Unremebered Past. No 27 in the Jack Burke paranormal detective series.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

Submitted: September 25, 2018

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Submitted: September 25, 2018

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 The disembodied face floating above him drifted in and out of focus, one moment it was a beautiful woman, the next a pale blur with a red smudge where the mouth should be.  The low sounds of groaning somewhere in the room hurt his head, and the soft accented voice kept repeating a word over and over but he could not grasp what it was. Ever since he had opened his eyes he just wanted to close them again, the woman floating above him was beginning to really annoy him now. She was the one thing that stood between this terrible feeling, and what he craved more than anything else, that sacred bliss of oblivion. “Jack, Jack wake up” something in this statement pulled him further towards a reality he so badly wanted to run from.

“JACK” The word screamed through his head like a swarm of stinging wasps, he dearly wanted to tell his tormenter to fuck off. However his throat felt as dry as the Sahara desert and the only noise he could manage was a hoarse croak, much like the sound of a dying frog. The splash of cold water on his upturned face might as well have been a blow from an axe, the groaning began again and he managed to flip himself on his side before he puked. Somewhere in Jack Burke’s befuddled mind he was aware that he had been in this conditioned on many, many occasions before.  But his tormented mind insisted that this time was worse, and surely he must be dying. The prolonged verbal outburst from his tormentor was in a language Jack did not understand. However there was no mistaking the sentiment of the words, it was pure and unadulterated anger and frustration.

Later as he sat by the wood fire in the cottage shivering life a demented spider, a part of his mind wished he had actually been dying. The woman who had removed his filthy clothes and bathed him like a child, now paced up and down the room not five feet from him completely ignoring his presence. Anna kept up a constant monologue in Russian and he was under no illusion just how she felt about him at this stage. Jack had on a number of occasions attempted to rally the courage to ask her for a drink, but even in his current condition he was too ashamed.

“To hell with you Jack, and your inner demons”. Anna’s parting words were almost inaudible, but the slamming of the cottage door reverberated inside the small house like a clap of thunder. Jack sat stock still staring at the recently slammed door; in the end he pulled the bathrobe tighter around himself and curled up in a foetal position on the couch. At some stage he drifted into a semi-conscious stage, however his mind had decided to torment him even more than he already was.  A constant stream of images played relentlessly in his mind as he moaned and cried out in a troubled half sleep, the images jumping hither and thither through the historic landscape of his life. One moment he was in a cozy cottage on the west coast of Ireland as a child, only to find himself plucked from these safe surroundings and abruptly dropped in a troubled scene from his past.

The one underlying emotion that held fast was that terrible feeling only the images of his adult life were real, the darkest moments in a dark life felt all too real and tangible. While the childhood memories of vacations in Ireland, appeared nothing more than bedtime stories read by a loving parent to a young child. Jack awoken again to a soft hand gentle placed on his forehead, a dark whisper followed him from his troubled sleep. The whisper sounded like the rustling of dead leaves. “You are not who they said you are Jack” it whispered urgently in his head.

 Anna helped him to a sitting position, the anger of earlier had left her eyes and was now replaced with a look of concern. A wave of emotion swept over him and he felt the wet heat of tears on his cheeks, he wanted to thank her for returning but he did not trust himself to speak. Anna whispered something in Russian, whatever it was, it had a soothing tone like a mother would use to a frightened child. She left the room and returned shortly after with a glass of whisky and two small pills. Jack’s hands shook so badly she had to feed him the pills and hold the glass to his lips.

 His first instinct was to grasp the glass and tilt the contents back his throat, but Anna held his arm and only allowed him a few small sips. She continued to give him sips of the fiery liquid intermittently, eventually the pills kicked in and the tremors dissipated. Anna retreated to the fireside chair opposite him and took the still half full whisky glass with her. Jack sat in silence staring longingly at the glass she had placed on the mantel piece.

Anna finally broke the silence. “Jack you cannot continue like this, drinking yourself to death will solve nothing. You are not alone on this journey, I am willing to help you, but first you must want to help yourself”. Whatever she had given him, was now beginning to take effect and her voice seemed to be reaching him from a great distance. Jack longed to tell her about the tall man and what he had told him, but when he began to speak his voice was an inaudible whisper and the words made no sense even to him.

 The beautiful woman opposite him began to swim in and out of focus again, the last words he heard were “Trust her Jack; she can be your redemption”. But these words were not from any distance, they sounded clearly in his head.

