The grass is pinker
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The picture had stopped moving by now, so he closed the door and turned the little red key until the mechanism clicked. He let the key slide along its ring to the other keys and hooked the entire jangling ensemble to his belt.
It was time to check the mail.
The wooden panelling covering the walls of the hallway had been varnished to the point of acting like an autumnal mirror, and acted as such as Brooks strode through on his way to the staircase. He looked good, he always looked good; like the lord he was. His thick black hair tapering to a sharp point that dangled over his white collar, the long thin flick of his legs, the pale triangle of his thought engulfed face.
The staircase swerved to the left and descended like a red tongue to the glittering depths of the lower floors, where already his mind trickled and oozed through the walls and doors. The curved walls of the stairwell were unadorned wooden panelling, bearing no sign of portraits, paintings, photographs. Just the blurred reflection of his own rushing countenance, as he went through the lines of his poetic mantra in preparation for the forth coming procurement that awaited him below. The post man had come and gone and he was certain that a special and original odour had pervaded the air of his bedroom this morning, signifying at long last the arrival of his present raison d'etre.
He conjured the image of it on the blank backdrop of the darkness of the third floor landing as he skimmed through it and tapped his way down the ever twisting staircase to his long strived for goal. It leapt out at him from the shine of the ebony banister as he slid his long hand down its smoothness, demanding a place in his grip, where it truly belonged. On the second floor it shone through the stained glass window at the end of the corridor, its bright tip just resting on the dark rectangle of his study door; as if about to tap on its surface and awaken his thoughts from the shadowy imbroglio of some ancient text, or even to distract him from savouring, yet again, the very thing itself.
The first floor had no reminder, no precognition at all to offer him as he passed. His mind, for as long as it took to cross the red carpeted landing and step onto the next step down, entertained naught but the gentle, and hollow, sniggering of many mouths. Which door the sound emanated from did not concern him for now, he would deal with it later, if necessary, for the stairs were running out beneath his gleaming black shoes and the banisters cold and impatient caress against his tingling fingertips had come to an end.
He stood on the long thin purple rug of the ground floor hallway and stared dreamily into the brilliant glare of the front door's glass panels. The planks of white light issuing through the glass toyed with his vision for a moment, like a gigantic aching flower spinning its sharp petals across his door and down the long hallway, daring him to step closer to part the bright obstacles with his hands, and peer down upon the object he so richly craved. But he would not give it its pleasure. He would wait, for his eyes to grow accustomed, perhaps with the aid of a little spell? No, for already he had a clear pathway through the lukewarm blaze. His eyes had found their way.
He gasped, clutching the very last railing of the banister.
The rough coconut boot mat that sat just inside the door and beneath the wide slit of the letter box was unmarred by anything other than a single white envelope. A single colourless square with a dark scribble or two. The words would no doubt bear his name and address when, and if, he picked the offending envelope up. But for now as he tested the strength of his will, and the strength of his banister railing, the words would say no more than 'you lose again' or simply 'hahaha, Mr Brooks, Hahaha'. Unless...unless was there something else, a dark sliver against the grey shadow betwixt mat and door?
No, this was the end of his day, and he hadn't even partaken of tea and toast in the conservatory.
But, no. There was something. He picked his way towards the mat, passing a potted plant and the umbrella stand. His eyes toyed with him still as he made it half way to the front door and almost gave up, thinking the long blur a mere fancy of his fervent desire. But...
There was something, there was. Wasn't there? Wasn't there?
"Good God I was right, good God in heaven, it has arrived."
They had packaged the thing in exactly the same colour paper as his front door, a deep, dark chocolate brown. It had hidden his prize amidst its mundanity to trick him, to waylay him; as if that was even possible. But now here he was, despite the cruellest cleverness that legerdemain could summon to prove otherwise; here he was retrieving his most desired and dreamt over possession from the beige rustle of his boot mat, and fondling it, welcoming it and savouring it as his mind danced and sparkled like an iron and gold garden of screaming, flying joy.
And already they knew. Already they stirred against their black shackles, as they had done for so very long and so very often. They felt the new peak of their gaolers joy like a violent jab to the ribs. One of them even cried out, as if begging for mercy, only to be tugged back from the brink by a scaly thought from its sturdier and crueller comrades. They eyed the darkness of the room, as they always had to, and striving to merge their creaking wills into one fine instrument, they waited.
