The Boiler Identity: Part Two

(Read part one first if you haven’t yet!)

With no money, memory, or shoes, Steve had no choice: he went to the bank.

As soon as the cold glass doors slid shut behind him he knew it was a mistake.

He hesitated on the threshold, crumpling the cheque in his hand. One thousand pounds. It would see him through the next couple of weeks while he tried to remember who he was. Whatever crime he had committed to earn the money didn’t matter for now… right?

Before he could change his mind, Steve joined the queue. When it was his turn, he slid the cheque onto the counter with a mumbled apology.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the teller said. He was tall and thin, aggravatingly cheery behind the layers of bullet-proof glass. The font on his name badge was intentionally small. “We need proof of ID to cash your cheque.

“And shoes,” he added pointedly, peering over the counter at Steve’s feet. “Health and safety regulations, you see.”

The queue behind Steve was growing, members of the general public leaning in to eavesdrop.

“But I’ve been mugged,” Steve lied, pushing the cheque against the glass. “They took everything!”

“I can call the police if you want…?” The teller’s eyebrow lifted as if he were contemplating calling the police regardless of Steve’s answer.

Steve shook his head, backing out of the queue. He stood outside in the weak sunshine, woollen socks sticking to the pavement, and wondered what his life was coming to.

By the time he retraced his steps to the house he’d woken up in, Steve was resigned to being arrested. The flashing blue lights ricocheted down the street, luring him to the scene of the crime.

Despite his resolve, Steve’s footsteps slowed when he spotted not one but two police cars–and an ambulance. Who had he hurt? Were they still alive?

A small woman with a blanket around her shoulders was standing at the front door, talking to the police, her red hair shimmering in the daylight. When she saw Steve, all colour fled from her face, as she lifted a shaky hand to point.

“There he is,” she said shakily.

Steve didn’t even bother to run. There was nowhere to run to anyway.

The Boiler Identity: Part One

Steven Borne woke up in a puddle.   
   
He didn’t know his name was Steve, not until he sat up and whacked his head on the bathroom sink. As he slipped across the tiles, away from that dangerous curve of porcelain, his hand brushed against a piece of paper in his pocket. It was a cheque, and when he unfolded it he saw the name: Steven Borne.
   
(What if the cheque wasn’t his? The possibility didn’t bear consideration; his memory loss was frightening enough. Besides, he felt like a Steve. It was a good name. Dependable.)
   
The bathroom was cold, quiet. It had high, cobwebbed ceilings and tall sash windows that needed refitting. A spiderweb of cracks in the paintwork. Whoever lived here either rented or was too lazy for DIY. 
   
The built-in cupboard next to the sink was half-open, revealing a combo boiler yellowed with age, the pressure valve leaking steadily. He stood — gingerly, hand against his head — and patted himself down for other clues. His pockets were empty but one of his hands was streaked with dark red stains.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The cheque was for one thousand pounds. The handwriting was all in block capitals, angular and aggressive. Steve stared, wondered what he had been paid to do. Felt a cold sweat trickle down the back of his neck.

That’s when he saw it: a knife on the floor, spattered with blood.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Steve looked at his hand again, then straightened to look into the mirror. There were more red streaks along his neck.

He followed the trail of blood spatters to the bathroom door, wincing with every step, his head thrumming with pain. At the threshold he paused, leaning against the cold, cracked tiles to catch his breath.

The blood spatters led down a narrow, tall corridor with parquet flooring and an ornate Victorian ceiling rose above the light fitting. Shame it had been painted over so clumsily.

He lurched down the corridor, one hand against the wall, his woollen socks slipping across the polished floor. The radiator gurgled in warning as he passed.

The trail finished at an archway near the front door. Steve stepped over the blood and peered into the room beyond.

It was a kitchen. Pieces of broken glass littered the floor. Blood dripped down to the counter.

Steve did the only thing he could: he fled.

To be continued…

WE MEET AGAIN

He didn’t know her.

She saw it in the blankness of his eyes, the numbness of his cheeks. Or maybe that was the drugs, spiraling away every trace of his intelligence.

Eva repeated her question: “Excuse me, do you know where the train station is?”

