IT HAD BEEN FOUR DAYS NOW and still there was no news of Johnny. Cai read once that sometimes it could take several months. There were so many variables, the current, the tide. How heavily the body had been weighted. It also depended on how far the body drifted out and how long the sea decided to claim it. As a boy, Cai heard so many stories of what the sea was capable of. He’d lie awake for hours, listening to the distant waves, imagining it was the murmur of ghosts.
The rain, which had plagued the town all morning, finally stopped by the time Cai got to Morgan’s house. The streets were tainted grey, and the sky still bruised by its memory. Morgan’s young Asian bride greeted Cai at the door. She offered Cai her hand, her fingers childlike as they brushed across his palm. She tried to say something but struggled to get her words out. Cai just nodded, feeling the tenderness of her smile as he followed her into the house. She led him down the hallway, the long black spirals of her hair shining beneath the morning light.
Morgan didn’t stand when Cai entered the room. The old man remained slumped on the sofa, the bulk of him swaddled in a toweling robe.
"You're late," Morgan said, and threw down his paper.
Cai kept quiet and sat in the chair opposite, shaking his head when Morgan offered him a cigarette. Morgan’s new bride sat at the end of the sofa, shuffling closer as Morgan patted the cushion next to him.
"Congratulations," Cai said.
Morgan smiled, and then nodded, slowly, like an old king desperate to appear humble.
"Was it a big wedding?" Cai asked.
Morgan sighed. "Big enough," he said, "just me, Lanfen and her family."
“I guess she misses them.”
“I suppose,” Morgan said, “but they’ve all done pretty well out of it.”
As the old man fell silent, Cai glanced around the room. It felt cleaner somehow, brighter too. Cai’s eyes were drawn to the coffee table and the assortment of paper shapes piled on top of it. They'd been cut out from a magazine. There was a necklace, a wristwatch, and the unfinished outline of a car still caught in the scissors’ bite.
"So what was China like?" Cai said.
"Fucking dusty," Morgan said, and began to caress his throat. The old man coughed, his eyes narrowing as he leaned closer. "Speaking of China," he said, "I heard you sorted out our little problem, up at the Red Dragon."
Cai nodded, lowering his eyes as he pictured Johnny's face.
"What's the matter?" Morgan asked him.
"Nothing," Cai said.
The old man sat up. "Lanfen, Lanfen," he shouted, and pointed to the door.
Lanfen stood, gathered up her paper shapes and then skittered out to the hall.
“She’s well trained," Cai joked.
Morgan shrugged, grimacing as he slumped back into the sofa.
"She knows very little English," he said. "That's why I have to point things out to her."
Cai looked away, the slyness of the old man's smile suddenly getting the better of him.
"What's everyone saying about this?" Morgan asked.
The old man raised his eyes, "Lanfen, of course, my matrimonial bliss."
Cai thought about it for a moment. “Everyone was surprised, I guess. We knew you’d met someone online, but when you announced that you were getting married, well, it all came as a bit of a shock.”
“And what else was said?”
Cai stared into his hands. "You know, the usual stuff."
"Internet bride, all that kind of crap."
Morgan gazed at the photographs on the mantelpiece. "I've been a widower for too long,” he said. “Isn’t a man like me entitled to some happiness?"
Cai nodded, wondering what type of man Morgan was. The old man had earned the name Mad Morgan. He’d made his money in the '80s from loan sharking and rented accommodation. These days he was a respectable businessman, bluffing his way through council contracts. Things didn’t always go his way. That’s when Cai usually got involved, running the old man’s errands up and down the North Wales coast.
You've got the look, Morgan had told him, all those years ago. That burn on the side of your face, it makes people uncomfortable. Let's make some money, the old man had said. Show these luckless bastards that Mad Morgan’s still capable.
It excited Cai at the time. He was young, he didn’t know what else to do. Over the years, Morgan’s hold on him grew tighter. The old man using it like a leash whenever Cai threatened to leave. But now Morgan had found himself a wife, a friendless lost soul who didn’t even have the words to protest.
Morgan pushed himself up from the sofa. "Do you want a drink?" he said, sighing when Cai shook his head.
The old man trudged over to the sideboard, his hand shaking while he poured himself a whisky. "So you didn't have any trouble at the Red Dragon?"
Cai shook his head. “Why? Is there a problem?"
"Not really," Morgan said. "Big Bryn called me an hour ago, confirming he'd dropped his tender."
"What else did he say?"
