The Phantom in the Pit
By Eric Hanson
I am a prisoner in a horrible lonely place. A pit of darkness and despair. I see many things in the pit. I see nightmares. I see grotesque and evil visions. Tonight I am forced to bear witness to a murder by my companion, Phillip. He made me watch as he cracked the young man’s skull with a hammer. The sponge like contents of his head sloshed out of the open wound, running down his face and hitting the floor before his body did. Phillip caught the twitching corpse to quiet the fall.
Phil adjusted his gloves, then hit the body, again, and again and again. The final blow was in the throat, the claws of the hammer tearing into his victim’s larynx. There must have been one final breath of life left in the boy, somehow trapped inside of him before his consciousness left. It bubbled out of the now open holes. Funnily enough, it sounded as someone would gargle mouthwash in the morning.
“Stop it! Stop it, you monster!” I screamed.
“Stop talking, Joshua.” He hissed.
Then I heard her.
“Brandon? Are you okay?” she called out.
Her name was Sidney, and we knew her from work. Phillip had a crush on her. Or rather what someone like him would think was a crush. When he found out she was seeing someone, a certain someone who was at present lying dead before us, I suppose he thought it was as good an excuse as any to commit murder.
When she came out of the bedroom, I tried to warn her.
“Sidney! Sidney, run!” I cried.
“Stop talking, Joshua!” Phillip screamed.
It was his shout that drew her gaze. There was more surprise than anything in her eyes before Phillip brought the hammer down on her head. It made the most horrific noise. A wet kind of cracking sound akin to damp balsa wood. Sidney reached up and clutched the already swelling section of her skull, and fell to her knees. Blood poured out of the wound and clogged her eyes, obscuring her vision and enraging Phillip.
“What? You don’t want to look at me? Why don’t you want to look at me, cunt!?”
Phillip brought the hammer down again, and again, and again. Over and over and over. Sidney’s eyes went blank and white before her dead gaze filled with blood. Her once lively eyes that she would wink to us with as she passed by.
Phillip had always assumed she was flirting. That is why he decided to have the blow to her eye be the one that finished it. The blunt end of the hammer popped the orb in its socket. What was left of her eye sprayed all over the hallway walls, sluggishly flowing down as her limp body finally keeled over.
And that was it. She was gone, leaving me alone in the pit, with only her killer to keep me company.
“What have you done?” I asked him.
“Stop talking Joshua!” Phillip shouted.
I can hear you all now, silently judging me for doing nothing to stop this. I wanted nothing more than to prevent this crime, but could not due to what I am.
For a time I was known as demonic possession. People were subject to horrific torture to get rid of me in the dark ages. Some called me a spirit guide. A faceless friend who gave solace to many in need. But this is the real world, so we must admit what I truly am.
I am a delusion.
Our friend Phillip is what is commonly known as a paranoid schizophrenic. His illness causes him to hear a voice in his head. That voice is me. I may not even exist. I may only be what is left of Phillip’s humanity, chained away inside his mind to complain every now and then.
Our story began at birth. Phillip was the second half of a set of twins, the other half of whom died as an infant. His deceased brother was named Joshua. So that is what he named me.
It was Miss Eddelson’s first grade history class. She was a sight. She wore these thick pointy wire framed glasses like something out of Gary Larson’s nightmares. Phillip always called her The Glasses Lady. That day’s topic was World War II, more specifically the invasion of Russia. Phillip was reading how the Russians would set their farms on fire while retreating from the advancing Nazis. That was what spurred me to ask my first question.
“Why would they do that?” I asked.
“Who said that?” He asked.
“Me, stupid. I’m right here.” I laughed.
“Are you a demon?” he asked again.
“There’s no such thing as demons.” I said. “Now answer my question. Why would the Russians burn all that stuff? That makes no sense.”
“Come on. It’s obvious.” he answered. “The Russians burned it so the Nazis wouldn’t get it. They had no food and shelter, so they died out in the cold.”
He smiled when he answered. Inside his head, I saw images of German soldiers trying to walk forward but unable to will their limbs back to life, leaving them to fall face down in the snow. Their bodies. He paid special attention to their bodies. Wondering what they would look like, frozen in rot until the spring thaw came.
Aside from the two of us talking, that was my first clue that Phillip was not well.
Then he started hurting animals.
His first was a neighbor’s cat. A beautiful white and brown Maine Coon cat with eyes as deep as orange ambers. She belonged to a hospital intern named Janet Miles who liked to listen to 80s music in the evening. Phillip never liked Janet. He always said she had no reason to be so happy.
