They’re all standing around my bed now. My friends, a cluster of goth’s surrounding me; the black wave, as we were described by people as we entered our usual haunts. Even with my destroyed senses I can smell the cocktail of oils and scents coming from their clothing, the tang flowing from their pale skin seeps into me somehow. My beautiful, intelligent gothic friends, looking and weeping at their sad little insane friend. Sandy is holding what is left of my hand, holding it ever so lightly, the way she always does. I’m at the stage were the pain has long gone, being replaced by some kind of morbid serenity – I’m slipping away. Someone else has just joined us but she isn’t weeping, she’s smiling. Everyone follows my gaze but they don’t see what I see. No one but me can see her or the flutter of wings behind.
I wasn’t born insane I promise you. In fact, it didn’t start until I was about thirteen years old when my mother and father bought me a duckling.
Most young children have a pet, maybe a dog or a cat. Normal animals for normal kids. So people found it amusing and rather curious when I asked my parents for a duckling. Realising that I was quite eccentric for a girl my age, they didn’t even think twice about such an odd request and took me to pick one out for myself at the local farm. I found one which immediately caught my eye; a beautiful, tiny Indian Runner duckling – a downy burst of yellow in the palm of my hand. I called her Angel. Whether it was a male or a female was of no consequence and to this day I don’t know, it just seemed natural to call Angel , her. I mentioned that I was eccentric, I think not being part of the norm, not fitting in, is a more accurate description. I wasn’t a typical girlie-girl. When other girls my age played with dolls and dressing up – I read books. When, even in later years, others married and had two point four kids – I read books. Books had always been my peers, my friends and the thing, which around my life revolved. Not being able to relate to others was never a problem (to me at least). My total immersion into literature found me in the best company possible: Enid Blyton to CS Lewis. Thomas Hardy and James Joyce in later life. All kept me company, kept me curious and bright. To my parents, I was the perfect little daughter: never comes out of her room, always got her head in a book, they would brag to friends. This said, I guess they thought I was just a little too solitary, so if I wouldn’t go out and make friends, a pet would be the perfect answer. It wasn’t a dog or a cat but they were happy to see the spark Angel struck in my eyes, so they were happy.
While she was a baby, I was allowed to keep Angel with me in my room, so I made it nice, cosy and warm for us both. Everywhere in the house I went Angel would follow on stubby little legs. I would often read lying on my back, so I would dump Angel on my belly leaving her to do her own thing. This would often entail poking her curious bill under my book demanding attention or simply tucking her head under a fluffy wing and fall asleep.
I loved her.
As she grew bigger, Angel stayed in the back garden. My dad made a duck-house for her to live in. It looked like a waterproofed Toblerone with hay inside - Angel’s little house. Adult, Indian Runner ducks, unlike others, stand upright, tall and proud and (as the name suggests) they can run like hell.
We spent our first summer chasing each other around the garden. So much fun, just like real friends except whereas I talked and Angel quacked. We would often laze next to each other in the garden, the sun burning the clouds away overhead, the smell of fresh-mown grass accompanying the soft, warm breeze. I’d stare into the blue infinity for hours just daydreaming and listening to the sounds of everyday life from all around, eating crisps and turning them to mush in my mouth with cool lemonade. Delightfully lost in my own little world. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would creep outside and keep Angel company and watch the twinkling heavens above – always with Angel at my side.
At the bottom of my road is a tiny lake. Historically it was an old mineshaft, which became disused and gradually filled with water over many years. It became a local beauty spot, attracting birdlife from all parts of the country. I thought it was about time Angel learned to swim and I began to take her for daily walks to the lake. People would smile and point as Angel dutifully waddled and quacked behind me – mother and child. After a while I was playfully referred to as the duck girl, a label that I quite enjoyed. On out walks, people would stop to stroke Angel or even walk with us to the lake and watch me throw her into the water (she was too lazy to walk in herself). All this went on for about a year, the year I would look back on as the happiest year of my life, a time of blissful innocence.
One day, a family moved in to the long empty house opposite ours. They seemed quite normal and generally kept themselves to themselves – for a while.
About a month later Angel and I walked out from our house for one of our walks, when a loud voice took me by surprise.
