ObsessionA/N: Another of the 100 Theme Challenge. It's not really short story, as it's not a complete story. It's more a kind of sketch of something I may come back to one day. As always, reviews are very much appreciated and the decent-length ones will be returned. If you're interested, please check out my blog (link on my profile page). Thanks, and enjoy.
Every single day, at 4:30pm, on the dot, she would find him sitting on the ledge of the large window that stared out over the landing. His legs would be crossed, his eyes staring out at the long stretch of grounds the house sat in. Always he would be sharpening his knife, his hair falling in front of his eyes.
And every day, she asked him the same question. "What are you doing?"
She would fall silent then, sitting on the ledge, mirroring his position as she listened to the sound of the sharpening. For exactly forty-five minutes they would sit there, before he would get up and go downstairs, towards the living room. She would go to help with the dinner, then, to help the women prepare it for the others in the house.
Elaine had no idea why she had come here.
She supposed it had something to do with the freedom of the place, something to do with the pressure put on her by her parents. She didn't want to be a singer or an actress, she didn't want to follow in the footsteps of her namesake. She wanted to be her own person, away from all that. So, when a friend told her of the old house in the country, she had followed.
Part of her expected it to be like the communes from the sixties; she expected a run-down place with people into free love and drugs and not caring about the outside world. But the house was huge, a mansion, owned by a young man with no more family and no idea what he had wanted to do with the place.
It was all very civilised. Everyone there came from different backgrounds. Dominic was former member of a London street gang, Marcy had gone to an all-girl's private school. Caroline's parents lived in a council house two hours away from the mansion, while Johnny's family owned a farm down in Devon. There were others there too, of course, crossing all boundaries except age. All of them were between eighteen and twenty-three, none of them had any real idea of what they wanted to do with their lives.
Then there was Hawk. Hawk, whose real name no one knew. Hawk, who sat on the ledge of the large window everyday at 4:30pm, waiting and watching for something none of them had any clue about.
Mercy was chopping up chicken in the kitchen when Elaine got there. "What do you want me to do?" Elaine asked, as she ran her hands up the tap. Marcy smiled at her.
"Fancy chopping up the potatoes? Thought we could have a chicken curry and some chips."
"Sure." Elaine did as she was asked, glancing around the room. It was huge, clearly originally built to accommodate a number of servants and maids. The history of the house had been told to them by Claude, the young man who owned the house and who, like Elaine, had a musically inspired name.
"My parents were obsessed with Hair," he told her. "God knows why – they're as far from the counter-culture as you could possibly get."
Some of them were educated, some of them weren't. Some had gone to good schools, others to bad ones. A few had been to University or, even, were still there, disappearing every couple of days during the week to attend lectures and seminars.
"How come you were upstairs?" Marcy asked, shaking her hips in time to the song playing on the radio. The range of music in the house was unbelievable; Claude had an LP player, and a shit load of vinyls. Others had brought CDs to the house, or IPods which they set up in their docks and played in the evening when everyone was relaxing after dinner.
Whenever Marcy was in the kitchen, it the radio. The station was called Gold, and they were reminded of it every ten minutes by the station itself. On Sunday mornings, she listened to Elaine Page's show, and Elaine and Claude both avoided the kitchen.
Marcy was a fifty year old woman trapped in a twenty-two year old body.
"Same as always," Elaine replied. "Seeing what Hawk was up to."
"And was he up to the same?" Marcy replied, before beginning to whistle along with David Bowie.
"Of course." She glanced around the room, before taking a deep breath. "Does anyone have any idea what he's actually waiting for?"
"The apocalypse," Marcy replied. "It's an obsession."
The door opened and Hawk stepped in, avoiding both of their gazes as he crossed the room to the fridge. Elaine briefly wondered how long Claude's money would last. Hawk had an obsession with the apocalypse, Claude had an obsession with making a modern day commune. To Elaine, it seemed he'd absorbed more of the sixties counter-culture than he realised.
When his money ran out, however, then she knew they would all have to move on. They would have to find something else to do. And then what? The students had their degrees to fall back on, but the rest...the rest hadn't worked, and how good would lived in a commune look on their CVs?
Maybe she was being too negative; a few of them did have jobs. Part-time ones in nearby shops or pubs or restaurants. Nearby meaning they had to get a lift from one of the ones who could drive.
Her eyes locked on Hawk as he opened the fridge and took out a can of Coca Cola. He was tall, with floppy dark hair and a chiselled face. Sensing her eyes on him, he turned to look at her, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah?" he scoffed, opening the can and sipping from it.
He looked strong, but there was something about him, a vulnerability that she found herself desperately wanting to get to the bottom of.
"Nothing," she replied, before turning her back on him and returning to the vegetables.
"You got something to say, Marcy?" he asked, pushing the fridge door closed as he looked at Marcy's back.
"Nah, just thinking about how you so desperately want the end to come," she replied, voice smooth and easy as she looked at him. "Why do you want it so much, Hawk?"
