By Andrew R Duckworth
Disclaimer: The following short story has many themes that some may find disturbing. Among those themes and imagery are a reference to suicide, gruesome imagery, an ongoing theme of anxiety, and many others. It is a short work of horror fiction and thus appeals to readers who are familiar with horror genre fiction. The author recommends that those uncomfortable with such references and imagery continue no further.
Michael splashed his face with some cold water from the sink. His mind reeled as he gazed into the mirror. It was the first time in over a decade of investigative work that a rush of nausea hit him so quickly. He had seen terrible things: mutilated bodies, disemboweled victims, exit wounds that had painted walls a fresh coat of crimson. Yet, the scene in the Lancaster dining room was mild compared to it all. A single stab wound to the upper torso, piercing Rayburn Lancaster's heart. Why was this so different? Michael Craft considered the possibility that he may be ill. Doubtful. No chills, no headache, nothing. When Michael go sick, he was usually down for a couple of days. No, it was different looking into those lifeless eyes of Rayburn, as if he knew the man. But the Lancasters were new to Portland from what Rayburn's wife Marianne told him. they had traveled from out of state shortly before the stock market crash. The crash, that's what made Marianne suspect it might have been suicide. Michael wasn't convinced. There were two guns in the house, kept perfectly clean and in great condition. If the man was going to take his own life, a bullet to the skull was the way a lot of other folk were doing it. Rayburn was stabbed, but they hadn't been in Portland long enough to make any enemies. The home showed no signs of forced entry. With the murder weapon missing, what would prompt Marianne to think it a suicide? Maybe she wanted desperately for her husband to have some control over his own fate, the only certainty that existed for a lot of people. Or maybe the thought of some sick killer on the loose disturbed her. It was all work for Michael, as disconnected and cold as it seemed. They were close to ruling out the possibility of a domestic disturbance with Marianne's alibi. It was a head scratcher, but one that left Michael with a deep sinking feeling. Something important was missing. Patting his face with a hand towel, Michael looked back at his reflection. Sunken in and bloodshot eyes peered back at him, soulless, uncaring, as if some silent rage brewed somewhere in Michael's skull, unreached and undefined. How he wanted to swing a closed fist into that mirror. Maybe it was some sort of tucked away, pent-up rage left over from the Great War. Maybe it was something else. "Ey, Mike. You doing okay?" Detective Kramer must have finished questioning Marianne. It was fine by Michael. The sooner they could leave the Lancaster home, the better. The place was unsettling and Michael still felt as if someone gripped his stomach. "Yeah, be out in a second." "Everything alright?" questioned Kramer. "Yeah, don't know what got into me," said Michael, the vile taste still on his tongue as he stepped out into the hallway. "Hasn't happened to me in a full decade on the job." "Not to worry," assured Kramer. "Finished questioning Marianne Lancaster. Her story holds up. Briggs is checking with the State Street Diner, but a coworker has already vouched for her. Why don't you head on home. We got this covered. We'll finish up here. Just get some rest." Michael Craft hated the idea of rest. Home was a lonely place with a thousand demons. Cabinets were filled with whiskey, a habit he was forced to hide as of late. Then again, the nausea kept flowing, one wave after the next. Perhaps he was sick. Either way, his body craved rest. "Craft?" said Kramer. "Sound good?" "Yeah, sorry," acknowledged Michael as he grabbed his hat off of the coat rack and placed it loosely on his head. Walking out of the house, Michael got a good look at Marianne sobbing on the sofa, another lady, possibly the coworker Kramer spoke of, doing her best to comfort her. Back in the dining room was the corpse of Rayburn in a pool of blood on an otherwise spotless wooden floor. And then out onto the porch and the sidewalk. Darkness. The street lights were little help, too dim to make a real difference. All along State Street, the street lamps barely glowed. The trees across the brick street, hanging over the patrol car and Michael's Model-T, rattled with bare branches scraping against one another creating a hiss that filled the neighborhood. A windy night, lonely and cool. Michael flipped up his jacket collar and