It had to happen. Victor and Brian came back. I tried all night, but was unable to get their story out of them. Luckily, Richard Thrum decided to break his silence and talk to Victor. They didn't need the psionic device to talk to each other. After all, Victor was a ghost and Richard was an, er whatever! What would you call him? A disembodied intelligence trapped inside a superconductor that had once been his own head? Surely there must be a buzz word for someone like him?
I was on late shift the night Victor Torus and Brian Jones came back. It was about nine in the evening when they came in. By midnight Brian was blasted out of his brain by the vodka and cider he had been rushing all night. He staggered off to the 'coffins' to sleep it off leaving Victor on his lonesome. The Tavern was practically empty by this time. I hoped Victor would feel like talking to me now that Brian was out of the way. He and Brian had been trying to avoid me all night. Perhaps they were trying to avoid a confrontation with me. The last time they had been in, Brian had stolen some of the text from my journal. In reality, I had more things to care about than the theft of some disjointed ramblings. I was angry at the time, but that was now so much water under the bridge. Mind you, that was weeks ago by my time scale. It might have only been days by theirs.
Anyway, things got quiet so I tried to engage the ghost in conversation. Things must have seemed odd to the few customers who still hung about. They couldn't see or hear Victor at all. I could because of the psionic device that hung about my neck. I suppose that I could have 'thought' the psionic field bigger, but it just didn't occur to me at the time. I had been given the device by Alburt Greshin when he left Richard's head for safe keeping. The device was the only way to talk to him - or so I thought until now.
Unfortunately for me, he hadn't felt like talking in the two months or so that he'd been here. Recently, I had begun to doubt the validity of the story I had heard about the silvery looking head that still rested on the shelf, above the mirror, at the back of the bar. Right on cue, Richard decided to break his silence.
"Stop tormenting the guy and tell him your story!"
"Huh!" I mumbled. Victor looked surprised too. The cheerful deep voice had come out of thin air.
"It's me! The man in the mirror."
"What?" I said.
"It's the guy in the head," Victor exclaimed. "Brian told me all about him! He read his tale in your journal."
The man in the mirror! How apt! I hadn't looked at it like that before! Richard's head was not just silvery in appearance, but was in fact mirrored.
"Yes!" he sniggered.
"'Bout time you put in an appearance," I said.
"I was meditating."
"For two months?"
"Yeah, for two months. Whatever. I've got eternity in here with me. Time can pass like the flash of a spark. It's irritating talking to so-called normal people like you. By my time scale we've been talking for nearly half an hour. By yours its probably not even been a minute. I don't bother talking to the likes of you unless I have to."
"Charming!" I exclaimed.
"Don't be ignorant! Would you enjoy a conversation if an hour of talk seemed liked days? Days of talk so slow that you could write a paragraph between each of the other party's words? Eh?"
"Sorry," I apologised, "Why have you joined us this time?"
"To talk to the dead guy. I've never met a real live dead guy before, so shut up and let us talk! You, what's your name?"
"Tell me your story and hurry up."
"I don't wish to talk to anybody about it at the moment."
"Stop pussy-footing about! You've heard my story. It's only fair that you tell yours. I need to know. Hurry up!"
"No," Victor said, and meant it.
"Oh hurry up! If you tell me your story, I'll show you how to interact with reality."
A handful of zed nuts rose smoothly out of a nearby dish. The nuts separated and began to circle the ghost at high speed.
"Can you do that?" said Richard.
Victor was lost for words. So was I. Then there was the noise of someone being slapped. Victor's head jerked to the side. His white face was starting to go red where the invisible blow had struck.
"Or that? Don't you wish you could touch things?"
Victor's mouth hung open in astonishment. He gulped at the air like a fish.
"Do you want to be able to do that?" Richard repeated.
"Y...yeah!" Victor spluttered.
"Good! Then we've established a point from which to negotiate. Tell me your story and I'll show you how to enjoy the rest of your death."
And so it was that Victor and Richard began to talk in earnest whilst I listened in silence. As Victor's story unfolded, I began to feel an increasing sense of horror and disgust. The horror was not directed towards Victor. He was a very unusual innocent bystander. The horror was directed towards a monster whose life Victor was forced to share for a while. A very human monster. A monster by the name of Philip King.
Life began for me, in Scotland, sometime around the first few months of 1982. I say 'began' because I wasn't born in the conventional sense of the word. I didn't know the place in which my self-awareness occurred and I didn't know the year. I've since worked them out for myself. Brian Jones and I came from Scotland in 1992. There's a naturally occurring doorway in time near Loch Ness that leads straight to the Edge of Nowhere. Brian found it the first time by accident. Since I am haunting him - after all, he did kill me - I followed. The year 1992 is my point of reference. The events that I'm about to relate happened approximately 10 years previous, so the year 1982 seems about right.
Obviously, I wasn't aware of events occurring before that time. I picked up some clues from the memories of my host, but most of the background was filled in much later by Brian Jones.
Philip King and Brian Jones were the best of friends since kindergarten. They were both science fiction writers. Brian was quite good, but never attempted to publish anything. It was a hobby that he enjoyed. He wrote very slowly. Savouring plots. Using them only as mental jigsaws. Never feeling the need to progress into the so-called big time.
Philip was quite the reverse. He was a rotten writer. He wrote fast and often. He was obsessed with getting published. By the time he was nineteen he had written ten really bad novels and nearly a hundred short stories. His latest work was a play for television called "The Last Night Of The Mobile Riot Club." The play was about CB radio which had just been legalised in Britain the year before. Years later - after all the nastiness - I had the chance to read the manuscript. It was bloody good stuff! It was the first time that Philip had drawn from life.
If the problem that he had for most of his life hadn't come to a head and manifested itself so brutally in 1982, he might have hit his goal and sold the play. His problem was simple. He was mad. Had been for most of his life. I have been unable to trace the starting point to his problem. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed he was the most insignificant being on the planet. His constant failure to get anything published reinforced this warped self image. He took every failure as further proof of his own unworthiness to live.
In 1982 he finally realised that he was mentally ill and decided to get help. He used the time honoured gambits of telling his G.P. that he had a friend with a problem and could he advise him. The Doctor could only advise that his friend would have to admit the problem to his own G.P. so that therapy could be arranged. Philip admitted nothing and never talked about the matter again. He would handle it himself. He wrote his worries down on a list and looked at them for a long time. By his way of thinking, all he had to do was prove to himself that he mattered to somebody and he would be cured. Part of his illness was an obsession with violence. He didn't use violence against anyone. It was all imagined and directed towards himself. Everyone he met - even Brian Jones - was the enemy. They all wanted to hurt him - perhaps kill him. Philip decided that if he channelled this violence outwards, away from himself, he would have progressed in the right direction for a cure. He had tried to get fame through his writing and failed. Now he deliberately set out on the self-destructive path of infamy. He looked at it all quite differently of course. He just wanted to be loved.
It was about then that I entered his life.
My first memories are decidedly odd, disjointed and frightening. It was like scenes from a badly made film that had been spliced together in the wrong order and played at varying speeds. When my birth intersected that moment in Philip's life, our first shared emotions were of total confusion and terror. The confusion came from me. The terror came from Philip. He was in the King's living room at the time and he was choking to death. He was choking to death on sweet and sour pork. The key word is 'pork.' Remember it. It might be of significance when I later tell you what manner of being I am.
Here is what was happening at that point in time as related to me by Brian Jones many months later.
"Bloody some walk that," Philip was saying, "Remember the Graveyard? When the dawn came up? All that mist and drizzle? The green damp gravestones? All very spooky."
"That's right," agreed Brian, "Near the golf course. I wanted to wait there at the bus stop, but you were spooked and insisted that we walk on to the next bus stop." He gave a laugh and took a large gulp at his pint of cider which he was having with his dinner.
Philip put a tape into the video machine and pressed the play button. The screen was filled with the hiss of white noise. "Takes a while for the first song to come on," he explained. "Wasn't spooked," he continued, "Just soaking wet and freezing cold. It was better to keep warm by walking than standing for half an hour waiting for a bus that would probably be late."
"Rubbish! You were spooked. First class brown trousers scared!"
He never answered this goading, just stuck a whole ball of pork into his mouth and with much difficulty tried to chew it.
"Careful, you'll choke your self!"
Just then the video sprang into life and a song by an English punk band called the Jam came on. They were singing about the things that people did for entertainment.
"Hey, I like this one!" said Brian as he used the remote control to turn the volume up.
"Spooked?" Philip mumbled quietly.
"What?" He turned the sound down again.
Philip didn't repeat himself. His face had gone a funny colour. Sort of grey. His mouth was full of pork and hung open. With glazed eyes he stared into space. Brian had seen Philip this way once before. They had done a lot of dope together a few years ago. Once Phil had dropped some Black Bombers and a few Mandy's on top of some good quality LSD. Rather a stupid combination really! Brian wouldn't touch the acid. It scared him. Phil had freaked out on the stuff. He had looked then, much as he looked now. Neither of the pair had done dope for years.
"Could this be what is know as an acid flashback?" Brian thought. "You okay?" he asked.
The family dog, Bristlehound - who had been asleep in front of the fireplace - woke up and wandered over to see what was happening.
"Spooked?" He mumbled again. This time, bits of half chewed meat dripped on ropes of saliva from his open mouth. The dog snapped them up hungrily.
