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A Minor Distraction

The slight breeze blowing through the half open window provided at least some relief from the relentless heat that seemed to have built up over the course of the past few weeks. It was the end of August and the hottest one in thirty years according to the smiling weather girl on the morning news, who also encouraged everyone to get out and enjoy it while it lasts. For Krantzen it seemed like some sort of perverse punishment meted out so that one could laugh at the blanched bodies of people wandering around in a state of unselfconscious undress.

Luckily his apartment was on the fifth floor of a nondescript ex-local authority block, otherwise there would have been no breeze at all. The street below was becoming dusty and baked and the people who moved along it seemed to drag themselves with great effort to where ever they were going, stopping every so often to wipe sweat from their faces. The ones who moved faster attempted to dodge from one patch of shadow to the next, sighing as they went.

The grey, purpose built block was just outside of the city centre in an area which used to be notorious for its crime rate but which had started to become relatively fashionable due to the cheap housing prices and close proximity to the rail station.

Krantzen sat at his computer desk by the open window looking down at the street below. The curtain caught the breeze and blew it into his face so he carefully tucked its bottom below the desk lamp. The stifling heat was making him sweat even more profusely than usual. It made him irritable and itchy and he wished for the winter to hurry on its way. He was wearing just his boxer shorts and was scratching at his flabby, hairy chest whilst watching a small boy in the street below circling his large, waddling mother on his scooter with seemingly limitless energy. The woman suddenly turned, grabbed the child, and annoyed, shouted something at the boy which was incomprehensible to Krantzen. The child looked down sullenly and mumbled something then looked up directly at Krantzen’s window, the mothers gaze followed her sons and briefly they both seemed to stare at him before the mother looked away and walked on. The boy continued to look for a few more seconds before following his mother, this time pushing his scooter by his side.

Krantzen wondered briefly if they had really looked directly at him and then took a deep breath and leant back in his chair. He wished he still had the energy of the child, not that he had been particularly energetic even when he was young. He had always been chubby from an early age but his job as a website designer meant he spent the majority of his day sitting at a computer. He knew he ate too much, drank too much and took too little exercise but could never bring himself to do anything about it. Idly he thought, maybe if I had a woman to impress it would give me the motivation to look after myself more but it seemed that nowadays he hardly ever met any women either through work or socially. The ones he did meet of a similar age always seemed to be married or if they weren’t, more often than not it was clear they weren’t interested in him. He sighed, leant back and chuckling to himself stared at the ceiling.

With a deep breath he heaved his bulk out of his chair and walked slowly across the room towards the door to the kitchen. He walked slowly as to avoid the mess of old newspapers, magazines, computer disks, pop bottles and take away cartons which littered the floor of the living room. He kicked a bottle out of the way and it spun into the kitchen doorway, he went to bend to pick it up but then gave up and kicked it again to where other rubbish was gathered in a pile.

He took a dirty cup from the pile by the sink and gave it a quick rinse before looking into it and frowning then placed it on the side and switched on the kettle. He looked around the kitchen, at its yellowing walls, dirty side boards and large pile of carrier bags by the bin. For the second time that day he thought about giving the whole place a clean but the job just seemed too big for him alone. Besides, he seemed to be getting attached to the dirt and the smell and the whole mess. It seemed to somehow be becoming a part of who he was. The smell represented the smell of him, the rubbish was what he’d consumed whilst being here and it made him feel secure that it would be here tomorrow. No he wouldn’t clean it up just yet, in a few days maybe. Hell, He wasn’t expecting any visitors soon so could see no reason to rush into something which he didn’t feel like doing one bit.