Brooks took the small, thin parcel to his scullery and began to unwrap the dark paper. His mind stumbled over the required mantras of welcome as his sweaty fingers curled into tearing claws, biting into the tough covering. It seemed to be more than just paper, more a thin material like cloth or even pressed leather. He could feel the hard bones of the parcel beneath the dressing but the skills of the sender, whoever that may have been, where the better of his scraping, pulling fingers. Three minutes of stretching and tugging had earned him nought but a bruised set of fingers and a ready curse on his lips. He was all prepared to take a pair of scissors to the thing, or even a gas flame to sear the item free of it bonds. He was well about to do this or something equally as violent with the package.
Then he saw the irony of the situation. And he began to laugh.
"Ha! But of course. Hahah!"
Of course, why had he not anticipated this from the very beginning of his foray into the works of this object? Had he not spotted the dark and cold humour of its skeletal maker as he had translated the almost indecipherable text of his diary, nearly invisible with age? Were the skewed and drawn out metaphorical recipes, hidden as acrostics within the paragraphs, not hint enough of the clownish nature of this very object in his hand? The very ludicrous axiom of this metaphysical instrument was now open to him as he peered upon its cruciform shape, free of the dark bindings and decorations that had tormented him. The covering now naught but a flapping cloth, like a bruised banana skin, beneath its brilliant and alluring sheen.
Naked and nude was the Blade of Lekker.
The Blade of Rufus Lekker. The esoteric underpinning of all things dark and heavenly, sitting in his palm at last.
It was beyond all his rabid dreams. Beyond all his black sicknesses and drooling, aching desires. It had always meant more to him than anything his pale claws had fastened onto, or ever would fasten onto. It was more than all he owned or had ever owned and worth more than his very life itself. This went without saying of course. But what had not been said yet, and could never be said, was what exactly this blade meant to him now. Now that it was his and now that it was real.
He touched the spiral gold of the blades handle and it rocked, sending the brown cloth from under its weight. The blade swung round then, tugged by the sudden action, and touched him
It kissed his palm, cold and tenderly, and cut him to the bone.
Now he understood the necessity of the covering, the strength of its fabric. Dimly he wondered if the dark material was perhaps something he would need in conjunction with the blade, or something worth having in its own right. He sought for it, wondering how it had managed to slip.
But it had gone.
Another trick of Lekker and his blade. Was he perhaps afloat around his mansion house as that very minute? His ancient and world weary senses feasting on every particle of loose magic it could find? Marvelling at this neophyte's mastering of magic's fluid treachery? Was he, ancient and wise Rufus Lekker not invested within the very substance of the blade itself?
But he was pouring blood now.
And they knew full well what that meant. Hadn't they set their sights on such an event? Hadn't they bolstered their strength with hope of registering this very reaction from their host? They knew full well what it meant for a mage to bleed, especially if the wound was of the kind administered by The Blade of Lekker. Blood is the fire that heats all magic; it stirs it up and sends it on its merry way. To lose blood meant to lessen ones skill of conjuring. And that could only benefit the things that lurked in the rooms of the first floor.
He placed the blade, carefully and begrudgingly, upon the scullery table and examined his wound. It sent his mind into a giddy place for a second or two, but not enough to put him off recalling his healing mantra. He pushed the stinging edges of the gash together and with his sharp in take of breath formulated a woven patch of green light about his hand. It glowed and tightened to his will, stemming the flow of blood in a second.
Once he had done this he cursed his own clumsiness and made prepared his breakfast.
He ate his toast and drank his tea sat at the thick scullery table, his eyes never leaving the blade for more than it took to blink. His mind like an enthralled machine visited every structure, every niche that the blade offered up for investigation. The six inch, double sided blade sang out against the rustic tones of the oak table, catching all available light from the scullery windows and giving it magic. The handle did the same but in a more textured fashion; the striated gold rope effect of the design interrupting the stream of light and trapping it in lines of darker nuances.
The blade became a flashing world; an effect accentuated as he encircled the table in search of the sugar, never taking his eyes from the blade.
