By Jefferson Hunt.
It was the night before they would find him dead, Winter imagined. He took the pistol down from his temple and cradled it in his lap like a kitten, like a sweet thing and stroked its onyx black handle. It felt right in his palm as he curled his fingers around it.
Winter stood from his bed and padded slowly across the floor with the milky luster of the moon spilling through the window and washing across the wood. Tomorrow was the eight-year anniversary of his father’s death, and suddenly, Winter felt like an old man, stoop shouldered, the pistol dragging him down.
He stood at the window with his feet apart, spun the pistol’s cylinder, and held the gun out at arm’s length. He peered out across the sight, over the few rooftops, the silver ribbons of roads converging and diverging into the desert distance. He wondered which his mother had taken.
She had called him at Saint Thomas Aquinas West Residential Psychiatric Hospital that morning. “Winter,” she said. Her voice was warm, he remembered, as always. She always spoke kindly to him. “I want to come visit for the weekend. Do you have any plans?”
Plans? He had actually smiled into the phone but replied, “Mother,” like it had been a bad joke.
She said, “Your new doctor, Doctor O’Connor, says you’ve made some good progress this week. I just love her old-Irish accent. It reminds me of great-grandma Brennan.” She tried to chat away the silence between them.
He had bowed his forehead to the desktop in the doctor’s office.
The dread of having a seizure in public was always too much for him. People looked at him like he was a freak. At fifteen, he felt he was. “I don’t want to go out,” he said.
“No problem, I’m just coming up to see you anyway.”
Doctor O’Connor had stepped out of her office just to let him have a private conversation with his mother. Maybe that’s when he thought of it. Maybe it was this anniversary that made him think of it. He knew his father would understand.
He took the Doctor’s car keys from her purse in the bottom drawer of the desk and dropped them jangling into his shorts’ pocket. Then, he sneaked out to the parking lot and drove her car the long way home so he would be sure not to pass his mother on her way from home to Saint Thomas. It seemed that it had taken him forever to drive the miles.
At home looking out his bedroom window, along the streets leading up the hill through the sparse suburbs and the moonlight, Winter could see the headlights of a car lancing through the darkness. That’s the way it had looked to him when he was seven with his mother racing after the ambulance the night his father died.
As he remembered, Winter blinked back the tears welling up in his eyes. But they spilled over, scuttling down his cheeks. He lowered the gun to rub them away on his shoulders.
When he had arrived home from Saint Thomas that evening, he shut the car off and coasted to a stop in the drive. He set the parking brake and left the keys in the ignition, then let himself in the house.
Just inside the front door was a mirror. It had almost surprised Winter to see himself there. He looked changed. His blue eyes were hollow. His thick, silky black hair hung shaggy and uneven. He was pale and gaunt.
He turned from his own reflection and padded slowly down the hall that led to his parents’ bedroom. Winter opened the door noiselessly and blinked in the dimness. His mother had kept out his father’s things all along and it smelled of him, his favorite sweet-musky cologne. He crept in feeling he was invading, though the carpet hushed his intrusion.
He opened the closet door where the pants his father had worn hung. His shoes lay in pairs on the floor. Winter knelt down in the closet under the pants. He knelt under the jackets, the shirts and ties, and smelled the leather of his father’s shoes.
In a back corner, there was a metal safe box. There where Winter had always known it had been, was the last thing his father had touched while he had been alive, the gun. The key to the box was in his brown tweed jacket with the leather patches. Winter reached back to unlock the box and drew the gun out into the somber light.
His father, while he had been alive, had been plagued the same as Winter was now, and the same as his father before him. Winter remembered one time when he had been four. His father had been talking, Winter thought, to some imaginary friend. Winter heard him from the hall say, “I don’t understand! What do you want?”
“Winter. Go get your mother.” He had sounded stern, so Winter quickly obeyed. When they returned, his father was on the floor, convulsing. His eyes had rolled up in his head, his eyelids fluttered, foam collected at the corners of his mouth. His head twitched as if it couldn’t get back far enough. Now and again, one of his legs or arms would shoot out. Then in his delirium, he began talking in a language neither one understood.
Winter had been beside himself with fear. “Mommy! What’s wrong? I’m scared!” His child’s voice spiraled up its range into a scream. But he couldn’t turn away.
His mother tried to clear things out of the way, keep Winter’s father on his side. “Winter, it will be okay. He will be fine.” But her brows were knit; her hands trembled.
“Mommy, he was talking to someone!”
“There was no one there; he will be fine.”
But he was not.
Three years later, he left a note saying how much he loved Frannie, his wife, and Winter, but he just couldn’t go on. The seizures had gotten bad for him; he would have them almost daily. “I am always afraid, always recovering from one just to have another. Life is impossible for me. I see no help. I have no life outside of a dead boy who visits me too often lately.” Then, he put a bullet through his head.
That was the night Winter’s life had been seized by the boy.
Kneeling in the closet, he turned the pistol over in his hands. The dead boy would be back. Winter reached back into the lock box and drew out a bullet. Winter would wait for him and went up to his room where he cried shamelessly from the raw memories, holding the gun stiffly out from his body.
He ran his knuckles across his eyes and his fingers through his hair. He felt so tired, so weary of it all.
A cold chill ran up the back of his neck making him shiver. He felt that familiar feeling. His scalp tingled. He began to twitch nervously. He could feel the boy there.
“Éist a Dhia le mo ghuí.” the boy said, his voice hollow and distant. He stood there, ethereal. His hair was bright copper-penny red. He wore the same woolen suit he had always worn, moss green with knee pants and a short-waisted jacket.
“What do you want with me!” Winter ground out the words through his clenched teeth. He heard the front door bang open downstairs.
His mother and Doctor O’Connor raced to the bedroom and to the closet. “The gun!” Frannie wailed.
The boy said, his hands out to Winter, “Treoraigh anois mo shaol sa….”
“No!” Winter’s breath came uneven. “No! Why do you do this to me?” His head twitched on his shoulders. He raised the gun toward his own head. Now, he would never be tormented again.
The boy crossed the distance between himself and Winter like a cloud on the wind and drove himself like nails into Winter till they were one. Winter gasped, throwing back his shoulders and arms, arching his back till his knees collapsed and he fell to the floor. Then he spoke out as the boy had.
Frannie threw open the bedroom door and ran to wrench the gun out of Winter’s fist. Doctor O’Connor made it half way before she realized what she was hearing. She had never heard Winter speak during a seizure before. It was her native Irish. She translated out loud. “I have no peace. At my father’s hands I died a cruel death. My bones lay where he left me. Bury me as a Christian so I may have my peace.”
His bones, they found, lay under the rubble of a destroyed Irish cottage under the remains of an English manor house outside Belfast, the place of Winter’s ancestral home. There they buried the boy’s bones in the family cemetery. There, Winter began to mine the mystery of his own peace.
The author, JEFFERSON HUNT, himself lives with epilepsy. When people have asked what it is like to have a seizure, his response is often that he can’t describe it. Privately, though, he describes it as possession. The genesis of this story is with that idea, that epilepsy is caused by possession. In the story, the possession is by an unsettled spirit. Jefferson often writes of things that bother him and blends them with wondering what if. He has published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in university magazines and newspapers and has published fiction and poetry in online publications like Long Story Short and in print publications in the United States and India. He has also written in a variety of online communities. Currently, he is a member of the Scribophile community of writers.