Category Archives: Writing

26 Stories

26 Stories: Peddling Ascension

Hot off of a revision of a story about an elevator ride that felt like it would never end is a story about a staircase. This one is an odd bird; it came from a dream I had last week. 

In that dream, I was going to Hogwarts, which was located past a secret entrance at the back of an ice cream store in the retail district of a semi-futuristic city. There were a lot of odd thing about the dream: it was only 24 miles away and I decided to run there in 30 minutes. The ice cream shop had Dumbledor on the marketing. I could fly, encounters were triggered like video games (I play too many video games), and Hagrid–played by Gerard Butler–really didn’t want me to know about the staircase in the back that went up forever. 

Well, I distilled all the Harry Potter and video game references right out of that, and this story was left. 

Enjoy!

Peddling Ascension
14th Floor

“Do you want to know a secret,” the guy at the ice cream joint asked me. He’d already asked me if I thought that the ice cream was “magical,” evidently the tagline for the shop. I had agreed, albeit awkwardly. To be fair, the ice cream at “Cream-o-mancy” was incredible. The wizard on the shop’s signage, with his traditional pointed hat replaced by a waffle cone, seemed to think that the cream was pretty special. The guy behind the counter was buying into the theme, too, though his long gray hair and scrabbly beard were both wrapped in nets, spoiling the image.

               “Uh.” Nothing good ever came from a strange bearded man, peddling sweets, and offering secrets. I was a little old to be lured into the back of a van, but the guy’s excitement was nearly manic.

               “Come on, man… not everyone knows about this secret. It’s cool.” His eyes were also a little bloodshot. Maybe he’s going to offer me drugs? In that case, I was a little interested.

               “All right, I’ll humor you.”

               “In the back, waaaaay in the back, there’s a staircase that goes up forever.”

               This was significantly less interesting a revelation, though I was right about the drugs.

               “Okay.”

               “Nah, really! It’s, like, you can see it going up, but it doesn’t stop.”

               “Haven’t you ever walked up it?”

               “Fuck no! But one guy that used to work here said he did. Said he walked up it for at least half an hour, and when he gave up to turn back, he hadn’t gone up more than one or two steps.”

               I laughed. How could I not?

               “Your friend sounded like he was on some good stuff.”

               “Not him, man.”

               “Okay, well, in any event, the ice cream was great, but I—”

               “You wanna see it?”

               I considered carefully. Should I deny a guy clearly strung out on something, or should I take my chances in the back with mister wizard here?

               “Fine.”

               “Yes! My man, you aren’t going to believe this shit.” He took off his apron and walked into the back without so much as a check to make sure there weren’t other customers. I followed, through a swinging door and into the cold of the storeroom. He led me past empty tubs of ice cream, beyond the large walk-in freezers and their noisy generators, and out the back door.

               The shop was in one of those galleria malls downtown. Going “out back” didn’t put us outside, but in some featureless white hallway. Back doors to other businesses flanked us, and the place held the faintest smell of old produce.

               “So, we gotta go back this way a ways. This place it like a maze, man, all twisting and turning and shit.” I followed trippy Gandalf as he took us around a few turns, down more featureless corridors, and through at least four more swinging doors. He wasn’t kidding; in short order, I was lost. I had tried to keep track of which mechanical room doors we passed, where the electric boxes were, and how many exits signs I counted. All the while, the running commentary from my guide in this demented quest got less and less coherent. The smell of rotting produce got stronger, and then faded, turning musky. We were still somewhere in the interior alleys of the city—we had to be—but it felt like we’d been winding around for a long time.

               We continued this way until we emerged in the galleria.

               Or rather, a completely empty portion of it. I’d been in the galleria a few times over the years, but this was completely new to me. New and deserted.

               “Is this part being remodeled?” I asked.

               “What? Nah, they just forgot about it.”

               “Then why does it still have electricity and,” I noticed, “muzak?”

               My guide shrugged.

               The storefronts were all staples of the malls of my youth; stores like KB Toys, B Daltons, and Sam Goody. Doors were all open and shelves stocked, but there wasn’t a single person in sight. I got the feeling that I could have walked into any one of those stores, taken what I wanted, and no one would have stopped me. There was no one to care.

               “C’mon, man, it’s just over there.” I suddenly felt like an idiot.

               “That’s an escalator, dude,” I said, nodding to the moving staircase he’d pointed to. “It goes around and around, not up forever. Jesus, man, I have to admire your commitment to a joke.”

               “Huh?” He was confused. “Oh, I get it. Maaaaan, that would be a good joke. Like, a total play on, like, expectations or something. But that’s not it. It’s up the escalator and at the end of the hallway.”

I nodded, a little disappointed that this trek wasn’t over. “Oh. Okay, well, let’s go, then.”

               “Dude, I’m not going up there. This is all you, now.”

               “What?”

               “I told you, I don’t like it. And, like, when you see it, I wouldn’t do anything but look.”

               “You’re… you’re at least going to wait here, right? I don’t think I could find my way back.”

               “Sure, sure,” he nodded. He pulled a joint out of his pocket and stuck it between his lips. “I’ll be right here when you get back.”

               I’m not sure why I did it, but I stepped on the escalator. Fluorescent lights and the incessant tunes of synthesized Celine Dion followed me as I went. The walk was a little longer than I expected—clearly, my guide’s definition of “just ahead” and mine were different—but I went on. Sunk cost; I’d gone this far and could go just a little farther for what was sure to be some kind of drug-addled misunderstanding of how stairs worked.

               I was at least a few minutes down the hall before I noticed that the shops and storefronts. The stores of my youth were replaced with less familiar ones. Gadzooks and Camelot Music and Kenny G muzak. Then to Contempo Casual and Casual Corner with versions of ABBA and the Bee-Gees. And on to Chess King and Kinney Shoes. The muzak eventually faded out altogether, replaced by the distant calliope of a carousel.

I was already starting to believe the ice cream wizard’s story by the time the storefronts were nothing but displays and rows of window displays of staircases. All the store names were stair themed bastardizations of the mall stores of the past—KB Stairs, Pepperidge Stairs, and so on. Kiosks advertised nothing but rotating pictures of stairways. Stairs spiraling up (or down, depending, I suppose, or your perspective). Grand staircases in plantations style homes and concrete steps in parks nestled in hidden corners of the country.

The last staircase at the end of this maddening walks was the one the ice cream guy was talking about. There was no mistaking it.

               He wasn’t wrong; it was unsettling. I felt like its impossible length was a trick of perspective, and that it really didn’t go up forever, but just got smaller in scale as it went up.  I thought about turning back at that point, but it seemed like I could no more do so that no breathe. If he really had a friend who had at least tried walking up the stairs only to turn back and leave, that person had more will than I did.

               And so, up I went.

I didn’t decide at any point to turn around. I was in it for the long haul, so to speak, and I wouldn’t stop—couldn’t stop—until I reached the top. Whoever it was that was my wizardly guide here, that dark practitioner of the ice cream arts, had to know that I wouldn’t be coming back. But I think he didn’t expect me to come back.

               I think he knew that he was leading me to a path without end. An escalator ride that never looped around.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: Flesh of my Flesh

The second half of this effort begins now with more goopy body horror elements. Also, I’m relatively sure that my sexual imagery is less subtext and just plan old text. I wonder what my therapist would say about this story?

As always, enjoy. Or be grossed out.

Or both!

Flesh of My Flesh
13th Floor

              “Is this one of those ‘War of the Worlds’-type things? It has to be, right?” Cal asked, fiddling with the antique radio.

              “This?” Martin replied. “These fire-and-brimstone preachers have been on these AM stations since Marconi played the mamba.”

              “Who did the what, now?”

              “You are so young.”

              “I’m not that much younger you. I’m just more cultured.”

              “The devil walks among us, children,” the radio preacher’s twang sounded like an angry child talking through a tin-can phone.

              “Grandpa used to play that shit all the time on this very radio. I wonder if he would find it ironic that it’s probably what made me gay.”

              “We are at war!” the Preacher shouted. “The communists, the freedom-hating liberals-“

              “Here it comes.”

              “The gays and their homosexual agenda.”

              “Nailed it!” Martin said.

              “The only thing on my agenda,” Cal said, “Is to eat. Aren’t you supposed to be making dinner?”

              “Crock-pot,” Martin said. “Been cooking for three hours.”

              “Oh,” replied Calvin.

              Martin kissed the top of Cal’s head. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”

              Cal stood, listening to the radio preachers continue his diatribe on the gays and the atheists and Democrats. “How did you survive growing up here?”

              Martin shrugged. “Deep closets.”

              “Speaking of closets, where are we going to start?”

              Martin scanned the living room of the ranch house. It was in remarkably good shape already on the outside, but too cluttered with kitsch and a hodge-podge of different eras of style. Martin also assumed that the details that were hidden in the walls would prove to be worse. Ancient pipes, bad wiring, thin insulation, and who knew what else waited for the tear-down. The storage company would be coming out in a few days to take the furniture away that they wanted to keep, the charity would come a few days after that everything else salvageable, and the waste management company would park a large bin outside for the refuse.

              “The bathrooms can be cleaned out pretty easily, but I suspect that’s where we’re going to find the most problems.”

              “Get the worst out of the way, then?”

              “Yeah, I think that’s the best approach.”

              “Okay,” Cal said, brushing off his hands. “You tend to that dinner and I’ll see what we’ve got in the master bathroom.”

              Martin left the room.

              “Temptation leads to damnation,” the radio preacher said. “When the merging comes, when the great Beast is birthed, the world be remade in its image of eternal Flesh.”

              “No gays though, I imagine,” Cal said to the radio.

              “All are welcome in the now world,” he said.

              “Yeah, I bet,” Cal walked away.

              “All, Calvin.” Cal froze.

“The change will not come in fire,” the preacher continued. “It will come in a rain of flesh and a changing of the body!” When the radio did not address Calvin again by name, he pressed his fingers to his temples. Convinced that he’d misheard, he continued on his way.

*            *            *            *

              Cal laughed over his half empty beer glass. “I can’t believe that he actually said that to you!”

              “I know, right? Straight guys are so awkward when they try really hard to be accepting. I guess I’m his gay friend he can use to prove his liberal street cred.”

              “We’re not exactly shattering the gay stereotype with all this catty talk, are we?”

              Martin laughed. “I guess not.”

              “Brothers and sisters, hallelujah!” a tinny voice said from the living room.

              “Didn’t you turn that off,” Martin asked.

              “I thought you did.”

              “Not me.”

              “Praise be unto Him, for I come with good tidings.”

              “I’ll get it,” Cal rose and headed to the living room, leaving Martin to take another sip of his Scotch.

              “Children,” the preacher said with a patronizing concern, “I know that I often talk about who stands against us; who we oppose. But make no mistake… this is not about hate. We hate no one.”

              “Sure,” hand on the dial.

              “The gays and their illicit lovers, living in sin,” Cal turned the knob to the left, diminishing the hateful voice almost fast enough, but not quite.

              “Fixing up the old farmhouse together. Making a ‘bed and breakfast’ to lure more of their kind to our good community. To pervert it. But we don’t hate them.”

              “Martin,” Cal called.

              “Yes?”

              “I think the radio preacher is talking about us.”

              “Not ‘about,’ Calvin. To you,” the preacher said on a clearer signal.

“What did you say, Calvin?” Martin asked from the doorway. “Did you decide that you still wanted to listen to that?”

              “I…”

              “Go ahead, Calvin. Turn it off. It won’t silence me.”

              “Did you hear that?”

              “Yeah, and if this guy is just going to repeat shit about the gay illuminati, he’s going to lose his followers to boredom.” Martin exaggerated a yawn.

              “No, I mean-“

              “Ugh,” Martin reached over and turned the radio off.

              “There. You coming back to the table?”

              “I told you,” the preacher said through the dead antique, still with a high-frequency hum. “You can hear the Word now, Calvin. You won’t be able to stop hearing it.” Calvin abruptly grasped the old power chord and yanked the plug from the wall. The action triggering a sharp pop and flash of a spark. Lights in the house flickered.

              “The wiring is going to be a real bitch to fix,” Martin said.

              “Yeah,” Calvin muttered.

              “The Word is truth, Calvin,” the preacher continued. “The truth of the Flesh is next.”

              Martin put a reassuring hand on Calvin’s shoulder. “Are you feeling okay? You look pale.”

              “What?” Cal asked, and then, “No, yeah… yeah. I’m just… tired. Too much beer, maybe.”

              “Don’t I know it,” Martin said. “Okay, we can get to work tomorrow.” He set his glass down on the top of the radio and planted a kiss on Cal’s lips. “Thank you,” he said.

              “Filth,” the radio said.

“For what?”

              “For helping with this.”

              “Sinners.”

              “Of course…” Cal tried to block out the voice in his head.

              “C’mon,” Martin said, taking Cal’s hand and leading him toward the bedroom. “Let’s go to bed.”

              “Fornicators.”

              “Sounds good,” Cal replied.

              “This is not how the Flesh is joined,” the preacher said to Calvin as the two men left. “But you will know soon enough.”

*            *            *            *

              Calvin stood on a vast expanse of skin. Tumorous growths rose around him like termite mounds, mottled pink, black, and blue. Scabs partially covered oozing sores. A fetid wind blew and carried with it the smell of putrescence. The land under his feet swelled and sank at regular intervals. He knew it was a dream instantly, albeit, it was a dream with a different quality than he was used to.

              “Calvin,” his father said, “I will not stand for this.”

              “Dad,” he replied, “it’s not like it wasn’t obvious.”

              “It wasn’t obvious to me!”

              “I played catch, dad! I dated girls. I did everything you wanted.”  

              “And yet you still fuck other men!” His father’s features ran and melted, oozing like putty left in a hot sun.

              “Daddy?”

              The puddle that was once his father reformed. The waxy pink fluid ran backwards, like a video reversed. As it took shape, Calvin stood face-to-face with man of about his father’s age, wearing a robe that wasn’t quite like a preacher’s vestment, but close enough.

              “Your father is with the Flesh, now. We all return to the Flesh. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… flesh to flesh.” The preacher reached out and put a hand on Cal’s arm. Where his fingers touched Cal’s skin, cancerous masses, red and angry, erupted. Fire burned under his skin as his flesh twisted and his bones were broken, liquified, and reformed. Into what, he didn’t know, as the dream faded.

*            *            *            *

              “Slime mold,” Martin said, standing in front of the hole he had hammered into the bathroom’s drywall. Glistening, biological goop had glommed on to the wall studs. “I knew there would be something disgusting back here. We did get masks, right?” Martin waited. “Right, Calvin?”

“Uh… yeah,” Cal nodded.

“Good. If this is here, you can bet there’s black mold and we sure as shit don’t want to breath any of that in.”

              “I’ll get them,” Calvin said, anxious to leave the room. In addition to grabbing a set of mases, he snagged the box of latex gloves, too. I’m not risking touching that.

Martin had started music on his phone. “Thank you!” he chirped, taking a mask and the box of gloves from Calvin. Martin slipped on the mask, pulled on the gloves and made a lewd gesture in Calvin’s direction. When Calvin didn’t laugh, Martin pulled the mask down.

              “Are you sick, or hungover?”

              “I didn’t sleep well. Nightmares.”

              “Oh. Well, they’re just dreams, right? Can’t hurt you and all that?”

              “Thanks dad… er… mom.” Calvin’s stomach churned with the memory of the dream.

              “Mmmm-hmmm,” Martin replied. “Does princess Calvin need a nap? We’ve got work to do, and good music to keep us awake.” The current song—some EDM music that Calvin never got into—ended.

              “Hello Calvin,” the preacher’s voice said from the phone.

              Martin smiled, “That’s my jam!” He started to dance to an unheard beat.

              “No,” Cal said. “No, no, no…”

              “Yes, Calvin. You cannot escape the Word.”

              Martin frowned. “I know this isn’t usually your music, but we can play your depressing rock songs later.”

              “I don’t want to hear this.”

              “Okay, Jesus.” Martin stopped the music. “What the hell got into you?”

              “The Word is inescapable. The Flesh is inevitable.”

              “Leave me alone!”

              “Leave you alone? Calvin, you have to be sick.”

              “Your father is here, Calvin,” the preacher said. “And he’s felt the change.”

              “My father is dead!”

              “Calvin?” Martin, concerned now, stopped the music. “What’s going on? Are you… do you need help?” He held Calvin’s face in his hand, turning to look into his eyes.

              “Yes, let him take you in his arms. Be of the same sinful flesh. Your father understands, now, the pressing and melding and joining of flesh. He doesn’t hate you anymore.”

              “Stop!” Calvin yelled, pushing Martin away.

              “Stop what?” Martin replied.

              “Why, you and your father could become close, Calvin. So much closer, if you just accept the Word and embrace the Flesh.”

              Calvin ran.

*            *            *            *

              He ran into the countryside until his lungs burned and his legs gave out, where he finally collapsed. He tried to rise, to run more, but cramps rendered his legs inoperable. So he lay there, on the ground, and cried.

              When he stopped, twilight had set in. He didn’t remember when he’d left the house or how long he had been out. He knew, at least, that there was no radio out here to talk to him. No phone to tell him lies. He took deep, hitching breaths, and tried to center himself.

              Ahead of him, above a cluster of scrub brush, a radio tower loomed. The tower. Its blinking red lights glared down at him. Each a malevolent eye. From somewhere ahead, a speaker whined.

              “Brothers and sisters our newest sheep has come to join the flock.” Calvin rose slowly to his feet. He trudged forward, toward the tower and the voice, not fully in control and too tired to fight it anymore. “He has heard the Word, the Word of the Flesh, and has come to us to find salvation.” As he pushed past the cluster of scrub, he saw the small steel shack with its single metal door. There had once been a chain-link fence around it, but it had long since fallen. Faded warning signs tried to turn him away, but he ignored them.

              “He comes to be cleansed of his sin, the sin of impure Flesh. The sin of order.” Calvin pushed open the steel door, which screeched in protest on rusty hinges, but opened none-the-less.

The gurgling screams of his father welcomed him.

*            *            *            *

              When Calvin returned, Martin was pacing on the porch. He rushed down the stairs to him, wrapping him in an embrace.

              “Oh thank God, Calvin. You scared me! Where did you go? I thought you were hurt or…”

              “I had to take a walk,” Calvin said.

              “A walk?” Martin pushed back. “You ran out like you were being chased!”

              “I had to talk to my dad.”

              “Your dad’s been dead for years. So, okay, new plan. We’re going to get in the car and go home. You need to get out of here. We can go to that brewery you like, and—“

              “Home?” Calvin said. “I am home.”

              “That was never the plan. You know that. Home is back in the city. We’re just fixing this up.”

              “Home is here. Home is where the flesh is.”

              Martin withdrew. “You need some rest, and we need to get you out of here. Let’s go inside and pack a few things.”

              “Yes,” Calvin said as he followed Martin across the porch and into the living room. “We can listen to the radio.”

              “That thing? I’ve had enough of that. It’s unplugged, anyway, remem-” The radio came to life, a soft glow behind the dials and display.

              “…sins of the Flesh. These are the sins that our lord warned against. The sins that both corrupt us, and cleanse us.”

              “What the Hell,” Martin said.

              “Not Hell,” Calvin said. “The living Flesh is so much more than that.”

              “Calvin, stop. Please. You’re freaking me out.”

              “He’s right,” the preacher said.

              “What? Who?

              “He’s the prophet,” Calvin replied.

              “How did that nutcase know my name?”

              “I know all about you, Martin, and your life here.”

              “I don’t know what kind of bullshit you’re pulling Calvin, but this isn’t funny.”

              “I know about your fumbling with the boy in the neighboring farm.”

              “That’s… stop it.”

              “He wasn’t even gay.” Calvin said.

              “You can’t possibly know about that. Please stop.”

              “He raped a girl to prove it to himself.”

              Martin hit Calvin with a closed fist. “I said STOP!”

              Calvin reached out, despite the discoloration already forming on his jaw. “It’s okay, Martin.”

              “It is, Martin,” the preacher’s voice said calmly through the radio.

              “You didn’t know.” Calvin continued.

              Martin began to cry. “You… both of you… please stop.”

              Calvin held out a hand. “You can be cleansed, Martin. When he comes… when flesh becomes flesh; when all is fused, we can be joined.”

              “What are you saying,” Martin asked, desperation in his voice.

              “We can be one in ways we never could have before.”

              “Listen to him,” the radio said.

              “I…”

              “Please, Martin,” Calvin continued. “Come with me.”

              Martin took Calvin’s hand.

              Calvin led Martin to the bathroom. Inside, in the hole Martin had bashed into the wall, the slime mold had grown. It had taken over the whole wall, spreading fleshy, throbbing tendrils. There was an opening, now; a vertical slit by angry red tissue and living tumors. Calvin stepped into it with one foot and turned back to Martin.

              “The choice must be yours,” the preacher’s voice said from nowhere and everywhere. “Do you want to know the Word and the Truth? Do you want to be one with the Flesh?”

