Can’t exactly pin down where I got this idea from originally, whether it was a movie or book or what. The gist of it was, a demon enters a small boy in order to possess him and cause mischief/blood and whatnot. Only the kid is a complete sociopath, and the demon enters his mind only to discover that there’s nothing there for him to work with, so he just gets trapped. Intriguing, is it not? Here’s my take – enjoy!
Death by Candlelight
By Ben Pienaar
She wasn’t what he expected – she was far too young. The way he’d heard it she was one of the world’s top forensic psychologists. Novels written, theses published, PHDs all over the place, and you didn’t get to do that unless you were at least forty. This woman was mid twenties, maybe. Wearing red and a smile like she didn’t know what she was here for.
‘You’re miss Jenkins?’ he was unable to keep the scepticism out of his voice, but it didn’t seem to faze her.
‘Call me Joan. You must be Pat McBain.’ She shook his hand hard, like a man, and fixed him with a solid stare.
‘Okay, Miss – Joan I mean, right this way then.’
Soon they were a level down and navigating the hallways and cells that made up Werton Maximum Security Penitentiary.
‘Now I know you’ve done your research, uh, Joan, but you should know that reading about Rod Hytes is very different to meeting him. Very different. I mean this is a man who – ’
‘Is the absolute personification of evil, who can look right into my soul and show me my worst nightmare, and has completely terrified and or baffled the previous psychologists who came to interview him?’
For a moment, McBain was speechless. Usually he could keep up his stories for a good ten minutes while he took her the long route around to the isolation cells, slowly and expertly building the legend behind Rod Hytes until she was trembling in her shoes.
‘Uh. Well yes. I guess that’s the gist of it.’ He decided to take the short route, and a few minutes later they were moving through solitary confinement. Rod was not here, because he had shown such an aptitude for escape, craft and sheer violence that they’d been forced to create another cell at the far end, which had a constant guard set at the first door.
‘Okay, so we’ve been through the usual safety stuff. I think you’ll be fine, personally, but just in case,’ he handed her a small panic button. ‘Press this if you get worried, you’ll have an army in there with you before you can blink.’
She took it and dropped it almost casually into her pocket. They were right outside the door now, the guard standing a few feet away and staring determinedly at nothing. The whole place smelled like a mouldy gutter, but she was glad none of the prisoners could see out and leer at her, though McBain was doing plenty of that all by himself.
Something passed over her face that looked like horror and McBain almost stepped back in surprise.
‘You alright, Miss Jenkins? You look a little pale’
‘What… Um, what has he done before?’ she asked awkwardly. An odd question, but incidentally it was just the one he wanted. He smiled and reached into his pocket, feeling for the little square Polaroid.
‘Well, there’s only been one incident that I don’t think you would have heard about since they kept it on the down low, sort of, but one time Rodney got out of his chains and got hold of his interviewer. The guard inside moved forward to stop him, but he’s a quick bastard. Took both of them out. It was a while before two guys went to check in on them, and he almost got them, too, but luckily backup was nearby. I was working then, took this picture with my phone just a few minutes after he got dragged out of there.’
He drew the picture out, but she put a hand on it and looked away. ‘Please don’t. There’s no need.’
‘Let me guess, already seen it, huh?’
She made no reply and he slipped it back into his pocket. ‘So you’re really a psychic, huh?’
‘Not the way you think of it,’ she said, as colour slowly returned to her face. ‘Otherwise, why would I ask a question if I could just look into your mind and read the answer?’
He hadn’t thought of that, but he raised his eyebrows and said, ‘well?’
‘I only get flashes of relevant things. I get the gist of it, the essence. People’s thoughts are messy and cryptic. Mostly when I read you I can only see my own cleavage and the fond memories of that excellent sub sandwich you had for lunch.’
His mouth fell open.
‘At any rate, that picture certainly stuck out and I wanted to know about it. You wanted to shake me, Mr. Mcbain, and you have, so let’s go on shall we?’
