Smurf and Iain sat in the flat, candles burning because they couldn’t shift anything until the morning and they used the emergency credit on the meter a few days ago.
Iain sat slumped against the wall, his grimy index finger dancing over the screen of the ipad, his heavy lidded eyes focused on the activity in front of him. He had taken some of the medication they grabbed, and it made his pupils dilate until his eyes were thirsting black suns. He scratched his head, and his pulse fluttered against the ornate, black tattoo on his neck, made it breathe.
Smurf glared at him, chain smoking until his fingers were glowing and his lungs burned, tight and angry as the rest of him.
Iain glanced up, sucking his chapped lips over his protruding, yellowed overbite.
Smurf was never one to hold someone’s eye for long. He was quick, smart but soft in the wrong places, Iain thought, but he never appeared so angry as he did now.
‘You know what, you stupid fucking cunt.’
Iain set down the ipad and rolled a cigarette. He put his full attention into it, although that did not stop him from sacrificing most of what he picked out to the thin, rough carpet that had turned the colour of fungus. He made an arthritic cigarette, stuck it between his lips and patted himself down for a lighter. He stared at Smurf, who shook his head.
‘Give us a fucking light, Smurf.’
Smurf sat back, folded his arms and set his jaw in a hard line. Most of the time, his big eyes and shaved head made him look like a war orphan but the anger that coursed through him lent him a gravity that unnerved Iain.
Smurf drilled his eyes into Iain hard enough to cause internal bleeding. Iain glanced around him, knowing there was a lighter somewhere.
Iain patted the ground, then his pockets again before he got up and made his hands into fists.
He was about to launch at Smurf although the pills had given him the reflexes of a slug on valium when they heard the thump from upstairs. Smurf got to his feet, his chest rising in panicked breaths.
‘Won’t be pigs.’ Iain said.
Smurf looked at him with disgust and fear.
‘You sure about that? Because you mate, have done something that will get us fucking cut.’
Iain rolled his eyes and tried to slip his hand into the pocket of Smurf’s jacket. Smurf darted backwards, losing his balance and falling over the chair to land on the base of his spine. He swore and rolled onto his side, rubbing his back before he sprung to his feet and closed the distance between the pair of them.
There was another thump from upstairs, then a splattering sound, like a million wet paintbrushes flicked into the air.
The pair of them looked up, then at each other.
‘It’s the boiler.’ Iain said.
Smurf squeezed his eyes shut.
‘We used the emergency on the gas before the fucking electric. Boiler’s empty.’ he said.
Another thump. Iain glanced around him and picked up the iron in the corner, from where Smurf ironed a shirt for an interview at a care home. He was waiting for a result but inside the little imp of failure that used his life as a toilet knew the outcome. Smurf watched him pick it up and stepped back.
‘Might as well get use out of it, eh?’ Iain said.
Smurf hid the impact of the comment by lowering his eyes and putting his hands into his pockets. Iain was already turning, with the cold grace of a shark sensing blood in the water.
‘There’s nothing up there.’ Smurf said.
Iain gave a single dry peal of laughter. It had no humour in it at all. He lifted the iron up and gestured towards Smurf.
‘No, but if anyone is, they’re getting this in the fucking mush.’
He turned and walked away. Smurf stared at the back of his neck, aghast at his lack of courage, his complicity and his inability to voice how fucked up tonight had been. How he wanted to sell some of the stuff to get so fucking high he could pretend it never happened.
Smurf heard another thump then Iain making a retching sound.
‘Oh that fucking stinks up here, Smurf.’ Iain said.
Smurf figured that Iain was not referring to his own room. Smurf looked in there once, to look for a tenner he was sure Iain stashed in there. After seeing the yellow duvet and the mattress that looked like a child’s painting in the medium of bodily fluids decided that he could walk to the interview.
Smurf kept things clean. He would rather buy washing powder than eat sometimes, drinking endless glasses of water to keep the hunger pangs from hurting too much.
Smurf walked through to the stairs when the growling insinuated through the floorboards. Iain fell silent.
The growl gained in volume and power. Smurf asked once if God had pets and got laughed at but he stood and wondered if this was what one of them would sound like.
If it was angry.
Smurf’s stomach churned with acid. Iain was spurting a litany of curses and swear words before the growl shook the universe and a series of short thumps showed that whatever it was up there was advancing with power and momentum.
Smurf ran through the hallway just as Iain screamed in terror, his voice reaching a pitch that would shatter glass. The sounds of wet paper being ripped, a breathy series of exhalations, something breathing through its nose, teeth sunk in and digging, tearing and sucking down. Smurf pulled the door open and ran. He turned back and saw the mist of blood that hung in the air and Iain’s head sail through the air down the stairs, his face forever cast in a final expression of disbelief and terror.
Smurf ran, skipping down the metal spiral staircase and taking off at a sprint. A shard of glass stabbed through the heel of his left foot but he kept going as the wet thump of whatever had been in the house ran out after him.
Each step made Smurf cry out in agony.
Something hit him between the shoulder blades and pushed him down to the ground with a brute ease. It kept him down and twin hot blasts of fetid air blasted against his neck. Smurf sobbed for his life.
Whatever held him did not react. The pressure lessened and Smurf continued to cry, trying to say he was sorry but the words kept falling apart, bashed in by the force of his grief and his guilt.
‘I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t know.’
Smurf pressed his face to the path and continued to weep.
The wet flat slap against his neck, muscles powerful as pistons left a thick slob of something hot and wet against his head but he let it happen. The stink made his eyes water, wet fur and dark earth, shit from a diet of hate and red meat but with each breath it faded.
He was alone. He glanced back at the open door. Danny from next door looked inside, swathed in the Star Wars dressing gown and onesie as Anna pushed him forward as a cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth.
He sat up, looked up at the sky and pressed his hand against his mouth as the sound of sirens grew in the distance.