HAVEN

from the short story collection CREEPS

 

 

He drives fast. He drives with purpose.

He is having the time of his life.

Perhaps you have mistaken me, for I do not mean that he is enjoying himself, oh no. I tell you indeed that Todd Fabini is in fact as miserable as miserable can be.

A year ago today, on Christmas Eve, no less, Todd’s wife and daughter died somewhere out on these infinite roads – a tragic accident in icy conditions.

He hopes the demons of the road show mercy and take him too.

He drives fast. He drives with purpose.

Through the night: unfamiliar country lanes slick with drizzle, at racing speed. So far the tyres grip the tarmac as tightly as his hands grip the steering wheel.

The almost full moonlight illuminates the landscape with wonder, but slithers off Todd’s grim face as if afraid of what it might become. He navigates the road with frantic eyes and a maelstrom mind.

In delirium, he imagines going back in time to be with his beloved wife and daughter. This time he goes with them for that last-minute Christmas shopping. This time he is driving the car, and ensures they all return home safely.

A lightning-flash image of Jen and Lilly lying on mortician trolleys, naked and pale, covered only by thin white sheets.

They must be cold, he thinks.

And their eyes…

Their eyes more empty than you can imagine.

Todd flinches at the memory, and there the demons almost take him – almost. He makes adjustments by instinct; the car squeals in protest, but continues on.

                                                               *  *  *

“Give it a year,” his friend Mike had begged him, one beer and tear sodden night. “Give it a year, and you won’t have forgotten, but it’ll be easier to live with. Promise me you’ll not do anything rash till then.”

Formerly a man of honour and reason, Todd had made that promise of a year’s abstinence from self-destruction, and kept his word. He had tried to get on with his life: his job, his friends, and even, briefly, a lover. He engaged himself wherever necessary: sharing smiles and laughter, concern and condolence, but his emotion remained superficial. Gaping despair gnawed relentlessly at the tattered veil of sanity he wore loosely around himself.

Now the debt is paid, the promise spent. It is Christmas Eve, and all honour and reason is gone. What remains is a different man: a shadow man, a hollow man. The pretence of his life is over.

What keeps him, you might ask, from simply twisting the wheel and smashing himself against a tree or other suitably hard object? Is it fear of survival – of being pulled from the wreck with horrible injuries from which there would be no escape?

Perhaps, but perhaps it is more than that, for do we not intuit that some destiny lies ahead for him down this dark, insidious road?

He drives fast. He drives with purpose.

There are lights out there in the dark, the moon’s monochrome glow pierced with
flashes of green and red. Todd has no idea where he is and does not recognise the building ahead, all aglow with Christmas lights, but his face splits into an involuntary grin as the car’s headlights illuminate a sign:

                                                           H A V E N

Caught by whim, he pulls into the modest car park. The building has no obvious amenities for wayward travellers. Why it lies out here in the middle of nowhere is a mystery.

There are no other vehicles in sight. He sits in silence for a few moments, window wound down, listening for signs of life. He hears nothing but a wind more insistent than his own shallow breath.

He steps out of the car and walks toward the building. Cracked golden light streams from frosted windows, mingling with the Christmas lights that dangle from the roof. A painted sign hangs at a right angle from the entrance, depicting rolling countryside shrouded by mist, with a majestic Tor rising above the vapours like a stubby finger pointing towards the heavens. The name of the establishment is burnt into an aged wooden plank suspended by chain below the sign.

This is a pub, he realises. The door yields to his pull and he steps inside.

No Christmas lights or decoration in here. The interior is cosy but sparse, with a low ceiling supported by beams of ancient oak, and worn red and brown décor. Tall round tables litter the open-plan room; faded red leather sofas line the plain walls. A stage squats at the far end of the room, dominated by a sleek black grand piano.
A modest bar stands to his right, and he walks towards it. Except for our incorporeal selves, it appears that Todd Fabini and the barman are the only ones haunting this establishment tonight, but in truth there is one other.

Todd attempts a smile at the barman, but it is really more of a grimace. The barman seems unperturbed, however, and smiles back warmly. Despite approaching his twilight years, perfect white teeth and dazzling azure eyes give the man a startlingly youthful visage. His voice is as smooth as fine silk.

