A Note from James

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I never intended this story to be written, let alone shared on the internet. It was my friend Wally Sharpe who eventually convinced me otherwise. Relentless as always in pursuit of an idea, he argued that not only should I set the record straight about the events of twelve years ago, but that what happened to me was of deep spiritual significance and should be shared with the world. It was a story people were meant to hear. He also added that if I didn’t write it, he would. I think this last point served to change my mind more than anything else, which of course he knew it would, but the fact remained, if this story was going to be told then I should be the one to tell it.

The purpose of this blog then is to tell the truth about what happened during the early part of 2003. I’m going to add posts at least weekly for as long as it take to tell the whole truth. You will find it differs from how it was portrayed in the media at the time or what you may have heard since. I was a television psychic, a liar, habitually, professionally, destructively, but I intend for the text of this blog to be the most honest I have ever been. Everything I write on this site will be based on my own recollections and I assure you that, however unbelievable you may find them, they are accurate.

I was born with an eidetic memory, more commonly referred to as a photographic memory, but despite the suggestion of the name, I not only recall images but also smells, tastes and feelings, all in extraordinary detail. My brain collects the vast explosion of sensory information we are bombarded with every instant, picking out details that are usually ignored. This has its benefits, there is no doubt of that, it helped me develop the vast stores of information necessary for my career, but my story is not always a comfortable one and as such recreating it in my mind and then writing it down will not be easy. Much of what happened shames me, troubles me, or dredges up emotions that even after twelve long years still pull at me like fresh wounds. Despite that, I intend to include everything here, in as much bare detail as I’m able to manage and on reflection I’m glad that I’m doing this because not only has thinking about writing this already helped me revisit and relearn many things but Wally was right, this is a story that needs to be told and I need to be the one to tell it.

My name is James Eriksson and I can talk to the dead.

If you want to start reading from the beginning, START HERE.

32 – ‘Ready to Listen’

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One week later I was granted permission to accompany Fiona’s body back to the United States. I filled in the paperwork required to return a deceased citizen to the country. All such bleak government forms that I found almost insulting, a system that reduced my wife to little more than ticks in boxes, a date of birth and a social security number. Her body was prepared, embalmed and sealed in a coffin designed for air transport of bodies. It was all so impersonal, I might as well have been shipping back something I’d bought at IKEA. In the end I pushed the thoughts from my mind knowing that what was in that box was nothing but inactive flesh and muscle, a collection of atoms that would decay and disperse themselves back into the universe. They were no longer what I thought of as Fiona, her true essence, her energy that could never be destroyed was somewhere else. Heaven if that’s what you wanted to call it but I don’t think the dead go to a place as literal as that. I think the dead, including my Fiona, are nowhere and everywhere, energy in the universe. Fiona is in the sun that shines down on me, she’s the air I breathe and the ground I walk on.

Wally slapped me on the back as we walked across the tarmac towards the plane that would take us back to the US.

“Time to go home Jimbo,” he said, in a tone that was both reassuring and somber.

“Yeah,” I said.

I looked back at the Melbourne International Airport terminal. I wasn’t so sure Wally was right anymore. Ever since I was fifteen I had wanted to get away from this place. There had been nothing here for me but tragedy and painful memories. I had dreamed of New York, the city that for me had been paraded itself as a symbol of freedom and possibility in comic books, in film and on television. It had seemed an unreal place, a fictional place, precisely the right place for me to escape to and begin my fictional life. Only now, after everything that had happened over the last few months, did I feel connected to Melbourne in a way that made me remember the feeling of home in hometown. I’d run from this place for reasons that were wrong. I’d run from my father. I’d run from ever becoming that man. Now I knew the truth and the demons that had kept me from this place had been banished. The truth had set me free. What was there in New York now but the lies I had left behind? New York was home to James Erik and that wasn’t who I wanted to be. I would return my wife to her home, lay her to rest and then I would lay James Erik to rest too.

 

Fiona’s funeral was a small service in the brown brick Church of St Joseph in Fiona’s small hometown of Catskills, New York. It was a cold day, and the wind blew with a bitter chill. The crowd, all dressed in black, had gathered to pay their last respects and say their final goodbyes as they huddled around the grave site under black umbrellas that sheltered them from the greying skies and intermittent spits of rain. There were solemn faces, and tears and sobbing. Fiona’s family were present of course, her mother and father and her brother Todd who had flown up from Fort Worth, Texas where he worked as a computer technician for Lockheed Martin. Many of the Other Side crew were there, and executives from the network including Simon Viberg, most of whom never so much as made eye contact with me. That would have bothered me once, being snubbed, but not anymore, because it was only James Erik who cared what people thought of him, or what they had to say with their abundant stores of hot air. I really couldn’t care less about that world anymore.

Fiona’s father looked across the open grave at me as the dirt heavy with rain was dropped down into the hole and landed with lumpy thuds on the lid of Fiona’s red coffin. I’d ensured the coffin had been that colour, it was the only input I really had in the funeral planning leaving the rest to Fiona’s parents. She had once mentioned that she didn’t want to be buried in a drab coloured coffin. She wanted something different, exuberant, like red. So red it was, I had insisted. Fiona’s father held an umbrella over her mother. When he locked eyes with me, he nodded slightly, a sad acknowledgement. Although I hadn’t voiced my concerns to Wally I’d spent much of the return flight nervous about seeing Fiona’s family. I’d always known they hadn’t considered me the ideal choice for their daughter and now that I’d managed to get her killed I was expecting a hostile reception.

When I’d arrived on the doorstep of Fiona’s parents house it had been her brother Todd that had answered the door. He had given me a look that wasn’t encouraging. For a while we stood without saying anything before I extended my hand.

“Hi Todd,” I said.

“James,” Todd said, taking my hand and shaking it.

“Jimmy,” I said. “Call me Jimmy. It’s what Fiona called me.”

Todd looked at me and nodded.

“Sure,” he said, the steel wire tension between us relaxing. “Come in.”

I wasn’t sure whether they would be angry, whether they would blame me, and I was relieved to find that none of that seemed to matter. Fiona’s mother walked across the lounge room and hugged me without a word. Her eyes were puffy and red, worn out from tears. In the arms of Fiona’s mother I broke down.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry Anita.”

She pulled away and held me at arms length. Fiona’s mother was quite short, only coming up to my shoulder, but in the way of matriarchs everywhere she seem to tower over me.

“Hush now,” Anita said. “Usted es nuestra familia.”

“I’m sorry, Fiona tried to teach me Spanish but-”

“You are our family,” Anita said. “I know you wanted to protect her, a mother knows these things.”

My return to New York and, despite her family’s wishes that their privacy be respected, Fiona’s funeral, were both much publicised in the media. I had received numerous calls to comment but had refused each one. In the end the tabloids ran with stories ranging from recounting inaccurate versions of what happened to insinuating that I had murdered Fiona myself. It was this that drove me to call Simon Viberg and have a press conference arranged.

“James,” Simon said. “I saw you at the funeral. I meant to come and talk to you but I had to get back to the office, you know how things are.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Right. Listen, I only called for one thing, normally Fiona would have organised this sort of thing but I want to hold a press conference. I feel like I need to make a statement about what happened, and to announce the end of the show and my retirement from the entertainment business.”

Simon Viberg didn’t even attempt to talk me out of retirement. The network wanted to cut ties with me as much as I did with them.

“I’ll line something up and have you come in,” Viberg said.

 

The press conference was held at the network headquarters the next week. The room was full of reporters, news cameras and a crowd of milling paparazzi whose faces became a blur of snapping cameras as I walked onto stage. I’d dressed in a navy pinstriped suit, white shirt and lighter blue tie, it was the outfit Fiona would have told me to wear. The room buzzed with expectation as I sat at the desk. There had been no such thing as YouTube back then, but you can find the press conference on there now if you look.

“I’m going to read from a prepared statement,” I said, lifting a piece of paper from my jacket pocket, unfolding it and flattening it against the desk in front of me. “Three weeks ago my beloved wife Fiona was murdered while we were in Australia. This tragedy is something I will never overcome. Most of what has been printed or broadcast about this event are utter untruths. Myself, my wife and my good friend Wally Glass had set out to make a documentary about the use of my psychic abilities to contact my parents. During the course of foolishly investigating truths that were uncovered we were attacked by Alex Marzlin, a man now linked to the murder of not only my parents and wife but several other women around the Melbourne area. During an incident within Marzlin’s home, an incident that has been well-documented by local police, Fiona was killed, Wally was rendered unconscious and I sustained a bullet wound and stab wound. During this incident while acting in self-defence I inadvertently killed Alex Marzlin. I was not, as is being reported in some media outlets responsible for the death of my wife and was at no time listed as a suspect in the police investigation. I would like to reiterate that at this time myself and Fiona’s family would like you to respect our privacy so that we may mourn the loss of Fiona in peace.

Further to this I would like to take this opportunity after the death of my wife to admit that during my career I have been posing as a psychic. The truth is that I have no psychic ability, no ability to contact the dead whatsoever. I have used a combination of techniques including cold reading, body language reading and psychological manipulation to produce the illusion of psychic ability. I would like to apologise to anyone who my fraudulent mediumship has taken advantage of over the last several years and I am further taking this opportunity to announce my retirement from the entertainment industry.

Thank you.”

I stood and despite the calls of questions from the audience I walked calmly from the stage, from the room, and out into the New York streets. I looked around as I walked away and began thinking about where I would move next. At least I knew what I had to do. I was ready to talk to the dead, but more importantly, because I had made a promise, I was ready to listen.

The End

<<<<>>>>

Thank you

Hi, Justin Woolley here, the real author behind James Eriksson’s story.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read ‘Listening to the Other Side’ and for following along over the last six or so months that it’s taken to post it all (unless you’re one of the people who has jumped on recently and binge-read to catch up, in which case maybe thank you even more for your commitment!). I hope you all enjoyed the story.

With that in mind I’d like to ask a favour, well three favours in fact.

  1. If you’ve finished reading and you enjoyed the story please spread it around, post on social media etc. to share the word. The story will remain up and online for at least a while yet.
  2. If you enjoyed this novel I posted for free on the interwebs please consider supporting my published trilogy, the Territory series, and help me pay my rent. The series is a post-apocalyptic adventure set in the Australian outback two hundred years from now. It’s Mad Max meets The Walking Dead. The first book A Town Called Dust, and the sequels A City Called Smoke and A World of Ash are available in both ebook and print from almost all your online retailers, you can find them on Amazon here.
  3. Lastly, I’d love to hear whether you’d be interested in ‘Listening to the Other Side’ as a book. Please, leave a comment and help me decide the future of this story!

Thanks again for your support,

Justin Woolley

30 March, 2016

31 – ‘Maddie’

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Wally was released from hospital the following day having been kept overnight for observation of his head injuries. He was lucky, a concussion and some stitches in the scalp, no lasting damage. When he came into my room he said little about the events that had occurred in Marzlin’s house. Instead, in a rush of words that tripped over each other with the emotion in his voice, he kept saying how sorry he was about Fiona and how he should have stayed with her in the car like I’d suggested.

Wally had never been one to wear his emotions outwardly but he was distraught enough that they poured forth from him now with none of his usual restraint and not masked with some quick-witted humorous remark. He was devastated about Fiona’s death and he wanted to confess that it was his fault. I assured him that this wasn’t true, because it wasn’t, there was no one to blame about the death of my wife but myself. Fiona’s death would always serve as a painful reminder that despite my confidence, that despite my almost teenage sense of invulnerability I was not immortal, nor were those I dragged into danger with me. There wouldn’t be a single day that passed when I wouldn’t wish I had done things differently, protected Fiona instead of putting her in danger. It wouldn’t happen again. Whatever I did from then on, whatever situations helping the dead would lead me into, I never took anyone with me again.

Even as Wally spoke, his apologies tangling themselves into knots with the speed he repeated them, I felt guilty. I felt guilty that I wasn’t as anguished as Wally. There was no doubt that I missed my wife and wished that when she had turned from the window to face me her eyes had not been the dull white of death but the bright green of life. Six years on I still long for her to be with me and I will continue to yearn for her for the rest of my life but then, as I still do now, I felt a deep contentment. I had seen her. She had said goodbye. She was alright. Even though she was gone Fiona had smiled and embraced death and had seemed both peaceful and happy.

I told Wally how Fiona had come to me and despite him not having felt the contentment she had simply hearing it seemed to help. The irony wasn’t lost on me that this was awfully similar to when I had been a fraud and told people there loved ones were alright, but this time I wasn’t deceiving the grieving. This time I had known it for certain. In many ways Wally was lucky. He hadn’t seen the murdered girls and was in a concussed daze for the worst of Marzlin’s cyclone of poltergiest fury, he had missed much of the worst of that house, but still it had affected him. He didn’t say anything of course, that wasn’t like him, but he wasn’t bubbly and didn’t crack a joke for several days which told me everything I needed to know.

