Authors: James Herbert
Tags: #Astral Projection, #Ghost stories, #Horror, #Murder Victims' Families, #Fiction, #Serial murderers, #Horror fiction, #American Contemporary Fiction - Individual Authors +, #Crime, #General, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Fiction - Horror, #Murder victims, #Horror - General
|Tags:||Ghost stories, Murder victims' families, Astral projection, Horror, Fiction - Horror, General, Murder victims, American Contemporary Fiction - Individual Authors +, Serial murderers, Suspense, Horror - General, Thrillers, Crime, Horror fiction, Fiction|
Ghost storiesttt Murder victims' familiesttt Astral projectionttt Horrorttt Fiction - Horrorttt Generalttt Murder victimsttt American Contemporary Fiction - Individual Authors +ttt Serial murderersttt Suspensettt Horror - Generalttt Thrillersttt Crimettt Horror fictionttt Fictionttt
James True was not there when he died. He returned from an out-of-body experience to find that heād been murdered and mutilated. He had no body to go back to. But who murdered him? The serial killer terrorizing the cityāor someone closer? True had no enemies, at least none that he knew of. To discover the truth, James True must track down his killer. The initial horror of Trueās experience is followed by an even greater terror . . . . his family are the murdererās next targets. Without a body, True has no substance and no real power. No one can see him, no one can hear him, and no one except his murderer even knows his spirit still exists. How can he save his family?
…So that this I, that is to say the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, is even easier to know than the body, and furthermore would not stop being what it is, even if the body did not exist.
Cogito, ergo sum – I think, therefore I am.
I think therefore am I?
“It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
I wasn’t there when I died.
Really. I wasn’t. And finding my body dead came as a shock. Hell, I was horrified, lost, couldn’t understand what the fuck had happened.
Because I’d been away, you see, away from my physical body. My mind—spirit, soul, psyche, consciousness, call it what you will—had been off on one of its occasional excursions, to find on its return that my body had become a corpse. A very bloody and mutilated corpse.
It took me a long time to absorb what lay spread before me on the hotel’s blood-drenched bed—much longer, as you’ll come to appreciate—to get used to the idea. I was adrift, floating in the ether like some poor desolate ghost. Only I wasn’t a ghost. Was I? If that were the case, shouldn’t I have been on my way down some long black tunnel towards the light at the end? Shouldn’t my life have flashed before me, sins and all? Where was my personal Judgement Day?
If I were dead why didn’t I feel dead?
I could only stand—hover—over the empty shell that once was me and moan aloud.
How did this come about? I’ll give no answers just yet, but instead will take you through a story of love, murder, betrayal and revelation, not quite all of it bad.
It began with a hot potato…
I was six or seven years old at the time (I died aged thirty-three) and on holiday with my mother, having dinner in a Bournemouth boarding house. It was just the two of us because my dad had run out on us before I made my third birthday; I was told he’d gone off with another lady—my mother made no bones about it, despite my tender years I was always the sounding board for her vexations and rages, especially when they concerned my errant father. The nights were many when my bedtime story was a denunciation of marriage and cheap “tarts”. The topic of breakfast conversation often had a lot to do with the failings of men in general and the iniquities of wayward husbands in particular. I must have been at least ten before I realized that the equation “men = bad, women (specifically wives) = good but put-upon”, was a mother-generated myth, and that was only because I had several friends whose fathers were terrific to their sons and their sons’ friends, as well as loving towards their own wives. I got to know about marriages built on firm foundations and I have to admit to an envy of the other boys and girls who had normal home lives. Why did my dad betray me, why did he abandon us for this “tart”? It bugged me then, but now I understand. The icon of worship that was Mother eventually lost some of its shine. Yes, in later years I still loved her, but no, I didn’t turn into Norman Bates and murder Mother, stow her bones away in the fruit cellar. Let’s say my view of men in general, and my father in particular, became more balanced. Lord, in my teens I even began to understand how some wives—the nagging, abusive kind—could drive their husbands off. No disrespect, Mother, but you certainly had a mouth on you.
Back to the potato.
