A man’s voice:
Children are merely the larval dead, Donald, waiting to bloom into full-fledged corpses, dried and colorless. But while in that larval phase, they are fat with the stolen nectars of lost dreams, conserving it, I now believe, for their long crawl across the face of a dead world, finally draining the last of that wonderful elixir for no greater purpose then to grow transparent wings and a taste for rancid flesh, and to forever worry at the flaccid and rotted bosom of Mother Death. It’s a rather sad and senseless journey, really, but it’s that rote effort that supplies us, you and I, with the brittle bones of our frailest hope. We take their burden from them, you see, ending their painfully protracted and wholly pointless metamorphosis. And unlike them, we employ that potential to a purposeful end: We create wonder. Like the magician devil, standing upon the shore of the burning lake, dipping his fiery hand into a bottomless black hat, we conjure flowers for the damned. This is our art, Donald: to spite the world—by painting all the corpses the color of dreams, and deifying death with the beauty from another world. Just you and I, my boy.
Am I ever going into the gallery? I can feel myself getting older…I don’t want to go to waste.
A man’s voice:
Oh yes, definitely. But not just yet. I still have need of you in this world, my little wolf in sheep’s clothing. After all, I must have supplies if I’m to conjure miracles.
Why do the other children hate me? Is it because I tricked them, like you taught me, to make art for the artless?
A man’s voice:
It’s because they don’t understand like you do, the importance of what we’re doing. And they are such little flies, anyway, the lowest hanging fruit, really; You shouldn’t pay them any mind. They’ll all thank you once they’ve gone into the gallery, I promise you.
I had a dream last night. I dreamt that mother was coming to visit us, but she looked different. Really different. And she was dressed in the prettiest fire. And when I hugged her I didn’t burn. She said she was coming to see you, and that she was going to give me a new father. Oh, and I had little sisters, too! You should have seen how they smiled at me! Can mother even come back from the gallery?
I woke up.
I was standing in the middle of a hallway that was choked with red debris. My father was in my right hand, covered in steaming blood. My sisters were asleep at my sides, exhausted. Every muscle in my body burned, and I could hear the echo of my father’s terrible laughter disappearing into an inner darkness, where he waited to lay his giant hands upon the world. On the other side of my senses, there was the smell of burning flowers…
My mother’s perfume.
As I stood in stunned silence, mentally pushing away my insipient and desperate curiosity, I watched the pale hands of moonlight struggle through the gore-sprayed windows, sifting through the devastation, slightly reddened by their journey beyond blood. And I could feel the killing-dream still lingering over me. Tom Hush was still alive, and nearby.
I heard a vehicle start. I ran in the direction of the sound, towards a barred window. As I dashed across the corpse-littered floor, I heaped darkness and silence upon that raw, reopened memory, hoping to drown it away, forever. The sound of my flesh overcoming steel bars and concrete did well to mute the shouting children, cursing me. The ruin of the wall was swept up in my wake, following me out upon the rooftop, three stories above the ground. The reawakened memory was right behind me, burning with a merciless recollection.
Below, I could see a single pair of headlights piercing the night. I leapt into the darkness, my father stretched-out in front of me; and forsaking silence, I roared through my parched throat, making a sound like thunder falling down a mountain. I watched my shadow soar across the pavement beneath me, framed in moonlight, closing on what I quickly recognized as an ambulance.
My father and I crashed through the cab of the vehicle, my body raked by the riven steel and glass. The back of the vehicle smashed down upon the road from the weight of my fall, calling up a geyser of sparks. Glass and steel fragments were still turning through the air when I returned my father to his rest. Then I plunged my open hand beyond the small window that looked into the driver’s compartment. My fingers closed over the intervening steel partition, tearing away the divider as if it were paper, revealing the driver: a hapless professor of folklore, overfilled with the unwholesome essence of a god of secrets.
Tom Hush produced a pistol and emptied some of its contents into my body, all while laughing hysterically, and calling out to me above the din of screaming, sundered steel and shrieking rubber. “Do you feel their hatred, Donald?! Their righteous rage reaching out from your own broken mind, demanding retribution?! The god’s aim was terrible, and his shots struck something volatile behind me, causing it to explode, splashing fire and glass and serrated steel across, and into, my back.
I didn’t care.
The ambulance was careening out of control as it skidded into a tight knot of busy traffic. The weight of the barreling emergency vehicle prevailed over the smaller cars caught within its zigzagging path, smashing them high into the moonlit darkness, where they wheeled and corkscrewed; the impact also hurled me through the windshield, but not before I caught hold of Tom as we both tumbled through space, my fingers passing through the flesh of his shoulder and alighting upon bones that broke like twigs beneath my grip.
My free hand seized the overhang of the vehicle, and I pulled Tom and myself flush with the remaining glass of the flaming ambulance, even as it flew across lane after lane of angry, blaring traffic. I drew him close to my face, which was intermittently outlined in blazing firelight and glowing streetlamps, and growled my declaration: “I will crush whatever lives you hide behind, creature, until there’s only yours left to kill, but before I’m finished with you, you will know pain beyond skin and screams. This I promise you.”
Tom’s stolen face twisted into a blistering expression of hatred that outstripped his host’s ability to articulate, and so Tom’s pale coating of erudite professor was shred into gory flaps of hanging facial flesh, revealing the death-mask the antlered god was far better known for wearing. And when the meat of his face had all but retreated from his cleft, glistening skull, Tom’s cracked teeth and bloody tongue came together around the words of his counter proposal: “And I’ll have forgotten your name moments after you’ve failed, little killer.”
Before I could sink Tom’s new face into, and beyond, the steel of the vehicle’s hood, the ambulance violently hurdled over a concrete street divider and proceeded to thunder down darkened inner-city streets, and all throughout, my dream-fueled strength kept the god and I secured to the vehicle. But when the ambulance struck a large truck, and flipped and rolled, over and over, until it finally went crashing through the mostly glass façade of a luxury hotel and came to rest within its glittering lobby, I finally relinquished my grip upon vehicle and god.
I rose from the conflagration, glaring at the possessed man-thing standing only inches away from me, whose wavering smile was only barely serviced by his scarcely remaining flesh. More gunshots rang out as Tom produced another pistol, and bullets splintered some of my favorite bones and roared through my mangled and smoking flesh.
I still didn’t care.
I didn’t care about the shepherd’s game, nor the massing army of police forming at my back. Not even the terrible memory that burned through the halls of my mind like poison fire gave me pause. All I desired was currently backpedaling away from me, wearing a ruined folklorist…and wondering how a simple man should rise from a bloodstained alter, bearing fire and vengeance against the gods.
An artist’s re-creation of one of the skeletons at the Tillinghast Exhibit.
Jack Plague, Prince of Pests.