She is rocking back and forth in the bus shelter. It is four in the morning.
‘…the shapes,’ she mutters, hair falling over her face. ‘The shapes they were twisted into…’
‘Madam,’ says the paramedic as he puts down his medical bag and rifles for a notepad. ‘My name is Gary. We’ve received a call from a member of the public. Can you tell me your name?’
Gary scans the woman’s face for injury. The bus shelter is spiderwebbed with cracks, presumably the result of some drunken teenage prank. The obliquely shattered plastic catches the light from the surrounding shopfronts, backlighting the woman and revealing her thin arms and thinner face. She shakes her head, as though the effort of remembering anything at all is just too much.
‘Have you taken anything tonight?’ asks Gary, shining a torch into the woman’s face.
Her eyes meet his for the first time, pupils like pinholes in the torchlight.
‘Of course not,’ she snaps back, registering his bag and uniform for the first time.
Gary stands with his hands on his hips, radio burbling away on his chest. ‘Can you tell me why you’re swaying back and forth in a bus stop at four in the morning?’
‘You’d be rocking too if you’d seen what’s in that shop.’ The woman flicks her head towards something behind her.
Gary steps out of the bus stop and peers at the store fronts – a shuttered chippy, a newsagent, and a bespoke furniture store. He glances up and down the high street. Not a soul is stirring. The woman is still visible through the cracked bus shelter, but strangely immobile, as though absorbed into a mosaic. The paramedic walks back around to her.
‘Can I ask,’ he says, taking a knee so that he can look into the woman’s face. ‘If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a mental health issue?’
Pinching the bridge of her nose, she speaks through clenched teeth. ‘I’m not crazy. Inside the furniture store.’
Gary leans past the shattered plastic and squints into the shadowy interior. Tables, chairs, floor lamps, and bookcases litter the shop floor in a fake tableau of causal homeliness, all casting shadows that reach into the back of the store.
‘…twisted corpses. Sawn. Hacked. Broken…’
The woman is muttering to herself again. Gary feels the hairs on his arms rise. Somewhere up the street a polystyrene takeaway container tumbles across tarmac. The radio has been silent for several minutes. His fingers twist towards it before dropping once more.
‘What do you think you’ve seen in there?’ he asks carefully.
‘A slaughter,’ she mumbles, bringing her knees up in front of her chin. ‘Innocents butchered.’
Gary keeps the woman in the corner of his vision as he approaches the shop once more.
‘X-ray Yankee Four One,’ he mutters into his radio. ‘Request police assistance at current locus. Possible multiple casualties reported by witness. Violent suspect unaccounted for.’
He cups his hands against the cold glass and peers into the shadowy room. Shapes on the floor meld into the darkness but there is no way of telling what they are. A flashing light on the wall tells him that the alarm has not yet been triggered.
‘Do you see them?’ The woman is suddenly by his side, her fingertips leaving silvery smudges on the glass. ‘So much pain. So much perversion.’
He shakes his head. ‘I don’t see them. Show me.’
Cold fingers clam around his head, forcing it down and into the glass.
‘They’re right in front of you,’ she says urgently. ‘Norwegian pine, twisted into a nightstand. That bespoke bed, a cruel mockery of what was once an elegant walnut tree. This bureau, sawn and sanded and hammered and screwed until no trace remains of the birch tree that once stood, shifting and creaking in the wind, something truly alive.’
‘X-ray Yankee Four One,’ groans Gary, peeling the woman’s hands from his head. ‘That’s a stand-down. Repeat. That’s a stand-down.’
She turns to look at him, her eyes wide and her expression sombre.
‘This is nothing more than a graveyard, each piece of furniture a tombstone for what was once…’
She pauses. Her eyes have dropped again and on their way to the pavement they have found his notepad, its pages fluttering in what is now a light breeze. Her mouth hardens.
***As always, I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts/comments!***