Part 6 of Everyone a Winner

“What is that?” Brandy said, with a derisive tone. “Is it Doc?”

“That, as you should well know, is Smee. Captain Hook’s first mate I believe. A pirate. I thought you liked pirates?” Dave sat back, smiling, trying to judge his daughter’s mood.

“I do like pirates. But more like Captain Jack. He looks more like Grandad.”

“Well, next time Grandad comes around, you ask him about when he was a pirate on the high seas. He doesn’t like to talk about it, it’s a bit of a secret. But you should definitely keep asking him to tell you about it until he does.”

Her eyes widened for minute, before narrowing, backed up by a good approximation of a frown.

“Come on, Dad! I’m 10. I’m not a little kid any more. You can’t fool me like that.”

“Fine,” said Dave, collecting the breakfast things together. “Don’t ask him. And then you’ll never know…”

Dave went over to the dishwasher and started stacking the cups and bowls. Chris came into the kitchen, straightening his tie.

“Tsk Tsk! Why don’t you ever rinse stuff? You’re supposed to rinse everything first!” he said, ruffling Brandy’s hair. She turned her scowl on him.

“It’s a dishwasher,” said Dave. “It’s supposed to wash dishes. There’s very little point to having one if you have to wash everything — before it washes everything.” He pushed the dishwasher door with his foot, causing the racks of crockery to clatter into place.

“We’ll never teach him how to live in a civilised house, will we Brandy?” said Chris, putting on his jacket. “Are you ready to go?”

Brandy pulled at her hair. “I was,” she said, still scowling. “Now I’ll have to brush it again.”

“Come on — you can do that in the car. Don’t look at me like that — or I’ll do it again! And you can tell Miss Harvey that both of us,” he looked over at Dave accusingly, “will be coming to parents’ evening, won’t we?”

Dave shrugged and nodded.

“Right, let’s go!” said Chris, clicking his fingers. Brandy got up from the table and grabbed her school bag, quickly turning to Dave and pulling on the collar of his bathrobe to pull his face down to kissing range.

“Bye Dad,” she said, kissing him on the cheek.

“Have a nice day, sweetheart,” he said, as she skipped away into the hall for her coat.

Chris came over and putting his hand on the side of Dave’s grizzled face, kissed him on the mouth.

“Bye Dad,” he said with a smile. “Have a nice day — and don’t forget you have to pick B up for her ballet class today — I’ll still be in surgery. OK?”

“I won’t forget. Try not to kill anybody!”

Hardie har! Just you wait!” said wagging a finger in Dave’s face.

“Come on Dad!” Brandy called from the hallway. “I thought you wanted to go!”

Coming! Bye!” Chris went out after his daughter, and Dave heard the postbox rattle as the door closed behind them.

He picked up the milk and cornflakes to put them away, and noticed that the Smee keyring was till on the table. He turned towards the door, but it was too late, of course. He’d give it to Brandy again when he collected her after school.

Dave picked up the toy to put it somewhere safe. Smee looked up at him, past the embroidered glasses on the end of his round pink nose. Dave couldn’t decide whether the dolls pose was apologetic, or questioning. The dark eyes looked sad at first, but as he met its fixed stare, it seemed to get more penitent. Was the character apologising for something that it had done, or something that it was about to do?

Truth be told, this wasn’t the prize Dave had been after in that stupid claw machine, but this was the one that somehow attached itself to the claw. Perhaps that was what Smee was apologising for? Dave shrugged and sat the doll at one end of the mantelpiece.

Dave didn’t have much to do today. He was supposed to be studying for his PhD but was kind of settling into the role of house-husband (a term he wouldn’t be caught dead saying out loud) and actually enjoying it. Of course he would never say that around his mother who was convinced that he was relying on Chris too much and needed to be more independent. But then she had never been that supportive of their marriage in the first place, whilst his dad and actually Chris’ dad too — had been totally brilliant.

Today he needed to do the washing, go to the supermarket (which he could do on the way to pick up Queen B), and not much else. One thing he was adamant about was always to get showered, shaved and dressed for the day, whether he was going out or not. Shlepping around all day in his bathrobe or even sweats, was the short way to hell as far as he was concerned.

“Hey Siri, play Innervisions by Stevie Wonder,” he said to the room.

“Now playing Innervisions by Stevie Wonder,” Siri said back.

By the time Dave had showered, shaved and dressed, Stevie was singing Just Enough for the City. Dave joined in for the lala’s.

