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I grew up with my mom and younger sister Janet in the city of Birmingham, West England. The city was deprived and had a younger age demographic than most, so from childhood we were often exposed to crime, drugs and violence. However, our unfortunate circumstances didn’t drag our spirits down.

My sister graduated last year with a degree in business, and I’m currently working as a journalist who makes a five-figure-per-annum living. Little more than a decade ago we all resided in poverty – now we can easily afford shiny cars, nice clothes and fancy wines. Sometimes I drive back to Birmingham alone and watch the crack heads wandering around the parking lot of the supermarket we shopped at years ago. It reminds me of where I could’ve ended up, and emphasises how far we’ve come.

My mom was the architect behind our unlikely success. She was a woman with some serious balls who was willing to sacrifice anything for her kids. As a single parent working in a grocery store, my mom slaved day and night to provide for us. ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.' That was her motto. A remarkable woman in many aspects, but I wish I could say she had all the answers.

My mom was very reluctant to talk about my dad. The first time I ever asked about him, her face abruptly turned pale, and her expression stiff, unlike I had ever seen her before. She knelt solemnly down to face six-year-old me at eye level, instantly transforming from her usual loving self into someone I didn’t recognise at all.

“Henry,” she said sternly but quietly, her eyes piercing through me, “he was someone I regret having in my life. Do not ask about him again.“

That fucked me up. Perhaps more than it should have, but it was the first time I’d ever felt like she was hiding something from me, and things like that get to kids easily. I somehow felt responsible for the fear and anger in her voice as she spoke, so I was shaken and on the edge of tears for the rest of the walk home, and never asked the same question again.

My burning curiosity about the identity of my father remained for decades, and as an adult it grew only stronger. I had searched for the past five years on social media, asking relatives and strangers I dug up from my mom’s past, all to no avail. I thought it would be impossible to ever find him.

My mom, my sister and I share the same last name – ‘Westfield’. We would sometimes receive letters addressed to a “Mrs Cross” at our Birmingham address. Mom said they belonged to the previous tenants and promptly took them away, to keep them in case "Mrs Cross" ever came back to get them, I presumed. Questions were raised in my mind one day, when I saw one of these letters on mom’s desk, having been opened. It wasn’t in my mom's nature to be nosy at all, ever.

This memory came flooding back to me when I received a Facebook friend request from a guy named ‘Jamie Cross’. His last name instantly caught my attention, and I made the obvious connection. I knew there were a lot of people with the last name ‘Cross’, but I wasn't ruling out any possibilities. I looked through his profile, where he had posted several photos. When he smiled, the corners of his mouth curved inwards slightly, in a similar way to mine. For the first time in my life, I thought I might be onto something with this investigation.

He lived in Ascot, a decently wealthy area. Other than being very wealthy, he looked like a normal guy. There were pictures of him and his friends posing together at various events. The thoughts running through my mind trying to justify that he either was or wasn’t the man in question constantly questioned each other back and forth. The breaking point came when I reached the final photo on his profile.

A young Jamie Cross stood next to my mother. She was much younger, but there was no mistake. It was definitely her – the lady in the picture had the same curly blonde hair she’d had in her youth. Jamie was tall and well built, more so than myself, but his younger self and I looked very similar. Almost as if he could’ve been my fitter twin brother. He had thick brown hair and a long, straight nose just like mine. As I looked into his eyes, I felt as if I was looking into a mirror. They both stood in a dimly lit room in front of a piano, his arm around her waist. They were both smiling, although my mom to a lesser degree than him. It was natural, as she always held a stern expression and didn't smile very widely. The caption read ‘I miss you’.

I checked the upload date – the picture had been posted around ten years ago, much longer after they had separated. My mother had no social media profiles I knew of - she contacted everyone she knew by text, so there wasn't a tag in the picture. But now there was no mistaking that this guy was one of my mom’s past lovers, and very possibly my real father. The fact that he had been thinking about her, years after she had completely removed all traces of him from her life, moved me a little. It was then that I began to unwillingly suspect that my mother might have been in the wrong.

After scrolling back and forth through the profile in shock and disbelief for around five minutes, at the fact that that he had just decided to friend request on a whim, I decided to reach out to find out the truth. Seeing his profile had disproved every misconception I’d ever had about him, so there was no fear or hesitation as I typed.

