Chapter 4


I gripped the sides of my seat as the van hit another pothole and swore loudly. "Language," Dave scolded absently from the front. I took no notice, yelling another blatant obscenity when I realised I was still shivering. Fuck it. I couldn't let myself lose control now.

I had gotten better. I had. I had it all sorted out and then something stupid brought me back down to fucking dirt-level again. But I wasn't going to give in; I could carry on. Why did Lone have to mention it? It made me think of her. I just had to get home. I just had to get out of this car - this box. Five minutes and I'd be home.

Just five minutes.

It was coming back in pieces. I closed my eyes, gripping my seat tighter as a chill rushed through me. I couldn't help releasing a gasp. "Are you okay back there?" came Dave's anxious voice.

"I'm feeling a bit sick," I managed in one breath.

"Open a window. We'll be home soon." The encouragement sounded in my ears like deliberate provocation and it took the last dregs of my self-control not to leap out of my seat and throttle him. I could feel the craving surfacing again, aching in my skin. It made me think of her and I didn't want to think. I needed to cover that up. I needed it right now! I felt like I was dying without it. Lone had guessed I was doing it again, but he didn't know why. He didn't understand how much it tempted me, why I needed it; the taste of power.

The shivering was getting more severe; Dave could see it. He was making scared noises. I had my eyes tight shut, trying to block everything out so I could keep a lid on things, but it wasn't working. I was starting to lose myself. I couldn't feel my hands anymore; my hands had gone numb and I couldn't feel the pain. I was starting to remember standing on a mountain as rain slashed me; I didn't want to know where it led.

I sucked in a breath, trying to focus on it, shaking and sweating, and the only thought in my head was that if I didn't get any right now I would die. If I didn't get any right now I would kill someone. I think I actually groaned aloud then and Dave started shouting at me, but I couldn't hear any of his words.

I was starting to freeze over. It was crawling up my arms, the cold, a rock hard coating for my boiling core. I groaned again, through my teeth – it was more of a growl, like an animal. Don't think about it. Don't think. I became aware that the sensation of movement had stopped. I opened my eyes and was shocked to find my nose was just about level with my knees. I was doubled over, quivering like a trapped fox, and Dave was frantically trying to get the seatbelt off me. I sat up so fast my head banged against the seat and scratched his hands away. He was shouting again.

"I'm fine! I'm fine!" I yelled, ripping the seatbelt off and tearing towards the house before I exploded. I slammed into the front door, not even thinking to try the handle, just rushing at it. It gave way under me, already unlocked, and I fell into the hallway.

I couldn't walk, knocking into the walls and furniture. She was getting to my head already. I burst into the living room with Dave just behind me. As I rushed through the doorway I whacked my shin on the edge of the coffee table. I sucked in another swearword as I went down. Dave caught me before I fell, holding me up, but I was beyond rationality at that point. I think I actually screamed - no, roared at him.

"Get away!"

He dropped me in shock. In one final, desperate attempt I launched myself across the room, reached the television and heaved it round. The coloured wires of the exposed back twisted in front of me. I might have paused for a second, but the image of her and the rain reared up out of the blur, so I grabbed one at random, recoiling when it sent a spark up my arm, but not letting go. The shock had triggered me even further and if I had any chance of resisting before, I didn't now.

Every breath was an effort, heaving in my chest. My fingers weren't doing what I wanted them to, scrambling at the wires. I was so fucking ready; I hungered to get in. Dave tried one last time to reach me, shouted something from the safety of the doorway, I think.

I stared at the two wires in my shivering hands, their golden tips tingling in the light. I just had to connect them together to get the shock of my life. I brought them closer, centimetres away, fucking with myself and feeding off the anticipation. I saw the blue, electrical light jump. The circuit was completed and my world imploded.

