Karen McKibbin grew up in Northern Ireland. After graduating from Queen’s University of Belfast, she moved to London and embarked on an eventful career in retail and people management. She now lives, with her husband, on the Northumberland coast. Her first novel, Soldier Doll, was placed in the top 10% in the Cheshire Novel Prize 2022.
She has been editing her debut novel in preparation for publication. Set in 70s Belfast, it tells the story of two sisters, a devastating betrayal and its heartbreaking consequences.
They walk from the city centre, following the bus route home, her arm linked through his.
‘Wait,’ she says, stopping suddenly. ‘I can’t walk another inch in these friggin’ things.’ She leans against him for support as she pulls her shoes off swollen feet. She touches her heel and winces. ‘Blister.’
‘Come on,’ he says, offering her his back. ‘I’ll carry you.’ He puffs with the effort. After a hundred yards he sets her down.
She sways and topples against him. ‘Oops.’ She giggles.
‘I told you to go easy on the rum and cokes.’
An armoured vehicle turns into the street. He holds her upright as he catches his breath. The vehicle slows then rumbles past.
‘Wankers,’ he mutters.
‘Good craic tonight, wasn’t it?’
She looks at her watch. ‘Christ, is that the time? My ma will tan my hide. Come on,’ she says, tugging at his arm.
They set off, her in stockinged feet.
They turn into a dark, terraced street, its lights smashed long ago.
‘Nearly home,’ he says when he sees the chip shop.
The odour of fried batter hangs in the air. There is another smell; she knows it but can’t place it.
‘What’s that?’ he says.
Her eyes are on the pavement littered with empty wrappers and cigarette stubs. She watches out for anything sharp. She sniffs the air again. Paint? Yes, that’s what the smell is.
He nudges her. ‘Over there. Look!’
They peer at the lamp post in front of the chip shop. Something – a rag doll, or a scarecrow – is tethered to it. The head is black. It’s been charred in a fire. The stuffing has come loose.
They edge closer.
‘Shit! It’s moving.’ She puts her hand to her throat. ‘Oh, Jesus!’ She takes in the paint and feathers, the shorn hair. ‘That poor girl.’ She looks up and down the street. The house lights are off. No sign of anyone watching. She takes a step forward. ‘We should do something.’
He holds her back. ‘Don’t get involved.’
Out of the darkness looms a bloodied brute of a man. He has a knife.
They back away.
The man staggers past. He stops at the lamp post.
The girl twists, trying to free herself. She wants to cry out but her voice is muted.
‘Sshh,’ the man says. He saws furiously at the rope. He cuts her free.
The girl slumps into his arms.
The man gently removes the tape covering her mouth.
‘Daddy,’ she sobs, clinging tightly to him.
‘It’s alright, love,’ he says. ‘I’m here now.’