The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Stanza LXXI - Omar Khayyám, 1123.
He's advancing toward me, the knife held loosely in his left hand. A smile crosses his face, not the smile of a child but that of a murderer. "Time to play now, Micki. I know all kinds of games."
The knife raises over me and the scream rises in my throat -
Micki hardly grunted as she slumped into one of the kitchen chairs and cradled the cup of coffee that Jack offered her, drinking deeply even though the liquid almost scalded her throat. "Morning, Jack." She yawned involuntarily, the fatigue of a month's worth of shattered sleep evident in her movements, in the dark patches under her eyes. "What time is it?"
"Almost one in the afternoon. We've been pretty slow today, and Johnny and I were sure we could take care of it." He filled the coffee cup, already half empty. "How are you feeling?"
Micki's mouth screwed into a scowl. "Oh, just fine. Haven't had a decent night's sleep in over a month, dreams of being killed over and over again by one object or another..." She saw the look of helplessness come over Jack's face again, the same look he had given her every morning since the dreams began. "I'm sorry, Jack. I'm just so tired, I don't know what I'm saying half of the time."
"It's okay, Micki. I know what it's like to have horrible dreams." Jack's thoughts involuntarily flashed back to his torture and near-murder at the hands of the Butcher, a Nazi war criminal who had been seconds from killing Jack at the end of World War Two. "We'll get through this, I promise you. We're all in this together." He reached out and took Micki's hand, hoping to produce some kind of response in her, but there was none; she just stared off into space as she drank from the cup.
After a while Micki wandered back to her room and lay down. Jack walked slowly downstairs, his worry evident in the scowl on his own face. Johnny was sitting at the desk, poking halfheartedly at the old typewriter he used to write his stories, unable to concentrate on anything but worrying about his friend. "How is she doing?" he asked as Jack settled into another chair.
"I think it's getting worse, Johnny." Jack sighed, closed his eyes and leaned back. "I'm not sure I can help her. I don't really know how we..." As the words trailed off, Jack noticed a puzzled expression on Johnny's face.
"How we what, Jack?"
"How we're going to help her. It's just so damned frustrating, being able to do nothing."
"Can't Rashid whip up some kind of sleeping potion, something that will keep her from dreaming? I mean, he's done all sorts of things with his herbs and stuff -"
Jack cut him off with a shake of his head. "I've already thought of that. Rashid can't help her this time."
Something began gnawing at the base of Johnny's brain, something just outside of his consciousness, but he said nothing. "So what do we do?"
"Nothing we can do, Johnny, at least not right now." Jack's attention fell slowly into himself as the silence of the shop surrounded them both, interrupted only by the occasional strike of a typewriter key.
The hallway is nearly dark, lit only by the occasional moonlit window along its length. The dimness is enough, however, to see the grisly remains of a body propped against a wall, the face spread into a ghastly parody of a grin. I cover my mouth to stifle the scream and try not to look as I creep past the body, clutching the baseball bat tighter to my body. My shoes make quiet squish sounds as I move by; twice I step on something more solid and rubbery and have to bite down on my hand to keep from vomiting.
I hear singing coming from the room at the end of the hallway, a child's voice singing 'Camptown Races' along with a Warner Brothers' cartoon. In the moonlight the white carpet looks to be covered in motor oil or pancake syrup, but the coppery odor reveals the true source of the stains. As I reach for the doorknob I hear quiet laughter - and the muffled screams of someone being tortured. "Don't you like this game, Mommy? I think it's great fun. I could play this game for days, Mommy, and you'd be awake the whole time. Wouldn't that be great?"
Another burst of muffled screaming and more laughter float out of the room as I gently swing open the door and raise the bat, looking all around me for the boy. He's nowhere in sight, but the light from the fireplace shows me more than I want to see of his mother. She's struggling to move, amazing considering the amount of blood she's lost, but the bonds around her wrists and ankles prevent her. I lean down and pull the bloodsoaked gag from her mouth. "Where is he?" I whisper.
"Ov - over there... b - b - bathroom..." Her ruined mouth clumsily forms the words as she looks behind me. I stand up, turn to look -
- and am struck by something heavy on my legs. I fall to the floor as a small form scrambles off into the darkness, holding something long and round. The bat. Shit. I look around for something to use as a weapon, finally settling on a poker from beside the fireplace. Shadows flicker on the walls, each one possibly hiding the boy that's coming to murder me. I creep ahead into the darkness, my heart hammering its way into my throat even before I hear the voice.
"Hi, Micki. I didn't think you'd be coming back after yesterday. Do you want to play with me?"
