Chapter Eight

Sam rushed across the damp ground, rain gradually pouring down on him. Now only several feet behind Susan, he continued to propel himself forward, not having any regard for the uneven ground. The wind, aided by the moist rain, destabilized the surface of the earth. His feet ripped through the unstable ground, several times as fast as they normally were. Still, in spite of his best efforts, Susan remained out of reach, to his utter disappointment. She was always out of reach, always beyond his grasp, but still close enough to taunt him with her voluptuous beauty.

Quite suddenly, Susan came to a complete halt, her lungs operating at full capacity. She closed her eyes, strangely immune to the darkness that surrounded her. Small rays of light illuminated her small jawline, all of them varying in brightness and intensity. With a great amount of passion, the moon hovered in the sky, its vividness half-hidden by the array of clouds. Her eyes, teeth, and mouth, three things that had once been indispensable, started to clench together, as though under some type of emotional strain, beneath which existed all of her worries and fears.

Sam continued his pursuit, not yet out of breath. As he encroached upon her, his eyes wide with worry, a sudden feeling of grief came over him. Susan stood in front of him, undeniably alive, but there was something inside of him that told him otherwise. She was, he believed, destined to perish, and the most tragic part was, there was nothing that he could do to prevent it, save for some type of miracle, a prospect that appeared to be growing increasingly unlikely. He wrapped his arm around Susan's shoulder, almost too afraid to touch her.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Right at this moment, I can't really say, precisely. Just once, I wanted to experience some type of freedom, something that I've never really had, now that I think about it. Someone's always been trying to control me, in some form or another. At one time, it was my father, and then later, it was you, my own husband. Of course, I never blamed you, and I still don't. You were only doing what you thought was right, and really, how could anyone blame you for that?"

"I only did what I thought I had to do, and nothing more. Unwisely, I thought your father would help, but boy, what a mistake that was. The sooner he leaves here, the better off we'll be. I'll see that he does leave, come hell or high water," Sam promised.

"Even if he does, what good would it do? After all, he isn't even my real father. Oh sure, he might've raised me, in a manner of speaking, but he never treated me as his daughter, and at last, after all these years, I finally know why. It's not pretty, knowing the truth, but it's what I needed to hear," she cried.

"Are you quite sure of that? You know the truth, yes, but have you actually embraced it?"

Susan remained silent, most likely out of fear. At every turn, fear had tormented her mind, sometimes without any regard for decency or morality. Somewhere within her subconscious, behind all of the despair and misery, she knew the truth, but something inside of her prevented her from embracing the full reality of the moment. She opened her mouth, saliva dripping from her blood-red lips. Several sounds came out of her mouth, almost none of them comprehensible. The words, it appeared, could not be properly expressed.

"Honey, whatever it is, you can tell me," Sam assured.

"I can tell you, sure, but can I tell myself?"

"What do you mean?"

"What's my life worth, really? Not even ten minutes ago, I thought I was the daughter of a respected psychiatrist, but now, what am I? I'm the daughter of an insane person, whose name I can't even remember, let alone visualize. It's sad, isn't it?"

"Only if you want it to be. Unless you allow it to, your lineage doesn't define who you were, who you are, or even who you will become. You're my wife, Susan, and so help me God, nothing will ever change that," Sam declared.

Susan's face turned towards Sam's lips, the left side of her mouth still hidden within the shadows, as if waiting for a chance to connect with him. Sam's eyes ventured towards the lower part of her lips, not focusing on anything else. He was paralyzed, completely and utterly, by the presence of her sweet lips. Upon embracing her, all of the troubles in the world disappeared, if only for a fleeting moment. Nothing else mattered, past or present. At long last, he was with her, and nothing, it seemed, could tear her from his arms.

The moment of bliss, soon to be a distant memory, contacted all of his senses, first engaging his sense of taste, one of the most neglected of all senses, and also among the most fragile. Everything about her, from her eyes to her lips, seized his undivided attention and affection, with the latter being slightly more aggressive. Only a minute before, his mind had been preoccupied with the darker things of existence, such as death, mortality, and the possibility of spending an eternity without the presence of God, who, aside from Susan, remained his only source of comfort. The concept of time, when positioned against the current moment, meant absolutely nothing to him, for he appeared to be lost within a reality of bliss, where only positive aspects of nature roamed.