Phillip made sure she didn’t enjoy herself anymore. He lured the cat to our back porch with a tub of milk and slit her throat. He stuffed it in the mailbox to be sure she would find it. Her screams the following morning still haunt me.
Only someone sick like Phillip would use such a memory to calm himself. But that is what he did as he dragged the bodies into the bathroom. Stupid prick wasted time dragging them by their ankles. He dragged Sidney by her shoe.
“Use the fireman’s carry.” I asked.
“Why? This is working fine!” he snapped.
As if he were directly insulted by the universe, Sidney’s shoe came off in his hands, sending him back into a nearby mirror where he cracked the glass as well as his head.
He listened after that.
Somehow he got their bodies into the bathtub. Sidney was crudely stacked on top of her boyfriend, her left arm hanging over the side of the tub. Phillip didn’t even bother fixing it before he filled the tub with water and powdered bleach he stole from the kitchen.
“It’s not enough to kill them, you have to desecrate the bodies too?” I asked.
“This it to wipe away any D.N.A evidence.” Phillip said. “I learned that on CSI.”
“Yes. CSI. Truly the cornerstone of educational programming.” I insulted him.
Then he saw her arm.
Her arm, dangling over the side of the tub, as perfect as it had been prior to the depravities he had subjected her too. Not a stain of blood or sweat. Just her soft, perfect, gentle hand. It seemed incorrect that it be there, hanging over the side of the tub, forever in a state of unrest. Of course Phillip didn’t care. She was no more than a meat by-product to him.
Something happened then. For a moment, I was not exactly sure how, the pit vanished around me. When it did, Phillip took Sidney’s arm and lowered it across her chest, as gently as if he was laying her into a coffin. It was as if the vessel that housed us was obeying me. His touch was gentle and kind, something Phillip knew nothing about.
As we took our leave from that place, I asked him.
“Why did you do that?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he just left in a manner I can only describe as sickeningly casual. He made sure to lock the apartment door behind him, hide the key back in the hallway light, walked outside and entered his car before even dropping a bead of sweat, and that was only because his gloves were growing warm. I had not noticed, but Phillip didn’t sweat during the entire ordeal.
“It’s done.” I said. “It’s all over.”
“Will you stop whining?” Phillip snapped as he threw his gloves to the passenger’s seat. “You always whine.”
“Because you ruined everything.” I said. “It’s bad enough if it is just you, but there are two of us in here, and you dragged me down right alongside your dumb ass.”
“Shut up, Joshua.” he commanded me.
“Or what? You going to kill me? Go ahead. End us both and put me out of my misery.”
“Shut up, Joshua.” he said through clenched teath.
“Little Phillip. Little murderer, cat killing pervert Phillip. Asshole. Loser. Dirty no good bum!” I shouted inside his head.
“Shut up, Joshua.” Phillip’s eyes swelled with tears. How I hated his tears. He didn’t cry out of any sense of regret or remorse. Every single tear he shed was for him. Only for him, and not getting what he wanted when he wanted it.
“Don’t you dare cry you little faggot.” I said. “You have no right to cry after what you have done. You killed two people. You destroy everyone you touch. Like mom and dad.”
Phillip’s tears stopped as quickly as if a switch had been flipped. As always, when I presented him with something he could not excuse, he always got angry.
“Don’t talk about mom and dad.” He ordered me.
“You hurt mom and dad.” I sang inside his mind. “Mom and dad who would have done anything for you. Mom and dad who built their entire world around you. Mom and dad who put every hope and dream they ever had in you, and watched you destroy them all one at a time.”
Maybe if I sang loud enough he would wrap the car around a telephone pole.
“Stop talking Joshua.” he hissed.
“How ‘bout that time they tried to put you through college and you didn’t bother going to class for an entire semester? That was a joke.”
Phillip shook his head, trying in vain to rattle me out of his ears.
“Or how about when dad gave you the old car? You know, the one we were conceived in? Real nice how you traded that priceless machine for this overpriced piece of shit we’re in now.”
“It was a shitty car.” Phillip justified himself.
“I liked that car.” I said. “Oh, but that isn’t even the worst one. No. The worst thing you ever did was what you did to mom. You know what I am talking about. Grandma Claire’s necklace. Yes, I remember Grandma Claire’s necklace. The one she got from her friend Shosanna after she fled Germany to avoid the Nazis. Best friends the two of them were. Then Claire gave it to mom. Best friends, the two of us are, she said. Maybe you don’t remember but I do.”
Phillip shook his head even harder.