"Oh, this and that," Morgan said. "He spoke mostly about his nephew, Johnny."
Cai’s heart pounded inside his throat. "What about him?"
Morgan cast him a glance. "He's gone missing, apparently. Bryn asked me whether I knew anything about it."
Cai watched as Morgan slumped down on the sofa. The old man sat quietly, swirling the whisky around his glass. "I want you to do me a favour," he said.
"I want you to drive us around for a while, tomorrow morning, nowhere far, just enough for Lanfen to get a sense of the place."
"So I'm a chauffeur now?"
Morgan cleared his throat. "I guess. If that's what you want to call it. Besides, it's a good idea, don't you think?"
"And why would I think that?"
"It’ll keep you out of mischief," Morgan said, “and that will be better for both of us.”
It was late when Cai drove home, and the night sky was starless. The river drew him closer, leading him to the water's edge. He took a left past the railway bridge, slowing down as the road narrowed. To a passing stranger, the road appeared to lead to nowhere. It looked nothing more than an industrial cul-de-sac, a stretch of pot-holed tarmac, with a fence on either side. Yet beyond the brambles and the tireless hum of the generator was the River Dee - a blue-brown tidal mouth that bled into the Irish Sea.
Cai reversed into a parking bay. The headlights’ beam revealing two young lovers sitting in the car opposite. It had been four nights now since Cai last saw Johnny, and he couldn’t stop picturing the scene. Johnny had stood next to him at the bar, a young man, barely out of his teens. Johnny’s smile was brazen, and his eyes were full of spite. Cai tried his best to ignore him. He sat quietly at a corner table, bathing his face in shadow.
Fifteen minutes later, and Big Bryn strode toward him. Bryn sat down, the wooden chair barely holding his weight. Cai handed him Morgan's note. Bryn read it slowly, as if every word were a strain. "This is a little less than we agreed," he said.
Cai shrugged. "I don’t know anything about it. You'll have to speak with Morgan."
"Do you have it with you?" Bryn asked.
Cai nodded, watching him carefully.
Bryn stood. "Let's continue up in the flat then," he said, raising his arm and beckoning Cai to follow.
They made their way upstairs, Johnny scampering after them. Cai could smell Johnny’s aftershave, its heady cheapness hounding him like a bad memory. The room was warm, cozy almost. Cai sat back into a chair, staring up at the painting that hung above the fireplace. It was the colour of the sky that caught his attention, long streaks of vermillion broken by scatters of pink. The sun was a tired red eye, bleeding across the canvas.
"Let's have it then," Bryn said, smiling as Cai threw him the package.
Johnny entered the room and stood behind Bryn's chair. With his shovel-like hands, Bryn ripped open the package, his eyelids flickering as he counted through the wad of notes. "I'm only pulling out because Morgan made me a good offer," he said. "If that old fool wants to play gangsters, then that's up to him.”
Cai smiled. "What do you mean?"
"Well, the way he sent you here, as if you’re a threat."
Johnny laughed. His eyes widening as he grew more excited.
"It's the burnt skin on his face," Johnny said. "It scares people. They think he’s a freak."
Bryn sighed. "I’m sorry about my nephew," he said. "But Johnny has his mother's mouth, I'm afraid."
"No problem," Cai said. "I'm sure someone will slap it shut soon enough."
As Johnny leapt from behind the chair, Bryn blocked his way, his fingers outstretched, pressing into Johnny's chest.
"Behave yourself," Bryn shouted, the menace in his voice enough to silence his nephew.
Cai stood slowly, smiling as Johnny glared at him.
"Tell Morgan," Bryn said, "that I'm pulling out. If he wants to waste his money on a no profit tender, then that's his business. But the pair of you would do well to stop acting as if you owned the place. You're not the only ones in this town who can play fucking Cowboys and Indians."
Cai nodded, placing his hands in his pockets before making his way downstairs.
Cai walked quickly to his car, eyeing Big Bryn’s jeep that was parked in the bay opposite. He drove into the darkness, making his way to the river.
There were no other cars parked at the estuary that night, and Cai was happy to be alone there. He went for a walk, strolling along the seawall path. The tide was in, swelling over the sandbanks. Cai watched it for a while, a blue-black dissolve sweeping across the distant marshes. He couldn’t remember what made him turn around, a sense of something perhaps, a bad omen. For a moment, Cai thought it was a ghost, a will-o’the wisp, weaving through the jagged rocks. Then he realised it was Johnny, tall and gaunt, his face shining behind the glow of his cigarette. Cai drew his hands from his pockets, as Johnny marched toward him.
