All the places you think are real, are real. Events and people are pure invention.
They were clearer, with two of us focussed on them. Five I thought, but he said six. I heard that creaking noise and it was them, shifting from foot to foot. Even above the noise of the pub I could hear it.
“You do see them, don’t you?”
“I think they’re the other people who died in the flats. These are their things. I think that guy, the dead guy collected them up.”
One was an old lady, her hair white, messy. Save the boy. Save him from his father, I thought I heard her say. Another was a young man, bright red hair, who leaped up and down, bouncing like a ball, Fucker, fucker fucker, give it back, and another a young woman, skinny, far too skinny. She didn’t speak. It seemed to me she couldn’t. There was a man in a doctor’s coat, and he was the one saying I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry and I wondered what kind of doctor he’d been to feel such guilt.
I didn’t see Riley amongst them. No child, and only the red-haired young man.
“Those things are theirs,” Dylan said.
“What about the toy car? I don’t think Riley died there. He supposedly died in the childcare fire.”
Poor love poor love poor lost love, they whispered. I couldn’t really tell one from the other any more. It was like looking at a glass of water with coloured oil drops in it. They swirled together, merged. Remaining distinct but not really.
I shivered in the warm pub. This was too much. But I asked them, “What happened to the little boy? To Riley? Where is he? He’s not with you.” I had no idea if they could hear me or not.
Where is he?
It was another voice, disembodied. The ghosts whirled, seemed to change colour, as if terrified. I smelled roses and my eyes began to ache.
Don’t tell him. Don’t tell him. Don’t tell him, the red-haired young man said. And the doctor too, keep him safe, keep him safe. And the old lady, Bravest boy, tricked his mean old Dad at last and ran, don’t let his dad get him back again.
“Where is he?”
Where is he? That disembodied voice again, echoing me.
We don’t know. We know nothing. I felt cold fingers on me. I could see my skin changing tint and I could feel the cold in my blood, hear it in my ears, drowning out all else. I could smell roses, like they say people about to have a stroke can smell oranges, and I wondered if that was happening.
“Come on,” Dylan said. He took the box of items, and deposited one on each table. There’s all sorts of weird stuff on the walls at the George Harcourt Inn. No one would notice. He dumped the crate in the bin.
We walked outside to the beer garden and stood in the bright sunlight, leaving them writhing, weaving about, in and out, mouths wide, fingers stretched, reaching.
“Okay, I’m glad you did that. But what about Riley? We need to know what happened to him,”
“We need to know,” Dylan said.
But his lips weren’t moving.
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.