Credit: http://moliniart.deviantart.com/art/Fox-in-the-headlights-420598651

A Corpse’s Shadow

Credit: http://moliniart.deviantart.com/art/Fox-in-the-headlights-420598651

The body was in the boot, but its smell had crept through the car and sat down on the passenger’s seat. Frank thought it must have been a day old by now, perhaps even three. Yet, despite what he could only imagine was copious amounts of duct tape, its presence was still able to waft in through numerous molecular gaps and consume the air within the car.

He opened the windows, but the bombardment of the wind reminded him of too familiar punches, kicks and grabs; a primal, cold, harsh struggle. With a hum of an electric motor, the glass ascended, until he was once again sealed inside.

Hours, or was it minutes, slipped by in silence. He had tried turning on the radio, but every station was filled with screams, screams that persisted at the same rate regardless of the volume. So, he chose to sit in silence, gripping the wheel and watching the headlights fail to pierce the gravelly road. Streets gave way to dual carriageways, then to small, dense country lanes, where overgrown foliage obscured the night’s sky.

Still the scent of the body stared at Frank, ensuring that he would meet his destination.

The car was approaching a clearing: a single band of cold light, around a hundred foot in the distance, sandwiched by the black of the straight road. As the vehicle neared, he began to take his eyes off the road and look towards the sky. He had not seen the moon in a very long time. The moment came; the headlights disappeared. The grey bonnet was baptised and Frank tilted his head upward. There, in the remoteness of the black, was an island of purity. The light fed in through the window screen and, for the briefest of moments, he felt as if someone, somewhere, was taking pity on him. There, there, it sounded, everything will be fine, your life has its purpose. At the touch of this gentle caress his eyes slipped shut.

When he opened them he immediately kicked the brake pedal. The car shook to a violent halt.

A fox stood in the middle of the road looking directly at him. Its eyes were burning, as if the moon, in the moments that Frank had been distant to this world, had slipped from its resting place and burrowed its way into the creature’s skull. Even though its eyes were flickering, the fox did not move a muscle. In the rear-view mirror, Frank now noticed the headlights of an approaching car. But the creature maintained its mythical gaze, leaving him obligated to remain only a pawn in its game of chess. In this moment, he was waiting to be sacrificed.

Then it barked.

The shriek caused Frank to jump, snagging the seatbelt tightly around his chest. The headlights behind him were no longer a distant yellow, but were instead an intermittent blue and white. The police car had parked up behind him.

The fox was nowhere to be seen.

The officer had already stepped out onto the road and was flashing a torch in through the back window, now onto the back seat and now directly into Frank’s face, momentarily blinding him. Then came the knock on his window. He turned the key and stopped the engine.

With a shaking hand, Frank pressed the button and the window descended. The officer moved the torch away from Frank’s eye line, revealing her face and a kind, warm smile.

“Oh, thank god you’re not dogging, let me tell you, those ones are always awkward.”

“Pardon?” replied Frank, a little taken aback.

“Never mind, just me being silly. I saw you brake harshly back down the road, and I thought it best that I should come and take looksy. You know, better safe than sorry, am I right?”

Her voice was not at all what Frank had expected. It was full of energy, mingled with a sheer and genuine sense of care, that caught him off guard. Could she not smell the rotting flesh? Or see that he was blatantly trembling? Or, in her world, a world that must be better than his, does one become ignorant to horror and fail to spot it even when it is staring you in the face? Surly she should have asked him out of the car?

“There was a fox” stammered Frank, “in the middle of the road.”

“Well, aren’t you a kind and considerate driver? Mind you, I wouldn’t have been too upset if you had run it over. They eat babies, you know?”

“Excuse me?”

“Foxes, they eat babies. Snatch them right out their cots. Horrible little whippersnappers apparently, but, I suppose, they are kind of cute.’

The officer looked to the back of the car.

‘You know your left brake light is smashed?’ This question snapped Frank out of his restlessness. “No, it is not!” He had made sure the car was completely fine before he had left. It’s the oldest lesson from every cop drama: do not attract unnecessary attention. A broken brake late is a guaranteed attention grabber.

“I’ll take that as a no then. You know its illegal to drive with a smashed brake light?” Her tone had changed, making Frank feel as though her initial kindness had all been a ruse: a knight casually moving across the board to H6, pushing him into an unexpected check.

