Samuel gazed upon the hazy blanket of darkness stretching below his window. A mist had curled up from the seas, enveloping the villa, with its scenic gardens , shady avenues. The golden lights on the garden-gates glowered like malicious eyes of hidden beasts lurking out there in the night.
On summer nights, the murmurs of waves from the beach nearby would have floated in through the open windows. But, winter had arrived. The window-panes of his holiday-home- “The Whistling-Woods” rattled in rebellion against occasional gusts of chilly wind .
On other nights, Samuel would have found in this sombre silence, the inspiration to take up the pen. But, not today . Pangs of guilt wouldn’t let him. Clare’s sorrowful eyes still rested on him seeking an explanation , but he dared not face her tonight. How could he, indeed, tell his fiancé whom he had loved through thick-and-thin and still loved , that his rebel heart had expressed tenderness for another? Whenever Samuel tried to make love with her, the apparition returned with its blonde-locks ; tender eyes – its child-like timidity overshadowed by jealousy. He’d feel its reproachful eyes on him even in dreams, whispering , “Let me live!”. Samuel felt, he knew this apparition very well, for these moments would make him shudder. Yet, never could he recognize it . Was he losing his mind? The years devoted to Dr. North must have taken its toll .
Samuel still remembered that night in his student – quarters at Oxford, when months of struggle had given birth to his first creation – the series of murders by Dr. Gabriel North – an ingenious yet psychopathic doctor-and-scientist . The heart, the doctor believed, has a life of its own . For experiments , he’d collect hearts of the deceased from the morgue . His attention soon turned to healthy, young patients . It turned into a passion- the more they suspected him, the wilder he became. North received the pink-slip but was undaunted . Many of his former patients would be found stabbed, their hearts missing. The signature in red, “G.N.” mocked the police in every crime-scene. The doctor eluded them .
Samuel had shuddered at his own work . The world had shuddered too , had desired to shudder more .
“New-comer, Samuel-Clooney, shakes the world of psychological-thrillers with his creation- Dr. North” – wrote the New-York-Times .
Yet, poor Samuel could no longer feel the thrill without a throbbing pain in his heart . The initial jubilation at the memories of his success- the six best-sellers – would forever be followed by remorse- his mother’s death. It’d flash before his eyes – his mother resting on the hospital-bed in the calmness of death- on the table beside, inscribed in red- “G.N.” . He’d recall his blind fury at the unknown fanatic, responsible for this thoughtless prank.
That night itself, Samuel had thought of “The Final Touch”- the end of Dr. North. Soon, he’d send the manuscript off. In a month, the grass would be green over North’s grave.
“It’ll be alright,” Samuel assured himself, “once North is gone.”
He was shaken out of his reverie by Clare’s voice-
“Oh, hello, John ! Please pass on this bundle to Agea . I need it typed out by tomorrow,” said Samuel.
John blushed . Looking at him, Samuel couldn’t suppress a smile . Ah! The first signs of love! And his assistant, John- the charming lad- had his charms enhanced by love! He must be in love with Agea – the old-housekeeper’s daughter. Samuel’s face lit up, as it always did, in John’s presence. Who could help it, after all? John was a grown-up child, weeping at the slightest misfortune, bursting out in infectious laughter at a hint of joy. His heart was naked as the spring morning sky. It was impossible not to feel love for this gentle creature!
Once their brief interview was over and John had left, Samuel’s face fell. He was sinking back into a reverie, when Clare interrupted him.
“Sam, should we call off the wedding?” she asked, masking the tremor in her voice.
“You’d know that better, Sam. You aren’t yourself in my presence, anymore. Why so? Look into my eyes, dear.”
Samuel looked up. Where was Clare? It was that apparition…those blonde-locks, that unnerving frown!
“Leave me alone!” screamed Samuel, trying to break free. Clare reappeared before him.
“I’ll be leaving tomorrow, Samuel. My presence, I see, is intolerable to you!”
Samuel looked into her eyes. It was her , this time, trying to hold back the rush of tears.
He dropped onto his bed, still gasping, hiding his face in his hands.
“I’m growing mad, Clare! These hallucinations! Mother was right! North will be my end!”
Clare threw her arms round him.
“Did she say so?”
“Yes. The day before she left.”
“We’ll get over this together, dear!”
Samuel wished, he could remain in her arms, just like this, forever.
How he loved her! How could he ever tell her that he had been tender towards a….a man – maybe, that stranger haunting him?
