1 – The Butterfly Effect
I never was any good at figuring out where to start a story. Where exactly should one begin? What exactly is relevant to the story? If I leave something out will I need to spend more time explaining it later? Maybe I should just start with the butterfly. Ah, I can see that you’re already confused. You know that old saying that a butterfly flapping it’s wings can cause a tornado on the other side of the world? Yeah, that’s not scientific despite how strongly one of my old schoolmates insists it is, rather it’s an example of how a small event can blow out of control. I find it strangely fitting that the butterfly in this story, telling as it does the tale of a mans utter destruction, is a woman.
This woman, in fact. Her name is Kate and she’s a trainee psychiatric nurse that I’ve been friends with for years. Pretty, isn’t she? It’ll be years before she starts to see it though. As you can see we’ve locked ourselves away in a bedroom with a bottle of Johnny Walker, while the party goes on downstairs. About half an hour ago we were both cracking up as we listened to them play Spin The Bottle like children. That dirty laugh of hers is bloody infectious, I swear. But she’s not laughing anymore, she’s sobbing her heart out. If I’d known then what I know now I might be crying too, because this party is exactly…
Two Weeks Before I Die
“Ya can’t stick around, Katie. If he’s done it once he’ll probably do it again. Ya deserve better than that.” It sounds cliche to me even as I say it, a mixture of lines from made for TV movies.
She looks up at me and I kiss her forehead then smile softly down at her. The look in her eyes makes me freeze for a second. I know that look, I’ve been trained to respond to that look, and having seen it so often before I can even recognise it through her tears. Longing, need, want. Our lips linger mere inches from each other as she holds my gaze, and I make my choice.
“Ya know I’ll always be here for ya, babe, whenever ya need a friend.”
She smiles and cuddles up to me. I’ve never been any good with crying women. Whenever I’m confronted with them I get two conflicting urges – to do anything I can to stop the tears and to run away. Much later I’d find out that most men feel like this, but tonight I was trying to be the friend she needed so I chose door number three. We finished the bottle and her tears dried up long before the sun rose, and spent the night cuddled up on the bed, talking about life and other bizarre things neither of us fully understand.
Eight Days Before I Die
I hit him again, smashing his head back into the wall. I normally hate violence. I’m a big guy and I’ve had training so I’m fully aware of how much damage I can cause if I put my mind to it. I’m also fully aware that I lack the discipline to stop when I should. That’s one of the reasons I try to avoid fights whenever I can. I’m not stupid though, and I will defend myself if I need to. See, I’m already getting my story straight in case he calls the police when I’m done.
It’s not entirely untrue though. Having finally convinced Kate to move back in with her parents, I came here with her to ensure this abusive bastard couldn’t lay another finger on her. I want him to be afraid. I want him to know what it feels like to have someone bigger and stronger than him hurling him around.
I hit him again.
Ten Minutes Before I Die
There really are no words that can describe how it feels when a car hits you. Terrifying, yes. Painful, of course. But those words just don’t quite describe the feeling when several hundred pounds of metal slams into you at speed. Your internal organs shift around, some of them bursting, and your bones shatter. If you’re lucky then the impact will knock you out before you feel the pain. Yeah, I never was all that lucky.
Three men pile out of the car and I reach up to them for help. One kicks my hand away and then they start beating me with metal baseball bats and iron bars. Already in agony, each blow that lands shakes my body more, adding to the pain. I try to defend myself but can only raise an already broken limb to be broken all over again. Over the sounds of impact and their laughter I can hear a siren in the distance and pray that it’s headed to me. Through blood and tears I look at them, turning the pain into fury, letting each blow etch their demonic faces into my thoughts so I can describe them to the police.
Then there is no more pain, there is no more fury and there is no more thought. Mercifully, I die.
2 – Scarred
I awake in a darkened hospital ward and, after that realisation, start pulling tubes out of myself. Let me tell you this, just in case you find yourself in a similar situation: all those movies that show people tearing those taped on tubes out of their arms and hands are dangerously inaccurate. All you do is tear yourself open when you do that, which is one of the reasons I’ve got blood running down my arm. I’m hungry and thirsty, and there’s no way I’m going to attempt to get these lower tubes out after the disaster with the less delicately placed one. I try to call out but my throat feels like sandpaper and I’m very aware of my tongue. My blood drips slowly onto the floor.
