Paula R.C. Readman won the 2012 Writing Magazine Crime Short Story competition judged by Mark Billingham. Here is an extract of her latest short story.
Rat Trap By Paula R. C. Readman
If you are asking me if I believe in forgiveness, in my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it. Last night was difficult for me. In the end, I turned over onto my back in bed, eager to find rest. When somewhere outside my room, a door slammed and robbed me of my sleep once more. For some reason sleep eluded me. Under normal circumstances, I sleep well, even better after the excitement of a kill. Although I’ve always believe, it’s the smell of the blood, which helped me to sleep.
But not tonight.
For the first time in years, I haven’t slept well. Eventually, I had to get up and switch on the light.
And here you are? Like some half-forgotten dream.
Questions, bloody questions. If you are going to rob me of my sleep tonight, I might as well answer your questions. To start with, you really need to sort out the lighting in this place. It’s too dull.
Oh, so you’re telling me the lighting is supposed to calm my nerves. Lady, the last thing you should worry about are my nerves. What’s puzzling me though is why you’re wandering about at this time of night, anyway. Can’t you sleep? Or maybe you’ve something to hide too!
Questions more bloody questions.
So what’s with wanting to know about my mother now?
I might as well tell you, I suppose. Overall, she was a good woman, maybe a little bossy. Really, I don’t know about other people’s mothers. Where I lived separated me from the rest of the community… Now look here others like you might view my isolation as being wrong, but for me it made things easier. Mum was a qualified teacher, who opted to do my schooling at home, as the nearest schools were many miles away. Mum liked living alone, especially after Dad left, though, she liked to drive to the nearest church every Sunday.
Originally, my family weren’t church-going folks until after we moved to the new house.
What! You think I’m making excuses for my behaviour. Let me tell you, lady you’ve got it so wrong!
With pride, Mum told me, “We’re God-fearing people, Aaron. I want everyone to know we’re living the way the Good Lord expects us to live.”
And Lord, didn’t I know it.
Every day and night, she made me get down on my knees and pray. Just a quick prayer for world peace wasn’t good enough for my mum. No, she had a long list of things we had to pray for, and last on that list was my dear old dad. I did wonder whether she hoped he’d return, but I knew that was impossible. She was fond of telling me, “No matter what you do, my son, God will always forgive you and wash away your sins.” I felt she had some funny ideas about God and his infinite powers. Telling me, ‘He’ worked in mysterious ways, as if I believed in all that shit. I suppose I was about twelve when I realised I wasn’t like other boys.
God, I could do with a drink, right now. Do you want one?
I can see you’re surprised that I’ve got a secret stash. You’d be amazed to know how we inmates manage to get things brought in here. This isn’t a prison, you know. Though, I prefer my whiskey in a glass to a plastic beaker.
You say I shouldn’t drink as it brings out the worst in me. That’s something else my mother would’ve agreed with you on, “The devil’s brew that’s what drink is!” she would holler at my father. So I guess it’s lucky, she’s not here, with us then.
Whiskey was my dear old dad’s favourite tipple, but Mum never let him enjoy it in peace. I raise my glass to him and hope he’s found the peace he craved for so much. He’d spend most of his time out in the woods rather than at home with us. We were lucky, I suppose, where we lived. Surrounded on three sides by trees, our house once belonged to Mum’s family. It stood at the end of an old farm track, overlooking a large lake. I remember, with perfect clarity, when we first drove up the winding drive the day after Mum received the keys to her inheritance. Dad was over the moon at the sight of the lake. He thought every day would be a fishing day for him now that they had a good bit of money tucked away for a rainy day. Dad hoped he could reduce his working hours and finally start to enjoy his life once more, but Mum had other plans. All too soon he realised he wasn’t going to live his dream, but pay for ours.
He began to skulk out of the house, through the garden, and then out into the woods. Sometimes, unbeknown to him, I would follow like a ghost. It soon became my favourite game. Laughing to myself, I’d hide among the undergrowth unseen and unheard. From there, I could watch the look of fear growing in his tired eyes as he stumbled and staggered through the wood, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder, trying to see who or what was following him.
Deep within the woods, he had built himself a sanctuary in the shape of a log cabin. Here he had all he needed. In one corner of the hut, stood a small, old pot-belly stove in which Dad burnt the magazines and books Mum never allowed into the house. These weren’t even the sort of magazines other people would see as being unsuitable reading material.
The change in my mother was staggering since we moved to the house; she discarded almost everything from our past life. The old armchair in Dad’s bolt-hole had always been his, but now it wasn’t good enough for our new house. Within his cabin, he read his forbidden books and magazines while slowly getting drunk, some nights he wouldn’t even bother coming home. Shutting the door, he would sleep it off there until the early morning when he took a swim in the lake before returning home to a hearty breakfast. On my father’s good days, he would get me to help him to cut logs for our fires and for selling as Dad had found the means of becoming his own boss, supporting us, and escaping the rat race. He would allow me to cut kindling for the kitchen stove. Watching me, with pride, he would smile and say what a good lad I was, which would make me smile back at him. The smell of the wood excited me almost as much as the weight of the axe in my hand and as for the sound of the axe slicing through the wood… thwack… made my mouth go dry, and as for what happened next… sweet, sweet… No, I must keep to my story. It’s important to me, that I tell you in sequence so you can understand it all.
To read the rest of Rat Trap and eleven other blood chilling crime short stories by new and established writers buy or download Crime after Crime a collection of crime stories from Bridge House Publishing. Crime After Crime is available priced at £8.99, from bookshops and online retailers.