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Saturday, February 23, 2013

More old stuff

Sounds of a Bronze World Part I

first ran: 10/21/99

(Note: The first part of this two-part fiction series is not very good. The second part, however, was a much stronger offering, so if you're up for reading the entire story, it might be a good idea to skim part one and go on to part two.)
    There was a man who lived down the block from me when I was a kid. He might have been thirty or he might have been ninety--in childhood, anyone over ten seems ancient to you--but he stooped, he dressed in black, he sighed whenever I saw him.
    At night, in summer when I slept with my windows open, I could hear him weeping loudly and bitterly, and in the daytime he would sit on his front porch, staring blankly at the emptiness of our dull residential street. When he sobbed at night he sounded like wolves and like water draining from a bathtub; as he sat on his porch in the daytime he looked like a ghost. Actually--since Mom was during this time reading Victorian ghost stories to me--he looked "spectral." He looked like a spectre from Dickens.
    Occasionally, I would speak to him as I passed by on my bike. "Good morning, Mr. Mirton!" I chimed often. "How are you?" I would do a lazy loop in front of his house, waiting for a reply. He never gave me a reply. Just an unfocused stare.
    If I were in an obstinate mood I sometimes continued looping lazily around and around in order to carry on a one-sided conversation. "Nice day, isn't it, Mr. Mirton! Wow, look at that sky!... Days like these make you want to kick back with a beer and just sit by a pool!... You like beer?... pools...?" And so on, a perfect imitation of my father when he was trying to get someone new to like him.
    Jay Allison, one of the few boys anywhere near my age living on the same street, developed a more subtle tactic for getting Mr. Mirton's attention. Jay threw things at him. On an evening in July, while the sun lingered for hours on the brink of death, Jay and I stood at the curb of Mr. Mirton's yard and tossed--first softly and then firmly and then desperately--an assortment of items we had gathered for the purpose. Appendages of slaughtered action figures, Jay's sister's dolls and tea set, buttons, pins, pens, notebooks, ice cubes, stones, bits of wood, a package of frozen peas, and old game cartridges. We struck Mr. Mirton more than once and made a hell of a racket but nothing moved him. He remained inert, distant, detached, dead. Mr. Mirton got a black eye from an ice cube and a bloody nose from the frozen peas but he did not even wince.
    That night, however, as I lay in bed listening to the sobs like wolves and draining water, I noticed a new sound. Usually there were the crickets chirping, and our dog barking, and the odd car or truck engine, and the voices of teenagers walking from house to house in addition to the cries. Not much else. Some variation but always identifiable sounds. On the night after Jay Allison and I attacked him, though, mixed in with the sobbing I detected a more menacing sound I could not name. Unsteady creakings, metal against metal, the sounds of a bronze world being split by an earthquake. The sobs began, as they usually did, around ten or eleven, and, as always, lasted until daybreak, but the new sounds started an hour later and lasted until just after midnight.
    It scared me. I thought of the stories Mother read to me in the day time--about spectres seeking revenge, mostly, and a terrible possibility crossed my mind: Mr. Mirton looked like a ghost because he was a ghost, and now Jay and I had wounded him. What if he would now seek his revenge, and what if the terrible new sound had something to do with his vengeance? To my mind, seeking revenge was the only purpose of being a ghost. Quite possibly, Mr. Mirton had spent years sitting on his front porch waiting for someone to do something to him o he might have cause to get back at them. He wept all night because he had not exacted a wrathful vengeance on anyone, Until now, he had not found anyone to revenge himself upon.
    I did not sleep that night. As soon as my parents began getting dressed for work, I went downstairs to eat a bowl of cereal, then stepped outside to feed my dog, Bosch. Though still summer, the morning was cool, with a heavy dew on the ground. The grass stuck to my bare feet as I crossed the backyard toward the fat oak tree where we kept the dog chained. Bosch, a collie, began leaping and dancing as soon as he saw me bearing his breakfast in a metal dish.
    Because of my lack of sleep, my mind was not as alert as it needed to be. I placed the food in front of Bosch, who took no interest in it. He was not happy, it turned out, because of his breakfast but because I had come to see him so early in the day. I kneeled down to pet him, the dewy grass soaking my thin pajamas at the knees and Bosch's we tongue soaking my face. As he nuzzled into me, I giggled and pushed him back.
    It was then that I noticed the blood. His mouth was a crimson red, his paws stained even darker with blood and mud. My own hands, from where I had touched him, were smeared a deep maroon. At first I thought he had managed to coax a cat too close to him, or perhaps a squirrel. Then I saw, in the entrance to his doghouse beside the tree, the blank and detached stare of Jay Allison's head, lopsided, resting on one cheek.

