Story by Anthony Self
Photo by Ste Cranston
“So I guess now that you’re sober you’ll be leaving?”
The comment indicated passive belligerence; her raised eyebrow and slight inflection at the end of the sentence confirming it, but Robert knew the real meaning bubbling below the surface – it was a test, pure a simple. A test to deduce whether she should invest any further time with this dalliance. She was smart, sure, but he sensed she had been hurt before, perhaps badly. He actually lauded the comment – there was no point in wasting any time unless there was something to invest in, and he had the feeling that she had perhaps once too often tried to cash in a couple of cheques that had bounced.
“There used to be an RAF base near here, so you should stick to the roads. There’s landmines about.” She said coolly.
The previous evening’s gallant and teasing remarks over wine and shots had now evaporated; in his just-now awakened state he couldn’t quite remember if he had approached her first or she had approached him, but as morning was being seen through bloodshot eyes and rumpled hair, everything seemed a little more real, a little less whimsical.
She was standing clothed by the window, caressing a cup of coffee in her interlaced fingers. He realised that he hadn’t noticed her leave the bed. He winced as he straightened himself up, now quite conscious of the fact that he was completely naked and she wasn’t. A single droplet of water splattered onto his shoulder and he looked up to see a damp patch in the wooden ceiling. She followed his eyes.
“The roof leaks. I told you last night.”
“I remember.” He said.
They were in a cabin, a few miles away from the nearest town. When they had left the pub, there had been no comment made about whether he was coming back to her place or his; they just wanted to get some more drinks and got inside the cab. She’d been giving directions to the driver, he remembered going on the motorway and then shortly all kinds of city life eroded behind them as they passed through dirt trails. He liked the place.
“I was hoping we could get some breakfast.” He said, rubbing his temples.
She let out a small, cute splutter. “You mean lunch?”
He fumbled around the sheets and found his watch tucked haphazardly between his socks and pants. It was gone past midday. He let out a brief whistle, and rubbed his eyes.
“You want some coffee?”
“I don’t drink hot liquids, but thanks.”
She eyeballed him suspiciously for a moment.
“I hear that’s weird. I get it a lot.”
“If this is the part where I’m meant to say that weird is good, I think you’ve got the wrong girl.”
The corner of his mouth curled into a mirthful grin, “Oh?” She was trying to push him away, to give him a reason to flee. He wasn’t biting.
An orange tabby cat meowed impatiently at the door of the room. The girl turned her gaze from him and mentioned that she should get him something to eat. Once she had disappeared from the room, Robert found his clothes and started to dress himself. His jacket had been thrown on the floor and he checked his breast pocket to find a small transparent baggy with a red powered substance inside. When she returned to the room, she watched him in silence as he gingerly poured the contents of the baggy into an openly rolled cigarette.
“What’s that?” she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
“It’s from Mars,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Mars?” she blinked.
He looked up and saw the scepticism in her face. He realised that he was enamoured by her deep, brown eyes.
“Let’s just say I know a guy, who knows a girl, who is related to a guy, who knows another guy that works for NASA. Apparently the powder found in some of the rocks on Mars has a few hallucinogenic effects associated with LSD, mixed with the highs of marijuana. But very safe. You want to try some?”
He finished rolling the cigarette and offered it to her.
“Mars?” she asked again.
He propped himself into a sitting position on the bed, and produced a lighter from his pocket. As he lit the cigarette, a thin mauve-like trail of smoke snaked up around his head and dissipated into the air. She sat down next to him and took the cigarette.
“What’s the cat’s name?” he asked.
“Jonesy.” She said, inhaling deeply. “I told you that last night when he bit you on the leg.”
He smiled at the Alien reference, remembering the creature attacking him and lay back in the bed. “Oh Yeah.”
“He sometimes brings in dead pigeons from outside – like a present I guess.”
He nodded and looked at the damp spot in the ceiling.
“I really like this place,” he said, absently.
“I’m not going to be able to develop special powers after having smoked this, am I?” she said, almost disappointed.
“What special power would you like?”
“Most people say flight…I think I’d prefer to have text sense.”
He turned his head, as a warm sensation was starting to coarse through his body. “Text sense?”
“Yeah, you know – like when you’re in the middle of texting someone and they suddenly stop answering; imagine having the power to know whether they just ignored you or haven’t read your message yet. That would be my power.”
He started to laugh. It turned into a maniacal cackle, and soon she joined in with him.
A couple of hours later they had discussed everything from politics to what their favourite films were, what inspired them and what they wanted to do in the future. The light was starting to fade outside. Robert sighed heavily.
“I guess I should make a move.”
“Let me call you a cab.”
“I think I’d prefer to walk.”
She let out another diminutive chortle. “It’s about two miles to town.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
As they were walking down the creaky stairs, Robert noticed Jonesy stalking through the cat-flap. He had a dead pigeon clasped firmly in his jaws. Robert stopped on the stairs, and was about to say something when the cat dropped the pigeon on the floor and cocked his head to the side, quizzically.
The cat whined mournfully, fell onto its side and then with a wet, tearing sound exploded like a meat piñata.
Robert was rocked back with the blast. He fell onto his back and slid down to the bottom of the stairs. His ears were ringing, but he could numbly tell that the girl was screaming behind him. He never realised that the cabin had burgundy carpet before. No…that wasn’t right. There was no carpet. Just the chunky remains of Jonesy. Damn cat must have eaten a landmine. His stomach felt warm and he nonchalantly dabbed his chest with his hand. His hand came up bloody and wet.
The girl launched past him, turned and kneeled down beside his limp body. He started to utter something but instead coughed up something phlegmy and bulbous. He didn’t really want to see what was dribbling out from his mouth.
The ringing was still deafening in his ears, but he figured that she was mouthing something along the lines of calling for help. Or willing to whelp. His body was starting to spasm in shock. As she moved out of his blurring focus, he fumbled in his pocket for something. His wet, bloody hand curled round a hard, metallic ring. He pulled it out and put it on the appropriate finger. Jess would understand…she had forgiven him before…surely they would be able to laugh about this someday?
Darkness swept over him.