Authors: Russ Watts
y Russ Watts
Copyright 2014 by Russ Watts
For my better half.
Time to get your game face on.
PART THREE: AWAKENING
Leonard silently mixed the tin of cold beans with a fork. He swirled the reddish brown mush around, staring at it vacantly, just stirring it around and around and around. A lone bean made a bid for freedom and plopped over the side of the tin, dribbling down the side until it landed on Leonard’s foot.
on, Leonard, I’m hungry,” said Billy, drawing his dressing gown closer together. The nights had gotten much colder lately and the attic was not well insulated. Small drafts of cold air managed to find their way through the thin walls and into Billy’s bones with annoying regularity.
Leonard grunted and handed the tin to Billy. He picked up anoth
er and dug his spoon in. As he raised it to his mouth, he paused. “I hate baked beans, Billy.”
“Especially if they’re not Heinz,” whispered Billy under his breath, shaking his head and eating a huge mouthful of them, tomato juice dribbling down his unshaven chin.
if they’re not Heinz. Bloody cheap rubbish,” said Leonard. He ate a solitary spoonful and placed the nearly full tin back on the floorboard in front of him.
“Leonard, you’ve got to eat, come on.” Billy continued eating, watching Leonard fold his arms
and tuck cold fingers under his armpits. It had gotten worse lately. Leonard’s temper could flare up at any moment. Sometimes he refused to eat and he would lash out at Billy. It had gotten worse since they had run out of his pills.
Billy sighed. Maybe it was the light,
or maybe it was the lack of fresh air. Up in the attic it was difficult to stretch the legs or the mind. Leonard was struggling. Billy was glad he had the foresight to stock the attic before things went really wrong, before they had been forced to lock themselves away for God knows how long.
Billy finished the beans and
stood, which at his age was no easy thing. He pulled himself up using the stepladder and waited a moment for the inevitable head-rush to disappear. Careful not to upset the torch balanced on a box – Leonard didn’t like the dark – Billy made his way over to a cardboard box in the far corner. It was cooler there and so they kept the food wrapped up, out of the way, packed up in the corner to keep the insects and mice away.
began rummaging through the box, ignoring the stiffness in his legs, ignoring the pain running down his arms, and the fuzzy headache that had come over him three weeks ago but steadfastly refused to leave. A month ago, he had been playing whist, enjoying his strolls in the gardens, and three solid meals a day. Now he was living in an attic with Leonard. Nobody else had made it. It was just the two of them left.
“Eureka.” Billy found the
Bourbon biscuits and took a couple out. He knew if he took the whole packet they would be gone instantly. He didn’t trust Leonard, or himself for that matter, to take any more than that and not eat the whole lot. He could still remember rationing from his childhood in the forties and knew how important it was to preserve everything they had for as long as possible.
Billy stood up and banged his head on a low beam. “Bugger it,” he muttered, rubbing his sore head and walking back to Leonard. “Here you
go, Lenny. That’s all we’ve got for today.”
Billy handed him a
biscuit, wishing he had some real Bourbon, and put the other one in his mouth. He used to love the sweet, sugary, delicious biscuits. They would only be given them on Sunday afternoons and were one of the few treats they were allowed. Now Billy hated them. They reminded him, not of Sunday roasts or that cheeky nurse who always gave him a wink when she handed him an extra one. No, they reminded him now of Lenny, the attic, the prison they had built for themselves and the shit-hole that was now home.
Leonard took the biscuit and ate it quickly.
For a moment, while Leonard was munching his way through the chocolate, Billy forgot he was sharing a room with a seventy year old man. His roommate’s face was full of such simple delight it was like looking at a five year old. Billy smiled.
“What’s funny?” Leonard let out a loud burp, swiftly followed by an even louder fart.
“Nothing really,” said Billy, sitting back down and taking Leonard’s beans. Billy knew that Lenny wouldn’t eat them now. They had been through this ritual before, so he knew he may as well save them for later. Billy placed them by the torch.
“Remember old nurse Wendy?”
Billy frowned. “Windy Wendy?”
“Yes! Boy she could fart like a trooper. Always used to blame it on us, didn’t she. We knew though.” Leonard leant forward until Billy could smell the stale urine on Leonard’s pyjamas. “We knew, didn’t we? We always knew.”
Billy nodded and smiled weakly. He didn’t much like talking of the old days. The nurses and doctors who used to look after them were all dead now, some of them only a few feet away. Still there, still shuffling around the corridors of ‘Peaceful Valley Rest Home,’ still banging into the
walls and doors and empty beds.
“Do you think we can go out tomorrow, Billy? I’d love to go look around the garden
. It’s been ages. Please?” Leonard clasped his wrinkled hands in front of him as if in prayer and looked at Billy with large sagging eyes.
see, Lenny. I’m not sure. We might have to wait a bit longer, okay?”
“We could ask Bob to come too? He always likes a wander in the mornings before dinner. Wendy can push old
Norma in her chair and we’ll have a lovely time. I bet the sun will be shining and the roses will be out and...”
“Lenny, we can’t. Do you remember what happened? Bob’s dead. Norma’s dead too. I think Wendy is probably...”
“Yes, yes, all right, I remember,” said Lenny. “I just thought...”
They sat in silence. The lantern torch illuminated the attic well
enough, although there was not much to see: boxes of food and bottles of water in the corner, six piles of books in the other and two makeshift beds. They had grabbed some blankets and a couple of pillows just before they had to pull up the trapdoor. They’d thought of everything: food, water, entertainment and lighting. Billy had been feeling quite happy until Leonard pointed out he needed to piss. One corner of the attic was now strictly off limits.
