The Silver Collar: Chapter One

Posted on October 6, 2007

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1. Saturday June 1st 1996

‘Iris, when you asked if I’d help out on a saucy photo shoot involving you and your twin this wasn’t what I had in mind.’

Iris smiled. ‘Yeah, yeah, stop complaining and get your clothes off.’

Alfie took off his jacket – brown leather, nicely beaten up – and held it out. Iris took it and watched while he started to unbutton his shirt. He wore that particular shirt – or one like it – a lot. It was pale blue. The material was a kind of textured cotton that Iris knew was unbelievably soft and delicious to touch. All her memories were woven into that fabric. Usually this shade of blue against his skin made it look beautiful – sweet as caramel. But tonight, he was more than just beautiful. Beyond. It was dark, the moon was out, and the skin Alfie was revealing – as he popped button after button – shimmered. Like magic.

Alfie shivered. ‘Why am I doing this, again?’

”Cause you’re a nice guy.’

‘Oh, am I now. Seriously, it’s cold out here. Why am I doing this? Why am I stripping off in a park in the middle of the night?’ He’d got all the buttons undone now and he let the shirt fall off his shoulders and bunch at his elbows. Iris glanced away for a moment and when she looked back, he was smirking. ‘Well?’

‘Well what?’

‘Aren’t you listening to me? What could be distracting you? Could it possibly be my half-naked self? I said, “why am I doing this?”‘

‘You’re doing this because I asked you nicely. And Matt’s my twin which did funny stuff to your perverted brain.’

‘When you told me that I did think you meant, like, a girl twin.’

‘I know.’ Iris smiled, looking at him. She couldn’t stop looking at him. ‘Well you have the right kind of look for his photographs. I mean, your arms, for example, you have nice arms.’ Iris reached out and nearly touched his bicep, but stopped before her fingers made contact. She noticed Alfie looking at her hand hovering in mid-air. Iris pulled it away.

‘You’re wrong,’ Alfie said quietly. ‘Those are all reasons. But they aren’t the real reason why I’m doing this. And you know that.’

Iris held his gaze.

From beyond the trees Matt shouted. ‘Are you done yet? I’m all set up here.’

Alfie shouted back, ‘Is it just shirtless? You don’t want me to take my jeans off?’ And he looked Iris right in the eye as he spoke, so it felt exactly as if he was asking her how naked he should be.

Matt shouted back, ‘Nah. Keep them on for now.’

‘Okay, I’ll just be a minute.’

Alfie always wore a silver ring on the little finger of his left hand. It used to be his grandmother’s eternity ring. When he brought his hand up and touched Iris’s cheek, the ring glittered in the moonlight. ‘I’m doing this for you, Iris, because you wanted me to.’

Iris nodded.

‘And I’m doing it because it means I get to spend time with you. I wanted to talk to you. Alone.’

When he said that, Iris pulled away from his hand, ‘Alfie…’

‘Iris, I’m sorry, please, can’t we give it another go? You and me, we were really something together. I know I messed up. I know I messed up really, really badly. I wish I could say that I didn’t know what I was doing or that it was a moment of madness. But it wasn’t. It was a moment of stupidity. But, Iris, I am so, so sorry and if I could turn back time or something, god, but… Please, Iris, give me one more chance and I promise I will never, ever do anything to hurt you again. I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll make it up to you every single day.’

Iris dropped his gaze and looked down at the ground. It was wetland out here – a flood plain. The ground was really boggy and her shoes were filthy.

‘Please Iris. You did say you liked my arms.’

Iris swallowed. ‘Okay,’ she said, quietly.

‘Yes! God. Thank you.’ Alfie darted forward – a sudden hurricane of desire. He whirled Iris around so she was pressed up against a tree; the bark patterning her skin through her thin coat. His mouth was so tight, so hard on hers. His big bare chest was hot and smooth even through her clothes. Her feet were off the ground.

Her answering passion was every bit as strong, every bit as relieved. She ran her hands over the back of his head and twisted her fingers in his hair in a way that always used to make him gasp and cry out in bed.

