The pubs were just kicking out as I made my way over to Kelly’s house. A group of lads loitered on the corner, murdering A Fairytale of New York, their voices rendered threatening by the copious amounts of alcohol they’d obviously consumed. Festive lights spanned the road like a luminous web. It was December 23rd and the woman I’d been seeing for the past five months had just killed her husband.
As I drove, her words echoed in my head like a mantra. Come quick. He’s dead. The bastard’s dead.
I had planned on just having a curry and an evening of Call of Duty. Kelly and I had arranged to see each other again on January 3rd once Dean was back at work. So what the fuck had happened?
Frost glistened on the tarmac. Gaudily-lit shop windows did their best to grab people’s attention. Dark figures huddled near them, hunched over burger cartons or pizza boxes. The steam rising from them looked like ghosts.
Kelly lived on a quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Sheffield. I’d visited her house only once before – when Dean had been away on a stag weekend. I didn’t want to draw neighbourly interest at this time of night, but given the gravity of what she’d said on the phone I thought I could be forgiven for a lack of discretion.
Every single light in the house was blazing. None of the curtains were closed. I yanked on the handbrake and hesitated, suddenly noticing the tremble in my hands. I resisted the urge to turn round and drive away. My heart was hammering in my throat. I hurried out of the car and up the drive.
Just before I rang the bell, my hand paused in mid-air. Through the frosted glass I could see the magnolia wall of the hallway. Only this time there was a red streak on it. I rang the bell.
Kelly opened the door after the fourth press, and I slipped inside. I’d been right – there was a huge streak of blood smeared across the wall in a diagonal stripe. It looked sickening.
“Jesus, Kelly – what’s happened?”
She just stared at me, saliva dangling in a glistening loop from her lower lip. Her face was blank, catatonic almost. She rubbed her nose absently, leaving a bloody smudge on her cheek.
“Come on, let’s get you a drink.” I led her along the hallway and into the lounge, looking for Dean, listening for any possible sound. I ushered her into a chair and went into the kitchen for a glass. The worktop was piled with dirty dishes and a cold cup of tea. But no dead body. I went back into the lounge and poured her a stiff whiskey from the decanter on the sideboard.
As she glugged it down I noticed that her hands were covered in blood. It was all over the front of her Hollister t-shirt. Her fingernails were blackened where the gore had dried. After she’d finished the glass she turned to me with a slow, robotic movement.
“What’s happened, babe?” I whispered, stroking her hair. It felt matted and damp.
She began to speak in a dry disjointed manner. It sounded unreal, like someone doing a poor impression of her voice. “He’d been out with his mates. I think…I think he must’ve come home early. Anyway I was wrapping your present, to give to you after Christmas.”
“We said we weren’t going to get each other anything. You said it’d make things difficult.”
“I know. I know.” She rubbed her nose again. I noticed for the first time that there was a dark bruise colouring her cheek. “Anyway, he flipped when he read the tag. We ended up having a massive row.” She blinked slowly. “I told him about us.”
I blew out an exasperated breath. “Fuck me, what did he say?”
She shrugged. “He flipped. We had a fight.” Her voice faltered. “I stabbed him.”
I winced at the cold clarity of her words, closing my eyes in an effort to shut out the nightmare. “Where is he?”
“Upstairs.” She sniffed. The noise sounded crude. “In the bathroom.”
I hesitated. “I’d better go and check on him.”
She nodded and I stood and moved to the doorway, catching sight of the streak of blood on the wall again. It looked almost black.
I turned back at the urgency of her voice. Her eyes were wide. Her mouth looked black, her lips drawn back in a surreal humourless grin.
“Know what did it?” she said.
I shook my head. “What?”
She let out a hollow laugh. “It wasn’t the violence, or the way he’s treated me for the past five years. It wasn’t the fact that I felt trapped with him.” She put her face in her hands. “I could see the contempt in his eyes.”
I swallowed, waiting to see if she was finished speaking.
She said again: “When I told him about us – I could see the fucking contempt in his eyes.”
I turned back to the hallway, trying to compose myself. A sudden thought struck. “Kelly – this blood’s dried on. When did it happen?”
She looked confused. “When?”
“What time did this all kick off?”
My question washed over her. She blinked again and then shrugged. “Nine? Half nine?” She giggled abruptly. “I had a little fun with him afterwards.”
I moved to the bottom of the stairs, my hand gripping the cold wood of the banister. Her detached laughter caused the hairs on my forearms to rise. Slowly I took a step, thankful of the carpet for covering my movement. I remembered that scene from Psycho where the detective ascends the stairs of the Bates house, just as the killer looms out of the bedroom like a pouncing spider. My legs felt like they might not support my weight.
It was obvious that Dean had passed this way. Blood was splattered on the skirting, the carpet was damp with black patches. There was a horrible smell in the air. As I reached the landing, I saw the bathroom door ajar. There was a jean-covered leg visible, twisted at a strange angle. The jeans looked wet.
I tried to push the door open further but there was resistance. Instead I peered round it, into the room.
At first I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. The blood looked stark against the pure whiteness of the bathroom’s décor. The lino had been transformed into a vast pool of blood. There was a huge kitchen knife in the sink. Dean was sprawled across the floor, his head twisted to one side. The coppery tang in the air made me gag. As I realised the extremity of what had occurred – of what Kelly had done to him – I felt myself reaching for the phone in my coat.
And it was then, just as I was preparing to call the police, that I braved a glance at his face in an effort to ascertain it was Dean. And what I saw in that quick glimpse severed those final threads of my sanity.
His face was a ruined mask. Death had pulled his lips back in a grimace, exposing his blood-coated teeth. There was a bubble of snot frozen, half-emerged from his left nostril. His tongue looked bloated and slug-like, filling the cavity of his open mouth.
But it was the gaping hollows of his eye-sockets which gave me the worst nightmares afterwards. Those glistening holes transformed his face into a visage from hell, sinister and inhuman. One of them had the white cord of his optic nerve still visible. I turned and vomited into the gore-streaked sink.
I dialled 999. And while I waited for the police to arrive, I studied the two little objects that were lying discarded close to the radiator. Curiously I held them up to the light and stared at them, marvelling at the detail that had been trapped inside by violent death.
At a certain angle I fancied that I could also see the contempt in Dean’s eyes.