This is actually the original story which I am expanding into my first novel. In the longer form it is very different but I hope to keep the tone and tension that this one has, as well as the characters and a similar setting. It is one of my personal favourites from all the stuff I’ve done.
Gerard dumped the body behind the crumbling greenhouse with glass cracked as old skin, murky with grime and lichen. The plants inside had long since succumbed to weeds and rot and brambles grew thick against the outside. He kicked some loose dirt over the blank face and lolling hands, dulling the pale skin that gleamed even in the rapidly fading light.
His breath silvered in front of him, whisking past his face as he hurried back through barren allotment. He rubbed his hands together, the painful numbness of the greying air soaking through to the bone, cursing the loss of his gloves. He buried his hands in his armpits and reminded himself that he would either have to find some or buy a coat with pockets.
He closed the rickety front door firmly and clicked all the locks home, stuffing rags into the gaps to try and keep any drafts from creeping in around the warped frame. Teeth chattering, he moved through to the sitting room. The fire had died low, throbbed out little but welcome heat. Gerard coaxed it back to life with a grubby poker and some fresh wood and knelt close until his fingers started to sting back with feeling. He would really, really have to try harder to save up next summer. He could not bare the thought of going through another winter without central heating.
His blood finally moving through him with a little more enthusiasm, he shed his shabby coat and pulled off his grubby trainers. The night closed in around the house like fog. Gerard managed to convince himself to turn on one more lamp to chase away the shadows, even though he was painfully aware that electricity did not come for free.
He warmed some milk on the ancient aga in the kitchen and pottered around, picking up the pieces of a broken milk bottle and disposing of them carefully, wrapped in newspaper. He quickly wiped down the cracked tiled floor, straightened up the kitchen chairs and washed up a mug for his cocoa.
Returning to the dingy lounge, he knelt once again in front of the fire with his hands curled around the steaming mug just like he’d done when he was a child. There was even a worn part on the rug where he and his brother used to sit and listen to Dad’s ghost stories before they’d got a TV.
He sipped at the cocoa, hot and thick and alive as blood and felt it restoring feeling to the very tips of his toes. He sighed deeply and relaxed his shoulders, his muscles unfurling slowly in the delicious warmth.
“Gee?” The old back door rattled and a gust of cold made the hair on Gerard’s arms prickle.
“In here, Lewis,” he called. “For the love of everything holy, shut the door. You’re letting all the heat out.”
A slam and Lewis barrelled through into the living room, smelling like frost, flushed and breathing heavily. Gerard grumbled a little internally, seeing his brother’s thick, expensive overcoat and matching scarf and gloves.
A grin spread itself over his Lewis’s face.
“What?” Gerard snapped.
“You look exactly like you did when you were, like, ten.” Lewis shouldered himself out of the long coat and draped it over the back of their dad’s scuffed leather armchair and glanced around. “Jesus, Gee, you’ve got it like a bloody cave in here. Why don’t you switch some more lights on?”
Gerard ignored him, looked back into the dancing flames. “Did you find him?”
“No,” Lewis collapsed in the leather chair, not quite filling it, “but I knew he wouldn’t be there. Dom hates the Crown on a Friday; it’s when all the kids are in.”
“He used to go with you on a Friday.”
“Yeah, when we were the kids,” Lewis replied with a grin. “It’s really weird though. It’s not like him to just disappear off like this without telling anyone. If he’d gone home to nurse his hangover, fair enough, but he would have told someone. He doesn’t just piss off at lunch time, even to the Crown.”
Gerard snorted into his mug. “I don’t like that place.”
Lewis sighed. “You never like anywhere.”
Gerard shot him a look. “It’s alright for you. You got their savings. I got the damn house. Do you have any idea how much money has gone into keeping this bloody place standing up? How much more needs to be done?”
Lewis shrugged. “It’s an old house, Gee.” He frowned a little. “We grew up here, Dad grew up here. You were born here. That’s why they left it to you, it’s priceless.”
