Vainglory

•April 24, 2010 • 2 Comments

The girl lay curled on her side beneath a ripped poster of an ecstatic, leering GG Allin.  She shuddered in her unconsciousness, her bruised knees drawn to her bruised chin, her stained, chipped nails digging bloody trails into the pale, tattooed flesh of her arms.

Vainglory was inked into the side of her shaved head.

He picked her up and she mewed like a kitten, still unconscious.  He arranged her dirty robe about her stick thin body and carried her to the battered sofa on the other side of the cluttered, stinking room.  He began to place her on the sofa when she opened her eyes.

Her eyes were green, lined with stale tears and dementia.  She didn’t blink.

He frowned at her, watched her pierced brows furrow.  Then he hefted her, turned from the sofa and left that stinking room, the broken girl unresisting in his arms.

The Manhattan was bitter, but he sucked it down and rolled the cherry around in his mouth.  The club he’d sequestered himself in bounced and rocked to a quick electronic beat.  Someone jarred him, and he glared, but the kid merely staggered on, laughing, surrounded by equally staggering, laughing friends.

He checked; his wallet was still in his pocket.

He chewed the cherry as he left the bar and made his way through the crowded club.  He wondered about the broken girl, but shook her from his mind.  He’d left her in the capable hands of a couple of paramedics he’d flagged down in front of some nameless hospital. While the two men had begun treating the girl and getting ready to move her into Emergency, he’d left silently.  In the distance, he’d heard one of the paramedics call out, but that was all.

He emerged from the club and found himself amid a jumbled ring of smokers, all wrapped in expensive coats, heads wreathed in motionless smoke and frigid air. The street beyond was black and shining.  The cars that moved along it hissed as they passed.

Kruger looked up as he came in, watched him as he crossed to the office vending machine and pulled a bottled water from its neon depths. He crossed to his desk, Kruger’s eyes still on him.

“What?” he asked.

Kruger sat back, pushed his keyboard away.  “Jake said you went over to Hollyoak Drive.”

He nodded. “I did. No one home,” he said, truthfully. The broken girl was in the apartment next door.

“Why didn’t you send a cruiser over?” Kruger asked.  “Or take me or Tom?”

“Why?  It was a domestic dispute. It was on my way, so I figured I’d swing by.  The initial report didn’t indicate any reason to worry about backup.”  It also hadn’t mentioned the stinking next door apartment, with its evidence of heroin and ketamine use, and its lone broken occupant.

Vainglory.

The taste of the bitter Manhattan crawled up his throat.

Kruger leaned forward and pulled his keyboard close again, muttering:  “Christ, there’s nothing worse than a single cop.”

The Marble Penguin

•February 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The marble penguin sat silent and alone.

On the nightstand beside the penguin, a gold watch glinted in the sharply angled light.  The watch’s second hand ticked, echoing a solitary urgency, as if the marble penguin had a heart that beat quickly, rhythmically, never needing to be wound in light of lithium providence.

I approached the bed.  You never noticed.  Bacchus and Orpheus had paid their nightly visit to your raucous existence hours before.

The antique Beretta, taken from the locked box beside the cabinet that housed the altar to your dissolution—bottles of rum and whiskey—failed to glint in the sharply angled light.  I fired once, and the bullet took you in the brain.

I screamed, dropped the little pistol.

You simply bled.  Time seemed to stand still.  The rhythmic, second hand heartbeat of the gold watch actually seemed to stop.

And the marble penguin—now heartless, beyond cold—simply stared.

Blood, Sawdust, and Vengeance

•January 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The elf rode into Caerd on a weary sorrel horse.  Hat low and thread-bare coat pulled tight, the elf steered the horse through the muddy streets, ignoring the stares of the few inhabitants lining the weathered, wooden sidewalks.

The elf reigned in and dismounted, hitching the horse to the post in front of Milford’s store.  Saddle bags in hand, the elf glared at a young couple, two Halflings who quickened their step along the wooden sidewalk as they passed.

The elf spat into the mud, and then made his way across the street, disappearing into Battlesaddles’s Hotel.

Long moments passed before a single shot rang out.

Tobart Billings found the elf lying on the floor of the hotel’s bar, in a growing pool of blood and sawdust.  Hawks Battlesaddle stood over the elf’s body, shouting in vitriolic dwarven.  The few patrons present had dispatched themselves to the far corners of the room, many still sipping warm beer from glass mugs.

