26 Stories

26 Stories: He Makes an Offering to His Muse

This post is kind of a big deal to me. Weird floor numbering aside (I just had to start this in the basement), this is story number 13, which is the beginning of the second half of this little project I started to keep myself writing. Over half a year’s worth of material, for good or ill, is nothing to sneeze at for a guy who went in to therapy not too long ago for depression that was largely fueled by a lack of writing.

As such, this story is going back to the beginning, to tell the next (but I assure you, not last) story of poor Jonathan Fredrickson, who may or may not have summoned an actual muse (if you don’t know who Cali is, then… well, you probably should). Only, there may be something more sinister to this muse than merely inspiring the struggling writer who, as it turns out, may not be struggling much, anymore.

Enjoy!

He Makes an Offering to His Muse
12th Floor

John sat on the edge of his bed. It was a large bed; far better than the ratty single bed he’d had when he lived in the building’s basement apartment. On his still-new-to-him 12th floor apartment, the sheets were silk, the pillows soft, and his companion in it as lovely and inspiring as ever. As if she heard his thoughts, Cali stretched awake and rose to a sitting position. The sheets fell from her bare breasts, and as usual, she made no motion to cover them. She draped an arm over John’s and rested her chin on his shoulders.

                “Hey there,” she purred. “What’s got your mind all wrapped up?”

                “Taking in the view.” He smiled and looked at her naked body.

                “You’re cute when you deflect, you know?”

                “Yeah?” He sighed. “Truth is, I’m kind of tired.”

                “Then come back to bed,” she said, patting the empty space behind him. “If you need more sleep, I’m sure I can wear you out.”

“Not that kind of tired.”

                “I know.” She caressed his cheek. “Too much to take in, too fast?”

“That’s it, exactly. I wanted all this,” he gestured to the fancier apartment, the posters for several of his plays, and the short shelf of awards, among other accouterments of the successful writer he had become, “but I thought it would take longer.”

                “You need some help, I think.”

“But you are my help. And I’ve got Randolph to handle the business side of things. All I have to do is write, and I’m afraid I’m running on fumes.”

                “I can fix that, but if we’re being honest, I need a little help for that, too.”

John chortled. “What do you mean by that? You just being you is all you have to do for me.”

                “A girl needs a little more than that,” she said. She swung her long legs over the side of the bed and rose, still not bothering with modesty.

                “I worship you… what more could you want?”

                Her eyes sparkled. “Funny you should mention ‘worship.’”

                “I don’t follow.”

“Being worshiped by you is wonderful. That I can inspire you to the heights you’ve reached fills me with a joy that I can’t describe. You probably could, but for me, the words don’t come.” She strolled around to his side of the bed and sat on his lap, draping her arm around his neck. “That kind of feeling… well, it gets a bit addictive. And, just like you draw inspiration from me, I provide that inspiration because of the pedestal upon which you’ve placed me.” She traced a circle on his chest with a long, delicate finger.

                “Okay, so what needs to change.”

“I need more—how did you put it?—worshipers.”

                “What does that mean?”

                “I can give you so much more inspiration, John. If you think you’re at the top of the world now, just imagine the heights I can propel you to with a little more… juice.”

                “I don’t understand.”

                She closed her eyes. “Go out there, into the world, and bring more people here. We’ll have a party!” She jumped up, excited.

                “I thought we were keeping us a secret.”

                “That was then, in the beginning. But I want to have a party.” She pouted at him. “Are you going to deny me, your goddess, a simple party?”

                He shook his head. “No. No, of course not.”

                She clapped her hands together in glee. “Wonderful! And invite that pretty little thing that answers Randolph’s phone, will you?”

                “Julianne? I… I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think she has eyes for me, since she doesn’t know I’m in a relationship.”

“That’s why I want her to come. Consider it… a gift to you.” Cali sauntered back toward John. “After all, I’m asking you to share me with the world. The least I can do is let you share our bed.”

                John was taken aback. “What? I’m not going to step out on you.”

“Who said,” she whispered, “I wouldn’t be there, too.”

*             *             *             *

The party was a roaring success. Hangers-on in Johnathan’s orbit were more than happy to finally get to spend time with the reclusive playwright (soon to be screenwriter, as well). Randolph was thrilled to invite not only Julianne, a lithe girl who couldn’t have been a day older than twenty, but others on his staff, and several “very important people in the entertainment industry” (as he conspiratorially put it to John, a little louder than intended thanks to the copious amounts of booze flowing that night). Johnathan was uncomfortable with the festivities, as they were still something outside of his usual comfort zone, but it was Cali who was the star of the night, and he was happy, to a degree, to stay out of the center of attention. He was also jealous of the way the other men would comfortably put a hand on her lower back and stand too close, but he remembered her promise to him. Remembered that she had suggested Julianne come, too, and based on the way she was staring at him, cheeks flushed by her own cocktail, Cali may have been working some magic on the girl, too.

                And what magic it had been. The party began to die down at two o’clock in the morning. Guests staggered out of the apartment, leaving half-full glasses behind. Still roaring with merriment all while struggling to stay conscious. Cali had made an excuse to engage Julianne in a lively and flirtatious conversation to keep her there long enough for only the three of them to be left when the door closed at two thirty.

True to her word, Cali had convinced the girl to stay. And true to all expectations, that night was by any definition an awakening for John in more ways than Cali had been before. While the three of them had made love on that bed, Cali had seemed to glow. To John, the glow was too tangible. In his semi-drunken state, clouded by the orgiastic pleasure he was experiencing, he felt that a light was indeed emanating from Cali’s body. The light streamed out through a million tiny holes in her skin. The holes, in a honeycomb pattern, seemed spongy and malleable, and even while light radiated from them, there seemed to be a darkness there, as well. Or perhaps, he though, revulsion trying to fight past the intense physical sensations he was experiencing, light was being drawn into the porous membrane that he skin had become. But before he could think on it further, the culmination of the act of wild and previously forbidden sex sank his consciousness into a blissful blackness of its own.

*             *             *             *

Julianne was gone in the morning. Cali said she didn’t remember when the girl had left, but didn’t seem too bothered by it, though John felt that something was hiding behind her bedroom eyes. He casually caressed her skin and was happy to see that it was whole, and not a sponge of tiny holes. It did, however, seem less pale than it had before.

                “It’s true what they say,” she said, again seeming to know his concerns before he voiced them, “about the afterglow.” She kissed him before getting out of bed and sauntering to the bathroom. “We simply must do this again,” she said as she closed the door behind her. In a moment, John heard the water running.

                “Yes,” John muttered.

