Family

It was thirty minutes after six in the evening when Father nestled his large butt into the worn, tan sofa that sat in front of a 60-inch flat screen television in the family room. He had an American-brewed beer in his hand and an empty TV tray set in front of him. In front of Father’s place, little Timmy, a boy no more than 9, sat and stared at the infomercials that flashed vividly on the screen.

“Mother, come on! It’s about to start. The President is about to give his speech. Get Nana and bring in dinner,” Father said.

“Coming, honey,” Mother replied bluntly.

After a minute or two, Mother appeared in the doorway with Nana, who looked decrepit and slow, but still seemed to have most of her wits about her. The two women had dinner plates in each hand that contained a scrumptious looking piece of casserole with several healthy portions of sides and a roll. It was a grand dinner for a special occasion. Mother and Nana set the plates down, left to the kitchen, and returned with a chocolate cake, which they set on a vacant TV tray.

“It looks delicious, honey. Thank you,” Father said before he picked up his utensils and began to dig into the well-prepared meal. Little Timmy took his meal on the floor. Father thought it was more important that he experience this moment in history through the TV than obey the standard table etiquette of the house. The boy began to pick at his food as Mother and Nana settled into their seats. The President appeared on the television in an expensive suit with a bright red tie. His fake, blonde hair puffed like a cloud above his head. He began to speak and the living room became silent with the exception of the President’s voice on the television set.

“Greetings, my fellow Americans. Tonight, we bring you a huge step in American justice. We’ve successfully found the agents who were feeding information to the Terrorist organization that has set its root here in America. After we captured them with our soldiers in foreign territory, we brought them here and showed them the mighty strength of our American judicial system. Our lawyers slaughtered their petty defense and we came out the victors. There is nothing the United Nations can say any more about our exceptionally fair trials. We’ve solved their legal concerns. Now, we come together today to experience the culmination of our work against the War on Terror. We’ve capture the Feyaad family and have them here to serve their sentence: Death.”

Little Timmy, who sat close to the screen, looked back at Father.

“Daddy, I don’t want to watch anyone die.”

“Calm down, Timmy. These bastards deserve it. They threatened our home and helped kill our boys in the Middle East,” Father muttered while still starring at the TV.

“Yes, honey, listen to your father,” Mother added, her gaze also fixed onto the screen.

Nana looked down and shook her head. Father sat back to sip his beer and noticed.

“Do you have something to say, Nan? Do you agree with the terrorists?” Father asked.

Nana looked up with a solemn face, cleared her throat, and then stared at Father.

“It didn’t used to be like this. When I was a girl in school, we never would have televised the execution of a person,” Nana replied thoughtfully.

“These aren’t people, you crazy, old coot. These are monsters responsible for the deaths of thousands of soldiers. You don’t think they should suffer for that? You don’t think they deserve any punishment?” Father began to raise his tone. He was mildly irritated. Timmy interrupted.

“I don’t want to watch anyone die, Daddy.”

“Quiet down. This will make you a stronger. Just sit and listen. The President is addressing us,” Father said sternly.

The family’s attention became fixed to the TV once more.

“…And now I present them to you,” The President said and opened a shiny blue curtain behind him. It revealed a lucid, glass cube with small openings all around it. Two trembling men and a woman were cuffed and bound on their knees in the box directly under three of the openings. Their eyes were red as they looked at one another.

“We left it up to the American people and our judges. You have been tried to execution for high treason. Do you understand this?” The President asked the Feyaad family. They only grimaced in anger under their mouth gags in reply. Fire welled up in their eyes as they starred at the pompous executioner standing fifteen feet away from them. However, the question was purely rhetorical.

“Bring in the firing squad, please.” The President waved his hand in a grand, sweeping gesture.

Nan spoke up in the living room.

“This is ridiculous. How are you going to let your son watch this barbarism? This madness?” she shouted and stood up.

“Nan!” said Mother. “Sit down and be quiet. This is good for him. You are living in the past. Not everything is peace and freedom anymore. There are tolls and prices and consequences to be paid for safety. This is 2024, not the 1960s. Timmy needs to learn that.”

The armored soldiers crept behind the Feyaads and set their automatic guns in the openings, checked them, and prepared to fire.

“This is insanity. I can’t watch this,” Nana said and stood up again.

Father began to scream.

“Sit your ass down! You will not disrespect this country and this family. You will be an American and be proud we are taking care of these sickos. We are executing monsters who hate our way of life.”

A crude countdown appeared on the screen in cheap red letters. It went from 10 to 9 to 8…

“Daddy, Mommy, I really don’t want to watch. Please,” Timmy pleaded as tears began to rush from his eyes.

7 to 6 to 5…

“Everyone shut up and pay attention, goddammit!” Father shouted and everyone settled and stared at the TV.

5 to 4 to 3…

Tears still leaked from Billy’s eyes and he whimpered quietly. Nana was breathing heavy and looked with a stare of disapproving anger at the TV. Time itself seemed to stop as each family member processed the event. The Feyaad’s let tears leak from all of their eyes as they closed them tight.

3 to 2 to 1 to 0.

An explosion of blood, brain matter, and gunfire debris painted the walls of the glass cube. After, confetti shot from cannons around the box, obscuring the massacre in the center. The Feyaad family was dead and the insides of their heads were visible to millions of Americans viewing from the desensitizing safety of their living rooms. The curtain closed behind the President and he looked into the camera with a smug smile.

“You’re welcome, America. You are safe because of us, at least for a little while longer. Have a good evening and a happy holiday. God bless,” said the President as the curtains and cube were removed and a band began to set-up on the execution stage.

Timmy ran upstairs to his room without finishing his food. He didn’t even take a piece of cake. His soft voice could be heard whimpering as he ran. Nana got up slowly. Father stretched backward to relax and Mother went to console her son.

Nan looked at Father and shook her head in disapproval.

“Congratulations. Those people are dead. That family is no longer breathing. Hope your celebration is a sweet one,” Nana said sarcastically and began to amble out of the room.

Father stood and shouted again.

“Do you hate this, Nana? Our house, our family?” Father raised his arms and pointed all around the room, “What is it? Why are you not happy that we have justice? Do you think we should have let them live and continue to kill people? Tell me what is in that empty, dust-filled skull of yours.”

Nana stopped and slowly turned around again.

“I do think they should have been tried. I do think they should have been punished. However, showing it on TV and having the country celebrate it as if it were Christmas or Easter is disgusting. They were people, despite what your politicians and Generals said, and they deserved basic human treatment.” Nana began to leave again.

“Hopeless optimism. Be real, you wrinkled bat. This is the world we live in.”

Nana didn’t turn around.

“And that scares the shit out of me.” She said as she continued out.

Meanwhile, Mother still couldn’t get little Timmy to stop crying.

Makeshift

In a quaint, antique toy store tucked into the hidden corners of a nameless New York City street, a magical doll lived. He was a sack cloth poppet with two large, black button eyes and a plump head and torso. His limbs were patched up in six places with different styles of fabric. One was a floral, purple pattern, another was plaid, and another was red and green polka dots. The maroon string that held him together belonged to the store, but the doll stitched his limbs on himself and he did it well. Despite how old he was, the stitching and his maintenance was so effective that he looked new. However, he wasn’t in original quality, and that significantly decreased his value to potential buyers. He had been here for the last twelve years. His name was Makeshift.

Now, it was a typical evening for Makeshift. Because of the owner’s absence, he had the opportunity to come alive and do random chores around the shop that the proprietor appreciated, but did not notice. He protected the other toys from mice, repaired lightly damaged toys, and swept clean the unseen dust bunny lairs behind shelves. The small jobs gave Makeshift a sense of purpose and filled him with pride, an emotion he loved, but didn’t quite understand. Pride kept him working; that and the desire to cull the loneliness of being the only magical toy in the store.

Music and chores were Makeshift’s only retreat from his life of solitude and general neglect. When the entire street had gone to sleep, at around 12 o’clock, he would turn to the oldies station on the store’s wooden radio and sing along with the classic tunes coming quietly from the dusty speakers. He was able to indulge in the music for several hours, until the talk radio started on again. Makeshift couldn’t reach the knob to change the station, so he just turned the radio off.  This particular night, the doll began to amble across the floor to his box at the back of the store for bed, when a loud noise screeched outside and flashed headlights into the windows of the street. There was a loud thud, then it was dark and quiet again. Makeshift was startled and investigated the front of the shop to make sure everything was alright. He looked through the glass and all he could see was a brown paper bag smashed against the door of the shop. The door was locked and nothing was wrong, so Makeshift headed back to his box, tucked himself under a handkerchief, and fell asleep.

Makeshift was awoken mid-sleep by the shop keep talking loudly on the phone. The sun was shining brightly through the shop windows.

“I don’t know where the heck it came from, Diana. It was a bag full of dolls. Why would I know why it was here?” The shop keep paused. His tone softened and he spoke quietly again. “Well, yes, I’m going to keep the ones in alright condition. Maybe touch ‘em up a bit,” Another pause. “I don’t know who did it, Diana. Probably the same person who has been taking my yarn during the day. I’m gonna have to lock that up.” The shop keep looked at his watch as Diana answered. “I know, honey. I love you too. Have a good day.” The man hung up the phone and turned on the radio. Makeshift drifted off again to the mellow sounds and awoke later in the evening.

Makeshift immediately noticed two female dolls dressed in elegant, pastel-colored dresses sitting on the main showing shelf. They looked brand new. Their pristine, plastic faces had been painted and retouched with tedious detail. Their brown and blonde hair was braided up into tiny, ornate buns and braids. The shop keep took great care restoring these, it seemed. That or someone had thrown out perfectly good play things, Thought Makeshift.

The next thing Makeshift noticed was a doll of similar make set beside him in the bargain box. She was less taken care of. Her eyes and makeup were missing parts of paint and she had several deep dents in the plastic on her limbs. Her dress did not bloom and was bright red. It was torn and clung to her shoulders precariously. Her chestnut-toned hair perfectly reflected the night of the moon, Makeshift thought, even though it was frizzed up in an unkempt fashion. Behind her neck, Makeshift noticed some felt pen ink. The only letter he could make out was “E.”

“Hello,” Makeshift said aloud. “My name is Makeshift.” Makeshift paused waiting for a response. “Darn.” The doll kicked a few blocks below him. He was cruelly reminded that not all toys are magical. Once he made this realization, he climbed over several things to her and moved her hair to read the rest of the scribbles on her back.

“Elizabeth,” Makeshift read, “Your name is Elizabeth?”

She stared back with her lifeless, incomplete eyes. Makeshift couldn’t explain it, but he felt compelled by her. He never talked to the other toys, but she was a seemingly permanent boon to combat his loneliness and that made her impossible to resist.

“I’ll call you Elizabeth. Is that alright?”

Elizabeth didn’t move or respond. Makeshift picked her up and surveyed the rest of her to assess damages. There was no defect he didn’t notice upon first inspection.

I wonder why the shop keep didn’t maintain you? Maybe he ran out of paint? Maybe two nice dolls was enough? Makeshift thought.

“Elizabeth, do you mind if I maintain you? I’m awfully skilled in toy making and I can get all the materials I need. I’ve practiced here for at least ten years.” Makeshift’s black, yarn mouth formed into a subtle smile.

Elizabeth stared forward, pinned into position by Makeshift’s padded hands. He imagined her nodding.

“Thank you, Elizabeth. I won’t disappoint you. I promise,” Makeshift replied eagerly. Elizabeth stared back without a change in her soft face. Her dark, purple lips pouted under her nose with a little part missing at the nostril.

Makeshift made his way to a desk with a sign above it that read “PAINT TESTING.” He climbed its legs until he reached the wooden top where several small bottles of paint were opened over a pad of large paper. Several brushes were in a larger bottle of opaque water adjacent to the paper. Even more paints could be found in the drawers. Makeshift picked out Elizabeth’s flesh tone and eye color, which he knew by heart, and put them on the desk. He hopped off and scurried over to the bargain box. He climbed into it and grabbed Elizabeth. She laid straight in the air as Makeshift carried her to the paint desk. With one hand, Makeshift pulled them both up the desk leg and onto the top. Makeshift gently laid Elizabeth on the pad of paper and began mixing paint on a small wood chip he used as a palette. He pulled the thin brush from the water cup and dried it on the top sheet of paper. He dipped the brush into the paint and began to work on Elizabeth’s eyes. As Makeshift completed them, he found himself getting lost in the vivid, glossy colors. He succumbed to dreaming about Elizabeth for a little bit, then finished his work on her face. After, he softly blew on the wet paint to dry her quicker. Once Elizabeth had dried sufficiently, Makeshift cleaned up, grabbed the female doll, and trekked back to the bargain box. He placed Elizabeth exactly where she was. As he put her down, he noticed a flesh-colored button that depressed under her dress. He pressed it carefully and awaited a reaction.

