Basil Clegg was sailing across the azure waters of the Caribbean when the shriek of the telephone ripped him from his dream and back into bitter reality. He sat up with a gasp, heart punching its way out of his chest, and scraped around for his glasses. As the dismal scene came into focus, Basil realised that he was in his home, cold and cramped as always, the sun and the sea of his dreams fading into nothing.
And that damn phone kept ringing.
“I told you to take it off the hook,” came a muffled voice from beneath the heavy bed covers, and without thinking Basil leant in to kiss his wife on the cheek. She was right, of course, and for a moment he thought about ignoring the clanging in favour of the Caribbean. But what if it really was an emergency this time? What if Tim actually needed him, and he just let the phone ring out? With a heavy heart, the old man dragged one leg out of bed, then the other, and shuffled to the living room just in time to snatch the phone.
“Tim,” he whispered, without needing to ask who it was.
“The Devil’s got me, Daddy, the Devil’s got me!” The voice on the other end broke Basil’s heart. The shaking fear in it was real, even if the beast it spoke of wasn’t.
“Now listen mate, you need to settle down, you need to…”
“The Devil’s gonna eat me, Daddy! Don’t let the Devil eat me! His teeth… you’ve never seen anything like his teeth!”
The aching cold of the old house made Basil’s joints pop as he sat down on the lounge and draped a blanked over himself. No matter how many times he heard this lunacy, it never became easier to take. Finally, with tears sliding down his pocked cheeks, he said the same thing he said every time.
“Alright, son, I’ll be there soon.”
The madcap howls were still pouring out of the receiver as Basil returned it to its cradle, and then he sat there in the cold until he was sure the tears wouldn’t come this time. He looked out the murky window, at a slip of washed-out moon that crept between the trees. he focused on that dreary scene as he fumbled around for the photo frame by his side, then flipped it face down. He couldn’t stand to see the bright-eyed boy in the photo, a son he’d once loved and admired, but now felt only pity towards.
When the clouds took the moon away again, he sighed, stood on weary legs, and shambled back into the bedroom. He thought about being quiet so as not to wake his wife again, but of course she was already up. The bedside lamp rendered ber a silhouette against a rotting circle of orange light.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Millie said softly, and Basil saw she’d been less successful at fighting back the tears than he was.
“But he’s our boy,” Basil replied, sitting down on the bed and taking his wife’s hand. “This is what we’re here for.”
“But at what cost? Every time this happens, we lose a part of ourselves. And for what? We can’t help him.”
“I can’t,” Basil stammered, and then the tears came hard and fast. “I can’t just let my boy die.”
“Sometimes I think he died years ago. And us along with him.”
“And you’re probably right, like you always are. But we don’t give up on those we love, even if they’re already dead.”
Like every time before, Millie and Basil climbed into their clothes and jackets and silently contemplated what was to come. Hand in hand, they walked the hallway where their boy had taken his first steps, past the bedroom that served as a tribute to the child they’d lost. The Cleggs were a little slower and they shook a bit more, but still they headed out into the dead of night, to battle the Devil for what was left of their son’s soul.