He coughed and then coughed again. Most of the pork fell from his mouth with a splat onto the smoked glass of the coffee table. In a flash, Bristlehound was on the table devouring the mess. Philip collapsed onto the floor and started choking in earnest. The dog thinking he was playing, jumped back onto the floor and started barking.
"No! You idiot! I warned you!" panicked Brian.
He stopped coughing and managed to get to his feet again. His face had gone bright red and the muscles in his throat were twisting spasmodically. After a few shaky steps he fell down again. His right hand - now like a claw - raked through Brian's dinner leaving lines of blood across the top of the table. Little red magnifying lenses of blood splattering across the television screen. Look again Brian? It wasn't blood. It was the red sweet and sour sauce.
As if in slow motion, Phil's body hit the glass table top and it shattered. Now there was real blood. Amazingly, it didn't come from Philip. It came from the side of Brian's face as a small spear of glass struck his left cheek.
Philip started to cough again and the dog began to lick his face. By now, his face was almost purple. Brian panicked and slapped the dog hard on the side of the face. With a loud yelp, Bristlehound leapt away and ran from the room. Brian grabbed Philip by the shoulders and shook him violently.
"Don't die in the living room!"
What to do? What to do?
"Don't bloody die you swine!" He turned him onto his side and began to pound on his back. A final piece of meat flew from Philip's mouth and stuck to the wall with a meaty slap.
He gave a last cough and then beamed an evil grin. Something shaped from pure badness lay behind that grin. Something so corrupt and warped that you wouldn't believe in it even as it was killing you. He gave a gurgling, wet, painful laugh.
"Gonnie kill them all!" The voice wasn't his. It belonged to somebody or something whose vocal cords were so rotten that they had to bellow hard to form even the simplest of words. Brian's blood ran cold and he almost fainted.
"Gonnie cut them! Gonnie split them! Gonnie eat them all up. Gonnie do them good! Gonnie do them rude!" He began to laugh louder and louder until Brian had difficulty making out any words. Over and over again. "Kill them! Spill them! Slit them! Dead them!"
"Oh my God!" Brian gasped.
Philip suddenly shut up. His eyes bulged as he seemed to consider for a moment. Then he spoke in that dead voice again. This time it was just three word spoken with a period between each.
"Not. My. God."
"This can't be happening!" thought Brian.
Philip began to shout about killing them again. He ran the words together forever faster and louder until the words became a continuous throat-ripping screech.
"Stop it! Brian screamed.
And he did.
Phil's face changed - became relaxed and surprised looking.
"Wh...what happened?" he whispered, "My throat hurts?" He sat up.
"Stay still," Brian said shakily,"You've had some kind of a choking fit!" His mouth was dry and he was visibly trembling.
"I'm okay. A bit shaky, but okay - 'cept for my throat," said Phil fingering his Adam's apple, "Which is more than I can say for you. Your face is bleeding. Your as pale as hell and shaking."
"Yeah?" He wiped the side of his face and looked at the blood on his fingers. There wasn't much. "I'm not surprised I'm shaking. You gave me some scare." He gave a watery smile and turned the television off. Bristlehound entered the room slowly and gave a small whimper.
"Aw, come here old girl! Sorry!" Brian rubbed the old dog behind the ears. She forgave him and gave his nose a lick. She waddled over and gave Phil's face more of the same treatment.
"What did you do to her?" said Phil.
"I panicked. She was licking your face and I slapped her."
"Why did you do that?"
"Like I said, I was panicking. Didn't know what to do. I though you were dying."
"If I was that bad, why didn't you do C.P.R. or that thingamy manoeuvre?"
"It just didn't occur to me," Brian shrugged.
Shortly afterwards, Brian went home. I later discovered that he was so upset by what had happened that he went straight to the toilet and was violently sick.
When he left, Philip went upstairs and filled in his diary. As he wrote of his choking fit, he laughed. I just watched.
24/October/1982 (Tuesday) Me and B went to the dole. It was shut. Forgot that it was being moved yesterday. Checked the letter they sent weeks ago. Not only had it moved, but my signing date is now a Thursday. Bah! Got the CB antenna fixed up yesterday. Its a 5/8 wave with a heliptical (don't know how you spell it) ground plane. B was suppose to help, but the lazy swine didn't turn up. I managed okay by myself, but my dad wasn't pleased. I hadn't told him that the antenna was over 20 feet tall and would be stuck on a 22 foot scaffolding pole. Tough! The screenplay I'm writing is going well. Did ten pages of dialogue last night. Had a bit of a nasty turn today, but I turned it to my advantage and scared the daylights out of B. It was a bad choking fit. At the end of it, I put on a voice and started shouting rubbish about killing folk. B drank it in like the moron he truly is. I had trouble keeping my face straight. I should be an actor instead of a writer. I've started dreaming about light bulbs again. Wonder what it all means?
And those were my first memories. I wasn't scared because I had nothing to compare those events to. In fact, the only memories that I had were those of the host and I had yet to learn how to access them. Back then, in my first few days of life, I lay timidly at the back of Philip King's mind and contemplated the Universe. Who was I? How was it that I could understand so much without ever having been taught anything? Without ever having learned a language, I should have been thinking in abstract instinctive picture form. I was not doing this. I had a mastery of the English language that was far superior to the host's? What did I mean by 'host'? Where did I come from and what was I doing here? Again, who was I? What was I? I would be only a few months until I had the answer to that last question. The others were never answered.
When I learned how to access Philip's mind, I became very frightened. The mind of a mad man is not a nice place in which to live. Perhaps I could re-shape this dark tortured place? Prune the memories? Mould them into clearer cleaner shapes? It would be dangerous, but I could see a way. It would take a while to research my plan, but a way did exist. Unfortunately, a few days later, events forced my hand before I was ready.
It was a Saturday. It was a cold winter night. We were at a fund raising dance organised by the local C.B radio club. It was held in the Burlington Soccer Clubhouse. The soccer clubhouse was pretty normal for any Scottish club except for its unusual name. Nobody in Burlington would be seen dead calling it by its proper name. An American business man had put a lot of money into the club and insisted that the official name was the Burlington Soccer Club. To all in Burlington it was always known as the Football Club.
"You want a drink?" asked Brian Jones.
"Cider. Thanks," replied Philip King.
Brian wandered off to the bar. Philip took a pack of cigarettes from a pocket in his coat which was slung over the back of a chair. Removed one and tried to put the pack into his right front trouser pocket. There wasn't room, so he put them in the left hand pocket. There wasn't room in the right hand pocket because it contained a large retractable modelling knife.
He lit the Marlboro, inhaled it deeply and looked the place over. To the right of the table was a small dance floor behind which was the D.J's booth. To the left was the main body of tables and chairs. At the far left was the bar and grill. The lighting was dim and the place was dusty. In places, the wallpaper was patchy with damp. Even although October was nearly over, a nearby poster still advertised last year's Christmas panto. The music was quiet. Although there looked to have been forty or fifty people there, no one was dancing. It was still early. Just turned eight. Things would liven up later.
Brian came back. He had a pint of cider for Phil and a beer for himself. He had also bought a double vodka each. He complained about feeling very cold after the two mile walk. He had on a dress jacket with a thin shirt, a tie and training shoes. Everybody else had been wearing parkas or overcoats.
"Get that into ya," said Brian.
"Thanks," said Phil and threw the vodka back in one swallow.
"Don't mention it! The next round is going to be triples and you're buying," said Brian.
"Right," Philip croaked, "That stuff is rough! You can feel it doing you harm as it goes down. What is it? It's great!"
"Don't know. No label on the bottle. Just some cheap crap."
"They could get done for that."
"Shur'up moaning. You seen Sharon anywhere?"
"Nope. She'll not turn up."
"Who's that over there then?" he waved at a girl coming in and she waved back. She was overweight, had on high heels and a denim mini skirt. There was no warm coat for her either. Brian and Sharon were peas from the same pod. Sharon was a server in the chip shop in the shopping centre. She always gave Brian extra chips. When she had mentioned months ago that she had a C.B radio, Brian had went out and bought a legal 40 channel Amstrad rig and a slightly illegal DV-27 antenna just so that he could talk to her. Philip had bought a silver rod and a Nato 2000 rig which was legal to own, but illegal to use - if the chips were switched - anywhere in the world. This was Brian and Sharon's second date.
"Eyeball the Nowhere Man!" shouted a deep voice belonging to a short guy with a black beard. He left the bar and headed for our table.
"Right back at ya, Werewolf," shouted Philip.
"Who's your buddy?"
"This is the Slob," Philip gesticulated towards Brian.
"Right! I was talking to you last night wasn't I? You're the one with the Amstrad squawk box aren't you?"
"Yeah. Excuse me a minute," said Brian as the went over to see Sharon."
"Right! Is Golden Girl his seat cover?"
"Not yet," said Philip. 'Seat cover' was C.B slang for girlfriend. Golden Girl was Sharon's C.B handle.
"Cancer stick?" said the Werewolf offering Philip a cigarette.
"Thanks," he said, taking a tube of tobacco, "Think I'm turning into a chain smoker. I've just put one out."
"How is the Nato doing? Been down to the crypt yet?"
"Couple of times. Just listening mostly. Talked to a guy down there called Mike. Can't remember his handle. Think it was a Ham Jumbo he was using."
"Right! That'll be big Mike Miller. Handle's Judge Dredd."
"That was him."
