When I wrote The Baby and copyrighted it in 1987 E.V., I had intended it to be a single short story. The Baby, however, had other plans. The character took charge of the story, ending it unfavourably from the perspective of the tale's progragonist. Well, I certainly could not allow a figment of my imagination to exert that kind of power over my work, so I sat down to write a second story about The Baby, subtitling the work of fiction It's Back! and again my intention was to send that accurséd infant to Hell where it belongs.
Writers and storytellers do not always get what they want.
Once more, sit back. Relax. And take a firm grip upon reality. I offer to you here, for the first time ever, The Baby - Part 2 - the reason every man and woman should consider birth control.
I ... I'm having trouble focussing my mind.
It is as if a thick shroud were being pulled over it. Darkness seems to be creeping, oozing over me. Am I going blind? Is that what happens just before ... just before ...?
I have got to focus my thoughts.
I must concentrate.
The story has to be told. People have to know!
Where did it all begin? When? The prison? Yes. The prison. No. Before that. Before that and in a simple suburban area. But for me it began in the prison ... where I was collecting information for a story. Yes. That's where it began for me ...
"So that's the whole story. I offed the guy and here I am servin' a life sentence in this stinkin' hole you guys on the outside call a 'correctional institution'."
I studied the rough exterior of the prisoner named Grady for a moment, then asked, "You don't think much of the correctional system?"
Grady grunted. "Some fuckin' system! You throw us in a corwded hole and cover us up then forget about us. Howar we gonna get reformed and corrected in a place like this? Hell," he grunted, "I wasted one asshole and here in this college I've since learned how to open practically any lock, fence things - you name it, I've learned it here. It's all so goddamned easy, playin' it straight seems pretty damn stupid by comparison!"
I considered this for a moment, still unsure about what new angle to take with this story, when I heard the screaming.
"Oh yeah ... and we got some great neighbours here."
"Who is that? What's he screaming about," I asked.
"You don't know?"
"No. Should I?"
"Yer a friggin' newspaper man, ain't you?"
"Yes, but ..."
"But nothin'. That's good old Ferggy."
"Yeah. Ferggy! You just come from the moon or somethin'? Tom Fergeson. You know, the guy that killed the ten month old baby!"
Of course. How could I have forgotten? Several months back, close to a year ago, Fergeson, a rather average fellow holding down a good steady job with a utilities company, solid family man with a loving wife and two relatively good kids, apparently went mad and murdered the next door neighbours' baby. How could I forget that one! I bitched at Leo, my Managing Editor, for not letting me have the story. I am damn sure that I could have gotten the full story out of him. I know I could have!
"Hey. Newspaper man. You still with the livin'?"
"Huh? Oh, yes. Sorry. I was just reviewing the story in my mind."
"Story?" the imprisoned murderer characteristically grunted. "Is that the way you see things? As stories! That guy in there screamin' his fuckin' head off is a man, buddy. A freakin' hu-man be-in'."
There was a curious expression on Grady's face. A kind of hurt softness - a gentle look that was very much out of place on that hard, craggy face.
"You almost sound like you feel sorry for him. Like you ..."
"Aw, fuck you!" Grady turned away to face the drab institutional green wall. A cockroach was carefully climbing to the ceiling and I made a quick mental note of it for the story. "Look," Grady continued without turning around, "Ferggy screwed up. He screwed up real bad. Doctors insisted he's sane, but doctors don't know everything. Somethin' went wrong up here," he tapped the side of his head, "and he killed someone's baby."
"Yes, but a baby. A ten month old baby ...?"
Grady turned sharply on me.
"A fuckin' baby! Right! Maybe."
I was startled by Grady's sudden turn and sharp words. Startled? I nearly wet myself! However, even more than his quick turn on me, it was the look in his eyes, his tear-moistened eyes, that startled me most. It was crazy. Grady's reactions regarding the baby-killer were completely inconsistent with the rest of his character.
"Okay." I wanted to calm him down. "Fergeson is a human being and even though he ... made a mistake ... he should be respected as a human being. You're right. I'm sorry."
Grady's shoulders slumped and he turned again to face the wall, furtively wiping his eyes with his blunt-fingered hand.
"You don't understand. You don't get it."
"What, Grady? What don't I understand?" I was beginning to smell a bigger story than the one I had come for.
"Fergeson. That's what you don't understand. Fergeson. No one understands him."
"No one ... but you?"
He grunted. "No. Not me. I don't understand him either. At least, not in any way I can put into words. It's just that ... that ... well, fuck ... the guy's not what everyone thinks he is."
After Fergeson murdered the Richards' baby, butchered it is more like it, the entire country was up in arms about it. Of course the press had a lot to do with that. Reporters like Musick, who got the story I wanted, had a field day with it. News to guys like that is nothing but a platform on which they can stand and pontificate while showing off to the world how clever and witty they are. Yes, they had a field day with that story all over the country, especially on television. Played it up so big and for so long that there was a great public outcry to have Fergeson executed. Things got so hot that the court, overruling this once its abolishment of the death penalty in this state, sentenced Fergeson to the electric chair.
As I thought about it, I remembered that he was scheduled to be executed that very evening.
"What do you mean," I asked Grady, "that he's not what everyone thinks he is?"
"I don't know what I mean. The guy's got to be crazy or somethin', but there's somethin' about him ... somethin' ... somethin' ..."
"Rational? Sane?" I ventured.
"Yeah. Kinda." Grady turned back to face me. "And kinda ... well ... heroic, I guess."
Heroic! A baby-killer ... heroic?
"How do you mean that?"
"How the hell should I know how I mean that! I don't know! Heroic! Heroic! It's just somethin' in his eyes!" Grady leaped to his feet and began pacing the small cell in a kind of frustrated rage. "Somethin' in his goddamn eyes. I just can't get them out of my head. I keep seein' them ... those eyes ... kinda haunted lookin'. I mean, like he had the eyes of a very sane man, real ... rational ... ya know. There was no guilt. No ..."
"Yeah! No remorse in his eyes. And he looked real sane ... I mean real sane. When he looked at me I just knew he'd done somethin' real important like. I felt like he saved my life. Like he saved everybody's life. It was kinda like ..." Grady had grown very uncomfortable, but seemed momentarily calmed by his thought, "it was kinda like lookin' up and seein' those big brown eyes lookin' down at you, seein' all the hurt and sorrow in those eyes, all the pity for the people below instead of for himself."
"No!" Grady turned on me. "Lookin' into Fergeson's eyes was like lookin' into the eyes of Christ! Like he'd just sacrificed himself to save the world or somethin'." He turned away from me again. "Get outta here. I'm through talkin'. Screw! Hey, screw! Get this reporter the hell outta here!"
At that point I wanted nothing more than to get out of that small cell and as far away from Grady as possible. The subject of Tom Fergeson seemed to throw him into a confused frenzy and at any moment I was afraid that a single simple question would set him off and that he would rip out my throat to shut me up.
"All right. All right. Shut up, Grady!" The prison guard unlocked the cell and I quickly stepped out of it. "I knew it was a mistake to let you come in here instead of talking to the prisoners one at a time in the visitors' area." He was relocking the cell as he spoke. "Warden must be getting soft in the head or something."
I could hear Fergeson again, beyond a steel door at the end of the hall, screaming about something I could not quite make out.
"Come on," the guard said to me, "let's get out of here before I get a headache."
I looked back to the steel door.
"What's on the other side of that door?"
"Maximum security isolation," the guard shrugged, "and Fergeson, of course."
"Why's he in there?"
"Guy was causing problems. Getting the others all upset. Everybody wanted a piece of him ... and I don't mean they wanted to 'dance'. They wanted his blood."
The guard just looked at me for a moment and I noticed that there was something behind his eyes not very much different that what I had seen behind the eyes of most prisoners.
"Why? Look, buddy, guys in here are mostly scum ... like Grady," Grady said nothing, but remained hunched over, his back toward us, his face in his hands - was he crying? "But even these guys got some morals and they don't like people who go around killing no babies. What's the matter ... you approve of that sort of behaviour?"
"No. Of course not," I stuttered. "I just never thought ... well ... you know ..."
"Yeah. I know."
I looked back towards the steel door.
"Listen, is there any chance of ..."
"Of what? Getting in to see Fergeson?"
"Yes. I would really like to talk with him."
"What are you, a ghoul or something? Leave the guy alone. They're putting his lights out tonight. Give the guy a break." He glanced toward the door saying half to himself, "And I'll be damn glad too. Damn glad."
"How about asking the warden for me?"
"Forget it. He won't let you in to see Fergeson. He's forbidden it. Not a damn thing I can do."
I thought perhaps that the guard only needed a little persuasion.
"Listen," I said, slipping a twenty into his hand, "the warden figures I'll be in this cell block talking to prisoners all day. He'll never know you let me in to see Fergeson. Will he? How about it?"
The uniformed man regarded me with a kind of deadpan expression, but he was caressing the twenty dollar bill in his hand, then he said, "Okay. But not too long. If anyone ever found out it would be my ass in a sling. Got it?"
"Come on, then."
The guard led me to the end of the hall and began unlocking the door when Fergeson started his screaming again.
"What the hell is he saying?" I asked.
"Listen for yourself," the guard shrugged, throwning the door back on its reinforced hinges.
"It's back! Oh God no! It's back!"
I turned to the guard. "What's back?"
"Beats the hell out of me."
"Has he been screaming like that all this time?"
"Hell no. Screaming like that for close to a year? He'd have lost his voice by now." The guard looked into the dimly lit room. It was a long narrow hall with steel doors lining it. In each door there was only a tiny barred window about eye-level. "No. When we first brought Fergeson in here he was real quiet, hardly ever looked up ..." the guard shivered at the thought and I got the impression that he was very glad Fergeson hardly ever made eye contact with him, "and it wasn't until the letter came that he started the screaming."
"Yeah. From his wife. Don't remember what it said. Didn't mean anything to me."
"But it certainly meant something to Fergeson," I mused.
"Yeah, well, you can go down to the end of the hall and talk to him through the door, but you got to hurry up."
"Is he dangerous?"
The guard thought about it for a moment. "No. I don't think so."
"Then I'd prefer talking with him face to face, in the cell."
"Like hell! No way! Have any idea what would happen if he flipped out and killed you?"
"Yeah," I said dryly, "I'd be dead."
"And so would I, buddy, so would I!"
"But you said he's not dangerous."
"Yeah, well ..."
"And I have an expense account ..."
The guard thought that one over for a moment.
"Okay. But first sign of trouble you call me and I'll be there pronto. Got it?"
As the guard inserted the key into the cell door, Fergeson became perfectly quiet and I was beginning to have second thoughts.
"Better behave yourself, Fergeson. This fellow here wants to talk with you and I don't want nothing to happen to him."
Fergeson was dead silent.
