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John the Baptist

by jonnyhols 

Posted: 31 May 2011
Word Count: 2438
Summary: A story about a man who can hear strange voices that give him special powers and sociopathic urges.

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John the Baptist wedged the plastic slats of the blind open with two pale fingers and peered out of his fourteenth-storey window. A beam of sunlight probed through the crack into the dim living space and half-illuminated the four bare walls of the room. He eyed the horizon and blinked in the morning sun, which was steadily rising over the estate, already the stifling heat would be softening the tarmac of the thoroughfares and pathways, bleeding into the metal and glass surfaces of the city.

The tower’s twin-sibling, Quantock Rise B, blotted out a large section of the sky and his view, casting a great shadow over the maze of council terraces sprawling at its feet like some colossal sun-dial. The distant surfaces of the financial sector sparkled and shimmered, the exhaust from untold motor vehicles already clogging the thin and fetid urban air.
He spied a summer storm brewing to the north-west and grinned for the first time in days at the thunderhead looming on the skyline. At last the oppressive heat-wave promised to break, and for him the hours of brooding and skulking with it. Those dark clouds, he knew, promised the perfect conditions for Devine reception.

With the blinds replaced and his eyes adjusted back to the habitual gloom of his flat, he sauntered into the shadows of the kitchen, washed his little blue and pink pills down the kitchen plug-hole. Same drill every morning.

He had long since decided against living in denial; it was definitely not a preferable existence to this one. He hated the cocktail of anti-psychotics Doctor Arshad prescribed him; for one thing, they stopped the voices, not to mention made the tips of his fingers numb, and reduced him to little more than a flesh husk. Unfortunately he was required to take them as a condition of his release back into society.

There had been a time when he had almost wanted to believe the voices were not real. Doctor Arshad had nearly succeeded in convincing him they weren’t. But fighting them stretched his already tenuous sanity to near breaking-point; it was impossible to resist the urges the voices triggered, like swimming against a rip-tide, sooner or later your body fails and you get dragged under, better to go with the flow and see where it takes you, take a chance on making your way later in calmer waters.

John could not remember exactly when he first heard the voices. They had begun to filter through the ether sometime after he lost all his hair and had the epiphany - or as the shrinks called it, his psychotic episode. The medical terminology and the timing were not important however. Not to him anyway. The only thing that mattered was the underlying message the voices carried, and on that front they were quite clear.

They told him simply this: Kill.

Shortly after the first specks of rain hit the glass, the heavens finally opened and the downpour began in earnest. He opened the blinds fully then, stripped butt-naked, knelt before the window and laid his forehead on the cool glass. He shook slightly with anticipation, straining to focus on the aural equivalent of the middle distance, listening in to the gaping void at the centre of all things.

Eventually he was perfectly still. Perfectly calm. The staccato crash of the rain zoned him out and tuned him in, and sure enough, mesmerised by the sound and the sight of the rainwater sluicing down the other side of the glass, the voices came to him, a scratchy chorus of Divine instruction encoded in the white noise of the storm.

The sensation was purely aural at first, a distant susurration that tickled his eardrums. A sibilant voice whispering his name over and over. The sound of that irresistible rasp swept slowly down the spectrum from high to mid to low, then into subsonic wavelengths; spreading gradually through his body like a warming tot of rum, or a slow dip in a steaming bath, a blissful rush emanating from within yet also from without.

When the storm finally abated and the ecstatic chorus faded away, he lay back panting on the carpet as if basking in a post-coital glow. A soft current of air circulated the room and dried the patina of sweat all over his hairless body, cooling his skin and raising pale gooseflesh as he lay on the floor staring at the ceiling.

Once he had regained his breath and showered, a feeling of boundless energy suffused him. An empowering and confidence-boosting feeling that would last for weeks after.

But for all that he felt great, a fervent bloodlust would slowly boil-up from his core as the hours and days wore on. And despite the fact he knew an act of murderous violence was imminent, curiously, amazingly, he was still cool as a cucumber on the outside; somehow all that aggression was stored-up and controlled, ready to be channelled to whatever purpose he saw fit.

