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Dreamscapes Two
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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Something in the neighbourhood
Chris Castle
We all sat in the dusk on Bobby’s porch that looked out onto the neighbourhood. Above us was the sunset but we didn’t acknowledge that. Instead, all we talked about was the killer, the next victim and the neighbourhood.


“It has to be somebody local,” said Todd, as he peeled another can from his pack. He tossed one to me, bypassing Steve. It was a thing between them; Todd thought Steve was a scammer, always forgetting his wallet on purpose or leaving just before his round. In Todd’s eyes, he was something like a criminal.

“He knows the area, does his business in the isolated places and leaves them where they’ll only be found in daylight.” He sucked on his beer and followed a girl down the street. She didn’t look round to us but I could see him making a note of her. The next time we were out he would go up to her and make up some story to impress her. In one way he was fearless like that, though I had the idea he only did any of it so he could brag about it to us the next night.

“Or the guy’s bought a map,” Bobby said, finishing his drink and dropping it in the cooler. He only drank bottles, which had almost led to fights on at least a half dozen occasions. Bobby said they tasted better, Todd said it was because it meant he could drink less. I usually broke it up, while Steve waited for it to get worse.

“You wouldn’t know the set-up of a place by looking at a map, if it was quiet or cut-off,” Steve said. He always sounded as if he said the first thing that had slipped into his mind. Sometimes this made him sound like the smartest guy in the room, sometimes it made him sound like a retard. Once he showed me a mosquito bite that had made his palm swell up. He thought there were eggs hatching under his skin and he was nearly in tears. I kidded with him and told him to forget about it bit for days after I had the same nightmare; my hand bubbling with everything that breathed underneath.

“The guy’s local,” Todd repeated and waited for the next stage of the argument to settle in. As they started to bicker, I picked up the paper and looked at the headline. The guy had killed five people but it could have been ten or more. The cops on TV looked like they’d either come straight from the bar or were killing time until it opened; they were clueless. I put my finger over the sign in the corner, his ‘trademark.’ He could kill anyone, anytime: it made no difference to him.

“It could be somebody in the neighbourhood, someone right here,” Todd said. Behind him, the sun set and now there would be a low grey dusk for a few minutes. I always imagined this would be how the world looked after the big bomb went off. It should have been grim but I always thought it looked okay and almost beautiful.   

“Everyone knows everyone,” Bobby said, waving his hand, like he’d just seen a bug. “People would be suspicious of some nut walking around. We’d hear about it.”
“Like that pervert,” Steve said, smiling. Once, there was a rumour the janitor at our old school liked kids. We had waited for him one day and put him in hospital. It was like we were twelve again and picking on somebody. Afterwards the others couldn’t stop talking, like they were invincible. I wondered what our lives were, if our highpoint was relieving being twelve and beating the crap out of some old guy for no real reason.
“They never had any trouble after that day, right?” Todd said, crunching his can for effect. There was something very wrong with us, though nobody said anything.
“There was never any trouble before,” I said, not being able to stand it any longer. I looked up from the paper and around to the others. Everyone stared at me and I stared back. After a few seconds, I leant down and plucked a can from the pack.
“Why are you saying that now?” Todd said finally. We’re not friends, even though we’ve spent most of our lives together. Todd would well and truly hurt me given half a chance. Steve thinks I’m a weirdo because I don’t act like everyone else. He can’t get his head round someone who doesn’t pretend. My only real friend in all of this is Bobby.
“Because he’s right and you know it,” he said, as if on cue. “That Jackson girl made it all up and everyone knows it. All we did was put some old drunk on disability for the rest of his life; big whoop for us.”

Everyone went silent for a while. Sometimes that happens to us, when we’re faced with the truth of things. We spend so much time lying and faking that it almost becomes a habit and then once in a blue moon, the truth comes and kicks us up the ass. It’s why the other two hate me and why Bobby respects me because I’m the only one who tells the truth. It doesn’t make me better than them; in fact, it makes me worse. I see us for what we really are and still do nothing about it.

“Maybe, maybe,” Todd says after a while. When he’s lost, that’s his default setting, that word, repeated. Leaving things open enough to maybe accept the truth but maybe leave it hanging out there long enough for him to still be right.

“Maybe that old guy is the killer,” Steve says suddenly and laughs out of nowhere. We all look away; we used to beat on him when he said stupid stuff like that but it happened so many times it used up too much of our energy. Now we just ignore him, hoping he’ll shut up or maybe even leave us alone. The guy’s a rhino though; once, Bobby beat him black and blue and the next day, the very next day, he turned up here as if nothing had happened. I never forgot the way he sat there, sucking his beer through his fat lip and all of us looking at him, disbelieving and thinking the same thing; he’s never going to leave us alone until he’s dead and in the ground.