When he called into Randolph’s office that afternoon, an unfamiliar voice picked up and transferred him to Randy. When John asked who the temp was, and if he knew if Julianne made it home safely after the party (stumbling slightly over his words to avoid revealing too much about the evening), Randolph claimed no knowledge of any Julianne. “Catherine,” he replied, “has been answering my calls for years, now. Are you, perhaps, hungover from last night?”

                John, concerned, conceded that he may in fact be, and ended the call as quickly as possible.

He turned, worried, as he heard Cali singing to herself in the shower; something melodic and… something old.

Before he did anything else, he grabbed his journal (where he took notes as ideas struck him, which was often these days), turned to a page near the back, and wrote “Julianne?” on the paper.

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: Jonah and the Leviathan

Phew, I barely made my self-enforced deadline for this one. I wrote it today and just finished an initial proofread and revision. This is more raw than some of my other stuff, in more ways than one, as you’ll see (not that what I usually post is polished; that’s not the point of this exercise, really). It’s a sci-fi story, kinda, and it brings back at least one familiar face if you’ve been reading these stories (and another, if you read stuff of mine beyond the 26 Stories tales). Things are starting to come together for my mythos, I think. 

I’m also trying to employ some of what I’m picking up from critiques at the DFW Writer’s Workshop; namely, that I’m wordy and take to long to get to the story. Hopefully, this grabs you right away.

In any event, enjoy the story!

Jonah and the Leviathan
9th Floor

               The Axis Mundi’s sensor array detected the rogue planet with enough time to perform the necessary adjustments to guide the ship through Hawking Space. It would seamlessly re-calculate to avoid the damaging gravity shadow that would have torn the ship down to its component atoms and strewn them across at least this universe, if not others. Instead, some glitch or hiccup in otherwise stable subroutines opted to drop the ship into real space, to the surprise of the Mundi’s captain, Jonah Carthage.

               Jonah had been hauling cargo in his behemoth of a cargo freighter for most of his working life, and he could count the number of times the Mundi dropped from Hawking due to gravity shadows on one finger. Given the severity of failure to course correct and the energy consumption it took to spin an SH drive back up, the systems in these ships were infallible in replotting courses on the fly. As point of fact, the operator’s manual literally stated, “course correction algorithms are infallible.” Why they even existed in the first place could probably be chalked up to a time when computer systems were programmed by humans instead of other, smarter AIs. Hell, most ships didn’t strictly need non-AI captains, but the too-human need to be “doing something” hadn’t gone away with the Singularity. Most ships like the Mundi had full crews—and she could easily support a crew of a hundred or more—solely to stave off the negative effects of deep space isolation.

               Jonah, however, flew alone. The isolation was all he had ever wanted, and so the Mundi mostly flew herself, with him along for the ride. He would push the occasional button when the ship’s AI deemed is safe for human intervention.            He thought the Mundi must have liked him, or pitied him, to give him jobs to do, but he didn’t complain. He didn’t know for certain what she thought, because he’d deactivated her “personality” systems (another human drive; humanize the AIs to make them relatable) because even a sympathetic AI’s voice was more connection than he wanted. He knew she was there, though, which was enough, he supposed.

               He didn’t bother to turn the personality systems back on to find out what dropped the Mundi. It was easy enough to read the displays and see the rogue planet—invisible through the canopy in the pitch black of space but represented in the spatial modeling suite in stunning detail—drifting there, just a few thousand miles from his location. It was a mild curiosity, but hundreds of thousands of these wandering, star-less orphans had been detected and cataloged. He might get a small finder’s bonus from the trade guild if it wasn’t a known object, but little more. He was about to re-plot his course and begin the process of spinning up the drive, when the Mundi’s display highlighted a surface anomaly. Without his intervention, the render of the planetoid expanded as the eyes of the sensor mapping dove down to the craggy surface. Racing past mountains and over canyons, the view soared along a nearly flat plane, then stopped over a single mesa. Enhancing further, the plateau of the mesa grew, and there, resting on top of it, was what appeared to be a door.

               “Huh,” Jonah muttered, his little used voice hoarse.

               The door stood on its own, not attached to any walls or building. It looked older; “vintage” or “retro” would apply. Paneled wood. Door knob. A knocker that, had Jonah seen doors that looked at all like this instead of the flat panels that “whooshed” open and closed as he approached them, would likely be brass. There were three numbers above the knocker as well; 901.

               The Mundi’s display posed one simple line of text to Jonah directly: This should be investigated.

               Jonah was hard-pressed to disagree.

*             *             *             *

               Jonah did not particularly relish time in one of the ship’s smaller surface drones. He liked even less the claustrophobia of the EVA suit that he now wore as he stood on the barren surface of the mesa, facing the strange door. The Mundi rested behind him, dwarfing him, its cargo bay opened like the maw of a great leviathan. He wanted to return to the comfort of her innards; to wander the endless corridors and enjoy the space therein. Even loaded with cargo as she was, he could spend months in different parts of her and still not retrace a pathway. Out here, on the planet’s surface, he was much more aware of the thin layer of polymer fabric that separated him from vacuum and radiation and micro-space dust that would rip him to shreds without the protection of a suit, hull, or planetary atmosphere.

               And yet, as he stared at the door, standing in its frame with nothing behind it, he couldn’t bring himself to turn back. It called to him. This antique portal, he knew, would open to somewhere else. There was no question in his mind that this wasn’t just a doorframe left standing on a planet hurtling through space as some form of art installation or joke. It wasn’t something a bored spacer had left here on the extremely small chance that someone else would discover it, to their confusion.

               Jonah wanted to open the door, but he didn’t do it right away. Instead, he reached out and did the only polite thing.

               He knocked.

*             *             *             *

               The corridor inside the doorway was narrow, white walled, and trimmed in brown, faux-wood baseboard and molding. It felt old, like something out of a movie from the twentieth or twenty-first century. Pictures of indistinct people in gray or sepia tones were surrounded by ornate, gilded frames. Soft light came from an incandescent lamp on a side table. Jonah only recognized these things because he had watched a lot of media on his various trips. This place was in the style of an old New York (before the flooding) apartment. Somewhere, even though the EVA suit should have been sound-proof, he could hear the scratchy sounds of an old radio playing music, and the steady “tick, tack” of some mechanical device. The song wasn’t known to him, and as he tried to focus on and understand the words, they became harder to discern, as if they active fought against understanding. The ticking of the strange device was interrupted by the dinging of a bell, followed by a mechanical ratcheting, after which the ticking started up again.

