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DAY OF RECKONING: THE STEREOSCOPE
Though he was barely eighteen, the boy had the heavy bones of a man who had long since reached his full maturity, and his large frame easily bore the muscles he had spent every day of the last four years building into indestructibility. Even now, though both his wrists and ankles were shackled to chains that were in turn affixed to heavy iron eyebolts mounted in the room's thick stone outer wall, he still exercised his body every day, maintaining his strength toward the time when he would escape from this room, slip free of the gray walls that surrounded him, and return to the world beyond.
The world where all his fantasies--all his darkest dreams--could once again be brought to life.
The room in which he was shackled held nothing more than the barest necessities:
A metal cot, as firmly fixed to the wall as the eyebolts that secured his chains.
A metal chair, screwed to the floor next to a metal table just large enough to hold the tray on which his food was brought.
A single barred window that pierced the wall, allowing him to gaze upon the village at the bottom of the hill with malevolent eyes.
A lone bulb, unshaded but protected by a thick glass and metal casing, was mounted in the exact center of the ceiling. The glaring light never dimmed, depriving him nightly of a haven of darkness in which to sleep.
A peephole in the door allowed the staff to keep watch on him. Though he could never see the eyes that observed him, he always knew when they were there.
He had been allowed only a single object to distract him from the endless empty hours his life hadbecome: a stereoscope, brought to him by his grandmother.
"He's a good boy," the old woman had told his doctor. "He didn't do what they say. It's not possible. I'll never believe it." She had pleaded long and hard, and finally the doctor, convinced more by the size of the check she left behind than by her entreaties, agreed: the boy could have the instrument, along with the dozen images his grandmother had provided.
Since that day, the boy had whiled away most of his waking hours staring through the lenses of the stereoscope at the three-dimensional images. They were all pictures of home--the home they said he would never see again.
All the rooms were there for him to behold:
The big formal living room in which his parents entertained their friends.
The dining room, where two dozen people had often gathered for holiday feasts.
The nursery in which he'd spent the first two years of his life, before his brother had been born.
There were exterior views of the house too, of the enormous yard filled with spreading trees. Beneath these branches, he had first begun dreaming his wonderful fantasies.
His favorite image, though, was the one he was gazing upon today.
It was of his room.
Not this room, but his room at home, the room he'd grown up in, the room that had provided him refuge when the fantasies began.
The room in which he'd brought his darkest dreams to life.
It had been easy at first. No one noticed when the squirrels that had always annoyed him so much began to disappear from the trees outside his window; even the disappearance of a few yowling cats hadn't caused any trouble.
The next-door neighbors, though, and the people down the street had come looking for their dogs. Of course, he denied knowing anything. Why, after all, should he have told anyone that he'd skinned their pets alive, and hidden their bodies in the back of his closet?
When his best friend vanished, he had shed the proper tears--though he didn't really feel any emotion except relief that one more annoyance was removed from his life--and afterward decided not to bother with friends anymore.
For a while things had been all right. Soon, though, the little girl--his sister--started to annoy him, and he began to fantasize about sending her to join the others.
It made him furious when they finally came and took him away from his room. He struggled, but there were too many of them. Despite his screams and his shouted denials, they brought him up here and chained him to the wall.
They watched him.
He'd screamed every time they came near him, pouring out vivid threats of exactly what he'd do when he got loose and had his knives back. Finally, it seemed they decided to leave him alone. Except for the orderly who slid his meals through the slot in the door, he hadn't seen anyone for a long time.
Which was fine with him.
At least if they stayed away, he wouldn't have to kill them.
Not that he'd mind killing them, since killing what annoyed him had turned out to be the perfect way not only of satisfying his anger but of realizing his dreams.
He was still gazing at the image of his room at home, constructing a wonderful fantasy of what he might do if he were there right now, when he heard a noise at the door. Startled, he turned to see three men entering his room. He dropped the stereoscope and stood up, his fury at their invasion of his space already blazing from his eyes.
"Take it easy," one of the men said, glancing at the chains warily as if expecting the boy might free himself from his shackles. "We're only here to help you."
The boy's eyes narrowed, his jaw tightened, and he crouched low, ready to strike the moment they came within range of his fists. If he could just wrap one of his chains around one of their necks ...
For interminable seconds no one in the room moved. Then, very slowly, the three men began edging closer.
Every muscle in his body tensed; his face contorted with fury.
"You can't win," one of the men said softly. "You might as well not even try." With a flick of his right hand that signaled his colleagues to act, he lunged for the boy.
Twenty minutes later, when the battle finally ended, the boy lay strapped to a gurney with thick bands of leather, his eyes still glittering with rage, his muscles knotting as he struggled against his bonds. Of the three men who had come for him, two had broken noses and the third a crushed hand. Although the patient had finally been controlled, he still had not been subdued.
"Do you understand what is going to happen to you?" the doctor asked. The boy glared up from the gurney and made no reply, except to spit in the doctor's face. The doctor impassively wiped the glob of phlegm away from his cheek, then began reading aloud from a document that had been issued by the court six weeks earlier. When he finished his recitation, he glanced at the team around him. The three injured orderlies had been replaced by three others, and two nurses stood by. "Shall we proceed?"
The team in the operating room nodded their agreement. The orderlies moved the gurney into position next to an operating bench that had been constructed specifically for the procedure the doctor was about to carry out. A notch was cut in the bench, allowing the end of the gurney to slip under the open jaws of a large viselike clamp.
The boy's head was held immobile as the jaws were tightened on his temples.
Using a pair of electrodes, the doctor administered a quick series of shocks to the boy's head, and then, before the temporary anesthetic the shocks had provided could wear off, he went to work.
As a nurse peeled the boy's right eyelid back, the doctor found his tear duct and inserted the needlelike point of a long pick into it. With a sharp rap to the other end of the pick, he drove the point of the instrument through the orbital plate. Measuring the distance carefully, the doctor slid the pick into the soft tissue inside the boy's skull until its tip had sunk two full inches into his brain.
Satisfied that the tool was properly placed, the doctor expertly flicked it through a twenty-degree arc, tearing through the nerves of the frontal lobe.
The boy's body relaxed on the gurney, and his twisted grimace of rage softened into a gentle smile.
The doctor withdrew the pick from the boy's tear duct and nodded to one of the nurses. "That's it. His eye might be sore for a day or so, but frankly, I doubt that he'll even notice it." His work done, the doctor left the operating room.
One of the nurses swabbed the boy's eye with alcohol; the other taped a bandage over it.
While one of the orderlies released the clamps that held the boy's head immobile, the other two loosened the leather straps that bound him.
The boy did nothing more than smile up at them.
Three days later, when the bandage was removed from the boy's eye, he picked up the stereoscope and peered once more through its lenses.
The image of his room was still there, but it no longer looked the same, for when the doctor had plunged the pick into the boy's brain, it had cut through the optic nerve. He no longer saw in three dimensions, so the illusion provided by the stereoscope was gone. It didn't matter, though, for everything inside the boy's head had changed.
His fantasies were gone. Never again would he be able to make his dreams come true.
The dark figure lingered in the cold, silent room, his fingers stroking the smooth mahogany of the stereoscope's case. But he knew the moment had come. Reluctantly, with a last, loving caress to the satiny dark wood, he bent and placed the stereoscope in the fourth drawer of the oaken chest, sliding the drawer closed.
Soon--very soon--his gift would be in other hands. The hands carefully selected to receive it. Once more the past would return to haunt Blackstone.