‘Like one on a lonesome road who,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend,
Doth close behind him tread.’1
‘That’s enough for tonight, baby girl.’
Her wide eyes marvel up at me, truly open; unassuming, yet to be blighted by bias.
I’ll keep her this way, long as I can. Keep the taint of this modern World from her eyes, long as I can. My baby girl.
Lord, I am grateful. Thank You.
She giggles as I gently kiss her forehead, puts her little arms ‘round my neck.
‘Good night, baby girl. Daddy loves you.’
I put the book on the table, tuck her in, get up and turn off the light. As I close the door, it dawns on me; this has been one of those moments you hear about people cherishing.
‘She down for the night, handsome?’
I turn to my wife who’s stood in our bedroom doorway. She’s wearing a look in her eye, a smile on her lips and a towel on… well, not much.
Definitely another one of those moments.
‘She is. Sorry I’m back so late honey, went straight in to see her. Long day.’
‘Well…you’re all mine now. Lord knows, that’s all I need.’
12 years; she still has that glint in her eye that I know is reflected in mine.
‘Been assigned a case today, baby. A big case… should make my name, God willing. Psycho-evaluation of a Mr Floyd Marlowe; what a name, huh? Nasty business, though. Apparently, he killed four peop…’
I’m cut off by a finger to the lips.
‘Umm, umm. I don’t want to hear no more talk of your nasty patients, Doctor.’
She drops her towel.
‘In fact… you don’t need to talk at all.’
12 years; I still only feel complete with her mouth on mine.
Lord, I am grateful. Thank You. 2
The photo in his file is haunting; dark, disturbed eyes set deep within dark sockets, long hay like hair making him out to be a twisted scarecrow. His long, drawn out face looks drained… even dying.
From the start, the file fixates me.
I read how on the canvass of the courts a very public picture was painted of Mr and Mrs Marlowe; high school sweethearts, married by 21. He’s successful, they have kids. Perfect All American Christian family… a good man.
Then… something happens; Mr Marlowe is compelled to return abruptly home from a business trip in Tokyo; he returns a changed man. As his employer’s testimony confirmed, he was sent home on account of ‘strange behaviour denoting severe distress.’ He descended down into a period of temporary insanity.
His erratic, paranoid and seemingly delusional behaviour subsided shortly after Tokyo. Instead, he traded these traits with those of a man in the grips of severe depression; quiet, inexorably worn out, his blank eyes circled by black rings of sorrow. Yet, he was more coherent…
He was more normal.
His wife, with tears in her eyes, told the court, ‘I don’t know him anymore. I haven’t for some time.’
He never returned to work; 6 months compassionate leave was all his 5 years loyal service bought him, apparently. Mrs Marlowe, however, admirably didn’t do the dirty on him, and they pretended they were happy, for a while.
Then, one day… Floyd simply disappeared.
The way his wife tells it, ‘He was gone for a long time before he actually left.’
2 months later, Floyd not-so-simply re-appeared, sporting manic eyes, mangy hair… and a machete. He launched a ‘viscous, violent and heinous attack’ upon a board meeting, an eye witness told the jury; he killed the man he once called boss, and three of his former-co workers who got in his way.
I look at the picture again, wish I hadn’t; notice a slight smile I could swear wasn’t there before.
Tomorrow, I get the pleasure of meeting the reality; I get the pleasure of deciding whether he’s put to death, or committed for the rest of his natural life. 3
Whilst getting ready for bed, brushing my teeth, my mind is lost to visualizations of our inevitable encounter. I drown in a vivid vision; sat at a table opposite him, his drawn face, his evil eyes, sat in silence, staring a hole through me. I’m waiting for his inevitable lunge, where he’ll sink his teeth into my throat; tear my Adam’s apple from it.
My head involuntarily shakes; I feel a pain in my mouth and notice blood on my brush. I part my lips; see raw gums in the mirror. I stare in disgust at my own image, tear myself away.
‘Honey, you been in there awful long. Everything OK?’
Lord, give me strength.
‘I’m almost finished, baby. I’m almost finished…’4
‘My apologies, Sir, but I’m sure you understand. Routine.’
‘No apology necessary.’
I outstretch my arms and part my legs, trying not to shake. He pats me down mechanically, thoroughly, doesn’t notice the sense of dread I carry with me.
‘Thank you, Sir. You may proceed.’
He tips his head, gestures down the hallway. I nod then slowly walk the dirty white walkway, conscious of my breathing, trying to keep calm. Prisoner’s heckles and screams follow me all the way to the last room on the left.
I stop, place down my briefcase, then slowly adjust my tie.
I take a deep breath as I cross myself.
Lord, give me strength.
