It was dawning another sunless day. Same thing as the last three weeks.
I had not slept, neither that night nor the other three or four; I think I lost even the notion of time. I spent the whole dawn in the old armchair that one day had belonged to my grandfather. It smelled of mold and old age. But even that did not make me leave, since all four bottles of cheap whiskey I had taken were already there on the same table, a table that was full of voracious termites never satisfied of rotting wood.
The darkness of that abandoned room gradually dissipated, giving way to the morbid gray of the new miserable day that was born. I hardly moved, my neck stiff, always looking at the same dark spot on the peeling wall. My eyes were frozen, they did not blink, and through my mind only the haunting passed. When finally that single point was clear, I got to see that damn picture again.
I can say that we were happy. Or not. I never knew. Or ever will. I still remember the day we took the photo. We were quite young, excited about life. But gradually all our dreams were languishing and the truth was so crude that life became an eternal funeral lulled by songs of requiem.
For some time, I chewed on those miseries, always catatonic, unresponsive, letting that sea of
somber memories travel the dusty corridors of memory. But suddenly I hear the baying of the neighbors hounds; there they will hunt again, enjoying their free autumn mornings. That sound ripped me out of the limbo. After many hours I moved again. My muscles ached, my head weighed a ton, and my legs took forever to respond. I tried to get up, but I fell; not back in the armchair but on the dirty floor. I was stretched out there, like a mutt-dog starving with hunger. With blind effort, I tried to rise again. I got it. But from the path between the cold floor to the height of the foul-smelling air, thousands of faces crossed my eyes, accusing me, wanting to stone me and blaming me for everything. Whispers in my ears, coming from all sides. I felt so numb that nothing affected me, I felt nothing, neither good nor bad, everything just turned in a kaleidoscope of hallucinations.
I would like to understand why she told me so many lies. One lie over the other. And with that sickly fixation on my head, I took a few steps toward the living room window. The light, even weak and pale, burned my eyes. And in the haze that formed in front of me, I saw with clarity his cynical face, smiling cheerfully, with yet another of his lies.
I leaned on one side of the window, took a deep breath. A little of the mist dissipated; slight remnants of lucidity flashed for a moment. Gradually the stinging of my eyes gave way, and I was able to look out, glimpsing the desolate landscape. I realized that it was drizzling; weak, but constantly. A gray veil covered the cypress grove just ahead of the house, and mixed in that spectral haze I saw more and more faces...
The hounds continued to baying.
My head throbbed, like a bomb about to explode. Dry mouth, as if full of sand, and despite the slight improvement of the eyes, I still saw everything blurred and distorted. I tried to turn, and stumbled a few steps, numb, drunk, that knocked things out in every corner. I was trying to follow the path of the light that was lit in the bathroom. I made it. The stench did not bother me, nor did I feel it to speak the truth. The pale, dim light of the lamp that swayed like a pendulum gave the filthy room a ghostly air, filled with restless, whispering ghosts and pointing to their imaginary fingers charging me with accusations and clamoring for my death.
The baying of the hounds still echoed, non-stop, as did the clatter of hunters' hooves following some animal's blood. Now I was leaning against the sink of dry vomit, staring a fogged look full of hallucinations at the tiled, dirt-filled, decrepitly old floor. I was panting heavily, as if the air were fleeing from me. I looked in the broken mirror. What I saw was anything but a human being. A gaunt, yellow-skinned figure with a curly beard full of knots, dead eyes lost in a horizon of lies.
I opened the small cabinet and took the first jar I saw. I filled my hand with pills and shoved them all into my mouth, and swallowed them with the brown, bitter water that came out of the tap.
The sensation of it pouring down my throat reminded me of the very moment I took the first stab. Deep; ripping; right in the neck. At the same instant my nostrils came back to the smell of blood, which covered me whole, beyond what lay on the ground. I think she could see in the last moments her face reflected in that hot, slimy liquid that flowed from her belly after the next blows.
