By Stephen Thom
Gillis jiggled the key in the door and eased in, closing it carefully behind him.
The hallway was dark and it smelled. That familiar reek. It smelled of shit. No matter how many times he bleached. Sprayed. Scrubbed. It smelled of shit. He kicked his shoes off, placed his backpack and clipboard beside them, and walked quietly through the hall, nudging a stack of yellowing newspapers.
He flicked the living room lightswitch. He flicked it again. He cursed and slipped into the room. His hand patted along the sofa, brushed over a plate, a crusted fork, congealed sauce. He swore again, smeared his fingers on a cushion, and reached for the flex.
The lamp clicked on. Across the room, his mother wheezed. Her face was partially obscured in the dim light. Her fingers worried the armchair covers. Gillis moved towards her. He knelt by the armchair and clasped her left hand. It was freckled with liver-spots.
'Mum. Mum. You've been sitting in the dark.'
She swallowed and wrinkled her nose. Her face was a nest of grooves and furrows. Gillis shuffled round. He cleared a space on the coffee table amongst ranks of stained mugs.
'I'll get you some soup. I'm... it's been busy, real busy, I couldn't get away. I'm sorry. I should have... it's unfortunate about that bulb, it's... but we're okay. Everything's okay. I'll get you some soup.'
His mother exhaled and dribbled. Gillis checked his watch.
'And meds. Med time. I'm - I'm all over the shop with time, it's been busy, real... '
Her eyes had closed. He lifted himself up and bustled through to the kitchen. The sink was full of dishes. He microwaved some soup, popped some pills into a little plastic cup, and filled a glass of water.
His mother watched him as he wobbled through with the tray. She licked her lips. He sunk down, angled the tray amongst the clutter, and held the plastic cup out to her. Her lips curled.
Gillis leaned back. He wiped spittle from his face.
'We'll take these first, Mum. Like usual. We'll take these first. Then we'll have our soup.'
The pills landed on the carpet. Gillis ducked to retrieve the cup and felt a bony hand slapping against his neck.
'Get! Get! Get!'
He jerked up and knocked the tray over. Soup spattered. He groped through it, recovered the cup, and lurched back to the kitchen.
He sat by the bed until he heard her guttural snoring. His head throbbed. He switched the lamp off and retrieved his backpack from the hall.
The sofa engulfed him. He stared at the pea-green mess on the carpet. He cracked open a beer and watched foam spritz round the ring-pull.
You're twenty-two. That's what you should be doing.
Pipes gurgled somewhere in the house. He opened the backpack and spread Bain's notes out beside him.
We need to start looking seriously at this angle.
He lifted the lamp and placed it on the coffee table, closer. The notes were a mess. His fingers traced jerky handwriting in small boxes.
Masks - Deer/Dogs/Birds
He took a drink and scratched his cheek. Guff. This is absolute guff. He followed lines from individual word-boxes to their adjoining boxes. There were longer paragraphs in some of these, the writing even tinier. He had to screw up his eyes.
Furfur is a powerful Great Earl of Hell, being the ruler of twenty-nine legions of demons. He is a liar unless compelled to enter a magic triangle where he gives true answers to every question, speaking with a rough voice. Furfur causes love between a man and a woman, creates storms, tempests, thunder, lightning, and blasts, and teaches on secret and divine things. He is depicted as a deer, or a winged deer.
He took a longer draught and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Winged deer. Nice. He followed more lines.
Cernunnos is the conventional name given in Celtic studies to depictions of the "horned god" of Celtic polytheism. Cernunnos was a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld.
Otherworldly men who can shapeshift into the form of a red or white deer. These men of the otherworld select the individual deer who will be slain in the next day's hunt.
He blinked and shook his heavy head. He saw strange shapes and visions forming in his mind's eye. He weighed the desperate reach of these projections against the reach of an arbitrary and horrific act of violence occurring within the existence they occupied, itself a ludicrously unlikely amalgamation of atoms, timing and consciousness. He reached down, pulled a crumpled newspaper off the floor, and opened it over the notes. He flicked through the pages until he came to the adverts. His finger rested on talksugar. He opened his fly, picked up the phone, untangled the cord, and dialled.