Leaden with joy, Sam continued to bask in his moment of bliss, but with every passing second, he became less trusting of his environment. The terrible moment, the moment that he had dreaded night and day, had come at last, and there was nothing that he could do to prevent it. Were things otherwise, he would've continued to embrace her, just as he had embraced her countless times before, but his mind prevented him from indulging in the dying moment of peace.

Still out of sight, Edward stood within the shadows, cautiously biding his precious time. While staring at Susan's back, remorseful sentiments swept over him. Biologically, she was not his daughter, but spiritually, she was still intertwined with his thoughts. However the outcome, Edward was determined to put an end to her suffering. Very cautiously, he removed a small pistol from his pocket, sweat pouring off of his hands. He knew that by freeing her, he would also be, in essence, freeing himself. Behind his head, various leaves rotated to the sound of the precarious wind. Not long after, the wind, usually innocent and gentle, started to increase in strength, never again returning to the state that it once occupied.

As Sam removed his lips from Susan's delicate features, an acute sense of dread fell upon him. A quarter of a minute afterward, amid an overwhelming amount of anxiety, Susan's lips formulated a smile for the very last time. Susan's emotions, for that moment at least, no longer held any power over her. She had been set free, in a manner of speaking, but her newly found liberation, as she already knew, could not erase her transgressions, past or present. She opened her mouth, on the edge of silence, but before the first syllable could escape her lips, two loud noises pierced the landscape, the second noise sounding similar to a gunshot. Susan stumbled forward, then backwards, all the while breathing at a very rapid pace. Just once more, her eyes fell upon Sam, who remained in a state of utter disbelief. Rather shockingly, there was no blood, no visible wound of any kind, but the blank expression on her face left no question as to what had been done to her.

Her line of focus started to destabilize, moving between various stages of clarity, as though it suddenly felt the presence of death. Sam remained still, helpless to aid his dying wife, who continued to grow paler with every proceeding second. He tried to reach out to her, almost touching her shoulder, but his efforts, though well-intentioned, were in vain. Weak with regret, Susan's knees finally collapsed, thus causing her to fall to the ground. Her eyes started to relax, entering a state of peace, from which there could be no return. Her body was stiff, cold, and without the gift of life. Sam knelt down beside her, tears running down his cheek. She was with God, Sam told himself, and he would never abandon her, unlike her adopted father, who had destroyed the thing that he loved the most.

Sam felt a hand on his shoulder. Edward stood above him, wreathed in sweat. Aside from the wind, the landscape was completely silent. Sam quietly wept, unable to tolerate the emotions that had entered his empty heart. Susan's eyes, through no fault of their own, had penetrated the very fabric of Sam's fragile mind.

"All appearances to the contrary, I did this for her," Edward said, his voice almost breaking.

"What are you talking about? You have murdered my wife!"

"To you, it must certainly look that way, but I promise you, I've spared you from a lifetime of pain and agony. Given enough time, Susan would've gone mad, just as her parents went mad. At first, I thought I might be able to cure her, but upon seeing the full extent of her madness, I realized that she couldn't be saved, much to my disappointment. Had she been allowed to live, I can only imagine what might've become of her. She might've become violent, or worse, she might've died in an asylum, just like her father did," Edward said.

"You couldn't have known that for sure," Sam pouted.

"Perhaps not, but far too often, genetic factors have been able to determine the destiny of the human race. We dance to the rhythm of our DNA, and not the other way around. The soul, as some people call it, is nothing more than a myth, told to satisfy the desires of frightened and ignorant children. In the age of science, there is no place for such myths. My words might seem harsh, and perhaps they are, in a sentimental sort of way, but the world is a harsh place. The sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be," Edward said, his lips quivering.

"Do you even believe what you're saying? Was Susan just a biological machine, like you've suggested, or was she something more than that? So far tonight, I haven't heard you make one statement that sounds sincere. You might look like a human being, and sometimes, you might even act like one, as most psychopaths often do, but underneath that cold exterior, you're a little boy, scared of your own shadow. Do you want to know what I really think? I think that you want life to be meaningless. As long as life remains meaningless, you don't have to be responsible for any of your actions, including committing murder, of which you are guilty, no two ways about it," Sam huffed, rising to his feet.

