All the places you think are real, are real. Events and people are pure invention.
I got us another round to give him a couple of minutes privacy. When I got back, he started up again. “So I was the only one who’d go back in,” he said. “The others were freaked out by the change in temp, but I knew it had to be done. The smell was bad, but not unbreathable. I’ve smelt worse. My dad used to love cabbage soup.”
A good fart joke never hurts.
“It was coming from the bedroom. That old cupboard…the doors had swung open.
“Inside…was a man. The remains of a man. Mostly bones by now, but my first thought was that it was an old leather coat or something. But spongy. And crumbling. And just fucking awful.”
“I remember that!” I said. “That body found. Killed himself or something.”
He looked at me. “You don’t seem easily shocked. A lot of people would have run by now.”
“I want to hear the end of the story. If I can track down where the toy car came from, I might be able to tell my friend something about her son. Plus, I watch a lot of horror movies.”
“Yeah? Me too. I was thinking of a Friday the 13th marathon New Year’s Eve. Keep away from the madness. You could join me.”
That could have been the moment I decided to sleep with him. I’m not sure. “What about the fireworks?”
New Year’s Eve is about tallying up. Making good on the past by planning for the future. It’s a time for redemption. I had a feeling this was going to be a good year.
“You’d be able to see them from those millionaire apartments once they build them.”
“I’ve already put my order in for three,” I said. That was my joke for the day.
“Would you really live there? If you could afford it? Cos I reckon it’s haunted as all fuck. I don’t reckon it matters what they build. It’s going to a freak fest.”
“Some people don’t care about that stuff. They just don’t see it.”
Blind, I thought I heard. Blind and stupid.
“So you saw this poor man?”
“Yeah, and I felt pressure in my eardrums. Weird. Like someone was trying to get in, like a worm or something. And that humming, louder. I started singing some stupid song to drown it out.”
“It’s really stupid…usually girls sing it. I Will Survive.”
And I laughed and we both started singing. We’d had enough beer by then.
“So that’s where I got the toy car. That and the other stuff in the crate. And other stuff I’ve already sold.”
“But how did he get a toy that belongs to a missing kid? Why did he have it?”
“I don’t know. I’ll guess you’ll have to ask them.”
He pointed, like death pointing its way to the light.
Bram Stoker, twice-World Fantasy Award Nominee and Shirley Jackson Award winner Kaaron Warren has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She’s sold more than 200 short stories, three novels (the multi-award-winning Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification) and six short story collections including the multi-award-winning Through Splintered Walls. Her latest short story collection is Cemetery Dance Select: Kaaron Warren. You can find her at kaaronwarren.wordpress.com and she Tweets @KaaronWarren
Part six of The Public Menace of Blight will be published on the site tomorrow.
The title comes from Pritchett, Wendell E. 2003. The “Public Menace” of Blight: Urban Renewal and the Private Uses of Eminent Domain. Yale Law & Policy Review 21, 1-52.