Sunday, April 18, 2010
Crawford pulled the cupboard door open and Clare Sheehan's body tumbled out. It hit the floor with a wet sound.
Conor's eyes bugged. Bile rose in his throat.
'Oh Christ, Crawford. I didn't think you meant this.' Fearful, he scanned the room as though someone might walk in at any moment. But there was nobody else, just the two boys alone in the classroom. Outside in the corridor, the clock struck midnight.
Crawford scowled. 'Don't wuss out on me now, Conor. You know why we're doing this. You want change. I can give you that change. I warned you that it wouldn't be pretty, and you agreed. So don't wuss out on me now.'
Conor swallowed. He tried to recall the feelings he had had during the past week- feelings that life had become intolerable. School, his parents, girls: he had desired something- anything- to shake up the monotony. And Crawford- tall, mysterious Crawford, the class oddball- had said he knew how they could bring about real change. Crawford had warned him that it wouldn't be pretty. And when Clare Sheehan -pretty, dark Clare Sheehan- had gone missing, he had not consciously allowed himself to connect it with Crawford's dark plan. But he had wanted this enough to agree to whatever was necessary. He struggled now to recall that feeling.
Clare's body, on the floor before him and beginning to turn grey, wasn't helping.
Crawford had seemed so sure, before. Now, as he pulled the book of incantations from his satchel, he seemed a good deal more amateur than Conor had hoped he would be. The book itself was not a yellow-paged grimoire that had been found in some cluttered second-hand shop; instead, it was a shiny-backed 'how-to' guide that Crawford had purchased from Amazon. Christ- and he had killed someone -Clare- for this?
Conor watched as Crawford pulled several tawdry black candles from his satchel and placed them around the room. Conor hit the light switch; the only light in the room now came from the candles. Crawford produced a tube of salt, and after consulting the book, began to draw a wobbly, five-sided shape around Clare's body with it. It all seemed pitifully amateur and juvenile to Conor compared to the enormity of the act of murder.
He tried to convince himself that it would work. 'So it's real, Crawford- Satanism? I mean, I've heard about the abuse scares in America. And my parents used to warn me about the groups that hang out in the Regional Park after dark; about the bodies of rabbits and dogs that people'd find there. How they needed to sacrifice living things in order to achieve power.'
'Is what real- an organised underground of believers who do this kind of thing regularly? An international brotherhood?' Crawford paused as he finished drawing a line of salt by Clare's Sketchers. 'I don't know. I mean, this is the first time I've done it. And I've never met anyone else who has. So I suppose it's true now. After all, it only takes one lunatic to actually do this, and then the rumour is vindicated, right?'
Now he was pulling other things from the bag- more candles, charms and amulets, and even a model sheep's head (the 'made-in-China' stamp was sadly visible). And a kitchen knife. But Conor wasn't thinking about this. He was thinking about how Crawford would react when the spell didn't work. When he realised what he had done.
What they had done.
Crawford held the knife above Clare's grey Adidas zip-up. Conor thought about how she would look when the Gardai found her next morning. How they would find traces. Evidence. And then they would come calling to the house. Hello, Mrs. Walsh. Just a routine questioning- we understand your son knew the victim? Yes, a very sad case. Particularly brutal. Is your son home?
The knife tore through flesh; the zip-up bloomed red like a flower. As he cut, Crawford spoke words from the book, quietly at first, then louder. Some of it sounded like Latin, but Conor couldn't think clearly enough to identify more than a word or two. Christ, he didn't want to go to jail. Maybe he could invent an alibi- pretend he wasn't even friendly with Crawford. No use- everyone had seen them become closer over the last few weeks. It would have to be something better than that. He would prove that he was not here on this night- that he had been in Castlegregory, visiting friends. Friends who would lie for him.
Conor tried to lose himself in this fantasy, but the pink, sausage-like innards that now wobbled obscenely above Clare's body were horribly real. Crawford, his hands now red, was arranging them in a deliberate fashion about the corpse. He checked the book periodically, his chanting becoming more intense.
Conor knew his life was over. There would be no more frustrating school days, no more awkward conversations with girls, no more boring nights in playing Xbox- in fact, none of the things that he had previously found so intolerable. Now they seemed distant and unreachable. He suddenly wanted to be somewhere very far away.
He noticed that Crawford was no longer chanting, but standing above Clare with a grin. An unplaceable smell was filling the room. Conor stepped towards her- and gasped.
In the centre of her violated corpse was not the expected shallow cavity, but a vast opening, black as the night sky, bordered by the stinking innards. Stars twinkled within, and when he leaned closer, Conor saw that floating in this netherworld, incredibly far away- miles away, somehow, were figures, tumbling endlessly though the void. One of the figures was a girl- she was bright and beautiful, and staring at her was like looking into the sun. From an impossible distance, she waved at Conor- a lazy, drifting movement.
He realized that he had been staring into the gulf for some time- he was unsure exactly how long. The room seemed dark and cold compared to the world within.
Crawford smiled at Conor and pushed a strand of hair away from his face. Then he stepped into Clare and disappeared.