by Benjamin Kurt Unsworth
“Give me the bottle! Give me it, you piece of shit! I found it!” Daniel screamed. This shouting festival was his life although this rage was fierier than most of their spats. Daniel could easily descend into violence whilst being drunk, but this had to be the brute’s most desperate and angered state in his pursuit of booze.
One of Daniel’s two roommates, Len, was a push-over yet actually very smart when sober. Drunk, he really wasn’t perfect and could do very unpleasant things; however, eventually, he would tire. Then, after a bad, restless night he would realise his wrongs then apologise to the two men with whom he shared a flat. These feelings, unfortunately, were never reciprocated by Daniel, the man who’d usually forced him to the bottle in the first place.
Daniel hadn’t been like that when they first met but when, a year and a half ago, he found Waldron, the local drug lord, he was completely converted to a life of drugs and alcohol. And Len, in a few more weeks, would have the money to move out, leave that life behind. He’d also take Stevie with him, the roommate, pitiful but innocent. He didn’t deserve this life and Daniel had driven back into the mindset of a child, the brute reincarnating Stevie’s dead monster of a father. Somewhat luckily, the man was only able to manage a couple of minutes of anger before it just became sobbing, fear and sheer dumbness, his mind drifting to places elsewhere. Really, he was just a weakling.
Daniel was by far the most muscular man out of the trio, wearing heavily stained garments and he used this power to bend the others to his simplistic, cruel will. His drunken anger was never stopping. Shockingly, a very good day was if he’d manage to find a way of pissing everyone around him off, nothing more.
The three were an odd combination – a combination that had confused their schoolmates and their landlord, Mr Botcherby, though he was too polite to say anything.
“No Daniel! Mine. The bottle’s mine! Hey Stevie, stop being a baby and help me!” Len responded as Daniel wrenched his frizzy hair, frantically and manically grasping for the bottle of cheap, rancid whiskey. There was a thumping within the angered man’s skull that appeared to drive his insatiable anger. Every time, he thought about stopping, it would push him further, make him angrier, turn his face a new shade of red.
Len dived across the room and hid behind the sofa after overturning a large, dying plant onto Daniel.
“Ha! You let go. Len got the bottle now and you don’t!” Len jeered, pitifully.
“Bastard. Give it to me. Give it to me now or I’ll crack your skull open like an egg!”
The larger man, Daniel, got to his feet, only just, swayed a lot then bounded across the room but he couldn’t even make it halfway before he fell and crashed into the glass coffee table. A few fragments bounced off Daniel’s sweaty forehead whilst he sprayed curses out of his dribbling, foaming mouth. The blood from his wounds spattered onto the carpet. He didn’t really know what was happening, only responding out of childish instinct. It was with this instinct that he crawled through the glass towards the sofa intent on retrieving the whiskey. “Give me the drink! Give it to me now!” he wailed; his voice was hoarse.
The large thug picked up one of the wooden table legs and launched it at meek Stevie; Stevie slowly tilted his head, almost not in time. The leg bounced off the wall, splinters dislodging under the impact, and landed among the debris of Len and Daniel’s fight. About five seconds later, Stevie shrunk even further into a tight lump and placed his head into the overturned laundry pile. He thought about helping but was too scared to move. He didn’t even flinch when a cockroach creeped over his hand and started to move up his arm.
Daniel finally stood over Len who was struggling to hide that he was almost unconscious from the drinking and tussling. Daniel elbowed the smaller man’s head who then rolled over and vomited a sickly yellow and red liquid onto Daniel’s shoes – Daniel attacked again, annoyed. The bottle rolled from the intoxicated figure’s hand, ending up underneath the repulsive mauve sofa. But the burly maniac had no interest in the alcohol anymore – his focus was on Len. None of his reasoning remained, only his pure, malevolent rage.
The next action from Daniel caused Stevie to lapse into a bout of silence and changed the lives of the three flatmates forever.
Daniel flung his arm around in search of something. His hand connected with a cold, porcelain phrenology head. Fumbling with it in his hands, Daniel slowly lifted it upwards. Releasing his pent-up fury, he swiftly – as swiftly as the man could manage – brought the phrenology head downwards in an arc. It smashed into the left temple of Len’s unconscious head. Though the porcelain head shattered, the living head just bled, and blood flowed onto Daniel’s left knee. From then onwards, Len was no longer just unconscious. Daniel had been warned about his thuggish attitude by his friends.
Why hadn’t they listened?
“Ha ha!” Daniel stood up then immediately toppled back onto the ground in his search for the elusive bottle of whiskey unaware of the horrendous deed he had done. Stevie hesitantly edged forwards and dropped his ragged bear in a pool of spilled ‘something’.
