I was sat on my bed, killing time by making a mix tape for Lucy. It was one of my favourite things to do. I had tapes spread out all over my duvet. A notepad and pen, and a list of songs to tick off. It took me ages to decide on the first track of side one, but in the end I had gone for The Stone Roses Breaking Into Heaven. I mean, you can’t go wrong with a start like that can you? The second song had come to me in a shot; The Only One I Know by The Charlatans, and then continuing in a similar vein, the third song was Girl From Mars by Ash. It got trickier after that, and I was chewing on the end of my biro, scrutinising lyrics, trying to decide what it was I wanted to tell her. I wanted to put some Bob Dylan on there for her, but I couldn’t decide which one. That was annoying me no end. I was really into The Bends, but I wondered if it would be too depressing for her? Billy for instance, sneered every time I mentioned Radiohead. Kill yourself music, he called it. I tapped my biro against my knee, and reached out to press stop on the stereo, and then paused again, not wanting to. I had to admit, the lyrics were spot on, and that was what I liked; yeah the melody, and the voice, and the guitars and the drums or whatever, they all made a good song great, or a great song genius, but I liked plenty of run of the mill songs if they had amazing lyrics, if they reached out to me somehow, if they meant something. Limb by limb, and tooth by tooth, the haunting drone of Thom Yorkes voice spoke to me as my finger hovered between the stop button and the rewind. Tearing up inside of me, every day and every hour, just wish that I was….bulletproof. I mean….fuck.
In the end I went for it. I mean, if I was trying to tell her something, then I should be honest right? I knew she’d get it. I knew Lucy. I knew she would lie on her stomach on her bed in her big bright room, and listen to the tape with her chin resting on her folded arms, and I knew she would have the little card next to her, so she could look and see what song and artist it was each time a new song began. And I knew she would think about each song, and she would listen to them properly, and she would pay attention, and she would ask me about them later. After that I went for Neil Youngs Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Kind of on the soppy side, but hey. I was feeling soppy in bucketloads lately. I had shitloads of soppy going on, and I fucking loved it.
It was the day before my sixteenth birthday. My room was bare and empty; all my belongings either already at the bed-sit, or packed up neatly in bags and boxes around me. I hadn’t had to worry about it too much in the end, had I? Not with mum and Howard buying their fancy house on Cedar View. The entire house was being packed up. I set up Slide Away to record for Lucy and stared at the bags and the boxes, in hope and in fear. Everything is going to plan, I told myself, when the fingers of fear awoke to scrabble around inside my belly. Nearly there now. I sat on the bed with my hands dangling loosely between my knees, while the stereo transferred music from one tape to the other. The door was slightly open and my mother poked her head around the door. “What you doing?” she asked me, hanging onto the door. I yawned and shrugged.
“Making Lucy a tape.”
At once her face lit up with a genuine smile and she stepped inside, just a little bit. “Oh that is so sweet! Good boy. I knew she’d be good for you. I’m just going to pick the keys up for the new house. Would you mind staying here and doing a bit more packing for me?” I shook my head at her. I had no intention of moving yet anyway. There was still another side of meaningful music to create for Lucy. “Thanks,” she breathed in relief. “I’ll go over to the new house for a bit so I won’t be back for a while. You’ll be okay?”
I just nodded at her. I didn’t have much to say to her. She was confusing the hell out of me lately, to tell you the truth. There had been nothing between us since Howard came along, I mean, nothing but anger and disappointment. I didn’t really even look at her as my mother anymore; more like someone I used to know, someone I passed on the stairs or the landing, someone who was little more than a ghost to me. I’d had too many other things to worry about, like trying to stay alive, to pay her much attention. But lately it seemed like she had changed. There was something different about her, something I could not really put my finger on, or articulate. She didn’t say or do anything differently. Of course, she was over the moon about me and Lucy, which was amusing, to say the least. But it wasn’t anything to do with that; the change in her. It was something else. It was something in her eyes when she looked at me. Some kind of unspoken fear, mixed with a steeliness I had forgotten she owned. That’s the only way I can explain it. Sometimes she looked at me for too long, and although she did not speak, it was like she was trying to tell me something with her eyes. What, I had no fucking idea, and I had too much to think about to care.
