Hayley’s Chest

Hayley dropped her bag down onto the floor and settled into the armchair, releasing the tension that had built up within her throughout the day with a long sigh. It had been an exhausting day at work and, with the staff problems that they were currently having, it was only going to get worse over the course of the week.

She rummaged through the bag for a cigarette and a lighter. Her hand brushed against something that felt like paper and she frowned at the contact; she had been unaware that there was paper in her bag. She grabbed it and pulled. It was heavier than she had expected it to be and once she removed it from the bag, Hayley noticed that there was a key tied to the note.

In small, blank ink, words paralysed her with fear. Her lips formed them slowly, as though this would help them to sink in.

“You know what to do.”

Hayley reached out to take hold of the key. It was cold under her fingers. The metal held secrets that Hayley had hoped to take to her grave.

At first, she thought about calling Christopher. He had been the one with her that night, the passenger in her now abandoned car. She needed to know why he had chosen to return the key to her now. Was he unable to hide their secret any longer? Had the police found him at last? He was in it as deep as she was after all these years of hiding the evidence.

Hayley was returned to the present by the cold key in her hand. She did not wish to be reminded of what she had done. No, she could not call Chris to ask him why, or if this was the end: it would bring up too many hurtful memories.

The journey up the stairs felt like the longest of her life. Longer than the journey across the room to the bedside of her dying mother. Hayley pushed open the door of the spare bedroom and crossed it to the chest hidden at the back of the wardrobe. It was covered in cobwebs and a thick layer of dust; Hayley pulled it out into the middle of the room, one hand running through the dry dust.

She grimaced and brushed the dust onto her trousers before leaning over the chest to find the lock. There was dust gathered there within the hole too, and when she blew it away small flecks flew up her nose. Hayley sneezed, backing away to escape the dust particles in the air.

Once they disappeared, she moved back over to the chest. With one hand, she slipped the key into the lock and turned it until the mechanism clicked, then swung the lid open with her other hand.

What was kept inside was tattered and grey, with blood stains dried across it. Hayley stretched out her arms and pulled out the old jacket, examining it carefully. The jeans came next. The shirt, boxers and socks had once been white, but they had become dull with time. The fabric was thin and a nasty smell filled the room as soon as the chest was unlocked. It was just like the smell from that night.

Hayley had not meant to hit the pedestrian with her car. She had been drinking that night – though not as much as Chris had – and the guy had walked straight out onto the road in front of her. There had been no way to stop in time.

He had died almost instantly. As if the accident had not been enough, Hayley and Chris had then done something ridiculously stupid that had made the night even worse. They had tossed the body into the boot, taken it back to Chris’ house and buried it in the garden. But Chris, worried that the police would find him, had stripped the body first and taken the clothes back to Hayley’s place, then locked them in the trunk. They had both been implemented in this. If Chris ever thought that he was going to be caught, then he would send the key to Hayley and she would have to bite the bullet as well. That was their pact.

In the five years since the accident, Hayley had been given plenty of opportunities to rid herself of the chest. She could have dumped it. Days had turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, and still they had not been investigated. The burning shame in her gut had kept her away from that chest. Dumping it had not been an option.

She was not ready to be held responsible for her actions. Hayley had built herself a life and a career since that night and she did not wish to give either of those things up.

There was a loud noise from behind her, like the creaking of the stairs, and she spun around with wide, panicked eyes. At first she thought that she had been caught red-handed, holding the clothes of the man she had run over, but then she noticed the words written on the wall.

“You know what to do,” they said. The letters were large, sprawled across the wall and above the door. Hayley stood, staring over at them with a deep sense of worry in the pit of her stomach. Chris could not have come in and painted those words on her wall without her noticing. Below them, a shovel was leaning against the wall – which she was sure had not been there before. It was too clean to have been in the disused room for very long.

This made no sense. Chris would never ask her to dig up the body that they had buried.

Hayley took a step closer to those words, unsure what was happening to her. If this was not Chris, then who had sent her the key? Who had written those words? Who – ?

Her thoughts were interrupted when, without any sign of a paint brush or a hand, fresh words appeared below those already on the wall.

“Unite me with my body. Pay for your crimes at last.”

It was as though someone had reached inside of her and tore out Hayley’s heart. The shock that surged through her quickly turned into guilt, and finally acceptance. For a while, she genuinely thought about digging up the body.

The phone was closer: her mobile was in her pocket. And when she dialled 999 and asked for the police, more words appeared.

“Yes. That’s what you should do.”

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