There were six of us sat around that table in The Crown on New Year’s Eve. The same six of us who met in the pub nearly every week; Dave, Chris, Tony, Karl, Simon, and me. Doing what we always did; drinking lots of beers and taking the mickey out of each other.
We had all made New Year’s resolutions previous years, big fanfare announcements to the rest of the boys. Promises to give up bad habits, or to take up something new, change something in our personality, trying to better ourselves.
None of them ever stuck, so we had a new idea this year, make secret resolutions. Not tell each other what they were. Instead, we would write them on a piece of paper, put that in our wallets, and then the following year we would reveal them to the others and see how well we did. Or more likely, how badly we did.
So, we sat there in the pub drinking pints like they were going out of fashion, and each of us wrote some words on pieces of paper, one by one, as only Chris had a pen, then folded them and slipped them into our wallets. My own was simple, poorly written by alcohol impaired hands, “I will change nothing.” How could I fail? It would be easy.
How little did I know then.
In a haze the following morning I thought about our resolutions and wanted to check mine. I stumbled about the flat searching for my jeans, only to find them hanging off the handle of the fridge door. I got my wallet out and retrieved the piece of paper I’d written on the night before. Only the words I found there bore no resemblance to what I thought I had written. The writing wasn’t mine either, and far too neat to have been written under the influence. And it wasn’t as if what was written was even possible.
“I resolve to take up whatever activity the other five gave up on their written resolutions this year. I will continue to do these activities until such time as the resolution has been broken by the person who wrote it.”
I laughed, I didn’t know what the others’ resolutions were, so how could I possibly take up anything if I didn’t know what it was? I folded up the paper and put it back in my wallet anyway and went to make myself a cup of coffee. For some reason I just fancied one. It took me a few minutes to find the jar of instant coffee, stuck away in the back of a cupboard. Lord knows how long it had been there, but it took a few attempts to smash some granules loose of the lump it had become. I’d need to go and buy some new, I couldn’t be doing this a few times a day.
So, after drinking my cup of coffee, which was more bitter than I had remembered coffee being, I threw some clothes on and went out. It was New Year’s Day so there wasn’t going to be much open, but the Best One up at the parade of shops would be, they were always open. I’d seen they were even open on Christmas Day, no rest for some nowadays. They had more brands of coffee than I expected they would, and not all of it instant, though the filter and cafetiere coffee would have to wait for another day; I’d need to get a proper coffee machine or cafetiere first.
I put the coffee down on the counter and asked for twenty Benson & Hedges as well. I was surprised to see the box covered in images of cancerous cells. I was expecting the classic gold coloured box I remembered from years ago. I paid and took the bag they’d put the items in and left the shop, took the cigarettes out of the bag, took the film wrap off the packet and took one out and stuck it in my mouth. Only to realise I didn’t have a lighter or matches to light it with. Back into the shop to get a lighter then.
I lit it and coughed with the first inhalation of smoke. I wasn’t used to smoke; it must have been ten years or so since I’d last had a cigarette. Yet the cough didn’t put me off, and I took another drag and started to walk towards home.
Only for the bright lights of the bookies to call to me. I was surprised they were open, and as I walked in, I was shouted at that there was no smoking allowed. Another thing that was different from my memories. Bookies used to be smoked filled dens of iniquity when my dad used to go in them. I supposed that stopped at the same time they banned smoking in pubs. I finished the cigarette, stubbed it out on the wall and went back into the bookies.
Only to realise I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know what events were on. Did they have horse racing on New Year’s Day? In the end I had to get the girl behind the counter to help me fill out a betting slip. The horse lost, but that didn’t deter me. I put bet after bet on races as they happened, bet on football matches, and even on the darts. And whilst waiting for results I played on their casino style fruit machines. I had a couple of wins but was probably the fat end of two hundred quid down by the time I was asked to leave as they were closing. I didn’t realise I’d been in there so long, but it was dark when I left, and I lit another cigarette as I wandered home.
