By: Steven Bruce

Her slender fingers brushed the palm of his hand.

"Your hands are rough," she said.

"Oh, thanks," he said.

"They're still my favourite part of you."

"What, my hands?"

"Yeah," she said, before bolting upright on the couch. "I had another scary dream last night."


"Yeah, I was visiting my mother's grave and—"

"That is scary," he said, staring up at the nicotine-stained ceiling.

"No, that's not the scary part. When I walked away from her grave, this gaunt, yellow-faced man jumped out in front of me." She rubbed her bruised eyelid with the back of her hand. "His bony finger pointed behind me. I turned around, and this gigantic lion was standing there." He handed her a half-smoked cigarette. "Well, it wasn't actually a lion," she said.

"What was it then?"

"It had a lion's head, but its body was, well, something else. I remember it had wings and horns and scales."

"Holy shit," he said. "Then what happened?"

"The lion tore into my leg, and I woke up covered in sweat."

He pulled away from her, got up off the worn-out couch, put his underwear on, walked out of the living room. She picked his phone up from the grimy glass coffee table and skimmed through his messages.

"What are you doing?" he said, marching into the room.

He wrestled the phone from her.

"I was checking the time."

"What, in my messages? You're full of shit," he said, shaking his head.

"You're hiding something, then," she said to him.

He snatched a handful of her short hair and shoved the corner of the phone into her temple.

"After everything you've put me through," he said, twisting the phone.

"I'm sorry," she said, gripping his hairy forearm.

He dragged her up from the couch and smashed her through the coffee table.

"Fucking look at what you've made me do," he said, weeping into his hands.

She picked herself up from the shattered glass and hobbled over to him.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I never—"

"Oh, always fucking sorry. Well, no more. You can go, crawl back to your bullshit family, see if they'll cope with you," he said, pacing the room.

She hobbled over to the window and looked out through the blinds. The street was empty, except for a young couple who were viewing a house for sale across the road.

"Looks like we'll have new neighbours soon," she said to him. "Do you remember when we came to see this place for the first time?"

"Of course," he said. "I remember you fell in love with the bathroom taps."

"Don't they look so happy?"

He peered out of the window, looked at her, and shook his head.

"Fuck this," he said. "I'm going out."

"Where to?" she said.

He stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Small blood crescents trailed up the cream stairway carpet into the bathroom. She tossed two olanzapine tablets into the sink and washed them down the plughole.

"I Forgot my wallet," he called out, coming back in through the front door.

She came out of the bathroom and smiled at him from the top of the stairs.

"You want me to make you something to eat, love?" she asked him.

"Fancy a chippy instead?"

"If you like. Get my usual," she said. "Oh, and a battered pineapple ring, if they have any."

He smiled at her, picked his wallet up from the sideboard, and left.

Hot water sputtered into the bathtub.

She sat on the edge of the toilet and raised her foot to her lap. A ragged chunk of glass protruded from her heel. She plucked it out. A thin line of blood trickled from the wound and settled on the floor.

She climbed into the water, closed her eyes, drifted into a half-asleep state.

A faint panting noise crawled out from the silence. A swift, hot gust of breath lashed her face. She shot up, her eyes scanning the empty room.

She hobbled down to the living room and spotted his phone amongst the coffee table debris. She picked it up and read the last message. It was from Lisa.

If you can get away early tonight, you can fuck me until it hurts.

She hurled the phone at the wall and growled into her hands.

He came in through the front door holding a white takeaway bag.

"They didn't have fish cakes, so I got you half-a-fish," he said, going into the kitchen.

He stepped into the living room, holding a long bread knife.

"You want a few slices of bread?"

"I'm not hungry anymore," she said. "And who the hell is Lisa?"

"What?" he said, looking at his broken phone. "Have you stopped taking your pills, you crazy cunt?"

He grabbed the collar of her shirt.

"You ungrateful bitch," he said.

She plunged a long, spiked shard of glass into his throat and retracted it with a jerk. Blood splashed her face, splashed the yellow wallpaper, splashed the blue floral curtains. He stumbled around the room, clutching his throat, his eyes bulging with disbelief.

Her slender fingers brushed the palm of his hand.

"Your hands are rough," she said.

She hobbled into the bathroom and tossed his severed hands into the bathtub, atop his dead body. A wide-eye gazed up at her from the gore. When she moved around the room, it seemed to follow her.

She leaned on the sink, a bottle of gin in one blood-soaked hand, painkillers in the other.

A seascape painting hung askew on the wall above the bathtub. The sound of waves scraping the shore echoed around the room. It reminded her of the bread knife sawing through his wrist bones.

"I'm sorry, Eric," she said and guzzled down the gin and painkillers.

The bathroom door burst open. The young couple walked in.

"Please, help me, I didn't mean to do it," she said, staggering up from the floor.

The couple looked at the bathtub.

"Oh, my God, beautiful taps," said the young woman.

"Well, if the taps are beautiful, we should move in immediately," the young man replied.

"Please, help me," she said, holding her bloodstained hands out.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Auntie June rang yesterday."

"More nonsense?" the young man said, levelling the seascape painting.

"No, she was telling me about a house to let at the end of her street. Actually, yeah, she did mention something about her psychic."

"Oh, there's a surprise."

"Yeah, she said that in a previous life, she was a much-loved queen of Ancient Egypt."

"Sure she was, funny isn't it, how they never turn out to be gong farmers or 17th-century rapists."

The young woman rolled her eyes, took the young man's hand.

"We're going to be very happy here, I know it," she said, leading the young man out of the room.

"Wait, don't leave me here," she said, chasing after them.

The young couple vanished from the landing. She stumbled back into the bathroom and looked into the bathtub. It was empty.

"Eric?" she called out while searching through the house.

She lingered at the foot of the staircase. A spindly shadow shifted across the upstairs landing.

"Eric?" she said, climbing the staircase.

The yellow-faced man swung his head around the corner of the landing, his insane grin revealing a set of green, twisted teeth. Her fingers clutched the handrail.

He slithered onto the staircase, shuffling towards her, stopping inches away. He pushed his bony fingers into his forehead, breaking the skin, cracking the skull. He peeled the top of his head back, exposing his black, inky brains. With a shrill voice, he cried out,

"Taste the madness," and offered her a fistful of black brains.

She collapsed onto the hallway floor and sobbed. The yellow-faced man stared down on her, laughing with insanity, inky blood dripping down his face.

The stink of decaying flesh filled the air. A fiery breath licked the back of her neck. She turned and was face-to-face with the chimaera. The beast let out a nerve-shattering roar. She scampered, backwards, into the living room and shouldered the door shut.

Her eyes darted around the room, stopping at the glass coffee table. It was as good as new. She slumped onto the floor, covered her face with her hands, and wept.

"Lisa, are you okay?"

She lowered her hands. Eric was on the couch, smoking a cigarette.

"Come and lay down," he said to her.

Her slender fingers brushed the palm of his hand.

"Your hands are rough," she said.


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