“Of course, I know that, it’s just it was not broken when I left the house. I think I would have noticed something like that. These lanes are quite rocky, maybe something flicked up and smashed it?” He was telling the truth and maybe she could see that. She let out a half smile.

“My thinking exactly, sir.” replied the officer. “Name?”

“My name?”

“No, the fox’s, who do you think? Just gotta make a note of it and check your license. Oh, my name is constable Myrdle from Worcester Police Station. Should have told you that sooner. So yeah, your name and license?”

Frank reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet and gave it to her.

“Frank Skinner?” said Myrdle, taking out a pen and paper and beginning to write on pad.

“Yeah, like the comedian.” replied Frank. “I’m not the comedian, by the way.” He got that all the time.

“Bit late for a drive Mr not the real Frank Skinner? Don’t you think? Where are you going?”

“Honestly…”

“I would expect nothing else” interrupted Myrdle with a smile.

Frank hesitated… “Honestly, me and my wife had an argument earlier tonight, and I just fancied a drive to cool off. I was heading nowhere in particular. I live near Himley. We are fine now, I think.”

“You think? She is okay, isn’t she?” Mrdyle laughed.

Frank smiled.

“I tell you” she continued, “sometimes I could murder my wife too.”

Frank smiled again and nodded viciously.

“Says here you live in Wall Heath.”

“Oh my bad, we have just moved a few days ago. Hence, the argument. Moving can be a stressful time.”

She nodded and handed him back the license. “Okay, I’ll tell you what I gotta do. Here is a vehicle defect rectification notice, you have fourteen days to get your brake light fixed and take proof to Worcester Police Station. The vehicle is all taxed up and there seems to be nothing suspicious going on”, Frank continued to nod, “so I guess I’ll let you be on your way.”

He could not believe his luck, maybe there was someone taking pity on him after all. “Thank you,” said Frank, and without thinking, “thank you for believing me.”

“Pardon?”

Realising what he had just said Frank mumbled something incomprehensible, followed by: “You know, you always hear stuff about ignorant cops and stuff on the news, and them abusing their powers and all, it is just reassuring to see… meet a genuinely nice officer. You know?”

“Thank you, Mr Skinner” said Mrdyle smiling whilst placing her pen in her pocket. “Remember you have fourteen days or I will have to send you to Room 101.”

“What?”

“Never mind. Get the documents to the police station within fourteen days.”

“Oh yeah. I see now, the tv show” he laughed. “Of course, I will.”

“Goodnight Mr Skinner.”

“Goodnight constable Mrdyle.”

“Oh, and I hope everything with you and your wife works out okay.” And she patted the car’s boot as she walked past.

Frank, on the verge of tears, smiled again and waved.

And with that, she proceeded to get back into her car, perform an illegal U-turn, and disappear into the direction she had come.

Frank sighed and gripped the wheel until his knuckles turned white. He quickly started the engine and with a traumatised ease, drove off into the night.

 


 

They had just started to eat their Sunday dinner when the doorbell rang. Despite Elodie’s eagerness to answer it, Frank politely offered to be the one to see who it could be. After all, she had worked so hard on an amazing dinner.

“Don’t forget to tell us who it is Daddy” said Lucy.

“I will only do that if you promise to be a good girl and eat your carrots.” At this offer, Lucy pointed to her mouth and made a gagging noise to which Frank, who was now leaving the room, said through a smile, “hey, enough of that!”

He paused in the hallway. He could still faintly hear Elodie’s soft voice: “Now carrots, as you know already Lucy, make you see in the dark. So, you won’t need to worry about the monsters in this world, as the monsters don’t like being seen and won’t hurt you if you can see in the dark. If you eat your carrots they cannot hurt you.” He could imagine her telling this story; her still youthful smile and a playful hiss to elongate the end of ‘monsters’. She was beautiful and he was so lucky.

“But mummy, you don’t eat your carrots.”

“Well I can’t darling, they make me feel unwell. Anyway, daddy always eats his carrots, and the monsters always stay away from daddy, don’t they?

“So,” replied Lucy, “I don’t need to eat them as well, as I am always with daddy too.”

His appreciation was cut short by another ring of the bell.

