Mark had always considered himself a good writer of letters. But in the face of such horror that was about to befall his unsuspecting family, he was a bad letter writer and a bad person at that. He didn’t regret his decision. There was no point now anyway. ‘Guilt is a wicked ghost.’
It was me.
There. Simple, short and sour. When it came to mortifying confessions, a well written letter was irrelevant. He stuck the stamp on and proceeded into John Lennon airport. As he walked among reuniting relatives, air stewards and sleepy backpackers, he knew he would never outrun his actions. But neither could James Brittle. His actions had caught up with him, justice was served. Mark was happy to have this on his conscience, he would proudly reminisce in years to come.
Mark felt nothing. It had been everyone’s fault but his own. Every day he lived with gloom brought about by the cruelty of youth and the vile dwellers of Rainfield Heath. He made his way through security and allowed himself the pleasure of indifference. No guilt, no fear, no regret. Just floating, winds spread, freely above the storm.
He sat alone at the departure gate, savoring the peace and quiet before other passengers smothered his personal space, all determined to board first. He got lost in his memories, memories he could enjoy now that things had been set right.
It was one of those days, late September, leaves are still green with a tint of brown and the air had a bearable chill. School had been fine. Just the usual abuse being hurled, burning textbooks launched at his head and chewed up bus tickets spat in his face. Fed up, he disembarked the 706 two miles earlier than usual, drenched in Peter Tilly’s saliva and the laughter of tickled onlookers. As he wiped wet paper and tobacco-infused goz from his cheeks, Mark tightened his throat, imbibing the lump, refusing to let tears appear. He greeted Mrs Patel as normally as possible and smiled at old Arthur Simmons as he fumbled with his dahlias.
A note on the fridge; Back at 8, please put bins out, Ta.
Relief washed over Mark as he fetched a crunch corner from the fridge and sat at the table. He replayed it all in his head, the desire to cry now gone. ‘You fuckin’ nonce,’ ‘You should have been drowned at birth, shit stabber.’ Maybe James Brittle was right, maybe gay people are all paedophiles who are riddled with AIDs and doomed to spend their days being beaten up by laudable sixth-formers. As he tipped the crunchy hoops into the toffee yoghurt, Mark smiled. What a joke it all was. James Brittle; the fit one, the one who’ll definitely marry a supermodel one day! ‘Fuck off!’ Still, there was such an element of fun to the whole thing. Being the only one who could see right through the shimmering charade. The sadistic bigot disguised as the golden boy. It made the boy feel wise to watch from afar as countless girls giggled and swooned in his wake. No, Mark was not jealous of James Brittle, not even at school. And he certainly wasn’t scared of him. Brittle had used up most of his scary-bully tokens by now; pushing a twelve year old Mark in to cow shit, forcing him to lick the urinal for the amusement of his friends, promising to fuck his mother so she could have normal babies. It had all been re-runs since year 10. And still nobody suspected a thing of the handsome, clever James Brittle. And Sally Winter once said his dad worked at the Porsche showroom in town, so of course James Brittle was, you could say, entitled to his arrogance.
Mark’s silver hair was slicked back with a handful of gel. A black beanie hat concealed it all from view. A black outfit concealed him from view in the dead of night. He relished in the white paint spreading over his skin – cold, moist and shimmering in the wanly lit hotel bathroom. He sponged it on until he resembled a corpse. ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’ he told his reflection, ‘they make justice.’ After years of watching speeches designed to please, empower and educate the world about gay rights, Mark was bored. He was tired of therapy and sick of self-help books. Action was the only way to advance the world and tonight was his beginning along the yellow brick road. No sparkly shoes, no enemies in tow. ‘Just me and my plan.’
