The story of a twisted young man, conditioned from an horrifically unpleasant and traumatic upbringing, who plans to capture and create his perfect girl and to discern and own her ‘flavour’.
The first time I saw her I wondered what her flavour would be. I was tempted to think crème brulee, for the hard, brittle shell and sweet softness within. Her pretty face was crumpled in a frown and she was barking out some demand to her co-workers as she emerged – Persephone from Hades at the birth of summer – this pastry chef in training from the kitchen in my favourite patisserie.
She stood for a brief few moments near the counter, talking rapidly to one server near the till. I couldn’t make out the debate beyond realising it has something to do with an order for some ingredients that had failed to arrive with the morning deliveries. The hopeless young man just looked at her, bewildered and stupid, and I had the strongest urge to walk up to him and belt some sense into him, but I refrained. Over the delicious wafting scent of my coffee I watched, and instead of drinking my beverage, I drank her in.
She was slim, dressed in a white smock, dirtied somewhat from the kitchen labour. Her flaxen, perfect hair fell in tendrils from an ill-fitting bun. One moment she wiped an errant strand away from her eyes with distracted irritation, and some flour from her hands made an even paler streak on her ivory skin. Aunt Imogen, curse her soul, would have called her the perfect Aryan princess, but she would have been right.
My god, Imogen might actually have approved! The thought chilled me for a moment, but I let it pass, because for a brief second she seemed to register my attention and looked directly at me, the brightest blue eyes looking straight into mine. But just as suddenly she dismissed me and the moment and it stung mildly. I doubt I even really registered with her. I put my coffee cup down and sat back. She was still haranguing the poor server and I changed my mind about her flavour. She was mint slice, perhaps, a rich inviting chocolate with a cool within. And then she was gone, lost back to the kitchen, and I wondered.
Her flavour might be different, of course. It might be uniquely hers and an amalgam of her inherent soul properties. I’d first learned to think of people as flavours from perpetually ancient and now thankfully passed over Aunt Imogen, may she rest without peace in the most poisonous nest of vipers imaginable in the lower circles of hell….
In those years she raised me after my parents’ unfortunate demise I learned about the flavours of life. She was obsessed with food, with gastronomy, the culinary arts. And I can thank her for my excellent taste and my skill in the kitchen. I can even thank her for what she taught me of our sacred heritage and for giving my life some purpose through that. But that is all. I can’t think of a flavour for her in any food, no matter how repellent. Her cruelty and her crimes, her control and her craft – all these things she has passed to me, a far more worthy recipient than she would ever have been. But she gave these lessons in kind, and there was nothing kind about that.
So that’s when I realised what Aunt Imogen’s flavour had to be – this petty, picking, parsimonious predator. She was the flavour of spite.
In my first decade I lived in America, not the cold and ancient climes of London as I do now. My mother, Imogen’s sister Gwen, married a man named Ross who Imogen dismissively termed a ‘liberal’ as though in that one word everything paltry and plain could be described. Of what I remember of my parents Imogen may have been right in this. I recall Ross, my father, as a man with a perpetually quivering lip, a kind of high and almost effeminate speaking voice, and many vocal opinions on vapid topics.
Ross’ knowledge was always from books, and always books that he only half read. He adorned the bookshelves more for show I believe, to demonstrate to any visitor – of which there were increasingly few over the years – how well read and urbane he was. I doubt an original thought ever crossed his mind, and if one did it would have died of loneliness.
After a few short years, when you’d heard every purloined viewpoint or piece of knowledge many times over, you started to realise he was a paper-mache type of man. He was made up of the flotsam and jetsam of popular culture, literature and half understood philosophies. What had seemed knowledgeable and broad in scope revealed itself to be cosmetic at best.
It got him a degree in a prestigious university it seems. But forgive me if I comment, just about anything will these days, don’t you think? The intellectual rot probably started setting in during his years I suspect.
You will think me harsh perhaps, but I recall my mother seeming to be dis-enchanted with him early in the marriage. My birth came quickly, and by the time I had enough years to actually notice such dynamics, they rarely spoke without some form of invective. It seemed that Ross squandered family money and made little of it. He had many schemes and plans and dreams, but little follow through. The slightest criticism or complaint at his endeavours and he would give up in a rage. His great sense of self and liberation that had drawn my mother to him initially, like a form of dark, cancerous charisma, in the end proved to be but hubris and hot air.
His flavour might have been a lukewarm lime jelly I believe, insubstantial on the tongue and gone in a slippery moment. My mother had her own flavour of resentment and loss of innocence, though how she could have been innocent given what became of her sister – and why – I cannot begin to fathom. Perhaps she was wilfully blind also and she endured, reaching outside for something that could never be what it seemed. In any case, it was a disaster, a bonding made in hell. The silences of the house were monumental, drawn out affairs, a kind of competition of will between two stubborn and frankly rather stupid adults.
The fire might have been a purifying force, in a way, burning it all out.
After they died in the conflagration Imogen swooped in to ‘rescue me’ from America. She would talk to me about how Gwen had brought this on herself by marrying outside our kind. Imogen was obsessed with family lineage, and I must confess her analysis of the family dynamic of my earlier years seemed sound. I have often found the most mean-spirited analyses of life are also the most accurate. It is a sad but seemingly immutable fact. And it is a sign of strength to look that in the face, and not sugar coat the truth.
Being a man of flavour, of course, I eschew sugar-coating anything. You must bite into the essence of life in its purest form to know the world.
London suits me better than America, of that I am sure. I was a bookish child and a loner. Imogen was right about that too. Few of my school-friends were really ‘friends’ and none like me. London’s cold settled into my bones with preternatural ease, but I was yet uneasy. Imogen would say we were better suited to Germany, and specifically Berlin.
But Berlin’s glory days are over, she would say, lost back in the mid years of the last millennium. I agreed with her, but not with her vapid hero-worship of the fallen Fuehrer. He failed, after all, a pretender to a greater throne. He should have stuck to art, it was his truer calling.
Like him I can draw a little, I can paint. I have many un-developed talents I do not seek to flourish. I found a home in food and taste through the small kindnesses of the kitchen afforded me after the terrors of my conditioning and programming from my terrible aunt. If a young body is stretched on a rudimentary rack for long enough, the solace of a cupcake afterwards is beyond measure.
But the rack and the other devices, which I have now mastered myself, made me stronger and wiser. They leavened me like bread, or refined me like steel.
I do not crave world domination like Imogen’s idol. I want the world in an entirely different manner. I want to consume it, swallow it whole.
Starting with the girl, because she is perfect, and perfection is always the best place to start.
I had the nightmare again. I woke shaking around 3am, the witching hour, the hour when most people suicide, according to some article I read many years before. It is the hour when the temperature is coldest, and so your body is chilled. And when your body is chilled, so is your soul, or so it seems.
Was there a trigger for this memory, this terror? Did something occur during the day before? Often it is this. Imogen instilled so many silent commands, so many memory and sense triggers, in her cold steel room with me, that I can be completely unaware I have seen or heard or smelled one and within hours I am soaked in terror, befuddled. Or if I am unfortunate enough to be asleep I will be drawn into the nightmare realm, a hapless child led by the hand by the cruellest protector. The one who does not protect at all.
I understand the mechanics and the utility of these triggers and their place in control and order, though now without an anchor they are more debilitating than constructive I find. Still, I have learned both first hand through Imogen, and later through my own reading, of the heritage of our family and of the strange experiments of Dr Green in America all those years ago. But knowledge is no shield against the force of the trigger and the blistering impact on the fragile, fractured soul.
I rose from my bed and staggered to my fridge, to take out a piece of my rapidly dwindling store of special meat meant to satiate the hunger of fear. I had so little left, so little left from this..cow…and I wondered what I could do for the nightmares when this was finally done.
As the microwave started to defrost the slice of meat, I allowed myself to cautiously re-live the nightmare, to leech it of some of its strength through wakeful examination.
A flickering, neon light above my head as I open eyes, laid out on something cold and hard. I’m blinking, so many times, my eyes watering, trying to adjust to the inconsistent glow. I am aware I am tied down and cannot move. Something cold is clamped across my forehead, and I am distantly realising something and praying to whatever god might hear my cries that I don’t want the shock, not the electricity, not the lightening pain, not this time, please, not this time.
Though I know there are worse things than the electricity.
I have been good, haven’t I? Done all that was asked of me, learned my lessons, progressed? I do not need a re-adjustment. I do not need a re-alignment. I open my mouth to say this to the shadowy figure in clinical white beside me. Perhaps they do not understand, they are overly keen to progress me and are over-reaching this time? Perhaps they can be made to understand and release me? I can’t see them, only the white of their surgical robes. I can’t see the face to know if it is her, or another. She sometimes enlists the help of others. I never know who they are. Perhaps this one might help me, after all?
But my mouth is stuffing dried and cracked, my tongue a heavy and unresponsive slimy muscle. If I keep my mouth open too long I might swallow this useless muscle, and choke to death. There is no use for it, no words to say. Whatever will happen, will happen.
I hear a voice, the voice, that voice, her voice. The very worst voice of all, mistress physician. The tone is soothing but the words are not. It is time for something to be implanted in me, some knowledge, some memory, some trigger for response. I’m being told this is necessary for my development and it must hold fast. I know what that means. The best truths hold tightest and last longest when delivered through trauma, through pain.
Dr Green’s experiments were conclusive on that point. Even his lesser and earlier successes came through pain. There is no reason to argue.
My hand is being raised and I become dimly aware, with the greatest horror of all, about the source of the pain to come. It is my most profound fear of all, the thought of torture that I cannot even look in its face or contemplate in thought. It’s the one I’d beg not to endure, so it is the one she would choose. Of course.
I must have told her this once, I must have confessed in a bubble of false and deluded safety. Never give away your secrets, no matter how much you yearn to tell. They will always be used against you. Always.
Something sharp, under a finger nail, seeking purchase. Its stabbing sensation goes through me, a sword through my middle, up to my heart. I can imagine the red ripping I cannot raise my head to see (even if I wanted to, which I do not). I can sense before it comes the pain, the tendrils of skin seeking to hold the nail to the bed, even as it is torn away. I can feel the agony before it occurs, and as it comes, as it tears through me, one finger at a time..one, two..and then three this time..two on one hand and one on the other…words and images imprint on my mind.
