The Gypsy Girl and the Accountant's Brother (5 of 5)
Simon was home reading in the lounge, he was surrounded by books, pages open all over him; so that was why he couldn’t get quickly to the phone. That was why his mother answered it before he did, why her face retreated into a pinched frown: “Dirk? Yes, that’s my son. What is this about?”
Simon lay his open book down at his feet.
His mother: “What?!”
Staring at the phone in her hand: “No, there must be…”
“Mum?” He moved closer.
“He’s been under a lot of pressure lately… he lost his job… yes, yes of course if it’ll help… his father… well, I don’t know, well I’ll try.” She held the phone in front of her for a handful of seconds before hanging up.
“What is it, Mum?”
“Text your father please. We need to go to the fairground.”
The absurdity of the statement sat obesely between – the situation too grim to take make it quite laughable.
“What’s going on, Mum?”
They converged on the fairground. Jodie’s fairground. Simon and his mum. Police sirens. He’d had two missed calls from Jodie, but he picked up on the third.
He didn’t mean to, he asked her: “What have you done?”
“Nothing,” she snapped. “It’s your brother who’s done anything.”
“And you quoted me. Verbatim. To him.”
“Well, I had to-”
“Just get the fuck here.”
“We’re already on our way.”
It was most of the way past sunset when they arrived; just a long red strip on an otherwise grey horizon – but it cast a strong light. It gave an eerie aura to everything. To Dirk. And Dirk: he was wild. As soon as Simon saw him, he knew: this is my fault. Because Dirk hadn’t taken Jodie’s words well, he was pacing the fairground with a baseball bat in one hand and a blowtorch in the other.
This was Dirk when Dirk meant business.
And it also wasn’t Dirk at all. Simon had grown up with his brother, he was more than familiar with his rough edges and his pop-up temper. But the feral figure who paced and cursed, lashing out randomly, threatening with fire in the next moment: this wasn’t the brother he knew. There were shadows etched into his face that made him seem almost… and the word was there, it was in his head before he could banish it: demonic.
Simon’s mother ran forward.
He grabbed her arm.
She turned, staring at him.
She’d get hurt. He knew.
And then the police were piling on in, and they definitely wouldn’t let her move forward. What they wanted was for her to talk to him, to talk him down before he turned the blowtorch on anything or anyone. On himself. He’d threatened it.
“His girlfriend is coming,” one of the cops explained, as if this would change the world.
Jodie was with her people. And seeing her amongst them, surrounded by them, Simon knew that she was something apart, something different. But also: the way her eyes fell immediately onto him, the emotion that was in them: she was also his. She was worried and sorry, and she wished she could spare him.
The cops didn’t need a loudspeaker: Dirk was close; but they used one anyway, to tell him his mother was here.
“They need to go,” Dirk told her, spreading this appeal out to everyone. “These are not decent people, these are thieves and troublemakers and witches. Yes, I said it. And look at them. They tried to take my girl.”
“Dirk, please. Listen.” That was Simon’s mother.
But people were listening to Dirk. He sounded wild and drunk, headstrong and ridiculous. But people were listening. Simon was listening. He knew that this was something that had gotten into Dirk’s head – Us and Them. Summers and Winters. Same place, same time – but he still felt the surge of adrenaline firing up his blood. Dirk’s voice painted the Summer Carnival as outsiders, as dangerous vagrants, misfits, thieves; a dark thread of influence that would hurt all the right-thinking ordinary people.
She came like a princess. She was escorted out of her taxi dressed in designer jeans and a red top, a green jacket over it. Her hair was perfect, she was graceful, assertive, concerned. She treated her escort as mere flim-flam, flouncing through and past them, right up to the front lines and fearless. Why not, when she could handle anything?
“Dirk, it’s all right,” she shot her gaze through all the second-tier flesh and locked her eyes straight onto Dirk.
He was stunned for a moment, staring.
“It’s all right, Dirk. I’m here. We’re okay.”
He shook his head, rattled, addled. “They’re going to take you away from me. That’s what they want and they’re going to do it. I’m not going to let them!”
“They can’t do it.” Gretchen promised.
“They have… tricks. They’re not honest, they’re not decent. I’m not going to lose you because of these… freaks!” And the baseball bat slammed down on the edge of a stall, shattering some of the glazed pottery for sale there.
Sadly, horribly: people responded to ‘freaks’, it was territory that resonated. Half a dozen figures moved out of the crowd and came to stand with Dirk. Young men. Men who seemed as if they could be a mirror of him. The sturdy boys of Simon’s neighbourhood, all tough and in leather, with a few beers already in them.
“Don’t…” Simon’s mother pleaded.
“You lot!” The police weren’t having them make this any worse. One arrest. Seven. Twenty. So be it. They could smell a situation about to snowball.