“Frank answer the bloody door!” shouted Elodie.

“Coming!”

“If daddy can see the monsters, then I suppose we are both safe, mummy. There is no need for us to eat carrots.”

He proceeded down the hallway, undid the latch and opened the door. To his horror, it was Rev.

“Morning Frank.” He let out a hideous smile that exposed his mangled teeth, all of which were a collage of jutting colours that resembled a tree during autumn.

“Who is it daddy?” cried Lucy from the kitchen.

Frank looked up into Rev’s burning brown eyes and timidly shook his head. Rev smiled again whilst raising a furry eyebrow. He was wearing a long overcoat, with a suit underneath.

“Eat your carrots Lucy. It’s just someone from work” Frank called back.

“Is that all we are,” whispered Rev, leaning in over Frank’s shoulder, “business associates.”

“Oh Hello.” Out of nowhere, Elodie’s familiar hand rested on her husband’s shoulder, he, however, did not take his eyes off Rev. “Frank never talks about his new job, let alone has someone visit him, so it is nice to finally see a face. Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Elodie. I’m sure Frank has told you nothing about me too.”

She extended her hand and Rev took it with his slender, bony fingers. The mouse, thought Frank, had been spotted by the lion.

“On the contrary, Madame, I always thought he must have be exaggerating when he describes how beautiful you are, but may I say” he took a long hard look at Frank, and then returned a pleasant, toothless smile to Elodie, “he certainly was not wrong. My name is Rev, I’m Frank’s boss.”

Elodie was blushing. He was not conventional in any way, yet there was something strangely alluring about this stranger. Was it the calmness in his voice? Or was it the warmth of his eyes? There was something there that made you want to revisit him, like when you walk up the stairs and forget why you entered a room, but in a nice way. A way that was fresh, but still very unorthodox.

This effect had long since worn off on Frank.

“Stop it! Frank would never say such kind things like that. Would he?” Elodie nudged her husband playfully.

“You were just going weren’t you Rev?” implored Frank.

“He would my darling” said Rev intentionally ignoring Frank’s useless protest, “and he does daily, I was very much looking forward to meeting the marvellous Elodie and well, here we are.”

“Mom, Dad?” called Lucy.

Frank was turning white and Rev knew exactly what to do next.

“And that must be the darling Lucy. How is she? Still not eating her carrots?”

“Carrots are fine! Like I was saying” Frank turned to face Elodie, “Rev was just leaving.” He snapped his head back to look up at that terrifying face. He could not trust him, not even for a second.

“My, my, I think your Husband is a bit embarrassed of me Elodie.”

She laughed. He should not be making her laugh, he should not be here this is our home, you do not let people like Rev into your home. How did he even know where they lived?

“You know what will make him super uncomfortable?” jested Elodie with a wink towards Rev.

“No, I do not?” said Rev, who simultaneously let out a child-like giggle. Frank, even though he did not know himself, knew that Rev really knew what Elodie was implying. “We have just started dinner this is very rude!” screeched Frank in protest. Rev giggled again.

“Exactly, this is very rude.” replied Elodie, tenderly stroking her husband’s hair. Finally, thought Frank, she has seen him. She has seen through him. She now see’s what I see. “It is so rude that I have not invited you in for a bite to eat. Are you hungry? I have plenty of beef left. I cooked it myself and it is, if I may say so myself, delectable.”

Rev placed a hand on his chest and toothlessly smiled at them both. Anyone would have thought he was truly honoured by the proposal. Anyone, but Frank.

“I must admit I am a little hungry and the smell is phenomenal. Well, go on then. You have twisted my arm, as they say. As long as it is okay with your husband, of course. Between you and me, he doesn’t look so happy to see me.”

Frank was about to open his mouth until Elodie grabbed his face with both hands, squished it together, and turned it towards herself. “You can’t keep your work and private life separate forever baby, since you have started at this new place you have been nothing but stressed. Maybe this will help break down the barriers.”

“Here, here” proclaimed Rev, who mockingly punched the air in agreement. “All worlds, Frank, must come together eventually. Can’t keep hiding me forever.” And he playfully winked at Elodie. “Besides, we do have important business to attend to, hence me being here, but I’m sure it can wait till after dinner. Can’t it Frank?”

Elodie, still holding his face, rocked Frank’s head back and forth.