“Hi there. I noticed a picture on your profile which seems to contain my mother, whose name is Sarah Jillian Westfield. I never knew my real father and I’ve been looking for him for some time, even suspecting that he might be you. I would be very grateful if you could give me any details about his identity.”

The message was read almost instantly, and I could see that he was beginning to type. My heart raced uncontrollably, trying to imagine what his reply would look like. What if he didn’t want to talk to me, or if somehow, he actually had nothing to do with me?

“My wife Sarah was pregnant with my son when she left me for good in the 90’s. I’ve always thought about where they could have gone. I think there's a real possibility you might be my son. Thank you for contacting me.”

His reply made me excited me greatly. He could really be the one, I thought. It had to be him. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but I felt it would be impolite to suddenly bombard him with them now over text.

“Wow, that’s amazing. If you’re not too busy, would you be willing to arrange a time and place meet up?”

“Come and visit me in Ascot. I’m free all week.” The reply came.

“Sure, that would be fantastic.”

He proceeded to give me his address. I hurriedly packed some overnight essentials into a suitcase and hopped in my car, pausing to allow the adrenaline to dissipate through my veins a little more before I began driving.

Ascot is famous for its horse races, and is commonly visited by members of the Royal Family. I had been a few times before, but the sights of this posh little town never failed to amuse me. There were a disproportionately large number of people dressed in formal suits and ladies in flowery hats – the whole town seemed like one massive and very expensive wedding reception. I drove through the town led by my phone GPS until I eventually pulled up in disbelief in the late afternoon, right next to a shiny black Mercedes, at an enormous mansion house.

I got out of the car and stood back to admire the view for a minute. The sunset made a picturesque background behind this imposing building. The door was guarded by two weird gargoyles on both sides, and I took a second to examine them before I knocked. I was greeted by Jamie Cross. He had thinning grey hair and a layer of rough grey stubble lined the lower third of his face. He was about my height, still over six foot and quite muscular, very tall and well built for his age. His mouth was agape and he seemed at a loss for words. It took him a few seconds to collect himself.

“Ah, H-Henry! Do come in,” he stuttered, “did ye' bring any luggage?” There was a hint of an Irish accent.

“Yeah, I did, thanks." I quickly grabbed my suitcase from my car boot and entered the magnificent mansion that was the abode of Jamie Cross.

“Come take a seat. Ye' wanna hot cup of tea or somethin’?”

“I’m fine,”

“Alrightay then,” he sat down.

We made a bit of small talk at first, around topics like my trip from London, and just how life was going for the both of us in general. I found out that he wasn’t married, but he had an abundance of friends and relatives – he said that he owned his own brand of clothing and received a whopping six figure income every year, despite being retired. He enjoyed travelling, shopping and playing golf – as I did too.

By the end of it, I had no doubt that this guy was my real dad. We seemed to have a lot in common. He was friendly and easy to talk to, and the figures added up – he knew details about my mom’s past, such as the year she first got pregnant – which was the year before I was born. It didn’t require a paternity test to put two and two together.

For most of the conversation, he asked a lot about my mother. I told him how she was, and I was touched by how much he remembered, and how much he missed her. He said that his life had been empty without her. Despite asking about her frequently, he never voluntarily gave me any details regarding their separation.

We talked in his living room until midnight. He seemed enthralled by my past. For much of the conversation, I tried to think of a route into the topic I had come to discuss. Finally, after a brief pause as he watched the dark clouds gather in the sky through the balcony window, I took my opportunity.

“What happened between you and mom before I was born, if you don’t mind me asking? She hasn’t told me anything about you at all.”

His expression darkened as he sighed, the moonlight creating new shadows upon his face, making no attempt to hide the memories of anger and disappointment the question had conjured up.

You have a sister, don’t ya'?” He asked, his voice a few tones deeper.

“Yeah. She grew up without a father as well. Mom raised us all on her own.”

He sighed again, and buried his face in his palms, rubbing it with exasperation.

“We were married at twenty. It was a happy marriage, but the end of this story breaks ma' heart.” he said. “But ya' can't hide from the past forever. It's gotta' be said. Your mother left me for another man, out of the blue, Henry. That’s the ugly truth behind it.”

I shook my head in disappointment.

