The scratches in the wall kept Tony awake most nights. He felt them with his hands. Ran each finger through each individual slit trying to somehow imagine what was going through the head of the person who made them. Some of them were quite deep, others weren’t. He imagined that some of them must have been painful, that at some point the wall was stained in blood. He couldn’t even begin to understand how someone could have done it. There was no way that he could guess that the person who actually made the scratches only left the room the day before Tony got there.
That was another thing which bothered him. The only way to tell the time was the cuckoo clock in the bar. It sang every hour without fail. Without that indication Tony wouldn’t ever know what time it was. The sun never seemed to rise. His watch was broken. Not only had the glass front been smashed, but the hands had been torn out. He couldn’t remember how it happened but he blamed it on his child. Maybe they did it by accident years ago and never told him. With mobile phones and clocks on TV there wasn’t much need for watches any more. At least that is what Tony told himself.
Every day when Tony got out of the bed and stood in the centre of his new room he bent down and picked up the scrap of hair. At one point it was dark brown, but there was a hint of grey in it when Tony first saw it. He played with it, tossed it from hand to hand, as if he was trying to figure out the answer to some kind of mystery. Every day he would place the hair back down in the exact same place and walk upstairs.
“I’ve been here for well over a week,” he told Joe one day.
“That doesn’t matter. We don’t mind you. You can stay here until Nate gets here.”
“What if he never does?”
“Well then move forward and forget about him. It’s the only thing to do.”
“Did you ever find out what happened to the woman and that child which came in here last week?”
“No. Just got them some help and they went on their way.”
Tony walked into the front of the bar, picked up a cloth and started wiping the tables down again. At one point he truly believed that there was dust collecting on the tables but the longer he did the less sure he was.
“You seem less talky now.” Angela said.
“I’m all right.”
“Still think Nate is coming?”
“He will. He’s never let me down before.”
“You put a lot of trust in someone you haven’t seen for such a long time.” She paused, waiting for him to answer. When he didn’t she continued. “Why haven’t you seen him for such a long time?”
“I can’t really remember.”
“C’mon. You know more than that.”
“I was sure he drowned in the lake behind our house. I’ve always remembered that he tried to ice skate on it and then fell through. I was wrong.”
“How could you be wrong about that.”
Tony didn’t answer, he just carried on wiping the tables, but with more effort.
The clock cooed thirteen times. Tony rejected food twice and then went back into his room. He knew that he wasn’t going to get any sleep so he sat on the floor, close to the scratch marks. He spent the next few hours deepening the hole. He was expecting his nails to slowly peel. In his head he could see the small strands that kept them connected to his fingers. In his head his could see the blood run down his fingers and fall to the floor. In his head it hurt. The hole grew but nothing else happened. His fingers showed no sign of wear. His nails didn’t chip. They didn’t bleed. He felt nothing. After he knew that the hole was going to get him nowhere he started punching the wall above him. Again nothing. It dented and splintered the wood slightly in places, but he felt no pain. After that he threw the bed at the opposite wall. The wood cracked. He took out one of the larger shards and started stabbing himself. It splintered and cracked before piercing the skin. He screamed and then smashed his head against the wall. In the end he needed to do something drastic. He raised his thumbs to his eyes and pushed in. There was small resistance but nothing really happened. There was no pain. No satisfying popping sound. Nothing. Not even his vision was altered when he removed his thumbs. He shoved his fingers up his nose and tried to rip it apart, rip something. But nothing. He couldn’t even pull a tooth out. He was powerless against himself. He fell to the floor. It was then that everything hit him. His brother. The fact he couldn’t remember leaving London. That he didn’t notice the strange wasteland England had turned into. The customers from the week before. It all made sense. He left his room, and ran upstairs. Joe was already waiting for him, sitting at a table near the bar.
“How long,” Tony shouted. “How long?”
To Be Continued…