A short story for Halloween.
I do not recommend that you read this – you have been warned!
It was the first morning in a long time that Andrew Forbes woke up feeling calm. At some point during the night he had finally made his peace with the world. It was a sensation which was so unfamiliar that, if it did not feel so pleasant, would have left him feeling very uneasy.
His estimate of one hour and forty minutes sleep was more than he would have expected when he had gone to bed at nine-thirty the night before. But the small hours had proved the perfect place to find the inspiration that was needed to solve the puzzle of his persistent anxieties. The sense of freedom it gave was remarkable. This must be what it is like to be released, unexpectedly, from prison, he thought.
The sleep had been welcome. More welcome had been the uncharacteristic absence of nightmares. But for some reason he had dreamt of a girl who, in his youth, he had liked, but who’s standoffish demeanour had caused him to withdraw from her circle, accepting the disinterest graciously. Not long after this nascent flame had been so readily extinguished, he had been on a bus on his way home from school and overheard a conversation between two friends of the girl. Apparently she wanted to pursue a boy, but was advised by her friends to play ‘hard to get’. The tactic had backfired. Andrew Forbes’ self-image was such that, at the time, it did not occur to him that he was the boy in question.
Forbes was by nature a man who accepted his place in the social order. Recently, when certain people had promised to contact him, but never did, he assumed that there must have been higher priorities to deal with. And on his yearly hospital appointment, waiting patiently for over an hour, before asking, nervously, if he would be seen soon, he accepted that the staff had a difficult job to do. Even on the occasion when he had been seen by a junior doctor, whose line of questioning made it obvious she had been drafted in at the last-minute to cover for a consultant who, evidently having something more important to do, had simply forgotten about him, Forbes spent the rest of his day hoping he hadn’t appeared angry to the young physician. After all, she was just doing her job.
But today, nothing like that would be on his mind. Today, his ‘to-do’ list contained only one item; and he had all day to do it. His clarity of purpose was like a force of nature – like electricity, he thought. He had always had rather a strong admiration for electricity. Apart from the clean white light it could provide, and its perfect hygiene, there was a kind of decisiveness to it. It would sit there quietly waiting, and at the right moment would do precisely what it needed to do. This was exactly how Forbes was feeling as he left the house and drove to the hardware store.
Sometime later, Frank Grey was relieved, at last, to leave his office. The patient roster today had been tedious – the usual trail of time wasters moaning about how bad their lives were. He longed for someone with a real illness – one he could use his hard-won training and experience to treat. Hastily he put on his coat, grabbed his briefcase and strode toward reception. “Good night”, he said cheerfully to the woman behind the desk, but secretly chided her for taking too long to buzz him out of the building. He could never remember her name.
It was dark, but still early. Thick shrubs sheltered his car from the worst of the wind. Large cold drops of rain stung the back of his gloveless hands and caused him to drop his car keys. “Bloody hell,” he said out loud, stooping to pick them up. He pressed the unlock button and could see the familiar yellow flashes reflected in the wet car park surface as the crosshead screwdriver entered his right cheek. It stabbed at his left gum with some force, and was thrust repeatedly until it was able to pass between his teeth and exit through the other side of his face. Of course he tried to scream out the agony, but was prevented by a gag reflex caused partially by the blood trying to enter his throat and partly by the thin steel bar pulled against the back of his jaw hinge.
“Hello doctor,” spoke a polite voice from behind him. “I’ve been trying to contact you, but you’re a difficult man to get hold of.”
Grey felt himself being dragged backwards. His instincts should have been working toward escape, but the assailant’s speed and precision of action prevented Grey’s brain from concentrating on anything but keeping enough balance to prevent his lower jaw from being ripped off. Even the stomach had to wait for Grey to be thrown onto a hard plywood floor before it could vomit up its distaste for such pain. Somewhere outside him he could hear the echoing thud of doors being slammed shut. He was just about able to push himself onto his knees. This gave him some slight relief and enabled him to pull out the screwdriver, but his hand slipped in the ensuing pool of blood and his head bounced off a cold metallic wall. He thought he could hear an engine starting and a voice say “are you alright back there?”. Coughing a warm sticky mucus, he managed to turn onto his side.
“Sorry about this doc.” the voice seemed to say. “Now I don’t want you to worry. I’m taking you to my ‘happy place’. You’ll like it there. Its lovely and peaceful…,” the voice faded and Grey passed out.
Who was it told him he would not feel pain in dreams? Whose voice could he hear, as if from under water. I wouldn’t advise waking up yet, it said. But it was too late. Adrenaline poured into his bloodstream. More of the automatic mechanisms of survival roused him and forced him to face the ‘unpleasant situation’ in which he found himself. His face throbbed, unbearably. His hands, illuminated by a small desk lamp, were held fast to a table in front of him.
“They’re called tie-wraps,” said the voice. “Amazing invention really. You’re wrists are essentially being held down by less than a millimetre of plastic.”
Grey tried to mouth words: “Why are you doing this?”
A face, eyes gentle with sadness, smiled at him. “I just wanted to talk.”
“Look, it’s not too late to let me go. No real harm has been done…”
“Actually it is too late.” He stepped back to put on a pair of ear defenders. Grey writhed fruitlessly as the man lifted an axe and brought it down onto the fingers of Grey’s left hand. “You’re probably wondering why I haven’t taped up your mouth!” the man explained loudly over Grey’s screams. “It’s because I want you to be able to call for help! I want you to know what it’s like.” He lifted the axe again, this time to remove the tips of the fingers on the other hand, then placed it on the floor, leaning against the table. He reached into a bag and pulled out a laptop computer, opening it up. He placed the keyboard under what was left of Grey’s fingers.
“Listen!” He had to speak up to make himself heard. “Nobody is going to hear you out here, so I’ve set you up with some mobile internet. There is plenty of online credit, but I’m afraid the battery isn’t very good.” He reached down again to the bag this time coming up with an expensive looking craft knife. Grey’s eyes rolled and he started to sob uncontrollably. Impatient for the first time, the man snapped at him: “Oh, for God’s sake, why don’t you cheer up? This isn’t for you.” The laptop screen lit up.
“You know, it’s remarkable how liberating it is to lose a child – your only child.” The thing inside Grey’s mind watched as, at first in splatters, then in a flood, Andrew Forbes’ blood obscured the image of a lone tree, on a rolling green hill, under a blue summer sky.