Sam had met Joy years before, when they children.
It had been three years since he had had his first hallucination.
Growing up had been a difficult time for him. His family had moved from the smoke to the sticks when he was only six months old and bought a cheap little house with their life savings.
Sam grew up in a netherworld that was nowhere and had no sense of community with anyone, especially not his peers. He seemed to give off a smell that the other little brutes would keep away from. The loneliness that was created would stay with him his whole life. The feeling of being rootless, not even British, permeated his mind, his ways. This feeling had made it easy for him to leave the country of his birth in his early twenties. It gave him a sense of the self that his peers could never understand.
It was the sense of being lost.
It was an emotional truth.
He was getting better at keeping his visions hidden from all, even his parents. His brother was suspicious and would always ask him about his experiences, but he was too close to them and untrustworthy. He knew from experience that he would just be prodded and poked, and told to take this or that pill. Eventually they would try to take his ability away from him. It was hard sometimes, especially when he was around others.
Especially at school.
He tried to keep away from the other children ignorant bastards at the best of times.
He kept his visions secret from all those around him.
Whenever he felt himself in an emotional state likely to trigger them off, he would either excuse himself to the toilet or find some safe spot to sit.
He wasn’t interested in football, the Queen’s speech, the European Song Contest or any nationalistic claptrap that the other children would witter on aimlessly about as they sat in front of their scratched and battered school desks. When he arrived home every evening he felt empty, sucked dry from the effort of trying to maintain at least polite relationships. He would disappear for hours into his father’s book collection. When he wasn’t writing he loved to read, and on the written pages found the inspiration to let his imagination run, leap and fly in books of ghost stories, ancient legends and history and especially stories of mythology and witchcraft. It was there that he first saw the image of Black Shuck, one of the legendary black demon hounds that had terrorised England for centuries. He had been scared shitless for months after seeing that image.
When he played out in the sparse back garden, he was Dionysus, that sordid old effeminate pub philosopher with his gang of half crazed Maenads following him, drinking and fucking and ripping animals apart and the odd head from its shoulders. He was Lucifer, the light bringer, not worshipped in the dingy old churches of his father’s religion. The full bloodied Christ.
At night when the only sounds to be heard were the howling of farm dogs, hungry and beaten, he would talk to him and the god of nature and light spoke back. Sam would tell him how he really felt about his life, about the moths in his stomach, his wide awake dreams. Their whisperings would comfort him in the dead of the loneliest nights. He had always found it hard to sleep, too many thoughts flew around his head.
Too many questions.
One day while Sam was at school on a break, talking to himself and wandering aimlessly around the small playground of the tiny country primary school, he felt something hit him on the head. Looking down while stroking his head, he saw the apple core and heard giggles from various hiding places in the schoolyard.
“Where are you?” he shouted.
More giggles and whispering.
“Where the bloody hell are you?”
He suddenly heard a loud tapping sound behind him. He turned around to see the fiery Welsh headmaster of the school beckoning him inside with his finger. He had a malicious glint in his eye. Fear seized the boy instantly and his stomach muscles clenched.
Mr. Williams was, to the boy’s eyes, a terrifying ogre of a man. Bright red hair, a huge bristling beard and eyebrows pointed and curled upwards.
He looked like an owl in a mental asylum.
“Sam! What do you think you’re saying, boy?!”
The teacher boomed in his bassy North Welsh accent, his face flushed bright red, Sam thought that the insane head in front of him really would explode.
“What do you mean?”
“That word, boy. That blasphemy!”
“Which word?” asked Sam, genuinely confused.
“You know, boy. Just you wait ’til I tell your father! E’s a good Christian, boy. E’ll teach you manners!”
“Really Sir, I don’t know what you mean, I was…”
“Hell, boy. You shouted out hell!”
Sam felt anger bristling up inside him.
“So, have you heard the language everybody else speaks!”
“But, if you speak such things, you’ll end up there, boy!”
He felt overwhelmed with such a fury that tears began to well up in his eyes, and as he stood his ground he started ranting at the giant.
“WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HELL, YOU SAD OLD CHRISTIAN FART?! HELL IS NOTHING MORE THAN A WORD…!”
He was shaking all over.
No visions came.
He now knew that anger didn’t trigger his insights.
It was something else.
At this he stopped and stared at the wide-eyed shocked man in front of him. The monster seemed to have shrunk before his very eyes and the rest of his class were stood at the door watching and wide eyed. Then, Sam panicked and ran out of the classroom. He was covered in sweat while the rest of his class just giggled, pointed and whispered.
