Daniel awoke with a start. The humidity in the dark study was oppressive. His shirt, soaked with sweat, had become stuck to the vinyl recliner on which he sprawled. What time was it? He peered through the striated glare filtering through the dusty louvres. Daniel coughed and dabbed at his cracked lips with his swollen tongue. His throat was thick with mucus. He had no idea where he was. Daniel racked his mind for some recollection of what had happened. From outside the study, he could hear voices. Two men arguing. Daniel couldn’t remember anything.

Although Daniel didn’t recognise the room, there was something vaguely familiar about it. It was musty, dusty. The worn carpet had years of history trekked into its dark paisley corrugations. At whose footsteps, however, he had no idea. Daniel lay listless, languid, unable to shift his ageing frame from the awkard angle at which he lay, as if awaiting a dentist. A hodgepodge of medicine containers were strewn across the surface of a nearby table. What had they been giving him?

A chemical tang permeated his mouth. Daniel’s stomach burned as if a hot poker were being driven into it. He was going to throw up. His head refused to move. Daniel roared as he spewed down his front, coughing and choking. An old towel lay on the small wooden coffee table to his right. He tried to reach it but his arm would not respond. He was paralysed. A fetid stench stung his flared nostrils as warm vomit began to seep through his old checked shirt.

The louvres to his right were half open but angled upwards, preventing Daniel from seeing what was outside. Was he back in England? An old tube television lay dormant immediately in front of him. Two high backed chairs playing truant from an unseen formal dining table had been placed between Daniel and the television. Who on earth had been sitting in them? Daniel racked his mind, desperate to remember something, anything…

Outside the room, the voices subsided. Plates clattered, a door slammed. Perhaps his captors had left… Daniel strove in vain to raise himself, the exertion sending his pulse skyrocketing. His chest felt tight, his head dizzy. He must be doped to the eyeballs. Daniel’s ears hammered and he sank back into unconsciousness.

When he awoke, the room was dark. Two young men were sitting in the chairs, leaning forward and whispering amongst themselves. Their faces were shadowed by the wan light seeping from a yellowed lamp shade behind them. Daniel didn’t recognise them. He tried to speak but his tongue lay limp against his teeth. His breathing was laboured through lips encrusted with bile. Daniel’s eyes flickered. Coagulated with sleep, they were barely open, dry and reluctant to focus. His clothes had been changed. Daniel strained to adjust his position, but still his arms would not respond.

The men continued to speak indecipherably, occasionally looking up, apparently unaware that he could hear them. Daniel’s eyes were slowly moving into focus, adjusting to the half light. The men were probably in their early 30’s. One of them wore a labourer’s uniform – red flannel shirt, blue shorts and old mud-coated Blundstones. The bigger bloke looked like he was in charge, some kind of businessman. Fear wreaked Daniel’s feeble frame. He searched his delirious mind for any clue as to who these men were, why they had him here…How had they gotten him here in the first place? His eyes flickered about. More boxes of pills seemed to have appeared on the table beside him, the empty silver trays no doubt attesting their chemical transgressions while he’d been unconscious.

The men were muttering under their breath, occasionally looking up at him. They didn’t seem to have realised that he’d awoken. The labourer leaned forward, resting his chin on elbows propped by his knees. His arms were huge. Daniel couldn’t even feel his own limbs. Were they broken? This thug looked capable of anything. The older man was less physically imposing, the paunch nestling amid the folds of his double breasted jacket bulging almost to his crossed leg. How was Daniel going to get out of here? He strained his ears to decipher their grunted exchange.

”…bring it in tomorrow…”

”…no good, I’ll be in the country, I’ll leave it in the car…”

“…so I’ll call you tomorrow morning…”

“…is he gonna walk?…”

They looked nervous as hell. Daniel wondered what they might do if they realised he could hear them. Maybe he should close his eyes, deepen his breathing and feign sleep. He allowed his heavy lids to narrow a little as he strove to hear them better.

“…I told you I’d have a word to them…”

“…the hell out of here…”

The labourer lowered his head into his grimy palms, apparently oblivious to their filth.
“Well it didn’t do much bloody good, did it!” he snapped, shaking his head.
The villain in the suit leaned back and exhaled.

“Listen Tommy, if it comes to the worst, and he…”

The younger man pulled himself up in his chair, sat upright and ran his hands through his razored pate.

“There just doesn’t seem to be anything else that we can do”.

His companion’s brow furrowed as he nodded slowly in agreement.

“If he goes, I’ll take care of Sarah. I’ve already spoken to them about…” he paused “…arrangements for the body”.

Daniel’s mind wheeled. Who was Sarah? His thoughts were strewn asunder by a terrible explosion of pain streaking down his entire right side. Daniel’s leg jerked impulsively, it was agonising, but he’d moved! The monsters sitting across from him, immersed in their maleficence, did not seem to have noticed. Daniel’s heart pounded, his mind flooded with possibility. Could he get up? Pins and needles prickled his forearm. The medication must be wearing off. But what was he going to do against these brutes?

“I’ll go get her”, the young labourer announced solemnly, fishing in his pockets for his keys as he rose.

“I’ll look after buggerlugs”, his crony grunted, jutting his pock-marked chin towards Daniel.

This was it. Daniel would take his chances against the fat one. Despite the age difference, Daniel had always handled himself alright with his fists. As the door closed behind the young man, Daniel steeled himself to give all and spring at the sleazy crim. His wiry hands screamed with pain as he fumbled to position them against the vinyl chair. The businessman lowered his stubbie and rose. Daniel mustered every ounce of strength that he could summons from his debilitated frame, and launched himself.

It was hopeless. A sickening gurgle emanated from his phlegm-soaked throat as Daniel slumped forward and fell on the ground.

“Oh my God. Danny!” the businessman yelled. The room swam. Daniel felt an apocalyptic explosion in his frontal lobe and the room went dark. He could hear footsteps running back into the room, but his fading hearing was tinny and distorted.

“What happened?” the younger man howled. “What’s he doing on the floor?”

“I don’t know, he moved…by himself…he just fell over”.

“Whaddya mean, moved? He hasn’t moved for months!”

“I dunno Danny, he just fell over….Call the ambulance! I’ll get Sarah”.

“Oh Jesus, don’t die, don’t die…” whispered the labourer. Daniel felt arms wrap around his rigid body. A door slammed and the electronic report of a mobile phone dialling pierced the gloom enveloping him. It was completely dark, he was disappearing. He was gone.

Hours later in the study, Tom and Danny linked arms to silently embrace their step mother. Tom pulled away to refill their glasses from the old scotch bottle they’d found in the cabinet in the corner.

“Well at least he got to go at home”, Tom muttered, wrenching off the tarnished screw top.

“Not that he would’ve known it”. Danny gazed into his chipped crystal tumbler, took a swig and grimaced. “Horrible bloody illness”.

Sarah ran a wrinkled hand over her pale, creased face and raised her glass beneath the peeling ceiling.

“To Daniel”. She wiped at her swollen eyes.

The boys lifted their own glasses towards the heavens.

“To Dad. He fought ‘til the end”.



Joined October 2007

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