In the Eyes of God Part 2

raboiconsTuesday, April 12, 1789

I arrived today by carriage, in the pouring rain, at the Abbey which is now my beloved sister’s resting place. Upon approaching it, even in the dim light of the rain I could see that it was not a fitting place for so lovely a flower to wilt and die. I was greeted at the gate by a shriveled old husk of a woman, the abbey’s matriarch it seems, named Abbess Jutta. She showed little sympathy for my loss, but honestly I’ve no care for how much sympathy she may or may not have for me. I am here for my sister, nothing more.

On approaching the abbey and making my pleasantries with the old crone I was confronted with a young woman who I surely thought was Vissia’s spectre, come to haunt me. Just as I imagined Vissia might look now if I ever saw her again, the girl was very comely and kind spirited. I had the hardest time taking my eyes away from her, though I tried to keep my distance. It was quite a shock to come here, expecting to find my sister dead, and instead finding her doppelganger alive and in her place.

I knew immediately of course that it was Vissia’s friend Mina whom she’d spoken so well of in her letters, but it was still hard to address her as such. So similar, and yet so different. Perhaps I am focusing on the girl who is not my sister so that I may not have to focus on the fate of Vissia. Perhaps.

The rooms were accommodating, though old Wilfred, my manservant, seemed less than pleased. It is interesting how the hired help are always the first to spot a slight or inconvenience against their masters. As Mina showed us to our rooms I could not help but spot her reluctance to come near me coupled with her darting glances towards me. Perhaps I remind her as much of my sister as she does to me. I know that they were close, but I wonder how close they might have been. Love was one think Vissia never lacked, of that I am certain.

They tell me tomorrow that I may see the gravesite if the rain has stopped.

Wednesday, April 13, 1789

This morning I had the pleasure to sample the Abbey’s breakfast. It was rather lacking in what I am accustomed too, but it was hearty. The rain has not abated and the Abbess has informed me, in that reprimanding tone which I gather is the only one she possesses, that the cemetery will remain off limits for this day as well.

Instead they have given me a tour. I have grown restless.

Also, I notice that I have not seen Mina this day. I hope that the powers here are not keeping us from speaking. I have many questions to ask of my sister’s closest friend.
Thursday, April 14, 1789

Another day of rain and another rain of denial. I must admit that outside of this dreary context, the denial would almost come as a welcome diversion. It is not something I am used to but I accept it. Today I had more time to speak to Mina of current events as well as those long past. She still seems slightly uncomfortable around me but occasionally I see a warmth in her eyes.

It is her eyes, I think, that remind me so much of Vissia. Today, as we sat across from each other at one of the dining tables, itself made of rough hewn wood, weathered only by many years of sweat and skin, I noticed that she did not actually resemble my sister at all. So strange that I might’ve though such a thing.

But when I look into her eyes, in those scant moments before she turns away, I see Vissia. There is a kinship there and when I see this girl Mina I cannot help but see my sister, though they look so different in the flesh.

It seems that the Abbess Jutta has pledged Mina to me for the duration of my stay and I cannot say that I am displeased. She is a happy, flighty sort and not of the type one would expect to abide in such an establishment. She is quick to joke and poke fun but occasionally I catch her staring off into space. Also occasionally I catch her staring at me, mostly when she is unaware than I see her gaze.

It is a pleasant feeling.

Friday, April 15, 1789

Today I awoke certain that this would be the day I should see my sister’s final resting plot, but the Abbess Jutta, in all of her wrinkled, pernicious finery said that it would not be so. The rain has not stopped it seems. I have been too preoccupied to notice.

I have become inpatient, but I forget that in the presence of the girl, Mina. Until, that is, she asks me of Vissia. When she first asked I was not yet prepared to tell this soft flower of the history we had, not just as siblings, but as something more. That changed in time.

She is a persuasive one, for being so full of naivete. The only distraction I could muster was to beg of her to tell me the final hours of my beloved, how she may have suffered, or what she might of said in her final moments. What she might have said of me.

I became rather upset eventually, and I must admit that I was not aware of my telling of that grave secret until the deed had already been done and Mina was gazing at me, her mouth agape and her spirit sapped. I cannot imagine how I might have sounded in that moment and that fact that this girl stood by me even then is a testament to her will.

I must admit that I cried.

I must admit that I have never shed so many tears in my entire life that I have shed this day, in these last few hours before bed. I will admit, however, that those tears were stopped in the moments when she told me her own secret.

She believes my sister murdered.

Saturday, April 16, 1789

I awoke early this morning to the sound of pattering rain falling on the hand blown glass windows of the abbey. Another day of dreary wet and despair as well as another day I am certain the Abbess will turn me away from my purpose in being here. Wilfred, while having kept quiet for the majority of this endeavor, felt the need to express his indignation at this slight, this lack of respect, today. I brushed him away as best I could but he will not be persuaded much longer. He knows that if I do not return with news in the next few days there will be someone after me, checking for my safety. While I have no qualms of staying here, the family will need a report on this place. A report I am not ready to give.

When awakening early this morning, it was to the feeling of a cold wash cloth to my head, held in the soft hand of Mina. She informed me that she had heard screams from my room in the night and had become distressed.

She came to investigate and found me in a state of hysteria, or so she says, and had to comfort me, fearing a fever. No doubt her recent experiences have increased her unease.

Waking to find her there, crouched over me in concern, I must admit that I mistook her for my sister. I must admit that I was quite eager to make such a mistake as well, and that I took advantage of it. On this morning, staring into those eyes which are so much like Vissia’s, I could not help but ignore the fact that her ruddy lips are not like those pale pink ones I remember. I could not help but bring them to mine.

She did not resist the kiss, nor anything that came after, and though she was not Vissia, she is also full of spirit, just as Vissia was. I feel now that my heart is leaping toward this girl and I must fight the urge to let it leap further. I try to remind myself that my beloved is lying in that plot up the hill, away from me, deprived even of sight by this damned rain and sleet, but I most often fail.

It is much more convenient to imagine this girl Mina as a surrogate for my Vissia, but also I find myself longing for those aspecs which differ from her. I find myself falling into a deplorable state of love and lust for this girl with the light blue eyes of my sister.

Today Mina says that I must venture into town. She says that I must question people, in regards to Vissia, as she cannot.