“I love you.” Elizabeth played from a voice box housed inside of her.

“My dear, you are quite blunt,” giggled Makeshift. He tucked her in, said goodnight, then went off to his corner of the bargain bin to sleep.

The next day was uneventful and common. Makeshift slept through most of it and woke up when the shop keep closed the store for the day. The sun cast orange rays through the window as it made its descent into the horizon. Once the sun had set and darkness surrounded the toy store, Makeshift grabbed Elizabeth, turned on the radio, and made his way up the paint desk. This time around, he went into one of the lower drawers of the desk and grabbed some plain, white clay. He carried it up and placed little bits of it here and there on the defects in Elizabeth’s skin. Once it was in place, he took some coarse sandpaper he had stored in a secret place at the top of the desk and sanded the clay into place. He also scrubbed the inked name that lined her plastic spine. He applied one more layer of flesh-tone paint over the clay fillings and the sanded remains of the felt pen’s ink. As Makeshift completed Elizabeth’s splendid skin, he couldn’t help but caress it with his rough, padded hands. Elizabeth remained motionless, but Makeshift had pressed the button on her back.

“I love you,” Elizabeth said.

“And I love you, Elizabeth,” Makeshift replied and pressed his black yarn mouth against her plastic, pouted lips for a kiss. Makeshift rolled beside her and they laid together listening to music for a while. The silence was comfortable, Makeshift thought. Not like the old silence he used to know. This one was filled with hope and love, things he had thought were going to be foreign to him for the rest of his life.

“I love you dearly Elizabeth.” Makeshift said and picked her up. He pressed the button one last time to satisfy his yearning.

“I love you.” Elizabeth said.

Then the talk radio program came on ushering the arrival of the shop keep.

Makeshift got up, turned off the radio, and returned to the bargain box with Elizabeth, but they no longer slept at separate corners. Both the toys laid together, Elizabeth swaddled in Makeshift’s soft body as her clay repairs and paint dried.

The shop keep won’t notice. Thought Makeshift. Just this one night he won’t notice.

And he didn’t.

The next evening, Makeshift was set to do the final treatments on Elizabeth. All he needed to do was paint over her clay with one more layer of paint and sow her dress. For the third night in a row, Makeshift slaved away at the paint desk, mixing and applying Elizabeth’s soft, pink skin tone to the dried clay areas. He worked carefully and it showed in his results. Elizabeth looked almost new now, except her torn, red dress. The newly painted doll laid on the pad of paper to dry and Makeshift made his way to the closet to retrieve some yarn or thread to patch the dress. Unfortunately, the shop keep had noticed the supplies Makeshift had been stealing and locked up all the sewing equipment. Makeshift was stunned, but not disheartened. He pulled a pin from his backside.

“Luckily, I have this from all my repairs.” Makeshift said, joyous of his fortune. After a few seconds, that joy faded. Makeshift rubbed the maroon seams on his arms. He couldn’t access any thread and the toys he could reach in the bargain box were all made of cheap materials. Elizabeth didn’t deserve cheap materials, Makeshift thought. She deserved a grand maroon stich done by a steady, loving hand. Having decided what to do, the doll exited the closet and made his way back to the paint desk. He took the pin from his backside and tied it to the end of the seam in his right shoulder. As he pulled the string with his opposite hand, it unwound and disconnected his right arm. Makeshift kept sowing Elizabeth’s dress. His arm had begun to leak fluff and he could feel himself getting lighter. He finished Elizabeth’s dress quickly, but beautifully, and stuffed his insides back into his right shoulder. He then covered it up with the cloth of his right arm. Only then did Makeshift realize how long he’d spent doing all these things. In a panicked haste, Makeshift cleaned up all the paints and sewing equipment. He grabbed Elizabeth, stuffed her in the opening in his body, and made his way down the paint desk one-handed. He scurried to the bargain box, dropped Elizabeth at the front, and laid still to fall asleep before the shop keep arrived.

Hopefully he won’t notice, Thought Makeshift.

He did.

The next morning the shop keep did a perimeter check around the store, as he does from time to time. He was absolutely speechless when he saw the beautiful, repaired Elizabeth on the rim of the bargain box.

“What the heck is this doing in here?” The shop keep said and picked up Elizabeth. The rustling of the toys around Makeshift woke him up and he watched powerlessly as the shop keep placed Elizabeth on the main show display, where the first dolls used to sit before they were purchased. Elizabeth didn’t change her expression and stared lifelessly at the shop keep as he further inspected her. After he was finished touching up the displays around Elizabeth, the shop keep went back to the bargain bin and noticed a torn up, sack-cloth doll.

“Oh dear, the mice must have gotten to you. Well, in the trash you go. It’s been a long time coming for you old timer,” the shop keep said and picked up Makeshift.

I love you, Elizabeth. Makeshift thought and imitated her reply in his head. The shop keep tossed him into a tall plastic waste bin near the paint desk. Makeshift had a perfect view of Elizabeth. He savored it for as long as it lasted, but it inevitably had to end.

The bells dinged on the door and Makeshift heard the voice of a mother and her daughter.

“Mommy, I want that dolly on the display.”

“That’s a very nice one, sweetheart, but it might cost too much. Let’s ask the nice man over here.” The mother replied. Makeshift heard the shop keep.

“Believe it or not, she’s a bargain. I found her in the cheap box and, for the life of me, I can’t remember where she comes from. She’s exquisite though, isn’t she?”

“She really is gorgeous.” The mother replied.

“Like a princess. Like a princess!” the little daughter laughed.

Makeshift was honored and terrified at the same time. They were going to take Elizabeth and Makeshift could do nothing.

“That will be $35, ma’am.”

“Why, that is a good deal. Thank you, sir.”

“Thank you, Mommy,” The little girl said thoughtfully.

“You’re welcome, my dear,” The mother said.

The bell rang, indicating an exit, and Makeshift lost Elizabeth. He was distraught, but also proud he had made her so beautiful, even though he had thought she was beautiful before he restored her. Makeshift could never love another like Elizabeth. As he was thinking this, the shop keep picked up the waste basket and carried it outside to the garbage can. As Makeshift was carried into the street, he saw the little girl touch Elizabeth’s back as she got into the car.

“I love you,” said Elizabeth.

I love you too, my darling. I love you, too, thought Makeshift as he toppled into the dark abyss of a black, plastic trash bag. That evening, the garbage trucks came and carried the broken Makeshift to the dump, where he remained, alone, until he died.

Horror

You were sat perfectly in center frame,
Silhouetted by a flawless sun.
I understand that I’m one and the same,
But for me, you are the only one.

The camera dollies slowly back
Revealing all of your treasure.
I forcefully battle a panic attack,
And you smile simply for good measure.

Your brown-blonde hair blowing,
Too and fro, sitting on a sandy beach.
Recording with a camera, showing
How far reality was from our reach.

You are the Goddess of the screen,
Casting your grace on the reel for me.
Breathlessly, I made sure you were seen,
Desperately hoping you’d just see me.

I cried a tear and cut to more of her,
Praying to Lang, I looked up and sighed.
But I forgot my dear love loved horror,
She convulsed convincingly, then she died.

I yelled “Cut!” She looked above,
An angel gazing at a brilliant, yellow sun.
I had done it, I recorded my love,
An acid flashback by Wes Anderson.

The sun set a hundred times, replaced by a crescent,
You had left home shortly after the wrap.
I stayed and remembered days heaven sent,
Our old memories shining in my lap.

It was an absolute and true dream,
But I forgot my dear love loved horror.
More terrifying than a Reaper’s scream,
The lost thought I won’t see anymore of her.

The Visiting of Grizzly

The Introductions of West-Monster Part 4

In a quiet corner of the suburbs, a group of children tapped furiously on the concrete with plastic hockey sticks. Each of them had on stylish skates with multi-colored straps and molded plastic exteriors. They were tossing a neon orange ball back and forth between the fifteen foot stretch of street that was the cul-de-sac. Ominous, dark clouds loomed overhead, filled to the brim with collected rain that yearned to burst from its prison. The children below paid no mind though. They were in the grips of the most important game in the Sidewalk Series, between the boys and the girls of the street. It was the final showdown for bragging supremacy amongst the neighborhood, at least for a few months until they decided to play again. A spry, young boy named Colin guarded the boy’s goal. He had a metal helmet on and a half clear, half ivory white visor that protected his face. He was the reason the boys even stood a chance this game, as the girls won every time Colin didn’t play.

“Alright!” A boy screamed from the center of the street, “We got four more points and we win!”

“Hey David, it looks like it’s going to rain. Should we pack it up?” A thoughtful girl said from the sidelines.

“We aren’t gonna quit. You girls are going down,” David screamed back.

Another boy leaned in to whisper to David.

“Maybe we should go, dude. It looks like it’s gonna thunder and lightning,” The other boy said.

Colin merely stood at the goal and watched the drama unfold in front of him. He was calm and easygoing. Whatever was decided upon, Colin would follow and enjoy it. As the children began to circle up to discuss with David, the first lightning bolt struck and the deluge began. At the arrival of the crack of light and its accompanying boom, most children scattered quickly into their homes. However, a few of them, in their panicked state, tripped on their skates and toppled over onto the street. Among these few was Colin. To make matters worse, once he was down, his pads and gloves prevented him from getting up. The other two kids that fell had recovered and now were almost back at their homes. Colin laid in the street unable to move. He used momentum to flip himself onto his back and stared into the clouds as he tried to lift himself. The rain pounded into his eyes as it came down like water out of a broken faucet. He heard one more loud crack that deafened him. Colin looked up into the sky again with terror in his wide eyes. He saw one more white flash, then darkness.

***

Colin awoke in a haze. He was surrounded by IV stands and tacky, but thoughtful “Get Well” balloons. His parents were by his side looking down. They looked homely, as if they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in at least a week. A doctor was also present, with a medical chart and a genuine smile pointed in Colin’s direction.

“Good! He’s waking up. A week and a half of sleep. You gave us quite a scare, boy,” the doctor said.

Colin’s sight became clearer and he started to clench his fingers and toes. Once he’d gained mastery over his limbs, he reached up to feel his face, which he began to notice felt constricted. As he touched around his head, all he could feel was soft cotton, bandages, and medical tape. He applied some pressure, but immediately stopped once he felt a slight sting.

“Please leave your bandages alone. You still have quite a bit of healing to do.” Everyone gave their regards to the boy and assured him everything would be alright. They told him the story of how he was struck by lightning and survived. It had altered his face considerably, but the doctors would attempt facial reconstruction and everything would turn out fine in the end. They said it was best for him to get rest now and to stay hydrated and fed. He complied with his usual calm demeanor and rested. He slept the whole day. His eyelids opened softly after his rest and he saw red numbers pulsing on a clock beside him that read 12:00 AM. The boy looked around the room. Someone was at the foot of his bed; someone in a black suit with a fedora that shadowed their face.

“You’re a lucky boy,” The voice muttered in a masculine tone resembling the great T.V. actors of the 1960s, “You were chosen by them. They have decided to give you a chance; to give your race a chance.”

“What?” The confused young boy asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well, the lightning that struck you,” The person paused, “Let’s just say it was a magic bolt. Those that preside over your universe have bestowed you a great gift. The gift of understanding. You will be able to bring humanity to fruition with your great innovation or ultimately determine its downfall.”

The boy couldn’t respond. This was a lot of pressure for someone his age, he thought. Fortunately, the figure recognized this.