‘Oi!.’ As I looked up I saw the new boy from over the road sitting on his wall glaring at us. ‘What sort of a fuckin` pet is that?’ His language shocked me. Obviously I had heard swearwords before, mainly at school. But I’d never had it directed at me before. He was (I was later to find out) only a year older than me but looked much older. His head was covered with a mop of scruffy blond hair and a dirtywhite T-shirt covered his bulky frame. But it was his arms that caught my eye. They seemed to be covered with faded, bluish blotches. He saw what I was staring at and quickly took my attention away. ‘What d`ya call the little fucker then?’ I have to admit, he really frightened me and I was aware of my hands shaking uncontrollably. As he stood up I quickly became aware he was much, much bigger than me, in fact bigger than most kids my age. This said, I found myself instantly taking Angel’s defence as a wave of stubborn indignance swept over me.
‘It, is a she!’ I barked, surprising even myself. ‘Her name is Angel – and you really shouldn’t swear at people, it’s very rude.’ His eyebrows raised at my unexpected outburst. Pushing the tip of his nose upward with a grubby finger he exposed his snotty nostrils to me.
‘Ooh, we are posh aren’t we,’ he mocked. ‘Stuffy bitch. You’d better keep that little shit away from me or I’ll kill it.’ Now that really frightened me. I turned back to my house guiding Angel back up the path, his voice tearing at me. ‘I’ll kill it! You hear? I’ll fuckin` kill it.’ Had he looked a little closer, he might have noticed the little stain, growing on my jeans. Had he known his cruel words had me secretly changing my soiled knickers in the bathroom – how proud he would have been.
The cock of the school. That was how the kids described the hardest boy at my school: St Margaret’s high . Kes Stone was ours. He had reigned since he began the fifth year; he was a hardnut but not a bully. A decent thug. A rumour raged around the school one morning, that Kes had fallen from grace when a boy, two years his junior had kicked the living shit out of him. Who was now the new cock of our school? Your friend and mine - Billy Garrison, my unpleasant new neighbour. Within a week of starting at my school, Billy’s main intention was to make everyone aware that he was boss. And he did.
On clear summer days, I would often spend my school lunchtime sitting in a quiet spot on the playing fields, the rabble of the schoolyard providing a distant, dull soundtrack. I would mostly be reading or jotting down ideas for some short stories which I was working on for my own amusement. So, one lunchtime I was doing just that, when something solid dug me hard in the back. Standing behind me were three boys, two of them I didn’t know, the third – Billy Garrison. Cigarettes hung from the corners of their grinning lips. My guts lurched as the two strangers stood either side of me, leaving Billy facing. Nowhere to run.
‘So! This is where you hide out at dinner,’ Billy grunted out of the free corner of his mouth; eyes squinting as smoke blew into his face. He looked over at the other two boys and pointed a grubby finger at me. ‘This is the one I told you about, the posh bitch with the duck.’ Each of his cronies sniggered derision at me. I wanted to at least stand up and face them on their level but heavy hands told me different. ‘Doing a bit of writing are we? Ducky,’ he said looking back down at me. ‘Any fucking in it?’ More laughter. Fear rose like bile in my drying throat.
‘No,’ was all I could bring myself to say.
‘I’ve been doing a bit of reading – wanna` see?’ From the inside of his jacket he pulled a glossy magazine. Opening up the pages, he shoved it inches from my face. It was a porn magazine and he was showing me the colour centre-fold of a naked woman squatting in a shower. One of her hands was soaping ample breasts, the other aimed the gushing showerhead at her gaping vagina. I should have been disgusted, closed my eyes and turned away but I found myself intrigued, lost in the image for a few seconds. Just long enough apparently. For as I finally pushed the magazine away, waiting patiently was Billy’s naked cock, which he had quickly fumbled loose with his free hand. There it stood, just a breath away, raging with teenage blood and stinking of rotting fish. I began to gag but unmoving hands rooted me to the spot.
If Billy had been my lover or if this had been another time and space – or had I been a woman – maybe things would have been different. But I wasn’t a woman, I was a petrified thirteen-year-old girl who wanted her mum and dad. Mummy and Daddy hide me away. I wanted to be at home, with Angel, not in the middle of this waking nightmare.
