Secrets

“Mum, are you there?”

Mary held the phone against her ear. Her daughter’s voice plucked at every one of her highly strung nerves.

“Mum?”

Mary took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut.

“Mum?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Where did you go?”

“Nowhere. I’ve always been here.”

“So what do you think? Should I do it or not?”

“Sweetheart, you’ve asked me this a million times and just like the other million times, I shall answer the same answer that I’ve already answered a million times! It’s up to you. It’s your life, you’re an adult now. It’s your decision to make, okay? Now, I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to go.”

“I love you lots.”

“I love you lots too. Bye-bye.”

Mary gritted her teeth. Her children had left home, why was she still making their decisions for them? She removed the battery from her mobile phone, no-one else was going to steal away her time. No-one at all.

The front door was next, her expensive heels clacked against the equally expensive wooden flooring. She locked the door and barred it, then stepped up onto her tiptoes and looked out through the spyhole. The fish-eye view of the street was empty. It was her own perfect equation – no cars plus no people equals no interruptions.

She was home alone, her husband was out at work, doing whatever it was he did to bring in money. She’d tried more than once to listen to him as he explained what his job entailed, but before he’d even taken his first breath she’d be lost in her own thoughts. For 24 years they had been husband and wife and she thought she was doing pretty well still managing to be in the same room as him. He claimed he still loved her just as much as he did when they had first got together and it appeared to be true. He insisted on spending their evenings together, either alone with him or at one of their ‘mutual’ friends. The routine was always the same in each situation: drink wine, listen to inane chatter, bed, then a drunken fumble and fuck. No matter how much you love someone, there always comes a time when enough is enough.

Mary wasn’t unhappy and she knew it, but she also knew that something was missing. Her happiest memory of recent times had been her daughter leaving for university. Both her husband and daughter had been in floods of tears and neither had understood why she had not been joining in their display of emotion. Her husband had watched her suspiciously as she had just waved it off, a faint smile on her face. One day soon after, he had asked if she was having an affair, she had laughed so hard she made herself sick. He didn’t ask her again.

She turned and there it was, facing her, at the far end of the hall. The warped door that led to the basement, the door that only she had a key for (he’d never even asked what was behind it). It didn’t belong in this expensively decorated hallway, it belonged somewhere else, somewhere dark, wet and dank. She felt a shudder of excitement run through her. She took a step forward and had to place her hand against the wall to steady herself. Her legs had suddenly become weak. Was it excitement or fear? ‘Both’ she thought as she forced her shaking legs to carry her down the hall.

The key was out, ready in her hand and already slipping into the lock before she had realised what it was that she was doing. The door silently swung open, revealing a set of wooden stairs that led down into darkness. Flakes of faded paint, disturbed by her movements, floated down like snowflakes. A warm, damp gust of air rushed up to meet her, making the thin dress she wore flutter gently. Her lips parted and she opened her mouth, breathing in as much air as she could manage. She could smell and taste the stink of it from up here, it made her gag but it felt so good. She wanted to take more air into her than was physically possible. She wanted to breathe in the scent until her lungs burst inside her chest.

With a hand resting upon the door frame she kicked off her shoes. They clattered across the floor and skidded to a stop, one resting on top of the other a few feet away.

A single drop of sweat ran down her face only to be caught by her tongue.

“Ready or not, here I come.”

The stairs were old, the wood beneath her bare feet was splintered and threatened to puncture her soft skin. Mary didn’t notice, her breath was quickening and her body had begun to tingle. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the darkness that waited for her at the bottom of the stairs. She stroked her fingertips against the wall as she descended, she didn’t notice the insects that ran over her naked skin.

At last her bare feet were on the final step. She stepped down. The floor of the basement was submerged in an oily, cold fluid that was deep enough to lose her toes in. In the darkness before her something moved, it was just a change in the air, but she felt it. Her presence was known. Her fingers searched for light and suddenly the darkness vanished. A small room lay before her. A light bulb swung gently from a cord that hung from the ceiling. Shadows danced under the moving light. In the centre of the room was a rotting table, it was the only piece of furniture. The walls were dark, grey and covered in rotting plaster.

Mary waited. Seconds evolved into minutes.

A smile formed on her wet lips when she saw something move in the shadows on the far side of the table. Inch by slow inch, the shape moved towards the light. Out from behind the table it came, an undulating mass of flesh and fat that rose no higher than her waist. The sweaty grey skin that held it together was almost translucent. Mary stepped into the room to meet it, her bare feet slapping against the wet floor. The mass had no eyes yet it turned as if to watch her.

“Hello beautiful.”