I spent two weeks in hospital recovering from surgery. Wally visited every day, often being told by the nurses in no uncertain terms that he was being ejected from the hospital when visiting hours came to an end at eight each night. Wally had been my friend since I’d first moved to New York but he’d never been as fiercely loyal as this. Perhaps Wally thought he owed me something, maybe he realised that this friendship was all both of us had now, or maybe he just didn’t want to get the eighteen hour flight from Melbourne back to New York on his own, whatever the reason I welcomed the company as Wally waited for me to be discharged. We grew into our familiar pattern of jokes and stories over the weeks as we healed, as much emotionally as physically. At one stage Wally even returned to mischievous old habits as he stole several plastic urine sample jars, filled them with apple juice from the vending machine and wandered the hallways drinking from them exclaiming that:

“Mr Smith’s urine sample is far more delicious than Mrs Brown’s!”

Of course Wally wasn’t the only visitor I received, the press was being kept at bay by the hospital but there were some visits they couldn’t legally deny, that of the police. It was Constable Clifton, the police officer that had greeted me so cooly on my visit to the Homicide Department, that had provided the inspiration for the cover story Wally and I concocted before the first Detective arrived. The story we told them, and the story you’ve probably heard in the media would go something like this:

 

With the deterioration of his show’s reputation James Erik, together with his friend Wally Glass and his wife Fiona Eriksson, decided to film a low budget but high impact documentary about Mr Erik using his psychic powers to contact his dead parents. What was supposed to be a simple, partly factual but mostly mockumentary took a more serious turn when they discovered evidence that suggested James Erik’s parents, long considered victims of a tragic domestic murder-suicide, may in fact have been murdered by an outside party. Seeing an opportunity to portray the film as Mr Erik using his powers to uncover the truth behind his parents’ murder and, being the greedy charlatans they were, make a substantial amount of money, the three set out to discover the truth, all the while filming it and preparing to sell it on to a Hollywood studio. The discovery of Alex Marzlin, a serial killer whose existence the police had only been speculating on, was a complete surprise and given the tragic outcome something James and Wally both wished had never occurred.

 

The police were obviously of mixed opinions about all this and for almost a week Wally and myself were being referred to officially as Persons of Interest in the case. Unofficially I was certain we were being referred to as suspects. But we stuck by our story, a story that was blurred with enough truth that the police soon had to accept our account of what had happened. We had been carrying a video camera and I’d been fitted with a hidden microphone when we entered the house. We had certainly been attacked by Alex Marzlin and perhaps most convincing of our innocence, we had not even been in Australia for any of the extra murders eventually attributed to Marzlin.

Five bodies were found methodically chopped up, wrapped in plastic and buried in a homemade crypt of sorts beneath Marzlin’s house accessible only through a well hidden trapdoor in the floor of the room that had been carefully sealed with plastic sheeting. The forensic evidence gained from the bodies all pointed to Alex Marzlin as the sole perpetrator. He had left genetic evidence for rape and sexual assault on several of the victims. He had purchased the surgical equipment, knives and electric handsaw that matched consistently with incisions on the victims bodies and the cuts made to dismember them.

Even as we were cleared of any involvement with the murders the police were still suspicious of what we were doing in the house in the first place. If we had been filming this supposed documentary, which was both irresponsible and involved multiple illegal activities including but not limited to breaking and entering, trespassing, withholding evidence and obstruction of justice, how did we make the connection between Marzlin and the murder of Elaine and Nils Eriksson Fortunately when the police contacted a Mr Peter Kingswood, ex-Principal of the prestigious St James’s Grammar School for Boys, who I’d cited as my source of information relating to Alex Marzlin’s rape and eventual murder of my mother, the man had cracked and confessed to not only the elaborate cover up of several cases of sexual assault and rape perpetrated by Alex Marzlin and other students at the school but also the ongoing conspiracy to hide other crimes including drug possession and sale within the school community and more seriously the corruption of police to be culpable in turning a blind eye to these crimes not the least of which was the convenient determination of murder-suicide in the Eriksson case.

Even after being discharged from hospital both Wally and myself were instructed to remain in Melbourne to assist police with their ongoing investigation. For another week we were brought in and out of police interview rooms and for a while it seemed as though we would be charged with crimes related to our investigation and I would be charged with the manslaughter of Alex Marzlin. Eventually it was determined that my actions within the house amounted to self-defence and the other charges of withholding evidence, obstruction of justice and breaking and entering were dropped due to the assistance we ultimately provided in stopping Alex Marzlin and locating the bodies of five missing women. I was never tied to the break-in at my childhood home, perhaps whoever lived there never reported it as nothing went missing. For all they knew it could have been the act of some neighbourhood kids smashing their window with a rock.

 

After being released from the intense glare of Victoria Police Detectives I waited several days before returning to the Melbourne suburb where I’d taken that evening walk and been terrified by the restless ghost of Madeline Lattimore. I had a cab drop me at the motel I’d stayed in. The exterior walls still hadn’t been cleaned. I paid the taxi, waited for several minutes until it had driven out of sight and then crossed the road and followed the path of my late night walk.

It was early afternoon, I had decided to revisit the warehouse in daytime, and the surrounds looked much different. As is always the way in returning to a place only ever visited at night everything seemed alive, the walk was quicker, the distances shorter, the once ominous park now sung with the sweet sounds of children on the swing set calling out to be pushed higher and higher, squealing when they were. The warehouse lights were off, the car-park lit by summer Melbourne sunshine and not fluorescents flicking in the dark.

Then there she was, Maddie Lattimore, standing in the warehouse enclave just as frightened as she was before, looking behind her and then turning and screaming to me, again trying to run but getting nowhere. This time I wasn’t frightened. Instead, I felt pity, not a patronising sense of pity but a genuine feeling of compassion and remorse. To think that she had been like this, terrified out of her mind ever since her death months ago. I crossed the road and stood just beyond the invisible threshold that was holding her back. I looked around, conscious of not wanting to be seen speaking to what an onlooker would see simply as thin air and even more so I didn’t want to be seen near the location where Maddie Lattimore’s body would soon be discovered. I’d had quite enough of talking my way out of the police’s suspicions and I wasn’t entirely sure I’d been completely crossed of the suspect list yet.

Maddie thrashed against her phantom restraints, reaching out towards me, her eyes even through the whiteness clearly desperate for my help. Her fingers at the full stretch of her arms were close to my chest. I could feel her fear. I was able to distinguish this as the fear of someone else now, even though it pulled at me as if it were my own. My heart began beating faster and my body felt electric, my nerves were fluttering, telling me that I should flee that I should get out of here, get as far away as I could.

I forced myself to slow. I told myself that it wasn’t my fear. This is Maddie’s spirit telling me how she feels. I do not need to be afraid. This is her fear. I need to help her be free of it.

“Maddie,” I said. “Can you hear me?”

It was always hard to tell where those white eyes were looking but I sensed they had been wandering, searching for someone else to help if this man in front of her wouldn’t, but now they had snapped back to me. She stopped her wild attempts to flee and her terrified soundless screams and looked at me.

“Listen to me Maddie,” I said. “You’re dead, that man who attacked you and brought you here, he killed you.”

Her face began to twist. She was shaking her head slightly, small unsure shakes from side to side. She looked as though she was going to turn and run from me. In fact she did turn. She turned and saw that the only place she had to run was back into the warehouse and she stopped. I wasn’t sure if I’d done the right thing. Perhaps telling her she was dead was wrong but strangely enough no one had given me an instructional manual on this. I figured that honesty was the best policy.

“Maddie,” I said again, trying to make my voice as soothing as I could. “I know this is a shock but I want you to know that the man who brought you here, he’s gone now. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

Maddie turned back to me.

“I’m going to make a phone call,” I said. “I’m going to call the police and they are going to come and find you. When they do you won’t need to be scared anymore. You’ll be able to move on.

“I’m going to call now and I’m going to wait over in that park until they come. I won’t leave until you’re safe ok?”

Maddie stared at me. I sensed a flicker in her fear, it had dropped off, not very much but it was something. She was still afraid but it was no longer the confused, manic fear it had been before. It was almost more rational now.

I turned and crossed the street to the park, sitting on a wooden slatted bench. I took out my phone and dialled the number I’d written on a torn off scrap of paper in my pocket. It was the number that had been flashed up on the television screen so many times when the police were desperate for assistance in the Maddie Lattimore case.

“Hello Crime Stoppers Information Line, how can I help you?” said a lady’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Hello,” I said, trying poorly to alter my voice somewhat. “I have information about the disappearance of Maddie Lattimore.”

“Yes Sir,” the woman said, my revelation didn’t seem to have startled her. “What is the nature of the information?”

“I know where she is.”

“You say you know where she is Sir?”

I sensed the hint of disbelief laced with sarcasm. She had obviously taken enough hoax calls in her time.

“That’s right,” I said. I looked across the street and saw Maddie, she had calmed down a little but was still trying to force her way free of the place she was trapped. “I’m afraid to say she’s dead. I know where her body is. She’s wearing her school uniform and was strangled. She was killed by Alex Marzlin, that same serial killer who’s been all over the news.”

Silence. That revelation had certainly startled her. I hoped there was something in my voice that had convinced her this was no hoax.

“One moment Sir,” the woman said. “I’m going to put you through to the Missing Persons Unit who will take your call.”

There was some obligatory hold music and another person answered, this time the voice of a male.

“Missing Persons Unit, this is Sergeant Dodgson, I understand you have information about the Madeline Lattimore case?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m giving this information anonymously?”

“Of course,” Sergeant Dodgson said.

“Maddie Lattimore is dead,” I said. “She was killed by Alex Marzlin. You’ll find her body in a warehouse opposite the park on Haddin Street in Fairfield.”

“How did you come by this information? Did you find the body?”

I hung up and waited.

 

An hour later a blue and white police four-wheel drive and an unmarked black Commodore pulled to a stop outside the warehouse. Maddie watched as two men in suits knocked on the warehouse door and waited. When there was no answer one of the men said something to a uniformed police officer nearby who walked to the four-wheel drive and removed a door breaching ram from the back. He began knocking it against the padlock on the outside of the door until it broke and fell away. By now the parents who had been supervising their children in the park had gathered into a crowd and were watching, thankfully hiding me from the view of the police.

As the police disappeared into the building, calling ahead of them with their hands reached towards their holstered guns Maddie looked back to where I sat. Her white eyes locked with mine and I thought I could see hope on her young face.

 

I was true to my promise, I didn’t leave. The warehouse was cordoned off with yellow tape and police continued to arrive. In a few hours the warehouse had turned from an abandoned industrial lot into the set for CSI Melbourne. Forensic investigators entered the building, at least that’s what I assumed they were from their pull-over plastic suits, gloves, cameras and large black cases. Through all this Maddie stood and watched the police come and go, occasionally looking over to where I sat as if checking I was still there, still keeping my promise. Her eyes flicked to the warehouse door and back to me as though she wanted to go inside and see what they were doing but she was too nervous. Who could really blame her? Seeing your own dead body, mutilated with hateful knife cuts or sliced into neat pieces wrapped in plastic would not be appealing to anyone, even if it would set your spirit free from its trapped existence. So Maddie remained outside, standing and watching, anxious but at least, as she looked over to me, not alone.

It wasn’t until well passed dark that a blue van arrived with white letters stencilled on the side: Coroner’s Office. Two men exited the van, walked around to the double doors at the rear, opened them and slid out a wheeled stretcher bed. They too disappeared into the warehouse. Faces I’d seen coming and going all afternoon left the scene, others milled around smoking cigarettes and talking. After another long wait, in which Maddie had begun to pace back and forth in front of the warehouse, the two men from the Coroner’s Office reappeared. One of them pushed the stretcher out of the warehouse the other walked in front guiding it with one hand. On top of the squeaking wheels and cold metal frame was a black plastic bag, a body bag that shook lifelessly with every bump and divot the wheels crossed.

I looked at Maddie. She had stopped pacing and was standing perfectly still watching the black sealed bag. The bag could have contained anything beneath its plastic crests and valleys, but she seemed to know what was in there, just as I knew. Her face had become devoid of emotion, a startling change from the panicked and frightened mask her features had once been. She watched the men open the back doors of the van again and push the stretcher into the back, the wheeled legs folded up beneath it as the frame slipped onto rails in the back of the van sliding out of sight. One of the men followed Maddie Lattimore’s body into the back while the other closed the doors with a resounding thud that carried throughout the suburb on the cooling air. The van started with the clicking of a starter motor. The rumbling hum of an engine followed and it was this sound that faded away into the night as Maddie Lattimore was at last taken away from the place she had spent her finally terrifying hours.

When Maddie lost sight of the van she turned to me. She was smiling. It was the face I’d first seen in the newspaper. A beautiful young girl, innocent and full of happiness. I stood up from the park bench where I’d sat for the last six hours and felt myself smile too, the first true smile my face had seen in months. It was the kind of unavoidable smile that creeps over your face when a toddler looks at you in the street and smiles and waves. It was the smile that knows the unrestrained joy of life. I held up my hand in a stationary wave but Maddie smiled and shook her head.