My heart shot blood through my veins, bodyshocks crackled through my skin as Billy’s cock touched my cheek.
What happened next happened so fast that it didn’t become clear to me until hours, days later. I was sprinting across the playground. I chanced a glance behind me. Billy had passed out, or maybe dead – I didn’t care. His two cronies, anxiously bending over him. I carried on running until I reached home. Reached my Angel. Painful, pitiful tears burning my eyes. I pulled Angel close and gently kissed her head, leaving a dark, red smear on her white crown. My lips and teeth still slick with Billy’s blood.
I stayed off school for the rest of the week. I didn’t tell anyone why I was so (seemingly) ill. Mother kept me away because I was so pale and couldn’t hold my food down. She put my illness down to teenage stress. But she grew suspicious when I began to wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
My dreams had become diseased with images of torn bodies and crimson rivers. Billy. He stood naked among piles of festering bodies. Starving, his distended stomach making a mockery of the jutting bones around it. With eager teeth, I would tear long, stickyfat strips of flesh away from his struggling body. Gulping down the bloodied meat, the ecstasy covering my face as the viscous lumps slid down my throat, plainly obvious.
My parents were completely unaware of what had gone on at school and when I was quizzed about my bad dreams I simply played dumb – what bad dreams? All I knew, was that the marks my teeth had left in Billy’s pride, would have him planning hell on earth for me and basically, I didn’t want to go back to school – Ever!
Thursday afternoon had clouded over and it looked as if it might rain but I hadn’t taken Angel to the lake for quite a while and she was getting restless. Make the most of it while you can, I remember thinking to myself; so we set off under a blotchy sky.
Angel happily splashed about while I sat under one of the trees, which were set to one side of the lake. My honest, innocent little friend. If only people could be the same. Not reading or writing this time. Just thinking. Thinking of what would have happened to me if I hadn’t got away from Billy and his thugs. What? - more to the point, would happen to me when I returned to school? Just the thought of it made me feel sick to my stomach.
Everywhere around the lake was deserted, people either at work or school. So quiet, so peaceful.
A rustling sound behind me. I didn’t even have time to turn around before being dragged into the trees. On my back. Strong hands clamping my wrists to the floor, then my ankles. My breath burst from my lungs as Billy Garrison sat heavily on my belly.
‘Gotcha!.’ Lighting a cigarette with a silver Zippo, he blew the smoke right into my face. ‘We’ve been wondering when you’d turn up here. I was starting to get sick of waiting.’ He blew another lungful of smoke into my face then flicked the ash into my hair. I was gasping under his weight. ‘Wasn’t very nice what you did to me was it?’ He held his groin, his face creasing in mock agony. ‘Fuckin` hurt that did – ducky!’ Knowing I was now unable to move under their leader, the other two moved behind him, quietly debating something between them. The larger of the two pulled a length of string from his pocket, knelt down and began hammering something into the ground. I’m sure I heard one of them whisper, are you sure this is a good idea? I couldn’t see what they were doing because Billy’s bulk obscured my view. He turned his head.
‘You two done yet?’
I then heard a sound that had bile rising up my throat. Angel had obviously finished her swim and was now looking around for me. Her lost sounds coming closer and closer. No! Go away Angel, run. Run home, my head screamed. All three boys grinned smugly at each other as Angel cautiously waddled through the trees and right up to me. Not even giving the others a second look, she nestled into my shoulder and gently pecked at my hair – no intention of running away, she just wanted to be near her friend – just wanted me. Go away – go home. Casually, one of them grabbed her roughly and disappeared behind Billy.
‘Leave her Billy. She hasn’t done anything. Take it out on me not her,’ I sobbed. He turned around to the others.
‘Done,’ came the reply. Swapping places, the other two pinned me down as Billy got off me, finally revealing what they had all been up to.
A wooden peg had been hammered into the ground. Attached to the peg was a length of string, the other end of which had been made into a noose, which was now firmly fastened around Angel’s neck. Helpless. The only thing we could do was look at each other. Through my tears came anger – burning uncontrollably from the pit of my gut and rising until –
‘Let her go you fucking bastards! I’ll fucking kill you all you wankers! Let her fucking go!’
