Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
By Daniel Skye
Death’s shadow loomed over Ted Holland.
X-rays taken by his doctors revealed a brain tumor the size of a fist. Malignant and inoperable. They had given him approximately six weeks to live.
As he stood in the threshold of death’s doorway, Ted wanted nothing more than to forget the past and live his last few weeks in peace and harmony.
Ted was incapable of forgiving the demon that had robbed him of his only son, Gregory. Forgiveness was not even an option he’d indulge. It wasn’t something he had in his blood. So it appeared his only hope of savoring his final days was to erase Tanner Langstrom from his memory.
Langstrom was the monster who had been traveling at three times the speed limit when Gregory was riding his bicycle down the driveway. Tanner never saw him coming, never had a chance to brake.
The arriving officer smelled alcohol on Tanner’s breath, and he was behaving belligerently and refused to take a breathalyzer at the scene. The police finally got him to take one down at the station and confirmed that Tanner had alcohol in his system at the time of the accident. But by the time he had consented to a breathalyzer, he was below the limit.
And now, Tanner was out on parole, walking free amongst the rest of society. Ted knew his own departure was imminent, while Tanner would most likely go on to live a long, healthy life. And that thought gave Ted no solace. In fact, it sickened him.
Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Tanner’s face. He had to stare at that face every day during the trial. It was a face he could never forget. Those bulging green eyes that made him look like a lizard. That ugly scar across the bridge of his nose. That hole in his lower lip from where he’d usually where his ring. He was considerate enough to remove it for the duration of the trial.
Ted also found himself disgusted by how vehemently Tanner’s lawyer fought to keep him out of prison. How he expressed remorse on behalf of his client. How he called Ted’s parenting into question.
Stahl was his name. Desmond Stahl. He was a portly man with a dark complexion and a penchant for bowties that distracted from his rather plump head. He wore aqua blue shirts under his suit jacket and he spoke in such a condescending manner that every time he opened his mouth, Ted wanted to reach down his throat and yank out his vocal cords.
These were all the things Ted didn’t want to dwell on in his final days. These were the things he wished to forget.
Cynthia Rockwell had made all the arrangements for him. In his declining state, Ted was in no condition to leave the house. Cynthia was a young lady, much younger than the widowed Ted, who had no illusions about shacking up with a girl half his age.
Cynthia was a caregiver hired to look after Ted until the inevitable occurred. She wore hoop earrings, but never lipstick or a dab of makeup. She had a rare natural beauty that Ted and every other man within ten feet of her found entrancing. Though he found her attractive, he also made it a priority to show her the respect a woman deserves and refrain from flirting or staring inappropriately.
They had formed quite a bond in the first three weeks they spent together. Cynthia prepared all Ted’s meals for him and kept him company through the days. They played chess together, a game Ted had mastered long ago, though he would let Cynthia win every time. They listened to classical music like Bach and Mozart, Ted’s preference.
And Ted even confided in her, told her all about Gregory and his wife divorcing him after the accident. He told her all about Tanner Langstrom and his sleazy lawyer, Desmond. About Tanner’s parole, and his yearning to forget it all.
Ted had heard through his lawyer that Tanner had been in touch with Desmond recently. He was hoping Desmond would represent him in a case against the city to get the DWI charge expunged from his record and downgrade the charge to involuntary vehicular manslaughter. And this latest information only fueled Ted’s desire to purge Tanner from his memory.
That’s when Cynthia offered a suggestion. “Have you considered a hypnotist? I know a guy who helped my friend quit smoking. They haven’t had a cigarette in four years. This guy is supposed to be the best.”
“What’s his name?” Ted inquired.
* * *
Sunday, June 19th, 2011.
Ted was in bed when Cynthia informed him that Brandt Bukowski had arrived.
“Let him in, please,” Ted said, summoning all his strength so he could sit up to greet him. The migraines were often debilitating and felt like a knife being twisted in his skull.
“Mr. Holland, I presume,” Doctor Bukowski said, standing in the doorway.
“That’s me,” Ted said, finally managing to sit upright. “And what do I call you, doctor or Mr. Bukowski?”