“Knew it. I never asked her about it. I don’t know anything about her love life – she didn’t invite friends around to our flat.”

“The man she left me for would probably 'ave been the father of yer' sister.”

“I suspected that for some time as well.”

“And he left 'er in the end. Despicable man. The guy was a retard," he spat. "She was a beautiful, kind young lass, but also impulsive. Weren't always thinking straight. She cut off all contact with me, her family, and everyone from her past. Didn’t even give me a chance to take a look at ya'. I haven’t been with another woman since, ye' know. Hurts me to think about it.”

It felt wrong to judge my mother’s decisions, especially after all the hardship she had been through for us, however I couldn’t help but feel regret on her behalf. My dad seemed like a sincere guy. He was successful, and cared a lot about her. If she had just stayed faithful, she would’ve saved herself and her family a whole lot of misery.

“Anyway,” he coughed, “yer' probably tired as heck by now. Got work tomorrow?”

I looked up at the clock, my vision already blurry. 2.42 A.M. We had been talking for over seven hours.

“Yeah, but I’ll manage. I’ve been through some serious jet lag.” I paused.

He chuckled loudly.

“I’ll give ye' a tour of the house, feel free to come back an' visit anytime. Yer' pops needs some more company these days.”

I followed him around the house, stopping once in a while to admire the impeccably polished furniture. Even the basement was neat and sparkling, a stark contrast to my own. He kept some old photographs down there, and a few other things from his past, like a small digital camera, old leather bags and some dusty textbooks, all organised like in a study. Upstairs, there were five large bedrooms and two bathrooms, the walls adorned with paintings and prints, mostly of countryside scenery.

He asked me to choose a bedroom to stay in, and I picked one with a huge balcony window. It overlooked a large green space and I could spot some other houses in the distance, some of which still had their lights on.

“Goodnight sonny,” smiled my dad.

“Thanks for letting me stay over.”

“Oh, spare yer' old man the courtesy.”

I looked at him and smiled back.

“You know how glad I am to finally meet you dad? I’ve been looking for answers for the past decade, and this is honestly a better ending than I ever could have imagined.”

“I can say the same thing son, I’m proud of ye'. I’m real proud of ye'.” He paused. “You and yer' sis', and yer' mother - y'all live together?”

“I bought mom a house in London. My sister and I both have our own flats nearby live in my own flat nearby.”

“Right. Well I don’t suppose you’ll be telling 'er about our lil' meet-up?”

“I don’t think she’d want to hear about it, especially considering what she did. I’ll be keeping it between us, if that’s alright.”

“Yeah, course. I’m probably the last thing she ever wants to see again,” he smirked. I said nothing, and he stood in silence for a few seconds, as if waiting for an empathetic reply. But that odd smirk somehow made me feel uneasy. It seemed a bit spiteful, and seemed slightly out of character for him. “Well, you have a good sleep,” he continued, “call me if you need anything.”

“Night.”

He closed the door, and I unpacked my suitcase. There was a sink in the room right next to the huge balcony window which was rather convenient for my night routine. I closed the curtains, brushed my teeth and got changed, ready to sleep until midday.

Some time after I had fallen asleep, a loud thud woke me up. I looked around but saw nothing unusual, and all I heard was the faint whistling of the wind. I turned on the lamp beside my bed. 3.50 A.M. Rubbing my forehead, I lay back down and began trying to fall asleep again, when I heard a faint knocking sound coming from the direction of the balcony window. I paused to listen, thinking it was just a bird or some miscellaneous object outside being thrashed about by the wind. There was a very faint scraping noise that I heard in short bursts.

As I looked around, I noticed that my phone wasn't plugged into its charger, and was lying on my pillow right next to my face. This was strange, because I had a habit of plugging my phone in every night before I slept. Never in my life had I fallen asleep with my phone so close to my face.

I continued to listen, even though I didn’t think the sounds were anything to be too concerned about for a while. But that changed when I heard the distinct sound of breathing outside the window. Heavy croaky pants like a death rattle, that could be heard even through the double glazed glass. Chills ran down my spine like someone had poured ice down the back of my shirt. I froze for a few seconds, heart in my mouth, the leapt out of bed like it was a trampoline. I looked back at the window.

