You Better Be Ready
From horse shit spring roses…
(Gary’s aunt’s gardener)
The cottage stood on the rural outskirts of Stratford, far from the insane cacophony of city life. Its walls were painted white beneath ivy that crept steadily around the postcard cottage. Window panes, set back half a foot into the walls, were split into bordered diamonds. Carefully maintained flowerbeds circled the entire base of the abode, except for the area at the foot of the pillar-box red front door. The only thing missing, thought Thyroid, peering up at the orange-brown slates above, was a thatched roof. The cottage and its surrounding garden area were enclosed within a healthy, verdant hedge. The top of a sycamore could just be seen peeping over the roof. The local village, where they had stopped off for supplies, was about two miles away and their closest neighbour about a mile and a half. From where Thyroid and Marie were standing, however, they could easily have imagined that they were the only two people on Earth. The fields and woods stretched away from them in all directions. Give or take a bird or two, they were alone.
Marie crooked her arm around Thyroid’s. ‘Let’s go in,’ she said.
Inside, the cottage seemed cramped, as if the furniture was somehow too big for it, but it was still cosy and welcoming. While Thyroid went to the kitchen to put away the shopping, Marie dropped onto the fat, blanket-draped settee and allowed herself a girlish giggle of happiness. She sank gratefully into the cushions, feeling the thick material close around her. A real open fire sat opposite, a black iron fireguard standing sentry before it. Chris can definitely see to that, later, she decided contentedly. Above the fireplace was a large mirror reflecting the blue sky outside the window. The walls were plastered with framed photographs. Marie thought she could just about make out Gary in a few of them. A sturdy wooden chest acted as a coffee table, perfectly in tune with the other bulky examples of ancient carpentry squashed into various corners of the room. Marie was pleased to see that Gary’s aunt did not keep a television in the living room. There was no stereo, either, but Thyroid had brought one anyway, just in case. No television was fine, thought Marie, but music? There had to be music for the next few days. She jumped up and knelt on the settee, resting her elbows on the back as she stared out of the window towards the hilly horizon, mentally picking out a spot where she would like Chris to make love to her.
She was still in that position when Thyroid entered the room. ‘If you’re looking for an escape,’ he said, ‘there isn’t one.’
‘Oh really?’ said Marie, laughing as she span round.
Thyroid had a glass of wine in each hand and now he put them down onto the nearest surface and took a step towards Marie. ‘Yes,’ he said, filling his voice with sinister menace. ‘I assure you, we are quite alone.’ He pretended to twiddle a moustache. ‘We shall not be disturbed.’
Marie put her hands to the side of her face and screamed.
Thyroid threw his head back and laughed evilly. ‘Scream all you like, my dear.’ He took another step closer. ‘There is no-one to hear you.’
He lunged at the sofa but Marie was already diving away and swinging a hard cushion round in an arc. Thyroid landed face down and was immediately forced further into the cloyingly soft cushions of the sofa when he tried to get up as Marie’s cushion whumped into the back of his head. His muffled ‘fuck’ made Marie laugh harder.
‘REVENGE!’ roared Thyroid, rising from the settee like Poseidon from the ocean. He turned to face Marie, just in time for her shirt to wrap itself around his eyes. ‘What the…?’ As the shirt dropped to the floor, he caught sight of Marie’s bare, supple back disappearing around the corner of the door. He ran after her.
In the hall, Thyroid looked this way and that until his eyes landed on Marie’s skirt hanging on the narrow stairway leading up to the attic. ‘Right,’ he said and made for the stairs. When he reached the top, he popped his head through the opening and scanned about. The room was full of dust and boxes. A small, circular window to the back let in a little light that did nothing more than illuminate the cobwebs. Marie was nowhere to be seen. ‘Marie?’ he called. ‘Marie-eee?’ There was no answer. He stopped breathing and kept himself perfectly still, listening intently. Then he heard it, a stifled chuckle. ‘Ah-ha,’ he shouted triumphantly. A pair of knickers flew out from behind a couple of boxes to his left. ‘Ah-ha.’
