I had an idea. It was the idea for a story, but it was, I thought, a dangerous idea. I was afraid that some lunatic would take my story seriously, hallucinate, imagine that he was in the position of the protagonist of this story, and in the throes of his delusion commit an act so heinous that no man or woman could justify his horrendous act and forgive him for it. However, as time past my idea was picked up from wherever unrealized ideas rest and given manifestation in one form or another. Unfortunately, the delusion may have also infected the minds of some men and women who have committed the very act I feared my story might inspire. It may explain why some individuals who have otherwise been known to society as fine upstanding citizens and perhaps even exemplary parents could perform a deed so obscene that even I, a Thelemite, would be inclined to call it "evil". Be that as it may, I finally decided that I needed to write the story and that I could not be held responsible for the acts of madmen and lunatics. And so it was that in 1987 E.V. I finally wrote The Baby, finishing it on Friday the 13th. The writing went beautifully for me, but there was one problem: it would not end as I had intended it to end. It took on a life of it's own. But I will say no more about it at this time.
Sit back. Relax. And take a firm grip upon reality. I offer to you here, for the first time ever, The Baby - the reason every man and woman should consider birth control.
The prison guards, one on each arm, led the average looking man in prison greys down the cell-lined hallway. The prisoner's face was worn and haggered, his jaw line stubbled with three days growth of beard, his bloodshot eyes darkly circled from lack of sleep. He was a haunted man. He was a very hated and despised man.
"Filthy bastard!" one of the caged prisoners exclaimed as the man was led past his cell.
"Yer werse than a merderer!" "Dirty pervert!" "Miserable son of a bitch." These were just some of the appellations hurled at the man as the guards led him past the locked cells on their way to maximum security isolation. Some of the prisoners, guilty of crimes not even fit to mention, hardened and committed to antisocial behaviour, merely stood their ground and glared at the haggered man as the guards led him past their barred enclaves. Others jeered, hissed, cursed and ridiculed the haunted man. Their crimes, as horrible and many as they were, seemed like nothing more than petty thievery compared to this man's crime - his act of a single moment, but a long-considered act against the most indefensible type of person imaginable.
Grady, incarcerated for life on a Murder One charge, the state having long before abolished the death penalty, displayed his expertise in the field of expectoration and the salive oozed down the haunted man's sunken cheek. Instantly the guard on the man's left reacted, rapping the bars of Grady's cell with his baton, smartly catching the fingers wrapped around one of those grey steel bars. "Goddamn screw!" Grady yelled, leaping back into his small cage. The haunted man simply continued to gaze at the floor, not even attempting to wipe the spittle from his face. "You guys oughtta take that fucker ta the old hot seat and give him a few thousand watts up his ass!"
"Didn't you hear?" the guard replied, a subtle smile of delight on his thin, cruel face. "That's exactly what we will be doing a week from today."
"What the fuck you talkin' about? They abolished the death penalty in this state years ago."
The guard's smile became less subtle.
"Special case," he shrugged. "Such an outcry against old Fergy here that this one time they are going to permit a prisoner to be executed."
"Lucky guy," Grady sneered.
For the frist time in days the haunted man looked up and into the eyes of another man, into Grady's hatefilled eyes. The man's deep brown eyes were wet with tears that were locked there, prisoners of an unbreakable will, and as he gazed into the other prisoner's eyes, Grady felt himself moved in a way he thought impossible since he'd murdered his father at the age of sixteen. Great compassion for this man welled up inside of him and he felt as if he wanted to cry. The haunted looking man wanted to die and yet it was not because he was sorry for his crime. He wanted to die only because life for him had become meaningless and horrible. Existence was a torment and the only possible escape from it was death. As Grady looked into the other man's eyes, he did not see the man he had expected to see, the individual that the press called "the most hated man in the nation."
"Get him outta here," Grady growled as he turned away from those pitiful eyes. "The guy makes me sick. I'm glad he's gittin' the juice. I don't want ta see that face around here."
Roughly, the guards pulled the haunted man away, down to the end of the hall, beyond a heavy steel door and on to the isolation cell where he would cause no further disruptions in the prison.
Grady stood, his back to the bars of his cell, his head lowered, his arms straight against his sides, fists clenched. One ... two ... three salty tears fell on his regulation prison-issue shoes and he hated himself; he hated himself mostly because not only was he crying, but because he did not know why he should want to cry. He could not understand why he not only felt compassion for the man who had just passed his way, but why he also felt grateful for the man's existence and the act which sentenced him to death.
My name is Tom Fergeson. I'm sure you've heard of me. For months it seems that the press, the papers and the television news programs, could not let a day go by without mentioning my name. If you've recently returned from some place outside of the United States maybe you haven't heard of me yet. I'm not sure if my - fame - has as yet reached Europe.
Anyway, as I have said, my name is Tom Fergeson. It's a pretty average name. Not the kind of name a writer, for instance, would choose for the hero of his novel. And yet as I sit here, despised by a nation, by the country that I love, alone in an isolation cell awaiting execution, I suppose in a weird sort of way I am a hero. The ironic thing is that only I know it. Only I will ever know it. Maybe not, though. If you can stand my presence long enough you will know it too. It would make things just a little bit easier for me to talk about it and maybe, just maybe, to have you believe me. You should believe me. Psychological studies have proven that I am neither mad nor a pathological liar. That's why I am here instead of in some nut house.
But you want to know how I, Tom Fergeson, sentened to death for a crime worse than murder in a state that abolished the death penalty long ago, could possibly be a hero. Well, let me tell you. I am a hero because I killed the President of the United States ...
... forty-five years before he could be elected into office.