I looked at her then and wondered if now was the time to tell her I was not coming with them to their stupid new house. I chickened out though. Telling her, was not an option. Leaving her a note was what I was going to do. She looked at me a little too long, her nostrils working and her smile fading in and out, before she sighed softly, turned and left. I swallowed, and faced the room again. One more night, and that was it. I shivered a little as the enormity of it all spun through me yet again. One more night in this place, one more night and I would be gone. Anthony and Michael had already taken whatever they needed or wanted from their childhood home, over to the bedsit in Belfield Park. They were spending tonight in the house, and then in the morning, I would take my stuff and creep out of the house before anyone woke up. The taxi would be waiting. It was all planned. It was all set. It was going to happen.
I tugged the note I had written from my pocket and read it through once more. I planned on leaving it inside her favourite coffee cup. I knew that at some point, she would reach for her cup, and come across the note, and hopefully by then, I would be long gone.
Dear mum, I am not coming to the new house with you, I am leaving home now that I am sixteen as I think this is best for everyone. I know you don’t believe me, but I’ve tried to tell you the truth about Lee, and I can’t live with him anymore. He makes my life a misery in ways you could not even imagine, and if I stay any longer I am going to kill him or kill myself. You can believe what you want, but I am leaving home, and I can’t tell you where I am going because I don’t want him to find me. I will call you when I am settled and let you know I am ok. Your son, Danny.
I had written and rewritten it about ten times, and each new version ended up shorter and sharper than the last. There was so much I wanted to say to her, and yet at the same time, it seemed pointless to even try. I found myself thinking again about how weird she had been lately. Tearful sometimes, yet with enormous smiles tugging at her lips when she saw me. And she kept trying to touch me all the time too, as if she needed to believe I was really there. She kept ruffling my hair, or hugging me around the shoulders. Sometimes I looked at her and wondered about her life. I knew as little about hers, as she did about mine. She seemed jumpy around her husband lately, stiff and tense. Did she have her own fears that I knew nothing about? The move still seemed to excite her though, and I didn’t understand why. Did she really think that things would be different in a new house? Did she think things would change? I put the note back in my pocket and pushed it roughly from my mind. Too late now, I told myself, too late to go there. I was going. Time to look forward, Anthony kept telling me. And he was right about that.
Slide Away finished, so I pressed pause on Lucy’s tape and consulted my list again. Hmm. It was tricky. I quite fancied sticking a bit of Massive Attack on there for her. I’d got into them through Chaos, and through Anthony. Anthony was way more into the dance stuff. Primal Scream, Massive Attack, Leftfield. As always, I remained open to everything. Some of that stuff sounded amazing on the dance floor at Chaos. Really got everyone moving. I went for Safe From Harm, and looked back at my list for the next choice. Just thinking about Lucy made me smile constantly. Lucy, my girlfriend. Ha! The word made me blush and shiver, and want to throw myself back on the bed and roll around a bit like a kid at Christmas. We’d been pretty inseparable since that day at Michaels. In return for the mix tapes I made her, she wrote me love letters telling me how much she liked them. On the very first tape I’d put The Stone Roses Ten Storey Love Song as the first song on side one, and I’d known she’d love it. She handed me a note with all the lyrics carefully written out on one side, and she’d drawn a red heart around one paragraph to highlight it; when your heart is black and broken, and you need a helping hand, when you’re so much in love you don’t know just how much you can stand, when your questions go unanswered, and the silence is killing you, take my hand, baby I’m your man, I got love big enough for two. She was spot on. It was perfect. Beautiful. “That will always be our song, for me,” she told me shyly.
I kept every note and letter she wrote for me. I kept them inside my old notebook, my old journal and to me they were like buried treasure’ precious, sacred things I could dig out and gaze on whenever I felt alone, or afraid. They were proof that she cared about me. That I was worth caring about.