Burial at Sea – Part II

tj halloweenWalter Bradford Cannon, in his studies of animals, has developed a theory that in response to danger or threat of survival, a discharge of the animals sympathetic nervous system occurs which thereby preps the creature for to defend itself or flee. He has not yet sufficiently proven the occurrence of this phenomena in humans, but I can assure you it is quite accurate. The heart rate increases exponentially and the mind becomes sharp and resolved and the body responds in action before thought is actualized. I found myself back in my room, securing all locks to the door, before I had settled that to do so would be the optimal course of action.

During my brief dash from the hall, the other passengers erupted into a frenzy. A choir of screams rang from the walls through the quickly crowding corridors, people undoubtedly rushing for the life boats or any exit, likely making a swift judgment that plunging into the open sea would be safer than remaining on the ship with the nightmarish beast. It had been mere seconds when I finally managed to fasten, clasp, and chain every contraption on the door, but that was all it had taken. The screams of shock and horror had morphed into cries of pain and agony. Sounds of shredding flesh and shattering bones overwhelmed my senses. Without much reasoning or critical analysis, I rushed over to my cases and retrieved a bronze crucifix before retreating into a corner and folding into myself, holding the crucifix before me like some sort of magical ward or charm that would shield me from all evil.

I feel it is necessary to explain that I am not a particularly either a religious man or a secular one. I am affluent in the sciences and liberal arts but I had never given much serious deliberation to the idea of a higher power or life after death. I had determined the knowledge of such things was not, at the time, within our reaches, thus I disregarded it for pursuits with greater chances of fruitful yields. With that being said, I had carried the crucifix with me on every trip, out of a habit bequeathed upon me from my Great Aunt Mildred who lived well into her late seventies and attributed this to a rigorous diet of prayer, prudishness, and well crafted veneer of moral superiority.

It may have been minutes or hours, I will never know, but the cacophony of mutilated screams eventually ceased and I, as far as I could determine, had survived. Shivering and drenched in sweat, my heart rate began to slow, and my higher cognitive processes returned. I determined that help enough to rescue me from the current predicament would not arrive unless it came down from the heavens in the form of a celestial army armed and ready to battle the hellish creature. In the moment, if I can recall, I had lured myself into maintaining relative sanity by appealing to my better nature, convincing myself that it must have been some exotic beast being secretly transported for purposes of profiting from the shady dealings of eccentric collectors and the sorts. Surely its handlers would not have so reckless as to allow its continued existence after escaping and slaughtering the cooks and others, so it must have been the handlers who had died in the creatures escape and not the cooks at all. All and elaborate cover-up for a dangerous enterprise fueled by greed. To me, this made sense, and it was all that I kept me losing myself as I stepped into the hall in which blood and human innards obscured the finished wood of the flooring.

I could not, however, steel my constitution. The sounds of me spilling my sick must have been loud enough to rouse the beast’s attention, because it was then that a heard, or perhaps felt, a low growl rumbling from above. I figured that it must have followed  all of the passengers running for the life boats and now prowled the area, making it impossible for any other to escape. It was more of a reflex than a decision, but I began to quickly make my way deeper into the ship, towards the kitchens and lower class cabins, hoping that it would not feel the need to return to those areas. It was then that I reluctantly allowed myself to take a more discerning look at the corpses that lied in wake. It was then that I realized the pattern and the apparent precision of the creatures slaughters. It was then that I could no longer believe the lies I had told myself of an escaped lion or tiger or bear. A distinct smell of sulfur and a noticeable absence of livers had broken all my resolve and it was then that I was struck with a desperate desire to retrieve my Great Aunt Mildred’s crucifix.

Sneak Thief, Part 2

bern halloween            “The Master was busy today, it seems.”

Sylvis catches his breath. One of the mahogany bookcases slowly begins to slide forward and Sylvis, seeing that this would be a most inopportune time to be discovered, sinks into the blue shadows in the corner of the room. The weight of his golden charm feels slightly heavier around his neck. He knows that he won’t be seen. Not just yet. Good.

“Aye, it did seem that way,” replied a second voice. This voice is a bit higher pitched.

Sylvis peers past his sanctuary ever so slightly. The sliding bookcase has now slid completely to the side and only the soft light of a candle in the dense, dark library illuminated the faces of the voices.

“And he spoke to them, alone,” said the first, a tall male with a slim handsome face and a short, well trimmed beard. His hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. He probably kept his hair so long to hide his ears, but they still managed to pop out some.

“Rather strange business if you ask me,” said the second, an older, small framed woman who’s head barely reaches the male’s waist. She kept her hair up in a tiny bun. “Did you see ’em? All of ’em I mean.”

The handsome one shakes his head as he turns and pulls a wide bound book from the shelf. “I was preparing dinner.” The bookcase slowly moves back.

“Well one of ’em looked like death. Like death itself. There was a furry one, her mother never taught her ’bout dressing modestly, I’ll tell you that much. Then there was a big ol’ ugly bastard with barely anything coverin’ him up!”

There’s a thud. The bookcase was closed. “They had one of ’em metal men too. He was touching all the books and the like. It was the last one I couldn’t figure out.”

“How so?”

“She dressed like she belonged in a repair shop but she was high born, I knew that much just by looking at her. Held herself too tall to be a poor girl. Her face was a bit dirty but that wasn’t a face that’s seen any hardship.”

They began to walk through the open thresh hold into the next room and the light slowly slinked away from the dark. “If she’s getting herself involved in anything that Master Enoch’s ever been involved in, those eyes are gonna come back a little bit darker that’s for sure!”

“What do you mean?”

“Hush, you!” she hissed, “You talk too much! Master Enoch’s probably up and about and he’ll have your neck if you’re neglectin’ your duties for chit-chat!”

When the safety of the dark had completely returned, Sylvis stepped out from his hiding spot. Well that’s interesting, he thought. Sylvis had only been given this assignment today. Not five hours ago. Curious. I wonder if those visitors have anything to do with my target?

No time to ponder though. And no time to see what’s behind bookcase number one even though it is an itch he longs to scratch. No. Sylvis looks up. Second floor. Enoch’s office.

