Bill Suboski

Gyges Ring

His name does not matter. His mother named him Stephen George Bailey. She called him Stephen when he was young, after his father, who had died when he was one year old. As he grew, and they grew apart, she began calling him George, and in the few very good times Georgie.

Possession was just something that he did. He had been doing it before he could remember, maybe before he could talk. He could not say. But all through his childhood he took dogs and cats and played with them. It was glorious to run as a dog. Inside a bird, he could soar and climb. He could swoop through the air and dive at the earth and glide and land on a branch with tiny bird claws.

He saw what the bird saw, felt what it felt; he was the bird. But he did not have to think about the motor movements. He moved as he would as a human, and the bird body responded. It was as if he inhabited the bird, inheriting its experience and skill in flight, without having to think. He controlled the bird. He was the bird. 

As he got older he realized that possession required line of sight. The bird he possessed had to be in view of his body. When he possessed another, his own body would lay limp, eyes closed. As long as the bird remained in a line of possible sight he had possession. But if it flew out of sight, too far away, or behind a building, or some such, he would drop out, his awareness returning to his own body and the bird would fly away.

He was nine when he finally dull-wittedly realized that possession was not a skill shared by all. He had always been behind in school. Every report card came with the comment, “Needs improvement”. He had just assumed everyone could possess. There was no trigger moment of insight. It just came slowly to him one day that he alone had this ability.

Around that same time there was a quarrel at a birthday party. He wasn’t really friends with the other children. He didn’t really have any friends. He had been invited as part of a group sweep, a proud parent’s presumption that every child in the school class must be a friend. He was not a friend. He didn’t really care. But the cake was good and they served lasagna. He took the gift that his mother had bought for him to bring. 

In the afternoon, as the party wound down, several of the kids splashed about in a wading pool in the backyard. George lay on a lounger. The sun felt good. The food and cake made him a bit tired. His mother was careful with his diet and he was unaccustomed to sugars and carbohydrates.

A bigger boy had been bullying some of the other children in the wading pool. He was splashing them and he used a bucket to dump water on one boys head. The smaller boy looked at the bigger bully and left the pool. The other children followed – they were friends of the smaller boy. The bully found himself alone in the pool. 

He had a moment of frustration before he found a new game. He filled the bucket with cold water and took a few steps to where George lay on the lounger. He suppressed a giggle as he approached and dumped the bucket on George.

George reacted with shock. The water wasn’t very cold but it was unexpected. His arms snapped inward, and his knees bent, and for a moment he sat upright. If it had been part of a game he had been playing it might have been fun. But he opened his eyes to see the bigger boy laughing, standing over him.

Across the yard the family dog, a black Labrador, had been sleeping in the sun. Bongo was an older dog and very good with kids. Earlier they had been tormenting him as kids will do. Bongo had stood it all with good grace and things had settled down. Bongo loved his family and they loved him and he was even popular with the neighbors.

The bigger bully stood laughing over George. His fat belly shook like a bowlful of jelly. Although only nine, the bully had flabby b-cup-sized pectorals. His round face was chubby with blubber. He had eaten two servings of lasagna and three pieces of cake. His laugh was unpleasant and mocking, a combination of a donkey’s bray and a girlish giggle. He had no friends. 

After reacting, George had laid back again and closed his eyes. He lay motionless. The bully was frustrated. They weren’t supposed to do that. He hated being ignored. He would show this little twerp. No one noticed when Bongo stood on all fours and began walking across the yard.

The bully was still laughing but it was dying off. This wasn’t any fun if the other kids wouldn’t play. Why wouldn’t they be his friends? His laugh had evolved to sound almost as suppressed sobs. He was biting his lip, frustrated again, thinking about getting another bucket of water when Bongo bit his right hand. 

The older dog had the element of surprise and was far stronger than the young bully. He pulled the boy off his feet, and then Bongo was on him. The boys hand was red with blood as he started screaming. The other children started crying and screaming and moving away, as George lay on the lounger.

The bully was blubbering, helpless under the dog. Bongo bit his face, a nasty wound that would leave a lifetime scar. The father of the birthday boy was running across the yard, shouting, “Bongo! Bongo, stop!” The dog’s nose was an inch above the little bully’s face, and Bongo was growling. Then Bongo tore out his throat, and the bully bled to death long before the ambulance arrived.

At fifteen George was still friendless. He didn’t care. He sat apart on the bleachers. He was tall and thin and pasty white. He had a light dappling of acne on his face and an owlish look from the thick black glasses that his mother had hoped would improve his school grades. He had not a single friend. In a few weeks he would turn sixteen. His mother would take him to Aces diner, as every year, and he would eat pancakes and sausage, same as always.

It was cheerleader tryout. Many of the other groups were friends and boyfriends of the girls down on the track. Some were family, mothers and brothers. There were small and large groups, some cheering, some wolf whistling, but only one person sat entirely alone. 

