Authors: Clive Barker
‘We are all imaginary animals …’
A Bestiary of the Soul
‘I was born alive. Isn’t that punishment enough?’
Mary Hendrickson, at her trial for patricide
f all the rash and midnight promises made in the name of love none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than:
‘I’ll never leave you’
What time didn’t steal from under your nose, circumstance did. It was useless to hope otherwise; useless to dream that the world somehow meant you good. Everything of value, everything you clung to for your sanity would rot or be snatched in the long run, and the abyss would gape beneath you, as it gaped for Boone now, and suddenly, without so much as a breath of explanation, you were gone. Gone to hell or worse, professions of love and all.
His outlook hadn’t always been so pessimistic. There’d been a time – not all that long ago – when he’d felt the burden of his mental anguish lifting. There’d been fewer psychotic episodes, fewer days when he felt like slitting his wrists rather than enduring the hours till his next medication. There’d seemed to be a chance for happiness.
It was that prospect that had won the declaration of love from him; that:
‘I’ll never leave you,’
whispered in Lori’s ear as they lay in the narrow bed he’d never dared hope would hold two. The words had not come in the throes of high passion. Their love life, like so much else between them, was fraught with problems. But where other women had given up on him, unforgiving of his failure, she’d persevered: told him there was plenty of time to get it right, all the time in the world.
I’m with you for as long as you want me to be, her patience had seemed to say.
Nobody had ever offered such a commitment; and he wanted to offer one in return. Those words: ‘I’ll never leave you’. Were it.
The memory of them, and of her skin almost luminous in the murk of his room, and of the sound of her breathing when she finally fell asleep beside him – all of it still had the power to catch his heart, and squeeze it till it hurt.
He longed to be free of both the memory and the words, now that circumstance had taken any hope of their fulfilment out of his hands. But they wouldn’t be forgotten. They lingered on to torment him with his frailty. His meagre comfort was that
– knowing what she must now know about him, – would be working to erase her memory; and that with time she’d succeed. He only hoped she’d understand his ignorance of himself when he’d voiced that promise. He’d never have risked this pain if he’d doubted health was finally within his grasp.
Decker had brought an abrupt end to those delusions, the day he’d locked the office door, drawn the blinds on the Alberta spring sunshine, and said, in a voice barely louder than a whisper:
‘Boone. I think we’re in terrible trouble, you and I.’
He was trembling, Boone saw, a fact not easily concealed in a body so big. Decker had the physique of a man who sweated out the day’s
in a gym. Even his tailored suits, always charcoal, couldn’t tame his bulk. It had made Boone edgy at the start of their work together; he’d felt intimidated by the doctor’s physical and mental authority. Now it was the fallibility of that strength he feared. Decker was a Rock; he was Reason; he was Calm. This anxiety ran counter to all he knew about the man.
‘What’s wrong?’ Boone asked.
‘Sit, will you? Sit and I’ll tell you.’
Boone did as he was told. In this office, Decker was lord. The doctor leaned back in the leather chair and inhaled through his nose, his mouth sealed in a downward curve.
‘Tell me …’ Boone said.
‘Where to start.’
‘I thought you were getting better,’ Decker said. ‘I really did. We
‘I still am,’ Boone said.
Decker made a small shake of his head. He was a man of considerable intellect, but little of it showed on his tightly packed features, except perhaps in his eyes, which at the moment were not watching the patient, but the table between them.
‘You’ve started to talk in your sessions,’ Decker said, ‘about crimes you think you’ve committed. Do you remember any of that?’
‘You know I don’t.’ The trances Decker put him in were too profound: ‘I only remember when you play the tape back.’
‘I won’t be playing any of these,’ Decker said. ‘I wiped them.’
‘Because … I’m afraid, Boone. For you.’ He paused. ‘Maybe for both of us.’
The crack in the Rock was opening and there was nothing Decker could do to conceal it.
these crimes?’ Boone asked, his words tentative.
‘Murders. You talk about them obsessively. At first I thought they were dream crimes. You always had a violent streak in you.’
