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First Born

"Getting to see his child grown-up in the future is something he'll wish he'd never seen."
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He squeezed his eyes tight and placed his palm over his ear in a vain attempt to shut out the noise that felt like a hammer blow to his brain each time it ricocheted into the bedroom. He lay in his bed, in the darkness, facing the window, the warmth of the duvet cocooning him like a caterpillar. Rain lashed the window, and thunder rumbled away in the distance, but the shed door continued to bang away in the wind, and his mind told him that this weather was not going to go away anytime soon. It was here for the night, and that door was not going to stop.

He lay there hoping it would, that it would just cease, as if the weather would take sympathy on him, and close and lock it for him, but he knew he was going to have to get up and go out there and lock it.

He sighed loudly, put one leg out into the cold, and swung the duvet back. Standing up, he hurriedly put on his dressing gown and looked down at the sleeping form of his wife, who was currently immersed in dreamland, totally oblivious to any noise.

He wondered if that had anything to do with her being seven months pregnant. Even in the gloom, he could see her swollen stomach, and hear her barely audible breathing. He smiled. It was his first. At thirty-eight, she thirty-seven, Miriam and Geoff Oswald awaited their first-born with eager anticipation, choosing names, shopping for clothes, as before then, both of them were career-minded, she choosing job security before settling down, he of a similar mind, but choosing the right time he wanted to do it, whilst maintaining his job as VAT assurance officer for the local council. She as a chartered secretary within the same department, but since then had transferred to a part-time position as a receptionist at a nearby medical walk-in centre.

They knew that in order to maintain a successful relationship, then they could not work together, or be in the same environment often. Absence can be a virtue when it comes to cementing long-term relationships, and reduce the natural amount of hostilities such a union can produce. Yet, each of them with the career positions that they had and were in, were not suited to a meek individual who could not handle the pressure and the strains of the job.

It meant that they were both as stubborn as each other, and arguments were frequent, yet, with the pregnancy, it had seemed to make Miriam worse. He couldn’t do anything right, things she had for years simply ignored, such as leaving towels on the bathroom floor, not closing the front gate. He put it down to the turmoil of hormones that the pregnancy had on her mental state, and he believed would return to normal upon the birth.

Everything would be fine once the baby arrived, he naively thought, rather like that of teenage mothers who upon discovering the hard way that their adolescent thinking of ‘It won’t happen me’ was proven wrong when they discovered that the pregnancy testing kit turned to blue. ‘They’ll have to stay together now for the kid’ their parents would say. ‘Maybe now they’ll get married, now that there’s a baby on the way’. Hence, the cloud of dust in the teenage father’s wake, and single mothers pushing prams around bargain basement shops and markets. Yes, the baby would solve everything, Geoff thought. Only two months to go.

Geoff was only five feet four, quite stocky with thinning wavy black hair. His emerging bald patch he was sure was down to work, down to stress. At one point he actually thought that if it can be proved to be directly the cause, then he would have sued.

Compensation culture occupied a sizeable piece of his mind, but he was rather apprehensive about it, and had not yet made a firm decision, but that decision was, he guessed, that he would do nothing about it because if he failed, it would be rather embarrassing. He hardly ever used a comb, because the hair always chose its own style, and he usually always wore dark, staid clothing, of little or no style whatsoever. His wife was no different in the fashion department. She was a fan of brown, and seemed to have bypassed the eighties, as her style and tastes had halted in the mid-seventies. She was a ‘Mother’s daughter’, a girl that simply became their mothers, bypassing adolescence. With her Victorian attitude to manners and erotica and her dowdy appearance, there were not many men who gave her a second glance.

He turned and walked out of the bedroom, and felt his way along the wall, even though he had lived there for three years and could probably have done it with his eyes closed. He didn’t want to turn on the light, so precariously made his way down the stairs and through into the kitchen. He shivered as his bare feet walked onto cold plastic flooring and shot a freezing bolt of chill through him.

