Alistair Langston’s novella is a dark tale of both love and revenge with a twist. It takes a look at the relationships between four friends when a mysterious stanger enters their lives. Is the stranger really who he says he is or is there something more sinister lurking just beneath the surface… and what is the connection to Damon, a man who caused turmoil for at least one of the friends a year previously.
Damon will keep the reader guessing from start to finish with plenty of surprises along the way.
Pain clawed at his nerve endings!
The slightest movement sent a new wave of agony on a roller coaster journey through his body, each more intense than the previous. Broken and contorted, he was a surgeon’s nightmare. By rights he should be dead, lying at the bottom of the ravine into which his car had plunged, not restrained on a table in a dimly lit room and God only knows where! Admittedly he had been lucky. Too drunk to bother with his seatbelt, the moment the car left the road he had been flung out like a rag doll onto the embankment, whilst the vehicle plummeted to a fiery death.
The smell of alcohol was still detectable on his breath. He had been well over the limit, having stopped off at his favourite bar after a hard day at the office. One drink led to two; then three and before he knew it, last orders had been called. Even then he could have chosen to take a taxi home as he usually did on such occasions but it had been a wet evening, and with a conference on across town, taxis were in short supply. It was the fifty minute wait he had been quoted before a taxi was available that had been the deciding factor in his decision to take the gamble to drive home. A gamble that failed to payoff! If he had been less intoxicated and a little more observant, there was the chance that he might have noticed the other vehicle pull out and follow him when he left the bar, but he hadn’t. As far as he was aware, the lights had come from nowhere. One moment he had the road to himself and the next, the headlights of a vehicle were reflected in his rear-view mirror. Wary of the possibility that it might be the police he slowed down. It was a mistake. The headlights gained speed until they were bearing down on him. At the final moment, the car pulled out from behind him as if it was about to overtake. It never happened. The car swung back in, catching the rear of his own and causing it to swerve. The next instance he was plummeting down a steep embankment, having crashed through the barrier on the side of the carriageway.
From the shadows the figure stepped forward. The man lifted his head, craning his neck in order to catch a glimpse.
“Please,” he managed, his dry course voice barely recognisable. “Please, the pain. I need something for the pain.”
There was no reply.
The man coughed, bringing up phlegm and blood.
The silhouette separated itself from the darkness and crossed the room towards him. The man flinched as the figure came into view. Even in his current state he knew something wasn’t right. The features of the figure appeared to be shifting, changing, as if they were moulding themselves into something new.
“I always hoped we would meet again!”
The man shook his head. The pain was too much. It was playing tricks on his mind. The voice that had spoken sounded not too dissimilar to his own! “What do you mean? Who are you?”
The figure took another step forward, the glint of steel in his hand. “Who am I? That’s a question with so many answers. Perhaps you should be asking what am I? Even then, it has been so long that even I am no longer sure.” The figure leaned forward, warm breath against the man’s cheek and whispered in his ear.
“No! It can’t be!” Terrified, the man struggled to break free of his bonds. It was useless. He felt a vice like grip on his forehead holding him down as the figure made the first incision above the left ear with the scalpel. He opened his mouth to scream. Before he could draw a painful breath, something—a cloth of some form—was pushed into his mouth and forced down his throat.
Long after the man passed out, the figure continued to work, moving the blade up towards the man’s temple before following the hairline of his forehead and down the other side. Fingers slid beneath the facial tissue before carefully peeling it away from the skull. Finally the task was complete. The figure lowered its head towards the flesh that lay in upturned palms, slipping it on as if it were a mask. The seams between its own flesh and that which he took from the other knitted together, underlying features adapting in order to fill out the places where the flesh clung limply.
The figure stood back from the corpse and turned to face the mirror that hung on the wall, taking a look at its new reflection. So many years had passed since he last saw his own image that he wondered if he might still recognise himself. He shook his head and wiped the thought from his mind. What he looked like in the past was of no relevance to him now; it was the present that mattered and the reflection that stared back at him he had few concerns of sharing with the world!
The sound of the phone ringing snatched Megan from a peaceful slumber. Groaning, she rolled over in the bed, her hand fumbling blindly for the handset.
“Hello?” Megan glanced at the luminous display of the clock-radio.
She rubbed her eyes.
“Hello… Is anyone there?”
Nothing. No, wait, that wasn’t true. There was something; an absence of a dial tone, just stony silence.
“Look, if this is some crank call, I’m hanging up. It’s too early!”
She waited a moment longer. Still there was nothing.
Megan slammed the handset down onto its cradle. Recently she had received more than her fair share of anonymous calls and at five-thirty in the morning, it was going beyond a joke. She made a mental note to call the telephone company in the morning and see if they could do anything about the problem.
Megan glanced at the clock again, hoping that the first time she looked she had misread it.
Megan groaned. She had to be up in less than two hours and she knew better than trying to get back to sleep now. If she did, then she would sleep through the alarm and she was expecting Laurel at eight. It was usual for her friend to call on her way to work at the hospital when they both shared the same shifts—as they did this week—and they would go in together. She considered sending her friend a text message asking Laurel to give her a call when she was on her way over. She looked about for her mobile. Remembering it was in the front room, Megan sighed and pushed back the bedcovers, shivering as she realised the timer for the central heating wouldn’t kick in for another hour. She swung her slender frame from the bed and headed for the bathroom and a long hot shower.
No one paid attention to the vehicle parked opposite the apartment building.
