Chapter 28 from the Ama audiobook
Jason moved in lumbering jumps down the dune, digging his hands into the sand to control his rapid descent. Once disturbed, however, the sand had fluid motion and threatened to consume him beneath the deluge. Halfway down, he lost all control of his descent and rolled with the arid surf to the valley below, coming to rest flat on his back.
He sat up and looked across the flat ground towards the next dune. He was thankful it looked a lot smaller than the last one. For a moment, he listened to the wind and its unsettling aria. The song soon died to a monotone soliloquy of muffled words and phrases. Although unintelligible to Jason’s observing mind, the desert spoke to his fear with perfect clarity.
While dusting himself off, he realised he had lost his goggles, kitchen knife and screwdriver during the fall. Looking about himself, he saw the glint of metal in the sand a few feet away, scrambled towards it, and reclaimed the screwdriver. He looked up and scanned the scar his fall had left down the side of the dune. The sound of distant voices jerked him away from his search for the knife and goggles.
He was sure he had heard a male voice, coming from somewhere over the next dune… Xavier? The next person who spoke reminded him of the man in his garden. But this was a woman struggling to speak.
“No… stop… this. Please!” she pleaded.
“Dance for me, baby,” the man shouted in a bullying tone. “Wave those hands, you sexy minx, and kick those feet. Oh, yeah, that’s it. Dance, bitch.”
It wasn’t Xavier, Jason thought with a slight sense of relief. He walked towards the next dune and the origin of the voices, straining to hear any further sounds.
A gurgling and hissing sound came over the dune, and then another male voice. “You… bastard… boy… I’ll… kill… you.”
“Shut your mouth, old man, and dance with the lady.”
A burst of hysterical laughter from the man sent a chill through Jason. He ran to the foot of the dune and threw himself against its steep side. What are you doing? he asked himself. Get out of here…
“That’s it, bitch, rip your skin off. Rip it off and I’ll wear it like my Sunday suit.”
Jason skirted the base of the dune. The voices and screams became distant as he moved. He climbed, using the screwdriver to aid his ascent by stabbing the point deep into the sand and hauling himself up. The voices became louder again as he neared the peak.
“Wow. Look, bitch, the old guy’s going to bite his fingers off. Go on, old man, no one will stop you.”
There was a loud shriek, followed by choking, gagging, and sobbing.
“Stop this,” the woman urged. “You’re just a boy. Please don’t do this.”
“I’m not a boy, I’m fifty-three. Fifty-three years old. Understand? You dumb bitch. Now, shut your mouth and dance for me.”
Next came a hard thud, then another, and another.
“No! Stop… Please stop… Leave him… alone.”
Thud. Thud, and then the sound of something breaking, something cracking.
Jason kicked his feet into the sand and forced his way up and through the tumbling waves. The terrible sounds of anguish drove him on. I can’t ignore this, he told himself with unfamiliar conviction. I can’t…
Thud. Thud. Crack.
The screams had stopped by the time he reached the top. He peered over. On the other side, the dune had a gradual decline to the flat ground of the valley below. No more than thirty feet from the base of the dune, he could see a young man who appeared to be in his late teens. He stood on the far side of a well. The well looked to be at least six feet in diameter and surrounded by a low cobblestone wall a foot in height from the sandy ground. The man held a baseball bat, which he banged against the wall, a tormenting beat of wood against stone for whoever lay within the well. A woman’s head came into view; she stood in the well, her head coming just above the top of the wall. She held onto the stone with one hand while reaching out with the other to the young man. She was pleading with him.
“Please… Please stop,” she said.
Jason grabbed a handful of sand as he pushed himself to his feet, then he called out to the man, “Hey! You little shit. What the fuck are you doing?”
The man looked up. His look of surprise was brief and soon replaced by a broad grin as he caught sight of Jason. “Looky, looky. We got a voyeur.” He lifted the bat high above his head.
“No!” Jason called out.
The bat impacted with the woman’s left hand, crushing her fingers against the stone wall. She cried out in pain before being forced into silence by the second swinging blow from the bat which caught the side of her head and knocked her back into the well.
“You evil shit,” Jason shouted as he ran down the dune.
The man swaggered around the well to meet him, readying the bat with both hands.
Jason ran hard and fast at him. Six feet from the man, he threw the sand into his face and jumped, thrusting his legs out before him as he flew. The man swung the bat, hitting his arm, but Jason continued on course. His feet landed dead centre on the man’s chest, knocking him off balance and sending him tumbling backwards. The bat fell from his grasp the moment the back of his head hit the ground.
Jason also landed hard on his back but returned to his feet without pause. He jumped on the man and rammed the screwdriver into his chest. “You little bastard,” he yelled into the man’s face, as the tool sank deep into his flesh.
The man had a disconcerting smile. Jason withdrew the makeshift weapon from the bloodless wound and stabbed him again. The man cried out, but his grin remained.
“Go on, turn me into a pincushion if you like. But, when you tire, I’ll use that bat to break every bone in your body.”
Jason grabbed the man by the throat and pinned his head to the ground. He fought against his restraint, but Jason held him in place with little effort. The man’s arms were shorter than his, and he was weak. I could rip his throat out, Jason thought. He saw Zoe’s face as his fingers tightened around the man’s windpipe. Although he looked young, Jason thought there were more years behind the man’s eyes—he had told the woman he was fifty-three. An old man in a young body? The body he’d had when he committed his sin?