After that, there weren’t any hold ups, and as McBain ushered her into the next room, Rodney Hytes was chained to the table, awaiting her. Mcbain closed the door and she sensed his relief immediately.
Rod looked average, in every respect, which was largely why he’d gotten away with so much before someone had twigged that something was wrong. He was five ten, black hair and brown eyes, medium build, normal looking Caucasian. Asked for a description, any witness would likely as not reply: ‘Uh, I dunno, really. Average? Normal? You know, just your normal every day guy. Nothing special.’
He smiled when she sat down, and it was a warm, genuine smile, but with nothing at all behind it. She didn’t look into him just yet. That was her rule.
‘Hello, Rod, My name is Joan,’ she said.
‘Nice to meet you, Joan. I’d offer my hand, but both of them are manacled to the table.’
‘That’s alright. Now I’m afraid I’ll have to start with the usual questions, which you’ve probably answered a hundred times before, but we’ll get to the interesting things soon, I promise.’
This was not reading, quite, but just a kind of intuition she had which told her what to say to which people. It was a sense of character she’d been born with, and one she used well.
‘That’s fine. How about I get you started?’
She raised her eyebrows.
‘My first kill was a cat at the age of five. My first real kill was my best friend, Zane, when I was ten; I slit his throat with a steak knife. I kill humans because they’re the best challenge, the most fun, and yes, even though I’ve been caught now, I still think that forty years of killing was worth it. No, I don’t regret anything, and I do see myself as a monster, though I feel no shame about that.
‘If I could change anything, it would be the day I got caught. I should have bitten Detective Gerald’s throat out just to get my last kill in before I got locked up. Let’s see now…’ He paused, tapping his fingers on the table and watching her through slit eyelids. ‘What was my favourite kind of killing? Death by candlelight. Agonizing, that one, very interesting but difficult to pull off. You have to be patient. Do I believe I am a god? No. Does that about cover it?’
She looked down at her short list of beginner questions. Why do you kill human beings? Do you regret anything? Are you a God? Etc. He’d effectively answered every one of them in the exact order she’d planned to ask them. She looked up at him, and he only grinned back, his hands firmly resting on the table.
‘Are you like me?’ she asked.
He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe. I often hear I’m very similar in some ways to people.’
‘But you know what I mean. You know, don’t you?’
‘I thought you were a psychic, Joan Jenkins. Why don’t you just open your mind to mine and look for your answers that way?’
‘You’ve just eliminated the need.’
‘Have I? I think if anything I’ve increased it. What would it be like to look into the mind of someone just like you? You thought you were unique, until you heard about me, and I thought I was until I heard about you. I’m already in yours, all you have to do is come into mine.’
She took her phone from her pocket and pressed a button before laying it down on the table in front of her. She usually trusted her memory enough not to need any recordings, but in this case she found herself wishing she’d turned it on earlier. She didn’t want to miss a thing.
‘Mr. Hytes has just given me reason to believe that he has a talent not unlike my own,’ she said, continuing to hold his blank gaze. ‘He has also invited me to read him.’
‘And refuses to answer any further questions unless she does,’ he added. There was a small smile playing on his lips.
She scowled, but made no reply other than to rap her fingers thoughtfully on the table and look at him. She had been reading people’s minds since she was ten years old. Some people she could slip in and of like a comfortable pair of slippers, and stroll down the hallways of their minds at her leisure. Others were like puzzles or labyrinths, or just hurricanes of chaos and mess. These she could read just fine after a fashion, too, and enjoyed the challenge.
Like any house (or labyrinth), how far you went inside depended on what you saw and how easily you could extricate yourself. Looking too long in a messy or insane mind could leave her feeling dizzy and disoriented for an hour afterwards, and it was for that reason she spent most of her time reading only surface thoughts, peering through the front door as she had a minute ago with McBain.
With serial killers, that didn’t work so well. Their surface thoughts were just as deceptive as their fake smiles and mannerisms. If you wanted some real insight you had to dive right in, swim to the deep end and sift through whatever you found drifting at the bottom. And this was the Rodney Hytes. She decided to take it slow.
