“Here’s your cup of coffee. Now you sit here while I go and make dinner for us.”, said Beth softly and walked away.
Henry picked up the cup while swinging back and forth in his rocking chair. As he turned the page of his Agatha Christie classic thriller, he murmured to himself,” There is a reason why Agatha’s books are classic. Aah! The writers these days don’t have the knack for suspense. How is it a good thriller if it can’t keep you hooked till the last page?!”
Sipping the hot coffee from his cup, his eyes wandered off to the enormous bookshelf in front of him. He smiled as he admired his own collection of fictional books – crime thrillers, mysteries and all sorts of suspensive literature. He beamed with pride looking at his own creations that he had so carefully preserved in the shelf.
Henry was a celebrated author and novelist of his time and had written 11 best-selling books during his writing career. Back in the day, there was no competition to the thrill that his books incited among the readers. He knew just the right trick and gave such nasty plot twists that even the most intelligent minds could not anticipate them. His study was decorated with fan letters, expensive gifts and honorary awards. In the drawers of an old almirah lied his manuscripts and drafts for the books that never got published. 15 years earlier, when he had announced his voluntary retirement from his writing career without giving any particular reason, the news had shaken the literary world. Letters and messages from different parts of the world had started pouring in for Henry to return back. Sensing his demand in the market, notable publishers had approached him with the offer of huge sum of money. But life had something else in store for him.
It all started after his 11th book had been published and he was working on his next one. Henry started “seeing things” that weren’t happening or weren’t present around him. He ignored such experiences for a long time until one day Beth noticed that he was looking out from his bedroom’s window and shouting at someone. She rushed inside and looked down the window, only to find nobody there.
“Who are you shouting at, Daddy?”, Beth asked in complete bafflement.
“That son of a bitch there, hitting that little girl on the subway.”
Beth was taken aback by her father’s reply. With beads of sweat on her forehead and a shaky voice, she said,” Daddy, there’s no one on the subway.”
Henry broke down into tears and explained the entire situation to Beth, while narrating the similar experiences that he had had earlier. Upon Beth’s insistence, he finally agreed to consult a doctor for treatment. But he wasn’t ready for what the doctor had suggested him to do. The doctor had diagnosed him with ‘Schizophrenia’ and explained how he had been having severe hallucinations.
“One of the possible reasons”, the doctor said, “seems to be your grave indulgence in writing fictional books. You imagine stories and characters to write your novel and over the years you might have lost the ability to differentiate between reality and fiction. Most of your hallucinations have been violent or involve some kind of a thrilling experience, more or less like the books you have written.”
Up until now, Henry and Beth had been listening with utter attention. But the next words that came out from the doctor’s mouth almost made Henry fall out of his chair.
The doctor continued,” I would recommend that you stop writing the kind of books that you currently write. Nothing fictional or suspensive or thriller. You could write non-fiction, if you will.”
For all his life, Henry had only read and written fiction. As much as he wanted to continue writing, he could not change his literary style so easily and leave something that he had enjoyed working on for the past 21 years.
So deep was his love for writing thrillers, that even after doctor’s recommendation, he continued to do so when Beth was out for work. His love for his writing was like that of a mother for her child – however bad or hurting the child may be, the mother’s heart always reaches out to the child. He tried hard to not pay any heed to his hallucinations, but his condition worsened day by day. Then one evening, Beth was alone at home while Henry had gone out for his evening walk. At around quarter past six, she heard a knock on the door. When she unbolted the door, a police officer was standing at the step.
“Are you Beth Williams?”, asked the officer in his deep husky voice.
Beth nodded her head. The police officer went up to his car and brought out a man from within. Beth’s eyes grew wide when she saw Henry with the officer. His hair was scattered and his face was flush red. His shirt was wet from sweat.
Before Beth could shoot her stream of questions at the officer, he started, “We found him running back and forth on the subway. It seemed like he was shouting at someone, only that there was no one to shout at. One of my colleagues, being a nerd that he is, recognized him as Henry Williams – the famous author. It took us around 25 minutes to calm him down so we could know his house address. He seems to be disturbed with something. Is he sick?”
“Ye-yeah”, Beth stuttered,” He-he has a condition.”
The officer handed him over to Beth and drove away.
As soon as Beth held him by his shoulders, he burst into tears,” I am sorry, Beth. It’s all my fault. Even after listening to what doctor had said, I continued writing and working on my next book. I should have listened to his advice. I have been nothing but a source of trouble for you.”
Beth took him inside. After calming him down and getting him changed into fresh clothes, she said in a soothing voice, “You have worshipped your work for all your life. It is an injustice on you if we expect you to stop writing all of a sudden. The doctor had indicated to me in person that this might happen, only he had not expected the condition to worsen so much.”
Ever since that evening, Henry had stopped writing completely. He had also been advised to not go outside of his house alone. Since Beth used to be at work all week, so it was only weekends when Henry could go out with her. He spent the days inside his house sitting by the window, reading a book on some occasions and noticing the people outside at others. While observing the people walking on the road, driving inside their cars or those who lived in the houses across the street, he used to build up his own stories in his head. At times, his imagination went too far and he confused his imagined stories with reality. Over the years, he had got used to it, and so did Beth.
He was following his usual routine today, sipping his coffee and reading a book. Amidst his fascination for his collection, he felt like taking a break from the Agatha Christie book that he was reading. He kept the book aside after neatly placing the bookmark in it and started looking out the window.
It was unusually cold that evening and the snowfall had stopped just an hour ago. His eyes rested upon Mrs. Catherine, the pretty lady in her late forties who lived in the house right across the street. Watching her sitting in her living area, with her fingers running swiftly on the piano keys, gave Henry a sense of calm. In a few moments, Henry got lost in his observation. He closed his eyes and imagined her playing Lionel Richie’s ‘Just Go’. Such was the strength of his imagination, that he could hear the tunes playing in his ears, as if they were being played for real.
After a while, he opened his eyes and saw that Mrs. Catherine’s husband, Derek, had now joined her in the living room. He was standing right behind her, with his hands rested on her shoulder as she continued to play the piano. Looking at the beautiful couple, Henry remembered his own wife who had died 8 years after they got married. The memories ran through his mind like a movie and in the next moment, a tear welled up at the corner of his eye. As he raised his hand to wipe the tear drop and look at the happy couple, a wave of horror ran down his body. Through the window, he saw Derek holding a knife in his hand. Before he could get back to his senses and raise an alarm, blood splashed before his eyes as Derek continued to stab his wife.
Horrified by the sight, Henry screamed loudly and fell down on the floor on his knees. Beth came running from the kitchen. He held her hand and said frighteningly, “He killed her, Beth. He murdered Catherine. Look, through the window. I saw her, and him. He killed her.”
Beth looked through the window and said,” She seems perfectly alright, Daddy. Get up and see for yourself. She’s just sitting there by herself and playing the piano.” Henry got up hurriedly and saw that Beth was right.
“It’s just in your head, Daddy. Come, dinner’s ready.”, Beth said.
Just as Henry and Beth sat down on the dining table, they heard a loud siren from somewhere.
“What’s that? I’ll go and check”, Beth said and went down to take a look.
Henry had just put a few spoons of food in his mouth and was relishing the spaghetti Beth had made, when she came running. With an expression of shock and disbelief, she said, “It’s the police. Derek from across the street had called them to confess his crime. Catherine – sh-she’s dead!”