A short story I wrote for a competition
The Boy With Two Faces
He ran. Both from life and death simultaneously did he run, and as he ran the angry grey clouds that were swirling above him threatening to unleash their fury got ever the more closer – a metaphor, as they were, for the darkness that was slowly engulfing his soul, building up deep inside until his frail earthly bound vessel could take no more and insanity was the only sane explanation left as to how he was feeling.
If Henry had to give it an emotion he would have labelled it as fear, but that wouldn’t have been an entirely accurate description. Deep down below the threshold of his rationality and reason, there was a perverse sense of excitement that he could no longer deny; an excitement which only ever showed itself when man had been stripped of all purpose and there was nothing left but the primordial will to survive. Henry had found out the hard way that when death was staring him in the face the only consoling fact was that he had an embedded fight or flight instinct and a single blink of the eye moment to decide which reaction to take. No doubt there was many a man who, through his own egotistic opinion of himself, would choose to play hero if given the choice – Henry himself was one of these fools – but it wasn’t until the forced sacrifice of the extraneous variables man used to cloak his inner vulnerabilities did he truly know himself, and it was through this unwanted sacrifice of purpose that Henry had been forced to realise that he indeed wasn’t a hero.
The fear of death wasn’t the only fear Henry was feeling on that particular evening, and neither was it where the emotion was strongest. It was the skies that wreaked havoc upon his faltering mind and yanked upon the nerve that directly connected his fear emotion; the skies that were now opening up all around him just as they had promised, where the hammering sound he hated above all other things of physical existence was beginning to show him no mercy as it juxtaposed itself against the unsettling flicker of light.
The dead trees loomed over him as he ran, like evil gargoyles, reaching out to grab at him with their many limbs, and for a moment Henry could have sworn he saw the face among them, but upon a second glance he realised that it was all just part of his paranoia. He hated that face, whoever – or whatever – it belonged to. It had been haunting him his whole life; lingering in his dreams like a stray but never quite staying there long enough to give him reason to awaken; always catching his eye at the most curious of times. It was toying with him, he knew, and on desperate days he wished it really would kill him, but – just like the harrowing thunder – the thing that dwelled in the corner of his eye was not a thing of mercy.
Henry’s psychiatrist – Dr John Rumsford – suggested to him that it was nothing more than a fabrication of his imagination; an external projection of all the negative influences and memories of his past. Henry had, after all, been through quite a lot more than any child should ever have had to bear witness to, and it was likely that, given the complexity of the horrors he had endured from infancy to youth, his mind made it easier to cope with these tensions by rolling them into a single, terrifying illusion.
Drugs had been prescribed, and for a time they had worked, but once the body had learned of the trickery and had slowly become immune to its effects, then so too did the face of the thing slowly start to regain its former composition and again take up residence amongst Henry’s dreams. It was Rumsford’s idea to then enforce a strict regime of diet and habitual activities to rebalance the chemicals in Henry’s broken mind and keep it preoccupied lest it should fall into relapse. Once again it had worked, but only temporarily and Henry was beginning to feel as though he would never rid himself of his maddening disease.
Time passed on, and with it so did all of the characteristics associated with a person of sane sensibilities. Henry’s delusions became harder to deal with, and despite the best of efforts on his part to hide it from others, Dr Rumsford could easily see the effects of the decay. He knew Henry was fast slipping into a deep psychosis, and – with a heavy weight upon his heart and conscience – he decided the only option left was to commit his patient to the asylum where he could more closely scrutinise the inner workings of his mind.
Rumsford noticed at once the peculiar patterns to which Henry’s psychosis was being triggered, taking into account the times of day they occurred and the seasonal disparities between them. After a time he came to the conclusion that they only ever occurred on one of two occasions; when the moon was in full light or when a thunderstorm was approaching – the latter of which seemed to be the more prominent of the triggers. The study leant reason to Rumsford’s theories about what exactly had occurred during Henry’s childhood , and just what exactly the poor boy had endured at the hands of those he confided all trust in. He hypothesised that, given the constant nature of these episodes, perhaps Henry was suffering from a rather malignant form of epilepsy, so the boy was treated as if it were such, and again monitored for any signs of improvement.
The first in a string of experiments – some too terrible to even mention – was to apply an electric current to Henry’s brain in an effort to try and recorrect the electricity pathways that lied therein. Once a day for many months Henry was committed to this and other terrifying acts against his own will. It soon became apparent to Rumsford that he was showing slight improvement, but unbeknownst to the doctor was the fact that Henry – no longer wanting to be succumbed to such frightening and painful ordeals – had learned how to fool him too. After a few months of apparent normality from the once incoherent and utterly insane boy, Rumsford saw no reason to keep Henry at the asylum. In truth, he should have monitored him a lot closer than he did, but the man of logic and reason – unable to sacrifice his own ego – was too lustful for the fame that came with curing such a complex disease of the mind. The idea that Henry’s condition had severely worsened had simply eluded him.