Hawk shrugged. "It's the ultimate test, isn't it? Can you survive the end of the world?"
"But what if it isn't like it is in the films?" Elaine suggested, frowning at the casual way he had spoken of it. "What if it's not an incident that wipes out half of humanity, but all of it? There might not be any survivors."
Again, he shrugged, as he began to move across the kitchen and back towards the door. "Then the world will still be a better place." With that, he was gone.
When Elaine's parents had found out she was living in a commune, they had freaked. Her mother asked, time and time again, if she was sure it wasn't a cult. Her father commented that they better not find her popping up on TV in some murder case. Not as the victim, but as the perpetrator.
"It's not a cult, Mum," she had insisted, over the phone. "Give me some credit."
"I bet they all say that," her mother had replied. "Just come home, Elaine. Jolene is running that dancing trope, she said you always have a place there."
Elaine hadn't been able to take it anymore. She had hung up, throwing her mobile across the room. It hit the wall and fell to the floor, indestructible. But she had left it there, and even now, weeks later, it remained under the chest of drawers in her bedroom.
They had a number of choices in the house; single room or shared, en-suite or share a bathroom with everyone else in the hall. Some rooms had beds, large four-posters that could fit maybe four people in. Others just had mattresses on the floor. It was a chose-your-own-commune-adventure, and Elaine had chosen a room for herself.
"You go and sit down," Marcy said, smiling at her. "Tell one of the others to lay the table, would you?"
"Sure." Elaine left the room, stepping into the large living room where the others were sprawled about, music playing from the vinyl player on the shelf. A couple of them were reading – newspapers or magazines grabbed from the newsagents one of the girls worked at, or books pulled from Claude's family library. Claude himself was stretched across the sofa, one arm thrown over his head, covering his eyes.
"Hangover," Catherine muttered, seeing Elaine's glance. "He only came back a couple of hours ago."
"Stop gossiping, Cat," Claude moaned, lifting his elbow away and staring at Elaine. He shifted his legs and she sat down, glancing around the room.
"Marcy asked if one of you could lay the table," she said.
"Can't Hawk do it?" a girl groaned. "He never does it."
"He barely eats with us," Claude snapped, stretching his legs out over Elaine's lap. "Catherine, Johnny, you go do it." Both of them moaned, but went to the dining room anyway.
Claude was the closest they had to a leader.
He was the one who took charge when they needed someone to, although he had never bossed Elaine around. Now, his sparkling green eyes fell on her. "'Laine," he muttered, "After dinner, come to my room? I want to talk to you about something."
She nodded, causing a few catcalls and whistles from the others in the room. There was a television in there, but they rarely had it on. Only when someone wanted to play on one of the consoles they had there, or wanted to watch a DVD. TV itself was never on; for some reason, they just couldn't be bothered with it.
Though sometimes, Elaine found herself missing the evenings watching Eastenders with her mum.
"Shut up," Claude muttered, throwing his arm back over his eyes. Still, he grinned to himself.
The door to the room opened and Hawk stepped in. He glanced around, the can still clutched in his hand, before turning and heading back out. Elaine frowned. She pushed Claude's legs off her before climbing up and following Hawk.
She found him outside, standing on the large veranda that overlooked the garden of the house. He leant against the wall, a cigarette in his lips. As she pushed open the glass doors that led from the parlour to the veranda, he lit his fag.
"Hey," she muttered. He glanced over his shoulder, gave her a quick nod, and returned to looking at the garden.
Moving forward, Elaine rested her elbows on the wall and stared out.
"You still watching?" she asked. "Waiting?"
"Always," he muttered, inhaling deeply on the cigarette. He eyed her, before returning to look at the garden. "I know you all talk about me." The words took her by surprise, and she flinched before shaking her head.
"Hawk, it's not..."
"It's fine," he grunted. "Honestly. I know Claude doesn't. Claude...treats everyone the same. Except you."
She rolled her eyes. "He treats me just like everyone else."
"Keep telling yourself that, Elaine."
"And anyway," she drawled, her face growing red. "Of course people talk about you! That's how society works, isn't it? If one person remains away from the group, then they're going to talk about them! You cultivate this mysterious, woe-is-me personality and people are going to talk!"
He chuckled, twisting his body so he was facing her. There was a strange grin on his face, slightly twisted, and for the first time, the very first time, despite the amount of times she had sat with him on the window ledge, she noticed his eyes were different colours. One was blue, one was brown.
"Your eyes," she muttered.
"What about them?" he scoffed, turning his head quickly away. "Why are you here anyway, Elaine? What pulled you towards this messed up house with its messed up people? You don't exactly seem like you came from a rough background."
"I didn't," she replied, throwing her head back. "So what? Not everyone here did."
"I know," he muttered. "And none of you realise how much the rest resent you for it."
"They do not resent us!" she hissed.
