Short Fiction1


Short Fiction Showcase


Gideon’s Lost Gospel: A Snuff Life


By Gerald D. Johnston


“CANNIBAL, n. A gastronome of the old school who preserves the
simple tastes and adheres to the natural diet of the pre-pork period.”
–Ambrose Bierce

I was once told by a man I admire to write what I know.
This is what I know: Snuff.


It was that same great man who also handed down to me another equally useful kernel of knowledge; His words carried me through many dark hours of doubt and on through to the completion of this work—although, I’m sure if he knew of the subject matter, he would not have been so forthcoming and helpful.


“When in doubt,” he had told me, “Speak to the page as a friend, a lover, or a stranger if you must, but forge on and converse. You will find comfort there. Inspiration’s embrace is fleeting and often fickle, so when she calls, go to her and hold tight for as long as you can before she leaves you with nothing but a vague memory and an empty page.”
Friend, Lover, Stranger.
I choose you, stranger.


Chapter 1
My Struggle


Hello You.
Yes. That’s what it says: Snuff—and I do not mean it as a nasally ingested substance. You know what I mean. I say “you,” because I may as well include you, just to lend some ease to you as you traverse this journal. Allow me to cut straight to the question that I know must be scorching the back of your tongue. How, you ask, could a doctor of psychiatry find himself swept into such a dark practice?


Not that much of a stretch, really. How I came to produce, and direct—no, orchestrate— these films, is of little importance now. But I will tell you why I stayed with it. One, no, two reasons. Money. Glorious money! Did you know that if you pad the walls and floor with enough money you can’t hear the screams from the basement? It’s true; I wouldn’t lie to you.


The other reason is because—and I believe there’s a little of this in everyone—I am a devout fanatic of tragedy and carnal pleasures of the flesh.
Just.
Like.
You.


No, you say? This isn’t something you would do? I say, “Liar”, and boldly so. It is inherent in us all, though some, and I count myself among that number, boldly embrace this truth as the release from the norm that it truly is.


Come on in. The water is fine.
Believe me. I am the doctor here, remember?


Why so fidgety? Is it because you are afraid to admit that you secretly know I speak the truth? It’s alright. It will be our little secret. You see, every living thing kills something else to further its own lifespan or broaden its territory, but Man is the only animal that also kills for sport. Is it for trophies to hang on a wall? Or is this a brazen invitation to the rest of nature to admire Mankind’s superiority over all that swims, flies, runs, or crawls?


No.


I believe it is fear. This is where you ask: Fear of what? And I nod knowingly, and say, just loud enough for you alone to hear: It is the fear of being wrong, my friend.


You seem confused. If you don’t understand what I mean by “wrong,” ask your Priest, Rabbi, or Buddhist monk. They may not tell you, but they will know. They will know.


Observe. Here is my rendition of their non answer:


Mankind strives to distance itself from the stench of evolution through practiced denial and the worship of graven idols so long-dead that their diluted memory is but whisper from a distant Eden. With a mile-high wall of flowery words and lamenting wails, the human race screams, “I am no link in the chain. I am outside the chain.” And so the chant continues unchecked, building speed and volume, until the shrill cry becomes nothing more than five simple words bled impossibly across each other, layering into a solid, shrill cry of, “Iamnotamonkey.”
Which we all know is a lie, even though the Monkey-Scopes trial still rages in the rat infested alleys and side streets of Heaven. What? Not a lie? Yes! Yes it is. I know. I know this because I’ve seen the worst things that you can do. I have them alphabetized, categorized and rated by content—all for your viewing pleasure…for a small fee, of course. You understand; nothing is free anymore. And did you ever stop and think that maybe God created the monkey so it could evolve into you?


I am certain that, among my vast library, you’ll find a multitude of vulgar yet deliciously barbaric deaths and mutilations; a bullet, knives, a good old fashioned screwdriver disembowelment, or the ripper special: Strangulation, with a blend of artistry.


Go ahead, peek through your fingers. I’m not here to judge. I want only your money.


These are fine ends, to be sure, but could never hold a candle to the utter savagery involved in laying flesh back to the bone with nothing but teeth and fingernails. Fear not, I do not speak from personal experience. I am no monster. I watch, nothing more.


Of all the Manimals that have realized their gene pool began as nothing more than a guppy pond, many millions of moons ago, my favorite have always been the earliest and most basic: The cannibal.
Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but cannibalism meant mealtime long before three primal grunts and a shrill whistle could name it. Back before the tail fell off and the gills disappeared, that reptile reflection in the puddle would have looked mighty tasty if cooked up and served with a side of beetles.


These appetites may have been lost in time but they live on in every drop of your DNA.


My desire to know the mind of the modern day maneater fueled me filled me with an insatiable need to know these carnivores. No easy task let me tell you. This part-time odyssey spanned most of my adult life. Along the way, I became well acquainted with a few of their number and eventually was given the opportunity to employ some as performers. True showmen at heart, these murderers danced for the camera like bears mugging for treats at a circus.