There was a small cupboard next to the fridge that stored various paraphernalia, such as a mop and bucket, pieces of carpet, and bottles of bleach. Old shoes cluttered the bottom, amongst them his holiday flip-flops which he fumbled around for, and slipped on. The key was already in the back door, and he unlocked it, tightened his gown around him, and stepped out into the freezing night.

The wind pushed him off balance immediately and he staggered across his limestone patio onto the lawn towards the shed which was still banging away as if a naughty child was constantly kicking a football against it. Lightning lit the area up for a split second, and the rumble of thunder came two seconds later. Already the rain had soaked him, and his hair was matted to his scalp. Another bolt of lightning struck a telephone stanchion behind the shed. The electrical box shattered and there was a ball of luminous blue that exploded, knocking him to the grass. The shed seemed to suddenly become elongated, then upside-down, and melded into its surroundings, along with Geoff himself.

He awoke on his back, staring up at a blue sky. The sun was out, and a fat bee lazily crossed his line of vision. He leaned up on his elbows and looked around him. He was in the same place, but was still soaking, and wearing his flip-flops and gown. The shed looked different, older, its wood stained and cracked with age. The door was missing, and there was nothing inside it. Its windows were gone, and it looked about ready to collapse. The grass was much longer, and was filled with weeds and pieces of litter.

He slowly got to his feet and looked back at the house. It was the same, but different. It had been painted white, as opposed to the beige he had thought it was. The patio was still there, and against the wall leaned a cordless grass trimmer, looking dejected through lack of use. This is definitely my house, he thought, isn’t it? The surrounding area was similar, the neighbouring houses looking vaguely as he remembered them, but he was convinced that he stood facing his house, in his back garden.

The back door was wide open, and he could hear no sound from inside. He felt a little apprehensive, not really knowing why. This is my house, he thought, I have every right to be here. He slowly walked inside and did not recognise the place. The layout was still the same, but there was a completely new fitted kitchen, with an extractor fan above the oven and a cupboard above the worktop. Geoff thought again that he was in the wrong house, but then convinced himself that he wasn’t. He thought about calling out, but then decided against it. Into the hall, he stopped. The front door was wide open, and he could hear a car engine nearby. The carpet was thinner, cheaper, a dark green to the rust coloured one he remembered.

He cautiously went inside the front room. There were two black leather sofas at a ninety-degree angle, facing a 44-inch plasma television. There was a coffee table in the middle upon which were cans of lager, white powder, several straws, and three handguns. Bullets were also amongst them.

He then heard the car engine outside being revved. Somebody was here, just out in the front, and Geoff looked out of the window and saw that the layout was still the same. He could see several semi-detached houses opposite, as well as the corner of his local park. He looked down at a newspaper on a sofa and saw that the date was the 23rd of January 2025. '2025!' he thought, staring wide-eyed at it. As far as he knew, it was 1995. ‘MY BOOZE HELL’ was the headline. Claudia Sterling had apparently collapsed and was sick outside club ‘Anonymous’. Claudia Sterling, Geoff thought. I know of her. She was a four-year-old rising star of dance and theatre as far as he knew. She could sing and dance like those twice her age and was tipped for stardom. 'Then who was outside?' he thought.

On the wall, in the corner above a CD microsystem, hung a cracked framed photograph. It had been knocked skewiff, and showed three people smiling at a round table of what must have been a function, or party. He instantly recognised himself. Crossing over, he saw his wife as well, and sandwiched between them, a baldy smiling youth. My son, he thought. That’s my baby, and he looked back towards where the car would be, as though the intervening walls were simply not there. My son. He walked to the living room door, and looked down again at the table, at the drugs and weapons.

It can’t be, he thought. It can’t be my son. Out into the hall, he stopped at the wide-open front door. He could hear clinking and shuffling, as well as the engine. Geoff didn’t know what to do, fearful of walking out there, but not really knowing why. It’s my son, my lad, so why am I afraid to walk out there?