“Hey ‘Chelle, you hear to give me my sponge bath?”
“You never quit do you?”
“What can I say? You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in months.”
“You were in a coma for three of those months and there’s only guys in this ward.”
“You reckon that’s got something to do with it?” I raise my eyebrows and look worried, and she laughs.
“The police are here again. They want to take a statement.”, she tells me. “Are you up for it?”
A car comes round a corner too fast and the brakes squeal, making me visibly jump. For the first time in my adult life I’m afraid and, most damning of all, I know I shouldn’t be. I slam my fist into a nearby lamp post and my blood hits the ground again. I smile as my knuckle shatters.
I stare over his shoulder at my reflection and shift uncomfortably in my seat.
“And the police can do nothing for you?” he asks.
“They say it’s been too long. Any proof is long gone so while they can press charges it probably wont even get to court.”
I watch myself forming the words with a face I don’t recognise.
“How do you feel about that?”
I knew the question was coming. After all, it’s what the majority of psychology comes down to – how people feel about the events surrounding them. It doesn’t make it any easier. How does he think I feel? Angry, cheated, alone, but mostly…
“Tired. I’m just so tired of the whole damn thing. I feel like I need to sleep but there’s just so much that needs to be done that I haven’t got the time.”
I watch my reflection as I say these things, watch these strange expressions formed on this grotesque face, almost unrecognisable under all the scars.
“I guess if anyone needs some beauty sleep, it’s me eh?”
He looks confused, a practiced expression to help those with low self-esteem.
“So, tell me about your work situation…”
“I kept this club running for eleven bloody months while you were off in Spain!”
“I know that…”
“The manager left and I kept it running. I paid the bills. I paid the wages. I got us a spot on TV.”
“You’ve got to underst…”
“All the while no-one could contact you. Everything was on me. And now I can’t even work here?”
“You’ve been gone for six months.”
“I was dead for some of that and in a coma for the majority of the rest.”
“I couldn’t hold the management positions for you. We didn’t know if you’d be able to come back. I can set you on the bar again but there’s just nothing on the management track.”
I walk out without saying another word, wondering if anything is left for me. I know this industry needs faces and mine is gone now along with everything I’ve ever known.
Laughter. I know that laugh. I’ll never forget that laugh. I glance over at the queue forming outside the club and see him. He’s laughing with his girlfriend. He took my life apart and he’s laughing about it now, just as he was back then.
His girlfriend hits the floor too as I plough into him, but I couldn’t care less. I start punching him over and over. Someone tries to pull me off and I elbow them in the groin. My fists are covered with a mixture of his blood and my own now so I’m hammering rather than punching. I’m crying and I don’t know why. I keep hammering away, crushing his face under my fists bit by bit. Now his blood hits the floor, now he can live in fear, now he can die.
She looks at me, an emotion in her eyes that I don’t recognise. One day I’ll know it as pity but today it has no name.
“He was one of them wasn’t he? One of the ones who hurt you.”
I nod. I’m so tired now. I just want to get this done and go to sleep. I don’t care if it happens in my bed or a cell, so long as I get to sleep.
“You’re lucky, you know? There’s no cameras here. Most of them are already too drunk to tell who started it.” She gestures to the clubgoers being questioned by her partner. “Claim temporary insanity and we can make sure you wont see the inside of a court.”
She keeps talking, telling me how the system is broken if they got away with what they did to me. I’m drifting off, lost in the discordant rhythm of her words. Sleep starts to drape itself around my shoulders, then is torn away suddenly by what she says next.
“Just make sure you don’t kill them.”
Awake at last I start paying attention as she tells me how she sees the world, and I’m fascinated.
I thought about her words all that night, and their implications. As I bandage my hands I catch sight of my destroyed face in the bathroom mirror and make my decision.
3 – Prey
A new perspective and a good night’s sleep; that’s all I needed. Yesterday people were slamming into me on the street, barging past the monster with the scars. Today they’re stepping out of my way, avoiding my challenging glare, crossing the road to be away from my horrific grin. The words echo through my head. Free reign with only one condition.
