Warning: The following short story covers dark themes and has some extreme violence. Not for the faint hearted.
Lewis Kelly had been sitting in the spare room of his two-bedroom house, working each and every day for the last five months, with no end in sight. At first, he thought that working from home would be fine, no problem at all. That soon died away. Christina, his wife, had gone back to the office and the long days became quieter and longer. He longed for idle chit-chat and cafeteria food. Even the commute and never finding a space close enough to the building. He honestly didn’t know how much longer he could tolerate it. Sleeping in late and waking up for ten minutes before shifts only held so many perks. It was now becoming dark before the end of the workday.
“Take a walk before work,” Lewis’s manager had said over a video call when he had expressed his worries about working from home.
Lewis ended the call feeling as if none of his concerns had made it beyond the screen in front of him, let alone into his manager’s ears and thoughts. It wasn’t that the work was hard. For the most part he was just filling out spreadsheets and analysing error trends to see where training was lacking. It was monotonous and tedious and silent.
Lewis went through cycles, listening to music, watching shows on his tablet, listening to audio books. Each one seemed new and exciting, until it didn’t. Eventually whatever else was there just seeped into the tedium. And now the sun was down after work most days. It felt too late to go for a walk, he didn’t like walking in the dark. Not after he was jumped as a teenager. Cleaning had taken a back seat in his mind; showers became every other day and then every three days and now once a week. The clothes were piling up and too often Lewis was doing the washing up just so he had something he could eat off.
Christina was doing her fair share. All she asked was he put the washing on when he was working and hang it up on his lunch and then do the washing up. She did everything else, the shopping, the hovering, the deep cleaning of each room. At this point she doesn’t expect the washing to be done when she gets home and was surprised when she sees fresh clothes hanging on the rack. She would do it herself, but that wasn’t the deal she signed up for. It was the principle she told her friends at work. She would wait him out and he would crack and that bubbly person would shine through. The person she had fallen for all those years ago.
Downstairs, Christina was getting dinner ready for the both of them. Lewis finishing up work, he still had an hour to go before he can shut the laptop down for the weekend. It was Friday and for the first time in a month their schedules had coincided, so they both had the same weekend. Christina had been looking forward to it for the whole month and had a whole itinerary planned, just to bring Lewis back out of the funk he’d been in. Not that he knew anything about her plans, she wanted it to seem spontaneous and spur of the moment. If you asked him, Lewis would have said he felt fine, just a little behind on sleep. Nothing to worry about.
Christina was cooking Lewis’s favourite dish. Pasta with her own sauce. Her speaker, on the windowsill, playing music from her phone and she was singing along. Even when she doesn’t know the words. Her singing, mingled in with the speaker’s volume carried itself through the house, upstairs and in to the spare room, where Lewis was sitting at his desk filling in the spreadsheet he had been working on for last few hours. There had been a trend in missing a simple step completing a simple task and the new people were all making the same mistake. Something that would be easily corrected once a catch-up training session had been scheduled in. That wasn’t Lewis’s job though and he was grateful. Speaking, even over a video call, wasn’t a strong suit. He clicked on to the next row, filling in the case number which had held the next error he had spotted. The screen froze for a second. His curser not keeping up with the mouse he was moving. It started moving again, just before Lewis started to get stressed. It was taking long enough to get this done already, without tech issues. On the other monitor, the system, K-Works, which holds the cases that Lewis checks had shut down. The internet must have shut off for just a second. K-Works, would only work with a solid connection. Meaning he would have to load it back up and find the case he was currently working again. Five minutes behind again.
“Jesus,” he said to himself. “This is stupid. It’s not my internet, it can’t be. Never does this when I’m using it for anything else, it’s only on this bloody laptop.”
As he stopped speaking, he noticed the music from downstairs. He had been vaguely aware up until that point and it just hadn’t been bothering him. He stood up and walked over to the door. It was ever so slightly ajar.
“Jesus, Christina. Turn it down, I’m trying to focus up here. I will be done in a bit, just keep it down,” he said and then slammed the door.
The music downstairs was switched off without another word. Christina figured that something was going wrong upstairs. It was probably the laptop, she thought to herself, it was always having some issue or another. He had told her about it enough, even giving stories from his colleagues who had said the same thing. Not that she needed telling. Back before her office was open, she was working from home too and had similar issues. Never told Lewis about it though, what’s the point she thought. It was easier just to ignore and wait for it to start working again. Her manager understood the issues she was facing. The whole country, if not the world, was facing them all together. She sighed into the silence and carried on.
