This was the right time to return to the surface. And explain to Jakki that he hadn’t found the brooch. He could see her face as he told her, a veneer of sympathy over her implacable conviction that he would go back. Her conviction would be justified because as hopeless as the quest was, he’d left her alone with Dad and would do whatever she asked until he atoned for it.
He looked back to the house and knew there was another reason why he’d go back in. He refused to accept he’d seen Dad in that room because it simply couldn’t have happened. He made himself go over the scene in his mind and think about what he’d actually seen. The flashlight beam flicking around the room, sending shadows cavorting in all directions. A movement out of the kitchen. Or was it into the kitchen? A dark figure with no features. Could he have imagined it? It had looked so human. So real.
He had to know. He kicked back toward the house before he had time to frighten himself. He panned the flashlight around the living room. The same two armchairs he remembered lay toppled on their sides. The bookshelves were still screwed to the wall, although the books were reduced to lumps of pulp scattered across the floor. Ian remembered titles like SAS Survival Manual and Bravo Two Zero, but little of the words inside them. Instructions on butchering rabbits blended with tales of hard-jawed men slaughtering softer and darker featured men who never had names. Ian had always identified more with the slaughtered than the slaughterers. It wasn’t until years after he ran away that he understood what an impossible dream those hard men had been for Dad, and understood Dad’s rage that his son showed so little aptitude for becoming what he never became himself.
Yet the memory of Dad was all that was left of him in the room. There was no sign of Dad himself, though there was a faint haze in the room. Ian saw that it was made up of dark tendrils that diffused and dissolved as he peered at them. He finned into the kitchen. Something darted through the flashlight beam. Ian caught his breath as he recognised the same movement that had preceded Dad’s appearance.
Next week: The Stairs
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online