Authors: Charles Christian
When the end comes, it comes suddenly, messily and in a fireball that can be seen from 20 miles away.
John Patmos is the culprit. In the early morning he sets off in his white Ford Transit dropside truck. Actually
is not the correct word to use. Technically speaking, the truck still belongs to the firm of Carlisle builders it was stolen from seven years previously. After being fitted with false plates and bogus registration papers, it had changed hands several times before finally being bought by Patmos. In his case, no subterfuge was necessary because Patmos still had difficulty reading English. He also had difficulty understanding English law, which is why on this particular day, as on all days, he is driving the Transit untaxed, uninsured and without a valid driver’s licence.
Somewhere just to the north of Saxmundham, he swings onto an empty stretch of the A12 where, dazzled by the bright low sun of a spring morning shining in his eyes, he temporarily loses his bearings and veers onto the wrong side of the road.
Thirty seconds later, as he accelerates around a corner, his truck ploughs smack into a pale-blue Beetle heading in the opposite direction. He has no time to brake because he doesn’t see the other vehicle coming.
The impact throws Patmos, who of course isn’t wearing a seatbelt, through the Transit’s windscreen. He bounces off the roof of the other car before landing by the side of the road, where he is impaled on the iron railings at the entrance to a farm track.
The driver in the other car is not so lucky.
The subsequent police investigation reveals that not only did the late John Patmos display a cavalier attitude towards his adoptive country’s road traffic laws but he also disregarded a host of other official rules, including the distinctly obscure
Petroleum Spirit Plastic Containers Regulations 1982
which control the amount of petrol you can legally store at home.
I’d always noticed the lights had a tendency to flicker at John’s beach hut but had assumed it was just dodgy wiring. What I hadn’t realised was the hut had no mains electricity supply. Instead John and some of his neighbours had rigged up portable petrol generators to power their lighting and electrical appliances. This particular morning John had been on his way back from his no-questions-asked-source with a fresh supply of petrol, all stored unlawfully in a collection of five litre plastic containers rolling around the back of his truck.
Whether it was an escape of petroleum fumes, a loose fitting lid on one of the petrol containers, the truck’s wiring shorting out or a combination of all three, we’ll never know. What is certain is when the collision occurs, Patmos’ illicit cargo of petrol explodes in a fireball that consumes both vehicles in a blaze of such intensity and ferocity that it is only after the wreckage is damped down that the rescue services recognise the charred fragments inside the car as being the remains of a woman.
is the punningly cruel but apposite headline the local
East Anglian Daily Times
newspaper uses to describe the accident. There is also the suggestion that the occupant of the VW was doubly unlucky because, being a Beetle, the petrol tank was mounted in the front luggage compartment, just inches away from the driver’s seat.
As for Patmos? He dies before he can be cut free from the railings but, ever the mystic, his final words are “I saw her. I saw Azraella, the Angel of Death.”
There’s a ghost in my house.
It still sits at the upstairs window and it still waves at me only now I deliberately try not to look. I’m afraid of making eye contact. The haunting was disconcerting at the best of times although I had learned to live with it. But now... now I know who the ghost is, or at least was, I no longer have the stomach for it.
Logic tells me it is still just a Type Two residual imprint haunting that cannot interact with me but now I’m not sure.
Maybe it’s time for me to move? Houses are redolent with powerful memories and associations at the best of times but when those reminders come from beyond the grave?
I finally got around to mending Ursula’s crucifix and chain. It still hangs from the headboard of the bed in the upstairs front bedroom.
Sometimes I see the ghost of Ursula lying on that bed.
Sometimes I cannot resist the temptation to lie down beside her. I know I cannot communicate with her but it consoles me... a little.
The grey-green telephone in the grey-green interview room rings twice before it is answered.
“Quick, Sergeant, is the Pryce girl still with you?”
“She was just a minute ago, she’s just popped out to the loo. Why do you ask? She seems a lot more chilled than when we spoke with her yesterday? At this rate, I might even grow to like her.”
“It’s not her but the rest of the family that’s in trouble this time. There’s just been an incident at the Pryce home. The emergency services are down there now. First reports say the building has collapsed. Do you mind telling the kid the news or do you want some moral support from me?”
In a bleak windswept clearing, close to an ancient burial mound in the middle of a lonely forest lies the body of a young man.
At first glance you just might think he is merely chilling out in the morning dew. Perhaps listening to some banging tracks on his Apple iPod Nano after a long night’s clubbing? But don’t be fooled by the
headphones covering his ears.
Even if you can overlook his bulging, manic eyes and his blackened tongue jutting out from between his bloodless lips, you will never forget his feet. A pair of new indigo
Converse AllStar Chuck Taylor
sneakers should not have their soles worn away so badly that the young man’s naked feet protrude from the bottom. And those feet! All bloodied with the flesh flayed away to the bare bone in places.
Dannii Pryce wakes with a jolt. Her heart is pounding and she is sweating. “Now where in Seven Hells did that nightmare spring from?” she thinks to herself. “Oh yes, that would explain it...”
Slowly her eyes adjust to the darkened room. Unfamiliar surroundings. Unfamiliar bed. Unfamiliar sounds.
“Got it,” she says under her breath, as she remembers she is back home from university and staying with her father and his new wife, the improbably named Xanthe del Monte. “What kind of name is that for a grown woman, particularly one with a Geordie accent?” Not that Dannii can talk, as most people who meet her for the first time think she was named after Kylie Minogue’s kid sister.
And, talking of kids, being at home with her father means that bloated creep Sebastien, with an ‘e’ – Xanthe’s son by her first marriage and now Dannii’s stepbrother – will be snoring his fat head off in the next room. “Yuk, yuk and double yuk again.”
