JFK International Airport, Queens, NY.
Fall of 2019
A man walked briskly towards the baggage conveyor belt and hauled off his huge suitcase – a grey American Tourister*. Drained from the trip, he couldn’t wait to get home. Almost immediately after boarding his Singapore Airlines flight, from Phuket to New York, he had sat downing cans after cans of Budweiser*. A stewardess had tried to ease his mind.
“Flying for the first time?”
He had looked back at her with his blood-shot eyes and thrown her a feeble smile.
Now, stepping onto the curb of the John F. Kennedy International Airport, he drank in the morning sunshine. A minute later, he was in the cab speeding through the early morning tranquillity. He rolled down the windows and gulped down mouthfuls of the crisp autumn air.
Ah…! He mouthed the word in the wind.
He caught the cabbie eyeing him from the rear-view mirror. He didn’t care. He was home. That’s all that mattered. As waves of relief washed over him, he felt his eyelids grow leaden. Images of his bed back home – with crisp, white-linen sheets – swam before his jet-lagged eyes.
As the breeze began to playfully rustle his hair, he dozed off in the backseat of the NY cab.
His wife was at work when he got home.
He left the suitcase in the foyer and dragged his weary body up the stairs. Then, he fell flat on the bed and slept like a log, still attired in his Armani business suit and Gucci leather shoes.
The sound of incessant traffic through the open windows woke him up. Tangerine mellowness from the setting sun spilled into the room. He propped his body on his elbows as he rose from the bed – and groaned aloud in pain.
Damn! I’ve sprained my neck from sleepin’ all wrong!
His stomach growled, audibly.
God, I am famished!
He descended down the stairs and entered the kitchen. A vase containing scarlet-red carnations stood in the middle of the kitchen counter.
‘Welcome Back Home, Honey,’ said the scribbled note. He smiled at the gesture; Ella, his wife of eight years still took some serious pains to keep the flame alive.
Having finished his bowl of cereal, he remembered that he had bought her a present from Phuket.
Wait till you see this, babe… You’ll love it!
He trudged up the staircase with the grey American Tourister, panting.
I don’t remember stuffin’ it to make it this heavy…
He snipped off the aviation security-tag which wound around the lock and proceeded to open it.
That’s when it hit him: This wasn’t even his suitcase!
Piles of neatly-folded clothes stared back at him. A child’s storybook (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the 1969 edition) lay nestled between womens’ lingerie, toiletries and a heart-shaped box of liquor chocolates.
He began to fish out a few items in sheer confusion and consternation. Then his eyes fell on a piece of clothing and his hand froze. There, in the heart of the suitcase was a distasteful-looking Superman costume, the kind one buys at a thrift store. It was a kid’s costume. Something about it held him in a trance. He picked it up, gingerly. As he stared at it, the costume began to bleed. Sticky, crimson fluid began to drip on the carpet and onto his shoes.
He flinched in fear and flung it on the floor.
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“That’s it,” exclaimed his wife, “No more business trips without me from now on!” She continued, with a tremor in her voice, “This bloody work of yours is simply wrecking your mind – and mine, as well!”
The man sat hunched in a corner of the bed. His wide, petrified eyes bore the look of a madman’s. His lips quivered. He had been raving like a lunatic when she had found him, shrieking expletives and then dissolving in sobs. But now he had grown creepily quiet. He sat casting furtive, fearful glances across the room and whimpering to himself.
One look at him and her heart crumbled. “You probably have also not been taking your medicines – for all I know!” She let out an exasperated sigh.
“Tell you what, honey? You better rest for a couple of days. I will check with the airport authorities regarding this mishap, first thing tomorrow!” Then she softened her tone and said, “I have missed you more than you’ll ever know. Welcome back, Kev.” She reached out and squeezed his arm. He simply sat unblinking, unmoving.
Ella’s eyes glazed over and she made her way out of their bedroom. She stopped in the hallway and dialled a number on her cellphone.
“Doctor Farris? It’s Mrs. Moore. I think Kevin would do well with another session with you. His neurosis has been acting up, lately. Yes, he returned earlier today – and there had been an accidental switch with the suitcase – and you, Doctor, wouldn’t believe what he told me when I got back from work…”
Phuket Beach Resort, Phuket.