Fury is something that blinds a man. I do not remember what her expression was like; In fact, everything that happened between picking up the knife in the kitchen, walking quietly through the aisles of the house and killing her, was somehow erased from my memory. It is a lapse, a complete pitch. I only remember from the first stab onward.
I left the bathroom. The pills have some effect, minimal, weak, so much that I've swallowed them day after day. But it's still something. My head clears, and many of the ghosts evaporate before my aching eyes, plunging the house into shadows and silence, which were more disturbing than all the tumult that the spirits inflicted on my mind.
Far away, the hounds still bayed, tireless and determined.
I drag my feet down a totally dark corridor. Spitting a thick catarrh on the floor, feeling the nose closed and with airiness almost claustrophobic. I do not remember if I thought of anything, or if there was only a gigantic emptiness in my head. When I realize it, I stand before a rusted iron door. Without much effort I open it, the eyes this time did not burn, they were only a little frosted. And when the world clears, I can see the wooden porch and the cypress grove.
The door behind me closes with a strong gust of wind, so strong it caused an echo that rang through the house. I look at the floor and see dozens of newspapers, still rolled up and inside plastic bags. I knew very well what was in the headlines, from the most serious to the most sensational tabloids of the lowest category.
A little beside, just below a window was a wooden bench, which my grandfather had built with his own hands many years before. I pick up some of the newspapers lying on the floor and sit on the bench, letting myself fall, so that the old bench creaked and almost gave way. The effect of the pills had passed, and my head was throbbing again. Dizziness came along this time, my muscles squeezed back so hard it seemed like they would fall off the bones, the bile had come up in an uncontrollable spurt. I almost fell off the bench putting it out, my abdomen contracting in such a way that I felt as if there was a hole in my guts. My sight was dull again, a fever came from nowhere, trembling and clenching my teeth, and I could still see mixed and confused scenes from a past not so distant in a delirium that ran close to full insanity.
She smiled, and smiled so sweetly that for a fraction of an instant she deceived me once more. A lie so tasty, convenient, and that for so long I believed as a foolish child. I saw her long hair, so black and silky, that it was a kind of seductive spell that I could never resist. And her eyes. Those two eyes gleamed like sapphires. I danced in an open, flowery field that exuded life and happiness on all sides. But then the world darkened, flashes blinked on and on, I heard screams, I felt blood on my hands and the same anger, the same anger.
I was wide-eyed, staring at leaden sky, until I was ripped off of it all when a cold hand grabbed the back of my neck. I kept fantasizing about things from the past, but I turned around in pain, aching for the hand that touched me. But there was nothing, no one but the imaginary bodies of remorse.
Swirling scenes of cruelty and madness continued to pass in front of my eyes. I opened one of the papers. On the cover were photos of a mutilated body, eyes so open and yet so seductive...
I perceived a smile, which provoked me. She was after me. The smile was chasing me. Everywhere. Never in front, never directly, never facing me. Only in small details. A painting, a photo, a blur on the floor of the house.
I opened others. The same story, in other words, other versions, other inventions. They did not know, they will never know the harsh and cruel truth. The photos revived my memories of that moment; without pity the photographers had recorded every puncture I had made in her, the pools of blood clotted on the floor, the body disfigured, everything... everything... And the newspapers sold...
Newspapers were piling up. I passed one by one. The news did not age in those weeks. Until I got to the last. The date was tomorrow’s, and on the cover was a house destroyed by a fire. My house. I could not read the story, everything was blurred again before my eyes; again I could not distinguish between reality and delirium. I mumbled that mass of printed insanity and threw it away, and I only remember hearing the noise of the paper acorn banging against the mud on the dripping floor.
And the baying of the hounds.
When I realized I was rubbing my face hard, non-stop, reviewing endlessly all the scenes of the lie that had been our life together. Stretched out in that old bench, feeling intense pains, he did not know if they were real or effect of so much drink and medicine. Why did she do all this to me? Why? I had completely given up, abandoned my childhood dreams, gave up everything for her. Everything was perfect, a paradise of love and hope... that she shattered with a naturalness that was an infinitely more painful stab than any I had stuck with later.
