From my vantage point in bed, I watched a small deer make its way out of the mist and jump onto a rock close to our wooden deck. I’d opened the bedroom curtains an hour ago just as the dawn was making its presence known. An icy mist surrounded our cabin on the edge of the cliff and the April air was fresh and crisp. Byron snored softly next to me, he slept like a log, but I had difficulty sleeping in a new place. The nightmares also didn’t help much and watching the mist was better than lying in the dark, pretending to sleep.
Byron stirred, grumbled about something unintelligible and snored happily again. Looking down at his face, snuggled deep into his pillow, I remembered how we’d met. I’d only been out of the institution a few weeks, shell shocked from my encounter with Jack and Dr Lynch. I was also stuck in a wheelchair that doctors predicted I’d never get out of. Byron was the physiotherapist assigned to my case. He was good looking, young and energetic. I was a complete mess and somewhat fragile. It took six months for him to ask me out. He waited until I took my first steps on my own. The date was a celebration of sorts.
The memory stirred something inside me. It resembled hope, although hope for a happy future was not something I usually allowed for myself. But at that moment, lying in bed watching the deer and the mist and listening to Byron snoring, I let that fragile feeling of hope grow.
The deer jumped off the rock and scampered away, out of sight. I snuggled further into the feather duvet, a contented sigh escaped from between my lips.
Then something all too familiar happened, something I’d prayed would never happen again. All hope for the future disappeared.
The air crackled with electricity as Jack appeared. He sat on the edge of the bed with his usual grin. His teeth were still yellow, sharp and pointy. He hadn’t changed in the last two years. He even wore the same black leather biker jacket.
“What do you want, Jack?” I whispered, trying not to wake Byron.
“What? No ‘hello Jack’? No ‘good to see you, Jack’,” he said. “What happened to the simple pleasantries?”
“What do you want, Jack?” I pulled the duvet up to my chin.
“Relax, darling. I missed you. That’s all,” he sighed. “Aren’t I allowed to visit my favourite pet.”
“For one thing, I’m not your pet, and for another, it’s only been two years.”
“Has it really been that long?” He looked surprised. “Time for us demons isn’t quite the same thing as it is for you. It feels like just yesterday we were having such a great time together.”
“Thankfully, for me, it’s been a while, but not nearly long enough.”
“Come on, Sarah. You don’t honestly expect me to believe that you haven’t missed me just a little bit.”
“Actually, Jack, my life has been wonderful since you disappeared in a puff of smoke.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That’s your problem,” I said, as I slid out from under the duvet. “I need some coffee.”
I slipped my feet into fluffy black slippers and slowly made my way towards the kitchen. Byron didn’t need to be involved with this. I’d hoped that my past with Jack wouldn’t interfere with my present and possible future with Byron, but I realised now that that was wishful thinking. The past always comes back to bite you in the arse.
“So you’re drinking coffee now?” Jack asked as he followed me out of the bedroom. “What happened to the green tea?”
“I never acquired the taste.” I put the kettle on. “Plus, no more job and no more you, means no more bleeding ulcer. So I can drink as much coffee as I like.”
“Coffee’s bad for you.”
“So are you and yet here you are.” I put a heaped spoonful of coffee in a plain white mug that resorts such as Crystal Springs seemed to favour. Byron had booked us a cabin in the luxury mountain resort as a surprise.
“I also want a cup,” Jack said, leaning against the kitchen counter.
“What happened to coffee is bad for you?”
“I’m a demon, honey,” Jack said. “I can eat and drink anything without having any problems.”
“Fine.” I took another mug out of the cupboard and put a spoonful of coffee in it for Jack. “Sugar?”
“Three, please.” He smiled.
My hand shook as I put the sugar in his cup. I hated myself for that sign of weakness. I took a deep breath and held it while I put two spoons of sugar in my own coffee.
“Don’t worry, darling,” Jack said, sounding strangely sincere. “I wasn’t given back to you. I’m here of my own accord. I wasn’t lying when I said I missed you. Besides, did you really believe that it would be that easy to get rid of me?”
I exhaled as I poured the boiling water into our cups.
“A girl can dream. Milk?” I asked, opening the fridge door.
“No thanks. I like my coffee as black as my little heart.”
“I didn’t know you had a heart,” I said, as I poured milk into my own coffee. I took my time stirring the coffee. I needed to slow my thoughts down. I needed to think. How could I have been so stupid? I’d been so proud of myself for giving him the slip two years ago, but now I realised that I hadn’t outsmarted him. I hadn’t evaded the curse that was Jack. I was stuck with him forever. I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. I thought about throwing the mug at him, but it wouldn’t do any good. I would just end up having to clean up the mess.