Then – too soon – a voice right beside them said, ‘For goodness sake, are the model and the costume girl making out already? Put her down, Alfie.’

Iris opened one eye. Matt was all head-cocked, arms-crossed, foot-a-tapping.

She really didn’t care.

*

A little later Matt had Alfie posed sprawled across a fallen tree trunk. He was on his back. He’d got his eyes closed and one hand resting on his flat stomach. Matt was trying to persuade him to undo the first couple of buttons of his jeans so he could slip his hand inside and touch himself a little.

Alfie opened one eye, ‘What sort of photos are these?’

‘It’s art, darling,’ said Matt. ‘Classy. Black and white.’

‘Oh go on, Alfie,’ Iris called. She’d climbed up a tree a little way away and was nestled in its branches, watching. Basking in her own happy little glow. She caught Alfie’s eye. ‘Just touch it, model boy,’ she shouted.

‘Not you too,’ Alfie called, tipping his head back to look up at her. ‘Is this a perversion that runs in the family, then?’

Iris shouted back an affirmative and Alfie laughed. She and Matt had talked about the plans for this shoot. She knew a few things that Alfie didn’t yet. Like Matt’s prop bag containing oil and ropes and a blindfold. Matt had shown her a picture he referred to as ‘inspiration’, of a beautiful half-naked man tied to a tree in the moonlight. As she thought about Matt recreating that image with Alfie, she squirmed a little against the bark. God, he looked amazing down there. The fallen tree, his skin, the moonlight on him. Alfie. His eyes were still on hers. They were both still laughing.

And then she looked over at Matt. And she saw it. A dark shape in the trees. Huge. Moving. Prowling through the long grass and bushes behind him. Some kind of animal.

She screamed. Then they all screamed.

There was a noise as it attacked. A growl. A snarl. A roar. The place where Matt had been standing was shadowy. Too dark. Hidden by trees. Iris couldn’t see. But she could hear. And all she could hear was Matt screaming.

Then there was a flash. Matt’s camera. Suddenly Iris saw everything. A frozen image. Jaws. Claws. Fur. Blood and bone. Matt’s face hardly a face at all.

And then the light was gone and Iris’s couldn’t see anything at all.

Noises. The creature was running away through the park, startled, dragging something: Matt.

‘Stay there. Don’t come down. Stay up there.’ It was Alfie shouting.

‘Alfie! No!’ Iris’s voice sounded strange.

Alfie was already running away from her in the direction the creature had taken Matt. ‘Stay there,’ he shouted again.

‘What are you going to do?’

Alfie didn’t respond and didn’t look back. Iris had no intention of staying in the tree and started to climb down. As she climbed she peered into the dark, trying to see what was happening. But Alfie had disappeared into darkness. She could hear him shouting though. And some screaming. Matt screaming. And then Alfie. And then nothing.

As soon as she got both feet on the ground, she saw Alfie running back towards her.

He grabbed her wrist as he ran, pulling her along behind him, heading out of the park and away from where the creature had gone with Matt. She only just managed to keep her footing as he yanked her over the pitted ground.

‘What about Matt?’

Alfie didn’t stop moving, but he sort of half turned so he was running sideways and part-way looking at her. ‘It’s just… He’s…’

Iris turned to look in the direction the animal had dragged Matt. ‘Don’t,’ Alfie shouted, ‘don’t look back.’

Iris turned. Alfie had his back to her, running and dragging her with him. It was then that Iris saw his naked left shoulder was covered in blood.

With Alfie’s big hand tight on her wrist, Iris ran with him through the park. Eventually they hit the quiet little residential street that led from the parks up to Marston road. It was late evening. The street was quiet. Alfie leant up against a street light for support, bent double, breathing hard. ‘Iris…’

In the circle orange light, Iris could see him properly.

The wound on his shoulder was more than a tear. There was a gap there. A missing hunk of his flesh. The raw meat of his shoulder was glinting orange and red under the street lamp. His back was covered in blood now.

A huge chunk of his flesh was actually gone. Bitten away.

Alfie fell right down onto the sodium-lit pavement, half unconscious.

*

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