And oh how they danced in my Black Maria.


They are out there. That gentleman in the checkout line to the left of you, the friendly fellow who held the door for you at the bank, or your tow-truck driver—could be anyone. They blend in. That’s what they do, you see. They can be anyone.


Archangel is one of those anyones.


Zane Ellis (this is not his birth name) basically fell into my lap. He was given into my care after a most unfortunate incident involving his parents and a week-long, one-man Donner party revival. The lad was barely out of his teens but, right away, I knew he was special. His career with the firm would be both long and distinguished. He did not let me down. Ten years later, and the glory of his mastery still outshines the sun.


Oh, yes. I wax needlessly. I was speaking of my hunt. We’ll rejoin Zane later.


I was able to locate many of these cannibals without difficulty. That is to say until that ugly business with Armin Meiwes, the so called “Rotenburg Cannibal,” as he was labeled by a drooling press. After Meiwes’ confession hit every home with a television, and the subsequent release of his secret video library to privateers worldwide, everyone suddenly believed in the bogey man again.
(If you are curious, you’ll find him under ‘R’ in my ‘One-Hit Wonders’ section.)


Across the globe, police agencies were finally waking to this entity.
The dominoes began to fall in Germany first, then sporadic arrests of others around the globe found the toppled spotted tiles webbed out like veins in a drunken eye. I’ve tracked the cannibals migration from that overturned floorboard, as they scurried away like roaches from a light. The hunters-become-hunted forsook their cozy Internet haunts and chat rooms, and bled back to their dark places like sand through a sieve.


I followed.


Many of them stayed dormant, like fish under the dirt of a dried riverbed; waiting. I tracked and catalogued, and nothing more; why would I them in? Their only guilt was in following the twisting ladder of their very substance.


Some of the more resourceful, as well as numerous old school fanatics, resorted back to the tactics of their dietary forefathers—to a much more personal approach. Often clumsy yet never boring, these killers would employ long unused skills to stalk and capture their prey. Then they would eat.


The Supermarket Cannibals—as Zane called them—often dealt with certain specialty agencies which acted as a go-between, matching customers to a product they called “cattle”. Small advertisements would be placed in obscure fetish forums, magazines, and other left field media—a cattle call, if you will.


Here, let me give you a taste. The following is an actual advertisement:
Bored? Feel alone?


Life not turn out the way you wanted?


Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be eaten alive?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, come on down and learn about something your friends may already know…”


I’m sure you get the idea. Successfully screened cattle would be taken to special training camps as voluntary slaves and could later be bought at auctions. Farfetched, I know—even to me. It is true, though. But you should just take it from me, and do not—I repeat—do not seek them out. In finding what you are looking for, it may also find you.
Or, if you do decide to go looking, bring a camera crew along so others may, at the very least, glean some sort of amusement from your stupidity. Perhaps they’ll sell it to me. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Some cannibals used what they called “pets” to procure meals. This was a widely common practice for cannibals who utilized this particular vehicle to network with each other, thus reducing costs by pooling resources. Sometimes regarded as “Judas cows”, these paid pets—normally vagrants or derelicts—would pose as prostitutes or drug dealers and lead unsuspecting clients into the stew pots of their masters. I find this type of man-eater to be slightly more palatable than your garden variety mass murderer. Although quaint, they are extremely unruly. For this latter reason my dealings with them have remained quite limited. I find they carry a shelf life of no more than five years, and tend to be as bright as a match held up to the sun. Many would murder each other as quickly as they would, say, you—for food, or fun…or just to see the pretty spray of color as an artery’s contents form a crimson rainbow in the afternoon sun.


In this subculture, as in any hierarchy, there were, and are, those who rise to the top, spoken of in many circles as near-royalty. These are men—and a few women—with the savvy and means to soar above their contemporaries, but below the radar of outside entities which would otherwise incarcerate or kill them. This breed finds the tease of the hunt to be as exhilarating as the feed—sometimes more so. A killer such as this, given proper funding and resources, could expect a long and fruitful career.


This leads me back to Zane; my brightest hope and mightiest failure. He is whoever you want him to be. He adapts and excels in the art of seeming nondescript—or standing out; it’s his forte, if you will. He loves the theatrics of the experience in its entirety, but sometimes these traits carry him too far, and he stumbles. During these lapses I help him up, dust him off, and put him back on course.


It’s the angels. Past and present, this is his major problem. It has always been the angels that get him into trouble. Not real angels. The ones that he paints. And don’t get me started on Canada…or that girl, what’s-her-name.


I’m sorry. I digress. His sideline “art”, as he calls it, holds more pain than portent between us. I will move on.