He checked Brandy’s room for discarded laundry — but she was usually very good, insistent now about even cleaning it herself, and it so it was neat as a pin. He looked around the old toys, some she still played with, but some little more than for display. She was getting bigger everyday. And though he was very proud of her, he still dreaded the day when she wouldn’t be his little Queen B anymore.

He put the thought aside, grabbed the hamper from the bathroom and took it downstairs to the kitchen. He started loading the whites into the washing machine.

Da da daa dada daa, dadadabedabedaa…” he sang along.

He threw a plastic detergent tab in and closed the door, selecting the programme and switching it on. As usual, it whirred and clicked, and then stopped. He leaned against the door with his knee, and it clicked and came to life, water starting to pour into the drum. One of these days, he was convinced he’d come back from the shops or something and find the entire downstairs awash with sudsy water.

As the drum began to turn, something shiny caught his eye through the door. He squatted down to take a closer look — it was Smee! How the hell had he got in there? It was too late now, the squat little pirate would have to swim for his life. He just hoped that the metal key ring didn’t damage the machine or any of the clothes. Despite all the expensive designer suits Chris had, he was very proud and possessive of the tight white cotton T-shirts he wore under his shirts. They had to be pristine. If Dave damaged any of those there would be hell to pay — not to mention if any of Smee’s colours ran! But Dave was certain he’d put the doll on the mantelpiece…

There was nothing he could do about it now, so he decided not to worry about it. If the colour did run, he still had plenty of time to put the load on again with some stain remover.

He decided to catch up on some reading and so went back to the lounge area, almost tripping over the roomba on the way. It was rattling away to itself — it must have picked up a piece of grit, or at worst, lego, but he’d check it later.

He picked up his book, a yellow highlighter pen and a pencil from the coffee table, precisely where he’d left them yesterday, after falling asleep on the sofa and getting nothing done. Perhaps trying to do his reading on the sofa wasn’t a good idea? He could use Chris’ home office as long as Chris wasn’t using it, but he still felt uncomfortable. It was very much Chris’ space and he felt he was invading his privacy by being in there. B never had that problem the times when she had needed to use the computer for a homework assignment, and after asking permission she was more than happy. But still…

Dave collapsed onto the sofa and opened the book, re-read the pages he’d looked at yesterday, settled in and started to read on when there was a loud bang. The music stopped immediately, the washing machine slowly ground to a halt. Dave looked over at the TV and the Playstation — their stand-by lights were off. The mains power was down — the breaker must have tripped.

He couldn’t remember the last time this had happened but it wasn’t the first time. He went into the hall, and picking up a torch from the table by the door, he switched it on, and opened the small door under the stairs that lead to the cellar. Without thinking, he switched the cellars lights on. Of course, nothing happened. But then he thought he would leave them on, so that as soon as he reset the breaker, he wouldn’t have to rely on the torch to get back upstairs.

The bare concrete stairs leading down were gritty under his trainers, and the place smelled cold and damp, though since the renovation damp hadn’t been a problem with the house. It wasn’t that old, being built well after the war on a bomb site. What people didn’t realise these days, fifty years after the war, was that in some parts of the city bomb sites weren’t even made structurally safe or cleared until well into the 1960s and 70s. This house had been built around that time, along with the rest of the street.

The junction box was at the foot of the stairs, so he wouldn’t have to negotiate any of the junk they’d chucked down here over the past six years since they moved in. He’d often joked with Chris that he wanted to turn it into a proper man cave, with a bar, neon lights, a pool table, and a massive widescreen TV for the football. Chris said with that set-up, it was much more likely to become a Queen B nest. She’d been going through a tomboy phase at the time; it was only in the past eighteen months that everything had gone pink.

Dave opened the plastic cover on the junction box and shone the torch on the rows of little black switches trying to find the one that had snapped off. The labels underneath them were faded beyond usefulness. As he was looking, he became aware of a ticking noise. At first he thought it must be a drip — perhaps the washing machine had sprung a leak after all. But, as he listened, he realised that it was the loud tick tock of an old clock.

Immediately in his mind he saw the ancient brass-belled alarm clock that had stood next to his bed at his grandparents’ house. He’d slept on a fold-down bed in a cupboard, though enough room had been cleared for him to make it comfortable. In there, as here in the cellar, old furniture, bric a brac, and tea chests were piled with the centre piece being a massive wardrobe that everyone in his family had called the tall boy.