That was the day Sam learnt the power of words.
Two days later brought a change in his life.
He was sat with the rest of his class watching some educational programme or other on the school’s television set, when a new student was brought into the classroom. It was a girl with long brown hair, who seemed to be made of patchwork cloth and knitted wool.
“Everybody! Listen please, will you!”
The whole class stopped and turned to stare at the new arrival.
“This is Joy. She’s from Stoke-On-Trent. Does anybody know where Stoke-On-Trent is?” The class stared at the teacher blankly.
“No? Well, her family lives here now. I’d like you all to make the young lady welcome. Okay.”
The young and inexperienced female primary teacher smiled at Joy. The rest of the class who all scowled, except Sam. As the girl went to sit quietly, Peter Pugh, a vicious little rat bag that was sat on the floor next to Sam hissed.
“Fuckin’ gippo, it is!”
At this some of the children snorted laughter through their noses. Joy turned her head swiftly to face the boy. Her eyes narrowed. Sam had heard of gippos, but had never seen one before.
“I like her” thought Sam, “I like gippos”.
Individuals have a habit of attracting each other whether they are alike or not, so it was with Sam and Joy. He would always remember the first time they talked with each other.
It was Joy’s second week at the tiny Welsh school and Sam was sat in a corner of the playground during dinner hour. He was reading a science fiction comic that his father had bought for him, before he lost his job. His father had not taken what Sam had said to the teacher lightly. Sam had been locked in his room for three days and had been given the hiding of a lifetime. He hated school but at least he didn’t have to see his sick and miserable father.
One of the other pupils was walking past and he grabbed the comic straight out of Sam’s hands, ripping it down the page. Sam lunged at the boy and they began scuffling. After a frenzied thirty seconds Sam had got him in headlock and was banging the boy’s head into a fence post.
“Say sorry! Say it!”
“S-s-sorry”, said the boy who was beginning to cry. Sam let him gently go and the boy pushed himself away.
“Oi!” screamed another local child and the next thing Sam knew he was surrounded by a mob of snarling children, boys and girls with a seemingly singular murderous intent. They appeared to be less than human, a pack of wild beasts, spitting, kicking, gnashing, pointing with fingers. It was a perfect moment for scapegoating someone, to deal with all the rage that their brutal alcoholic farming parents would inflict upon them. Those upstanding members of society.
Joy saw everything and sauntered over pulling the monsters away one by one. The mob quickly dissipated jeering and making sexual references that they could not understand and commenting that Sam and Joy did not belong there.
They were right about one thing.
She picked Sam gently off the hard ground.
“’Re you okay?”
Sam looked up at his helper and smiled.
“What’s your name?”
“I know. The others say you’re a gippo.”
“’Haven’t heard that one before”, Joy said sarcastically.
Sam and Joy became friends from that moment on. They spent as much time together as was possible and their weekends consisted of wandering around the dark hills and woods of their part of Wales talking and scheming. Sam would tell Joy about his life, his dreams, his thoughts, his visions.
Joy would listen.
They became fixtures at each other’s households. On Saturdays Sam would to visit Joy’s rented farmhouse, with its Hindu pictures on the front room wall and her stoned mother, with the constant smell of joss sticks and dope following her everywhere. Joy would come around to Sam’s cottage on Sundays for Sunday lunch and they would both giggle quietly as his sick unhappy Christian father would say grace, mumbling the words, himself high on whatever medicine the doctors had given him to cover up the obvious pain he was in. Sam’s brother would always stare at both of them. He hated their friendship. They didn’t believe in Jesus. They were freaks. God would punish them.
One day, they were lying on a hillside covered in moss-covered trees and hard thick ferns. It was a fresh spring afternoon and the breeze was waking everything up, bringing it all back to life. Sam was lost in his thoughts. Joy was singing a tune that was number one in the charts.
“D’you believe in the Devil?”
“D’you believe in the Devil?”
“Of course I do! Me ma says there’s no such thing, but what does she know? She smokes funny fags an’ acts stupid, an’ ‘er boyfriend comes around an’ borrows money offa her an’ never gives it back an’ they lock th’bedroom door an’ make noises an’ she forgets about everythin’. When she’s asleep ‘e steals more money out o’ ’er purse. I saw ’im do it one day. ‘E picked up a knife an’ told me that he’d hurt us, if I talked.”
Joy stared into the deep blue sky.
“He deserves to die.”
