Archive for: January, 2014

Nothing at Camden Town by Frances Gow

Jan 26 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

It started on my way home from work one Thursday evening, travelling on the Northern Line. The train rattled to a standstill at Camden Town and the doors crashed open.

“…that Mrs M, she knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” I caught a snippet of conversation before the voice mingled with the humdrum of station noise. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but it stirred something in the back of my mind. I grinned and hopped down. Thought for the day; everything must surely have a price, but does nothing really have a value?

Happy, relaxed, on my way home. The escalators rumbled up into the bright North London afternoon. I even gave fifty pence to the hairy, multi-layered tramp sitting in the corner, wedged between the ticket barrier and the snack shop. After all, he has nothing, right? He frowned at me from beneath his tangled beard, matted with beer and yesterday’s supper, and mumbled something that could have been “Thanks,” but sounded more like, “Tea costs £1.50.” I wondered if he understood the value of nothing.

It was a radiant afternoon, so I took a detour down towards the lock. Past shops, into the off licence – as well as being a curious kind of being, I am also very compulsive and my mother believes that I will either die of liver failure in my forties or lung cancer by the time I reach fifty – out of the off licence with a large bottle of Jack Daniels and twenty cigs.

I have a pest who lives next door to me named Keith, who believes it is his mission in life to rid me of my compulsive habits. He has taken me out a few times and thinks that gives us kind of “going out” status. He is a PE teacher and leaves his grubby football boots outside his front door. I wouldn’t mind, but Mrs Marble’s cat, next door but one, slinks down the hall and pees all over them. Then she scratches all the dirt off which spreads across to my front door; must remember to have a word with Mrs Marbles and Mr Pest.

He does have his moments though. In his quest for a healthier new me, he has taken to leaving a carton of fresh orange juice outside my door. Which is quite nice and makes a refreshing change to Jack Daniels when topped up with vodka and left overnight in the fridge.

I walked on past the local SavaStore and doubled back when I caught sight of a sign in the window, which read “For value for money, nothing beats SavaStore”. There you go, nothing is value for money. I chuckled and was about to walk away, when another bold red lettered sign drew my eyes. “Nothing for £2.99”. I thought it might have been a joke, or maybe someone had missed out a word and meant to say “Nothing for over £2.99”, but that didn’t make sense either. I couldn’t resist going in and I needed to get some things for supper anyway.

I was at the checkout with my basket full of junk for the sad “we live alone” type, wondering what had possessed me to go in there in the first place. You know how it is when you are standing in the queue and every time you look around you can sense the people averting their eyes from your basket. You can just imagine what they’re thinking, how they’re sizing you up according to the contents of your basket. I know, because I do it myself, for want of something better to do when standing in line like good British citizens. The till was being managed by young Indian woman, rings from her fingers to the tips of her ears, who felt it her divine right to comment on the diet of a sad “I live alone” type with nothing but junk food to offer her despairing body.

I shuffled my feet. She ran the microwave meals and choccy biscuits past the scanner and tut-tutted in time with the blips, gently chiding me as the price was totalled. I knew I wasn’t going to get out of there without some kind of comment. It was like that wherever I went. There were people like Indian Lady and Pest Next Door just lining up to tell me how I ought to be living my life. I attracted them, like dog hairs to a pair of velour hot pants.

“You need eat more vegetables, dear. Nice greens. Okra, very good for you. Lady fingers. Good for digestion, no?” Never liked it much myself. I stared back at her, sullen, like a kid that’s just had her hand slapped. She cast me a disapproving look, then reached under the counter and produced a large white tub. It looked like it could have been an ice cream tub, but there weren’t any scrummy pictures of ice-cream scoops on it. “We do special offer, £2.99 for two litre tub. Very good for you, much better than this crap.” She waved at my shopping. I looked blankly at the tub.

“What is it?”

“Is nothing. No added sugars, colours, additives. Is nothing. Very good for you.” She smiled and I stood still, unable to quite comprehend what she was on about. Then I remembered the sign outside. “Nothing for £2.99”. I looked back at the people waiting in the queue behind me. They were all nodding encouragingly. “You try. Is very good. We do special offer, two for price of one.” Then she produced another tub from beneath the counter, identical to the first and pushed them towards me. £2.99 for 4 litres, I thought. Well… if it’s got nothing in it, then it must be good for you, right? I stood staring at those white tubs, trying to think of a good reason not to spend £2.99 on nothing.

“I’ll take them,” I said, pulling out my purse before I changed my mind. There was a gentle murmur of appreciation behind me, as the people in the queue put their palms together in a little round of applause, heads tilted to one side in unison. Perhaps at the time, I thought they were barmy, but no barmier than me for buying two tubs of nothing. I hurried home in meek anticipation. I was on the brink of a discovery and nothing would change my life so irrevocably.
#

I will always remember my very first tub. It was small, clean and white. Like nothing you could imagine. As I gently prised open the lid, not knowing what to expect, there was a little pfhutt… as nothing, vacuum packed and delivered intact, escaped into the filthy polluted air of my kitchen. With a vacuous snort of disapproval, nothing scuttled into the nearest corner and lurked with intent. On all fours, I crawled towards it and reached forward with one hand, like a curious child, testing the feel of something new. With an innate forgiveness, nothing enveloped my hand and laced itself between my fingers. It felt cool, like a refreshing breeze that cuts across the stifling heat of a city in summer. It led me by the hand and showed me its real meaning, the true value of nothing.

#

Thump, thump, thump. “Hello?”

I opened one eye then closed it again, blinded by the light coming through my window. My eyeballs hurt, even with my eyes shut.

“Hello? Are you there, Kate?” Thump, thump, thump.

What was that noise in my head? Is that why my eyeballs hurt?

“Kate, open the door.” Thump, thump, thump, thump. Mr Pest.

How can it be so loud? How could my bed be so hard? I rolled over, looking for a pillow to hold over my ears and cracked my head against something hard and metal that looked suspiciously like a dustbin. I looked down at the floral pattern underneath my body and realised that unless I had recently laid a lino in my bed, I was on the kitchen floor. I sat up. The clock on the microwave said 9.20. 9.20? The last thing I remembered was… I scrambled around on the floor, looking for something, anything. There was not even an empty tub. Nothing. Then I remembered it all and jumped up feeling a little unsteady. There on the kitchen table was my second tub. Sitting patiently. Waiting to be released. And sitting beside it, one full, unopened bottle of JD and twenty B&H. This had to be a miracle for me.

“Kate, if you’re in some kind of trouble… let me in, yeah?” Thump, thump, thump. “I know you’re in there, I can see movement. Open up or -”

“What?” I threw open the door. Keith was standing there, red-faced and rustic, full of good intention, fist poised for another crack at my front door.

“Look, I just wondered if you were OK,” he said. “Only, I noticed you hadn’t touched the orange juice I left for you yesterday.” I looked down at the carton of juice, left fermenting on my doorstep. Was that there last night? I didn’t remember seeing it there when I came in. He looked purposeful and athletic in his tracksuit and trainers, like he was about to whisk me off my feet and take me for a five-mile run. I’m allergic to exercise, so I was eager to get rid of him before he tried anything in the least bit athletic. I reached down for the carton of orange.

“Thanks,” I said. “I really must be going now. I’m late for work already.”

He frowned. “Didn’t think you worked on Saturdays. Actually I was wondering if you’d like to come out with me tonight?” Hold that thought. Rewind. I stared, unable to utter a syllable beyond Sat… “Are you all right?” He reached for my arm as though I was about to fall over. The blood ran from my face. I was all at once hot and cold.

“I’m fine,” I said in a squeaky voice.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing… nothing.” I managed to fall back into my apartment and shut the door.

“But what about tonight?” I heard his muffled voice from behind the front door. “Pick you up at eight, then?” I didn’t reply, not trusting my vocal cords to string two coherent syllables together. Saturday? What had happened to Friday? Somewhere, somehow, I had lost a day. And there was still a full bottle of bourbon on the side. I hadn’t misplaced this much time since the last year I went to Glastonbury. Not bad for £2.99 a tub.

I looked in awe at the second tub of nothing on my kitchen table, not daring to touch it. I opened a packet of cigarettes instead. After all, I hadn’t had one for at least 24 hours, which must have been a record in itself. I lit up, inhaled deeply and felt instantly nauseous, so I stubbed it out and felt a lot better.

There were about six messages on my voicemail. Two from work, three from the Pest next door and one from Mum. I sat in contemplation of Jack Daniels, wondering what to do next. Shot of JD or a tub of nothing? Somehow, nothing seemed more appealing. Keith would be back at 8.00pm and I couldn’t think of any better way of avoiding an evening out with him. I opened the fridge to put away the orange juice and there were three identical cartons lined up side by side. I stuffed it into the bottom and sighed. This really was going to have to stop. I had tried desperately not to encourage him, but indifference was obviously not enough. I should never have agreed to that first date. Now I had a distinct problem multiplying in my fridge. I glanced at the innocuous looking tub, wondering what magical things it had in store for me. The corner of my kitchen where I had opened the first tub had an empty feeling to it.

I pottered around my kitchen for a while, not really knowing what to do with myself. I opened cupboards, looked at the food shelved there and tried to think about eating. But I didn’t feel hungry, which was out of character enough for me even without the strange disappearance of a day.

Carefully, I lifted the tub, carried it at arm’s length and placed it on the floor in front of the fridge. I opened the fridge door, sighed at the orange juice again and carefully prised the lid off the tub of nothing. Then I shot out of the door, grabbing jacket and keys on the way, trying not to slam it shut. I didn’t want to make Keith suspicious that I was about to jump ship on his date.

I bought a bag of chips from the chippie on the corner, hoping to re-awaken my appetite, then crossed the road and went down the steps leading to the canal. The tow-path was peppered with paper cups and empty crisp bags. The chips were greasy and made me feel sick, so I wrapped them back up and gave them to the bag lady, who lives under the bridge. She looked confused at first, then smiled at me through blackened teeth.

Camden Lock was heaving with life. People lined the gates of the lock with their fast food and plastic pint cups of beer from the pub on the corner. The air was thick with the smell of petulie, coffee beans and weed. Music, acoustic and taped, shouting and singing, all drifted and mingled on the breeze. I wandered around, not really looking at much and ignoring the pleas from various stallholders vying with each other for my business. I was trying to think of a way I could let Keith down gently, without hurting his feelings. He was evidently taken with me and I ought to have been flattered by his attention, but instead I felt irritated.

