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Chapter 3 – Ghosts

The road back was dark, as Mike kept his eyes fixed on the road not even remembering a lot of the journey up to the bridge. As he crossed the bridge back towards the town, the night ahead seemed darker and dense, like a black tunnel with no hope of light at the end. Mike had his right arm on the wheel, but he would occasionally glance towards the girls next to him. They were dead quiet, looking down, not even saying a word. Mike wondered whether they were even breathing that’s how quiet this journey was. No one wanted to be in that wagon. Mike, Rebecca and Amy were all prisoners who were being taken to their own personal prison, their own personal hell.

Amy was the daughter of Frank Tex, he was a quiet man who spent much of his time at church and the rest of it in his fast food outlet at the heart of the town. He was active in the community and well liked. His youngest daughter; Amy was a difficult child, she was brash and confident but a disappointment in school. Her parents told anyone who would listen that their darling Amy would be an attorney one day but that wasn’t going to happen. Amy struggled to learn at school and later she was diagnosed with having a learning disability. It wasn’t the end of the world but for Papa Tex and his big dreams, it was the end of ‘his’ world. He had spent eleven years of Amy’s life pushing her to become something she couldn’t and after that, forgot she even existed. Amy was the fallen angel and she despised her family, especially her father for loving her then hating her even more. Amy had so many boyfriends as she was growing up, more than any girl in school, all the girls envied her except Rebecca. Becky was a simple girl, no teenage crushes, no make-up or pretense, didn’t dream about wanting to run away to New York and become a supermodel. Becky was just a quiet, polite young lady who was brought up with freedom and good values. Some girls thought she was just stuck up but Amy liked her and became her best friend. Amy’s parents realized how they destroyed their daughter’s childhood and welcomed Rebecca into their home. Amy gave up her wild ways just so Becky would be her friend, she loved Becky and would call her and speak to her every night. Amy discussed her life with her best friend and also respected Ethel a lot for allowing Becky to be friends with a wild child. Becky would have sleepovers at Amy’s and sometimes Amy would come round too, she didn’t have much else to look forward to, she had a brother who was working across the country and would hardly keep in touch. She needed a soul mate and Rebecca always made sure she was there when Amy needed her.

The forest stared at Mike as he drove through, up the windy lane towards the town. As he passed the point, the junction from which the right hand lane headed towards the barn, he glanced briefly towards that direction as he drove straight on. Mike had to acknowledge his old nemesis, knowing that the enemy has won every duel they ever had. As Mike drove though the town he turned the wagon in the direction of Amy’s house, parking up quietly outside. Mike spoke in a quiet tone ‘Make sure you come home on time tomorrow’. Both Amy and Becky looked at Mike in amazement not ever expecting that Becky would be allowed to spend the rest of the night at Amy’s, given what had happened tonight. Becky opened the passenger door and slipped out with Amy behind her, once again they made no sound as they walked quietly into the house. Mike drove away wondering whether he should have brought Becky home or not, maybe he should have been the ‘father figure’ on this occasion but in reality he was scared. He didn’t know what to say to his little sister, he was as lost for words as the terrified young girls who accompanied him back over the bridge. Mike asked himself many questions as he arrived at his home, sitting in his wagon, he imagined what had happened to Becky and Amy at the station, he thought about what they were doing on ‘The Strip’ and whether they were ‘buyers’ or ‘sellers’.

Then he remembered the reason he was at ‘The Strip’, Jen, her friends and ofcourse Hugh. Mike looked at his phone, which he had switched off hours ago, turning it back on. The display screen showed ‘16 missed calls’, Hugh had been a busy man. Mike turned the phone off again, he reached under the seat and took out the brown bag. He took it inside the house, Ma was sleeping and the house was quiet. Mike went quietly into the lounge, sitting down on the couch, wishing this night like many other nights in his life could have been different. His eyes closed, then opened again, fading into a sleep that never came, Mike was traveling between dimensions, between realities, watching his father sitting on the dusty floor and that tear coming down his eye before the ball of fire came, Ma’s face as she slapped him, Jen asking him to let her die and then the little girl, Gabriel’s little sister and how she would wear a new dress and he would run to tell Emily. Gabe’s little sister wore a dress tonight and that motherfucker called her a ‘little whore’. I will find you and I will kill you!!

