Festivities

At first he didn't recognise the tune.

It came floating to him through a cacophony of sounds so dense that he almost winced. The blare of hooters from the traffic close by. The constant babble of voices around him, most of which were foreign anyway. All the extraneous sounds seemed to merge to form one vast symphony of noise that made the mellow tones of the tune almost impossible to pick out.

But Ronald Foster persevered, pausing for a moment, cocking an ear in the direction of the four musicians who stood outside Selfridges.

He smiled. 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. That was it, he thought smugly, humming the tune now as he made his way through the bustle of shoppers towards the four musicians. A number of people were actually standing watching them, but most passed by without casting even a cursory glance and even fewer threw coins into the bucket which stood on the pavement before them. Foster on the other hand removed one hand from inside the long coat he wore dug into his pocket and fished out some coins. He stood there contentedly for a moment watching and listening, even singing softly to himself as they reached each chorus. Finally he tossed two pound coins into the bucket and smiled broadly at the closest of the four musicians who nodded in acknowledgement and continued playing.

As Foster reached the revolving doors of the main entrance he heard the strains of 'Silent Night' begin to drift through the other wall of noise. He hummed that too as he entered the store.

A security guard smiled at him and Foster returned the gesture, both hands now buried deep in the pockets of his long coat.

At once Foster sniffed the air, enjoying the cloying odour of so many perfumes. He loved the combination of scents and he walked slowly around the department, drinking in each smell, glancing at the perfectly made-up girls who populated each counter.

One of them offered to spray some after-shave on his hand and Foster nodded agreeably, holding out one hand as the girl squirted the cologne onto his skin. He sniffed it but shook his head, moving along to the next counter. The girl behind it smiled at him, all around shoppers jostled, the sound of piped Christmas music filled the store. Above him a sign read December 21st.

Beside it another hung.

MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Foster stood looking at the girl whose smile faded slightly under his undaunting gaze but, aware of how intimidating his stare had become he shook his head as if to break the spell and apologised to her. He selected a bottle of perfume and she began wrapping it for him.

Foster wondered which tune the four musicians outside were playing now.

He turned slowly and looked around him at the people who filled the perfume department. Dozens.

The girl behind the counter finished wrapping the perfume and set down the box on the counter top.

"Thank you," said Foster, smiling, loosening his coat, reaching inside. "Merry Christmas."

He pulled the Uzi sub-machine gun from inside his coat and pulled back the bolt.

The girl opened her mouth to scream but, as she did, Foster tightened his finger on the trigger. Her exhortations were lost as the deafening rattle of automatic fire erupted inside the store.

The initial burst exploded the glass counter and the bottles which stood on it, several of the bullets hitting the girl who was catapulted backwards by the impact of the high calibre shells. Two shots caught her in the chest, one of them staving in her sternum the other punching through her right breast, tearing through the lung and erupting from her back carrying a fountain of blood and several large portions of flesh and material with it. The white overall she wore rapidly turned crimson.

Foster turned, the barrel of the Uzi now spitting fire at the tight packed crowd around him.

The joyous conversation and the excited babblings were replaced by shrieks of terror and agony as the 9mm bullets cut swathes through the shoppers, bringing them down in heaps. More bullets hit other counters and the sound of shattering glass mingled with the yells and screams.

A woman tried in vain to shelter her two young children, screaming as a bullet from the Uzi struck her daughter in the face. It caught the child in the eye, drilling the socket empty and exploding the back of the child's skull. As the other child fell limply to the ground bleeding from wounds in the throat and stomach, the woman herself felt a stunning impact in the base of her spine. An impact so powerful it lifted her off her feet, cutting through the lower vertebrae with ease. The loud snap of bone could be heard even above the staccato rattle of the sub-machine gun.

Foster continued firing.

He cut down dozens more nearby then spun round and fired at the main doors. The security guard was hit in the chest and face, flung back towards one of the doors as if lifted by an invisible hand. He crashed through the glass and lay still, blood spurting madly from his wounds.

Empty shell cases from the Uzi flew into the air in a gleaming arc until finally the hammer slammed down on an empty chamber but, unhurriedly he reached into his pocket, plucked out a fresh magazine and slammed it into the weapon, opening fire once more.