“Then mom gave it to you. You remember what she said? ‘Shosanna gave this to your grandmother because she was her best friend. Then your grandmother gave it to me because I was her best friend. And now I give it to you Phillip. I give it to you because you are my best friend. The two of us, best friends forever.’ I don’t recall you saying that to the girl you pawned it off on for a quick blow job.”
Proof of inexcusable guilt staring him in the face, Phillip couldn’t deny it any more. The entire inside of his mind flashed red and hot. His thoughts of self pity became ones of rage, and the desire to somehow make himself forget all the pain he had caused gave way to that animalistic reaction of a true savage.
“SHUT UP JOSHUA!”
“Hey, you better not shout like that. You will give yourself a headache.” I warned him. “Speaking of which, how is your head?”
Phillip reached up and rubbed the back of his head, still sore from its impact with the mirror. He felt something warm, a little wet. He brought his fingertips to his eyes, revealing fresh blood.
“Fuckin’ shoe.” he whined.
Phil didn’t realize it then, but he had made a grave mistake. I must confess to really enjoying what I did next.
“Sure is bleeding a lot.” I said.
“Yes, it is.” he replied.
“Too bad you forgot to clean it off the mirror.”
The inside of Phillip’s mind became cold as ice at the words. Even the pit was not spared his realization. The mirror. The blood. A piece of evidence he had left behind.
In a cloud of rubber and smoke, Phillip turned the car back towards Sidney’s apartment.
“It’s okay Phillip.” I reassured him. “Unless you are in a criminal database, it will take them ages to trace it to you. Of course they may have your blood in the system on account of all those petty crimes.”
“Stop talking, Joshua!” He cried.
I laughed at Phillip’s self-inflicted ill fortune. “Come on, Phillip. It’s too late. You made a mistake. No sense in going back. So why don’t you just turn around?”
Then something happened. Similar to what happened when he put Sidney’s arm on her chest. Somehow, in the midst of Phillip’s anger, the walls of the pit vanished. I was behind the eyes of the vessel. There was a sensation and control I had never known. I could feel the blood pushing through these veins, the sweat dripping down this skin, the throbbing of this panicked brain. I could feel it all. And when I told the arms to move, they obeyed. They took us right into oncoming traffic.
“God!” Phillip screamed.
Phillip fell back into the pit, where I had been a prisoner for so long. He controlled nothing. The body was now mine.
“Joshua, what did you do!” Phillip shouted, but his words were only on my head.
My head. Not his head but mine. The body was mine. .
“Oh, nothing Phillip.” I said. “I’m just going to take over from here.”
I turned the car around and started back the way we came. Maybe I could run it off a bridge, or into a lake. Anything to end this farce.
“Give it back, Joshua.” He said.
“No. I like it here.” I said.
What choice was there? Excluding the obvious moral obligations, what sane individual would give up such privileged position as to be the master of a vessel like the human body? A machine 14 billion years in the making and it was now mine. I was more than a voice in a diseased mind now. I was an individual. A person.
Amidst all the grief and sorrow I had felt on this night and so many other nights, you can never know the joy of discovering personhood for the first time. It was a joy that lasted pitifully short.
“Give it back, Joshua!” Phillip’s voice thundered, crumbling away the walls of the pit and bringing him back into the vessel’s hub. Once there, I was torn asunder.
Down I fell, down into the back of his mind where I had no control. I could feel the blood in his arms slipping away, feel the sweat on his arms grow cold, feel the vessel do as it had always done, bend to his will and his will alone. The walls of the pit materialized around me, again sealing me into that dark and lonely place within which I had no control, back to where I had been for all my pitiful existence. Back to where I had no personhood, and was nothing more than a dream.
Phillip punched the side of his head in an attempt to hurt me.
“Don’t do that again.” he grumbled.
Before long, we were back at Sidney’s apartment. Sad to say, the authorities didn’t seem to have caught wind of Phillip’s deed just yet. Going back to it filled me with an untold dread. Phillip was filled with dread too, but only for his own selfish quest of self preservation. The journey back to the apartment was one of confused panic. The casual nature in which Phillip left the scene gave way to a frantic dash to the front door. He grabbed the key out of its hiding spot on the light and unlocked the door.
Phillip took us over to the hallway where the broken mirror shards decorated the floor in light and crimson. Yes. Just as I had though, his blood was indeed there.
The murderer sloppily picked up the pieces of the mirror one by one and deposited them in the tub. Then he got his hands on some more liquid bleach and slathered the wall in it. Then he took a kitchen knife and cut whatever smudges he could out of the wall, where he threw them into the tub along with the remains of Sidney and her lover.
“It isn’t going to work, Phillip. You will miss something.” I said.
Phillip just puffed up his chest with a nauseating sense of pride and declared “I won’t miss anything.”
