Here’s the opening of a crime novel. Or it could be a short story in its own right. I wrote it for a competition, but it didn’t win, so rather than waste it I thought I’d share it here.
Just a warning – it’s a wee bit sweary, so if you don’t like bad words, don’t read it. And if you don’t like bad words and choose to read it anyway, that’s your bad! So, here it is…
Child of The Sea
“I killed her.”
“What?” Eve spins around, an empty mug in each hand.
“ It was me. I did it. I murdered her.”
“The woman whose body was found washed up on the shore yesterday.”
“Right.” Eve rolls her eyes, and turns back around. “Is this kettle another one of your eco-friendly contraptions? How do you even switch the bloody thing on?”
I get up from the seat at the kitchen table, and flick the kettle on, then walk over to the window. Eve’s fiddling about with tea bags. She has her back to me.
I close my eyes and press my forehead against the freezing glass. It cools the sick-laced sweat that builds inside me every time I think about what I did—how the woman’s bright blue eyes flooded with blood, and she clawed at my face as I squeezed the final drop of life out of her. I belch silently and the acrid taste of vomit fills my mouth. You had no choice. Reminding myself of that usually relaxes me, but not this time. Panic is still dancing in my head.
I need to calm down. I need to play this out as per the chapter says. Otherwise everything I’ve put myself through over the last six weeks will have been for nothing.
I open my eyes to gaze across the road at the sea. It’s my favourite view, and the reason I moved to this shitty flat in this shitty town—it allows me to see the sea at its most rugged, it’s most real, it’s most beautiful. And I know more than most how ugly it can be.
In the dreary winter blackness all I catch is a flash of white foam as a single wave thrashes the edge of the pier. Even that’s enough to provide me with the reassurance I need to carry on.
Eve’s chattering on about something, but I’m not listening. All I hear is the swoosh of cars driving through the rain. I make a conscious effort to tune in to her. I need to follow what the chapter says. Word for word.
“…why you’re acting so weird. I mean, we know you’ve always been—well—different.” Eve laughs down her nose. “But recently, you have to admit, you’ve been acting weird even by your standards. Now you’re spouting some nonsense about killing people. For God’s sake, Helena, what’s the matter with you?”
She turns around and heads for the table. Her skirt swings as she moves, unlike her highlighted blonde hair, which doesn’t budge an inch. I shove my short mousey mop behind my ear. How are we sisters?
“Mum and I haven’t heard from you for over a month, you haven’t been at work for ages, according to Sinead, and when was the last time you went out?”
I go back to the table, and plonk myself on a chair. “This morning.”
Eve peers at me from under her fringe. It strikes me it’s the first time she’s actually looked at me since she arrived ten minutes ago.
“I mean out properly. With friends. If you’ve got any, that is. I know you’re always out in that boat of yours. I don’t know how you do it, go out rowing like that, not after—.”
Her voice trails off. She doesn’t need to say any more. We both know what she means, but we don’t talk about it. We’ve never talked about it. It’s as if we don’t mention it, we can pretend it never happened.
“It’s not a boat. It’s a canoe. Besides, it helps me deal with things.”
Eve puts my stripey teapot down on the table, and liquid sploshes out of the spout onto the newspaper beneath.
I swipe the tea off the paper with the sleeve of my woolly jumper. It seeps through and scalds my skin. I wince, but otherwise don’t react. I deserve the pain for what I’ve done, and for what I’m about to do.
“Eve. I asked you here so I could tell you something. I need you to listen. Please, just listen.”
“I’m all ears, little sis’,” she says, but she’s turned her attention to pouring the tea. She’s not looking at me anymore.
“Her.” I jab my finger at the photo in the newspaper of the smiling woman under the headline, Body Found under Fleeston Pier.
That day I killed her, did she wake up knowing it would be her last?
Is that what Eve’s thinking now?
I watch her pull a Canderel out of her handbag, and press the top so a tiny pellet of fake sugar drops into her tea.
Who am I kidding? She hasn’t got a clue. I’m glad. I might be a killer but I’m not a psychopath. And whatever contempt I may hold for my older sister, we still share the same blood, the same secret.
She taps the teaspoon against her mug so it makes a delicate chink sound, places it on the table, and only then does she look where I’m pointing. “Who’s she?”
“The woman I murdered.”
She picks up her mug and takes a tentative sip. “Now, why would you do that, Helly?”
I hate it when she calls me that. I can tell from her patronising tone that she doesn’t believe me, but then I don’t blame her. I’ve never so much as shoplifted sweets from a newsagent. I’m going to have to do a better job of convincing her. The book says she has to believe me before I can complete the chapter. And if I don’t follow the rules, I know what will happen.