“You can call me Brandt if it makes you feel comfortable.” Bukowski walked towards the bed with Cynthia trailing behind him.
“Cynthia filled you in on all the details?”
“She did,” Bukowski informed him. “First, let me say how sorry I am about your son. If it had been me, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I can understand why you called me.”
“Okay, Brandt,” Ted said. “Be honest with me. How real is this stuff?”
“Very real,” Bukowski said. “And I have a one hundred percent success rate,” he assured Ted. “I’ve cured people of their phobias, helped them conquer smoking and other addictive substances, and suppress unwanted memories.”
“Well, that’s why you’re here. I have a surplus of unwanted memories and I don’t want them haunting me anymore.”
“Then you’ve made a wise choice,” Bukowski said. “Shall we begin?”
“Sure,” Ted said wearily. “Cynthia, you can leave us for now. Thank you.”
Cynthia left them alone and Brandt took a seat beside the bed where Cynthia usually sat and removed a gold pocket watch from his tan blazer.
“This watch is a family heirloom. It belonged to my great grandfather. It still ticks. But other than that one little marvelous detail, it’s just an ordinary watch. Nothing special about it. Hypnotism does not depend on the object used to entrance the patient. It’s all about the patients’ mentality. Those who truly wants to be cured of their affliction are more susceptible to being hypnotized.”
“So what is it I’m supposed to do here?” Ted asked.
“You don’t have to do anything except use your eyes.” On that note, he held the watch from its chain and let it swing back and forth like a pendulum. The watch drifted from side to side and Ted followed it with his eyes.
“I need you to clear your mind, Ted,” Brandt said in a soft, soothing voice. “Think of absolutely nothing. Free yourself from thought. Just let your mind drift and soon your body will follow.”
His eyelids fluttered as he tried to keep his focus on the watch. He didn’t realize how tired he was until he observed he wasn’t sitting upright anymore and his back was sliding down the headboard.
“I’m going to count down from ten, and when I’m finished, you’ll be asleep. Ten…nine…eight…seven…”
Ted was out cold before he could even count down to five. But before the real procedure could begin, Ted’s body was awakened by a massive jolt, as if some form of electrical current ran through him.
He sprung up in bed, hands shaking, eyes rolling into the back of his head until all Brandt could see was white. Then he fell back, his body going into convulsions. He kicked and thrashed and flopped around the bed helplessly, unable to communicate at all.
“Cynthia!” he called and she came rushing back.
“What’s happening?!” she exclaimed.
“I don’t know…this has…this has never happened to me before. Is there a phone? We need to call for an ambulance immediately.”
Just as Cynthia ran for the phone, the convulsions ceased. Ted’s muscles relaxed, and his body returned to a calm, peaceful state. His eyes rolled back into place and he sat up, confused and disoriented.
“What’s going on?” Ted asked. “Are we done? Is it over?”
“Ted…you had an attack of some kind. We never even began. Are you prone to seizures?”
“Seizures? No. I’ve never had one before in my life.”
“Any history of epilepsy in your family?”
“Nope. The only thing that’s hereditary in my family is alcoholism.”
Cynthia returned but dropped the cordless phone in shock at Ted’s miraculous recovery. “Mr. Holland? Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m fine, Cynthia. I don’t remember what happened. But I feel okay. There’s just this throbbing in my temples. I’m sure it will go away.”
But the throbbing didn’t go away. It intensified. Ted massaged his temples as the pain continued to surge.
“Sir, can I get you anything?” Cynthia asked. “Water? Aspirin?”
“No, I’m fine,” Ted assured her. “Just give me a moment.”
“Ted, I’m not really sure if it’s safe for us to continue,” Bukowski informed him. “I should probably be going.”
His temples throbbed rapidly and he found himself inexplicably filled with rage. It was an overpowering feeling of hatred. All he could think about was hurting Bukowski. He lost all control over his thoughts and emotions. His own mind was battling against him. And his mind was winning, rapidly ceasing control over his body.
And Brandt Bukowski was the first to feel the wrath of Ted’s imagination. Brandt’s feet left the floor and his body hovered in the air, a few feet off the ground. His legs curled on their own, bending back to such an extreme degree that they snapped at the knees, the broken bones jutting out through the skin. Then his arms, as if being pulled by some invisible force, were drawn back as far as they could be stretched, and ripped straight from the sockets.
