© Copyright 2015
It’s not a real problem so much. It’s just this thing I’m able to do with my mind.
At twelve years old, I had already been seeing a psychiatrist. And this one wasn’t my first. I guess they just didn’t seem to know what to do with me.
“Simon, the human brain is a wonderful, fascinating and vastly complex organ. We are learning more about it all the time. I want to know about yours, and I want to help solve your problem.”
My psychiatrist leaned back in his creaking chair, shifted his weight to one side making it creak even more obnoxiously than before and took another puff on his pipe. He stared at me blankly through the haze of tobacco and waited for my response.
I replied with a cold and uncaring voice because my prescription made me act somewhat like a robot.
“It’s not a real problem so much. It’s just this thing I’m able to do with my mind.”
“I see,” he said.
But he really didn’t see. He didn’t see anything. He didn’t see that I was reading his very thoughts. He didn’t see that I knew of his unfaithfulness to his wife, and he didn’t see that I was already aware of plans that he would soon make of killing her, even though he had not even contemplated them yet.
I felt like I was trapped because I couldn’t do anything with this new found information. Not only had he not committed the crime, but he had not even thought of the idea yet.
I guess you could say that my problem is not the fact that I can often sense or see things before they happen, it’s really more about what to do with the information.
People simply don’t believe me when I try to explain that I can sometimes see things before they happen. And my psychiatrist, who was just telling me how incredibly wonderful and complex the human brain is, completely shuts down when I tell him about my gift. He thinks I’m lying, or bucking for some kind of attention or something.
Every session at his office always ends up the same way. Either he wants to put me on something else, or change the dosage.
With my last psychiatrist, I became fed up with his putting words into my mouth that weren’t true, so I told him to go piss off, but that didn’t sit well with him – nor my parents for that matter. Quite frankly, when those words spewed out of my mouth, it shocked me, because that wasn’t me. I didn’t talk like that, at least not normally. And if I ever did, it certainly wasn’t at an adult.
In total, my psychiatrists had been working on me for over five years, installing thoughts and made up memories into my head that were never there to begin with. I finally just figured that I had had enough. I was tired of everyone else telling me what I should or should not do, and what I should or should not say, and what I should or should not think. All they had to do was give me the benefit of the doubt, to at least consider the possibility that I, Simon J. Kruger was telling the truth.
I tried confiding in Dale, my older brother about my gift, but he didn’t believe me. Then I approached Mom and tried to tell her about it. She acted like she was listening, but I could see it in her eyes – she didn’t really know me. She thinks the drugs I’m on are messing with my brain. And she seemed too preoccupied to pay me much attention anyway. I even tried to tell my sister, Tina, who was the same age as Dale, in fact they were born twins and so they were always very close and shared a special bond that I never was a part of, and so of course I naturally felt some jealousy and perhaps even a level of resentment about it.
I wanted to tell my dad about my gift, but he had taken ill some time ago, so I just didn’t want to bother him with it. Besides, I really didn’t want to face him because he always looked at me kind of suspicious like. As if I was hiding something, or that I wasn’t really his son. I mean he was kind to me and everything, and taught me a lot of things growing up, but I always felt some distance between me and my parents, and with Dale and Tina too, which caused me to often wonder as a child if I was adopted and never told. But as I grew older, I became aware of a few physical characteristics that I share with them, such as high cheek bones and a particular jaw-line that seems to follow all the Kruger’s. And since I shared these characteristics too, I doubted that I was adopted, so I put that thought to rest.
But telling my psychologist to piss off was a turning point for me. I was twelve years old at the time, and the way Mom and Dad raised me and my siblings, that kind of language was never heard or spoken in our home. I guess I must have picked it up at school or somewhere. It was completely out of character for me to have said such a thing. I never said it before, and after Dad tanned my hide, I swore I would never say it again. A few weeks after that, things at home started to change, but in a very strange way.
For instance, one day I learned that Mom had been slipping some drugs into my peanut butter sandwiches. She didn’t know that I saw her of course, because I saw her in the reflection of the mirror in the hall which joined the kitchen. Later, after school, when she asked me if I enjoyed my lunch, I pretended to have eaten the sandwich, when in fact I had actually fed it to the dog. I didn’t want to be on any anti-psychotic drugs anymore, especially when they were given to me without my knowledge and in a sneaky sort of way. I sure as hell didn’t like the idea of Mom spiking my sandwiches, so I continued to feed the dog my lunch every day without my parents knowing it, which coincidently required frequent trips to the vet to figure out why he was becoming so sluggish, passive and slow in his youthfulness. Mom and Dad finally had to have him put down because he could no longer walk on his own. He seemed to want to, but he just did not have the energy. I guess it was the drugs in the sandwiches that were meant for me, prescribed by my psychiatrist that resulted in our dog having to be put down. I managed to avoid taking any more of those powerful drugs, and I felt an immense sense of guilt at knowing our dog was dead because of me. But a small part of me had to rationalize it. I kept telling myself that it was better the dog than me.
But things really began to get weird on the day when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I was doing homework alone at the dining table, and Mom and Tina had gone out to do some more school clothes shopping because Tina wanted fashionable clothes like her friends had, so Mom spent money I knew we didn’t have. Tina was kind of spoiled that way, and since Mom and Tina were pretty close, Tina always got her way.
Dad was out harvesting the last of the tomatos from his garden for the year, and my brother Dale was in the basement playing Dungeons and Dragons with his geeky friends Jim and Carl. So I was alone. I pretty much preferred it that way. I mean I wasn’t without friends. I had lots of them. But when I wasn’t around them, I much preferred to be by myself.
The thing that had caught my eye came from the mirror in the dining room, which from that angle where I sat clearly displayed the reflection of the clock on the wall in the living room.
It was an antique cuckoo clock that Mom got after grandpa passed away that caught my attention. None of her siblings wanted it, so it found its way into our home.
I remember always being drawn to mechanical time pieces, especially old clocks that required human interaction to keep them running. The simple act of winding a clock made the time piece a personal interaction. But the hand-made clocks with actual gears and mechanisms that needed daily winding by a human being seemed to have an effect on me. They drew me in and somehow made me feel comfortable in my own little world. So it was no surprise that grandpa’s cuckoo clock produced the same effect on me.
As a child, I would stand on a chair and face the clock, studying it for what seemed like hours. I could almost hear the tiny gears clicking and chattering as their teeth meshed together, turning slowly by the power of gravity tugging on solid brass pine cone weights which all together worked in an amazing mechanized harmony to keep us informed of the current time.
Mom and Dad thought that I was entranced in the anticipation of waiting for the cuckoo to pop its head out of the nest alerting us of the beginning of each new hour. That may have been true, but what they didn’t know was that I was actually staring at the pair of decorative hand carved wooden owls perched on their pedestals on each side of the clock’s face. No one ever saw what I saw. Over the years, the owl’s eyes moved. They watched me, and I watched them.
This of course would seem impossible because the owls, like the rest of the decorative clock, was carved from a single chunk of solid wood. The only moving parts consisted of metal gears and springs and such that were hidden inside. The owls were solid, and yet their eyes, nothing more than balls of amber colored glass were fluid and followed my every move. Then one day I began to hear them speak to each other, and I was aware that they were somehow conscious of my presence in the room. It wasn’t long before they began talking to me. They had human voices. One male and one female, and their voices were audible just above a whisper that apparently only I could hear.
They had a secret, just like my psychiatrist had a secret. But they wanted to tell me theirs.
“Honey, where’s Dale?” says Mom. She startles me at first. I didn’t even hear her come into my room. I’m staring out the window at the old maple in the back yard, thinking about climbing it for the fifth time today. Mom had a habit of sneaking up on us kids. I swear she could be in more than one place at the same time.
“He’s downstairs with Jim and Carl,” I reply, my eyes still fixed on the maple outside my window. “That’s the last place I saw him anyway.”
“Dinner is in ten minutes,” she shoots back. I turn around and she’s already gone. I poke my head out my door and peer down the hall. She’s nowhere. I kneel down and put my ear against the heat register in the floor under my desk and I hear mumbling. It’s Mom in the basement telling my brother Dale his friends have to go home now.
Exactly ten minutes later, my family is gathered around the table and Mom sets out a big meatloaf, a huge bowl of mashed potatoes and broccoli and carrots from the garden, smothered in melted butter.
Dale is working fast and already serving up his second helping of spuds. My sister Tina eats very little and seems to be in a hurry to be excused, but Dad insists she finish with the rest of us. Mom is quiet and not saying much at the table, but her mind is active enough. I could see that she is in deep thought about some matter or another. Dad peppers his prized potato’s and even though I can tell that he isn’t feeling well, he eats them with a smile and a mixed expression of both gratitude and satisfaction of knowing that he grew this wonderful bounty and was providing for his family.
I keep my eye on the time. At least that’s what Dad thinks I’m doing when he notices me staring at the reflection of the cuckoo clock in the mirror up on the wall behind him. But it isn’t the time I’m interested in. It’s the pair of decorative owls carved into the cuckoo clock. I wondered if the human voices behind those amber eyes were going to tell me their secret tonight. I wondered what it could be. And I wondered why I was the only one who could hear them. I knew I wasn’t crazy. I processed logical thought. I could make rational decisions. I got really good grades in school, and as far as I knew, I was able to avoid the psychotic meds prescribed by the doc that were being secretly administered by Mom in my sandwiches at lunch time every day. So I know that I was not under the influence of any drugs – psychotic or otherwise. In fact, I even dropped a few pounds by secretly avoiding the tainted food and just going hungry in the afternoons. The doc said the drugs were supposed to help me, but I knew better.
There was something the owls needed to say, and I felt lucky. No. Not lucky. Honored is how I felt. I felt honored to have been chosen to be the one who could hear the voices of the owls on grandpa’s old clock. I grew up hearing those voices and watching the owl’s eyes follow me about the room. And the older I got, the more clear and understanding their voices became. Yes. I was honored. I was about to learn their secret, and hoped that tonight would be the night.
It’s two-thirty in the morning according to my digital clock blaring those bright red digits at me through the dark from the night-stand beside my bed. The entire house is dark and everyone is asleep. I blink and rub my eyes a little to break up the crust that was starting to form in the corners. I throw back my covers, slip out my bedroom and move silently down the black hall to the short set of stairs that guides me down to the living room.
I can’t see the cuckoo clock on the wall yet, but I know exactly where it is. It’s drawing me towards it almost automatically, like a magnetic field influencing a compass needle. I get closer, still not quite there, but close enough now that I can start to make out its familiar shape in the near total darkness.
A few more steps and I’m there now, standing in front of it, facing it like a child facing an adult who’s about to give explicit, but very simple instructions. I have this feeling that whatever the owls have to tell me will change my life somehow.
While I wait for them, I notice that there’s just enough artificial light filtering in around the scalloped edges of Mom’s handmade curtains, which is cast by the front porch light outside. This little bit of light allows me to see the owl’s glassy amber colored eyes in such a way that it seems as if they are looking right back at me through tiny lenses of pure honey, peering at me through the darkness.
The owls have a power that has drawn me to them, much the same way the porch light outside has drawn the many moths to its shining beacon, which is so strong and powerful to them that they bang their tiny heads and flutter about the light as if their only purpose in life is to fly straight into it, not even realizing that they are there by an unseen force and for no apparent reason, at least none that their simple little minds could possibly contemplate or fathom.
And for a moment, I almost feel like one of those little moths, seduced by a magical force that pulls me in closer and closer. The only difference between me and the little moths is that I’m here to seek to be enlightened, and hopefully learn the secret of the owls. And for this reason, so it seems, the owls are livelier than ever before, and so I anxiously wait for them, standing at attention in their presence.
People say the eyes are the windows to a person’s soul, and I find that to be quite true, even when the eyes are mere beads of polished glass pressed into the faces of hand-carved wooden owls on an old clock.
I can hear them whispering now, but only the words that they want me to hear are discernible. I take a deep breath and wait for them to acknowledge my presence.
“Is he the only one awake?” I hear one ask the other.
“Yes,” came a whispered reply, “he is the only one awake.”
“But can we trust him?”
“I think so. I think he is ready. He helped us once before, five years ago – remember?”
“Ah, yes. I remember it well. So he is ready. He’s more than ready.”
