The Thames seem to glow in sunlight. I shall not deny how dreary England can be; it being so prone to rainfall and flooding, especially near bodies of water such as these. We are, however, graced with a day now and again where the clouds give way to glorious rays of light. I’ve spent the entire day sitting by the banks of the Thames, where it runs sparkling through my hometown of Ashton Keynes. On the other side of the bank to where I sit is my house, or more properly my late father’s house, which I was fortunate enough to inherit. I find strange pleasure in looking at it, knowing I live so close to such a significant…what to call it? To call it river alone would do it great disservice.
Here the water runs translucent, in such an early stage of its course it has not even yet reached Oxford, where they name it the Isis – after a deity. How I love to watch it! The liquid is clean here, the river barely a few metres wide. What evil it is that these humble waters which would later run under Westminster Bridge itself would be unsuitable for fish, polluted and foul. It is such an important part of our heritage, of our culture.
I love to relax here on my days when Faith is away. She has been gone for the best part of two weeks, staying in Bath with Basil Brood. I’m grateful to him in a way, as it is only when I’m alone that I have time to practise my skills, broaden my horizons. I’ve begun reading Chaucer – how delicious it is to behold how our language has evolved. Soon, I shall be as learned as any man from ‘Oxenford’. Let that stand as testimony to the pompous, to the judgemental – how little I have need for such education.
Once I fully understand it, I will have to choose something else – but what do I have left? Shakespeare, Brontë, Poe…I’ve studied so much, now. How much qualifies me to be able to write a book – to teach, to critique professionally? I dream of days when I can call myself…cultured, properly cultured, as it were. Already do I feel such an odd joy, sitting, writing as the sun sets on my face.
I will conclude my writing here. They should be back tomorrow, and I hope to make their return as pleasant as I can manage.
What a day this has turned out to be. For the entirety of my shift – which is to say the entire day, as the others who once shared my position have been transferred elsewhere – not a single being approached the site. Normally, I’d now and again see some inspector enter the facilities to ensure they’re functioning to a proper standard, and often will I spot coated men chatting to one another on the cameras in the various kitchens and facilities, yet now…nothing. At first I checked my watch, then again, then again several more times, just to see if it were still too early. Then I wondered whether it were some kind of prank, or perhaps the team had been striking, and I somehow missed their callings. Yet I doubt that even more! I’ve sent several messages to a few colleagues of mine, inquiring on their absences, but have not yet received any kind of response.
If you’d ever believe such a thing, my return to Ashton Keynes was almost stranger. The neighbourhood’s inhabitants, who are normally timid, perhaps even reclusive, folk spoke to me not only cordially and in an outgoing fashion, but spoke to me in the first place. Each seemed to insist on me coming to see them (where they did not specify), even though we were hardly acquainted, let alone friends. They spoke to me with a breathless enthusiasm but still spoke softly. The sympathy, the pity in their tone…so much that it almost became…unnerving, as if they were almost desperate for my company.
I’ve since locked my door, something out of the ordinary from my normal behaviour, as in a town of less than a thousand people who move here to die, there isn’t much threat of...well, anything, really. Not only no crime, but no cars, no children in the streets, nothing. It strikes me as odd each time I think of it, just how detached this place is from the rest of the world.
But that isn’t the worst of it. As I walked parallel to the Thames, night fell as the sun’s descent completed. While normally the Thames brings me a calm, a quiet joy, I felt…angst. Why angst? The rabbit senses the bird of prey from the sky and bolts to safety, and I turned, gripped with a fear which origin I could not explain, and dashed home, dizzy and sticky.
I wonder what it was…a threat, truly? How did I sense it – an instinct from some primal region of my mind? I wonder, did the ape experience such feelings? Did he fear them as I did, to a greater extent…or perhaps one lesser? Perhaps, perhaps not. I cannot question the wisdom of the human mind, nor the Neanderthal’s, whose brain was larger than our own, as I’m in no position to. Yet one day I shall be. For now, all I am certain of is that I wish Faith to be home. Being alone in this house is a peculiar terror, but then again, is not being alone in itself?
There’s an intense panic within me, caused by something I dare not put on paper. After hour upon hour of waiting, I fell into fitful sleep, suffering nightmare after nightmare, each time waking feeling...impure. While I’d like to say that I cannot remember what they entailed, I feel as if I know this isn’t the case, but more I don’t want to acknowledge the possibility I remember, and so I do not. Faith has not called, nor did she inform me that she’d be staying longer. For lack of a better word, it makes me angry. I feel like I’m being toyed with: she does not work, she does not help David with school…but she does do, yes. She eats, she sleeps, she spends my money and she hogs David. One half of me says it is my duty as a husband – as a father – but I feel I’m receiving the shorter end here. I do not wish to describe her behaviour as parasitic, yet does that not fall under its definition?
My chore of a job never ceases to frustrate me – no social contact at all. I sit in my chair, watching cameras, cleaning facilities, unlocking doors, then locking again, then moving onto the next. My only respites are my breaks, brief and hardly satisfactory.
Aside from myself, there’s no soul here yet again. I wonder if I’ve somehow missed some memo or important update – are there more tests to be had? My purpose here…it’s tertiary, I can accept that, but I’d appreciate the simple formality of being told. High stress, low control, measly pay! The penance I pay for my failure in school.
I often wonder whether or not it truly was idiocy which has led me here. Education is a flawed, diseased system, or at least our system we’ve elected to use. With the exception of mathematics, all grades represent is our ability to regurgitate information. With our memory being so limited, so basic, when even the dullest of computers can outclass us, it is remarkable we still use such a system, and yet…it is the best we have, it must be!
