by Sarah Scanlan
whisky on the rocks
The sound of a low flying aircraft disturbed the tranquil setting of Harrow Woods. The plane chugged along leaving a wispy trail in the sky and within moments had passed, giving silence full authority once again.
Harrow Woods hugged the edge of Gaunts town. It was thick with shadowy trees except for an open corner where folk would picnic and relax. An earthy scent of moss filled the air along with a fine mist, which refused to leave. In the distance the town’s church bell chimed. It was the beginning of a new day.
The wood was home to many oak trees; they stood tall and foreboding. A striking bird sat alone high up on a branch. Its feathers were the colour of piano keys tinged with teal. It cocked its head, as something on the ground caught its eye. Moving across the willowy twig, it jumped on to the one below, still twitching its head from side to side to get a better look.
Its attention was attracted to a small sparkly object.The magpie let out a throaty cackle; it sounded frustrated, as if deciding whether to venture down any further. The bird’s raspy cry pierced the quiet again. It looked once more at the ground, and then flew away.
The sparkly object was a ring.It shone brightly on the hand of a young woman.
Her body was still.She lay as if asleep on the wet ground. A gentle breeze tickled the long grasses to sway over her body, as to entice her back to life. Her exposed flesh was the colour of a thunderous sky and her long golden hair was matted with crimson where the back of her skull had been crushed. Bone, blood and grey matter had now congealed there and dried in to one mass.
Her face was smooth with small perfect features like that of a china doll. Her jeans were stained with mud and dirt and her feet displayed coloured nails of bright turquoise through her peep toe shoes. She wore a sunshine yellow t-shirt, but above her left breast was a cut in the fabric. The crude oval hole revealed an incision in her flesh that had been neatly sliced and sown back together. But something lay in the wound beneath her skin. Something dark that didn’t belong. Something moving.
In the distance the dry rasp of the magpie continued.
* * *
The man had been running for over an hour. Ducking in to the bushes at the side of the road each time a car passed by. He was tall and muscular with dark eyes. His skin was scarred and rough. He looked like he’d had a lifetime of misery in his thirty years. His clothes were dirty and his shoes scuffed. He had travelled far. His journey had started the previous night, using as many different types of transport he could to keep the police guessing. He knew they would be looking for him, if not now, they would be soon. He slowed his pace to a brisk walk as he headed towards the town, he couldn’t afford for people to get suspicious. He checked his watch. It was 6.05pm. He could see lights from pubs and restaurants as he drew nearer. He knew he couldn’t risk being seen, but he also knew that through the town was the only way to reach his destination. The man came to a large sign on the side of the road and stopped.
Welcome to Gaunts. Have a pleasant stay.
He looked down at himself, at his dirty clothes. He zipped up his brown leather jacket to hide the flecks of blood on his shirt and headed for the town.
* * *
The loud banging on the door awoke Tom Wyatt from his nap. Through dreary eyes he looked at the clock on the wall of the lounge. It was 7.15pm. In the corner of the room the muted TV flickered. The banging came again.
‘Alright, I’m coming.’ He murmured heading for the hallway. When he opened the door two police officers faced him.
‘Evening sir, I’m Detective Inspector Mace this is Detective Constable Merrifield.’ The tall policeman motioned to his colleague, who was a short stout young woman with large eyes. They both showed him their ID cards. ‘Can I take your name Sir?’ The Detective asked.
‘Of course, it’s Thomas Wyatt.’ The old man replied.
‘Sorry to call on you at this time sir but I’m sure you’ve heard the news about the body of a woman found in Harrow woods today.’
‘Only what I heard on the local radio.’ Tom answered. ‘As you can see I don’t have any close neighbours to talk to, living so far out. Such an awful thing to happen, I like to walk my dog Deefa down in Harrow, I suspect it will be cordoned off for now will it?’
‘It will for a while until we get all the evidence we need. We’re asking residents of the area if they’ve noticed anything to raise your suspicions recently, missing items perhaps or unusual behaviour?’ The DC was ready with her pad and paper.
‘No nothing that I can think of.’ He shook his head as he answered.