The guard carefully opened the door. The cramped cell was pretty dark. There was only one small barred window high up and the sun was on the other side of the building at that time. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. When my eyes did adjust, I saw Tom Fergeson sitting all huddled up in the far corner of the tiny room looking at me with large, haunted, fearful eyes. He was so pale he was almost luminous in the dark and his hair was dishevelled. His jawline was hidden by a tangled beard that he must have grown out of carelessness since his incarceration.
He nodded assent with a little, furtive nod.
"Do you mind if I talk with you for a while?"
He only stared at me for a moment then quietly asked, "What for? Who are you?"
I was not sure how he felt about the press at this point, so I hesitated a little.
"My name's Jack Ross. I'm a ... a reporter."
Fergeson sat up. Interest showed in his worn face.
"That's right. Do you mind?"
"No. No! Please. Please! Sit down ... please."
I looked back at the guard. He shrugged, then as I sat on the edge of Fergeson's bed, the guard closed and locked the cell door. For a moment I felt panicky, then the moment passed ... kind of ...
"What newspaper?" I told him. "Great! That's just great!"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because," Fergeson said as he got up and sat on the other end of his bed, "your paper is read by a lot of people, and they have to know. I have to tell them now. I can't do anything else."
"What do they have to know?"
"They have to know why. They have to know about the baby, of course."
"The one you ... you ..."
"Killed. Yes. The baby that I killed. The baby I killed but that's still alive."
I glanced at the door and for a moment had the urge to run to it and scream for the guard. Then I looked back at Fergeson.
"If you killed it, how can it still be alive?"
"Oh God," Fergeson dropped back against the wall. "I'm sorry. I must seem crazy to you. I must look crazy. But I'm not ... not really ... although I think I may be going mad knowing what I know and not being able to do anything about it."
"Please," I tried to be reassuring with the tone of my voice, "if you could just start from the beginning."
"Of course. I should start from the beginning. But you've got to hear me out! You have to listen to the whole story! Promise?"
"Okay. Fine. You know I didn't want to talk to the press in the beginning. I just wanted what I'd done to be forgotten, especially for the sake of my family."
"Because you are ashamed of what you did?"
"No! Not at all! I was afraid if you boys in the press found out why I'd killed that ... that baby ... you'd sensationalize it and get all kinds of loonies stirred up and committing copy cat murders throughout the city."
That sounded unexpectedly rational and responsible to me.
"Besides, I thought it was all over. I thought I had finished it once I drove that butcher knife through its body, cut off its damn head and then burned it to a cinder in its crib. I thought it was all over."
"And it isn't?"
Fergeson looked at me with great fear in his brown eyes.
"No. It isn't. It's back. The baby's back."
"I don't understand."
Fergeson looked away and into space as he spoke.
"Just before I drove the knife into its tiny body, the baby looked up at me. I caught it off guard and for the first time I saw that it wasn't at all what it seemed to be. I saw that there was something inhuman behind those eyes. Something ... well ... evil. It was then that I was absolutely certain I was not mad, that what I experienced was real and that I had to kill that ... that ... thing. Then, the knife poised over it, the baby looked up at me. It had to know it would die. It had to know that nothing could possibly stop me at that point. And yet it looked up at me and it smiled - it mocked me - it seemed to laugh at me. The thing was about to die, but it looked up at me as if its victory was assured, as if it had beaten me." Fergeson's shoulders drooped and he looked down at the floor. "And it had. The baby was one step ahead of me the whole time."
"How was it one step ahead of you? What did you experience that was real? Why ...?"
"Please. Please," he quietly said. "I'll begin at the beginning, then if you have any questions you can ask them. Just promise me one thing," he implored. "Print this story. Publish it right on the front page if you can. But please publish it responsibly. I do not want any loonies out there to start imagining things and killing babies. But you have to print this story. People have to read it. They have to know. I can't stop it now. Tonight they are executing me. Someone has to finish the job. Someone has to read your article, learn the truth, and finish the job."
"You mean kill the baby?"
"I mean kill it, yes."
"But it's already dead."
"I destroyed a body ... an infant human body. I destroyed its ... its physical vehicle. The baby ... it still lives. It is in a new body now."
This was beginning to sound madder and madder all the time, but something in Fergeson's tone of voice, his mannerisms, his eyes, seemed to grow saner as he spoke. I found myself fascinated and hanging on to his every word.
Then Tom Fergeson told me the whole story. He began by explaining that he was just an average man with an average job and an average family. He spoke lovingly, fondly of his wife Joanne, his son Jason and his young daughter Melissa. He went into great detail to assure me that there was nothing out of the ordinary about him or his family or their lives together ... nothing until John and Sue Richards moved into the house next door. It was then that everything went mad in Tom's world.
Fergeson told me how he believed, how he still believes, that most of what one hears about the occult is stupid nonsense. He had no interest in it at all and did not even enjoy horror films. He explained that when his wife insisted upon seeing the television version of Out on a Limb he had to laugh at the whole idiotic thing, that he still thinks it is all nonsense ... at least, as Ms. MacLaine presented it.
Yet when he first saw the baby he felt something terrible. At a later date his wife invited the Richrads to dinner. Fergeson found himself alone in the livingroom with the baby for a brief moment, and that is when he had had his "experience". He said it was not like a trance or anything like that. One moment he was in his livingroom gazing down at a perfectly normal looking baby that scared the hell out of him for some reason he could not understand, and the next moment he found himself standing in, of all places, the Oval Office in Washington, DC. Apparently neither the President ... not our current President, but the person who would become President in about forty years, he said ... neither he nor the man he was arguing with could see Fergeson. The two men, according to Fergeson, argued ... or will argue! ... and the President of the United States took a revolver from his desk drawer and shot the other man to death. Then he observed the President unlock some kind of a glass case, pick up a simple black 'phone, make direct contact with a certain general, by-passing an Act of Congress and so forth, and thereby initiate what would ultimately be not only World War III, but the last war ever fought on planet earth.
At that point Fergeson claimed he was suddenly back in his livingroom, looking down at the baby, causing enough of a disturbance to attract everyone's attention and concern.
I did not quite get it at first and he had to explain it to me as if I were retarded or something.
There he was looking down at little ten month old Jonathan Richards, looking at his little pink face and sparkling blue eyes one moment, and then the next moment he found himself somehow catapulted foward in time to watch the President of the United States, apparently gone mad, murder another important Washington official and then use some kind of a hot line, a direct telephone line I know does not now exist, to start the final war. It was not until just before he was thrown back into present time, as he put it, that he heard the dying man call the President Jonathan and saw the blue sparkle of his eyes.
"And that's the whole story, so help me God."
"You actually believe that?" I asked.
"Yes. I not only believe it, but I know it is true. Don't ask me to explain it. I'm not sure exactly what happened or why it happened. But I do know, somehow I know, that what I experienced was very real. I knew that what I saw would happen unless I put a stop to it. That baby, Jonathan Richards, will grow up, enter politics as his father had always wanted to do, and eventually become President and plunge the world into a thermonuclear holocaust that will destroy all life on earth ... all life ... including my children, and millions of children not yet born ... that would never be born ... that will never be born ..."
"But you killed the baby. You speak as if it's not yet over ... as if it will still grow up, become President and initiate the war."
"I told you. I thought I had killed it, but I only killed its body ... its first body!" He could see the look in my eyes. "I'm not crazy. Honestly. I wish I were. Every doctor who examined me insisted that I am the most sane man they had ever studied. Remember what I told you? When my wife and I first met the Richards and their baby, Sue Richards was pregnant. Remember how the baby looked up at me as I stood there about to drive the knife through its heart, how it looked at me as if it had won and I had lost?" I did not make the connection and he could see it in my eyes. "Damn it! Are all newspaper reporters as dense as you? The damn thing somehow knew well in advance that I would see what I saw and kill it. Or at least it had prepared for that possibility. It knew that it would, or that it might, be murdered, and so it had somehow arranged matters so that it would be provided with another body when or if it should lose the one it then had!"
"Kind of like a lifeboat?"
"I suppose. Something like that. It seems to all intents and purposes like a perfectly ordinary baby, but that only further proves just how adept it is at survival."
"But, Mr. Fergeson," I could see cracks in his story, or so I thought, "if that's true, then the future is already changed. If the baby grows up to become President now, the President's name, for instance, will not be Jonathan Richards." Fergeson had a nasty, humourless smile on his face. "What did the Richards name their second child?" I asked.
Fergeson just looked at me for a moment with that mocking smile.
"They named their second baby in honour of their first one, Mr. Ross." It seemed like a crazy thing for parents who had just lost their first child to do. It did not or would not quite sink in at first. "They named their second baby Jonathan, and when my wife wrote a letter to tell me of the 'blessed event' she told me that they had named the baby Jonathan and she described its beautiful sparkling blue eyes; said they looked just like the first baby's; said that it was just as if nothing had happened. As if I'd never committed murder. And she said that things could be just as they were meant to be."
"My God ... No wonder you have been ... been ..."
"Screaming my damn head off? Acting like a lunatic? Don't be shy, Mr. Ross. I am quite sane, I assure you, and I know what it must seem like to others. I was screaming partly out of frustrated anguish and partly hoping to attract some attention, to get someone to listen to my story."
"I never told her. For one thing, I never wanted her to go through what I've gone through. Until now I never wanted to tell anyone."
"But that doesn't make sense. A man that does something like you claim to have done wants to tell the whole world about it. He wants to brag about saving the world."
"Sure he does ... if he's a madman in the first place. You keep forgetting, Mr. Ross, I'm not crazy. I did what I did to save the world, I suppose mostly for the sake of my own children more than anything else, and I knew that what I was doing was right, but ... seriously, Mr. Ross ... even now, how do you feel about my story? About me?"
"Be honest, Mr. Ross. I promise I won't fly into a rage and try to rip your face off with my teeth. What do you think of me and my story right this minute?"
I took a deep breath expecting the worst.
"It all sounds pretty crazy. You sound pretty crazy."
"Well ... your story does. You don't sound too crazy now that you've started talking about it. Perhaps the hallucination was just so convincing that you actually believe it is true."
"It is true, Mr. Ross. Every word of it. My experience was no hallucination. It was real. Very frightfully real. I was there. In some way I was there, right there in the Oval Office, in the future, observing things that would happen, things that will happen, if the baby is not destroyed. Utterly and completely destroyed."
"Mr. Fergeson ..."
He held up his hand to stop me then fell back against the wall suddenly exhausted, as if this confession, of sorts, had taken from him his last reserves of strength.
"You know the full story now, Mr. Ross. I really have nothing else to add to it. There's really nothing else I can say. The rest is up to you."
"The rest is up to me?"
"Yes. Write the story. Tell the people. Someone with enough guts and conviction must know what's happening and kill that damn baby."