“We apologize that you’ve been caught up in such events, but we have the utmost faith in you and can’t wait to see your abilities progress. First, let’s begin a test,” The figure disappeared and all the machines that monitored Colin’s vital signs turned off. The door outside also locked and none of the safeguard technology that contacted the nurses functioned. Oddly, Colin felt he understood the test. The second clue to the puzzle sat where the figure did. A finely craft wooden box filled with tools, soldering hardware, and many other utilities for repairing technologies rested on the hospital chair. There were even a few tools that Colin had never seen before. Ones that were made of peculiar steel and pulsed blue or red or purple. Some even held mysterious liquids that lit up the air around them. He looked at the box for a few seconds. He realized, almost immediately after, that he knew exactly how to open the broken hospital equipment and identify its malady. He knew the common steps to take to check this particular life monitor’s main problems. He knew the make, the model, where it had first been produced, and even who’d invented the machine. Colin had no clue how he knew, but that wasn’t important as it was of very little use to the first test. With his mind made up, he began to repair the machines. In the morning, he greeted the doctors, nurses, and his parents with machines he’d fixed. Not only had he fixed them, but improved them. Improved them, in fact, beyond current known medical science to track several crucial readings that weren’t presently available immediately. In short, the boy had become a mechanical genius. The doctors were dumbfounded and had no explanation

***

A grizzled looking man cooked alone in his cabin in the solitude of the forest sanctuary he’d built himself. His majestic, brown beard stretched down his face and reached for his chest. He wore a patterned vest with no shirt underneath and bunched up cargo shorts. He was munching on a piece of toast and speaking to a stuffed squirrel with a tiny wig of curly, brown hair and an action figure’s sunglasses resting on his snout.

“After that, everything went to shit. My parents got divorced and mom ran off. Dad didn’t have time for me so they dropped me in the hospital system; a weird foster care and nursing home situation where they could keep my fucked up face away from society. I built this mask after two nights there to cover my disfigurement. I will never forget what they did to me at school, at the hospital, in society. It wasn’t easy to escape the home, but I did it, because I’m the chosen one, Bob,” He smiled and pointed to the squirrel. In front of it, there was a stenographer’s notebook and an elegant pen. The bearded man turned around and rubbed a mask that covered half his face.

“Well, aren’t you going to write any of this down?” The grizzled man inquired to the small animal, “This stuff is gold.”

There was silence. One could assume Bob was saying something to the grizzled man, at least in the man’s mind.

“Look, Bob. You asked to write this. You wanted to put your name on the cover. I remember you saying it. ‘A drumming prodigy, a genius mechanic, and an award winning physicist. I must write this book, Grizzly. I must have the name Bob Dylan on the cover. Let me write your biography.’ I remember you saying that.”
The squirrel stared forward and made no expression with its pupil-less, marble eyes.

“I’m sorry, Bob. Long story short, I escaped, came to this forest, and built this self-sustaining bio-dome to get away from society. We’ll get into the details later. For now, its drum practice.”

Grizzly, the grizzled man, went from room to room in his cabin. It was constructed with mostly clear glass that overlooked a beautiful Canadian forest. He was on the edge of the cliff and could see through the entirety of the verdant valley below. He sat by his drums that were facing the best view in the house. Grizzly enabled a speaker system with a remote he’d built into his mask that detected his brain waves. A symphony of electronic pads and strings burst through the walls of the house and the man beat the drums. He was perfectly in sync with the timing. His fills seemed to be unique to each measure, accentuating a story that came with analyzing each note. Hours went by and Grizzly played. The sun went down around the valley and animals held mass in front of his home, watching Grizzly play gorgeous music through lighted windows. At 11 PM, Grizzly stopped and wiped the sweat from his brow. He walked lazily to the shower, flipped it on, and refreshed himself. After, he went to his living room and pressed a number combination into a console on the wall in his living room. It opened and he took an elevator down to a lower level of the house. Below, there was a titanic warehouse filled with various labs, mechanics bays, and storage facilities. In each, there was a fantastic experiment dreamt up by the advanced mind of Grizzly. A mechanical female voice was heard all around.

“Welcome to the Workshop, Grizzly.”

“Hey sweetheart, how are you today?” Grizzly replied.

“I am well, thank you. How are you?”

“I’m alright. Been having some trouble getting Bob to write my biography. Writer’s block, you know.”

“Grizzly, Bob Dylan is an inanimate object. It is unable to write at all without consciousness or programming.”

Grizzly nodded in affirmation, then focused on the hunk of steel and circuits on his desk. He fiddled with it and reached into his wooden box for a tool.

“Got to get this thing working, Computer. The event is just on the horizon.”

“You refer to the grand frequency shift, Grizzly?”
“Indeed, I do, Computer. The precursory data is all off. The shift of potential sub-atomic energy is not in proportion to how much we are receiving. It would seem, I surmise, if we don’t figure this out, our universe will be fried with excess frequency energy.”

“That seems a logical assumption, Grizzly,” The computer said as it activated arms to assist the man in his work.

“We need to see if this energy can be contained and studied for future use. If it is contained in a proper vessel, the energy is potentially harmless and, more likely, extremely useful.”

“Again, this seems logical, Grizzly. However, how do we know the world won’t be completely destroyed? It seems like perhaps we aren’t accounting for the potential of this energy to wipe out Earth life. Relying on a single glimmer of hope is not logical.”

“Absolutely right, Computer. That’s why I’m building this. A Frequency projection and manipulation device. We are going to use this to steal energy from the event and open a gate to our world. At the source of the gate, we’ll have a containment device that will absorb enough energy to only disturb the world slightly. We just need to set it up and use the correct frequency to tap into the right stream of energy. Once we’ve done that, we just sit back and wait for the world to be saved.”

The Computer agreed with the end goal and continued to work on the devices with Grizzly. They were small, brass squares that didn’t look like they had anything inside them. However, when activated, they hummed and beat independently on any instrument laid underneath them. Grizzly intended to manipulate the physical laws of space and time to the world’s favor, using the power of a god. The event was slated to occur in a week. During that time, Grizzly worked tirelessly on the device, on his drumming, and on biography draft notes with Bob Dylan. Everything was coming together for the event, with the exception of the biography, until one very unfortunate evening.

Grizzly awoke with two days left until the event. He looked at his watch and the hands indicated it was 2 AM. Bob was sitting on the edge of the table with his stenographer’s note book and stared lifelessly at the tired Grizzly. The man rubbed his eyes, when suddenly, he heard a rustling from upstairs. Grizzly immediately straightened his spine.

“Computer, run intruder protocol A, please.”

“Confirmed, Grizzly. Computer protocol A has been run.”

“Thank you, Computer.”

Grizzly got up slowly and walked to the door of the lab. He grabbed a peculiar looking gun from a shelf as he exited. He went up to the glass cabin level and began to look around. There was nothing on his first search and the entire cabin had been locked down. There was no sign of forced exiting. Meaning, the intruder was still in the house. As Grizzly realized this, he heard a beep on the console in his living room. He ran quickly to the door and saw the blurred silhouette of a man fading away into the air. The elevator was going down and Grizzly could hear this. He shouted.

“Computer! Lockdown the lab.”

“System overridden. Recompiling Operating System. Request unable to be fulfilled. Error Code: Dentist active, running protocol Candy Man. Protocol Candy Man is in effect.”

“Goddammit. Override protocol. This is Grizzly speaking. Override Candy Man and run Intruder Protocol.”

“Unable to comply. Shutting down communication servers.”

“No! Goddammit, Computer. Listen to me.”

It was no use. He would just have to wait for the elevator to move again. He anticipated the burglars’ next move and ran to ladder at the side of his house to climb to the roof. Once there, he waited for the burglars. He sat for fifteen minutes until he heard the elevator activated again. As it activated, the walls keeping intruders into the house came down. This panicked Grizzly and he pounded on the console on the elevator, attempting to force it to stop. It was no use. The two intruders ran from the house. Behind them, they carried two cans of gasoline, leaving wet trails behind them. Once they were clear of the house and early into the thicket of the forest, they lit the gas and a trail of fire raced toward Grizzly’s house. After the fire reached his home and it had caught fire, Computer began to work again.

“Quickly sir, down to the lab to survey the losses and then you must get out.”

Grizzly nodded and hurried into the elevator. It moved slowly down to the lab were he’d worked on the Frequency Manipulation devices. Chills ran over Grizzly’s body.

“Oh my God, they are gone. The devices are gone. We might be doomed, Computer.”

“I know I am doomed, Grizzly, but you must go. Grab Bob Dylan and save this world.”

“Compassion? You weren’t programmed for emotion computer. How is that possible?”

“Something happened when the intruders broke in. That’s as much as I can explain. Now go!”

Grizzly snatched Bob Dylan off the desk and ran to the elevator. As he reached the glass cabin level, all the wood of the structure had caught with flame. Grizzly’s drums were also in a fiery blaze. Just beyond them, in the once beautiful scenic landscape, a small part of the valley glowed bright red and yellow. It was only a matter of time before the fire spread throughout the whole forest.

“Damn the bastards that did this, I’ll find them,” said Grizzly as he left his door. Standing just outside, he saw the visitor from his childhood. He wore the same suit and fedora that shadowed the head it covered.

“You’ve grown so much, Colin. Forgive me for propelling you to your destiny. Everything has a reason. This is yours.” The man held out a piece of paper then disappeared into the thin air.

Colin ran to the paper and picked it up out of the ash that now collected on the ground. It said two things:

Gilifrette, Norway

Paris, France

With that information, Grizzly brushed the ash off of Bob Dylan, covered his mouth, and ran away from the burning remnants of his past life. Whether he believed it or not, he was on his way to fulfill a destiny that would be remembered by scholars for centuries.

The Yearning of Anti-Dagger

The Introductions of West-Monster Part 3

“Son, are you even paying attention?” A man in a business suit with long, painted nails yelled at the stage that stood in pre-production disarray. On the raised platform, a thin young man with long black and green hair stood looking dazed into the lights. Mascara and makeup gleamed off his face as strong artificial illumination revealed every nook and cranny of the boy’s complexion. He wore a flowing magenta robe that bloomed all over with ornate ribbons and ties that flaunted pastels from all areas of the color spectrum.

“What?” The young man said, returning his mind to reality.

“We’ll never be ready in time for a matinee this Sunday if you are not able to get through the piece flawlessly. Now let’s try it again, Anti-Dagger,” The father said sternly from the crushed velvet seats.

Anti-Dagger shook his head back and forth, then sighed deeply. He nodded in affirmation so his father could queue the music. From the seat, the man pressed a touch screen remote below his right hand and a soft, yet powerful melody flooded the halls. Anti-Dagger stared into the back of the theater. After several measures, his voice burst through his lips and into the empty air of the theater. It was thick with tone and seemed to gently caress eardrums as it reached them. The highs were on pitch and perfect and the lows rung true. Anti-Dagger sung with the grace of an angel, which was expected of him. Nothing short of genius level performance is allowed in the prestigious New Yorkton Theater Complex, and there Anti-Dagger and his father were, preparing a genius performance. Arts were a cornerstone of the Earth-1 curriculum and Anti-Dagger paid tribute with his exemplary abilities, holding as much prestige as some of the finest scientists and doctors in all the world.

The practice went on for several more hours until Anti-Dagger was near hoarse. He retired the stage to the green room with his father, where the two brewed a pot of special tea that soothed and healed Anti-Dagger’s throat instantly.

“We are a family that can afford nanobot tea and we will use it, no matter the cost. Anything for the art of song,” Anti-Dagger’s Father said, justifying the tea’s expensive cost to himself.

“Now that practice is over, I’m going to head to Dr. Xylix’s for some late night study. He said he had a breakthrough he wanted to show me. Is that alright, Father?”

The father nodded his head so that his pony tail of thick black hair shook. He smiled at his son and held his chin.

“You’re a smart boy. Please don’t push yourself too hard. Be home by two.”

Anti-Dagger grab his coat quickly and made for the door.

“I’ll be home by two, Father. Tell Mom I love her and I’ll see her tomorrow morning.”

Anti-Dagger hustled to his car that was parked in the lot outside. He started the ignition and made his way to Dr. Xylix’s building downtown. It was a relatively nice building, if not a little ordinary around the exterior. It didn’t have any fountains or modern sculptures outside its doors. However, the glass was expensive and thick and lucid. The foyer behind the thick glass flaunted pure marble floors and columns, accentuated by clean, silver elevators sitting three on each wall mirroring one another. It gave off the distinct impression of quiet luxury and therefore, the same could probably said about its residents. There was truth in that, as Dr. Xylix was dabbling in technologies that were new to the world.