Consider me lucky to find one so in love with his work. You cannot see me, but as I think of him, my heart swells with pride. There are many like him, but this one is mine. Not only was he my most intriguing patient, he has also been my biggest star. There is a very wealthy, albeit select, market for his medium—or I should say our medium—and we’ve bathed in its splendor.


We make movies. Probably not the kind of films Thomas Edison had in mind when he invented the Kinetoscope. But then again, the personal massager was originally marketed as a therapeutic aid for sore muscles. They now come with more attachments than a Swiss army knife, and variable speed settings.


Before you judge, know this: I am a businessman and this is my business. I am not the deviant here. I provide a service to a select few who see through the brutality of the act to the raw essence of Man the beast. So a candle or two gets snuffed in the process.


That’s life.


All life?
No.


But, what is life anyway? Is it the collective hours between dawn and dusk? Or atoms, to breath, to dust, back to atoms?
I can only shrug, and say, “Why does it matter?”


Are we not—at the end of life, after the coffin drops and the mourners go back to their drone-like existence—just meat packed in a single serving container? The expiry date is written right there on the stone above the box. It is today…always today. So, with this knowledge swiftly making the circuit from your heart to your cerebellum and back, one should think it would be prudent to get it while it is fresh.


Somewhere out there—beyond a drawn curtain, or in a dank, dark cellar—a dinner bell beckons. Does it toll for thee?
__________________________


The Good Lives


By Marc Lyth

John Good sighed as he entered the office. He checked the file in his hands one more time. He had a busy day ahead of him and getting the authorisation on this project from Mr Fellow was only the beginning. The Oberon project would make his name in the company but it needed approval. This would be the start of a whole new life for him. Before he braved the boss’s office he needed his coffee. He hung his coat on the rail and turned towards the kitchen.

A new face was waiting for him. An attractive woman in a pale blue business suit was standing by the drinks machine, puzzling over the choices. John walked to the kettle and hit the button. It popped back out immediately; the water was freshly boiled for a change.

“Hi” she smiled at John, “what is there worth drinking in this thing?”

“That depends on if you like coffee, tea or machine slop,” said John. “I’ve got some proper coffee in the cupboard over here if you want.”

“That would be great, thanks. I’m Robyn, I’ve just started on the marketing team,” she announced brightly.

“I’m John, I’m in research and development,” John said as he spooned coffee into two mugs and lifted the kettle to check how full it was. “Looks like we might have to work together at some point. Milk and sugar?”

“Just milk thanks.” She took the mug John offered with a grin. She sipped the coffee, looking him up and down. “I look forward to it. Is this someone’s mug I’m using?”

John assured her it was a spare and pointed at the dishwasher, “Just put it in there when you’re finished.” he said. Looking at his watch he groaned, “Nose to the grindstone time, do you know where you’re supposed to be?”

“Third desk on the left past the post-room, next door to Mr Fellow’s office. I think he wants to keep an eye on me.”

John laughed, “I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t mind doing that myself.”

Robyn raised one eyebrow and looked pointedly at John’s left hand, at the ring on the second finger. She thanked him for the coffee and walked off down the corridor. John watched her as she moved away, transfixed by the swing of her shapely hips. That was smooth John, he thought, then he whistled softly to himself as she turned and winked at him. Careful mate, you’re a married man, he had to remind himself.

John was five foot nine with an almost athletic build. He knew that his shock of dark brown hair was probably his best asset as far as his looks were concerned. He was at that point in his life where he wasn’t certain what, if any, appeal he may have to the opposite sex any more, and any signs were encouraging. He grinned. He was going to enjoy working with Robyn.

As Robyn sat at her workstation John saw Thom Fellow cross the room and greet her, introducing himself quickly before he disappeared into his office. There’s no time like the present, he decided.

As he crossed to Fellow’s office John looked over at his own workstation and saw an unfamiliar blonde man sat there typing. The IT guy must be sorting out that problem with my email he thought. Pausing briefly to smile again at Robyn, he knocked on the glass door to Fellow’s office. After a moment he was called in.

Fellow was a large man not known for a great sense of humour but he was well liked and respected by his staff. He was a few pounds overweight, mainly because of his love of beer. He had overindulged the previous night and was facing away from the door and the bright lights of the main office, staring at the tranquillity of the rainbow fish in the large tank on his back wall in an attempt to relax when John entered.

“Hi Thom,” John said, standing at the desk. “I’ve got the preliminary figures for the Oberon report for you to look at.”

Fellow turned and looked at John. A look of confusion briefly crossed his face. “Thanks,” he replied. “Was John too scared to bring them in himself? I thought he was really keen on this project. Tell him I need to talk to him about this.”

Now it was Johns turn to look confused.

Fellow continued. “I’m Thom Fellow, but you seem to know that. Are you the chap from the agency?” He leafed through a sheaf of papers on his desk. “Sorry, I’m not sure where your CV is. What’s your name?”