Four coffees and half a pack of cigarettes later I went to bed, but found myself too wired to sleep, the caffeine I supposed. So, I started some tidying up, putting stuff away, emptying the bins and generally clearing up. Whilst doing so I found a few of my girlfriend’s clothes in the airing cupboard. And before I knew it, I had them on, surprised by how well they fit me, and how comfortable they felt on me. So much so I wore them to bed and slept like a baby.
The next morning, I got up and reluctantly took my girlfriend’s clothes off, got dressed in my own clothes, had a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and headed into town. I needed to do some shopping. Argos for a filter coffee machine and a cafetiere, Costa for a coffee, Sainsbury’s for some filter coffee and cigarettes, Starbucks for a coffee, and then into the charity shop. Usually, it would be for books and records, but instead I found myself perusing the women’s clothing. And buying skirts, blouses, dresses, and even some shoes, and a long coat. Only to nearly leave the lot in the bookies after a couple of hours of gambling. And losses.
I went out that evening, wearing some of the clothes I bought at the charity shop, and I just hung about in the alley behind the local parade of shops, where there were no lights shining the way, hidden between the dumpsters. I stood there waiting until I heard footsteps, and then I stepped out in front of the person walking past, not knowing who they were, male or female, old or young, tall, or short. And then the knife was in my hand, I had no recollection of even bringing the knife – the big carving one from the wooden block in my kitchen – and then it was in them. It was a man, in their thirties or possibly forties, and they looked shocked. Whether it was at me dressed in women’s clothing, or at the knife that was now stuck in between his ribs, I wasn’t sure. He slumped to the ground, never crying out.
I found that I was more prepared than I thought possible. I had just killed a man, yet felt nothing, I opened one of the dumpsters, took out a load of the black sacks full of who knows what, and then lifted the man into the dumpster and put all the black sacks back in on top of him. And headed back to the flat as if nothing had happened.
It took ten minutes from getting into my flat for the crashing realisation of what I’d done to hit me. I passed the mirror in the hall and saw the blood on the clothes I was wearing. The blood of the man I’d just coldly killed and dumped. I ran to the bathroom and vomited my guts up, retching long after there was nothing left in my stomach. Although it would appear I only had coffee in there.
I took the clothes off, and put them in a bin bag, had a long shower, got dressed in my usual clothes and took the bin bag and put in the bins of the next block of flats to mine. As I walked back to the flat sucking on a B&H I had the dawning realisation that I was doing five new things. The coffee, the cigarettes, the gambling, the cross dressing, and now the murdering.
I spent the rest of the evening and most of the night thinking about which of my friends had had these habits. Things I had never noticed about them. Things I never knew about them. Things I didn’t want to know about them. Could I look at any of them in the same way. Their previous behaviours, the ones they had resolved to give up were going to cost me. My health, my job, my flat, my girlfriend, and my liberty if I didn’t sort them out. The cigarettes and coffee weren’t too bad apart from to my health, the gambling was more of an issue if I carried on spending at the rate, I had for the last two days. The women’s clothes were going to be an issue if Sue caught me doing it, especially in her own clothes. But the murder was off the scale.
I needed them to start doing what they used to, and soon. But how could I get them to start over?
For the next few days, I kept myself barricaded in the flat, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes whilst wandering around in women’s clothes – refusing to see Sue, and declining invites to meet the others in the pub. I opened half a dozen online gambling accounts to pass the time, all whilst keeping an eye on the local news, looking out for a story about a dead body being found. I hung as far out of the bathroom window as I could a couple of times to have a look if there was any activity in the alley behind the shops, but there was nothing. Until the missing person plea on Facebook. I recognised the picture immediately, and I knew where they were, not that it would help those looking for him.
I’d seen lots of these appeals before, and now wondered about them. Could they be other victims? How many had one of my friends murdered?
I took a swig of coffee. And spat it back out. I hated coffee, what the hell was I doing? And I breathed a sigh of relief. Whichever of my friends had given up coffee as a resolution had failed after only a few days. Perhaps there was hope.