I lift the book from the seat of the chair beside me. “Because of this.”
Eve pauses, her mug halfway to her lips. She cocks her head and reads the words on the cover. “The Child from The Sea.” She shoots me a wary look. I know what she’s thinking. It’s what I thought when I first saw it.
“Have you told someone what happened to us? We promised each other we’d never tell. Helena, what have you done?” Her voice quivers, and I know why. If anyone found out about that day, her life would fall apart. So would mine, if I had one.
“Of course I haven’t told anyone. It’s a coincidence, that’s all.” I put the book down on the table in front of her.
She chews her thumbnail like she always used to when she was a kid. She picks up the book and turns it around, but the back is blank. “Well, if that’s the case,” she says. “It’s just another book. You spend your life with your head in them. Always have done since you were little, and now you work in a library, where you’re surrounded by them.” She drops the heavy hardback back onto the table. “What has this got to do with that poor woman whose body was found on the beach?”
I press my back against the chair, and cross my legs. I’m starting to relax now I’ve got her attention. “It was delivered to me six weeks ago.”
“By whom?” She pronounces the ‘m’ deliberately, as if making a point she knows the correct grammar, which is hilarious, since she couldn’t even pass her English GCSE.
“No idea.” I lean forward and run the nail of my index finger along the indented title letters. “It just turned up outside my door one night. There was a knock, I went to see who it was, but no-one was there. Just this book. And a note.”
“A note?” She raises her eyebrows. She wants me to hurry up. She has things to do. Children to feed, a husband to look after, so she constantly reminds me. I’m sure she says it just to make me feel inadequate at being single and childless.
I open up the front cover to reveal the note tucked inside. Eve narrows her eyes at me, then reaches into her handbag to retrieve her glasses. She lifts up the piece of paper, and scans the typed words in silence. The crease between her eyes deepens the more she reads.
“What the fucking hell, Helena?”
That takes me aback. I haven’t heard my sister swear since she married Mr Middle Class, and started pronouncing every consonant.
“Please tell me you didn’t,” she says.
“Not at first, no, but then things started to happen, just as the note says, and I realised I had no choice.”
“So for the last six weeks you’ve done whatever this book told you?”
I nod, and smile. For the second time in a week, a spark of euphoria breaks out of my bones and seeps into my blood.
“Helena, are you saying this book ordered you to kill someone?”
I nod again.
She reaches for my hand, but I snatch it away. “Helly, are you okay? Do you want me to call the doctor?”
“No. I’m fine.”
Eve shakes her head. “You don’t really expect me to believe this, do you? It’s creeping me out. Why are you doing this to me? You know I suffer with my nerves.”
Here we go again. Always about her. Here I am confessing to murder, and she’s talking about her bloody nerves. Precious Eve and her poxy anxiety. We were both there on that day—the one we don’t talk about—so how come she’s the only one who’s screwed up as a result?
“Like I said,” I lean back again, and fold my arms across my chest. “I had no choice. I ignored it at first, thought it was the young lads who live upstairs playing silly buggers. But then things started happening, bad things, the things the note says will happen if I don’t read the book and do what it tells me. So I read the first chapter, and my luck changed. Then things just got better and better. You’ll never guess what it says will happen when I get to the end.”
“Has your depression come back, is that the problem?” A drop of spittle flies out of her mouth as she talks. It lands square on the photo of my victim. I watch it splodge and disfigure my victim’s fresh young face. Funny, she looked a bit like that when I was killing her.
“The only problem,” I say, and roll up my sleeves, “is that in order to get to the happy end, I need to get through some difficult chapters.”
“What are you talking about, Helly? You’re obviously not thinking straight.” She shakes her head.
Why does she have to keep calling me that? “I mean, I have to kill again.”
“That’s it. I’m calling for help. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We’ll get this sorted.” She picks her mobile phone off the table, jumps up from her chair, and leans against the kitchen counter so she’s facing me. She’s frightened of what I might do. Just as the book said she would be. This might be easier than I thought.
“Waste of time”, I say. “The signal here’s crap.”
She holds the phone to her ear regardless. Against the deathly quiet of my flat I hear the no-signal tone.
Slowly, she lowers the device from her ear. I notice a strand of her cardboard hair has become misplaced.
“Have to kill who exactly?” she asks me.
Hmm, no whom now. The blood’s drained from her face and she’s so pale that she complements the white goods in my kitchen remarkably well.
I shift my gaze to the knife block a few feet away from where she’s standing. She follows my line of sight and clocks what I’m looking at. Her eyes widen so much they look like they’re going to pop out of their sockets. She already knows the answer.