Micro-fiction 095 – Obsession (Echoes series)
A dark tale of obsession, psychological terror, a mansion, a sculptor and a curious friend. Obsession. “But he loves me!” Josephine whispered, leaning in to her friend who had travelled up from the big City. They were tucked in to a corner, close by the door of the little cafe. “Is this what you call love? He’s sitting over there, staring at me!” Camille looked nervously towards the waiter who served an older man, sitting in the bay window, the sunlight barely touching his skin. “Well, he literally swept me off my feet, here in fact, this lovely coffee shop in the middle of the High Street.” “High Street?! Camille scoffed, “more like a collection of random living rooms. What do you mean ‘literally’?” “Oh, he was so lovely, I was queuing for my coffee, I’d had a really bad time in the previous months, no job, no money, my parents had passed away, they used to live here, so I was stuck in a place, their place, I didn’t know, with people who didn’t know me, or particularly like me.” “An outsider, I suppose.” “Oh yes, made very clear to me. Sometimes I’d stand in a queue for groceries, or here even, and they’d serve the person behind me, a local, and all chatty, like I didn’t exist, or didn’t matter.” Josephine, allowed her eyes to dip at the memory. “But Jojo–“ “Oh, don’t call me that, he doesn’t like it.” “But that’s what you’ve always been called?” “He says it demeans me, takes away my proper name, my birth name.” “Uhuh. You were saying about how you met.” “Oh yes, I finally managed to get served here, and somehow tripped, my coffee sort of flew into the air, and my sandwich, but he was just behind me, stopped me from falling, stopped my coffee too.” “Sounds like a real knight in armour.” “Well, he was, I could feel the sniggering from some of the tables, but he just scooped me up and sat me down.” Josephine’s cheeks puckered and swelled, caught between the tears and the joy of the memory. “And that was it. He’s looked after me ever since.” “Looked after you.” Camille reached out her hands across the small table, her friends were just a few inches away, but they both felt uncomfortable, and withdrew, their eyes glancing across the cafe to man in the bay window his black eyes, staring at them still. “I’m,“ Camille paused, “worried about you. You look pale, I’ve never seen you sit so tired, and your clothes, they look like something out of the 1950s.” “My mother’s. He says they’re appropriate for me. I can’t afford new, and the money he gives me just about covers our food.” “He gives you? You’ve still not got a job?” “No, I didn’t mean to stay here so long. Anyway, there’s no need, we get by.” “What does he do?” “He’s a sculptor.” “Oh, at least that’s interesting.” “Yes, he makes these large human figures, his house, is full of them.” “Must be a big place.” “Yes, I suppose. The staircase is wide, and has these little landings, all full of statues that stare at me when I go past them.” “Do you live there then?” “Oh no, I go to help him out, sometimes I stay there if it gets late.” “What do you mean help?” “Oh, tidy up his materials, clean up when he’s done.” “And I suppose you cook for him too?” “Oh yes, seems only fair.” “Right.” Camille leans back and appraises her old friend, a woman she had known since childhood as independent, lively, full of hope. “Perhaps you might take a break?” “Oh no, I wouldn’t want to leave him, he really needs me at the moment.” “Come on, come back with me, just for a little while, the rest of the day?” Camille whispered, but saw her friends eyes widen. “What’s all this then? Plotting away?” The older man had sidled up to the table, out of Camille’s sight. Later she would remember the voice was sinewy, seductive. And his hands were strong and wide. He gestured subtly to Josephine who immediately stood up; her small glossy handbag clutched in front of her she bobbed slightly and offered Camille a tight smile. The man had already turned towards the door of the cafe. “Well, thanks for coming to see me.” Without looking back she threaded through the tables and followed the older man out into the street. It was the last time Camille and her warm-hearted, delightful Josephine would meet. “I told you she was up to no good.” The older man, the sculptor half growled, half whispered to Josephine as he strode down the street, “trying to take you away from me.” “She, she wasn’t, she’s just an old friend, she’s just concerned for me.” Josephine scuttled behind, almost tripping along the dusty roadside as they return towards the end of the High street where the old mansion sits, waiting for their return, like a huge emboldened rat. The sculptor stops and turns. “Why should she be concerned?” “Oh, no reason, she’s—“ “What did you say to her?” His voice lashed within the malevolent, ancient wind of the countryside. “Nothing, nothing.” “Well, she’s no right