I let myself be carried by the throng of people moving steadily up Chalk Farm Road. The Crowd began to thin out as we approached the top of the road. I stood for a moment, tube station on my left, off-licence on my right. Home left, oblivion right. Or nothing at the SavaStore next door.

“Psst!”

I jumped, looked over my shoulder and saw the hairy tramp sitting on the steps of the station like an abandoned heap of dirty laundry. His hair was matted to his skull and a stray chip hung limply from his bushy beard. He was holding something in both hands and offering it to me, nodding and smiling his gummy grin. It looked like a tub of ice-cream, but I knew I wouldn’t find any colourful pictures on its side. I knew instantly what it was. Without question I went to take the tub and he snatched it back to his side as though protecting some dark secret.

“A fiver,” he said in a gruff voice.

“But I can get two for the…”

“Last one.” I fished in my pocket and found a suitably grubby looking note. He gave me the tub and shuffled off towards the off-licence. I watched him go, thinking that my life could be a whole lot worse. Then I turned down Camden Road, holding the tub at arm’s length as if it were a bomb waiting to go off.

When I got home, my fridge had disappeared. Nothing hovered in the kitchen, threatening to engulf my sink unit. Aw heck, I never did like washing up anyway. Gently, I closed the kitchen door, not daring to step into the empty space that was forming there. Soon I would have to eat or drink something. I could feel the ache of hunger gnawing the lining of my stomach. And yet, I still felt nauseous and overwhelmed by a sense of displacement.

I sat in front of my computer thinking that perhaps Google might be able to tell me what to do. All I managed to glean was a list of sites more ridiculous than my own predicament; “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” – big deal. “Nothing else matters” – yes it does, actually. “Money for nothing” – how about £2.99 for nothing? “Nothing compares to you” – Mr P notwithstanding. Wait, how about this one… “Nothing Butt Thongs: 15 new thong pictures for all you butt lovers out there” – no comment. “Buy nothing day (24 hour moratorium on purchasing in the interest of drawing attention to rampant consumer spending)” – evidently no one told these people that we were in a recession.

Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Not a thing that really related to nothing. And all the while that presence in my kitchen crept ever closer to the door. I tried to save my search results and got a message that said I had performed an illegal operation, then the ISP chucked me off the system. Well, thanks. Annoyed and betrayed, I stuck my tub of nothing in front of the monitor and lifted the lid. I left nothing to deal with my electronic handicap and on my way out, sneaked a look at the kitchen. The table had gone and most of the cupboards. There was my single bottle of Jack Daniels sitting alone in the middle of the floor. I sighed, almost relieved that it did not have a thirst for alcohol, closed the door and let myself out the front.

“I was just about to knock for you.”

“Ahh.” I stood face to face with Mr Pest, who had his fist raised and ready to knock the living daylights out of my front door.

“Great timing,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “All set?” Great timing indeed.

He took me to a small Greek restaurant not far from home, with cheery waiters and a Greek singer playing an acoustic guitar that badly needed tuning. I just hoped that they didn’t start smashing plates. I didn’t think my nerves would take it.

“What’s the matter,” he said. I looked up at him and sighed, then continued to push an olive around my plate with a piece of pitta.

“I don’t think I should see you anymore,” I said.

“Why not?” He looked a little abashed, though not entirely convinced.

“Because I don’t like you,” I said. He thought about it for a little while, then shrugged.

“Perhaps you’ll grow to like me, in time.”

Unbelievable. I stared at him. The olive rolled off my plate, across the table and stopped in front of him. He picked it up, popped it in his mouth and smiled at me.

“Excuse me?” I said. “Am I not horrible enough for you?” He shrugged again.

“I know you haven’t been yourself lately. You’re struggling with some deeper issue, I can see that. It’s written all over your face. Just take a little time and have a good long think about it.” Right. After that, I couldn’t take anything he said very seriously. He dropped me home and tried to kiss me on the doorstep. I turned my head just in time, so that all he got was a mouthful of my earlobe.

When I got inside, the living room had a kind of empty feel to it. Predictably, the computer had gone. The desk it had sat on was wavering with the intent of going somewhere else and the white tub lay on its side on the floor. I picked it up, stuck my head inside and took a deep breath, trying to capture the essence of something. But there was nothing. Just a faint buzzing in my head and an overwhelming desire for another tub. So I slipped quietly out of my apartment and all but ran down town, towards the tube station.

The tramp wasn’t where I expected to find him, so I bought a ticket with the intention of taking a ride. It was about eleven o’clock. Few people around, just the echo-rumble of escalators carrying nobody nowhere. The lights flickered, trying hard to keep their eyes open. The mini-earthquake beneath the ground signalled an oncoming train and made my feet vibrate. What was I doing there? Chasing the need to feed a compulsion I neither understood, nor desired to encourage. And yet, there I was, walking onto a deserted platform.

“Ah, I know just what you need.” I swung around. There was a man in a pin-stripe suit with a white tub on his head. I didn’t know whether to laugh or run, until he took it off. There was an empty space where his head should have been. Just nothing. He had no head. I wanted to scream but the sound just stuck in my throat. “Want to know how I do it?” The voice was coming from the tub, but I wasn’t about to stick around and find out.

I turned, stumbled and nearly tripped over something that lay sticking up out of the ground. Seemingly weaved into the structure of the concrete platform, four human fingers and a thumb made an OK sign at me, then pointed in the direction of the southbound platform. In my haste to leave, I nearly knocked over a wailing old lady, blathering something about a lost dog. The pain in her expression was acute and the tears, very real, ran in torrents down her wrinkled cheeks.

The acid in my stomach was stirring up a cocktail of bile and barely digested Greek meze. The air was alive with shrieks and the clash and rumble of tube trains. As the hum of a departing train diminished, I dared a peek at the other side. There was a kid, fifteen years old maybe, wheeling a shopping trolley up and down the platform, brimming with white tubs. He was dunking them onto unsuspecting passengers. Some ran screaming, while others just slumped to the floor in a trance-like state.

“Wheeee,” the kid said, as he scooted the trolley down towards me, scattering people in his wake. He stopped in front of me.

“Can I have one?” I said. He frowned at me, but I was feeling desperate. “I really want one.”

“I want doesn’t get,” he said, sounding like my mother.

“Please,” I said. “Looks like you’re giving them away anyway.” With a disdainful snort, he started to turn the trolley away from me, so I reached out and tried to snatch a tub. He grabbed the bottom of it before I had managed my getaway and we stood wrestling over nothing with a shopping trolley between us. People stopped what they were doing and stared. The trolley rolled away towards the edge of the platform and I could hear the faint rumble of a train approaching.

The wind began to pick up and the rumble turned into a roar. My fingertips were starting to ache and yet I still hung on to that tub as though my life depended on it. My hands were sweating and I began to lose my grip on the shiny plastic. In a last dash hope as my hand slipped away, I hooked my fingertips under the rim of the tub. There was an audible Pfhutt… as the lid popped off and the kid went tumbling backwards.

The tub flew over the top of his head into the path of the oncoming train. The kid landed on his backside, inches away from the edge of the platform, as the tube roared through the station. There was nothing between the train and the open tunnel ahead. But the tunnel remained open and the trained hurtled headlong into nothing. Carriage after carriage raced to catch the first, as though entering an invisible hole. The final carriage raced to meet its destiny and all we were left with was a silent station and an empty tub, gently steaming on the tracks below.

The kid jumped up and waved his arm across the space into which the train had disappeared, but there was nothing there. Dazed and bewildered, the people left on the platform began to applaud, as though it was some kind of magic trick. Giving the trolley a wide berth, I joined the queue of stunned travellers waiting to exit the station. Outside I had to shield my eyes and squint back the pain of a bright sunny morning.

When I got home, there was something on my doorstep. It was a carton of fresh orange juice with a note attached by a rubber band. I picked it up and went inside. First thing I did was open all the windows, including the kitchen window, which was easy to reach now that my sink unit had gone. Then I started to shoo nothing out into the early morning air. It didn’t need much encouragement and lusted after its freedom. Then I sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor with my bottle of bourbon, packet of cigarettes and the carton of orange juice.

I uncurled the note. “Hope you’re feeling more like yourself soon,” it read. My eyes smarted and a lump rose in the back of my throat. I traced the curve of his handwriting with my fingertip and took a swig out of the bottle to quell the tears that were building. I’d had enough of nothing in my life, perhaps I was ready for something. So I sat and watched the things in my kitchen slowly re-appear, drank myself silly and cried for nothing.

 

Bio:  I live and work in London, UK and have previously been published in a variety of magazines: Crossing the Border, Monomyth, Legend and Scriptor-3. Most recently, my short stories have appeared in online magazines: Liquid Imagination, Aurora Wolf, The Lorelei Signal, Mystic Signals and forthcoming in Bewildering Stories. Catch up with me on my blog: www.francesgow.com

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The Silo Confession By D.W. Gillespie

Jan 12 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Judge Kimball, 

As promised, here is the transcript verbatim from the conversation that occurred on May 14, 2012 between Father Kevin Meyers and Donnie Mickelson. The conversation occurred in a private interview room at the Chapeline County Jail at approximately 2:00 PM. 

Donna listened to the tape three times to get all of this down, and she had to take the rest of the day off afterwards. There’s bad stuff here, but hopefully it will be enough to put this whole mess behind us.

Father Meyers: Do you mind if I record this? 

Donnie Mickelson: Don’t matter to me much either way. 

FM: Why’s that? 

DM: (laughs) That’s why you’re here old man. To listen. I could care less if the rest of the world hears it too. 

FM: Very well. Do you mind if I take notes? 

DM: (agitated) Shit, I don’t care. You don’t get what I’m trying to tell you. I don’t care anymore. It’s fucking with my head…and…and…I just need to tell somebody. 

FM: So, that’s why you asked for me? 

DM: Let me ask you a question. You really believe in God? I mean, the bible, the talking snakes, lions eating people, all that shit? 

FM: If you are asking about my faith, then yes. I take the book as the word of God, just as he intended. There were many wondrous things before our time, things that seem impossible in the world we live in… 

DM: (interrupts) What about rising from the dead? 