He climbed up into the attic and moved stealthily towards the boxes. When he peered over the top he found Marie, naked, her back pressed against the wall, her knees hugged tight to her chest, her face a picture of feigned fear. ‘Muu-hwah-hwaaaah,’ said Thyroid, unbuttoning his shirt.
‘Oh no,’ said Marie. The lewd smile on her face said something completely different.
They made love for the rest of the day, stopping only to make a snack or open another bottle of wine. At about six, after having watched the sun set together, Marie slipped into a towelling bath robe and told Thyroid to start a fire while she got dinner ready. ‘But you’re only putting a pizza in the oven,’ protested Thyroid.
‘Well, if you’re not hungry…’
‘Alright, alright,’ he replied, holding up his hands in placatory fashion. ‘A man’s work is never done.’
‘Not by a man, anyway,’ said Marie.
Thyroid rolled off the bed, wrapping a sheet around his waist. ‘That’s right,’ he heard Marie say behind him. ‘Cover up that nasty skinny little bum.’
‘Hey,’ he warned her, wagging his finger as he left the room.
‘Only joking,’ she called after him. ‘It isn’t nasty.’ She screamed as Thyroid came yelling back into the room.
It was nine o’clock when they finally found themselves sprawled in front of the fire, supping red wine and munching on a basic pizza topped with some of the sausages Marie had insisted on buying after seeing them hanging up in the butcher’s display. She had put on a CD compilation of schmaltzy music. ‘What’s this?’ Thyroid had asked. ‘Essentially Essential Essence of Woman?’ He had not made any move to change it however.
‘I know where we’re going to make love tomorrow,’ she confided.
‘Oh yes?’ He made a show of looking about the cottage. ‘I’d say we’ve just about covered everywhere.’
‘Not in here, idiot,’ she said, punching him on the arm.
‘Ouch!’ Thyroid winced and rubbed at the area where Marie’s fist had landed. ‘Where then?’ he asked, sulking.
‘It’s a surprise,’ she told him.
Contrary to what Thyroid and Marie might be thinking, their closest neighbour is not a mile and a half away. Not tonight. He is, in fact, only fifty metres away. He does not have a cottage, yet he feels distinctly at home sitting in his Audi beneath the night sky, where he belongs.
Chester, as ever, is watching. The driver’s window is rolled down. Cold air blows against Chester’s face but he doesn’t really notice. He sits immobile, observing, the only movement a brief, intermittent puff of vapour whenever he breathes. He is aware that he too is being observed. A lone fox stares blackly up at him from the cover of a bush, the two pitch orbs of its eyes dark worlds of recognition and understanding. Chester acknowledges the animal with a minute inclination of the head. The fox watches him for a moment longer before padding away and losing itself in shadow. Another good omen, he thinks. It has become his mantra, since he now sees omens wherever he goes, in the eyes of animals, in the shapes of clouds, anywhere. Wherever he looks, he sees an augur of success.
The truth is that there now remains very little of the old Chester. He looks like Chester, sounds like Chester, but the mind occupying the body has been changing and the transformation is close to complete. There is only one more act to be carried out to seal the old Chester’s fate forever. The death of the new Chester’s creator, his God and his Devil all rolled into one, the Scatologist.
He is suddenly alert as he hears a noise close by. There is movement, the dark imprint of a man against the backdrop of sky. The figure moves silently towards the cottage, the chimney blowing lazy smoke signals to the stars.
A good omen, thinks Chester.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To get something I saw in the garden. If I can still find it in the dark.’
‘It’s a surprise.’
‘Don’t you like my surprises?’
Thyroid shrugged. ‘They’re alright, I suppose,’ he said in an off-handed manner.
Marie slapped him playfully across the cheek.
‘Watch it,’ said Thyroid. ‘That violent streak of yours is going to get you into trouble.’
‘And stop calling me an idiot.’