“Just make sure you don’t kill them.”
My smile widens.
A quick phone call gets me a bar job, showing my name still means something in this town despite being away. I chose the rock bar because I’m sick to death of hiding what I am. I’ve worked the club scene in this town for so long, pretending to like this almost tribal crap that they blast out at a nauseating volume, dressing a certain way to match the image, constantly wearing a mask, and I’m not entirely sure I remember who I am underneath that mask. It feels good to be heading off to earn my living in jeans and work boots. It feels like coming home. I smile again and a mother moves her child away from the monster I’ve become. If only she knew the reason I can smile now, had the slightest inkling of my plans, no doubt she’d keep that child indoors for the rest of her life.
Two To Go
He still lives with his mother, this demon. The family has a large house in a well to do neighbourhood and three large cars in the driveway. I use my spare time to watch them, building a view of the family bit by bit. Mommy Dearest loves her son and is constantly boasting to the neighbours about his achievements at University. I notice she never mentions the police questioning him for attempted murder. Maybe she forgot? Part of me hates that woman as I see her constantly singing her boy’s praises, but she’s not my main concern. She does manage to edit my plan slightly, as I realise there are worse things than physical pain.
My chance soon arrives as he and his family set up their stall for the church fete. A couple of seconds is all I need to slip the package into his car’s glove compartment, and then I’m gone before anyone can see. I watch the fete from just outside the old Boy Scout hall, absently wondering if there’s a badge that covers this sort of thing while waiting for more and more people to show up. When the place is bustling with their neighbours I make the call to my friend and the police arrive minutes later. So confident are they that junior couldn’t do anything wrong that they don’t even ask for a warrant when their car is searched. I savour their expressions when the package is found and laugh out loud when he hits the arresting officer in front of everyone. Somehow I don’t think Mommy Dearest will be able to sweep this one under the rug. £500 street value of any drug usually means some jail time as there’s no way he can claim it’s for personal use, never mind £500 of a class A drug.
As I walk away from this ruined family I smile to myself, barely containing the laughter. It was worth every penny. For a second I wonder if I should worry that I can do this to a family and not feel guilty, then the laughter washes the worry away.
I almost feel sorry for this poor guy who is last on my list. The past few weeks have been hard on him. He works at an estate agents and most times he’s been to show a house to someone he’s been left waiting for twenty odd minutes with no-one showing up. Add that to the break-in last week where nothing was taken but his expensive electronics were broken and you can imagine the stress he’s under. You know, I hear someone anonymously tipped off his insurance company that he was planning to rip them off so they’re investigating thoroughly and he hasn’t had a payout yet. They say he might not even get one. A lot of little things like that have been happening to him recently and it’s taking a toll on him, making him twitchy. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost, but not enough to stop playing the game.
I sit on the balcony of the fast food joint across the road from the estate agents and tuck into a half-pound cheese burger with bacon as I watch him. I choke on my drink as the phone ringing scares him bolt upright. He’s ready but I’m not, at least not yet. I double check the date on my phone, make a quick call then sit back and enjoy the rest of my meal, looking forward to what is to come.
Exactly one year after I died then was brought back in the ambulance he put me in, I take him. After so many fake house viewing calls his bosses don’t let him go out anymore and with them both on calls he is left to lock up alone. He walks through the car park, nervously peering into shadows for all his apparent bravado. He sees me and freezes, realising too late that he’s been distracted. It’s over in seconds as they bundle his unconscious frame into the car and I, sitting cross-legged on the roof of his car, watch with a smile on my face.
When I arrive at the old boiler room he’s handcuffed to a pipe in the corner with a cloth knitting bag over his head.
“Today is a special day for me. Can you guess why?” I speak to him in my managerial voice because it lends a certain calm authority to my words then I pull the bag from his head.
“Today is the anniversary of the day you killed me. Of course, you had to hit me with a car to get me down and even then you needed weapons and your friends to back you up before you could finish the job.”
His eyes are wide with terror.
“Where are those friends of yours, by the way? Prison? The intensive care unit at the hospital? Isn’t it funny how everyone in your life has such bad luck since that day. Was the price you’ve paid worth it? One could think it was all your fault. To be completely honest with you, I do blame you for all of this. Neither of us would be here today if you’d just conducted yourself in an orderly manner. I have to wonder, why couldn’t you control yourself?”
