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By AWC71 - 1 Review

The stairs in the multi - storey car-park were dimly lit and stank of spoilt take - aways and maybe something worse. When they entered Max contrived to have Lucy walk in front of him, all the better to keep watch and wait for his chance.

From the moment they had met earlier in the evening Max had known that she was the one and that this was going to be the evening when everything was going to change.

There was nothing special about her, apart perhaps from her utter ordinariness. She was in, he guessed, late twenties, rather plain with mousy hair caught up into a too tight arrangement at the back of her head and washed out blue eyes swimming behind unfashionable glasses.

As they climbed the stairs opened out between each floor into a sort of balcony before diving back into foetid dimness. Max could see the lights of the town centre twinkling, smell the massed cooking of kebabs and hear the occasional blare of a siren on the dual carriageway. They suddenly seemed very far away and not quite real.

Max had seen Lucy first in the yard of The Grapes, a crumbling Victorian wreck of a pub marooned amongst sixties office blocks two streets away from the car park. They were both smoking cigarettes surrounded by students from the nearby university, all of whom were drinking warm lager they had paid too much for and pretending this was freedom.

None of them would remember this night, not as it had really been; they would manufacture a false consciousness that would let them think they'd spent it dancing on the dark edge of something dangerous. I'll have something else, something real, to remember it for Max had thought as the smoke burnt his throat.

Despite the warmth of the night he had suddenly shivered, and his scalp had felt tight, when he lifted his bottle of lager to his lips his hand shook. The alcohol tasted like warm sick and his mouth had been so dry he struggled to swallow without gagging.

They were on the fourth floor now, two more to go before they reached the top and the moment of decision. Max began to note every small detail, the strands of hair that had escaped and played against the back of Lucy's neck, the worn-down heels of her trainers. He wanted every detail to stay with him forever.

Looking at the trainers he suddenly thought, she has walked far enough.

What he needed, Max had thought back in the yard behind The Grapes, was a8n excuse to go over and start a conversation. One that might just lead to him doing the things he thought about when the lights were off. Things he was afraid to name.

The fight, it turned out was exactly what he had been looking for. It wasn't much of a fight, just some shouting and shoving with all concerned pretending not to be relieved to be pulled apart before any real punches could be thrown.

It was enough of an excuse for Max to make his way over and start a conversation. To play the older man amused by the kids acting out and to drop the offer of going to a party he knew of in another part of town.

'If you like,' she'd said.

He did like. He liked to the point where it was dangerous.

For a moment Max had convinced himself there really was a party, could see the group of semi-strangers standing around in a shabby room drinking warm lager and pretending to have fun as a stereo played too loudly. There wasn't though, instead they were here, climbing the stairs to the top floor.

Another few steps and there could be no turning back. There would be a silent, but irrevocable shifting of pieces into place. Thought would become action, and nothing would ever be the same again.

Max could see the lights of the city twinkling in the night, some green, others red; most a sickly yellow colour, thousands of them. They looked like eyes, the hard and pitiless sort that peer out of the jungle in children's story books. Seeing everything and knowing that all the world breaks down into hunters and prey.

He was about to show he was one of the hunters.

Max watched in fascination as the stray hairs bounced and brushed against the back of Lucy's neck. It was such a thin neck; his hands would fit around it perfectly.

In what felt like slow motion Max reached out. On the edge of his vision the massed lights of the city twinkled, an audience holding its breath as the show reached its climax.

Everything happened so quickly, Lucy dipped her shoulder turning at the same time and using Max's momentum against him.


The word swam into his mind as he sailed over the barrier into thin air, hanging there perfectly still for a few seconds that felt like forever. Long enough for Max to realise that countless kebabs frying in their own grease would be the last thing he would ever smell.

Then there was a sickening sensation of flying downwards.

Then an impact.

Then nothing.

The young woman who wasn't really called Lucy stood and looked down at Max for as long as it took to roll and smoke a cigarette.

He didn't move, he was lying on his back with his eyes open and his neck bent at an unnatural angle. She finished her cigarette and placed the remains into a plastic jar, you could never be too careful.

Not that anyone would be asking questions, the car park had, according to the articles archived on the website of the local paper, a reputation for being a suicide hotspot. Every few months some unfortunate misfit would take a short walk to a long drop from its top floor.

Max would be just another statistic, a photograph and a couple of paragraphs on the inside pages of the paper. Families could be relied on to hush up things like suicide before the lens of gossip focussed on them.

She walked away from the car park into the town centre, past people queuing up to get into bar or eating chips from plastic trays. Nobody gave her a second glance, they were all grimly intent on enjoying the big night out they had worked for all week.

In the bus station she collected her rucksack from a locker and waited twenty minutes for the National Express coach for which she'd bought a one-way ticket using cash earlier in the day.

She sat at the back ignored by and herself ignoring her fellow passengers, most of whom were either asleep or had earphones plugged into their ears. Near to the front a fat man with a bald head was talking loudly into a mobile phone in a Slavic language.

The coach passed through the town centre with its lit shop windows and crowded bars into the suburbs where box like houses were separated one from another by painted fences and neatly trimmed hedges.

At last it reached the motorway, losing itself in the anonymity of traffic. She watched through the grimy window as the city and then the country dissolved into a sea of lights stretching out to the horizon.

Behind each one there was, she thought, countless lives, some carrying on for a little longer. All of them sure to end eventually.

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25 Jun, 2018
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