“All right, Hawks,” Billings growled.  “Shut it.”  The dwarf roared another curse before grumbling to silence, his rheumy eyes locked on the sheriff.  “What the hell happened?” Billings asked, looking around, from Battlesaddle to the folk gathered in the corners.

“It was—godsdammit!” Hawks Battlesaddle spat, seemingly unable to speak without resorting to a curse.

“It was me, sheriff,” a young dwarf said, stepping forward.  She was dressed in the red silks, satin, and lace of a midscale public woman, and she held a small pistol in her hand.

Billings was taken aback.  “Djeera?  You shot this elf?”

“Right out and gunned ‘im down, dammit!  Not workin’ for me more’n three weeks ‘n’ she shoots a godsdammed customer!” Hawks Battlesaddle roared.

“Don’t make me say it again, Hawks,” Billings replied.  “Shut it.”  He turned to see his deputy standing in the hotel’s doorway, gawking.  “Stop being a twit, Thomm, and get a statement from everybody in here.”  Thomm, blanching, cast a furtive glance over at the dead elf, before making his way to the nearest witness.

“All right, Djeera,” Billings said, his hands on his hips.  “What happened?”

“I shot him, Sheriff,” Djeera replied.  “He came in, ordered a drink, then turned and grabbed my…well, he grabbed me.”

“And then what?  You just shot him?”

“Yes,” Djeera said, her pretty, cherubic face set with resignation.

Billings was still at a loss.  He looked from Djeera to the dead elf and back.  “Djeera, you’re a whore.  Your ass is meant to be grabbed.”

“Exactly!” Hawks Battlesaddle spat.

“And both of you are such gentlemen,” Djeera replied.  She tossed the pistol to the floor.  Then she balled her hands into fists and said, “That elf was nothing more than a low-life outlaw.  His name is Kaes’ryl Dindioal, and the last I heard, he was wanted over in Hythic territory for rape and murder.  So you’ll just have to forgive me, Sheriff, if I take offense to your attitude regarding my occupation and my…behind.”

Billings blinked.  Hawks Battlesaddle’s bearded jaw nearly dropped to the bloody, sawdust-covered floor.

“Wait,” Billings said.  “How do you know that, Djeera?”

The young dwarf stared at the dead elf.  After a time, she looked up at Billings, her eyes cold and hard.  “Because I’m the one he raped,” she said.  “And my father was the one he murdered.”

Requiem

•January 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

She wasn’t sure when she decided to fuck the Devil, but there was only one option at that point and she knew it.

The Devil was going to be hers. Hell be damned.

He entered her room just before midnight. The room was small, almost barren, decorated in the haute-macabre of black-laced decadence, where clove cigarettes were smoked as incense. Two tea lights burned atop a small, stylized altar. The tea lights guttered and nearly extinguished themselves as he entered, causing shadows to dance about the room like gothic gremlins.

Mansell’s Lux Aeterna roared through the air.

She rose to meet him, her gloved fingers clasping her black satin robe to her throat. He stepped closer, a rush of being, amorphous, lurid.  She let the robe slip from her fingers, let it fall past her snow-white skin to cluster around her bare feet.

The full-length, mauve gloves were the only defense decency offered as she stood before him. He reached for her, touched her. She shivered, her breath bated. His fingers caressed the gentle curve below her navel, slowly moved upward, causing her flesh to tingle.

He smiled.

She screamed.

The gothic gremlin shadows danced.

Afterward, when there was nothing left, he blew out the one, still-burning tea light—the other having been engulfed by the shadows shortly before.

In the sudden darkness—with Mansell’s Lux Aeterna on repeat, still roaring, driving, building—the faint, nearly stale, clove-cigarette incense failed to cover the bitter, metallic tang that was beginning to permeate the room. Subtle currents, not unlike the gentle curve beneath the navel, driven by the fading vorticity of the blown-out tea light, by the reverberations of the climaxing orchestration pouring through speakers now hidden in the darkness, increased the entropic manifestation of that new, bitter, metallic tang.

