THANATOS: Please, somebody, I just want to be killed.
ABADDON: Well go on and die, spineless bastard. Haven’t got the guts to do it yourself? ’ll do it for you.
I pressed the Send button and closed the page. I can’t be doing with the crap people talk on the Net. What kind of a stupid site was that anyway? Autoassass? Not as if I was looking for a site full of sickos like that. I was only browsing true crime and somehow it popped up.
Makes you wonder what goes on behind those blank faces you see on the street. Mostly nothing – half of them barely alive, never done nothing, never thought anything past the next football match, pizza night or mortgage payment and the other half are raving bonkers behind their empty faces. God knows what’s going on there. You can understand why people run amok with guns, putting a load of them out of their misery. People deserve to die if you ask me.
That night I dreamed about hiding out in the wood overlooking our town with a telescopic rifle, picking off everyone who ever gave me a hard time: school teachers, bullies, Mum, Dad and most of all my horrible brother Brian.
I kept thinking about the dream all next day at college. I’ve had that dream so many times and while the lecturer was droning on about T.S.Eliot and J. Alfred Prufrock, I was thinking that if I had a gun in my desk I could take out half the class before anyone stopped me. I made a list in my head of the ones I hated most and their proximity to the line of sight but it was all just a daydream like the way I imagine sniping at the zombies on the bus and in the street.
I’d forgotten about Autoassass till I got home and went upstairs to log on. There was the URL in my recent history and I couldn’t resist clicking on it.
THANATOS: Abaddon? Really? I want to die. I mean it. Are you in UK?
This was a laugh. I hit Reply.
ABADDON: Happy to oblige. I’m in North West. What do you fancy?
The reply was almost instant.
THANATOS: I don’t need to know. You choose.
ABADDON: Joker. You almost had me there.
THANATOS: I’m deadly serious. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always daydreamed about it, hoping someone would kill me. You don’t know how many times I’ve hung around dark alleys, hoping to meet a serial killer. When I read stories of people being murdered or hear about them on the news, I think how lucky they are. No one ever takes me seriously. I thought you might be different.
I didn’t know how to answer that. Surely he didn’t mean it? I was assuming it was ‘he.’ I was getting a creepy feeling; it wasn’t such fun any more. I felt like he could see me, see that I was getting scared. I logged off. Good job because the next thing I heard footsteps thumping up the stairs and I closed the site down quick before Brian burst in.
‘Clear off Ashley, I need to use it now.’ He almost pushed me out of the chair and sat down in it himself.
‘I hadn’t finished,’ I said, even though I had.
‘Use your phone,’ he muttered, already scrolling through his Facebook timeline.
I aimed an imaginary gun at the back of his fat neck and went back to my own room. I played some music, messed about on Facebook and tweeted a few mates. I didn’t really believe Thanatos but I was thinking about it after all. It was stupid to be scared, it was only a game, only a laugh. He didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know him. I brought the Autoassass site up on my phone and logged into the chatroom. It was like something I couldn’t stay away from even though it was crazy.
There was another message for me.
I thought about it. Hadn’t I always wanted to kill – ever since I could remember? Every time I couldn’t get what I wanted that rage would rush up and now all the time it boiled in my head. All I could think was how stupid people were and how they all got in my way, none of them deserved to live and spoil life for people like me. Maybe it would make me feel better, going along with it, just playing the game to see where it went.
Things went on as always the next day; usual crap at breakfast, Dad reading drivel out of the paper, Mum rushing round dishing out toast and slathering herself in lipstick at the same time, Brian slurping cereal like a pig.
College was boring, boring, boring. I kept my phone under the desk on silent and I kept checking Autoassass. It was like I was the hero of some game designed especially for me; it beat playing Candy Crush any day but hours passed with no message from Thanatos. So, he was just a knob acting stupid after all, then just as the day had stretched its boredom to snapping point in the last hour before home time I felt the phone vibrate and there it was, Thanatos, and there was a photo.
He was old, old as my dad if not older. Dark hair and glasses, he looked a bit like the bloke who had our corner shop but it wasn’t him. He looked like any zombie you could see on the street any day and I thought, why am I bothering? He could be a paedo trying to get me to meet him and then I thought people like that deserve to die anyway. I thought of all sorts of things I’d like to do to him and while I was still thinking about it the class broke up for the day.
On the bus home I got another message.
THANATOS: We need to talk
I typed, Later and put the phone away.
When I got home no one else was back yet. I went up to the study and turned on the computer. I scrolled through family photos till I found a head and shoulders shot of Brian taken on the beach at Pwlheli on last year’s holiday. I brought up Autoassass and posted the photo to Thanatos.