FM: Well…yes, our Lord and savior rose from his grave, just as he himself returned life to Lazarus. 

DM: No. Not returning life. Not bringing someone back like they were before. I mean the dead. Coming back. 

FM: (shuffling papers) I’m sorry, but I believe there was a mistake here. I don’t think I can help you… 

DM: No, please stay. You don’t have to help me. You can’t help me, even I know that. I just want…I need someone to listen. Then you can go. You can forget about me forever if you want, but please…please just listen.

FM: (sitting down) Very well. I will listen, and despite your protests, I will help you if it is within my power to do so. I’ll ask again, do you mind if I take notes? 

DM: No. It’s cool. Do what you need to. 

FM: Thank you. 

DM: Never seen a pen like that in person. Looks old. 

FM: It is quite old. It belonged to my father. It is an old fashioned fountain pen. A little unwieldy and inconvenient, but I find it forces me to consider everything I write down. 

DM: How’s that? 

FM: Well, it runs out rather quickly, and it is a chore to refill. Therefore, every stroke of the pen is important, every word has meaning. It is quite a refreshing change from the world we live in. Nothing takes time or reflection. There’s no room for thoughtfulness or contemplation. The only thing that matters is what’s next. 

DM: Yeah…I can see that. But I’m the opposite. In here, all you have is time. Even if it’s just a month, it’s the longest month you’ll ever spend. 

FM: And I think I can see that as well. You know, I talk to a lot of prisoners as part of therapy sessions or due to the terms of their release, but it’s rare that they seek me out. I think that speaks volumes about you and your situation. 

DM: What do you know about me? 

FM: A little. I know that you’re serving a three month term on petty theft charges. That’s after a year on probation and a few other small stints for everything from public intoxication to assault. So, in other words, I know the music, just not the lyrics. 

DM: (laughs) That’s nice. Probably sound like a thug, huh? I sure as hell act like one, at least for the past seven years. 

FM: Are you looking for something? I find that many of the inmates I meet feel a deep emptiness inside. Whether part of their upbringing, or by their own choices, there’s something missing, like a well that never fills up. There is an answer of course, if you’re willing to… 

DM: Cut that shit out. I didn’t call you to hear a sermon. My life…is fucked. I know that. Anyone with eyes can see that. But it didn’t used to be this way. Something changed me, and I know exactly what it is. I’ve never told anyone, because…

(pauses and sighs)

…oh God. Some things you can’t tell. I don’t know if everyone has moments in their life that they carry around with them every second. Jesus, it weighs you down like an anchor around your neck. You can try to forget it…drink it away, fuck it away, fight it away, but it’s always there. I feel like I’m drowning every day, and when the morning finally comes around, I can’t believe I’m still alive. So, you tell me. Is that everybody? Or is it just me? 

FM: No, it’s not just you. We all have things we look back on with a heavy heart. And if these moments are dark or shameful, the regret may never leave until we’re willing to let it go. 

DM: Regret. Yeah, that’s part of it. But only part. The worst part, the thing that keeps my eyes from closing isn’t regret, or guilt. It’s fear. 

FM: Fear? I’m afraid I don’t understand… 

DM: You’re about to. I’m about to tell you something I’ve never told another single soul. I’m going to tell you why my life is shit. I’m going to tell you about the night when I killed Bill Cartwright.

(Lights cigarette. Long pause.)

Bill was gay. Everybody knew it, but I’m not exactly sure that he knew it, if you know what I mean. I mean, he knew he was different, but when do kids really start to understand themselves? I mean, it’s obvious now. Looking back with the eyes of an adult, anyone could see it.

Maybe he knew, maybe he didn’t. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that he was a target. An easy one, too. Thinking about the hell-hole that was middle-school, and he might as well have a bull’s-eye painted on his back. 

FM: And you…killed him? I have to let you know that I’m legally obligated to share anything relating to a crime.

DM: Calm down. I didn’t shoot him or anything. But he’s dead, and it’s my fault. He lived in my neighborhood growing up. I’ve never been the type to really have close friends, but he was one. I mean, he was everybody’s friend, you know? Just a good guy, but…different. People don’t like that, especially in a small town. It puts them on edge when they can’t figure you out. It’s even worse when you’re a kid, too, because you really don’t know anything. You see the world, but it doesn’t really make sense yet.

We used to record stuff on the computer at his house. He had this cheap little mic, and we’d rip CDs with little routines we came up with. Skits, nasty songs we came up with, whatever. We called it the Billy and Donnie Show. We even wrote that on the CDs after we burned them.

(sighs)

I came across a few of them a year or so ago. I got so drunk I could hardly stand up and I started driving around town listening to them. I woke up in a ditch on some back road the next morning. Somehow I didn’t kill myself or anyone else. Would have been easier if I had. I did wreck the CDs though.

(silence)

Anyway, there was a group of guys around the neighborhood, four or five of them. Some older, some younger, but mostly a good group. I think about the old crew a lot now. I mean, none of us had much coming up, but they all turned out okay. Only me and Bill…

(unintelligible)

But there was one guy. Louis Remington. He was the worst. Jesus Christ, he was seventeen years old still slumming around with a bunch of eighth-graders. I always wondered why he hung out with us, and my brother told me it was because he had been in juvie half a dozen times and couldn’t get a license. His old man used to beat the shit out of him for stealing booze, or porn, or whatever.

I can still see myself, all of us really, staring up at him in awe at the shit he would do, the stories he would tell. Cops he had punched out, girls he had been with. None of us had even touched a girl, and he was giving us details about eating pussy and fingering chicks till they were screaming…

FM: (coughs) I, um…I’m more than happy to listen, but I don’t need all of the details.

DM: Oh. Yeah, sorry about that, father.

The point is, we all looked up to him. All these years later, it makes me sick to my stomach to realize that, but it was the truth. My own dad was never around, and in some weird way, I was learning about the world from this guy. Never mind the fact that everyone else his age was getting ready for college or starting jobs while he was hanging out with twelve year olds. Didn’t matter to us.

Back then, we found fun wherever we could. Wasn’t much to do. Couldn’t afford many videogames, so we spent most of the time outside, exploring, getting into trouble. We’d roll houses, play capture the flag, football, whatever.

The best place to go was a couple dozen acres of woods on the edge of the neighborhood. There were a few old, burned out farmhouses to mess around in, and some grown up trails to get lost in. But the one place we always came back to was this big ass, abandoned grain silo. Damn thing must have been there for fifty of sixty years, and it always looked like it could topple over at any minute. It was empty inside, but you could tell we weren’t the only ones that knew about it. There was always something a little creepy when a bunch of kids came across a handful of beer cans or a used condom. Once, we even found a needle in there.

There wasn’t really anything to do there, but it was a cool place to hang out. It reminded me of the forts I used to build with sheets and couch cushions, except this was solid and real. And even better, it felt like it was ours. Granted, none of us ever dared to stay there after dark, but there was something that just drew us there. 

FM: Was this silo part of what happened with Bill? 

DM: Yeah. I was getting there.

(Lights another cigarette)

We were playing around the silo on the day when I first heard the story. There were five or six of us hanging out when Louis walked out of the woods. No warning at all, just like he was strolling along out there…following us maybe. He was smoking one of those stinking sweet cigars like he was some kind of gangster. None of us had the balls to do anything like that, but that was Louis. Larger than life, you know.

He started fucking with us the way he always did, like this loser is the smartest guy in the room. Giving us little smart ass nicknames. Daring us to do dumb shit. He pulls this knife out and started carving the side of the silo, writing ‘fuck you’ and shit like that. It was just some cheap, made in Taiwan piece, but it made him seem like such a badass. Pretty soon, we were falling right in line with him like he was one of us, only he wasn’t. But the only person that seemed to know that was Bill. It was like we were all rats in front of a cobra, just hypnotized, and out of all of us, I had it the worst. Louis seemed to sense that Bill wasn’t buying his shit, which wasn’t really much of a surprise. I guess all predators are like that. A kind of sixth sense that points out the weak and the vulnerable.

Bill wasn’t weak. I can see that now. But he was vulnerable. I was the only one that really had his back. Everyone knew he was different, but they accepted him because I did. But on that day…I didn’t.

(Long pause) 

FM: So what happened? 

DM: Louis started telling this story about the silo. Telling about how the farmer that owned the house over the hill locked his retarded son in there. Said the old man was so embarrassed about the kid, that he emptied out the silo and started making the kid sleep in there. Before long, he wouldn’t let him leave for anything. Not to go to school or church. Not for meals, or holidays, or anything. According to Louis, that kid spent his whole life in there, until he couldn’t stand it anymore. The father came to check on him one day and found him laying on the ground with his head split open and a spray of blood on the concrete wall. Said the kid just started smacking his head on the wall until he died.

And there we were, a bunch of kids listening to a dead beat spin a yarn that we were swallowing without question. All of us, except one. That was when he started in with the dares. It started small. Go in the silo with the metal grate closed for a minute, or two, or ten. All of it was so damn harmless. Before long, almost everybody had taken their turn. 

FM: What happened? 

DM: He tried to goad Bill into it, but he wasn’t having any of it. Louis called him a pussy, called him scared, and finally, the thing we were all waiting for, he called him a faggot. Half the guys started laughing, a few said they were going home, but Bill never blinked. You know, he wasn’t good at sports, he was always picked last, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the toughest out of all of us. He just stood there staring at Louis with this look that said, “Come on motherfucker.”

When Bill finally did say something, he decided it was time to raise the stakes. He said he would stay in there all night if Louis went in there with him. And boom, just like that, you could see the fear in Louis’s eyes as clear as day. Oh, he tried to laugh, and he kept muttering to himself about how Bill just wanted to get him in there alone so he could try to suck his dick, but Bill wouldn’t let it drop. He said “I’ll be back here at nine o’clock, and if you aren’t waiting, then we’ll know who the faggot is.”

I don’t think I can really tell you what that moment was like. I mean, you just didn’t say shit like that to Louis Remington, at least not without expecting to get your ass kicked. But Louis just stood there, smiling a weird half-smile and nodding his head. 

FM: So, did Bill go back? 

