The room around me is cold and musty, the primary colour on the walls seems to be a mouldy grey illuminated by a 40 watt bulb hanging unshaded from the ceiling. Daylight, how I crave daylight. My only solace is being able to sit here at this excuse for a desk and write, putting my thoughts down, trying to drag some semblance of the truth out. They said it might make me remember, that it could be cathartic, whatever that means, but I don't know. Still, I prefer this to their other methods of helping me remember.
They've kept me here for what must be weeks now and still I don't know why they're holding me. Hell, I don't even know who I am most of the time! All I know for certain is the routine. Have to do the routine. No question about that. I have the bruises to show for it when I don't follow the routine.
There’s someone at the door, the key’s sticking in the lock the way it always does. Jiggle, jiggle, once more, jiggle and, yes, and there goes the latch. It’s ‘Slop Jock’ as I like to call him, here to change my latrine. He doesn’t even acknowledge me, just goes to the corner, takes the brimming bucket of effluence and leaves me a crusted replacement. I often wonder who applies for a job like that and if he had competition or not. What questions must they ask at interview? Experience, references, where do you see your career in ten years time?
I had a career once, I’m sure I did. A house, I remember leaving a house, kissing my wife, girlfriend, lover goodbye before setting out the door, maybe, I think. Why can’t I remember, why, why, why!
The men came in, the ones with the truncheons, they’d said I was getting out of control, was working myself up into a frenzy. They made sure I calmed myself down. Told me I couldn’t write any more today. Well they’re not the boss of me, I’ll write some more if I want to. Wait, it’s them, jiggle, jiggle, maybe they’re right, I’ll write more tomorrow then, or maybe the next day, see what I can remember, jiggle.................
It's hard to sleep. They never extinguish the light and it shines all the time, on and on. There are no clocks, no windows, nothing to give me a sense of time. Just the endless, ceaseless monotony of the grey walls of my cell. My cell. I don't know what else to call it. Sometimes I lay on the cot I call my bed and try to remember what a real bed feels like. The memory feels distant and indistinct, like trying to recall a dream upon waking.
Sometimes I doubt myself. I mean, was there ever anything before this place? Perhaps the life I remember living was a dream I'm now waking from. Something I created to make this place seem bearable...
My God, am I mad? Is that was this is?
I've smashed the lightbulb before. It made it easier to sleep, but the shapes left me in the darkness for felt like days. I couldn't tell the difference between waking and sleeping. The room was so dark, I used to fumble around, cutting my feet on the broken glass of the bulb. It became easier just to stay on the bed, but in the darkness there was a constant, quiet scratching. It was just on the edge of my hearing, almost as if it wasn't quite there at all. Rats in the walls. That's what my mind keep imagining. Scratching at the bricks and the mortar. Trying to get in.
Now I sleep with the light on.
The light goes off.
The light comes on.
Stood in the opposite end of the room is a 6' tall painfully slender woman in a trouser suit and sensible shoes. Hands in pockets. She could be attractive, but there is a disdain in her face that leaves no room for anything else.
"Hows the writing?"
I place the book on the middle of the room and back off. Like a good boy. No excitement.
She picks it up in a fluid motion and returns to her corner careful not to turn her back on me.
"Not a patch on your early stuff is it? Or your middle phase when the fans abandoned you?"
I mutter my lack of comprehension.
She flicks the book onto the floor.
"New question - where'd you get your ideas?"
I blink, not understanding.
"Come on, conventions, signings, dreary readings in provincal librarys - you must have that one down pat surely?"
I shake my head, I don't know what she's talking about.
And then it comes, light, frothy, rehearsed - from somewhere inside and out of my mouth comes a glib answer I don't recognaise about finding inspiration in the every day occurances, objects, neighbours, the news - that kind of thing.
She smiles. The disdain is still there though, leaking through the parted lips and perfect teeth.
"I'll see the slop jock makes an extra effort tonight."
The light goes off.
The light comes on.
She is gone.
It is not the memory disfunction that concerns me, nor the hostility of my captors - which for all I know is entirely earned. No. It is the half-spoken truths and half-truths they bait me with. The gameplaying, as though my torment were to them nothing but a diversion
yet there is a sense of focus in the woman. A splinter tipped with venom driving with purpose into my psyche.
