First published in The World of Myth Magazine, issue 75
Winner of The World of Myth Magazine
s Member of the Month Award

Her slender fingers swept the palm of his hand.

‘Your hands are rough,’ she said.

‘Oh, charming.’

‘Don’t worry, they’re still my favourite part of you.’ She sat bolt upright on the worn-down couch. ‘I forgot to tell you about my dreadful dream the other night.’

‘Oh, what this time?’

‘I was visiting my mother’s grave and—’

‘That is dreadful,’ he said, staring at the nicotine-stained ceiling.

She rolled her eyes and squeezed his tattooed hand. ‘No, listen. When I left her graveside, this gaunt, yellow-faced man appeared holding a long, black whip. He pointed his gnarled finger behind me,’ she said while rubbing her bruised eyelid with her thumb. ‘When I turned to see what the hell he was pointing at, this gigantic lion shot towards me. Well, it wasn’t actually a lion.’

‘What do you mean?’ he said, passing her a half-smoked cigarette.

‘It was a lion’s head, but the body resembled something else. I remember seeing horns and scales.’

‘Strange,’ he said. ‘What happened next?’

‘It started eating me alive, and I woke up drenched in sweat.’

When he thought she was sleeping, he stood from the couch and left the room. She opened her eyes and plucked his phone from the dirty glass coffee table.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ he said, marching into the room.

‘Checking the time.’

‘What, in my messages?’

‘You’re cheating on me again, aren’t you?’ she said to him.

He snatched the phone and forced it into her temple. ‘After everything you’ve put me through.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said while gripping his hairy forearm.

In one swift motion, he dragged her up and hurled her through the coffee table.

‘Look at what you’ve made me do now,’ he said, sobbing into his hands.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I never—’

‘Fuck your apologies,’ he said while pacing the cluttered room. ‘Go, crawl back to your bullshit family. See if they’ll cope with you.’

She picked herself up from the broken glass and hobbled to the window. The street outside was empty, except for a young couple viewing a house to rent across the road.

‘We could have new neighbours soon,’ she said to him. ‘Remember when we first viewed this place?’

‘Of course,’ he said and lit a cigarette. ‘You fell in love with the bathroom taps.’

‘Come, see how happy they look together,’ she said.

He glanced out the window before glaring back at her. ‘Fuck this.’ He shook his head. ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’

‘Wait, where are you going? Don’t leave me alone,’ she said as the door slammed shut behind him.

In the bathroom, she flushed two olanzapine tablets down the toilet.

‘I forgot my wallet,’ he called out from downstairs.

She came to the landing and smiled at him. ‘Should I make us something to eat?’

‘How about I get us a takeaway?’

‘If you like,’ she said. ‘Get my usual. Oh, and a pineapple fritter.’

He retrieved his wallet from the chipped sideboard and left.

While sitting on the bathtub’s edge, she raised a foot to her lap. A ragged chunk of glass protruded from her heel. She plucked it out. Blood trickled from the wound and splashed the white floor tiles.

She lowered herself into the hot bathwater, shut her eyes, and fell into a half-asleep state. A few moments slipped by, and a faint panting crept out of the silence. A searing breath thrashed her face. She shot up from the water, her wide eyes scanning the empty white room.

Downstairs, she dried her hair with a blue towel and noticed his phone in the coffee table debris. She picked it up and read the last message from Lisa: If you can get away early tonight, I’ll wear those crotchless panties again. She hurled the phone at the wall and snarled as she sank her teeth into the flesh of her forearm.

‘They didn’t have fish cakes, so I got you pollock,’ he said, coming into the house. A moment later, he stepped into the living room holding a long serrated knife. ‘You want a few slices of bread with it?’

‘I don’t want your fucking food,’ she said to him. ‘Who the hell’s Lisa?’

‘What,’ he said. ‘Have you stopped taking your pills again?’

‘I don’t need pills to figure out you’re a cheating piece of shit.’

