From the moment he entered the room and closed the door behind him his life, as he knew it, was over. There was no going back. Not now.
He surveyed the room, saw the mass of blood, the bodies, the man with the gun. It took just a few seconds for his mind to compute the whole thing. But when it did. He froze. Natural reaction. Fear.
The man with the gun hadn’t seen him. He was facing towards the wall wiping the blood from his glasses with a piece of kitchen towel. Jim silently dropped to his knees and lay flat on the floor. He would play dead. Like he’d taught his old dog Rex.
He pressed his face hard to the floor. Tried not to breath. The blood from the person next to him was slowly running into his face and scalp. He closed his eyes and waited.
He was aware of the man standing over him. Admiring his work. He heard him laugh. A phone rang. He heard the man answer it. He was shouting and talking with a slur.
“Billy? Yeh, it’s done. All of them. All gone. Just cleaning up. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Jim recognised the speech pattern. His father had spoken in exactly the same way. The man was deaf.
He lay there. He could taste the blood that was trickling onto his lips. It was warm, thick and sticky. He told himself it was just strawberry jam. He needed to believe it or else he’d heave.
There was silence for a few moments. Just the sound of the man’s breathing. It had a slight wheeze to it, like a distant whistle. Jim heard footsteps, then the sound of a door opening, then slamming shut.
Still he waited. Too afraid to open his eyes. He didn’t want to see what he knew was there. When he did he saw the distorted face of the woman lying beside him. It was her blood that now covered his face. He stood up slowly, counting the bodies that he could see. There were eleven.
He wanted to run, get away as far as possible. But then he heard the deaf man’s voice again. From outside.
“I’m going back in. I’ve forgotten something!”
Again Jim dropped down beside the woman, trying to replicate the position he’d been in before. He heard the door open and the man’s footsteps as he stepped over him. Jim’s eyes were closed shut, but his other senses were kicking in like a hurricane. He could smell petrol and a splashing sound. The man with the gun was laughing and talking to himself.
“You’re all gonna burn. Cremation for the lot of you. Say your prayers you dead fucks.”
He heard a scratching noise. It was the sound of a match striking and igniting. He heard another sound. The sound of fire. Then footsteps and the door closing. Jim stood up, the next room was engulfed in flame.
He heard a car drive off at speed, the wheels screeching. Smoke filled the room quickly and he turned to face the front door. He fumbled for the handle, found it and pulled hard. The fresh air hit the smoke and flame behind him and he heard a roar. He was suddenly aware of being thrown through the air. He landed on dirt. Parts of his clothing were on fire. He rolled over and over in the dirt, killing the flames as he did so. Exhausted he lay still. He could hear the fire raging behind him. He sat up and looked round. What was a house just minutes before was now a raging ball of flame.
He was sure of one thing and one thing only. He had to find the deaf man.