I swear for a tiny fraction of a second I could sense the current travelling through the wires before it reached me. Before it filled me up inside. A blue glow from top to bottom, calming me, curing me - forgetting me. Forget it all. It slopped into me like the sea, warming my numb fingers. Everything tingled. It reared up, peaking in pleasurable pain, then settled at my centre. I was a firework, fizzing inside. Electricity becoming me. Saving me. It was only a domestic outlet, about 230 volts, but it was the shock I needed. I exhaled what felt like all the air in my lungs. The in-breath was sharp, cold, and I took a step back to the wall. My knees cracked and I sat down on the carpet with a thump.

My trainers were grey – they were supposed to be white, but I could see the tiny, grey pores in the fabric and a fine layer of dusty dirt over the plastic soles. Clumps of dry mud clung to the bottom, crusted into the indent. On the top they were a lighter brown, flicking away and the colour got darker, stickier. I wanted to get a stick and scrape my footprint out. Specs of soil were raining onto the mucky green carpet from where I scratched, settling on the ends of the stubs of thread. All the individual pricks of fabric that rolled on and on, like a carpet meadow - like thick grass – like a battalion in trenches, marching into the shadow under the sofa. With pikes and red-coats and horses. An army of carpet gherkins. I laughed and the world swung.

Like the set of soldiers I used to play with when I was little. The pale, green plastic lined up ready for metal planes to drop. I'd do it on the stairs like dominoes. Stairs thin and cream-coloured; the walls close on either side, the light dark. There was a pattern on the wallpaper like spiralling diamonds. The brown sofa hunched in front of me swam into view, squat and cracking. Creases and folds in its skin like an animal's – an elephant or a rhino. Contours on a map, but the valleys were faded and papery like reptilian scales. I wanted a Lizard as a pet. The old leather would be cool to the touch. Like the vinyl mounted on the wall. All the grooves of it, circling and sucking me down into its melted blackness.

The records were pressed together on the shelves like little slices. The slithers so quick under my eye, flipping pages too fast. The wall was so bright I leaned my head back and looked at the ceiling. It caught me at once. The light-bulb poked from the dark cylinder shade, protruding and obscene, white like a rip in the set design. So white it burned and made the tips of my fingers throb. But it was smiling at me. I wanted to take it in my hands and tip it down my throat like a muscle from its shell and stick my tongue inside it and lap it up, but it was already forcing its light all over my skin.

It made me feel... so ecstatically happy. I looked over at Dave with a smile stretched so wide it hurt. His face was droopy with a gaping mouth and scared eyes. And Dave's girlfriend was there, her blonde hair glowing. When did Sharon get there? Her face was white too and - and I began to laugh. It was just so funny. I began to laugh so hard, making my stomach hurt and my eyes water.

I slumped against the wall, laughing like a maniac, the TV cords dormant by my feet. In the reflection of the TV screen, I could see my hair standing straight up off the top of my head, like in a cartoon. Lightning forks of blue electricity sparked their way up and down it, fizzling out at the tips of the ends. I covered my face with my hands to try stifle the laughter and saw the sparks darting up and down the lines on my palms. I watched them racing and my shoulders shuddered with weak chuckles.

The lights started to fade and as they did so, tiredness advanced. Heaviness fell on me as if I'd been working every muscle. My veins felt clean and fiery like vodka shots, but it was draining. Everything went sleepy. My head slipped onto my arms, and I wasn't sure I could raise it again. I could hear Dave's voice clearer and tried to look up. Then without warning, sparks snapped across my vision and the world started to fracture in their wake. Darkness seeped in at the cracks, until it smothered me and I was pulled into unconsciousness.

I groaned and rolled over, tasting the sparks on my tongue. It had been too rushed. My mind wasn't right; I should have savoured it. I wasn't shooting off anymore, but I could still feel the sparkling power held deep inside me. Finally, I felt warm. Someone grabbed my arm and began to pull me upright. I opened my eyes blearily on the second try. Without waiting for me to focus, the person manhandled me out of the room, their arm around my back, holding me up, dragging me out.

I sank into a chair in the kitchen, resting my head in my hands, but they wouldn't let me. They knocked my hands away from me, pulling my arms down by my sides, shaking me and forcing me to sit up straight. I began to zone out again, but they grabbed my shoulders. "No!" I shouted and the power surged hotly within me. The hands sprang back.