What does she think I have done? How have I wronged her? She speaks of my writing as though it were more than mere musings, an art I followed with sufficient success to warrant 'fans.' Funny these gaps I have in my mind. I have an image of whirling blades, yet plainly this can have no connection to any writing endeavours,
My mind fractures into shards and each shard glitters mirror-like taunting as they fall to the floor with glints of the truth. If I could just hold them there, examine them, perhaps I could piece together what has happened, what I am
but they flash and fall like a sudden knife and darkness embraces me once more.
Focus, I need to focus. That's what they kept telling me today as if I didn't know it already. All throughout my 'routines' they told me I had to focus.
Breakfast was where I'd made my mistake this time; where I'd failed to follow the routine. I took three pieces of toast instead of two. I told them I always have three pieces of toast, that it has always been three pieces of toast, they always give me three pieces of toast but they said I was wrong. They said that I'd always had two pieces of toast, that everyone else only had two pieces of toast. They pointed round the 'cafeteria' with its rows of white collapsable tables, at the others sitting there, dressed in their greys, eating their breakfast, chomping on their toast. Everyone had two pieces of toast, no more, no less. My little finger broke as they wrenched it back to remind me I'd taken one piece too many. Fortunately it was not my writing hand; how kind of them.
They took me to the nurse. It's left, left, right, left, right to get to the nurse's room from the 'cafeteria'. I can follow this route instinctively by now. But it wasn't; not this time. This time it was left, left, right, right, left. The room looked the same when I got there, operating table in the centre, specimen jars on the shelving with medical books splayed around the room but it wasn't where it should be. The last turns should have been left then right not right then left. I vowed to mark the route next time, hoping there wouldn't be a next time, but planning for it all the same.
And so here I am writing, trying to focus. The rats are quiet at the moment but my ears still strain to hear them, disturbing my thoughts without even moving. I'm so tired. I just can't focus. I'm trying to remember, I know I have to remember, the nurse gave me pills, stimulants she said, to help me remember. But I can't. I try to picture the conventions, the throbbing crowds filled with adoring fans, vitriolic critics and those there to tout their wares but it's beyond me. I see a swell of faces, smell the odour of bodies packed together for too long without fresh air and just as I grasp at it the image goes, replaced by the blades, oh my god those blades, those crimson tinged blades.
Yvonne, I remember now, her name is Yvonne.
What is happening to me?
My hands are shaking so badly I can barely hold the pen they've left for me, let alone write, but I have to write. if I don't then the thoughts stay in my head and I can't stand that anymore. I have to get them out, exorcise them, purge myself of them before the shapes come again demanding the words they say I owe them.
So many words in this book now. I don't remember writing half of them. Some of them don't even sound like me, as if other people wrote them down. But I know it's my handwriting. How can it be my handwriting? The little finger on my left hand is all strapped up and splinted but I don't remember how it happened. The book says it was in the cafeteria, but I don't remember going there. I didn't go to the nurse, did I? I'd remember, wouldn't I?
I can hear something. Outside the door.
Oh God. The keys.
If I close my eyes, I can't see them. I'll close my eyes and they don't exist.
Keep writing. They'll leave me alone if I just keep writing.
Eyes closed tight. They can't see me.
Don't see me.
The pages ruffle.
"Ah but I do exist."
"And I can see you."
The book falls to the ground.
"Let's try this again...where...did you...get your ideas?"
I whimper excuses.
Her hand slams down on the desk.
I shudder and mumble.
"Okay.." she says suddenly lightening her voice, " let's be more..specific."
For the first time I open my eyes and look into her spiteful eyes belying the thin lipped smile.
"Where did you get the idea...for me?"
Her face fills the world, her sour breath catches in my throat and for an awful moment I think she is going to kiss me. But no, it is not my body she seeks to dominate. It is my mind. (My soul?)
I choke and sob and wail as her face distorts before me. It grows massive before my eyes and I think of bones. Of bread.
I TRY - I try to claw my eyes out but my hands ignore me, tapping gently on the page before me, waggling the pen as though nothing were out of the ordinary.