Jason removed the screwdriver from his chest and then put the flat tip of the tool against the fifty-three-year-old boy’s forehead. His demented smile dissipated into a look of panic and he shook his head, but Jason held him firm. A moment later Jason embedded the screwdriver in the man’s skull. He got off the man and took a few steps backwards.
“Here it comes, you little shit. Get ready for the pop.”
Thick black smoke erupted from the man’s body. The smoke bellowed ten feet into the air and then became a flickering black flame. Jason watched with satisfaction as a middle-aged man screamed back at him from within the pulsating, hypnotic blackness. He couldn’t hear the man’s agony, but the sight was deafening.
Jason walked over to the well and peered over the low wall. It was a shallow dry well, about five feet from base to the top of the wall. An old man lay at the bottom of the well in a battered heap, his quivering body a grotesque mass of broken bones, some of which jutted out through his bruised flesh. He was missing all the fingers from one hand and was now chewing on his thumb. A woman of about thirty-five knelt next to the man and was ripping the skin from her own naked body. She looked up at Jason with pleading eyes. Her mouth moved as if she was trying to speak, but her limp tongue hung out through her shattered teeth.
Jason reached into the well and took hold of the woman’s hand. Her bones made a sickening cracking sound as he pulled her up and over the wall. He laid her on the ground and tried to make her comfortable upon the sand. The woman’s hazel eyes filled with fear as she stared up at the apparition of the man in apparent agony.
“Don’t worry,” Jason said. “He can’t hurt you anymore.” He winced as he looked at the woman’s body and the devastation written upon it. Deep scratches and cuts covered her skin, and in various places her flesh hung off in long strips. Her scalp lay on the ground at her feet as a pile of blonde ringlets. His gaze moved back to her face. Her eyes fixed on his with palpable intensity. She tried to speak. Her mouth moved while her tongue twitched, but the only sound that came was incoherent gurgling from her cracked lips and a nasal hum from her broken nose. “What did you do to deserve this,” he asked, wondering how much of her pain came from hell’s torment and how much from the bastard with the baseball bat.
She reached out with slender fingers and touched his cheek.
Jason closed his eyes, banishing the horror from view. He felt a surge of self-loathing as the woman caressed his cheek. He hated himself for enjoying a moment of tenderness from a woman who lay helpless, battered and broken. Do something, a voice screamed from within. Help her! He turned and looked up at the screamer, and wished he could hear the man’s cries of agony; he wished for audible proof of the man’s suffering. The contorted expression of pain on his face wasn’t enough. Jason wanted to hear his misery as he rippled within the silent boundaries of the black flame. Jason lowered his gaze to the corpse beneath.
He prostrated himself and crawled towards the body while making sure not to touch the thing floating above. Then he stopped for a moment to look up, wondering what would happen if he did touch it. He stood and studied the look of terror on the man’s face; his torment radiated from the smoky blackness. The man’s eyes looked as though they were melting down the sides of his face. In fact, the man’s entire face seemed to be dissolving. All the while, his mouth stretched open in a continuous and imperceptible scream.
Jason remembered what Xavier had said about the screamers, and then he stepped closer and yelled at it. “They sniff you up like a line of coke. And it burns. Can you hear me, you sick fuck? It burns!” He reached out and put his hand into the screamer.
He was expecting to feel pain, or a shock, a burn maybe, something, but nothing happened. He ran his hand through it as if through the flame of a candle. The screamer continued to flit and flicker, and the apparition within the black flame—the man—continued to mime pure unrestrained despair. But Jason’s hand had no effect on it, nor it on him. It was as if it wasn’t there at all. Jason knelt down and removed the clothes from the corpse: blue jeans, complete with a leather belt; white T-shirt and black trainers. He pulled the screwdriver from the skull, left the body with just a pair of red boxer shorts and returned to the woman.
As he had done for the man in his garden, he attempted to restrain the woman’s self-flagellation, but to no avail. She scratched at herself with savage hands and bit herself with her few remaining teeth. Her legs kicked out at demons Jason couldn’t see. Her fingers stopped raking at her flesh and clawed at her eyes. He kept her hands at bay until her body bucked with such violence that she knocked him away, giving her possessed fingers time to rip the eyes from her head.
Jason moved away with helpless acquiescence as she tore herself apart. He became numb as he watched the woman deteriorate into an obscene mutilation of the human female form. And even after skin had peeled away from flesh and muscle had detached from bone, he could see that her torment didn’t end. Her head rolled to one side, and the memory of her beautiful hazel eyes stared back at him from empty sockets. Her mouth opened and closed—as if trying to cry out. Jason wanted to rip out his own eyes… He wanted… He turned away.
Through his tears he hoped the caretaker would soon come and reset things for her as it had done for him. The pain had been excruciating, but he had come out the other side with a renewed body. Where would she be sent back too? How far from here?
He put the screwdriver on the ground next to the wall of the well and covered it with sand. Then he placed the bundled clothes on top of the planted weapon. He knelt next to the woman and spoke in a whisper. “Find this place again, this well. There will be clothes waiting for you here and something below the sand. Remember to look in the sand.” He couldn’t tell if she could hear his words. He wanted to do more for her, but not for reasons of compassion—empathy be damned. He wanted to help her, to know he wasn’t yet lost to hell’s malevolent will.
He picked up the baseball bat, looked at the woman once more, then walked away and towards the next dune.