Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

BIG NEWS!!!

Hi everybody!
I just wanted to let everyone know that on 02/20/2016 we will be starting to post my new series, “Red Mother.” Rest assured that this story is not a substitute for the big guy, but a companion piece to the Family Man storyline, and will deal more directly with the Family Man’s mother. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I will be unable to write both stories side by side, and so I would like to see if everyone would be comfortable with a rotating posting schedule, where The Family Man and Red Mother take turns. The new story will tackle a lot of the Family Man’s backstory and break new ground with regards to insights into Donald’s mother. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just let the new story speak for itself when it posts this coming Saturday. I’d also greatly appreciate it if as many people as possible could sound off in the comments section after they’ve read the first post of “Red Mother” when it appears on the 20th, so that I know whether or not to continue with the storyline. Ultimately, I’m writing for you guys, so if you don’t like the new storyline, so be it: I’ll junk it, and we’ll stick with just the big guy. But I hope everyone gives it a fair shake, and I do hope you like the new material as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’d also like to thank everyone for making the first year of the Family Man such a success! Without you guys, the fans, I’d still be writing stories and drawing pictures no one would ever read or see.

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 13: O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?

My past has always been like a dimly recalled dream, but, to be perfectly honest, I’ve preferred it that way. The few things that I can recall are like small glints of deep blue light reflecting off of something secret, and wicked. And while I’m certainly not the expert on secrets that Tom Hush is, I suspect that the allure of such things is not too entirely different than what the raw power of darkness proffers, or rather, what the power of darkness can supply once combined with certain fertile agents of a creative mind: infinite potential. I suppose it’s a rather philosophical observation, and so perhaps a bit too ostentatious for practical consideration, but I always find that anywhere the unknown abounds there also persists the potential for absolutely anything, which, of course, is likely the real reason that nature abhors a void. Shadows and secrets are just unlocked boxes of eternity, wherein the mind is free to gamble well beyond the scope of rational powers and purposes (there is a reason why our eyes slide behind their darkening lids when the time has come for us to dream). It’s freedom from the sterile trajectory of a conventional march through time that makes my secrets so special to me, as I have no solid starting point, and without that I can have no fixed center: I am without clear definition. Obviously, secrets are a bit more constrained by cause and consequence than is darkness, but even the smallest, fenced-in backyard of infinity presents quite of bit of grass for the mowing. And, as far as I’m concerned, what better foundation to stand upon within this frozen graveyard than the molten of a half-remembered past?

I have to admit that I was rather ashamed by my reaction to the revelations of my past, as I should have no interest in the specific facts of my upbringing. I would be altogether better off to concern myself with maintaining the fluidity of my presence in the world, so as not to allow it to congeal like paint stiffening atop the aborted dreams laid out upon an artist’s canvas. Discovering my past is just another step towards becoming a corpse, just another localized reflection of death. However, and not to excuse my foolishness, the role my mother plays in all of this seems rather important, as it appears that my actions may have been somehow pre-scripted by her, and that, perhaps, she intended more from me than I had been made aware. The signpost to understanding my mother’s machinations was clearly pointing in a single, apocalyptic direction: Marvin the man-monster.

After a few days of hiding within the bullet-riddled hotel (no one ever looks in the water tank), and fighting my artistic instinct to make failed dreams from some of the deserving canvases I knew were close by, I finally departed the glittering monument to man’s greed. As I stole away through a channel of forgotten darkness, the echoes of painful light still rang within my ears and burned beneath my seared skin. And the antlered god’s half-finished meal of dark secrets was still lying upon the floor of my mind, where it had fallen from his ample jaws, spoiling.

I didn’t want to make it obvious that I was baiting him, so I confined my wanderings to only those streets betokening solidified dreams caught in the melting amber of twilight, where, as one who has had tasted some small flavor of my dreams, Marvin could reasonably expect to find me.

I decided to walk a stretch of street that seemed impossibly narrow, and must have been capable of admitting only the slimmest cars and thinnest crowds. But for all that, the thoroughfare seemed oddly comforting, like warm blankets pulled thick and close on a cold winter’s night. And as I gazed skyward, the incubating night seemed pinched by the closely crowding rooftops and resembled a star-flecked creek, pouring infinitely overhead.

There were others walking the street as well, barely perceptible beneath the ripening darkness, conducting themselves like cold draughts of wind, drifting aloofly between alleyway and gutter, slaves to their darkest selves. Nighthead has always been a darling of the dark, and shelters more shadows than sunset, and I was almost overwhelmed by my own swelling curiosity to know even one of the passersby’s stories.

It was sometime after midnight when I detected a familiar whisper, wandering lonely and soft across a thickly trash-lined alleyway.

“Hello,” came the little whisper, almost lost to the thickets of rustling wind and the rush of shadows.

“Hello, Marvin. I’m very pleased to see you again. I was hoping we might suspend our obligations to the game, if only for a moment, so that we might chat.”

“Actually, he’s of no mind to hurt you, and we’re very happy to see you, too. We’d love to chat, but I’m afraid that were both very, very hurt. And since There’s no longer chance that he could win the contest, he just wanted me to find you and wish you luck, as it seems likely that you and he share some history, or at least a relative. He knows what you saw in that dream from so many nights back.”

“Who hurt you, Marvin?” I asked, finding myself strangely concerned for the poor man-monster’s wellbeing. after my whispered question evaporated, a thick, bloody finger issued forth from between the bars of a nearby sewer grate, conducting my view to somewhere above and behind me.

“He did.”

As I stretched my vision up into the night, I detected someone standing amid the metal cables of a radio tower that loomed high above the street, waiting like a patient spider gazing at an approaching fly.

It was Jack Lantern, “The Son of Halloween.”

I absolutely needed to speak with Marvin, and the only way that I could achieve my goal was to keep him alive, which meant fending off the world’s most notorious, living serial killer. With a single effort I tore away the sewer grate, and then slipped into the rank darkness below. Marvin was indeed sorely wounded, which impressed me much, as Jack Lantern was not one to fail at killing.

“Run, Marvin! I will find you once I’ve deflected your attacker.” My words made assertions that I felt hard-pressed to evidence. In my forbidden quest for a lost past, I had stupidly slipped myself into the path of proven death. Although I had recently defeated a god (if only a relatively minor one, and only his weakened vessel, at that), Jack Lantern was something far more challenging: he was the state of the art, the pinnacle of modern murdercraft. Clearly, I knew that winning the shepherd’s game would have me facing-off with the famous killer, at some point (I knew of no other killer, or combination of killers, that could hope to defeat the scourge of Autumn City), but I had hoped to have more time to prepare, and heal (despite the recuperative powers of the killing dream I shared with the secret-eater, I was still left with copious injuries that had yet to heal).

