The night is cold and perfectly still. A full moon stares down from the star-peppered sky, judging in its purity. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck as a chill creeps down my spine. I shiver, tugging my hoodie closer around me and hiding my face. I’ve always hated full moons. They make the night unaturally bright, weaken the shadows. Anyone – anything – could be watching me, could be lurking in the inky shadows that pool sullenly below the trees.
And I can’t let them find me.
Who am I?
Well, there’s a question. My parents called me Lucas. Lucas Edward Carter, if you want the name on my birth certificate. Nowadays, I go by Gabriel. Gabe. A stupid nickname that stuck, that will provide me cover. But I’m no messenger of God. Far from it.
I shift on the wooden chair, wincing as the prominent metal bar presses into my thighs. Uncomfortable is good. It means you stay awake. I can’t fall asleep here, out in the dark, in the cold.
In the flickering light of the firepit, I fold and unfold and re-fold the ticket stub, my eyes half-focused on the grimy paper. The night bus from Bridgeport had reached the small town of Riverview at some ungodly hour of the night, but I’d stumbled off as it rolled to a halt outside a darkened theatre. My ticket proclaimed I was travelling as far as Twinbrook, but they’d be able to trace that. They’d know. They wouldn’t guess I’d got off in a completely different town. Or would they suspect that? Should I move ag-
No, breathe, Gabe. Calm. Don’t panic. By the time they figure it out, the trail will have gone cold.
Who are they?
Wait. Before you judge me, let me explain. Hear me out, get to know me a little.
We’ll start at the beginning.
My earliest memories are of my parents fighting.
Before my recent ‘adventure’, I had lived in Bridgeport all my life. It wasn’t exactly the best place for a struggling young family trying to make their way in the world, but moving didn’t even cross my mother’s mind.
She and my father had met on a film set, a chance meeting at a rather disasterous audition. It had been an instant attraction and barely a month passed before their engagement. Then, within a month of their marriage, my mother landed a lead role in an otherwise big-name film and her acting career really took off.
And then I came along.
I was an accident. A mistake.
With my birth, my mother’s acting career was ruined. Turns out you don’t look nearly half as sexy to the fans if you have a baby waiting at home. You lose the untouchable air that gets guys drooling; they just picture you squealing happily over little booties and over-stuffed teddy bears.
That was not the image her agent wanted for her.
She blamed my father, yes, but she blamed me most of all. In her darkest hours, she turned to drink. And when she drank, she got violent.
My father, Daniel, always tried his best to protect me, but, with his own flourishing acting career, he just wasn’t home often enough. Looking back, I don’t blame him. Who would want to spend more time than they had to with a drunk, sobbing wife?
At the time, though, just his presence was enough to ignite happiness within me. My daddy was my knight in shining armour, my protector. When he wasn’t there, I would pine.
Needless to say, I spent much of my time pining.
One day, when I was four years old, my mother walked out of my life forever.
My father seemed to lose something of himself after my mother left. Despite all of the faults in their marriage, he had loved her and that didn’t stop. Even after she was gone.
He lost his job as an actor soon after. His heart just wasn’t in it any more.
We barely made ends meet.
My father would go out in the evenings and bus tables or serve drinks, or even work on the food truck. When I was younger, he would hire a babysitter to take care of me, but by the time I started school we just couldn’t afford it. I became used to long evenings alone at home, heating up cold tinned soup on the stove when I got too hungry.
After a class on microbes at school, I became obsessive over the idea of germs. I would always wash up any dirty dishes twice. Sometimes, when my father was home really late, I’d take all the clean plates, mugs and cutlery out of the drawers and cupboards and wash them again. And then again.
By the time I was seven, my father had given up working altogether. He started to drink to get himself through the days. Unlike my mother, my father didn’t get violent when he was drunk. He would just cry. Sometimes he would grab my arm and pull me close, holding me tightly and apologising over and over again. I would always wriggle away because I hated the stench on his breath.
I would often come home from school to find him slouched in front of the television, a beer bottle dangling from one hand. God knows where he got the money for booze from. I didn’t want to ask.
At this point, I was practically surviving on heated-up soup, though I’d taught myself how to make waffles out of a cookbook my mother had left behind. Though I always burnt them, I’d eat them anyway. Hunger isn’t fussy.
I’d make my father waffles or heated-up soup too, though sometimes I had to coax him to eat. Most of the time though, he ate without complaint. I think he was just glad I never burnt down the apartment with my culinary experiments.
On my eighth birthday, the world as I knew it fell apart.
