Chapter 18 – The Magician: Part 2
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed and patiently waited for this chapter. I hope it was worth the wait, or at least a good ride.
Also, CONTENT WARNING: This chapter discusses, implies, and describes child sexual abuse.
How was it that things could be getting so much better, yet Harrison was feeling worse than ever? His classmates didn't stalk and pelt him with rocks or call him names, his mother was able to look at him now, and his dad seemed to be happier too. When he walked down the street, he could be sure he'd be met with smiles that reached the eye and pleasant greetings.
Then why, why did he walk with a tremble in his step? Why wasn't he able to hold a knife and fork steady? Why was his skin hugging his bones and his skin going pale? Why wasn't he able to take a trip to the bathroom without feeling nauseous?
He knew why, but he could never say. If he said anything, the smiles would stop, the rocks would return, and everything would go back to the way it had been. Before Ferghal arrived in their little town thirty miles from the nearest city. A town no-one visited and that didn't appear on half the maps.
Harrison heard the door to his parents' bedroom close an hour ago. They hadn't stirred since. That meant he could go now.
He swung his legs over the side of his bed and stood slowly. The whine of his bedsprings probably wouldn't wake them, but he couldn't be too careful. He couldn't have them catching him. He slid noiselessly out the crack in his door and made his way down the hall and into the bathroom.
The door's lock clicked shut and he approached the toilet. His fingers were barely able to stay steady enough to pull his shirt over his head, but they managed, and the sweaty rag lay forgotten on the floor.
Harrison lifted the lid and got to his knees. He kept his eyes closed and pinched his nostrils. The smell of bleach made him faint. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth. His two fingers rested between his lips, trembling against them before he took a quick breath out and the fingers went in.
He didn't think about the feeling of feathers in the back of his throat or the fact he couldn't breathe, he just braced himself and pulled his hand out as quick as possible.
Then he brushed his teeth, trying to wash the vile taste out of his mouth and fruitlessly get the burning feeling out of his throat. He drank straight from the tap, three big mouthfuls, and stared at himself in the mirror.
He didn't recognise those eyes, listless and weighed down by purple bags. That hair was too thin and straw-like to be his, wasn't it? And that skin, so colourless and pasty it looked like it belonged to a different boy, a boy who had been left in the deepest, dankest cave for years and left to starve.
How could anyone want this boy?
He took a few steps back, off the soft rug and onto the cold tile. He pushed his pyjama pants off his hips. He was just as undesirable below the waist as he was above. His skin patchy and dry in places, his lips chapped, his skin hugging his bones. He was hideous.
So how was it that anyone could still want him? Why was he not so repulsive that nobody would shrivel away from his nearly lifeless body?
Harrison swallowed with a grimace and pulled his pants back up so they loosely hugged his waist again. He felt a lump go up his throat when he looked at the toilet. There was nothing left for him to empty into it, in any form.
If everything came back up out his mouth, then there was nothing to go elsewhere, and he wouldn't have to bite down on a cloth to keep from wailing aloud before cleaning red from porcelain.
He left the bathroom, and his blood ran cold. He froze and watched his dad come down the hall, a robe left hanging loose over his boxers.
"G'mornin', Harry," the man said, stopping for a moment to rub the sleep from his eyes as he ran a hand through his son's hair. "Is that all you're sleeping in? It's cold tonight."
"I'm okay, dad, really." Harrison hugged himself and pushed his head up against his father's palm. He felt warmth spread to his frigid digits with that single gesture of affection. He almost whimpered when the man pulled away.
"Back to bed, it's a school night."
"I know. Good night." The bathroom door was left open a sliver. Harrison looked at it as he heard his father do his business.
He could tell him now, right? What was stopping him? It was just them in the dead of night, no ears on the walls and no prying eyes, just a boy and his father. His foot slid forward on the carpet and words ringed in his head like a church bell.
"It could all vanish in an instant, this lovely life I've given you. One word is all it could take. Do you want to do that to yourself and your parents? Don't they deserve for things to go back to normal after that awful business with your brother?"
He stepped back and sucked his bottom lip in to keep it from trembling. Then the taps stopped running and that sliver of light widened and enveloped him, a man's large shadow keeping him in the dark.
