Alex sat up in bed as his heart thundering in his chest; his panicked eyes darting wildly around the room as he hugged his sweat soaked pillow to his chest, a pitiful shield against the darkness. In his dream fogged mind he swore he could smell the stale stench of sweat, bad ale and worst of all the sharp metallic scent of his mothers blood on his father’s knuckles. His stomach roiled and his eyes stung with unshed tears. After a long moment his eyes seemed to focus, his breathing lost its ragged edge and his hands loosened their death grip on his dirty straw pillow as the nightmare started to fade.
Alex let out a low sigh and rubbed his face with his hands; no matter how many times he had that dream it never lost it’s impact. After his first few weeks at Carnival House he’d learned to control the screams his screams – the other boys didn’t appreciate being woken and were not shy about showing him their displeasure – but most nights he still awoke early, drenched in sweat with the images of his father’s snarling face burned into his retinas.Knowing his sleep was over for the night Alex levered himself up in his shabby cot and looked around the room in the cold, grey morning light.
Carnival House had been home for the last five years, since his father killed his mother and beat Alex to within an inch of his life in a drunken rage. It was the place where the government sent those kids who were considered too damaged for rehoming. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ Jonesy the jug-eared kid in bed next to Alex had told him on his first day. ‘They say they’ll find us a home alright. They say it but really it’s just a half-way house, somewhere to put all us notrights until we’re old enough to put out on the streets.’ Jonesy had been right, in Alex’s entire time at the orphanage he’d never heard of a single kid that had been rehomed.
He slipped out from under his damp blanket and dropped soundlessly to the cold stone floor; beds stretched as far as they eye could see in the half-light of the cold morning. This room alone had 60 beds each holding a shifting moaning form, no one slept well in Carnival House, the place had an air of fear and taste of pain to it. Rumor had it the place was originally a hotel where the mad owner tortured and killed his guests; if the new owners where anything to go by Alex could believe it. Gregor Hynd, the warden of Carnival House, was a sadistic fuck with was a taste blood.
Only one bed in the dorm was empty, the one across the room from Alex’s bed, That bed belonged to Simon. At the far end of the room one of the new kids started sobbing, some kids didn’t last a week, some didn’t last a day but everyone broke eventually. Alex had cried like a baby his third night when he realised that he was never going home. He felt no shame looking back now everybody cried, everyone except Simon that is. In the long history of Carnival House no one could name any new kid who did not to cry bar Simon; those people who knew him swore he didn’t have it in him. Alex did his best to stay away from Simon, the boy wasn’t all there. Not that he was slow or a nutter or anything like that, he was razor sharp, intense in fact. It was more that he had a way of looking at you like you were a frog he’d like to dissect; he gave Alex the creeps.
Alex padded silently down the aisle between the low cots when the door at the end of room opened a crack and a small form slipped inside. The boy scampered down the hall and whispered urgently shaking sleeping feet as he passed.
“What’s the deal?” Alex hissed to the boy as the dorm slowly came alive.
“Simon is back!” he replied and the word spread down through the dorm like wildfire. “Simon is back. Simon is back. Simon is back.”
Simon shot a glare at Gregor as the giant warden of the orphanage opened the thick steel door of the basement and stepped inside. Gregor closed the door without taking his eyes off Simon and slid the bolt home with a crash. Simon shrugged, he knew a scare tactic when he saw one, he used them himself often enough after all, and he wasn’t biting.
“Now isn’t that better Simon?” said Gregor licking his lips. “Now we can talk in peace.”
Simon raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“Oh, ho, ho. So it’s the silent treatment eh?” said Gregor taking a step closer to Simon. “There’s no need for all of that, just tell me where you’ve been and with whom and all this will be forgotten.”
When Simon still said nothing, Gregor’s face screwed up in anger and he rushed forward swinging a meaty fist. Gregor pulled his punch at the last second his fist so close so Simon’s face he could feel the hairs on his knuckles brushing his cheek. Gregor growled and ground his teeth in frustration; Simon hadn’t even flinched.
“You think you’re tough boy?” spat Gregor. “You think your a big man I’ll show you who the big man here is.”
He pulled back his arm and crashed his fist into Simon’s stomach and Simon folded to the floor with a grunt the air rushing from his lungs. Gregor’s smile was cut short as Simon slowly dragged himself to his feet a smile on his face.
“Oh, what a big man you are!” he laughed. “Hey, let me buy you a pack of gum. I’ll show you how to chew it.”
The next punch caught him right on the temple and sent him spinning to the floor a gob of blood flying to hit the wall with a sickening splat; Simon just lay there laughing. When Simon tried to push himself to his feet the giant warden rushed forward and delivered a vicious kick in the ribs. The crack echoed around the room and now Simon’s laughter came with a oh of pain at the end. Wild-eyed Gregor stared at Simon shaking with impotent rage.
“OK, OK, you win Gregor,” said Simon holding up a hand when his laughter finally subsided. “I’ll tell you who I was with.”