I digress, but I’m on the verge of calling the police. I tell myself I’m being irrational – she’s only been gone a day longer, and yet…no, this will not do – at all.
I suppose I should be thankful…no, happy to see they have returned, and yet all I feel is insulted. They returned, yes, in the early hours of this morning (or so she tells me, as I was long asleep by then). I have had no opportunity to see David: Faith insisted on me going to work; she would handle his departure to school, which has just begun again.
I could not stop worrying today, worrying of that…that concept. It nagged at me hour after hour, and though I now have been telling myself I’m being a fool, I’ve based this conclusion merely on my intuition. If only I had cared a little more in school, I might not have to worry so much. “Knowledge is power,” is the cliché, but I argue that it is not knowledge but certainty.
Oh! If only I could relive the early years of my life, do what I did improperly properly! Where could I be? Could I have gone to Oxford and spent my early twenties watching the Isis flow into London? How I detest my job – its tedium, its repetitive, meaningless procedures, day after day, until they become weeks, and – what then? How long have I held such a contemptuous position? Twenty years, now? More? Less?
Before I could open the door of my home, I was called, and I turned around to see Basil Brood, attired in a suit. A businessman. How I wonder what he does: does he hate his job just as much as I do? If so, he disguises his displeasure to great success. Fitting, really.
“How do you do, Basil?” I offered this greeting to him.
“I came to see Faith. She is in, isn’t she?”
“I should hope so, yes. She has not told me otherwise…”
“You don’t know?” He gave me a smile which I assumed was meant to be friendly. I ignored this, whether it was meant as rebuke or snide mockery.
“So…Basil. Ah…” I hesitated briefly. He and I were hardly friends, though I do make efforts for pleasantries. “Have you…read anything interesting lately?”
His first expression made at me was disbelief. He showed it briefly, gone almost instantly, but I saw it.
“I can’t say I have!” His smile was cryptic. “And yourself?”
“Yes, Chaucer!” I fear I couldn’t control my emotions, and I found myself grinning with pride like a fool as the words left my lips. “The Merchant’s Tale.”
Now, he laughed. A nervous laugh at first as if forced, but then one genuine. “The Merchant’s, he says. Oh…good grief…” he covered his face with his hands, attempting to stifle the fit he was undergoing.
I stared at him. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Please, I…” he took a short breath. “‘I prey yow that ye be nat wr—” he only lost further control of himself as he started laughing again.
I locked eyes with him. He looked back, and for a moment he must have seen the man I’d been some decades ago, rather than the one I was now, because he stopped laughing within an instant.
“What was that about?”
Basil Brood faltered. “It’s a…nevermind.”
An awkward pause followed. I attempted a second effort to make small talk.
“How is Jesse doing these days?”
For a moment, he seemed phased. “Jesse…?”
A few, painful seconds passed as he hesitated, before he said, “Fine…yes, just fine.”
“Good.” I winced, regretting speaking at all. For all his smarts, Basil Brood cannot talk, at least not to anyone with less than half their head up themselves.
After digging through my thick pockets for my keys, I unveiled them – a set of twelve. While sorting through them, he pushed past me lightly.
“Here – allow me,” he offered, reaching into his own pocket and pulling a key out. Pushing it into the hole, it yielded to him.
“You…you have a key to my house?” I stared at him.
“Faith lent it to me in case I’d have to deliver David back here. But, nevermind that. Surely you’ll be glad to see your family, Januarie? Let us go!”
I grabbed his arm before he stepped inside. “Let me.”
“Allow me, please.”
“Please, allow me!”
“I insist,” he said with emphasis, after which I relented.
He hurried through. I found myself standing there for what seemed like a long time, as my legs began to ache. He had a key to my house. What of that excuse of his to me? Utter nonsense…and to see him invite himself into my house that way! He did not ask permission of me, the owner of the house. Not that I’d have refused him, but is a small courtesy such as letting me lead him too much to ask for?
I found the two of them talking on my back porch. When I greeted Faith, she frowned at me.
“I thought you had work! Is something the matter?”
This irritated me. “Work ended for me an hour ago, love! I sometimes spend time watching the river flow by. You know that!”
“I do not. Aren’t there more important things to be doing than wasting time by a bank?” she asked.
“Peace, Faith!” Basil Brood mused. “It isn’t as if I don’t waste time by a bank either!” his face stretched from side to side like he’d just told some kind of hilarious joke.
After a pause where neither she nor I said a thing, he cleared his throat. “Ah, but if I had the time, I’d watch the Thames as well…that is, further upriver.” He paused to smirk. “The Romans, well, I told you about them, Faith. Why don’t I leave it to you?”
“Yes, yes!” She beckoned me over. “When they landed in Kent, they pursued the natives across these very banks, until finding a shallow point in the river. There they built a fort – Londinium – London, of course! You know, Hadrian visited this part of the world, once. You know who Hadrian is, don’t you?” she smiled at me. My eyes met hers, as if to prompt me to say “yes” – I complied.
“I do, yes. He was a…general, was he not?”
“No,” Basil Brood immediately stated. “No, never! He was emperor. He built a wall to keep out the native Britons – it’s named for him.”
I held my tongue, though it fought to be free every moment I looked at him. I knew Hadrian’s Wall, any man knew that. Deciding to change the subject, I asked how they enjoyed Bath.
“You saw a play, right?” I asked. “Volpone, was it?”
The sound of Basil Brood correcting me played in the background as I tuned him out.
“Yes, thank you. Well?”