“Daniel,” Stevie uttered through loud sobs, “look…look what you’ve done. Len…Len’s…Len’s dead!” Stevie leant over and pressed his cheeks to the body’s chest. The shirt on the corpse slowly developed damp little circles. “Len’s dead…he’s-”
“Shut the fuck up, Stevie! I beat him, I beat Len, that miserable creep!”
“But he’s dead! Daniel, Stevie’s dead!” yelled Stevie in-between heartfelt tears, but Daniel was in no mood to understand wrong or right. Daniel galumphed around after finding the bottle and peered at the lifeless body of Len, picking up a couple of fragments from the phrenology head’s remains. He stared at the oddly shaped shards around him, briefly forgetting where he was or why they were there. His face contorted into something lighter, simpler. Daniel fiddled with the first piece then launched it at Len. No movement. He threw a second one. Then another one after that and so on. When it gradually began to dawn on him, Daniel stood then peered at Stevie who, in turn, was leaning over Len.
“But Stevie…why doesn’t he move? Len!” he screamed then kicked the side of Len’s head, “Wake up, motherfucker! Wake up Len, what game are you playing?” Daniel stared blankly and leaned back against the armchair. He began to properly focus on Len’s body. His pupils dilated slightly. A moment later, he rocked back and forth. Finally, he wept loudly.
It was stupid to think that this whole situation had come about because Len had asked for a night of peace but wasn’t allowed by Daniel. Instead the savage had started challenging and goading the poor man until he was left with the only option of fighting back and participating in the chaos in an attempt to be left alone.
“Have I killed him, Stevie?”
Stevie just sobbed.
And now Daniel finally realised what he’d done to his roommate and unlikely friend.
At about 9am, Daniel trudged down the little corridor outside his flat, his vision partially blurred. His head had been spinning for the last couple of days and the paracetamol was doing nothing to cure it.
“Morning Lu-” Mary called to her neighbour, Lucas, but as she got closer to the man, she noticed it was Daniel, one of the three, though she had a soft spot for Len. She knew he’d had a troubled childhood, travelling through four different orphanages he reluctantly called home. Mary really couldn’t see how she’d got them confused since nothing about them was similar, not even down to a single item of clothing. Maybe she was still recovering from her wife’s party a few days ago. As if in response to this idea, she tried rubbing her eyes and looked at Daniel again. Although, the stench, so powerful it could stun a horse, should have given it away. “Oh. Right. Hi Daniel, how’re you doing?” She didn’t know why she was talking to him. One day, she’d learn to not engage with any one of them.
“Oh great, it’s bloody Mary” Daniel timidly spat. Halting suddenly, mid speech, he stopped to clutch his banging forehead. He looked at the woman, hoping she’d leave, like she usually did after talking to him. In fact, he was surprised she hadn’t already.
Mary took his timidity as a symbol of embarrassment yet in reality it was because she’d startled him as he was removing the oddly shaped black bin bag from his apartment, the third one of that day. She knew something was different, odd with Daniel since he wasn’t ogling her up and down like she was a prized slab of meat.
“What’re you up to? Doing the bins?” She still didn’t know why she was bothering to talk to him.
“Why…does it matter…just want to invade people’s privacy do you? Just being a nosy shit like usual?” Daniel quickly rubbed his fingers together and stared intensely at Mary. She took a step back, shocked, though for no apparent reason; he was actually conforming to her expectations.
“What? No. Just asking about what you’re doing.” She said but then snapped, “Do you know what, forget it. Why be nice?” Mary huffed and walked along the corridor towards the stairs. After she had disappeared, Daniel staggered towards the lift and thumped the lift-call button multiple times. Once the lift doors didn’t open after ten seconds, Daniel rapidly, impatiently thumped the button a few more times.
After another ten seconds, just as he was about to practically smash the lift control panel, the lift doors finally squeaked open and he tottered in. After jabbing the rusting ground floor button, the lift slowly descended, the wheels that moved the metal box scraping like nails against a blackboard. The lift at random intervals gave sudden jolts.
The lift stopped and Daniel, disorientated, was about to step out onto the horrible mauve carpet when he saw the floor number: floor 1.
In his blurriness, he’d jabbed the wrong button. He rectified the mistake and the lift descended again; once more the monotone high-pitched scraping was his infuriating accompaniment to the ground floor. The man inside the metal cage began to bite his nails and scratch his palms.
The doors took a moment to open, slowly grinding and not even opening fully. Daniel stumbled out.
With sluggish haste, he then reeled out of the building into the harsh, morning sunlight. It was nauseatingly cheery.
He crossed the car park, almost getting slammed by a land rover that seemed to not have a driver. There were only two or three people around but each one of them, he eyed them suspiciously. To Daniel, it didn’t matter who they actually were, he only saw murderers intent on having his body on a slab.