The rooms in this place aren’t very beautiful. They are gorgeous. Deep, lush colors and patterns line the walls, not that you could really seem them past the menagerie of portraits and landscapes, most look like a window rather than paint on a canvas. The carpets are an inch thick and are soft like a newborn’s bottom. Definitely imported. Sylvis spots a blood stain in the corner of the carpet in the music room beside the grand piano. He was getting to like this Enoch guy the more he snuck around his home.

And while each of these rooms are stunning, each feels off. Off like someone is watching him but that can’t be. Maybe it’s the thin layer of dust that has settled on the furniture that makes Sylvis listen just a little harder. Maybe you’re just nuts. Which is why you took this shady job in the first place!

No sign of anyone since the library and Sylvis can’t tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It probably means nothing but it nags him in the back of his mind. When he gets into the entrance room he takes the arm of the grand staircase on the left. Sylvis himself is left handed and he makes it a point to only trust the left side of things. Right siders are too full of themselves to ever get anything done. Sylvis’ footsteps sound like a dust bunny’s sigh as he maneuvers up the staircase. Only at the top can he appreciate the diamond chandelier in the middle of the room. Damn, that’s some nice shit.

            Sylvis spots a candle in the corner of his eyes and swiftly hides himself under the velvet tablecloth draped over the hall table. The light comes from an old man, drenched in shadow as he exits a room on the far end of the hall. Sylvis smiles. The moonlight of the room outlines an imposing desk. He is exactly where he needs to be.

Sylvis doesn’t breathe as the old man walks past. He won’t even peer out a tad to catch a glimpse of his face. The very essence of this tells him that seeing him means that he’s seen you. The man stops in front of the table Sylvis is under. Sylvis is silent as the grave and won’t even let himself think. It’s a moment that feels like a year but after that moment, the old man passes and walks down the right side of the staircase into the music room.

The door to the office isn’t even locked. Enoch must really think he’s untouchable. Upon opening the door, Sylvis sees what he’s come for. The thief picks it up and inspects the outside. It’s a large, green envelope with golden script written in elvish script- a dialect that Sylvis isn’t familiar with. Certainly old. Maybe as old as Enoch. Sylvis slowly pulls back the envelope’s flap.

“You’ll stop right there if you know what’s good for you,” said Enoch, standing in the doorway.

Burial at Sea, Part 1

kelly halloweenThe ‘Incident in the Atlantic,’ as it has become so known to so many people, and so infamous as to warrant capitalization, has been twisted by so many rumors and retelling upon retelling that each new version I hear resembles less and less the horror I lived through on those three nights in August. Just the other day I overheard two colleagues, each learned and well-respected in their fields, discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial involvement in the deaths of nearly the entirety of the crew and passengers of the RMS Mauretania. I can assure you that the true cause of their deaths is far more sinister than any involvement by hypothetical Martians.

My intent, then, is to create an as unbiased as possible record of events, though being primarily drawn from my memories – and ones I have done my best to forget – human error is certain to occur at some point during this narrative. I wish to aid future generations in their quest to find the truth in a series of events so fantastical, so abhorred by the human spirit, that it may be beyond human ability to fully comprehend entirely what happen on that cursed ship.

* * *

With that in mind, it is perhaps important to clarify how little warning anyone on the Mauretania had of the danger they would soon find themselves. Indeed, much of the ship’s journey across the Atlantic was peaceful and otherwise uneventful. Much of my time was spent exploring the decks and dining at one of the ship’s many cafes or restaurants, chatting idly with fellow passengers about England, America, the scandalous defects in one or the other’s national character, or the current state of tension on the Continent. Were any of the people I met during this time acted suspiciously or appeared sinister, I did not notice, lost in the preoccupation of whittling away the hours. In all ways the Mauretania appeared to be a testimony to human ingenuity and fortitude. The once-dreaded trip across the Atlantic had been turned into a game by the Mauretania and her sister ships as they sped across the sea, competing for the best times while keeping their passengers in as much comfort as possible.

It was about halfway through our journey that the first signs of trouble began to surface. Your author had the misfortune to witness this first commotion firsthand. It began with a shriek, one of such blood-curdling intensity that it raised all the hairs on my body despite the warm, summer evening air. A middle-aged woman – of some wealth and renown, if her jewelry and evening gown were any indication – ran out onto the main deck, babbling incoherently and pointing toward the stairwell she had just come running out of like a bat out of hell. It was only with the effort of one of the on board doctors that the woman calmed down enough to tell us that she had discovered one of the ship-hands, brutally murdered. (I did not witness this man’s death, nor did I see his corpse, but the reader can be assured that I saw enough of the creature’s later victims to hazard a guess at the man’s condition: neck and chest clashed clean to the bone by some great clawed beast, and a jagged hole torn where the beast chewed its way through his side to get to its prefered meal, the liver.) Later on, one of the surviving crew members revealed to the rest of us survivors that this man was the third body to be found in such a state; the previously three had been two cooks and one of the steerage passengers, killed far out of sight and mind of the upper class passengers. The captain, not keen to report a serial killer to the press or his superiors, ordered the investigation be carried out in the utmost secrecy.

At the time, however, the supernatural was far from anyone’s mind. The thought of a murderer being among our number sent the ship into chaos; before long, we were ordered back to our cabins and to remain there. Anyone caught violating these orders would be considered a suspect. Not being keen on being caught by a deranged murderer (at this time, the prevailing theory of the amtuer sleuths among us was that the killer had taken the victim’s heart for some arcane ritual) or by the ship’s security. The hours were spent, much like the previous ones, in an attempt to chip away the time, though in a much more anxious fashion than before.

While the discovery of the murdered man had frightened and unnerved us, we had not yet grasped the extent of the danger. Our first inkling came later that night. I, unable to sleep, was reading by the light of the desk lamp when the light flickered once, twice, before burning out altogether. I stumbled my way to my door and poked my head out to investigate. I was not the only one, and the whole hall – or at least as far as I could see in the gloom – consisted of disembodied heads sticking out of their doors, looking to and fro and muttering nervous whispers at one another. No one appeared to scold us, and I stepped out into the hall properly. I immediately regretted that decision.