“It was excellent. Commedia de latte,” Faith took over. “It was freakishly cold that night, but the performance had me laughing the whole way through – my face hurt afterwards from it. We must see it again sometime!”
A shiver ran down me. I tried to find my voice, but I failed to manage. It was a strange moment – I almost asked to come as well, but the meaning of her words began to weigh heavily on me. That is to say, my concern of her exact meaning – my uncertainty.
“Who am I?” she continued. “Basil, you were telling me…who am I? What would I be, were this a play?”
He beamed at her, humming. “Hmm…Isobella. Or, perhaps Vittoria! Hard to say. Either way, let it be known, for certain, we are Innamorati!” he gave a flamboyant gesture with this last word.
“And what am I?” I asked, loud and abruptly.
He seemed surprised for a moment, perhaps…afraid…?
But then composed himself, returning a smile to his face.
“…Dottore.” He decided upon.
Faith gave him a look. “Dottore?”
His smile grew, and as it did I asked what was the matter.
“Oh, nothing! Dottore is…well, how shall I put this…”
“A doctor, right?” I asked.
“Y-yes, actually!” he exclaimed. “Indeed. Dottore…well, they were often very intelligent!”
Had that been a compliment? At the time I was unsure, but now? Perhaps I’d impressed him, perhaps he’d always acknowledged my intelligence in some other manner.
Faith glanced up at me. “Basil, might I have a moment to talk with you privately?” she didn’t look at him throughout the entirety of her saying it, focusing on me.
I felt anger in my chest again – was it anger? Perhaps a bizarre jealousy, a disgust at her childlike behaviour?
No. Something else, I’m sure of it. That…word, that concept, that terrifying idea – it came to mind again. An idea that would cause me great pain were I to look it in the eye, and so – I did – do – not. Regardless, I knew to say anything – that is, to dignify with her immaturity with a response – would only make me look the fool.
“I’m going to go see David,” I declared, stifling the tone of indignation in my voice. It was at this moment I spotted him, sat in the grass and watching the sun set. When David spotted me, I ran to him, embracing him, asking how his day had gone. As I held him, keeping his face hidden from my sight, I looked up to see Basil Brood and Faith, busily talking…
Now I know I’m being ridiculous. After re-reading what I’ve written, it seems so silly of me. Is it so hard to believe she gave him a key? Surely not. Furthermore, I remember older times, when I was healthy and charming and popular. The way in which people were drawn to me, the pleasure in their face as I addressed them, the look of betrayal in those I denied. I have had such little experience with…denial. With betrayal. Yes. I’ve made a mistake, but I didn’t know better. It is why I’ve been so troubled.
No, work is my worry. When I come in now, there is nobody, and it is all but abandoned. How dark the hallways are, how dingy the rooms. I must try and understand what the trouble is, if there is any in the first place.
I wonder if I’ve misunderstood what I’ve learned. Today while reading my local news I learned that my workplace is to be torn down! To be rebuilt again. Yet, from what I understand the building hasn’t been in use for almost two months!
There must be some kind of mistake. I would not be so short-sighted as to not have noticed I was not receiving my pay checks, surely. Perhaps I’ll be informed later that I am to be moved, and due to the nature of my duties it’s necessary I remain?
Whatever the truth is, it has left me in the worst of moods. A sense of unimportance, of insignificance. The only thing which keeps me in this abysmal environment is my pay, which allows me to pay for the family’s lifestyle.
The lies that I feed myself. For Faith’s lifestyle. She is decadent, she is gluttonous and the embodiment of greed, a slave to Belphegor Himself, wittingly or not. She is a looker, but then, so was I. No longer…and that is what nags at me still.
Were we only teenagers again, even for a day, so I could remember how to laugh, to play sport, to be happily drunk or to make love. How the western world disasters us things – the popular folk! How hysterical I found my grades when I received them. How confident I was when I tried to see if I could play sport professionally, and how quickly was I trounced! I thought myself a celebrity, a sportsman – as did Faith, which was what attracted her to me. Maybe a thousand years prior, I’d be a king; but the modern age values the mind, not the body. It values academia far more than leadership or charisma, and while they are important things, let there be no mistake, they are tertiary.
How the tables turn, and how surprising it is that I live in a world where people like Basil Brood are the true kings, while we were left behind.
This time – It’s true! – I know…the signs are too strong. I know – for sure now – it’s true…I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it! I’ve been so…so self-absorbed, so blind, for so long – too long. Oblivious of how I’m seen by anybody but myself.
I wonder how I cope with all this transpiring. How I haven’t collapsed yet and torn all my hair out, roaring in frustration the way an old lion would as its teeth rot and fur falls out in clumps. I suppose I’m simply a lesser man. I think of Rome, or more accurately I think of the Byzantines, and I think of those emperors who struggled to keep the legacy of the greatest empire the world had ever seen afloat for a thousand more years, only to be crushed by enemies from all sides, while the selfish kings to the west looked on and did nothing. How I envy their resolve, their virtue. I wonder what they’d have done when in a situation like mine, or perhaps they were wise and resourceful enough to know how to avoid it.
I suffered the same nightmare as I had done several nights ago, and while I cannot say how I know it is the same, it must be.
But I remember it now. I can, it’s true, and every fibre of my being wishes I did not. Some things – for instance, a mask, a large predator, a loud noise or a dark chasm – these inspire fear. Nothing compares to this.
I dreamt of…birds. The most important detail, and one of the few I can comprehend. The scene (or perhaps my memory) is clouded. The first I spot is a slender, grey thing – yellow-eyed and sophisticated, yet by sight I cannot place it. Then I hear her cry, two syllables. I don’t know a thing about birds, yet this is instantly recognisable.