He could see the clock now as clearly as if he were holding it. The brass casing and bells had dulled with age, the glass had a crack in it, and the paper clock face had a brown water stain blotting out the 1. The hands were black metal, elaborately scrolled, with a mini clock face and single tiny black hand for setting the alarm. It wound with a brass key that jutted out at the back.

When he’d gone to university, he’d purposely bought a brass alarm clock that looked as much like that old antique as possible. The clock never let him down, kept good time, and was guaranteed to wake him up. He wondered what had happened to it.

Dave roused himself out of his daydream and went back to the job at hand. He found the single switch in the down position, and with some effort, switched it back into the ‘up’ position. The cellar light came on — and immediately went out — as with an audible pop, the bulb blew. Dave shone the torch at the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. It would need the stepladder, and a new bulb, so it would have to wait. He then shone the torch around the cellar, trying to find the source of the ticking, but no sooner had he begun he realised he couldn’t hear it anymore.

He dismissed it from his mind, as he closed the access door to the junction box and went back up stairs into the hall. Before closing the cellar door he checked the hall lights — which were fine — but he’d need to check the plugs too.

He went back into the living room. “Hey Siri, how are you?” he said.

“I feel good,” said Siri in reply. The lights on the washing machine were flashing — as far as he could remember, he would just have to literally switch it off and on again for the machine to realise where it had been in the cycle when it lost power.

He went over and did just that. After the indicator lights flashed three times, it whirred, clicked, and started again. He looked through the door again for Smee, but couldn’t see him. He stood up and went back to the sofa and started with shock. Smee was there, on the coffee table. But his book was gone. He picked up the little doll. It was perfectly dry. But there was no way it could have ever been in the machine in the first place, was there? Had he imagined it because it was still on his mind?

He sat Smee back on one end of the mantelpiece — where he was certain he had placed him before, and tried to remember where he had put his book down. He thought that he had left it on the sofa or back on the coffee table — nevertheless he re-traced his steps into the hall, first to the hall table to get the torch, and then to the door. There was no sign of the book, and there was no way he had taken it downstairs — he’d needed both hands, one holding the torch, the other on the bannister.

Dave went back into the living room and looked around, and from where he was, into the kitchen. There was no sign of the book. How was the possible?

Just then there was a massive THUD upstairs, loud enough to shake the ceiling and the light fitting overhead. Dave practically jumped in the air, and he was aware of his heart pounding in his ears. What the HELL was that now?He went out into the hall and up the stairs. The main bedroom was directly above the living room, so the noise must have come from there. The bedroom door was closed, but he had no memory of closing it. He opened the door expecting to find that a piece of furniture had fallen over or the fitted wardrobe had collapsed, but the room looked just as he had left it after he got dressed.

Except one thing.

His book was on the floor at the foot of the bed, as if thrown there whilst held open. He picked it up. It was open at his place, but the pages were creased and torn.

A chill ran up Dave’s back. This was impossible.

He heard a voice downstairs — who was that? Then Siri started playing something…

Don’t stop me now… don’t stop me… ‘cos I’m having a good time, having a good time!

It got louder. And louder again.

Dave dropped the book on the bed and ran downstairs, missing a few and almost falling, catching himself on the bannister at the last minute. His left shoulder wrenched painfully.

“Hey Siri…” he said, out of breath, rubbing his shoulder.

I wanna make a supersonic man outta you!

“Hey Siri, stop!”

The track ended, but just as Dave thought he’d been successful — mandolins at full volume.

Oooh life… it’s bigger. It’s bigger than you… and you are not me…

Dave dashed over to the squat white speaker on top of the breakfast bar and tapped the top, Michael Stipe was silenced.

The front door opened — and slammed closed.

Dave almost fell over in shock. “Who… who’s there?” Had Chris forgotten something? Had B been sent home sick?

He went towards the hallway door and tripped over the Roomba, going headlong, banging his head on the edge of the door on the way down. It hurt like hell. His head felt wet. Thick blood drops fell onto the pristine white carpet. Dave staggered to his feet, holding his head with one bloodied hand. There was no-one in the hall. He turned right, heading for the downstairs toilet. He opened the door and snapped on the light. There was a mirror above the sink that he was now bleeding into. He grabbed some toilet roll and momentarily soaked up the blood. The wound wasn’t that big at all, perhaps just over an inch long and not very deep. He reached over and grabbed the first aid kit from the shelf behind the toilet cistern. He tore open some cotton wool, and once the bleeding slowed, he used a sterile wipe. It stung, but his head was hurting so much anyway it almost came as a relief. After carefully drying the skin either side of the wound, he used a steristrip to pull it together before covering the whole thing with a big fabric plaster. He didn’t think he’d need stitches. He let out a long sigh of relief, before looking down at his hands and at the sink. There was blood everywhere, and on his hands it was ingrained into the ridges in his skin. He was about to wash his hands but then looked back at the trail he’d left behind him.

