A short story
Hi, I am an Australian writer. The idea for my story ‘Heart Attack’ came about because of a happening in my neighbourhood. Although the heart attack scenario is completely fictitious the part about the teenagers knocking on people’s front doors and harassing the occupants inside is based on truth.
Leon was the first to go, heart attack. Died in his sleep. He was only eighteen. I knew Leon from school, both primary and high school. We were friends. He lived up the street from me, only a one-minute bike ride away. It was my buddy Max, who told me about Leon. Not in person, by text message. I heard the beep, checked my phone and read Leon was dead, shocking, unexpected. For a while, I sat there, stunned. Leon dead, heart attack. At eighteen. High blood pressure, so I was told. I went to his funeral. Hardly any kids from school attended. Strange, Leon had been a funny guy. Always, taking the piss.
Max died two years later. Gossip said he’d been driving like a lunatic and crashed his car into a telegraph pole. His injuries led him to die at the scene from a heart attack. It came out later he had a blood alcohol reading of 1.2. Max never could control his liquor.
So, there I was with two dead friends, both from heart attacks, both before they were twenty-one. At that stage, I didn’t think anything of it, just two unfortunate events. When Harry died though, also of a heart attack, I began to suspect something odd was afoot. Three dead friends, all by the same infliction.
My friend Harry had an eye for trouble. One time, back when we were in Year 9 at school, he spray-painted a picture of the school principals breasts on a wall outside her office. He got busted for it too, but not expelled. He was only a kid at the time, fourteen or so… he was just expressing his creativity.
Harry died in a cinema. He fell asleep in the middle of a movie, and sometime before the final act had a massive heart attack and packed it in. The autopsy showed traces of cocaine in his blood. Harry had been a regular drug user since sixteen. That’s what people blamed for his early death. He was only twenty-four. It was a reasonable conclusion. Even still, I found it disturbing.
All three of them had been asleep when they had their fatal heart attacks, except Max who had been unconscious. Besides my close buddies, there was only one other person I knew of who’d died in similar circumstances. An old man who once used to live down the end of my street.
Leon, Max, Harry and I all hung out as teenagers. There were two others in our gang, Hugh and Sebastian. When we were thirteen we used to sleepover at Harry’s house. His oldies were a bit lackadaisical on the parenting and we often sneaked out. We never did anything really bad, just roamed the streets mostly. For a lark, we sometimes knocked on people’s front doors then made a run for it. There was a big two-story grey house at the end of the street. An old man lived there. He reacted to our the doorknocking by charging out of his house, fists raised above his head, hurling abuse. Us guys considered that a bit of a hoot and began targeting his house regularly. As time marched on we became more daring. Sometimes we’d knock on his door, then hide in his yard. When he came out, we’d surround him, then while I shouted out insults, trying to get under his skin, my friends filmed him. We figured if he attacked us physically, we’d need the footage. He was an adult, supposed to be able to control himself, while we were just kids. He never lost it enough to strike any of us though, which was disappointing especially as we could see the anger in his eyes… not to mention the fear.
Because he was so easy to tease, we kept targeting him. Sometimes he tried to ignore us by not answering our door knocks, so we just banged harder. Most times we got him out. This went on for a few years. Not every night, not every week, or month, just every so often.
One Saturday night the six of us showed up on his doormat and like usual hammered on his door. From inside the house, he told us to go away. He said he’d call the police if we didn’t stop. We didn’t care and continued banging. Again, he pleaded with us to go away. We just laughed and kept at it. After about five minutes we took off. He’d mentioned the police. We didn’t want to take our chances.
A week later, my mum told me she’d heard that the old man living at the end of our street had fallen asleep while watching television and had later died of a heart attack. A nearby neighbour had informed her of this titbit. The old man’s son had found him dead on Sunday morning when he visited. By that stage, he’d been fourteen hours gone. That meant he must have died sometime Saturday night, probably not long after our antics. The guys and I kept a low profile for a while afterwards. If the old man had blabbed to the police about us, they might start making accusations. Not that they could pin us with anything. The old man had died of natural causes. Thankfully the police never approached, and we figured the old fella had just been bluffing. At a bit of a loss, the guys and I began looking around for someone else to harass.
We never did though. Things began changing. Leon, Harry, Max and I all left school to pursue trade jobs. Sebastian moved interstate with his family, and Hugh ditched us for a girl.
I was twenty-five when Harry died. His untimely demise sent me in a spin. I began wondering if I’d be next to fall asleep and have a heart attack. Unable to shake the thought, I started making mistakes at work, and although it was only a labourers position, I got fired.