               He walked along the hallway, toward a second closed door at its terminus. A warm, flickering glow trickled out from below it. The radio and the clacks were coming from this room, and like the first door, he knew that he was going to open it and knew it would be a place much different than this one.

*             *             *             *

               The apartment hallway gave way to a cramped cave, in the middle of which danced the flames of a small fire. Jonah’s first steps into this room were on a spongy surface that made wet sucking sounds as he walked. The smell of rotten meat assaulted him, and he gagged almost instantly. With sudden fear, he realized that his EVA suit helmet was now gone. On instinct, he forced all of the air out of his lungs, expecting to at least slow the effects of decompression as he frantically searched for his helmet. As he did, he saw that the smell came from the floor and walls themselves. They were not rock, but the sickly red and yellow of putrid tissue and muscle. Cancerous growths were prominent, blackened with tumors and undulating with the rippling of the flesh. He gasped, horrified as something that appeared to be a maggot the size of his arm pushed its way out of a pustule and, using large, wicked pincers, tore chunks out of the putrescence.

               Jonah threw up, suddenly thankful that he could—apparently—breath the air here, and more importantly, that his helmet had vanished, preventing him from coating the inside with partially digested ration packs. As the acidic bile of his vomit mixed with the smell in the air, Jonah threw up a second time, until wracked by dry-heaves.

               “That’s fine,” a croaking voice said behind him, jolting him and causing him to spin, the soft floor giving way under his feet and sinking him up to his ankles in rot. “I don’t think we’ll notice a little added mess in here, will we?” Jonah found himself face-to-face with the withered husk of a man whose advanced age he could only guess. He stumbled backward, his foot still caught in the hole he’d made in the “floor,” and fell.

               “Who… what… where…” Jonah floundered.

               “I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Or rather, I do, but I can’t answer. Or I won’t.” The old man looked confused and scratched at the beard that stretched down to his navel. The white hair was wispy and thin, which did nothing to conceal the fist-sized lice that crawled therein. “I’ve been here for a long time. Or a short time. Or I will be here for a long time. Time…” He glazed over. “Time, time, time…” He trailed off, lost in thought, looking for all the world like a grotesque statue of an ancient corpse. Jonah scrambled to his feet and walked toward one of the walls of the cave, looking for the door that led back to the apartment, and back to the surface of the planetoid.

               “Time!” The old man yelled, again startling Jonah, who had so far only found a tunnel of flesh and cartilage receding into darkness. “Time is… broken here. Broken time.” Now the man scratched at the back of his head, wincing as he did.

               “Who are you?” Jonah asked, stringing together his first complete sentence in months.

               “I’m… many things. And no one thing. I was a king, once. And will be. Or am…” The old man swirled his hands around his head, frustrated. “All at once, and none at all.”

               “How do I get out of here? Back to my ship?”

               “Oh,” the man dismissed, “you can’t.”

               “That’s… there was a door back there. And my ship is…” Confused, Jonah looked around, still seeing no door, though he was positive he’d just stepped through it minutes ago. Or was it hours? Days?

               “No doors here.” He reached behind his head again, as if expecting something to be there. “Where did it go? Where did they put it?” Ignoring Jonah, he looked around on the ground, finally brightening. “Ah!” he said. “There you are!” He reached down to grab the severed end of a tube-like tendril of old flesh that was dripping with puss. The old man put the cable of flesh against the back of his head, smiling a mostly toothless grin. He let go, and it fell to the ground with a splat. The smile faded.

               Jonah tracked the line of flesh as it snaked along the ground. It stopped at what he could only think of as the top of the body of a large, fish-like corpse. The fish’s eyes (if that’s what it was) were gone, leaving only empty sockets. Its mouth lolled open, revealing a mouthful of long, needle-like teeth. Jonah shuddered, terrified at the remains more than anything else about his current predicament. The eye sockets seemed to contain something in the blackness. Some malevolent, utter darkness that seemed alive on its own.

               “It won’t stick. You there!” The old man said, snapping Jonah out of the trance he’d fallen into while gazing into the thing’s eyes. “Can you help an old man out?”

               “Uh… how?”

               “Make this,” he flapped the end of the flesh-tube that he’d retrieved from the ground at Jonah, “stick. Back here. Where it belongs.” He gestured to the back of his head.

               “I just want to get back to my ship.”

               “Yes, yes, fine… put this back and I’ll get you to your ship.”

               “Can you do that?”

               “Can I do what?”

               “Get me back to my ship?”

               “Your ship?”

               “My… the Axis Mundi. I left it parked…” he gestured vaguely in the direction the thought he’d come. “…back there.”

               “I tell you what,” the man said. “I can get you back to this ship if you do something for me.”

               “Help you put that back?”

               “How did you know?”

               “You,” Jonah stammered, “you already asked.”

               “Did I? Oh…” The old man held the tube to the back of his head again. “I’ll tell you what, if you help me put this back…”

               “You’ll get me to my ship. I know.” Jonah crept close to the old man, who waited patiently. When Jonah got to him and moved behind him, he saw that the old man did, indeed, have a festering wound of his own on the back of his skull. A few strands of long gray hair hung there, barely covering it.

               “Well!” the old man snapped. “Take this and put it there. And make it stay.”

               Tentatively, Jonah took the flesh-tube in his hand, glad that the thick gloves of his EVA suit hadn’t gone wherever his helmet had. It was soft in his hands, and for a moment, he felt that the only thing that he should do would be to squeeze it until it collapsed. To yank it out of the fish corpse and throw it all onto the fire. Instead, he pressed it to the old man’s head, gently brushing the hair out of the way.

               “Yes, good,” the old man said. “Now, sew it on.”

               “I… have a welder.”

               “Does it join flesh to flesh?”

               “I… I think so,” Jonah said.

               “Then do that.”

               “It’s going to hurt.”

               “Pain is relative. And fleeting. I need this, young man. I need it.” The voice held such desperation.

               “Okay.” Jonah pulled the micro welder from his suit’s tool belt. He flicked it on, and the blue flame ignited with a hiss. He had half hoped that it wouldn’t have worked. Taking a deep breath, he pressed it to where the tube met flesh. The skin began to boil and blister immediately. If it hurt, the old man showed no sign. Quickly, as the flesh began to scar together, Jonah worked his way around the circumference, until finally he was finished.

               “Ah,” the old man, signed, practically in pleasure. “Yes, that’s what I needed, boy.”

               Jonah walked back around to the front of the man. The man was smiling, a new clarity in his old eyes that hadn’t been there before. The thought of eyes drew Jonah’s back to the fish thing he’d soldered the old man to. Was there something in those eyes that wasn’t there before?

