16 // ASH

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The faint scent of cigarette smoke filtered through the gap in the partly-open doorway.

The voice of a newsreader I couldn't stand, drifted in with the smoke, serving as nothing but background noise to the crack of bone and screams I could still hear.

I'd been staring at the doorway for a few minutes already, lying stone-still on sheets that had once been white, but now had that drab grey tinge of linen that had been washed too many times. The walls of the small room were ashen-paint, dulled by years of neglect and marred by a few smudged fingerprints around the doorframe. The only colour in the room came from the dark-red carpet tiles, worn and threadbare in places, and from the coral polish on my toenails and even that seemed muted, as if the lifeless grey was leeching what little brightness there was.

The double bed on which I lay curled on my side, took up most of the space. The only other piece of furniture was a small bedside cabinet, one of those cheap fibreboard units that looked as if the only thing keeping it together was a wing and a prayer and the fact it was wedged tight between the bed and the wall.

I was clutching the only pillow to my chest, my arms wrapped around it like it was a lifebelt, keeping me afloat. I didn't want to be awake, but when I closed my eyes I saw his – Davey's – wide, bulging pools of terror that told me I'd done this. I might as well have torn open his chest myself and cracked apart his rib cage with my bare hands. I'd brought death to his door. I'd brought death to them all.

It was the nausea that forced me to move in the end, and the incessant throbbing of my bladder which was bordering on pain. I knew it wouldn't hold off for much longer. The thought of that – the thought of ending up like Maggie Brogan, passed out after a four-day binge and stinking worse than Old Jimmy Keenan who used to piss himself as he slept on the park bench or any shop doorway he fell into – was the only thing that got me up off the bed. Even moving my head just a little, sent a surge of bile into my throat and my slow shuffle towards the door soon became a panicked scuttle, as I clapped my hand over my mouth and burst out into the hallway.

'Straight ahead,' a voice called out from the same room where the newsreader was still droning on.

Ethan.

I had no idea how he knew I needed the bathroom, but I was grateful for the directions when I saw the small, windowless room directly opposite.

Stumbling through the doorway, I collapsed onto my knees in front of the toilet bowl and heaved, throwing up nothing but a cocktail of acidic yellow vomit and water. By the time I'd finished, my throat burned and my stomach ached with the strain, my muscles angrily protesting at the effort. I hit the lever to flush and somehow managed to struggle to my feet, using the basin as support, where I rinsed out my mouth and spit several times to try and rid myself of the acrid taste.

When I was done, I turned back to use the toilet again, noting there was no lock on the door and I somehow ended up perched on the seat, with my body bent forward, desperately trying to guard the door. It was a futile attempt at defence considering I'd spent God knows how long passed out on the bed, when Ethan could have got up to all sorts without me knowing, but for some reason I still felt the need to bar the way, just in case. I flushed again and returned to the basin to wash my hands. The scream in my bladder had turned to a constant relentless moaning, but the after-effects of the Ketamine was the last of my worries.

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