"He's only been on the box for about a month. By Christ, has he got some good equipment."
From there on in the conversation got even more boring. Names like K40, Realistic, and Stalker Nine were thrown about as if they were important. When they started going on about SWRing in a tinfoil dipole and talking about ground planes, I decided to go to sleep for a while.
When I woke up, the music was loud and lights were flashing. Someone was going on about how his dog had ate concentrated washing powder meant for dish washers and had died.
"How did it get at it?"
"A bag had burst at work and the boss said it would get rid of the weeds I'd been moaning about. So, I took it home and dumped it on the weeds. Stupid dog ate it. Probably its idea of a joke."
"Must have burnt its insides."
Philip wasn't listening to the conversation. He was drunk and he was angry. The anger was directed towards two young women he was staring at on the dance floor.
Near the disco lights the two young women were dancing by themselves. They seemed - to Philip - to be about eighteen years old, but he wasn't sure. They wore identical, but differently coloured, clothes. One was dressed in blue, the other in red. Both were blondes and wore yellow ribbons in their short hair. They were dressed in flat shoes, fishnet stockings, short thin cotton skirts and tight fluffy jumpers. Each time the disco lights in the background flashed, their skirts went transparent.
"I've always had a thing for women in tight fluffy jumpers. Have you ever thought about getting one Sharon?" said Brian.
"You!" Sharon slapped Brian's arm good-naturedly.
I searched Philip's memory of the events that had occurred whilst I'd been asleep. Nothing interesting there, but I got the names of the new people who had joined us at the table.
"Dirty bitches!" mumbled Philip.
"You're the dirty one Phil," declared a redhead named Sara. She was the Werewolf's wife. Her handle was Lady Love.
"Com'on. Let's dance!" Sharon said and dragged Brian onto the dance floor.
"Nice legs, huh?" said Ronnie drunkenly gesturing towards the two young women. Ronnie was the Werewolf's real name. Sara gave him a dirty look.
"Yeah," Philip agreed, hiding his anger. He knew that the young women were deliberately taunting him. He didn't have a girlfriend and they knew it. Somehow they had found out that he was a virgin and were tormenting him. He knew that they were laughing at him. They had deliberately positioned themselves so that he - and only he - could see the curves of their thighs and their white panties as the bright lights pulsed through the thin skirts. The fact that most of the male eyes in the room were also watching the same sight never occurred to Philip.
He looked at his watch. 11.00 pm. It was time. Time for what? I could read his memories, but it was often difficult to read his conscious thoughts. Maybe it was because I'd just woken up.
"Nature calls," he said to no one in particular.
The toilets were in a separate part of the building near the ground floor fire exit. There was no one to see him go out of the fire exit. He jammed the lock open by forcing a dead match into the bolt housing and carefully closed the door behind him. He waited. For what?
I looked in his memories and saw that six months ago, he had waited in this same dark car park for someone to hurt. It was over an hour before he chickened out and went home. Perhaps he was going to go through with it this time?
After a few minutes a guy left by himself from a side entrance a few yards away. Philip made as if to follow him, but a commotion at the main entrance made him fade back into the shadows.
"It's the luckiest night of your life, pal," he whispered.
The commotion was caused by the same two women who had been tormenting him on the dance floor. They were arguing heatedly about something. Neither of us could make out what they were saying.
"All right! I'll walk!" shouted the young woman in red.
"Well you can do it without your COAT!" screamed the young woman in blue.
"Keep it! I wouldn't go near your car if you payed me!" she screamed back.
"It wouldn't be the first time someone payed you!"
The young woman in blue hurried to her car and the young woman in red hurried off into the darkness. It started to snow. Standing there in the darkness, Philip smiled and licked a large dry snowflake from his lips.
"Bloody TYPICAL!" screamed the young woman in red's voice from out of the darkness. "Snow! In October?"
"Perfect," smiled Philip.
He ran around the back of the Burlington Soccer Club building and followed the young woman at a distance. She was mumbling to herself and swearing a lot. At a crossroads of paths, she paused and then headed for the park.
"Even better," he whispered, "Nobody but a fool goes through the park at night."
When she got near the underpass that ran under the main road, Philip ran up a side ally and crossed the deserted road. He ran down the only path into the heavily wooded park. The trees were too bare here. He needed the shelter of the fir trees just a dozen yards away. It was pitch black, he skidded in a pile of broken glass from one of the vandalized lights and fell over. He didn't cut himself. He was only winded. Picking up a heavy chunk of wood from a nearby vandalised park bench, he hurried into the fir trees and waited.
Less than a minute later the young woman neared his hiding place. She had stopped mumbling to her self and was shivering already. He was also shivering for he hadn't brought his coat. There was enough light for Philip to see that she looked frightened. She was probably wishing that she had not decided to take a short cut through the park. And then, she was gone.
Philip hurried after her. She did not hear his soft footfalls behind her. The makeshift club was silent as it was raised. As it arced forwards, it made a tiny wind-like sound. She didn't hear it. It was too late anyway. I screamed a warning. No one except Philip heard me. The wood split. Her skull did too. Philip caught her as she fell and dragged her a few yards into the woods.
The snow stopped falling and the moon came out from behind a cloud. He stood over her warm body and drank in the sight. I had to watch too. I hadn't known her in life, but in moonlit death she looked so innocent. She was beautiful. She didn't deserve to die in such an ugly way. No one did. She deserved to be loved for she was lovable. In that still silent moment, I loved her. I wanted to cuddle her and tell her everything would be all right. I wanted to rip away these last few minutes of time and make her live again. I could not do these things. I am no time ripper and I have no body to cuddle with. Neither did she.
Philip smiled. The adrenaline and testosterone buzzing through his body felt wonderful. He felt like a God. I saw a misty figure rise up from her body. The God didn't. I cried and he heard.
"Decided to make yourself know?" he said in his mind.
"You killed her." There was nothing else to say.
"I didn't think you would be back," he said.
"I've always hoped that I would meet you in the real world Victor. And here you are."
Then I had it. I had been tinkering with his memories. For years Philip had been using the Silva Technique of meditation to explore his mind. In it, the person uses various relaxation techniques and mind exercises to condition their own mind. The participant imagines a place which becomes the 'office' of their mind. In this office, they imagine a 'helper'. Philip's helper was a character from a book he had written called, The Man In The White Boiler Suit. The Man In The White Boiler Suit's name was Victor Torus. I had adopted the persona of this character and inserted characteristics of my own developing personality into the memories of Philip's meditation sessions. I figured that this would make it easy for me to slip 'live' into his next session. Philip often took Victor Torus's advice. I had intended to do a bit more tinkering with his memories, but now my hand had been forced. I was too upset to think clearly, but I had to play things by ear now.
"You have to turn yourself in," I said.
"Of course I will. Eventually," he said.
He unzipped the dead woman's skirt at the side and struggled it down her legs. What was he doing? Then I realised...
"DON'T!" I cried, "Please don't!"
"Don't worry," he laughed in his mind, "I'm not a rapist I just want the skirt to wrap the souvenir in."
"I need to leave a sign so that the cops will know its me when I do the next one."
"Yeah. Nine or ten should be enough. Then we'll turn ourselves in. We'll be more famous than Nielsen or Sutcliff. Just to prove we're not sexist, the next one can be a guy. What do you think?"
"Obviously," he said, "Who else but a madman could have a conversation with a fictional character he'd invented?"
I was too thunder struck to reply. How could he be contemplating such things without me seeing them in his mind? Are human beings that impetuous?
"Suit yourself," he shrugged and removed the modelling knife from his pocket.
It is impossible to remove a human jaw bone with just a modelling knife. He also used a large stone as a leaver. The cloth of the skirt prevented his hands being covered in blood. I will not speak further on this matter for I am still deeply revolted by it. On that cold painful night, so long ago - the night of the first murder - I was so shocked by these actions, I fainted. Thank you God! I didn't come round until Philip had long finished his dark deeds and was fast asleep in his bed.
I cried for a long time.
I searched Philip's memories for my missing hours. It looked to me as if he had got away with it. He had wrapped the young woman's jawbone in the skirt. He managed to fish a polythene bag out from one of the parks few remaining garbage cans. Putting his memento in the bag, he hurried back to the dance. Removing the match stick from the fire exit lock, he closed the door and slipped into the toilets. Nobody saw him. He went into a cubicle and locked it behind him. For a few minutes he sat there smiling.
"You in there Phil?" someone hammered on the door. It was Brian Jones.
"You okay? You've been gone ages!"
"I've had too much to drink. Been a bit sick," he lied.
He opened the door and came out clutching the polythene bag. Brian didn't notice it. He was too concerned for his friend's welfare.
"Christ! What happen to you? You're a mess!"
"The hair kind of suffers when your head's down the bowl," he grinned weakly.
"Tidy yourself up and I'll get you a coke. You'll soon feel better."
"No. I'm going home. Feel really bad."
"Give me five minutes and I'll walk you up the road."
"No. I'll go my self. I've enough money for a taxi. I don't want to spoil your chances of getting off with Sharon," he laughed.
"Yeah. Great ain't she?"
"Could you phone me a taxi?"
"Sure. What's in the bag?"
"Some of my money fell out of my pocket when I was throwing up. I thought I'd finished being sick, so I stood up and was promptly sick again. All over the money," he lied easily.
"I felt too bad to wash the money here. I wrapped it in paper towels. Fix it when I get home."