THANATOS: Handsome lad.
I really was starting to think he was a perve, a blind one at that if he thought our Brian was handsome. Suddenly the door opened and I jumped.
‘There you are,’ Mum said. ‘Come on, we’re going out for pizza, just us three. Brian’s got his evening class.’
Big deal. She obviously thought so. Boring Pizza Hut full of dickheads and their squawking kids shoving sticky fingers everywhere. I silently machine-gunned the lot and checked my phone.
THANATOS: Are you up for it then?
THANATOS: Why would you want to?
ABADDON: I’ve always wanted to.
THANATOS: I was hoping you’d say that.
ABADDON: How do you want it done?
‘Have some more coleslaw,’ Mum shoved the container under my nose.
THANATOS: I told you it’s up to you.
ABADDON: I like guns but I don’t have one.
THANATOS: There are lots of other ways.
‘Stop fiddling with that bloody phone.’ Dad said with his mouth full of stuffed crust. ‘What are you doing anyway?’
‘Just playing a game.’
‘Can’t you wait till you get home?’ He puffed crumbs across the table.
‘It’s boring here,’ I said.
THANATOS: There are conditions. I don’t want to see you, or know the moment. You must surprise me.
‘Put it away, Ash.’ Mum cut me another slice of pizza. ‘Honestly, you kids.’
I clicked the phone shut. I was thinking he’d get a surprise all right if I turned up instead of Brian. It was really fun, almost as if it was real and the more I thought about it, the more real it got. Soon as we got home I ran up to the study and the computer.
THANATOS: Are you there? Don’t mess me about.
ABADDON: I’m not.
THANATOS: You’ll really do it? I’m desperate.
ABADDON: What’s your name?
THANATOS: No names, no info. I told you. How do I know I can trust you?
ABADDON: I told you, I’ve always wanted to kill someone and it’s getting worse. If it’s not you it could be anybody in the street.
As I typed this I realised it was true and suddenly it stopped being a game. I took my fingers off the keys and for a moment I couldn’t breathe.
THANATOS: Wouldn’t want that on my conscience, lol.
I couldn’t go on. It was like standing on a cliff. He was serious and it was up to me which way we jumped. ‘You haven’t got the nerve’ a voice said in my head and that tipped me over the edge.
ABADDON: Leave it with me, I need to think.
I thought about it all night. I didn’t have the strength to strangle or drown someone and even though he might want to die surely reflexes would take over to make him struggle at the end. Hit men always did a clean job in the films and I wanted to be the same. I didn’t have access to poison darts or anything like that and it was no use planning to slip something in a drink if I wasn’t supposed to let him see me.
I went into the garage and looked in Dad’s toolbox. Peter Sutcliffe used a hammer but was I strong enough to do the same properly? I looked at the screwdrivers but they didn’t look sharp enough to make a deep thrust, unless I went for his eyes and that meant coming face to face with him too. No, it had to be one of Mum’s Sabatier knives. She kept them really sharp.
I was still thinking about it at breakfast the next morning after dreaming about gouts of blood in gushing fountains. What would it be like to stab someone? Would the blade slip in as if into butter or would the skin resist, a tough layer to be pierced before the knife slid into the organs?
I spent the morning in class looking up the structure of the body on my phone. It wouldn’t do to hit a bone or miss a vital spot.
THANATOS: St John’s Gardens, Liverpool, 9th July, 1 pm. Don’t let me see you. I love you so much for doing this.
ABADDON: Is this for real?
THANATOS: Don’t doubt it. Don’t let me down.
Saturday was only two days away. Of course I wouldn’t go – or if I went it would only be to look – but I went down to the kitchen and took Mum’s knives out of the block, testing their sharpness on my finger.
‘What are you doing?’
I jumped when Mum came in. ‘Er – nothing.’ I turned away to the fridge, stuffing the knife under my tee shirt. ‘Just getting a Coke.’
‘You drink too much Coke,’ Mum said. ‘What have you done to your finger?’
I looked down and saw blood leaking out. ‘Cut it on the printer paper,’ I invented. ‘Trying to print my coursework.’
‘Well, don’t stand there dripping,’ Mum said. ‘The plasters are in the bathroom. Honestly!’
I went upstairs, sucking the blood and thought about putting the knife into Thanatos. I might get only one stab, from the back, should I go for lung or kidney? Maybe I should go for the neck, it wouldn’t do for him to survive. The thought excited me. I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it and I knew if I didn’t do it, I would regret it all my life. I would never know peace.