For more than thirty years I led the usual life of a common sort of fellow. I was the typical kid, had a paper route and was a boy scout, got into a little trouble here and there in high school, although never in my thirty-eight years did I spend so much as a day in jail. I married early, had a son, Jason, and then my wife and I divorced. Nothing spectacular there either - we just grew apart, I guess. Eventually I remarried and Joanne and I had a daughter, Melissa, who is eight years old now, and everything was just fine then. I had a steady job working for a utilities company, my kids are great, my wife and I love one another - oh, there was trouble from time to time, arguments with Joanne, Jason just wrecked a friend's car, nothing serious really, no one got hurt, and Melissa is getting through all of the childhood illnesses that most of us suffer and get through. All in all, I am a pretty average family man with a pretty average family in a pretty average suburb of the good old U. S. of A. Nothing special. Nothing unique. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Until the Richards moved in next door.
Even that seemed pretty ordinary in itself. Take their names for instance - John and Sue Richards - they certainly sound pretty ordinary. One would never suspect that they would be the parents of - well - I don't want to get ahead of myself.
John and Sue were still newlyweds, married less than two years, so naturally they had only one child, barely ten months old. Infertility was not a problem that they had to contend with. In fact, Sue was carrying another baby when Joanne and I met her.
"Tom." My wife was craning her neck to look out the kitchen window while I was reading the Sundy funnies. "Tom," she said again.
"Hmm?" I was involved. Reading the comics was one of the highpoints of those lazy, sunny Sundays in mid-spring.
"Someone's moving into the Matheson place."
"It would seem so." I wasn't particularly interested, so I continued to read Dick Tracy. Talk about a firm jaw line!"
"There's only two of them, honey, and she's pregnant."
I continued to read the funnies and said, "Never met her, dear."
"Cute." There was a moment of silence, then Joanne said, "No, wait, there are three of them. They have a baby." A chill ran up my spine when she said that, but I shrugged it off as a draft from somewhere in the house which I was slow in repairing, procrastination being the common hobby of all suburban homeowners. "Probably less than a year old to judge by the baby's size." Joanne turned from the window and in her usual bright manner said, "Oh, Tom, let's go over and introduce ourselves."
"Can't, honey. I'm reading. Tracy's about to enter a dark room where Pruneface is waiting with a loaded .45."
I lowered the paper and looked at my wife. Can you believe it? She even wore an apron after having baked cookies earlier and there was a little smudge of flour on her cheek. How typical could it be? I smiled. Everything about us was a Normal Rockwell cliché. "Okay, okay. I suppose I can find out later if Pruneface kills Tracy or not."
"Oh goody!" she chirpped. "I'll just wrap up some cookies to take to them."
"My chocolate chips," I frowned.
"I think four dozen should be enough for you for a while. Honestly, Tom, you are such a pig when it comes to chocolate chip cookies."
"Only yours, Peaches. Only yours."
I really didn't want to disrupt my day and I remembered when we had first moved into the neighbourhood. The neighbours were as nosey as my wife but like her well-meaning enough. However, I was intent upon getting everything moved into the house and settled, and the occasional interruptions from people inviting themselves over, introducing themselves, sometimes bringing cookies or some other food offering, rather annoyed me. And now there I was being the annoyer instead of the annoyee. Oh well. Sometimes it is just easier to do as Joanne wants. If we hadn't gone next door she would have surely bugged me all day with questions I could not possibly answer - questions like "What do you think he does for a living?" "How long do you think they've been married?" "How do you think she is decorating her livingroom?" I didn't want to go through that! However, now that I look back on it with the usual 20/20 hindsight, I wish to hell I had put my foot down and told Joanne that we were not going to bother them, that we were never, absolutely never, even going to talk to the new neighbours. Of course, it would have been completely unreasonable for me to do so at the time, but now I sometimes think it would have been the best thing to do - at least for myself, for I would not be where I am today had I refused to meet the new people on the block.
Then I think of my children and the world that would have been theirs had I not met the new neighbours - if there was any world at all. I suppose everything happened as it should have happened. I sometimes even feel as if it was all meant to be and that I, simple common person that I am, was destined to do as I did. That in some way I had been born for that one specific action that made me the most despised person in the nation and yet the saviour of the country that hates me - perhaps of the entire world.
"Hello," my wife said with the oodles of charm that is hers. "My name is Joanne and this is my husband, Tom Fergeson."
"Hi," the two of them said in unison, and we all shook hands.
"We're the Richards. John and Sue."
"Can I see the baby?" Joanne asked.
"I thought you'd never ask," Sue smiled. She lifted the corner of the soft blue blanket that shielded the baby's face from the bright morning sun and as soon as I saw that cute little pink, scrunched up face, a heavy chill ran up and down my spine, jerking my back erect. No one noticed me since all eyes were naturally focussed on the baby, but I was - I'm not sure how to explain it - shocked, perhaps. I had no idea as to why at the time. I couldn't blame the chill on a draft this time. It was a still, warm morning. And besides, there was a kind of shocked feeling, a feeling of - disgust. I was appalled, and I did not know why. I saw what everyone else saw - a very cute little baby, no different really than my own children when they were ten months old. It wasn't as if a lady named Rosemary had just shown me her baby. There were no slitted, feral eyes; no horns or pointed tail. I had no desire to call an exorcist. It was just a baby. A very ordinary looking baby.
However, be that as it may, I was filled with such unwarranted revulsion at the sight of the child that I quickly left my wife with the Richards on some feeble pretense and nearly ran back to the house.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Joanne asked upon returning home. I was sitting in my chair, the comics laying on the floor forgotten, and just sort of staring at the wall lost in thought.
"I don't know. Guess I just felt a little sick or something. I don't know." And I didn't. I could not understand my feelings. I was very disturbed and I did not know why and that disburbed me even more.
"Well, I told John and Sue that you did not feel well; that it must have been something you ate ... somewhere else."
"Blamed it on a MacDonald's hamburger?"
"Well, I am certainly not going to blame your rude departure on my cooking!"
There was a moment of silence while I continued to stare at the wall, trying to figure out why I was so upset - so angry and filled with fear. Then my wife said, "I've invited them to dinner tonight."
"Tom...! What is wrong with you?"
"It's just that ... well ... I don't know. I just don't want to get too close to them. That's all. Haven't we got enough friends already?"