From behind the wheel the occupant studied the mobile phone lying on the passenger seat and considered redialling the number he knew by memory. At first it had surprised him to learn she still had the same number as before; then he realised that it was the sensible thing to do. She must have known he would attempt to contact her when he was ready. He imagined her coming home day after day, week after week, not knowing where he had gone or why, waiting for his call. Then the previous week, by coincidence rather than by his own design, the opportunity for his return had presented itself. Once he had taken this new identity he called her without delay. He recognised her voice the moment she answered, though he was unable to find the words. He tried again and again, but each time with the same result. He watched as the early morning commuters made their way to their destinations, their mundane and boring jobs offering little recompense for the time they invested. From his position in the car, the occupant had full view of the tenement building across the street. He watched the entrance with avid interest, his eyes scrutinising everyone that left.
He glanced at a window on the second floor then back down to the entrance. He had previously caught sight of her an hour ago when she opened the blinds to let the morning light into her apartment. Since then he had watched the entrance waiting for her to leave the building. It could be some time but he was a patient. He reached over to the glove compartment and flipped it open. He routed around amongst the maps and pulled out a bag of boiled sweets. He tossed one into his mouth and sucked gently on it. How things can change with time, he thought. He glanced in the rear-view mirror, grinning to himself. He was a different person now.
He noticed a drop of perspiration on his forehead touched a finger to it and wiped it away, a side effect of his unique metabolism. Placing both hands either side of his forehead he began massaging in a downward movement, first his brow followed by his cheekbones. To any passer by who might have seen him at that particular moment it would appear that the actual tissue of his face was sliding over the skull, the features distorting. Looking in the mirror, he finally finished and brushed his hair down over his forehead with his fingers. He grinned at the reflection. It could often take a while for his features to adapt but on this occasion the change had gone remarkably well. Though the reflection bore a roguish appearance he considered it quite handsome; a man that he knew she would go for.
He reached into the inside pocket of the jacket he was wearing and removed a wallet, Flipping it open he retrieved out a photograph, the surface creased and edges worn from being well-handled in the past. The image was of a couple. It had been taken in a club. The woman was in her mid-twenties, about five-seven and slim. Her long brown hair clipped up. She was wearing jeans with a short leather jacket over a white blouse. Standing next to her with his arm around her waist was a man of similar age. His name was Damon. He knew that with certainty, for it was his name. The woman also, she had been his. How long had it been? Twelve months or was it longer? He couldn’t remember. It wasn’t important. It had been a while of that he was certain and the time had given him the opportunity to plan.
This new identity, though not ideal, suited him. There had been many in the past and it was likely there would be many more in the future but if things went well with the woman then he would be content to keep this one for a while. He took another look at the photograph. If it wasn’t for the interference of the woman’s so-called friends then, they would have still been together and none of this would have been necessary. But no, her friends couldn’t keep out of it. They poisoned her mind against him, fed her with lies and untruths. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they supposed that they could threaten him and chase him out of town. Oh, he went all right, but it was his own choice. He always knew he would be back and boy would they pay!
A figure standing at the building’s entrance caught his attention. A woman. The one from the photograph and she wasn’t alone either. Another woman, blonde and of similar age, was standing next to her. They were wrapped up warm to keep out the cold. They crossed the road ahead of where his vehicle was parked, laughing at some private joke shared between them. They walked towards him, amongst the other pedestrians that filtered their way along the busy streets to the offices. As they neared, he slipped the photograph back into the wallet and returned it to his jacket pocket. He had no doubts about the identity of both women. He smiled. It was going to be like old times, only without the mistakes that had been made in the past.
As the pair neared the vehicle, the slimmer of the two, the one from the photo, glanced in his direction. For a moment it looked as if she might have recognised him. She brushed a hand through her hair; then he realised that she was using the reflective black glass of the vehicle as a mirror in which to make a final check of her appearance. From where he sat he studied her. Every feature was as he remembered, permanently etched into his memory. He was tempted to lower the window and see what her reaction was to find that there was someone behind the tinted windows but he checked himself. It wasn’t the time or the place. Instead, he satisfied himself by blowing her a kiss and watched as the second woman pulled her away. Checking the wing mirror, he waited until they were a good distance ahead before he unlatched the door and stepped out onto the street. He paused for a moment glancing back in the direction the women had taken, then without further hesitation, he crossed to the opposite side of the street. Reaching into his trouser pocket for the key that he knew was there, he glanced up at the apartment building before him, stepped forward and pushed open the main door.
Megan was in a hurry, rushing down the corridor for the elevator and the doors were closing. In her clenched hand, a pager vibrated silently, signalling she was required urgently in another part of the hospital.
“Hold the lift!” she shouted.
The figure inside saw her and pressed the button to open the doors.
“Thanks,” she said as she slouched against the wall, catching her breath.
“Where are you going?”
“Which floor?” the figure asked.
“Oh, sorry… er, third please.”
He pressed the button for the third floor and the doors closed. With time to recompose herself and get her breath back, Megan glanced over the man before her as he read a folded newspaper. He was about six-one in height, dark hair cut short, but not too short, lightly tanned, and judging by his posture and the manner in which the shirt clung to his frame, he was well toned through regular workouts at a gym. Age wise, she guessed he was probably a few years older than herself, perhaps in his early thirties. Judging by first impressions, in an ideal world, he was her ideal man. But it wasn’t an ideal world and Megan suspected that he probably had a wife and a couple of kids back at home.
“This is it!” the interruption of his voice brought her back to reality.
Megan realised the lift had ceased its upward motion and the doors had reopened. Her travel companion had moved to one side to let her pass.
She stepped out into the corridor and made her way quickly to a set of double doors, unaware that if she had taken a moment to glance back, she would have realised that the occupant from the lift was watching after her.
Copyright © Alistair Langston. Excerpted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
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