There were only two windows up in the attic and as it had never been intended to be used as a living space, they had not been kept in good condition. One had rusted shut
completely, so Billy had boarded it up easily. The other window was their only solace, the only link to the outside world they had. A thick green rug had been pinned over it so that it hung down and covered the window entirely. It blocked out prying eyes. In the daytime, they kept the rug there, but on sunny days, chinks of sunlight would sneak through. They both would sit, sometimes for hours, just watching the sunlight creep across the wooden boards. Billy mused if the outside world might have improved since the infection had broken out. After a week had passed, he had opened the trapdoor to take a look downstairs, but old Norma had appeared out of nowhere, her clothes covered in blood, and Billy had quickly pulled the trapdoor up, deciding the outside world could wait.
he truth was, despite being stuck in a cramped room with Leonard for twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, he was lonely. He had enjoyed living here. Everyone was friendly, and he didn’t even mind that his family didn’t visit much. His only son was always busy with work and his daughter-in-law had never really taken to Billy, so he made friends and enjoyed life for what it was. There was not much point when you got to eighty-one in being bitter and twisted. He had worked that one out a long time ago.
“I wonder if Carol will come tomorrow?” said Lenn
y, interrupting Billy’s thoughts. “I enjoy her visits. She’s a teacher, you know. She always comes on Saturdays.”
, Billy said, “Lenny, she’s not coming.”
“But it’s Saturday,
and she always comes on Saturdays.” Leonard turned his bottom lip down and hunched over, upset. “Just because
family don’t visit you, there’s no need to be mean.”
“Lenny, she’s not coming
. Just leave it, will you. Look, it’s nearly bedtime, why don’t you just go lie down and...”
“No. You’re always telling me what to
do, Billy. Well, I won’t, I won’t go lie down. I don’t want to. I want to wait for Carol.” Leonard shifted to turn his back to Billy. Leonard’s voice was rising and Billy couldn’t take any risks. He had to make Leonard keep quiet. Every day, Billy had to tell Leonard what to do and he was sick of it. He didn’t enjoy being the boss, but he had to get through to Leonard somehow.
sake, Lenny, she’s dead. Your precious fucking daughter is dead. You already know this. I’m sorry, it’s just, you...you can’t keep on like this. Three weeks we’ve been stuck up here. Just for one night, can’t you keep your mouth shut about sodding Carol and Wendy and...just bloody everything!”
Billy was angry
, but instantly regretted shouting at Leonard. He had a temper as a child and through his adult life had tried to control it, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Since they had run out of pills, Leonard’s condition had become worse. Every day they did a little dance. Sometimes Billy would pretend nothing was wrong and they were just playing a joke on the nurses, hiding up in the attic where they couldn’t be found. Today though, he couldn’t take it anymore. Today he had to let off some steam and get Leonard to understand.
“When Carol comes I’m going to tell her what you said, you know?” said Leonard. “In fact,” he said suddenly standing up, “I’m going to ring her right now. I shouldn’t be treated like this.”
“Lenny, you sit down right now and shut up,” said Billy alarmed.
Leonard walked over to the trapdoor. His purple dressing
gown flapped behind him and Billy noticed how thin he looked. They hadn’t eaten properly in three weeks, so it was hardly surprising they were losing weight. How much longer could they keep going like this?
“Lenny, you know
we can’t go down there. You
this.” Billy got up. He hadn’t had to physically restrain Leonard yet, but today might be the first time. He looked over at his friend, the torchlight casting him in strange shadows. Leonard’s pale face was drawn, his lips pursed together, his hands clenched together around his tattered robe, and he was looking at Billy with scorn.
“You’re a fool, Billy Johnson
, a goddamned fool. I am not your pet. I am not your child. I am a
. So help me, God, I am going downstairs right now and you are not going to stop me.”
The hairs on Billy’s arms tingled as Leonard reached for the latch to the trapdoor and he felt his bladder weaken. He took a step back. No, he couldn’t succumb to fear now. Leonard didn’t know what he was doing
. It wasn’t his fault. It was just the way things were now, the way Leonard’s mind worked, or didn’t work.
Billy strode over to Leonard. “Lenny, listen to me, please
. I’m sorry about earlier. I was out of line, but you have to do me one favour, okay? Don’t open that door.” Billy put a hand gently on Leonard’s right arm.
“Get lost,” growled Leonard and he pushed Billy away.
Leonard was a lot stronger than his seventy year old frame suggested, and he pushed Billy away with enough force that Billy was caught off guard. Leonard had lashed out before, but never truly struck his friend. Surprised by Leonard’s violent reaction, Billy tripped backward.
pulled open the trapdoor as Billy tumbled over a discarded copy of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ that had been left half read on the floor. As Billy fell, he saw Leonard’s face suddenly illuminated by a square shaft of glorious English sunlight that leapt up through the trapdoor opening.
Billy managed to scream as he fell onto the hard wooden floorboards. He fell flat on his back and his head smashed back, cracking on the old boards, sending mushrooming clouds of dust up into the air above him. His left arm broke just above the elbow, a tiny crack in the brittle bone sending blinding pain throughout his old body. Billy broke two fingers on his right hand as he tried to stop his fall and bursts of silver stars cascaded across his vision briefly before he passed out.
Leonard looked down through the open trapdoor in wonder and horror as Norma struggled to clamber up. The last time he had seen her, she was sitting in her wheelchair asleep having eaten too
much supper. She was standing now, something he had never seen her do, and her face was a bloody mess. Something had eaten her eyes and from the dark empty sockets, something grew, small shoots of something strangely looking like moss. Looking closer, Leonard could see the dark green moss was moving, waving around like a jellyfish waving its tentacles in the ocean, as if searching for something. Her mouth was open, but no sounds came out. He could see down her throat. Her teeth had long since rotted away, and he noticed that she had no tongue, just a blackened stump where it used to be. Presumably she had swallowed it – or someone else had.