This particular short story was written with a specific character in mind who had lived a life of solitude and had come to see being alone as not a cursed ‘vemod’ as previously discussed but instead as a fact of life to be contented with. This writing was an exercise in character exploration with the themes of her coming through as a flavour for more extended pieces which exist across about half a dozen USB sticks and battered notebooks.
So, there I was in the violet glow of the neon bar lights, sipping casually with no one to miss to run home to. Perhaps it was always meant to be this way, I pondered, spinning the near empty cerveza bottle in my hand. The barkeep, a twenty-something in some hipster garb, glared dimly at me from his leaning post at the end; occasionally he glances at his phone before pocketing it to avoid the light catching the attention of the general manager who was prowling the neon kingdom.
Admittedly, it was a strange place to find oneself – this kind of place – but everywhere else had lost its appeal. Somehow, I was, in that moment, contented to be entirely lonely. Of course, there is a difference between being alone and lonely but lonely was what it was. A tranquil numbness in the humming sweat and noise of the room. If I were giving advice to someone in my position, I would say to them to cheer up because it could only get better from here on. From this point perched on a bar stool in some nameless strip club in Seattle on this chilly fall night, it could only get better – right?
I wasn’t facing the girls like the rest of the customers who were crowded round to watch some pornstar who had travelled up from L.A for one night only. It was a mighty fine stroke of luck to be graced with such a performance that I wouldn’t be watching. The cerveza’s were cheap and the shots of tequila were cheaper which, as far as I was concerned was the most pressing issue. Yet occasionally, I would glance down at my fading treasure in its plastic bag on the floor.
What does the world see? Some immigrant turning into her thirties with no direction just heavy pale eyes. Maybe that was the deep mystery behind the glare of the bartender. I’ve been drinking since 4pm which would suggest that unlike him, I don’t have some crippling student debt in some entirely worthless degree like media studies to lug around with me. Only the bags under my eyes weighed me down. Down to the floor where my canvas portrait rested against the sticky bottom of the bar, protected from even stickier grey linoleum by white plastic.
Loneliness is the price of that freedom. A delicious loneliness.
I roll my eyes and smile to myself; the crowd goes wild behind me as red panties fly in the air and land on the bar next. I raise the bottle to the bartender; he understands and gets another.
‘Hey are you going to keep those,’ asks a slurring voice from behind me as a sweaty finger enters my peripheral vision, pointing at the undergarment.
I’ve broken up this short story, as my last in two consecutive parts just to break up the reading and not to make the post too chunky. I prefer it this way as it makes things more digestible from a formating perspective and it also gives me a nice continuity of posting. Plus as a side note, I woke up extra early this morning to write a epic on my experience with the spiritual recently and an updated list of recommended reiki and tarot channels (all that spiritualism the atheist in me is repulsed by) yet ended up distracted by two very testing dogs I’m now living with.
Anyways, I’m digressing, back to the story:
My phone’s alarm saved my life. Her shrill scream had morphed into its irritating beeping and, with my eyes still glued together, I dismissed the infernal thing. It was another bright and sunny January morning in the life of Nelly Pritchard and it required a black coffee and a cigarette. With the fluffy dressing gown equipped and provided the necessary nod of greetings to an unknown face in the hallway – a conquest of Room 2’s rugby enthusiast occupant -, I drifted into the kitchen like detritus on a beach. Clara, fresh faced from a full eight-hours of rest followed in, disturbing the preparation of black coffee, three sugars. She pounced onto the countertop with the energy totally unnecessary for whatever time it was in the morning.
‘So?’ She began, ‘Did you get any reading done last night or did you end up just falling into the Netflix trap?’
‘Erm, yeah, some,’ I groggily replied, gently stirring a stained teaspoon in the coffee. ‘No Netflix. Just scran and John Milton.’
‘Wholesome,’ she said, nodding from her perch. ‘Did Jack message you?’
‘No, I haven’t checked.’