sturdied his hat as he made his way to his car. An ungodly cold had settled over the city in what seemed like the short time Michael visited the Lancaster residence. But it must have been longer than he thought. His failing sense of time was just another oddity to add to the ever rising stack. He got into his car and shoved a Chesterfield between his lips. The cigarette fizzled as he lit the end with one of the last matches in his matchbook. for a moment, Michael wanted nothing more than to sit back and watch the smoke rise from the ember and think about something besides the scene inside the Lancaster house. Cigarettes didn't usually appeal to him when he was sick, but Michael needed to calm down and focus his mind elsewhere. The smoke twisted and curled as it stretched from the ember in a thin, gray line towards the roof of the car, dancing about in front of his eyes. he took in a long drag, held it for a second, and released a cloud into the enclosed Model-T. It billowed over everything, blanketing over the steering wheel. As the smoke collided with the windshield, it spread out and, for a moment, Michael could swear he saw something that unnerved him even more. A skull, perfectly formed. An omen of some kind. Michael flinched and sank back into the driver's seat. He watched as the skull faded off, the smoke dispersing about the cabin. It was a signal to get the car moving. By the time Michael parked next to the apartment building, lightheadedness made it hard to focus. His breathing and heart rate quickened, Michael being able to feel the pulse in his neck and temples. Hands trembling, he stepped out of the car and made his way inside the lobby. Only a few lat nighters still stirring, all at the bar drinking what would have been whiskey in better times, just juice of some kind now. The staircase... the hallway... eventually, Michael stumbled upon his apartment, 312. Fumbling around for his keys, Michael patted and fidgeted around in his coat. "Michael? Late night?" The voice of Dr. Anderson was unmistakable, a gravelly, aged, yet bold tone. Michael turned to see the skeletal frame in a gray suit and black tie, Dr. Anderson's gray hair thinning and his sunken in cheeks standing out. But those eyes, always narrowed as if suspecting. Dr. Anderson was a psychologist, currently specializing in some sort of hypnotherapy. He often caught corner of the eye glances of skeptical residents as he went in and out of his apartment. "Would have been later. Look, doc, I think I might be sick," Michael held his hand out to motion for Dr. Anderson to stay at a distance. "Pity," said Dr. Anderson. "Why, by the look of it, you seem to be just a bit... anxious." "Been a really strange night, doc," said Michael. "Hard to describe." "Well, would you like to talk it over?" asked Dr. Anderson. "No need to worry about being ill. I doubt that is the case. With the way you work, I would say you are simply suffering from exhaustion. And, even so, I can look through my medicine stores if you would like." Michael was the only resident at the apartment building to visit Dr. Anderson. It helped in most cases to talk out his issues, but he could not help but feel as though he was a subject being studied carefully as Dr. Anderson scribbled away on his notepad. Still yet, Michael felt as if he spoke about what he was going through, perhaps the strange feeling surrounding anything and everything would drift away, as if Dr. Anderson had some magic wand that could cure these things. "Sure," said Michael. "Yeah, maybe that's what I need. I just need to clear my head and maybe if I just get today off my mind..." "That's the spirit." Michael sat in a chair in the living room. Every wall was a book shelf apart from one window giving a view of the streets below. The set up was a bit different. As Michael sat in the chair, Dr. Anderson sat across from him rather than having Michael get comfortable on the couch. Dangling before him was a ticking pocket watch controlled by Dr. Anderson. Back and forth. "What are we doin' here, doc? A little different from my last visits, huh?" "It's something that is currently being studied," said Dr. Anderson, "A particular form of hypnotherapy. I feel that this will help you a great deal. Allow me explain just a bit. This will put you in a certain state where you will be able to purge your anxieties." "Sounds like magic, doc." "I suppose some would call it such. But I'm a man of science, Michael." Back and forth, the watch swung. The ticking filled the room as Dr. Anderson continued to speak, his voice sounding more distant with each word. "Now, Michael, don't be alarmed. Your eyes will get extremely