to make judgements about a person.” “Of course, I’m sure she mean nothing by it.” “I don’t want to have to make her pay.” “Oh, no, no!” “You wouldn’t want that would you?” “Oh, God, no.” “Indeed, God, no. I think we have some work to do tonight, you and I.” “Of course, whatever you say.” “That’s right, whatever I say.” That night Josephine and the sculptor carried out a familiar evening routine. She prepared his tools, the stone chisels and hammers, the clay and the quick dry mix, pushed the stone blocks into place, just delivered, and kept herself busy. Winds that had lingered during the day now squalled in the night, rattling at the windows, chasing around the mansion. Just after midnight, as the winds rose to a storm the sculptor gestured to Josephine. She removed her clothes, as she often did and wandered over towards him, noting that he had prepared the stone, that the base was now hollow. He poured them both some tea from the chipped pot, and watched her sip demurely, his eyes black and fixed upon her as she stood sipping dutifully. Observing that her eyes drooped, and her breathing had slowed he gestured to her once more. He took her hand tenderly, then the other, and as if in a dance they moved towards the stone block. He helped her into the hollow base he had just completed. She stood silently, her head bowed, as if newly returned from some ancient palisade, her arms by her side, her left leg bent slight forwards. The sculptor stepped back and regarded his companion. He walked around her, then rolled his sleeves and plunged his large hands into the vat of clay. He pulled out large balls of sloppy, quickly drying grey matter and spread it across the uncomplaining Josephine, smearing it across her feet and her legs, upwards across her naked form. Soon she was covered in thick layers, with just a hole to breathe through, her eyes closed, her hair as a bun. The sculptor stepped back and admired his work, the latest of his statues, the final stage in the subjugation of Josephine. He made to complete his task, to kiss the fleshy lips of the sculpture, to steal the life as always from his muse, but the winds outside persisted, the storm clattered at the windows and the walls, trying to break their way in. This night, even the sculptor looked a little nervous. For years he had created his work, preparing his subjects with his special tea, the one his mother had made for him, before she had become his first sculpture. But this Josephine, she had been different, she had shown signs of leaving, he had to act before he was ready, and now the winds assailed the house, and broke into his mind. The huge window of the studio shook, and his normally steady jaw tensed. The next morning Camille had decided to visit her old friend one last time, determined to free her from the grip of this sculptor. She went to Josephine’s little cottage, her parents, but found it empty, untouched. A reluctant neighbour told her that Josephine was likely to be in the old mansion at the top of the High street. “The artist fellow, she’ll be with ‘im. Always is.” The woman shuffled off, muttering about incantations and curses. Camille rushed off, and back to the High street, then walked towards the mansion at the end, anxiety fuelling her stride. As she came closer, she saw only a ruined garden, and large, a once-grand house. Every window, every door had been blown in. It looked uninhabited, broken. A tree had collapsed against the side. She pushed at the open front door and found herself in a hallway with light filtering in from the dilapidated ceiling, dust and flies turning slowly, and the staircase where several life-sized sculptures lay scattered. She heard a door bang and rattle. Her eyes followed the sound, and she pushed into a room with a huge window, a tree had smashed through. The room was devastated, the wind and the rain had followed in and taken their toll. In the centre of the room, a sculpture had toppled, broken. It lay spread across the floor in a rubble of white and grey stone, bathed in the morning light. And underneath, crushed, the body of the sculptor sprawled, his grizzled skull smashed too, his dark eyes, gone, as if life had been denied him, at last. [End] Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Vurbl and Stitcher and more. Also on this blog, These Fantastic Worlds. Text, image, audio © 2021 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam and Elise Wells, Logic ProX, Sound Studio, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, and Scrivener. More Tales, More Audio There are many other great stories in this series, including: Time Now Artificial Intelligence Clone Complicit Cosmic Hall Righteous Lost Voice Daily Mask The Big Man Ophelia A.I. And a carousel of 10 audio stories from the podcast with information about submissions. Here's a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts.