Please excuse the dodgy formatting. WordPress isn’t a fan of double-spacing or tab indents. This is not a final draft, but I’ve decided to gauge interest in this now, ahead of the official Seventh Circle site launching next month at http://theseventhcircle.co.uk)
Any and all feedback – good or bad is welcome. Thank you.
His descent into damnation began on New Year’s Eve. Dirk, a wanted murderer and penniless drunk had spent several hours stumbling around his barren apartment in a suicidal daze. Through the fog of liquor and regret, he had grown quite attached to the idea of ending his own life at the stroke of midnight. Yes, that will do just fine, he thought as he struggled to his feet, using the nearest piece of furniture as a crutch. His blackened fingernails dug into the back of the leather sofa until the material creaked, and his dirty, bare feet clattered through mounds of discarded beer cans. The man had seen better days.
It had only been how long? Six, maybe seven months since Dirk gave up his life and went into hiding. As he closed his eyes some lingering, terrible memory rushed back to him. Rain. Endless, cold, uncompromising rain. The sound of squelching mud followed, and visions of a man unrecognisable to him now, frantically digging a shallow grave by some dark and lonely roadside. A shudder ran up his spine as he recalled the feeling of that sodden mud between his fingers, mixed with the still-warm blood of his wife and son.
Murderer. That’s what you are. That is all you will ever be.
Dirk had punished himself for their death since that fateful night. It troubled him to stare through the steamed windows of his squat and look down at the New Year’s revellers congregating in the brightly-lit square below. To him they were nothing more than blind, ignorant pigs chasing the idea that somehow, come tomorrow, everything would be better. Just like that, as if by magic. He smirked and scoffed drunkenly at the notion then turned to rest his back on the glass. Face buried in his worn hands, he let out a grief-fuelled shriek as the haunting visions returned.
Outside, lines of latecomers shuffled slowly along icy side walks, edging closer to the throng of bodies in the square. Those who had found a place to sit looked on at the large digital clock erected there, warming themselves in the glow of its harsh neon display. They laughed and reflected on the year that was, before looking to the next in hopeful anticipation. Resolutions and vows were made that wouldn’t be kept. For a moment at least, all the harsh realities of the world could be resigned to background noise. All that mattered was the countdown, and the fresh start that followed. It was getting close. Not much longer.
“Eric. Eric wake up. Come on Eric this isn’t funny. Please. Wake up!”
On the East side of town, Sasha rocked her husband’s body with increasing urgency and screamed at him to open his eyes. The knife wounds criss-crossing his body told her that he was dead, but in a frenzy of tearful denial she clung on to the hope that he could hear her. He lay there lifelessly on the floor of the apartment that they had bought just last year. Toppled wine glasses and ornaments suggested there had been some kind of struggle. Noticing the strewn objects she stopped pushing Eric’s corpse as a pang of fear waved over her. Her eyes centred and her breathing quickened, as if she was being released from some kind of trance. The realisation hit home as her senses returned. She had done this. But why?
Sasha looked down at her white party frock to see blotches of Eric’s blood seeping through the fabric. Her typically immaculate blonde hair was tousled and her make-up was smeared. Looking behind her, she saw a bloody kitchen knife lying on the pine wood floor. A red trail stretched from the instrument into the bedroom. She swallowed hard and rose to her feet slowly. The pounding of her heart towered over the stillness in the room. She clicked her expensive high-heels across the wood floor and slowly pushed open the bedroom door with a deafening creak. She entered and screamed.
In her bed lay Stacy, Eric’s colleague and close friend from high-school. She was naked, bloody and dead, staring back as Sasha with soulless, accusing eyes. She gripped the white sheets with one hand and squeezed the fabric tight, causing the blood to squelch and seep between her balled up fingers. Her arm shook as a wave of anger swept over her. It all came flooding back in that moment.
Eric and Stacy’s affair would have seemed obvious to anyone who knew Sasha, but she tried her best to explain away all of his infidelities and excuses. It had gone on for months. First came late nights at the office, then working weekends. Stacy also took a renewed interest in spending time with the couple, and Sasha willingly allowed her into their home. Excuses came and went, yet they were always entertained. But did they justify Eric’s death?
No, Sasha thought. No one deserves to die like this.
Sasha had spent most of New Year’s Eve with her parents up-state. Her mother’s cooking was as delicious and warming as ever. It reminded her of simpler times at home, before she moved to the city to pursue a legal career. Her father’s conversation was as asinine as ever, but she was just happy to be in their company after a year of solid work and worry. Eric was the rock that drove her on through the tough times. He was always there when she came home from her studies at the start, but once Stacy entered the picture he became lost, vacant.
