Time had been racing but it jarred to a shuddering halt when I walked back into this room and threw my bag in the corner; my was head swimming and the swirling floral designs were preparing to attack. There were ghosts in this town and demons in this room. The posters and haggard blue wallpaper were gone, replaced by the delicate but predatory floral print. The matted carpet was now tastefully neutral, and the bedding muted yellows and browns. I sat perched on the end of one of the single beds, jack-knifed over, elbows on knees and head in hands. I had to get some air. I had to get out. I jumped up, grabbed my coat from the other bed and spun out the room and away from the past. I half ran down the stairs and headed for the door, stopping only to shove my head in the living room and tell the old man I was off out. He grunted something unintelligible. The décor had changed but the ambience remained the same.
I stepped out the door, the wind snatched at my hair and the rain cut my face. I fastened the buttons on my coat and turned up the collar as a futile defence against the onslaught of the weather. I raised my head for the first time since I’d got back. Across the road Heather was in her garden. It was no coincidence, she would have seen the car and, knowing the circumstances, guessed it was mine. A bit of rain was not going to stop a hardened gossip like her being the first to confirm my return. I gave her a wave and shouted a greeting, turning away before she could snare me in a remorseless inquisition.
I’d never seriously expected to get in and out undetected but all hope of that was blown away on the wind as it carried news of my return. The dice were out of the cup now.
I walked aimlessly, or at least I thought I was travelling without a destination. I could have walked out the town towards the sea, the salt air could have cleared my head but I was pulled towards the town. I had never been patient and if I was going to have to face the ghosts of the past then I’d rather do it sooner than later.
It didn’t take long. I’d barely turned onto the high street, saddened at how little it had changed, when I was pushed in the back. Not hard enough to knock me off my feet but hard enough to make me stumble and hard enough to make it clear it was far from friendly. Warily I turned around and found myself looking at Sly; he was older, heavier and his face was worn like those on the castle ruins but it was him alright.
“I wondered if you’d be back but didn’t actually think you’d be that stupid” he spat venom.
We’d been tight once, grew up on the same street and shared in the same nonsense but his narrowed eyes and clenched jaw told me he wasn’t ready to forgive. At least the thirteen years had tempered his desire for violence; otherwise I’d be lying in the gutter praying his fist hadn’t broken my nose and his boot my ribs.
I turned fully to face him and stretched my arms like Christ upon the cross. Logic told me he was right. It told me I should walk away, get in the car and head back south but I’d never been a slave to logic.
“You all knew I’d be back someday so don’t act like you’re surprised”
He almost looked rueful as he shook his head and walked away, never looking back. I stood with my hair plastered to my face and the rain dripping off my nose, arms still outstretched, waiting for my salvation to deliver me from this world. Salvation didn’t come, it never does and just I’d willingly walked back into hell.
I could have stayed away but obligation brought me back.
An obligation others expected, not an obligation in which I believed.