{Isolation Tales} Parallel By B.P. Gregory

These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.

I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.

If you have a tale you’d like to share then please contact me via email

I’m thrilled to bring you a new story from B.P. Gregory for today’s Isolation Tale.

So fiends of Kendall Reviews, give this short a read, digest and please tweet your thoughts on ‘Parallel’ #IsolationTales #Parallel

Parallel

B.P. Gregory

‘Ben. Seriously, love. Let me in.’

Bet your bottom dollar the neighbours were only pretending to sleep; holding their breath like naughty children in a game where I wasn’t freezing my tits off out here in the hall. The gothic titillation of being Ben’s dearly departed scratching for admittance in the (ahem) dead of night wasn’t lost on me. Rather keen to get inside before I ended up on someone’s Instagram, to be honest.

Identical spot-lit cream doors, identically locked, demanded vertigo as they marched off down the frigid corridor. My thoughts were too one-dimensional to cope with this. Any of it. Struggling to stay upright and cling to dignity a while longer I leaned my inflamed head on the tacky plastic wall.

‘They kept me in Immigration for six fucking hours, Ben. I’m tired.’

Six hours wasted because how was any sane person supposed to sit in one of those help-yourself-to-my-anus paper gowns through a slideshow on what (not) to do after getting yanked into a parallel world, one where the original you wound up cooling her heels at the morgue, and come out chortling, ‘Gee, that’s cleared that up!’

Six hours. Trickling away. Finally, and in line with my growing sarcasm, Immigration decided it’d be just as productive to dump me in the deep end. Which I applauded (sarcastically)—not supposing for a bare second I might grow gills, mind. I just wanted out.

Since we’re counting it’s been forty-nine excruciatingly unsolved hours since some poor cleaner stumbled upon, and vomited on, the murder victim. I’ll bet forensics hate that, but I could hardly blame Sir Dustalot. I suspect I’ll spend the rest of my own wretched life regretting so much as glancing at photos of the scene. There’s no way to un-see all a skin’s meant to wrap and protect oozing freely into what looked like an antique rug.

Except … in this weird unnatural place there’d been two murders. The boy, and me. Now I’d swear blind there’d only been one, just he, and we’d have irrefutable proof if smartphones could be shanghaied from their proper timeline along with people (nope: I arrived as naked as a flabby Terminator). ‘Here, there are two victims,’ Immigration told me and then coughed to lower their tone, still inappropriately gleeful at how clever they’d been getting me here.

So of course I bloody well hot-footed it home the moment they turned me loose. All this added up to the nine longest hours of my husband’s life. He’d had to stand in this exact same doorway and hear, ‘Sir, your wife’s been found. I’m afraid it’s bad news. I’m afraid it’s murder,’ from officers with basset hound eyes, fiddling with their caps as they discharged the worst part of their job.

Pressed to either side of this wall Ben and I were shackled to the same impossible hope. That the lost aren’t really gone, and it was all a horrible joke.

I banged my forehead in frustration, tap-tapping at Ben’s chamber door, and listened to the rapt peanut gallery of neighbours listening to me. The latch eventually rattled, thank fuck; my knees were crapping out. My spouse’s familiar features slowly peeked around the frame. Even distorted by that puffy haunted stare Ben’s face let me believe, ever so briefly, that this still might be ok.

Friends and other critics have quipped that my husband bears a striking similarity to Satan. Some real A Night on Bald Mountain stuff as, plying his nights as a commercial head chef, that purgatorial kitchen revolves around him. Revealed now in slices by the apartment door the lord of darkness appeared to have collapsed in on himself.

I certainly can’t go tossing glitter in the air and claiming to have the perfect marriage. Nonetheless my heart seized like a shitty old blender on seeing what my death had done to the big man. Her death, rather. ‘Keep that line between realities straight,’ the mooks at Immigration said, a whole slide devoted to it. She: dead, me: alive. They definitely hadn’t figured on me running home.

Fuck them sideways. Immigration’s advice was utterly trivial against the sweet cedar of Ben’s aftershave as he sobbed into my neck.

The cream hall’s expectant hush sank away with my other flatline memories as I trailed Ben into our apartment, slamming the door with a flourish. Take that, nosy neighbours. Why don’t you whine about it at the next committee meeting, Derek?

