Casper waited behind the door, breath coming sharp and short. His palms lay slick wrapped around the chair leg, and he couldn’t stop the image looping in his mind of it flying from his grip as he swung it.
A little comic skit – Cain glaring with his hands on his hips and Casper shrugging at the camera with huge, innocent eyes.
It had taken two days for him to be able to stand for five minutes without his legs feeling like houses of cards in the wind. Cain hadn’t been there when he woke up, but a feast had been. His first attempt at food for Casper had been so unerringly spot on to his favourites that if he hadn’t been so ravenous, he would have been too unsettled to eat.
The withdrawals never came back and that frightened him more than anything else in this place. Twice before, he’d sweated and shitted and hallucinated his way out of them, and that had consumed almost a week of his life before he felt halfway right again.
If only he had spent the past few nights withdrawing. Maybe then he wouldn’t have fallen to sleep. The nightmares had been so raw that he’d woken up tearing at his own skin.
The ghoul stayed with him, though. It watched from the wardrobe mirror with its palms pressed against the glass and its needle-teeth bared in a grin.
Didn’t matter now. Chair leg to Cain’s head and he’d run until he found some cliff to jump off or a river to drown in. While away the day beneath the beaming sun before he gave up his body to death. Himself. On his own terms. Looking out at something beautiful and not the face of broken dreams.
The ghoul stepped back from the mirror and pointed at the door. Its black claw rapped against the glass, and a moment later, the key clattered into a lock.
Time. Casper pressed his back against the wall and lifted the chair leg up to his shoulder. The clunk of the lock came gunshot loud through the thumping of his heart.
Batter up, Roach. Out the park or the noose isn’t ever coming off.
The door creaked. Had it ever creaked before? Creaked as bad as his voice did now, and that sure was bad. Casper whet his lips and widened his stance. A footstep, then another. Cain pushed the door out wider than he’d expected and it almost knocked against his foot. Good thing he’d worn socks. Against this polished floor, the rush of the shower from behind the closed bathroom door muted his shifting feet.
Cain turned toward the bathroom as he stepped in, his arm lifting to rest above his head against the open door. His back stayed to Casper even as he looked out through the doorway.
“You might as well go, ar-too. He won’t be hungry anyway.”
The leg almost dropped from Casper’s hands at Cain’s words. Who the fuck was he talking to? Someone else wasn’t here. Someone else couldn’t fucking be here.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that.” Funny how the strain in Cain’s voice had become normal until Casper heard that old, cultured drawl. The one that had been so rich with emotion no matter how proper it was. “You don’t even have bloody eyes. What am I supposed to do? Stop trying? You and I both know I’m too far gone for that. Go on, piss off – that’s right.”
No footsteps. Only a stir of something cold in the air. Was this guy even crazier than Casper had thought? Fuck.
Sighing, Cain tipped his head back, one hand lifting to pinch the bridge of his nose. This was Casper’s chance. “God, Cain, you’re losing your bloody mind. That boy’s going to be the death of you.” A chuckle, one dark as the curtain of space. Casper froze off to his side. “Again.”
Heart in his throat, Casper lashed out with the chair leg. It met the side of Cain’s head with a meaty thunk. He dropped. Casper didn’t wait to see if he got back up. One leap over his body and he was out the door.
Stairs spiralled away, one by rickety one in a choking tower of plaster and sombre wood. The rough finish on the plunging beam scraped across Casper’s hand as he thundered down them, round and round and round like he sprinted through a rotating door that never, ever, ever came to an end.
Was that the hammering his own footsteps or Cain’s behind him? Had he hit him hard enough? Casper’s breath wheezed too loud in his ears over the thump thump thump of his own filthy blood, and a scream built to boiling in his throat. The chair leg slithered against his sweaty palm as if it wanted to—
Casper broke out at the bottom, slammed into the window opposite. Choking on his breath, he whirled around. Nothing. No snarling figure bursting out after him. The vast corridor stretched out both ways, the air in it swallowing him whole, and little lost boy bolted right. His feet slid across the slick tiles.
The late afternoon sun glared against his eyes and painted the hall fever yellow.
The window-studded corridor streamed past him, then hit another right. In the second’s pause as Casper skidded around the corner, something thudded upstairs. Echoed in his chest. Shit. The chair leg sat a comforting weight in his hand as he sprinted to the next turn. Shit. Left. Fuck. Right. FUCK.
