The Off-Comers (new excerpt)

The Off-Comers (new excerpt)

A Chapter by Medeas Wray

Extra excerpt from The Off-Comers

In a leafy suburb on the other side of the city, within a faded Victorian building that looked like a municipalised stately home, deep inside it, down dusty dim-lit corridors soft-shoed by ghosts leading to a former servants’ hall whispering of past miscreance and malcontent, one Tony Ackroyd, aka Nodding Dog, awoke, feeling groggy and aching, to find himself in a bed with a utility-grey ceiling staring down at him and an antiseptic smell piercing the curtains drawn around him. This was no ordinary place, no hotel, no Travel Lodge stop in the sentence of his existence, he realised. Not even a common or garden prison. He was lying on a narrow single bed wearing an unbecoming hospital gown, pale sunlight seeping in with vague indifference through the gap between blind and window-ledge somewhere behind his head, flooding the curtained area with a diffident grey, the colour of old-laundry. The place looked like a hospital and he wondered why he was here.

He tried to raise himself from the bed and discovered that his left hand had a steel bracelet around it, attached to another one locked around the metal frame of the bed. So not just a patient, but a prisoner too, he realised. Might have known they’d screw up, that Mingus for all his talk would crap out. Should have worn those high-vis jackets like he’d advised, advice that for all its sense, Mingus had chosen to ignore. Maybe that would have given them half a chance, dressed up like security services, the real deal. He still had some kind of memory left, it dawned on him. Which was good and bad all at the same time.

He managed to get himself up into some sort of sitting position and turned towards a small bedside cabinet holding a jug of water and a glass. He started to pour himself a glass of water with his free hand, the right one and realised his hand was shaking uncontrollably. He opened his mouth to shout for assistance. If it was a hospital, there would be nurses, assistance, someone around who could help, that was his first thought. He opened his mouth but no sound came. He tried again, opening his mouth wider this time, trying to force a sound out. Though nothing happened. No sound, nothing.

He gave up and went back to the jug of water and the glass, trying to raise the jug without his hand shaking. He just couldn’t do it, he realised, hold the jug and pour its contents into the glass. Water splashed around it as his hand shook violently. And then he remembered why. He shuddered, the pictures coming back to him of his time with Mingus, of him and Mingus netted together in a heavy-twine cable they couldn’t struggle free of, locked into the back of a trailer, feeling the road swooping under their feet.

            He thought back on all the times he’d had with Mingus over the years when he’d assumed they were pretty well the same: up to no good, just like hundreds, thousands of others. Kind of normal. Planning get-rich schemes, small scams that would make them money without much exertion, the odd out-of-hours burglary, the occasional bit of breaking and entering which had helped them see how the other half lived and given them a taste for the high life. He’d always thought Mingus was just like him though he knew him to be an out and out crook. Just couldn’t do a straight thing it seemed to him, and not just to him.  Probably anyone who’d ever known Mingus had had that thought sometime or other.

Mingus had been nicking from neighbours’ houses and corner shops since his childhood, pinching the lead off roofs in his early teens, graduating to stealing anything he could get hold of, conning people out of their savings in his twenties and thirties with promises of newly tarmacced drives that collapsed as soon as they were driven on, new roofs and house extensions that sagged or started to implode just a couple of years later when Mingus was safely out of the way, pick-pocketting drunks and old ladies to subsidise himself whilst plotting his next venture. And then he’d gone on to better things.

 The attempted heist of the steel-carrying trailer was petty in comparison to some of the stuff Mingus and he had got up to in the last few years, Tony thought. Trouble was all the cash they’d stolen was traceable and therefore, unspendable. And they were kind of skint. Just hadn’t thought it through well enough, just didn’t have the right contacts to launder it. And there it was sitting in a lock-up in some hole in Greenwich or some place just attracting mould. Mingus was no mastermind, it had to be said. Distinctly lacking in that area. All action, no grey matter. Nothing much upstairs.

Still, he’d thought Mingus was pretty normal for an out and out crim.  In and out of prison the odd time, over the decades, though generally little seemed to stick to him.  That was the thing Tony particularly liked about him. He seemed lucky somehow, as if he had a charmed life. And he always had a scheme. But now he, Tony had seen just how not normal he was and nothing would ever be the same again. He shuddered at the thought. 

            There they were, just him and Mingus, netted like a couple of fish in the back of the trailer when everything had kicked off. Mingus had been thrashing about and he had most definitely changed, Tony remembered, wishing he couldn’t, reliving the moment but not wanting to. He fell back on the bed, running the film of it all through in his head. It was all too clear to him, the footage of that particular time, that moment. All too clear, all too frightening. The thing that Mingus had now become was flailing around just inches away from him, all scales and tentacles and green. He’d drawn himself into a ball to shut out the sight, lowered his head to his knees and put his hands over his eyes, realising he was still wearing his balaclava, feeling the wool on the skin of his hands. It was better like that, he thought. He couldn’t see Mingus anymore. But he could still hear him, hissing and squelching like some mad sea-creature in its death-throes.

That was all he could remember. Then after that, it was all darkness and gloom and silence and later he had flash-backs that were like the snippets of dreams or maybe nightmares and there were shadowy figures around him, prodding him in various places, his ankles, his thighs and muttering together in low voices. And the only light he could remember, when there was any light, was the colour of crematorium-ash. But at least there was no Mingus. Not anymore. Not near him in any case.

            ‘Patient A. Still in trauma, I’d say, from all the indications. Three days now, doctor. Next phase...?’ It was a woman’s voice. She sounded as if she was talking on the phone, waiting for a response. There was a gap. Silence. Possibly a reply to her question coming back at her.

‘I’ll check him again.’ She said.

He heard the click of a phone being replaced in its cradle and waited for the curtains to be pulled back and for the figure of a nurse to enter his cubicle. He waited for several minutes. But no-one came. She must have been talking about another patient, he thought. He rattled at the steel cuff on his wrist, banging it on the metal sides of the bed to make some noise, listening to the shrill clanking sound with some satisfaction then heard footsteps coming towards him. Whoever it was that was walking towards him, whatever their intentions, it had to be better than being stuck with Mingus next to him, looking like some green slime-ball extra-terrestrial escaped from the off-world margins of a Japanese manga-comic, carrying on like a jelly-fish on speed. It had to be better than that, he hoped.



© 2014 Medeas Wray

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Added on July 22, 2014
Last Updated on July 22, 2014


Medeas Wray
Medeas Wray

Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom

I'm a writer of speculative fiction - urban noir, crime-thriller-meets-paranormal with a little sci-fi thrown in - and humour of course. I hope that readers find my writing entertaining. I now have th.. more..