“Fine.” Gregor said unclenching his fists. “There was no need for this you know, I’m a reasonable man. Just tell me who you were with and what you were doing and we can pretend this never happened.”
Simon pushed himself ponderously to his feet favouring his left side. “I was with that spastic kid of yours, we were double teaming your fat ugly wife, it wasn’t one of my finest conquests but needs must.” Simon laughed again until Gregor charged in, grabbed him by the throat and slammed him to the floor. Simon’s head bounced off the cold stone tiles. He stopped laughing, his mouth twisted into a scowl and his stare burned into Gregor’s very soul. “Careful now Gregor,” he whispered. “You’re going to get off me now and leave me here. If you touch me again it’s your son that will suffer.”
“Don’t you say his name, don’t you even think about him or I swear to God I’ll break every bone in your body you little shit,” spat the warden his face inches from Simon’s.
“James,” said Simon his eyes flashing. “Poor old spasticated James. What do you think he’s doing right now? I’m going to guess sitting in a puddle of his own piss drooling and playing with himself.”
Gregor let go of Simon and stood his every move tense, his face a mask of pure hatred. “Remember you asked for this,” he growled walking over to the workbench in the corner. Simon watched laughing as he slapped the top off a plastic box and rooted around finally coming up with a thick steel wrench. “I offered you and out and you spat in my face. Well now we’ll see how tough you really are.”
He stalked back over to where Simon lay smiling and lifted the wrench above his head. “Last chance Simon, take it back.”
A mad giggle escaped Simon’s lips and Gregor lashed down with the wrench catching Simon a glancing blow that rocked his head to the side sending a shower of blood into the furious wardens face. Gregor wiped the blood from his eyes and when he looked down his heart nearly stopped in his chest. The boy looked like he’d gone 12 rounds with a heavyweight. His right eye was swollen closed and his face a red mask of blood from the jagged cut in his scalp but Simon just looked up at him smiling a demonic smile with red stained his teeth.
“You didn’t say Simon says,” he laughed.
Gregor backed slowly away and dropped the bloody wrench to the floor. “You’re mad,” he muttered. “You’re completely mad.”
“What’s the matter warden?” asked Simon crawling forward leaving a trail of blood in his wake. “Don’t have the stomach for it?”
Gregor turned on his heel ran from the bloody boy in the basement, he threw himself through the door and slammed it shut behind him sending the bolt home with a mighty crash. Simon heard his footsteps moving swiftly off up the corridor and let the smile fall from his face for the first time. His jaw clenched and his stomach roiled as he tallied the damage. “I warned him,” he whispered rocking back and forth. “Simon says, they boy is going to get it, Simon says.”
Simon felt the rage burning within him. He fanned the flames with memories, each blow from Gregor feeding the fire. As the blaze grew the cold of the floor receded; he was warmed by the fire, warmed by his righteous anger, he wrapped it around him like a blanket.
He sat like that for sometime, brooding in the darkness his mind a white hot blur, beating at his skull like a caged animal, roaring in protest at the unfairness of it all. In his mind everything moved faster than it should, the steady drip of rain on the road outside moving slightly quicker than usual. The rain, the cars driving by, even his own breathing was fast, out of sync with the world slightly. Like an itch he could not scratch the noises of a world just out of kilter fueled his anger. He could hear his blood rushing through his veins, a deafening torrent, the boiling river of his anger. Teetering on the brink of madness Simon forced himself to take a deep breath, then another, the world slowly dropped back in to sync with him and he swallowed his anger. It settled as a white hot ball in his stomach, he could feel it burning, his eyes snapped open, icy blue fire.
“Time to get out of here and pay someone a little visit,” he whispered in a cold hard voice.
Simon rapped on the door with a jaunty do do do do do, do do. It was the kind of a knock that he imagined a jolly old postman would do in a straight to TV movie so you knew he was one of the good guys. After a minute or two of silence Simon heard a shuffling coming slowly closer and then a slow ponderous voice came from behind the thick wood of the door.
“It’s Simon, James. I’m a dear friend of your fathers.”
“Dad told me never to answer the door to strangers,” Slurred the voice. “I can’t get into trouble, no sir.”
“Very wise James, very wise but as I said my name is Simon and I’m a dear friend of your father. So you see I’m not a stranger at all, why not open the door and let me in?” There was a long pause and Simon felt he could almost here the cogs grinding in the spastic’s head. “I have a present for you.”
There was the swish of metal on metal and the door opened with a creak. “Present? What kind of present?” said the boy poking his head around the door. Simon felt his stomach turn at the sight of his vacant eyes, fat tongue lolling from his mouth dripping saliva on his already stained shirt.
“Oh, James,” smiled Simon sadly sliding the rusty kitchen knife out of belt of his trousers. “I didn’t say Simon says.”
James backed away his dull eyes wide with confusion as Simon strode across the threshold and pushed the door closed behind him with a soft click. “Now James. James, James, James what shall we do with you?” He waved the knife slowly back and forth the light glinting off the dirty blade highlighting the madness in his cold, hard eyes.