Marie stood up and then bent down again to kiss the top of Thyroid’s head. ‘Fool then,’ she said, hopping back out of the way of any reprisal. ‘And stay there,’ she ordered again, pointing at where Thyroid was reclined, propped up on his elbows.
‘Don’t worry,’ he called after her. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ He lay back down and tickled at his belly, enjoying the sensation of the fire’s heat on his skin. Thyroid felt a bit bemused, in a nice way. He cast his mind back over the events that had eventually led him to this place, with Marie at his side. Marie had changed everything. She made it all bearable. He did not blame her for what had happened with Henry; it had been Gary’s idea when all was said and done. If he hadn’t opened his mouth… Well, there was nothing he could do about it now. After the odd cocktail of stress and ennui, it seemed strange that he should now feel so peaceful and happy. It was almost as if the entire business with the Scatologist had been someone else’s bum job. ‘The poor bastard,’ Thyroid mumbled wryly under his breath. He reminded himself that, all the shit aside, if it hadn’t been his job, he would never have met the woman he had just admitted to loving, the woman who had broken a three-year spell of melancholy. If Gary had been wrong about Henry, he had at least hit the nail on the head when he’d said that the Scatologist was responsible for bringing them together. Grudgingly, Thyroid was grateful.
He sat up. Marie was taking a long time to get whatever it was she went searching for. He got to his feet and stretched, his muscles and bones making noises like twisted gristle, and headed for the garden.
It was dark outside, dark and silent. The stars above glinted and sparkled but offered no light to speak of. The moon was not in sight. If there is a moon, Thyroid mused, I wonder if it’s gibbous. And what the hell does gibbous mean anyway. He made a mental note to look it up later, shivering at the sudden chill. ‘Marie?’ No answer. ‘Marie?’ Still no response. He cocked an eyebrow. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘a night-time game of hide and seek.’ He crept around the side of the cottage, aroused by the thought of the state in which Marie might be waiting for him. Just as he was getting to the corner, a heavy object crashed into the back of his skull and he dropped to the ground like a stone. Thyroid saw more stars, only much brighter this time. They exploded in a blinding white flash of light and then, an instant later, were gutted and swallowed by a blanket of tar.
Thyroid was no stranger to waking up in weird places and positions. He had once opened his eyes to find himself standing in the corner of a bus-stop. That had been after a ferocious drinking bout one evening, just after Anna had gone for good. Emotional upsets aside, Thyroid had, since his teens, variously returned to consciousness on park benches, in shop doorways, on the bonnet of his uncle’s car (a favoured bivouac for several months), in hedges, trees and, once, on top of the grave of Percy Linnet, 1922-1976. He had stumbled into the cemetery the evening before, tripping on very strong acid. He was lured into the place by a fascinating range of shades of grey and white, ghostly sepulchral sculptures and the whispered harmonies of the autumn leaves as they fluttered and cracked on their boughs. As he floated though the walkways of the dead, the LSD transformed the cemetery into a place of staggering wonder, of shapes and forms and breathing shadows. The following morning, however, did not just bring the light of day with it. There was also stark reality and an uncomfortable blend of hangover and comedown. Not the optimum condition, Thyroid had discovered, to wake up sprawled in the shade of a granite tombstone with a hideous gargoyle sneering down at you. That same feeling of barely conscious dread came back to him as his eyes blinked open.
He was in the attic again. The scant light from the window, useless at night anyway, was now replaced by that coming from a set of fat, dripping candles doing their waxy best to cast an eerie copper glow around the sloped-ceiling room. That in itself did not cause Thyroid too much mortal concern. What did worry him was that the candles were sitting at the centre of a table laid for dinner, their flames reflected on the glassy surface of a wine bottle and the two sets of plates at either end, one in front of him and the other in front of Marie, who, like Thyroid, had been tied firmly to an old chair and had her mouth taped over. Her eyes were darting about and she looked panicky. Who could blame her? He was feeling pretty panicky himself. Thyroid coughed through his adhesive gag, to let her know he was back in the land of the living – for however long that might last, he thought ruefully. Marie calmed markedly when she noticed.