About six months after being sacked, I was at home on the couch watching television when a knock came at the front door. I yelled out for Trisha, my girlfriend, to answer it.
Trisha and I had been at odds the last few weeks. She was always at me to get off the couch and help with the housework. Or to start looking for another job, or least see a doctor about my paranoia issues. Stupid idiot, how would that help?
Seconds later, she appeared at the foot of the couch. She had her hair pulled off her face in a ponytail, making her newly acquired black eye more noticeable, I had told her to stop nagging. She should have listened.
“There’s a guy named Sebastian at the door,” Trisha said. “He wants to talk to you. He said you were friends in high school.”
“Sebastian,” I repeated.
“Yes. That’s right.”
Sebastian, Sebastian. Gee, I hadn’t seen him in ten years. What was he doing here? “Okay,” I stood up and followed her to the door. And there he was, my old buddy Sebastian. He hadn’t changed much since I’d seen him last. Still tall and lanky with that same lopsided grin. “Wow, man,” I said. “What brings you to my abode?”
He nodded his head in response. “To pass on some news.”
“Sounds ominous.” I whacked Trisha on the bum, “How about you give us some space hon.”
“But,” Trisha replied. “I….”
“Get lost, girly.” I winked smugly at Sebastian, thinking he’d return it.
He didn’t. Instead, he raised an eyebrow. “I see you’re still the same arsehole you always were.”
My mouth dropped open. What! Why did he say that? Insulting me in my own home. My teeth clenched and I rolled my hands into a fist… ready to slam his jaw.
“Hugh’s dead,” Sebastian said. “He died two weeks ago of a heart attack.” Sliding past Trisha, he entered the hallway, and stood before me, his eyes hard and cold. “I know about the others, about Leon, Max and Harry… how they died. I also know that you,” he jabbed a finger at me, “that you’re next.”
“We need to talk.”Sebastian turned on his heels and marched down the hallway. “There are things you need to know.”
Ten minutes later, we were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, me with a beer in my hand. Sebastian hadn’t wanted one.
“My life turned in a positive direction after my parents moved me interstate.” Sebastian stretched out his legs. “I started a new school, made constructive friendships and studied hard. I ended up getting a good mark in my leaving certificate, which enabled me to attend university. After finishing a business degree, I found a job in the bank. That’s where I met Chloe, my fiancé. Things were going smoothly…. then about two months ago Hugh showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep. The two of us had been great friends before I moved away and had over the years kept in touch.”
I nodded, “go on.”
“He told me about the guys, Leon, Max and Harry. How they were all dead. Heart attacks, all three of them, so young? I couldn’t believe it.”
“I am surprised Hugh cared. He never came to any of their funerals.” I scratched behind my ear. “Not that I would have expected him to. After you left, we hardly saw him. I couldn’t even tell you where he’s lived these past years.”
“Still on the peninsula, but in a different neighbourhood. He read about the deaths in the local newspaper. He was pretty rattled by them, especially as the old man’s passing was so similar.”
A splash of beer dribbled down my chin, and I wiped it away. “What are you getting at?”
Sebastian stared directly into my face. “Hugh thought there was a connection between the old man’s death and that of our friends. He couldn’t get it out of his head. Wanting answers, he tracked down the old man’s son and asked if they could meet.”
A thump started up in my chest. I leaned forwards in my chair. “Yeah.”
Twenty-four hours later Hugh showed up at the son’s house. He was invited inside and led to a dark, dingy, back-room. On a table in a corner, he spied six voodoo dolls, all with name tags pinned to their chests. Guess whose names? Ours, the fab six. Three of the dolls: Leon, Max and Harry, had pins sticking out of their chests. The son saw Huge looking at them, and went off. He started accusing him of murdering his father. He said he was going to give him a heart attack the same way he gave Leon, Max and Harry heart attacks. Then with a ferocious expression, he picked up the Hugh doll and started poking it with a pin. Freaked out, Hugh fled the house, got back in his car and began driving up the pacific highway. He arrived at my house some fifteen hours later.
And he told me what happened. The son followed him from his house shouting he was going to get us all, first Hugh, then you, then me. Hugh died two weeks ago. He was still staying with Chloe and I, sleeping in our spare room when one morning, when he didn’t appear for breakfast, Chloe went to rouse him. I heard her yell out to me, and when I ran in, he was dead. A fatal heart attack, so the autopsy said.
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. “Umm,” I took another sip of beer then cleared my throat. “I never heard about Hugh dying. You said he still lived on the peninsula. Strange I never heard about it.”
“It’s most likely the gossip didn’t reach your ears yet. Hugh’s funeral was low key. His mother was a single parent. She couldn’t afford to have his body bought back to Sydney. So, they had a small service in Queensland, and later spread his ashes at a beach in Noosa, one of Hugh’s favourite beach destinations.”