She began to walk towards me. She didn’t look back to her warehouse of terror because it didn’t matter anymore. It had no power over her now. She walked beyond the threshold that had once held her back, crossed the street, and walked up to me. She didn’t try to speak, she didn’t need to, instead she opened her arms as if moving to hug me. Her arms wrapped around me. I expected to feel nothing, but there was something there, the slightest feeling of being embraced, a breeze had wrapped me in its arms. I felt my breath catch in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. I let out a single sudden breath, a breath that could have been a laugh and could have been a sob and I began to breath again. As she stood hugging me with a joyous thank you Maddie Lattimore faded, like the slow defrost of a car windscreen she slowly faded to nothing and the air all around me was clear. I let out a long relieved breath and grinned as I walked away from the red brick warehouse thinking of Fiona.

30 – ‘The Dead Were All I Had’

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I woke slowly, easing gently back into the world from what felt like the most peaceful sleep I’d ever experienced. It had been void of all dreams, or at least that’s what it seemed like now, there were none that I could remember. If I’d dreamed they would have been nightmares so I was thankful for the respite.

For a few moments after waking my body felt untouched and rested, then the throbbing began. Barely perceptible at first, a dull feeling beating in time with my heart, it began to amplify and my shoulder and leg both began to pulse with pressure. I was submerged in a pool of painkillers, the sensations of my nerves dulled like my hearing beneath the water of the bath. As a damp fog lifted from my mind I remembered Marzlin, my parents, the girls, all that had happened in that house. Jesus, I’d been shot.

“Hello James,” the voice drew me further into the waking world allowing me to focus on the face leaning over me, it was a woman dressed in green hospital scrubs and wearing a blue hairnet. “Welcome back, you’ve been in surgery, the surgeon is just cleaning up and then he’ll come and speak with you. You’ve got a drip in your arm to hydrate you but I’m sure your mouth will be very dry, have a sip of this.”

The nurse placed the end of a straw between my lips. She was right, my mouth felt arid and I sipped greedily at the water. It filled my mouth and seemed to be absorbed into my swollen tongue. The nurse pulled it away before I could take another gulp of the refreshing liquid.

“Not too much,” the nurse said placing the cup on a table. She pivoted the table on an arm so that it extended out over my bed. Electric motors kicked in and the bed lifted into an angled sitting position. The nurse helped adjust the pillows behind my back and neck arranging them to avoid the painful area where the knife had stabbed into my shoulder. She placed the plastic hand control for the bed in my hand.

“You can adjust the bed as you like,” the nurse said. “And there’s a call bell on there if you need anything. Take it easy on the water, just small sips at a time. If you need to urinate there’s a urine bottle beside you. Just rest for a moment and the surgeon will be here any moment. I’ll be back shortly to check on you.”

The nurse smiled, she was reasonably young, mid to late 20s, her face wouldn’t be called beautiful, or even pretty, but her smile was sweet and her presence reassuring. She had begun to walk from the room before I even tried to speak.

“What happened to Fiona?” I asked, or at least I tried to ask. My voice caught in my parched throat and was little but a husky rasp when it escaped. I reached out with my right arm forgetting for a moment the wound in my shoulder. Feeling a painful pull I recoiled, took a moment and then reached out with my left hand. Sipping from the cup I let the liquid lubricate my voice but by the time I tried to speak again the nurse was gone.

My hospital room could have been any hospital room anywhere in the world. Two of the walls were off-white while the wall behind me and the one to my right were a pale green. On one side of the bed was a low table holding a lamp, on the other was the table that had been extended out over the bed. In front of me a television extended out from high on the wall on a metallic alien arm, beneath it was an almond brown chest of drawers designed to match the colour of the bathroom door. The television had been switched on but the sound left muted. It was the nightly news, a male news-anchor spoke to the viewer, his mouth moving soundlessly, an image that was now all too familiar. I looked away not wanting to be reminded of voiceless ghosts.

This was the first time I realised I wasn’t alone. A woman stood looking out the window on the left hand side of the room. The heavy cream curtains were drawn open but a thin lace inner curtain had been pulled closed. The woman mustn’t have been able to see out, but it wasn’t what the woman was doing that mattered, it was who the woman was. I had recognised her instantly, her dark hair sitting layered to her shoulders. She wore the same clothes as she had yesterday, I assumed only a day had passed since I’d visited Alex Marzlin’s house. Had she been here all night, waiting by my side?

“Fi?” I croaked. “I was so worried about you.”

I was filled with a flood of relief. When Marzlin had appeared in the house and had displayed the microphone receiver like a newly acquired trophy I had feared the absolute worst. As some kind of sociopathic nut driven by an underlying hatred of women, something that no doubt came back to some serious mother issues, it was not beyond reason that Marzlin had hurt my wife, perhaps even killed her, but here she was alive and well and once again waiting by my side in a strange hospital room. She was there for me, ready to pick me up, dust me off and set me on my feet again, just as she had always been, just as she always would be. I would make sure of that now. Never again would I do anything that would jeopardise our relationship. She was worth the world and I would find a way to give it to her.

“What happened Fi?” I asked. “How did you get away?”

Fiona turned to look at me, smiling as she did, and I felt the bottom of my world drop away. Everything fell out of me, the last of the over-whelming relief I had felt was disappearing down a still swinging trap-door. My eyes grew wide, my breath caught in my chest and hung there, my lungs still full of air caught in the motion as if my body had forgotten how to exhale. It was a bone-deep instinctive freeze, the long indecision between fright and flight, the drawn out pause that delays you from action when you see a pedestrian struck by a car or an old man collapse in the supermarket aisle. It was hollowness. Despite her smile, one that was carefree and loving, Fiona looked out at me through eyes of solid white.

Those eyes that had first caught my attention, those back-lit emeralds that changed colour with the light, with her mood, with the seasons, those one of a kind eyes, they were gone.

I could see the reddish-purple marks where Marzlin’s hands had closed around Fiona’s neck, squeezing and crushing the life out of her. I didn’t cry or scream or break into hysterical sobs. There was nothing like the howling sobs of a grieving husband yelling that his wife would be avenged. In times of trauma we don’t always react in the expected ways. I just stared into the face of the only woman I had ever truly loved and felt nothing, like I myself was an abyss, a man-shaped hole in the world. The only thing my mind kept returning to, over and over like a skipping CD, was her eyes. They were gone, replaced now by dirty pearls their lustre covered by a surface grime trying to shine but unable to do so. Only thoughts of the green that these eyes had once held brought me to the realisation of what those white eyes meant.

“No,” I said, shaking my head, my eyes growing hot. “No. Not you.”

Fiona moved closer until she was standing by the side of the bed.

“No,” I said again, continuing to shake my head, repeating the word again and again as if saying it enough times had the power to make this not be true. “No. No. No.”

My eyes were burning red and tears had begun to roll down my cheeks. Fiona looked at me and raised a finger to her lips to indicate quiet. The emotion that swept over me was entirely different from any of the other spirits I’d experienced an emotional connection with. I did not feel fear or anger or sadness, instead, in Fiona’s presence, I felt a settling calm. Even after death she was doing what she had always did, picking me up, dusting me off and setting me on my feet again. She was telling me that she was alright. She was coming to see me before she left, coming to say goodbye before she moved on to whatever came next for her existence.

“No,” I said again, but it was a different no this time. It was not the no of denial, the no that accompanied a desperate grasping for a sense of control over the unalterable fate of someone you love, it was the no of not wanting to say goodbye, the no of not wanting her to leave. “Don’t go. I love you.”

Fiona did all that she could do, she shook her head and mouthed the words.

I love you too.

“Stay with me,” I said. “Please don’t go.”

I have to.

Through my tears and my pleading I was drawing in on the unwelcome realisation of inevitability. I had seen the restless spirits of this world, those that are left in the bitter throes of whatever horrific emotion was their last, those that are tied to this earth and cursed to haunt it. I had seen the way they were trapped forever in a cell with bars made of tragedy. I had felt their burning need to move on, to go where the dead are supposed to go, to fade from the world as my parents had. There was no way I could wish that upon Fiona. No matter how much I wanted her to remain here I knew she couldn’t.

“What am I going to do without you?” I said.

Fiona, in answer, turned her head to look at the television extending out from the wall on its black metallic stand. A female newsreader was now on screen. Over her left shoulder the green-screened news display read: ‘SEARCH CALLED OFF, the text positioned below the image of a young girl, a young girl I’d seen again and again, Maddie Lattimore.

It was only then that I realised I’d seen Maddie Lattimore somewhere else too, somewhere outside the media. I’d known at the time that her face was familiar but being so disturbed by everything that had happened, and was continuing to happen I was unable to place it. The proverbial penny hadn’t dropped, but it did now. She was the girl outside the warehouse. When I’d left hospital and Fi had taken me to that shitty suburban motel and I’d taken that evening walk around the streets of the neighbourhood to the industrial zone opposite the park I had seen a young girl, terrified and trapped despite trying to run. Maddie Lattimore was the spooky girl in the flickering light.

I looked at Fiona. “Marzlin killed her?”

Fiona nodded. I sighed.

“And her body’s in that warehouse?”

Fiona nodded again. I repeated my sigh.

“Why is this happening to me?” I asked. “Haven’t I done enough. Chasing ghosts has taken everything from me already. I don’t want this. I just want you back.”

Fiona smiled. I wanted to grieve for my wife. I knew I wanted to. I knew I should scream and cry and tear the world open but in her presence I couldn’t do it. I felt guilty for not being torn apart with grief but I could feel the calmness emanating out from my wife, a sense that all was well and this was what was supposed to happen. Whether it was punishment for scamming those in grief for so long, or whether it was a chance for redemption I didn’t know, but helping lost souls was all I had now. The dead were all I had.

“Is it ever going to end?” I said. “Am I going to be seeing them forever?”

Fiona shrugged. She turned and walked back to the window. She stood in the position I had first seen her, looking out the window despite the white lace curtain blocking the view. Looking back she beckoned for me to join her. I folded the sheet back. My leg was tightly bandaged and I wasn’t certain it would be able to support my weight but I slowly eased my legs out over the edge of the bed. I lowered the bed and placed my feet flat on the floor. Experimentally I began to load them with weight like a man who had spent his life wheelchair bound but had suddenly decided that perhaps he could walk after all.

The dulling influence of the painkillers allowed me to stand. With my weight carried predominantly by my good leg I moved to the window in a slow zombie shuffle and stood beside the ghost of my wife. Fiona didn’t turn from the window even as I watched her, her gaze remained fixed outside. The lace curtains obscured my view, blurring what was beyond into a collage of shapes and a kaleidoscope of colours.

I pulled the curtains open relieving the view of its blur and revealing that the room looked out onto a grassed area at the front of the hospital boxed within the U shape made by the buildings. On the grass, their faces angled up so they were looking at my window, was a crowd of people, dead people. They stood in roughly semicircular lines each spaced an arm span apart from the one beside them. There were maybe two hundred souls standing on the grass parting around the large sandstone fountain in the centre of the area, and all four hundred of their white eyes were watching my window. The population of the yard was a cross-section of society, a cross-section of the dead. All ages were represented from a heartbreaking young girl no older than four standing near the front of the crowd dripping wet in a red with white polkadot dress her tiny face mottled grey, her lips blue and her red hair stuck down over her forehead in thick wet lines, to an old bent backed man the side of his bald head black and blue with bruises. There were rich and poor, young and old, drowned and beaten, shot and stabbed, all lost and wanting to be found, all wanting to be set free, all wanting to rest in peace.

I looked back to Fiona.

Help them.

She mouthed the words.

I nodded. “I will,” I said.

Below, my disquieting crowd of admirers turned, almost as one, and began to walk away. They had heard my promise and I felt the weight of it. It was not a vow to be made lightly. The promise to help those no one else could even see.

Fiona smiled her sweet smile, a smile layered in happiness, sadness, relief and longing. And I understood. It was time for her to leave. She had done what she had come here to do. It was only her that could show me what I needed to do. She had made me a better man during her life, but I had failed her in that, now she was showing me how to be better with her gone and I would not fail her this time.

“Am I ever going to see you again?” I asked although I felt as if I knew the answer to that question. I would not see her again, at least not on this earth. This really was goodbye.

Fiona smiled again and in the way that she had so many times from off-stage she kissed her fingertips, turned her hand outwards and waved at me. I saw the wedding ring on her finger. This sight drew out the grief from the deep place it hid within me and I cried. Fiona reached towards me as she faded, not a desperate reach but a final reassurance. Then slowly, like the light leaving at the end of the day, she was gone, and the room was empty.

29 – ‘The Devil in a Ralph Lauren Polo’

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Wally lay sprawled face down on the wooden floor of the hallway and standing over him, pointing a gun at me, was Alex Marzlin. The sound of the rhythmic thudding of an off balance washing machine drifted up the hall from the direction of the laundry. My heart seemed to be beating just as fast.

“I know who you are,” Marzlin said. “Did you think I didn’t know when you came to my door?”

I raised my hands to indicate submission as I walked off the last of the stairs. I didn’t answer. I saw that Wally had opened a door in the hallway but all I could see was that the floor of the room was covered with plastic sheeting. Nervously I looked down at Wally hoping he was simply unconscious, and thankfully his back rose and fell with slow breaths.

Marzlin indicated for me to enter the plastic sheeted room with two quick flicks of the gun. “In there,” he said.

