Category Archives: Stories

An Investigation into the Death of Professor Bergman 

Preface

This is the second entry in an ongoing story that I am literally making up every time I sit down at the keyboard (the one with eighty eight keys). Being my 3rd musical project, I am learning that these notes are more than sounds produced from a speaker; they are my sounds. They represent my emotions and my thoughts, and these I share with you. Why? Because I hope that you will discover what represents you, and then share that with another. Enjoy.

The Story

Singularity.

The point at which man and machine will meld together. Science said it couldn’t be done. Oh, did science deny me my right to hypothesize and dream and desire for something so impossible. But science is not man’s only tool in his quest for knowledge; emotion has carried my existence farther than fact. With this in mind, I begun my trials.

I will not list the details regarding my experiment in this report, because the world is full of thieves and fools who would wish to recreate this, and I cannot bear the possibility of one using this for selfish gain. If my calculations are correct, then I will assume the responsibility of being the one who brought the divine and the digital together for there is nothing, at this present time, that can do so. Of course it would be the synergizing of sound and silence that transfers the soul from body to build. But, I realize that an invention untested will never grant rest to my imagination; and in the shadows lurks a greater evil, the envious man.

The man who tried to steal my plans is now dead, but I fear that I will join him. It’s ironic, the dagger that will inevitably be the death of me is the same tool keeping my blood from leaking out of my punctured heart. And how fate loves to flirt, I have just put the finishing touches on my new invention. I call it the “phonetic transcriber“.

The device itself is compact, about the size of the average typewriter, but by utilizing a key biochemical byproduct, the machine is somehow able to separate the soul from the body. Hypothetically, at least. However, the time for hypotheses and calculations has passed, and action is required for I feel the cold tendrils of death looping around my neck.

Liv, although you’d probably tell me I’m a fool for doing this, I must take the risk; what else is there left for me but the eternal void? Heaven or hell may await me, and I fear neither of them. I am terrified, however, of leaving this earth without knowledge that my device worked.

With death on my doorstep, I have to take the risk: I will test the phonetic transcriber on myself.

*non-distinct static and digital downpour erupt from the device*

I declare that on October 9th, 1851, the first step towards the Singularity was conducted by I, Professor Cedric Bergman; may the world forget that this was also the day that I drew my last breath.

P.S. Liv, I hope you find your happiness.

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Night at the Kino: Terrifying Thirteen

Thirteen Fear-Filled Films Since 2000

This Friday happens to be a very special day; how rare is it to have a Friday the 13th occur in October. What are you going to do? If you have no plans, and are probably going to stay in, then this list is perfect for you! Why? Because I’m going to give you thirteen options for horror movies since the year 2000 (specific right?). Unlike my previous Night at the Kino, I wanted to introduce readers to the standout films that are considered modern. These range from zombie thrillers, possession stories, animated apparitions, even socially aware scares, and I’m confident that one of these films could get you in the mood for October (if you aren’t already). Now, how to find these films…well, there’s Redbox, some are on Hulu, but for the most…I’d say…do what you normally do (you know what you do, don’t you?). Below you’ll find them, and this is in somewhat of a particular order, but not one that is definite; honestly, take your pick, they won’t disappoint.

The Witch (2015)

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Hands down, I’d have to say this is the Control verse of modern horror. Robert Eggers meticulously crafted a truly tragic tale involving a Puritan faminly living in exile. Without revealing much of anything, I will say that the terror in this tale comes not from the supernatural but the human element. Where most films would focus on creating a grotesque or evil witches, Eggers turns the lens inward and dissects the nuclear family, one member at a time.

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The cinematography does a fantastic job of adjusting to the scope of the film, encompassing the entire woodlands and jumping to claustrophobic cabin settings. It truly is a terrifying film, and I dare you to try and watch it without feeling the dread on your skin. For his efforts Eggers won best director at 2016’s Sundance Film Festival. If you’d like to read my random movie review of The Witch, then click here

The Conjuring (2013)

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We’ve all seen plenty of films with this back story. A family moves into a home that happens to be possessed by an evil entity and it takes the family uncovering the secrets-with the help of some eccentric paranormal investigators-to break the curse. That’s this film in a nutshell, but that is only the surface of it. What James Wan’s The Conjuring did for horror (at least in my opinion) was focus on character development rather than diving right into the scare. This aids in the progression and pacing of the plot, which flows at a steady rate, rising to a dramatic climax in the end.

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Some people go crazy over the “Based on a True Story” label, but I will say, after doing my post-credits research, I was able to accept this title while others fail (The Warren’s were really out here, yo). Yeah, there are some jump scares and some cheap shocks, but the true terror of The Conjuring comes from its style of shooting. It feels campy, like a home movie at times, but that gives the viewer a closer approach to the terror, rather than capturing just reactionary moments.

28 Days Later (2002)

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Poster by Nathan Miller

Before Rick Grimes awoke from his coma to the end of the world, there was another hospital patient being welcomed to a zombie apocalypse in Danny Boyle’s (Trainspotting) 2002 thriller “28 Days Later”. The plot is simple, a virus in a research facility gets released and humanity is in deep shit. How deep? Well, when your blood comes into contact with the strain, you lose sense of yourself and become a zombie. And this is where “28 Days Later” shines, the ability to revamp a concept. Instead of giving us mindless ghouls like George A. Romero did (R.I.P. to a legend), Boyle went with a more savage approach, giving them speed and ferocity instead of shuffling. The characters in the story are survivors, they aren’t heroes of any sort, and that’s what I love.Most tales in the zombie genre have gun toting warriors, but this group outlasts the horde by using wit-and luck. 

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The cinematography is gritty and there is an overarching feeling of abandonment in nearly all of the locations. Makeup and Special effects shine with the trademark red eyes for the Rage virus, and who can get John Murphy’s chilling track “In a House, In a Heartbeat”. Overall, this movie is on my list for its revolutionary take on a common theme in the horror genre. Also, fun fact, Danny Boyle turned down knighthood in England.

Noroi (2005)

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Hands down, this is the most terrifying movie I’ve seen. Noroi: The Curse is a Japanese film directed by Koji Shiraishi and from the first time I watched it, I’ve been cursed. The first thing to note is the storytelling: using a “mockumentary” style of cinematography to capture the horror (similar to the original “The Blair Witch Project”). Often this fails because we’re bound to one point of view for it, but this film does a great job by using various sources of media to cover the story-news clippings, and both professional and personal recordings. It introduces us to characters and we get an intimate look at their lives, and how this curse is affecting, and ultimately destroying them.

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My favorite character has to be Mr. Aluminum Foil (you’ll see), his role is so vital to the plot because he creates a sense of panic every time he’s on screen. This isn’t your typical supernatural film, so don’t expect to be hit with the cliche like jump scares and melodramatic sounds; the film grounds itself into reality, and only steps foot into the abyss when it has reached the base of the spiral. A truly terrifying film for anybody willing to read the subtitles (if you can watch Narcos, you can peep this too).

The Descent (2005)

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Poster by Chris Weston

What happens when you take a group of spelunking woman who have underlying beef with each other, and pit them against the elements of nature, and a superior predator? If you watch Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” you’ll soon discover that answer. Firstly, having an all woman cast for this film is a testament to the versatility of horror-it’s not confined to the male genre-and that’s one of the main reasons I’ve listed it here. The premise alone is sure to breed fear, and then the writer decided to add a well-crafted back story behind the characters, which only added to the level of isolation and abandonment.

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Cinematically, this film pushes into new barriers, throwing us in the midst of extremely claustrophobic spaces, and using the natural darkness to add to the unknown element (also night vision was such a thing back in the early 2000’s). And who can forget that iconic scene when Sarah, played by Shauna Macdonald, emerges from the pool: it’s poster-worthy (which is why they used it as a promo). The Descent will have you afraid to explore any dark depths, whether they be caves or secrets.