Something of both fascinating and horrible nature had happened during the wretched experiments at the asylum; something the likes of which Henry vowed he would never tell another soul so long as he lived. The electricity that had been pumped through him had somehow awakened a trait within the thing that he had until then never bore witness to; it began talking to him. At first – while Henry was at the asylum – it had only ushered a single greeting of ‘Hello’, always making sure to speak when he lingered on the line of consciousness; always making sure to tug as hard as it could on that damned nerve at every opportunity it got. Now that Henry was free of the scrutiny of the men in the white coats, however, the face began to hold conversation with him for hours at a time. It became the devil on his right ear and the fallen angel on his left, and it wasn’t long before it started suggesting things to him that society and its authorities deemed rather inappropriate. Henry tried as hard as he could to ignore it but his efforts were in vain, as they were simply no match for the persistence of the face.
The delusions worsened with every word the face spoke to Henry. Sometimes he would find himself blacking out and regaining consciousness in strange places that he had no recollection of visiting, and other time’s fragments of memories of what he had been doing during one of these expeditions resurfaced to the forefront of his mind. Henry did not doubt that the thing with the face had found a way to control his body and it was slowly taking over, but he took comfort in the fact that it could only ever do it during one of the triggering occasions as witnessed by Dr Rumsford. All he had to do was lock himself away from the world during one of these events; something that proved harder to do in reality than it was in fantasy.
It was three months after he had been set free from the asylum – the day of his sixteenth birthday – when Henry killed his first victim. Preoccupied with celebrating the special day by himself at a theatre, he failed to notice the dark clouds that had been brewing outside during the entire show. To his horror, as he stepped outside amidst the swirling winds, he was met with the unmistakeable noise of the prelude that accompanied only the most ferocious of thunderstorms; the whips and cracks of air that seemed to travel from one side of the sky to the other. The sound caught Henry off guard and resonated through him, bringing up memories of the most horrible of tribulations he had witnessed as a child; tribulations of which Rumsford had theorised and termed as Ritualistic Abuse. There was nothing he could do but run and try and suppress all that resurfaced, all the while battling with the torments of the face as it laughed at his struggles. Refuge was taken in an old church, whose only occupant was an old priest that welcomed Henry with open arms. Upon hearing the troubles of the young boy, the priest convinced him that there was indeed a cure to be found in the reverence of God, if only Henry would renounce himself of all other faiths and purge himself of the sins of man.
During the ceremony of Henry’s redemption, the priest bent down to light one of the many candles on the altar, but as he did the hood of his robe fell from his shoulders, covering his head for no longer than a moment. Out of sheer coincidence it was the very same instant a loud crack of thunder appeared overhead and to Henry’s amazement and horror the priest was transformed into the devil himself right in front of his very eyes. True to its nature, the voice of the face rang through him, telling him to slay the beast before it slayed him.
Without hesitation, Henry picked up one of the candle holders from the sacred altar and bashed at the back of the beast’s skull, making sure not to stop until he was sure it had been subdued. Its limp body fell to the floor and lay motionless in a pool of blood; the same blood that covered Henry’s hands and speckled his face. But now there was something more menacing than the image of the beast, and that was the shrill laughter of the face as it mocked him, asking just what it was that he had done and begging him to roll the body over and gaze upon the lifeless eyes of the innocent priest. A break in the storm gave way to a moment of Henry’s sanity, and he soon came to realise just how dangerous his delusions had become.
He cowered over the lifeless priest for many hours while the storm exhausted itself, all the while brooding over what the face had tricked him into doing and remembering the satanic rituals he had been forced to attend as a child by his parents every month when the moon was in full light; remembering the pitch dark room in the basement they had locked him in for many months at a time, where the only thing he had for company was a mouldy blanket and the booming sound of thunder whenever there was a storm. Rumsford, with his many theories and studies into Ritualistic Abuse, was convinced that this was a form of brainwashing on Henry’s parent’s part; that he had somehow escaped the subliminal mechanisms they were trying to implant, instead accidently holding on to the only constants he ever knew.
Despair and sorrow consumed Henry so much so that it was out of his own guilt and shame that he confessed his crime to the authorities, making sure it was under a clear sky lest they should meet the same fate as the priest. But the confessions didn’t come before the face had convinced him to kill another three innocent people. The families of the victims, in all their ignorance to Henry’s disease, called for his execution, and the court might have been agreeable to such a punishment if it weren’t for the pity of Dr Rumsford who spoke freely of his patient’s illness and convinced them to the contrary of which it was decided that Henry should be committed back to the asylum.
