Prompt Day #333: A paranoid character believes his pet is wearing a mask.
What Mark Saw
Excerpt from a counseling session with the victim Mark Townsend:
Dr. Hoffmeyer: Tell me more about that. What makes you think that Whiskers is wearing a mask? Is there a difference in the color of his fur?
Mark: No, but that is how they are. They’re very good with disguises. I’ve been dealing with it for so long, though, I can recognize their trickery.
Dr. Hoffmeyer: Mark, remember we talked about this. Has Whiskers shown any change in behavior? Has he been aggressive to you at all?
Mark: No. Not yet. He will though, if I don’t stop him. Why can’t you believe me? I’m trying to save us all! If this were a movie, I would be the hero, the demon slayer. But you just berate me and tell me I need medication. There are demons in this world, Dr. Hoffmeyer. They dress up in costumes like you and me.
Dr. Hoffmeyer: But what will he do, Mark? Let’s say Whiskers is in fact a demon, what is he going to do?
Mark: He’s already taken so much from me, there’s nothing left but my life. I’m just a pebble in the water, Doc. He’ll spread out from here. I have to stop him or we’re all in danger.
“Let me stop the tape for a moment, if I may” Dr. Hoffmeyer tells the detective. “Mark, has a long history of paranoid schizophrenia. When he was ten, he was institutionalized for three years after brutally attacking his babysitter with a knife. He tried to cut her face off, insisting she was a demon in disguise. The girl has terrible scars. He was treated and discharged in a very stable condition.”
“And you continued to see him as an outpatient after his release?” The Detective asks.
“Yes, until he turned twenty. That year, his father died suddenly of an aneurysm. It was very sad, his mother became quite depressed. Somehow her depression worked on Mark, they became recluses, never leaving the house.” The doctor shakes his head. “He stopped taking his medication. As Mark’s delusions came back, his mother fed into them, believing that her son could sense demons hiding inside the bodies of humans, animals, and rarely even inanimate objects.”
“So if both Mark and his mother believed he was normal, why would he come back to see you?” The detective asks Dr. Hoffmeyer.
“He believed a demon killed his mother. He had no one else to turn to.”
“His mother was killed?” The detective straightens up, perhaps this case has more to it.
“His mother killed herself. Slit her wrists in the bathtub. Mark found her.” Dr. Hoffmeyer says matter-of-factly. “Mark was convinced the demons did it and were sending him a ‘back off’ message. Since then, he’d been on what I would call ‘high alert’”.
“Is there a possibility that Mark killed her?” The detective asks. Of course if this theory is true, then who killed Mark?
“I am certain he did not. When his mother began to buy in to Mark’s delusions, for a moment, it meant he wasn’t crazy, he was the superhero he talked about on the tape. No, he did not kill her. Her death devastated him.”
“Let me rephrase the question” the detective is now considering a different theory. Anything than face a truth stranger than anything he has come across in his twenty plus years of law enforcement. “Do you think it’s possible that someone killed both of them?”
“Obviously, from the photos you’ve shown me, there is no question that someone killed Mark. The viciousness of the killing, however, leads me to think that if Mrs. Townsend was murdered by the same suspect, her body would have been mutilated in a similar fashion. No, Detective, I think she killed herself. Mark, though, I just have no explanation for his death.” Dr. Hoffmeyer has opened the folder containing the photographs of the crime scene.
The first photo is a close up of Marks hand. It clutches what appears to be a chunk of bloodied hair or blanket. The second picture is this same strange piece of material laid out on a blue background. It is the poorly skinned face of a black cat with white spots ringing the holes where its eyes would be. The hair is matted with clotted blood that could belong to the feline or the man holding it.
Dr. Hoffmeyer looks up. “Did you find the cat’s body?”
“Good Lord, I hope it’s not alive, suffering somewhere.” Hoffmeyer says.
“I doubt it. He skinned its face.” The detective says. What happened to the cat is of no importance to him. What he needs to know is who or what tore Mark Townsend to shreds. What strew his guts around the living room like Christmas garland?
“He was taking the mask off the demon.” Hoffmeyer mutters.
“Is it possible that someone was stalking Mr. Townsend? That some of what he was seeing was, in fact, real? Could someone, knowing his mental health history, set something up to make him think his visions were coming back?” The detective is grasping for something, anything. He knows this but he cannot accept the alternative. That would make him as crazy as the dead bastard in those pictures.
“I really can’t see that as a realistic probability, Detective. Mark interacted with no one else…no one but me. Otherwise, he stayed in his home, fearful of everyone around him. ” Hoffmeyer says. He is tired and upset. He always gets this way when he loses a patient, as he does from time to time. Some minds just can’t be fixed. Mental illness is a kind of cancer. Sometimes, it’s just too far gone. “Can I help you with anything else?” He asks, standing up from the table. The detective shakes his head, closing the file folder, he stands as well.
“Thanks for your help, Doctor.” He walks the doctor out. Hoffmeyer replays the last counseling session in his mind as he drives home. I’m just a pebble in the water, Doc. He sees the picture of Mark, eyes wide with fear, his body scooped out and hollowed like a watermelon rind. What happened to him? Who would want him dead? The man never left his house, he couldn’t have come into contact with anyone. He must have been attacked shortly after cutting the cat’s face off if he still had it in his hands. So where was the cat’s body? Hoffmeyer would not accept that Mark wasn’t crazy. There was nothing paranormal about the man’s death, there were simply puzzle pieces missing.
He decides to swing by the office and gather up Mark’s charts. He lets himself in the back entrance. Only he and his office manager have the key to this door. The office is dark and quiet. It feels so much cooler when there is no life inside.
His consultation room sits at the end of a long hallway. There is plenty of time to see that the door which is usually shut, is cracked open slightly. He notices but thinks nothing of it. Perhaps the cleaning crew forgot to close it. The small shadow that for an instant blocks the light streaming through the opening is more concerning. Someone is in his office. He slows and steps lightly, silently the rest of the way. He will have to throw the door open quickly to surprise the intruder, it is a creaky door when pushed gently, something he has been meaning to fix.
His hand is on the knob when the cat meows and slips its slender body back out into the hallways and begins its figure of eight around Hoffmeyer’s legs. The cat is mostly black, except for the white spots around its eyes, like a mask.