He clicked his fingers and once again my world was turned upside down.
I found myself sitting in a leather wing-backed chair. The smell of cigar smoke clung to the air. Jack and I were back in the same room where he’d told me the story of my father’s death. I’d sat in the same chair a little over two years before. I wanted to scream, but I bit my tongue and waited.
The room hadn’t changed much. It still had the same leather chairs, the same coffee table between the two chairs and the same bookcases lined the walls. The books were old. They looked like they belonged in a museum. I could smell the mustiness of the old paper. My hands itched to pick them up one by one and devour the pages with my eyes.
“What do you think about what I’ve done with the place?” Jack asked looking around the room with pride.
“Isn’t it a little manly for you?”
“There’s no need to be bitchy, Sarah,” Jack said, taking a seat in the chair opposite me.
“Fine, but it looks the same to me.”
“What do you mean it still looks the same?” he sounded hurt. “I had these chairs redone.” He ran his hands over the arms of his chair. “And I’ve expanded my collection.” He gestured towards the books.
“What do you want, Jack?” I asked again.
“You haven’t changed, have you? It’s still one question after the next with you. Can’t I just pop in for a visit and a chat?”
“No.” I crossed my arms and waited.
“So, who’s the new boy in the bed?” Jack asked while tapping his fingers on the armrest of his chair.
“His name’s Byron.” I couldn’t help the smile that crept across my lips as I said his name.
“You know he has to go, right?”
“Excuse me?” I hadn’t expected that. Fear for Byron’s safety turned my guts inside out.
“You heard me.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t and change the subject.” My heart pounded, and my skin crawled. “So how’s Carol?”
“Ah yes. That.” He paused for a beat too long. “How about we discuss her later?” He smiled. “I have a surprise for you.”
He clicked his fingers, and the air sizzled.
“Get them off me.” Kevin, my cheating ex-boyfriend and Jack’s latest victim, stood screaming in the middle of the room. His arms flailed around him. I saw the scar on his shoulder where I’d stabbed him with my kitchen carving knife. The shock of seeing him after so long brought tears to my eyes. Guilt stung the edges of my mind. I tried to choke back the sob escaping my mouth. Jack would take any sign of emotion as a victory. Blood gushed out of the self-inflicted wound at his throat. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to slit his own throat.
“Kevin,” Jack shouted. “Focus.”
Kevin’s eyes opened wide. He looked around as though he expected something to jump out at him.
“Remember what we discussed?” Jack asked.
“What are you waiting for?” Jack asked. “Go on, do it.”
Kevin looked at me. It took a few seconds for his eyes to focus. I saw a flash of anger cross his once-handsome face, which was quickly overcome by fear.
“Sarah,” Kevin said, his voice barely above a whisper, “I’m sorry for mistreating you and for cheating on you with Denise. I didn’t deserve you.”
The last sentence was probably the only part of his speech that was sincere, and he didn’t mean it in a good way. I was, after all, the reason for his current predicament. I’d given Jack to him, like a demonic STD. No matter what he’d done to me, no-one deserved Jack.
“Good boy,” Jack said. “Now back to the torture chamber you go.” Jack was about to click his fingers when Kevin interrupted.
“Please, no more snakes,” he begged.
“You’re right,” Jack said with a smile and mischievous glint in his eyes. “They were a bit boring. I will have to find something more entertaining.”
Jack clicked his fingers, and Kevin exited with a gut-wrenching scream.
“Why are you still tormenting him?” I asked. “Hasn’t he been through enough?”
“It’s fun, and he deserves it.”
“No one deserves you.”
“You know it really hurts me when you say things like that.” Jack pursed his lips in a pout that a two-year-old would have been proud of.
“You poor baby. Did I hurt your wittle feewings?” I asked using my best sarcastic baby voice.
“Actually, yes.” Once again his pout was something to marvel. “And don’t forget you gave Kevin to me. It’s because of you that he’s my latest toy.”
“What do you mean by toy? Isn’t it over once they kill themselves?”
“Not by a long shot my sweet. Once you’re mine, you’re mine forever.”
My fears were confirmed in that one sentence. No matter what I did, I would never be rid of Jack. I may be alive, but he would be a part of that life for as long as I lived, and when I died he would be able to do with me as he pleased. I wanted to scream. I also wondered if my father had been aware of that when he gave me to Jack. I certainly hadn’t been aware of it when I gave him to Kevin.
Rain pounded on the thatched roof of the cabin. Jack and his smoking room disappeared.
“Hey, Babe,” Byron’s voice sounded far away. “Couldn’t you sleep?”
Standing at the sliding door, I looked out into the mist-covered valley and watched the rain soak into the wooden deck.