Lewis instantly regretted doing it. The music hadn’t annoyed him really. In fact, he liked hearing Christina singing. She may not be the best singer in the world, but he liked hearing it. The silence was punishment enough and he carried on working, picking up pretty quickly where he had left off before the internet has cut out for that short moment.
The final hour passed smoothly and mostly quietly. The only thing that broke the silence was Lewis occasionally speaking to himself, calling himself names for getting worked up over nothing important.
Christina was downstairs cooking dinner, getting everything ready. It had hurt when he shouted. This was supposed to be the start of a refreshing weekend and instead it had started like that. The hour had passed though, and distractions had taken up her mind. She was humming to herself when Lewis started to come downstairs. She could hear his thumping feet bounce off every step on the way down.
Once Lewis had reached the bottom the doorbell rang. Both of them in the house froze. They hadn’t ordered anything and that’s all a doorbell meant to them after half a year in lockdown. For a split-second Christina worried that Lewis had ordered food. It was Friday and that was becoming more regular. They never ordered in before the world shut down. Lewis wondered what Christina was buying. He had seen she ordered new shoes that had arrived the day before. He couldn’t figure out how much they cost, but it was a tight month already without that added on. He didn’t know that Christina had ordered a new pair of the same shoes she was wearing on their first date. He had said he liked them, and she wore them for special occasions until they fell apart. Her plan was to go for a walk through the park on Saturday and wear them. Lewis didn’t even recognise them.
He continued down the stairs and reached the front door. It wasn’t a delivery. A part of him was relieved that she hadn’t been spending even more money.
“Good evening. I’m really sorry to disturb your Friday night,” the man outside said. He was an average height wearing a long old-looking coat and gloves with one finger missing. “I was hoping you would be able to help. It’s been a few days since I’ve had a meal and I’m hungry. I hate to ask, it’s embarrassing to be honest, but I’m desperate.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t have any spare food.”
“That’s okay. I understand. Enjoy the rest of your evening. Whatever you’re eating smells good.”
Lewis shut the door and paused for a second. Why did he flat out deny him, he thought to himself. The man was clearly homeless and hungry, what does a plate of food really cost? He should have just said yes, he still could. The man couldn’t be that far away. Lewis closed his eyes and exhaled before turning and walking into the living room.
“Who was it?” Christina asked from the kitchen.
“No-one. Just some homeless guy asking for food.”
“Oh, that’s a new one.”
“Yeah… it is.”
Lewis walked over to the front window, a part of him wanted to see the street completely empty, help convince himself that there was no man. Instead, he saw that the same man was just standing across the way, near the opposite neighbour’s waist high wall. He was just standing there, almost making eye contact with Lewis.
“What the hell is he doing?”
“What’s that?” Christina replied, her voice echoing from the kitchen.
“That guy. He’s just standing there. Across the street looking at the house. Why is he doing that. He isn’t moving at all, just staring.”
“What, seriously? I thought he would just go next door. I’m sure someone would give him food if he asked enough people.”
As Christina was talking, she walked through into the living room and stood by Lewis at the window. The light in the living room wasn’t on so the man outside wouldn’t have been able to see in through the net curtain.
“What a weirdo,” Christina said.
“I know. I should say something to him. Get him to go away. I don’t want any trouble.”
“He’s not causing trouble, he’s probably high or something.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about. That he’s high or something. Think about what that could cause.”
“He’s not going to do anything, just close the curtains and forget about him.”
Christina turned and walked back into the kitchen. Lewis didn’t move though, he just carried on staring at the man across the street, almost making eye contact with him. Neither of them moving, just staring at each other. A strong breeze blew on the ends of the man’s open coat.
“I should have just given him some food,” Lewis said to himself. What effort did that really take, he carried on internally. I’m not a good person. Should have given him something. I like to think that I would help people in need, but then someone knocks on the door and I instantly reject the opportunity to help and turn my back on someone. What the hell is wrong with me. I could still do something to help and go out and give him some food. No, it’s too late now.
Christina walked back into the living room, flicking the light on and bringing Lewis out of his trance.
“Jesus, Chrissie, turn that off. Let me close the curtains, or he’ll know I’m watching him.”
“Just shut the curtains then, dinner’s ready.”
Lewis moved quickly and pulled the cord to shut the curtains and block out the outside world. The living room warmed up nicely with the lights bouncing off every wall and surface.
“What a weirdo,” Christina said. “I’m sure he’ll go away soon. Don’t worry about it.”
“I should have just given him some food.”
“You still can. I made plenty, just go out there and give him some. It’s not big deal. I’m sure he’ll be grateful.”
“I can’t go out there now.”
“That’s just stupid talk.”
