Sarsha awoke to the sound of the blaring alarm clock. She rolled over and tried to make out the time, but her vision was blurry, making the clock's digits difficult to see. She sat up slowly and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Her bare feet hit something cold and looking down she saw a few empty wine bottles that were lying scattered on the floor. Thoughts of the previous night's festivities rushed into her mind. She was not much of party girl, but as she'd just turned twenty-one, she'd celebrated her birthday with two college buddies, Rita and Sammy, and the party hadn't finished until 2 a.m. She knew that last bottle of champagne was a bad idea as her head felt like it was made of concrete. As she turned to peer again at the clock, the red digits seemed to flash accusingly – 7:15 a.m.
“Shit! I'm going to be late.” She threw back the covers and raced for the shower.
Sarsha had just completed her Bachelor of Science and was about to start a job at her Uncle Peter's medical research centre. He had always been shrouded in mystery. He was a 'confirmed bachelor', and whenever Sarsha's mother had ever mentioned him, which was not often, he was referred to in hushed tones, and she would go silent when Sarsha tried to ask more questions. Sarsha had found a photo of him once, but when her mother saw her with it, she had torn it up, without an explanation. Uncle Peter was her mother's brother, and Sarsha had met him for the first time at her parent's funeral. Her parents had died in a car accident when she was twenty, and after the funeral service she had sat alone for most of the 'wake', with the family just approaching her briefly, and giving her their condolences and saying how sorry they were for her loss. They had all drifted away to talk in groups, eat more food, drink more wine, and leaving Sarsha all to herself. Uncle Peter seemed to materialise out of nowhere. He was tall and thin, with short grey hair, and the same deep blue eyes as Sarsha. His large frame had towered over her, and his eyes had brightened when Sarsha mentioned her interest in medical research. He'd suggested that she contact him once she'd finished her university studies.
Sarsha now lived alone in a two bedroom apartment with her Burmese cat, Choccy. She had purchased the property from the money that her parents had left in their 'will'. The apartment was one of four in a unit complex. Two of the other apartments were occupied, one by Annie, an elderly lady, and the other by Kenny, a young man with a mild intellectual disability. Sarsha enjoyed the solitude of the small complex, and it was close to buses and the ferry was down at the bottom of the hill. Sarsha's friend, Rita, had suggested that she should rent out the spare room, for extra cash, but Sarsha had said that she was happy. “It's just me and Choccy and that's the way we like it.”
Sarsha leant against the kitchen sink, eating her breakfast, and looked out into her tiny yard. She felt something brush up against her legs. It was her Burmese at, Choccy.
“Good morning beautiful.” She leaned down and tickled Choccy's ears as he purred affectionately.
She quickly fed him, grabbed her coat and bag and ran out the door. She almost bumped into Annie as she was leaving the complex. Annie was a tiny lady, whose grey hair was always badly dyed.
“Hello Sarsha dear. Where are you off to today?”
Sarsha smiled. “Hi Annie, I’m starting a new job.”
Sarsha looked critically at Annie's hair and frowned. It was a violent shade of red and you could see the grey roots peaking through.
Annie noticed her expression and giggled. “Is my hair really that bad? The packet said Ruby Red.”
Sarsha nodded. “Maybe I can help you with it next time?”
Annie beamed. “Ooh, that would be lovely.”
Sarsha started to leave but Annie grabbed her hand. “Sorry dear, I know you're in a hurry, but I've been really concerned about Kenny. I haven't seen him around for a couple of days. He's usually pottering around in the front garden or hanging around waiting to see you.” She winked. “I know he’s sweet on you."
Sarsha frowned. “I haven't seen him.”
Annie continued.“Well, it's very strange. He's like clockwork, always badgering me for newspapers most days. I've knocked on his door a few times and there's no answer.”
Sarsha checked her watch. “I'm sure he's ok. He'll probably turn up. I'd better go or I'll miss the ferry.”
Annie sighed. “Of course, dear.” She shuffled back up the stairs to her apartment.
Sarsha arrived at the ferry just as it was filling up with passengers. She took a window seat at the back of the ferry and gazed out of the window at the retreating wharf. Her thoughts drifted back to Kenny. Most of what she knew about him came from Annie - he had trouble holding down a job, and he loved gardening. Annie fussed over him, but Sarsha tried to stay out of his way.
Whenever she saw Kenny in the hallway, he would stare at her, which made her feel uncomfortable. Once she was reading in the communal front garden, absorbed in her latest novel, when she looked up and was shocked to see him standing by her and looking down at her with a strange expression.
“Oh shit, Kenny you scared me!”
Kenny twisted his fingers together. His breathing started to quicken. “Sorry...I just...wanted to ask. Are... are you...free tonight?”
Sarsha closed her book with a snap and quickly stood up. “Look, I've already told you before, Kenny. I'm not interested.”
This awkward interlude always ended with Kenny going red and apologising profusely and with Sarsha hurriedly retreating to the safety of her apartment.
After the ferry and an additional bus ride, Sarsha walked up the steep hill that lead to her uncle's residence. The dark brick house with its ivy-covered walls was hidden behind large black wrought iron gates that could only be opened by a security buzzer, and there was no sign that displayed the name of her uncle's business. The gates swung silently open before Sarsha even pressed the security button. She jumped in surprise but quickly walked up the stone path.
The red mahogany tint of the wooden front door glinted in the sunlight as her uncle opened the door.
“Hello Sarsha, nice to see you again. Are you ready for your first day?” He smiled at her.
Sarsha felt a little apprehensive, but it was probably just nerves at starting a new job.
She stared up at him and nodded. “Yes Uncle Peter.”
He turned abruptly and led her down a long hallway. At the end there was a black door, which seemed even darker against the stark white walls. The door opened onto a windowless, padded room that had shelves lining the walls. On the left side of the room there were shelves, which were full of bottles with strange liquid, and others that contained frogs and small rodents. On the facing wall there were racks that held an assortment of sharp medical instruments, and in the far right corner, a small sink with brown stains. In the centre of the room there was a steel table. On the table's gleaming silver surface, a pale naked man was strapped down. His lifeless blonde hair was matted with sweat and his brown eyes bulged with fear. Although he had grey tape over his mouth, his muffled cries intensified when he saw Sarsha.
Sarsha put on the surgical gloves that her uncle had handed to her. She stood looking down at the figure on the table, and then her eyes shifted to the bench next to the table, which contained an assortment of medical instruments. A camera faced the operating table and a red blinking light on the top of the camera seemed to wink at her. Sarsha's heart began to hammer rapidly against her chest, but she took a deep breath and picked up a surgeon's scalpel. Her hands began to shake and she hesitated for a moment.
But her uncle pushed her forward roughly. “Go on now, we need to get started. The first time is always the hardest, you know.” He laughed
Sarsha bent over the young man and gazed down into his eyes. “Hello Kenny.”
DJ Heath started her creative writing journey when she was a child. If she wasn't getting into trouble for day-dreaming or writing stories at school, she was writing and directing plays with her friends on the weekend. Her passion for writing stems from her love of reading and some of her favourite genres are: crime thrillers, historical romance, and fantasy. As well as writing short stories, DJ Heath also writes screenplays, poetry, and is currently working on a 'magic realism' novel