The coroner’s ‘accidental death’ verdict had done nothing to assuage Sam Phelps’ conviction that his mother’s untimely demise was as a direct result of suicide, and that the brutal, mental indignities she had endured at the hands of his sadistic father were the cause of it. Nor was the teenager under any illusion as to who would be the target of his father’s perverse attentions now she was out of the way.
With cold dispassion he peered into the open grave, his gaunt expression betraying little of the contempt he harboured for its occupant; a weak and foolish woman, a congenital victim, woefully incapable of withstanding the harsh realities life had apportioned her.
He mocked inwardly at the pathetic soul now being laid to rest. ‘God, how dumb could you be? Didn’t it ever once enter that addled brain that the sick son-of-a-bitch is incapable of even the slightest degree of affection?’
He looked out across a sea of faces assembled at the graveside and was met by the cold and steady gaze of his mother’s tormentor. Unlike her, Sam was under no illusion that some shred of decency still inhabited the man. It was a belief that had served him well, and which had protected him from the mental cruelties Victor had visited upon him in the past. Love and affection, he had learned, were weaknesses to be exploited. Any emotions that threatened to expose this weakness, therefore, were swiftly subjugated. They were, after all, Victor’s very life blood; the perversity from which he took his pleasure.
Mercifully, the time-worn platitudes of the ageing priest came to an end. Sam picked up a handful of earth and threw it casually into the open grave and turned to leave.
A brawny hand clamped onto his shoulder. “And where do you think you’re off to, boy?” Victor asked.
His pretext that he promised his aunt he would visit after the service, because she had been unable to attend owing to illness, was met with suspicion. Victor had no recollection whatsoever of the boy having mentioned it to him, though what with the funeral arrangements and all it was possible it had slipped his mind. Reluctantly, he gave his consent and cautioned his son to return home at a reasonable hour – a warning Sam knew was not to be taken lightly.
An overriding sense of purpose urged Sam on past his aunt’s cottage and beyond the environs of the village. Ill though she was, he saw little use in calling in on the retired psychologist, since her usefulness had long outlived its purpose. The doting, old bird had never once suspected the true reason for his visit earlier that month, hadn’t even noticed the missing book he had taken from her study. Within its pages lay the means of assuaging his all-consuming hatred for his father and the terrible nightmares that had plagued him from infancy.
Although he knew what violence he would like to do to his father, Sam was under no illusions that he was capable of such an act. However, Through hypnotic access to his mind’s most frenetic imaginings he would learn to commit with impunity in his dreams what he feared he was incapable of doing in reality.
On the bleak and inhospitable outcrop of Maelon Tor an age-old shepherd’s lean-to played host to the enterprising young thief. A warming fire burned beneath its single-pitched roof, illuminating the pages of his ill-gotten book. He paused momentarily to rekindle the dying flames, only to realise that dusk had settled in around him. The hour was late and he knew full well that his absence from home carried a heavy price – though what form it would take was open to question, given the Machiavellian nature of Victor’s mind.
Fearing his father would be scouring the streets for him, Sam skirted the village via the old drover’s lane, his pace slackening appreciably as he neared the rear of the house. Unlike the ground floor view, which lay hidden behind a high stone wall, the upper storey was clearly visible. Gratified that no discernible light could be seen from its windows he opened the ponderous oak gate and peered through into the garden. The entire place was in darkness.
Inching his way up the gravel path towards the back door, he caught sight of something glinting in the moonlight. There, snaking its way across the lawn and round the gable, where it was ultimately lost from view, was a streamer of magnetic tape. Puzzled as to how it had gotten there, he followed its path and came upon the glowing embers of a dying fire. Scattered around its edges lay the charred remains of his most cherished possessions.
His father’s latest act of attrition stripped him bare of the complacency that had lulled him into the false sense of security that had cost him so dearly. It was a wake up call. The few things he held dear in his life, his music, his books, and assorted role- playing games, had been consigned to the flame.
Victor peered down from behind a second storey window, watching, patiently waiting, and gloating in the night shadows.
Experience had taught Sam that physical confrontation with his black- hearted father was ill-advised. He still bore the scars from a previous encounter when, at the age of eight, Victor had forced him to drown his beloved pet kitten for having soiled the drawing-room carpet. The hapless creature had struggled frantically to escape the icy waters of the rain barrel, tearing the flesh from Sam’s arms and wrists. In the end it was Victor himself who finished the job. Hauling the tiny, sodden, creature up by its hind legs, he smashed its skull against the barrel.
The livid scars served as a permanent reminder to Sam just how inhuman his father could be. But some wounds ran deeper, were less obvious. Left unattended they had become a cankerous growth that time alone could no longer dispel. His ardent hatred of Victor raged within him. Soon it would find release in the deepest recesses of his mind.
An inveterate gambler, Victor would often drive into the city at weekends to indulge his passion. This involved a considerable journey of some hours, affording Sam ample opportunity to put into practice all he had learned. At the eleventh hour, however, the elements themselves seemed ready to conspire against him. A menacing storm front was creeping in from the north and, for a while, it looked as though Victor might cancel his customary visit into the city. Awaiting the old man’s final decision, therefore, was more than Sam felt he could endure, his frayed nerves having reached maximum breaking point long ago. But habituation and addiction were potent forces to be reckoned with, and Victor’s defiant announcement that neither God nor the elements were going to prevent him from making his usual rendezvous came as a welcoming relief to the teenager.