Brandt, still suspended in the air, let out one final cry as his upper body contorted and folded back, severing his spinal cord in the process. Brandt was released from his invisible grasp and his body plunged to the floor, motionless.
Cynthia screamed at the top of her lungs as she scrambled for the phone to report the incident. Ted’s temples throbbed again and he just wished Cynthia would shut up.
In seconds, her cries were muffled as an invisible force had taken hold of her windpipe, squeezing the air out of her. She choked, gagged, clutched at her throat. Her face turned red, then purple, then she collapsed to the floor, and her cries ceased.
Ted blinked his eyes rapidly and massaged his temples and the pain gradually subsided. He took a glance around the room and the carnage that had transpired. He couldn’t recall a second of it.
His mind only seemed to have one direction. It craved blood. It craved revenge. It craved Tanner Langstrom.
Ted rose from his bed, taking full advantage of his newfound energy and abilities. He hadn’t felt this alive in months. He dressed in a hurry and grabbed his coat and jacket. As he went for the door, he tasted something bitter in the back of his throat.
Blood. Ted surmised he might be bleeding internally. But his mind would not let him focus on this concern. It pushed him towards the door, down the stairs, out the front, and into his car.
He didn’t know where to find Tanner. But he knew where to start.
* * *
Desmond Stahl made his living on the grief and misery of others. He was a defense attorney. But as repugnant a specimen as he was, Desmond could work some serious magic in that courtroom. And I’m not just talking about pulling rabbits out of hats, either.
So Ted took a little drive out of town and marched right into the law offices of Kramer and Johnson. He approached the receptionist, who asked politely if he had an appointment. His temples ached and throbbed and he imagined his hands wrapping tightly around her thin throat.
The receptionist heaved and scratched at her throat, struggling to find the air. “This is how it’s going to work,” Ted said. “Tell me where to find Desmond Stahl and the pain goes away.”
“Down the hall,” the receptionist choked out the words. “Third door on the right.”
“Thank you,” Ted said, his mind releasing its grasp on her. She clutched at her throat and coughed as the air returned to her lungs. The throbbing in Ted’s temples ceased and he tasted blood again and felt a sharp pain forming in the pit of his stomach.
Dismissing the pain, he walked down the hall and approached the third door on the right, marching in uninvited. As Ted anticipated, he was wearing a bowtie and an aqua blue shirt under his jacket.
Desmond was a fidgety man, always pulling at his belt or tugging at the legs of his trousers or scratching at his ample belly.
“Who are you?” Desmond asked, arms crossed but still fidgeting around in his chair. “I don’t believe we have an appointment.”
“You don’t remember me?”
“You should. But none of that matters now. You won’t remember me after today.”
“That sounds like a threat. Just who the hell are you?”
“Tanner Langstrom. Does that name ring a bell?”
“I vaguely recall representing a man who might’ve had the same name.” Desmond unfolded his arms and tugged at his pant legs.
“He killed my little boy and you got him off with a slap on the wrist.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Desmond’s desk and shelves were polished oak, and the long narrow windows behind him overlooked the adjacent park. He swiveled his chair around and looked out, so he wouldn’t have to face Ted.
“Just tell me where to find Tanner.”
“I don’t know where Tanner is. I represented him years ago. Even if I did know where he is, I wouldn’t be at liberty to divulge that information. Attorney-client privilege, you know?”
“Tanner just got released from prison. I know he’s been in touch with you. He contacted you with plans to sue the city to try and get this stain removed from his record. Where can I find him?”
Desmond, his back still turned to Ted, was about to call for security when he felt the sharp pangs in the pit of his stomach.
Ted’s temples pulsed wildly. Desmond squirmed in his chair as his ample belly swelled three times in size. “Help! Help! What’s happening to me?!”
“Just give me an address,” Ted said. He could taste the blood rising in the back of his throat, but it didn’t discourage him or the grip his mind had over Desmond. “The address,” he demanded again.