‘Now I’m afraid you may have actually committed them.’
There was a long silence, while Boone studied Decker, more in puzzlement than anger. The blinds had not been pulled all the way down. A slice of sunlight fell across him, and on to the table between them. On the glass surface was a bottle of still water, two tumblers, and a large envelope. Decker leaned forward and picked it up.
‘What I’m doing now is probably a crime in itself,’ he told Boone. ‘Patient confidentiality is one thing; protecting a killer is another. But part of me is still hoping to God it isn’t true. I want to believe I’ve succeeded.
succeeded. Together. I want to believe you’re well.’
In lieu of reply Decker tore open the envelope.
‘I’d like you to look at these for me,’ he said, sliding his hand inside and bringing a sheaf of photographs out to meet the light.
‘I warn you, they’re not pleasant.’
He laid them on his reflection, turned for Boone’s perusal. His warning had been well advised. The picture on the top of the pile was like a physical assault. Faced with it a fear rose in him he’d not felt since being in Decker’s care: that the image might
him. He’d built walls against that superstition, brick by brick, but they shook now, and threatened to fall.
‘It’s just a picture.’
‘That’s right,’ Decker replied. ‘It’s just a picture. What do you see?’
‘A dead man.’
‘A murdered man.’
‘Yes. A murdered man.’
Not simply murdered: butchered. The life slashed from him in a fury of slices and stabs, his blood flung on the blade that had taken out his neck, taken off his face, on to the wall behind him. He wore only his shorts, so the wounds on his body could be easily counted, despite the blood. Boone did just that now, to keep the horror from overcoming him. Even here, in this room where the doctor had chiselled another self from the block of his patient’s condition, Boone had never choked on terror as he choked now. He tasted his breakfast in the back of his throat, or the meal the night before, rising from his bowels against nature. Shit in his mouth, like the dirt of this deed.
Count the wounds
, he told himself; pretend they’re beads on an abacus. Three, four, five in the abdomen and chest: one in particular ragged, more like a tear than a wound, gaping so wide the man’s innards poked out. On the shoulder, two more. And then the face, unmade with cuts. So many their numbers could not be calculated, even by the most detached of observers. They left the victim beyond recognition: eyes dug out, lips slit off, nose in ribbons.
‘Enough?’ Decker said, as if the question needed asking.
‘There’s a lot more to see.’
He uncovered the second, laying the first beside the pile. This one was of a woman, sprawled on a sofa, her upper body and her lower twisted in a fashion life would have forbidden. Though she was presumably not a relation of the first victim the butcher had created a vile resemblance. Here was the same liplessness, the same eyelessness. Born from different parents, they were siblings in death, destroyed by the same hand.
And am I their father? Boone found himself thinking.
‘No,’ was his gut’s response. ‘I didn’t do this.’
But two things prevented him from voicing his denial. First, he knew that Decker would not be endangering his patient’s equilibrium this way unless he had good reason for it. Second, denial was valueless when both of them knew how easily Boone’s mind had deceived itself in the past. If he was responsible for these atrocities there was no certainty he’d know it.
Instead he kept his silence, not daring to look up at Decker for fear he’d see the Rock shattered.
‘Another?’ Decker said.
‘If we must.’
He uncovered a third photograph, and a fourth, laying the pictures out on the table like cards at a Tarot reading, except that every one was Death. In the kitchen, lying at the open door of the refrigerator. In the bedroom, beside the lamp and the alarm. At the top of the stairs; at the window. The victims were of every age and colour; men, women and children. Whatever fiend was responsible he cared to make no distinction. He simply erased life wherever he found it. Not quickly; not efficiently. The rooms in which these people had died bore plain testament to how the killer, in his humour, had toyed with them. Furniture had been overturned as they stumbled to avoid the
coup de grace
, their blood prints left on walls and paintwork. One had lost his fingers to the blade, snatching at it perhaps; most had lost their eyes. But none had escaped, however brave their resistance. They’d all fallen at last, tangled in their underwear, or seeking refuge behind a curtain. Fallen sobbing; fallen retching.