He wondered if he would see his future self, but so far it appeared that only his son lived in the house. He then heard another noise, a loud jangling tune, suddenly followed by ‘Hello? Oh, alright, listen, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.’ Geoff heard more clanging as tools were put down. A shadow fell across the doorway. He’s coming in! he thought, then turned and dashed up the stairs, stopping at the top of the banister to turn and see who it was coming in. He edged himself out of sight, but could just see that it was the same man in the photograph.

“Look, I’m havin’ to put the price up to £800,” he said, holding a small mobile phone to his ear. Geoff saw that he approached the stairs, and panicked, turning around and crossing to the bedroom door which was ajar. It was the same room he and Miriam used, but a double-bed was against the opposite wall. His son walked up the stairs.

“You’ve no idea what I had to go through to get it,” Geoff heard. He saw that ahead of him, at the back wall, the clothing cupboard was still there as it was. One of its doors was open and he hurriedly dashed across and squashed himself inside, amongst leather jackets and trousers. He was breathing heavily with nerves, and just managed to pull the door over before his son entered the bedroom. A three-inch gap gave him a view of the bed, upon which he saw four shotguns and innumerable bullets.

“You’d better have the cash. I didn’t get this for nothing.” The man sat at the edge of the bed, and with his free hand, picked up one of the weapons and admired it.

“Yes, right, good. Its pump action, sawn-off, as you wanted it, Right? So what d’you want it for?” Geoff saw him nod several times as he listened.

“Starting small-time then,” he said. “Listen, if you’re going to scare old people into giving you cash, you don’t need a shotgun. You just need a knife or baseball bat. I’ve done it myself. Just get into their house when you know they’re on their own. Wear a disguise. Say you’re a gas man or something. It’s alright, most of them let you in. Smack them around so they can’t call the police and just rob them. Easy, I used to do it before robbing shops. Thing is though, you’ve got to mean business. If they refuse, or fight back you’ve gotta blast em. You can’t bottle it. Two that did it to me are now dead, and the pigs haven’t got a clue. It’s why I can talk about it over the phone. They say they’ve got all sorts of intelligence and surveillance and all that, but they’re too busy going after speeding motorists and litterbugs to see what’s going on right behind their back.”

Geoff was trying to breathe slowly, but he knew he was audible. His son picked up another shotgun, and once again, examined it affectionately. He nodded a few times, said a few yes’s, and rights, then continued, “I know what you mean. Did you know that me and the lads are planning another job tomorrow? A bank. It’s so obvious. How many bank jobs do you hear of these days? Not many, right? So I reckon a lot of these places have let their guard down. They always have money on-site, behind the counter, don’t they? And if we go in just before closing time, when there won’t be as many customers, we’ll take a few hostages and get what we can. I mean, to show we mean business I think I’m gonna blast one of ‘em. Well, I need to test out my new shotgun. We’ve got the masks, the getaway, and the firepower. Well, your gun’s here anyway, and you’ll pick it up when? Tonight, good. See ya then.”

He threw the phone on the bed, and cocked the weapon, and aimed it at the wall, looking down it as though it was a sniper rifle. He slowly aimed it around, towards Geoff, who held his breath. The gun passed him by, and his son did not see inside the cupboard gap. He cocked it again, nodded to himself, then placed it on the bed with the others.

Geoff could hold his breath no longer, and tried his best to be quiet as he sighed quite audibly, a leather coat creaking also. His son picked up the mobile phone, put it in his pocket, and left the room. Geoff heard footsteps recede, and he guessed he’d gone back out to the car. He almost fell out of the cupboard, and got his breath back, and surveyed the room.

That’s my son, he thought. A violent criminal. How could that be? How could I spawn that? An image of his friend’s father came to mind, because he had reacted badly to the discovery of his son’s homosexuality. ‘How can I spawn a child like you?’ ‘You’re disgusting.’ ‘An embarrassment.' ‘How can I tell my friends about you and what you are’? ‘You’re not my son.’