“Where does Hugh’s mum live now?”
“Down south, Melbourne, somewhere.”
“I’m going to contact her.”
“I don’t like your chances. She changed her married name back to her maiden name some years back. I’m not sure what it is. And you won’t find her on social media. She wasn’t into that type of thing. Not that finding her will make any difference to us. We’ll probably both be dead by the end of the year.”
I slammed my fist on the table, “not if I can stop it.”
“You don’t deserve to have it stopped,” Sebastian said. “You are a dickhead. How many people have you taunted with your bullying? The old man was just one of many. I came here today for two reasons. Firstly, to tell you your days are numbered. Secondly, to say I hope your remaining days bring you as much misery as you’ve caused others.”
Hot flashes danced in my vision. “Hey,” I snarled and leapt to my feet. “Watch yourself.”
Sebastian also stood. He grabbed my T-shirt, and using some tricky leg action, tripped me to the floor. Pinning me down, he said, “I’ll see you in hell.” Then he walked from the room. Seconds later, I heard the front door slam.
Six months later, Trisha danced down the hallway of Sebastian’s house, swinging her hips. “We got him, cha, cha, cha. We got him, cha, cha, cha.” She opened the porch door and sat down on a barbecue chair.
“You sound happy,” Chloe said. She twisted the lid off a beer bottle and passed it to me.
“Why wouldn’t I be? My violent ex-boyfriend is in a mental institution.”
“I still can’t believe you pulled it off.”
“It wasn’t that hard.” Trisha smiled. “It was just a matter of getting into his head. I started the deception by tempting him with marijuana. I bought some from a girl at work and knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist, left it lying around the house. At first, the drugs relieved the stress of thinking he was about to die, but the longer he took it, the more paranoid he became about his circumstances.”
“And that’s when I came into it,” said a blond-haired guy, sitting opposite her.
“And what a fabulous job you did Hugh; pretending to be a ghost of yourself back from the dead. The way you kept materialising around the house telling him he was next in line to die. If he hadn’t been so stoned on mind-altering drugs, he probably wouldn’t have fallen for it. Lucky for me, he was. Your spooky antics got to him in the end. You should have seen him, screaming, crying out to be left alone. I had no choice but to call an ambulance. And the doctors had no choice but to place him in a mental health facility.”
Sebastian appeared at the porch door and pushed it open with his foot. “That’s what you get for being a gullible fool.” He placed a tray of pork chops on the table. “I still can’t believe he fell for that story about Hugh visiting the old man’s son, not to mention the crap about the voodoo dolls.”
“What a thick head,” Trisha said. “And to think he used to call me dumb.” She was quite a moment, remembering all the times he used her as a punching bag. “The things he did. The things he did.”
“The things we all did.” Sebastian’s face fell. “Harassing that poor old man… He didn’t do that alone, remember. We were all part of it, egging him on. For years afterwards, I wondered if we had in-fact pushed the old guy into an early grave. I was never entirely sure. I did hear he had a history of heart problems…”
‘Who told you that?’ Trisha tilted her head to one side.
“My dad. He and the old fella were members of the same golf club. It was common knowledge.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“So the other guys thought they were responsible?” Chloe asked.
“Yes, not that they cared.” Trisha rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t until after Leon, Max and Henry died of heart-related issues that my dear boyfriend made the connection between them and the old man. No guilt mind you, just paranoia. The stupid nitwit. According to Leon’s parents, Leon had underlying blood pressure issues. And the other two, Max and Henry, were substance abusers. They were all destined to die young.” She let out a puff of air, then reached across the table for Hugh’s hand. “If it hadn’t been for you and Sebastian helping to get rid of him from my life, I don’t know what I would have done.” Tears formed in her eyes. “How clever were we for playing on his insecurities. And how lucky was I to run into Hugh at The Mall? My old next-door neighbour, my childhood playmate. When I first saw him standing there, my left eye all bruised and black from my latest beating, I wanted to hide. Instead, I begged for help.”
“No worries,” Hugh said, “I was only too pleased. Of course, I had personal reasons for wanting to come at him. He bullied me too. I recall how he once slammed my fingers in a gate when I wouldn’t run a rusty nail down a car parked in the street.”
‘Good riddance to bad rubbish is all I can say,’ Sebastian said.
Hugh stood up. “Here, here.” He raised his glass. “Let’s make a…” He suddenly fell unconscious to the ground.
Three hours later, Sebastian walked from the hospital, numb all over. Hugh was dead. He could hardly believe it.
Dead. Dead from a heart attack.