There came a roar, one so loud it reverberated off the smooth walls of the hallway, swallowing any attempt at logic and reason. Even after it stopped I didn’t take my hands away from my ears, preoccupied as I was with not passing out from the jabbing pain in my eardrums. When I again looked around to gain my bearings, I was greeted by the eyes of a devil: yellow and rimmed with red, they shone through the darkness like flames. It panted hot, putrid breath through the jaws of a lion. It swept its head back and forth, taking stock of the lot of us paralyzed in fear.

It took a step forward, and all hell broke loose.

In the Eyes of God, Part 1

bern halloweenTuesday, April 12, 1789

He arrived today by carriage, in the pouring rain, to visit his sister’s grave at the Abbey. He made it here despite the storms which made traversing through the already  horrid, steep, rocky roads a vision of despair.

I greeted him at the gate with Abbess Jutta as was her request. I had planned on avoiding Ilario altogether. I had never seen him before, though Sister Vissia spoke of him often with a great fondness. I had often wondered how Vissia could muster such a powerful affection for the sibling that her parents chose to keep.

Ilario was pleasant upon greeting. He mentioned how beautiful the Abbey looked, perched up on the cliff side overlooking the waterfalls. ‘It is almost a shame this Abbey is hidden from the eyes of the world,’ he said.

The Abbess smiled and said ‘His kingdom is not an earthly kingdom,’ in the way she does. In the voice that tells you that you are mistaken. As sweet as possible. As directed as needed. I am used to this voice off Abbess Jutta, I have been used to it since I was young.

Ilario looked upon me and smiled tenderly. He said he knew who I was from the moment he saw me, for his sister Vissia had written warmly of me. That I had been a great friend of hers ever since she had come to the Abbey and that he considered it an honor to meet me.

Before I could humble myself to his words, the Abbess humbled me for me and then we were taken to the guest house. Ilario and his driver were placed in the same room. I had already made up the sheets and pillows for their stay. The driver did not seem pleased with these accommodations but Ilario was cheerful. I was surprised, even had I not already known Ilario’s wealth, his clothes more than made up for the unspoken tale.  He thanked us profusely for our hospitality and asked to be taken to Vissia’s grave. His shoulders shrank when the Abbess explained that that would not be possible tonight. Our cemetery was on the cliff’s edge and while there was a fence erected about the perimeter, the mud and rain made it much too slippery for anyone to go out. Should the rain pass by morning, he would be taken to Vissia’s grave.

Thursday, April 14, 1789

The rain has still not stopped. Never seems to stop. It reminds me of the days when Vissia first came to the Abbey. I was excited, and selfish to be so glad to welcome someone my age into our convent. I had only thought of myself and how lonely I had been, being the youngest, being left here as an infant. I had never known my parents, and never felt the need to miss them.

Vissia had arrived, crying, much like the sky wept these past few days, in the year of our Lord, 1779. Ilario was not with her family when she was left in the care of the Abbey. Her mother wept much like Vissia, but her father never laid an eye on her, even when they said their goodbyes.

Ilario told me how he wanted to visit the Abbey, that it had been his dearest wish for a very long time to do so. But time never seemed to allow him to. It was uneasy to talk to him. I had already painted such a portrait of Ilario in my mind’s eye of who he was. A spoiled, uncaring man, who clearly had not thought as highly as his sister did of him. But I know now that this was not the case. The pained look on his face read of deep regret, deeper than he could convey.

I had often thought of Vissia and I as sisters, though we looked nothing alike. My hair beneath my garb was loose and curly and dark while Vissia’s was a rich, like cherry wood. Her skin was pale and mine resembled the hot coco and milk that Sister Paulina would make in the winter. But it was our eyes that made me certain we were sisters in the eyes of God. Like light passing through the falling water.

Abbess Jutta has asked me to be Ilario’s companion during these difficult times of mourning. Without his mother, father, or sister, she said, it must be a trying time in his life. She bid me to pray for him.

I haven’t prayed since Vissia was taken.

Friday, April 15, 1789

Ilario has her eyes. My eyes. It makes speaking to him directly, difficult. Ilario makes the same gesture Vissia did when avoiding a direct question and instead asks another. And I cannot blame him for his restlessness, for it has not stopped raining since he and his driver arrived. When I asked him of what he remembers of Vissia, he instead asked, ‘Please, Sister Castor, tell me of her final hours.’

And it is hard for me to recount those hours, for they were mere moments and only a blur. Vissia had been up and about at dawn and carried herself as she always had. Her final moments with us were not glorious ones. Laying still in a bed, as I and the other Sisters tried to stop the bleeding from her brow. The sisters who found her said that they heard her shout as she feel down the stairs. Vissia had cracked her head on the stone stairwell and soon she was gone.

When I recounted the story to Ilario, he wept. He said he blamed himself for Vissia’s passing and that perhaps if things were different, if she had not come to the Abbey, she would still be with us. I told him, reassuringly, that it could not be his fault, that it had been God’s plan for Vissia to come to stay here at the Abbey, even though I cannot say I believed the words myself.

It was then, in a fit of sadness and anger, that Ilario told me his secret. Why Vissia was brought to the Abbey and why, to him, it was his fault. That their father had discovered them in a fit of passion and sent Vissia, the temptation, away in a place where Ilario would never see her again. I had never seen a man sob as Ilario did. And I could not know what to say. Nor, should I have had, would I have wanted to.

So instead I told him what I had kept locked away these past two months since Vissia’s passing. I told Ilario that I do not believe Vissia simply fell. I told Ilario that Vissia had been pushed, and I intended to discover her murderer.

Sneak Thief Part 1

raboiconsThe streetlamps in this part of town automatically dim after midnight. It’s not that they go out, just that they go barely dim enough to leave a warm glow illuminating the streets and the lawns but not enough to bother the people living here. That’s how you can tell it’s a swanky neighborhood. That and the fact that even if the lamps were as bright as sunlight they still probably wouldn’t touch the fronts of the houses, they’re so far back from the sidewalk.

What the hell was I thinking? This job is way out of my league. Sylvis absently thinks to himself. This is the biggest job he’s ever taken and certainly his first in this part of town. Even now he’s amazed that such a job even came his way, a big break that could put him up there with the big ones, getting high line contracts left and right. If he can pull it off.