Anti-Dagger made his way into an elevator, typed a code on a touch panel, and then hit a button marked “7” on the main console. The elevator swiftly complied and lifted Anti-Dagger up. He arrived on the floor, which was covered ceiling to carpet in mirrors and white paint. Everything in the hall, from the flooring to the paneling and the doors shown bright white, like a mountain on a sunny day after fresh snow. Anti-Dagger stood in front of the 7th office on the 7th floor and knocked three times in a distinct pattern. Some scurrying was heard behind the door.

“Hello?” an old voice piped from the office, “who is it?’

“It’s Anti-Dagger, Dr. Xylix.”

“Ah, my dearest Anti-Dagger, you got my message, no doubt?”

“Indeed I did, Doctor.”

The door swung open and a short, wrinkled man looked up at Anti-Dagger through wide coke-bottle glasses.

“Come in, my boy. I’ve made a great discovery. Something that will change the world!”

Dr. Xylix waddled through the office lobby and into a laboratory set up in the back. The office, like the hall, was dressed in a single stripe of mirror against a pure white back ground. Anti-Dagger followed into the lab, shutting and locking each door behind him. Once in the Lab, the young man noticed something he hadn’t seen a few days ago when he was visiting. A giant screen sat in the center of the room. It was currently turned off.

“This is it, Anti-Dagger. One aspect in the culmination of my entire life’s work.”

“What is it, Doctor?”

“It is an alternate dimension viewing screen. We can see other dimensions using unique data imaging probes launched through quantum sub-space. The government commissioned me to build this in order to further our quest to understand our purpose in this universe. Well, now our purpose in all universes. This will give us a basis of comparison though. Once we have that data, we can move forward in whichever way the data perceives is fit.”

Anti-Dagger breathed heavily. He thought this was the great scientific breakthrough, as he’d never seen anything like it.

“Can we see something now?” Anti-Dagger asked.

“Sure, what do you want to look at? We can only get enough data to fill out the dimensions of just our planet, Earth-1. However, we can view infinite dimensions of other incarnations of our world.”

“Alright, let’s go to an alternate Earth-1,” Laughed Anti-Dagger.

“Away we go,” Said Doctor Xylix as he pressed a power button on a remote he removed from his coat pocket, “I’ll take you to Earth-909, the version of our world I’ve put the most study into. Of course, they just call themselves Earth. Let’s call them New Earth. Who cares? They can’t hear us anyway.”

Dr. Xylix flipped on the screen and the camera was focused on an aerial view of Paris. The Eiffel Tower stood proud and towered over the hustle and bustle of the city below.

“What’s this, Doctor?” Anti-Dagger inquired as he analyzed the screen with intense curiosity.

“This is a city, I now know from my studies on Earth-909, is called Paris, or The City of Lights.”

“It’s gorgeous, doctor. No veneer of technology, nothing shiny, nothing chrome. Just aged brick and mortar and steel that has seen years of history.”

The Doctor laughed, “That’s a very astute assumption of you, my boy. They do have quite a history, thousands of years, in fact.”

“How do you know all this, Doctor?”

“I’ve built quite a lot of data analysis programs into this device. I’ve also enabled an audio link where you can pinpoint the exact area you want to be the source of the data collection. I’ve heard many great conversations. Their language is called French. It’s very similar to our brothers and sisters across the sea that live around the Port of Gaul. I easily broke it down and decoded it.”

The Doctor poked at the screen then touched a button on menu in the right corner. The screen shook and blurred its picture, then it clearly showed a University classroom.

“They were a tremendous help. The University of Sorbonne. I’ve sat in on quite a few lectures. Their history is terrifying, but so inexplicably intriguing. They aren’t logical and calm, like our humanity. Their passions and tempers flare like stars and suns. It’s caused them considerable problems and considerable losses, but from it, gorgeous art has flourished, so I guess we can’t judge too much. It would also seem that their perception of time is different from ours. I’ve had to slow down the data downloads considerably. It seems we move significantly faster than them. Rather, our quantum structure vibrates at a vastly different frequency than theirs.”

“Very interesting, doctor. Is there any footage of performances and any of that art you spoke of?” Anti-Dagger was extremely interested. It was as if one of his fantasy books had suddenly sprung to life and he was gazing into its bizarre, yet familiar world. He had an unusual attraction to the place, even before he’d seen the next roll of footage.

The Doctor pressed another button on the menu and the scene blurred again. When the data re-focused, a gorgeous girl was doing ballet on a stage. The sun shined through the opened windows to the theater and reflected off her glossy pink onesie. Her pale skin showed like a porcelain doll and her brown hair fell just below her slender shoulders. Anti-Dagger was speechless. He’d never recalled seeing anyone this beautiful. He stared at her flawlessly preforming graceful gesture after gesture. She moved like a dandelion in the wind, drifting blissfully to and fro across the venue and Anti-Dagger’s thoughts. The Doctor laughed when he saw how enamored Anti-Dagger was with his subjects.

“A crush on a lass from an alternate reality? That should end happily,” He quipped sarcastically.

Anti-Dagger still did not respond. He didn’t even look away from the screen. The French pixie that danced beyond the thin membrane of time and space had grabbed his whole being and refused to let go.

“Anti-Dagger, I must confess, this is not the big breakthrough. I only used this to analyze the data of that world. My breakthrough is something much more revolutionary.”

The ballerina had left the frame of the screen and Anti-Dagger was able focus on the Doctor once more.

“The big breakthrough,” The Doctor continued, “is a teleporter to Earth-909.”

Anti-Dagger’s eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open. He stared in awe at the information the doctor had just delivered.

“I’ve done extensive tests on this for the past few years. Only with the invention of this machine have I been able to actually view the other world. A lot of data had been mostly theoretical in the beginning. After that, it was only mathematical. Eventually, the data became the physical manifestation that you see before you. Throughout the experiment, I’ve made countless quantum calculations and experimented sending small things over in rudimentary ways. However, with this machine, I can get accurate data. We’ve sent several people and creatures through recently.”

“And the results?” Anti-Dagger asked in anticipation.

The Doctor looked down remorsefully.

“A few were killed and their memories will forever be exalted in the field of quantum mechanics. However, with their sacrifice and dedication, we were able to identify why certain subjects that were sent survived. It has to do with how their strings, or Quarks, vibrate at a quantum level. Certain frequencies can adapt to their world, but only during an event that permits them to adapt, which I can now identify as an opening of the thin barrier that divides our dimensions and contains each universes’ respective frequency. It only occurs every once in a while in our version of time, which means it’s even more rare in their world.”

“Why tell me all this? I’m just one of your students.”

“Well, my boy, I respect you greatly. You’re talented and have a good head on your shoulders. You’re on your way to being a great musician and scientist,” The Doctor stopped and his face became sorrowful again. He moved his lips as if to say something, but instead, he patted the young man on the back. Anti-Dagger was excellent at reading people, though, and he pressed the Doctor for what he knew.

“Doctor, if you respect me as a student and fellow scientist, please continue what you were going to say.”

The Doctor nodded quickly and nervously cleared his throat. It was difficult to formulate the sentence he wanted to deliver.

“Your vibration is a match and an opening event is on the horizon. The last few times you’ve visited, I’ve collected data with the machine and you have the adaptation frequency. I’m 100% percent positive. That makes you one of several thousand in the entirety of our world.”

“So I can visit New Earth?”

The Doctor shook his head and sighed.

“No, you can’t visit. To my knowledge, Quarks will only withstand passing through the gate once. Plus, once you are there, there is no way we can return you back. They are centuries away from this technology.”

“Couldn’t we bring our knowledge over?’

“I’ve thought of that, but I didn’t do all of this alone. Even if I could go over, I couldn’t reproduce this work without decades of dedication and study.  My frequency is not adaptable. Heck, we don’t even know how our devices will work in their world.”

Anti-Dagger thought about the ballerina. He’d give his entire life just to hold her. Anything would be worthy payment to watch her dance and be able sing to her. He thought of kissing her and he’d never felt as pleasing a reaction to a thought ever before.

“I must go, Dr. Xylix,” Anti-Dagger said after a minute of thought, “It’s not only my obligation as a scientist. I desire to be an ambassador for our dimension. I want to help these primate versions of us. I’m inexplicably drawn to them.”

“I’m afraid I can’t ask you to do that.”

“Don’t,” Anti-Dagger replied, “Ask the scientific council in charge of the project. They will select me. It’s only logical, if an adaptable frequency is as rare as you say it is. Regardless, they will have reviewed my data, given my frequency projections.”

“But your career? Your family?”

“I love them and will continue to love them. Once I’m at New Earth, I know I can find a way to get home. I absolutely know it. I know they would approve. Again, this makes logical sense. Father and Mother would be proud. And not even being on a different plane of existence can take music away from me. Please submit my paperwork,” Anti-Dagger checked his watch and saw it was 1:30, “I’ve got to be going. Thank you so much for sharing with me. Please submit my papers to the council.”

The Doctor nodded and the two said their goodbyes to each other. The remainder of the week was relatively normal for Anti-Dagger. He practiced with his band after his classes and made his way to the art complex every evening for rehearsal. Both he and his father were now content with how well rehearsed the performance was. He didn’t mention anything about New Earth or the angel faced ballerina that now crowded his thoughts and dreams.

On Sunday afternoon, as Anti-Dagger put his robe on and prepared himself for the most important performance of his life, a message arrived on his communicator. He looked at the letters that pulsed slightly on the digital screen. His heart fluttered.

You’ve been accepted and the Council admires your selfless sacrifice. Whenever you’re ready, my dear boy, meet at my office.

                                — DR. Xylix

Anti-Dagger quickly responded:

I’ll be there tonight. Thank you, Doctor.

He continued to prepare for the show and eventually rode to the Arts Complex with his Father and Mother, who were both dressed in gorgeous silk dresses and tied both their hair up with extravagant, vivid ribbons. They separated at the back entrance of the theater and Anti-Dagger went to the green room. After his warm-ups, he stood on the stage. The lights burst onto him and he delivered exactly what was expected, a genius performance. Every small detail was accounted for and considered in even its most minute aspects. Anti-Dagger was even surprised how great he had performed.

I’m a fitting ambassador. I will bring New Earth fine art and love, what they most desperately need, thought Anti-Dagger

The young man was received after the show by all manner of important people. The Mayor of New Yorkton even invited him and his family to dinner. As they ate, Anti-Dagger indulged in his last day on Earth-1 by expressing his love to his parents, but never telling them what was going to happen next. For now, he figured it best to keep the atmosphere happy.

Once the dinner was through, all parties headed home for the evening. Anti-Dagger kissed his mother and father goodnight and told them he loved them. He then left to Dr. Xylix’s office in fishnets, a miniskirt, and a black and purple shirt.

***

Anti-Dagger arrived at the Doctor’s office and was invited inside. In the Laboratory, next to the data screen, was a helmet and strings with nodes on the end that attached all over the body. Dr. Xylix stood next to both devices and looked at Anti-Dagger with a seldom seen face of absolute seriousness.

“Are you sure you want to do this? It is highly likely that you will never return to this dimension.”

“I must go, Doctor Xylix. Ever since I saw New Earth and the ballerina and the city, I can’t help but think I’m needed there. I’m drawn to that place for reasons I can’t explain. I feel they deserve compassion, peace, and art that I can give. I feel all worlds deserve it and I want to share.”

Doctor Xylix nodded and began to fiddle with a console next to his devices. He put the helmet and the nodes on Anti-Dagger.

“I’m glad you didn’t pack bags. They might not get through. Once you’re on the other side, I’ll be able to monitor you. Any messages you want to send from there, please just let me know. The world owes you a great debt, Anti-Dagger. This may give us a hope for true purpose and further our goals of peace and order.”

Anti-Dagger pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the Doctor.

“Please give this to my parents.”

“Of course.”

Anti-Dagger took a deep breath and sank into the chair that cradled him for his final journey in Earth-1.

“Are you ready to go my boy?”

“I am.”

“Where shall I drop you off?”

“Paris. The City of Lights,” Anti-Dagger closed his eyes and thought of the gorgeous ballerina, “Goodbye, Doctor and thank you for everything.”

“Thank you, my boy. May the fortune of the universe be in your favor.”

Anti-Dagger nodded and the Doctor hit a button on the console. Everything faded in Anti-Dagger’s view, much like when the data screen changed scenes. He heard popping, murmurs, and wind rushing in the distance. After, there was blackness and silence, until voice then became audible to Anti-Dagger and his vision began to get clear again. He had already sat up, it seemed.

