It's too loud, all too loud - they're creaking again. I don't like it when they creak. Ma says they have to, to stop the hunger, but when I try and make the bed creak by rolling on it she yells, says I'll break it. She gets madder if I steal her medicine, though - she keeps it in the mattress, and once I found some and I put it in a pipe like Ma does, and I lit it up all bright and hot and I sniff sniff sniffed and I felt all numb and then happy - oh so very happy! - then sleepy too and I slept there on the floorboards for hours. But I tossed and turned and tossed and dreamt of the most horrible things, and Ma came in and got angry. She said if I stole her medicine again she would rip me up into shreds.
Ma says the creakers gave me to her, and they also gave her a little girl but she went blue and Ma had to bury her in the garden. She said it was for the best - "Another mouth to feed, boy." that's what she told me. Sometimes when I get lonely I pretend the girl is still here and I talk to her. She tells me all sorts of things and sometimes she gets mean and she pinches me but I don't mind because we have to be nice to her in case she comes back as a ghost.
My eyes are leaking again - but they mustn't, no, mustn't, Ma doesn't like it, oh no. She says if they keep leaking she'll get rid of them for me - she even has the tools: shears, big iron shears with pointy pointy tips and sharp sharp edges.
Now the stairs are creaking - it's different to the bed creaking, more squeaky. Today's creaker is old with grey ratty hair, but sometimes they're young and look more posher. They give Ma money and she gives it to me to keep safe while they go upstairs and creak. After a bit they stop creaking and the creaker comes back down and sneaks out again. Then Ma takes the money and goes off to buy more medicine.
They never let me upstairs while they creak. Sometimes one of them yells but it's a happy yell, and there's always grunting from the creaker. I listened outside the door once, but when they came out they yelled at me, and it was a bad yell and Ma hit me hard. I didn't see that creaker again and Ma got angry. She didn't let me eat for a couple of days to punish me. I don't listen any more.
Now Ma comes down the stairs, clunkity clunk. She looks tired, but there's that look in her eyes - like she can't wait to go get her medicine. Every so often she goes to a special place to take her medicine. I followed her there one time, a couple of weeks ago, but when I got to the door the Chinaman who opened it laughed at me and closed the door in my face. Ma found out what I'd done and walloped me. I've still got the bruise.
So today I stay at home. I sit on the floorboards and trace some letters in the dust on the floor. There's a boy I see sometimes - I don't know his first name. I just call him Turpin. That's the same name as a highwayman from years and years ago who he says was very clever because he could be charming and ruthless. He likes to think he is charming too, although that's not really true. He's teaching me to write, because he says one day I can work for him and he won't associate himself with idiots. He's a bit older than me. I'm only five, but I'm six in a month, and after six comes seven, and then it's eight and then I'll be the same age as him.
I'm bored now, I writ all the letters I can remember. I forgot four, but never mind. I can ask Turpin tomorrow.
I go upstairs. Ma won't be back for a few hours, there's no one around to see me so she won't know and she won't wallop me. I sneak into her room, the one she uses for creaking. There's no food around - there hasn't been for a couple of days. My tummy growls and growls but she doesn't notice. She's been having a lot of medicine lately. She never notices me when she's got her medicine.
But I know a secret. I know why she doesn't often get hungry. Her medicine stops the hunger, just like food! So I carefully lift up the mattress of the bed. The bed creaks, just like it does when Ma is up here with the creaker-men.
There's a rip near the edge. I put my hands in it, and feel around for a second. Inside there's a little wooden box. I open it.
A little ball of something that looks like clay is rolling around inside, occasionally hitting the pipe that sits beside it. There's also a box of matches which I open up. The ball doesn't look tasty, but my tummy is hurting me and I'll eat anything. I dig out a littler lump from it, and put it into the pipe. Then I get one of the matches and make it burn. I put it to the pipe and the little ball begins to smoke. Puff, out goes the match. Then I take a deep breath in through my nose, over the smoke.
I am light as air, and I flap my arms and I soar through the window like it's water instead of glass. I'm soaring, high high high. Clouds and birds and bees whizz round and round my head. I'm touching the moon, I'm soaring up uppity up and I'm laughing all the time because everything is so wonderful. I can see Ma on the ground and she's mad, her face is red and there is spit coming from her mouth. She shakes her fist but I can't feel it, no no. No one can reach me while I'm flying up and away, over the clouds and reaching out to the sun.
I zoom back down and glide beside Turpin. His face contorts until it is ugly and it scares me and I scream, and suddenly I'm not soaring, I'm trapped trapped trapped in a nightmare and there is scarlet smoke everywhere and Ma is getting closer and she's got her shears ready to snip my eyes so they can't leak and I'm running but my legs don't work and I fall and my knees begin to bleed and I'm bleeding to death and all I can hear is creakity creakity creak creak from the bed and I'm crying and crying and Ma is on me and she lifts her shears and tries to get my head and I beg and beg but she doesn't listen - oh no no no - and she's getting my eyes and I'm screaming and hurting and pleading and she ignores me and her face is suddenly bright red and there are rotting yellow fangs where her teeth were and horns in her head and she's snorting out the medicine smoke from her nose but she's laughing and it's horrible, the most horrible laughing ever, like nails that are going into my ears and scratching my brain, and suddenly the laughter turns to snarling and -
I'm lying on the dusty floorboards. My head hurts, I must have fallen over. I remember hitting the ground, but it didn't hurt and there's a little sticky patch on my head. I touch it and my fingers are red - I think I'm bleeding. It hurts to touch, and my eyes start to leak again.