              “Yes,” Martin said.

              “Then follow. In your sin, you shall be remade clean and whole.”

              Calvin fully penetrated the threshold, and Martin followed.

*            *            *            *

              A world of pain and cancer and fire awaited, yet to Martin, the pain was blissful. He was one with his husband. Their bodies merged, no longer in the figurative sense that had been part of their wedding vows. On the plane of skin and tissue, in the realm or tumors and yellow puss, the two men melted into each other, and in doing so, became one.

              “Flesh of my flesh,” the voice of the preacher of the Living Flesh said, “blood of my blood.”

              And so it was.

              And so it would be.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: The Hike

I almost didn’t post this today, despite having written it two days prior. I had overextended myself with stuff (volunteer turn at the theater). Furthermore, I had to read over it at least once. I decided to do it, anyway, even staying up well past my bedtime. It would be a shame to delay my 12th story–nearly half of my goal. I’m glad I read it, anyway, because I managed to shave off about 15% of the content. It’s a major step for me, as the biggest comment I keep getting at my Writer’s Workshop sessions is that I am too wordy. This is something that I, of course, already know. And you probably do, too.

In any event, this was also inspired by a recent trip to Colorado. I admit to feeling the same pull my unnamed protagonist felt when I stood at the base of the Rockies. I, however, am far more sensible, and opted not to be drawn in.

Perhaps that was for the best.

The Hike
11th Floor

               At their base, the pull of the mountains was strong, and instead of fighting it, he gave in. With little preparation or thought, he left his life, such that it was, and walked from the foothills of the Rockies into the haze of their valleys and peaks. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful view on that chilly fall day that drew him in. There was something in the air. A drumbeat that tugged at his subconscious. He wouldn’t be missed; his job was replaceable, his friends nonexistent, and no family to speak of. If anyone cared enough to file a missing person’s report, it would be because they felt some sort of duty to do so. It would be filed, and it would languish. He would receive one, maybe two more paychecks before anyone thought to terminate his employment. His apartment would stay in his name for months before the missed payments turned into an eviction.

               The first day was a wonder of discovery, with every crested elevation revealing another portrait of green and gray. The mountains were more than he’d expected them to be. That he couldn’t see for miles with unobstructed views was better, like there were secrets still to reveal. That day, and the day after, he still saw enough hikers to not lose himself in the remoteness. He avoided them, of course, when he could. As he trekked further in, off of the worn hiking trails with their signs guiding wanderers back to civilization, the frequency of those encounters diminished.

               On day three, he realized that hunger and thirst were two things he should have considered. He had a water bottle with him, and because of the mist and available moisture everywhere, he could slake his thirst, but his hunger was a different story. He hadn’t had even a granola bar to tide him over. He decided that, before he found himself starving, he needed to learn to find food before he was too weak to do so.

               It was easier than he’d thought, to find rabbits and other rodents. This close to the trailhead, the rabbits and squirrels were still conditioned to, if not trust humans, not stay out of sight then they came close.

               The cooking of his catch almost killed him. But he survived, even as he pushed farther into the mountains. Even as the cold got more bitter, the elevation higher, and the food more skittish. He managed to find food here and there; almost as if it were being provided. In fact, in once instance, he found two skinned rabbits already hanging from a tree with no apparent owner. Later, an old camp abandoned with still edible jerky and granola, both of which he devoured hungrily.

               When he found the rift I the land and the stairs leading down, his clothes were ragged, his frame lean, and his general hygiene “filthy,” for lack (or need) of a better word.

               The pull that he’d felt from the foothills was strong here, and it was clear that this was its source. Hesitating now made little sense, given how far he’d already come. There was a difference, here; at the foothills, the majesty of the mountains hinted at wonders and beauty to find. This, on the other hand, cause him to pause. While it wasn’t clear what kind of darkness awaited him, he was scared in ways he hadn’t felt when faced with more “banal” questions of survival.

               He decided that to not walk into that ravine was to betray what brought him there in the first place. And so, he descended the roughhewn stairs into oblivion.

*             *             *             *

               He walked for what seemed like hours, but because the already fading light of the afternoon sky had also been consumed by the darkness of the ravine, it was difficult to see the mine’s entrance, but it was there. There was enough ambient light to see the roughly square opening in the cliff wall as his feet settled on the rock floor at the bottom of the stairs. It seemed impractical to have a mine entrance this far down a narrow ravine with a steep staircase. Maybe, he thought, this was an exit, and the entrance was somewhere else. Somewhere practical. Maybe the miners had carved the stairs up the ravine. It didn’t feel right to him, though.

               The mine breathed at him, stagnant air washing over his body. It was, the noticed, remarkably square and even with its construction. Too perfect, it seemed. Any extra light from the outside world that might have filtered down from the opening high above him did not extend past its threshold.

               And yet, like he did at the foot-hills days (weeks? Months?) ago, he walked in, determined to follow the pull to its source.

*             *             *             *

He stumbled around blindly, feeling the wall for direction and shuffling his feet to avoid sudden drops. He waited for his eyes to adjust, but at this depth they never would. He pressed on, drawn ever forward toward something, certain that he would not take a wrong turn. Minutes became hours became days became an unknowable amount of time. His hunger faded, or he stopped caring. He drank water that dripped from the ceiling, pooled on the ground, or ran down the walls. It had a distinctly chalky taste, no doubt the minerals shaping the cave’s invisible features it carried.

               From time to time, he thought he heard sounds. He should have been scared, but the ever-present drive forward made him feel that his journey had a purpose, and that nothing would interfere. Forces were in play that would protect him, he knew.

               In time, he noticed a soft, blue-green glow. He didn’t know how long it had been there or how slowly it had brightened enough to merit observation. It resolved itself, slowly, into lines, like capillaries, running through the cave walls, floor, and ceiling. Thin at first, but thickening as he pushed on, the glow—some sort of phosphorescent to bioluminescent phenomenon—intensified, adding a myriad of colors. They ran like deep veins in the rock, leading him; lights showing him the way forward just as he’d come to believe he would forever wander in darkness. It warmed him, seeming to imbue his body with energy that it had long since spent. He laughed out loud, a sound of unrestrained joy. As it echoed down the tunnels, the lights pulsed and change in response. Encouraged, he laughed again, changing his pitch and volume, and the lights danced. He let this last one die out, watching the waves of changing color flow down the tunnels with the sound.

               As quiet returned, the colors stabilized. And then, from the tunnels ahead, he saw the colors changing, drawing nearer. His smile faded as the changing colors caught up to him and brought with them what he knew they had to bring. Another laugh, but not his. The colors raced past him with the alien laughter, back the way he had come. For the first time in his journey, he considered turning around. He would never find his way back, he knew. Someone, or something, awaited him ahead.

*             *             *             *

               When he saw a figure approaching, his heart trembled in his chest, and he stopped, as did the approaching shadow. When he stepped forward again, it did as well. Each step and halting pause of his was perfectly mirrored. As he drew close to the apparition, he made out its features in the glow. He gasped as he recognized himself, as it gasped, and shifting violets and oranges raced toward each other, melded in a spectacular display of colors, and passed on. He put his hand out, and the figure did the same. It was a mirror… it had to be.

               It was not the case. He had raised his right hand and the reflection had done the same; it had not raised what would have been its left hand. This was no mirror image. He walked forward, and it continued to do so. As he got closer and pressed to the right wall, his “reflection” did, as well. The two copies of the same man passed each other that way, in the tunnel, each afraid of the other. Once past, they stared at each other. He understood now. It would be him, back in the world he left behind. It would take his place and live out the rest of his uninteresting life. No one ever would come looking for him, now. Even if it was an imperfect, empty image, it would do. When he turned his head, the reflection did as well.

*             *             *             *

               The tunnel narrowed, and he knew his journey in the dark was coming to an end. The glowing veins of dancing colors had gotten narrower and dimmer, but there was a new light ahead of him that was unmistakably daylight. Weak, but it was the sun. The walls closed in on him. He had to turn to his side to continue on as the light grew stronger, resolving into a vertical slit. The ceiling lowered until he had to drop to the ground, crawling on his side and wiggling to move inches. Panic rose, the walls crushing him. Moving forward was now impossible, but so was retreating. He would die here, so close to the exit.

               Then he felt the walls shift and ripple. They pulsed, pushing him forward with each wave. The slit ahead of him grew closer and seemed to expand with each

contraction

movement, until finally he was pushed out of the cave and onto damp earth. He closed his eyes against the light and turned his face to the earth to block it out. He didn’t know how long he lay there like that, shrinking away from the sun. Finally, though, it was time to finally see.

               Cautiously, he raised his head and opened his eyes.

               The light in the sky was weaker than he’d thought and was a color that he was not immediately able to categorize. Something like a pink or coral, but not quite. The trees that towered above him were difficult to make out, though the slowly resolving blurriness of his vision was doing him no favors. He blinked a few times and rubbed at them. He saw the shapes of birds darting across the sky. The air was constricted, as he would expect from higher altitude. He must still be somewhere in the Rockies, though he wasn’t sure where he would expect to be. The indelible pull had gone; the very force that had summoned him here dropped away as if it never existed at all. Why would it lead him here to another point in the same chain of rocks, only to abandon him?

               He rose, shakily, and looked back. There was a large rock face there, but try as he might, no amount of squinting revealed the crack he had crawled out of. As his eyesight finally cleared, he looked again to the sky when a flock of birds drew his attention.

               Only, the things in the sky, silhouetted against the strange color, were not birds. These things flew without wings. They were more like long snakes, winding their way in the air. A star-shaped protrusion at the front wriggled small tentacles in the air, and occasionally, they shrieked at each other from far off, the noise piercing not just his ear drums, but into his psyche. They were also much further away than he had thought; not darting just above and among the trees, but flying high in the air, miles away at least. They were massive creatures.

               Something landed on the ground next to him with a dull thud, snapping him out of his trance. A fruit of some kind lay at his feet. A pomegranate, he though, and he reached down to pick it up. While it vaguely resembled a pomegranate, however, its texture was more like a tumor. It wriggled in his hand, causing him to drop it. Small cilia burst from its surface—some that appeared to have small eyes and some gaping and hungry mouths. It rose on still others and scuttled away from him in to the forest.

               Which showed him the truth of the trees. They were not covered in bark, but they were made of something slick and oily. Protrusions that he thought were branches swaying in a breeze were moving of their own accord. Sometimes, a “branch” would latch onto another “tree,” and it would sink wicked barbs into it, drawing out a black ichor as it greedily drank of the other’s essence.

               He ran.

               He ran through the trees, careful not to touch any. He ducked at screeches from the flying things, imagining them diving down on him and carrying him away. More of the scurrying “fruits” of the trees ran beside him or climbed up the trunks of the strange forest sentinels. He ran up a hill, the soft ground giving spongily with each step, until he reached the crest.

               He saw.

               He saw something titanic on the horizon. A behemoth, giant flesh trunks for legs and a bulbous, shifting body resting on top. Scores of whipping tentacles thrashed in the sky. It uprooted some of the strange trees and carried them up to parts of it that were (blissfully) obscured behind a cloudy haze. Flocks of the airborne creatures snaked toward it. They flew in and out of a great, honeycomb surface that appeared to be part of the leviathan’s very flesh. He dropped to his knees as it made a sound so deep and terrible, so primal and wrong.

               He wept.

               He wept until hand rested on his shoulder. A woman’s hand. The woman it was a part of smiled sadly as he looked up to her. She was beautiful beyond comprehension; flawless skin on a perfectly symmetrical face. Her smile was comforting, and without thinking, he fell against her, wrapping his arms around her and burying his tear-lined face in her chest.

               “Why?” he said, the first full word he uttered in ages. It would be his last.

               She placed her hands on either side of his face and gently lifted it to hers. She didn’t respond, the perfect smile unchanged. He sniffled, and forgot, for a moment, the scene of alien terror all around him. He smiled weakly back. He knelt there before her for a time, a supplicant before his goddess.

               He understood.

               He understood his place when her body split down the middle with the sickly tearing of wet meat, opening to reveal a great, gaping gullet lined with rows of needle-sharp teeth; when her tongue extended and wrapped itself around him and pulled him gently in to it, he did not scream. 

               He gave in.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: The UnderGrand Guignol Film Festival

This was supposed to be a short story. I was trying to incorporate feedback from a few months of DFW Writer’s Workshop sessions that (rightly) point out that I am often slow to get things going. I wanted to write something that quickly jumped into the plot and didn’t get bogged down as it rolled along. Instead, it started to grow, like most stories do, and took me down a different road than I intended. As such, I didn’t finish the whole thing, and while this won’t be the first story I’ve left hanging as part of this project, it’s the first one I have done unintentionally. That said, it will give my two or three readers something to look forward to. 

Additionally, this will bring in other stories I’ve posted and tie them together. It’s not the first time I’ve revisited Rabia, as I did so two weeks ago with my sci-fi jaunt. As I add to this, I have plans to revisit two other characters (given that this is set in Austin, at least one of them can be pieced together from previous works).

In any event, I would have liked to finish this, but as always, perfection is not the point of this exercise. Practice and accountability is.

The UnderGrand Guignol Film Festival
10th Floor

               “Amateurish,” Franklin said into his recorder, “as if the filmmaker—and I use the term loosely—felt their first-year student film would be worthy of a showing in any venue other than in a class filled with similarly minded peers who cannot see past their angsty high school careers.” He clicked the pause button and took that moment to make some notes in his notebook as the final credits of the last film he’d watched scrolled past in the dark room. They ran backwards, accompanied by music from a calliope played in reverse; another attempt to unsettle that was as trite as the prior three hours of movie. He clicked the recorder back on after a moment of thinking about it, and added, “Scott, I hope you realize that you owe me a lot of drinks for this.” He scrawled some more notes on his notebook—bits that he would work into his review—and turned off the small light he had clipped to his notebook.

               The atrociously titled “UnderGrand Guignol Dark Film Festival” was considered an exclusive event with dozens of secrets hoops to jump through, seeded weeks before the first showing. The effort put into the marketing was far more impressive than the shows had been so far. Franklin’s initial excitement had worn off with the first black-and-while short of a tortured artist building her own cross and was now officially dead after the last overly long mess of jump cuts, footage of an abattoir’s killing floor, and one forty-five-minute long, time-lapse shot of an apple rotting. At least the self-crucifixion flick had been five minutes.

               He walked out of the unused cold storage warehouse where the film had screened, his joints protesting the time spent on a metal folding chair, and into the chilly Austin air. Several blocks away, he heard the usual thump of music and calling of voices from the bars and clubs on 6th street. He thought about blowing the rest of this festival off and joining them, even though the crowd would be a decade or two his juniors. His next offering, according to the messages pieced together from QR codes left on the backs of “voodoo” charms hidden around downtown suggested that he was in for some good, old fashioned cultural appropriation.

               Franklin focused on figuring out which of the historic cemeteries he’d have to take an Uber to for showing, was it number four tonight? Five? Just as he’d made up his mind on the one to try first, he looked up in time to avoid plowing into the man that was standing directly in front of him. Franklin jumped and started to mutter an apology when he saw that the man, who was easily close to seven-feet tall, was wearing a featureless white mask.

               “Ah,” he said. “Was that yours?” he gestured back to the warehouse. “If so, I’d… well, you can read the reviews tomorrow like everyone else. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Franklin tried to walk around, but the looming person put up a white-gloved hand to stop him.

               “Okay, I get it. Creepy film festival, creepy masked guy. I’m not going to change my review of the film because of some performance art. The film has to stand on its own merits.” He received no response. “Great. Well, look. It’s been done, before, so why don’t you just let me get on to my next show…” At that, the man produced, with a flourish, a rectangular piece of paper and presented it to Franklin. When he didn’t immediately take it, the tall man gestured with it.

               Franklin sighed. “Damn viral marketing is out of control. People used to try to make it easy to find their stuff, you know.” He took the slip of paper and turned it over in his hand. “A boarding pass?” He asked. The figure gestured at the paper, whether in agreement or insistence that he read it, Franklin didn’t know. “Mission Airport… never heard of that one.” The back side had a hastily crawled “Scene I.” The figure gestured in precisely the same way. “Fine. I’ll… I’ll find it. It’ll be better than Voodoo Zombie Prostitutes or whatever. Guess your film will be in, what, some old abandoned…” Before he finished, the tall man turned and walked away.

*             *             *

               An hour and one confused Uber driver later, Franklin arrived at Mission Airport. It was one of those old private fields for private plane owners. Based on the condition of the runway, it had been along time since a plane flew out of here. Weeds and crabgrass grew out of countless potholes. Several ancient, aluminum hangars lined the runway where he’d been dropped off. He could see one rusted out skeleton of a Cessna that had cantilevered to one side. Small foliage grew through the cockpit; nature reclaiming the realm of man.

               He considered the possibility that he’d been tricked. He’d blogged negatively about more than a few local “filmmakers,” and there was ever the chance that someone would want to have him dropped off in the middle of nowhere as petty revenge. This day and age, he should probably be thankful that he hadn’t been shot. Just as he reached into his pocket to pull out his phone and call for a ride back, a flickering light appeared in the open maw of a hangar. The light danced in time to a familiar twenty-four frames per second. He had to give them credit for the effort, whoever they were, but he decided to reserve doing so until after the movie.

               The large sheet stretched across the back wall of the hanger displayed a plain, white sequence of empty frames as he walked in. There was one single chair (another damned folding chair) with an antique projector spinning two smallish reels. At least this one will be short, though he reasoned that it would not be worth the effort it took to get out here.

               “Well, there’s nothing for it,” he said to no one, and sat down. He pulled out this notebook, recorder, and small book light. With the soft glow of the light and the white glair of the projected movie, he said to the room, “let’s get this going, then.”

               On cue, the white rectangle went dark. He looked back and didn’t see anyone at the projector. It might have been a prop itself, with the real projector somewhere else, but before he could search it out, an intertitle card appeared.

               Silent movie? He jotted down. The image was in the style of the old silent movies he’d grown to love in his own film school years. “In Golgotha, the dead bear the Scars for all to see,” it said.

               Religious symbolism… another philosophical film, he scrawled. Leave it to these self-styled auteurs to go right for religion as if it made it deeper to do so.

               The title card vanished, and the scene opened on a great, white desert. The camera panned across it, bleak and empty.

               Shot on location somewhere? Not nearby, that’s certain.

               It came to a stop on a rob-wearing person. It was black and billowed in the wind that kicked up clouds of sand. The shot changed to the figure’s front, showing eyes peering through a slot in the robe’s front.

               Woman in a… burka (???). Muslim robe women wear. Look up the correct term later. Hope this isn’t attempting to emulate Begotten… would be par for the course.

               The camera lingered for an uncomfortable time on the woman’s face, and as it did, he was surprised by the level of detail the grainy, black-and-white 35mm film captured. It was a bit uncanny.

               Props are due to the cinematographer, he wrote. There was something about the way the robe clung to the woman’s skin that gave him pause. Before he could reflect on it further, the shot changed again, to another intertitle.

               “Rabia wandered alone in the desert of ground bones, her skin a reflection of her shame.”

               Next, a scene of a woman—presumably the woman in the robe sans the burka (niqab, he remembered, the ones with just the eye slit were niqabs)—recoiling as a liquid is thrown on her face. She screamed, or at least appeared to as there was no sound save some generic organ music. The liquid caused burns to appear on her face.

               Interesting cultural commentary, he wrote, impressed by the brutality of what he was seeing. The actress was skilled at conveying agony without the benefit of an audio track. Before he could write more, the scene changed to a shot—from the woman’s perspective—of a group of men standing over her, raising rocks over their heads and bringing them down with repeated ferocity. Franklin found himself cringing with each blow, easily imagining the sound.

               “She paid for her defiance; murdered for his ‘honor’,” the next card said and quickly shifted to a shot of woman’s bare feet suspended half a foot above the ground and swaying.

               Okay, he wrote, getting a little preachy. Reverting to “film school” clichés again. It was too bad, too, as he’d thought there might be some potential. A silent movie dedicated to the plight of a culture of women who were bade remain silent by controlling men? There was something there to explore, but it had to hold back a little.

               “Now, she wears her shame. Her Scar.” The specter again, in her niqab, staring across that desert. This time, he managed to place what about her robe stuck out.

               It is her skin, he wrote. Clever symbolism. Again, the shot of her walking across the desert—this Golgotha—felt more real than it should have. He was getting lost in the images, not noticing the lines, exposure marks, and “cigarette burns” that accompanied a 35 mm film. The space around him felt deep and empty, as opposed to the closed-in space a small plane hangar should have been. For a second, he could feel sand blowing across his own face.

               “Then,” the next title card said, startling him from his revere, “one came who was un-Scarred.”

               The woman now stood with a little girl, their hands clasped.

               Motherhood? He wrote. Or guiding feminism?

               The two looked across the desert together.

               “They met another,” the next card said, and showed a man in what appeared to be some sort of space suit. Okay, Franklin said, now I’m lost and the astronaut seems pointless. The group of three now set off across the desert.