Had its owner and creator held such admiration and hope for the blade? Surely, for it was the blade in the heart of all things, and a mighty deliverer of many fantastic histories, which he had taken the time and energy to memorise. He knew of its every slash and jab since the day it was forged, deep within the core of a raging volcano. The priests of Lekker's cathedral had used it, complied with it, during the assassination of Lekker himself. Then after spending a thousand years resting in Lekker's tomb it was stolen by a grave robber, a skeletal ghoul in search of carrion. She used the blade to vanquish entire strongholds, gouging out earthy graves with it for every soul she plundered, so she might return and feast. But a vast plague spread from her actions, and for another thousand years the blade laid dormant in the ghoul's underground chamber, her hunger satiated by the cloak of sickness and death that spread across the land, from mountain to sea, leaving oozing corpses for her delectation. She had the pick of green flesh for many years and the blade sat waiting, deep below ground until the rise of the Overlords.
They came from overseas. Some say they were half fish and dragged themselves from the foaming tide with limbs that bore little trace of humanity. Their seers and witch hags had chosen the time of their uprising well, for the land was a sterile hell of skulls; the plague being the victor and the final victim of its own killing vehemence. Even the ghoul had fallen to its mouldering inevitability, her misshapen skull sharing space with her desiccated flock.
The Overlords took the unpopulated land, from the mountains to the sea, and filled it with their own kind, raising vast black tombs for their ancient ones and tunnelling deeply into the crust, in search of jewels to impart to their god. A thousand years it took for them to happen upon Lekker's Blade, a thousand years in which its keen metal dreamt only of parting flesh from flesh once again. Deep in the hellish ruin of a ghoul's domicile it shone and sang, engulfed by metres of solid earth and rock and bone. A thousand years held captive to the crushing weight of impenetrable darkness and its own desire for freedom; until that joyful day when a webbed hand unearthed a boulder, and reached down to what he imagined was a gemstone glittering there in the dried mud. The Blade of Lekker bit the hand that freed him, severed his webbed claws and left them sitting in the ragged black hole where the blade had dreamt for so very long. A new myth was born that day, forwarded by the maimed Overlord, concerning the dagger that would not break and could not rust. The blade that cut through stone as if it were snow. A God's blade, or a Demon's tooth. The blade travelled across the land, held aloft by a new order of myth tellers, taking with it a new interpretation of its obvious power. The blade had once belonged to a great sage, so they proclaimed, who had sent it down to punish the people who had served the land before their arrival. It had brought a terrible vengeance on those who misused the land, and who took from it its sparkling drops of wealth.
Needless to say the blade had its followers and its opponents in the creation of this new legend. Terrible wars began the blade in the thick of it, wielded by a quick succession of combatants from either side of the dispute. When one side held the blade they prospered, when it fell and was taken by the other, they prospered. So on and so forth, until the blade one day vanished. There's no record of how it disappeared, or by who's hand it left the battlefield, but leave it surely did; until fifty years later it turned up on the other side of the world, as a ship's cook's boning knife.
Ten years on and it served time as an ornament in a king's palace. A hundred years passed before its next incarnation as a murderer's shiv.
On and on it travelled, never aging, never losing its edge no matter how often it sliced through flesh and bone. It saw war and holy terror, joy and ageless slumber until that very day, where it chose to end up on his very boot mat, alongside a simple white envelope.
That was the history of Lekker's Blade, and of course, needless to say, it was all false.
He woke, his hand outstretched toward the blade, his other a dripping bundle beneath his chin. A red puddle sat quivering on the table, joining his wound to the handle of the knife. Could he feel a slight tingle of some etheric current reaching him? Or was it, as he assumed after giving it some thought, a mere case of a trapped nerve reawakening? He pondered this as he worked a spell to rejuvenate his mind and his body, putting into it as much effort as he dared; he would require a great deal of his reserves for the escape tonight. The blade was sharp, sharper than he even he had expected, but it would need a lengthy ceremony to hone it to the necessary perfection. It had to be tonight, it simply had to be; no two ways about it. He couldn't bear this world a second longer. To think, tomorrow he would see another world, a greater world where magic...
His hand was spurting now, dreadful gouts of his life racing away from him, across the blade. His wound would have to be bound again. He projected his thoughts into the hot gash, feeling the steady thump of his heart and the rush of the blood ensuing. It was deeper than he dared imagine; being inflicted by a magical weapon it would require a magical remedy to undo the damage. He would need the dubious services of The Panjandrum and Mr Popinjay.