And in that darkness, as his passage, vorticity, and candle-extinguishing followed him from the room, as Lux Aeterna reached its last crescendo and descended abruptly into the final, quiet sob of a few lonely notes, she simply, silently, ceased to exist.

Apprehension

•January 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A muffled shot rings.

Unable to cry out, she falls, smacking her head on the pavement.

Screams erupt through the air but, with the jarring of her head and the tightness in her chest—a tightness that is hot and liquid—she pays no heed.

There is uncertainty here.  In the moments when motion crowds around her—hands touching, pulling, trying to calm—her breath still escapes her and the weight of existence seems to bare down.

Something runs freely from her nose and mouth.

701 drops the girl’s limp hand.  He draws a deep, focusing breath, shaking the remnants of her fading aura from his Mind.   Abruptly, he rises, and quickly makes his way through the screaming, scared, confused crowd.

In an alley across the street from the fallen, the cries, the bleeding, 701 sees what he is looking for.

A shadow.

A fey, glamoured to hide his features—elongated and angular, eyes of mercury.  He is bent over, disassembling what looks to be a rifle, placing the pieces into a dirty gym bag.

The fey zips the bag, rises, turns, and stops when his mercurial eyes fall on 701.  Those mercurial eyes then widen in horror and panic.  The bag drops.

701 raises his hands.  Energy crackles.

The fey screams.

The Psychic

•July 20, 2009 • Leave a Comment

1

John William Fincher stepped back from the slate board, tossed the piece of chalk onto a nearby tray, and checked his pocket watch.

“Damn it.”

2

The 11:45 train from Boston arrived at Tollhurst Station three minutes late.  John William Fincher futilely waved the engine’s residual steam aside and stepped to the edge of the platform.  He saw the man, wiry thin, hair oiled beneath a black Homburg, frockcoat brushed, silk tie loosened, step off the train and open an umbrella.  The air was brisk and moist, but there had been no forecast of rain.

The umbrella, in fact, was a sign.  Fincher stepped over to the man, offered his gloved hand, and smiled.

“We haven’t much time,” the man said after introductions were made.  His name was Harold Ellis and, though young, his bearing was terse and rigid—almost comically so.  Ellis stepped past Fincher with only a slight nod.  “I assume you have a hack?”

Fincher had and he led Ellis to it.

3

“Like I said,” Ellis said once they were seated in the hackney cab and the driver was whipping the horses back along the road to Cussler Hall, “we don’t have much time.  Not if everything you mentioned in your telegram is true.”

“It is, and I agree,” Fincher said.  “I’ve brought along some of the judge’s papers and some of his effects.  I thought that you’d like—“

“Hand them over.”

Fincher did so, drawing the sheaf of papers and a felt, draw-string bag from a satchel that he had tucked under the cab’s seat.  The felt bag held a Masonic ring, a pair of pince-nez, and two silver cufflinks.

The young, nervous man sat with the objects in his lap, the ring, pince-nez and cufflinks having been carefully poured out over the papers.  He removed his dark, leather gloves, closed his eyes, and began running his long fingers lightly over the collection.

Just as the hack passed over a deep rut in the road, Harold Ellis’s eyes snapped open.  His breathing was suddenly ragged.

“I’m afraid we’re too late,” he muttered.  His blue eyes then rolled up, revealing their whites.  In the same instant, drops of blood began to leak from his hawk-like nose.

Aghast, Fincher cursed, leapt forward and caught the young man before he toppled over.  The papers and effects in Ellis’s lap spilled to the floor of the cab.  Ellis’s head lolled, his eyes closed again.  Fincher pulled a white handkerchief from his breast pocket and pressed it to Ellis’s nose.  He tossed the young man’s black Homburg to his recently vacated seat, then tilted Ellis’s head back, cradling it to keep it from bouncing wildly as the cab jostled to and fro.

“Driver!”  Fincher shouted.  He punched the roof of the cab to get the coachman’s attention.  “Driver!  Forget Cussler Hall!  Take us to Doctor Renaud’s!”

“The East Side costs more, sir!”  The driver shouted back, his voice muffled by the rattling of the cab, the drumming of the horses’ hooves.

“I know!  Just do it!”

4

Doctor Francois Guy Renaud’s office and home were located in a dreary brownstone whose cracked front steps were commonly inhabited by dirty children and dirtier, mange-covered dogs.  The homes and business around Renaud’s housed many of the city’s colored population, most of whom found little work in the factories and mines that lined the country side.