I’d told her everything. In slow, and painful detail, I filled her in on nearly everything. I watched the colour drain from her face, and at one point she couldn’t stop the tears, and just gave into them, just sat there and sobbed. We had lain on my bed, side by side, taking turns to stop and listen in wide-eyed fear every time we thought we heard a noise downstairs. I told her the latest information about Jack, and she had propped herself up on elbow to stare down at me with her moist, brown eyes. Her fingers entwined tightly with mine. “Thank god for Anthony,” she had breathed out when I had finally finished retelling the entire nightmare from start to finish. She was shaking her head slowly, her forehead all creased up with thought, her lips pursed and blowing out air as she shook her head. “If he hadn’t got Jaime to dig around…” she broke off, finishing the thought off inside her own head. She curled back into me then, lifting the edge of my t-shirt to place her hands on the last colours Howard had stamped on me. “I don’t know how your mother can live with herself,” she murmured, before pushing her hair back behind her ears and lowering her lips down to my skin. I felt her kissing me, slowly, gently, as the sobs hitched up in the back of her throat, and I closed my eyes and wanted to drift away with it. And as she kissed the bruises it felt like she was kissing them away, cancelling them out.
Tell the police, she had urged me at first. I’d had to tell her, all the frightening things that Anthony and Michael had endured lately, all the eyes watching, all the threats. “Jack was in the police,” I reminded her. “And Heaton is pals with Howard. It’s not worth it. We can’t risk it. We just have to go. We just have to get away, leave, stay away, and then it will be over” It was a mantra I was repeating to myself on a daily basis. I hoped if I repeated it enough, it would begin to feel possible.
Lucy was appalled with my mother. I sensed she feared Howard and all the things I had told her, but she felt something even uglier for my mother. Mum didn’t seem to notice the dark and disgusted looks Lucy gave her, when she was clapping her hands and exclaiming joyously what a couple of lovebirds we were. Oh young love, she kept saying, scuttling up and down the stairs with cups of tea for us. She seemed pleased with me, I thought, as if getting a girlfriend was all I had needed all along, as if I’d be alright now. She didn’t notice Howard glowering and darkening in the background, of course, but I did. And more than that, I sensed a dangerous change in him. He was losing his grip more and more as the weeks slid by, and I feared it greatly. I’d had enough time to think about it to come to the conclusion that what motivated him most was control and power. He sought the gratification from both, in everything he did. He had power and control over everybody at the club, over Jack and over Jaime, over his wife, and until tomorrow, over me too. Who knew what dangers trembled under the surface of a man like that? Who knew what losing any amount of control would do to him? He kept telling me, over and over, whenever he got the chance; I know you’re up to something, I can see it all over your face, I know it, I can feel it. More often than not, his breath smelled faintly of booze. This alarmed me even more. In all the time I had known him, he had barely touched the stuff, and I had never seen him drunk. I didn’t dare think about what alcohol could add to a temper like that. He was so often to be heard, screaming irrational abuse down the phone at people who had pissed him off, and all the time, his sharp piggy eyes followed my every move, and I could feel his breath, bearing down on my neck.
He took petty shots at me whenever he could. He didn’t get many chances, so it was childish stuff, like flicking the back of my head or giving my ear a sudden vicious tug. I had no choice but to endure it in silence, and bide my time. I longed to lash out, I dreamt about returning the pain and the fear, but with escape so close around the corner, I would have been a fool to wreck it now. He sneered endlessly about my union with Lucy. “She must need fucking glasses!” he would hiss at me. “Nice girl like that going out with a piece of shit like you! I ought to call her dad up and let him know about your dirty little habits! Does he even know you’re together? Bet he doesn’t! I better give him a call and warn him eh? We’ll practically be neighbours soon.” I refused to take the bait. I said nothing. But I didn’t stop Lucy from sliding her arms around me in the kitchen, while his face distorted with rage at the table. When she had gone, he would sidle up behind me, breathing his vile air into my ear. “You fucked her yet? You fucked her yet, eh? Have you?” Jabbing me in the back. I closed my eyes. Envisioned sharp knives. “Bet you don’t even know how!” Just fuck off and die, you disgusting excuse for a human, I wanted to say to him, but I didn’t. I said nothing.
I jolted out of my daydreams then, hearing a noise downstairs. It was like something had clattered to the floor in the kitchen. It was probably nothing, but my heart leapt into full panic mode all the same, battering violently against my chest. I was starting to think I had gained a genuine sixth sense about when things were about to kick off. I was rarely wrong. My body was determined to protect itself by letting me know when something was up. The fingers of fear would jerk and spasm into life in the pit of my stomach, and the muscles would cramp and claw around them. They reached out, spreading their fear, and they would kick start a physical chain reaction throughout the rest of my body; jangling through my nerves, putting everything on high alert. A second noise in the kitchen pulled me up onto my feet. I reached out and pressed pause on the stereo, halting Lucy’s tape. It had sounded like the back door closing. I crept towards my open door and peered out. I stopped and waited and listened. Then I called out; “Mum?” There was no answer. Nothing. My breathing quickened and I tried to tell myself to calm down, that it was probably just some of the boxes falling over in the kitchen. They were stacked up everywhere, full of pots and pans and cutlery. I inched forward, taking pains not to step on any of the boards that creaked. Still nothing but silence.