Dinner wound down quicker than expected, so Sasha adjourned upstairs to prepare for her friend’s New Year’s party in the city. She slipped on her gown and prepared. After saying goodbye to her family she got in her car and hit the freeway. It was still early and she was making good time. The traffic build-up mounted as revellers raced home for the festivities, but Sasha had managed to avoid the worst of it. As the city lights glimmered into view, through the cold wind and smog, she tried to call Eric from the car-phone a fourth time. No answer. It didn’t matter, she was early after all.
It was dark by the time Sasha arrived at the apartment and Eric hadn’t called back. She entered and slammed the front door behind her before tossing her keys and handbag on the kitchen counter nearby. The room was warm, taking the edge off the cold outside, prompting a sigh of relief. It was a fairly new studio pad, basically a huge living room and kitchen combined, with a few rooms off to the side. It was decked out in wooden flat packed furniture that still smelled of the assembly line, both catalogue-perfect and soulless in equal measure. Sasha stood in the foyer, relieved to be home. Her moment of relaxation was interrupted as the bedroom door flew open and a shirtless Eric stood there visibly stressed.
“Hey,” he stammered. “You’re home early. I thought you were having dinner with your folks tonight. How come you left early?”
“Well, pop fell asleep after the meal as usual and mom wanted to just tidy up and watch her shows. You know how she gets. Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the party tonight? Time’s getting on.”
Sasha moved towards the bedroom, causing Eric to react and block her path with his arm.
“What are you doing?” She asked with a giggle. “Come on man, I just want to fix my make-up and sit down with a nice glass of wine, maybe some soft music, a couple of those chocolates your parents got us for Christmas. Come on, what do you say?”
“Uh, sure baby. Why don’t you sit down and take your shoes off? I’ll be out in a moment and I’ll pour you that first glass. How does that sound?”
Through the door, Sasha heard a rustling sound in the bedroom and shot Eric a concerned expression. She tried to push past him once more, but this time he was forceful in his attempts to stop her, grabbing both of her wrists.
“Who’s in there Eric?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t bullshit me! I can hear someone moving around in there. It’s Stacyy? Is it?”
“It’s no one okay, you’re acting crazy.”
“Crazy? Let me past. I said let me past!”
Sasha clawed at Eric’s arm, causing him to flinch and retreat back into the bedroom. There, in the bed they had both shared for the past year was Stacy, just as she feared. Eric started to open his mouth to try and explain it all away, but a piercing stare from his wife told him better than to mess her around any longer. She closed her eyes and spoke softly.
“How fucking dare you Eric. After all these years, you go running back to little miss homecoming queen like you’re back in high school. Stay here tonight. I’m going to Becky’s party. Don’t try to call, don’t even try to follow me. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Sasha,” Stacy piped up. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Then keep your mouth shut you dirty, two-faced whore.”
Stacy started shouting at Eric for allowing her to be spoken to like that but it was all drowned out in a sea of red mist clouding Sasha’s senses. She was angry and hurt, but she would be the bigger person. She would walk away and enjoy tonight. Without another word she turned and strolled out of the bedroom, then back into the main studio. Fighting back tears, Sasha went to grab her bag and keys from the kitchen, but her hand hovered over the dull marble surface and moved to the knife block instead. With twitching fingers she clasped the handle of the biggest knife on offer and withdrew it slowly. There was no turning back. She had snapped.
The rest was a blur, and now there she as, staring at her partner’s dead fuck buddy. The calm was shattered by a knock at the door and the meek voice of the apartment bloc cleaner Enriqueta, an old Mexican woman with a hunched, suspecting demeanour. She had heard the ruckus from down the hall and thought it to be a domestic at first. Sasha’s subsequent shrieking had sent alarm bells ringing.
“Hello Mrs. Rein. It’s Enriqueta. Are you alright? I heard a commotion and came to see if you were okay.”
“Mrs. Rein? You want me to call the police? Do you need help?”
“Hey,” Sasha spluttered. “Hey Enriqueta, it’s fine. We’re fine thanks. I just thought I saw a mouse running around in here. It’s okay, go home and enjoy your New Year’s okay?”
“Is Eric there? I saw him come home early today and he hasn’t come out yet. Is he sleeping?”
Nosey bitch, thought Sasha. “Yes, that’s right. He’s sleeping. We’re going to a party, “ she said as she kicked off her heels and started trying to frantically mop up Eric’s blood with paper towels with minimal success.
“I just heard a lot of banging and screaming you know? It didn’t sound good.”
“Enriqueta, please stop worrying okay?” Sasha shouted back as tears formed around her eyes. “I just. I just got frightened. I’m asking you nicely for the last time. Go home.”
The change in Sasha’s tone told Enriqueta that all was not well in the house, so she started to fish around in the pockets of her cardigan for the bloc’s master keys. The jangling of metal caused Sasha to jump quickly to her feet and race for the door. She pull the handle shut as Enriqueta unlocked the latch and started pulling in the opposite direction.
