Here Lies Love is told nearly entirely from Abbey’s point of view, but this extract from the beginning of the story is from one of the antagonists. He’s an evil troubled soul called Stefan – although he may go by another name in the book – you’ll have to read all of it to discover his alter-ego.
Chapter One. A Sad World
The artificial blue haze did little to illuminate the cityscape; a cold glow that instilled little faith to the people that scavenged and plundered beneath. As he watched from up above, out of his dirty window, Stefan knew as soon as one of them found something edible – be it a mouldy potato, bruised apple or soiled meat – a fight would ensue.
The stifled sobs behind him brought him out of his thoughts. He ignored them and continued to gaze out of the window.
The moon seemed so far away. Further even than it was a day earlier. It was as if the world was losing its grasp on the lunar god in the sky. She was getting ready to turn her back on them just as the sun had done decades earlier; the world a loveless and lonely orphan left in their wake. He remembered so vividly of how his grandfather spoke of luscious fields so green they felt like velvet. And trees too, trees that bore delicious fruit, unlike the dilapidated skeletal things that surrounded the city like a ring of death, a constant reminder of what was fast approaching. The world had become a miniscule existence with an effete, delusive society.
A whimper rattled his ears. He closed his eyes, swallowing the anger back into the bowels of his body. Breathe. Just breathe.
But where was his grandfather now? Stefan knew that he was just as likely to be as dry as the ring of trees. He was just another example of a lost generation. He had no family left now. Alone. Isolated. He knew how the moon felt; he’d probably turn his back on them all too. He unlatched the window and its wood casing creaked against the rusty metal. A stagnant chill caressed his face and he inhaled deeply, allowing the poisoned air to course through his veins.
The shuffle and groan irritated him once again. He slammed the window shut and placed his bald head against the cold smooth glass. All he wanted was quiet, a halcyon existence. Why was that so difficult? He approached an uneven side table in the darkness and, striking a match, lit up the leaning candle placed there. Holding it inches away from his face, the flickering warm against his cheek, he turned his attention to a waxy cage in the corner of the room. As he got nearer, the cries became more attuned and more frequent. He couldn’t suppress the smile.
As the candlelight reached further into the cage, the shaded silhouette gave birth to a girl bound by prickly rope. Her dirty blonde hair looked matted by grunge and dirt. The mucky rags she wore were ripped and slashed, covered in patches of dark red. Blood, from where the thick rope had tugged and bitten into her skin, blunt teeth that gnawed at her over and over.
Stefan giggled, enjoying the victim’s fear as if it was his drug of choice, addicted by its delectable taste. As the girl cried more, she choked upon the cloth stuffed in her mouth. Stefan reached inside and snatched the cloth away and she coughed violently, her saliva dribbling from her dry lips and dangling off her chin.
“Please,” she begged, her words coarse and quiet. “Please, some water.”
Stefan eyed the chipped mug of water he’d left on the floor just inches from the cage. He considered leaving it there, but the chance to torment the girl was too good to ignore. Placing the flickering candle down, he hovered the mug in front of her, circling it in front of her eyes. A giddy flutter of excitement tickled his insides.
He held his hand up to apologise, nearing the mug to her cracked lips. Just as the girl went to take a sip, Stefan tipped the water onto the floor in front of her. In mad desperation, the girl lunged forwards and started to lick up the liquid. Stefan broke the silence with fits of laughter.
“Oh what a sad, sad world this really is,” he cursed, spitting at her, antagonising her even more as he poked and jabbed at her bare arms with his sharp fingernails. The girl screamed in short bursts and sobbed once more.
“No. No. No. No. No. No,” the girl gasped as Stefan slipped a knife from his jacket pocket, the candlelight glinting in its jagged edges. His deep chuckles resonated around the room and hearing the echoes of his own perverse enjoyment edged him further into a state of euphoria.
“If you behave, I may keep you alive,” Stefan whispered. The girl nodded, visibly gulping her sorrow away. Her eyes refused to blink, their bloodshot appearance emphasising the terror locked inside them. Her nose was running and her teeth chattered incessantly.
Stefan nodded back in silence. Using the knife, he sliced the thin rope that held the cage together and it collapsed releasing the girl from her prison. Motioning with his head, he ushered the girl forward, half crawling half sliding towards the only door in the room. Perhaps he should let her go? He was running out of toys, acquiring new ones had become more difficult. He was running out of tokens.
He wasn’t getting any younger either. As much as he hated to admit it, this business he dabbled in was exhausting his already weathered body. As the moon rose each night, Stefan felt the aches more. His insides were riddled with maladies no witch doctor could diagnose.
And by the time the moon had sunken to its sleepy bed, Stefan would cough fits of black, syrupy blood and grit. A countdown was ticking above his head. Only the cruel fates knew exactly how much longer he had.
He might as well enjoy what time he had left upon this land.
The girl slowly slugged towards the door. Her shaking reminded him of why he did this. The power, the fear – a perfect balance, a perfect unison. He refused to be played; no one would get the better of him. He was immune to emotion. He eyed the knife, it calling out to him. Compassion, sympathy, forgiveness. Signs of weakness, all of them.
The girl had reached the door. Striding across the wooden floor, he grabbed the girl’s ankles and dragged her back into his domain. Her high-pitched screams reverberated throughout the room and possibly even outside into the blue haze, but Stefan didn’t mind. No one would hear and even if they did, they would simply turn away and slip into the eternal darkness. Humanity was but a shadow of its humane past. Charitable aid and kindness got you killed in this sad world. No, no one would hear her screams, all except for him, and that was precisely how he liked it.
Text copyright © Dan Thompson / Autumn Orchard 2014
Here Lies Love is available in paperback and ebook