Clara stared blankly in return, her knowing eyes demanding that I take action. She was irritatingly good at that and it had become a fair portion of our relationship. I dropping the spoon into the sink and blew gently on the coffee before taking a sip, holding steady against Clara’s silent instruction. It took less than a few seconds for the resolve to break and I put down the oversized novelty mug and slipped my hand into the fluffy pocket of the robe. As I inspected the phone’s screen, my heart sunk and familiar beads of sweat began to form at my temples. Clara raised an eyebrow at my sudden panic but remained still on her perch. The words on the screen were scrambled. Each time I found myself grasping their meaning they shuffled like a deck of cards in a game of solitaire. As I forced my groggy mind to concentrate on the increasingly meaningless symbols, the air became thick and clammy.
I was frozen. Only my eyes retained any notion of free movement and I forced them away from the screen – God they were heavy, like they were being weighed down by swaying anchors. Looking up I saw her. She had always been there, standing in slightest dark of the room. It was Gran, grinning with the same idiot grin that I gave her. Behind her emerged two slinky, shadowy compatriots; faceless mannequin figures made of pure ghostly darkness that stretched their elongated forms to the heights of the ceiling. A scream lost its way in my throat and only materialized as a light gasp. The bitch bared her shards of teeth at me as I struggled and fought and cried silent cries in the frozen moments of her trap. Existence outside of my focus on her and her new friends had ceased to exist. It had faded away like the peripheral vision of weary eyes. From Gran’s grin came her scream and a voice. Jack’s voice. ‘Clara, come here! I think Nell’s having a seizure and I can’t wake her up!’
Shadowy arms reached out and the Gran’s terrible cosmic maelstrom behind the grey gnashing teeth expanded to swallow reality in a thunderous cold crescendo.
Then there was nothingness. A deep black void like a starless night in the country or the deepest impressions of my therapist’s endless Rorschach tests. As I drifted through its depths, I wondered if this was the end of all things or just the purgatory. A blank space between my world and the next. Yet perhaps I was wrong on all counts and this deep inky ocean of infinity was the inside of Gran’s stomach. I had been swallowed like Jonah into the infernal whale.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days: none of it mattered. Nothingness was the only truth. I wondered if in my state that I’d had a heart attack in my sleep and my visions of old Gran had finally gotten the better of me. I wondered if I could even apply such logic to the situation if this was death. If Gran herself, the wicked bitch, was a sentient predator, hunting in her sleepless kingdom, feeding of the victims like a leech. Nothingness lasted for an eternity for it was eternity. It was the end of all things, I knew it was, that was the conclusion I’d reached after days or perhaps years of query, it was the true oblivion. Then I heard another voice. It was not Clara’s, Jack’s or even my own. It was alien and not of a language I had ever heard before yet for some reason, I trusted it and loved it like a child loves the idea of heaven. I understood; by Christ, I understood and from that moment on, every Sunday I’ve been kneeling and praying and singing the hymns. I have the words that it spoke tattooed across my forearm like I could ever forget them.
People seemed to enjoy the first half of this so I thought I wouldn’t wait a bit before posting the second and final half. I’d be interested to know how people feel about it, I’ve been meaning to get back into writing fiction and any feedback would be appreciated. I hope that someone takes something from this story, sees the message I tried to sneak in, I hope it means something to someone other than myself. Of course, if not, it was an interesting read, all the same.
From then on, as she remained silent. So, I am alone in Orphan House as my wife and my children live their lives separate from the machinations of the true work. The twisting walls and ever-changing madness of the great gallery will protect them and keep them. So peaceful they are that the children have not stirred since their mother put them to bed, and my wife remains so in her chair in the library. Time and space bend in the halls of Orphan House and it slips away like sand through fingers so much so that it seems like months since they became still. Yet, of course, as the God of my kingdom, I know it to be only moments.