It (2017)

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I read my first Stephen King book this year, “The Shining”, and it plunged me into a dark world, so when I heard that the classic “It” was being remade I was skeptical, but ready. Honesty Hour: I’ve never watched the original It-I am reading the book now though-but what I viewed in Andres Muschietti’s 2017 film was a very dark retelling of an already terrifying story. Clowns are easily the thing of nightmares; and Pennywise, played by Bill Skarskgard (“Hemlock Grove”) happens to be the most entertaining. Already from the beginning of the film we are cast into Derry Maine, and into the lives of the youth. The movie pairs both the innocence of growing up with the grim reaper of the gutters, and it delivers.

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Every moment was liable to worsen, as the film proved by keeping us on our toes. Why is this also on my list, because this is one example of paying homage to the source material. Hearing that Stephen King stamped this movie was enough for me to see it; avid readers know that it is rare for novels and films to find a common ground (Lookin at you “Game of Thrones”). It’s still in theaters, and makes for a perfect outing this Friday the 13th!

Kakurenbo (2008)

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Horror does not only apply to the human world, but to the digital as well, and Shuhei Morita’s 2008 animated short “Kakurenbo” is proof. Coming in at around thirty minutes, this film packs a dose of dread from the jump. The art style and background is haunting, and one is imprisoned in this game of hide and seek. A group of children come to play this mysterious game, Otokoyo, where oni (demons) come alive and seek the children.

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I remember watching this on Adult Swim, and having an entire new outlook on animated films. Once the story revs up, you’ll be upset when you find that the end is approaching; definitely something to view when you have some down time though.

Get Out (2017)

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Poster by Francesco Francavalli

There’s no way that I can go any further without addressing Jordan Peele’s breakthrough film, “Get Out”. Who would’ve thought black folk could do horror? (Because it’s not all devil magic). Aside from the social commentary regarding it-not brushing it’s importance off, there’s plenty of other think pieces out there-this is an engaging story. A “meet my black boyfriend” scenario gone wrong, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, “Johnny English Reborn”) begins to uncover a secret behind his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family. I have to give a shout out to the supporting cast in this film who really embodied their characters, Georgina’s meme worthy face, Walter’s sprint becoming an entire challenge, and Rod with his antics.

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Look at how much the film has shifted our culture, allowing more black stories to be told by us. And, the final bit that has to be addressed is the comedy (I’m a firm believer that any modern horror has to have it). Peele transfers his “Key and Peele” skit writing into the script, making room for fresh dialogue that naturally flows between each character; the comedy gave us the comfort we needed to get through this scary ordeal.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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This might be closer into the thriller era, but I will set it on this list anyways. I am one of the folk who enjoyed the original “Cloverfield”, and when this one appeared on Hulu, I decided to watch it. Now, like everybody else, I assumed that it was going to be the same take from a different point of view, but instead this film went in the opposite direction. Where the first film featured a monster raging through the city, this one focuses on the monsters inside of men, and what happens when three individuals are forced to occupy a bunker.

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Without giving away too much, John Goodman’s portrayal of the pragmatic Howard was one of the most underrated performances of 2016, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as Michelle, held her own against him. The film has its moments of joy, but there is always a tension looming in the claustrophobic cabin, and it often ignites into confrontation. Aside from the other thematic elements, I have to say that the characters shine the most, and I believe that comes from the small number. Having fewer people on screen can create time for development and exploration.

Signs (2002)

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Aliens in a cornfield? Cmon that’s fresh af. M. Night Shyamalan brought the world one of the greatest plot twists with “The Sixth Sense”, so naturally there was already an air of mystery surrounding this film. And then, you hear the cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, Rory Culkin, and they welcome us into the Hess family. When a mysterious sign appears in the crop field in front of Hess family, it will push the renounced reverend Graham to uncover the mystery.

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Signs is unlike any other film on this list, it’s horror being in the unknown. We are graced with many moments in the film (the foil hats, Merrill’s monologue, Shyamalan’s cameo), and I like how they all relate back to this unknown entity; it’s all speculation, and it translates to the viewer as well. By the end of the film you’ll be wondering if any of it was real. Oh yeah, it’s on Hulu now!

The Babadook (2014)

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Another film that is currently on streaming sites is “The Babadook”. Yo, don’t let the people fool you, this movie is a scare, it’s just from an angle that is original; because what’s more fearful: a phantom from a child story booy, or a mother’s struggling battle with grief and a child that fails to behave. Director Jennifer Kent takes a leap into her own world utilizing set pieces and a cryptic style of storytelling, relying on an erratic rhythm rather than a steady pace. Do we ever know what “The Babadook” is, or isn’t; does it even matter?

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The desaturated color tone of the shots enhance the already grim tale, and Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia forces the viewer to share in her grief. And this is what makes the film scary, because once we’ve identified with this mother, we are sensitive to her plight but ultimately we’re enraged that she won’t address the issues. This frustration is converted into fear whenever the supernatural element is added, and since we’re in such a volatile state, we’re already ensnared. But it’s only an hour and a half of imprisonment, and will surely make you keep the lights on a little longer this weekend.

 

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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After he blessed us with the “Spiderman” Trilogy (starring Tobey McGuire), director Sam Raimi returned to his slapstick horror roots with “Drag Me To Hell”. When Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a loan officer seeking a promotion, denies an elderly woman her loan, she is inadvertently cursed, and what a curse. It keeps the audience laughing long enough for the tension to build, turning back to the terror at a moment’s notice. The humor is amped with Justin Long cast as Christine’s boyfriend Clay Dalton, who often has smart remarks for every scenario.

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The film is true to Raimi’s genre blending of comedy and horror, even the antics of the supernatural are borderline hilarious (the maggots in the mouth scene). A must watch for any of his fan (if you watch “Mr. Robot”, you’re a Raimi fan).

 

Gok-seong or The Wailing (2016)

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Netflix has this movie on it’s catalog so there is no reason you can’t watch it this Friday the 13th. “The Wailing” is a South Korean film directed by Hong-jin Na, and it has crossed over into America for a very good reason. It’s terrifying. It’s hard to describe what this film is, because there are plenty of intertwining plots, but you watch a village become beset by an akuma, or demon. The film has great writing, both in terms of story as well as dialogue, each complementing each other. The conversations between the officers are often hilarious, and a great contrast to the macabre mysteries that are befalling the town.

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The soundtrack is spooky (yeah, I said spooky), and it really teeters on the shadow realm of acoustics. There are some scenes that leave you baffled (The Exorcism), and just when you expect the truth to be revealed, the film presses on further. It is a long ride, 2 hours and 36 minutes, but once the engine revs, you’ll be Wailing all the way until the end.

Conclusion

There you have it, folks. Ain’t no reason you shouldn’t be entertained-and terrified-this Friday the 13th. Of course, there are other notable works that I missed, and I feel cliche for making that disclaimer, but I’m going to do so anyways so you understand that my opinion is based more so on my immediate memory rather than a well devised agenda.. As always, feel free to comment or leave any feedback regarding my choices for films. Until next Tuesday…

Suffer

A strange phenomenon seems to be occurring within the being that I call my self. Ideas, questions, and answers that seemed too foreign to comprehend at the beginning of my journey are slowly becoming known, and I believe that this prolonged suffering is one of the keys to unlocking the next stage.

Why are we afraid of suffering?

Was it not one of the byproducts of being brought into this world? To love, to learn, and to suffer are what we live and die for; or rather, it is these three fundamental principles that govern our existence. The majority of my speculation and extensive readings have concentrated primarily on ancient knowledge and stark rationality; however, I am somehow also in tune with the power of swelling emotions.

There is a rhythm to feelings, a spastic occurrence or a gradual rising and falling of immature thoughts. And yet, this does not explain what is happening now.