Whenever Cai tried to pass, Johnny blocked his way. The boy placed his hands on Cai’s shoulders, pushing his face closer. Johnny’s breath smelt, a recent mix of whisky and cigarettes.
"You're an easy one to find," Johnny said.
Cai stared into Johnny’s eyes, large and deeply set. The boy looked different close up. Cai often found that with peoples’ faces, the slightest detail reshaping their whole appearance. With Johnny, it was the paleness of his skin, the hollow cheeks, making him ghostlike.
"What do you want?" Cai said.
"I wanna give you an opportunity."
Johnny grinned. "To shut me up, give me that slap you said I needed."
Johnny stretched out his arms, blocking Cai’s way as he tried to pass.
"Just leave it alone," Cai said.
But Johnny was having none of it. "I knew you were full of shit," he said. "I've seen the way you walk around, you and that old fool, Morgan."
"Leave it," Cai shouted, and Johnny was silent.
Yet it was a brief moment of caution, and Johnny was quick to regain his confidence.
“Come on, shut me up,” Johnny kept shouting, his finger poking into Cai’s chest.
Cai grabbed hold of Johnny’s hand, pulling it back until the boy screamed. Johnny threw a punch, a misguided swoop, grazing the side of Cai’s ear. With the back of his hand, Cai slapped Johnny to the ground. The boy looked emaciated outstretched, his body like a sack of bones.
For a moment, Johnny was dazed. Then he scrambled to his feet, blood trickling from his nose and mouth.
"I’m going to fucking kill you," Johnny shouted.
Then he pulled out a gun, blue-grey steel glinting as it caught the light.
Cai lunged toward him. He grabbed Johnny by the lapels and hurled him like a rag. The boy tumbled across the sand, his head cracking against the rocks. Johnny lay still, his spindly arms raised above his head. Cai stood over him, staring at the boy’s face. Even in death, Johnny looked defiant, his eyes raised indignantly and his thin lips half-smiling.
When Cai pulled into Morgan's drive the old man was outside, smoking a cigarette. Morgan barely acknowledged him, looking away as Cai stepped out from the car. The old man seemed different somehow. There was a glint in his eyes, something secret behind his smile.
There was no sign of Lanfen as Cai followed Morgan inside, just her scent, lingering in the hallway.
"Wait for me in there," Morgan said and pointed toward the lounge. The room smelt stale. The fireplace was strewn with cigarette stumps, and a dry spill of whisky bled from a broken glass. Morgan’s robe lay spread across the carpet. Lying next it was Lanfen's slip, a fold of bronze silk, torn along the seam and shed like an unwanted skin.
Lanfen entered the room like a shadow, her small dark shape skulking across the carpet. She didn’t return Cai’s smile. Instead, she fixed her gaze on the table and its assortment of paper shapes. She edged toward them, wincing as she knelt. She began to tidy them up, her hands shaking as she carefully folded each shape. Cai could have watched her all morning, and he had half a mind to join her. Lanfen stood and then walked over to the window, slowly drawing back the curtains and bathing the room in light. Cai smiled as she turned to face him, the sadness in her eyes holding him silent. He wanted to reach out to her. He felt cleaner when she was this close, and the darkness of recent days faded into memory. Then he noticed the bruises on her arms, and the spots of blood on her clothes. Lanfen shut her eyes, lowering her head in shame.
When Cai heard Morgan hurrying down the stairs, he stepped into the hallway. Cai folded his arms, blocking the old man's path.
"What the hell’s wrong with you?" Morgan said.
Cai shrugged. “I don’t know. You tell me?”
"Tell you about what, exactly?"
"Whether Lanfen's okay, she seems a little–"
"She's fine," Morgan said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his pack of cigarettes. Cai watched as Morgan fired up his lighter, the yellow flame reflected in the old man’s eyes. "Not that it’s any of your business," Morgan said.
They stood staring at each other, silent, as Lanfen crept into the hallway. She stepped slowly up the stairs, squirming as Morgan brushed past her. The old man shook his head, grimacing at her bundle of shapes.
"What does she do with those?" Cai asked. "Is it some kind of hobby?"
"Hungry ghosts," Morgan said, making his way into the lounge.
Cai followed, the words unsettling him. "Ghosts?" he said.
Morgan shook his head. "Some shit about the fifteenth day of the lunar month," he said, raising his eyes at the thought of it. "Some expat told me about it in a bar. It's a common thing over there apparently, especially in the poorer parts of the South."
