Timothy grabbed the banister with both hands to avoid being flung backward as the bus pulled away. He waited a few seconds for the vehicle to find its stride before stepping up to the top deck, steadied himself with the vertical poles along the aisle, and swung from bar to bar as he hurried to the back seat beside the window, left side facing forward. It had to be the back seat beside the window, left side facing forward. From there he could see Scarlet, who sat near the front in a pastel pink and green top, without being noticed. Just twelve stops to wait.
The bus accelerated with the current of traffic along the busy street, a tuna amongst mackerel, as it left Listerland’s city centre. It stopped, then moved, in intermittent nudges, the same staggered pace as surrounding vehicles, as it progressed passed a showcase of the city’s diversity displayed in restaurants and citizens. He had not been on the bus for many weeks – not since he was banned from going out alone – but, after waiting, he finally found the right opportunity to escape.
Gravity dragged him to the left as the bus made a right turn, then pulled up beside the next stop, where a swarm of schoolchildren gathered. They wore yellow and black uniforms featuring short sleeves and skirts and shrieked with awful laughter, the kind that scratches the brain, screeches of youth. He would have abandoned his plan if not for his determination, but he refused to go home empty-handed.
The swarm invaded the top deck. It was okay. The crowded bus was enough for him to remain hidden, even though they avoided the seats around him.
Timothy’s arms were damp with sweat in the heat of the stuffy bus, the sun outside baking through the window, but he didn’t care. He was wearing his black parka coat, the only way for him to feel comfortable in public, with its hood fur over his eyes and a khaki scarf covering his face. This way, it was easier to spot Scarlet’s washed-out burgundy hair, brown roots emerging, among the other passengers without people being suspicious. Ten stops to go.
The vehicle proceeded along a less busy road beside the city’s largest park. A gang of youths, still in school uniform – red and white this time – bounced and lobbed a basketball in the court and bumped and shoved each other in friendly competitiveness. The sight filled him with envy. How we wished he could play at the park again.
He swayed as the bus curved around a mini roundabout, departed at the third exit to the suburbs. Out of all the fabulous routes in the city, this was the most special for Timothy. As he continued through a housing estate of red-orange semi-detached homes, the driver of a passing #31 on its returning route waved below, gone a moment later ahead of a stream of smoke unleashed around blackened bricks. The route took him past several locals in their front gardens, smoking cigarettes, blowing vapes, drinking beer, and pulling up weeds. He was now seven stops away.
Pattering footsteps from the stairs hooked his attention. A young woman’s voice followed,
“Mia! Stop right now!” she yelled. A toddler walked down the aisle as her mother dialled into her phone.
“Don’t run, Mia, else the bus driver will tell you off!”
“Can I ‘ave an ice cream at Dads?” she asked.
“You’ll ‘ave to ask ‘im when you get there, but you’re ‘avin nuthin’ if you don’t sit down!”
Mia obliged, then sat beside her mother with her legs dangling in the aisle. She was enchanted by the variety of new faces, particularly interested in an old gentleman opposite,
“Why are you wearing a hat inside?” she asked. “It’s not raining.”
The old man laughed and smiled at the girl, then replied, “I can wear it inside if I want to.”
“Why? It’s not raining,” she quipped, accompanied by a proud grin.
“I suppose you’re right,” he chuckled, “but hats can also be used to shade your eyes from the sun, see?
With her mother engaged in a phone call, Mia exclaimed, “Take it off!” and the old man, amused, obliged. Proud of her success, Mia got up and approached a woman that sat further down the bus.
“Take your hat off!” she ordered. “It’s not raining!”
The woman giggled and removed her cap. Mia smiled with confidence as she continued, all the way to the back, then stood before Timothy.
“Take off your ‘ood!” she demanded. Timothy leaned in close.
“No. F-F-F-Fuck off,” he muttered, only for her ears. She froze for a moment, unsure how to respond. Then, seemingly aware of her endearing innocence, she smiled, and tried again.
