What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller (24 page)

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
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Gareth leads me to the top of the cellar steps. ‘Are you ready for this?’

I haven’t seen my mother for a couple of weeks now. I have heard her moving around in the bedroom and moaning in her sleep, and I hear her now: the scraping of a chair across the floor, a gurgling cough, a chink of glass. I briefly latch on to the thought that maybe if I call her she’ll come downstairs and help me, maybe she’s been getting well all this time, maybe she’ll look like a normal mother and she’ll hug me, order Gareth to pack his cases and get the fuck out of our house.

Gareth leads me down the steps. At first David and I believed him when he said he was a scientist. We would stand in front of his exhibits, wide-eyed and awestruck as he showed us furry bodies sliced through, skin pinned back on pieces of wood to reveal innards unravelling, miniature organs unpacked, white bone scraped of sinew. Over time we moved from spectators to assistants and were called upon to hold an animal still while Gareth performed his experiments.

He has captured next door’s cat and she is in a cage in the corner, shivering. She hisses when we come close. She is an ordinary mongrel-cat with black fur and white patches scattered like snow across her chest. She’s called Cheeky. I know this because she belongs to a girl my age who is in my class. On the school bus this morning she told me that Cheeky has been missing for a couple of days. ‘You haven’t seen her, have you?’ she asked me. ‘I’m worried that she might have been run over.’

She’ll be my birthday present, then, that’s what I thought. But I shook my head at the girl and said, ‘I haven’t seen her. I hope she comes back.’

Gareth is humming. He’s excited – he always is just before the kill. My mouth is filling with bile and there are tap dancers banging out a beat behind my eyes. I touch the back of my head again, find comfort in the black space inside my skull. I know that if I concentrate on letting go then the darkness will weave through the particles of my brain until it obliterates every sight and sound, wrapping me up in a cloak of impenetrable smoke.

Gareth slips Cheeky a treat through the bars of the cage and the cat takes it because she’s starving.

‘Trust, Leila Mae,’ Gareth says. ‘Always important to gain the animal’s trust.’ More humming, more treats and then he opens the cage door. Cheeky is reluctant but she doesn’t resist his touch beyond a cower and a half-hearted meow of protest when she is lifted out. ‘You should hold her, Leila Mae. Today is your birthday, your special day. A special day for a special girl.’

I guessed a few months ago, from hints dropped here and there, that today was the day he would make me kill for the first time. ‘There comes a threshold in every person’s life when he or she must move from apprentice to master,’ he said last week and David nudged me, his expression scared and questioning.

Gareth hands me the cat. ‘Stroke her. Comfort her,’ he says.

When I was ten I read that psychopaths begin their murderous habits by killing small animals and so I lived in constant terror of something triggering Gareth into murdering us all. Four years on, and I think that despite the threat of physical violence being ever present, like fumes in a crowded city, Gareth’s game is not to progress to killing us but to corrupt David and myself. That is where his pleasure lies. His aim is to spoil our innocence. And he’s succeeded.

I stroke Cheeky’s fur and whisper words of comfort. ‘There, there, puss. You’re going to be just fine. Soon you’ll be running free again.’

‘Remember how to position your hands,’ Gareth says, a rictus grin of excitement dominating his pale face.

When I was twelve I went through a phase of thinking that if I could understand Gareth’s motivations then I could change him. I spent a lot of time in the library reading about dysfunctional families. I was sure that Gareth must have come from one and that this was his way of coping. I did my research. I found out where his parents lived and I went to see them. They were delighted that I had come to visit. ‘We were hoping to meet you!’ his mother exclaimed. ‘We don’t see much of Gareth. We know how busy he is with work. And how much time he spends caring he spends caring for your poor mum,’ she said, her voice hushed. ‘He’s asked us not to pop round so we don’t. We know how your mum needs her rest.’

I sat on the edge of their brown leather sofa and they fed me sandwiches and cake. When I had finished a glass of lemonade I asked for a tour of their bungalow. They showed me round with pride, pointing out Gareth’s old room, Airfix aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling, and in the kitchen, the brand new fridge-freezer towering in the corner. Gareth’s room was a non-event and the fridge-freezer was full of pre-packaged food – not even a sniff of animal organs. The house didn’t have a cellar or even a garden hut. Nothing even remotely suspicious, nothing that indicated their son had developed his sadistic, twisted hobby in their home.