"Do you know what you are asking me to do?" Fergeson just looked at me tiredly. "In the first place, it's going to be almost impossible to get my Managing Editor to let me write the story. It's old news for one thing. Oh, sure, with a fresh angle and one that the readers may find interesting, but it is also a very controversial angle, one that is almost certain to start a string of copy cat murders, as you feared, no matter how carefully I word it. Leo just won't go for that! The paper could get slapped with a number of legal suits from every quarter ... not to mention from the Richards themselves! No. It won't work. It won't. I'd love to print the story. I really would! I wanted this story when it first happened! But it will never be okayed. It will never be allowed in the paper."
"Then that settles it," Fergeson said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"I've told you the story," he looked about at the deepening gloom. "They will be coming to get me soon. In a short while I'll be dead, Mr. Ross, and you are the only other person who knows the full story, who knows what will happen if the baby is allowed to live and grow up. You are the only person, Mr. Ross, that can save the world from total destruction in less than half a century."
I stared at Fergeson with wide, surprised, fearful eyes.
"Do you expect me to kill the baby now?"
Fergeson tiredly shrugged.
"Kill it, or convince someone else to kill it. Whatever. It's over for me now. There's nothing more that I can do. I'm a dead man."
"I ... I ..."
"Hey, Ross!" the guard called from outside. "You better be done in there 'cause they'll be coming for Fergeson soon. You finished?"
Fergeson looked wearily towards the steel door as the guard began unlocking it.
Tom Fergeson looked at me - weary and sad.
"Mr. Ross has to write his story now." The guard opened the cell door. "I just hope that it has a happier ending than mine."
Like a mechanical man, I stood up and marched toward the open door. Before leaving the dark cell, I took one last look at Tom Fergeson. In that moment I saw that which Grady described. It was as if he had given his life to save humanity and as he looked upon us with pity and sorrow, not for himself but for us, he somehow knew that it was all for naught - that humanity did not give a damn. That after he was gone we would continue on our miserable self-destructive course - that we have learned nothing from his sacrifice.
I never saw or heard from Tom Fergeson again. No one did. That evening, for the first time in years, the lights dimmed for a moment and Tom Fergeson was no more. Right on schedule he was placed in the long unused electric chair and executed.
That was the end of Tom Fergeson's story.
And the beginning of mine ...
"Say, Jacko! What's up?"
Every time Musick called me Jacko I wanted to jump up and punch him in his always-grinning stupid face.
"Nothing. Just doing a little research."
Musick leaned over my shoulder and looked at the newspaper clippings spread out on my cluttered desk.
"The Fergeson story? You still pissed off about that?"
"No, Pete. It's old news. Just felt like looking over the stuff again."
"Ah ... who can resist reading and rereading my material?"
"I can, Pete. Believe me, I can."
"Doesn't look like it from here."
I simply turned to look up at Musick. My expression wasn't at all friendly. I never did like someone looking over my shoulder, and I especially did not like Pete Musick doing it.
"Pete, don't you have something important to do?"
"Who? Me, pal? Nahh. I'm just killing a little time until my date picks me up here at the office."
"Your date? I thought you were going steady with your hand and flirting with the washroom mirror?"
"Cute, Jacko. Real cute."
He left me alone after that. It usually works. And every time it made me wonder why.
I studied over the clippings for a while and really learned nothing new. In fact, it seemed that no one back then had even the faintest idea as to what the whole thing was about. Apparently I was the only person who knew Fergeson's reason for killing the baby.
The first baby.
My mind kept looping back on that. Did he really expect me to kill a baby or convince someone else to do it? I did not have to think about the answer to that one. Of course he did. I simply did not want to believe it, mostly, I think, because he was so damn convincing when he told me his story. I was half tempted to believe it!
I stuffed the articles back in their envelope. Of course we have VDTs now instead of typewriters, and all kinds of computer files, but the librarians still maintain the old fashion files of newspaper clippings as well as complete on-line files. I'm not too comfortable with technology myself. I've lost a few stories on the damned Video Display Terminals already and did not think I would ever come to trust them or computers in general.
I sat there for a while staring at the VDT, then the articles, finally shifting my gaze to Jody as she weaved through the desks in the City Room delivering mail. As my grandfather used to say about women with Jody's looks, she has a pair of legs that go on almost forever until they make an ass of themselves. Of course, with legs like hers it was usually guys like me who ended up making asses of ourselves.
After Jody walked by I realized that I was doing anything I could to avoid doing what I had to do ... or at least had to try. Leo would not go for it. I knew he wouldn't. Still, I had to give it a shot. The story was interesting. I was the only reporter who knew it. I was the only one who could answer all those long unanswered questions about the murder of the Richards' baby.
Josephine gave me the okay and after taking a deep breath, I walked into Leo's office and as usual he sat behind his desk - grey hair, thick-rimmed glasses, white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, tie loosened, suspenders, and yes, even chomping on a cigar, although his doctor had ordered him never to actually smoke one again. Leo always reminded me of a 1940's Hollywood version of a managing editor, complete with short, sturdy stature, blunt fingers and a gruff voice. An Edward G. Robinson clone.
"What's on your mind, Ross?"
"What else?" I shrugged. "A story."
He leaned back and folded his arms over his barrel chest. Maybe he was actually trying to imitate Ed Asner these days.
"Pitch it, Ross."
"Tom Fergeson," he repeated, rolling the name over in his mind. "The baby killer?"
"That's the one."
"Old news, Ross. Very old. Besides, as of last night that story is stone cold dead."
"Gone but not forgotten," I quipped. Shouldn't have done that. Leo hated smart asses ... like Musick. The expression on his face assured me my sense of humour was lost on him. "Listen, it's like this, I got a chance to talk with the guy before they juiced him and he had a hell of a story to tell."
"Go ahead. I'm listening."
"Fergeson told me why he killed the Richards' baby."
"He killed the baby because it was going to grow up, become the President, and start World War III."
Even as the words tripped out of my mouth it sounded pretty lame and I was wishing I'd spent a little effort in preparing my pitch to the old man.
"Fergeson hear voices or did he see this in his crystal ball?"
Leo wasn't buying it.
"Nothing like that. He did not even believe in that stuff. He was just in his livingroom one day, looking down at the baby while the Richards were over for dinner, and then there he was in the Oval Office watching the President kill a man and then make th call that started the big one ... that will start the big one. After that he suddenly found himself back in his livingroom, but with the certain knowledge that that little baby would grow up to be the man he observed in the Oval Office."
Leo got up from his chair, his arms still crossed over his chest, and walked about the room for a moment. Turning to me he said in his usual tone of voice just what I had expected him to say.
"Are you nuts, Ross?"
My Managing Editor sat back into his chair.
"First of all, no one would believe it. At best they will merely say that that was the way they figured it all along, that the guy was nuts. So what? They might even claim that we made the story up just to sell papers. Now that Fergeson is dead, who's to say? Secondly, I may be wrong about the first thing. There may be some people who would believe it. Weirdos. Cult crazies. Psychics. Bible-beaters screaming their end of the world nonsense. They would drive the Richards couple up a wall with their craziness and might even go so far as to try and murder the Richards' new kid." I found myself automatically thinking that that might not be so bad. "That on top of the fact that the story might give some other crazies ideas to go out and kill other babies would bring on us a charge of irresponsible journalism. We'd be up to our eyeballs in law suits and our legal department is already a little peeved at us." Leo picked up a pencil and hunched over some VDT print outs; I still remember when it was old fashion copy paper we used to pound our stories out on with a typewriter. "Forget it, Ross. No way. It's old news ... old and dead and unnecessarily dangerous."
"Unnecessarily dangerous?" Leo looked up at me again. Damn. He did look something like Ed Asner! "Sounds like the pretty boys in the legal department talking."
"It is the pretty boys in the legal department talking, Ross. Leap into the twentieth century. Newsmen don't run newspapers any more. We just serve the corporate body. News is big business now, Ross. And writing a story that's bound to incur expensive legal hassles is bad business." I had a reply but left it unspoken. I could see that deep down inside he sympathized with me - that he was not too happy with the modern newspaper business. Leo started out as a paper boy, then as a copy boy - they are copy persons now, since young girls are being hired too - and it's been his whole life ever since. If it was up to Leo himself, he might have just okayed the story, carefully. Told me to give it a shot. But it wasn't. He had to answer to other people like the legal department, the Executive Editor, not to mention the Publisher and the Board of Directors.
"Okay, fine." I left the office in a bit of a huff and felt bad about that later. Leo couldn't help it.
On the way out of the building, I passed by the 'morgue', that's the 'dead news' library. At one time we only filed newspaper clippings there, microfilm and microfitche, and of course 'art', that is photographs of just about everyone and everything imaginable for the engravers and the art department's use. Now, however, we also have a computerized system in the 'morgue' which will eventually replace everything else I have kind of grown fond of. Searching through a computer's memory banks for information that will be printed on a VDT screen just does not have the same feel to it as searching through stacks of musty old yellowing newspaper clippings. It may be quicker and more efficient to use computers, but it is all kind of, well, unromantic.
"Well hello there, Jackie." I hated Jackie as much as I hated being called Jacko, but I liked Lynn a whole lot better than Musick, so it was okay. "When are you taking me out? I'm free all day Saturday."
"Alas, Lynn, my love. I'm not."
"Someone else? Jody maybe?"
"Nope. No one else. No one except a bunch of little boys."
"Jack Ross! I never thought you were that kinky!"
I laughed. "Little league is kinky to you?"
"I coach a little league team every other weekend, and I promised the guys a movie later on. Picked up a tape of The Natural."
"You'd rather spend Saturday afternoon and evening with a bunch of snotty-nosed little boys than a sexy, cuddly, snuggle-bunny like me?"
"Do I look crazy? But," I shrugged, "a promise is a promise and I would never let the guys down."
"You're just an old softie, Jackie."
"With the boys. I wouldn't be if we went out."
"Promises, promises," Lynn chuckled. She stepped over to her desk to pick up some envelopes. I watched her as she moved. I always watched her as she moved. As usual, I was particularly fascinated by her pear-shaped posterior that always fit so tightly into her skirts. She also had a thing for black stockings, and while I doubted her hair was really blonde, I did not much care if the curtains matched the carpet as the over all effect was one of teasing sensuality."
Why the hell wasn't I taking Lynn out?
"Here's everything you wanted," she said, handing me the clipping stuffed envelopes.
"Not everything." Lynn smiled.
"You interested in that weird stuff?"
"Who? Me? No. Not really. But I tried calling the guy earlier and found out that he's somewhere in Europe right now and cannot be reached. Only one I ever met or heard of that makes any sense and I need a little technical advice."
"What kind of a story are you on? Haunted houses? Things that go bump in the night?"
"Not really. My kind of story is more about things that go bump and grind in the night."
"And still you keep finding excuses not to go out with me ..."