There was a small gap between the curtains, and I could see half of a hand pressed against the other side of the glass. I jumped back again in terror again when I saw an eye suddenly appear on the other side, a huge bloodshot eye almost bulging out of its socket. Some features of this thing's face were visible, only illuminated by the light coming from the inside. The skin on its face was wrinkled and grey, and the left side of its head, the only side I could see through the gap, was bald apart from a few tufts of hair that looked like bits of stiff grey wire. The humanoid figure had a large, crooked nose, and not a flap of skin where its lips should have been, leaving all of its bare teeth exposed.

From its shadow through the curtains, I could see that it had an asymmetrical, hunched posture. It bobbed up and down as it looked into the room with one eye through the gap between my curtains. I saw the outline of a sharp object in its other hand, casting a shadow behind the curtain.

I ran out of the room and screamed for my dad, who was still asleep.

“Dad! Get up!”

“What is it?” He sat up in alarm and rubbed his eyes.

“Get out of the house and call the police. There’s this fucking mental dude on the balcony outside my room, no idea how he got there but I think he’s got a knife. He's gonna break into your house!”

His expression slowly turned from pure shock into grave concern.

“What did he look like?”

“Like a bloody serial killer! For fuck’s sake, I’ll tell you later, we need to get out of here.”

“Tell me what he looked like!”

I paused for a second. There was a sternness in his voice.

“I didn’t see much of him. He was partly bald, skinny, hunchback. Had really lumpy and saggy skin on one side of his face…”

He opened the wardrobe as I talked and fished out a baseball bat.

“Call the police and get a knife from the kitchen. Go out the back door. If ye' see that motherfucker, stab him 'til he’s dead. Don’t hesitate, or he’ll chew your fucking face off like some wild chimpanzee. Got it?”

“You know him?”

“I’ll explain later. Now go!” He started walking towards my bedroom, bat gripped tightly in his right hand.

“For god’s sake, don’t go in there! What are you doing? Let the police deal with it! Dad!”

“Shut up and get out of the damn house!” He yelled. He continued edging closer to the room, looking around every second. I sprinted down to the kitchen and grabbed the largest knife I could find as I called the police.

“Come back here retarded cunt! I’ll skin ya' like a chicken! Don’t ye' dare come back on my property!” I heard my dad screaming at the freak as I ran back up the stairs to join him on the balcony. That guy was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’d he go?”

“Climbed down the side of the house like a fuckin’ spider and made a run for it,” spat my dad. We made our way downstairs as the police sirens grew louder from the distance. They came and checked the house, wrote a report, then suggested we booked a hotel in case the guy came back. But my dad insisted he was fine.

“Who the hell was that?” I asked, after the police left in the early hours of the morning.

“Hate to break it to you, but that's yer' uncle. He was born a retarded kid, severely deformed and disabled. He got institutionalised, been in a mental hospital since his twenties. The fucker escaped a while back. Before he got shoved in there, he told me he’d come back to end me someday. I told him I’d be ready for it.”

“But I wouldn’t! You didn’t think about telling me there was the possibility my crazy uncle would be coming back to just pop in and say hi?”

“Chill man,” he rolled his eyes. “He’s really fucked up in the head. He’d probably forget which way round to hold a bloody knife if he had to stab ye' with it. It’ll take a few hours for 'em to catch him fumbling down the high street at worst.”

“How did he climb all the way up the side of the house then?”

“Well, he didn’t really climb down it to be honest. He plunged off the balcony, slid down the drainage pipe and landed on his arse with a plonk on the pavement. As for how he got up there, I have no freakin' clue, but he did a good hour after ye' went to sleep.”

I was certainly in no mood to sleep for the rest of the night. We stayed up and watched shitty night TV shows in the living room until sunrise. Throughout the night, I jumped at every tiny noise in the house, which made my dad guffaw like a madman. We had breakfast and I packed my things, weary and disorientated from an hour of sleep.

“Henry,” he said, as I met him in the reception. “Would it be alright if I came and stayed with ye'? Just a few nights in London?”

His question caught me by surprise. I almost laughed, remembering all his big talk about not being afraid last night. But the suggestion was reasonable, and one I should've thought of first. I knew wouldn’t forgive myself if anything happened to him after I'd left.

“Uh... sure, no problem. I'm not too busy during this period."