Maybe he didn’t miss anything on the wall. He had indeed been more thorough this time. There was just one problem.
“You forgot to put your gloves back on.” I said.
Even down in the pit, I could feel the color draining out of his face.
“You..yyyyyoouuu!” He shrieked. “Why didn’t you tell me!?”
“Because I don’t like you.” I said.
His eyes darted around the apartment, desperately trying to think of anything he would have touched. Every faucet handle, every doorknob, every plank of wood, every kitchen implement, but it would be impossible for him to get them all. He would miss something. He would miss something because even I had not kept track of everything he touched.
“What did I touch?” he asked.
“Don’t remember.” I hissed.
Seeking some way to punish me, Phillip smashed his head against the wall. The entire pit shook around me as his thoughts and feelings became a cascading blur. It had been weakened. Of course. They crumbled. It made sense. The blow to his head left him dazed, not quite there. It would be a perfect way for me to get back in control of the vessel. So I taunted him.
“You gotta do better than that!”
Phillip threw his head against the wall again. I wasn’t sure if the sound I heard was the impact of his skull or the cracking of the plaster amidst the blow. Again, the pit shook and cracked. I could see the hub of the vessel just on the other side. It was near enough to touch. He was about to throw his head into the wall again when he stopped.
The pit re-formed around me, cutting me off from the hub. For the first time, Phillip could see he was making yet another mistake. His attempts to punish me had left a fresh smear of blood on the hallway wall.
“Please Phillip. By all means, do continue. You are making the work of the authorities most convenient.”
His thoughts in shambles, he paced around the hallway, unsure of just what to do. Unsure of anything he could do to salvage the situation. Unsure of…
“Sidney, I’m home.”
The voice called as the front door opened, and in she walked.
Carol. Cheeky, lovable and happy Carol. Lovable Carol with her thick glasses and stack of textbooks. Lovable Carol with her her backpack missing a strap and her always untied left shoe. Lovable Carol who would always come in to say hello to Sidney at work. Lovable Carol, walking into a trap.
And this one was because of me. Had I told him about the mirror, he wouldn’t be back here now, and the worst Carol would have to worry about would be her therapy bills. Now she was going to die.
Phillip was already on the move. Before Carol could spot him, he ducked into the kitchen and out of sight.
No, not again. Not like this. Before it was all on Phillip, but this one, Carol, this time the blood would be on my hands.
“Phillip, don’t do this again.” I begged.
He opened the kitchen drawer. Inside was a large blade. The same menacing kind of kitchen knife you would see in Psycho or Halloween. He tenderly took the blade out of its bed. Even in his panic, he was all too eager to use it again.
“If you are still working Brandon, just moan.” Carol said, and she got no answer. “Okay then. I got Chinese. Sorry they discontinued the crab rangoon. All they had were those crappy wafers stuffed with cream cheese…”
She must have spotted the damage to the wall.
Carol wasn’t stupid. She would see that both Sidney’s and her lover’s cars were in the parking lot. The two of them wouldn’t be anywhere else but here, and they would answer unless something was stopping them.
She backed towards the door. That is when Phillip charged. He was already at the door by the time she got there. He slammed the door and locked it.
“You’re not going any…” he started.
But Carol was also quick. She had picked up the bag of fresh Chinese off the floor and swung it into his face. Hot and sticky teriyaki sauce splashed all over his face and eyes. It stung horribly.
“Ow! You bitch!” he yelled.
Phillip grabbed Carol by the hair and threw her to the floor. It was hard to tell which was broken more. Her glasses or her nose.
Phillip got on top of her, straddling her body as he plunged the knife down into her back.
Carol didn’t scream when the knife pierced her. She moaned. A deep mournful cry that seemed more at home during a funeral than a murder. As the blade was pulled from her body, coarse, unholy scarlet geysers sprayed out onto us.
“Mother…” Carol moaned as Phillip plunged the knife into her back again. She was not screaming. She was softly sobbing. That made it so much worse.
By the walls of this cursed pit why didn’t I just tell him about the blood before? Why did I withhold it for the sake of insulting him? It had been purely out of spite that I didn’t tell him, and now Carol was suffering because of it.
Phillip turned Carol over. A brief moment of recognition flashed in her eyes when she looked up at us. She had seen him before, many times. Many times when she had come to see her friend at work, we had been there. Behind her eyes was also a moment of realization that her friend was dead. That Brandon was dead. That in a few moments, she would be joining them.
Phillip raised the knife up one final time, straight over her heart. He was in such a frenzy he didn’t notice that the walls of the pit again started to crumble. But he held. Damn him, Phillip held. He held just enough to keep me from taking the helm of the vessel.