"Tom, you're being silly. Besides, they'll never get their house in order by dinner time and I thought it would be a nice friendly gesture to invite them over and give them a good home cooked dinner as a kind of housewarming and welcoming present."
"Yeah. Sure," I said, gazing at the floor in defeat. "I suppose you're right."
Looking back over various times in my life when I had to face something that I dreaded, I realized that there was nothing I dreaded more than that evening's dinner with the Richards. I found myself in the bathroom, for instance, interrupting my shaving to gaze at myself in the mirror and kind of praying that they would leave their baby at home. I was certain that it was not John and Sue that had effected me, that filled me with such horror and loathing. It was their baby. Their ten month old baby. I was scared of it, scared out of my wits, and although I spent a lot of time in thought I could not for the life of me imagine why I should be frightened of a baby.
It was nearly dinner time and little Melissa was helping her mommy set the table. Jason was in his bedroom, a headset seemingly glued to his ears, listening to Van Halen while finishing up his homework. I wasn't too wild about his somewhat spiky hair, his choice of loud music, and a lot of his other interests, but Jason is a good kid, a hard worker, and he makes good grades in school - not great, but good. I've always been rather conservative myself - wasn't a hippy or anything like that in the sixties and seventies - but I had no trouble understanding my son.
I love my kids. Oh, Melissa is a bit hyperactive and could easily become the source of irritated nerves and migraine headaches at times, but she is a sweet little honey of a kid. I love my kids. Hell, in a kind of detached or abstract sort of way, I guess I love all children. All but one. And I dreaded the thought of having to see that one again - yet I knew that I would for the new neighbours would never be able to find a babysitter so soon and upon such short notice and I didn't think Sue Richards would ever let the baby out of her sight for any appreciable amount of time. Not her firstborn.
The doorbell rang and I thought my bowels would let go on the spot.
They were at the door and would soon be inside - with the baby.
"Hello! Please, come in," Joanne invited. The Richards, Sue carrying the inevitable blue-wrapped bundle, came into our home and they were the perfect picture of a new family, much like Joanne and I had been soon after Melissa was born. "Oh ... and you brought little Jonathan."
"I hope you don't mind," the woman said, "but we don't know anyone in the neighbourhood yet and couldn't get a sitter."
"Wouldn't matter even if we could," John smiled. "She'd never let the baby out of her sight anyway."
"I know exactly how she feels," Joanne replied. "I was the same way with Melissa."
At the sound of her name, my daughter, always shy at first but quickly overcoming it, came over to join us. Melissa has eyes like cute little brown buttons, a tiny bit of a nose and her long blondish brown hair was tied up in two ponytails on either side of her head. I used to joke with Joanne about how it made her look like a cocker spaniel.
"Can I see the baby," Melissa asked.
"No!" The word came out of my mouth before I realized I was going to say it. Everyone looked strangely at me and I had frightened Melissa. I mean ... well ... I just don't want the baby to be frightened or anything ... all these strange faces hovering over him and all."
"Oh," said Joanne, "Melissa's not going to frighten Jonathan."
"Of course she isn't," Sue agreed.
I looked damn silly.
Sue bent down to show Melissa the baby. "He's pretty, mommy." My daughter looked up at Sue Richards. "Can I hold him?"
"No, honey," my wife said, and I was thankful for that. "You might drop Jonathan and you wouldn't want to hurt him by accident, would you?" Melissa shook her head to agree that she wouldn't want to hurt the baby by accident, and I thought, No, but on purpose maybe, then quickly pushed the disgusting thought out of my mind.
Despite everything, dinner went smoothly, although I was far from comfortable. The baby had been left with a bottle on the sofa, a pillow on one side to keep him from rolling off, and the whole time we ate dinner he was well within sight just in case. Throughout dinner I found myself continually sneaking glances at the baby and each time wishing I could avoid doing just that. However, something kept dragging my eyes in that direction, forcing me to look at what, for some ungodly reason I could not then understand, I did not want to look at.
After dinner we retired to the livingroom and I sat as far away from little Jonathan as I could. I was frightened, frightened out of my wits, and that alone frightened me. Everything was quite normal. Everyone, except me, of course, seemed quite normal. Joanne and Sue were clearing the table and preparing to wash the dishes. Melissa was "helping" them. Jason had dashed out directly after dinner for boxing practice - Joanne was against that but I encouraged it, secretly proud that my son should be interested in a manly sport. And there I was in the livingroom with John Richards - and the baby.
"So tell me, Tom, what's your line of work?"
"Huh? Oh. Sorry." I was lost in thought, trying madly to analyze my irrational fear of the baby - staring at the floor when John spoke. Trying very hard not to look at his baby. "I work for the telephone company. I install and repair phones ... sometimes install complex communication systems for businesses ... that sort of thing."
"Been at it long?"
"'Bout all my life. Had a paper route as a kid, a summer job after high school, then I got this job and I've been with the company ever since. What do you do?"
"Just a minor civil servant, I'm afraid. Nothing special. I'm with city planning."
"I see." But I didn't care.
"Always had a hankering to go into politics, but I doubt that it will ever happen. Maybe when Jonathan grows up he can become what I've always dreamed of becoming."
"A politician?" I asked.
"Why not president!"
A deep chill danced up and down my spine again, and my eyes were drawn to the baby lying peacefully on the couch. The sensation of complete terror took a stronger grip on my soul and I forced myself to look away from the baby.
John looked to the left and then the right and asked, "Listen, Tom, mind if I use your bathroom?"
I looked up at him and the simple request filled me with a greator terror than I had ever before experienced. "The bathroom?"
"Ah ... well ... sure ... I mean, no I don't mind. It's upstairs and to the left."