At first, I think she is alone with me. I can make out little detail other than herself. After a few moments, I come aware of a shape shadowing her, approaching her. Looking at its silhouette, long and low, approach her, dragging itself towards her – it fills me with terror, just its very sight repulses me. Before the shadow reaches her, I focus on it further, and I see it in full.
How pathetic! Upon making out its entire shape, I smile. How could I ever have been afraid of such a thing? A great bunch of feathers drags behind it like some kind of broken limb. Its neck, little more than a fleshy, flimsy, bent tube, hardly able to support its tiny head, stretches in my direction. Its legs, stiff, long and twig-like – and the way it sits upon them – easily makes it the most absurd, laughable thing I have ever seen.
Yet before I can begin to mock it, to scare it away, it…grows. A great mass of something evil erupts from all around its body, as if to devour me. I wish to move myself away, to run, to try and fight him, but I cannot, for when I do try I find myself paralyzed, trapped in the drunken state of a nightmare.
Towards the end of the dream, I watch as the grey bird comes toward the second. It begins busily burying its beak in the second’s neck, tending to its blemishes, turning them beautiful. The monster bends its own ugly neck down, rests its head on its companion’s, and as I spot this, I’m awoken by…screeching, yes…screeching in the distance.
Perspiration soaks my face, time and time again, and dawn breaks as I look up to the window, curtains being blown forth from the gusts. I…feel as if I sensed something perched at the windowsill.
This time, I did not fall back to sleep. Leaving Faith to her slumber, I walked downstairs and began to prepare food for myself. I didn’t want to be near her right then, yet I also didn’t desire the drab solitude work promised me. So why do I persist? What joys do I have? I feel so trapped, a slave bound to a master.
“Da?” Came David’s voice behind me, as if to answer my question.
My heart gave a light flutter, but I turned to see him watching me from the door to his room curiously. The dim lighting did not shine on his face.
I yawned. “You’re up early.”
David shrugged. “I gotta, right? Your wife doesn’t drive me up there, so I make my own way.”
I found myself grinning. “‘My wife?’ I…David…” I have no clue whether or not he meant it to be belittling or not, though I didn’t chastise him. It was a sweet feeling, a warm feeling, only cut short by the memory of my dream. Unwillingly, I thought of her face.
I felt my smile die away on my own face, finding myself staring at David. Broad shoulders, flat stomach, long hair. Healthy, and he plays sport, yes…oh my…
“Da…you…” David asked, staring at me. “Is something up? Y…you alright, yeah?”
I came out of my trance and looked at him…that is, his expression…not meek. No, he was almost glaring at me as if I was bizarre.
“Nothing at all,” I whispered. “I love you, my boy.”
I meant to approach him, to hold him against me, but even as I attempted to I heard that screech again. The fear became too strong. I locked eyes with him, beholding his features in full.
Like John before me, I was fooled. I was manipulated. Like him, I dropped my guard, and in our idleness the worst thing to happen to a man happened. But unlike him, I now know. At last – I know.
What strange calm I felt upon looking at truth…at it. For a few moments, I did nothing but stare, accepting it truly for what it was for the first time.
When it truly occurred to me just what I saw, the next emotion to hit me was…offense. Not anger, but as if I were outraged. The very concept would otherwise seem outrageous, incomprehensible even, but with the evidence before me it was undeniable.
What followed this was – again – not anger. No, an almost compulsive urge of violence took me, and I had to prevent myself from hurling a knife from the board, running forth to throttle him with my bare hands.
With one last effort, I closed my eyes. I inhaled. I made a silent, desperate prayer to God. I paused. I exhaled. I opened my eyes, and looked at his features one final time.
It was too much. I looked away, hiding myself, as I felt the hot streams of pain pour from me like gaping wounds.
In the same manner in which any threatened animal would behave, I panicked. Stumbling over my legs, running back into the dark, pawing at the door when before I’d have kicked it open. It wasn’t until I was out of eyeshot of the door, Ashton Keynes and the Thames did I stop.
I know now…there’s no denying it. And so I must confront her, yet…every time I mean to I tell her I know – I’m unable. If I confront her, then she knows I know, and I am a joke, a mockery. If I don’t, then I continue to be food for her and her…her brood. I’m only her host. There is no law against what she has done, but there are laws to prevent me from avenging myself. Is there another way? If so, somebody, please, tell me. Give me a sign.
What do I do?! Am I to embrace this role, deny myself of its existence?! Any action I could have taken to fix the situation, to redeem myself – passed years ago.
The cuckoo deceives the sparrow. The fox cheats the crow of heaven and sky. January falls to May.
Has what I’ve seen today been due to what I’ve learned? I can only hope that this is the case.
A quiet day, today. The entire village had been shrouded in fog overnight, making the scene…blurry, dark. No, more than that. I could have been fooled to thinking it was still night, had I not a watch with me. As I got into my car, I felt a change of breeze on my shoulder, as if something had moved from behind me, yet when I turned there was nothing in sight.
I remember sighing as I made my way to work, leaving the village, witnessing a…number of birds watching me from where they were perched. I also spotted a few of my elderly neighbours waving to me. I wanted to mock them, they were harmless…but I could not find my nerve. They were wrapped in winter clothing, to a point that there wasn’t a single stretch of skin visible, yet I assume they were my secluded neighbours, as they were shrunken, bent things, and even with the windows up I could smell their…staleness.
Work was worse. Dreary as ever, I parked and made my way through the back entrance of the building. Sensing my motion, the lights flickered on as I came through the doors. A rough draft came from behind me, blowing the door open again. Keeping a brisk pace, I hurried down a hallway which would lead me to my station.
