Detective Stanhope paced up and down the corridor like a caged wolf. Again he had spent the morning in the hospital, a morning that could have been spent making a start on the paperwork that was starting to fall over out of his In-tray.
Detective Inspector Farrier had lost patience with the vigil after the first fruitless visit two weeks ago when Mark had first been brought into this private room just off the ward. He was busy finishing off other cases as well as investigating this one though as time passed with no leads more and more pressure was being put on the small detective department to come up with something.
Personally Stanhope thought the man lying in the bed was a waste of time. Whenever he woke he would scream until anaesthetised. It was unlikely there was much left of his mind to remember anything of what had happened to him. He supposed it was always possible the man would be able to tell Stanhope his assailant’s name, address and favourite hideout when he was finally sane enough to speak but somehow Stanhope doubted it. But it was looking increasingly likely that this might be the only lead they had and Farrier had told him to wait here until Mark awoke. The assailant had tried to abduct this guy once and there was no reason he wouldn’t try again.
There was little else the police could do anyway. Two weeks had passed since the incident and there had been no evidence, no forensics, no clues, no suspicious footprints of rare shoes. It was a measure of Stanhope’s frustration that he had even looked into the hundreds of shoe prints around the house as if they would be able to tell him anything of use. It seemed strange that they hadn’t found any shoe prints from the perpetrator in the house. But then the chaos of the arrest had turned most of the places where shoe prints could be seen in the dust to a scuffled mess.
Yet such an absence was mirrored by everything else the forensic team had tried. There had been no identifiable trace of anyone in the house apart from the police and the captive, the stench of years still lingering in that tiny, walled off upper room.
Farrier for the moment was free to pursue the conclusions of other cases, to look at the wider issue but soon Stanhope knew, he would be forced to crawl on his knees looking for footprints or similar, frustrated and clueless. Stanhope, usually a patient and methodical man, was himself being driven to wild ideas by the frustrating mystery of it all. Even the densest crime usually had things to work with, witnesses, forensic information, something to at least start the investigation.
Stanhope was even bewildered as to what had happened, let alone why. It was obvious a crime had been committed but as to why, or how it was possible to keep a man at the brink of starvation for so long, Stanhope was bewildered. And that was without the sudden disappearance of the man from a locked cell; there was no plausible explanation for that that anyone had come up with, the guards subjected to endless rounds of questions until everyone was sick of the thought of it.
The cell had been taken apart piece by piece but it was as though the perpetrator had never even occupied it.. And so as Stanhope paced he seethed and waited with rapidly diminishing patience for Mark to wake.
Mark’s eyes flickered and focused briefly on the two men before letting his heavy lids drift shut. They looked frustrated, one man fidgeting on his hard hospital chair by the bed, the other slumped against the wall, obviously impatient to either go or get some answer to the questions locked under tension behind his eyes.
Mark couldn’t remember their names; he was finding it hard to stay awake. This was the second time they had been here when he woke up, the first time he hadn’t been able to do much more than try and focus on them. His eyes were so weak he found the light blinding even though it was dimmed. One of them had asked him a question. He managed a grunt and opened his eyes again. The question was repeated.
“Mr Camden, can you remember anything?” He tried to shake his head but even such a small activity was beyond him still. His eyes closed and his face twisted as a pain managed to lance through the haze of painkillers.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave officers.” The nurse spoke. “He’s still far too weak for questioning. I told you…”
“Yes I know. We’ll be back. Let me know…”
“…If his condition changes, yes I know. Now if you’ll excuse me I really must ask you to leave.” The nurse briskly shepherded the two men out of the room. Mark tried a smile and his lips twitched briefly. He liked her, he didn’t really know her but out of all the nurses she was the one who spent most time with him, who was there when he woke up, who tried to pour a little water between his lips.
He remembered her voice in his dreams, quieting the fevered chaos of fear and pain. He remembered her name was Angela and he tried to smile at her again. He thought she noticed as he fell into unconsciousness again.
“Can you remember anything?” the question had started to haunt his dreams and in his dreams he spoke and his secrets slipped out. Though he tried to hide them deep in the back of his mind they forced themselves to his lips and escaped and he was carried away and locked in a dark cell far under the earth and never allowed to escape.
He was awake now though, although it took him a moment of uncertainty before he was sure. He was stronger now and his head was raised on a pillow. Grunting with the effort, a harsh rasp of air over his throat, he reached his withered arm out to grasp a thin glass of water that rested by his side cabinet.
His fingers clutched the glass weakly and with an effort he pulled it to his lips to take a short sip, the water flowing tastelessly over his tongue and almost cooling his aching throat. With an effort he replaced it, the water, though only half full, still threatening to slop over the edge with his jerking, shaking movement. They had offered a tube to suck fluids out of but he had declined, preferring the small exercise the challenge of the glass gave him.