Ben kept trying to fit himself against me in odd, abortive ways, as though my right arm wasn’t there. Here, his wife had been short that limb from birth. Immigration kōan: how do you miss something that never existed? All the while pointedly not glaring at my two hands like I’d sprouted an extra head.

After enough of this I shoved my kind, funny, diabolical husband away across the bed. Her husband. This was not working out how I’d hoped; Ben’s grief was so smothering that it left no air to figure out how I felt. My nerves were too clogged with him, filling the room.

I left him hunched mutely with those chopping block mitts over his appalled mouth, would have apologised if I could work out what the dead were supposed to say. Instead I padded into the study for a gasp of fresh air. And, if I were being honest, to see what breadcrumbs my shadow self had left.

I cleared my throat roughly and mused out loud to the bleeding darkness of the bedroom door, just to be speaking. Bring normalcy in by the scruff. ‘Looks like she got her private eye license same time I did.’ Slapped it up proudly on the wall in a cheap frame, and I wondered if her classmates had been as thoroughly intolerable as mine.

‘Huh.’ Flipping through papers. ‘Kept the bread and butter work churning better than me, too.’ Good on her. More pennies in the bank meant she avoided Ben stomping from room to room flipping off lights and declaiming that money doesn’t just grow on trees. Maybe a disloyal thought with my own private Lucifer going to pieces in the next room, but people were only people.

Morbid curiosity made me peer between wall and desk, and yep. The plaster was dotted like a tiny moonscape with the desiccated lumps and curls of a booger stash. My worst habit. My lost twin clearly wasn’t different enough, or was in the wrong sorts of ways, to have left answers here.

I was interrupted by red and blue lights, which began skittering beneath the curtain and crawling up the walls. No mistaking that uh oh you’re in trouble colour combo. I shuddered out of my fugue and padded over to peer into the street without disturbing the curtain, only realising I was acting sneaky once I’d done so. Already in the mindset of hunkering down to hide. Being small. That was what going home did to you.

The source of the light was one of those massively schnozzed police wagons gliding to a stop at the kerb outside. Huh. So that’s how they wanted to play.

It would have been nice to get changed first. My Immigration-issue tracksuit and slip-ons made me look like somebody on day release, a slippery bit of psychology on their part. Obviously I wasn’t ready to assume the other me’s clothes yet—seemed a bit intimate for day one.

Not to mention if I did intend to go there, I’d likely have to replace all her tailored tops and dresses. Given the overstuffed wardrobe no prize for guessing where she’d sunk her pennies; it’d be cheaper to saw my own arm off.

I saw little point in tiptoeing shamefully out or, at the other end of the spectrum, shouting goodbye. Ben still lurked in the still water of that darkened bedroom. He would have seen the lights for himself. His brimstone breath fogging the window from behind his own curtain as I went.

The night air woke me right up, as fresh as a shot of vinegar to the sinus. Sullen intimation of dawn threatening to give us all something to cry about. Only those whose lives were not right found themselves up and about at this hour.

Clenching my teeth to avoid chattering I approached the fuzz wagon through its surreal whirling disco of light that the neighbours must be loving, and would surely bitch to Ben about come morning because some people have no decency. I secretly prayed for him to go full infernal. Let’s drag the cops out again and do it properly.

The driver’s side window hummed down, dome light snapped on and I found myself face to face with the improbably christened Detective Constable Candi Pensi, tunnelling holes through me with her eyes. Detective Constable Pensi (I steered clear of “Candi,” as smirking would likely be the last thing I ever did) cut a distinctive figure, putting it lightly. Her parents can’t possibly have suspected they were bringing this terminally disgruntled bear into the world in place of a child, otherwise they’d have named her Brunhilda or Gert.

She was usually spotted up the back of press conferences in rigid parade readiness as the speaker droned on. I’d seen the occasional newbie reporter dare to fidget or chat, only to find Pensi’s hand descending on their shoulder like Damocles’ sword.

For her sins, among the other hats of an underfunded service Pensi was attached to cold cases. And just like that I figured out how I’d died. Detected, you might say. And my first reaction was hot fizzing excitement. That’s how messed up this was.

The death rays continued as I slid into the passenger seat. Once I shut the door everything cold started tingling, which was everything. ‘I assume you have adequate reason for not proceeding to the crime scene as Immigration instructed.’

‘Seriously?’

She cranked the engine with an angry twist. ‘Bopping across into our world doesn’t pick up any extra brain cells on the way, then.’