"Lynn, darling, I can see this conversation is going nowhere fast and I really have to go. Thanks for digging this stuff up. I'll get it back to you as soon as I can."
"No hurry. I don't know why we have to cut up all those papers and file that stuff anyway now that we have these computers."
Lynn loved modern technology. Far more than she liked kids. Then I remembered why I had never asked her out.
I spent the entire evening going through the newspaper articles on and interviews with a fellow named G. M. Kelly, as well as reviews of his books. He was something of a local celebrity quickly becoming a national celebrity. So far he was the only person I had ever encountered who could speak and write about subjects like magic, or "magick" as he spelled it, and the occult and still sound rational, reasonable and logical. He was something of a hell-raiser too and took on the big boys in the church, the evangelists and fundamentalists, also exposing the con-games of various cults that he said misrepresented the esoteric arts and sciences. It was even rumoured that more than once Kelly worked with the city police and the D.A.'s office.
Occultists generally talk about demonic beings and the evocation of them. Kelly also spoke of such things, but he always went a step further than anyone else, in this case to equate demons with unresolved psychological complexes and evocations as a kind of symbolic self-psychoanalysis. He did not deny the objective reality of demons, but he explained that they were only objectively real upon their natural plane or level of consciousness, and otherwise they were subjective conceptualizations. No matter what wild subject this fellow took up, he made it sound so natural and reasonable that it was difficult to doubt anything he said. And like Fergeson, I never went in for that stuff too much. But this Kelly, he'd always get me going when I caught him on a talk show or had been assigned to interveiw him for the paper. Funny thing is that he would get me right in the palm of his hand, I mean he would have me just about ready to join his fraternity, or order, or whatever it was he ran in several "abbeys" around the state, then he would let me go. He never seemed eager to convert anyone to anything and was not at all concerned with whether anyone agreed with him or not, just so long as they thought about things.
Well, I was thinking about things!
First my interview with Fergeson got me going, and then reading all the material by and about Kelly stirred me up even more. The stuff is weird, there is no doubt about that, but there was something undeniable there. Something real and tangible amidst all of the occult bullshit. Something that Kelly could so easily extract and explain. Something that I was beginning to believe Tom Fergeson had experienced.
I thought about what Kelly had to say about demons and tried to apply this to what Fergeson had said about the baby. Although, according to Kelly, there were discarnate entities that could take possession of an individual, what he had to say along these lines did not seem to fit this particular case. Demonic possession in one so young as the Richards baby was practically unheard of. Complexes, demons, can live on long after the person who created them dies and then seek out some individual who is sympathetic to their nature, feed off of their psychological weakness or imbalance and further influence that person, strengthening that particular mental or emotional problem. This, however, was very rare in the case of babies for reasons too obvious to even mention. That, I thought, ruled out anything I had seen in The Exorcist.
By the way, after seeing Linda Blair in the sequal and later films, I had no trouble whatsoever understanding why any demon would want to get inside and possess her!
My concentration was beginning to waver a bit and I started chuckling over memories of things like the old Jack Finney story, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when suddenly I ran across something that took the humour out of my speculations:
When any group of individuals get together and pool their resources, work together, share experiences, thoughts and ideas, emotions and feelings, a group mind or soul is created. The old saying among occultists is true: Thoughts are things, true objective things, at least upon their own level of consciousness. Whether it is a religious group or a cult, even a bowling team, their constant meeting and sharing is bound to create a group mind. The more they meet, the more they share in the group, the stronger that group mind will become. Should their basic motives be constructive and what is commonly called "good", then the group mind they give birth to will be of the same nature. Should their motives be destructive and what we commonly refer to as "evil", that then will be the nature of the group mind. It stands to reason that care must be taken in these matters, that the joining of a group is a serious matter. Especially because of this fact: If enough energy is put into the group mind, it will eventually take on an independent life of its own and begin to influence the individual members of the group as well as the work of that group. If it is a "good" group and thus a "good" group mind, then all will benefit from the results. If, on the other hand, it is the reverse, the group mind that has been created will be extremely detrimental to all. It will feed off of the "negative" energy that created it and inspire the members of the group to further thoughts and deeds of a "negative" or "evil" nature. The Manson Family seems to be a perfect example of this sort of thing.
Back in the bad old days, when a child was born ugly or deformed or even retarded in some way, it was sometimes claimed that that child was a changeling. that is, a creature of another order of being, such as a fairy or a gnome, was said to have stolen the human infant and replaced it with one of its own unhuman race. These days the explanation for such an unfortunate occurrence is a bit more rational. However, there are still those who claim that such an unfortunate birth is God's punishment for something that they had done - although the idea of a god inflicting deformity or retardation on a child to punish the parents is barbaric, irrational, egocentric and it speaks ill of the god. In the last few decades or so a variation on the changeling theme has become popular - that of claiming a child to be the product of an experiment conducted by aliens who came to our planet in their "UFOs" to couple with humans.
Of course, as in all cases, there is always at least a grain of truth.
Sometimes, very rarely of course, an elemental life form will manage human incarnation long before it is ready, before it has progressed enough intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, to understand its humanity. Such a child will quickly prove to be very inhuman or unhuman in some way. Perhaps unusually talented, but also unusually incapable of understanding itself and others, and thus always at odds not only with society in general, but with itself. Such is the truth, at least partly, behind the changeling myths, and I have myself investigated a few cases of supposed "demonic possession" that turned out to be an instance of elemental incarnation.
There was one case I investigated, however, that did not fit into this category. The child in question was unquestionably horrible - not so much in appearance, but in manner. Several times it had set a house on fire and it took unusual pleasure in torturing animals. The child's mother had once belonged to a commune that developed into something of a pseudo-eastern cult, and naturally they abused drugs, the worst possible drugs, and quickly went way beyond the bounds of sanity, deep into the abyss of both insanity and inhumanity. they were, in fact, not unlike the Manson or the Brayton families. After a body had been found on their ranch, the cult was broken up. Some ran off and were never found, while others ended up in prison, mostly for only short periods of time. The mother of the child, at that time only pregnant, became a welfare recipient, then a welfare mother - she had never been charged with anything. That, however, was only the beginning of her story, for it seems that the group mind or soul that the family had created when it existed still lived on and while the woman was carrying her baby in the womb it prevented the "soul", if you will, from taking its rightful possession, and then that group mind, which was unusually powerful, and unusually "evil", took the human fetus as its own. In this manner, the group mind of the cult had managed human incarnation. It is no wonder that the dozens of doctors, psychologists and the like, could do nothing with the child, could not in the least understand it. I only wish that I would have had more time with the child. Perhaps I could have corrected matters in some way, although the only forms of correction seemed a bit drastic to me. However, it was taken out of my hands when one night the child had been up to its usual tricks and both he ... it ... and its mother were burned to death in their house.
I sat back, feeling dizzy, ill, and even a little excited, and fought to keep the TV dinner I had eaten earlier where it belonged, then I continued reading:
After hearing of the unfortunate incident, I began to think about the occult traditions of angels that ruled over countries. Could they perhaps be an interpretation of the group minds or souls of all of the inhabitants of that country? And if this were the case, what would happen if that group mind were perhaps perverted in some way, twisted, and then managed human incarnation? What kind of a baby would be the result?
Had Hitler been such a baby?
Could it happen again?
Could something be born of our accumulated hatred, envy, bigotry and similar "negative" emotions, become independent of us, strong, sentient, and achieve human incarnation?
It is the kind of thing that makes one stop and think ... and think very carefully ... very "positively".
And that is what I was doing! Thinking, deeply and feverishly!
Hitler a changeling, a group mind created by a warlike nation, somehow twisted, perverted, composed of all of the "negative" emotions and ideas, as well as "positive" ideas somehow warped out of their natural shape? It would explain a great deal about the man and the atrocities he was responsible for!
My mind reeled with the possibilities. It was all getting to sound pretty complex and crazy, farfetched, but at the same time somehow it made sense. I shook my head, fiercely rubbed my eyes, jumped up and went to the bathroom to spash cold water on my face. Not only was I beginning to take Fergeson's story seriously, but I was starting to search for explanations that would validate it.
I was getting too caught up in the whole weird thing. Probably, I told myself, because of lingering resentment from not being given the Fergeson story in the first place when it happened.
Or maybe it was something else?
Was I getting caught up in a madman's delusions, or was I getting caught up in a reality of a nature I had never before even considered?
A few weeks went by and I had been pretty busy. However, Fergeson's story never left my thoughts, and Kelly's discourse on group minds and changelings nagged me into a state of insomnia. I wanted very much to talk with the noted expert in person about the possibilities and probabilities regarding Fergeson's story. Probably he would have been able to convince me that I had simply become obsessed with a mandman's delusion. I supposed I hoped he would convince me of that if I could have contacted him! It was all a moot point though since G. M. Kelly was inaccessible at the time, being somewhere in Europe on what he termed a "Great Magical Retirement". Such disappearances were common for the "Thelemic Magician". During these retirements he would take a temporary vacation from the restrictions and interferences of the common world, so to speak, every day society, and immerse himself in mystical, magical, spiritual studies, practices and work. Always during a "G.M.R." he would be inaccessible, his whereabouts unknown to all.
Thinking about Kelly I recalled something he once said to me during an interview:
"'Fear is failure and the forerunner of failure'. Fear creates complexes, and complexes are the demons that torment us, making our very existence pure hell. Each demon-fear must be evoked, rooted out, faced, and then vanished with the sword of reason. You must first call forth and face your fears, your complexes, your obsessions, in order to exorcise them."
To rid myself of the growing obsession, exorcise the "demon", I was determined to meet John and Sue Richards ... and, of course, the baby.
Wechselbaig Avenue was like any other street in the suburbs and everything seemed so completely normal, so perfectly prosaic, that I had second thoughts about my reasons for being there and almost turned and went home. However, Kelly's words hung in the air around me and I was determined to face the strange obsession, the growing fear that Fergeson might have been speaking of an actual reality.
As I walked towards the house that the Richards now lived in, I wondered if anyone would ever buy their old house. I discovered earlier that the real estate company was having a devil of a time trying to sell it since all of the press coverage of the brutal murder of the Richards baby in that house.
As for the Fergesons, Joanne and the two children moved completely out of the city, perhaps even the state, no one knew exactly where they went, but it was common knowledge that they had changed their last name, although no one seemed to know what name they were now living under. Naturally, the Richards also moved and were now living here, on this oddly named street on the opposite end of the city. The Richards were not difficult to locate as they, of course, had not changed their names.
After everything that had happened, including the plague of newsmen that had descended upon them after the murder, I did not think it was wise to let them know that I was a reporter. Besides, this was personal. My Managing Editor had killed the story before it was even written.
As I approached the rather plain looking house, the thought entered my mind that it would have been nice if the Richards baby would have been still born.
