(I started writing this as a short story, then realised it would spiral into something more befitting of a novella. Lovecraft inspired, with a hint of paranoia infused within. More than likely going to be the meat of Filmic Cuts 6. Hope you enjoy – OJ)
I write these words on some old scraps of paper provided to me by Fez, an orderly who has taken a slight pity on my plight and who, I dare say, sees me as one of the few people in the God forsaken place who treats him as an equal rather than an immigrant. He is a good young man, very pleasant, and who I would heartily recommend to Dr Friend to be seen for a better position in due course.
That brief tangent aside, I am writing to explain to you – whoever may read this – about my aforementioned situation. You see, my life was very different not too long ago, but like many who venture down life’s strange alleyways, I find myself at the edge of sanity and close to worlds unknown.
It all began when my good wife Laura – oh how I miss her – informed me of a similar circumstance revolving around our friends Claire & Edward – Ed for short. We had known them for many years, sharing many memories from four young folk courting, to fully-grown adults maintaining their way in a changing world. Unfortunately, like many friends such as ourselves, the days we spent cavorting together had given way to more pressing responsibilities, and the only correspondence we dutifully kept was an exchange of letters. While the time between these become longer, it all changed when we received a fresh message from Claire herself.
Laura read the letter aloud to me, and conjured a scene in my head that quite distressed me. Apparently, in the last few months since our last contact, Ed had suffered a great downturn in fortune. A malaise had struck him, and he had gone from a cheerful, outgoing chap, to one that was withdrawn and cursed with a lethargy that had affected his employment and marriage. Obviously, such news dampened both our spirits, and we vowed in our reply to assist Claire in helping Ed to his former glory.
While Laura agreed to give Claire a woman’s ear, I was on hand to locate Ed and hopefully give him the lift that he seemed to sorely need. After arriving from our travels, Claire informed me that Ed had taken to frequenting a lowly establishment within the common area of town, usually filled with vagrants and nefarious types. I vowed to bring him back from such a brink, and restore my friend to the waiting arms of his wife.
The tavern was, as expected, not the kind of place and well-suited gentleman would partake in a drink. Most of the men inside – for no woman was foolish enough to step inside such a rank place – looked upon me with suspicion and intrigue, clad in rough clothing that befitted the slovenly and dank. I almost didn’t recognise Ed, carefully placed in a far corner, from the others, his appearance frightening to my ill-prepared eyes.
His body was a gaunt husk in comparison to the stout fellow I once knew, and instead of life in his eyes, a morose pallor hung. When these sad features saw me, he seemed in equal measures thankful and fearful, beckoning me over quickly whilst twitching in place to make sure I wouldn’t fall afoul of any of the other patrons.
We embraced heartily, with my feelings telling me that it had been a long while since Ed had received such kinship. I could smell the aroma of alcohol and opium on the rags that hung off his frame, but held my disgust in for fear of losing any trust I was to build. I listened as Ed stammered small greetings, and went into various tangents about the time since we had seen each other, and disbelief that we were together once more.
I told him that Claire had sent me, and immediately he spilt tears of sorrow down his cheeks. He confessed that he had only seen his wife in fleeting appearances, coming home only to sneak a few morsels of food or snatches of the meagre savings he had kept hold of since losing his position at his employers. To see my friend reduced to the role of tramp & scallywag left me with a heavy heart, and I refused to believe such a man would fall to Hell’s vices so easily.
Of course, it would turn out, that such things were only the symptoms of a larger condition.
With a fresh pair of drinks on our table, I began to enquire with Ed what had led him down this terrible path. At first, my friend was hesitant, instead deflecting my questions with ones of his own. He seemed genuinely repentant of his treatment of Claire, and really wished to change his ways, but the mysterious monkey that rested upon his hunched shoulders prevented him from such attempts to begin anew.
Eventually, it was not my questioning that brought forth answers, but a reaction from Ed himself. In the middle of a muddled diatribe about our memories together, his eyes fixed past my shoulders, and widened with such terror that I had not seen since the war. His whole body seemed to morph with fright, his skin turning deathly white and his body fixing still like a statue. I turned to see what was holding his attention, only to see a few nasty-looking men standing at the bar. It was then that I assumed that what was causing this horror within Ed, was standing at the bar.
Sure of myself, I brought attention to this, and Ed seemed shocked that my deductions were so on point. He asked me whether I saw the man in question, and of course I concurred. From there, Ed’s words would not stop; the man would not stop following him, watching him from afar and causing him a great deal of paranoia. The man would take notes on a subject that Ed was oblivious to, and would appear in every location without fail – his place of employment, the streets he would walk, even his own home. Aghast at the campaign of terror this individual would cast upon my good friend, I told Ed that we should alert the authorities straight away, and have them resolve this matter forthwith. Of course, Ed was desperate not to take such a route, but I insisted that it was the only way to save him from himself. If this foul being was causing such distress to Ed, then we should put a stop to it as soon as possible. I had seen many men put in this position before – led down a dark path before being held hostage by the same ‘friends’ who had held their hand in the first place, but I refused to let Ed be another victim of their schemes.
I went to get up, but felt Ed’s hand grab mine. He begged with me – pleaded with tear-stained eyes – not to do anything further and to just forget the whole thing, but when I turned to see where this curse of a man had gone, I found that he had left to mingle with the other ruffians that stood around this place.
It was then, after I assured Ed that the man in question was gone, that the whole scenario turned into something else.
Despite my assurance, Ed’s fear remained. In fact, when I continued to mention that the man was no longer at the bar, I could see my friend’s body drain of any sense of hope. It was as if the last ounce of life in his heart suddenly burnt out, and all that was left was a shell that resembled my companion. He confirmed with me that I did not see the fellow, and I told him that the bar was empty, and we were both safe to leave at any moment. Alas, with a slow shake of his head, Ed told me that he wasn’t to leave, and instead that I should go back to Claire & Laura and tell them both that, unfortunately, he would not be back for a long while. Naturally, I didn’t want to give up on my friend so easily, and assured him we would find him help, but such a promise only seemed to drive him further from me.
I confess, that was when I made my first fatal error. I left Ed in his seat, telling him that I would be back soon after relieving myself. Of course, when I returned, he was no longer present, and no man in the tavern wished to tell me where he had gone. Frustrated and angered by this turn of events, I left the establishment and returned to Claire’s to inform her & Laura of what had occurred. We all agreed that authorities would have to be informed, and that the best thing for Ed in these dire times would be to seek the assistance of a medical professional who could provide him with the help he so sorely need. While we were concerned for our friend’s safety, Claire assured me that these disappearances were sadly common, and that no doubt Ed would appear again soon enough.