Mike sat on the edge of the stream, it flowed so gracefully past him towards the other end of the forest, like a snake hissing quietly, moving with murderous intent towards the deepest part of the forest. Mike watched the stream turn into a python, then back into a stream again, then came the voices of those children playing. Mike watched the three young kids playing on the other side of the stream, he was trying to recognize them, trying to figure out who they were. Then he realized they were Gabriel, Emily and little Mikey, playing, running through the long grass, Gabe was blindfolded as he chased the others. ‘Ghosts, Ghosts look’!!! Mike turned around and watched the bushes behind him, they were moving as they always do, someone was in the bushes, watching him and the kids were screaming and pointing at the bushes, ‘Ghosts, Ghosts’! Mike stood up, he was sweating almost drenched in his own sweat, he looked back at the screaming children but they were gone, just gone. Mike looked around frantically for the children but they had disappeared, maybe they had become ghosts too. Mike began to run, towards the only exit in the forest, and the bushes were moving closer and closer to him, as he raced out of the forest trying to find his wagon, he heard footsteps behind him, little steps as darkness came down onto the forest, it had become night with the blink of an eye, he glanced behind him to see the one who was chasing him deeper and deeper into the forest. The ghosts had brought the night when it had been day, Mike looked over his shoulder and saw little Mikey’s eyes, he had something in his hand, it looked like a brown bag, that’s when Mike fell, he was falling…………

Mike woke up, and looked down at his hand. He was holding the gun, the one Hugh had given him ‘in case’. It wasn’t even in the brown bag, it was in his hand and he was sweating. Mike didn’t know where he was until he remembered that he had reached home late last night. Mike slowly got up from the couch, his shirt wet and uncomfortable, his legs heavy as lead. He stumbled slowly towards the door, his head feeling like it had been filled with rocks and bricks. It was still dark outside, as Mike put the gun back in the brown bag as he walked upstairs, hoping that Becky was sleeping safely in her own bed. He imagined Ma telling him that this weekend Becky never went over to Amy’s’, she was at home the whole time. Mike reached his bedroom as he heard Ma, tossing and turning in her bed. He took his shirt off and then his jeans, throwing them to the floor as he sat on the bed still holding the brown paper bag, feeling the gun in his hand.

When Pa, did it to himself, did he feel like me or did he feel even worse, is there a ground zero for mankind, when not breathing is more of a desirable option then carrying on? I never wanted to say much to Pa, except for today. Just ask him once, ’Pa, what made you do it, and how do you know when the time comes? Is it better just to go, or to wait? Mike pushed the brown bag under his bed, as he lay back feeling something wet run down his cheek.

There was a banging noise, a loud banging noise as Mike woke up in his bed. He was lying in his underwear, still feeling as wrecked as he had a few hours ago. It was daytime outside, glancing at the clock on his desk it said ’12.45’. Ma was probably still at church and how about Becky? Mike walked down the stairs putting on his shirt, hurrying towards the door, which someone was going to bust off the hinges. It was Hugh, ‘Fuck, Mike where you been’? Mike was standing in the entrance of the door, trying to recollect what actually happened and what didn’t. His mind was building compartments and trying to sort out the shit in his head into each of those compartments; reality, dreams, imagination, wishful thinking etc. ‘What’s with your phone, it’s been off since we last spoke, what happened last night’? Mike walked back up the hallway with Hugh following him, shouting in his ear like a nagging wife. ‘I turned it off’. Hugh had reached the kitchen as Mike sat down, ‘I gathered that, where’s Jen’? Mike looked up to Hugh in a daze, trying to figure out what Hugh had just said, ‘What are you talking about’? Hugh sat down across the table to Mike, he had tension and nerves in his voice, ’She never came home last night, my kids woke me up saying ‘Where’s Ma’?

Mike was trying to register what was going on, and his mind was working hard to allocate a home for this new piece of information.

‘Mike, what happened last night, fuck answer me’.

Mike sat back on his chair, ’I did what you wanted, I followed her and she met up with some friends,

‘What then, which friends’, Hugh was talking at 90 mph, hardly letting Mike finish, ’I don’t know them, just friends, they went to some place on the ‘strip’’.

Hugh leaned forward, ‘Mike she never came home’. Mike was staring back at Hugh, almost feeling like he was being interrogated for a crime, like that fat cop from last night was back, sitting in his kitchen staring at him, ‘Hugh, where could she be, I don’t get it. She went to this club on the strip’……, ‘Yes, you said that, which club? Did you see her leave’?

Mike was trying to piece together what happened last night, he began confusing Jen with Becky, he brought Becky home, so where is she? Fuck where’s Becky?

Jen she went into that place, yes that’s where she went.

‘I never saw her leave because I had to come back, the cops pulled me up’. Hugh seemed calmer suddenly, like a man whose anger was being overcome by grief or something else. ‘Mike, why didn’t you wait for her to come out’? Mike felt something in his body, like an illness, he felt weak like he was dying. ‘All night? what you think I was gonna stay there all night’? Look the cops pulled me over trying to say I was buying drugs or trying to hire a pro. I had to get outta of there, sorry man I don’t know why Jen never came back’.