I took some deep breaths and convinced myself that it was just boxes spilling over. I replayed the sound I had heard in my mind; a cardboard box sagging out of place and chucking spoons and knives and forks all over the kitchen floor. I nodded to myself, but I needed to check for peace of mind, so I trotted briskly down the stairs and found that the kitchen door was slightly open. I gave it a push and it screamed on its hinges. When it swung back, I could see nothing but stacked boxes and empty surfaces. My shoulders relaxed, I stepped through the door and nearly squealed in fright when the slug like form of Jack Freeman appeared from behind the other side of the door. “Shit!” I cried out, instead, my skin prickling, my heart racing. He stepped forward very casually, dressed in his usual dark overcoat and a suspicious brown suit. He used one tatty shoe to kick a chair out of his way. He was trying to light a roll up, but his lighter was low on fuel. His heavily wrinkled brow seemed to sag loosely over his eyes as he shook it out, tried to flick the flame, and then shook it again. He was swaying slightly, from side to side, and the smell that emanated from him was of the unwashed and the drunk. Finally, as I stared on in horror, he got his roll up lit and stuffed the lighter into the breast pocket of his overcoat, as his filmy eyes peered at me.
“Get out,” I told him right away, before he could get any closer. “I don’t want you here, get out!”
He laughed at me, and his face was a shabby mess of wrinkles and folds of flesh that could not fight gravity. His big round shoulders shook with his apparent amusement. “Ahh that’s not very friendly boy!” he chuckled. “Just came to say hello, didn’t I? Ain’t seen you in so long, I thought you might be needing something, eh?”
I shook my head fiercely. I wondered why I was not more afraid, knowing what I knew about him, but when I looked him up and down in his filthy coat, I saw a man at his lowest ebb, a man just days away from sinking down into his own sick and piss and staying there for good. “No,” I told him firmly. “I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything thanks. You have to go Jack.”
He frowned, and then took an unsteady, lurching step towards me, before banging into another chair and reaching out to touch the wall to steady himself. “Ahh that’s not friendly is it?” he moaned, looking genuinely upset. “After all the times I was so friendly to you! You’re telling me to get out? All those times I let you come to my flat and help yourself? I thought we were friends Danny! We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“No,” I told him, still shaking my head, my back now pressed painfully into the sideboard behind me. “We were never friends Jack, you know that. You just took advantage of me, because Howard told you to. Yeah, that was really friendly of you alright, getting kids into drugs when they’re having a crap time! You must sleep really well at night.”
Jack sucked at his roll up and shrugged at me. “I sleep fine,” he told me, one shaggy grey eyebrow shooting up on its own. “Don’t worry about that mate.”
“I’m not your mate,” I said, through gritted teeth. “I never was! You could’ve killed me with all that shit!” I could feel the anger rising up, the longer I stared at him, the more I thought about the way it had been between us. I’d never questioned it, had I? I just wanted the good stuff, I just wanted oblivion.
“Didn’t have to force you!” he snarled back at me then, his face clouding over, and his eyes widening to reveal their bloodshot rage. He pointed a shaking finger at me. “No one forced you Danny, did they eh? You fucking lapped it up!”
“Because of him,” I hissed at him in disgust. “Because I didn’t know what else to do, because I was trying to escape him, and I didn’t give a shit about anything! But it’s different now Jack, alright? I’m not doing any of it anymore, so you can just go. Just leave.” He chuckled again, and took a long drag on his rolled cigarette, his rubbery lips closing around it so tightly I thought he would inhale it if he wasn’t careful. “You two have been in it together from the start,” I said then, and I nodded when he looked intrigued. “Oh yeah, I know it. I’ve worked it all out. He gets you doing all his dirty work doesn’t he? He’s got you where he wants you. That’s what he does with everyone. He has to be in control. He has to have all the power. He has something pretty big on you, doesn’t he?”