Once again he was taken away and locked in a padded room, much akin to the way he was locked away as child, the only difference being the harsh white brightness of the light and the straight jacket he had in place of the mouldy blanket. What Henry never knew was that Rumsford had become ill motivated in his reasons in keeping him locked up, still convinced he could mend the pieces of Henry’s broken mind and achieve fame beyond his wildest dreams. His experiments became ever the more controversial and ever the more terrifying for Henry, so that anyone who witnessed them had to sign an agreement of sworn secrecy to what their eyes beheld. One of these disciples, upon becoming troubled by what she saw and upon hearing Dr Rumsford’s plans of a grand experiment that he was sure would achieve the desired results, decided to help Henry escape, so one evening when the coast was clear she gave him the key to his door, and loosened the straps of his jacket. Henry seized the moment, too driven by his flight instinct and fear to let his guilt and shame interfere. If that wasn’t enough, there was always the voice in his head telling him to get away, chuckling at him as it made a game of the whole situation. ‘Run, Run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man.’ It chanted as he made his way over the fence and into the woods, while in front of him the dark clouds swirled above him and threatened to unleash their fury.
Simultaneously he ran from both the death he had caused to four innocent people, and the life that had been so full of horror and had driven him over the threshold of madness. Sirens wailed behind him as the escape became known to the asylum, but they were soon overthrown by the heavy hammering of thunder in front of Henry. Despite the hallucinations of his mind and the malevolent gargoyles replacing the dead trees, despite the snickering voice that was now telling him to stop and take rest, Henry kept on running. He was terrified of them; terrified of the thunder; terrified of the lightning that brought with every flash the memory of the electroshock therapy, but it was the grand experiment that waited back at the asylum for him that terrified Henry the most. The woman who had helped him escape had hinted on just what it was that Dr Rumsford had planned. Henry knew he only had moments to find a big enough tree in which he could use the strap from his jacket.
The bloodhounds were barking now, their noses convinced they had picked up Henry’s trail, and their masters were converging on the forest into which he had run. Bitter winds pelted cold rain into his face as he struggled to tie the makeshift noose around the lower bough of the gargoyle faced tree. He told himself that it was an illusion, and fought off the chuckling voice that contradicted his reasoning, then climbed atop the bough, wrapping the leather strap around his neck. Henry stepped off the branch, just in time to see one of the bloodhounds appear with its master at its side. His vision began to darken as the noose constricted any means of oxygen entering his body, and for a moment Henry felt his madness begin to leave him, as death slowly took over and the chuckling of the voice in his head ceased. For the first time in his life he felt at peace, but it was short lived for Rumsford – upon hearing the bark of the Bloodhound and the shout of its master – had found Henry in the nick of time and severed the noose which tethered him to the tree. Henry fell to the ground and cried at how close he had been to freedom; how close he had been to ridding himself forever of the voice of that wretched face.
The next thing Henry knew was that he was strapped to a chair in the room where all of the vile experiments had taken place. No matter how hard he struggled, he could not break free. On the table next to him sat a myriad of medical tools and instruments that looked as though they had been delivered directly from a torture chamber, but the one that caught Henry’s eye was of peculiar characteristic in that it looked nothing more than a common corkscrew, albeit of longer length. Rumsford had decided to speed up his grand experiment by a number of weeks, lest his subject somehow found another means of escape, taking away the doctor’s opportunity of attaining fame. Henry watched as his psychiatrist picked up the corkscrew, paralysed not only by the constraints that bound him to the chair, but more so by the fear of what was to come; the fear of the unknown, as it were to be. The all too familiar primal urges set in, telling Henry to fight or run, but unable to do either, they only multiplied his fears. As Rumsford placed the corkscrew in the middle of Henry’s forehead, the nerve within him snapped, and he was hit with a sudden epiphany; that the face was no different than he was. It was a coward just like him; a coward that would rather run than fight when its’ existence was threatened, and what better way to threaten its existence than to destroy the broken mind it occupied by means of a frontal lobotomy. Henry couldn’t help but smile at his revelation, and with a very brief, but very sane chuckle to himself he muttered the last words his mouth would ever let him before the lobotomy prevented such an occurrence. ‘I’m finally free’. He said, and then closed his eyes, embracing the drill as it pierced the inner side of his skull and churned through the frontal lobe of his brain.
When Henry opened his eyes once again he could see Dr Rumsford leaning over him, studying the effects of his grand experiment now that it was finally over. At first he was delighted at the results, but after asking Henry how he felt, and receiving nothing more than a ‘Hmph’ from the boy, it soon became obvious to the helpers that the doctor was troubled by things not turning out the way he had expected them to. The creation of a living zombie, after all, was hardly something worthy of being called an amazing feat of medical brilliance on his part.
For years it ate at Dr Rumsford, though it soon became apparent that he lacked the same sense of reasoning he had once applied to his many patients. From dusk until dawn and even during his dreams, all he could think of was curing the madness of others by means of only the most elaborate and depraved of experiments, that he never once considered they might be machinations of his own maddened fantasy. At times he thought about abandoning his experiments and theories for the sake of the many victims, but it was in part due to the fame he so longed for that these abortive efforts became futile. More importantly still, it was due the voice in the back of his mind that he could never quite bring himself to stop; the voice that spurred him on when he was about to give up; the voice that mocked him in his dreams like it did with Henry, and the face that it belonged to, that lingered like a stray.