“It’s a date then!” squeaked Elodie, clasping her hands together with naïve joy. “Let me take your coat. Come in! Come in!” She rushed off back down the hallway and into the kitchen, leaving the two men alone in the doorway.

“Heard you had a bit of car trouble Frank.”

“Is that what this is about? That was nothing. Went to the station, gave them the proof, and walked out. No one could have known anything”

Rev pushed past Frank and again lent down and whispered in his ear.

“My friend, please do not look so shocked at me being here. It is simply the law of inevitability. The wind blows on and the ship must reach the promised land.”

He straightened his back and shouted, “Well where is this Lucy I have heard so much about?”

Frank solemnly closed the door behind him: the mice had fallen into the lion’s den; the law of inevitability must take hold.

 


Frank had been silent throughout the entire meal. When he came in to the kitchen he instinctively moved Lucy’s chair closer to his, an action that did not go unnoticed by Rev.

“Don’t worry little girl. Unlike what your daddy thinks I do not bite.” At this both Elodie and Lucy let out a chuckle, whilst Frank remained ghoulishly struck by the terror that surrounded him. Rev ate everything that was on his plate and even asked for some bread, if Elodie ‘would be so kind’, to soak up the remaining gravy. He spoke about how the business was going well and how, other than a few snags that could easily be ironed out, the expansion program was heading in the right direction thanks to Frank’s efforts.

“Frank, you never told us you were so, well, important. The people at your last job never understood your potential. Who knew Waitrose could be such a horrible place” said Elodie proudly, who then gave her husband a gentle kiss on the cheek.

At this Rev let out a gentle purr and turned his head towards Lucy. “You see my little poppet, your mummy and daddy are in love. They are a perfect example of this and that is all that matters in this world.” Lucy smiled at this suggestion and, with Rev, looked at her parents.

“Are you married Rev?” inquired Elodie.

“Sadly, not anymore.”

“Oh… I am sorry about that.”

Frank had never known this about Rev. He, of course, was immediately sceptical, but after examining Rev’s reaction the emotions seemed real, somewhat tangible. His top lip was trembling and his eyes twinkled; specks of water sparkling on an inferno.

“What happened?” asked Frank rather unabashedly.

“Its quite alright Elodie. Not your fault,” he replied with a half-smile. He then looked directly at Frank. He was going to make him pay for that question; the mouse was struggling too much. “She died in the first year of our marriage. An aneurism of the brain they said, nothing could be done. But I guess, that is just the law of inevitability: one day you are driving away scot-free, not a care in the world, the next moment you are dead in your kitchen…”

The silence that followed this remark was broken by Rev’s sigh. “Ah well. Like I said that’s just the way these things happen. I can’t move on from Helen, I don’t particularly want to. She is perfection still, no one will surpass her. Anyways, I am sorry to bring the mood down, I shouldn’t have interrupted your lovely meal.”

“It’s okay,” chirped Lucy, “you are always welcome here.”

“Thank you my dear” said Rev. “Now I do not want to be rude, but just because it is the holy day business still needs to be dealt with, and I, unlike God, think there is shame in resting. Elodie would I be okay snagging your seemingly distraught husband for just a few minutes?”

Elodie told Rev that they were welcome to stay in the kitchen if they wanted to and discuss whatever it is in front of them, an offer which Frank hastily declined saying that it would only bore them both. They would go to his study. As they both stood, Rev thanked Elodie for the wonderful meal. “Elodie you are truly phenomenal. As you said yourself, the beef delectable. Thank you. Lucy, it was also a pleasure to have finally met you.” Lucy, always the inquisitive child, repaid the compliment by asking how Rev had “grown so tall.” He knelt to Lucy’s height and smiled up at Frank just before replying. “My secret, just between us friends, is that I always ate my vegetables when I was little.”

 


“You have some bloody nerve! Some bloody nerve!” shouted Frank.

The study was cramped because of the unopened moving boxes that were full of stray items that they could not adequately categorise. Everything from old letters, calendars and diaries to flirtatious gifts and stuffed animals that they did not have the heart to throw away, was stuffed in these boxes.

“This my house! My new house, may I add! And now you are knocking on my door like some unwanted Jehovah’s witness, who, might I add, are not that wanted in the first place! And you… oh you have out done your…”

Rev reached out and put his hand on Frank’s shoulder, and his ramblings stopped dead.

“There, there.” Rev gave Frank a gentle squeeze. “No need to alarm the beautiful girls downstairs, is there?”

“And another thing,” Frank whispered, “what in God’s name are you doing coming around for Sunday dinner. Eating bloody Sunday dinner with my wife and kid!” This whispered anguish was pathetic and both Frank and Rev were aware of that fact. Frank slapped Rev’s arm off his shoulder, but confined his rage to silence.

“Inevitability” started Rev.

“Inevitability, always talking about fucking inevitability.”

“There is no need for that kind of language, especially between friends just chatting business.”

“I will fucking swear all the fuck I want you… Cock! Bloody friends, what are you talking about.”

Rev’s burning eyes sternly told him that enough was enough, and Frank’s anger whimpered away once again. He folded his arms  across his chest as if he were wearing a straight-jacket. Rev acknowledged his pleasure at Frank’s silence with a nod of his head.

“Like I was saying, inevitably dictated that we would end up here. Fate, crossed stars, aligned planets, whatever. I was destined to end up here delivering you this news.”

Frank, who had now buried himself into the far corner of the room, muttered under his breath: “What about the beef?”

“Excuse me?”

“I said nothing”

“Frank, I am tired of this, what did you say? Enough of this childish nonsense. Let’s behave like adults.”

“I said: what about the beef? The Sunday dinner? Is that all part of the divine path?”

Rev paused, and smiled, exposing his fractured teeth and mangled gums. “It was a very pleasant and unexpected service station along the way – like the one in Oxford, you know the one.”

“The one with the fountains and the bridge over the pond?”

“Yeah that’s the one.”

They paused. Frank looked out of the study’s window and saw how the clouds were seemingly stationary; frozen in the pale blue sky.

“The police found the body today Frank. An idiot with a metal detector accidentally dug it up this morning.”

Frank went cold. He wanted to ask what Rev had meant, but he knew exactly what had just been said: his head was now lying in the lion’s mouth. “Of course,” began Rev, who was dragging a finger across the leather chair, “you know what has to happen next, don’t you? They need a head. They want a head. Someone to, as they say, stick it to. You killed that person, didn’t you? Frank, are you listening to me? You killed that person, didn’t you?”

“No.” Frank knew what was happening. He was beginning to cry, his breathes were getting deeper; struggling was not going to help, but he could not stop.

“Yes, you did Frank.”

“No, no I just… did what you told me to do. Christ! I did not even know there was body in there until that bloody Russian – Joseph?” Rev nodded. “Joseph. He put that poor person in the car and told me to drive.” He sobbed for a moment. “Drive and get rid of it. It fucking… Sorry, it just stunk.”

“Frank,” sighed Rev, who had taken out his phone and was now texting, “I think you are missing the real news here. The overarching narrative.” Text sent he placed the phone back in his jacket pocket. “You did do it Frank. I know you know you didn’t, but you did. They will say that, the papers, the sombre police officer reading a statement in front of the cameras, they all know you did it. It will be said in court, by a barrister, a judge and the jury. They know you did it, they just haven’t been told that yet. They don’t care if it stunk, they do not care how or why you did it. They just care that it was you, that they have your face to point to and blame.”

“But I didn’t…” Frank slid down the wall and fell into a foetal position. “I would never do anything like that. I thought this was a new opportunity, that for once in my life a new avenue had opened, that someone had put their faith in me, spotted me amongst the crowd. Do you know how that feels? That within the sea of faces, a person, a person with power and influence like you, sees you and lifts you out, stopping you from drowning amongst those who are already lost. You approached me, offered me a new job, a new life. You were meant to be my guardian angel Rev, not the Goddamn Grim Reaper.”

“Nobody is dead, Frank. Well nobody that matters. Look at me. Come on now don’t be shy.” Frank reluctantly raised his head, which was now bright red. His eyes were bloodshot and snot was running down his nose. “That’s a good lad. Now try to listen to me. What did you think we were getting out of your new career venture? Let us get something straight: when I pulled you from this sea four months ago, you were working at a cheese counter at Waitrose. Now, credit where credit is due, it is a far shot better than a Tesco or even a Sainsbury’s, but in this ocean of worthlessness, you were a fucking bottom feeder!” Rev was now crouching directly in front of Frank, staring at every twitch in his face, every squint of his eyes. “You were absolutely nothing, and in relation to the grand scheme of things you are still nothing. And you know what happens to nothing, don’t you? You get used by people like us and maybe, if you are lucky and the wind is blowing in the right direction, we through you one chewed up rib from the carcass that we are devouring. Like this house, for instance.”