I had little choice but to do as I was told. Entering the room I saw a stark difference to the rest of the house. It wasn’t just that the room’s single window had been blacked out or that plastic sheeting had been laid over the floor and hung from the walls. It was the neatness of it all. A single folding massage bed stood in the centre of the room, the cushioning on top had been covered in rubber sheeting and the entire table including even the metal legs had been wrapped with plastic cling film. Beside the bed was a wheeled table. On top of the table was a small electric handsaw, a silver tray holding stainless steel surgical supplies, scalpels, large knives and a meat cleaver, all arranged neatly, lined up perfectly parallel and beside that was a large roll of gaffer tape. This was it. This was the obsession that left the rest of his house in disarray.

Marzlin followed me into the room.

“Sit on the bed,” he said.

I moved with shaking legs towards the rubber and plastic wrapped bed. This was bad. I was surprised I wasn’t more terrified, my body was reacting as if I were, sweating, shaking, my pulse quickening in my ears, but my mind was steady, calm, taking in all the information around me but focusing on Alex Marzlin as he approached with the gun in hand. My mind was clear enough to think it unlikely Marzlin would use a gun in here. Not only would it be too loud but this place was some sort of disturbing sanctuary to him, it was a place of ritual, he wouldn’t want to bring attention to it.

“How many has there been Marzlin?” I said.

Alex Marzlin smiled, I could see his mind working, he was a lion thinking back on the prey he had stalked. “That depends on what you mean?”

At the door my impression had been that this man would never confess to any crime but now that he was in here, in his place of sanctuary, I saw that he was different. Like I had been, Alex Marzlin was a man who wore a mask. His was the mask of normality and now that it was off I could see that he was a gloater, he had been holding it in for so long but all he wanted to do was brag about his women. His eyes twinkled as he stood pointing the gun at me. This was what it was all about for him, control.

“You know exactly what I mean,” I said wanting to keep him talking. “The women, how many has there been?”

I saw them behind Marzlin, standing in the doorway looking in, five women, all of them trapped here in this house with the man who had taken their life. Another was upstairs still in the bathtub, flayed open. God, I thought, the ghosts I had seen, all of them appeared exactly as they had been at the moment of their death. Whether they were shot, strangled or smashed in the back of the head that moment of death was evident on their body and nothing else. They were separated from whatever happened to their bodies after death, whatever horrors this man perpetrated on their corpses when he stood in this room with his electric saw in hand. It wasn’t so much the thought of Marzlin cutting up their bodies that disturbed me about this, it was the realisation that the girl in the bathtub had been alive when he had done that to her. This place was an outpost of hell and this man was the devil in a Ralph Lauren polo.

“They deserve it,” Marzlin said, his voice flat, emotionless, as far as he was concerned he was stating fact.

“What?” I felt anger rise up within me, in that moment I didn’t have the sense or the wish to fight it. I looked towards the women watching from the doorway and my voice lashed out and struck Marzlin like a whip. “How can you say that? Nobody deserves what you did. You’re a fucking monster!”

Marzlin moved fast until he was standing with his face only inches from my own. He pushed the barrel of the gun hard into my cheekbone.

“I give them the gift of setting them freet,” Marzlin spat, forcing the gun harder into my face until I could no longer hold my head straight.

“Is this where you kill them?” I asked. I was angry but at the same time I had enough sense to try and keep Marzlin talking. I had no doubt that Marzlin was going to kill me. I was living moment to moment, desperately stretching my life out a fraction at a time, trying to remain calm while a tornado of fear spun inside me. I had to keep my mind in the eye of the storm.

“Sometimes I kill them here, sometimes not, but this is where I always bring them to clean them up,” Marzlin said as if talking of where he would wash his car. He looked around, admiring the room. “You just happened to arrive on a night I was planning to lay one to rest otherwise you would never have seen this.”

“Lay one to rest?” I said. “You mean there is someone here, alive?”

“No,” Marzlin smiled. “Not here, not alive. I have to go and pick her up. She’s waiting for me.”

“They’re all here,” I said, looking towards the door. “All the women you’ve slaughtered. The lives you’ve destroyed. The young girl with the curly black hair you beat over the back of the head, the woman you cut open in your bath, the fair haired woman you strangled, the beautiful, full of life women you’ve taken from this world. They’re all here haunting you.”

I tried to make my voice as piercing as I could, to drive it into the heart of this psychopath, to make him realise that he could never escape the evil he has done. It had worked with so many people, they had melted under my tone, been left in tatters by what I knew about the dead that haunted them, but Alex Marzlin, he just smiled.

“Really,” he said, “that’s wonderful. I’m so glad to have them here, my little darlings.” Marzlin looked deep into my eyes before he asked his next question. “Is your mother with them?”

My breath was spasmodic, anger and fear coalesced into a panicked nausea.

“She was the first you know,” Marzlin said. “It was driven by necessity of course. She was going to get me in trouble so I didn’t have a choice. I often think of her, your mother, she was the first that showed me how sweet it is to free them from the world. I shot her. You know that though. I would never do that again, use a gun, it’s so distant and cold. I prefer to do it with my hands.”

“You took my family from me,” I said, my temper overcoming fear now.

“I’m sorry about that,” Marzlin said. “Your mother deserved it, like they all do, but your father just got in the way. I couldn’t let him go. Just like I can’t let you go, you know that right?”

Marzlin moved the barrel of the gun, sliding the cold metal up my cheek until it pressed into my temple.

“Here,” he said, “like your father?”

“It doesn’t matter what you do to me,” I said, lifting my shirt to reveal the microphone taped to my chest. “We’ve already got you on tape. Your confession will be enough to have you put away.” I looked at the women in the doorway. “It will be enough to set your victims free.”

Marzlin’s face dropped. For a moment he looked dejected like he knew his sick existence was going to come crashing down around him, but then he smiled, a slimy smile of satisfaction and he laughed a breathy laugh.

“You are clever,” Marzlin said. “You are so very smart. You really thought this through didn’t you. Well, you mostly thought it through. Don’t you think there’s a reason I’m not in prison? Don’t you think there’s a reason no one even knows what I do?”

“Money,” I said. I’d already figured this out. I didn’t know how but this man had enough money that someone was protecting him.

“Well I won’t deny it helps,” Marzlin said. “It certainly helped in the beginning, when I wasn’t so careful. But I am now and that’s the reason I can keep going. I’m meticulous. I plan everything. I never do anything except when I know it will be perfect. Much like you should have.”

Marzlin walked back towards the door. He passed through the ghosts of his victims as he moved out of the room. He bent down keeping his eyes and his gun trained on me. His other hand disappeared from view for a moment before reappearing holding a small black backpack. Marzlin moved back into the room, carrying the backpack in his hand. About halfway back to me he dropped the bag on the plastic sheeted floor, knelt and unzipped it. Reaching inside he grasped something and then stood. It took me a moment to realise what it was. Marzlin held it near his face, jiggling it in his hand like he was teasing a dog. It was the microphone receiver. The one from the car.

“You left your wife with the most vital piece of equipment.”

My insides turned to vacuum. A bitter, gripping fear took hold of me leaving my mind empty. A single thought pulsated in the abyss, Fiona had not called to warn of Marzlin’s approach. My phone had not vibrated in my pocket because Fiona had been unable to call.

No. She was ok. She had to be. My parents would not lead me here if something as terrible was going to happen. She had to be ok.

“What have you done to her?” I asked, almost unaware that I’d even spoken.

And again Marzlin smiled.

My mind went from cold emptiness to turbulent anarchy. I felt the anger rise up inside me. If this man had hurt Fiona I would destroy him. I would quite literally tear his throat out and smash his face in. This was not my father’s anger now. This was my anger. It was a part of me. I would no longer make excuses. I would no longer wear a mask or blame others for my mistakes. My father was not here. This was my anger and I was going to control it and use it to stop the maniac who had raped and killed my mother, killed my father, raped and murdered at least six other women and had now gone after my wife. I had been right. This would end today.

Marzlin tossed the microphone receiver aside. The black box landed on a corner, the plastic case making a cracking sound and splitting open. Marzlin walked toward me.

“I’m going to have to clean up the mess after this and then cut you and your friend into pieces, wrap you up and bury you under here with the others. Then I’m going to have to set up all over again. Such a waste of time. Not part of the plan.”

Marzlin moved towards me ready, and quite willing, to end my life. My mind raced with the faces of my mother and father. I saw her smiling at me from where she sat on the grass of the park near our home, my father was winding up to throw the frisbee. My mother was humming her lullaby. The sun was warm on my back and I was happy. Then I was in the living room of our house my mother was sliding down against the oven, a trail of blood being painted in a wide streak by her hair. My father was lying on the ground, the literal smoking gun positioned in his hand. I had come here for them. I had come here to discover the truth that would set them free. Now I knew there were others as well. Their killer had been murdering other innocent women, robbing them not only of their life but of their potential, stealing everything they could ever be. And what had Marzlin done to Fiona? Had he touched her with his evil hands?

My temper wanted to lash out, to strike so hard that I would break the world and yet I resisted. I stayed still on the bed despite the white hot furnace that burned within me. I waited in fear and anger as Marzlin came closer still. He leveled the gun at my face and then, just as Marzlin’s finger began to squeeze the trigger, I let the anger out. I used every ounce of rage to overcome my natural instincts of fear and self-preservation. I pushed myself off the bed, launching towards Marzlin. Reaching out I awkwardly swatted at the gun in Marzlin’s outstretched hand my sudden movement surprising Marzlin enough that I managed to force the gun down towards the ground.

The gun fired. I felt the pressure of the gunshot push my eardrums as the sound reverberated around the plastic-sheeted room. Although they must have happened simultaneously I seemed to hear the sound of the shot ring out a long time before I felt my right leg snap back as if I’d been kicked in the thigh. I felt slicing heat in my leg as it gave way beneath me. I grasped desperately at the gun in Marzlin’s hands knowing that if I didn’t cling to him, if I didn’t overpower him in that instant then I would be dead and my mother and father would go on being stuck in this world, the women in this house would never receive the justice they deserved and I would never make it outside to check that my wife was alright.

I clawed at Marzlin’s hand like a man falling from a cliff desperate to catch hold of something. Somehow I managed, most probably through sheer luck, to slip my finger in behind the trigger guard. As I fell my finger hooked inside the metal loop and tore the gun from Marzlin’s hand. Marzlin’s finger pulled back on the trigger again as the gun was ripped from his grip. The gun fired again and I saw the plastic sheeting between Marzlin’s feet react with the sudden appearance of a bullet hole. The wooden floor beneath the plastic gave a hollow thud as the bullet passed through spraying up the smallest cloud of wood dust.

I collapsed. The handgun, now free of both our grips, landed on the end of its barrel and bounced onto its side near my hand. Above me Marzlin was still standing. He reached down to collect the gun and despite the hot pain in my right thigh, I lashed out at it sending it skittering across the floor away from Marzlin’s reach. The gun didn’t slide well on the plastic sheeting and was only a short distance away. Marzlin looked towards the gun and then back to me in an awkward sitting position. His face was ferocious. He punched downwards and I instinctively turned my face away. The impact caught me on the side of the face, high on the cheekbone and I was immediately dazed but at the same time I heard the pop that came from Marzlin’s fist. Marzlin released a anguished cry of pain and rage as he grabbed at his right hand with the left, cradling it in close to his chest.

Most people’s only experience of fighting is what they see in movies where choreographed dances can go on for minutes of screen-time with combatants exchanging blow after blow. The reality is very different. A single punch had caused a throbbing daze in my skull that had left me momentarily stunned but luckily it had also cracked two of the four metacarpal bones in Marzlin’s hand. Just as a single punch does far more damage than the movies would suggest there is also no room for choreographed dancing or respectable honour in a fight for survival. Gathering myself I struck out with my own fist connecting it with brutal force square on Marzlin’s testicles.

Marzlin folded in half resting his torso on the bed. This gave me a chance to look down at my leg. A large patch of blood was rapidly growing from the bullet wound somewhere near the centre of my thigh leaving my jeans wet with dark crimson. I squeezed at it with my hand feeling the squelch of blood. I was losing a lot of blood and my nerves were exploding from knee to hip. Beside me Marzlin moaned as he started to push himself back into a standing position. Realisation of the still impending danger caused a desperate spray of adrenaline to surge through my body. This wasn’t over.

I turned, reaching up and using the bed as support I clambered to my feet. My leg screamed its objection but I ignored it. As I rose my eyes fell on the table of perfectly arranged implements, their silver blades lucent under the light above. I leaned over the table reaching towards them, groping for an advantage in this ruthless battle for life. Beside me Marzlin reached out with his uninjured left hand, his fingers scratched down my face catching the collar of my shirt. He pulled hard, leaning back with all his weight in his attempt to resist my reaching a weapon. The collar cut into my throat, pulling me back. I forced myself forward, the t-shirt crushing against my larynx and forcing my Adam’s Apple downwards. My breathing became raspy in my throat. Marzlin twisted the back of my collar pulling it tighter and moving closer. I felt Marzlin’s knee in my back as he used it to anchor himself against me, forcing me forward as he pulled back tightening the choke further. My breath was gone. My diaphragm muscles pumped trying to pull air into my lungs but my throat was sealed shut.