Others knew to avoid George. It was an unstated understanding. Nobody liked him. He was bad news. Creepy. People were happy to stay away. George didn’t care at all. He almost lay on the bleachers, the only lone person there, far from any others. The sun was warm and he had a half smile on his face.

Second from the end in the line of tryouts was Heather Langley. She had just turned fifteen. She had straight long blonde hair and blue eyes. She was athletic and tanned and the sun reflected like a nimbus in her hair as she tossed her head about. She was an A grade student, on the swim team and in the chess and debating clubs. 

She wanted to be a cheerleader, but really didn’t care much. She was mostly at the tryout to support her friends. She wanted them to achieve something that for her was far too easy. And so she waved her bright pom poms, and whooped cheers, and led her circle in enthusiasm. The other girls smiled, same old Heather, a natural leader caring for those under her. Up on the bleachers George’s eyes had closed and his bony body gone limp.

Much later that night Heather woke in the hospital ward and somehow slipped from the restraints on the gurney. She threw a chair repeatedly against the window, until it smashed out. A nurse responding to the noise entered the room just in time to see Heather jump through the window, hospital gown fluttering in the night. She fell nine stories from the psychiatric ward onto the roof of the emergency department and died on impact.

She had been committed after her striptease at the tryout. She had quickly undressed and run naked around the field. She had done somersaults and cartwheels, and when the stunned crowd had recovered enough to try to restrain her, she had resisted and evaded and begged someone to fuck her. And then, whatever it was had passed, and she had been confused. She remembered all that had happened, she said she couldn’t stop herself, and she collapsed in racking tears.

When George was seventeen his mother had started talking to him about college. This was unrealistic. His grades were poor and he had never shown any interest in school. But she was motivated by desperation. Hers was a survival instinct, a need to distance herself from whatever her son had become, to try to recover…something.

All such talk ended after the day she attacked him. She had been trying again to engage him in future plans. At first he had ignored her. Then he told her to shut up. She heard the desperation in her own voice: “George, please…”

“Leave me alone, you stupid cow, I’m going to take a nap.”

He closed his eyes. His lip curled in a slight sneer and she had had enough. She fell on him, pounding him with fists. She punched him. She did not know how to punch but she punched him. He did not resist or fight back. He lay limply. She did not feel in control of herself, but it felt good. It felt good to strike him. And then she stopped.

After that, all he need do is allude to her beating and she was paralyzed with guilt. She had beaten her own son, attacking him while he slept. He had not resisted. She had beaten him and liked it.

At twenty-two, George was a boutique hit-man. His identity was unknown to all. Jobs were arranged remotely, using a series of Internet servers, newspaper ads and offshore accounts, that kept him cocooned in anonymity. His going rate for a job was half a million dollars, although that quickly climbed based on complications. He had been considering raising his rate. He and his mother each occupied the penthouse apartment of a thirteen story apartment called the “Overlook”. They lived separate lives, although he had a key to her apartment. 

The reverse was not true. He admitted her only on invitation, and she had no desire for his company. He paid her expenses and gave her a generous allowance and they lived separate lives. Instead, he spent much of his time with high-priced call girls. Food and dry goods were delivered as needed. George rarely left the apartment. There was no need. He ate the finest foods, slept in sumptuous splendor, and enjoyed immense creature comfort.

The girls were more affordable since he had offered yearly rates. In the meantime, they walked about naked, serving his whims. They didn’t need names. He liked telling them what to do, and demanding that they perform menial tasks for his entertainment. He liked seeing the little dog collars padlocked about their necks, each with a little nameplate, “Property of George”. He called them by number, currently “five” and “seven”. “Six” had quit prematurely. They didn’t like him, and he didn’t really like them, but they were nice decorations.

When he grew bored, he would venture onto the balcony and look down onto the plaza. The Overlook was on the edge of the business district and his balcony faced a busy open area. At first he had gone to the quarry, but he disliked the risk. Now, a condition of the hit was that the subject somehow be lured to the plaza. From there it was easy.

Once George had them, he had them. He could take his time, play with them. The plaza was at the corner of two busy main roads. Many heavy trucks passed through making deliveries. A tram ran down one of the roads. There was always ample opportunity for a tragic traffic death. But a hit didn’t always mean death. Sometimes disgrace or confession was all that was sought, a signed itinerary of criminal activities or simply humiliating conduct. George had stripped a federal prosecutor naked and had him crawl around on the plaza, barking like a dog, until the authorities took him away.

One time, the request had been to remove a senior official in the Catholic Church. Three had described a scene in a Denzel Washington movie about demonic possession. George had purchased the movie and decided that the scene was perfect. He had tormented the man for an hour, pretending to be a demon hopping from person to person. Mission accomplished. The man retired the following week.