"Thanks. You know how it is," he said, rising to his feet, "when you gotta go you gotta go." And I really wanted to go myself. With John out of the room I would be left there alone - with the baby. As he climbed the stairs I was thinking of excuses to join the girls in the kitchen, but when I heard them chattering away about woman things I realized my presence would not be greatly appreciated. So I sat there, in the livingroom, alone with the baby who rested quietly on the other side of the room. For a time I could hear the girls in the kitchen, John upstairs in the bathroom, then these sounds seemed to fade out of existence and there was only the soft sounds of the baby as he gently moved his arms, gurgled and made other baby sounds. As revolted as I was by the mere sight of the baby, I found myself equally fascinated and drawn to him. What could have only been mere minutes seemed like an eternity to me and gradually I was attracted by a kind of morbid curiosity to the edge of the sofa on which the baby rested. I stood there looking down at him - so tiny and defenseless, so sweet and innocient in appearance - and I remembered my own children, Jason and Melissa, when they were but babies, and in this baby's face I saw the faces of my own children. Who, I ask you, cannot love an infant? What is there in any newborn child that anyone can hate? Crying, four o'clock feedings, messy diapers, even with such things a baby is probably the most loveable thing on the face of the earth. Even the people who claim to hate children must at least secretly love babies.
I looked down at little Jonathan, studied his tiny little fingers, complete with tiny little fingernails, and studied his cute little elfin face with its minute nub of a nose, not all that different from Melissa's nose as it still is, with very little bridge to it. The baby looked up at me, his tiny mouth curved in a smile as a few bubbles appeared at the corners, and those tiny little blue gems sparkled with delight. I found myself smiling at the sight of the baby, my unreasonable horror forgotten. I must have been mad, I thought, to be afraid of a baby - this cute little vulnerable baby. What the hell's wrong with me? Must be getting old or something.
I bent down and with the tip of my finger lightly touched the baby's nose and absurdly said "Citchy citchy coo", whereupon little Jonathan smiled, gurgled and made pleased little baby sounds as he waved his tiny doll-like hands in the air.
I remembered what it was like to have a new baby in the house and began feeling as if it would be nice to have another one - just like this one - just like little Jonathan.
And then it happened.
I can't explain it exactly. I don't know what the proper words are to explain it. I never went in much for that occult garbage, except for an occasional movie like The Omen, but then that was because I was secretly in love with Lee Remick and envied Gregory Peck for his role as her husband. And when Shirley MacLaine started her reincarnation and UFO bullshit, and that stuff about "trance channelling", I lost a lot of respect for her. It's not that I disbelieved in things existing that couldn't be readily explained by science, but I know that a great portion of that occult stuff, as well as television evangelism and that "old time religion", is crap. But then, all of a sudden, there I was thrown into something that was definitely straight out of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone!
At first the baby seemed to telescope in reverse, getting further and further away from me. There was a feeling of giddiness and then it was almost as if I had fainted. Without warning, I found myself standing in a room that at first I did not recognize. After the first moment of disorientation passed, I finally did recognize it as the Oval Office in Washington, DC.
I seemed to be standing off to the side and there were two men, very official looking men, arguing with one another. I listened. I seemed to have no choice but to listen.
"But you can't do it!" the older, slightly paunchy man said. "Congress will not permit it!"
"And Congress cannot act quickly enough anyway! It has to be done and it has to be done now! Without delay! We have to strike first and decisively!"
"We can't, Mr. President! We are Americans, damn it! We are not murderers!"
"Murderers? What the hell's wrong with you, Bill? It has nothing to do with murder. It's all about democracy and freedom, Bill! Pull your head out of the sand and look around you! The goddamned communists are everywhere and it won't be long before they just slide right in and take over the country without even firing a shot!"
"But, Mr. President ... please! If we send our missles over there, as little time as there will be, they will retaliate. There won't be a damned thing left! There will be no democracy or freedom. There will be no America!"
"I don't believe that, Bill. Not for a minute. I don't think they can retaliate soon enough. Our missles are too advanced and their technology is so far behind ours that it is laughable!"
"But Mr. President, the CIA reports ..."
"To hell with what the CIA reports! I have other reports and I have this," he touched his stomach with his hand. "I have a gut feeling, Bill, and I know damn well that if something isn't done now, immediately, and if they are not caught off guard and by surprise, it will be all over for America and freedom in the western hemisphere! The damned communists still run Cuba and they are multiplying like rabbits in China! What the hell are you waiting for, Bill? A member of the Red Chinese Army to come knocking at your door selling cookies? Wake up, man! It has got to be done! It just has to be done, and I am the only man who can do it!"
The man called Bill glanced at the president's desk. Encased in what looked like glass, securely locked, was a streamlined telephone with no dial or push buttons on it. It was simply coloured black and sat next to the other two phones on the desk, another black one and a red one, which I assumed was the so-called Hotline. That telephone under the glass, however, had a more ominous look to it than the red one. Obviously as soon as the receiver was picked up it made an instant connection to somewhere else, somewhere very important, somewhere that only the President of the United States could contact instantly, immediately, and without going through regular channels.
The president turned away from the other man and stepped behind his desk. He turned his back to the curtained window, the American flag standing behind his shoulder, and with a very unique electronic key he unlocked the glass case.
"You can't do it, Mr. President! You mustn't!"
The president looked up at the other man and said very calmly, "I must, Bill. I have no other choice. It is my destiny. It is why I was born. To rid the world once and forever of the threat of communism." I noticed him discreetly reaching into one of his desk drawers as he lifted the glass case with his other hand, setting it back on its hinges, then reaching for the black phone's receiver.
"I won't let you do it, Mr. President. I can't!" Then the man called Bill began to move in the direction of the president with the obvious intention of stopping him with force if necessary. In that same instant the president pulled an automatic pistol from the desk drawer and fired it once, very casually, very calmly, with complete dispassion. The other man halted, frozen for a moment as the explosion filled the Oval Office, then he turned in my direction with eyes already glazing over, grabbed his chest which had become a nightmare of exploded flesh and blood, turned again and then fell to his knees.
The president gently set the pistol on to top of his desk. I heard outside several men running in the direction of the Oval Office, but it seemed to take them forever to get to the sturdy door which was securely locked.