DM: I tried to talk him out of it. The later the day got, the harder I tried to convince him, but his mind was set. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone so determined to prove himself. I was scared for him, I really was, but I admired the hell out of him just the same. I finally told him that if he was going, I would go with him. I don’t think he wanted me to, but he didn’t try to stop me. Truth be told, he looked a little relieved.

We both lied to our parents, telling them we were spending the night at each other’s house, and off we went. The trails in the woods were so different under the moon, so unfamiliar. If it hadn’t been for Bill, I would have turned back and never thought twice.

We saw the silo rise up and blot out the moon in front of us, and the sight of it…Jesus, I can’t even put it into words. If there’s another place in this world as eerie, I don’t want to see it.

We waited for nearly a half hour before we saw the flashlight bobbing along the dark trails. Louis came into the clearing with a beer in his hand and one in each pocket of his baggy, torn-up jeans. He went straight at Bill, calling him queer and accusing the two of us of being fuck-buddies. Bill ignored him and laid out the rules.

The two of them would go in, and I would shut the metal hatch from the outside. It was old and rusted, but the latch still worked, and once you were in, there was no getting out unless somebody let you out. Then, I’d sit down and wait for the sun to come up, and no matter what happened, I wouldn’t let them out.

That was when Louis looked at me and said, “I never thought you’d take orders from a fag. Thought you were cool, man.”

I can’t really explain how that statement made me feel. I was suddenly torn between two worlds. Was it going to be friendship or ugly, stupid peer pressure? I don’t know why, to this day, I still can’t explain it, but I wanted Louis to respect me. I wanted his approval. God, why the hell did I care? (unintelligible laughing or crying) 

FM: You said your father wasn’t around? 

DM: Yeah, yeah. I know why the textbooks say I did it, but that doesn’t explain it. Nothing can explain what happened next. 

FM: Tell me. Go ahead and get it out.

(Long pause with deep breathing) 

DM: Bill climbed in. Louis acted like he was going to. Then, he slammed the hatch and started laughing. At first, it was kind of quiet. Then Bill started knocking on the door and trying to get out. He…he asked me to open the hatch. Then, Louis looked at me, and there it was. There was the line, right there in the sand. I could be a man and stand up for my friend, or I could choose to be something else. 

FM: You…left your friend there? 

DM: No. Worse. I could maybe live with that.

Louis looked at me and told me to watch the door for him. Said he wanted to teach that faggot a lesson. He told me he’d be back in a few hours after he decided that Bill had enough. All the while, Bill’s knocking away, asking me to get him out of there. I never said a word. I just nodded along, agreeing with everything he said, and as he turned to leave, he said something that sealed the deal.

“You’re alright.”

(sighs)

That was all it took. Something so small, so damn insignificant. Louis was an idiot in most ways, but he knew how to get things out of people weaker than him. He had me, and by God, he knew it. If he hadn’t said that, I probably would have let Bill out as soon as he was out of sight. But I didn’t.

In the years since then, I’ve gone through every rationalization I can come up with. The easiest was that I was scared of Louis. I told myself, you were just a kid. He was practically grown. Who knows what he would have done if he came back and you were gone. You couldn’t hide from him forever. 

FM: But you were a boy, you have to understand that. And you were dealing with very grown up things. In a situation like that, it’s understandable… 

DM: That’s bullshit, and you know it. Good people, strong people, make the right decisions when it matters the most. I was a coward then, and I am now.

After Louis was finally gone, Bill started talking to me. Started telling me how much I meant to him, how important my friendship was to him. I even thought he was going to come out to me. He never did, but I understood. Our friendship was worth more than anything Louis could ever give me, but the truth of that wasn’t enough to make me man up. I just sat there, leaning up against that gray stone, trying not to cry.

He started sounding more desperate, more nervous, but he was never really scared at first. I would have pissed my pants the moment the hatch shut, but he was so much braver than I ever was. I didn’t have a watch on, but I sat there listening, watching the moon glide across the sky. I can still remember the way it looked when the change started. 

FM: Change? 

DM: Something…something happened in there. At the time, I couldn’t even begin to guess what it was, but now…now I know so much more.

Bill’s voice seemed to shift, and all at once, I could hear the fear in his voice. He said there was something in there with him, some…body. There’s no way he could have seen much in there, but he said there was someone breathing.

(crying)

God, I can still hear his voice in my head, every time I close my eyes and try to sleep. Pretty soon, he was clawing at the hatch and kicking and punching it. His scream, it was so loud, so full of terror, like an animal being eaten alive. The fear in that scream was bad, but the worst was the desperation. He wasn’t asking anymore, he was begging, pleading. Do you understand? My friend, my only true friend was praying for me to let him out, to set him free…and I was such a fucking coward, that I didn’t do it. I didn’t raise a finger to help him. I just leaned over and clapped both hands over my ears and closed my eyes.

(sniffing and moaning sounds) 

FM: How did he get out? 

DM: It was me. I’m not sure if I dozed or if I passed out, but the next thing I remembered, it was light out. And the silo…everything was so quiet. When I finally mustered up the courage to open it up, I found him lying near the back wall. He wasn’t moving. For all I knew, he was dead. So, I just stood there waiting and hoping that something would fix all this, make it the way things were before.

After a while, I just turned and walked home. I didn’t even have the nerve to check on him.

(laughing)

Oh, and the kicker…Louis didn’t even show back up. As far as he knew, I let Bill out as soon as he was out of sight. Isn’t that fucking hysterical? 

FM: So, was…was he dead? 

DM: No. I’m not sure how he got out of there. Maybe someone found him, or maybe he just dragged himself out. All I know is, he wasn’t at school on Monday. I expected to hear some news from my mom, but I never did. And I didn’t dare go outside. I can honestly say that was the longest few days of my life, and even with all the dumb shit I’ve done since, I’ve never felt more like a criminal.

Then, on Tuesday morning, there he was. He looked the same at first, and most people would probably never notice anything off. But I wasn’t most people, and I knew as soon as I saw him. Sure, his fingers were bandaged up from clawing at the hatch, but it was more than that. Mostly, it was his eyes. I had never seen eyes like that before, but in the years since, I’ve seen them a time or two.

Meth-heads without a dime to their name have those eyes. The type of people that would blow half a dozen aids patients to get a hit. People that have just buried someone close have those eyes, too. I suppose my eyes probably look like that just about now, and I’m sure I deserve it. Those eyes mean one thing. Desperation. A hole that you can’t ever dig out of. Dread that you can’t shake off. You shouldn’t see a look like that on the face of a boy that doesn’t even own a razor yet. But that’s what I saw. Fair or not, that’s what I saw. 

FM: What did he say to you?

(laughs or cries) 

DM: Nothing. Never said another word. Never even looked at me in the face. 

FM: And that was the end? 

DM: No.

(Sniffing)

A week later, he shot himself in the mouth with his dad’s shotgun.

(Long silence) 

FM: I’m very sorry for your loss, and his. I can’t answer all of your questions, but I can tell you this. You, like all of us, are seeking forgiveness. I’ve met people much, much worse than you. Believe me, I’ve stared eye to eye with men whose crimes make yours look like nothing. But those men found peace. They found forgiveness in the Lord. If you’d like, I would be happy to spend some time with you…to help you let go of this guilt. 

DM: Guilt? Is that what you think this is? I told you earlier, it’s not regret and guilt that’s eating me from the inside out. It’s fear! 

FM: I…I don’t under… 

DM: Louis was right. He didn’t know everything, but he heard enough. You see, I couldn’t stop thinking of Bill. The rest of the world moved on, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. It didn’t matter how much I drank, or snorted, or smoked, I couldn’t leave him behind. And then, about a year ago, I started doing some research at the library, and I’ll be damned if Louis wasn’t telling the truth. 

FM: What truth? 

DM: The farmer! His name was John Caswell, and he killed his son, his own boy. He locked him in the silo until the kid died of exposure. It was back in 1942, and the locals got so worked up, they burned down his farm and left him with nothing. Nothing left but a burnt out frame and that damn silo. 

FM: I don’t see what that has to do with… 

DM: You don’t see because you weren’t there. You didn’t hear him scream and beg and pray for death. That boy, John Caswell’s son, he was in there! I don’t know how, but he was. Can you imagine how that must have felt? What that would do to a twelve-year old boy? I couldn’t imagine it before now, but now I see…ohhh yes, I see it now.

About nine months ago, I started seeing Bill in the middle of the night. I’d wake up and there he was, just standing in the corner with his back to me, never showing me his face, just the hole, that fucking, open hole in the back of his head where his brain used to be.

That was in the beginning, but now, he’s getting bolder. He wants me to see more, you understand? He wants me to see what he saw…to live what he lived. It took him a long, long time to find me, but he finally did, and I have to get out of here! There’s nowhere to hide in a cell, and it doesn’t matter how much you scream, they won’t let you out…they never let you out. 

FM: Please, you must calm down…it will all be okay, just calm down… 

DM: Ohhhhhhhh, I’ve seen the dead rise. They want us to see. They want to share that pain, so much pain. I’ve seen him staring at me with those glassy, accusing eyes, creeping closer and closer each night. All last night, he stared through the window of my cell, my cell on the second floor! HA! He smiles at me as he scrapes the glass with his fingernails, always smiling! So eager to share! I’ve seen it, and so much more, and enough is enough. It’s time… 

FM: No! Please put that down… 

DM: …it’s time for me to stop seeing… 

FM: …oh Jesus please… 

DM: …for good. 

FM: …NO! NO! PLEASE SOMEONE HELP! 

In case you didn’t know the rest of the details, here is the short version. In the last few seconds of the tape, Donnie picked up Father Meyers fountain pen and jabbed it into his eye as deep as he could. Then, he took a run at the wall and slammed the back end of the pen in the rest of the way. He died about three hours later from brain trauma and blood loss.  

So, that’s it. Honestly, this whole thing is just a damn mess if you ask me. It should have been an open and shut case of severe mental delusion, and I’d recommend that it go into books as just that.  

The only problem is the Father. He passed out before the guards made it into the room, which is understandable under the circumstances. But once he finally came to and gave his statement, he swore there was someone else in the room. He never saw his face because his back was to the wall, but he still swears he saw someone there. Some boy. And just like that, an unfortunate event can turn into a full-blown investigation. 

