Darkest Corners of the Mind
Sometimes it’s better to not wake up.
When 16 year old Jamie Harper is knocked down by a car his life is abruptly put on hold – for the next twenty years. As the car breaks Jamie’s body his mind sees a danger that is far greater than just physical injury. It turns and flees.
While his body lies comatose Jamie spends two decades safely hidden at the furthest reaches of his mind. All is not quite as serene and peaceful as he thinks though. When Jamie finally finds his way back to the waking world he brings with him a terror whose sole purpose is to destroy everything and everyone that Jamie holds dear to him.
As Jamie is reunited with those friends and family who have not forsaken or forgotten him people begin to die. Suspicion turns towards Jamie – despite the fact he is bed-ridden.
It falls to the man who had knocked him down, twenty years earlier, to provide the clues to the mystery of what is happening around Jamie Harper.
When he learns the apparent truth of what is harming those closest to him and the ultimate threat that it poses, Jamie realises that he can’t protect anyone from his hospital bed.
To save those he loves and who love him Jamie has no choice but to take his demon back into the darkest corners of his mind and make sure it stays there.
Anthony Glenwood wasn’t really listening to the voice on the other end of the line. When he replied it was with only a half hearted protest.
“But, as I’ve said, I really don’t think...”
His argument was cut across and again, he tuned out of the words coming from the diocese office in Nottingham. Anthony stared out of his study window. The walled garden of the rectory was usually an oasis of calm, a place where Anthony could sit, walk and find peace and serenity. It was the only place, apart from St. Edmund’s church itself, where he could be at one with the Lord. The garden was a small spot of natural beauty in the midst of the squalid, grimy and run-down streets of his inner city parish. Today though, the view of his little Eden failed to soothe him.
The voice had stopped.
“Yes, of course I do,” Anthony responded, having to guess at what had been said to him. “But that’s not...”
The voice interrupted again and, as before, Anthony tuned out. It was an easy trick, one that Anthony regularly employed when people were boring him.
“Yes. Yes, I will consider it.” Anthony knew his response sounded automatic, lacking all sincerity. “Thank you, and thank his Grace for his concern. God bless you. Goodbye.”
Anthony put the phone down and rested his elbows on his old writing desk. He steepled his fingers and pressed his index fingers against his lips.
They wanted him to think about going to a retreat and have some kind of therapy to help him deal with the pressures of the job and to reaffirm his faith. No, it was more than a request. The Bishop was ‘strongly suggesting’ that Anthony seek spiritual support. Worded like that, it constituted an order.
Part of Anthony’s job was to give counsel. It felt wrong that he should be on the receiving end of it. It was as if they were saying he could no longer do his job properly.
There was something else though, something deeper. The Bishop’s office thought that this was all just a crisis of faith, brought on by the stress of shepherding a difficult inner city parish. That wasn’t the case. Anthony’s faith was as firm as it had ever been. He believed that the Lord had rewarded him for the depth of his faith with this special task. He had been chosen for a special role. The counsellors wouldn’t understand this. They would try to spoil it: try to convince Anthony that he was mistaken. Anthony was certain that allowing people to delve too deeply into his emotions would be a very bad thing to do.
“Tell them where they can stick their retreat.”
The voice was inside Anthony’s head but it sounded as if it had come from behind him. He turned instinctively and, for the briefest instance looked into his own face. The image disappeared and Anthony was alone. All that was behind him was a wooden cross on the wall and his bookcase, containing over a hundred volumes - mostly covering theology, but with an ample selection of diverse fiction and the complete set of Wainwright’s Lake District guides. This love of books was one of the few things he had in common with his younger brother, Matthew.
It wasn’t the first time that Anthony had briefly seen himself like this and the sensation always left him shaken. It also hardened his resolve to carry out the Lord’s bidding.
Anthony ignored the imaginary voice and returned his gaze to the garden beyond his study window. Red and brown leaves hung limply from tired looking branches and dandelions thrust defiantly through grass that was long overdue its final cut of the year. Beyond the trees and shrubs were the narrow streets and uniform rows of dull, depressing terraced houses that formed the parish of St. Edmund the Blythe. Or rather it was the area that the old church, along with the mosque and the synagogue, offered its spiritual services to. Though the vicar, the imam and the rabbi may have been shepherds of the same flock they were, at least, united in competition with the great temple of Bingo.
The bingo hall was full five nights a week. Anthony and his fellow religious men struggled to get even half a full house on each of their respective holy days. The imam usually came out with the best attendance – maybe because none of his people were lured by the call of the balls.
“Come on, old man. Snap out of it.”