Briefcase back in hand, I open the door. The room’s dark, a bulb must be blown; shadow covers his side of the room like fog. He’s led on the small, hard bed in the corner. One foot touches the floor; his hands cradle his head, lost amidst the jungle of his matted blonde hair. I can feel his sharp eyes on me; I clear my throat and command my voice, best I can.
‘Good Afternoon, Mr Marlowe.’
The discomfort I feel tries to claim my countenance, but my professionalism prevails, barely. A restrained malice briefly tightens his brow and shows through the deep, dull, green of his eyes. I try to smile; I fail. I try to hold his stare; I fail.
His cracked lips recede to reveal a rotten sneer.
I’m looking into my bathroom mirror, disgusted…
Startled, I do the best I can to compose myself; I sit, I try to talk. Note pad shaking in my hand, I ask simple questions; his upbringing, his family, anything to get him talking.
The whole time his narrow eyes stare; unblinking, unnerving. His head tilts toward me; his mouth hangs open. Not one word.
Not one word.
For the rest of the day the memory of him cuts my every positive thought to pitiful, desperate ribbons.5
‘You’re quiet, baby.’
‘Difficult day, honey. Difficult day.’
She kisses my cheek.
‘You make sure you leave them at work, OK? Here at home, you belong to me and our baby girl. You hear me?’
‘I hear you.’
I manage to smile, but by the time it’s travelled to my eyes, it’s merely a memory to the mouth.6
Second day; I’m determined to at least establish a decent first contact, attempt to gain his trust. When I enter, he’s on the bed, same position as last time. Strong minded, I ask inane questions in an attempt to shatter his silence; I don’t ask him why terror makes me want to scratch off my skin whenever I hold his eye contact. After a string of questions being rendered rhetorical by default, I hear a desperate tone tint my voice…
‘Please, I just want to know what… what made you… made you this way. You were a good man, once. Possibly… probably, you still are.’
His lips part, not a smile, not a grimace; an animalistic baring of bloody, mangled teeth.
I slow my breathing, close my eyes tight shut, try to keep control. I hear a creak from the bed.
Open my eyes, immediately wish I hadn’t; his rotten smile and empty eyes are inches from mine. I fall back, my breathing ragged and I try to call for the guard; my throat is a cement mixer and a painful rasp is all I achieve. Again, his lips part; this time, with a purpose…
His voice is deep, strained and scratched.
‘Why do you care?’
The shock renders me dumb.
His head tilts and his eyes sharpen.
‘I care because… because I want to help you. Get better. I want to help you get better.’
He spits a spiteful, dismissive laugh, shakes his head. He looks to the floor and pauses.
‘Get better? Get better?’
He stands, turns his back on me.
He sinks back into the darkness of his usual perch and almost immediately, his eyes seem to gloss over, offering nothing more than apathy; what is he hiding?
Face burning, eyes watering, I gather my papers, stuff them into my briefcase. I stand, brush myself down, then find I’m able to look at him, for the first time, without feeling fear.
‘I do want to help you. I swear to God, I want to help you.’
He doesn’t react. I turn to leave; I’ve almost closed the door when his deep voice stops me still.
‘Doctor. Come again tomorrow. I’ll talk to you. You have my word.’
I don’t respond. I don’t need to. 7
I barely sleep. I feel as though I’m in a glass house; once removed from all sight and sound not relevant to Mr Marlowe. I sift through what I plan to say, remove the stones.8
‘We’ll start today with some Rorschach Blot Tests. You know what they are, so, please Floyd… tell me what you see here.’
His disbelief becomes a mask.
‘A pretty fucking butterfly… dancing with Disney characters.’
I thought as much.
‘Okay… so… tell me, what do you want to talk about?’
The sides of his mouth curl, ever so slightly.
‘What do you want me to talk about?’
I hold my frustration at an arms length, knowing the right question could crack his cocoon…
‘I want you to tell me about your life… your life before Tokyo.’
He suddenly shifts his chair closer, brings his face uncomfortably close to mine.
‘OK, Doctor. I was a religious man, like you. Looking back, I can see I was happy, though you never really know it ‘till you’re not. I was a married man, like you. I loved my wife, and she loved me. I had two children…’
I interrupt him, cautiously…
‘Floyd, you still have two children. And how did you…?’
He speaks to me as if I’m a child.
‘No. Now I have nothing. And they cling to you like stink on shit; your family, your faith. ’
I’m glad when he finally speaks again.
‘I enjoyed my job; it had its perks… like travel. We’d take potential clients on expensive trips, wine and dine them until they were too fucked and bloated to resist the pitch. This, I was good at.’
He stops. I call off the pantomime of professionalism, and lean in close.
