Chapter 5 from the Ama audiobook
Jason’s house was a modest three bedroom semi-detached, with a short cracked concrete drive at the front leading to a small garage. There was just enough room on the drive for his small car, just enough room in the garage for two bikes, a lawn mower, and other disorganised junk. A square of plain suburban lawn next to the drive was overlooked by the living room window.
He knelt, head in hands, on the short grass in his garden, unaware that he no longer cowered upon the floor of the old pub, the sudden transference from there to here happening without motion or recognisable moment.
“What’s happening to me?” he asked the palms of his hands.
His eyes shot open at the sound of his daughter’s excited voice. “Emily?”
Emily stood in the open doorway to the house, the soft flicks of her long auburn hair framing a glorious smile alight on her face. She bounced on the spot, her bright yellow summer dress fluttering as she moved, waving her hands with infectious vivacity. His heart jumped at the sight of his beautiful daughter, and then plummeted again with the realisation that her excitement wasn’t for him.
“Hello, Angel,” a familiar voice called out to her.
The voice came from behind, and he wanted to turn and look to see who had called to his daughter, but he already knew. To Jason’s growing confusion, he recognised the voice as his own. He heard the sound of a car door close behind him, and a moment later a man walked across the grass in front of him. A doppelgänger, exact in every minute detail: looks, voice and troubled demeanour. He watched himself take Emily’s hand and continued to watch in dumbfounded silence as they both walked into the house together.
His mind flashed back to the day when events had resulted in the death of his daughter, a moment in time that had been burned into his memory. She had worn that yellow dress then, too. He remembered something else about the dress though: it was covered in her blood. But she’s alive, he thought. Here and now, Emily is alive. The dress is yellow, with no blood. Unblemished. Just a happy shade of yellow. And, thank God, she is alive. He jumped to his feet, determined to keep his daughter the way she looked right now, and ran for the front door.
“Wait! Baby, wait.” He reached the door and grabbed for the handle to open it again, but before his hand could touch anything more substantial than air, he found himself standing in his old kitchen. “What the hell?”
“Oh dear, what’s happening now?” Lilith said with a giggle from the other side of the kitchen’s central dining table. She was no longer naked. Instead, she was wearing an exact copy of his daughter’s yellow summer dress. “Do you like it, Daddy?” She moved her hands suggestively over the material.
The sight of this demonic creature wearing his daughter’s dress, while deriding him with perversion, enraged him. He looked at her with disdain.
“Well of course you do,” she continued. “As much as you’d hate to admit it. Eat, shit and fuck. And when you’re not doing any of those things, you’re killing each other. You glimpse the splendour of life, but all you know and want to know is death. You are stupid, selfish creatures. The gift is wasted on you.”
“We are what we are… Gift? What are you talking about? What gift?”
“What. What. What. Nothing but questions, with answers you wouldn’t understand. Life! Life is what I refer to, Jason. Soon I’ll show you what life is, and what your actions have done, but for now we must watch your defining moment again.”
“Why have I got to see this? How will this help anything? Unless it’s for your sadistic enjoyment.”
“Sadistic enjoyment? No, that comes later. Think of this as a seed, a seed you planted, from which the flowers will grow. You did it once in His world, now you must do it again in mine.”
“Yes, flowers. My flowers.”
Jason’s attention became drawn to raised voices coming from the living room. He could hear his wife shouting at his past-self. He remembered the silly argument he and his wife had had that day. He felt sick when he remembered that Emily had died a short time afterwards; she had less than an hour to live. Could he stop this from happening again? Was he being given a chance to put things right? Was this some kind of a fucked-up Scrooge moment?
Jason rushed through the kitchen’s open door and into the hallway. In a second he reached the archway leading into the living room. He stood at the entrance to the living room, looking at the back of his doppelgänger. Zoe was screaming at him, animated in her violent rage. Waving her arms and jabbing a finger at him. Emily sat cross-legged on the oversized black leather sofa, watching in bewildered horror as her mum exploded at her daddy.
“You fucking waste of good air,” Zoe screamed, as she jabbed a finger into the doppelgänger’s chest. “How could you forget? Fuck! One thing. I asked you to get one damn, bastard thing!” She turned her stabbing finger into a fist and slammed it into his nose.
Jason lifted a hand to his own nose. Although his past-self took the hit this time, he remembered how it had felt. Zoe hadn’t broken it, but it had brought tears to his eyes and a slight trickle of blood from both nostrils.
“Jesus, Zoe. It’s just garlic. Calm down,” the doppelgänger said, clutching a hand to his nose.
“Calm down… Just garlic… How the bastering fuck am I going to make bolognese without garlic? Well? How? You stupid shit.”
Emily held out her hand with an offering. “Mum, look. I made this for you.”
Jason looked across at Emily. In her tiny open hand lay a bracelet formed from entwined buttercups. Her hand was shaking.
“I used buttercups because they match my dress,” Emily said with tentative enthusiasm.
Jason remembered what was about to come next, so he moved back and away from the archway—attempting to open doors had whipped him from the garden to the kitchen in an instant, God knows what would happen if he dared to touch one of the living. The living? This all happened years ago, and two of the “living” were now dead. The other one watched himself in the past. What the hell is going on?
Zoe snatched up the flower bracelet. She looked at it with cold eyes, closed her fist around it, and then threw the crumpled flowers at the doppelgänger. “Maybe I’ll use that instead of garlic.”
“Okay, that’s enough.” The doppelgänger grabbed Zoe by the wrist and, before she had time to protest, dragged her from the living room.
