by Stephen Clark
Van Gibson stared at the dead body in the corner of his room. It was the last thing he expected to see after coming home from school on a normal Monday afternoon, and as he entered the room his complexion turned several shades paler. The body of a young woman was slumped against the wall under his bedroom window – her eyes were open and a stream of blood ran from the corner of her mouth and down her neck. What the hell was going on? Van had never had a young woman in his room before, let alone a dead one. He felt rather faint, and leaned his back against the door, which clicked shut behind him.
"Van!", yelled his mother from the kitchen. "Van, get back out here! I told you to empty the dishwasher!"
His mother's voice was an annoyance. Trivial things like dishwashers were of little importance right now. But he would have to go out there – he would have to tell her about this strange and tragic event, so that she could call the police. And then the matter would be taken out of his hands. Reluctantly he took his eyes off the corpse and went out to the kitchen.
"Mum – aaah – look, I found – I mean, there's a –"
"Van, the dishwasher. Don't make excuses, it's your turn."
"The dishwasher. Er – right." Back to normality. He started taking plates and cutlery from the machine. His mother was so bossy – he hated that. Well, she'd get a right shock when she found out --
"Van, you were going to tell me something?"
"Was I? Oh well yes actually –"
"You were going to tell me what you did at school today?"
"What? No, that's not what I –"
"Oh come on, you never talk to me about school. Just this once, tell me what you did."
"Well, I – we did something in maths – like, and we – in social studies we did, like, volcanoes, and in – "
"Volcanoes? In social studies?"
This wasn't the way it was supposed to go. The more he discussed trivialities, the more difficult it would be tell her. But maybe he didn't really want her to know –
"And in French class we – learnt some new adjectives."
"Oh, say the adjectives to me. Tell me what you learnt."
"Oh, go on!"
"No. I'm not going to speak French to you."
Van wanted to escape from this interrogation. He was nearly finished emptying the dishwasher. There was something in his room he wanted to get back to. He'd only viewed the corpse for a few seconds – not enough to properly check it out. After the last cup was put away, he returned to his bedroom with a sense of weird anticipation. He hadn't told his mother – why? Because she hadn't given him a chance? Deep down he knew there was another reason, but it concealed itself. Of course he'd have to tell her – eventually.
The corpse was still there. Van shut the door firmly and walked slowly across the room to it with his nerves tingling. He was repulsed by it, yet strangely fascinated. It was a girl about twenty years old, three years older than him. She was wearing a pink t-shirt stained with blood, and tight blue jeans. Around her neck was a gold chain, half hidden by her long black hair. Van noticed for the first time that the flyscreen on his window was missing; whoever had dumped the body here must have removed the screen from the outside. Carelessly he had left his window open during the day. But who would push a dead body into a bedroom window, in broad daylight? Someone pretty desperate to hide evidence, Van guessed. Perhaps she was a victim of organized crime. Or a psychopathic serial killer. It didn't really matter now.
Van crouched beside the corpse and looked into her face. She was quite pretty really – just the sort of girl that would've told him to take a leap if he'd had the guts to ask her out, which he wouldn't have. But she wasn't doing any refusing now. Van had an urge to reach out and wipe the blood off her face, but he suppressed it. He knew you were not supposed to disturb the evidence at a crime scene.
"What's the matter with me?", he thought as a took a few steps back and sat on the bed. "Aren't I supposed to be feeling sick or frightened or something?" Van felt fine. He had been a little repulsed by the morbid scene when he first came in, but now that he had gazed at it for a while he was desensitized to the gore and his repulsion was replaced by a kind of comfortable objectivity.
"Other people are disgusted by you", he thought, "But I'm not. I think you're really cool." A few minutes later he grabbed his schoolbooks, started doing his maths homework, and just worked like that for an hour, glancing up at his new possession every now and then.
At last he spoke to her. "Do you think you could help me with this maths problem? I can't seem to figure it out." He grinned at the joke he had just made – of course she couldn't help him, she was dead.
"Are you sitting comfortably there?" He put down his pen. "You don't look very comfortable. Would you like something to drink?"
She didn't answer. He stood up and bent his head down close to hers. "I bet you're just dying for a cup of coffee. Ha ha! Would you like a biscuit? I have plenty of them. Would you like to watch T.V.? I have a tiny little T.V. set in my cupboard."
He kept looking at her, as if waiting for a reply. Then he said, "You're not very talkative today. That's strange. Is there something wrong? You can tell me. I'm your friend. I really like you. I just want to make you happy. I'd do anything for you."
He'd never be able to say that to her if she was alive.
He kept gazing tenderly at the corpse for a few seconds, then said "Come on. Let's watch T.V." His hand went up to the cupboard door. Suddenly there was a knocking and his mother's voice saying "Van? Are you in there? Who are you talking to?"
Van froze. "N-no one Mum. Just practising my French verbs."
"Van, open the door. I've got your video game here – you left it in the kitchen again."
"Wait! Don't come in! I'm not decent!" Van was in a panic. If she opened the door even just a crack, she would be able to see the corpse and there would be hell to pay. His eyes flew around the room, looking for something to hide the body. The blanket! He ripped it off the bed and hastily covered the corpse with it, making it look as natural as possible with frantic adjustments. It still looked vaguely body-shaped, but maybe his mother wouldn't notice. He opened the door just the tiniest of cracks.
"O.K., pass it through", he said.
"Van, why don't you open the door wider? What are you doing in there?"
"Nothing. Just homework."
A small video-game came sliding through the door crack. "You spend too much time in that room of yours. You'll have to come out now, anyway – it's nearly dinner time."
"O.K. In a minute."
The door closed. Van's nerves were shattered by the close shave. He was shaking with fear. After a while he went up to the corpse and removed the blanket, with a solemn respect. He noticed that the head had been turned slightly, and there was a blood stain on the blanket. So much for not disturbing the evidence. She looked so vulnerable just lying there, like a sick child. He bent down to her.
"Listen", he whispered. "I'm going to protect you from – her. And the rest of them. I won't let anybody hurt you. They want to take you away from me, but I won't let them. I will keep you hidden, and you'll be safe here with me."
His mother's voice rang through the house. "Dinner's ready!"
Van straightened up and wiped a tear from his eye. He would have to go out. "Don't worry", he said. "They won't find you here. I'll be back straight after dinner, I promise." He opened the door just far enough to slip out of, and waved a poignant goodbye.