I quickly spun around in the sewer, my sisters glittering with deadly promises, when a fragrant wind blew past me, carrying the scent of fall. As I stared into the spaces the wind had come from, the filthy scene of the sewer became filled with the ever-dying trees of the September Woods, whose leaves forever burned orange, red and yellow against the bleeding sky. I watched a single, crimson leaf cartwheel across the surface of the murky water, leaving tiny, expanding rings wherever it tumbled. I could hear something pushing through piles of fallen leaves, drawing closer and closer.

Suddenly, Marvin’s mad whispers were filling my mind, as he had seized me from behind and pulled my ear to his bloodied lips. “She’s the mother of many, Donald. But you’re her favorite child, by far. She came to us all, searching, but in the end there was only you. I hate you for taking her away from us! But now, after I’ve seen something of your dreams, I understand why she left. She chose you! She chose you over all the rest of us!” As he disappeared into the darkness I heard him hiss, “Curse you, but good luck…brother!”

My last memory was of exploding light and the sound of leaves blowing across darkened fields. When I awoke, my sisters were still in my hand, apparently exhausted from the effort of conducting my unconscious body away from my would-be killer.

Sometime later, I limped through miles of sewer tunnel until I saw the glowing lights of a displaced Halloween—where Marvin’s carved head swung from a piece of red yarn that had been tied around a steam pipe, its bloody hollows lit by the light of several black candles that had been placed within his skull. The words, “Happy Halloween” were written in colored chalk upon a chunk of concrete that had been laid upon the headless body, and a bag of dirty candy had been stuffed into Marvin the monster’s dead, knotted hand.
I gazed into triangular holes that had once been partially stitched-up eyes, and offered one last whisper to the whisperer.
“Goodnight, brother.”

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows

Chapter 12: Playthings

As I advanced into the chapel, I could feel the ample spaces around me piling with imported ancientness: A forgotten age that covered my breath in frost, and summoned spirits from the cold stone of red alters. Memories of old death wandered aimlessly around me, whispering the dust of lost, epicurean epochs into the neat corners of man’s modern-day temple to no one and nothing in particular. And I nearly cheered the prehistoric shadows when they stormed against the inferior darkness of cheap, passionless places, creating a stampede of lesser shades that quickly removed the contemporary darkness almost entirely, allowing the room to fill-up with the black shapes that death had not yet released.

My father shook with poorly contained anger, and burned with such intensity that the leather of my gloves began to smolder. (He was still quite indignant about his mistreatment at the secret-seizing hands of Tom Hush.) The antlered god’s words came at me from across eons, as much as they did from across the room, carried within an icy current of old death that was his voice.

“I’m left wondering, Donald, if truly I wish to take your secret with me. There’s little flavor to be had in the eating of a secret that’s not yet ripe. And while most secrets are tastiest just before the telling, yours seems like it would be spoiled if eaten a moment before its told.”

“You speak as if you’ve been given an invitation for the eating of my secret, whatever it might be, and yet I don’t feel inclined to turn it over to you just yet. You may find my mysteries harder to acquire than those of a sexagenarian folklorist. But, of course, you know this already,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Please! You face a timeless opponent, Donald. do you truly think my violence your inferior? Your hands have gripped weapons less than a lifetime, and I’ve been destroying life long before the universe decided to gift mammals with hands.” I recalled the god’s aim with a gun, and chuckled at the ‘superiority’ of his violence.

“I suppose I grasp some measure of your problem, secret-eater, but I can see no resolution for it, save for the testing of your timeless violence, which, as you can see, I come prepared for.”

“Oh, the violence is inevitable, certainly! I wouldn’t dream of leaving without it! But it’s the degree to which I should want to apply my violence that confounds me. But, I can see that your father’s anger has you far too inclined to put away the civility of a pleasant conversation, so if you’re ready?”

“I am.”

The ground shook beneath the approach of the god, as I assumed Tom had changed-out of his earthly garb of ruined flesh and put on something for more suitable for our meeting. The darkness broke apart like shadows at dawn, as the thing that was once only a mutilated man strolled into view. Surprisingly, Tom still maintained some semblance of the folklorist, stretching the dead man’s body across his monstrous spirit, and in the process outlining the wickedness that was the secret-eater’s unwholesome essence.

Tom may have been taking lives long before the advent of hands, but he certainly wasn’t doing it with sharp objects (or a gun, for that matter). The monstrous folklorist swung his oversized claws with all the grace of a blindfolded bull, telegraphing his attack long before it was delivered. However, I may have underestimated the god’s alternative resources, for the very moment Tom noticed me smiling at his combat prowess he gave me a look that carried the weight of a hammer, and I found myself on the receiving end of a psychic blow that shattered my nose and cracked my jaw. (As it was, after the exchange with my father, my face was only slightly recognizable.)

My father was all too glad to return the attack with one of his own, as my great forbear sank into the twisted flesh of the god, and with such force as to actually bring Tom to one of his knees. I could see Tom’s conundrum quickly fading from his concerns, as the hateful expression on what was still a face, if only one of melting bone, blistered much of my skin and burned-off some of my hair. Again, my father returned rage with rage, as the blade of the axe sizzled deeper into the secret-eater, and called up small flames from the wound. The god roared, from pain or outrage or both, and moved to tear the axe from where it descended into his chest. I continued to push my luck, and used the moment to bury my remaining sister into Tom’s face. Unlike most organisms born upon the earth, Tom seemed largely unbothered by the cleaving of his brain. The monster glared at me from overtop my sister’s smile, which disappeared into the cavity where Tom’s nose had once been, and set me aflame with the power of his mounting displeasure.

The dream preserved me, somewhat, from the devouring flames that seemed hotter than most I’d come to know. I decided to ignore the fire for as long as I could, and doubled down on my attack. I tightened my grip upon the handles of my two family members and, using all the strength I could muster, lifted Tom from the ground, hoping gravity might assist my relatives at achieving a killing depth. Again, Tom seemed less than impressed.

“And you call these simple antics, ‘coming prepared?’” The antlered god seemed almost bored by my efforts, and I quickly realized that stopping Tom would not be a matter of finding his weakest point, but only by the unwrapping of his soul from the stolen flesh of a man could I hope to defeat him.