“Sasha, please!” Enriqueta shouted.
Through blood-soaked hands Sasha strained to grip the handle, but it slipped free, leaving Enriqueta able to prize it open. Sasha simply stood there sobbing, arms by her sides. She was dotted with blood from head to toe, and behind her lay Eric’s body.
“Enriqueta I’m…I’m sorry,” was all Sasha could muster before she ran barefoot out the front door and locked it behind her. Wailing, Enriqueta pulled out her cellphone to called the police and gave them Sasha’s description.
The next half hour was a blur. Sasha fled down crowded streets without direction. Her toes numbed on the snowy tarmac underfoot, but all she could think about was getting as much distance between her and the crime scene. She turned left, right, left, right again until she was lost in the urban maze. Bloodied and beautiful, she stood out among the night, and it wasn’t long for police officers to take notice and match her appearance to Enriqueta’s description. The chase only lasted a few minutes. It forced Sasha back through a pack of oncoming party-goers and realising she couldn’t make her way through them quickly enough, she broke free, into another apartment building. She stumbled through the lobby and started to ascend the stairwell. All she could do was keep going up.
Dizzy from exhaustion Sasha eventually emerged on the roof, countless storeys above street level, and bolted the maintenance door behind her. Sweating, dishevelled and scared she slumped in the freshly laid snow and shivered, holding herself to conserve heat. Suspecting that Sasha could be dangerous and possibly have a hostage up there, the police officers called in armed back-up, and promptly battered the door down to find her standing on the lip of the building, arms outspread. She would have looked angelic if it wasn’t for the all the blood. The authorities trained their rifles on her and the leader of the group – a younger officer – leaned into his radio device.
“Sanders, this is Virgil. She’s unarmed sir. Proceeding to detain suspect and take her in for questioning.”
“Roger that Virgil,” replied Sanders. “Escort her down safely, the last thing I need is a bloodbath on New Year’s Eve.”
Sasha quivered on the roof ledge as the howling, biting wind slammed into her from all angles. Several storeys below she saw specks of light from passing cars, and swarms of people coursing down the street like blood through a vein. She looked to her right and saw people inching towards the glow of the swelling city square, as the faint sound of music and laughter tingled on the breeze.
“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” she shouted to the officers over the gale.
“Believe me or not, that’s the truth. I’m sorry.”
“I know Sasha,” replied Virgil. “I can tell that just by looking at you now, but we have to take you down-town and ask some questions. First, I need you to step away from the ledge. Can you do that for me, please?”
“You know I can’t.”
Virgil motioned to his team and they quickly cocked their rifles.
It was too late. In that moment Sasha stepped over the edge and vanished without a sound. Virgil and his crew rushed over the the drop and peered down to the street. She was nowhere to be seen. Seconds later they all heard the sickening crash as her body connected with parked cars by the roadside. Screams followed and the team simply hitched up their firearms as Virgil called it in. Defeated, they walked back downstairs without saying a word.
Dear lord forgive me. What have I done?
Far from the chaos caused by Sasha’s fall, Nathan stood alone in his suburban home with a quaking hand covering his mouth, eyes shaking behind his steamed glasses. He and his wife Holly had left the city behind years ago and moved to be nearer their kids. It was a modest home, large enough but overrun with trinkets and photo frames on every surface, totems erected to mark lives well-lived. It was unmistakably theirs, a time capsule of their time together but now it was home to murder.
Although his sons were grown up now and capable of fending for themselves, the passing of years had knocked the wind out of Nathan, despite his background as a fit, capable army officer. The armed forces had robbed him of his youth and innocence, but he was the cheerful type, grateful to have lived for so long, and to have seen so much. War had thrust upon him had hails of gunfire and sights so severe he wouldn’t wish them on any man or woman, but he had lived. Quitting, he felt, was never a valid option when faced with a crisis. Life was precious indeed, but on this night, he had broken his one rule and it aged him in a heartbeat.
Holly lay dead on the worn front room couch. Her face was concealed beneath a wool blanket she had knitted it for Nathan over a weekend. He hated that damn thing, it itched like hell and the garish plaid pattern simply wouldn’t do, but he still used it to avoid upsetting her. Long silver locks of curled hair rested on her lifeless shoulders, while her left hand rested on the dusty rug below, skeletal, pale and cold. She had been sick and dying for some time. They hadn’t told their kids, and they had no way of paying for treatment. Whatever nest egg they had saved went on day-to-day living and the occasional trip to their old neighbourhood on the coast. As the months rolled on, Holly’s pain increased and she and Nathan grew increasingly desperate.