I rang the doorbell and Mrs. Richards answered.
"Yes?" She was basically a pretty woman, and young too, but now she looked tired, older than her years, and I had no doubt that the tragedy had taken its toll. "Can I help you?"
Madam, a screaming lunatic, you might know him, Tom Fergeson? The man who murdered your first child? Well, he has me nearly convinced that your new baby is, well, how should I say this? Some kind of a monster that will destroy the world. And, of course, I would simply like to see for myself if it is true. Would you mind awfully much if I took just a little peek at the tyke? I promise that I've left my butcher knife, matches and gasoline at home. This was, of course, what I was thinking, but not what I actually said.
"Madam, I'm hoping to be able to help you." I pulled a clipboard out from under my arm and took a pen from my pocket. "I am with the City Safe Housing Commission investigating mine subsidence and possible property damage. If there is any damage to your home or property, or even the possibility of damange due to mine subsidence, the Commission will see to it that repairs are made at no cost whatsoever to you, and if necessary it will buy your house and property at a substantial profit to you.
"Now, if you would just let me look your house over ..."
Mrs. Richards hesitated, nervously glancing at a desk behind her. I wondered: Did John Richards now keep a gun in the house?
"I don't know, Mr. ...?"
"Gimble. Jack Gimble."
"Really, Mr. Gimble, I don't think there is any need to bother with our house. Everything seems okay."
"No cracks in the ceiling ... down the walls?"
"And look at the brickwork right there," I pointed to a slight crack that had been caused by the settling of the foundation, "could be just the beginning. Are you sure I can't ..."
"Well ... maybe you'd better come in and look around. I mean, after all, if there is a problem and the, ah ..."
"City Safe Housing Commission."
"If the ... commission ... is willing to pay for repairs and such ..."
"Indeed, madam. It is always good to study all of your options and be prepared for the worst." My acting was terrible, but she was buying it. I just hoped she wouldn't ask for I.D. as the fake one I was prepared to show if I had to was less convincing than my acting.
"Just a minute," she said before opening the door wider to let me in, "do you have any identification?"
"Of course, madam, and you are wise to be careful about such things."
My heart sank in my chest and I mentally crossed my fingers. From my jacket's inside pocket I produced a photo-I.D. card stating that I was Jack Gimble, Certified Examiner for the City Safe Housing Commission, a governmental entity that did not even exist. I have a friend who makes phoney identification cards for me, although his heart hasn't been in it since he was released from prison and his skills have suffered as a result. Leo would, at least officially, disapprove, but sometimes it is all that it takes to get into the off-limits place to get a story. I found, however, that keeping a straight face when producing this card was sometimes difficult.
"All right, Mr. Gimble. It looks genuine enough. Please, come in."
No wonder suburbanites are frequently robbed in broad daylight and murdered in their own homes!
"You have a very lovely home, Mrs. ..." I looked down at the form on my clipboard; it was easier to fake than the I.D. card, "Richards, is it?"
"That's right. Sue Richards, and thank you, we like it."
"My husband, John, and I. He's at work right now."
"No little ones?"
"Oh yes! Jonathan! Would you like to meet him?"
Hell yes, lady! Let me see the little devil!
"Yes, I would. I have always wanted to marry and have children of my own, but, you know, I just haven't met the right woman yet." I do not know why I was pouring it on so thick. I think it must be a common failing of newspaper reporters. Perhaps we are all bad actors at heart.
Sue Richards left the room to fetch her baby and I nosed about. Another common failing of reporters. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Eveyrthing seemed to be exactly what one would expect in a suburban home. I saw nothing, for instance, to suggest that either Sue or her husband had had any interest in the occult, and their interest in religion seemed to be moderate. There was a bible amongst the other books, mostly historic novels and romances, in the somewhat untidy bookshelves. On the wall I noticed a crucifix, but that appeared to be more decoration than anything else - perhaps a family heirloom.
"Here we go, Mr. Gimble." I turned toward the woman as she approached with the baby in her arms. "Meet Jonathan Richards. John and I are hoping he'll grow up and be President one day."
I was on the verge of making a joke when she said that and my eyes fell upon the baby, but the joke died in my throat.
There it was. The baby. All fresh and pink and soft. Completely defenseless and sweet. Its tiny mouth smiled and its rosy cheeks dimpled. The baby's big blue eyes sparkled like jewels, and a little saliva dribbled to the infant's dimpled chin.
And I was struck by the most pretrifying fear I have ever felt in my life.
I stood there unable to move. Unable to speak. I wanted to keep up the act, but I could not so much as utter a single word. My mouth was dry, my palms sweaty, and I suddenly broke out in a cold sweat.
"Are you all right, Mr. Gimble? You don't look well at all. Can I get you something? A glass of water perhaps?"
My first attempt at speech produced only a croaking sound, then with difficulty I told her that it was not necessary, that I would just like to sit down for a moment.
"Please." She gestured toward the easy chair behind me and I fell into it. "Let me get you a glass of cold water."
"No. Really. Please don't bother."
"I really think you need it and it's no bother. I'll be just a moment. Jonathan here will keep you company while I'm gone." And before I could demand that she not leave the room as I wanted to, Sue Richards was gone and there I was alone with the baby.
I gazed down at little Jonathan Richards and the baby looked back up at me, smiling and drooling all over its little blue jumpsuit.
What the hell had gotten into me, I wondered.
Fergeson's damn story and all that changeling talk of Kelly's must have really gotten the better of me, I told myself.
Hell! This was just a baby. A tiny, defenseless little baby with the potential to become anything when he matured ... and why not the President of the United States?
I brought my hands up to my face and shutting out the world for a moment, vigorously massaged it. Then, abruptly, I pulled my hands away from my face and looked up. I caught the baby off guard. To this moment I do not know if I did it by accident or if I had intended to do it, but my sudden instinctual game of peek-a-boo gave me a glimpse of the baby as it really was, inside, behind the mask of its face.
It was horrible!
I do not know how to explain it, exactly. It still looked like a baby. Its physical appearance did not change into some kind of a nightmarish ghoul, and yet there was a cruel hardness to the eyes, a fierce firmness about the mouth, something altogether sinsister and menacing as well as mocking about the baby's visage. Something so totally inhuman, so human-hating, looked out at me from behind those eyes, and I felt a fear far beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life.
Then suddenly, it was just a baby again, and Sue Richards came bustling into the room with a glass of water for me.
"Here. Drink this. Maybe it's just the heat or something."
I took the water and gulped the whole thing down since my throat had become absolutely parched with fear, no, not fear, terror, insane terror.
"Does that help any?"
"Yes. Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Richards."
"Would you like another glass?"
"No! I mean ... no thank you. Please don't leave ... don't go to any more trouble on my account. I think I'll just be on my way, if you don't mind."
"Certainly. You can come back another day to examine the house. I just hope you feel better, Mr. Gimble."
"Thank you. Thank you."
"But I feel so bad that I didn't have the chance to show off little Jonathan. Do you know that he has already started to talk?"
I dared to glance at the baby and it limply raised its tiny hand, smiled sweetly, and said, "Bye, bye. Bye, bye."
I turned and ran from the house in an absolute panic, vomiting on myself as I ran, leaving poor Mrs. Richards standing in the doorway totally mystified.
Putting it all into words now makes it seem so trivial, so trite, and I cannot for the life of me think of a way of expressing the absolute horror of the confrontation and the terribly inhuman perversity I saw behind the baby's eyes.
For weeks after that I tried to convince myself that I was imagining it all, hallucinating, but it was so unmistakably real that no amount of reason could talk me out of believing in what I saw, what I had experienced, when confronting the baby. Frequently thereafter I called in sick and dared not even venture out of the house. I could think of no one to talk this over with but Kelly, and he was inaccessible. I was alone. Physically ill. In a very tenuous mental condition. And totally incapable of making any decisions whatsoever. I merely stayed at home and sat in the darkness most of the time.
Sleep became a hazard for me.
It was a beautifully sunny day, a bit too warm perhaps, but that was part of the atmosphere and thus part of the beauty of the day. A little dust, a little sweat, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs in the air. Mothers and fathers cheering for their kids at play on a small baseball diamond. It was great to be alive and I loved the guys. I mean, kids are terrific. Sure they can be a pain in the ass at times, but even that's part of the fun.
And you just never know what they are going to say or do next.
Richie just hit one way out into left field and began his run around the bases. The kids on the other team in the outfield were scrambling for the ball. You just had to laugh when two of them collided, running smack into each other to fall back down on their asses!
Meanwhile, Richie had passed first and was heading toward second.
Right along with the parents in the stands, I was rooting for Richie, urging him on his way to a professional-as-hell side into home.
Then all of a sudden he just stopped short of the plate.
I mean, you just never know what kids are going to do next.
Richie stood there looking at me with a blank expression on his face, then without warning eveything got blindingly white and there was a terrific rush of heat, like a wall slamming into me. As the flash of intensely white light slowly began to fade, there was a tremendous rush of wind followed by the loudest explosion I have ever heard in my life. I put my hands up to both ears and then pulled them away to see blood - blood running out of my ears.
The intense light abated yet further and after the red and blue spots in my vision began to clear away I could see Richie still standing on the baseball diamond, staring at me. Then Richie's jaw dropped - and fell off.
I mean, his jaw just fell off, right into the dirt, and there he was still standing there, blood pouring down the front of his uniform, staring at me with incredibly wide open eyes. As I stood there in horror, he began to disintegrate right before my eyes. He simply fell apart and crumbled until there was nothing left but a pile of white ash that the wind blew in my face.
I retched and vomited then coughed up blood and saw in my puke things that did not look like they belonged anywhere but in my body as part of it!
Then there was the laughter in the now dark, ash-filled air. It was a maniacal laugh. A mocking, inhuman laugh. I looked up and there before me stood a man, or rather, what was left of a man. It was more like a living corpse. A rotting and evil thing dressed in tattered and scorched rags, its flesh flaking, peeling and crumbling from it as it stood before me laughing.
In the dark hollow pits of its decaying skull I could see its eyes, its tiny, brilliantly bright, blue eyes.
"Who are you?" I screamed. "What's happening? What's happening!"
"You know who I am, Mr. Ross. We have already met ... and it was very ipolite of you to leave in such a rush as you did. Very impolite."
"No! No! It can't be! It's impossible!"
"Nothing is impossible, Mr. Ross. Nothing. By the power of humankind's mind and emotions, all things are possible that can be conceived."
"What are you?"
"I am the fear that oozes out of the pores of every man and woman's flesh. I am the product of perverse guilt and paranoia, suicidal imaginings and every sickness of the human ego. I am the fear of absolute and complete destruction that haunts the mass mind of humanity.