               “So, can you get me out of here?”

               “I can, young man.”

               Jonah sighed. “Thank you. So,” he looked around, “where’s the door back to my ship?”

               “I can get you out, but not to your ship. That way is barred to you forever.”

               “What?” Jonah asked. “You said you could get me back to my ship!”

               “Did I? I may have, but I wasn’t feeling like myself when I did. Can’t trust a confused old man, can you?”

               “But you’re still…” Jonah was about to say he was still a confused old man, but there was new vitality in the old man’s eyes. The skin was beginning to show some color.

               “My dear Jonah,” the man said, now certainly looking healthier, “you should count yourself luck that I am going to allow you to leave at all. It’s a gift I’m giving you.”

               “A gift? And how did you know…”

               “Not for helping me with my… difficulties. That doesn’t mean anything. Someone would have come along and helped anyway; could have been you or it could have been someone else. I had such big plans for that person. No, it was the other thing you did that has convinced me to be merciful. Besides,” he continued, “I can save my intent for those who put me in this prison of flesh and rot.”

               “I… but… what did I do?”

               The man smiled as the body of the fish behind him—the body that was not part of his own—heaved with life. “You knocked.”

*             *             *             *

               Jonah tumbled to the ground in the middle of a vast, white-sand desert. He rolled onto his back and took in air that was stale and dry but didn’t smell like spoiled meat and death. Above him, the sky was a sickly yellow. He thought that perhaps there was a sun behind a layer of clouds, but the more he stared, the less he thought that there were clouds. The yellow seemed to be the sky’s natural color, and if there were stars there, he couldn’t see them.

               He sat up and saw where he had arrived. The mummified remains of a giant beast of some kind, something fleshy and gray, with a gaping circular mouth, scabby ridged skin, and empty eyes (at least ten or so sockets, containing nothing… not even the unnerving blackness of the fish inside wherever it was he had been). It was easily as massive as the Axis Mundi. It had large fins (though there was no body of water here to suggest its natural habitat) and several tree-trunk like leg stalks. From where he sat, it seemed that he had exited the beast from its maw. This creature was old, though; it couldn’t have been what he was inside just moments ago, a still rotting creature, feeding maggots.

               Jonah shuddered, trying not to dwell on that. He truly did sense that he had been given a gift, and that whatever the man had originally intended to do to him would have been far worse than being left alive on some alien landscape.

               He stood, carefully, as the great beast held court over a sprawling kingdom of nothing. Turning to take in his surroundings, Jonah saw with a start that he was not alone.

               A young girl of about ten or so, with dark curly hair and what had once been a bright and colorful sundress, now dirty and faded, watched him. She, in turn, held the hand of what Jonah initially thought was a woman in a robe or a child’s caricature of a ghost, colored in black. Two eyes looked out from a slit in the robe, and he vaguely recognized it from old Earth books and something religious or cultural. The covered woman tilted her head at him, then looked down to the little girl, whose sparkling eyes turned up to meet the wraith’s. Jonah scrutinized at the tall woman and was startled to see that the black robe was colored like a bruise; more angry purple than black. He recoiled as he realized that the robe wasn’t fabric, but the woman’s flesh, fused to her body and shaped into the remnants of the vestments of an outdated civilization.

               “You’re lost,” the little girl said, having turned back to Jonah.

               “I am,” he agreed. “Where is this place?”

               “This is the Golgotha.”

               “Is that a planet in a specific system, somewhere? The Perseids, maybe?”

               “The Golgotha just is.”

               “Great,” he said. “I need to find a transmitter.”

               “It won’t do you any good, this transmitter you want.”

               “Kid, even a standard transmitter can broadcast over Hawking space, and…”

               “No Rabia,” she said, apparently to the woman, “I don’t think he understands.”

               “I don’t understand what,” Jonah asked, addressing the tall woman.

               “Here,” the little girl said, holding out her other hand to him. “We shall show you just how lost you are.”

               Jonah looked at her hand, to the desert of white sand, and back up to the starless, cloudless yellow sky.

               Without a word, as certain as he had known that he’d had to land to investigate the door, and had known to knock first, he reached out and took the little girl’s hand with the oversized glove of his EVA suit.

The End

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: An Atheist in an Apocalypse

This short play takes a break from being as dark as some of the other stories I’ve written. It’s mostly funny–or supposed to be anyway–taking a few shots at people trying to deal with an ongoing, likely religious apocalypse (but maybe not… I’m not ready to commit to that without further evidence). I even manage to take a swipe at sometimes insufferable atheists like myself.

I’m also including a PDF version with the hope that this will make my stories easier to read on, say, a phone or printed instead of on a computer monitor. While this exercise is primarily for my accountability, it sure would be nice to get some feedback, and making it easier for you to read could facilitate that.

So, without further ado…

An Atheist in an Apocalypse
7th Floor

SCENE

 

(TREVOR and GORDON barge into​​ TREVOR’s​​ darkened apartment.​​ In the distance, there are sounds​​ of SIRENS, the occasional EXPLOSION, and piercing SCREAMS.​​ TREVOR stumbles to the couch, clearly shaken. GORDON slams the door shut, standing there holding it as if something is about to try to force its way though.)

 

TREVOR

(On the verge of losing it.)

Oh Jesus oh Jesus​​ oh Jesus….

 

GORDON

It’s alright, Trevor. We’re safe, for now.

(Still, it takes him a moment to stop leaning on the door.​​ He very clearly locks it​​ before walking away.)

 

TREVOR

It’s​​ most​​ definitely​​ not​​ safe, Gordon.​​ 

 

GORDON

I don’t think we were followed.​​ And we’re, what, seven floors up?​​ Maybe we can just hunker down here until this all blows over.

(As if to contradict him, a loud EXPLOSION thunders in the distance.)

 

TREVOR

This isn’t blowing over, man. And,​​ can I just say,​​ that while I value our friendship​​ and don’t usually like to say things like this to friends, but...​​ I told you so.

 

GORDON

Um…​​ You really didn’t.

 

TREVOR

Oh yes I did. I know we had our differences and all, and I was always glad that​​ we could discuss those differences rationally,​​ but clearly…​​ clearly,​​ you​​ were wrong, and​​ I​​ was right.

 

GORDON

(Annoyed)

We don’t know that yet.

 

TREVOR

(Astounded)

What? Yes we do!

 

GORDON

No, we​​ don’t.

TREVOR

(Gets up and walks up to GORDON.)