He made his tea and was walking back through to the living room when he thought he saw a quick furtive movement from the corner of his eye. He glanced around quickly to the corner where he’d sensed it but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Jesus, he hoped it wasn’t a mouse, where there’s one there’s got to be more and he didn’t want them running everywhere, under all the rubbish it was even likely he wouldn’t spot them till too late. Maybe it is time to give the place a clean, yep, in a few days, he thought. He looked back to the corner and noticed there was a ball of long black hairs which had formed, nestling in the corner and being moved slightly by the breeze coming in through the window. He decided that that must have been what he’d seen and gave it a furtive poke with his toe to make sure there was nothing hiding behind or below it. It rolled slightly to its side and he saw that it had gotten tangled with other bits of rubbish – gum, a paperclip and bits of tobacco, this made him shudder and grimace slightly but he could see there was nothing under it so he made a mental note to vacuum it up as soon as he had time.

He turned away and began walking towards his computer desk, absent-mindedly scratching his head. He noticed when he pulled his hand away that a number of long black hairs had wound themselves around it. He wiped his hand on his boxers then flicked it so the hairs floated off his hand to the floor. He looked down at his chest and body. It was covered in thick black hair and he wondered how much hair a person sheds daily. For him it would be quite a large amount he guessed, he was large in every sense and more or less all of his chest, belly, back, arms and legs had a ready amount of black hair covering them, never mind his head and face which now had a two week tangled beard growth. His size and hairiness had always made him somewhat self conscious, especially around women, which was why he guessed he’d grown the beard as well – it at least gave him something to hide behind and he hoped, gave him a slightly more distinguished look.

In bed that night he lay awake in the pitch dark, unable to sleep because of the heat. Even with no bed clothes Krantzen was sweating profusely and when he did seem to start to drift off he would suddenly become itchy and have to roll over to his other side. At some point during the night he awoke startled from a nightmare, and sat listening in the dark, starting to think that he could hear something moving in the living room. Damn mice he thought, I’ll definitely need to clean and tidy the place and maybe buy mouse traps. Then he rolled over and was soon snoring loudly.

The next day Krantzen largely forgot about the incidents of the previous day and with it any notions of tidying the flat. This was because of an early morning telephone call from an international recruitment company offering Krantzen a large sum of money for a relatively short contract to update and overhaul their company website. Krantzen wanted to get started as soon as possible and agreed to meet up with someone from their marketing department that day to discuss exactly what they wanted. He was used to working for small businesses and when he turned up at the imposing company offices in central London he felt overawed and intimidated. Despite this, the meeting which took place in an office twice the size of his apartment on the tenth floor of the mostly glass building, seemed to go well. The head of the marketing department a certain Mark Paradakis was a tanned, serious faced, competent young man who shook hands forcefully and had an air of ambitious ruthlessness about him, Krantzen thought.

He outlined exactly what he wanted and how he wanted the website to look (“Modern. 21st Century. Professional”), all the time seeming to look at Krantzen’s long hair, beard and tweed attire somewhat sceptically. Krantzen reassured him that he had worked on similar projects many times before and was experienced at giving somewhat dated websites a modern twist and edge. In turn Paradakis assured him that he had looked at his work and this was precisely why they had contacted him, he ended by saying that he was sure Krantzen could give them what they wanted and had every faith in him, before pumping his hand and saying goodbye.

Krantzen left the building he turned and looked up at the building which gave him a strange sense of vertigo, it seemed to tower over him as if about to topple over and crush him. He was confident that he could do the job well and was confident they would be pleased with the result. The only catch was he had only a week to finish the job but figured if he worked morning until night he could finish on time and wouldn’t need to take another contract for at least a month. He walked towards the tube station in the midday sun sweating but smiling, with his mind filled with what he would do with a month off and money to spend.

For the next two days Krantzen hardly left his computer, ordering take out and eating it at his desk in order to cram as much work as possible into each day. Although physically rather a lazy man when it came to his work he took a lot of pride in giving his clients exactly what they wanted and put all of his energies into doing so. Despite working extremely long hours Krantzen could not seem to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, he would lay for what seemed like hours in the realm between sleep and dream his head filled with worries about doing the job well and on time. At the times when he did drift off he awoke several times in the night to a faint scratching which seemed to emanate from the living room. Knowing he needed as much rest as possible, he simply grunted to himself briefly and rolled over onto his back, his naked body glistening with sweat in the moonlight which filtered through a gap in the curtains.