Jack released a huge bellow of a laugh and patted at his chest with one pudgy hand. “Yeah!” he agreed. “You could say that!”
“Yeah well,” I said, glancing quickly down the hallway to where I could see the phone on the table. “You’re both as sick as each other. I don’t wanna know. Just get out Jack, I mean it. Before I call the cops on you.”
Jack shuffled forward another step. “But I am the cops,” he said brightly, smiling enough to reveal his grey, mottled teeth. “Didn’t you know that Danny?”
“You used to be,” I said. “Till you got chucked out.” I watched the curiosity swirling in his eyes, so I nodded at him triumphantly. “Oh yeah, I know all about that Jack. I know why you got thrown out. I know what you did. That’s why I stopped coming to your shithole flat!”
He frowned, lifted a chubby nicotine stained finger and scratched at his head with it. “Oh,” he said. “Is that right? Who’s been talking then, eh? What do you reckon you know?”
“Doesn’t matter,” I told him, nodding at the back door. “Just get out. Just go.”
He looked at the door and then he looked back at me. His head thrust forward suddenly and his crumpled face grinned at me fiendishly. “Oh yeah?” he said playfully. “You gonna’ make me then, are ya’? You fancy your chances eh?” I didn’t answer. He threw his half smoked roll up to the floor and lifted his hands, curling them as he beckoned to me. A dripping smile hung on his jowls. “Come on then,” he said then softly, and my skin crawled with every word. “Come on then big boy, show me what you got. I been waiting a long time to find out what you got.”
I took a sliding step towards the hallway. I wondered if my knife was still in back pocket. Anthony had given me yet another one just recently. Just in case. My breath seemed frozen in my throat, my heart felt like it had stuck, and needed a blow to get it going again. “Just get out!” I said again. “You’re disgusting. Get the hell out of here!”
It would have been nice if he had taken my advice and trudged his gloomy way out of there. But I suppose he had his orders. He stared at me for a moment, his plump lips hanging away from his teeth, saliva trailing from one side to the other, his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth. His shoulders lifted slowly, hunching up around his neck and he suddenly seemed controlled and menacing in a way he had never appeared before, with his fists up, and his head low. I swallowed. “Come on then,” the words fell softly from his wet lips, as he stepped towards me again. I swallowed. “What you waiting for? Come on then, eh? You wanna’ go rough or gentle?”
I shook my head. “Fuck off!” I threw myself towards the door, and he came at me then, spittle flying from his grimacing lips. I reached for the kitchen door, to get through it, but he kicked it out of my grip and the two of us collided against it. His hot rough hands encircled my wrists and I bucked and struggled and for a moment or two we did this strange jerky little dance around the kitchen, as I lurched and thrashed my body towards the back door instead. I thought I was getting away from him, I thought his sweaty hands were slipping on my wrists, but then I felt the edge of the table slamming into my spine, and the pain crashed sharply through my body, all the way up to my neck, and he had hold of my t-shirt then, bunching it up in his hands, and he was shaking me back and forth, as his big reddening face roared all his pent up rage down onto me.
“You little shit! You fucking little shit!” he was screaming, floods of saliva spraying from his lips, and he started to shake me forwards and back again, ramming me into the table, all the time with his screaming face pressed down into mine. “You’re gonna’ get it now!”
I fought with the floor for a grip on the lino, my trainers slipping and sliding. I kicked out at his shins and his legs, but the man was solid, like a bear, and then I was being lifted away from the table, and I was flying towards the wall, which smashed into the back of my head. I went down, clutching at my head, fighting unconsciousness as it swam in and out. My head felt full of fuzzy warmth, my eyes wanted to close. I looked up at Jack as he stood over me, panting breathlessly. I held up one hand. “Don’t do this!” I said. “You don’t have to do what he tells you to do Jack!…Tell him to fuck off! Tell the police Jack, you can help us, we can get rid of him together, we can get him locked up!” They were desperate words and a waste of my time.
He stared back down at me, his greasy grey flecked hair hanging limply over one eye. He was breathing very fast, his nostrils stretched wide open, his lips curled back and his chest rising up and down dramatically. “Too late for that,” he grunted and started to unbuckle his belt. I put my hand to my back pocket and searched for my knife. I had to lift my backside to reach it properly, and seeing me rise, he lashed out with his foot, striking me in the ribs and sending me back down to the floor again. I felt my fingertips brush the end of the knife handle and I held on, closing my eyes briefly against the pain.