“You think I don’t know that? I just can’t do it.”
“Do you want me to go out? There’s plenty of food.”
“No,” Lewis snapped. “He could be dangerous.”
“Then just forget about him and sit down, for goodness’ sake. I made this food for us to start this weekend and I just want to sit down and have a nice evening.”
Lewis breathed out heavily. He was stood, still staring at the shut curtains, hands on his hips. He knew he was being paranoid. Being stupid about everything, yet again.
“Ok,” he said, turning and walking through the archway to the dinning room. He took his usual seat and waited for Christina to come back in.
The table had already been laid, with plates and glasses ready for the cool wine to be poured into them. Christina walked in, balancing a large pot. Lewis could already smell the pasta and his stomach bubbled with excitement. He liked her pasta with homemade sauce. Didn’t matter what type of pasta it was, he loved the sauce. He knew the type she had used though. It was Penne. Years before he had said this was his favourite meal that she had made him, and she always made it for him when he was in a bad mood or not feeling well. He knew he had been in a bit of a crappy mood for the last few weeks, and this only made everything worse. He hadn’t meant to take anything out on her, not at all, but it just came so instinctively. Little digs that would upset her, slipped out without realising it. Little comments here and there that he would regret immediately and still spend the rest of the evening in silence. It was his fault that things had been so sour and now he felt like she was rewarding it. He didn’t want that, he wanted her to stand up and tell him what he was doing was wrong. Maybe a big blowout fight would resolve everything, he thought, or maybe it wouldn’t, and it would just ruin the whole weekend before it had even started.
Lewis didn’t know what he wanted, other than to wake up and not be stuck in the house for another day without any end in sight. It was tiring and draining. He was fed up with feeling tired all the time, even though he hadn’t done anything. Fed up with not being able to sleep, sometimes for days at a time. Fed up with a lot of things and he hated that Christina was put in that firing line. He knew it was wrong to expect so much from one person. To put the expectations of a good a life on the shoulders of someone else, who wanted their own good life.
Christina placed the pot on the mat between the two plates and took the lid off, placing it on its own mat. Steam rose from the uncovered pot and danced around in the air between them.
“I should have just said yes,” Lewis said.
“Stop it, please Lewis,” Christina pleaded clanking the serving spoons onto the rim of the pot. “Please. I just can’t anymore.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll stop.”
Christina served the food, evenly out between them with enough in the pot for a second serving. Lewis picked up his fork and tucked in. The first bite was just as nice as he knew it would be. The sauce oozed with flavour.
“Thank you,” he said with a half full mouth.
“Glad you like it,” Christina said with a sigh. Her whole body felt lighter as she picked up her fork and took the first bite. She slumped back a little and took another. “I was thinking,” she continued and then paused to take another bite. “That tomorrow, we could go for a walk. Up to Abington Park. Like we used to.”
Lewis took his time swallowing his mouthful, swirling his fork in the air to let Christina know that he would reply in a moment. Part of him didn’t want to go out, it would be cold, possibly raining. He didn’t feel like walking, but another part of him wanted to do it for Christina.
“Sure,” he said once he’d swallowed. “We can do that, just see what the weather is up to first.”
Christina didn’t reply. She had a feeling that was a disguised no. Instead, she carried on eating.
The Scraping of forks along plates was the only sound between them for a while. The air over the table was still as the steam mellowed. Lewis took a taste of the wine, each gulp echoing in the distance between them both. Christina had stopped looking up, her head hung low slowly eating small forkfuls of her pasta, barely tasting her work.
“I should have said yes to him,” Lewis said quietly.
“For the love of God,” said Christina. “I’m done. If he’s still here I’m taking some out to him.”
She got up and crossed the room to the curtain.
“Don’t honey, just leave it. He might be dangerous.”
“He might be, but he probably isn’t. Just a hungry man looking for some food and I’m fed up of listening to this. He’s still there, see right by the electrical box. I’m going to give him a plate and that will be the end of it. Tell him you were sorry for saying no, you didn’t realise that I’d made enough. End of story. Then we can have a nice weekend.”
“Stop it. I’ll give it to him. Just let me put my shoes on.”
Christina didn’t reply, instead she went into the kitchen and fetched a plate and cutlery.
“Here,” she said, holding out the pasta to Lewis as he stood up from tying his shoes up.
“Thanks, I’ll be back in a moment.”
The cold air outside hit Lewis like a sledgehammer, stopping him as soon as he opened the door. His breath turned to vapour before him.
“Quickly, you’ll let the cold in.”