“Take off your––“
“No! Go away!”
Her face frowned with uncertainty and fright, and she retreated to her mother.
Several minutes passed until the bus reached Scarlet’s stop. He didn’t blink as he watched her reach for the seats’ pole and push the button attached, ting!
As the bus slowed, she got up and made her way downstairs. He stared out of the window and observed her walk into the adjoining Soarmouth Street. Now it was his turn, ting!
He rushed off the bus without thanking the driver and didn’t hesitate in following the girl with the burgundy hair. An empty crisp packet rolled by in a gust of leaves like tumbleweed. He advanced along the cracked cement path, conscious of maintaining an unsuspicious distance, keeping stride until Scarlet arrived at No. 209. He watched her as she rummaged in her pockets for the key and she unlocked the front door as he sped past the front lawn; he continued a further hundred metres and turned into the alley between two tall fences of neighbouring properties. It brought him to a small field of the estate behind the street, home to three trees and two goal posts. With the area mapped in his mind, he went straight for the fence that bordered the back garden of No. 209.
Timothy was delighted that, after all this time, they still had the fence with the spyhole. He peaked into a view of the garden, with the back of the house’s kitchen and dining room windows. Scarlet was at the sink, pouring water into a glass of blackcurrant squash, her favourite. After a few gulps, she walked away, then reappeared at her bedroom on the first floor where she opened her window.
Thankfully, Scarlet’s household had not abandoned their summertime routine of leaving the sliding door open until after dinner. Her mother carried a laundry basket and stepped into the garden. She was short, plump, and wore a flowery blouse with blue jeans. He missed her a lot, even though she frustrated him. She returned inside around ten minutes later.
“Just popping out, Scarlet!” she yelled. “I’ll be about an hour! Have you got your key?”
“Your Dad will be back soon. See you later!”
The heavy door closed with a thud. This was his moment. He moved across the fence to a spot hidden by their shed, and a tree behind would block him from being spotted by park witnesses. After a swift glance, he climbed the fence beneath the pointed roof and dropped into a crevice. He moved out sideways, crept within the flapping washing, and entered through the open back door. The house had been redecorated since he last visited, and the dining room walls had been changed from ocean-blue wallpaper to orange paint, matched with walnut furniture and a new set of framed family photographs.
He had to act now. Dad would soon be back.
He maintained awareness of his footing, cautious not to step on the stair’s creaky spots, yet to be renovated, as he tip-toed to the landing. Steady hip-hop beats pulsed from Scarlet’s bedroom; a layer of sound that covered the clank of her door being opened.
Scarlet sprung up from her bed in shock.
“Oh my god, Tim! What are you doing!? Get out of my room, now!” she yelled, anger on the offense.
He stepped back until his feet were just behind the metal door threshold, a deadpan expression on his face as he fixated his gaze on her, wide-eyed.
“How the hell did you get out this time? Where are your staff? For God’s sake, Tim, you’ve got to stop this! Just when I thought you were settling in, you let me down.”
“No! I’m sorry, Scarlet, I’m sorry. I just want your hair, please.”
“You know I’m not supposed to do that for you anymore, Tim.”
“Hair, now!” His face reddened.
“Right,” Scarlet spoke. “If you calm down, I’ll make you a cup of tea, and then I will cut a few inches of my hair for you. But I will only do that if you agree to go home straight after.”
“I’ll go after.”
“Good. Now out the way, let’s go downstairs.”
Timothy stood aside as Scarlet rushed past. A gust blew upstairs as the front door opened, cut off by the door slamming. Dad was home. She mumbled something Timothy could not hear.
“For fuck’s sake, Timothy Austen! Get down here, now!” His voice boomed.
“Don’t shout at him!”
“He needs to learn!”
Timothy obliged; it was no use defying Dad. The tall, bald man, muscles tight in his blue overalls, stood with folded arms below the stairs. Scarlet’s voice came from the kitchen; she was making a phone call.