“You could turn him in,” I started speaking really fast, buying time, while my fingers scrabbled with the knife. “Think about it Jack! You could fuck him right up! Get your own back! You won’t be under his thumb anymore Jack! You’d be free! We all would be!”
He kicked me again, and I pressed my head into my arm on the floor, and kept my hand in my back pocket, sliding my knees under me and finally gripping it and dragging it out. I held it in my hand and looked up at him through my hair. “I’m warning you Jack,” I told him and he just laughed. He either didn’t see the knife in my hand, or he didn’t take me seriously. He was too busy unzipping his flies, so I gave it to him. I tightened my hand around the handle, and plunged it into one of his feet. It was the nearest thing to me. He threw back his head and screeched in pain, just as his unzipped trousers slipped from his grasp and fell down to his ankles. I put both hands around the knife, got onto my knees and wrenched it back out of his foot, sending a vivid spray of red across the kitchen lino. He threw his head back again, his hands flailing up to his whitened face, as he howled in agony. I moved back, away from him, holding the knife so tightly in my hands that it hurt. His blood dripped down the blade and onto my hands, greasing them against the handle, and I kept it pointed at him, and I kept my eyes on him, and slowly, slowly, I pressed my back into the wall and eased myself up it. His head lolled forward. His eyes looked pale and deranged with pain and shock and he gawped down in slack jawed horror at the blood pumping from his foot.
“Look what you done!” he gasped, pointing. “Look what you done!”
I waved the knife at him. “Do you want any more?” I asked him. “I’ll give you some more you sick son-of-a-bitch you ever come near me again! I’ll fucking kill you! Both of you!” I held the knife still, pointed at his white washed and pinched up face. “Get out, get the fuck out of here now, you fat sack of shit, or I’ll stab you again! I’ll cut your fucking dick off!”
Jack lowered his head and moaned into his shaking hands. Then he dropped one pudgy, quivering hand down towards his trousers, and he clutched for them, and yanked them back up his old mans legs. “You don’t know what you’re doing…” he muttered, taking a step towards the door. A huge red puddle remained on the floor where he had stood. “You’re gonna’ regret this…you don’t know what you’re doin’…you shouldn’t mess with him….You don’t know what he’s capable of!”
Oh that was funny. That was so fucking funny I could have laughed my fucking head off! My head was black with rage. I felt sickened and on fire. “I fucking know!” I screamed back at him, keeping the knife up, suddenly flooded by the desire to lash out at him again with it. God, I wanted to. I wanted to see it slash through his grotty overcoat. I wanted to see his face twist up in pain and disbelief, I wanted Howard to come stumbling blindly through the door, right into my fucking knife. “I’ll kill him!” I said then. “Tell him! Go and tell him right now! Crawl back to your master little piggy! Go on! Tell him I stabbed you and I’ll stab him too! Tell him I mean it! I’ll never be his errand boy, not like you, I will never be like you!”
Jack sighed in pained misery and shuffled his bloody way towards the door. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” he said again, shaking his head at me. “You silly little boy…”
“Get out! Just get out! You disgusting fuck!”
“Alright, alright, I’m going, I’m going,” With his shoulders sagging in defeat, Jack opened the back door and whimpered in pain as he lifted his stabbed foot. Fresh blood spilled with every movement he made. His lips were pulled back in pain. He lifted the bloody foot out first, onto the doorstep, and the rest of his shapeless form followed, and he went, and he said nothing else, and I watched, not even breathing, until he was gone. And then I sprang forward and slammed the door on him. I spun around. I was breathing incredibly fast now. I was close to total panic. My mind wanted to call time and shut down on me for a while. My body was reacting suddenly and violently, shaking as I ran to the sink and held the blade under the running water. I washed my hands frantically, rubbing and scratching at my skin until all his blood was gone from me. I wanted to be sick. My stomach lurched and heaved inside of me. I grimaced in revolt as his blood circled around and around in the sink, and then I turned around and gazed dumbly down at the floor. It was covered in blood, and grotesque red footsteps. I didn’t know what to do. My brain suddenly filled with mush.