Sounds of a Bronze World Part II

first ran: 10/28/99
    You are Jay Allison. Everything you do is intended to get a reaction out of others because you feel unloved and insignificant. You are a spoiled child and the only time you feel important is when you hurt or anger someone else. Which is why you threw things at Mirton, the man who passes days and years on a front porch. The man who does not pay attention to anyone, including you.
    You succeeded in injuring Mirton. You bruised him. You drew blood and yet he continued to ignore you. It will require a more desperate act to get Mirton's attention and you have a plan. Instead of going to bed, you climb out of your window, drop to the ground, and walk in the dense summer night toward Mirton's decaying house.
    Despite the street lamps and full moon, the house is more of a dark implication than a tangible structure--the house absorbs light, it does not reflect it. The house reminds you of a vampire.
    You are dressed like a diminutive cat burglar. Black clothes, black shoes, a black hat. Like the house, you too absorb light. You make no sound as you rush across Mirton's lawn. You press your back against the weathered wood of the house to catch your breath. You know it is nearing midnight because you can hear the weeping coming from the within the house. Sobs, muffled shrieks. Mirton cries every night. He sounds like a cat you once tortured by setting its tail on fire.
    On the side of the house, there are tangles of bushes and vines which nearly conceal the three windows. It requires a moderate effort to twist and claw your way to the first window but you manage. A twig scrapes across one cheek and you bleed. There are no lights inside but the weeping assures you Mirton is home. The weeping is loud. It echoes and swirls. Uneasiness turns to fear but your need for attention is stronger. You want Mirton to know you exist. You want him to acknowledge you. You will bang on his windows, ring his doorbell, shout and laugh until he tells you to go away. It is a childish plan, of course, but you are a child.
    Without thinking, instead of tapping on the window, you push against the panes and the window begins to creep open. It does not occur to you to wonder why someone like Mirton, a recluse, would leave a window unlocked but the opportunity to get inside Mirton's private space is too good to pass up. As the window rises, so does the volume of the sobs. So do your expectations.
    You lurch into the house, which smells like dust and mold. You remain still for a moment, waiting for your eyes to adjust but it soon becomes apparent that your eyes will never get used to this absolute darkness. You begin the precarious process of sliding your palms along the wall, shuffling your feet across the carpet. Somewhere, perhaps from the basement, the bitter weeping flies at you and you begin to wonder. What if it is not Mirton who cries at night? What if he does not live alone?
    Or perhaps you do not wonder this at all. Perhaps the quiet breathing beside you makes you realize Mirton is not the only inhabitant of the house.  The breath becomes hot against your neck. It mixes with the scent of dust and mold to produce a stench so overpowering you begin to gag. And then a hand as rough as broken glass reaches around to grab you by the throat. You are lifted from the floor and then dropped.
    The overhead light snaps on and Mirton stands over you, his vacant eyes regarding you with detachment. His head is haloed by the light. The weeping echoes and swirls from deep within the house. Something inside your head snaps and you cannot move. You cannot scream for help. All you can do it stare at Mirton's face that is as blank as his eyes. When he speaks, his voice creaks like rusted machinery.
    "You are that kid."
    You notice the blood drying on his upper lip from the things you hurled at him earlier in the day.
    "You were with that other kid who is nicer than you."
    You notice the black eye you gave him.
    "You talked him in to throwing things at me."
    Because of the stench you are having trouble inhaling.
    "Do you know what a m'guffin is, kid?"
    You are suffocating.
    "No, I guess you wouldn't.
    A smile curls across his expressionless face like smoke.