When they bought the furniture and carpets, it had been Chris who argued that white was crazy with a small child, and everything from blood, chocolate to poo would at some time be trod into the carpet. But Dave knew that Chris liked that look too and he hadn’t been that difficult to win over. And over the past ten years, Queen B had helped keep the environment pristine, truly her fathers’ daughter. It was somehow poetic that Dave had himself turned the lounge and hall carpet into a bloody horror.

He grabbed some spray cleaner and a clean cloth from under the sink, and went back to the lounge. On the way he went suddenly dizzy and crashed heavily into the wall with his left shoulder. Concussion? That was possible. Maybe he should go to A&E after all. But if he left that bloodstain, it would never come out.

He sprayed some of the cleaner on the cloth and wiped the blood off the door. Then sprayed some neat on a small patch of carpet. It seemed to have no ill effect, so he proceeded to scrub at the carpet until all that was left was a slightly pink tinge. He’d need some professional carpet cleaner. Something for the shopping list for later. He crawled across the floor, cleaning the evidence as he went. When he got back to the toilet, he pulled himself up, cleaned the sink and washed his hands. Catching his reflection in the mirror, he looked decidedly unwell, his skin almost grey. A livid purple bruise was beginning to appear around the edges of the sticking plaster.

“Hospital,” he said to his reflection. He couldn’t drive in this condition, and he’d feel stupid getting an ambulance. It’s not like he was at death’s door or had an arm hanging off. Perhaps of he just took some aspirin, put an ice pack on his head and waited a few minutes. He’d probably feel a lot better.

He went back into the kitchen and getting a plastic cup, pushed the lever in the fridge door for the ice maker. The machine growled and whined, and then stopped. He tried again but this time it fell silent. He opened the door and welcomed the sudden blast of cold air. The ice maker was jammed somehow — all he managed to prise out was a couple of broken cubes and slivers.

They did have a proper ice pack somewhere, but Dave couldn’t find it. Besides, the ice he’d managed to salvage would be lost inside it. He got out a clean tea towel and wrapped the ice in that. Likewise, he couldn’t find any aspirin. It seemed the kitchen cupboard where they kept medicines and such only contained empty boxes — empty save the instruction leaflet that remained inside each one. He wondered why it was that every time he opened one of those boxes — no matter if he consciously changed ends at the last minute — he always, without fail, picked the wrong end.

Giving up, he retreated to the lounge and collapsed onto one of the sofas, pressing the damp cold tea towel to his head. Was he starting to feel better? He felt like he had forgotten something…

The door! He never checked the door!

He sat up and listened. He couldn’t hear anything except the washing machine.

“Hello?” he called. But surely if Chris or B had come in, they would have seen him fall.

He got to his feet with a bit of a struggle. He still felt a little woozy, but he thought it was passing. He went out into the hall — the door was closed. He walked over — it was on the latch, it couldn’t have been opened from the outside without a key. He must have imagined it — perhaps a truck outside or something.

He went back into the living room, though now he didn’t know what to do — he couldn’t study now, he’d left his book upstairs anyway… but no he hadn’t, his book was back on the coffee table. Something caught his eye in the kitchen — the freezer door was wide open, but he was certain he’d closed it. He walked into the kitchen past the breakfast bar — and his feet went from under him immediately. He fell fast and hard, landing on his back, winded. He laid there for a second before realising that his back was wet and cold. The kitchen floor was covered with ice cubes. He pulled himself up against the counter, and gingerly made his way back to to the carpeted area of the lounge. His back hurt like hell — he’d fallen hard on some of the cubes that had obviously resisted somewhat before crushing under the impact. He started to shiver, and his head felt worse. He’d have to do something about the water all over the kitchen floor, so he went into the hall to get a mop and bucket from under the stairs. The bucket was there, but the mop was gone. Had Chris used it for something and not put it back? That wasn’t like him.

He went back into the lounge. The freezer door was closed. Had it somehow closed when he fell? That wasn’t likely.

There must be someone in the house.

“Chris? Brandy?” he called. “Look, I think I’ve really hurt myself. This isn’t funny anymore, OK? Chris?”