Yes, Mark allowed James Brittle his reign of evil. Behind Ladbrokes, he remained completely still while the point of a compass was pushed against his neck and the bitter fumes of hash were blown down his windpipe. Two feet to his left, Peter Tilly rammed the unconscious girl hard. In the dim glow of a streetlamp you could see streaks of mud on her school socks and her limp legs dangling over his arms. Smoke, dog shit and vodka hung thick in the air. James’s mouth arrived at his ear. ‘So what’ll it be? Suck my cock…or I break your fingers? …What?!…I can’t hear ya’.’ Nausea washed over Mark as his head spun. A big hard fist struck his temple and he met the cold, muddy floor. ‘One day, Marky, it’ll all be over.’ Mark staggered to his feet, vomited twice and managed to withstand a kick up the arse without falling back down. He picked up his mother’s shopping and continued on home.
‘Mark, I know I wasn’t that nice-‘
Hateful laughter escaped among the trees, ‘not that nice. Oh you do blow me away with your phrasing there, Mr Brittle. Come on, what do you remember? Think back and tell me about – I know, let’s talk about that horrid ultimatum. Do you remember?’
‘I don’t know.’ Bittle’s eyes watered with fright, his forehead glistened in an anxious layer of sweat.
‘Course you do,’ Mark kicked some a loose soil on to Brittle, ‘it was either I suck your cock or you break my fingers. Remember? Your mate was raping that girl from year 9. She had twins the following year, didn’t she! Think…THINK!’
‘God, I’m sorry, please. D’ya want money or something? I can give you money, Mark, just…’
Everything seemed light and dark all at the same time. Like black flames. Despite his unkind introduction to weed, Mark began enjoying the buzz. He walked home slowly allowing his stomach to settle and concoct a believeable tale behind his bruised face and bloodshot eyes. There was no violence in him. He tried to understand his lack of instinct and how it allowed him to endure so much. Mark almost wanted to believe he’d catch AIDs and go insane, as James had predicted. If life was destined to be so unpleasant at least it would shorten the sentence. Would James Brittle ever get what he deserves? Well, he hadn’t so far. He enjoyed the pleasures of hovering between good and evil. ‘We’re only allowed one.’ James Brittle can’t have his cake and eat it, thought Mark. His temple throbbed badly, the swelling rapidly expanding. The greed of such people rattled his temper but still, anger didn’t come. If only he could hear it knock, he could welcome it in. Bide your time, it would probably tell him.
Flies and moths fluttered around the street lamps. The occasional car whispered by in the distance. Rainfield retail park remained empty until James Brittle, still as handsome and athletic as ever, exited the gym toward his Porsche – ‘of course.’ Mark felt the familiar jolt in his groin as he recalled Brittle’s hands on him, his lips on his neck. Before his mood could soften, Mark shook away the memories of Brittle’s powerful shoulders and L.F.C thigh tattoo, his badge of masculinity.
What if fate failed James Brittle? Mark lifted a thick steak from the fridge and headed to the conservatory. What if karma skipped over him altogether? What if it was up to him, Mark to take matters in to his own hands? Afterall, the world would never advance without the actions of others. Man cannot live by bread alone. Mark brought the raw meat to his eye and touched it, stroked its cold clammy surface and lost himself in thought. What wouldn’t he do for his own betterment? The joys of untold torture could pave the way for brighter days. James Brittle’s reign of cruelty over Mark was a big and wicked secret. Without a known history, how could accusations be made if something were to happen to James?
With a racing heart Mark followed the silver streamlined vehicle for 10 minutes, timing his first move perfectly. With a stamp on the accelerator, Mark’s Honda met with the rear of the Porsche. A satisfactory clank caused the Porsche to shudder and swerve to a halt. Mark obliged like a pleasant driver would, eyeing up the space in the trees to their left. Spot on. His stomach lurched as he watched the big man step out into the night and approach the Honda. Mark remained still, staring straight ahead, luring his prey.
‘Passenger announcement: Flight E004 to Berlin is now boarding. Please proceed to gate 9.’ Mark rose from his seat and grinned. The excitement of meeting his companions erased the panic and worry of running away from everything. Instead he took his future by the hand. Together, Mark and his new followers would end homophobia. They would fight fire with bigger flames and remind the bigots infesting the earth that they too were capable of pain and control.
‘What the hell, mate?’ The porsche owner yelled through the glass to the white painted driver.
