Aidan went to bed unblemished and woke in the morning branded.
After a less than restful night’s sleep he got out of bed too early and bad-tempered. Also, his belly itched. He scratched through his t-shirt, thinking he’d been bitten by something. Pulling off the t-shirt, he looked down to see a word written across his stomach.
Upside-down from the world’s point of view, and scrawled in shaky handwriting as if it was written with a quill pen in iron-gall ink, was the word ‘Liar’ inscribed on his flesh. If it had been felt-tip he would have been less disturbed. He fled to the shower, pausing only to take a photo with his phone, for evidence. Lathering himself thoroughly, he rubbed and scrubbed at the word, but could not erase it.
At the office, the discomfort gnawed at him, he thought of reporting the incident to the police — it was an assault, after all — but feared they might laugh at him. Or worse, ask who thought he was a liar.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ Will asked, not disguising the resentment he felt. ‘Feeling the stress of your promotion?’
‘I had a bad night,’ Aidan replied coldly.
You see, he thought, I tell the truth, even to Will. Will, who openly told everyone in the office how little Aidan deserved his promotion.
At lunchtime he went to the Gents toilet, into a cubicle, and pulled up his shirt. His stomach was perfectly clean and word-free, but rather pink still from the early-morning scrubbing. Even so, for the rest of the day every time he might usually have lied, he was unable to. Instead his colleagues were greeted with an uncharacteristic awkward silence. They were used to a more aggressive style of bossing from him, especially since he took over from Al Matthews.
Matthews used to have a way of shredding people to dust if they failed to meet his exacting standards, which unfortunately tended to change from day to day, so there was no way to win.
Aidan made it to the end of the working day, and by then he had shaken off his reaction to the ‘dream thing’ as he was now thinking of it, and returned to his normal self.
The next morning he was again woken by a ferocious itching across his stomach. He did not want to look, but he had to.
This time he didn’t try to wash it off. He tried to ignore it, but he was again pushed into a bad mood, and he caught himself starting to talk to people just like Matthews used to. Apologising, he claimed illness and took the rest of the day off.
On his way to the lift, he passed the door to the stairs and was, as usual, treated to a vivid memory.
Matthews yelling at him.
‘Why isn’t this report done yet?’
‘I need more time—‘
‘You need a kick up the arse.’
‘if you want it done properly—‘
‘If I wanted it done properly, I’d hire someone else. So I will. You’re fired. Pack up your stuff and get out.’
‘You can’t— ‘
But Matthews had stormed off. Aidan followed him through the main office, trying to get him to listen, but with no success. There was no-one around to witness his humiliation. Everyone except him had gone home, while he stayed to finish that bloody report.
Matthews went to the stairs. He claimed that using the stairs instead of lazing in the lift helped to give him his drive. Aidan followed through the door. At the top of the stairs, Matthews turned to face him at last, but only to say, ‘Give it up Aidan. The sight of you begging is making me sick.’
Aidan gave the miserable bastard a forceful shove in the chest, and watched the result in strange slow time.
The look of astonishment on Matthews’ face as he fell backwards, the sound of him rolling out of control down two flights of stairs, the crack as his skull hit hard concrete. The expanding pool of blood around his crumpled, motionless form.
‘I didn’t mean to kill him,’ Aidan thought.
To every question the police asked — liar, liar. Verdict of accidental death, all lies. In the memorial speech he gave at Matthews’ funeral — liar, liar, liar. And the next morning, written on his body, liar in triplicate.
He realised that it would be like this for the rest of his life. Soon enough he would wake up every morning scrawled all over with his guilt, no clean spot of skin anywhere.
Now he stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at the concrete, scrubbed clean, but which should have a single word scrawled on it in blood.
He hardly heard the door open behind him, but he felt two hands thrust hard against his back. He flew, and turning in his flight he saw Will with a look of furious triumph on his face.
Did I look like that? he wondered, just before his skull shattered and all the wondering was over.