What is it that leads a person to kill, to break the sixth commandment and take the life of another? It was wrong, an act that had no place in any society. The dark figure who stood silently by the bedroom door knew this yet they could not stop.
She should not have opened the door the dark figure mused, watching the victim sleep beneath the pastel coloured duvet in the small bedroom. The curtains, a warm sunflower yellow were closed, filtering the afternoon sun and casting the room in a serene shade of honey gold. The room was silent like a morgue save for the regular breathing sounds coming from the man in the bed. He looked peaceful as he rested, but it would not last. The silence would soon die and the peace and tranquillity would be replaced with violence and suffering. He had a family the intruder observed, eyeing photographs of family holidays in decorative silver frames carefully displayed on the mahogany table next to the bed. It was an irrelevant detail to the intruder. Although, there was something very relevant over here though: A shaft of light highlighted a wooden cross hanging above the bed and on another wall hung a picture of the Virgin Mother.
They had faith.
People always clung onto the primitive notion of faith and salvation like superstitious idiots, believing in a divine force to guide and protect them. There would be no such protection here. The dark figure had once known faith and had been taught about the love of God but that had been a long time ago. It was lies, all lies! If not, then why didn’t He intervene back then? People still believed in God and had preached forgiveness and compassion towards those who had done them wrong. This is what had first set the dark figure on this path: To test people’s faith and see how far understanding and forgiveness would stretch. Could a mortal sin be forgiven? Would some supernatural being notice a follower in dire need and invoke its divine intervention and save them? So far He had not. This had been the driving force in the beginning, but as time passed, the motivation had evolved into recreating the event from so long ago and taking revenge on a substitute target of hatred. Revenge though was a futile undertaking, unjustified for someone of any considerable social standing. However, thinking of it as an experiment leant the acts to a more grandiose realm of high society and academia and so it became more acceptable and the dark figure continued to experiment with the games.
Yes, games, that’s what the experiments were really. The intruder played the role of Succorbenoth, the Gate-keeper. Succorbenoth, who stood at the gate between life and death and decided who lived and who died. Sometimes when lost in the moment of anticipation before a kill it was easy to think of Succorbenoth as a real person. The basic animal instinct of knowing when the killing stroke would come aroused such ecstatic feelings of elation. It was a powerful phenomenon that would lift one to a higher state of consciousness. That sense of power which is unlike anything else must be the closest thing to knowing God. The euphoria from each time the game was played increased but lately it needed more effort, more closeness to the victim before finishing them. The game was losing its edge and so Succorbenoth had had to increase the frequency and intimacy of each kill.
The elixir of killing was akin to consuming too much alcohol where one is granted the freedom of inhibition, but like drinking too much alcohol there can have gaps in one’s memory from the previous night. This may have happened to the killer on occasion.
There had been other murders with the same method used by Succorbenoth, but the killer had no recollection of committing them. As a Consultant Surgeon at the hospital the killer had access to medical records and had followed the murders when the bodies arrived with the Coroner. This was an unexpected turn of events because The surgeon / Succorbenoth usually remembered everything from each kill in minute detail. This led the surgeon to extrapolate two possible hypotheses: One, that they were experiencing some kind of psychotic episodes whereby memory of the event was impaired. Or alternately there was a copy-cat killer out there. The latter seemed more probable but it peeved the surgeon somewhat. A pretender? I am Succorbenoth! The surgeon affirmed. I am the lone avenger trying to undo the wrong that was inflicted upon me. No one else had the right to be Succorbenoth. He is my creation and mine alone.
The surgeon had invented Succorbenoth. No, more like found him in the depths of despair. He was a hand to punish all those responsible. Everyone connected with the church was responsible. A loving God would not have let it happen. If there was a divine being then He did nothing to prevent the harm and so He is just as responsible and by extension his followers are also guilty and they must all be punished. No one could take the pain away. Therapy had helped but the memories would remain with the surgeon forever. The only way to truly come to terms with this evil was to fight it head-on. It was Succorbenoth’s duty to assist in this task. Yet someone else had been using the surgeon’s / Succorbenoth’s methods, trying to impersonate them. The surgeon felt righteous anger rise up from within.