"What's it all about?"
Morgan smiled. "They believe it's when we're visited by the dead. And we’re supposed to feed them, to stop the fuckers from cursing us."
Morgan flicked his ash on the carpet. "With gifts," he said. "TVs, watches, they make them out of paper, and then burn them in the streets."
Cai stared at him.
"Stupid, hey,” Morgan said. “Lanfen's been pestering me about it ever since we got back.”
“By pointing at those shapes of hers and then taking hold of my lighter."
“Why don’t you just let her burn them?” Cai said. "I don't suppose it could do any harm."
"No way,” Morgan said. “I'm not having my wife acting like a fucking lunatic."
The tour started with a drive through town, past the pound shops, the pubs, and the shabby cafeterias. Morgan was in his element, waving from the window, acting as if he owned the place. Now and then, Lanfen threw Cai a glance, her dark eyes full of sorrow. Morgan was bouncing, raising his voice, and telling the same old stories. Eventually, the old man lost interest, complaining he was thirsty, and ordering Cai to pull into the nearest pub.
“It’s best that you wait in the car,” Morgan said. "We won’t be long. I just want to show off my new wife."
While Cai waited, all he could think about was Johnny, and what he was going to do with his gun. Even Lanfen's smile couldn’t rid Cai of his memories, and every time he closed his eyes he pictured Johnny’s face.
Hours later, his arm wrapped around Lanfen’s shoulder, Morgan staggered back to the car. Cai took a deep breath. He hated it when Morgan was drunk, the unrelenting boasts, the endless insults.
"Would Lanfen like to sit up front?" Cai said. "I'll drive through the hills if you like, show her some of the sights."
Morgan belched, filling the air with the smell of whisky. "She's all right where she is," he said. "You just concentrate on your fucking driving."
Cai eased the car onto the road, pressing harder on the gas. He watched Morgan from the rearview mirror. The old man pulled Lanfen closer, his liver-spotted hand reaching into her blouse. Cai slammed down on the brakes, the car's sudden jolt hurling Morgan forward.
"For Christ’s sake," Morgan shouted. "What the hell are you up to?"
"Sorry. It was a rabbit," Cai said. “The stupid little thing ran out in front of me."
Cai switched on the hazard lights and jumped out of the car. He opened the backdoor, motioning Lanfen toward him. She moved quickly, Morgan groaning as she climbed over him. Cai took hold of her arm, and guided her to the front.
The old man was lighter than Cai expected and, with one swift tug, he lifted him back onto the seat. Morgan looked exhausted, as if the life had been drained from him. He took out his handkerchief, dabbing it across his brow.
"You best stretch out for a bit," Cai said. "Have a rest until we get back."
Morgan glared at him. "So you're a fucking nurse now, are you?” The old man scrunched his face. "I think I've done something to my ankle," he said. "It was probably fine, until that little bitch jumped all over it."
"Try and rest," Cai said, slamming the door behind him.
Despite the old man’s impatience, Cai drove slowly. He took the long route back, Lanfen sitting next to him. Each time Cai glanced at her, he caught her staring. There was a knowing look in her eyes, and for once she was smiling.
Now at the crossroads, Cai took a left, heading down a narrow lane that led to the fisheries. Morgan took a swig from his hip flask. "Where the fuck are you going?" he said. "We should have been back ages ago."
"There's a field at the end of this road," Cai said. "I thought it would be a good spot for Lanfen to burn her shapes."
The old man shook his head, and pointed at the window. "You’re getting as crazy as she is,” he said. “Just turn around in that driveway."
Cai did as he was told. There was little point in arguing. The drunker the old man got the more determined he became to shout you down.
"It's not that much quicker," Cai said, in a final act of defiance.
Morgan sighed. "Just get me fucking home,” he said. “You’re the last person I’d ask for an opinion."
Now on the old Coast Road, Cai drove faster. The night was quiet, the moon peering through the trees. Morgan looked pleased with himself, stretched out like a lord, contentedly drinking.
"What's wrong with you tonight, Cai?" he said. "I thought you’d want to keep a low profile."
Cai kept his eyes on the road. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know what it means," Morgan said. "A certain friend of ours is linking you to Johnny."
Cai pressed harder on the gas, silent as the car raced through the ebbing light.
It took Cai ages to get Morgan out of the car. The old man kept struggling, insisting he could help himself. When Cai finally got Morgan into the house, he lifted him onto the sofa. Lanfen took Morgan’s jacket and then pulled off his shoes and socks. Morgan's feet reeked of sweat, and his toenails were yellow stubs.