"Of course they do!" He was laughing now, shaking his head. "You're just too blind to see it, too wrapped up in this community of yours. They hate the fact that they came from nothing, only to find themselves surrounded by the type of people who look down on them because of it. And don't tell me we don't look down on them because you're blind to that, too, Elaine. In fact, you're pretty much blind to all of it. You don't know jack shit."
"You have no right to speak to me like that."
"Ah, but that's the thing, isn't it?" he drawled, finishing the cigarette and flicking the butt away. "Here, we have the right to do anything."
"Hawk, Elaine." It was Marcy's voice, coming from the doorway. "Dinner's ready."
Elaine whirled around, stalking back to the house, ignoring Hawk's laughter as it followed her.
How much did he know, anyway? She dropped into a seat at the table, scowling as a few of the others brought in large serving bowls and placed them in the middle of the long table.
"Not hungry," Hawk grunted, as he passed through the room and slid out the door. Elaine rolled her eyes, reaching forward as people began to dig into the food, scooping the curry into their bowls as chatter began to fill the room. Elaine focused on her food, eyes locked on it as plates of rice and chips were passed around. She did not notice Claude's eyes locked on her as she glared at her food.
X X X
Claude was always the first to finish.
Unlike polite society, people could leave the table as and when they liked, long as they thanked whoever had done the cooking. Claude happily thanked Marcy before leaving the table, moving quickly out of the room. Someone asked Elaine to pass them the rice, and she obliged, feeling the tension in her body drain away as she ate. The longer she was away from Hawk, the easier she found it to smile.
Still, though, his words ran around in her head. But as she engaged herself in conversation with the others, she pushed it away. Everyone there had their obsessions; one of the girls wanted to be an actress, making Elaine wonder if she would have been better with her parents than she had been. Some of them indulged their vices at the commune, enjoying smoking spliffs in the evening, losing themselves in the high. Others regularly drank, some did harder drugs though they never mentioned it to the others.
But everyone knew.
And Elaine was just obsessed with pushing herself as far away from her old life as possible. Marcy wanted to feel valued, and loved, becoming the mother of the group. Hawk was obsessed with the apocalypse.
Once she had eaten her fill, Elaine thanked Marcy with a wide smile before heading upstairs to Claude's room. He had a bedroom and, next door, a small office. In there, no one knew what he did. He locked himself away sometimes and, when anyone asked, he would just say working.
She knocked on his bedroom door first. When there was no answer, she went to his office. His voice came from inside, inviting her in, and she felt her heart beat slightly in her chest at the idea of seeing a room that, as far as she knew, no one else had been allowed in.
Stepping inside, Elaine gasped. Against the far wall was a window, overlooking the gardens. In front of the window was a beautiful mahogany desk, on which sat a laptop, currently shut. A number of drawers dropped down either side. On the two walls either side of her were bookshelves, full from top to bottom. Downstairs was a small library-room, and she found herself amazed at the collection his family had amassed. In front of the desk was a large office chair. In front of the bookshelves, on either side, were two comfortable looking fireside chairs, one of which Claude currently sat in.
He grinned at her. "Sit down, if you like," he muttered, gesturing to the opposite chair. With a smile, Elaine obliged.
"Those books..." she muttered, eyeing the top shelf. The books on there seemed to be all written by the same man, covering a wide variety of topics. She spotted a couple of novels, as well as a few about literature or film.
Her eyes locked on one book in particular.
The Counter-Culture Through Its Communes; From the Manson Family to Hair
"Sixties counter-cultures?" she muttered, glancing at Claude. "Is this your parent's collection?"
"My fathers," he replied. "Actually...not just his collection. Those books on the top shelf, all written by him."
"Your surname is Taylor?"
He shrugged. "Yeah. I forget we don't do surnames here." He grinned at her, before taking a deep breath. "Listen, Elaine, I've...I've kind of been working on something." He stood from his seat, crossing to the large desk. Underneath, she spotted a large black printer, on which sat a pile of papers. "I've been writing something. A novel, of sorts." He picked up the paper, turned and held it out to her. "I'd love to hear what you think."
Under his gaze, she found herself blushing. "Sure." Slowly, she took the papers from his hands, glancing at the title page.
"It's sort of based on my father," he muttered, running a hand through his hair. "A mix of...of biography and fiction, I guess."
"I thought you hated your parents?"
The grin on his face was strained. "I thought I did, too. But the longer they've been underground...the more I miss them. Guess I was trying to get close to him again."
"But...I'd really appreciate it if you don't tell anyone else about this, yeah? I...I want to keep it under wraps for now."
"Of course. Anything else, Claude?"
"No, no, that's it...thanks, Elaine."
She smiled. "No problem." Clutching the manuscript to her chest she left the room and returned to her own, falling onto her bed and beginning to read it.
Soon, Elaine was drowning in the story of Claude's father, of his own obsessions and the way they sank into Claude's mother and Claude himself, the way it spread across the house, casting its shadow over everything.
And soon, she began to realise that Claude really was more like his father than, she guessed, even he realised.