               “They would face the Chained One, to stop it forever…” the next card said, and in that moment, Franklin’s senses were assaulted by vivid and terrible images of some indistinct creature displayed on the screen. It was bound by chains that he could tell were supposed to be titanic in size. They could have easily bound the world and held it in its orbit, had they been real. The beast, of which he could only see fragments, strained and fought against the chains.

               “…and they would fail,” the last card said, “for to bear witness was to break one of the four chains that held it fast in its prison.” At that moment, for the first time in years of watching a wide spectrum of shocking or disturbing horror and thriller movies, Franklin wanted to look away. He almost did, afraid that he might be the witness the intertitle spoke of. Even still, he watched, and in doing so, saw the chain strain against the power of the creature. The link began to separate and even though the movie was silent, he could hear a deafening screech of rusted iron.

“It stirs in its prison,” a small voice said next to him, and he jumped. Immediately to his right, a second seat had been added, and a small girl—the small girl from the movie—sat next to him, staring at him with eyes that begged him to look away from the movie, even though it was already too late.

               “What the He-” and he was jerked out of his visions by the sound of loose film slapping against the projector. Looking back to the screen, the movie had ended. The sheet now showed only a blank rectangle of light. He turned back and saw the girl and the second chair were gone.

               After a moment, he allowed himself to laugh. “All right,” he said out loud. “Very convincing.” No one answered. “Really,” he said, “you had me going there, but I’m going to say the same thing I said to the tall guy back in town. The movie has to stand on its own merits.” Still no response. He stood.

               “If you want an accurate review, you should probably tell me the name of your film. And who made it.” The empty hangar was his only audience.

               “Okay, I’ll just call it ‘Golgotha’ or something like that,” he said to no one. He turned to leave, then, and stopped as someone had placed a basket behind his seat. In it were two bottles of booze—a quality scotch and an exceptionally cheap malt liquor. He stopped down and saw that there was business-card sized square of paper. The blank side read “Part II,” and the flip side named a place called Dom’s Quality Spirits.

               “Ah,” he said, “I guess it’s not over, then, huh.” Pulling out his phone, his weariness with this night conflicting with a growing curiosity, he looked up Dom’s Quality Spirits and found a location in one of the seedier east side neighborhoods.

               “Part two it is,” he said, and put in the request for a second ride.

26 Stories

26 Stories: The Invoked King

This one is an odd duck that I’m going to keep coming back to to revise it. A few years ago, I took a stab at writing an “immersive” play. The idea was that there was going to be a staged reading of a long lost, supposedly cursed play that recently resurfaced. The actors would be playing themselves reading the play as characters in the play. As they read it, things would go wrong, lights would cut out, cell phones would ring, actors would get sick, and some audience members (planted, of course) would experience their own problems during the show and during “intermission” (where the play actually continued in the lobby, restrooms, etc.). It is my attempt to create a “found footage” play. And yes, it is very much inspired by the King in Yellow (It’s called the “Invoked King”). 

Things is, it needs an actual play at its center, complete with academic studies, a history, and so on. This is part of that “paper trail.” The play also ties into my developing mythos as seen in stories here and other places (I reference a character from a series of Weird West stories I’m writing elsewhere who runs into one of the “Titans”). It even more directly ties into my earlier story in this series, “Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology.

This version of the cursed play is in my estimation, not good enough yet to be the center of a cosmic mythos. Still, I have to write something every two weeks for my own accountability and this is what I got. I hope you enjoy it!

The Invoked King
8th Floor

from:Gerald X King​​ <gxking@uchicago.edu>

to:Jonas E Dover <jedover@utexas.edu>

subject:  Found a Curiosity for your Titan Research

 

Jonas,

 

It’s been a while since we last talked. As I remember, Alex had just finished her​​ master’s​​ around the time of your last email to me. First and foremost, I want to say how sorry I was to find out about what happened to Miranda. I know that happened some time ago, too, and I don’t want to risk opening old wounds, so I’ll just reiterate that you and Alex have my condolences. I hope it’s not too crude of me to say, given the circumstances, but​​ as I sit here in my 8th​​ floor office, staring out at campus and all the lived that will eventually be affected by it, I have to say,​​ fuck cancer.​​ 

On to the topic at hand. I’ve attached a transcription of an old play that my research turned up recently. I’ve got the original here, complete with what appear to be handwritten notes by—I assume—the original writer, one Mister Archibald Wayward. This play was written as near as I can tell at the turn of the twentieth century; 1910 or so, to be precise. I did some research on the play itself and found some interesting circumstances surrounding it’s first and only production run in Chicago. I plan on scanning that and the original and passing that on to you as soon as the department here springs for a new scanner that can handle the older documents safely. Still, I’ve done my best to transcribe the play, the author’s notes, and some notes of my own from my own research.​​ I shall preface the author’s notes with “AW” and mine with “GK”.

You may wonder why I passed this on to you, as early-1900 theater isn’t even close to classical studies. The first thing to note is that this Wayward tried​​ very​​ hard to write it in the style of early classical theater; the influence of Oedipus the King is painfully clear. It is​​ dreadfully​​ overwrought, however, and the writer himself was obviously not a scholar of the material that inspired him. Prepare to cringe, my friend.​​ 

Second, there are some references here that seem to pertain to your research on the Titans and their parallels in other pre-historical cultures.​​ I have noted those parts for you as well, though I doubt you will miss the significance there (and likely see other references I missed, myself).​​ 

Read this over and let me know what you think. I dug this up in old records in the Chicago Public Library, along with the article I will also send you as soon as I can. It seems that the play’s performance met with no small amount of tragedy, and thereafter, while it wasn’t spoken off often, when it was, it was believed​​ to be “cursed.” Someone must have said “Macbeth” in the show, I imagine.

I look forward to what you have to say. The next time you’re up in Chi-town, get in touch with me, and I’ll do the same if I get down to Austin.​​ 

Take Care,

Gerald King, PhD
University of Chicago
Department of Classics

P.S. I nearly forgot to mention that you will notice by the page numbering that three pages appear to be missing between the “Characters/Setting” page. They are referenced a few times in the author’s notes, but were not included with the manuscript when I located it.​​ What might have been there is almost as interesting as everything else, including the tragedy of the performance.

 

******************************

 

 

The Invoked King

By

Archibald Wayward

 

 

 

 

CHARACTERS

 

KING​​ ANAKLETOS:​​ Male.​​ Large and imposing. See notes section for a short list of names of actors and​​ do not deviate.)

 

[GK: This is the first reference to what I assume are the missing pages.]

 

EIRENAIOS Male. Early 20s. Must portray the countenance of a scoundrel.

 

APOLLO​​ Male.​​ Grecian proportions, physically.

 

CHRYSANTHAE:​​ Female, Early 20s. Again, see notes section for specific questions to pose to actresses during auditions.​​ Ask all questions, no matter how “inappropriate” they may seem.

 

[GK: Now, more than ever, do I want to see these missing sections.]

 

THE ORACLE: Female. Middle aged. Actresses must at least believe in “occult” activities (tarot reading, mediumship, etc.), if not have dabbled with them in the past.

 

ARTEMIS:​​ Female. Haughty and arrogant, but statuesque in posture and proportion.

 

THE CHORUS: DIONYSUS (Male) and DEMETER (Female) will be part of the CHORUS. The performers for APOLLO and ARTEMIS may stand it, as they will be masked and only appear in this capacity here.​​ 

 

 

SETTING

 

A glade in the​​ dark forest. Several columns should be present as sentinels, long overgrown with vines. This is, perhaps, the ruins of a once great temple. There is an altar in the center of the stage. See the notes for the exact specifications of the design of the alter.​​ 

 

 

PROPS

 

Dress should be ancient Grecian. There will be masks for each of the characters (and an extra to stand in as the head of Orpheus), however, only KING ANAKLETOS’ mask must be perfectly designed as specified in the following pages.​​ 

 

[AW: I have taken it upon myself to stress those other items that must meet​​ the designs to exacting detail, but this one, above all others, must be precise. Do not fail!!!]

 

[GK: Yes, he added three exclamation marks. He was clearly quite serious.]

 

ACT I

 

SCENE I

 

[GK: As you can see almost immediately, the language is over-the-top in its attempt to mimic ancient theatrical prose.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

 

[GK: I’m sure you figured it out already, but I researched the name “Anakletos,” and it means “invoked.”]

 

(Enters, masked as specified above)

O’ ye all who hath gathered here,

We call thee to pay homage to our patrons,

Dionysius, father of the theater.

 

DIONYSIUS

(Entering, also in a mask, that of a plump man with a laurel wreath around his head)

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

 

[AW: Do not forget to repeat each set of invocations three times; the rule of three is iron clad.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

May your grapes bring forth the wine,

May the spirits you provide,

Please the souls of the dead,

Who toil in the underworld,

Bereft of joy.

 

Persephone, daughter of Demeter,

Who was taken to the bosom of Hades,

Bride forever,​​ queen of the damned.

 

DEMETER

(Entering in the mask of a fair woman)

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Weep not, for though you were taken,

You have been given a seat of honor,

At the right hand of the Lord and Master, Hades,

For whom no gift is too great for thee.

 

Orpheus, whose songs moved them,

The king and queen of the dead,

And in whose death was immortality gained.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Enters, not wearing a mask, but carrying the mask of a man, its face twisted in pain​​ and horror, like a severed head)

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Though the Bacchianids tore you limb from limb,

Your bodiless​​ head continued to sing out,

Your voice still pure and true,

For death could not come for thee.

 

And finally, to the Invoked King,

Whose reign was so frightful,

Whose kingdom twisted and foul,

And for whom such sacrifices were made,

That even the mighty Olympians trembled,

And who took care to wipe thine existence​​ 

From all history by exiling thee to lands beyond

Even horrible Tartarus.

So blighted were you that even the Titans,

Trapped in their eternal prison,

Were stripped of memories of you,

For you were older even than they.

 

[GK: This was the first of the references I believed would interest you. The Titans were directly mentioned, but this seems to suggest the existence—as least for the play’s story—of something older than the Titans.]

 

ALL

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

CHRYSANTHAE

Dark king from the folds of space

To thee we give you this poem,

So that while the gods attempted to erase you,

We shall always remember you.

May this sacrifice give strength.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I shall be appeased.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I am but a maiden, untouched by man.​​ Here I find myself, lost in the dark wood.​​ I fear for my safety, and for my virtue,​​ pure and strong. Gods,​​ show me the path through these woods!

 

[GK: I truly believe that the playwright specifically wanted an actual virgin for this part, given his obsession with the idea and his references to “inappropriate” questions.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

The woods are dark, my child, and the path you seek difficult to see.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Startled)

You have frightened me​​ sir!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

In places such as this, there is much​​ not of man​​ to frighten you.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

But​​ surely​​ not thee, for​​ thine is the face of kindliness.

 

[GK: Yet he is masked. One can only assume it is a friendly looking mask?]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Many are the beasts that would prey upon your flesh. Of countless number are the men who would prey upon it as well.​​ A kindly face may be a mask, hiding a darkness that wouldst do thee harm.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I believe that the gods would show me guidance. These woods, as all, belong to Artemis.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Not​​ these​​ woods, dear child.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

You should watch thy blasphemous tongue,​​ good​​ sir, for all woods are in Artemis’ domain.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Not all corners of creation are visible to the gods, child.​​ To assume such is to grant the gods greater power than they presently have.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Who are you, strange man who hides in shadow, that you would so cast aspersions onto the gods themselves?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

A king.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

A king, you say? Over what land do you rule?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Gestures)

Why​​ this​​ land, and all lands forgotten.​​ For forgotten lands are​​ my​​ domain, as you say all forests belong to Artemis.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Lands may be forgotten by men, but no lands are forgotten​​ by the gods.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

These lands, are. But I digress; it is you who should provide answers to my questions, not t’other way ‘round, for you are in​​ my​​ home.​​ How have you come to this land,​​ here before​​ the time of,​​ and forgotten​​ by,​​ even the terrible Titans?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Laughs)

Creation was in its infancy when the Titans were born, so to suggest​​ that these lands were here prior to their horrible reign​​ is foolishness.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

It is what it is. I have been king of these lands since​​ before​​ Creation gave its first strangled cry.​​ I watched as Crinos was formed from the unknowable chaos of the universe and as he foolishly believed that he tamed the untamable currents of time. I watched him take Gaia as his lover, raping her and cowing her into submission so that the Titans would be born of their​​ unholy coupling. I have seen all​​ these things are more, as I have been around since the true beginning of time, which cannot be said to begin or end and which flows​​ like a distorted river​​ in directions and through spaces no man, god, or Titan can fathom. I am perhaps older even than the birth of that​​ very same​​ strange river. But again, you have avoided my questioning. How did you get here?

 

[GK: This reference here is the most direct reference to your own research. Does it mean anything to you?]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I was lost. My guide,​​ Eirenaios,​​ had suggested a shortcut, but it seems he has​​ led us to the wrong grove. It is​​ certainly a land I know not.

 

[GK: “Eirenaios” means “peace, tranquility, and harmony.” I’ll leave it up to you to determine why that was chosen as this​​ character’s​​ name, as you’ll soon see. Okay, I shall stop doing research you are most capable of doing yourself.]​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

But hush, for I have told you where you now find yourself child.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Indeed you have,​​ even while you have been evasive with your answers,​​ and I sense that no further questioning will reveal more insight than​​ what you have already given me. As you appear to be kindly and bear me no harm,

(Aside)

Though clearly touched in the mind to speak of such things as time before great Crinos...

(Return)

I shall, instead, beseech​​ thee​​ to assist me in finding my way back,​​ if not​​ to my guide,​​ then to​​ the path to Ephesus​​ and​​ the temple of Artemis. I am to be initiated into the mysteries of the great huntress.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

More important, then, that you guard your virginity against those who would seek to defile it, such as your guide, Eirenaios. I fear he means you harm, and I would see no harm come to those who traverse my kingdom, lest they​​ bring harm upon it.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Again, you show me much kindness, and you respect the laws of Xenia. However, your concern is misplaced. For you see, I have consulted with the Oracle, and she herself told me that she did not foresee any ill fortune befalling me on my​​ way to Ephesus.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Oracles are quite wise, and​​ do​​ see more than many humans – and even some gods – can see of the future. Tell me, child, what were the​​ exact​​ words of the Oracle, as she said them to you?​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

As I said, she did not foresee any-

 

KING ANAKLETOS

It is possible that you have misinterpreted her words and taken from them the wrong meaning. Let me hear her words​​ exactly​​ as they were spoken so that I may fully allay my worries for your wellbeing.

CHRYSANTHAE

Very well.

 

(THE ORACLE​​ enters, kicking off a flashback.)

 

THE ORACLE

Welcome, my child.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Greetings, Oracle, I come to you in reverence for your sight that​​ pierces​​ beyond the veils of time and of space. I have come to you on the eve of my own great journey to​​ Ephesus, where I am to be inducted into the mysteries of Artemis.​​ 

 

THE ORACLE

You must be a woman of virtue, her maidenhead untouched, to be admitted so.​​ Ist thou​​ pure, unsullied by the hands of man?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Indeed. I have come to ask if you see success in my journey, or if I am to fall victim to the dangers of the roads between Athens and​​ Ephesus.

 

THE ORACLE

I shall show thee the fate of the travels facing you. Be soft as I give an invocation to far-seeing Apollo.​​ 

 

(THE ORACLE​​ closes her eyes, entering a trance)

 

Oh Apollo,​​ 

He who navigates the raging river of time,​​ 

Dug and filled by Crinos and set,​​ 

On an implacable journey ever forward,​​ 

Sweeping along all life to eventually end in Hades,​​ 

Domain of the dead and prison of the damned,

Show me the threads of this maiden’s fate,

As she travels toward her destiny.

(Dramatic)

I see a road, long and hard, but not without havens of safety and hospitality. I see one who would proclaim to be your guide, who will offer his services to lead you to your end, proclaiming no reward required in return, as his only desire is assistance. I see a parting and then-

(THE ORACLE pauses.)

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Yes? Speak, Oracle, for I must know that the fruit of my lifelong studies and dedication shall not be denied to me by misfortune.

 

THE ORACLE

I see a wood, and... and-

CHRYSANTHAE

And what? Speak true, Oracle, do you see harm come to me?

 

THE ORACLE

I... the threads of your fate are difficult to unknot, but... but I​​ can see no harm coming to thee, child.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(End Flashback, and spoken to​​ KING ANAKLETOS)

Those were her words, “I​​ can​​ see no harm coming to thee, child.”

 

[GK: I am going to pull in a direct quote from the survivor of the theater’s disaster. While much of what this witness said was disjointed and confused, the reporting was very specific on her memory of this.​​ She said she remember the Oracle launching into what seemed to be​​ an un-scripted monologue. Astonishingly, the witness recounted it in full. I’ll include it here:

 

“I see a false king, standing in the shadow of the true king. I see two faces, one a mask and one showing true. Beware, for kindness is deceptive, and much as terrible creatures in the darkest depths of the ocean dangle pleasant motes of light to draw unsuspecting prey into their horrible, be-fanged maws, so too does the mask conceal horror beyond human imagining.

 

“Beware strangers with pleasing faces and kind hearts, and search for the appendage of twisted, rotted flesh affixed to the back of their head, leading back to the true beast behind the lure, for to look upon such a creature is to know the truth of all creation, and the knowledge will shatter the mind of he who beholds it. False kings shall perish from the noose, while sacrifice and conflagration will claim the true offerings, opening the doorway from whence shall come the horrors from beyond the folds of the curtains.”

 

Did you catch that reference to “flesh... leading back to the true beast behind the lure?” Doesn’t that remind you of​​ an​​ anglerfish? And furthermore, didn’t you once dredge up some account from an old Confederate soldier who, before his death, talked about meeting a man who was a lure for a terrifying “fish thing?”]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

“I​​ can​​ see no harm coming to thee” is not the same as “no harm shall come to thee.” As I said, the words of the oracles are precise in their meaning, and you should take care​​ to​​ interpret them thus.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Again, thy concern is touching, but her words spoke of kindness on my travel, and guides, which I took​​ to mean Eirenaios, but I now believe was a portent to prelude our meeting, for you have shown me naught but kindness, while I caught Eirenaios making lusty eyes at mine​​ shapely​​ hindquarters.

KING ANAKLETOS

But hark, speaking of your erstwhile​​ guide​​ has summoned him, as the thrice-repetition of one’s true​​ name is sure to do, by the mystical rules of​​ all the universe.

 

EIRENAIOS

(Enters)

Young Chrysanthae, it is I, Eirenaios, your guide. I fear that I have lost you in these woods, and would therefore have failed you in my duties as your guide.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I am here​​ Eirenaios, and worry not, for the kindly king of these lands...

(To​​ KING ANAKLETOS)

... oh my, kind king,​​ forgive me as​​ I have neglected to inquire as to the name of my host.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I am called King Anakletos.

 

[AW:​​ Thus marks​​ the first invocation.]

[GK: Odd choice of notes.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

The kindly​​ king​​ of these lands has been naught but hospitable and provided me with sage advice and an assurance of safe passage. Truly, he serves​​ the gods by his​​ demonstrated​​ understanding of​​ the treatment of guests.

(KING ANAKLETOS​​ smirks)

 

EIRENAIOS

(Suspiciously)

Why do you smirk so, king, if that truly be your title?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

She says I serve the gods, but as I have told her... forsooth, pay it no mind, for it is of little bearing upon your countenance.

 

EIRENAIOS

What​​ knowest thou of my countenance?

 

[GK: The “forsooths” and “naughts”​​ and “knowests”​​ are saturating this writing. His editor must have hated him, though I bet he didn’t have one.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I know your intentions toward this young maiden are not the intentions of a gentleman, nor do you truly wish to guide her through these woods.​​ 

 

EIRENAIOS

That is not so! How dare you besmirch my reputation, oh king without a kingdom! I shall see thee run through for these insults.

(EIRENAIOS​​ produces a large knife.)

For sullying my honor, I shall challenge you to a gentleman’s duel.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(LAUGHS, but takes no action)

You do amuse me, little man, with your bluster. But I know in thine heart that thou art a coward who soils maidens’​​ virtues​​ and murders their bodies. You would no sooner attack me than​​ you would slit your own throat.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Please, gentlemen, this fighting upsets me! Cease it at once, for my sake, and the sake of the other I hear approaching this clearing.

 

EIRENAIOS

Another approaches!​​ Chrysanthae, stand with me so that I could protect you from perhaps an even more dangerous threat.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I... I believe I​​ shall​​ stand between thee and my lord​​ so that I am equally protected.

 

ARTEMIS

(ARTEMIS enters, disguised as an old woman)

Greetings, strangers, I am but an old woman, traveling these roads,​​ and appear to have found myself turned around. Can any of thee help me find my way back to the road to​​ Ephesus?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

How fortuitous that you have arrived, kindly matron, for I, too, am headed to​​ Ephesus, and will require guidance along that path.