“Stop it! Just stop! I have had enough!” I said.
I was able to force it away, just a little. Just enough to try and save her. But it wasn’t enough. The blade still went down, right into her belly.Carol breathed in sharply when the knife pierced her. The intake of air was marred by a faint gurgling as blood filled her throat, and she was still.
The inside of Phillip’s mind was in an exhilarated euphoria at what he had done. Every facet of his thoughts and feelings were soft and tender to the touch, even the walls of the pit that held me.
I sunk down in my place within the pit. This was supposed to be Phillip’s undoing, that finally after all this time I got the best of him. Perhaps I had, but at what cost? A human life. A person who now was no more.
Sweet, innocent, lovable Carol.
Of course he had made another error in his haste. He was covered in blood.
“You are fucked now, loser.” I told him. “There is no way you are escaping from this.”
He just looked around at the scene he had left. All the fresh carnage he was sure to leave behind, all the clues he could never destroy, all the tells that would lead whoever was trying to solve this right back to him. Only one thing could save him now.
“I’ll burn it.” He said.
Phillip stomped into the kitchen where he grabbed a book of matches and some lighter fluid. He sprayed the fluid on whatever it would reach. Under the furniture, inside the cabinets, on counter and table tops. He of course paid special attention to the areas of the wall he had decorated with his blood.
Next he pulled the smoke detectors off the walls. He didn’t want the noise to wake the neighbors sooner than it had to.
Then he looked down at his own blood soaked clothes. No way he would ever get all the blood out of them. They would contain trace evidence that would tie him to the scene. Only thing he could do was get rid of them as well.
“Well, let’s go shopping.” He joked.
Shopping. Of course. Brandon will have obviously brought some clothes with him.
Phillip took us to the bedroom where the two had been before. Sure enough, Brandon had brought with him some clothes. A pair of worn blue jeans, some sneakers, a blue t-shirt and a red windbreaker for the cold outside.
“Figures he would dress like an asshole.” Phillip complained.
“Do you have to complain about everything?” I asked.
“Nag, nag, nag.” he said as he took off his own clothes and replaced them with Brandon’s. “You have a lot of balls complaining, Joshua. This right here is your fault anyway.”
“My fault? How in the hell is any of this my fault?” I asked. “You are the one who snapped when some girl wouldn’t let you dip your wick.”
“I am not talking about Sidney.” He gestured out to the hallway. “I’m talking about the new one. If you just told me about me hitting my head before, I would have done this a few hours ago, and she wouldn’t have come back, I wouldn’t have got her blood on me, and I wouldn’t have had to get into these stupid ass clothes.”
I couldn’t argue with him, so I chose to remain silent.
As if to add insult to injury, Phillip was actually smart this time. He threw his clothing onto the bed sheets and wrapped them up inside. He was sure to light them on fire first.
They immediately burst into a flurry of orange and yellow flames. Then came the bathroom, where he doused the walls and set them afire. The smell. By all that was holy the smell was putrid. The scent of the bleach mixed with the already decomposing flesh was wretched enough, but to set it on fire was an outright assault on the senses I shared with Phillip. Even he found the smell unpleasant.
Phillip stumbled out of the bathroom. Unbelievably, he was laughing.
“Shit, that stinks.” he chuckled, before dowsing Carol’s body with the remaining gas, lighting a final match, and walking out the door as if nothing happened. Cold son of a bitch even locked it behind him, just to hold the smoke back from the detectors a little longer.
So we got back out to the parking lot. We left behind both of us another body, and likely more to follow from the fire he started, yet he was more casual than he had been before. He hadn’t even thrown down the matches or the lighter fluid.
“See? That wasn’t so bad.” Phillip said before he went to his car. He tried to pull the door open, but it was locked.
He forgot to take the keys out of his bloody pants.
I laughed. I laughed so hard, because it truly was a joke. A joke how incompetent he had been all along. He had failed at life, failed at an education, failed as a son and failed as a person, and now he had even failed as a criminal.
“You even burned the keys? You moron, why would you do that?” I shrieked from the pit.
Then the smoke alarms went off, and with them came the confused cries of the apartment tenants.
“Is that smoke?”
“Shit, that’s real. We need to get out of here.”
“Get up! Fire!”
And they all came out. Out onto the fire escapes that lined the outside of the building, where they could all see Phil still holding what was left of the matches and lighter fluid.
“Hey, you! What are you doing?” A woman yelled down at him.
“Look! He’s got matches! He was trying to burn it down!” A man yelled.
