Possibly a trigger (I hope not)
It has been a while, but I was working on a piece that intrigues me as to the response. It is a little messy. I hope it is positive (or constructive). As always, tear it to pieces if you wish, and also, if I have been rude about your piece of work, please say so first, thanks: -
They say that you are one pay check away from ruin. Just one pompous megalomaniac in an officious firm can lead to a lost job, and a lost job can lead to unpaid rent and unpaid rent can lead to a lost home. The bastard. You are promoted to your level of incompetence, that is another thing they say, and he certainly was. He even had the audacity to suggest that she was the incompetent one.
Sarah stumbled along the dimly lit road, folded over beneath the weight of her backpack. The street lamps cast everything in an otherworldly glow. The tarmac shimmered orange where it was still slick with rain. She dragged her phone from her pocket and manipulated the screen. She was met with the same answer phone message she had been met with for the last two hours. Sarah cursed and thrust the phone back into her pocket. Why the hell was there no answer?
It was pathetic, really, that her boss had trundled into that office in his supermini and his cheap suit every day since leaving school. He had little of a life outside of the office. He was always there before Sarah and he would always leave after, and he was always so dam agreeable, at least on the surface. A sycophant.
One of the straps threatened to slip from Sarah’s shoulder and she jostled the bag further up her back with difficulty.
Male privilege. That is how he got to his position. She was better suited to the role, she had an education, a degree. What did he have? The patriarchy had conspired against her, as the patriarchy always does, unless you are male. It had taken one small mistake, one misplaced item, and he had blown it out of all proportion. She should not have been fired, she should have been welcomed with open arms. She was redressing the balance.
The bag was growing unbearably heavy. She slumped against a low wall and closed her eyes against the halogen lamps. She removed her phone and redialled the previous number. Still no answer. Sarah resisted the urge to sling it into the road.
They had called her incompetent. Competence was an excuse they hid behind to allow inequality to persist. Surely it was discriminatory to call someone incompetent? She was just differently competent and that should not hold her back. Just one misplaced item, and here she was. If only they had been more reasonable she would not have hidden her mistake, but they made her lie with their artificial consternation followed by their feigned exasperation.
Sarah slid to the ground and pressed her face into her hands. She remained that way for an interminable period.
What was she going to do now? They say that you are just one pay check away from ruin. A lost job leads to a lost home, and when you have no home you have no hope of finding another job. What happens to you then?
She lifted her head. On the far side of the road was a park enclosed by iron railings. The gate was ajar, although surely it should be locked at this late hour. A scraggly cat snuck through and pranced into the shadows cast by the bins outside the nearest terrace.
Two teenagers were seated on a low wall a little along the street, talking in hushed voices. His hand dropped to her knee and gave a squeeze. She fawned, and peered up at him mawkishly. How Sarah disliked public displays of affection; those early days of a relationship; the curriculum vitae recounted in awkward first meetings, the pretences, the lies, the conspicuous acts of togetherness delivered to assuage lingering uncertainty, the loss of self-reliance, the neediness and weakness; and the implicit knowledge that lust would turn to something inertly comfortable, unchallenging and dreary, which, in time, would turn into a background drone, like tinnitus, of mild irritation and creeping disgust, overcome only by the fear of dying alone. But the early days were particularly saccharine. Sarah caught her breath after the urgency of the thought. He, the teenager, pecked the girl on her cheek and she skipped up the flagstone path to her house. The door opened and shut and a light ignited within.
He looked both ways down the street as he prepared to cross and caught sight of Sarah. Was that expression pity? Was Sarah pitiable? Perhaps she was, after all she was the victim in all of this, she was entitled to some pity. “Is everything okay?” he asked. He wore a mess of hair and a scowl that creased his rubbery skin into a spider’s web of lines.
Sarah was unsure how to respond. The concern in his voice roused her unexpectedly. An emotion reared that she had been fighting to suppress. She was subject to a sudden and profound grief. “I’m fine,” she managed through a clogged throat and waved his attentions away.
He watched her a moment longer, pressed his hands into his pockets and crossed the street at an angle. He whistled as he entered the pool of orange beneath a distant street light.
Sarah dragged herself to her feet and stumbled towards the gate into the park. There must be somewhere dry within, a shed used to store grounds-keeping equipment, or some such thing. She just needed somewhere to spend the night, and tomorrow she would find a couch to stay on, or phone her father, if it came to it.
On the far side of the railings she found herself not in a park, but in a formal garden that wound in a series of gravel paths, squares of lawn and raised flowerbeds to a large house. The nearest elevation was dressed in the meagre light of faux-antique lanterns. It was a crooked amalgamation of dark timber and light render, reclaimed in places by depths of ivy, which encircled the windows and poked at the glass. Beyond the Tudor façade reared a larger stone building with slate roofs and fairy-tale towers.
A house like that must have empty rooms, a great number of them, and an undeserving owner, most likely. More importantly the windows were unlit. Perhaps there was a cellar with an old coal chute or a beer drop she could negotiate, and within, she might be able to make up a bed for the night, unseen and unknown. She kept to the bushes at the edge of the lawn and crept towards the sprawling building.
The curtains at the nearest window were drawn but had hooked behind an ornament, a dancing figurine, leaving a sliver through which she could peer. The room was suffused in fire light, she could smell wood smoke from the distant chimney before it was carried away on the breeze. Shadows flickered over the exposed beams and the leather wingbacks. Shelves lined the walls displaying ostentatious ornaments and well-thumbed books. Someone had been here recently.
