Horror Crime Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

”That's why I stop myself from doing the things I want to do. Because it’s not right. 

What’s wrong is that I don’t want to.”

The floorboards croaked beneath him as Richard Farraday walked from one side of the vestry to the other. There was a small sink in the corner and he needed to wash his face again. Not only because his skin felt clammy and beads of sweat were starting to form on his forehead, but because he felt dirty. Something not even holy water could fix.

Cupping his hands under the cold tap, he gazed at his reflection in the mirror.

"Why did I ever agree to this?" This thought had haunted him for the past few nights, undermining his every step. It just felt... wrong.

A door closed behind him, and he jumped as if struck in the stomach.

"I'm sorry if I startled you," came a voice.

Richard grabbed some paper towels and hurriedly wiped the water off the floor.

”That’s ok father, I am the one who should apologise.”

He turned to look at the priest who smiled at him.

”You have been in here for awhile. Are you alright?”

The priest looked concerned but kept a thin smile as to not draw any attention to the fact that Richard didn't seem alright at all. Richard hoped he did a better job in his practise.

”I’m ok thank you father. It’s just…nerves I guess.” 

The priest walked up to a large wooden closet and removed a colourful vestment from a hanger. 

”I understand. Funerals can be hard. Was he a relative, or a family friend?”

Richard wiped his face again before answering. His skin burned. 

”No”, he said. ”A patient.”

Three weeks earlier.

There wasn’t much to say about the office. A couch, a small desk and a couple of chairs, a bookshelf along one wall with books who hadn’t been moved in ages, a window with the blinds permanently drawn to protect the identities of whoever sat on that couch. It was plain and modest. At first glance the man sat in front of him had seemed plain and modest too. He was in his forties, with thinning hair with streaks of grey and pale skin with razor burns lining the edge of his collar. By all accounts Oscar James Elliott was just an ordinary man. The sort of man that would go unnoticed in a picture of two people. And he was depressed. They had been meeting regularly for a couple of months and Richard hoped every session would be their last. 

As usual Oscar spoke first.

”I had the dream again.”

Richard didn’t need to browse his notes. He knew this all too well. 

”The dream about hurting people?” He tapped his pen against the still unopened pad. 

Oscar looked at his hands resting on his lap. ”Yes,” he said. ”And this time I could see the face through the water as I held her down. When the bubbles stopped. Just her eyes looking back at me.”

”And did you recognise the face?” 

A subtle twitch beneath Oscar's left eye preceded his answer.


”But you know it was a woman?” 

”I always know that, that it’s a woman. And that she knows I’m killing her.”

Richard squeezed the pen hard. He knew what was coming.

”And knowing that she knows,” Oscar continued. ”Excites me.”

They sat in silence for a moment, the weight of those last words hanging in the air like toxic fumes. Then Oscar crumpled, burying his head in his hands.

"God, what's wrong with me!?"

Richard watched as Oscar sobbed uncontrollably. It was the first time he had cried during a session. Richard reached across the table for a box of tissues.

”I understand this is hard. Dreams can seem very real. Even emotions in a dream can seem real. But they are almost always a reflection of something else.” 

Oscar looked up from his palms, his eyes red with tears.

"But it's like I WANT this. In the dream, there's a NEED. Last night, my wife woke me up because I was laughing. I don't remember if that was in the dream or not, but it felt the same. Like I was enjoying myself!"

He grabbed a tissue and blotted his eyes.

Richard let him compose himself.

”You have a two children right? Two daughters?”

Oscar nodded.

”So you’re living in a house with three women. Your wife and, how old are your daughters? Twelve and…six?”

”My youngest turned seven a few months ago.”

”I know how much you love your family. I can hear it in your voice when you speak and I see it in your eyes. Can it be that you feel responsible for what happens to them? There are a lot of dangers out there. So they are both in school?”

Oscar blew his nose and balled up the tissue paper in his hand.

”Yes. Cathy is in grade eight and Corinne just started.”

”I bet it was hard to let them go. Especially the little one. All over again. They are growing up. Meeting new friends. Learning new things. You have no control over it. And your subconscious is reminding you of that.”

Oscar blinked.

”I’m not sure what that has to do with my dreams of …murder.”

Richard made a note of this. It was the first time that word had been used.


He continued: ”I think you are internalising you fears of what might happen to the people closest to you if you are unable to shield them from danger. And in your mind, not being able to protect them makes you an accessory to what could happen. As Einstein famously said: The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything. You are not afraid of doing an evil thing, you are afraid of not doing enough to stop it.”

He paused to look at the man on the couch. It felt like a mic-drop moment. Something every therapist worth his salt longed for.

Oscar sat in silence with his eyes fixed on a point just below the floor.