I will not forget, I will not forget, and tomorrow I will be bandaged and kept from school. Days later school counsellors at school will shake their heads on my return and write learned theses on my self-destructive nature. I will not speak, I will not contradict. I see this image, this image always – a mouth, with a finger across it and the message …sshhh…do not speak..and it will illuminate my developing mind.
But for now there is only the pain, the ripping, wetness of it all, the soul searing loss. And through the shock of memory I awake, mercifully this time, from a dream, my fingernails intact, and I go to feed.
To feed on the flavour of inflicted pain, of muscle and flesh cut and torn, the flavour of death.
A terrible night needs to be assuaged by pleasure. And now for me the greatest pleasure was a visit to my favourite patisserie. No longer just for the wonderful food, of which there was aplenty, but also in the hope of snatching a glimpse of her, the perfect one, the chef in training, the girl in the calico apron.
This morning I selected a short black coffee and a chocolate croissant. I normally find the latter a bit too obvious, a bit clichéd, but chocolate has its endorphins and it is a comfort food and I felt in need of comfort. This, in itself, is a type of trigger, but one that is less powerful because I am aware. I have learned to control it rather than have it control me. But in those dark days so often after my conditioning Imogen would give me a hot chocolate to drink, or after the very worst of trials, she would open the big carved box in which she held the most sacred chocolate treats and sweets.
We become addicted to sugar and chocolate in many ways, and for me it was through pain and its cessation. A Pavlovian dog, I even now seek that comfort, but it does not re-trigger the pain and the memories as it once did. For now it is just soothing, as knowledge and the mastery of it is soothing.
One day she will know. I think she will understand this, grasp this more quickly than I did, partly because she is older than I was then, and partly because she knows food. She knows food so well, given the artistry of her work.
I took a deep bite of the croissant and let the chocolate melt into my mouth. They had heated it slightly for effect – not enough to wilt the pastry, but just enough to make the inside chocolate a running stream of joy. It was not fresh from the oven, for I had arrived to see a line of the croissants in the counter display and had seen the serving girl select one for me. So it had been prepared a second time, and briefly, to restore its original just baked glory. It was a small, and quite open, deception, and so one that could be tolerated and indulged.
But one day she will cook only for me and I shall have her bounty fresh.
I licked my fleshy lips after each bite to secure every last drop and sipped at my coffee. There was no sight of her, yet I could sense her, feel her presence, in the shimmering morning light, in the bustle of the serving counter, in the depth of the flavours.
My serving girl for the day, much larger and more gauche, came up to take my plate as I finished. I was not yet ready to give up my quest, and ordered a second coffee.
‘Anything with that?” she asked, and was clearly bored. I refrained from replying with disdain, for I wanted her to take a message for me.
‘Compliments to the chef,’ I said, ‘Please pass them on, but no, nothing more. To have any more would be to spoil the perfection of the work.’
The girl frowned at me, her freckled skin seeming to fold into itself as she processed what I had said. Perhaps she is slow, I thought, a bit stupid. She seemed to consider something, then nodded and said, ‘I’ll let her know.’
‘Her?” I asked innocently, but I had known already, I had been sure I had eaten her food.
‘No reason, just a cliché I suppose, one expects a chef to be a man.’
‘Does one?’ she asked, stressing the last word with a kind of derision, stupid, uncultured girl that she was. It is pathetic these days how few people really know proper English. But then she seemed to think better of insulting a customer, and offered, ‘Francine is a chef in training, working for our head chef Michael. But she makes these pastries.’
Francine? The name would never do. It was too manly, too unrefined, for my precious girl. We would have to see to that, but re-birthing her with a new name would be appropriate, in any case.
‘Well, please pass on my compliments to…Francine.’ I said and she nodded and withdrew.
I watched her go to the counter, ring up my order, and then disappear into the kitchen area for a moment. I waited with bated breath. Would the foolish, ugly girl actually pass on the message, or was this just for show? But then it seemed perhaps even those not blessed with looks might have other nobler aspects to recommend them, for she was good to her word. Moments later Francine emerged for a brief moment with her, looking out to those of us in the café area.
The girl pointed me out and Francine followed the line of her direction and met my gaze, fully, and knowingly, for the first time. Sheer joy coursed through my system, but I was measured in my response. She smiled demurely and nodded, with perfect, precise happiness and humility mixed, mouthing ‘thank you’ towards me, and I simply nodded and smiled warmly in response.
Then she was gone, a faun lost to the forest of the night, a brief moment of transcendent, incandescent beauty, then but a memory – sweet, sweet memory – more precious and more rich than the flavour of chocolate could ever be.
The readiness is all.
I have a weakness here, I have to admit. My conditioning has had this impact, this effect, where my mind finds it hard to settle for long enough to truly plan and achieve. This has not been a problem in my day-to-day life, as Imogen – may her soul rot in perpetual filth – did at least leave me well provided for on her death. I have not needed to work, not needed to join the dismal parade of office workers or factory ghouls, to put food (and indeed very fine food indeed) on my table.
But this does little to assuage the feeling of dislocation I can experience when trying to plan something properly. Imogen’s conditioning did not seem to affect her this way, perhaps it did not take as well, or the practitioners and handlers were less (or possibly more) skilled than she. Indeed Imogen always seemed frighteningly lucid, and most so when she was conditioning me. And teaching me, her less than stellar pupil, the ropes of the game.
So I am like some child with ADD more often than not. Food settles me, cooking, and contemplating a future with dear Francine. I shall call her Violet, I decide, as a tribute to the flowers so often on display at the patisserie. She looks like a Violet, a perfect royal flower, a blood line pure as her form displays, my perfect Aryan princess.
And see, I jump from discussing my disability (of sorts) immediately to other thoughts of her. And this is not helpful when you are planning the perfect abode for your love. I must rely on others – salepersons and trades-people and for my specifications they must be totally discrete and understanding. It would be far better if I could coordinate the interior design completely on my own, buying items and elements from wide-ranging places, never leaving a trail. But I cannot, it would never be finished, and I yearn to bring my dear heart home.
And besides, people never go looking for the darkness, no matter how obvious the trail. Not really, otherwise they would have found Imogen years ago. I’d have lived the remainder of my young life in an institution somewhere, and even I can see I am better off now where I am. But my experience proves a larger truth. The world is utterly indifferent, and to think otherwise is just a happy delusion.
Still I take no real chances and rely on the discretion that only true wealth can secure, and I bark instructions and requirements as rapidly as possible, holding the entire vision complete for as long as my fractured mind can achieve. I am quite proud, ultimately, of how I manage this. It is no small thing for me.
But when you would house the very best, you must have the very best. And this is simple when it comes to bedclothes and household furniture and mirrors and finery. I flatter myself I know her taste. By day in the kitchen, of course, she wears no jewellery, but I’ve followed her at night from time to time and seen the simple gold items she prefers when she is out with her frivolous friends. She has exquisite taste no ostentation at all and she shines in this, of course, in comparison to her garish companions. So I build her abode with a similar aesthetic.
But for some of my other needs perfection is harder to come by, more expensive. Thankfully there is much left over in this ancient house from aunt Imogen, and for the most part it is still functional. The tried and tested tools may be the best.
Still, implements of exquisite learning should be private, they should not be shared. I was quite specific about this. She would not be touched by some of the crude implements Imogen reserved for me. That would be an abomination. The finest steel, the newest medical equipment, the best lighting: these were all essential and took planning and took money and took the silence of those from the dark.
It was exhausting, but slowly it grew and developed and I saw the perfect home materialise before me as though someone had skilfully read my mind and recreated it whole. Downstairs, the place of learning and fitful sleep. Upstairs, the best kitchen money could ever buy. A prohibitively expensive security system finished it off, turning this old home into a modern mecca for development and love. Even my mind found solace in that, and the chance to contemplate with more calm and time than normal. It felt, finally, like my home, not hers, not Imogen’s.
Or our home, dear Violet, my blessed, perfect bride to be.
I am a creature of meticulous research. While it would be wonderful to woo my love in the conventional sense and gradually bring her to our home to be through the more normal rites of romantic passage, I am realistic enough to know that leaves a good deal to chance. And I am not a man who is open to risk where it can be avoided.
But to capture a butterfly has its own risks and challenges. And there is where my particular talents and eye for detail will serve me well.
Every human being has routines even if they delude themselves to think they are too free-spirited to be above that. None of us can truly escape our essential natures or our habits. Early philosophers would tell you freedom is only achieved through breaking out of oneself and one’s desires, but I dispute this. It is not even possible, at best we follow our own will, as Kant would have it, and we pretty much determine what is right and wrong from that. Overlay that with our upbringing and our society and the whole concept of freedom becomes entirely relative. But for all that may be elastic across groups of people, it is not so flexible within any given person. We all are what we are and nothing more or less.
And so my lovely Violet has her patterns. From careful, hidden study over weeks I have ascertained her work schedule. I also know that one two evenings a week after work she sometimes goes to classes to further her culinary skill further. It is clear she does not wish to be only a pastry chef, but something much more cosmopolitan. On those days she occasionally also joins fellow classmates for a late coffee or nightcap afterwards. They are therefore not good days to plan our first real, and decisive, assignation, though happily her attendance at class and these after class coffees are both quite irregular. In this way she would not be missed for some time, if at all, if she failed to continue to attend.
Weekends she often goes away. I was worried this could be to some establish rendezvous with a man, or possibly with family. In either case it would have meant a very high risk of her being seen as missing very quickly and by those with more than a rudimentary, casual friendship interest in her. Agreeably, having paid for very discreet private detective research, I learned she is always on her own on these travels– her family, what there is of it, live in another town and she has no boyfriend or even closer group of friends here as yet. It seems she moved here only relatively recently, for her career development, and has yet to really establish herself, find roots in the city.
Well, she shall find that with me.
But as to her weekend visits, it seems it is solitary journeys as I said. I flatter myself she is lonely precisely for the same reason I am – that we are not yet together, and that part of her soul knows she is simply waiting for that right connection to make itself known and give the true and destined shape to her life.
But still, it may be that my beloved has some inherent wanderlust in her that may prove tiresome and difficult in our early time together. I shall need to be empathic with what will feel, to her, like a real curtailment of her freedom. In time she will see the vistas and travels we will take together – journeys into the mind the heart and the soul – have so much more to offer, so much more flavour. But at first I can see, she may rebel a bit, and I should be a kind, if stern host, until she realises her mistake.
