Marcus Bennett lay on his back in bed, the duvet over him, his eyes closed. He had a particular routine each morning before he got up to go to work at the local bookstore. Each workday had been almost identical to the next since the beginning of the summer. Marcus had finished college, where he had studied Music, Art, History and English Literature, and now spent his days working at Tinning’s, which was located in the Whitefield shopping centre – and it was the only bookshop in the whole town.
So each morning, Marcus’s day began with the shrill ring of his alarm clock at 7.45am. Then he would lie in bed for 5-10 minutes with his eyes closed, thinking about what the day would bring him, or about what had occurred the previous day. Today, of all days, was not entirely the same as any other day. It wasn’t because the weather had changed. No, it was quite the same, bright morning that had greeted him through the gap in the curtains most days that summer. It could not have been the lateness of the day, or the happenings of previous days; it had all been the same. Nothing odd, nor even particularly out of place, had happened during the last few weeks. But it was different today, on this Thursday morning as Marcus heard a bird chirp somewhere outside his bedroom window. Marcus just felt different.
As he got up from his bed and stretched out his arms, as he did every morning, he felt a strange twinge between his ears - an odd buzzing sensation in his brain. It felt as though he had an awful lot to think about, or as though worry or anxiety occupied his thoughts – though no conscious explanation for this came to him. Nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. Nothing to make him feel this way, though even his sleep had been troubled with it. He had kept on waking up during the night, therefore attaining very little sleep. He was exhausted. His eyes ached and his temples throbbed a little with a coming headache.
Although Marcus Bennett felt different, he carried out the same morning routine he had been following for several weeks. First, he made his bed, tucking the thin summer duvet under his pillows. Second, he stumbled wearily into his creaking shower that roared to life as it sent cold water over his head, making the very floor vibrate. Then, he brushed his teeth and combed his mahogany colored hair to the side so that it looked neatly windswept, before brushing in some gel with his fingers and having a quick shave. On some days, his routine momentarily failed as he cut his chin with the razor, wincing a little as he wiped the blood trickling down his neck with his finger and holding a piece of toilet paper to the wound. It happened this day.
Marcus slapped on some barely-fragrant aftershave he had made last for a long time, before returning to his small, dark bedroom and pulling on a pair of grey trousers and a short-sleeved purple-striped shirt (or whichever other shirt, depending on his mood that day), buttoning it to the top and stepping into a pair of black boots. Then, he would slip on his father’s old watch (leather strapped) – as he did on this ordinary, yet unordinary Thursday morning.
After this ordeal, he would trip over his leather bag on the way to the window on the other side of his narrow bed, and he would pull open the curtains, to reveal the brightness of the day about his room. As always, he would look around in dismay, realizing how untidy it really was in the sunlight (his tidy bed an exception), before throwing his bag over his shoulder and leaving the room, heading downstairs for breakfast.
There, he ate his ordinary morning sustenance, which consisted of a piece of plain toast and a glass of tomato juice. He would hurriedly wash his plate and glass and leave them dripping on the draining board before heading back upstairs and, instead of turning left at the landing (where his room was located) he turned right, as he usually did each morning, and went into his little sisters room to say goodbye for the day.
As on every other morning, at around 8.10am when Marcus made his visit, Emma lay tucked up in her thick duvet, her window wide open, letting in a cool morning breeze onto her pale face poking out from the folds of material, her long honey colored hair falling over her pillow like a sheet of glimmering water. A toe poked out from the end of the bed. Her body steadily rose and fell. She made a quiet purring sound with each breath. Fast asleep.
Marcus walked silently towards her and knelt down beside her bed before pulling her toe with his thumb and index finger. Her eyes snapped open and let out a loud gasp.
‘Marcus!’ she exclaimed, sitting up in her bed. ‘Do you have to do that every morning?!’
‘No, no I don’t.’ Marcus chuckled at her frustrated expression.‘Doing much today?’
Emma fell back against her pillows and groaned, closing her eyes again. ‘No.’
‘Well, don’t stay in bed all day. If you get bored you can come up to town and see me, bring me some food or something. Keep me company. It gets amazingly boring in there.’
‘Really? At a book shop?’ Emma raised her eyebrows in mock-surprise, her voice dripping with sarcasm, as she opened one eye to look at her brother.
‘Don’t get cocky, sis.’ said Marcus, getting to his feet. ‘See you, then.’
‘’Night.’ Emma grumbled, burrowing her head in her pillow and pulling the duvet over it.