“Greetings. What’ll it be?”

Todd surveys the bar for a moment, though he already knows what he wants. “I’ll have a double of your finest whiskey.”

Curiously overdressed in an immaculate black pin-stripe suit, the barman prepares the drink and slides it over on a napkin. “This one’s on the house. Take a seat over by the stage. The entertainment will start shortly.”

The barman disappears through a curtained alcove before Todd has a chance to thank him or inquire about the nature of the entertainment. With a shrug he takes his drink to one of the tables in front of the stage.

A small, almost insignificant part of him wonders just what the hell he is doing here. The rest of him feels curiously calm, the anguish of this day fading to a dull throb in the back of his mind.

He is ensnared.

Lucky that we are disembodied, or we would be caught too. But do not think for a moment that we are beyond the perception of the inhabitants of this place. They know we are here, they simply do not care.

Whiskey, even a double, is not a drink that lasts. Todd drains his glass, and has almost regained his faculties when a faint but insistent aroma washes over him. Gentle and sweet, invigorating and intoxicating, he has never experienced anything like it.

A panel in the wall behind the stage slides back, and she moves into the room: a Being of overwhelming beauty, the living embodiment of the exotic aroma that sends soft waves of ecstasy tingling through him.

She does not walk, she flows. Her elaborate movements an art form; flawless skin the palest pink; legs bare beneath a gossamer dress the perfect match for her enchanting emerald eyes; sublime elfin features embraced by wild, poppy-red hair.

She meets Todd’s gaze, and he is mesmerised. If he were able to express how it feels, he would tell us that his heart, mind, and soul have been laid open – his thoughts, fantasies, insecurities, hopes, dreams, and nightmares, all there for her pleasure.

An alluring smile dances about her lips as she sits before the piano and begins to play. None, not even the disembodied, can escape the utter abandonment this siren-song brings. How can we describe such a visceral experience with mere words? The piano resonates, following no concordance of musical structure that we have heard or will hear again. She sings without words, the meaning so clear and exquisite, yet drifting beyond the grasp of reason or memory to remain eternally elusive.

 

                                                                                             We are lost…

 

The whim of the song carries us where it will. We are helpless but to be changed by the experience. Forever more we will, upon occasion, feel a deep melancholy that harkens for that song: that we might experience it again, and give ourselves entirely to its utopian melody. Yet the song is not meant for us. We are but privileged witnesses, impossibly powerless in our bodiless omnipotence.

Then it is over. She drifts over to Todd, kisses him tenderly on the lips, and whispers in his ear.

Are we privy to those words? Some sense of rationality returns to us, and yes, we hear what she says: “Go live your life, Todd Fabini.”

Words so simple yet laden with such meaning. This is the legacy that we are left with as witness to something that perhaps we should have left well alone. But curiosity is such an intrinsic thing, is it not?

Todd leaves without looking back, his passing as if in dream.

The moon is hidden now, enveloped by cloud, leaving the night lifeless and cold. The wind whistles obscenities through the landscape, passing through the empty space that only a moment ago was filled with a building adorned with festive lights, beckoning. The pub and its inhabitants are gone, yet somehow we are not surprised.

Todd gets into his car and sits there a while. It is Christmas morning, though that is meaningless to him. His grief is gone. It has been replaced, consumed by something else – something that has been evolving quietly in the hollow within him since the death of his wife and daughter.

He would have killed himself rather than succumb to its warm embrace, he realises. If not for her: her flawless beauty, fathomless wisdom, and limitless benevolence, he would have ended his own life rather than allow himself to embrace his evolution.

What a dreadful waste that would have been.

She has freed him from the constraints of grief, fear, and uncertainty. She has shown him the light, and it is golden and pure in its intensity.

Now he knows that his wife and daughter’s senseless death is proof that there is no justice, no right and wrong – that it is pointless aspiring to a sense of goodness in this cruel world that binds us to a pitiful existence of suffering.

Better to take.

Better to inflict.

We leave Todd as he turns the ignition with a maniacal grin.

We retreat, frightened and changed, longing for the comfort of our bodies and homes, families and friends.

We do not know exactly what Todd plans to do next, and we would rather not think about it. But there is one thing we do know:

He drives fast. He drives with purpose.

 

 

 

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