At his feet an elderly man was lying on his back, his body twitching, his eyes open wide with pain and shock. One bullet had torn off his right ear, another had opened a wound in his throat and Foster watched as blood jetted from it, some of the sticky crimson spattering his own leg. He looked down at the man then fired six more shots into him. The stench of excrement mingled with the more acrid odour of cordite as a haze of bluish-grey smoke filled the hall.

The screams had subsided into moans of pain as people tried to crawl away from the scene. Others in different parts of the shop had bolted for exits, not sure where the gun-shots were coming from.

They need not have worried.

Foster stood as if cemented to the spot, firing off the odd round at anyone that moved within sight. He had flipped the Uzi to single shot. He blasted a large bottle of perfume from the counter opposite, watching as the finely scented mixture rained down over the body of a young woman who had been hit several times in the head. A sticky slop of brain had spilled from her riven skull and Foster looked in with interest at the colours formed by the spilled perfume and the reeking grey-pink brain.

There was blood everywhere.

He finally flicked the sub-machine gun back to automatic and fired at the signs above him, both of which came crashing down.

He smiled as the MERRY CHRISTMAS banner fluttered to the ground covering the bodies of the dead like some huge festive shroud.

The piped music continued to play and Foster hummed the tune as he stood surrounded by the carnage he had wrought.

He heard the sirens growing nearer but his smile never faded.

He dropped the Uzi and waited, learning against one of the counters, arms crossed, singing softly to himself.

"Sleep in heavenly peace," he intoned.

Outside there were shouts, sirens blaring loudly, men running towards him.

He smiled down at a corpse.

"Sleep in heavenly peace."

* * *

The brain looked as though it had burst.

The pink-grey tissue swelled through the hole in the skull, throbbing gently with each beat of the patients heart. Tiny rivulets of blood and clear liquid ran over the slippery surface, some dripping from the large cavity in the head. The fluid was gently and expertly wiped away.

Doctor Peter Morton peered at the pulsing organ before him then gently ran one gloved index finger over the textured surface. The brain seemed to pulse more strongly, the throbbing increased and Morton watched as the blood vessels seemed to engorge even more as if threatening to rupture.

"How much time?" he snapped, not taking his eyes off the brain.

"Two minutes at the most," a female voice close by him said. "His heart rate is falling rapidly, the pulse is fading. Close the skull now."

Morton hesitated, seemingly mesmerised by the bulging mass of grey-red matter which welled from the riven skull but then, working with skill and a speed born from years of expertise, he began to close the gaping hole.

"Heart rate holding steady," the female voice told him.

Morton worked unhurriedly, aware only of the steady blip of the oscilloscope nearby.

He finally sealed the hole in the skull, pulling the flesh over the bone and quickly and adeptly suturing it. Once that was done he wiped more blood from the flesh with a piece of cotton wool already stained with crimson.

"Heart rate stabilised," said the female voice. "Blood pressure normal."

Morton pulled off his surgical mask and wiped his face with one hand, ignoring the blood which stained his cheek in the process. Beside him his daughter, Paula, imitated his actions, both of them peering down at the unconscious form which lay on the gurney below.

Ronald Foster lay still, his breathing shallow, the small square of bound skin now covered by a piece of gauze.

* * *

"Where is Foster now?"

The words echoed around the large office, muffled it seemed by the thick cigar smoke which filled the room. Chief Warden James McIntire repeated himself when Morton failed to answer.

"He's in the infirmary," Morton said, as if suddenly roused from some kind of meditative trance. He shook his head as if to clear the lethargy which had descended. He coughed as the cigar smoke filled his lungs. McIntire merely took another drag on the cigar, blowing out a thick stream of smoke.

"Is anyone with him? Apart from your daughter?" the warden wanted to know.

"Of course they are," Morton snapped, irritably. "There are two guards down there as well."

McIntire raised his eyebrows quizzically.

"If the operation is as successful as you say, then why do you need guards?" he wanted to know.

"I won't actually know if it's successful immediately," Morton replied irritably, drumming on the arms of the chair.

"You mean you won't actually know if your little gadget works."