On the third day he could feel tiredness slowly creeping up on him, sometimes drifting off, head in his hands, in the middle of his work into day dreams of relaxing and sleep when the week was over. He kept himself awake with frequent large cups of coffee from a jar of the strongest stuff he could find at the corner shop. On his third trip to the kitchen for coffee he was again daydreaming as he shuffled along and hit his toes painfully on the leg of the coffee table. He swore loudly, his eyes watering and hopped slightly before sitting down on the floor to examine his foot. His little toe was grazed and when he touched it, it stung and he swore again. He leant back on his hands and after briefly closing his eyes he suddenly realised his right hand was resting on a damp patch on the brown patterned carpet. He lifted his hand up and inspecting it, found it smelled faintly of urine. He knew he hadn’t spilled anything (at least recently) so looked around for the cause of the wetness. His gaze swept over the corner where the hair ball was previously rested and he looked back sharply, and realised it was gone. His eyes roved the room and frowning he heaved himself to his feet. He couldn’t see a sign of it anywhere, so he wandered over to the opposite corner of the room and tentatively peered over behind the television cabinet before taking a small, quick step back, surprised. It was there and it was remarkably bigger from the little he had seen. He had glimpsed the top and it looked to be the size of a football and appeared to have accumulated more debris. He heaved the TV cabinet out of the way, rolling it on its squeaking casters so he could get a better look.

He put a hand on the top of the TV to steady himself and leaned over the top. It rested snugly in the corner and was indeed more than twice the size of when he’d previously seen it. As he stared at it he noticed it seemed to have bits of grass and leaves intertwined in it as well as a piece of gum and what looked like small pieces of torn red cloth. He leant down closer to get a better look, his face only a foot away when suddenly it moved, seemed to shudder. He shot back up startled, expecting a mouse to come scurrying out and looked quickly at each side of the cabinet, then he realised that it was just the wind like the other day, making it move in the breeze. He looked over to the window and realised that he hadn’t opened it today, hadn’t opened any windows in fact. He scratched his head and again looked around him to make sure there were no mice or other small creatures scurrying around his feet. He took another look behind the cabinet and seeing it sitting there still, gave a slight shudder.

Realising the time, he pushed the TV cabinet back into place and vowed to vacuum it up as soon as he was finished on the contract. But, he wondered to himself as he stood making coffee, how the hell did it move from one corner of the room to the other, gain so much in size and accumulate so much crap? He discarded these questions from his mind for the moment as he considered the more important things he had to think about (Jesus only four days left) but on his way back to his desk, coffee cup in hand he couldn’t help glancing over to the corner and shaking his head and frowning. For the rest of the day he sat at his desk and almost without thinking, repeatedly glanced over his shoulder at the corner behind the cabinet.

Krantzen awoke early the next morning, his face puffy and eyes stuck, not wanting to open. Although he had slept soundly he had only been asleep for little more than four hours. He had stayed up late in a massive attempt to finish a crucial part of the programming which he didn’t want to leave whilst he was so focused. Now he wished he had waited. He sat at his desk with his face in his hands, willing his mind to wake from its fug. For the rest of the day he ate barely a thing, pushing himself through the work on coffee alone.

By six pm he could no longer stare at the computer screen and dragged his tired body over to the battered couch and slumped down exhausted and slept. It was a fitful sleep and Krantzen dreamt of wandering around the city through dark alleyways and past old factories with the sense that someone was with him but not knowing who or what it was. He dreamt of being anywhere but his apartment so that he could forget about work, at least for an hour. He drifted awake slowly, the line between dream and reality gradually fading until he realised where he was and groaned loudly.

It was now dark and with just the meagre light from the city for illumination he could just see the dark outlines of the furniture in the room. He was sitting directly opposite the TV and, remembering what lay behind, he had visions of small creatures scampering around his flat searching out any bit of dirt or refuse to add to their home, making it bigger until it grew into a web of hair covering the corner. He lifted his feet suddenly and looked down before smiling and shaking his head wondering how his imagination had created such a vivid image.

