“She’s gone,” I cried, running carelessly up the creaky basement stairs. If I wasn’t careful, I could trip and break my neck.
“Who?” Penny asked. My niece had been ignoring my frantic behaviour for the past half hour, but she finally broke her silence.
“Jessica,” I said. “She’s just… gone.”
There are rumours that I keep a writer trapped in my basement, chained to a chair, writing stories by candlelight in her own blood on dirty yellowed parchment, but I assure you, those rumours are exaggerations, darlings. Jessica is and always was here of her own free will. She’s a strange one, I’ll give you that, but I didn’t abuse her. You have to believe me.
“Where would she go?” Penny wondered. “I mean, does she have any family, or friends, or…”
I looked at Penny as if to ask what she was thinking, or rather, to remember who she was talking about.
“Right,” she shrugged. “But, you’ve got to admit, Helena, you don’t know much about her.”
“No, you’re right,” I agreed. “But why would she just leave?”
“Why did she come to you in the first place?” Penny countered.
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really.
There was so much thunder that I almost didn’t hear the pounding.
I opened the door and there she was, soaking wet, her long black hair almost completely concealing her face. Her clothes – barely recognizable as such, hung off her in tatters, and the skin that showed through was marbled with the red, purple and yellow of violent bruises. In her hands, she clutched a ragged old rucksack that looked like it had been through wars.
“Help me,” she cried, her voice sounding like the raven from that Poe story, and passed out on my doorstep.
I took her in without thinking, and nursed her back to health. She didn’t speak a word for months, and when I tried to call someone for help – the police or a hospital, she threw a terrifying fit, screaming without words, wailing like a banshee, and tearing at her own skin until it bled. I don’t know why I let her stay, but she’d been with me ever since, and whether she was running from something she’d done, or hiding from something that hunted her, I was never really sure.
“So who is she, though?” Penny asked. We’d avoided talking about Jessica. I suppose I just never really wanted to know. I admit, she kind of frightened me.
“I don’t really know,” I said. “She didn’t have any I.D. on her, and the only name she gave me was Jessica – I added that B. Bell stuff later when I started publishing her writing. I don’t know her real last name – and you want to know what’s weird? I don’t think she does, either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, whatever it was that happened to her – whatever brought her to my doorstep – it must have been truly awful. She’s never spoken of it, of course, but I get the feeling whatever happened to her, well, it might be happening still.”
“Do you think people are looking for her?” Penny asked in alarm.
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, did she take all her things? Maybe she left a note or something?”
I looked at Penny again and shrugged. Jessica didn’t have much in the way of possessions.
“I found this,” I said, holding up a beat up old book. It was leather bound and looked very old. I flipped through it and saw a couple different peoples’ handwriting, as well as newspaper clippings, and what looked like excerpts from a medical report.
“What is it?” Penny asked. “Do you think it’s hers?”
“Must be,” I said.
“Well, what’s it say?”
From the Journal of Dr. Kenneth Howard, Psy.D., M.D.
March 14, 1974
I have decided to keep this journal for the sake of my own understanding, and nothing more. I have no intention of sharing these thoughts with anyone in a professional capacity, but should anything happen to me, and this journal is found, perhaps the contents here will aid in any investigation into my death or disappearance.
First, I have no idea what happened to the child. As of the time of this writing, I have no knowledge of her whereabouts, or indeed, whether the poor creature even still lives, for her very birth defies science. If I were a religious man, I would say that her existence is something of a blasphemy, but I will try to contain my thoughts to a less superstitious way of thinking, though to be honest, I am truly at a loss.
It was the girl’s mother with whom I was acquainted. She was a patient of mine, referred to me by a colleague at Miskatonic University who was studying abnormal psychology and the physiology of the brain. My patient – I’ll call her Margo for sake of anonymity – was participating in a study on migraines. Using cutting-edge technology like Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Computer Assisted Tomography, my colleague Dr. West was monitoring brain activity during migraine attacks, and recording the effects of various administered drugs on the patients. Mostly beta-blockers like propranolol and metoprolol, as I understand it, though he was also experimenting with varying doses of botulinum toxin type A, as well as some other, more unorthodox treatments, which he was unwilling to discuss with me.
Margo was referred to me because of what Dr. West described as “unique and unusual activity that defies explanation”.
Margo was only my patient for a little over three months, and then was out of my care for another four months or so before the strange incident that took her life, but during the time she was in my care, I saw much to corroborate that assessment, and very little that provided any answers, only more questions.
On our first few visits, she was quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to speak to me at all. I could tell by the way she held herself, and by the way she squinted and winced that she was in pain. I offered to dim the lights and she thanked me.
“How long have you had the headaches?” I asked her, and she waved her hand in the air as if to say forever.
“But not like this,” I ventured, and she hesitantly shook her head.
Margo was recently married. I asked her how she was enjoying married life, how her husband dealt with her headaches.
“He’s wonderful,” she said, smiling gratefully. “He urged me to go to the study, and further, to come and see you. He’s concerned.”
“Of course,” I said.
“His family is very religious,” she added. “His grandmother wanted to call in an exorcist. She thinks I’m being demonically oppressed.”
“What do you make of that?” I asked her, trying not to show any bias.
She stared at me and didn’t say anything one way or the other.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” she asked instead.
I nodded, and found an ashtray for her.
“I don’t even like it,” she said, staring at the lit cigarette in her hand, trailing a plume of smoke. “But ever since the study, I crave it. Doctor West, he gave us
(“There are lines scratched out,” I told Penny. “Maybe Dr. Howard reconsidered including this passage in his journal.”
“Probably protecting this colleague of his,” Penny suggested. “This Dr. West. What was done to this woman?”)