Morton wasn't slow to pick up the sarcasm in the warden's voice.

"It isn't a gadget, McIntire," he snapped. "It's a highly complex, sophisticated electronic device."

"Which you implanted in his brain."

"Yes. If it works, it should release hormones and chemicals which will subdue Foster's violent instincts."

The warden took another drag on his cigar and nodded.

"I know what it is and quite frankly I don't care whether it works or not. I don't care whether Foster wakes up again or not. In fact, I hope the bastard dies. He killed twenty-two people in that shop when he opened fire." McIntire shrugged. "Let him die."

"I don't think you realize the importance of the work I'm doing here," Morton said, angrily. "If it works we can treat men like Foster before they commit acts of brutality or murder."

The warden shook his head, dismissively.

"As I said, I don't care if they live or die," he muttered. "In fact, now there's no death penalty every mistake you make is like an execution." McIntire smiled. "You're inadvertently carrying out a sentence which the law no longer wants to carry out. Only instead of rope you use a scalpel." The warden's grin broadened.

"You allowed me to begin work here, I doubt if the authorities would be very happy if they knew that the chief warden of the country's largest maximum security prison was allowing his prisoners to be used as human guinea pigs for experimental brain surgery."

McIntire shrugged.

"And who's going to tell them? You?" He shook his head.

"It'll work this time," Morton said. "The ones before..." He allowed the sentence to trail off. "I'm not sure what went wrong. The implant seemed to cause an imbalance in the cellular construction of the brain, tumours formed." He shrugged.

"And you think it will work this time?" asked McIntire.

Morton nodded.

"We'll see," said the warden, turning his back to gaze out of the window.

* * *

Paula Morton took Ronald Foster's hand and gently lifted it, feeling his wrist for a pulse. It was there. Weak but unfaltering. His skin was the colour of rancid butter, his head swathed in bandages which covered most of the tope of his skull. As she watched she could see the slow rhythmic rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

The infirmary was small, less than twenty beds were arranged in neat rows on either side of a polished corridor. Foster was in the one nearest the door. On the far wall there was an advent calendar, a somewhat perfunctory reminder of the time of year. All but three of the windows on it were open and Paula glanced involuntarily at it her mind momentarily straying to thoughts other than those concerned with her patient.

December 22nd.

She wondered what the families of those killed by Morton must be feeling now. So close to Christmas. Death had no compunction it seemed, no cares for festivities. While others on the outside decorated their Christmas trees with angels the man who lay before her had been the angel of death to twenty-two men, women and children just thirty-six hours earlier. He'd been brought straight to the prison to await trial. There had been no committal proceedings, no remand sentence. They had been unnecessary. She looked at his face and thought how remarkably serene he looked. Peaceful.

It was the way her mother had looked on the morticians slab.

The face waxen and set. The eyes sunken.

The wounds.

Paula closed her eyes, trying to banish the vision from her mind, attempting to wipe away the memory. She was able to do it if she tried but she knew that the trick didn't always work. Sometimes the images were stronger and that was when the pain began.

Her mother had been murdered two years earlier.

It was shortly after that event that her father had begun his work with the brain surgery, searching for answers not for vengeance. Looking for a cure, not for a way to realise his anger and pain. He wanted to ensure that others were spared the same fate as his wife. Paula, ten months out of medical school, had been only too willing to assist him in his work. She had shared his failures but now, once more, she gazed down at the face of Ronald Foster. The man who they both hoped would prove to be their first success.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps from behind her and she turned to see her father approaching.

He asked about Foster, checked his charts and vital signs then stood beside Paula, both of them gazing down at the unconscious man as if they were conducting a vigil. After a moment or two Morton reached out and touched his daughter's shoulder.

"There's nothing more we can do tonight," he told her. "We might as well go home."

She nodded.

"What if he wakes up?" she asked.

"The guards have instructions to get in touch with me immediately he does. We can be here in ten minutes. I doubt if he'll regain consciousness tonight anyway."

Paula nodded and glanced at her watch.

10.36 p.m.