Cain was up. Cain was fucking up. Casper wanted to scream with this blinding hammering in his chest, but he could hardly breathe to make the wrench of fury and petrification his last fucking wail against this shitty fucking world.
The corridor went on too long. Where was the fucking—
The house dropped away to crystal chandeliers and sweeping staircases that announced the grand salon below.
Casper sprinted for the nearest stairs. The grandeur passed in a blur. Were those footsteps above him? His heart laboured in his chest and his mind screamed look around. One glance over his shoulder and that’d be it. Vision filled with Cain’s motion-smeared snarl as he drove a knife into Casper’s back.
But nothing came. Not even when he broke out of the towering front door and into the bright fresh air.
Outside… Really, actually outside. Casper’s feet stuttered and he almost went flying before he caught himself and took off across the vast green of the grounds.
Hard to breathe now. Harder still. A knife stitched into his side. Was the air thinner out here? Water splurged up from the grass and soaked through his feet, turned each step to a waterlogged stumble. One of those dreams where you run and you run and you’re ice and fucking marble from the terror but you stagger along like you’re sunk in a bath of taffy and putrefying flesh.
So close. God, he was so fucking close to the edge.
Only a thick, bushy hedge marked the edge of the grounds, and like the gaping maw viewed from the inside as you scrambled up the monster’s throat, they parted in an unhindered leafy corridor to freedom.
Casper glanced over his shoulder. Head spinning, feet juddering beneath him as he lost the pace. Nothing marring the blur behind him. A wheeze tore from his lungs, choking on this pain ripping through his side and his chest, and he pushed his legs harder. Freedom. Almost there.
Fucking freedom. Just—
In the middle of the opening, thin air smashed him in the face.
The ground slammed the last scraps of air out of him, thick copper erupting through his mouth and nose. Casper scrambled up, hauling in thin, gurgling breaths, and ran—
Hard. This time concussing through his skull.
Heart pounding, Casper pressed his hands up against solid air.
This isn’t happening. Oh my fucking god, this is not happening.
There wasn’t anything there. Casper slammed his palms against it and screamed. There was nothing fucking there.
In the bushes. The invisible wall slipped straight into them but no matter how deep Casper dug amongst the scratching branches, he couldn’t feel an edge. Worse, the leaves wavered through the air that blocked his hands like nothing was fucking there.
Raw ice plunged through his gut and his throat burned as he screamed. No give. Nothing. His knuckles shrieked back at him, and blood clogged his nose and drizzled from his chin to the floor. This is impossible this is fucking impossible fuck fuck fuck FUCK.
“You aren’t going to get through, Cas.”
Red hazed his vision as he turned. A feverish heat slathered over the shuddering cold. His hands throbbed on the solid wood of the chair leg.
A trickle of blood oozed from a cut on his temple and Cain grimaced at Casper like there wasn’t a fuck off invisible wall behind him. Like little Cassie had just stumbled onto his porno collection where it’d been neatly hidden away. The sight of it pulsed the heat deeper through his skull, a fury throbbing between his ears, and beneath it – black.
The sightless pit where the monster opened its jaw to swallow him whole.
Casper screamed and ran at him. A storm of cold whipped across his face and the cunt stood still, unflinching as Casper swung the—
It bounced off. Half a foot away from his head. Cain’s grimace deepened as the wooden stick dropped from Casper’s boneless hands.
His fist hit flesh. Right in the cunt’s face. Cain shouted, clutching his hand to his mouth, and Casper jumped at him, teeth bared.
Cain twisted out of his grip, slithery and slippery, and another snarl of cold sliced through to Casper’s bones. Ice smothered his wrists and something yanked his arms together in front of him.
His hands wouldn’t come loose.
The red vanished and all that was left was cold surging through his veins. Casper staggered, catching his feet beneath him, and backed up to the wall of air.
His fucking hands wouldn’t come loose.
And Cain stood there wiping blood from his mouth, his hand squeezed closed in the air in front of him. Totally and utterly at ease. It was fucking freezing, but while his shirt and trousers rippled in the bitter wind, he stood easy and uncaring as if it were a summer breeze, fingering his lip with his corpse hands.
A fucking monster.