Mark remained deathly still, holding Brittle’s frustration. ‘Hey!’ He spoke again, this time giving the window an angry tap. ‘Right, get out the car!’ Perfect! His hand ready on the handle, Mark launched the door open fast and hard, hitting Brittle’s forehead with a lovely thud. He staggered back. ‘What the fuck?’
Mark produced a cricket bat and rose to his feet, bigger and taller than he was in Year 10. Brittle lumbered toward him, belligerent and full of testosterone, but he wasn’t quick enough. The bat struck his unshaved jaw nice and hard. Brittle hit the floor, dizzy, shocked and no doubt hurt. ‘I do beg your pardon,’ Mark giggled, ‘but it’s my first time doing anything like this. Do let me know if I need any improvement.’
No approaching cars. A rope was threaded around Brittle’s belt, he felt the rough earthy ground moving beneath him and moments later, the sounds of tree branches being parted. Drunk on pain, the man was fightless. Mark found a nice clearing surrounded by thick sycamores, big and leafy to block out sound. He let out a big sigh as he looked down at his drowsy, bruised victim. Still conscious, good. Well, just about. ‘Do you recognise my voice, Mr Brittle?’
‘I said,’ a kick to his ribs, ‘do you recognise my voice?’
‘No,’ Brittle choked.
His attacker reached down and lifted his head slightly. ‘Look at my face, James. Do you recognise me?’
The terrified eyes widened at the sight of the pale, vengeful figure looming over him, holding his head. ‘It’s me. How could you forget? It’s Mark, your old school friend.’
The handsome face distorted into a frightened cry. ‘Don’t hurt me, please, man.’ Mark straightened up. ‘Oh I’ve asked you the same thing. How many times do you think? No, really, did you keep count?’
‘Why are you doing this?’ James whimpered, ‘do you want money? I can give you money if that’s what you want, please just let me go and we can sort this out.’
‘No, James.’ Mark paced nonchalantly up and down. ‘This is not about money.This is about you learning a very, very valuable lesson.’
Mark sat cross legged beside his quivering victim and removed a set of wire cutters from his coat. A thoughtful pause washed over him. ‘Do you ever think of what you did to me? Do you still think it was funny?’
James moaned helplessly. No response, an elbow was rammed into his ribs. ‘Aaargh!’ He squealed, ‘no…no, it was awful. And I’m sorry.’
‘No, sorry’s not the answer. Sorry was your magic word for the headmaster. What I’m here for is something a bit more permanent. Give me your right hand. NOW!’
Brittle’s large, trembling hand was presented. ‘What are you gonna do?’
‘Since you can’t recall the number of times I asked you not to hurt me, we’re going to count them. Together. This will refresh your memory.’
His heart no longer pounded, his head no longer swam with terror or anxiety. Nothing had ever pleasured Mark more than this moment here and now. Adult life had seen no romance, no thrilling sex, not even saunas or strip clubs. Just lonely nights of recollection, festering in the dirt of his memory, rolling around in it with James Brittle, drowning him in the shitty, muddy puddles that housed all the tears and shame he’d created. Every nightmare became a dream, every fear became ecstasy, fright churned itself to excitement, like butterflies that swarmed in his chest.
Mark’s eyes closed as he was drenched by Brittle’s pained screams. He picked up the severed finger and placed it on Brittle’s big heaving chest.
‘That’s one. The day you stripped me down to my underwear on the football field, smeared me with horse shit and made me run home. You must have been so proud of yourself. Were you, James? Were you proud?’
Too much agony filled Brittle’s mouth to form a reply. Mark reclaimed the blood soaked hand and readied the wire cutters on the shivering middle finger. James pleaded and yelled. With a difficult snip it dropped to the dry grass. Brittle’s sobs reached effeminate volumes, snot, tears and spittle poured from his distressed, no-longer-handsome face. His legs writhed, his mouth stretched to a gaping scream as a third finger was ripped from the hand bringing with it strips of fine vein and sinew. More screaming, more spurts of blood. It took a while for Brittle to settle down.
