Suggested Audio Candy
 Christopher L. Stone “The Final Game”
 Fred Myro & Malcolm Seagrave “Phantasm”
Immediately I question whether taking that step into the unknown was a wise move but, considering the options included being thoroughly constricted by an unforgiving serpent or having my head hollowed out by a persistent sentinel, I still maintain that I made the correct choice. The last time I was plunged into darkness, things got rather claustrophobic fast, but this time my frantic feelers discern what appears to be a hanging light switch of sorts and I waste no time in pulling the cord. To my great relief, I appear to be completely alone in what closest resembles some kind of storage chamber. There are canisters meticulously lined along both walls to my left and right and, although I cannot be sure of the contents at this point, I’ll take a few passive tanks to that snake with a human tail any day of the week.
Further inspection reveals no available exit point which is hardly surprising to be fair. Just two dozen or so pods and a mildly displeasing funk which stings my nostrils. Formaldehyde once again; there is no mistaking that pungent odor and I will need to be cautious as ingestion can be fatal. It appears as though the scent is being excreted from these vessels; heaven only knows what kind of sick experiment is taking place right under my nose but I am powerless to resist taking a closer look. The glass hoods appear misted over and it is hard to ascertain exactly what is inside but it is definitely the source of that foul stench.
“Careful what you look for boy. You just might find it”
The Tall Man. I dare not look up as his unmistakable voice is far closer than I am at comfort with. Instantly I feel leaden as though the life-force is already being siphoned from me and it seems as though my journey has come to a premature end.
“Small Man, your end approaches but it is not yet. Take great care how you play”
I can take this no more. How can I ever hope to escape this pig pen if I don’t face up to my fears head on? Now would be the time for a lamp to rub or, better yet, a magic carpet ride but ultimately where will that lead me? To another set of obstacles no doubt; likely even more portentous than the hindrances I have already been introduced to. No it’s do or die, shit or get off the pot, sink or swim; I do hope this is delaying my demise some.
“It’s useless you know”
“Why can’t you just leave me be? All I want is for this to be over”
“It is never over”
“Then I shall open one of these canisters and dunk my head in. I’m pretty sure that will kill me stone dead and you can’t get me if I’ve already died”
“Foolish boy. Death is no escape from me. Have you learned nothing?”
“What do you want from me anyway?”
“It’s not what I want but what I am going to take”
“Then take it. Fuck it, I’m done. Do your worst you lousy freak. You’re nothing more than a bully in a suit. Speaking of which, you need to fire your tailor as your trousers are way too short. What have you got to say about that eh?”
“Sticks and stones boy. You can’t fool me, I can smell your fear”
He may well be onto something there as I just touched cloth in my linens. Nothing to do with consternation mind; that cursed Weiner dog wasn’t cooked thoroughly enough and it has given me a dicky tummy. Maybe he’s right; I am already aware that there is no escaping certain death and what is the point of delaying the inevitable? No! No! NO! Not this time; I ain’t going out like that. These receptacles are key; why else would they be here if not serving some kind of sick purpose? I’ll hit him where it hurts; destroy every last one of these containers and wipe out the entire cache. Let’s see how he likes those apples.
There it is. The tool of my revolution. The ice cream scoop. I shall use that to give his stockpile a sound thwack; the glass doesn’t appear to be reinforced and, if I use sufficient force, I should be able to crack every last one of them. Of course, I am a little curious about how the scoop got here in the first place, and still shudder at the thought of the last place I saw it. But beggars can’t be choosers. This presents my only hope right now and I’ll never again look a gift horse in the mouth. I perform a roll, much like Indy in his prime, collect said scoop on my way through, and exit my rotation in a standing position. Still got it after all these years.
I wasn’t banking on my knee popping out of joint but guess I should’ve expected such. Back down to the cold hard floor with a thump I go, still clutching my weapon of mass destruction, but more concerned with the absolute agony of temporary joint relocation. From here I have an even better view of The Tall Man’s timid trouser legs and he is now striding towards me briskly enough to encourage another dubious parp from my sphincter. Whatever resolve I have left will be required if I am to navigate all twenty-six of these chambers post-haste.
I drag my weary bones to the first and crack the seal successfully. Instantaneously, my head begins to spin as the noxious gases inside begin to filter through.
That is all the proof I need that my actions are throwing a hefty spanner in The Tall Man’s works. Suddenly it is becoming clear. I am the architect; not him. He is simply the tree at my window, tapping away at my sill persistently, but ultimately fruitlessly should I just draw the blinds. These vile vats were my mind’s final rearguard; one last test for me to overcome in order to ensure my safe passage. I smash another two and this displeases him further.
“I will tear your soul apart”
“Really? Is that the best you can do lofty? Pretty sure I’ve heard that one before”
“Disobedient wretch. I was going to go easy on you but now…I’m not!”
“There is no magic you buzzard. A wise man once taught me that”
By my estimation that makes nine obliterated drums. That leaves four more then I will be required to haul myself to the other side and repeat the process. I can do this if I just remain studious; any false moves and I will play right into his elongated hands.
“You cannot escape me!”
That’s it. One side down and I’m halfway to heaven. Using the back wall to prop myself up, I slide across to container #14 and batter it excitedly. He is growing ever closer, but those lengthy strides are halted each time I release the toxin and it’s buying me the extra seconds I need to finish the task at hand. I glance around and evidently he is not fazed by attempting every last dirty trick in the book to gain some ground. Right now he has assumed the form of the ruby-red siren from my own burial, Emilie Flory. While usually I would be powerless to resist a quick tête-à-tête with this winsome enchantress, I still haven’t forgotten those malevolent Trauma Dolls or how close I was to fitting my coffin come to think of it.
