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Well now. Well well. Here we are.
It’s been a long time. I suppose, if nothing else, I owe you an explanation for all this. We have some time to spare – you won’t be missed for quite a while – so there’s no need to rush things.
We haven’t talked like this since the old man’s funeral. Well, maybe not like this, but you know what I mean. Don’t try to struggle, by the way – I’ve done my best to make you comfortable, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself.
I suppose I was a bit of a wreck back then. I’m sorry for any upset I may have caused, but I really wasn’t in my right mind. I’d had the rug pulled out from under me, and that whole period just seemed to pass in a kind of dense grey fog. Since then I’ve had a lot of time to think: I’ve got things sorted out in my head now. Things make a lot more sense.
You were probably right to get out when you did. I mean, I hated you for it at the time – and for years afterwards, in fact – but now I can see why you had to do it. The house was a terrible, terrifying place, and the old man… Well. You know what he was like. You had a life to build for yourself: there was no way you could have done that if you’d stayed. It did feel like you’d abandoned me, though. Left me to rot in that damn house while the old man just got worse and worse.
But you were totally justified. I can see that now. I can see why you didn’t call, or write, or try to make contact in any way. I won’t pretend it didn’t hurt, and hurt deeply, but I know now that you were only doing what had to be done.
Things got bad after you left. They were bad before, of course, but that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. You were, what, sixteen when you left? Almost an adult. I was twelve. Just twelve years old. Little more than a child. With you there, I had an ally, someone to stand fast with when things got rough. With you gone, I had nothing. The old man’s madness had nothing to hold it in check.
You still remember those nights? Those long, endless nights when the old man was at his worst? I bet you still dream about them sometimes. Huddled together in the dark, suffocated by terror, longing for morning to come so the shadows would subside again. Remember? Christ. The whole house was infected with his insanity. I swear you could feel the damn thing breathing throughout the night, creaking and wheezing like the old man’s arthritic innards. Black and rotten and poisoned to the core.
And the things we’d see… Half-formed intimations of the old man’s dark imaginings, uncertain figures unfolding from the shadows as the night roiled and bubbled around us. The pipes in the walls would groan and gurgle as if to the listless spasms of some unseen diseased heart while the beams and floorboards shifted and settled like ancient bones.
You were strong, back then. You saved me. You always told me that there was nothing to be afraid of, that none of it was real, that everything was okay and there wasn’t really anything there. I could listen to your voice and I’d almost believe it, even as I watched the darkness seethe with those faceless forms that the old man conjured from the deepest recesses of his insanity.
After you left it was just me and the old man. Just the two of us rattling around in that ramshackle house like two teeth in a broken skull. With you gone there was nothing to hold him back. The tide of madness finally overwhelmed him, and it swept me along with it. Without you as my anchor I was completely at the mercy of the wild internal storms that raged and howled through the old man and echoed with a dark ferocity throughout that terrible house. Even if I had the words to describe to you the things I saw and heard between those walls I don’t think I could use them – there are some things that deserve to be buried, consigned to the deepest depths of memory and never shown the light of day ever again.
His rants and rambles got worse as time wore on. He could paint such pictures with words, that man. Pictures I’ll never be able to forget. He was a maverick, a metaphysician, a mystic, and a pure bloody maniac. He talked about playing fast and loose with the rules of reality, blurring the lines between the real and the unreal through sheer force of will – sometimes it seemed like I could follow what he was saying, and at other times I would feel myself completely smothered by his grandiose avalanches of eloquence.
But he was on the brink of something, the old man: I’m sure of that. Despite all the fear and madness and crippling confusion that suffused those years, there was always the feeling that something momentous was in the air. As if he were about to break down the bounds of reality itself through the sheer weight of his inspired madness. He could have changed everything.
So as you can imagine, I couldn’t believe the old man would do something as mundane as to die before he’d reached his goal. With him gone, what had it all been for? All those years of fear and torment, teetering above an abyss of unreason that threatened to steal away my very humanity at any moment – what had been the point if it was all to melt away to nothing with the passing of the old man?
For months I felt utterly lost in the world, as if I’d been cast ashore all alone on a desert island. Like a sailor finally returned to dry land after a lifetime at sea, I pitched and lurched aimlessly through my life, still feeling the influence of invisible tides that no longer acted upon me. I felt dizzyingly normal, and couldn’t find any purchase on the world.
I often thought about just ending it all, left alone in that dark little house like a worm in a decaying apple. I came close a few times. I came very close. But I shouldn’t have doubted the tenacity of the old man; I should have been prepared for his sheer bloody-mindedness. If ever anyone could best the grave it would be him.