"Don't worry, I won't be too much of a burden. This old man don't make much noise. A bed, food and water's all I need."

I agreed and helped him pack some toiletries. We sped back to London and tried to catch some more sleep for the rest of the day in the apartment. He stayed for the next few days and we watched movies after I came home from work. I took him out to some London restaurants and we had a good time. Sometimes he'd go for walks around the place on his own around the city. He said he actually liked how busy it was in contrast to Ascot, despite everything being polluted as hell.

I kept listening out for any news about my crazy uncle, but for three days, all I heard was that they were still searching for him, which meant that lunatic was still out there somewhere, probably fucking around in the alleyways at night and scaring the shit out of innocent people. I began hearing noises around my house, like footsteps. I would scare myself silly, sometimes having nightmares about what I'd seen that night. I even remember waking up to the same thud I’d heard in my dad’s house. Paranoia was settling in hard, and it didn't help that they weren’t able to catch the fucker yet, but I still began to get very anxious, even going so far as to keep a knife within arm’s reach while I slept.

I once had a nightmare that while I was in the shower, naked and vulnerable with the water running down my eyes and obscuring my vision, the bathroom door opened and a blurry figure stood crooked and motionless in the doorway. I’m a grown man, and this is not real, I told myself there and then, over and over. My heart began to race as it suddenly came closer, lumbering across the bathroom towards the shower cubicle at the end, getting faster with each step.

I wiped the glass and suddenly, my uncle’s disfigured face with those two rows of crooked yellow teeth was pressed against the glass, a pupil missing in one of his eyes. The other was the same piercing bloodshot eye I saw that night. He looked like a decomposed zombie, ready to tear the flesh out of my neck. That night, I woke up in a large soggy patch my own sweat. After checking on my dad who was sleeping soundly in the guest room next to mine, I made myself some coffee to help me survive the rest of that night.

Then there finally came a day when I would question everything I knew to be true. That afternoon, I was in my office, and decided to take a photo of a ridiculous email a viewer had sent me so I could have a laugh about it with a colleague later. I hadn’t used my phone camera in a while, so when I opened my gallery to take a look at the picture I’d just taken, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a screenshot that I didn’t remember taking.

I zoomed in to take a closer look. The images looked eerily familiar. A search result had been generated by a search for a specific brand of digital camera. Many of them were for sale on various eshopping websites. I tried to remember when on Earth I had been searching for images of digital cameras, until I realised the brand was identical to that of the camera I had seen in my dad’s basement. Then, I spotted the contents of the google search bar:

“HELPM E”

My heart jumped out of my chest. For a few seconds, I stayed motionless in utter confusion. Then, I opened the image details menu.

The screenshot had been taken at 3.45 A.M. on the day I’d stayed over at my dad’s house. That night, I’d woken up at 3.50 A.M. That night, someone had touched my phone while I was asleep.

Suddenly, I dreaded the worst. I had to find that digital camera - I knew it would give me closure of some sort. I had the feeling it was a clue with a very dark secret. After making up a story for my boss about some family emergency, I promptly excused myself from work, then drove back to my apartment.

I unlocked my apartment door and called out for my dad, but he wasn't home. He had probably gone on one of his walks again. For some inexplicable reason, I was very relieved he wasn't home. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something about him didn't add up.

I went to my dad’s room as quietly as possible and started looking through his drawers, trouser and coat pockets and his suitcase. It took me a while, but I managed to find his house keys in the front compartment of the suitcase. I shoved the keys in my pocket and prepared to leave, when I heard footsteps coming closer, and someone came in. The bedroom door opened without warning. My dad looked at me with a puzzled expression, and I let go of the suitcase.

"I was uh, looking for my laptop charger. Forgot it before I left for work."

He frowned quizzically.

“Ye' won’t find no charger in there.”

“I had to look under the bed. Stuff gets stuck down there sometimes.” I laughed nervously as I scrambled around a bit, poking my head under the bed. I suddenly felt very afraid. I didn’t know why I couldn’t tell him the truth.

"Did ye' find it?"

I took a deep breath.

“Nah. Looks like I’m gonna have to borrow from someone else. I’m going back to work now, I’ll see you later, pops.”

I stood up to leave, but he didn’t move from the doorway. He just stood there, watching me, trying to figure out what I was doing. For a second I thought he wasn’t going to let me go. A moment of silence followed. But then, he finally moved, and I shifted my way out.