The distant sound of screeching gulls dragged him from a deep dreamless sleep; the grey light of dawn struggled to illuminate the room through the thin curtains. For a moment he had the terrible feeling of being tightly bound as if in a funeral shroud, he was finding it hard to breathe and he struggled to sit up. The weight of the body beside him was what held him fast in the grip of the bed clothes; Anna stirred beside him and whispered in the half light. “Easy Jack you are okay”. He felt the weight shift from the bed clothes and she was standing beside the bed, the white satin night dress clung to the curves of her body.

 Total confusion swept over him and he abruptly turned his head away, the silence in the room was broken by her soft laughter. “Don’t worry Jack, you were the perfect gentleman”. The room door opened and closed quietly and he was alone with his thoughts.

It took a little over fifteen minutes alone with his thoughts before the anxiety and depression threatened to overwhelm him, throwing back the bed clothes, Jack cringed to discover he was naked as the day he had come into this world. The thought of Anna having to undress and bathe him only served to heighten his already anxious state of mind.

 By the time he had dressed his mind screamed out for the numbing amber liquid. The disappointment was crushing when he discovered the ever present whisky bottle had disappeared from the kitchen press. “If it is really what you want Jack, I can fetch the bottle for you”. Anna’s softly spoken words from the kitchen door were filled with sadness and disappointment. Turning slowly he found her staring at him, the scent of shampoo and her wet hair made her even more appealing.

Suddenly a feeling of utter shame and loneliness came bubbling to the surface, collapsing into the kitchen chair Jack leaned his forehead on the table and the tears began to flow. Now that the dam gates had finally opened there was no holding back, Anna appeared by his side and laid her head against his. The woman remained like this until the tears dried up and the wailing stopped. Jack was so emotionally drained that he did not even notice her leave his side. A while later she gently held his shoulders and pulled him to an upright position, a steaming mug of coffee was on the table before him, and one of those magic little pills she had given him the night before.

 The coffee was strong and almost sickly sweet, yet she gave him the pill and cajoled him into drinking the coffee. By the time he had finished the drink Jack felt strangely calm, for the first time in a very long time he felt detached from the pain that he had carried for so long.

The next couple of days were like a new beginning for Jack; Anna took over the task of Councillor and nurse maid. She would feed him and take him for walks by the cliff top, the pills she gave him became less potent as time went on but still kept the longing for the bottle at bay. At night they would sit by the fireside and talk, or to be more accurate he spoke and she listened. Jack told her of the tall man with odor of candle wax and musty books, how he had saved him and his cryptic words at their last meeting.

 The feelings that his child hood memories were not quite true also came pouring out, and in the end he told her of his guilt over Mabel. By the time it was time for her to return to the city, a new priority was beginning to enter Jack’s mind. He would need to visit his past; an unshakeable feeling told him that something in his past was very relevant to everything that was now taking place.

Anna had left just ahead of the incoming weather front and headed back to the city, an hour after they said their farewells the storm reached Bell Harbour. Jack could scarcely believe it had only been an hour since Anna had left, the cottage felt as if she had never been here. It felt cold and desolate. Wandering around the rooms he would stop and pick up a stray towel or cushion and hold it to his face, but even her scent had appeared to have abandoned him.

 Outside the wind had reached a howling gale and the driven rain beat a tattoo on the window panes, Jack wandered morosely to the kitchen and turned on the radio. The dreary male voice rambled on in a monotone voice as it detailed the maritime weather forecast; sitting at the kitchen table the weather forecaster’s voice lulled him into an almost hypnotic state.

The voice on the radio faded to a soothing background noise as Jack’s mind drifted; now that he was alone once again, the fear and confusion began to creep into his head. What was it in his past that had led him here, and what were his feelings for Mabel and Anna. More importantly how did his feelings for both women differ, had it all been just a coincidence these females wandered into his life?

 Ending up working for the collector had been a random event Jack had once thought however, given recent events he was no longer sure of this. The harder he looked at his past the more obscure it seemed to become; his mind was beginning to doubt even the most straightforward of memories. Jack was starting to think that his mental stability was slipping fast, that was if his mental state had ever been stable to begin with.

The sound of a fist striking the front door startled him from his dark muse, unnerving as it was. It must surely be better than wallowing in self-doubt. Who would be calling on such a night as this, anyone who was willing to brave the weather must surely have come on urgent business? His mind once again raced to towards the darkest of scenarios, rising slowly from the chair he paused and waited listening intently. No sound greeted him save for the sound of howling wind and driving rain, then a low moaning sound began.