Mary held out her hand, palm down and pressed gently into the cold mass. It responded by pushing its boneless form back up against her. She felt its weight against her leg and her dress stuck to its mucus-covered skin. It quivered and rubbed itself rhythmically against her. Mary squeezed her eyes shut and enjoyed the sensation, wondering if it would go any further today. She hoped that it would. She knew it could reach higher, on more than one occasion she had felt the cold, wet skin tenderly press against her lips and chin as if in a kiss. She was disappointed when she felt it slide over her feet and move behind her. She wanted to turn and look but quelled the urge.

Her body shook in anticipation, her dress clung to her skin. She wanted to open herself up and let her insides pour out, to make room for it to live inside of her. To be a mother and a host to the mass. She wanted to spread herself wide and let it clean her of all that was unneeded, throw away all it didn’t want. She wanted to give up who she was and all that she had built. To forget everything. No more responsibilities, no more husband, children or cares. No more gossip or work. Only endless bliss.

She felt it before seeing it. It was against her other leg now, circling her. Slowly the creature worked its way around until it was back in front of her. She watched it and it in turn watched her. Mary’s breasts rose and fell with each shuddering breath she took. Sweat ran down her face. Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks were flushed. The beast heaved as if sighing and Mary smiled. She knew that if it could it would be smiling back.

Heavens Scent

In the middle of nowhere, on a hill that overlooks the world…

The cottage was small; big enough for two but too big for one. This is where Louis lives, he lives here alone. His days are spent tending the garden that grows out back. The garden that his wife, Zoe, had planted and grown. The garden that she had loved so much. He used to spend his days watching her, now he spends them remembering.

Zoe, crouched, stroking the flowers, whispering to them, encouraging them to grow big, to grow strong. Zoe, so proud of the little colony of life she had helped to thrive. He would stand over her and place his hand in the crook of her neck, she would always let out a moan of pleasure… always.

“How much do you love me?” She would ask.

“How long is a piece of string?” He would answer, the same answer he had always given, and she would smile and snuggle into him that bit more.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Louis.”

“I promise that’s something that you never need worry about.” He never broke that promise. “We’ll be together forever.”

He woke up one day to find her, silent and unmoving beside him. He had held her tight, rubbing her hands between his, trying to warm them. He had pleaded and begged and screamed, but despite all his efforts time had continued to pass, each second taking him further away from their last night together.

He had spent every day ever since caring for the garden, not knowing what it was he was doing, just copying the things he had seen Zoe do. Little by little he was killing it.

Then one day he found the string…

He was asleep, no longer residing within his body.

‘Louis…’

He rose up through the layers of sleep, expecting her to be pressing into his side, her warm breath on his neck. He opened his eyes, but once again saw only an empty space and cold sheets beside him.

He ate his breakfast in silence that morning. His thoughts were with his memories. Everywhere he looked reminded him of her, every cup and every piece of furniture, every picture that hung from the walls. He had a memory for each and for each memory he had a hundred more, but without her he had nothing.

It was later than normal when he finally stepped out into the garden to repeat his daily routine of ignorance. That’s when he saw the string, white and fine – it lay draped over the entire garden, over the nameless bushes and wrapped around the colourful flowers. It ran the length of the lawn and lay draped over the stone walls that surrounded the garden.

He never once questioned where it had come from.

He began to clear it up. The string was like fine twine, sticking to his fingers like a web when he touched it. The work was slow and it was almost evening by the time he got round to clearing the last bush. As far as he could tell it was just one long piece of string, wrapped round everything that grew within the four stone garden walls. He had tried snapping it and cutting it, but he couldn’t do it, it was impossible. He had filled an old sack full of it and it was now too heavy for him to lift.

He lowered his head and got to work. It seemed as if the string was unwrapping itself and within minutes he was almost done. He pulled the last length from the bush and stared in amazement.

The string had all been packed away, yes, but he hadn’t reached its end. It led up from the sack to his hand, then up into the sky into the sunset, like he was holding the world’s biggest and brightest balloon. He squinted, trying to make out what it was attached to but he couldn’t tell. He pulled; there was the slightest resistance but the string was reeled in. He pulled again, and again, then spent the next few minutes pulling in great arm-lengths of it; after a few more minutes he stopped, confused. There still seemed to be no end to it, granted he could only see the string for a few metres in front of him, but surely he should be able to see what it was attached to from here?

The sun had become an orange crescent on the horizon, he wouldn’t be able to stay outside for much longer – the cold hurt him too much these days. He took a couple of rocks from the stone wall, placed one on each corner of the bag and wrapped the string around another. Then he retired to the house for the night to think.

He sat in the dark for a long time, listening to the creaks of the pipes and listening to the absence of Zoe. She still spoke to him sometimes, mostly when he was led in bed teetering upon the edge of sleep, that’s when he would feel her whispering to him. The same way she had when they had been led together, the closest they could ever be, each basking in the heat of the other. She would nuzzle into his neck and whisper, her words punctuated by her heavy breathing. He missed that sound most of all.