“So are the repairs,” Gerard grumbled.
“So get a better job.”
“Living here is a fucking full time job.”
“Steady,” Lewis’s eyes were a little sharp.
Gerard sighed. “It got easier with Victor moving in,” he said a little wistfully. “It really helps when I’ve got someone else around.”
Lewis snarled. “Don’t mention him around me, Gee. Really don’t.”
Gerard shrugged again, idly gazing at the flames reflected in the window. “He’s just been a help.”
“He’s been a creep, Gerard. Always was,” Lewis spat. “Even when we were little and he made us call him Uncle Vick. I didn’t like the way grinned at you, even then…”
The synthetic tone of Lewis’s mobile stung the air, making Gerard jump.
“Damn crappy reception,” Lewis growled. “Always miss calls up here.” He frowned as he listened to the voicemail. Gerard wiped cooling cocoa spots off his already stained trousers.
“It’s from Dom’s girlfriend.”
“Has he turned up then?”
Lewis shook his head. “She’s just got home, he’s not there. But she says he left a message on their machine. Apparently he was heading around here at lunch, to see you.”
Gerard blinked, drank deep from his cocoa and looked back at the fire. “I haven’t seen him.”
There was a silence and Gerard could feel his brother peering at him.
“What did he say to you last night, Gee?”
Gerard ground his teeth but didn’t look up.
“Seriously, I saw you storm out.” The leather armchair creaked as Lewis sat forward, trying to look his brother in the eyes. “Heaven knows it took enough to get you to come out in the first place but you didn’t have to walk home on your own. It was bloody freezing outside.”
“I noticed.” Gerard shook his limp hair out of his eyes and drained the last of the cocoa. He blinked at the shadows quivering in the air outside the window. The wind picked up, groaning through the timbers of the old house. The night danced behind the reflected flames in the windows, the shadows twitching in the restless air.
“Come on,” Lewis persisted, “Dom’s a nice guy. I know he can be a bit narrow-minded, but he’s essentially harmless.”
“He shouldn’t have said it, Lewis,” Gerard ground his teeth. “I don’t care if he was drunk, he shouldn’t have said it at all.”
Gerard made an irritated noise, clasped his arms around himself and hunkered closer to the fire. He felt his face beginning to flush with the heat but still felt a feathery cold deep in his bones.
“He laughed at me,” Gerard snarled. “Said no wonder I got loaded with this dump since Dad must have hated me.”
Gerard looked at Lewis. “He knows Dad wasn’t…well, you know, my father. My natural father. I don’t know how he knows, hell, we only found out just before Dad died, but Dom thought it was hilarious. A big joke.”
Lewis blinked, mouth open. Gerard felt his blood thunder hot in his ears and clenched his fists, fingernails almost splitting palm skin. Lewis blinked a bit more, made a strangled noise but Gerard looked away, back towards the window.
Ice shot up his spine. Something at the window. A flash of pale against the shadows; something moving. He swallowed and rubbed his eyes and looked back, but there was nothing there.
“Gerard,” Lewis finally managed to stammer. “I’m sorry…I…Jesus. I know Dom’s a bit of a prick about this sort of thing, but seriously, if I knew he was going to say…I swear I didn’t tell him, I…he was very, very drunk.”
Gerard tore his eyes from the window. His brother’s face under the expensive haircut was mortified; he scratched his chin, blinked, stammered.
Gerard didn’t say anything, shifted on the rug slightly, fed the fire some more wood.
“You’re right, he shouldn’t have said anything.”
Gerard met his brother’s eyes. “No, he shouldn’t. But he won’t say it again. I let him know…”
There, something, definitely something, outside the window behind Lewis’s chair. Shadows moved against the wind, leant forward. A white hand flicked into the light bleeding from the house. Then it was gone.