As I suffer this agony related to the loss of my dear cousin, Danielle, I am simultaneously being exposed to a new realm of influence, action, and most importantly, belief. Emotions do not control the individual; however, it cannot be stated, with 100% assurance, that man controls his emotions. Rather, it seems that emotions are somewhat tied to the id that lives below the surface of the ego, and by experiencing a crippling blow (in this case anguish and grief), one is able to examine the complete spectrum of emotions and, subsequently, recognize the consequences of utilizing them.

It is as if I have become more in tune with the thoughts in my head by allowing the pains in my metaphysical gut to project rather than repress. In essence, I have temporarily found a way to access the vast wellspring of inspiration, desire, and change. God granted us the capacity for suffering (AKA passion) so we would discover the truth of life, and to live is to love, no?

Black Dwarf: A Playlist for Alice on Alpha Centauri

Foreward

Let it be known that I make music for myself, and for no one else, so what you are about to listen to is definitely for me, and it’s up to you as a potential listener to see if it is for you as well. What does one think of when they gaze into the void above, into the black twilight known as space? I have often pondered what lies out there, and this is where this project began. This is the soundtrack to the space terror that I have yet to write. 

The Story

Log Transmission: Nanophycisit Dr. Aurelius
Date: The 18th Cycle of the Ghoul Cluster, 20993

Alice,
I love you. It…it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to keep my promise. Something happened on our voyage…we were attacked by a giant ship as soon as we reached the Caesarian nebula, but then we took a prisoner on board who helped us defeat them. I should’ve known that was a bad idea because shortly after we had faults in our electrical systems, and the prisoner…well he’s gone. But he left something here, something horrible; we’ve called it the Omega-9. It infected my nanobytes somehow, and ever since then we’ve been battling for our survival. The crew started…mutating, and we’ve lost so many of them. It’s all hard to explain but, somehow, I made it to the Captain’s Cabin. There is a phonetic transcriber in here, so I’m going to write it all down, and hopefully you will receive this message. Look, remember when I said if I ever had the chance to be a hero, I would do so without question? Well, that time is now. I just…wish it wasn’t after we got married.

*Self-Destruct Sequence Activated*

Alice. My constellation, Alice. Not a day went by that I didn’t wish to be back on Alpha Centauri, in your arms. I always felt safe there. I don’t know why, but I kept replaying this one memory during  hyper sleep. It was that trip we took to the Chronos Cluster, and we watched the Narwal Nebula turn into a supernova. It looked like a school of flying fish, cosmic dust and energy rain; and, then you told me something I’ve never forgotten.

*5* “You said that-”
*4* “The stars don’t com-”
*3* “-pare to the”
*2* “constellation in my”
*1* “corazon.”

10101A10100101010
1010101010LI1010101
1C10001010110110011
001101010100101E01

–Transmission Lost.

Black Dwarf

A Series of Famous Last Words

Foreward

The progress of a plot is a difficult one to follow. It starts out as an idea that ferments inside the head until the hand is ready to craft what has been brewing inside the consciousness. When I wrote down my first lines it was not a story that spilled from my pen, but a letter, followed by another one until words were formed, then sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and acts. Since I have forgotten at which point I incepted myself into this plot, I will share this instead. This is a beginning, this is the moment when you will be introduced to my world, and the characters that inhabit it. It’s only a fragment of the world that I have formed, and although it may not be fully finished to my liking (which it never will be), it is complete enough for you to experience it. So, for all that have been wondering what the heck I’ve been raving over for the last year, here is your chance to see. Without further ado, here is a chapter from my first novel, “A Series of Famous Last Words.”

 

House Arrest

In the frigid autumn of 1936, a barren piece of land was bought on the northern side of Victoria. The deed included 1.4 acres that stretched into a dense forest that resided on the fringes of the city. The evergreens and other trees were chopped down to be used as building material for the development of Victoria’s new residential area. One particular set of blueprints detailed a home with three bedrooms dispersed across two floors, a kitchen that included a gas line, an elongated foyer, and two bathrooms aside from the master. Construction on this foundation began in 1938, and it neared completion by 1939, however, due to a violent lightning storm the building was set ablaze on March 13, 1939. After the incident, the building company-whose name remains unknown-decided to abandon the project and leave the house unfinished. It remained incomplete until 1947, when a young soldier and his new wife purchased the property. The veteran, who had just served America in World War II, used his military pension to reconstruct and remodel the residence. A spare room was converted into an extra office, and garage unit was installed. The veteran and his wife completed the project but were unable enjoy the living quarters for long on account of the tension rising in Korea. He eventually left to defend his nation, but returned to find the house empty and his wife missing. Her disappearance was never solved, although a few neighbors claim she left with another man. The veteran lived out his days within the walls, spending his nights drinking and watching reruns of western television shows, until his death in 1985. The house was eventually placed back on the market, falling into the hands of a rookie real-estate agent. Unable to fully appreciate the value of the house, the realtor lost a quarter of the possible profit when David Knight became the title holder.

Thud. Thud. Thud. A pair of running shoes belonging to David clashed against the cracked pavement, establishing a rhythm for his morning jog. He wore a bright yellow short sleeve shirt, black jogging shorts with a ripped seam, and a fanny pack for storing his keys and his pager. Elise had purchased his running shoes to celebrate his promotion two years ago, and somehow the shoes had managed to stay hidden in the closet until recently. The man had always been physically fit, but running never seemed to be on his radar; he preferred rowing in the surrounding lakes, but the weather was too humid for that now. In light of this, he’d created a running routine that would take him at least thirty-eight minutes, if he established a steady pace. The last few exercises had taken him nearly forty-five minutes to complete; his grieving body was not yet adjusted to the regime. Today, though, he set out to break the mold and reach his personal goal while trekking across five miles.

David pushed his body forward against the morning wind, watching for any stray cars in the empty road. His set path carried him around his neighborhood, which was approximately 1.34 miles; afterward, he would turn right and run towards the Glass Mural, North Victoria’s local landmark. The mural was created in 1889, a time period where glass making was one of the leading industries in Victoria. A welding couple, under the name Purefoy, had been chosen by the mayor at the time to construct a symbol that reflected the current status of the growing city. The team took the mayor’s request literally and created a structure made of concrete and glass that contained hundreds of unique shards with their own opacities. It was later found out that the pieces used in the mural were all the remaining fragments from the couple’s failed attempts at creating a single construct, a decision that left a sour taste in the mayor’s mouth. “Beauty can only be realized through broken pieces,” was the inscription that was added to the mural in 1957.

Thud. David’s feet kicked up into the grass as he moved from the entrance of the neighborhood into the park containing the landmark. Sweat poured down his face, even though the sun had not yet fully arrived to greet the day. As he ran in the park he took mental pictures of his surroundings; the streetlights and signs all seemed to lead him farther away from his house. From Elise. From Charlie. David peered into the faint horizon and located the Glass Mural in the distance. The structure was his personal turning point, being the halfway mark in his jogging route. This particular morning proved to be the most difficult thus far, and the emotional strain was starting to take its toll on David’s legs. Reality was rubbing against him just like his shorts chafing his skin. Elise had been turning in her sleep the night before, which was common at this point, but in her dreamlike state, she muttered a name that made David remember their past and made falling back to sleep near impossible. There was also the matter settling the finances associated with the funeral and the money they had saved for Charlie’s education, which required the assistance of a lawyer. Elise had mentioned that she’d found one, but David remained skeptical after witnessing how lawyers use emergencies and traumatic experiences to make a quick buck.

He finally approached the Glass Mural and slowed down a bit, taking a moment to appreciate the cleanliness of the surrounding area.  His image twisted and contorted in the glass as he walked around the construct. Some reflections were plastered onto warmer colors, but he found them to be too fantastical, preferring to look at the cooler hues; they seemed to match his heart these days. David pressed his face against the chilly glass as an excessive amount of sweat poured down from his hair.