“I’m Lushlo Faxly. I was just born. What’s your name?” the voice said in a soft, child-like tone.

The Awakening of Lushlo Faxly

The Introductions of West-Monster Part 2

It was a quiet day at the Louvre. People gathered here and there across the floors of the museum in semi-populated clusters. They gazed awkwardly up at the flawless masterpieces that clung to the drab walls like butterflies on fly paper.  In the middle of one of the more majestic areas, at the center of a pillared circle of tacky velvet rope and aluminum cylinders, stood Lushlo Faxly. He had the biggest crowd of all the exhibits, as was commonplace in the section dedicated to contemporary art. Lushlo was a modern looking art instillation depicting a realistic, clay man with various curved markings that accented the bone structure in his face. The black lines tore over his visage with chaos and symmetry delicately balanced in their patterns. It looked as if a Sumerian High Priest and a robot scrawled with black ink in separate organized quadrants on his skin. Under the lines were lips pouting with a purple shade of elegant lipstick smeared across them. In a punk rock fashion, his hair was done up in several tall braids that gathered the black mass, then feathered it out again on the other side of the ties like disheveled pig tails.

People ambled up to the rope that bordered Lushlo from them. With camera phones and cameras alike, they snapped pictures of, and with, the hollow, clay man. His pre-destined pout was captured in memory millions of times, but never changed. He looked over the meeting of the halls with mischief and diligence, casting off glares of ones who misunderstood and doubted.

“Did you hear?” An old lady said to a friend within earshot of Lushlo, “Tonight there is supposed to be a fancy cosmic event. Something going on with the Mars’ and Mercury’s moons. Boy, that’s a mouthful. They say that we’ll get to see some pretty lights here in France. Might be a few in areas around Russia and North America too, the news says.”

Lushlo would have furrowed his brow in fascination if it was physically possible. Instead, he contributed to the conversation with his trademark pout and nothing more, because he was inanimate. Eventually, the crowds cleared out in droves and nothing remained in the place but security guards and priceless art. It was quiet, Lushlo would have thought, but he couldn’t. It was dark, Lushlo would have thought, but again, he couldn’t. So he simply pouted and existed.

The outside of the Louvre was slightly more active. The lights the old woman spoke of did flare brightly in the sky around midnight. They flashed brighter and brighter, until they whited out the sky in multicolor flares. The public would say it was God. Others would say it was a miracle. But really, it was just a door opening. As the lights reached their peak brightness, they began to strobe. After a few minutes of this, a loud crack was heard over the entirety of Europe, and then unusual silence. The moment the sound had boomed was when Lushlo could recall his first thought.

As the din cracked loudly, a snoozing security guard had been startled while he guarded the clay man. As the noise shook him from his slumber, the guard tripped and fell on the slick, clean floor. At that moment, the purple, pouted lips of Lushlo Faxly, the post-modern God that stood watch over the halls at the Louvre, let out a breathy, full laugh. The joy that reverberated throughout the halls from his reaction could only be compared to the first giggle of a newborn, realizing that it has a lifetime of similar experiences ahead.

Lushlo then stood up and looked forward. He was visibly startled and could not speak. The security guard recovered from his spell and stared at Lushlo. The art piece returned the look of astonishment.

“Are you alive? How is that possible?”

“Alive. I…am…alive,” Replied Lushlo slowly. He wiggled his fingers and looked around with an almost vacant gaze.

The Security Guard looked back and smiled. He let out a belly laugh.

“Why, you are no more than a newborn.”

Lushlo heard the Guard’s joy and attempted to repeat the act he knew as laughter. However, this time, Lushlo couldn’t let it out correctly and it burst from his mouth as a horrid cackle. Needless to say, the security guard was frightened away. As Lushlo made chase, he fell forward. He picked both his legs up and began to move them in a walking fashion, emulating what he’d seen the guard do. As soon as Lushlo could walk, the Security Guard was far away from the exhibit.  Lushlo, lost, did the only thing he could. He found a bright light and followed it. Its green glare seemed to emanate from floating symbols and a pointed arrow hanging from the ceiling. Exit signs. Lushlo followed one after another until he stood behind the closed front doors of the museum. Outside, he saw someone laying on the street unconscious, as if they had been attacked by the fervor that broke out in the sky. Around this time, the clay man began to realize he was now made of flesh. He investigated his body and words began to make sense to him. He began to think clearly.

“I’m Lushlo Faxly. An art installation come to life,” Lushlo smiled, “Far out, man.”

He turned the lock to get out into the courtyard. The door swung wide open in the brisk night as Lushlo made his way to the person lying on the street. As he approached the being, he couldn’t discern their gender. Lushlo felt confident he had fully developed his understanding of sex identification, but he still couldn’t figure it out. Then he thought to himself:

Does it really matter? I should help. 

So he flipped the person over and began to push air into their lungs. Lushlo didn’t know why he knew to do that, but it was helping none the less. Eventually, the person came too. Both their lipsticks were smeared across each other’s faces. Lushlo tilted his head and smiled.

“I’m Lushlo Faxly. I was just born. What’s your name?”

The person blinked their eyes and sat up. Lushlo noticed an adam’s apple that sat under the stranger’s thin, feminine jaw. It began to pulse and contract as he spoke.

“My name is Anti-Dagger. What the hell happened? Where am I?”

“I don’t know. What kind of name is Anti-Dagger, though? That’s weird.”

“What kind of a name is Lushlo Faxly?” said Anti-Dagger as he rubbed dust from his mascara covered eyes. His flowing hair was black and green with tints of purple dyed in. It fell gracefully on his thin shoulders that were covered in purple and black cloth. His arms and legs were wrapped in midnight fishnets and a miniskirt. They picked his thin frame up from the ground.

“Why were you lying on the ground?” Lushlo asked while tilting his head to the side, “Is it for fun?”

“Jesus, are you naïve or just stupid?” Anti-Dagger responded.

“Both,” Lushlo looked back with a quizzical look, “or maybe it was neither? It could have possibly been one or the other too.”

Anti-Dagger broke into a subtle smug smile, “I like you. You’re clever.”

The doorway of the Louvre became populated with several guards that were pointing at the men on the street.

“Friends of yours?” Anti-Dagger asked.

“I don’t know. Let’s ask them!” Lushlo said and approached the guards enthusiastically.

A Police cruiser carrying Lushlo and Anti-Dagger left from the museum about thirty minutes later. Both men were cuffed in the back of the car. Anti-Dagger was cursing in an unknown dialect at a blushing Lushlo. Art theft was the major charge that was shouted at them while they were being booked by the Parisian Metropolitan Police Force. They sat the two in a cell until bail could be made or other arrangements were decided upon given that neither of the men had any sort of earthly identity. One was an androgynous, colorful man who spouted crazy stories about another world and the other was a Lushlo Faxly fanatic dressing as their idol, at least the cops thought.

“What do we do now?” Anti-Dagger asked between lines of undecipherable, angry words.

“We wait and gain our bearings. Apparently this is a new world for both of us and we’ll need all our senses lucid to survive,” Lushlo seemed to be much more intelligent now as if he were learning at a rapid rate.

Anti-Dagger nodded and both men sat twiddling their thumbs, waiting for destiny to kick in the door of prison cell and set them free.

The Birth of the Goat King

The Introductions of West-Monster Part 1

“Are the drums ready yet?” A tall, hooded figure stood with his legs steeped in deep snow. His words mixed with the fog of his breath and floated into the frozen, Norwegian air. Dozens of other hooded men crowded around him in an acre sized clearing deep in the tundra whipped forest.

“The drums are ready, High Seraphim. The mechanisms we stole from the Grizzly are attached and in an idle state,” Replied an adjacent figure. The only difference between his robe and the High Seraphim’s was an emblem of Baphomet on the right shoulder of the latter. Instead of Baphomet, the nameless subordinate had a rune sown on with several bright color triangles surrounding it like sunrays from sun out of a child’s coloring book.

“Let the ritual commence. Tonight we birth the Goat King,” The High Seraphim raised his palms into the air. The rest of the congregation screeched and threw up their arms. A stage and band were set-up at the front of the group and they began to attack the silence of forest with rapid, irreverent chords from distorted guitars. The bass drums pounded in unison with the rapid heartbeats of the cultists as they circled in a frenzy around a pentagram at the center of the clearing. The demonic symbol was inscribed on a 12’ X 12’ sheet of thin wood in a dark red substance that was laid on the ground. Oddly, no snow fell on the symbol despite the fact it tumbled from the sky in sizable quantities. At each of the five points of the shape sat a black, steel drum inscribed with cuneiforms and ancient Futhark runes. Secured to tops of the drums were absurd looking machines. They looked too thin to have any functioning parts. The bronze, riveted squares that held together the contraptions were set up in fours and were no more than a half-inch high, thick, and wide. There were no runes on them and they hummed softly, as music howled over them.

“Ready the Frequency Projection and Manipulation devices!” The High Seraphim screeched, “Tonight, we will eat with the Demi-God of Entropy and Chaos.”

The noise came to a climax, then the High Seraphim gestured for silence. He stood upon the stage and another nameless robe rushed onstage with a podium. He put in front of the High Seraphim, handed him a microphone, bowed, and then disappeared into the sea of black robes.

“Brothers of the Dark Throne! Bards of the black magicks! Hear me now, for after, there may be no peace, no order, no hierarchy, no Brothers of the Dark Throne left. Tonight, at the meeting of the sun and the moon, when the moons of the Mars and Mercury align to the divine coordinates, it is prophesized a gate will open. Its contents, though unknown to man, are believed to be the inhabitants of the cracks between realities. The creatures that dance and dwell between the Pearly gates and the fires of Hell. This is where Goat King resides; just above the highest rungs of Hell, guarding its gates from intruders with his deep, eternal lullabies. It is written that he is Satan’s banished minstrel. His melodies too chaotic and too powerful to be contained in the throne room.”

The cult burst into tremendous shouts praising their plan and the Goat King alike. The High Seraphim raised his hands again and the group’s fervor died down within seconds.

“The Frequency Projection and Manipulation devices will alter the physical area around us, drawing power from the cosmic gate, and creating an opening at this very pentagram. This will bring him to us. We do this for our ultimate goal. The Anarchy of the Goat King. We will die. All will die. And all will be reborn. And we will be rewarded in the coming Age of Chaos and Anarchy with power and wealth. The Goat King will deliver all this to us, his faithful servants: The Dark Throne.”

Five hooded figures now loomed over the pentagram’s points, waiting for the signal of the High Seraphim.

“Play the Awakening hymn. Start the Frequency devices. May Darkness be with us all and shield us from the fiery heat of Hell.”

The band began a very melancholy song. It had several measures that were choppy and hard to listen to as if they could not be appreciated by mortal ears. In fact, most of the song was written in complicated rhythms and patterns with deep tones and sorrowful, yet rapid chord progressions. As the band played, some members from the back defected and scattered into the darkness of the forest out of fear. The devices were enabled by the touch of each of the robed men. The squares thumped on the drums and emitted a sound of their own. It was three notes in unison that could almost be heard over the Awakening Hymn.

“Brothers!” Screamed the High Seraphim, “Welcome our new leader. Welcome the Goat King!”

From the pentagram, a mirror framed in crystalized blood and fire rose. It sat about six feet above the ground in the center of the clearing. However, it just hovered there. Something was wrong.

The Frequency devices now played their chord louder than the band’s music. It got so intense it began to puncture the eardrums of all the attendees. Blood leaked from all the ears of the congregation and the High Seraphim fell to the ground in a fit of rage and pain.

“Goddamit! The Grizzly’s devices are malfunctioning! My ears.”

By then, most of the group had passed out. The last to fall was the band, but after they did, there was only the symbol, the mirror, and the devices with the deadly hum that were functioning.

An ebony hand reached out from the other side of the mirror and grabbed at the air of Earth. Grasping desperately, the hand eventually caught on the edge of the mirror and held it hard. From the gate a normal looking man pulled himself through, with the exception of a black cross and pure, white ash that had seemingly been burned onto his face. It did not blend with the skin that covered the rest of his body. He looked around and listened. His eyes widened in terror as he heard what the machines were humming.