But even on the bus with my mother’s knife in my inside pocket, the blade pressing in my chest, I still didn’t believe it was real. I thought I would go to the gardens and nothing would happen, Thanatos wouldn’t be there, and I wouldn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
There weren’t many people in the gardens, it was a dull day. I looked around for a while, thinking he’d been having me on all the time. I even thought maybe he was an undercover cop looking for potential criminals but then I hadn’t actually done anything wrong, had I? Then I saw him, or I thought it was him, sitting with his back to me on a bench down at the bottom end of the gardens, away from the path people used to cut through to the Walker Art Gallery and the museum.
I walked up and down a bit, even walked right past in front of him to make sure it was him. He was expecting Brian, not me, so he wouldn’t recognise me and I needed to make sure, I didn’t want to hit on the wrong bloke. He smiled as I went by and he just looked ordinary like some guy who was sitting there waiting for his wife to finish her shopping or until his train was due at Lime Street station just across the road.
My heart thumped as I circled round to the back of the bench and I wandered up and down still not knowing what I was going to do next. ‘See, you can’t do it,’ the voice said in my head and I took a deep breath and looked round. There were people walking along the path at the top of the gardens but no one down this end. I took the knife out of my pocket and I just went up quickly and slid it into him, making sure I aimed at the right lung. It went in between his ribs like it was just a joke. I pulled it out and it was like nothing had happened, except that the blade was streaked with red. He sort of went, ‘Oof’ and fell forward and I stuck it in again on the other side to make sure both lungs got it.
He didn’t move after that, just slumped down and made a funny, rattling noise. I didn’t dare wait to make sure he was dead. There was hardly any blood which was good, wouldn’t attract attention. I looked back as I headed out of the gardens. He just looked like some old drunk sleeping it off on the bench. I went out of the lower gateway and melted into the crowds round St. John’s Precinct.
I was on a high that I’d actually done it. I was different to everyone around me but I’d always known that. At tea-time I couldn’t eat for excitement but there was nothing on the news so I felt a bit deflated and had to keep telling myself it was real, not something I’d imagined or dreamed.
‘Have you had my vegetable knife?’ Mum said to Dad.
‘Me?’ He looked at her across the kitchen table.
‘You’re always taking my knives to tinker with things in the shed.’
I’d forgotten about the knife, still in my coat pocket. I went upstairs and washed it clean in the bathroom sink. Watching the bloody water swirl down the plughole I felt so important.
It was on the late night news but only on the local bulletin. I guess murder isn’t so unusual any more. It didn’t say much, just that a man had been found dead with stab wounds in St John’s Gardens. A few hours had gone by before someone found him and no one had come forward to say they’d seen anything suspicious.
I switched off my TV and lay back on my bed. How clever I was; how easy it had been. I burst out laughing.
‘What’s so funny?’ Brian came clumping in my room. The knife was on my bed and I covered it quickly with my pillow.
‘Get out! Don’t you come in here without knocking.’
He hung in the doorway so I pretended to scroll through my phone messages, ignoring him and after a minute he went away. Later I took the knife downstairs and put it in the dishwasher with the rest of the cutlery. I slept like a baby. All that tension in my head had gone, just as I’d hoped. From now on I would be happy.
The next day everything was normal except that I carried the secret inside me like a hidden jewel. At lunchtime I went into town and treated myself to a cheeseburger. I went window shopping to Curry’s, looking at laptops and tablets and wondering if Mum and dad might get me one of my own for Christmas instead of having to share with Brian.
All the TVs in Curry’s were on the news and I stopped dead when Thanatos’s photo flashed up on the screen. His name was Andrew Wilmslow, a nerdy name that suited him but the photo of a hard-faced blonde took his place and the newsreader announced that his wife Shirley was being questioned in connection with the murder. I couldn’t think what he meant, it didn’t make sense.
‘Everything all right?’ I opened my eyes. A sales lad touched my arm. I saw everyone in the shop was looking at me. I realised I was clinging to the shelf at the edge of the counter and I was shaking all over.
‘I’m fine.’ I pushed him away, went outside and walked till my head cleared and then I started laughing. It was perfect for me if they hung it on her. No wonder he wanted to die, hitched to an ugly cow like that. In all the crime programmes I’ve watched the partner is always the main suspect but of course this time they were barking up the wrong tree. They’d probably soon realise that.
Why was everyone on the street staring at me? I realised I was laughing out loud, so hard that tears were running down my cheeks. I felt light as a feather. I gave them all the finger, all the stupid sods, and made my way back to college.
I was right about the police. When I got home there was a cop car outside and at first my legs shook but of course they’d come for Brian, not me. One of the plods had Brian in handcuffs. That was awesome. My heart swelled. Not so big now, I wanted to laugh in his face but instead I put on a concerned expression.
‘What’s going on?’