The president touched the receiver of the black phone.
"Please ... please ...," the other man choked, blood gurgling in his throat and pouring out of his mouth. "Don't do it. Please ..."
"I must, Bill. It is my destiny ... my destiny. Once I pick up this telephone it will be all over. The missiles will be on their way from land, sea and our platforms in space. It will be assumed that an Act of War has been declared by the reds and before anyone can know otherwise there will no longer be a China to threaten our world."
"But ...," Bill choked on the blood, "thousands of innocent people will be destroyed and they will have time to retaliate."
"You are wrong, Bill." The president picked up the phone, his face a mask of stern and yet dispassionate resolution. "General Bloch. Code Red. C-333. Armageddon. Do you read me?" Obviously the general on the other end of the line replied in the affirmative. "History will regard you as a hero, general." And then the president hung up, the missiles on their way before the receiver had been set back into its cradle.
There was a terrific pounding at the door as the Secret Service men called out frantically asking if the president was all right. The president yelled back to the men on the other side of the locked door and told them that everything was under control, then he turned back to the man quickly dying before him.
"You are mad," Bill choked.
"Maybe, Bill ... maybe I am ... but my madness has initiated the sanest action since the first Asian warlord swept the land and won bloody victory."
Bill choked, blood gushing from his mouth. He all but fell prone on the floor, one hand clutching his chest as if he could stop the flow of blood pumping through his splayed fingers, his other hand on the stained carpet just barely holding him up.
"My God," Bill's voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper now.  "What you've done. What you've done, Jonathan ..."
The madman dispassionately watched as the other man fell on his face, breathing his last, and then he looked up and although I knew that he could not see me he seemed to look directly into my eyes. His blue eyes sparkled with a sense of triumph and pure delight. The man was in his forties, tall and straight, with greying hair, but those eyes, those eyes! They were the eyes of the baby! They were the eyes of Jonathan Richards!
As suddenly as I found myself in the Oval Office, I was then transported back into my own livingroom, still looking into those blue eyes, but now they were no longer the eyes of a madman who had been elected into the highest office of the land, a madman who had sentenced the entire world to death, but the eyes of a baby, not even a year old, tiny, pink and new - as innocent as anyone or anything could ever be.
I stood there for what seemed like a long time, staring at the baby, an expression of horror frozen upon my face, and I was only called back to my senses by my wife's voice. She must have been calling my name over and over again, but I hadn't heard her.
"Tom. Tom. Are you all right? Tom?"
I looked up to see her gazing at me with great concern on her face. Beside her stood Sue Richards, perplexed and more than a little distressed for the safety of her baby. Melissa stood uncomprehendingly beside her mother, holding tightly onto Joanne's apron, while John Richards stood at the bottom of the stairs, his face telling me that he was confused, concerned and even a little angry at the sight of me standing over his son with such an expression upon my face.
"I ... I'm ... all right," I stammered, in a state of shock. "Really. I'm fine. It's okay. It's just that ... that ..." But how could I tell them? How could I explain what I had just experienced, what I could not explain to myself? How could I tell Sue and John Richards that their son would indeed grow up to become the President of the United States as well as the most infamous mass murderer in hsitory, ultimately responsible for the destruction of the entire planet? How could I tell them that? How could I possibly make them believe me? There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that they, that even Joanne, would think me completely and utterly mad.
No one could have understood what I had just experienced. Had it happened to my wife and she confessed it to me I would have never believed her, and most certainly I would have come to the inevitable conclusion that she had gone insane. It was the only rational, logical conclusion. And yet I knew - I knew - that what I had experienced was not the fantasy of mental illness. What I saw, what I had experienced, was real - frighteningly real. I recalled one evening, while flipping the channels to see what was on TV, catching part of an interview with some fellow named Kelly. I stopped for a moment to listen to him. He was another one of those people promoting a book and talking about the occult, but something about his appearance and manner seemed so rational, so down to earth and believable, that I just had to listen to him. He was disgussing reincarnation and the misconceptions concerning it, making it seem even to me like the most logical theory imaginable, and then he mentioned remembering an incident in his future. That's how he worded it, "I remember this one incident in my future", and it boggled my mind. That's when I turned the channel to watch a rerun of some old favourite television series. But now I thought: That's exactly what it seemed to be - sort of. In a way I had just remembered, very vividly, as if I had been there, which surely I couldn't have been, some incident that could not have happened yet, that would not happen for more than four decades from now. I had remembered the future, and yet it was a future event that I would undoubtedly not personally be a part of, yet which I personally experienced seemingly only moments ago. And there was no maybe about it. No thought that it was a possible or alternative future. If that baby, lying so helplessly on my couch, was allowed to grow up he would eventually go into public office, become a politician much to his father's delight, and attain the ultimate American dream and become President of the United States. Then, having been secretly and quietly mad for God knows how long, he would initiate the single action possible to annihilate every living being on the face of this planet.
There was no doubt of it. Absolutely none. And I knew that I was absolutely sane - perhaps more sane than at any other time in my life.
This baby would destroy the world.
Hitler seemed like a naughty little boy by comparison.
Have you ever been asked what you would do if you knew that a certain child would grow up to become a ruthless murderer - a Hitler, an Oswald, or a Jim Jones? Once, back in school, sometime after the assassination of President Kennedy, one of my friends asked me that question and I just laughed it off and said something to the effect that certainly, without a thought, I would kill the little brat.
Now suddenly, there I was, facing the hypothetical situation, only it was very very real, and I did not stand there without a thought. My mind was flooded with thoughts. I was a mass of conflicting emotions and thoughts. I argued with myself in dozens of different ways, for and against what should or should not be done, all at the speed of light as I stood there looking down at the baby. My mind was a chaos of confusion. My heart pumped so rapidly, so fiercely, that I was certain that the sound must be deafening to the others in the room. The blood was racing through my system, flooding my brain. I looked at each person in turn, finally resting my eyes upon my daughter, dear sweet little Melissa, who, along with the rest of the world, would be destroyed in a holocaust to end all holocausts.
