(Please note: This chapter of Raising Dave should have appeared yesterday and did not do so due to editorial oversite. Chapter 7 will appear on Friday.)
I held my breath.
Irrationally, I felt let down.
I’d wanted to believe that something would happen. I’d hoped, even half expected, that something would, even though deep down I knew that magic was a pathetic fiction.
After a minute or two I laughed at my own gullibility then tossed the book into the green recycling bin for the garbage men to dispose of. It’d cost me fifty pounds, but I felt I’d put it where it belonged. I’d read it, and however entertaining it’d been, there was no point in wasting any more time on it. It had proved itself useless, and therefore worthless, as far as I was concerned.
I was about to go back into the house when a yellow ball came bouncing past me, disappearing down the drive.
I looked towards the street in the direction it’d come from and saw a small boy staring at the pavement. He glanced at me anxiously with big eyes like a kitten. His spiky black hair stuck straight up resembling a series of exclamation marks on top of his head.
“Do you want your ball?” I asked him.
He scuffled his feet.
“Yes, please,” he said.
“All right, you’re welcome to come and get it. Don’t be shy.”
He raised his head and grinned at me.
“Thank you,” he shouted as he clattered down the drive after it.
He caught up with it somewhere behind the house and carried under his arm. When he got to where I was standing, he stopped and looked up at me.
“I’m called Oliver,” he said, suddenly confident because I’d let him get the ball. “What’s your name?”
I considered his question for a moment, wondering what false name to provide, then decided to stick with the one I’d given Vic. No point in complicating matters.
“I’m called Kali.”
He extended his hand, a trait I guessed he’d picked up from spending too much time with adults. I took it in mine and we shook hands vigorously.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Kali,” he said. “And I like your name. I’m eight years old. How old are you?”
He wore an earnest expression on his face – another trait he must’ve picked up from the adult world.
“That’s very grown up. My friends call me Olly. You can be my friend and call me Olly if you want.”
I smiled. He made me happy, perhaps because he was young, and – or so I thought at the time – carefree.
“Okay, Olly. I’d like to be your friend.”
“Do you want to play football?”
The sensible thing to do would have been to send Olly on his way, but I was desperate for company. If the company of an eight-year-old boy was all I could get, that’d have to do.
“Yeah, why not? It’s not safe to play on the road, though. Let’s go into the back garden. I’m sure Victor and Dorothy won’t mind us playing there. Follow me.”
I walked to the rear of the house, with Olly at my side looking up at me.
“Who are Victor and Dorothy?” He asked.
His accent was cut-glass posh.
“They’re the people who own this place.”
“How do you know them?”
“I live here. I work for them, and in return they let me have a room and give me pocket money.”
“Cool. My mummy and daddy give me pocket money. I spend mine on computer games and sweets. What do you spend yours on?”
“I haven’t got round to spending much of it yet, Okay, this lawn is a good spot. Let’s get it on.”
A black cat lying under a tree a few yards away watched us with a bored expression on his face until the ball came flying in his direction. His eyes widened as the ball raced past him. When I went to get it, he stared at me reproachfully.
As I returned with the ball in my hands, Olly said:
“I’m glad I met you, Kali.”
That gave me a bit of a boost for some reason.
“You know something? I’m glad I met you, Olly.”
“Why are you glad you met me?”
“Because you seem like a nice young man. That makes you better company than lot of the people I’ve met in my time. Why are you glad you met me?”
His big eyes filled with sorrow.
“Because I was sad and you took my mind off things.”
“Why were you sad?”
“I was thinking about my Daddy. He’s very poorly.”
His eyes glistened with unshed tears. I felt a lump in my throat just looking at him.
“Oh, dear, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope he gets better soon.”
The tears got bigger and spilled down his cheeks.
“He won’t get better.”
I guessed what sort of answer he was going to give and prepared myself for it.
“He’s got cancer. My Mummy and Daddy have explained it to me. He only has six months to live.”
Even though I’d prepared myself, I still felt shaken by what he’d said.
“My goodness, Olly, I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry. Come here.”
I held out my arms.
He came up close to me and I did my best to give him a motherly hug. His little body quivered with grief. It upset me to see him in that state.