‘Will it always be like this?’ I asked the hooded avatar in its cliffside residence, waves crashing against the rock just outside of the perfectly rectangular stony cavern. ‘This lonely?’ I continued, sat in the brown leather armchair in the arrangement of contemporary furnishings. Sat opposite in a matching seat was the avatar of my most trusted mentor. Far removed from the throne on the beach with the true body like a pale kraken, this skeletal reaper, with face obscured by smoke from a black pipe seemed almost convivial. Yet, I thought, even that towering glorious monster would not be the true extent of the king’s true physique as I pictured in my minds eye, some infernal twisted serpent slumbering soundly at the bottom of the ocean. It waived a nonchalant hand through the smoke and drew near; placing the pipe down in an elegant crystal ashtray upon the rich wood coffee table at the centre of the arrangement. Lifting from the chair, It strolled silently over to the precipice of the sanctuary – where I was no more a God as a termite -, bare muddied feet patting on the smooth rock face. The waves, crashing against the cliff, pushed chill winds into the cavern and as It reached closer to the mouth, the black cloak billowed wildly. There was a moment of pure silence and total stillness. I awaited the answer, rising to my feet. Seconds that felt like eternity ticking over in that cold silence in the no longer howling, Howling Isles. Then it came: the dreaded answer. My pale host, let out a dry tobacco lined chuckle before extending white, skinny arms out wide and falling forward into the quiet icy sea. Upon the crash, the Howling Isles resumed its turbulence.
The eleventh winter in Orphan House has come, and I fear that the mighty fortress kingdom that I have forged is returning to its natural earthly form. The wide aperture in the roof has become lush and green and provides me with its fruits – a strange entrance from the outside. It has been so long, or perhaps not at all, since I tasted sweet things. Through the endless travel through oblivion and the dancing of my brushes, I found little interest in the simple pleasures that once meant so much to me. As a child – even with the nightmares and the endless spouting of lies from men in white collars – it was the sweet taste that helped the colours of the world come together for but a moment. I scratch at my beard and feel for where I remember my eyes to be and smile softly. I rush to my wife’s side to find she is not there anymore. Alas, it was to be expected, her departure. In my panic I race to the nursery and the children are no longer there either. My sweet daughters had left their beds and there was nothing about the room. No trace of their existence and the sweet from the apple in the attic turned to ash. So bitter and foul was the taste that I could cut off my tongue. How could a god be so ignorant, so blind? They had been taken by the deep dark, by the rage of the lords themselves for my own hubris. Or worse yet, she had taken the children and left the fortress, a foolish betrayal out of a fearful panic, exposing their young minds to the poisonous lies of the outside real.
I staggered through the winding labyrinth of the house wailing. I cried out to my patrons, so many now, numbering in the thousands with their icons covering every surface. ‘My lords!’ I shout, scratching on canvas after canvas, an affront they could not ever ignore. ‘Answer me!’
Then I fell. I fell for so far and for so long into an abyss. As God of Orphan House, artist and sorcerer supreme, I had forgotten the rule. I had forgotten that those on my walls, decaying and bowed, had become of far greater import. Spartacus, god of the pit, had, in his grand revolution forgotten whose hands fed him. The true household gods of Orphan House, those who I had invited from further afield than the outside, had been disrespected. Was my realization enough in that endless abyss to warrant the punishment served? All my powers, so mighty in the real, equated to nothing at all in the face of true divinity. Perhaps I was mad after all. It was one of the last words my wife spoke before she stood before the great Eel King. Perhaps she was right; or rather is right; or rather is right, now. How far had I fallen? I could not say. As I tumbled down the abyss, biting winds rushing against me skin, I wandered if I had indeed been falling since I first picked up the brush. It was the price of truth. It had never been clearer to me, after all these years of crafting portraits for the gods, it had never been so transparent and brilliant.
Awaking on the cold ground of the basement, I thought myself dead. My clothes were dusty and my skin had lost all elasticity. In my quest for more answers, I pressed against the boarded windows of the second floor to hear the churnings of the outside. Their machinations louder than ever before. My punishments were not over, I thought. They were coming, and as I charged through my winding halls, the paintings finally spoke to me after so much silence when I needed their voices most. So loud they were, as the shouts from the outside erupted into a crescendo and the canvases crashed from the walls. Louder and louder, like the world was collapsing, the hand of Chronos crashing down through the open roof and through the boards and into the library. Down it came, through the library and into the central hallway and down further, smashing the grand staircase in two. My great kingdom crumbled inwards like a collapsing soufflé and so, with all my strength and the chanting of the art of the endless universe itself, I charged at the vicious inevitability with all my power. Sparks of brilliant purple and splashes of deep crimsons filled the tearing reality and as Chronos, with his hand of time aloft roared for more battle, it stopped. There was only silence once more.