Changing my strategy, I tore my father free from his sticking place, and then sent him roaring down upon Tom’s shoulder, nearly severing the god’s arm. Tom deduced my new strategy easily enough, and affected his own combat alterations.

Lightning split the ceiling and lashed across my arm, exploding skin from bone and evaporating blood into smoke. The pain was white and cold, and made me think of a burning winter. I fell to the floor, beneath the thunder and the smoke and the smell of ozone. Tom laughed from his melted, ivory chasm-for-a-mouth, and offered, “You creatures are always so impressed by the lightning. It’s just a toy, really.”

Another blazing lash from the sky licked at my body, and the thunder shook the entire building. My chest bubbled beneath the blinding touch of the storm Tom had gathered. Within seconds the swelling burst into smoke and charred skin. The dream that enfolded me was buckling, and I could feel death waiting, impatiently.

 “Humans are merely birds of the inside, flying beneath ceilinged skies, looking out dirty windows and declaring the spaces beyond themselves to be infinite. You have no idea. You couldn’t, really. Why the shepherd thought you and yours could interrupt me, I have no idea. If not for my interest in your affairs, you would be nothing but smoke and a terrible echo by now.” I tried to pull the darkness over me, to allow myself the luxury of a temporary withdrawal, but the shadows had already chosen a side, and it wasn’t mine.

It was after the third lightning bolt that I noticed much of Tom’s Torso was missing, and only a large number of smoking holes remarked upon its absence. The secret-eater’s face seemed smaller as well.

The god’s thunder had apparently masked the roar of a second, but much lesser, discharge—but what had been discharged proved much better aimed than even the lightning (which, given the god’s earlier showing, was hardly surprising).

My second sister stood in the doorway of the chapel, feeding fire to the secret-eater. She had returned, wearing the body of a heavily armed gentleman from the angry gathering below. She is such a splendid girl! She carried two very large firearms, both of which seemed quite capable of being fired extraordinarily quickly, and with tremendous affect. Tom’s Folklorist was rapidly flying apart, and so the antlered god began to lose his grip upon the corpse of this world.

I rose to my feet, and brought my furious father to bear. I was still on fire, but the pain was bearable. I slowly made my way to the wrecked deity, who, even as I approached, was convulsing beneath the terrible storm that I had gathered, as hundreds of bullets tore through his rapidly shrinking puppet.

Just before my father destroyed what my sister had left standing, the god whispered through his broken vessel, and burned me more than his lightning ever did.

“She’s your mother almost precisely like I’m a Professor of Folklore, and she’ll show you to Hell before she’s done. You’re like the lightning, Donald…Just a toy.”

image

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows

Chapter 12: Playthings

As I advanced into the chapel, I could feel the ample spaces around me piling with imported ancientness: A forgotten age that covered my breath in frost, and summoned spirits from the cold stone of red alters. Memories of old death wandered aimlessly around me, whispering the dust of lost, epicurean epochs into the neat corners of man’s modern-day temple to no one and nothing in particular. And I nearly cheered the prehistoric shadows when they stormed against the inferior darkness of cheap, passionless places, creating a stampede of lesser shades that quickly removed the contemporary darkness almost entirely, allowing the room to fill-up with the black shapes that death had not yet released.

My father shook with poorly contained anger, and burned with such intensity that the leather of my gloves began to smolder. (He was still quite indignant about his mistreatment at the secret-seizing hands of Tom Hush.) The antlered god’s words came at me from across eons, as much as they did from across the room, carried within an icy current of old death that was his voice.

“I’m left wondering, Donald, if truly I wish to take your secret with me. There’s little flavor to be had in the eating of a secret that’s not yet ripe. And while most secrets are tastiest just before the telling, yours seems like it would be spoiled if eaten a moment before its told.”

“You speak as if you’ve been given an invitation for the eating of my secret, whatever it might be, and yet I don’t feel inclined to turn it over to you just yet. You may find my mysteries harder to acquire than those of a sexagenarian folklorist. But, of course, you know this already,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Please! You face a timeless opponent, Donald. do you truly think my violence your inferior? Your hands have gripped weapons less than a lifetime, and I’ve been destroying life long before the universe decided to gift mammals with hands.” I recalled the god’s aim with a gun, and chuckled at the ‘superiority’ of his violence.

“I suppose I grasp some measure of your problem, secret-eater, but I can see no resolution for it, save for the testing of your timeless violence, which, as you can see, I come prepared for.”

“Oh, the violence is inevitable, certainly! I wouldn’t dream of leaving without it! But it’s the degree to which I should want to apply my violence that confounds me. But, I can see that your father’s anger has you far too inclined to put away the civility of a pleasant conversation, so if you’re ready?”

“I am.”

The ground shook beneath the approach of the god, as I assumed Tom had changed-out of his earthly garb of ruined flesh and put on something for more suitable for our meeting. The darkness broke apart like shadows at dawn, as the thing that was once only a mutilated man strolled into view. Surprisingly, Tom still maintained some semblance of the folklorist, stretching the dead man’s body across his monstrous spirit, and in the process outlining the wickedness that was the secret-eater’s unwholesome essence.

Tom may have been taking lives long before the advent of hands, but he certainly wasn’t doing it with sharp objects (or a gun, for that matter). The monstrous folklorist swung his oversized claws with all the grace of a blindfolded bull, telegraphing his attack long before it was delivered. However, I may have underestimated the god’s alternative resources, for the very moment Tom noticed me smiling at his combat prowess he gave me a look that carried the weight of a hammer, and I found myself on the receiving end of a psychic blow that shattered my nose and cracked my jaw. (As it was, after the exchange with my father, my face was only slightly recognizable.)

My father was all too glad to return the attack with one of his own, as my great forbear sank into the twisted flesh of the god, and with such force as to actually bring Tom to one of his knees. I could see Tom’s conundrum quickly fading from his concerns, as the hateful expression on what was still a face, if only one of melting bone, blistered much of my skin and burned-off some of my hair. Again, my father returned rage with rage, as the blade of the axe sizzled deeper into the secret-eater, and called up small flames from the wound. The god roared, from pain or outrage or both, and moved to tear the axe from where it descended into his chest. I continued to push my luck, and used the moment to bury my remaining sister into Tom’s face. Unlike most organisms born upon the earth, Tom seemed largely unbothered by the cleaving of his brain. The monster glared at me from overtop my sister’s smile, which disappeared into the cavity where Tom’s nose had once been, and set me aflame with the power of his mounting displeasure.