The binoculars slipped from his fingers and cracked against the pavement like a gunshot. Feodor jumped, spun in circles looking for an assailant. The streets were cold and quiet, steam rising from the gutters. Eva suppressed a sneer as he scuttled to collect the binoculars.

“That… that way.” He pointed down the street, then returned to spying on his own house.

By then it was too late: her men had done their job.

Inspired by the storytelling course I’m attending.

LOUD DREAMS

They woke her every night, those dreams, so loud she was sure her eardrums would shatter.

She’d open her eyes and the ringing was deafening, the tinnitus whispering memories of sounds she could no longer remember.

Every night her hand would tremble in the dark, grope desperately until it found either her glasses or the light switch. (She preferred glasses first; hunting for glasses with the light on forced her to confront her blindness.)

She was lucky tonight: her fingers closed around a cold metal frame. When she slipped her glasses on, the shadows in the room took shape. There was the light switch. There her dresser. With the tinnitus still ringing in her ears, she took comfort in the familiarity of her surroundings.

One flick of the light switch and she crawled out of bed, slipped her feet into the slippers waiting loyally by the bedside. A moment’s pause to catch her breath, then she shuffled across the room.

Nestled in a padded box on her dresser was her second most prized possession: her hearing aids. She stood in front of the mirror and gently wrestled them into place. The tinnitus vanished, replaced by a deafening silence that slowly evolved into a gentle tick tick tick.

On the bedside table was her first most prized possession: a large wristwatch that had belonged to her husband. The sound had driven her mad in her youth, and now was the only thing keeping her sane.

When she crawled back into bed, she propped herself up against the headrest and fell asleep upright, lulled by the ticking of silence.

Inspired by musical ear syndrome.

SLEEP MUSCLES

Michael killed two men before bedtime.

Two men, barehanded, one right after the other. Gifts rained down on him from the audience: money and flowers. The money his master pocketed, and the flowers… What the fuck was he going to do with flowers? He left them to rot with the bodies.

His master was waiting in the washrooms, counting the money. She was wearing an ankle-length red dress with a side slit that ran up to her thigh. From his vantage point Michael could see straight down her neckline. The sight stirred absolutely no interest.

“You’ve got a month off,” she said, pausing to catalogue Michael’s injuries as he stripped. “Looks like you’ll need every second of it.”

“I thought you needed the money.” Michael strode over to the hot springs and lowered himself into the water. If he concentrated he could hear the crowd’s distant cheers as another man died.

“I don’t have a choice.”

She walked over to the edge of the springs and stood over him, waiting for him to ask why. Michael kept his eyes closed, tried to imagine he was somewhere else. Someone else.

“The Prince is getting married,” she finally said. “He requested you specifically after seeing your performance today. You’re barred from fighting until the wedding feast.”

While she calculated her losses, Michael relished the thought of the month ahead. One month’s respite meant at least ten or fifteen men he didn’t have to kill.

“What’ll I do with myself for a month?” he murmured to the water.

“You’ll train.” His master squatted down to his level, her entire leg exposed, the hem of her dress dipping into the water. “They’re pitting you against the Bull. He’s double your size, squashes men with his fingers. You need to bulk up.”

“I need to sleep,” Michael retorted. His body ached. His bones ached. Worst of all was his conscience. How many more men could he kill before he lost every last bit of himself?

“Sleep?” She sneered. “And what, work on your sleep muscles?”

“Yeah.” He didn’t crack a smile. “Exactly that.”

“If you win, the Prince will clear all my debts,” she snapped. “If you die, I’ve got nothing.”

He nodded to her legs. “You can always sell that.”

Michael wasn’t expecting the slap — and neither was she. She straightened, her hand stiff with surprise. “Sleep or train, do whatever you want. But if you’re not ready, you’ll be dead the moment you step into the pit.”

Michael picked dried blood from under his fingernails. “I’m already dead.”

* * *

That night there was a feather pillow on his cot.

Thankfully, it didn’t smell of her perfume. Instead it smelled of the pine needles in his home town and the cheap soap his mother used to use.

Michael closed his eyes and dreamed of another life as his sleep muscles repaired his body.

With another few sleeps, he’d have enough left in him to kill one more man.

And then his debt to her would be over.

(Inspired by Lindsay.)