Homecoming

“And what are you supposed to be?”
The child stood staring up at Miriam in silence, the expression blank. Or at least, the expression on the mask hiding their face was blank.
It didn’t say fun.
It didn’t say scary.
It didn’t say anything.
Every other kid she had seen through the window passing her house that night, their parents steering them on to the next door with a whisper, had been some kind of superhero, Marvel or Star Wars character.
Or at least she guessed, anyway.
So out of touch now.
After only a year.
Daniel would have been able to tell her, instantly, who each kid was supposed to be, and what cartoon or movie they were from.
Kids were trick or treating earlier and earlier every year. When she was a kid, they waited until it got dark on October 31st before even thinking about what to dress up as. And back then, costumes consisted of parents’ old coats, an oversized hat, and whatever plastic mask had been left hanging on the rack at the supermarket that morning. Now, kids were planning their costumes by the end of the summer, getting their parents to order them off Amazon weeks in advance. On Hallowe’en itself they were ready to hit the road, and every door on the street, almost from the time they got home from school.
And Daniel was always out there before any of them.
He lived for it.
Lived.
The kid in the weird mask stood motionless.
No holler of “Trick or treat!
No expectant pail, bucket or bag held out.
This had been the first, and what would probably be the only, knock to come to Miriam’s door. Her house stuck out from every other on the street by its lack of Halloweenness.
Not a single polystyrene gravestone on the lawn, zombie mannequin on the step, or carved pumpkin in the window.
All it was wrapped in was darkness.
Another parent with their child shuffled past on the sidewalk as silently and quickly as they could, pretending not to see Miriam.
Parents.
“Where are your parents?” said Miriam, her voice cracking with it being the first time she had used it to speak to anyone in months, never mind… a child.
The kid said nothing, just slightly angled its head up at her.
“You out here on your own? Your mom or your dad not with you?”
The mask angled to one side and leaned closer.
It spoke to her without saying anything.
Full of questions.
Like all kids.
What made you answer the door?
Good one to start. There had been no knock. Miriam had been perched on the sofa in the front window, watching the street and parents she used to be such good friends with passing by.
Some of them, out of embarrassment.
Others out of fear.
Many, she suspected, out of revulsion.
Don’t you have any candy?
Miriam had ordered in some candy for the occasion, on the off-chance that she had a visitor. But not much. She knew she was most likely going to end up having to eat it herself.
She had never liked to see things go to waste.
Funny, in a completely fucked up way. She very nearly laughed. And it sickened her.
“I do have some candy,” she said to the mask. “I just didn’t put it out. Wait there a second and I’ll go get it, okay?”
Can I come in?
Miriam was already halfway down the hall. She turned to see the kid now standing by the bottom of the stairs.
Is my room still the same?
What?
Does Daddy not live here anymore?
Stop.
Are you ready for me take my mask off now?
No.
Mom?

The Last Bus

Bus passenger

One minute you have enough time for one last pint. Then three pints later you’re running for the last bus. Which was why when I made it to Pearse Street, I hoped against hope that the one of the buses approaching in the distance would have the lucky number 67 on their front.

When the blurred digits on the front of the first bus in the procession came into focus, I saw that it was out of service.

Great.

Same story with the next three.

They were all finished and going nowhere right now but back to the depot.

Right as the homing beacon was about to kick in and have me walk halfway home before hailing a cab to save a few euro, a bus pulled in right in front of me.

When I didn’t even have my hand out.

A bus driver looking for passengers? Nothing strange about that at all.

The doors opened with a hiss, and I realised I hadn’t even caught the route number.

“Come on, we’ve got lives to live,” said the driver.

“But where are you going?” I asked him.

“Home,” he said. “Chop, chop.”

It must have been the beer that made that make sense, because I climbed on, fishing my travelcard out of my wallet. But I couldn’t find the scanner, where it should have been.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the driver.

I couldn’t really see his face, what with the low light and the thick, scratched Perspex between us.

“The ride is free, is it?” I asked him.

He laughed, as the doors closed behind me and the bus pulled away from the kerb. “No such thing as a free ride, pal. You know that.”

Continue reading “The Last Bus”

Eva

“I don’t understand, it was working just fine before you walked into the room,” said Paul. “I’m sorry about this, Doctor Caldwell, I don’t want to waste your time.”

“That’s okay, Paul. Let’s do this another time. I actually need the lab to myself. I have something rather urgent I need to clear up.”

Caldwell’s eyes moved to the apparently malfunctioning apparatus in front of Paul as the young scientist rebooted the software.

“I’ve seen you working on this in the past few weeks. What is it? Killer robot? Or at least a killer robot’s head?”

Paul pretended to smile. “Not quite. Giving its, um, face, a humanoid appearance just makes more sense in the context of our project. We’ve been teaching it, essentially, to mimic human facial expressions.” What Paul wanted to say next, he was sure, would elicit a more animated, dismissive reaction. So he did. “And duplicate human emotions.”

Continue reading “Eva”

“The Rug”

Even now, I can’t bring myself to tell my mother about the rug.

At some stage, every little boy has a fire phase. A fascination with the flame, if you will. It calls out to each of us at some point. And it sang its song, luring me on to the rocks, or on to the hearth, when I was about twelve years of age.

Circumstances aligned each weeknight beautifully while that fascination lasted.

My mother, my very house-proud mother, worked nights, in the bar of a theatre in the city centre. And to make it there on time, she would have to leave and head off into town in her blue Mini City at ten to seven.

Now, my father didn’t arrive home from the factory he worked in as a welder until a quarter past seven, typically. So that gave me roughly twenty, twenty-five minutes to work.

To experiment. To play. With fire.

Continue reading ““The Rug””