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Authors: Conrad Williams

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Decay Inevitable

BOOK: Decay Inevitable
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D
ECAY
I
NEVITABLE

 

C
ONRAD
A
.
W
ILLIAMS

 

 

To die will be an awfully big adventure.

 

– James Matthew Barrie,

Peter Pan

 

SOLARIS

For Rhonda, Southwold 2000

 

 

First published 2009 by Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK

 

www.solarisbooks.com

 

ISBN (ePUB): 978-1-84997-309-0

ISBN (MOBI): 978-1-84997-310-6

 

Copyright © 2011 Conrad Williams.

 

Cover image by Dave McKean.

 

The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.

 

A
LSO BY
C
ONRAD
W
ILLIAMS

 

One

The Unblemished

London Revenant

The Scalding Rooms

Rain

Head Injuries

Nearly People

Game

Use Once Then Destroy

 

1992

 

 

T
HE BOY HAD
been asleep for a long time and woke up feeling sick. A wedge of midday sunlight contained him; it splintered in his eyes and, along with a gruel of rheum, made it difficult for him to see. Beyond the almost granular curtain of light, objects moved slowly, as though shifting through fluid. He couldn’t make out what they were. He was in great pain, but it was a pain that seemed detached, enveloping him rather than embedded within. It was a strangely comforting pain.

The dream retained its clarity, even as he swam up further from the dead pool of sleep. It crystallised and reached deep into his unconscious, revealing new nodes and structures that initially had been lost upon waking. Soon the dream had a root, the origin of his mind’s play. The more recent tendrils of the dream wavered, like new leaves on a plant cauterised by fierce sunlight, unable to go on, frustrated by a lack of completion. Still, the thick, coppery taste of fear in his throat suggested he’d been lucky to have been pulled out of the dream, before it had a chance to scar him with anything too vile.

He had been walking a midnight field; up ahead were a number of figures, a gathering of grey smocks meandering on a hill above the ocean. At the bottom of the hill lay a tower of drab, grey buildings with narrow windows and flat roofs piled on top of each other like a ziggurat.

Although it had been dark, details could be gathered from his companions: the bluish tinge to their skin, the thin worms of veins sprawled across the shorn planes of their skulls. As he approached, some of them turned to look at him. Some of them didn’t have eyes, or rather, they contained black, protruding orbs in their faces, like moist olives plugged into chunks of focaccia. The sky and sea were cut from the same fabric, a slightly darker pleat offering only the vaguest nod to separation. Directly above them, the heavens seemed feverish and uncertain, fussing and disintegrating like a nimbus of midges.

The mass of tunics fell away from him as he breached their community. They faded, swift as hot breath on glass, to leave a stain in the air that smelled of cinnamon. Another face drifted by his own, the eyes soft, wet and totally black. It was a face that had followed him into his dream, but he couldn’t place it. The frustration of failed recognition piled up against him until he started crying. The face drew away, despite his attempt to get nearer, and before it vanished into the sweep of pine trees down by the water he saw it open in a smile; the glutinous, amber light of his dream snagged on a gold tooth.

Out of the dream, his surroundings continued to burn into him. For some reason, his eyes were failing to become accustomed to the glare. Even the sunlight, fixing him to the floor through the frame of the window, was not losing ground to the spin of the Earth. Its heat was constant, and a finger of cloud reaching for the sun never eclipsed it.

Awake, he moved away from the cage of sunlight and was able to gauge his position. A black suggestion remained where he’d been sitting, as of a shadow severed from its generator. He had the impression of a single, thin arch through which he could see a tower with lights burning in a window. The sound of wind chimes. Then that was fading too and:

His father was frozen into his armchair, hands gripping the sides. Half a digestive biscuit had been caught in the process of falling, a foot shy of the carpet, surrounded by a cloud of crumbs. His father’s head was on its way backwards, larynx proud, mouth agape in the act of laughing. Spit formed a hinge for his lips. The boy’s mother was a dim figure approaching the doorway, carrying a tray and looking down at a cat trapped in the act of rubbing itself against her ankles. On the television, shoppers were still as dummies, undecided over which margarine they liked best in a taste test.

Before the explosion of sound, colour and light brought him crashing into real time again, he heard a voice, brittle with concern, bark:
Do we have him? Okay, okay, pull out.

Now his father’s laughter was yo-yoing around the room, his mother pleading for Benny to go and catch some mice. Everything seemed normal, yet there were things that seemed out of kilter with what had gone on before he slept. Benny, for example, had changed. The cat approached him, affable as ever, yet one of his white “socks” had swapped feet. When he went to his room he found that his bookshelves had been altered and were now arranged alphabetically by author, rather than by title, which was how he preferred it. Outside his window, in next door’s garden, Mrs Pleat’s pond fountain chuckled happily; only last week the pond had been filled in because it attracted frogs, creatures Mrs Pleat couldn’t abide.

He saw many other inconsistencies that day, but when he woke the following morning, they had all resolved themselves. All was as it had been and nothing else was amiss.