He climbs gently out of the shrubbery he’s been hiding in patiently for the last three hours, carefully slinging his small satchel tightly over his back. He’d had to wear nice clothes for the taxi ride up, hoping to not make anyone suspicious, but the driver had still given him the stink-eye in the rear view. Surely the taxi guy could spot that he didn’t belong here, not in this fancy ass high class neighborhood. Surely he could see that Sylvis was the scum of the earth and probably up to no good. The taxi drivers always could. He’d changed as quietly as he could after sneaking into the bushes, ending up in a tight leather and cloth black jumpsuit, a black mask covering all but his eyes and mouth with leather gloves and boots with soft soles covering his hands and feet.

Pulling the tiny slip of paper out of his pocket he glances at it again, probably the four hundredth time tonight he’s done it tonight, and yes, it is still the same address. 2150 Bregandish Way. This address. A quick glance up and down the street shows no carriage lamps, not that anyone is out at this time of night except for the constables and sneak thieves like him. He hopes he’s the only one tonight, at least.

He slinks across the street, moving quickly and deftly. He may be small time, but he’s got practice and the balance of a ballerina. Small and light, moving silently has never been a problem for Sylvis and it isn’t now. Coming up short in front of the ornate iron gate, he stops. It’s a little dingier up close than it looked across the street, well kept but old, just like the fence extending to either side. He looks closely at it, moving his eyes over the surface of the filigreed handle, trying his best to spot any traps.

He grasps the handle and gently pulls down. The gate opens. It’s not even locked! Not that it would’ve stopped me. He chuckles and pulls it just far enough open to slip inside and crouch by the hedges behind the fence.

Now that he can see the yard better he can tell that the house is indeed set far back from the road and the walkway leading to it winds through a complex landscape filled with carefully trimmed topiary and fountains. All of the fountains are dry at this time of night though, and grass is still. It’s deathly silent tonight and no moon, part of the reason he chose this day to try it, after spending more than a week working up the courage and outfitting himself.

Slinking up to the house, keeping his movements slow and deliberate rather than quick and darting, he makes he way to the front of the house, edging towards the right side. He can’t help but be awed by what a house it is. Sylvis has never seen anything like it and even after the taxi ride up and through the other neighborhoods, this house is a monster of wealth and old money. Surely the largest and most complex, even in this most illustrious of neighborhoods where any home would be worth the life of a thousand Sylvis’s, this house is magnificent.

Much like the gate, up close it seems worn but well cared for, and it exudes character and class, but with a thin under layer of oddness and something a little sinister. He sneaks around the winding front porch, making his way from window to window, peaking in at the dim rooms inside. Most are dark but for a few with dimmed lights and no occupants. The contact said that only one old man lives here, aside from a couple of live in servants, and as outlandish as it sounded then, Sylvis believes it now. Of course, with a house this size though, he’s more worried about his contacts info on the being wrong and less about being caught by an occupant.

Moving down to a dark room near the corner of the house, he tries a window, gingerly fingering the sill, rubbing his hands over the lip and trying his best to find any trace of a trap or enchantment. He opens it and it’s easy as anything, sliding up silently and smoothly, almost as if it were well oiled and oft opened. Almost as if it were too good to be true. But it’s too late to worry about that now.

Sylvis climbs gingerly over the ledge, his lithe body scaling the high sill with no problem, and he rests his feet on soft, lush carpeting, closing the window gently behind him. Please, for the love of all the deities, let him not have any magic wards here to stop me.

Fingering his good luck charm through the cloth of his shirt, feeling its weight on his chest suspended by its gold chain, he calms himself. If there were real magic here he’d sense it, just like he always has before, but he doesn’t. Or at least not the harmful kind. Not yet. Again he kicks himself for believing that the old charm helps him see magic traps, but it hasn’t failed him yet.

As his eyes become accustomed to the darkness inside he looks around the room he’s in. Something like a large study or a small library, the room is lined with bookcases and shelves of artifacts, carefully arranged. Looking closer, he sees that many of the books are ancient and the artifacts. . . Sweet mother of. . . I could sell all that’s in this room alone and live the rest of my days in luxury. What is this place?

Arranged on the shelves are things that he only could’ve imagine a few minutes before. Artifacts of such value and rarity that someone of his stature could only ever hope to see them in a museum. Taking a quick look around an wondering what else this place might involve he moves to the door, touching the handle gingerly before pausing again. They said that the old man was a prospector, an archaeologist, or something, but this. . . Surely he’s a thief as well, Sylvis thinks. The artifacts and artwork here, while worth immeasurable amounts, are so strange and unique that even the most well-heeled would be hard pressed to match them. And this is only the first room.

Taking a deep breath he pulls his instructions out of his pocket once more, knowing he needs to focus before moving on. Reading the top of the carefully folded paper once more has a calming effect, though by this point he could recite the letter by heart.

2150, Bregandish Way, Azure District, Skyway” and then the name of the occupant, “Enoch Wallisarn.”

A Golden Opportunity – Part I

tjiconOriana arrived at the party fashionably late, looking like an hour glass of shimmering, golden sand, turning the heads of all the partygoers, save for one. Perhaps it was this slight that ignited Oriana’s interest, a long awaited and much needed challenge, or perhaps she had found the one she had been looking for all her life, her soul mate. His hair was like frozen fire and his eyes blazing blue. She reconsidered her stance on idea of love at first sight. Not its existence, mind you, she proves its existence every time she walks into a room, but rather her ability succumb to it. She walked through the throngs of youth that filled the open floor from end to end, a wave of stares cascading over her as she went to and fro , but her eyes fixed only on him. She took one of the several drinks that had been offered to her and ignored all other pleas for her attention. She was too hasty in her judgment. This feeling wasn’t love. Love required other feelings she was sure she could not possess.

Willem did not even notice her walk in. He had been talking to his a friend, Pat, about the 49ers’ game the other night, when Pat’s eyes glazed over. Willem had not noticed until several minutes later that his friend had not been paying attention to him. It was Pat’s “Uh… hmm, what did you say?” that did the trick. Willem rolled his eyes and headed off to the kitchen for another beer. He had known coming to the party was a bad idea. He didn’t flourish in social situations. Actually, he did the exact opposite. Pat had tried to introduce him to others, but Willem’s lack of ability to engage in small talk ended in him sitting on a couch next to Pat talking at him about football.