Dude.​​ Literal​​ gates to​​ literal​​ Hell have​​ literally​​ opened​​ all over town! All over the God-damned world…

(Pauses)

Oh no.

(Crosses himself and looks to the sky)

Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t mean to take your name in vain!

 

GORDON

You’re not even Catholic, Trev.

 

TREVOR

What?

 

GORDON

The, uh,​​ crossing yourself thing…​​ 

 

TREVOR

I’m covering my bases! Just like you should​​ do, too.

 

GORDON

I’m not ready to jump to that conclusion just yet.​​ Plus, Pascal’s Wager is kind of bullshit to begin with.

 

TREVOR

Pascal’s... Look, a​​ fucking demon with bat wings and everything just flew off with Karen from HR!

 

GORDON

I don’t think we can label that​​ thing​​ as a​​ “demon”​​ just yet.

 

TREVOR

It called itself “the great demon A’zule, ruler of the plane of whips and knives!”

 

GORDON

And I can call myself “Gordon​​ Powel, ruler of the Hooters on 5th​​ and Main,” but I still don’t get to grope the waitresses.​​ 

(Beat)

Nobody liked Karen, anyway. If that was a demon, then you know she deserved to be carried off.​​ She was responsible for cutting our benefits last year​​ and she always microwaved her leftover crab cakes in the breakroom, remember?

 

TREVOR

From the place with the delicious po’ boys, I…

(Beat. Frustrated.)

Don’t change the subject!​​ How are you holding on to this atheist thing, now!?

 

GORDON

Look, I admit that this is really, really​​ unprecedented.​​ 

 

TREVOR

Thank you!

 

GORDON

But,​​ I’m not willing to go whole-hog one way or the other until we’re a lot more certain of what’s happening.

 

TREVOR

(Gobsmacked)

Did… did you miss the part where I said that literal gates to Hell opened…

 

GORDON

“Gates” to somewhere opened, yes.

 

TREVOR

To Hell.

 

GORDON

So you​​ say.

 

TREVOR

There was fire and screaming and…

(Frustrated)

Bat-winged demon…

(Stammering)

Plane of whips and knives!

 

GORDON

(Sighs)

Look. I’m not unreasonable. Assuming we survive this…

 

TREVOR

Assuming? We’re going to die and be judged for our sins!

 

GORDON

Maybe. But maybe not. So, assuming we survive this, I am most definitely going to be making a major reassessment.

 

TREVOR

Oh, well,​​ he​​ finally​​ sees reason.

 

GORDON

It doesn’t mean I’ll be seeing​​ your​​ reason.

 

TREVOR

How can you not?

 

GORDON

There are and have been hundreds,​​ if not​​ thousands,​​ of different religious views​​ on this planet since mankind started wondering just what in hell—pardon the pun—made the thunder​​ rumble. You can’t tell me that you know for 100% certain that all that out there…

(Waves vaguely at the window)

... is the Judeo-Christian version of the end of the world.​​ 

 

TREVOR

It seems pretty fucking close!

 

GORDON

Correct me if I’m wrong, but “pretty fucking close” doesn’t cut it with your god, right?

 

TREVOR

Well…

 

GORDON

So why are you so sure that you’re right?

 

TREVOR

Uh… demons?

 

GORDON

Do you know how many religions have something that is​​ basically the same thing as “demons?”

 

TREVOR

Uh… two or three?

 

GORDON

Probably hundreds. If not thousands. Christianity. The Djin in Islam.​​ Acheri. Empusa.​​ Those college students that do the while live-action role-playing thing...

 

TREVOR

Okay! Okay! I get it. Oher people have demons.​​ 

 

GORDON

Which​​ raises the question… how do you know that​​ these​​ demons​​ out there​​ are​​ your​​ demons?

 

TREVOR

(Aghast)

Does it fucking matter?!

 

GORDON

Maybe.

 

TREVOR

How so?

 

GORDON

If you’re wrong about one thing, then maybe​​ you’re wrong about other things.

 

TREVOR

Is this really the time to be having this philosophical disagreement?

 

GORDON

If not now, then when?

 

TREVOR

Maybe when the​​ goddamn end of the world isn’t happening?

 

GORDON

That might well be the perfect time.​​ I mean, if the world​​ is ending, then this is pretty much the​​ only​​ time to have this​​ discussion.​​ 

 

TREVOR

Is that really…

 

GORDON

Look, it’s all the same to me.​​ 

 

TREVOR

Oh really.

 

GORDON

Yeah. Something terrible is happening out there, and whatever it is...

 

TREVOR

Revelations.

 

GORDON

Whatever​​ it is, we’ve got to consider how we’re going to get through this.​​ 

 

TREVOR

By confessing our sins.

 

GORDON

If it’ll make you feel better.

 

TREVOR

I fucked your girlfriend.

 

GORDON

(Pausing)

Julia? Julia cheated on me with you?

(Shocked)

Oh man... I can’t deal with this right now.

(Sits down)

 

TREVOR

Oh,​​ that​​ you can’t deal with?

 

GORDON

(Upset)

No! Man, I thought we were friends! That’s not, quite frankly, very Christian of you!

 

TREVOR

(Aghast)

I thought it was “all the same to you?” Why do you suddenly care about how Christian I am?

 

GORDON

I just feel very betrayed. Why’d you tell me that?

 

TREVOR

I’m confessing my sins! You know, one of those things that makes me “Christian?”

 

GORDON

Well, maybe you should have picked a different sin. Traitor.

 

TREVOR

I have to do​​ all​​ the sins, man!​​ 

 

GORDON

So you​​ th-

 

TREVOR

So I think, yes!​​ And I have to forgive people.

 

GORDON

Well, I for one don’t think​​ I​​ can forgive​​ you.

 

TREVOR

I don’t need​​ your​​ forgiveness.

 

GORDON

Well, that’s just rude. You’re the one who fucked my girlfriend.

 

TREVOR

Argh. Then I forgive you for having such bad taste in women.

 

GORDON

Woah, hey now! You know, as pissed as I am at Julie right now, it’s not like I own her, or anything. She’s responsible for her actions. She has agency. You’d do well to remember that when talking about women.

 

TREVOR

Geez, sorry.

GORDON

See? I’ll forgive you for that.

 

TREVOR

It’s… ugh!​​ 

 

(The door opens, and JULIA walks in, shaken.)

(GORDON and TREVOR both YELL.)

(JULIA YELLS.)

 

GORDON

Julia?

 

JULIA

(Awkward.)

Uh… hey, Gordon. What’re you doing here?

 

GORDON

What are you doing here? And how’d you get in?​​ I​​ locked the door.