He tried to talk and a voiceless whisper of air exuded. He cleared his throat with a grimace of pain and tried again.
“I can’t remember anything.”
The shorter, broad-shouldered man grunted in exasperation and leapt to his feet, about to shout something in barely controlled anger until the taller man placed a hand on his arm and took him to one side whispering sharply. The short man sat down again.
“What do you mean ‘anything’?” he continued after a pause. “What’s the last thing you do remember?”
Mark breathed heavily, he was tired, so tired, his eyes could barely stay open and he desperately wanted the pain to end, always a dull ache at the back of his mind, even in sleep.
“Nothing.” He managed. Exhaustion threatened. “Pain. Waking up. Bright light.” He stopped, his eyes screwed shut, his breathing shallow and loud. Angela leapt forward, taking the extra pillow away from the back of his head and easing him down to a sleeping position. He sank into the safety of her arms; his breathing calming as sleep started to encroach.
“That’s enough for today.” He heard Angela say sharply to the two men. They said something back to her, words floated over the surface of the black waters, the surface disappearing as he sank into its warm embrace.
The glass moved with less of a struggle now though it seemed his arm ached with exhaustion just as much afterwards. He knew the two men standing before him quite well now. The shorter man, Stanhope, was impatient and more inclined to emotional outbursts, which the taller man berated him for in the corridor afterwards according to Angela. Detective Inspector Farrier was the man in charge of the investigation Mark knew, and the papers rarely spoke of him now with anything other than derision.
The pressure was on him though only his continued presence at the fruitless meetings between Mark and Stanhope told of it. Controlled and cautious, Farrier was obviously struggling in the investigation. Otherwise surely neither man would continue to plague his bedside, having received so little already. They were even talking of bringing in a psychologist to help break through his amnesia. Stanhope didn’t really have anything to say any more, his questions, having turned from the direct to the subtle to the completely off subject in order to get something, anything from Mark had now, exhausted, returned to the direct.
“Can you remember anything?” Mark smiled softly which seemed to infuriate Stanhope, as though Mark was deliberately hiding something from him. Of course he was but they didn’t know that.
“Why won’t you tell us, are you trying to protect your assailant? Are you scared he’ll come back? We’ve got police around you twenty-four seven. You’re safe. If you know anything at all you’re duty bound to tell us.” It was a measure of Farrier’s frustration that he allowed Stanhope to carry on his tirade, slowly going red in the face and his voice even shifting to an almost pleading tone.
Mark tried another agonisingly slow sip of water, he was defiantly getting stronger, though his arm burned like a poker after the glass was returned to the table.
“I can’t remember.” He managed after a pause. Stanhope slumped back in his chair, defeated. This had been going on for far too long, the lack of any leads, the amnesia, the constant barrage of mail from an angry public. Townspeople berating the police for their incompetence. It was showing on Stanhope and starting to break through even Farrier’s emotionless façade. He turned to Mark as they left.
“Please, try and remember. We have to find this man before he acts again.” They left and Angela moved to the bed, sitting beside him and smiling.
“You know that’s the first time you’ve managed to cope with their questions without getting exhausted at the end of it. You’re definitely getting better.” She grinned broadly. “You’ll be running the marathon at the end of the month.” Mark smiled back weakly.
“Can you read to me?” He asked her. She smiled and picked a book out from the top drawer of his bedside cabinet. It was tattered and old. She had brought it from home, taking pity because he had no visitors. Sometimes she came to see him on her days off just to sit with him.
“I don’t know who enjoys this more, you or me.” Angela laughed. “This was my favourite as a child.” She opened the book at the marker and began to read. Mark lay back, the pain dulling until he didn’t even notice it any more. Lost in a world where he didn’t hurt and where his pain didn’t exist.
*** *** ***
It was morning, a summer morning in which neither had to work. Sean woke to the window’s light, rays of warming sun across his back. Neither had remembered to draw the curtains last night and he smiled at the memory and lay back, sighing in contentment, wrapping his arms around Angela’s body and drawing her close to him, kissing her face as she woke to his embrace and the morning rays. He was greeted with her sleepy smile.
“What time is it?”
“Ten past ten,” he replied after checking the clock. She relaxed into his arms, curling up against him as they both basked in the afterglow of a deep and dreamless sleep. They lay in each other’s arms for some time, enjoying the stillness of shared feeling, the warmth of the sun and each other. Sean loved waking next to her, such feelings flooded through him as he lay in her arms that even to bring one out in an attempt to analyse it would have broken the spell. And all he could do was lie there and enjoy the rising warmth in his heart as he felt the love he had for her.