After weaving another glowing bandage about his hand he set off, back up the stairs, to the first floor. The knife stayed where it was with its new red reflection for company.
Which key was it again? The orange one with the blue spots or the orange one with no spots? Or even perhaps it was the blue key with yellow stripes?
It was the green key with orange stripes.
The key turned and the mechanism clicked, and he hesitated not one moment before pushing the door open. Almost immediately they were clanging their bars and twittering like birds in the dimness. The curtains had been drawn to protect their skin and their vision, but a little pale light had ventured in, bounced from the varnished floor beneath the windows. The room itself was as plain as could be, requiring no adornments or furnishings other than two large bird cages. The dark forms within them had a resemblance more with fish than fowl; being slippery, hairless, and limbless. He watched their usual skirmish with the bars, which were more than mere bronze rods welded together; just as the occupants they bound were more than mere pets. There were no bad joins in its framework to take advantage of, no weak spots in its structure to work at. Brooks was too well versed in his art to allow for such discrepancies, far too well versed. So he allowed them their tiny defiance, knowing it served no one.
Mr Popinjay smiled at him as he neared his dangling cage, refraining from his struggle. He pointed his single yellow eye at Brooks and blinked.
"You haven't stirred us in months, Brooks. Is it time? Is it? Is it time?"
The black shiny form then returned to its contortions once again, matching his brother's anguish and violence.
The Panjandrum slowed his battle just enough to send a globule of sputum at Brooks, which missed, hitting the polished floor. Once he witnessed his failed attempt to besmirch his gaoler, yet again, he continued his thrashing motions; bringing to mind the desperate flipping of a stranded fish on a shore.
"Oh, Panjandrum, do behave will you? I have dire need of your services once again; aren't you even going to relax as I explain my terms to you?"
The Panjandrum and Mr Popinjay replied to his request by spitting in unison, aiming their spittle at Brooks' head. Brooks dodged the projectiles easily and grabbed the bottom of each of their cages, tipping them over on their sides and letting them free to swing wildly on their chains. He knew they hated this.
"You really ought to listen you know, if you want to ever get out of here."
The words struck an instant and drastic chord with the two forms. They instantly forgot their anger with the bars and their anger with him and waited for the cages to end their sickening motion. Brooks took this as a sign of compliance and steadied the cages. He then gathered his thoughts, feeling the blood dripping from his hand.
"Tonight I flee to a better world, and that I'm sure as you know, means that this house will be free of me and my unappreciated talents." He stared into their yellow eyes, searching for some sign of understanding.
"I will be gone and this house and all who...dwell in it shall be once again unfettered, allowed to roam the land in search of what ever sickening joy you could imagine to inflict. Sound like fun?"
The Panjandrum leant a little closer to the bars, until its large, soulless eye had squashed itself against them. His mouth, a tiny hole no bigger than a bullet wound, began to form a sentence, or a new spit. What eventually emanated was a mixture of both.
"We don't need your lovely freedom, Brooks. We can go anywhere we want when you are not here to disturb our mental wanderings. Why only yesterday we were down in the village, haunting the hospital with our dark and meaningless poetry. Mr Popinjay actually succeeded in bringing about a suicide didn't you Mr Popinjay. You did didn't you."
Brooks looked to the creature in question, seeing a look of detachment in the thing's face. It was no doubt seeing the said suicide, replaying in his mind's eye. Brooks needed no further confirmation of the foul act. He turned his attention back to The Panjandrum, now licking its mouth hole and blinking. It was looking at the green swirl of bandage around his wound.
"We felt you bleed, as we were swimming through the ocean scaring the mermaids with our songs. It brought us running to see if we could make use of your predicament. We know that the guests in the next room also have something to benefit from this...incident. Let us out and we will reward you a hasty death, a quick and easy exit from this world and all worlds. What do you say? Sound like fun?"
The Panjandrum rolled its gleaming eye around to look at its brother.
"We'll be out of this cage before nightfall if your dripping keeps up. Then we will have to fight the guests for your best bits. Let us out now and we'll let you keep them...well, at least as long as you are aware of having them. After that, anything goes."
Brooks turned and made for the door, once there he glanced back, into the eye of The Panjandrum, and then fled the room.