 

JULIA

Uuuuuhhh…

 

TREVOR

She has a key.

 

JULIA

Trevor! Ix-nay on the e-kay.

 

TREVOR

He knows.

 

JULIA

What?

 

TREVOR

I had to confess my sins.

 

JULIA

Why?

 

GORDON

Trevor seems to think that this is the Christian end of the world.

 

JULIA

Oh. I guess I can see that. But it’s not.

 

TREVOR

I already had to explain about the plane of whips and knives.

 

JULIA

It’s not because we don’t have an apocalypse.​​ 

 

TREVOR

“We”?

 

JULIA

You know I’m Jewish, right? Anyway, there’s no apocalypse in Judaism. At least, not the mainstream versions of it.​​ 

 

GORDON

See? There’s another option.

 

TREVOR

Then what’s all that out there?

 

JULIA

Beats me. But, I mean, don’t take my advice; I’m a shitty Jew. I loves me a good bacon cheeseburger.​​ Not shellfish, though… gross.

 

GORDON

Yeah, I never ate any of those. Sea bugs. Ugh.

 

TREVOR

I can’t believe this.

 

GORDON

That’s the spirit!

 

TREVOR

No!​​ I can’t believe you two!

 

JULIA

Yeah… I mean, we probably were a pretty lousy couple, huh?

 

GORDON

I thought it was okay. Most of the time, anyway.

 

JULIA

Still, shit… I feel bad about the whole thing with me and Trevor.​​ 

 

GORDON

Well, it hurts, you know?

 

JULIA

I know. He wasn’t worth ruining “us,” for what it’s worth.

 

TREVOR

I’m right here!

 

JULIA

Oh… uh, sorry.

 

TREVOR

You’re forgiven.

(Excited)

Yes! One down!

 

GORDON

Well… um… I’m not perfect either.

 

JULIA

What do you mean?

 

GORDON

You remember Sally? From the office party last year?

 

JULIA

(Shocked)

No!

 

(There’s and EXPLOSION outside, someone SCREAMS in the distance, and something else GROWLS and ROARS.)

 

TREVOR

(Exasperated)

You know what? Fine. You both have this thing out, but…

(Beat)

Wait, Sally from the call center?

 

GORDON

Yeah.

 

TREVOR

Nice.​​ 

(They fist bump)

 

JULIA

Pigs. ​​ 

 

GORDON

It was just the one time, I promise. And, I mean, we were having that argument over moving in together.

 

JULIA

I really wasn’t ready for that.​​ 

 

GORDON

And I was, but​​ I wasn’t listening to your​​ concerns. I got angry and made a mistake.

 

JULIA

I think we’ve both fucked up, huh?

 

TREVOR

What the hell is going on here?

 

(The POWER teeters on the edge of going out as more EXPLOSIONS rumble. The orange and yellow of not-too-distant fire flicker in the window.)

 

GORDON

Yeah. Can you forgive me?

 

JULIA

(Beat)

Yes. Can​​ you​​ forgive​​ me?

 

GORDON

I already have.

 

TREVOR

(SLOW CLAPS)

Wonderful. You two made up. All is well. Can we​​ please​​ get back to the issue at hand? The-

(He is cut off as an intense light hits JULIA)

What… what is that?

 

JULIA

Wow, that feels warm. And… peaceful.

 

(Another hits GORDON.)

 

GORDON

Oh wow, that does​​ feel nice.​​ 

 

TREVOR

No…

 

JULIA

I think…

 

TREVOR

No, no, no…​​ 

 

GORDON

Well, guess I​​ was​​ wrong. Hey Trev? I was-

 

(The lights all go off for a moment, and when they come back, GORDON and JULIA are gone.)

(TREVOR, incredulous, is momentarily speechless.)

 

TREVOR

Where’s my light?

(Looks up to the ceiling)

Where’s my light!?

 

A’ZULE

(OFFSTAGE, booming, evil demon voice)

There is no light for you,​​ sinner!

 

TREVOR

What? No! I was a good Christian! I went to church! What sins did I commit that I can’t be​​ forgiven for?​​ 

 

A’ZULE

(OFFSTAGE)

Your love of shrimp​​ po’​​ boys!​​ Eating shellfish is the only unforgivable sin!​​ 

(LAUGHS evilly)

 

TREVOR

What?

 

A’ZULE

Enjoy​​ the plane of whips and​​ knives!

(More evil LAUGHTER)

 

(A TRAP DOOR​​ opening to red lights​​ opens below him,​​ and he falls.)

 

TREVOR

Noooooooooo!

 

THE END

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.

Bonus Post: IT the Musical Part 2 – Love Never Floats, The Breakthrough Follow-up from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Ego

Well, hello there, few but constant readers. I’ve got an extra posting for this week (a non-regular 26 Stories week); a play that I wrote in less than 12 hours from random parameters and handed off to a director and four actors to produce in the Twelfth iteration of the Spontaneous Smattering, a 24-hour play festival/contest/charity drive. For my part, I received the genre “musical,” which I ensured that I would get by saying “gee, I hope I don’t get musical” right before drawing. Balls. I also had to include a specific line (“I love/hate you more than [person] loves/hates [thing, activity, etc.]” and a reference to myself, which is why you’ll see my name listed at the end (it’s not simply vanity, promise).

While IT the Musical Part 2 – Love Never Floats, The Breakthrough Follow-up from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Ego (yes, that’s the full title) didn’t manage to win any awards, it was still fun to write and fun to be a part of. I’m including it here in the state it was in when I turned it in: I haven’t gone back over it to clear up typos, punch-up jokes that didn’t land, or anything (there are some wonky formatting issues when I have several characters talk at the same time, but I can’t figure out how to fix it at the moment).

Enjoy!

IT Musical Cast and Writer

IT the Musical 2 Cast and Writer (I’m behind the clown)

 

 

 

IT,​​ The Musical: Part 2 – Love Never Floats

The Breakthrough​​ Follow-up​​ from​​ Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Ego

By

Ben Plopper

 

 

From Spontaneous Smattering XII: Nine Past Midnight

Performed July​​ 28, 2018

CHARACTERS

 

POUNDFOOLISH. Female. Age: Eternal horror without end who doesn’t look a day over 25​​ (fabulous!)​​ – An Evil Fear Clown, POUNDFOOLISH​​ unfavorably compares herself to​​ Pennywise of IT fame (who does not appear in this musical). She feasts on the fears of adults, which are considerably more boring than the fears of children. She has a low opinion of herself; she’ll never live up to Pennywise​​ in her eyes.​​ 

 

CHUCK.​​ Male. Age:​​ Late 30s​​ ​​ Meets​​ POUNDFOOLISH and feels a connection, man. He’s sympathetic, as he shares some of her fears about not living up to his potential (even though​​ his potential doesn’t involve eating people marinated in their own fear juices).