Otherwise, her other weekday evenings she spends alone in a small flat not far from her work. I am not sure if she chose such a humble abode due to its work proximity or due to available funds, or both. Either way, it is helpfully a nondescript unit in a small, almost deserted block and the streets are not well-lit, and the roads are usually empty also. I wonder how she doesn’t feel afraid to live there – my brave girl! But in any case, she shall soon be far safer, ensconced with me.
I do not wish to cause her alarm. I have the right dosage of a sedative to quickly apply to her one evening soon, as she turns the corner into her darkened home street. There is a convenient set of bushes at the corner where I can await our meeting, and I have checked this vantage point for its visibility by others and been satisfied it provides the requisite cover. She will barely know a moment’s fear before the drug soothes her. I do not wish to cause her distress.
Not yet at least, not in circumstances where it provides no pay off, no purchase in her soul for her ultimate refinement and betterment. That shall come later under controlled and careful conditions.
But at first I do not want to see fear in her lovely eyes, oh no! Just an understanding, a brief acknowledgement, a recognition that it is me, and then surrender.
She wakes from a dis-orienting dream, and the strange light around her – so unfamiliar, though as she wakes it is hard to fully fathom why – makes her blink rapidly. Her eyelids are butterflies frightened by the wind.
She was dreaming, of course, though it was more a nightmare. But surely that sensation, that strange memory of the ordinary walk home in the twilight hours punctuated by inexplicable fear, a roughness, arms around her, whispered words she could not make out, then awful dizziness drawing her into the dark – surely this was the stuff of nightmares, not reality.
It must have been a dream. She knew that in the moment it occurred, that sense of your life tipping over into something so alien, so horrifying that you are shocked into complete disbelief. That had to be a dream, it couldn’t be anything else. It just couldn’t.
She was a normal girl, from a normal family, living a normal life. Well, normal enough anyway. She had been well brought up and wanted for little. Her life had been well-planned, and while she was a bit lonely, this would surely pass. The keys to the kingdom lay in wait for her, not some shadowy predator in the night. These things did not happen to her. Not to someone like her.
If anyone is frightening it’s me, she thought, with a bravado and belief from her youth. I’m not the one to be afraid!
And the other thoughts, spilling through : I’m so normal it’s terrifying; be afraid of the quiet ones; hassle me and I’ll have your throat. And images arose of her as queen bee in the school yard, tormenting others. She liked to think she’d mellowed since then, but really that was the social order, replicated at her work, where she may be a student of sorts but she already ruled her kitchen. Her kitchen.
So it must have been a nightmare, a stressful, anxiety dream brought on by the grind of work and the sense of dislocation she felt from time to time in this town. Nothing more, nothing more.
By now her inner mantra is aligning with her eyelids as they stop their ragged fluttering and her vision accustoms itself to the light around her.
And the first thought is – this must be a dream within a dream, a nightmare within a nightmare, I’m not awake yet, surely, because this..cannot…be.
She finds her movements limited. Slowly she realises that she is strapped down somehow on a makeshift bed. She is not panicking yet, knowing this as a dream, willing to explore its limits with some dispassion.
The mattress is soft, too yielding, and therefore uncomfortable. She begins to be aware of a pain in her back and an ache in her legs from being immobile for too long. She can lift her head enough to look around her.
It is a room, and at first sight almost normal, if sparse. A dressing table is nearby and something that looks like a wardrobe. Then the catalogue of strangeness starts to build. There are no windows in this room, or at least none she can see from this angle. The only light is from some lamps affixed to the walls, and they look old and unreliable. Yet their light suggests the room itself does not look old – instead it seems cold, almost clinical, as one might expect a hospital room to be. Is she in hospital? Is she dis-oriented and drugged in a hospital, seeing phantoms around her, is that it?
But no, looking further she sees that in the shadows on the farthest wall dark implements seem to hang but she cannot make out their nature or form from this distance. That is not like a hospital.
Then there is the smell. It is not a hospital smell. She can recall what that smells like from a time when she was young and her appendix ruptured and she spent days in such an institution as she healed. She remembers the smell of illness and clinical death mixed with disinfectant. This is not like that. Not exactly…..
It is a dank, steely, lost smell, like the odour of fear and regret. She recalls falling in her youth and badly scratching and tearing her right leg. She still has scars on her thigh from that. And she remembers the smell of blood as it coursed out of her. And somewhere here, now, is that smell also, below the coppery top note, or merging and forming that from something else again.
She realises her breathing is jagged, wretched. And as her senses attune in the preternatural stillness of the room the degree of clarity that arises brings the most terrifying message of all.
She is awake.
Violet was frightened it seemed, and that was not my intention. I had wanted our first real encounter, in her new home, to be one of explanation, but slowly growing appreciation, even the first brief buds of joy. I had wanted her to understand, but then perhaps I was racing ahead of myself and expecting too much. While in time I had come to value the wisdom of Aunt Imogen’s techniques and aims – nevertheless never able to connect with the old cow as her capacity for love is so much smaller than my own – it did take time to understand fully what a gift she gave me in her cruelty and her grace.
The thing is, there are those of us in the cavalcade of humanity that are born for so much more: for a mastery, a knowledge, an illumination that baser humankind cannot be expected to appreciate or achieve. It is just in the natural order of things. Just as the lion is king in the forest, those of us marked for this ascension can no more elevate the lesser than the lion can truly lay down with the lamb. The thought it could happen is absurd, a fairy tale to appease the jealous dreams of smaller mortals.
And how could they endure, in any case, the violent, rhapsodic terrors and agonies of enlightenment? Their vessels and their souls are too weak. They would break, rather than rise, through the process.
In this Aunt Imogen was completely right. The blood is strong. The flavour of the elite is for finer sensibilities, a refined palate. It cannot be replicated or appreciated by those beneath. Off cuts will never be as flavoursome, tender or sweet as the finest steak.
Violet is one of us, I am sure. Her pedigree is revealed by her works. She could not cook with the artistry she does without that sensibility and that lineage. I do not know her background, but she will eventually reveal this to me, and I am certain I will find deeper connections in our bloodlines that verify the accuracy and perfection of my choice. For the moment though she is a wonderful mystery to be discovered.
But she is afraid. I perhaps should not be surprised, though I will admit to a small measure of disappointment.
Her first response when I came in to see her this morning was to be angry, to demand to know where she was, and what was happening.
‘You are home dear Violet, I have brought you home.’
‘My name isn’t Violet you have the wrong person! My name is..’
‘Violet,’ I repeated, firm, and she sensed not to argue the point. Instead she tried bargaining.
‘I’m not who you think I am, really, you can call me Violet if you like, if you need, but I’m not her. You want her, right? Maybe I look like her? But I’m not, so it won’t work So let me go, I promise I won’t tell anyone. I understand, you just want your Violet.’
‘You are Violet,’ I repeated, ‘In time you will come to know that as I do. Here, in this room of love you will be reborn and you will be her. For there isn’t any other Violet. There is only you.’
I knelt beside her and attended to her ties and bindings. I could see bruising and red rashes from the ropes and I shook my head, apologising to her wordlessly.
‘When you know you are Violet, I can loosen these, even untie them altogether,’ I said, ‘Your first reward for embracing your rebirth.’
The thought of it almost made me giddy. I raced ahead to where her programming had taken, to that point when I wouldn’t even need to lock the door, when escape would be the farthest thing from her mind. When she was mine and I was hers, and all was perfect: cooking in our kitchen, enjoying the deeper, richer flavours of life, as one. But that was a long way off, and I shook myself from the reverie to attend to the needs of the moment.
‘I can be her, yes,’ she said, bargaining again, and I knew the lie in her eyes. Her conditioning had not yet commenced. She could no truly know, not yet. She would need to be shown.
‘Yes, you can, and you will,’ agreed, amiable. I smiled at her, feeling a depth of emotion that was unfamiliar to me. Something I had never felt with Imogen. There would have been no moment in this room where Imogen looked at me with the complete love and faith with which I now regarded dear Violet.
‘I can help you,” I continued, ‘And the path may be difficult but I will be here with you, every step of the way.’
I took her hand and gripped it, pressing deep to reassure, noting the sweat of fear on her delicate skin.
‘I’ve walked this path myself, this terrible, glorious path. It is difficult but it is so, so rewarding. You must be worthy for it, dear Violet, and you are.’
Her lovely eyes stared back at me, half in dread and half in hope. I could see her calculating. Could I speak this way of pain, or torture or would that be impossible? Was she safe from that? Was she safe, in some sense, with me?
I recalled for a moment feeling similarly as a child with Aunt Imogen, in this very bed, in a moment of wonder and fear just like this. I did empathise with her, I did know. I’d been here. And I’d survived and thrived as she would.
She was safe, but not in the way she might think. She was as safe as I had been with Aunt Imogen. No, she was safer, for I would walk the road with her with love. We would travel as far as she could go, each time, and no further. We had all the time in the world, after all.
‘Let us begin.’
I placed the electrodes on either side of her perfectly skinned temples. I could see she was starting to realise what I mean by the journey, though she could not know it all yet, not really. Perhaps she has seen pathetic horror movies where electric shock therapy wakens monsters. I will not wake the monster, but the true flower within, my Violet. If she thinks this is the journey, she knows nothing.
There was so much I could teach her, so much she can be shown. I was almost dizzy with the anticipation and promise of the moment.
She still tried to bargain with me, to cajole. I could hear the fear in her voice and I ignored her, just as Imogen ignored me. She was right to do so, as am I. We were about to embark on a journey that cannot be denied, and no deviation could be tolerated. The process is precise, demanding and total. To flinch early and show some empathy or mercy was in fact its exact opposite. The only true mercy was in firm resolution, holding to the path.
There are dangers indeed in disturbing the process. She is a child, innocent to what is required, and as a child she must be led, firm despite her protestations and fears. Otherwise she might go mad with this. She might even die.
I think I came close to death once, in the early days. In the midst of the dissociation I felt my own heart beating in my chest, too fast and too fluttery to be normal. It was like some other, alien thing in there, its rhythms insistent and crying out some message. Dimly I realised that it beats, every day, every hour, every minute, in so steady a pattern that I do not notice it at all. It is like a low-grade hum from traffic you hear at night from your bedroom window, so repetitive and ubiquitous you quickly cease to hear it at all. Hearts are like that, and when they wake to fear, they are something else entirely.
But Imogen showed no mercy. She was steel. And she was right. My heart eventually ceased its demands and settled, a chastened child within the child, yielding to the wiser, stronger force.
I did not die that day, and neither would Violet now.
