Authors: B.A. Morton
B. A. Morton
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'Bedlam' is published by Taylor Street Publishing LLC, who can be contacted at:
'Bedlam' is the copyright of the author, B.A. Morton, 2013. All rights are reserved.
All characters are fictional, and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is accidental.
A primal reaction unfurled from a slender thread.
A shiver etched with icy claws upon skin stretched taut with dread.
Fear is subjective. I know this to be true. In my time I have faced them all. The scuttling arachnid, the hissing serpent, even the searing heat of the pyre has left me unbowed. But, when I stand toe-to-toe with the wide open space, the plummeting depths, the void at the edge of my world, the panoramic vista draws me, seduces me, entices me to take that final step back into Bedlam.
I’m shaking now deep inside. My organs rattle like poppy seeds in a desiccated pod. No warm flesh to cushion them, I am but a dry shell. Yet
I feel perspiration, cold against the back of my neck, hot on my face, and I force my eyes to remain open. This time I must see what lies before me. This time nothing will stop me.
I hear him coming softly through the darkness, his measured step as he circles ever closer. I feel his presence. The subtle movement of air around me as he moves disturbs my fragile being. I must retain focus, but I have not the power to resist as his warm breath whispers against my ear, taunting, teasing. He knows I will succumb, as I have for what seems like an eternity.
This time is different. I must overcome, I must succeed.
I inhale. The simple act of breathing causes my chest to burn. My heart beats a warning, my senses buzz. I clamp my mouth shut, hold my breath. He is all around me; he is poison - and yet
my lungs yearn for release. My body betrays me and my lips part with a soft sigh. The threat is real. I know it. I cannot help myself. I step forward.
My toes are bare, scuffed and bloody, but I feel no pain, merely the cold steel beneath my feet. I have travelled far. I am nearly there, almost at my destination, the point of no return. Sadness seeps from my pores. Melancholy hums gently in my head. I curl my toes over the edge, feel the roughness of rusted rivets, and steady myself against the night breeze.
He smiles. I feel it against my skin in the same way I hear his laughter in my head, harsh and mocking. He is letting me know that my actions are his and I am powerless. I seek out the rage that lies hidden in the depths of my used and abused excuse for a soul. It evades me.
I inch forward. Now my toes are free of the rusted metal and I pivot precariously on the balls of my feet. Cool air, an updraft of sweet intoxication beckons, and I am tempted. Behind, he urges me on, whispers his jibes, like lyrics to a favourite song, over and over until the chorus threatens to overpower me, to push me over, to pull me in.
I know what must be done. In my head, in my waking dreams, I have argued and reasoned with my doubting, lesser self. In my dreams I am strong, but now as I stand at the brink, at the beginning of the end, I am shaking, and he crowds my thoughts with his own.
He’s closer now, almost upon me. I feel his coldness where others might imagine warmth. I risk a final breath through pursed lips, and it is my undoing. The heady scent assails me, that coppery tang is love and life and all things to me, in my twisted perpetual world. My senses are bombarded. My brain is awash, alive. I clench my fists, curl my toes and plead with myself.
He laughs now, no longer in my head, but out loud, so all can hear the chilling sound. His venom anaesthetises my feeble revolt. My mind is numb with need. My nerve endings tingle. I begin to salivate.
It is almost
time. I feel the approach of midnight as strongly as I feel him. I am torn, pulled by twin temptations. His hand reaches out and caresses my arm. His icy touch penetrates my skin through dermis down to bone. I incline my head, weak and helpless, as he reaches my neck. I am done for, beyond help. My futile plotting, my longing for the end, is all for naught.
Raising my eyes, I see the clouds which shroud the night sky move gently, and the moon, serene and all-seeing, is released from darkness. All Hallows is upon us. I hear his gasp, the catch in his throat, and, finally, his weakness is revealed.
I have but a moment, the risk is great, yet I am suddenly energised, reckless in my naivety. I feel his bite, sharp and cold, and my body reacts, as I know it will. Iciness transforms to burning heat. Capillaries swell and throb as I come alive. My blood rushes to navigate every shrunken vessel, my organs rejoice. For one brief moment I have the power and he has naught but need.
I pull him close; he shares my precarious position on the very edge of nowhere. Bedlam beckons. The boiling maelstrom reaches out its welcome. This time I will not step out alone, I will not suffer the torment of another tortured existence, continually seeking redemption and finding nothing but trial and defeat. This time I will take him with me and he will finally know what it is, this half-life he has gifted.
The blade is sharp. I feel it against my palm. The silver glints in the lunar glow. It sings to me - a song of hope. His voice in my head is receding. My mind becomes free, filled with the joyous sound of the blade as it punctures his flesh. His confusion is overwhelming - betrayal and disbelief. But I have him in my embrace and he is lost.
I step out into the void, and this time we make the final journey together ... back to Bedlam.
The phone roused him from the pit of oblivion where he’d settled when both booze and willpower ran out. He lay naked amid tangled s
heets, alcohol-infused sweat leaching from his pores. Struggling to focus, he joined the dots, connected the shorted wires in his brain and re-established contact with the real world.
He winced at the repetitive buzzing, a dentist’s drill seeking out cavities in a brain where common sense had long since succumbed to decay, and with a muttered curse he reached out blindly to silence the racket. The contents of the night stand crashed to the floor. His stomach heaved. He felt like death.
“Huh!” he grunted into the phone, scraping the guttural sound past a sandpaper throat. His whole body ached, his nerve endings screamed for mercy, and all he could think about was more of the same. When his hand touched upon an empty bottle rolling on the floor, he swallowed painfully, took a long steadying breath, and turned his attention back to the caller.
“Joey, ‘bout bloody time.