She leaned forward, got comfortable, and met his clear green eyes. The surface thoughts were there, and as she went through them she was unnerved to find that most of them were to do with her own thoughts. He was reading her mind, and not just a little, either: these were some of her childhood memories.
She forced herself to ignore it. She was here to read him, after all. What did she care if he saw her whole intimate life? It was a nasty feeling – sickening, even, but in the end it didn’t matter. She dipped her feet a little deeper into the pool of his mind and then recoiled, as if from physical cold.
He chuckled at the look on her face. ‘Don’t be afraid, dear. I know I’m a bad man, and I’ve done some nasty things, but you’ve surely seen worse.’
She had at that, but that didn’t stop her from putting a hand over her mouth when she began to look into his memories. They were all there near the front of his mind, laid out for her in a neat and clear collage. That kind of clarity could only mean one thing – he thought of these memories often, and fondly.
After five minutes she didn’t know if she could take any more, but she went on because she had to, because she was so damned fascinated. Each memory came with a plethora of sounds and smells and visceral feelings. Not emotions as such, but the quick beat of a heart, the hunger for blood and the lust for pain, just as simple and infinitely crueller than the instincts of an animal.
His favourite, she found, was indeed death by candlelight. She knew this not from the numbers of memories she saw of it but what she felt when she went into them. Each scream and crackle of skin had brought him something, not enough to be called pleasure, but satisfaction. Each death had lasted many hours and he’d drunk them in with endless thirst. She was revolted at herself, now, because by witnessing these memories she was also sharing them with him, experiencing them for herself almost as surely as if she’d been standing in the room with him all those years ago.
And they went on, and on, and on. He’d done more than he was convicted for, far more, and before long she was lost in his mind, wandering in horror and mounting dread. This, she thought, was still not the bottom – this was barely a foot under the surface, and it was a mind that ran very deep indeed.
She went deeper, and found him trying to resist her. This was it, she thought – this was where the real learning happened. She’d get another book or three out of this man alone, that was for sure. He’d been far into her mind, too, but he’d grown bored there, and now he was panicking, trying to pull her out.
In the room, both of them were tensed, sweating, their eyes watering. His hands strained against the chains while hers were clenched in fists. Both of them stared into each other’s eyes and minds, oblivious to reality.
She pushed him and felt him give way and then yield completely, as if his consciousness was disappearing.
She went deeper.
Beneath those memories were others, and then others beneath them, boring or inconsequential ones that he’d forgotten. She reached the last of these and pushed it aside like a curtain that opened on a dark room.
She went on, searching the emptiness for something he’d tried to hide, but there was nothing. Beyond those memories and base feelings, now far behind her, there was nothing but black. She found herself falling, and this was a physical sensation, so much so that the Joan sitting in the cell lurched forward and made a choking sound, her blind eyes widening.
She needed purchase, something to hold on to, but all of a sudden there was nothing there. He was completely empty inside, and how could you find your way out of an empty house if it was infinite? It was an infinite house without doors or windows or floors, and she was lost.
She blinked and forced herself to breathe again. The room came swimming back into focus. She looked up at Rodney and was pleased to see that she’d wiped the smile off his face. He was sitting back in his chair with an unfocused gaze and sweat on his brow.
She turned off the recorder on the phone and put it in her pocket. It had been pretty useless in the end, since they hadn’t been saying anything. (So she thought, but when she played it back again later she heard his voice whispering get out, get out over and over and her own repeating the phrase help me).
She stood up and he seemed to shake himself awake at the sound of the chair scraping back. He looked ill. ‘What did you do to me?’ I feel bad. What did you do with my mind?’
She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Bye now.’
She knocked on the door and McBain opened it almost immediately. He showed no surprise at her expression, but when he saw the state of Hytes he couldn’t help but stare. The murderer was twisting in his seat, only semi conscious and muttering things under his breath.
‘Jesus, what did you do to him?’
‘What do you care? He’s a murderer.’ She pushed passed him, and was on the point of leaving when one of the guards outside the door reached forward and held her back. ‘I’m sorry ma’am but protocol insists that Mr. McBain escort you out of here. In the event of a riot or other altercation it is best to have at least one prison staff member with you at all times.’
