“He raped me,” Jason called out. Then he sat up and opened his bleary eyes. “He raped me?”
He found himself once again sitting on the dead grass of his front garden, next to the feet of his familiar garden ornament. He looked past the statue and saw two new additions, identical in every way to the first. He now had three of Lilith’s flowers for company. The lives I’ve killed? he wondered. Is that what these dreams, these visions are? A moment of a possible life; someone who may have lived until I erased that possibility from existence?
“…it’s a gem. It’s not who you killed in life. They’re done and dusted. It’s the ones you’ve stopped from having a life.”
He looked down at his legs and realised he was naked. He rubbed his knees: no broken bones, and there were no marks to show there ever had been. He felt his nose and mouth. No cuts, no stitches. No souvenir to show he had suffered at the hands of Xavier, and no evidence of being cremated by the caretaker either. He felt sick as he realised a truth about hell. If you died here, or, to be more precise, if Lilith or a caretaker killed you, you’d be reset like some kind of nightmarish game. The only way off this eternal merry-go-round is to get to the mountain. To stand a chance of getting to that mountain, he had to avoid any more of hell’s resident freaks.
“You damn stupid fool,” he said, thinking about his time at Xavier’s castle. He staggered to his feet like a drunk from a city gutter. The dead grass felt rough beneath his bare feet. Wind and sand blew past and bit at his bare skin.
He looked down at himself, hoping Xavier was wrong about… The bastard was right, it shrivels away to nothing. The shock of his apparent emasculation, and seeing a mere polyp where his penis and testicles once hung, was brief. Or was shock something that no longer carried much weight? Fear, or any emotion for that matter, was just a millstone that would slow him down, autonomous purpose now blocking out any emotional obstacle. Or were his senses and emotions forever lost, burned away with his body by the caretaker? Get to that mountain, he told himself with spiritless resolve.
He walked into the house, his mind quiet and unclouded as he passed family photographs without a fleeting glance. Memory triggers lay hidden in drawers, cabinets, and boxes. He felt no desire to open them and reminisce. His mind became a tunnel, with the light from one objective the only thing in view.
From his bedroom wardrobe and bedside chest of draws, he removed a pair of boxer shorts, black cargo trousers, socks, and a black hooded top. He put them on and then went downstairs. From the cupboard under the stairs, he retrieved a pair of leather hiking boots and a tartan scarf.
He thought about what he could arm himself with this time and wished that he had taken up archery as a hobby. Or clay pigeon shooting. No, a shotgun would be of little use here. If lighters and matches wouldn’t ignite, he doubted shotgun cartridges would fire, either. A bow would be useful though. Stick to the point, he urged himself. Make use of what you have in the house and get moving.
He moved through his old home like a burglar on steroids. Shit! Everything looks so bloody domestic, he thought, as he ripped drawers from their runners. His mind raced again, panic muddling his thoughts. There must be something other than kitchen knives he could use as a weapon. He grabbed another knife from the kitchen’s knife block anyway, and then holstered the blade between his belt and the material of his trousers.
“The garage. Of course, my toolbox.” He ran out the kitchen door and along the side of the house.
In the garage he found another spade. It was smaller than the one he had used to dig Emily’s grave, but still too heavy to carry across the desert. The grinning face of half a gnome looked up at him; he kicked it away. Bamboo canes, a plastic watering can, a lawn mower, and a rake lay in disarray. He soon located his small plastic toolbox. He pulled the two flip-up metal clasps and opened the box.
“What are you going to do with that? A spot of DIY?”
He removed a carpet knife and put it in the side pocket of his trousers. A large flat-bladed screwdriver joined the kitchen knife holstered in his belt. A small hacksaw? “No.” He dropped it back into the box. Then he remembered Xavier’s cages. How many more whack jobs are out there among the dunes? he wondered. This would be useful to cut the wire mesh or bars of a prison. He picked up the hacksaw once more and unclipped its blade. Then he used black electrical tape to cover the blade’s toothed edge. He used more tape to fasten the blade to his leg, beneath his trouser leg, then continued to rummage among the contents of the toolbox. He removed a pair of plastic safety goggles and hooked the elastic strap over the handle of the screwdriver in his belt. He decided nothing more would be of use and, giving the garage one final quick glance, made his way back into the house through the front door. Looking this way and that, he wondered when the next desert-dwelling aberration would appear.
He stopped in the hallway as his thoughts descended into chaos. Images of Xavier’s cages flashed before his eyes. The people in those cages, shackled to the bars, and the decapitated heads scattered about the ground in the courtyard. He remembered the fear in their eyes, and their mouths opening and closing with silent words, screams that would never be heard. And he thought of the dismembered men hanging from makeshift crucifixes. The woman who had helped him flashed front and centre into his mind. She had experienced Xavier’s twisted perversions, yet, as she hung from the bars of that cage, she had tried to help. If it hadn’t been for her directing him, would he have thought to throw the pickaxe at the statues, thereby summoning a caretaker?
You can help her, he told himself. You can go back and free her, and the other people in that bastard’s castle, too. Xavier can’t hurt you anymore; he’s out of action, thanks to that creature. But had it finished him off or left him crippled? If the caretaker had also reset Xavier’s life in hell, he could be waiting once more, like a spider waiting for its prey to set foot on its web. Why risk crossing paths with that sick fuck again. You’re no hero, so don’t pretend to be one. You came close to spending an eternity in hell as a plaything for a sadistic lunatic. But you escaped, got away and now have another chance to get to the mountain and give Emily life once more. Don’t screw it up by trying to be heroic.
He tried to refocus his thoughts and dismiss any ideas of going back into that den of torture, but the woman’s face was still there in his mind’s eye. I could go back, he thought, and look from a safe distance. If Xavier is still by the fence at the back of the castle, and if he’s not moving, I could help the woman. He relished his additional thought of ramming a screwdriver into the side of Xavier’s head and turning him into a “screamer”. He resolved that, as long as the psycho was still by the fence and not moving a damn muscle, he would try to help them.
He opened his front door and looked out at the desert. A shiver of dread overcame him. His stomach bubbled and turned. He fell to his knees and retched. The crippling spasms forced him to double over. He wanted to release whatever was trying to force its way out of his stomach, but nothing projected from his mouth.
“Keep it together. Don’t lose it now,” he said between retches. Another explosive urge knocked him off his knees, and he fell hard against the wall in a crumpled heap. He rested in the hallway for a moment until his stomach calmed, staring at the wallpaper—a horrible flower pattern Zoe had picked. He closed the front door again.
“Don’t give up now,” a soft voice whispered from behind him.
He felt warm breath on the back of his neck. “No… Please, no.” He turned his head, expecting to see the Devil’s bride. But he was alone. His eyes darted back and forth. Dust hung in the air as a delicate silken mist. Did he imagine her voice?
A slight, almost imperceptible vapour moved towards him from the far end of the hallway. The fine mist stopped a few feet away. It moved back and forth, the motion building and becoming more substantial. Fleeting glimpses of yellow shot across his vision like a comet’s tail, or… was it a yellow dress? Threads of shimmering red came into existence and whipped past his cheek. Lilith’s face materialised inches from his own, close enough for him to see his fear reflected back from her glaring eyes.
“One bone shall I remove for every second you remain here.”
Jason scrambled to his feet, wrenched open the door and sprinted out. Once past the statues, he stopped, turned, and looked back at his house.
The front door stood open, offering an empty hallway, with Lilith nowhere in sight. A moment later, Jason ran into the desert.
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