A Sensitive Time is a prequel short story set in the world of Touch Sensitive, which is a thrilling PI novel by Lee Isserow. If you want to learn more about John Ballard and find out what he's getting up to then check it out!
About A Sensitive Time
She lies with him in bed, holding him close.
But something is brewing inside her, a change in chemistry, and soon she'll find out more than she ever wanted to know about the man she loves...
A Message from Lee
Hi, I'm Lee Isserow.
You may remember me from the credits of shows and movies that you never watched - and more that never aired. . .
Now I write books. Too many books.
At least one book a month until I run out of steam or *pun alert* lose the plot.
A Sensitive Time
His breathing was slow, soft, shallow, and she held him close as he slept. It had taken him three hours to stop crying. Three hours to stop blaming himself. Three hours to finally admit that there was nothing he could have done.
She was still wide awake. The day had exhausted her, but caring for him in this time of need had sent her adrenaline surging, and it was still rocketing through her system. Her thoughts were like the wind making its way around a tree. Flowing one way then being split off in another direction, two or three directions at times, reconvening on the other side as something the same, and yet different.
He needed her now more than ever, and she knew it. He was always the strong one, always the one who looked after her, helping her with the crisis of the day or week or month. Always level headed, always a rock.
Yet this, the death of his mother, the death of the one family member he had left, was the straw that broke the proverbial camel. And not just its back, the whole damn thing. Every limb fractured, its belly torn open, the organs flopping out, fluids of one kind or another oozing out in a puddle around the poor thing's dishevelled corpse.
He could get better. He would get better. She reminded herself that these things take time. Reminded herself that time heals all wounds, that time flies like an arrow, that time is the longest distance between two places, that time... is a created thing. That time is an illusion.
Her thoughts were doing it again, going on that journey and coming back changed. Those thoughts, those quotes, she wasn't even sure where they were coming from. They were the kind of thing he would say. He always had a good memory for sayings and so forth, always seemed to be able to pull exactly the right one out at the right time. It was like he had memorised those little books of wisdom they sell by checkouts, even though he swore he hadn't.
He would get better, she reminded herself, putting her thoughts back on track. That was all that mattered.
He moved in his sleep, let out a longer breath. There was something on the air as it escaped his lips. Something she had never felt before. A notion, a feeling, that didn't quite seem as though it were her own.
She ignored it. She needed to sleep. Tomorrow would be a new day, the grief would be just that little bit smaller. The day after that smaller still, and on and on until rather than mourning his mother's passing, he would just miss her. One day, he might forget about her all together.
But it would be a long time until then, she reminded herself, closing her eyes, willing herself into unconsciousness.
Another long exhale from him.
Her eyes opened wide. This time it was unmistakable.
It could have been a fraction of a dream, she tried to pretend as such, but deep down knew that it was real. She waited again for him to breath. The inhale had nothing on it, and he held it for what felt like an eternity. And then out it came. A long, soft sigh. And she had no idea how she knew it, but she did.
He killed her.
It wasn't malicious. He loved his mother, that was clear. But he hated the pain she was in.
He doubled up her meds. His mother protested of course, knew her dose, it had been the same for the best part of the year. But he assured her that the doctors had told him that she was to take more, to alleviate the agony, to make her more comfortable.
She could see it in the old woman's eyes, watching through his eyes. There was disbelief, not about the doctor at least. But there was something in his face, something that told her that one way or another, the pain would be gone if she did as she was told. So she took the extra meds with no further argument or questions.
He waited outside her door. There was a steely calm that took him over. A calm that felt so familiar. He took deep breaths, checking in on her until she passed out. Then he took the pillow from under her head. The old woman already looked at peace. This was just a small act, to allow that peace to continue.
She didn't struggle. Her breath was already weak, it didn't take long until there was no breath at all. Then he placed the pillow back under her head. Held his mother's hand in his. Said goodbye.
His exhale ceased and she was back in the room, in the bed, holding him close.
It wasn't real, it couldn't be real.
A dream, it must have been a dream, even if it were only for a split second.
Yet she knew it wasn't.
And she knew what this meant she was.
It was all over the news. She wasn't the only one.
He exhaled again. And she took in more of his memories.
And she remembered that his mother wasn't the only one either.
He had done it before, and not just to family members, but to strangers too.
It wasn't a daily activity, he wasn't that prolific, it was only when he couldn't contain the urge any longer. He fought it, he fought it so very hard, tried to stave off the dark notions that crept through the dank, inky black swamps that fettered and rotted and bubbled away in the back of his mind. But it was always a battle he lost.
Old age homes were easy pickings, they were under-funded, under-staffed, he could slip in and out with barely anyone noticing him. He had done it ever since he was a child, and would do it until the day he died. He knew it. He had accepted that this vile part of himself had a hunger that needed to be sated, and as long as it didn't harm anyone young and vibrant, with a full life ahead of them, he was okay with the occasional slip, an indiscretion, a pillow over the face every now and then.
The breath ended. And she came out of the memories wondering who this person was, the man who slept beside her, who had slept beside her every night for the last six years. He wasn't that man, this awful person lying in their bed. That man was kind, he was gentle, he was a beautiful soul.
That man, she realised, never existed.
He was putting on a mask, a facade, he was the charismatic leading man in a play and she was right in the front row. That mask had never slipped. Not whilst he was awake.
But now, now that she had the first inklings of this gift, a gift that she knew would likely turn into a curse if the papers could be believed, she was seeing right through his theatrical make up, seeing the actor behind it. And she didn't like him one bit.
She was a good mate, he thought, when he first met her. Nice to look at, a bit on the frail side emotionally, but he could deal with that. He did love her, in his own way, she could feel that coming through with the memory. But it wasn't anything close to the way she loved him. It wasn't real love. It was functional. And the sex was good, he liked the sex.
He watched her sleep sometimes, when the darkness reared its head. He would watch her, listen to her breath, and clutch the pillow beneath his head. It would be so easy, so very easy. She wasn't a fighter, she'd barely fight at all. But he hadn't let himself give in. She was too precious, part of his well-crafted facade. He couldn't risk that. Not yet.
The sound of his exhale disappeared into the night, and once more she was pulled out and back into the real world. Her body was two steps ahead of her mind, had already rolled on top of him, her knees pinning his hands to the bed, the pillow in her hands, held with all her strength over his face.
He struggled longer than his mother. Certainly fought more than she did, more than any of them did. He was always the strong one, she reminded herself, always level headed, always a rock.
With time, and not that much time, he was no longer fighting. She could no longer hear his breath, no longer remember his memories.
She pulled the pillow away and looked at his face, so still, so panicked. She had never seen that look on his face before. But she had seen it on the face of so many others he had euthanised over the years
And then, it came to her.
That the action was not hers. His death was not at her hands.
It was at the hands of his memories, his personality traits borrowed, personality traits that were dissipating as the realisation came up on her with a chill that he was dead. That it was all his fault that it was all her fault. His dark notions swimming through her head, in and out and gone with the wind.
But, of course, the police would never believe that.