Sleepless Kingdom, Part 2

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.

‘The song has been violated. Retrieve the child.’

… Fin.

Z3N0

The Art and The Truth, Part 2

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.

… Fin.

Z3N0

Link to Part 1: