There had been two camp beds and nothing else in there when he left. Now there was just a single bare frame on Jack’s side of the room and a space where his bed had been. Dad probably threw it out in fury when he found him gone. He remembered a night when he did have to sleep on his belly. Jack had burned the dinner, and Ian had deflected Dad’s anger by saying he had broken a fishing rod. Jack had crawled into his bed and they kept each other awake while Dad drank in the living room, waiting for the bang of his bedroom door and the snores that would announce that he’d passed out, so Ian could slip down to the garage and actually break a fishing rod. Nine-year-old Jack ran her fingers over the welts on his back, and Ian felt the warmth of her tears on his shoulder. “I’ll always protect you from him,” he had said. At thirteen, he’d believed he meant it. Now he felt the void that eleven years of broken promise had opened in him.
A hundred bars. Twenty-two minutes. Ian was procrastinating, putting off entering Dad’s bedroom. A new thought crossed his mind. Could Dad still be in there? The cliff had collapsed at night, so he had probably been in bed. He could well be behind that door, under a herd of crabs jostling each other for the last morsels of flesh. Ian had been so convinced he wouldn’t find the house that he had not even thought about finding Dad’s body. It was about the only thing he hadn’t got round to being afraid of since he got down here.
If Dad’s body was in there, it couldn’t be helped. He had to search that room. And whatever happened, he wasn’t going to panic. He turned the handle and opened the door.
Ian had a brief impression of a camp bed frame on its side, clothes floating in the flashlight beam and the mattress trapped against the ceiling by its own buoyancy. A silhouette of flailing limbs and armoured claws lunged at his face.
Next week: The Crab
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online