Lewis took another step and heard the door click shut behind him. He looked over at the man, standing by the electrical box. He hadn’t moved from earlier, just standing opposite from the house, staring at the living room window. Lewis hesitated as he reached the road, but there wasn’t any way he could turn back. He looked both ways down the quiet street. There wasn’t a moving car in sight, just a strong gust of wind that made Lewis’s eyes feel dry.
He reached the man and held the plate out.
“Sorry about earlier. I didn’t realise that my wife had made so much.”
The man gave a slow glance towards Lewis but didn’t reply. Instead, he turned his attention back to the window and carried on staring.
“Do you not want the food?” Lewis asked.
Again, no reply.
“It’s cold out here. I’m going to leave it on the side, eat it before it’s gets too cold. My wife’s sauce is something special.”
Lewis placed the plate and settled the cutlery on top of the electrical box. He gave the man another look, couldn’t see any response in his face and then crossed back across the street.
“He’s not doing anything,” Lewis said when he came back in.
Christina was standing by the window in the living room, starring through a tiny parting in the curtains.
“I can see that,” she said. “He hasn’t moved at all.”
Lewis finished taking his shoes off and walked over to his wife, standing slightly taller than her he could see over her head and through the same parting.
“Why is he just standing there?” Lewis said. “Isn’t he going to eat the damn food?”
“Come on,” Christina said, pulling herself from the spot she was stood in. “It’s no use watching him. He’ll eat it or he won’t. Either way he can’t stand there forever, and we can go collect the plate.”
She walked back to the table and took her seat, leaving Lewis to stand still for a moment, not wanting to turn away. He felt like he was making eye contact with the man again, and it was important for him not to be the first one to break that connection.
“Lewis,” Christina said. “Please, just come back and sit down. It’s probably already cold.”
Slowly he peeled his feet from the spot and walked over to the table. His blood was pumping faster than ever. As he sat, he felt his foot tapping itself on the floor, quickly and uncontrollably. He picked up the fork, it rattled slightly against the plate as he moved it.
“God, why does this have to happen?” He asked and received no reply. “I mean, today’s been bad enough without this on top of it.”
“What happened today?”
“Just behind on work again, usual stuff. Never feel like I’m getting enough done.”
“That’s in your head, you know that. Please don’t let it take up too much space in your mind. I made this dinner for you and we both have two days off now. Let’s just enjoy this. He’s not doing anything out there.”
“Not yet, but he will be,” Lewis said quietly to himself and picked up his fork, shovelling cold pasta into his mouth.
They both carried on eating, the sounds of their forks clashing against their plates louder than before. The ticking inside of Lewis’s mind continued to grow louder and louder. His feet couldn’t stay still.
“God damn it,” he said and forcefully dropped his fork onto his empty plate.
Lewis stood up, pushing his chair back and marched over to the window. He pulled the curtains back to look at the man, still standing on the other side of the road.
“He’s still standing there. Just standing there. Why won’t you leave? He hasn’t even touched the food. Why would he not just eat it and leave. What is wrong with you. I’m going to call the police.”
“Lewis,” Christina said through clenched teeth. “Just leave it. What are the police going to do? He’s not doing anything illegal. Just leave him be.”
“No. Something’s got to be done. He’s insane. He might attack us in the night. I’m going to go out there and speak to him.”
“Please. Lewis. Please. Just leave it. Nothing good can come of this. Just leave it.”
Lewis didn’t reply, he left the room, put on his shoes and without tying up the laces opened the front door again.
“Hey,” he said before he had even finished crossing the road. “I don’t want to be funny, but you haven’t eaten the food, and you’re just standing there.”
The man didn’t reply, he just continued to stare at the house.
“Come on, it’s time to leave. I don’t want any trouble. I’ve given you some food. It must be stone cold by now. Just eat it up and leave or just leave and I’ll take it back.”
The man blinked but didn’t give any kind of response. He didn’t turn from the house. The wind was getting even harsher, making the hairs on Lewis’s arms stand on end. He turned and looked at his wife, who was hugging herself in the doorway to their house, bracing from the cold. He couldn’t make out her features, she was just a silhouette against the light coming from the living room.
“So can you just leave, you’re freaking my wife out standing there for seemingly no reason.”
The man said nothing. He blinked again and then turned towards Lewis ever so slightly.
“Don’t make me call the police.”
Lewis thought that he saw the man smile and tightened his hands into fists. His heart was beating faster and faster, his legs started to feel weak. No more words came to his mouth, instead he stood there looking at the man in silence. A brisk wind flew by. Lewis turned and walked back to the house. Christina, rubbing her arms, moved to one side to let him in.
“Come on. Just get in, he can just stay there. Nothing’s going to happen.”
