In The Mind Of The Beholder

Story by Daniel Joseph Pezely
Concept by Emily Salmons-Pezely

12 December 2001

There is a string of murders. First one young woman was killed after leaving Leather Fetish Night at a particular club. A few days later, another woman is killed in the park. The police statement reveals that it’s definitely the same killer. There were no witnesses.

Media collectively label killings as The Fetish Murders.

A coworker catches Joe watching streaming video of the news report from his cubicle. Startled and embarrassed, tugging at his shirt collar he stands, and the two head off to a meeting. On the way out, he resets his necktie back to its proper position.

That night, Joe is very restless. It’s difficult getting to sleep. He feels himself walking along a cobblestone path at twilight. A blink and it’s like his perspective is elevated, almost hovering at twice his normal height. There’s a woman in fancy dress walking now. There’s a startling alarm bell; instantly, the woman turns as if terror-struck.

Joe shoots out of bed, eyes bloodshot, heart pounding. He reaches for his alarm clock. It’s one of those obnoxious wind-up bell types.

Two women share an apartment, Anne and Elizabeth. They had the television news on while they were getting ready for the evening. They comment on how they used to go to that club, and until then, that park was their favorite.

The doorbell rings. It’s their friend, Joe. It’s obvious they’re just friends. Though at one time, Anne fancied him; he’s always been infatuated with her. The awkwardness is ever-present but not overwhelming.

He’s much taller than the women. His nature is to always meet them at eye level, so he has a slight stoop when he’s with them. But otherwise, he is healthy and stands tall. His slender build is hidden by his loose fitting clothes. In the 1980’s, he would have been considered androgynous— in the 1990’s, sexually ambiguous perhaps. Today, he’s just a repressed artist.

Elizabeth is talking about how her friend at the crime lab is probably going to have to break their weekend hiking trip over this new rash of killings. Distracted as she crosses through the room, she accidentally knocks over a paper bag. A garment falls out towards where Joe is sitting.

He shivers and turns away as an anemic would react to a hypodermic needle.

Oblivious to his reaction, Anne giggles and says that she bought him this turtleneck shirt. He’d look great in it especially with his coloring.

Then she catches his lack of enthusiasm, “You hate it. Never mind.”

“No, it’s not that.” Joe explains that it’s having anything tight around his neck. For some reason it freaks him out— always has.

The trio head out for the evening.

A few days later, a third woman is attacked. She was leaving her loft after dark. Being a long-time dance instructor, her flexibility and strength enabled her to escape. But now the police have more to go on.

Joe catches the report on the television. The composite sketch has a vague resemblance. His house-mate, Steve, keeps alternating between the television and Joe. The list of details quickly reach the man’s height.

“A half foot shorter, my friend,” Steve sings, “Or you wouldn’t be off the hook.”

Joe asks if he really looks like that. A third house-mate, Eric, reveals people rarely recognize their own faces sketched or recorded voices. He adds, not seeing the match immediately fits strongly with Joe’s personality type. Eric should know. After all, he’s a psychology post-graduate student whereas Joe has just a mere Bachelors degree.

That night, Joe again sleeps restlessly. He feels himself walking along a cobblestone path at twilight. Again, a blink and it’s like his perspective is elevated— again, almost hovering at twice his normal height.

In his bed, his cheek twitches as a sense of deja vue comes over him. In the dream, there’s something familiar.

It’s that same woman walking in fancy dress again. She hears a noise, turns as if startled and clutches her chest— definitely in fear.

Joe wakes in a sweat then takes a moment for recovery. “Oh, just a dream,” he mutters to himself.

That same night apparently, there was another murder: same killer, same method and in close proximity to the other attacks.

The night following his nightmare, Joe and the girls are hanging out, talking. They’ve had a few glasses of wine and are very relaxed.

Elizabeth starts to spill some secrets she pulled out of her police pal. Turns out there was another murder in this series. It was the first, but because it happened several weeks prior, they haven’t publicly announced the connection to the Fetish Murders.

The other two try to get more out of her, but realizing she could get her pal into lots of trouble, she clams-up and goes to bed.

Anne and Joe keep talking, and the conversation moves to different topics.

She’s reading excerpts from a couple of astrology books. One mentions rising signs and the other, Chiron. She’s telling him how he has an unusual perception of women, definitely not just a typical guy.

He jokes: at least regular guys seem to have steady girl-friends whereas he has lacked in that area for a very long time.

Anne looking up from her books, prompts, “Tell me about your fantasies!”

Emphatically, he refuses.

That night like so many before, the same dream returns. Maybe it’s a nightmare. What difference does it make?