Quietly the surgeon / Succorbenoth crept further into the room and took a deep breath of calming air, enjoying the release of adrenalin as the anticipation moved from mental stimulation to physical. The surgeon / Succorbenoth could only permit a small indulgence of pleasure at this time. This was the critical time when clear focus and clinical detachment were paramount. The figure moved silently closing the door and sealing the exit. There was no way out, no escape and no getting away. The man stirred and looked over. His name was Robert Jones, the killer recalled. 59 year’s old, and lived with his wife, Rosemary. Robert Jones had a history of mild back pain, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers and he had recently been discharged from hospital following coronary bypass surgery. The latter was how the surgeon had met him; as a patient. He had been under the surgeon’s knife during the operation and that time he had been allowed to live.
“Oh, hello” the victim said weakly but with a cheerful tone, reflective of his general outlook on life. “I didn’t realise I was having visitors today”. The surgeon / Succorbenoth said nothing, waiting for recognition. He would be wondering where he had seen this visitor before and then realise probably with some shock that it was at the hospital. “Oh, Oh dear this can’t be good news if I’ve got the boss seeing me at home” the victim said with a veil of good natured humour likely trying to cover the sudden anxiety at the sight of his heart surgeon standing in his bedroom.
“Good afternoon Mr Jones. Don’t worry this is just a social call”. The surgeon / Succorbenoth said, careful not to betray the exquisite sense of anticipation in their voice. “I’m on my way to the hospital and while I was driving past I thought I’d call in to make sure everything is healing as expected. I imagine the district nurse visited you this morning?”
“Oh yes, she did” nodded Mr Jones. “It was the nice young one, I like her. I find the other one to be a bit of an old matron because she never smiles. They all do a very good job though and I probably wouldn’t be here without them of course”.
The surgeon felt a flash of irritation but stamped it down as quickly as it had arisen. You wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for me! The surgeon thought. I gave you your life back. “Have you been able to get up much these last few days?” The surgeon / Succorbenoth asked coming closer to the bed. The man answered as the killer withdrew a small syringe from a long brown overcoat.
“Give me your arm, I want to check your pulse”.
The patient obediently held out his arm and the surgeon took it and counted the number of beats from his pulse. “I thought so”. The surgeon nodded in solemn confirmation. “The nurses said your pulse may be racing a little so I’d like to give you a small dose of this to help to bring it back to normal levels”.
“Ok, but the nurse didn’t take my blood pressure this morning” Mr Jones said sounding a little confused.
It was too late. Even as he had started talking the surgeon / Succorbenoth had seen a possibility of noncompliance and quickly buried the needle deep into his arm, expertly administering the contents of the syringe in one swift well practiced move. The man looked up and was about to complain when the drugs started taking control and his body weakened. He slumped back down onto the bed and his arm, still held in the surgeon’s grip, slackened as his skeletal muscles lost their strength and relaxed. Just a few moments and he would be ready.
“This is where it ends for you” Succorbenoth gloated. “You are feeling weak and cannot move any of your limbs as a result of the tranquiliser I have just administered. However, unlike other anaesthetics this one is my own recipe. Physically you cannot feel anything but you will remain conscious and witness your final moments. You are totally powerless, a vegetable to put it crudely. Right at this moment you are mine and I will decide how long you will live and when you will die. I am the gate keeper. I stand where life meets death, where light meets darkness and I choose who will go and who will stay” The surgeon / Succorbenoth looked down at the victim and saw in his eyes the confusion turn to alarm and then fear. The killer walked slowly around the bed and was pleased to see the victim’s eyes following. The anticipation was growing inside like the sun rising over the ocean.