After a long time, Samuel slept like a baby that night! Only once, in sleep, feeling about for Clare, did he find her place empty. In drowsy eyes, he checked the time- “2am”. Almost instantly, the door opened. His love sneaked back into bed .
Samuel thought no more, for a deep stupor beckoned him. He was floating about in an ocean of silence. From a distant world, Clare’s voice reached him- “Wake up, Sam!”
Samuel found her shaking him violently as he dragged his eyes open, muttering, “Is it morning already?”
A strange music reached his ears. He started. It was an ambulance-siren .
“The Inspector wants to meet you. Agea , John…” Clare couldn’t go on. She broke down in violent sobs.
Samuel rushed downstairs. The garden was swarming with men-in-uniform. Amidst the flowerbeds, lay the couple- one dead, the other injured.
The old-housekeeper, Maria was wailing over her daughter’s body. John was being rushed off to the hospital, while Agea – her young life nipped in the bud- would be going for post-mortem.
Inspector Bond walked up to Samuel- “May I have a few words with you, Mr. Clooney?”
Samuel stepped forward. His heart skipped a beat.
“Agea attacked with blunt weapon……John shot in his shoulders….revolver found in the bushes…..”
Pieces of the conversation floated into Samuel’s ears. But, he was dazed. Nothing moved him anymore, for, on the green grass , was inscribed in red, the letters “G” and “N”.
Samuel knew the murderer. In a frenzy, he exclaimed, “It’s North!”
The Inspector stepped back, puzzled.
“Oh, I see!” he replied, exchanging a sympathetic glance with Clare.
Patting Samuel on the back, he proceeded to the gate- “Take care, Clooney!”
A mournful silence prevailed all over the house. Samuel was at the table with Clare, trying to take a bite , when the phone rang.
Inspector Bond’s agitated voice reached him from the other end- “We’ve found your North , Mr. Clooney.”
“Where’s he, Inspector?”
“It’s a ‘she’. North’s a lady .”
“That can’t be!”
“It’s Ms. Clare, Sir. Her fingerprints are on the revolver.”
“What! You must be mistaken, Inspector!”
“Where was she around two last night?”
“Why? In her…” Samuel paused midway.
The blurry images from the previous night returned- Clare sneaking back into bed. An uncomfortable silence followed.
“We’ll be meeting soon, Mr. Clooney!”
The phone slipped out of Samuel’s trembling fingers.
“What’s the matter, Sam? Is John okay?” asked Clare.
Samuel didn’t seem to hear her.
“Where were you last night?”
“In bed, of course. Beside you. Why?”
“You weren’t,” he whispered, almost to himself . Could that bewilderment be fake? Could those innocent eyes belong to a murderer?
“What’s wrong with you, Sam?”
Samuel didn’t reply. Shutting his eyes tight, he tried to forget the world. Clare left the room. Minutes later, an ear-splitting cry filled the house- it was Clare’s!
The door was banged open. Before he could even move, a needle was pricked into his arm. Darkness descended.
It was a narrow room in which Samuel found himself. A flickering bulb smiled gloomily over a small golden circle. The rest was drowned in shadows.
Where was he? He didn’t know.
“Oh! You’re up, dear ! I’ve so much to show you!” exclaimed a boyish voice. The speaker slowly stepped into the golden halo of the bulb.
“John!” exclaimed Samuel.
“No, Dr. Gabriel North,” replied “John” , with his charming smile.
“ Here she is!” exclaimed “John” , pulling aside the curtains, revealing a window. The slanting rays of the setting sun rested on a supine figure in a corner…….lifeless.
“Thankfully, she had the habit of sleepwalking. I had smashed Agea’s head perfectly and was preparing to have the bullet in my shoulders, when she appeared – a blessing-in-disguise. Now, her fingerprints are on the revolver! By the time your police find me…..it’ll be too late!” he remarked , with a smirk.
Samuel could feel his senses swimming. How could he have forgotten? Clare, indeed, had the habit of sleep-walking in stressful periods. How he had suspected his beloved! She’d return no more.
“There,” continued the lad , pointing to a series of jars on the shelf, “is her heart. That’s Agea’s . The poor girl had your manuscript. Had she typed it out, I’d have been done for!”
Samuel stared at “John” in dumb horror. How suddenly, he had come across him last winter, shivering in the park! How he had taken him under his wing!
“Beast!” he muttered, under his breath.
