A gentle breeze blew the odor of the rehab over Lee’s face. It tugged at him gently, and enticed the intrepid trio deeper into the unknown. The breeze felt like the soft touch of fate, somewhere between a caress and a heavy hand. Once it touched them, they needed to know more.
Wonky and Neil led the way into the dark corridor while Lee cautiously followed several footsteps behind. He felt like a sheep in a moonlit field. After several long minutes, he glanced over his shoulder. The hole in the store room wall shrank to a mere pinprick. They were out. He didn’t feel frightened, but a sense of inevitability and remorse tugged at his guts. His stomach gurgled, as if trying to tell him something in its guttural language.
Neil was the first to speak.
“I once had a cat called Molly, but sometimes used to call it different names. She liked to go on adventures. I loved her, but sometimes she’d try and scratch my eyes out. Sometimes we hurt the people we love. That’s what happened to Jesus.”
“Jesus Christ,” tutted Wonky.
“Yeah, him,” Neil replied, as usual not grasping Wonky’s sarcasm. “Molly once ran into the back door of a restaurant during a baking show. She caused quite a kerfuffle. It was in our local newspaper.”
The path got progressively steeper. They slowed to a cautious crawl. The air was heavy, and the darkness pressed around them, thick as sewage. The gravel underfoot crunched like the celeriac they should’ve been chopping.
As they went deeper, the temperature cooled. Lee caught a brief shiver. They were all wearing the regulation rehab chefs’ whites. Most unsuitable for underground adventures. If they’d been descending Everest they’d have frozen their arses off in record time.
“Fuck me,” muttered Lee. They looked like a gang of pricks, for sure.
Neil’s sandals lost their grip and he skidded on the path. Evidently, they were not designed for off-road mystery adventuring. He was lucky not to fall arse over tit.
“Woo, man!” he hooted as he spread his arms out, barely keeping his balance.
His cry was answered by a perfectly formed echo. It was too perfect, as if recorded and mixed in a music studio.
“Rehab!” Lee couldn’t resist joining in.
REHAB—Rehab—rehab . . .
Wonky Lee was next. He cleared his throat.
He tried once more.
“Your echo will only come back if it’s gonna return,” said Neil.
“That makes no sense whatsoever,” said Lee.
“Fuck off, Neil,” Wonky Lee spat. “Echoes are knobs anyway, fuck ‘em!”
Wonky sounded genuinely pissed off at not getting his echo. Lee glanced at him. He was blinking hard, looking like he had tears in his eyes.
“You alright, mate?”
“Yeah, course. Just got some fucking dirt in my eye.”
He was obviously lying. Something had upset him. But he couldn’t be shedding tears over a stupid echo, could he?
Lee didn’t have time to ponder the missing echo or Wonky’s tears because a minute later, they found themselves at the bottom of the path. But as they did, a sense of sadness began to fill Lee’s mind, like heavy drops of rain. Lee took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He pushed back against the feeling. By the time he opened his eyes, the fear was gone.
At the bottom of the path, several lamps cast a dim light on the walls of a wet, damp cave.
A pond covered its floor, absolutely still, without a ripple. There were no goldfish, rocks, or water features. It was no wider than a couple of jacuzzi tubs. Lee had a flashback to a heavy drugs-and-sex session he’d had once. A couple of Russian hookers in a gold jacuzzi. It brought a smile to his face and he was about to go into a full reminiscence but then remembered that he was in a secret underground cave below a rehab in the English countryside with Wonky Lee and Neil Neil orange peel. Not exactly the time or place for a trip in a sexy time machine.
The water in the pool was stagnant but extremely clear. There were two paths at each end of the cave. Several stalagmites hung from the ceiling. A single drop of water fell from one. It landed in the pond and was absorbed soundlessly, not making any fuss.
Lee walked to the pond and dipped his hand in. The water was alkaline and smooth. When he wriggled his fingers, the movement caused no ripples. To his surprise, the water was pleasantly warm, like a Sunday evening bath. For a moment, his thoughts stopped racing around his head. He peered into the water. The water was odourless and in it he could see the reflection of the cave’s ceiling, clear as a mirror.