He closed his eyes, knowing he shouldn't have even thought about it.
"Sorry, I'm going to bed now." He turned and was about to dash back into his bedroom, but a hand rested on his shoulder, paralysing him on the spot.
"You're shivering, are you sick?" He was turned on the spot, his hair was brushed back, and a hand was pressed to his forehead. "No fever. Hmm…"
Harrison's lip started to tremble again. His dad was so close that he could feel his warmth and his breath. And his warmth was soft, orange, and familiar. It was safe. Unlike the other man's warmth. That was sharp, blue, and unwelcome, but he had to bask in its trespass or suffer in other ways.
He stepped forward into the warmth and breathed a sigh he didn't know had been caught in his chest. The orange warmth enveloped him and lifted him. He nestled into it and shivered, not realising just how much he'd missed it.
"It's okay, Harry, it's okay, dad's here."
He'd been crying. Not sobbing or wailing, just crying. They were silent tears that leaked down his cheeks and from his nose, tears he didn't want to let out but his body demanded it.
Then they were on his bed, in his room, the place where nothing could hurt him.
A warm hand ran slowly up and down his back as they lay down and the covers were pulled over them. His bed had been icy and damp for as long as he could remember, but now it was a cloud, warm and fluffy, and it didn't let anything in that he didn't want. No other man, no clammy touches or grabs, no uninvited intrusion, just him and his dad, warm and safe.
The morning came quick, too quick for Harrison. He huddled into the warm lump next to him that wrapped itself around him in turn.
"We're going to have to get up," Harrison's dad mumbled as he held his boy tighter. Harrison moaned and shrunk into him. He had school, and while he didn't have to watch out for rocks anymore, there were some things worse than those rocks.
He could nurse a headache and patch a wound, but there was no getting rid of those eyes.
He shivered and trembled and almost cried again when his dad unfurled from around him. He looked up at him and almost felt a smile crack his lips. His father's fair was sticking up perpendicular on one side, making it look as if he had the world's most slapdash mohawk.
He reached up and slicked it down again before leaning into his chest.
"Do I have to go to school?"
"I'm afraid so, Harry."
And he didn't dispute it anymore. He showered, dressed and waited in the back of the car for his dad. He got in, the bags under his eyes deeper and greyer than he remembered.
The man rubbed his eyes, cracked his knuckles and offered Harrison a smile in the rear-view mirror. But it didn't reach his eyes. Neither did the smile Harrison gave him back.
The drive was silent, the hug goodbye was too short, and the eyes burned into the back of his head. Every second of every minute of every hour, they weighed on him. Each one their own atlas stone for him to lift.
Then came the weekend. And like every weekend of the last several months, it chipped away at Harrison. It weathered him, hammered away at his soul, made his hair thinner, his skin patchier. His pain even worse.
It started Saturday afternoon, when his mother drove him to his house. The house where he'd been stripped and almost drowned in front of all the grownups he'd known his entire life.
And they had cheered.
After arriving there, he sat across from him, a cup of tea and a saucer in his hands, sipping sharply between the same pantheon of questions. Week after week, month after month, he had to answer the same damn questions. And what was worse, each time the will to give the honest answers eroded.
"Yes, I am happy to see you again."
"No, I don't tell anyone about our sessions."
"I feel great."
"School and home are good, better than ever."
"Yes, I am grateful to you."
"Yes, I am ready to go downstairs."
Every week, Harrison stood at the top of those stairs, the ones he'd been marched naked down so long ago. Except now he only stripped when he reached the bottom, and unlike before, there were no prying eyes. Just the single, unyielding glare of the camcorder's red light.
"As handsome as ever" is what he said, his words slithering into his ears, feeling almost as invasive as the fingers that went across his shoulders, down his back and-
Well, Harrison tried not to think about what happened after that, only that by the end of it, his crushing weight would be on him, in him.
He would lie there, unmoving. There were no tears left to shed, not here, not for him. After a while, he would come back and Harrison didn't know if it was for another round or for him to rub the balm in there.
The latter was better, if only marginally. It still burned, and he still had to deal with him inside.
Then Harrison wouldn't leave that basement until late Sunday afternoon. His mother would be back to pick him up and he would hobble into the car. Except for one Sunday, he was running a bit late. Not Harrison's own fault. He couldn't help himself and needed to see Harrison one last time and run his serpentine fingers over him.