A strange smile appeared on “John”’s face.
“You, my Creator, call me beast! I did try to warn you with that signature , on your mother’s death! But, no! You were hell-bent on finishing me off! Aren’t you a beast? You’ve taught me to collect hearts, never to win them. What’s love? You’ve never showed me!”
Calmly, John threw aside his wig, removed his contact-lenses. Before Samuel, stood the apparition!
“I’ve paid you many visits! In fact, I brought you here, too! Remember me now?” said Dr. North, alias, John.
“Where am I?”
“In your own attic. Never bothered to come here , right?”
“Why did you do this to me?” screamed Samuel, struggling to free his bound arms.
“Why did you do this to me, Mr. Clooney? The day you made me a murderer, I wept. But, today, it’s my passion. I’d have gladly remained a scientist, but you’ve made me who I’m. Don’t hearts look beautiful in jars, dear?”
Suddenly, the sirens of police-cars shattered the uncanny silence. The smile reappeared on North’s face. In a flash, a revolver was in his hands.
Samuel couldn’t have cared less.
“Kill me, beast! Death’ll be a relief!” he retorted.
No answer from the doctor. His brows darkened as he approached his victim. Samuel felt North’s warm breath on his cheeks.
“Never, darling ! No jar can hold your beautiful heart! It belongs only to me, to me! No Clare can snatch it away!”
The footsteps on the staircase were growing nearer. With a shock, Samuel felt North’s lips pressing onto his . The softer emotions made the villain’s face, more formidable than ever.
“I’ll be waiting for you up there!” he hissed in Samuel’s ears.
A booming gunshot numbed Samuel. The attic-door was smashed open. In stepped Inspector Bond , as Dr. North dropped onto the floor in a pool of blood.
“Mr. John escaped from the hospital, just after Ms. Agea’s body had been found battered. We’ve tracked him down.”
The Inspector was cut short by Samuel’s blank gaze. He paused to look around.
Clare’s blood-drenched body lay in a dark corner. The man, who had slept on heaps of heinous crimes, shuddered. He realized, he hadn’t saved Clooney’s life. The man in Samuel-Clooney was dead- he’d remain a walking corpse.
Years have passed. Like his meteoric rise to fame , Clooney’s name plunged into oblivion. In me, Samuel lived, thought and died.
Many a night, he’d drown himself in alcohol, to shut out the apparition that whispered, “ Waiting for you!” Pangs of guilt fed on his sanity. For, he could not deny that, once, he had, indeed, had a soft spot for the murderer of his beloved Clare . Had his emotions for that man been only tenderness, or love? Samuel didn’t remember. But, since that day, he had strongly hated the apparition. He’d wonder how North had managed to reach this world . Many a time would Samuel take up the revolver, only to put it down again – in death, he’d have no respite! Finally, one winter night, as the wind howled about in the neglected gardens, his heart stopped beating on its own.
Now, dear reader, you may ask me who I am. I’m “The Whistling Woods”. Near a silent beach, I stand alone . If you pay me a visit, you’ll be welcomed by a decaying corpse – Samuel still rests here, on his rocking chair! Nobody knows of his death. Nobody pays me a visit, anymore.
With the burden of North’s secret, I stand alone. In that attic, there’s a wardrobe. In it, you’ll find nothingness – a dark vacuum. From here, North had come, may come again. Where he comes from , there’s no death.
This vacuum permeates the universe- our minds , dreams, too! It would take Dr. North to his Creator’s thoughts. Besides his love for the heart, the doctor, in secrecy, perfected this discovery! I wait for you, my reader, to find me, to seal the wardrobe up, for it marks the thin boundary between Reality and Fiction.
These days, there’s a restlessness in the attic. The lives our authors have shattered at a stroke of their pens, are clamouring for justice. One of these days, they’ll go out into the world , under the leadership of Dr. North and create havoc. How do I stop them? I’m just a deserted house! Yet, in my nooks and corners, are hidden, whispers of love – once, I had been a home! The good old days!
Dear reader, if the vacuum carries my words to your dreams tonight, don’t forget me! I don’t know how this vacuum works! But, if Dr. North comes to know of this , he’ll kill me! Yes, even this old house has a heart! And, if you don’t hurry up, dear, our hearts may rest in Dr. Gabriel North’s laboratory.
The Whistling Woods.
==>This is an entry for Artales-17, #DrNorth, an ArtoonsInn writing event.
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