The Grudge

16 November 2013

He’d walked this path in his dreams, narrow and never ending, storm clouds shadowing its twisted form. He pictured the end, filled with light, as he walked through some sort of gate or Gothic arch, healing him.

This is an old story I wrote back in late 2001. Over a decade ago! Reading it now there are things I’d change. It’s certainly flawed but I still like it. It’s completely and unashamedly inspired by the song of the same name by Tool. “Let go!” screams Maynard (the inimitable front man) towards the end of the song, and that’s how I chose to begin the story. It’s a dark tale of the search for redemption, originally posted on DeviantArt, it won an award for “Most original prose”.



The Grudge

“Let go”, said the voice from his dreams, it was feminine, warm, yet disturbing enough to wake him. Shivering in his own spit and sweat and tears he contemplated his fate, for in his mind there was no return from the path he had chosen. Unable to take the daily rape, the constant sodomy of his regret, he set about mending the past. In the hope it would secure his future.

He pulled the bed sheets away as he muttered the same words repeatedly under his stale morning breath, “Today will be the day”. These words were familiar to him, but as each day passed they became harder to say and even harder to mean. He walked towards the kitchen, his bare feet slapping against the Spanish marble. He unscrewed the bottles of pills that were lined regimentally on the work surface, always within reach. When it came to taking the pills he was perhaps a little more regimental than necessary and he placed a few more on his tongue for good measure helping them down with water that tasted stagnant. No doubt it would taste worse tomorrow.

There was a knock on the door that echoed through his mansion. He knew who it was.

“Hello James!” Dr Jonsons usual greeting. As always replied with silence.

James was tired of the daily visits, what was their purpose? To tell him his cancer, the cancer his body is riddled with has advanced a little more? He knew this already, he felt it. Every day he would wake up later and go to bed earlier, take more pills and have more dreams that would penetrate his thoughts. He wanted closure, physically and emotionally, and his greatest fear was that one could not be done without the other.

James began a conversation.

“I was thinking of talking to Harvey”. ‘Was that a question?’ he thought to himself.
“You think thats a good idea? It’s been so long.”
“But I can’t leave it any longer, it’s killing me.”
“Your cancer is what’s killing you.” James was pretty sure the two were inextricably linked.
“Can I have some water?” asked James’ doctor, changing the tone of the conversation.
“Hang on.”

Dr Jonson, or Steve as James knew him was the only ‘friend’ James had left, but James questioned whether his friendship was strictly part of the doctor-patient relationship. With good reason too, James had not been friends to anyone in a long time.

“Here you go Doc”, said James in a light hearted way, handing Steve the glass, coming as close to being friendly as he had been in a good long while. “Sorry if it tastes bad, I think my filter’s broken.”

The doctor took a sip.

“Tastes fine to me.”

The doctor’s visit was quick, it’s main purpose to ensure James had been taking his tablets. When he saw that he’d almost run out Steve gave James a look of disappointment tinged with severity.

“Steve, for God’s sake, I’m dead anyway”, replied James to the question Steve was about to ask. The visit ended quickly and the house returned to it’s empty self soon enough.

Everything in James’ life had become a chore, each task so laborious it would remind him that as the days passed he was one step closer to his grave. The one thing James wanted to know was how many steps were left.

He’d walked this path in his dreams, narrow and never ending, storm clouds shadowing its twisted form. He pictured the end, filled with light, as he walked through some sort of gate or Gothic arch, healing him. But deep inside he knew that the chances of such a place existing outside his mind were remote.

He picked up the phone and dialled Harvey’s number. A woman picked up on the other end. This was not Harvey. “Harvey? Who’s Harvey?” the voice asked, the sound of children in the background. Harvey had moved. James sighed when he realised that this was going to be harder than expected. He decided that his only course of action (well as close as a man with a few weeks to live could come to action) was to get in touch with Dorothy, Harvey’s sister. The likelihood of Dorothy wanting to see James however was non-existent, but it was his only chance of finding Harvey before time ran out. He didn’t want to die knowing that the only person he could once turn to for anything hated him. James hoped that his pale, thin body rotting from the inside would buy him some sympathy from Dorothy, at least enough for an address. James should have known better. Not everyone could be bought.

James walked out of his house, his cold appearance poisoning the sunshine around him like a negative aura, pale blue and constant. He hadn’t been outside in a long time, his clothes confirmed this, hanging just like the skin that once held firm to his flesh. His trousers held up with a belt on its tightest adjustment, the material scrunching up and the edge of the belt irritating his skin. What he wouldn’t do for something with some elastic in it. Despite how uncomfortable he was, James got in his car and drove off.

He found himself standing at Dorothy’s door unable to ring the bell and certainly not ready to be bombarded with a barrage of insults. James knocked on the door lightly hoping he would not be heard so he would be able to walk off with a clear conscious and later be able to convince himself that he tried. Just as he was about to walk away, he heard the latch of the door unhook and then door open. He stood, his back facing the door, until he could find the courage to look into Dorothy’s eyes.

“Can I help you”, said the woman at the door, the voice sounding strangely familiar. He turned around.
“Hello Dorothy”, was all James managed to get out, his voice re-emphasising the fact that he had given up, as it was tainted with guilt.
“And you are?” James was lost for words. Had his appearance changed so much?
“It’s me. James.”
“James?” she said, trying to place the name. She gasped. “James! Is that really you? You look like shit.” James nodded. “Come in”

James was confused, had his looks changed so radically? Was she merely sympathetic? Or was she waiting to get him inside so she didn’t get the neighbours gossiping about some ‘guy’ Dorothy was shouting at on her own doorstep?

James sat down on one of the sofas, he felt his bones creak with the strain and he accepted Dorothy’s offer for some tea. He could have done with some scotch but his stomach ulcer would have not shared that decision.

James looked around the room, it was old, a little dusty, and the furniture was in need of a shampoo. He thought to himself that he was lucky to have such a nice house in such a nice area but then he realised that Dorothy was the lucky one, she had the home, she had people who cared for her and loved her. He felt envious and hated himself for it.

Very rarely are the wealthy the right people to have a lot of money, it was people like Dorothy who could have money and not be corrupted by it. James couldn’t even remember where he got all of his money, but he knew that most of it was obtained through the exploitation of others, including Harvey. He hoped that the fact that Dorothy was only affected indirectly by his idiocy (he saw it now) would make her a little more receptive to his pleas for forgiveness.

“There you go”, said Dorothy, handing James the tea. The thought came across his mind that she may have poisoned it, but then again she was nothing like him. There was silence for a few moments, as if Dorothy was waiting for James to make the first move.
“Dorothy…? I’m… I’m…” the words were stumbling out of his mouth. Saying sorry in his head was a lot easier than this.
“I know”, replied Dorothy. James gave a sigh of relief and smiled a little. “It’s not me you should be saying sorry to, is it?”
“I need his address.”
“I’ll get it for you.” Jackpot. “Harvey won’t be too pleased when he finds out I gave you this but if you ever sort this out he’ll get over it.” She scribbled something down on a torn piece of paper and put it in his coat pocket. James felt a weight come off his chest but he didn’t let himself get too excited, he knew Harvey was going to be harder to please.

Conversation ensued, uncomfortable at first. Baby steps. They talked about Harvey, the cancer. They talked about the past and the future, but not in any philosophical way, just pleasant conversation. James wanted more but it had been a long time since they were even remotely close and he felt that burdening Dorothy with his problems would not be appropriate. He felt the need to tread lightly, after all, if James was Dorothy he certainly wouldn’t have forgiven himself. Maybe his faults were at a genetic level and couldn’t be helped, or maybe he was just scared. Either way the chances of him getting better, both physically and mentally were diminishing in tandem with each other.

James felt a stabbing pain in his chest he collapsed to the floor. “Are you OK?” said Dorothy.
“I’ll be fine, can you help me up?”
Dorothy grabbed him from under his arms and hauled him to his feet, his frail frame on the verge of snapping.
“I had better go”, said James.

James walked out of Dorothy’s house in a daze, his vision overlapped with a painting by numbers picture animated and swirling, spiralling towards a pool of his own blood.

He lay on the floor, almost foetal in position, a position that seemed to seethe guilt out of every pore on his puny body. He bled, from his mouth and head, his arm outstretched to reach the gate to Dorothy’s house, short by a few inches.

All he was, was a body with an expiration date and a spirit with unfinished business. James knew the consequences of a trapped spirit from his dreams. Every night his body would die for a few hours and his mind would rule, his own thoughts and regrets festering and multiplying within him, defenceless. James had been given a sneak preview to his own personal hell.

Dorothy called an ambulance, as James’ body lay outside, unconscious and dying, his mind still very much alive…

Glimpses of reality pierced his mind intermittently, the ground, the ants (feeding from his blood?), the latch of the gate, light shining through the gate’s twisted metal structure… reassuringly out of reach. But when reality chose to be absent his dreams came back and his mind merged the gap between thoughts and reality.

James stood on the pier of Windmill Lake, a beautiful quiet part of the country where he spent many of his childhood summers with Harvey and Dorothy. Something was different though, everything was smaller, or was he bigger? The windmill, which sat majestic on the north bank of the lake, was no longer red and white; it was grey, brown and black, reminiscent of old oil paintings of the industrial revolution. The once vibrant colours of the flowers that lined the bank, the yellows, reds and purples had now disappeared. All that remained were withered stems, sucked dry of life. The petals floated on the water rotting and limp, their exquisite patterns no longer evident, just like mixed paint, everything had turned brown, charred and linear. Muffled splashes faded into existence and James looked down to see Harvey messing about in the water, he was smiling. James had missed that stupid grin. It was good to see him once again, James thought this image of Harvey had been lost forever and been replaced by that of a sad and lonely man.

James opened his eyes. He was in the hospital, the reassuring ‘beep’ of the heart monitor confirmed this.

“Hello James”, said a voice, James’s neck was too stiff to be able to turn and see who was talking. “It’s Harvey, you’re old buddy.” Harvey’s voice was tainted with anger. “You know, James, I thought I understood you, but it’s clear that I don’t. Can you tell me what the fuck I’m doing here? Did you put Dorothy up to this? You think after all these years you can put this right?”
James opened his mouth to speak. Nothing… He felt like his vocal chords were choosing to ignore the air he was feeding them.
“Don’t you have anything to say… WELL?”
James tried to force the air out. He blacked out again.

The splashes became louder, James was no longer playing. He was drowning.

“HELP ME!” screamed Harvey his screams accompanied by gurgling and choking sounds. Wild uninhibited thrashes in the water, violent kicking under the water, pure rage, screams that were loud enough to rip James’ eardrums all climaxed into a cacophony. Then the splashing stopped. Everything went dead silent. The water rippled into calm. The windmill stopped turning, only Harvey was left moving as he sunk silent into the water, his right arm outstretched to its fullest, eyes hopelessly staring right at James begging for help. James reached out over the edge of the pier, clutched Harvey’s hand tightly and tried to pull him to safety. He looked into Harvey’s eyes and saw that smile again. Euphoria. Forgiveness. “Let go”, said the voice of his dreams, he turned around, it was Dorothy, “LET GO!” she screamed. James quickly turned back to Harvey, the face of purity and forgiveness had turned on him, Harvey’s teeth grit and his soft gaze turned into a haunting stare of revenge. James could no longer see the whites of his eyes, just empty black holes. Harvey pulled James into the murky brown waters with all his might, grabbed him by the collar and pushed him under. James struggled but to no avail.

“FORGIVE ME!” he gurgled, and his eyes opened, Harvey still by his side, “FORGIVE ME!” he said again, choking on his own saliva and on his last breath.
“You wanna die with a clear conscience?” he stopped, pulled up close to his face. “Never.” The words echoed endlessly through James and his last breath was extinguished.

The heart monitor flat-lined.

James continued to walk the narrow, never-ending path of his dreams, of his reality, unprepared to face his misdeeds that were once so close to being forgiven.

He pictured the end, a gate or Gothic arch at the vanishing point. Now just filled with darkness.

“There was nothing you could do”, said the Doctor to Harvey. Harvey nodded unconvincingly, the consequences of his grudge beginning to take shape.

These words would plague him forever.