I’ve been calling for the last half hour. Get your arse in gear. You need to get down here.”
“What time is it?” Joe McNeil slumped back against the pillow and risked first one eye, then the next. He tried to think, to put things in the right order, but failed. It was one thing knowing where he was, quite another recalling how he’d got
there. He turned his head and a tiny spark of hope was instantly extinguished as he confirmed he was alone. The side of the bed where she had lain was empty.
“Time you were out of your bloody pit and
down here working. You’re late - again.” The words jumped with impatience. It was well deserved.
Lately he’d been stretching things to the limit. People he’d known before, when times were good, had been covering his back, looking out for him, clearing up his mess and making his excuses, but irritation at his behaviour had seen them dropping off one by one, until only Dennis remained. Now even he was getting leery, anxious at just how far McNeil could possibly fall,
and more crucially, who might be dragged down with him.
Switching the phone to the other ear, he squinted at his watch. Eight thirty, Saturday, first day of the weekend, only he’d started his the night before with a lock-in. He hadn’t intended it. He never did. He’d begun the evening with good intentions, a name, a meeting and some information, if he was lucky, but it had spiralled out of control. Not that it mattered. Drunk or sober, his days were all running into one. Each day a replica of the one before: work, boozer and bed, the exciting life of an almost ex-detective. The way things were shaping up, it wouldn’t be long before the ‘ex’ became permanent.
“Piss off, Dennis,” he muttered. “It’s Saturday.”
“DI Todd, to you.”
“Piss off, DI Todd. Like I said, it’s Saturday.”
“And that makes a difference? When I call, you come running, DS McNeil. Perhaps you missed that page in the handbook? We’re picking up the mess from Friday night, or did you forget? So, like I said, get out from beneath the sheets.”
“Who says I’m in bed? I was lifting weights while you were on your first coffee of the morning.”
“Oh, yeah, pull the other one, Joey. You sound like shite. We both know you were down at
Minkey’s until well after closing.”
You checking up on me?”
“People with poor regard for the individuals you’ve been hanging around with lately.”
McNeil swung his legs over the side of the bed and rested his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands. “Yeah, well, people should mind their own damned business. I keep telling you, I’m undercover, I’m meant to hang with the tossers.”
“Of course you are, Joey. Just keep telling yourself that. I think his nibs might have misjudged you, mistaken you for a waste of space
who spends more time enjoying the company of low-lifes than he does locking them up.”
McNeil smiled sourly. The guv was on the money; he had indeed gravitated to the gutter. “Hey, you know what they say, it’s a shit job, but somebody’s got to do it, right?”
“Wrong. I’m just looking out for you. Sticking my neck out, as it happens. You want to invest all your hard-earned keeping Minkey’s missus in the manner to which she’s become accustomed, go right ahead. Just don’t let it mess with your job - right?”
McNeil lifted his head wearily. He didn’t need a lecture on top of a hangover. “For Christ’s sake, Dennis, so I had one too many. What’s the big deal?” He counted out the pause that followed and got to five before he heard the sigh. He knew why Dennis was pissed but was powerless to do anything about it. Okay, so he wasn’t undercover, not officially anyway, but he was on self-destruct. Not the gun to the head finality, but the slow malignancy that eats away until nothing is left but regret.
“We got another one ...” continued Dennis in the tone he dragged out especially for sombre occasions and shit jobs. “Mather’s in a ruddy spin. He’s got that bird from the ‘Herald’ on his case and I’ve copped for running the investigation.”
McNeil pulled himself back with a shudder. He knew without asking, but the words were out before he could stop them, “Another what?”
“Situation, Joey, another bloody situation, and as usual I’m a man down. That man being you. I’ve covered your back so far, but Mather’s just arrived to rally the troops and I can see him now doing a roll call, counting heads and bodies. You’d better make sharp before he runs out of fingers or you’ll be squaring up to him, not me. You need to be here doing your job, Joey, or you need to admit that you can’t.”
Already on one warning, behaviour unbecoming in a police officer, McNeil wasn’t stupid enough to make it two. He needed this job, and not just because it paid the rent. This job that he hated gave him access to people he’d rather not know and places he didn’t want to be, and right now that access was more important to him than life itself.
He kicked off the duvet and fumbled for his clothes, discarding a shirt with a grimace when the stink of sweat and booze made his stomach roll. He stood for a moment, wavering, with one hand on the nightstand, while he recovered his fragile equilibrium. He’d overdone it last night, even by his own standards. The game had, quite frankly, gotten out of hand, and he wasn’t quite sure how to pull it back.
“Where are you, Dennis?” he asked as he stumbled to the shower, hopping from one foot to the other on the chilly linoleum floor.
“You need ask? Where do you think? Murder Central. There’s been a bit of a party.”
McNeil closed his eyes briefly as the room began to spin. He steadied himself with a hand on a freezing radiator. The whole flat was an icebox, the direct result of ignoring the growing pile of unopened mail and bills. He shivered. He was done with the cold and the booze. He had an unwelcome flashback of an amply endowed girl, a tattooed man and a brawl in which he’d come off worse. He raised his right hand; the knuckles were grazed and swollen. Maybe he’d managed to land a few before he went down.
believing, Joey. Talk about painting the town red. Whoever did this bought a job lot from Dulux. It’s like the Tate Modern down here. All we need is a sheep in formaldehyde and we could charge an entrance fee.”
“You mentioned a body?” He sucked in a breath and let it out slowly, oxygenating his brain in the futile hope that it might improve his cognition. It merely focused his attention on his churning stomach instead.
“Bodies - plural.”
McNeil didn’t need parties, and he didn’t need bodies. He needed to switch off the phone, climb back into bed and sleep for a week.
“Okay,” he sighed. “I’m on my way.”