It was the best part of a very shitty day. Sitting on the decking, Fin listened to the starlings and savoured his cigarette. The last of the colours were leaching out of the sky, and a bat skittered overhead. He revelled in the quietness. Replaying the argument in his head he drew on the fag heavily, feeling the heat from the glowing tip spreading over his lips. As the nicotine flared in his blood he stubbed out the dog-end, picturing Andrew’s face as he ground the filter down to a nub. Stretching aching limbs, he grabbed the washing basket and loped off to the washing line. He hated the washing line with a passion. It was the worst. A rickety rotory-armed thing that without fail smacked him in the head every time he turned it. Reaching out to grab the first of many brittly dry sheets, his mobile pinged.
A text. ‘Will be late back tonight. You eat’. Fucking perfect. A lonely evening of misery after a crappy day. Jabbing a cursory ‘OK’ in reply he fished out the packet, shaking loose a fresh one. The lighter looked unnaturally bright as he lit up, not caring if the washing stank. Despite it being a warm day there was a sharp chill in the air so he pulled off the sheet with a snap, spinning the arms of the line. As it came to a stop he found himself staring at an emaciated, hunched man with a mask on his face, sitting in a rusty chrome wheelchair. He looked so real, so there, that Fin blurted out a quiet ‘hello?’. A low hiss emanated from a large gas cylinder behind the apprition’s slumped back. The shock of seeing the figure rooted him to the spot, and he could barely breathe let alone run away. The figure was staring at him with a deep malevolence, and despite the mask he sensed the man was grimacing at him with rage. His eyes burned with hate, pupils small and glinting as pinpricks. Even though horrorstruck, a rational thought ricocheted through Fin’s mind. The man looked familliar somehow.
The withered creature was clad in a faded hospital robe and raggedy slippers, and it slowly raised a trembling hand to claw away the mask on its face. A thin string of yellowy drool looped away as the plastic parted from his puckered mouth. As the sleeve of the gown slipped down his wrist, the man’s tattoed arm came in to view. Broken and raised veins partially hid the font of a scroll picked out on his forearm. The very same design Fin had. With a dreadful recognition he saw the sunken, jaundiced eyes before him as his own, and the leering grin of the thin mouth as his own lips. The skull-like head nodded vigorously, acknowledging the recognition. As Fin staggered back to the decking, the apparition strained forward and let out a horrific screech of rage, pointing his bony fingers. As he stastared transfixed, Fin’s hand curled in to a fist, crushing the half-full packet between his fingers. The cigarette in his mouth flew sideways scorching his cheek, accompanied by a slash of cold air. The man’s scream ended with one growling, spat word. ‘Stop’. The whole world turned black.
Jolting awake, Fin’s eyes came to focus on the slowly pivoting rrms of the washing line. Scrabbling to his feet Fin sensed that the man had gone. Then the pain came. Looking down, Fin unclenched his hand, tearing the skin from his scorched fingers and palms. The packet had burned almost away, the plastic and paper fused to his flesh. lf-charred cigarettes spun in the air as he shook his hand, pain slashing through it. He staggered in to the kitchen and doused the hand in cold water, blissfully cooling on his seared skin. Eyes darting left and right, scanning the garden, he saw nothing of the man. Weeping with relief he stared in to the window above the sink, looking with horror at the livid burn accross his cheek. Damn, he looked pale! With a flash, the horrible face stared back at him, those horrible eyes more ferocious than before. A voice filled Finn’s head. A croaking, screaming voice. ‘Stop. Now!’.