In the midst of so much remorse, I hear a voice. A real voice. Clear, clear, very close to me. The first voice I heard in more than a month isolated in that lost and rotten hole in time.
"Hello, my dear friend. How are you?"
In a kind of shock I set the neck down, opening my eyes at once, unable to breathe. After the pain has subsided, I begin to look for the source of that lovely voice. I look back and forth incessantly, but I see nothing but the unusual brown landscape of autumn.
"What a ill mannered man, do not answer an old friend."
Now the voice came from the other side, and then came from another, and another. It seemed to float through the air, spinning around my head, yet another sick fruit of it, which reached the limits of sanity. But no, that was real, very real. It had to be something real. In an effort that went almost beyond my deteriorated capabilities I stood up, feeling that I would spit out my lungs at any moment.
"Who are you?" I ask in a numbed voice, almost a weak grunt.
"Who I am? I'm a friend. "
Then he appears in front of me. He was a man. He wore a very elegant cuff, which seemed to be of the noblest fabrics. On the head a top hat, on the feet black boots of leather glistening. And that was one of the biggest absurdities I'd ever seen in my whole ridiculous life.
I stood, staring straight at him, half hunched, shaking and panting.
"I never saw you," I say, without thinking about it.
"Of course not."
"Then why call me a friend?"
"Because I am rather your friend. Come with me for a walk. "
It could only be another hallucination. It could never be real. My insanities were dragging me into ultimate madness, where delusions were so perfect that they seem to be real.
The man had a soft, soft voice. He seemed friendly, his words emanating sweetness. I looked at his face. He had a broad, radiant smile; deep blue eyes. He was slender, not very tall, with an angular face; without beard, with smooth and very clear skin. And he looked at me with impressive tranquility and serenity, never taking that smile off his face. Rain was pouring down his face, wetting his elegant clothes. His boots were muddy, his hair standing out from the soggy top hat; but his angelic expression was unshakable.
I was confused and even more stunned. With slow moves I descended the small staircase of wooden steps, and soon I treaded on the wet floor, full of mud and dead leaves. The rain was icy, and the wind that blew nonstop made my skin bristly. My legs worked by themselves, I did not feel them. The man began to walk beside me, always smiling, as if it were the most beautiful of spring days. The clouds grew even heavier, and everything was enclosure in an intense, oppressive gray.
We followed a small road into the cypress grove. Farther on, the ground was drier, with no leaves, but many raindrops still fell on our foreheads. Everything was silent, and even darker. Again I saw figures, many figures, who looked at me in a threatening way.
And the hounds bayed and bayed and bayed.
"Where are we going?" I ask, moaning, shuffling along the floor.
"Take your time. We can talk a lot in the meantime. "
Before I could say anything to him I heard in the distance a very loud noise, which broke with the thick wall of silence in the air. I could not understand what had happened, I was just sure it came from the house.
The hounds now bayed in frenzy and madness.
"What was this?"
"Nothing, just your friends celebrating."
"Of course, they have a great reason to celebrate"
My head was spinning, I was not sure how I was doing it. He could not question the things he said.
"Why did you kill her?" The man asked suddenly, and in great simplicity.
"How do you know?" Talking hurts too much, it was a torment, a torture, but I did talk anyway.
"She deserved ..."
"She betrayed me, lied to me, deceived me for years. She used me, and when she did not need me anymore she threw me out like garbage. "
"That's no excuse."
"You do not know anything."
"I know everything," the man laughed cheerfully, putting his hand on my shoulder.
I take his hand from my shoulder in anger.
"Who the hell are you?" I growl, with his eyes turned, breathing with my last strength.
"That's the hardest question of all time, you know?"
"Stop that, you maggot! Answer who you are at once! "
"And I would like to hear from you: Who are you? Or what are you? "
I was unresponsive, the anger grew a lot in that moment, but it got stuck in the throat. What was I? What did I become?