He attempted to ignore that nagging feeling and headed towards a set of massive, stinky bins that was the home to a thick cloud of flies. Daniel lifted the heavy lid of the second bin, the one that was far more disgusting and had a more potent stench than the first and tossed the misshapen bin bag into it. A spark of intelligence, by Stevie rather than Daniel; the pair were hoping this would mask the smell of rotting flesh. For all either of them knew, there were already other body parts having been disposed of in that bin. He shut the lid and beat the flies away simultaneously. Daniel, wrinkling his nose, twisted his head and spotted Stevie leaving the block of flats, also almost being hit by the seemingly driverless land rover. The roommate staggered towards the bins with another two oddly-shaped bin bags.
“Daniel, you said you’d take two bags this time not just one” said Stevie, sweating with extreme anxiety.
“I did. But I only took one. What are you going to do about it, shorty?”
“Nothing, I-” spoke Stevie, gently.
“Thought so, shitface,” retorted Daniel.
“I just think we’d get things done quicker if we took more than one bag at a time. It lowers the chances of people asking what we’re up to.”
“If people are looking at what we’re doing and not minding their own business, it’s their stupid fault.”
“Their fault? What? How can you say that so casually? We are talking about Len. He. Is. Dead. Killed by you. You!”
“I’m doing this, so we don’t get caught!” shouted Daniel, “So, you don’t go to prison! Unless you want to go to prison?” He stood to his fullest height, towering over the much smaller man. Stevie flinched and shifted his gaze to look at his dirty trainers. “And I didn’t see you objecting; we’ve both tried to cover it up.”
“What would be the use?” Stevie muttered vilely under his breath.
“Now listen here! Prison is only a step away!” Daniel shouted, hearing Stevie’s comment. He raised his fist and opened his mouth to holler more rude, unpleasant things when Stevie stopped him.
“Stop shouting Daniel, look,” Stevie said, pointing and turning to look at a pair of smackheads. But the people on the other side of the street weren’t interested in the commotion they were causing, as Stevie well knew when he used them as a distraction. “Daniel, of course I don’t want to go to prison. I just…just…let’s just get rid of these bloody bags.” Stevie said reluctantly, the corners of his mouth flinching.
“Right. And don’t…,” Daniel waved his fist, “Stevie, just don’t.” Daniel snatched the bin bag off Stevie and threw it into the bin. Stevie walked ahead of Daniel and hurried back towards the block of flats but suddenly halted.
“Hang on, what the fuck are we going to do with the tools?”
“Get back to the sodding flat! We can sort it out there.”
The rest of the day was a blur of bin bags, moaning Stevie and great exhaustion from both men.
That evening, even with the TV shouting about the lowest prices on new items, Stevie had collapsed onto the sofa in a deep sleep. He was even snoring, a rare thing for him. Just before he’d managed to fall into a slumber, he had regarded his roommate and even he knew his lack of intoxication meant he was scarily sober, and nobody knew what a sober Daniel would bring. The idea of him having a clear head actually scared Stevie more than a drunk Daniel.
But Daniel couldn’t touch a drop of drink at the moment. It sat beside his chair, taunting him. Occasionally, he felt his greasy hand stretching out to grab it, wanting a pick-me-up – his comfort blanket – but then he let his hand drop, either tiredness overwhelming him or utter fear. Daniel, however, couldn’t sleep. He sat rocking on the chair surrounded by the smashed furniture and decorations. The main focus had been getting rid of any evidence, just cleaning and tying bin bags with pegs over their noses. Even the lightbulb fragments littering the floor hadn’t been tidied. Whilst Daniel rocked to and fro on the chair, his mind wandered, wondering about the events of the last few days and his eyes flicked all around the room. He dreaded Mr Botcherby’s inspection in a few days’ time, having to explain away the bleach smell and darkened patches on the rug. He watched the windows and door, dreading the police whilst seeing more than just devils in his own shadows.
In the bins outside, bin bags began to rustle and move, then shrink inside as objects disappeared from within.
Zzzz. The drone of Stevie’s sleep brought Daniel out of his mind-wandering and Daniel snapped his head around in order to stare at him, almost leaping out of the chair in paranoia-fuelled fright. Daniel rubbed his eyes then twisted his unkempt beard hairs. He realised that he was being paranoid and sat back in his chair, then attempted to reach for the bottle but felt a twinge of guilt and regret, deciding to not drink any. Daniel knew that with more alcohol the feelings of sinfulness would pass and he’d hopefully forget the last couple of hours – last couple of days – hopefully last couple of weeks but still he would not drink. He’d vowed to himself he wouldn’t. The man briefly thought about the cocaine under his bed but expelled that notion as well.
Something moved. By the fireplace.
