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Jack Larkham
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trees1.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2015

NOTHING BUT TREES

 

Jack Larkham

 

 

Bill peers through the frosted windscreen, his eyes fixed on the road. There's a cop car up around the next bend, been there all week, one of those speed guns poking out of the window.

He sticks to fifty, focuses on breathing nice and easy. In and out, in and out, nice and easy. He should have been there by now. Knows Tom's going to give him a right fucking earful when he gets there. But Tom can go fuck himself. Wasn't Tom who had to mop up all the mess. Wasn't Tom who had to scrub himself down in the shower to get rid of all that blood and shit.

No sign of the cop car. He relaxes, puts his foot down. Watches the dial hit sixty, seventy.

He checks his rear-view mirror. Should have put some plastic sheets down, he thinks. Should have brought some bleach. Should have checked how long it'll take before the dead old bastard in the back of the car starts to stink.

***

Tom's been digging for three hours. Ground was so fucking hard he had to start with the pick-axe. Took him the best part of an hour just to break through the top soil. He stops now and rests on the shovel. He wipes the sweat off his forehead, despite the cold. Feels it trickle down his back and into his arse crack.

He checks his watch. Bill should've been here by now. Twenty minutes ago. He takes his phone out, then remembers. No phones. No calls. He calls anyway. It's getting dark. Fucking trees are beginning to freak him out. No signal. He holds the phone up, way up over his head, thinking that might help. Nothing.

Bill chose the spot. Middle of fucking nowhere. Nothing but trees and shadows and beady-eyed motherfucking things scuttling around in the undergrowth.

***

Takes the pair of them a good five minutes to haul the fat old bastard out of the car. A dead weight, like a bag of wet cement. They eventually get him out and drag him over to the hole, a leg each, pulling, feet slipping on the frozen ground.

"I said six foot," Bill says, peering over the edge of the hole. "That doesn't look like six foot to me."

"It's close enough."

"More like four."

Tom grabs the shovel. His fingers are blistered, his knuckles aching. "You want six? Get fucking digging."

Bill turns away, wonders if the hole's big enough for two.

***

Bill checks the old bastard's pockets. Takes his wallet and some loose change. Tom helps himself to his watch. It's a knock-off Rolex, the face cracked, but he might get a few quid for it.

"What about the ring?" Tom asks.

"It's worth a bit," Bill says, shrugging. "But he can keep it. Let it rot with him."

"You sure?"

Bill looks down. Can see the ring glistening in the dried blood and the dirt.

"Let's get him into the hole," he says. He looks up into the black sky. Thinks he sees something move in the trees. "And then let's get the fuck out of here."

***

They take turns filling the hole. They stop halfway through and share a cigarette. Bill takes a hip flask from his pocket and takes a swig. It burns on the way down.

"Merry Christmas," he says, offering it to Tom. Tom shakes his head, jumpy.

"You ever had the feeling you're being watched?" he says, looking out into the darkness. Something cracks, a branch, a twig. Movement, somewhere.

"Probably a fox," Bill says. "Or a badger."

When they're finished, Tom tramples the earth down with his boots. Bill watches and waits, scorches his throat with another sip of the good stuff, then levels the ground off with the back of the shovel.

He steps back, tilts his head sideways, and examines his handiwork. He nods. It will do. He thinks he should have stabbed the old bastard another few times though, just in case.

"Imagine," he says, grinning. "Imagine the old bastard trying to claw his way up through that, like one of those horror films. The dead risen."

Tom's still spooked by the trees, the darkness, the rustling in the undergrowth. "That's not even funny," he says.

"It'd be worth it though. Just think, we'd get to kill him and bury him all over again."

***

They drive back in silence. Couple of miles outside the village, Bill turns to Tom and says, "You can call Mum now."

Tom nods, takes the phone out. He's got a three-bar signal. Welcome back to civilisation.

"Tell her it's done," Bill says. "Tell her the old bastard can't hurt her anymore."

 

End


undercurrents1.jpg
Art by Anne Marie Rhiel 2016

UNDERCURRENTS

 

Jack Larkham

 

 

Adam reaches for the cigarettes he used to keep in his shirt pocket, remembers he quit, and goes back to chewing his fingernails.

Marcus is leaning forward, elbows on the dashboard. It’s cold even with the engine running. But it’s getting dark, and they’ll be ready to go soon.

“Are we going to kill him?” Marcus asks. He’s been watching an old woman and her dog down on the beach. She’s standing in the water now, up to her ankles, but there’s no sign of the dog.