I started to see properly then. Gareth was kneeling in front of me, rubbing his hands and staring at me. Dave and Sharon were stood just behind him, his huge girth sheltering her tiny frame. Their expressions mirrored each other's; fear.

"You shocked me," Gareth said. The only hint of his surprise was the rapid blinking behind his glasses. "Did you mean to do that?"

"I might have," I said.

"Why did you do that, Luke?"

"My name's not Luke," I said, a hard edge to my voice. I saw Gareth and Dave exchange a worried look. "My name is Kid." This did not produce the clarification I meant it to; if anything they looked more confused and scared.

"Okay," Gareth said, his voice all patronising caramel. He turned to Dave. "Give us a minute or two." Dave nodded, his arms around distraught Sharon, and the audience filed out.

The door swung shut and the room darkened so dramatically I realised that all the kitchen lights were switched off. The window was pitch black and everything was silent, so I guessed it was late into the night. Gareth shifted in the shadows as he stood up and patted his trousers down. When I stayed rooted in my seat, he started to pace around the room.

"What are you doing here?" I said.

"Why did you do this, Luke?"

"Kid," I corrected.

"You know I refuse to call you that."

"So are you here to interrogate me?" I spat.

Gareth continued pacing, taking no notice of my rattling anger. "Why do this? Why now?" he said, coming to a stop in front of me. My hands curled around the edges of my chair. Gareth squatted down in front of me again, scrutinising my face. "What on earth did you hope to achieve?"

"I don't know," I said. "I can't remember." My head was aching, my ears ringing. Gareth's expression didn't change. "It's true. I can't," I said. He just nodded.

"I'm not addicted," I said to him, "Addicts go straight for the plug socket. I go through things at least, I'm not an addict."

"Well, we don't know," he said. "We don't know anyone else who abuses electricity like you do."

"I'm not even using that much," I said.

"Alfie knew you were doing it," He said. "He could tell because your hair sticks up. You go static." I semi-consciously touched my hair, which crackled. "I just don't understand why you're doing it." He paused. "I understand that Claire's death and restarting school is very stressful, but I didn't expect this from you."

"For fuck's sake!" I burst out, launching to my feet, "This is nothing to do with school. Can't everyone shut up about it?"

Gareth put his hands up in surrender, taking a step back. "Calm down Luke," he said.

"You fucking calm down, jumping to fucking conclusions! I'm fine. This doesn't mean anything. I just did it for the hell of it." The light bulb above me had flickered into life. "I just needed a bit of space. I just needed – I just need something!"

Gareth had pressed himself against the opposite wall, his white shirt now blinding. He was just staring. "Fuck it!" I shouted and the light bulb above my head exploded, showering me with glass.

The door flew open and Dave rushed into the room. "What did he smash?" He said, almost ticking with worry. His expression confirmed that he had listened to every word of the conversation from outside. I couldn't slow my breathing down, so to avoid Dave's eyes, I righted my chair and dropped back into it. "Just calm down," Gareth said again. I sighed, leaning my head back and closing my eyes.

"Luke?" he asked, from just in front of me.

"Yeah," I murmured. I saw his relief as I opened my eyes again.

"So you don't remember why?" he asked me.

"My head is just messed up," I tried to explain to him, and failed. "I feel weak without it," I said, "And empty. It was better back then." I didn't know if he understood what I was trying to say.

"Okay, come on," he said, urging me onto my feet again.

I looked over at Dave. "Sorry," I said mournfully. He gave a sad shrug, at a loss. Nobody understood why I needed this. It wasn't my fault. It was a part of my existence and I couldn't pretend it wasn't there. This was me. I was lulled to sleep by the sound of crackling static with Gareth sat by my bed. There was a moment - before I sank into the buzz, senseless, when I thought I heard a voice. Like someone was speaking very close to my ear, so close it could have been inside my head.

How did Claire die, Kid?


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