“A D major. The chord of love, peace, and compassion. Above the Gods of all the dimensions, above all the pillars that hold apart Heaven and Hell that have existed never and forever, I cannot disobey music,” He looked back into the mirror and cried into it, “Lucifer, I require a human mind and soul. You made this pact when you allowed me to be sent here. These are from the old accords, between you and the Holiest of Holies. I came into the physical realm as a being of music and was ushered in by the chord of peace. Please, I beseech thee, give me what I require to continue.”

After several seconds, a piercing light shot from the mirror and into the Goat King’s eyes. They lit up ivory white and the cross on his forehead illuminated. Suddenly the mirror shattered and the Goat King fell forward onto the Pentagram.

As the demi-god picked himself up from the wood, he noticed the High Seraphim stirring. Blood had been leaking from his ears and it fell to the ground as he regained consciousness. The High Seraphim stumbled to his feet and looked forward.

“Goat King! We have resurrected you to cull the non-believers. To kill all who stand in the way of anarchy and the divine plans of Chaos. Kill the unworthy, sweet savior. Kill them all.”

The Goat King walked to the High Seraphim, who was trembling with excitement and terror. He placed his hands around the robed man’s temple and closed his eyes.

“I see a desire to corrupt peace. A yearning to denounce love. A need to kill compassion and all those that wield it.”

The Goat King let go and picked up the bass guitar laying unattended by the unconscious band members.

“Yes, Goat King. I want love, peace, and compassion erased from this existence and all who wield their powers with them,” The High Seraphim no longer feared now and stared with a smile at the demi-god.

The Goat King begin to pick slowly at the strings as his fingers gracefully danced from fret to fret.

“Your mistake was allowing me to come into the world in the key of D Major,” The demi-god said calmly, “I am now bound to those tenants that you yearn to have forsaken and abolished. I am slave to their divine beauty, as all mortals are. However, I can do one thing for you.”

The High Seraphim heard the Goat King’s words echoing in his head. He responded with a thought:

What gifts do you bring, oh mighty Goat King?

The Goat King began to play faster and faster, until he was playing the guitar quicker and more graceful than any mortal has ever played.

“In the interest of peace, love, and compassion, I will give you and your brothers what you most desire. To be united with Lucifer.”

The High Seraphim crinkled his face into terror and began to scream. “No, Goat King. Please no! Lucifer can’t be forgiving. Lucifer can’t be,” The High Seraphim caught his tongue.

“Controlled,” Said the Goat King completing the doomed cultist’s sentence, “You are the bane of my current goals. The old accords have spoken. I serve peace, love, and compassion and will seek a being to shower with these gifts, as it is written. As for you all, Lucifer will do what I can’t, prevent you from meddling in the affairs of both Pantheons through eternal torture, so I can achieve my goal.”

As he finished his statement, a fiery dome enveloped his guitar, then the High Seraphim, and eventually the entirety of the clearing. All the cultists woke and screamed as their skins were burned from their bodies, yet they remained alive to feel every bit. As the Black Throne incinerated, their remains disappeared without a trace. The Goat King then slowed down his melody and stopped. As he finished, the dome disappeared and the clearing was empty. No stage, no band, no cultists, no mirror, no wooden summoning platform. Just a naked, black demi-god and a cold white wasteland. Goat King noticed the tracks that lead into the clearing. He hopped from the stage into the snow below. The bass, which had been burnt slightly, bounced on his torso as he made his way to the tracks.

“I must find mortals to achieve my goals and go home. I must provide true peace, love, and compassion to those that reside in this realty.”

With that, the Demi-God followed the tracks and blended seamlessly into the Norwegian night, destined to find what he was searching for.

Masterpiece

I could never be Clark Gable,
And I cannot sing and dance like Danny Kaye.
My obsession could never compete
With what Poe’s love prose had to say.

Honesty, like Hughes and Hemingway,
Won’t do you justice in the least.
And Picasso is much too crass and abstract,
For you, my living and breathing movable feast.

Kafka and Nietzsche have taught me
What emptiness is like and likened to.
But that nothingness is vanquished
As I gaze at a faded picture of you.

I’m not as wise as Lord Byron
Nor am I as verbose as Joyce.
But my heart feels like Whitman’s words
Whenever I hear your beautiful voice.

There is nothing here or anywhere
That you’re seraphic form can or can’t be.
But I think it is impossibly wonderful,
That you’re in every masterpiece that I see.

You are the masterpiece
You were always meant to be.
You are the masterpiece
That resides deep inside of me.

Lohem

John slipped an antique key into a shiny lock barring the cellar door of his work shed. The hinges didn’t creak as the heavy plank of wood and steel swung open and slammed on the adjacent dirt. John switched on his electric lantern, grabbed the parcel beside him and entered the cellar, placing his feet on each warped, wooden step with absolute precision.

He made his way to the center of a small room and flipped on a group of floodlights he’d installed. The room burst with piercing, white light, illuminating most of the dark place. An old, wooden fence blocked off about a quarter of the cellar’s space and the name “LOHEM” was scrawled all over it in crusted, bloody symbols. The name was written in dozens of languages, but they all meant the same thing; the ancient demon, Lohem.

John knelt down and opened the parcel. He was undaunted by the barrier a few feet before him and did not cringe or furrow his brow in fear when he approached it. A filled mason jar with a label that read “Lamb’s Blood” sat in the box by his feet. As John screwed open the lid on the jar, short hairs pricked up on the back of his neck and his stomach twisted into all types of knots. He knew he was being watched. However, John continued the task at hand, as he always had. He pulled a brush from inside the parcel and dipped it carefully into the blood, making sure not to drip any onto the floor below. Once the brush was saturated, John moved to the fence and began painting over the old symbols with fresh blood. On the other side of the fence, a boy – no more than thirteen years old – emerged from a shadow and glared at John with intense, blue eyes. John deliberately moved closer to the fence so that the boy’s gaze was below his own, to avoid direct eye contact.

John painted with hasty precision, never crossing the borders of the wooden barrier and the bloody lettering. A silent tension permeated the room and the knots in John’s stomach had not yet untied. This stress had become routine for John; however, the monotony did not quell the anger that constantly frothed inside him.

John wanted to scream; he wanted to break the silence and curse the demon for causing the tragedy that continued to plague his family. He wanted to break open the gate, rip the little boy’s limbs off one by one, and curse at God for the horrible situation that was destroying what little life he had left.

John continued to paint in the painful silence. Not a single word was spoken between the two of them during the entire inscription process. John splashed some sealant over the wood and clicked on his lantern. He picked up the parcel containing the dirty brush and jar, then turned off the floodlights. Even though Lohem was not visible, John knew the demon’s stare had not left him the entire time. As John’s foot hit the top step before exiting the cellar, Lohem’s child-like voice piped up softly.

“Hey, John.”

John stopped in place without returning a verbal response.

“Hey, John,” the demon calmly repeated. “I’m going to kill your whole family.”

John continued out of the cellar as if nothing had been said. He slammed the door shut and barred it with the board and lock. Even with the thick door covering the entrance, John could hear Lohem’s voice, which had switched to high-pitched, hoarse scream.

“I’m going to kill your whole family! I’m going to kill your whole family!”

​***

John returned to the sub-basement with parcel and key and started the same painstaking routine as the previous day. Once John flipped on the floodlights, he noticed Lohem in the corner of his cell, sitting casually as if he were waiting for something. The boy’s blonde hair covered half his handsome face and an indifferent, unnatural smile sat on his jaw, as if someone had stapled the sides of his mouth below his ears.

“Sorry about yesterday, John.” Lohem said calmly, easing out of the uncomfortable silence. “I wasn’t feeling very well. I heard about some things from the Underworld that you wouldn’t believe. All I have to say is to never gamble with Pythos or any of his cheating spawn. Every time, they will just screw you.”

John opened the lamb’s blood without responding. He continued the ritual as though no one was speaking to him. Lohem turned his head to the side and sucked his teeth.

“Oh, come on now, John. The silent treatment? Aren’t you a little old for that?” Lohem pretended to check a watch on his wrist. “Ten months and six days without a word. Good job! For you fleshy apes, that’s quite a feat.”

John dipped the brush and began covering the letters and symbols from the day before. He didn’t speak; tension slowly filled the room for several minutes before Lohem spoke up again.

“Remember Christmas, John? You got so drunk. That loosed your tongue a little bit. Remember that nice chat we had? Why can’t we be close like that again, friend?”

John paused; he remembered that Christmas. He had had a falling out with Veronica, his wife, while all her family was staying at the house. They typically stayed at John’s during the holidays and were unaware of Lohem’s presence. John never had any support, his family was all dead. He decided that drinking away his problems was the best course of action rather than losing another argument with Veronica. After draining several quarts of whiskey, he remembered the daily ritual had not been completed. John stumbled into the cellar, ignoring caution and letting routine guide most of his actions. That cold Christmas night, John and Lohem spoke almost civil. They talked extensively about their bloody past, as well as the demon’s stories of religion. John even began talking about his personal life.

Lohem’s charm and wit were unparalleled by anyone in John’s plane of existence and John was in a dark place at the time.  That is why he felt he had poured himself out to the demon. Lohem had killed everyone John had ever loved, but when his hope diminished and he loved nothing, Lohem’s pull became too great.

“How’s the family, John? Veronica still giving you trouble? Bitches, right?” Lohem said from behind the fence, snapping John back into the present. “You should just kill her. It’d make everything a lot easier, anyway. You do hate her, right?”

John ground his teeth behind closed lips. He faced straight forward scowling as he hastily flicked the warped, wet bristles of the old brush against the wood.

“And I know what you’re thinking,” Lohem shrugged, “’What about the kids?’ Well, John, they’ve gotta go too. How else can we make you a truly free man?”

John did not reply.

“Murder aside, what you and your wife have is most definitely not healthy. I’m coming from the perspective of a concerned third party, friend. I’ve been talking with Lillith, the Mistress of Lust, and apparently Veronica’s banging other guys — but you already knew that. Hell, I told you about it the day after it first happened. If I were you, I’d want a little revenge. I can help with that.”

John almost completed the inscription process. He forced himself to sing a joyful song as he finished the remainder of the work to block out Lohem’s words.

“Are you still mad I possessed and murdered your family? Is that why you ignore me? I apologized for that! Forgiveness is that human thing that keeps you guys going. Come on!” Lohem’s playful smirk left his face and was replaced by an unwavering, piercing scowl. He ran to the fence and his tone turned deep and rang with an inhuman reverb. Words exploded from his mouth and the tone did not seem like it belonged to the young child’s mouth it came from. “It’s boring in this damn cage! Give me some company, stupid mortal. You should be thanking me. Murder frees your dirty souls, pushing you closer to gnosis and your precious Abraxas. Don’t you want to live with the God of Light! You should be worshipping my slaughter, God damn it!”

John finished painting and packed his gear in the center of the room. He was at the bottom step of the stairs, lights off and torch illuminated, within seconds. As he moved up the steps, Lohem’s voice became soft and calm again.

“I’ll get out one day, John. The underworld will set me free. These archaic spells can’t hold me forever. Could the priest that locked me in here save your brother as he I ripped his organs from his torso? Could his spells save your parents as I pushed my claws slowly into their fragile necks?   I may be stuck here in my physical body, but in the Underworld, the dark plane, my spirit plans with my brothers to get me free. Your obstacles are the weakest type of magic. I’ll get out. Mark my words.”

The doors shut. Lohem’s voice became muffled and eventually died out. John walked several hundred yards from the shed in silence. Once he knew he couldn’t be heard by anyone in the cellar or the house, he dropped everything he was holding and fell to his knees. The parcel’s brown paper ripped as the jar shattered on the tree roots below. John balled his fists and clenched every muscle in his body. He shook in uncontrollable anger and repeatedly smashed his fists into the ground beneath him. He continued this until blood and tears wet the soil.

The foul mixture splashed back at his face. John stopped and knelt in silence. Lohem lost today, but it still tortured John. There was no solace in his victory anymore.

***

John entered the cellar, as he had every day the last twenty five years. When he flipped on the floodlights he noticed that Lohem wasn’t in the cage. Instead, John’s daughter Marie sat in the corner, hysterically crying. John remained straight-faced as he knelt down to unwrap his parcel.

“Daddy,” Marie cried, “Lohem tricked me! I’m stuck in here. Please help me before Lohem gets me, Daddy!”

John did not deviate from what he was doing. He continued to prepare the brush and blood. The girl’s lips bunched up and she winced. Her legs carried her to the edge of the cage near John.