He wore green contact lenses and a short dun-coloured wig, dressed in the urban camouflage of baseball cap and tracksuit. He examined himself in the mirror and liked what he saw, felt ready to tackle the world again.

A new man had been reborn.

On the rare occasions he had to leave the flat when the heavens had been silent for a while, he felt only dark depression and paranoia. Without a disguise, he was as bald as an arse with an almost perfectly spherical head, pudgy cheeks and very round, pale blue eyes. These features configured to give his countenance a permanent look of mild surprise. The gormless expression combined with the way he shuffled along the path, head bowed straight down staring almost at his feet, lent him the appearance of a simpleton.

Today the lift doors pinged open and he swaggered languorously across the ground floor landing of Tower Block A, padding lithe and softly like a big cat. Pumped yet totally relaxed, he stared without acknowledgment at the man he passed in the corridor by the communal post boxes. Mick Runsdale was the wife-beater and drunk from flat number 42. He gave the man a heavy-lidded stare, the desultory glance that a recently-sated tiger might give a child on the other side of the bars in a zoo, perhaps. The man cowed and put his head down, clutching his little plastic carrier bag with the usual eight clanging cans of Stella Artois in it. A late breakfast no doubt.

In these lucid spells John would ponder what had happened to him in the storms. Whatever force had reached out and touched him through the ether, be it Devine or otherwise, it illuminated his mind, rewired his senses, supercharged his cognitive processes and lent him uncanny powers of perception and memory.

He recalled the first victim he killed, and afterwards, coming home in the small hours with a ravenous hunger. Whilst grilling a slab of sirloin steak, he grabbed a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and casually threw a handful into the empty saucepan on the unit. They rattled loudly when they hit the stainless-steel bottom and as the sound registered there was a purple flash in his peripheral vision and the number five hundred and forty-four came to mind. The exact number of peas he had thrown into the pan. He knew it for certain somehow, but to test his theory he counted them out on the kitchen unit and stood there agape when he got to the last one.Five hundred and forty-four.

He soon found his talents did not just run to counting peas. His memory was impeccable too. By the act of intercepting their morning post whenever possible and that of simply observing and listening to his neighbours go about their daily business, he found he could keep an assiduous mental catalogue of all their tawdry and sordid lives; he had lived here only a month yet had already collated an exhaustive list of names, faces, flat numbers, petty crimes and assorted bits of dirt on nearly three quarters of the three-hundred and sixty odd co-inhabitants in the Tower, all stored in the vast filing cabinet that was his mind since the epiphany.

He checked that Runsdale had gone and nobody else was about, then using one of many long rods on a key-ring he pulled from his pocket, systematically opened and rifled several locked post boxes, swiping bills, documents, postcards, anything that could be of potential interest, stuffing them into his jacket.

He would steam them open and peruse them later at his leisure, scan and store the images away in the back of his mind, reseal and deliver them back to the corresponding boxes the next day.

The rain had stopped completely by midday and the sun shone intermittently through the patches of cloud scudding across the sky. A group of truanting school kids loitered in the walled-off courtyard of wheelie bins and washing lines that passed as the Tower’s garden. Even in his hyper-state he steered clear of them; if there was one thing he truly feared it was kids. He didn’t as a rule discriminate when he picked a victim, but he didn’t take children, though not because of any particular morale restraint. It was simply that he wasn’t a paedophile but a paedophobe. Children scared him. Although he would never admit it to himself, he suspected deep down that something in their relative innocence gave them the ability to see straight through his supercharged shell to the frightened and pathetic man cringing inside.

Time was a-ticking and he needed to make the final preparations for the fun and games that would ensue tonight. He made his way briskly down the street in the shadow of the twin towers, hyper-alert, drinking in the tumult of sensory input the neighbourhood offered.

He had found British council estates had a high concentration of people that qualified for immediate execution. The Quantock estate was no exception. The rows of red brick terraces were identical in structure, like Lego blocks, each with a squat chimney stack and flat-tarred roof, varying only in the shape and colour of their satellite dishes and degrees of dilapidation and neglect. Here a front garden might overflow with knee-high grass and rubbish-strewn weeds, there a tarmac drive might keep nature at bay but display the charming fixture of a rusty Ford Sierra on bricks as it centre-piece.