He got up, switched on a small lamp and tentatively went over to the TV and peered behind slowly, trying to keep his weight balanced. The ball of hair was not there; in fact the corner looked unusually clean compared to the rest of the room. He could just make out some small object resting squarely in the corner, to Krantzen it looked like the vague shape of a mouse but appeared to be smooth in outline. Quickly, he grabbed a magazine from a pile and keeping a watch on the corner hurried over and switched on the overhead light.

He approached the corner as silently as possible, the rolled up magazine clutched tightly in his large fist. He bent slightly, swaying from side to side to try and watch both sides of the cabinet for the mouse to come scurrying out, ready to whack it with his club. As he got closer he began to straighten up and peered around the side of the TV to where the mouse was hidden. It was still in the shadow of the corner but as he got closer he knew it wasn’t about to move, it was perfectly still. It was slightly shiny in places and with a quizzical look he realised as he leant in closer that it was a small child’s shoe. Slightly scuffed in places, he reached down and picked it up by one of its Velcro straps and turned it over in his hand.

He thought about the last time that a child had been in his flat and could remember none. He dropped the magazine and looked around the rest of the room. At first he noticed nothing different until he looked at the bottom of the couch he had been sitting on. Approaching slowly he noticed something red poking out from beneath it and went to pick it up. He pulled it from under the couch and as he did so realised it was a child’s dirty pair of dungarees, on the front there was a half torn off pocket.

He sat back down on the sofa thinking, he certainly hadn’t even been out of the flat in days, let alone been anywhere where he was likely to pick up children’s clothing. As he mulled it over he wondered about the deep sleep he had been getting and whether it would have been possible for someone to enter his flat without waking him. Thinking about his long hours and how tired he had been he realised it was certainly possible and indeed the only probable answer was that someone must have been into his apartment leaving behind the shoe and vest. Frantically he got up and rushed to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and started a thorough search of his apartment. He banged open cupboard doors, looked under the bed, in the wardrobe, anywhere a person could fit, waiting for someone to creep up behind him. By the time he had finished he had calmed down and sat on the sofa and considered how they must have broken in whilst he was asleep. He got up and checked the front door and windows which appeared undamaged and locked, although they were old steel framed windows which were easy enough to open. Tired again after his search and feeling unable to do any work he turned on the TV. His wits feeling frazzled but calmer, he slept.

He had barely slept again that night, he had sat on the couch dozing, waking at the slightest sound and looking around and listening for any sign of an intruder. At nine am he dressed, sat at the kitchen table and drank two cups of coffee, smoked five cigarettes and tried to deliberate on some course of action. He decided to go down to see his landlord who lived on the bottom floor of the block and explain that he suspected his flat had been broken into and proceed from there.

Wilson answered the door looking as if he had just woken up. What little hair he had was sticking up on top and was flattened down on one side. Although he must have only been about forty five years old he looked at least sixty, his slight frame lost in his oversize pyjamas. Krantzen had lived in the block for five years but beyond the odd neighbourly greeting, had only spoken to Wilson all of three times. After Wilson had wiped his glasses and put them on Krantzen proceeded to tell him that he thought that someone had broken into his flat and that he thought it was Wilson’s responsibility to provide extra security on windows and doors.

“But how do you know that somebody has been in there?” Wilson asked, sounding reasonable.

“There were things left in my flat which I know I didn’t bring in,” Krantzen said. “And things have been moved around.”

“So it’s not as if you had even been burgled. Nothing has been stolen; in fact you claim that things have been left?” Wilson said sceptically.

“Look, I am telling you that someone has broken into my flat on more than one occasion and it’s your responsibility to secure the property!”

“Well when you actually get burgled for real come down and see me and I’ll make it tighter than fort Knox.”

