Richell prize 2018 win­ner: read the pro­logue to Ruth McIver's crime novel I Shot the Devil

The Guardian Australia - - News - Ruth McIver

31 Oc­to­ber 1994

Why me? Why him? I asked the dark­ness.

Well, hell, be­cause it’s fun,the dark­ness an­swered.

At that mo­ment, 31 Oc­to­ber 1994, 11.11pm, the dark­ness had six heads, 12 arms and 12 legs. The woods were all around, al­ready know­ing ev­ery­thing and swollen with our se­crets.

You know that record Ru­mours, the one with the gay­lord in tights on the cover that ev­ery­one’s par­ents have? Well, that’s how it all started. Some­one said some­thing to some­one and some­one’s mother heard it and then it’s all over the school, the PTA and, later, the news: Satan wor­ship, group sex, an­i­mal sac­ri­fice.

West Cy­press Road Woods has a sound­track. In the day­time, it’s all Dis­ney; hum­ming­birds and red­headed wood­peck­ers, the light foot­fall of deer. At night, the deep-bel­lied hoot of barn owls and night­jars and more sin­is­ter rustling, deeper in the dark. There was an oc­ca­sional home­less guy wan­der­ing through, high school kids park­ing, get­ting high, fool­ing around. Wild­cats, you think; wolves, you imag­ine. An­other layer of the sound­track. The noises he made in the dark: gur­gles, snorts, moans. Feet shuf­fling in dirt, the crunch­ing of sticks un­der boots and can­vas sneak­ers.

Steve said that he’d killed a bear not far from there. He claimed to be a hunter, but all he had for ev­i­dence was a bearskin rug that none of us wanted to go near, let alone sit on.

We told An­dre we had some­thing for him. It was the only way to get him there that night with­out arous­ing his sus­pi­cion. An­dre knew some­thing was up – he was sweat­ing, his eyes were un­fo­cused but he kept lick­ing his lips and pump­ing his fist. Still, he came with­out a fight, slap­ping a mos­quito and drink­ing a beer too fast, hum­ming what sounded like “You gotta fight for your right.”

“Death’s a lot­tery,” Ricky Hell once said. Now An­dre’s num­ber was up, ev­ery­one agreed. That’s why he was smil­ing, Danny said. He com­pared An­dre to a white cat. Blond as a mouse and blind as a bat. It ex­plained his rest­ing ag­gres­sion – nat­u­ral disad­van­tages that made him both overly will­ing to please, but also ex­tremely volatile. He wheezed from asthma and wore con­tacts most days, but some­times tinted glasses. He had a pear-shaped, near wom­anly body, he al­most al­ways smelled like beer and plant mat­ter; some­thing botan­i­cal, earthy, rank.

Some­times it’s like the movies: a mon­tage of faces, feet and hands, kick­ing, break­ing. The crack in his ex­pres­sion when he knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen and he seems less afraid and even a lit­tle sad.

I rewind the tape, the bit where the reel is baggy with wear and warped, the break in An­dre’s voice, “Why me?”

You heard it all and you saw and you saw.

The worst bit is re­mem­ber­ing be­fore, the bits you can re­mem­ber. At Wendy’s near the high­way, all shar­ing the same Frosty and french fries at the back booth, be­fore get­ting kicked out by some ju­nior man­ager. Danny mak­ing devil horns and singing along in that deep growl of his, “blood will rain down”. Ca­role, still in her Dairy Queen uni­form, smelling like Win­dex and sugar. Ca­role, grab­bing you by your denim jacket, run­ning her fin­gers down all the badges, like she was tick­ing boxes – yes, cor­rect. Me­gadeth. Slayer. Me­tal­lica. The Crue. Tick, tick, tick. Get­ting high in the park­ing lot in the tray of the short bed Chevy, with the tarp cov­er­ing us, Hell­ham­mer turned up so loud it was shak­ing the truck, and smelling dope and men­thols and her Bonne Bell lip balm. Smil­ing at each other. This lit­tle mo­ment of be­long­ing be­fore ev­ery­thing breaks.

You didn’t do it, did you? You just saw and you saw and you saw.

Some nights it king hits you and you’re on the ground, tast­ing blood, hands over your ears; yours, his, you don’t even know. You don’t know what you saw.

You don’t even know if you made this all up. The same way you didn’t feel real while you were in Amer­ica. What­ever hap­pened there feels like an MTV video clip, you keep edit­ing and edit­ing and then, in the fi­nal cut, An­dre gets up and walks away.

Pho­to­graph: Green­wales/Alamy

‘He claimed to be a hunter, but all he had for ev­i­dence was a bearskin rug that none of us wanted to go near, let alone sit on.’

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