Suddenly I remember that my eyes can't be leaking, because Ma snipped them out. But when I look in the reflection of the window there they are. I think it was just a nightmare. Ma gets them sometimes from her medicine. Halusinatuns a doctor called them once, a few weeks ago. I ran for him and gave him some of the creaking money because Ma wouldn't wake up and she was just lying there, twitching and screaming and I was scared. He said she was having halusinatuns and told me to watch her because he said they sometimes get dangerous. He left, and Ma was all quiet for a bit, but then her eyes opened and they were all red and she looked both angry and scared and she grabbed my wrists and shook me and shook me until my brain rattled and I thought my head would fall off. Then she started yelling and screaming, spitting at me. She said I had the Devil inside me, and that scared me even more because the Devil is evil and he will torture me and burn me up until my skin goes black and charred and I die. I don't want him in my head, he'll rip me up from inside.
But Ma was screaming and screaming and I screamed too, and she got her shears in one hand and a big knife in the other and she said she would cut me open so the Devil would leave, and that was when I got really scared and ran away, all the way downstairs and out of the house and into the garden. Ma started to follow me, but when she got to the stairs her feet moved too fast and they skipped a step and she tumbled down and down. The shears and the knife fell out of her hand and bounced down the steps too. Finally Ma got to the bottom. She didn't land on the shears and she didn't land on the knife, but she was still, so so still and silent too. I was too scared to go to her but I was scared for her too. I know what happens when someone's ma dies. First things are sad, then the hunger starts and then you either die or get sent to the workhouse where they work you until you die, but slowly and painfully.
Then I ran back to the doctor and I begged him to come and look, but he said not if I couldn't pay. I said I could pay later and eventually he agreed and he came and helped me get Ma back onto something soft and he wrapped a bandage around her head and stayed until she woke up again. When she woke up the halusinatun was gone but she was cross with me for spending the medicine money and she beat me with the carpet beater until it hurt to breathe. The doctor just watched until she was finished. Then he mentioned payment, and Ma started to get angry but worried too. After a few minutes they agreed on something and he left. When Ma was a bit better and could creak again, he came three times in a row and he stayed much longer than the other creakers do, and he never paid but Ma said that was okay because she owed him something. I didn't get beaten much that week because Ma was too tired. But then it went back to normal and she took the bandage off her head again.
I think my halusinatun is all gone now. My hands shake a bit and I give one a slap, but it doesn't stop. Silly old hand.
I sit up properly now. My head aches but it doesn't need a bandage, not like Ma's did. I make myself get up, but slowly because the world is spinning round at a million miles an hour. Then I put away the medicine, because I don't want a beating if Ma sees it and realises what I've done.
I go back downstairs. My legs are wobbling a bit, but I don't care. The hunger is gone for now so my tummy is calm again. I get a big shock when I get downstairs though - Ma is there, sat on the floor looking terrified. She's rocking back and forth, even though the floorboards are uncomfortable and hurt your bum. She'll get a bruise if she's not careful. I don't think she's going to talk to me, not like this. But she does, and her voice is all low and rough and hoarse, like she's been screaming for hours.
"Closed, boy. They've closed."
I would ask who's closed, but she doesn't like questions, so I just nod.
"The peelers came in not an hour ago. Not only a den, they said. Said we sold a lot more than medicine."
"What else do you sell?"
No. No, stupid mouth. Stupid mouth asking questions, why did I say it? But I can't unspeak it and Ma looks at me as if she's just noticed me properly.
"What have I told you about interrupting me?" she asks, her voice quiet but with something scary in it. It's how she gets when she's mad.
"I'm sorry!" I gasp "I didn't mean to!"
She doesn't stop being mad. She never does until she's walloped me properly. I can't unspeak and she can't unmad.
Ma's eyes are pits of fire and I know what's coming. I know I shouldn't, but the medicine has made my brain go funny and I turn around and I run away. But she's faster, much much faster.
She catches up with me, and she's raising her hands and they're coming down on me harder than normal. She is really mad, mad mad mad, and she's beating me over and over pound pound thump thump wallop thump bang. She's not done, she's got the carpet beater. It hasn't been used and it's covered in dust like the stuff it beats out, but now she's beating the dust out of me and it hurts, oh it hurts hurts hurts.
I'm crying now, wailing out over and over, saying sorry once, twice, three four five times. She doesn't notice, she's screaming too, and beating the dust out of me. I'm sore all over and she has to stop now, she never beats me this long. But she is today. Some of the medicine is still there, I can see it behind her eyes. It's making her mad.