Sofia shrunk in front of the white columns erected at the main entrance of the house. The stains from years of rainfall and erosion had chipped away the paint, revealing patches of softened wood. The front yard was empty, save for the attempted garden located next to the stairs leading towards the door. Sofia imagined her mother spending her free time trying to revive these flowers, and wished she inherited her green thumb instead of her oily hair. The girl walked towards the establishment as if it were haunted, carrying her new essentials in hand: two pairs of latex gloves, a basket full of cleaning chemicals, and the lunch her mother had packed. Her hair was down, and she wore a pair of slip on canvas shoes she had purchased from her most recent beach trip (almost  three years ago). Upon reaching the front door, Sofia was greeted by a small beehive developing in the corner underneath the porch light. There were no drones present, but she instinctively knew there was a queen deep within the core of the hive. The doorbell chimed, and Sofia pressed her face against the rectangular window to peer inside. The glass was made from a unique material that prevented those outside from clearly seeing in, causing her to ring the doorbell once more. “This place is a dump. My mother surely knows how to pick her customers” she said sarcastically. She knocked on the door. After a few seconds, an obscure figure with feminine features appeared in the window. “Shit, it’s a woman. This must be the wrong house.” Her nerves tensed as she contemplated leaving the porch but it was too late; Sofia watched the doorknob turn, and a woman with deep circles under her eyes popped her head out. “Sorry, I think I have the wrong house,” Sofia apologized.

“Who are you looking for?” the woman inquired as she took a sip of her coffee.

“Um, a Mr. David Knight. Do you know where he lives?” she peeked at the numbers on the side of the home.

“He lives here, I’m his wife, Elise. What do you want? Are you selling something because if so I’m not interested in any of your wares, whatever they may be.” Elise said. Sofia immediately recognized an attitude in the woman’s voice.

“I’m with Garcia’s Guardians. We were…hired by Mr. Knight to care for this house.”

Elise turned back into the house and looked at the picture of David hanging in the foyer. “Asshole,” she muttered, loud enough for Sofia to hear.

“Umm…if this is a bad time then I can come back later.” Elise took a sip of her coffee and looked at Sofia. The young woman’s clothes were hanging off of her thin frame, and Elise could smell the metro on her. For a split second, Elise thought about slamming the door in her face and leaving her on the porch, but she knew that would only breed even more trouble between her and David.

“Come in, and take your shoes off at the door.”

David looked into the glass to find a memory of him standing with his son, Charlie. He watched as the boy counted the glass panels, “Twenty-two, twenty-free, twenty-four…” Charlie continued as David held his hand. When his son turned five, David noticed that he had developed a lisp. Elise mentioned that she wanted to take him to speech therapy to correct the issue, but David found his speech impediment unique, and wanted to keep it. “We should let him decide when he gets older.”

“No, the older he gets, the harder it will be for him to change. David, he’s about to start kindergarten and I want him to be prepared for it. Plus, you know how those kids can be in elementary school. They make fun of anything that is different, and Charlie would be no exception.” David silently nodded, knowing that his wife was telling the truth. He had given rides to a few teenagers with self-inflicted wounds, most of them blaming their misfortune on childhood bullying.

“You’re right. Why don’t you give me a chance to teach him before we take him to some doctor?” Even with all his medical experience, David still imagined himself more qualified to teach their son proper speech, simply because he was his father.

“Fine, but if nothing improves in a month, then we will take him to the doctor, of my choice.” David agreed. Twenty-nine days passed and Charlie still showed no signs of visible progress. In a last minute effort, David decided to take Charlie to the Glass Mural.

“Hey buddy, can you count how many times you see yourself?”

Charlie smiled, pointed his bony finger at the glass, and began counting. David watched his son as he moved from left to right. His hair was a messy blonde, which was odd because David had dark hair, while Elise was the originally blonde. He was short, just as Elise had been during her childhood. He also inherited his mother’s smile, a thin set of lips that curved just slightly to the left. It gave one the impression that he was winking at them. On this particular day, David decided to dress him up in denim overalls and a white tee-shirt. Standing in the wake of spring, Charlie looked like one of the farmers from his nursery book. “Now try and say twenty-three. Watch my lips” he brought his mouth close to his son’s eye level. “Twenty-three, three. You see how my tongue moves,” Charlie nodded.

“Twenty-free.” A wave of disappointment flushed across David’s face. His efforts hadn’t been enough to fix the boy’s speech. He looked into the twenty-third glass and failed to see a reflection of himself in it. The memory left as quick as it had arrived, David now unable to tell if it was sweat or tears that he was tasting.

Elise locked the door behind Sofia and motioned for the girl to enter the grand foyer. The walls were painted soft white that resembled a lavish beach house, but the bottom half of it was covered with marks and little fingerprints. All of the furniture belonged to a matching set, making the place look more like a showroom rather than a home. Sofia thought back to her mother’s apartment and how nearly all of their furniture had been given or purchased from the local flea markets.

“What’s your name?” Elise asked.

“Sofia. I’m working with my mo- with Mrs. Garcia, the other employee. We’ll be taking turns cleaning throughout the weeks.”

“I see,” she looked at the girl, “the truth is, I don’t really want you here, but you’ve already been paid so you might as well work. I still don’t understand why we need you. I told David that our house is okay the way it is, but he insisted on employing you.”

“We’re uh, we’re here to help you with the…healing,” Sofia sputtered the response her mother had trained her to give.

“Right, I’m sure you’ll be a big help in that area,” Elise scoffed. “Since you’re here, make yourself useful but let me establish a few rules: Don’t come up the stairs, don’t steal anything, and don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency. That’s all the instructions I have for you.” Sofia held her tongue against her wishes, seeing as this was her first day on the job. Her mother had warned her that most employees were either distant or unpleasant in the beginning, but Elise’s attitude was borderline disrespectful. And what would make her consider thievery?

Elise walked through the hallway, “You can set your belongings underneath the sink.” As she entered the room, Sofia realized that there were only two kinds of people in this world: those who have money, and those who don’t. This house was the only proof she needed to know that she belonged to the latter category. The expansive kitchen had granite countertops with maroon drawers, a black stove in the corner opposite of the chrome refrigerator and the rectangular glass table had a solitary plate sitting upon it.

“Are there any specific tasks that you need me to do? I’m here until 5:00 PM,” Sofia chimed. Elise lifted the coffee pot from the machine and poured herself another cup.

“Shouldn’t you have a set routine? I mean, that’s what we’re paying you for right?” Elise sneered.

Sofia examined her surroundings and figured the kitchen would be an ideal place to begin her shift, it was also the only room Elise had shown her thus far. She stared at the middle-aged woman, taking note of the thin bones hiding underneath her oversized knit sweater. “Start with the kitchen then just follow whatever mess you find, just don’t come upstairs.” Elise’s voice was adamant, and Sofia wondered if she would be hexed if she stepped into the forbidden zone. “If there’s nothing more to say, then get started,” Elise said as she made her way towards the stairwell in the foyer. “Oh, and one more thing, be a dear and clean the coffee pot. I’m afraid it’s blackened, and I need it spotless for tomorrow morning,” she disappeared around the corner, leaving Sofia standing alone on the hardwood floors. The echo of Elise’s footsteps receded, giving Sofia the courage to curse under her breath before she turned her attention to the empty kitchen.