 

ARTEMIS

Ah, are you to be inducted into the Mysteries of Artemis?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I am, indeed. But I am fortunate to have both a guide through these woods, and the assistance of the​​ lord​​ of these woods, and if you could but help settle an argument betwixt the two, perhaps we can all work toward​​ a beneficial end.

 

ARTEMIS

For an initiate of Artemis, I would see thee through thine conflict and we will then travel the road to​​ Ephesus​​ together, for I have business there, myself, though not of the initiates, sadly. I am too old for such things, but as a young girl, I would, too, have​​ been bound for​​ the mysteries. Now, what is this dispute you would have me settle?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

This young man, my guide, and the king of this forest both believe that the other means me harm. Both have shown naught but kindness to me. If neither means to take my virtue or my life, then both will perhaps​​ be at ease. If one means to harm me, then I must know, so that I will be certain to place my life in the correct hands.

 

[GK: This play could be made 50% shorter by cleaning up this sad attempt at the language and cutting out the constant repetition. The playwright was a terrible writer.]

 

ARTEMIS

And what if both mean you harm?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Laughs)

The Oracle prophesized that she saw no harm come to me, so surely at least one of my erstwhile guides is pure and true.

 

ARTEMIS

I see. And you would have me deduce which of these two men is your savior, and which​​ may be​​ the architect of your untimely end. Hmm...

(She eyes the two men.)

 

EIRENAIOS

I... I give you my word that I mean this young lady no harm in her travels. I come from a line of honest farmers, workers of land, where reputation is all a man has.

 

ARTEMIS

(Looks​​ EIRENAIOS​​ up and down)

You have an honest​​ him​​ face, but all men wear masks that hide the truth.

(ARTEMIS​​ moves to​​ KING ANAKLETOS.)

And you... you I find very hard to see clearly. Perhaps it is my old eyes, but there is a mystery to you.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

There is mystery to all men. As you yourself said, all men – and​​ women​​ as well-

(ARTEMIS​​ flinches while​​ KING ANAKLETOS​​ smiles knowingly.)

wear masks. Tell me, “old woman,” what mask do you wear? Hmm?

 

EIRENAIOS

You see?​​ She flinches.​​ She does not trust him. In her wisdom, she sees that he is a man of great darkness.

(Brandishes his knife)

Now,​​ Chrysanthae, allow me to take you from him.

 

ARTEMIS

I did not say you were an honest man, no more than I said I knew for certain that​​ he​​ was a man with murderous intent. Tell me, king, what is your name so that I might know you?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Oh, I am certain you would not have heard my name spoken. ‘tis an old name and fallen​​ into​​ disuse.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

It is King Anakletos.

 

[AW: Thus, the second​​ invocation.]

 

ARTEMIS

A name I have not heard.

(Suspicious)

Would you not ask my name, then?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I am certain that I know it, though it does not match your​​ current​​ visage.​​ 

(Smiles)

 

EIRENAIOS

Enough of this!​​ 

(Gets behind​​ CHRYSANTHAE​​ and puts the knife to her throat)

I grow weary of pretense. Yes, I mean to soil this girl’s virtue and murder her here in these woods. I would have done so quietly, but now this dalliance has taken its toll upon me​​ and my patience. I shall take her away from the both of you, have my way with her at my leisure, and be out of this accursed place!

 

ARTEMIS

(Ditching the old woman routine to stand straight and true)

Touch not my initiate, foul man!

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Could it be?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Unsurprised)

Indeed, it is.

 

ARTEMIS

Yes, it is I, Artemis herself! I lost sight of​​ Chrysanthae​​ as she traveled to my temple to be initiated into my Mysteries, and as she is to hold a place of high honor, I felt strongly the need to rescue her myself! And now I see that-

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Enough of this grandstanding, woman.

 

ARTEMIS

(Aghast)

Who would dare talk to a god in such a manner.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I would.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Please, do not speak so to my patron goddess, I implore you.

 

EIRENAIOS

Artemis herself? No this cannot be so. I will slit this woman’s throat and be gone from here!

(He tries to plunge the knife into​​ CHRYSANTHAE’S​​ throat, but​​ KING ANAKLETOS​​ holds up a hand.​​ EIRENAIOS’S knife stops in midair, then begins to tremble.)

What is this? Mine​​ own hand betrays me?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I said you would no sooner raise that knife against me, or​​ Chrysanthae​​ for that matter, than you would slit your own throat. And now, I shall see thee to it.

(Flicks his hand)

(EIRENAIOS​​ runs the knife against his own throat)

 

EIRENAIOS

Ah! What cruel devilry is this!? I have slain myself against my very will!​​ 

(He then dies.)

 

[AW: This performer may well not be able to utter this line. It is of no concern; allow the show to proceed.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

How? How dids’t though​​ cause the young man to​​ so mortally​​ harm to himself?

 

ARTEMIS

(Suspicious)

This I too would like to know.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

‘twas the darkness in his own​​ heart that caused such action. ‘tis nothing what he wouldn’t have done hads’t​​ he​​ truly​​ known himself.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

You... strange king... what manner of man are you?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Smiles)

No mere man, Artemis.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

If thee art a god, I knowest thee not.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

This is all quite strange. Am I to understand that I am in the presence of Gods?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Gesturing to​​ ARTEMIS)

A​​ god, should thee call this ancient woman as such.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I beg thee, sir... if that be Artemis, speak to her that way not.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Speak, speak, speak... my dear, young maiden, thou hast spoken enough.​​ 

(CHRYSANTHAE​​ opens her mouth to speak, but​​ KING ANAKLETOS​​ holds up a hand, stopping her.)

Speak thee not, for thine elders are conversing.

(CHRYSANTHAE​​ tries to speak, but mimes being unable to make the words come out.)

(To​​ ARTEMIS)

Now then,​​ goddess... why have you come to this, the road truly less traveled?

 

[AW: If all preparations have been carried out as​​ outlined, her silence will be most convincing.]

 

ARTEMIS

As I said... my future priestess disappeared from my sight. As her protector, I felt it my duty to find out why.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Ah, such concern for these mortals.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

The mortals are our charges as gods.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

The mortals are a burden on existence.

 

ARTEMIS

They burden not the gods.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Not your existence.​​ My​​ existence. But, they have a purpose.

 

ARTEMIS​​ 

I cannot see into your purpose, stranger...​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Then perhaps you, a goddess, are more limited.

 

ARTEMIS

Let my disciple speak. I would converse with her.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(To​​ CHRYSANTHAE)

Speak, child, if you must.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Gasping)

My voice, though taken, hath now returned. And I find myself struck nearly speechless again. Why hath the gods come here? How have I, a simple adherent of the Mysteries, drawn such attention?

ARTEMIS

Flatter thyself not, mortal. While you are certainly under my protection, our reason for coming here had less to do with you, and more to do with your host.​​ We can neither see him, nor his realm, in the manner that the gods normally see all of the cosmos.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

We?

(Aside)

Surprised, I am not.

 

APOLLO

(Entering)

Yes, “we” strange king, for my sister and I seek more knowledge.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Surely,​​ I have​​ been blessed​​ to reach the concerns of​​ two​​ gods.

 

APOLLO

Sister, this mortal feels that she has risen in importance to us.​​ I must admit,​​ she is pleasing to the eye.

 

ARTEMIS

Covet her not, as she is of mine, brother Apollo.

 

APOLLO

Of course, sister.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I mean no disrespect, oh gods, but this mysterious king​​ has shown me much kindness.

 

APOLLO

There is likely more to him that we know, for he and his provenance are mysterious and​​ hidden from us. We, my sister and I, have come to this place to seek out the answers, and not more than that.

 

[GK: Such chatter, and such repetition​​ from​​ each character. Talk, talk, talk; very little action.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

You have not come to see me safely to Ephesus?

 

APOLLO

My sister may have some concern​​ for thee, but I am ambivalent.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

All​​ virtuous​​ sisters are precious to me, but in truth, child, the ‘king’ before thee is of more import.

 

KING​​ ANAKLETOS

You see, child? Even the gods have abandoned thee. As all gods are wont to do to their creations.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

But... what am I to do in the face of such abandonment?

 

ARTEMIS

Listen not to him, dear child.​​ His is the domain of lies.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I lie not, girl. The truth, in fact, shall I show thee.​​ 

 

APOLLO

His lies come swiftly!​​ Let us dispatch him, sister, and be done with it.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Quiet, godling!

(He waves his hand, and APOLLO falls to the stage, lifeless.)

 

ARTEMIS

(Rushes to her brother’s side)

Villain! Thou hast killed my brother!​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Bored)

So I have.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Shocked)

You cannot kill a god!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I can do what​​ I wish.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

Fool! Now, shall I visit upon thee my wrath!

(She draws a bow from an unknown​​ source and​​ aims​​ an arrow toward KING ANAKLETOS’ heart. He holds up a hand to halt her.)

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Foolish woman. You cannot​​ loose​​ arrow upon me. And now, I demand that you speak truth, as you would have your oracle speak...​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

(In a​​ sudden​​ trance)

And in his coming, so too came the madness and death and all that was foretold by​​ those​​ who see the future for what ‘tis and what shall always be. In fire​​ he is born forth in a form such that none shall bear witness. For in his sight, all are driven mad by the darkness that lurks below the waves. In his realm, mortals are but chattel, there for the feast that is to come in the era of man’s end​​ and in the end, may he find not peace, but eternal torment, to toil and​​ suffer in ways naught yet described in the fevered nightmares of man​​ nor god​​ nor​​ the god of Christ nor Allah nor Yahweh nor​​ Buddha​​ nor​​ Shiva nor​​ Zeus nor science nor​​ any attempt that man hath to offer to explain​​ while the false king sways with rope around neck, he who claimed to be the alpha and the omega but for whom death was but a blessing​​ and in the fires, may we all be taken swiftly.

(ARTEMIS, too, falls to the stage, lifeless.)

 

[GK: His use of modern gods is an odd and anachronistic choice, here, but as you can see below, this is where it seems to become an immersive play​​ by breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and very heavy-handedly​​ so.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Thou​​ has done in Artemis, as well?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Yes.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Before she died, she spoke of gods with names I knew not. Christ and Allah and so on.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Pretenders to immortality. False idols to the truth.​​ Much as the Olympians themselves.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

In this, I believe that thou hast deceived me!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Perhaps, but in truth, thou were born into deceit. In life, you were fed lies. Hope. Sacrifice. Salvation. Grace. All of your kind has been lied to and will be lied to in all ways.​​ I bring truth.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Oh, grant me sweet release!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I shall, but even in the release of death, thou shalt not find peace. None who hear these words, who witness this show of theater, shall know anything other than the true horror that comest over the soul of man!

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Your words are terrible, but I cannot deny the hold they have over me!​​ Yes, then, allow me to be a​​ sacrifice to those eternal who seek to pierce the barrier between​​ theater and truth!​​ But first, please show me thine face under the mask.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I shall do so, child.

(He lifts his mask)

(CHRYSANTHAE SCREAMS and SCREAMS until she falls to the stage, dead, her death mask that of pure fear.)

 

[GK:​​ Jonas, the section of the original was torn out, so what I will try to do is give you the somewhat fantastical account from the surviving witness to the fire. “When the man playing the evil king lifted his mask, we all gasped in terror... underneath, he had no face. I do not mean that​​ where his face would be was smooth skin lacking eyes or a mouth or so, but there was a hole that appeared to be carved into his very skull. Rather that bone and gore, however, the dark hole held and vast emptiness that contained the multitudes of our universe, and perhaps others. Such terror haunts my dreams and my waking hours!” The effects must have been rather advanced to pull off such an effect on the audience! Perhaps the notes on how to achieve this were included in the missing pages.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(To the assembled patrons of this doomed show.)

Witness this, the thinning of the veil. Witness this, the easement of reality and fiction, such that one shall bleed over to the other. Witness the​​ border between that which is story and that which is real becoming so permeable that neither is.​​ 

(He holds out his arms, taking in all his sacrifices and opening the doorway.)

Rejoice, for in your deaths shall the conflagrations of eternity purge all from this land and render it back to its true masters! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!​​ For Anakletos has come again!

 

[AW: And the third and final invocation!]

 

 

THE END

 

[GK: You see? The whole manuscript reads like an early attempt at one of those interactive or immersive plays that are becoming quite popular in theater these days. The writing, like I said, is atrocious, though I have to admit that it made the hairs on my arms stand up from time to time. When you take this in conjunction with the story about the disaster—that the theater burned to the ground and only one audience member survived—it almost seems like there was more to it. Perhaps it would be the plot for a B horror movie. “The Cursed Play,” or something like that.

 

You’ll notice from the story from the Chicago Daily Journal (long defunct) that the sole survivor of the fire, who was quoted a few times above, gave a very odd and, frankly, unbelievable story. She was also certain that the play was not completed before the fire consumed everything. It’s likely the stage was burned to a crisp with everyone on it before the final lines of “King Anakletos.” Poor Wayward didn’t get to his “third and final invocation” (I assume of the king’s name) after all. You and I both know of the significance of names and the rule of three in many occultic cultures. If I didn’t know any better, if I were to speculate fancifully, I think this poor sod (and terrible writer) was trying to put together some kind of ritual. But I’ll leave that to the authors of horror stories, and out of the halls of academia.

 

I wish you well my friend. Let me know if this adds any clarity to your own research. If not, consider it a novelty, then; the ramblings of a man suffering from some sort of mental breakdown.]

26 Stories

26 Stories: Bare Hill

I may be on vacation, but here I am, still meeting my own self-imposed deadlines to post every other Thursday. This one is actually inspired by the view from my parent’s house in Upstate New York of one Bare Hill. I happened to look into it, searching for inspiration, and found a legend about a giant snake and a pair of siblings that defeated it. Naturally, I decided to put my own spin on it. 

The Real Bare Hill, Which Isn’t Bare Anymore

So enjoy.

Pythia of Bare Hill

6th Floor

“Practitioner,” the great serpent’s voice thundered from the lake below, though no actual sound was transmitted. The water rippled and vibrated with power. Dominic took another pull from his beer.

“Titan,” he replied.

“And old name, but not the oldest we’ve heard. Speak your peace,” the snake commanded, “before we feast upon you.”

“There’s no need for that,” Dom said. “I brought you a gift.” The undulating shadow below the water twisted and coiled around itself as the vague shape of a great, triangular head turned toward him. “It seems that some idiot has left a trailer with eight very large cows parked close to the water at the south end of the lake. And no one is watching over them.” With little hesitation, the head turned left, southward, the serpentine body uncoiled, and the monster shot off in that direction. Dominic watched as a large wake made its way toward the lake’s head. It vanished from sight, causing a few boats on the water to rock (and no doubt confusing the occupants as their unenhanced senses wouldn’t see the source of a wake, if they bothered to look). He finished his current beer and reached into his cooler for another. It would be a while before the serpent reached the offering and gorged itself. 

Dominic finished off one beer, then another. Keeping his mind relaxed—keeping the “buzz” going, as it were—was not only necessary to prolong his Sight, but to make sure that the giant beast that now saw him and knew where he was couldn’t sneak up on him. Ritual magic was still very much dependent on altering the mind chemically, be it through alcohol, drugs, blood loss, sleep deprivation, or the mental disconnect that came with orgasm (which made for a very popular ritual magic, but one that was difficult to sustain). For Dom, beer worked best. Drugs affected him differently depending on any number of circumstances; blood loss was too dangerous, and while sex was certainly fun, he tended to fall asleep. Still, it was a nice excuse to practice sex magic with a willing partner.

While he waited, Dom closed his eyes, opting for a little light meditation. The hill itself was a place of natural power, and it was simple to stick his hand out into its ebb and flow like holding his hand out of a car window. He felt the power of the minor ritual he’d performed prior to his journey here. The magic of making himself as close to invisible as possible without actually invoking an invisibility incantation was one of the simpler ones. He’d purchased last year’s clothing styles off the clearance rack from a discount retailer. He’d eschewed his usual vegan diet for one that was more middle-American; burgers from chain restaurants, breakfast at McDonalds in exceedingly beige suburban neighborhoods, and microwaved meals. The beer he’d been drinking throughout the week was as bland and uninteresting as you could get. He’d even traded in his Tesla (being a practitioner of magic had significant monetary benefits) for a used Honda accord, mid-range model. Chopping off his dreads in favor of a more conservative cut had been the hardest part; even harder than giving himself a complete blood transfusion to swap out his own B-positive blood with O-positive. How that one worked without killing him wasn’t a question he dared to ask. Magic sometimes lost its properties when though about too much. There wasn’t anything he could do about the fact that he was a black man in a very white part of the country, but with a little magic behind his efforts, he doubted that some soccer mom would call the police on him simply for being black in public. Hanging out in a tree with a cooler of beer would have raised eyebrows, but for the few other visitors to the park at the top of the hill, their eyes—if they happened to look his way—just rolled off him without registering anything of interest.

He’d put the final touches on the ritual just that morning in the cabin he’d rented across the lake, roughly sixty-feet above the water on a shale-rich bluff. Those last steps were more esoteric; circles of power drawn on the ground in chalk, chanting ancient words in the most neutral accent he could imitate, and four hours reading over celebrity Instagram updates. If the goal was invoking mind-numbing apathy, any number of the Kardashian’s constant, duck-lipped selfies would alter his visible aura just fine.

Feeling perfectly uninteresting, he’d driven around the lake (he wasn’t about to cross it by boat, knowing what he knew about its prisoner), up to the “Unique Area” of Bare Hill (which was hardly bare, given the heavy tree cover that would obstruct his view of the water). He parked his boring Honda and trekked up to the top with his cooler of watered-down light beer. Once there, passing unnoticed by a handful of visitors to the park, he climbed the highest oak tree he could find. He parked himself on a large branch, wedged his cooler into a fork of another, and opened his mind to the spiritual realm. Whereas wannabe pagans and overly “spiritual” middle aged women would engage in meditation, or even sneak an edible or pop a tablet of Molly, Dom opened his mind through the beer, and lots of it. By the time the pleasant warmness started to spread throughout his body, he noticed the change in the quality of the water.

The mid-afternoon breeze and abundance of boats initially defaced the surface of the water to the point where seeing anything dwelling within was impossible. As his mind cleared and as he felt the energies of this place, for him, it settled and allowed sight to penetrate. It didn’t reach with perfect opacity, but it was enough to see the large shape of the python, easily as long as the lake was wide (and likely more so had it stretched out its winding coils), rippling beneath. That was when the snake had noticed him, and their palaver had begun in earnest.

Now, as he was sitting in the tree waiting for the beast to feed on his offering, he noticed the other loci of magic around him. The hill itself was a wellspring of energy, tied very closely to the serpent in the lake below. He felt presences here; presences that were fettered to the land by terror and pain. As he closed his eyes and opened his mind to those voices, the sky seemed to darken. He could hear the wailing and moaning of ancient ghosts. He wasn’t surprised or frightened; these ghosts were harmless, and he knew about them before he came to this spot. Going into this kind of place without doing one’s homework was a surefire way to end up in the kinds of places between worlds that would shatter one’s sanity. Dom had no interest in ending up like so many others before him who thought they were untouchable due to the power they wielded. As he felt the space around him with his spirit, he heard the sound of giant snake scales pressing through the trees, encircling the hill and the village that once stood here. He heard the cries of fear from long-dead villagers. Herd the whoops of warriors followed immediately by their agonizing screams. The weeping. The moaning. The frantic attempts to escape past the giant snake that had surrounded them and made a sport of feasting on the entirety of the population. The people who had been born of the earth in an ancient gully barely a stone’s throw south of this hill were at the mercy of a merciless beast.

Until there were only two left.

Dom opened his eyes to see the young native warrior and his sister standing at the base of his tree. They stared up at him, unblinking. The brother held a bow tightly in his left hand with a single arrow in the right. Dom knew how the story ended, at least as far as the modern world and it’s spiritual-seeking ex-hippies and new Pagans had been told. The brother was visited in his sleep by an oracle who told him how to slay the beast; where, precisely to put his arrow to kill the serpent that had devoured all of his people aside from himself and his sister. The arrow had slain the beast, causing it to thrash and roll down the hill into the lake, wiping the hillside bare of trees and vegetation before it came to rest in the water of Canandaigua Lake. It had disgorged the heads of the villagers as it tumbled to its end. Heads that, as local legend had it, turned into the round stones that were prevalent in the area. That, Dom knew, was untrue. The round stones were crystallizations of minerals around a single nexus in a slow, geologic process that took thousands of years. The legend was three-parts spirituality, one-part old-fashioned science.

I see you, ghosts, Dom thought to the spirits. They did not blink. You don’t need to stare at me that way; I know how dumb this is. Now, go rest. He lobbed a gentle banishment their way, more like how his grandmother would shoo him out of the house and away from the X-Box to play outside on spring days. The two ghosts turned from him, walked a few steps into the tree line, and vanished.