I think she's going to kill me.
I can't do anything, can't move, can't breathe now. It hurts too much but she's still going, thump thump thump.
The sore bit of my head is screaming as well, screaming and burning and pounding. It's not just punishing me any more, this is what happens when she gives in to the little men in her mind. They tell her the devil is inside of me and she has to beat it out. I think the devil must still be inside of me, but I don't care any more, I just want the hurt to stop. I try and cover myself but she just hits my arms until I can't feel them any more and they collapse and she hits me more and more.
I know I'm going to die, I know it know it know it. Now she's thrown down the carpet beater and she's got the cane.
The cane was left there by one of the creakers when he came a year ago. It's very fancy, and Ma was going to sell it. I don't know why she didn't. But it's very tough, very very hard and I know if she uses it on me I'll die because I can't take any more. I hurt so much everywhere and I feel tired like I've been running for hours and hours around London.
I don't know how, but something inside me gives me the strength to stand up. It might be the devil, but I am now desperate and I won't stop him from being in me if it means I won't die.
I fight Ma. I punch her back like I never had before. She screams like a bear but I don't stop. I've got to, got to got to. I don't want to die, dying is bad, I know. I saw an old lady die once and it looked painful. And Ma says I'm going to hell because I'm wicked and I don't want to go to hell, not where it's too hot, hot so that it burns forever and ever. She says she can smell the brimstone just by looking at me, and brimstone is what's in hell.
I don't want to go hell.
I'm running away now, running and running up the stairs. At the top of the stairs I look back for a second, but I shouldn't of, shouldn't of. Ma is right behind me, on the top step and her face is scary.
I don't think.
I turn around and throw myself at her. Someone screams and I don't know who. It might be me, or her, or I think it could be us both. But it is loud and it makes my ears hurt.
She's teetering. Teetering on the edge. I get back my balance by holding onto the wall, but Ma doesn't. She tries to get her balance back by using me and grabs one arm.
And then she falls.
She falls and falls and I go with her, but slower than she does. I roll down; she drops like a stone.
I hear a crack, hear a wheeze. I've got no breath left, and I ache. But I don't bleed.
Ma bleeds all over the bottom stairs, especially on the corner. I think she hit her head there. I'm a bit scared about going by her in case she gets up and chases me again, but she doesn't move. Her hair all matted with blood, and it gets on my feet. I wish I had shoes so it wouldn't get them sticky, but I don't.
I remember Ma fell down the stairs before. But this is much worse, so much worse. I remember someone told me you're meant to check for people's breath if they're hurt, and I can't hear her breath. Her chest doesn't move either, not like it does when people are breathing.
I think she's dead.
I am a murderer.
I jump up and start to run away. I know what they does to murderers, I saw it happen. They hang them from the gallows and their neck snaps, or they jerk around a bit and their face goes blue and their arms go black. I saw it happen once, a woman poisoned her kids and her husbands and they hanged her until she couldn't breathe no longer and she died.
I don't think about where I'm going, but somehow I end up in the alley where I meet Turpin sometimes. He's there now, and I run up to him, ask him for help.
He raises an eyebrow, like I'm a beetley bug what doesn't matter. It's how he always looks though, so I don't worry. I tell him what's happened, beg him to hide me, ask him if I'm going to hell.
His eyes go funny. Glinty and greedy and cruel.
"You're going to hell, Bamford." he says "Murderers always do. They're scum, they can't get into heaven. You're dirty now, contaminated."
I don't know what it means, but I start to cry. I ask him if there's nothing I can do.
"I doubt it. You're a sinner and there's no redemption for sinners."
My eyes leak buckets and buckets. I should be standing in a puddle by now.
"Although…there may be one thing."
"What? I'll do anything, I don't want to go to hell, hell is where they burn you and hurt you forever!"
He looks spiteful as he talks next, but I barely notice. I don't want to get hurt, don't want Satan to come and take me away like Faust got taken in the stories Turpin told me.
"It's easy really. Become my servant. For life. Don't you see, Bamford, it's the only way you can be redeemed? Serve me or get tortured. Your choice."
I don't stop and consider it. I'm desperate.
"I'll do it! I'll be the best servant ever!"
He makes me a little shack at the very bottom of his garden. He lives in a big posh house, but there's a big scrub of bushes at the end where no one goes. The thorns scratch my skin, and the nettles sting my arms, but it's nothing really. Not to being tortured.
Turpin says when his parents are dead he's going to let me into the house, because there's a place for servants. But he says his Ma and Pa won't let a dirty sinner in, so I have to wait. I don't mind. If it means they won't give me to the hangman I don't mind waiting. I don't want to get hanged.
A.N. This is what happened when after having not slept for around forty-eight hours, I suddenly drank several thousand litres of coffee and took to my laptop maniacally muttering things about drugs and death, buzzing from a caffeine high. In other words, this is probably not my best work - still, I hope it's entertained you for the ten minutes it takes to read this (and if it has, perhaps you'll be brilliantly lovely and leave a review!) And welld oen fi you recognised the Rasputina reference in the title :) ~ CM xx