To make the kill too early would be to deny the full experience; every breath, every drop of blood was to be savoured. With an effort the surgeon / Succorbenoth switched off the clinical detachment and felt the waves of pleasure wash over. This was the surgeon’s / Succorbenoth’s moment of elation as the game started to pay off; feeding on the fear etched in the face of the victim as he lay on the bed unable to move or cry out for help. He knew what was coming and he knew he was powerless and Succorbenoth drank in his fear and in that moment prepared for ascension to godhood. A childlike giddiness swirled through the killers mind. The surgeon / Succorbenoth produced the long silver knife from inside the long over-coat and showed it to the victim.
Succorbenoth didn’t need to say anything; the sight of the deadly blade was enough the break the spell of silence cast by the drugs and the victim began to make pitiful whimpering sounds through a throat that refused to obey his commands. Succorbenoth held the knife blade upwards so it would cause the most damage. Soon, very soon he would die and the anticipation felt delicious. The surgeon / Succorbenoth felt the elixir of the victims despair and climbed onto the bed, sitting astride his ankles. Sometimes the drugs wore off too quickly and the victim would start moving and could potentially fight back. Although any defiance would never last very long or manifest itself in any meaningful way. It was uncommon but there was no point in leaving it to chance.
The killer raised the knife and stabbed it slowly downwards into the victim’s leg, accurately severing the femoral artery. Blood immediately began to pump, gushing into pools on either side of his leg. “There’s no going back now”, Succorbenoth taunted. “You have maybe five minutes while you bleed out”. Although it was unlikely and even irrelevant that the victim was unable to feel anything, the sight of the blood streaming out in such volume was enough to increase his panic to even greater levels. In turn this served to raise the surgeon’s / Succorbenoth’s joy and satisfaction. The killer looked down at the victim seeing the effort to move his limbs being played in his eyes. Concern for his wife was no doubt driving his resistance as well; wondering where she was and if she was alright? He had no hope of getting away and slowly the acknowledgement of the reality of his situation was dawning on him. The surgeon / Succorbenoth sometimes wished they would struggle a little more at this point but the tranquilisers were necessary to keep them subdued. The killer shuffled closer, sitting astride the victims’ waist in a position akin to a couple in the throes of passion. The killer watched the victims panicked eyes searching the room until they came to rest on the picture of the Virgin Mother and a stray memory clicked in the mind of the killer. It was a memory that the surgeon / Succorbenoth had tried to keep buried for many years:
An innocent child of about seven or eight years old lived at a Catholic boarding school a long way away from here. The child had found a box of votive candles in a cupboard one afternoon and had been playing with them. The child had found some matches in a separate draw and had been lighting the candles when Sister Josephine had walked in. A strict old lady who never smiled, Sister Josephine scolded the child and the child was sent to its bedroom to copy scripture as punishment. Later that evening when the lights had been turned out there was a knock at the bedroom door.
The child was still upset from the telling off earlier and contemplated not opening it but as the tapping increased the child felt compelled to answer the door and so opened it. Father Michaels stood in the doorway framed by soft light from the hallway so his face and expression were hidden in silhouette. He was a kindly old priest and fond of the children but there was always something about him that wasn’t quite right; his friendly gaze could linger longer than was comfortable and he could be a little too friendly at times. The priest explained that he had heard what had happened and Sister Josephine wanted the child to be punished further. Father Michaels said he had spoken to Sister Josephine and told her he would deal with the matter himself. He explained this way the child would be protected from Sister Josephine’s anger, which had increased as the evening had gone on. The child was confused and also a little scared that Sister Josephine was still angry, so timidly went with Father Michaels. The old priest led the way to his office in silence down the long corridor away from the rest of the school and dormitory area. Inside, the drab musty smelling office, large antique wooden furniture occupied most of the floor space and dusty shelves heavy with old faded books lined the walls.