Desmond could not see his legs, but he could feel that they had increased in mass. They had swelled to the size of telephone poles. And his stomach had expanded to the size of a hot air balloon.
“1291 Cambridge!” Desmond shouted, just before his stomach could no longer withstand the pressure. He burst open, the explosion propelling his innards against the glass and tainting the serene view of the park.
The pain in Ted’s head dissipated but the taste of blood still lingered in the back of his throat.
“1291 Cambridge,” he repeated.
* * *
1291 Cambridge was a dilapidated house in a neighborhood riddled with many other abandoned or neglected properties. But this hole in the wall had special significance to Ted.
It was once the home of his childhood friend, Aaron. In the decades that had passed, the house remained virtually the same; the only major difference being a two-door garage where Aaron’s dad’s boat used to be.
In retrospect, the boat was nothing special. But as a kid, that big boat raised up on that trailer seemed larger than life to Ted. Aaron and his dad took Ted out on the water and showed him to bait a hook and cast the reel out into the water. Ted got a catch on his first try, a six pound fluke.
He never took Aaron for an angler, but his friend really seemed to love it out there on the water. And that made Ted enjoy the experience all the more. For years, it seemed like Ted and Aaron were inseparable.
So what came between them? A girl. Years of friendship tossed down the gutter over one girl. Jenny Washburn. They both fought for her affection. But it was Aaron who won her heart, and he and Ted never spoke again. Though Ted had heard years later that Aaron and Jenny had married after college.
Maybe I’ll pay them a little visit when I’m done here, Ted thought. But it wasn’t really him thinking. It was this strange, anonymous force that had taken hold of his mind and his body that caused him to think and act like so.
Ted walked up the red stone path that extended from the sidewalk to the porch. He looked down when he reached the third stone, expecting to see a huge crack in the center. It was still there and the childhood memory made Ted–the real Ted, not the entity that possessed him–smile briefly.
Ted didn’t knock. He didn’t ring the bell. He just closed his eyes and as his temples throbbed uncontrollably, he let his mind do the work. In mere seconds, the door was reduced to splinters and Ted made his way in, confronting a startled Tanner Langstrom in the living room.
He looked different. He still had this bulging green lizard eyes and the lip ring and that scar across the bridge of his nose. But he looked aged and exasperated.
“Who the fuck are you, buddy?” Tanner demanded an answer. “You can’t just bust in here. This is my family’s place. You’ve got no right to come barging in.”
“Gregory Holland,” Ted spoke.
“Get out before I call the police.”
“I know you remember him.”
“I paid my debt.”
“Six years? You didn’t pay shit.”
“I remember him. And I remember you staring a hole through me every day at that trial. I’m sorry about what happened to your son. I truly am. But there’s nothing I can say or do to bring him back. There’s nothing I can do to fix it.”
“There’s one thing you can do,” Ted said and his temples pounded.
A tear formed at his scalp, creating a zigzag-like pattern that traveled down his forehead, cutting across the bridge of his nose, bisecting his lips, and ripping down his chest. With his face ripped open and his lips torn apart, Tanner could no longer speak in his defense. He gurgled, attempting to speak, but the words refused to come. The skin peeled away, separated at both sides of the torso like an unbuttoned vest flapping in the breeze, leaving his ribcage, nerves, fat, muscle, and sinew exposed. But Ted decided he wasn’t finished there. And in the blink of an eye, Tanner’s body split down the middle like a piece of lumber, the halves of his body dropping to the floor with two loud, wet thuds.
Ted breathed an audible sigh of relief. “It’s over,” Ted assured himself. “It’s…Ah! Make it stop! Make it stop!”
Ted crumbled to his knees, his temples ready to burst. The pain in his head was too much to bear now. He tasted blood again, but that was the least of his concerns. Now he could actually see the blood. And not just the blood of Tanner, but his own. It was flooding out of his nose, pouring out from his ears, even from his eyes. He was hemorrhaging blood from every orifice of his body.
The force that had possessed him was strong, but not strong enough to stop his last thoughts from being of Gregory. When every last drop of blood had been drained from him, the force vacated his body. And moments before Ted collapsed, he whispered something, barely audible.
“I did it, Gregory.”