‘Now, on my thirteenth birthday,’ Mark finally continued, placing the additional fingers on to Brittle’s shapely chest, ‘you followed me to a sweet shop, remember? You tripped me up then poured diet coke all over me while I was down. You then proceeded to coat me in fart gas. You sadistic little cunt, James Brittle. So that’s why I’ve taken two fingers for that incident, seeing as you ruined the start and the entirety of my teen years.’
Mark withdrew for a moment, leaving Brittle to squirm and whimper. Tears welled in his eyes, smudging the face paint. How ridiculous he felt that day, returning home, his special birthday shirt stained with diet coke and stinking of a pensioner’s bedsit. His mother cried, his father paced up and down enraged. Mark denied any knowledge of the culprit, terrified of the repercussions. Not even a Star Wars cake cheered him up, nor his Grandmother’s cards or the handmade wallet from his sister.
As Mark returned from his car he found Brittle trying to crawl away. ‘You’re not gonna get far, Mr Brittle. I don’t care how often you visit that gym.’ Brittle cried as Mark took him by the ankles and dragged him back to the original spot in the clearing. Brittle was flipped on to his back, his attacker lay on top of him, their faces inches apart. Damn, his body felt good. Brittle’s hot distressed breath smelt like men and fear. The same smell as the kisses they once shared.
‘You still don’t understand, do you?’ Brittle merely shook his head. ‘All those awful things you did, each and every one of them cost me a bit of myself, my identity. I don’t know who I am, I never had a chance because of you. So now you’re going to see just what it’s like to be a lost cause.’ And with that Mark bound his victim’s wrists with the rope. With another length, he tied his ankles loosely together. James Brittle was entirely his in this moment. Mark smiled giddily as as he wedged a large branch between Brittle’s knees, keeping his thighs apart.
‘Mark, no, please!’ James screeched, ‘please, I’m sorry, I’ll do anything you want.’ Brittle pleaded, a satisfying change from the arrogant fool he’d been all his life. ‘I have a wife, Mark.’
He faltered. He thought for a moment. ‘Are you good to her? Are you kind?’
‘Have you ever had an affair behind her back?’
Finally, his efforts of the last two months were paying off. All that time and petrol he’d used following Brittle to a run down semi in Orford, waiting hours outside, watching, timing him. The tall blonde, waving from the door in a negligee at four in the afternoon said it all.
‘You liar! You filthy, rotten, shagging little liar! I’ve seen you! I’ve been there.’ Mark planted a firm ramming of his boot in to Brittle’s face, smearing it with mud and blood. His nose shattered, more screams echoed into the night. Mark could no longer contain his adrenaline. Immense pleasure washed through him, satisfaction rippled through his body. He picked up the axe he’d fetched from the car and without a moment’s thought, brought it down with all his might onto Brittle’s left knee. His calf lay dormant below his spewing thigh. No screams this time, instead the pain forced him into unconsciousness. Brittle was silent and bloody. Ruined.
Mark exhaled, pushing every bit of air out of his lungs. Exhaustion tore into him. He dropped to his knees and rested on all fours for a moment. Still no guilt, and not even a scrap of self-disgust.
‘You tell anyone about this and you’re fucking dead. I mean it, Mark.’ James spoke in hushed tones as Mark licked his naked chest, then his neck, then his ear. ‘I won’t,’ Mark sobbed, terrified as he obeyed James’s orders. Nobody had seen him arrive at Brittle’s house. His parents were both at work and school wasn’t due to finish for another two hours. ‘I know you won’t – bite my ear lobe. Anyone finds out I’ll burn your house down while you all sleep.’
Unconscious, Brittle had tripled in weight, it seemed. Still, Mark managed to get him back to the Porsche and upright in the driver’s seat, his stump oozing.
‘Two wrongs don’t make a right, James Brittle. They make justice.’ Mark whispered as he removed the rope from his remaining ankle and bloodstained writsts. Looking at the man’s swollen, bloodstained face, Mark couldn’t help but love just how much hatred he had for this man. He felt sad, it was over too quickly. Next time, though, he would milk it.
‘Passenger announcement: Flight E004 to Berlin is now boarding. Please proceed to gate 9.’ Mark rose from his seat and grinned.
It was me.
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