We continue walking in the mean time, without ever stopping. The mist descended more and more, thick and thick and so spectral that it was possible to see the ghosts of all the countless generations who lived there.
"Come on, answer me, I'm so eager to know your own opinion of your dismal decay."
"It was her fault..."
"No, no ... it was not. I know very well that it was only your fault. "
We began to climb a slope, still steeped in mist and amid the cypress trees. The baying of the hounds was heard not far away, again groaning behind some hare of bad luck and not caring about the noise before.
"What would make a young man of such a bright future to plunge into violence and insanity in this way? Selfishness? Jealous? Envy? Repressed wrath? Well, we have so many possibilities..."
"We do not have any. I told you the truth; she betrayed me and deceived me so cruelly that I lost control. "
"Is that the lie you tell yourself? The justification you invented not to give yourself at once to the arms of madness? To run away from yourself is the same as if these hounds who bay so much decided to pursue their own tails."
"You must not know what a man bitter and wounded in the soul and able to do for revenge."
"I do not know," he said, opening his smile even more. "But I know what it's like to challenge who created me."
"Find what you want. You have that right. At least for a while."
We came to a clearing, at the top of the hill. I could see the house, old, decadent, about to collapse. There was a well ahead. Rain, fog, cold and ghosts. The sight of that spot was nothing but a gray blur in the lifeless immensity that was all that lost piece of the world.
"Your childhood was happy here."
"Until you saw your uncle abusing the servant's son."
I do not answer anything. An almost closed wound was broken again, blood flowing in torrent, and the pain returned even more intense than it was that remote day.
"It was the first time anger has sprung up inside your being. And the first time of so many that you killed. To this day your relatives must wonder what fate took that uncle after his inexplicable disappearance. But I know, because I was there, watching and knowing that sooner or later you and I would be here in this exact place."
"You asshole... you do not know anything. I've never killed anyone else. "
"Do not fool yourself. You liked it; it had a taste of power that bewitched you. But do not be scared or worried about what I think of you, I also know that you only had the courage to start over again several years later. That girl you had met on the first day of college, whose name was lost in the past, she really liked you. "
"What does she have to do with all this?"
"Just the fact that she was your first woman in a bed, and that the next hour you chopped her head off."
My past was a huge shadow. I had tried to bury him for a long time, and when I was getting it, she appeared, and made my world fall apart again. I killed women, yes, there were many, so many that I cannot remember the name of almost none. The drink and the medicines made me forget everything; but she, the last woman of my life, caused these vices to be taken to a level that completely destroyed me, I was nothing more.
"Do not stand there bothering, just looking at the ground. You've spent too much time doing that in that filthy, pest-infested home. Come on, open up. "
"What do you want me to say?"
"What do you feel?"
"I want to kill you."
"I'm not surprised. But tell me what it's like to have a double personality?"
"It’s like being two in one, as you might suppose. But no, it's nothing. What would you prefer: the bright young lawyer with boundless future or the mad, insane killer with childhood trauma who kills without motive? It is no use to want one or the other, for it is nothing, if it is only a scarecrow, an empty carcass."
He looked at me with the same sweetness, candidly, smiling in a way that made me angry, nervous, restless and only increased my complete imbalance.
"If you repeat a lie a thousand times does it become true? Your ability to be sneaky has always fascinated me, my dear. How could one suspect a young man so dedicated, kind, gentle, honest, friend of all? But not because you had a good version of yourself, but because you were really good at hiding the real monster you always were. "
And he was right; I was very good at it.
"Why did you come here to unclog my past, which I did not even want to remember?"
"Because I must. You can never forget that. The acts of the people are irreparable, so they should never be forgotten, and even if you want with all your strength, you will never achieve such a feat. "
"I would stop, I would. The normal guy inside me was beginning to win, to take the killer's space. All the women I killed had not done anything to me, nothing at all, just killed them for fun. But the last, the woman I truly loved, by which I decided to drop my dreams and even stop killing, she stabbed me. Do you know what a lie is? Do you know how much a lie destroys?"
