket. He checked to re-assure himself, dipping his hand into his pocket and finding only emptiness.

“Where's that from?” he asked.

She remained muted in the company of her tears, rubbing a thumb over a black and white portrait of him as a boy.

“Mam, I really am sorry.” He looked to her face, it was not so much lined as creased like a bed-sheet left to dry in a heap. She got up and moved past him to the mantelpiece, replaced the picture in exactly the same spot - Charlie could tell by the dust around the shape. “Mam?” Something was knotting in his mind as well as his stomach. His mam had never permitted dust to settle, let alone make itself at home. She'd always been on the move cleaning every surface and beating every rug to within an inch of its weave unravelling. Charlie took in the rest of the room, noticing everything was in disarray or dirty. Everything bar the pictures of him. He watched as his mam sat herself back down and closed her eyes.

Her lips moved, lips so dry Charlie thought they would rip. He heard her words, though he didn't need to.

His mother said, “Good Lord, look after my boy.” And the knot that had begun to tighten within his being constricted whip-quick and started to throttle him. He screamed, reached for her, to shake her, but she couldn't feel his hands, as a gale doesn't feel a breeze. Charlie reached again, this time he was sure he felt the slight hairs on the skin of her arms, positive he'd brushed them. She stirred, still not too deep into sleep. Charlie went for the grab again. Skin, this time, he was sure of it, it felt like paper, but it felt, that was what was important. He watched in hope as his mother's eyes opened. The lids rose slowly as though reluctant to open up for business. Her lips joined her eyes in rising. Then both crashed down, the eyes opened for a second glance. “Charlie!” There was no tone of ecstasy, it had the trappings of terror.

“Mam, it's me.”

“No, no, no, it's the Devil is what it is!” She pushed back, trying to reverse her whole body into her chair, sickened by the monster before her. She raised a bony hand and pointed. She was pointing towards his face. He gathered himself upright and turned towards the mirror. That wasn't his reflection, that wasn't a portrait of him done in silver-backed glass. His lower jaw was errant and he bore witness to his vocal-chords. He let free a holler and watched as the chords went taut, vibrated and spat everything out in a tone of bedlam. He swept an arm across the mantelpiece, his hand passed through the first two photographs before becoming more present and sending the remaining ones to all corners of the room.

*** 

Jack could hear movement from the bedroom. That was good - he wanted her bad. It'd been months since he'd been with a woman, he grimaced at that memory, he'd had to dip his todger in vinegar after that whore. He entered, his wife was there, standing before the bed in her night-dress. She let one strap slip free from her left shoulder then the other. And none of it was for his benefit.

“What the fuck.” He moved around her to see who was shagging his wife. He didn't recognise the bloke but it didn't matter. “Oi!” Still they seemed impervious. His wife's nighty went all the way south for the summer. Jack had never, ever raised a hand to his wife, hadn't had a chance to seeing as they'd only been married for five months before he'd gone to war, and this is what he got to come home to?

He moved through her like a wave of goodbye. He spun, confused. He saw the man on the bed, already erect and his wife straddling and guiding it in. The man grabbed her hips and rolled over, taking her with him until he was on top and began to thrust. Jack punched at the man's head, his fists flailed through. He had to see Maureen's face. He climbed forward, passing through the rutting beast. He looked down at her face, could see her eyes closed as she enjoyed herself. Jack felt dizzy, sick and a hundred and one other emotions, all mixing together to keep him off guard. He had memories of seeing her face like this. Him atop of her, hilt deep, bringing her the pleasure she was garnering now. Jack didn't realise he was moving to the tidal motion of his wife, playing let's pretend at making love. He soon forgot all about the real deliverer of cock as his brain made him believe it was himself. He watched as she bit down on her lower lip enough to make the flesh spread with whiteness. It went on for, he wasn't quite sure until he heard a grunt that came from neither of them. From the corner of his eye a sweaty naked man rolled away to lie flat on his back. Jack turned back to Maureen, her eyes opened, the pupils wide and a smile raised as though on wings. She stared straight through Jack. Her voice came with laboured breathing. “Tommy, it feels like you're still inside me.”

“Knew you'd enjoy it.” Tommy's voice sounded half asleep.

She blinked, the pupils constricting. She blinked again, eyes and mouth widening in unison before she screamed. Tommy rolled over to see what the fuck was the matter, he was trying to sleep, had work in the morning. Jack lashed out at the man with his good hand. The man fell backwards, blood and teeth dripping from his mouth, the jaw askew. Maureen fought beneath him. He backhanded her, crushing an eye-socket, climbed off and went to finish the cowering man.



Charlie ran into the street. Lights were coming on in all of the houses now. Charlie had heard screams, a man and a woman's that had pierced the calm of the night. People peered out of their windows and joined in the chorus of screams at the sight that played out before them. Jack staggered out of the door from his house, drenched in blood. To Charlie that wasn't the shocking part. He saw that Jack's left arm ended in a ragged mess just below the shoulder joint, his guts draped down, the longer lengths dragging on the ground behind. Charlie turned as he heard a low moan from behind him. He saw Arthur Dickinson crawling along the ground, devoid of legs. Others were coming from behind the train station, from the direction of the graveyard; some nearly transparent but slowly coming to ruined flesh. A song joined the cacophony. Charlie looked back over his shoulder and saw young William dragging the severed head of Mr. Jones along on a length of string.


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BIO: You can read more of Lee's stuff at www.LeeHughesWrites.blogspot.com

4 comments:

  1. Hi Lee

    I enjoyed reading


    Thank you for sharing ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent read, with great characterisation. Just what I've grown to expect from Oor Lee.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Really missed your work, Lee.

    Clever how you made me think that something sinister had happened in the village and that Charlie's mum was dead, then you astutely flipped the story on its head.

    Cracker this, mate.

    Regards,
    Col

    ReplyDelete