Gerard shut his eyes, rubbed his temples, breathed deep. He needed sleep, that’s all. Just sleep. He’d been sat in Dad’s ghost story spot too long.
“Well I’m not surprised he’s reluctant to show his face,” Lewis said, “but this message definitely has Angela saying he was coming round here to apologise. He never arrived? Gerard?”
Gerard looked back to Lewis, eyes wide. “Huh?”
“Dom hasn’t been around this afternoon?”
Gerard swallowed, the cocoa aftertaste bitter on his tongue. He concentrated on not looking out the windows. “No.” He took a breath and another until his heart slowed down. Lewis was giving him a searching look. Gerard met it, scowled. “Victor would be able to find him.”
“Gee,” Lewis raised his hands, quivering ever so slightly. “I’m serious. I hate the way you talk about that freak so casually. I hate the way you don’t see how creepy it is that he’s been sniffing around you ever since you were, like, a child.”
Gerard laughed. “Maybe he’s my real dad.”
Lewis’s anger blazed clear in his eyes for a second and Gerard smiled inwardly. “He’d find Dom, is all I’m saying. He was working the woods around here before we were born. Not that the prick deserves to be found, ever.”
“Aww, Gee,” Lewis softened. “I’m sorry about what Dom said, really I am, but he did intend to apologise. That takes some guts.”
Gerard felt his muscles clench up. He stood, took his cocoa mug through to the kitchen.
“So you think he might be lost?” Lewis followed him. “If he found you weren’t here and then tried to walk back on his own, he could be lost in the wood somewhere.”
“He’s not been round,” Gerard said firmly.
Lewis was silent for a moment behind him. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Gerard shivered as the chilly washing up water gnawed at his hands. “What, you think I’d lie? Or do you think I twatted him with a kitchen chair and then dumped him behind the greenhouse?”
“That’s not funny, Gee.”
Gerard shrugged, drying the mug and turning round from the sink. “It’s a little funny.”
Lewis shook his head. “It’s just so weird for him to disappear. I hope he hasn’t got hit by a car or something…”
Lewis scowled at him. “Don’t.”
Gerard just grinned wider, glanced out the kitchen window. His mug shattered on the tiles with a noise like splintering bone.
Gerard covered his eyes. “No, it’s not there, it’s not, it’s not.”
“What?” Lewis sounded a little tense, turned to look out the window. “Gerard, there’s nothing there…”
Gerard peeked out from between his fingers, his skin prickling and his teeth chattering. There was nothing at the window. Lewis was staring at him. He took a few breaths, steadied himself against the counter, peered into the shapeless mass of shadows past the glass.
“What did you see?”
Gerard shook his head. “Nothing.”
“You’re shaking.” He came closer. “What’s going on?”
Gerard screamed. Lewis wheeled back round. The pale figure knocked on the glass twice then disappeared.
“Was that…?” Lewis tried to calm his near hysterical brother. “Gerard, get a grip, keep still, you’ll tread on the broken…Gerard!” He grabbed him by the shoulders.
The handle of the back door rattled and shivered.
“Gerard,” Lewis cried. “Calm down, calm down! It’s only Dom…”
The door opened and Dom walked in with a howl of wind. His hood was pulled up, his eyes were bruised pits in its shadow. His lips were blue, his hands white.
Gerard clutched at his brother and let out a cry. “Oh, thank God.” Nervous laughter shuddered from his chest.
“Jesus, Dom,” Lewis muttered. “Could you have announced yourself in a more traditional manner? You gave us the fright of our lives.”
“Would help if there was a fucking doorbell on this bloody museum piece,” Dom muttered as he closed the back door. “Christ, it’s cold out there. Jesus, Allah, Buddha, is your fire lit?”
Gerard gestured limply through the other room. They trudged through. Dom stood by the fire, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other, blushing slightly despite his shivers. He’d pulled his hood off and his hair was wild and tangled, his eyes bloodshot and there appeared to be straw behind his ear.