Thyroid struggled with his bonds but already knew the gesture to be futile. His hands were rigidly bound to the back of the chair with what felt like some kind of thin, plastic cabling. He kept at it for a while, for form’s sake mostly, but in the end he had to give up. Whoever had tied them up and laid the table for what would doubtlessly be a nightmare supper was not about to let his guests run away before the soup was served. He looked over at Marie. She was staring down at the plate, trembling slightly. He knew she would be making an effort to keep the fear at bay. All the more unnerving for its pleasant normality, a smell of cooking was winding its way up into the attic, filling the air with the promise of heavily seasoned meat and rich, aromatic sauces. Great, he thought, dinner for two with the Chef of the Opera. And then it sank in. Thyroid knew, with sick certainty, who the host was going to be. The Scatologist had come to collect the price of his dedication. Thyroid assumed the last meal was included in the cost.
Thyroid sagged. Really, it was lousy timing, now that he suddenly found himself content at last. A couple of months ago, before he’d met Marie, he probably wouldn’t have needed tying up. The Scatologist could have invited him along and Thyroid would have turned up with his own napkin. Or bog roll. Assuming he’d still be alive to wipe his arse after dinner. He had the distinct feeling that survival soufflé was not on the evening’s menu. He could hear the psycho saying it: “Sorry sir, I’m afraid the living’s off tonight.” He would have smiled if the tape hadn’t been stuck down so tight.
Could you really shit yourself to death? He wondered if that was possible. Like the doctors had said, maybe if you had some kind of weak condition, but Thyroid was perfectly healthy. No, they would die if they couldn’t escape, of that he was certain. They would shit themselves first, agonisingly, strapped into their chairs with no way of avoiding their humiliating fate. Thyroid only hoped the chairs would fall so that neither of them would be forced to watch the other suffer in so degrading and dehumanising a manner. Then, while they were lying there, stewing in their own by-product, the Scatologist would bring on the dessert, the final course. Thyroid hoped, for both their sakes, that it would be quick.
A bell sounded from downstairs, an incongruous dingle. The noise of preparation from the kitchen had ceased and the cottage was momentarily, nerve-wrackingly silent. Then music filled the air, a classical piece Thyroid was unable to identify. He lifted his eyes to look at Marie. She composed herself in turn, making sure she would meet her fate with strength, determined not to give their captor the satisfaction of their fear. The gesture only made Thyroid love her more, and ache for her more. He didn’t want her to die. He didn’t want to die. But if he did, it was a least with the knowledge that mutual love was not beyond his reach. If there was a life after death, he hoped they would be there together. Was that selfish? In the circumstances, he reasoned, it probably didn’t matter.
They both heard the footsteps creaking up the stairs. Dinner was served.
Chester stands barefoot, leaning against his darkened chariot of justice, reverently wiping down his shotgun, his instrument of rightly retribution. This is it, the moment he has been waiting for. Salvation, freedom and true, final rebirth are at hand. He is about to purge the world of the excrescence of evil. Although he did not see the features of the figure moving towards the cottage, Chester knows it can only be the one he has been waiting for; he can smell it, like the stench of cholera on the air. The signs are clear, the journalist, the woman, Chester himself, all touched in one way or another by the Scatologist, are here together, a triumvirate, a trinity. A holy trinity, he tells himself with all due solemnity.
He has been watching. He has seen the woman incapacitated, then the journalist, watched as their inert bodies were dragged one after the other back into cottage. He has seen the candles come to life, their tiny light flickering uselessly against the sheer darkness of night on this side of the insubstantial window above. He has seen the Prince of Filth at work in the kitchen, preparing some foul broth, a perversion of ambrosia. He has observed the fire in the living room change from violent flame to dull amber to lifeless ash, going the way of all things left in the Scatologist’s wake.
Now there is music coming from the cottage. Chester decides that it is time. He slips off his shoes and reaches down for his double-barrelled fiery sword, nestling in the cool grass between his feet. Looking up at the sky, he sees the stars are shining brighter.