    Mirton bends down. His skin is pale and, you notice as you begin to black out, his skin is also opaque. Vaguely, you can see arteries and veins in his face and neck. You can see the dark mass of his writhing tongue through the skin of his bloodstained lips. He is toothless. His right eye is swollen shut but you can just make out the eyeball beneath the lids.
    "I'm a m'guffin, kid. You came here tonight because I needed you. Whatever reasons you think you had for coming here are just the attempts of your flimsy mind to rationalize irrationality. Anyone watching you sneak over here and crawl in the window would have tried to warn you. Everyone would know that coming into this house assures you a violent death." Mirton chuckles. "But. You are under the control of a m'guffin, kid. I eat once every few hundred years and tonight I'm hungry."
    And you lose consciousness, unable to draw in a breath. The last things you hear are Mirton's voice and the terrible sobs rolling beneath his words.
    I am a m'guffin. I do as I please.
    Here you are, suffocating, nearly dead, unconscious on my living room floor while the ghosts weep in the basement. I can devour you, kid, but I cannot destroy your twisted soul. The soul I shall keep for posterity, like a book. You hear the sobs, my boy, of a hundred different volumes from a hundred different centuries. The souls of dinners past. My own personal library.
    I will take you down to the basement. I will remove your soul. I will keep it in a special room constructed of precious metals mined from Lemuria--which sank with Atlantis. You will be deconstructed, decapitated, digested. The process will be loud, messy, and painful. The process will last an hour and you'll be alive for most of it because I think the hormones of human fear add flavor to the meat. They make the juices cook.
    But what to do with your head, which does not interest me? Human brains are a small meal at best, and are usually full of excrement and empty calories. Your head has no innate value yet I think I can give it some superficial purpose. It will serve as a warning to the nice kid across the street. Thus we'll have an old-fashioned cautionary tale, a good bang with a moral.
    You noticed my skin is almost transparent. I am a m'guffin, one of many. We're a transparent people. You are a human being who wants attention and love. I am a creature who wants nothing at all. You lack complexity. I am many things--a bronze world, a platinum blond, a knock at the door, a cannibal, a recluse, a bandersnatch, a means to an end and an excuse for a beginning. You set tails on fire. I burn worlds.
    You regain consciousness. It is too dark to see but you know you are now in a subterranean cavern because it is cold and damp and the ground beneath you is made of stone. There is movement near-by. The only sounds are the shrieks of the dead, echoing in a metal chamber somewhere in the dark.
    And then the sound of creaking. Of metal against metal. Mirton has changed, has grown, has mutated. The m'guffin is sharpening its claws, gnashing its teeth, making preparations for its meal. You remember the man who passed days and years sitting on a porch and you understand nothing of what is happening to you. You only know it is going to take time and it is going to hurt.
    Your soul begins to slip out of the pores of your skin. Your mind remains trapped by your body, which gradually begins to disappear.
    Your sharp screams are matched by the screams of the imprisoned souls. The outer walls of the metal cell reverberate, singing and screaming along with you, along with the ghosts. The noise makes you deaf. The pain makes you numb.
    Your screams die out until you fall silent. The next morning, as the sun slides upward, your best friend's dog touches his tongue to your frozen, contorted face, nips your ears with his pointed teeth. Mr. Mirton, the recluse, pats Bosch gently on the head. "Here you go, boy. You like table scraps? Huh?... Yeah..."
    As he crosses the backyard, returning home, Mr. Mirton stops long enough to cast an expressionless glance up to your only friend's bedroom window. You again notice the transparency of his skin. The rising sun gleams through the palm of his hand as he raises it to wave at the empty window.

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