She got to her feet and walked with her father from the infirmary, glancing back at Foster while Morton spoke to the guards who were to be on duty that night and through until morning. They listened intently to their instructions then watched as Morton and his daughter walked away, one of them gazing somewhat raptly at Paula's shapely backside as she walked away disappearing around a corner out of sight. The sound of her high heels on the polished floor echoed throughout the narrow corridor.

Inside the infirmary it was silent but for the low breathing of Ronald Foster.

One of the guards peered through the small window in the door, satisfied that Foster was secure, a drip still attached to his right arm.

He didn't see Foster's eyes flicker open.

* * *

George Walters glanced at his watch and stifled a yawn.

12.17 a.m.

He reached for his mug of tea and sipped it, wincing as the cold liquid touched his lips. Walters decided to make himself a hot one.

The sound of breaking glass startled him.

He spun round and peered through the window in the door of the infirmary, his eyes fixing immediately on the motionless figure of Foster but, as Walters opened the door and stepped in he realized that the prisoner had changed position. No longer lying on his back, Foster was now on his side. A puddle of clear fluid was spreading around the bed and Walters realized that, when the prisoner had changed position he had obviously caused the drop and its contents to fall.

The guard moved closer, eyes fixed on Foster's face. There was no movement. No flicker of life. For all Walters knew the man could have been dead. Perhaps it would be a good thing if he was, Walters thought as he drew nearer. There was an alarm bell above the bed which, when pressed, would summon the prison doctor. Walters reached towards it.

Fosters right hand, the need of the drip still protruding from a swollen vein, shot forward and fastened around Walters wrist, pulling his hand away from the emergency button.

The guard was too stunned to shout out and, before he could react or even comprehend what was happening, Foster had swung himself upright and was sitting on the edge of the bed.

He released Walters wrist then clamped both hands onto the guards head, pulling him close, the pressure from those powerful hands growing until Walters felt that his head would be crushed by the terrific force. He opened his mouth to scream but no sound would come. He heard a crack as one of his parietal bones splintered under the incredible pressure which Foster was exerting.

Walters knew he was blacking out and, in his law few moments of consciousness he struck out at Foster but the blows were inconsequential. There was no power in them. Blood began to trickle from Walters nose and he tasted the crimson fluid as it spilled onto his protruding tongue. Still Foster squeezed as if trying to squash the guards head them suddenly he smiled and pulled Walters closer to him, bringing his face within inches, holding him there.

Walters was close to unconsciousness, his eyes rolling upwards in their bulging sockets.

It was the eyes which Foster wanted.

He suddenly jerked Walters forward until his lips touched the guards eyelid.

Walters tried to shriek in terror and revulsion as he felt Fosters thick tongue flick across the bulging orb.

Then the pain began.

Unbearable, unimaginable pain.

Foster began sucking at the eye socket with a strength and suction like an incredibly powerful vacuum cleaner.

At the same time he squeezed harder on either side of the guards head, holding him still as he sucked.

Walters gagged, his body twisted helplessly in the prisoners grip and he felt that tongue once more, probing and flickering over his eye, reaming inside the lower lid then the upper lid, blinding him with saliva and, all the time that incredible suction.

The eye came free.

Foster sucked it in, taking the blood and sticky fluid which followed it in the same gulp. But he continued sucking, blood now spilling down his chin, drawing thicker, softer matter from deeper inside Walter's skull.

The guard had stopped wriggling, his body now hanging limply, supported only by the grip which Foster maintained. His tongue probed deeper into the empty eye socket.

He sucked harder.

* * *

Neither Morton or Paula spoke as they drew nearer to the prison. Morton was too intent on keeping the car on the road as they sped down the narrow, tree flanked lanes and Paula was seemingly lost in her own thoughts.

The phone call had come at around one o'clock.

Foster had escaped.

The news had stunned Morton. Not just the realization that the man was now free but, more so, the knowledge that he had regained consciousness so soon after the operation. McIntire had said that there had been a death but he hadn't gone into detail. The uncertainty only made Morton more nervous.

The car headlights illuminated the gates of the prison which were opened to admit them.

The central courtyard was a hive of activity. Uniformed officers were dashing back and forth, cars were leaving the prison as the hunt for Foster got into full swing. He had to be apprehended quickly.