I see the pen Rush up towards me, slamming into the tough jelly of my right eye. I relish the explosion of pain, the warmth dripping bitterly down my cheek in red relief
but the tapping continues and what drips from my eyes lands clear on the paper.
'Who am I?' she whispers, 'Who am I... really?'
and my breath just stops.
And then I woke up. A dream. Fuck me it had all been a dream. I start to laugh but the throaty sounds soon turn to sobs. I sit up in bed, feeling the springs adjust beneath me, thinking that finally some reality is coming back, expecting to see my wife lying next to me, gazing at me with her warm hazel eyes full of life but then I put my hand to my eyes to wipe away my tears.
And then I don't want to believe any more, believe what my fingers are telling me, believe the feel of the cloth beneath my fingertips, covering my eye.
So now they've left me crayons, like some fucking five year old, to protect me from myself but who is going to protect them from me, who is going to protect Yvonne from me? I now know who she was, who she is, and what she wants from me but more importantly I know what she took from me. And one thing I swear, no matter what happens to me, I will make that bitch suffer just like she made my wife as she pleaded for her life.
I remember people from my other life saying that they found blank pages filled with potential. That a new notebook was like a journey waiting to be taken, with new sights and experiences to be created within. I never understood that, as I always found blank pages intimidating. It would feel like the page was staring at me, daring me to write something worthy of marking its pristine surface.
When I look at the next empty page in this book, I feel differently. I want to write. I want fill the page. I almost feel it gives me a sense of control. They might leave me the tools, but it is I who writes.
I'm becoming use to finding new injuries when I wake and reading back through the pages of the book to see how I've recieved them. I have no memory of the things that others have written in my hand, but it means I get to skip the pain of the injury and go straight to the healing. For that I am grateful. I may have lost my eye when that other writer lost their mind, but at least I didn't have to experience it first hand. I actually smiled in relief.
The crayons are a nice touch. "Don't do it again, but keep writing" the crayons say. I hear the Shapes moving around outside my cell door, but they're leaving me alone. Even the rats are quiet. I could laugh. I actually feel like it's my doing.
I realised this morning who I'm writing for. The crayons and book were perfectly symmetrical in their arrangement. Lined up with the edges of the grey metal table and the table sat perfectly in the centre of the room. Every line, every angle in the room leading to the book. The bed. The toilet. The door. Everything drawing me towards the book. I sat at the table, looked down at the tools of my craft and I realised.
I am writing to you.
I know you're reading this.
I have been you.
I am you.
Every time I wake up and read your words to find out why my fingers are splinted or my eye is in bandages, we communicate but never directly. I have a sense of clarity now and I'm speaking to you. Out of the page. Changing the script. The next move is up to you.
A crayon is a marvellous thing - something in it's waxy solidity gives pause to my thoughts and let's them take shape before they hit the page.
Something crystalises - a throaty foggy morning. Droning news reports and combative interviews spewed out of the radio. Half drank instant coffee and half smoked cigerette as I stand on the front step. I daren't smoke in the house. By common convention we both pretend I've quit.
In the park opposite the front door I lounge in, past the fretful commuter traffic fitting and starting down the road, is a runner.
She is lean, she is intense and she has a hard, set face.
She is not jogging, she is chipping it.
And she is the kernal of Yvonne.
I cannot take my eyes from her, though I have my family, have my life, have my career. Obsession kindles deep inside me (as her legs pump up and down, up and down; as her tightly bound breasts jerk and heave with each pounding step, stray hair flying back in the breeze.) An exquisite ache engulfs my world and, throbbing, fills the hole it creates as She passes by.
There is no acknowledgement, no glance to spark electrically between us. Her own world is as insular as my own, with music filling her emptiness.
I am incomplete. I know that now.
A splintered man bandaged in lies and soft linen. My pen is my sword, but She is my salvation. My destruction.
I strangle my thoughts in disgust. I squeeze until I hear them snap, then twist them off at the neck.
But the kernel is planted, and nothing can stop Her coming.