Again Anthony spun round. This time he saw nothing. He turned back to the desk that had witnessed the writing of thousands of sermons and rested his elbows on the faded varnished surface. Anthony clasped his hands, closed his eyes and sought an audience with God. Five minutes later Anthony opened his eyes and sat back. There would be no retreat or counselling.
Anthony had recognised that there was something growing deep within him and had been for some time. The Lord had spoken and told Anthony that this was the manifestation of the task he had been given. The burden was showing itself as a darkness around his heart. This shadow felt a part of him yet somehow detached at the same time. It was a parasite that gorged itself on any happiness and positive thoughts that Anthony felt. That being so, this inner feeling must be starving at the moment.
The Reverend Glenwood glanced at the writing pad that contained the opening lines of this Sunday’s sermon. Why did he bother? Half the hypocrites who showed up didn’t listen to a word he said to them. They always had half an eye on their watches, waiting for opening time at the Lamb and Lion.
Is this what it had all come down to? After twenty odd years of service, a back street church less than half full with little old ladies and the terminally ignorant?
Stop it, he berated himself. This isn’t you; it’s not how you really feel. These are good people; they deserve your support. The flock will benefit from the task that the Lord has given you. Anthony knew this to be true, but he was weakening, losing control over the negativity and the inner darkness that was engulfing him. He knew that he was beyond the help of mortal man. There was only one who could help him now. Anthony had prayed over this for many months. The Lord was testing his faith by giving him this errand to carry out. Anthony had been given the burden of carrying the sins of the parish and the evil that was abroad in the wider city. He had been chosen to help save this small part of the world; to give it a second chance. This inner turmoil had to be removed and there was only one way to do it. What Anthony was about to do was considered a sin but, having consulted with the Lord, he was convinced he was doing it with His blessing.
Anthony pushed the writing pad to one side. The sermon wouldn’t be needed this week; at least not by him. Instead, Anthony took two sheets of note paper and a couple of envelopes from the drawer in his old bureau. He paused then took out a third sheet and envelope. Anthony gazed out into the back garden of the vicarage once more to try to collect his thoughts. This had to be right. He would only do this thing once. He took a sip of his ever present cup of tea. It was cold but that had never bothered him. Finally, satisfied that he knew how to say what was on his mind, Anthony began to write. The slow cursive flow of his writing betrayed only the slightest hint of the trembling in his hand.
Almost an hour later Anthony had three sealed envelopes propped up against the shelf on his writing desk. He was satisfied that he had worded each message properly. The notes were prominent enough so that Mrs Kelso, Anthony’s housekeeper, or maybe even the police, would find them easily enough. Anthony hoped that the housekeeper found them first and had the good sense to know what to do with them. It would only delay things if the police took possession of the letters first.
Anthony drained his tea cup and then put on his coat and slipped out of the house. Though it was sunny the first chill of the approaching winter was in the air. Anthony buttoned up his coat to ward off the worst of the cold. The drive into the town centre wasn’t going to be long enough for the heater in his old Rover to even think about warming up.
The vicarage was the only residence amongst the warren of dirty narrow streets that had a driveway – and a gated one at that. Even with this modest security Anthony’s car wasn’t immune to the attentions of the local youths. He picked the remnants of a shattered door mirror from its housing and dropped them on the ground.
“Little bastards,” a voice muttered in a most un-Christian way. Anthony flushed and looked around him to be sure that he hadn’t been overheard. Then he paused. Had he actually uttered those words?
“Get thee behind me,” he growled under his breath as he climbed into the car.
Late afternoon traffic was building towards the rush hour crowd as the bus made its way into town. Jamie Harper sprawled across two of the back seats, catching his breath. He’d cut it fine to catch this bus as the last of the passengers climbed aboard. Jamie had made sure that Sammi had something to eat before he left the house. It had only been a snack but he couldn’t leave her hungry until their parents decided to show up from work. It was a habit that Jamie had dropped into, getting his little sister something to eat when she got in from school to tide her over until the evening meal – if they actually got one.
“Where are you going?” Sammi had asked.
“Never you mind,” Jamie had replied, placing a tuna sandwich and a bag of Monster Munch in front of his sister. Seeing the expectant look on Sammi’s face, he added, just to placate her, “I need to go into town.”
“Are you going to buy Katie a present? It’s her birthday party tonight.”
How did little brothers and sisters find out so much? Sammi was only eleven. She’d just started at the same school where Jamie was taking his ‘A’ levels.
“Shut up and eat your tea,” Jamie had said as he put a glass of Coke on the table and ruffled her hair, just to annoy her.
He’d left Sammi to her snack and went to get ready to go out.
As Jamie had closed the front door he’d heard Sammi call out, “Get her a special present. I like Katie, she’s nice.”
Katie’s more than nice, Jamie thought as he lounged across the back seat of the bus. And he knew that he was more than lucky. Though they only lived a little more than a mile apart the two hadn’t met until they had joined their secondary school from two separate feeder primary schools. Katie Morris lived on the ‘wrong side of the main road’ as Jamie’s mum liked to describe it. Maureen Harper had always discouraged her children from mixing with those who lived on the old council estate. Apparently, they weren’t the sort of people that ‘decent children’ like James and Samantha needed to know.
Jamie and Katie had both become part of the group that had gravitated towards one another as the new starters found their places in the year seven hierarchy. Even back then Jamie had recognised Katie as being someone special. As an eleven year old he had no idea what that meant. Over the following years though, Jamie had begun to understand as Katie had started to blossom.
Sitting at the back of the bus, Jamie squirmed and made an adjustment to himself as just how special Katie was began to make its presence felt.
Jamie was never sure when this special bond had actually gelled around them. Things had started as good natured, if slightly barbed digs at one another that had somehow evolved over time. This mutual insulting was something that the two of them kept exclusive to themselves. They could throw insults at one another, but no-one else could and the two became protective of one another if anyone broke this unwritten rule. Their relationship had been one of those things where everyone knew that Jamie and Katie had become an item long before the two of them had realised it themselves. Everybody was, delighted for them when the penny dropped – well almost everyone.
Though Jamie and Katie had been ‘official’ for about eighteen months they were still part of the same crowd. It was a bond that had caused a lot of jealousy amongst some of the boys outside the close knit circle of friends. Katie hadn’t been a particular looker in the early years of secondary school, but had grown into a catch over the past few years. Those who looked at girls at a superficial level had suddenly started to take a lot of notice of Katie. It was too late by then. Katie only had eyes for Jamie.
The bus was making heavy weather through the traffic heading into town. Jamie checked his watch and swore softly. He was going to be too late. The shops would be closing soon. He really wanted to get a special present for Katie; his sister had been right. Jamie already had a small gift at home that his mum knew about. That gift had caused enough trouble when he’d bought it. If his mum ever found out what Jamie was planning to buy now well...
Jamie smiled at the secret he’d be keeping. The thought of his mum not knowing something gave Jamie a childish satisfaction. He’d been putting money aside from his job at the ‘tat shop’, for months. He hadn’t wanted to risk getting the present before today – just in case she found it. She was a notorious snooper and was bound to blow things out of all proportions if she found out about the gift.
The bus ground to a halt. People began to mutter and grumble. Jamie leant across and looked along the length of the bus. Through the windscreen he could see the multiple arrays of blue flashing lights. There were at least three emergency vehicles ahead of them.
“Shit,” he muttered. He wasn’t going to get into town before the shops closed. The whole plan had been to buy the gift, get back home, shower – he was even planning to shave - and head over to Katie’s house in time for the party.
That had pissed his mum off as well. Parties on a school night – whatever next?
Jamie contemplated jumping off the bus and legging it the rest of the way. Even then he’d probably not make it in time. The decision was made for him when the air brakes hissed and the vehicle began to crawl forward. Ages later the inside of the bus was washed in the blue strobes of the ambulance at the scene of the accident. As the bus edged past, Jamie slid across the back seat and looked out of the window. Paramedics were clustered around a body that was wedged beneath the front wheels of an old Rover. Whatever they had been planning to do, both pedestrian and driver, had been stopped dead; possibly literally for one of them from what Jamie could see.
Once the bus was past the incident it slowly began to pick up speed. Jamie’s confidence grew that he’d be able to jump off and dash into the shop just before closing time. Once he was through the door they would have to serve him. The bus stop approached and Jamie got to his feet and hit the bell push. As he walked the length of the bus he realised that the vehicle wasn’t slowing. Jamie hit the bell again, as did a couple of other passengers. The driver was deaf to the requests and kept going.
“Driver. Stop,” someone shouted, ringing the bell continuously for emphasis.
“Can’t stop,” the driver growled over the sound of the bell. “That accident put me behind schedule. I’m going straight to the terminus. You’ll all have to get off there.
Bloody hell, thought Jamie. That was going to put him on the opposite side of the shopping centre. The bus shot past the stop where Jamie wanted to get off. The shop he was going to was visible, just inside the entrance to the shopping centre. There was nothing he could do though. The bus wouldn’t be stopping for another five minutes.