As kind hearted and capable as he was, Nathan was stubborn. He refused to draw his sons into the matter and he flat-out refused to ask them for financial aid. Holly was equally as proud and vowed that she would beat her sickness no matter what. They were kidding themselves. Once she learned that there was no coming back from the illness she suggested that Nathan kill her, so to spare her a slow, agonising end. It was the first time he had ever struck her in all their years together, partly fuelled by anguish, and an equal measure of fear. The second time resulted in a heated debate, followed by rational, earnest discussion. Each time she raised the potential outcome, it sounded less and less barbaric. They were a team, and if this is what Holly demanded in order to be at peace then who was he to deny her?
On this particular night, he fulfilled her wish. It was quiet and Holly barely struggled as he held the pillow over her weathered, gaunt face until all traces of movement stopped. It was only when he looked into her dead eyes that he realised he no longer recognised his sweetheart. She was so frail now, so warped by her ailment that he felt little remorse in those first moments.
“Holly honey? I’m sorry, but this is what you wanted. I had to help you, I just had to,” he mumbled, lips trembling. “They won’t understand why it had to be this way Holly, they just won’t. Oh god the kids. What will I tell the kids? For the love of god tell me, please.”
Coming to his senses, he calmly dropped the pillow and shuffled over to his whisky cabinet to pour himself a tall measure. He then dragged himself to his favourite recliner, wiped the condensation from his spectacles and flicked on the old television set before him.
The New Year’s Eve live show was gearing up to its big countdown. Nathan saw young, anatomically perfect presenters interviewing party-goers in the crowd about the year they had and what they were looking forward to in the next 12 months. He saw families hugging and couples embracing with a smile. He took a sideways glance at Holly’s corpse sagging into the couch next to him and broke down, spilling his scotch on the carpet.
Suddenly overcome with nausea, Nathan struggled to his feet and entered his private bathroom to vomit into the toilet bowel. He wretched violently but produced nothing. Sweating, he wiped his mouth and proceeded through to the bedroom and started fishing around in his chest of drawers. Producing a belt, he tugged at either end to test the leather’s durability. Once satisfied he dragged a wooden stool out into his garage and placed it below a light fixture, then proceeded to snake the belt over the top in a loop. He had made up his mind already. If he couldn’t be with Holly in life, then he would be with her in death. Religious at heart, Nathan feared for his soul, but knew that his time on this Earth was up. Either way, he begged to be judged fairly for his sins.
Nathan hopped onto the chair and tightened the belt around his neck. The fixture would take his weight with ease, he had done enough DIY around the house to know that. Picking up a photo of the couple from their last vacation, Nathan looked at it longingly for what felt like hours. He closed his eyes and remembered how they first met. It was still fresh in his mind after all these decades. Their first date, his clumsy marriage proposal to Holly, the big day and the birth of their sons. Everything came through clearly and caused Nathan to bawl with increasing force. He eventually sniffed hard and wiped his eyes dry, then, without saying a word he kicked the stool out from under his feet. After a few seconds of gurgling and thrashing, he was dead.
“Ten, Nine, Eight,” chanted the crowds in the square, as the digital clock started counting down to midnight. Above the streets, Dirk lay in his mouldy bathtub, surrounded by sheets of old newspaper. He clutched an old revolver and jammed the barrel under his chin. The coarse stubble on his neck scratched against the weapon as he swallowed deep in fear, looking up at the ceiling with tearful eyes. He groaned loudly.
“Seven, Six, Five.”
The countdown erupted outside as Dirk switched hands, indecisively pushing the tip of the gun against his temple, causing the flesh to turn white. He snivelled and tapped his other hand nervously on the side of the bath.
One final whimper escaped Dirk’s lips as he screwed his red eyes shut and clenched his teeth.
The shot rang out across the dank, squalid apartment and Dirk slumped back in the tub. No one heard the gunshot over the cheering and singing outside. As the revellers broke out in a rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, Dirk’s blood rolled down his neck, over the fine hairs of his arm and cascaded off his fingertips, dripping loudly on the tiled floor below.
Seconds later, Dirk awoke in a snowy back-alley dazed, and with a surging pain in his gut. Spluttering, he dragged his aching body towards a crumbling brick wall and leaned against it. His chest burned and his head was racked with lightning bolts of agony. He heard footsteps echo in the dark, growing louder and more urgent with every step. Unable to call out to the person he simply tried to stand and run, but he couldn’t even get up on one knee. He fell back into a stack of garbage cans, sending them clattering loudly. He looked up with blurred eyes to see a man in a trenchcoat standing in front of him. The stranger extended a hand in assistance as he smiled down at Dirk through his greying, untidy beard.
“Hey there friend. Welcome to Hell.”
Upon hearing the man speak, Dirk’s eyes rolled into his skull and he passed out. Everything went dark and for the first time in almost a year, he was at some kind of peace.