Upon coming to my desk and becoming comfortable, I checked the time. Still the small hours? No wonder it had been so dark. How did I wake up so early? At the time, I was so light-headed, so out of it, and still preoccupied by what I’d seen on my way up here that…I was half convinced that I had not woken, and that I was having some kind of nightmare. How fitting that over time it would seem going to work itself has become a nightmare.
My dream…that is to say, my actual dream…came after some time. I think I’d slumped my head onto the desk while I waited for my computer to load, and that instant was all it took.
When my vision became clear, I saw it was of my workplace, where I’d only been mere moments ago. Like the Inca told they are to be sacrificed, I proceeded toward the door only because I had no choice in the matter. A thought came to my mind – to run, to wake up – yet as it did, a fluttering of wings came from behind me. Fearful, I made my way into the building, for to turn around or show my panic would do great indignity to myself. I cannot face it.
I skulked through the facility noiselessly, though whether or not I was truly noiseless I do not know, as the sound had ceased to exist upon entering. The walkway seemed to expand further and further as I moved deeper inside.
After some time, I came across the elevator, the lift. It caught my attention, and when I concentrated I realized its doors were parted slightly. Nothing existed on the other side of the doors other than a strange emptiness. I soon came so close to the lift that I could see my reflection – blurred, distorted – in the metal.
I have no knowledge of dreams. I wonder what the significance of my vision was. A memory? A fear? Regardless, I felt myself stop. I froze.
There’s a word that’s lost all its meaning. But it’s true. The rise and fall of my chest halted. My foot hovered above the ground. I felt a tension in my torso as my lungs fought to hold their load in. For a prolonged, agonizing moment, I did nothing. I felt a dampness spread upon my forehead as I began to sweat. How bizarre it is that I recall my senses so clearly.
Something ahead of me…I felt whatever it was, it wasn’t actually a threat – in fact, I’d probably consider it pathetic, laughable. But I found myself taking slow, but deliberate, ever, ever deliberate, steps backward. There was a change in the lift – a small draft?
My mouth opened to call out, but the words would not come. I stopped again when I felt a pressure in my ears. What followed soon after was a tightness, a tension in my chest. First miniscule, then increasing to a point where it created an almost piercing sensation within me.
I felt my lips part, as if to draw breath, but as I did I noticed the doors begin to open in full. Then, as if a great weight had fallen atop my body, I fell to the floor. I felt the air pressed from my lungs. As the scene faded from my mind, I awoke from my chair, falling out of it and gasping for air.
I sat there for a few moments, short of breath and blood pumping vigorously through me, conscious of the fact the lift was just down the hall, further down whence I came.
I knew it was absurd, nothing at all was there. But there was nonetheless a fear in me. Picture waking from your rest to find yourself not in your room, but in an alien, different environment, one unfamiliar to you. There’s no explanation to it, but also no threat – your fear only comes from the environment being “unhomely.” From your own uncertainty.
A kind of screech came from the depths of the building and I yelled. Moments later I felt that chest pain again, and I continued fighting for control of my breathing. Stumbling over myself, I made my way outside. For a few, precious seconds I felt relief, as I caught my breath and calmed myself. The pain subsided, my vision focused, and I felt myself quietly break down.
No more, I tell myself. I cannot take it any longer. I cannot work in a state like this. I cannot do anything.
At this point I ran back to my car. The day had hardly begun, but I could not stand to be there any longer. I will testify that throughout my way home, I heard that noise again. Loud, piercing…
I sit here now at home. I called the authorities some time ago, but they hung up while I tried to explain my situation, telling me that they weren’t doctors, and to stop wasting their time.
I can hardly blame them! Even while I’m putting this on paper, it sounds…there’s no other way to put it, it sounds psychotic. I fear for myself, for my safety, my job, my health. My…they aren’t here…aren’t home. I should be sad, I should be furious, I should wonder where they hide and panic and do anything in my power to find them, to know where they are, but whenever I close my eyes, I see a grey bird laying her eggs into a nest.
I will confront her tomorrow. I have to. I cannot wait any longer, lest I never consider it an issue again.
Why do I continue on?! Everything I once valued – gone, dead, lost. I am without…but should I be bothered? Indeed, part of me feels triumphant, but it is in small proportion. No, what fills me the most is…emptiness. Hardly a suitable emotion – perhaps the absence of emotion?
The day began lazily. I woke early and sat myself outside in my back garden, unsure of myself. How strange it was to not go to work in the morning. I’ve done it for so long I stopped thinking of an alternative. It became acceptance – yet never was it indifference.
From the other side of my yard, I spotted a bramble. It bore fruit, but Faith had forbade me from it, saying they could be bearing parasites. Fitting…I suppose it’s her job to bear parasites.
I watched it for a few moments, but when I went to turn from it, I found myself unable to move – mesmerized by the bush. The brambles had grown there for as long as I can remember.
By the time I got up from my chair, hours had passed. I approached the fruit and stood before it. I picked them. I picked the fruits and I ate them. So sweet, so right. As I swallowed, I thought of what may well be inside me now. Its principle made me laugh.
Unrest soon came, and I returned to my kitchen to prepare food for myself, and myself alone, an hour or so into noon. Faith came through the door not soon after. She’d just woken.
“Don’t you have work?” she asked.
‘Work’ made me shake as she sounded out the syllable. I tried to form some kind of lie, but my mouth betrayed me, and all I could manage was a “No”, blunt and hard.
“Oh…” came her response, seemingly indifferent. Nothing unlike her, she’d never give more than I gave.