“Babe?” Byron said a little louder, a little closer. “Hey, you made me coffee. You’re the best.” He slurped Jack’s coffee. “Bit sweet. Did you forget I only have two sugars? Sarah, is something wrong?” he started to sound worried.
I felt his hand on my shoulder. I flinched.
“Sarah, for heaven’s sake, say something.”
“I’m alright,” I whispered. “Just watching the rain.”
Carol sat on the old leather couch. Dr Michael Brink sat behind his desk, staring at her. She’d been seeing him for a couple years, and still, the visions persisted. They’d started the day of her wedding to Denise and the day her brother, Kevin, slit his own throat. The selfish bastard had done it right in front of her and ruined her perfect day.
The man in her visions or nightmares called himself Jack. Michael called him a hallucination, but she called him her own personal demon. The pills she took every day weren’t helping, in fact, her hallucinations were worse. Far worse.
“You’ve got to give me something stronger,” Carol begged. “Please. I can’t take this any more.”
“Carol,” Michael said, looking down at the pad in front of him, “there’s nothing else I can give you.” He didn’t meet her eyes. “Pills are not the answer.”
“So what is?”
“We need to get to the root cause behind these hallucinations and the best way to do that is if you talk to me and be completely honest, with yourself and with me. Stronger drugs will not solve the problem, they’ll only lobotomise you. They’ll turn you into a walking zombie. You don’t want that, do you?”
“Anything’s better than this. A bullet to the brain is starting to look good.” The sad thing was she meant it. She didn’t know how much more of Jack’s relentless punishment she could handle.
“Have you made a decision about who you want to give Jack to?” He was humouring her. She heard it in his voice. He thought she was completely crazy and hated him for it.
“I think my mother should get him.”
“That’s a pretty obvious choice,” he said leaning back in his chair. “But why not Denise? She left you to deal with your brother’s death on your own.”
“Do you know where Denise is?”
“She’s in Mauritius.”
“Nice place. How do you know she’s there?” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his untidy desk.
“It’s where we planned to move after we got married. We rented a house on the beach in Grand Bay. I got a postcard from her a few weeks ago, letting me know she’d bought a house on the island. Apparently, it’s next door to Princess Stephanie of Monaco’s place.” Tears slowly ran down her cheeks. She didn’t pay them any attention and ignored the box of tissues Michael placed in front of her. His gesture of kindness only increased her pain and her loathing for him.
Jack stood at the window holding Sarah’s hand. Sarah looked around the room in confusion. Carol tried to ignore the vision, but her heart thumped in her throat. She hadn’t seen Sarah in years, hadn’t wanted to see her. Sarah’s ordeal in the mental home had been splashed across the news. They’d even interviewed her on Carte Blanche, the South African version of Sixty Minutes.
The rape of catatonic patients had been a big story for about a week. Her fifteen minutes of fame were up. Seeing her with Jack made a certain kind of sense. It explained her going mad and, knowing what she knew about Jack, it explained how she’d gotten him. It didn’t explain how Sarah managed to survive.
“Is Jack here right now?” Michael asked, her face must have betrayed her.
“He’s standing at the window with Sarah.”
“Kevin’s ex-girlfriend. The one who stabbed him.”
“Oh.” Michael’s face changed as he glanced towards the window. “I’d forgotten you knew each other,” he whispered. He shook his head and the strange look, Carol had trouble interpreting was gone. The smile he gave her was fake, and she realised that he knew something about Sarah that she didn’t.
“I didn’t realise you knew Sarah. Were you her shrink?”
“I think our time’s up for today,” he said. “I’ll see you the same time next week.” He closed her file.
“We’ve still got ten minutes,” she said looking up at the clock on the wall behind his desk. “Are you the reason she ended up in the nut house? Was it your bad care that resulted in her rape?” She relished the pained look on his face the questions provoked.
“That’s all for today.” He stood and walked around his desk towards her. She looked up at him, reluctant to give in. She smelt his aftershave and wondered what the story was between him and Sarah. She would get to the bottom of it, she had to. Perhaps Sarah held the key to surviving Jack.
Michael almost jumped out of his skin when Carol slammed his office door. He stared at the spot at the window where Carol claimed to have seen Sarah and her so-called demon, Jack.
For the last two years, he’d tried to ignore the similarities between Sarah and Carol’s cases. He’d almost managed to convince himself that it was all some strange coincidence. The doctor and scientist in him would not admit that Jack could possibly exist. It had to be a shared psychotic event. A shared hysteria. They knew each other. It was possible. Kevin’s suicide had affected both of them. He tried to ignore the fact that Serah had been having those hallucinations before Kevin killed himself.