I placed clamps on her hands and feet. They are designed to almost pierce the skin, eliciting pain and discipline, should she struggle too hard as the electricity stalks through her. They must ground through pain but also release. The precision of the art is impeccable. It’s been refined and designed for so many years, first brought into perfect realisation by Dr Green all those years ago. I like to flatter myself, however, that I have perfected it even more. Building on Imogen’s teachings and my own experience, I think I can fast track my beloved’s journey, and if it is no less terrifying, it may be briefer and more complete.
I had years of these sessions with Imogen, from when I first met her to only a few years ago. I was refined over time like steel under the fire. It went on too long and bred hate. I must be quicker and more efficient to breed love.
I tuned the machine controls to relay the first electric shock. I watched as my dear Violet convulsed, her dear cries dampened by the cloth I had put in her mouth to stop her biting or swallowing her tongue. Her eyes widened incredibly and tears streamed from the corners. She looked at me in complete, disoriented horror, and I began to speak, and as I spoke, she obeyed.
A perfect princess, preparing herself for the ball.
‘Close your eyes, it’s better if you close your eyes. Feel the energy as pain, but as more than that. It’s a road, a road. Do you see the road? The yellow brick road? Follow the yellow brick road. Follow. And do you see the rainbow, the lovely rainbow overhead?’
Her restrained head nodded slightly. She saw the images! How quickly she responded! She was a natural!
Or was she tricking me, trying to make it cease by pretending to see, pretending to journey? Well, it would make it no quicker. There was no quicker way for a session, only the hope of the need for less of them to meet rebirth. If she was beguiling it would soon flee before the tidal wave of terror and pain and the need to disconnect to cope, to survive, this onslaught being so much more than humankind could normally bear.
‘Go over the rainbow,’ I intoned, ‘Go to a wonderful place, a safe place, and meet me there dear Violet. I have so much to show you, so much for you to see!’
The yellow brick road is too bright too bright. The sky has a strange, doubled yellow glow, hurting the eyes. The rainbow is there, like she thought she heard someone say, and that’s calmer to look at. If she could reach that, just get over that, she could rest her eyes.
She could rest.
She found she could fly. It seemed something horrible propelled her. A sense of electricity biting at her from within, waking her wings, an angel of despair, lifting from the ground, a sense of blood flowing from her, making her lighter, brighter but more terrified still.
Just get over the rainbow, somewhere over the rainbow. Someone was singing that, she thought, like in an old movie.
She’s over the rainbow now, she’s somewhere else. It’s like a doctor’s visiting rooms, but everything is odd here, just askew. The clock on the wall doesn’t have the right numbers, and all the furniture looks like it’s made of clouds rather than wood and fabric, like you might sink through it all if you weren’t careful. She thinks for a moment she’s somehow stumbled into a real life Dr Seuss story and any moment she will see strange blue men or cats in hats wandering past. So she was careful, and sat very still, but it was hard because her fingers and toes were tingling unpleasantly, and every once in a while a part of her body felt like it exploded, sheer pain then it settled.
Just stay very still, she told herself, and don’t fall through. Don’t fall through. You don’t know how far up you are, how far up in the sky.
This must be a dream, it’s just like a dream. Or a nightmare. But she wasn’t sure. She didn’t really trust the difference between reality and dreams here. She thought they might just be the same thing.
And perhaps this was real, and it was all a problem with her.
The doctor is there and he’s tapping on her head, at her forehead, telling her she is very ill there.
‘Your thoughts are scrambled eggs,’ he says, or at least she thinks that is what he says.
She is finding it hard to look at him. His face is wavering before her and sometimes it was frighteningly too familiar, too recognisable, and it reminds her of fear, so at other times she tries not to see him properly and his own strange ephemeral nature seems to help with that. He is dressed all in green, and he says ‘Call me Dr Green’ and then he laughs like it is a private joke she can’t understand.
‘You’re very sick here too,’ he says, poking at her chest near her heart, ‘And here you are disorder and chaos’ he continues, pressing her between her legs at the top of her pubic bone.
‘You must be brave,’ he continues, ‘We shall rectify you but there will be trials. You will be tested.’
And suddenly she’s not there anymore, she’s on what looks like a battlefield. The sky is a combination of black, blood-red and purple. It’s completely unnatural, but natural here, like the sky reflects the ground as a mirror. There are bodies strewn before her,the fallen in battle. She’s in armour, but it’s heavy and it’s failing, and somewhere along her arms she feels great pain and looks to see blood seeping from her chain mail and the steel. She is wounded, but cannot fathom why.
Then the man is behind her, holding her around the shoulders, whispering in her ear.
‘You must be a warrior, you must be brave. I will give you information, keys and triggers, and you will carry them with you, and they will help you refine, like a pearl within the oyster, till your quest is done. Here, here is the first. Whenever you see this, you will return to here, and this moment, and know the imminence of death. And in that knowledge you will be truly alive.’
He presses something in her hand and she opens her palm to see the gift of damnation. It is a brooch made of blue feathers and the petals of a blue rose.
‘Blue rose,’ he says, ‘The symbol of impossible love. That is your quest my beloved, and the only way home. The only way home.’
And then there is a blistering sensation of complete pain and terror and only blackness, blackness, into the screaming night.
She responded so well, I am certain I am right. She dissociates so naturally it proves she is born for this. I struggled so much more than her, even given my relative youth, when Imogen began my trials. But she slipped away, on the river of pain and fear, over the rainbow, and I could tell, watching my monitors for her brain activity, and seeing the punctuated writhing of her sweet body, that she responded to my words and cues.
I shall test it, of course, in a day’s time, once she has had time to recover. If the sight of a brooch with blue feathers and petals triggers dissociation I will know the first point has taken extremely quickly. If it does not- if at best it causes alarm or disorientation or confusion, it is no matter. We are in the earlier days. It may make a few sessions for each trigger to hold.
When she finally awoke she was shaking and crying. I recalled being the same myself, and for moments my love for her and a deeper empathy made me want to turn from my course. But I will be resolute. It is hardest at first. The programming sessions never relent in terms of pain, but I found over time the fear lessened and the dissociation came earlier, and even beyond that I found myself almost happy to be in the twilight world of the soul.
If there is no escape in life then that world is a kind of escape in itself. Over time you come to be able to command part of what you experience there. It is true you do become a warrior. And if your guide and handler can always steer the narrative, and then steer you equally in waking life, you do become more adept at manipulating the reality yourself.
I am teaching her, and it is hard love and hard lessons, but it is all for the good. She will see, so soon, how she is mine and I am hers, and she will be my pearl. My Violet.
I tended to her, ministering to her tears and her pleas. I, of course, was deaf to her imploring, and I could explain so little to her yet without risking the hold of the programming. I told her she had been asleep, and in a bad dream, and when she tried to protest I hushed her and ordered her to rest and calm herself. She looked at me with fear, but also the required obedience, and stifled her emotion as best she could.
I knew what would follow, and of course I was right. As I brought her food to eat and loosened her ties sufficiently that she could sit up to enjoy it, but not so much that she could try to overwhelm me and escape, she started to try to bargain again. She noticed that I brought her pastries from her own shop, cooked by her own hand, and asked if she could be allowed to bake more in my kitchen. I simply said that may occur in time, when she was ready. Of course I would love her to cook in my kitchen, and one day she will, but I am no fool. To set her free to that extent would be to risk her escape. She needs to be handled and want to stay, rather than run, before we can enjoy such liberties and the fine flavours they could afford.
I did such bargaining and pleading with Imogen of course. Violet and I are so alike. Human beings have such capacity for hope and belief in themselves that they can somehow change the incoming tide. But you can’t. I couldn’t, and she can’t do so now.
Still, I felt generous with the success of our first session, so allowed her some time to try to bargain with me. And in the end I struck a deal that if she behaved as asked for the next two days I would allow her to be tied in a different way that let her get up and move around in a limited span in this room. She was instantly, pathetically grateful for that. She complained of pain in her body from lying too still for too long which I found inwardly absurd and amusing given how much she had thrashed in the session – enough to have run a marathon. My Violet will not grow fat and listless from lack of exertion! Still, I understood she could feel stiff and tired for a multitude of reasons, and I made the bargain.
It is important, you understand, that she and I have a different relationship to Imogen and I. For Imogen I was but a subject and she was pitiless. Her aim was not communion with me or love, but to create in her own image, as her parents had done with her, and so on and so on back through the bloodline. But for me, this was so much more with Violet. She would not just be a subject. She would be my partner. So limited and targeted concessions and kindnesses were not just allowed, they were probably required.
And I aim to be the most perfect of hosts for my love.
She has been awake for some time now. It seems that she has ‘done well’ with something. Her captor, who insists she calls her host, says she performed well. As a result he has loosened her ties somewhat, or perhaps more accurately given her ‘leash’ a longer rein, so she can sit, and even move around her bed, stretching her legs. So this is what it is to please him.
She is not sure what he means when he congratulates her, there are black spots in her memory, caused by shock or something worse. She can touch some of the time and see strange imagery, like fragments of dreams, and perhaps that is all it is, the memory of dreams. But he seems to think it is something more, so she scavenges those memories, hungry for clues.
He won’t tell her his name. He says , ‘you have your name, and I will give you mine when the time is right, for now I am but your loving host.’
Loving host. One who ties her to a bed and keeps her in a darkened room which seems a cross between a basement, a hotel room and something far , far worse.
She recognises him now, if vaguely. There is nothing that memorable about him, really, and that is probably half of his problem and the reason for his drive. He is an ordinary man, hiding his extraordinary madness. A youngish man but already with the threat of a receding hairline, who needs glasses to read, and has picked ones that don’t match his facial shape, as though he has no friend or family help him choose more wisely. So he is essentially alone in life.
He is thin, but strong it seems, and wears drab clothes – in this room something dark and uniform, but she recalls also colourless shirts and grey slacks, the garb of the drab. So in some essential way he lacks imagination.
She is cataloguing her memories, her impressions, because they may prove useful. She already understands she is in a game of mind control, a sport of wits and knowledge, and anything she can bring to the plate will help her, help her somehow.
And she does have more than just her impressions of him in this place because, of course, he was a patron at her patisserie. He complimented her cooking once, and she thought him sweet. How wrong you can be, how beguiled by a few kind words! No kindness here, none, no matter what he might argue. It is not kindness to loosen a leash, it is only kindness to release the captive entirely. And he obviously had no intention of doing that.
So a compliment is a manipulation. He is not sincere. She must remember that in here too, perhaps even more-so in here. So if she does well by his reckoning and words, it should not give her any happiness. She must not come to need his approval. She must understand his support or censure only as further information to understand him, understand the game. But perhaps she needs to appear to need that approval, to want to do well. She knows it will be best to be under-estimated here, just as it so often if in life. You can do so much more in the shadows if no-one thinks to look.
And there are many, many shadows in this room.
She tries to remember what she thought of him then, in the patisserie that morning, beyond some happiness at his compliment. She tries to remember details about him that might prove useful. But she can’t really recall anything except that familiarity of a regular customer. Nothing further floats to her mind’s eye to tell her anything about who he is, where he might come from, where he might live – apart from obviously in this town. Nothing that might help her understand where she is now.
Because of course he didn’t matter. He was just a customer. He didn’t matter then..not then.
But now, now she needs to know as much as she can. Her lucidity now turns her mind to strategy. She has never been a ‘lay down and take it’ kind of girl, making her current situation painfully ironic. She rubs her back, feeling the impact of lying down for far too long, and she stretches, trying to relieve tightened muscles.
She remembers parts of the black periods. She remembers looking up at one of the lamps and it flickering and seeming to lift off the wall. She remembers his voice, telling her things, guiding her somewhere. And she remembers the doctor, because it is him, in another guise, a fantastical creature who says odd things, but has his face. His face.
So I will get to know the doctor as well as I can in this shadow world, she thinks, because that is what he wants to be, so that will tell me who he is.
But for now all she has is time so she delves further, searching, searching.
All these odd things matter somehow. He is trying to do something – hypnotise her she guesses – and so manipulate her. So she must try, to the extent possible, to observe rather than participate. Can she do that? And in these moments alone can she divine some meaning to his intent and the strangeness of it all? Is there a way to turn his game upon himself?
She’s always been a strategist at heart. She was this way in a difficult home, and then at school, and even in her climb through her cooking profession. She understands people. She sees them rather like recipes, to be broken down to their constituent parts, understood and re-mixed to be something better, or discarded if that cannot be achieved.
So in a way, she thinks she understands him. He’s like me, she realises, but his methods are different and he isn’t a cook. He consumes rather than creates.
He’s made assumptions about himself and assumptions about her. He thinks he has the tools and methods to be the master, clearly, but he’s had to use force and drugs. And he hasn’t counted on who she is, what she is, what she might do. He has a vision of her and sees only that – this Violet creature – and in that she might be able to hide, to watch to consider and to build a plan. Because he can’t see her coming if he can’t really see her at all.
And somewhere in that, she thinks with a kind of wakening vicious righteousness, somewhere in that is the key. The key to his undoing and her freedom.
As more time passes, she is more resolute in her decision to see this as a challenge, like a boot camp for her mind, even though during this same extension of time the sessions make this increasingly hard to do. But it is her mind that is the contested territory here, she realises this both intellectually and emotionally. In her more lucid moments in this cell she sees it with a perfect clarity. She had read about things like this, on conspiracy websites she thought were for the happily deluded. She might even have laughed about the theories, but she is not laughing now.
Trauma based mind control, that’s what they called it. And he was a practitioner of this, and if that was right, and the rest of the theory was right he would also have been a victim of it too. A handler, as he might be called now, would have been a subject before. Years of abuse, through generations, because he was skilled, and so it wasn’t just someone who’d read about it to and decided to do it on someone. He knew what he was doing, and this must be from personal experience.
Not that this elicited one scintilla of sympathy for him. She felt nothing for him but hatred when she was lucid, and when not she was too frightened to contemplate what he might be able to make her feel. Still, he was a lone operator. Her mind told her, there was no sense of a bigger machine behind this. There was no sense she was one of many in a program. He seemed like a lone operator in all things in life, and so here he would also be one, captured by his own fixed desires and delusions. And this must be a good thing, because if she managed to divine a way out of here it was far less likely there would be others to hunt her down. If he was doing this solo, then escape meant escape from him, and not from something greater.
Well, she hoped she was right about that. It seemed to fit with only him being with her, and the singularity of his focus and the fact that she thought the aim was to make her love him, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome induced by chemicals, electricity and pain.
But what if that was wrong? What if upstairs there were others, involved, perhaps guiding him through his endeavours? What if her sense of him being a loner was just a trick because he kept his friends, his special terrible friends, well hidden? Thinking of this shut down her mental acuity in her fragile mind, as though anxiety rose as a primitive shield to further analysis so that she could just feel the rest. As though that would be better somehow.
Of course, it was not. Emotions were large, shadowy threats around her, flickering in the lamplight, singing terrible songs to her down the electric wires he would attach to her temples, over and over. Like Pavlov’s dog she felt the pain these days even before he turned on the machine, taken to that place by the mere suggestion of his presence and his awful rituals. And emotion took her there almost as quickly as the stimulus of seeing him approach. Emotion and pain seemed linked, far more than thought. Emotion was therefore the enemy. So she tried to stay with thought, and avoided any lines of analytical enquiry that would trigger emotion. It would take discipline, the discipline of an athlete in training. And in many ways she realises that was exactly what she is. Now.
So she continues to try to remember more of what occurs in the sessions. Most of it remains vague, but some images and feelings – often terrifying – increasingly stay with her. They even seem to come alive, as hallucinations before her from time to time in this shadowy place. Sometimes, when this happens with the ‘doctor’ she thinks she has had visit from him, but the image is insubstantial as mist in the air, and when it is gone it is clear he is not there, and has not been.
She remembers winning her first cooking competition in her small, provincial hometown. She burnt her hand on the stove top just at a pivotal moment, and the pain had been searing. She still had the burn scar to remind her of the moment, all these years later. And in that second she could have faltered, the whole dish could have been destroyed, and she would have lost. And that could not be, so she pushed through the pain, using it, and brought the artistry to a whole new level. Later, at the hospital, they were amazed she could even function. Third degree burns apparently. But they didn’t know her. Not her. And neither did he. She had known how to use pain then, instinctively, and now she needed to use it consciously, to combat its impacts on her subconscious that he was trying to elicit.
She was a winner then, and she must be a winner now.
Sometimes she worries that what she remembers as random hallucinations are really just sessions she has forgotten even occurred. How can she know how often he comes in reality, or with what purpose? But again, these are useless, dangerous thoughts, she tells herself. She has too much time to think here, when she is alone, and she needs to use that time more wisely and not be overwhelmed or just give up. Like the sense of weariness an athlete might feel just before they get their second wind, she must stride through these fears and not give in. She cannot, cannot give in.
Yet the doctor holds the secret. The things he says tell her more and more of what her captor wants. He wants her. He wants he body and her soul, and something more. He speaks of wanting her flavour, her taste and she can understand that. In some essential way that makes sense to her. All her virtues and all her deficits are told to her by him in terms of food. A mind as scrambled eggs, a heart as a fillet steak, her lips as cherries, but overall the recipe is a mess and needs refining, needs fixing. Some of the ingredients don’t fit, are wrong, and need to be replaced. So that the dish is properly designed, so the flavour is right. And that is his work, their work, together. She can see his line of thought, his aim. She understands it as a cook. And in understanding it, there may be a key. Perhaps if she can appear to be what he wants, he will unwittingly provide her with the way out.
But what he wants, if she understands it completely, is so terrible, so complete, that thinking to this point makes the emotion the fear, rush in, and her lucidity is gone. Because what if it’s not enough to be the perfect recipe? What if the ultimate aim is to consume? What would a madman do with that, with her, if he thinks he’s got the ingredients right?
And then she’s castigating herself, telling herself somehow she deserves this. That she has brought such darkness upon herself from her own darkness within. She remembers Christine, her childhood friend. Christine and Francine, the ‘Cineteens’ as they were called, mimicking the similar but subtly different ending of their names. They were the once inseparable duo that were ultimately far too easily separated in the end. And in this lies her guilt, her belief, the darkness from which she has run, run, run all her young life.
But she can’t think of that now. It was another life, another age, another story. It has nothing to do with this, with now. It has no place…. it has no place…. and she cannot think of Christine now…………
I am delighted with our progress. Things go more smoothly and quickly than I had anticipated. Aunt Imogen had always said that it took easier with children, so perhaps there is something childlike in my dear Violet, for she is the perfect pupil: attentive, needful, wanting to please.
I have let her bonds be looser over time so she can traverse her room with more ease when I am not with her. She does not buck against my rule, nor does she try to parley for more freedoms. She seems to know her place and accept it. Of course, she could be trying to fool me, I know, for I recall how I would try to cajole and convince Imogen that I was obedient and programmed so that the sessions might lessen or stop. But there is no fooling in the process, nor shortcuts to ending it before it is complete.
We must continue, therefore. Her senses will be so attuned only to bearing the pain, dissociation and survival, that no trickery or strategy can remain within. I am purifying her with fire and pain, and soon if she does dream of freedom, that concept will be transformed and she will realise the only way to true freedom is through me, to be with me, for us to be one.
You may think, of course, given my hatred for Imogen that no love can arise from this process. You might say that I never reached that point of acceptance, so neither will Violet. But this is not true. I do embrace the process, I do embrace my generational, blood requirements, I do see the need and I am a better person for this process. I just hated Imogen because deep within she was mean. Her cruelty was not from the process, from dire necessity, but from preference. Had she not been in this family she would have been cruel in any case: a torturer, a killer, of a more banal kind. As I said, her flavour was spite.
My flavour is love, at least where Violet is concerned. And perhaps I am also the base line flavour of a fine stock for a soup, necessary as a grounding for the greater work. I have my purpose and I accept it, and this is partly why Violet is so perfect for me. Our union is the recipe, the greatest recipe of all. In time she will come to see this and embrace it as I do.
I do sometimes catch her watching me, though, as I prepare and I sense that she is trying to calculate something. A part of her still rebels, and I understand that. All those years with Aunt Imogen I wanted her dead, I wanted it over, and indeed I planned and waited. So I am aware she might do so with me.
But Imogen bred hate. She had no finer feelings. Apart from the very real pleasure she personally gained from causing pain, the process was just a requirement of our family, not a soothing meant to draw us close. I doubt Imogen was close to anyone really, and possibly I am the only one who could truly be said to have come close to her. But not in the way she intended, not in the way she dreamed. Just in the way she deserved.
That’s how I won with her, that need to know her flavour. So I must remember, dear Violet is a chef, and so she will have similar sensibilities, and so I am not so confident as to be foolish. And I know the process must take its time at any rate, even when coloured by love.