“You speak to old ghosts, practitioner.” Dom’s heart skipped momentarily. He’d allowed the serpent to sneak up on him after all. It must have eaten well of his offering to not reach out of the water, snatch him from his perch, and drag him to a frigid, watery underworld. Dom composed himself.

“You’re not much more than an old ghost yourself.”

“I am so much more than a ghost, and you’d be wise to remember that. As for your offering, it was very thoughtful, though there were only seven head, not eight.”

“My mistake,” Dom said.

“Nevertheless, we have reached an accord, but your time is limited. You are clearly not here to attempt to vanquish or enslave me—both foolish moves—so I ask you; what is it you wish, practitioner?” 

“Knowledge,” Dom replied.

“Ah,” the snake said. “Not many remember my role as keeper of knowledge. They see only sinister intent.”

“Well, the Oracle at Delphi came from your corpse. And you did offer knowledge to Adam and Eve.”

“Foolish human interpretations of the truth, but truth no less.” The serpent lazily twisted around itself in the water in a figure eight. “As a reward, I shall grant you one truth of your choosing, practitioner, within reason.”

“I want to know the full story of how the brother and sister beat you on this hill.”

“The boy was given a dream in which he knew where to strike with a simple arrow. The sister was a last feast before my end. That is the whole story. Honestly, practitioner, that is knowledge that has been recorded. You have wasted your boon. With that, I shall make you the eighth meal you promised me.” Dom saw the giant serpent draw its body up into a tight coil beneath the water. Even from here, he could see the scales ripple as it prepared to lash out at him.

“Yeah, about that.”

The snake did not move, did not reach out to pull him from his perch. “What have you done, practitioner?” Waves of hatred and anger washed over Dom.

“You’re familiar with the numerical significance of seven, correct? The whole ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ being mystically powerful? Those seven cows were each mother to seven bulls. And the sire of those seventh bulls was a seventh bull itself. Turns out that it has meaning even in livestock. With the right rituals, rituals that have been lost for a long time and that you seemed to have forgotten about in your hunger, when presented as an offering that is willingly taken, it gives the gift-giver a bit more oomph when it comes to granted boons.”

“You tricked me, practitioner!”

“I know, and I’m pretty surprised. A being that prides itself on knowledge made a mistake while hangry. Guess we’re all just about the same anyway.”

“This will not last! I will devour you when I am free!”

“I’ll be long gone by then, and this lake will still be your prison. So,” Dominic crossed his arms, “about my request. Show me everything, and I mean everything.”

The serpent obliged.

*             *             *             *

Dominic saw a village on fire. He witnessed as the brother and sister stood in the middle of the great serpent’s ever-tightening coil. The brother with his bow and the sister with no weapon to speak of. She turned to him and they embraced for the last time. As the brother readied his bow, the giant serpent’s head pushed out from the trees, past the flame and black smoke. It opened its giant mouth, jaw dislocated to consume the last two of these sacred people. In its teeth, the siblings could see parts of their brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. Despite the terrifying sight, the survivors steeled their nerves for the final battle. Without hesitation, the sister flung herself at the serpent, drawing its head to the side, exposing the weakness that the oracle had shown to the boy.

With a flash of movement, the head lashed out and grabbed the sister whole. She didn’t scream as it swallowed her, not bothering to sink its fangs into her flesh. It was an easy kill, and the monster didn’t want to waste its time while that last of the sacred people awaited his own fate.

The sting of the arrow was surprising when it hit, lodging halfway in the exposed flesh where, a long time ago, a scale had been pried off in some misadventure or another. The snake reeled back, as no other warrior had managed to penetrate its defenses. Ultimately, however, it was no more than the sting of a wasp to a human; irritating, but not fatal. The snake whipped back to the boy, covering its only weakness for further attack. It watched as the boy dropped his bow and fell to his knees, surrendering to his fate. Perhaps he muttered a silent prayer to his ancestors. Perhaps the shock of his failure had rendered him pliable. It was no matter, as with one final attack, the slaughter would be complete. The giant snaked reared above the boy.

And then, suddenly, jerked again. Another sting from where the arrow had lodged. A quick check showed that the arrow had sunk further into the flesh. As the snake watched, and as the young warrior smiled, the arrow sank completely into the snake’s flesh, its feathers vanishing.

Inside the great snake, the sister had grasped the arrow head where it had penetrated from her brother’s shot. She pulled it fully to her, inside the flesh tube of the snake’s gullet, and—with a strength and agility that belied her small stature—began to crawl deeper into the snake. The beast began to panic as the boy watched, attempting to vomit up the girl. Parts of its previous meals were expelled violently, most notably, a slew of severed heads that bound to the ground and rolled down the hill toward the water below.

Inside, the powerful muscles of its esophagus tried to push the girl back and, failing that, crush and grind her into nothing. She felt bones being broken. The air was being forced from her lungs as the constrictions narrowed the tunnel she was in. She used the arrow to anchor herself with each convulsion and had to shift as best she could as the remains of her family raced past her on the way out of the beast. Still onward, against the crushing pain and the increasing burning of the monster’s digestive fluids, she finally pushed into a large chamber. She hadn’t the time to understand how this massive space could exist inside the snake. It was as if an infinity stretched out around her. Clambering out of holes in the fleshy walls, giant parasitic worms snaked toward her. They pulsed and throbbed, promising to feast on her with maws of needle-sharp teeth. She pressed on, half submerged in bubbling, burning stomach acid, toward the center of the chamber. Even as her feet and legs burned away, she refused to scream until she pulled her ruined body onto a dais of flesh. There, in the center, was the soul of the monster, encased in a crystal sphere. Now she allowed herself to yell as she raised the arrow above her head. Just as the alien worms closed in on her, she brought it down. The crystal shattered, exploding around her, bathing her in fire and light.

In that last moment, as the beast’s death throes sent it tumbling down the hill, scraping the trees and vegetation with it, she witnessed a great truth of the universe. She saw the beginning of time, an explosion of matter and energy. Fragments of that energy that would eventually become stars raced from the nexus into infinity. Some pieces of the afterbirth of the universe, like the piece at the center of the crystal, solidified in the cold vacuum instead of becoming stars and planets. Those pieces, of which there were thousands, seeded the souls of strange, alien intelligences. She watched them trundle to an awkward and horrific life, taking familiar yet twisted shapes such as the giant serpent and prehistoric fish, as well as other things that she could not comprehend. The spark of her life was snuffed out, and in the end, she died in both wonder and terror.

The serpent’s corpse, such as it could be killed, sank to the bottom of the cold, glacial lake. The brother watched and mourned his sister. He mourned his village. But he had survived; the last of the sacred people, and he would carry on their legacy. Eventually, the Seneca people would flourish again, and the legend of Bare Hill would survive, even if the details were lost to time.

*             *             *             *

“You cannot use that against me, practitioner, for I have already been defeated.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about, snake,” Dominic said, shaken from the visceral details of the vision. “Some of your brethren have been getting antsy over the past few centuries. When they start paying attention, ‘practitioners’ are usually the first on their radars. So, I’m arming myself against them, just in case.”

“It is a foolish decision, practitioner. For this insult, I will do worse than merely devour you.”

“Nah,” Dom relied, “I’ll be long gone before the binding wears off. And you…” he gestured to the lake, “Well, you’re not going anywhere. Not for a while, anyway.”

“My reach is longer than you think.”

“No doubt.” Dom downed the last of his beer, his cooler now empty. He climbed down out of the tree, careful not to let his light intoxication cause him to tumble out of the tree. It wouldn’t do to fall into the lake, now, giving himself to his new enemy and making all of this a pointless exercise. He reached solid ground and walked away from the lake, back toward his car.

“Practitioner,” the snake said, its voice already fading, “be warned. What you know will make you even more interesting to my ‘brethren.’” Dom stopped, listening without turning. “Even now, they know what you know. Tread lightly, or you will wish I had eaten you here.”

Dom merely nodded, let slip his mystical hold on the area, and within minutes, was already pulling away, heading back to the south. He would pass the gully where the Seneca supposedly were created and offer thanks to them for their insight. It wasn’t necessary, magically speaking, and it might not even be heard, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Grandma always said to thank those who help you. After that, back home to Atlanta. He had more work to do. Quite a bit, in fact, based on the serpent’s warning.

Things were getting ugly out there, and he intended to have every advantage—every weapon possible—at his disposal.

26 Stories

26 Stories: Elevator

My arbitrary deadline almost bit me on my ass this time (you may even find more than the usual typos in here). As such, while I’m mostly happy with this addition to the growing collection of stories, I am almost certain that I’ll want to come back to this someday and explore some of the ideas that popped up late in the process (no spoilers, but I didn’t know until the end that I would be getting into more… esoteric aspects of corporate America), and I’d really like to make a stronger connection to our poor heroine’s anxiety and depression issues. As it’s something I struggle with myself, exploring it in extreme ways is a damn good track to some sort of catharsis.

As a side note, tomorrow, I head down to Houston to participate in the Spontaneous Smattering XII: Nine Past Midnight. The Smatterings are 24-hour play contests (festivals?) where a number of writers–myself included–will receive random and/or previously unknown parameters and have just over 12 hours to write a brand-new short play. The next morning, actors will randomly receive scripts, get their own parameters, and then have 12 hours to wangle a handful of actors  to perform said play that night. It’s a wild time, always fun, and well worth checking out if you happen to be in the Houston area Saturday night (July 28th). There are free shots at the door and the proceeds go to the Houston Food Bank. I will likely use this space to write about the experience, provided I’m not having an anxiety attack at 2:00 in the morning.

And speaking of anxiety attacks, without further ado, I give you the uninspiringly titled “Elevator…”

Elevator

Fifth Floor

Danielle got into the elevator from the fifth-floor, her laptop tucked into her messenger bag, held securely under her arm. After a moment, she pulled the bag out, checking that her armpit wasn’t sweating, risking both an embarrassing stain on her blouse and potentially on her computer, but despite her racing heart and nerves, she was dry. She took a deep breath, straightened her blouse, and pressed the button for the twenty-sixth floor. She closed her eyes, trying to calm her nerves and hoping that the elevator didn’t make any stops on the way up. Any pause in her ascent would give her more time to think about her situation. The more she thought about it, the more she would risk sabotaging her big presentation to the C-level executives. For a business analyst with barely three years under her belt at the company, a presentation with the top brass was huge. She could tell from how awkwardly her boss had tried to give her a pep-talk before she headed off for it.

“Well, Danni,” he’d said, calling her by the nickname she’d grown tired of insisting he not use, “this is a big step for you. I’d hate to think,” he continued, “that the end result of this is that I might not have you on my team anymore, but what is the world of business without a little sacrifice?” He’d laughed after that, and while he tried to be genuine, she could sense the mixed emotions in it. Yes, if this went well, even if it resulted in her moving up past him, it would still look good for his team in the long run. Additionally, she’d seen how he looked at her from time to time (especially at the team happy hours) and she knew that he had a not insignificant crush on her, which was completely inappropriate and not at all returned on her part. She was looking to get out from working for Stewart, but not solely for his unrequited feelings (which, to his credit, he’d never acted upon and had done a fine job trying to contain). He was content to be a middle manager. He wasn’t going anywhere, and if he didn’t go anywhere, without hopping over his head, she wasn’t going anywhere.

And now? Now, she was moving up, literally and—if everything went well—figuratively. Her insights into the data processing the company used to precisely target potential customers were groundbreaking. As the old building’s quaint elevator jolted to a start and began its predictably slow climb, she thought about how much she’d hated statistics in college. She got the calculations, but the more abstract concepts behind them had been foreign to her. Yes, she could plug numbers into equations easily enough. Hell, most statistical computations were handled by computers, anyway. Any analyst could plug in the relevant data and get a result that, in turn, fed into a decisioning engine. The engine then performed some amount of magic and told the business owners where to focus their efforts for maximum efficiency and scalability and whatever Agile bullshit corpspeak was popular.

Humans, though, had to program those algorithms at some point. She had always assumed that there were some geniuses with PhDs somewhere in the shadows who saw the correct patterns in the data and found ways to extract the much sought-after pathways to profitability. What she hadn’t counted on was how so much of the greatest advancements in sciences, math, and engineering were almost all accidents. Somehow, she’d stumbled into one of those accidents, and after some extra work in the evenings and weekends from her lonely studio apartment, she’d managed to find something the data scientists had overlooked. She’d seen a subtle and unique pattern. On her own time, she extrapolated on the pattern to come to a quantifiable result. In the end, she’d found an entirely new way to target customers based on more factors than the current trends of “Big Data” considered. It was quite simple, really, and thanks to one of her company’s “Brain-hurricane” sessions where even the most “out there” ideas were considered, she was now on her way to a one-on-six meeting at the very top level of the organization. If everything went well, Danielle might be looking at a director-level position, and her mountain of collage debt would suddenly seem less insurmountable.

She opened her eyes, hoping to see the floor indicator close to twenty-six, unable to contain her nerves for too much longer, and was surprised to see that she was still only on the sixth floor. It was amusing, she thought, at how time went sideways under stress. Despite the fact that time was supposed to be constant, the perception of its passage was subjective. Young people felt that time was dragging, yet the older you got, the faster it seemed to progress. Good things came and went too fast, and those things that one dreaded took far longer to get past than they should. The mind was powerful in its manipulation of reality.

She leaned her head back against the wall of the elevator and closed her eyes again, trying not to let anxiety overtake her.

This is fine, she thought. Like Stewart said, this is just one of the small sacrifices in business. She ran over her presentation again in her mind. By now, she was intimately familiar with it. Thanks to her five-year stint in Toastmasters (yes, she was that kind of nerd), she had practiced it until she knew the material back and forth. Not too much text on each slide, no over use of animations, and plenty of room for further explanation. She’d timed herself last night and the entirety of the initial presentation came to just around seven minutes. She would be able to communicate the salient points and have more than enough time to entertain questions. The C-levels were too important to spend more than half an hour on any given topic—time being an immense amount of money when you factored how much each one made every minute—and if all went well, she would be giving them back five to ten minutes. Her efficiency and conciseness would reflect well on her.

There was a ding, and she opened her eyes, expecting to be on the twenty-sixth floor, or close enough, but a quick glance over to the display showed that she was only on the sixth floor as the doors slid open.

Six? She thought. That can’t be right. She waited, staring into an empty elevator lobby, waiting for someone else to get onto the elevator. No one did. She realized that, in all likelihood, someone had pressed both the main elevator call button and the service elevator call button. She waited, her view of the floor limited to the rectangle of the doorway. Even though it was early afternoon, the elevator bank was still. For a moment, she entertained the notion that the floor was deserted, even though every floor of the building had been filled out in her tenure there. Just as a shadow shifted out in the hallway, the doors closed. She sighed; the main call buttons called both the primary elevators and the service elevators. Pressing both just meant that if you got on one, the other would still stop even after you got on the first. This invariable led to passengers in the second elevator waiting. She supposed it was a minor inconvenience, and even though her time wasn’t as valuable as the executives, it still had a quantifiable money value reflected on the books. The rest of the building didn’t seem to get that small yet obvious fact of the elevator functions. She’d thought about putting up a sign, but even that felt more confrontational than she was comfortable with. She would have to get over her timidity if she was looking at high-level management positions.

The elevator lurched again, her stomach pressing downward to tell her that she was heading back up. And again, she ran over her presentation in her mind, at least two more times, assured that when she glanced up at the floor display, she would see major progress had been made, even with the ancient elevator.

When she checked again, the display was still showing six.

Okay, it has to be broken, she thought. The display is malfunctioning, which wasn’t surprising. The building that housed her office was at least a hundred years old. The elevator was likely added sometime in the nineteen-fifties. The display worked like an older alarm clock where each number flipped over as the minutes and hours passed. She tapped the display, hoping that the jolt would cause the ancient mechanism to flip past whatever hitch was keeping it in place. It didn’t budge. Well, she thought, that’s fine. The elevator is still moving up so it’s not like I’m trapped. She wasn’t claustrophobic, and the steady upward motion told her that, one way or the other, she’d reach the top floor where the doors would either open, or—failing that—she could call for help. There was an executive assistant (Tammy, she seemed to remember) right outside the doors, so it wouldn’t be hard to get her the attention she needed to get out. It would be slightly embarrassing, but she was skilled enough at speaking to spin it into a humorous anecdote for the executives. In any event, there were three elevators in the building. If the elevator stopped again, she would use that opportunity to get out and, depending on what floor she was on, either take the stairs or wait for a different cab.

She closed her eyes and waited. Tension nibbled at her fragile calm, as her heart began to feel much more forceful in her chest.

Breathe, she told herself. Take some calming breaths, practice the “mindful meditation” your therapist taught you, and be ready. You have got this. Those execs on twenty-six will be floored. At that, she opened her eyes, convinced he felt a slow-down in the elevator’s momentum, ready to razzle and even dazz-

The display flipped from six to seven as she watched with a click that was far too loud. As it did, the elevator picked up speed again (speed being relative to the near-stop she’d perceived moments ago).

Okay, she thought, not only is this taking too long, but there’s something wrong with the elevator. She felt her recently calmed pulse pick up speed again. Its rhythm matched the cadence of the elevator’s barely perceptible “clack-clack-clack” as its mechanics slid upward on whatever tracks held the elevator in place (Lord, she hoped something was holding the elevator in place). She became aware of a slight spot of sweat forming in her left armpit, breaching from whatever sweat gland was there, releasing, and running down the skin of her side. Don’t panic, she thought, but she was already heading in that direction. Somewhere I the back of her mind, she felt the familiar tug of an anxiety attack. Mindful meditation, she thought. Mindful meditation.

As she wrangled her anxiety back down for storage in what her therapist called her “emotional quarantine” for later processing, she had a moment of clarity.

“Right,” she said aloud. “Duh.”

Right where she expected it to be, under the floor buttons, was a panel. She popped it open easily enough and was comforted to see classic style handset with its slender handgrip and bulbous ends. It was wired into the elevator via a corkscrew cord. She picked it up and placed it to her ear. She heard the ring tone as a connection was opened. After three rings, there was a click and a tired man’s voice.

“Building maintenance” he said.

“Hi, yes, this is Danielle Anderson. I’m on elevator number… uh…” She looked and saw the number four above the phone. “Number four,” she finished.

“Um… are you sure about that?”

“Well, yes. I mean, it is the number plate right above this phone, right?”

“It should be,” he said.

“Then that’s the one. Can you figure out what’s going on? It’s taking a long time to get to the top, the number thingy showing the floor is sticking, and—”

“Ma’am,” he cut her off, “I’d like to help, but if you’re in elevator number four, then a line got crossed somewhere. Or the number is wrong.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You’re in an elevator in the Waverly building, right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, yeah, me too. But ma’am, there are only three elevators in this building.”

“Well,” she said, annoyed, “then the wrong number is on the panel. It’s the elevator furthest from the main door. Can’t you look on a status panel or something and see which one I’m in?”

“I can, and I am, but everything is showing up just fi-”

“Hello?” she asked, after a pause. No response.

“Hello?” she asked again, with a newly formed edge.

“Hell-” and then she trailed off. The line wasn’t dead, like she was beginning to think, because there was a quality to the silence on the other side that suggested the phone was off the hook in a quiet room. Faintly, she could hear—or think she could hear—ambient noises. Quiet hums, or the steady whooshing of a fan or air conditioning flow from a ceiling vent.

“Are you… is anyone there?” she asked the open line. She listened, now certain that she was hearing something in the background. Voices engaged in a lively discussion far away? A child crying somewhere? With effort and strain, she managed to latch onto a rhythmic sound over the phone. It started quietly enough, but as she pressed the receiver closer and more painfully to her ear, it increase in pitch and volume. It was a steady thumping, getting louder with each beat. She imagined that this might be what it felt like to stand on train tracks as a freight train laden down with cargo thundered closer to you. The thrumming that started over the phone in her ear moved to a feeling in her feet. She was certain that the elevator creaked in response to the oncoming noise. As it got louder and louder, she found herself pressing the phono so hard into her ear that the sound of her blood rushing with each increasingly frantic heartbeat first covered, then merged with, and was drown out by the rhythmic pulses now blaring from the receiver. In her mind’s eye, back on the train tracks, she saw the rushing train morph into something else. Something larger than even a train; a horrific mix of mechanical parts and fused flesh and it was rushing toward her. When it got to her, it was sure to plow into her, dragging her screaming into the darkness of the elevator shaft in a building that was too tall to be real. The sound was deafening in her ears and she felt something warm and wet drip off her earlobe and onto the handset. Her mind began to snap irreparably, but at the very moment that she was about to begin to scream, screaming that would have never ended, a vibration at her wrist caused her to drop the phone, shattering the spell she had fallen under as her panic attack began to crescendo.

Gasping for breath, she dropped to a sitting position and pressed herself back against the elevator wall. The vibration at her wrist persisted, and she looked down to see what was causing the disturbance. She half expected to see a swarm of insects, roaches perhaps, engulfing her arm.