Stars of light exploded in front of my eyes. I forced my teeth together, thought of all the unbearable things this man had done and reached. I heard the fibres of my shirt splitting as it stretched and tore crushing my throat. My hand landed on the tip of the handle of a surgical scalpel. My fingers worked clumsily trying to drag it closer across the metal tray. Marzlin pulled hard and I was momentarily yanked away. I reached again, my hand falling hard onto the tray. My fingers closed around the scalpel so that I gripped it blade downwards in my hand. As I was pulled backwards the tray slid from the table and the rest of the knives clattered to the floor. Without any thought of aim I spun, bringing the scalpel in a wide arc towards Alex Marzlin.

The short, sharp blade of the scalpel found its home in the side of Marzlin’s throat. The pressure was immediately released from my neck as Marzlin’s hands flew up to grip my wrist. His eyes were wide with shock and he begun to make clucking sounds somewhere in the back of his throat. I sucked in deep gulping breaths, my throat still felt constricted but sweet air made its way into my lungs and life-giving oxygen burst into my blood stream. It took a moment before my mind became lucid enough to realise that I held the handle of a stainless steel scalpel that was lodged in Marzlin’s neck. Marzlin’s hands squeezed powerfully at my wrist and his eyes had returned to being ferocious. I couldn’t see my own face of course but if I’d been able to I’m sure I would have seen the same animalistic glare reflected back at Marzlin. I planted the palm of my left hand on Marzlin’s face and pushed away. At the same time, with my right hand, I pulled the handle of the scalpel towards myself forcing my hand free of Marzlin’s grip.

Marzlin’s neck opened like a sliced tomato. Sprays of thick, warm blood pulsated out of Marzlin in time with his fading heartbeat. The ferociousness left his eyes and was replaced instead with an empty abyss. The choking clucks in his throat gave way to bubbling gargles and Marzlin slipped to the ground falling onto his side where his blood rapidly pooled on the plastic sheeting. He rolled onto his back gripping the side of his neck as if trying to stop the bleeding. His spluttering coughs continued for a few moments before his movement slowed and his hand dropped away from his neck. As blood rushed into his airway Marzlin faded into unconsciousness. He drowned on his own blood within a minute.

I dropped to the floor. I felt dizzy. Blood had run down my leg and was filling my shoe. I had no idea how much blood I’d lost but I knew I had to get pressure on the wound. I removed my shirt twisting it into a roll to form a makeshift bandage and wrapped it around my thigh. I pulled it as tight as I could, gritting my teeth against the pain. I found the roll of tape that had fallen to the floor and using one hand to hold the makeshift bandage tight around my leg I stuck the tape to the shirt. Switching hands as I went I wrapped the tape around and around my leg, as tight as I could, securing the shirt over the wound.

When I had exhausted almost the entire roll of tape I used my teeth to break it off, pressing the end down against the tape already encircling my leg. Though I felt light-headed I began to crawl towards the doorway. I had to check on Wally and then I had to find Fiona.

I tried to stand but my head immediately spun and vertigo sent me falling back to my side. I rolled onto my left side trying to keep my injured right leg off the floor and pulled myself with my elbows and left knee towards Wally.

“Wally?” I said, my voice sounded strange in my own ears, hoarse and rough. “Wally, can you hear me?”

When I reached him I saw a small piece of lint stuck between the wooden floorboards close to Wally’s mouth fluttering forward and backwards. He was still out cold but he was breathing. Blood caked the hair on the back of his head and he would no doubt have a skull-busting headache when he woke. Head injuries were a concern but they weren’t something I could deal with now. I had to get outside to get help, and that’s where Fiona was. Thoughts of anything else were gone. Reaching her was all that mattered.

I got to my feet. Such a simple concept, raising oneself into the normal position of standing but in that condition it took me an effort usually reserved for climbing a mountain. My vision swam and I felt a deep, subsurface throbbing in my leg. My body wanted me to quit, to lay down and sleep but my mind resisted the blasphemous thought. Fiona needed me.

The hallway floor under me feet moved like a playground rope bridge, unpredictable and off-putting. I stood still, closing my eyes to get my balance and settle my mind. When I opened them I almost collapsed again but this time for an entirely different reason.

Alex Marzlin was standing in the hallway.

Alex Marzlin was blocking my path to salvation.

Alex Marzlin was dead.

I would have known this even if I hadn’t been the one who cut his throat open and watched him leak his life out onto the plastic sheeting on the floor. It was, of course, his eyes. They were white as all the eyes of the dead were but Marzlin’s seemed darker, closer to an ashen grey. And he used those eyes to stare at me.

“You can’t hurt me now Marzlin,” I said. “You can’t hurt anybody now.”

I began walking forward dragging my wounded leg behind me knowing that I could pass through Marzlin. Like all ghosts Marzlin would be as insubstantial as a bad dream.

Marzlin didn’t scream at me. He wasn’t as animated as a lot of spirits. He simply stood and watched me, his anger still apparent. I could feel it. In the same way I felt the raw emotions of other spirits I felt the fury of Marzlin within me. I had come into his home, his place of ritual and sacrifice, and had ruined everything, stopped him from continuing to play his little games. It was more than that though, there was an emptiness, he felt distant from others, not just that he felt alone or chose not to associate with people but that he didn’t care. He had no empathy. For the briefest of moments I felt sorry for the man, sorry for an existence that never knew what a real human connection was like. It wasn’t a sympathy that lasted.

Hobbling down the hall, drawing closer to Marzlin, I heard a creaking from the floor, the sound of straining wood. It emanated from near Marzlin’s feet and it didn’t take long to see why. The wooden floorboards were bowing upwards pulling against the nails at either end. I had only been in one earthquake before. There had been a small tremor one night when I was touring the show in San Francisco. Lying in a hotel room the bed had begun to oscillate, the windows had rattled and the lamps toppled off the bedside tables as the building shook. That was the closest thing to what I experienced then in Marzlin’s house of terrors.

As the wood on the floor lifted upwards the walls began to shake. Even in the hallway I could hear the windows around the house as the sheets of glass vibrated more and more violently in their frames. I stumbled, falling sideways against the wall as the hallway pitched and rolled like the house was sailing across a storm-tossed sea.

I looked up and knew that Marzlin was doing this. I didn’t know how but he was shaking the house apart with his rage. The floorboards at Marzlin’s feet cracked as they pulled themselves free of the nails binding them to the supporting beams below. The wooden boards flipped end over end as they tumbled through the air flying away from Marzlin and towards me.

I raised my arm defensively, tucking my face into the crook of my elbow as a fragment of floorboard struck me on the forearm and bounced over my head a dangling nail, orange-brown with rust, cutting a long gash over my scalp. A second piece of the hallway floor collided with the wall just above me gouging a deep line out of the plaster. Pieces of the wall began to peel away from near Marzlin and rain into me. At first these were just flakes of dirty white paint but they soon grew to be large chunks of plaster. They would hit me in a spray of white, each impact wouldn’t hurt but was enough to keep me off-balance before another sizeable piece of wood would smash into my arms, face or body, seemingly with higher velocity each time.

I struggled forward, moving ever more slowly towards Marzlin as the man’s anger tore the house apart and hurled it towards me. As Marzlin’s power grew he extended his pull out into the rest of the house. Books, a dirty frying pan, several stained coffee cups and a woman’s high heeled shoe flew up the hallway striking me with glancing blows or in the case of the frying pan hitting me squarely on the back of the head and knocking me to my knees. I yelled with the pain that burst outwards from the bullet wound in my leg but my calls were lost in the ever increasing howl that rocked the house. The plastic sheeting that lined Marzlin’s makeshift operating theatre had torn loose and was flapping loudly in the door frame whipping back and forward over Wally’s still unmoving body. I caught the glint of stainless steel as Marzlin’s collection of sharp implements shot out of the room. I turned my back and felt most of them strike me flat or slice minor cuts into my skin but one, a long bladed knife which looked to have no purpose other than to inflict horrific injuries, buried itself into the muscle of my shoulder driving deep enough that the point of its blade stopped against bone.

Soon a cyclone of debris had been pulled into orbit around Marzlin, wood, plaster, knives, books, picture frames, random objects from the house would be thrown out at high speed rocketing towards me. I could no longer fight my way forward. I had fallen against the wall and was tucked into a foetal position desperately trying to protect my face wondering when a knife or piece of glass would slice through an artery or a saucepan would smash into my head with enough force to knock me out. From behind me the widescreen television that had been in the lounge room bounced end over end down the hallway crashing into the walls as it tumbled towards me. I pinned myself against the wall and the shattered screen missed me by centimetres.

I was trapped, but I had to reach Fiona. She could be hurt or dying. She needed me. I tried to look up, to see whether there was any chance I could keep going, any break in the madness in front of him. It was difficult to see, the raging air that twisted around Marzlin had drawn up the dust that had been thick over the entire house and it spun around him like a sandstorm stinging my eyes. Even through the tears that ran thick down my cheeks I could see another person moving by. At first I thought it was Wally but looking back I saw that he was still on the floor, though it looked like he was stirring, trying to push himself up. No, the person moving up the corridor was someone else. It was my father.

He walked unhindered through the swirl of physical objects lifted into the air by Marzlin’s poltergeist-like outburst. He began to run and as he reached Marzlin he speared tackled him to the ground. Immediately there was a sudden drop in air pressure and everything that had been suspended in the air fell to the ground in a mighty crashing and clattering. The house stopped shaking and fell into eerie stillness. The sudden heavy silence left me with ringing ears. Ahead of me I saw my father’s ghost and the ghost of the man who murdered him on the floor. My father was on top of Alex holding him down, his hands tight around the man’s throat.

From around him I saw the ghosts of the women in the house. They all moved to where Alex Marzlin was pinned to the floor. Together with my father they grabbed at him pulling him to his feet as he thrashed and fought them but he was powerless in their grasp. They dragged him soundlessly kicking and screaming back down the hallway pulling him into the plastic sheeted room. At the doorway to the room my father let go of Alex Marzlin allowing the women to take him out of sight into the place where he had tortured them. My father turned to look at me and I felt sudden relief. My father’s anger, the weight of failing to protect his wife, failing to prevent the killing of all these other innocent women, all of it was being lifted from his shoulders. I had no idea what would happen to the spirit of Alex Marzlin in that room but if there was any such thing as eternal punishment it seemed that his would be at the hands of his own victims. The door to the room slammed shut. My father pointed in the direction of the front door, I looked, then glanced back to see that my father’s spirit had gone.

Leaning against the wall and digging deeper into myself than I ever had before I struggled to my feet. My head spun and I felt as though I were going to be sick. I tried one step and almost fell. Then there was an arm around my waist.

“Jimbo,” Wally said.

And together we managed to reach the front door. Wally was uneasy on his feet and slow to move after suffering the strike to his head but even with that he was in a better state than me. I collapsed against him barely conscious of anything but the pain that wracked my body and my mumbling attempts to tell Wally that we had to reach Fiona.

As we moved outside the air was filled with the rising and falling wail of police sirens. I could see my mother and father standing just inside at the white picket gate. They were holding hands, watching him emerge from the house. As Wally’s ability to hold me up gave way he stumbled and we both collapsed awkwardly to the ground.

I lay on my side listening to the sound of sirens growing louder. My mother had broken away from my father and was hurrying to my side. She knelt in front of me, reaching out to touch me. I could feel an encroaching cold, a silence stretching across the ground from behind me. It crept up on me, inch by inch, preparing to envelope me. I felt an abyss opening up beneath me and I was about to drop away from the world, whether to unconsciousness or death I wasn’t sure. I was only brought back to the surface of life by the feeling of my mother’s fingers in my hair. In that moment I was so close to the edge of reality that I’ll never know whether or not any of this was real but she leaned in close and whispered in my ear.

“Golden slumber kiss your eyes, smiles await you when you rise.”

I could feel her warm breath tickling my ear. I could smell her flowery perfume. She was really with me and she was saying goodbye.

“Sleep pretty baby, do not cry, and I’ll sing you a lullaby.”

I forced my heavy eyelids open and I saw her stand. My father had moved to stand beside her. They held hands and looked at each other and then back at me. I had given so much to set them free and I could feel their entwining happiness and regret. They smiled sadly and I saw them fade away.

My eyes drooped closed again as I heard my mother’s voice from somewhere.

“Care you not, therefore you sleep. While I o’er you watch do keep.”

The howling sirens grew to a crescendo and ended suddenly as I heard car doors opening and closing.

“It’s ok Jimbo,” Wally said. “Help’s here.”

I was on the cusp of falling into that dark place. It was only the pull of my need to reach Fiona that kept me from disappearing into it, but now that help was here, now that someone was here to make sure she’d be alright it was enough to send me over the edge.

“Sleep pretty darling, do not cry, and I’ll sing you a lullaby.”

28 – ‘So Far Out of My Depth’

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It took almost an hour for the Toyota Corolla that Wally had hired to arrive, pulling over and parking near where I sat waiting at the end of the street. When the car stopped Fiona popped out of the passenger door and gave me a hug.

“Woah,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“I had a bad feeling about you doing that alone Jimmy,” Fiona said.