As his eyes adjusted, Lee saw something that stole his breath away. His gasp was snatched right out of his throat. He was looking at his own face, he thought. But then it wasn’t his face. Not at all. The person he saw reflected in the pond was Lee but not Lee. He saw an extremely sick-looking rendition of himself. He looked worse than he had been when he started rehab. This other self looked gaunt and scared. His cheekbones protruded.
Was he looking at his past, or his future? Suddenly, Lee’s destiny felt uncertain, out of his hands. He was scared. He heard the old siren song of heroin. He suddenly wished he was jumping off the Tube at Bethnal Green so that he could walk through the park and onto the corner of Library Road. He’d have the baggie in his hands in under five minutes. Yes, this was his future. But it was bleak.
Lee looked over his shoulder at Wonky for reassurance, hoping his friend would guide him back to safety. He suddenly felt like a stranger. Were these his friends? The strange face floated in the water, just beside his hand.
"You alright, mate? What's wrong?"
Lee didn't answer. He stood and walked to one end of the cave, where he knelt. He pressed his hands over his eyes, desperate to focus his gaze on something less haunting. Something had crept in through his soft edges. Something had shifted. He felt like he was bleeding from an old wound that had reopened suddenly, leaking blood into the spaces between his organs. He looked up. Hundreds of names were scratched into the wall. Prehistoric graffiti with a rough edge.
Had he known them before? These were names that reminded Lee of old school friends or people that had passed through his life at one stage or another. Old associates, lovers and foes. Perhaps they were people who had come through the rehab, he thought. In the middle of the names, one word stood out. It was larger than all the other names, carved deeply into the soft wall of the cave.
As Lee’s eyes traced over it, he felt the soles of his feet were being pricked with small, hot needles. The sensation traveled through him until the same needles were plucking at his veins.
He felt himself pitch forward. Nothing could save him.
Nothing but Neil, that is. He came bouncing toward the pond, stark-bollock-naked. Neil's swinging penis cast an impressive shadow on the wall of the cave. Neil turned his nose up and struck an advanced yoga pose before jumping into the water.
He sat in the pond with his legs spreadeagled. He started to sing. Lee recognized the song: Fleetwood Mac. “Go Your Own Way.”
Loving youIsn't the right thing to doHow can IEver change things that I feel
If I couldMaybe I'd give you my worldHow can IWhen you won't take it from me
You can go your own wayGo your own wayYou can call itAnother lonely dayYou can go your own wayGo your own way
“I ended up in this rehab because I came from a mental hospital.” Neil cupped some water into his hands and threw it over his head. Playing like this, he looked younger. The world’s problems were no longer weighing on him.
“I ended up taking heroin because it shut my head up. I could see things that others couldn’t. Like when those planes came crashing down in America. I saw it happen weeks before. When that little boy got murdered in Essex, I saw it happen. When that little girl went missing in Portugal, I knew it was going to happen. I always know what’s coming. Do you know what a headfuck that is, knowing the future? It’s always related to death and destruction. I can’t handle shit like this. So now I’m on as much medication as I can get because it shuts my head up. If I can’t have heroin, the doctor’s drugs will have to do.”
Wonky and Lee looked at each other. Lee shrugged and made an awkward shape with his mouth. Wonky replied with a single word.
“Well.” He looked around theatrically side to side.
“Awkward,” responded Lee.
“It’s not awkward, it’s my reality,” replied Neil. “What is really awkward is I can foresee what’s going to happen between you two.”
“What I can foresee, you crank, is that I’m going to add my name to the wall.” Wonky walked over to the wall, bent down, and picked up a sharp-edged rock. He began to scrape the first letters of his name into the stone. ‘Wonky Lee,’ set for immortality alongside the other names.
There was a flutter behind him. A small bird how somehow gotten into the cave. A swallow. It flew in a tight circle above the three of them, then dove down. Its wings nearly skimmed the surface of the pond. In a flicker, it was gone—back the way it came.
Neil looked towards Lee.
“Those names are all people that have died,” he said. “That is the wall of death.”
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