Justin Boote is an Englishman who has lived in Barcelona for over twenty years. For the last year he has been writing short horror/suspense stories, twelve of which have been published in diverse magazines. He can be found on Facebook or via email.
Karen whistled while she washed the dishes. The day was warm and sunny, and peace reigned at Parkland Drive where she lived alone. She smiled. She hadn’t felt this relaxed since she had become sole inhabitant of her home six months earlier, when she had finally sent away her only son, and her husband, yet on different paths. It had been a traumatic affair, but necessary. Now, she could enjoy early retirement from the healthy life insurance she had recently collected.
She thought about pouring herself another glass of Chardonnay when the phone rang.
She frowned. She didn’t receive many phone calls these days, and the ones she did receive were usually some prankster or anonymous threat.
“Hello? Who is it?” she asked, ready to hang up.
The phone fell from her hands as though it had stung her. She staggered back, until she collapsed against the wall. She watched as the phone swung from side to side, cringing every time it clanked on the tiles.
“Mum? Mum? Are you there?” came from the phone.
It’s a trick. One in very bad taste. Has to be. Dammit! Why can’t they leave me alone?
The initial shock slowly gave way to anger. She decided to give the caller a piece of her mind.
“Listen! I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care, but this call is being recorded. I think you’re sick, and the police will say the same thing when they arrest you. So, if I were you …”
“Mother. It’s really me, Andrew. It’s not a joke. Well, depending how you look at it, I suppose. You were certainly laughing when you … mmm … sent me away.”
Her heart shot up into her mouth. She looked down at her hands and saw that they were shaking. As her brain seemed to be doing.
The voice was familiar, but it was impossible. She considered herself a practical woman, yet at the same time, was not averse to certain “occurrences” happening in the world. She herself had been witness to a few of her own. But nothing like this.
So, it had to be someone pretending to be Andrew. She picked up the swinging phone again.
“So if it really is you, prove it. If not, I shall hang up and call the police.”
“Fine, no problem. You remember that day, Mum? That … fateful day? I was reading a book. Had almost made it to the end, in fact, when you heard me. If I recall, you told me I was evil, sick. Which, coming from you …”
“God help me,” she mumbled.
“What was that? God, you say? That’s ironic, because he certainly hasn’t helped me these last few months!”
Tears began to well in her eyes. A terrible concoction of dread, hate, stupor, and disbelief coursed through her at the same time, yet in singular waves, covering her in their invisible shrouds, before giving way to the next emotion.
“Is it really you, Andrew?” she whispered, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Yes Mum. It is.”
“But why? After all this time. What do you want?”
“I want to know why you did it. Especially that way. Perhaps if I knew why, I could understand at least the reasons behind it. Not forgive—that never—just understand, because that first one; ouch! That really hurt!”
“This cannot be happening. I must be dreaming. Because people just don’t …”
“Don’t what? You know the book I was studying. Dad’s book, and you both left it lying around as if you wanted me to find it. I was only sixteen, Mum. Still am I suppose, according to how you look at it.”
“I had no choice, Andrew. It was the only way. The … safest … for all of us.”
“The safest? Christ Mum, you were damn near laughing when you did it. Looked like you were enjoying it even. And you call that safe?”
The memory of that terrible night came flooding back to Karen. Fresh tears streamed down her blotchy face, as she recalled the events both leading up to it, and the aftermath.
“Don’t you understand? I did it for your own good. I had to … send you away. The consequences could have been worse. So much worse. For you, for everyone.”
“Send me away, huh? That’s a funny way of putting it, but yes, I suppose in a way, you’re right. You certainly did send me away. Parts of me, at least.”
“You were never meant to see those books. Your father; when he drank too much, he became sloppy, careless. He thought you’d assume they were just fictional, something you wouldn’t possibly show any interest in.”
“And why exactly did he have them?”
“He wanted to decipher certain sections. Remember that he was a professor of History. There were connotations in some pages that he believed to be true. I tried to tell him to throw them away, burn them, but he wouldn’t listen. He had … changed. Become … paranoid, secretive, possessive of them.”
“And you knew the books were real, and didn’t say anything to me? I did think they were fictional, but after a while, they possessed me as well. I became obsessed with them, couldn’t stop thinking about them. You should have stopped me.”
Karen thought for a while. “I did.”
She grabbed the glass of wine, which had remained untouched throughout the entire conversation, and downed it in one gulp.
“I did what I did because I loved you, Andrew. Still do. The manner in which I sent you might seem a little … exaggerated, but you were scaring me. I began to fear for my own life. You refused to listen. You talked in strange languages in your dreams; shouting, swearing such terrible, foul words. Had I not done what I did, and seeing how your father was becoming, the outcome for you could—would—have been a lot worse.”
“So is that how you justify it all? By telling yourself you were trying to protect me, from a worse fate? The caring, loving mother. Destroying her son’s life so that he need not suffer a worse fate later.
“You could have used alternative methods, you know. Faster, less painful.”
“I panicked. I saw your eyes that day, Andrew. There was hate in them. Terrible, terrible hate. But also fear. I think you knew you’d gone too far, and it had to be stopped, so I acted on impulse.”
“Impulse? They found fragments of my skull and brain plastered to the ceiling! I know. I was there, watching when they scooped it up. That first hit with the hammer; ouch! Yeah; you really did a good job on me. Sent me away? You sent my head away, more like. How many pieces were there?”
“Andrew, stop. Please,” she said, by now sprawled on the floor, a trembling, nervous wreck.
“And to think you said it was in self-defense! The wind whistles through the hole in my head, Mum. Did you know that?”
“I did it to save you! Why can’t you understand that?”
“Sorry Mum. It’s too late. I’ve had a lot of time to think—got all the time in the world now—and I can’t understand, forget, or forgive. There were other ways. You’re telling me you killed you only son—with a damn hammer—to protect me from being possessed by some demon or whatever, and … infecting others?”
“Are you … are you really dead Andrew?”
“Mum; six whacks on the head with a heavy hammer, and you ask me if I’m really dead? It’s lonely here, you know. Having to meander in between worlds for eternity. So, I thought I’d look for some company. That’s another reason I phoned.”
“What are you talking about, company?”
“Well, I figured that you should taste a sip of your own medicine. I’ve come to collect you, mother, although you may not recognize me when you see me.”
“Andrew, go away. Go to your place of rest. Learn to forgive, and you’ll be allowed to rest in peace.”
“Sorry Mum. Too late.”
The line went dead. Karen let the phone drop, and stared, horrified, at the front door. Her mind was a dark cloud; swirling, ominous, misty. She thought of what he had just said. He was bluffing, had to be. He might have found a way to talk to her through the phone, but to appear in person was something completely different.
It was while thinking these thoughts, that someone knocked on the front door. Powerless to prevent herself, she pulled herself up, and staggered on leaden feet to the door. She opened it.
“Hello Mum,” came a voice from some dark hole in what once might have been a head …