Kinski in the Attic

Rennie wants to kill himself, but things seem to keep getting in the way...



As someone who can get travel sick purely by thought, being blindfolded and shoved onto the floor of a speeding vehicle causes me no small amount of trauma. Vomit skulks around the back of my throat. I keep it at bay with constant swallowing. I feel every turn, every brake, every variation in speed in the pit of my stomach. Someone turns off the thumping tunes and puts on what I can only describe as bagpipe drum'n'bass. Agony compounded, what is probably only a twenty minute drive ends up feeling like a solid fortnight.

The car finally stops and doors all around me open. Hands grab my ankles and yank me onto the ground. My hood slips but all I can see is a patch of long grass. A strong breeze carries the tang of salt. I'm pulled to my feet – my hood adjusted – and forced into a building and up a winding set of stairs. I start to feel sick again. The sound of our feet clanking on the steps echoes back to us. After three or four swirling flights I spill out onto level ground and lie face down while I wait for everything to stop spinning. A flash of light rolls through my vision at regular intervals. Don trips over me, swearing.

Someone squawks, ‘kill the bastards.’

‘Oh fuck no, no,’ Don thrashes, ‘don’t kill me, please, I never even wanted-‘ a smack stops him. He hisses in and out of his nose.

I’m picked up by the armcrook and dragged over a raised metal threshold into a battering gale. Off comes the sack. I’m staring over the edge of a rusty metal balcony, all the way down to where sea thrashes against scree. Rising out of the jagged rock is the lighthouse, its candy cane striping still visible in the dark.

‘Feel brave?’ asks a man in accented English.

I can only shake my head.


Whoever holds my arm shoves the sack down over my head again and drags me back inside. I hazard a question. I get most of ‘what’ out before someone punts me in the stomach. Steel toe caps.

‘Not time to talk.’

It’s hard to sort the whispers from the wind. Again I’m dragged, this time into another room where a cold hard chair waits for me. I slip over to one side, my stomach still throbbing from the kick, but an unseen pair of hands right me. The sack comes off.

I'm in a kitchen, facing an off-cream gas cooker. The tiles behind are speckled and depict a man carrying several ears of corn. There are two other people in the room: one is Don, hoodless and bloody-nosed, quivering on my right; the other is Joe, or at least someone with Joe’s midlife crisis leather jacket, who still has his hood on and, to my delight, is still breathing.

Don glowers, shaking his head. ‘Save the country eh? Fuckeen great idea mun.’

Then Holly walks in.

She's wearing tartan fatigues (if that's not a contradiction in terms), complete with matching beret. Her back is straighter, her jaw clenched. Then it hits me: this is all fake, it’s all a dream or I actually did get hit by that car and now I’m in a coma, or maybe I’ve never really been alive and what I take to be my consciousness is just a weird cosmic burp.

'We need to talk.'

Aw fuck, never mind, it's real and it’s definitely her. Holly stands right in front of me, staring down with her arms folded.

'Hey.' My voice cracks.

'Hey yourself. Sorry,’ cocking her head and thumbing towards Joe, ‘I have to deal with this first.’ Her eyes catch two people standing behind us. As they come round into view and rip off Joe’s hood, I recognise one of them: the Spanish guy I saw her with in the shop. The other man looks as though he could be anywhere between forty and sixty. They both wear tartan fatigues, stretched to breaking point on their muscular frames.

‘You’ve met Marco,’ Holly says, ‘briefly, anyway.’ Marco nods at me. ‘This is Jorge.’ The older man doesn't even look at me. Joe, who started struggling as soon as his hood was off, tries shouting something through his gag.

Holly cups an ear. ‘What’s that, Joe? I can’t hear you.’ At a glance from her, Marco removes Joe’s gag.

‘I said, “you’re off your fuckin rocker doll”,’ he snarls, stretching as close to her as his ties will let him.

Holly stares him down. ‘Jorge,’ she says without breaking eye contact, ‘show Joe here what happens to people who call me “doll”.’

Jorge leans over to the cooker and turns on a hob. The button goes click and blue flames rush out.

‘Fingers first,’ Holly says.

Marco and Jorge grab Joe’s right arm and, despite some heroic struggling from Joe, inch him closer and closer to the fire. Joe clenches his fist to protect his fingers but it’s no use: they bathe the whole hand in flame instead. His skin blackens. The struggling becomes more desperate. Anger turns to anguish. I can’t look away.

‘Enough.’ Holly gets in close to his ear so he can hear her over his own screaming. ‘You were saying?’ Joe can't talk. He’s doubled over, cradling his charred hand, breathing fast. ‘So,’ Holly continues, ‘that was for calling me “doll”. This next one is for trying to use Rennie against me.’

Marco and Jorge have much less difficulty this time round. Holly has to shout. ‘Where are they?’

Prolonged screams. I catch a word in amongst the agony. ‘Can’t.’ The room stinks of burnt flesh.