"I'll rinse it for you."
"I was sick again. This time into the bag."
"Yuk! I'll give you a fiver for the taxi. You can sort the money out tomorrow."
"Thanks. Tell you what, I'll phone for a taxi myself whilst you get my coat. Could you put the bag in one of the pockets?"
He took the offered bag carefully with a look of disgust. There was no way he was going to look inside it. Philip went and phoned a taxi then waited in the car park. Brian came out with his coat and gave him the five pound note. It was raining hard. There was no sign that it had ever been snowing. Philip quickly struggled into his coat.
"You must have been really sick. I felt the bag squelch as I put it in the pocket."
"I'll be alright after a good night's sleep. Sorry to spoil your night out, man."
"You haven't. The best is yet to come," Brian smiled.
"Put it this way - earlier on - I visited that funny bubble gum machine in the gents. When you see me tomorrow I'll be smiling a lot," just then the taxi arrived, "See ya!"
Philip got into the taxi and told the driver his destination.
"Felt the bag squelch!" he sniggered.
"What?" said the driver.
"Nothing. Laughing at a joke I just heard."
"How'd it go?"
"You wouldn't find it funny!"
Philip King laughed all the way home.
When he got there, the house was in darkness. His parents and the dog were spending the weekend at the family caravan in Ayr. He stripped his clothes off and put them in the front loader along with the dead woman's skirt. He placed the young woman's jawbone on top of the washing machine and looked at it for a while. There was a lot of meat still attached to it. Bristlehound would have loved that. It struck him how ugly the thing was and decided to do something about it. He ran the hot tap until the water was warm and filled a small pot. He put the ugliness in the pot and put it on the stove to boil.
Still naked, he took the modelling knife to bits and carefully washed the pieces. He dried the parts and re-assembled them with a new blade. He looked at the old blade for a while. It was chipped and slightly rusty. It was long and scored with lines where it was suppose to be snapped off and extruded from the knife handle as needed. Wrapping the old blade in a towel, he broke it into several pieces and put them into an empty beer can. The can was squashed and put in with the rest of the household garbage.
Starting to feel the cold, he went a put on some pants and a shirt. Still cold, he put on his bathrobe.
He went into the living room and turned on the hi-fi and played the album "Bat out of Hell" very loud. He danced through the album and then replayed it. Halfway through the second play of the last song, he turned it off and went back into the kitchen.
The clothes had been cleaned and spun dry. The bone had been nearly boiled clean. He had assumed that the teeth would have fallen out as the meat boiled away. They hadn't. Taking some time to pick the remaining meat from it, he polished the bone with a dish towel and then wrapped it in the dead woman's skirt.
The water in the pot was dark and greasy. He started to pore it down the sink and then stopped to consider. It seemed a shame to waste such a rich liquid. What else could be done with it? He realised the answer and began to laugh. Checking the cupboards, everything he needed was there, lentils, stock cubes (not that he'd need many), onions, carrots, potatoes and all the herbs. It had been years since he had made some home-made soup. When it was ready, he turned off the stove and left the soup to cool. Then he went to bed and slept like an angel.
Next day, he poured the cold soup into freezer bags and hung them in the freezer to harden.
Philip was in such a good mood that day that he decided to play music over the main contact channel of his C.B radio all day. I tried to talk to him, but he didn't seem to hear me.
Brian Jones came to visit that afternoon. Philip never asked about Sharon and Brian didn't volunteer the information. He wasn't smiling, so he couldn't have got lucky. He stayed late, so Philip cooked him some dinner. Not that he went to any trouble preparing the food. Just put a portion of frozen soup into a bowl and heated it in the microwave.
"This is bloody great," said Brian, "What's in it?"
"Mostly lentils," he smiled, "And a secret ingredient."
"What's the secret ingredient?"
"Not telling. It's a secret."
Later that night, his parents arrived back from the caravan. They enjoyed the soup too - Bristlehound truly loved it.
It was two days before some kids found the body. The news stories said that it had been extremely mutilated. No details were given. Within a few days, the word on the street was that the woman's head was missing. Other rumours were a bit more horrible. All agreed that part of the body was missing. One of the rumours was that the victim's lower jaw was missing. Most people discounted that one. Obviously, someone on the investigating team had talked.
After the second murder - over a month later - the general belief on the streets was that it was indeed the jaw that was missing from the bodies. The popular press picked up this rumour and hinted at a nickname for the murderer. Three weeks later - the day after the third murder - one of the daily tabloids gave the murderer a name. The name stuck.
CLAIMS CHRISTMAS VICTIM
Every idiot, on the Burlington Citizen Band radio circuit who enjoyed annoying other users, started calling using croaky voices and calling themselves the Jawman. Philip King was one of them. He wasn't totally stupid, he never gave anything away. Just behaved like dozens of other nondescript 'muppets'.
"I'm gonnie get you!" says croaky deep put-on radio voice.
"Who's that? Come in on the side," says nice lovable respectable Citizen Band radio user.
"The Jawman," croaked deep put-on radio voice.
"Not another one! Go and do a ten-two thousand on yerself pal," says nice lovable respectable Citizen Band radio user.
"Okay. I'll do it right now."
Followed by lots of deep breathing, gasping, breaking wind, swearing and - perhaps - the occasional burst of someone blowing down a straw into a cup of water. Nice lovable respectable Citizen Band radio user turns off in disgust. Jawman, number hundred and one, laughs and goes off to find someone else to annoy.
Shortly after the third murder, Philip decided to catch up on his meditation. It took him a while to relax properly for he was well out of practice. He had stopped meditating because he had been feeling too ill to concentrate properly since the first murder. Although he was eating no more than usual, he appeared to be putting on weight. Maybe it was the drink?
I slipped into his vision without any difficulty. The way he was going, he wouldn't get caught murdering anyone for a long time. My first priority was to delay the next murder for as long as possible. The day after that last murder, I adjusted his memories of the event so that he thought he had been seen in the act.
"We got that one real good," he said from his meditation.
"Yeah, I know. I was watching," I said.
"Don't be modest. You helped guide my hands. I was shaking too much. I couldn't have done that one my self."
"Well, perhaps I helped a bit," I lied.
"Serves him right for being a homo," he sniggered.
"How could you tell? He seemed okay to me."
"It was obvious. His clothes were too tight and he was too good looking. Most homos are macho and good looking. Thought everyone knew that? How about, we get a black dude next time? Just to prove we're not racist?"
"Sounds good to me, but I think we should wait a while."
"I think someone saw us."
"Yeah, I thought that to. It was weird that one. Almost as if it was a dream? Someone watching from behind a tree or a bush or something? Can't think why I didn't do anything about it at the time?
"Perhaps we should give ourselves up?"
"Na, we need to get lots more first. But you're right. Let's play it safe and give it a rest for a few months. Maybe even a year. That way it'll have much more impact. They'll think the Jawman has gone. It'll be so great! We could wait at least six months and then send a deliberately misleading letter to the papers telling them that we've moved to another town. We could even give a date and time for the next one."
"And the best bit is, if we do the letter properly, they will think its a hoax and do nothing. Imagine their faces when a black dude turns up in Burlington with its jaw missing," he started to laugh again, "I can't wait. Let's do it this weekend."
"NO..." I panicked, "...up until now the only clue was the fact that they got done on a weekend. Even the times were different. They think we used a scalpel. The idiots are looking for a medical student. If that witness goes to the cops we're sunk!"
"It was too dark for them to see us. Anyway, it will be in the papers if he goes to the cops," he said uncertain.
"Don't bank on it. If he described us, the beat cops'll pull us in the next time we're out at night on a weekend. It's routine. They won't be able to finger us, but we'll be in deep dodo when they find the knife."
"I always change the blade. There's no traces on it. In fact, this time I travelled to Glasgow and bought a whole new knife."
"I know. I was with you Mr Jawman," I mocked him. He didn't notice.
"If we're caught out at night with the knife, I'll say that its for my own protection. Say that I'm scared of the Jawman getting me."
I didn't admit it to him, but he was right. Without a description of the murderer, that story might work. Half the good citizens of Burlington were probably carrying something when they went out at night.
"I still think we should wait a while before the next one."
"Oh, all right. We'll wait at least six months," he reluctantly promised.
Two weeks went by and his parents told him that they would be spending the weekend at the caravan. Philip began to think about breaking his promise.
"Could you make some of that lovely soup whilst we're away? The heating in the caravan is still okay at this time of year, but the car is freezing. A good bowl of hot soup would go down a treat on Sunday night," said Philip's Mother.
"Sure Mom," said the loving son.
"Probably be the last trip to the caravan this year. The weather is getting far too cold. The snow will be here soon."
Later, when his parents had gone, Philip laid his 'collection' out on his bed. There was little chance of it being discovered for it was hidden under a screwed down floor board in his bedroom. There was a red skirt, a ripped white shirt and a denim jacket. All were washed and ironed. His favourite was the red skirt. Sometimes he wore it and looked at himself in the mirror. The last time that he did that, he tied the polished jawbones together with a length of silver plated chain and wore them about his neck. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and felt sad. The sight of the makeshift necklace and the skirt beside his large belly looked pathetic. I think he knew it. Now there's a thought? Why was his stomach so swollen when he was not eating and drinking any more than usual? I didn't think he would wear the jawbones again.