I didn’t consider myself to be the maternal type, but my hug seemed to help him. At any rate, he stopped crying, wiped his eyes, and stepped back. His face had become pink and blotchy and his cheeks were wet with tears.
I felt a desperate urge for a cigarette, but didn’t think I should set that sort of example to an eight year old, especially when his dad was dying of cancer, so I suppressed it, and said:
“Whenever you’re feeling sad, you can come and see me, Olly. I’m your friend now and I’ll do my best to make you feel better.”
He was about to reply, when a robotic bleeping came from the upper part of his Armani jeans. He pulled a mobile phone from his pocket, swiped the screen with a confident finger, and put it to his ear. He nodded as the person at the other end spoke.
“Okay Mummy,” he said, “I’m coming.”
“Your mother?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I have to go home now. Dinner’s ready. We’re having steak with gratin dauphinoise and a selection of winter vegetables. Can I play football with you tomorrow?”
“I don’t see why not.”
Grinning, he ran down the drive with his ball. I watched him until he’d turned into his own drive, then I took out a cigarette, lit it, and had a long satisfying pull on it.
Why did smoking have to be bad for you? It was one of the many things in this world that didn’t make any sense.
Still smoking my cigarette, I took myself on a stroll. The lack of police activity in the area had made me confident I wouldn’t face any danger; perhaps over-confident.
Dusk was falling. The sky was a blue black colour by the time I got back to the street where my new home was situated.
As I made my way towards the bungalow, I noticed a man emerging from the house that I knew to be Olly’s home. He was young, probably not over thirty, but his posture was that of an old man, and he was walking with the aid of a stick. The effort seemed almost too much for him. I could tell just by looking at him that he didn’t have long left in this world.
And a voice inside me whispered: Cancer victims. Think about it.
I shook my head, determined to ignore thoughts of that nature.
My heart went out to him, his wife, and his young son.
I went indoors reflecting on the arbitrary way that happiness, health, misery, and illness are distributed amongst us all.
That night, during one of my tea breaks, Victor joined me in the kitchen.
“Do you believe in destiny?” He asked.
“Not really,” I replied. “We just do things, don’t we? They’re not pre-ordained.”
He dropped a lump of sugar into a mug of tea and stirred it.
“Maybe,” he said. “But I believe we’re put in situations to test us. What we do is up to us, but the choices we make determine whether or not we fulfil our destiny. Right now, you have a choice to make. You can get a step nearer to fulfilling your true destiny if you make the right choice.”
I should’ve known what was coming.
“What choice might that be, Victor?” I asked.
Above us the strip light buzzed ominously.
“Deliverance for me and Dorothy. We’re both trapped. We won’t be free until someone takes action.”
I began to see what he was getting at, and the contents of my stomach got a little unsettled.
“What action are you talking about, Victor?”
He gave me one of his penetrating stares.
“A mercy killing.”
“The answer’s no.”
“Please listen to me. Don’t be too hasty, Kali. Just think about it logically. A person can be in such a state that death would be better for her than life.”
“I assume you mean a person like Mrs Smith?”
I shook my head.
“I’m not convinced.”
“Look at it this way. She isn’t a person any more, she’s just a collection of bodily functions. That makes a difference, surely. What would you do if you had a dog or a cat like that?”
I remembered a cat I’d once had. She was a gorgeous tabby who’d been run over and half crushed. She was still alive after the accident, but in terrible pain. Her cries for help were pitiful and heart rending. It’d been obvious that nothing could be done to put her back together. I’d taken a big rock and stoved in her skull with it. Her death had been instant, and, as far as I knew, painless.
“Put it down, I guess.”
“Exactly my point; it’s the same with Dorothy.”
“Why don’t you put her down yourself, if you’re so damn sure it’s the right thing to do?”
“Because I love her, we have a lot of history together; and I’m an emotional weakling with no moral fibre. But I look at you, Kali, and I see fire in your eyes. I know you have the guts I lack. You’re now facing the very test I’ve faced and failed. You can pass that test. You can fulfil your potential. I know you can.”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“I don’t think I am. You’re a courageous woman, Kali. I want you to consider something: you’ve said you wouldn’t kill someone who could think. But suppose there was a woman who couldn’t think, had no consciousness, no soul, no memories, nothing.”
“That might be different, I guess.”
“Hypothetically speaking, could you carry out a mercy killing on a woman who was like that?”