As far as John William Fincher knew, Francois Guy Renaud was the only colored doctor in the entire county.  This afforded Renaud a certain level of celebrity as many white doctors simply refused to see colored patients—forcing those patients to either suffer or seek out alternative medicine.  Technically, as a former resident of the Republic of Haiti, Francois Guy Renaud offered a little of both worlds.  He had studied actual medicine, first at Université d’Etat d’Haiti in Port-au-Prince then later at Université Montpellier in the south of France.  On the other hand, his childhood had been one surrounded by the dark, superstitious beliefs of his native island.  Although Renaud himself was a lapsed Catholic, his knowledge of folk mores, remedies and customs seemed to draw many a patient.

Francois Guy Renaud was also one of John William Fincher’s closest friends.  As such, it was not uncommon for Fincher to pull up to Renaud’s brownstone in a hackney cab, mongrel dogs chasing the wheels, children crowding around to receive the pieces of candy that Fincher was known for handing out as he crossed from the sidewalk to the doctor’s front door.  Today, however, the excited crowd of children who watched the cab approach were disappointed as Fincher burst from the cab, wrestling a limp, bleeding white man to the front door with the help of the cab driver, a man with a decided knack for cursing.  The children grew less upset at the obvious lack of candy and more curious at the arrival of the sick young man.  This was followed by a growing excitement driven by the stream of vitriolic profanities that seemed to flow like spittle from the cab driver’s mustachioed mouth as he huffed and puffed his way along, grabbing the young man’s spat-covered shoes while Fincher carried the young man’s shoulders.

The children crowded around, then dispersed from the front door, only to crowd again around the cursing driver as he made his way back out alone.  He waved the children and, now, excited, barking mongrel dogs away, fighting past them to climb into his cab.  He reappeared, this time clutching a hastily-stuffed satchel to his chest.  He cursed his way to the front door once again, deposited the satchel inside, then cursed his way back to the cab.  He climbed aboard his seat, and the children squealed as he snapped the reins and the two horses shot off, dogs once again chasing behind.

Renaud left Harold Ellis resting in a side room of his combination home and office.  It had taken some time to finish with the three patients who had been waiting when Fincher and the driver had carried Ellis into the building, but the good doctor was nothing if not patient, stalwart and skilled, so he had Ellis in the examination room in what seemed like no time.

The doctor later entered his book-lined study to find John William Fincher sitting beside the hearth, reading an anatomical theory book, a snifter of brandy in his hand.  Fincher closed the book, set it aside, and rose as the doctor entered.

Renaud waved Fincher back into his seat, then stepped to the sideboard to pour himself a drink.

“An interesting young man you’ve brought me, mon ami,” Renaud said.  He was a giant of a man, and when he sat in one of the ornate chairs across from Fincher, the chair made an inordinate creak.

“Possibly,” Fincher replied.  “Assuming you can judge a person within the space of a handful of minutes.  A handful of minutes, mind you, wherein said person was impetuous, bossy and unusually abrupt.”

“Harold Ellis does not seem like the type to mince words, I will give you that.  He came to in the examination room, wondered who I was and, after I told him and showed him my degrees, he just tried to tell me how to doctor him.  I gave him a sedative and that seemed to settle it.”

Renaud chuckled at his own joke but Fincher frowned.  “A sedative?  Damn.”

Renaud cocked his head.  “Yes, a sedative.  The young man had quite a spell, if what you told me happened to him in the coach was even part of the story.  Why are you opposed to sedatives?”

“Well, he may have been abrupt and, well, authoritative, but time is actually of the essence.  I had hoped he would be able to help us find Judge Farland.”

“The judge?  How?”

“Howard Ellis is a psychic,” Fincher said.

Renaud sighed.  “You mean a Spiritualist?”

“No, I actually mean a psychic,” Fincher replied.  His face screwed up in thought after moment, however.  “Well, at least I think he’s just a psychic.  He didn’t seem like he was channeling or talking to any sort of spirit guide, so I guess I can’t truly attest to him not being a Spiritualist, but—“

Renaud set his brandy snifter down, removed his wire-rim spectacles, and rubbed his temples.  After several moments, he looked up and glared at his companion.  “Seriously, Fincher!  You’re a mathematician!  You know better than to deal with these pseudo-science frauds!”