Day after day the revolver sat there on the kitchen table, looking clumsy and heavy in the grimy light that wheezed through the filthy windows. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Head in hands I’d sit there for hours on end, waiting through the still and silent nights for the coming of another empty dawn.
Then one night, just out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something. Something fleeting and almost imperceptible. Just for a second, a split second, the grain of the wood on the table top shifted, swirling around a nondescript knot on its surface. Those haphazard whorls and ridges fleetingly coalesced into a familiar nexus of folds and wrinkles, and for a moment the old man’s eye was staring back at me, only to disappear in an instant with a knowing wink.
Well. That was the beginning. The old man wasn’t gone, despite the fact that we’d put his body in the ground. I’d see echoes of him in the yellowing wallpaper in the bathroom, in the networks of cracks on the faded porcelain in the hall cabinets. He’d been too wrapped up in this house and the dark obsessions he’d formed here to ever truly leave.
I began to see hints and flashes of him everywhere: eerie, upstart irruptions that bled a semblance of life back into that crumbling husk of a house. Illicit life, but life nonetheless. It was clear what was happening – the old man had unfinished business. He was coming back to finish what he’d started.
I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating that time was for me. I could feel the old man around me, in every spar and shutter of the house, lurking round the edges of things like a half-remembered dream, yet he was still too fleeting and insubstantial to be a real presence. The echoes of him that recurred and rebounded were mute, idiot apparitions that lacked any real substance.
But I knew he was coming back for a reason. He had something to tell me – in death I knew he had found that which he had continually sought in life. Yet he was unable to pass on his great secret. I feared that he might forever be bound to lurk in the dusty corners and edges of the world, trapped in a perverse half-life that made a mockery of all that he had once been and all that he had striven towards.
It became clear to me that what he needed was a medium more suited to communication. His deep connection with the house had anchored him there within the patterns of its threadbare carpets and the blooms of mildew on the walls: but now that he’s shown himself to me, I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t help him articulate the message he has come back to pass on.
Which, of course, is why you’re here.
Can you feel that? That kind of thrumming in the air? God, but it’s exhilarating, isn’t it! He knows you’re here, you know. This is where everything finally comes together. This is what finally makes it all worthwhile.
You were a hard man to find, you know. I can’t blame you for wanting to put as much distance as you could between yourself and this place, but you did go to some extraordinary lengths. It was tough tracking you down, but I needed you. We needed you. And now here you are, back in the house where we grew up. Everything has come full circle.
You see, the things that happen to you when you’re young, they leave a mark. An indelible mark. You’re young and impressionable at that age, so it’s like pressing a thumb into wet clay. You can cover it over later on, but that mark is always there, deep inside you, set in stone forever. You and I share the same mark. Well, maybe not quite the same, but as near as dammit. Near enough, anyway. The whorls and ridges of the old man’s thumbprint are cast inside us. And that’s a connection neither of us can ever shake.
This house has been steeped in the old man and his madness for years. The place is saturated, right down to its bones. That’s why he lurks in every crevice and cobweb – it’s a part of him, just as he is of it. And you’re a part of him too. You can be his host.
So. It’s a simple process – shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. It probably won’t even be that painful: just a few moments of discomfort. I don’t know how it will feel afterwards. Part of me wishes I could know, wishes that it was me going through this instead of you, but one of us has to remain and see things through to their proper conclusion. I’m just the witness: he needs a mouthpiece. He needs you.
I found the method in an old medical textbook in the old man’s library. Apparently it was all the rage half a century ago, the transorbital leucotomy. Popular for all kinds of mental disorders. It’s quite simple, really. An icepick is inserted into the top of the eyesocket beneath the eyelid. A sharp stroke with a mallet and it punches through the thin layer of bone and into the brain – don’t worry, it’s not as haphazard as it sounds. The angle of entry has to be precise, as do the movements of the pick once it’s entered the brain: I’m quite the expert. I’ve practiced until I can almost do it in my sleep. First the left eye, then the right. Punch in, sweep downward, slice left then right. I’ll be as controlled and delicate as a master locksmith picking a lock. This separates the prefrontal cortex from the thalamus. It’ll wipe everything clean. You’ll be like a blank canvas, ready and waiting for the old man to reveal his final masterpiece.
And I’ll be here to capture it all for posterity. Think of it – the three of us together again, but not in fear and confusion and misery like before. Now we’ll be joined together in triumph, in a grand victory over reality, over the substance of life itself. This is momentous work.
Don’t try to struggle. The gag will be coming off soon. Prepare yourself. Be still.
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