0016 – Gareth: Captivity, Part 6

“PAM!”


Gareth bolted upright, already panting, his thin body soaked with sweat. The dream had been both vivid and accurate. Pam’s blood on the narrow, winding steps. The feeling of her ankle against his foot as, just for a moment, he had allowed himself to betray her, in order to save her.


His fist slammed down into the mattress. He was still for a moment. Then, he turned to his side, raining blows on the pillow next to him, the one that had laid unused on the vacant half of his double bed. He pounded and pounded on it with his fists, screaming in impotent rage.


Fifteen minutes later, soaked in tears and sweat, his head swimming with dehydration, Gareth stumbled out of the bedroom and ran himself a bath. He said nothing, did nothing, simply fixed his eyes on the slowly filling bathtub as the clear water poured in, finding a sort of muted catharsis in the slowly rising waterline, the subtly shifting refraction of the plug beneath.


He didn’t even remember taking the bath. He had done it automatically, absently. He wasn’t thirsty anymore. Had he gotten a drink, too? He was hungry, but food, at least, could wait.


Over an hour after waking from the nightmare, Gareth stood before the closed book on the study desk. The spilled books from the day before were still haphazardly strewn all over the floor. He’d pick them up later.


He opened his mouth to ask the book a question, and then closed it without saying anything. He wanted to see what the book had to say of its own volition again. Perhaps some deeper part of his mind was still focused on logical investigation of his creation – was the book omnipotent, somehow? Would it have knowledge of his dream?


He pulled the front cover open, avoiding looking at the headache-inducing symbol, traced in inlaid gold.


“WHO’S PAM?”


The question must have been waiting for a while. Gareth let out a weak chuckle. Wasn’t he supposed to be the one asking the questions?


Nonetheless, he answered. “My wife. At least, I considered her my wife. Common law.”


He opened the book again.


“PAST TENSE? YOU DON’T CONSIDER HER YOUR WIFE ANYMORE?”


“I’m trapped in here,” Gareth stated, joylessly. “I may never get out.”


“YOU’LL GET OUT AS SOON AS YOU STOP FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF AND GET A GRIP. SHE’S STILL YOUR WIFE. STOP KEEPING HER WAITING.”


“Truth be told,” Gareth confessed, “I don’t think I deserve to be called her husband.”


“WHY?”


“Because I hurt her. Badly.”


“OH, STOP BEING SO PATHETIC. ALL MEN THINK THEY HURT THEIR WIVES BECAUSE OF SOME STUPID THING OR OTHER. THE TRUTH IS THAT WOMEN ARE SURVIVORS. YOU’RE CONSUMED WITH GUILT OVER WHAT YOU DID TO HER, BUT CHANCES ARE SHE FORGAVE YOU FOR IT LONG AGO, OR SIMPLY DOESN’T CARE.”


“No.” Gareth corrected the book, coldly. “I hurt her. I hospitalised her.”


The first time he opened the page, there were no words printed there. The book, he realised, was taking its time to compose a response. He gave it a few seconds, shut the cover, and then opened it again.


“YOU REALLY DON’T SEEM LIKE THE TYPE WHO BEATS HIS WIFE.”


His instinct told him that this was the closest thing the book could offer to a diplomatic response.


“I’m not. I would never…. I would never do that.”


“SO WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER?”


It was time to say the words. Gareth stared out of the high study window as he answered. Outside, a narrow field of long grass was cut suddenly short by a tall line of conifers. Perhaps on the other side of these, too, there would be an expanse of golden wheat fields.


“I tripped her. At the top of some stairs. Stone stairs. Steep ones. She survived, but she broke both her arms, and she was unconscious for days. I thought she was going to die.”


He paused for a moment, then continued, without opening the book first. “She didn’t remember that I tripped her. She thought she fell. I let her think that. But I knew.”


Somehow, this was the worst part, he felt. Even though he had said it with considerable relief.


“WHY ON EARTH DID YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?”


“I had to. It was part of a bargain.”


Once again, the first page of the book was empty. This time, Gareth left the cover closed while the book responded to him. Somehow, it felt more discrete.


“WHO DID YOU MAKE THE BARGAIN WITH?” Such a long wait for such a short question. But Gareth was more alert now, after having conversed with the book for a short while. Why had knowing this taken precedence over finding out what the bargain was for?


“A Sermomancer. The only one I could find. At the time, I didn’t know what kind of magician he was. Only that he was considered the most powerful one in England.”


“WHAT WAS HIS NAME?”


“Karl.”


“KARL IS THE ONE WHO TRAPPED YOU IN HERE.” There was no question mark.


“Yes.”


“ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS HOUSE?”


The question threw Gareth off guard.


“What do you mean?


“YOU GAVE ME THE IMPRESSION THAT THE COTTAGE HAS BEEN QUITE COMFORTABLE FOR YOU.”


“Yes, it has. Other than the fact that I can’t get out. Why?”


“I REALLY THINK YOU SHOULD CHECK THOROUGHLY. MAKE SURE NOTHING IS AMISS.”


“Where did this come from, all of a sudden?” Gareth asked. Though deep down inside, he knew. He just didn’t want to face it.


“DON’T BE AN IDIOT. YOU’VE SEEN HOW SADISTIC HE IS. DO YOU REALLY THINK HE’D GIVE YOU SUCH A COMFORTABLE PRISON?”


Gareth was an intelligent man, but capable of being wilfully blind when it suited him. The warning made sense, and he knew it. Without another word, he stood up from the little desk, stepping over the fallen books.


It was time to investigate the cottage. Thoroughly.

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