 Jack’s first thoughts were of Anna; perhaps she had an accident and made her way to his door injured. By the time he reached the front door the source of that moaning sound became all too apparent, it was just the wind from the sea moaning through the eaves of the cottage. He was about to return to the kitchen when a thought struck him, the sound of a fist on the door was hardly the wind.

The force of the wind almost snatched the door from his grasp and sent him backwards, outside the moaning sound was eerily louder. Sheets of driving rain had reduced visibility to no more than ten feet, straining his eyes Jack stared out into the rain. He called her name softly but his words were snatched away on the wind, wishful thinking and an over active imagination the small voice of reason sounded in his mind. Anna was far nearer the city now then she was to Bell harbor, and this thought brought even more melancholy. When he turned to go back inside he suddenly felt it, a light fluttering sensation down his spine and the unshakeable feeling he was being watched. Jack turned slowly and once again strained his eyes to stare into the storm; once again there was nothing to see but sheets of slanting rain.

All the time he stood there he felt it, eyes boring into him from somewhere beyond his vision. The rain had soaked him through and the cold was seeping into him before the feeling of being watched left him, turning to return indoors his foot brushed against something. A flat package wrapped in brown waxed paper lay in the porch by his foot, how he had missed it so far was beyond him.

 For a brief moment as he stooped to pick up the package Jack felt that he was not alone, however just as quickly that feeling past. Jack placed the package carefully on the kitchen table, his hands trembled and he was not sure whether it was from the cold or the sense of foreboding that had settle over him. Either way he decided to have a hot shower and change of clothes before opening the package.

The longer he stared at the nondescript brown package, the harder it was becoming to even touch it. A thought had formed his mind that once he saw the contents of this package, nothing would ever be the same again. A Pandora’s Box was how he viewed it, but in the end he knew he had no other choice. Jack Burke’s life was already a tangle of unanswered questions; this package could be a part of the puzzle or another question to add to the list. Either way, the wheels had been set in motion a long time ago and Jack new he had to see the journey out to the end.

 Fighting the urge to get up and search for a whiskey bottle he finally reached for the package, he opened the switch blade and carefully slit the wrapping. There was no going back now and he somehow felt relieved.

The writing was that of a highly accomplished scribe flowing and decorative, the kind of script you would associate with ancient manuscripts. It had been scribed by fountain pen or maybe even pen and ink, for some reason a vision of an ancient scholar using a quill sprang to mind. The message was short and to the point and bore no signature, it simply read.

 “Material relevant to you and your investigations, as promised at our last meeting”.

Jack held the paper to his nose and it came as no surprise that the scent of candle wax clung to the paper. A memory of a voice that sounded like the rustling of dead leaves came to mind, and the last words of a dying man.

The remaining contents of the package consisted of a number of old black and white photographs and newspaper clippings sandwiched between to squares of strong cardboard. The only non-paper item was a small key attached to a wooden fob, the number seventy nine had been engraved in the wood. Jack retrieved a magnifying glass from the kitchen drawer and began pouring over the old photos and clippings.

These images were totally alien to Jack yet he found them strangely depressing. It was only when he came across a newspaper clipping from a paper called the ‘Connacht Sentinel’ that he suddenly began to focus more acutely. Every now and again his father would receive a copy of this paper in the post from Ireland, this particular clipping showed a sad faced group of young boys outside an austere looking stone building. In the foreground a tall thin man in clerical garb stared stoned face into the camera, beside him stood a small fresh faced young man in a smart suit smiling for the same camera as they shook hands.

The caption on the photograph read, “Junior minister for children’s affairs Mr Bart Huxley makes surprise visit to Caroon Industrial School April 1933”. The longer Jack looked at this photograph the more he was convinced he had seen this man before; then it came to him. Jack had recently stood beside this man, when the man had breathed his last. The photograph like the paper it was printed on was old and faded,

Not surprising he thought, after all it was thirty years old and had traveled across the Atlantic. Jack spent a long time painstakingly examining the old print through the magnifying glass, when he finally saw it his blood went cold.

The third child from the left had been marked by the faintest of circles, the sad eyed boy stared back at him and Jack looked back thirty years into a mirror. Less than an hour later he drove towards the city in the strengthening storm, beside him on the car seat was the package he had received that night. In his head the same words played a continuous loop, “You are not who they say you are Jack”.

 


© Copyright 2018 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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