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Shift: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Friday, June 9, 2006 22:29 EDT



    Louise sat in the passenger seat of her pick-up and simmered as Nick drove her to hospital. The whole side of her face throbbed. She felt used, violated and stupid. He’d used her mother to get to her! That hurt more than the ear. Her mother’s memory raped by that sick bastard. 

    She pressed the bandage harder against her face. Why hadn’t someone told her!

    She darted a glance at Nick. "Did you know?" she snapped.

    "Know what?"

    He kept his eyes on the road. He’d barely looked at her since the attack.

    "You knew, didn’t you? About Pendennis being The Butcher."

    Nick swallowed. "I only found out yesterday."

    "And you didn’t tell me!"

    "I thought you knew."

    "You thought I knew! What kind of idiot do you take me for? I wouldn’t have gone within a million miles of him if I’d known."

    Silence, broken only by the constant beat of the windscreen wipers as they fought to keep pace with the rain.

    "Sorry," said Nick. At least he sounded contrite. "I thought, being local, you’d have known."

    "Well this is one local who doesn’t watch the news as much as she should, okay!"

    She turned away and stared blankly at rows of rain-streaked houses. Was it her fault? Should she have known? Should she have at least checked before agreeing to see a patient at a secure psychiatric unit?

    And what was Ziegler doing even entertaining such an idea! Letting that sick bastard loose on the public again. She couldn’t believe it when the nurse had told her.

    "You know who he is, don’t you?" she’d said while bandaging Louise’s ear. "The Butcher, that’s who. He tried it on me once. Pretending to be all nice and friendly. But I’ve seen what he does to people. He’s worse then sick. He’s evil."

    The Butcher. She remembered the news reports from eight years back but not his real name. He’d always been referred to as The Butcher not Peter Pendennis. Not that she watched much news back then - she was always too busy.

    Pain shot through her ear again. She’d have to have stitches. Maybe a shot or two…

    Panic. She swung to face Nick. "He doesn’t have PIRS does he?" Or AIDS or CJD or God knows how many other blood-borne killers.


    "How do you know? Don’t they gang rape prisoners all the time?" And drugs. Pendennis would have to be a junkie. Shared needles, tainted blood…

    "I asked," said Nick. "Pendennis is kept away from the other prisoners…"

    "But not members of the public," she shouted. "Not me!" She hit the dashboard with the heel of her hand. She wanted to hit out at everyone. Her anger bouncing from target to target. "Not me," she repeated, quieter this time, and slumped back in her seat.

    "Pendennis was given a clean bill of health last month," said Nick.

    "Lucky him."

    Quiet descended. Louise stared straight ahead, unfocussing her eyes and letting the world swish back and forth in time to the wipers.

    "And there’s something else," said Nick.

    "Thrill me."

    "It’s about the readings I took … of Pendennis. I was only monitoring one of the imagers at the time but from what I saw the readings were incredible. Huge spikes right across the spectrum. Far more higher dimensional matter than you’d expect. Pendennis has got one of the most abnormal brains I’ve ever seen."

    Louise turned and glared at him, incredulity turning to sarcasm. "You think?"



    Nick waited for Louise while she was being treated. And braced himself for her return. His normal reaction to raw emotion was to walk away as quickly as possible. Not easy in a car.

    And the guilt didn’t help. He should have told her about Pendennis. He should have watched out for her. But he’d been too busy being mesmerised by the spikes and flares coming from the scan screen to see anything else.

    And it had been incredible. No one had thought to give MPD patients a full-spectrum brain scan. At least not that he’d heard. Would they all exhibit such incredible diversity?

    He itched to return to Upper Heywood, collect his equipment and process the data. But duty kept him nailed to the waiting room chair.

    Eventually, Louise appeared in the corridor. With the bandage removed and her ear lobe sealed and microstitched, no one could have told she’d been injured. Only the garishly blood-stained jumper and slightly matted hair gave her away.

    "What were you saying earlier about Pendennis’s scan?" she asked as she came nearer. "Tell me the last two days weren’t a complete waste of time."

    "Time spent in the pursuit of knowledge is never a waste…"

    She stopped him with a look. "Just tell me."

    "I need to process all the data first - the imager I was monitoring only analyses part of the spectrum - but I can say there was no attempt at telepathic bonding. I had an imager trained on him from the moment he stepped through the door."

    "But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t the first time."

    "No, but why stop? He wouldn’t have known what my equipment was there for. And if he was trying to lure you closer to him why didn’t he try to read your mind to gauge how he was doing or plant telepathic suggestions? It would have made things easier for him."

    Louise shook her head. "So, where was John? Ziegler didn’t do anything different today. So, why didn’t John appear? How come we got that … that thing instead?"