Still, Imogen’s tools and processes are refined in my use, using the quickening element of love. I know Violet knows. I can see she understands this, understands my love and my longing. Sometimes I think she tries to flirt with me, to draw me in, but it is too soon and I know a flattery when I see it. Just as I will know when it is real, when her arms open to me, a flower blooming from the dark pit of her pain, seeking the succour and comfort of my unalloyed affections.
I saw the calculation again today, however, which gave me pause. I had just strapped her down to the bed, saying soothing words as I reached for the machinery. Having watched her convulse with the electro shock therapy so many times now, I also knew the fear that attended these simple preparatory rituals: fastening her bonds more tightly than usual, wheeling the machinery from its dark corner to the side of the bed, placing the electrodes to her temples. I could see the alarm in her eyes. Every time. I supposed this was how I looked to Imogen, but she did not look at me with the kindness and concern that I look at dear Violet. She did not whisper the soothing words I use, lulling her down, coaxing her to shut those frightened eyes and welcome the passageway to the dark. Oh no, Imogen was clinical and cruel, where I am exacting but kind, or as kind as I can be in this process at any rate.
Just as I was about to begin, and she had finally closed those dear eyes to surrender to the process, a loud banging at my door above splintered the air. In truth it was more a profound vibration through the roof of the room rather than a noise as this sanctuary is almost soundproof. But still, there it was. Her eyes shot open and I could see her thinking, rapidly, how strange this was – for no-one ever came here – and then, perhaps, whether this might help her gain freedom.
I was largely unconcerned. She could cry out now, but given how soundproof the room is it would have little effect – it has to be able to quell such little rebellions, given the activities done within. The only window of opportunity would be when I opened the door to go upstairs and see who has the temerity to call and disturb out work. I could ignore the knocking and I presume the visitor would leave, but I wanted to test something, see if my programming had taken properly, if one of the key visual triggers worked. It was a risk, but a small one – if she did cry out I’d quickly close the door behind her and tell the visitor I was watching a horror DVD of some sort. People don’t care to get involved, as a general rule, and so that would satisfy any minor curiosity her cries might arouse.
And I could see her thinking about trying. While this was disappointing, it was not unexpected: far less unexpected than the visitor was. The banging happened again – they were not going away. Her eyes were wide now, flicking to me, then to the door, and I could see her wondering, willing that I go, calculating whether she could call out. I dimly wondered if she’d realised the room was effectively sound proof, for she was silent now, or whether my proximity and the machinery made her afraid to try anything till I was up the stairs at the doorway to this room.
In either case, I moved away, heading up the five stairs and turned, lingering at the doorway, looking back at her. And then I tested the trigger. I held my right hand up to my face, my index finger extended over my lips, and softly said ‘shhh’. It was a trigger to silence. She blinked. I did the trigger one more time, to be sure, then opened the door.
No sound came from her. I looked back as I was about to shut the door behind her and I saw a stricken look on her face. The struggle to call out and her complete inability to do so was dawning on her, but with knowledge came no release and no way out. The trigger had held well. Confident, I actually left the door open as I went to see who had arrived. I knew she would not be able to call out, even with me gone, and the knowledge of her complete capture by the trigger would imprint in her even more strongly as she lay helpless all this time.
When the visitor turned out to be a Jehovah’s Witness coming to tell me how I could be saved, I laughed in his face.
‘There’ll be no saving here today,’ I announced, closing the door in his face, amused by the double meaning of my words.
I hoped dear Violet could hear us from up here. I thought she might appreciate my jest.
And you just standing on the stair
Your finger raised soft to your lips
Showed full to me my true despair
No murmur of my terror slips
I’m silenced by your fingertips
She has too much time on her hands. Poetry is forming in her brain, different ways of seeking out the truth. It seems a softer way to face certain truths, as though in rhyme and metre the full awfulness is somehow kept at bay.
She knew her true weakness then. Earlier today the crack in the framework of her plans, the chimera she had been nursing so close to her breast was so cruelly exposed. With one small movement he silenced her, and she could not even whimper till he returned and raised his finger once more to wipe it across his lips, erasing his admonition to silence with a single move.
Single move. And how many of those were there? She remembered things like this from the reading she did on conspiracy sites. They were called triggers: words, movements, signals. They all symbolised something else and forced a programmed person to obey, despite whatever internal provocation to deny this power existed. They made you powerless.
How many ways? How many ways?
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways
Another poem for a gentler time, written by a true poet, not a girl trapped in a frightening cage by an even more frightening lunatic. Still it comforted, the simple rhythms of the phrases, and kept her from her darker thoughts for moments at a time, till she inevitably returned again.
Those conspiracy sites say that symbols rule the world, much more than money, much more than politics, they speak to the unconscious that enslaves us all. Well, they certainly rule her world now.
She struggles to try to remember any other symbols that might have been implanted in her mind during the sessions. So few details remain in her conscious mind, but she has been practising her own control in those infernal sojourns and has found she can recall things she concentrates on in moments when his horrible voice is no directing her. She can imprint some small memories that she can have access to out of the state.
This has proven successful to a degree. She recalls his allusions to her in terms of food. She knows he is the doctor. She remembers animals and creatures that might have come from fairy-tales, and in sorting through them in her conscious hours, sees how they are the symbols of those childhood stories, and can understand some of the ideas he may be trying to imprint as a result. A white rabbit is adventure, and intrigue, a bear is something frightening that she needs protection from, a cat is cruel games and a dog is a friend, guiding her along the difficult path. The first he uses to draw her in, the second to terrify and subdue her will, the third to apply the cruel messages and riddles to confound her and the last to provide a false comfort and connection.
And the doctor, of course, universally a symbol of care and wisdom and demanding of respect. There may be many reasons he enters this world in that guise but the greatest of all would be to portray himself as the healer of her faults. The one that will cure her. Cure her of being her, and make her into something better, something ‘whole’, something healthy.
Her aim is to rip these symbols of their power. Symbolism works in the unconscious. When unmasked it is like a magician on a stage where a curtain has risen too quickly and the mechanics of the trick are on display to all.
This is her little hope.
And her greater hope?
Sweetest flower and feathers blue
All the dreams embed in you
Impossible love can be yet known
All pre-conceptions overthrown
So when you take the good doctor’s hand
This and all else you’ll understand
The flowers and the feathers, the colour blue, and what they symbolise. His dream, his hope, the clear intention of all the programming: that from this pain and terror is born a love as complete as it is indiscriminate. Symbols as emotions, imprinted deep in her psyche: he wants her to be a slave, but a love slave, a slave in love with him.
And knowing this, she feels she has one small victory already. She will never love him. He may be able to tie her down, literally or psychologically, silence her with a move of his fingertips, make her do unspeakable acts at his command when under his spell, but she is already above his greatest aim.
But that does not mean he needs to know that yet. Not yet.
She senses that this is his greatest weakness. She is an experiment of sorts. There is perhaps no guidebook for him to make love from pain in this way. Not real love, which is what he craves. At best he might achieve a shadowy Stockholm Syndrome over time, but she will rally against that also, with all her conscious will. He is not her friend, not her dog, nor her healer, the good doctor. He is a fiend, and she knows it.
Perhaps he knows it too, though he won’t fully admit that to himself. And perhaps that’s why he calls it impossible love, because he somehow knows that is not part of the design of this process. Perhaps it is even antithetical to the whole design. Yet still he is Don Quixote, tilting at this windmill, determined to make this more, and make the impossible possible.
It is in what we need most that our true weakness lies and is exposed. She must give him hope, build his hubris, to a point that he is vulnerable and more choices open to her. And she must do this quickly, before more signals are embedded in her and any escape becomes impossible, no matter how she tries.
It might already be too late, but she cannot think of that, or she will go mad. She can only think of her resolve, and the things from her past that prove she can be as ruthless as is required, she can doing anything. But to think too much of that past would make her go mad also, so it is all about balancing thought and emotion, planning and relief.
And poetry helps. It will help with both. If he wants impossible love made possible, she must start to give him that. And what better way than poetry?
She will write him a love poem, while awake, while alone, and if that works, many, many more.
Dear Violet asked me for a journal to write in, and some loose leaves of paper for poems and drawings. It seemed she has a creative spirit beyond just her culinary skill and I was happy to oblige. A part of me wondered if she foolishly thought she could somehow get a message outside. If so I could indulge her false hope with some kindness and no concern, for nothing goes up and down these stairs to her room but me, and there are no windows or doors to push a missive out of from this room. Aunt Imogen saw to that, many years ago. The place is hermetically sealed in many respects, it is a world unto itself.
And today, I came down to find her sleeping softly, and to such joy, my heart almost burst in its chest. For there was a poem there, on a fresh sheet of white paper, which had fallen by her bed, as though she had lost her hold on it as sleep overtook her and it had gently fallen, waiting to be found. Found by me, for it was written for me, for me, I know it must be for me, for there is no-one else, and the words in any case could not fit for any other.
I read it once, first out of curiosity, but finding my joy and wonder building with each line. Then I read it three times more, almost stumbling back with delight, and by the third reading her lovely eyes opened and I saw she saw me with the missive and she blushed slightly, unbidden roses on her pale, perfect cheeks.
‘Forgive me,’ I said and then remembered myself and continued, more stern, ‘but I should have made it clear, any writing you do must be available to me to read, you do understand?’
I did not want to be harsh, but my joy could make me seem weak, so I made sure to establish boundaries even as I delighted in her work. She nodded softly.
‘Of course,’ she said, ‘For in any case, it is for you. Everything I write is for you.’
And with that she looked at the journal I had gifted to her as well, which lay on her pillow next to her sweet head, and I scooped it up greedily, eagerly.
In the sessions I have been working to instil in her the sense that only through me is there healing, only through connecting and opening to me is there hope of a truer freedom than anything she has known before. We are transfiguring freedom, transfiguring love, from the pale chimeras they were into something more vital and true. To be honest I have been unsure how effective this might be. It has been weeks now, and I have been despairing of a sign, remembering my own tribulations and their passage. Imogen never gave such hope, just discipline and over time the knowledge of the techniques and their necessity. I came to understand and accept, not to crave and need. But I need her to crave. I need her to need.
As I crave, as I need.
I need her to love. And now, with these sweet, dear words, it may be that she does! It is a beginning at least, it is a start!