Father Michaels locked the door and proceeded to deliver a punishment to the child that was far worse than anything Sister Josephine or any other teacher could dispense. Something that no one ever deserves let alone a child. Father Michaels was very strong and the child was powerless to stop him. Helpless against his assault the child turned to God, prayed for it to end but He did not help her. Feeling lost and violated the child turned inwards to seek comfort as their innocence was extinguished. It was in this inner world of turmoil and confusion that Succorbenoth was born. The physical violation gave him form and the spiritual corruption gave him purpose. The child should not have opened the bedroom door that night.
The painful memory threatened to rob the killer of any lasting relief from the game so before this could happen the surgeon / Succorbenoth stamped down on the memory as if it were a bug. The killer maintained their focus and looked down at the feeble victim, smiling at his vulnerability. With the unwanted memory dissipated the surgeon / Succorbenoth drew on the thrill of the murder and surrendered to the euphoria in a frenzied climax of delight.
“Oh you’re scared? Don’t worry it will be over soon” The surgeon leered with the hint of an old bedside tone that was saved for moments like this. “Here we go. Is this going to be it?” the killer asked, placing the blade of the knife at the man’s throat and pressed a little. His eyes went with fear but then Succorbenoth relaxed the pressure. “No… I do so enjoy these little games. Will this be it?” the blade went down to his stomach this time and again applied a little pressure but then eased it once more. “No”. The whimpering increased and tears were now trickling down the victims pale cheeks. The surgeon / Succorbenoth’s smile turned to an evil grin of menace. “This is it!” The killer said with glee, dropping the knife on the bed and clamping one hand over the victim’s mouth and nose stopping him from breathing. The other hand held the back of his head, holding him in place. The victim struggled a little but he didn’t have the strength to fight. Succorbenoth took delight in watching the light in the victims eyes quietly dim as his life was slowly extinguished.
The cravings of desire quickened the Surgeon’s breathing as a fight or flight response was triggered by the immense feelings that were being stirred. The killer’s mind raced, darting from one topic to another, a hundred thoughts and images flashing in the space of a heartbeat. The victim was lying there, helpless and slowly dying by their hand. The arousal swelled and the killer’s muscles quivered with involuntary spasms. The surgeon / Succorbenoth found themselves totally speechless and yet wanted to scream the exhilaration of the kill to the whole world. They had to be censored of course and keep it to themselves and this denial of release added to the frenzied stupor and so they sored to even greater heights of euphoria. The surgeon’s mind was out of control, hands visibly shaking. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee must have been inspired by this feeling. It was the body’s way of finding release for the titanic forces erupting from within. The sensations reached their peak. The killer, in a haze of ecstasy, fumbled blindly for the knife, found it and when Succorbenoth could contain itself no more, plunged the blade deep into the victim’s abdomen in a violent release of life and lust. The surgeon pushed the blade upwards to piece the cardiac muscle ensuring death. This was joy in its purest form, mused the killer through a rapidly turning kaleidoscopic mind. To hold the anticipation of release and be able to command its apex is to know heaven and stand at its gate.
Thus by extension of this privilege, which was not meant for mortals to observe, the surgeon had, however temporarily, become God. How else could a mere mortal know these extreme pleasures? The mind of a mundane person simply would not have the capacity to experience this level of pleasure while maintaining their sanity. No, only a truly superior mind that had evolved into godhood could have access to this kind of power.
“Blessed, I truly am” the surgeon breathed through what felt like oxygen starved lungs. The act was done but the physical and mental impressions of the day would echo with the surgeon for several hours before the intensity would start to wane. Like all the other times the experiment had produced the same results; there was no divine intervention, no salvation from on high. Satisfied for the moment the surgeon ended the game and stepped out of character and back into reality. The surgeon climbed off the bed no longer playing the role of Succorbenoth and looked down at the man.
A familiar twinge of guilt would start to creep up at any moment now that the game was over. The killer took out a small white candle from the pocket of the long brown coat and placed it on the bedside table before lighting it with a match. Then the surgeon reached over Mr Roberts and closed his eyes for him in a moment of pity. The duvet was then pulled up to hide the blood and cover the man. He looked at peace now as if he was still just sleeping like before.
