On a bus, everyone can hear you scream. And everyone can smell the stench of shit on board – whereabouts unsure, animal provenance unknown, situation unclear. So it was this morning on the 9.44 to Bakewell.
The girl opposite me stared down at her phone the whole way, neck arched over, head hanging heavily on the ligaments. Three middle-aged ladies talked about a fourth who wasn’t with them. They hated her. She didn’t know, but now I do.
The sunlight splashed in through the safety glass. I was tired. At 4.13am a drunk couple had woken me up arguing in the street outside my house. I couldn’t make out the cause, or the solution. It took a while to die down in the dingy orange of streetlight mock safety as they walked down the steep hill away from my home. I couldn’t go back to sleep.
Dawn hadn’t yet started. I did my ritual – downstairs, sockets on, cold drink from the fridge, heating on, back upstairs for a piss. It was a normal weekday morning. There hadn’t been any nightmares, no groans from the ether, no religious visitations. And I hadn’t even begun to consider my mental health. Too early for any of that.
About ten seconds into relieving myself, a penny flew through the doorway and onto the floor of the bathroom where it rolled around and stopped near my feet. Just like that. Seemingly thrown out of the gloom at the top of the stairs. I stopped pissing and said ‘Hello,’ like there would be anyone, or anything, replying. It seemed the polite thing to do.
I don’t believe in ghosts – I believe in mental illness – but I picked the penny up warily and turned it around in my hands. The coin was real enough. I’d seen it fly through the air, too, then watched it roll round on its edge and stop at my feet. I wondered for a second if I had an intruder. Nah. No-one would be that desperate – not even a glue sniffer would be getting many laughs from breaking into my house, especially if they knew I lived there; kicking a rabid dog in the dark is nobodies idea of fun. What threw the coin?
I tried to remain calm, and manly. I was on my own, so screaming would be ok. I didn’t make a sound, but I did clench my fists as I walked over to the top of the stairs and looked down. I half expected another penny to be thrown at me out of the darkness. I have watched horror films; I know the way these things go. Before you know it, there are winners and losers – and men with sedative drugs and a van. And nobody believes your story. Downstairs, the house was quiet. I went and took my medication and thought about faces pressed up against the window, and mocking laughter, thumps upstairs, a rap on a wall, until I felt the warm glow of pharmaceutical exorcism.
The first light over the hillside clawed into the night but I kept the lamp on anyhow. Hedging your bets is always appropriate in every given situation. Dog tired. Confused. Unsure of who makes the next step. An hour passed; merciful daylight and increasing traffic outside, all unaware of the supernatural battle going on: good v evil; the paranoid guy with no answers still clutching a penny in his hand like a dead rat, watching for movement.