‘What happened in Tokyo?’
‘Doctor… be careful what you wish for’.
‘Cut the crap, Marlowe. Tell me…’
His eyes and smile shift under the descent of a dark cloud.
‘We’d made the deal; it was time to celebrate. We went out, got drunk, hit a club. The rest left and I didn’t. Going back to the hotel in the early hours, I came across an old man. He sat on a street corner with a haggard old dog. Feeling generous, I reached in my wallet for all the currency I could spare. I tried to speak to the old man, but when our eyes met, I was silent… there was something in them. Something I couldn’t place, wouldn’t want to understand. You know the feeling I mean…’
Denial would be absurd.
‘Please, Floyd… please, continue…’
He starts to sob; softly at first, then with his entirety. I’m captivated and confused.
Suddenly, he lunges forward, puts his hands ‘round my throat, slams me to the ground. With tears in his eyes, laughter on his lips, his speech flows with the urgency and intensity of lava…
‘I’ll fucking tell you. I’ll fucking tell you, Doctor. You want to help me get better? Well… here it is, you self-serving fuck…’
I try to scream, but his hand’s clamped over my mouth. Spit flies from his mouth as he spews hateful words…
‘That old man, who I was trying to help, told me a story…
Do you know that your perception is more limited than you can possibly comprehend? DO YOU?! Do you know that we see nothing… NOTHING… of what is really happening? We all walk around in our own self-delusions, aware of nothing more than our own materialistic needs, worrying about our hair, our clothes, our jobs… worrying about what other people think… trapped in a pathetic, ego-centric loop of self-loathing.’
I struggle. With desperate ferocity, he hits me with the back of his hand.
‘There are… other… plains of perception. These plains are inhabited by things too wretched to be believed; souls too damned for hell, walking the Earth, our ignorance allowing them to do their bidding undetected…’
I stop struggling. Unbelieving, I look up at him.
Tears stream his face.
‘They curse people… let people see them… so they can torture them. In every reflection, in every moment spent alone, in the eyes of the ones you love… they mock, they scream, they share their suffering. They aim to drive you to suicide. For every soul self-sacrificed, the Devil has decreed that the Wretched can claim the body of the fallen, and walk the Earth as a mortal, once again. Their final aim… to create Hell on Earth. This has been going on since the dawn of civilisation… we all feel it, in our hearts and in our minds… that implacable feeling of corruption and despair. But in our World of mass media and materialism, who has time to listen to their own soul? Seeing is believing, Doctor. All you need to do, is have your eyes opened for you… and now… now yours are.’
He crawls on the floor, desperately laughing when he isn’t crying. I slowly stand, barely breathing.
He really is insane…
‘I swore I’d never pass this… this thing on… but now… now I have. You see, Doctor, the old man gave me a choice… if I simply told another of my curse, for me, it wouldn’t be so bad; it wouldn’t be so intense. You can’t unlearn… I’ll never be the same again, but as a reward for bringing another into their reach… it’ll get better for me. I tried to bare this burden alone, and I have… God help me, I have… but you… you wanted to know. Well, Doctor… now you do…’
I feel my fists ball; compelled by anger, I lunge forward.
‘You’re pathetic! PATHETIC!’
He doesn’t defend himself; sickening crack is followed by sickening crack.
‘YOU THINK THIS… THIS DELUSION… IS AN EXCUSE FOR MURDER?!!’
I punch till I can’t. Breathing deep, I look down at his smashed face. He laughs an inaudible laugh, shaking underneath me.
‘I can’t kill myself, Doctor, but the state of Texas is more than willing to… for murder…’
He can’t control his laughter.
‘I wish I were. You’ll see Doctor, believe me… you’ll see.’
‘Now… if you could do me a favour, Doctor… and tell the kind people of the jury how sane I am, they might be kind enough to arrange a nice little injection.’
‘NO, Doctor. You don’t understand, do you? Now… you’re the one who’s sick.’ 9
Something is happening to me…
I hold my wife, look her in the eye, try to ignore the screaming; she can’t hear it, so it can’t be real.
I ignore the twisted, torn images of terrible things that play on my peripheries. They’re not real.
I look in the mirror, ignore the removed look in my eyes… ignore the black sludge that drips from the roof; ignore the eyes that look out from it.
I’m drowning in an unseen ocean, trapped inside my own head, as if down a dark well, slowly filling with a dark, constricting ooze, sharp, groping hands just below the surface. 10
Eventually, you forget it was ever different.11
‘What’s wrong, honey?’
Our daughter cowers behind her; the eye that dares to look at me filled with fear and confusion.
Lord… you gave me nothing.13
‘You really want to know?’