Mark, we’ve known each other for years. Between you and me, I’d just like to see this one put to bed quickly. But, as always, the choice is yours. 

Best,

Sherriff Pete Wallace

 

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Jan 11 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Dominique Collier
11221 S. 51st St. #3014
Phoenix, AZ 85044
480-206-6697
Dominique.collier@gmail.com

Chainman
3,571 words

The wind roared and howled and beat against the windows like an angry demon intent on entering. It nearly drowned out the crunch of tires on gravel as the beat up old Chevy approached the house, but Abigail had tuned her ears to hear it. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. 2:39 am. Her whole body tensed. Downstairs the front door slammed and heavy boots clomped across the kitchen floor.

Next she heard the refrigerator door open and close. Coming home never meant an end to the drinking. She had learned this over thirteen years of marriage. She needed something to calm the anger that raged inside her like a savage beast.

Who was it this time? What woman did he give his night to, when he should have been home with his wife?

Under the mattress she found a bottle of vodka. Her hands shook as she unscrewed the cap and took a swig. Just one. And another. Just two, that’s it. The bottle was stashed in its original hiding spot.

Abigail glanced in the mirror across the room; saw the blue and purple blob that surrounded her swollen eye. Her split lip had puffed like the botched result of a bad Botox injection. She rolled over and pulled the covers over her head. She shut her eyes tight. Just let me die.

The bedroom door slammed open. Abigail’s anger turned to fear.

“Why didn’t you finish the dishes?” Tom hissed. “This place looks like a shit hole.” His words were slurred. He’d clearly downed more than a few drinks. Abigail remained quiet. “Answer me!” he screamed.

Tom grabbed Abigail by the wrist and twisted her arm violently. She howled as pain shot through her. He didn’t let go, but flung her off the bed. Her head slammed into the wall. Pinpoints of light dotted her vision.

“This place better be clean tomorrow,” Tom said. Then he left the room. Abigail crawled back into bed and cried herself to sleep.

In the morning Abigail found Tom passed out on the couch, a half empty beer bottle in hand. He hadn’t even taken his shoes off. Without waking him she tiptoed out of the house to start the never ending, grueling chores that the ranch demanded to survive.

The sun barely peaked its head over the brown hills on the horizon. Abigail turned and stared at the signpost at the foot of the drive. “Walking M Ranch,” it said. She frowned. A year ago Tom had inherited the ranch when his uncle died, and the couple had been obligated to leave their home in the city to take over its care. In the beginning Abigail had thought it could be a fresh start for their relationship. They tended the animals together and spent hours discussing the finances, the auctions they would take part in, and the livestock they would buy or sell. But Tom was bitter about having to leave the city. He was bitter that Abigail could not give him children. He hated the ranch and he hated her, and in a short time it became apparent.

Now, as on every other morning, Abigail was forced to do the chores alone while Tom slept. And as on many other mornings, she cried as she went about her tasks. While her practiced hands drew milk from Guri, her favorite goat, the trickle of tears became a torrent. She leaned her head into Guri’s flank and sobbed.

When the tears had dried, Abigail did not move for several minutes. Finally she stood, knocking over the half-filled bucket. She walked, almost floated, in a daze, toward the barn, her face as blank and unreadable as a rock wall. Inside the barn she collected all the chains she could find and hauled them to the loft.

For several days and nights she worked. She rarely stepped foot in the house. She hardly ate. She talked to herself and hummed and cackled.

“You’ll pay,” she said over and over. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done, what you’ve turned me into. You want a child? I’ll give you a child. One that comes from hell to haunt and terrorize you.”

By lamplight Abigail toiled. She put her sweat, tears, and blood into her work. By the fourth night she was ready. On a table in the loft lay a heap of chains, welded into the shape of a man. She pulled a knife from her belt and drew the blade determinedly across her palm, slicing deep into the skin. The wound wept scarlet tears. She let the seeping blood drip over the pile of chains. They began to rattle. She smeared her blood over the arms and hands, then the feet and the head. The chains convulsed violently. Abigail tore out her hair and tossed it over them. The man-shaped form began to rise. She gathered it in her arms and drew it against her own body. She willed her life force into the creature that she called Chainman.

“Take my life,” she said. “And then take his.”

Abigail laid the chain man on the table. It sat up and watched her lift the rope she had secured to the rafters above. At the other end of the rope, a noose had been tied. Abigail slipped it over her neck, pulled it tight, and stepped to the edge of the loft.

“Goodbye,” she said. Then she jumped.

Chainman leapt off the table and reached out, but he was too late. The woman who had given him life dangled below, her neck bent at an impossible angle.

**********

Tom hurled an empty beer bottle across the kitchen. It smashed against the wall with a satisfying crash. If he drank a lot before Abigail’s death, now his drinking was out of control. He picked up his eighteenth bottle of the night and peeked out the window at the barn.

I oughta burn it down.

He hadn’t slept much since the night he’d found her body swinging from the rafters: blue, cold, frowning. Eerie noises kept him awake. A scratch at the window, the rattle of chains, something dragging across the floor. He kept his shotgun by the bed.

The sun had set long ago. Tom made his way wearily up the stairs to the bedroom where his wife had so recently slept. Images flooded his mind of her body at the other end of that rope. Judgment and wrath poured from her otherwise lifeless eyes. Tom shivered. He crawled into bed, drunk enough to pass out into a coma, yet he couldn’t sleep. He knew the noises would start soon.

Rata-tat-tat. Rata-tat-tat. He looked out the window but saw only darkness. He pulled the covers to his chin, his eyes wide.

Creeeaaakkk. It was the front door opening. Tom knew he had locked it.

Scratch, scratch. The sounds of chains dragging across the floor. They came from the hallway. Tom grabbed his shotgun and aimed it at the bedroom door.

The door slowly opened halfway. Tom fired the gun. Stillness. Then the door began to ease open the rest of the way. In the void stood a man made of chains. Tom squeezed the trigger again. A spark flashed as the bullet glanced off the chain man. It dragged itself toward the bed.

“Help!” Tom yelled. “Stay away from me!”

He swung the gun like a club at the figure. A chain wrapped around the shotgun and ripped it from Tom’s hands, then flung it across the room. Tom tried to back away, but a chain arm shot out and wrapped around his neck. It squeezed. Tom’s eyes bulged. He tried to shout but could make no sound. More chains encircled his body, pinning his arms to his sides and his legs together. The circles of chains tightened and constricted. Tom’s bones snapped. His tongue protruded from his mouth, engorged. Blood vessels popped in his eyes. Finally the chains loosened. Tom fell to the ground, dead.

Chainman left the house and went back into the fields, where he mourned the death of his creator and swore vengeance against humankind.

************

Seven-year-old Roman’s eyes opened wide. His jaw dropped.

“You’re lying, Nicky,” he said to his thirteen year old cousin, not believing his own words.

“No I’m not. The story’s true. We’ve seen evidence. Haven’t we Ella?”

Roman’s eleven-year-old cousin looked solemn. “He lives out in the fields. We see chain marks all over the ground out there. And we find dead chickens and cows. He eats them, or sucks their blood, or something.”

“He’s not a vampire Ella,” Nicky said.

“But he’s a monster,” she responded vehemently. “Everybody who’s lived on this ranch has either left because of him, or been killed.”

“D-d-d-does he kill kids too?” Roman asked, shaking.

“He kills kids,” Nicky answered. “Especially ones from the city. He hates city folk. And today is the anniversary of the day he was created. If he’s gonna come, it’ll be today.”

“I’m getting out of here.” Roman hurried down the dilapidated ladder from the barn loft to the ground. He sensed Nicky and Ella following him, seeming to enjoy his fear.

“Roman’s a scaredy cat,” Nicky whispered to his sister, just loud enough for Roman to hear.

Inside the house Roman peeked into various rooms.

“Where’s my mom?” he asked.

“She’s gone,” Nicky replied matter of factly. “She left with my parents to go into town. They’ll be gone all day.”

“Then who’s making those noises?” Roman asked with trepidation.

From outside came a din of clanking and rattling chains.

“It’s Chainman,” Ella whispered. “He’s coming. We need to hide!”

The three children tripped over each other running into the nearest bedroom. Nicky slammed the door and twisted the lock. They stared at it as they backed toward the far wall in a huddle.

Rata-tat-tat. The sound came from the window that looked on the fields behind the house. On the other side of a mere inch of glass hovered a mass of chains. It raised an arm and scraped it against the window. Roman squeezed his eyes shut and counted to three. When he opened them, Chainman was gone. A few seconds later he distinctly heard the front door creak open. Maybe it’s my mom. He knew it wasn’t.

The chains rattled and clinked as they advanced down the hall, toward the bedroom where the children cowered. Roman’s chin quivered.

“I-i-i-is it ok if I cry?” he asked his cousins shakily, tears already in his eyes.

Nicky’s confident grin was long gone. “It was true,” he whispered, eyes wide.

Bam! The door rattled as the creature slammed into the other side of it. Bam! Bam! Again and again. Each time the door shook. Then it began to splinter around the knob.

“Out the window,” Nicky shouted.

Ella scrambled to unlatch and lift the scratched pane of glass. As soon as she had raised it enough for them to fit through, she hefted her leg over and crawled out. Nicky followed. Roman remained in the corner of the room, frozen with fear. Nicky stuck his head back through the window.

“Come on!”

At last Roman bolted after his cousins. He tumbled through the opening and rolled onto the ground outside. As he pushed to a standing position the bedroom door crashed open.

“Hide in the barn,” Nicky said. The three children dashed toward the bulky structure. Nicky reached it first. He hauled open the barn door and rushed the other two inside before he pulled it shut behind him. Enormous bales of hay filled the ground level. Roman slunk behind a stack of them near the back of the barn.

With his nose pressed against the hay, its earthy smell nearly gagged him. His tears had dried but his body shook with terror. Roman didn’t know where his cousins had gone. He guessed they’d followed suit and hidden behind other bales of hay. He glanced around for an escape route. About ten feet from his position, the rickety ladder rose to the barn’s loft. His eyes traveled to the second story high above, dizzying him.

At that moment the barn door swung open. Daylight poured in. Roman was momentarily blinded. When his eyes adjusted he peeked around his hay bales. He hoped to find Nicky at the door. Instead he encountered the man of chains. It loomed in the doorway, giant, evil. Hot liquid streamed down Roman’s leg. The smell of urine filled his nostrils. Its pungency jolted his senses and startled him into motion.

The ladder sagged under Roman’s weight. Splinters jabbed his fingers and palms as he grasped the rungs. He ignored them and continued to climb as fast as he could. In his periphery Nicky and Ella climbed over bales of hay and slid between tall stacks of them. They were headed toward the barn door. Roman twisted his torso to see behind him. Chainman stood at the foot of the ladder.

He forced himself to keep moving. Chainman sped up the ladder behind him. Halfway up, one of the rungs shattered beneath Roman’s feet. He lost his grip as his feet crashed through the broken rung and he began to topple downward. His arms grasped empty air as he flailed for another grip on the ladder. Below him chain arms snaked upward toward his falling body. Finally his hand made contact with a rung and he wrapped his fingers around it. His arm nearly ripped from its socket as it caught the weight of his frame. His shoulder throbbed. He had fallen too far. One of the chains reached him and wrapped around his ankle. It clenched so tightly that Roman thought it would crush his bones. He kicked wildly, but the chains held on. Fear swallowed him and he shrieked. The ear-splitting sound seemed to be more than Chainman could bear. His arm released its grip on Roman’s ankle as he writhed in agony.

As soon as he was free, Roman scrambled the rest of the way up the ladder and hauled his scrawny body onto the floor of the loft. Without pausing to think he wrapped his arms around one of the bales of hay that littered the loft floor. It was too heavy for him to lift. He put his back against the far side of the bale and pushed with his legs. It inched toward the ladder, then gave way and tumbled over the side of the loft.

Crash. Roman heard it collide with the mass of chains, though the sound was muffled by the hammering of his own heart. There was no time to look and see if Chainman had been knocked to the ground. Besides, Roman didn’t dare peak over the loft’s edge. His head could be grabbed by chains and ripped from his body.

His eyes were drawn to the hole in the wall through which the late afternoon sunlight poured; sunlight that seemed to steel his nerves and banish the overwhelming fear that had possessed him.

Roman scurried to the hole and leaned out. He looked on the fields behind the barn. Far below, Nicky and Ella shielded their eyes from the harsh sun as they peered at him. Next to the barn under the hole sat yet another gigantic pile of hay. Behind him the ominous rattle of chains moved up the ladder once more. Roman hoisted his legs through the hole and stepped gingerly onto the ledge outside. The drop appeared impossibly long. When he looked down the barn seemed to sway beneath him and the ground swam. He took aim, squeezed his eyes shut, and leapt.

Pain shot through Roman’s back and legs as he landed hard on the solid bales of hay. He turned to look at the hole through which he’d just escaped. Chainman leaned through it, his chain arm grasping the air as if he’d been inches away from grabbing Roman mid-leap.

Ella squealed. Roman jumped to the ground and the children sprinted together through the fields. About a mile in a barbed wire fence threatened to impede their way. Nicky and Ella hurdled it like they’d done it a thousand times. Roman tried to do the same. As he clumsily leapt over the fence, one of the barbs caught his leg and sliced into his shin. Unable to right himself, he rolled on the ground. Blood smeared the dirt. Ella halted and returned to his side. She helped him up and they ran again. Roman’s lungs felt ready to burst by the time they finally came to a rest. All three leaned forward, hands on their knees, and fought for breath. A statuesque elm tree stood over them like a sentry. Though they peered hard in every direction, there was no sign of Chainman.

“Eeee!” Ella screamed. She stared at the ground behind the elm. The boys came to see what had frightened her. A wooden X made of sticks tied together by twine jutted from the dirt.

“This is where he’s buried,” she said. “Tom Avery!” Roman stared at her, agape. “This is where Chainman put his body after he’d killed him,” she continued.

“That’s it.” Nicky said with excitement. “They say the only way to kill Chainman is to prove to Abigail’s ghost that her husband is really dead. She wanders the fields of the ranch, looking for his body. If she sees it, supposedly she’ll call off Chainman.”

“Then we have to dig him up,” Roman said with a new authority. He’d never felt this brave before. “I’ll get the shovels. Wait here.”

As Roman crept back toward the barn where the shovels were stowed, he kept his eyes peeled and his ears tuned for any sign of Chainman. The place loomed as still and silent as a graveyard. He collected the tools they needed, then dashed into the house and back again before he hurried to the elm where his cousins waited.

For several hours the children dug, until the sun had snuggled into its berth and stars dotted the dark sky. They didn’t speak as they plunged their shovels into the hard earth and flung dirt to the side. Then Roman’s shovel hit something more solid than the packed dirt. The children doubled their efforts until they had unearthed a full skeletal body. Tattered clothes hung in rags from the bones. The skeleton face was forever set in an expression of utter horror. Worms crawled through its eye sockets and open mouth.

The children lifted the body carefully out of the hole and set it on the level ground.

“Now how do we call Abigail’s ghost?” Ella asked.

“I thought we might need some candles, for like, a séance or something,” Roman said. He produced the candles and the lighter he’d taken from the house. With the candles lit, an eerie glow pervaded the scene. The flames flickered and licked at the open sky as if they called out to any ethereal beings to come forward. They waited.

Before long the children heard sounds approach, but they weren’t the sounds they hoped for. The clatter and clink of chains reached their ears like news of the devil. From what direction it came, they could not tell. In an instant a chain arm reached out of the tall grass that surrounded the elm’s clearing. It grabbed Nicky around his chest and began to pull him backward.

Roman dove across the distance that separated him from Nicky to clasp his cousin’s ankles. Another chain arm wrapped around Nicky’s neck and began to squeeze. Nicky clawed at it but the grip did not loosen. He gasped for air. Then a female voice that was not Ella’s pierced the air.

“Is that Tom? Is he really dead?” the voice asked.

Nicky’s eyes bulged and he could no longer even gasp for air.

“Prove it. Cut his head off,” the ghostly voice demanded.

Roman released Nicky’s ankles and jumped to his feet. He wasn’t strong enough to pull Chainman off of Nicky, so he had only one other option to save his cousin’s life. He picked up a shovel and placed the blade against the neck of Tom’s skeleton. With one swift motion he threw all his weight onto the shovel. The skeleton’s head snapped off and rolled back into its grave.

“It is finished!” the voice shouted gleefully. “I am free.”

The chains that held Nicky it their vicelike grip fell to the ground, lifeless.

*****************

Back in his plush city bed, Roman had the indulgence of time to think about his experience with his cousins at Walking M Ranch. Nicky and Ella’s parents, Albine and Rory, had never learned the truth. The children had invented a story about a bully on one of the neighboring ranches, whose name they didn’t know, who had attacked the boys and caused the scrapes and bruises on their bodies. Nicky wore a turtleneck to hide the gruesome marks around his neck, and said he’d lost his voice from shouting at the bully to leave them alone.

The trio vowed never to tell anyone what had really happened. Nobody would believe them.

“They’d stick us in a loony bin,” Nicky stated.

Roman felt that he’d grown up in way. He had been brave in a situation like none his friends had ever faced. He had saved his cousin’s life. And he was no longer afraid of the boogey man.

End

Biography: Dominique Collier’s work has appeared in Roar and Thunder Magazine and The Lorelei Signal. Dominique has a degree in psychology and apart from writing, she works in the behavioral health field in Phoenix, Arizona

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Mago’s Legacy By James Eastick

Jan 05 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Finally it was done. The life’s work of more than one man made manifest as shining steel encasing pure and unadulterated power. Cool, clear water rippled gently in the vat above the device where bright white and neon-blue lights flashed intermittently. Though Mago wondered now what had compelled him to have them installed in first place.

“Turn it on.” He said to Hodge, his apprentice.

The tall, stooped shouldered young man shuffled over to the controls, his long brown robe dragging across the floor, inadvertently sweeping a path through the thick dust. He raised a hand and held it hovering above, flexing his long fingers and pursing his lips in apparent confusion. After several long seconds of anticipation he plunged his thumb down with such purpose and relish, Mago feared he might plant his entire fist through the plastic covering and embed it in the wiring beneath.

The machine hummed with power so strong he felt it deep within his chest and saw the floor shake the embers of dead skin from its surface. Nothing happened initially, aside from the ripples on the water increasing under the violent vibration below. The glass tank rattled so violently that Mago took a step back and tugged on his apprentice’s robe so that he might do the same. Fear and trepidation gripped him tightly as he imagined all possibilities ending in his complete and total failure.

He noticed it first with the tear-like drops of condensation upon the outside of the tank, pooling together as they might do under the influence of a gentle rainfall. However, instead falling, the tears inverted their shape and began to drift upwards. They merged with others, forming larger droplets and gaining momentum, before trailing up to the edge where coils of liquid reached up from the rippling surface of the water like transparent snakes stretching for the ceiling.

Mago felt a sudden buzz of hysteria rise from deep within his core. Something in his stomach flipped and began to churn and he felt his heart palpitate. He wanted to shout and scream to the heavens, but the initial hum of the machine had reached such a crescendo that everything else was drowned in its noise. It was the biggest and brightest moment of his career, necessitating some kind of encapsulating speech, though all occurred to him were sore and sorry stereotypes. In the end he decided he said it best with silence, and instead watched the neon lights dance a display on the stupefied face of his apprentice.

A gap opened at the base of the tank, no more than a couple of inches, but it continued to grow. Water lifted over the sides of the glass but refused to spill, holding a shape similar, though not the same, to the rectangular block the vat had forced upon it.

“By the greatest of the Gods…” Mago muttered, acknowledging the deities he rarely ever considered.

He stared transfixed as the water raised beyond the confines of the tank and collected as one mass, suspended in the air. His apprentice mimicked his own expression of wonderment, though his was mixed with fear. Mago saw it in him, but was unable to turn his attention away from the defiance of gravity.

“Imagine the possibilities…” He said softly, almost a whisper.

His apprentice heard and mulled over those words, misgiving their lack of intention. Mago ignored him, hoping the moment might pass. It didn’t. As if struck by an epiphany, a confident and convinced look swept across the young man’s face.

“You…you could drown people standing up.” He said.

Mago creased his brow and gave him a hard look, the confidence evaporated immediately.

“I’m not sure you’re fully grasping the potential here.”