To break up these seemingly endless vistas of decrepitude, every so often there would be some bastion of domestic order in amongst the chaos and squalor, someone with some pride in their place in life, a lick of fresh paint and a well-tended lawn to decorate the façade of the living tomb they chose to rot their lives away in.

A narrow tract of scrubland slithered its way between the grimy brick archways of the old West Street rail link and the wire-fenced parking lot of a disused train depot opposite. The sun’s heat was fierce on the back of his neck, so he kept to the shade of the trees overhanging the tracks. This morning’s heavy downpour had kicked up an earthy smell in the foliage and softened the ground underfoot. He listened to the bird-song and the soft pitter-patter of moisture dripping from the canopy overhead into the undergrowth. The sound manifested as a slowly fading trail of white and yellow dots across his field of vision. Some other visual anomaly was bleeding from above as well, an occasional pinkish throb. He thought maybe it was the disused power-lines buzzing intermittently over the broken tracks, as if the city was still trying to use its disabled limb. Inexplicably, this notion brought on a fleeting but profound pang of sadness.

Soon the tracks banked east on their circuitous and long-abandoned route to the city-centre, he carried straight on to a ragged hole cut in a wire-fence and ducked through into the parking lot of the Manor Trading Estate where his workshop was located.

Despite being a Monday afternoon the place was virtually deserted. There were a few men milling about waiting for delivery by the open loading bay of a toy factory across the way, but all the other warehouses on the south side of the lot were boarded up. The recent recession had put paid to the vast majority of businesses operating here. This meant dirt-cheap ground rent; despite the fact he did not want for money, he had managed to hard-nose the landlord into leasing him a small lock-up on a one month rolling basis at a knock-down rate.

A window and conservatory company had leased it before him, a dingy room with two banks of five desks for ten telesales clerks. Another separate desk wedged in the corner for the sales manager. The terminals and telephones had gone but there were still bits of office paraphernalia littered about the place, empty plastic cups, scattered reams of paper charts and sales projections. A league table of sales reps was still scrawled on a whiteboard mounted on the wall. The name Roy, he noted, was at the top of the league, way out in front with twelve sales, nearly double the amount the rest of the team had managed. He wondered about Roy, what he looked like, how he spoke; full of bullshit no doubt, bullying old ladies down the phone all day with his hard sell techniques, posturing round the office like the alpha-male. He would love to spend some quality time with Roy, whoever he was, and show him the error of his ways.

He unlocked an adjoining door and flicked a light switch on, the powerful halide lamp he had installed buzzed to life, illuminating the storage room with a strong natural white light. There were no windows and all the walls were painted white which intensified the light and gave the place a suitably Devine glow that hurt the eyes to look at. In the centre of the room a burnished tin bathtub glinted in the light. This was his blessed bathtub of Holy water in which he would give tonight’s victim a baptism of death if all went well.

The media circus had dubbed him John the Baptist after the police found the third body drowned in a bathtub. The name had tickled him. It was only right he should live up to the epithet now.

He grabbed a sports holdall that was lying on the floor just inside the door, turned off the lights, relocked up, and made his way across the office and back out into the estate.

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Comments by other Members

BifferSpice at 13:51 on 03 June 2011  Report this post
lovely opening, and some nice touches throughout. without wanting to sound weird, i think you need an actual killing in here. you seem to have the writing chops to pull it off, but i want to be shocked in a story like this, and i want a meaty description of the act of murder. as it is, i feel somewhat of an anti-climax as this story ends.

by the way, you write "devine" rather than divine" about three times i think. unless that's a joke reference i don't know about, they need fixing.

thanks for the read

Becca at 10:52 on 04 June 2011  Report this post
Hi Jon,
this story is written well. I liked the descriptions of your man's surroundings - I almost felt I recognised some of the scenes. I thought this was terrific:- '...already the stifling heat would be softening the tarmac of the thoroughfares and pathways, bleeding into the metal and glass surfaces of the city.'