Sam lay there musing on that statement for a while. He is hurting people, preying on the weak and the innocent. So really, why shouldn’t he be killed?
“Yes, he does, so does Mr. Williams an’ all our school.”
“D’you want t’ do Black Magic? I’ve read about in a book.”
Sam sat up and thought for one second and then he spoke.
“I talk t’ him y’know.”
“To who? Me mam’s boyfriend?”
“Nah! The Devil.”
“Every night. He likes you, y’know.”
“Oh, I know that.”
The next day and wrote up a list of exactly what they needed. The list included a chicken, a piece of paper, a pencil, a knife and some candles. They couldn’t get hold of a chicken, so they decided that Joy’s pet hamster had been alive for long enough and was too fat. Joy suggested that midnight was the best time but unfeasible, as they had to get up for school the next day. So, the time was set for just after dinner. They thought about which place would be the best for some time. Eventually they came up with idea of a little wooded glade next to the school, where it was unlikely that they would be disturbed.
That night they both could not sleep. And finally when Sam did, he had the most vivid dreams, dreams of fire and blood. He woke up early with a start and went downstairs to find his parents already awake. His father suggested that he go to chapel with them, but Sam said he could not as he was sick with a cold. His mother just stared sadly at him while she made him a breakfast of eggs, bacon and baked beans, pulling out dog hairs when she found them.
That morning Sam milled around the house pilfering as many things as he could think of to add to the list, such as biscuits and one of his dad’s old bibles. Then he set to reading as much as he could about Black Masses and rituals in as many books as he could find.
The old Seventies classic, “Man, Myth and Magic” was his favourite, with its pictures of Crowley, Osman Spare and Krishna. He wondered in later life why his father, who was essentially the archetypal Baptist, would allow such books in his house. Knowing his enemy, he supposed.
Finally Joy turned up. They both said nothing as they sat around the table with Sam’s parents. They wolfed the food down and were just about to leave when Sam’s mother asked how he was feeling.
“Better!” shouted Sam, as they both ran out the door and on to their bikes, before they could hear any reprisals.
When they reached the little wood, they set to work preparing for the ritual, opening their bags and comparing what they had found, stolen and brought. Joy told Sam how she had tried to bring her hamster, but that the creature bit her when she tried to pick him up. That proved without a doubt that he still had enough life left in him and it would not be right to kill him. Not yet, anyway. Yet, they both knew that they needed blood for Black Magic and so, they agreed to cut each other on the hand with the knife. They then decided on and discarded the things that they had no need for, like the biscuits and books that Sam had brought.
“We don’t need any a’ dis stuff” said Joy, and explained that they already knew what to do because it was not like church with all its rules and “Thou shalt not’s”. She then accused Sam of bringing the biscuits because he was greedy to which Sam replied that if greed was a sin like his dad said then the Devil would positively endorse it. Joy just shook her head. So, finally they ended up with a piece of paper, a trowel, a pen, a kitchen knife, a red candle, some matches and the most important thing of all. She sat crossed legged on the floor and pulled from her purse a single hair.
“It’s one of ’is” she muttered.
Sam ripped the paper in two, and told Joy to draw a picture of the boyfriend, while thinking about how much she hates him. Sam did the same for the teacher. When they had finished they looked at each quietly and grinned. It already felt good. Then Joy spoke.
“Now, we need t’take our kit off.”
“You ’eard. It’s better for the magic.”
“But, you’ll see me willy!”
“And you’ll see me fanny. Okay?”
They both got undressed in silence, Joy very methodically folding her clothes and placing them on top off her bag. Sam sneakily eyeing her as he took his underpants off, far too young to feel excited, with just a dull sense of embarrassment.
“Bbrrrrrr, it’s a bit nippy, innit.”
Sam told Joy to come up with a little rhyme about the boyfriend, and repeat it again and again. Sam again did the same with the teacher. Sam then squatted down on the floor, while trying to find the best place to light the candle. He had wasted five matches when Joy suddenly let out a snigger and Sam stood up, his face red as a beetroot.
“You look funny” she giggled.
“Shut up, I’m trying to light this thing!”
“Which thing’re you trying to light?”
“You just remember your curse, Okay!”
Sam tutted and got back to business. This time he was successful. Joy then picked up the knife, still whispering her curse and held Sam’s hand by the wrist. She looked at him hard in the eyes and then gave him a quick peck on the cheek. At the same moment she slashed into his thumb. Sam howled and blew on his hand for about thirty seconds then he looked it and felt a surge of pride. Next, it was Joy’s turn. Sam really did not want to cut her.
