She danced around His gloomy spirit like a happy bird whizzing elegantly above tall grass, embracing the refreshing feel of dew on Her feathers as She twirls just out of the reach of lurking vipers.
He spent the day staring at the wall and doing His best to convince Her He was only half there; a pale ghost of a man, wandering grey, foggy streets in search of something swept up in secrecy. He was silent. As silent as that pale ghost, whose feet dared not drag the ground but softly sailed through the ether. And if She would dare to pull back the shroud that veiled His face She would find a savage beast that would need little excuse to snap.
Notwithstanding, She thought She had Her ways of dealing with His mood. She deduced She knew what made men like Him tick and what made Him feel calm. This was not a foolproof system, and much care would need to be applied.
‘I’ve been thinking blue,’ She said. ‘What do you think?’
He stared at the wall. Stared as though intending to melt a section to reveal the bones of it, a pressurised skeletal surrender in response to the heated wrath of its aggressor. He did not reply.
‘Yes, blue,’ She continued, regardless. ‘A light kind, like a sky blue. It might brighten the place up, you know? Don’t you think so?’
Looking at him, She thought He hadn’t even blinked. It was impossible to say whether He had heard Her and had chosen not to reply, or Her words had sailed through Him unnoticed like a cold breeze through bare, leafless branches hanging forlorn in winter.
‘Or yellow,’ She hopefully suggested. ‘Instead of blue. Not a bright yellow. A custard, not lemon. I don’t know. What do you think?’
He blinked once and spoke. ‘Yes. Whatever you like.’
Vacant, uninterested, distracted by a mind filled with unhelpful notions and a turbulent sense of perturbation. He’s waiting, She thought. Waiting is bad for Him. Especially with something like this. His mind is focussed on it, seething. He’d never admit it but He’s nervous. Maybe He can be distracted…
‘Well if you’re not going to be helpful, why don’t we go for a walk, eh? Help take your mind off things?’
‘He should have been here by now,’ He said, removing His hard glare from the wall for a moment and swapping it to the floor. ‘Where is he?’
‘He said by the end of the day,’ She said in a playful tone with an exacted chuckle. ‘And we’re hardly there yet, are we? Come on now, a nice little walk will do you good. It’s a beautiful day.’
He stood up and walked to the window. ‘I’m not leaving. I can’t. He might come any moment now. You can go for a walk if you like.’
‘That would hardly be professional now would it?’ She said, allowing a slight tone of deprecatory into Her voice.
He spun round from the window and faced Her, making eye contact for only the second time that day. He spoke quickly and with clear fury in His voice. ‘Well why did you suggest it?’
She held Her breath. Their eyes might only have met for a few seconds but it was enough for Her to see the demon partially masked within Him. She saw a vast, airless fire encircling a soul tortured by years of anguish and loveless despondency. The kind of uncaring and unvented spleen that would refuse to be halted by reason or sympathy. They were anomalistic eyes, the eyes of what some might call an unwaveringly determined man, and others a maniac. It was almost perfect really; He had the eyes of a –
Enough, She thought. I’ve riled Him. Time to calm him down.
‘All right,’ She said. ‘I was kidding about the walk. What about a cup of tea though? We can see to that can’t we?’
The fire in His eyes quenched somewhat, and He slumped back down to the chair on which he’d previously been sitting. The pale ghost returned. ‘Not for me. You help yourself.’
She didn’t argue. She strode the small steps to the kitchen area and filled the kettle before opening the first overhead cupboard She saw. Finding nothing there, She pulled the other one open, found what She needed and began the tea-making process.
As the kettle was boiling She leaned on the counter and looked at Him. His back was facing Her and He had resumed staring at the wall. She noticed that He was absently turning a small object around in His hands. She saw what it was and to Her scant surprise, felt a shiver of dull apprehension. The wait would be over soon enough.
She thought about asking His name. Stupid idea. Was He interested in Hers? Probably not. He wasn’t interested in Her name or how She was feeling or who Her sister was dating or about the colours She was thinking about painting Her walls back home. He clearly had one thing on His mind, and it was taking over any and all other thoughts, and would not be satisfied until this ghastly ordeal was completed. He could only think of –
He and She both jumped a little as there came a hurried, impatient knock on the door. Her mouth fell open as He turned to face Her, tightly gripping the arm of the chair. ‘Get the door,’ He said, and She wasted no time in following His command.
When She arrived at the door She opened it confidently and with Her practised smile. Outside was a middle aged man with thick brown hair and a very blank expression.
‘Mr Phillips?’ She asked warmly, and he nodded.
‘May I come in?’ Mr Phillips asked.
‘Of course, come in, come in. We’ve been waiting for you. I was just about to make a cup of tea. Would you like one?’
‘Thank you,’ Mr Phillips said, and stepped inside the lonely wooden cabin. ‘It was quite difficult to find this place you know. Oh, hello there, is this your associate?’
‘Pleased to meet you Mr Phillips sir,’ He said extending a hand intended to shake Mr Phillips’, and with a cheery, wholesome smile on His face that looked so genuine that She was horrified. A sickly feeling came over Her then and She decided to focus on the tea. She pulled another mug out of a cupboard and as She threw a teabag into it She contemplated the sheer needlessness of it.
He led Mr Phillips to a chair opposite the one He’d been sitting miserably on, and they began to exchange forced and phoney pleasantries that She was not particularly interested in hearing. She watched His face as He talked and marvelled in His ability to change so swiftly from a dark and foreboding force to a friendly and welcoming gentleman.
The kettle clicked off when the water was boiled and as She lifted it Mr Phillips sprang up from his chair.
‘Where are my manners? Let me help you.’
Things happened both quickly and strangely slowly then. As Mr Phillips rose She spotted His face, which had turned dark once more. The raging fire She’d observed before had returned, but now it was enough to melt the most courageous of warriors. Their eyes met again and for a moment She was stunned by how much those eyes were able to articulately communicate exactly what He wanted Her to do.
The kettle. Use the kettle.
And She did. She thumbed down the button to release the lid. It sprung open moments before She sent the contents of the kettle through the air and onto Mr Phillips’ unsuspecting face, which quickly twisted into an expression of absolute agony as his thoughts no doubt suffered a brief moment of turmoil. His hands reached up to his hot, steaming face and he began to scream but She knew this wouldn’t last long: He was already on his feet. She was astonished to see that buried somewhere within its fire and fury, His face now held a look of something like joy about it. It disturbed Her deeply.
Having unquestionably had some experience with this type of situation, He already had His blade in hand and raised it briskly to eye level before bringing it down on His target’s back. She counted eleven strikes: four while Mr Phillips had still been standing, and a further seven as he lay defenceless on the ground. Each strike held enough venom and malice to bring down the most formidable of foes. One strike might have been enough, She thought, and then She shuddered, remembering that look of glee on His face as He'd stalked Mr Phillips from behind.
When He was finished, He paused a moment above His victim. Leaving the knife where it was He stood, panting and looking down at the mess below him. Something was different about Him. He seemed much more at ease. Was that a faint, satisfied smile hidden within His bleak face?
She still had the kettle in Her hand, and noticing that She hadn’t used all of the water, She flipped the lid shut again and poured the remains into one of the mugs She’d set on the counter.
‘You sure you don’t want one?’ She asked.