The hiss and roar of his breathing told Ian that he was still alive, but he knew he wouldn’t be for much longer. He was hallucinating when his life depended on clear thinking.
“Like I said, I warned you.”
The voice sounded exactly like his own. He railed silently for it to shut up.
“I’ll shut up when I want to shut up. This is my house now.”
Ian felt his arms wrap themselves around his knees. He thought of Jakki adrift in the boat, waiting for him to come back up. What if no one saw her and called the coastguard? She’d never be able to steer the boat back to land. He was abandoning her for a second time. The thought sank into his stomach like a lead weight.
A torrent of memories surged through Ian’s mind. Of him and Jack clinging to each other while Dad raged through the living room. Of the trust in her face when he said he’d never leave her. Of the day he broke his promise and walked for miles to the nearest town, only to get collared stealing a Mars bar from a newsagent. Memories of the image of her that he’d conjured up to give him the courage to keep his mouth shut when the social services asked where he’d come from, convinced they’d send him back to Dad if they knew. Then the years of foster homes and college as he trained as a social worker, to help people like himself and Jack only to find that every lost soul was a poor substitute for the one he’d left behind.
He ignored the voice this time, as his memories brought him back to Jakki, alone in the boat above him.
“She’s up there?”
Yes damn it, she’s up there, Ian thought. Happy now?
Next week: The Light
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online