‘Bopping across.’ Like the existential horror of my being here was a jaunt to the corner for icecream.

In mutual sullenness we hissed through the predawn streets, heading for the fancy part of town. Everything glimpsed through smeary glass renewed my sick misery because it almost looked normal. The brief flicker of a neon and skyscraper city. Buffering suburbs, and then a heck of a lot more slums than I was used to. Top heavy wealth distributed in ways that labour couldn’t access and decency couldn’t halt.

Still, somebody ought to have said no and I wasn’t just chewing over the scenery. I pinned my loathing on Pensi for being in range. ‘I still don’t get why the Carringtons didn’t draw a fresh version of their kid from somewhere and leave me be.’ The victim. Well, he and me.

A cackle, which wasn’t quite the response I’d been shooting for. ‘You think you’re anyone’s number one pick?’

Only Ben’s, I supposed. And he lacked the obscene means of the ultra-rich to split reality. Ordinary grief was without power, and simply spilled out on the floor.

Pensi shifted, kangarooing the suspension. ‘The science of this goes way past my pay grade.’

‘But.’

‘Way I hear it, there’s no version within reach where the Carrington boy survived.’

Well that left my righteous sails limp and dangling. ‘None?’

Alternate universes exist for every possibility. Sure. All shuffled together like a pack of cards. Only, the shuffle is far from random. Likelihood determines how close variations sit, and you can’t reach so far from your own card to, say, a world where cheese sandwiches rule instead of humans. It’s just too far.

What Pensi was saying was the murder was so perfect it was impossible to undo.

‘Drove Mrs Carrington into frothing blood. You try telling the fancy folk they can’t have something. Which I guess makes you the booby prize; the next best thing to getting her baby boy back.’

‘If you’re going to say “revenge” just let me fling myself into traffic right now.’

‘Here you are. The woman who came closest to nabbing the killer.’

‘It’s the Brunswick Butcher, isn’t it.’ Hating the way my voice squeaked. If my glowing cheeks were anything to go by I certainly wasn’t cold anymore.

Pensi glanced lazily across, where I preferred she watch the road. ‘Boils your kettle, does it? You never got so close to the Butcher or you wouldn’t be breathing all over my nice clean upholstery. Not much of a private dick.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Calm your tits, this one ought to be a walk in the park. I want you to take a look at the crime scene and tell me what she knew. How did the real you interrupt the Butcher in the middle of the fucking murder?’

Seemed pretty obvious. ‘She died. That’s how.’

Pensi glanced my way again. Grudgingly because she wasn’t a total bitch, she added, ‘Forensics reckon she went down trying to save the boy.’

I stared bleakly through the windscreen. ‘What a hero.’

Police spotters still lingered at Carrington House, which could more accurately be called Carrington Mansion since the glossy spaniels enjoyed their own private colonnaded entrance. Driving up to the main gate we passed officers with restless eyes, on the lookout for big egos. It was depressing how often a bad guy couldn’t resist sneaking back to gloat.

Pensi wanted me hustled inside. Stung by the contrary fairy I lollygagged obnoxiously; if her cool cop friends saw us hanging out so much the better. I had failed to take a proper gander at how the other half lived the last time I stood here, forty-six hours ago and in the real world. I’d been too busy jostling hip to shoulder with the rest of the parasites, baying for a disgusted security cordon to confirm that the Butcher had indeed struck again. Right out front a house where a kid had just died, and now with the luxury of reflection I flushed.

My charming escort got sick of my sightseeing really quickly. With me in physical tow Pensi crunched us down a crushed quartz path. The glittering ribbon rambled among tennis courts, drought-hostile roses and even more hostile swimming pools to ensure you’d seen it all before reaching the house. I murmured, ‘Good luck getting surveillance.’ Even if there’d been a thousand cameras you could sneak an elephant through here.

Pensi shrugged. ‘Spaniels might love an intruder to death, at a pinch.’ They’d polished our shoes frantically enough before ascertaining that neither visitor was a sausage.

The motley circus of photo-op cops, coroner, and heck-all else had already disbanded from the main building with whatever they felt they needed. Clearly not enough, if you asked Mrs Carrington. Which I couldn’t. Not without a ticket to Aspens. The lofty matriarch who demanded her pound of flesh by any means didn’t seem inclined to grapple with me in person, instead she left Pensi and I to her … butler, I guess? Was butler still a job?