I left with a pound pocket money and a promise to return. Which I did. I even took David a couple of times. I began to believe that I could get them to adopt us but then Gareth’s dad had a stroke and his mum started spending daylight hours at the hospital.

And as for Gareth’s habits – I came to the conclusion that either he was adopted and ‘genes will out’ or he was simply an evil fuck, an aberration born of good people.

‘Short, sharp break, Leila Mae,’ Gareth says. ‘We don’t want the animal to suffer. We’re not about suffering. We are witnesses. Position her head so you can stare into her eyes when she dies.’

I do it. I can’t feel anything and I can’t see anything because I am lost in the blackness that has filled every space inside my head. Still I know it must be me who snaps her neck. It must be me who stares into her eyes. Because it is my hands that are holding her, my eyes that are looking.

‘Are you watching, Leila Mae? Do you see the life leaving her body?’ His excited tone changes to disappointment. ‘You’re not crying, Leila Mae? You should be crying.’ Gareth is crying. Tears run down his face in a stream of perverted grief. ‘You should be crying, Leila Mae. You hard-hearted girl. You evil little bitch.’

I lay Cheeky’s body on Gareth’s workbench and run upstairs to my room. Gareth won’t follow me. He never does. He will stay downstairs and remove the cat’s collar, hang it on a hook in the corner, another trophy to add to his growing collection. Then he’ll dissect the body, emptying the furry carcass of everything that gave it life. He won’t be happy, though. I have spoiled the kill for him and he’ll be working out how to approach me next time, because no tears is a departure from the norm and he won’t like that. He enjoys my distress. It’s part of the ritual.

Not crying is my birthday present to myself – I’m not going to cry anymore because it’s useless. A crying child should bring her mother running, a mother who says, ‘What’s wrong, darling? Let me help you.’ I don’t have one of those mothers so I’m fucked if I’m going to be a crybaby.

That night, I take my actions into my sleep and have dreams that are a jumble of sights and sounds, bloody fur and the snap of bone. When I wake, I feel an emotion that shames me, an emotion I could never share with anyone else – not even David, who is fast asleep beside me. Killing Cheeky made me feel powerful. I am a fourteen-year-old girl and I know what it feels like to callously, deliberately kill. I should be ashamed of myself but I’m not. I’m stronger for it.

11. Ellen

Tuesday comes round and so too the anticipated therapy session. I dress carefully in a sky-blue blouse that highlights my eyes. I wear make-up – the full works from foundation to mascara – and when I look at myself in the mirror I’m pleased with what I see. I expect that today will be the day I admit my real identity, because if the conversation goes the way I want it to go then she’ll guess who I am. I take the jewellery with me and make my way to Maybanks, walking tall with the freedom of not caring whether I bump into anyone en route.

At exactly 2 p.m. I ring the doorbell. No answer, so I ring it again and then again. It’s almost five minutes before the door opens and Leila is standing there. She is dressed in sweatpants and a loose jumper. ‘I’m sorry, Mary. I’m suffering from a foul migraine.’ She holds her hand up to shield her eyes against the light. ‘Would you mind if we cancelled today?’ Her speech is slurred. ‘I should have called you. I won’t charge you, of course.’

‘You have a hole in your jumper,’ I say, pointing to her right shoulder.

‘Oh.’ She feels the spot I’ve pointed out to her. ‘Yes, I must have taken the jumper from the wrong pile. I was clearing out my wardrobe and …’ Her attention drifts off. ‘I’m sorry, Mary. I’m having a difficult week. I won’t be any use to you today.’

‘But we were going to talk about the other woman,’ I say.

She frowns. ‘What other woman?’

‘The woman my husband left me for.’

She laughs. ‘I wouldn’t worry!’ She waves a magnanimous hand. ‘From what I know of you, and from what you’ve told me of him … well, you’re better off without him.’

‘But—’

‘Just …’ She closes her eyes. ‘Let …’ Her head drops to one side. ‘It …’ She giggles. ‘Go …’ She sways on her feet and I realise that she doesn’t have a migraine. She’s been drinking. She’s properly plastered.

‘Leila?’ My tone is annoyed.

She opens her eyes and focuses on mine. Her pupils are dilated and I see my own reflection in the black of her eyes. My face moves closer to hers as if pulled by an invisible thread and my reflection increases in size until I see my own expression, wide-eyed and confused. Then Leila blinks and the spell is broken. ‘Just go,’ she says. ‘Fuck right off!’ Just before the door closes in my face I hear her say, ‘Silly cow.’