We’d had, my mother and I, a wet morning on the beach and a damp afternoon in the seaside town’s cinema. I rustled sweet papers and my mother wept her way through what must have been a matinee re-run of Love Story. Having only just got dry, we got wet again walking through the drizzle back toe the boarding house. I remember how starved I was that evening when we sat down for dinner in the bright, yet inexplicably dreary dining room, the sweets during the film not enough to fill a growing boy’s belly (the burger was by now a mouth-watering memory), and I tucked into my meat, veg and potatoes without any of the normal blandishments or threats from my mother. The boiled potatoes were smallish but steamy hot and in my enthusiasm I forked a whole one into my mouth. I’d never realized until then that potatoes could get so scorching—that certainly wasn’t the way Mother served them up—and I burnt the roof of my mouth as well as my tongue on the blistering gob-stopper. Aware that spitting it out onto the plate in front of a room full of strangers would get me into a whole heap of trouble with Mother, who liked to maintain a “refined” (one of her favourite words) demeanour in public, I swallowed.
She looked up in surprise, then horror, as I sucked air to cool the potato, the horror having nothing to do with concern for her distressed son but because of the spectacle I was making of myself. Heads turned in our direction, forks froze mid-air, and the low buzz of conversation ceased as my breath squeezed through whatever vents it could find around the blockage in my throat. I’m pretty certain that my watery eyes were bulging and my face a torrid red. The noise I made was like a discordant flute played by some tone-deaf jackass, and when the offending vegetable was drawn further into my throat by air pressure the pitch became even higher, developing into a peculiar wheezing. I was panicking, the option of hawking out the obstruction already missed because it was now lodged just behind my tonsils. My only choice was to swallow and hope for the best.
I could feel the lump searing its way down my gullet and I’m not sure which was worse, the agony or air deprivation. Anyway, I fainted. Just keeled off my chair, Mother liked to tell me for years afterwards in long-standing disapproving tones. One moment I was sitting opposite her and making funny sounds and even funnier faces—eyes popping, cheeks as red as red peppers, mouth thin-lipped oval as I tried to quaff air—then I was gone, vanished from view. There was little reaction from the other diners—they merely cranked their heads to look at my still body on the floor, because I’d passed out in a dead faint. Mother probably apologized to everyone present before running round the table to tend me. Fortunately, I was no longer choking; I’d swallowed the hot potato during my fall, or when I’d landed with a hard thump.
Now this is what I remember about lying on the cheap lino flooring: I had found myself observing from above as my mother sank to her knees beside me and lifted my head onto her lap. She lightly slapped my cheek with four fingers, but I didn’t feel a thing, although I knew it was me stretched out there on the dining room floor, with six or seven pairs of strangers’ eyes paying attention as Mother frantically—and, it has to be said, with some embarrassment—tried to revive me. It was as if I were watching another unconscious person who just happened to look exactly like me.
I recall that I enjoyed the sensation before I became frightened of it. Young as I was, I was aware that this self-observation and the floating above my own body was not the natural order of things; I soon began to wonder if I would be able to get back into myself. And as anxiety occurred, I was inside my body once more, eyes flickering open, the burning deep down in my gullet now mellowed. Mother gave one small gasp of relief, then immediately began apologizing to the other diners, whose raised forks resumed the journey from plates to open mouths as if someone had switched their power back on. Dazed as I was I understood that all interest in me had been lost: the clatter of cutlery and mumble of conversation had resumed. Only Mother remained concerned, but even that was tempered by her flushed self-consciousness.
She had helped me to my feet, and then rushed me to the communal bathroom upstairs to flannel my face with cold water. I was okay though: the potato had already cooled inside my belly. I was mystified and not a little excited about what had happened to me—not the fainting, but the floating near the ceiling above my own body. I tried to tell my mother of the experience, but she shushed me, saying it was all imagined, only a dream while I was insensible from eating too fast. I soon gave up trying to convince her, because she was getting more and more cross by the moment. As you’ll have gathered Mother didn’t like public scenes.
So that was the very beginning of my out-of-body experiences—OBEs, as they are generally referred to.
Of course, it’s not something that most sensible people can believe in.
I didn’t have another OBE for a good few years and by the time I was in my teens—I was seventeen, to be precise—I had all but forgotten about it. I suppose I eventually had come to believe that it had been a dream as Mother had said, so it played no important part in my thinking as I grew up; I didn’t quite forget about the experience, because when it happened again I immediately related the two events. This time the circumstances were far more serious.