"Long before John the Divine and his fears of the end of the world, generated by his pervese misapprehension of the truth, gilded by the guilt complex programmed into him by his parents, his people, his religion; long before recorded history, I had my origins. Whenever humankind conceived of the possibility of annihilating itself, of complete and utter destruction, I came a little more into being. When the first atomic bomb was exploded, when the concept of total annihilation of all life on earth became a conceivable reality for people, then I really began to live!
"Mankind created bigger and more powerfully destructive nuclear weapons and as the ability to destroy increased so too did the fear ... and the fascination! Fear of nuclear power and its possible destructiveness became an obsession with humankind, an obsession that they fell in love with. The suicidal urges that can be found in every living being, in various degrees, grew stronger. The ones protesting against nuclear power are the worst, for their fear and their unconscious suicidal desires are the greatest and while they increase their own fears, they inspire others to fear as they do. They are truly my beloved servants!
"Then came the nuclear accidents at power plants. Did you know, Mr. Ross, that I had a hand in each one of those accidents? When the question was raised as to what caused each potentially catastrophic mishap the answer was always the same: human error. What then was the cause of the human error? The answer that eluded investigators was simple: fear and the unconscious desire for suicide. And these too are my servants. They are of me.
"Who am I, Mr. Ross? I am the stinking fear and paranoia in every living human being on earth. I am born of the insane guilt complex and the unconscious desire for self-destruction, a desire born of fear, weakness and a sense of shame. Humanity's love affair with fear gave me life, Mr. Ross. It created me. It nourished me. It strengthened me. Then finally I was free of humanity. No longer dependent upon it. No longer part of it. Humanity became a part of me! I grew independent and free! I discovered that instead of just idly existing and absorbing more and more of this negative energy, I could influence mankind, increase the intensity of its fears, bring its suicidal urges out of the unconscious and to the forefront of their minds. The intensified fears and perverse desires naturally gave me even more strength. I could then drive humankind to greater and greater irrational acts that further increased fear and hatred, urging mankind on to greater attempts of self-destructive behaviour.
"Why, Mr. Ross, I am the father of the nuclear accident. I am the sire of terrorism. I am ..."
The thing before me laughed horribly as the cartilage of its nose sunk in and the face took on an even more skull-like appearance.
"No, Mr. Ross. Nothing so crude as your concept of the Devil, a mere scapegoat for your guilt-ridden conscience. The Devil does not exist, Mr. Ross. He never existed. The Devil is nothing but an excuse for the evil of mankind itself. Instead of facing itself, humanity has always avoided the truth and blamed its failings and ignorance upon things like the Devil, perverting every truth not understood to create the scapegoat.
"No, Mr. Ross. I am not the Devil. I am you, Mr. Ross. I am every fear you ever had and failed to face and exorcise. I am every emotional thought you ever had of utter destruction, your fear of losing ego, of the annihilation of your being. I am every sick and perverse thought you ever entertained, if even for a moment; every hate you ever felt, every murderous impulse you quietly suppressed.
"I am the product of generations, Mr. Ross, and generastions of generations, finally born into the world of matter to bring about the final and utter annihilation so long desired by humankind - the sick desire of practically every human being that has ever walked upon the face of the earth, the perverse fantasy that humanity dwells upon, writes books about, immortalizes on film, virtually worships in its churches and temples.
"Thoughts are things, Mr. Ross. Thoughts are things!"
The being before me laughed insanely, the sound of its cruel laughter echoing in the premature darkness of nuclear winter. I found myself crying and choking - choking on the thick ash-filled air, choking on my own tears and bile, choking on the blood that flowed from my eye stockets, nose and down my throat.
"Why? Why?" I cried.
"Why? Ask yourself that, man. Why do you dwell upon your fears and yet avoid facing them? Why do you revel in thoughts of nuclear war; the complete extinction of your race? Why, man, are you so sick and perverse? I exist now only because you and your kind created me." The thing approached me and I was powerless to move. Its nearly skeletal hand, loose flesh flaking off of it, came up and with its sharply nailed forefinger the horrible thing poked my chest. "You made me, man. Your sources of power and weapons of destruction are not the things that will soon bring about your ultimate end. It is your fear ... your ignorance and fear ... that have created me and which will ultimately destroy you, man. You are such a fool. Such an incredible fool!"
Again it laughed and I reeled at the fetid stench of its breath.
"No! No!" I screamed. I brought my hands, blistered and covered with running sores, up to my face and tried to hide from all of the horror that surrounded me, that was before me. "No! No! Go away! Go away!"
The thing laughed.
"Even now when you know, you hide from your fear, man. Even now!" it laughed.
"Go away! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!"
There was a ringing sound. Very persistent. It was coming from somewhere, but I could not quite locate the source of it at first. Very cautiously I removed my hands from my face. My hands were fine now. No blisters. No open sores. I was at home. Sitting in my favourite chair. And the telephone was ringing.
What had just happened?
Was it a dream? No. It certainly was not a dream. I was somehow certain of that!
I picked up the telephone. It was Lynn. She wanted to know how I was feeling. It had been some time since I had been to work and people were beginning to talk, but people are always gossiping in a newspaper office. Everyone was always habitually snooping into everyone else's affairs. It was tough to lead a private life and work for a newspaper at the same time, and lately my behaviour had become extremely erratic.
I told Lynn that I was still very sick, but that it was nothing actually serious. She kept questioning me and eventually I lost my temper, told her that I was fine and to just leave me alone, and then I hung up on her in mid-sentence.
What did I care what she or anyone else thought of me?
When there is no future there is no concern for such trival matters.
After that, that dream, or whatever it was, I had recurring nightmares about the end of the world, and, of course, the baby. Sometimes it would appear in its innocent infant form and then become grotesque. Sometimes it appeared in its adult form as the President of the United States, but horribly mutilated and devastated by heat and radiation. Always it mocked me. Laughed at me. Called me and the rest of humanity its creator. Sometimes the thing referred to humankind as its lover, for it is humankind's infatuation with death and destruction, nuclear holocaust and the ultimate end of civilization in general, that brought it into physical being and which feeds it, nourishes it, strengthens it.
I did not sleep much.
My brain worked over time to make sense of it all. For instance, there was that one recurring phrase that is so common to works of occult philosphy: Thoughts are things. I had some vague idea about what this meant, but it was not until I read something by G. M. Kelly that the concept became crystal clear in my mind.
Thoughts are things. This phrase is carelessly repeated over and over again by all manner of occultists, from the pseudo-qabalist to the Theosophist, and very few seem to understand exactly how this is so.
The lack of understanding stems from the dualistic idea that spirit and matter, or energy and matter if you will, are two separate concepts. This is not so. They are apparently opposite aspects of the same concept. Between these two apparent opposites there is, in fact, essentially no difference.
Before I go on, let me say that everything that is, is in a constant state of molecular motion, therefore when I say that something is inert I simply mean that its rate of molecular vibration is slow compared to that which is in obvious motion.
Thoughts, emotions, are merely translated electrical impulses, energy. And energy is basically matter in motion, that is to say, it possesses a high rate of molecular vibration. It naturally follows, then, that matter is merely inert energy. Thus to say that thoughts are things is the same as saying that energy is matter, and of course then matter is energy.
What the scientist "discovers" today was well known to the true magicians of yesterday.
I lost all track of time and could not be sure if weeks or months passed. The telephone rang frequently, but I never answered it - not after that one telephone call...
It was shortly after the first "dream", for lack of a better word. I was sitting in my kitchen with a strong cup of black coffee and the first cigarette I've smoked since quitting a year ago. When the end of the world is imminent, worry about the possibility of lung cancer seems just a little absurd.
We are all doomed, was my constant thought. In about forty years it will happen. Somehow I knew that it would, that it was all true. Fergeson was not mad. He had not suffered from delusions or hallucination. I cannot say for certain how I knew all of this, but my sense of certainty was firm. I was more certain about the baby, what it would grow up to become and do, than I had ever been about anything in my life before. Something in that simple confrontation at the Richards' house went dirctly to the very centre of my being, struck my very soul, by-passing every rational obstacle between experience and belief. That is the best way I know how to explain it. I am not a metaphysician. I am just a newspaper reporter. And as events transpired and time passed, I came to realize that I really knew nothing at all about the true nature of existence, of life, of anything and everything. I had been walking in my sleep since the day I was born and it had only been since the confrontation with the baby that I began to awaken to the true realities of life. And oh how rude the awakening!
Sitting there, drinking my coffee and smoking my Chesterfields, all this and more raced through my mind. The 'phone rang and I thought to ignore it as calls from the office had become pretty frequent. Then I figured, what the hell! maybe I will just pick it up and tell whomever it was from the office that I quit!
"Yeah?" I answered the telephone in a surly manner.
Then I heard it.
The cigarette fell from my mouth, taking a high-drive right into my coffee to sizzle out of life.
One simple word spoken four times is all that I heard on the other end of the line.
One simple word so sweetly spoken, but with such an abundance of meaning for me - such a terrific impact!
One single word spoken by delicate little lips.
"Bye bye. Bye bye."
I dropped the receiver and ran out of the house. For hours I walked through the city streets. People stared at me and it was not until I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a storefront window that I knew why. I looked like hell. My hair went every which way, I needed a shave and a bath very badly - so much so that passing people wrinkled their noses. My suit looked as though I had slept in it for several nights straight, and that for the simple reason that I had. And those eyes that gazed back at me! They were the deep-set, dark-circled, haunted eyes of Tom Fergeson!
I stood there transfixed to the spot, staring at my reflection in the glass, at the apparent junkie, the bum that stood there with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, an ash nearly a half inch long at the end of it. What the hell was happening to me? Why the hell was I letting myself go like this? Damn it! That was not Jack Ross in the window glass! It was some gross caricature. It was the worst of Jack Ross brought forth. Of course! That was it! Somehow that, that, baby, after the confrontation when I realized it for what it is, had made some kind of a subtle connection with me, perhaps being composed of the worst of humanity it contained in it a subtle connection with everyone. Somehow that thing had called forth the worst of me, was feeding upon me, influencing me, and I was just letting it happen. I was just letting it happen!
I took the cigarette out of my mouth and violently tossed it to the sidewalk.
"I quit!" I loudly proclaimed.
That, of course, got me further nasty looks from the passing pedestrians, but it had long ago ceased to matter what anyone thought of me.
I used to think that I was hot stuff. Mr. Ace Reporter. Scoop Ross. Jacko Know-it-all. Well, I finally wised up. I did not know shit! I was not only as big a fool as everyone else, I was probably a bigger fool because I believed otherwise!
When I say that I realized that I really did not know anything, that is not exactly correct. I knew one thing. I knew what I had to do.
And, damn it! I was going to do it and nothing, no one, could stop me!