It's funny that what starts off as a harmless fantasy so often becomes an overwhelming obsession. I'd never been a morning person, always craving those extra stolen minutes beneath the duvet, knowing that if I skipped breakfast I'd sneak another five minutes, omitting to shave would get me the same again. Yet I found myself getting up earlier each day, waking before the alarm so as not to disturb my wife. I'd lie to myself that it was because she needed those extra minutes herself, that I was being considerate to her, but I knew the real reason.
I would shave every morning now. I had one of those cut throat razors with an ebony handle, a present from my Dad one Christmas, and he'd even engraved it with my name. Funny, I can picture most things but the engraving eludes me. I'd sharpen the blade on a leather strap, another present, and feel the scrape of the blade against my neck, cleaning the forestation from my face. It was what I did next that surprised me. I moisturised. I actually moisturised. But that's how obsession creeps up on you. The little things. Those unconscious decisions.
And so I would see her every morning as I left the house. Chance encounters as I told myself but engineered with more precision than a Swiss watch. Every day for weeks I'd see her, always in the morning as I left the house, always away from my wife. I'd think about introducing myself to her; nonchalently. But it had to be right, it had to be perfect, I needed to plan it out. So I started to write things down, write about what would happen when we met, properly, not just in passing. I'd never been comfortable writing before, intimidated is how I've described it to others, but this was different, this was something with purpose, this was obsession.
This was the beginning of the end.
I remember now.
(is it real memory or false? What is real?)
Yvonne was the name of my second grade teacher. The first teacher I ever found out she had a name other than 'Miss' and the first I ever had a crush on before I knew what that word even meant.
Unaware, I must have carried that name inside me for years, lurking in some secret place, waiting for its time. Locked away with all the emotions and memories of that younger self.
(self or Self? I'm not sure of the difference anymore.)
Then she entered my life, and re-entered it every morning. Each day was a fresh start with a new first conversation. Refined each day, trimming away the superfluous comments, the inane chatter, the overly casual greeting and the stilted introduction. Week by week I mined for the perfect way to speak to hear as I watched her for those brief seconds as she ran past my home.
Laying in my bed beside my wife, I have stared at the ceiling and held her in my arms a hundred times. Made love to her a thousand times. Been rejected. Made amends. Laughed. Cried. A whole other life inside my mind.
(Was it my real life? Did I imagine my wife? Is Yvonne the real one?)
First love and new obsession collided. Yvonne was the result. A gestalt form born of half-remembered childhood emotions and repressed adult sexual fantasy. Teacher and mistress.
(Why is a mistress both an illicit sexual partner and a dominatrix? When did they become the same thing in our vocabulary?)
I saw her myself for the first time today. After reading the other entries and remembering, there she was. I don't remember hearing her enter, but she stood next to the open door to my cell just smiling at me. Then she turned around and left without a word. I could hear her heels echoing down the hall before the door closed and now I feel more trapped than before. She's real. What else is real?
(Am I real? Are the other writers real? Are we all me or imagined versions of myself given form? Who's story is this?)
I have to find a way to get out.
(Can I end the story? What happens to the characters when the story ends?)
What happens when the book runs out of pages?
(I have to find a way to get out.)
Amazing things Crayons.
Waxy and maleable, if you're careful you can husband the shavings.
Husband enough and keep them careful you can mould them.
Mould them enough you can find you start to get something looking crudely like a gun.
Find a guard stupid enough and you can use that to get out of your room.
Run enough enough you can find yourself crammed in a drainage tunnel writing this by the scattered searchlight sweeps.
But what I really want to know is - why did Yvonne confiscate the last 30 pages?
Do I stay or do I go?
Time, I need time.
Time to heal, time to focus on Us and us.
Time to hide, to find... to find the ties that bind my crippled body, broken mind -
So cold. I don't know where I am. It is dark here. It reeks. By God, how it stinks.
I ran. So long I ran, and you all ran with me. Can you feel my pain?
The shard-filled hollows of my chest heave still, but I think I am safe for now.
She's out there somewhere. Stalking me.
I cannot tell if that was her, really her in that drab prison. SHE asking ME? How can I believe my eyes? How can I trust my ears?
Better I should be rid of them so they can't fool me again
have I fled from her only to pursue her again? And if I catch her
After what she did to my WIFE?