I turned to leave her, as I could not wait to read the words and drink them in. She seemed disappointed and asked me if I might stay a while, as she was lonely, so lonely here. I told her firm, but controlled, that I would return in good time. If she is to crave, she cannot be sated too often. Even the lover of fine chocolate finds the appeal palls with over-supply. She will want my presence more the more it is denied, particularly in times such as this was, where no session loomed in our immediate schedule.
She nodded again to me, silent. I did not need to trigger her silence then, she was a good, obedient girl. My earlier concerns about our progress were dimming rapidly, for now it was clear that the programming was taking so quickly with her it was breathtaking.
With that I hurried up to my lounge-room to settle and read. First, I turned again to the lovely poem I had already read, hearing her recite it in my mind, her sweet voice echoing these unutterably sweeter words.
In silence and in darkness I’m alone
There’s energy ‘neath trembling skin, to bone
All my secrets are mine and mine alone
Separation was the only thing I’d known
But here a path is calling to my name
Its yellow promise like a flickering flame
In this crucible I’ll never be the same
My heart has found the one that it should claim
These eyes that gently turn their gaze to me
A hand that holds with needful cruelty
That is yet love, it’s only what must be
Resolve secure now that shows me to be free
In life before adrift and so forlorn
So lost, all finer feeling I’d foresworn
Yet from darkness shines the brightest, truest morn
I find the face I loved before my soul was born
From all my past I’d now be joyful, happy, torn
To see the face I loved before my soul was born
She knows the quest! She knows! And other writings, some prose, some poetic, spoke of her wonder in understanding the path I am taking her on and its cruel but firm necessity. I am in awe of her revelations, her honesty, and how well this has taken.
But then a shadow fell, a doubt, upon my reverie. Was this too soon and too perfect? Was it a trap? Did I ever do such tom-foolery with Imogen? I can’t recall. Most of my memories of my time with her are of pain and fear and hate. I do not remember if I ever played the trickster to lessen a session or to beguile her into thinking she was succeeding while I stayed aloof. She was not a one to be beguiled, but am I? Does the fact I come to Violet with love make me vulnerable somehow, and could she know?
But this is absurd! No true human could withstand this and stay separate. She would either fall into submission as I did in an apathetic, fearful way until she saw the colder need of it all, or she might go mad.
Sometimes they do go mad, Imogen told me once, and then they are used differently.
But to take even that path would show a deeper grain in her making than someone as fine as my lovely Violet. To be like that would be to be hard in some essential, distant way, almost alien to humanity, and dear Violet is the epitome of humanity. Imogen said that’s the province of true psychopaths but even they are likely to succumb more than they wish. She said that in some circles that’s how they create serial killers – the way of turning the ruined original programming intent into something wild but useful. She said an uncle of hers was like that, and they used him, so he was not as distant or as powerful as he thought.
‘No-one escapes the purifying fire, no-one,’ she had said, ‘Just some take to it differently, that’s all. And those that think they are above it, control it, understand it, those that think they are cleverer than it.. that’s the sign, the sign they are like that, and of what they will become. Which is just what they always were, really, just set free.’
But dear Violet is a cook, a maker of beauty, a lover of life, and now, it seems of me. Our love story is not a tragedy, it is not a horror story, it is sublime. So this cannot be! Her poetry is not proof of her distance and reserve, or of some deeper warp in the weave of her soul, but its complete and lovely opposite.
It must be real! My lovely Violet is finding the way to the impossible love. I am a master, a genius, as I always suspected, always knew, and she will be my lovely bride. My love.
I cannot let my fears and doubts besmirch the perfection of what we are creating together. Love such as this is a fragile flower, which must be tended to with care and belief and concern. Doubt would make it wither on the vine and snatch my wonderful future away from me by sheer perversity. I cannot be the thief in the night plundering my own dreams. I read the wonderful poetry and rose again, to fortify my soul, and allowed myself the simple, complete joy of belief.
It is working, she can tell. She sees it in his trembling lips, his gentle touch as he comes to her for their next session. The tears in his eyes, the genuine distress he feels in the moment before he causes her more unimaginable pain, again and again. It’s in the tenderness of his voice as he speaks softly to her as he fastens the ties tighter, and places a cloth in her mouth so she can bite down if needed without damaging her teeth or biting her tongue.
She reaches out, with the small liberty of her tied hands, to take his hand for a moment and squeeze, signalling to him her understanding, her care, with her eyes.
With every level of concern she fakes a deeper level of hatred simmers far beneath the surface. Every scintilla of warmth she beguiles and rewards him with is met, in the caverns of her inner, protected self, by a loathing that passes all understanding. She would rather sever his hand than clasp it, but clasp it she does. Every step, every step of the way is a necessary journey and she will not falter, she will not look away.
She knows what is coming in the blistering pain, she knows what signs to look for in the cavernous, electric depths. She knows, also, that everything that is unreal will seem more real than any reality. The horror of an enlarged needle aimed at her eye, piercing as though to lobotomise her, or the sensation and vision of slowly being skinned alive, or the sense of sinew cut and bone scrapped by knives and even worse implements – the dull roar of a chainsaw, the brittle rat-tat-tat of a jackhammer, coming close. All these things as thoughts suggested to her within the pain, caused by electricity, but pain nonetheless. Sometimes when she has woken from this she is surprised to be still whole, uncut and undamaged – physically at least. She does not trust that someday this may not be the case, and some virtual terror is but a brittle mask for a real travesty.
She grows confident, however, of her hold and her plan. What she does not know, cannot know, is how much time she has. No-one ever knows that. A life can be snuffed out in a moment, perhaps the very moment one is reaching most for life, most impervious to any thought of death. She is not so impervious, she knows death, walks hand in hand with it as Dr Green, every other day. And on the other days, she plans.
She does not know how much time she has, and so she must move soon, she must grab an opportunity quickly, before all opportunity is gone.
One day, having read more of her poetry, he comes to her and weeps. He speaks of love and how he returns her feelings but is a clumsy man without such beautiful words. She says, ‘I love to create for you. What I would love more, what I would love most of all..’
‘Is what my dearest Violet?’
‘Is to truly create with my greatest art, to cook, to cook for you.’
She sees his joy, mixed with a warring fear and distrust, but also that the joy will win out. He will agree, and he does. He does.
‘You will have to be tied by ropes, of course, my love, in case you seek to leave me.’
‘I will never leave you,’ she promises, ‘You will never see me walk out your door for a last time.’
‘What will you cook my love?’ he asks.
‘Soup,’ she replies, ‘I will write down the ingredients, and we shall cook together, in your kitchen, in our kitchen.’
He glows with the change of her words, the sense of a shared space. He presses further.
‘You can tie me of course, but I will not run, and I will not call out.’
Something dark and sly crosses his loathsome face. He grins, a sad and failing attempt at shared humour, holding his finger to his lips, ‘Yes we both know you can’t do that.’
And then he wipes the trigger away, moment later, because he wants to hear her voice, and he trusts her. He trusts her.
He hands her the journal and a pen and she writes down ingredients quickly. She knows soups, but more than this, she knows herbs, she knows the alchemy of their impacts, she knows it is possible to make something that might lull him sufficiently into a stupor of sorts, giving her a chance of release. She prays he is not similarly knowledgeable, and waits tensely as he reads the list. But he shows no recognition of the darker intent of this list. He is simply happy.
He sits beside her. ‘My butterfly is emerging from her cocoon, I can see it so well,’ he says.
She leans across and brushes her lips against his hated cheek. The stubble there is rough, like his hands, like his treatment of her. She would like to shave off this stubble, then take the blade, the sweet, sharp razor and cut, and cut…
Her kiss has made him shake so violently she is momentarily frightened and pulls away. Has she gone too far, played her hand too quickly, shown something of her true intent and feelings somehow in this quick fluttering moment?
‘The kiss like butterfly wings against my cheek!’ he says in wonder, staring not at her, not at anywhere here really, but at something far away that only he can see. She remembers for a moment he has probably endured this too, and may even in this simple act of false kindness and affection been taken back to that himself, like the very worst of triggers. She has no pity for this, no mercy at all.
And then he jumps up, with her again, and any disorientation is lost and he is simply happy.
‘I shall go and buy the ingredients at once! How I long to taste your food again my love, how I long to taste you!’
And he is gone, forgetting the treatment in his excitement, providing a small, brief relief and some time alone for her to consider her next steps and the brittle tenure of her success.
He returns later, about an hour later, to do the session. He apologises for his forgetfulness as though he has left his lover waiting. Perhaps he thinks he has, but it is crueller still to have given that brief time for her to think she may have escaped the pain, at least this once, at least for this day.
If anything, it is worse, he is worse. It is as though he seeks now to accelerate the programming, as though seeing his goal in sight has given him a terrible second wind. He is an athlete, primed to work beyond the pain, but in this case the pain is hers, not his. Not his.
He wants to know how she tastes. He says that. And it’s given him ideas it seems, terrible ideas, because this time after the brutal fall of agony, the doctor is intent on something so terrifying that it eclipses all the savagery she has already endured.
They are in the hospital room and he is in green, but close to the bed is a stove top, on which a frying pan is spitting with butter melting and burning. It smells like the commercial kitchen of the café, a sense memory that cooking has created. And she’s trying to understand what this has to do with the doctor, and the hospital and his awful treatments. She is strapped down, but so, so awake, as he moves to the end of the bed, looking up at her legs spread open, but he is not looking at her sex, not there, but just below it, to the smooth, soft folds of her upper thighs. And he has a knife.
‘Your flesh is a moment from perfection, and in perfection is the perfect consumption,’ he says, ‘You are fillet mignon my love, my dear.’
And then, such agony as he reaches up and begins to slice, slice her as though she was a piece of meat at a butchers, cutting the flesh and fat and lifting the steaks that are all of her inner thighs up away from her, tossing them to the pan to fry. She’s bleeding, bleeding everywhere, and he’s scooping some of the blood and putting it in a jug nearby, as though it will be a kind of gravy for the feast. She thinks she will bleed to death, and that might be a relief, an escape from the smell. Because now she can smell the meat cooking, smell herself cooking and she’s screaming , and she’s screaming and…
When she finally wakes she is still whole. Yet again, it is only a programme, a direction for her to contemplate and endure. Our life is indeed a dream within a dream, she thinks, and all my dreams are nightmares. But when will they bleed out, bleed out into the real world? When does the nightmare and reality become one?
She feels the answer to this, the message is clear, in the last words the doctor said, just before the complete blackness of surrender: ‘We shall have fine food my love, food fit for the table of love.’