The anticipation is killing me. I know they have wanted to tell me something for a long, long time, as far back as I can remember, and I somehow knew that when I was old enough, they would eventually tell me. But tell me what? I was dying to know their secret and had sacrificed many sleepless nights pondering it. They owe me their little secret now. They owe it to me because I have never told anyone about them, so they owe me for that. I must know their secret tonight. I must.
Then, their eyes lock onto mine, and one of them speaks. They have my one hundred percent attention.
“Simon, over the years we have watched you grow from a little boy into a young man, and we both feel that you are now old enough, but more importantly – capable enough to do something very important that must be done.”
I feel excitement growing inside me now. I have waited for this moment for a very long time. I’m practically drooling with anticipation. This moment for me is something that I feel that I have achieved, not by actually doing something, or accomplishing some impossible task, but by not doing something, by not letting anyone know that I know about the owls and their presence. I feel as though I have done them a favor for years, ever since grandpa’s cuckoo clock came to our house.
“Simon, this may come as a shock to you,” they continue, “but your grandmother poisoned your grandpa. She killed him.”
“And now your mother is doing the same to your father,” added the other.
Was this their secret? I heard them clearly enough, but my mind could not process it. It was such an outlandish suggestion that I had no response. I just kept staring at their eyes which of course were looking right back at me, only occasionally drifting to one side to look at each other, but always returning back to me.
“We have to tell you this because the chain must be broken, and you are the only one who can do it, Simon. Even your sister is now showing tendencies to repeat the past.”
This was too much. Yes, I desperately wanted to know their secret, but I had no idea that it could be something as terrible as learning that my grandmother, and now my mother and possibly my sister are would-be murderers.
“I don’t believe it,” I say defiantly, folding my arms across my scrawny puffed up chest. “I don’t think it’s true.”
“You must believe it, because it is true,” I hear them say. Their whispered voices come at me in tandem, and are loud and sharp inside my head. I try to take a step back, but I’m frozen in place by nothing more than what I perceive to be their sheer will. They have me cemented in place, wrapped up in a giant invisible clenched iron fist. My body does not respond to my simple fleeing command. I stand there motionless and static. The owls have more to say.
“You must listen to us, Simon. Only you can break this murderous chain. Just like your grandmother, and her mother before her, and their sisters, and mothers and grandmothers before them, your mother too has made many attempts at murder. Your ancestors were successful as you once were. Very successful indeed. And now your mother will soon be successful as well. That is, unless she is stopped.”
I thought about my dad, and how ill he has been feeling lately. He wasn’t one to run off to the doctor at every little sniffle. He told us he would be getting better on his own soon enough.
“It’s your mother, Simon. She’s been poisoning him, killing him slowly. Just like your poor grandpa, and his ancestors before him. All of them died a very slow and painful death. – Yes, slow and painful indeed.”
Their voices boomed inside my head. I want to look behind me, towards the stairs and the hall. I want to see if I can tell if anyone of my family was stirring in the night who could break this invisible grip and free me from my prison that has no walls. I pray that someone would wake. But I remain stiff as a board and unable to move, and worse yet, unable to call for help. I am forced to listen to the owls carry on about slow and painful deaths of the men in my family, carried out by the women of their time, and I’m forced to stare into those four amber eyes that now seem to have a sinister look about them that I had never seen before.
“You must stop your mother from doing any more harm,” says one of them. I think the other owl blinked, and in that instant blinking moment I felt the slightest release of pressure from the iron fist that held me in place.
I contemplate for a moment that if perhaps both of them would happen to blink at the same time, would that release the grip on me enough for me to fight and escape their hold on me? I quit thinking about it just in case the owls have the ability to read my mind. Their grip tightens on me a little again, and I come to the conclusion that the answer is yes. They can in fact read my mind.
“How do I stop her?” I ask. “I’m just a kid.”
“Kill her!” their dual voices reverberated inside my skull.
“No!” I mentally project to them in a silent but wild twelve year old scream. My mind instantly travels back to when I needed Mom for everything. She fed me, she clothed me. She taught me how to tie my shoes and learn my ABC’s. She cut my sandwiches in half and peeled off the crust for me because for some reason I was convinced that I didn’t like the brown crust. She taught me how to make cookies and how to give the dog a bath.
The owls continue to read my mind and follow me into my brief past even though I suspect that they must already know it. They were with me almost the whole time.
“Does she love you?” asked one of them. “Of course she loves me. She loves all of us!” I proclaim, thinking of my entire family.
My attention remains glued to their eyes and their voices sound more demanding.
“You will kill your mother,” they demand of me, “and you will do it soon!”
Knowing now that they can read my mind, I stay focused on their beady little eyes and do not allow one thought of my mother, or anyone else for that matter enter into my mind. I cannot afford to think lovingly of anyone for even an instant for fear that the owls will think quite correctly that for the first time in my life, I was now scheming and plotting against them. For the moment, I was going along with them, and they told me how to go about doing my mother’s murder. It was a nightmare, only not a nightmare. It was more real than that.
“You will poison her,” they instruct with a precision in their voice. “The same way she has been poisoning your father, and the same way your grandmother did away with your grandpa years ago, and her mother and grandmother doing away with their husbands and so on up the family line.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. I loved a good mystery, but this kind chilled me to the bone. My own family? My heritage? All the women guilty of murder? This I had to somehow investigate on my own.
“Poison her with what?” I ask, hoping that they cannot sense my disloyal thoughts which consist of smashing the clock upon which they perch into tiny little bits with Dad’s heavy sledge hammer which I know is standing on the floor in the corner of the garage right below where he keeps all the stuff you can hang up like brooms and leaf rakes and such.
“You will do no such thing!” an evil scream blares into my ears.
They know. Those damn owls know my every thought. No matter how subtle a thought I have, no matter how instant an idea may come into my mind and I push it away or replace it with another, they know. Those two owls are intricately connected to my every mental thought and physical fiber. I start to feel as though I cannot breathe. I’m afraid of becoming one of them. A kind of panic rushes over me but the iron grip keeps me from bolting.
A fear begins to well up inside me but eventually fades away into the darkness, leaving me with thoughts I could never dream of.
I begin to question myself. Am I really capable of murder?
“Yes,” came the response, but it is the owls voice that replied – not mine. They are buried inside my head and I have no escape from them. They own me. They have total control of me.
The hall light comes on, sending a shaft of yellow light beaming down into the living room. Its sudden electric glow takes the owls and me by surprise. Thank God! It’s Dad! I can’t see him of course because I’m still facing the clock, forced into a never ending staring contest with the owls. But even with my back facing the hall, I can tell it’s him by the way he shuffles his feet which wears holes in the heels of his slippers from dragging them with every step he takes. I know this because he gets a new pair every Christmas. In another three months, the holes will be as big as silver dollars, and Santa will come again with a brand new pair that will hopefully last him another full year.
The invisible iron fist is still clinching me tight, squeezing me like a small bird in a large man’s muscular hands, so I am not able to turn around enough to see him, but the sound of his slippers swooshing on the hardwood tells me that he is coming, and in fact he is almost directly behind me. If I were to guess, I’d say he’s inside of four feet away from me.
“Simon?” he says to me as I hear his shuffled midnight approach, still half asleep and half awake. I try to say something but I can’t. The owls tighten their grip on me even more. I’m standing there still facing the clock on the wall, my back facing Dad. My lack of response is no lack at all. I’m fighting inside. I’m kicking and screaming, but Dad doesn’t hear me. “Dad!!! Dad!!!” I holler at the top of my lungs, but he hears nothing because no air escapes me. I cannot turn around to show him the fear I must have in my eyes.
“Son, are you sleep walking?” he says to me as he places his hand upon my shoulder, but in an instant his comforting hand slips away. Those were the last words he spoke before collapsing to the floor with an unconscious thud.
“What have you done to my father!” I yell with an incredible effort. Still no sound escapes my lungs, but I know the owls can read my thoughts, so I wait impatiently, demanding an answer.
“We are not concerned about your father,” says the female owl looking down at his sleeping limp body now crumpled up on the floor behind me. I know that must be where she’s looking because I can’t imagine her looking anywhere else other than into my own eyes. The two owls look exactly the same, so I cannot actually tell which one is male and which one is female. I can only tell them apart when they speak, because their human voices make them come alive in my head. I believe my dad is OK because I can hear him breathing, like he’s just sleeping on the floor, under some kind of spell forced upon him by the intolerant female owl.
I notice the time is almost three o’clock in the morning. I’ve been trying to break free for what seems like forever and I am completely exhausted, but the owls are not finished with me. I get the sick feeling that this night, this encounter, is only the first of many more like this to come.
I remain a perfect statue throughout the entire rest of the night. The hardwood floor under my bare feet is cold, and it makes them feel almost clammy as the coldness turns them numb and radiates upward into my legs. But the welcoming yellow glow of the morning sun just breaking over the horizon finds its way in around the edges of the curtains which begins to give me hope. I desperately want this nightmare to end. And with the arrival of daylight, all I can do is hope, and wait to see if anyone of my family will come out and see me standing here stiff as a board, and snap me out this imperceptible iron grip.
I eventually hear the curtains being drawn open and it startles me. I must have dozed off for a bit. The quality of sleep is pretty much nil because how can anyone really sleep standing up? The unrestrained morning sunlight floods into the room and fills the house from wall to wall. My legs suddenly crumble and give way, causing me to fall to the floor. It feels like the grip the owls have on me is gone. My chest feels less compressed and finally I’m able to draw a full breath into my starving lungs – the cool morning air fills them full, and it is the sweetest thing I ever tasted.
From the floor, I continue to catch my breath, breathing in slow deep cycles. I look around the room and I don’t see Dad anywhere. Mom is standing by the window looking at me dumbfounded. I don’t think she even noticed me standing in front of the clock when she first came into the room. I look up at her. I’m hardly able to move as my muscles and joints have yet to regain their flexibility. She dashes over and kneels down at my side.
“Simon! What happened, honey? Are you OK?” Her lovely caring voice and her watery eyes bathes me.
“Were you sleep walking? Did you have a bad dream?” she asks, placing her palms on each side of my cheeks and drawing my face up to hers. She looks into my eyes but they return nothing to her other than a blank stare. Then she wraps her arms around me the same way any loving mother does with a child in need. She pulls me in for a tight hug, and as much as I want it to last, I know I’m getting to old for these kinds of motherly gestures. Besides, my body is still recovering from being squeezed all night long from the owl’s invasive grip. She finally pulls back and I take another deep breath blinking my eyes several times to lubricate them and wash away the dryness that built up while locked onto the owls for the last several hours.
I look deeply into her big round green eyes, and I can sense that the owls are watching, but for now, their power over me is diminished, perhaps even gone – but I doubt it.
I decide right then that I cannot tell my mother anything, at least until I can take the time to research the supposed murders of my ancestors myself and to find out if there was any truth to what the owls have said. But for now, I only tell her that it was a dream that brought me out into the living room. Only I know it wasn’t a dream, because it took years for the owls to draw me to this point.
“Where’s Dad?” I ask worriedly about him, remembering him collapsing on the floor earlier.
“He’s in the shower,” she says, “he’ll be out soon.”
I’m relieved for Dad’s sake. And I wonder if he’ll remember anything.
“Mom,”… I start. And then my words jump out of my mouth. “It wasn’t a dream.”
My words were not planned. They came out without me thinking about them first. I was not going to tell her anything, but it just blurted out of me – “It wasn’t a dream.” She cocks her head and looks at me quizzically.
I’m suddenly hit with an ear-piercing screech and a feeling of an invisible grip slowly grasping its muscular tentacle like fingers around my neck and drawing tight. I know it’s the owls giving me a warning not to continue, not to divulge my experience I had with them. They want their secret kept with me, and with me it will stay, – but not for long I promise myself.
Later, Mom serves up breakfast and we all sit around the table taking it in. I feel like everyone is looking at me, even when they aren’t directly. I try to shift the attention and so I look at Dad. He acts like nothing weird has happened during the night, but I figure that’s just because he doesn’t remember a thing.
“You don’t remember hitting the floor, Dad?” I ask. Dad shakes his head and chews his soft boiled eggs and buttered toast. “I think you were sleepwalking, son,” he says.
“Again?” says Dale, before I even had a chance to respond. “That’s the third time in the last week.”
Dale’s full of it. I have never walked in my sleep before, and I don’t know why everyone tries to convince me that I have. It’s not that I was actually asleep. I knew where I was and what I was doing. As I have said, I am drawn to mechanical time pieces, particularly – grandpa’s old cuckoo clock. I wanted to tell Dad what happened last night, but I look over at the clock, and I can see the two owls. They have a bead on me. Their eyes can see right through me.