Chester makes no sound as he pads towards his destiny.
Marie’s eyes were wide with shock. Thyroid tried to turn to see why but a hand gripped him around the top of his head and forced him to face forwards. A large figure brushed past him, the face still concealed from Thyroid, and placed a large, steaming pot beside the candles. ‘There,’ said the figure, making a show of dusting off his hands. ‘Yum yum.’
The voice was familiar. Thyroid stopped breathing. He felt his skin crawl as his brain fired the requisite data-packed impulses along neural pathways that wound their way through Thyroid’s memory banks, searching. They did not have to search long.
‘I hope you like onion soup,’ said the figure, finally turning so he could smirk at Thyroid and rip the tape from his mouth.
His lips stinging and sore, Thyroid stared up at Gary, his mind almost numb with astonished incredulity. All the moisture dried up in his throat; when he managed to swallow, it felt like he was gulping down a mouthful of desert sand.
‘Sur-pri-ise,’ sang Gary, waving his hands like a cabaret artist at the end of a jazzy number. ‘I don’t suppose you were expecting this, now, were you?’
Thyroid did his best to get his stunned mind and body back under some semblance of control. ‘I thought I could smell something better than onion soup,’ he said with more pally bravado than he felt.
‘Yes,’ replied Gary, smiling as he shook out a white cotton napkin and slowly, deliberately, wrapped it around Marie’s neck, not once taking his eyes off Thyroid. ‘Duck with plums and black pepper sauce. A family speciality.’ He straightened up and shook out another napkin, advancing on Thyroid with a malicious sneer on his face, clearly enjoying the menace that only an enemy who had posed for so long as a friend could engender.
‘That the second course?’ Thyroid asked, just managing not to flinch as Gary’s calloused fingers stroked at his throat while the napkin was secured.
‘No,’ said Gary, as though having to say this somehow saddened him. ‘I’m afraid not.’ He put himself in front of Thyroid once more, squatting down and leaning an elbow against Thyroid’s leg. He grinned broadly and his tone brightened again. ‘That’s just for me,’ he said. ‘For after.’
‘For fuck’s sake, Gary, what the hell are you saying? That you’re calmly going to kill us and then go downstairs to eat while we…’
‘While you lie dead stewing in your own shit,’ Gary finished for him, winking at him and twisting to give Marie a thumbs up. Marie’s eyes flashed with loathing. Gary returned his attention to Thyroid and gestured to Marie with a flick of his head. ‘She can’t half give a dirty look, can’t she?’ He waggled his eyebrows. ‘Women, eh? Still, the look’s not going to be the only dirty thing about her by the time this night’s through.’
Thyroid was having trouble believing what he was seeing. How could it be Gary standing there? Thyroid had to say it out loud, just to hear the words. ‘You’re the Scatologist,’ he whispered.
‘Ta-daaa,’ said Gary. He removed a miniature gin bottle from his pocket and held it in front of Thyroid’s nose. ‘Can you guess what this is?’
Gary laughed, loud and genuine, and slapped Thyroid on the shoulder. ‘Ha! Who’d have thought you’d get your sense of humour back so late in the game? Too late, I’m afraid to say, old friend.’ For an instant, the expression of friendly larking about vanished from Gary’s face; in its stead came a look of disgusted fury. Gary removed the lid and held the bottle over the soup. The chummy face returned. ‘No,’ he smiled. ‘It’s not gin.’ He poured the entire contents into the soup. ‘Looked like though, didn’t it? Funny how clear liquid can be so deceiving.’ He stooped beneath the table to retrieve a ladle. When he got back to his feet, he didn’t so much hold the utensil as wield it. He stared hard at the ladle as he dipped it into the soup and began to stir methodically. ‘Like life,’ he murmured. Thyroid wasn’t sure if Gary was talking to them or himself.