Silence: the national anthem of Orphan House. It had been this way even when it was full of life not of the unearthly kind. When it was simple and gentle. When my wife and I would sit in the kitchen and laugh at the fluttering larks outside the window. This was a time when the three-hundred-acre estate was protected by just the simple boundary. When the outside was free to impose its laws and the truth about their pointlessness was unknown. I would still visit Boston then. We were far enough away from the city that the smoke of the docks and the industry was a distant memory. Even the Atlantic became somewhat of a myth in our simple home. Our children, so safe within the property lines, used to play in the woods from morning ‘till night. My wife would read for hours and hours in the library that I had had created for her, while I painted landscapes of lush verdant still life to her satisfaction. Now, of course, I paint for another’s satisfaction and we are rewarded with more than a smile of hers could ever dream of. We were rewarded with the beauty of this kingdom that I was crowned regent. Its halls adorned from floor ceiling with art and magic that the outside fallacy could never love or understand.
Chronos had retreated and the nation of Orphan House was saved and the twisting faces and figures upon the canvases cheered in congratulations. The chattering jaws and gnashing teeth thanked and greeted their savoir as I marched through my lands and showered me in roses and bright confetti. I bowed graciously to the mighty delegates of the unknown but my revelling was cut short. A crashing of wood and metal from the foyer stamped on this fantastical celebration. The last thrashing of Chronos, that bitter bastard. I forced my legs to move faster than they have ever moved before and rushed to the pristine central staircase. Upon my arrival, I witnessed the ultimate horror that no creature from a million abysses removed could ever compete with. My heart leapt into my throat and tried to force its way into my mouth. I could do nothing but make a foul guttural noise as the wooden boards, before nailed so firmly to the frame, fell from the doors with a series of thuds. The chains slipped from their hooks like dead snakes, sliding with a horrendous jangle to the floor. As each element of my fortifications came down, poisonous bright white light spilled into the hall through empty window panes. Then, finally, with a gentle rattle of the brass handle, double doors open wide. It was the final act of the lord of time, commander of the encroaching chaos. The outside had come in.
A few months ago now, I wrote a short cosmic horror story based on Lovecraftian conventions and the indie horror game Layers of Fear. I had some feedback off colleagues who are avid readers and the criticism was that it’s obtuse and self-indulgent; the imagery being overshadowed by my big brain being oh so clever. It meant a lot to me, though, and it holds a lot of themes within it that serve as an allegory to me. It presents an attitude and indulgence of the character a moral to exist within your own nature. It’s a story about falling into ones own obsession and being obsessed with the self and power above all.
I’ll be posting it in sections as it’s quite long, so without further ado, here is my attempt at a anti-vice manifesto…
In the house, it’s considered rude to not pay respects to the household gods. Naturally, in the household, the one whose word is law, is god. In Orphan House, I, Henry Boyd, am God. This would be far more outstanding if, perhaps, if there were more than four residing in the former children’s home turned Olympus, yet considering that its realities and formations still bend to my will, surely that still renders me biblical in nature. My paintings adorn the Victorian walls, bursting from their frames, too weak to hold the nightmares in and keep them from spilling out onto the bare boards. What is art but a reflection of ourselves? A twisting expression of eldritch nightmares on canvas; pure like the massing void. As I bend the space-time of the grey brick husk, its corridors turning like a corkscrew, my art spins with it. The cascading colour and swirling oils form maddening vortexes that scream for me. The wood, plaster and paint scream its sweet noise, like a hurricane of bees in a room of the finest honey.
I had been truly blessed. Blessed with the truth of the real. The outside would demand for rational but they would never understand that the truth is irrational. It cannot be reasoned or bargained with like a market seller, fat on the endless and pointless material trappings. I am enlightened and I know the truth that all is pointless. Over and over again, a million times have we died and been reborn anew, our lives logged and archived in an infinite library until even the volumes themselves are burned away to be rewritten. I am not Henry Boyd. Not really. Nor are you whoever you think you are. We are the sum of all our parts; our parts the sum millions of variables; the variables the sum of fixed odds. Fixed divine odds based on the ticking of a clock.