Dale gets up, downs a small glass of milk and gathers his own dishes, sets them on the counter for Mom to take care of later and shoulders his backpack. He’s ready for school.
“Tina, you’re gonna be late!” hollers Mom up the stairs towards the bathroom, where I know she’s doing her hair and makeup and trying to look pretty.
Dale and Tina’s bus comes earlier than mine so they’re usually the first out the door, then later Dad heads out for work, and my bus usually comes rolling up in front of the house about a half hour after he leaves.
I start thinking about school and the day ahead. It will be nice to get out of the house and away from those amber eyes which I can actually feel watching my every move.
Dad is moving slowly again today, and obviously not feeling well which seems to be a pretty regular occurrence for him these days. He gets up from the table, kisses Mom and off to work he goes, just a little later than usual.
Now it’s just me and Mom. Everyone else has gone off to start their day. I have a few minutes and decide to help her with the dishes, so I go and stand beside her at the sink but she’s too busy to notice me. She doesn’t say anything. She looks completely absorbed in something, and I doubt it’s doing the dishes. I look back at the clock on the wall. One, because I’m curious if the owls are watching, and of course I know that they are. And two, I have to know what time it is and I quickly learn I have about ten minutes before I have to leave for the bus.
“Mom, tell me about grandpa’s old cuckoo clock,” I say, as if it is just some random curious thought.
She turns to me for the first time since standing there, and she shoots me a look. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it’s enough to know that I’ve struck a chord. I watch her eyes as they shift over towards the direction of the clock. I can see the instant they fall upon the owls eyes gazing back. I can’t describe it, but Mom’s eyes were different at that very moment, almost like she was being drained, her soul being siphoned off. In that instant, she looks weak, vulnerable and helpless. Then she snaps out of her little trance and looks down at me as if I had just now joined her at the sink. I wonder what is on her mind, and why she is always so distant most of the time and yet sometimes so absolutely affectionate. Her strange behavior causes me to suspect that the owls are involved.
“That clock has been in our family for generations,” she says coldly.
“I didn’t know that,” I say, washing my plate, fork and glass for the third time.
“I thought it was just grandpa’s old clock.”
If what the owls told me is true, knowing now that the clock has been in the family for generations somehow made sense to me. I think to myself that if in fact there are murders in my family’s history, that I’m convinced that the owls have somehow instigated them. Then I switch gears.
“How did grandpa die?” I ask, expecting a grip around my neck at any moment, not from Mom of course, but from the owls. I know they must think I’m pushing my luck, and I’m surprised that I don’t feel any kind of torture from them. Perhaps their strength is weakened. Perhaps they need to rest too.
“Your grandpa died in the hospital, Simon,” she replies with a somber tone, leaving it at just that. No detail. Then she switches gears on me. “You’d better get ready for school, Honey.”
“Yes Mom,” I say, sounding rather disappointed, but at the same time, looking forward to getting out of the house.
A few minutes later, I’m standing outside on the curb with some other kids from the neighborhood waiting for the school bus. Some I talk to. Others I don’t, like Greg Sanders and Perry Scuttle. They are a little older than the rest of us and keep up that distinction with a pack of Marlboro’s between them.
Greg Sanders is a tall skinny kid with bleached hair and a pock marked face from picking at his acne every morning. He wears a heavy black leather jacket all the time, even during summer when it’s hot out. In fact I don’t think I have ever seen him without that jacket. I figure that it must be laden with secret pockets to hide his stash because I know that Marlboro’s are not the only thing he smokes.
And then there is Perry Scuttle. He’s not quite as tall as Greg, but not short either. He’s got a round face peppered with some adolescent facial stubble that makes him look exactly like what he is, just a kid with some stubble. But he is kind of stocky and likes to show how strong he is by arm wrestling everyone and pushing around every kid smaller than he is. I think Perry could actually be a nice kid if he just didn’t run with the wrong crowd with guys like Greg Sanders.
There’s Mitch Callahan and Carla Krenshaw. Their constant display of affection towards each other is quite obvious that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. Of course they’re too young to think of as a couple, but then again kids our age are already pairing up in school. They hold hands everywhere they go and kiss in public. I think Mitch tries too hard with her because he carries her books and walks her to class every day, even though some of his classes are on the other end of the building. He buys her lunch as often as he can afford to and he doesn’t let too many people talk to her. If it weren’t for the few classes they didn’t have together, Carla would never be out of Mitch’s sight, so I guess you could say he kind of smothers her, but as near as I can tell, she doesn’t seem to mind.
There’s a few of the kids at our bus stop that don’t even come near us until the bus actually pulls up. I figure they’ve had too many run-ins with the likes of Greg Sanders and Perry Scuttle.
I hear our school bus’s air-brakes on the next street over, stopping at the new four-way stop which didn’t use to be a stop at all until two kids were killed crossing the street a couple years ago. It turns out the city was already planning on turning that intersection into a four-way stop, so it’s a shame they didn’t do it sooner.
Our bus eventually rounds the corner and turns onto our street. It pulls up in front of us and the doors fly open. Everyone at the stop gets in line and climbs aboard. After only a few weeks into the school year, most of the kids seem to find their routine and sit in the same seats on the bus every day. And that includes my best friend Kyle Treblee, and there he is, middle of the bus, right-hand side, hunched over, forehead against the window. I make my way down the aisle and pick up his book bag which he uses more for saving my seat next to him than for carrying actual books to class. It’s mostly empty so I toss it in his lap and sit down.
“Good morning, Simon,” he says with a big round yawn, grabbing his empty book bag and wadding it up into a pillow and stuffing it under his cheek against the window. He looks tired. I don’t see how he can catch any Z’s on the bus.
“You tired?” I ask stupidly.
“You have no idea,” he replies with his eyes closed. Actually I do of course, because I’m a complete zombie, running on empty myself. No sleep from the night before and the owls compressing the breath right out of me for hours on end didn’t help much either. But I don’t tell him about my all-nighter. I save that for later.
By the end of second period, we’re both dead and completely out of gas. We decide to skip third period and go to the Knoll in the woods, because Mr. Allen is out sick and the sub taking over his Civics class will be too busy to worry about attendance when having to deal with Greg Sanders and Perry Scuttle. As much as I dislike them (mostly Greg), I do like the fact that they cause a lot of distraction in that horribly boring, slow moving, monotonous class.
We have a ten-minute break between 2nd and 3rd period called “bear paws” or “bear pause” rather, (because our school is the “West Side Bears), so while the halls are filled with the commotion of young busy body teen-agers and slamming locker doors, Kyle Treblee and I make our escape. We simply walk out the side door, out past the gymnasium, through the break in the chain-link fence and right off the school property. It’s funny how crossing that invisible boundary between the school and the adjacent woods actually feels like an escape, even though of course it takes no effort to accomplish.
Not terribly far into the woods is an open area and a patch of grass about the size of a baseball field we call the Knoll, with trails that meander off in all different directions and disappear into the leafy trees, most of which by now have turned yellow, or gold or brown, and of course – amber, which reminds me of the owl’s eyes on the cuckoo clock at home.
The fall days are still warm, as long as the sun is shining, which it does in the center of the grassy area; the center of the Knoll. And right now the sun feels warm on my face which takes the coolness out of the crisp fall air.
Since this place is so close and out of sight of the school and gymnasium, it’s a natural hang out for kids before and after school. But, as I have learned over my short middle school career, you have to know when is a good (or safe, rather) time to visit the Knoll because it has been known to be overrun with troublemakers. And nothing spells trouble like a group of teens in the woods with nothing better to do than smoke pot, shoot drugs, have sex and set the woods on fire.
Fights are settled here too, and there’s even rumor that Tracy Hodgkin’s got pregnant here at the Knoll, which might explain why she didn’t start school with us this year. I presume she’s out taking care of her baby, and probably won’t be back this year. But then again, as far as I know, it’s just another rumor.
The Knoll, the name by which this little oasis became to be known never really had a name like a park would have a name, even though at times it seems beautiful enough that it should have an official name. But nobody seems to know exactly who owns the land. It’s not really fit for development commercially or for residential, because it’s too rocky and hilly, except for the Knoll itself. Story has it that someone once called it the Knoll because nobody ever named this place, and I think because it was short and simple, the name stuck and that’s what it has been called for as long as I can remember.
The Knoll has a few park-like benches that somebody made in wood shop class years ago which sits along the edge of the main path that circles the grassy field. I take one, and Kyle takes another. The names (and other stupid carvings) hand cut over the years into the backrest with pocket knives or a piece of broken beer bottle glass date back some twenty years, so that says something about the quality of the work and materials that went into the making of these thick, heavy wooden benches.
Kyle and I figure that at this time of day, the stoner’s and other well known troublemakers from school are not around. They prefer Friday nights when they can get a party going the instant school lets out. So for now, we think we’re pretty safe, and manage to sleep a few winks.
Some time passes and my wrist watch beeps at me. I feel the drool sliding out of the corner of my mouth, leaving a tiny puddle of the stuff under my cheek on the bench. For a moment I’m disoriented because I feel like I’ve been asleep for hours and the sun already seems to be in a different position. I sit up, wipe the drool away and check my watch. It’s noon. I look over to Kyle’s bench but he’s not there. My eyes go out to the tree line and follow it around the Knoll and I spot Kyle’s back side. He’s taking a leak, which reminds me that I have to go too, but for some reason I decide to hold it for a while longer.
“We may as well skip the rest of the day,” he says to me walking back to the benches.
He’s right, I guess. No point in trying to sneak back into school. Kyle still looks tired to me and I think I know why.
“Is your mom and dad still fighting a lot?” I ask him as he sits down next to me. They’ve had trouble in the past. So much in fact that one time Kyle moved in with us for a couple months while his parents sorted things out.
“Yeah,” he says, taking out his pocket knife. “They’re back to their old ways again. And I can’t sleep at all with all that bickering. I wish they would either get along or separate. At least Dad isn’t hitting me as much as he used to, so I guess that’s one step in the right direction.”
It takes about twenty minutes for Kyle to carve his name into the bench with the point of the blade, adding it to the growing number of people who have done the same over the years. KYLE TREBLEE WAS HERE it simply reads.
I was actually there at his house when Kyle’s dad hit him once. It scared me because I had never seen a grown man hit a kid. And he wasn’t drunk either. Kyle curled up into a ball and as much as I wanted to do something to help, one look at his dad and I found myself running home. He was just so mad about something that Kyle did that he just lost it. Kyle later told me that his dad broke down and cried like a baby and said he was sorry and promised that it would never happen again. But unfortunately it wasn’t true. He got into the habit of beating Kyle to the point that one day he ended up in the hospital with a dislocated jaw and three bruised ribs. His dad spent a little time in jail for that stunt. And because of that, my parents won’t let me go over to Kyle’s house anymore. I can’t blame them, but I can’t help wanting to get Kyle out that environment, even if it were just for a few hours a day riding bikes or catching frogs down at Miller’s pond. It seems to me that there are problems everywhere, like Kyle getting beat by his father, the Knoll, an otherwise beautiful place getting taken over every Friday by a bunch of adolescent thugs, and my mom trying to kill my dad with poison. I can’t bring myself to actually believe it of course. I need more proof. I need to know if what the owls have told me is true. And, I need to know why I’m listening to a cuckoo clock in the first place.
I decide that, as crazy as it sounds, I need to tell Kyle about this. Partly because he’s my best friend and I know that even if he doesn’t believe me, he will at least humor me. But I also want to tell him because I know he has some resources that I think will help me investigate my mom’s daily activities, which I hope will all be as innocent as watching her soaps or cleaning the house.
So I start. I tell him all about how I’ve been drawn to old clocks, that I find them interesting. And that one clock in particular (grandpa’s old cuckoo clock) has done more than just draw me to it. I tell him about the owls carved into the decorative piece and how I have watched them for years, and that now they are talking to me.
“What? What do you mean they talk to you?” he asks. One of his eyebrows is raised which makes him look suspiciously at me, but that’s OK. I expect that. It’s a wild story, I know.
“They talk to me,” I say again.
“You mean like some kind of bird talk or what?”
“No. They have human voices, one male and one female.”
“Well, what do they say?”
I know he’s humoring me now, but that’s exactly what I expected. So I continue to fill him in and tell him all about last night, and how the owls warned me about my mom poisoning my dad, and how my grandmother did the same to grandpa, and her mom and grandmother before her supposedly did this as well. I told him everything. How the owls gripped me and kept me from leaving, and how they squeezed me with just the power of their mind, and that I could hardly breathe standing in front of them like solid stone all night.
“Weren’t you seeing a psychiatrist a while back?” he asks, as if that fact alone totally dismisses my owl story. No one was suppose to know that I was seeing a psychiatrist, but my mom and Kyle’s mom ran into each other at the grocery store, and well, I guess they just got to talking.
“Actually, I’m still seeing him a couple times a month,” I reply. “There was a while when I quit seeing him, but Mom and Dad make sure I go on occasion. They think he’s helping me.”
“Helping you with what?” His eyebrow no longer raised in that suspicious look. Now he is just plain curious.
“Coping,” I say. “Everyone seems to think that I have had a troubled past, but I don’t know where they get that. I’m perfectly fine, always have been.”
“I don’t know,” says Kyle. “Talking owls? Maybe it’s good that you are seeing a psychiatrist.”
I look down at the dirt, contemplating just how ridiculous this must sound coming from me. I know it seems totally irrational. I have a hard time believing it myself, but I just want Kyle to take me seriously on this. I know the idea of talking owls is absolutely absurd, but at the same time, I don’t think man-kind has a clue to the power of the human mind. I believe we can receive messages, even instructions from outside influences that most people are completely unaware of. I suspect that people have thoughts bouncing around inside their heads like I do that don’t make any sense at all, and so they naturally think that their brains are just firing off jumbled up pieces of information stored away or even randomly generated.
“Kyle,” I begin, still looking down at the ground. “My mom always says that everyone is born with a gift. Take my brother, Dale. His gift is creativity, which I suppose is why he loves to draw and can create entire worlds in his Dungeon’s and Dragon’s games he plays with his buddy’s. Tina’s gift is music. She plays the flute beautifully, and I mean beautifully. She could record her own music and sell albums by the millions if she just followed through with it. Dad’s gift would be related to visualization, although with him it’s much more technical than Dale’s gift of creativity. If he can visualize it, he could not only draw up the plans, but he could build it. Mom’s gift is in food. She can take the most mundane meal and make it taste like it was the best thing you ever ate. And my gift, I guess I would have to say is perception. I can perceive what someone is thinking or what they are going to say, sometimes even before the thought even occurs to them. I’m not always one-hundred percent accurate, but darn near. And I think this gift of perception is what gives me the ability to receive messages and instructions from sources that other people cannot.”
“Even owls?” he says sarcastically – but not in a hurtful sort of way.
“Even owls,” I say.
“So what’s my gift?” he asks.
“Patience,” I say.
“No, tell me. What is my gift?”
“Patience,” I repeat. “Your gift is patience. After all, how can you have a best friend who is a certified nut-case if you don’t have patience?”
Kyle laughs. “I suppose you’re right,” he says.
“So Simon, using your gift, what am I thinking right now?”
I look him straight in the eyes for a moment, studying him a bit. Some of the detail I can tell him just because I know him. After all, he is my best friend. But some things that I don’t know, or shouldn’t know seem to just flow into my head. “You’re thinking I’m the weirdest friend you ever had, and you don’t really believe a thing I’ve said, but that’s not going to stop you from being my best friend.”
Kyle has this funny look. I’m right and he knows it, but that was too easy. That didn’t take any gift or skill at all.
“That was too easy!” he says, right on queue.
“I agree, but that’s just what was on the surface,” I reply. Going deeper, I start to tell him more.
“You’re worried that your dad will go too far and wind up in jail for a long time or worse yet, start beating your mom. You’re concerned about your grades slipping, and wondering if you will have to repeat the seventh grade. Your worried your mom will leave your dad and if that happens, that opens the possibility that if he continues his abusive ways, you might be forced to live in a foster home. You’re wondering how my gift can be used to your advantage. And,” I pause for effect… “even with all this stress in your life, you still manage to think about how much in love you are with my sister ever since you hit puberty.”
“I do not!” he says defensively, even though I know it’s true. “She’s not my type. And besides, that would just be weird.”
“Why would it be weird?” I ask, as if I didn’t have a clue.
“Well, it would just be weird to be going out with my best friend’s sister, that’s all.”
“Yeah. That, and the fact that she’s too old for you and way out of your league.”
“You’re probably right,” Kyle concedes as his voice turns down into a low sigh. “A couple more years from now she’ll probably be dating college guys.”
“So you ARE in love with my sister,” I say.
“Simon. No. I’m not. Tina’s nice and everything, but that’s it, so let’s drop it.”
“OK, then, and the rest?” I ask.
“You’re pretty much on the mark,” he says, nodding his head. “Even the part about a foster home.”
“Even the part about my sister?” I grill him one last time. He looks put on the spot because he pretty much is. Now I feel like I’m torturing him. He doesn’t want to answer and just tries to avoid the question, but he’s the one that asked me to use my gift of perception and tell him what he was thinking. Now that he knows that I know his deepest inner thoughts, I sense that he genuinely believes me, so I do him a favor and let him off the hook by quickly changing the subject.
“I need your help, Kyle,” I say.
“You need my help? Hell, Simon, I could use your help. I wish I could have a sense of what was about to happen like you, or know what someone was thinking. To have that ability would be handy, not to mention fun.”
“It’s not quite as fun as you might think,” I say.
“I don’t know, I still think it would be great. What do you need my help for anyway?”
“To research a string of murders that I’m hoping were never committed.”
His eyes widen as I suspected they would.
“Sounds like fun. Where do we start?”
I know he doesn’t want to hear this part, but I have to tell him…
“Your dad’s office.”
“You know my dad is going to kill me if he catches us in here you know,” says Kyle, turning the knob and opening the door to his dad’s downstairs office.
“He wouldn’t dare,” I say. “Not unless he wants to go back to jail, because I won’t run this time. I’ll be a witness.”
“Yeah, a witness to my own murder.”
I can hear the fear and reluctance in his voice, and I know he’s doing me a huge favor by gaining access to his father’s stuff.
I notice his hands trembling as he starts pulling open the drawers of the desk and carefully rummaging through them. I feel trembling and I look down at my own hands. They’re trembling too, and I can’t wait until we get out of here.
The office is a room in the back of the basement of Kyle’s house where his dad keeps all his important things like insurance papers, bills, titles to everything he owns and investment portfolio stuff, even his court paperwork. I’m a bit nosy so I look over what I can without disturbing it too much. I’m very curious about the court paperwork and so I pull that aside while Kyle keeps on rifling through the desk.
Kyle stops, turns and looks at me. We hear the hum of his father’s lawn mower outside as it approaches, getting louder at first, prompting us to halt our thievery and hold our breath in fear which I sort of find silly because it’s not like his dad can hear us breathe or anything, and then it eventually dissipates on its procession around the perimeter of the house and finally back out around the back yard. This is the place where we both shudder to think what would happen if his dad caught us down here.
“I found it!” Kyle exclaims after returning to sifting through the drawers. “The key to my dad’s security store.”
Kyle has known for a long time that that was exactly where his dad keeps the spare key. I only happen to know about it because he told me once when we were talking about great hiding places for things. Of course neither one of us owns anything worth hiding, but the subject came up because we were talking about Greg Sanders, which led to talking about his drug use and his black leather jacket he wore all the time. And because he was a stoner, the conversation led to speculation of what Greg could be hiding in his pockets. All of this ultimately led to Kyle talking about his dad abusing him, hitting him and knocking him around all the time, and of course that’s when he mentioned his father’s spare key in the desk. Funny thing about conversation though; I’ve always been fascinated in the way it easily transforms from one subject to another without either party having any real notice of it. It changes before you realize it, just like we didn’t realize that we could no longer hear the lawn mower outside. And because of that fact, his father’s whereabouts cannot be determined. My mind races as does my heart because I can feel it pounding in my chest; and I suppose Kyle’s is too because he’s white as a sheet. His dad could be anywhere. He could even be in the house!
Kyle stuffs the key into his pocket, takes only a second or two to put any paperwork or anything else he and I may have touched back into its exact spot. I stand guard, ready to react, but react to what? And more importantly, with what? I try to use my power of perception, but it really doesn’t work that way. I cannot force it. I cannot seek a feeling or knowledge. It has to come to me naturally on its own. And when I’m scared as hell, it’s not natural. So nothing comes.
We both stand there in silence, listening for clues to his father’s whereabouts. We step out into the basement hall and Kyle closes the door behind us. We ascend the stairs as quietly as possible and just as we near the top step, we both hear a toilet flush.
“He’s in the bathroom down the hall,” whispers Kyle, looking somewhat relieved that we have at least a few seconds to make a clean shot of getting out of the house without being spotted. And so we clear the house, hop on our bikes and head over to my place three blocks away.
We get there and we walk in. Mom’s pacing the floor with a worried look on her face.
“Simon Kruger, where in God’s name have you been?” She barks in a tone that I have not heard since I wandered off during a camping trip in Glacier National Park when I was just a little kid. I’ll always remember that. That was the only time that I recall really upsetting her.
“The school called and said you didn’t report to class.”
Crap. I should have known better. I was not the kind of kid that skips, and obviously I had a lot to learn about covering my tracks or coming up with an alibi. The stoner’s do it sometimes, and they aren’t that smart. I wonder how they do it without getting caught. Then it occurs to me that maybe they do get caught but nothing is ever done about it because nobody cares anymore. They’re labeled. They’re expected to do these things. I guess they are professionals in their own right.
From past experience, I already know that I can’t lie to my mother. I’ve tried before but it doesn’t work, except for the times that I lied about eating my tainted peanut butter sandwiches she spiked with the drugs from the prescription my psychologist thinks he has me on. That required some real effort on my part, but those lies she bought, because I don’t think she was in her own right mind herself at the time anyway. I suspect the owls were messing with her mind.
Confession time. I put on my most pitiful face, hoping it might help my case.
“We were both dead tired, mom,” I say. “We just had to get out of school for a little while and take a nap because neither one of us could function.” As I say this, I’m hoping that Kyle doesn’t mention anything about the Knoll, because mom thinks it’s a dangerous place. She thinks that only weirdo’s, druggies, and pedophiles hang out at the Knoll, so I’m not supposed to go there. I don’t know where she gets her information, but I never heard anything about pedophiles. In fact, I’m not sure that I even know what a pedophile is. But I know a stoner when I see them. I know this because most of them look exactly like Greg Sanders.
Mom is staring us both down. Hand’s on her hips, eyebrows scrunched together. She’s taking a stand. I know that some kind of reprimand is in the works for me, but I think she’s holding back only because she’s not sure how to proceed in Kyle’s presence. I’m sure I’ll get what’s coming later. So for now, before she sends Kyle home, we slip by her and head upstairs to my room.
My room is the only place in the house I find comfort. Kyle closes the door to the world outside, shutting us in. I love my little room. It’s my favorite place in the entire house. Little do my parents know – or anyone else for that matter, except for Kyle of course, that this room will soon become the command center for what could be the biggest murder investigation this town has ever had. In fact, I like the words “command center” so much that I decide that outside of my own family, that is what me and Kyle will now call it. It’s no longer a bedroom. It’s an actual command center.
My desk, which sits directly under the window where I usually do my homework, will double as my chief investigator’s desk. I tell Kyle that I don’t think interviewing anyone in the command center will be a good idea, so we will have to do all our interviewing in the field. But the command center will be perfect for gathering and compiling all the clues, eye witness accounts and testimonials (if there are any) which I still hope there won’t be, but a small part of me is starting to get excited and I find that in a strange way, as horrible as it might be, I hope we do find something.
“She’s not too thrilled with you right now is she?” says Kyle.
“My mom? No, she’s not,” I say. “But that’s OK because she’s part of my investigation.”
“You mean she’s going to help us?”
“No. She’s a suspect in my investigation,” I clarify.
“She hasn’t murdered anyone I hope,” says Kyle. The thought of it creeps me out a bit.
“Not yet,” I reply. “The owls tell me that she’s been poisoning my dad though.”
“What? Not the owls again. I thought we were past that.”
“Trust me Kyle. The owls are where we begin.”
Already I sense that I’m losing him. He looks somewhat disappointed.
“I thought we were going to investigate a real murder.”
“We are,” I say, “possibly several in fact. All of which may have been committed by women in my family tree. I just don’t know how far back it goes. That’s why I need your help. I cannot possibly do this alone. Can I trust you from here on?”
I’m not sure if he is entirely on board with me on this, but if we do find any possible clues – which of course I pray we don’t, except for that small part of me that senses that I’m about to go on an adventure of sorts, I suspect he’ll be on board then for sure.
“OK,” he says. “But what do we do if we do find proof of a murder?”
Hmm… a simple but very valid question. Unfortunately, I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet.
“I have no idea,” I say. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there.”
“So how do you want to start this so-called investigation?” he asks, as I retrieve two notebooks that I keep hidden down inside the floor vent under the window, one red notebook and one green notebook. I set the green one aside and thumb through several pages of the red one until I find a blank page and write the date at the top.
“That’s a lot of stuff you have written down. What is it?” asks Kyle.
“It’s my journal, a diary of sorts. I use it to…” then I stop for a moment in mid sentence, wondering how much I really need to tell Kyle. I desperately need him to trust me, so I have to tell him everything.
“…I catalog everything about my days,” I reluctantly tell him. “It’s one of the few pieces of advice I took from my psychiatrist. But what my psychiatrist doesn’t know is that I actually have two journals. This red one is the real one. The green one I only write down what I think my psychiatrist would deem healthy for a kid my age. I write normal every day things that any normal kid would probably write, but for me, that is totally made up. I invent it all. My psychiatrist gets to see the green one once in a while, to see how my journal is progressing – which I’m sure he uses to somehow gauge my sanity. But this red one, this red one nobody sees. It has a lot more stuff, because it’s all real. I write down my true experiences, my true feelings. Anything that happens to me throughout the day (or night) I commit to memory and then write it out in this secret red journal. So this is where I will document the murder investigations. And now you are the only person on this earth that knows about my red journal. So if it comes up missing or information is leaked out, I know exactly who I’ll be coming for.”
Kyle looks at me, sort of taken back. He wasn’t expecting this, but he has to know that I need to be able to trust him. No more playing games. No more humoring me. This is serious.
“OK, so what do we do?” he asks impatiently.
“Well, we need a good video monitoring system, so I had the idea that we hire Greg Sanders and Perry Scuttle to break into your dad’s security firm and rip off some high quality spy cams we need.”
I can almost hear the gears in Kyle’s head turning, spinning into over-drive.
“What! Are you crazy, Simon? Are you nuts? We would be thrown in jail! We can’t do that.”
“I know we can’t,” I say. “That’s why we hire Greg and Perry. They’ll do it. They would love to do it. I may not even have to pay them because I bet they would do it for free if we just gave them the idea – and the key. Because that’s just the sort of thing you know they would get off on.”
Kyle is shaking his head in slow motion. This sort of thing is not something I’m exactly comfortable with myself. But when you put things into perspective, when my dad’s life could be at stake, I have no problem committing a petty crime. And with guys available like Greg Sanders and Perry Scuttle to do the dirty work, even though we’ll be just as guilty – all the more better.
I start to tell Kyle about how simple the break-in would go down.
“… The guys pick up the key we took from your dad’s basement office and we leave it at a pre-determined place, say taped under the seat of one of the benches at the Knoll. They use the key to gain access to the store, then take a few small video cameras and bring them back to the Knoll in a book bag or school backpack where we’ll be waiting for them. Simple.”
I suspect that Kyle wants to do this, but only if there is a one hundred percent guarantee we won’t be caught. But of course there are no guarantees.
“What if Greg and Perry decide to just keep the stuff themselves, and your money? And what if they blab? They’re idiots and I don’t trust them. I think it’s a bad idea, Simon.”
Kyle is still shaking his head. Obviously I haven’t sold him on the idea yet.
“OK, what about this… What about we just do the break-in ourselves? You and me. Nobody else involved. We can control it better and won’t have to put our lives in the hands of anybody else.”
I can see by Kyle’s expression that he is more receptive to this scenario, but not quite on board with it yet. I know it’s the spare key to his father’s store we took from the desk that is probably bothering him. So I quickly come up with an idea about it that might just suit him.
“I can take the key to Peter’s Hardware and have a copy made. I’ll bring the original by your house on my way home, and tonight, you slip the original back in your dad’s desk before we do the break-in at the store. That way there’s no missing keys and you and I won’t be suspects.”
Now he’s on board. I can see it.
“Yes. We’ll do it,” he says, without anymore argument. “It’ll be my dad’s payback for beating the crap out of me the last few years. I could even take a hidden camera for myself and set it up to make sure he isn’t beating my mom.”
“Now you’re thinking,” I say, and I’m so pleased he’s on board with my plan. “So it’s agreed?”
“Yeah, I want to do this tonight, Simon. In fact the more I think about it now, the more I know I have to do this. We have to do this together. We both have a good reason to. We’ll be doing it to protect the ones we love. It’s illegal as hell, but given the situation, it’s the right thing to do. So we don’t have to feel bad or guilty about it.”
“Good. Keep thinking that in the back our minds and we will succeed,” I say.
Mom comes upstairs to my room, knocks at the door and tells Kyle that it’s time to go home because we’re about to have dinner. But before he leaves, he gives me the key to his dads store so that I can go have a copy made down at Peter’s Hardware later after dinner. It won’t be that far on my bike, so I think I can get there and get back before dark. I find myself constantly putting my hand in my pocket to check to make sure the key is still there, that I haven’t lost it.
Sitting around the kitchen table, everyone is devouring another one of Mom’s specialties, one of my favorite things to eat – hamburgers, but not just any ol’ plain hamburger. She mixes up the raw meat in a bowl the day before, adds some powerful seasoning of some kind, lets it refrigerate overnight in a marinade she invented herself, then cooks up the burgers on the grill out back over some wood chips to add an unbelievable tasty smoky flavor.
Dad enjoys them just as much as I do, but he is pale, and white as a sheet. He looks ill enough to me that he shouldn’t even be here. He needs to see a doctor or go to the hospital and find out what’s wrong with him. I can tell he’s still getting worse. Then it dawns on me. Mom’s cooking. Every meal she makes is highly seasoned, but why? They don’t need to be. Maybe the owls are right and she is actually poisoning him. She could be covering up a bad taste of poisoned meat with all the extra seasoning. God I hate this. I hate suspecting Mom of any wrongdoing. But what if the owls are right? What if I choose to ignore their warnings and Dad is being poisoned, just like Grandpa supposedly was (according to the owls).
I look at Dale. He looks OK to me, and so does Tina. And I feel fine. In fact, I can’t remember the last time either one of us were sick. But Dad has been sick for months and it’s only getting worse. Maybe it’s something he’s being exposed to at work. But then again, why did the owls tell me about mom, my grandma, her mom and grandmother before her – and maybe more. The thought that Mom could be poisoning Dad makes me lose my appetite, but I force it all down, praying that whatever is ailing Dad is not in my serving.
I pretend to enjoy the meal, but all the while I’m scheming. I eyeball a couple of prime locations that I might be able to hide a small hidden camera. I figure I should have at least two angles. One that covers the stove and oven area, and the another one to cover the kitchen island where Mom does most of the food prep, cutting, slicing, grinding, mixing,… pretty much everything she does except the actual cooking part. If the cameras are small enough, I figure I can put them in the light fixtures over each area. But I’ll have to see what the camera’s are like after Kyle and I steel them tonight.
I can’t stop thinking about my investigation. I need to get organized, and layout a systematic way in which I will conduct interviews and gather facts and clues. I could separate the facts from clues, like the way I separate my real journal from my fake one using separate notebooks, but first things first. I don’t have much time and I need to have a key made, so immediately following dinner, I grab my jacket and start out the door.
“Where do you think you’re running off to?” says Mom, clearing the table without any help. Dale and Tina already ran off somewhere and Dad moved to the den to watch TV. I feel cornered, but I don’t have the time to sway mom into letting me go. I’ll just have to go no matter what she says.
This is another one of those times that I have to lie because I know she’s going to try and stop me. I know that I must have some kind of punishment coming for skipping class today, but now is certainly not the time. I have to get the key duplicated, and I have to get the original back to Kyle.
“I left my books at Kyle’s house,” I say. “I’ll be right back.” I look back at her as I start to close the door behind me. I don’t want to look, or rather I don’t want her to see my face because I know she can tell if I’m lying or not. But I see that the owls have her attention now. I don’t know if they are side-tracking her on purpose, allowing me to escape more easily, or if they are communicating something to her. But she has that look again. She’s in a trance, a sort of suspended animation, as if time has stopped for her. I’m almost sucked into it myself because I start to feel this tingling sensation throughout my entire body, like I’m about to be struck by lightning or something, but it goes away after I close the door. I grab my bike and hit the pedals.
Fifteen minutes later I’m at Peter’s Hardware having the clerk cut me a new key and I pay for it with some change I grabbed off of Dad’s night-stand. I was lucky to have made it before closing time because my back tire was going flat on me so I had to make a pit stop at the gas station and throw some air in it.
With two identical keys in my pocket, and my tires topped off, I ride like the wind over to Kyle’s house dodging traffic along the way. It’s dark now and the air is cold, rushing over my hands and into my face, my eyes watering. Cold air always seems to do that to me. It makes me look like I’ve been crying. But when I finally arrive at Kyle’s house, there’s a police car parked out front in the street and his mom and dad are talking to the officer on the front porch. Kyle sees me from inside and comes out to the curb where I’m waiting on my bike some distance behind the black and white.
“What’s going on?” I ask. “What did your father do now? He hasn’t hit you I hope.” I talk in a low whisper so his parents and the officer can’t hear me.
“There’s been a break-in at dad’s store,” he says. Kyle looks just as puzzled as I’m sure I do too. I mean what are the chances that someone else would break into his father’s store the same night we were going to do it.
“Someone witnessed a guy hauling goods out the back door and loading them into a station wagon. By the time the police got there, he took a bunch of stuff but they caught him before he could get away. I guess that’s him in the back.” Kyle is pointing at the back window of the patrol car. I’m shocked because I didn’t even notice anyone sitting in there. I guess I had assumed the police were here for his father.
“Dad has already identified him as a customer from earlier today. I guess he spent a bunch of time in the store, asked a lot of questions and never bought anything.”
Kyle shrugs and says, “So I suppose this changes our plans.”
At first thought, I suppose it would. But the bad-boy that’s been getting the better part of me lately looks at the situation and sees an advantage.
“No, no… This is perfect,” I say. “The store has already been broken into, so who knows what’s missing, right? I mean, we already have our own key to the front door now, and as long as nobody sees us, we can walk right in and grab what we need – as long as we do it tonight. With all the commotion of the break-in, your father might not even notice. Or if he does find that he’s missing some inventory, the questions will certainly revolve around the guy in that police car.”
“I think it’s a bad idea, Simon,” he replies, still talking in a low whisper.
I keep an eye on the officer, writing up some kind of report at the front porch. “We have insurance,” I overhear Kyle’s mom tell the officer.
“Kyle, I need those tiny cameras. I don’t know how else I can prove one way or another that my mom is poisoning my dad. I think we need to take advantage of the situation and at least follow through with our plan.”
“Our plan?” he says. “It never was OUR plan. This has been YOUR plan right from the beginning. You were just trying to get me to go along with it.”
I can tell from his stance and scowled face that he’s starting to back out on me, shaking his head with a silent “no”.
“I really don’t want to disappoint you, Simon, but just listen to yourself, will ya? We’re not like this. We’re not thieves. We’re a couple of smart kids, and I can’t believe I even agreed to such a thing. So before it’s too late, I’m out. And so are you. Give me my dad’s key so I can sneak it back into his office while he’s tied up with the cop.”
I stand there, thinking. I don’t want to give up our plans. I need those cameras.
“We don’t need to prove a crime by committing one. If you go down that road Simon, you will be changed. You might even get away with it, but it will change you. You will even be more bold next time. So I’m putting a stop to this nonsense right now. We’re not doing this, you hear?”
Kyle’s voice was almost loud enough for the officer and his parents to overhear, but I don’t think they did. He’s right though. This bad-boy mentality isn’t me. I wouldn’t be any good at it anyway.
“You need to take a step back and look at the big picture. You want your mom to be investigated on suspicion of attempted murder? Well, there’s a police officer right there on my front porch. Let’s go talk to him right now.”