And if I catch hold of her...
Can I hold her
There she is sitting next to me in the stinking effluence which surrounds us, her slender face shadowed in the gloom of the tunnel. How does she look so immaculate even down here amongst the piss and shit of a generation of inmates?
Finally it's here, my chance for revenge. No guards around, no-one to stop me strangling her where she sits. I am so desperate to feel her windpipe crush beneath my eager fingers, to end this, but first I'll make her beg, tease her, make her think that she has a chance. Just like she did to Sarah.
I raise my wax gun. In this light she won't be able to tell it's not real.
"Don't forget to take the safety off" I inwardly chuckle to myself.
And that I think will be me last moment of joy. Yvonne sits there, mirroring me, with a gun in hand and I don't need her to tell me that this one isn't made of wax.
With the gun held steady, fixing my gaze, she reaches inside the breast of her jacket taking out a wad of papers, papers covered in waxy crayon.
"I think we should finally talk about what happened to Sarah. Don't you think it's time Ivan?"
Sarah is asleep next door. If I sit here quietly I can hear her snoring. It’s a joyful sound to me, reminding me she’s there. It wasn’t my pain. Not my Sarah.
I’m writing this from my desk at home. Its solid oak construction is very reassuring to me because I know it’s real rather than just being told it’s real. I’ve read through the entries the others have made in my journal. It’s strange that we still communicate like this, even after all these years. Recording our thoughts and lives for each other so that we know which page we’re on. It’s getting so much harder to remember the days before now.
I try to remember how it all ended. I know Yvonne was involved, before I knew her true purpose. I remember standing in that effluent, facing her with the moulded wax pistol in my hand, trying to threaten her in the half light. I can see her face clearly in my memory. Smiling confidently as she points her own gun at me, her other hand holding the wad of pages taken from our prison diary.
“Who’s Ivan?” I demanded.
“Don’t you remember?” She asked pleasantly, waving the pages. “Maybe I’m speaking to the wrong one, but I know you can all hear me.”
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Yvonne said, starting to read from the pages in her hand. “She isn’t the one I want. She won’t change. I’ve tried but I can’t shape her. She won’t accept me, not like Yvonne will. I’ll have to do it tonight.” Her voice trailed off, her smile twisting into a sneer as she dropped the page into the slurry water that flowed between us, carrying the words towards me.
“You killed her, Ivan.”
I remember shaking my head, tears stinging my eyes. “No, I couldn’t.”
“Shall I read more? Do you need convincing? It’s all here. I wanted to protect you from it, but you couldn’t stop yourself running back there, could you?”
My hands shook. Did I kill Sarah? It was impossible to believe, but so much strangeness had already happened was it such a stretch to conceive it? Was I truly mad enough for this? God help me, what had I done?
“Shall I read you some more, Ivan?”
I’m not sure what happened next. Even when I look back it is a blur that I can’t pin down to a clear recollection. There was a flash in the darkness and a deafening bang that reverberated through the tunnel. I thought she had fired her gun and tried to shoot me. I thought I would be dead soon. But that was until I realised it had been the gun in my hand that had fired.
I crawled past the slurried bloodied body the suddenly real gun clenched in White knuckles. Out into the drainage ditch, out into the rain and the brisk snarling wind. Voices of dogs and men carried as I scrambled through the ferns and bracken. I find a dell, a hole in a dead trees bare angry roots.
I fall and crawl and squeeze my self tight, so very tight & quiet as a mouse.
And then on the big screen of my cranium I see Sarahs death.
I see the hoodies, the carpet knives & the cricket bats and I know I paid for it.
It is now that Ivan takes over.
Hello, dear reader. Are you feeling safe? I am. I am feeling safe and in control.
There is phrase which might be helpful here.
I know where you live.
I know Who you are, even if you do not.
I have been watching you - all of you - scuttle around inside your skull.
You scratch at the truth like rats: defiant in curiosity; fleeting in terror. You see a glint and you streak in with glinting eyes and greedy paws, grasping for each shard - and in each piece all that shows is a fractured glimpse of yourselves. You can never grasp the whole picture, you can never see yourself as you were. Unbroken.