A Week Ago
The man lay sprawled like a seal on the beach, sunbathing. His eyes darted to-and-fro from under his straw hat, looking at the deluge of young, naked bodies around him. His nostrils flared in titillation and he licked his lips, lasciviously.
An older Asian man came waddling towards him. Behind him followed a puny, gaunt boy of about seven or eight. The American squinted in the sun, looking up at the approaching figures. He stared at the boy, who looked unsure, shuffling his feet along as he walked with a downward gaze. At length, they stood before him, near his feet. A curt, formal nod and a small black bag were exchanged between the two parties.
The American smiled, slyly. “You can count them if you like.”
The swarthy Asian grinned back, revealing his crooked teeth that seemed too large for his mouth. Dark stains of tar from the local tobacco lent his grin a sinister appearance.
“I take what you give me. I believe you, Mister,” he grinned.
Back in the hotel room, the man reached into his grey American Tourister and took out a sleazy Superman costume, the size befitting a child.
“Here, I got you a present, little one. Come and get it.” He said with a ravenous grin.
The child stood rooted by the shut door, mute. His transfixed eyes, like those of a deer caught in the headlamps, struggled to comprehend the situation.
Terrible turpitude came over the man. He began to undress himself, whilst ogling the child before him.
“Look, I even got candy for you,” he said. He placed a cheap bonbon-candy strategically over his enlarging manhood.
“Come, get it,” he coaxed, in a voice thick with depraved passion.
The child, lured in by the piece of toffee, moved closer. A four-fingered hand reached out, shakily, towards his bulging groin.
“Waitaminute…!” yelled the man, sickened at the sight.
“Ugh, how repulsive you are, you little whore-boy!” Spat the man, in repugnance.
He would have cast the boy out, had not a demon from his deplorable past hissed in his ears, just then. The execrable lust stirred his loins, afresh.
The man leaped at the child, enraged and overcome with sick, feral perversion. “Come here, you bastard…!”
Terrified, the child cowered and crouched upon the floor. As self-preservation kicked in, he scurried across the room on all fours. He didn’t get to go too far; his deviant predator pounced upon him, devouring him. The boy clawed at his predator, sinking his short, bony fingers into his chest. He kicked with his feet in an impotent attempt to escape. In a bid to restrain him, the man held his small head in his large, rugged hands. As the boy violently struggled, jerking his body away from his assailant, the man’s eyes narrowed into a cold, vicious glare. The boy stared back, wide-eyed, at the maw of impending death.
A loud snap! And all was still.
The boy lay motionless under his massive weight. The man flung himself off him and stared at the small lifeless form, in disbelief. Then clutching his head, he let out a muffled scream.
“It’s Phobic Neurosis*. Most likely originating from repressed traumatic experiences in childhood. Chances are, your extreme, work-related stress may have triggered it.”
Doctor Farris paused for effect before continuing in his clinical voice, “I ask you, again – have you ever had any such psychological trauma in your young life, Mr. Moore?”
Kevin flushed and looked away. He, then, shook his head.
“Possibly one or more episodes of sexual abuse?” Probed the psychiatrist, a little more delicately.
A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Kevin’s forehead. He, however, still shook his head. This time, with more vehemence.
“Let’s schedule a session of hypnosis to unearth a few things, shall we? Many adult-onset psychosomatic disturbances have deep-seated origins in childhood,” droned the doctor.
Kevin wasn’t even listening – he was looking past the doctor and out of the window. His mind was conjuring up a shard from his shattered past.
The man stole into the child’s bedroom. He tip-toed to the bed where he slept. The open window let in the silver beams of the moon; the lone witness. In the silvery moonlight, the ghostly shadows of the tree-boughs seemed to reach out their taloned, menace-dipped fingers towards the sleeping child.
The man slid beneath the covers and groped. The child woke to a familiar face – the face of his supposed protector but assuredly, his tormentor.
The child opened his mouth wide in a silent scream.
When he returned home, his wife greeted him with a barrage of words.
“Kev, there you are! How did the session with Dr. Farris go?”
she asked, with concern lining her delicate face. She, however, continued without giving him leeway.