That night - as he looked at his 'collection' - he laid the jawbones on top of the red skirt. He was careful to lay them down in the correct manner for he had noticed the similarity between them and horseshoes. If a horseshoe was stored with its U shape pointing down then the owner would have bad luck. Perhaps it was the same with jawbones? Maybe they had to be stored the correct way up in order to gather the luck?
It was whilst gazing at his 'collection' that he decided that he would deliberately break his promise to me. After all - he reasoned - who but a madman would keep a promise made to a fictional character?
At around ten that night, he put his 'collection' back in its hiding place and screwed the board down. Then, he took his knife and a screwdriver, put on a thick coat and went for a walk. I didn't know it then, but matters had been taken out of my hands again. This time the horrible events, which were about to unfold, were to bring good luck. This luck wasn't for Philip. Neither was it for me. This luck was for the good (and bad) folk of Burlington. The Jawman's horseshoe luck had finally run out.
Unknown to me at that time, two days previously some of the nice lovable respectable Citizen Band radio users of Burlington had taken matters into their own hands. They were tired of this outbreak of 'Jawmen' who were spoiling their hobby and decided to do something about it.
Brian, Ronnie, Kev, Stevie and Jimmy - alias the Slob, Werewolf, Bandit, Kingfisher and Sonny Jim - were cruising in Ronnie's old van which they had christened the 'Blues Mobile' after the car in the film. They were all slightly drunk otherwise the idea that Ronnie was about to have would not have been considered. They were earwigging the C.B channels when they recognised the voice of a 'Jawman' who was being particularly disgusting to Golden Girl. This Jawman was in fact Reggie Stone, also known as Lager Man.
When Lager Man had finished hassling Golden Girl, Ronnie went down to the breaking channel and shouted for Lager Man.
"You got me Ronnie," he answered almost immediately in his normal voice.
"Me and the guys are cruisin'. Got some beer. The Bandits here too. He knows where you stay. Fancy an eyeball?"
"Ten-Four on that one. See ya soon Werewolf.
Before they picked Reggie up, they formed a plan to scare the living daylights out of him. They would take him up to the ordinance survey triangulation point by the water tower on the edge of town. Beside the concrete triangulation marker was a large rough stone set in the frozen mud. According to Stevie, it had a three foot tall metal fence around it and a small plaque declaring it to be a Roman altar. What it had been used for none of the five knew, but it had a worn groove on top which looked as if it might have been used to sacrifice animals or people on. Did the Romans go in for that sort of thing? None of the five knew, in fact Stevie wasn't even sure that it was a Roman altar. It was more probably Celtic. They would have to read the plaque to check.
The plan was simple. They would hold a kangaroo court and declare Reggie to be the real Jawman and sentence him to death by decapitation. Ronnie was a marshal arts nut who kept an imitation samurai sword in the back of the van. He would show Reggie the sword. The other four would hold him face down over the alter. They would have a pretend argument in which they would decide to let Reggie go. Then Ronnie would slap the back of Reggie's neck hard with a plastic ruler which was wet with engine oil. They would all laugh like mad and take Reggie to the nearest pub to help him get over his ordeal.
In practice, the warped plan worked pretty well as planned. Reggie peed himself with fright and then blackened Ronnie's eye. The rest of them found this hilarious and laughed themselves silly. Reggie didn't go to the pub with them. He had to go home and change his trousers. I, of course, didn't find out about all this until much later.
Tonight was Philip's turn.
They spotted him as he crossed the main road. On the spur of the moment, they decided that he would be the victim of tonight's court. Brian wasn't too happy about this, but he agreed to go along with it anyway.
"Eyeball the Nowhere Man," shouted Brian.
"Back at ya Slob," replied Phil.
The van drew up along side him. The white noise from the C.B radio was uncomfortably loud.
"Where you off to?" asked Brian. He was riding in the shotgun seat. Stevie was squeezed between Ronnie and Brian. The other two were in the back.
"Need cigarettes," he said.
"Hop in," said Ronnie, "We'll give you a lift."
"'Kay," he opened the side door and got in, "What happened to your eye?"
"It's a long story," he smiled.
"Beer?" asked Jimmy with a belch.
"Ta," he took the offered beer and the battered old van, known as the Blues Mobile, started off.
"So what's going down, good buddies?" he said and took a long slug from the can.
"Just cruisin' and breaking the airwaves," so saying, Stevie turned the Midland 40 channeler off. The silence was deafening.
"Done any good wind ups lately?" said Kev, miming winding a clock.
"Na!" He shook his head.
"Rubbish! I heard you last night noising up Silver Lady with your Jawman voice," said Kev.
"Wasn't me," he lied.
"Sure it was."
"Let's have a vote on it," said Ronnie, "Brian?"
"It was him," said Brian.
"Traitor," said Phil.
"Yes," Brian smirked.
"Stevie?" said Ronnie.
"Ronnie?" said Ronnie pointing to himself. "It was him," he answered in a Jawman voice, "He did it," then in his own voice, "Phil?"
"What's your vote?"
"It was me," Phil said in a Jawman voice.
"The aye's have it," said Ronnie.
"You rotten swine. Talking dirty to that nice old lady," said Kev.
"That 'nice old lady' isn't yet forty and is one of the biggest bucketmouths on the airwaves!"
"Doesn't mean you've got to bucketmouth," said Jimmy.
"Ah, shut up. You've done it before! You've all done it at one time or another," he complained and added, "There's the garage. Let me out here."
"You won't need your cigarettes," said Ronnie as the van sped by the well lit garage store. "We've got something to show you."
"You ever seen the Roman sacrificial altar near the water tower," said Kev.
"Yeah. It's crap!"
"You're going to be looking at it real close. Real soon. Cause we don't like mike keyers who call themselves the Jawman. Especially, ones that really are the Jawman! You're going to get a taste of your own medicine and no one but us will ever know!" said Kev.
"Look on the bright side Kev, if anyone ever finds out that we done the Jawman in, we'll probably get a bloody medal!" said Jimmy.
"Two medals," said Brian.
"Three medals," said Stevie.
"We'll be heroes!" said Ronnie.
This was the same lines that they had used on Reggie a few nights before. He hadn't been worried at that point, but Philip went pale and struggled to control a sudden surge of panic that threatened to engulf him.
"You're NUTS!" he said.
"Yes..." said Kev, "...and we're going to NUT you!" He grinned insanely and they all did Jawman laughs and moans.
Just then, the van stopped near the field where the altar was. They all got out. Kev gripped one of Philip's arms. Jimmy held the other. Philip was distantly reminded of the only time he had been arrested. He was 14 years old at the time. Brian and himself had taken a short cut through the partially built shopping centre extension and had ran into some cops. They had been lifted for trespassing. "Don't worry..." Brian whispered to Philip in the back of the paddy wagon, "...in Scotland you can't be prosecuted for trespass. They'll question us and then let us go." Brian had been right.
Ronnie and Kev told Philip about their evidence that proved he was the Jawman. It was, of course, made up on the spur of the moment. Philip wasn't listening. He was in shock. He really believed that he'd been found out.
Four of them took him over to the altar. The fence was broken and the frozen mud cracked and flowed beneath their boots. Ronnie got the sword from the van and showed it to Philip. Like the rest of them, he mistook Phil's apparent calmness as willingness to humour the game. Phil obviously didn't believe them and was playing along. Maybe Reggie Stone had talked? It was time to spice things up a bit.
"Time to die Nowhere Man. Ever had your head cut off before?" said Ronnie.
Philip said nothing.
"Didn't think so. Right lads, hold him down."
They pulled him down, two guys on each arm, till the soft flesh of his throat rubbed against the cold grainy stone. Ronnie rested the blunt edge of the sword against the back of Phil's neck. Reggie Stone had been struggling and shouting by this point.
"Cold steel. Eh?" said Ronnie.
"Is there any last words?" said Kev.
"Victor Torus made me do it," he said calmly.
"No I didn't!" I said, but no one heard.
"Who the hell's Victor Torus?" said Kev.
"The Man In The White Boiler Suit," he said softly.
They had all heard of that character. Philip's writing was something he bored all the other C.B radio users to death with. He sometimes called himself The Man In The White Boiler Suit on the C.B. They all laughed.
"Maybe we got the wrong guy? What do you think guys?" said Ronnie.
"I think I'm freezing my butt off!" said Brian.
"Hold on a minute 'till I think." Ronnie quietly pushed the tip of the sword into the ground and left it sticking there. He went back to the van and got the plastic ruler. Previously, he'd covered the ruler with some oil simply because there was nothing else to hand that would help to make the necessary wet smack as the ruler struck the back of Reggie's neck. Tonight's events had been more contrived. He had brought a bottle of tomato ketchup. "It's amazing," thought Ronnie, "how much ketchup you can get on a ruler!" He went back to the cold group gathered at the alter.
"I've decided to do it,"
He bent down to Philip's right ear and had another go at scaring him.
"I've heard that decapitation is painless and instant. However, I think that it might take two or three seconds before you die. Just in case I'm right, close your eyes cause if your head turns over as it falls you might end up looking down your own neck. Nasty! You wouldn't want to see that. You might get blood in your eyes!"
"Gross!" said Kev.
"Yuk!" said the rest of them.
Ronnie carefully raised the ruler behind Philip's head.
"DIE!" he shouted.
Philip was paralysed with fear. His bowels loosened. Adrenaline spurted into blood vessels. Brain endorphines surged through synapses. Something in his stomach moved and headed for his throat. Something?