It was midnight when Louis finally got into bed, tired from all the thoughts and all the questions, tired from remembering.

That night she came to him.

‘Louis?’

“Zoe?”

‘Don’t open your eyes…’ Was it just the memory of her voice? No, she was here, he knew it.

‘Do you still think about me Louis?’

“Every day. Every minute and every second.”

He felt her lips against his neck. Her breath made his nerves tingle.

“Am I dreaming?” Silence. “Are you still mine?”

‘Forever.’

He lay there, relishing the feel of her against him. He could feel sleep creeping up through his limbs, before long it would be behind his eyes, pulling him down… down…

‘How much do you love me?’

He fell…

It was the best night’s sleep he’d had in months. He got out of bed, full of energy and purpose and flung open his bedroom curtains. There it still was, the bag and the string, solid and real. He skipped breakfast and got dressed, not even stopping for his customary coffee before heading outside. With the sun behind him he could see what he was dealing with a lot better. The string led off up into the air in front of him, gently rising up, up into the sky, getting darker and thinner the further it went. As far as he could see there was still no end to it.

He touched the string. It still had the same sticky texture and the same resistance to it. He laughed, loud and long. He could almost hear her whispering.

‘How long is a piece of string Louis? Show me.’

He began to reel the string in once again, wrapping it around his forearm and shoulder, the same way he had seen cowboys do it, the same way he had done since he was a little boy. Over and over and over again, and over again, dropping it into the bag when there was too much for him to hold.

The sun climbed, warming the earth and his aching joints. Noon came and went. The string had almost filled another sack and still he had no view or clue as to where it might have come from. He considered stopping for something to eat, but he could feel her, just behind his shoulder.

‘Show me Louis… show me…’

He didn’t stop, he couldn’t.

The day passed and still the string had no end, it was infinite. The sack had filled long ago and he had started to just drop it on the grass by his feet. He worked until sunset, until the light had begun to fade, then he retired into the cottage for the night. He sat in the same chair that he always sat in and thought the same thoughts that he always thought, or at least he tried. His eyes were drawn to the window and out into the night sky to where the string was waiting. He couldn’t bear it any longer, he stood and looked out the window, searching for the string in the darkness, but it was invisible to him.

Invisible or gone?

He rushed outside. There was the bag and there was the pile. He hurried over and fumbled round until he found it. It was still there, still leading up into the sky. He couldn’t bring himself to let it go again, couldn’t bring himself to risk losing it.

‘How long…’

The night was cold and he had left his coat inside; but that didn’t matter, he worked in the dark. His movements were clumsy at first but after a while he had worked out a routine and his body warmed to the task.

The wind began to pick up, and just as the string rose the rain began to fall.

He didn’t notice when he started shaking, nor did he notice when the blisters on his hands burst leaving bloody sores.

He worked throughout the night, only stopping to wipe his hands clean on his pants, and when the first rays of light began to creep up behind him he saw that the string was piled around his legs, almost up to his waist. He squinted up into the sky, his vision blurred for a moment and he had to shake his head to clear it. He looked up again and blinked; there was something there, it was just a speck, a tiny black dot but it was there. He smiled a tired smile.

‘Show me Louis…’

Was that her breath on the back of his neck or the wind?

‘Show me…’

Louis swallowed and licked his dry lips, let out a deep breath and nodded.

Little by little the tiny black dot in the sky began to grow, imperceptibly at first but more and more with each handful he pulled in. He was happy, the wind was warm, birds were singing and Zoe was here. Suddenly Louis grabbed at his chest; pain flared through him and he lost his grip. He collapsed backwards into the string, his right arm raised up at the sky. All his work was lost, everything was gone. Everything.

He lay there, unable to do anything else, praying that the pressure in his chest would subside. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. He had no idea how long he lay there before he was able to once again stand up. He looked up, balancing on legs that no longer belonged to him. The dot was still there and he looked in amazement at the string, it wasn’t floating off, it wasn’t moving. He grinned.

His left arm was now almost useless, dead, but the pressure in his chest had subsided. He found he only needed one arm to pull it in anyway.

He started work again, each movement bringing fresh pain to his chest. He wanted to give up; he was ready to give up. He slid forward onto his knees, unable to stand any longer, the string hung from his arms and shoulders like a shawl. He was so tired. He felt her then, her lips against his neck, her arms about his chest, her words inside his mind.

“How much do you love me…”

He struggled to speak. His body was heavy and his eyes wanted to close, but he still had hold of the string. Through the pain and the lack of breath he worked, the shape coming closer and closer still, dark against the bright sky. He coughed, wincing with each spasm that shook his tired form. She held him tight and he never stopped his work.

Closer and closer…

“Show me…” She kept him warm.

And closer…

“Please…”