For all their sakes.

Morton parked the car and he and his daughter made their way into the main building and up to McIntire's room. They found the chief warden waiting for them, the ubiquitous cigar jammed into his mouth. He looked pale as he ushered them into his office.

It was Paula who asked the question.

"How did he get away?"

"He killed a guard, took his uniform," said McIntire. "He injured two more on the way out. He stole a car."

"How long ago?" asked Morton.

"About twenty-give minutes," McIntire said, glancing at his watch. His appearance of fatigue was suddenly replaced by one of anger as he glared at Morton. "What the hell have you done to him?" he snarled.

"You know what I've done to him," the doctor said. "The device was implanted as usual. The procedure was the same as always."

McIntire glared at the doctor for a moment longer then crossed to a door which led through into an adjoining office. He jerked his head towards the door, indicating that Morton and Paula should join him which they duly did.

There was a gurney in the room, its occupant covered by a blanket.

The shape beneath the blanket was unmistakably that of a man.

McIntire pulled the corner of the covering back, exposing the body beneath.

"Jesus Christ," murmured Morton, glancing at the ruined face of the dead guard. "Foster did this?" He peered closer to the blood drenched features. "How?"

"You tell me, you're the doctor," McIntire said, cryptically. "It seems that little gadget of yours was more powerful than you realized."

"The implant couldn't have caused this," said Morton, indicating the gaping hole in the skull which used to house an eye. The blood had begun to congeal in the cavity and it was smeared around the empty socket like reeking, sticky ink.

"It must have over-stimulated the motor centre of the brain," Paula added, swallowing hard as she glanced at the corpse which McIntire hastily recovered.

"Whatever it did the bastard is free now. I've got men out searching for him and I've called in help from the local police," the warden informed them. "I haven't told the media."

"You must," said Morton. "People will have to be warned."

"If I tell the media then they're going to find out about your little experiment. I want him caught before the media get involved."

Morton nodded.

"We'll search too," he said.

"I should tell you to stay out of it as you're civilians but I need all the help I can get," McIntire snapped, heading for the door. "Besides, if it hadn't been for you he wouldn't have escaped."

"You were happy to let the experiment go ahead," Morton said, challengingly.

"That's off the record," McIntire told him. "If any of this comes to light then you're on your own." He looked at Paula. "Both of you."

"Have you any idea which direction he went?" Paula wanted to know.

"I've no idea," said the warden. "There are three or four houses within a fifteen mile radius of the prison. Let's just hope we get to them before he does."

* * *

Ronald Foster winced as he felt the pain in his head. He leant back against the tree, ignoring the green mould which came off the bark and stained his shirt. He massaged his forehead, hoping that the raging pain inside his skull would ease.

It didn't.

Behind him, the car he'd taken from the prison was nose down in a shallow ditch. Ahead were fields and woods.

Beyond them, burning like a beacon in the almost impenetrable blackness, was a light. A house. Foster smiled, despite the pain, and trudged on, pushing low branches aside, ignoring those which scratched and gouged his skin. The light seemed to pull him like a magnet and, as he finally broke free of the small wood which sheltered the house he saw that only a small stretch of lawn separated him from the building.

It wasn't a farmhouse, he was sure of that. He made his way swiftly across the lawn towards the rear of the building, peering through the glass into what he saw was the kitchen.

The guards uniform which he'd taken was sticky with sweat despite the coldness of the night and he wiped his face on one baggy sleeve before moving around the house towards the front door. His movements were stealthy, almost dainty for a man of his size. He passed by the front door and across to another window.

There was more light spilling from this one but it was softer, multi-hued.

Foster looked in and saw a Christmas tree standing near to the window, the fairy lights gleaming in the darkness.

Foster grinned, brought his fist back a few inches then drove it through the glass.

He reached in quickly, searching for the catch which would release the sash then he shoved it upwards for enough to allow him access.

It was as he slid over the sill into the darkened room that he heard the dog growling.

It was well hidden in the gloom, the outline of its body only visible because of the dull glow of the Christmas tree lights but, as soon as he hit the floor it leapt at him.