The confusion on Johns face grew and shifted, turning gradually into shock. Was Fellow having a joke here?

“Erm…” John wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

“You do have a name? Yes?”

“John Good,” said John.

Thom grinned. “That’s a coincidence; we’ve got another guy called John Good works here. He’s the guy that gave you this report. I don’t think the agency have given me your CV in that case. I would have remembered.”

John studied Thom’s face closely. Either Thom was losing his mind and didn’t recognise him, or this was the strangest idea of a wind up that John had experienced. “Erm, are you feeling OK Thom?” he asked cautiously.

“I’m fine,” Thom answered. “Do you normally assume you’re on first name terms with your new boss before you even meet him? You just called me Thom twice now, first time was before you’d introduced yourself. Some bosses prefer a bit more formality.”

“This is a joke right? I am John Good, the one who’s worked here for five years. I gave you this report because I wrote it…” John was having trouble with reality now. Fellow had invited most of the office to see him in an am-dram production of a Shakespeare play a few years previously and it was clear to everyone why he was an office manager, not an actor. He wasn’t capable of acting of this standard. This didn’t feel like a practical joke. It was as if Fellow genuinely didn’t recognise him.

Thom stared at John. The smile was gone from his face. His hangover was pinching the edges of his brain. He didn’t need any jokers this morning. “Just send John in on your way out,” he snapped.

“I don’t know who you think I am but I am John Good. I’ve worked here for five years. You were at my house for a meal two weeks ago, I’ve been to barbecues at your…”

“I’ve never seen you before in my life!” Thom was straining to keep his temper with the stranger in front of him. “I don’t care who you think you are, but John Good is sitting at his desk there.”

Fellow pointed through the glass wall of his office at the man John had seen sat at his workstation. Picking up the phone, Thom punched in four digits and waited. The man at John’s desk stopped typing and picked up the phone next to him.

“Can you come up to my office please,” Fellow barked into the phone. A brief pause and then “I’ve got someone I want you to meet,” he added humourlessly.

John watched the strange man at his desk as he stood, drained the last dregs of a cup of coffee, glanced over at John and Thom in the partitioned room and crossed the open plan room to the corridor. He briefly vanished from sight behind the solid wall and reappeared behind the door. He tapped gently and entered.

“Hi, I’m John Good, research and development,” he announced, extending a friendly hand in greeting.

The newcomer was a tall man, nearly six foot tall with a muscular build and cropped blonde hair. He smiled at Thom in confusion when John shook his head and shouted “No you’re not, I am!”

Thom glared at the stranger in his office. “John,” he said with barely disguised sarcasm, addressing the blonde newcomer, “This is John Good, he claims to have worked here for five years. He gave me this report; it seems he’s working on the Oberon project for me.” He handed over John’s file.

The blonde man laughed, then opened the folder. His face creased with confusion as he read the detail inside. “Where the f…” he checked himself, remembering where he was, “…hell did you get this from? These are the figures I’ve been working on. I was just going to bring them over.”

John stared at the blonde man in disbelief. This must be a joke? “You don’t even look like me!” he blurted. “Thom, please can we stop with the joke, it’s not funny…”

Thom ignored him, sat back in his chair and then swivelled to face the blonde man. “Have you ever seen this guy before?” he asked.

The blond man replied that he hadn’t and they proceeded to talk about John as if he wasn’t there. John watched and listened in disbelief as they chatted like old friends, debating whether security should be called to escort him from the building. When they mentioned the previous night in the pub as if the blonde man had been there and not John, John challenged them.

“Do you want me to prove I’m John? How else would I know this? Last summer you threw a barbecue at your house; you invited four of us from the office and told us not to tell anyone else in case it caused bad feeling that they weren’t included. At the barbecue you caught your wife flirting with Frank Flute from accounts. You took her into the hallway where you started arguing and slapped her in the face.”

Fellow started to interrupt but John ploughed on. “You only hit her once and you were sorry and hugged her, begging her to forgive you. I saw everything from the top of the stairs. You gave me an extra two hundred in my Christmas bonus for not saying anything!”

Fellow’s face turned an unusual shade of puce. He angrily faced the blonde man and demanded to know who he’d told. The blonde man spluttered, insisting he hadn’t told a soul. Thom stared at the blonde man. “What in God’s name do you think you’re playing at!” he yelled. “The only way he could possibly know that is if you told someone.”

“I know because I am John!” John yelled. “I know because I was there when you cried in your wife’s arms and begged for forgiveness. I don’t know who this is, but he is not John Good!”

The blonde man once more stated that he hadn’t said anything. “This must be some strange idea of your wife’s,” he almost pleaded. “I promise I never said anything. She was the only other person who knew about it.”

Thom stared at the blonde man blankly. That hadn’t occurred to him. Was his wife so twisted as to send someone into the office like this? And what for? This made no sense but it was the only sane explanation if he was to believe this man stood in front of him who he thought he knew and trusted. He turned to John and asked where he’d worked before coming to this firm.