He stood there for a while, silently stirring the slowly cooling liquid. Sitting there watching Gary was beginning to make Thyroid feel unusually angry, although perhaps not so unusual given his predicament. It boiled up from within as Gary swayed slightly back and forth, concentrating on mixing his potion. He thought about trying to repress his feeling but to what end? He might as well get it off his chest. ‘Fuck you, Gary,’ he barked. ‘What the fuck are you doing all this for? Why did all those people have to suffer? What the fuck is wrong with you?’
Thyroid thought he was being ignored for a second. When Gary finally condescended to lay down the ladle and face him, Thyroid wished he had been ignoring him. Gary’s face was a mask of venom and Thyroid could feel his own anger wither at the sight of it. Gary pressed his face against Thyroid’s. ‘Because I fucking hate you,’ he spat.
Thyroid flinched, as much from the response as the drops of saliva that sprayed his cheek. ‘What?’
‘You heard me. I hate you. I fucking despise you. You disgust and appal me in equal measure, you miserable streak of piss.’
When Thyroid was seven years old, his father took him to the park to ride on his new bike. Thyroid was an excellent cyclist. He didn’t need stabilisers or anything. He bombed around the park, speeding through pigeons and around people sitting or lying in the grass. Occasionally his father would call out to him, to tell him to slow down or watch where he was going. Thyroid preferred to keep his eyes on what he passed. Which was why he didn’t notice the tree until it was too late. The front wheel hit the trunk at full force and the impact threw Thyroid over the handlebars. His head slammed into the solid, rough bark of the tree. It wasn’t really pain as such. It hurt, of course, but the sensation was more like having his head encased in a thick, glass bubble. His brain felt heavy, sound and vision were distorted to the point where they no longer made any sense. It was way, way beyond dazed. He was feeling some of that distortion again now. He had heard what Gary said, he understood the words, yet for all that, none of it seemed to make any sense. Thyroid blinked. He was seriously having a hard time processing this new information.
‘I don’t… I don’t understand,’ he managed weakly.
‘No,’ said Gary. ‘You wouldn’t.’ He went back to stirring the soup.
‘You hurt all of those people because you don’t like me?’ Despite himself, Thyroid was able to load the words with patronising sarcasm.
Gary let the ladle drop gently into the pot, the handle left sticking out at the top. ‘I told you, not “don’t like”, hate. You never were a listener, were you?’
‘Fine, Gary, hate… because you hate me, then. But that doesn’t really explain or justify anything, does it?’ He looked over at Marie. She looked just as dumbstruck as he must have. She gave him a brisk nod of encouragement.
Gary picked up the ladle once more. He sank it into the middle of the pot and lifted out a serving of the onion soup, which he flicked at Thyroid. Thyroid dodged as best he could but some of the hot liquid splashed against his cheek and scalded him. ‘What do you know about me, eh, Thyroid? Tell me what you now about me. Go on.’
It suddenly occurred to Thyroid that in actual fact there wasn’t a great deal he knew about Gary, not about his life before they had met, about his history, the subject had just seemed never to have come up. Better start with the basics, then, thought Thyroid. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you studied business…’ He jerked his head quickly out of the way of another soup missile. ‘Fucking stop that!’ Thyroid rattled uselessly in his chair.
‘Screw you, you scrag of shit. Admit it. You know sweet fuck all about me. If you did, you’d know for a start that like dear old Henry I am also a chemistry graduate, not a business graduate at all. But you don’t know that because you never asked. And you never asked because you never gave a shit. You’re always too wrapped up in your own pathetic self-misery to spare a thought for anyone else, fucking moaning and griping all the time about how shit life is, spouting the same old tired crap to every poor cunt unlucky enough to find themselves reading something of yours. Thanks for sharing your misery, you wanker, but we don’t need it or want it.’ Gary pulled a soppy face and began to whine. ‘“Anna left me… life’s shit”, “I’ll never love again… life’s shit”, “I’m incapable of getting off my arse and doing what I want… life’s shit”, “society isn’t the way I want it to be… life’s shit.” Fuck OFF! I’m sick of hearing it, all your pissy woes day in, day out, listening to you whinge on about how lousy it is being you, you weak, selfish little bastard.