“Where’ve you been?” Lewis asked.
Gerard, nearly recovered, froze himself up and glared.
“Yeah, about that,” Dom turned to face Gerard, but didn’t meet his eyes. He scratched his head, blinked blearily at the rug. “I came round, you know…to say sorry. I really am, man…” he laughed nervously. “Yeah, I was sat at my desk feeling like death…shouldn’t have drank gin, man. Should never drink gin. Anyway, I suddenly remembered and…fuck…I was a complete tosser last night and I know it. I don’t really think you should forgive me, but I thought I should at least come round and…you know.”
Gerard eyed him up and down but didn’t say anything.
“I came round at, like, lunch, but Victor told me you weren’t in and sent me away. I couldn’t face finding my way back to town so I sort of…passed out in your hay barn. Not that it helped, my head’s still fucking killing me. I woke up and it was getting dark and couldn’t find the way into the house.”
“Angela’s been calling everywhere, looking for you.”
“Oh man,” Dom rubbed his eyes. “I’m in the shit, seriously. I was supposed to be taking her and her parents to dinner tonight. Look,” he looked back at Gerard. “I really have to rush off, but I think I really need to say sorry properly, so I was wondering, I don’t know, if you want to get a drink at the Crown sometime?”
Gerard crossed his arms. “I don’t like the Crown.”
Lewis frowned at him. “Gee…”
Gerard shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”
Dom smiled, nodded. “Great, I’ll give you a ring sometime. See you at work, Lewis.”
One more eager gust of chill as the back door opened then shut behind him. Gerard shivered and moaned inwardly as more of the precious heat was swallowed by the winter night.
“See?” Lewis said, absurdly pleased with himself. “He can be alright.”
Gerard didn’t answer, knelt and tried to persuade the fire to once again renew its efforts.
“Why did you skitz out, anyway?” Lewis asked. “I’ve never seen you so freaked.”
Gerard blushed. “I don’t know,” he grumbled. “I saw him outside, trying to find the way in and, I don’t know…something lurking outside the house at night…it’s creepy.”
“What, you didn’t think…?”
Gerard said nothing.
Lewis laughed. “Oh my God, you thought it was Victor, didn’t you? You thought he’d come back to life, wondered back from the greenhouse to leer at you through the windows, didn’t you?”
“No,” Gerard mumbled. “No, I didn’t…”
Lewis was laughing hysterically. “Oh my God, Gee. That’s priceless. Didn’t you see the mess I made of his skull? That guy’s not coming back.”
Gerard sighed. “It’s going to be hell running this place on my own again. You haven’t half screwed up this time.”
“I’ll help out more, I promise,” Lewis said. “But honestly, Gee, if you’d heard the things he was saying about you, like he owned you. You’re my brother. Mine. He’s not even family. If you’d seen the way he was smiling.”
“You shouldn’t have come in then,” Gerard replied. “Victor told you I was out. No one forced you to come in.”
“I was going to wait for you, I needed to see if you’d seen Dom. That creep didn’t want me in here, either. In this house, our house – it’s never been anything to do with him. And then to stand there by our kitchen table and talk about us when we were kids and about how you were still doing everything he told you to…”
Gerard paused. He chewed his lip, rose up, tightening his grip on the poker. “Lewis…”
Gerard met his brother’s eyes. “What if he saw?”
“What if who saw what?”
“Dom was here all afternoon, in the hay barn…has been trying to get into the house since it was just getting dark…what if he heard? Or saw me going out to the greenhouse? At the very least, he knows that Victor was in this afternoon…”
Lewis’s face went blank. The wind had dropped. The fire’s splintery cracks were the only sounds to break the air.
Without a word Lewis put on his overcoat, scarf and gloves, then was gone through the back door. Gerard sighed and went on another search for his own gloves. He was damned if he was going to do another trip down to the greenhouse without them