Blair Anderson zipped his jacket up under his chin. He slammed the front door behind him and fiddled with the torch. Gravel crunched under his boots as he padded down the drive. Wind buffeted him. The torch cut an inverted yellow cone over the muddy field beyond his home.
He approached the fence and rested his gloved hand between twists of barbed wire. He swung the torch back and forth across the field, illuminating dark empty stretches. Shimmering curtains of rain clarified in the glow. He swore, tripped down a soggy rise, and veered right, hitting a pathway overlooking the sea. Tide caressed a thin strip of beach below.
Fucking Buttons. Why the fuck had he agreed to that name?
He'll make his way home. He always makes his way home.
The vast sprawl of Sullom Voe oil terminal unfolded ahead of him. Lights flowered amongst the labyrinth of piping. Storage tanks rose above the sightline like massed monolithic golems.
Fine. This is the last time today. Last time. He knows his way back.
Fucker knows it's my day off, Blair thought. He knows exactly what he's doing.
He kicked rocks and groped the high wire fence for support. Mud caked his boots. He passed the dark shapes of the maintenance building, the offices, the security checkpoint. He slid his hood down and peered through the fence, waving the torch. A face appeared at the checkpoint window, peering. The door flapped open.
Archie Gray descended the wooden steps, his arms folded across his chest. A strong gust flipped his tie over his shoulder.
'Jesus, Blair. Whit ye doing out in this? Dug done one again?'
Blair dragged his jacket sleeve across his nose.
'Aye. Any fags?'
Archie rustled in his pocket and chucked him a packet. Blair removed a smoke. Archie stepped forward and cupped his hands over the lighter whilst Blair lit up. The sea moved in lugubrious rolls beneath them.
'Just come away in,' Archie shrugged. 'I've a peerie bottle in my locker. She's not going to know any different.'
Blair exhaled and shivered. Rain was streaked down his face.
'Nah. Best get it done. Fucking Buttons. Cheers for the tab.'
Archie laughed and backed up to the steps, keen to get out the downpour. Blair waved and scrabbled down the path to the berth. He hit a light jog on the downwards slope and trotted out onto the pier. The wooden jetty creaked and moaned in the wind.
Waves folded into each other around him; great, oily sheets. He sprayed the torch onto the slip of beach. It was crowned with muddy layers of earth, rising at varied levels to the pathway, the wire fence. Further along the sand thinned and expired, and redundant sewage pipes, red with rust, emerged from the soil.
He caught a flutter of movement along this stretch. He tramped back up the pier, moving the torch over the earth, the rocks, the water.
His voice dissolved over the black rises, the foamy crests. He stepped gingerly off the pier and slipped down an embankment. His gloves slapped at boggy folds of grass. He retrieved the torch and saw two black shapes in the water as he swung it up. He coughed. The wind whipped and his voice was a frail whisper within it.
He hit rock and scree. The torch danced over the waves. Shapes; taller, stretched.
Water lapped at his boots and his mind spat a sudden rush of headlines, newsreels. His felt his neck and shoulders tighten but he was a rational man, a stoic man. He was not pulled along by the currents of the world around him; he experienced and shaped his own life through compartmentalisation and within these carefully crafted parameters there was little room for movement or flights of fancy. He loved his wife and he loved the damn dog despite its overly-enthusiastic, adventurous and slightly confused nature. Everything was in its place and although he rarely expressed it, he was grateful every day.
There was a girl by the water.
He arced the torch beam and caught her in the glare. A small girl in a plastic raincoat. She was shivering. He peered. He felt a little bit lost, a little bit removed.
She was wearing a deer mask. He could hear her sobbing. He moved towards her and caught movement in the corner of his eye.
The torch lay beside him on the grass, just out of reach of his spasming hand. It sent a long milky trail over the surface of the water. He saw the wooden masks over the knife handle protruding from his chest. They were screaming. The masks were screaming.