Wilson grinned and with that he slammed his door leaving Krantzen standing there feeling angry and dejected.

He went back up to his apartment and considered calling the police but imagined they would have the same attitude as Wilson. Sitting there he suddenly remembered he had an appointment with Mark Paradakis in an hours’ time and after checking all of the doors and windows left the house in a hurry.

Krantzen sat on the bus staring out of the window but he couldn’t focus his mind onto the meeting with Paradakis. He was way behind schedule after all the sleepless nights and worry and couldn’t seem to remember exactly what he was supposed to have done and how to explain to Paradakis that he was behind with the work. He decided he would have to tell him that he was slightly behind but reassure him there was no problem and the deadline would be met. To try to relax he picked up the newspaper on the seat beside him and tried to concentrate on the celebrity stories and articles on the economy in front of him but couldn’t seem to get interested until, going towards the front of the newspaper a photograph caught his eye.

The photograph was of a boy standing beside a small scooter, smiling into the camera wearing a bright red pair of dungarees with a large pocket on the front. Above the photo was the headline: “Authorities Appeal for Help in Finding Missing Boy”. The article told how the boy had gone missing three days ago whilst out riding his scooter, nobody had seen anything and the police had no leads to go on. The boys’ home was only a mile from Krantzen’s flat. Looking up Krantzen realised he had gone past his stop but staring at the red dungarees he panicked. He wanted to get to his flat as soon as possible. Getting up quickly he got off the bus at the next stop and flagged down a taxi to get back home.

He got out of the taxi and hurried up to his front door and opening it quietly stepped inside. He stood listening for a few seconds before moving through to the living room. Everything seemed to be where it should be although there did seem to be more rubbish than he remembered, but he just couldn’t be sure, at the moment he was exhausted. If there was a child hiding somewhere though there would be more places to look than on his previous search.

He suddenly thought of the small empty cupboard in the corner of the kitchen – not big enough for an adult, but a child could get in and hide there. He walked through and switched on the overhead strip light so that he would be able to see into the small space. Krantzen knelt down by the cupboard and slowly opened the door. At first he could see only blackness then, as his eyes adjusted he could make out what looked to be a crouched, huddled figure right at the back of the sloping cupboard. He called to the figure but received no answer and it didn’t seem to move. He quickly went and got the torch from the kitchen draw and flicking it on shined it to the back of the cupboard. What he saw made him reel backwards onto his backside.

The naked boy had been wedged into the back of the cupboard at an impossible angle, his head was at the bottom, twisted on a broken neck, eyes open wide staring at Krantzen sightlessly. The body was doubled up on itself but the wrong way round as if the back had been broken. Krantzen kicked the door shut and scooted backward into the corner of the kitchen, staring wildly around for any sign of danger. Fear gripped him and his mind searched frantically for some explanation of what he had just seen. He rose and ran over to the other side of the kitchen and grabbed a large carving knife from the block. He held it up in front of him, his eyes searching the room for movement.

Standing there with the knife held tightly in his fist he could hear movement coming from the living room, it sounded to Krantzen as if someone was ripping the room apart, flinging around everything they could find. He lifted the knife up and stood there ready, the fear in his stomach making him perfectly willing to stick the cold, long blade into whoever came through the door.

He felt a breeze which was steadily growing stronger whipping beneath the gap under the kitchen door. The living room door suddenly crashed open and Krantzen was terrified to see crisp packets, bottles, hair and take away cartons whirling around furiously, coming towards him and twisting together into a shape. In the middle of which was the pair of dungarees which looked to be lashing out towards his face. His mind seemed unable to comprehend what he was seeing and in his shock he dropped the knife which went clattering to the floor. As the twisted shape grew larger Krantzen dropped to the floor and putting his hands over his head, tucked it between his knees. The shape grew nearer until it was upon him, cans and bottles cutting into him, lacerating his hands and head. Krantzen could feel warm blood trickling through his fingers and into his eyes but he only began screaming as the red fabric wound itself around his neck.

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