Willem found an escape through a set of glass doors and onto a stone cobbled patio, mostly empty because of the winter chill. He wandered further away and into a large garden, eventually reaching a large fountain. An angel was surrounded by sea serpents, each facing away from her, crystal clear water streaming from their mouths, shining like silver in the light of the moon.

“Pretty,” came a voice from behind him. He turned to see a girl standing amidst the sunflowers, her hands clasped in front of her, head tilted to the side, body rocking slight. Her skin, hair, eyes, lips, dress, jewelry, all of it, shining. Willem hadn’t even known there were so many shades of gold.

“Umm…” he murmured confusedly, then turned to the fountain, “oh, yes. It is. Very pretty.”

She laughed. It sounded like bells. “I wasn’t talking about the fountain.”

“Oh, well…” he started, but trailed off, looking around to find what she could have been talking about. “The flowers,” perhaps, “yeah, they’re nice too.”

Oriana suppressed another laugh, tickled at the boys obliviousness. “What’s your name.”

“Me? Willem, my name’s Willem.”

“You’re not like the others, are you, Willem?”

His eyes opened wide. His eyebrows scrunched. It was all rather adorable. He looked like a lost little animal. “I guess not,” he said softly, “I mean, my clothes aren’t as nice, I guess.”

Oriana smiled, “I like your clothes.”

Willem looked down at his old jacket and unbuttoned, plaid button up and noticed the graphic on his t-shirt. He looked back up at the girl, “You like Game of Thrones?”

“No, dear,” she said sweetly, “not in the slightest.”

“Oh,” he said, looking back down then off to the side. Then back down. Then back at the fountain. Anywhere but at Oriana. It took everything in her power not to ask him how he managed it.

“Do you think I’m pretty, Willem?”

Willem turned to stone, his body going rigid, his eyes darting up at her. Then frantically away. “Um, yeah, no, of course. You’re pretty, very pretty.”

Oriana smiled, “Prettier than the fountain and the flowers?”

He scratched his head, “… Sure.”

Oriana slowly walked up to him. She lifted a hand and began to play with the zipper of his jacket. She stared up at him, looking directly in his eyes. Willem looked back into hers. “Willem,” she said softly, “you wanna get out of here?”

Willem stared into the spinning spools of gold that were her eyes. Then he blinked. “Um, I actually got some homework I need to finish up, so… yeah.”

Oriana’s eyes went wide, “What?”

“History,” Willem said, dropping his head and stepping away, “a paper, actually. It’s due Monday and I haven’t even really started.” He took a swig of his beer and stood a bit more in awkward silence before walking off and shouting “See you later” over his shoulder.

Oriana took a deep breath. She was sure now, sure she was wrong. This wasn’t love at all. It was craving.

Being A Ghost Sucks Part 3

rabo halloween

Holy shit she’s listening. She’s going to help me get out of this damn thing! Roberts thoughts are a jumble and he feels a sense of exhilaration and a certainty that if he still had a heart it would be beating wildly. Just knowing that someone was there to help, someone to talk to, and someone to save him from an eternity in a vacuum cleaner was enough to fill him with exultation and hope.

But how the fuck is she going to help me get out of the vacuum cleaner if even I don’t know how? And despair creeps back in.

Words appear in the dust once more, “I’m a ghost.” Blurred lines. “I think.”

You think? You think? Like, you think you’re a ghost but you might just be a vacuum spirit, like a dryad but for vacuums, something like that?”

No! I’m a person.”

Well you sure look like a vacuum cleaner to me.”

I mean I was. I died here and woke up in this thing.”

Trish bends over the front of the vacuum cleaner and wipes the dust from the front of it underneath the torn catch bag, “This thing is a Hoover model 8760GT, serial numbe 87625149. Man, for a self aware appliance, you aren’t very self aware.”

The dust is still for several long moments. “You’re kind of a jerk.”

Yep, okay, back in the closet for you and then to the dumb tomorrow. Have fun at the junk yard!” Trish jumps to her feet and makes as if to grab the Robert’s handle.

No! No! Please, I’m sorry. Just listen to me!”

“Hmm… One more chance mister suckmaster.” The dust is still in response. “Okay, that was a bit harsh. Go on, please.” Maybe I should be nicer, the poor guy is stuck in a Hoover, she thinks, barely suppressing a giggle. She sits back down, brushing the dust away from a spot on the floor directly in front of the vacuum, unsure of exactly where she should be facing.

I’m scared and alone.”

Man, you are sad and. . . I mean, look, I feel for you but what do you want me to do?”

I don’t know. I can’t do any research like this but there has to be a way.” The words are spelled out slowly, no more than four or five at a time before they have to be smudged away to make room for the next. Suddenly she noticed that the words are all carefully formed, the letters very exacting as if the hand writing them were being very deliberate and precise. “I didn’t expect to be a vacuum cleaner. I died in this house and ended up here. Could you try to help me get out? Maybe find a way?”

I guess I could go on wikipedia.” She bites her lip and pulls a stray clump of wavy blonde hair from in front of her eyes. Robert, watching her in the weird way that he does, for the first time wondering how exactly it works sense he doesn’t have any eyes, thinks how cute she is when she’s thinking. “So, how’d you die anyway?”

That’s not important.”

Ha! You have to tell me now, come on! I bet it was something embarrassing! Was it auto-erotic asphyxiation? Like that David Carradine guy?”

No.”

Oh, oh, I know, you died on the toilet like Elvis, didn’t you!”

Kind of. Please, this isn’t a game.”

Well, just tell me then!”

I was drunk. I died of alcohol poisoning at a birthday party for my best friend.”

Oh shit dude, I’m sorry. Still, it sounds like you died at a baller party. That’s kind of cool. I mean, not like cool ’cause you’re dead, but you know. . .”

No, I don’t.”

So, were you like old or what?”

I was about to turn twenty one.”

Oh for real? Were you cute? Do you have any pictures?”

I’m a vacuum cleaner.”

Oh, right. I guess they took your stuff.” Suddenly it dawns on Trish that she is literally sitting cross-legged on her bedroom floor in a pile of dust talking out loud to a vacuum cleaner. Eagerly awaiting its response, no less. This can’t be healthy. Hey, I’m sorry I was a jerk earlier and I’m not trying to be one now, but this is a bit much. Let me clean up and—well, I guess I can’t clean up or we can’t talk. Tell you what, let me take a shower and change clothes and get my head straight and then we’ll talk, OK?”