‘This is my daughter, Ashley,’ Mum said. Her blue eyes looked black against the white of her face.
‘What’s up?’ I said but she just shook her head and Brian looked like a cow that’s been hit with a stun gun.
‘I’ll have to go with him.’ Mum dragged on a jacket. ‘Your dad’s on his way home. You’ll be all right love.’ She pulled me into a hug. Over her shoulder I saw another cop coming down the stairs with the computer wrapped in clear plastic.
I went upstairs and looked at myself in the mirror. I was grinning from ear to ear. I brushed out my long blonde hair and practised a demure smile, a bit tremulous and fearful. Who would ever suspect me?
‘It’s crazy.’ Mum looked bewildered. ‘Our Brian’s never heard of this chap. But they say his photo was on the man’s computer. They say he’s been sending messages to him on the internet, on a site for people who want to be murdered.’
‘What?’ Dad roared. ‘Is it someone’s idea of a joke?’
‘The police say he told this chap he wants to kill someone. He must have thought it was some kind of game.’
‘I never heard such nonsense,’ Dad shouted, ready to explode. ‘I don’t believe it. Our Brian wouldn’t do anything like that. Ashley, do you know anything about this?’ They both looked at me. I decided it was time to let fall a few tears.
‘Oh, love,’ Mum said. She sat down and put her arms round me. I leaned into her, felt her body shaking and the next thing I was sobbing against her chest.
‘He has been a bit strange lately,’ I murmured when I got control of myself. I looked up at Dad through my tears. ‘And he never lets me near the computer.’
It was pretty awful listening to them crying and moaning so I went up to my room and thought how much better life was going to be, just the three of us, without Brian. We’d have to go and visit him of course but I could put up with that, in fact I would rather enjoy it.
The phone had been ringing all night, all the stupid aunties and uncles, nosy neighbours who’d seen the police at the door. I was watching the ten o’clock news to see if there was anything about Brian being charged with the murder when Mum walked in my room without knocking. I put on my sad smile.
‘Ashley – Janet next door’s just been on the phone. She said you must have had a lucky escape.’
‘You what?’ I took my earphones out, wiped my eyes as if I’d been crying for poor Brian.
‘She said she was in town yesterday, saw you coming out of St John’s Gardens. She said it was just about the time that poor man was killed.’
‘She’s a dirty fucking liar,’ I snarled and it was only when I saw the shock on Mum’s face that I realised what I’d let slip.
That was it really. I couldn’t believe my parents would grass me up like that. Well, I could because they’d always really preferred Brian to me, I knew that. Dad took my phone and even though I’d deleted everything the police soon found all the messages.
Dad kept shaking his head at the police station and saying, ‘I can’t believe it,’ while Mum just seemed too stunned to say anything but the one who got the biggest surprise was me when they accused me of plotting to kill Wilmslow with his wife Colleen.
I’d refused to speak until then but my mouth just opened of its own accord. I barely recognised my voice. ‘What?’ I shrieked, ‘I never heard of the woman.’
‘Come on Ashley,’ the detective leered at me.’ She’s already confessed. She was having an affair, common knowledge apparently. She might have got away with it otherwise.’
‘I don’t get it,’ said Dad. Neither did I.
‘She pretended to be her husband on the internet, put up a photo of him saying he had a death wish and she waited to see if someone would come along and oblige. She says that Brian agreed to do it, said he had a compulsion to kill, but of course it wasn’t Brian, was it, Ashley, it was you?
‘She arranged the meeting with you, told her husband she had a hair appointment in Liverpool city centre and arranged to meet him afterwards in St John’s Gardens so they could have lunch together. He fell for it and there you go. What we need to know, Ashley, is, did she set you up too, or did you know it was her masquerading as her husband and went along with it?’
I shut my mouth up then and didn’t say anything after that. I couldn’t believe I’d been so easily taken in and I certainly wasn’t going to admit it to anyone else. Of course they let our Brian out and he, Mum and Dad went home to play happy families.
All the time I was on remand I only kept going by thinking of a hundred and one slow and painful deaths for them and our Brian. Mum came to see me once but she looked at me like I was dog shit – as if I cared.
‘How could you, Ashley?’ she kept saying and I got bored and told the warder to take me away. She didn’t come again and Dad never came at all
But the one I had it in for the most was that witch Colleen Wilmslow. I thought if I could just get at her when we stood trial…
Thing was, I never got to court, instead they sent me to this place, hospital for the criminally insane, it’s called. Me! It’s all of them should be in here, I’m the only sane one. But it’s not too bad in here and I’m only young. When I get out I’ll go for that witch first and then I’ll take care of my loving family.