“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m fine. Everything’s going to be alright.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yeah I do,” I said. “I trust my parents. They wouldn’t have led me here if something bad was going to happen. Come on. I need to fill you both in.”

I climbed into the back seat of the car positioning myself in the middle and leaning forward between the two front seats.

“So Sherlock,” Wally said. “did you find this guy’s house?”

I nodded. “It’s not far down the street, number 64. There’s something else though.”

“What’s that?” Fiona said, the tone of her voice betraying her worry.

“I saw others in the window. More of the dead. My parents aren’t the only victims here. I think that’s why they brought me here, they want to see justice done for more than just themselves. I think Alex Marzlin is a serial killer.”

“Jesus Jimmy,” Fiona said. “We’ve got to go to the police.”

“We’ve already been over this,” I said. “They think I’m nuts. We need proof first.”

“That’s why I brought the gear,” Wally said. He opened the drivers door, got out, retrieved the black plastic pelican case from the boot of the car and opened the rear door. “Shove over a bit,” he said as he slid in to sit next to me on the backseat. He popped the case open on his lap. “Ok,” he said. “We’ve got two mics and the video camera. The camera we can obviously take with us and the mics both have a range long enough that we should be able to park the car on the street and still be able to record with this receiver.”

“Alright,” I said. “Do you think you can fit a microphone to me so that it can’t be seen?”

“Firstly,” Wally said. “I find that somewhat insulting given you know how many cop shows I watch. Secondly, of course I can. Lift up your shirt.”

Wally took a lapel microphone out of the case and unwrapped the cord. He pulled out a roll of black electrical tape and began taping the microphone to my chest.

“You should have shaved your chest,” Wally said.

“Right,” I said, “next time I decide to go undercover I’ll keep that in mind.”

While Wally was wrapping the electrical tape completely around my torso to ensure it wouldn’t come loose Fiona was voicing her obvious concerns.

“What are you actually going to do?” she said. “Have you got any sort of plan?”

“I’m going to go up to the house,” I said. “If I can get him talking maybe I can get him to say something incriminating.”

“That’s the plan? You’re going to get a serial killer to confess on his front doorstop.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s worth a try.”

Fiona looked at me. “You’re serious?” she said. “You’re just going to walk up to his house and knock on the door?”

“If you’ve got a better idea I’m all ears, but in case you hadn’t noticed,” I said looking down at Wally running layer after layer of black tape around my chest, “we aren’t exactly professionals.”

“This time you’re definitely not going alone,” Fiona said.

“I told you I don’t want to put you in danger,” I said. “You’re not coming.”

“Well someone has to.”

Both of us looked at Wally who was breaking off the tape with his teeth, his face all but tucked up into my armpit.

“What?” he said. “I’m going to film from the car.”

Less than five minutes later the Toyota was parked outside the front fence of Alex Marzlin’s house and Wally and I were standing next to the car, ready to walk in. Fiona rolled the car window down and I leaned in and kissed her full on the lips. She had headphones around her neck that were plugged into the microphone receiver that rested on her thighs.

“Monitor the recording,” I said. “If you hear anything that makes you think something bad is happening call the police.”

She looked up at me. I smiled.

“Not that it’s going to,” I said.

I kissed her again before we pushed open the gate and began walking up to Alex Marzlin’s home. The light was dying now. Together with the shade from the dense, overbearing trees the exterior of the house had deepened to an ominous grey. The sense of foreboding that hung over the stone courtyard at the front of the house was palpable and I felt it growing thicker with every step. I looked up at the windows. They were full of the faces I’d seen. The faces of young women staring out at me flat and emotionless. I considered it best not to tell Wally that we were being watched by the victims of the serial killer who lived in this house.

“Ok,” I whispered as they approached the door, “let me talk to him.”

There was no doorbell or door knocker, this man was not someone accustomed to, or likely interested in, having visitors. I raised my fist, letting it hover in the air in front of the door for a moment. It was only then that I was growing nervous. Why was I so sure everything was going to be alright? I was letting my need to follow this to its end blind me to the fact that this was not at all safe, and I’d dragged Fiona and Wally into it too. The man I was about to confront was the man who murdered my parents. The man I was about to confront was a fucking psychopath. Fiona was right. This was ridiculous. We needed to leave and rethink this. That’s what we’d do, go somewhere and figure out a different way to approach this situation.

Wally knocked.

I dropped my hand and looked at him. Wally shrugged.

“You weren’t going to,” he said in a hushed whisper.

From inside the house came the sound of footsteps on wooden floorboards. The steps grew louder as they approached the door and then it swung open. I was hit immediately by that nauseating smell of rot and decay. It was a hundred times worse than it had been at my old house. Even before I could get a proper look at Alex Marzlin I had to turn away, covering my mouth with my hand, forcing down the urge to vomit.

“Yes?” I heard Marzlin say behind me. I tried desperately to compose myself but as I moved my head to look back I retched and felt acidic regurgitation rise up my throat and into my mouth. I swallowed, the liquid bile burning my esophagus.

“Who are you?” Marzlin spoke again. “What do you want?”

I fought to swallow my sickness at the smell radiating out from the interior of the house.

“Ah yes,” Wally said unable to withstand the awkward silence any longer. “We’re here to talk to you about Jesus.”

“Sorry,” Marzlin said. “Not interested.”

Marzlin began pushing the door but just as he did I regained enough control to stick my foot in the doorway stopping it from closing. I swallowed, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and turned to look at Marzlin wishing it were possible to somehow switch off my sense of smell.

“You’ll have to excuse my friend,” I said giving a sideways look to Wally. “He thinks he’s funny, but we do actually need to speak with you.”

Marzlin was wearing different clothes to when I’d followed him home. He was now wearing a pair of designer jeans, dark denim with dyed stains of yellow brown on the front of the thighs, and a navy blue polo shit complete with the Ralph Lauren horse and rider embroidered in pink on the breast.

“Who are you?” Alex Marzlin repeated.

This was a question I had no intention of answering right now. All I wanted was to keep him at the door for a few moments longer. Trying to subtly crane my neck and look past Marzlin I saw the women from the window. Beyond the front door was a wooden floorboard hallway leading past several rooms and to a set of double glass doors that led to the living area of the house. Off to the left was the stairway to the second floor. The women had come downstairs and were huddled together at the bottom of the stairs watching us intently. There were some I hadn’t seen through the windows, one of them, a girl with black curly hair hadn’t been there, I would have noticed one that young, she mustn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen. How many women had this maniac killed? And why were they all seemingly trapped here in this house and not following him around?

My attempt at sneaking a look into the house hadn’t gone unnoticed. Marzlin moved to block my view.

“You need to leave.” Marzlin’s tone had dropped to a dangerous level. There was venom in his words and the willingness to use it in his eyes.

“It’s fine,” I said. “We’re leaving.”

Without indicating anything to Wally I turned and walked away from the house, pushing my way out through the white gate. Behind me I heard Wally hurrying to catch him and the front door of Marzlin’s house close.

“Turn away from the car,” I whispered.

We did so, and when we were a few houses down the street Wally spoke:

“What are you doing? I thought you had some plan to get him to confess or something.”

“He won’t.”

“So that’s it then,” Wally said, “we give up?”

“No.”

I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed Fiona.

“Fi,” I said. “Marzlin is going to be leaving soon, try and stay out of sight. We’ll come back to the car when he’s gone.”

When I hung up Wally turned to look at me. “How do you know he’s leaving?”

I smiled. “Sherlock shit,” I said before ducking out of sight into a small alleyway between two houses. “He changed his clothes since he got home but not into track-pants and a t-shirt. He’s dressed to go out.”

We waited for a little over fifteen minutes and I began to think I’d been wrong about Marzlin’s impending departure, but then, sure enough his black BMW began reversing out of the driveway, turned and drove down the street away from us. I could see from here that Fiona was ducking down in the Toyota to hide from view. After the black BMW had turned at the end of the street and driven out of sight we returned to the car.

“There are spirits of women in the house,” I said. “I don’t know how many, at least five I think. Something is holding them there. I think their bodies are still in there somewhere, that’s why they can’t leave.”

Fiona looked at me with a glint of fear and worry in her eyes. “You’re going to go in aren’t you?” she said.

I nodded. “If we can find their bodies and get some evidence then the police will have to investigate.”

Wally opened the black plastic case that still rested on the seat of the car and removed the video camera. “We’ll bring this,” he said. “I’ll film anything we find.”

“I was going to go–”

“I’d prefer if Wally went with you too,” Fiona said. “What if he comes back or something?”

“You stay here and keep watch,” I said. “If you see his car coming back call my phone and we’ll get out. You drive the car away and I’ll call you about picking us up somewhere safe, but hopefully we can be in and out before that happens.”

Wally turned the camera on and played with the zoom.

“Make sure you don’t get any of our faces on the video,” I said. “I want it to be anonymous.”

Wally nodded. “You got it.”

“We’ll be in and out before you know it,” I said to Fiona.

“You better be,” she said. “Just be careful ok?”

“I will.”

 

Wally and I followed a thin stone pathway between the side of the Alex Marzlin’s house and the weather-worn grey fence separating his property from that next door. The path was overgrown with weeds and waist high grass ran all along the fence-line. It led, as I hoped it would, to the back of the house. Because the house was set much further back on the block than was usual the backyard consisted of only a metre of laid brick at the back of the house and then another metre or two to the back fence that was mostly filled with large shrubs and trees that blocked the view of the back of the house. The plant life here, as with all around the house, was unkempt and sprawled its way towards the house like slowly encroaching fingers that would one day wrap themselves around the white building.

We walked up the three wooden steps to the small area of decking that met the back door of the house. It was a raised segment of deck barely large enough to fit the small circular glass table and single chair that sat on it. Several crushed and bent cigarettes long ago smoked were pressed into the cold ashes of an ashtray in the centre of the table. I tried the handle of the back door but it was locked. A tall thin window nearby, no more than a few handspans across, revealed that the door opened into the laundry of the house, inside a washing machine rang with the high pitched hum of a spin cycle next to a wicker basket that was overflowing with dirty clothes.

On examination I saw that one side of the window could slide open. I tried to force it but found it latched closed from the inside. I pushed, jiggled and thumped the window frame but all without success. Looking around my eyes settled on the black metal chair next to the glass table.

“I’m going to break the window,” I said.

“He’s probably got an security system,” Wally said.

“Then get ready to run.”

I grabbed the back of the chair and lifted it so that the legs faced the laundry window. Wally rose onto the balls of his feet, subconsciously turning his body and preparing to run at the first indication of a wailing alarm. I stepped forward and slammed the legs of the chair into the glass of the window. There was the sound of shattering glass but no alarm, at least not an audible one. The only thing that floated out through the broken window was the rank stink of the place.

Was it the smell of murder, the stench that forever hung inside a place where someone was brutally taken from the world? I tried to ignore it, forcing down the same rising bile and used the end of the chair leg to knock out some shark fin fragments of glass left around the window frame before placing the chair back on the deck and slipping my hand through the window. I leaned in through the window, flicked the latch, and opened the door.

“I’d never broken into a house before,” I said to Wally. “Now it’s been two this week. It’s a little too easy isn’t it?”

Entering through the laundry Wally whispered to me. “What if he doesn’t live alone?”

I froze for a moment and then shrugged off the grey dread that had struck me with those words.

“No,” I said. “He lives alone.”

“How do you know?”

“A hunch.”

“A hunch?” Wally said aghast, his voice rising in pitch. “Are you kidding?”

“Nope,” I said as I opened the doorway that led out from the laundry.

The door opened into the living area of the house. It was a spacious room, but where I was expecting to see the usual furnishings of a house in a wealthy area I was shocked. The carpet was old and stained with hundreds of now unidentifiable liquids and foods. The place was mostly empty, there was an entertainment unit on one wall with a large television on top and a collection of DVDs underneath that spilled out onto the floor. A tattered brown couch was the only seating, the covering torn in areas to reveal the wooden frame and foam beneath. I could see now that the double glass doorway through to the hallway was smudged and a bore a large crack in the lower right corner.

“This place is a shit-hole,” Wally said.

“It’s the house of someone who has another obsession,” I said.

I walked into the kitchen located just off the main living area. If the living room was a shit-hole I don’t even know how to describe the kitchen. Layers of grime covered every surface. Dishes lay stacked and unwashed in the sink, there were a few plates but almost all the unwashed items were cups and mugs stained brown with coffee. Alex Marzlin apparently didn’t spend much time in his house other than early mornings and late nights. Opening the fridge I found it empty other than for an expired carton of milk, some long shriveled spinach and a random collection of condiments. So far I hadn’t seen any of the numerous spirits that seemed to be haunting this place but they had to be here somewhere, spiritually and physically. If we could find them and report the bodies to the police maybe that was what was needed to set them free, but where were they? My eyes traced up the white fridge to the freezer and I felt a queasy unease. I swallowed. The thought crossing my mind had made me feel more nauseous than I already was. I slowly took hold of the handle and pulled. The seal made a sucking sound as it popped free and the door opened. I paused for a moment, gathering my strength for what I might see and then opened the door all the way. The inside of the freezer was empty but for a supermarket container of mince and a small tub of ice cream. There were no chopped off fingers kept as souvenirs or faces of women staring out at me. I sighed.