He certainly buttled out from the soft Parisian green corridors with the right officiousness. Showed no sign of recognition when we asked to be let in. Back in the real world I’d slipped Captain Buttle three months wages for a few illicit photographs of the body in the library. So easy these days, he palmed his phone when nobody was looking, snappity-snap. A privacy nightmare.

Not a flicker from him now, of course, as a) in this reality we’d never met; b) he didn’t equate me with victim number two because of the arm thing; and c) even if Buttle’d put two and two together he’d need to be a genius, as the Butcher had pulled his signature dick move of making tartare from human features. My double’s face had been erased. I very much hope they never told Ben that.

‘Please.’ Spoken entirely through the nose. ‘Come inside. It’s this way.’

The library actually wasn’t too different to my covert photographs, though I never thought I’d stand here in person. Burgundy hardback ranks poised to crash down and squash visitors into ignorant little pancakes. Shiny hardwood floor. The devastated rug.

Two small triangles of crisp white, like dropped condolence cards, indicated where corpses had been hauled away. In case you somehow missed the congealed munificence of black pudding lake. Despite bay windows flung wide to admit eddies of tea rose and chlorine the smell was not amazing.

There was no dodging the fact that that had been me, there, splayed out with the cleaner’s puke in my hair. I gabbled to hide my nerves, ‘Is that my blood? If I touch it will the universe implode?’

‘For you, yes, because I will shoot you for disrupting a crime scene. Stay by the door and tell me what you see.’

‘Stay,’ I mimicked, sotto voice. Deeply grateful that the bodies were gone and I didn’t have to look at myself. The curled shrimp photos of the kid haunted my conscience already, joining the Butcher’s twenty-six other (known) victims whose snapshots got passed around the internet like baseball cards.

Actually, twenty-eight now, with Master Carrington and me tacked on the list. So what did her research unearth that I missed, for her to come waltzing right into this library and boop the Butcher on the nose? Not that it did her much good. I found I couldn’t take my eyes off the blood.

Even with the gaping windows the room pressed in claustrophobically. That acidy stink crawling backwards down my throat. Squeezing my eyes to keep tears to myself I carefully edged down to rest on the floor, in case damsel-esque swooning was a real thing.

‘Anything?’

I shook my head, not trusting words.

Pensi’s colossal my fucking day sigh was anything but sympathetic. ‘Why were you “investigating” the Butcher in the first place?’ Air quotes. The lighter side of charm.

‘Haven’t you heard? Hobbies are essential for mental health.’

‘Fuck right off. A hobby?’

‘My class set ourselves assignments …’

‘Your fake-ass detective class.’

Given today, I had to strain for offense. Bless Pensi’s cotton socks for trying, though. ‘We took on a pet project each. Our favourite local cold cases: the Gelato Van Poisoner, the Flemington Bridge Flayer. The Brunswick Butcher. And then kind of stuck with them after we graduated.’ Like a club, I didn’t want to say, because my class personified asshats.

‘Like a murder club.’

Fair enough. Chasing a sniff of the glamour that’d lured us to “information services,” as detecting got called these days, in the first place. The actual work typically revolved around sitting slumped in your car feeling vertebrae fuse and watching various windows. Some light digging through trash. It was a shameful streak that no case of mine had ever made it so far as court.

Pensi sniffed. ‘Bit hard to go calling the Butcher “cold” now.’

‘See, that’s where I think you’re wrong. It was hardly ever cold; just nobody gave two shits about the sort of people he killed. I mean, look at this song and dance now, all around some rich white kid.’

‘I give two shits, alright? You would not believe the size of the shits I give. But if you’re right, then he’s escalating. Picking riskier targets.’

‘He thinks nobody can catch him.’

Pensi’s face twisted eloquently like she’d bitten into a dead rat. She’d had to stand with her thumb up her ass while the Carringtons blew their fortune on insane physics violations instead of, say, funding a proper taskforce. Meanwhile politicians screamed at the police to arrest all the monsters and jaywalkers at once, slap a bow on it. ‘I want your research. All of it.’

‘Fine.’ Suddenly, overwhelmingly tired, like my bones had been injected with lead. ‘My fake-ass detective research.’

‘Get off the floor. Here, you take my card, and you call if you suddenly become useful.’ Pensi hesitated, balancing a grain of decency against having places to be. I must have looked incredibly pathetic. ‘Want a ride home?’