Ronnie flipped the ruler up, turned it over and brought it down. Inertia from the pushing ruler kept the tomato ketchup from falling to the ground. The wet plastic struck his neck painfully...
They let his arms go and he fell to the mud clutching his stomach. The thing in there writhed. I shared the pain. It felt like dying and being reborn at the same time. It was the endorphines. Their heroin-like effect was splitting our mind. Driving us apart! The mind's own drug combined with the terror to do something which in retrospect - like so many other things in my life - should have been impossible. I was being expelled from the host. I was no longer part of Philip King. Yet a supernatural link remained. I could still see through his eyes. Feel his pain. And that pain was truly obscene. It was so pure, it was exquisite!
The thing flowed up Philip's throat, out of his mouth and into the cold liquid mud. It was over a meter long. Its thin pale warm wet body steamed in the cold night air. It writhed in torment with us. Its coiling body struck Philip in the face. He screamed by himself and begun to choke on the following vomit. Is this how it ends? The same way it begun? Has my un-natural life went full circle?
The rest of them had been watching in stunned silence. The wriggling thing rolled in the mud and moved closer to Brian. He flinched. For a second, I thought that he might run - I thought they all would. Brian picked up a heavy rock and held it up high. The eel-like thing paused in its terror. One end turned like a head towards Brian. There was no face. No eyes. No mouth. If it could have talked, I somehow knew it would have pleaded for help. What was it? What was going on? And then I knew. Brian started to bring the rock down on the thing's head...
"NO! IT'S ME!" I screamed. Everyone heard. Things went black. The pain stopped. I was dead.
At that point, the ghost of Victor Torus started to cry. The ghostly tears flowed like water. I guess he had a lot of crying to do. Since it hadn't been my conversation to begin with, I felt I had outstayed my welcome. I slipped away to my rooms and went to bed.
Next day, I was surprised to find Victor still in the Tavern. The ghost seemed in good spirits (groan).
"Hello Victor," I said.
"Hi, my dearest Tony," he said enthusiastically. He hugged me and gave a smacker on the cheek.
"You can touch me?"
"Yeah, Richard kept his word. Great isn't it?"
"It's brilliant Victor," I smiled. And it was.
"Don't call me Victor. From now on call me Sheila. Sheila Stevens. That's the name I've picked for myself. I was never Victor Torus. He was always just a character from one of Philip King's stories."
"But that's a girl's name?" Where had I heard that name Before?
"But, I am female! Well sort of! My kind are hermaphrodites. I've spent years analyzing my personality type. I'm definitely female. What you see here is a projection of what Philip King imagined me to look like. When Brian killed me, I had no self-image other than the one Philip had given me. Shortly after my death I realised that I was female, but didn't know how to change my appearance."
"But you still look like Victor Torus?" I said.
"Self-image is an unconscious act. Richard has shown me how to change it, but it will take a few weeks to happen. I can't do it consciously, just use Richard's techniques to allow my subconscious mind to reshape my physical form."
"What's your real self-image like?"
"I don't know. Can you describe yours? I'm sure it's female and I still feel young. Maybe I'm wrong. Would it matter if the Tavern is haunted by an ugly old woman?"
"Thought you were haunting Brian Jones?"
"I can haunt who I want to now. Until I came here, he was the only person who could see me. That was the only reason I stayed with him. Death is monotonous when you've only one person to talk to. Now I can make anyone see me and I can touch them. If I can concentrate hard enough, I can be solid for short periods of time."
Victor Torus was what a woman would call good looking and a polite guy would call effeminate. Wonder what Sheila Stevens would look like? Imagine being haunted by the ghost of a beautiful young woman! A woman who would always look young! A ghost who could solidify so that you could touch her. Would sex be possible?
"Watch it buster! I heard that thought!" said Sheila sternly.
"Sorry?" I mumbled and felt my face go red. It was the psionic device's fault. I had let a thought or two slip out. Alburt Greshin had warned me about that possibility ages ago. I thought the field off and Sheila faded away. I thought it on again and the ghost popped back.
"Thought you didn't need the device any more," I asked.
"I don't, but its quite difficult to make myself visible. I'm using that thing until I get some practice in. Could you leave it turned on?"
"Sure. If you can fill out the rest of your story for me. I missed the end. You were very upset. I felt I was intruding."
"You were." He - she, I corrected myself - fluttered her eyelashes and smiled. I felt very uncomfortable. Now that I thought about it, Sheila's chest was rather protruding for what I'd taken to be a man's body. In fact, when you realised that the person inside the body was female, the body didn't look at all masculine. The face I'd taken as effeminate was kind of nice.
"Why, thank you Tony!"
The device had done it again!
I changed the subject.
"What happened after you died?"
"Oh, there's nothing much left to tell. The shock of separation was too much for Philip. His mind was destroyed. He became a vegetable and was put in a special hospital. Nobody ever discovered his 'collection' hidden under the floorboards of his room. It must still be there. Brian and the others were the only ones to get into trouble. They got their pictures in the local newspaper with 'PRANK GOES WRONG' headline. That was when Brian first grew a beard. He didn't need glasses then, but he started to wear shades. It was a disguise."
"One thing still puzzles me?" I said, "If all this happened over ten years ago, why does Brian still look twenty years old?"
"Just the worry. He went through hell after Philip's mind was destroyed. My appearance couldn't have helped much. If you ever see someone who looks ten years younger than they should, that person has either suffered or has just always been a miserable sod. Perhaps that's Gods way of compensating."
"I know what you mean. Do go on."
"I hung about in a sort of limbo for a few weeks. I gradually realised that I was still existing and took on the form of Victor Torus. I wandered about Burlington for a few days, before it occurred to me to look for someone I knew. I was surprised when Brian Jones could see me. No one else could. I scared him pretty bad at first. When he calmed down enough to talk to me, he told me what a ghost was. I told him my story much as I told it last night, though I left the bit out about the soup."
"That was kind," I said.
"In fact, my story is kinda the reason we returned here. Brian wanted to tell it to you to make up for 'borrowing' those bits from your journal."
"Stealing," I corrected.
"Whatever. Anyway, he chickened out, but you still got your tale. I've probably told it better than Brian ever could. He left early this morning for his own time. He left this!"
Sheila lent down underneath a nearby table and pulled out a half gallon pickle jar. She put it on the bar.
"What is it?" I asked picking it up.
"A pickle jar full of alcohol," she said.
"I mean what's the thing inside it? You ninny!"
"Part of a rolled up fire hose?"
"Don't be silly!"
The thing moved suddenly. I dropped the jar with a yell. It was made of plastic and didn't break. Sheila laughed.
"Don't worry, it's dead alright. I reached out with my mind and gave it a twitch just then."
"What on Earth is it?" I picked the jar up again.
"It's my body. Didn't you hear the end of the tale?"
"No. I told you, I sneaked away near the end," I said.
"Sorry. So you did!"
And that was when Sheila Stevens finally told me what was in the jar.
I put it on the shelf at the back of the bar next to Richard Thrum's mirrored head. When I'd put it there, months ago, I'd hoped Richard's head would have been an ice breaker for customers. It hadn't been. Most people thought it was an ornament and ignored it.
There was no way they could ignore the contents of that jar. Even although the head was bashed in, maybe a medical man would recognise the contents. I doubt that anyone else would recognise a 'pork' tapeworm when they saw one.
(c) Bryan H. Joyce
Written February 1993.
"No! Please! Loucynda! Don't!"
Cronos Warchild, mercenary annex hired gun, heard the muffled echoes of his own voice reflect off the fungi-stained walls. Dazed, he sat upright and shook his head.
Ever since puberty, he had been having these dreams. 'Wet dreams' he called them, because they usually ended with him waking up, soaked in sweat.
He shook his head again, trying to get rid of the image of Loucynda, his betrothed, on the insides of his eyelids.
Warchild had for quite a while now not been able to cope with females - nor with the activities most other men in the universe tended to wish to employ with them.
All this had started when a girl had kicked him in his vital parts at one of the few moments during a day when his multi-absorb groin protector was switched off. He still felt the pain sometimes. He still had horribly realistic flashbacks, sometimes in the middle of day - or in the middle of a public place. Flashbacks that would make him go through all of it again; the intense agony as if he was being gnawed upon by a Zarctonic Megaleech - and the casual, satisfied grin on the girl's face. The blackness that had followed.
"No! Please! Mel! Don't!"
He found himself looking at the square face of a man of which the rest of his body was as squarely built as that face. Long black sideburns clung to it. It looked confused - to say the least.
Here he was. Cronos Warchild, the man that could scare the shit out of any living being, the man that had more enemies in the world than you could shake machine guns at.
He had been beaten by a girl. He was now frightened of the mere prospect of doing anything with females other than killing or ignoring them.
He launched his fist angrily at the square face with the long sideburns, shattering the mirror.
He went downstairs, eyeing the owner of the motel with a lethal look when the poor man brought up the subject of payment.
Not long after he had exited the establishment - if indeed it had been anything established - he had noticed someone following him.
At first, the person following him seemed to go through considerable length to avoid being spotted. The figure hid behind garbage cans and lamp posts, ceased walking when Cronos did.
Maybe this day was not going to be as bad as he had thought at first.