    "Hypnosis is not an exact science. He might have had John at the beginning but, if it had been me, I wouldn’t have been happy about his level of distress."


    "It can interfere with hypnotic control. Ideally you want your subject calm and submissive. Too much emotion and - zap - the subject’s flooded with adrenaline and you’re liable to lose him. I would have taken John deeper, established a solid baseline, and then begun."

    Hindsight. The second greatest power in the universe, after chocolate. 

    "So, you don’t think he was faking it the first time?"

    "I like to keep an open mind. But from what I saw today, Pendennis has a far greater agglomeration of higher dimensional matter around his brain than any subject I’ve ever encountered. And most of it looks distorted, ripped even. Now, is that because his MPD has segmented his mind? Was I looking at the billowing strands of a fractured consciousness? Or is there another cause? I can’t wait to analyse the rest of the data to find out."

    "How long will that take?"

    "About thirty minutes to process the data, an hour or two to map and analyse." Not to mention the drooling and speculating while the numbers crunched. "I’ll start as soon as I’ve dropped you off."

    "You’ll start sooner if you call a cab now. I’m perfectly capable of driving myself home."



    Nick’s equipment was waiting for him, packed and roughly stacked in a corner of the Upper Heywood reception area, along with the implicit message, ‘never darken these doors again,’ etched in the atmosphere. Two warders glared at him from behind glass screens. The same two warders who’d made him take everything apart earlier so they could scan and tick everything off against their ridiculous register.

    "You’ll have to sign for it first," said one of the men.

    Not before he’d checked the crates, he wouldn’t. He squatted next to the stack and began the inventory, making sure that everything was present and that nothing had been broken or reset.

    "I’d check the big crate at the bottom," said the other warder. "Peter likes to play hide and seek."

    Highly amusing, thought Nick, though somewhat disconcerting for a man whose hand happened to be hovering over the big crate’s latch at the time. 

    He flipped the catch and peered inside, jumping only slightly at the shout of ‘boo’ from over his shoulder. He shook his head and tuned out the laughter, and sifted through the crate. Everything present, intact and functioning.

    It took several journeys to carry everything over to his van. No offer of assistance was either offered or asked for. Nick staggered while the two men watched. At least they’d stopped cracking jokes.

    Once on the road, Nick relaxed and started planning his schedule. He’d use the computer he’d taken to Framlingham Hall. It was faster than his home system and he’d been using it for the past week to process imager data - all the presets were programmed in.

    He swung the van into the Hall’s gravel drive then backed up to the front door. At least the rain had stopped, he could see the first stars twinkling through gaps in the cloud. He opened up the Hall and switched on the lights then ferried the crates into the large front room that he used as his base. Soon the room was humming to the sound of cooler fans and the electronic whirr and click as each imager disgorged its data into the central processor. Nick checked his watch - 6:17pm - another half hour and he’d have the results. He sent his mind skipping into the future, imagining what he’d find: a map of a brain ripped into twelve, or however many personalities Pendennis was supposed to have, pieces? Or twelve separate entities - pieces of psychic flotsam washed up on Peter’s wrecking shore? And if the latter, what form and extent would they take? A few cells of memory, an entire sub-personality, a jumble of ideas and thoughts?

    The prospect was so vast. And begged so many questions. How did they get there? Why there and not somewhere else? Was it a process happening all the time? Was that why memories degrade with age - were we constantly shedding experiences into the higher dimensions? Maybe into a vast collective unconscious, a species memory girdling the planet like a ring, helping shape the development of future generations.

    He paced up and down the echoing boards. What a time to be alive. The dawn of a new age of discovery.

    That’s when he heard the noise. Not the settlement creak of an old house. Or the whirr of a computer. But a distinct thud. And it came from upstairs.

    A manifestation? His first thought. A spirit? After all these weeks of inactivity had something decided to materialise? He glanced at the display bank in the corner - no warning lights. All the so-called ‘hot’ rooms were monitored - sudden temperature change, sound, infra-red, ultra-spectrum, higher dimensional fluctuations.

    Had something happened in one of the other rooms?

    Another thud. He grabbed one of the wide-spectrum imagers, moved towards the door, then looked back. Should he leave now? Wasn’t the Pendennis project more important?

    But when you’re hot… Why not stun the scientific world with two major discoveries in less than an hour?

    He moved through into the hallway and listened. Distant traffic noise hummed from outside. Should he switch off the hall light? Use the screen from the imager as a guide?

    He looked up the stairs. The wide wooden staircase wound along the outer walls of the hallway - three floors and two half-landings. Cobwebs hung from the undersides of the stairs, draping the upper sections of a wallpaper that had long since faded and peeled along every join.