“No,” Adam says. “We’re not going to kill him.” He winds the window down and spits. The wind blows some of it back into the van, into his face. He wipes his chin with the back of his hand, and thinks things would be so much better if he could have a smoke, just one smoke.

Marcus grunts, inches forward. He’s concerned about the dog. He doesn’t have a dog, doesn’t even like dogs, but he knows what the tides are like down there, round the other side of the bay. The swells, the undercurrents. How quickly things can change: one minute you’re just messing around and everything’s fine, the next you’re sinking, sucked under and swept away.

“Are you even listening?” Adam says.

“Maybe we should go and help.”

“What?”

“The dog.”

“What dog? What—”

“The dog, down there. A Lab, I think. Big black thing. The woman was chucking a tennis ball for it and the dog went into the water to fetch it, but—”

Adam clips him round the ear. Marcus ducks, too late, and looks the other way, towards the lighthouse.

“A fucking dog?” Adam says. “Really? After everything he did to Kayley, to your sister, you’re worried about a stupid fucking dog?”

“Dad, I was just saying.”

“That’s the problem,” Adam says. “You just saying things. Dumb fucking things like that.”

He kills the engine, and they wait. Adam reaches for another cigarette. It’s only been two weeks and it should be getting easier now. He looks out, can see the caravan park on the other side of the dunes, then looks down, at the wreckage of his gnawed fingernails. “There’s a claw hammer in the back there,” he says. “Go get it. We’re ready.”

***

Kayley denied it at first. Said she’d tripped at work, slipped on something behind the bar. Just a few bumps and bruises, maybe a sprained wrist. But when they saw the bite marks further up her arm, around her neck, she told them everything.

“He said he’d kill me if I told anyone,” she said, “if I went to the police.”

Adam took her hand. Nineteen now and all grown-up. But she was still his little girl, and he was still her dad.

“You did the right thing,” he said. “Telling us.”

He stopped at the door on his way out.

“But don’t worry, we’re not going to the police.”

***

Marcus grips the rubberised handle. The hammer is heavy, reassuringly meaty, and he likes the swooshing sound it makes as it cuts through the air.

“You know how to use that?” Adam says, coming up behind him.

“It’s a hammer,” Marcus says. “It’s not complicated, is it?”

Adam climbs into the back of the van, and rummages through the clutter. He grabs a thick roll of scrim tape and a pair of combination pliers. Slips them into his coat pocket and says, “Come on, before you hurt someone with that fucking thing.”

***

They come in through the dunes, their heads down, staying close to the hedgerow. They’re careful, but there is no one around, not in a place like this. Kayley said Craig had been holed up here for the past couple of weeks, since he’d been kicked out of his flat. Under different circumstances Adam might have felt some sympathy for him, for any poor bastard having to endure in a dump like this.

Craig’s caravan is at the far end of the park, next to the toilet block. It’s barely a caravan at all: ancient and diseased, riddled with rust and grease. They circle round the back, through the nettles and weeds, and stop outside the door. Marcus hears a dog barking somewhere in the distance, towards the village. Something small, he thinks. Yappy. Not the big black Lab. He wonders if the old woman is still down there, in the cold water, waiting.

***

Adam kicks the plastic door clean off its hinges. He stumbles and falls into the caravan, slipping on the greasy linoleum.

Craig’s slumped in an old armchair, lost in it, like it’s in the process of swallowing him up. He’s staring, dead-eyed, at a broken TV in the corner. He flicks cigarette ash onto his lap, and half-heartedly tries to brush it away with the back of his hand.

Adam looks around the caravan, at the half-eaten pizzas and crushed beer cans.

“Nice,” he says. He runs his finger over the cracked TV screen, and stops next to the armchair.

“The cigarette,” he says, holding his hand out.

Craig cocks his head and grins, showing his teeth.

Adam takes the cigarette. Rolls it between his fingers and holds it up to his nose. Closes his eyes and breathes it in.

“Two fucking weeks,” he says. “Two fucking weeks since I had a smoke. You know what that does to you? How it makes you feel?”

“Look,” Craig says, sitting up, trying to extricate himself from the chair. “Kayley said you’d come, she—”

“You bit her?” Adam says, his voice cracking. “You fucking bit her?”

He takes the roll of tape out of his pocket. He hasn’t decided yet what he’s going to do — remove each one of Craig’s teeth individually with the pliers, or let Marcus ruin them with the hammer.

 

                                              End   

undercurrents2.jpg
Art by Anne Marie Khiel 2016

Jack Larkham lives in London. His stories have appeared in Yellow Mama, Near to the Knuckle, Dialogual, and Dead Guns Press. Contact: Twitter (@JackLarkham), email (j.larkham@aol.co.uk).

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