Except that he isn’t.
Nor is he in evidence at breakfast the following morning. Not that this is unusual or of any concern to Xanthe who just uses his absence as an opportunity to boast, at Dannii’s expense, about Sebastien’s “huge popularity with his enormous circle of really fascinating friends,” before going on to add that unless Dannii makes more effort with her personal appearance and social skills, she risks being left on the shelf and becoming an old maid by the time she is thirty.
“Yeah, right,” thinks Dannii, “and Seb’s popularity wouldn’t have anything to do with the way he chucks his money around – correction, his trust fund’s money – to buy some credibility and to try to keep in with his enormous circle of really fascinating friends!”
Needless to say, Dannii’s father steadfastly ignores Xanthe’s comments, preferring instead to concentrate on eating his
Kellogg’s Bran Flakes
rather than say anything supportive about his daughter.
“No change there then,” notes Dannii, who is by now so used to Xanthe’s sly digs that she’s developed a thick skin and just lets the insults ride over her. But, it did hurt at first.
The day drags on.
Lunch comes and goes but still no sign of Sebastien. Nobody worries as he often returns late the following day, after a night of clubbing in Ipswich. Of course Seb inevitably tries to pretend he’s spent the time making out with some hot chick or another though Dannii doubts any girl could ever be that desperate.
But then the police arrive.
It is around mid-afternoon, just as Xanthe and Dannii’s father are plugging in their iPods and settling down to their daily meditation hour.
Sebastien, it transpires will never be coming home again. Well, at least not in one piece. At that very moment Sebastien is ten miles away. Lying dead at the centre of a clearing in Rendlesham Forest, surrounded only by police crime scene yellow tape and forensic investigators clad in white, disposable coveralls.
Dannii watches, emotionlessly, as Xanthe goes to pieces and begins sobbing hysterically, while her father flaps around ineffectually. “Just as useless and lacking in any empathy for her as he is with me,” she thinks. And so it is that, after making a large pot of tea for everyone, Dannii finds herself being ushered into another room and being asked to help the police with their enquiries.
Directly in front of her sits the senior officer: plain clothes, male, middle-aged, overweight, a detective chief inspector by rank and with just a touch of sour body odour. To his right is a uniformed officer: sergeant’s stripes, female, youngish, dyed jet-black hair, in a shade unknown to nature, scrunched back tightly to create a pony-tail-meets-Essex facelift effect. She is wearing too much mascara and has an ever-so-slightly turned up nose that reminds Dannii of a pig, which is appropriate in an inappropriate kind of way.
The sergeant fires the first shot by asking Dannii about her relationship with the rest of the household.
“Easy peasy,” says Dannii, “I’m the barely tolerated stepdaughter who was foisted on this household after my father divorced my mother. My father didn’t have much choice about the matter. Either take me in with his new wife or see me put into a home by social services. Thank God I got good grades and a scholarship to Uni, so I only have to tolerate them during the vacations. I’m like Harry Potter back from Hogwarts and having to spend his holidays with the Dursleys.”
This clearly throws the two police officers, who don’t know whether to laugh or frown although it doesn’t deter DCI Plod from trying to go for the jugular with the next question.
“You are asking me if I was jealous of Seb’s trust fund? Wow!” exclaims Dannii, “you have been doing your homework haven’t you? Or, let me guess, Seb’s reputation for being a fool with Xanthe’s first husband’s money had already come to your attention? He certainly attracted some dodgy hangers-on. Of course it would have been nice if my father had been a little more generous with me when he dumped Mum to run off with Xanthe but, hey, you can choose your friends but God picks your relatives. Besides, doesn’t the trust fund revert to Xanthe now?”
The sergeant changes tack with the next question. “Did you and Sebastien share any interests?”
“Incredible,” thinks Dannii to herself, “they are trying the Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. Don’t they know we’ve all seen this on TV?” before replying “No, not really. He was your typical spoilt, thick rich kid who wanted to be a party animal whereas I’m more of your geeky Goth chick who stays up half the night surfing the interwebs and listening to obscure emo bands nobody has ever heard of. Little Miss Danny-No-Mates is what Sebs calls me, I mean used to call me.”
The two police officers say nothing and continue to stare expectantly.
“However,” adds Dannii, “a couple of days ago I did spend some time with Seb helping him set up his new iPod. He’d lost his old one – or more likely had it nicked by one of his mates – and needed assistance setting up some new playlists, restoring his iTunes account and searching the web for other music download sites. Out of term time this bloody family treats me like their live-in IT support desk. That’s a joke by the way.”
“Can you remember which sites he visited?” asks the sergeant, clearly unimpressed by Dannii’s attempts at humour.
“Lighten up lady,” Dannii snaps back. “I’m nineteen-years-old. I come from a broken home. My stepbrother has just been found dead. And, despite the fact I even went to the trouble of making the pair of you mugs of tea, you have the nerve to start giving me the third-degree! Oh, and before you start lecturing me on my attitude, you maybe should have checked your facts a little more carefully. Then you might have spotted I’m studying law at Uni and you two are bang out of line when it comes to the
Police and Criminal Evidence Act
“But, since it doesn’t matter one way or the other, no, I don’t know which sites Seb visited. We don’t, correction didn’t, share the same tastes in music – or anything else much. Seb being Seb, though, he’d have tried to find something that was free. He was a tight sod with his money when he didn’t have an audience to watch him spending it. Why don’t you check his browser history or see if he bookmarked any of the sites?”
Dannii, her father and the two police officers are in Sebastien’s bedroom hovering over his laptop, examining his most recent web browsing activities. The history shows all the usual suspects:
Napster, Amazon, Jamendo, SoundCloud
plus something unusual.