 

OLD​​ CHUCK​​ – Male, 60s: An older version of CHUCK who has been summoned to demonstrate CHUCK’s adult fears (like 401Ks​​ tanking​​ and ear-hair and such). A cranky old man, OLD CHUCK yells all the time.

 

THE FORMLESS​​ LIVING BLACKNESS​​ THAT SPAWNED POUNDFOOLISH​​ IN A DIMENSION OF PURE CHAOS AND FEAR (we’ll call this cosmological horror “DAD” for short)​​ – Age, gender… kind of unimportant.​​ Male works. Something terrifying and inhuman, no doubt. Maybe something with tentacles. Tentacles are cool.

 

MUSICAL NUMBERS

  • Pennywise/Poundfoolish

  • The Adult Fear Song

  • I Couldn’t Be Prouder of my Existential Horror of a Daughter

  • I Could be Afraid of You

  • Pennywise/Poundfoolish (Reprise)

 

SETTING

A spooky street at night. See if Onstage has a street lamp and, like, a park bench. And a bush. And that wicked awesome tree back there. I love that tree.

 

PROPS

Evil clown mask and outfit. A balloon would be sweet, too. A cane or walker for old CHUCK Otherwise, go nuts.​​ And tentacles.​​ 

 

SCENE

 

(CHUCK is walking down the street, nervous. As he gets halfway across the stage, POUNDFOOLISH creeps up​​ behind him.​​ POUNDFOOLISH LAUGHS in an evil clown way.)

(CHUCK turns and YELLS, and then…)

 

CHUCK

Dear god! I… you shouldn’t do that!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

(Kind of doing the IT voice from the movies, please have watched the recent movies)

Do what, Ch-ch-ch-chucky? Scare you? Are you scared, Chhhhhhhhucky?

 

CHUCK

Yeah, you startled me. I swear, you “evil clown” pranksters are really getting out of hand.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

(Normal voice, normal body language)

What?​​ Goddamn it! Not​​ those​​ guys.

 

CHUCK

What guys?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

(Annoyed)

The clown dress-up guys. They really chap my hide!

 

CHUCK

Chap your hide?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Goddamn cultural appropriation is what that is! Bunch of preppy white assholes who think that it’s “cool” to dress up like an evil​​ fear​​ clown.​​ Look, unless you’re an actual evil fear clown, who grew up in evil fear clown culture, dressing up like an evil fear clown is pretty​​ goddamn​​ insensitive.

 

CHUCK

Oh my god, you’re a​​ real​​ evil fear clown!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

In the powdery white flesh paint.

 

CHUCK

Like Pennywise!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

No, I’m… I’m Poundfoolish. It’s a play on… nevermind.

(Sighs, dejected)

I could never be​​ like Pennywise.​​ 

 

CHUCK

What do you mean?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Pennywise is just so amazing. Did you know he specialized in pre- and post-adolescent fear feasting?​​ Kids have such great fears to play off. I wish I could be as great as Pennywise.

 

Song: Pennywise/Poundfoolish

POUNDFOOLISH

He’s​​ a​​ penny​​ wise, and I’m a pound foolish

He eats little kids, which some think is ghoulish

But he is a world apart…

He’s sunk his fangs deep in my heart!

 

He’s got a collection of toddlers’ arms,

He’s got all the moves, that dance, and the charms.

His fear generation is second to none,

My fear isn’t nearly that fuuuuuuun!

Adult fears are different, boring, and bland.

They​​ don’t fear the dark, werewolves, or quicksand.

 

CHUCK

It is less of a danger than I was led to believe as a kid.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Their fears​​ are practical​​ and grounded in truth,

Adults are​​ old and have nothing to… uh… looth?

 

CHUCK

But wait a minute, I certainly have fears.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Yeah, but they’re not all that great.

 

CHUCK

What do you mean?

(POUNDFOOLISH shrugs)

Okay, try it out on me.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

What?

 

CHUCK

Do your fear juju on me.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Really?

(CHUCK nods)

Well, okay. I have to do a dance, first.

(CHUCK gives her space)

It’s not as good as Pennywise’s, but…

(Clear’s throat)

(Does a really awkward dance that maybe ends with jazz hands or something)

 

CHUCK

Is that it?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Wait​​ for it…

(OLD CHUCK hobbles onstage)

 

CHUCK

AAAAH!

 

OLD CHUCK

AAAAAH!

 

CHUCK

Who​​ the hell is that?

 

OLD CHUCK

I’m you! Only old! I’m your (spooky voice)​​ “greatest fears!”

 

CHUCK

(Suddenly blasé)

What, that I’ll get old?​​ Everyone​​ gets old. I’m not in my 20s anymore.​​ I’m not naïve.

 

OLD CHUCK

No!

 

Song: The Adult Fear Song

 

OLD CHUCK

I’ve come to tell you, sonny, that you never will retire!

 

CHUCK

What?

 

OLD CHUCK

I’ve come to show you, kiddo, that my hemorrhoids are on fire!

 

CHUCK​​ 

Not that!

 

OLD CHUCK

I pee ten times a night and Viagra doesn’t work!

I’m on the HOA and they all think I’m a jerk!

 

 

CHUCK

Gah!

 

OLD CHUCK

My kids got liberal arts degrees, they’ll never leave the house!

My daughter’s into furries, she’s​​ fucking​​ Mickey Mouse!

My 401K’s in the shitter,

Donald Trump is still on Twitter,

And president for liiiiiiiiiiife!

(CHUCK SCREAMS)

Did I mention when I take a shit, it feel just like a knife?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

See? That’s not that bad.

 

CHUCK

Not that bad?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Relatively speaking. It’s no “deadlights, cosmic spider,​​ sinks full of blood.”

 

CHUCK

I guess that’s true. I mean…

(Pauses, noticing OLD CHUCK)

Is… is he going to stick around.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

It’s kind of hard to turn off once you start it.

 

OLD CHUCK

Your somewhat simple​​ medical​​ procedure is out of network and will cost a fortune!

 

CHUCK

Stop that!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Sorry.

 

CHUCK

No,​​ you​​ don’t​​ have to​​ apologize. Honestly, I think you’re selling yourself short.​​ 

 

POUNDFOOLISH

You do?

 

CHUCK

That was all pretty fucking terrifying.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

I don’t know.