Then I fainted.
Vividly I remembered dreams - nightmares really.
In one such dream I found myself walking through the smoking ruins of what was once a city. There was hardly anything left standing and all about me were masses of broken concrete and twisted metal that glowed with lingering heat. I choked on the ash-filled air and stumbled over the wreckage of a civilization. It was dark, horribly dark, and yet the landscape glowed with an eerie phosphorescent light. There were only a few corpses visible. Most of the people, I knew, as well as animals and vegetation, had been instantly vaporized when the missles exploded over the cities. Yet there were a few bodies laying about, perhaps the survivors of the holocaust who had been somewhere relatively safe when the conflagration took place, but who later died when they came out of their safe places and exposed themselves to the heat, suffocating air and radiation. The bodies were twisted in unexpected shapes as if they had died during a spasm so great that it forced them to break their own arms and legs, snap their spines, before actually dying of radiaiton sickness. Their skin was already decomposing, liquifying, drying, bubbling up, blistering, flaking off, any number of things that human flesh can do when subjected to extreme heat and radiation, and all at the same time. As I stood there I watched the flesh of one corpse quickly turn to dust and begin falling away to expose bleached white bone. It wasn't until almost nothing was left but the rapidly decomposing face that I realized that it was the corpse of my daughter, Melissa.
In horror I fell back and cried out, then I heard a horrible laughing and turned in the direction of the sound.
Behind me, then suddenly in front of me, stood a ghoul. A full grown man, but incredibly emaciated and diseased, dressed in a mass of tattered, scorched clothing, his flesh peeling from him, exposing muscle and nerves, and he just stood there and laughed. He was a living corpse, decomposing before my horrified eyes and laughing maniacally at me. Then he spoke, his voice something between a hiss and a coarse whisper, dry and brittle. "It was my destiny! It was my fate! I am now the conqueror of the world! The greatest man left alive!" Its blue eyes gazed deeply into mine. "You did not stop me, Fergeson. You could not stop me. And now ... now ...!" It raised its arms heavenward, material and flesh flaking off as it moved, the little finger of its left hand quietly snapping off and falling to the rubble at our feet completely unnoticed by the thing that was once a human being. "Now this is the world. Finally at peace! Finally at rest! No more fear of war. No more fear of anything. We are all free. Free! Free, Fergeson!" It lowered its face and looked more deeply into my eyes. The cartilage of its nose turned to powder and sunk in making what was left of its face barely more than a skull. "All of us are free, Fergeson, except you. You are not free. You are imprisoned in your own personal hell and there you will suffer forever. Forever, Fergeson. Forever!"
I awoke screaming, bathed in sweat. My wife was by my side and did her best to soothe me. Finally I fell back onto my sweat soggy pillow and collapsed into yet another nightmare.
It was days before I came back to my senses, but when I did I had a purpose. I had a plan. I knew what had to be done.
And I would do it. I would do it.
Doctor Ambrose said that my fainting and delirium had been caused by fatigue, over-work, stress, exhaustion, that there was no other explanation for it. However, I knew that he was wrong. For one thing, work had become so natural for me, so routine, that it did not in the least fatigue me. It bored me from time to time, but it seemed to take none of my energy after all of these years, so I knew that I was not suffering from exhaustion and over-work. Yet I held my tongue and obeyed the doctor and my wife and remained in bed, pretending that they were right, that I was getting better and that soon everything would be all right again.
Everything would be right again - if - if I could do what I knew had to be done.
The very thought of it disgusted me and yet thrilled me with excitement. What I had to do was appalling, so appalling that I thought that I would then have to take my own life as I was sure I could never live with the memory of what I knew I had to do. At the same time, the very thought of what my action would be preventing, how it would preserve life as we know it so that my children and all other children in the world could grow up and lead normal, healthy lives, thrilled me, excited me, drove me on. I was determined to do what I had to do, however disgusted by it I was personally, for I knew that I was the only person alive who could accomplish the task. No one else knew what I knew. No one. And I knew it. I knew it! I was absolutely convinced, more certain than I have ever been about anything in my life, that what I had experienced during that eternal moment in my livingroom was utter reality and that it would most certainly occur if I did not do what I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt had to be done.
There was absolutely no doubt in my mind and everything was crystal clear.
I had to kill that damn baby.
Weeks went by. A month. Two months. The Richards had settled into their new home next door. Life in my own home settled down, but was never again the same. I found it impossible to concentrate upon my work and in difference to my seniority, the boss gave me a leave of absence rather than firing me. I spent all of my days at home, in the house, poor Jason stuck with all of the yard work and Joanne even had him, with her help, doing the long neglected repairs on the house. When my wife wasn't putting Jason to work he was out. He didn't like to stay home if he could avoid it. Little Melissa avoided me as much as possible, from time to time looking up at me with those cute little button eyes that now reminded me of the eyes of a dog that feared punishment at any moment. She had become very quiet in the house. It was as if my daughter had been afraid to upset me, to excite me, and often the obvious fear she had of me brought tears to my eyes.
Joanne did her very best to be loving, gentle and - normal - with me, but it was no good. I knew that she was not only worried about me, but somewhat frightened of me as well. I could see it in her eyes. She was afraid that at any moment the night fears that would cause me to thrash about in bed until I awoke screaming would invade the daylight hours and that without warning I would go off into a mad rage and have to be taken away to an asylum.
And yet I was very calm. Depressed, abyssmally depressed, but very calm.
A few times, sensing Joanne's fear, seeing it reflected in the children's eyes and actions, I was tempted to explain it, explain everything to my wife hoping that she would understand. Perhaps even hoping that she would convince me that it was a delusion if she could not help me to do what I had to do. Each time, however, only a word or two escaped my lips and then I would stop, either falling silent or changing the subject.
The fact that we did not talk much any more helped me some. It lessened the chance that I might speak of the affair and tell her everything. That, I knew, would be unwise. It would only upset her more and convince her that I was mad and I did not want Joanne to have to live with the only rational decision that she could have then made - to have me committed.