I've always associated the idea of 'thin air' with mountains and therefore healthy environments - and 'fetid' doesn't seem to go with 'thin.'

I do wonder if you need the 'John could not remember' paragraph and 'They told him simply to kill.' I tend to think that if you could write this moody and sinister story without direct reference to killing at all it could be even stronger and more atmospheric. That's the opposite to David's response.

'He recalled the first victim he killed...' would he refer to them as victims? It's usually someone who isn't a murderer who would call murdered people victims. Also, if he uses the bath to drown them in and he's pleased with the idea of being called John the Baptist, perhaps he might think instead of the first person he'd baptised?

I love that he's afraid of kids, but would he, in his state of power, acknowledge the existence of a frightened man inside him?

P.J. at 16:53 on 05 June 2011  Report this post
You are fairly new to the group but I feel you are not new to writing, not by a long chalk? I admired your descriptions tho' I agree with Becca about the thin air. I also agree about the word 'victims' but I can't think of an alternative. Unless, as John the Baptist, he might see them as his own chosen disciples?
You say his victims were found in a bathtub, presumably different bathtubs? So does this mean the lockup is only to be used for his next victim, that he would need yet another for future use?

A new man had been reborn.
Can a new man be reborn?

He grabbed a sports holdall that was lying on the floor
This must have some significence. Perhaps just a hint of what was in it? Just to wet the appetite, so to speak.

jonnyhols at 13:03 on 06 June 2011  Report this post
Hi All,

Thanks very much for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated, and I shall return the favor in due course.

I have to say I agree with all the comments so far, they've been very helpful. I'm currently sub-conciously processing it all somewhere in the back of my skull and a re-write is immminent, just wish I weren't stuck at work right now and could crack on with it....ho hum.

Thinking maybe this is gonna be the first chapter in a longer piece now, as ideas keep occurring.

Thanks again, you've given me much food for thought. :D


euclid at 20:50 on 11 June 2011  Report this post
This reads like something by Michael Connelly.

A good editor would suggest some tightening here and there, I think. For example:

a condition of his release back into society

Would probably be better without the last 3 words.

He eyed the horizon and blinked in the morning sun, which was steadily rising over the estate, already the stifling heat would be softening the tarmac of the thoroughfares and pathways, bleeding into the metal and glass surfaces of the city.

Shouldn't this be two sentences? ...estate. Already...

buck naked (not butt-naked)?

morale restraint should be moral constraint

Nice piece. I'm glad you're planning to extend it.


Gerry at 11:28 on 12 June 2011  Report this post

Hello Jon,

I'd go along with the above comments: very nicely written, but maybe in need of tightening up in a few places. And it would be nice to see how it worked out as an extended piece.

If it was me, I'd look at trying to shave things down a little bit, get rid of any redundancies. Did you need to say, for example, that the morning sun was 'steadily rising'? I felt I didn't need to be told this (what else would a 'morning sun' do?) and got distracted; which was a pity because the next bit about the tarmac etc. was terrific. (All very much IMO - a niggle that probably only bothers me perhaps.)

Otherwise, this was good stuff.



CatherineZ at 00:09 on 30 July 2011  Report this post
I especially enjoyed this line:

Today the lift doors pinged open and he swaggered languorously across the ground floor landing of Tower Block A, padding lithe and softly like a big cat.

but feel this expression:


is wrong as you've written in quite a formal tone and 'a-ticking' isn't formal.

To tell you the truth I couldn't read it properly because it upset me, as all this type of writing does ( I can't read about murders) but it is very well written and the way you describe the Baptist helps me literally see him (yuk!)

I do feel that the murder have been given more description - how did he feel? what did he accomplish by murdering?

The fact that you have him not killing children, really touched me, for some reason it ,made it more real. I have a friend who is schizophrenic and he almost killed his mother - he never, ever has so much as told off any neighbour's children even if they bother him all the time.

It is very well written and if you incorporate what the comments above have ponted out, it'll be a perfect piece.

(Spelling error - Devine = Divine, as mentioned above.)

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