‘Did you walk your dog in the woods this morning Mr.Wyatt?’ The Constable enquired.
‘No, I wasn’t well this morning; I couldn’t face walking far so I just let her out in the garden. My legs you see, they don’t work as well as they used to.’ He smiled thinly.
‘Do you live here alone Sir?’
‘Yes, my wife passed away a long time ago. It’s just me and Deefa.’
‘Well if you do think of anything then you can contact us on this number.’ The officers gave Tom a card, thanked him for his time and left. He shoved the card in his pocket, closed the door and bolted it.
Tom wandered in to the kitchen and flicked the kettle on. He took the officer’s card out of his pocket and read it. He screwed it up in his fist and threw it in the bin. As he did there was another loud knock on the door.
‘What is this? Weeks go by and nothing and then everybody turns up.’ Tom spoke aloud as he unbolted and opened the door. A smile flickered his lips.
‘Aren’t you going to let me in then?’ The man’s voice was deep and raspy. He didn’t wait for an answer, eager to get inside he barged past the older man.
‘Who else has been here?’ The large man with dark eyes demanded.
‘It’s nice to see you too. Why don’t you come in?’ Tom asked sarcastically as he closed the door again.
‘You said everyone’s been here, I heard you. Who?’ The man looked at Tom, searching his face for answers.
‘A woman came and then the police, and now you. Aren’t you even going to say hello?’
‘The police, what did they want?’ He demanded.
‘Did they mention me?’ He wanted to know.
‘Why would they mention you? What have you done Jack?’ Tom almost revelled in the notion.
‘Was the woman looking for me?’ He ignored his questions.
‘No, she was looking for me, as I do live here.’ He was starting to lose his patience.
‘Are you sure she wasn’t looking for me?’
‘Why would she be looking for you, you haven’t lived here for ten years? I’m surprised I recognise you.’
‘I’m meeting someone here. A woman. Lotti. That’s all you need to know.’
‘In trouble are you? What a surprise.’ Tom brushed past Jack and headed for the kitchen.
Jack was still stood in the hall when Tom came back out with two mugs of hot black coffee. He handed a mug to Jack.
‘Haven’t you got anything stronger?’ Jack took the mug.
‘That bad is it?’ Tom regarded Jack over his mug but he didn’t respond.
Defa padded towards Tom hoping for some attention.
‘You’re positive the police aren’t looking for me.’ He wanted to know.
‘No. They know nothing about you.’
‘What about Lotti, did they mention her?’ He demanded.
‘No they didn’t. What’s going on Jack?’ Tom asked.
‘It’s none of your concern.’
‘It is when you turn up after ten years and decide to stay in my house.’
Jack stared at Tom for a moment deciding whether to enlighten him. ‘Something happened, Lotti was involved and I told her to meet me here. It was the safest place I could think of. But don’t worry; as soon as Lotti arrives we’ll be gone. Wouldn’t want to stay in this dump longer than a day, I might catch something.’ He sneered.
There was a slight pause before Tom spoke. ‘It was good enough for your mother, Jack.’ Tom sighed. ‘Who is this Lotti anyway?’ He enquired.
‘What are you running from Jack? Or should I say who. It must be bad for you to crawl back here with no warning.’ He looked at his son and took a sip of coffee.
Jack didn’t respond.
‘Well if this Lotti is going to become part of the family, then I think I need to know.’
‘You don’t need to know anything. She’ll be here soon and then we’ll be gone. End of.’ Jack’s eyes never left the old man.
Tom turned his attention to Deefa and smiled. ‘You’re a good girl, aren’t you ay? Do you want to go outside?’ Tom patted her side and walked towards the back door. Jack grabbed his thick arm, determined not to let Tom get to him.
‘Don’t think I won’t hurt you old man.’ He snarled. Jack lowered his tone. ‘I’ve changed my name, my appearance; my whole background is a lie because I don’t want anything to do with you. There’s nothing connecting you and me anymore. You’re no father to me; you’re just a bed for the night. In the morning Lotti and I will be gone, for good.’ They both stared at each other.
‘Why did you even bother coming here?’
‘I just told you.’