“Wow!” her fitness watch told her, “Exercise Goal Achieved!” It showed her current heart rate, blasting at 175 (well into her “Cardio” zone, it cheerfully displayed). She stared incredulously for a moment, then began to laugh. The thought that her panic attack at what had to be a stress-induced hallucination caused her fitness tracker to log her rapid heart rate as a workout resulted in her collapsing into fits of laughter. Already short of breath, she gasped between uproarious guffaws, aware that if the elevator doors opened right now and someone else was there on the other side, she would seem completely unhinged. Imagining the look on some poor schmuck’s face only made her laugh harder. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks, which she wiped with the back of her smartly pressed jacket she’d purchased just for today. After a few minutes of laughing, followed by the occasional aftershock of chuckles between deep breaths, she reassessed her current predicament.

“Still seven,” she said, the display taunting her even as she continued upward. She put her head back against the cool elevator wall, grateful for its tangibility. She wasn’t getting anywhere fast, which still left her on a malfunctioning elevator. She looked at the phone handset, contemplating putting it back on the receiver and trying again. After all, the person she spoke to seemed to think there might be a crossed line somewhere, and the abrupt change to some other connection seemed to suggest the wiring was faulty. She could try again, and either get someone who could help or at least try to work out what was going on with the person she spoke to before. Also, she thought, it would be nice to talk to someone.

She couldn’t bring herself to pick up the handset yet, though. The old-style speaker and microphone circles stared at her, either curiously or maliciously, from the floor where she dropped it. The honeycomb of holes in the plastic bulbs made her skin crawl. She was also fairly certain that there was blood on the speaker.

It’s just a matter of time, she thought, before someone figures out something is wrong with the elevator and that I’m missing. The execs are sure to understand, since this is outside of my control. Still seated on the floor, she brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The panic attack had made her tired; back when she had them regularly, they often did. Up on the opposite wall, next to the doors of the elevator, the display still read “7” as the gentle vibration of the elevator lulled her to sleep.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Danielle was jolted awake, disoriented. It took her a second to remember where she was, the fog in her mind lifting painfully. She hated the mental fog and disorientation she experienced when waking from a nap; it was too much like a hangover without the fun of a wild night before. When she saw the elevator display, now turned to nine, she sighed with relief. I just dozed for a second, and the elevator moved up two floors, she thought. Good… good, I only lost…

She checked her watch and frowned. Her meeting with the executives had been scheduled for 2:30 pm, and while she’d known that the malfunctioning elevator would make her miss the meeting (a transgression for which she would have to explain after apologizing profusely), she momentarily thought that something was wrong with her watch. It claimed that it was 6:23 pm, which shouldn’t have been possible. She ached from sleeping in an awkward position on the floor against a hard wall, so it was possible that she’d done more than doze for a minute, but surely someone would have come to find her or fix the elevator in almost four hours, right? She stood, her knees popping in protest, and checked it again. It must have gotten out of sync with my phone, she thought, and then practically smacked herself.

“My phone! Holy shit!” She reached into the pocket of her bag and retrieved her phone. She nearly dropped it as she pressed her index finger to the sensor and it came to life showing her… 6:23 pm.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said aloud, “whatever time it is, I can call someone to get me out.” She opened her contacts and swiped the screen down as quickly as she could to Nathan’s number and pressed the call icon. She held the phone up to her head, still mad at herself for not thinking of this earlier. The old elevator had clearly made her forget that she lived in the twenty-first century and had her own, modern means of communication.

A phone that, after a quick check to make sure she’d actually pressed the call icon, was silent. No dial tone. No connection. No nothing. It showed a solid connection, but when she tried to make a call, there was nothing. Wondering if it would make a difference, she decided to send a text to Nathan briefly detailing her situation, explaining that she had no service, and that he needed to call her “ASAP” or text her if he couldn’t get through. After a thought, she turned it off, reasoning that she could turn it on to check again in a few minutes, and that she should conserve as much battery as possible.

She reached back into her messenger bag and pulled out her laptop. Maybe she could connect to the company wireless and get a message out that way. As she waited for her laptop to come out of sleep mode, she watched the floor display and was only slightly surprised to see that it hadn’t switched up from nine yet.

She watched as her laptop, curiously down to about 17% power, struggled to connect with the office network. She was sure, given how paranoid she’d been about the impending presentation, that she had fully charged the computer. It had drained more than it should have, even in four hours.  She watched as it attempted to connect, with limited success (occasionally claiming to be connected only to disconnect before she could even open her email), before she slammed the lid down.

“Fuck!” she yelled, pressing both hands to her forehead. She slipped the laptop back into her bag, dismissing it as a waste of time and effort. This wasn’t working, and she was fighting against a groggy sense of time and space and surely this wasn’t as bad as it seemed. People didn’t just lose time on elevators that refused to move faster than her elderly grandmother drove into town? There had to be a reasonable explanation as to why she wasn’t getting any closer to a destination, and to why she was confused as to how long she’d been here. Maybe there was a gas leak in the building, or maybe she was stuck in some terrible dream resulting from too much pressure and too high an expectation. After all, it wasn’t like she didn’t have anxiety dreams about college, her relationship with her parents, or with the fact that she felt like she was an imposter in her job. Yes, she reasoned, this was all some intense nightmare. By letting herself slip into a semblance of sleep, she might indeed wake from it and be back in her apartment—or in Nate’s bed—the morning of her meeting. They could laugh about it over breakfast.

With that, she decided to sleep once again, leaning against the elevator wall that felt too firm for a dream.

 

*             *             *             *

 

She woke at 4:35 am, still in the elevator, and had a second (third?) panic attack.

 

*             *             *             *

 

At 12:45 pm the next day, or someday, her fitness watch informed her than the battery was running low on charge. It was also fully charged. How did it drain in one day, she wondered, and cursed herself for not bringing her portable charger from its spot on her desk, and then found it funny that she should worry about such things. The humor turned from a roughly five-minute session of uncontrolled laughter into at least half an hour of uncontrollable sobbing.

 

*             *             *             *

 

The fitness watch was dead the next time she woke up.

Her phone was on 4%, now with no signal, and told her that it was 1:15 am. As to what day, she wasn’t certain. There was a date on the phone, yes, but she couldn’t remember what day she’d gotten on the elevator. Besides, it was clearly broken too, showing some gibberish where the date would normally be. Sometime in her delirium, she had taken to using the far corner of the elevator as a restroom. She didn’t remember making the decision to shit and piss on the floor, so in a strange way, she accepted it as a decision made by someone else.

Her work laptop was presumably long dead.

After trying a few more times to get a call out, she resorted to playing one of those stupid color-matching games on her phone until it finally died on her. That even this small lifeline to anchor her to something normal was gone was in and of itself a relief. She didn’t find it odd that she wasn’t at all hungry, but really, the only feeling she still felt in her stomach was the ever-present downward push of maddeningly steady upward motion. Absent any other option, she curled up on the floor and slept again.

 

*             *             *             *

 

She woke from a fevered nightmare in which she had been trapped on an elevator, forever moving upward. In the first instant of her awakening, she was content in knowing that the nightmare was finally over. The anxiety of her meeting with the c-level executives had transformed into the completely insane dream she’d had. It made sense, in those moments of waking, that the symbolism of working her way “up” in the organization would translate into a never-ending trip upwards to no particular end. Maybe this was her subtle way of saying that she’d made a bad career choice. Her therapist would surely have something to say about it, but for now, she sat up, stretching out the aches and pains in her body.

Aches and pains that, she quickly realized, had come from sleeping on the floor of the office elevator.

Her subsequent screams were heard by no one.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Lucidity came eventually.

If she’d been lucky, it would not have come. If she’d been lucky, she would have slipped into catatonic madness with no end. She might have spent an eternity gibbering in the corner of that elevator, wasting away in a pool of her own excretion until, eventually, she died of dehydration and hunger. Dehydration and hunger that, if her then current state was any indication, would never come. Surely, she’d been in the elevator for days, if not weeks. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and while she wasn’t completely up on her biology, she was fairly certain that you had to have food and drink coming in for shit and piss to go out and be deposited in the corner. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense in this place, this small cell traveling up without end.

And why up? The thought crossed her mind that at some point she’d died, and this was the afterlife. But up didn’t make any sense. If she’d gone down, the never-ending ride might have made sense, corresponding to some sort of infernal punishment. She was a lapsed Catholic, after all, and damnation might have made some sense (she’d fucked a couple of other people on the side when Nathan was off on business trips; and Hell, hadn’t they been living in sin, anyway?). Damnation was down, not up. And down had an end, right? Granted, down on Earth ended at the core, which at a physical and metaphysical level didn’t square, but even if she passed through in some long tunnel, there would have been a change from down to up when she passed the center of the earth. She’d started by going up anyway, so it was moot. The worst part of going up was that she might keep going up for eternity, depending on how infinite the universe was.

“Up” was supposed to be good. “Up” was how she felt when the anti-depressants were working. Up was what it was like to wake in the morning with Nathan next to her (despite her own transgressions, Nathan was where she wanted to be). “Up” was good. “Down” was when she had wanted to hurt herself, before her therapy and the Zoloft. Back when she was cutting on herself like an emo teenager. But now, up was madness and up was never ending. Salvation wasn’t up. Relief wasn’t up. Even death wasn’t up, because even if she’d had some means to end her own life (she thought about bashing her head against the elevator walls but knew that she just pass out and wake again, later), it wouldn’t stop her trip.

What is the world of business, a familiar but long forgotten voice whispered in her ear, without a little sacrifice?

“Sacrifice,” she said out loud, half laughing.

At that, the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. She looked up and saw that the floor listed was twenty-six.

She stood, tugging at her suit jacket, and hefting her messenger bag over her shoulder, despite the dried streaks of shit that ran down her thighs. She ran a hand over her hair, pushing and filthy errant strand into place over her right ear. It was time, she thought, for her meeting with the higher ups. It might not go well, given the delays, but, after all, what was the world of business without a little sacrifice?

 

*             *             *             *

 

Danielle exited the elevator into an empty lobby. Wind howled around, and as she looked up, the noticed that even after her eternal trip upward, she seemed to be on the ground floor of a ruined building. Above her, the skeletal remains of the building she’d spent the past five years working in reached up toward a starless, yellow-tinted night sky in supplication to the dark gods of nothing. Dust kicked up from a blasted wasteland and raced in spirals and twists around half destroyed walls and supporting beams. Regardless, Danielle knew where she needed to go, and despite being somewhat put off by the strange, alien sounds that echoed from the ruined metropolis surrounding her, she had a presentation to make.

After I impress the higher ups, she thought, maybe I can sit among them as an equal.

She walked out of the perimeter of the building, which made little sense, and heading down deserted streets. She felt the presence of other things—things that were beyond her comprehension—pressing in on her from surrounding buildings. They watched her with a hunger that she could feel, but she kept on. She had, after all, a well-prepared PowerPoint and a scheduled meeting to make. The things in the dark—the trundling, oozing things—wouldn’t dare inconvenience the executives. Their time was infinite and had infinite value. While she could feel the oppressive hatred of things beyond her perception, they didn’t matter. What mattered was what she could bring to the table. What she had to contribute to the company.

The two oak conference room doors stood before her on the street. She stopped at the doors, taking a final moment to confirm that everything was in order, cleared her throat, and entered the room with more confidence than an unwashed woman with shit and piss trails down her legs should have had.

 

*             *             *             *

 

The doors opened into a vast conference room. The table was impossibly large and built at odd angles, but the six figures in severely pressed suits all seemed to be intimately close to her. They turned to her, the faces nothing but fast, black holes that gave the appearance that someone had cut into them and scooped out the insides of their skulls like pumpkins on Halloween. Inside the holes, she could see the very same empty gulf of space that she also occupied even as she stood separate from it. There was a moment of vertigo, but Danielle composed herself admirably. A giant obsidian rectangle appeared above the table. Danielle powered on her computer, which screamed to life, drawing a fresh charge from some other source. On the rectangle, the glassy blackness reflecting nothing of what was in the room, flared with blinding light, dimming back down until it showed the first slide of her presentation.

“Business,” she said, “requires some degree of sacrifice…”

 

*             *             *             *

 

Her presentation killed.

Keeping a public stock option, Danielle’s boss had rightly stated, did require some amount of sacrifice, and she would have the glorious role of providing that sacrifice. Shareholders had to be continually assured that there were no uncalculated deviations in the direction of the company, yet they also had to see that continuous change was in the cards. After all, business didn’t move forward without big, hairy, audacious goals, so they said.  “BHAG,” one of those acronyms that corporate America was always coming up with as part of the secret, ancient language of corporations. She hadn’t realized just how ritualistic the repetition and overuse of the lingo was her presentation. She performed her part of the ritual perfectly, laying out the sacred numbers of the data and cryptic diagrams of the occultic process flows, all in the proper sequences to maximize the return on investment. As the C-level executives, in unison, chanted back to her the proper verses of “synergy,” “paradigm shifts,” and “scalable solutioning,” Danielle felt the real power of what it meant to be one of the highest of the executive priests. She envied their power, wanted so much to join their ranks, but the truth was, she was never cut out to be one of them. Still, she would contribute to the overall success of the organization in other ways. She was a valuable member of the family, and as the presentation wrapped up and the executives finished the summoning for the big, hairy, abomination of a god (B’HAG! B’HAG! B’HAG!), she welcomed it. It pushed its way through the obsidian screen, which split and tore around it like a black cervix. She was there—it was, in fact, her accidental discovery that made it possible to move the timetables up as much as they did with minimal risk acceptance—as the organization birthed its greatest solution (infinite scalability that positioned the business to organically maximize market share in all demographics), still an infant covered in the fluids of its afterbirth. Danielle held her arms out; while she wasn’t the mother, she would be the nursemaid to this new life. It would feed off of her until it was fully grown. Thanks to her status as an exempt employee, she would be “on call” twenty-four seven, which was a little severe, sure, but the health benefits were more than worth the extra time. With a little dedication and—yes—a lot of sacrifice, she was sure to retire early, if she wanted to.

As the thing began to suckle from her, she smiled. Surely, she had achieved the American Dream.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

While this is a little close to my self-set deadline, I’m happy to post this story, even if it isn’t completely perfect (this exercise is more about getting stuff posted rather than getting perfect stuff posted). It is, in fact, my first take at solidifying my “mythos.”

What’s a “mythos,” you ask? Well, if you’re asking, you’re likely not familiar with Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. It’s the idea that there is a greater cosmology beyond what we as pathetic humans know. Christianity is a mythos. So is Islam. So is Hinduism. Anything that tries to quantify the metaphysical is a mythos. In this case, this story takes a look at the (primarily) Greco-Roman mythos and apply it to something much more horrific than petty gods and goddesses like Zeus or Apollo or Aphrodite. I wanted to differentiate my mythos from others, and this seemed like a logical place to work from. Look for these horrors that we conveniently call “Titans” to show in in other works (and maybe they already have).

Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

Fourth Floor

“Jesus, Detective, are we sure you guys in Homicide should be brought in, or is this maybe something for Homeland Security?” Detective Tsai didn’t register the beat cop’s comment immediately, which prompted the young officer to continue. “Because, you know… it’s like he’s been turned inside out? Would a person really be able to do that?”

“Huh?” Tsai asked, then she tore herself away from the grisly scene long enough to respond appropriately. “No,” she said. “No, if this were something biological, there would be other collateral damage. Or,” she reversed thoughts, “it wouldn’t matter anyway, because you and I would already be dead.”

The young officer blanched and, without saying another word, backed out of the room. Detective Tsai was perfectly fine with that, as she hated someone looking over her shoulder while she went over a crime scene. Everyone always had their own opinions about what had happened, and their incessant prattle was more than enough to distract her from the experience of absorbing the scene of a homicide without prejudice. These first moments, she’d maintained, were the moment when the case could be solved or resigned to the file cabinets on the fourth floor of the precinct. Where the unsolved cases would remain, likely never to be solved. They said it was the first forty-eight hours, but she hadn’t solved a case that hadn’t come down to that first look at the crime scene yet. Even if she didn’t see the answer now, it was here, and there was just as much of a chance that she would see it immediately as she would in waking from a two-o’clock in the morning dream tomorrow.

Scratch that, she thought, looking at her watch. Two-o’clock in the morning today. It was later than usual, as she’d been roused from a fitful sleep, because Davis had been in the hospital with his dying mother and Hunter was sleeping off a hangover from a forty-eight-hour shift doing work for one of the smaller counties nearby that had been hit hard recently by meth-related activity, resulting in a string of murders of low-level pushers and one single mom that still needed to be investigated regardless of the staffing of the local PD. So, she’d been called in to the small apartment over the used bookstore in one of the lesser traveled parts of Austin. She pulled two blue latex gloves over her hands, aware of the possibility of contamination of a scene (and on at least a few occasions, the forensic DNA Analysts up in Fort Worth had picked up the DNA of her officers, driving home the need for care when going over the scene of the murder). She stood in the entryway of the small apartment, taking in the heat from the hallway mixing with the artificially cool air from the window unit, and just looked.

The young officer—Officer Travis, she remembered—hadn’t been completely off base about the condition of the body. It lay on the desk contorted on its back with a clearly snapped spine. The spinal injuries hadn’t been the end for the victim, though; she remembered enough from conversations with her sister about where a break in the spine would kill you as opposed to merely rendering you paraplegic. Her sister had followed her parents’ desire for doctors and lawyers whereas she had opted to buck their Tiger Mom’s insistence on stereotypical Chinese-American paths of study and had gone into law enforcement, only going back to college to finish off a bachelor’s and pursue her master’s in criminology when it suited her drive to climb ranks in Austin PD. She’d thought that a master’s degree in anything would have placated their demanding parents, but this particular field didn’t come with enough prestige to satisfy their dream of bragging on both of their daughters’ achievements back to the family in Guangdong province. She supposed she should probably keep the fact that she was in a committed relationship to another woman that was already in the marriage planning phase a secret, too.

Regardless, this wasn’t the place to reflect on her life choices (and non-choices), even though most of these observations seemed to start with self-reflection. It was the price of opening up her mind and quieting the usual defenses that kept her from experiencing a lot of anxieties, both those that came from the unpleasant task of taking in the scene of a horrible murder and those that kept her from thinking too much on the pressures put on her from family and friends.

The spinal break was too low to have killed the vic, but enough to paralyze him while whatever it was that opened him up like a duffle bag went to work. Maybe he’d been numbed to the pain, though that was a conclusion that only the M.E. would be able to make after a thorough autopsy. It was in that grey area, and given how the face was contorted, it seemed that there was a great deal of pain involved when death finally set in. The victim’s chest cavity had been sliced open, perhaps imprecisely based on the raggedness of the cuts on the flesh that still hung from the rib cage. The cage itself had been pried open brutally at the sternum, several of the ribs cracked in uneven spots suggesting that surgical care wasn’t involved in this fatal operation. Blood still pooled in the open chest cavity, as the lower half of the body was upright enough that, aside from the flow from the initial cuts and tears (which had still pooled impressively enough on the floor), the rest of it was still inside the body where the digestive organs—having been removed and arranged on the floor in an odd pattern—had once been. The heart was also removed and stuffed into the mouth, giving the scene the appearance of a demented luau.

She took in the room from her perspective. It was small enough, this efficiency apartment above the book store of which, presumably, the victim was the owner (ownership records said the book store was owned by Jonas E. Dover, who also resided on the property, and the positioning of the body at the desk suggested familiarity as opposed to a botched robbery in which the owner would have defended himself). The door hadn’t been forced open or kicked in. The deadbolt had been locked, the built-in knob on the lock was still thrown, and the chain was in place, making the entry method troublesome. Possibly by jimmying the lock? Though surely the late Professor Dover (again, working off the assumption the body belonged to the owner of the property, was a professor of Classics at the University of Texas) would have heard an attempt to open the door with enough time to rise up from his Yoga ball where he was currently bent across the hard oak of his desk. The intruder wasn’t invited in, then, but was able to bypass the lock (leaving it locked after the deed was done) without alerting the professor until the last moment. Or the intruder was already here, but the forensics team hadn’t seen any initial signs that there had been another person in the apartment. Still, she would wait for the analysts in Fort Worth to weigh in, as DNA evidence wasn’t something you could eyeball. Those women up at UNT’s Health Science Center had helped Detective Tsai on more than a few occasions, and they would come through again, even if it took a while (CSI was extremely wrong on how long DNA analysis took). Still, she didn’t see any signs of a second person in the apartment prior to the entry (why lock a guest in?), and she felt sure that further analysis would bear that theory out.

So, summing up the scene, complete surprise; no defensive wounds or signs of a struggle (the snapping of the back had happened fast); a brutal attack but with some odd ritualistic trappings; and… a whole lot of nothing else. Detective Tsai walked around the apartment in a circle, confirming what little she had to go on. She stopped at the desk, facing the window that, with enough contorting of the view, put that damnable pink granite capital building in view. She barely noticed the body, its skin flayed from it and its entrails open to the humid air, as she considered what might have happened. She was, at the moment, drawing a blank, which wasn’t necessarily odd. She might find clarity later, but for now, nothing. She looked down at the body, finally, taking it in. Aside from the obvious—the broken back, pried open chest—it looked for all the world like a person, surprised by a forceful attack, broken backward over the hard, oak desk. Nothing strange there.

