The curtains were still drawn against the grey morning light. A single bedside lamp cast sickly yellow light over my parent’s sagging double bed. The first thing I noticed was the smell of vomit and carpet cleaner. One was meant to cancel out the other but instead they had merged together into one unholy stench.
I knew my father (in fact, let’s call him Frank- in my head I stopped thinking of him as ‘dad’ or ‘father’ a long time ago) was gone because I’d heard him leave, slamming the door on his way out and cursing the dog for getting underfoot. Bounder was usually fast enough to avoid my father’s heavy steel- capped boots and dad was too lazy to pursue him half the time, but the poor thing was scared shitless of him nonetheless, never so much as raising a low growl as he laid into my mother. Those big brown eyes of his were always watching though, waiting for the instant my father left so he could go to her and lay his large head in her lap as she sobbed.
My mum, Anna Sayer, was a shapeless lump beneath thick sheets. I could tell by the sound of her breathing that she was awake and in pain. Kids notice a hell of a lot more than most adults ever think. I crept close to her, almost tripping over a leather belt in the dark. Frank’s belt, oddly slick and sticky at the same time. I stumbled into mum’s bedside table, stubbing my toe and crying out. Overriding her desire to shield me from the truth, mum instinctively rolled over, pulling away the covers.
She must’ve tried to ask me if I was ok, but her lips were so swollen all I heard was a slurred gurgle. Do you know that feeling in nightmares, when something so horrifying happens you can barely process it, that jolt of pure, undiluted terror that stays in your system long after you wake up, making sure you’re scared to so much as put a toe out from under your sheets?
It was that and worse.
I ran screaming from the room, slamming the door. Without stopping I threw the front door open and bolted down our driveway, for the first and only time in my life successfully vaulting over the garden fence.
Where my mother should have been there was a purplish- red creature, eyelids swollen almost shut, lips thick and discoloured, nose bloated and misshapen. Its head appeared enlarged like one of those creatures I’d seen on late night horror movies where they used air bladders to create the impression of metamorphosis.
By the time I stopped running my bare feet were bleeding. There was a vile taste in my mouth, an unholy mingling of tears and snot. I’d realised by then that the, ‘monster,’ was my badly beaten mother.
Three nights later I woke with an almost electric jolt, panic spiking through my chest, drenched in cold sweat. The darkness was silent except for my breathing.
“Everything’s alright,” I whispered, “Everything’s alright.”
Lying to oneself can be incredibly effective when you’re an adult, but as a child it rarely works; the air was electrified with dread, heavy with the promise of something terrible.
Just as I lay back down there was a great clatter and roar from below. As I remember it the floorboards actually shook. I buried my head beneath the sheets but still heard mum scream. Usually she bore his beatings in relative silence for fear of provoking him further and (she told me years later) to spare me her cries, but tonight was different.
“Please stop, please stop, don’t do this Frank, don’t do this! Please!”
It was the ‘please’ that did it, I think. Please. She was begging for mercy. Begging, yet he just kept on pummelling her. I could actually hear his blows, a merciless chorus of dull thuds that accompanied her increasingly desperate pleas.
“Please, Frank, stop! Stop! Don’t do this; Please!”
A fuse tripped deep inside my ten year old soul, triggering a rage that burned with ice- cold fire. I reached for the kitchen knife under my pillow, stolen one day when Frank was at work.
“If he ever touches you again…” I’d whispered, leaving the rest unsaid, a promise whispered to the darkness.
He did touch her again, many times, before rage finally overrode my fear.
I crept out of bed, shaking with anger, fear and cold, every breath a departing ghost in the chilly night. Avoiding all the creaky floorboards, I made my way across the darkened landing, then down the stairs. Photographs from my parents wedding lined the walls; both of them beaming, teenagers in love surrounded by all their friends. Was it lurking in him then, I thought, this dragon that had taken control of the man he’d been?
At the bottom of the stairs there was a small round side- table with a telephone on top, the kind considered retro these days. To my right the living-room door lay ajar. I dialled 999, told the operator what they needed to know, and hung up right away.
The living room was in darkness, illuminated only by the flickering light of the television. Beyond was the kitchen, where Frank hunched over mum in a shaft of cold moonlight. My impressions of what happened next are nebulous, more like a half remembered nightmare than a collection of memories;
Mum was curled into a shivering ball, Frank’s meaty fists pounding her ribs, chest and head with animal ferocity. Her screaming stopped.
The knife was warm in my hand, knuckles white around the wooden handle, and deep inside me that cold fire was an inferno. Pure hatred is a hell of a drug, especially mixed with pure love. What if she was already dead and I never got to hear her voice again, or have her tuck me in at night and smile and say, as she always did, that I was her favourite thing in the whole entire universe?
My mum was kind and good to everybody and deserved to be loved and brought breakfast in bed, not beaten, cursed at and belittled. Not told she was fat and useless. Not made to sit through every dinner on eggshells because Frank might not like his meal. She was a high school teacher, loved by her pupils and respected by her colleagues, although of course she had to be careful around her male colleagues. If Frank saw so much as the ghost of a smile on her lips while talking to another man, he would hit her when we got home. Her work clothes had to be baggy and shapeless because she taught A- levels classes.
“Don’t want the older boys getting ideas, do we? Those horny boys passing notes about the hot teacher. I’ll bet you love it, bet you get wet thinking of all those young cocks straining inside their boxer shorts.”
Can you imagine being twelve and hearing your father talk to your mother that way? Perhaps you don’t have to imagine it, if so, I’m sorry. If she praised a pupil within earshot of Frank, and that pupil was male, Frank accused her of having an affair. After that it didn’t make a difference what she said, the beating would always follow, or worse.
She always begged him not to but he did.
I was going to kill him.
He was crouched over her, back turned to me. Raising the blade I took one step forward, preparing to break into a run.
It was then I heard the familiar swoosh of the patio door sliding open. I froze, expecting salvation. Perhaps the police had arrived. A tall, thin man stepped into the kitchen, naked as a newborn. His presence seemed to stop time. Frank paused and whirled around, gasped. Even in my own horror, I took the time to find his sudden fear satisfying.
I got a good look at the intruder then. His skin was as pale as the moonlight that bathed him, oddly translucent, and I could see blue and purple blood vessels running underneath. Long, pointed ears curved up over his bald head.
Most horrifying of all were his eyes; two intense search-lamps that blinked intermittently as he looked from Frank to me, then to mum lying on the floor, finally coming back to rest on Frank. My heart took a single beat before the intruder lunged forward faster than my eyes could follow. Seemingly without taking any steps to get there he slammed Frank into the closed patio door, shattering one entire pane of double glazing and sending spider- leg fractures rippling through the other.
I watched in shock and terror as he buried his head in the crook of Frank’s neck, at which time a terrible keening wail erupted from Frank. He kicked and punched at his attacker with blows that would’ve floored an ordinary man, but the monster took little notice, slamming him into what was left of the patio glass, all the while worrying at his neck like a terrier at a rabbit.
I don’t know how long the assault went on. Frank’s kicking grew weak, until it was little more than a twitch. A mass of dark liquid pooled in the shadow of his withered body. The intruder straightened to his full height, holding Frank like a sleeping child.
Furious hammering on the front door broke the silence. Officer Hendrickson had arrived. Frank’s killer did not flinch or startle. He merely looked me in the eye, dropped Frank’s lifeless corpse to the ground with a shockingly light thud, and left the way he’d come in.