That, of course, made me think of the consequences of my actions.
What would become of my wife and children once I had fulfilled my duty and killed that damnable baby? How could they live with everyone pointing at them - the wife and children of the horrible bbaby killer? They would be forced to move to another place, as far from home as possible, perhaps even change their names. How else could they deal with the stigma my action would cause?
Perhaps the very thing I had to do to preserve their lives would destroy their lives forever!
And what of the Richards ...?
I had nothing against Sue and John. Although I hardly knew them, for of course I never saw them again after that first evening, I felt certain that they were decent, law-abiding people. Blameless. Guiltless.
Joanne visited the Richards frequently. She had become good friends with Sue. And from time to time she would chatter on and on about them in the hope of making everything normal again.
Sue, as I've already remarked, was expecting a second child, and in just a couple of months the baby was due. Having already had a boy they were hoping for a girl, however, their doctor, I think he was a Canadian named Breau, had a bet with John that it would be another boy. (I suspected that the doctor had cheated in some way medical to make his determination.) How, I wondered, would my action effect the Richards? Sue in particular. And even the as yet unborn baby, which, if it lived through Sue's heartbreak and grief, would have to go on in life knowing that it had a big brother who was murdered by a madman.
I even began to wonder what would happen if the reason for my action became known and then talked about in the newspapers and on television. How many copy cat baby murders would that inspire? Ever hear somebody say that if you move so much as one rock at the bottom of a riverbed it will eventually alter the course of the entire river? That's what I felt like I was doing. My desperate act would alter the flow of history in a dramatic way.
How many lives would I end up destroying in my effort to save lives?
With such considerations as these, I constantly sought to talk myself out of what I was planning to do, but always I stood firm against such considerations knowing that what I planned to do was the only possible, rational course of action - no matter how irrational it might seem to anyone else.
Then my chance to act came.
Sue and John had gone out, leaving little Jonathan, the future mass murderer, alone with a sixteen year old babysitter. My own wife had taken Melissa to visit her grandmother, my mother, and Jason was of course elsewhere - anywhere so long as it was not at home. There was then only a sixteen year old girl to get by to reach the baby.
It was early evening. I got up from my chair where I had sat all day mentally and emotionally focussed upon what I had to do, absolutely motionless. I went into the bathroom to throw some cold water on my face then gazed up into the mirror before me. The person who looked at me from the other side of the mirror bared only the vaguest resemblance to the Tom Fergeson I had become accustomed to. His eyes were deepset, bloodshot and darkly circled. His cheeks were sunken, his whole frame almost emaciated from lack of sleep and nourishment, and there was a stubble of beard that would never before have been permitted. I noticed that something in the room had a rank smell to it and finally realized that it was me. When was the last time I actually bathed? How could my family stand me? Obviously they couldn't. They were all elsewhere, using whatever pretext they could to get away from me if only for the evening. I gazed into the mirror and smiled grimly at my reflection. My God, I did look like a madman - and yet, my mind, my thoughts, were clearer and sharper than they had ever before been and my course in life so absolutely certain that there was not a single doubt in my mind as to its rightness. Perhaps, I tried to convince myself, that it is true - that madmen are without doubt, unquestionably certain that what they are doing is right, and that it is only the sane man who constantly doubts and incessantly questions. Probably it is true that the madman is beseiged by fewer self-doubts than a sane person, but I knew that I was sane and rational and felt sure that even a sane man can be beyond the attacks of doubt once his purpose in life has been made clear to him.
I took a deep breath and turned away from the mirror. I was determined to go through with it. This was the time and I would do it. I did not worry about my finesse. I would be caught sooner or later - if not by someone else, by my own conscience. If someone did not turn me in, I would turn myself in for the murder I was about to commit. Even though I knew that what I was killing was a madman who would destroy the world, it was still, at that point in time, a baby, and it would be something that would not be easy to live with. For my own life I no longer cared. By the experience of seeing the future if things remained as they were, my life was already destroyed. As for the Richards, my wife and children, well, a life, as miserable as it would be after the murder, would at least be a life. There would be hope. However, if I did not do as I knew I must do there would be no life - for anyone. Absolutely no hope whatsoever.
I had no choice whatsoever - no other rational recourse.
I went into the kitchen and carefully picked out the large butcher knife from the cutlery rack. I had considered very carefully the way in which the act should be performed. I could have smothered the baby but as things are today, should someone get to the child in time, it might be revived. I would then be carted off, locked up, and unable to do anything but watch and listen to the events that would lead up to the future I experienced that moment in my livingroom. I did not even feel safe about simply stabbing the child - the things that can be done in hospitals today are remarkable. No. I had to make sure that the baby's death was absolutely final. That's why I also took the matches and the can of gasoline I had hidden in the basement.
Out through my back door I went, across the yards between the two houses, then I knocked on the back door of the Richards' house. Mary Lou, the babysitter, asked who it was. I told here I was Mr. Krebs from across the street, knowing that by now my name carried with it a certain reputation, and Mary Lou trustfully opened the door. There was no time for words, no need for finesse. I simply grabbed the girl and tossed her out onto the backyard, then dashed into the house, locking the backdoor behind me. After checking the front door and assuring myself that it was locked, closing and locking whatever first floor windows I found open, Mary Lou banging on the backdoor and yelling the whole time, I walked over to where the baby slept in his crib.
There I stood with the butcher knife tucked in my belt and a can of gasoline in my hand.