Hugh’s face was still, he was deep in thought trying to figure something out. ‘We got to go down tonight and find her, you know where she went’. Mike stood up barely from his chair, ‘I can’t go back to that place, if that cop sees me I’m fucked’, you gotta tell the cops’,

Hugh snapped ‘what you talking about’? I tell the cops, they’re gonna have me first, the whole fuckin’ town practically knows we use to fight, if she disappears, I’m going down’.

Mike remembered it was Sunday and he had dropped Becky off to Amy’s, he was remembering this as he walked into the lounge and sat down, ‘Hugh I aint well, we got to think this through’. Hugh stood in the doorway with that look, the look that transforms Hugh into someone else, the guy Mike doesn’t know. ‘Mikey you been to that house where her friends live and that club, you got to come with me so I can find my wife’. Mike looked back at Hugh, realizing at that moment what Jen thought about Hugh was wrong, he wasn’t just sticking it out, it was more than that. Mike understood what Hugh had missed all this time and what Jen had forgotten, there was something there after all but sadly Jen wasn’t here to see it. Hugh may feel it now but his sweetheart is no longer in his home cooking breakfast for his kids, she is no longer fussing over whether Hugh had his lunch on time and why he can’t come along to her parents place. It doesn’t mean much now because she’s gone, just gone like the ghosts in the bushes, who only exist in dreams. Hugh murmured something about the kids being at home as he walked hurriedly towards the door, which was still wide open. He stopped and turned around, walking back a few steps, ‘Hey Mike, you got that gun, I need it’. Mike replied from the couch in which he was now drooped, ‘I ain’t got it Hugh, the cops took it from me last night’.

Death is like a sleep that man falls into, a prolonged sleep, which we call ‘death’. Now we don’t know whether that ‘sleeper’ actually wakes up from that sleep, in the grave or someplace else. We bury our loved ones and remember them thereafter but the ones who sleep, six feet below the ground must at some point wake up. Ma’s bible never taught me that, or no religious scripture told me, but I taught me that. When I saw Pa, ‘sleeping’ in that big wooden coffin, it looked more like him then when his head was blown off in the barn. I really don’t know how they put his head back on, I wondered this so many times but never had the courage to ask. He looked like a ghost to me, so pale but I never called him ‘dead’, he was just gone. The pale man in the coffin looked like Pa, but it wasn’t him, no way, this guy was peaceful. ‘Mike, Mike’, Ethel was shaking Mike hard as he sat slumped on the kitchen table, his arms drooped by his side and his head resting on the large, wooden table. Mike looked up, it felt like he was looking up from his wooden coffin, ‘Is Becky home’? Mike asked this question instinctively, as his mind began updating him with the events of the past fifteen hours. It began to fall into place, everything was rushing back into his mind like a river gushing through. Ethel put her soft, kind hand on Mike’s forehead, ‘you are so warm, Mike you don’t look well’. Mike sat up and looked across the table at Gabriel’s chair. ‘Ma, is Becky not home yet, what time is it’? Mike remembered how he was sitting in the kitchen looking directly at the front door, waiting for Becky to come home and then he began to see Pa’s coffin, except he was lying in it! Ethel began to put the morning’s dishes away as she told Mike that Becky still wasn’t home, she had also come home later than normal from church, as there were two baptisms in the church today and so much work. Mike stared at his mother as she went on and on about how busy her day had been, but he wasn’t listening, he was just staring at his Ma, in contempt. He had grown to hate everything Ma’ loved, because he blamed all those days she spent in Church for Becky being found on the ‘Strip’ the night before and some fat motherfucker calling her a whore. He blamed his Ma, for all those days he spent next to the river in the forest hoping he falls in, and gets washed away to a place far from this hell in which he lives. Ma’ loved talking about God but it’s the devil who rules the world!

Mike got up and walked out of the house with Ethel shouting behind him, ‘Mike, where are you going’? Mike got into his wagon and drove as fast as he could to Amy’s place, knowing deep in his mind that he made a huge mistake not bringing her home the night before. Mike walked up to the door and banged it hard, the door opened slowly it was Amy’s father standing in the doorway, ‘Hey Mike you ok’? Mike shook Frank’s hand, ‘Yes, could you call Becky’? Frank smiled as he spoke, ‘She’s gone to get something to eat with Amy’. Mike looked down for a moment ‘where they go’? ‘They went down town, perhaps to Roger’s place’. Mike gave Frank a nervous smile as he walked back towards his wagon, he was feeling exhausted and more like that ‘father figure’, Ma had wanted him to be. The girls loved to go and eat at this place in the heart of the town centre, it was owned by ‘Roger Skeetles’. He was from across the bridge and had a whole chain of fast food joints, called ‘Roger’s Place’. Mike drove into town, pulling up outside the diner, he saw Becky straight away and Amy. Then he looked closer and there he was, Kevin Cunningham. Mike felt a surge of adrenalin rush through his veins, he was feeling light headed but there was electricity charging his body now. He parked the wagon and stepped outside, containing all his thoughts and impulses, trying desperately hard to get a grip on himself by the time he got to Becky. Mike felt something terrible was going to happen, he didn’t even know whether this was actually happening or maybe he was still slumped on the sofa at home, or was he still in the kitchen? Becky looked around to see her brother walking up, they were all stood on the sidewalk.