Seventeen down; nine to go. True to form, Ms Flory has informed her malicious marionettes of my coordinates and they are morphing through the rear wall, bleeding their woeful intent. I would be lying through my molars if I said that I wasn’t faintly aroused by these cunning cheerleaders of carnage. So much clinical beauty; I haven’t been this hard since my mom cut off our cable. Focus Keeper focus. Four left. Three. One final push and it will all be over. Their numbers are vast and I shall be required to deal with their oncoming threat before shattering the remaining trio of drums. Scoop to the rescue; time to find out what else this baby can do.
Pummel appears to be the most effective setting, although it is taking a lot more than a good cudgeling to send these savage sluts to their knees. As tempted as I am to remark “while you’re down their love” I carry on thrashing. Two more to go and I barely have the stamina to pull myself across to the penultimate target. If I suspected there would be more to the eye than it seems then I am proven right once again as the sentinels are back and hovering menacingly as they prepare to lunge. Done it; one final surge should see me good. Unfortunately, the first sphere has already locked in and is hurtling towards me at a speed far greater than breakneck. I swing my scoop and manage to deflect its primary attack but there is hardly enough time to put my weapon back into use before it launches its secondary rearguard.
For fuck’s sake. How can I be so tantalizingly close to a favorable outcome and still not be able to catch a simple break. Second time, I am not as fortunate, and the sphere bolts both blades into my cranium before I can register a defensive blow. I always wondered how much pain would be involved in having my cerebellum punctured; thirty years back I almost received my answer but got away by the skin of my teeth. This time it would appear that luck is not on my side as the drill bit has commenced whirring from the sentinel’s center point with designs on my skullcap. Well I guess I should finish what I started and crack this final container before accepting my penalty.
I’m a genius. A bona fide egghead. It worked; destroying #26 has caused the humming to cease and this affords me the time to dislodge the stubborn blades from my brow. That’s imposing threat number one dealt with but what of The Tall Man? He has returned to his original form and looks ruffled, but not altogether defeated.
“You think you’ve won child. You haven’t. You’ve lost. That little act of defiance has just made your punishment all the more severe”
I know exactly what’s coming now and preempt his bellow by dunking the shut down sphere into the exposed contents of vat #26. It is instantly called back into action and begins drinking the rancid sludge.
There it is; right on schedule. While his mouth is still wide open I launch the formaldehyde-sopping sentinel with my pitching arm and achieve home run as it hits him straight in the kisser. It’s working like a charm; the sphere fixes into place on both sides of his jaw and begins to burrow deep, releasing its punishing poison down the back of his gullet. It’s not a particularly pretty sight but it is somewhat gratifying considering how much he has plagued my phantasm. First up are his eyes and they burst in their sockets, enabling the fluid to ooze forth and melt away his constantly grimacing face cloth. His throat is next and it capitulates from the root causing his entire head to drop to the floor with a sickening splat. Soon all that remains is his suit, shoes, and a bubbling broth which can no longer pose a threat to me. I have won the skirmish; The Tall Man has received a taste of his own bad medicine; it’s finally over. Now all I have to do is find a way out of this hell hole.
With Father Martin’s words ringing in my ears, I endeavor to fashion one final portal. I’m almost entirely drained and it takes everything I have left but, once I reopen my eyes, I’m just happy that there is no magic. A bed; mine to be precise. Freshly washed linen, a little crispy-coated in spots, but still looking mighty inviting. It is time to bid adieu to my phantasm, rejoin the land of the living, and feel grateful for my continuation. I kneel down, pull back the sheet, and climb inside. Bliss; pure and unadulterated. My divan has never fitted so snugly. A second later I am back in my room. Never again will I complain of my poky chamber. This will do me just fine. Might be an idea to lay off the Klonopin for the foreseeable but I am home and there really is no place like home.
What a glorious morning. The dawn light is streaming in through the gap in my drapes and I can discern the chorus of jaybirds on the branch overhanging my window. Feels like a good day to be alive; my days of pleading for death are through now. I want to live, grow old and grumpy, hang on belligerently until the very last puff of oxygen has vacated my lungs. After that, should The Tall Man be waiting, then I will be consoled by having led a good, full life. One humongous stretch, a quick scratch of the bag balls, and a dainty little yawn; then it is off downstairs for my morning caffeine.
My mom is already down there and this is no great surprise as she is a particularly poor sleeper and usually up at the crack of dawn.
“You kept me up all night with your noise”
“Sorry. Bad dream”
“I’m most put out”
“Jeez mom, lay off will you. How many times have I told you that I can’t operate until I’ve had my coffee”
“Don’t you talk to me like that”
“Fuck’s sake mom. Leave it will you?”
“I don’t care much for your tone Richard”
Now I’m in trouble. I’d be Rich if I hadn’t pissed her off with my cursing but one F-Bomb later and that extra syllable is thrown into the mix. Better quit while I’m ahead; don’t fancy slipper leather to the back of my calf. She knows the exact spot that smarts most.
“I’m going to the shed to write”
I storm off down the garden path defiantly and dare not look back as I have seen enough scowling faces to last me a lifetime. Talk about kick a man when they’re down.
Had I not mentioned that I’m prone to daydreaming? Must’ve slipped my mind. Restful dreams.
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2015