The apprentice was just into his twenties, less than a third of his own age. Mago had inherited him along with the house and his predecessor’s project. The hole still remained in the roof above, a stark and cautionary reminder as to the pitfalls of personal experimentation.

What he knew of Hodge was a sad tale, orphaned in his youth and unwanted by anyone else. He was stinted by a lack of discernable education, and could barely read, and write even less, but what he lacked in knowledge, he made up for with a dutiful adherence to his work and a constant optimism. Mago had always liked him.

He gently touched Hodge to one side and took a step forward, approaching to within a few metres of the machine. He could feel the buoyancy in the weaker edge of the anti-gravity field and slowly swiped an open hand through the air, thick with risen dust particles. His clothes too, floated up from his skin, the fabric of his old t-shirt lifting and rippling as if touched by an unseen wind.

So subtle was the effect that it wasn’t until he looked down to the floor that he realised his feet were above it. An initial spasm of panic quickly gave way to the kind of exhilaration he hadn’t known since his younger days. He looked up to the rafters and dreamed the dream of weightlessness before allowing his eyes to wander back down to the ground.

Below him stood Hodge, his face fixed with concern.

“Ok, reduce the power.” Mago conceded. “And do it slowly.” He added with extra invective. One wrong button pushed and he knew he might meet the same fate as his predecessor.

Hodge stood over the controls, contemplating his next move in the same way a chess master might prepare for a checkmate. His dull, dark eyes stared transfixed at the console while his right hand hovered above like some unwieldy blunted sword of Damocles.

“Slowly…” Mago reiterated.

But it was too late. The decision had already been made and the hand came down, with Mago watching powerless.

The machine didn’t crash, burn or explode, much to his relief. Instead it powered down and the rhythmic sound of its engine slowed and deepened. The invisible step beneath Mago fell away and he dropped a couple of feet back down to the ground, landing somewhat unsteadily. He gave Hodge a hard glare, but saw the young man was not so much looking at him, but behind, and then he remembered the water.

Several tonnes of liquid descended from the air, bound back to the Earth by the unopposed force of gravity. It crashed back into the tank once again with a sound reminiscent of a surging waterfall and pushed up as more fell in its wake. Torrents rose and cascaded from all sides, soaking the floor on three sides and Mago on the fourth.

His clothes were saturated and the water was so cold he felt as though it might permeate his skin. There was not an ounce of dry cloth or flesh, and droplets continued to fall steadily from his hair, his noise and the tips of each finger.

He scowled at his apprentice, but held his tongue, while Hodge stepped out from behind the control panel and fidgeted on his feet, smiling uncertainly.

 

Once Mago was dry and he’d changed his sodden clothes, the day was almost up. The soft sunlight of the afternoon had given way to a dim dusk. Almost none of the lights in the house remained functional, so moving around after dark was difficult and frequently coincided with stubbed toes and loud cursing.

He gently lowered himself down the staircase, never quite sure whether he could trust the strength of the step below. Each of them creaked and complained beneath his feet but held firm. When he reached the bottom it was with a certain sense of accomplishment.

In the old lounge Hodge was busy tidying things up, though he seemed to had made little progress since Mago left him. His definition of cleaning usually consisted of moving all their equipment from one side of the room to the other, and then back again, perhaps in the belief that somewhere along the line some of the detritus would go missing.

Mago stood still watching him for a moment, waiting to see if Hodge would notice him, but he proved oblivious.

“That’s enough for now.” Mago said aloud, breaking the young man’s concentration. “I need to make a call.”

Breaking him from his duties seemed to almost disappoint Hodge. He shuffled off slowly without a word, his back hunched and shoulders loped forwards like some unruly child. Hodge shut the door behind him, without excessive force, but hard enough so that the wooden rafters rattled slightly in their places, shaking more dust down towards the floor. Mago looked to the ceiling as some fell upon his head, and considered the merits of religion.

He sat and turned on the vid-com unit, hailing his chief investor, Edward Garrant. For what seemed like several minutes he waited for a connection, watching the circular motion of the buffering symbol with a kind of hypnotic intensity.

When Garrant did answer, his large Warlus-like physique caught him with such surprise that he almost fell of his chair. He tried to pass of his fright with an attempt to swat an invisible fly. Garrant did not appear convinced.

“What is it?” He said, his slack distended jowls flowing like the tides of the ocean.

“Good evening, sir.” Mago greeted.

Garrant leaned forwards, closer to the screen.

“You look terrible. What’s that in your hair?”

Mago brushed a self-conscious hand across the top of his head and tried to suppress a cough as dust and small chunks of masonry came down past his eyes.

“I have some good news, sir.” He said enthusiastically.

“Go on…” Garrant answered sullenly.

“The device you commissioned me to develop, well… we’ve had a breakthrough.”

He hadn’t expected too much excitement from Garrant, but some kind of reaction seemed only natural. However his face remained still, devoid of any kind of telling emotion.

“Is that so?” He answered eventually, his voice cold and sceptical.

Edward Garrant had never been an easy man to talk with, too quick with his criticisms and mean with his praise. Mago had only met him on a handful of occasions; the first time when he pitched his ideas he’d said almost nothing, the last at a fundraiser when he never moved from within striking distance of the buffet table. He was a man devoid of charm, whose appetite was matched only by his cynicism. Mago often pondered which he held dearer.

“What kind of breakthrough?” Garrant followed up.

“Oh…er, sustained lift of four cubic tonnes of water.”

His interest seemed to peak at that, his eyes glazing over ever so slightly.

“For how long?”

“I’m not sure. We shut the machine down without any sign of instability or deterioration in the field.”

“Have you tested it again?”

“Not yet, sir. We plan to do so tomorrow.”

Garrant scratched at his broad chin.

“I’m coming to visit.”

“You sure that’s wise, sir?”

The look on his face darkened.

“I’ll decide what’s wise! This is my money after all.”

“Yes, of course, sir. We’ll look forward to your arrival.”

The platitude was obvious, transparent to a blind man. Garrant looked at him suspiciously, but said nothing and with a flick of his wrist ended the connection.

Mago leaned back in his seat and exhaled softly, half with relief and half with trepidation. He took a cautious glance over at the device, wondering whether tomorrow would bring success or disaster, there would be nothing in between. Nervousness rang through him, and he sat for a long while alone and silence as darkness slowly filled the room.

 

Once night had conquered day, Mago picked himself up and wandered casually through to the kitchen. Hodge was attempting to dry the dishes from the previous day, although the trail of broken crockery around his feet told its own story.

“Why don’t you leave that for now.” Mago told him.

He was weary, though from more than a mere day’s work. It was the winter of his life and he knew it. There wouldn’t be many more chances and if he failed in this endeavour he’d have nothing to show for a lifetime spent in study and science.

Hodge left, carefully stepping over the broken shards with his head bowed in shyness and humility. He cast furtive glances over at Mago when he thought he couldn’t be seen, and left the room as if in defeat.

“You hungry?” Mago asked. “I’ll make us some dinner.”

He craned his neck to peer at the young man as he shuffled down the hallway. Hodge mumbled something indiscernible in response. He took it for the positive.

Their meal that night consisted of a sloppy brown stew made from tinned vegetables and a jar of mysterious pickled brown meat that Mago couldn’t place. Regardless, the ingredients combined relatively well, perhaps more through accident than design, but it left him feeling strangely proud.

Back in the old lounge, Hodge sat at the table with two spoons, one in each hand, eagerly anticipating the source of the smell that wafted from the kitchen. When it was presented he stood in response and leaned towards it with the kind of awe usually reserved for the divine. He poured the contents into the two wooden bowls, handing the first to his master and then filling one for himself. Mago thanked him with a smile.

“You excited about tomorrow?”

Hodge paused with a spoonful of stew close to his gaping mouth. Evidently, he was more excited about dinner.

“Mr. Garrant will be personally attending the next trial.”

Hodge didn’t answer, he was too busy eating.

“We don’t want any mistakes this time.”

The young man held fire on his chewing momentarily, and nodded.

“We do things carefully, we do things slowly and we get them right. Ok?”

“Yes.” Came the monosyllabic answer, accompanied by dribble of brown stew that slid down Hodge’s chin and dropped back into the stew.

Mago turned away and took a mouthful from his own bowl. His initial impressions had been wrong. It tasted worse than it smelled, and it didn’t smell particularly good. He carried on eating reluctantly, and watched Hodge from the corner of his eye as he shovelled his spoon through the stew with abandon. He wondered whether they were truly eating the same thing.

When he’d finished his first bowl, Hodge helped himself to another, though not before offering Mago some first. He declined with a wave of the hand and continued to watch the young man curiously, feeling an undeniable smile grow across his face.

“How long have you worked here?” He asked.

Hodge paused, contemplating the question, his brow creasing with mental strain. He placed the spoon down and began counting his fingers as he worked out the mental arithmetic.

“Ten years.” He said, once he was convinced the answer was correct.

“Since you were twelve?”

He stopped again, and recounted.

“Eleven.”

“I didn’t realise you’d been here so long. Did you never want to do something else?”

Hodge shrugged his big shoulders.

“Nothing else I could do. Never did go to school.”

Mago decided to stop the line of questioning, feeling both pity and a sense of guilt. He returned to his stew, though he no longer felt hungry. Hodge finished his second bowl as quickly as the first and began clearing things away without being asked or told.

“There’s no hurry.” Mago said warmly. “The dishes won’t likely grow legs and walk away. You should relax, do something you enjoy. I’ll take care of this.”

Hodge stopped, suddenly unsure and fearful. Another guilty tremor passed through Mago’s gut as he recalled that in all their time together he’d never once spent a minute with him aside from their work, and had no idea what he actually did enjoy. Faced the sudden potential and uncertainty of recreation, Hodge didn’t seem to know how to react. He loitered besides the table as if bound by an invisible chain, casting his dull eyes to Mago, wide with appeal for inspiration or acquiescence.

For the first time, Mago saw in his apprentice, a kind of odd mirror. He’d devoted his whole life to higher pursuits, learning and invention, but in doing so he’d sacrificed simpler pleasures. In his youth he’d considered anything else to be trivial and a waste of time, but now at the wrong side of sixty he found himself reconsidering.

Mago looked up to Hodge and met his eyes.