David snapped away from the flashback and frantically began running along the pathway once more. An ache started to develop in his left knee, the same one he had surgery during his teenage years. The weakness of his scar tissue had been the main reason he’d picked up rowing as his activity. Determined to reach his house before his time was up, David decided to speed up his pace; but exhaustion was steadily rising along with the temperature. As he ran, he looked back over his left shoulder trying to capture one final look at the Glass Mural, and possibly his son. Suddenly, he found himself with his cheek pressed against the concrete and a severe pain radiating from his face. Bits of sediment embedded themselves in his hands, leaving erythemic marks along his palms. He achingly pulled himself up to his feet and dusted off his kneecaps. There was a reddish abrasion on his hand that looked as if blood wanted to ooze from the fresh wound. It took him another few seconds to realize that he had fallen, something he hadn’t done in years. Immediately, he began to trace the ground for any pot-holes or excessively large rocks to blame for his accident. A patch of raised concrete seemed suspicious, but it wasn’t enough to make him stumble as he had. David brought his hands to his face and examined the scratches.

“These hands, these damn hands. How many more must die in my arms? What good am I if I can’t save anyone?” he yelled into the empty street. A light came on in a nearby house, probably in response to his shouting. David shuffled along the concrete, attempting to relieve the pressure on his left leg. As he limped home, he remembered the last words the deacon had spoken to him.

“Prayer can help those who don’t have the momentum to move on…”

“When’s the last time prayer saved a life?” he said to himself as he looked up as the morning sky was painted with a series of vibrant brush strokes.

“How the hell am I supposed to know where things are if I didn’t get a tour?” Sofia scoffed. She walked around the kitchen, opening and closing the drawers in the process, to get a feel for the layout. “Okay, so silverware is in the drawer, and this is for dishes, and this is also for silverware too? What kind of setup is this? Who needs two drawers for forks and knives?” she slammed the last cabinet, hoping the sound would interrupt Elise from whatever she was doing. Sofia picked up the single plate from the table and placed it in the metallic sink. As she began scrubbing the dish, she thought about her new surroundings. These walls would become her new classroom, and she was forced to study the same skills her mother used. Sharpened pencils and notebooks were now replaced with toilet brushes and soggy sponges, and instead of wearing decent clothes, she was forced to don a raggedy t-shirt and her jeans from high school that barely fit. What good was cleaning compared to having a degree? She checked the clock, “Right now, I’d be sitting in my first class for the week, but instead I’m scrubbing dishes. I didn’t even eat off of this damn plate,” she muttered. Sofia placed the plate on the drying rack and wiped down the adjacent counter with her wipes. The moist sensation of the towel gave her a quick shudder, and Sofia soon realized that she’d forgotten to put her gloves on. The set of purple latex all purpose gloves were a gift from her mother. Sofia reached down into her basket and checked the wrists, noticing the “L” and “R” embedded into the rubber. Without hesitation, she donned the gloves along with the headphones attached to her CD player and began a thorough investigation of the kitchen.

Sofia walked over to the half-empty coffee pot and inspected the stained edges of the bowl. “Clean the coffee pot my ass,” she snapped. She dumped the liquid contents down into the drain and instead of pouring a drop of soap into the bowl, she spit into it. Grabbing the sponge she began to work her way around the bowl until a majority of the black smears were no longer visible, but the girl kept a few there to remind Elise that she wasn’t like her mother. However, as she looked down at her covered hands, she couldn’t help but feel a connection to the woman who’d taught her how to scrub away stains.

David removed his keys from his fanny pouch and entered through the garage door, passing a series of cardboard boxes sitting next to the steps. The pain from his knee was subsiding as he removed his shirt and shoes upon entering his residence. He was about five feet into the house when he heard the sound of water running in the kitchen. “Elise, are you up?” he inquired as he turned the corner before bumping into an oddly placed object. David was about to start shouting until he opened eyes and realized what, or rather who, he’d just run into. Standing in front of the sink was a young woman with a pair of purple headphones tucked between her shoulder length hair. She rung the yellow sponge into the basin and dried a glass cup in her gloved hands. The young woman turned to face David and dropped the dish onto the floor due to the shock.

“Jesus, I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry, I’ll clean that up,” she said as she frantically searched the kitchen for the broom. David pointed towards the pantry and Sofia did as instructed, finding the broom and dustpan in the corner. “Th-thank you, sir.”

“Are you Mrs. Olivia’s daughter?”

She nodded, “I’m Sofia Garcia. I promise I’m not this clumsy. I’m so sorry,” Sofia confessed while keeping her eyes low.

“You don’t have to look down or anything, I don’t deserve any extra respect.”

“You’re shirtless, sir.” Startled, David awkwardly laughed as he threw his sweaty top over his shoulder.

“Right, I’ll get out of your way soon,” he said.

David made his way to the refrigerator and removed a bottle of water while Sofia swept up the remaining fragments from the glass. The paramedic could feel the young woman’s eyes scanning him, trying to identify what kind of man he was. “I’m David by the way. I wanted to welcome you to the house, but it looks like my jog took longer than expected,” he said as he pressed the chilled bottle to his kneecap. Sofia shyly smiled as she dumped the contents of the dustpan into the black trash can. “If you need anything just let me know.” Sofia nodded as he made his way towards the stairwell, “also don’t worry about the cup, it’s just a small fracture,” he joked. The medical reference had flown over Sofia’s head and David realized that his joke failed, another reason for him to retreat upstairs.

His watch began ticking as he entered his bedroom, and fast asleep atop the snow white comforter was Elise. Her body was sprawled out in a strange position, legs on opposing ends of the bed and her back was curved stretching out her neck in a way that would’ve been uncomfortable for even the most flexible contortionist. Somehow in this layout she had found peace, or the medication had kicked in once again. He knew that Dr. White had given her a prescription to help her through this difficult time period, but lately her mood seemed to revolve around her dosage schedule. David crept into the bathroom and started the shower, giving himself five minutes to remove the sweat and dirt from his sore body. This morning had already been a challenge and work would be no different, he had to write a report on his actions surrounding the death of Deacon Hamilton. As the beads from the shower rained down on his face, David’s hands shook in the steam, remembering the feeling of Darnell’s strength fading as he passed away. David banged his fist against the glass, wishing that he could have held his son’s hand in a similar fashion.

When Sofia entered the garage to take out the trash at the end of her grueling first shift, she accidentally kicked a cardboard box full of unknown objects. Her bony legs were already feeling the effects of her labor, the constant circular scrubbing motion worked muscles that had been dormant in her body for years. The chilly garage was bleak, save for the blinking safety light in the corner. One car, a black luxury vehicle was parked in one of the spaces, and the rest of the area was being used as a storage space. As her eyes adjusted, Sofia examined the expansive interior, taking note of the piles of boxes that were waiting to be sealed. Crouching down, she toyed with the flap of one of the containers catching a glance of folded clothes, reminding the young woman of her suitcase and all the clothes that she had yet to finish unpacking. Curiosity continued to swirl in the young woman’s veins, leading Sofia to a closet situated in the corner of the garage. Inside the closet were shoes scattered across the bottom floor, bright yellow rain jackets, a stack of packaged toilet paper, and bin full of magazines that may or may not have been read. Hanging on the back wall was a dark leather briefcase and a slightly worn messenger bag with a medical symbol patch stitched onto it. On the adjacent hanger was a cherry red book bag with handwriting on its shoulder straps. After examining the bag, Sofia deduced that it was too cartoonish to be worn by adults. In fact, there were multiple objects in this house that would’ve made any child, if there was one, feel at home.

Sofia turned the book bag and discovered that the black scribbles were actually the signatures of children. Her fingers traced the names, reading them to herself as she listed half the incoming second-grade class at Turtletop Elementary. Seeing the signatures reminded Sofia of her tenure in elementary school, and how she and her classmates signed tee shirts on their final day. It was a way for the students to always remember their friends, even if they happened to forget them along the way. Sofia was unsuccessful in finding the name, among all the other names, of who the bag belonged to prompting her to leave it alone. She closed the door to the messy closet, grabbed her basket full of cleaning supplies, and hopped out the door into the afternoon sun. Sofia threw the trash away and headed back inside the house to grab her belongings, which were stored underneath the sink along with the cleaning supplies. As she walked down the driveway, she caught a glimpse of the neighborhood that was soon to become her habitat for the next few weeks.