“You take care, dad.” I smiled as I left. He didn't reply.

I ran down the few flights of stairs and jumped into my car again, ready for the hour long drive back to Ascot. As my apartment window gradually shifted out of my field of vision, I spotted my dad in the corner, unzipping the front compartment of his suitcase. All I could think was ‘shit’, as my stomach sank.

Upon my arrival, I received a call from my mom. I sat in my car and took it, hoping it would calm me down a little, until I remembered that my mom never called me during work hours unless she thought it was an emergency.

“Hey mom, how are yo-“

“Henry,” she interrupted, her voice cold and tense. I remembered her using that same tone almost three decades ago. “I need you to be honest with me. Have you had any contact whatsoever with a man named Daniel Cross? Does the name ring any bells at all?”

“…no. Why?” I gulped.

“Alright. Sorry to bother you at work.”

“Wait, what happened?”

“I’ll call you back after work-“

“No, mom. Tell me now. I’m not at work.”

“Well, where the hell are you now?”

“Just tell me what’s going on.”

I heard her voice shudder a little. After much hesitation and question dodging, she finally spilled the beans.

“I was a victim of stalking. My stalker was a man named Daniel Cross. He's your uncle. He tried to get in touch with me countless times after I moved away from your father Jamie. l…” She began to sob as she spoke, making an effort to control herself.

“I’m sorry Henry, I… I’m scared. I started getting texts from him again a few days ago. I don't know how the fuck he got my number. I’d changed it countless times. He said I was a whore, and he would be coming to get me. He said he would kill me. I saw him in the streets yesterday while you were at work. I ran back home before he could see me and locked the doors, but he keeps messaging me Henry! I can’t take this anymore!”

“Oh my fucking god, it’s been how many years and you decide to tell me this now?”

“I didn’t want you to be a part of this, none of you!”

“Well let me tell you something mom, I already am part of this. I found dad, and I spoke to him. I know the truth - he told me what you did. Forgive me if I’m sounding harsh, but no wonder you didn’t have the guts to face it and tell us the truth. I would have at least appreciated if you didn’t put the blame on him and told me you regretted him being a part of your life as if it was his fault.”

“You… spoke to your father?” Her voice was dead serious. She spoke with a flat tone.

“Yeah, I did. You said his name was Jamie, right?”

“What did he say to you?”

“I met him a few days ago. We had a chat about our lives, and about you. He lives in Ascot in a frickin’ mansion house and owns a Mercedes. He’s a decent guy who hasn’t been with another woman since you left him, and didn’t even give him a chance to see his own son. He wanted to visit, so I let him stay over a while at my apartment.”

“Oh no no nononono… god no,” her voice trembled, as if she’d just had a wave of realisation.

“Mom?”

“You… If what you're telling me is true,” she choked, “you didn’t talk to your father that day. He's been lying to you.”

“What?”

“Your father had a learning disability. On top of that, he was in an accident that burned off nearly all the skin on his body. I don’t even know if he’s alive or dead. Even if he was still alive, there’s no way he could hold a conversation, never mind tell you about his life history. It just wouldn't be possible.”

I shook my head in a mixed state of confusion and terror, as I tried to put things together.

“Are you being fucking serious?”

“I am being really fucking serious.”

An unreal sense of dread overwhelmed me, and quickly grew into a terror unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I took my phone away from my ear and opened the 'tabs' menu. My heart sank when I found my contacts list open. I knew everyone’s numbers well and usually dialled them straight into the keypad to save time, meaning I rarely used the contacts list unless I had to check birthdays. Or addresses.

Sleep. It made people so vulnerable and so ignorant with such little effort.

"H-Henry?" I held the receiver close to my ear again.

"What is it mom?"

"S- oh god, s-someone's knocking on my door. Henry!"

Fuck.

“Mom, get out of the house. Go out through the back. Call Janet and ask her to meet you in a public place, then get out of London. Just go somewhere far. I’ll call you back again later, and meet you wherever you’re going.”

“Where are you H-Henry?” She was almost hysterical.

“Just do what I say!” I yelled. "Are you outside?" I heard her running, as she sobbed quietly.

"I'm out now, in the road behind our house."

"Run, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction and don't look back. Call the police and don't stop running."