He'd felt him physically stiffen that one Sunday, and it wasn't until Harrison heard a short gasp did he look over his shoulder. His mother was standing there, on the stairs down into the basement, and for a single, fleeting, wonderful moment, Harrison thought it was all over.
His mother saw them, saw what these sessions really were. Surely she would take him, hold him, scream and cry for him, and everyone would see him for what he really was. Right?
"I'll wait outside."
Three words were all it took for Harrison's remaining dribbles of hope to evaporate. Later, the sentences "We have it good now" and "For the sake of the family" would drown the spot where hope had once dwelled.
After that, well, what was the point of hoping? If his own mother wouldn't do anything, then who would? Well, it would turn out that the most obvious answer was the correct one.
One Saturday evening, in early spring, when he was particularly bow-legged and he didn't care, Harrison heard something that fuelled the last ember of hope that he didn't know he had. It was as if a pair of soft, warm hands cupped themselves around a flickering candle, and pulled it into a great, blazing inferno.
"What the fuck are you doing to my son!"
Harrison's neck cricked something fierce when he looked to the stairs, and it would hurt for a week afterwards. But that didn't matter. That was so far from mattering.
Where his mother had stood and looked at him with empty eyes, his father stood, fire behind his. After that, it was a blur. He pulled out fast, causing Harrison to cry out in pain, but amid pleas and promised of misunderstandings, his father picked up the nearest heaviest thing, in this case a bedside cabinet, and beat him over the head with it.
And then again in the face, but Harrison only saw that out of his peripheral vision. He was picked up, hugged, and despite the ache, he hugged back and wailed. It was a miracle that he'd had the wherewithal to snatch the camcorder from its tripod while being whisked away in his father's arms.
He was wrapped in the man's jacket and sat in the front passenger seat of the car before they sped away. He ached the entire time, especially down there, but that was the tiniest, most temporary price to pay. In fact, Harrison actually found himself appreciating it as every time he thought this might be a dream, he let himself feel it and remembered that this was real.
He was brought home, his mother wasn't there. He was carried in and brought up to his room and laid on his bed.
"It's over now, you don't have to worry about him anymore!"
Harrison pressed against his dad's front and held him as tight as his frail little limbs would allow. He wept again, blubbering and baying, trying to tell him everything he should've said so long ago.
When they were done, he was put down to sleep, and when he woke up, it was dark and there were flashing red and blue lights in his window. He peeked out. The police. He dressed and hobbled down the stairs.
His father was standing taller than he had in a long time. His voice filled the entire room as he dictated everything to the officers in their living room. A young man and an older woman, the latter clearly the superior.
Then he handed over the camcorder. The woman only had to press the play button for an instant before she shut it closed. Her eyes shut tight and her knuckles paled. Then she looked up and saw Harrison on the stairs. She nodded at him and his parents turned.
"Harry," his father said, bounding over to him in three steps and kneeling to his level. "You shouldn't be up yet." He ran a finger through his hair, pushing it back behind his ear.
"I couldn't sleep anymore." He leaned in, his face buried in the crook of his father's neck. He breathed him in, his heart rate slowing as his arms covered and protected him.
He peeked an eye open, the officers keeping their respectful distance, his mother even further. She was rigid, her lips nothing but a line.
Then, from the safety of his father's arms, he raised his arm and extended a finger to point at her. The officers looked between them, his father was rubbing his back.
"She knew. She knew weeks ago and said I needed to keep the secret for the family."
After that, bedlam.
The older officer had to tackle his mother to the floor. The younger had to restrain his dad. Backup was called in and his mother was hauled out, screaming about him, words he'd heard countless times before. But they didn't matter now, not even coming from her.
He pulled on his dad's shirt, and that had been enough to snap him back to reality. It made him remember that he had more important things to worry about.
He held Harrison again, this time picking him up. Even though he was almost thirteen, he was no effort to lift. He was barely more than skin and bone. His father had him, and that was enough. For the both of them.
Harrison's next instance of consciousness found him in his bed, held tight by something big and warm. One breath through the nose and he could tell that it was his dad. He pressed back into him, forgetting for a moment what had happened in their living room. His eyes snapped open when the memories flooded back.