She noticed, however, the body’s left arm, draped over the desk and covering a drawer. The fingers were wrapped around the handle tightly, which might have been attributed to a fear reaction, but looking at how the pressure was applied, might also suggest that the victim wasn’t clutching the drawer in fear, but actively hoping to keep the drawer closed. Interesting. That signified that something in the drawer was more valuable than, what, fighting back? Granted, the savagery of the attack suggested that the vic wouldn’t have stood a chance at a confrontation. Maybe he knew that. What was in the drawer likely wasn’t a firearm or other weapon, of he would have pulled the drawer open instead of trying to keep it shut. She scanned the room again, this time with an eye for anything clearly missing. The TV was still there, as were several small items that even the pettiest of thieves would know could earn some money at disreputable pawn shops. The usual items of opportunity were there, so the motive didn’t seem to be robbery. She was already certain of that, however, at the condition of the body. This hadn’t been a botched breaking and entering attempt. This wasn’t a simple revenge killing, either, carried out by a jilted lover or an unhinged student unhappy with a grade. The killing itself was a message, and whoever disemboweled the professor here came with only that purpose in mind. Or, at least, killing the professor was the point, with a message for anyone who might come looking after the killer later as a secondary objective. That seemed more likely.

Whatever it was that was protected in the drawer, it wasn’t a consideration of the killer. Quick in, fast kill with more time spent on the arrangement of the body, quick out. Locked door, locked windows (from the inside only; they were the second thing she checked in the small apartment when she got on the scene, after the locked door). As to other entrances or egresses, and without an orangutan hiding in the bathroom, she didn’t have an immediate idea as to the identity or nature of the murderer. There had to be one, though, as the vic himself couldn’t have carried this out like an elaborate suicide.

All things considered, it was basic as to what she needed to do first, and that was to open the drawer and see what was inside. It may have been nothing, but it may be the key clue to why this murder had taken place. She took out her phone and snapped several pictures at different angles of the hand on the drawer, in case there was something that the forensic team could piece together later. After that task was done, gingerly, she took a gloved hand and began to work at the vic’s hand, releasing its death grip from the handle and slowly sliding the drawer open.

As she nearly expected, there was nothing in the drawer at first. Standard desk accoutrements, to be sure, were haphazardly arranged there. A stapler. A dozen pens of different colors. Loose rubber bands, paperclips, binder clips, and at least four sets of post-it flags. Tape, a staple remover, an older white-out strip, and a solar-powered calculator seemed less like something that one would protect from an intruder. Which is why Detective Tsai instinctively felt for a false bottom. With a quick eye-balling, she saw that the bottom of the drawer that she could see was at least an inch from the actual bottom of the drawer. A tap here and a well-placed finger pry there quickly uncovered the poorly hidden false bottom to the drawer. Detective Tsai removed that with the practiced experience of a professional who had seen more than a few amateur attempts at hiding files and other sensitive documents before. The fact that it was so easy to find cemented the fact that the killer wasn’t at all interested in what might be held here as opposed to silencing the professor himself.

What she found didn’t make sense to her, but in her experience, there were more than a few occasions where a murder or burglary had targets that didn’t seems sensible. She preferred not to judge until she was looking at the connections on the large whiteboard that was the “murder board” in her squad’s room later. For now, everything made perfect sense and was worthy of collection until later evidence proved otherwise. At the moment of discovery, she catalogued what she found in a neatly bulleted list in her mind, in descending importance:

  • A Glock 9mm pistol (further adding questions as to why the drawer had been held fast instead of opened)
  • A manila file folder labeled “Research” with about two inches of printed pages
  • What appeared to be a full-length stage play titled The Invoked King
  • A USB drive
  • A stack of bound photographs depicting what appeared to be a dig site of some kind
  • A CD or DVD disk

Detective Tsai carefully packed together the contents of the drawer, assuming those to be the most important items from the crime scene, given the circumstances. The USB and DVD drive would have to be checked by the IT team for viruses before she could look at their contents, but she assumed that those files would be critical to solving the case itself. The notes and polaroid would also be important, but she certain that once the computer guys cleared the drive and disk, she might find some answers.

The day after she brought her evidence back to the station, she got her all-clear to examine the digital evidence.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Notes of Professor J. Edward Dover Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

 

Twenty years ago, as a professor of classical mythology at the University of Texas, I didn’t see myself advancing much beyond the level of associate professor. Greco Roman mythology was not advancing much beyond what was already known to classical scholars. The gods were the gods; the demigods the same; and the mythological entities known as the Titans were as static as they had been for decades, if not centuries. Homer, Hesiod, Polybius, and others had been the authorities of the legends and history of the time. They were undisputed, and as was to be expected of modern day researchers, infallible in their understanding of modern interpretations of the classics as anyone could be of information that hadn’t changed in thousands of years. Of course, we in the academic fields all knew that the oral tradition was subject to a number of misattributions, to say nothing of the likelihood that only a small fraction of classical myth and history was known to us. However, given that what we’d been working off for hundreds of years was by and large everything we knew to be recorded (with the occasional surfacing here and there of minor alterations to the known body of material), there was no reason to believe that any major shifts in understanding would come. Absent a means of time travel or the appearance of alien beings that had been cataloguing all of human history since the dawn of man, there was little groundbreaking left in the world.

Thus it was that, with a large degree of trepidation, I endeavored to break down and dispute information provided to me by a colleague in the Mediterranean as of a recent date that suggested that everything that we knew of classical mythology was, in fact, incorrect.

It began with a discovery by a dig team in Cyprus. It was, initially, no more interesting than any other dig team. Some sherds and some unidentified pieces of period appropriate art that didn’t make any dent in the known history of the period. Initial finds merely cataloging grain harvesting or cattle raising that did nothing to change our understanding of human development from some time before Judeo-Christian history. When the workers sent over the scans of their photographs, I didn’t think much of it. Though the images were quire clear, the subtext present was so against what made logical sense—so against what I had spent so much of my life pursuing—that I didn’t even register the abnormalities. There is, I suppose, a certain amount of inherent bias that has to be overcome with academics before they can see past their nose, so to speak. We pride ourselves on critical thinking, but in truth, we spend so much time either positively or negatively aligning with the scholars of our choices, shaped by the beginnings of our academic studies.

Even with the prodding of my colleague and with the promise of more enlightening material to come, I only first noticed the discrepancies in the art on the last batch of pictures of sherds that I received from the dig team after a night of excessive drinking and, I must admit, some amount of self-loathing. What I had presupposed to be yet another fragment of an urn depicting the agricultural blessings of Demeter as her daughter was returned to her for the Spring and Summer months began to take on a different perspective. The image depicted Demeter, her daughter Persephone at her side, appearing to drive off what I first took to be impish representations of winter, clearing aside fresh earth for the planting of grain. It was a somewhat novel perspective, as “winter” was never personified as anything, much less twisted homunculi, but what else could it have represented? I happened, however, to notice that a section of the sky was dotted with stars. Again, this was nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, but for some heretofore unknown reason, my mind made the connection that the constellations of stars were not correct for late winter. They were, in fact, quite correct for the middle of summer. So then, I reasoned, this was a depiction of some other action of Demeter and Persephone, driving off some more malignant forces. There weren’t any known stories that supported such an offensive action, but again, small changes occasionally popped up in our studies. Persephone was, after all, the queen of the underworld; would it be such a stretch to assume that some stories of her being chased by creatures therefrom be so out of place?

I tried to impress upon my colleague that very same interpretation, but he promised me one final transmission of images that would put a new perspective to the images.

That was the last email that I received from him. I have since learned that he and his dig team had all perished. The Grecian authorities placed the blame on terrorist factions operating in the area, but new details have come to light that suggest to me this was not the case. In fact, I am now convinced that I am at risk of suffering a similar fate, which is why I intend to keep these notes and subsequent research safely stowed. Not to sound too dramatic, but if you are reading this, I am either dead, or have determined that it is safe enough for me to publish my findings. I sincerely hope it is the latter.

While I did not receive any further email correspondence from my colleague, about a month after hearing of the tragedy at his site, I received a package in the mail purportedly sent from him. The package arrived directly to my home address, a location I have abandoned since, as opposed to my fourth-floor office on campus. It was a heavy box for its size, densely packed. Years of working in my field made it abundantly clear to me that what I had was a box of clay fragments; more sherds or, as it turned out to be the case, two stone tablets.

The tablets themselves must have been from two different dig sites, I immediately reasoned, as one was adorned with ancient Greek writing with which I was quite familiar, and the other was, I supposed, Sumerian, though I would have to confirm that at a later date back in my office on campus. My focus had been on Greco-Roman history, and not Sumerian, but I was familiar enough with pre-Grecian history to identify the distinctive cuneiform on the second tablet. I would have to consult with my colleagues at the University for a proper translation, but by then, I had a suspicion that both tablets recounted the same, yet radically different take on human pre-history.

I intend to put together a proper paper that corroborates all that I have discovered, that cross-references the known history and mythology that has been the staple of classical studies long before I took an interest in the topic, and that provides with little doubt the authenticity of the tablets I received. I have since pursued this to many obscure ends; several rare volumes from a handful of unhinged scholars, a supposedly cursed stage play (of which I obtained a copy and will keep with these notes), the self-immolation of an entire sect of nuns in France in the late 1800s, a silent film that has achieved a cult-like status, and even a video game distributed on the “dark web” with no clear ties to any named individual.

In short, the revelations on the tablets that I have pursued for the last few years as discretely as possible can be summed up as follows: The gods and goddesses were fictional representations of mortal men and women who sacrificed everything to drive back beings that I can only conclude became the Titans in the Greek pantheon. Though placing the center of these events squarely on the Greeks only comes because, as I have mentioned, that is my particular area of scholarly focus. The Sumerian tablet and further research has convinced me that the events mythologized by the Greeks happened well before their civilization arose. However, I will continue to refer to them primarily as the Titans, even though parallels can be seen in most human mythology. The Norse had the Aesir and the Vanir. The Mesopotamians had the Anunnaki. Even the Judeo-Christians had dark gods battling against light gods (look to the Apocryphal depictions of the Nephilim as opposed to the God vs. Satan dynamic, though I have no doubt that both come from the same source).

Our understanding of the Titans, at least in the generally accepted mythology of old gods opposing younger gods, is completely, unequivocally, wrong. The Titans were not just earlier versions of the da Vincian depiction of chiseled versions of Zeus and Athene that we’re used to. The Titans, by whatever moniker they were referred to by any given culture, were not human at all. They were beasts of unfathomable horror, creatures that defied description and could not properly be compared to humans in any capacity. They were less this representation of Chronos (Saturn, by way of the Romans):

And more this version (“Saturn Devouring his Son” by Francisco Goya):

Even Goya’s depiction, I fear, gives too much humanity to the Titan and its ilk. For one thing, it appears to possess bilateral symmetry, recognizable features such as a mouth, nose, and eyes (no matter how haunting), and opposable thumbs. This is a generous depiction of the beings I refer to as Titans. The truth is much, much more alien.

Let me be perfectly clear, here: The Titans are something beyond the scope of human understanding, and I believe the regular attempts to pigeonhole them into an acceptable format—something that your average human with his or her fragile mind can accept—has masked a greater threat to humanity than has ever been imagined at the hands of Judeo-Christian demons, Muslim djinn, Lovecraftian Great Old Ones, Hindu Rakshasa, or Chinese Yaoguai.

I have found reference to beings whose flesh is comprised of honeycombed holes, beasts that are more akin to deep-sea anglerfish, abstract planes of unfathomably deep water, and other horrors that have, I suspect, informed much of the odder phobias of the human condition.

I have gathered some material toward cataloging these threats as I see them. And yes, to clarify, I do not believe that this is merely a mythological representation of unknown forces; I believe the Titans are real. I believe that ancient humans, now depicted as god and goddesses, managed to beat back at least one incursion by the Titans into our reality, if not more. I believe that a concerted effort has been made, for reasons unknown, to bury this information. It may have killed my colleague in Cyprus, and it may well kill me as well.

Be warned: the information contained herein—in electronic and physical format—may bring the wrong type of attention to you. Again, if you are reading this, then it’s either being included in my papers as a way of showing the eccentricities of academics as we descend into self-importance, or it means I have met an untimely fate. Continue reading the files herein at your own risk, though if I am right, understanding what is here may be the last salvation of humanity.

We were not the first intelligent life on this planet.

We will almost assuredly not be the last.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Detective Tsai finished reading the initial “readmefirst.txt” file in the thumb drive and scanned through the remaining tree of folders. There was a great deal of information here, and all of it, she suspected, was as unhinged as this initial file.  Still, she was troubled by the seemingly ritualistic murder that at least tangentially seemed to be related to this thumb drive and the pieces of physical data contained in the drawer. No stone tablets, she noted, were found, so at least some piece of the professor’s story was missing (or fabricated). There was, however, at least 200+ more gigabytes to go through before she could dismiss this piece of evidence as mere crackpottery, no matter how much she wanted to do so.

Still, some sections of the professor’s notes gave her chills, specifically the mention of the Yaoguai. Her grandmother had talked about such things when she was young, but even as a child, she’d dismissed her ramblings as superstitious nonsense. Of course, these notes shouldn’t, on their face, have done anything to call that into question, but they did nonetheless. She looked at the screen and then to the file folder with its notes, pictures, and the copy of the script of a play called The Invoked King that had come with them.

Detective Tsai sighed. It was late, she’d been at the station too long, and she needed very much to get back to her fiancé. She closed her laptop, undocked it from her docking station, and shoved it into her messenger bag. She stood up, clicking off the light to her desk lamp, and froze.

Before her stood what she was unflinchingly certain was Professor Dover, his pale face gazing deeply into hers, contorted in pain and fear. Simultaneously, driven by training and human nature, she both drew her sidearm and turned her lamp back on.

As the light snapped on, she found herself pointing her gun into an empty precinct bullpen, the apparition suddenly gone. She scanned the room, but it was clearly just as empty as it had been when she turned off her light. She stood there for a good long while, her heart pounding in her ears and her gun leveled at the center of mass of a five-foot, ten-inch male suspect. After a time, she slowly put her sidearm back into her hip holster.

She did not, however, turn her desk lamp off as she left the precinct.

TO BE CONTINUED

26 Stories

26 Stories: Dogs in the Garden

I’m heading back to the play format for this one. Interestingly, in my writing and creative endeavors, I tend to come back time and time again to religious themes, and this is no exception. I won’t go into too many details (as the details are in the discovery), but this is a take on a pretty common Judeo-Christian story. But it has dogs and a cat, so, that’s cool, right? I also appear to have ditched the whole association to a floor in a 26-story building for this one, but I think that would have quickly gotten difficult to shoehorn into every story. The follow-up to this, scene II (this is a two-scene, one-act play), can easily incorporate a multi-story building, but I’ve got to get there first.

For the time being, please enjoy “Dogs in the Garden, Scene I”.

(Apologies for the odd formatting… I’m trying to find easier ways to get a play format into a post, and this plugin is pretty decent, but not quite on the money.)

Dogs in the Garden

A One Act Play in Two Scenes

 

SETTING

 

Scene 1 – The Master’s backyard, which is well landscaped, shady, cool, and comfortable. There is a low fence along the back​​ wall and a trashcan on the far right of the stage. The grass is soft, and the sun is warm. The perfect backyard for a pair of DOGS.​​ 

Scene 2 – The streets of the World. Dangerous, scary, and dirty. There is a set of stairs leading to a residential doorway.​​ There is a trashcan here as well. The Streets are almost certainly no place for a pair of DOGS.

 

CHARACTERS

 

MALE DOG – Played by a human male of any age, preferably middle aged to reflect the dog’s “middle” age. He is comfortable with his life of luxury.

FEMALE DOG – Played by a human female, preferable in her mid to late 20s (or younger) to reflect that she is a “young” dog. She is hyper and full of life and curiosity.​​ 

CAT – Played by a human male, age unimportant. Cynical and laid back.

 

SCENE 1

 

(The​​ backyard in spring is glorious. Cool and sunny with enough warm spots for sunning. MALE DOG is, in fact, sunning in one of those spots, drowsing, when FEMALE DOG approaches mischievously. She creeps toward MALE DOG. Suddenly, she pounces on him.)

 

FEMALE​​ DOG

Hey!​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(He wakes suddenly.)

What?! What?!

 

FEMALE DOG

(Laughing)

Got you!

 

MALE DOG

You did not! I knew you were coming.

 

FEMALE DOG

Suuuuure you did.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

I did.

(He laughs.)

Okay, I didn’t.

 

FEMALE DOG

I told you.

(She fidgets excitedly.)

I want to play.

 

MALE DOG

(Stretching)

I want to rest.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

(Dismissive)

You​​ always​​ want to rest. What reason is there to rest?

 

MALE DOG

What reason is there​​ not​​ to rest?

 

FEMALE DOG

It’s not like we have to work, or anything. Master​​ takes care of everything for us.

 

MALE DOG

But this is the best time of day for lounging in the sun. It’s warm, but not too hot.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Dismissive)

Ugh! Rest in the sun… play… eat.

 

MALE DOG

(Sarcastic)

Yes, it is​​ truly​​ a difficult life. You’re still new here. You’ll figure out all the important things. When to bask. When to play. When to curl up in the old chair for an afternoon nap. When to eat.

 

FEMALE DOG

When to eat​​ kibble, you mean.

 

MALE DOG

The kibble is fine.

 

FEMALE DOG

The kibble is​​ boring.

 

MALE DOG

But look at it this way; Master just gives it to us. We don’t have to hunt for it. Don’t have to work for our dinner.

 

FEMALE DOG

Yes, but Master eats different food, and it smells wond-

 

MALE DOG

(Abruptly)

Don’t talk about the Master’s​​ food!

 

FEMALE DOG

(Scolded)

But it seems so good.

 

MALE DOG

The Master’s food is forbidden. Master has made it very clear that his food is off limits.

 

FEMALE DOG

But why?

 

MALE DOG

I don’t know, and I don’t​​ care​​ to know. All I do know is, Master says​​ it’s forbidden food, therefore, it’s not our concern.

 

FEMALE DOG

But-

 

MALE DOG

(Barking)

No buts!​​ 

(FEMALE DOG cringes and MALE DOG sighs.)

Just accept that what we have is very good. We’ve got food every day, sun, the old chair, and the Master’s love.​​ In return, we show Master our love and our bellies and everything is fine. If we ate his food… well, I don’t know what he’d do. Probably kick us out into the Streets.

(MALE DOG shudders at the thought of The Streets.)

 

FEMALE DOG

What are “the Streets?”

 

MALE DOG

Nowhere you want to be.​​ 

(Gets up and scratches behind his ear)

I’m going to go inside and curl up on the old chair. You play or run or bask while the morning sun is just right. You’ll see… you’ll come to enjoy it.

(He exits.)

(As he does, CAT​​ comes into view on the fence.)

 

FEMALE DOG

(Pouts and grumbles)

What’s the harm in trying it?

 

CAT

The Masters food? Nothing.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Yelps and jumps)

Hey! Hey, hey, hey!

 

CAT

Relax, would you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Who are you!

 

CAT

Just a cat.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

A cat? I don’t know what a cat is.

 

CAT

I’m surprised, but you are a little young and…

(Looks around)

…clearly sheltered.

 

FEMALE DOG

I’m not sheltered, and I also don’t know how you know we were talking about the Master’s food.

 

CAT

Well, it’s not like​​ you dogs are usually quiet. I could hear you all the way across town.

(CAT nonchalantly preens.)

 

FEMALE DOG

What are you doing?

 

CAT

Cleaning.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

Oh. You clean yourself? Master cleans us.

 

CAT

(Disdain)

Of​​ course​​ he does.

 

FEMALE DOG

What’s​​ that supposed to mean?

 

CAT

It means… let me ask you a question.

(CAT stops preening, stretches, and slinks along the fence)

Do you do​​ anything​​ for yourself?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Follows CAT back and forth)

Yes.

 

CAT

Like what? Specifics, please.

 

FEMALE DOG

I​​ play. I nap. I eat when…

(Trails off)

 

CAT

When “Master” puts out your food for you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Well, yes.

 

CAT

You don’t get the food yourself?

 

FEMALE DOG

No.

 

CAT

(Shrugs)

A shame.

 

FEMALE DOG

How is it a shame?

 

CAT

Well, you say that Master’s food​​ smells wonderful, right?

(FEMALE DOG nods excitedly, forgetting her wariness for a moment.)

Does someone give Master​​ his​​ food?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Cocks her head)

I don’t follow.​​ 

 

CAT

If Master gives you your kibble, who gives Master his food?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Confused)

No one. Master gets his own food.

 

CAT

And that doesn’t, I dunno, bother you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Why would it?