"Have you looked in the fucking mirror, lately?" Morgan said, as he caught sight of Cai’s disgust.
Cai stepped away from him, ambling over to the sideboard. He poured out a glass of whisky, and then handed it to Morgan.
"You're not a bad lad," Morgan said. "Don't worry about Big Bryn. I’ll sort it."
Cai forced a smile. "Best have a few more of those," he said. "They'll help with that ankle."
Encouraging Morgan to drink was the best thing Cai could do for Lanfen. Get the old man smashed, until his body collapsed into sleep.
Lanfen knelt at the table, flicking through a magazine. She tore out one of the pages, an advert for a lady's watch. She picked up the scissors, eyeing Morgan as she began to cut.
The old man watched her for a moment, sighing into his empty glass.
"Do you want another?" Cai asked him.
Morgan shook his head. "No, I think I've had enough.” He traced the rim of the glass with his finger “Besides, I’m a married man now. I need to keep my strength up."
Lanfen blushed as the old man stared at her, the worry in her eyes thickening the beat of Cai’s heart.
"If that's the case," Cai said. "Why don’t you rest a while? I can drive Lanfen somewhere, let her burn those shapes."
"Why do you keep going on about those things?” Morgan said. “Why’s it so fucking important to you?"
Cai held up his hands. "Hey, I’m only trying to help. You said yourself she's been pestering you."
Morgan frowned, then wiped his hand across his forehead. "Go on then, for fuck’s sake, but make sure no one sees you."
Cai struggled not to smile, but somehow he managed it. He tapped Lanfen’s shoulder and pointed at the paper shapes. She looked confused at first, until Cai held out his palm and struck it with an imaginary match. It was the happiest he’d ever seen her. She threw back her head, filling the room with laughter. Then she hugged him, kissing the side of his face. Cai felt warm inside, pleased with himself, until he caught sight of the old man staring.
"We won't be long," Cai said, trying his best to ignore him.
Morgan had lost his smile. "You know what,” he said. “I’ve changed my mind. Let's do it another time. I could do with an early night."
"But I've just told her,” Cai said. “We can't–"
Morgan slammed his glass on the table. "Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.”
"I can do what the fuck I like."
As Cai shuffled to the door, Lanfen followed. Morgan kept calling her name, but she refused to turn around. Cai shook his head and pointed her toward the sofa. Lanfen held out her hands, offering him her paper shapes.
“I’m sorry,” Cai whispered, and pointed her toward Morgan.
The old man sat up, folding his flabby arms. When Lanfen saw the ugliness of Morgan’s smile, she lunged toward him. Morgan grabbed her wrists and threw her against the table. She fell back onto the glass surface, spreading out her hands to support herself. For a moment, Cai just stood there, dumbstruck, watching the paper shapes fluttering down to the carpet.
"Pick that little whore up," Morgan said, wiping the sweat from his brow.
Tears streamed down Lanfen’s face, her voice hoarse as she bellowed out her curses. She leapt onto Morgan chest, battering his face with her fists. This time Morgan grabbed her throat, grinning as he choked the life from her. Cai leaned across the sofa, taking hold of Morgan's hands and wrenching them from Lanfen's windpipe.
“Get the fuck off me,” the old man shouted.
Cai took hold of Morgan’s wrists. "Calm down then."
"You fucking calm down," Morgan said, and spat into Cai’s face. Cai stared into the old man’s eyes, warm saliva trickling down his cheek.
“You better watch yourself,” Morgan said, his chest wheezing. "None of us are stupid. It doesn't take a fucking genius to work out what happened to Johnny. One word from me and–"
Cai pressed his thumbs into Morgan's throat. You stole my youth from me, he thought, blackened any good I ever had. Then you sullied your most precious gift, but I'm not going to let you ruin her.
Cai tightened his grip, squeezing, harder and harder, watching the fire wither from the old man's eyes.
Cai imagined Morgan would be an uncompromising ghost, more vindictive in spirit than he ever was in the flesh. Cai glanced across at Lanfen, her eyes meeting his own. She led Cai slowly to a chair, her soft hands guiding him through the darkness. How quickly the night had come, an unwanted guest, feasting on the day's sorrow. Lanfen looked older in the half-light, as if aged by the spirits that cursed her. She lifted Cai’s hand to her mouth, gracing it with a kiss. Cai drew her close. Holding her tighter as someone, something, hammered against the door. Cai placed a finger on his lips, breathless, as the knocking grew fiercer.
