The Three Sounds I Remember from Childhood

I don’t remember a lot from my time growing up on the farm, but I do remember some things, sights and smells mostly, and those three sounds.

I remember the sight of the old oil cans with fading labels in my father’s shop, of his tools hanging on the pegboard against the wall, and his trusty chainsaw on the workshop table, its teeth slighty rusted and dulling, uncared for by him.

I remember the smells: the smell of the oil and transmission fluid leaked out from the broken Chevy onto the garage floor, of cold rain on the wind and the hay in the barn, and of sawdust and sweat when my father came back in from a long day of cutting wood in the back lot.

I remember the sight of broken dishes on the floor, fallen from where they’d shattered on the wall, flung from my parents’ angry hands. I remember the deep red colour of my mother’s face, aflame with rage, and my father’s like stone as he walked out the door. I remember her look of disgust – who cuts wood at this hour of the night? she’d said – when she followed him out to the back lot.

I remember those three sounds, those three sounds that will forever be burned into my memory and never forgotten, no matter how hard I try: the sound of the chainsaw roaring, of my mother’s dying screams, and of my father’s evil laughter echoing out into the night.

Satan

Imagine my surprise when I went into Berenger’s office on Friday afternoon for our regular weekly meeting, and watched him swivel his big leather chair around for him to face me, like he did every time, only to find it wasn’t him sitting in it.

The same immaculate suit, the same cornflower blue tie, the same gold cufflinks, but instead of my boss, the suit was being worn by someone else.

The Devil.

I knew it was him, just as you know in dreams someone you’ve never seen before.

He was beautiful; his skin was perfect beneath his 5 o’clock shadow and he smiled at me showing rows of impossibly perfect white teeth. I was completely charmed and completely terrified.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, placing his hands palm-down on the mahogany of Berenger’s desk. “I’m not here to harm you.”

“What… what.. what… do you want?” was all I could stammer.

“It is not about what I want,” Satan said, his voice smooth as silk. “It’s about what you want. And I know what you want.”

I swallowed. “You do?”

“You want her to die, don’t you? You wish she was dead, I know you do. You’ve wished it ever since that week you spent together in Cuba for your 20th. Well, my friend, I can make it happen. Do you want it to happen? Are you ready to make a deal with The Devil?” He chuckled at his own joke and grinned. He was beautiful.

“What’s the catch?” I said. “There’s got to be a catch.”

“You have to watch,” he said, still grinning. “That’s the catch.”

I swallowed again, hard. I thought about it. “Ok,” I said. “I will.”

“Do we have a deal?” Lucifer said, extending his hand.

“Deal.” I shook. His hand was as soft as a baby’s skin and warmer than a hand should be.

I knew there would be a catch. I should have known never to make a deal with the devil.

She’s dead, that bitch, and that’s what I always wanted, and now I’m free. But I had to watch her die. Every day I watch her die. Every time I fall asleep. Every time I close my eyes, even for a second, I see her terrified face and the blood and her wide eyes screaming WHY

When I went back into Berenger’s office again on Monday, it was empty.

The Last Words of Franz Stilgaart

I found Franz Stilgaart in his run-down apartment across the river, just like the Monsieur’s man I’d met in the alley said I would, drinking wine from a cheap goblet, seated staring out a tiny window at the Monk’s Bridge, his back toward the door and me. Careless.

It was a thing of ease to sneak up behind him and catch him unawares; when I slipped the blade into his back and felt the familiar warmth stain my hands he made no sound. He turned his head to face me, his last expression one of simply not understanding.

I wiped my knife on his filthy rags and left his dead body bleeding on the floor.

So imagine my surprise when three weeks later I came home to flat above the markets, only to find him standing in my living room, very much alive. Just like the first time, there were no words: my surprise turned to action and I felt my feet gain life beneath me and I tackled him.

We wrestled on the floor. I felt my hands around his neck and him gasping for air. I found my knife in my belt and slipped it into him for the second time, this time in the pale white skin of his throat.

All I can think of now are the last words of Franz Stilgaart, the words he gasped out when I murdered him for the second time, and have robbed me of my sleep this last fortnight, and I can only imagine will for many more to come. How long? How long will his words continue to haunt me? Until I meet my end just like him, the man I killed twice?

“There’s nothing,” he’d said. “There’s nothing on the other side.”

Shitbox

When the engine burst into flames, I calmly turned the wheel and let my car slowly come to a stop by the side of the road. I got out of the car and watched the fire rage beneath the hood, long flames shooting up into to the arid desert sky, pouring black soot from their tips. I didn’t have a fire extinguisher. I didn’t know what to do.

The road stretched off to the horizon in either direction, a thin grey line disappearing into infinities.

I took my things from the backseat and stood a safe distance from the Chevy. I waited for the engine to explode, like in the movies, but it didn’t. The flames finally just died down, like in real life, and the two of us, me and the old Chevy, sat by the long line of gray pavement in silence.