In the house, I paint. I paint the worlds that I visit through the tempests. Some exist in our own native majesty while others exist as splinters, sanctuaries and graveyards. There are even those that exist as blank canvases themselves, awaiting an artist – or the artist – to mark their endless expanses. They have seen me, the inhabitants of these foreign planes. They inspect me with curiosity as I peer in fear. These eternal creatures, scars on reality itself, undying even in the face of the great inferno at the end of time. Even in my capacity as a sorcerer of the real, God of Orphan House, I am afraid. They are why I paint.
I painted before. I painted beautiful things, things that would warm me in the winter and do away with the scratching in my skull. Now I paint them and their lands for the promises we made, for the wonders I would see, for the raw power that made me a god. It is my tribute for when my temporary fleshy prison expires, I will be reborn and rewarded. While Chiron takes me and Chronos crumbles my fortress, the art shall be exposed to the ignorant. It will adorn their galleries and while they wander about, fat and doe-eyed, they will feel the abyss staring back at them – as I did.
The sixth summer in Orphan House has come and the chains on the doors to the outside are holding steady. While my kingdom contorts to my will and my art stalks the corridors, I sense a plot. The crawling of a horde of ants under my skin comes to me in the night, as I stare up at the void through the wound in the roof. I say to my wife, sitting still by a window in the library, ‘can you see them? Can you hear them?’ She doesn’t respond. Her silence is cold and damning. I give up, time and again, I give up. I daren’t wake the children in the late summer evening to ask them about the outside. They are fearful enough without the worry of the noisy meat threatening their father’s fortress kingdom. So small and gentle, they are too pure for the reality in which they find themselves, those two.
When my wife used to speak to me, she used to sweetly ask for sweet things for me to paint. She wanted me to paint her flowers in the greenhouse – closed off now, the glass proving too weak to defend from the outside. A florist by trade she would create the most beautiful of arrangements of brilliant sunset hues. Everything was brighter then, before the truth of the real was known. Before I took her to see the Eel King on the muddy shores of the Howling Isles. She was silent then, standing in front of the rocky thrown with the eldritch lord upon it.
The giant lord gripped the arms of his throne with white, webbed fingers; his fleshy thick surf slicked tail wrapped around the stone and trailed along the mud and into the shallow. The lord, resembling a nightmarish parody of the beauty of sea sirens with an arthropodal torso and skeletal arms, cloaked in billowing black fabric breathed the cold sea air deeply. The pale god, my patron, demanded satisfaction with not even a word from his wide, fang filled mouth. His eyes, sunken in shadow under the black hood, slowly opened from a deep slumber; each refreshing blink sounding against the rolling of the ocean waves. His eyes, black as night, stare down at me with light from the grey sky above twinkling in them like distant stars. Perhaps they were stars, it would come as no surprise. His long claws scratched gently on the carved arms of his throne, the stone itself scarred by his scrapings. On my knees in the writhing mud, I presented his portrait – and still my wife was not moved. There were no bright colours nor sweet smells in truth. Only monochrome landscapes and the thick stench of fish. The only speaker on the beach of the Eel King was the wind that sung through the rocky crags, cliffs and caves of Howling Isles. So far from the real were we, in that place, that it could hardly be said we were anywhere at all. Scraps of land in an eternal black ocean barely discernible from the void, where the sun was forever trapped behind a thick covering of fog and stormy clouds. A broken reality – a splinter of the whole truth, a truth that neither me nor my wife would ever have eyes wide enough to observe. Perhaps the king knew. Him and his fellows across the starry oceans and fractured dimensions in between. When he swam in those freezing deep waters and into galaxy, I wonder, does my serpentine lord-patron see it all? Travelling along the infinite universal currents? From this chilly outcrop to the planets of glass tumbling around dying crimson suns.
Of course, I took her to the land of the Eel King. Of all my patrons and visitations, it was the most comfortable and seductive. I had to make her understand this if not the truest further gravity of the eternal, the endless inhale and exhale of the expanding electric jelly. The unspeakable horrors of the void that even I, sorcerer of the art, could not bear to witness for even more than mere moments. The crushing pressure of their voices that thunder through the endless cosmos would begin to tear at the coiling of my brain and hammer at my skull. No, she would not be able to comprehend even the slightness of her own dimensions within the infinitum, let alone that of our divine observers who would peer at us with a million twitching, celestial eyes. The screeching of their songs would burst our fleshy human ears so that we may never seek to hear something so beautiful again.