Foster caught its massive jaws in one hand and squeezed, clamping them together to prevent it either biting him or from making any sound. He squeezed harder, able now to raise himself onto one knee, still gripping the struggling dog. It shook in his grip but he held on, bringing his free hand around to grip its snout so that both his hands were now on its head.

He twisted hard, first one way then the other.

The dogs neck snapped with a loud crack, its body hanging limply in his grasp. He finally dropped it, kicking the body away, unconcerned when it knocked the Christmas tree over. Puffing and panting, Foster moved towards the door of the sitting room, opening it a fraction.

Beyond was a hallway and a staircase, a single light burning on the landing. He realized it was that light he'd been able to see from the woods.

As he emerged from the sitting room he moved slowly, eyes fixed to the head of the stairs.

No one appeared.

Either they were sound sleepers or the house was empty.

Or perhaps they were already phoning the police.

He quickened his pace as he climbed the stairs, finding himself confronted by three closed doors.

He opened the first.

Empty.

The second was occupied and Foster smiled as he looked in at the occupants.

The children were still asleep.

* * *

Morton gripped the steering wheel tightly as he drove, his eyes flicking back and forth for any sign of movement amongst the hedgerows and trees which flanked the road. A number of dirt tracks led off from the road but none of them showed any signs of having been recently driven over so he assumed that Foster was still ahead of them. Ahead of them. Behind them. He could only guess.

"What made him kill the guard the way he did?" Paula asked, also scanning the darkened countryside as it sped by. "Could it have been the device?"

"It must have been but I can't imagine why it affected him like that," Morton said. "That's why we've got to find him before the police. I've got to help him."

"Help him?" said Paula, incredulously. "He'll kill us if he gets the chance. You saw what he did to that guard. This is one time I can't agree with you. It's better if he dies."

Morton shook his head.

"If I can find out why he reacted the way he did then next time..."

She cut him short.

"I doubt if there'll be a next time, not after this. McIntire will never let us continue working with prisoners," she said.

"We can't stop working, Paula. After your mother was killed I swore I'd find out why men and women do things like that. I swore I'd change things." The recollection made him fall silent.

"Did they ever catch the man who killed her?" she wanted to know.

Morton shook his head dismissively.

"I can't seem to remember much about it," said Paula quietly, as if struggling to recall the macabre event. "I remember seeing her in the morgue but that's all. I can't even remember the last time I saw her before she was killed."

Morton didn't answer he merely swung the car around a tight bend in the road, his eyes still flickering back and forth.

"Why can't I remember?" snapped Paula, angrily.

Morton stepped on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt.

In the ditch to their right, nose down, was the car which Foster had abandoned.

Morton clambered out of the car and ran across to the other vehicle. He saw footprints on the other side of the ditch, deep indentations in the slippery mud.

"He's moving across country," said the doctor. "Come on." He leapt the ditch, steadying himself when he nearly slipped into the murky stagnant water. Paula hesitated for a moment then followed him. He held out a hand to help her across the ditch. "Come on."

She jumped, landing in the mud, almost falling but he held her up and, together, they began pushing their way through the trees and bushes.

Ahead, Morton could see the light burning in the house.

The same light which Foster had been drawn too.

Morton quickened his pace as they drew nearer to the house, glancing back at Paula, motioning to her to keep up with him.

They emerged, finally, onto the law behind the house, both of them looking up at the building for a moment.

The light inside was still burning.

Morton scuttled around to the front of the house, followed by his daughter.

It was she who noticed that the front door was ajar.

An invitation?

Morton crossed to the door and eased it a little further open.

The silence from inside was almost palpable.

"We should wait for the police," said Paula, gripping his arm as if to restrain him.

Morton merely shook loose, moving inside the house, into the darkened hallway. To his left he could see dull light from the sitting room and it was towards this that he moved, pushing open the door.

"Jesus," he murmured.

The dogs body was entangled in the fallen Christmas tree, the twisted form now almost obscenely illuminated by the fairy lights which flickered on and off. There was a spreading pool of blood around the dogs head and Morton could see the multi-coloured lights winking in the congealing gore.

Paula looked down at the dog and shuddered.

"What if he's still in the house?" she whispered.

