Dead Even

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt


Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Nights like these woke the demons – when the stars blinked coldly in the lonely expanse of the sky and the sea heaved and sighed like a wounded beast.

Matt poured a double from the side-table on the veranda and took a swig.

The flickering lights of the town across the bay reminded him of the lights of long ago: neon lights winking down the coast; fire light from their beach barbeque tangled in her hair; the light gleaming in Derek’s eyes as he put his arm around her shoulders, his mocking gaze daring anyone to challenge his right of possession. No-one did. Everyone laughed, sucked up to him – the alpha male in the pack.

Matt could barely disguise his dislike for the man. It wasn’t just because Derek stole the love of his life. If Julie had been happy, he could’ve made peace with it. May the best man win, and all that jazz. But she wasn’t. He knew her well enough to detect not only unhappiness but fear. It bothered him immensely.

Matt poured another whisky. Fact is, there was something about Derek. Perhaps it lay in what he did for a living. An ex-member of the military special forces, he was a human killing machine. Matt suspected he now worked as a mercenary. Every now and then he would disappear to God knows where, each time returning with his self-confidence and recklessness reinforced.

A dangerous man.

The yachts bobbing in the harbour suddenly awoke in Matt an intense urge to escape, to just board one of them and sail away.

Ridiculous. He was already half a world away from that night, not long after their beach barbeque, when Julie came to his apartment, her eyes stirring a premonition in his belly.

 “Matt... I’m in trouble.”

A great stillness came over him.


She nodded, biting her lip.

“Oh, Matt, I’m so sorry…I don’t know what possessed me to get involved with him. I never really loved him. It has always been you.”

Her face crumpled and he buried it against his chest, holding her tightly until her sobs subsided.

“What happened?”

“I tried breaking up with him. We had such a fight. He hit me. Said if he couldn’t have me, nobody would, and I’d better believe it.”

Her eyes filled with tears as she lifted her T-shirt. Her ribcage and stomach were black and blue. Bruises and broken skin on her wrists peeped from her sleeves.

A red fog filled Matt’s head.

“I’m taking you to the police station, now!”

“No, no, Matt! He said if I go to the police, he will kill me, make it look like an accident. I believe him, Matt. You know he’s capable it.”

 “What? You want to let him get away with this? Not a chance!”

She took his face between her palms, her petrified face inches from him, her eyes pleading.

“You have to help me disappear, Matt. Without a trace. And quickly.”

“Calm down, Julie. This thug must be brought to justice. They’ll lock him up. You’ll be safe.”

“He’ll kill me before they can put him behind bars.”

“Get a restraining order.”

“Hah! As if that will stop him. And he won’t be locked up for life over this. When he gets out of jail, the nightmare will start all over.”

Emotions warred in his chest. He knew she was right, but every instinct rebelled against running away and letting this brute win.

“We’re reporting this to the police. You’re putting in leave and moving in with me today. He won’t get to you here. We’re on the thirtieth storey and the apartment block has strict security. Once he’s behind bars, we can sort out the future.”

Two days later, Matt exited the elevator in his office block’s parking garage when Derek stepped from the shadows, a menace in his glare.

“I know she’s with you. I’ll get her.”

“Why aren’t you behind bars where you belong?”

“Bail, my friend.”

“I’m getting a restraining order against you, Derek.”

Matt stepped around him and walked to his car. Suddenly, he was spun around with a force that nearly dislocated his shoulder. Derek’s face was centimetres from his.

“You think you can steal Julie from me? I’ll make you both pay.”

The voice was soft, the threat unmistakable.

Wrenching his arm free, Matt shrugged back into his jacked, straightening his tie.

“We’ll see about that.”

He walked away with Derek’s eyes boring into his back and dread sliding down his spine. At that moment, he knew there’s no protecting Julie from this man.

A month later, the two of them winged their way to New Zealand to start a new life.


It was five years later when Matt found a parcel addressed to him in his mailbox. Curious, he tore it open. Inside, neatly folded, was a woman’s blouse.

Matt frowned. There was something familiar about the garment...the fragrance...Recognition hit him: it was the blouse Julie had worn at the beach barbeque.

Horror ripped through his gut. He poured himself a double from the liquor cabinet and chucked it back, an icy fist clenching his heart. Derek had found them. He took a few deep breaths.

Damn Derek to hell. The past was the past and that’s where it would stay. This time they would disappear without a trace.

His mind worked feverishly. Tomorrow they would empty the bank accounts and catch the first available flight out – to wherever.

“Hi, Matt.”

Julie dropped her handbag on the sofa and walked over to kiss him. Her eyes fell on the blouse and the smile dropped off her face.


She dropped to her knees, her faced buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking.

The following afternoon, Matt unlocked the front door and froze as he stepped into the hall. There were voices in the lounge, Derek’s voice!

Two strides brought him to the door. Julie, ashen faced, sat on the floor in front of the music centre.

“The flash drive was in the mailbox.”

He remembered the night it was recorded. It was a karaoke evening they went to on his birthday. They were pretty smashed, and Derek recorded their witticisms and singing.

The bastard! Matt wouldn’t allow him to steal the rest of their lives. They flung their clothes into suitcases, grabbed their passports from the desk drawer and fled, snatching their laptops on the way to the front door.

On the highway, a sense of danger niggled at the back of his mind, and he kept checking the rear-view mirror on their way to the airport.

It wasn’t until he took the mountain pass off-ramp that he noticed the car behind him. Was it following them?

He accelerated as much as the steeply winding road allowed him. The red sports car behind him followed suit.

Perspiration broke out on his forehead. As he screeched around the bends, he watched the red car narrowing the gap between them until its headlights were a blinding glare in his mirror.

“What’s wrong, Matt?”

He heard the panic in Julie’s voice. Turning left sharply, he took a narrow turn-off, fighting to keep the wildly swerving car under control. His rear bumper nicked the red sports car as it flashed past, sending it flying off the cliff. Julie screamed. The driver looked back, his shocked face clearly illuminated by a passing vehicle.


Matt stopped the car and rushed to the edge of the abyss. The red car hit the bottom, bursting into flames.

Matt rubbed his face with a shaking hand, staring into the dark. The lights of the city far below reminded him of the lights of long ago…neon lights flickering down the coast towards home.

June 11, 2022 03:13

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Braam Morton
22:39 Jun 16, 2022

Hi Liby, I just loved this. Good job. There is quite a bit of dialogue in the beginning but less so towards the end. Show rather than tell.


Liby Nel
02:23 Jun 17, 2022

Thank you, Braam. Good point.


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Harriet Meier
12:48 Jun 16, 2022

Not bad for a first try, Liby. Watch your point of view in future stories and remember that less is more, especially where verbs and adjectives are concerned. I would also have liked a little bit more character description to enable me to see the characters as you imagined them. Apart from that, well done.


Liby Nel
20:12 Jun 16, 2022

Thanks, Harriet. Taking your comments to heart.


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Jeannette Miller
15:42 Jun 15, 2022

Well, that escalated quickly. Good job :)


Liby Nel
05:31 Jun 16, 2022

Thanks, Jeannette. :)


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