There were, of course, some therapists who believed that demonic possession was possible, but they were relegated to the fringes of psychotherapy and were mostly considered religious nuts and evangelists with psychology degrees. They were never taken seriously. And he was not a religious man. Religion had no place in his life or his office. But what if those religious fruitcakes were onto something? Could he afford to ignore the coincidence?
A coldness settled into his spine. It unnerved him. Concern for Sarah pulled at him. He realised that a lot of his worry for Sarah was generated by his feelings of guilt. He’d abandoned her to the care of that butcher, Dr Lynch. If it hadn’t been for what had happened to Sarah, he would probably have had Carol committed a long time ago. Her parents had tried to have her locked up, but as her psychiatrist, he’d managed to keep her out of an institution. Michael liked to think that it was that decision that prevented her from killing herself. He felt that putting her in a mental ward would only result in a faster spiral into depression and would result in her suicide.
Sarah and Carol were two very different women. Sarah was sensitive and caring, while Carol was a sociopath. Unfortunately, before her being institutionalised, Sarah had refused to take her medication. He couldn’t help but wonder if Sarah had taken her medication, would she still have ended up in a catatonic state and under Dr Lynch’s care. Carol, on the other hand, took her pills religiously and showed up for all her appointments, but she was still on a downward spiral, and it could soon be out of control. He just didn’t know what else he could do for her.
Sarah had come out of her horrific experience a stronger woman. He was proud and relieved that she hadn’t relapsed. She kept her weekly appointment and, even though in his opinion she didn’t need them any more, she insisted on keeping them. It was almost as though she hoped to keep the past at bay by seeing him every Friday. It was a relief that she didn’t blame him for what had happened, even though her mother did. Sarah even scheduled her holidays around her appointments with him. He’d become a type of rabbit’s foot for her, which also worried him. She needed to stand on her own two feet. There came a time in the doctor-patient relationship when you needed to let the patient go, cut the umbilical cord, and he and Sarah had reached that point. But cutting that cord was a complicated process.
For the first time in her life, she was able to love someone and be loved in return. Her relationship with Byron was healthy and a testament to how far she’d come in the last two years.
Carol’s vision of Jack with Sarah was upsetting, to say the least.
He fished his cell phone out of his right-hand pocket and using his thumb, punched in Sarah’s number.
“Hello,” she sounded out of breath.
“Are you okay?” His voice was serious.
“Are you psychic now?” The jovial tone didn’t cover the tightness in her voice.
“What’s going on?” Michael asked trying to keep his voice calm. He didn’t want her to know how worried he was.
“Nothing, except for a stupid idea. We’re going on a hike, and Byron’s picked this hectic trail that takes about three or four hours, and it’s been pissing with rain. He, being the genius that he is, doesn’t think that the rain and thick mist might make it a bad idea. He thinks the hike will be good for my physical therapy. I think he’s the one who needs your services.”
“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.” Michael heard Byron shouting in the background.
“Are you sure there’s nothing you need to talk to me about?”
“What’s wrong, Mike?” Now it was her turn to sound worried.
“If you say there’s nothing wrong, then there’s nothing wrong. Have a good hike.” He put the phone down before she could ask him anything else. He wasn’t even sure why he’d phoned her in the first place. He couldn’t tell her about Carol and her visions of Jack or that she’d claimed to see Sarah in his office with him. There were times he really hated doctor-patient confidentiality.
Besides, he reasoned, Carol seeing Sarah probably only meant that she was now adding Sarah to her psychosis and didn’t mean that demons existed. The whole idea was preposterous.
The wind swept over the desolate landscape. An ancient temple carved out of the mountain face watched over the timeless land. The Council of nine were assembled for the first time in centuries within the hallowed halls. Their world was changing.
Rain continued to pour out of the black sky, causing rivers to start forming in the low-lying valleys. There had never been rivers or lakes in their world. It was ridiculous, water in the Shadow World. What next? Trees? He scoffed at the idea and slammed his glass down before refilling it. He intended getting thoroughly drunk. It wasn’t something he usually did but, he thought, considering what was happening, there wasn’t a better time to do it.
Everything on this side of the veil was looking to him for answers, and he didn’t have any, nor did any of the other members of the council. He’d requested an audience with The Most High One, but her damn flunkies, the Princes, had informed him she didn’t want to be bothered, that it was his and the councils’ job to take care of things. If he couldn’t do his job, she would find someone who could. Which meant ritual disembowelment, followed by one of his heads being chopped off. Not something he was particularly looking forward to experiencing again. He’d been through it once before, and it was not an experience he wanted to repeat. Highly unpleasant.
He made himself another Martini and sunk into his sofa. Alcohol and pacing didn’t go well together. Sitting and drinking was a better idea. Maybe he’d see things differently through the haze of alcohol-induced panic.