“Why don’t you film a bit of everything down here?” I said. “See if you can find anything suspicious. I’ll have a look upstairs.”

I left the kitchen and walked out through the glass double doors to the hallway I had seen from the front door. I turned up the stairs. At the top I saw the door of the bathroom partially open and through it I could see one of the women looking at herself in the mirror, pulling the skin down beneath her ivory white eyes, examining them as someone would a new pimple or blemish. It was the girl with curly black hair. The one who looked the youngest of them all. I walked slowly to the door, and gently pushed it open not wanting to startle her and send her skittering away like a frightened animal. The irony of trying not to frighten a ghost.

“Hello?” I said.

The girl turned to look at me. She stared for a long time as if she had just been woken from a long sleep and was trying to process the face she was seeing. She looked confused as she began to speak, her mouth moved but as with all the dead no sound came from her lips. She was indicating her eyes, she was asking what was wrong with her eyes. The girl was moving her mouth, leaning forward as if asking whether I could hear her. Becoming more animated she turned back to the mirror, looking at her eyes again. It was only then that I saw the way her dark hair was mattered at the back. She had been hit over the head with something and blood had congealed among her curls. I had seen far more gruesome ghosts, and others had stared at me with more chilling eyes or screamed at me with unbridled rage but this girl scared me in another way. The way she acted turned my blood cold and left me feeling hollow. This girl didn’t know she was dead. She didn’t understand what had happened to her.

It was only then I noticed the woman in the bath. She was naked. I had to look away, but not just out of a sense of dignity for the woman, but because her torso had been mutilated. She had been cut open from the base of the throat down to the pelvis and the skin was folded over on one side revealing the deep red of blood and tissue around the defined shapes of ribs. On the other side, where the skin still lay over her chest, I could see a patch of bleeding red where her breast had been hacked off. I looked back, almost instinctively, to see her head turn as she looked at me with dead eyes out from a face that was speckled with red droplets of blood.

I left the room, holding my hands over my mouth coughing and gagging.

“Jesus,” I said under my breath. “Shit.”

This was insane. I was so far out of my depth I couldn’t even see the surface.

“Jimmy!” Wally called from down stairs. “I’ve found some–”

His voice was cut off with a sudden thump.

“Wally?” I called back.

There was no reply.

“Wally?” I tried again, louder and more insistent this time.

Still nothing.

“Wally, are you ok?” I called as I made my way back down the stairs. When I reached the bottom I saw that Wally most definitely wasn’t ok, and neither was I.

27 – ‘Women in the Windows’

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I was woken by a knocking on the door. I stirred, trying to clear the sleep from my bleary eyes with the base of my palm. The last few days had been both physically and mentally trying and I had been left exhausted. I realised that Fiona was already up, wrapping herself in one of the robes that had been hanging in the bathroom and was moving to answer the door. From the bed I couldn’t see the entrance to the hotel room, I looked at the clock, it was past eleven. I recognised the obnoxious mid-west American accent floating into the room.

“Fi! You’re finally answering Jimmy’s door again,” Wally said. “Does that mean you two are getting back together?”

I groped around the floor for my boxer shorts hoping to be at least minimally clothed before Wally came into the room. Looking over the side of the bed I grabbed them, dragged them up under the covers and hastily slipped them on. None too soon as Wally walked in and announced himself with his arms spread wide, as enthusiastic about greeting me as he always was. A black plastic pelican case dangled from his right hand.

“Jimbo!”

“Wally,” I said, pushing myself up so that I sat against the bed-head. “I thought you’d gone home.”

Wally smiled. “No such luck for you Jimmy,” he said holding up the pelican case. “I’m here to help.”

“Help with what?”

“Help with what?” Wally said, looking at Fiona. “This guy, I thought he was supposed to be smart.” He looked back to me. “Help you get justice for your parents of course.”

I looked questioningly at Fiona.

“I called him this morning,” Fiona said.

“She explained everything,” Wally said. “Don’t worry Jimmy, we’re going to get this guy put away for a long time.”

“I didn’t think you’d mind me telling your best friend,” Fiona said. “Besides we need help.”

“That’s right,” Wally said. “Your best friend with the goods.”

Wally unceremoniously dumped the black plastic case on the bed, flicked the two yellow clips and opened the lid. Inside was a video camera, two lapel microphones, a microphone receiver and a digital recorder.

“Fi told me about your visit to the police. Doesn’t sound like they’ll listen if you saunter in there and tell them that your psychic powers told you this, what was his name? Alex Marzlin? killed your parents. You’ll need to go to them with some evidence and this is everything we need to collect it,” Wally said.

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“I’ve been around,” Wally answered. “Just trying to see how quickly I can get myself deported from this country of yours.”

“I’m serious Wally. I haven’t seen you since The Other Side was cancelled. I thought you’d gone back to America.”

“Just been waiting to leap into action,” Wally said posing like a superhero with his fists pressed firmly into his hips.

“I thought you’d abandoned me.”

Wally’s arms dropped to his sides.

“Nah Jimbo,” he said, his brow furrowed and his voice dropped from its usual high octave as a rare crack formed in his playful demeanour. “I just thought you might need some space and, you know…” He trailed off looking at the floor and scuffing his foot like a child being reprimanded.

“Some space?” I said. “Some space for what? Because being alone certainly makes it easier when you start seeing corpses walking around. I know I scared you with that stuff about your grandfather but I thought we were past that. You’re supposed to be someone I can rely on.”

“Jimmy–,” Fiona began but Wally interrupted.

“No,” Wally said. “He’s right. The truth is I was scared. I know I said I was alright but the stuff about my grandfather and your breakdown on the show, it all scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know whether to go or stay but then Fi called and said you needed help and, well, here I am.”

I pulled the bed-sheet off and stood. I walked to Wally and took hold of his shoulders. Wally looked him up and down.

“Are you going to hug me in your underwear?” Wally said. “Because that might be weird.”

“You’re a real jerk,” I said, my true feelings betrayed by the smile on my face.

“Just one thing,” Wally said raising his finger between our faces. “Don’t be telling me about any hocus pocus ghosts that are following me around, deal?”

“Deal.”

“I liked it better when you were a fraud,” Wally said.

“Me too, I said. “Me too.”

It was a relief having Wally there. I hadn’t realised how disappointed and betrayed I’d felt at his sudden, uncharacteristic disappearance.

“I know you two want to help,” I said. “But I don’t want you getting into any trouble. I think this is something I should do on my own. This guy could be dangerous and I’ve already dragged Fiona into several illegal activities in the last few days.”

“You didn’t drag me into anything Jimmy,” Fiona said sternly. “I came along because I wanted to.”

“You know,” Wally said. “Saying this guy is dangerous doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in us letting you do this on your own.”

I looked from my wife to my best friend. They both had the same look on their faces, stubbornness.

“Well then,” I said. “If you come along you have to do as I say without arguing?”

Both of them immediately began arguing, disputing the fact that I was being a typical male (this from Fiona) or that I couldn’t give orders like some military commander (this from Wally). I raised my hand.

“Only one of us can see the dead,” I said, “and I have a feeling we’re going to need their help on this one so if I tell you to do something just do it ok?”

They both murmured in half-agreement.

“So,” Wally said. “What’s the plan boss?”

“I guess we do the same thing we did yesterday,” I said. “We’ll follow him. Except this time maybe someone else should drive.”

 *

Several hours later Wally had collected another hire car, this one from a different company to the one whose car I had slammed into the back of Peter Kingswood’s Mercedes. We were planning to leave the hotel and drive the short distance to the building that housed Carnegie, Carnegie and Woodrow. As we walked out of the hotel room I excused myself to go to the bathroom telling the others I’d catch up with them downstairs, they might as well go down and get the car while I was in the toilet.

In the bathroom I flicked on the light, it was one of those annoying hotel bathrooms where the overhead fan clicked on with the light and a dull whirring began in the roof. I closed the door behind me and locked it. Turning to face the mirror I placed my hands on the marble bench-top either side of the basin and lowered my head. After a moment I turned on the cold tap letting the water run for a few seconds before cupping my hands underneath it and splashing cool water on my face. I looked up into the mirror again unconcerned with the water that was falling onto the front of my navy blue polo shirt. I took the hand towel from the golden railing and patted my face dry. I rolled the soft white towel into a rough ball and placed it beside the sink. I turned, supporting myself with my hands as I half sat on the marble bench. I looked up at the ceiling.

“Dad,” I said. “I’m not sure if you can hear me. I’m not sure if you’re always around and I can only see you sometimes or if you aren’t here and I’m just talking to a hotel bathroom. But if you can hear me I’m sorry. I’m sorry I blamed you for so long for something you didn’t do. I know it probably doesn’t mean much now but I’m sorry for thinking bad of you for so many years and never speaking to you the way I tried to speak to Mum. I’m also sorry I sent you away. I understand why you’re angry. I’m angry too. I want to tear this Alex Marzlin apart but I know I need to do both of you proud by not doing that. I’m going to need your help though. I’m going after him and I’m going to need you to guide me.”

I stopped, looking around the room there was nothing, my father had not appeared. I sighed but as I turned to leave I caught a glimpse of something in the mirror. I saw myself in the mirror and there, reflected behind me was my father. I spun to look over my shoulder but there was no one there. When I looked back there he was in the mirror still reflected behind him. He nodded, and I understood. My father was with me. He would help me end this today. Not for himself, but for my mother. My father was not trapped here as well, angry at what had happened to him. He was here because his wife was trapped and that was what angered him. Soon I hoped my father would never need to be angry again. He would be free to go with his wife to wherever it was they were supposed to be.

I leaned forward and touched the spot on the mirror where my father’s face was reflected. I turned, and walked from the room.

 *

“So how will we know if he comes out?” Wally asked drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in front of him. We were sitting in the car, this time a dark blue Toyota Corolla, parked opposite and slightly down the road from the building on La Trobe Street that contained the offices of Carnegie, Carnegie and Woodrow. We had driven around the block for over an hour waiting for a parking space to become available from which we would be able to see the glass and faux black marble fronted building in which the prestige law firm took up several floors.

“I don’t think it’ll be long now,” I said.

It was 5:34 pm and Wally and Fi had both become worried that we’d missed Alex Marzlin for the day but I knew this wasn’t the case. I’d seen my father walking down the street. He had come from somewhere behind us and approached the entrance to the building unconcerned with the mass exodus of suits from the city.

“Why do you say that?” Wally asked.

I smiled. “Because Dad’s waiting for him too.”

My father paced back and forth along the footpath in front of the revolving doors of the building, pedestrians passed through him without knowing he was there. Then, almost without warning, he spun and stood perfectly still, staring at the door to the building. I stiffened in the passenger seat of the car, the others noticed.

“What is it?” Fiona asked.

“I think he’s coming.”

The ghost of my father was moving closer and closer to the entrance. Several people came out. Each time I wondered which one of them might be Alex Marzlin. Then a man walked out who my father didn’t ignore. He moved in front of the door as the man exited the turning glass. I couldn’t see my father’s face but I knew it would be alight with rage. As the man stepped out on the street my father became animated, like a child shaking his fists trying to contain his rage. The man, completely unaware of the anger being directed at him, slipped on a pair of Ray-Bans and turned into the street. This was Alex Marzlin.

Marzlin wore a grey tailored suit, a crisp white shirt and a sapphire neck tie. He moved down the street with the sense of superiority that cuts its way through a crowd. Despite the crowded footpath he didn’t break his walking line for anyone, instead they parted around him. He was tall, not noticeably muscular but wide-shouldered and his auburn hair was cut short on the sides, long enough on top to be styled. He was a handsome man in his mid-30s. I wasn’t really sure why that surprised me. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected, some kind of drooling maniac with a swastika tattooed on his forehead, but he was nothing like that. He looked normal. As he began walking away down the street my father looked back towards the car and beckoned for us to follow.

“That’s him.” I pointed him out to Wally and Fiona. “Walking down the street in the grey suit, blue tie. That’s Alex Marzlin.”

“You’re sure?” Wally said.

“One hundred percent,” I said.

Alex Marzlin had stopped at the nearby intersection and waited to cross. On the opposite corner from where Marzlin stood was the Flagstaff Train Station. I opened the door to the car.

“I think he’s going to the train station,” I said.

The light at the intersection changed and Marzlin began to cross the street with the crowd of people.

“You guys stay here. I’m going to follow him on the train. I’ll call you when I know where he’s going and you can meet me there.”

“No way,” Fiona said, shifting to get out of the car as well. “I’m coming with you.”

I fixed her with a stare that was equally parts stern and loving. “Fi,” I said. “You promised me. Stay with Wally I’ll call you when I know where his house is.”

“Only if you promise me that you’ll wait for us before you do anything,” she said.

I nodded. “I’ll wait. I love you.”

“I love you too snookums,” Wally said.

I smiled, shaking my head as I got out of the car and hurried off towards the train station moving quickly so I didn’t lose sight of Marzlin amongst the other pedestrians.

