Someone else knows I’m here.
I take a step back, shut my eyes, and attempt to take stock of what’s going on. Outside the window, I can hear the sound of birds singing, which tells me I am a fair way from home. No-one ever hears birdsong in central London. I don’t even know whether or not I came here voluntarily. I know nothing – that is the huge and insurmountable problem I face at the moment. I am in a strange room next to the headless corpse of the woman I still love, with a sign telling me to press play on the DVD player. I feel a sudden burst of panic, which I have to fight down ruthlessly. I need to hold myself together. Different emotions – revulsion, shock, grief at the loss of a loved one – come at me with the force of explosions, but I was a soldier for fifteen years and I’m trained to remain calm in tense situations, and to deal with events rationally.
I take a series of deep breaths, trying to clear my head. I need to remember how we got here, and why we came.
I think so hard it hurts. I concentrate like a contestant on a game show one answer away from a million with the answer on the tip of my tongue, the effort draining what little strength I have. But still nothing comes back. My last memory is watching a documentary about global warming on the TV with a takeaway Chinese meal: squid in black bean sauce with egg fried rice. It had tasted greasy, and I didn’t finish it. I was alone. I seem to recall that Leah was seeing friends that night. As an ex-soldier, I tend to like routine, and I almost always have takeaways on a Wednesday, so I’m guessing this was when it was. But it doesn’t help a lot, because I don’t know what day it is today.
I feel the back of my head. There’s no tenderness on the skin, no tell-tale lumps, so I haven’t been hit over the head. This means I’ve been drugged, and with something powerful enough that I wouldn’t bat an eyelid while Leah, who was a fit young woman, was slaughtered only inches away from me.
I shut my eyes, fighting off another wave of nausea. When I open them again, I find my gaze returning to Leah’s body. The blood on her neck wound has coagulated, and the thick patches on the sheets are also drying. She died some time ago, then, two or three hours at least, probably longer, and for the first time I notice the smell in the room, the vague sour odour of faeces and decay that lingers round the recently dead like a humiliating farewell.
Standing there in the dim, leaden silence, it feels as if I’ve stepped into the middle of someone else’s nightmare.
But I’m wrong. As I crouch down and press the play button, I am about to find out that this is my nightmare. And it’s only just beginning.