‘Actually, can you spot me a couple of bucks?’

I picked a shabby motel because Pensi’s charity only stretched so far, and mission brown was such a classic self-punishment. Unwilling to touch my double’s husband, I sure as heck wasn’t ready to dip sticky fingers into her life savings.

Fortunately this wasn’t some wacky universe where x won the war and we were consequently all using some mad currency I couldn’t get my head around, like goats. The only thing different here was me. Which made this the worst episode of Star Trek I’d ever heard of.

A bright new day shone in, which made me want to hide from its obnoxious cheer. Collapse and spend some quality time unconscious. Instead, I slumped on the dusty coverlet, freeing a sprinkle of moths, and hoisted the landline to dial the last person I wanted to deal with. Whether my spouse or hers, Ben deserved to know what was going on.

‘Ben. Hi.’

A rough intake of breath. ‘Where are you?’

‘Motel.’

A long silence. Longer. The cortisone/adrenaline spritzer must be wearing off because I was nodding toward sleep by the time he spoke next. ‘Did you help the cops?’

‘How, exactly, could I manage that?’ Ugh, wind it back. ‘Sorry. They figure I might know something that she did that I didn’t, which I don’t.’

‘Right.’

‘Look, a Constable Pensi’s going to swing by to pick up my Butcher files. Maybe she’ll find something they can use.’

‘Ok.’ He didn’t ask if I was coming home, which was a mournful relief. I guess neither of us felt stable enough to crack that wriggling can. I hung up.

So long as I didn’t mind contact with the yellowed bedsheets I could now lie back and obsess over the Butcher at my leisure. The police were involved, so anyone’s guess why I couldn’t just let it go. So far as I knew nobody from my class had succeeded in making a bee’s dick of difference to any of their cold cases

I rose from my pallet at dusk, having tossed and turned and basted in ancient tobacco stink all day. “Refreshed” would be polishing the turd. Let’s just claim clear headed and better prepared to be practical.

As it turns out woman cannot live by tracksuit alone—and if I intended on dogpaddling through the next few days I’d have to at least dip a toe in my shadow’s world. I needed some things from home.

First, I hid around the corner to watch Ben leave for work. And in my defence nowhere does it specify “bravery” on the private eye application. Ben had zero bereavement leave up his sleeve; still, I fumed watching him fold himself into our crappy Datsun. I mean, I died. Surely the scalloped potatoes could wait. But apparently not, because off he went.

Next the locksmith I’d booked from the motel came ambling up the drive and I trotted out to meet him. Notable lack of fuss over my lack of ID. Our wedding portrait in the entry likely smoothed the way: Ben and I beaming wide enough that we looked ready to bite welcoming chunks off whoever chanced the threshold. Maybe the locksmith assumed my arm grew back. I paid with fistfuls of dollars from the swear jar.

I was finally left alone to beat the bounds of our modest apartment. Pacing neurotically beneath a stucco ceiling where grey cobweb streamers snagged and dangled. Seriously, didn’t we ever look up? I hoped the police hadn’t noticed. Hardly the Carrington digs.

Pensi’s mates had done a number on the study. The desk looked forlorn with years of notes stripped away, and I wondered if I’d be getting any of it back. And really, was that such a bad thought? Fresh start—wasn’t that the dream?

Something curious in the bedroom. My ledger was sitting out on the bed in all its shabby glory. The cops were supposed to have scooped up everything to comb through, and were probably taking turns reading my faltering deductions in a series of funny voices. So why had Ben kept this? Was he worried—I mean, more worried—about money?

I flipped the last page open. Oh.

Inappropriate giggles spilled out, sounding just as crazed in that quiet cobwebby apartment as you’d expect. This was it. This was how the bitch was different.

Ben hadn’t circled the address, nothing so obvious; but you don’t weather a matrimonial decade without picking up some tips on how your better half thinks. What an asshole I was, assuming he was off to work.

I stabbed at the wall phone while frantically digging Pensi’s card from my pocket. Before she’d even lifted the speaker to her ear I was blurting, ‘Ben’s going after the Butcher!’

Pensi didn’t need a moment to catch up. I wish I were that cool. ‘Why?’

‘Because he’s a big baby who believes in explanations and getting tucked in at night, why do you think? I want police, lots of police, send me all the police you’ve got … can you breed more? Is there time?’ Aware that babbling like an idiot wouldn’t help, I read out the address from my ledger.