The surgeon went downstairs and found the body of Mrs Jones collapsed in the hallway. The urge to play the game was increasing; it was getting too easy, happening too often. Today had not been planned in any way. It was totally spontaneous and that was dangerous. This is escalating. The surgeon thought. I’ve never done it before going into work. I need to be focused and clinical in my work and not distracted. With the one upstairs this is the third victim in the last week. The urge to do it is getting more frequent and it is harder to stop myself. I need to assert control before it’s too late. Dr Carter can help correct this. He did it before and he can do it again.
Pausing by the old woman who was laying crumpled on the floor, the surgeon looked at a picture of her husband hanging on the wall in a gold frame. The picture had been taken on the pier some time ago; he looked handsome with his full head of dark hair and they looked very happy together. The surgeon took the picture off the wall and carefully placed it on the dead woman’s chest, then folded her hands over the picture and closed her eyes. At least they could be together now, the surgeon reflected sentimentally.
Outside in the car the surgeon drove down the road and contemplated the next move. Succorbenoth would be angry at this. He needed to have the release, relish in the power over others. No he wouldn’t. The surgeon shook the notion away. He is just my character and this game has gone on for too long. The risks are increasing and no longer outweighing the benefit so it’s got to end.
With a confident mind the surgeon pulled over, took out a mobile phone and dialled a number that had been committed to memory a long time ago. A familiar deep paternal voice answered. “Hello, Dr Adrian Carter speaking”.
“Hello Dr Carter I need an appointment. It’s Sarah Littlechild here”.
Sarah Littlechild, surgeon, killer, psychopath, arrived at the hospital early for her shift as she always did. As she was getting changed she took a deep breath to try and settle herself and calm the choppy waters of her mind. It had been one hell of a morning and she was still feeling giddy from the exhilaration of killing two people at once. The feeling of euphoria hadn’t lasted this long for a while now. Sometimes the exhilaration would begin fading in less than a few minutes. She had played the game and taken a total of nine lives now. Nine lives that she could recall anyway. No, she had taken nine! It was someone else out there who had done the others!
The gleeful satisfaction could still be felt nearly an hour afterwards. Although she knew it was wrong and one day she would be caught, she also knew that the urge would return and she would need to play the game again. This high would stay with her for some time but when it subsided and she felt the stirrings again, Succorbenoth would need to take another life or would it be two again next time? Was the number of times she killed related to the intensity of the feelings? Or perhaps it was the opportunistic element where nothing was planned and anything could have happened that intensified the encounter? This was another variable to consider. In the past people had died on her operating table, it was natural but what about a colleague; someone unimportant like a porter? What would that feel like? Someone a little more challenging? No! That was dangerous thinking. Always, it had been planned, meticulously worked out and executed to perfection to cover any unexpected eventualities. She was not as strong as she once was and as her inhibitions had weakened so her needs had increased and the game was escalating out of control.
Sarah Littlechild was seeing Dr Carter tomorrow and she would get what she needed from him to take control again. She had known Dr Carter since she was a little girl and he had proved himself to be a good enough therapist to give Sarah what she needed to control her feelings. It had been during one of her sessions with Dr Carter that she had come up with the name Succorbenoth to refer to her ‘shadow’. The Shadow, as Dr Carter called it, was the dark sinister part of her psyche where all her fears and pain were stored. Through their sessions Dr Carter had taught her how to reconcile parts of her ‘shadow’ and lock away other parts so that they never affected her. Sarah likened it to Pandora’s box. From time to time during moments of great stress the lock would weaken and the box would open freeing her murderous desires, hatred, pain and fear like a plague. She had managed to keep Succorbenoth locked away for years but he had returned again and the games resumed.
