Reality TV** (excerpt)

Rough brick cut into Billy’s cheek and a warm wetness trickled down his neck. Fire and ice chased through his veins as he struggled to stay upright. One thought penetrated his fear.

Mum’ll go crazy.

***

Billy’s mum was at home in their fifth floor flat on the Turnbull Estate, believing her fourteen year old son safely in bed, wrapped in the protective green arms of the Incredible Hulk. She leaned in to the TV so she wouldn’t miss any detail of the latest teenage stabbing on the city streets. It wasn’t her own city, though that fact had been swept away by the stream of similar news items that poured from her screen every day.

Tilting her head, she tried to separate the sounds as broadcast sirens merged with those outside, creating an eerie stereo.

“Michael Warner was walking home from football practice with his friend Kevin Holmes, when they were attacked by a group of four youths, aged between fourteen and eighteen, armed with knives,’ the newscaster said. ‘Kevin pulled himself free and ran into a shop, leaving Michael to fight for his life. When Kevin returned with help, Michael lay bleeding from a chest wound and died on the way to hospital. His parents…..”

Panic engulfed her. She hauled herself out of the sagging armchair and clutched her knees, drawing ragged breaths until the thumping in her chest eased. Holding the furniture for support, Paula threaded her way through the cluttered room, thanking God her boys had been spared for one more day.

She opened their bedroom door and the buzzing of Jamie’s breathing drew more lines of worry across her pasty, indoor skin.

That cold isn’t budging. He should see the doctor.

She shrank from the thought, holding his small, white arm against her for a moment before tucking it under the safety of Tyrannosaurus Rex. The snoring reached a crescendo.

It’s a good thing Billy can sleep through anything.

Smiling, she reached up to pat the shape in the upper bunk. There was no resistance as her hand sank into the mound. She pushed again. Nothing. She pulled the duvet to the floor, climbed the ladder, scrabbled at his sheet and cried out. She ran between the four small rooms, willing him to emerge from behind doors, blinds or walls.

Wrenching open the outside door, she almost toppled over the threshold into the freezing night air. Startled by the sudden change of temperature, she swung inside, slammed the door and slid to the floor.

***

It was almost a year since Paula had dared leave the safety of her home; since Cameron fell asleep in front of the television and failed to wake up. A cerebral haemorrhage. It could have happened to anyone, the doctor said. But Cameron wasn’t just anyone. He was her husband, the father of her children. Her last outing had been to his funeral, before loneliness settled around her, separating her from the life she’d had and the one she faced alone. Despite her children’s pleas, the flat had become her retreat and her prison.

Cameron had found the place. It was cheap and run down, nothing like the house they’d lost after he was made redundant. He’d promised it was only a stop-gap until he landed the job that would turn their fortunes round.

“This is it, Paulie. A new start. We’ll soon be moving up – you’ll see.” He’d caught her hands, singing, ‘Ain’t no stopping us now’, spinning her round the pile of boxes in the living room. She’d joined in, giggling helplessly as he dragged her in and out of the drab rooms before pushing her down onto the bed.

She shivered with cold and the sweetness of the memory. What wouldn’t she give to feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek and hear him whisper that everything would be all right?

A sharp rap on the wood behind her jolted her heart into frantic activity. Her hand flew to her mouth as she heard the dreaded words.

“Mrs Patterson. This is the police.”

***

The complete story is published in Triclops. To order a copy, please go to the link below.

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