‘Becky, you were supposed to be home by now, come on lets go’? Becky looked down and Amy was wide eyed but then Kevin interrupted in his deep southern voice, ‘She’ll come home when she’s ready’. Mike’s expression changed feeling the side effects of being exposed to a ‘Cunningham’, why did he have to speak, Mike was thinking. Mike didn’t even look at Kevin, ‘You stay out of this conversation and stay away from my sister’. Mike looked across at Kevin as their eyes met. Kevin took a step forward, ‘I will do what the hell I want and so will your sister’. Kevin poked his finger into Mike’s chest, Mike pushed Kevin away with such force that Kevin fell back into some garbage cans on the sidewalk, Mike remembered hearing Emily’s voice coming from behind, Kevin came charging into Mike as they fell to the floor, Mike forgot what was happening except that he was punching Kevin in the ribs, he saw faces around them gathering and such commotion like it was end of the world or something. Mike felt a heavy blow to his face as his head hit the sidewalk, he was feeling that surge of adrenalin again as though there was some secret chamber in his body giving him fuel when he needed it. Kevin was on top of Mike, as he saw Becky trying to pull Kevin off, she looked angry and scared, Mike threw his right hand, which caught Kevin’s jaw he fell back as someone grabbed him and Emily clutched Mike’s arm really hard as he got back to his feet unsteadily. Mike simply wanted to kill Kevin and he saw the ferocity in Kevin as he threw two men of, he grabbed bottles from the trash can and began to throw them at Mike. Mike shouted at Kevin ‘Come on you fuck’.

Kevin by this time had already reached inside his car and pulled out a rifle, Becky screamed at Kevin ‘No’, as she ran towards him to grab the rifle, Emily screamed as a shot went off. For a moment, everything was still, calm, frozen in time like God Himself had paused the movie so all the central characters could remain in one place for a second or two, just enough time for them to look at the horror in each other’s faces and save it in their memory bank. There were gasps and shrieks from the large mob of people who gathered, in fact there were so many people assembled on this street outside ‘Roger’s Place’ that the actual reason they were there had become of little consequence.

Mike watched his sister fall onto the sidewalk, her hands were covered with blood, it was Pa’s blood that had made its way from the barn to the street in the centre of the town. Mike got into his wagon and turned it around with such speed that he almost took about ten people out who were standing in the road. Mike raced towards his home with the red mist of blood in his eyes, today something will be different from the last time he saw his family’s blood. On this day along with a ‘Martyn’, a ‘Cunningham’ will also die. Mike raced into his house up the stairs he went, only hearing faint voices of his Ma, asking if everything was ok. He didn’t even remember banging the door and barging past his Ma, as she opened it. Mike reached under his bed and pulled the brown bag out, feeling the gun inside it as he raced down the stairs even quicker. Mike got outside and saw Emily stood in front of his wagon, ‘Mike what are you going to do’? Mike felt tears come down his face, which felt like it was rain falling on his face. He clutched the brown bag, re-assuring himself of what he had in his hand and today he was going to use it. Emily had tears coming down her face as Ma, stood behind Mike, seeing Emily after such a long time. ‘Mike if that’s what I think it is, then give it to me’. Emily held out her hand to take Mike’s gun, but Mike clutched it, making sure it didn’t disappear out of his hand. Mike said nothing, he had lost the will to talk, he didn’t want to talk, not until he would be explaining why he had murdered Kevin Cunningham. Emily began to plead as she walked closer to Mike, ‘Don’t do it Mikey, we need you, your sister is hurt and she needs you. Many years ago I was stood here telling the same thing to your brother but he never listened. Please, please don’t make the same mistake, your Ma’ and sister needs you. They have taken her to the hospital’. Mike’s eyes looked away as he thought about his sister, remembering her blood, his body became limp and all that adrenalin was suddenly gone. Someone had closed down that chamber inside his body, and he walked back into the house. Ethel looked at Emily, it had been a long time, it was a day like this years ago when Ethel’s child had got hurt and had caused Emily to walk away from this family. Today years later, someone else’s pain had brought them back together again. Ethel walked up to Emily weeping as she reached her, ‘what happened to my baby, where is she’? Emily cried as she embraced Ethel.

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