The story so far:
I was unable to move for several seconds after he left my home, which no longer felt like a home but a dirty, ripped open shell spilling my secrets across the world, a violated refuge that could never again comfort or protect me. My feet felt clamped to the floor, and I realised my face was cold with sweat.
I shook myself out of this draining stasis that had frozen me and managed to shuffle my leaden self to the window, terrified but desperate to get a glimpse of this man as he walked away. There was no car outside, and there hadn't been time for him to drive away.
I swung my view left and then right, nothing, but something caught my eye, a blurry movement almost out of sight, and, glancing upward, I spotted the back of the Preacher as he disappeared through the tops of the trees across the road. It was just half a second I could see him, his shoes gleaming as he strode through air and branches, walking on nothing but twigs and leaves 30 feet above me.
I instinctively stepped back a few paces, not believing what I had just seen. My shock quickly turned to hot, all consuming terror again as I recalled the way this man had looked at my wife's photograph.
Like he could see through it.
Like he could reach into it.
Like he knew everything.
Panicking I half ran half stumbled over to the fireplace, desperate to see what he had seen hidden in this innocent family portrait taken during an age of happiness and love. It was the last thing on this Earth I had to hold onto and now it felt tainted from one man's stare.
I grabbed at the photograph, blinded by sweat, almost banging my elbow on the mantle, and felt the comfortable weight of the metal frame in my shaking hands. I held it against my chest, feeling my own rapid heartbeat through my wrist as I pulled my family as close to me as I could.
What did he see in this photograph? I tried to calm myself, took a dozen deep breaths and breathed out for as long as I could manage on the last one. Lefting the photograph I prepared to search this image, as familiar to me as my own reflection, for anything that could have triggered the Preacher's words to me that had made me physically sick.
My heart skipped a beat and then added several extra ones, my fingers became balsa wood and the heavy frame fell to the floor. What was this monstrosity? I leant on the mantle, legs like wet rope, and stared down at the ghastly photograph. This was not my beautiful Princess whose eyes filled me with wonder every time they looked into mine. Now she had no eyes, just glaring scarlet holes where they should have been. Her lips were pulled back in a horrific grimace exposing a toothless mouth, and her head was bent sideways at an impossible angle, blood-soaked hair hanging heavy to one side.
I fell to my knees, hitting my head against the mantle as I collapsed, and threw up into the dead fireplace before passing out.