‘Yeah, for somewhere to stay, but you could have gone anywhere; a hotel a B & B or even hid in a field there’s plenty of them. But you didn’t, you chose to come back here, to this house. Why?’ Tom was inches from Jack’s face.
Jack searched for an answer. He felt like a child again. He knew Tom was right. He did come back for more than a bed but something stopped him from admitting it. ‘I suppose I wanted to…’
‘To see what life you left behind? To see what life you could have had?’ It was Tom’s turn to lower his tone. ‘To see if I was still alive?’
‘What are you talking about? I knew this would happen; you can’t help it can you? You love to play these mind games. I was stupid to even think you could’ve changed. What’s wrong with you?’ Jack remembered why he left.
‘Come on Jack, I know that if you had the opportunity you would have got rid of me a long time ago. Is that why you came back, to finish it?’
‘You know for a second I thought we could try again and I’d be willing to forget all the times you humiliated and beat me. But no, I don’t think there’s a decent bone in your body. You’re nothing but deadwood to me.’ Jacks voice was a whisper. He clenched his teeth to hide his anger. Tom fixed him in a stare that brought back old memories. Jack felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
‘It’s good to see you.’ Tom replied softly.
‘What?’ He asked incredulously.
‘I’ve often thought about you. I knew you would come back one day.’ Tom smiled, but his eyes told a different story.
‘Well get a good look Dad, because this’ll be your last time.’ Jack snorted and let him pass. As Tom and Deefa entered the garden a strong scent of rosemary hit them like a wall.
Half an hour had passed and the evening was closing in. The sun had sunk down low, giving the garden a soft peachy tone that would soon turn in to night.
Jack drained what was left of his coffee as he watched his father through the kitchen window. He reached in to his pocket and pulled out his mobile phone.
Lotti should be here by now. He thought as he scrolled through the names on the display. When he came to Lotti’s name, he stared at it for a few moments. His brow furrowed, he was having trouble focusing. He blinked myopically and rubbed his eyes. He could feel an ache building from the base of his skull. He was getting tired. He pressed the call button and put the phone to his ear. As he did a noise came from upstairs.
Jack moved swiftly to the bottom of the staircase. The sound was familiar. He quietly made his way up the stairs taking two steps at a time, his phone still in his hand. The sound was getting louder; it was coming from the bedroom. Jack burst through the door. The room was dark. He felt on the wall for a light switch and slapped it on. The bright light flooded the room; the noise was coming from a drawer beside the bed. Jack knew what lay inside; he wrenched it open.
It was Lotti’s mobile.
The slim silver phone was lit up with Jack’s name. He looked at his own phone and ended his call. Silence settled on the room. He stood, for what seemed an eternity, staring at both mobiles. His mind reeling about how it got there, what Tom had said and where Lotti was now. Then with rage pumping through his veins he ran back the way he’d came in search of his father.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs he stopped. The throbbing pain that had started from the base of his skull now seemed to have taken over his head. He felt like he’d been hit with a baseball bat. He leaned against the wall to hold himself up. He blinked and shook his head. He felt dizzy and faint. His breath was coming in short gasps. His legs felt like they were attached to lead weights. He slid down the wall and sat on the last step looking down at the two mobiles he held. Rubbing his head with the back of his hand he pushed himself off the stair with every last drop of energy and carried on in search of Tom.
He got as far as the kitchen table, then his legs buckled beneath him. As Jack went crashing to the ground he dropped the phones, one skidded across the floor as Tom entered the kitchen with Deefa bounding up behind. All Jack could do was helplessly reach for Lotti’s phone. He mumbled something but it was undecipherable, his head was thick and the blackness that enveloped him was welcoming.
‘You took your time; I didn’t think you were going to find it.’ Tom stood over Jack and smiled, this time it touched his eyes.
* * *
Tom worked through the night and in to the early hours of the morning. The sun was trying it’s best to defrost the icy grass but as he walked across the ground it crunched under his feet like broken glass. He looked at his watch. It was 4.15am.