Only now is it clear that the woman is wearing a Victorian dress. She’s not quite of royal breeding but not impoverished either. Maybe she was of the educated, middle class of that time. Definitely well groomed. Yet she’s alone. Why? Maybe there were independent women back then. Maybe she had no choice but to be alone after the sun went down. There’s simply no way to know.

Once again, the sequence plays out as before. Each time, it’s almost like as if in better focus.

She turns— terror. But Joe doesn’t wake this time, at least not yet.

The woman is covered by a dark cloak or cape as a hunter might ensnare a wild animal with a net. The man is dressed in dark clothes. We can only see that he’s white, fairly tall and definitely not a bodybuilder. His strength is in his master use of the cloak in this way.

The man takes part of the cloak and wraps it around her neck. He’s strangling her.

Joe wakes, clutching his throat. He swallows loudly, moves his head around to release tension.

He goes back to sleep. The dream continues. The cloak is unfurled, the woman rolls out dead with strangulation marks on her neck. The murder claims his prize: necrophilia.

The next day in his cubicle, Joe finds it difficult to concentrate. He’s clumsy, easily aggravated and frustrated. He wants to shred that necktie and rip the starched collar off his shirt.

A co-worker asks what’s eating him. He responds with the fact that he hasn’t been sleeping well. He’ll have to check with his house-mates if he’s been sleep-walking again. But through the university research program, he was supposed to be cured of that now. It was something-or-other from his childhood that he worked through: guilt from a fleeting moment of kleptomania and that he kept trying to return the item. He hadn’t had a recurrence since. Hypnosis worked; who knew? It was only two years ago, so maybe it was just too soon to have the verdict. The co-worker is bored by the impression that the conversation has turned New Age-y and walks off.

After work, Joe heads over to the girls’ apartment for their usual Wednesday evening get-together.

Elisabeth lets him in. She asks if he’s read any good books lately. He mentions having picked up a book analyzing serial killers. He has a sudden fascination with crimes of the Victorian era. He dismisses it as simple curio.

Anne is thumbing through her books in front of the TV. She is unaffected by the extra stimulus.

She explains that Joe builds character in this life from past lives. According to his astrology chart, he would make a good candidate for past life regression.

She’s more excited than he; he’s attention is grabbed by the television.

Joe’s near mirror image, the composite sketch of the Fetish Murder suspect is shown.

A re-cap of the day’s events: the police release details about a connection between a previously unsolved case and the Fetish Murders.

Elisabeth smugly points to herself, “Remember, you heard it here first.”

The television shows file footage of a costume ball. People dressed in gowns from various time periods, including Victorian, exit a taxi for the ballroom.

Joe’s eyes get big. He catches himself reacting before the women notice.

The next day, Joe eagerly jumps to his desk. It’s not the paperwork, he wants to read more about the murder case.

Just as the composite sketch of the Fetish Murders suspect fills his computer screen, the phone rings. It’s Anne. He’s still reading while she’s talking. He unknowingly agrees to attend the lecture of a notable psychic and past life regression guide. Claiming to be swamped, he gets her off the phone.

On the web site for the news station, there are several articles and video clips. He cautiously selects one.

Eyes wide, he watches the clip:

According to the one woman who escaped the horror of this killer, the attacker tried to subdue her by wrapping a large canvas or heavy blanket around her. As she escaped, she saw that he had dropped a heavy rope. It was probably to strangle her.

As the clip ends, he sinks back into his chair, eyes glazed, mouth agape.

At home, Joe’s house-mates harass him about neglecting his chores. He tries to explain that he hasn’t been sleeping well and must have lost track that it was his day. Pointing to a stack of books in his room, he mentions that his library books are long overdue!

Eric’s psychology-boy instincts are triggered. He probes for more to the story. He knows there something else about which his house-mate is less than forthcoming.

Joe brushes it off, “When your tool is a hammer, everything is a nail.”

Eric stares coldly. He just loves nosing into a cover-up. He drills with questions about the other night. Joe was heard going out late, very quietly. Jokingly, he adds that it just so happened to be the very same night as the fifth victim of the Fetish Murders was claimed.

Joe, visibly shaken and now stuttering, says that he couldn’t sleep and just went for a walk to the drug store for some sleeping pills.

Now acting, Eric plays his mind-games full-on. “You know, the best told lies are hidden between two truths.” He keeps nodding, one eyebrow perched like some kind of sinister detective.

Steve cuts in, telling Eric to stop with messing with the kid’s mind like that. It’s unfair using eight years education to one’s advantage like that.

Anne is at the door peeking in. Seeing Joe, she pounds. Yelling at him that they’re going to be late, he’s trying to figure out what she’s talking about. It’s the lecture which he agreed earlier to attend but unaware of making the commitment.