As a kid I’d always loved drawing and painting*—drawing in pencil or pen and ink mainly, because tubes of paint were a bit expensive for a single-parent family (and, being dead, my father discontinued the alimony payments, which were never official anyway because my parents hadn’t actually divorced. Apparently, he’d died—I don’t know what killed him—when I was twelve years old, but I didn’t learn about it until a couple of years later). I’d spend most of my free time sketching, even creating my own comic books—graphic novels, as they’re grandly called nowadays—writing my own adventures to go with the action frames. Some of those comics were not so bad, unless my memory is gilding them a little; I’ll never know anyway, because Momma Dearest threw away the big cardboard box I’d kept them in, along with the few paintings I’d done and short stories I’d written, when we downgraded and moved to a poky flat in a less reputable part of town. No room here for all that junk, she’d told me when I complained that my box of valuables hadn’t turned up. I could appreciate the problem, but it would have been nice to be consulted. Maybe then I could have at least saved some of my favourite stuff. Pointless to blame her—she had enough worries coping with life itself and the day-to-day expense of existing.
*Art and English: they were my top subjects at school. In fact, so certain was I that my future career was going to be drawing and painting, making up advertisements—I called it advert-ie-sements in those days—to go in newspapers and on wall posters (this was “commercial art” I soon learned, now “graphic design”), that other lessons didn’t concern me very much. Maths I hated—I think I’m “dyslexic” as far as numbers go—history was okay because it was stories, although I could never remember the dates of all those historic events (unnecessary in these reforming and “new-ideology” times, I gather). Geography was dull, RI—religious instruction—not too bad because, again, it was about stories. Between art and English, I enjoyed art the most. Sure, I loved writing tales and essays, but I got more satisfaction from pen, pencil, and paint. Eventually, I began to appreciate the masterpieces, initially the works of Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, all the great but obvious guys, later moving on to artists as diverse as Turner and Picasso (I loved the latter’s earlier stuff, before he started taking the piss), from Degas to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema—yep, I know, all the populist stuff, but so what? Only later, when I enrolled in art college, did I learn to value the trickier and more imaginative works.
She used to take in sewing at home and was pretty good at it, until too much working in inadequate lighting ruined her eyes. She received some income support, although it wasn’t much, and the old man had a small life insurance policy, which she claimed as they were still legally married. It wasn’t a lot, but I’m sure it helped a little, and I suppose it was the best thing my father had done for us. As soon as I was old enough I got a job stacking shelves in a local supermarket and collecting wayward wire trolleys from nearby streets and car parks—they might escape the store’s boundary but they couldn’t run forever. Another problem with Mother was that the more she worked alone, often through the night, the more neurotic she became about people. I think she became a bit agoraphobic—she was, and still is, something of a recluse. She began to stay at home all the time, weekdays and weekends. The clothes stitching and repairs she did for chainstore tailors was delivered and collected, and by the age of eleven I was doing most of the shopping. Two summers before that was the last time we took our annual holiday at the same old boarding house (the proprietors of which had never forgotten my fainting spell over dinner and liked to remind me affectionately of it the moment we arrived). Partly it was because Mother could no longer afford it, but mostly because she couldn’t handle people anymore. Everyone, she maintained, was out to cheat her, from the milkman to the employers who used her sewing skills. According to her, all men were like my father, undependable, had questionable habits, and were not very nice. Regarding this last judgement, I guess the bad poison worked on me, for I never had the least curiosity about my dad, and certainly no desire ever to meet him. At least, not until later in life, when curiosity did finally kick in; before that he was just a cold-hearted bastard who had no love for me and Mother, just as I had no interest in him.
Eventually I managed to get a smallish grant that would allow me to go to art college and study graphic design (I never had the luxury of studying fine art like many of the students who had nice rich daddies—my sole aim was to get all the training I could for a career in advertising) as long as I had a proper weekend job and could pick up the occasional evening work. God bless supermarkets, bars and restaurants—there’s always employment out there if you’re able and willing, most of it paying cash-in-hand.
At art college I learned about photography, printing, model-making, typography and design itself—news and magazine ads, posters, brochures, that kind of thing—and I met and mixed with some good people from varied backgrounds (not all had rich daddies). There were also plenty of attractive girls around, many of whom were pioneers of free spirit living—and, importantly (to us boys), free loving. I had one or two girlfriends during my time at the place and there were no hassles when we broke up; the barrel was too full to get heavily involved with just one person, and that applied to both sides. My only problem—my only big problem, that is—was transport.