The dream preserved me, somewhat, from the devouring flames that seemed hotter than most I’d come to know. I decided to ignore the fire for as long as I could, and doubled down on my attack. I tightened my grip upon the handles of my two family members and, using all the strength I could muster, lifted Tom from the ground, hoping gravity might assist my relatives at achieving a killing depth. Again, Tom seemed less than impressed.

“And you call these simple antics, ‘coming prepared?’” The antlered god seemed almost bored by my efforts, and I quickly realized that stopping Tom would not be a matter of finding his weakest point, but only by the unwrapping of his soul from the stolen flesh of a man could I hope to defeat him.

Changing my strategy, I tore my father free from his sticking place, and then sent him roaring down upon Tom’s shoulder, nearly severing the god’s arm. Tom deduced my new strategy easily enough, and affected his own combat alterations.

Lightning split the ceiling and lashed across my arm, exploding skin from bone and evaporating blood into smoke. The pain was white and cold, and made me think of a burning winter. I fell to the floor, beneath the thunder and the smoke and the smell of ozone. Tom laughed from his melted, ivory chasm-for-a-mouth, and offered, “You creatures are always so impressed by the lightning. It’s just a toy, really.”

Another blazing lash from the sky licked at my body, and the thunder shook the entire building. My chest bubbled beneath the blinding touch of the storm Tom had gathered. Within seconds the swelling burst into smoke and charred skin. The dream that enfolded me was buckling, and I could feel death waiting, impatiently.

 “Humans are merely birds of the inside, flying beneath ceilinged skies, looking out dirty windows and declaring the spaces beyond themselves to be infinite. You have no idea. You couldn’t, really. Why the shepherd thought you and yours could interrupt me, I have no idea. If not for my interest in your affairs, you would be nothing but smoke and a terrible echo by now.” I tried to pull the darkness over me, to allow myself the luxury of a temporary withdrawal, but the shadows had already chosen a side, and it wasn’t mine.

It was after the third lightning bolt that I noticed much of Tom’s Torso was missing, and only a large number of smoking holes remarked upon its absence. The secret-eater’s face seemed smaller as well.

The god’s thunder had apparently masked the roar of a second, but much lesser, discharge—but what had been discharged proved much better aimed than even the lightning (which, given the god’s earlier showing, was hardly surprising).

My second sister stood in the doorway of the chapel, feeding fire to the secret-eater. She had returned, wearing the body of a heavily armed gentleman from the angry gathering below. She is such a splendid girl! She carried two very large firearms, both of which seemed quite capable of being fired extraordinarily quickly, and with tremendous affect. Tom’s Folklorist was rapidly flying apart, and so the antlered god began to lose his grip upon the corpse of this world.

I rose to my feet, and brought my furious father to bear. I was still on fire, but the pain was bearable. I slowly made my way to the wrecked deity, who, even as I approached, was convulsing beneath the terrible storm that I had gathered, as hundreds of bullets tore through his rapidly shrinking puppet.

Just before my father destroyed what my sister had left standing, the god whispered through his broken vessel, and burned me more than his lightning ever did.

“She’s your mother almost precisely like I’m a Professor of Folklore, and she’ll show you to Hell before she’s done. You’re like the lightning, Donald…Just a toy.”

image

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 11: Family Matters

A storm broke behind me, as a gust of bullets blew across the already ruined lobby. Before the Darkness, the police exercised far more discretion as to where they pointed and fired their firearms, but now, with remainders of the Darkness seasoning an otherwise dead world, discretion was not a care the police took very seriously.

Luckily, the dream held fast, transforming the majority of the deadly injuries I should have suffered into mere bruises and superficial cuts. But the police and their gunfire were far from primary to my thinking, only the fleeing form of Tom Hush pinned my attention.

He fled, still laughing, if perhaps a bit more nervously, up a nearby staircase. I almost stepped on his shadow as I gave chase, and nearly caught him in the grinning arc of my sister’s shining teeth, but he managed to push his borrowed, if almost entirely ruined, body just slightly beyond her reach.

As we rounded the next corner I was surprised, as a fool often is, by a mob of persons bearing knives, keys, towel racks, and any other object they could quickly seize upon. I should have known that a luxurious hotel, little more than a hive of rich and indulgent men and woman, would be thick with secrets for the antlered god to sup. And feast, he did. I could hear the floors above me shaking under the wide trample of secret-keeping crowds. Mercifully, these new devotees were without the physical adjustments that manifest madness could supply, and so I was confronted only by crazed humans.

My father cleared a flowing, red path between the teeming crowds, but my pace was sorely wounded, and I lost sight of the bleeding god somewhere on the third floor.

I slipped into the dark silence of a hallway that had been closed off for some kind of repairs, hoping the god had taken the same route. And, sure enough, standing at the end of the corridor, holding the slack darkness that tumbled all around him as if it were a pull string, was Tom.

“Where is your mother, now, Donald? Do you even remember what you did to her? What she did to you? Think hard, Donald…You can do it, my boy. I’ll even help you.” I felt the god’s psychic-fist slam into my mind, crashing past memory and dream alike, searching and clawing for more secrets.

But this time my family was home, and they were admitting no visitors. I grinned, ever-so slightly, at the terrible violence that greeted the god’s efforts. After all of the slashing, hacking and smashing, Tom seemed to reel from the inner conflict, but held himself up via the grip he continued to exercise upon the flowing darkness of the corridor. Then, after a few moments of satisfying quiet, Mister Hush seemed to regain his sense of humor, letting drip a small stream of oily laughter as he rose up from his psychic defeat. “Oh, yes. I forgot about that awful family of yours. It’s funny how they look nothing like you, hmm?”

The taunt found its mark, and I mindlessly lunged forward…just as Tom yanked away the darkness, as if it were a curtain being parted to reveal a glittering prize. Almost immediately, Tom’s laughter sank beneath the sound of something large and mechanical, and the god’s shadow stretched towards me, pushed by a large, blinding spotlight that projected from somewhere behind my opponent. The shadow transformed as it fell over me, monstrously revealing the outline of the thing that hid within the dead, mutilated folklorist.

The sight almost distracted me from the gunfire that began thundering through the window behind the spot where Tom had once stood—where a police helicopter fired both its mounted cannons, chewing the world around me into so much smoking ruin.

I followed the curve of silence as it diverted into an adjoining hallway, all the while thinking of the monstrous battle that had risen up around me, wondering if it was all too much for me. I eventually concluded that such things were only to be expected when one seeks the death of a god, or, in this case, the vessel of a god; and that mine was a killer’s pedigree worthy of the task…and perhaps then some. (I could also feel my father’s fire upon me as I gave my doubt even the slightest voice.)