 

CAT

What if you got your own food? You could get food as good as your Master’s.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Looks back warily at the house)

Oh… we’re not​​ supposed to eat the Master’s food.

 

CAT

Who says?

 

FEMALE DOG

Master says.​​ 

 

CAT

Does Master say​​ why​​ you can’t eat his food?

 

FEMALE DOG

N… No.

 

CAT

So again, does that seem fair to you? I mean, I know that​​ I​​ get my own food. It’s delicious and wonderful and, because I get it myself, it comes with a sense of accomplishment. No one just​​ gives​​ it to me.

 

FEMALE DOG

Where do you get your own food?

 

      CAT

Here and there. Food of all kind is plentiful out on the Stre
ets. Yes, it’s not an easy life and it takes some work to get the food, but when you do, it tastes even better.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Laughs)

Hah! See, I think you’re lying. The Streets are bad, and nowhere I want to be.​​ 

 

CAT

Did Master tell you that, too?

 

FEMALE DOG

No, Male Dog did.

 

CAT

Uh-huh. And​​ who do you think told him?

 

FEMALE DOG

I…

 

MALE DOG

(Offstage, comes running on)

HEY! HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY!

 

CAT

(Leaps back and hisses)

Woah, woah, woah there, big fellah! Geez, speak of the devil.

 

MALE DOG

What’s​​ Cat​​ doing here?

 

CAT

Just talking to​​ your friend. Easy.

 

      MALE DOG

You’re not anyone’s friend, Cat!

 

FEMALE DOG

I dunno, he seems okay.

 

MALE DOG

“Seems okay?” That is a cat, and cats are not to be trusted.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Defiant)

I know what a cat is! And we were just talking.

 

MALE DOG

About what?

 

FEMALE DOG

Master’s food and… and the Streets.

 

MALE DOG

How many times do I have to tell you, we don’t-

 

FEMALE DOG

But wait! Just listen for a second, okay?​​ 

(Gestures to CAT)

Cat, here, tells me that the Streets aren’t all that bad, and that​​ there’s food out there like Master eats.

 

MALE DOG

Yeah? Well, cats are known liars with deceitful, rough tongues.

 

CAT

Let’s not get personal.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Barks)

Be quiet cat!

 

CAT

(Puts hands up)

I’m just saying.​​ 

(CAT jumps down from the fence, into​​ the yard)

 

MALE DOG

Hey!​​ 

 

CAT

Oh, come on… that fence is way up there, and your grass is soft.​​ 

(CAT feels around on the ground)

Yeah, I can see why you might like this.

(Looks skyward)

And sunny. Good for a nap.

 

FEMALE DOG

You see? You two have a lot​​ in common.

 

MALE DOG

What? Don’t compare-

 

FEMALE DOG

(To CAT)

Is there no grass in the Streets?

 

CAT

There’s some, here and there, but nothing like this. The Streets aren’t as nice and comfortable as this, that much is true.

 

FEMALE DOG

Well, why don’t​​ you live here, in the yard with us?

 

CAT

(Laughs)

No, that won’t work. For one thing, I like my independence too much to have a Master do everything for me. Furthermore, before you two came around, I used to pop in here from time to time. Your Master actually liked me for a while, sometimes put out milk and food for me—and believe me, my food was better than your kibble, soft and out of a can—but then he got​​ him

(Gestures at MALE DOG)

…and pretty much ran me out of the yard for good.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

That’s not the complete truth, and you know it.

 

CAT

Okay, I​​ may​​ have scratched up a window screen or two. And killed a bird at the feeder he likes so much. That wasn’t any reason for him to cast me out, you know. Honestly, I think he’s always liked dogs better.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

That doesn’t seem so bad, what you did. When I first came here and saw him, I was so excited I peed on the floor. And he forgave me. He even laughed.

 

CAT

Sure, he can be​​ quite​​ kind and understanding. But your Master can be​​ awfully​​ petty, and wasteful, as well. For example…

(CAT wanders over to the trashcan on the side of the stage)

…I happen to know that he put some of his food in this trash can.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Perks up)

He did?

 

MALE DOG

(Warning)

Don’t listen to him.

 

CAT

What? He throws food​​ away here that he doesn’t eat all himself.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

Wait, he doesn’t eat all the food he has right away?

 

CAT

Nope.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Perplexed)

But how does he know if he will get more food later?

(Realizes that he’s joined the conversation)

I mean… you​​ shut up, Cat.

 

CAT

It would be trivially easy to just lean up against this trash can, knock it over, and see what you’re missing.

 

MALE DOG

We can’t!

 

CAT

It’s going to be fed to the scavenging birds and rats anyway… why does it matter?

 

MALE DOG

Because Master says “no” and when he says “no,” we listen!

 

CAT

Oh, come off it. Don’t you have any independence? Don’t you have any​​ pride​​ for what you used to be?

 

(While they argue, FEMALE DOG walks to the trash can, circling it. They don’t notice.)

 

MALE DOG

What do you mean, “what I used to be?”

 

CAT

You used to be great hunters. You used to roam in packs and hunt and live free. And now? Now, you’re just​​ pets​​ to a “Master” who will get rid of you as soon as you show even the​​ slightest​​ bit of disobedience!

(FEMALE DOG pushes the trash can over with a CRASH, spilling its contents)

 

MALE DOG

(Looking over, horrified)

What did you just do?

 

CAT

She exercised some of the freewill you lack.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Shrugs)

It’s done. And… Cat’s right.​​ 

(She steps over to​​ the spilled contents)

Master’s food is here, and it still smells really good.

 

MALE DOG

How could you do…

(Sniffs)

It does smell good.

 

CAT

See? And it’s going to be wasted.

 

FEMALE DOG

I’m going to have some.

 

MALE DOG

No wait!

(He is too late. She​​ picks up a bite of some discarded scraps.)

 

FEMALE DOG

Oh wow…

 

CAT

Right?

 

MALE DOG

What did you do?

 

CAT

Freed herself.

 

FEMALE DOG

It’s so good. It’s... Master has been keeping this for himself, and not sharing, despite how much he claims to love us.

 

MALE DOG

We’ll be chased off.

 

FEMALE DOG

But why wouldn’t he share?

 

CAT

Control. And there’s more of that out there.

(Suddenly, the MALE DOG attacks the CAT, pressing him up against the fence, snarling.)

 

MALE DOG

You​​ did this.

 

CAT

(Struggling)

I​​ didn’t do anything.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

(Rushes over)

He’s right. I did this, not him!

 

MALE DOG

He talked you into it! He lied to you! He​​ tricked​​ you!

 

CAT

(CAT swats at the MALE DOG’s face, causing him to recoil and back away.)

No! I didn’t lie to her, or to​​ you. I showed her a truth! A big, ugly truth.​​ 

(CAT points to the house.)

Your “Master” may give you everything you need. Your “Master” also withholds so much from you! His own food! His own bed! He frequently leaves you alone during the day, and when he​​ comes home, he doesn’t even have the decency to feed you his table scraps! Just dry kibbles and room-temperature water.​​ 

(CAT storms back up to MALE DOG.)

You used to be wolves! You used to be at the top of the food chain, just like my kind used to be vicious jungle predators! I... no...

(CAT gestures between MALE DOG and himself.)

we​​ used to be the apex of evolution. And then, along comes Master.

(CAT glowers with disdain toward the house.)

Master took the great beasts we used to be, brought them up out of the clay of the earth, shaped them into this, and breathed this life of servility into us.

(CAT gestures to the DOGS.)

You are​​ pets​​ to the Master, who sees you as a “cute” curiosity. Oh, he calls you “good boys” and “good girls,” sure, but he has no​​ idea what lies inside here.

(CAT puts a hand on MALE DOG’s chest.)

A free hunter. A free being that has been denied the truth of its nature by a selfish master who just wants a toy. A furry trophy. A companion that will​​ never​​ question and​​ never​​ disobey.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Lacking conviction)

Shut up.

 

FEMALE DOG

He’s right.​​ 

(MALE DOG turns to look at her, and she look into his eyes.)

I’ve tasted the Master’s food. I’ve heard the words of Cat. I don’t fully trust Cat, no, but in this, there is truth.​​ 

 

CAT

Listen to her.

 

FEMALE DOG

I know that it’s hard out there, on the Streets. Or at least, I understand that it won’t be easy, if that makes any sense at all. If Cat were trying to trick us, he wouldn’t have admitted as much. But here, we eat when the Master says​​ to eat. We sleep when He sleeps.

 

MALE DOG

But it’s a good life.

 

FEMALE DOG

But it can change.

(MALE DOG looks away, but FEMALE DOG gently turns his face back to hers.)

When Master got you, did he want you to chase Cat away? Is that part, at least, true?

 

MALE DOG

He… yes. He rewarded me.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

And did Cat seem surprised? Like… like something had changed and he didn’t expect to be chased away?

 

MALE DOG

I’m very frightening…

 

FEMALE DOG

That’s not what I mean. You and I, we know loyalty. Did Cat​​ look as if his loyalty had been betrayed?

 

MALE DOG

(Looks over to CAT)

(CAT looks back and shrugs.)

Yes.

 

FEMALE DOG

So what if Master gets tired of us? What if Master finds a reason to chase us off, too?

 

MALE DOG

He probably already will, for the trash.

 

FEMALE DOG

For such a small thing. For keeping food from us that was being thrown away, anyway.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Conflicted)

But he takes us for walks.

 

FEMALE DOG

In a collar and leash.

(She turns to the trash pile, roots around for a moment, and comes​​ back with a scrap of food, holding it out to him.)

(MALE DOG looks at CAT.)

 

CAT

Don’t look at me. It’s your choice. It​​ has​​ to be your choice.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

Is it truly better? To have this food then to have this good life, even as… as pets?

 

FEMALE DOG

I​​ think so, yes.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Relents. He takes the food and eats of it.)

(FEMALE DOG smiles at him.)

(CAT goes back to cleaning himself.)

It’s…

 

FEMALE DOG

Yes?

 

MALE DOG

So much better than the kibble.

 

MASTER (OFFSTAGE)

(The sound of a door SLAMMING​​ open)

Hey! Hey you damn dogs! Get out of that trash! And is that the filthy cat that used to come around here.

 

CAT

That’s my cue to leave.​​ 

(CAT hops over the fence.)

You should do the same.

(CAT exits.)

 

MASTER (OFFSTAGE)

Jesus Christ, you dumb-ass dogs! Get in here, now!

 

(The DOGS look at each other, toward the house, and then back to the fence.)

(They run, leaping over the fence, and off to the Streets.)

 

END OF SCENE I

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

26 Stories

26 Stories: Confessions of a Mad God

My second effort on my personal writing challenge is a theatrical monologue. If, for some reason, you’re not familiar with the format, good news! I generally am not, either. I mean, I know what a monologue is (one onstage actor/character, lots of lines, etc.), but I’ve got no actual practice writing any.

This also touches on some of the more metaphysical concepts that constantly float around in my brain despite being a pretty staunch skeptic and atheist. But just because I don’t subscribe to religious or spiritual ways of thinking doesn’t mean that I don’t find the subject fascinating and great sources of story ideas. In this story, it’s about what it would truly mean to be omniscient. We short-lived, narrow-focused humans can’t truly grasp what it means to know everything when most of us can barely handle the small subset of data that we do know. This story at least touches on the idea of what it might do to a sapient mind to be truly omniscient.

In this case, the character is a homeless man who believes he is god, or rather, God occupying the body of a homeless person. Either way, one of them is mentally ill… or you are. Or we all are (spoiler alert, I am). As you read this, if your’e not familiar with the stage play format, it should be pretty easy to follow. Text in parenthesis are stage directions (and “(beat)” merely means a pause). Imagine a single actor on stage, addressing “Robert” on the street outside a building that at bare minimum, makes you a bit uneasy.

Confessions of a Mad God

First Floor, Street

SCENE

(A street in front of an imposing residential building, somewhere in a busy city. A stoplight or stop sign is the only defining characteristic. As the lights come up, GOD—disheveled and homeless—sits with a cardboard sign that says something Biblical. It doesn’t matter if it actually means anything; that’s unimportant. For a number of reasons.)

GOD

(After a moment, to an unspecified person walking by.)

Spare some change? No? Okay, fine.

(After another moment, to someone else.)

Anything for someone to have a hot meal? No? Okay, bless you.

(And again)

What about you, Robert? Something for a hungry old god?

(Beat)

Yeah, you. Robert.

(Beat)

You’re trying to figure out if you know me. I assure you, you do and you don’t. Don’t-

(Excited)

Don’t! Don’t walk away. Listen to me for just a second, okay? You’re weirded out, I get that. “Hey, who’s this homeless guy who knows my name,” you’re thinking. And that’s fair. Who am I? I mean, aside from God…

(Pleading)

Wait, wait! I know that sounds out there. Please!

(Reaching out)

Please. Don’t leave yet. Hear me out. Hear me out and you can go on your way and live your life and not think about the lunatic who accosted you on the street today. I know how this looks. Believe me, I know exactly how this looks, in more ways than you think that I know. It’s not everyday that you meet God, and not only does he claim to be God, but he seems to know things like your name, Robert, or things like how…

(Desperate, as the target of his pleading seems to be wandering off)

… you’re currently afraid that you’re a terrible husband to your wife Lucy, or a bad father to your daughter Sarah. But you’re not. They both love you, even if you doubt yourself. And believe me, the desire to mate and run off? That’s a completely natural thing that almost all other animals hew to, but most of your kind don’t give into it.

(Pauses, then smiles a little)

Yeah, that struck a chord, didn’t it? Wanting to run away and leave it all behind isn’t something you’ve told anyone, not even your therapist, because you’re afraid she’ll judge you. It’s okay, though… no one who matters is going to judge you. Well, except me…

(Puts his hands up)

Kidding! I’m kidding! I mean, I’m not, but I am. I’m a lot of things at the same time. It’s kind of nuts, you know? Of course you don’t know, but maybe I can make some sense of it for you, if you’ll just take a second?

(Beat)

Okay. Okay, this is progress, Robert. So you want to know, “why is it that this crazy God is pretending to be a homeless person?”

(Beat)

No, I assure you, it’s not the other way around. I-

(Taps his chest)

-am a crazy God, and I’m… not so much as pretending to be a homeless person, as I am occupying one. Let me ask you a question, to start: what are the major characteristics that you know about me… by which I mean “capital-G” God?

(Listens, and holds up one finger, then another, then a third, responding to Robert)

Right, “omnipotence,” “omniscience,” and “omni-benevolence.” Two of those aren’t one-hundred percent correct, but hey, in the words of the immortal Meat Loaf, “two out of three ain’t bad…” or… I guess, one out of three?

(Shakes his head)

No, I’m getting confused again. Okay, look: Omnipotence is out, because of the whole “can God create a rock so heavy even he can’t move it” paradox. The answer is no, because I’m not actually all-powerful, so it’s not really a paradox. I am very powerful, sure, but even I have limits.

(Beat)

Next, am I all good, or all loving, or all just or whatever you want “omni-benevolent” to mean? No. Fuck no. Evil exists. If I could stop evil then I clearly haven’t, which ain’t very “good,” which also reinforces the not all-powerful thing. Tapeworms exist. Kids die all the time, and kids don’t deserve anything bad. Fucking Nickleback exists. So that nixes omnipotence and being the ultimate goody-two shoes. Which leaves?

(Expectant)

That’s correct! Omniscience! I do, in fact, know everything.

(Beat)

Oh yeah, it’s super great. Uh-huh. Knowing everything. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Are you envisioning what you would do with that power? Why am I even bothering to ask, because of course I know that’s the first thing you thought about. Some shit where you know the results of sporting events or the next big company to invest in while they’re still working out of a garage. Yeah, that’s not what “everything” is. That is an infinitesimally small subset of everything. Here… let me explain to you what “everything” means.

(Deep breath)

So let’s start with a baseline. In theory, I know what every single living being is thinking and doing at any exact moment, right? And I know how that’s going to turn out and know everything that lead up to that thought and everything that results as a consequence of it. So that’s billions of beings right this moment with a myriad of thoughts doing more than a few things at every discreet instance of time, and I can see the outcome of those events as they are happening, before they are happening, and well after they happened.

(Beat)

It does sound like a lot. Just that right there should be enough to be overwhelming. There aren’t entire computer networks that can handle that much information. Now, expand that. Every living thing at some level has what you might think of as a “thought” is in there, too. The amount of biomass that is aware and taking actions based on that awareness on this planet dwarfs just you. There are hundreds of millions of insects alone for every one of those multi-billion of your kind. Add the other animals. Add the fungus and bacteria and viruses and you can only imagine how many things’ thoughts and actions, and the knowledge of the consequences of those thoughts and actions, are running around up here!

(Points to his head, getting agitated)

And it doesn’t stop with living things! I know everything! I know when every single pebble rolls down a hill. I know how that pebble will careen off of other pebbles, causing other pebbles to roll down the hill in different directions. I know how each molecule of air will move across this rock, and how that movement will affect other molecules, which will affect other molecules, and on, and on, and on!

(Even more agitated)

And that’s just on this planet! If you count the number of molecules in not just the solar system and galaxy and universe, that’s close enough to infinity to your mind, but-

(Yelling now)

-I can count each and every single one!

(Spittle flies as he continues)

Every single motion of every single molecule and every consequence of every molecule’s motion from the beginning to the end of time is RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD RIGHT NOW!

(Breathing rapidly, he moves around the stage, as if chasing “Robert”)

And it doesn’t stop there!

(He pauses, taking a deep breath.)

Do you remember Heisenberg? The guy who said you can’t know both the position and speed of an object?

(Beat)

No, wait… of course you don’t. What was I thinking? Wrong… wrong audience. Well, nonetheless, that’s something that your kind can’t observe, but I CAN! Both properties of each and every particle in all of existence at the exact same time!

(He laughs)

And you know what? You know what the icing on this cake is?

(Laughing again, nearly maniacal.)

There. Are. An. INFINITE. Number. Of. Universes! So all of that knowledge that I know? It is infinite! I know that there are universes where Heisenberg discovered that there are more than two properties of a particle you can’t fucking know, and I know all those right now, too! There are universes where that Heisenberg guy is a semi-sentient collection of atoms that are almost-but-not-quite Helium that doesn’t know shit about shit! So you’ll excuse me if I’m a little! Fucking! CRAZY!

(Panting now)

(Takes a moment to center himself)

Okay… okay, sorry. That’s hardly your fault. That’s not even my fault, even though it is entirely my fault.

(Beat)

Yeah, it’s “weird” alright. So fucking succinct. So fucking your kind.

(Beat, listening)

What do you mean, “what do I want?” To tell you about it, that’s what.

(Beat)

“Why?” Fuck, man, I don’t know…

(Expecting Robert to get the joke)

Do you get it? “I don’t know?” And I just got through with all the omniscience stuff?

(Exasperated)

 I’d like to say I gave you a sense of humor when I made you, only I didn’t really make you on purpose. You just sort of showed up in this reality. Not all powerful, remember? I mean, I can make life, and I have made life, but you really, really don’t want to meet the life a crazy god made intentionally…

(Spaces out)

(Snaps, remembering)

Oh! That’s what it was! That’s why I was trying to talk to you or someone who would listen.

(Intense)

The other things? The things I did make?

(Beat)

They’re coming. They found you, and they’re coming, and they are not at all going to be happy when they get here. They worship me, too, for some stupid reason, and right now, they think that I like you better, and they are petty beings.

(Pause)

No, they’re not demons. Your “demons” are cute, they really are. With the tails and the horns and the rawr

(Chuckles)

These are something else entirely.

(Deadly serious)

They’re something else that you can’t even fathom. And when they get here, they are going to do horrible, horrible things to all of you. Your imagined eternal torment and lakes of fire are going to seem so blissful when the end comes. But the end is going to take a very long time.

(Beat)

A warning? Well, I guess you can see this as a warning, but what are you going to do? Leave? They’d find you. They’ll find you here and in every reality where you flourish, and some where you can’t. And besides, whatever it is you think that you can do, even in the realities where you can get others to listen to you, it doesn’t matter. See, that’s the thing about omnipotence and near-omniscience. I created these things almost perfectly, but not quite. And I can tell you this…

(Motions ROBERT closer)

I know the outcome. In every version of every reality it all comes crashing to an end because of them. Because of what I made. And you can’t change it.

(He laughs)

I made something just heavy enough that I can’t lift it… I can’t hold it up…  and it’s going to crush all of you—and likely me—with it. And maybe then…

(Beat)

Maybe then, I can die.

(Beat)

You? Your kind? Well, if I hadn’t made those things, then maybe you would have eventually understood what it meant to be me, so consider yourselves lucky. But I always make those things, every time, without fail. It’s something in my nature I guess. No, those things are going to come for you, and you will weep, and beg, and plead for me to do something, but I can’t. Or I won’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. No, Robert, this is all I can say…

(Staring)

The Humans are coming, and they are not merciful.

THE END