‘You couldn’t give a fuck about me, could you? Not really. In fact, deep down, you think you’re fucking better than me, like you know some magic, miserable secret hidden from the rest of us. Well you know shit. You’re just an annoying prick and I can’t stand the fucking sight of you.’
‘SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!’ Gary yelled the words, banging the ladle down hard across the rim of the pot and spattering his own face with the onion soup. In the candlelight, he looked like a living wax monster beginning to melt, clenching and unclenching his fists, reigning in his fury. ‘So you and Anna split up,’ he hissed. ‘Big deal, it happens, but you don’t hear the rest of us harping on about it for three fucking years.’ Gary clasped Thyroid by the chin and forced him to look up into his wide, furious eyes. A piece of onion skin slid down his cheek and landed on Thyroid’s wrist.
‘That wasn’t love,’ said Gary. ‘That was self-obsession, wounded fucking pride. She left you. So what? You know what happened to the love of my life? Do you?’ Thyroid shook his head. He could hear Marie crying. ‘No, of course you don’t,’ said Gary, standing up and pushing Thyroid’s face aside as if he could no longer bear to look on it for fear of contamination. ‘We’ve already established that nothing else in the world matters…’ Gary stopped as his eyes lighted on Marie. ‘Mattered,’ he corrected himself. He shrugged. ‘Fuck it, like I said, too little too late.’
‘I’ll tell you what happened to my love,’ he said, his voice suddenly cracking. ‘It didn’t walk out of the door and leave a number to call if I needed it. No. My love… my… perfect, beautiful love… she burned.’ Gary began chewing his knuckles. A bubble of snot burst in his nostril. ‘She burned to death. She was trapped inside the house as it was razed to the ground. Burnt alive. I know because I’m the one who locked her in there.’ Gary became angrier. ‘I’m the one who lit the fucking match,’ he laughed hysterically. ‘I had to do it, or they would have taken her away from me and I couldn’t bear to think of her living a life without me. It wasn’t right. So I made sure no-one would ever take her away, I made sure I was the only man in her life.’ He let his eyes meet Thyroid’s. ‘So don’t talk to me about loss,’ he said quietly. ‘Because you know fuck all about it.’
Thyroid stared at the man who had been his colleague and companion and could no longer recognise him. Gary was right. He knew nothing about the man trembling in front of him, shaking between tears and damaged laughter. Gary pulled himself together and began to fill one of the dishes with soup. ‘One for you,’ he said after clearing his throat, placing the dish before Thyroid. ‘And one for you,’ he told Marie, doing the same again.
‘Gary, man,’ whispered Thyroid. ‘I’m sorry, I…’
‘I neither want nor require your compassion. Not now. Two years I spent listening to you complain and gripe, two years of listening to that crap. And for what? For some tiny, fleeting romance that went the way most of them do? Fuck you. Fuck you for making me have to hear that. Fuck you and your attitude towards life. There’s only one way to make you see, to make you genuinely sorry. You think life’s shit? Fine. I’ll make that the truth for you, I’ll give you the confirmation you so desperately fucking need to feel realised.’ He pinged a fork against Thyroid’s dish. ‘I’ll serve your vindication up to you on a plate.
‘And what’s worse,’ he went on. ‘I’ve had to become an integral part of your shit vision of the world, I’ve had to become everything you’ve ever blathered on about. Thanks to you, I’m the king of shit, and I’m afraid, for that, you’re going to have to pay. After you’ve eaten your words and turned them rapidly to fact.’
‘For God’s sake, Gary. Please…’
‘Don’t beg. You don’t deserve it. Show me the strength of your convictions. Life’s shit? Then shit your life away. Now, open wide.’ Gary lifted the plate towards Thyroid’s mouth.
All three of them, Thyroid straining his neck, turned to the source of the noise, to the opening that led downstairs.