What a shitbox, I thought.

I did this on purpose, you know, the car echoed back. This what you get for treating me the way you always have. For thinking you could take me on this hare-brained cross-country scheme you had planned to see that slut of yours without so much as giving me an oil change. So there. You deserve this.

You know what? Maybe you’re right, I thought.

The engine was smouldering. I grabbed the rest of my things from the back. No bars on my phone and maybe an hour of battery. A bottle of water. My suitcase. Miles and miles of desert.

What had I been thinking?

You brought this on yourself, the Chevy said with malice. You brought this on ourselves.

I know, I thought. I know.

I left the car by the side of the highway and began to walk.

In the trunk, her body was lifeless. I wondered if soon mine would be too.

The Demons in the Fortress

The air in the room was cold and dusty, and as the particles swirled around me and danced in the light, I took a deep breath and sighed. I looked down to the floor, down to her crumpled body and the blood staining the concrete and sighed again.

Oh Jeanine.

I saw her face, on that bright summer’s day we were out in the field in the warm sunlight. I saw her mouth moving and her hair dancing around her in the mild breeze and her laughing and taking my hand and her summer dress swishing around her.

“I love you, Michael,” she said, and giggled. She kissed me on the cheek and then stuck out her tongue. “Even though you’re a big loser.”

And then she ran. She ran through the swishing blades of tall, tall grass going to hay and they rocked back and forth around her and I followed after her, my hands reaching for the flesh around her hips, to grab her with my fingers and squeeze more laughter out of her smiling face.

That had only been a week ago.

I saw her face, last night, in the dimness of the living room, the sky outside the sliding glass of the patio doors black as midnight, though it was only seven. All the joy and laughter was gone and there were only the long, sagging lines of exhaustion. Of disappointment. Of the weariness she felt and the things taking hold of her mind. Those things that had been hiding in the bright sunlight but had now reared their ugly heads again in the darkness.

“I hate you, Michael,” she said, and her words were colder than ice and burrowed into my soul. Her eyes were black and empty and she was a different person, one I didn’t even recognize her anymore. “I hate you.”

I tried to fight the things off, tried to chip through the wall of stone they’d erected around her. Assault after assault I launched against the dark black bricks beneath the ramparts, but to no avail. The demons laughed in their towers, invulnerable, God-like, knowing they’d already won.

“Please,” I said. “Please Jeanine.”

“No!” she screamed, and hit me, and her voice wasn’t hers, it was someone else’s. It was a tortured twisted sound like an animal. “No!” She hit me, over and over again and I just wished those brights beams of sunlight would break through the blackness of the night to heal her once more, just for a moment.

“Why are you doing this?” I said. “Baby, it’s me! It’s me! What’s the matter!”

But all that came in response were the blows and the laughter of the demons from above the portcullis.

I tried to stop her but she knocked me to the floor. She grabbed the poker from next to the fireplace and swung it and the sharp tong on its end dug into the hardwood next to me, splintering it. I kicked her and she she screamed again and I remember thinking at that moment that she was finally really gone. Really, truly gone.

She chased me into the basement, swinging the iron tool like an sword and I stumbled, rolling down the stairs, my back hitting every step and shooting electric fire into me. At the base of the landing I stopped and she swung the poker again and I ducked. The metal sunk deep into the drywall and dry powder flew everywhere. She was screaming now, like a madwoman. But it wasn’t her. It wasn’t the woman I loved. The demons had her.

I ran toward the shelves of the basement workshop, those cheap metal shelves she’d always so hated. Stumbling I fell into pile of old paint cans. As she ran toward me I reached for something behind me and my body belonged to someone else.

Blood came out of her mouth, in long, slow, choking spurts. The handle of the screwdriver bobbled back and forth from the one end of the blade, the other stuck into the side of her neck. She sputtered out wet red gasps. I took her in my arms and fell to the floor and she stared into my eyes and we both knew that she was dying.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

The rage never left her eyes. She spat in my face and her saliva was hot on my cheek. Blood poured from her neck onto the cold grey concrete of the shop floor.

Slowly, she closed her eyes, and in them I saw her last words: I know. I’m sorry too.

Oh Jeanine.

I walked back up the stairs, holding the fire poker in the bloodied hand, its end powdery and white.

The demons will be back for me, I know. All I can do is wait.

Prying Eyes

Have you ever had the feeling someone is watching you? Where the air seems just a little bit different, and you can feel the hairs on the back of your neck start to stand up?

Michael had gone away for the weekend, on business, he said. He wasn’t going to be back until Sunday night. I’d just finished a relaxing hot shower, my hair up in a towel and my still-wet body hugged in the warm folds of my bathrobe, and put on a pot of tea and the television. With him gone I thought it would be good to opportunity to just stay in and relax and have some time to myself.

That’s when I felt the eyes watching. When I got the overwhelming sensation of not being alone. Of someone was looking in. The drapes fluttered in the cold wind of the night and I knew someone was there. I could feel it.

“Who’s there?” I called out, but no one answered.

Trying to remain calm, I went to the closet and got out a flashlight. I held it in my shaking hand called out again:

“I know you’re out there! Show yourself!”

There was no response.

I turned on the flashlight, and I saw the voyeur leering down at me from the tree in the yard. It was Michael. Vacantly his eyes stared in through the window, so very white. Beneath them a rope tight around his neck and beneath that jagged bloody letters carved into the flesh of his chest:

I SEE YOU

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

The highway is empty and the sky is clear and stark. It’s cold outside; the interior of the rental hasn’t yet warmed from the struggling heater. I rub my red hands together above the steering wheel and blow into them, trying to keep them from going numb.

After the Christmas dance, I’d driven her back to her parents’ house. The way the snow was falling so beautifully and slowly outside and the way her face was lit by the light of the big plastic candles on the lawn, it just seemed like the right thing to do, to try to kiss her. To hold her.

I don’t know what came over me then. But when she rejected me that way it just made me so angry, so very very angry, and before I knew what I was doing I’d reached for the crowbar in the back of my Dad’s pickup, and I was on top of her and tearing her clothes off and beating her face in with it and stabbing her with the sharp end. Her father ran out of the house screaming. I think he wanted to kill me.

That first Christmas, my present: tried as an adult, 25 to life, attempted murder in the first degree. I’ll never forget the bang of the judge’s gavel. I’ll never forget how she ruined my life, how she took it all away for me, for just one kiss.

25 years. 25 Christmases. No phone calls. No visitors. No presents. No cards. In prison Christmas is just another day. 25 years of being the model inmate while I was beaten and abused and tormented. While I learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of someone’s anger. Why they’d locked me up in the first place.

The heater is finally starting to work. The interior of the car is gradually warming. There is a crowbar on the back seat, blue like the one in my father’s old pickup so many years ago, God rest his soul.

That’s the thing about small towns. People don’t go far. People aren’t hard to find if you want to drop in on them. To wish them a Merry Christmas, as it’s that festive time of year. Or perhaps to reminisce about Christmases past.

I switch on the radio and music floods the car in AM, crackly and far away, and I start humming cheerily along with the tune:

I’ll be home for Christmas…

The Ivory Dagger

“That’s quite a rarity these days,” Dr. Stihlman said, as I picked it up. “What with the trade being outlawed now and all.”

It was a beautiful dagger, long and flowing and curved. The blade was spotless, with nigh a sign of rust nor a notch, but the handle was what intrigued me, and to what the Professor referred: it was carved ivory in a luxurious shade of creamy yellow-white. It fit snugly into my hand, the hilt ending just at the edges of my palm, and the intricate flowing curves and mystical-looking symbols carved into it gave it a strange textured feel beneath my skin.

“Yes, I’ll treasure that blade for as long as I live,” he said. “Got it when I was on the big expedition in Africa, just after Mildred died… God rest her soul.”

It wasn’t until years later when Stihlman himself passed away that I realized why the carved handle had felt so strange in my hand.

For when the executors of the Professor’s estate cleared out his belongings, they found buried beneath a trapdoor in the cellar a skeleton identified as none other than Mrs. Mildred Stilhman’s. The cause of death was uncertain, but even the newspaper noted one strange detail found in autopsy which could not be explained: a three-inch length of bone missing from the right femur.

Nothing to Lose

The engine revs and I feel the blood race in my veins. I will hold nothing back; I have nothing to hold back anymore. Full throttle. Let’s drive this hunk of metal full-tilt into a brick wall. I don’t give a shit. Nothing to lose.

I push my foot to the floor and the engine roars and we peel off down the dark, secluded highway amongst the rocky hills. nothing to lose Nothing to lose NOTHING TO LOSE NOTHING TO LOSE the slowly rising needle of the speedometer screams at me.

I reach over to the passenger seat and pull the strip of duct tape back. She screams. The lights of the night fly by with incredible speed, and the terror in her eyes only make the blood in my veins race faster.

As we cross the bridge, 600ft above the freezing waters of the cove, I pull the handle on the passenger side door and kick it open, nearly losing control and sending the us plummeting into the rail and over the side of the bridge but I don’t care.

“GOODBYE BEAUTIFUL!” I laugh. I kick her hard with my boot and she flies out the door and hits the steel of the guardrail like a ragdoll, flipping over it, up into the air and then out over the waters of the bay where she’ll fall to her death. I laugh.

I grab the gun from the glovebox and hold it up to my face and push my foot down on the accelerator hard. In my mind I see the house burning, the kids inside; her running out back door screaming, sweater alight; and the wispy black oaks of the neighborhood awash in lights of red and blue.

Nothing to lose, the speedometer coos from the dashboard. I turn the wheel, and pull the trigger.