”So it’s not about hurting my family?” 

There was some energy to his voice now, a spark of hope or a flicker of relief. Richard smiled.

”No. Quite the opposite. You have set your bar as a husband and father so high it’s gonna be impossible to reach. And feel guilty you won’t measure up. You have created a monster that is eating you up inside.” 

He looked at the large clock hanging above the door. 

”All your family wants and needs is you. Just you. That will always be enough.” 

Richard noted the time and closed his pad. Oscar remained quiet, but a faint smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

”Oscar?” The man seemed to pull out of his thoughts and returned to the present. Richard continued, "Our time's up."

Present day.

”It’s time.” 

The priest's voice had shifted to the solemn tone suitable for a funeral service. Rain pelted the windows, and the sounds of people shuffling outside the room merged with it. Richard's mind raced; he wasn't ready for this.

”If I could stay in here until it’s my turn to speak that would be very….” He searched for the word. ”Great…or …I would appreciate it.” The priest put his hand on Richards shoulder. It felt warm and heavy.

”You are doing something wonderful for the family. Let that be your light and let it guide the words. You will do fine.” The priest smiled at him. ”I read in the newspaper that he died a hero. Is that true?” 

Richard couldn’t meet the priests eyes and instead looked towards the window again. The darkness outside seemed to push against the glass. Like wet tar.

”Yes,” he said. ”I read that too.”

It had come as a shock when he first found out what had happened. 

Oscar had missed their last appointment which wasn’t like him. Richard hadn't called the home because in this particular case the patient didn’t show any signs of being suicidal or otherwise a danger to himself, so he had waited the standard twenty five minutes and taken an early lunch. At a newsstand near the diner, he had seen the headline that had sent a shiver down his spine.

Robbery gone wrong. Man killed.

Ordinarily, he wouldn't have paid much attention to such news, but there was something about those words that had rattled him. He bought the newspaper and skipped his meal.

The article recounted how, on the previous night, a man had attempted to rob a woman at gunpoint under a bridge near the river. Another man had appeared out of nowhere, thwarting the robbery but paying with his life. The mugger had fled, leaving behind a fatally injured rescuer who had died on the spot.

"He came out of nowhere," the woman, Lisa Carlisle, had told the police. ”First he wasn’t there and it was just me and this guy with his hand around my throat, and then out of the woods came this man, screaming and hollering, he sounded furious or something. He shouted at the man and then jumped on him like he was an animal. At first I was terrified but then I realised he was trying to save me you know? I managed to call the police. Then the first guy ran off and this man was just lying on the ground. And there was a lot of blood.”

The man has been identified as forty-one year old Oscar James Elliott, a former sales representative for Bisell. He was currently on indefinite hiatus. He is survived by a wife Christina and two daughters, Catherine and Corrine.

Richard couldn’t believe it. Throughout his months of conversations with Oscar James Elliott, nothing about the man had hinted at heroism. He just wasn’t the type, not someone you would assume would run into a burning building or even help someone across a busy street. Instead, as Richard sat there listening to Oscar's stories of violent dreams and occasional fantasies, he appeared more like a timid individual than anything else. While Richard refrained from using the term "coward" in his clinical notes, the notion lingered with him on the drive home. Oscar seemed to revel in the idea of being a strong man. Someone who could speak up, stand out and take charge. Instead he was overlooked and quiet. Until night came — when his subconscious let him live out his morbid desires.

And now he was dead. Stabbed in the stomach having bled out after saving a stranger. It was a tragedy. A sad coincidence. And yet there was something else that bothered Richard, that seemed off, like a straight painting on a crooked wall. Like why Oscar had been in that area, on that exact time — and why he was killed by a knife when it said the mugger had carried a gun.

”I am going out now,” said the priest, snapping Richard back to reality. ”Stay in here, breathe, think about the man, not the words. And they will come. After we sing the hymn is when you speak.”

He gave Richard a small reassuring nod and left the room. 

When Christina Elliott had called and asked if he would speak at her husbands funeral he was still processing what had happened. This was highly irregular and his initial instinct was to say no. He didn’t actually know the man after all. 

”My husband changed so much during the last couple of weeks,” she told him. ”He was happier, brighter, like a window had been opened. And he spoke very highly of you. Said you helped him see things clearly. And even though it makes it harder that he is gone, I am so grateful he felt better at the end.” 

Richard couldn’t turn her down after that and as he sat there after they ended the call he felt obligated and almost willing to say a few words. But then he had checked his voice messages.