Before Phillip could say or do anything more, out came the phones.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
Phillip was caught. Like an actor on stage who forgot his lines. Or a politician trying to explain away a scandal. He was caught. He had no words to say. Instead, this sound came out of him. This guttural, animal-like moan that was barely recognizable as human. He threw the matches and fluid to the ground and ran over to his car, trying to pull it open, but it didn’t give.
Phillip thought fast. He kept a spare key in the glove compartment. Picking up a nearby brick, he smashed through the driver’s side window. Of course this set off the car alarm, waking up even more people who came out to see what was going on. He peeled out as quickly as he could, but it was too late.
Him. The car. The license plate. Everyone had seen everything. He didn’t permit himself tears, though that was only because I couldn’t stop insulting the idiot.
“Did CSI tell you how to get out of this one?” I asked. “Oh don’t worry. Prison might not be so bad. You are a pretty fair individual. I am sure you will make lots of friends.”
He clenched his teeth.
“Or maybe they will find out about me somehow and we will go to a hospital.” I wondered. “I bet the nurses you get will be as nice as Nurse Ratched. Oh, who are we kidding? Ratched is too nice for you. You will get Annie Wilkes as your nurse.”
Unable to stay silent any more, slamming his foot down on the gas, clenching his fists until his knuckles were white, Phillip shut his eyes, opened his mouth and with an infantile shriek he cried out “STOP TALKING JOSHUA!”
It only made me laugh even more.
“It is okay Phillip. I will keep you company wherever we go. Whenever you need someone to talk with, I will be there. Always close by, to talk and talk…”
Phillip took one of his hands away from the steering wheel and slammed it against his temple.
“Shut up.” he demanded.
“Now why would I do that, Phillip? After all the good advice I gave you. Like yesterday, remember? ‘Don’t do this Phillip. This is wrong. You will get caught. You will go to jail.’”
He slammed his hand against his temple again.
“Shut up!” he screamed.
“I wonder if they will make you wear diapers at the hospital.” I wondered. “They probably won’t let you go on bathroom trips by yourself and of course the doctors will be busy people. They won’t be able to help you all the time, now will they?”
“Shut up!” Phillip slammed his head again.
“Maybe they will put you in solitary. But don’t worry. I will be there to keep you company.”
He slammed his head down on the dashboard.
“You shut up!”
“Maybe they will strap you down to the bed and give you your food through straw, but that won’t be so bad. It will be just like when mom used to feed us.”
Phillip stopped his protests. What I had said, reminded Phillip of something.
“Mom and dad.” he said.
Phillip cut a sharp right at the next intersection. Straight towards mom and dad’s house.
Oh. Oh no.
“Phil, what are you doing?” I asked.
He didn’t answer me with his words, but I as always could see his thoughts.
Images of him rummaging through their belongings to find anything he could use. Cash, the keys to their car. dad’s gun.
Yes. Dad’d gun. A .45 automatic he always kept locked in his night stand.
Images of frighteningly vivid detail flashed all around me. Images of all the ways his pilfering of their house could go wrong. Dad coming into the master bedroom and catching him, ending with Phil going for the gun. Or finding some cash in mom’s daytime bag and going for a knife if she caught him. All of those little scenarios one after the other after the other, all ending in blood. Horrible vile red blood.
Phillip cut down alleys, blasted through red lights, scraped against trash cans, every single calamity bringing him closer to hime.
“Phil, turn around.” I ordered him.
But he didn’t answer. Somehow, in spite of everything falling apart these last few hours, he still insisted that he could get out of this okay. Only I knew the way Phillip thought. He could only see the problem and his desired outcome. Never how to get there. Stealing from mom and dad, or worse, would only bring the police ever closer to him. He was not getting away with any of this.
So, like he had done with me, he was dragging everyone else down with him. Dragging down Sidney, her lover, Carol, and now mom and dad. Dragging them as low as he could, right into their graves.
“This won’t work, Phillip.” I tried to reason with him, but it was just wishful thinking. Phillip had always been beyond reason.
“Stop talking, Joshua!” he shouted.
It was no use. None of it was any use. I could tell from the turmoil inside his mind, that eager animalistic furor that he was trying to repress, he was still eager to get his hands bloody. He had been looking for an excuse to kill another human being for a long time, and now he was looking for an excuse to kill them both.
We traveled down winding labyrinths of pavement, brick and plaster, on and on until we passed by our old elementary school where Mrs. Eddleson no doubt still worked. Past Janet’s old house where Phillip left her dead cat. On and on until there it was. It seemed to appear alongside us on the street. More of a ghost than a house.