I returned home from school to find my father slumped on the sofa as usual. The television was switched to the twenty-four hour news channel, the plump newsreader talking animatedly to no one. And then the screen shifted and a blonde woman walked down some church steps on the arm of a handsome man.
Superstar actress Lauren Jones weds big-time actor Matthew Hamming in ritzy ceremony, the news ticker proclaimed.
Lauren Jones. My mother.
I glanced at my father. At first, I had assumed he was asleep, but something was different. Something was wrong. Vomit stained his collar. A pot of pills lay at his feet. It had been full that morning, but now only choked up two white tablets.
Dropping my bag by the front door, I approached him, uneasiness twisting my guts.
When he didn’t reply, my eyes were drawn – slowly – to his face. His eyes were wide open, but glassy, staring. Unseeing.
After that, I was shipped off to Bridgeport’s children’s home. My mother declined to have me; she even denied that I existed, suing the press for slander when they ran a piece about her previous marriage.
I was put in a dormitory with six other boys, including two young toddlers. They were a rowdy bunch, always laughing and running and shouting and playing.
I didn’t fit in with them.
But you shouldn’t pity me.
I had friends, especially in my teenage years. We’d often bunk off school and meet up at the Butterfly Esplanade, just to hang out. They were the first people to make me feel wanted, as though I truly belonged. Those carefree days amongst the butterflies were what I lived for.
I know they felt it too.
And then, there was Kami. Kami Starr. My closest friend.
To be totally honest, I had a massive crush on her, but she was going steady with my friend, Mike. So I kept it platonic. Even if she had been single, though, I would have probably been too shy to make a move on her. My turbulent childhood didn’t exactly leave me with the greatest confidence and self esteem.
Kami was great. I could really talk to her, you know? Even when the others weren’t around, we’d sometimes head to the Esplanade, just the two of us. She shares some of my most treasured memories.
I wonder where she is now.
I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear about all that. I’m supposed to be telling you about why the police are after me.
At the thought of them – their blue lights, their badges, their guns – my chest tightens. Do they know where I am even now? Has someone betrayed me? What am I doing sitting here and writing in a bloody diary, for God’s sake? I should move.
No, no, Gabe. It’s okay.
Finish the story.
Sometime after my sixteenth birthday, I ran away from the children’s home. Though I’d been intending to seek refuge with them, I never saw my friends again.
I met him on my first night on the streets. I was huddled in a shop doorway, teeth chattering, shivering down to my bones, when he came out of nowhere and offered me a hand. He said he had a place I could stay.
But, of course, with James, nothing was for free.
I could stay with him in his apartment – rent-free – if I performed for him certain, well… favours. My stomach rolls over at the thought.
I’m ashamed to say, though, I was so cold, so hungry, so desperate that first night, I would have agreed to anything.
And so I became his.
Don’t get me wrong, he never touched my virginity – that ‘precious commodity’, as he called it. No. But he made good use of my hands. My mouth.
It was degrading. His touch made my skin crawl. I wanted to scream and run and cry. I should have walked out, gone back to the children’s home where they were surely anxious about my whereabouts. I should have gone back to my friends.
But I was too scared to leave, and so I stayed.
And then, yesterday, I snapped.
When he wrapped his arms around me, whispering dirty words into my ear, the anger and pain boiled over. I shoved him away.
But we were at the top of the stairs.
And he fell.
He didn’t get up again.
Oh, God, what have I done?
I feel sick just thinking about it.
I knew I had to leave, to get out of the city. Someone would raise the alarm eventually. Enough people in our apartment block knew my name, my face, and were used to my comings and goings. And then I’d be arrested and put in prison and –
It didn’t bear thinking about.
I had to get out.
I managed to steal some clean clothes from some unfortunate person’s washing line. I changed quickly in an alleyway, dumping my old clothes in a industrial bin. I tugged out my piercings and trashed them too.
I couldn’t leave any trace of my existence or they’d find me.
They’ll find me.
I reached the bus station just in time to purchase a one-way ticket to Twinbrook, using some money I’d stolen from James’s wallet as I’d left. I felt guilty stealing from a dead man, especially someone I’d – oh, God – killed. But I figured my need was greater than his.
As the bus left the city behind, I caught sight of the date on my ticket. It was my eighteenth birthday. I let out a laugh then, burying in my face in my hands as I struggled not to cry.
Of all the days to become an adult.
Belatedly, I realised that I’d left my meagre belongings in James’s apartment – my mobile phone, my razor, a book on gardening I’d been reading from James’s bookcase. Another change of clothes.
I had nothing.
I still have nothing.
What the hell am I going to do?