‘Stop it!’ I yell. Everyone looks at me. To my surprise, Holly gives the two henchmen another look and they let go of Joe’s hand. Tears stream out of his tightshut eyes.

Holly gets down on her haunches so their heads are level. With a sinister sweetness, she asks him again where ‘they’ are. All Joe does is shake his head.

'Fine,’ says Holly, rising again. ‘Now the face.'

‘Fuck’s sake Holly!’ I yell again, ‘you don’t need to do this.’

She ignores me. Marco and Jorge untie Joe and lift him by the shoulders and push him into the flames. He has no fight left in him. I stare down at my shoes (one bloody, one with loose laces) and try not to put pictures to his horrific screaming. Hair burns. I stare hard at the loose laces, as if I'm willing it to slither back into place. Drops scatter over the floor.

A particularly long scream catches in Joe’s throat and stays there, subsiding to spluttering and gurgling before that too fades and an even more horrifying silence takes hold. My breath comes quickly now. I want to die but I sure as fuck don't want it to be anything like that. There's the drawn out, excruciating pain, sure, but coupled with that is the knowledge that you are looking over the edge into oblivion and whatever light you carry is about to be extinguished forever, consigned to dust, then memory, then nothing. Joe’s face makes a horrible squelchy-scratchy sound as it hits the floor.

‘Get rid of him,' says Holly. The guys nod, pick up a leg each and drag the body out of the room, leaving a black-speckled blood trail behind.

I’m lost. I can’t integrate the actions of this beret-wearing lunatic with the girl who nibbles off her nail varnish. I try to find a watch or a clock to look at, in case the numbers are bobbing around or obscured in some way and this is all just a horribly convincing dream. I try to ask what the fuck is going on but the only sound I can make is a strangled sort of meow.

'I'm sorry.'

She's not looking at me. Instead she's focussed on playing with the cooker's ignition button. It sounds like a tiny motorbike trying to start. Don, ghost white, is crying too.

'I know that can't have been easy for either of you to watch.' Her eyes flicker at me, then back down to the button. It's perverse that she seems almost sheepish right now. 'But I can't show any weakness. Not in front of them.'

'Holly, I'm fuckeen terrified.' My voice is still in lost kitten territory. ‘How can you do that to someone?’

She sighs and folds her arms. ‘It’s not like it was easy. You can't view it as some sort of isolated event though; he was going to turn you over to some dangerous people. They were going to use you against me and then they’d have probably killed you.’

‘Who’re “they”?’

‘I don’t know for sure. But if I had to guess, I’d say they were some sort of black ops group.’

My head is pounding. ‘You can’t be serious.’

She shrugs. ‘Believe it or don’t.’

‘But why would they be coming after you?’

Holly drops her arms. ‘Oh, Rennie, come on. What does this look like to you? I’m – we’re – freedom fighters. “Terrorists” in the parlance of The Powers That Be.’

‘I think at some point you’ve kind of got to accept that you lost the-‘

‘I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the Highlands.' Her eyes gleam. 'We’re different from the rest of Scotland, no one can deny that. We walk in windswept glens, feeling heather beneath our feet. We sleep under a vast cosmic canvas, awash with colour. When we die, our bodies are laid in the soil our ancestors tilled thousands of years ago. The only people that care about the Highlands are us. Europe doesn’t, nor Britain or even the rest of Scotland: just us.'

Christ, it's that speech, the previous drafts of which lie scrunched and scattered all over her bedroom floor.

'That's all ver-'

'A backlash is coming against globalisation, and it can start here in the Highlands. Let the world follow our example and carve itself up into microstates, so that nobody ever has too much power. Once we're done, I'll make the Highlands a home for all the displaced people in this world. The Clearances,' her voice soaring, '– ethnic fuckeen cleansing, mind –ripped the heart right out of here. It would be fitting, I think.'

This is a woman who, until five minutes ago, made me feel so intellectually inferior I wondered what the point was in even having thoughts at all, and now... well, she's mental, isn't she? Has to be. But her passion quickens the pulse and there's a voice in the back of my head asking what if she's right?

'So what are you,' I say, pausing in case she wants to interrupt me again, 'Neo-Jacobites?'

She closes her eyes and snorts. 'I guess you could say that, despite the implied proclivity for monarchy and religion. It's the ideology that matters though, not the name.' She reaches towards Don. 'You ok?' Don doesn't reply. His gaze is fixed on the pool of rapidly congealing blood. Holly waits a moment for a response, then gives me a wide-eyed look, her neck corded as if he's being unfairly moody. I ask a question I think is on both of our minds.

'Did you have to kill him?'

Holly bites her lip. 'Yes. As I said – no weakness. However, if you were to ask me if I wanted to kill him, the answer would be no.'

'Oh. Well that's ok then.'

'Don't be like that,' eyes rolling, 'it's an unfortunate step on a road that leads to a higher purpose.' She looks over us, holding on to what she wants to say. 'And that road is big enough for two more. If you're interested.'

I say yes. Don, after prodding, does too. What's the alternative?







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