As he descended the stairs he distinctly heard the rattling of chains and the giggling of many mouths.
By now it was dark enough for him to step outside the boundaries of his spacious home, to savour for the last time, the inebriating fragrances of his garden. There they were; the midnight roses tapping on his library window, the Greenwine tulips defining the pathway to the gazebo, the beds of Amethyst buds barely glimpsed beneath the jet black oaks; the jet black Oaks that formed a resilient barrier between his garden and the monstrous world beyond. All this would wilt and die once the forth coming ritual had worked its charm upon the blade, and the blade had reciprocated in kind, allowing him access to a better world.
The cool dusk breeze lifted his dark hair and moved something on the lawn, by the door of the gazebo. Litter cast by the fools who wandered the alleys and staircases outside his stronghold. It appeared to be as pale as a truce flag and as flimsy as a web; and he urged himself to dispose of it, send it back through the copse that encircled his home. But why bother to tend to the beautification of a world he was leaving behind?
He bent to sniff a Moonbird herb as it glowed a deep red in the thickening gloom. This was its favoured season for aromatic disclosure; the months of the dog in some overseas cultures. Tonight, however, the herb was bashful of spreading its perfume; which always called to mind the scent of sweet cakes and port. Maybe the Milkweed would fashion a delicate odour...
His hand was too much for him, stinging as it did; as if the blade were still slicing beneath the healing charms he continued to apply. He dare not release the thick swaddling to check upon its condition lest it should send him dizzy again, and drain his mettle. He would need every ounce of determination in the charm ahead.
But there was more litter skittering across the dark lawn! No doubt some neighbouring household had released something through the front gate, a newspaper maybe. He clicked his fingers and the trash burst into bright green flames dancing in the breeze. The sight gave him some degree of merriment and he wandered the grounds in search of more litter. The Horn Ivy trellis by the scullery window had taken a piece, as had the stone sundial. He quickly snapped his fingers and watched the jagged scraps turn into fantastic shapes of light, dancing and contorting as if in agony, their tiny bright embers zipping away like insects. How much he wished it were his slovenly neighbours he was conflagrating; although he would have the dubious satisfaction of knowing that once he were safely in the other world, his influence over the house and the guestrooms would lessen to such a degree that their...occupants be able to avail themselves of a subsequent and explosive egress. No doubt the surrounding streets and farmhouses would bear the brunt of the ensuing emancipation.
As he enjoyed his own emancipation, in another world, in a different cosmos.
He checked his pocket timepiece and drew a deep and meaningful breath, taking in as much of the sugary pine and the fruity petals as he could, before rushing back inside the mansion.
They heard him slam the doors below, and wondered with red and black thoughts about the state of his hand. They too had felt the initial slit of the accursed blade through his palm, and they too understood the present and future consequences of such a wound from such an instrument.
As each fat drop of blood left their gaoler's flesh, an equally fat drop of freedom landed on their slimy brows. Already they had stretched their heavy shackles to breaking point, and already they had sent out their collective will to savage the foolish mage. Admittedly all they could as yet summon were a few skin phantoms, the weakest of their servants; and he had dealt with them frustratingly easily. But soon they would have influence once again over their third most dreaded of all vassals; The Spinster.
They cackled throatily as the name flowed from one mind to the other, passing along and then back again in an endless circle of vicious delectation. Then they listened for the doors to slam and the hollow stamp of desperate footfalls; and all the while the drops of freedom ran down their faces.
It was a delicately designed operation ahead of him, and one that required months if not years of careful and intricate planning. Time would have to be on his side in this venture, for everything else would be against him; or so it seemed now. If only he had an empty house, the transition would be so much more undemanding...and potentially painless. The foreboding possibilities of his failure had dominated his thoughts for almost as long as the possible rewards that would ensue if and when he succeeded in his venture. Indeed, the resulting states of mind that awaited him, whichever pole they would originate from, would be beyond any nomenclature as of yet dreamt of.
But the plans were only half formed, even now, on the brink of the unnatural event.
He climbed the stairs to his study and lit a candelabra which sported nine misshapen lumps of wax, of all colours; including black and white. Then by the warm, dancing flickering of their scented flames he retrieved his leather case, from a soon to topple stack of books, and opened its black jaws. All that he would require was contained within. Gold, jewels and a single envelope sized portrait of his late wife, and fellow mage.