Time passed unnoticed; maybe sleep took them in their turn. Slowly the last vestiges of their rest evaporated and fully awake they lay softly together. Sean raised his head and stroked his hand through Angela’s hair. “Do you want some coffee?” he asked her, his breath soft in her hair, dishevelled in its beauty. She nodded and her hands ran softly clinging across his flesh as he rose from the bed, enjoying the last touch she had of him, her arms outstretched as he left her. And as he left she smiled, rolling onto her back and she stretched out luxuriantly naked in the warmth of the morning.
Angela smiled to herself as she listened to the noises of Sean’s movements from downstairs. She knew she loved him then, more than she had ever loved a man before, and the air in her lungs was sweet as she raised her arms above her head and arched her back like a cat, stretching lazily, still hanging on to the last strands of her sleep.
Angela made lunch while Sean went out to the shops for a newspaper and milk. She loved making food, her natural creativity shining through as she cooked. She had a whole rack of spices and herbs and loved experimenting with new recipes and adaptations of old ones. To create something beautiful delighted her and as a girl she had cooked for her father, his muddled incompetence in the kitchen a minor factor compared to her love of food.
She wasn’t cooking now though, merely chopping up a salad to have with the last of the cold quiche she had made last night. For once though her mind wasn’t on the food as she chopped and mixed the crisp vegetables together.
She was still thinking of Mark in the hospital. He was strange, seemingly unconcerned with the things that went on around him. He didn’t seem to be bothered with what had been going on in the world while he’d been a prisoner and hadn’t even asked the date, Angela having to tell him unprompted. He didn’t try and remember what had happened and constantly infuriated the police when they tried to get any information out of him. All he seemed bothered about was trying to get better as quickly as possible, as though desperate to go somewhere.
She pondered over him as she worked and though such thoughts vanished as Sean returned, remained distracted as they sat down to eat.
“What’s happening about Mark?” she asked him finally.
“What do you mean?”
“How long before he’s ready for physio?”
Sean thought hard. “Well, they’ve been talking about it but no one seems to think any time soon. He certainly seems to be getting stronger quickly and he should be moved into a wheelchair sometime soon and just getting in and out of bed should be enough of a problem for the moment. It’ll be a while yet I suppose, he’s still barely strong enough to lift his arms. His ligaments had shrunk which we had to do an operation to fix. As well as that he needs to be kept from any exhaustion that could open him up to illness. I’m amazed infection hasn’t hit him yet. He’s the worst case of emaciation and malnutrition I’ve seen. The hospital is talking about getting an expert in this sort of thing over from Germany. The poor man will need a counsellor as well. The police will probably provide that, the hospital is struggling enough with funds as it is.”
He paused to take a bite of the food on his plate, not tasting it as he considered Mark’s case. “I wouldn’t expect Jane to be seeing him at all until at least after Christmas.”
Angela paused. “Jane, is she the new physio they’ve hired?”
“Yes, Vicky’s been trying to leave for a while now.”
“What’s this Jane like then?”
“Okay, I suppose, I haven’t met her yet but Ullman was on the interview panel. He said she was impressive. Seems very professional and very patient. Married, no kids. Mid-twenties.”
Angela nodded. They ate in comfortable silence. Then she picked up on something he had said. “You said the hospital’s struggling?”
“Yeah. the cutbacks have been getting painful. Ullman said he knows high up. He says the government may decide this town’s just too small to have a hospital of its own any more. Hinton’s only a few miles up the road and they’ve just been given a bucket load of money for a new wing.”
He sighed. “I expect I’ll have to move up there,” he paused, “if there’s a place for me”.
As Sean spoke they finished their lunch. Sean’s mind mused over the future.. He didn’t like Hinton, the large town hospital even less so on his brief visits to it. He loved the quiet comfortable friendliness of Lewiston. And the community feeling the hospital produced. It would be a shame to leave all that for some faceless hospital more like a factory than a community.
The future looked bleak, unpromising But then he caught Angela’s eyes and she smiled at him and he smiled back and the worries seemed to drop away. What did it matter where he lived or where he worked. He would have Angela beside him. And with that thought he left the table and took her in his arms and kissed her.
“What do you want to do today then? We’ve got the whole afternoon free.”
The local paper, the Evening Times, bereft of exciting news for much of its life had its publications explode across the news stands with large, shocking headlines of the event. It set up its own mock investigation, counting the days the killer was at large.
The paper was filled every day with the same story, pictures of neighbours and of the house. Old pictures dredged up from the local archives were stuck in, blown up to fill space. Pictures of the house from the thirties and forties, black and white, bare then of it’s coating of ivy. Constant theories were churned out by local ‘experts’ as well as frequent discussions on the state of the world and other horrific crimes.