Less than fifteen minutes had elapsed since his father’s departure and Sam was already feeling the effects of his auto-hypnotic induction, the incessant tick-tocking of the metronome sounding the passage of time as he gradually drifted deeper into an altered state of consciousness. Step-by-step he gave himself up to the soporific beat, his consciousness sinking inward to the synchronous pulse of his heart until, at length, even this last, tenuous link between reality and dream-state was relinquished and the gentle stirrings beneath his eyelids heralded the onset of his fantasy.
He looked about as the shadowy perceptions of his dreamscape gradually fused and blended into a cohesively familiar scene. He scanned the room for the tell-tale signs of surrealism that frequently inhabited his naturally occurring dreams. Nothing was amiss. All was as it had been prior to sleep. Elated by his god-like capacity, he felt that there was nothing to which he could not now aspire.
The sound was indistinct at first, an out-of-place grating that encroached upon the dreamscape. It grew louder and more defined with each passing second until there was no mistaking its source – a latch key! Someone in the real world was entering the house.
He awoke with a start. Dazed and confused, and in a blind panic, he leapt from the chair and made a beeline for the dining room to replace the disengaged telephone receiver. The last thing he had wanted was to be disturbed at some crucial point in his experiment. His caution, it now seemed, was going to be his undoing.
Catching him in mid-flight, Victor bellowed, “What the hell’s going on? And what’s the bloody phone doing off the hook?”
Sam’s only reply was an ineffectual stammer, which Victor was in no mood to hear. A stinging backhand sent Sam reeling against the wall, a second blow glancing off his temple before he could regain his senses. Vivid flashing lights burst before his eyes as a searing hot pain ripped through his skull. He sank to his knees and cowered like a whipped pup, certain that a further barrage of blows would follow.
“Get the fuck up!” Victor snarled, crimson faced and hauling him to his feet. “Now,” he demanded, “either you tell me what the hell you’re up to or I beat the shit out of you. Which is it going to be?”
No matter what he said or did Sam knew a good beating was on the cards and braced himself for what was to come.
Outside, a car horn blared and a voice called out impatiently, “C ‘mon Vic! At this rate the casino’ll be closed before we get there!”
His strangle hold on the teenager eased. Pushing him against the wall and stabbing him painfully in the chest with his finger he threatened, “I don’t have time for this now, but you can be damned sure it isn’t over yet. Now get the hell out of my sight before I change my mind.”
Picking up the wallet he had absent-mindedly left behind, he took his leave.
That night Sam brooded in the darkness of his room, forlorn images of his childhood firing across the synapses of his fevered brain, his mind caught up on a maelstrom of internecine rage and murderous desire. The pain in his temple was beginning to recede. He felt groggy and his eyes were leaden. The time had arrived to enter into his dreamscape before his father’s return.
He was not alarmed, sometime later, to find himself standing at the foot of the stairs with a large kitchen knife in hand; this much he had planned. The distant rumbling that rolled across the night sky and the intermittent flashes of brilliance radiating from the turbulent thundercloud overhead were, however, not of his making. They had come unbidden into his dream, as if by some unconscious directorship. The uncertainty of it thrilled him in a way he had never know and he threw caution to the wind, allowing himself to be carried along on a current of hypnotic indeterminacy.
A bolt of scintillating light crackled earthward, chasing the shadows from Victor’s room. In that briefest of moments Sam caught sight of his prey. The ridiculous sight of his pot-bellied father slumped naked across the bed, his flaccid prick poking out from between his thighs, brought Sam to a halt. Divest of his fatherly trappings, Victor presented an altogether sad and comical figure, an absurd antithesis of the fear inspiring monster he knew and loathed.
He inched closer to the bedside, the breath he had held in check suddenly bursting from his tired lungs.
Victor stirred and Sam’s heart almost erupted from his chest.
What was he afraid of? There was no way his father could hear him, unless he himself willed otherwise. He drew nearer, the lethal blade poised to strike. Then the moment was upon him, the blade driving deep into unresisting throat tissue. In a single stroke he severed the windpipe and carotid artery.
Victor’s eyes sprang wide in bemused horror. Like a fish out of water his mouth opened and shut mutely. He grasped futilely at the obscenely gaping wound to stem the crimson fountain that hastened his end as Sam looked on, his face a mask of psychotic amusement.
Sam had never seen so much blood, but he knew this was how he had imagined it and so it was. Rivulets of the stuff coursed down the walls and dripped from the ceiling onto the bedspread where Victor writhed in the final paroxysms of agony. It was all Sam had wished it to be.
Though all too brief, the encounter had proven extremely gratifying and Sam felt somewhat reluctant to return to the banal existence that awaited him in the real world. Nevertheless, he found consolation in the knowledge that there would be other nights and other scenarios to explore. Nothing was beyond him now.
Initially, he was not overly alarmed at his seeming inability to end the auto-hypnotic dream state. Under certain circumstances – such as his own, in which he had achieved a euphoric state – a time- lapse between command and response could occur.
Outside, the storm continued to rage, despite his efforts to quell it. Then it dawned on him with horrifying clarity that this was the selfsame storm that only hours earlier had almost kept Victor indoors.
He raised a tentative hand to his temple and winced. The pain was all too real and confirmed the bitter irony and horror of his situation. A tidal wave of stark reality crashed in on him, sweeping before it any hope of salvation. Even the darkest labyrinths of his mind could not conceal what he had done. There was no awaking from a living nightmare, nor escape from the perpetual abyss of insanity that had fragmented his mind.
David Calvert © 2010
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