“I, I don’…”
Joy’s eyes flashed with an anger that Sam had never seen in her before. It scared him.
“Do it!” she hissed. So, he did. Joy just clenched her teeth and the only sound she made was a quick exhale of breath. They both let a couple of drops of blood drip onto their pictures and onto the candle. It sizzled angrily almost going out.
Now, for the last thing.
Joy was first. She reached into her purse and pulled out the strand of hair, she then whispered her curse and closed her eyes; trying to concentrate all her malice and emotions into her words. She began to burn both the paper and the hair on the candle flame. The flames rose and played with their food and the only sound Sam could hear was the slow curse, barely audible and incoherent. Sam was next and he concentrated on his words and not burning himself. When they finished they sat in silence for a while and they buried the ashes with the trowel.
They didn’t notice a small figure up a nearby tree, watching them redressing and leaving the scene of the crime. If only they had looked up, if only they weren’t so absorbed in their business. As they were leaving they didn’t see him climb down and go to inspect the tiny grove. If only they had turned around they would have seen him kicking and spitting and praying in his loneliness.
Sam went to sleep that night with an image of Joy sat burning her paper, the flames dancing in her blank eyes.
Sam went to school the next morning to find that Joy had not gone in. The morning went too slow, the only good news was that Mr. Williams had been struck down the previous day by a severe case of influenza. This of course set Sam’s mind working. He wondered about Joy, about their actions the day before, about how people would feel if they ever found out, about whether the magic had worked.
At dinnertime, all the kids were hurtling around the schoolyard, playing their games, dividing themselves into their little cliques. Sam was feeling exceptionally lonely and was kicking stones around aimlessly and sitting on the stump of the old oak looking at the ant’s nest, when a police car pulled up beside the school. Two officers got out of the car and walked briskly towards the teacher’s office. The whole school turned to watch them. Sam eyed them suspiciously and had a bad feeling in his stomach.
It was fear for Joy.
He felt like he was falling.
Then the bell went.
About half an hour into the afternoon classes, Sam was summoned for by the simpering female teacher, and taken into a room. The two police officers were sat down drinking cups of piping hot tea. The policewoman smiled warmly, the man just stared.
“These police officers would like to ask you some questions, Sam. Is that okay?” said the teacher.
The woman began by asking Sam about his life, his school work, and what did he want to be when he grew up? Sam answered with one word whenever he could, waiting and waiting for the point of their questions.
Then it came.
The man spoke very slowly.
“Have you seen Joy recently, Sam?”
Sam looked at the policeman in the eyes, and felt a surge of hatred towards him. How dare he even speak her name!
“I saw ’er yesterday ’fternoon.”
“’Ow did she seem, son?”
“I’m not yer son!” Sam spat back. The policeman seemed taken aback for a moment then his eyes narrowed.
“Look, there’s no need to be rude. I don’t want to tell your family ‘ow you talked t’ me, Sam. We’ve already heard ’ow you shout at your teachers. You’re not a very nice boy, are you? I just want to know how Joy seemed yesterday.”
“…Something happened last night.”
“What ’appened, what’s ’appened to Joy…?”
“It’s okay, Sam. She’s fine.” The policeman gave Sam a slight spiteful smile. Sam exhaled, visibly showing relief then he quietly cursed the policeman for scaring him.
“Listen Sam, I need your help. Did Joy ever mention her mum’s friend? “
Sam had to think quickly. He had no intention of betraying any of the thoughts and times they spent together, but he also had no idea what was going on.
“Only mentioned his name. Why?”
“Nothing, Sam. She never mentioned ’ow she felt about ’im? ’Ow she felt about ’im and ’er mother?”
You don’t matter Mr. Policeman.
She’s all that matters.
Just act dumb, Sam.
Act like they all think a child acts.
The young teacher looked sadly at Sam.
“Oh, Sam! Look this is serious, boy!”
Right, got you.
Now is the time to shut up.
Silence is all they deserve.
Sam did not reply to anymore of their questions and as he got led brusquely out of the small room he heard the policeman mutter “…little bastard.”
Joy had returned home late that afternoon to find her mother and the boyfriend in the middle of a smoking session. There was also a bottle of wine being drunk. Joy made herself a ham and cheese sandwich and then went to her room. At about eight o’clock, Joy heard the couple go to the main bedroom. Giggling and panting like dogs, she thought to herself. She then fell asleep around half an hour later.