"It's okay now, Harrison," he heard, stopping still as his heart skipped a beat. "They'll never hurt you again!"
His father's arms tightened around him even more as the man started to shake against him. Then he heard a light sobbing and wetness started to drip into his hair.
Harrison's lip trembled, and soon his own voice started to echo his father's.
Harrison woke again in the afternoon, and when he made his way downstairs, his mother wasn't there. But his father was, and he spoke on the phone for a long time as he kissed Harrison on the forehead and made him lunch.
He didn't have to go to school that day, or the day after. But that didn't matter. He was happy to stay inside, watch television and cuddle to a movie with his dad. He'd asked about his mother, but the only answer he got was a sad smile and a promise to talk about her later.
He stopped asking about her after a couple weeks. Because Harrison realised that he didn't care. That he didn't need to care. He'd overheard his dad ranting to that policewoman about how he was sickened that his wife had cared more about having a normal life than Harrison himself.
It was then that Harrison decided that he didn't want to care about her either, and after three days of that decision gnawing away at his soul, he came to terms with it.
And speaking of that policewoman, she'd been coming around to the house weekly leading up to the summer months. Usually, she sat down with his dad and they talked about "the case" and "testimony". Harrison wasn't stupid, he knew what those words meant. He knew that his word, at least by proxy, would be necessary to put that man away.
On one of her visits, the policewoman, named Layla, brought a man in a suit and a briefcase with her. He knew what he was, he knew why he was there behind his stony smile and bagged eyes. He was a man who'd looked the worst of humanity in the eye and stared them down. Harrison didn't like him very much, but he trusted him, and that was all he needed for now.
So, when a recorder was put in front of him, Harrison already knew what he was going to say.
"It started when I came home from summer camp. I was still the weird kid who made his brother disappear. I didn't, but by now I know what people think, and to be honest, I don't care. Then," he paused, the name caught like a fishhook in his throat. "Then Ferghal showed up, and he talked about making everything better. But the way he looked at me…" Harrison hugged his arms, took a breath, and stared up at the lawyer. "It made my skin crawl. But somehow he made everyone be nicer to me. I don't know how, I don't know what he said. I stopped thinking about it a long time ago. After that, just before Christmas, he had me taken to his house. I was stripped naked and brought into the basement, where so many of the adults I knew were. Even when I pleaded, Mr. Branston didn't help. None of them did. Anyway, I was marched in front of them to a bathtub filled with boiling water, and Ferghal held me under, then let me up and held me under again, over and over. When it was done, everyone was cheering, and after Christmas, everyone, even my bullies, were nice to me again. But every week I still had to go to Ferghal's house and go down to his basement. He made me get naked. Every time." He felt tears brimming his eyes again but forced them back. "At first, he just touched me, took pictures, used his mouth to…" He closed his eyes, not wanting to remember it. "To do things to me. Then he started to put his fingers in me, even when I said it hurt. After a few weeks of this, he put his…penis in me. He fucked me. He fucked me and it hurt and I felt his disgusting hands all over me!" He shouted and slammed his fists on the table. The lawyer didn't say anything, he just adjusted the recorder back into its original position and continued to look at Harrison from behind his steepled fingers. There was a fire in his eyes, one that Harrison knew wasn't for him. "He did that every week after that. And it always hurt. I stopped eating properly because I thought he'd stop if I looked disgusting. And not eating meant that I would have to…go…less. Because that hurt too. One week my mom did walk in on him doing it, but she told me to keep it quiet for the family. So I did. Then dad walked in the last time it happened, and he beat Ferghal over the head!" It was the first smile he'd had all day. "Then the police were called to our house and…yeah. I think you know more about what's going on now than I do."
That's all that was needed of him. The Lawyer shook Harrison's hand and left after his dad and Layla talked some more.
His dad hugged him, thanked him, said that he was brave, and like that, a weight lifted from Harrison's shoulders. He looked his dad in the eye, tears spilling down his cheeks.
"Thank you." He sobbed into his neck. His dad held him tight, spewing apologies and grievances at him. But Harrison didn't need them, he didn't want them. He had his dad, and that was all he needed now. That was all he wanted.
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