Upon returning home that particular day, I found my Managing Editor sitting on my doorstep, waiting for me. It must have been the first time in years that Leo was not at his desk at that time of the day. Leo tried to be nice, I don't know when I had ever heard him speak so gently, but I could not be bothered. I had plans to make; grim work to do. I was rude and surly. I told him he could stuff it. Leo began to lose his temper, just a little, then I flew off the handle and told him I quit and to get the fuck away from me! He did. Leo uttered not a single word after that. He merely turned around and walked away from me. As I watched him leave, I felt bad, very bad. I was completely in the wrong and Leo did not deserve to be treated like that, especially after all of the concern he had just shown for me. I was tempted to catch up with him and apologize, maybe even beg for my job back, but why? If I did not do as I knew I must, everything seemed rather pointless. Once I had accomplished the task Fergeson laid on me, neither would I be able to live with myself and the memory of it, nor would society be likely to tolerate my continued existence. Just look at how they crucified poor Tom Fergeson! How we crucified him.
For days, how many I cannot say, I planned it all. The very first thing I did was to take a long hot shower, shave and dress neatly and comfortably in clean clothes, and carefully comb my hair. I made this a daily ritual, and now that I think of it, "ritual" is an appropriate word for it. I was determined to be the best Jack Ross that I could be. I was still nervous and tense, desperately needed sleep and it showed, but I was determined not to be what the baby wanted me to be. The very act of carefully bathing, shaving, dressing and so forth, the very act of keeping my home spotlessly clean and neat, seemed to relax me. As I put my body and my home in order, it seemed that my thoughts were being put in order as well. Those thoughts became clearer and more orderly. Reason, which I realized I had temporarily abandoned, was returning, and cold determination was taking the place of unreasonable fear and self-pity. In fact, for the first time in my life, I found myself thinking in the most selfless way. Oh, people like Lynn thought that I must be at least a little selfless and altruistic when they discovered that I coached little league, but the truth of the matter is my motives were purely selfish and egocentric. The kids amused me, helped me relive my younger and better days. They also worshipped the ground I walked on and I liked that. I liked that a lot. As a newspaperman I was very well respected, and even won a few awards, and I liked that too. What an ass I had been all these years!
I preened my ego, thought only of myself, considered the rest of the world to be composed of stupid assholes, myself excluded of course! and even the better part of me was not quite as altruistic as it appeared.
As for the fascination with a possible nuclear holocaust, I was the first in the city to write sensationalistically about the dangers of nuclear power, the growing threat of thermonuclear war and so forth! I was feeding and fanning the fires of paranoia and hysteria, only rarely making statements on the other side of the issue, just enough to satisfy the City Editor. I do not think that I ever once said that it is highly unlikely that the Soviets wanted an all-out nuclear exchange because they do not want to die either, that the Soviets may talk and act tough but that when all is said and done they too are only human beings. They have the same concerns and fears that we have. They can be just as reasonable as Americans and we can be just as unreasonable as the Soviets. Considering the situation realistically, dispassionately and by the light of reason, it was obvious that the Soviets, as well as the Red Chinese, wanted nuclear war no more than the Americans. The Third World War made for great sensationalistic speculation on teleivision, as well as the newspapers, and it made for terrific story lines in novels and in the movies, but it simply just was not all that likely to happen. It really wasn't!
We are all so damn busy looking for the faults in everyone else so as to avoid finding the faults in ourselves that we have become quietly hysterical and unreasonable. We do not give one another enough credit for basic intelligence and reason. The people in the White House and the people in the Kremlin are a hell of a lot more on the ball than we habitually give them credit for being. It may not seem so in particular instances, but over all it can be seen that they actually do know what they are doing!
We have had the destructive power of nuclear fission and fusion at our fingertips since the forties. It has been a few decades since then and we are still here! We have not blown ourselves up yet! Sure, our knowledge is still primative and we make mistakes, and, yes, anything is possible, but if we have survived ourselves this long knowing what we know, is it not likely that we can survive even longer, much longer, and maybe be smart enough to wait for the ultimate natural end of humanity rather than to hasten the process through stupid egocentric megalomania?
Damn it! Humanity has a chance. A hell of a good chance!
If it is left alone to work things out for itself.
However, the baby would not leave humanity alone.
Therefore the baby had to be eliminated.
If all of those selfish, paranoid, self-destructive desires created it, maybe, just maybe, one selfless, clearly thought out, altruistic act of self-sacrifice could make up for it all.
Maybe Whatever it is that created us and perhaps watches over us is waiting for just that sort of thing. If one person, just one person, can show that there is hope for humanity, perhaps the baby can be destroyed and never again manifest or even influence humanity in any way. Perhaps all that has to be done is to buy time for society, give it a second chance to start afresh, and everything that went into the creation of that thing will be filtered out of humanity's make up. Perhaps, given a little more time, humanity will learn from its mistakes, refine itself, become more positive in thoughts, words and deeds, and there will be nothing from which such a thing as the baby can draw energy to come into being! And maybe, oh God, please! maybe if society loses its self-destructive urges, endeavours to become more than it is, and works together for the good of all, just maybe a new kind of group mind to govern our planet will develop, a kind of child, a being that will exist solely to assist mankind in the perfection of itself and the prolongation of a healthier and better life instead of the destruction of life.
Society needed time. It needed more time than the few years the baby was willing to give it. Therefore, someone had to buy that time. Someone? Fergeson saw to it that that someone would have to be me. Terrific! Jack Ross, ex-newspaper reporter, saviour of the world! At one point in my life not too long ago, I might have found some pride in the thought. Now it just seemed damn silly. Jack Ross, who slept through his entire life, walked around with blinders on, seeing things through tunnel vision, judging everyone and everything by his own narrow, stupid standards, saviour of the world.
I began serously worrying about the fate of the world after that thought!
I knew that I could not be the best that the world had to offer, but I also knew that at the moment I was all that there was.
May. Sort of a pre-summer May. I had a few dollars in the bank, probably more than enough for the length of time I would need money, so there were no worries on that account. I had no wife, no children, except for the guys, and I felt bad for what they would end up going through. Especially Richie. He was my favourite. I suppose it was because he reminds me of myself at his age. See, egocentric thinking!
There were relatives, but they did not care much for me and I did not care much for them and we hardly ever contacted one another.
There were women, but no one special, no one I actually cared about and I felt sure no one who actually cared about me.
There were the people at work, but the story was probably about the same there.
I would not break too many hearts.
Except perhaps Sue Richards', and her husband John, whom I never met.
Mrs. Richards seemed like a very nice, even sweet person. I suppose the baby chose her for the two-fold reason that she provided a good cover for it as it grew up and perhaps it pleased the thing to slowly destroy her. I felt bad, very bad, about what my actions would do to Sue Richards. She could not possibly survive such a tragedy a second time. Yet, what else could I do? Should I, for fear of upsetting one life, allow the lives of billions of human beings, including that one life, to be taken? That was absurd, irrational and unreasonable.
Knowing what I knew, there was only one raesonable and rational course of action to take.
I remembered some of the things Fergeson had told me when he found himself in the same situation. He considered sneaking into the Richards' house and quietly smothering the baby in its sleep and allow everyone to think that "crib death" was the cause. He then could have lived a relatively normal life with his family and the Richards would not be quite as devastated as they had been by the brutal murder of their baby. It sounded good, but then he worried that perhaps by itself, or with the help of someone else who might discover the situation in time, the baby would start to breathe again. Getting to the baby after that to try again would be much more difficult. He decided that the direct approach was best, waiting until there was only the babysitter to contend with, and let the chips fall where they may.
Fergeson, convinced that the baby had a great instinct for survival, and yet still underestimating it as circumstances later proved, decided upon thrusting a knife through its heart, then cutting off the head least somehow it be kept alive artificially until a new heart could be transplanted, and then he emptied a can of gasoline under the crib and set it on fire. That, he felt certain at the time, would be the end of it.
Sue Richards was expecting and the baby simply took possession of the new fetus she was carrying.
Well, Sue Richards was not pregnant this time and for some reason I had the idea that it did not have a body, a specific kind of body, waiting for it and near at hand. Once the baby was dead this time it would stay dead.
This time the job would be done right.
I awoke on that beautifully, already hot May morning and carefully showered and shaved. My hair neatly combed, neatly and nicely dressed, I sat down and ate a well balanced breakfast, skipping coffee and cigarettes, even taking vitamin pills. I had to smile at my reflection in the toaster after swallowing the vitamins. Preserving my health when there seemed no real possibility that the state would do that once I had accomplished my task was absurd. Oh well, a little wasted effort never hurt anybody. Besides, it was the principle of the thing, the meaning behind the actions that counted, not the actions themselves nor their outcome. I would be the best Jack Ross I could be, up to the bitter end.
I spent the day making telephone calls. I called Leo and Lynn, some of the ladies I had recently dated, including the one I needlessly insulted (she did not really have a nose like an anteater) and I apologized to each and every one of them for everything I had ever done or said that was wrong, or might have been wrong, or might have been wrongly understood. Most of them thought I was pretty peculiar, but that was okay. I felt better. I had confessed my wrongs, not to some unknown priest, but to the people I had wronged, and I made emends. I even called little Richie up and told him all of the things I never told him before, about him being a hell of a good kid, a great baseball player, and that I thought that one day he would make it in the game and have one hell of a great life. I think he thought I was pretty peculiar too, but I could tell that he felt good nonetheless about all that I had said to him.
Then I sat down and wrote two things. First, I wrote a letter to Mr. G. M. Kelly telling him, as rationally and orderly as I knew how, the whole story, both Fergeson's and my own, and that along with the other thing I wrote I would mail on the way out. He would not receive it until he returned from Europe, but just in case anything went wrong, well, maybe he would then know what to do.
The next thing I wrote was an article. Probably the last newspaper article I would ever write in my life. It was, of course, about the baby, as well as Fergeson, as well as myself, but most importantly the article I wrote was about humanity, genuine humanity, and how it was about time that we all started living up to that word that we take so very carelessly for granted. The one thing apparently most lacking in humanity is humanity itself, and it was about time we, all of us, began to act a little more responsibly; act and think more responsibly, more sincerely altruisticaly, and truly become humane towards one another in thought, word and deed despite our petty differences. I am afraid it got a little sloppy at the end, perhaps a bit too sentimental, but I left it as I had written it. Leo, if he wanted, could clean it up. I just hoped he would not leave it up to the boys on the copy desk!
Then I got out the can of gasoline.
Carefully, I emptied the gas into a large aluminum container that I used to fill with cold water and carry with me to the baseball games. It would be a little less threatening to carry an apparent container of water than it would be toting a gasoline can about.
I put about six packs of matches and two lighters in my jacket pocket. Did not want things to go wrong just because a damn match or lighter would not light!
I really needed nothing else.
I called the Richards residence and asked for John. He was not home. That was all I needed to know. I left a message just to make it sound right and then hung up the telephone.
Sue Richards would be at home, there was no doubt of that. Since the first incident, she never left the baby alone nor even in the custody of a babysitter. She had become a very over-protective mother, but who could blame her?