OK”

Trish stands and looks down at Robert for a minute, debating whether to put him away before she decides to avoid the issue and just go take a shower. Now I’m talking to a vacuum cleaner. What. The. Fuck. And I asked him if he was cute. Ugh. . .

Sitting in the center of the room Robert sits in his spray of dust glad to have communicated with someone for the first time in so long. I’ll have to ask her the date, so I’ll know how long it’s been, he thinks, but then he wonders if he’d really like to know at all. Now that he knows there might be a way out though, it makes it a little more bearable.

So now that I’m certified crazy and talking to a household appliance, Trish idly thinks in the shower, I should have no problem adapting to a new high school, right? I mean, if I’m uncomfortable I’ll just start talking to my desk. Or a pencil. It’ll have to be easy to meet cute guys when I’m holding conversations with pencil sharpeners and toilets, right? But when she starts thinking of the logistics of realistically starting at a new school, the odd situation with the vacuum cleaner fades from her mind and by the time she wanders back into her bedroom she’s almost forgotten the bizarre events of the last hour.

She walks, stepping over a box and tossing the towel on top of it as she slams the door shut behind her. Digging around in the mass of clothes on the bed she pauses to stretch and yawn. It’s been a long day.

Holy shit. She’s naked. While lost in his dreams of escape and carefully avoiding what might come after, Robert is startled to see Trish walk in and fling her towel aside, wearing nothing underneath. She bends over the bed, facing away from him and pulls out a cute pair of pajamas before turning and facing him, stretching out long with her arms over her head. Robert isn’t sure how since he’s been deprived of his body but certain feelings well over him in waves and he, or at least the Hoover, starts to shake a little. Maybe this isn’t so bad after all. . .

Yawning, Trish glances over at the vacuum and freezes, her pale skin blushing from head to toe. “You. . . You can see, can’t you.”

She looks down at the spread of dust on the floor apprehensively, waiting patiently for an answer, standing still. “No.”

Oh thank God! She thinks as she lets loose a deep breath and relaxes. That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about at least.

OK, that’s good. I mean, I guess not for you, but it makes my life easier.”

For an instant Robert feels his conscience twinge but he consoles himself with the thought that if he’s going to be stuck in a vacuum cleaner for all eternity after dying a virgin there should be some sort of perks involved. “How?” He tries to stop the shaking so she won’t notice that or the way that the letters in the dust are kind of erratic now.

Um. . . nothing. Still, if it’s alright with you I’m going to put you in the closet so I can get some rest, OK?”

Sure.”

Sure, huh? I never expected a ghost to use words like ‘sure.’” She puts on the pajamas, glancing over her shoulder at the vacuum, wondering suddenly if maybe . . . No, it’s just a ghost anyway, better not to think of it. “Tell you what, Robby the Robot Vacuum, we’re gonna get you fixed, OK? Besides, if nothing else it’ll be a great distraction from this train wreck my stupid parents made of my life, moving me to this dumb podunk town. At least I kind of have a friend now. Maybe I’ll meet a nice toaster tomorrow too.”

Trish grabs Robert roughly by the handle and notices a strange shake come from it when she does. Maybe he’s scared to be alone? She thinks as she gently sets him down in the closet. Well, screw him. I’m the one stuck with a haunted vacuum cleaner. This whole situation sucks.

She chuckles softly to herself as she readies for bed.

Cuts – Part 3

tj halloween“What… me? This isn’t about me.”

Eleanor steps up to me and takes my hands into hers. She lifts them in front of me and turns my palm upwards. They’re both covered in blood, just as Eleanor’s, from cutting them on the window. But then I notice the scars, like skinny white worms on my wrist, and the fresh cuts still streaming blood between them.

I pull my hands away and look back up at Eleanor. There’s a sad smile on her face, “Follow me.” She walks over to the oak tree and kneels down beside it. She digs her hand into the grass and pulls out clumps of it. She keeps digging and I soon hear her fingers scrape against a hard surface. Her hands come out of the ground holding a old, dinged up care-bears’ lunch box. Eleanor holds it out to me. I reach to take it, my hands covered in dirt and dried blood.

The lunch box is filled with folded up papers. Most of them look like notes, but written in a strange language made of symbols and strange markings. Then I open one that’s a crayon drawing. Two girls, one with brown hair and the other yellow, stand in front of a big tree with a tire swing hanging from it. Above the girls is more writing in the strange, familiar markings. I feel tears beginning to well up in my eyes when I recognize them. It had been such a long time since I had drawn the picture. I cry harder because I can’t believe I let myself forget it, our secret language. But I knew what the words on that picture said without even reading the them. The girls in the picture are holding hands, giant ‘U’ shaped smiles taking up half their faces. They were best friends. They should have been best friends forever.

“Now, do you understand?” I look up at Eleanor, but it’s Eleanor anymore. Not my Eleanor anyway. I drop the lunchbox and run. My feet hurt as they pound against the pavement of the streets. The wind is cold as whips across my skin and cuts through my shorts and t-shirt. The sky begins to brighten. I nearly crumple to my knees when I get there, gasping for air, legs and lungs burning, feet beaten and bloody. I let my body fall completely to the ground and curl my knees into my chest. I look up at Eleanor’s grave stone, my vision still blurry with tears. I her something and turn to see Eleanor kneeling behind me, her face still grotesque and monstrous. I lift my body upright. She lays he arms palms up on her thighs. They are clean of dirt and blood and there are no fresh cuts from tonight are scars from the cuts at school. All of those things belong to my arms and hands as I reach out to take hold of hers. Long, vertical cuts began to open slowly on Eleanor’s arms as if being made by invisible blades.

I squeeze her hands tighter and try to speak, to tell her all the things that I wanted to tell her, that I needed to tell her, but never got the chance. The things that I had been writing in blood. That I shouldn’t have let us drift apart. That I shouldn’t have cared if anyone thought she was weird or dorky. I shouldn’t have rejected her for parties and weekend trips with the rich and popular kids. I shouldn’t have let them treat her like that, pick on her and call her names. I shouldn’t have abandoned her. I should have been I better friend. I should’ve seen the signs. I should have been there when she needed help, when she needed me. I shouldn’t have let her die alone. But through the heavy breathing and tears all I manage to get out is, “I’m sorry.”