“No! Kyle, wait,” I say, almost panicked. I pull the keys from my pocket and give the original to him.
“Give me the copy you made, too,” he says, holding out his hand. So I do.
“We’ll just have to investigate from another angle,” he says. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow. Go home before you get into anymore trouble with your mom.”
And just like that, my plans were halted. “Probably for the best”, I admit to myself, even though I can’t help but feel defeated in some sense, but also feeling somewhat relieved at the same time. A question however stirs inside me. Did my best friend just save me from a life of crime? I doubt it. He just steered me away from making a bad choice, like any good friend would do. So I have to appreciate that, and someday I’m sure I will thank him when we’re all grown up sitting around a barbecue smoking cigars and drinking beer on my own backyard patio. We’ll have a good laugh and talk about how close I came to committing a felony.
My mind returns to the present.
I turn my bike around.
“See you tomorrow then?” I ask. He nods back.
“Tomorrow is another day!” he says as I ride off down the street, wind against my face again. I shiver, and I wonder what state my mom will be in when I get home.
When I arrive, I see Dale and Tina out in the front yard looking as if something bad has just happened. I leave my bike beside the garage and head for the door.
“I wouldn’t go in there right now if I were you,” says Tina.
“Mom and Dad are having a fight,” adds Dale.
“A big one,” says Tina.
That’s a totally foreign concept to me because I don’t think I have ever seen my parents fight. I mean sure, I’ve known a time or two when they weren’t happy about one thing or another, but I never heard or saw them actually argue or fight about anything. And from the look on Dale’s and Tina’s faces I can see that they are just as surprised as I am.
“What are they fighting about?” I ask.
“Not sure,” replies Tina, in her deeper, more mysterious sort of tone she often has when she’s preoccupied about something.
“Where have you been anyway, Simon?” she asks.
“I went over to Kyle’s house for a while.”
She quickly looks me up and down. “Hmm… looks like you forgot to bring back your books,” she says in a sneaky sort of jab.
Crap. Mom must have mentioned it to her or she overheard me when I left.
“What exactly are you up to little man?” she says with an accusatory tone which matches the turned up smirk she has on her face. She’s taller than me of course, and a bit older, but there’s no need for making me “feel” small.
“Nothing,” I say.
“You and Kyle are up to something. I can tell.”
OK, now she’s starting to make me mad. It’s none of her business. I’m just trying to save Dad’s life is all, and maybe stop her from doing the same as Mom someday, “break the chain” as the owls put it to me. But she doesn’t know about the owls, so she has no idea that I’m actually trying to help her too.
Now the fighting inside is getting loud, and I want to put a stop to it before a neighbor calls the cops. I wonder if they’ll quit if I just go inside. So that’s exactly what I do. Before Dale or Tina can stop me, I barge through the front door. I see Mom and Dad in the kitchen having it out, a scene I have never witnessed before now, but I hear many voices shouting, more than just Mom and Dad’s. It’s the owls. They’re making them fight; I just know it. I look at the clock. The owls are so busy messing with them that they don’t even know I’m here.
“Push him!” I hear a voice echo, although I know it’s not meant for me. “Hit him! Knock him down!” another voice piles on. It’s the owls. I see Mom raise her hands and violently shoves Dad into the wall. He’s so week and frail she has no trouble in doing it. He falls to the floor and tries to get up but he’s shaking so uncontrollably he can’t steady himself. I think the owls are evil, and they don’t care who hurts who now. They are so impatient to see violence, perhaps even a murder that they are pitting my parents against each other in hopes of seeing someone – anyone hurt or killed. And with Dad in his weakened state, he’s totally helpless, so I have to intervene.
I run for the garage, and I feel that tingling sensation invade my body. The owls have a fix on me now. They know what I’m about to do when they see me return with Dad’s sledge hammer. I fight to raise it above my head, but it feels much heavier than a moment ago. Damn it! It’s Tina behind me, pulling back on it.
“Let go!” I yell. Now I’m fighting the owls and Tina both. She’s winning but I stomp her toes with my heel and shove my shoulder into her stomach in an effort to rid her of her interference, but its only enough to unbalance her, not enough to actually knock her down. The owls control her now, and I think she draws strength from them.
Dale is standing in the doorway just watching the scene unfold in disbelief. Mom is kicking and actually stomping on Dad while he’s on the floor, curling up defensively because his illness leaves him without the physical strength to fight back. Tina rips the sledge hammer away from me without much effort, even though I was gripping it with all my might, and I’m stunned that she takes a swing at me with it, but misses. I look to Dale for help, but he’s obviously in some kind of a trance, probably created by the owls.
Tina suddenly steps toward me again and knocks me in the head with the handle of the sledge hammer, coming down on top of me hard. I don’t know why she didn’t use the heavy end, but I’m glad. What am I thinking? I don’t even know why she took a swing at me in the first place. It has to be the owls. They know I want to destroy them, so they have to protect themselves by recruiting Tina, although I doubt she even realizes what she’s doing. Of course now there’s blood running down my forehead and I only know this because some of it starts to pool into my eyes, and some of it has traveled as far down as my lips, so now I can taste it, which makes me want to vomit. But I hold it back.
Tina twirls the heavy hammer around above her head as if it was a baton; as if she’s done this before, maybe even practiced it. She holds it up high, gripping it like a baseball bat. Even though she’s bigger than I am, I’m absolutely dumbfounded by the strength she has.
“Smash the clock, Tina!” I yell. “Please, smash the clock!” But she doesn’t. I scamper away just as the heavy end comes down and hits the floor. I feel the entire room shudder with that blow, so I know it probably would have killed me had it been a direct hit to a vital part of my body. Tina would never do that. She’s definitely being directed by the owls, just like Mom.
“Dale, snap out of it!” I scream.
There’s no way I can stop all this myself. Mom is beating Dad to death with something in her hand but I don’t know what because the blood in my eyes has turned everything blurry. My mind is buzzing and I can’t think straight. I believe I may have sustained another blow to the head, but I can’t be sure. I can’t even be sure if I’m standing or if I’m curled up on the floor like Dad.
The lights dim a little but I realize it’s not the lights, it’s a shadow over the top of me. So this makes me think that I’m probably on the floor. I clench my hands and I feel carpet fibers between my fingers, confirming that I am in fact on the floor. I try to stand but the room is spinning like a merry-go-round and I’m knocked down by something. My face is pushed into the carpet and this heavy weight is applied to the back of my neck which keeps me from moving very much. My arms are pulled back against my will and I feel something cold as steel wrap around my wrists. I kick and try to roll over but the same is happening to my feet, both pulled up, bent at the knees and clamped together, then cinched tight.
I’m hog-tied. I can’t move and I ache all over. The room is still spinning and with the taste of blood in my mouth and in my stomach, I vomit a little, enough to feel the stomach acid burn the back of my throat and nasal passage. I spit what comes up out onto the floor beside me. It still has that smoky burger taste, but of course it’s completely rancid. Compared to this, I think I would rather be squeezed by the owls and forced to stand like stone for hours on end just like they did to me last night.
I start to lose sense of time and begin to feel myself floating upward, then horizontally like I might just float right outside the front door. I begin to wonder if I’m having an out of body experience, or if maybe I’m dying.
As I continue to float, I see stars, but not from my injuries. I see actual stars and familiar constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion The Hunter in the nighttime sky. Then I see flashing colors that seem to light up the entire street. I’m forced into a tiny dark space, like I’m being thrown into a coffin, and all I can think of is I’m not dead yet!
I’m not dead yet!!
I’m not dead yet!!!
Some time must have passed, but I don’t have a clue as to how much. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m lying down on my back and my eyes are shut. I try to use my power of perception but I can’t. Even when it works, it’s only good for knowing what is about to happen or to read people’s thoughts. I want it to work backwards. I need to know what HAS happened, not what WILL happen. I feel powerless.
I take a mental inventory of my state and for the first time, I realize that I can’t feel anything, nothing at all. Is this what it feels like to be dead? Not feeling anything? But I know I can’t be dead because I know these facts… I’m conscious. I’m generating my own thoughts, and although I can’t seem to open my eyes, I know I can hear things. I hear a distant electronic beeping sound and an intermittent pulse of rushing air. But there’s more…
I can hear the occasional sounds of something non-mechanized, and it changes pitch and tone, and even volume and direction. But it sounds so far away, miles perhaps. Unfortunately it’s totally inaudible. I don’t know what it could be, so I keep listening for more clues as to where I am, but can’t help but feel that I am somewhere in the gray area, somewhere between living and dying.
More time passes, but again, I have no idea how much. But I am pleased that I can feel something now. I believe it’s a wrinkle in the sheet I’m laying on. I can feel it just under the back of my right knee where the skin is soft and sensitive. At least that’s what it feels like, and I’m ecstatic at the thought that I can actually feel something outside of my own body now. I can still hear the electronic beeping and the intermittent sound of rushing air. It almost sounds like someone keeps opening the door on a fast moving train, and then slamming it closed, then a few seconds later, open, then closed again, over and over. But I know that I am perfectly still, like the way the owls had me locked in stone before, but this time I’m lying down. So I don’t think I’m on a train. I listen more intently then before and I hear something else. Something I think I can make out if only it would repeat itself again. So I wait silently for it.
And there it is!
Words! I hear words being spoken. It’s sort of mumbled but that’s what they are. There’s no doubt about it. I hear words, but now I’m being very cautious. I pray that the words, as mumbled as they are – are not coming from the owls, calling me or my sister or my mom to do something bad or horrible, like commit murder.
Now I can feel something tickling my forehead. Its touch feels intimate to me, and it makes me want to cry. I’m starting to feel again, but I’m so tired I just want to sleep. And so I do.
“Ofin-r-iez-it-el an,… Pleze ust ofin-r-iez.”
The broken, inaudible voice rouses my senses, but I can’t make out what it was. “Say it again!” I shout. But I can’t hear my own words or feel my mouth move so I’m left to assume it was only my thoughts that are saying it.
“Open your eyes little man. Please, just open your eyes.”
I don’t know if I’m smiling on the outside, but I sure as hell am smiling on the inside, because there is only one person in the whole world that I know who ever says those words to me, and that’s my sister, Tina!
“I love you, Tina!” I say, but I don’t think she hears it, and that’s OK for now. I know she’s there, and I know I’m getting better every day. I know it’s just a matter of time before I will open my eyes again.
The tickling on my forehead once again wakes me from my deep comatose like sleep. I’m conscious, but my eyes are still closed as usual. They don’t seem to feel as heavy anymore so I muster up every bit of strength I have within me and manage to open them into little slits which lets out a gush of tears that I can feel run back toward my temples and around my ears soaking my pillow. I move my eyes from one side to the other trying to peer through the little white slits that lets almost nothing in. I see foggy dim shadows moving about and I know that they are people nearby. I have a sense that they’re excited about my progress and I realize that the tickling that I’ve been feeling on my forehead is somebody’s warm hand gently stroking it, like mom use to do to me when I was just a little kid, sick in bed with strep throat and a high fever.
“I think he’s going to be alright,” I hear a familiar man’s deep voice say. “As long as we keep him on his meds this time, he won’t be a threat to anyone. He’ll have to be committed to the infirmary of course.”
“Yes, but for how long, doctor?” Mom’s voice asks.
“Mom! I’m so glad you’re here! I miss you!” I cry out. But my own voice still does not materialize, so she does not know that I’m conscious of her presence. I know it eventually will. It’s just a matter of time, so I guess I will just have to be patient.
“It’s hard to tell,” I hear the doc’s voice reply to Mom’s question about how long I’ll be in the infirmary. “We’ll just have to take it a day at a time. The important thing is that Simon cannot hurt anyone anymore.”
Wait a minute. Hurt anyone! Who have I hurt! I’ve been trying to save Dad’s life! Trying to keep him from being poisoned! Oh, how I wish they could hear me.
I’m right here! Oh God, please let them hear me speak!
“There’s evidence that Simon was putting strychnine in his father’s food somehow.”
“Yes, I know, and I’m sorry to learn about his situation. With strychnine in his system, his father must be suffering a great deal.”
“I wonder where he got it?”
What! I did no such thing! You’ve got it all wrong! It’s those evil owls I tell you!
They hear nothing from me. They think I’m comatose.
“What will you be giving him to ensure that he cannot hurt anyone?”