A loaded pause, as in the same charged moment we both realised who was closer.

‘Listen: don’t you dare head over there. Wait for officers …’

Sorry Pensi. The dropped handset dangled, barking orders into the void.

I stumbled outside, located my feet through tumbling panic and went pounding across the evening landscape of letterboxes and lawns. Of course I immediately found myself jostling for the lit footpath with scores of after-work joggers. Them, seal-slick and almost invisible in lycra, grimly pounding out their ten thousand before bed. Me, flapping along in pyjama-ish tracksuit like I’d slipped out of the kind of institute that doesn’t allow scissors.

When a bus hissed and sidled up as I was passing the stop I thought, why not. Wasn’t like this could get any more ridiculous. Nary a blink as I staggered on board; drivers weren’t paid enough to monitor the respectability of their passengers. They had to go home to stucco like everyone else.

Our steed wallowed along its slow route of rescue and fellow travellers stared stoically out the windows. I alone jittered from foot to foot, my heart a bunch of nails shaken in a can. If a single stranger had touched my arm to ask if I was ok, I would have shattered.

Next stop. Come ooon. Not soon enough I was awkwardly shouldering the door aside in my haste, got a nice bruise and numbed the arm to the elbow.

The urban gloom had me straining after house numbers, because apparently the simple courtesy of street lights is a stretch out this way. I actually started sprinting the wrong direction up the road and howled in frustration when I realized. Local mutts took up the chorus from their yards. The air was greasy with dinners frying and ordinary lives unwinding.

I spotted our parked Datsun, with no Ben inside, before I saw the neat little weatherboard house I’d been looking for. Blink, and I found myself standing in the buttery porch glow mashing the doorbell like a maniac.

A young woman answered looking understandably miffed. Her hair was up in jumbo curlers which I thought only happened in the forties. Please, please let it all be a mistake, but, ‘Oh hello,’ she chirped, recognising me. Manners first, putting your finger on what looked wrong came second in this household.

I opened my mouth, and ‘Where’syourhusband?’ fell out as a breathless lump.

‘Why, shed office, out back. He’s with a visitor though and doesn’t like to be disturbed …’

I was already tearing around the side of her picturesque home. I immediately collided with the bins, recycling rolling underfoot and the Benny Hill theme quacking mercilessly in my head.

The back yard was a cramped paved oblong, best you could expect this close to the city. The shed almost filled it and every shoddy seam bulged with light. I didn’t bother knocking.

Jumbled impressions as I burst in, that had to be integrated rapidly if I was to survive the next few seconds. Ben had been tossed to the floor and I practically piled on top of him. The Butcher was looming over him, and when I say looming he scraped the ceiling. He was the embodiment of every grizzled tradie who’s ever stumped across a construction site: bullish crimson head fastened directly to woolly shoulders, face a leathery starburst. Hey, look at that. Literal blood on his hands, spattering to the floor.

The Butcher was wielding a straight razor in one hand and a small gun in the other. At my entrance the deadly muzzle rose from Ben to me. Oh good. My cup runneth over. Ben’s face was gashed and he had a tiny brutally sharp paring knife jabbing up at his attacker. Chefs are not a breed to mess with.

Under the gun’s eye I could only stand there. I ought to have been jelly and don’t get me wrong, my insides had turned to slurry but this asshole was trying to murder my husband. The outraged desire to hook the Butcher’s nose and tear it right off his face made me rattle and shake.

When I failed to cringe the Butcher’s wrinkly face clenched in displeasure. Honestly it was like watching a cat’s bum pinch off. Although I knew punishment was coming quick-sticks I couldn’t suppress a little spurt of amusement, fervently hoping that getting up his ass was how I’d died the first time.

Then the Butcher glimpsed something more pressing over my shoulder, through the open door I’d crashed through. The look the monster then flashed me was a promise, was death, and I peed myself a little right there.

Time seemed to have frozen as he reached out one dripping finger. All my muscles screamed at me to move and I finally understood the uselessness of a rabbit in incoming headlights just before the splat.

Grunting in concentration Butcher painted a thick wet line across my brow. So much blood that it ran stinging into my eyes. My skin crawled all over, wanting to shrink away and there would not be enough bleach in the world for me to ever be clean.