heavy. In a way, you will be sleeping. Yet, your mind will be very active and you will be just awake enough to get all of that worry out." "Michael." Dr. Anderson's voice was clear, bold. The raspiness was gone, but it was clearly Dr. Anderson speaking to him. Michael was no longer in the seat. He wasn't quite sure where he was, but he had the feeling of standing up, although his feet touched no surface. Floating amid a darkness one can only experience in a cave, Michael turned his head in any direction he could for any sign of light. "Michael, can you hear me?" "Where are you?" asked Michael, little strength in his voice. "I am some place different," said Dr. Anderson. "Perhaps it would be better if I clarified where you are. At the moment, you are deep within your own mind. Let's just say that you are in a safe place." "It's dark." "Yes, I assumed as much," said Dr. Anderson. "But now, you're exactly where I need you to be in order for this to work." "I don't get it, doc. For what to work?" "Michael, what are your thoughts about time travel?" "Time travel?" Michael puzzled over the question for a moment. "What does that have to do with anything?" "Well, if you must know, everything," answered Dr. Anderson. "Think about it. You're in the perfect place to do so. Every time we access our memory, what are we doing, Michael?" "Do you want me to answer 'time traveling?'" "Well, in a sense," said Dr. Anderson. "Obviously, we are not really traveling back in time. We are simply reliving what our mind recorded... and the mind can be a terrible recorder, full of biases and projected emotion. For a while, I thought that perhaps time travel was impossible. But then I found a book that answered that very question, Michael, the question of whether it was possible to influence and thus change events in the past." "How is this helpin' me, doc?" "Let's just say that I've helped you several times before," said Dr. Anderson. "I do indeed plan to help you, Michael, but, first, you'll be helping me." "I am in a really dark place right now and I can't see anything," said Michael. "How am I supposed to do anything." "I'll be getting to that in just a moment," clarified Dr. Anderson. "In the war, you did some very terrible things." "We all did, doc," said Michael. "We did it for country." "Yes, for country," said Dr. Anderson. "Today, you'll be doing another terrible thing. You'll be doing it for me." "What the hell?" "Now, no need to be alarmed, Michael. It is not anything you haven't done before. The book I spoke of, remember?" "Yeah, the weird one about time travel?" "Well, it's a very old book. It is written in a now dead language of Abcainus," explained Dr. Anderson. "It spells out the knowledge carried by a civilization that passed away long ago. They had a much closer relationship to the beings beyond this reality than we have. Not only does the book explain that time travel is possible, it explains exactly how to do it." "This doesn't make any sense." "To you, no. This will be your first time experiencing such a thing," said Dr. Anderson. "Things should be becoming much clearer in the next few moments." The darkness began to fade. Furniture came into view. A table, chairs, a candelabra, broken glass on the floor... and a body. The scene was frighteningly familiar. A man, not yet thirty, in a nice suit lying in a pool of blood. It was Rayburn Lancaster, a fresh stab wound in his chest. And he was still alive, his breathing labored as he gurgled on the floor in a mess of blood and glass. "Who... Who are you?" asked the dying Rayburn, his eyes cast upon his killer. "How is this possible?" "Oh, Michael," Dr. Anderson's voice boomed around the room. "Many things are possible. Focus on the book if you would, please." Michael's grip tightened only to find a sharp pain in his hand. He looked down towards his fist to find it tightened around a very long glass shard. The reality struck Michael that the shard had been used to stab Rayburn. "Did I do this?" Rayburn's head fell hard on the floor as he succumbed to the wound. "Yes and no," answered Dr. Anderson. "The answer to your question is very complex, you see. Rayburn Lancaster, that thief, that fiend, was stabbed at 8:10 in the evening. At the time, it must have been quite a frightening experience for him as he never would have seen it. You had not yet entered the equation. Time has a strange way of making sure everything lines up the way it must, even taking future events into consideration. Time is an animal, Michael, with a mind of its own. I sent you back just where you needed to be to smash the mirror in the bathroom, grab a shard, and put an end to