It was dark, so maybe… just maybe… But Simon would never remember it as just maybe… he’d remember the looks on the men’s faces, and the way the faces themselves changed, the way they piled on shadows, and a nasty light glinted in their eyes, the way they seemed to build up body mass, a harshness that puckered into their skin, almost scaly. And more: there was something in there, in the darkness, in the shadow of some other shadow, there was something out there that he couldn’t quite see.
And Jodie, above all the hubbub, above the crowd: “Gretchen!”
“Oh, crap,” said a policeman.
Dirk and his lot erupted. Dirk spun and started laying in with the baseball bat, and suddenly his new friends were picking up anything lying around and beating at anything standing with it. Jodie’s people were moving in to stop them – their eyes were glowing white. And the dark thing, the really dark thing, was moving forward, was circling and hunting, and Simon was sure Dirk was its target. He had no idea, exactly, what propelled him forward, or whether or not his name being screamed in Jodie’s voice was real, he just felt the danger to his brother as something so fresh and so malevolent. His only real thought was to get between that thing - that darkness - and his only sibling. He wasn’t looking at Dirk, so he didn’t see the bat, he only felt it, like something ten times its real size as it came – thunk – into the side of his head.
Dirk was taken away in handcuffs.
That had to be the way of things.
Simon’s mother was shrieking at him, waving her arms; and his father - belated arrival - was staring around himself in confusion, trying to put the pieces together of what was going to be one awful, awful jigsaw puzzle when it was finished.
Simon was drunk. It felt as if he was about as drunk as he’d ever been in his life. There’d been no pain at first, just force, but the pain was making up for it now. It had infused itself with his whole head, fizzing down his spine. He couldn’t see straight. His mouth tasted like blood.
Jodie was next to him.
“What…” he was trying to say, and he was slurring badly, “What… what… what…?”
“Out there. Out there, coming after him…”
“You saw that?”
“I saw… that.” He was sitting down. He didn’t remember how that had come about. He was being held there. Paramedics were shining torches into his eyes. “Three,” he said in regards to the number of fingers being held up. No idea if that was the right answer.
Simon’s mother: “Oh, love, oh, Simon. He didn’t mean to do that, I know he didn’t. You have to forgive him. He can’t have meant it.”
She’d said that once or twice before in childhood, or words to that effect. It was funny, to the point of surreal, for it to finally be true.
Gretchen left town.
It had to be that way. Simon could hardly imagine that she was chastened, regretful; and yet Jodie assured him that – in her own way – she had been. Jodie, who was there with him at his hospital bed, keeping him supplied with random treats and making cute little animals out of folded paper for him.
He had to ask her, “How bad could it have been?”
“How so, very?”
“Dirk, gone really bad. And those boys. Killing, if you must know. And maybe some things catch fire on their own. Some things rot, some animals go nuts. There was a time back in medieval Europe, before we all knew any better. That plague lasted something like five hundred years, always flaring up, wiping out millions.”
“The Black Death? Uh-huh.”
“I’ve only heard that as a story.”
“Your people have some fucked up stories.”
Jodie slid her arm around his shoulder, “And I have you.”
“You mean that?”
“Of course, I do.”
“A girl like you. And me.”
She gave her best, enigmatic smile. “You might not remember this, but it’s fate.”
“What about Dirk?”
“Intentional damage. Disorderly behaviour. Gretchen’s claimed a breakdown in their relationship. There’s the job loss. My people are going to write asking for clemency. It won’t be as bad as all that for him.”
“It wasn’t his fault.” Not this time. All Gretchen. All because of Gretchen?
“I think she really did think she could control it. Twenty-first-century-woman-not-in-thrall-to-medieval-curse; you can imagine. I don’t think she had any more ill-will towards Dirk than he had towards you. She just wanted some normal. I actually understand.”
“Just a gift, eh? Just good at reading people? Knowing what they’re thinking?”
A Jodie-shrug: “I’m lucky.”
“No fairy tricks. No witchcraft.”
She held out her hands: “None.”
He was still a bit woozy, who knew where his judgement was at? So: “I think I might be full-on in love with you.”
“I hope so.”
She attacked him with a sudden, passionate kiss. “Of course, I love you too.”
“When you guys next leave…”
“Obviously. Obviously, you’ll come with us.”
And do what? Be what? There was so much up in the air. What use was he going to be amongst carnies? This should be weird, wrong, stupid. As dumb as what Dirk and Gretchen had been.
“But it’s not,” Jodie didn’t hold back on the almost-mindreading, “it’s not at all,” and she smiled her little personal smile, thinking back to a moment he’d forgotten. “Not at all, Simon; it’s fated.”
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work