    He turned off the lights and let the house sink into darkness. A pale light shone from the imager’s display screen, a view of the stairs - like several pictures overlaid - a two dimensional representation of a ten-dimensional object, using colour and luminosity to portray the different planes. To most people it would have looked like a jumbled mess. To Nick Stubbs it was like second sight.

    He ascended slowly, keeping to the outer, less creak-prone, edge. He let the imager pan before him, turning slowly at the half-landing to take in the next flight. Nothing. The display rippled slightly with the motion of his hands, the extreme sensitivity of the imager warping the picture like a desert heat haze.

    He reached the first floor, corridors running to the left and right, a door straight ahead - open. He stopped and listened. Distant traffic, still the only sound. He swept the imager in a slow arc through 360 degrees. Nothing moving, nothing anomalous, only bare walls, floor and ceiling.

    A thud from upstairs to his left. He swung round, instinctively pointing the imager at the sound.



    A ceiling rippled back. An ordinary colour-soaked ceiling.

    He turned and took the stairs, quicker now, still keeping to the edge but not checking the imager. Not yet. He stopped a few steps from the next floor, reached out and placed the imager on the landing floor, turning it to point down the left-hand corridor, tilting and angling the display screen back towards him. The corridor snapped into focus, psychedelic but sharp.

    And empty.

    He rotated the imager to point down the right-hand corridor. Also empty.

    Another thud. Closer this time. One of the rooms to the left. Maybe front, maybe back - he couldn’t tell.

    He scooped up the imager, crept along the corridor, hunching down, his eyes glued to the display screen. He paused at the first set of doors. One left, one right, both open. He held out the imager and scanned into both rooms. Nothing. He leaned further in, stretching to scan behind the doors. Still nothing. A light from a passing car tracked across the ceiling then disappeared. Darkness and silence.

    Thud. Closer still. It had to be from the next room. The next room at the front.

    Back into the corridor, hunching lower still. Wasn’t the White Room along this corridor? He’d been told the third door from the stairs. That’s where he’d set up his equipment. What if they’d told him wrong? Or included the door at the top of the stairs in their count?

    Had he been monitoring the wrong room?

    The imager shook in his hands. Nerves, excitement, the sudden appreciation that he was alone in a dark, deserted old house.

    With a history of death and hauntings.

    Thud. Or was that more of a bang? He fought to place the sound. Wood striking wood? A door banging?

    He edged closer, colours dancing in the monitor, a few more yards, feet… He froze, then slowly bent his legs, sliding his back down the wall into a squatting position. His hand reached out, placed the imager on the floor to his right as noiselessly as he could, just clear of the door jamb and pointing into the room.

    The display screen filled with colour. Something was inside. Something he couldn’t quite make out. He narrowed his eyes, peered, leaned as close as he dare. The screen showed a mass of colour. Not moving but complex - a large projection into higher dimensional space but too obscured to be recognisable. Was it a ghost?

    A rush of cold air came from the room. Nick swallowed, his eyes fixed on the screen. If anything started to move towards the door…

    Bang. Nick jumped. Definitely a bang this time. From well inside the room. And was that something moving on the screen? Something at the rear by the windows.

    He steeled himself, reached out and grabbed the imager. He needed a shot from another angle. And he wanted to be on his feet - just in case. He pushed himself upright and held the imager out at shoulder height into the doorway. Whatever had been moving had stopped. And the mass of immobile colour was now at floor level, not very tall but long, a few feet from the door.

    Shit! He couldn’t keep his hands still. The image danced and rippled. Did it look human? A second ago he was almost sure but now…

    It would have to be adult by its size but why was it lying on the ground? Weren’t apparitions supposed to walk? Or was he totally misreading the image?

    He closed his eyes for a long second, took a deep breath and stepped into the doorway.

    His eyes flicked between the screen and the grey murk that filled the doorway. He could see a shadow, a slightly darker grey outline on the floor. And a mass of orange, yellow and red from the screen.

    Something was lying on the floor.

    There was a bang and another rush of cold air. Nick jumped, pointing the imager at the sound. A window? An open window banging in the wind?

    His hand steadied for a second. Colours stopped dancing. It had to be a window. But they'd all been locked. He'd checked them himself only a few days ago.

    His attention switched back to the shape by the door. Was it a person? A tramp or junkie looking for a place to crash for the night? The shape looked right. But shouldn’t there be some movement? Breathing, a sound?

    He had a bad feeling, a very bad feeling. He felt for the light switch, flicked it on and…

    Froze. A man’s body lay sprawled on the floor, face upwards.

    His nose was missing.

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