As Warchild progressed through the early morning streets of town, however, his tail seemed to grow less and less concerned with the possibility of being discovered. This disconcerted the mercenary annex hired gun somewhat - the thought that the person was perhaps not afraid at all of being seen following the most notorious killer machine in the universe was rather unusual.
However, this thought did not bother Cronos' brain cell all too much - for, indeed, he was trained to fight and not to think.
As Warchild turned around a corner he quickly turned around. The person, in case he would still be following, would not expect to be awaited.
For a short while after he had stopped around that corner, ready to strike, footsteps that weren't his had echoed through the silence of morning rising.
They had seemed to come nearer, and then suddenly they had stopped.
He looked back around the corner to see what had happened.
He gazed straight into a pair of viciously cool shades, worn by a juvinile in viciously cool clothes, wearing viciously cool sneakers and an equally cool cap.
"Hi dad!" the juvinile exclaimed.
Warchild could not honour this with a reply.
For the moment, Cronos heard no more. He had fainted.
It had been a long time ago. As a matter of fact, it had been so stupefyingly long ago that Warchild even subconsciously seemed to have lost all recollections of the event.
Now the recollection came back like rocks being hurled at him by people yelling "Blasphemy! Blasphemy!"
She had been called Penelope Sunflower - a name quite ill fitting to a woman of her size and character. She had been a woman whose subtleness would make Caterpillar destruction machines seem devices made solely for the grooming of flowers. Her smile had made rabid pitbulls seem friendly, her kiss had made unanaesthetised castration seem alluring, her singing had made nuclear explosions seem the united voices of one or two young virgins singing a biblical hymn. The folds of her voluptuous flesh could have hidden a small army's weaponry with a year's supply of ammo. Her weight would not have been considered credible enough for inclusion in the Univeral Edition of the Guiness Book of Records - and that's without her wearing make-up! Her many, many gallons of blood had to be pumped through her vast body by means of an enormous device that still burnt coal, discreetly hidden in one of the many folds of her flesh. Her erogenous zones could only be stimulated by a thousand dwarves carrying road drills that would crawl into her very pores and bash the nerves' synapses. Her snoring had been easy to confuse with the mating call of the Zanzobarian Tera-Whale and had virtually led to the extinction of this remarkable species of mammal. When she had died, the only place where she was allowed to be buried had been the Platonic Ocean on Bulbobkov Gamma - and environmentalists had protested.
Yet, in her own peculiar way, she had loved Cronos. And, in his possibly even more peculiar way, Cronos Warchild had loved her. When he had been around Penelope Sunflower, he found that words failed him, that violent feelings of love surged through his veins, and that his steel nerves and concrete muscles turned all soft. He also got a strangely tingling sensation all over.
They had only met briefly, much in the way ships would meet on the ocean of life - provided that we're talking about a rather sturdily built battle cruiser and the biggest of mammoth tankers here.
It had been a classic case of 'love at first sight'. Cronos only needed to see her many folds of flesh move in an unconsciously seducing way to instantly lose all remains of sense he had ever possessed. She, for her part, needed only to lay eyes on his bulging muscles and square face and she, too, lost all what may once have been sense.
Their bodies had clashed violently, excitingly. Apart from "Will you still respect me tomorrow?" and "Yes, of course!", their love and devotion had not been of many words - yet it had destroyed cities, ruptured continents, drained oceans and shuddered the heavens.
Cronos had slept for a week. She had smoked an industry quality cigar. He had slept for another week.
When he had finally woken up, she was just having her coal restocked at the local mine. He had written her a letter in which he had told her he could not possibly stay with her any longer. He didn't consider himself a family man and, more importantly, he did not want Penelope Sunflower to be a mercenary's spouse. She deserved better. A prince or an emperor - or a paperboy, for that matter. He emphasized that he really, utterly and devoutly loved her but that nonetheless her future would not be a happy one if she were to stay with him.
He had left Penelope Sunflower, the greatest love of his life. For months after, he had not been able to cross a bridge without stopping and thoughtfully gazing in the distance, talking to himself full of remorse with his hands on the railing. He had not been able to look at happy couples without a sullen growing ache in his heart.
Penelope Sunflower had not even got to reading the heart-rending letter. When she had heard that the local coal stock had switched to gas, she had got a stroke that had killed off her last remaining brain cells. Her last cry had torn the skies asunder, causing global atmospherical changes on her planet and its two moons. Her last few tears had flooded a medium-sized metropolis. Her last sigh had wrecked a building.
Medical assistance had arrived too late, mainly due to sudden heavy weather and a mysterious flood. Penelope Sunflower, the only woman ever to get Cronos Warchild engaged in acts of human reproduction, had been no more.
Scientists had, however, been able to dig from her womb a foetus two weeks old. With the latest in medical equipment they had assured its survival.
"No! Please! Penelope! Don't!"
Warchild was sweating in a rather somewhat too profuse way. Another one of those 'wet dreams' of his.
He opened his eyes, gazing straight into a pair of shades, topped by a viciously cool baseball cap. On the bright green jacket of the youth who was wearing these items he could see the initials "BK". Closest to his head were a pair of viciously cool sneakers.
While he had had his eyes closed, he had hoped for it all to be but a nightmare. He had hoped that he would open his eyes to the fungi-stained ceiling supported by four fungi-stained walls in the cheapest of all motels.
Alas. It wasn't. Not even slightly.
"Hi," the youth said as if trying to ascertain Cronos that he wasn't dreaming, "I am Cronos Warchild Jr., son of the late Penelope Sunflower - may she rest in peace forever in the Platonic Ocean on Bulbobkov Gamma."
The boy seemed to have trouble swallowing something.
Cronos' lower jaw lowered itself abruptly and unconsciously.
"I am the coolest person this side of Klaxos 9," the juvinile proceeded, "and therefore you may call me the Bitmap Kid."
Original written November 10th/11th 1991, rehashed slightly March 15th 1995.
This piece was written after having seen "Watership Down". I also threw in the "Men In Suits" concept. It starts, like all too many of my writings, with a sunset.
It was misty. The mist transformed the sunset to a rare experience, an occasion that would have enriched the lives of anyone who would have bothered to behold it.
Alas, there was noone but one lonely rabbit to look at it. Its eyes glowed as if it felt everything the sunset portended within the very depth of its soul.
It startled and glanced back quickly when it heard the rustle of leaves and branches behind it, and poised for a jump that could save its life in case a ferret, weasel or fox turned out to have stolen up through the undergrowth. Luckily it was but the wind.
The evening was gaining. The air grew chiller.
It hopped back in a hole that was almost invisible; a patch of black in deep darkness. It vanished in it, its fluffy white tail last.
"Why were you outside that long?"
The voice belonged to an older rabbit, a female. It conveyed worry, not scolding.
"I had a strange feeling, mum," the younger rabbit answered while it continued further into the hole towards his mother, "a strange feeling that tells me the people of the nearby farm have our kind imprisoned in cages."
Whitesocks had always been different from all the other rabbits. Where the others had been interested primarily in gaining food and the discovery of new holes, Whitesocks had always roamed around through the meadows, seemingly uninterested in earthly rabbit's matters.
"I see," mother rabbit answered thoughtfully.
"Shouldn't we tell our leader, Winston?" Whitesocks wondered. His large black eyes looked at his mother admiringly.
She was silent for a while, then nodded her head slowly, folding back her beautifully long ears.
"Yes," she said, "we should."
The both of them wandered off through the vast maze of tunnels under the Big Oak on Table Hill; in search for Winston, chief of the Glwad.
The smell of cigar smoke was prevalent. It made Whitesocks' eyes water a bit, made a cough gather in his lungs.
"What are you crying for, son?" the deep, warm voice of the chief rabbit asked, booming majestically off the soft sand walls. It sounded powerful, authorative, yet not threatening in any way.
Whitesocks looked up at his mother, afraid to reply. She put a protecting paw around him.
"There's no need to be afraid, son," the voice boomed again, but now softer and more soothing than before, "I am not going to eat you. Just tell me why you and your mother want to see me."
Whitesocks gathered courage.
A warm, gently laugh arouse from the chief rabbit's throat. It was a laugh that could melt hearts, build bridges and break ice. At once, it was as if palpable love and goodness flowed from the chief's being into the other rabbits that were present.
Whitesocks cleared his throat and explained all about the strange feelings he had had; the visions of helpless rabbits, imprisoned, waiting to be slaughtered and eaten on some or other festive occasion.
When the young rabbit had finished its tale, Winston nodded.
There was no moon. The sky was dark, and even blacker clouds of smoke seemed to fall down towards the earth with the rain. The sound of undergrowth being pushed aside indicated movement. Dark, shadowed silhouettes moved quickly through the grass, whispering. They were heading for the farmhouse that lay on the horizon like a giant, immobile animal.
As they came closer to the threatening farmhouse that loomed up above them, their whispers became even softer.
"They're probably in the barn," a voice whispered slightly louder than the others, "I think I hear them."
The barn door was ajar, but only just so. Some sturdy rabbits had to press it open wider so that all of them could enter.
Inside it was dark, too. From a far corner, the restless soft neighing of a horse could be heard. Straight ahead of them they could faintly see steel grating. Behind the steel grating they could hear the breathing of rabbits. They seemed to be asleep.
It was Whitesocks who ventured closer to the grating. As his eyes grew used to the darkness inside, he saw that the grating made up the door of a large cage, all other sides of which were made of wood. The hinges were at the top, looking quite solid but sufficiently rusty. The cage was located on the ground, so he could vaguely see the shape of five or six rabbits inside. The imprisoned rabbits were a lot fatter than them.