"How can you murder what was already dead? Whatever I did, I did because I thought it was the best thing to do, hard though that might be to believe. What others were afraid to do, I actually did, and no one, not even you, will take that away from me. Granted, you have the right to judge me, but you don't have the right to feel superior to me. I dare say, if you had been in my position, you would've likely done the exact same thing," Edward stated.

Sam tilted his face towards Edward, cold fury in his eyes. Edward took several steps back, the right side of his face covered in sweat. As the night grew colder, his body grew hotter. His left hand, accompanied by his right hand, started to shake with a great amount of intensity, therefore rendering him incapable of forming coherent thoughts.

"Get out of my sight," Sam said, venom in his voice.

"Aren't you going to contact the police?"

"Frankly, you're just not worth it," Sam replied, turning his back on Edward.

Beside Susan's lifeless body, the grass started to wither away, as if it had somehow been contaminated by the sudden act of violence. After several moments, through no fault of his own, Sam started to stumble, very nearly falling to the ground. All around him, from left to right, the landscape succumbed to utter depravity. Darkness started to engulf the landscape. Sam closed his eyes, out of tune with his surroundings. He was caught between the past and the present, the latter of which started to emerge from the darkness. Upon opening his eyes, Sam witnessed the death of every primary color within the landscape, all too quickly putting an end to his journey into the past.

Outside of some miracle, there appeared to be no way of preventing his return to the present. The temperature dropped, the sky fell out of alignment, and all heat vanished from the environment. His head, partnered with his vision, started to spin at a very rapid pace. The world he knew, the world he had come to love, was slowly being taken away from him. One last time, he gazed at Susan's body, remorseful to the very last. Even in death, she remained beautiful. Every part of her face, right down to the slightest detail, had a radiant glow, quite similar to that of a fallen angel. Furthermore, her face adopted a type of innocence, upon which all of her past sins were suddenly cleansed.

As Sam gazed at Susan's lifeless face, he noticed, almost by accident, that her body had become two-dimensional. She was there, yet she was not there. At the same time that her body was fading away, another image, one very familiar to Sam, started to take its place. It was difficult to decipher, perhaps because, for the first time, Sam knew that he would never see his beloved wife again. He tried to look away, almost too quick to cover his eyes, but his effort proved to be futile. Like a dagger, the tombstone pierced the image of her fading lips, its surface cutting through the last visible traces of the image. In a single moment, Sam's reality, as he often thought of it, had completely changed.

Now fully in the present, Sam encountered an overwhelming sense of dread. Drops of snow, some of them quite large, started to fall to the ground. Sam remained perfectly motionless, as if frozen in time. The night was calm, silent, and devoid of all thought. It came as no surprise, then, when the wind also ceased operating. Sam fell to his knees, half-covered in snow. Shaped like a cross, the grave took on an almost mystical quality. Out of respect for Susan's memory, Sam wanted to look away, even if only for a brief moment, but his grief, like so many times in the past, got the better of him. Worse still, he knew that he was being watched from afar, most likely by someone with sinister intentions. That feeling, the feeling of being watched, of being studied with great precision, caused him to rise to his feet.

Due to the cold air, Sam's hands started to shake with a great amount of intensity. He tried to control their movements, once or twice succeeding, but the frosty air proved to be too much for him. The tombstone stared back at him, coldly indifferent to his many struggles, of which it knew all. The only thing that kept him from screaming, from truly expressing his emotions, was the pride that still rested on his weak shoulders.

Several shadows swayed around the tombstone, one of them sinister. Sam's every move, his every breath, was filled with an uncanny amount of dread. The shadow grew larger, almost taking the shape of a human being. In fact, minus the dark edges, it looked exactly like a human being. It came nearer, never stopping for more than a few seconds. Over time, the mysterious shadow, and by extension all of its many secrets, started to become increasingly allusive. At times, it appeared to be quite large, and other times, it appeared to be somewhat small. Sam remained silent, mostly out of fear, but also because of the curious, yet by no means timid, nature of the shadow.

Sam felt a hand on his shoulder, its touch cold and bitter. Having nothing left to lose, he turned around, instantly staring into the face of Edward, who appeared to be quite pale. Edward tried to speak, quietly mumbling a few words, but his speech seemed to be incoherent. From head to toe, despite the cold temperature, he was covered in sweat. In just six months, he had seemingly aged at least ten years. His hair, in particular, had turned almost completely gray, and even his skin, something that had previously been fairly smooth, had become worn and lifeless. He was, in no uncertain terms, very close to the end of his life.