“Snug Industries!” snapped John.

“What was your role there?”

“Marketing consultant.”

“How long did you work there?”

“From leaving school till I started here, about seven years.”

Fellow asked more questions as he opened John Goods personnel file on his PC. All the answers given were correct. Whoever this was knew John’s past in intricate detail. If this was a strange delayed revenge or joke or something by his wife, she’d certainly briefed him well.

The blonde man was starting to look nervous. When John answered a personal question about an argument with his wife he’d confided with Thom over a pint he couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “I’ve had enough of this!” he snarled. “I don’t know who this guy is or how he knows all this stuff but he’s freaking me out. Just throw him out”

“Who are you?” begged John.

“I’ve already said who I am!” snarled the blonde man. “Why the hell would I pretend to be me? I’m just an overworked, overlooked and underpaid data clerk in a software firm. More to the point, who are you?”

“But I don’t know what’s happening here!”

“I don’t know, maybe this is some CIA conspiracy to replace you John. After all you’re so important to us. Or perhaps I’m the worst fairy changeling that ever existed. Not only am I twenty years late, but I don’t even look like you!” The blonde man laughed sarcastically.

Fellow was also losing his patience. He opened the door to his room and stepped out into the open plan office beyond. He motioned to the blonde man who pushed John ahead of him out of the room. As soon as John was stood uncomfortably between himself and the blonde man, Thom shouted loudly across the office.

“Can I have your attention please? Does anyone here know this man?” He indicated John.

Robyn looked at the group of men. “He told me he was John Good from research,” she volunteered.

The petite black lady sat opposite Robyn laughed. “I don’t know why he told you that, but the blonde guy is John. He’s worked here at least five years.”

John felt sick. This was genuine. No one recognised him. There must be some kind of mistake. Things like this just didn’t happen. The black woman was called Iris and she’d worked with John since he started at the company. Why was she saying these things? John felt his knees weaken.

“This is a joke isn’t it? Iris, you must know me,” he pleaded. “I helped you change your tyre three weeks ago when you burst it in the multi-storey. You were driving up it too quick and you hit a curb on one of the turns. You live at Peasblossom Cottage next to the moors.” John looked round the room and picked another colleague who should have known him. “Peter, I’ve sat next to you there for two years now, come on Quincy, this joke isn’t funny any more. Come on, why won’t anyone say they recognise me?”

“Because no one does,” stated Thom bluntly. “Because this is John Good and you’re not. I don’t care who you are any more. But you’re leaving now.”

“If I’m not John then who the hell am I?” he yelled. He reached into his pocket, pulling out his keys and dropping them on the desk in front of him as he scrabbled for his wallet. He prised it from his suit pocket, then rifled through it and threw his photocard drivers licence, his bank card and the family photo with his wife and child onto the table. “See here,” he pointed to the licence, “John Good! And this is me and my wife Helena with Toby our son at his birthday party…”

He stopped in mid rant. The items he’d taken from his wallet were strangely distorted. The picture on his licence was blurred, his hair could have been blonde or brown, the facial features were wrong, as if another photo had been overlaid on the card and neither face could be distinguished.

The family photo was no better. His wife and child looked as normal, young Toby with his mothers face in miniature and the most mischievous grin ever to grace the face of a six year old. The picture of John himself was where the problem lay. This picture was larger than that on the licence and the distortion was more pronounced. The face in the picture did not belong to John; it was curiously unformed, almost in a state of flux. The hair once more was a mix of brown and blonde. John’s square chin could be gleaned in the picture if you squinted the right way but so could the blonde man’s more protruding jawline. It was as if John was fading and the Blonde man was taking his place.

As John struggled for words, Iris picked up his licence and laughed. John felt a glimmer of hope, perhaps this was a particularly bizarre joke and they were about to come clean. She showed the licence to Fellow who scowled and picked up the photograph. “What are you trying to prove with these? Blank photos, blank pieces of plastic?”

“They’re not…” John stopped and looked round as all his work colleagues checked the papers, all muttering, sniggering and shaking their heads. The only word John could hear through the fog that encroached on his senses was “blank?” This was getting worse. Not only did none of his friends know him, apparently they couldn’t see even the distorted pictures John could see on the cards on the table in front of them.

The blonde man looked at the papers. “I think we’ve seen enough now. Just get out before we call security to throw you out!” He passed the papers back to John and picked up the discarded keys. He started to pass the keys back as well and froze, hand outstretched and the keychain dangling.

“These are my keys! Where the hell did you them from?!” he snapped.

John panicked and grabbed the keys. He couldn’t work out what the hell was going on around him. This wasn’t a joke. He had to get out. With the keys now pushed deep into his jacket pocket he turned and ran out of the office as fast as his legs would carry him, before anything else could happen to destroy his sense of identity.