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“He’s here again. Yep, absconded. No, of course we’re not happy! We thought you guys had this situation under control now!”
Dad loomed over him,
“Why are you here, son?”
“You can’t do this anymore Tim! You’re a man now!” he yelled.
“He’s okay, but you know what he’s like,” Scarlett uttered.
“I’m disappointed in you. You were doing so well.”
“Okay, thank you. Please, hurry up.”
“You’ve let us down. You’ve let yourself down.”
“See you soon.”
Timothy hummed as loud as he could; it was the only way to hide the noise, that painful noise of words he only half-understood. The sound of disappointment.
“Listen to me, Tim! You’re not listening!” Dad continued.
“Stop it, Dad! You’re upsetting him!”
“He’s got to learn!”
Timothy started to wail and scratch his ears; it was the only way to hide the noise.
“Stop that, Tim! Now!”
Timothy yelled and grabbed Scarlet’s hair before she realised. He pulled her to the lounge. She gripped his hand with hers, stopped him from adding pressure, and remained calm. This was not the first time, or probably the last, that Timothy had done this.
“Let go, Tim. Please. Be a good man.”
Dad hurried after. With his free hand, Timothy swiped a photo frame from the wall and threw it straight for Dad’s head. The man ducked, but Tim lobbed another that struck his scalp with its corner.
“For fuck’s sake Tim!” he bellowed.
A gust blew inside as the front door opened, followed by a closing thud. Mum was back. Timothy froze as she walked in. He locked eyes with her, eyes of compassion.
“Oh, Tim. What’s happened, son?” she asked, with that special tone only his mother could project.
“I don’t want to live there anymore!” he yelled.
“We know you don’t. Come here, let’s talk about it.”
“I don’t want to live there anymore!” he screeched and gripped his sister’s hair tight.
“You know I won’t discuss this while you’re doing that. Come on, be a good man.”
He released his grip, then sat beside Mum in the lounge, on a beige sofa. She took his hand and stroked it with hers in a short moment of silence. Heavy footsteps came from the stairs as Dad went up.
“You know we love you, Tim,” Mum continued, “but you’re an adult, and you need to live as free as an adult should. You need to have your own life with your own experiences. When Scarlet is old enough, she will do the same. Tell me, what can we do to make it easier?”
“It’s not fair on any of us that you keep doing this. You know that.”
“Last time. I promise.”
“Do you, Tim? Do you really promise your Mum it’s the last time?”
She looked at her daughter and nodded. Scarlet went upstairs while Tim sat with his mother, calm and contented as she stroked his hand. How he wished he could sit like this forever, but he knew she would send him away soon, again.
He held the lock of hair in his pocket, about three inches long and tied with a bobble. One of his support staff, a young man with soft unintimidating features, opened the back door of the minibus. Timothy was pleased to see Kris was wearing his favourite black cap this evening.
Mum went back inside without saying goodbye, as was Tim’s preference. To see the symbol of separation would only trigger his frustration. The closing door was enough.
Karen was driving today. She wasn’t afraid to take risks at the wheel, which meant a roller coaster experience was in store. The roar of the ignition filled him with excitement, and they whizzed away from the curb.
“Right, we’re going straight back home. You know you’ve done wrong, don’t you?” she said.
He gazed out the window as doors jumped between colours, from peach, to ivory, to sky blue, to oak brown, and so on in an uncoordinated yet predictable sequence, one he had memorised.
“Don’t stress him out more, Kaz. We’ll speak to him later.”
“It’s his family’s fault, anyways. They should have stopped this hair nonsense at the first thing.”
“Yeah, they probably should have, but it’s not that simple. It doesn’t matter now. He’s listening.”
“Yeah, right. His mind’s elsewhere. You know what he’s like.”
Roofs were another story. They tended to be the same amongst different areas. A dark brown one blurred by as the car swung round the corner with a pulling sensation as Karren drove with the same urgency as a bus driver.