Silence fell, as Rev got to his feet and looked out the window at the now cloudless sky. “I am neither your angel or your executioner, Frank, I am simply a reality check. You did murder that person, you did dispose of the body, and you will tell the truth.”

Frank laughed for a moment, but, to his bewilderment, so did Rev. “Ah, so now we reach the point where you say you won’t do it and you threaten to squeal everything you know to the police. Well, firstly, an unstoppable chain of events has already begun, that will culminate in a reliable eye witness coming forward to the police, saying that they saw a man bundle what looked like a body into the boot of his grey car four days ago, a car that had a smashed left brake light. An extra detail we had Joseph prepare just in case; a kind of insurance, if a head did need to be placed on a platter. After a bit of cross-referencing, the police will come up with the name of a certain Frank Skinner. Like I said Frank, all they care about is the fact you did it, nothing else. When they bring you in, which will be over the course of the next day or two, you will tell them the truth: you killed that person. Nothing more will come out of your mouth, until you are told what more truth you can say.”

“That doesn’t stop me from telling them all about you though does it Rev. How you forced me to do this shit!” Frank was shocked by this newfound, primal courage. “Me and you are tied together on this.”

“You are right” smirked Rev. “What a smart cheese merchant you are. I have no leverage of any kind, off I go.” He mimed walking towards the door, and then turned back round. “Except. Now that I think about it. How did you buy this house Frank? With the money we gave you as a signing on fee, am I right? Also, who lives in this house Frank. No, don’t tell me. There is you, that’s one. And, oh of course, your beautiful wife and daughter. Now cheese boy, tell me how many people that is? Go on?”

“Three.”

“Well done, and how many do we need to confess to the crime?”

“One.”

“Isn’t that swell. Excellent job. Now, despite what you are thinking, I am a generous man. Heck I practically gave the guy who sold me camembert a few times, enough money to buy him and his family a new ‘dream’ home. Are you getting this?”

Frank did not respond.

“Simply put, you mention that I or the company had anything to do with this, the dream home goes up in flames. With, might I add, the combustible wife and daughter still inside. If, on the other hand, you plead guilty, and ride, let’s say, the next seventeen years out – that of course being if you behave yourself inside – then as a good will gesture on my behalf, I will ensure that they are both taken care of financially and physically. That Lucy will have enough money to go to university, because I’d be damned if tuition fees stay as they are for the next decade.”

Frank’s face was blank, it had been trampled into an emotionless pulp by a never-ending parade of distress. Noticing this, Rev once again made his way over to Frank, only this time they sat shoulder-to-shoulder. He took Frank’s hand in his and gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

“You need to stop looking at me like I am a monster and accept the only truth that matters: you are going to prison, yes, but nobody you love will get hurt. I promise you that. You have a day, maybe even two, before the police turn up. Why not enjoy your time with Elodie and Lucy, hold them both and ingrain that memory into your subconscious – what you have with them I wish I myself could have. Trust me. None of this changes that.” He squeezed Frank’s hand again. “I will see myself out. Why don’t you take a few moments, I will tell Elodie that you will be down in ten minutes and that you are just crunching the numbers.”

He stood up and walked towards the door.

“Rev.”

“Yes, Frank.” He stopped but did not turn to face him.

“Did you ever see anything in me that made me different from anyone else?”

Rev hesitated. “I saw that you could be sacrificed if needs be.”

“Rev… One last thing.”

“Go on.”

“Why did you murder that person?”

“Because I could. Because people like me can.” And with that he opened the door, closed it slowly behind him and vanished from Frank’s mind.

Surrounded by boxes, Frank sat on the floor staring at the carpet. The truth had begun to settle in; what came next was unstoppable. Tonight, he would kiss his daughter’s head with more love than he had ever done before and hold his wife in his arms for what he knew could not be an eternity.

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