Whitesocks went even closer, up to the point when he could almost touch the grating with his paw.
At that moment one of the rabbits in the cage woke up. An eye opened, but it was not an ordinary eye; it was almost fluorescent blue with a deep black centre. It glanced around, almost threateningly.
"What are you doing?" the eye asked.
Whitesocks jumped back; the other rabbits all looked.
"Good," a heavy, resonating voice exclaimed, "they are awake. They may be able to help."
The rabbit inside the cage now awoke the others. All of them came forward, into the faltering light, looking outside through the grating.
They were all quite fat, and they all had those odd, blue eyes that seemed luminescent. What was even more peculiar was that the rabbits wore pieces of cloth tied around their necks. On their backs hung another piece of cloth, that also revealed their front paws with only the claws sticking out.
"What are you doing?" one of the caged rabbits insisted.
Whitesocks went closer again, his eyes glaring with a sense of purpose, with joy.
"We are going to get you out," the young rabbit enthused, "you can come with us and live under the Big Oak on Table Hill!"
"Indeed," a warm, heavy voice said, "you can come with us and be welcome among the Glwad."
The rabbit with the most fluorescent eyes reared on its hind paws and adjusted the piece of cloth around his neck. It regarded Whitesocks intently, then turned around and spoke to its fellow rabbits in a whispered voice. After seconds it turned around again.
"We will come with you to your place," it said.
It looked around as if expecting the free rabbits to applaude. It cleared its throat.
"Well," it said, its eyes scanning the gathering through the grating, "what are you waiting for?"
"What are we waiting for indeed," the leader of the Glwad now said, "we must get them out, save them from the butcher's knife!"
Every rabbit now went to a designated location, as if all of this had been rehearsed many times. Two eager rabbits climbed the cage and started to loosen the hinges. A couple went to stand guard at the barn door; the rest stood around and watched, expecting anything.
With a clash the cage door fell down, nearly crushing inquisitive little Whitesocks who managed to leap aside just in time.
A light flashed on outside. The horse neighed again, but louder.
"Quick," one of the rabbits at the barn door exclaimed, "I think we may get company."
The caged rabbits now came out. They took their time, habitually adjusting the pieces of cloth around their necks, or trying to remove dust from their coats of cloth. Their furs were pitch black and their eyes all similar - threatening blue.
"My God," Whitesocks' mother uttered, "they almost look like people."
The leader of the black rabbits lashed a look at her, his light blue eyes almost incandescent with hot anger. Then he seemed to regain his sense. Ignoring her, he walked up to Winston with the other black rabbits following.
"I am Aznagtoth," the black rabbit said, looking the large, wise rabbit straight in the eyes, "Take us out of here. They will have heard the noise of the cage door falling down. They've got dogs."
Winston signalled all the Glwad to get outside. The coast was still clear. The rain had ceased but the yard was muddy, preventing fast movement.
"Go," Winston intoned, "go now."
While waiting at the barn door, he checked to see every of the Glwad and the black rabbits make it to the corn field. When they had all made it there, he began to cross the yard himself.
At that moment a door in the farm house opened. Light gushed out into the courtyard. In it stood the silhouette of a man with a double-barreled shot gun.
"It's rabbits, love," the silhouette seemed to call to someone inside the house. A muffled voice shouted back something about dinner.
"Go!" Winston cried to the others that waited at the edge of the corn field while he remained in the middle of the yard, "Go! Now!"
"It's surely a nice fat one," the silhouette now mused, more to itself than to anyone else.
It aimed the gun.
The leader of the Glwad had to trust his instincts. The right leap at the right moment. He had done it often when he was younger. But the right moment came too fast. He was getting older. Older and wiser - but fatter and less agile, too.
There was a short flash of light that reflected for an instant off the eyes of the other rabbits that watched, aghast. The flash was immediately followed by a short burst of thunder.
Winston seemed to leap, but it was no leap; it was the impact of lead that hurled his lifeless body a metre or two across the yard. Blood coloured the cobbles, mixed with the mud.
"Come on," Aznagtoth said, his eyes cold and calculating, "you heard him. Run. To Oak Hill!"
Whitesocks swallowed something. There lay Winston, leader of the Glwad. Red stains on his fur, his eyes staring glazedly into nothingness.
His mother pulled him behind her as they all ran off through the corn fields to Oak Hill.
The scent of death hung in the tunnel complex under the Big Oak on Table Hill; the scent of death and fear. Huddled forms scurried off in several directions. None lingered, none talked. The tunnel walls were covered with fungi and all kinds of other rotting substances. There was a perpetual mist drifting through the complex. There was an uncanny silence.
Life had changed a lot since the black rabbits had been rescued, a year ago. They had taken over as leaders of the Glwad, reigning with the instruments of fear, terror and hatred. Strong Glwad rabbits, forming the Glwad Guard, got food in exchange for suppressing the others - old friends and their own families. The Glwad name that had once been revered and honoured now tasted bitter, carrying with it the thoughts of oppression and poverty.
"This must stop," a voice whispered. Through the perpetual mist came Whitesocks, who had just spoken. He looked beaten. Older. Determined. Next to him limped another rabbit. Both of them looked weak and frail, with only a small flame of courage and hope flickering in their black eyes.
"Of course it must," the other rabbit replied in a hushed voice, "but what is there to do? If we but speak up Aznagtoth will have the Glwad Guard will strike us down - or worse."
Whitesocks nodded. He knew the other rabbit was right. But he had to do something. Something had to be done.
"Hush," he whispered as he heard the sound of feet nearing.
From the mist arose Whitesocks' mother. She limped, too, and looked beaten. From her mouth came ragged breathing.
"Mother!" Whitesocks cried, "what have they done to you?" He put a paw around her in an effort to comfort. She sobbed, shaking. He got no answer.
Instead, more steps sounded. Fast steps, hurrying. Out of the mist arose another rabbit. It was a member of the Glwad Guard, a magnificent brown rabbit. It wore the uniform of the Guard - a cloth around its neck and another piece of cloth covering its back and front paws with only the claws sticking out.
"What are you doing here?" it bellowed, "You know that gatherings of more than two are strictly forbidden!"
"Yes...sir," stuttered Whitesocks' mother softly between breaths, "but..."
The Guard struck her down hard, his claws leaving three parallel trails of blood across her cheek and shoulder. She fell against a fungi-stained wall and remained lying there, motionless.
The defiant little flame in Whitesocks' eyes flared up to a fire of fury. He leapt at the Guard, attempting to strike him blind or otherwise hurting him. His momentum hurled them both against the ground, tearing apart the mist. The Guard's head collided with a rather sturdy piece of root that protruded from the floor. A sickening crack burst open his skull. Red and grey flowed abundantly, soiling the tunnel.
"You...you killed a guard," the other rabbit cried, astonished, but Whitesocks didn't hear. He went to his mother.
"Mum," he whispered hoarsely in her ear, "mum!"
When he looked at her more closely he saw that her chest didn't move up and down any more. She had stopped breathing. He tried to listen to the beating of her heart but heard none.
He swallowed. He saw the glazed eyes of Winston again for a brief moment, exactly like they so often stared at him from recurring nightmares, then looked once again into the glazed eyes of his mother. He sat for a moment, then erected himself.
"It will have to stop," he proclaimed.
He disappeared in the lingering mist again. The other rabbit followed.
It promised to be a beautiful day. The pre-dawn glimmer of dew covered the meadows, the sky was filled with early birds that danced through the air and sang their songs of joy. A magnificent black rabbit sat under the Big Oak on Table Hill, near a rabbit hole entrance it was guarding. It looked at the first fragile rays of the sun rising above the horizon, but it felt no warmth or happiness at the sight.
The rabbit wore the Glwad Guard uniform with style, radiating authority. It was probably an officer of sorts. too bad there was nobody to see it but the blind sun that rose slowly. The Guard habitually adjusted the piece of cloth around his neck.
A small black spot in the sky grew larger.
The rabbit looked around, bored. He hated these early morning shifts. Especially since so many of his kind seemed to have disappeared on them. Something out there, something unknown to the black rabbits or to the other Glwad Guards under their influence.
Some kind of instinct seemed to struggle inside the rabbit - but it suppressed the feeling of danger this instinct brought. No creature was more superior than the black rabbits and those who worked together with them. None, that is, except maybe for the humans. But these were far away enough. There was nothing to be afraid of. Fear was something for the lesser Glwad, the kind they got food for to keep down. Who needed instincts when you got slaves to get you the food you want, to get rich amounts of berries and stores filled with grain and corn?
The small black speck took on the form of a small bird.
The magnificent rabbit in a suit adjusted its tie again. It mused about how great it was to be superior. To get what you want without any danger. To suppress the lesser rabbits. To be able to wear the uniform of the Glwad Guard.
The small bird became bigger.
Nature itself was at the feet of the Glwad Guard. They could do whatever they wanted. Nobody could stop them. They did not need their instincts. Aznagtoth had said so. Aznagtoth was right. Aznagtoth was always right. They would rule supreme forever.
The hawk struck swiftly, accurately and deadly.
All that remained of the magnificent black rabbit were some pieces of cloth, lying amidst a couple of feathers. Thus nature prevailed once more.
Original written December 1991. Slightly rehashed March 15th 1995.