He hurled the knife into the grubby carpet and snatched her shirt collar. ‘Ungrateful bitch,’ he said, raising a fist.

She plunged a large shard of glass into his throat and yanked it out. His blood peppered her pale face and the yellowing wallpaper. He stumbled around the room, grasping the laceration, eyes bulging with disbelief.

Her slender fingers swept the palm of his hand.

‘Your hands are rough,’ she said.

And she tossed his severed hand into the bathtub on top of his corpse. From the gore, his dull eyeballs gazed up at her. When she moved around the room, he seemed to be watching.

After swallowing all her medication, she slumped on the bathroom floor. Her blood-soaked hand gripped a bottle of gin. She stared into the seascape painting that hung askew above the bathtub. The sound of waves scraping the shore echoed around the room. It reminded her of the serrated knife sawing through his wrist bones.

‘I’m so sorry, Eric.’ She guzzled the gin dregs and rolled onto her back, expecting death. A moment of blissful silence swept by before her body convulsed. Hot vomit erupted through her mouth and nose. She rolled onto her hands and knees to let the bile spill out.

After catching her breath, the bathroom door burst open. The young couple who were viewing the house across the road wandered in.

‘Please, help me. I didn’t mean it.’ She staggered onto her feet.

The young woman gazed at the bathtub and covered her agape mouth with her hands. ‘Oh, God,’ she said. ‘Beautiful taps.’

‘Well, if you love the taps, we should move in immediately,’ the young man said.

‘I forgot to tell you, Auntie June called yesterday.’

‘More nonsense?’ he asked and levelled the seascape painting.

‘Actually, she said there’s a house to rent at the end of her street . . . come to think of it, she did mention something about visiting a psychic.’

‘Oh, there’s a surprise.’

‘She said that in a past life, she was a much-loved queen of Ancient Egypt.’

‘Oh, sure she was,’ said the young man as he shook his head. ‘Funny, isn’t it, how they never turn out to be gong farmers or 17th-century rapists.’

She squeezed his tattooed hand. ‘We’re going to be so happy here,’ she said while leading the young man out of the bathroom.

‘Wait, don’t leave me alone,’ she said, chasing after the couple.

They vanished from the landing.

She stumbled back into the bathroom, staring in disbelief at the empty bathtub. ‘Eric?’ she called out while searching through the house.

As she lingered at the foot of the staircase, a shadow shifted across the upstairs landing. ‘Eric?’ she said, stepping onto the staircase. The yellow-faced man from her nightmare swung his head over the upstairs landing. His insane grin revealed brown, jagged teeth. Her knuckles clenched white on the handrail as he shuffled onto the staircase.

‘No, p-please,’ she gasped.

With a high-pitched cackle, he rushed towards her, stopping inches from her face. The putrid fish odour emanating from his mouth sent her back a step. He raised a gnarled finger and pushed it into his forehead, breaking skin, cracking cranium. In one violent movement, he ripped his head open, exposing a decaying black brain.

‘N-n-no,’ she said, unable to avert her eyes.

In a shrill voice, he screamed, ‘Without chaos, there can be no order.’ And he reached into his skull, snatched a fistful of brains, and smeared it across her lips. She collapsed onto the hallway floor and trembled.

The yellow-faced man turned silent and raised his long, black whip. An insane cackle burst out of him as a scalding breath licked her nape. She turned and found herself face-to-face with the monstrous chimaera. The beast gave a long, nerve-shattering roar.

She scrambled into the living room and shouldered the door shut. Her bloodshot eyes darted around the room, stopping at the unbroken coffee table. In disbelief, she examined her foot. The wound had disappeared. She covered her eyes with her hands and wept so hard her small chest shook.

‘Lisa, are you okay?’

She lowered her hands to see Eric smiling at her from the worn-down couch.

‘Come, lay here with me,’ he said to her.

Her slender fingers swept the palm of his hand.

‘Your hands are rough,’ she said.

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