Not my son, Geoff thought, surveying the guns on the bed. It can’t be. He walked across to a sideboard, and amongst several issues of ‘Biked and racked’ magazine, featuring motorbikes and semi-clad women from around the world, and a few credit cards that he was convinced were not his, there was an issue of ‘Domination’, featuring a person wearing a rubber zipper mask on the cover, with rope wrapped around them, which was tied to a post. Geoff closed his eyes. Not my son, he thought. No way.

Anger began to rise within him, giving him increased confidence to go down and confront him. He turned and strode towards the bedroom door, looking down again as he did at the guns on the bed. They began to distort, to elongate, as though he was looking at them through water that had suddenly been disturbed. Everything he could see melded together, and Geoff became an ingredient, a drop in the malformation, his consciousness vanishing.

It suddenly returned, and he found himself lying on his back, in his garden at night, wind and rain lashing him. The shed door continued to bang, but Geoff did not acknowledge it. Instead, he got to his feet, got his bearings as much as the weather would allow him, and looked up at the bedroom window. He was breathing heavily. “Not my son,” he said aloud. “You’re not my son,” he shouted.

The tear in the fabric of reality and time and space which had been ripped open by the lightning and power surge, creating a chaotic vortex, sucking Geoff through, had healed itself. Like a cut on skin, it heals over time, but here it was much quicker and healed fully, leaving no scar but the memory of where he had been.

Geoff was breathing heavily, still staring at the window.

“No way,” he said. “No way.” He then ran back to the house, bursting through the door. He dashed across to the counter to where he knew there was a large bread knife in a rack. Picking it up, there was another flash of lightning which flashed from its blade, before returning the darkness again.

“Not my son,” he shouted, dashing through into the hall.

“You’re not my son.” Running up the stairs, rainwater scattering from him as he did, he burst through the bedroom door and stopped. With the room being in darkness, his eyes could not immediately adjust, so he scrambled for the light switch, and the room was illuminated. He crossed to his wife, who was still sleeping soundly.

“You’re not my son,” he said, staring at her bulging stomach. He reached down and wrenched back her sheet to expose her bare skin. Still she slept. His wide eyes stared at her stomach, and the images of what his son would become flashed through his mind.

“You’re not my son!” he screamed, raising the knife, and plunging it down, tearing through skin and flesh, the blade slicing through the fetus.

He repeatedly stabbed, his wife startling awake, screaming, her wide startled eyes staring at Geoff, who sent the knife plunging into her neck, slicing through veins and nerves. Blood spouted from all the wounds, the heart still pumping the fluid as best it could, the crimson liquid splashing up at his face and soaking his gown. He stabbed her throat three times, the blood from those wounds spraying into the blood from her stomach, which he continued to stab.

A liquid scream gargled from Miriam’s throat, her head falling back, ripping the knife wounds wider, more red fluid gushing forth. His arm quickly grew tired, and after a few moments, he stopped and stared down at his writhing, scarlet soaked wife. Every inch of her was red, and the blood soaked into the duvet and mattress, dripping onto the carpet.

Geoff was breathing heavily, the stab wounds in the stomach had converged into one pulpy, gaping maw, the blood-soaked fetus carved into pieces. He did not hesitate to send the knife into his own throat. He managed four times before he lost the strength to continue. Blood rained down over his wife, spouting over the bed. He swayed, dropped the knife, and collapsed forward. Pain tore through his neck and he gripped his throat in a vain attempt to stop the blood flow. Geoff and Miriam writhed on their scarlet deathbed, and as the life fluid gouted out of Geoff, he unconsciously found himself adopting a fetus-like position.

He trembled as though cold. Miriam had stopped, but blood continued to spill from her. Geoff soon stopped also, and outside, a flash of lightning struck the electrical box at the side of the house, short-circuiting it, cutting off power. The room was plunged into darkness. The storm continued to sweep forcefully across the town, and in the back garden, the shed door continued to bang.


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