Chester stands rock rigid, his gun pointed directly at the centre of the Beast’s head, his breathing steady and controlled, absorbing this moment. And it is a moment to be savoured, face to face at last, mortal and demon god. The timing is perfect; the Scatologist has been caught unawares, weak and out of control, and is frozen before the might of Chester’s weapon of truth.
‘Who the fuck are you?’ Chester is surprised that the Demon sounds so petulant. Vanity, he thinks, tricks and vanity.
‘You know me,’ says Chester, keeping his voice low, not wishing to betray any emotion.
‘I’ve never seen you before in my life.’
‘You know me,’ Chester gently insists.
‘What the fuck do you want here?’
Chester smiles. The Scatologist is refusing to acknowledge him. Perhaps he should have expected this. ‘I want life,’ Chester replies anyway. ‘Yours… and mine.’
The Scatologist stares at Chester as though he is mad. ‘What the hell are you blabbering on about?’ Chester feels a sudden sense of jubilation. He hears fear in his Master’s voice.
‘You created me,’ Chester explains patiently. ‘I am the work of your labours on this Earth, I am the child of the Scatologist.’
Chester smiles again. He is suffused with a joy he cannot describe. Serenity descends upon him like a silk sheet dropped from Heaven. ‘I am your creation,’ he repeats. ‘But I am made too perfectly… and I defy you.’ The Scatologist takes a step back but is dissuaded from taking any more when Chester raises his gun an inch. ‘The world must be made clean,’ says Chester. ‘The waste must be washed away. You must be washed away. You have shown me divinity,’ he says with sad reverence. ‘And for that I am grateful. But now I will show you mortality.’ Chester tightens his finger around the trigger.
‘Wait,’ says the Demon. ‘Please, don’t.’
‘It is no use. This is inevitable, you must know that. If I am to be free, if this world is to be pure, then you must die.’
The Scatologist laughs. ‘No way,’ it says, incredulous. ‘No fuc…’
The Demon’s final expletive is cut off as Chester’s bullet of enlightenment bores into its brain and out of the back of its skull. The Scatologist falls to the floor, surprise the last expression etched onto its face, where it will remain until eaten away by worms.
As the last of the air in the Scatologist’s lungs leaves its body so too the final vestiges of Chester Guberson vanish forever. In his place stands an Angel, a pure force of nature, strong and aware, clean and alive. The Angel lowers his gun and smiles beatifically at the two captives staring fearfully up at him. And who would not be fearful, he thinks, when faced with the Divine.
Marie stared at the man as he approached her, stepping smoothly over Gary’s prone body and the viscous pool of blood collecting around his shattered head. Marie tried to back away but it was impossible tied to the chair. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the man. ‘I don’t mean you any harm.’ And he cut her loose. He handed her the knife he had used. ‘Free your man now,’ he told her.
She didn’t move for a moment, unsure of turning her back on the man, but some instinct told her that he really didn’t intend to hurt her, even if he was obviously mad. She rushed over to Thyroid and cut him free, kissing his hands, face and neck. ‘Shh,’ he told her. ‘It’s over. I think.’ They peered up at the man who had saved them. The man who had just killed Gary, Marie reminded herself, but the thought seemed somehow ungracious considering what would have happened if Gary hadn’t been shot.
The man was grinning at them like he was on ecstasy. He walked towards and then past Marie and Thyroid, heading for the stairs. Before his head disappeared from view, he turned back to them. ‘Live clean lives,’ he said simply, and left.
Marie held onto Thyroid. They remained there, huddled close, until they heard the sound of a car drive off into the night. In the fading glow of candle-flame, Gary’s body appeared to be melding with the floor, his blood spreading to the boxes by the far wall. Thyroid got to his feet and squatted down beside the corpse. Marie joined him and laid a hand on his shoulder. Thyroid gazed down at the bloody mess at his feet and back to Marie. He looked like he wanted to say something. ‘Go on,’ said Marie. He just shook his head in disbelief and looked around one more time. From outside they could hear the strangled cry of foxes in the night, wailing like children in mortal fear.
‘Shit,’ said Thyroid.
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