Traffic seemed to be heavier than usual. Anthony’s old Rover crawled around the inner ring road, never seeming to get any closer to the giant shopping mall that he could see, thrusting up above the roofs of the older shops on the edge of the city centre, less than a quarter of a mile away. His resolve to see things through felt as strong as it had when he been writing the three letters that sat on his bureau back at the vicarage. This resolve was now being challenged. The feeling was little more than intuition to Anthony but he knew that the burden he was carrying, torturing his soul, wanted its independence. It wanted to be free of him. He knew that if he allowed this to happen then he would be lost forever. Anthony feared that if he didn’t reach the roof of the multi-storey car park soon then his will would fail him and he wouldn’t be able to go through with it. He would fail his Lord; fail to complete the one task that he knew for certain had been ordained by Heaven. Anthony could not, would not, let that happen.
The Rover idled at a junction as a bus eased past. A couple of cars later and a rare, considerate motorist flashed, allowing Anthony to ease into the steady stream of traffic heading into town. The shopping centre was only a few yards away but the entrance to the car park was on the other side of the structure, close to the bus terminus. Anthony kept his car in the procession. One by one the cars in front turned off the road, leaving him right behind the bus. A red light appeared on the dashboard. Anthony panicked, thinking that the car was about to break down. He relaxed when he realised that it was just the ABS warning light. He had been planning to get his brakes serviced for months. It didn’t matter anymore.
The closer he got to the car park entrance the more Anthony’s anxiety grew, but it wasn’t trepidation at what he had set out to do. The inner conflict was threatening to overwhelm him. The perception that Anthony was losing control of his own actions was nothing new to him – in fact, the regularity of these feelings was one of the reasons why he had sought the Lord’s blessing for him to head for the roof of the car park. This internal war was close to breaking through and hijacking Anthony’s thoughts and movements. The darkness wanted to break free and it was winning the struggle. Would it be able to stop him? Would he still have the strength of will to throw himself, from the highest point of the building, to the ground below? Anthony knew that the sin within him didn’t want its existence to end. It wanted to defy the will of the Lord and continue, to grow, becoming stronger. Surely it wouldn’t be able to do this if its host was dead?
These thoughts distracted Anthony and he had to brake sharply to avoid running into the back of the now stationary bus. The faulty brakes chattered but the car still stopped short of the bus – just.
Jamie had stayed on his feet for the rest of the journey. Everyone else had returned to their seats, allowing him to reach the head of the queue. The driver shot Jamie the occasional scowl, for disregarding bus company rules, but the teenager didn’t care, he just glared back. Time was really against him now, but there was no way he was going home without that special present for Katie. The bus began to slow and Jamie prepared for a quick exit as soon as the vehicle came to a stop.
Anthony eased his car to the centre of the road so that he could just see round the bus. The late afternoon sun sat low in the sky, shining straight down the street and throwing blinding reflections off the plate glass walls of the shopping centre market hall. Part way along the street the dark maw of the car park entrance urged Anthony forward. Go on, his heart told him. The time is now.
“You won’t do it. You don’t have the nerve,” the voice inside Anthony’s head told him. It sounded as if the words had come from the back seat of the car.
That was the spur that Anthony needed. Uttering the opening lines of the twenty third psalm, he gunned the car’s engine and the old Rover shot forward.
A slow hiss preceded the bus’ door sliding open, painfully slowly. Jamie muttered an insincere thank you to the driver and was off the bus before the door was fully open, squeezing through the gap between door and frame. The entrance to the mall was just across the road. Get over here, you’re out of time, it teased.
Jamie ran out into the road.
Anthony was focusing on the dark hole in the wall of the shopping centre. He subconsciously registered that something was crossing his path. Through nothing more than instinct Anthony stamped on the brake pedal. Whether it was the fatally short distance or the faulty brakes and worn out tyres on the Rover Anthony would never be sure, but the collision was unavoidable.
I’ve got just enough time, thought Jamie - if I can just get inside the shop before they lock the door. The roar of an engine and the screech of tyres losing their grip on the road snapped Jamie from his thoughts. He turned towards the sound. There was no time to avoid the car. Jamie knew he wouldn’t be reaching the shop before the owner turned the sign from open to closed. He knew he wouldn’t be seeing Katie at her party later either – but he had no idea just how long it was going to be before he saw her again.
Jamie stared into the face of the car driver. It was a vicar and the old man looked terrified. In the instant that the car struck Jamie’s legs the driver’s expression changed, or at least part of it did. Jamie could still see the horror on the clergyman’s face but, seemingly superimposed over it was a mixed look of pure pleasure and greedy enthusiasm. Worse still, the face was coming towards Jamie, detaching itself from the body of the car driver. As the incorporeal entity passed effortlessly through the car’s windscreen Jamie recognised the terrible danger that he was in. Though his body was already too badly damaged to respond, Jamie’s mind was not so constrained. It turned and fled.