Once outside he looked round for his car. Someone had been in his usual spot that morning, probably that blonde impostor, so he’d had to park round the corner. This proved to be a blessing in disguise when John saw the blonde man and Thom, accompanied by a burly security guard run out of the building behind him and turn toward the car park, in the opposite direction.

John opened the car and sat behind the wheel, shaking. It was all he could do to hold onto his sanity. He had to see Helena. It was the school holidays so she was at home with Toby. John longed for reality to settle down around him and his beautiful family seemed to be the answer.

When he felt the shaking subside to a nearly manageable level, he turned the key in the ignition. Fate was smiling on him for the first time today and the car started first time, the engine purring like the new kittens currently living in the box in his airing cupboard. John couldn’t wait to get home and hold one of them, even risking the scratching he knew the mother cat, Titania, would try to inflict. His wife and child and cats and kittens would know him even if the rest of the world said he wasn’t John Good. They had to.

He released the handbrake and drove off. As he drove to his house, the events of the morning span in his head. No matter how he tried he couldn’t make any sense of it. Could there possibly be an explanation for this? He joined the motorway and soon regretted it. He couldn’t concentrate and the fast moving traffic was more than he could handle. He changed lane to avoid a slow moving Peugeot and didn’t see till too late the BMW that was tearing up the road toward him.

The BMW blared its horn. John looked in his rear-view and saw it inches from his back bumper. He panicked and swerved across another lane, cutting up a Vauxhall Astra which slammed on its brakes avoid him. It slid across the motorway and smashed into the BMW which span out of control, hitting the Peugeot and stopping it dead in its tracks. The cars behind braked hard, some managed to stop in time, others didn’t and they crashed into the cars in front of them. In all, seven cars were written off and another eight damaged in the ensuing pile up. The ambulances would carry four corpses from the accident and dozens of people would be severely injured.

Despite being the cause of the accident, John had miraculously not been hit. He stopped his car and looked back at the mangled wrecks behind him. The sounds of the driver’s and passenger’s screams reached him. He froze in his seat. What the hell was he supposed to do now? The sight of one of the victims, one of his victims, crawling out of the Peugeot, blood pouring from his scalp was the spur that made John start his engine again and race off towards his wife and child.

He saw the slip road ahead and left the motorway. Five minutes later he saw his house ahead of him. He’d never been so glad to see a house in his life. He parked carelessly in his driveway and sprinted to the front door. He scrabbled in his pocket for his keys; then he needed three attempts to insert it into the lock. Taking a moment to steady himself, he pushed the door open.

Helena was in the hallway, evidently having heard the key scratching in the lock. She looked at John, turned away to cough into her hand, then looked baked at him and smiled, “Sorry, frog in my throat” she said, “You’re home early John?”

“You recognise me?” asked John.

“Of course I do. What kind of stupid question is that? Who else would be letting themselves into the house with their own key?” She grinned as John laughed out loud and hugged her hard, never wanting to let go of this beautiful woman.

“You have no idea how bad my day has been. I can’t begin to tell you how strange it was at work and then I was nearly in a pile up on the motorway! Oh God, I love you so much Helena!” He hugged her again and asked “Where’s Toby?”

“He’s upstairs, on his playstation, I’ll fetch him. You make yourself a drink, you know where everything is.”

He laughed and watched Helena as she walked up the stairs, pausing only briefly to straighten the telephone on its cradle as she passed it. Even motherhood had not affected her shapely form. He knew how lucky he was that she was his wife.

John grinned and walked through to the kitchen not even waiting to take off his jacket. He opened a cupboard and removed a glass, looked round till he spotted a bottle of Southern Comfort and poured himself a generous measure, three fingers worth. He threw in a couple of ice cubes from the freezer and was looking for a mixer when he decided not to bother and swallowed the whole drink in one. He grimaced and chinked the ice cubes round in the glass. Seems a shame to waste them he thought and poured four fingers this time.

Walking through to the living room he swirled the drink, gazing fascinatedly at the amber liquid and the patterns that flowed round the ice cubes. He sat on the sofa and savoured the sweetly sour taste of the alcohol. He heard noises on the stairs and a six year old bundle of energy poured into the room.

“Daddy!” it yelled and jumped in his lap, causing him to come within a hair’s breadth of spilling his Southern Comfort. John put the drink down and hugged Toby close to him, kissing the boy on both cheeks. Toby squirmed in his grip and creased his nose at the smell of the alcohol on John’s breath. “Urgh! Don’t” he yelled, pushing off Johns knees and sitting on the floor staring up at the man on the sofa.

“How are the kittens today Toby?” asked John.

The boy shrugged. “Can I play on my game boy daddy?” he asked in reply.

