The Burden: First Draft – Extract #1

Remember, The Caitiff is free on Amazon til’ Friday the 27th! You can pick it up here in the UK and here in the US.

So, as you might remember, I’m working on a short story/novella type thing at the minute, and I’ve already shown off the first draft of the prologue, so here’s the first draft extract of the Burden proper!

He watched the cigarette smoulder in the ash tray. The sunlight came through the slats across the window in neat horizontal mockery. One of them, the third from the top, if he was any judge, lit the glass with sparkles and made the last remnants of the curling smoke blatant in the air. Robert Amuigh found little pleasure in this position. The sunlight was an irritant to his blurred vision, the cigarette was his last and Rosemary, sprawled as she was across half his body, the remainder of her clinging to the single bed with some dream-like ferocity, was numbing. The air possessed a particular haze, one which suggested it could be convinced to surrender to the light at any time, but Amuigh preferred the dark. He found that it encouraged his thoughts where illumination contributed only further distraction.

Amuigh was thinking, idly, about death. Not with the fascination of some Genevan Doctor or a zealot pronouncing that true life existed after one’s expiration, but in much lazier terms. His elder brother, a man he had – unsurprisingly – known since birth, had died mere days before. A funeral was being held the next day after next and, simply put, Amuigh didn’t want to go. He wondered at the narcissism involved in mourning. His brother was dead and, strangely, he had been the one receiving sympathy. Even Rosemary had looked upon him with guarded eyes since the news broke, as though he was likely to burst into tears at any moment. Her speech, too, was delivered with a slow reveal, one which constituted careful examination of every word, lest some idle comment slip from those thin lips.

Amuigh tried to picture her from memory. He tried to trace the outlines of her face; the curvature of her nose, the soft definitions in her hair, the cheeks which leant towards the gaunt; her eyes glimmering at him like glass in the sun, widening as they passed into shadow. He saw the hair first, the tangled mess it habitually turned into, the carefully trimmed eyebrows and the short eyelashes floating on his mind’s canvas. Her skin appeared next, an unblemished flesh possessing an olive tone; perhaps a result of some distant Italian origin? There was little hint of it in her personality; she was wholly proud of her nationality for some reason, one alien to him. Her features were impossible, he couldn’t seem to make them fit on the blank face he had created without imagining some hideously proportioned monster, something man-made and all the more horrific for it. He tried to shuffle them, as one would shuffle a pack of cards, with no avail.

He felt her stir against him and turned his head from the cigarette. His own body repulsed him; it was an ugly thing. He wore a pair of loose briefs but, besides that, he was naked; his body on display. He had lost weight recently, weight his already slim figure could ill afford to forfeit. His ribcage was like that of a long-dead sea creature, washed up on land, with white bone nudging the flesh as though a threat of escape. His stomach is little more than a shadow, a darker patch in the room’s half-light, a sunken plain upon which he often imagined Mongolian riders warring with their enemy.

His legs were thicker than the rest of him; long and covered in curled, intertwining hair which repulsed him, reminded him of a dog’s fur after an encounter with a muddy puddle. His knee, the one which was visible, was drawn towards him, leaving a sharp incline of flesh to block half of the room from his gaze.

Rosemary was naked, though Amuigh tried to stop himself from looking at her – from drawing her in with his greedy sight. He felt an undeniable shame every time they lay thus, as they both drew in deep breaths for a few moments, until their muscles quietened their demands for oxygen. It wasn’t like the movies. They never fell asleep in each other’s arms, they never held each other close as soon as the act was done – they were too busy cleaning themselves off, wiping away his expulsions and her sweat and, when they did return to bed, the softness between them was replaced with a guilty distance.

Eventually, he could bear it no more, and allowed his eyes to shift from his own sparse musculature to her tanned flesh. Rosemary glowed with health in comparison to him, like a sun goddess come to earth. Her trailed up her legs, admiring the way they crossed one another as she lay on her side. Her groin was a shadow between her thighs and her hips and, Amuigh thought he felt arousal stir again, but the impulse passed just as soon as it arrived. The slightest hint of muscle could be seen in her stomach, and Amuigh felt the familiar need to place his hand against, to feel her health against him – he hated that impulse, as though she were a racehorse he needed to doctor.

Her breasts sagged pleasingly, just large enough to move with gravity, and the pink flesh of her areolas was the palest part of her. Her shoulders curved beside them, leading up to a slim neck, a strong chin, a pair of tightly-closed lips, a small, slightly-upturned nose and her eyes.

She stared at him, her eyes wide. In the shadow of his profile, distended and disjointed across her features, her pupils were little more than glittering ovals. In the shadows, he knew, those black circles would have enlarged, would have bullied the iris away from the centre; nothing but a slice of brown around the black.

Rosemary say him turn away from her; no smile, no sound. It hurt her for a moment, but she remembered that he was hurting. Robert was in agony but he hadn’t the personality to express it as she might. There had been no tears, there had been no vicious outbursts. Those she could have accepted, but it was the lack of reaction that scared her the most. A man given to a gentle mediocrity of emotion at the best of times, he had retreated from her, in his grief, to some deep, dark place and she had no method of following. She had to coax him out again, to toss a rope into the darkness and wait for the distant weight of his mind on the other end.

Amuigh knew he was evil. He had argued that evil was relative; that there was no such thing as an unequivocal darkness, no Heaven and no Hell and no judgement; but there was certainly an absence of light and that was certainly how he characterised himself.

He looked towards the cigarette again; the last dregs of smoke vanished into the air but he did not see them. Amuigh closed his eyes, tightening the muscles until the glimmer of her gaze was replaced with flashing lights and shots of pain.

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