I would have to content with Mrs. Richards, and I felt bad about that, but there was nothing that I could do about it. I would try to make it as quick and painless as possible. I even toyed with the idea of killing her. Not for any other reason but to make things easier for Sue Richards, because certainly another brutal murder would be too much for her mind to take. Killing her, along with the baby, I considered to be the kindest thing I could do for her. However, I knew that I could not bring myself to do that as she was so completely innocent in this matter, a mere pawn cruely used by the baby, and no matter how rational I was about it, no matter how thoughtful and considerate, it just seemed too wrong to take her life. I would have to settle with simply knocking her out for a while and pray that she would recover from a second devastating tragedy in her life.
Around noon I pulled up to the curb on Wechselbaig Avenue, just a block down and across the street from the Richards residence. I was about to get out of my car when I noticed that Sue Richards was not alone. At first I thought her husband had not gone to work after all, or that he had returned home early or for lunch, but after a while I could see that she was merely entertaining two of her neighbours for lunch. I hoped to hell that they would not gab the whole afternoon away!
About an hour passed, during which time I got a few dirty looks from neighbours wondering why that worn-out looking man, me, was just sitting there in his car, then finally the two women left. I waited a little longer, just in case, then I was sure that Sue and the baby were alone in the house.
Nothing could have been simpler.
It is amazing just how easy it is to take someone's life if you are really determined to do it with no thought for your own. Even with all of the Secret Service men about, it always amazed me that given the percentage of homicidal maniacs out there more presidents were not assassinated.
Well, today, I thought, another president was about to be assassinated.
Today I would kill the baby before it could grow up and be elected to that office. That would have to be the most unique presidential assassination of all!
I got out of my car, grabbed the aluminum container, and walked briskly, purposefully, up the sidewalk and right to the door. I knocked. Sue opened the door on its chain lock and before she could say anything, I pushed it in with all of my strength, knocking Sue Richards back. After that I simply walked into the house like a robot on assignment to kill. The quicker and more efficient I was about it, the less chance there would be that anyone could stop me before I had done the job. Fergeson hesitated too much and had to struggle with some men before he could do what he had set out to do. I was determined not to make the same possibly costly mistake.
Mrs. Richards quickly regained her feet and immediately came after me, screaming, her maternal instincts gone wild, determined to protect her baby. I was ready for that and silenced her with a right cross to the jaw. I felt a moment of sickness in the pit of my stomach as I heard a distinct crack and I dearly hoped that I had not broken her jaw. She was, after all, a rather frail woman.
As quickly as I could, I closed the front door. I hoped that no one had seen me enter the house; hoped that I was quick enough not to be noticed by the neighbours. Then I heard it ...
... the baby.
It was crying. The baby was crying as any baby would cry having been rudely awaken and perhaps even sensing that its mother had been harmed.
It was crying. And I broke out into a cold sweat. An icy sensation ran up and down my spine.
My God! I was going to kill a baby!
Violently I shook my head, my hair already soaking wet with sweat from the heat of the day and my fearful realization. No! Damn it! No! I thought. Don't let it get to you! It only looks like a baby! It is only a baby's body. It is not a human baby! It is a thing, a horrible, destructive, perverse thing!
I bent over Mrs. Richards, who was out cold and leaning against the desk. I checked for her pulse and it seemed okay. Fortunately, she had not hit her head on the corner of the heavy wooden desk. The desk? What was it about the desk that I could not remember and felt that I should remember?
The baby continued to cry.
I focussed my attention on the baby again and forgot everything else.
"All right, you little bastard," I said aloud, "now it's my turn to say 'bye bye'!"
Like a soldier following orders, I marched into the baby's room and there it was in its crib, crying. So innocent looking. So sweet. I had a sudden strong impuse to pick it up, cradle it in my arms, and soothe the infant.
Then I remembered: it is not what it appears to be!
"You can stop that crying now," I hissed through gritted teeth. "I'm not buying it!"
The baby stopped cold. It stopped crying so suddenly and with such a sense of definiteness that it startled me. Then the baby turned its tiny hairless head as it laid on its back and just looked at me. It stared directly into my eyes with the coldest, most malicious look I have ever seen. The inhumanness of its look paralyzed me. Behind those eyes there lurked a power, a force, so maleveolent, so inhuman, so inhumane, that the sheer force of its evil stunned me.
I stood there for a long while confused. I did not know what to do. I should have known what to do. I should have just ignored it and done the job. Yet for some reason I found myself standing there like an idiot while it stared at me in silence; stood there like a rodent transfixed by the stare of a serpent before it struck. Finally, the baby moved. One tiny hand grabbed a wooden bar of the crib. Then the other tiny hand grabbed another wooden bar. With apparently no effort at all, its movement quite purposeful, the baby pulled itself to its feet while it continued to stare at me.
How long we stood like that I cannot say, but it seemed like an eternity.
Then it spoke.
Not even a year old and the baby spoke, clearly and precisely, and not in the sweet little baby voice I had heard during our first confrontation.
"Stupid bastard," it said in horribly inhuman, menacing tones. "Stupid stupid bastard. Do you think it is going to be that easy? Do you actually believe I am going to just let you march in here and kill me like that? You keep reminding yourself that I am not what I appear to be. Oh, I can hear your mind rattling on and on incessently, trying to reassure yourself about how easy it's going to be to kill me. But you are wrong, you know. You have still underestimated me. You see this infant, mortal body and you tell yourself that I am more than I appear to be and still you underestimate me. You poor stupid bastard."
"Shut up!" I shouted, half out of fear, half out of anger. "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up, you miserable little sonuvabitch!"
With that I bent down, ripped the lid off of the aluminum container, picked it up and threw the entire contents on the baby. It reeled back, screaming. Such a scream! It was hardly the scream of a baby! It sounded more like a dozen different animals being tortured, screaming with utter fear, pain and hatred!
"Rotten sonuvabitch! Miserable little bastard!" I reached into my jacket pocket for the matches and that is when it happened.
There was a sound and then another sound. There was a voice; a weeping, screaming voice.
Then there was the pain. First, a kind of shocked numbness and then a pain. Very intense.
I felt as if I were going to black out for a moment, but quickly pulled myself together.
I turned about and there was Mrs. Richards standing in the doorway, leaning against the door jamb, a smoking pistol in her hand, crying and screaming at the same time. I was puzzled at first. My mind could not make the necssary connections. Then an intense stab of pain sharpened my consciousness. I looked down and in my lower abdomen there was this gaping red hole pumping blood down my leg, fringed with shredded clothing and flesh. Intestines began to slide out. My intestines. Sue Richards had shot me. That was it! That is what I wanted to remember about the desk! A little late to think about it now, Jacko!
"Mrs. Richards ... I'm ... sorry. I'm sorry, but ..."
She raised the gun and fired again. Then again! The first bullet tore through my right shoulder. The second bullet must have hit my lung. The impact of the bullets, especially at such close range, threw me against the baby's crib and I bounced off of it and landed on the floor.
The other sound that I could still hear, growing stronger all the time, was a siren. The police! At least one of the neighbours must have seen me enter the house after all. Damn! Damn! I screwed the whole thing up. The whole damn thing!
No. Not yet. Not yet!
I reached into my jacket pocket. It had been ripped. Probably when the first bullet tore into my gut I jerked enough to tear the pocket myself, and now it was empty.
My vision was starting to fail. Sweat was dripping mercilessly into my eyes. I blinked furiously to clear my eyes, raised a bloodied hand up and ruthlessly rubbed at them. There, scattered all about the floor, were the books of matches and the lighters.
And I had already thrown the gasoline all over the baby in the crib!
I tried to move, but found it almost impossible. My God, I wondered at the time, am I already dead and don't know it?
I fell on my face, in my own blood, and reached out. One of the lighters was just an inch, a lousy inch, out of my reach.
Mrs. Richards, the whole time, leaned on the door jamb, the gun loosely held in her hand, dangling at her side, her head lowered, her body wracked by heavy sobs. She was not aware of what I was trying to do. There was still a chance. Still a chance!
I strained every functioning muscle in my body trying to reach for that lighter. Every once in a while I glanced up at Sue Richards to make sure she was not aware of what I was trying to do. I heard the siren getting very close, then coming to a whining stop as the police pulled up to the front of the house.
I did not have much time now. Once the police came in it would be all over for sure.
And my body was telling me that I did not have much time on that account!
I touched the lighter with one finger. I almost had it.
The front door burst in!
The baby began to cry!
Sue Richards looked behind her, then back into the room.
The lighter was in my hand. I had it! I had it!
"No! No! NO!!!" Sue Richards screamed.
A policeman entering the room, smelling the gasoline instantly, yelled out: "Stop him! Stop him!"
I flicked the lighter and there was a flame. I looked up to see the baby looking down at me with fear in its eyes. Fear! Real and utter terror!
"Bye bye," I hissed, then threw the lighter.
Shots rang out and bullets ripped through my body.
I was beyond feeling any further pain, but one thing I did feel and enjoy the feeling of was the exploding gasoline fumes and the heat of the flames. That felt good, very very good.
I fell back on the floor.
Don't know how many bullets hit me altogether. Don't really care. The first one was probably enough to finish me. Don't know how I kept it together this long. But I did. Damn it, I did!
I ... I'm having trouble focussing my mind.
It is as if a thick shroud were being pulled over me. Darkness seems to be creeping, oozing over me. Am I going blind? Is that what happens just before ... just before you die?
I hear voices and movement all around me, but I can't seem to concentrate.
I can just make out isolated words and phrases here and there. No one is paying any attention to me now. Don't know why they should. I'm as good as dead.
What was that? Smothered? Fire's smothered?
Something else. What? What? Burn unit?
Nobody said morgue, did they? No ... not the dead news library. The morgue. The morgue! Idiot.
What about a burn unit?
Why a burn unit?
I don't understand. I don't understand.
"Do you think he expected you to print that?"
The Managing Editor looked up at Pete Musick.
"I don't know. Probably." He studied the article that had been mailed to his office, typed upon old fashion copy paper. Byline: Jack Ross.
"Well what, Musick?"
"You going to print it?"
Leo looked down at the story again and silently read to himself: "Tom Fergeson was a hero because he tried to kill the President of the United States forty-five years before he could be elected to office ..."
Leo crumpled up the copy paper and threw the story into his trash can.
"That answer your question?"
Musick did not say a word.
"It may as well be your story," the Managing Editor said. "In a way it's just a continuation of the last Richards story."
"How do you want me to write it?"
Leo looked up at Pete Musick. It was probably the only time Musick had ever asked anyone that kind of a question.
"Just the plain facts, Pete. Nothing fancy. No editorializing. No eulogizing. No apologizing. Just the simple facts." The Managing Editor leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "Then let's just forget about it."