She lets go of my hands and lifts my face to meet hers. It’s no longer twisted or grotesque, it’s just as bright and cheerful as I had remembered from years ago, as I always pictured it. She wiped my tears and put her arms around me as I knew she would if she able, pulling me into an embrace. It seemed like hours, days, weeks, and years that we sat there on the cold, wet grass, arms around one another, making up for all of the time we missed. But eventually, she let me go and stood up to leave. “Please Elly,” I whisper, “I don’t want to lose you again.” She took my hands one last. When she let go, there was balled up piece of paper in my grasp. It was the picture I had drawn, the girls in front the tree. I had drawn it for Eleanor. She had written the words above it in the strange language we made. As I read them, it was almost like Eleanor was saying them to me. Best friends forever.

Coals and Embers, Part 3

bern halloween            Blood dripped from the bludgeoned wound on the old man’s forehead. He was breathing slowly, in heavy breaths, struggling to keep his eyes open. “I… Isa…”

Nips hopped upon the man’s lap, eyes glowing bright. “Hush now, silly man. You’ve lost a lot of blood. You mustn’t strain yourself with things like words.”

Across the quaint cabin a woman of amber hair fidgeted and thrashed violently about to break free of the bonds that clung her to the wooden pillar. The rope dug into her smooth, pale wrists now stained with red. She managed to loosen the cloth about her neck and shouted to the bleeding man. “Norman!”

Coals turned to the woman. “Your knot came loose, child. Fix it and be sure the other does not come undone.”

Embers jerked up from the wooden pyre she was focused on. “Yes, M’Lady.”

Coals nodded at the woman. The cat spoke.  “Hush now, Isa.  Take comfort in that this is not your doing.” She points to the figure of Tobin standing beside the bloodied man. Tobin looked worse for wear. What little flesh she had hung limp on her skeletal structure. “Your Norman stole this young woman’s life. I am only here to give back what he stole. Since he cannot repay it, the duty falls to you.”

Embers rushed to the bound Isa and tightened the ropes around her wrists and then went to her bring the cloth back over Isa’s face. Embers held back a gasp. Tears were pouring from Isa’s eyes without the young woman blinking. Isa kept her mouth tight and closed and her face read of extreme distress. Her tears glided down her cheeks and dripped off her jaw damping the collar of her dress. When Embers remembered what she was there to do, Isa did not struggle against her as the cloth was brought back over her lips. Without moving or speaking, Isa told Embers of her wish to live and be free. Embers moved her lips and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

Coals hadn’t notice the silent conversation. Instead she went to Tobin. “There now, Tobin.” Coals laid a comforting arm about her shoulders. “You’ll be able to see your sister soon. And her son.”

Tobin ‘s shoulders fell. “I had almost forgotten him. I never got to hold him.”

Coals smiled, her smile seemed twisted in the shadows cast by her own glowing eyes. “You’ll be able to soon,”

Tobin held herself. “Forgive me, Evangelina.”

“For what?” asked the cat.

“Because I cursed you. I cursed your name when …” She looked upon the bleeding man with such disdain. “When he stole the breath from my lungs I could only think of how I shouldn’t have followed you. How I was a fool and I wished the same fate upon you.” Tobin sobbed as if she still had tear ducts. “I wished you had died in my stead.”

Coals shook her head. “There is nothing to forgive, Tobin. We all have regrets upon our time of death. I do not blame you for wishing that I had been slain instead of you. But you were brave! So brave to rush after me and defend me from this man’s attack.”

Tobin smiled despite her hollowed cheeks. “I wanted to thank you. That’s why I followed. My sister would have died for sure if you had not saved her from her own childbirth.”

Coals brought Tobin toward the pyre. “And now I shall save you from your own death. Child!”

Embers broke away from brave Isa and turned to Coals. “M’Lady?”

“Light the pyre. It is time.”

Embers went to the pyre she had built and threw dust that sparkled like stars into the wood. It was aflame instantly.

“Very good, child,” said the cat. Coals pulled Tobin forward. “Tobin. You will be placed into the pyre first and then we shall cut this woman’s hair and toss it into the flames with you. Your immortal soul will be able to find its way into its new home from there.”

Tobin glanced at brave Isa. “But what of her soul?”

Coal’s face was cold. “It will burn in the fires with your body.” Coals took hold of Tobin’s hands. “Have strength, Tobin. I will see you in but a moment.”

Tobin nodded slowly. Coals held Tobin’s hand as she stepped into the flames, like a high born woman stepping into her carriage on her way to the ball. What was left of Tobin’s flesh was lit instantly and quickly crumbled to ash. But Tobin did not flinch. She could not feel. She laid herself in the flames and instantly became still.

Coals turned to Embers. “Hurry now, child, there isn’t much time.” Coals handed Embers a pair of long black scissors.

Embers held the heavy pair of scissors gingerly in her hands. “M’Lady…”

“What?”

“This- this doesn’t feel right. That woman has done nothing to-”

Coals’ face became twisted in light and shadow. The cat’s fur stood on end. “This is justice, child! That woman wedded a monster who took an innocent’s life! We must restore her by any means necessary!”

“But, M’Lady, is Isa not an innocent? She is not responsible for the crimes of her husband!”

“CUT HER HAIR, CHILD, OR I WILL CUT YOURS.”

Embers shrunk back into herself. She slowly nodded. “I understand what I need to do, M’Lady.”

“Good. Hurry now.”

Embers turned to brave Isa. Isa’s cheeks were stained with trails of tears but she cried no longer. Her eyes read of sympathy for Embers. Coals stood close behind Embers to ensure she did as she was told.

Embers took a deep breath before she turned and plunged the black blades deep into the heart of Coals.

***

            Embers wiped the trails of tears from Isa’s face and then the blood from the man’s forehead. She waved her hand somberly in front of their eyes. Within a moment they blinked, confused.

“Who are you?” asked Isa.

“I am a woman, that is all you need know.” Embers stooped beside the cat and cradled him in her arms. “Come, Nips. We should go home.”

Embers nodded a goodbye to the confused Isa and Norman and lifted her black hold over her vibrant tresses.

She walked off into the dark wood leaving behind only the coals and embers of what was once a quaint home.