She glared at him but it was easy to see he meant what he said, and was prepared to enforce the law however he had to. She rolled her eyes and waited.
McBain had gone straight into the room, and now he began to call for the prison doctors in a shaky voice. The guard who had grabbed her arm turned quickly and pressed a red panic button on the wall. In the meantime, Rodney was growing more and more restless. He fought his chains, and uttered pitiful moans. ‘Oh, God, oh, God, what have I done?’
It grated in her ears. By the time the two nurses and four extra guards arrived, his voice had risen to a fever pitch and he was thrashing about in a violent seizure. McBain’s efforts to calm him had ceased – he simply stood in one corner and stared.
Joan tapped her feet while the nurses argued with the guards about whether they should untie him or not. The nurses won out and there was the sound of clinking as McBain unlocked the chains.
Although all four guards had been holding on to different parts of Rodney’s body to keep him from escaping, it was barely a second before two of them lost their grip on him, one was struggling with his left arm and the other had him in a crude headlock.
It was not enough. Rodney Hytes lifted his right wrist up to his face and bit it. Surprised, the guard pulled back on his neck and the motion liberated a large chunk of flesh and opened the artery. Spraying blood, he kicked off the table and the three of them rolled onto the floor, while the remaining two guards waited for their chance to strike with their batons.
No one was quite sure later whether Rodney’s arm had just been slippery with sweat or whether the guard had loosened his hold as they crashed to the ground. Whatever it was, he managed to head butt the man behind him into semi unconsciousness, slip his left hand inside the headlock, and tear out his own throat.
In the brief but sickening ruckus that followed, both of the guards outside had rushed in to help, though by that time there was nothing left they could do except gawk. It was a messy death, and even the nurses, seasoned veterans both, where white in the face. It was several minutes before McBain stepped out of the cell and realised that Miss Jenkins was nowhere to be seen. Fled in terror, he believed – and who could blame her?
Joan drove to the park near her house, more out of habit than anything, and found her usual bench. She sat down and stared at the lake, thinking. Anyone who knew her well would have found this behaviour extremely odd, because Joan only ever sat on that bench to write, and when she was deep in thought usually her face was animated with a hundred conflicted expressions.
She wondered at herself, because she felt so calm, yet the Joan of an hour or so ago would have been barely able to contain herself after seeing a thing like that. But why? It’s only a bit of blood, and he was a murderer anyway. Nevertheless, she knew it was true. Perhaps she was in shock?
She thought the truth was that Rodney had affected her mind, somehow. That morning, she’d been nervous about the speech she was scheduled to give later that night at her book signing, but now, no matter how she thought of it she found she didn’t care enough about it to be nervous.
My feelings are gone, she thought, without the slightest sense of loss or grief. I have to be careful, or…
Or I’ll do something evil, is what she meant to think, but the thought ended up finishing itself with or I’ll get caught. That thought – that she was free to do something which could warrant getting caught – sent a chill up her spine. Did that count as an emotion, she wondered? It was hard to remember how they really felt; it was like trying to remember being hungry when you were full to bursting.
She tested herself by thinking about murdering her mother, who she had loved dearly two hours ago. She searched herself, but she might as well have been thinking about putting the rubbish out. Then she thought about how exactly it might be done – what kind of reaction she might get – and that spine tingling chill happened again.
It brought to mind the images and memories she’d seen in Rodney’s mind, only this time they did not bring a sick feeling to the pit of her stomach. While the rest of her thoughts and memories were grey, these shone colours in high definition. And they gave her so many ideas!
Before she got into any of that, though, she’d have to try a few tests, dip her toes a little, practice not getting caught. It would be hard to restrain herself at first, but she was a disciplined woman.
Death by candlelight. That’s the best one, he said. She made a mental note to try it when she got the chance.
A little while later, Joan got back into her car and drove away, no longer feeling quite so disenchanted with the world. There was good in it, after all.