“Mrs. Kruger, Simon is suffering from psychotic delusional schizophrenia with varying states of paranoia. I’m not exactly sure what factors might have caused this to develop in him. In most cases, it is usually biological, but there are rare cases where environmental factors may have played a part, or even a combination of both. The good news is that we can correct the chemical imbalance in his brain as much as possible. There’s a newer anti psychotic drug that’s showing great promise. It’s not on the market yet, but Simon’s condition is perfect for this drug, and I think you will be quite pleased with the results.
Now don’t you worry Mrs. Kruger, there’s nothing to worry about. Trust me. I have years of experience with this sort of thing and I have numerous patients living full and beautiful lives. With proper supervision and the right drugs, Simon has a chance at a near-normal life. It is safe and has very few side effects. I predict it will be the drug of choice for treating cases such as Simon’s. Now we only have to wait for the paperwork and assign him a more permanent bed.”
I’m hearing all this, and it doesn’t sound like I’ll be going home anytime soon. But the good news is that I can feel more and more of myself coming back to my own control. But I don’t show them any signs because I don’t want them to know that I have regained anything at all. I figure the longer I can fake my comatose like state, the longer it may be before they inject me with mind altering drugs. I just have to hold out long enough to work up the strength to escape.
But it sucks that I can no longer trust anyone. I don’t feel loved anymore. I feel alone and all empty inside. I wish things were like they were a few years ago. No, wait. I wish things were like they were a long time ago, before Mom brought home grandpa’s old cuckoo clock with those devilish owls on it. They’re responsible for this mess. Those owls have got to go.
I hear them leave and the door closes. Mom, Tina and the doc are gone. The room is quiet now except for the constant electronic beeping and occasional rush of air which still persists. So I relax to encourage my power of perception to gradually kick in and be useful to me once again. Even though they are just outside the door, I can sense them planning something, but my powers are not strong enough to get the whole picture.
I’m finally able to open my eyes a little more; just enough that I can see that the room is dim but lit softly with a low wattage lamp in the corner by another door which I think might be a bathroom or closet. I discover that the beeping sound that I’ve been hearing all this time is coming from my apparent heart monitor, and there’s another machine which stands next to it that is intermittently pushing oxygen through a pair of tubes that I now realize for the first time are taped under my nose.
What the hell happened to me? I think back and remember the struggle in the living room. Tina was there and she smashed me in the head with Dad’s heavy hammer. If only she had smashed the clock like I told her, things would probably be different. Everything would be back to normal. Mom would have stopped hitting Dad, and I’m sure she would quit poisoning him too. Tina would have probably come to her senses once the owls were smashed to bits and helped me rescue Dad. And Dale… where the hell was Dale? And Kyle too. I wish I had those hidden cameras. I wish they were already setup. I need proof that something evil in our house is affecting Mom and Tina’s behavior. But I gather the solution is really quite simple. All I have to do is be stronger than the owls.
I want to be back home in my room. I’d be writing like crazy in my red journal because a lot has happened that needs to be recorded. I don’t know how long I can commit everything to memory. I’ve got to get it written down before they drug me, but I need to heal myself, and escape whatever devious plan Mom and Tina are devising. And, I need to find out where Dale is because I fear that he will be next to suffer some mortal fate at the hands of my mom or my sister.
What seems like several more days and several more visits from the doctor is starting to feel like routine now. A couple days ago he told me the swelling has gone down on my brain which is obviously a good thing, and so has the swelling around my eyes. That’s part of the reason why I couldn’t open them before. But now that I can see him, he’s sitting at the foot of my bed in his white coat jotting notes down in a notebook he took from his briefcase. I have no idea what he could be writing because he hasn’t said one word to me yet since he entered my room a few minutes ago. He’s writing like crazy, as if he’s going to write a damn book or something.
I’m growing impatient, and after several more minutes of this I feel that he has written quite enough, so I decide to interrupt his important work.
“So, doc… how long have I been in here?”
He finally stops writing and glances up at me through his thick wire frames, pushing them back up on to the bridge of his nose. He seems reluctant to answer my question, so I fire him another one.
“When do I get out?”
He’s back to writing again, avoiding my questions and doesn’t say a thing.
“Nice bedside manner,” I mutter sarcastically. But it doesn’t faze him. He’s so focused on whatever he’s writing that I’m convinced he’s in his own little world.
“Hello?… Hey! Doc!” I raise my voice. He’s right there at the foot of my bed, still writing, but he might as well be a million miles away because he doesn’t respond.
I turn my head and look out the window. There’s a huge tree outside. Its thick branches are like the ones on the big maple at home that I climb all the time. I think about climbing this one, or rather climbing down it, because from the looks of it, I figure I must be on the 2nd or 3rd floor.
I turn back to the doc. If this guy doesn’t start talking, I’m gonna start making a scene, I think to myself. But instead, I decide to calm myself. I allow my power of perception to return. It feels a bit rusty, but I allow it to work its magic.
Nothing. I get nothing from this guy. It’s as if he’s got an invisible wall of defense up around him, or that he doesn’t even exist at all. And that thought scares me. Because if he doesn’t exist, then who am I seeing? He’s right there, still scratching away in his notebook.
The door to my room opens and in walks his identical twin. The one sitting at the foot of my bed instantly vanishes into thin air. Gone. Not so much as even a dent in the chair’s cushion. It’s as if he was never really there.
“Good morning, Simon,” this other man says to me. He’s wearing the same white coat, and the same thick wire frame glasses, and carrying the same black leather briefcase. I watch him take the same seat as his vanished twin, and he too removes a notebook from his briefcase and begins to write. But this guy seems like he at least has a personality. Then it dawns on me. The vanished twin was actually him. It was just my power of perception working without me even knowing it. I had perceived the doc coming in, taking a seat at the foot of my bed and writing. I simply couldn’t interact with the twin because he wasn’t real. He was only an instance, an image of the real thing who had not come into my room yet. So I’m to conclude that my powers of perception have become visually stronger than ever. I should be careful though. If someone were to see me interacting with people who aren’t even there yet, well… they’re naturally going to think I’m crazy.
I decide to try my luck with my questions on this guy.
“So, doc… how long have I been in here?”
He stops writing and glances up at me through his thick wire frames, pushing them back up on to the bridge of his nose, just exactly like my powers of perception revealed to me earlier.
“Five months and…” he looks over at the calendar on the wall near the window… “three days.”
“Five months!” I say.
“Well let’s see.” He flips back several pages in his note book. “September fifteenth is when you were admitted this time.”
What did he mean “this time?”
“It only seems like a few days at the most,” I say.
“Well, you were in pretty bad shape. You had some head trauma from …” and he stops. Now he wants me to fill in the blanks so he can gauge how sane I am. So I fill in the blanks for him.
“I was hit in the head by my sister, Tina.
He takes a moment and scribbles a bit more.
“With what? Do you remember, Simon?”
I have no trouble at all with detail. I can tell him everything that happened that night, right down to the minute. So I proceed to tell him about the owls and how they are evil and that they tried to recruit me to kill my mother in order to stop her from poisoning my dad, which I’m starting to think was a lie. I tell him about my parents getting into a huge fight and that I suspected it was the owls making them do it because they have never had a real fight in my entire life. I tell him about the sledge hammer that I retrieved from the garage because I wanted to smash the clock where the owls live, but that Tina got it away from me and hit me in the head with the long handle.
The doc is rubbing his chin, contemplating his words. I know he’s not buying my story, at least not my version of it.
“Doc, if you don’t believe me, just ask Derrick. He was there. He didn’t do anything to help, but he was there – Derrick stood in the doorway and saw the whole thing.”
The doc looks down at his notebook, scribbles something again, but my power of perception doesn’t reveal it to me.
“Simon, do you realize that you just said Derrick? Don’t you mean Dale was standing in the doorway?”
“Yes, you did. A slip perhaps?”
“Well, if I said Derrick, I meant Dale. Dale was definitely there.”
“Why do you suppose you said Derrick?”
I’m a bit taken back by this because I have an incredible memory. I rely on it to memorize every detail of things that happen to me throughout the day so that I can later write it all down in my journal, or journals to be more precise. The red one for the real stuff that nobody gets to see but me, and the green one for the made up stuff that I share with my psychiatrist.
“Do you remember, Simon? Your little brother Derrick died five years ago in Miller’s Pond. You took him there to go catch frogs but he was afraid of the water and didn’t want to go in. And that’s when you pushed him. But he hit his head on a rock and drowned before you could drag him out. That’s why you’ve been my patient for the last five years. Derrick couldn’t help you because he wasn’t there. But Dale was. He tended to your father’s wounds while the police were hog-tying you.”
As he tells me this, I realize why this man looks familiar. He’s not a doctor in a hospital. He’s my psychiatrist, and this room has changed. There’s bars over the window and the tree outside has no life, it’s leaves presumably on the ground or blown away to decompose in some out of the way place. I’m restrained to the bed and I have very limited mobility.
“I want to go home,” I say. “I want to go home!”
“Simon, calm down. Let’s talk this out.”
But I can’t calm down. The restraints are tight and I feel like I can’t breathe, like when the owls were squeezing me.
“Do you remember telling me about your dad, and how he seemed to look at you suspiciously, as if you weren’t really his son? And your mother… You told me that she always seemed to be pondering something, and that she was very distant to you. Do you remember telling me these things?”
“No,” I reply, fighting the straps that are holding my arms down.
“Well, it’s dated right here,” he says, flipping through the pages of his notebook again. “One of our first sessions after Derrick died. They acted that way towards you because of the way they felt about you… after killing your brother.”
“What a bunch of crap!” I say. “I didn’t kill my brother! I didn’t push him! He fell in!”
“That’s not what’s in the report, Simon.”
“To hell with the report! It’s all lies!”
“Lies, like what’s in your green journal?”
“Yes,” I reply. “Lies, like what’s in my green journal. It’s all made up.”
“And your red journal?”
“True. Everything in the red journal is true.”
“I’m going to read something to you, Simon. It’s something you wrote, and it’s right here in your red journal…” The doc cleared his throat and read to me out loud.
“I have been hearing those voices again. They whisper to me day and night. I try to block them out with humming or music, but it doesn’t help. Now I find myself acting out the wishes of those whispers in my head. I started with rat poison in my brother’s breakfast cereal, but he eventually recovered. Today they told me to push him, and so I did. Not because they told me to, but because I hoped that if I did what they said, their voices would finally go away and leave me alone. So I’m very sad today, because I pushed my brother into the pond.”
I’m shocked. I remember now and so I say nothing. Those are my words. But what do I say now?
“If I killed my brother, then why aren’t I locked up in jail?” I blurt out.
The doc glances over towards the window with the bars on it.
“There are no owls, Simon,” he says. “They’re only in your mind. You put them there to explain to your rational, logical side – your sane personality. To give you some sort of justification to commit murder.”
Now he’s talking nonsense to me.
“What about Tina? Why would she try and kill me with the sledge hammer if it weren’t for the owls messing with her?”
“That wasn’t Tina,” he says.
“Then just who cracked me over the head then?” I ask, even though I know exactly how it all happened.
“The police couldn’t control you, and unfortunately you sustained a blow to the head from one of their batons. It was Tina who called the police. She came home and found your mother unconscious on the floor and your father beaten badly, and you covered in blood.”
To this statement, I frantically search my memory for the truth. The doc’s version cannot be true. And yet he continues to explain it as if it were fact.
“In our last session, you said you remembered the feeling that you were floating, and seeing flashing lights that lit up the neighborhood.”
I don’t remember telling him that, but I do remember the floating sensation rather well, and seeing the star constellations in the nighttime sky.
“It was the police, Simon. They hit you over the head with their baton. It wasn’t Tina with a sledge hammer. It was the police that cuffed your hands and ankles together, and then carried you out to their patrol car.”
The doc looks at me in a way that I sense he’s trying to see if he’s getting through to me.
“I have it all down here in the police report, Simon. It took four officers to hog-tie you. You broke the nose of one of them, and nearly gouged out the eyes of another.”
“Doc, I find your version impossible to believe because that’s not the way it happened at all. I trust my own memory more than anything, and I don’t care if you have a police report that backs up what you say. It could be faked. It might as well be full of lies and made up events.”
“You mean made up, like the events you wrote about in this?”
He holds up my green notebook. Then he reads a couple pages to me, about a perfect kid living in a perfect world, and all is good and life is great. It was stuff I wrote. Stuff I made up on purpose with the intent to pass it off as my journal, containing the thoughts and experiences of what I figured a psychiatrist might expect from a normal, mentally healthy young teen.
Then the doc pulls out my red notebook. My heart skips a beat and I can feel the pores on my skin fill with a nervous sweat. A lump in my throat develops and I swallow to keep it down. My breathing becomes shallow and I wonder if the doc can see just how nervous I am, so I rustle the bed sheets a little to hide my trembling hands.
My nervousness gives way to anger as I think back to that day when everything happened. I showed Kyle where I kept my journals – down in the heat-vent in the floor under my desk in my room. We were going to use them to keep track of clues and eye witness statements from field interviews we were going to conduct regarding the investigation into the possible poisoning of my dad, and any other possible murders that may have been committed by the women in previous generations of my family. But I trusted Kyle. He’s the only person besides myself that even knew about the red journal.
“Did Kyle give that to you?” I ask the doc with a tone.
“Kyle does not exist,” he replies matter of factly.
“What are you talking about?” I say. I think the doc is messing with me almost as much as the owls have messed with me and my family.
“Kyle is your imaginary childhood friend,” he says. “You created him in your mind right after killing your younger brother Derrick.”
The doc is trying hard to get through to me but I’m not buying it for a second because I know that Kyle’s name is carved into one of the benches back at the Knoll.
“Take me to the Knoll!” I say. “I’ll prove Kyle exists.”
The doc is reading from my red journal and because of that, I can’t help but feel a little violated.
“Kyle does not exist for the same reason the Knoll does not exist. They are figments of your imagination, Simon. They are replacements for the things you lost that day when you pushed Derrick into the pond. You lost Derrick that day, so you invented Kyle to take his place. You lost the pond that day too, so you invented the Knoll to take its place as well. But to be sure, we even went to your old school to see if we can find the Knoll. We asked around and nobody seems to know anything about it. It’s not on any maps. We even went to the courthouse and were shown old maps of the area, before all the homes and apartments went up around the school. There is no record of the Knoll, Simon. It’s a place you invented in your mind.”
“Do I write about it in one of my journals?” I ask.
“Yes, you refer to it from time to time.”
“Yeah, which journal do I talk about the Knoll?”
The doc thumbs through several pages until he finds something I’ve written about the Knoll.
“It’s in this one,” he says, holding it up and showing me the exact page.
“That’s my red journal,” I say. “Everything that is real, I write about in my red journal. The green one is just stuff I made up for you, to throw you off on your suspicions about me being crazy.”
At this point, I figure I pretty much had to explain why I had two completely different journals, especially since the doc had both of them now.
I get this strange feeling that something I dread is about to happen, and before I can figure it out, two male nurses dressed in all white enter the room, one of them with a series of colored syringes in his shirt pocket.
“Not now,” says the doc, and he waves them off with a flick of his hand.
The two nurses leave without question, and a realization that they have been drugging me for some time washes over me.
“Have you been drugging me?” I ask the doc. I’m mad as hell because I want to have real control over my own thoughts and actions.
“Please don’t give me anything,” I say.
“Simon, we have to keep giving it to you. We can’t just stop. This new drug is too dangerous to just stop. We know what you are capable of if we just stop administering it. It’s a drug you can’t just stop taking all at once. That’s why…” and his voice trails off. The doc doesn’t want to tell me something. He’s holding something back from me.
“Why what?” I ask.
“That’s why you did what you did,” he says reluctantly.
“Kill my brother?” I ask.
“No,” he replies.
I knew that much.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
The doc shifts in his chair, then gets up and walks over to the barred window and looks out at the bare limbs on the tree outside.
“Your mother was giving you small doses in your lunch, of which I prescribed. But we didn’t know that you weren’t actually ingesting it. She’s not only your mother, Simon. She’s your nurse. She was allowed to administer it in small doses to you at home, and keep an eye on you. We didn’t know that you went off the drug until after we found your red journal. It’s a shame you fed your sandwiches to your dog. It shouldn’t have happened. That was when we were able to figure out why you did it.”
“Did What?” I ask. I’m starting to get frustrated. I wish the doc would just shoot straight with me.
“Poison your father,” he says in a regretful way.
“No! It’s the owls! Don’t you listen to me? Mom was poisoning him! Not me!”
“Simon, you are a mental patient of mine, confined to this hospital, and for now, confined to this bed. A new drug has been developed and we are testing it on you because you are exactly the person this sort of drug was created for. It does many things, but primarily it’s designed to keep your mind balanced in whatever mental state you happen to be in at the time of the injection. And it has no side effects like Haldol does. Unfortunately, you were given the drug about the time you were slipping back into your fantasy state of mind, so the drug has kept you there for quite some time. It has taken months to turn you around, and get you back on the sane side – the side of reality, but you’re just not quite there yet.”
I’m reading the doc’s every thought, even the subconscious ones. They come at me strong. So strong in fact that I can actually feel them, and I can see them swirling about. They look like a tangible substance hanging in the air like small clouds that have broken up after a thunder storm. I can almost reach out and touch them, but of course I can’t because I’m physically restrained to this bed.
His thoughts appear as full images in my mind, crisp and clear, even more real than real life itself. I see his faults, and his dreams and aspirations, but I also see his dark intentions. And because of this clarity, I can see that he has been telling me the truth, at least the truth as he knows it, because I’m not convinced yet that I actually killed my brother, or poisoned my father. But I see things in his mind that are just as disturbing as what he probably sees in mine. Everyone has a dark side. But I’m surprised at just how dark his actually is, and I can’t help but feel that he should be the one restrained to a bed inside a room with bars over the windows like mine.
“I have to leave, Simon,” he says. “I’ve got another appointment in fifteen minutes.”
He stuffs everything back into his briefcase and heads for the door.
“Hey, doc…” I say, stopping him briefly. “Keep a straight face.”
He turns and looks at me funny. He doesn’t know what I mean by that statement.
“Tonight, when the detectives interview you… Keep a straight face.”
He steps toward me, confused, concerned and shocked, all those things and maybe more.
“What are you talking about, Simon?”
“This new drug… It does have a side effect after all.”
The doc loosens his tie a bit. He’s nervous and clearly agitated knowing that I seem to know something he doesn’t.
“The side affect is clairvoyance isn’t it? At least that’s what you call it. That’s what your wife experienced after you slipped some of the drug into her drink the other night. She saw you. She saw the true you. She saw the many affairs you were having with a staff member and one of your other patients, and so she threatened to go to the board about it which of course would end your career. So you got rid of her in the woods. When the police find her decomposing body, you can tell the detectives she often jogged alone on the trails there, but it won’t help you. You’ll still go to prison for what you did to her.”
A scowl on his face hardens. He turns without saying a thing and opens the door. The same two nurses are still waiting just outside.
“Don’t give him anymore of the experimental drug. Go back to Haldol. Double the usual dosage.”
One of them questions the doc’s strange orders.
“Do it!” he barks, then stomps off down the hall.
The two men come into my room and one of them holds me down even though I’m already physically restrained. I can’t fight them, so I don’t even try. The one with the needle turns and looks back over his shoulder which makes me a bit nervous because it’s like he’s hiding something. He proceeds and pushes the needle deep into the vein in my arm, but it doesn’t hurt that much.
“Don’t worry kid,” he whispers to me. You’re going to be fine. I’m not doubling the dosage like the doctor ordered. You’re getting less than the usual dosage. We’re going to get you off of this stuff. It might take a while, but we’re definitely getting you off this stuff.”
A feeling of relief comes over me, and in a few minutes, the drug is doing its thing, and it takes me somewhere else.
My power of perception has always been good to me, and because I have never abused it, I think it has grown and gained strength inside me for years. And this new drug they had me on has somehow made my power of perception even stronger. It almost seems to have developed a strength and a will all its own. It has become an entity in and of itself. It’s inside me, feeding off what’s left of the drugs in my system, at least mentally. My physical body is still suffering from the numbness it causes in me, but my mental abilities are coming back, like driving through a fog bank and into a patch of crystal clear air. My thoughts and mental images projecting in my mind are of things that have not actually occurred yet – but will very soon in the near future. They flood in like ocean waves, one after another, filling my head.
My house is on fire. (Not at this very moment of course, but soon). Nobody’s inside except the owls on the clock and the tips of the flames have swiftly advanced up the walls engulfing the clock and eventually the entire house. I’m lying outside on the front lawn, choking and coughing up soot from deep within my lungs. There’s a boy my age running from the house. It’s Kyle Treblee, and he’s carrying a can of gasoline that I recognize from the garage. He stops briefly and looks back at me, shoots me a big grin and vanishes into the smoke that’s drifting and following him out into the street. I soon pass out but the paramedics arrive on scene and bring me back.
I eventually start to feel myself getting better and I wake to find that I’ve been moved to a real hospital room, one with a window that has no bars. I can tell that the drug is wearing off, but they still give it to me, but in such small doses now that it doesn’t seem to really affect me. They’re weaning me off it slowly, and I’m happy that my gift appears to be intact and remains stronger than ever.
Someone has left my door open so I can see everything going on out in the hall. There’s a bit of a commotion and I see the doc being escorted out by two police men. The scene causes a smile to form at the corners of my mouth because I know what he did to his wife and I am happy to know that he has a lifetime to pay for his crime.
One of the nurses pokes her head in my room to check on me, sees me happy and content, then leaves and closes the door behind her. My room becomes dim, quiet and peaceful, illuminated only by the soft orange glow of a winter’s setting sun just before dipping below the city horizon outside my window – beyond the bare maple.
The drug has worn off entirely, and I’m happy to know that the owls (and their voices) will soon burn in hell where they will speak to me no more. They will no longer have any form of control over me. I’m free. I’m finally in control of my own thoughts again and I’m very much alone in this room – all by myself. And I couldn’t be any happier, because that’s exactly how I like it.
Just before I doze off, my entire family walks into my room and surrounds me in my bed. I’m so glad to see them all that my idea of preferring to be alone seems so far out of normal that I find it hard to believe that I actually thought that I preferred it that way.
Dad looks healthy and Mom looks very happy. And just seeing them both lifts a burden that I didn’t know I had. Dale brought me some books to read and Tina brought her flute and proceeds to play something she made up herself that turns out to be so absolutely beautiful that it makes me cry, even though I fought hard to hold back my tears in front of them.
They tell me all about a new house across town that Dad and Mom just bought and are finally all moved in, and can’t wait for me to come home.
“It’s got your favorite kind of tree in the back yard,” Dad says.
“Yeah, a great big old Maple,” Mom adds.
“And there’s a little park right around the corner from us, so that’ll be nice when the weather warms up a bit.”
Two weeks later I’m finally released from the hospital. It’s winter time, but it’s a balmy forty degrees today and no snow on the ground, so Dad stops the car at the park near our new home and we all go for a little walk because I really need the exercise after being cooped up for months. I tire quite easily and so we find a bench to rest on for a bit. Mom and Dad are looking at me, I guess because for the first time in a long, long time, we are all smiling. It just feels good that we are all here together – healthy and happy. Speaking about my little brother Derrick is no longer taboo. In fact my parents now encourage it to keep his memory alive in us all. I think they have finally come to terms about what happened and no longer look at me as though the circumstances surrounding his death were somehow my fault. And because of that I feel that the final burden has been lifted and I can now truly be myself and love my family.
“There’s only one rule,” says Dad. “There will be no talk about the owls.”
I relax and meditate there for a few moments, allowing my power of perception to work. Even without the drugs in my system anymore, I can still tell I have it, and it is stronger than ever. It begins to reveal images to me that make me feel good about the weeks, months, and even years ahead.
Things are going to turn out just fine for the Kruger family. Dale goes to college and earns a degree in visual arts. Tina earns a scholarship and becomes a music teacher at a posh school in town, but she spends her spare time going to other less advantaged schools and getting young kids interested in music. Mom and Dad are able to retire and go sailing all the time.
As for me… it’s no surprise that I end up a counselor at a drug rehab facility. I get to use my power of perception on my clients so I can really get inside their heads and help them find a way out of their addictions. The pay is nothing to brag about, but if they only knew how much satisfaction I get from this job, they would quickly learn that I would gladly do it for free.
Christopher David lives and works in Washington State. He loves sci-fi books and movies. Other interests include writing software, gardening and hiking. When asked what question he ponders the most, his response is always – “What if …”