John laughed. This was typical of Toby. “I’m not stopping you,” he said. “You play here; I’ll go and have a look for myself.” He walked into the hall, paused to let Helena pass him at the bottom of the stairs on her own way into the living room. He ran up the stairs, absurdly excited at the thought of looking at a litter of kittens. After the day he’d had he deserved to be acting a little strange.

The airing cupboard was already open and Titania was standing guard. John crouched and cooed at her, one hand outstretched, clicking his fingers softly. She hissed and aimed a paw full of sharp claws at his hand. “Easy girl,” he whispered and caught her paw, holding her leg carefully just above what passes for the ankle on a cat. He placed her leg gently on the floor and scratched her between the ears.

She miaowed and purred gently. John lifted her aside and looked into the bottom of the cupboard. There in a box were half a dozen squirming bundles of fur. Toby, in his six year old wisdom, had named them Blade, Balrog, Claws, Fangs, Killer and Tiddles. The sight of their purity and innocence filled John’s heart with joy.

John picked one out and kissed it, the pressures of the day starting to ease. It must have been some kind of sick practical joke at work. He couldn’t start to process the crash he’d caused right now. For now he would enjoy his family. He knew he would have to phone the police but he needed to get back on an even keel again first. He put the kitten, a scrumptious black one with a white bib he thought might be Balrog, back with its brothers and sisters (probably its cousins and uncles and aunts too as their mother was most likely their half sister in a normal tangling of the feline family tree).

“There you go my little darling,” he said, a real smile on his face for the first time since flirting with Robyn in the works kitchen. He scratched Titania behind the ears again and slowly padded down the stairs. He wanted to sneak up on Toby and swing him up and over his head the way he loved to be played with. Grinning with the anticipation of Toby’s delighted squeals, he tip-toed toward the living room door.

“I’m scared Mummy,” he heard from inside the room, “how long do we have play pretend that the strange man is Daddy?”

John’s blood froze.

“Shhh… Daddy will be here soon, he’s stuck in traffic because there was a crash on the motorway. As soon as he gets here, we can stop pla…” Helena stopped in mid sentence as she saw John in the doorway.

“Please don’t hurt us!” she begged. “Please.”

“Not you too? Please no!” John felt his knees give way beneath him like they were made of matchwood, and he curled into a foetal position on the floor.

“I don’t know who you are but you’re not my husband.” John’s prone position had given her strength. “Just get out now! John phoned me to tell me you were coming, told us to get out of here before you got here. I don’t know why he thought you were dangerous, you’re pathetic! Now get off my floor, stop scaring MY son and get out of my house! John is on his way here now; I wouldn’t want to be you when he gets here.”

John stared up at her. What could he say? He looked round the room and saw the wedding photo on the mantle. In this picture too his face was blurred and warped. In one last ditch effort to persuade Helena he whispered “Midget with a violin.”

“What?” she asked, a perplexed look on her face.

“It was the first thing I ever said to you, midget with a violin. You were playing double bass in the concert hall, I said you looked like a mid…”

“John’s been telling that story at parties for nearly ten years now. Is that really the best you could come up with?” Helena’s sarcasm was venomous. “Get the hell out of my house now you pathetic fool!”

She kicked at his leg as she shouted at him and caught him on a tender spot on his inner thigh. The pain was enough to make him crawl to his feet and stagger towards the door. He turned to look at her one last time before he left. To his shock she told him to wait and walked towards him, the expression on her face unreadable through his tears. Was it possible she was starting to recognise him? “I’ll have your keys now!” she snapped, reaching into the pocket of his jacket. She found the keys and put them in the pocket of her jeans. “I don’t know how you got these but you’re not keeping them.”

“I love you,” he pleaded as she pushed him bodily through the front door.

A car screeched to a halt on the road. The drivers’ door burst open and the blonde man leaped out. A second car pulled up close behind and Thom slowly stepped out of it, speaking on his mobile phone. From the couple of words John could hear, he knew Thom was talking to the police. A siren sounded in the distance, drawing closer every second. It might have been headed for the motorway crash but John didn’t want to take the chance. The blonde man had blocked his car in the drive. John did the only thing he could and ran off down the street. Thom started after him but the blonde man told him to stop, saying the police could deal with him.

“Are you ok Helena?” The blonde man held her tightly. She hugged him back, relieved that the lunatic was gone from their house. Now she should be able to breathe more easily again but she couldn’t. A lump had formed at the back of her throat and the tears started flowing down her cheeks.

“Thank God you’re here” she wept into her husband’s ear. The blonde man, known for the last three and a half decades to his friends and family – the people whose opinion in the matter really counts – as John Good, kissed her gently and stroked her head as he comforted his wife of the last eight years. “Who the hell was he?” she asked.

“I don’t know. He just showed up in Thom’s office saying he was me.” John pushed a hand through his blonde hair and guided Helena into the house. He offered Thom a drink but was politely refused. Fellow made his excuses and left for the office.