As she wandered into the sitting room, needing no further explanation, I became agitated at the way she had left without a care. She did not ask what was wrong, or how my day had been – all she did was leave me alone.
This bothered me, bothered me more than I care to admit, and I found myself leaving after I ate without a word to her.
So as I do…did…I went outside and found a spot of grass which was free on the riverbank and sat. There I remained, watching the now-humble waters of the Thames sputter along the rocks of Ashton Keynes. As I watched the water’s body flow, I thought of how it would grow, bloom, become significant enough, majestic enough that eventually during the course of its life, its journey, some would call it names, compare it to a goddess. Shortly after, it’s tossed from town to town until it is diseased and dark and clouded and ugly. It becomes little more than a gross ornament. Eventually, and quite rightly so, its remains are dispersed into something else, something more important, and like that it ceases to exist. To believe I ever saw any beauty in it.
By the time I came to this conclusion, the sun was setting, putting dark shadows on everything. I felt my heart near my throat, and I hurried home, knowing what would await me when I returned.
I opened my door, showered for a half-hour and went to lay down. When I entered my room, I found I was not alone.
She perched herself on the edge of the bed, staring at me. I think I saw the anger, the disbelief, but…I didn’t notice it, finding myself thrilled. I love the way she stares at me. Perhaps I love it too much…but at that moment, I could not care.
“Why are you afraid of me?” Was there sympathy in her tone?
“Faith…” I’d been thinking she would live up to her name. She may hurt and slander me in sly manners where I can do nothing to defend myself, but she will stay true to herself. She must.
“Please.” I sat down on the bed next to her. “I cannot cope without…without you…” I was losing my tongue – how? It is she who is the awful speaker.
She looked at me, judging me, not making any acknowledgement to my words.
“Help me,” I blurted without grace. “I miss seeing you, I miss spending time with you. You are away so often these days, and when you are with me you are moody, you are dismissive of me. I only want to be shown that you still love me. It has been so long…oh, must you make me say the words?!” my voice began shaking. She knew I knew, she must have. She’s toying with me! I only wished for her to tell me – it’s all wrong. Her word would have been enough. For her to be true to herself – to me.
“I love you.” I managed after the wait became too much. “Remind me…remind me that you still love me.”
Now, she understood. Or perhaps she’d feigned ignorance the entire time as a way of vexing me. She gave me a look of revulsion, now, something which hurt me more than any number of words. The way she stared at me, as if I were some kind of smelly, sickly dog, left me humiliated, shocked to the point of wanting to force her, but most of all…yes, insulted. I know now. Parasite.
“Are…are you crazy?” she whispered to me, as if I’d just asked her to bugger the entire town.
“I will be if you continue to forsake me this way!” I exclaimed. My shaking became violent as I began to lose my self-control. “Is our past meaningless? What of Glastonbury? What of prom, of college and the Netherlands?” Even as I listed these, I saw the flaw. We experienced these when we were young, when we were strong, handsome, robust. We weren’t that now…perhaps this is the reason why it all collapsed. “Faith, please!” I cried. “What troubles you? What is it that—”
“Enough. I…” her tone changed from astonishment to anger.
“I read your diary.” She spat out the last word.
Despite myself, I felt my body chill. Split seconds after, I was furious with myself for being so submissive. I’d come here to destroy it, to put an end to it all – but I lost my nerve, and here I was, begging. I restrained myself once again, but was uncertain just how much longer I could keep it up. “How much of it?”
“…all of it,” said she after a moment.
Really, now? I wondered on that for a few moments, examining her expression, her posture. I locked her in a gaze, and she broke it. I angered her. Not only that, but she couldn’t find the nerve to look at me.
No. She’s lying. She hasn’t seen it all.
“Well, then…” I chose my next words carefully, barely able to control myself. “What did you think?”
She glared at me. I thought for a moment I saw tears in her eyes. “I think you’re an idiot. That’s what I think. I see fat old mutton who thinks to dress itself as lamb. ‘Commedia de latte’. Were you serious? It’s dell’arte.” She paused for breath, her ranting making her flustered. “And to listen to you write about the Thames would…agh! We are not French, and that is not the Seine. You won’t believe how much you humiliated me in front of Basil.”
Had the circumstances been different, I’d have smiled at the pettiness of her words. Now, it dealt a blow to my pride.
“That’s all that matters to you, then? Is that it?!” My voice cracked and I paused to clear my throat. “I’m sorry that I’m not as educated as your friend. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve made efforts to educate myself. I know more about—”
“Oh, stop it! A large vocabulary doesn’t make you a scholar, neither does talking like you were born a few hundred years ago! Using words nobody else understands but yourself…and yes, I’ve read your writings. What you think of education, and I assure you, my love, you only see it this way because you feel it wronged you because you didn’t try hard enough.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and worse still, I couldn’t believe I was letting myself hear it. My tone became, bit by bit, hostile. To hold back my fury was only making me more volatile.
“No!” I shouted. “Never…never. I just don’t do exams well…that is all. My mind works differently to yours, to…to…” I couldn’t say his name.
“Oh, please. You never—” she began, but I held out a hand. She looked surprised to see it, and I used her silence to my advantage.
“Who do you think you are?” my own voice made myself shiver. “What gives you a right to speak to me this way? Faith, what do you do? I work, I fix the house, I get no break. We’re meant to be equals, and you’re selling me short.”
“How dare you!” she was yelling now. “You’re so naïve. You have no idea what sacrifices I’ve made for…what…what sacrifices I’ve made for my family!” she bared her teeth at me, resembling some kind of ape. But that wasn’t what bothered me.