Realising I didn’t have a ticket I was held up at the entrance to the station while I pulled out my wallet and used the ticket vending machine. I was all too aware that every moment I spent slipping coin after coin into the slot of the machine was time that Alex Marzlin was slipping away. I waited impatiently for the machine’s synthetic scratching and scraping as it printed my ticket. As soon as it emerged with a sudden click from the dispenser I grabbed it and, ignoring the complaints, pushed my way to the front of the line, passing through the barriers into the station.

I ignored the young people in red t-shirts trying to shove some piece of marketing into my hands and searched the crowded area for Marzlin or my father. A constant stream of people were making their way down the escalators to the subway platforms, perhaps Marzlin had already gone down. There were four platforms at this station, I hoped I could get down and search them all before Marzlin’s train arrived and I lost him, but I doubted I would have time for that. I tried to reassure myself that if I lost him now we could find him again tomorrow. It was no big deal. I knew what he looked like. Yet that didn’t seem right. There was a sense of pressure driving me on. A feeling that this needed to end tonight.

My eyes searched the top level of the station and, as if guided by some unknown force, they found Marzlin. He was standing at a small kiosk off to the side of the station buying a bottle of water and a newspaper. My father stood nearby. Marzlin turned and joined the crowd heading down the escalators towards the platforms. I followed staying a dozen or more people back but not taking my eyes off him.

At the bottom of the first escalator Marzlin turned right and walked onto platform 2. I stood maybe five metres down the platform watching as Marzlin tucked his purchased newspaper under his arm, unscrewed the lid of the water bottle and took a long swallow. He replaced the lid and brought the newspaper back out from under his arm reading over the front page with it doubled over in his hands. I looked away as Marzlin glanced up from his newspaper, turning his head to look down the platform in my direction. I stared out over the train tracks as nonchalantly as possible trying to ignore the feeling of rising heat on the skin of my neck. Without needing to look I could tell that Marzlin was watching me. I could feel it physically, like a layer of slime moving in slow swirls over every millimetre of my skin. I could smell him too. The cold air that moved down the subway tunnel carried a subtle odour to me, that same stench of week old roadkill I’d smelled at my childhood home.

After several long moments I couldn’t resist the urge any longer and I turned to look at Marzlin again. He was opening his newspaper, folding the first page back and then bending the paper in the half over his hand making it easier to hold. Seconds after I’d turned to looked at him, as if he could sense it, Marzlin looked at me. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments and I stared into the dark eyes of the man who had walked up the stairs of my home and put a bullet in the face of my mother and another in the temple of my father.

I looked away quickly. My heart rate quickened and my chest began to rise and fall with short nervous breaths. Had I seemed too eager to look away? I thought so. It must have been obvious to Marzlin that I’d been watching him and had been caught in the act. Surely he couldn’t suspect anything. Maybe he recognised me from television. Being on an internationally syndicated show meant that I was recognised quite regularly, however given that my show was something of a niche and one of those shows that everyone knew about but not many people actually watched a lot of people would walk past me and have that nagging sensation of knowing me from somewhere. They would usually do a double take and then stare at me for some time while they tried to figure out who I was. Perhaps that was all Alex Marzlin was doing, trying to figure out where he may have recognised me from. I didn’t know whether this was a good thing or not.

A few minutes later I felt cool air rushing onto the platform as it was pushed down the dark subway tunnel unable to escape the force of a train rattling through the darkness. An announcement declared that the next train to depart from platform 2 would be the 5:50 Frankston train. The echo of wheels on tracks followed and train headlights cut through the darkness. I watched carefully. From the way Marzlin stopped reading, folded the newspaper tightly, sipped some water and absentmindedly pulled his phone from his pocket checking the screen before putting it away again it seemed as though this was going to be the train he boarded. Sure enough, when the hum of the electric motors died away and the high pitched squeal of brakes brought the blue and grey Metro train to a stop at the platform Alex Marzlin stepped forward. The doors beeped and buzzed as they popped outwards and slid open. Marzlin walked onto the train. In an effort to dispel any sense of suspicion that Marzlin may have had about me I boarded the same carriage at the next door down putting some space between us.

It was peak hour so the train was sardine-can packed with city workers looking tired and dejected and wanting to get home to whatever waited for them in the life they had outside of the working day. I squeezed onto the train, apologising for stepping on the foot of a businessman I was forced to move uncomfortably close to. As the train departed the station I moved, adjusting myself slightly so that I had line of sight to Marzlin who, standing similarly squished among a crowd of suits was luckily facing away from me.

We rode the train for several stops, the sardines gradually thinning the further we got from the city. I had not taken my eyes off Marzlin who now had enough space that he had resumed browsing his newspaper. He had not looked in my direction the entire trip which was a relief. I hoped that he’d completely forgotten about the man who had been staring at him at the train station. When we reached Toorak station Marzlin got off the train and so I did the same. Enough people disembarked here that it was easy for me to become one of the crowd as we moved along the platform and followed the undercover walkway leading away from the station. It became more difficult to remain unnoticed when the passengers I walked with exited the station and began to split off in different directions. I slowed my pace as I turned out of the train station and began walking down a suburban street allowing Marzlin to pull almost fifty metres ahead as I followed him.

I followed Marzlin along a tree-lined street through what was one of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs. The houses tucked in behind their brown rendered fences, or their white picket fences or their short brick fences were not all large but they were all well-kept. Immaculately trimmed hedges bordered front lawns that had not a blade of grass out of place. Parked all along the side of the road were Mercedes, Audis and BMWs, the polish on their bodies shone with the fragmented green light that came down through the canopy above where the branches of the large Elm trees growing on either side of the street touched, their leaves intermingling so that it became impossible to say where one tree ended and another began.

Up ahead I saw my father standing beside the wide trunk of one of the Elms. He stood calmly, doing nothing but turning his head to watch as Alex Marzlin walked past. His white eyes followed him for a long time before they turned back to look at me. As I past my father nodded to me.

Ahead Marzlin’s pace slowed and I saw his head turn ever so slightly, as if he was resisting the urge to look back. He knew he was being followed. I swallowed. I increased my speed, closing the gap between myself and Alex Marzlin, watching him as I did so. Marzlin must have heard the increase in my footsteps or sensed that he was being so intently watched because he stiffened as he walked. I was walking much faster than Marzlin now and drawing closer and closer. When I was twenty metres behind him Marzlin started turning to look back at me and I veered casually off the footpath pushing open the white paling gate of the nearest house paying no attention to the man ahead of me.

I followed the path of stones set in the grass of the front yard and walked up the few steps to the porch as if this were my house, waiting as long as I could before I hazarded a look along the street. Marzlin was continuing his walk home and hopefully no longer suspicious that someone was behind him. I hurried back down the steps and crouched beside the tall fence separating the driveway from the house next door. Carefully peering out I saw Marzlin enter a house ten or twelve houses up the street from where I was. I stayed crouched beside the fence waiting for several minutes before I crossed to the other side of the street and positioned myself behind an Elm tree opposite Marzlin’s house.

The house was well suited to its wealthy surrounds while at the same time looking slightly out of place and somewhat more ominous than its neighbours. An older two-storey white brick home, it was set further back from the road than the houses around it and the facade of the house was mostly hidden from view by a garden of vastly overgrown trees. The whole of the bottom floor was obscured but I could clearly see the two of the three second storey windows. They were dark and the sky that was now growing overcast threw the white reflections of clouds over the glass making it difficult to see inside. As I watched there was a flash of indistinct movement behind one of the windows. I quickly moved my body further back behind the tree hoping I was hiding myself from view. I moved my head out from cover just enough so that I could see the window but when it came into view fear instantly filled me with a gripping shiver of cold. There was someone in the window looking back out. Looking at me.

I swung around, planting my back against the rough bark of the tree trunk. Even as my mind raced I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right, something about the face in the window. I looked again. The person in the window was not Alex Marzlin. It was a girl. A girl with black hair that tightly bordered the dark skin of her face and in stark contrast to the colour of her skin I saw, even through the glare on the window, that her eyes were the white of the dead. She was standing at the window looking out like a storybook princess trapped in the witch’s tower. She lifted her hand in a sombre, stationary wave before turning away.

Then there was someone else in the window. My panic rose again but only lasted a second before I saw it was another woman. This one was older, her hair a lighter brown and tousled as though she had been in a gusty wind. She too had white eyes. My eyes flicked to the other window where another figure stood watching me. Another dead woman and I was sure I could see another one craning to look out the window as well.

I became aware that my mother and father had both appeared. They stood on the other side of the street holding hands and looking up at the four dead women in the windows. Together they turned to look at me. The emotions they felt, the emotions that seemed to define them in death were not only for themselves, they were not only for me, they were far heavier than that. My parents had been wronged, there was no doubt that their untimely death was keeping them tied to this world, but all this was larger than them. They had brought me to this place because my parents were not the only people this monster had killed. My mother was not only sad for her own death or for the death of her husband, she was in grief for everyone Alex Marzlin had harmed. My father may well have been angry that their life had been cut short, but he boiled over with a rage more powerful that Marzlin had not been stopped then, that he had gone on to destroy the lives of others.

I wanted nothing but to run into the house. To kick the door into splinters and burst in on Marzlin, throwing him to the ground and screaming at him, but I knew this would accomplish nothing. Besides, I had made a promise to Fiona and from now on I was going to keep all my promises to her. I turned away from my parents and from the women in the windows house and walked up the street. When I was well away I phoned Fiona, told her where I was, and, as I’d promised, I sat and waited for them to arrive.

26 – ‘The One This Woman Deserved’

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Returning to the car I stood and watched the silver Mercedes as it drove off the grass and retreated down the road with its bodywork dented and taillights shattered like the face of a beaten boxer. Once I’d assured him no one would ever know it was he who had revealed the truth about the death of my parents, Peter Kingswood had phoned his wife and his insurance company and after explaining that he’d been in an accident he reassured both of them that although it wasn’t his fault he was perfectly fine and didn’t want to press charges because after all these things happen. I called the emergency contact for the rental car company. While the Hyundai’s engine still fired the broken bumper scraped hideously against the front wheel buckling and cracking, it was all I could do to limp the car clear of the road. There was nothing we could do but sit inside and wait for the tow truck. We’d have to pay the insurance excess but even with the show cancelled money wasn’t going to be a concern for some time.

I was unaware how long I sat in contemplative silence. It was like my mind was rebooting, after everything that had happened over the course of the last few days it was trying to update itself. Seventeen years of my life I’d believed one thing about my parents, the one constant in my life had been their death. Now my understanding of that was changing on a daily basis. I’d been hurtling towards a truth that I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but it was a truth that would set my parents free and in doing so, I understood now, it would set me free as well. Now that truth had a name, Alex Marzlin.

“Are you alright Honey?’ Fiona asked. I hadn’t even noticed her hand on my shoulder.

“Honey?” I said. Was that a slip of the tongue or did she mean it?

“What?”

“You just haven’t called me Honey in a long time that’s all.”

“You don’t want me to?”

“Of course I do,” I said turning in the driver’s seat and taking her hand.

“Well good,” Fiona said. “Because I’m your wife so I can call you whatever I want.”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah, but I could be calling you things that are much worse so think yourself lucky.”

“I meant,” I said, “about being my wife.”

We both stopped talking. I looked into Fiona’s eyes as she stared back at me, even as I watched I could see her eyes redden and glaze over, a single tear forming along her lower eyelid and running out the corner of her eye and down her cheek. I felt rising heat behind my own eyes as I fought back the urge to do the same.

“You hurt me very badly Jimmy,” Fiona said.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I wanted to hate you. I wanted to stay with Simon and hurt you like you hurt me but I couldn’t do it. No matter how much I tried, no matter how betrayed I felt, I couldn’t let go.”

She reached down to the floor of the car and lifted her large red handbag onto her lap. Unclipping the thick buckle across the opening she reached inside and removed a small plastic ziplock bag containing a scrunched up piece of tissue paper. She opened the bag, pulled out the paper and unfolded it. I saw that it contained a small golden object, her wedding ring. She slipped it onto the ring finger of her left hand and held it out, fingers raised, as if she were admiring it for the first time.

“It looks better on,” she said.

“Fi,” I said. “I’m sorry, so sorry about everything. I love you so mu–”

She leant over and stopped me with a kiss on the lips. It was not the tongue prodding passionate kiss of the young and lustful, it was not the kiss of a long unseen friend, it was the steady kiss of a deep set love. When Fiona pulled away I was crying, a tear crawled down my face slowly and silently.

“I need you,” I said, and it was true I needed her in a way that no beautiful young thing in a bar could fulfil.

Fiona reached out and wiped the tear from my face. “I know,” she said. “Now more than ever.”

We sat in silence in the car Fiona resting her head on my shoulder. Her hair tickled the underside of my nose when I turned my face to kiss her on top of the scalp. She placed her hand on my chest.

“I’m not ready to say that I forgive you,” Fiona said after a long while, “but I am ready to try and get there.”

I didn’t say anything. I just kissed her dark hair again and smiled. I was full of relief and warmth. These words were better than forgiveness because I knew that now, when forgiveness came, it would be real and lasting and I would never do anything to hurt Fiona again. I wouldn’t waste this second chance. I would be the husband I should always have been, the one this woman deserved.

 

That night, when we finally made it back to my hotel, my wife and I, for the first time in more than a month, shared a bed.