“Oh god, you really met with him? Please, no...” she asked.

“I'll be with you soon. Just call the police!” I hung up with tears in my eyes, knowing there was a chance those words could be the last I ever said to her. I wanted to help her badly, but I had made my decision, and there was little difference I could immediately make, being an hour's drive away.

I had to find that camera. Darting out of my car and entering the house with the key, almost breaking down the door the second after it was unlocked, I sprinted down to the basement. I looked around, trying to remember where I'd seen it before, and after a minute I finally spotted it on the shelf. Then I grabbed it, then ran straight back into my car and slammed the door shut,

It was a battery powered camera. The batteries were still inside, but I wasn't encouraged. Shit, I thought, there's no way it still has power. I pressed and held the on button, and to my surprise, it actually started up. I began looking through the pictures that had been taken.

At first, they were just images of people playing golf and random scenic shots. But then, I spotted a twenty-second long video with a terrifying thumbnail. There was a man, gagged and bound to a chair, his face bloodied. He had been beaten beyond recognition. I recognised the background as one of the corners of the basement I just found the camera in. Preparing myself for the worst, I pressed the play button.

The man tied to the chair mumbled like he was on drugs, as his head drooped to one side.

“Don’t… hurt… don’t hurt… her…” I thought I heard him say. His speech was incredibly slurred. Even though his hair hung low down the front of his face, I could see that his eyes were very swollen and barely open.

“Don't ye' worry about that, retard. I’ll fuck her brains out after I’m done with ye'.”

The man in the chair began to cry, as the camera panned away. A hand came into view, grabbing a familiar looking baseball bat. The abuser struck the man in the head with unforgiving force, and the man screamed like an animal being slaughtered.

They proceeded to apply the blunt force trauma to his ribs, legs and arms and I winced as the screams erupted repeatedly, tears dropping onto my lap like rain. Whoever was behind the camera kept beating the man, experiencing pain beyond my imagination.

"STOP!" I yelled out loud. "STOP IT!"

A chair leg snapped and the man-chair hybrid toppled over, causing the him to hit his head again on the hard stone floor with a crunch. The violence stopped for a second as the camera zoomed into his face, pressed against the ground, drenched in blood and sweat. He whimpered quietly. Suddenly, I heard a loud splash, drowned out by static as a semi-viscous fluid was poured over his body.

“No, no no no…” I whispered. “No…”

I heard the sound of a match being struck, followed by the distinct crackle of a flame.

Fuck ye',” spat the voice behind the camera.

I didn’t even see the match being thrown. Without warning, the man in the chair burst into flames and his new screams tied my stomach in knots. I threw up right onto my steering wheel. I could hear the burning, and smell the charring of human flesh. The flames roared and I felt the intense heat on my own face, tearing away at my skin. The video ended, and I lay with my head against the back rest of my seat, shaking uncontrollably with shock at what I had just witnessed. Arms weak and hands trembling, I pressed the ‘next’ button.

An image flashed up. I instantly recognised the young woman in it. She had curly blonde hair, was stripped naked and tied up in the back seat of a car. I shook my head in horror. This was not happening.

Before I could play the video, a ‘low battery’ warning popped up on the screen for half a second, then it went all black.

Pure rage and disgust replaced my fear in an instant. I cleaned my steering wheel with my shirt sleeve and started my engine. It all made sense now. I finally knew the truth, and the police would too. My phone buzzed.

“Meet us at Hammersmith train station. Cops coming. We’re safe.”

I exhaled with relief.

“Stay vigilant. I’ll be there asap,” I texted back.


“This fucking mess. It was all my fault. I'm so sorry.”

My mom shook her head.

“I owe you the truth, Henry.”

“You don't owe me anything. I completely understand why you don’t want to talk about it. I saw the video.”

I saw tears well up in her eyes, but she kept talking.

“When you were just a baby, your uncle asked to meet me in the town centre. I hadn't seen or heard from him in a few years. He'd gotten my number again somehow, like he always did."

"He said he was sorry, and wanted to put things right. It was a bar in town we both knew, so I agreed. I was so stupid. That night, he drugged and raped me in the backseat of his car. While he tried to film me, I suddenly hit him. I fought with everything I had and by some miracle, I managed to escape. You might remember me coming home a little later than usual that night.” She tried hard to hold back her tears.