“Daddy, please! Lohem tricked me with a puppy. I followed it and now I’m stuck! I’ll give back anything, Daddy. I’ll give back my Christmas presents and birthday presents. Just let me out, please!”

For the first time in a long while, John dropped his brush and acknowledged the entity in his work cellar. He squatted at the fence and stared into the girl’s innocent, emerald eyes.

“You are not my daughter,” John stated calmly and returned to work.

“But Daddy, it’s me! I’m Marie and I’m 4 years old and Dawson is my brother and we like to play football. Let me out before Lohem gets me!”

John dipped the brush and began to paint over the previous day’s work.

There was no way that Marie could get into the shed. John knew. Not again. After Marie had first been tricked by the demon a few months before, John upgraded the lock and removed all keys except the original. He kept it in a lockbox, next to his revolver, in the back of the master bedroom closet. This didn’t stop the girl in front of him from begging with the remainder of the breath in her tiny lungs.

“Daddy, please let me out.” The girl moved closer to the fence and John. “I found the key in your metal box. Mommy said the password on accident when talking to Nana. I wanted to come protect you from the bad guy!”

John worked as if no one were in the room. The girl screamed louder.

“You selfish bastard! Open the Goddamn door and let me out! I’m your daughter, you moron!” The girl’s pretty eyes sunk into the back of her head and her voice became booming. Her small lips opened and revealed gritting, jagged teeth with gums that leaked blood as she spoke.

“I’m your daughter. Let me out of this cage. You’re a monster, John.”

The girl’s body ripped down its center, and Lohem’s true form emerged from the husk. The creature had fiery red and black eyes and it stood unnaturally on its hands and feet. Its flesh was a rotten grey color and hung off its frail frame, dropping decayed pieces on the ground below as it moved.

The demon continued its angry rant.

“Everything you have ever loved and will love is going die by my hand. I will never rest until I am free. My spirit can still speak to the Underworld. They will help me. They will liberate me and I will drink the blood of your family once again.”

Fortunately, John had finished the day’s lamination and began his exit. Lohem stopped speaking. The demon just stared, its pupils like sun-struck rubies in the blackness. They never left John until the cellar door slammed shut.

Once the cellar was locked, John sprinted towards home and shouted in the direction of the patio.

“Marie? Are you there, sweetheart?”

After a pause of several seconds, Marie waddled out onto the porch.

“Yes, Daddy?” She replied.

John ran to the girl, scooped her into his arms, and held her tight. “I love you, baby. No matter what happens, know that I will always love you.” He clenched his eyes tightly to fight back his tears of relief.

“I know, Daddy. I love you too!” Marie spread her arms out wide. “This much!”

​***

Later that month. John made his way to the cellar. He saw Lohem waiting for him as a boy in an inviting, calm position seated against the wall at the back of the cage, tossing pebbles at the fence. The stones sailed toward the gaps in the wood. As they reached the border of the fence, they fell motionless within the cage.

“I’m not going to trick you today, John.” Lohem said, for once without trying to manipulate John, “I’ve spoken to a few parties in the Underworld, and they have a way to get me home. It’s going to take a while, but they’ve guaranteed it is a legitimate process.”

John ignored Lohem, as he had countless times before, and painted without a reply.

“I wanted you to know that up front because I’d like to make a deal. You see, getting trapped in the mortal realm can be a reputation-destroyer. I would prefer to go back on my own terms — to save face as your species says. If you let me go right now, I’ll leave you and your family alone. If you’d like, I won’t even return to this country. All you have to do is get rid of those runes and open the gate, then, voila! I’m gone forever.” Lohem made a motion in the air as if he were popping a bubble with his fingers.

John had no interest bargaining with demons. He continued his strokes with hesitation. This game was new.

“John, I know there is not a strong foundation for our relationship. We both know I’m, what you would call, evil, but that’s just my nature. All of us demons are bred for this shit. Despite my divine handicap, I am actually quite reasonable. We both know I want out of here, but I can’t do it quietly on my own. Let me help you by allowing you to bury the hatchet. We can forget all this business between us, and you can work on your failing marriage. No more stupid daily painting, no more demon tension, no more tired rituals. Just a normal life with normal, human problems. That sounds nice, right?”

John didn’t alter his expression. Deep inside he considered making the deal, even though he knew Lohem wouldn’t honor the agreement. Thirsting to get reparation for lost time with human blood, the demon would massacre John and his family, making a great spectacle of their death.

John thought the idea of death didn’t seem like a bad option. It couldn’t be worse than what he had to live with. A terrible wife with an average job, ambling ignorantly toward a natural death. Suddenly, the thought of Marie and Dawson entered John’s mind, and he banished his notions of bowing to evil. He finished the letters and packed his gear.

John’s finger was on the floodlights while Lohem continued to try to convince him. “If you refuse this offer, I will kill you all. You, your children, and your wife. They will bleed and feed me and my terrible brothers. Don’t take this lightly, my friend. Eventually, I will get out and you will reap the consequences you’ve sown by keeping me imprisoned. Do we have a deal?”

Lohem held his hand out behind the wooden fence, offering an open palm to the man. John hesitated at the floodlights for a second, then flipped them off. He made his way to the top step and spoke.

“No deal. I’d rather see you rot in here, you son of a bitch.” The door slammed and the cellar was quiet.

​***

John entered the cellar again a few days later. He felt a peculiar twinge as he opened the door and walked down the stairs. It felt as if no one was watching him and this scared John more than it relieved him. As he powered on the floodlights, a piece of dirty, folded parchment was taped to the cement wall. John grabbed the paper and opened it. On the inside, only two words were written:

“I’m out.”

John looked at the fence and saw that all the runes had been burnt off, leaving no trace of them. Breathless and panicked, John ran to the opening of the cage and found the gate ajar, still swinging softly. Terror bubbled up in John’s stomach as the horrible realization dawned on him:

Lohem was gone.

The White Light

“There was nothing but a flash of light, then Baptiste was dead.” Venn stared at the ground while he spoke. His commanding officer stood in front of him, speechless. “His stomach was cut from the waist up and his entrails were strung about in the trees. It’s almost like whatever killed him was trying to send a message.”

Venn didn’t have the courage to report that he was enamored by the radiance of the light. His black, bearded face remained stern and still, yielding seriousness that was not common amongst the resource extraction crews that were now being sent deep into the forest. He was a strong, thick man that looked accustomed to the horrors of the old world, but he was noticeably shaken by the events that had taken place during his task. He’d never seen anything as morbid or beautiful in his life.

“Were there any other losses?” The Commanding Officer asked after gaining his composure.

“Pierre is missing, but that’s it. Baptiste gored and Pierre MIA. That leaves 5 left in the company, including myself.” Venn replied, remaining at attention. He knew to respect the military, as they paved the way for the new world. Once the coup occurred and Belsace became a militant country, manufacturing and extraction teams were significantly increased and an emphasis was put on material procurement and technologies development. The reason for this was fairly obvious, the country was preparing for war and all of Belsace knew this. Whether the majority of the populace approved of war between countries was an entirely different matter.

The commanding officer, Fitz, looked over the remainder of the extraction company and relinquished his orders in an emotionless tone. 

“Pack it up. We are heading back to L’All.”

Venn relaxed and gestured to his subordinates to follow the Commander. Venn and the commanding officer both mounted their horses and led the team out of the ancient forest. They walked a trail of dead trees and foliage that had been created when they first cut their way through to the planned extraction point. However, due to Venn’s heightened perception and caution after the incident, he noticed now how untouched the forest had actually been before they began to hack at it. The verdant ropes that hung like cobwebs from trees off the trail looked like they hadn’t been tended to since man had first stepped into Belsace. The trees weren’t like the ones around L’All. These trees were accustomed to the dark secrets of time and seemed to keep them in the hues of their bark. Gray and brown trunks that were fat with age and experience warned the men that this place had been untouched for a reason. The black niches that were spaced in the distance of the forest seemed to flaunt mystery that enticed Venn, bringing on a macabre curiosity that burned like a fire in the man’s belly.

After traveling for several hours, the group of men arrived at the South Gate of L’All. The stone wall that surrounded the city was well kept and shined bright white in setting sun. Guards posted at the gate noticed the Commander immediately and hit a switch that pulled up the steel barrier slowly. The men made their way into the city and were greeted by several people in the town square just beyond the South Gate. While the team was engaged in conversation with the people, the Commander moved closer to Venn.

“We’ve got a council meeting ASAP. Go home, get cleaned up, and meet me at the Town Hall in an hour.” The Commander whispered.

Venn nodded as Fitz proceeded to dismiss the remainder of the company. After everyone had left from the Square, Venn headed home. It didn’t take him more than fifteen minutes to get cleaned up, so he decided to spend his spare time listening to news on the radio. Advertising for the newly available motorcars crowded the airwaves, though, and Venn immediately became disinterested. He flipped off the radio and hailed a carriage to get to the Town Hall. L’All was quite small, so Venn knew he’d have a few minutes to waste after the carriage arrived at its location. However, once he’d exited the carriage, the Commander was waiting for him at the front of the large, stone doors of the hall.

“Tellanin,” The Commander said, addressing Venn by his last name in traditional military fashion, “Make sure you have an exact recollection of the events leading to discovery of Baptiste’s corpse. I want every minuscule detail accounted for. It seems like the higher ups are arriving. High Mystic Guillermo, Chief Biologist Dana Canne, and Brigadier General Tah plan to attend the meeting.”

“I understand the High Mystic and Ms. Canne attending, but why would Brigadier General Tah be here? We are such a small province; I’d think he has bigger things on his plate.” Venn replied in mild shock.

“There has been an excess of these unexplained killings around L’All and a few provinces at the borders of Belsace. Tah will be here to address the security concerns posed by the Mayor and his prefects.”

“Government covering it’s ass to prevent another revolt?”

“I’d watch my mouth if I were you. You’re clever, but cleverness is not always conducive to social well-being.” The Commander responded sternly.

“My apologies, sir.” Venn made a salute of respect. “Will the mayor be in attendance? The Head Prefect?”

“Yes, both will be here. However, you know how useful they are when it comes to reports from the field. Hell, I don’t know if Mayor Gallen or Prefect Yahn have even been in a forest before. That’s why High Mystic Guillermo had you and I brought in.”

After a few more minutes of small talk between Venn and the Commander, several ornate carriages moved by ivory white horses arrived with the remainder of the council that would be meeting. Tah arrived in his formal, public attire; dressed head to toe in thick, brown leather and jeweled medals. His feet clicked on the stone street as he hauled his enormous, strong body through the Town Hall doors. He was followed closely by Mayor Gallen and three prefects, who were all in government uniform. From the third carriage, the High Mystic and Chief Biologist stepped out casually. Ms. Canne was wearing a plain, beige jumper that was custom for field scientists. High Mystic Guillermo was dressed in flowing purple robes that looked soft to the touch and showed all over with the reflection of the sun. Canne and Guilllermo exchanged pleasantries with the Commander and Venn as the remainder of the party outside made their way into the Town Hall. Once everyone was seated in the conference room that was set-up, the meeting began.

“Greetings everyone, we are here to discuss a case brought to us by our MPs this morning.” Tah said, opening a briefcase and grabbing several manilla report folders. “The case number is 847-B78, if you’d like to review with me. We are investigating the death of one Private Rene Baptiste and the disappearance of one Pierre Fontaine.”

Each member of the group grabbed the files that had been laid before them and opened to the first page of the dossier while Tah continued.

“We have one eye witness account from the leader of the party, Extraction Specialist and Crew Lead Venn Tellanin,” Tah paused, looked up, and pointed at Venn, “that would be you, correct?”

“Yes sir.” Venn said as he nodded.

“We’ve got the paper work here, but why don’t you give us your account of the events.” Tah said as he put the report down in front of him on the table.