The plaza was his playground. He stared down from his Overlook and his balcony was his throne where he sat dictating and determining the fate of any little ants who crawled and crossed the land below. Sometimes he toyed with people, simply for his own fun. But harming others was too easy. Sometimes he would confound expectations, causing a business man to empty his wallet into a homeless persons trembling hands. The plaza was his playground, and when paid, his killing field.

Six had challenged him. She was a petite blonde who had never adjusted to the job. Physically she reminded him of Heather Langley, the suicide who never had time for him. But Heather had been tall and six was not. He liked women silent and submissive, talking only when spoken to but six had challenged and even defied him. She thought her college degree mattered. He had mistakenly slightly confided in her. She had talked about Plato and something called the Republic and a ring of invisibility that would make a “man like a God among men”. It sounded good to George, but her face darkened as she described it. 

Had he been more introspective he might have realized that six had lied during the brief interview, for some reason to secure the position. But introspection was not George’s forte and for her own reasons six had played him. He had had no choice but to send her away, and of course she wouldn’t be coming back. No matter; he was pleased with the current furniture.

One day when he was playing he jumped into a middle-aged man. George had no sinister intent, that time. He was bored. He would make the fellow dance a jig or maybe skip across the plaza, and then move on. But the moment he inhabited the man he was shoved back out again. He tried again and this time he couldn’t even get in. This was new. This had not happened before.

On impulse George stood and looked over the balcony. Usually he used a railing mounted camera that could zoom and swivel to find his targets. This allowed him to play his game even inside when it rained. Line of sight worked even through a camera. But this experience had been so shocking that he stood and looked down, only to see the man looking back up at him.

The distance was too great but George knew that they had made eye contact. He felt a wave of hatred and rage rise from the man, so powerful it staggered him. This was followed by bleak and black despair and for a moment his foot rose, as he started to climb over the railing to fall to his death. The man in the plaza was not a little dot to be stopped moving, not a life to be traded for twenty thousand pounds, he was something else, something more. For the first time in his life George felt real fear. 

He wanted to confide in another, to seek counsel, but there was no one. His mother? She despised him. He did not consider one of the women in his life. They did not matter, they were not people. It was around this time that he finally realized that when furniture left his employ, he could save a great deal of money with an alternate retirement. A lawyer? He could afford the best – but weren’t they required to report crimes? Did he even commit crimes? 

On his twenty-third birthday his mother had a catered meal, pancakes and sausage. Ace’s had closed last year, first for renovations and then forever. He had not seen his mother in some time. He rarely left his apartment and she rarely stayed in hers. She had been generally good to him throughout his life, and mistreating her was a boundary he was not yet willing to cross.

He knocked at five oh three pm. She answered immediately and admitted him. She was cool and distant but not unfriendly. He was the same. Neither attempted small talk. He sat and she served the meal from the oven where she had kept it warm. He missed Ace’s. But he ate heartily while she picked at her food. He had intended to eat and leave, but once seated, the combination of familiar and new made him pause.

She cleared the dishes, poured herself another coffee, offered him one which he declined, then sat back down. They looked at each other, seemingly strangers, and neither found recognition in each other’s eyes. She looked down at her coffee and quietly said, “Georgie, Georgie, Georgie…”

He looked questioningly at her.

“Yes, mother?”

“You were given a gift, Georgie…a rare and special gift, given to few. And look what you have done with it.” 

She paused. She straightened up, looked up and made eye contact. She had a determined expression he had not seen before.

“It’s my fault. I failed you, George. I needed to guide you, teach you, and I failed you. I’m very sorry about that. I let you down.” She paused again. “I don’t know the nature of your gift, George. I can guess, and I would be close, but I don’t know the details. I should have talked to you, but you were so young, Steve had just died, and…time just got away from me. I was busy working, and I hurt so much, Georgie, and I let you down, and I am so sorry.” 

He was about to speak but she gestured him quiet.

“You’ve killed people, Georgie.”

“Mother, people die every day.”

“All the more reason not to kill more.”

She looked off into space and spoke again.

“The firstborn of every female in my family is given a gift. You didn’t know, did you? You didn’t know that I have a gift, did you? You never suspected. And my gift is the gift of certainty and doubt, and when your father died, I doubted that I was strong enough, I accidentally used my gift on myself, and it has taken me a long time to recover.”

She fixed him with eye contact.

“You have killed people. I birthed you. We have killed people. Our gifts…are for the good of all. They are a privilege, Georgie, a privilege. I am certain you need to be stopped. I completely doubt you will be able to use your gift again. You don’t have a gift. Everything you ever thought you did was delusion. People have died around you, just plain bad luck.”

He felt it within himself, something breaking, as something disappeared from him. Was it a levee bursting, and waters of power rushing away, or instead a steel plate, hammered and bolted over the bleak hole from whence his gift came? It did not matter, he felt it slipping away, vanishing in a few seconds.

“Mother, no!”

But it was already gone.

“Happy Birthday, Georgie, welcome to the rest of your life.”

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