DAMAGED GOODS • by Jon Bland

Fragments of conversations. Images flashing like fireworks in a pitch black room. Music pumping. The sweat permeating through the house; pungent and acrid odours stripping the wallpaper from the walls. An upstairs room. A hand rising up from a four inch stiletto, the back of a leg, the sheer stocking. Reaching the cool skin under a hitched-up skirt. The fumbling and desperate tongues. The fluid writhing. A shadow.

Was that real?

Holly. Present. Marsha. Present. Stevie… Christ, what had happened to Stevie? She was there at the start… she was lying in the snow. She’d fallen over, laughing hysterically. Couldn’t get her up because of the ice. Had she been left there?

Those pills… what had they been? E? Ryan hadn’t lied about them, that was for sure. But was that Ryan in the upstairs room? Stubble. A beard. No, Ryan didn’t have a beard. Who the fuck had that been then? Sudden feelings of intense fear. Alone. Cold. There was nothing to hold on to.

The room was now a mass of legs and heads and arms. Naked torsos. Ripped shirts. All of them strange and twisted. Lifeless. The stench of rotting fruit. Of stale booze. Of smoke hanging low to the floor like a ribbon of poisonous smog, quietly suffocating the last smoldering embers of life from the bodies littered about like cats in a bag. The stained, wet carpet. Cigarette burns. The reek of something dying.

An exit. There must be an exit. Something to try for. Something to focus on. An all-consuming need to get outside. To escape this vacuum of decay. A door. A window. Anything. What about the handbag? Where the hell was that? Just leave it…? No… can’t… it’s got the cash card in it. God, what a mess… must get out. Wait a minute… is that it? Ah thank Christ for that. Right… don’t tread on anyone… avoid the detritus. These animals. These snakes. Their venom seeping from dried cracked lips. Soon it will just be a mangled, melting confused pile of grime and filth and flesh.

Bones feel like aluminium piping. Muscles in spasm, cut off from ligaments and blood straining with effort to keep the heart working. Everything becoming thinner. Tightening as motion sickness begins deep in the stomach where cheap red wine and a six pack of Becks churns into a mush as bile rises and falls in the throat.

A curtain twitches. Sunlight. A vertical horizon of hope. A door in the far corner becomes visible in the blurred darkness. Mascara and sleep clogging up eyes that are tearing up, weeping from smoke damage. Pupils like pencil dots fearing to widen any further.

There is nothing but an overwhelming urge to sleep. To stay still. To curl into the crook of a stranger and wait for death. But the cracked light of a new morning beckons. A moment of clarity in a forest of confusion. A clearing for a thought that transcends the decayed remnants of the drug. A second of strength is enough.

It is quiet except for the cracking of a broken floorboard.

An alarm clock goes off at 6.30 a.m. every day, regardless of what day of the week it is. Jon Bland feeds and dresses his one-year-old. Scrapes the ice off his and his girlfriend’s car. He goes to work. He sleeps. He reads. And in between a few lines might get written. In the summer, the ice will be gone so he’ll change it to 6.35 a.m. and give himself a lie in.

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Every Day Fiction