On our third visit, Margo finally showed some willingness to talk about her other symptoms. She showed up looking weak and ragged, with obvious signs of both mental and physical fatigue. She admitted that she wasn’t sleeping, and I asked if she had any ideas why that might be.
She smiled weakly and said that she had an overactive imagination – that her mind raced, and that she couldn’t turn her brain off.
“What do you think about?” I asked her. “Is it worries, or perhaps planning for the next day’s activities? It’s not uncommon for…”
“No, it’s not that at all,” she said, and then she told me about her inner voice. “I hear a voice. It speaks to me. It… tells me things.”
I was intrigued. I’d read about rare cases of schizophrenics with such symptoms – fully realized personalities that they hold conversations with. There were so many hoaxes, so many media-hungry frauds about, that I’d been terribly skeptical about ever encountering the real thing. I don’t believe in the so-called Multiple Personality Disorder that has become fashionable in pop psychology circles. So I proceeded with caution. If this was merely an auditory hallucination or a delusion, there were pharmacological solutions that had proven quite successful in many cases.
“You think I’m crazy,” she said, pulling her knees to her chest in a protective gesture.
“Not at all,” I assured her. You’re here to discover what’s causing your distress. I’m willing to explore any and all avenues to help you with that quest.”
She still looked skeptical. I feared losing her trust.
“I thought I saw a ghost once,” I confided in her. “And I don’t believe in ghosts. But to this day, I cannot rationally explain what it is I saw. And so I remain open to the possibility of the impossible. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“A man of science quoting Shakespeare?” she smirked, raising a curious eyebrow. Looking back, I’m quite sure that’s the moment I fell in love with her.
This is the first part of a novella, now available on Amazon in PAPERBACK, or as a Kindle e-book. *** note: If you purchase the paperback, you can get the Kindle e-book for FREE (You have to do it in two separate transactions, apparently!)
There’s also a special, Deluxe Edition exclusive to iTunes (you will need an iPad or iMac/iBook to read – sorry, won’t work on your iPhone).
MEET THE WRITERS
Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.
She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself, and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
She was completely self-educated in a private institute in the Catskills where she majored in Pop Culture and Unpopular Music. She wrote her doctorate thesis on the films of John Hughes, and awarded herself a doctorate, though it’s not generally recognized.
Most recently, Helena published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is currently preparing Volume Two for publication.
Find more Helena at HelenaHB.com or follow her on Twitter @hhbasquiat
J.S. Collyer is a Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writer who has just released her first novel, ‘Zero’, a SciFi epic set in the not-to-distant future about one crew’s struggles through a web of politics, deceit and revolution.
‘Zero: An Orbit Novel’ now available for Kindle and as paperback from Amazon.
Michelle Poston Combs is a blogger who lives in the Midwest with her husband and her youngest son. She is at the precipice of learning to live with an empty nest which she finds both terrifying and exhilarating.
Her blog, Rubber Shoes In Hell, is where she writes about topics ranging from awkward conversations with strangers to learning how to overcome being an adult child of a narcissist. Her work has appeared in numerous blogs including The Huffington Post.
She programs computers to pay the bills and counters this soul-sucking endeavor by writing her observations on life, menopause, anxiety and marriage
Freya McMillan has been writing on the dark side since she was a little girl. She spent many an enjoyable hour subjecting imaginary boarding school chums to calamitous events that never had a happy ending. For her, the boarding school japes of Enid Blyton were far too tame. These days, you can find Freya on trains, in coffee shops and on park benches, scribbling in a notebook or tapping away at a keyboard, dreaming up the weird, the dark and the disturbing. She loves the immediacy of flash fiction, but is committing her energies to a novel – with a dark theme, of course. You can find her blogging at Freya Writes, on Facebook (Freya McMillan) and on Twitter (@freyathewriter). She won the 2014 Dirty Goggles Blog Hop for her diesel punk entry ‘The Silencer’ and she has also been published in the September 2014 edition of The Woven Tale Press. Further work is also due to be published in a collection produced by the Pankhearst Press in 2014/15.
Hayley Morgan is a writer and creative layabout, a cat-lady-in-waiting and l’enfant terrible. Born and raised in the Black Country, Tolkien’s inspiration for Mordor, she was first published at 12 in a book about the Internet. In her 20s she lived in Brighton and London and after going to one too many parties, managed to worm her way into the world of media, freelancing for queer magazines and working in film PR. She later worked as a bookseller and joined Cat Cooper at Elfin Productions as a Creative Associate. Hayley has recently finished her first novel, Heathens, the first in a trilogy to be published this century, and is soon to launch an interactive online literary magazine, Fiction Crowd. Claims to fame include meeting a serial killer, writing a (dreadful, truly dreadful) sex column and puking in front of Amy Winehouse.
Lizzi Rogers is English (first and foremost) and takes great pride in writing with all her words in full-on, technicolour, extra-added-‘u’s form. Her main goal, in writing, is to make you think, or feel, or otherwise walk away with a bemused expression on your face, and the single utterance “Damnnn!” the only thing left to say. She is dedicated to living life in Silver Linings, leaving a trail of glitterbombs and fairy-stones behind her, and In Real (as On Page) if she doesn’t know a word, she’ll make one up.
Hannah Sears: Born and raised in the land of ten-gallon hats, tall hair, and taller tales, Hannah has been making up stories as far back as she can remember, although she didn’t start writing them down until later. Geography’s never been her strong point, so she decided to migrate North to New England to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. When she’s not finding ways to sneak movie quotes and country song lyrics into daily conversation, or buried under a pile of second year graduate student homework (or snow!), she can occasionally be found writing fiction at Vers Les Etoiles.
Cover designed by Hastywords.
For more of her artwork and writing, visit HER WEBSITE