Dearest Violet is in my kitchen, slicing and dicing vegetables for our soup. She has chosen a recipe for chicken soup, and the meat is already finely sliced and lightly fried, and it now sits on blotting paper to the side, awaiting its immersion in the stock when it is ready, ready to fully absorb the many herbs and spices she has required.
The aroma in the kitchen is a delight, beyond anything I have ever achieved, and certainly so much greater than anything that the days of Imogen might have provided. Imogen only ever gave a foodful scent to this place in the very later years, and not in the way she would have expected. I smile to myself at the memory. There is so little of her left, I muse, looking at the freezer for a moment. Never mind, soon there will be other meat there, meat worthy of us both, and dearest Violet will understand.
I am looking at her as she works, so calm and precise. If the sessions have weakened her body in any way it has not cruelled her culinary style. She is like a fine dancer, moving lightly across the floor from tabletop to tabletop, barely inconvenienced by the ropes I have tied to her ankles, and then to the sturdy kitchen table legs, a purchase of security she could not hope to overcome. But she does not seem to hope that, in any case. I see her sometimes look at the knives she uses and then at the ropes and I wonder if she contemplates trying to cut herself free. But then she looks at me and there is a knowingness and an acceptance in her eyes – she knows I have triggers to stop that if any slight rebellion still lives in my beloved’s heart. She even smiles, as though she reads my mind, a coquettish lover playing artful teases for her paramour, nothing more.
She stirs the pot with the stock and herbs for a long time, watching it thoughtfully.
‘My dearest,’ she says, ‘Will you taste this for me and let me know if it is to your liking? A fine soup must have the very best base, and I trust your tastes so well.’
She holds a ladle full of the broth up to me and I happily bend to drink at her bidding. The flavour is wonderful-aromatic, spicy, deep and solid. It tastes of health. It tastes of warmth. It tastes of heaven. That is its flavour, like the flavour of love.
I am somewhat overcome in the moment, I feel slightly dizzy. The sheer joy is impacting on me, and I sit for a moment, just a moment, on a nearby chair. Soon I will be recovered and can help her, perhaps, with her cooking. Do I dare to so presume? But how could my lover refuse my help, how could she ever refuse me? I will never be as wonderful a cook as her, but I can learn, she can teach me, just as I have tutored her, all these wonderful, terrible weeks.
I find myself vexed to be thinking of that. Something is not quite right with the world. I feel like I am on the precipice of the memory of my own conditioning. Is the pattern of the linoleum on the floor beneath my feet actually squirming, am I having some form of flashback? This will never do! My beloved will not want to see me so, and I might not fully appreciate her culinary offering if I am in such distress.
But the floor is moving, it is, or am I moving, moving towards it, maybe falling? Is that possible? I feel vertigo, quite sick, and something is tugging at me, some thought, some suspicion, but the floor is moving too much and coming to quickly towards me, and I’m thinking about herbs and about things Imogen once said about them and about how they are the derivation of drugs and I’m thinking, well, it’s more that I’m trying to think as I’m falling..
But then, something is holding me up, steadying me. Her sweet firm hands, holding me across my chest, under my ribcage.
‘Are you all right my love?’ she is whispering, and I’m so happy but so sick, that I can’t think straight. I can’t think about how quickly she got to me, if I was falling, or about whether she should be able to reach me, or what that might mean about the ropes, and the fact that she’s been with the knives, she’s been working with the knives, and suddenly I feel like I’m about to throw up because something is wrong, something is very wrong, and I hadn’t counted on this, hadn’t thought about it, and it wasn’t in my calculations at all, and it’s wrong, it’s very wrong, and only her hands and arms are steadying me, but I’m thinking, I’m thinking…
This must be a flashback, this must be a trigger, somehow, accidentally, I’m not in the real world. I’m in the virtual reality of pain and symbols and it isn’t really her hands holding me, it’s just my mind, and it’s not really her right hand lifting now from me, brandishing the knife, holding it just a bit before me, turning the blade in the direction of me, my throat, of me…
It’s not real, it’s not real, and I’ll be better soon, and that sharp feeling of the knife slashing through me, making me bleed, hurting me, it’s not real, it’s not her, it’s Imogen, it must be Imogen, the scrawny horrible arms teaching me, teaching me…..
And then, my god, there isn’t the blackness, the darkness I expect, there isn’t the opiate of fear and ragged sleep. This darkness feels colder, older, stranger. Far more horrifying on some deep, panicked, primal level, It’s beckoning, it’s saying something to me, or is it her, is it her speaking, and what is it saying?
‘It’s real, you bastard,’ the voice says, ‘It’s real.’
Francine is remembering something, looking at his broken, dead body at her feet. She’s trying to feel something other than revulsion at this form. There is no pity, but beneath it all, there are memories, tugging at her.
People like him, she’s thinking, they always think they are the worst of all, they have nothing to fear because they are the very worst. They don’t think there’s any other monsters in the cupboard or underneath the bed.
She’s covered in his blood and she wants to wash herself, but there will be time for that. She’s remembering washing herself once before, once before when guilt might have marred her skin and permeated her like some horrible sign of Cain. She’s remembering what she’s tried all these years to forget.
And she’s wondering why she needed, or wanted to forget at all. Because, of course, she thinks, this is what was necessary. I had to remember it. I had to re-birth it, to be able to do this.
She’s the sort of girl who always does what needs to be done, after all. That’s her essential element, that’s her, down to the bone, and no trauma or programming could stop that.
Remembering Christine, her childhood best friend. Letting herself remember, for the first time in years, letting it all in. As though in forgetting she wiped the slate clean. It wasn’t clean, just like dirty, nasty Christine wasn’t clean. Not her, not her at all. The Cineteens, her and Christine, inseparable. Christine, remembering Christine.
Her best, best friend. Remembering Christine with Francine’s boyfriend Carter, finding them that day. Christine’s long limbs akimbo, pulling him to her, into her, her darker skin flushed, her body convulsing with joy and sex and lust. Dirty, nasty Christine, showing herself for her true ugliness, her true self. And then seeing Francine seeing them, and all the tears and begging afterwards. All her pleas to be forgiven, for them to still be friends.
Stupid girl, how could that ever be? Looking at him now, there’s a true symmetry to all of it, she thinks, because how can love grow from that? Might as well have believed she could actually forgive Christine. Some people just had no idea…no idea at all.
Because she remembers weeks later, seeing Christine on the outskirts of town, walking the long way home from the bus where she’d just come back from seeing Carter again. Seeing her alone, and talking to her, seeing an opportunity she hadn’t even thought about in any conscious way, but acting on instinct. And Christine’s pathetic, horrible neediness and gratitude and willingness to just go for a walk, go for a walk with her friend through the nearby forest land, down to the creek.
She didn’t see it coming, couldn’t really, and in truth neither did Francine till it happened. A rock bashed against a young woman’s head, and the surprise at how it sounded as the skull cracked, and the amount of blood that gushed, then that weird feeling falling on top of her, her hands around her throat, straddling her like a lover, like Carter had straddled her, but with a very different primal intent indeed. Watching her friend’s eyes literally pop open and almost out of their sockets as the last struggling breath left her. Then knowing she was dead, knowing she was dead.
She remembers thinking they lied when they said you could see a soul departing a dying body. There was nothing, just recognition, then dull lifeless nothing. Francine didn’t believe in souls.
We’re just electricity in our heads, like the electricity in this monster’s rooms, making up sensations for us as we stumble blind through life. Well, she wasn’t blind, she’d never really be blind again.
She probably hadn’t been blind since Christine, because she surely saw things clearly then when she needed.
She hates remembering this – she’s spent years forgetting it, and building a new life, so far away. Not that she was caught, not that anyone knew but her. Because Francine has always been practical and she saw clearly and dispassionately what was needed – then and now. And back then she was still angry, still hurt, by her faithless friend. She’d give her the death she deserved and they’d find a narrative for it that she deserved too.
Remembering taking branches from trees and shoving them, shoving them in and up between her friends legs, tearing her panties off, raping her with forest wood. They’d think a sick pervert had gotten her. They’d never think her friend would do this, not something like this.
And they never did.
Just like they’d never think she could have done this, this bleeding freak at her feet. Downstairs was enough torture equipment and what might be taken as bondage gear to tell a very different, and quite compelling story. And no one knew she had been here, she was kidnapped after all. She’d just turn up in her life again, and say she had to go away unexpectedly, and no-one would ask, no-one would think to look.
Sometime someone would smell the truth here, and someone would find him, but that would be a long time hence, and they’d think he was part of some freakish sex thing gone wrong that’s all. Just a nothing, the nothing he deserved.
She pours the broth down the waste disposal, and looks at the chicken. Perhaps she can leave that in the freezer. It seems a shame to waste good food. She bundles it up in plastic wrap and takes it to the freezer. Inside she sees slabs of steak, also wrapped, with something written on them. She takes one out and looks at it. The name ‘Imogen’ is on the wrap.
She knows what that means.
She turns and looks at him. In many ways, it’s like the forest wood rape of Christine, it’s the details that secure the narrative. Just like it’s the herbs and the balance that makes the perfect recipe, the perfect food.
She remembers the programming where her own thighs were sliced and cooked, and instinctively touches herself between the legs, assuring herself she is still whole. He’s obviously a cannibal. His intent was very clear now and she understands her sense of threat was very, very real. So she takes the knife and goes to him, tearing open his trousers and seeing the flaccid, dead skin beneath. Along one thigh she proceeds to cut.
Sometime later she’s wrapping up the steaks to freeze as well. The final touch. They’ll think a cannibal killed him, and that perhaps he was a cannibal too. Well, that would be right, or maybe they’ll think he was one of those freaks who offered himself up to be eaten. She’d read once there were people like that, it was most extraordinary.
She looks at the steaks in her hands, considering. Perhaps he should be eaten, perhaps that’s what he deserves. She places all but one in the freezer and then puts this last one aside. After she’s showered and dressed herself in some of the clothes he had hanging for her in the room, in anticipation of when she was there of her own free will, she knows she will take the last steak with her, slipping out into the night with a trophy to remind her of the hell she has endured and bested at his hands.
On the way home she’s even smiling to herself, thinking about what she will cook to accompany it. She’s thinking some roasted eggplant, and old-fashioned mashed potatoes. She thinks she knows how he will taste. He was a cruel man who confused love with pain and possession with choice: a small, mean-spirited, nasty man.
Fine food, fit for her table of hate. He’d have the flavour of spite.