Joseph D’Lacey was born in London and has spent most of his life in the Midlands. He is the author of MEAT, Garbage Man and The Kill Crew. “My mother warned me never to tell stories that aren’t true. It’s been great fun ignoring her advice.” By day he runs an acupuncture practice – sticking needles into people and making little dolls scream. Between victims he writes all manner of disturbing fiction.
He lives in Northamptonshire with his wife and daughter.
Maybe then I’ll fade away
Devlin’s hand, tightening like an adjustable wrench around my throat, forces me back into the chair. Somehow, he re-secures my left wrist. I must have had the strength to tear it free but now I’m weak as an infant. There’s so much to recall. This has happened before, that much I know.
I strain forward but there’s no breaking loose this time. Devlin’s hand, now free to work more daintily, reaches for the jolt switch. His – its – fingers aren’t how I remember them. They’re more mechanical to look at and yet they move like a tailor’s. Like a pianist’s. So flexible. So delicate.
Just before Devlin’s hand reaches the machinery, I notice the door. Once red, the way my cellar door used to be, now it’s black. Mostly. A spray can is discarded on the rammed dirt floor. Spectres of red, of how the door once looked, persist beneath the hasty paintjob. Why would Devlin rush, not do the task properly? His hand – no, his index finger – reaches the jolt switch. It describes a movement. The gesture a winner makes; licking the finger and drawing an imaginary line in the air.
From hi to lo.
A thrashing, shaking motion is what I wake into. It’s me, either trying to escape the restraints or still convulsing from the jolt. I don’t even know what my body is doing. I’m being extracted from it one pulse at a time. The smell of solvents is thick on the air. I taste black paint molecules at the back of my throat. I’m dizzy and once removed from reality. Fumes or jolt-shock, I can’t tell.
I hear the grafitti-hiss of the spray can and Devlin’s hand is scribbling out the red, replacing it with black, almost every part of the door now covered with darkness. It’s a childish, petulant movement. A tantrum? A representation? I’ll turn the entire world to shadows, says the movement of Devlin’s hand. By this one simple action.
It gives me time.
Black paint over red suggests something. But what? What does it mean?
I keep thrashing. To stop would attract its attention.
There’s a small window at ground level, at the top of the cellar wall. It looks out onto the street. I turn my head. The sun’s shining out there. Reflecting in arcs from the hubcaps of parked black cars. Making the skin of the girls who walk past light up from inside – all I can see is their ankles, their feet in summer sandals.
Finally, I remember something other than this chair, this subterranean chamber, the clutching of its hand, the bolts of rigid shock through every nerve, red becoming black.
I’m giving Angie flowers and it’s like I’ve given her twenty extra years of life. I’ve never seen such gratitude. But I know that later that day, the day of the flowers, Angie is rolling doll-ragged in the pounding surf, the flowers turning all around her in the brine. And I am standing on the beach, staring into the molten sunset. Knowing there’s a way to bring her back. Just out of reach. The dying red sun holds the secret. I only have to let it lead me.
I can’t remember the answer. I remember instead the sun turning dark. The world turning dark. Hearing only the churning of the waves, their butting of the shoreline, their writhing over it. Blackness and the smell of dirty salt. That’s all I know.
I’ve stopped struggling. Been thinking too much. Concentrating. Remembering.
Devlin’s hand is back at the controls.
If only I had more ti–
I twitch and twist. No command over my movement.
Barely a trace of red shows through Devlin’s handiwork, the door almost transformed. The dirt floor is black. Devlin’s hand is black. I search within myself and I know my own body is no longer red inside. My heart is no longer red. My blood is no longer red. There’s only darkness in there now. The deep, stretching colour of the vacuum we all occupy. I feel drawn towards that blackness, my soul hauled toward its obsidian lodestone. Is it the current, or just an acknowledgement of how I’ve been ever since…
ever since I lost her?
As my body settles down to tremors and shivers I notice the sun has passed the level of the window. It stamps a red grille on the opposite wall. Even that is fading fast. Devlin watches me, its hand hovering beside the machinery.
My tears are black.
Its voice is velvet onyx, oil slipping downward over the stones of a well, spoken darkness.
“Because you asked me to.”
“I can’t remember.”
“You wanted to bring her back.”
“But I haven’t.”
“No. It doesn’t appear so.”
“I asked you to do this?”
“You have to face the facts.”
I allow this to settle.
“Angie’s not coming back. And it’s all because of me.”
I’m saying it to myself but Devlin replies, his hand lingering by the jolt switch.
“It’s your fault. You already know that. That’s why you gave me these instructions.”
“I don’t want you to do it, Devlin. There’s nothing on the other side of the jolt.”
“You told me you would say this. You told me you would protest. You instructed me to ignore it.”
Night is leaking into the cellar. Up to my neck in night. The sun’s firebrand on the wall opposite the window has cooled. No more shadows. Only shadow.
I turn my head but the darkness follows my eyes. No more girls pass by on the street, or if they do, I can’t see them. I can’t see the cars or their hubcaps. Is Devlin’s work on the door complete or is the night covering the bits he missed?
“I must obey your instructions, sir.”
“Yes, Devlin. I suppose you must.”
I face up to it. Angie’s not out there. Nothing’s out there. There’s no alternative.
Devlin’s hand, patient, obedient, almost human is touching the switch. I give him the command.
“Paint it black.”
© Joseph D'Lacey 2012
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.