by TOM THYS
translated by Myrthe Meisner
Also by this author:
Stone of Black
Mary’s nerves were slowly getting to her. She had a splitting headache due to the heat and the children arguing in the backseat. Joshua was eleven and he made a game of teasing his two years younger sister anywhere and everywhere. ‘For the last time, stop fighting!’ Mary was startled by her own voice, but apparently it was effective, because the children quieted down immediately. They just weren’t used to sitting still for so long. Things weren’t about to get any better either, since the road to Brisbane was at least another two hundred kilometers long. Two hundred kilometers with no air conditioning, with endless, barren plains and the scorching sun for scenery. The weatherman had predicted that this might become the hottest and driest Australian summer in years.
‘Are we there yet?’ Sheila whined. Mary wiped sweat from her forehead and sighed. Sheila didn’t insist.
Just like last summer, they would spend several weeks of their vacation by the shore. Mary was already longing for the cold ocean water.
‘Whoa, cool!’ Joshua said, after a silence that barely lasted a few kilometers. He stuck his head between the two passenger seats and pointed outside excitedly. Mary saw it too: a silver-colored slide, coiled like a python. She couldn’t remember it being there last year. It wasn’t a logical place for a slide, in the middle of nowhere with hardly any people passing.
‘Please mom, can we stop for a minute? I want to go on the slide. Please, just once.’ Before Mary could respond, Joshua was backed up by his sister. ‘Yes mom, just once. Please.’
‘All right. One time, and then you have to get back in the car. We still have a long way to go.’ Mary slowed down to park her car on the side of the road. She thought a short stopover would calm the children down a little. At least she hoped so. Joshua opened the door and jumped out of the car. Sheila followed in his footsteps. In her enthusiasm she nearly tripped over her own feet.
‘I’ll race you,’ Joshua roared.
‘Be careful!’ Mary shouted after them. While the children ran towards the slide, she greedily drank from a water bottle that was already lukewarm. She could kill for an ice cream right now. Her mouth was sticky. There wasn’t even the slightest breath of wind and every move she made felt like an effort. Lethargically she strolled over to the slide, which was in the middle of a wheat field. The monstrosity loomed up from the flaxen stems and was a stark contrast with the clear sky. Sunbeams reflected off the silver pipe.
‘Careful,’ she called once more when Joshua was already climbing the steel steps. Mary estimated the slide to be almost ten meters high.
Joshua was at the top. Proud as a peacock, he waved at his mother and then disappeared down the pipe with a loud “yiiihaaa”. ‘Wait for me,’ Sheila yelled, but he was already gone.
Joshua’s cry of victory had already died down when his sister was halfway up the stairs. ‘I’m coming,’ she cheered exuberantly. At the same moment a dull thud could be heard inside the slide, followed by hellish screams and raw echoes. Sheila snorted with laughter, probably because she thought her big brother was playing another prank, but Mary knew right away that something was wrong. She was afraid that her son had broken a leg or an arm on the way down, or worse, that he had hit his head and had lost consciousness.She ran towards the slide.
‘JOSHUA!’ she shouted. Her eyes filled with tears, tears of fear and desperation. She didn’t get any response and that only scared her more. She gasped for air. Just when she was about to call his name again, she heard a hollow rumble from within the slide. Bop. Bop. Bop. It sounded far away at first, and steadily grew louder. BOP. Something was on its way down…
Mary looked inside and was so shocked by what she saw, that she recoiled. She fell backwards into the wheat, wide-eyed and with a scream frozen in her throat. The object that came hurtling down the slide rolled right into her lap. It was Joshua’s head, chopped off just below the chin, with frayed ribbons of meat where his neck had been up to a few seconds ago. In a reflex, Mary pushed her son’s head off of her. Her fingers were covered in blood and quivered like an aspen. She tried to scream once more, but she was shuddering so badly that her voice cracked.
Through the reflection inside the slide, Mary saw a network of razor sharp knives. Big knives, small knives, jagged circular blades, even miniscule razors, all interconnected like a propellor that covered the entire circumference of the slide. It was spinning around without making any noise at all. It was a diabolical mechanism, made to destroy lives.
Mary looked for her son inside the labyrinth of reflections, as though she still cherished some hope he would make it out alive, but that hope soon turned into a nightmare. The body that had once belonged to her son came sliding down in unrecognizable strips and chunks, followed by a river of blood. The red pulp flowed out of the silver pipe and seeped over the edge onto Mary’s legs. A finger floated in the blood somewhere. A small, innocent finger.
Mary didn’t dare look to her side, but did it anyway. Joshua’s head lie between the wheat. One of his eyes looked at her helplessly. The other eye was closed, his face contorted into a mask of pain. She couldn’t believe it. Very briefly, the world around her seemed to falter. She felt dizzy and everything fell silent. Earsplittingly silent. A short moment that felt like it lasted an eternity. Until she heard Sheila’s frail voice: ‘I’m coming down, mom!’