At a crouch she began her circumnavigation of the building. There was no way in, she soon discovered, no open windows or unlocked trapdoors into the cellar. This was hopeless. She dragged the straps from her shoulder and allowed the bag to drop. Sarah was exhausted. She wanted her apartment back, her kettle, her television and her bed. How dare they kick her out. She had been a good tenant until the last, what was it? A month and a half, two months, maybe three. She would have paid back rent when she got another job.
Perhaps she should just knock. There was a timber door in the stone wall just ten metres further along the elevation. Maybe they would let her have a bed for the night. Sarah grasped the handle on her ruck sack and dragged it behind her. She thumped on the door.
There was no answer. Sarah inspected the lock. In movies they would use a credit card to pop the door open. She had once seen a locksmith do something similar but with the plastic of an old pop bottle. She had a pop bottle in her bag. The thought was interrupted by the shuffling of feet. A bolt clanked open and the door scraped against the flagstone floor, where it had swept a quarter circle clean.
An elderly man stooped in the doorway. He resembled a withered tree, twisted with disease, scratching for sustenance. His face was creased, a lopsided mouth and eyes succumbing to cataracts. A thin twine of hair covered the brittle husk of scalp. He lifted a claw, a contorted rictus of fingers, sallow skin stretched over knuckles of bone, and wiped the drool from his lips. “Can I help you?”
Sarah slumped against the door frame. “I can’t get home and I need somewhere to stay.”
He chewed his lip with decayed stubs of enamel. “There’re plenty of people in your position. Plenty of people who’d love to have a bed for the night. Most of them don’t go knocking on stranger’s doors. What makes you special?”
The question caught her by surprise. She had done good things and she would go on to do important things, if given the chance. She had been the president of the Hummus Society at University. If only she could express all her potential in a simple soundbite. Instead she settled upon, “nothing, I wouldn’t normally ask but-”
“Come on in.” He shuffled along the corridor, step by contorted step and peered back over his shoulder. A naked bulb dressed everything in a harsh light, picking out every imperfection in the brickwork. It smelled of damp. Rivulets of water travelled between calcium deposits and growths of mould.
They entered a room of two storeys, with a sweeping staircase at its centre and balustrades of whittled timber enclosing the landing at the upper level. Moonlight diffused through leaded windows. He scratched at the banister with knotted fingers.
“So, you have a spare room?” Sarah asked. The precariousness of her situation dawned on her. He was an old man, but who knows what old men are capable of when overtaken by rampant male lust. A moments panic overcame her, and she recoiled, “wait. What do you want in return?”
Cloudy eyes peered up from hooded lids. His expression was one of languid derision. “There is a room available, top of the stairs, third on the left. Take it or leave it.”
Sarah hurried passed him and bumped her bag up the stairs. A portrait of a bejewelled lady with sharp cheekbones starred imperiously at her from a gilded frame. She was unsettled by the eyes, which followed her as she ascended.
Sarah discovered her bedroom at the front of the first floor. There was a four-poster bed with a sagging mattress, ornaments scattered over a dresser and well-read novels on a bookshelf. The furnishings were old fashioned, and the sink, which occupied one corner, seemed a relic from centuries passed. She opened the faucet and hot water streamed into the basin, raising a cloud of steam. Sarah washed her face and wiped the condensation from the mirror. She looked tired. This is what they had reduced her to; a jaundiced ghost, with sunken eyes and dishevelled hair. She undressed and retired to the bed.
Sarah awoke to dust sparkling in a thin sheet of moonlight, which penetrated the curtains obliquely. She thought she was back home, at least for a few moments and the realisation that she was not descended like a melancholy shroud.
Something shuffled against the floorboards beyond the bed. She was not alone in the room. Panic gripped her. Her stomach coiled, and a weakness spread over her. She shrunk under her bed sheets until only her head was exposed.
A cartilaginous hand grasped the edge of the mattress and rings of muscle pulsed. Slowly a black domelike head emerged. The creature’s face was a featureless carapace. Whatever organs of sense or perception it may possess were concealed beneath, but for mandibles, which comprised of four serrated appendages above the merest suggestion of a chin.
Sarah’s breath caught in her throat. She cringed beneath the blanket. She was certain that this was her end, and then another certainty overwhelmed her; she must be dreaming.
Claws flashed out from sheaths in each of the creature’s fingers and it grasped an insect from the air. The creature raised the insect to its mouth and the mandibles pulled the insect inexorably inwards.
Sarah was aware of a soft mewing. She realised that the noise was coming from her.
The creature opened its mouth to display the half-chewed insect. One wing twitched from where it was impaled upon several sharp teeth. The creature stalked around the bed and the armoured plates along its back shimmered beneath the sparse light that dribbled through the window. They were of no distinct colour, like oil on water.
Sarah was trapped in a paralysis of fear. She awoke to spears of sunlight thrusting around the curtains and the events of the previous night soon faded, as nightmares often do come morning. Yet, it had felt so real. She pushed the lingering memory from her mind, washed and dressed and returned to the sweeping staircase. Maybe she would be offered breakfast before she left, or a lift in the old man’s car, assuming he was still capable of driving.
Last edited by Chinspinner; 11-17-2017 at 05:25 PM..