Mark Towse

The March Editor's Pick Writer is Mark Towse

Feel free to email Mark at: towsey12@hotmail.com

mark towse

by Mark Towse

Jesus Christ, I killed the cat! was the thought that stayed with me for years after it happened.

She died on a Saturday. I remember as it was one of those beautiful sunny spring days in Australia with the smell of smoke in the air from nearby farms that were burning off. Now, every time that smoky haze seeps through town, the first thing that comes to mind is me standing on the patio staring at the bloody mess that had been crammed into our post box.

That was thirteen years ago, and as I sit and write this down for all to see, I want to be clear that I am not asking for forgiveness, but I want to get this off my chest. 

My dad said it must have been an accident. His affection for cats was limited like mine, but I thought that might have been pushing it. It looked as though the cat had been turned inside out and then slam-dunked into a hole much smaller than you would ever imagine it could fit.

I suppose at the time he was trying to protect me.

I couldn’t bring myself to confess to my dad, and my mum was lost in her own world.

I’d recently gone snooping for Christmas presents and found letters from her lover, lots of them and even a half-naked photograph. I would later find out that his name was John. That was something no child should ever have to see, and I always thought this was more macabre than the fiction I was reading at the time; at least you could close a book.

I had no physical part in the cat’s death, and even at that stage, as a naive eleven-year-old boy, I wasn’t convinced it was my doing. It was just a silly game.

Let me explain—

I was a relatively lonely only child and this often involved playing card games with make-believe people. If I won something wonderful would happen, and if I lost there would be a pre-determined forfeit. For example, if I won, I would become a popular kid at school, and if I lost, I would puke at school during gym class. If I won, I would be rich, and if I lost, I would lose one of my shoes.

I would even take a big, juicy zit on my chin the size of a peanut in exchange for  an A in English was an example of how silly these thoughts were.

At this point, I should say that I loved English class at school and I aspired to be a writer. I suppose I was setting myself a challenge with only an ineffectual consequence if I failed. I remember how badly I wanted it as a child, and I was not interested in anything else. I made a lot of sacrifices to make sure I got A’s—too many to mention.

So back to that particular day, and my dad had just gone to work his evening shift, flask in hand and my mum was on her way to see lover boy with an inch thick layer of make-up on her face and enough perfume to make me gag.

Yahtzee was the game back then; indeed I was running my very own mini Vegas—VIP only of course. My all-time record was 402. If I beat that score, I would find a ten dollar note in the house so I could go and get some junk food from the milk bar, and if I lost our cat would die. Jesus, I know!

So there you have it, ten dollars or a dead cat and of course now I look back on that with guilt and regret but also wryly think why only ten dollars.

I scored 402 on my fifth attempt, and that was no mean feat. I didn’t officially beat the score, but surely that effort wouldn’t go unappreciated?

I searched the house from top to bottom in the hope that this might still count as a win; all I found was fifty cents and my Dad’s porn collection.

It was only Friday morning when I was getting my books together for school when the ten dollar note slid out of my English Essay book. Brand new, shiny and eager to be spent, I pocketed the cash enthusiastically and planned a visit to the milk bar en route to school.

Before I left that day, I looked in on the cat just to make sure she was still alive. Sally was eating what would be her last meal, and only briefly tilted her head towards me; I gave her the finger and skipped to the milk bar feeling like a millionaire. On the way to the shop I wondered how a ten dollar note got into that book, and the only conclusion I could draw was that it was a treat from my parents for getting an A on my English Essay the previous week.

When I got home that night, I thanked Mum for the money. She said she had no idea where it came from, and that Dad must have put it there. She said this with a whiff of resentment as she always assumed, and rightly so, that Dad and I had a much stronger relationship.

The next day and before I had the chance to ask Dad about the money, we found the dead cat stuffed into the postbox.

Well, Mum found it and came screaming into the house, waking Dad up after a long night shift. I was told to wait in the house, but I was keen to see what was going on. I followed them out on to the porch and saw my Dad there in his underpants, scratching his head. I remember thinking for a brief moment he was definitely more Columbo than Sherlock, and that was okay, Columbo was my favorite TV show anyway.