"Of course I know. I'm a master at it! Tell me more, tell me more! Lie more to me, lie to yourself more and more!” He was effusive, with as much joy as if he were telling him something very amusing.
The baying of the hounds seemed much closer now.
"For a long time I let myself be deceived, without suspicion. Love can blind as much as anger; perhaps she knew, but she did not want to. One day I could not stand it anymore, and the killer left only another part, he merged with the other and lost control. Anger invaded me completely and I finished with everything. I run away; I hide from the police, I spend my days in a dark room making me drunk and letting the remorse consume me, hoping I do not know what. "
"So I guess we have the answer to that question. Who are you? Who are you, really? Without the lies, without running around the tail? Deep in your soul?"
"A murderer who lets his past rot him. An animal stuck without the courage to face the world.”
"You have the solution to this fear of facing the world after everything you've done.”
I was petrified. Not fear, not cold. I did not know why, it was just completely hard. I did not feel my joints, it occurred to me that I was turning a statue; that a cruel fate was forever melting away from me so that I could never hide again, and that the burden of remorse would never leave me. But it was not that, it was worse.
The icy water from the rain trickled down my neck, over my eyes, coming through my nose along with dense breathing. I reviewed my life in a few moments, as a backdrop to the image of the sweet and angelic look of the elegant man who had not said who he was and what he wanted. I moved hard, turning to the other side. Down below the house covered by mist. But suddenly it explodes, and the orange flames emerge from the mist, and the old house begins to crumble.
"My friend, you're slowly breaking free. Despite the brutality, killing that woman you took the first step to that freedom. The remedies, the drinks, the isolation... all a long way. And now this damn house crashing down... you're almost there. Only one step is left. "
The infernal air of the fire in the middle of the drizzle and the haze was dreadful. The walls were falling, the ceiling was already tore apart, and I glimpsed with crystal clarity the ghostly crowd of souls that emerged from the heat, fleeing from there, gaining their own freedom after decades imprisoned, garrisoned by barbarism made by so many depraved and cruel generations. The man was right, the last thing that had kept me tied to this rotten world had just collapsed.
"It’s now. I will help you."
I noticed a certain change in his voice; it was louder, more resounding. I looked at his face, still smiling, but now a smile that matched my insanity. His eyes glittered, almost sparking. He stuck his hand inside his clothes, and from there he pulled out a newspaper, which he handed over to me. It smelled of freshly printed, white and still warm pages. The headline said: "Serial killer body is found inside a well." The date was five days from now.
I looked up, and found his eyes. His irises were red, his face pale, his smile completely insane. His clothes broke, turning into ragged cloth. He began to walk toward me, laughing, opening the smile so much that I could see all his teeth glinting and pointed.
I started to walk on my back, not thinking why. I was not afraid of him. I was not afraid of anything else by then. I stared into his eyes coldly, fearing nothing, only going further back with every step he took. And when I finally stopped, it was right on the edge of the well.
I turned in front of that hole and looked into the background, listening to the frenetic laughter of the elegant man who was now ragged. In the dark reflection of the still water I glimpsed the faces of all the women I killed during my years of madness; and for the last time I saw with clarity the smile of the last one, the one I loved and the only one I felt pain when I killed.
"She loved you, very much," the man suddenly sounded gentle again. "She never betrayed you or lied, every word she ever said was genuine and sincere, and you killed her because that's who you really are. A murderer, filled with hatred, who thirsts for blood. And you know it, as much as you knew she loved you. "
It was a thunderous moment when the rest of the house collapsed, burning coals and ash flew all over the place. Finally the last dungeon of my insanity was destroyed.
"The big lie of all collapsed with those stab wounds, and you broke. Running away from yourself is like a hound chasing its own tail. They knew, all of them, and you fled and hid. But there is nowhere else to go, nor where to hide. Come on, it's time. "
And at the sound of the rain, the crackling of fire and the demented laughter of that demon, I threw myself into eternal darkness.
The last thing I heard in my life was the baying of the hounds.
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