Releasing this a day early as I will be gone all day to attend to family matters. Child of Sorrow was written back in the mid-1980's and to the best of my knowledge has never been made public. I trust you will enjoy this little pastiche of detective noir mixed with a little of The Bad Seed.
Child of Sorrowby Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In honor of author Donald Gow
Occasionally I’ll take the three hour drive upstate to visit Deven Giles, sit in his den, and sample coffee and brandy while solving the problems of the world. Though you may think it unusual for a Philadelphia police detective like me and a stage mentalist to be good friends, we complement each other very well.
You see, like me, Giles’s good at what he does. In fact, let me be honest. He’s better.
He has the ear. Let him listen to somebody and he can almost tell you what size boxer shorts they wear. His stage show is talky, but he creates quite an impact. He would have made one great detective.
Anyway, with our similar interests and strange tastes, Giles and I help each other out. Giles helped me crack a case involving a serial killer who liked to send CD’s of his taunts to the police. Giles gave me several valuable clues through nuances in the maniac’s raving and in less than a week, I had an AttaBoy in the local papers.
I promptly returned the favor by saving Giles's life from a particularly nasty admirer with a penchant for multiple personalities and demon worship.
So tonight, after almost a year since my last visit, Giles tempted me to join him in sampling some wine from a private vintner. Though I’m more of a bourbon man, I like Giles's company enough to occasionally drink from lead crystal.
His den, buried deep within his Victorian-style home, brings up mental pictures of a nobler time. His bookshelves cover the walls and the light from the fireplace doesn’t quite illuminate those on way up near the ceiling. Interspersed with the books are skulls, Japanese puzzle boxes, and other bizarre little bric-a-brac.
That's another reason I like Giles. He has a flair for dramatic atmosphere.
The evening went like so many others in the past. Wine, a cigar or two, reminisces about past adventures, and rambling conversation between people who know and like each other so well is the lifeblood of people like Giles and me.
After an hour or so, Giles had me sampling my third glass of something he called Bragge, something, he told me, like the mead the Vikings drank before they went off looting and pillaging.
I need mead like I need another bullet in my leg.
With one ear I was listening to Giles chatting about a new stage routine while I enjoyed touring the literary museum that made up his library. The English, French and German titles ranged from esoteric subjects on alchemy to lycanthropy to mysticism. My gaze stopped at a small, framed picture set at eye-level on one of the shelves.
"Who is this little beauty?” I interrupted. “I've never seen her before."
The camera had captured a little girl that I guessed to be eight to ten years of age. Her hair glistened with black highlights that set off the deep green in her eyes. Dressed in a light blue pinafore, she looked like a fairy heroine from a child’s story book.
Giles smiled. "That's Faith Winters, my goddaughter," he answered. "I took it at her tenth birthday party almost a year ago."
“I didn't know you had a godchild,” I said. “I didn't know bachelors could be a godparent. Who's her father?"
Giles sighed and refilled his glass. "Stephen Winters … an old friend from college days and a stage mentalist by profession. He married right after graduation. One year later Faith was born and Winters’ wife died of complications."
Giles got up from his overstuffed chair and walked over to the picture. He took the frame from me and stared at it for a moment. "I love this little girl as if she was my own daughter," Giles said with a strange, sad smile. "And her own father worshiped her. With a devoted father and godfather I'm surprised she wasn’t spoiled absolutely rotten. Two months ago I got the shock of my life when the police called to say that Faith was in hospital in a coma and Stephen Winter was dead.”
He took a sip of his sweet wine looking at me over the edge of the glass. “Would you like to hear the story?”
I nodded and plopped down into one of the leather chairs. “I’m all ears.”
Giles swirled the glass looking into its amber depths as if he was using the wine as a mirror for his memories. “As I said, two months ago the police called to say that Faith was in some hospital’s I.C.U. and Stephen Winter was dead.”
"Afterwards, when I rushed to the hospital to check on Faith, I heard the story.
“Stephen was found in his office with a pair of scissors buried in his chest. His little girl was on the floor beside him in a deep coma.
"Incredibly, the scissors held only Faith’s fingerprints. The idea that a ten-year-old had murdered her father was unthinkable, but we couldn't discover anything more until Faith woke up.
He sighed and looked up at the ceiling, reliving the memory.
"Faith's coma perplexed the doctors,” he continued. “Normally, a coma victim has a flattened EEG. Faith's EEG showed patterns similar to REM sleep. Her eyes moved rapidly under her eye lids and obviously she was dreaming. Nothing we did could awaken her."
I drained my glass and set it aside. "So you had a little girl stuck in a strange coma. And then?"
"After Stephen’s funeral I received his estate in his will, including guardianship of Faith. Evidently, there were no surviving close relatives.
“I wasn’t surprised to receive guardianship of Faith. That is, after all, the usual role of a godparent. But I felt guilty. Here I was a guardian for a child that I couldn't help.
"Three days later, with no improvement in Faith's condition, I finally got around to opening Stephen’s home safe. Inside were tapes, a log and even a video cassette. What I discovered shocked even me.”
Giles shook his head and replaced the photograph on the shelf. He returned to his overstuffed chair and kept talking, unconsciously swirling the wine in his glass as he spoke.