John spent the rest of the afternoon playing with Toby, talking to the police and trying to figure out with Helena what sane explanation there could be for the day’s events. The strange man had known everything there was to know about him. Although he didn’t seem to have been dangerous, John was unnerved to say the least that anyone could find out so much about him. And always there was the question of why? Why pretend to be him? And if it was some madman who genuinely believed, then that same questions still applied. How did he know so much and why had he picked John Good instead of Napoleon or Jesus?

That night in bed they made love as though it was their first time again, or maybe as if they knew it was their last time, the feelings are strangely similar. Then they slept, curled in each others arms for protection.

At some point in the night, the police car which was supposed to be watching the house must have driven off, for John couldn’t see it when he looked out of the bedroom window in the morning. He padded slowly to the bathroom. He was going to make a complaint about that later. There were no messages to say the lunatic had been caught. John asked Helena if she wanted him to stay but she murmured in her sleep that he should just go. Despite his nerves, John left the house.

As he opened his car door he noticed that the tyre marks in the lawn where the dark haired man had stopped his car had gone. They must have been washed out by the dew he thought. He hoped the police would be able to find fingerprints from the car they’d towed off the lawn the previous night. The sooner John knew the other John was locked up for his own good (in a manner of speaking) the better.

The motorway seemed to be its normal self, no sign of any more knock on effects from yesterday’s carnage, and John made it to work in the normal time. He drove into the car park and was annoyed to see his space had been taken. His space was a long way after the down ramp so he didn’t take a close look at the offending car before turning down and out of the multi storey and parking in one of the overflow spots round the corner.

He entered the office and headed straight for Thom’s room. Thom was sat at his desk so John tapped lightly and entered.

“Hi Thom,” he said. “I’m sorry, but with everything that happened yesterday, the Oberon report’s going to be a bit later than I planned. Is that OK?”

Thom stared blankly at him. “Are you one of the temps working in development?” he asked.

John laughed out loud. It was good to see Thom treating the situation with some humour. “I’m John Good, pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand in greeting.

“That’s a coincidence,” said Thom, “We’ve got a John Good works here already. He’s working on the Oberon project too. That’s going make things confusing. Have you got a middle name or something we could use instead of John?”

John closed his eyes and mentally pinched himself. Thom didn’t seem to be joking. What in God’s name…

“Here’s John now.” said Fellow brightly, picking up his morning coffee to take a drink.

John turned and saw the lunatic enter the office. The lunatic looked at him and cursed. “Damn, I knew I’d forgotten something.” He smiled brightly at Thom and waved his hand in an arcane pattern in the air. The room seemed to darken and Thom froze where he sat, his coffee at his lips but no movement. Even the coffee was frozen in a kind of stasis.

“What’s going on?” John was genuinely scared.

The lunatic turned to John. “You don’t know how close you were to truth yesterday. You’re not the worst. I am.”

“Who the h…h…h…!” John stammered

The lunatic ignored him. “I got here a day early. Whoops. Get to where you’re going early and the personality you take is still too strong, you’re convinced you’re real.” The new John grinned, “I really screwed things up. And the motorway…” the lunatic laughed, “people dead before their time and all that crap. That really was a mess.”

“What the fu…” the blonde man started.

“Time for you to go now.” the new John Good sneered.

He waved his hands again and the shadows behind the blonde man shimmered and thickened, taking on almost tangible shapes that changed as soon as you pinned down exactly what it was you were looking at. Tendrils of the shadow wrapped round the blonde man, gripping him, growing steadily thicker and surrounding him till soon he was no longer there, just another shadow against the wall.

John brushed his hand through his dark hair and grinned. Helena would soon wake with a picture of her new/old husband beside the bed and not know the difference. He looked at Thom, still frozen in place, touched him lightly on the forehead and searched for the memory of the blonde man’s entrance a moment before. It wasn’t difficult to replace it with a new memory of himself walking in.

He just had a moment left before time returned to normal. Just enough time to amuse himself. He tilted Fellow’s hand so the coffee cup was past the normal drinking point and stepped back to the office door.

Time resumed it’s normal pace and Fellow shouted with pain as he spilt a scalding cup of coffee down his front.

“Are you OK Thom?” John asked. “Here, borrow my hanky to mop it up.”

John helped Thom to clean up; he’d been lucky and spilt most of the coffee onto his suit jacket so it hadn’t soaked right through to the skin. “I’ve got the Oberon files for you now.” he said when the mess was almost clear. He passed the files to Mr Fellow with a grin. This project was going to make his name in this company.

This would be the start of a whole new life for him.

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2 responses

22 12 2010
Paul D. Brazill

Twp beaut stories. Gerald Johnston’s is especially good.

18 03 2013
http://4seohunt.biz/

Hi, I believe your site may be having internet browser compatibility
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I simply wanted to give you a quick heads up! Apart from that, great site!

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