She was awakened by screaming in the kitchen downstairs. Looking at her alarm clock, she saw that it was half past two in the morning. She crept quietly and opened her door. Peeking through the gap she could see her mother grasping a handful of ten pound notes. She was screaming at the boyfriend. He just stood quietly, and took the abuse. Then all of a sudden, he struck her.
It was a hard blow and her mother slipped and fell to the ground.
“I’ve ’ad enough of all this shit! I’m going!” he shouted, pushing a chair over and turned to go up the stairs to get dressed. Joy moved away from the door just enough so that he would not notice her. She heard him gathering his clothes next door. Then she heard him stomping past her room and felt seized by anger. Just as he was stood on the edge of the stairs she ran at him and pushed.
She pushed him with all her little body had.
And it was enough.
Up went his legs and for a split second his body seemed to be floating.
Then he landed.
The autopsy showed that he had landed first on his back, and that his head had banged into the wall twisting his neck.
The Social Services took Joy away from her mother, as when the police came around they found the weed which her mother in her hysterics had forgotten to clear up. Joy went to live with her father in Stoke. Her mother then moved to Weymouth and tried to start again in that seaside town, working as a barmaid in one of the old pubs that served good ale and suffered hordes of tourists looking to fight, fuck and dance on a summer’s Friday and Saturday night. She had been deemed unfit by society to have a child.
When Sam heard the news, he began to question who was fit enough to bring another person into this world?
Sam thought he would never see Joy again, although they wrote to each other a couple of times, but in the years before they met through Alice he had never forgotten her.
How could he after all that had happened?
He had just wished that he’d had the chance to say goodbye to his friend, the chance to talk to her about the events that led to that evening.
And why, in his eyes, was she the one that was being punished?
Joy had told nobody about what had really happened that night, not even Alice. The authorities had assumed that the boyfriend had just slipped, pissed and stoned down the stairs and that was that.
Another don’t do drugs advertisement.
Joy was dreaming of her father.
She was eleven years old, still a child. She was in her bedroom, drying her shoulder length mousey brown hair after just having her twice weekly bath. She felt the cold drips of water flowing down her back and drew them into her heart absorbing each little drop of pleasure. The room was illuminated by the upstairs hallway light, her door half open, the light carving a slice into the room, half nestled in shadows. One more drop of water made its way over her shoulders and kissed her spine sending messages to her brain that made her back arch and suddenly her room was bathed in light as the drop became a hard winter’s chill and the light white plywood door opened with a creak. She felt her head turning without feeling why and she saw the darkened figure of her father outlined against the lightened doorframe.
The menacing figure stood there larger than God and whispered once more.
The next thing she knew she was in a bar throwing sharpened pencils at arrogant Chinese Triads with swords that had tried to put their hands on her knees, a silent and happy Buddha stood over her, guiding her aim. The pencils were working. They stuck in the arms, hands and eyes of the unpleasant gentlemen and she seemed to have an endless supply.
Joy had woken up with a start and instinctively grabbed at her ciggie papers and baccy that were lying on the desk of drawers by her bed.
It was all over now, she thought to herself.
It will never be over, it’s all a trap.
A cycle not of her own making.
Of whose making, then?
Who was responsible for it all?
For all the pain, the blood the shit?
Friendship is nothing more than a bad copy, like a Thai Rolex.
It was not fair.
Then she chastised herself for feeling so self pitying.
C’mon, you should know by now, there’s no-one but you, baby. No knights in shining armour, no fucking friends to really help.
Everyone’s so far away.
Sitting up, she tried to breathe out all her bad thoughts, her energy, but she started coughing as she was smoking and the smoke came out and her throat contracted. She grabbed a half empty bottle of red wine on the floor of her room and took three big, big swigs. It helped. It always helped. She could trust that, at least.
Looking around her room at her life, she realised that she was always in there. Her life was as her overturned ashtray and her ragged collection of books. A mess that fell into some kind of order by accident, and that order was the repetition of hurt. It was an intense jam packed room, where things could not always be found when they needed. It was deliberate. Something needed to be hidden to be endured.
Then something caught her eye on the floor. For a second the pattern on the carpet turned into the face of Adolf Hitler. It was leering at her in bed and she remembered that European Song Contest party when she went as Hitler. The theme had been a united Europe and was left with the captured image of swastikas on brand name plastic bags, behind her eyes and she blinked. Then she blinked again. There was something else there lying on the floor. It was one of her cards. It had fallen onto the floor.
It was the Jack of Spades.
A man, bringing sorrow.
What a surprise.