(She turns away)

 

CHUCK

(Gently reaches out and turns her head toward him)

Poundfoolish, I have a question for​​ you.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

(Taken aback)

You do?

 

CHUCK

What are​​ your​​ fears?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

(Gasps)

No one has ever asked me that.

 

CHUCK

Well, it’s about time someone did.

 

OLD CHUCK

(Yelling)

Marriage​​ truly is too much of a commitment!

 

CHUCK​​  POUNDFOOLISH

What?What?

 

OLD CHUCK

You’ll​​ throw your independence away!​​ You can’t do anything you want!

 

CHUCK

Shut up.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

What are…​​ my​​ fears?

 

CHUCK

(Back to her)

Yes.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

I… I have to do the dance again, so…

(CHUCK moves off)

(She does the dance ending with the Jazz hands)

(Suddenly, THE FORMLESS LIVING BLACKNESS THAT SPAWNED POUNDFOOLISH IN A DIMENSION OF PURE CHAOS AND FEAR appears!)

(CHUCK and OLD CHUCK begin to scream)

 

OLD CHUCK

(Yelling)

I hate you more than​​ your future wife​​ hates​​ your awkward scheduled Wednesday night sex!

 

THE FORMLESS LIVING BLACKNESS THAT SPAWNED POUNDFOOLISH IN A DIMENSION OF PURE CHAOS AND FEAR

(Booming)

I have come to spread sorrow and misery and chaos to all!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Daddy?!

 

DAD

Oh, hey kiddo!​​ What’s up?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

What​​ are you doing here?

 

DAD

(Booming)

I was summoned!

 

CHUCK

He was summoned when you did your fear dance,​​ because your fears are probably rooted in-

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Yeah, I get it.​​ You’re not my therapist.​​ Shut up.

 

OLD CHUCK

She’s friend-zoning you!

 

CHUCK

Would you go away?

 

OLD CHUCK

I will stick around longer than your student loans! Which is really fucking long!

 

DAD

Aw,​​ did you fear-summon me, pumpkin pie?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

I… well…

 

DAD

(Puts a comforting tentacle around his little girl)

Sweetie… you can tell me. Is something wrong?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Ah geez, I dunno.​​ I guess… I guess I’m​​ afraid I’m​​ not living up to the expectations set by you and that horrible screeching,​​ bulbous, multi-dimensional hag​​ that is​​ mom.

 

CHUCK

That’s not very nice​​ to say about your mom.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

No, my mom is​​ actually​​ a screeching,​​ bulbous, multi-dimensional hag.​​ 

 

CHUCK

Oh.

 

DAD

Hey…

(He lifts​​ POUNDFOOLISH’s​​ chin up)

You always know that daddy loves you, right? No matter what?

 

Song:​​ I Couldn’t Be Prouder of my Existential Horror of a Daughter

 

DAD

I know that sometimes, in the deep, shrieking void,

That things can seem difficult and bleak.

But when the universe, in its infinite fear,

Tries to make you weak…

 

I couldn’t be prouder​​ of my existential horror of a daughter!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Awwww!

 

DAD

I share your triumphs and your despair,

I​​ still​​ laugh at your silly hair!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Daddy!

 

DAD

No, I couldn’t be prouder​​ of my existential horror of a daughter!

You have come so very far,

From when you were a little (Guttural noises, like “blothgarrothhagnarar” or something)

So be fervent in all​​ that​​ you seek,

Eat the​​ supple​​ flesh of the weak.

Your hideous mother and I​​ are​​ so proud!

 

So go forth into the slaughter, my existential horror of a daughter…

I love you, and always wiiiiiiillll!

 

CHUCK

That’s so sweet.

 

OLD CHUCK

You’ll never be that good of a father!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Go away!

(She points at​​ OLD CHUCK, and he SCREAMS, retreating off stage)

 

CHUCK

Thank you.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

You know he’s you, right?​​ I mean, he’s​​ rooted in reality.​​ Those are your legitimate fears, which are kind of telling.

 

DAD

Hey​​ my bumblebee, who’s​​ your friend?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Oh, he’s just a guy, dad.

 

CHUCK

(Takes her arm)

No… not just a guy.

 

Song:​​ I Could Be Afraid of You

 

CHUCK

I’m a guy, who is afraid, of what you are.

I’m a guy, who worships you, from afaaaar…

 

(Speaking)

Very far​​ because you’re terrifying​​ and your dad is a formless living blackness spawned from a dimension of pure chaos and fear.

(POUNDFOOLISH laughs​​ a​​ lovey-dovey laugh)

 

You’ve shown me my fears and​​ extracted​​ my​​ screams,

You’ve crushed all my hopes, and​​ squashed all​​ my dreeeeeaaaaams!

 

I could be afraid of you,

I could forever live in terror of you.

You could haunt me forever,

And​​ eat me whenever,

And I would be happy and true.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

(Happy and playful)

Stop it.

 

CHUCK

I could always be afraid of yooooouu!

 

Song: Pennywise/Poundfoolish (Refrain)

 

POUNDFOOLISH

You’re penny-wise….

 

CHUCK

And I am​​ a​​ pound-foolish….

 

CHUCKPOUNDFOOLISH

I could always be afraid​​ of you…I can​​ always​​ cause​​ fear​​ in you…

​​ (They kiss… it’s a little gross, unless you’re into clown stuff, then I suppose it’s okay...​​ I don’t mean to kink-shame.)

 

DAD

So…​​ again… who is this guy?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Oh daddy.

 

DAD

No, really. I mean, I hate to be “that dad” who treats his daughter like something to be won or earned, like a piece of property, but really… is this guy a​​ normal​​ human?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Don’t judge, dad.

 

DAD

Oh, I’m not. I’m cool with it. I just…​​ are going to eat him sometime or what?

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Of course.

 

CHUCK

Huh?

 

OLD CHUCK

(Popping in from off stage)

I told you​​ this was a mistake!

 

CHUCKPOUNDFOOLISHDAD

Shut up!Shut up!Shut up!

 

POUNDFOOLISH

I mean, I’m a bit full. I ate some guy already.​​ Some dude named​​ Ben Plopper.

 

CHUCK

That sounds tragic.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

It really wasn’t.

 

CHUCK

Oh.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Don’t worry, you’re okay for​​ the next 27 years.

 

CHUCK

(Worried)

That… is a hell of a commitment.

 

POUNDFOOLISH

Not when your live forever.

 

CHUCKPOUNDFOOLISH

(Singing)(Singing)

I could always be afraid of you…I​​ can​​ always​​ cause fear in​​ you….

 

 

THE END

 

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