I could hear more police vehicles massing around the building, and the skies were filling-up with additional spotlights: I needed to finish the god quickly if I was to have any chance of escaping.

Tom would need to conserve and repair what was left of his vessel, I reasoned, and so it seemed a worthy idea to make my way towards the hotel wedding chapel, should it have one, as secrets have no greater haven than beneath the shadow of religion.

Regrettably, the chapel, according to the map of the hotel I found carved beautifully into the wall, was located many floors above me, near the “rooftop lagoon,” of all things.

The most direct paths to my destination lay on the outside of the building and up the elevator shaft, and I was fairly certain that my armor of dream would not long survive the direct and vulgar reality of a police gunship’s shower of high caliber, armor piercing rounds. So I found myself prying open the elevator doors and scaling the walls to the top of the building.

It was a fairly predictable route to take, I confess, but I hadn’t realized how predictable until large numbers of people began tumbling down at me from one of the floors high above me. I was growing progressively more and more irritated by the antlered god. (I also have to admit to being slightly taken with the creature…He was a crafty one, after all.)

It was a mostly surreal, if not terribly comfortable, situation: persons falling silently through the darkness, hoping to knock me from the wall, so that I might join them on their way into death. (Tom, smartly, denied them their screams, as I might have determined their angle of decent and avoid an unfortunate impact.)

When I reached the floor above me, there stood a wall of armored and armed policeman, eager to be done with their night’s business, the fastest way possible. I stood to my full height, letting my father’s head scrape against the ceiling, and I pushed their obnoxious lights away from my face with several obedient shadows. One of them croaked into the radio, “We got’em, all right. He’s cornered and all out of tricks. Were gonna bring him down…the easy way.” I was amused by the bravado of several men dressed in armor and brandishing extremely potent firearms.

Within seconds the power went out, and a few seconds after that…explosions and screams. It seemed that my sister had done her work, and done it well. I had inserted her into one of the plummeting, suicidal secret-keepers, hoping that she might help improve my situation, if only slightly, from the lower floors of the hotel.

The bravado of numbers and weapons vanished quickly from the darkened and weaponized crowds before me; I remained amused, but no longer stationary…

As I rose from the human wreckage, I again heard the police radio; the voice on the other end was calling out to the six dead policemen. Chaos and death also poured from the speaker of the device. Apparently, my sister had transferred herself to one of the operators of a large, armored vehicle…and was making quite merry. Again the voice broke through the din of madness, “Come in, guys! You still there?! Talk to me!” I picked up the police radio and held it to my lips.

“Even God knew when to call it a day, my friend. You should run away. Quickly.”

I tossed the noise-box over my shoulder just as another explosion turned the voice on the radio into a single, wet shriek.

I hastened up the stairs to the rooftop, weeding my path of any lingering ill-wishers as I went. I saw a small bit of blood just outside the door to the chapel. Tom was inside.

Somewhere in the darkness of my mind, I heard my father cracking his knuckles.

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 10: Thanks for the Memories

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.

Donald:
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.

Donald:
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.

Donald:
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?

Donald’s father:

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.

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 9: All In the Family

My sisters were innocents in all of this, carved from the cleanest darkness, and smiling out of the softest love for blood, spilled only for fun and family. I could not bring them before our father, not like this. And as the Lord of Secrets hedged his bets by flooding the hallway with more of his madness-transformed orderlies, I thrust my sisters into the metamorphosed flesh of two of the nearest abominations. Instantly my sisters’ sweet smiles transferred themselves from steel and bone and into insanity-infected flesh, and their new bodies dripped with the honeyed and horrible laughter of the Devil’s children. They were beyond Tom’s reach, dispossessed of worldly knowledge, having chosen to fill their minds only with the brightest, sharpest thoughts a child could kill with.

As for my father, our battle would commence in the appropriate vein, where our weapons would be will and strength alone. But first I would have to relieve him of his weapon, trapped as he was within the stolen, dead body. The axe moved with prehistoric brutality, smashing about furiously, ceaselessly. But behind the apparently mindless violence worked the minds of two slaughter-honed monsters, each one’s wit whetted upon the broken bones of countless victims. With each swing of the giant weapon, my death drew closer and closer.

The dream that unfurled around us translated my father’s seething indignation into fire, which poured upwards and spilled across the ceiling; and pent within the raging flames was visible the shape of my father’s ruined face, filled with fury and stretched apart by the smile of a horned god.

I found a drifting patch of shadow and called it into my service, moving the itinerant darkness between myself and the deadly axe. And then I discovered a surging vein of silence that had been concentrated by the surrounding cacophony, and I quickly submerged myself into its ghostly rhythms, disappearing into the collected quiet.

My sisters sugarcoated the scene with wildest laughter and the squeals of the dying and mad monstrosities. My god, how beautiful the two of them were, free and feral, like animals of wildest fire, laughing and killing and dancing for the love of their dearest brother. They spun and leapt as they called out to our father. “Unburden yourself of your secret, father, and join us! What good is a secret but to ruin those who keep them? Secrets want to be told! Look at what fun our sweet brother has given to us! Look at us, father! Look at us killing and dancing and singing! Hurry and join us, before we’ve used it all up and there’s nothing left for you!”

My father’s burning eyes looked to his deadly daughters, where they played with death like two clever cats toying with wounded rodents. His envy ran thicker than the fire that poured from his dead flesh. It was then that I struck, springing from shadow and silence, seizing the handle of his axe and tearing it from his momentarily distracted grip. But the axe was sent crashing to the floor when my father’s fist collided with my face, detonating across my skull like solid thunder. His strength was brilliantly monstrous, and I knew instantly that my skull had been cracked from the blow. That being said, my own fist answered his bone-cracking attack by smashing open his dead, flaming mouth; and despite his hatred at being used as a puppet, I could see that my father thrilled at the prospect of a good fistfight.

And then Tom rudely violated the purity of our contest, smiling words into my father’s burning, broken mouth. “What secrets your father could tell you, boy! My goodness, what a horrible and wonderful thing that mother of yours was. That is, of course, if she is indeed your mother.” I could feel Tom’s hand moving around inside my mind, seeking out a secret for the seizing. That’s when I felt his power washing through me.

He found something.