The baby awoke, looked up at me, smiled and made the usual baby sounds. My eyes fell upon the baby and for a fleeting moment I saw the face of my own son when he was a baby, and then the face of my daughter, superimposed upon little Jonathan's pink face. Lightly I touched the baby's extremely soft cheek and it smiled wider with delight as if to remind me that after all he was just a baby, an innocent little toddler, a cute little rug rat that could harm no one, that brought pleasure just by being. I grew disgusted with myself and turned away. By this time the babysitter had stopped beating on the door and I knew that she had gone for help. If I was going to do what I had gone there to do I had to do it quickly. Within moments neighbours and the police would surely be breaking down the door to get to me. I turned on my heel and looked once again upon the baby. Obviously I had caught him by surprise for there was on the face of that baby, in the cold blue eyes, such a look of hate and loathing that I no longer saw the creature as a baby. It was not the body nor the personality of the baby that I caught a glimpse of, but the twisted soul of the infant that glared up at me. That - being - had been committed, before birth, to beecoming the lunatic and mass murderer that I saw in my vision. It's course was unalterable, unchangeable, definite. Therefore my own course had to be just as determined.
I had to kill that baby.
"You little bastard," I hissed. "Now I see you for what you really are. You have finally revealed yourself." The baby's expression changed and once again it was the innocent little defenseless infant I had seen that first night. "No. No. You are not going to fool me. I know you for what you really are." I reached down and grasped the handle of the knife, my heart racing. "I know what you are and what you will do. I will put a stop to it now. I'll prevent it from ever happening. You'll not have the chance to destroy the world ... my children ... even yourself ... for I am going to put an end to you here and now."
As I slowly pulled the knife from my belt, I was dimly aware of more pounding, this time at the front door and louder; a pounding of greater force and strength than before. Vaguely, as I raised the thick-bladed knife into the air, I heard someone, a man, two men, calling my name, commanding me to unlock the door. Then I heard another voice that caught my attention. It was my son. Jason. "Dad! Dad! Please unlock the door!" he called out. "Please, dad!" But I would not let my attention waver any further. I shut my mind to the sounds outside, ignoring the crashing of breaking glass and the wrenching of a door being forced off its hinges. My eyes fell once more upon the baby, I lifted my hand into the air, the knife gleaming in the light, and the creature smiled. It smiled! No longer did it look like the baby it pretended to be, that it was in body only, but exactly what it did look like I couldn't say. The baby smiled, but not with the smile of an infant. Its smile was cold and hard, sarcastic and mocking. Its eyes were sharp and filled with hate and a kind of insane glee. It was mocking me. I held a knife over its tiny black beating heart and it mocked me. There was not a trace of defeat in it's eyes, its entire visage, but only an expression of mocking victory over me. I could not understand it and it drove me wild with hate and anger. I heard my name called out - it was Jason, I think - and then my arm came down. Deeply I plunged the knife into the baby's heart - so deep it penetrated the tiny body and sunk into the mattress beneath it. Someone grabbed my arm and I roughly threw him off and against the far wall without looking back. "Dad! No!" I ignored the plea and with the knife, in one swift move, severed the baby's head from its body. "Oh, my God!" Again my arm, then both arms, were grabbed from behind, but I was not yet finished. I had to be absolutely certain. Absolutely. So with a strength I never knew I possessed, I fought off the two burly men who had taken hold of me and gotten myself free. I removed the lid from the can of gazoline then kicked it over so that its contents flowed out onto the floor under the crib. Again the men were on me and I struggled, managing to get one hand free with which I took the book of matches and one-handed struck a light then flicked the entire flaming book of matches into the pool of gasoline. With a soft explosion of hot air and flames, the crib was instantly engulphed in fire, the death-frozen eyes in the severed head staring at me as the flames began eating away at the tender baby flesh.
There was no goddamn way in hell that baby was going to be saved!
It was done! The thing - the baby - was destroyed forever and there would be a future for the world and hope for my children.
I stopped fighting the men who held me tightly and we all stood there for a time staring at the conflagration before us. My son was crying, the men in utter disbelief, and myself, I stood there with a weary sense of triumph.
And that is my story. I see it in your eyes. You still think I'm insane - yet sane enough to be executed. I suppose it was hopeless for me to try and convince you otherwise. Don't you think I know how crazy it all sounds? How mad I look? If you were telling me this story I am sure I would think the very same things you are thinking now. But there is one thing, one thing that alone is important to me. I know that what I did was right. I know what that baby was going to grow up to become - and do. There is, still, after all the soul-searching I've done, not the least little bit of doubt in my mind. I saved the world from the destruction it would have surely succumb to in les than half a century.
That - that thing is dead and out of this world forever and that is the end of it. It is over. It is finished. And I don't give a damn about anything any more and just wish they would hurry up and finish things for me.
"What the hell do you want, Grady?" The guard locked the heavy metal door behind him. Even its thickness did not completely shut out the screaming that came from the maximum security isolation cell.
"Can't you shut that son of a bitch up? What's he screamin' about any way? Did he finally realize what's about to happen to him?"
The guard came over to Grady's cell.
Nah. That ain't it. He's been looking forward to dying tonight. Guy's been absolutely nuts about dying. Kind of like a kid looking forward to his first piece of tail."
"Then why the hell's he yellin' his head off?"
"Don't know exactly. I gave him a letter from his wife, he read it, his eyes got real big, and he started his yelling."
"What's he yellin?"
"Can't you hear him? Listen!" The two of them stood still for a moment and did just that. Grady then turned and looked at the guard. "Did I hear that right? Something about someone being back?"
"Can I see that letter?"
The guard shrugged. "Sure. Why not?" He handed the wrinkled, half torn piece of paper to the prisoner.
I will never fully understand any of it, but no matter what, I want you to know that I still love you, that I know that somehow the terrible thing you did was for our benefit, for the benefit of everyone, or that at least you believe it was. It doesn't make any sense, I know, but I feel sure you couldn't do something so horrible unless you felt that you had a very good reason for your actions. A reason that you would not tell even me.
Maybe this will make you feel better.
Sue Richards just delivered a perfect little baby boy last night and they have decided to name him after their first son, Jonathan, odd though that seems to me. He has the same lovely blue eyes too. If I didn't know better, I'd swear it was the same baby. It's almost as if that terrible night had never happened. As if that horrible thing you did never occurred.
As if everything can happen as it was all meant to happen and that nothing has really changed.