Jack wiped the last of the vomit from Micki's lips and ran a clean, damp cloth over her face. The dark patches under her bloodshot eyes were huge, but the eyes themselves were utterly vacant. Whatever had happened in her dream tonight - in all of her dreams - was slowly, inevitably, killing her. "I'm sorry, Micki," he said, unsure if she even heard him. "I wish there was more I could have done, more that I could do now. But I think it's too late, and there's no time to come up with anything." Tears rolled down his face as he brushed a limp strand of hair from her face. "It should have been me there, not you. It shold have been -"
Jack stopped when he heard the familiar ring of the door chimes and the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. As Jack closed the doors to Micki's room, he saw Johnny standing at the head of the stairs, several tan file folders clutched tightly in one hand. "We need to talk, Jack. Now."
Jack sighed and nodded wearily, knowing that this moment was bound to happen sooner or later. For all his faults, Johnny was not stupid - and sometimes he was too clever for his own good. "All right. Let's do it downstairs."
"Fine." Johnny went back into the main part of the store as Jack picked up the teapot and placed it onto a tray. Downstairs, Johnny was sitting at the desk with the Manifest opened to somewhere near the middle. Jack knew right what he was looking at, as he had gazed at that particular entry on many late nights when his own dreams kept him awake. As he poured each of them a cup, Jack opened his mouth to speak but Johnny stopped him. "I just want to know what happened, Jack. What happened on June 5th, 1988."
"How much do you know?"
"Not all of it, but enough to piece things together." Johnny opened one of the folders and gazed at its contents. "On June 6th, 1988, the police were called to the scene of a multiple murder. The bodies were all horribly mutilated... all except that of a small boy. They were all from the same family, the Wallaces. Mother, father, two brothers and a sister... all cut to pieces. The boy had been killed by a twenty-foot fall onto a glass coffee table. The police never found the killer, and most of the details were kept out of the press. I was lucky to find out what I did from the police file."
He opened the second folder and flipped through a few pages. "This is a medical file from St. Luke's Hospital, an emergency room report from the early morning of June 6th. Micki Foster, age 27, admitted for severe lascerations and fractures. According to the report, she'd been mugged and beaten... but that's not the truth, is it?"
"No... it's not."
"She was kept for five weeks afterward in the psychiatric unit at the Crittenden Institute because of 'severe emotional trauma suffered during the attack'. Her condition included a tendency to harm herself... and terrible nightmares. Every single night, and it just kept getting worse and worse. Then, one day in late July, she seemed to come out of it just fine. She was given a clean bill of health and released into the custody of Jack Marshak. Since then, there's been no record of any mental problems." Johnny closed the folder and picked up the next one. "This is the medical record for one Gerald Wallace, son of Steven Wallace. He suffered from severe physical deformities, so bad that he was unable to walk or hold anything in his hands."
Johnny pushed the Manifest toward Jack and pointed to a particular entry. "And this is the record of a purchase made by Steven Wallace on January 17th, 1987. A leg brace made during the First World War." The silence was tangible and hung between the men like a fog. "So have I missed anything?"
"No... that sounds like everything that would have been in official reports." Jack set down his untouched cup of tea, unable to meet Johnny's burning gaze.
"Now tell me what happened."
"It was March of 1987 when I noticed a pattern of murders emerging from various newspaper stories." Jack's voice was soft and tired, the voice of a defeated man. "It seemed that all of the victims - all women - were illegal immigrants with almost no record in America. It was Micki who noticed that many of those peole found work as nannies, and over time we narrowed down the possibilities to one family."
"They often had their advertisement in the newspapers, and we found the entry for the brace about two weeks before it happened. Ryan, Micki and I all helped her come up with a cover story and sent her to be interviewed, and she was hired the next day. For two weeks she worked in the house, trying to find out who was using the brace and what it did, but she didn't find out anything until the boy tried to kill her one night. It seems that the brace allowed him to live without deformities... so long as he killed regularly. When Micki got away from him, his deformities returned and he went mad from the pain. He murdered his whole family."
"And you sent Micki back there alone to get the brace."
"No, it wasn't my idea. She snuck out in the middle of the night so she could get into their house and snatch the brace as the boy slept. When she got there, he had already killed his family... and was ready for Micki as well. Micki was never able to tell anyone what exactly happened, but she managed to throw him off the top of the stairs and onto that glass table. When Ryan and I got there she was sitting in the middle of the floor, clutching the boy to her chest and crying. We got her out of there as soon as we could and to the hospital... and then watched as she fell to pieces.