“Hello?” Daniel called hesitantly, not wanting to wake Stevie because when he would be awake, he would only whimper and whine. Daniel cautiously got to his unsteady feet, holding onto the arm of the chair for support, and peered around the destroyed room. He once again called into the empty room only dimly lit by a lamp in the corner of the room that had escaped the carnage that had occurred three days ago. Stevie sniffled briefly. Daniel moved forward and something connected with his right foot.
It was the lifeless body of Len, sprawled across the floor, no longer dismembered.
Daniel screamed and launched himself back with shock.
The scream woke Stevie who made a horrible noise.
“What the- What the hell is Len doing there? He’s supposed to be dead. He is dead, in the bins!!”
“I know that Stevie!” Daniel screamed back at him.
“You shithead, Daniel,” Len, the man supposed to be lifeless, spoke. Stevie went white and staggered back, banging into the wall whilst Daniel trembled, mouth open, face aghast. His eyes seemingly tried to rip free off their sockets.
“Um… Len… you’re dead,” Stevie mumbled, in shock, now slumped on the floor, and just stared, completely baffled and out-of-it.
“I know I’m dead and that little shithead killed me. Didn’t you Daniel?” Daniel stared at Len as he got to his feet, a little hesitant – it wasn’t everyday mysterious forces helped you back onto the plane of existence. But these mysterious forces hadn’t done much else. Len’s face was still a gaping chasm. Blood covered Len’s head to such an extent it was caked on like another layer of skin. And the hacksaw marks in the shoulders, neck, ankles were still there, but beginning to fade, somehow healing.
“You know, I never trusted you. Not for one fucking moment. I was your friend, but I never trusted you.” In anger, he punched the armchair, his fist going straight through the material.
“Stop swearing,” Daniel muttered.
“What?! Stop swearing? From the man who, when drunk, couldn’t help but punch, holler and tear people’s heads off and shout at them, I think not. You bastard. It’s time you received your just dessert!”
Daniel stumbled around, gripping anything he could find for support. His legs became weak and he collapsed against the wall whilst muttering some inaudible nonsense. Len‘s smile grew quickly, too quickly, too viciously.
“Oh, don’t be scared now, maggot! You weren’t scared when you killed me. And I know you enough to know that in your head you’ll have justified it. Said I deserved it and I was probably going to heaven anyway. Pathetic.”
Daniel, on the verge of tears, backed along the wall at a snail’s pace hoping to reach the door and hoping it would allow him some form of sanctuary from his undead roommate.
“Fuck me. Listen, when you murdered me Daniel, in cold blood, I wasn’t sent to Heaven or Hell. There’s no purgatory, not even an empty black void…there’s Nothing…I can’t explain it. It’s like existence stops, you can’t move, breathe or see but you’re still left to suffer. And why should I have to endure the Nothing? I was never the best man, I never claimed to be. Sometimes my rages were vicious but you’re the shit that deserves Nothing! Nothing you hear me! NOTHING!”
Len pressed his face hard against Daniel’s, his absent breath not blowing against the man’s cheek as it should.
“I don’t, I don’t want to die…” Daniel mumbled ashamedly.
“What? Is it because you think you don’t deserve it?” said Len, now shocked beyond belief, “Of course you fucking do!” Len was now roaring like a lion on steroids. “The Nothing. I think it felt cheated. Even death knows you need to die!”
Len launched himself across the room and snatched the full whiskey bottle off the floor as he did. He thrust the bottle into Daniel’s face as the savage attempted to dodge the blow; fragments of glass and large sloshes of alcohol went everywhere, some jamming or splashing into his open mouth. As he recoiled from the attack, Daniel toppled over and collapsed in a wallowing, crying lump. Len pounced on top of the grotty, sickly man then picked up a large, wet shard, preparing to raise it.
“Len! Stop! You can’t be doing this! Stop! You’re not even supposed to be alive!”
“Well, Daniel, I am!” Len lifted the sharp fragment above his head. Suddenly, bringing it down in a savage arc, he smashed it into Daniel’s left temple. The wound spouted blood which flowed onto Len’s right leg. It was all over in seconds. Len diligently stood up and looked directly at Daniel’s lifeless corpse which was slowly fading. The hacksaw marks were now completely gone.
After a few moments, Len felt a warm twinkling in his refreshed heart as the blood resumed its flow throughout his body. The wound in his head where he had been struck had closed itself, leaving no scarring. Len took his first breath of renewed life, no longer dead or undead. It felt fresh; he was alive once more, with a second chance. In addition, it allowed him a marvellous triumph over his dead roommate.
“Len,” asked Stevie timidly after his brain had finally resumed a state of normality, “What just happened?”
“Don’t worry, Stevie, there’s Nothing for Daniel to enjoy now.”
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