“What’s this?! Tell me, who are all those children in the cages? Who put them in there, I wonder? Care to tell me?” I only half remembered what he was referencing, but his power was, with each passing moment, polishing off the horrible thing I had been made to forget, and his claim over me increased with each pass of his hand across the emerging face of the tarnished memory. Tom forced my arms down to my sides, allowing my father’s blazing fist to crash into my face, crushing my left eye into wet, pulpy blindness, and freeing three of my teeth into the air. Tom bellowed through my father’s fire-breathing mouth, “Who put them into the cages…. Donald!”

My Name. He found it. He was running amok through my mind, carelessly flinging secrets to the wind like a child pillaging a toy box. and, strangely, I found myself trying to mentally reinforce the barriers around the secreted memory, even though I wanted nothing more than to see through the fog and alight upon the truth, horrible or not.

My father carefully studied my face, even as he went about destroying it, blow after bone-smashing blow. But I could tell that the eyes that now looked upon me belonged only to my father, and that something powerful was stirring deep within them.
Another layer to the hidden memory was torn away beneath a storm of Tom’s laughter, and a terrible knowledge began to trickle into my once ruined recollection. I remembered that the cages were filled with little…muses. There were also paintings, such beautiful paintings, filling the walls of a wine cellar. I remember looking out from my own cage, which hung from the ceiling by a rusty chain.

He put us all in there…

Before the memory could reach its terminus, my father roared like never I’ve heard, his stolen body freezing, disallowing even the slightest twitch. He was trying to fight back the secret-eater’s grip. Tom only Laughed at my father’s efforts, but perhaps sensing change in the wind, the god-thing chose to rip my memory free of its prison, rather than waiting for the slow process of painful recollection to conclude its awful course.

A man’s voice emerged into the blacked-out spaces of my mind. “Donald, what a fine collection of cherubs you’ve led me to. That raw sugar of innocence! Oh how I admire the sweet crudity of childhood, its vast potential mixed with little limbs and soft skin. They will do nicely, my boy. Very nicely, indeed. There’s a showing next month, in a gallery not far from here, and my mind is already alive with the art from another world. Those lovely little ones will brighten my paints and bless my canvas, allowing dreams to flow like blood from the deepest wound, and all the world will love me for it!”

My body trembled as poison memories began to master my body. What had been done to me? What had I done? The man’s voice belonged to no one I could clearly remember. Tom was laughing again, holding my secret in his hand and squeezing it over my head, allowing its terrible juices to fall over me, seasoning my soul for the eating. I knew that once I remembered completely, I would be over, just an unhappy tenant of Tom Hush’s churning bowels.

“Poor little Donald, all alone with your terrible truth. No mother to whisper to you. No fiery father to save you. Your sisters all but lost to their darkest passions. Oh where, oh where has your family gone…Family Man?” Tom almost sang the words to me.

I looked to where my sisters whirled and laughed, splattered with death, having forgotten me within their wild, red dance. And then I moved my eyes to my father, where he struggled against the power of his captor, apparently in vein. I was almost entirely the property of the antlered god. I was no longer a wolf, but merely a caged animal…again, it would appear.

I could feel the finale of my once-forgotten and demonic memory fast approaching, the maw of Tom Hush widening; and I could feel myself falling across the bloodied alter of ancient stone, where man sacrifices to the horned god of darkest secrets.

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 8: Pandemonium

I rarely, if ever before, actively denied myself the pleasure of my art, but never before had I set myself against a living deity from antiquity, and as such, the orderly was left unconscious in the half-lunatic’s bathroom. (I also loosened Cecil’s straps. What happens, happens.)

When I stepped into the hall it became immediately apparent to me that all was not well with the darkness; it seemed too rich, like the soil of a nightmare, where graveyards become gardens, and forbidden things bloom from blight. It seemed as if the insanity of the locked-up patients was somehow being leaked into the darkness of the hallway, whipping it into a frenzy, shaping it. There could only be one reason for the disturbance:

Tom Hush knew I was coming.

However, I’d like to point out that not all of the lunatics possessed a suitably tractable insanity for Tom’s purposes. Lunatics, some of them, are not entirely distinct from artists, as they court dreams just as surely as the artist, but, regrettably, their refusal to accept defeat for their efforts at conjuring dreams leads them to attempt to embody their work, and, like art, they become mere symbols, if not corpses, of their own dreams. But, in their doomed enterprise, the madness lunatics inherit is not without its bounty, as there is wisdom in madness, just not of a type that belongs to this world. It was that dark apprehension that Tom, a god of darkest secrets, worked through, molding madness from a select category of madman, and turning darkness into daemons.

While madness was busy endowing shadows with lungs, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the passing sights—wardens of the mad being overtaken by the, now monstrously physical, infirmities of their tethered wards. There was a fairly stout man, who, it was easily seen, possessed an infinite happiness only when cruelly exercising his limited authority, being filled with locusts, and with no small representation of the species, either. The faces he made as the insects turned him into a human hive were beyond hysterical; and when they came bursting-out of his mouth, parading away with his internal organs, I nearly burst-open, myself. But it was the madness-repurposed custodian with the handgun that I was forced to direct my strictest attention. He tried to say something (which his new foot-long tusks might have made difficult) as my sister passed across the pipes of his throat, likely something terribly menacing passed along from the mind of Mr. Hush, but I had little time for exchanging threats, as unfortunate as that was, as I was certain to have enjoyed the exchange.

My shoulder opened the way into an adjacent room, as the way before me was complicated by a web of barbed, knotted flesh, embellished by dripping spears and hooks fashioned from the bodies of once-custodians, some of whom were still trying to push screams out of their red, ruined mouths (those few who still had that particular orifice). The dream was upon me again, engaged no doubt by my proximity to my prey, as my strength ignored the customs of its construction, allowing me to smash through the wall and circumnavigate the fleshy custodian-barrier with relative, and enjoyable, ease.
Humorously, some of the remaining wardens and a small group of garden variety mad-persons took me for their savior, following upon my path, hoping that I might deliver them from wickedness incarnate. I had never been thought of as such, and so I decided to indulge the fantasy, if only for the opportunity to paint nightmares into their troubled slumbers to come.

I could feel the lingering animosity as I gripped my father. But it was not the time for griping, and so he yielded to my strength and allowed me to lift him into the air. But before I brought him down upon the wall, which would have likely freed my small bevy of well-wishers, I decided to grant my father a boon, for reconciliation’s sake. When I handed my father to one of the custodians, the uniformed man smiled as if I had done him the favor.

My father’s strength was a poor fit for the man’s body, and so the eager custodian’s muscles began to rip and tear, for my benefactor exercised a willpower that ordinary flesh and blood could not contain, at least not without great and horrific expense. Unfortunately for my small gathering of followers, my father did not savor the role of savior, and quickly annihilated the small group, howling and laughing and roaring, as has always been his practice.

