End had been walking through the storm a long time; long enough to feel the pavement crawl through her feet, and lightning work beneath her skin. She barely felt the bulbs that popped overhead anymore as frost climbed the lamp posts and ice ate their filaments. As she passed underneath wires rained sparks on her head that skittered over the puddles like tin. But Ends face was oil; her cheeks waxed until they’d forgotten how to move. She’d decided it suited her; the mask travelled through the herd without her having to think about it. She was tired of letting things show that no one understood. Besides, there was rarely anyone who would have known what she was talking about, and those that did preferred secrets. It was her face that worried her most because her eyes never gave her away, and her voice could have charmed the skin off a snake. She could cry tears like a crocodile and laugh like a jackal, and you never got closer than miles.
Sometimes End slid through the meat that swirled and fluttered around her until she forgot they were there. When she could be bothered to think about it; she felt wooden. But only after she’d been careful to send the lightning away, and then she rarely cared. It was better to feel like that than crackle.
When the man with the razor at his throat brought her to a halt she didn’t understand how he’d done it. Other people had tried and failed, and he never moved that little white blade to threaten her. Of course, he didn’t realise it was a razor, he probably didn’t realise it was a bottle he was holding either. The man looked deluded if you asked her, all earnest eyes and God licking smile. Like he just knew the world would work out well if we all believed in it. She could see what he couldn’t though, if he stood where he was much longer, the shadows would catch him. They already knew what he did when no one was looking not even his God. Maybe that was why he was standing in a corner.
End opened her mouth and listened to silence come out, and watched him do the same. He had nice teeth, nice shiny teeth, white like the razor. Her fingers felt his bottle thrust into her hand, and she drew at it like she was trying to pull the bottom up and swallow it. But she was just doing it to put him at his ease. It helped when the meat thought you understood them, even if their words sounded like splinters. She was tempted to put her fingers in her ears. He seemed very earnest though. She’d heard empty promises before, but these were the best yet. He wanted her to come to his house, except it wasn’t his house. She listened; despite herself.
‘Food, soup. Warm clothes. God, he’ll help.’
End laughed, they all loved to do that. But at least she understood some of what he was talking about, and she’d been walking a long time. Maybe it really was a good idea to see what one of them had come up with this time. He kept talking about a Holy Spirit and how it would make her feel, full, and warm, and like she had the best friend she’d ever had. End smiled, or at least her lips did. She’d heard that one before too, and she had her own spirit. Of course, it wasn’t the same now as the one she’d first got. She turned and watched it flow out of the drains like treacle thick, and dark, and smelling of that rich, deep sediment you drowned in if you put a foot wrong. Some would argue you already had if you knew about something like that, but whatever the truth was it stuck to her like glue. It headed straight for the Priest.
Pop went the man’s teeth as they snapped open and shut on words that might have been meant to scare her. She remembered them from youth. ‘Evil,’ and, ‘abomination,’ featured quite a lot, but then End was pretty indifferent these days although she did watch with interest as the mud crawled up his legs. She laughed when he ran; they always did that.
Father Cares reached the doorstep of his Church out of breath, fingers scrabbling at the lock with sweat dripping from his brow like rain. He wanted the mesh protecting the building’s glass between him and the girl he’d just met.
‘God in heaven what was that?’
The bottle he’d been drinking shattered on the flags, and Cares went down on his knees to lick the spillage up.
‘That wasn’t a girl. I don’t know what it was,’ Cares scrabbled through the glass as he prayed to a different God than the one nailed to the cross, ‘but it wasn’t a girl.’
He checked his tongue, and the suit he wore, In a lifetime of stupid mistakes he was beginning to think trying to talk to that hole wearing human skin was the worst he’d ever made. He hadn’t seen need like that since he’d followed his God to Somalia.
‘And you thought you could fill that up with drink?’
He rummaged through the nave trying to find where he kept the rest of his stash. These days he was going through almost as much as he had before he’d taken the cloth, but then where the good book’s words had plugged the emptiness in him now all they did was vanish behind his eyes. He read the pages again, and again, and still he couldn’t find the meaning he had when he’d been younger. Still, the lives that passed before him in his Church had plenty to occupy him, all those problems behind different eyes, none of them went away no matter what he did. He could hide behind them, deep down where they wouldn’t notice the smile they brought to his lips. It was just what had lain behind the girls could have swallowed him in an instant.
A knock echoed between the walls.
‘Let me in.’
‘Go away; you’re not welcome here.’
‘You said everyone was Father Cares; you said it like you were my Daddy. You’ll warm me up. I know you will, you and your God.’
Cares watched ice crawl across the transepts hinges like it was rot, timbers bursting, and snapping until there was a little hole just the right size for the girl to put her head through.
‘Hallo Father Cares, you‘ll help me won’t you?’
End looked at the floor, and every page in Care’s head rustled in agreement. Of course, he’d help, he couldn’t help himself. That’s what he was here for. But, he’d been wrong before, and the last one had kicked up such a fuss. He brought his Bible up to shield his face in case she looked up and saw what was hidden there.
‘You mean Daddy?’
‘But, you’re Daddy.’
She smiled sweet and innocent, and it burnt the blood from him in a second.
They found what was left of the Church in the morning, although of the Father who’d run it there was no sign, just glass, and wood, and empty stone.