He spent a long time worrying about the dream and trying to remember what had happened before he fell asleep. Had he spent all afternoon there, on the floor? He didn’t think so, but he couldn’t recall an alternative.

He went to the bathroom and checked his eyes in the mirror. They appeared normal, their usual brown colour. He gritted his teeth against a strong compulsion to cry and backed away from the mirror to sit on the edge of the bathtub. He was not usually given to emotional blips such as this, but then he could never understand why people always offered comfort to those who had suffered a nightmare by saying it was just a dream. This was why he had not confided in his parents.

He began to dream about the hill regularly and found that he could control his actions while he was there. He visited the wood and walked the edge of the ocean. The building, if he pressed his ear up against it, made soft, clanking noises, like machinery heard at a distance. He discovered these places were comforting to him, no longer associated with the pain or shock of his first journey. As his real-time experiences developed, so the surroundings in the dream followed suit. The trees grew. Flowers bloomed and died, corresponding with the seasons. There was an abundance of plantlife that he could never find replicated in any garden or botanical encyclopaedia during his hours of wakefulness. There were animals too, although they were timid and he never saw more than a glimpse of them in the wood. He discovered that he could not travel beyond the limit of his vision. He tried often to escape the confines of his surroundings, but at the moment he felt he had broken free, he would find, by some strange trick of perspective, that he was running back in the direction from which he had come. It didn’t bother him; he felt it was something he would achieve one day. It was something to be learned.

It was always night on the hill, and always the summit would be crowded with shaven-headed people dressed in plain, grey tunics. He grew to recognise some of the inhabitants and looked out for them on subsequent journeys to help convince him that his dreaming was lucid, although the gold-toothed character did not resurface in all this time. On occasion, he attempted to communicate with them but invariably the object of his attention would back off, eyes averted deferentially.

On the morning after one of these failed contacts, a week after his thirteenth birthday, he woke to the sound of voices. Pulling on a pair of track suit bottoms, he opened his bedroom door and peeked out onto the landing. The voices were coming from the bottom of the stairs; both were male, one calm and measured, the other breathless, threatening to become desperate. He could not hear his mother. He checked his watch. Only six a.m.; she would be in bed for at least another hour.

He crept to the top of the stairs and sat down. From here he could see the shadows of the men. He recognised his father’s voice patterns even before he’d understood what was being discussed. When it became clear it was him at the centre of their debate, he found it difficult to follow the conversation over the clamour of his heart. They were discussing money, a final payment. He forced himself to concentrate.

His father was begging the visitor now but the other was apparently unmoved.

“We have the facility ready, Mr. Nevin, and a car waiting outside. It’s really out of your hands now. We’d appreciate it if you went and woke the boy.”

“But my wife... she’ll be devastated.”

A sigh from the visitor. “Mr. Nevin, Joe, we had an agreement. Monies have been paid into your account for the past year. You don’t seriously believe that we are simply going to turn around and leave without the boy? That isn’t going to happen.”

“It is,” said the boy’s father. “I’ve changed my mind.”

There was a silence and then, very clearly, his father said: “Fuck.”

It was the profanity rather than the explosion that followed it that startled the boy onto his backside. He heard a burst of static and then the voice say: “Round the back. Quick. Watch out for the boy.” Once the radio had been switched off, he heard the voice say: “Godspeed, Joe, you stupid, stupid bastard.”

Now feet on the stairs.

The boy scampered back to his room just as his mother emerged from her bedroom, her hair in curlers, a white dressing gown wrapped around her.

“Joe?” she called, querulously. Another explosion: the top of her head came off. The boy watched, open-mouthed as his mother elegantly lifted her hand from the door as though about to primp her curls. She fell like something without bones, the remaining half of her head spread across the balustrade.

The boy ran to his window and shoved it open. He swung his body out and, clinging to the lintel, waited until he’d stopped swinging before dropping to the ground. He landed awkwardly and twisted his ankle. He didn’t feel a thing. Glancing at his window – the light just coming on – he ran across the garden and began leapfrogging the neighbouring fences until he’d lost count and the sounds of his pursuers’ cries were lost to a cacophony of disturbed dogs and the labour of his own lungs. By the time he stopped running, thin light was breaking above the roofs and he was standing bare-foot, bare-chested, at a traffic island, shivering with cold. The early-morning churn of the M56 lay below him. He realised he didn’t have anybody to turn to.

He hurried to the southbound sliproad and huddled by the verge. Tired, dirty and half-naked, he guessed it would be a while before he flagged a lift, if at all, but the first vehicle that swung by – an Escort van driven by a builder on his way back to Birmingham – stopped for him. The driver’s name was Jerry. He provided the boy with a jumper and a pair of boots three sizes too big from the back of the van. By the time they arrived in Birmingham, the boy had been offered a job as a builder’s mate on a site just outside Walsall.

BOOK: Decay Inevitable
12.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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