“The same pseudo-science frauds that many of your patients come to you for?”

“Damn it, Fincher, that’s different!  They come to me because none of your white doctors will see them.  They come to me with ignorance and superstition and if I have to play on that to get them to listen to reason—if I have to couch my medicine in the terms of…of witch-doctoring, then so be it.  But you!  You’re an educated man, mon ami!  The smoke and mirrors are not for you!”

“Really?  So what happened to us both that night down in Cap-Haïtien was just smoke and mirrors?”

Renaud rose stiffly, his eyes locked on those of Fincher.  “We agreed to never speak of that, mon ami.”

“And we aren’t,” Fincher replied, rising from his own chair.  He took one last sip of brandy, before gesturing at his friend.  “But don’t play me for a fool, Renaud.  I won’t have it.  What happened, happened.  We let it lie, but we can’t make it simply go away.”

“Then maybe we aren’t trying hard enough.”

5

“Two days later, they found the judge’s body wrapped in burlap and buried in a shallow grave a mile into the Hallowell property,” Fincher said, sitting back, a glass of whiskey in his hand.  He was sitting in an over-stuffed chair in the smoking room of the Dunstable Club.  A smoldering cigar rested in an ornate ash-tray on the mahogany table before him, and the overweight, well-dressed Arthur Clarence Hubbert sat across from him, puffing his own cigar.

Hubbert, his cheeks red with whiskey, looked up as Fincher finished speaking.  “How did they find it?”  He leaned forward, ever the fan of a good story, specifically one that was not something that should be repeated in mixed company.

“He was found at the exact spot that Harold Ellis indicated on a map of the area, about a day after we left Renaud’s. “

“You lie.”

“No, sir.  The poor man had a headache from the time he left that examining room until he climbed aboard the train back to Boston about a week later.  Would’ve been sooner, no doubt, put pin-pointing the exact location of a buried corpse tends to play hell with the suspicions of the local police inspectors.”

“I would imagine!”

“But the body was right where Ellis said it would be.  It took a little work to get Ellis himself cleared of any wrong-doing, but apparently that’s something he has experience with down in Boston.  The coroner set the time of death about a week before Ellis arrived in town and the poor boy was able to drum up a very plausible alibi.  Seems he was on stage performing an illusion act for two shows a night around the time of the judge’s murder.  Probably half of the upper class in Boston could attest to it.”

“I’ll bet.  And you believe this psychic business?”

Fincher puffed his cigar back to life.  “Well, to be honest, if we look at a couple of old equations worked out by Bernoulli and a couple of others worked very recently by Ramanujan, I think I could show that, probabilistically speaking, Ellis ‘psychic detective’ work is merely  the simple instrument of obnoxious chance.”

“However….”

“However, and I have to be honest here, Arthur, even with all the math I could come up with, it’s still a big county.”

Hubbert nodded sagely, his round, pink head wreathed in cigar smoke.  “That it is.  So what do you what from us, Bill?”

“Well, the word is that the Society is interested in this type of phenomena.  With Spiritualism on the rise, and occult societies forming all across Europe, I figure you ladies and gentlemen would like to get your hands on some actual research on the matter.”

“We’ve got quite a bit of research going on all over India and the East.  What more do we need?”

Fincher took a sip of whiskey and smiled.  “I don’t know, Arthur.  You tell me.”

Karen

•May 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Having seen the world through so many eyes, it took Karen only a moment to recognize the danger she was in. Psychic since early childhood, she had trained herself not to invade the thoughts, minds, worlds of others. Still, over the years, she’d found herself behind so many different eyes—usually before she could catch herself—that she had learned the many variations of the Reality around her.

Nothing seemed to take her by surprise any more. This was good, especially when you consider the thing that was now bounding down the narrow, dark, decay-painted hallway behind her.

Karen spun, reached out with her mind, grasped the thing charging at her, and squeezed. The thing slowed, gasped, shattered. She felt it thump to the dirty floor, causing something that had been collected in the hallway long ago to crash. In the dim light, she could see neither the thing nor the object it had so unceremoniously knocked over.

She took a deep breath and turned back to continue down the hall.

 
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