On the way out, she mentions how this psychic woman picks people out of the audience for demonstrations. This is going to be so fascinating!

At the lecture, the woman gives a brief overview of reincarnation, explains how elements of our past lives can seep into our present lifetime and how some are more affected by this than others.

In the course of the lecture, a man asks if she’s ever wrong. She’s only human, so of course, some things may be inaccurate. She claims a documented track record of helping solve 60% of child abduction cases with her local police force. She stands by that record as sufficient proof. Anyone who still doesn’t believe, she sees this as their problem. She’s too old to care what people think of her any more.

Continuing, the lecture moves to how a regression works. She explains the steps of the trance.

It’s time for a demonstration. A word of warning first. Some stories are not for the faint of heart. Then again, considering the audience in attendance, the self-selected group should have no problem. It’s just her standard warning, just in case....

The first candidate is a homely woman pulled from the second row. The regression is straight-forward. The woman’s past life was that of a commoner: a mother of eight on a farm in the American wild west, probably somewhere in modern day Illinois. She had special treatment for one particular animal that was permitted to reach old age and never met the butcher. In this life, she has the same type of animal as an unusual pet. She’s the only woman she knows with a pig!

Someone asks a question about whether irrational fears in this life could stem from past ones in the same way as this woman’s fondness for pigs.

“Absolutely,” the psychic answers and after a moment’s pause, replies with cryptic details about the person’s life. “Dear, your fear of hat pins wasn’t from any childhood trauma; you were a slave in your last life, and your master would stick you for his own amusement.” The audience is confused but the person who asked the question is amazed and appears as if a huge weight had been lifted. “You can let it go now.”

She continues, saying that sometimes an episode from a past incarnation will be replayed in future lives if the soul hasn’t learned the lesson. Sometimes the roles might be reversed if the ego tries overcompensating.

Walking Anne to her door, they’re chatting about the experience. Joe is extremely lively. He’s like another person.

He’s genuinely thankful she brought him to this regression thing. It’s answered some questions for him but raises others.

She speculates whether the Fetish Killer could have been a murderer in a past life, perhaps having not learned whatever his lesson was then.

He adds that based on the ego thing the psychic mentioned, maybe the killer was the victim in a past life.

She muses how this dark imagination of his is turning her on. She likes this new Joe.

At her door, he thanks her, kisses her on the cheek, then starts to leave. She pulls him back and kisses him hard. She pulls him inside the hallway, off the stoop.

They’re practically undressing each other in the hallway. They barely manage to get through the door of the apartment. They’re nearly completely undressed by the time they reach her bedroom.

They interrupt each other kissing one another’s body. It’s a very passionate act of mutual sensuality as they finish undressing one another, albeit clumsily.

He stops the moment to ask if she has a condom. She lets out a few expletives, commenting about how she forgot to replenish after her little sister and her boyfriend stayed for a week.

He decides to head out to the all-night deli to buy supplies. The first one he approaches is closed, so he turns and heads in another direction.

Walking out of the store with a small bag, he’s deep in thought with a huge smile on his face. After walking passed the corner of the park, his imaginings are interrupted by woman walking her dog.

She’s smaller than he, so as not to intimidate her, he crouches a little and says hello in a happy voice.

A couple of uniformed police officers seem to notice this interaction. They eye Joe suspiciously. One talks quietly into his radio. They approach him stealthily.

As they pass the woman who is now several paces the other direction behind Joe, the officers quietly command her to get out of the area. Oblivious to the situation, she simply responds with, “Huh?”

The cops rush Joe, pinning him to the ground. They’re violently arresting him. Meanwhile, a taxi drives by slowly.

After he’s cuffed, they look in the bag. “You sick bastard. Interrupted after your killing tonight, you’re already preparing for the next!”

The woman with the dog is standing there calmly watching as if it was all on television.

Joe is yelling that he doesn’t know what’s going on.

The next day in the police station, Joe is talking with a public defender. He’s told that despite his story and Anne’s account, there was still enough time which makes him a suspect.

Joe claimed the first shop he went to that night was closed, so he had to find another store open that late. Not normally wandering around that late, he couldn’t remember which shops would be open.

Regarding the height discrepancy, the lawyer mentioned that’s a common error when the victim is significantly smaller than the attacker. Also, the officers saw him slouching when he passed the woman walking her dog. That actually put him at the height noted by the third victim, the woman who gave the witness description.

The lawyer keeps saying that it doesn’t look good. It’s going to be a difficult case and a messy trial.

The stack of library book found in his apartment wasn’t helping either. True crime murder stories, books on women’s fashion from the Victorian era, biographies of serial killers— it looks bad.

One more detail from the arrest. The condoms were the same brand used by the killer. Although he left little evidence, analysis of the victims revealed the manufacturer and type.