”Hi doc.” The voice sounded different, calm and warm like a receptionist at a spa. Richard was taken aback, he hadn’t expected to hear that voice again. The message continued:

”I just called to say thanks. I don’t know if we’ll meet again but know this — you set me free. You made me see that not everyone is the same. I’ve tried to be something else. And that made me sick. I’ve been asleep. But not anymore. I know what I have to do. So thank you doc, I’m finally awake. And after tonight, I’m finally me. 

It’s time.

Richard only spoke for seven minutes at the altar. Nothing that people hadn’t already read about. ”Oscar James Elliott - The hero turned victim. A loving husband. A kind father.” 

As he looked down on the faces of the two little girls sitting next to their mother, he had made the decision to lie — and to leave them with the perfect image of a character mentioned only in the paper. Even though he knew better. And despite the words slithering in his throat like worms.

After the funeral the people slowly exited the church. Richard had gone back into the vestry again. He felt numb. 

”Mr Farraday?

Christina Elliott stood in the doorway. Richard felt his heart sink while guilt still pounded against his ribs.

”Mrs Elliott. Again I am so sorry for your loss.” His voice was dry as a reed and the words stumbled over each other. The widow smiled slightly. 

”Thank you. And thank you for coming. What you said meant the world to us.”

”Of course, of course,” he said while putting on his overcoat. ”It was the least I could do.” 

He wanted to get out of there as fast as possible and reached into his pockets to retrieve his car keys, hoping it would signal that his time was limited without seeming rude. Christina put a hand on his arm.

”Could I ask one more thing from you? If you could just meet the children. Just say hi to them. Let them know their daddy was ok.”

Richard drew a long laboured breath then turned to her.

”Sure,” he said.

The church was nearly empty. The two little girls waited for them in the pews, with the older one holding her younger sister's hand. They appeared so small and vulnerable.

"These are the children," Christina introduced them. "Girls, this is Dr. Farraday. Your father's... friend." She smiled at him, though Richard wasn't sure if he returned the gesture.

”Hi, girls," Richard crouched down to their level. "My name is Richard. Your father told me a lot about you. You must be... Cathy?" The older girl nodded.

"And that must make you Corinne?" He gently tapped the younger girl's knee, but she didn't react. Her head rested against her sister, her eyes closed, a portrait of innocence.

"Your father loved you very much," Richard continued. "He always said how proud he was of you, how beautiful and smart you two are. And I also know you are both in school now. Even you, Corrine."

Corrine opened her eyes, her gaze making her look older than her years.

"Mom says you are a doctor," her voice was barely above a whisper.

”I am yes.” 

The girl looked at him.

”Mom said you made daddy feel better?”

”I hope so. I think you did too. And your mommy and sister too.” 

A tear started to swell in the corner of her eye.

”Can you make me feel better?” 

The question hung in the air, but the words he wanted to offer remained trapped in his throat. He gently squeezed her hand, a silent reassurance, hoping it would convey what he failed to say.

The moment was interrupted by the arrival of a young woman, pushing a small wheelchair down the aisle. Christina reached out her hand to Catherine, signalling that it was time to go. Catherine rose from her seat and allowed the young woman to park the wheelchair beside the bench.


Christina turned to Richard.

”We have to go before the rain gets worse. Thank you again for this.” 

Richards eyes darted between the widow and the woman helping Corinne into her chair.

”I didn’t know she was…Oscar never told me.”

Christina gave him a sad smile.

”Yes, he didn’t like to talk about it. I think he felt responsible for what happened.”

As Monica secured Corinne in her wheelchair, Richard felt a cold wave of nausea wash over him. He couldn't bear the weight of the truth he had just learned.

"Was it... an accident?" he asked hesitantly, dreading the answer.

”She was deprived of oxygen. My husband found her in the pool. I just came home and saw them there. He tried to save her and told me to call 911. But she had already suffered some brain damage. That’s why she started school late. She is a fighter though. A hero. Just like her father.”

With a heavy heart, Richard watched as the family drove away in their large vehicle, the rain falling harder than ever. Christina had offered him her umbrella, but he had declined. Now he stood alone in the parking lot, drenched by the relentless rain, his mind filled with a mix of emotions—guilt, sorrow, and a profound sense of responsibility. His was the last car outside the church. He could just leave. Instead he was standing there, as the storm raged around him, stuck in the cold that pummelled him from all sides.

He felt he deserved it.

September 13, 2023 15:12

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Timothy Rennels
23:28 Sep 17, 2023

Wonderfully woven! The question of his stabbing will forever chew on some small part of my brain. Maybe that's why I was surprised by the oxygen deprived daughter...delicious!


Jesper Jee
08:00 Sep 18, 2023

Thank you! Yes, I had some ideas about the stabbing but decided to leave it open ended and I'm glad you enjoyed it instead of being annoyed. Thanks again!


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