I reach forward and pull the pin from the hand grenade taped into his mouth.
“You know it’s probably best that you don’t answer me right now. Don’t worry, I wont hold it against you.”
I talked for quite a while, explaining to him how life is about power – those who have it and those who take it from them. I explained how, just as he’d taken the power from Kate with his actions, he’d taken it from me when he left me dying on that street. I told him about the rage that went through my body when I heard his friend laughing and how relaxed I’d felt after I’d smashed his face to a bloody pulp. I laughed out loud as I explained how I’d set his other friend up for a nice long stretch inside and caused his loving family to disown him.
“You see, it all comes down to one thing – power. They helped you take it from me and I had no choice but to take it back.”
Twirling the pin on my finger I pull the tape free from his mouth and hold the hand grenade inches from his face, then I pull out a cigarette and light it with this novelty lighter, making him flinch as the flame briefly illuminates the room.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think this was real?”
He sits there huddled against the pipe in a small pool of his own urine, so small and pathetic, and he cries.
A flash in the shadows startles him and momentarily blinds me then Kate steps into the light next to me, pulling the photograph from her camera. She holds it by a corner, blows on it and shakes it, in a gesture probably learned from too many TV shows.
“Ah yes, I almost forgot. This little encounter has nothing to do with you killing me. You see, this isn’t my vengeance today, but be sure that one day I will come back into your life. When I can be bothered, of course. Don’t worry, it’ll happen sooner or later, and when it does this will seem like a happy dream.”
I know he can hear my words but his eyes never move from Kate. The horror in them is more telling than anything I’ve ever seen and I know then that he’ll never hit another woman again.
“And as you know, we can take you whenever we want. Was it really worth it?”
Being careful not to kneel in the puddle, I unlock the cuffs and we leave him sobbing in the corner.
4 – Reflections
We walk out into the sun together, putting on shades to protect our eyes. For the first time in what seems like forever my friend laughs and I can’t help but join her. She always did have an infectious laugh.
“It’s over.” She reaches up and puts her arms around my neck as she says it.
“That it is, Katie, that it is.” I can’t look at her because I’m not entirely sure it is over for me. Not entirely sure that I was making idle threats. Not entirely sure I’m not lying to her.
“You set up the cameras at work yeah?”
“Yeah, tonight you and I will appear on a security video with last nights date on, right next to a copper.”
“Why is she helping us like this?”
“She believes in justice. Possibly read too many comic books as a kid too. I never really asked.” I can’t tell Kate that she’s not helping us, she’s helping me. The girl already feels responsible for my coma as it is and doesn’t need to know that others feel that way too. I consider telling her about the larger plan my new friend has in mind, but she’s an innocent in this. Just because she fought a battle doesn’t mean she should be involved in the war. I’m not even sure I should be.
“So, do you think I should make this photo into Christmas cards for this year?”
The question surprises me and I look down to see her cheeky grin and know it was a joke. And then I see myself reflected in her sunglasses, my face unharmed except for a tiny, almost invisible scar by my eyebrow. For a second I muse on the absurdity of the human psyche. Looking at my reflection, I realise I’m actually quite good looking with shorter hair like this. Maybe I should keep it short for a while.
“Yeah. I could draw a white beard on and a little Santa hat.”
“You’re thinking about Christmas when my birthday’s still to come? I’m hurt K.” I pull my puppy dog eyes look and she giggles.
“I got you that funky lighter already. I’m not made of money you know.”
“If I’m your mom then you’re grounded after what you just did?”
“You were there too.”
“Do as I say, not as I do.” She pulls a mock stern face and wags her finger at me as I laugh.
“Coming out of your cocoon today?” I ask, pointing to the silver butterfly hairclip she’s wearing.
“You saying I’m a caterpillar? What you talkin’ bout Willis?”
“Tenner says you can’t tell me what that’s a quote from.”
“Shush you, you’re still grounded.”
It’s not even that funny but we both crack up. I extend my arm to her and she takes it, then we finally walk arm in arm away from that dark place and into the light.