Twenty-three minutes later, as he could see on the dashboard display, the car vibrated as it pulled onto a pebbled driveway. They passed a large sign on the ground’s tall fence that displayed simplistic large turquoise letters, “Evergreen Chapel”, with small emerald print underneath, “special needs support service – by Opportunity Inc.”
They parked outside the care home, a bricked edifice that blocked the red sunset sky. Tall pine trees reached above the building’s roof and dwarfed the three-meter wooden fence surrounding the premise.
The rumbling engine faded. Karen withdrew the keys and stood out to make a phone call. Kris turned around in the front seat. “Here we are, Tim,” he said, positivity in his voice matched with a smile, “I understand what you’re going through, mate. Let’s go inside and talk about it with a drink.”
“Hiya, we’re outside.” Karen uttered.
Timothy stared out of the window. The home hadn’t blocked the red sky completely, but the view was ruined, nonetheless.
Kris got out of the car and opened the door beside Timothy.
“Come on, mate. I know you can hear me. It’s freezing out here, let’s go inside. We can make a cuppa.”
Why would it be Timothy’s family’s fault? It was Timothy that decided to carve a hole in the fence behind the bush. His family had nothing to do with it, he planned the whole thing himself, in his own mind. The execution took weeks of hacking the planks every morning for fifteen minutes after the front door unlocked, chip by chip, just before the day-time staff arrived. It wasn’t fair for Karen to speak about his family like that, since this was all his doing.
Timothy swung a punch at Kris, right for the groin, but only made light contact as the young man sprung back.
“It’s okay, mate. It’s okay,” said Kris with the wobbliness of supressed adrenaline. “Just come out when you’re ready.”
“You best stop that, right now!” yelled Karren.
“I don’t want to live here anymore!” yelled Timothy.
It was worse that Kris agreed with her. It wasn’t like him to do that.
“It’s okay! He’s just upset.”
Karen shook her head and walked off. The gate of the large fence opened. More staff were there, prepared to assist should the incident escalate.
“Remember that lovely present, Tim,” Kris continued, “that one from your sister. You still have it, don’t you?”
Timothy reached in his pocket and squeezed the locket of burgundy hair. He rubbed it with his thumb, sent soothing elations through him. It made him feel like he was not entirely alone here, for his sister was now with him. Everything she was was in this locket of hair.
He clasped it and got out of the minibus. Kris stood back, two-arm’s length away and equipped with a smile and thumbs-up. Timothy ignored him and walked across the gravel to the gate. The group of support workers stepped aside, all smiling, but with eyes of intent observing his every motion, prepared for the event that he might lash out. Amna still had thick scratch by her left ear where he slashed her a few days prior with an Allen key.
Lucky for them, he was not in the mood to be confrontational this evening. He went straight to his studio apartment upstairs. It was a singular room that featured a kitchen space at the far-right wall after a lounge area. A simple, pleasing layout. He kneeled by his bed ahead and pulled open the lower draw. Under the plain sheets was a pink and blue scrapbook. He sat on his bed and opened it, turned page after page through a coordinated variety of hair samples stuck with tape, each one featuring a different colour Scarlet had dyed it over the years. Blonde, ruby, platinum. About three quarters in, he reached an unfinished page of burgundy locks where he stuck his fresh specimen with tape from his bed-side cabinet. This was his favourite colour, but one that she rarely chose.
Staff were mumbling outside of his door. He hoped they would not enter if he were quiet, as he was in no mood to be pestered. After changing his clothes, he settled into his bed, slipped the scrapbook under his pillow, and like most nights, wished for a peaceful sleep.
About The Author
After writing short fiction as a hobby for over a decade, T S Vickers has turned his attention to publishing – with ‘Evergreen Chapel’ his first published work. He is a fan of science fiction, gothic horror, and realism, all of which influence his own stories. Alongside writing short fiction that focuses primarily on the human condition, he is working on his first novel, a sci-fi/cosmic horror epic that explores the unforgiving dichotomy between human beings and nature.
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