"You see, she could never accept the fact that she had killed a young boy. Even though the boy was a murderer, even though he had tried to kill her twice, her mind was unable to deal with that fact. It was driving her insane, and all Ryan and I could do was watch. It finally came to me that we had to block the memories of what had happened, that it would be the only way to save her mind. I hypnotized her one day as we were visiting her, and soon after that, she got better... and until a month ago, she stayed that way."
"Can't you just do it again? Bury the memory, at least until we can figure out some way to help her permanently?"
"What the hell do you think I've been trying to do for four years?" Jack snarled back. "I've tried everything I can think of and nothing's worked. More hypnosis, potions, magic spells... none of it has done any good. I've gone all over the world looking for some way to help her; half of the time I was away looking for cursed objects I was talking to priests or spiritual healers of one kind or another. It's... it's just too late now." Tears brimmed in Jack's eyes as he turned away from Johnny. "There's nothing more we can do..."
"There has to be, Jack. There has to." "I don't want to sit here and do nothing... but I'm out of ideas," Jack said helplessly as he leaned back in the chair, his strength almost gone.
"I might have one."
"Hi, Micki. I didn't think you'd be coming back after yesterday. Do you want to play with me?"
No, I don't want to play with him... but I can't allow any more deaths at his hands. I grip the poker even tighter as I creep around a recliner, unable to pierce the shadows behind it. Mrs. Wallace's breathing is growing more and more labored now... but even if I called an ambulance it would be far too late to save her. I move forward a step before I realize that I'm not alone back here, that someone is right in front of me -
I look down to see the crumpled body of Jodie Wallace lying at my feet, a gruesome offering made by her brother so that he would be able to walk. Her face is so peaceful, but her arms... her legs...
When my senses return I'm lying in a pool of vomit and bile, a few feet past the girl's body. I reach for the poker, but - not surprisingly - it's not there anymore. "I like your toy, Micki. I could have lots of fun with this."
"Gerald, listen to me." My voice is dry and tense, cranked up two notches from the adrenaline rushing through my body. "I don't want to play with you anymore."
"Why not?" The voice is pouty, that of an eight year old boy. "Don't you like games?"
"Your games are killing people. Your family is dead because of you." Crawl forward, toward the sound of his voice near the door that leads to the stairs. Hope that he doesn't see me coming.
Pray that my family doesn't have to see my body when the boy is finished with me. Or Ryan and Jack.
A foot falls just behind me, barely audible on the bloodsoaked carpet. I leap forward, just barely getting out of the reach of the butcher knife in his left hand, and back up against the wall. The boy's small form is crouched where I had been, the knife buried deep in the carpet. "My family did this to me. They gave me my arms and legs and then wanted to take them away. I couldn't let them do that, Micki." He advances toward me again, brilliant white teeth glinting in the shadows.
I roll away, trying to get to the door, but an amazingly strong hand grabs my hair and pulls me back toward the fireplace. "You'll understand soon, Micki. You'll understand why I've done all this." He lets me go and the knife flashes, moving toward my throat -
Jack gently patted Micki's hand as she rose up from sleep. "Good morning," he said, his voice and facial expression implying that it was anything but.
Micki could only gather the strength to grunt weakly in response. Her face was chalk white, her eyes sunken into her skull like those of a corpse. She could see Jack sitting next to her and Johnny at the foot of the bed, his arms folded and a concerned expression on his face. Jack raised a cup to her mouth and she let the hot herbal mixture course down her throat, slowly coming back to full awareness. "What... what's going on?" she asked when she saw the look Jack was wearing.
"Micki, I haven't been honest with you about all of this."
Jack turned away, muttering "I'm sorry, Johnny, I can't -" when the younger man caught him by the arm and forced him back to the bed. "Tell her, Jack, or I will. But we're not through with this yet, and I need your help to finish it."
"Jack, what's happening? What do you know?" Micki asked, struggling to sit up.
Jack sat back down slowly, wiping his eyes before turning to face Micki. "I know why you've been having these nightmares... and I know what they're doing to you."
"H - how do you know? Have you seen this happen before?"
"Yes, I have. I've seen it happen to you." Micki's attention stayed with Jack through the entire tale, from when she got the job to when she had been hypnotized by Jack to blank out the whole experience. "... and then Johnny figured out the major events and came to me."
"Why didn't you tell me, Jack? When these dreams started, why didn't you say anything?"
"What could I say? That I had lied to you for four years about that summer, about the injuries you had sustained? That I had taken part of your mind away from you?" Jack turned away before he whispered, "That I can't save you?"