“Hypothetically speaking, maybe.”
I was boxing myself into a corner.
“Me, I can’t do it, because I love Dorothy and I’m weak. But you, you’re a stranger. You don’t love her. And you’re strong. You can do what I’m unable to do. And I guarantee that if you were to do the deed, and if she could know you’d done it, she’d thank you for the peace you’d given her. You can give Dorothy the gift of peace, Kali. Only you can do that.”
“Maybe you’re right Victor.” I said.
I meant that hypothetically, of course.
“Just remember, you’d be doing both Dorothy and me a favour, and I could make it worth your while if you did.”
“What do you mean?”
“I could give you some sort of reward.”
“What would you like? A cash incentive?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I could go through with it.”
“We both know you could. You’ve as good as said you could. Now it’s just a matter of timing, and, of course, incentive.”
I thought about the incentive that had appeared on the table. I didn’t want to be swayed by it, but if anything happened and I had to go on the run, I’d need money. This might be a way of getting a significant amount quickly.
“Yes, you’re right, I could kill Dorothy,” I said. “I know I could, if I could square it with my conscience.”
I wondered whether I could live up to the portrait I’d painted of myself, the portrait of the person who could be a killer when a mercy killing was required. I’d managed it with the tabby cat. Why not with Dorothy?
“Please think about the sort of incentive that would sway you,” said Victor.
“All right,” I said, as much to buy myself time as anything.
“Just one thing.”
“Don’t spend too long thinking about it. Every day longer that Dorothy spends on this earth is another day in Hell for both her and for me.”
He said it as if he could feel the flames from the burning brimstone licking at his legs. Then he stood up and returned to Dorothy’s bedroom.
Later I was in the hall and I heard him talking to her. His voice was audible through the thin wood the cheap bedroom door was made of. I stood outside it listening.
“I’ve been speaking to our new housekeeper, Dorothy,” he was saying. “I’ve been talking to her about those matters we discussed during our walk last night. She seems reluctant to get involved, but I have a feeling she might come round to our way of thinking. It could take a while, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time. Yes, time and a little persuasion. That’s all we need.”
I did the cleaning then went for a cycle ride. I was apprehensive about the prospect of meeting the ghost again, but persuaded myself it didn’t exist except in my head.
The prospect of bumping into the police didn’t concern me much. There didn’t seem to be any around in this neck of the woods, and I was confident that with my hair tied up, a cycle helmet on my head, and my deathly palor (created by the cunning application of makeup) I wouldn’t be recognised if any coppers did happen by.
The streets were near deserted at that time in the morning. I had the luxury of being able to take in my surroundings without having to worry about what hazards the road might throw at me.
There was a pub called the Gryphon on my route. It had a sign suspended on hinges from a horizontal bar. The sign had a picture of a gryphon on it and was swinging gently in the wind. It made a creaking noise which sounded – I don’t know why this simile came to mind – like the groaning of a dying man.
As I approached it I directed my gaze upwards and saw that it had a second gryphon in the form of a huge stone statue on the roof. For a moment I thought the Gryphon was looking at me. I dismissed the thought.
I’m hallucinating, I said to myself. Pay no attention to it. Then I noticed that the Gryphon’s eyes were glowing red, and vapour seemed to be coming from its nostrils. I heard it snort. What I saw and heard seemed real enough. I wondered if it was possible to have a hallucination which was that convincing.
I squeezed the brakes and brought my bicycle to a halt fifty yards or so from the pub. I didn’t feel like getting any closer, even if I was imagining things. I felt like going as fast as I could in the opposite direction. But my curiosity was strong enough to keep me there for a minute or two to see what would happen.
I didn’t have long to wait.
There was a sound like the crumbling of stone, and the Gryphon stretched out its front and back legs like a cat that has just woken up from a long slumber. It stared at me with a glimmer of what looked like recognition. It seemed to know me. My heart jumped. Not in a good way.
The beast stretched out its wings, raised and lowered them, slowly and majestically, as if warming up its muscles, then it put power into the movement and ascended gracefully into the air. Once it was airborne it headed my way.
Those wings made an ominous beating noise as it approached me.
Raising Dave is © Copyright 2017 by Jack Strange. Permission to publish this story has been granted by the author.
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