Her hand reached out batting the coat to the side. I took a step nearer, raising the best smile my banging head could manage, but I drew back as I caught more than just the acrid smoke still burning inside my nostrils. Turning on the spot, I searched again, trying to figure out how I would get her to the hospital when I couldn’t even get myself a ride. I stepped around her, attempting again to push the coat to her shoulders, but she twisted, following my turn, her body stiff, unnatural and I started to think maybe the head wound had done substantial damage.
Reaching her hands out, the smell of the acrid smoke intensifying as she grabbed hold of the arm of my jacket. With a tremendous grip, she wouldn’t let go, her mouth opening and closing, leaning to pull me closer. I flinched away, protecting my hand as she drew it to her mouth. She was in serious trouble, her brain damaged. I hoped there was something the doctors could do about it.
I pulled my arm clear and stepped away, over and again as she reached out unrelenting, letting the neighbour’s coat fall from her shoulders. The roar of an engine broke the cycle, finally someone was coming who could help the injured woman to safety. Stepping backwards, I carried on around in a circle with her continuing to follow in the middle of the road, all with an eye on the building noise. I expected to see one of those coaches from the night before, or a fire engine, an ambulance, police maybe. Hope holding out they weren’t a thing of the past. I hadn’t expected the Land Rover Defender rocking on its squealing tyres as it barely made the corner. I hadn’t expected to see someone in the driver’s seat I recognised more as he grew closer. Although I was still hopeful, the shine of his bald head and the snarling grin couldn’t have been anyone else.
It was Damien Edwards. We’d gone to school together. We were at the same school, at least. He was a loner, someone who hung at the periphery of our large group, but no one would have called him a friend. He was troubled, conflicted. One moment full of confidence, talking for hours about nothing at all, the next he was bullying some kid, whoever he’d picked out to break the boredom.
I’d rarely been his target, but I’d watched many others in his crosshairs. He’d done all the maturing he ever would long before he joined halfway through secondary school. He was the kid who’d pulled the legs from a spider, then ate the rest just to show you he could. When you laughed, he’d tell us to go fuck ourselves, punching out in a random direction. He’d been a skinhead ever since he’d joined, we had no idea if his hair could grow or if he shaved every day.
He’d left school at sixteen, like the rest of us and got a job, but was fired more times than I can count. He didn’t play nice with others. Each time I saw him, usually for an awkward conversation in the pub, he’d have another tattoo to show off. Now he was driving down the road in a car that couldn’t be his, wearing a broad smile as he saw me fending of the mentally damaged young woman who needed help.
“Mackenzie. Fucking knew you’d get left behind. Did they miss you because you’re so fucking short?” he said as he pulled up. When I didn’t reply he turned to Mike’s house as more of the roof caved to the ground. “He toast?” he said eyeing up the burning house. I didn’t know what to say, distracted by the ever increasing ferocity of the woman flinching towards me. “She fight back?” he said eyeing her up and down.
I looked back and he must have seen my glazed expression and he jumped from the driver’s seat as he pushed the door wide. Forcing the woman away again I noticed the triangle of the long knife gripped tight in his right leather gloved hand.
“You don’t getting it?” he said laughing as he spoke.
I shook my head. I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“You think she’s fit, right?” he said. I stepped back, not responding. The woman swapped her attention to Damien and let me step back without following. I watched as he offered out his left hand. The woman snapped her teeth together before lurching forward and biting down with a snap as she just missed the thick leather. Damien grabbed her by the hair before she could rise for another strike and her eyes rolled to see what had hold. “She’s not there anymore,” he said twisting her face toward me.
I shook my head. What I saw was a woman in trouble. I tried to protest, but the words wouldn’t come.
“Still don’t get it do you?” he said and when I didn’t reply he thrust her head forward, her bloodshot eyes snapped wide, latching onto mine. I jumped back and she lurched forward, her hands grabbing my arms. I stumbled backwards to the ground and she came after, her body and that stench falling. I tried to scrabble back, pushing hard with my legs, but they couldn’t move with her weight.
Her head punched forward, she had my arms pinned to my side. Her breath stank like rotting shit, the stench forced out with her every effort. I looked deep into her features hoping to see I’d been right, but there something missing. Everything missing. Only decay left. In my peripheral vision I saw Damien’s boot arrive by my head and he leant down.
“You get it now?” he said, his breath didn’t smell too much better. His hand reached out to her hair, pulling her head up. She didn’t complain, her mouth just continued to snap open and closed. “Choose. I haven’t got all day,” he said. I turned to see the sun glinting off his knife as he knocked her right grip from my arm and pushed the handle of the blade into my hand, letting go of her hair. Her head snapped forward and without both my hands to keep her at bay, I watched her teeth zoom towards my face, filling my view.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One