Month: May 2017

From Life to Death

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CRACK.

Thunder crashed, tearing the sky asunder. A storm of apocalyptic proportions. But Martha didn’t jump as so many of her neighbors did. She’d been expecting it since she was five.

The year she died.

She set her things aside and walked into the pouring rain. The street was nearly empty; most had gone inside when the rain started. There were only a couple folks standing in their front yards, staring up at the sky as if Hell had descended from the clouds, and Martha guessed she could understand. That last crack of thunder had packed quite a whallop.

The sky was a writhing mass of charcoal clouds, pluming like broad stone columns, blotting out the sun. Martha gazed up and tried to spot the form hidden within.

“Come out where I can see you,” she shouted. “Let me look at you.”

She glanced across the street, self conscious in the wake of her outburst, and of course there was Harold Vernor staring back at her. Well, let him think her a senile fool. She had other things to worry about.

A second peal of thunder, like a mortar bursting in the sky, followed by a bright, strobe-like flash. The sound set off at least a dozen car alarms.

Martha stood there waiting.

MARTHA.

“I was wondering when you’d show yourself.”

Martha had been five the year she contracted pneumonia. Everybody expected her to get better, even her doctor, so it came as quite a shock when she took a turn for the worst and teetered on the precipice of death. The storm had come then just as it came now, frightening people with its great pounding cries like artillery fire.

It had approached her on the doorway of death, and in a voice only she could hear, it offered to restore her life. In return, she would let it take her again at a future time of its choosing. The idea terrified her, but if she turned down its offer she was sure to die anyway. So she agreed, and she woke the following morning as if she’d never been sick.

Now, just as before, rain pelted the street in a series of rapid fire plinks, so that Martha was soaked to the skin.

IT’S TIME.

“I figured as much. Can’t say I’ve had a bad life. Had my fair share of scrapes and bruises, but I guess I came out okay in the end.”

Two more explosions. Light electrified the sky.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I’m ready now.”

YOU ARE BRAVE.

“Not brave, just old enough to know I’ve had enough.”

THEN COME, AND LET ME TAKE YOU HOME.

A column of light like liquid fire, bolting from the sky. It struck her in the head. Martha rode that wild surge into the arms of her savior and destroyer, leaving her smoldering body behind.

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Dark Calling

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Jacqueline peered inside the smooth porcelain toilet, contemplating the depth of rusted pipes that descended far underground. What lurked in those black, hidden places? What horror existed just out of sight, waiting to take her in her sleep?

It had spoken again last night. It was the reason she left the toilet lid closed, the reason why she locked her bedroom door before going to sleep. That fetid voice that sounded like the slopping of rancid meat, bubbling up from the sewers beneath what was otherwise a safe, ordinary neighborhood.

She could never remember what it said. It was like waking from a nightmare, knowing you’d been afraid but being unable to articulate why. She could only recall that rotten, murderous voice, speaking of things that made her skin break out in hives, and waking on the toilet with her pants at her ankles, staring into space, eyes vacant and dead.

Well, no more. Tonight, she would sleep on the other side of the house, as far from the bathroom as possible. She would stick a pair of earbuds in her ears and blast Metallica as loud as she could stand. It wouldn’t lull her from her slumber with its dark calling this time.

That night, she lay on the couch, music blaring in the dark. The bathroom door was closed.

Freedom.

The thought was borne across the auditory hurricane of guitars and drums before descending into the bowels of an increasingly drowsy mind. Soon she was floating, melting into the void of unconsciousness, a soul without substance.

That was when she heard its voice.

Jacqueline.

That terrible sound of slapping meat.

Come to me, Jacqueline. Let me ruin you with my dark secrets.

Like a zombie, she sleepwalked through the hallway, the half-crazed voice of James Hetfield twining through her mind like creeping vines. She stopped beside the bathroom door, dazed, hopelessly under its spell. She twisted the knob, walked inside, and was greeted by the sulfuric smell of rotten eggs.

Come closer.

It sang to her now, a jarring, unholy chorus that held her rapt, binding her to its malevolent charms.

The part of her that had worked so hard to escape its influence was now a thousand miles away. She was another Jacqueline, one that existed only at night, one who’s sole purpose was to serve an ancient, forsaken master. It needed her now, and she would keep it waiting no longer.

When Jacqueline woke the next morning, she once more found herself sitting on the toilet, staring up at the tiled wall, her pants down to her ankles. The earbuds lay at her feet.

Jacqueline opened her mouth and screamed.

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The Magic Returns

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He sits in a cold, dark corner, alone and afraid. It’s been too long, he thinks. He’s like an ancient, dried out riverbed, where the magic hasn’t flowed for ages. What makes him think he can summon it now?

Once, he was capable of great things. Through his unique talent, entire worlds emerged from nothing, whatever the heart and mind could conceive. He took it for granted, thinking it would always be there to serve him.

But he was soon swept up by worldly concerns. He stopped using the magic, stopped creating, and though the fire inside never stopped burning, it grew small and ashen through a chronic lack of practice. He was too busy with work, he told himself, too busy trying to feed his family, too busy doing a hundred other things. Only later, when it seemed too late, did he realize those were excuses, that he could have retreated to his study for as little as five minutes at a time, because there were always pockets of time to be found if only one was dedicated enough to search for them.

He hasn’t created for so long now that the channels through which the magic once flowed have closed up. It’s too late, he thinks. Only the fire inside still burns, no longer just a pile of dying embers as they’d been for so many years, but a raging inferno.

He sits at his old desk because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“Is this what you want?” he whispers to nobody in particular, “To mock me? To remind me that I gave up?” Mad with grief, he hardly knows what he’s saying.

Anguish reaches a climax. He feels small and helpless, like an ant caught up in a sandstorm. There’s nothing to lose anymore, only an ache that will grow deeper and fuller the longer he stays away.

He reaches into the void and at long last does the only thing he’s ever known how to do.

He closes his eyes and opens himself to the magic.

At first, nothing comes. In a moment of despair, he’s certain his worst fears have been confirmed. But then he hears it building as if from a great distance, and the shriveled conduits in his mind quiver with anticipation. The dam breaks, and the dried up riverbed floods once more, a raging rapid of pent up magic he thought forever inaccessible.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting in the dark before the colossal torrent finally ebbs. When he comes back to himself, he stares at his latest creation, mute and disbelieving.

At last, a work of art he can call his own.

Tears blur his vision as he realizes the truth, that the magic never left him. He turned his back on it for a while, but it was always there, waiting for him to embrace it. Like a guiding star, it reorients him. Old priorities wither before a renewed sense of purpose.

For the first time in decades, he can call himself an artist.

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