Marcus and his sister had lived together in the same, small terraced house for all of their lives. Marcus had been four years old when his mother had returned from the hospital, a small white bundle in her arms, a smile on her face. Marcus’s dad had been there too, his arm around her, his face pale with exhaustion, creased with happiness.
It had been one of the rare occasions his mother hadn’t worn lipstick, or any other makeup for that matter. She looked plain and beautiful with her curly red hair tied back in a pony-tail, her piercing eyes searching for Marcus’s own pair, and when their gaze met, she didn’t have to say ‘Why don’t you come and look at your baby sister?’
So Marcus continued the rest of his morning routine. He scooped up his mobile from the hall-stand downstairs and dropped it into his trouser pocket before unlocking the front door and stepping out into the warm morning sunshine.
He walked the ten-minute journey to the bus stop, as on any other day, though his head was still buzzing with thought. Thoughts that didn’t belong to him. He couldn’t quite distinguish it. It was mumbling something in his ears. Thoughts all abound his head. Thoughts about him.
Thoughts belonging to me.
He rubbed his temples with his index fingers as he walked up the street. The bright sun didn’t help, already gazing down at him from above the roofs of the terraces on either side of the busy main road, the cars speeding past him like blurs of different colored lights.
When the bus finally trotted into the layby, he stepped on feeling light-headed and weak, but I could not stop it. I could not let him alone, not then.
He showed the unfriendly, bald-headed, tattoo-covered bus driver his monthly pass and received nothing but a grunt in return. I scribbled a mental note to thank him for his hostility, later. Marcus trudged onto the bus, sitting down near the back, leaning his head against the cold glass of the window that rattled back to life as the bus jostled on up the road, rocking the occupants with it. Marcus Bennett closed his eyes for a few moments and did not reopen them until the bus slowed once again at the next bus stop further up the busy main road.
Like every other passenger on the bus, and like on any other normal day, Marcus Bennett fell forwards with the force of the stopping bus, but this time his bag fell from his knee and toppled onto the ground. His fat novel fell from its depth, into the isle of the bus. Marcus - only half-caring because of the aching pain I was giving him in his brain - leant down to pick it up. As he stretched out his hand for Angels and Demons, another hand beat him to it.
He didn’t look up right away. Thank goodness he didn’t look up right away. I could feel her. It was surely she. She had reached him. I could feel her furious mind. I could hear her evil thoughts. What could I do? What could I do to protect him? I knew that I could do nothing. Of course I did. I knew what I was about to do, of course I could see it, of course I knew what was about to happen. I could see in her mind and I could see it in mine.
Suddenly I sprang up in my bed, the silken sheets slipping from my body as I screamed out at the top of my voice, ‘DO NOT LOOK AT HER! DO NOT LOOK AT HER! DON’T, DON’T, DON’T, DON’T!!!’
Marcus pulled back his arm and bent his head down, frowning against the voice that suddenly took him off guard. A small voice, like a whisper, echoed about his brain.
Do not look at her! The voice repeated, over and over and over again.
Marcus stretched out his arm once again to pick up his book, but it was no longer there. Instead he saw a pair of black sandaled feet, straps like vines winding around her toes and crawling about her ankles and up her legs … but then they were blocked from sight by a grey-colored coat. His eyes drifted further until they met the piercing gaze of a woman more beautiful than any he had ever before seen.
He simply stared at her. Before he even became aware of her bewitching beauty it was her startling scent. It enchanted him; wound a spell of seduction about his thought. He felt his breath decline as he watched her, spreading her crimson lips in an alluring smile, her pale skin glowing like a moon, her cheekbones high, her eyes paler grey than any, her velvet black hair falling sleek and glimmering down her long neck and over her grey coat. She raised a hand and Marcus could do little but continue to stare at her, entranced. Her fingers touched his throat. They were warm, soft, gentle.
‘Hello, Marcus.’ She said lovingly, in a soft voice. Her tongue wound around the syllable of his name like another enchantment, like music. Her very speech sounded like song.
I could hear his thoughts. They had almost muted, but for one voice that repeated over and over again behind his transfixed eyes. I could hear what he thought: Surely, this must be a goddess.
She could hear his thought, too. She laughed out loud. I could hear it. I could hear her delight, her wicked glory.
Marcus Bennett felt for the first time in his life a feeling he could only explain as addiction, or desire, or love. Something very out of the ordinary had happened to him that morning. Something that did not follow his usual morning routine. Something that changed his life forever.