"I never thought I'd see your face again," Sam exclaimed, bitterness in his voice.

"I wish I could say the same thing about you, but alas, I can't. Even before coming here, I knew that I'd see you again. How have you been, these last six months? Did you sell the house, or are you still living there? Either way, I know you'll never get over what I did. Hell, I can't even get over it myself. I've tried almost everything, from alcohol to pain pills, and sometimes, believe it or not, they actually work, but only for a very short time, I'm afraid. I'm telling you, Sam, I can't stand the pain any longer. Every night, I pace back and forth, sick with regret," Edward huffed.

"And what do you do with all of that regret, I wonder? In other words, how can you absolve yourself, especially when you don't believe in anything? I've pondered about that several times, very rarely getting a satisfactory answer," Sam remarked.

"More than anything, I wish I could give you an answer, but there can be no absolution for the human race. Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That's what Shakespeare believed, and I must say, I'm inclined to agree with him," Edward said, tears forming in his eyes.

"Macbeth might have believed it, but how could you possibly know Shakespeare's true thoughts?"

"I don't, but then again, half the time, we can't even understand our own thoughts, let alone the thoughts of others. We're trapped in our own minds, unable to break free," Edward gasped.

"That's only because, unlike me, you can't see beyond what physically exists," Sam retorted, stepping away from the tombstone.

"That wasn't always true, you know. So many times, usually while quite drunk, I've tried to believe in something greater than myself, not very often succeeding, but that's all in the past. At this point in my life, I am what I am; there's nothing that I can do about it," Edward said, falling to his knees.

Edward gazed at the tombstone, so full of grief that he couldn't even keep himself from screaming. He touched the thick stone, nearly collapsing against the rough edge. He cried out to the universe, mostly in the hope of receiving some type of forgiveness, but from the start, he knew that there could be no redemption for him. He lived in an unjust universe, chockfull of greed, corruption, and death, what could be called the trinity of tragedy. As long as he lived in such a universe, he knew that there could be no forgiveness.

"We all have the ability to change; that is, if we want to," Sam stated, slowly backing away from Edward.

"We can't change our DNA, much as we might try. All the days of my life, even before I became a psychiatrist, I knew that there was no hope for the human race. We're born alone, we die alone, and in between, we suffer alone. Oh, sure, people try to take pity on others, but most of the time, we only do it to feel good about ourselves. The moment things start to get out of hand, we often abandon our most deeply-held convictions, almost always without any guilt or remorse. That is, my friend, the true nature of the human race. Try though we might, at the end of the day, we're nothing but machines, our sole purpose being to continue the species. Short of that, there is no meaning to life," Edward stated, leaning his head against the cold tombstone.

"If there is no meaning to life, like you say, then why did you love Susan? If there is no meaning to life, then why did you try to save her? Was she, as you've already suggested, just some useless animal, or was she something more than that? For many years now, you've longed for meaning, and maybe just by longing for it, you've found it. As human beings, we have a natural desire for food, for water, and for love. Deep down, though we try to ignore it, we also have a desire for God. Rather than being just a pure fantasy, this is the most natural desire that we could have; so natural, in fact, that it just might be true," Sam proclaimed.

"Possibly, but this late in my life, it's impossible for me to have a strong desire for anything, natural or not," Edward said, placing his hands over his face.

Sam looked down upon Edward, only pity in his eyes. Within the span of just a few months, Dr. Edward, the once celebrated psychiatrist, had become a shadow of his former self. His eyes wandered from left to right, never focusing on the tombstone, always moving in a chaotic pattern, as if under a great amount of emotional duress. As much as he wanted to deny the truth, as much as he wanted to pretend that he hadn't murdered his daughter, he knew that the truth could not be concealed. The concept of time, of eternity, meant nothing to him. Like the patients that he once treated, so many of whom never recovered, he had become trapped in a hurricane of madness.

Sam backed away from Edward, all too eager to depart from the cemetery. His grief, to varying degrees, had melded itself into the snow, in the process becoming dependent on the fleeting sensibilities of a landscape that had abandoned all hope. As the night raged on, the tormenting echoes of the past, and all of the terrible memories that came along with them, started to vanish from Sam's tormented heart. Even after turning his back on the cross, he could still hear a series of soft sobs, most of them coming from Edward, who continued to bask in his own symphony of perdition.

The End