For a minute, we sit in the dusk and looked out to the neighbourhood rather than face each other and Steve in particular. We’re all in our mid-twenties; the fun is starting to get tired now and sometimes, when we’re really hammered, they’ve started talking about giving it all up and becoming something else, something better. Each of them confided in me, as if they were guilty of something. Bobby, divorced and broken up now, meant it. Todd said it because he knows there’s something wrong but doesn’t know how to fix it. I don’t have to say anything to anyone because they know that if I had any money I would be long gone.

“He’s out there, somewhere,” Todd says quietly. We all look out after him, as if the killer’s going to just appear right there and then and maybe try and score a beer from us.

“Why’s he doing it, do you think?” I ask and they all turn round to look at me. Out of all of us, I rarely start the conversation and hardly ever ask questions. Bobby sparks a cigarette into life and tosses the pack to me; it’s one more childish thing that makes us closer and causes the other two to hate us more.

“Because he’s crazy! Jesus!” Todd shouts, making a few people walking by look over to us.

When they see who it is, they hurriedly look back down and keep walking. That makes the fattest grin crease over Todd’s face. It’s the one thing he’s proud of in his life, being feared. It’s different now, though; I can see a slight clench in his jaw these days that never used to be there before, as if to say; if this is all I have, then what else is there? 

“Maybe he just wants the attention. Maybe he’s lonely,” Steve says so quietly, I almost have to crane my neck to hear him. Todd opens his mouth to shout him down and then closes it, seeing the sense in it. Steve really is like Rain Man sometimes. If I hadn’t been with him on some nights, I’d think he was the killer, I swear to god I would. I told this to Bobby one night and he burst out laughing and later, agreed with me. ‘These are our friends, huh?’ he’d said and neither of us laughed.

“He could be sick, sick in the head in a way he doesn’t know it,” Bobby said, dropping his cigarette into the empty bottle. His grandma was schizophrenic and he thinks about things like this. Once, when we were kids, she stubbed a butt out onto his arm and his ma made him apologise for giving her the chance to do it. The thing of it was, he loved the crazy old bitch more than he ever did his ma.

“Look at the profile,” Todd jumped in, leaning over and snatching the paper out of my hands, the way he used to grab candy when we were kids. “White male, 25-40, unmarried; hell that describes us down to a tee. All we got is each other for witnesses!” his voice was loose suddenly and I could tell he was tipping over into drunk. I thought about it for a second and realised he was right, in a way. We weren’t really friends, not anymore; instead we were like each other’s witnesses. Ready to stand by as each of us screwed up our lives but never quite prepared to act.

“Maybe they work as a pair,” Steve chipped in and Todd slapped him on the shoulder. He only found Steve amusing when he was tanked and he always overdid it, laughing too loud, gesturing too much. One of the rumours was that it was two killers, helping each other. I looked at the two of them and a part of me didn’t dismiss it.

“We should watch each other’s backs,” Todd said carefully and pointedly glanced over to me. He thinks I’m queer for Bobby, though he’s never said it to either of us out loud, though I get the idea he’s floated it to Steve. I love Bobby, sure; it’s probably the only thing I’m sure of in my life but I don’t want to sleep with him. Sometimes I think I wish I did, that maybe it would make my life a good and better thing.

“Even if he gets caught, the newspapers will make him into something else,” Bobby said, opening another bottle. The dusk was gone now and it was full dark. He flipped on the overhead light and we all made a big thing of groaning the way we always did, like we were all still grab-ass buddies and game for a laugh.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Todd said, looking back at him, the momentary laughter quickly falling away. It was a confrontation now and could go on to become something else. I stiffened back in the chair, even as Steve leant forward.

“I mean, they’ll ask him things, questions that they want to ask but not other things. They won’t ask him what they don’t want to hear about,” Bobby’s voice was tight as he spoke. I followed what he was saying but I could tell it wasn’t making any sense to the others.

“They’ll ask him questions and he’ll give answers,” Todd said and for a second I almost felt sorry for him. He couldn’t see anything other than black and white. I thought about all the times he got picked up by the cops and how they worked him over in the alleyways. He’d always shrug the next day and say he got what he deserved.

“And if somebody asked you about everything you ever did wrong, would you say what you did or why you did it?”  Both their eyes were glassy; Bobby was on the verge of tears while Todd was on the edge of something else, something violent.

