September 2013 – side effects – Jonah by Simon Evans


by Simon Evans

My father parked at the top of the path like we always used to. We looked at each other grimly as we shut the doors of the hire car. I smiled bravely, a gesture which my father returned.

We started to walk down the path towards our old holiday home in silence. We were surrounded by thick Swiss forest. The sheer density and darkness of the woods had always unnerved me and even now – as an adult – the deep, dark, wooded gloom seemed to press all around me in a thick, dank disquiet. The smell of pine infused the cold late afternoon air. Our breath hung heavy. The only noise was the sound of our footsteps on the overgrown path.

“How are your side effects Dad?” I asked, jovially, trying my hardest to lighten the mood.

Since Jonah’s death Dad had been on an ever more complicated cocktail of anti-depressants. The family joke was that Dad had displayed pretty much every single side effect going – and he was still depressed! You name the side effect and he’d had it – dry mouth, agitation, insomnia, nausea, headache, tiredness and even mild tremors. I didn’t have the heart to ask whether he had a diminished libido too. That would have been a full house.

Dad just gave a wry smile. To tell the truth I wasn’t in a joking mood either. This was our first return to our holiday house since Jonah had killed himself here four years ago. My little brother had hung himself in his bedroom, aged thirteen. We were here to sort out some loose ends prior to putting the house on the market.

Jonah had been a quiet, sullen child but had become increasingly troubled as he neared and then entered his teens. Despite his almost permanent dark demeanour I’d liked him. We had got on fairly well. He was a bright, funny kid on the rare occasions when he forgot that he was supposed to be in a lifelong bad mood. During our last holiday here I had wandered into Jonah’s bedroom one morning to retrieve a book he had borrowed. I had found him hanging.

The impact on our family had been immense.

Mum had never recovered. She had withdrawn into herself and rarely spoke these days. My sister had gone off the rails and was travelling around Europe. We thought she was currently in Berlin but we couldn’t be sure. Dad had endured, but only just.

The house was coming into view through the trees. I was feeling distinctly uneasy.

The path brought us out into the open in front of the house. The old hunting lodge which had once been our happy place was now a tomb for our sorrow and regret.

Dad’s breathing was laboured. He placed his hand on my sleeve before he spoke.

“Can we wait here a moment? I just need to compose myself before we go in.”

Before I could answer I noticed Dad’s eyes widen as his mouth fell open. I followed his terrified gaze to one of the upstairs windows. It was the window of Jonah’s old bedroom. There was a face at the window. A pale, expressionless face – it was Jonah.

Jonah was looking at us from his old room.

“Oh Jesus. What the fuck?” was all I could say as I brought my hand up to my mouth as Dad’s grip tightened on my arm.

Suddenly Jonah was gone. I looked at Dad, he was looking back at me with a pleading expression.

A loud crash from the upstairs of the house shattered the quiet. Birds lifted like ash from the dusk.

Dad sank to his knees. The crashing inside the house continued. I heard what I thought was the back door being flung open. Out of sight in the garden it sounded like items were being thrown around with incredible force. I was whimpering. Dad knelt, open mouthed as the side gate to the garden burst open.

Jonah was framed in the doorway, which was set in a wall. He was hanging in mid-air, his arms hanging limply at his sides, his legs dangling lifelessly. He was dressed in the black t-shirt and jeans he was wearing when I had found him hanging. His eyes were sunk deep in his ashen white face which was framed by his black, lank hair.

Dad gasped and found no words, he slumped forwards. A whimpering noise still came from my mouth.

Jonah sped towards us, his feet still floating about a foot above the ground, arms still hanging withered, backs of hands facing each other. He stopped just in front of us, opened his bloated mouth and made a hideous, guttural animal noise. It was a pained shriek. His face contorted and he looked at me and then at Dad. The volume increased as Jonah continued to howl like a frightened animal.

Dad’s hand slipped from my arm as he slumped at my feet, dead.

I could smell Jonah. He stank of musty rooms and wet earth.

Jonah stopped shrieking and hovered in front of me in silence, his body twitching. Saliva poured from his mouth and cascaded over his chin.

His head fell backwards, exposing the rope marks on his neck. He let loose a scream that shook the air and burst my ear drums.

I sank to my knees and covered my eyes and waited.


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