"It seemed,” he said, “that Stephen was doing research on hypnosis and lucid dreaming using Faith as a subject. Evidently, his interest in mentalism exceeded the entertainment variety.
"Using Faith as a subject was obvious, though disturbing. Children do make the best subjects for hypnotic research. Faith is a bright and imaginative child, all-in-all the perfect hypnotic subject. Stephen thought the research harmless and for several months worked with Faith to achieve a deep hypnotic dream state.
"According to Stephen’s records, a hypnotic dream state is reached when the subject can create and operate in a dream world of their own creation. In the trance the subject cannot determine the difference between reality and dream. The dream world is incredibly complex and taps into the deep subconscious."
I looked at my friend in astonishment. "And Winter did this to his own daughter?"
"Successfully,” he nodded, “and with each session Stephen was reaching more unimaginable accomplishments. After one month he could induce a deep dream state in Faith with a simple phrase.
“Faith's dream world was a simple one that all little girls fantasize about. It was basically talking animals, royalty and castles. Boring stuff to us adults, but mesmerizing and seductive to a little girl."
"And is Faith still trapped in her dream world?" I asked.
"No,” Giles stated firmly. “In the tapes I found the simple procedure to awaken her, but it needed to be specific and stated in her father's voice.” He smiled, but it held a shadow of bitterness. “I came up with an ingenious solution. I used the audio and video tapes to reconstruct a recording of her father's voice so we could awaken her. By this time Faith had been in a constant dream state for three weeks.
"The day we chose to wake her, two nurses, Faith's doctor, and I sat around her bed. I put the tape cassette into the player and turned it on. Once again, Stephen Winter spoke words of command to his daughter.
"It said something like, ‘Faith, you will now waken from your dream. When I count from ten to one you will become wider awake until you are fully alert'.
"As the tape began to count backwards, Faith began to twitch and moan. I was concerned, but her vital signs remained stable. When her father's voice reached number three, she was beginning to scream in insane fury!
"At the number two, it took all of us to hold her in the bed as she called down curses on her father for stealing her from the kingdom. I tell you, John, it made our blood run cold. Even though ten years old, she had the strength of an adult. But the manner in which she spoke! She had a vocabulary far beyond a ten-year old child!
"When we had sedated and calmed her down we discovered piecemeal what happened on the last morning between her and her father. From what we understand, Stephen was concerned over Faith's growing addiction to her dream world and was taking her out of the trance for the final time. Faith, or more correctly, what Faith had become, did not want to leave her fantasy kingdom for everyday humdrum reality. Before she was fully awake, she stopped her father permanently.
He sighed again, drained his glass, and put it on the small table next to him. "Children are not perfect regardless of what doting fathers and godfathers may wish. Faith’s dream world was the product of a child's ego, and what she described was a narcissistic, violent horror where her subjects obeyed her every whim.
"Time in Faith's dream world moved much faster than reality. In her kingdom she had matured to some semblance of adulthood, but adulthood without restraints or morals. Somehow she deduced adult concepts and ideas and expressed knowledge on many subjects unusual for a child. Not every ten-year old girl can speak fluently on politics, animal husbandry, court procedure and pagan religion, but Faith--an adult woman in a child's body--could.
"And where is Faith today?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
"Since she awoke two weeks ago, she is gradually being introduced back to the real world, though reality is a concept now open for debate."
I waited for a moment staring into the fire, hoping that suddenly Giles would laugh and say what a fine, frightening story he made up. Instead, he merely stared into the fire along with me, his eyes sad and troubled.
Something in the way he told his story wasn't clicking. No matter. Everybody has rights to their secrets. The mantel clock chimed midnight.
"Time to go," I sighed. "Your turn to visit me for once. First Tuesday night in December?"
Giles smiled back at me. "Of course, and it's your turn to furnish the beverage. And please remember that bourbon from the liquor store discount rack gives me heartburn."
"Beggars and detectives can't be choosers,” I said smiling, glad for the break in the atmosphere. “I'll see myself out."
I closed the door to the den behind me and walked to the front door, my footsteps muffled by the heavy carpet. At the front door, I suddenly stopped and snorted in disgust at my forgetfulness. I had left my hat behind in the den.
Quickly returning, I went to gently rap on the door of the den when I heard the voices.
"You need not be concerned," I heard Giles say, his voice muffled through the door. He spoke in a strange, placating tone. "I assure you my friend would not have hurt you."
"One can never be certain," said the other voice, thin and high. "I am familiar with assassins and their ways. There is more to your friend than one can see. Maybe we should consider killing him?"
I shut my eyes and took my hand away from the door.
"No," I heard Giles say firmly. "That is not the way here. There is no one here who wishes you harm."
I heard further movement from within the room.
"I overheard you talking to Doctor Bell on the phone yesterday," said the child's voice. "Tell me. What is a 'sociopath'?"
"Nothing, my dear," came the reply. "It is just a term doctors use. The hour is late; it is time to return upstairs to your bed."
I silently headed for the front door letting my hat remain behind. As my brain whirled with frightening possibilities, I felt sorrow for my old friend. Spoiled children can be murder to raise.