When They Whisper

Suddenly a hundred, a thousand voices were about me, whispering his name. They sounded urgent, rushed, longing. I was afraid, I’m not going to deny, as Matt and I were the only people on the entire street.

It was clear by this stage that I was hearing the voices. They were high, low, loud and quiet, but all saying Matt’s name and all with that hungry whisper. I started hitting the side of my head with my fist, breathing heavily. I didn’t know what else to do and my insides were clenching.

They didn’t go, and if anything, grew. Next thing I knew, I had my head in my hands and was yelling, doubled over.

Suddenly, one voice broke over the crazy noise: mine.

“Matt!” I yelled, my voice cracking, “Matt!”

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5. The Return of the Messiah

Driving back from the hospital with Dad and Maxwell had to be one of the worst drives of my life. Max had been bullying me into a mad confession, I’d had enough strange experiences that day, and no matter how optimistic Becky had been, she was completely out of it with pain killers and was ignoring the fact that she was most likely never able to walk again.

We were silent, Max driving and Dad gazing out the window like a lost puppy. I scowled and shot arrows into the back of Max’s head. He knew full well that the moment we got back he would have my violent questioning to answer to, my turn to be the bully and he the victim.

What the hell was Max playing at? He was so persistent, unrelenting and not at all tactful. He still hadn’t explained to me at all how me going mad and hearing voices had anything to do with Becky’s fall. How had Max heard it too? Was he just trying to piss me off enough to get a feasible answer out of me?

It had been drizzling lightly over the duration of the afternoon, and now well after four and the end of school, I couldn’t even be bothered to text Greg to tell him Becky was alive. I didn’t know who Dad had spoken to in our small circle of family and friends. They could wait. We had to get home and piece our life back together.

The constant sound of the screeching of water splashing up and around the car was enough to drive anyone’s senses round the corner. It sounded like a tsunami to me.

“We’ll just grab a takeaway or something tonight,” Max called back to me.

No one wanted to take charge of the situation. Dad certainly wasn’t in any state to do cooking or look after himself, let alone Becky. I sighed, looking at my retard of an uncle driving us.

Maxwell was 44 to be exact. He was quite a large bloke with a large head, regularly shaved with what I could swear were sheep shears. He could be mistaken for a chav with his crop of hair and one pierced ear. Apparently he had been a proper punk when he was a teenager. But now, in his middle age, he was a grounds manager to a local hotel and spent all day everyday outside, driving round in what I think was an old recycled golf buggy or ‘maintenance truck’. He got to wear the cool trackies that the kids working for him wore and looked pretty tough.

He seemed as lost as me at the responsibility as we trudged through the front door to find the scene of devastation that had been left when everyone rushed Becks to hospital. Things had been kicked everywhere by the ambulance crew practically breaking in: shoes, bags and newspapers strewn all across the hall and sitting room. At the back of the sitting room was the main scene of disaster. There was the filing cabinet, shoved into one corner at the bottom of the stairs without a second thought. No one so far had bothered to or thought to remove or hide the blood that was smeared down the whole of one side of it. I think want to think of what was on the stairs themselves.

Max shielded the sitting room door from view as he directed Dad straight into the kitchen with the orders of beer and/or whisky. Wise move, I thought, following Dad and not even gracing Max with even a glance his way.

I immediately grabbed a tea towel, sprayed it lightly with water from the tap and scooped up a bottle of disinfectant, trying not to catch Dad’s eye as he collapsed against the side. He offered a can to me but I headed back out of the kitchen, practically shoving Max out of the way to get through the sitting room and to the filing cabinet blocking the back door. The blood had dried and now looked a murky brown. Before anything else could be sorted in my head, the disturbing murder scene had to be cleaned up. I have a tidy mind like that.

My mechanical scrubbing and the chance not to think of exactly what I was doing was a little release. I was always satisfied to clean mess, leave things sterile, as they should be. I couldn’t hear Dad or Maxwell talking in the kitchen as I wiped up the last of the mess and discarded the filthy towel on the ground, feeling like a criminal myself.

I brought myself to slowly turn around and face the stairs, bracing myself for the worst. There was just one puddle of blood, now turned sticky and mostly dry about four steps up. It must have been where Becky’s head had rested. I don’t think it was a bad head wound, it’s just that these things have an unfortunate habit of bleeding as though her head had been chopped off.

I jumped up, still not hearing anything from the kitchen and ran out into the utility where there was a small tap and more towels. I grabbed a large swimming towel and filled a bucket with soapy water. Back to the stairs, and trying to make myself think it was only red paint, I was mopping up and rinsing down the stained carpet as the clock struck five. Instead of bothering to fully bleach all the mess from the carpet, I removed the bucket of pinky brown water and draped the towel over the worst of it. Now Dad could at least get up the stairs without seeing half the contents of Becky’s arteries.

Everything was dejected. I helped Dad up the stairs and carefully over the towel and to his room. I he said he was going to bed. I didn’t ask any questions. But all that time I had been taking to smoulder quietly and prepare the bombardment that was about to hit Maxwell. World War Three and a Nuclear meltdown were about to happen simultaneously.

On re-entering the kitchen to see the flopped form of Max half stooped over the worktop, I almost lost heart. My heart almost softened to him. But not enough.

“You have some serious explaining to do,” I growled, not even bothering to enter the room, simply standing in the doorway blocking off any chance of escape.

Max lifted his head, shook it and sighed deeply.

“I’m so sorry, I should have seen this coming.”

“Seen what coming?”

The bastard. Was he talking about Becky?

“I guess I did know, of course I knew. Maybe I didn’t want to accept it, not for you.”

I raised my eyebrows, now just letting him sort his thoughts out. I lied. There was no way I could bully him into giving me the answers. He looked as defeated as I felt. I stood, like I always do when other people were talking, and wait for them to give the information to themselves, then to me. I am certainly not a pushy person.

“Look,” he slammed his fist on the worktop, “grab a drink and we’ll go through to the sitting room. I will explain everything.”

You better, I thought, but I didn’t have the guts to voice it.

“Does Dad know what the hell you’re on about?”

“Yes, well, sort of.”

God, was it seriously Max’s job purely to be indecisive and the most unhelpful human being ever that day?

Can of beer in hands later, I was sat uncomfortably in the largest and most cosy armchair, Max sprawled awkwardly across the one sofa at the foot of the stairs.

“This is going to be a lot to take in,” he warned, trying to keep his voice steady. “You’re probably not going to like it.”

Because everything else had been going so well that day.

“Well,” he stopped and sighed dramatically. “Shit man, I don’t even know where to start!”

I couldn’t help him. I had no idea where this went back to or even what in God’s name he was on about. How could he expect me to help him out here?

A few minutes of frowning later he regained his poise as he sat up, his shining temple reflecting the overhead light like a dinner plate. His forehead was broken with lines of worry.

“Your mum,” he started as if a broken engine. I sat up a bit straighter too. Was he talking about Becky? Of course he wasn’t, Max was on about my real mum. “She was ill for a reason. You know about her family?”

My mum’s family, of course I knew. She didn’t have one. When she was about twelve her whole family - mother, father, brother and sister - had all been driving up to Birmingham to attend a family wedding. There had been a three vehicle collision on the motorway. One survivor.

I had guessed before that that was a reason my mum had been depressed: a scarred childhood and all that, her family taken at such a vulnerable age. I’m pretty sure she’d been fighting mental illness all her teenage and adult life.

I nodded, not looking directly at Max.

“And she survived for a reason.”

I think she was a fighter, my mum.

“I’m about to spurt a load of weird crap, but you’ve got to believe me. Just take this seriously, OK?”

Max was getting more and more sporadic, panicky.

“Do you believe in fate?”

“What?”

“Fate, the Fates, destiny and all that.”

I hadn’t thought of that before. Definitely something Max was plucking out the blue.

“Damn, I don’t know!”

“Well I’m going to tell you right here, right now that none of it is crap. The Fates are real, they influence everything that happens on this planet, right?”

It’s as though he was expecting confirmation from me. I shrugged, trying to keep my expression hostile. I was just feeling hollow inside, like everything unexpected and mad was throwing itself my way that day.

“The car crash, the one that killed your mum’s family, that was because of fate, or the Fates as we call them.”

Who do? I hadn’t heard Max ever talk of this before.

“Only she didn’t die. She was supposed to die that day and she didn’t. The Fates meant to kill her whole family.”

“And how do you know that?” I finally voiced myself, my tone pathetically small.

“Doesn’t that sound familiar at all?”

Of course it did. Maxwell was busy talking to the bloody miracle boy.

“I’m supposed to be dead too, right?”

Max expelled a large amount of air. He seemed to relax slightly.

“Exactly. You’re just like your mum. You and your mum, the Fates couldn’t touch you.”

This all sounded so out of place. Max was busy jumping to a hell of a lot of conclusions.

“But mum’s dead!”

“She killed herself. Nothing else killed her.”

“I may be a miracle boy but I’m not bloody immortal.”

“Of course you’re not. But the Fates, they rule everything that happens in this world. You’re an anomaly, 0.01% of the population of the world is invisible to the Fates, out of their reach.”

“How in holy hell do you know all of this?”

“Please, Ollie, remember I asked you to believe me?”

“Yeah, you told me Father Christmas was real.”

“In the full knowledge that one day you would discover the truth for yourself. This isn’t the same. You’ve already discovered the truth, you just can’t make sense of it. You just can’t bring yourself to believe it.”

“Believe what? All this crap about fate and destiny!”

I was ready to jump on Max. How could he talk about my mum like this? Becky was in hospital, everything had just been collapsing, and now he was choking up all this weird shit about supernatural forces!

“But this crap about the Fates doesn’t touch you! Because you’re immune!”

Max had been leaning right the way forwards on the sofa, trying desperately to grab my attention and persuade me. He suddenly slumped, as if he had got out what he had been trying to say.

“Immune?” I coughed it out as if a bad joke. “Immune?”

“That’s what we’re called.”

“We?”

“I’m an immune too.”

“Wait a second!” I jumped to my feet and had strolled in front of Max. The world around me was beginning to blur around the edges in my anger. “You’re mad! You’re crazy! Now you’re sounding like some bloody Messiah! Or at least you think you’re one.”

“Oliver!” he was attempting to regain some authority as I strode back past him, kicked the filing cabinet still dumped at the bottom of the stairs with all the might I could muster, and was gone, seeking the salvation and peace of my own room. Perhaps Max had been a little too stressed that day? Perhaps he was making things up in his head, coming to conclusions, going delirious with it all?

But I hadn’t made up the voice in my head. Not that day and not the week previously with Matt. The more I dwelled on it the clearer it became in my memory. Max had known about Becky, guessed what I’d heard. And Anna, Anna? That look she gave me in the library there was absolutely no denying. Anna had heard it too.

 

 

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