Together, my father and I tore through the sanitarium, decimating the shapes that madness made, and closing on room 349.

However, as quickly as I might have regained my father’s approval, I just as quickly, and foolishly, decided to stoke fires best left to die. “Why won’t you stand aside, Father? I must know.” The hallway we walked was empty, only darkness and the echo of battle. My father, still wearing the wrecked body of the, now dead, custodian, walked slightly beyond me, where my words caused him to pause, briefly. He did not speak, but only let his silent menace attempt to extinguish my curiosity, or at least that’s what I believed he was doing.

That’s when my father struck out. The axe destroyed, in a glorious eruption of smoke and fire, the wall behind me. I barely escaped death. The attack was not a warning; it was a killing move.

“And what, pray tell, do you want to know, exactly?” It wasn’t my father’s voice. At first I didn’t understand. And then I knew myself for the complete fool that I was.

“He may be your father, child, but his secret…that belongs to me. And now…so does he. And oh what a secret he keeps, my boy!”

My father and the dead custodian and Tom Hush turned around to face me, their eyes seething with death, rage and a terrible, wistful curiosity. And after staring at me for some time, Tom Hush spoke. “In time, all things are reborn, in one form or another, to lope across the stage of life, one more time in an infinity of pointless returns…but not you. It pleases me more than you can ever know, to rob you of your fate, and sup upon one of the blackest secrets I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.”

Before I knew it, my father was bearing down upon me, and, for some reason, all I could think of was Cecil, and what he might be doing to the unconscious orderly. “what happens, happens,” I thought, as my sisters rose up against our father, all of us wearing smiles that had been worn countless times before, by gods, and by the fools who amused them.

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 7: Visiting Hours

There’s more to an artist than this world can ever satisfy. And so, ultimately, an artist is perpetually incomplete. I suppose it wouldn’t be too much different than realizing, somehow, that your eyes held the power to glimpse spirits, and yet knowing, or at least suspecting, that ghosts don’t actually exist. How terrible would it feel to know that you contain a purpose that can never be fulfilled? Of course, you might choose to doubt that ghosts are all but figments of man’s collective imagination, betokening only those real-world, psycho-cultural complexes that need sorting-out through some dark symbolism, or what-have-you. But after you’ve looked everywhere, exhausting the possibility that somewhere, anywhere, there fluttered a specter or two, what would you do? Why, you would try to create them yourself, of course, through whatever medium was available to you. And that’s precisely when a real artist realizes, for the first time, their true calling: to change the universe, either by creating what never was, or by recalling what has been altogether forgotten.

It was my mother who taught me what an artist actually is. And I refuse to believe that such lessons, and the time and energy required to properly impart them, would have been wasted on anyone less than her son. But what I saw, and was told, in the madman’s dream couldn’t be minimized, no matter how hard I tried to keep my mind busy with the wonders of Tom Hush. And on that score, it had become altogether obvious to me that Tom Hush had successfully hidden himself away into a tidy crowd of, what appeared to be, random occult murders, all of which were most likely perpetrated by unwilling enablers to the antlered demon, merely puppets whose strings were being manipulated from places beyond sleep and earthly solidity.

I was torn between tasks, as, on the one hand, I wanted desperately to speak with Marvin the murderer, and, on the other hand, I needed to seek out the latest pawn in Tom Hush’s strange and murderous undertakings. Marvin would come to me, eventually, seeking to strike my name from his list, and so it seemed a waste of time to reverse my course to find him, and so Tom Hush would have to gather the majority of my attention.

The murder mentioned in the newspaper had taken place on the outskirts of Nighthead, and I soon realized that the delicate pull of the shepherd’s game had blended itself into my very thoughts, masquerading as choice and free will, causing me to believe that it was by my resolve alone that I had come to the city of many shadows. (However, it should be said, that this realization did little to disarm my appreciation for the city, for it was equally wondrous within the eyes of servants and sovereigns, alike.)

Tom Hush was a strange addition to the game, as I had no doubt that the demon was killing in accord with its own inscrutable designs, and not at the behest of the shepherd. So I failed to see the reason for his inclusion within the contest. That is, unless the Tom Hush functioned as a test, to further demonstrate the mettle of those who had been chosen for the game; or, he was some kind of rival to the wolf-herder, and the shepherd’s game served as an effective means for his elimination, provided, of course, Tom Hush didn’t eliminate all the competition first. Regardless, he was on my list, and, now that I knew that Nighthead was a predestination, rather than merely a destination, there was only one place in the city where one could reasonably expect to find a straightjacketed lunatic.

I drank from the darkness as I slipped from shadow to shadow, moving closer to my quarry, and trying as best I could to completely dissolve into the night, collapsing the distinction between the darkness within and without myself; if only to stop the red, relentless hands of my father from turning my mind away from certain, smoldering memories.

My father. He taught me how to summon the fire of my body, how to own it, and to kill with it. He showed me death, let me hold it in my hands, play with it, master it. I remember the weight of his shadow, the smell of his ruined skin, and the thunder that lived in his voice. And now, after everything he was to me, he would deny me what is mine. If he would not step aside, then I would have no choice but to force him to recall the one lessen I taught him, the one he failed to teach me: how to die.

The approach to Nothman Hills Sanitarium was thick with trees, which only assisted me as I made my way to the main fence that encircled a number of small gardens and Koi ponds—all for the amusement of lunatics. There were also cameras affixed to the tops of the light poles that stood sentinel next to the gateway. With only a single bound and I was inside.

I looked up at the building, that was soaked to its metal bones with madness, and gasped at the wild dreams that it trapped. I could feel the shadows of the place, fully contaminated by the aforementioned insanity, whispering into my ears with voices that sounded like crooked little songs who’d long since lost their alliance with meter and tempo. However, they were a pleasant enough gang of shades, offering me their shelter as I slipped into and beyond a service entrance that had been foolishly left ajar.

The inside of the sanitarium was truly exquisite, as it was every inch the facade of a practiced sociopath—calm, cool, and gentle with thoughtful flourishes of false empathy, and placid in places where one might expect a dash of passion. There was the softest music playing into the darkness of the hallways, and of a type that poured too much sugar into one’s ears; its sweetness seasoned the false face of the sanatorium to the point of absurdity, and I nearly laughed at the structure’s overwrought attempt at serenity.