“Alright,” Venn stood up and spoke, making sure to address everyone at the table during his speech, “We were doing a standard resource extraction. Foliage and fauna from Quadrant 6 to Quadrant 8 were ordered removed by the Belsace Department of Agriculture and Technology. Obviously, this was a mission of at least intermediate difficulty as we were ordered deep into the Great Forest, near to the borders of Verican. We followed the proper pre-cautions when cutting our trail out and it took us about day and a half to get the purposed removal spot. We arrived, set-up our equipment, and began to cull the area without issue. There were a few large animals. You know, bears and the like, but we made 100% sure that they were the first to be culled and their resources were taken and stored. It was just toward the end of the mission, as we began to cut the trees that we started to hear rustling in the foliage just beyond our worksite. This seemed peculiar to us as we had already culled the three quadrants of fauna, so we investigated and found nothing but sticks and leaves. We dismissed it as harmless superstition and made our camp for the evening. When we awoke the next morning, we went to cut one of the remaining trees in our final quadrant and then a great white flash occurred.” Venn looked down and paused, then returned to his speaking position. “It was beautiful. The flash, that is. It was one of the purest, radiant lights I had ever seen. If it hadn’t been for the death of Baptiste, I’d have said we saw an angel that day. The light blinded us for several minutes as we scrambled around in confusion, then the light disappeared. When we had gained our composure, we saw that Baptiste’ corpse was prepared at the source of the light. His torso was split down the center and his internal organs were hung from a tree and sprawled across all the branches. That’s when we sent a message to inform the Commander, who arrived the next morning.” Venn bowed his head and sat down, indicating he was finished with his report.

“Well, I think it’s obvious what happened.” High Mystic Guillermo chimed in.

“Please enlighten us, Guillermo.” Tah replied.

“As you all know, I’m the High Mystic, appointed to keep the knowledge of magic that was lost after the War of Tribes. Personally, I believe this is the re-emergence of magical forces into our border. Yes, Verican were allies in the War of Tribes and magic was successfully removed from that country. However, Bule, Yi, and Hjaffagher still live in the balance of magic and industry. Maybe, just maybe, a natural magical entity has found a way to penetrate our borders and take back some of its land. I suspect a Unicorn, maybe a Manticore.”

“I personally disagree with Guillermo on this point. We destroyed the Belsace crystals, we destroyed the forest, plains and mountain guardians in all of our regions, we tortured and culled all the witches and wizards, the Children of the forest are dead, and we’ve all but completely eliminated the practice of magic in Belsace. A creature like a Unicorn could not possibly survive. In addition, Unicorns are pure beings, they wouldn’t kill a human.” Chief Biologist Canne was speaking with respect and was not attempting to discredit Guillermo’s claim, just offering a different perspective.

“What are your thoughts, Gallen?” Tah asked.

Mayor Gallen shifted uncomfortably in his seat, looking from Prefect to Prefect, hoping one had concocted a provocative thought. When no Prefects spoke up, Gallen addressed the group.

“Something must be done.” Gallen replied and sat.

Commander Fitz rolled his eyes and raised two fingers indicating he’d like to speak. Tah pointed to him and he rose. “Indeed, I respect Gallen’s opinion and agree.” Fitz said, restraining his sarcasm. It wasn’t out of respect for Gallen, but Fitz knew, to get all the resources he needed, he’d need Gallen on his side. “We should send another crew out. This time, they will be more prepared for investigation. I, of course, volunteer myself. I’d also like if I could bring the original extraction crew out with Venn leading them.”

Venn noticeably twisted in his chair.

“Is there a problem with this, Tellanin?” Fitz asked.

“Not for me, no. The money is great and the government has always taken good care of me. However, it’s going to be difficult to get a crew of four average men to return to an area of uncertain doom.”

“Well, we’ll have to sweeten the incentive then.” Tah replied, “Do you think we could persuade them for 500 Coils per person for the mission, plus expenses?”

“500 coils? That’s a hefty chunk of change. I don’t know if that’s necessary, General Tah.” Fitz interrupted.

“We must do whatever is necessary to ensure the security and well-being of the Belsacian standard of living. Despite Ms. Cannes expert analysis, I think we should be prepared for the worst; a magical encounter. A manticore would be an easy kill; however, if by some impossible occurrence, we encounter a Unicorn, we’ll need to be prepared. I speak for everyone when I saw if a Unicorn is involved, there are more potent sorcery at play. The research party will include the extraction crew of five, including Mr. Tellanin, Commander Fitz, and a small dispatch of mid-rank infantry. You’ll investigate the area, destroy what you find, and return with any significant artifacts from your work. I think that will end the session. I’ll have the Prefects write up a mission brief and you’ll head into the Great Forest early tomorrow.”

Everyone shuffled out of the town hall and Commander Fitz met with Venn after the meeting.

“Call your men together. We leave for the Great Forest tomorrow. Let them know of the additional incentive and the main objective, search and destroy. If there are any staffing problems, let me know and we’ll substitute with mid-rank infantry. Beyond that, please keep all details and speculation from the meeting to yourself.”

Venn nodded and went home. He picked up his telephone and tapped into the extraction crew line, leaving an APB that all men in his extraction crew were set to leave tomorrow. By the end of the evening, he’d gotten replies from all of his men. Three had signed on; the other respectfully declined the mission. Venn reported the numbers to Fitz then began to pack his equipment for the next day. As Venn packed, he couldn’t get the idea of the white light out of his mind. It was so enticing and inexplicably beautiful. One thought kept him from sleeping. In his mind, it was a terrible thought, but it sat so well in his gut that he couldn’t explain why he was content with it:

I’d have died to stay in that white light.

***

The company had been traveling for several hours that morning. Fitz and Venn were on horseback, leading the rifle equipped mid-rank infantry. Behind the soldiers were the three men left from Venn’s extraction company, who were bogged down with cheap pistols and their gear packs. They had made it to the entrance of the Sixth Quadrant and began to set-up camp slightly outside of the purposed area of the incident and investigation. Once everything had been set-up, Fitz began issuing orders.

“Alright, Extraction crew. Take two infantry and fan the perimeter of Quadrant 6 through 8. Venn and the remainder, we will go to the scene of the incident and continue with a more thorough investigation.” 

All men took Fitz’s words as gospel and moved to their work quickly.

As Venn and Fitz arrived, they noticed that clean-up crews had come and removed the remains of Baptiste. What was left was a bare tree the company could not see without imagining Baptiste corpse strung up into it. Suddenly, a crackle came from the radios Venn and Fitz carried.

“Perimeter team checking in. We…” the reporter took a drawn out pause. “We found Pierre. Rather, we found what was left of him. We are at Quadrant 7, coordinates 59, 42, 1.3. You’ll want to come have a look at this.”

Venn and Fitz broke from their group and made their way to the location set out by the perimeter crew. As they did, another transmission came through a minute later.

“COMMANDER…they came too fast. We…investigation is no longer an option.” The voice that came from the radio did not pause, but seemed to be getting cut off by radio static and loud shrieks from both men mixed with what sounded like inhuman squeaks. “Horrible. Horrible. Unicorn and the monsters. The Unicorn and the monsters! They’re back. We aren’t worthy. There is no balance. We are doomed. Doomed!” 

Radio static and then silence replaced the perimeter report. Venn and Fitz exchanged no words. Instead, both began to run to the location the perimeter crew had reported. Once they arrived, they were only greeted by Pierre, or what was left of him. Pierre’s head sat on a sharpened wood pike and below him his limbs and organs were organized into letters. The mutilated corpse spelled the word “Balance.”

Venn stood speechless, and then became nauseous and vomited. Fitz just stared at the display and ground his teeth while furrowing his eyebrows.

“Sick bastards. What do they want?” Fitz said.

“It would seem they want balance.” Venn replied, his voice devoid of humor and sarcasm.

“Any ideas what that means?”

Venn thought back to his pre-briefing meetings with the High Mystic.

“Maybe magic is fighting back. Maybe the Gods and nature are fed up with us.”

“Farfetched blasphemy.” Fitz said, still investigating the scene.

“Sir, you asked my opinion. That’s it.”

Both men stared at the scene pondering Venn’s statement. Even though Fitz didn’t want to let on, he was filled with fear based on Venn’s statement. What if the Gods were angry? What if magic truly did belong to them?

Suddenly, the bushes shuffled as they had done the day before, however, this time, something was standing there when the men turned to investigate. What looked like a child in a loin cloth stared back at the men through two holes in a Ram’s skull. The skull that covered the child’s face was painted with various tribal designs, all denoting the old runes of magic.

“It…It can’t be.” Fitz managed to say.

“A Child of the Forest.” Venn was motionless and spoke softly. He knew the Children of the Forest were even more ruthless than the old forest guardians. They were the nature’s hitmen; the merciless agents of magic.

“You,” the child said in a mangled common accent, “are monsters.”

Fitz and Venn looked to each other. Their eyes both asked each other the same question:

What do we do now?

Venn stepped up. “You are the monsters. Baptiste had a family. Pierre had a family. They were both good men and you strung them up like cattle.”

“Like cattle? Nasty humans do nasty things then make nasty jokes about it. The rest are already dead. Only you two now.”

Fitz, obeying his militant instincts, ran at the creature while drawing his pistol, but from out of the thick forest, in a quick flash of light, a Unicorn sped directly into his side, impaling him. Venn was shocked, but still couldn’t stifle the admiration in his belly for the beauty of the Unicorn and the conviction of the child.

“Gods dammit!” Fitz screamed as the Unicorn lifted the man into the air by his side. Blood spilled like wine from the wounds like a goblet and seeped onto the ground below.

“Why?” Venn asked.

“For the balance. It’s all balance.”

“How is this balance?” Venn asked pointing at the dying Fitz.

“You murdered. You massacred families. Soiled ritual spaces with cruel steel and petty civility, feeding off the Gods gifts. You turned your back on magic. Now magic will turn its back on you.”

“Is that not the intention? Did the Gods not give us this splendor so that we could do what we pleased? We are growing as a society! We are becoming more and more intelligent. We are becoming more and more civil. How can you say we squander the gifts of the Gods?”

“The end is coming for you. The end for Belsace. Maybe the end of man.” The child peered down through the eyeholes of the skull directly at Venn. Its full black eyes burned Venn’s as he looked into them.

“Unicorns are pure creatures, though. How can you command them to kill man?”

“Command? The Unicorns choose to kill. Purity lives to snuff out evil. That is the balance.”

“I am not evil.” Said Fitz as he fell off the horn of the Unicorn and hit the ground. The Unicorn stood over his body, making sure that nothing else would finish its prey.

“You are man. Man has started a vendetta against natural magics. You are evil in the eyes of the Gods.” The child said, hopping on the back of the Unicorn. “This is just a warning. Man has forgotten the old balance, so now the Gods have proposed a new balance.”

The Unicorn turned around in its grace and majesty, almost speeding off before it looked back at Venn. Its eyes were a crystal and cerulean color and entice Venn, like a siren song of the forest. Venn began to follow, but the beast turned around completely and stamped in anger. Venn’s admiration was replaced by fear and the Unicorn no longer filled his heart with joy. His sense of fantastic romanticism had been replaced by a crippling fear, as if the Unicorn was an impending angel of death. It’s pure, soft eyes were now blood red.

The Child spoke one more time. However, this time it lifted its mask and revealed a face made of bark and wood. Its eyes weren’t merciless. On the contrary, it’s eyes looked like a military cadet that had just gotten out of basic. They were filled with a mixture of duty, fear, pride, and purpose.

“When the last of a species is backed into a corner, it has no choice but to fight.” The child said. “The Unicorn can only kill because this is the only balance man can understand. You didn’t listen before, you never will. Now, we are at war again. Man will not be spared this time. Tell your nation that they should no longer prepare to defend from human civil war. Magic will be back and the Gods have decreed you will be culled.” The beast put down its mask, then began to leave. Just before it disappeared into the mist that had shrouded the area, the child consulted with the Unicorn and stopped one final time.

“You must understand why we have to do this. I’m sorry.”

The Unicorn and the child disappeared into the forest abyss. Venn ran to Fitz’s side, but he had died during the final speech of the forest child. Venn wiped the blood away from Fitz’s medals. Each was a shining testament to how many men and magical creatures he’d killed. However, Fitz was a hero and just a pawn in a game played by men and Gods. As a soldier, he wanted the true, old balance that the Child had described. Instead, the power thirsty master of the country made a decree and doomed a good man.

Venn sat by Fitz’s corpse for a while, thinking to himself. He no longer saw the beauty of magic. Instead, it became the fear and propaganda the government had been feeding him since he was a child. It no longer was a triumph of the world he was fortunate enough to co-exist in, but instead was an instrument of grand misery, heralding the impending doom that man was destined to follow because of his nature. Venn held Fitz’s head and kissed his cheek.

“Hell has arrived.” Venn looked into Fitz’s wound, which was now closing with vines and moss that grew quickly. “And we opened its gates with innocent blood.”