The way she said that. Had I, in my…my pride, my delusion, not noticed that she’d been saying these things the entire time? At that moment, I wasn’t sure who I hated more – her, or myself.
I stood up, slowly, and turned to face her. I looked down on her, square in the eye, and put all my passion into a sneer. The look I gave her slapped fear into her face. I drew a breath and spoke, softly and clearly.
“Is that what you tell yourself while you fuck Basil Brood?”
The slave uses their shackles to strangle their driver; the peasant drives their pitchfork through the neck of their lord. I’d not experienced such an intense sensation in decades. It was not pleasure or pain, right or wrong. Mere words could never do it justice, but I know that whatever it was it was necessary.
She’d forgotten who I had been, regardless of whoever’s fault that is, because at that moment her jaw dropped, and as it fell, her arm rose, as if to discipline me. Before she could slap me I caught her wrist. When she continued to attempt to bring it down on me, I lost control of myself completely. The wire in me, having been twisted evermore tight, year after year after year, snapped. The savage who I’d once been took control.
I struck her. Hard enough to send her spinning across the room and onto the floor. All my anger, my frustration, my fear…I let it get the better of me. I harmed her, hurling vulgarities, hurting her brutally in ways that I will not put on paper. It came to me that I’d been afraid of her, somehow. What I was doing – it didn’t feel real. I grabbed her by the back of her neck, bringing her up to my face, and squeezed, squeezed like it was that of that monstrous bird. She gave out a petty howl and clawed at my hand, and as I met her eyes I saw the resemblance of somebody I’d considered my life, my sole purpose and my best friend for almost as long as I can remember. On an uncontrollable impulse, I let go. She looked at me, as if to try and fight back. She took a step backward…raising her hands in front of her…and then she began to cry. It was a luxurious sound, rich, thick with emotion. She put her hands to her bruised, bleeding, broken face, as if to hide herself. Without another word, she turned and ran away. I heard the door slam as she left the house to go…I know where.
I…I think I’m alone, now.
I want to sleep, to close my eyes and dream of youth and love, but I cannot. To wish away the ill I’ve done in life, but I cannot. I cannot, because just as I am about to drift off to sleep, the weight of what I’ve done hangs on me. The shock, the very fact that it happened. The new uncertainty within me.
Whenever I close my eyes, I see elderly people, I see crooked things cloaked in ugly rags, and suddenly…I realize why I was afraid of them. Like them, I will become old and stinking and frail and grey. Nothing can stop it, nothing can amend it. But that alone – any man can live with that. It is the fact that I have failed. I have no heir, I have no love. I am cursed to go on without. Without friends, or family, or her.
I will kill her. I’ve thought on it long and hard, but after what’s happened…to have done the things that I have done…there is no other way. I do not wish to remain here much longer. I do not wish to waste my time on menial, trivial tasks. I did not wish to go to work today, so I did not, and I never plan to go ever again. Most importantly, I do not intend to be punished for failing to retain my dignity. Life is far too short to spend experiencing such miseries.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so lost as when I went out the door of my home today, already late afternoon. The sun was out, but all it did was make me wince. I proceeded to wander the town, aimlessly, not talking to anyone, feeling like some kind of ghost. I did this for the best part of two hours before coming home, fatigued and melancholic, and opening my pantry window to pull out a brandy which I’d bought ten years ago to celebrate…I cannot remember. Perhaps it was not to celebrate anything, but to give me a reason to keep going. No doubt Faith disapproved of me drinking it, saying she needed me to function properly to be able to provide for herself.
Never did I think of the brutal honesty behind those words. I hate her. I hate her and I hate my job and I hate Basil bloody Brood…and confound it all if I don’t hate myself. Perhaps if I’d been a better husband, I could have prevented this…
No. Never. I’ve done nothing. It is they who have ruined me. I opened the bottle for the first time and poured the brandy into a large glass. As I began to drink at it heartily, it burned, it burned awfully, but it made me so warm, warm like love. Warm like joy and fire.
She will not remain tight-lipped…and why shouldn’t she? As she has ruined me, I have ruined her. She’ll never be beautiful again. My victory – if you could call it that – something that I did in a fit of anger, something I have been repeatedly telling myself I do not regret…it will destroy me, in one way or another. First she will tell Basil. Basil, enraged by the loss of such a trophy, will pursue action against me. He will have me arrested. He will have me brought to court. I’ll be put away…how long? Ten years? Twenty? One year alone would be the death of me, in body or mind.
Even if I were to try to plead to them it was a “crime passionnel”, he’d see to it my case was rendered useless nearly instantly. Even if I were to find a lawyer even close to capable of defending me in court against whatever monstrosity Basil could summon, they’d only delay the inevitable. Even if I did manage to find a lawyer properly capable of defending me…they’d bleed me dry, leaving me homeless, penniless, and even then it might not be long enough to settle the case. And even in the miracle scenario I somehow was able to afford it, and win, it wouldn’t matter. The world would know – whoever deemed me innocent would lose all integrity. He would become even wealthier. She would become some kind of heroine. The very image of whatever headline they’d publish about her sickens me to my core.
“Spurned groundskeeper assaults wife in jealous rage.” I can see it already. A failure on behalf of society. The fact that I’d get away with it “unpunished” would ensure that I’ll be shunned for the rest of my days. Regardless of whatever the court may deem, this will be the case. All it will take is for the press to publish a single lie, and I will lose my job. I will become unemployed. Homeless. Reviled by society. My very name would become a slur. The mere concept fills me with extreme frustration – this almost excruciating feeling of rage and helplessness. To think everybody once loved me and sought my hand.