Nothing. My outburst and struggles only brought derision and nonchalance from them all. Billy stood next to Angel. From his pocket, he pulled a can with a nozzle attached to it, the entire contents of which he sprayed all over Angel, who was now beginning to panic. He flicked a large flame from his lighter. The boys holding me looked at each other in horror.
‘Billy! I thought we were only going to . . .’
Angel was completely engulfed in searing flames. She ran screaming but the string kept her in endless circles. The smell of roasting flesh and melting feathers filled the air like a death-haze. The screams. My God, it sounded like a child; piercing my ears like a thousand dirty needles. Her skin bubbled, spat and blackened under the inferno as she finally fell to the ground. One of the boys vomited next to me; then all ran away. I simply sat in shock – even with my captors gone, my limbs immobile. Watching with unbelieving eyes, my only friend in her final stages of death. I crawled over to the charred, riven body. A faint, cracked mewling sound came from her as she tried in vein to lift her head. Still alive – strong Angel. I couldn’t let her suffer anymore. One last look.
‘Goodbye little girl.’
One sharp twist between my hands and her neck snapped like a wet stick.
Using the peg, I gouged a hole and placed her remains into the damp earth. Replacing the soil I turned to go home. The heavens splintered and the rain poured down.
I began cutting myself when I was at college. Twenty-years old and secretly mapping out my misery on my skin. It sounds stupid but the physicality of these rituals eased the immense pains in my mind. Mentally scarred and bleeding – it never ever went away. Alone in my flat, I would remove my clothing and inspect the healing and the fresh. Never cutting too deep to nick veins or scar me for life but deep enough to bleed – deep enough to comfort me. Mostly they would be clean straight cuts across my flesh with my stolen scalpel blade. But sometimes, I would send my soul, messages – neatly carving the letters into myself: Ugly – Shit – Judas – Pig. Just one-word curses to remind myself. To remind myself I’m insignificant, nothing.
I was very lucky, my partner Sandy knew and understood why I did this. She knew I did it to stay alive – just above the surface. We were deeply in love and Sandy didn’t want to lose me, so watching me slice my body open every few days was a small price to pay, just as long as she could wake up to my warm, breathing body every morning. Eventually, my cuts became part of the ritual of lovemaking. She would always begin by laying my naked body out on the bed and firstly, trace over all my wounds with her fingertips, next with her tongue. Then we would dissolve into each other, consumed by passions beyond words.
We were together for five years. Sandy worked in a gothic boutique, making many friends in the gothic community. Writers, artists, designers. Funny, warm, even tragic people, all came to stay at the flat over the years, like shadows being cast around me from a sentient light source. Their goodness shone into me as one by one they accepted me. I had found my own black heaven, full of Kohl and ruby angels, filling the air with a delicious cocktail of aroma’s sweeter than any earthly flower.
I began a chameleon-like transformation, from scruffy, grunge urchin, into the dark, exotic sophistication of my new family. Hair dyed tumour-black, my blouses made of fragile, intricate lace and all finished off with long, billowing skirts. My face became a canvas – blending, darkening and highlighting – sculpting my features into a mask. A mask of the brooding, seething creature that had lay dormant inside me for many years. Finally – I had found myself, my family and my sanity. I was happy.
We had all gone out one night to one of our regular Goth clubs, Firefalls. It had been an exceptional night, the DJ was cranking out thunderous sounds all evening: Sisters of Mercy, Nine inch Nails, Killing Joke - we all dominated the dance-floor like high priests at a sacrifice. But the only thing we sacrificed all night was sweat, as Sandy and I writhed and pulsed around one another’s bodies, the music acting voodoo-like. Our tongues disappeared into each other’s mouths, hot breaths mingling in an alcohol haze.
The music finally over, we all walked a short way across town to get a taxi. Laughing and singing, we floated under a sparkling, black sky, becoming part of the darkness – wishing we were shadows, wishing we could fly. Sandy and I dawdled a few feet behind the rest, stopping now and again to kiss and silently declare our love for each other. Passing a shop doorway, a voice called from the shadows.