I know truth of the matter. I see the razor blade clear and know the words upon it. I know the woman on the floor and see plainly it is not Yvonne.
You kept scratching and now the cat has come.
I have laughed long and I have laughed hard, but now it is time to bring this charade to an end.
My name is Ivan Oliver Ulrickson. I am a writer, a fantasist and a murderer. I killed my wife and I killed her over time.
We first met at a convention in Brighton in the summer. I was an up and coming author with a couple of books to my name. She was a fan, so shy and timid but with such beautiful eyes. They were deep and captivating, promising the world and delivering the universe. We made love that evening. Sweet tender love so full of giving and sharing and afterwards we just lay there holding each other.
We married in the spring. It was a simple ceremony held at the registry office. There was just the two of us plus two witnesses we’d found on the street. Our parents didn’t come as they didn’t approve of us but we didn’t care. We were in love.
We were in love.
Our love faded over time. Where I once felt captivated by Sarah I now just felt trapped. Every day was the same tedium repeated again and again with increasing monotony. I’d slowly stopped writing having lost my inspiration. I used to find it in everyday occurrences but these had been stolen from me by the drabness of our drifting marriage. I would sit in my grey, lifeless study trying to force the words but they wouldn’t come. The crap I wrote just ended up in the bin in the corner ready to be emptied each day. But I continued to write and write and write until it became an obsession.
Sarah would come into the room and try and drag me away from my desk but I wouldn’t let her. I put a latch on the door to stop her intruding on my privacy. She still came though. Sitting on the floor on the other side of the oak door, pleading with me to come out, breaking down into tears as she scratched pitifully on the door trying to get through to me. Sometimes I would come out and we would argue. She would threaten to leave me but I wouldn’t let her. As much as I felt trapped I wanted things to be on my terms not hers. The first time she tried I begged her to stay, promised I would make an effort, that I would change and things would be good again. I tried to get back into our old routines again but that is what broke me. That and the jogger. My fantasy soul mate, the woman who would bring excitement back into my humdrum life, the woman who drove me back to my writing, the woman who I never met.
The next time Sarah tried to leave I threatened to kill myself. She didn’t believe me. She didn’t believe me until I snapped back my finger. I don’t remember this. I only know it from what Sarah told me as she sat there splinting my hand. Just like I didn’t remember the other injuries. Sarah told me she was scared of me and it was killing her to see me like this, that she didn’t know who I was when I was in those moods, that I wasn’t the man she married, that I was different each time but I didn’t care. I just knew that I had to write. I had to discover my truth. That I had to find Yvonne.
And then one day Sarah broke into my room. She’d used my razor to lift the latch catching me sleeping at my desk. Pages of hand scrawled manuscript were ripped from under my resting head jerking me awake and Sarah stood there screaming at me, telling me I had to stop, that I needed help, professional help, as she brandished my work before me threatening to rip it to shreds.
Everything happened in slow motion from then on. I hit Sarah hard across the face forcing her to the floor with the blow. I knelt over her as she lay there beneath me, hands to her face to protect her. Her left hand grasping my work and her right holding my razor. She slashed out wildly at me catching my face, cutting deep into my cheek but I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice either as I grabbed her wrist and forced my blade free, the ebony handle reassuring in my hand. And then I started to cut, slashing rhythmically back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, one blade becoming many as they thrashed so readily through her skin.
And then we were in the bedroom. Someone has killed my lover. I try to tell myself she is only sleeping as she lies on the bed grasping blood drenched pages in her hand. Pages and pages of the same phrases repeated constantly, ad infinitum.
I am writing to YOU. I know YOU are reading this. I have been YOU. I am YOU.
I am writing to YOU. I know YOU are reading this. I have been YOU. I am YOU.
I am writing to YOU. I know YOU are reading this. I have been YOU. I am YOU.
I am writing to YOU. I know YOU are reading this. I have been YOU. I am YOU.
Things will be alright. I will catch the killer. I will catch Ivan. There is a gun in the bedside table. We keep it there for protection. My partner Sarah and I. I can use it when the time comes.
I am a writer, a fantasist and a murderer. My name is Yvonne Olivia Ulrickson.