"Jack... you did all you could. You did what you thought was best for me." Micki took his hand into hers and squeezed it hard, tears shimmering in her eyes. "You gave me time that I wouldn't have had otherwise."
"Jack... you need to tell her the rest," Johnny said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"What 'rest'? What are you talking about?"
"Johnny thinks that there might be some way to help you after all... but only if I remove the hypnosis that blocked your memories in the first place."
"You see, Micki, the mind is the most adaptable thing humans have. It can deal with almost anything, given enough time... and I think that yours might finally be able to deal with what happened that night. It's the only option we have left. You need to experience those memories so you can come to some sort of reconciliation about it, move past what happened."
Micki slowly nodded her head, her mouth suddenly parched. "If that's the only thing that can help... then we'd better get going."
"It may not help, Micki. It may even harm your mind further," Jack said as he let go of her hand.
"There's no choice now, is there? I don't want these dreams anymore, and if reexperiencing that night is the only way... then I want to do it."
"All right, then." Jack pulled a silver pocket watch from his pocket and hung it in front of Micki. "I want you to focus only on this watch. Do not look at anything else. The room is fading away, and there is nothing but the watch and the sound of my voice.
"I want you to think back to the night of June 5th, 1987. I want you to remember what happened in the Wallace house on that night, what happened when you entered the house -"
- and I grab his arm, forcing the knife back into the carpeting. I push with all my strength to get him away from me and get to my feet because only distance will buy me any time. I run out of the room into the hall that runs along the top of the stairs, giving a view of the grand foyer below. I'm about to run down the stairs when I notice the bodies of Gerald's brothers hung from the railings, their intestines wrapped around the bannister like some sort of hideous garlands. I carefully move past the bodies, trying not to slip in the blood, but there's movement ahead of me.
A glint of metal in the dark. A flash of teeth. "Where are you going?"
I scramble backward, my feet sliding out from under me as I grab the railing, covering my hands in gore. He's advancing toward me, the knife held loosely in his left hand. A smile crosses his face, not the smile of a child but that of a murderer. "Time to play now, Micki. I know all kinds of games."
The knife raises over me and the scream rises in my throat, threatening to drown out everything else. I don't know when I do it, but suddenly I'm moving toward him as well, my hands reaching under his arms as he slashes at me with the knife. I pick up his small body as if it were nothing and lift him over the railing. He grabs at my shirt, my arms, the railing, but it's too late because I've already let go of him.
When I look over the edge I can see his body lying in the middle of the shattered glass coffee table. He's obviously dead, but I have to be sure. I crawl down the stairs, trying not to look at the faces of the brothers as they stare into the darkness, until I reach the boy. I cradle his head in my lap as the pool of blood spreads around me, telling myself that I did nothing wrong... but he's just a boy, and nobody deserves this to happen.
The door flies open and Ryan and Jack rush in, shocked by the few details they can see in the dim light. They pick me up and help me to the car, but not before Johnny pulls the leg brace off of the boy and his body curls up with the most horrible cracking sound, reverting to the state it had developed to originally.
And then I pitch forward as the world goes black -
Johnny awoke with a start as Jack laid a hand on his shoulder. "What? What's going on?"
"I think she's waking up."
"How long has it been?" Since Jack had removed the blocks to her memory, Micki had been in a deep, unbreakable sleep. He and Johnny had been keeping a constant vigil ever since putting her under; one of then had always been at her bedside or in the kitchen. They hadn't even opened the store.
"Almost three days." Jack led the way into Micki's bedroom and stood at the foot of the bed, watching as Micki's eyes moved gently under their lids. Johnny clasped his hands behind his back, his grip so tight that he was cutting off circulation to his own fingers. Her eyes blinked once, twice... and then focused on the two men at the end of her bed.
"How are you feeling?" Johnny asked as he sat down beside her.
"Tired... but rested, too. I haven't felt this rested in months." She looked at Johnny and then back at Jack.
"And the nightmares?" Jack asked.
"No nightmares... but I remember a lot of things I had no idea about. I remember everything about that night, and much of what happened later... including that I asked you to take the memories away if you could. Thank you, both of you. You saved my life... and my soul." She reached out for Jack's hand and took it, then took hold of Johnny's as well. "No matter what else may happen, we're here for each other. We always will be."
"Always," said Jack.
"Amen to that," Johnny added, and Micki chuckled. "It's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back... all of me."
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This page was created on October 11, 1999.
Last modified on February 10, 2005.