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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.”