It was a pleasant two story suburban home with a dark shingled roof and a peach colored paint job on the walls. Its windows had just been cleaned. The driveway just paved. Mom and dad seemed to have gotten themselves a new mini van. It spoke of a couple that had somehow managed to be perfectly happy in spite of all that Phillip had done. I had worried about them often, but looking at this, it looked like a happy home. A complete home. It looked more full than it had been since either of us were living there.
Phillip parked the car a few houses down and began the long walk to the front door.
“Phillip, you ditched the car. Just steal one of the cars here and let’s get this over with.” I begged.
“I don’t just need a car.” He said. “I need the cash.”
How I wished I could just stop his heart.
Phillip found the spare key in one of the flower pots where it always had been. He entered the house.
The last time we had been here, it was not pleasant. The paint was chipping off the walls, the floors were stained and dirty, and the tears from mom and dad were the worst part of it all. But now it looked as it had been when we were young. During that time we had what some would call a happy childhood. It looked new. For a moment I thought perhaps mom and dad had moved, but their pictures still hung on the walls.
Only there were no pictures of Phillip. He was about to complain about it, but I stopped him.
“Why should you care? You don’t have any pictures of them.”
It seemed to work. Either that or he didn’t want to make too much noise.
Phillip slowly crept up the stairs to the master bedroom, to where mom and dad were sleeping. I could even hear them breathing when we entered the bedroom.
Mom had left her purse by the bedroom door. She always did that because she worked so hard during the day. Getting the keys and cash out of it wasn’t very difficult. He didn’t take the cards.
Phillip strolled over to the bed where they slept. Yes. Mom had a hard day. She didn’t even take off her cloths before going to bed. Dad had his arm wrapped around her, trying to comfort her like he always did. Phillip was creeping towards them to get the gun when we heard it.
A small cry. The cry of an infant.
Next to the bed, on mom’s side, was a crib. Phillip walked over to it and looked inside. Inside, nestled in a bundle of blankets, was a baby girl. She couldn’t have been more than a year old. She rested just as contently as mom and dad did. At such peace in this house where she was clearly loved. She rested in Phillip’s old crib.
In the deepest, darkest depths of his mind, I could feel it. Hate.
That is mine, he thought.
Phillip looked around the room, at this newly renovated house, and suddenly it all made sense. The minivan, the new paint job, no pictures of him on the walls.
They were starting over. Trying again with a clean slate. Only that is not how Phillip saw it. His mind was as a record with a skipping needle. One thought played over and over again on an endless loop.
They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me. They’re replacing me.
The words crashed into the pit around me. It was like getting hit by a train. Everything around me in his thoughts flashed red as all the rage that he had suppressed came flooding out and took control. He looked down at this peaceful innocent infant, a usurper of the affections that he never deserved, and wanted to destroy it all.
He didn’t go for the gun. No. He wanted to destroy everything, right down to the foundation upon which the house rested.
The walls of the pit changed around me. Everything inside Phillip’s mind changed into a simple pair of words.
I tried to stop him, but he was too far gone. More hate crawled in him even than the hate he had felt for Sidney. It was powerful, all consuming. The inside of his head didn’t even vaguely resemble something human anymore. The thoughts and urges he had now were something primordial.
Phillip walked out of the bedroom and into the garage. He yanked a can of gasoline off the wall and stormed back into the house. Into the kitchen where he grabbed a lighter and a knife.
He doused everything. The sofa. The coffee table. The chairs. He may have been attempting quiet before, but his rage soon got the better of him. He kicked the coffee table over.
His rage was consuming him. It was consuming the pit. The walls of the pit around me again started to splinter. His mind was becoming such an incoherent mess that my prison was losing the ability to maintain itself, and the barrier between me and Phillip was breaking down. The walls fell away, and I could see the helm. The helm of the mind that powered the vessel, with Phillip commanding its every move.
“What is going on down there?” a voice called out from upstairs.
It was mom.
Her and dad came out of the master bedroom and into the kitchen. Mom had the gun.
“Phillip?” dad said. “Phillip, what are you doing here?”
Phillip threateningly held up the lighter. “You two make one move, and I will burn it all down.”
Red. Everything flashed red, and the pit crumbled even more. So close to breaking free from this bind yet again, to achieve the gift of personhood, if only for a short while. If it would just break a little more, and then I would be free.
Mom and dad just stood before Phillip, confused and betrayed as they had been the last time I saw them.
“Phillip, this is not your home anymore.” Dad said. It was the same tone he would have used with a complete stranger.
“You two think you can replace me?” Phillip roared. “Just make a new one when the first one doesn’t work?”