The houses in the area were exquisite, many of them being at least two stories with finely crafted windows and color schemes. The one directly next to the Knight residence had a full-sized balcony on the second floor. Sofia pictured herself atop it, staring out at the skyline as the sun set across the horizon. With a house like this, it was senseless for anybody to feel miserable, she thought, as she plugged her headphones into the CD player. There were no oversized trash bags crowding their front lawn or the sounds of sirens screaming through the bedroom windows. There surely was enough space in each house so mothers and their daughters could snore without having to hear the other in the adjacent room. A rush of electricity ran through Sofia’s veins as she prepared to come home after her first day of work; what exactly was waiting for her inside that cramped apartment?

As she walked home, Sofia noted that this around the same time that she originally left her last class of the day and headed back to her dorm. Often she would grab a to-go meal from the dining hall, choosing to eat in the comfort of her room rather than braving the expansive cafeteria. The hall was filled with too many scattered conversations, and Sofia remained out of virtually all of them because she often ate alone and read her books instead. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for her to share a meal with her mother, the two of them sitting down so Sofia could talk about her first day. Her body had started to ache beyond belief: is this what her mother experienced for the last ten years? Yet, she hadn’t heard Olivia complain once about her job. At what point was she willing to give her mother a chance, she thought to herself as the metro station came into view amongst the waves of mobile citizens.

As the city prepared for the summer night, the streetlights slowly illuminated the speckled sidewalks with a warming glow. Passengers along the transit system changed from local business owners and black nannies with white toddlers to carts full of sterile dress suits and sweating vagabonds who reeked of booze. Sidewalks became the escape routes for those who worked in the skyscrapers, while the sanitation crew prepared to start their evening shift. Just as she did in school, Sofia would take the journey alone, keeping her CD player handy the entire time. When she stood amongst the travelers on the train, (she often stood because people weren’t so forthcoming to offer her a seat), the music transported her mind to her personal paradise. Each song provided her with a different vibe, but they all harmonized to provide her with a melody able to keep her sanity in check after her hectic first day as an employee of Garcia’s Guardian.

The Art of Destruction

*Author’s Note*

I am steadily navigating my way through my second novel, and this journey has proven to be more intense than the previous; but, my progress is constant, no matter how few words are written per day: the story is still being told. I’m keeping the details of this second plot close to my chest, along with the title, but that does not mean I am unwilling to share an excerpt. I will give no background or foreground knowledge about the story, I will simply leave this task to your own imagination. And then, when you’ve finally forgotten about it, I will have completed this second work. (also excuse any grammar errors, this is still draft I).

“What must a man do when he has become tired of everything, but himself? Does he spend his days shamelessly entertaining the dull crowd of fodder, or does he disappear into the chasms of his own being, becoming a recluse and myth in the process?” Baudelaire spoke as he lit the oil lamp that hung in the corner of his sculpting studio. It was a lavish construct, crafted by an architect who was known for his appreciation for space and silence. Various works lined the walls: a replica of William Blake’s David and the Dragon was above the furnace, a scroll that had a Chinese character written in calligraphy, and two bastard swords that had been shipped from Italy. His residence was a den of relics, pieces made by the hands of daring artists who ventured beyond the conventions; however, they did not come close to the majestic collection of sculptures that he’d created.

Baudelaire ran his finger along the bridge of Pope Paralaxiu, the supreme religious leader in his generation, and blew away the marble dust. “Another completed model, and yet I have been unable to shake this stirring in my soul. Why does my heart not well up as it did when my hands first took hold of the chisel?” On his carved desk were various tools that he used to sculpt, and pinned on the wall, above the counter, was his first hammer. Nostalgia beckoned his attention to the metallic tool. “Ever since my boyhood, I have done nothing but create. Sculptures and paintings, critical essays and discussions, and yet, what have they brought me? Where is the joy that is supposed to exist at the end of an arte? Have I been chosen to be deprived of it, malnourished from this nutrient that my soul craves in order to survive?” Next to the toolkit was a leather pouch the Church’s messenger had delivered; Baudelaire noted that religious men tended to carry gold faster than they did the gospel. “And this,” he opened to reveal both jewels and gold, “are men foolish enough to believe I create in order to amass a fortune of these arbitrary trinkets? Coins and gems, and coins and gems, and COINS AND GEMS! That’s all they wish to reward me with rather than…well I doubt they will be able to reward me with anything that can satiate my restlessness,” he confessed to himself. The flame flickered and plume of sawdust danced in the embers. “I am wasted here! This life is but a fool and it is because society has no desire to do anything, but consume. They care not for intellectualism or philosophy, or even how to become a human being. No, they are solely focused on the productions and consumption, turning us artists into beasts of burden who must birth the objects of their desire. How many eyes have I molded that are more authentic than the irises of those who gaze upon them?” There was an angered tone in his voice which caused him to reach for the bottle of fermenting wine that he’d left under his desk. Removing the cork with his molars, Baudelaire recklessly took a swig that could’ve cured dehydration in a dying man. His lips were removed from the bottle, along with the hammer that was on the wall. “And what am I left with, but marble and blood?”

Suddenly, the hammer came crashing down on the desk and rocked the frame, tipping the pouch over. The mass of gems spilled and Baudelaire swatted them away with his hands. Emeralds and coins went flying across the floor as if a star had just exploded and released cosmic shrapnel into space. “Well I say damn the trinkets! Damn the constructs of this world!” Again, the hammer came crashing down against the desk until he turned the head on the bust of the Pope. Soon, pieces of marble were scattered across the floor and the skull of the sculpture sunk into itself. A thick cloud of sediments and dust escaped from the remains, and Baudelaire bared a devilish grin. “They are not aware that artists are not just creators…the live for destruction too!” His aggression brought the weapon down, repeatedly, on the face until it was reduced to a pile of smoothened rubble. One of the eyes had been tossed towards the painting on the wall, and Baudelaire rushed towards it, flailing madly. He tore at the piece, and sparked the furnace to life, by tossing the oil lamp into it. Now he was surrounded by darkness, and the only source of illumination was from the mouth of this oven; but the shadows did not prevent him from stopping his rage. “Countless days I have spent shouldering myself to this society in hopes of living comfortably. I have put my own person aside just to enter their realm of reality. But I dare to take him back. No, they will not have this essence of me, they must not! I will leave, and erase my name from this world. I will become the myth that men whisper to each other with envy. I will show them…that to live as one’s own self is a far greater luxury than the royal jewels of a corrupt court. And if I do not…then let my soul be eternally tortured by the curse of feigning an existence. I have wasted enough of my precious ego trying to craft my ideas into tangible constructs, just so men and women can criticize it for not meeting a noble standard.”

The furnace burned brightly for Baudelaire had cast nearly all of his possessions into the flame while shrieking. He took one more, drowning swig of the bottle to drain the wine, and he tossed the glass into the oven, which exploded upon contact. A few stray embers escaped into the engulfing darkness, and the madman dropped his hammer on the floor; the resounding chime of the metal brought him out of his berserk-like rage into reality. Into the destroyed studio that had once been decorated with the most majestic of man’s creations. “It is pointless to change the world. It is pointless to attempt a coup of society’s consciousness. No more…I will resist no more. I will depart. Leave this existence where it stands and forget all of this had ever happened. After all, death is the only release from this suffering.” He brought the chisel that had been with him since the beginning to his wrist. The jagged edge nicked his skin and instantly drew blood.