“How would you like to learn to read and write?”

Hodge paused on the question, like a man wary of deception, and nodded cautiously.

“Good. Tomorrow morning, then. We start at dawn.”

 

Mago made himself get up early the next morning, remembering his promise from the night before. He staggered from his bed, still half within a state of slumber and got dressed with a certain degree of difficulty. The sun was yet to rise, but as he peered out through the boarded window of his room he saw the distant horizon turning to a pale grey.

Downstairs, Hodge was already up and awake, his previous hesitation seemingly having evaporated overnight. He seemed eager to learn, and sat quietly captivated as he watched the sunrise filter in between the wooden slats at the front of the house. Dust floated within the beams of light that shone in, bringing illumination to that long left in the dark.

“Ready to begin?” Mago asked.

Hodge didn’t answer, but the question succeeded in distracting him from the spectacle. He turned and smiled.

After collecting an armful of dusty old tomes, Mago returned and dropped them down upon the table. The weight and the impact unsettled the fragile wooden legs and they swayed with a moment of indecision before retaining their balance. Hodge pulled one of the books towards him and delicately prised open the front cover. He bent in closer to the opening page and pawed a finger at the first faded line of text, trying to curl his mouth around the word. Mago circled around and stood besides him, leaning over his shoulder.

“Who moves the world?”

Hodge broke the words and syllables down, and then repeated them.

“What does it mean?” He asked.

Mago lifted the corner of the paper and turned the page.

For the next few hours they proceeded through the first chapter. It was slow progress, and hard work, but Mago found it rewarding in an entirely new way. With the turning of each page Hodge found greater ease with the words and his desire to continue was unfaltering. It was as though they had awakened something voracious within him.

So embroiled in their endeavours, were they, that time became forgotten. The sun rose higher in the sky as morning passed into afternoon, but still they remained, enthralled and oblivious. When he was sure they’d had enough, Mago inserted a bookmark and closed the front cover. Hodge reclined in his seat with a smile of satisfaction.

Just as he did the doorbell rang, searing right through the moment. The tone rang high, then quickly descended into a garbled tinny rattle as the charge of the long dormant battery dwindled. Mago patted Hodge gently on the shoulder and left his side for the first time in hours.

He strode to the front door and undid the latch, opening it to find the large distended figure of Edward Garrant standing on the porch. He glared back, breathing heavily and Mago’s good humour quickly evaporated at the sight of his grimace.

“This better be worth my time.” Garrant said, his jowls shaking with his rumbling basso tone and sourness of expression.

Mago summoned the best smile he could manage and stepped to one side. Garrant waddled in, turning sideways to fit through the door as his bulk stressed the floorboards beneath.

Once inside he proceeded to remove his jacket, spinning on the spot like a slowly rotating planet. Damp patches extended from both his armpits, soaking through his pale blue shirt. Then, without so much as a look in his direction, he cast the jacket in the direction of Hodge, who caught it awkwardly.

“Well, are you going to show me this, er… breakthrough, then?” He said, his annoyance coming through clear as he gasped thick gulps of air.

“Of course, sir.” Mago answered. “Right this way.”

He led Garrant through to the back of the house, apologising for the mess on the way. Hodge followed them both, but kept a cautious distance.

The spillage from the previous day had done much to clean the floor around the device, but in the time since a gentle layer of the ubiquitous house dust had fallen and settled onto the shining new black steel panels of the machine. Mago displayed his invention with his hands, casting them through the air as if he were a salesman.

“My machine.” He said proudly.

Feeling Garrant’s eyes watching his strange new affectation he became suddenly self-conscious, and placed them down rigidly by his side.

“Let’s see it working then.” Garrant said.

“One moment.” Mago uttered.

He could feel his heart beginning to palpitate, while the pores of his flesh became thick with perspiration. Each step felt like a mile as he made his way over to the controls, whispering noiseless pleas for good fortune. Then, with a deep breath, he powered it on.

The cables hummed as harnessed electricity surged through them and fed into the machine. In response the core engine fired into life with a deep pulsing throb that shook the floor, flesh and the foundations beneath.

Hodge took a step back, to stand beneath the frame of the doorway. The young man looked afraid, a new fear gripping him and shining bright in his wide eyes. Garrant approached to within a few feet of the device and leaned towards it. As the water began to rise a strange grin appeared on his face, wide and stretched and unnatural. Mago had never seen that smile before.

As the water rose above the confines of the tank Garrant peered up at the spectacle his mouth agape.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing.” He muttered, “You actually did it.”

The grin returned and he laughed. So deep and guttural was the sound that it combined with the pulsing thrum of the machine, gaining a new dimension in power and depth. Mago smiled, unsure and half expectant of a hidden chastisement, though it never came. Instead, Garrant waddled over to him and with his grin still intact, clapped him on both shoulders.

“You’ve done well. I didn’t think you’d be the one.”

Faced with his investor’s praise and sudden exuberance he didn’t quite know how to react.

“Thank you, sir.” He said, apprehensively.

Garrant laughed again, and placed a large flaccid arm around his shoulders.

“Come, we have much to discuss. Have your boy make us something for dinner, I’m starved.”

Before Mago could muster so much as a word, Hodge ducked out from the doorway in the direction of the kitchen. Garrant reaffirmed his grip, his limp flesh turning suddenly hard and strong.

“This is something we must discuss privately. We’ve hit upon something special here, and the fewer people who know the details, the better. It’s ours, it is, mine and yours.”

Together they walked through to the adjacent lounge. Garrant swiped the rickety table clear, knocking the book Hodge had been reading down onto the floor, where it landed face open in the dust.

Mago sat across from him as Garrant pulled a crinkled piece of paper from his pocket. Without sitting, he began to run through the stipulations of the contract, ownership and rights. Hours passed like a shapeless blur and Garrant’s words began to lose their form and substance. He had in that moment everything he’d always wanted; fame, achievement and better still, a legacy, yet the victory felt strangely empty.

He continued to listen dutifully, but in truth his real attention was on the slowly diminishing light that signalled the end of the day, and the finality of all things.

 

After dusk had settled, Hodge presented the two men with their dinner. He lifted the heavy soup pot onto the middle of the table and began to serve them both. It looked similar to Mago’s attempt from the previous night, yet it smelled infinitely better. He thanked the young man, yet Garrant’s expression was far less content.

“What in all the heavens is this?” He said. “Dogs eat better than this slop.”

He bent in and smelled it, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

“You spent hours in that kitchen and this is the best you could come up with!?”

Garrant’s look of derision made Mago uncomfortable, though he said nothing.

“Take it away! I’d rather starve than try to eat this… this piss water.”

Hodge began to clear the table again, removing the pot and Garrant’s dish, though when he came to other side of the table, Mago placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“It’s fine, Hodge. Thank you.”

Garrant watched him coldly, waiting for him to leave. When he did he leaned across, stressing the fragile table legs.

“Why do you tolerate that idiot?”

“He’s a good lad, I couldn’t have done any of this without him.”

“Pffff…” Garrant sniggered. “Believe me, I know that boy’s uses, and they are few. What I don’t understand is why you and the others have wanted to keep him around. Are you really content to divide this thing three ways? There’s a lot coming to you, do you really want to share it with that simpleton? Think on it. Think how much you really owe him.”

From the corner of his eye, Mago noticed the book lying on the floor. He looked towards the door Hodge had left through and he did think on it.

 

Mago woke late the next morning. Sleep had not come easy to him that night. Concerns and re-evaluations had plagued him until the early hours and upon waking he felt groggy.

He pulled one of the slats from his bedroom window and leaned out through the gap. The back garden, abandoned to time had become overgrown. The grass grew tall and yellow, and competed for space with the strangling vines that swarmed over the back of the house and choked the ancient tree that had long since withered.

In the distance, the city encroached ever closer. Tall buildings of blue, black and grey reached into the sky, their tops disappearing into thick dark clouds of smog and condensation. He closed his eyes and felt the soft breeze against his face while the warmth of the sun pervaded his skin.

The moment was interrupted by Garrant’s deep booming voice reverberating from the floor below. He sounded angry. As quick as possible, Mago made his way downstairs.

In the back room, Hodge stood by the controls, blocking them defiantly while Garrant loomed over him, his face red and contorted with rage.

“Just turn the bloody thing on, you absolute cretin!”

“What seems to be the problem?” Mago asked.

“This idiot of yours is the problem. Not only does he refuse to take my instruction but he stops me from trialling the machine myself! Have you both forgotten who you work for!?”

“Wait.” Mago interjected. “It’s my fault. I told Hodge the machine is never to be used without me present. I apologise.”

If he thought that might dissipate Garrant’s anger, it did not. Instead he waddled over furiously towards him and jabbed him in the chest with a finger.

“Then you listen to me, get that idiot away from me and do exactly what I tell you, or you can forget about everything.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mago carefully guided Hodge away from the controls and turned on the machine himself. The water in the tank was growing stale and a thin dusty film had settled across its surface. With the anti-gravity field in effect the dust soon lifted and floated in the air above the water, which began to rise the same way it had done in the previous tests. This time, the sight didn’t seem so awe-inspiring.

“This is the one thing you’ve got right in your whole miserable life, Mago. And you stand to make me a lot of money.”

Garrant stepped towards it, casting a hand through the field and smiling as it lifted and pulled at his fingers. Hodge moved to pull him away, but Mago placed a gentle hand across his path and looked at his apprentice, shaking his head. Then, with the other hand he turned the dial up, increasing the strength of the field. Garrant’s face went pale as he felt the power lift him from his feet. The cloud of water spun up to the highest point in the house, filling the crest of the ceiling, while Garrant himself shot up like a bullet, breaking a second, wider hole in the roof and disappearing as a speck into the sky.

Hodge’s mouth dropped open in shock, while all Mago could do was smile, feeling laughter build from inside him. He turned off the machine and walked Hodge into the lounge, sitting him down facing the boarded windows while he picked up his book and dusted off the pages.

“Are you ready to continue?” He smiled.

Hodge nodded and grinned in agreement as the water came tumbling down behind them, back into the tank.

“I think I might remove those boards. It’s about time we had some light in here.”

Just as he finished, another object came smashing back through the roof and landed square in the water, casting almost every inch of it out of the tank and down onto the floor.

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