The two years that followed passed without event and the feeling of guilt slowly subsided. I also made a vow never to use another living being as a consequence of losing a silly game.

And then…B+ for English!

I was traumatized by that grade for a while; I couldn’t let it happen again.

Take a day off my life for an A in my next English essay.

It was the first time I brought my own mortality into these twisted deals, and I hoped one day would be enough to secure the grade. It seemed to do the trick, and for the next two years, I never dropped below an A.

The affair was still continuing. I caught Mum on the phone one night talking to her lover boy. She didn’t know I was in earshot and I heard her whining on that it wasn’t the life she wanted to lead and asked when they were going to make a proper go of it. My dad was becoming even more of a shadow of himself and had just resigned to his second-rate life. He never admitted it, but I think he knew about the affair. I was getting more and more withdrawn at school, and people were beginning to notice, and there was even that question at parent-teacher night, “Is everything okay at home?”

No, not really, my mum is a bitch and a whore, my dad is dead behind the eyes, and I think I killed the cat.

I recall that my mum gave me a pep talk after the parent and teacher meet.

“You need to break out of your shell, Mark,” she said. “Nobody will ever take you seriously if you can’t mix socially. You have to start making an effort. The way you behave reflects on us, Mark. You have to pick your game up!”

I remember staring at the back of her head as she droned on in the passenger seat, and imagined it exploding into a million pieces. It would be a bit of a mess, but I would help my dad clean the car up, and after that, we could go and get lemonade and chips and watch Starsky and Hutch.

I was starting to make a bit more of an effort at school; my dexterity with a pack of cards certainly helped, a few card tricks and some fancy shuffling was all it took to get a little following and certainly the last few years practicing was starting to pay off. The morning before school was my favorite time. I even started a pre-class Blackjack tournament in the common room. We paid someone to stand look-out, and if they saw a teacher coming, they would cough, and we would throw our textbooks on the table.

I dominated.

Everything was starting work out pretty well, until the school bully Richard tried his luck and lost his money on a stupid bet. He subsequently pinned me to the wall and hit me in the belly full force and made me give him his money back.

The resentment within me was growing rapidly, and the thought of someone spoiling the very limited fun I had in life was unbearable. A thought popped into my head, and it was fleeting but sinister.

Take a day from my life but make him pay.

I had broken the vow to keep others out of this. It was an emotional reaction to one particular asshole. I couldn’t control it, the thought just entered my head, and you can’t filter thoughts, they are instinctive. Christ, if every thought we had manifested into the physical form we would be in a whole world of trouble.

I didn’t think anything of it for the rest of the day; it was only on the way home after English class that afternoon that I recalled the thought and regretted it immediately. My paper had come back with an A+ and a wink from Mr. Dermott. Things were looking up, and I just needed to sort the Richard situation out. Perhaps there was a better way.

The next day he came to school and, as usual, nothing wrong with him. I was incredibly relieved; the cat’s death was perhaps a coincidence after all. On the other hand, Richard was still being a prick, and even more so since the Blackjack incident. He started spreading rumors that I liked to look at boy’s cocks in the showers, that I still suckled from my mum’s breasts and that my dad was a pedophile. I don’t think anyone truly believed that these were true, but it didn’t stop them getting on the bandwagon. The influence of the bully is powerful, and popularity is everything as a child.

The next night I made sure it was more than just a fleeting thought.

Three days from my life and make him pay.


We had eggs thrown at the house one night. I didn’t see who threw them, but I made an educated guess. My mum’s response was quite exceptional. “Mark, are these your friends?”

Yes, this is what friends do. We throw eggs at each other’s houses, and if we really like each other, we take a shit into our hands and rub it on the front door.

The feeling of rage and exclusion was starting to take its toll.

Five days from my life and make him pay!