In the past a slight nick to an artery or a stitch left undone would remind her how powerful she was. Unlike the average surgeon who had a god complex, Sarah really was a god. She was Succorbenoth and would choose whether the patient would die or bring them back to grateful relatives. Unfortunately this no longer satisfied the need and following the ‘tragic’ death of her husband who was initiating divorce proceedings; she had taken to validating her god-like power in a much less subtle way. In moments of clear reflection Sarah suspected this event; the announcement of the divorce was the trigger for these games and had heralded the return of Succorbenoth. It was her husband’s fault and so he was the first to die. After that Sarah had started selecting victims or subjects for the experiment from the local community.
A chirping sound brought her attention back to the hospital and she looked down at her bleeper. An emergency admission was en-route; stab wound to the chest. Sarah hurried to Accident and Emergency and met with the surgical team. As always there was a team beneath her in these situations. Sarah scrubbed up and was assisted to put on her surgical gown by one of her menials. “Tell me what we’ve got” Sarah ordered.
“Middle-aged male with stab wounds to the chest and left thigh. Blood Pressure is stable but the paramedics believe the wound has penetrated the cardiac muscle” said one of the menials.
“Set up the crash trolley over here” another person said in the background as the description of Robert Jones settled over Sarah like a winter frost.
“Looks like our friend has struck again” said another person. “Police are accompanying them”. Sarah felt a moment of shock but immediately asserted control over herself again. What is going on? The earlier victim was clearly dead. Sarah had no doubt about that and she never made mistakes. Sarah considered the situation: She had been in hospital for over an hour and if this patient was still alive after sustaining these injuries, they must have received them no longer than twenty minutes ago so this was not her victim. This was evidence of the copycat killer and she would be able to see first-hand what the copycat was doing. Statistically 90 per cent of patients admitted with cardiac stab wounds would survive so questions would be raised if this patient didn’t survive.
It was an anxious few minutes and as the trolley was wheeled into the theatre, cold unfeeling detachment took over once again. Sarah risked a quick glance at the patients face and her moment of panic receded as she confirmed this was not Robert Jones laying before her. Although, the wounds were the same as the ones she employed on her victims. Sarah did not have time to ponder this as she got to work and performed her art.
Sarah finished her work and reflected on the outcome; the patient remained in a critical condition but he was stable and he would live. Feeling reassured, Sarah pushed the thoughts away and focused on her work for the rest of the shift.
The following morning Sarah had finished her shift and was heading home. She drove back to her house, went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of red wine. She was tired and contemplated whether she should do some chores first or going straight to bed ready to see Dr Cater later that afternoon. While she debated the issue with herself the doorbell rang. She sighed wearily and walked back down the hallway. However, as she went to open the door it suddenly crashed open, knocking her backwards. A figure in black entered the hallway and knocked her to the floor, the wine splashed across the wall like blood pumped from a severed artery. Sarah had no time to react and in less than a heart beat the intruder was upon her, holding her down so she could not move.
“You should not have opened the door” the attacker said in a menacing voice. Sarah tried to struggle but he was too strong and had her pinned to the floor. She tried to fight him but could not move, then curiously he got to his feet yet Sarah still couldn’t move. Recognition came when she noticed the small needle stick injury; a plastic syringe was sticking up from her leg. Sarah felt her muscles weaken and her vision wavered but she remained conscious. Her mind raced as she tried to move, tried to call out but her muscles refused to obey her.
The copy-cat killer had come here to her home she realised. If only he knew who she was. Sarah tried to say something but her mouth would not form any words. In the same way she showed her victims her weapon as part of the psychological torture the copycat drew out a long silver blade and Sarah almost smiled at the irony. She didn’t feel scared straight away, not even when the knife was pressed to her throat. A part of Sarah felt relief; Succorbenoth would end here. She wouldn’t have to play the games anymore, wouldn’t have to become this character again. A sense of acceptance came over her as she waited for the killing blow.
Sarah did not feel scared straight away. Sarah’s fear came when the intruder bent over her and said “You have angered Succorbenoth. You didn’t think you were his only vassal did you?” Despite the paralysis Sarah shivered and silently said a small prayer, but she knew no one would answer it.