A whole special, double length, double priced edition was rolled out that first Saturday, stuffed with photo’s, criticisms of the police, discussions and views, full double pages of the same photos of the police going into the house and the suspect being brought out. Constantly congratulating itself on its own coverage and its headline descriptions of the incident changing weekly; from kidnapping to abuse to attempted murder, the event was once even described as a ‘crime against humanity’.
It had been over a month and still every other edition included ‘The Evergreen Lane Horror’ as front-page news, with every new suspect investigated by the pressured police laid bare by the paper within hours. It was one of these editions, a grainy photo fit of the suspect, a face indelibly drawn on the mind of every one in the county, next to a bad photo of the latest person being questioned, an obvious innocent at his front door, that Angela brought for Mark to see.
It would take a very active imagination to draw a link between this man and ‘The Next Hitler’ as Mark’s assailant was sometimes described. Unfortunately for the poor man the Evening Times had just that sort of imagination; and the headline filled a quarter of the page with:
“ IS THIS THE POPLAR AVENUE MONSTER? “
Mark grinned wryly at the front page of ‘The Evening Reporter.’
“A bit desperate aren’t they? I can’t believe they still keep running the story; it’s been more than a month already.”
“This isn’t London. The biggest things the papers usually have to report on are newsagent robberies and lorries falling over on roundabouts. And they usually try to string them out for a couple of issues at least. Here…” she took the paper from him and turned to page two, pointing to a section of text. “Read what they have to say about you.”
Mark propped the paper up in his lap and read: “Horrifically injured Mark Camden is still in a shocking condition. Although doctors insist he is stable and recovering, they cannot heal the trauma that has been done to him for so many years with mere drugs. Still too weak to relive his horror at the hands of the monster who tortured him, Mark is confined to a darkened hospital room at the back of the ward. Although police have attempted to ask him questions about his time in the house, a leading investigator, Detective Stanhope (43) described Mark irritably as: ‘…brain dead, I’m surprised he can tell you his name.’ Obviously, although doctors can deaden his pain with drugs, they cannot repair his mind. The horrors he has experienced surely have been too much for him to cope with.”
Mark read the report with a wry smile. “That’s quite incredible, do people really want to read all this? It’s too melodramatic for words. What’s happened since I’ve been gone, have housewife gossips taken over the world?”
Angela grinned. “I don’t know how long you’ve been out. The paper keeps randomly selecting times but no one can tell until you fatten out a bit. How old were you when you last remember.”
“I think I was about twenty six,” he lied. Mark couldn’t remember how old he was when he had left. He thought he had been quite young but he couldn’t remember much of his life before. He remembered it had been bad but that was only an impression. And that could just be in comparison with the joy of what had come after.
Mostly what he could remember were years and years and years of bliss and perfection. He knew there must have been a beginning to it but he had never tried to call to mind his life before. All he could remember with any certainty was how he did it and the first sensation when it happened. He sighed at the memories.
Transcension. He didn’t know where the name had come from but that had always been what he called it. He had changed, he had thought it would be forever but it seemed now nothing was forever. Fortunately he could remember how he did it but he had no idea how it worked or why it could work. It had never really bothered him, the philosophy behind it. All he had ever cared about was existing in the state that he had discovered. Transcended life.
It had been paradise.
“Do you remember the big house you were found in? Did you live there?” she continued, her words breaking into his thoughts, shattering the blissful memories.
“I don’t know,” He murmured, irritation creeping in. He didn’t want these questions about his past, the memories of his transcended life just brought into sharp clarity the contrast between then and now.
“I’ve never seen it before.” He told her without thinking.
Angela paused. “How do you know? You’ve never seen the place; you haven’t left the hospital since you arrived.” Mark was stung into suspicion. He looked at her face. It wasn’t accusing, just curious. She was trying to help him remember but that was what he didn’t want. “I must have seen a picture of it in another paper.” he blurted out.
“But this is the first one you’ve seen.” She gave a soft laugh “We haven’t been allowed to show you one since now for fear of causing you psychological damage.”
Mark glared at her. He didn’t need this. It had been years since he’d had to lie to people and he was out of practice. It was hard enough dealing with the police without being attacked every time he let his guard down in here as well.
Angela continued, unaware of his growing irritation. “So where have you seen it before?”
“I don’t know!” he snapped. “In a dream, in a picture. Perhaps I really do know but don’t want to tell an interfering, irritating nurse like you. Have you ever considered that?”
Angela stepped away from the bed, blushing, hurt.
“I’m… I’m sorry. I was only trying to…” She stopped and fled from the room.
Mark sighed and collapsed back to his pillow. This was why he hated life. It hurt so much, himself and others. The quicker he left again the better everything would be.