The next day Richard turned up at school sporting a large gash in his leg. It needed six stitches apparently, and he spent the day showing it off to all the girls, and they all wooed and gasped admiringly. At school, it seemed if you sported an injury from a BMX or a skateboard all of a sudden you were God’s gift and all I had succeeded in doing was boosting his popularity.
The kid was really annoying me. He sat three rows behind me in English and was preventing me from enjoying my favorite class. Various projectiles would be thrown my way, and he had free reign to be loud and obnoxious. Mrs. Curtis had no control. Enough was enough!

One month from my life and make him pay!

It was a car accident; a woman reversed out of her driveway and apparently did not see the BMX behind her. She was busy getting her two-year-old ready for pre-school and was already running late for work, and for that tardiness, she now had a thirteen-year-old boy’s death on her conscience for the rest of her life. That wasn’t how it was supposed to happen, there wasn’t supposed to be anyone else involved, it wasn’t part of the deal, and he was only supposed to be badly injured—not killed.

The deal?

I later found out his mum committed suicide. The ripples of the event didn’t occur to me immediately—I was thirteen, and the one person in my way was dead.

I understand that I am not painting a very good picture of myself, as I have already stated I am not looking for forgiveness but want to provide some form of explanation to all that were affected by my actions.

For a few days after the accident, the mood of the teachers and children at the school turned somber, but it wasn’t long before things returned to normal. It turns out most people thought Richard was an ass. I later found out that his dad was an alcoholic and used to beat him—a lot. I am sure he would have had people in his life that loved and cared for him, and for those people, I am genuinely heartbroken and remorseful.

Life carried on without event for a few months. I was even moderately happy to some extent, and it seemed to get easier to put things behind me. I was still getting A’s for English and of course still offering days of my life to increase the odds in my favor. There was a possibility I was still being naïve or kidding myself, but I still tried to put his death down to a coincidence. There was no possible way I could have influenced such a chain of events. I played the game but only as a way of dealing with things and to make my life seem more bearable, more exciting.

I was even quite enthusiastic about the future. I was on my way to achieving my dream, and nothing was going to stop me.

You’re just a slag!

My mum was in the kitchen working through a stack of ironing that looked like the leaning tower of Pisa, gravity defeating pants and towels that would be methodically steamed as though she was cleansing her soul for her actions.

“Mark, where is your other trainer?” she screamed suddenly.

“I don’t know; isn’t it in my school bag?” I replied with a very nervous tone.

To this day I don’t know what triggered her over-reaction, maybe the promises from lover-boy were not so genuine. She stomped down the hallway, threw my door wide open and put the bag on my head and screamed, “Does it look like it’s fucking in there?”

I cried, and I don’t mind admitting that—I sat blubbing for a good few minutes after she had marched angrily back to the kitchen to continue ironing the crap out of a dishcloth. I thought I had uttered the words under my breath—an angry, but very quiet protest.

“You’re just a slag!”

I felt the door swing open again, and then the sting of her hand on my cheek which I could still feel a good few minutes later, “Wait until your dad gets in!”

A year of my life for lover boy to die!

For a few hours, I locked myself in my bedroom, and. I remember thinking to myself, What is my move here?

I heard Dad’s car pull up. The door opened and Mum’s dulcet and fake sorrowful tones greeted him at the door. Dad came into my room; normally he knocked, but not that day. He asked me to go into the living room and to pull my pants down and bend over. The look on his face was vacant, like something from the body snatchers movie.

There was only one strike with the belt, but it was a beauty. I thought Dad might have gone easy on me but everyone has a dark side, and he let rip, perhaps with all the pent-up emotion and frustration that life had not turned out as planned. Afterwards, I could see the event had drained him, he had looked beaten, and I could see his eyes were already moistening with regret. My mum seemed relatively satisfied after the forced apology.

“Sorry for calling you a slag, Mum,” I said.

“That is not a nice word, Mark; you shouldn’t use words when you don’t understand their meaning.”


John the lover boy fell off a ladder and was almost split in two apparently. It was a Sunday morning, and he was touching up the exterior paint on the roof edge. There was a huge gust of wind on what was otherwise a very calm day, and he fell and impaled himself on the neighbor’s wrought iron fence. I found all of this out when I overheard my mum confessing everything to my dad.