"Morgan," the voice kept shouting, "open this fucking door, man."
For a moment, Cai thought it was Johnny's ghost, spewed out by the river and sent to haunt him. Then Cai smiled to himself, realising it was the boy's uncle.
"Morgan," Bryn kept shouting. "Wake up, man. I need to talk to you."
Cai closed his eyes, Lanfen’s heart beating against his chest.
They held each other through it all, silent among every threat.
After half an hour, Bryn finally gave up. Cai waited for a while, listening for the sound of Bryn’s jeep, before switching on the light. Cai drew back the curtains. His heart almost missing a beat as the reflection of Morgan’s face stared at him in the window.
Cai carried Morgan’s body to the car, laying it belly-up on the backseat. Then he covered it with a blanket, Morgan’s head tilting to one side. Cai stood outside for a moment, taking in the midnight air. He gazed at the distant houses and their myriad orange lights. Then the idea came to him, hitting him like a slap from nowhere. Cai rushed over to the back of the car and flipped open the boot. He plowed through Morgan’s junk, stopping when he found the fuel can. He threw it on the backseat and gently closed the boot so as not to draw attention to himself.
When Cai got back inside, Lanfen was waiting for him in the hall. She looked so pale, smiling like the friendliest of ghosts. Cai clenched his fists, rocking them from side to side as if steering an invisible wheel. Lanfen nodded and handed him her paper shapes. Cai smiled at her, then reached into his pocket and pulled out Morgan’s lighter.
"Everything’s going to be fine," he said.
He knew his words held no meaning, but something in his voice seemed to reassure her. Cai lowered his head, his eyes closing as they kissed.
Cai drove a steady sixty along the deserted A-road, Lanfen’s perfume covering him like a second skin. So this was how it felt to be wanted. These were the feelings of the loved. Cai pulled into the all-night garage, got out of the car and started filling the can with petrol. As he waited, he noticed a silver Land Rover parked in the lay-by opposite. He didn’t recognise the number plate and couldn’t make out who sat beyond the tinted glass.
After paying for the petrol, Cai hurried back to his car. He drove to the river, constantly checking behind him. Whenever Cai glanced into the mirror he caught sight of Morgan’s body. He pictured the old man burning, Morgan’s final gift, a fire to appease all hungers.
It was almost dawn as Cai took a left onto the Old Dock Road, a whiskery light aging the darkness. He wound down the window, inhaling the morning’s promise. With the estuary in his sights, Cai drove faster, speeding through the fading shadows. Then, just as Cai approached the seawall, the Land Rover appeared from nowhere, cutting him up, and dazzling him with its headlights. Cai slammed on the brakes, flipping the car over, and rolling it across the sand.
When he eventually opened his eyes, Cai found himself upside down, struggling to breathe, a bend of cold steel pressing against his chest. Morgan’s body had been hurled against the window, his face masked with blood and pellets of shattered glass.
Cai listened to the rasp of his own breath, and then the distant murmur of the tide, and the seabirds mewling above. Petrol fumes flooded his senses, stinging his eyes, and burning through his nose and throat. Then he caught sight of the punctured can, its trickle of clear liquid seeping into the paper shapes.
For a moment, Cai thought the man staring down at him was Johnny's ghost. Older now, the boy's hollow cheeks bloated and aged by the sea. Big Bryn shook his head, his fingers bloodless as he raked them through his hair. Cai didn’t recognise the other man. A relative, he guessed, both men sharing that same swarthy look.
Big Bryn rested on his haunches. “We’re going to cut you out, boy,” he said, “find out what happened to, Johnny.”
As the two men shifted out of sight, Cai pictured Lanfen, the memory of their kiss reminding him of all his promises.
Slowly, Cai raised his arm, his shoulder crunching, the pain surging down to his fingers. He pressed the release button of his seatbelt, his body slumping against the dashboard. Cai fumbled in his pocket, letting out a sigh of relief as his hand smoothed across Morgan’s lighter. He held it to his face, sparking it up with his thumb. The flame purred, shimmying in front of his eyes. Then, with one last excruciating stretch, Cai held the lighter to the can, the fire feasting on the paper shapes and peppering the sky with ash.
Closing his eyes against the blaze, Cai pictured himself with Lanfen, cutting out their paper shapes, among the avenues of her home. There beneath the noonday sun they burned their offerings, feeding the hungry ghosts, and freeing themselves from their curses.