“I blamed your father for what happened to me for a while, but I've let bygones go. None of it was his fault. He had meningitis as a kid which gave him brain damage in certain parts, so he couldn’t speak or hear very well, and he couldn’t control the right side of his face so it looked like he was having a permanent stroke. He did badly in exams and found it hard to learn new things. But other than that he was a normal kid who enjoyed music, games and having fun just like the rest of us. The other kids at school called him a retard and a bird-brain, and he never once spoke back. He grew into a tall and handsome young man just like his older brother, but they were very different. He was very shy. Couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.”

“I’d never talked to him much in high school, but I recognised him on my first day at work. He was bagging groceries in the aisle next to mine, and somehow managed to wink at me with his right eye, which I thought was quite an achievement.”

She smiled as she wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.

“We saw each other every day. He was always nice to me, unlike the boyfriends I had in the past, and I liked spending time with him. He didn’t talk much, but we played a lot of games together and watched TV. He wasn't clever at school, but could be clever sometimes when we played board games, or card games, and I would even lose. We started dating for about a year and a half when he asked me to marry him one day. I accepted, and changed my name to Mrs Cross on my bills and stuff, but we didn’t have enough money for a ceremony. My parents didn’t like him, and told me to stop seeing him. I got fed up, and stopped seeing them instead.”

“We lived at my place. I could tell he was afraid of his brother, and there might have been some abuse going on, but he never talked about it. They would have both been hopeless financially, if it weren't for the fact that they had inherited a huge mansion house and a lump sum from their rich grandmother who passed away when they were both teenagers. His brother Daniel kicked him out after she died, and Jamie couldn't do anything about it. He was confused and scared, and there was no way he could stand up to his brother. He slept on the streets for a while, until I brought him over to stay at mine."

"Daniel saw us together outside the store once, and approached us. I could tell that as soon as he laid eyes on me, he was obsessed. He kept asking me to go over to his house and take pictures with him. He was in disbelief that his weakling of a brother could get laid before him."

"I was nice to him at first, but he tried to get me to sleep with him. When I refused, that’s when the stalking began. He would somehow find my number and text me threatening messages asking why I didn’t like him, asking why I chose a retard instead of him, and I repeatedly blocked his numbers.”

“I was five months pregnant when Jamie disappeared. Daniel texted me and told me that he died in a car accident that burned almost all his skin off. I almost believed him, until he sent me gruesome pictures and told me that I’d be next if I didn’t get with him. I knew he had done it. I had enough, and I ran away to the only place where I could afford rent and be far away from him. I didn’t report it to the police, because I was scared he would kill me. I was young, with a baby on the way, and I just wanted to get away from it all.”

I sighed, patting her gently on the back.

“I know how sly that motherfucker is. He made me fear my own dad more than anything I've ever feared before, and he used me to get to you. Now I think about some of the shit he told me... god. He was so fake and delusional, believing he'd lived a life he never had. But don't worry. He’s behind bars now. It’s all over for Daniel Cross.”

"Oh god," she buried her face in her hands. “It’s been a hell of a long time.”

“It sure has. You ready?” I put my left hand on her shoulder, while I grasped the blue ward curtain with my right. The nurse flashed an encouraging smile. Various machines beeped quietly in the distance. She closed her eyes and nodded.

I pulled the curtain open, revealing a skeletal man who lay motionless on the bed. There were bandages across his face, exposing only his left eye, which flickered open as we approached him. My mom couldn’t hold in her tears, and she started bawling.

“How did they find him?” I asked the nurse.

“In a poor but stable condition. They found him at a bus station, severely dehydrated, slumped on the ground. He'd begun to experience the early stages of hypothermia. From his previous hospital records, he has quite a bit of brain damage from various causes. Although he can’t read and understand basic sentences, he still remembers things like the year and his own birthday. He still recognises faces.”

I knelt down beside my father, and took a second to admire his single functioning eye, wide open and staring into mine. I could see my reflection in his iris. No longer threatening, just helpless. His frail, broken body bore the scars of suffering beyond my imagination, and told the story of a sacrifice that was beyond my comprehension.

I smiled gently, and mouthed the words ‘I love you’. He replied with a nod.



Written by Fairly7Local
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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