Then he spun and dashed right through the rear wall of the shed. Wackiest thing I’ve ever seen; I suppose when you’re that massive the world isn’t quite so stable as it seems to the rest of us. Threw a knee up mid-flight and kicked through the veneer. The rest dropped on our heads.

What the blood-mad Butcher had spotted had been his bride struggling with a tidal wave of police as they flooded the yard. Reluctant credit to Pensi, she’d really pulled out the stops. When the scowling Detective Constable dug Ben and I out the Butcher’s wife was standing by the toppled bins weeping and shock-stunned as officers briefed her on what she’d been sharing her marriage with.

Speaking of spouses, Ben got whisked out front to endure paramedics dabbing at his cheeks and debating stitches. It turned out that that was the Butcher’s favourite game: to hold a gun and make you cut off your nose to spite your face. Asshole.

Feeling oddly refreshed after having my eyes irrigated with saline, I hovered like a good partner should. Residual panic had left me a bit tetchy and I think I popped a hernia on the dash over. ‘What the hell were you thinking, Ben?’

He couldn’t meet my eyes. ‘I had to. I needed to know what made her …’

‘What? Dead? Because you almost found out.’

‘… not you.’

This is me, not ever getting tired of being the worst. ‘Not me. Ok, I get it.’

Sensing trouble Pensi commandeered my elbow and hauled me off to one side, out of the paramedics’ earshot. You didn’t need to step far away from civilisation to end up in the dark and cold. Flashlights stabbed back and forth out there like maddened wasps and radios squealed at the icy stars as police pursued the Butcher. My eyes itched. I had a bad feeling they might not catch him.

‘I want to hear all of it. Now.’

‘I didn’t think you’d actually bring all the police …’

‘How. Did. You. Find. The. Butcher.’

I nodded across the yard at wifey. A curler had loosed hair across her ashen face. ‘Older hubby, keeps odd hours. She found another woman’s jacked in his shed and hired me—the other me, I mean.’

‘So?’

I chuckled sourly. ‘Ben figured it out before I did: what my double was that I wasn’t. Professional. Kept up with her work. She nailed the Butcher ‘cause she was already fingering him as a cheating husband.’

‘Except it turned out to be a fair bit worse than cheating. Hope you got your money up front, I don’t think she’ll be paying otherwise.’

‘At least I had the brains to call the cavalry.’ Shakes setting in because my impulsiveness could have gotten Ben killed.

‘So … they’ll be shooting you back where you belong now, right?’

Bile threatened to uproot my teeth and I stared into the dark. Pensi couldn’t know. No slideshow for her, with her spine humiliatingly chilly in the wind and Calibri sixteen point laying it all out.

‘Immigration collapsed my reality. That’s how they get the energy to steal someone across, they say.’

‘What does that even mean?’

‘The place I belong to is gone.’

Pensi didn’t look stricken, because lost universes were too much. More than any day to day mind could encompass. And all for the sake of some lost kid, and a family too rich to be told no. ‘Huh. Like I said, the science is way past my pay.’

So far as meat and potatoes Pensi was concerned she was alive, Ben was alive (we could hear the swearing), and the souls cramming the houses to either side of us and right down the street, just going about their lives. It was only to me that they were all dead. A horrific abyss where my heart should be.

‘So, what now?’

Oh dear. She was serious. I risked a slow breath, that plumed out in frosty curlicues. My shadow’s husband wincing and moaning in the back of an ambulance. Somewhere out there the Butcher’s fissured face, like a fox in the darkness. All ghosts.

‘I guess I’ll have to make a place for myself right here in hell.’

B.P. Gregory

Author and avid reader BP Gregory brings monsters, machines and roaming cities, insanity, betrayal and lust! With such tales you shouldn’t always feel comfortable or safe.

Hailing from sober corporate beginnings she’s been an archaeology student and a dilettante of biology, psychology, and apocalypse prepping. She is the author of five novels including the recently released frozen post-apocalyptic horror Flora & Jim, about a father who’ll do anything to keep his daughter alive.

BP Gregory lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and is currently working on The Newru Trail, a murder-mystery set in a world where houses eat your memories.

You can find out more about B.P. by visiting her Official website www.bpgregory.com

You can follow B.P. on Twitter @BP_Gregory

Flora & Jim

The world is frozen. The animals ascendant. And, locked in desperate pursuit of “the other father” across a grim icy apocalypse, Jim will do anything to keep his daughter alive.

You can buy Flora & Jim from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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