A moment later they both stood in the hallway by the kitchen door. He had tried to take her to the kitchen and keep the rising conflict between them away from their frightened daughter’s eyes and ears. But Zoe had pulled away from his grip.
Once free, Zoe continued her verbal barrage. “What are you going to do now, fuckwit, hit me? Now you’re out of earshot of your precious little Angel.”
“No! No, of course I’m not. What the hell, Zoe?”
“No, of course you won’t. Because you’re too much of a fucking wuss. I will, though. I’ll cut your motherfucking throat when you’re asleep.”
“Shit, Zoe. You don’t know what you’re saying. Look, just try to relax. I’ll go to the shop and get garlic, and a bottle of wine. I’ll get that really good one, you know, the same one we had at the restaurant on your birthday. Can’t pronounce the name,” the doppelgänger snorted a nervous laugh, “but I remember what the label looks like. Please, Zoe, we’ll sort this out.”
Zoe looked at him without expression; the cogs freezing for a moment before the machinery in her head turned once more. “Okay, that would be nice. Don’t be too long though.”
She turned and walked into the kitchen, leaving the doppelgänger standing in the hallway looking perplexed and, as Jason remembered, scared for his wife, their marriage and any possible future they might have together. But not for a second had he thought she could harm Emily. Or maybe he had refused to believe that she could do such a thing.
“Don’t leave,” Jason said to his doppelgänger. “Don’t you fucking leave Emily alone with that evil bitch. Not again.” He watched as his mirror image walked down the hallway towards him.
“I’ll be as quick as possible,” the doppelgänger called over his shoulder.
Jason backed up against the front door and watched as his past-self entered the living room once more.
“What’s wrong with mummy?”
The doppelgänger leaned over and picked up the scattered petals from the floor. “It was a lovely gift,” he said, kneeling down in front of Emily. “I’ll give it to mummy later, when she’s feeling better.”
“It’s broken now.”
“I’ll fix it, don’t worry.”
“Okay, Dad.” She looked at her hands. “Was it me? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, Angel. Mummy just needs lots of love at the moment, that’s all. Lots of cuddles from her little miss, too. But it wasn’t anything you did. Don’t ever think that.” With delicate hands, he placed the flower bracelet in the breast pocket of his shirt.
“No, not again,” Jason said, with tears in his eyes.
“Can I come with you?” Emily asked, already getting to her feet.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the doppelgänger wrapped his arms around Emily’s tiny body, and then stood, lifting his giggling daughter with him.
“Okay, Angel. Why not.”
Jason watched as his mirror image held Emily in his arms. He tried to reason the moment. Another man was embracing his daughter. But it’s not another man, it’s you, Jason. Just you from another time, a time before your world fell apart.
“Can I buy some sweets, Dad?”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he joked. “Have you got enough money?”
“D-a-d.” Emily grew a mischievous grin and then buried her head into the doppelgänger’s neck.
Although Jason could do nothing but watch as his daughter snuggled with his past-self, he felt her embrace as he once had. The memory made it real for him again. Jason could smell her soft hair against his face. He could feel her warm breath on his neck.
“Sure, Angel. We’ll get some sweets.” He headed for the door with Emily in his strong arms. Hercules and the entire British Army couldn’t have pulled her away from his embrace. But Zoe was a different matter.
“Keep going. Don’t stop,” Jason said. His memory kept reminding him of how his world would soon fall away beneath him.
“Hang on there, you two,” Zoe called from the kitchen. “I need little miss to stay here with me. She can help me in the kitchen. You want to help me with dinner, Em?”
Emily squeezed her father’s cheeks and pulled his face closer to her own. When their noses touched, she closed her eyes and said, “Sure, Mum.” She pursed her lips and wrinkled up her little nose.
The doppelgänger tried to hide a laugh.
Jason’s eyes clouded over and then ran with tears.
He lowered Emily to the ground. “I won’t be long, Angel.”
She looked up at her father with excited eyes. “You’ll still get the sweets, won’t you, Dad?”
“Don’t worry, I will. Be good for your mum while I’m gone, okay.” He turned, opened the front door and left.
“No-No-No. Stop!” Jason reached for the handle of the door, then stopped himself, turned, and made a grab for Emily. His fingers touched the fabric of her dress as he heard the front door shut and its lock click into place behind him. For a moment, he believed he could stop his daughter from walking towards the kitchen and certain death. That belief disappeared in an instant when his muscles seized up and an excruciating lightning bolt of pain shot through his entire body. Jason fell, paralysed, to the floor. He lay, unmoving on the floor, with eyes wide and fixed, and watched as Emily disappeared into the kitchen.
Lilith stepped into Jason’s field of vision. She looked down at him and then moved to stand over and astride his rigid body. As she studied him, her body pulsated. A few moments later the pulsing stopped. She sighed and then looked at him with a wide smile. “Look, don’t touch. They can’t see or hear you, and you can’t change anything. If you try to interfere again, this pain will return. But, you should also know that the pain will increase tenfold with the next digression, and I don’t want you to die again just yet. Now, shall we go and watch some motherly love?”
Die again? he thought, as the pain relented and his muscles came back to life. Am I dead or what?
“You can and will die many times before I’m done with you, Jason.”
Is this bitch hearing everything that goes on in my head?
“Your thoughts are mine to hear and your deeds mine to view. Past and present, your wasted life is an open book for me. Now, your daughter’s death is about to be served up. Let’s go see.”