Amidst the wreckage he laid, with his palms coated in the dust of the shattered sculptures. The gnawing flame had tended into something more docile. A stray beam of the dawn infiltrated the dark expanse, bringing with it a faint light and warmth to the phantoms that had comforted the deranged man throughout the night. His tired eyes followed the sunbeam from the port of entry-a cracked window he purposely never fixed-towards something positioned on a column. Baudelaire rose from the rubble, dusted off the destruction, and guided himself to the surviving piece. His eyes widened, “what can I say about this moment that will do it justice? Indeed, if I were a man who did not believe in the power of fate, I would truly mark this off as a sign from the divine.” He removed the chisel from the base of his wrist and set it in his pocket, freeing his hands so they could tacitly inspect the lone statue in front of him. “But…I am not sure if this is a smile from fate. Could it be something more? Why, out of everything that was destroyed tonight, did this manage to survive the chaos? This is by no means a coincidence and, perhaps, it is a possible answer to the questions that plague my mind.” His hands traced along a smooth jawline that was defined like a majestic cliff. The lips that were placed in the center were slightly large, but thin enough to stay still when listening.  “I will only…” eyes sharp as arrowheads, “believe in…” his eyes. “You.” Fragments of soon-to-be-forgotten figures were thrown across the floorboards, all lying underneath the mold of his own face. Although, it has been near the other pieces, it had somehow avoided the destruction. “Only I remain.” With this realization his knees buckled, and tears streamed from his eyes as the chisel rolled out of his hand. The rage that had fueled his rampage was gradually substituted by exhaustion; he now lay flat on the floor, devoid of any sensation. Unconsciously, as if being controlled by the statue, Baudelaire raised his hand toward the crack of light and attempted to snatch the divinity, disguised as particles of dust, just as a man does when he is finally himself.

Gangrene

Ein

“Grand Wizard Zaltua, I fear…that we’ve made a grave mistake.” A stream of white static ran across the laptop screen, distorting the image of a young, raven haired woman.

“Servant of almighty Saturn, what has your mind troubled?” Zaltua inquired as he cautiously leaned forward into his computer screen. “Come share with me what has you wretched in agony, and let us find some sort of understanding.” The feedback in his voice rang through the speakers, filling the man’s office with a mighty echo. Expansive textbooks with enlarged Latin symbols covered the table, black robes were cast along the damp floorboards while empty picture frames hung along the chipped walls. Thirteen thin black candles had been arranged in a near perfect circle; the majority of them had been melted, exposing a charred wick. The room smelled of body odor, rotting fruit, and mercury, a common (but toxic) ingredient in many necromantic rituals.  Zaltua directed himself to the left side of his display and noticed that he was receiving another call.

“Wait. Malach is on the other line, I’m going to transfer him to our call.” The Grand Wizard moved his mouse towards the green camera button and double-tapped his device.

“Malach…he’s calling you?” the woman asked in near disbelief. Her face alone made the Grand Wizard question his previous choice as the video feed from Malach appeared. The normally robust, mid-twenties man was now a skeleton; his fragile frame was beyond anemic and there were mustard yellow patches on his skin.

“Grand Wizard,”the frail man spoke into his microphone.

“Malach, what has happened to you? Why…do you look-”

“Malach! What have you done? The police are out looking for you,” the woman on the opposing screen shouted. The Grand Wizard scratched the arch of his curly eyebrow and waited for her to finish ranting.

“Bezel, was it? We are not personally acquainted, but I am curious as to why you contacted me and not Malach as we intended. I’m hoping that he will be able to dispel this confusion.”

“Grand Wizard, I’m asking you to help us because we’ve gotten ourselves into a dire situation.” The woman’s face was distorted by the fluctuating static. Her features were plain and her cheeks were free from any foundation. Her brown eyes shone like those who still exuded youth, yet they were also darkened and full of impending doom. “Malach…you’ve got to get away”

The enigmatic man spoke into the web camera, his rancid breath fogging the lens. “Nonsense. Grand Wizard, allow me to introduce, septum Bezel. She is somewhat new to our craft, but has shown great potential.”

“Malach, please…” the young woman begged. The Grand Wizard found it difficult to juggle between the two video streams, while he impatiently waited for their intimate conversations to invite him.

“Two completed seances, the conjuring of a familiar, there are even rumors that she summoned a succubus to perform…certain services,” Malach teased, although his sickening frame made the flirtation seem cynical.

“Let’s not forget you Malach. Aren’t you the Midwestern man of Macabre? Your ambition carried our teachings to the internet, now the entire world is able to witness our arts.” Bezel shot her comment back across the screen with elven-like accuracy.

“Your praises are welcomed but thin. I have no need for such titles and trivial matters,” Malach curtly remarked. He adjusted the black device, changing the angle of the webcam. His fingernails were raw and black from being gnawed, and his pale wrist was hairless and thin to the point where the veins were exposed.

“My liege, my teacher, I must confess to you.”

“Malach what troubles you?” Zaltua inquired while he adjusted the brightness on his computer display.

“The truth, how blinding it is. What I have just done will shape the nature of the world, erecting a new pillar of society with necromancy etched at its peak. I have accomplished a feat that none in this age have been able to attempt. I do believe that I have been chosen to usher in a new world. And there is no room for false prophets.”

“Then it was a success…” the young woman quietly muttered into her microphone, but the words  were lost due to the poor connection.

“Malach, what has gotten ahold of you? You’re not making any sense.” The Grand Wizard then turned his attention to Bezel, “and why have you yet to tell me anything?”

“My apologies. I…I am still shaken to see Malach on the other line. He’s jeopardizing his safety. However, I digress. Grand Wizard, have you watched the news at all today?”

“No, I was occupied for most of the day,” he confessed.

“The local news is abuzz with a story, our story; however, they will only present facts that are alternative to my version. It is only by this version will you be able to understand what has befallen us in Lindsborg. Malach…do you wish to share it?” Bezel asked while she positioned herself in her desktop chair.

“No, I will let you speak. I’m going to listen to pass the time,” Malach stated as he devilishly grinned at the video stream belonging to the Grand Wizard. His eyes shone as if he were content to patiently wait while she shared her story.

Bezel exhaled and removed her hands from her desk. “Well, Grand Wizard let me to tell you my truth…”

I, myself am a native of Kansas, however, I hail from the outskirts of Wichita. Being the daughter of farm hands I was blessed with an uncanny strength and vigor, my mother often commended me on the passion of my spirit. The agricultural lifestyle was mentally exhausting, despite what others may say. One must remember everything from the harvest moon to the distance between planted seeds as well as the rain and dry seasons that happen all too often in the Midwest. Although quite handy with the hoe, unfortunately I was not a stellar student. After graduating with one cord (for what, I do not know), I performed various odd jobs and peculiar tasks in order to help my family with their bills; this monotonous routine continued until I met Malach this previous summer.

I’m sure that you are familiar with Malach’s past, but for the sake of this story allow me to grace your ears with his origins. He was conceived to be a drifter; born to a carnival worker who traveled throughout the Midwest. His mother died during childbirth and some blame the doctor who oversaw the delivery (those in poverty usually have poor health-care). This sudden hardship left Jeremy Thomas, Malach’s father, in a tight bind while he raised the boy. Thomas was an entertainer of  little fame in the circus industry; but there are rumors that he included young Malach in his strange performance, which some say included rope bindings, searing fire, and the blood of bats. Whatever account you choose to believe is strictly contingent upon your own desire. As the generations changed and people became socially conscious, less individuals visited the freak-show, leading to the eventual closing of the carnival. Malach and his illiterate father were forced to temporarily settle down in the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Lacking any real education save for the skills he learned while on the road, his father had a great difficulty finding a stable job, pushing them to the brink of poverty. This streak was broken when one day, by fate or luck (whichever is your preference), his dad was hired. The job? Working as the caretaker of a morgue. Since Malach had grown up around the circus and had no knowledge of public school system, his natural assignment was to aid his single parent. Together, their days were spent embalming the recently deceased, stuffing ashes into elaborate vases, dressing the corpses for the wake, all while maintaining the integrity of the county morgue. Being only a teenager at the time, Malach was not allowed to directly handle the bodies; however, tragedy struck again and his father became ill. The city officials permitted Malach to take over his position since he’d been trained (plus so few were willing to stomach the stench of embalming fluid). Now, exactly when Malach decided to give his soul to the eternal abyss I am not entirely sure, but he has mentioned to me that his choice was based on the failing health of his sole parent. For months, he watched his sickly father toil with the dead; and sure enough, he was buried on the boy’s nineteenth birthday. Since that fateful day, Malach has been a dutiful servant of Saturn, furiously studying the arcane arts in hopes to become a Grand Wizard. It would be another four years before our paths crossed in the most unusual of circumstances.