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” he said, his voice not angry so much as confused. “I don’t know what any of what you’re saying means.”

“No, I guess you don’t,” Bobby said quietly and looked away. Overhead the stars were coming out. It should have been beautiful, the way the sunset should have been, but it was ruined now, like everything else. All the air was gone and it was hard to breathe now.

“He’s out there, somewhere,” Todd repeated as he turned back to the street. He gripped the paper in one hand and his beer-can in the other; maybe that was the only thing that stopped him from lashing out. I followed him and watched the last of the commuters rushing home, all of them adults and scared of the dark now.

“Curfew!” Todd shouted suddenly, making us all flinch. “Don’t forget your curfews!” He hollered, like everyone in the city had their own private one. Steve started to snigger while Bobby shook his head and lit another cigarette.

“Todd, leave it. The cops…” I let the words hang out, hoping he’d get the idea. Instead, he looked at me, his lip curled and I thought for a perfect moment; he’s going to spit in my face, he hates me so much.

“The cops, what? They’re going to come down like a ton of bricks on a…on a…dutiful citizen?” His face was burning so red it looked as if it could be bleeding. He turned back round and stared out to a couple walking by as quickly as they could, their arms locked together at the elbows as if they were supporting each other.

“Go home!” Todd bellowed. “Go home before he finds you!” He held up the paper and waved it at them. He looked for all the world like a preacher right then, shouting to the masses. The couple hurried by, not looking back and for a second I thought about how beautiful they looked, shielding each other from all this madness. I tried to imagine them later, holding hands in bed; talking about the lunatic and how it would bring them closer.

The street was empty and Todd was looking out onto nothing. I looked over to Bobby and saw he was necking the fresh bottle until it was gone. Steve glanced over to me, still grinning; his eyes wide open for what could happen next. He looked like a kid waiting for the fireworks to go off. I suddenly felt tired in a way that made my bones throb and my mind pound, as if I was holding onto something guilty I couldn’t fight the weight of.

I looked out to the street, not wanting to take in anymore more of the scene when I saw it: a feather sitting on the ground, like it was resting after a long journey. It was completely still, not being swayed by the breeze or anything else. I thought about things I had seen in my life; my ma’s coloured cigarette papers, a paper ring Kirsten King had given me years ago and I still kept, the silver back of the trout in the lake. This beat them all, I decided. I began to pull myself out of the chair to go and collect it and was surprised to feel the others move around me. For a second I felt disappointed, more than I had done in my whole life, to think they had seen it too and they were going to beat me to it.

“Son of a bitch,” Todd said quietly. I looked around to him, thinking I had never heard him whisper before. I thought how young it made him sound, like a child. “Look!”
“I see!” Steve said in a hushed voice. I went back to the feather but noticed they were both looking to the left. A man walked by, head down and his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket.

“It’s him.” Todd said and the finality of it made me understand what was happening. In the next second, he’d vaulted the porch and landed almost on top of the guy. Steve jogged down the steps, his smile so wide it almost tore his face up.

“It’s Him!” he shouted, drawing back his foot and just missing Todd with his kick. I looked round to Bobby, to say something but he was running too, his empty bottle upturned and in his hand.

“No-” I started to say, before he shoved by me. I fell back and then pushed myself forward, following him, still hoping somehow, he was going to pull them off, rather than join them. The bottle rose and then I lost track of it as it came down, the glass shattering and the shards of it sprinkling on the concrete. I heard muffled noises even though nobody spoke. It sounded like people working hard at a task, determined and focussed on getting it done and dusted by a certain time.

I took one step back and then another but no matter how far back I walked I couldn’t seem to find any real distance. I could still see too much and was aware I was still too close to what was happening. In the distance I heard sirens wailing and I suddenly looked up, dimly aware of everyone in the houses around us staring down at us in shame. Some would back up their stories, even claim the kid himself had started the trouble but it would all fall away eventually, in the face of the truth. I crouched down, wanting to hide but knowing I could never run and put my hand to the pavement. I stared down and looked around for the feather, hoping it was still close-by somehow.  When I couldn’t find it, I closed my eyes and tried to picture it in my mind but it was no good. I opened them again and saw the fight still moving in front of me, finishing it as the sirens drew closer. Everyone in the neighbourhood waited, watching for what came next.    
© C Castle September 2011
Chris Castle

My pa came home on the last day of summer, without fanfare, without so much as a banner ganging over our house. It made sense, I guess, seeing how he left without so much as a word; fair and level almost.
Chris Castle

today was different... It was as if Laurie wanted to speak and he wanted to listen but something was holding it all back 

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