There would have to be a lie detector test. Immediately, the anxiety is obvious in Joe. He protests that those things are inaccurate. The lawyer says the prosecuting attorney insists on it. Whenever someone refuses, that person has always been found guilty in this jurisdiction.

Television news reports that there has finally been an arrest in the Fetish Murders, unfortunately too late for the victim that evening. The woman walking the dog is interviewed.

Her sound bite is belittling of Joe, making herself look like some kind of heroine. “He was one of those creepy, nerdy kind of guys with no social skills. He tried talking to me! That’s probably how catches them off guard. But I knew! I went straight to the police!”

Joe is led into a room with a polygraph machine. The chair seems menacing. The man operating the gadget is complacent. This is his time, his domain.

Each step of the process is exaggerated in Joe’s mind: continuing to round the doorway into the room, taking the full room into view, walking across the floor, being shown the chair, seeing all the people involved in this process from the uniformed officer who escorted him from the cell to prosecuting attorney to the public defender to the scribe to the witness to the operator, sitting in the chair, watching the door close, having the cuffs removed, being strapped to the machine, waiting for the machine to start, watching the needles wiggle with every twitch of which even he is unaware,....

Beads of sweat are rolling down Joe’s face. His shirt is wet from the stress.

Detectives observing this through the one-way glass comment to one another about how wonderful it is when the guilty reveal themselves like that. Someone responds by noting how all that sweat should make the electric chair fry him good.

Anne brings the psychic woman to visit Joe. Anne believes this woman can help him. Joe is afraid, no longer able to judge if those dreams he’s been having are memories, fantasies or guilt. He also doesn’t know if he was the victim or killer.

The psychic shows her wisdom by remaining calm and confident throughout his ramblings. She just keep reassuring him that everything will work out. Because Joe never asks certain directed questions, she doesn’t volunteer anything yet.

On their way out, Anne and the psychic go separate ways. She asks to speak with one of the detectives. She mentions that of course they have the wrong man and that they should check taxi drivers who live near where the murders took place. Her advice is dismissed as crockery.

Months pass, a new lawyer is talking with Joe in a detention center room. They lawyer is giving up the case. He’s at a moral and ethical impasse.

The DNA compares to Joe’s own as a ‘possible match.’ That’s two categories removed from the clincher of ‘definite match,’ but it’s good enough to land a guilty verdict.

But at Joe’s request, the lawyer arranged for the psychic to have a session with him. They’re only permitting this because she has the recommendation of the police in her hometown.

The lawyer packs up his papers and nears the door. He apologizes to Joe, then adds, “After bringing in the psychic lady, you’ll have a good chance of changing your plea to insanity. That’s my final advice to you.”

The psychic, Anne, a uniformed guard and Joe sit in a detention center room. Anne says that they need to get down to business because the psychic is only here for this one afternoon; she’s a very busy woman.

The regression begins. Joe enters the trance.

His recurring dream unfolds in crystal clarity.

A woman in a nice Victorian dress is crossing a cobblestone street. As she passes a tall bush, a man jumps out wrapping her in a large cloak so she can neither see nor fight. He ties the belt around her arms and torso beneath, then proceeds to strangle her by twisting the upper portion of the cloak. From the shape of the makeshift body-bag, he appears to be pulling it tighter around her neck. After a moment of convulsions, she’s dead. Dragging her off, he finds a secluded patch in the park nearby. He unrolls the cloak, and his victim falls lifeless on her back.

The woman has an uncanny resemblance to Joe. They could pass as siblings, no more apart than first cousins.

The psychic has Joe sitting up. He says softly that in his dreams, he never knew if he was the killer or the victim. She reassures him he was the woman in that lifetime.

At least he knows now that he’s not a killer, not The Killer— right?

The psychic responds with, “You tell me.” For the soul’s growth, individuals must make certain connections to learn the lessons themselves. “That’s just the way these things work.”

Just then, another guard abruptly enters the room. He self-contentedly commands that the “séance” is over.

Joe is panicked that he needs more time. They were supposed to have a full hour.

The psychic releases him from agony by saying that he’s now free.

The guard is shocked, confirms that Joe has indeed been cleared of all charges and asks how she knows.

The reply is flatly, “I’m psychic.”

Anne asks to know more— from anyone who will answer.

The guard says there was an attempted murder caught in the act— something about a taxi driver who lives near where all the killings occurred.

A very puzzled Anne questions: if the psychic knew, why didn’t she say so.

“Some things have to be played out for the soul’s growth, and that’s why we’re all here.”

Copyright © 2001 Daniel Joseph Pezely & Emily Salmons-Pezely
May be licensed via Creative Commons Attribution