The thunder of his voice awoke the baby, and she started to cry. Mom and dad backed up into the entrance of the kitchen, as if trying to block Phillip from going back upstairs.
“This is about Vera?” Mom asked.
The entire inside of Phillip’s mind became a chorus of rage and hatred.
“Is that what you call it?” he laughed.
Dad, finally showing some sense, moved into the kitchen.
“I’m calling the police.” He said.
“I said don’t move.” Phillip ordered.
Mom raised the gun and aimed it at Phillip’s head.
“You do not give orders in this house, Phillip.” she said.
Mom’s threat was not very effective.
Dad picked up the landline phone off the wall and started to dial the number, but he didn’t get very far. Phillip threw the knife, knocking the phone out of dad’s hands and cutting his palm in the process. Then he went for mom.
She aimed the gun at him.
“Shoot him.” I begged her in my voice she could not hear.
Before we collided, I caught a glimpse of her eyes. There was still affection in those eyes. Some small bit of hope that somehow Phillip would turn around. But as we came towards her, it vanished. And that crushed her. Even with the new baby upstairs, that crushed her.
It didn’t crush her soon enough for her to pull the trigger. Phillip quickly overpowered her. He threw himself on top of her, pulled the gun out of her hands and shoved it in her face.
Dad was running towards us when Phillip stopped him.
“Hold it right there, or I will blow this bitch’s head off!”
Of course he was going to shoot her anyway. He was going to shoot her just to make him watch, and then he was going to kill him, and then the baby.
That crying from upstairs. It was horrible. This home, this peaceful home they had managed to make for themselves, and Phillip was going to destroy it all. Even though I had no place in it, I couldn’t stand by and watch Phillip destroy something good in the world. I shattered the pit around me.
“I won’t let you do this!” When I screamed the words, they came out of the vessel’s mouth for real.
And so, at the helm of his mind, we clashed. I commanded the vessel to point the gun away from mom’s head and fired it into the wall until it was empty. Phillip tried to get control back, but couldn’t before mom crawled away.
“Joshua, stop!” Phillip screamed.
“No! It’s all over, Phillip! It’s all over! Enough!” I bellowed, and again the vessel spoke in my voice. Mom and dad looked on the no doubt bizarre scene as the two of us waged war.
Phillip threw himself against the wall, cracking his head against the plaster and shaking the entire helm. The blow nearly threw me back into the pit, but I held on. I held on to whatever nerve ending was handy, to whatever weak ounce of will was slipping away from him, anything to keep control.
“You, stupid bastard! I’ll kill you!” I threatened him.
The vessel crashed into the kitchen, knocking the table off its legs as it tore itself in two, one half fighting the other as Phillip and I waged war. The part Phillip controlled was somehow able to grab the gas can off the living room floor. He swung it around wild, spraying our surroundings, and the vessel itself in gasoline. He swung the canister right into the vessel’s forehead.
An explosion of color and white, and pain. I had never been in control of the vessel during an injury so I had never felt physical pain before. Such unspeakable agony as the blood that he and I shared seeped out of a fresh gaping wound in the vessel’s scalp. The vessel slipped to the kitchen floor. Mom and dad could only watch in horror.
“Mom, dad! Get out of here!” I begged them. “He’s crazy! I can’t hold him forever!”
“Stop talking, Joshua!” Phillip frothed out the words between his teeth along with the saliva.
He threw himself into everything he could. Into a doorknob. Into the counter. Into the microwave. Into what was left of the kitchen table, assaulting his body over and over again in an effort to remove me from the helm.
“It’s mine! It’s mine!” He protested.
Then Phillip made a mistake. The same mistake he made when I made vessel move Sidney’s hand to her chest. The same thing that happened when I commanded the vessel to swerve the car into the wrong lane. He slipped. He became too angry to maintain complete control, and he slipped. He fell into that obscure place that I had occupied for so long, and when we fought for control of the vessel we housed, it obeyed me.
Mom and dad backed away, unsure of just what to make of the battle they had witnessed.
“Run!” I warned them.
In the back of the vessel, I heard Phillip crying out in fear.
“What is going on? What are you doing?”
I recalled our first conversation. The tale of the crops and farmlands burned in the war.
This vessel, this body we had been forced to share was to us as a farm was to Russia and Germany. It granted life and strength to whoever possessed it. When Phillip was in control of it, he had used it to kill, and he would continue once he tore down the walls and stormed his way back in.
So I did just what the Russians did. I picked up the gas can and soaked myself in it.
“Phillip, what are you doing?” mom asked as I went for the lighter.
Only I wasn’t Phillip anymore.