After having rung in sick for a couple of days I went back to work on the Wednesday. And was distracted all day. The knickers and bra I wore weren’t really big enough and cut into me, and they were as irritating as hell, I needed to get rid of them, and by lunch I had, they were dumped into the bin in the toilets, it should be an interesting find for the cleaners. Then there were the cigarette breaks and the dirty looks from some of the others in the office. Plus, I found that not all of the gambling sites were blocked on the work internet. I couldn’t wait to get out at five and head home.
There was no rush, I trudged alongside the canal, a route I walked many times, even in the dark the chalky white path lit up against the murky darkness of the water it ran alongside. As I walked along smoking, I could see someone walking towards me. I bent down and picked up a rock from the edge of the path and as they drew level with me, I smashed the rock down on their head and pushed them into the canal. They landed face down and I watched as the water gently took them alongside the path in the direction I was walking. There was no movement, no attempt to try and get their head above the surface. No one could hold their breath for that long, they were dead, and I picked up the pace and continued to head for home.
Once there, another bout of vomiting came as the enormity of what I’d done hit me again. I’d killed two people in under a week. I needed to find out who it was who had been killing people before. And so, I called around and arranged to meet everyone on the Friday night. I didn’t tell them it was about their resolutions.
Work was still awkward, although it would appear I had lost the need to dress in women’s clothes. There was a report on the news about a man had been found drowned in the canal with a head injury. But the reports suggested that there were no suspicions of foul play, that it looked as if it was a tragic accident. The sigh of relief must have been heard all around the office. I just hoped the sob that followed as I read the man was a father of four wasn’t.
More relief came on the Friday, I was in the middle of cigarette break number four when I coughed again and spat out the cigarette I was smoking, trying to spit out the disgusting taste of it in my mouth and lungs. The smoker had taken their habit back up, lasting a little over a week. I was down to two now. The biggest threat to my bank account, and the biggest threat to the population at large.
I got to the pub early, bought myself a drink and went to feed the fruit machine. They used to be coin operated only years ago, but nowadays they took notes and cards. The thing was I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t know when to hold, or what the features did, I was just blindly pushing buttons and hoping for the best. As I was doing so, Karl sidled up to the fruit machine and started telling me where I was going wrong. I asked him to show me what I should be doing, and he stepped in to take control. A few spins later there was eighty quid in winnings spilling out of the machine. I took it and turned my back on the machine. I think it was safe to say Karl was the secret gambler amongst us.
When everyone was there and we’d had a couple of beers I began to tell them of the strange things that had happened around the resolutions and the strange one I had found in my wallet the morning after, and without mentioning what I’d taken up I told them I’d picked up five new habits this year. They all laughed, more at me than with me, and there were a couple of uncomfortable looking lads around the table.
At the end of the night, I still hadn’t worked out who was the murderer, Dave and Tony had looked the most uncomfortable as I had been talking about the resolutions, and no one had wanted to share their piece of paper yet. I left with Simon as he lived close to me, and as we walked alongside the church, he said he wanted to show me one of the gravestones. I laughed and said wouldn’t it be easier to see it in the light, but he insisted and so I followed him into the graveyard.
As I stand here now, I realise I have made a mistake. Simon is standing next to a new headstone, shiny pink marble amongst the dark slate. Gold printed letters on the headstone. I recognise the name, we all knew Danny, he had hung himself three years ago.
“Only he didn’t,” Simon said, “he wrote the note, but couldn’t go through with it, so I helped him complete. Pushed him off the banister and watched him swing there, fighting to get out of the noose he had tied for himself. I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it so much I started finding random people to kill, making it seem like accidents or hiding the body so well they weren’t found.”
I’m flabbergasted, of all of us Simon would be the one I’d least expect to be a killer.
“It was my resolution to give up killing people, but I like it too much, even after a week I’m missing it, but then you’d know about that now wouldn’t you. I will take the burden off you though, I will kill again, but as you know my secret, you can’t be allowed to go running around telling people.”
And then I saw the knife in his hand, I saw it as it entered my chest, felt the cold metal penetrate my skin and then I felt nothing.