“I know nothing is going to happen,” Lewis replied. “I won’t let it.”
He kicked off his shoes at the wall and stomped into the living room, taking his spot by the window to study the man across the street once more. No movement.
“Jesus Christ won’t this man just do something. Move, speak or eat the fucking plate of food. It’s got to be stone cold right now. Just do something.”
Christina straightened up the shoes and rubbed the scuff mark on the wall where the left one had bounced off. She then stood up straight and walked into the living room.
“Just sit down, watch something.”
“Shut up,” Lewis said quietly.
“Don’t tell me to shut up.”
“Be quiet then and do whatever the hell you want. I know he’s up to something.”
“He’s not doing anything, for God sake Lewis. He’s just playing with your head.”
“Don’t raise your voice at me,” Lewis said and turned around to face his wife.
“Don’t raise your voice at me.”
“Oh, don’t start that nonsense. Just be on my side with this. You know he’s up to something. You know he’s not right in the head, it’s just any excuse to side against me.”
“What are you on about? I just want to have a nice evening.”
“Yes, a nice evening that you’ve planned out all by yourself. Thinking you can fix me. Thinking you can make me feel better. You know what will make me feel better? If that man went away. If he had never knocked on our door.”
Christina didn’t reply. Lewis was close to her now, as he was speaking, he slowly took one step after another and ended up right in front of her. She couldn’t remember him ever being this angry before. Couldn’t remember him ever being this close to her face while shouting before. Instead of replying, she shrunk backwards.
“So, I’m scaring you now?”
Christina started to walk away and pile up the dishes.
Christina placed the cutlery on top of the pile of plates.
“You ignoring me now?”
Christina picked them up and started walking towards the kitchen, hoping she could hold back tears long enough to reach the doorway. Lewis reached out and yanked her arm, pulling her towards him and making her drop everything. The plates shattered at her feet, bits of pasta sauce splattered up in the air, speckling their trousers.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” Lewis said, not aware of the mess at his feet. “Well? Am I scaring you?”
“Don’t lie to me, I can see your crying. I’m not scary. I’m not the bad person here. He is. If I wanted to scare you, I would.”
Lewis grabbed his wife’s shoulders with both of his hands and threw her towards the wall.
“Does that scare you?”
She whimpered, tears freely running down her face. He grabbed her face with one hand squeezing both of her cheeks. He could feel her tears in his hand. Why was she crying? He thought. He pulled her head towards him, her hands dangled by her sides, not knowing what to do. Quickly he smacked her head against the wall, letting it bounce of it. Her eyes winced and more tears came. A muffled scream seemed to fill the entire room.
“Shut up,” he said and smacked her head again.
He moved his hand lower from her face and grasped it around her neck.
“Stop crying,” he said while squeezing tighter.
Her hands flew up to his, trying to break his hold on her. Lewis didn’t feel her attempts. Instead, he held her tighter, his free hand rolled up into a fist and thumping his side. She tried to make eye contact with him, but there was nothing of Lewis behind those eyes. What stared back at her was a stranger. Someone she didn’t recognise, but full of rage and enjoyment. He squeezed hard and harder, raising his hand slightly to pull her weight off the ground. She kicked out, gurgled a last desperate scream. He moved his free hand on top of the other one and squeezed tighter, raising her higher. She kicked out, winding him slightly. He loosened up and let her fall to the floor, grasping at her own neck. Gasping every desperate breath, while curled up at his feet.
“Fucking kick me again, see what it gets you,” he said.
Without waiting another moment, Lewis raised one of his feet and brought it down on her face, pushing her entire body to the ground. He lifted his foot again and smashed it into her head, making it bounce of the floor. She cried out in pain, her body flat and unwilling to move. He brought it down again and again, her cries becoming more desperate and wilder. She tried to move but he wouldn’t stop. With one hand bracing himself on the wall he stomped and stomped and stomped until his foot was bleeding, grazed on her broken eye socket. Her screaming had died down into a gurgle. Teeth were missing, blood was clumping up her hair. Her fingers were twitching, feet spasmed. He looked down and didn’t recognise his wife. He had no idea who the person at his feet was. He steadied himself again and brought down his foot onto her face, slowly this time and pressed. One last gurgled came out of her mouth. Her eye bulged from her skull. Again, he raised his foot and stomped down, again and again and again and again and again. And then it happened. Her skull gave way, and his foot went into her head slightly. He felt it squirm under his weight. Her entire body spasmed for a moment and then lay still, his foot steadying her head.
Lewis stood and turned, looked out of the window and could see the man was still there, eating the food.
“It must be stone cold by now,” he said to himself.