‘Bitch!’ I say out loud. ‘Some therapist you are!’ The jewellery is heavy in my bag but I’m damned if I’m giving her it back now. I trudge home, feeling annoyed and let down. I find Francis waiting for me when I go inside.

‘So what happened?’ he says.

‘We didn’t have the session.’ I throw my coat over the back of a chair. ‘I feel really cheated.’

‘Wasn’t she there?’

‘She was drunk!’ I sit next to him on the sofa and tell him everything from start to finish. ‘Her pupils were huge, black. I felt …’ I shiver. ‘I felt almost hypnotised by her.’

‘Did you give her her jewellery back?’

‘No. I …’ His face says it all. ‘I’m going to though. I really am.’

‘Has it occurred to you that she might be drinking because the jewellery was stolen?’

‘Yes … no.’ I try to snuggle into him but he shifts his weight away from me. ‘You’re telling me this has gone far enough, aren’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Tomorrow. I’ll return the pieces tomorrow.’

‘Why not now?’ He stands up. ‘We’ll go together – or better still, let me do it for you. Let’s put her out of her misery before the shit really hits the fan.’

‘Please, Francis,’ I say. ‘Just bear with me for one more night.’

He sighs. ‘All right, but really Ellen. This has to stop before someone gets hurt.’

‘I know,’ I say. ‘I know.’

Next day I park a couple of hundred yards from my old house and set off along the street. My conscience – or maybe Francis’s – has got the better of me and I’m taking the jewellery back. I’m halfway there when I hear a voice.

‘Ellen! Ellen!’ It’s Mrs Patterson; she seems to appear out of nowhere. ‘Have you seen Bruiser? He’s missing, you know.’

‘Ben told me,’ I say. ‘I’m so sorry.’ I hug her tiny frame. ‘You must be beside yourself.’

‘I’m not sleeping. I’m not eating. My stomach is all churned up with acid and I know what some people around here are thinking, Ellen – He’s only a cat. Why is she getting herself in such a state?’

‘I’m not thinking that, Mrs Patterson.’ I hold her hand in mine. ‘Bruiser is no ordinary cat.’

‘I knew you’d understand.’ She gives a wistful sigh. ‘I do miss you, my dear.’ Her head drops to one side, then her face lights up and her head pops upright again. ‘Will you come in and have a cup of tea? I’ve made scones.’

I can see Maybanks’ drive from where we’re standing. There are no cars in the driveway; it’s the perfect time for me to drop the jewellery through the door.

‘There was a dreadful fuss going on in there on Saturday,’ Mrs Patterson says. She has her tiny hand in the crook of my arm and has started walking us towards her house. ‘Did Ben tell you?’

‘He did mention it, yes.’

‘A great kerfuffle broke out because she couldn’t find a box and when she described it, I thought to myself – that’s Ellen’s box! The lovely Chinese one that belonged to her grandma, with the mother-of-pearl inlay. I’m right, aren’t I? And Tom was none the wiser – aren’t men hopeless? That box only sat on your dressing table for ever and a day!’

I have to smile. Not much gets past Mrs Patterson. We’re close to her house when she points out the flyer taped onto the lamp-post. ‘Your boy was so kind, so very kind to me. He’s put them up on the lamp-posts from here to the main road.’

‘It’s a great photo of Bruiser,’ I say. ‘Looks just like him.’

‘I’m hoping. I’m really hoping,’ she says, clutching at the string of beads round her neck. ‘He’s a bit silly about the traffic sometimes, that’s my worry. He spies a patch of sunshine on the opposite side of the road and off he goes.’

‘Let’s get you indoors,’ I say, looking skyward. ‘The rain’s on its way.’

‘You come in for that cuppa,’ she says, propelling me along the drive ahead of her, surprisingly strong when she needs to be. ‘I have
so
much to tell you. My loyalty will always be with you, Ellen.’ She pats my hand and then unlocks her front door with a key from the chain she wears round her waist. ‘Your secret is safe with me. If you came to get your lovely jewellery box back – and I’m not saying you did, mind – then who could blame you?’ She’s staring up at me without a trace of guile. Some people would intend this as a veiled threat but Mrs Patterson doesn’t. ‘I didn’t tell Tom and Leila that I saw you from the window,’ she adds. ‘I wouldn’t do that.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Patterson.’

‘Some people might not recognise you with your hair changed but I’d know you anywhere. That’s Ellen,’ I said to myself. ‘And good luck to her.’

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
5.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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