WARNING: The following excerpt contains graphic descriptions of violence and gore. Please do not read if you do not feel comfortable with this material, or if you are under 15.


The Puppet Master, by David A. Xavier - Chapter 1

It was with a strange sense of calm that Ben Wattler closed the door behind him, and began what would be the final journey home of his life.

Everything seemed better now. It was astonishing how quickly troubles that had been eating him up for so many years seemed to have become ridiculous, understandable or solvable. He got into his car and drove with the new-found strength of self-belief. He could turn things around. He could put his life back on track if he just took a moment to understand each situation and make sure that he spoke out when he had to.

He took a little time going home. His BMW was a nice car, and it deserved to be put through its paces now and then, so he took a couple of backstreets and country lanes, allowing himself to gun the engine and speed a little.

He knew how to drive well, and therefore he used the open road for what it should be for - enjoyment and appreciation of his surroundings. Wheat, rape seed, berries, apples, whatever they were - he did not know and did not care: they were never so pretty as when they were obscured in the water-stain effect of motion blur. Different aromas assailed his senses as he flashed by fields, and the wind roared past him, whiting out all sound other than the engine’s roar.

His phone rang. He closed the window, blotting out much of the noise and most of the scent, and depressed a button next to his dashboard. He said hello into the empty car.

“Ben, hello. Are you home yet?”

“No, I’m five minutes out.”

“Good. When you get there, remember what we spoke about. You can sort this out, and it’s really not as complicated as you have been making it out to be. Trust yourself, think about things before you say them, and just remember that as long as she fully appreciates how much you need to be heard, you won’t have a problem. Take your cue from what’s around, or from whatever she is doing. Lead into it naturally. If you haven’t decided what she’s going to say, you won’t be as surprised when it’s something you don’t expect. It will be over before you know it.”

Ben nodded. “You’re right. I should have known that it would be simpler than I thought. Thank you. Listen, it has been too long. How about a drink some time, maybe dinner? That house of yours is a little pokey. No offence. We have a heated conservatory with a beautiful view. Maybe we can speak again once things are better, and you can visit.”

“Sure. Like old times. Right.”

Ben missed the sarcasm in the voice. “Great. I’ll give you a call. Thanks again.”

Ben hung up. Another button press and his window hummed back down into the door, letting in the crisp, cool air. It was one of those strange English April days. He found the bite in the wind bracing, but not unpleasant against the warmth of the sun.

He slowed down as he came towards the town’s outskirts. No sense in spoiling a good day with a speeding fine. It was not far to his house now. He automatically began to run through what to say in his head, but then slapped the steering wheel with one hand.

“No,” he said. “I will not pre-plan. I will allow this to unfold naturally. I will simply trust in my own ability to say what needs to be said, and in Chrissy’s understanding.”

The pep-talk worked. He laughed in surprise and adjusted his position in the seat, moving to sit up a little straighter. To his surprise, he even felt his mouth curl into the beginnings of a smile. Maybe he really could do this.

He did not even feel the expected fear of confrontation as he walked up to his front door a couple of moments later and slid the key into the lock.

“Hey, Chris? Chrissy? I’m home.” He cocked his head, but did not hear a reply. He walked in through the hall and put his head into the living room. The crystal decanters were out on the table with a polishing cloth, but the room was empty. The dining room was equally quiet. He noted that the silver was sitting there as a reminder for him to set the table before dinner tonight.

Entering the kitchen, Ben heard a thump from the floor above - their bedroom. He called out again, but there was still no reply. He threw his jacket over the back of a chair and straightened it under the island counter in the centre of the kitchen. Then he spotted the knife block and absently picked out the carving knife. He tried the edge with his thumb and frowned. It was too blunt for efficient carving. He would have to sharpen it before he carved that night.

He turned back to the hall and jogged up the stairs, taking them two at a time. If Chrissy was not busy, there might be a chance to get this all sorted now before they had to start preparing for dinner. He walked to the bedroom and stopped for a moment in the doorway.

There were few things that would stop Ben Wattler in his tracks, but his wife’s almost naked form was one of them. She stood with her back to him clad only in a white bra and thong combination that he loved. She held up two dresses, both red.

“Benny, which do you think?” she asked, not turning.

Ben could not see the difference, other than a slightly different shape around the neck. “I don’t know. Babe, can we talk?”

“Sure. Talk and think. We need to think as well as talk.”

Ben walked into the room so that he was standing behind her and tried to look interested in the dresses as she stood in front of her floor-length mirror.

“How was Joseph?”

The question threw him for a moment. Then he remembered he had told her he was seeing Joseph that morning.

“What? Oh, yes, he was fine. He had to leave. Something about the stag party tonight.”

He hoped that would carry. Neville was getting married in three days, and Ben had been invited to his stag do, but Chrissy had overruled it. The soon-to-be-retiring president of the school committee was coming to dinner, and she wanted his job or something like that.

“That’s all? You two usually go on for hours.”

“Well, we didn’t. Look, can we talk seriously for a moment? You need to listen to me. You never listen to me.” He cursed inwardly. He was not thinking about what he needed to say, and not having prepared any kind of script was new and uncomfortable.

She turned then. There was a look of fury in her face, and she opened her mouth to yell, but then closed it and looked at him oddly.

“Why do you have that knife in your hand?”

Ben looked down and saw that he still held the carving knife. He stared at it for a minute and then blinked and looked back at Chrissy.

He blinked again.

As his eyes reopened, he pulled back in surprise, as Chrissy’s face was suddenly a finger’s length away from him. Her mouth was open and her eyes wide, and he became painfully aware that she was screaming. He looked down and saw blood pouring from her shoulders, neck and chest. Her white bra was stained red, and she had dropped the two dresses. She appeared to be trying to reach for him, but her arms were slick with blood and she could not seem to move them.

He threw his hands out to catch her as she staggered, but something stopped him and he slid slightly towards his left. He looked down at his right hand to see that it was still clutching the carving knife, which he had just pushed into Chrissy’s stomach.

He let go and she crumpled to the floor with the sound of a heavy suitcase being dropped, but somehow stickier. He stepped back, breathing fast, and then started to cry out. He stumbled into the bed and then fell off it in his rush to get away. He pushed himself into the corner of the room and bellowed in fear and horror.