‘Spare any change for a cup of tea please ladies?’ As our eyes became accustomed to the shadows, we saw the owner of the desperate voice. A tramp, sad-ragged and smelling of urine. A long matted beard coiled out of his pitted face. Sandy, ever the Samaritan, dug deep for change.
My veins turned to ice. He didn’t recognise me – but I couldn’t mistake that face, those eyes. Never. Sitting before us was Billy Garrison, stinking of piss, God knows what else and begging for mercy. My first reaction was revenge. I could have stabbed him, beat him senseless (he was no match for fighting anymore), or for the memory of Angel – set the bastard alight. But no. That would only put him out of his own misery. I wanted the obvious mental and physical torture he was in, to carry on forever. I wanted my revenge to be sickly, subtle and sweet. Sandy pulled out some loose change, snatching it from her, I squatted in front of Billy until we were face to face. Clearly, he was just an animated shell – if the drugs didn’t kill him, the booze would – but not until I’d helped them along a little. Goading Billy, I held the money in front of his face. Every time he reached out trembling, dirty fingers to take it – I pulled it away.
‘Please,’ he whimpered, his eyes brimming wet.
‘Do you really want this?’ I asked, holding the money to his nodding head. Lifting my blouse, I exposed my naked breasts to him; my nipples erect in the chill air. Sandy gasped behind me. ‘I bet you’d like these as well eh?’ He turned his head away. I spat a thick ball of mucus into his face, watched it slowly drip down his cheek as I threw the money into the road. ‘You want it, fucking fetch it!’ He sobbed like a kid in front of me, wiping my phlegm from his face. I wanted to carry on the anger, to add to my cruelty – but all I could feel was a terrible guilt for what I had just done.
I’d become Billy.
As I stood up, Sandy looked at me in utter disgust. I held her hand, which she quickly snatched away. By now, Billy was breaking his heart.
‘Why did you do that to the poor bugger? What’s he ever done to you?’ Sandy’s words burst in my face. I couldn’t explain, I just ran home, ignoring everyone’s concerned shouts behind me.
Inside the flat, I bolted the door and sat on the end of the bed. Sandy and the others had been banging on the door but must have decided I was better left alone to cool off. My past has returned to haunt me; the past I thought I had finally hidden away, hermetically sealed in the pit of my being. Images of Angel dying and screaming for me to help her, filled my mind. I sat, scalpel in one hand, a feather in the other. Holding the feather’s shaft, I cut it to a point. Slowly, I eased the point underneath the skin of my forearm, watching the ridge of flesh grow longer the further I pushed it. I stroked the feather with trembling fingers – admiring, the pain a million miles away in a dream. Licking the blood from my arm, an idea formed in my unravelling mind. Grabbing a bin-liner full of feathers, I thoroughly soaked them whilst I stripped off all my clothing and set to work.
After my phone-call, Sandy and the rest burst through the unlocked door. They all burst into tears at the sight of me. I stood naked in front of them, punctured with the countless feathers, which covered my body from head to toe. Wobbling slightly because I’d lost so much blood, I forced a smile at everyone.
‘Look Sandy, I’m a bird!’ Everybody’s eyes lowered to the floor, as the sight of this bleeding and riven angel before them, became too much.
‘Josh, get an ambulance!’ Sandy screamed. ‘Quick!’
‘No,’ I shouted, tottering back and forth as my thoughts began fusing together. ‘I’ve one more thing to show you.’ Josh put the phone down. ‘Ever heard of Icarus?’ I grabbed the lighted candle from behind me.
‘Nooooo!’ Sandy screamed. She knew. Before she could reach me, I’d pulled the flame across my chest – the petrol did the rest.
So, here I lie in my hospital bed. Lifesaving tubes sprouting from me, the constant beep of the heart monitor reminding everyone that I’m still alive. My friends surrounding me, looking through blurred eyes at the charred and melted body of their dear friend.
As I said earlier, someone else has joined us. A little girl standing beside me, a wonderful warm smile covering her face – it was me. The flutter of wings beside her – Angel, untouched and perfect. My little Angel.
We’ve been waiting for so long, she whispers to me. It’s time to go now, time to leave. I closed my eyes and began to fly.