I let my arms drop to my sides, limp. Relief washed over me but I couldn’t help feeling a bit of disappointment as well. It took me a moment to come down from the high, to centre myself on what was going on beyond the fight. My joints were stiffening, I hadn’t rested enough lately. The pain returned triple-fold and was joined by the throbbing of burns on the back of my forearms.
I gave the door of the incinerator a kick, closing off the burning heat, and made towards the one hiding Jack and Tom. I swung the bar-like handle to unlock it and it was immediately pushed open.
“Lock us in why don’t you? What the hell happened…” Jack stopped when he saw my face. “You okay?”
I didn’t respond, but I did give him my hand to pull him over the lip of the opening. From the glimpse I got of a squashed Tom, he didn’t look like he was enjoying being used as a glorified step. I left Jack to help his friend out, my attention drawn by the bundle of plastic. What it contained was obvious. But what did I do with it now?
I knelt down on the cold ground and reached out, hesitant to touch the thick off-white material. “Do you still have that knife, Jack?” I asked.
“Yeah, here.” He rummaged in his pocket and threw it to me.
I grabbed it out of the air and flicked it open. I paused. Did I really want to do this?
“Alex?” Jack said, having finished retrieving Tom and shushed his brief complaints. His voice was serious now. “What the hell happened?”
I ignored him and carefully slipped the blade into the sheeting, sliding it up so it wouldn’t damage the contents. Then I peeled it gently back. I’d never seen a dead person before… not, properly. I’d killed. But never seen them afterwards.
It was a girl. Young. Kind of pretty. Her eyes though… they were glassy, or clouded like a solid ball of marble. Dead. There was little else to describe it. And for what reason? I tore back some more of the plastic.
“Alex…” They kept their distance, not daring to approach. It wasn’t contagious, you can’t catch death.
She was still limp. I didn’t know when rigor mortis set in, but it couldn’t have been long. From what little I could see, she wasn’t wearing a whole lot. A bra. Fancy. The kind whores wear. I pulled an arm free of its cocoon.
“Alex. I think she’s dead…” Jack said. No shit. I scoured the arm and sure enough, in the crook of the elbow there were track marks. It didn’t surprise me. I had to force myself to relax my jaw; I my teeth felt like they were going to shatter.
“What are we going to do with her? This is serious,” Tom muttered to Jack. I didn’t know if he was referring to me or her.
“Alex, maybe we should… well there’s an incinerator. People might have seen us come in here.” I twisted to look Jack in the face.
“She’s not sharing her grave with that piece of shit!” I spat.
“What? Okay! Okay! Calm down.” He put his hands up in defence, then frowned and looked towards the incinerator.
“No, I’m not just going to burn her and forget about it.” I said. I had to just leave her, someone would find the body and maybe they’d do something about it. Something properly. I couldn’t, not now.
Did that make any sense? Maybe not, but I just couldn’t deal with a body right now. I couldn’t just throw her into an incinerator, or hide her somewhere. It felt so wrong. I needed to get away from this place. We needed to get away. I felt like I was going to throw up if I stayed in this room any longer.
I couldn’t help but imagine that this corpse was me in another life. Or worse, in the future. How do you feed yourself when you’ve nothing left to sell but yourself?
If you lived here, in this place, how long was it going to be before you gave in and tried to escape, with a chemical aid?
* * *
“Are you just going to leave her?” Jack was still following me. “What happened? Your arms are burned, let me take a look at it-”
“Jack,” I interrupted, not stopping my walk down the alley. It was different from the one we’d entered through – no reason to be careless. “You can’t be near me. I’m dangerous, and I’m not going to get any safer.”
I needed him to leave. He wasn’t. What had happened brought home the danger I was to those around me. I should have learned from Beth. I couldn’t protect everyone, and people wanted me dead. I’d bet people were willing to look for me, especially now that that man ran off. How long before one of them happens across me and I don’t win the fight?
I’d face the price for my idiocy, but worse, those around me would too. Jack was too young to die, and I couldn’t be responsible for it.
“Jack, you’re a fucking idiot. You think I’d hang out with a kid like you?” I said, letting all the bitterness I felt towards the world leak into my voice.
“I thought we were having fun!” he whined.
“You can’t have fun in a place like this Jack, or you’ll end up like her. Someone will take advantage of you and you’ll be worse off for it.” That was true at least. Now I needed to get him away. “You have nothing left for me, why should I put up with you? You’re annoying. Fuck off.”
“Hey, don’t say that! I know you’re lying-“ I punched him in the jaw. Hard. Not as hard as I could, I didn’t want to break it.
He fell, sprawling, to the floor.
“You want to get beaten up you little shit? I’m stronger than you. Give me any excuse and I’ll make you really god-damn sorry you didn’t just turn around and go.”
He just stared up at me, with tears streaming down his face. I turned, and carried on walking, at a faster pace.
It was for his own good.
* * *
I hated this place. I hated people. They will destroy someone else’s life for the slightest selfish gain. I see it every day. And it isn’t just here, even out there – it’s just better hidden. You get fucked over by society in general – that’s why places like these exist at all.
I set off in a random direction. After I was sure I was out of earshot I vented my anger by putting a dent in a garbage can with my foot. I was rewarded with the stench of rotting food.
I couldn’t articulate how pissed I was with life. I just wanted to destroy something, and it was the nearest inanimate object. I kicked it again. It was therapy in a way. A window swung open above. Along with a billowing cloud of steam a shirtless man leaned out and shouted incoherently over the sound of working machinery.
I’d drawn too much attention to myself. It was stupid, I felt like kicking myself more. I didn’t need attention right now.
The best thing would be for me to go home and lie down. Sit in a dark room. Shut off for a bit.
He was leaning casually in an alcove opposite to the building, my building, with a perfect view of two of the entrances. I couldn’t be sure if he was waiting for me. If he was, I knew of only three people that had knowledge of where I lived. One was in the hospital, and she wouldn’t have stood outside, the other I’d just left. The figure was too tall to be Jack, and I doubted even Jack would be stupid enough to come near me again.
I wouldn’t have spotted him if he didn’t look so much like he was trying not to be seen. People putting too much effort into ‘hiding’ tend to stand out. The proportions were about right, and it made sense for him to wait to try finding me entering or leaving the building, since that was as far as he’d managed to follow me.
I walked up to him, to address him directly, “Mike.”
“Alex.” He kept his hood up and glanced to either side of me. Maybe it wasn’t me he was hiding from.
“What do you want?” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for his usual playful optimism.
He raised an eyebrow at the tone of my voice. “I want to ask something of you. Here, walk with me.”
He made a few steps. I didn’t follow. “We can talk here,” I said.
“No, there are too many people. I’d prefer to be moving.” The street wasn’t empty, but it was hardly crowded. Still, I understood the need not to stand in one place for too long.
I wouldn’t have been in the mood for Mike’s usual incessant optimism, but his serious air caught my curiosity. Besides, a short walk and a distraction would do nothing but help my state of mind right now.
I followed him, keeping a step behind.