After Jack had given in to the darkness, Tom left his body slumped on the floor while he slaved in the garden lit only by a waning moon. It had taken him longer to dig the grave than he had first thought. Tom was surprisingly strong for his age but the ground was hard and tough to drive the spade through. He had stopped through the night only to catch his breath and to take a few swigs of fiery liquid from his hip flask.
Now the freezing air clouded his breath as he dragged Jack’s heavy body across the cold wet ground, towards the yawning mouth of the grave. As Tom approached the gaping hole, a smile creased his face; he was going to enjoy this.
Tom positioned Jack’s body in-line with the grave and stood over him. He reached in to his pockets and pulled out a small craft knife and a beaten up old tin that fitted in the palm of his hand. He put the tin back inside his coat until the time was right. He unzipped Jack’s jacket and hesitated. He noticed the blood stains on his shirt.
‘Maybe we’re more alike than I thought Jack.’ Tom was surprised but unperturbed and carefully undid the first four buttons of Jack’s shirt revealing his chest. He lined up the knife to where he thought he should make the incision. Satisfied, he took the safety cap off and started to cut.
Jack’s eyes burst open and he yelled in pain. He sat bolt up right and tried to focus on the image in front of him. Tom jumped back and dropped the knife. He watched as Jack felt his chest and the warm fluid flowing freely from it. Like lightening Tom picked up the spade he used to dig the hole and swung it back. ‘I’ve waited a long time for this Jack, I’m not about to let you ruin it for me.’ The spade came down with tremendous speed; it hit him on the left side of his face. Blood and teeth shot out of his mouth from the force. He almost fell in to the grave but managed to hold himself back. Jack tried to turn around to look at his attacker but another shot of pain exploded in his head as he was hit again.
Jack’s body slumped back on to the ground. Tom listened to the gurgling sounds coming from his throat. He was still alive.
The strong irony stench of blood clung to his nostrils as he dropped the spade and set back to work. In the dim light of the early hours Tom struggled to find his knife he had previously dropped. He gave up quickly, knowing he didn’t have time to waste. The cut he had made in Jack’s chest was small but it would have to do. He reached in to his pocket once more and pulled out the tin that looked as old as he was. He carefully prized the lid off and set it slowly on the ground as not to spill the contents. Inside the tin lay a few sprigs of rosemary, a needle and thread, and a pale maggot that wriggled around looking for something to feed on.
Tom picked up the rosemary and looked at Jack. He watched as his eyes opened and closed now and again, drifting in and out of consciousness.
‘You know Jack, when I look at you all I see is dirt and grime and bad. I know you can hear me.’ He kicked his leg. There was no response. ‘As soon as you were born I knew you were no good. I thought I hated you. But how can you hate something you didn’t love to start with? You see you’re not my son, Jack. You never were.’ Tom stared down at Jack and rolled the rosemary between his thumb and finger. ‘It’s a shame about Charlotte though; I liked her. She was feisty. Now if you had arrived before her, then things may have been different.’ Tom bent down and leaned in towards the rasping man. He pushed the small sprig in to the open wound, shoving his finger deep inside and ripping the soft tissue. Warm blood flowed over Tom’s fingers and trickled down Jack’s body. ‘You’ll need this as it will cleanse your soul.’ Tom picked up the maggot and watched as it writhed and squirmed in his hand. ‘And this little terror will eat away all of your sins. And he’s hungry.’ He pushed the writhing maggot in to the hole in Jack’s chest. As quick as he could, Tom sewed up the wound.
Jack was twitching and moaning in response but his body was useless, his life was ebbing away.
Tom stood and looked at his work. The corner of his mouth curved up in to a grin. He kicked Jack until he rolled over and fell in to the grave. He landed on his back. His death was minutes away. Tom picked up his spade, crouched down beside the pit and softly spoke.
‘By the way.’ Tom paused, his smiled spread across his face. ‘Lotti said it was a boy. Sleep tight.’
For a brief moment Jack opened his eyes. Cold earth showered his face and buried him alive.
About the author
This story was published in First Edition magazine (no longer in publication) in 2009 and has been adapted in to a short film in 2014 named The Rite of Rosemary. Sarah is a full time mum looking after two young boys and currently writing her first novel.