I entered the first room I came to. It belonged to a patient of average dimensions and appearance, whom, for whatever reason, had been secured to his bed via strong, leather straps. As I had hoped, there was a button located on the bed that could be pressed to summon an orderly or nurse. The man on the bed awoke very quietly, and looked at me with no small amount of concern. He did not speak, but only eyed my father with fear. I’m sure I was an awful sight, with my slick of shadows and red-dimmed family stretching out from their resting places. I looked down at the restrained man and simply put a finger to my lips. He understood. He even smiled as I moved to push the button for summoning an employee. (There is seldom any love lost between the insane and their keepers.)

As I awaited the arrival of an orderly, I chatted casually with the lunatic, who informed me that the staff was rather slow to respond to a summons. The man, Cecil Barnes, was pleasant enough, and even possessed a delicate sort of sanity, whereby a single thought out of place could send it crashing to the ground. I decided to inform Cecil’s swaying mind with tales of a great number of my exploits, for the dreams of the lunatic, or near-lunatic, would be filled with my own personal darkness, and I could only wonder at what shapes it would assume, when joined with the rest of the fevered nightmares that haunted the sleep of over a thousand, imprisoned lunatics.

The orderly was not pleased to see me, much less the stinging smiles of my sisters. I handled the man a bit more roughly than was necessary, for Cecil’s sake, and asked my one question: Where is David Link?

The man swallowed deeply, sweating horribly, and then spoke.

“Room 349.”

Part 4: Of Legends and Shadows, Uncategorized

Chapter 6: Forgotten Rooms, Forgotten Memories

If I’d only seen her smile, I would have known her. I would have remembered how her smile lived beyond her lips, and how the raw sugar of its red glow always put the taste of honey into my mouth. But, here, in the wreck of memory and dream, she was in full sight. And she was receding into the shadows of the forest behind her, leaving Marvin alone and kneeling in the mud.

As she merged into the darkness the woods, I heard her speak to him. She said, “The end is yours to keep, now. Cherish him, my son.”

She called him “son,” and yet I knew this man was no brother of mine. He was something else, but I had no idea what.

Her eyes blossomed at the touch of the shadows, as if, like the moon, they were meant to be viewed exclusively from a position of darkness. Without thinking I plunged deeper into Marvin’s memory, hoping to catch a final look at my vanishing mother. But she was gone, and my sadness knelt down beside the sobbing memory of Marvin’s misery.

I needed to know more, and so I looked everywhere for another memory that might be afloat somewhere in the dream. I ran back to the ruined camper, looking for an entrance to another memory. I flung a cupboard door open and watched the space beyond stretch out to become a dark hole, leading somewhere. I tore away the old dream to get to the newer one beneath. as I clamored into the hole, struggling over the corpses that I quickly realized were all but choking the small space, I heard something crashing behind me. I picked up my pace and crawled through the narrow, earthy passage.

Again, the tunnel yielded a room. This time it was a closet. I was looking down into the dark space from a small heating vent. That’s when I heard the whimpering of a child. Of course, it was Marvin. This time he spoke to me.

“You think she’s your mother, Don’t you?” said the miniature Marvin, standing on his tiptoes, whispering into the vent within which I listened. “In that case, I should tell you— “

Something exploded into the tunnel behind me.

Marvin-the-child giggled at the monstrous interruption, and then said, “You’re going to have to bleed for this one, I think.”
A titan hand wrapped around my ankles and pulled me from the tunnel. The transition from crawling to dangling was almost instantaneous, as the hand quickly moved from my ankle to my throat. The grip was unbelievably strong. Again, my father held me in his grip.

“WHERE ARE YOU CRAWLING AWAY TO, WHELP?!”

My father was aglow with wrath and the blood of his most recent opponent. The previous dream-memory had ignited beneath my father’s burning rage, and only the closet door remained, smoldering, and covered in scratches made by the tiniest of fingernails.

“Release me, father,” I said, despite the superhuman pressure being applied to my dream of a neck. My father held me up to the fires that served as his eyes. It had been sometime since I had cause to look upon my father for so long, and with such scrutiny; I searched his nearly indecipherable expression for some sign of an underlying motive for stripping me of my quarry. My request was met with greater pressure, as my father’s fingers were passing each other as they knotted behind my head. He left me no choice. My right fist collided with his jaw, and my left hand moved to release my neck from his immense hand.

He did not move, nor did he speak, but only squeezed tighter. The fire from his eyes was burning across my face as he held me closer. I could see my sisters standing behind him, their smiles gone. Now both of my hands were trying his individual fingers. They were unbendable, and they squeezed tighter. My father’s eyes poured fire into my brain, and I could feel certain memories crisping and curling within the inferno. I tried to open my eyes against his own, to dowse his fires in my silence, but all I could do was gasp. The Deadworld was opening up, and I could feel waking sensations move into my fingertips as my father’s grip began to crush me out of sleep.

Beyond the burning dream, within the blackened ruins of so many deadened memories, I could see Marvin, his body renewed in stitches and staples, and aiming a whisper in my direction. Before I heard my dream-of-a-neck snap like a dry stick, I heard the hushed words of the man-monster.

“Serpents are far deadlier than wolves, my friend…and your bed is teeming with them.”

When I awoke, the sun was bleeding into the retreating night, and my throat still vibrated with a phantom pressure that refused to submit to waking. I replaced my sisters to their sleeping places and made my way to the nearest town.

While I had my sights set on Tom Hush and Doctor David Link, my mind was pinned to the dream of my mother, and only to a slightly lesser extent, the whispered words of Marvin the lunatic. But even under the hot light of the sun I could feel the burning gaze of my father, watching. So I put down the dream-memory and waited for the sun to fall away, as I had no intention of entering the next city within broad daylight.

The entrance to the place was littered with the lingering machinations from the Great Darkness, although these remnants were treated with far more respect than what you might expect to encounter from other cities. With perhaps the exception of Autumn City, few metropolitan areas exploited the history of the Great Darkness with the enthusiasm of the City of Nighthead.

The glassed-in monuments to madness were legion, and breathtaking. Some of the buildings located within the city’s downtown area even incorporated various Darkness relics into their construction, allowing nightmares, now outlined in glass and concrete, to stand beneath the sun, and beyond the sleep of reason. To be honest, there were several other cities I could have traveled to for the information I sought, but it was the lure of solid darkness that brought me to Nighthead.

I made my way through the cobblestoned streets, around nightmares frozen in municipal stone, and into the finest shelters for shadows available within city limits. At last, after I stepped out from the darkness of an alleyway, I found a newspaper that had been left to the wind.

The headline read: Antlered corpse found mutilated upon stone alter.