Six of Hearts

By: L.H. Cosway

Prologue


1998.



Jason’s neighbours’ house was much nicer than his own. At home all he ever heard was shouting, crying, or silence. All he ever felt was the pain of his father’s fists colliding with some part of his body.

One day while outside in their adjoining back gardens, he’d befriended the neighbours’ daughter. She was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. He liked being around her because she was always smiling, a smile full of happiness and perfect white teeth. He wanted to capture that emotion, steal a little piece of it for himself.

Sometimes, on the days when his father was away at work, he felt something like happiness. It would just be him, Mum, and his brother Jack. He loved them both so much that he felt he would do anything for them. They would laugh and play in the garden, and for a time forget that in just a few hours the violence his dad always brought would return.

The neighbour girl would give him and his little brother food. She must have sensed their hunger, somehow known his father tightly rationed everything and his mother was powerless to stop him. He was big and strong, and his mother was small and weak. That was the way his dad liked it.

His favourite thing about his neighbours’ house, though, was the television. They weren’t allowed to watch TV in his house. It was against his dad’s rules. He would only ever hear it on at night time when he and his brother had been sent to bed and his father was home from work. At his neighbours’ house, he could watch endless television. There were no rules about that.

He’d been waiting in the old shed in the garden that night, knowing his father had been out drinking and would likely return home in a temper. Jason planned to stop him this time. He would do whatever was in his power to keep him from hurting his brother and mother, even if it meant taking the beating himself.

To pass the time in the shed, and to keep his mind from the pain he would soon endure, he brought some marbles and a deck of playing cards, practicing various tricks he’d made up. He always enjoyed doing tricks for people, seeing the look of wonder on their faces as he dazzled them with his skills.

At school he and his best friend Jessie would make a killing. Jessie would take the bets, and Jay would wager with his classmates that he could figure out which card they had without ever seeing it. It was one of the simplest tricks, but he was always challenging himself to think bigger. To master tricks that would impress people and gain their respect.

It was past midnight when he heard his dad come in. The front door slammed shut, and his father’s feet pounded on the steps as he went up the stairs. He knew that his absence would distract his dad. He would go looking for Jason, and that would keep him away from Jack and his mother.

As he peered out the window, he saw the light come on in his parents’ bedroom. There was some quiet talking, and then the light went off again. Silence. Jason let out a long breath. Perhaps this would be one of the rare times when his dad wasn’t in need of a punching bag.

He decided to wait for twenty minutes before going back inside. His dad would be asleep by then and wouldn’t hear him sneaking in. As he waited, he heard muffled voices coming from somewhere nearby. Peeking out the window again, he watched as three men dressed in dark clothes approached the back door. They were encased in shadow, so Jason couldn’t see their faces.

Frozen in place, he saw one of them bash in the glass part of the door. Then he reached in and opened it from the other side. Jason’s heart pounded. These were bad men, perhaps even worse than his own dad. He could feel it. They were breaking into his house, and he had to stop them.

Racing for the door, he entered the kitchen to find two of the hooded men staring at him, while the other walked around the room, pouring petrol over everything.

“Fuck! It’s McCabe’s kid,” the tallest of the three swore.

“Take care of him,” said the one with the petrol gruffly before moving into the next room.

The tall one grabbed Jason, but he struggled, biting and kicking at the man. Just as he started to scream, the man stuffed a balled-up dishcloth in his mouth, preventing him from making a sound. He continued to struggle and then felt a mind-numbing pain crash into the back of his skull.

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