It was getting more and more difficult for me to pass these events off as coincidence. I knew I had potentially played a part in the demise of three living beings.

For days my mum would just sit staring solemnly into space. Home life had become even more unbearable. My dad kept his cowardly distance and Silvy was reduced to a few grunts here and there. Meal times were awful, and I couldn’t wait to rip myself away.

My English papers kept coming back with A’s, and I became even more obsessed with writing stories. It was my escape and a chance to place myself in any situation I chose.

I would write all weekend, sometimes until after midnight. I was obsessed, and I was adamant this would be my ticket out of a humdrum existence.

At sixteen, I had my first short story published in the local rag. It took me fifteen attempts and the final stake or offer or whatever sordid name you want to give it was two years. Life continued like that for a while. I had a small group of friends, and we would get together infrequently for card games or to mess around with computers. I still felt very detached but that was fine, I was on my way to becoming the next Stephen King, and everything was falling into place.

The night before I went to University, my parents finally split up. Now, in hindsight, this might have been a better alternative as the house jackpot—a simple split without casualties. If I had not let anger rule my thoughts back then, it certainly would have been a consideration. I wanted to hurt my mum, though, as she had hurt me and it’s difficult to channel that anger and rationalize at such a young age.

I loved University; finally, I was around like-minded individuals that enjoyed writing and talking about their stories and processes. I felt as though I belonged somewhere and life was beginning to fall into place.

I came out of University with first-class-honors in English, and a few published short stories in local magazines. The stage was set, and some of my pieces were getting attention from local publishers.

I was asked to submit a short story for consideration for an anthology of fiction.

Please let this happen, three years from my life.

I didn’t want to undercut this, I still had no idea how this worked, but I know from experience if the offer was low, there was a chance it would not happen. It took a while to go through the publishing process and after a few edits, phone calls and sleepless nights and a hell of a lot of waiting, the book was finally published three days before I turned twenty-three. It was a massive day. I invited my parents around to celebrate, they had both remarried and seemed to be happier, and life seemed to be ebbing back into both of them. I was so proud of this achievement and even convinced myself that it was my genuine talent that had led to this.

The anthology was successful, and my name was as plain as day in the credits for all to see. I was a published author.

The book sold well, and I was subsequently contacted by a larger publishing house, one that you would almost certainly know and one that wanted to commission a short story. No guidelines were provided, just a fictional piece.
Three years for the story to be successful would be the last deal I would make. I made a promise to myself.

Since starting this story, I have been getting some sharp pains down the left side of my body, and I have a sense that someone or something is here with me. The cost of this success has come at a high price, and now I sit here contemplating how many chips I have thrown into the pot and how much I have lost over the years. As a child, the days seemed long and time seemed infinite.
From the corner of my eye, I can now see it, a smudge of darkness impatiently sweeping from one side of the room to the other. I think it’s waiting for me to finish my final piece.

Each time I played those games of cards with made up people, I felt something—a presence, a feeling that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. Each time I made an offer, I felt too far removed to feel totally responsible. I knew better than that though.

He has been with me from an early age. And you can’t win against a stacked house.

It feels as though the air in the room is getting heavy and there is darkness surrounding my vision that is ever so slightly creeping in; my breath is no longer consistent but chaotic and uneasy.
The game got easier with time, too easy, and I have hurt a lot of people. My death at twenty-four will also hurt my parents and potentially others. I am sorry for all the pain that I have caused.

I am all in now, and I doubt this is the kind of house where you can get credit.

The only consolation I have …

there it is again, and I can feel the blackness filling my soul now. I’m scared…

… is that this will be my best piece yet. How successful it will be is hard to say, and whether or not it’s down to real talent I will never know, but at least it will be publis

Mark Towse has only been writing short stories for five months now, but his passion and enthusiasm are unparalleled, and this has recently resulted in paid pieces in prestigious magazines including Books N' Pieces, Artpost Magazine, Page & Spine, Flash Fiction Online, The No Sleep Podcast, and five upcoming anthologies.

Mark resides in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children.

You can find him on twitter at