that thief once and for all. The book I spoke of, he stole it. It is mine and I require it. Do you understand?" "I just killed a guy." "Oh, Michael, as if it is something you haven't done." "There was no honor in this!" "And there was during the war? Because your government told you to?" "Because America and America's interests depended on it!" "Well, good for you," said Dr. Anderson. "The army trained you well. Now, you'll have to work quick. You don't have much time. Marianne will be coming through the door in a matter of minutes to find the dead body of her husband, the man you just killed. I NEED that book! It should still be in the satchel in the living room. Take the satchel. The damned FOOL stole it from my office!" "And what was Mr. Lancaster's interest in it? Why would he steal it from you?" "Mr. Lancaster is a spy from a rival organization, Michael," Dr. Anderson's voice echoed. "I wouldn't expect you to know such a thing. But the man has been following members of my own organization for years, trying to steal secrets. Recently, he moved here with his spy wife. If you did a more thorough investigation, you would find the two are not even married. Only for appearances, Michael. Now... THE BOOK if you would, please!" Michael turned to see the hallway, a hallway that not an hour before he found himself in and a hallway that he would be in later that day. It perplexed him in a way that made his skull ache far worse than it had before. Down the hallway was the living area near his exit. After a quick gaze into the living room, he saw the satchel that Dr. Anderson spoke of, a nice, brown leather bag. He grabbed it. "Okay, doc," said Michael, annoyance and anger surging through his veins. "I got your damn satchel. Now what?" He opened his eyes. Darkness, but not as dark as before. There was faint light, flickering all around him. Candles. He was surrounded by a massive collection of small candles, all of them making a perfect circle around him. His back ached as he raised up from a stone floor. The flickering light from the candles was enough to light the cave ceiling, water dripping somewhere off in the distance. On the cave walls were several murals, relief carvings of animals of some kind, beasts showing rows of teeth. The largest of the murals showed a massive circle with five triangles scattered within and, in the center of the mural, a massive eye so detailed it appeared to be peering into Michael's own eyes. But, rather than a pupil, the eye had what appeared to be a sundial in its center. "Well done," the voice of Dr. Anderson sounded from somewhere nearby, raspy and frail as it had sounded before in his apartment. Michael looked to his side to find the satchel near him. Three figures came into view, people in long cloaks. The man in the center had a red hood covering his face. He raised it to reveal that he was Dr. Anderson, the man who had sent Michael back in time to perform a terrible deed.
I’ve been working on this for a while and changed the ending several times. My goal was always to make humanity the most horrifying part of the story, the idea of wicked deeds and betrayal from trusted individuals. Ultimately, I decided to add the portion about the cult at the end because what is more frightening than an evil cult? Nothing, correct. The concept of time travel is something that always appealed to me, but I did not necessarily want it to be an appealing part of the story. I wanted it to be somewhat horrifying which is why I constructed the story to include the concept of time as a sort of living thing with a mind, sort of an all knowing entity, that these cult figures worship. However, I didn’t want to explain away everything in the story, which is why I left the backstories of the cult and the rival cult, which are called organizations by Dr. Anderson, out of the story. I added a bit of a link to the other short story I posted, “From the Journal of Jean Louis d’Éon on Board the Dragon’s Fire,” with the reference to the ancient civilization of Abcainus. I didn’t intend for this story to in any way reflect badly on different academic or healthcare disciplines. After all, I benefit from therapy and I’m sure that everyone could at some point in their life. It was my thought that if anyone was going to use an evil form of hypnotism, they would almost have to disguise themselves as a psychologist. Anyway, I’m proud that I finally closed out the story and am able to present it to you. Thanks for reading!
This writing is the work of its author, Andrew Ryan Duckworth, and can in no way be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any form without request from the author.