That had been a sad time, although End had been full for a fragment of a second, and she spat pages of the good book into the shadows for a long time afterwards. She moved around a lot then, wearing holes in her flesh as she tried to see where the problem lay. But, that was only when she cared. Most of the time it was easy just to let what happened to her go on like nails exchanged for something forgotten so long ago she could barely remember its name. Then she met the fat man.
‘Hallo little girl.’
He was cramming kebab into his mouth when she saw him first, and the words came out something like, ‘Hmmmmph lllll mmmf.’ But it was better than splinters, and there was something soft and greasy about them that felt kind of warm and nice. She let the words wrap around her soft, and comforting, and full of fat. Some rolled down his chin, and he grinned at her low and lizardlike with eyes that never moved.
He rummaged in his jacket and produced a package that looked as red as wine. End took it and looked inside. He must have taken some time preparing it because it was all neatly folded and fresh. A knife and fork gleamed in there, and both looked sharp as razors. When he smiled his teeth were blacker than tar.
She nodded, whatever he was eating she wanted plenty of it, if it could fill a man as large as him, then she was definitely game for a try.
‘You see those?’
She followed where he was pointing, the road was nearby and the cars shooting down the motorway looked like dice.
End stuck her thumb out. She was a born free spirit, and she’d already been up and down the country twice. The first car that pulled over was driven by a woman with a tartan skirt, boots, and blonde hair bobbed to perfection. She rolled down the window a fraction of an inch so End could see her smile through the gap.
‘Hallo, sweetie where are you going?’
‘With you, of course.’
End made sure to keep her eyes on the ground; she didn’t want the woman to see what was in them. She laughed and bounced her blonde hair so that it shone as she wound the window down all the way.
‘Hop in, we’ll go anywhere you like.’
End got in slowly, and carefully. She didn’t want to uncoil not yet, not when the utensils in her pocket might rattle.
Mr Rajistan, watched with eyes thin as slits as the car set off down the street. It didn’t go very far before it rolled to a halt; the springs going up and down ten to the dozen as something thrashed inside. When End got out, there was blood on her lips, and her arms were wet to the elbows. She crossed the street and gave him the little parcel she was carrying with a curtsey.
‘You feel any better after that?’
End grinned, but it didn’t last long, ‘More.’
‘Of course, but you’ll have to do it yourself. You don’t mind do you?’
End shook her head, and Mr Rajastan handed her another serviette folded as neatly and carefully as the last one before he patted her on the bottom and sent her on her way. That was the start of a busy stage of Ends life. All she seemed to do was work, and eat, and work, and eat, until her teeth were sore and her bones ached. Before long people drove the long way round when they came to her part of town. On the second night of wandering around finding nothing but one deserted street after another End got an idea.
‘Hallo Mr Rajistan.’
He was playing dominoes with his friends on a table they’d set up in the street. She watched the little plastic slices career round the board until not one of them was standing. Their eyes were red like they’d been up too long, all except Mr Rajistan’s. His never changed; they were as clear and black as domino dots.
‘Hallo End, what do you want?’ But he must have had a pretty good idea because he took her away from the others quick before she could cause trouble. ‘Why don’t you, step into my office?’
The alley he waved her into smelled ripe and full just like Mr Rajistan, and when he pushed her up against a wall, she laughed. He was so easy to spill; she didn’t need a knife and fork. She just needed her teeth. Even after everything she’d eaten they hadn’t started to rot.
When she’d finished she watched Mr Rajistans shadow for a bit to see if it would move, but it didn’t. Some of the murals the graffiti kids painted looked similar, and she wondered if paint was the same as blood because it stayed exactly where it was.
It was months later before End noticed she had an itch in her side. She wasn’t sure what to do about it at first. She tried breaking things: people, and smiles, and anyone with clean teeth, she hated those most of all. Before long it got really hard to walk anymore. She’d have had to be double-jointed to move more than ten paces with the stabbing growing in her side. Soon it grew so bad she forgot how hungry she was for the first time in her life. She scratched at first, clawed and dug until it felt like she’d break her fingers, and when people tried to ask her what she was doing, she made very sure she showed them. There weren’t many that wanted to bother after that.
When she found what it was she let her tongue kiss the roof of her mouth. There were two hard little blisters underneath her skin, tight and round like marbles. She had her knife out in a second as she made neat little crosses, and they slid into the palm of her hand like balls dropping. She held them up top her face so she could examine them better.
She held them up top her face so she could examine them better.
‘Mr Rajistan’s eyes. I don’t remember eating those. No wonder I’ve been having trouble.’
They must have been inside her for weeks, and they still looked exactly the same, not a pupil had punctured or an iris smeared. She chucked them away with a smile, but it was what came next that really made her grin as the wind started to whistle through the holes they’d left.
At first, it stank, and sweet Jesus it really stank. End put her fingers over her nose; as if that was going to be any use, and it burnt too. But after what seemed like days the gale rushing out of her calmed a little, and her feet rose an inch from the ground. After a few months, it got hard to remember what it had even felt like to feel the tarmac under her feet, and everything seemed to be moving very fast indeed. She felt like she’d gone round the globe twenty times before she thought she should calm things down a bit and stop.
Stones crunched underneath her bum as she sat back with a flop, and breathed deep. It was a different city, but she recognised where she was all the same.
There were buildings all around her, and each and every one had a gate.
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