During the summer, I managed to pick up a new position of employment that seemed to fit my lifestyle. I’d only begun dabbling in dark magic when I was hired at the apothecary. While working as a clerk in the local herbal shop (the only shop for miles), I was tending to some freshly grown rosemary, when he entered the store. Upon first glance, I would have never guessed that he was an apprentice of the arcane for he wore jeans, a plain black t-shirt, and his face was free from any tattoos or piercings; one would even consider him somewhat handsome. We exchanged the usual customer/clerk banter until it came time for him to procure the items on his list. I immediately recognized the peculiarity of the objects requested-for they lacked practical or culinary use. The items included worms wood, frog’s breath, nightshade, a clove of yellow garlic, lamb’s ear, and the petals of a black dahlia. At the time, I myself was still scratching the surface of the powers of Saturn, but I was informed enough to engage him in conversation regarding the black dahlia-it is the ideal vessel for one to use in binding a departed soul to this world. Naturally, my bond to him was solidified; a man who, like me, was no stranger to death, willing to entreat with the dark wonders. I considered him to be the ideal magician, an alchemist unafraid to conjure creations from the netherworld. How refreshing it had been to meet another; for too long I believed myself to be the only seer within one hundred miles. Our companionship was instant, and the two of us spent the entirety of the summer performing rituals and recording them to be broadcasted. And thus began our journey as neo-necromancers.

I’m aware that most tales of the macabre begin in the bellows of a thundering storm; however, this story starts underneath the Midwestern sun in the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Fall was evident everywhere one turned: the color of the leaves had transformed from green to orange and brown, diesel tractors hummed while lands lay bare from harvested crops, and Main Street was decorated with turkey feathers and images of pilgrims. Thanksgiving was but a week away, and the entire town was preparing for the fellowship and feast. With a population of less than three thousand, this place had all the essentials of a small town. We lived in the Rust Belt and streets were lined with old buildings, the relics of the steel industry. There was only one of each civic institution, one police station, one library, one hospital which only had two floors; we were lucky enough to have a movie theater. Although the majority of Lindsborg foundations were eroding, it was the people that carried the essence of life. Smiles and waves were exchanged upon passing, and the churches were always packed on Sundays. Nearly all the townsfolk were acquainted with each other, although, we were considered outcasts from their sappy society (and for good reason).

After successfully completed the conjuring of a bat familiar on Sunday, Malach and I decided to return back to his residence and recharge our energies. For the past month, we toiled to gather the ingredients and perform the spell; under the waxing moon of the previous night, our combined efforts were rewarded. The fresh remains of the bat reanimated and took flight for a few moments, before plummeting to its grave. Astounded, I watched the impossible become real; however, in my partner I could sense a senseless anxiety plagued him, seeing as the assigned tasks were somewhat simple to his standards. Malach had years of experience over me, yet he was tasked with the apprentice-level spells to perform. For the past month, he’d been wanting to expand his level and begin his Abysmal Trials-our nightmarish ordeal to become a Grand Wizard-but he’s had little chance to practice at that high of a level. Knowing this, I could only stay so excited as the black leathery wings of the bat finally stopped beating against the soaked earth.

When we finally reached his home (which was a studio apartment), there was a young boy sitting at Malach’s doorstep with a stick in hand. To distract himself, the boy was poking at something black and formless that was on the ground. As we approached him, our natural human instincts arose, and I tried to locate a parent in the surrounding area; but, before either of us could address him we were halted what we saw. The object that he’d been toying with was a bloated, dead, black rat. Maggots and gram-negative bacteria had eaten through the creature’s flesh, giving the unsuspecting passersby an uncomfortable view of its spoiled innards. And the boy’s repetitive, and I dare say, joyful tapping of the branch against the deceased beast made the cold run through my bones. Strangely enough, the boy who looked no older than seven wore a magnificent garb; jewels aligned his puffed shoulders, mushroom-colored boots shone in the light, and his pants were neatly tailored to fit his frame. But…what I remember most vividly was the shape of his pupils, they engulfed the entirety of the young boy’s eyes. And how black they were, darker than any new-moon night that I’d witnessed in my twenty-four years of life. There was something…sinister, about the young boy. His presence alone had intensified the pulsing of my veins, and my vision became hypersensitive, turning the sublime sunset into a kaleidoscope of twilight terrors. As we neared him, I caught sight of a strange object sitting next to him. A box, a package roughly the size of a small cabinet drawer. It was made out of cardboard, yet it was soggy and there were also black ten-gallon trash bags tied around it. There were recent reports that orphans had been seeking homes, but judging by his stance I knew the boy had not come to seek refuge. The enigmatic child cocked his head to the side and greeted me with an ivory white smile; how perfectly defined his teeth.

Malach was the first to approach him, for it was his apartment; the child lifted the medium-sized package off of the sidewalk, placing it in his hands. “This is the will of your father,” is all that he said before skipping down the sidewalk, eerily dancing towards the outskirts of town.

As he faded from our sight, the bindings that had been around the base of my jugular were loosened, and my vision returned back to normal; and yet, I’ve been unsuccessful in removing his grin from my memory. The rat lay on the sidewalk still, with the boys stick impaled within the stomach. Upon entering the apartment, the first thing Malach did was unwrap the package; had his father’s will finally been found? Although he’s rarely discussed it, Malach had somewhat of a disagreement with his father before the man’s expected death. I assumed this to be part of his driving force in his journey with the dark arts, as the loss of a family member can make one resort to a new reality. He tore through the cardboard while I contemplated the origins of the delivery boy. His late father had indeed worked in the circus business, and it was true that there were freaks among men (depending on how one defines man); but this boy was no carny, he lacked any desire to entertain. How long had he been waiting here for us anyways? Scraps of the package were thrown across the furnished apartment and Malach beckoned me to join him at the brown dining room table. We pushed the circular placemats to the side, making room for the object that had been gifted to us, and together prepared to uncover this mystery.

A book, or rather a grimoire. The binding was wrapped in a splotchy gray, self-lubricating substance, giving the pale tome the appearance of lungs excised from a chronic smoker, and around the edges were the objects that resembled human incisors. What exactly had Malach’s father given him? A flaccid maggot crawled out from underneath book onto the table and I quickly swatted it away; it was customary for old texts to house insect eggs, especially if they’d been in storage. My insides lurched at the sight; although I dabble in necromancy, I was never a fan of maggots. As Malach opened the cover, a foul stench came out from the pages. Typically, his apartment smelled of fried bacon, scented candles, and herbs; that was all replaced by the putrid odor that resembled what one would experience while trekking through a peat bog. On the inside of the cover were two feathers, bound at the quills, that had a congealed liquid at the tip. Being an expert in alchemical ingredients and apothecaries, I immediately recognized it as the feather belonging to the white vulture; yet, I’d never heard of a single spell that required the use of such a prized item. Some spend their entire life without ever laying eyes upon one, and here we were, with two in our possession. Next to the feathers was a small rectangular container that held a jagged, cast-iron, black needle; there was also a strange ring with a gray jewel in its hilt. While I inspected these peculiar contents, Malach hurriedly flipped through the pages until he momentarily paused with his finger hanging off one of the ‘teeth’.

“The pages, they’re blank. All of them.”

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