“Oh, your baggage has been traced and is on its way back home! I just got a call from the Airport guys. And yes, they agreed to take back the swapped suitcase, too! Heading to the supermarket, now.”
She gave him a wink and a quick peck. “Let’s celebrate later tonight, Kev. It’s been a while!”
“Sure.” He gave her a half-hearted smile.
His wife away, he decided to take a short nap. The hour at the doctor’s had worn him out. He peered at himself in the bathroom mirror. He looked haggard. Dark raccoon-rings circled his sunken eyes. And, even though he hated to admit it to himself: He perceived there to be an uncanny presence in the house. Terror stalked him in the form of a pitch-black, amorphous silhouette. It seemed to observe him with unseen eyes. He had been waking up in the dead of the night, bathed in a cold sweat, trembling.
If Ella only knew…!
Was it really the neurosis?
Or maybe it was the stress?
Maybe I AM going crazy, seeing things…!
His mouth ran dry. Gulping down a glassful of water, he lay on the bed staring at the ceiling until sleep overrode his exhausted mind.
A nebulous, inky-black shadow floated at the foot of the bed.
It regarded him like an amorous paramour, watching him stealthily, as he slept. An imperceptible part from its penumbra split away from the rest of the shapeless shadow. It crept beneath the covers. Underneath the duvet, it took the unmistakable form of a figure that snaked its way along his body, ever-so-gradually. Reaching the top of his torso, it reared its diabolical head. The Baphomet*.
He woke with a start. He had felt a strange, icy weight upon his heart.
What greeted his vision, sucked the air right out of his very lungs.
A shadowy apparition of a child sat crouched upon his chest. Its head was bowed. Its body swayed like the pendulum of a wall-clock. Its bare, frosty fists pounded against the man’s chest in a rhythmic tempo.
The man leapt out of the bed with a shriek. The phantom disintegrated into a dense, black cloud.
You are not really, here…!
You are only a figment of my sick imagination…!
You, you… bloody, boy-whore!
He watched with a sense of foreboding, as the cloud morphed back into the form of the ashen-grey child. It turned its body towards him. Its head remained bent, broken at an angle. Then in slow precision, it started to advance towards him. Dragging its feet along the floor, as it went.
The man began to shake with convulsions. His bladder emptied, involuntarily.
Seized by a sudden frightful fit, he dropped to his knees. He sobbed and spluttered, incomprehensibly. As his bowels gave in next, he broke into deranged, tumultuous laughter.
The room resonated with the sounds of his mental decline.
The phantom child drew out his hand in front of the man’s face.
No! You are not even real…!
He cackled like a madman.
The last thing he saw was the four-fingered hand reaching out towards him.
Ella Moore breezed her way into the house. She hopped up the stairs, singing. A moment later, she stood transfixed at the bedroom door. What greeted her sight, caused her to gesticulate, gasping for breath. She then let out a gravelly, blood-curdling scream.
Her husband’s corpse sat propped up in their bed, with the head hanging limp.
“Death by manual strangulation,” said the Homicide Detective, an hour later. “Looks like the neck snapped in two from the external application of grievous pressure.”
“Apparently,” said the Forensic Expert. “But what’s interesting are the sets of faint fingerprints found on the deceased,” he continued with a startled expression. “Most likely, a child’s fingers on the raw skin at the site… with no singular, preaxial-digit impression contusions. In other words, a missing thumb!”
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American Tourister: Popular brand of suitcase
Budweiser: American beer
Phobic Neurosis: Phobic Neurosis, referred to by Sigmund Freud as “anxiety hysteria,” is characterized by anxiety focusing on certain external objects, be they things, persons, or situations.
Baphomet: Here, to represent Satan or one of his manifestations. (The horned depiction of Satan is with the body of a man and the head of a goat; the satanic deity the Knight Templars were accused of worshipping.)
Team: Chekhov Guns
Prompt: The MC comes home from the airport to realize that they picked up the wrong baggage. What follows this incident?
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Vocab, narration, expression, setting and justification of the theme was outstanding! Being a fan of horror genre, the author can add me as a fan follower of him/her from today. The forensic expert’s convo on “Missing thumb”sent chill to my marrow.
Take a standing ovation from me!
Intense…Very impactful writing!
On behalf of the team, thank you