He went back towards the kitchen. The floor looked dry. He was beginning to doubt himself so much he actually felt the back of his shirt with his hand to check that it really was wet.

The washing machine was going into the spin cycle. The drum turned, and then reversed, turning the other way to make sure that the contents were evenly dispersed. But they clearly weren’t. The drum began to accelerate, but as it did, the whole machine began to vibrate eccentrically and noisily, at first shuddering and rattling in place, and then moving in its fitted place in the work units, bashing into the cupboards at either side and the underside of the marble worktop — which now, as Dave watched in disbelief, cracked across from front to back sending razor-sharp splinters in al directions. Dave instinctively covered his face just in time as one punctured the back of his hand.

The machine bounced, clattered and walked out of its place, now violently bouncing in all directions. It came to the full extent of the grey rubber drainage pipe — which now tore apart. Dirty grey water started to spew out the back, as now freed from that insubstantial tether, the machine got even more violent.

Dave looked on in horror. The marble splinter that had hit him was just over two inches long and gone through the back of his right hand to the palm. A sharp black point was all that was visible at both sides, nowhere near enough to give purchase to pull it out.

But he had to stop the machine. The only thing that he could think of was to throw the main breaker.

He limped back to the hallway to get the torch — but that had gone too. He was absolutely certain he’d put it back. He looked around the hall desperately but could see it nowhere. The thunderous noise from the kitchen was now being punctuated by a crunching sound — the machine was smashing the floor tiles.

He bounced off the walls to the cellar door. Opening it, he crashed into the top of the stairwell, and turned on the lights. The bulb was swinging in all directions from the vibrating floor above it. The whole cellar began to rock to match the shifting shadows, just like the deck of a ship in a storm. But didn’t the bulb need changing?

Dave started slowly down the stairs again, his left hand holding on to the hand rail for dear life, his right arm pressed against the wall on that side — his punctured hand was useless to support himself. He looked at it again in the harsh white light. It wasn’t bleeding — it just felt numb.

One step.

Two steps.

Three steps — he caught himself just in time as the stairs seemed to swing away from underneath him.

Four steps…

He was breathing heavily, sweating despite his wet clothes.

Five.

He missed the step completely, pulling hard on his left arm to stop himself — but then the whole handrail came away from the wall. He screamed — but even he couldn’t hear it over the racket from upstairs. He landed on the concrete floor at the foot of the stairs on his right shoulder. He heard the bone break like a gunshot inside his head. The shoulder also displaced. Dave screamed again, the pain so intense he almost passed out.

After some time, he didn’t know how long, he mentally checked the rest of his body. His back felt worse somehow, but his legs were OK. He was still holding the handrail — which he tried to toss away in disgust, but it just bounced back against his leg.

He noticed then that it was quiet again. The washing machine had stopped, either coming to the end of the cycle, shaking itself to junk or pulling out its own plug.

Dave tried to calm himself. He needed to move — there was no-one coming home to get him, and lying here, going into shock — couldn’t happen. He tried to sit up — the pain in his shoulder made him cry out again as he did so. He would just have to bear it. He turned towards the stairs, and started to slowly crawl up, holding his useless arm to his body as best he could. At least now, the light had stopped swinging. He had made it about half way up when the breaker tripped with a bang and the light went out. His heart almost stopped from the sudden noise. He should have expected that — the water must have shorted something out. He could still see as the door at the top of the stairs was open. All he had to do was wait until his eyes became accustomed to the gloom.

His breathing seemed very loud and raspy in his ears now, and every breath brought a sting of pain. Satisfied that this was as good as his eyes were going to get, Dave started crawling again.

One step.

One breath.

One step.

One breath.

And the door slammed closed, leaving him in total darkness.

“No!” he cried. “Hello? Who’s there? Who’s up there? I’m hurt! Please… please help me.”

He started moving again, feeling his way.

“Please. Help me. Please. I don’t… I don’t deserve this.”

His groping left hand closed on something. Fabric, soft, but a metal piece — a metal ring.

Smee!

And he could hear faintly, now getting louder, somewhere behind him in the dark…

Tick

Tock

Tick

Tock

Tick…

Author, photographer and trade union activist. Lived in Japan for 5 years, now working at Cambridge University. Written for Big Finish/BBC Enterprises - Doctor Who and Robin Hood. Two books currently available on Amazon - see my non-fiction on Medium. All content ©Michael Abberton 2020

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