"We've got to find out," Morton said, quietly and headed for the stairs. He paused on the bottom one, looking up towards the landing where the light still burned. Then, very slowly, he began to ascend.

He was half way up the staircase when he heard the noise.

It came from above.

From one of the bedrooms.

Morton hesitated a moment then continued, Paula a couple of steps behind. As he reached the landing he saw a heavy glass vase. It would serve as a weapon if the need arose.

He hefted it before him and pushed open the closest door.

The room was empty.

It was as he pushed the second one he noticed the smell.

The horrid stench of blood and excrement.

Both of the children were dead.

One was sprawled across the bed, the other lay beside it.

Their faces, or at least what remained of them, resembled crimson porridge. The eye sockets were empty. The eyes gone, the thick matter inside their cranial cavities spilling onto the sheets and carpet like crimson sludge. Both their mouths open, frozen in silent screams of pain and fear.

Morton exhaled deeply and turned towards the last door.

He could actually see blood seeping beneath the frame, soaking into the carpet like into blotting paper.

He gripped the vase more tightly and took a step towards the door, motioning for Paula to keep back.

Morton actually had his hand on the door knob when the door crashed outwards.

It struck him across the forehead, the impact throwing him backwards. The vase fell from his grasp and rolled away as Foster came hurtling from the room, blood smeared around his mouth.

He was smiling.

Morton tried to shout a warning to his daughter but she was rooted to the spot, transfixed by the demonic visage before her.

Foster looked down at Morton contemptuously, watching as the doctor fell backwards, blacking out.

Then, he turned on Paula.

* * *

"Are you o.k.?"

The words came floating at him through a haze of pain.

"Morton, can you hear me?"

The doctor sat up, rubbing his head, wincing at the pain, his eyes gradually clearing. He looked up to see McIntire staring down at him. The warden had two uniformed men with him. Standing close by was Paula.

Morton sat up a little too quick.

"Where's Foster?" he asked, trying to rise, groaning once more at the pain which throbbed inside his head.

McIntire took a step back and motioned towards a prone form lying nearby.

It was Foster.

His skull had been pulped, pieces of bone and brain clearly visible amidst the shattered cranium. Blood was still pumping slowing from the blood vessels, spilling onto the carpet with the rest of the reeking mess.

"There's an ambulance on the way for you," McIntire told him. "We'll take care of Foster's body."

Paula crossed to her father and embraced him.

"How did you find us?" asked the doctor, still clinging to his daughter.

"I called them," said Paula.

"Do you want me to leave someone with you until the ambulance arrives?" said McIntire.

Morton shook his head.

"How many did he kill?" he wanted to know.

"Four," McIntire informed him. "Looks like your little invention still isn't working." He turned and headed down the stairs.

Outside the sound of an ambulance siren cut through the night air.

* * *

Doctor Peter Morton lay on the bed in the back of the ambulance smiling up at his daughter who sat by him holding his hand.

"McIntire was right," she said, quietly. "The device still isn't working properly."

She dug one hand in the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a handkerchief. It was blood stained. She unwrapped the object inside carefully and held it up between her thumb and index finger.

It was the device which had been implanted inside Foster's brain.

"I took it after I killed him," she said, softly.

Morton smiled.

"So," she said. "Will it ever work, father?"

"It did work," he said, sitting up.

Morton pulled her towards him, stroking hair from her forehead.

"It worked once."

He smoothed back the golden tresses, exposing a shiny patch of skin on the crown of her scalp.

"It will work again."

He rubbed the piece of gleaming skin, sliding one fingernail beneath it, peeling it back as if he were removing the skin from an orange. There was very little blood.

Paula continued to smile.

"I made it work before."

He dug one nail almost savagely into her skull, levering a small portion of bone up, exposing her brain which throbbed in the hole.

The surgically implanted device gleamed dully beneath the lights of the ambulance. The blood vessels around it throbbed rhythmically.

"You've been no trouble since you killed your mother," Morton said, softly, caressing the swollen brain and the device he'd put there. "It worked on you, it'll work on others." He wiped away a thin trickle of blood which ran down her forehead.

Paula continued to smile.

© Shaun Hutson