And that’s hardly the worst of what could happen to me. What if my sentence is to be severe? What would befall me in prison?! Could I perhaps plead insanity? Be treated as mentally ill? Never. For them to look down on me in such a manner – I will not stand for it.
Then should it be prison? What happens after a year passes? Even if I survived that long, how am I deserving of it?! My privacy violated, my freedoms restricted, another two decades of misery. I’d come out of there annihilated, and if not…
No. No, I must kill her. I’ve gone too far now. But he will wonder what happened to her. Then…then I suppose I must kill him as well. I do not know how, yet…but I’ll figure it out. I must.
With this thought, I drank the rest of the glass and soon nodded off.
I can hardly believe it. I can barely put these words on paper, but it is so important that I do, lest I lose myself down here. The greatest burden I’ve ever carried approaches me.
Today I awoke as if nothing had ever changed. I got ready for work…not because I enjoy it or because I wanted to, but because I felt I ought to, as I’d no further responsibility. What do I have if not routine? I cannot quite remember what my intentions were…perhaps to quit? It seems like a century ago. So much has happened in what has really been a few days. It was like I’d forgotten everything.
At seven-o-clock I left my house and got into my car. I turned on my radio as the rain fell upon my windscreen, closing my eyes as the hum of the motor vibrated against me. At quarter past I was on the motorway, half tempted to drive a few metres to the left off the road. Things blurred past and before I knew it I’d parked my car, shivering in the rain as I made my way to the door.
Nobody here again. They’ve all moved on, and I’m still here. Perhaps I should leave as well. It just seemed so odd to leave…twenty years of my life, I’ve spent working here. Twenty years – would it not be an anti-climax to resign? Just as I was about to turn off my car, I heard it. The radio had stopped playing its music.
It was half past. The news was on. The newsreader’s voice had begun speaking. No names were mentioned. Nothing more than the important details. But I recognized them. I knew what this story was about, and more importantly what it would develop into.
I’m too late. It’s only been a day, and I’m too late.
I was so out of it, so dazed, for a moment I did nothing.
Once I realized completely what I was hearing I, again, did nothing. I briefly told myself – I must act now. I must find them, I must stop the secrets from being spread and told. That this was my last chance.
Then I stopped to think rationally. I realized, with some thought, that it was completely out of my control now. The world knew, and thus she had already won. It made me furious to accept it, but it was true. I must find another method of escape. I mustn’t be arrested, yet…I cannot win. Then – I suppose I must kill myself.
Even as I released my belt from my jeans, tightening the chord around my neck, I think I knew I was incapable of even suicide. After a few pitiful seconds of me gasping for breath I released it once more, inhaling deeply and on the verge of tears. I’ve tried several more times – yet I’m too cowardly to finish it. Even when I know there’s no other better alternative, I cannot go through with it. Coward.
I was struck with a sudden hatred of all people. How nobody would understand my situation, how only I would be punished. Thinking of what would happen to me more began to bring a wave of nausea on me. I must have an alternative. I must.
And suddenly it occurred to me. I must hide myself, for a time. There is a place…a place underneath my workplace. How I’d been blind to everything in my life, but I knew this for sure. I’d hide there. I’d wait, either until I work up the bravery to end it, or to find another escape. My situation is unsalvageable, but maybe it doesn’t matter.
I made my way into the depths of the facility, into a small bunker-like room. I wonder if I was even meant to know about it, but I knew this building better than my own family. After locking the door behind me, I closed my eyes and slid against it, as if to stop anything coming through with my weight.
I hear their voices…so clearly. A man calling me intelligent, a woman calling me her love, a boy calling me father. Which ones are lying, which ones are mocking me?
It didn’t matter. Not anymore. I didn’t budge. I began to tremble as I put my hands in my ears and squinted as the noise became louder, more intense, more frantic and then…
The noise stopped, but my shaking only intensified, reaching a point where I couldn’t tell if it were myself or the outside. Soon that stopped as well.
I wanted to open my eyes, but I could not manage. I saw her face when I closed my eyes. I heard her words again, and now I wonder…was I mistaken?
I opened my eyes.
I was in a concrete room, decorated only with a few metal tables, a safe and a small mattress on the floor. Dim orange lighting illuminated the surroundings, and I wondered what this was, and furthermore why it was here.
There isn’t any noise anymore, and everything is still.
I thought I heard a small tapping on the other side, but that stopped some time ago.
Faith, come back to me…please…
I…I think I’m alone now.
What you’ve just read represents a little under two months’ work. Needless to say, it’s long. It’s not a particularly traditional horror story. There’s little “thing stalking me in night”-esque detail. That said, those who’re like myself and enjoy dialogue and a little exposition, I’m willing to bet you liked it.
I want to make this very clear: I do not give ANYBODY permission to re-post this, narrate this, etc. If you really want to then you will ask my permission via my email (GreswellSickley@gmail.com). If I decide I’d like to see you narrate it, I’d be more than happy to give you permission, but you must ask me first. If I miss your email, sorry, the answer is no. If you do not receive a response, the answer is no. Do not spam me with a second request. I apologize for having to put this here. I’m sure most of you will respect my wishes, and for that I’m grateful, but there’ll always be one who doesn’t.
This is something I originally wrote for a subscriber contest, but the channel in question was shut down for reasons I still don’t know (spooky). I didn’t initially plan to put it up here, but after some persuasion from a friend here we are. A thank you to her, and also a huge thank you to Katherine C for going through the old version of the story and helping me get it to the standard that you see it in today – it wouldn’t be the way you see it today without her.
With all that out of the way, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!