God rest her soul.
He sorted through the bags of shining gold coinage and the boxes of gems and then slammed the case shut. Then he dug around in his jacket pocket for his sun spectacles. Once they were safely in his grip he grabbed the candelabra, dripping nine colours of hot wax, and his case and took them down to the scullery. Once there he again gazed upon the fiery gleam of the blade. Did it tremble now? Was the imminent and greatest use of its propensities causing a noticeable degree of trepidation? But he had no need for this pointless squandering of his time and energy! There were charms to lay and shapes to draw, and guests to tend to.
He took up the candelabra and raced up the shadowy cavern of his staircase, past the first and second floors, past the rattling and the muttering, to the third floor landing. How he hated his home past the hours of nightfall. It was a different place altogether, inhabited by the voice of his fears and the footfalls of his paranoia. Every nook and cranny became the cobwebbed niche of some crouching darkness with a face. Even his own reflection, warped by the knots in the oak panelling, seemed to be now inhabited by malice, malice directed solely at him.
He stood, with his rainbow of colours burning by his head, and dared to glance at himself. But god he couldn't; and why should he? Who could judge him without, in doing so, judging themselves? Besides, he had greater things to combat against in the next few seconds.
He found his keychain and fitted the red key in to the door to the picture room; as he had come to call it. What else could it be? Other than the place he had learned to sleep, and to dream the dreams of others.
Once the door was wide open he felt his skin crawl.
The candles lit up the boy in the picture, and little else; no frame, no cracked wall space. This was enough for anyone, however, for the look on the child's face is the embodiment of despair. The scruffy blonde urchin is a sat amidst a darkness only squalor can provide, or understand; is this the reason for his terror, and the terror in the hearts of the viewer? Brooks cannot bear to contemplate any further the misery on the little boy's pale face, with its single sparkling tear and large blue eyes; he finds it best not to. He slips on his dark glasses, despite the already confusing blankness around him, and approaches the boy with his candelabra held up. He stares at what little is left of the child's face, and waits for it to move.
Which it all too quickly begins to do.
At first it seems a trick of the shadows, or of memory; such is subtlety of the alterations in the physiognomy. Is the stare too fierce? Is the tear drop now too low on the boy's red cheek? Is the boy reaching out his hand, so you can comfort him in his despair? All these notions are true, because the boy is moving around inside his rectangular prison. It is a terrifying sight for the uninitiated and the aware alike, but Brooks has become too familiar with the jolts of unease; for he has held ownership of this marvel for many decades, and has found good use for its proclivities. The painting is a direct link to the world of dreams, perhaps the boy's dreams, perhaps everybody's dreams; dreams the like of which...can render a man incapable of physical movement for many, many hours. The viewer is held captive in a warm and terrifying dream that takes charge of his faculties wholeheartedly and relinquishes them only once the picture has spied the first rays of morning. Brooks of course has developed a sporadic mastery over the painting's uncanny powers, and can now enjoy that dream place, and that dream captivity, for any period of time; and returns fully refreshed, at what ever moment he sees fit. He no longer needs to sleep, a notion he often finds himself priding over, but he still demands to dream. And what things those dreams have shown him over the decades. It was here, in this very dark chamber, that he first laid eyes upon the new world, his soon-to-be home; and what a strange world, although in many ways exactly alike his own. He had learned their language, their dress, their customs and mannerisms. He had followed their petty squabbles and their mighty battles, their hopes dashed and their fears realised and all this...from their dreams.
How dangerous this device is, he realises, taking it down from its hook as the boy now flashed away into nothing and the dreams began again; but not his to share today, or any other day. The glasses protected him from falling prey its soporific charms, but he had one last job for the painting before they parted company; a job that he admitted was beneath its standing.
"These glasses shield me from your nightmares, boy. But I doubt the guests downstairs, straining at their leashes, will be fitted with similar optical attire. Work your spell on them for me, and I will be eternally grateful."
If the swirling picture had ears to listen it showed no intention of answering; lest the particular bright storm of shapes and colours thrashing about within its borders at that moment held a suitable riposte. If it did, it went unnoticed.
He crept down the flickering staircase to the first floor landing and listened momentarily at one or two of the doors. The sniggering had ended, but been replaced, with what sounded to Brooks, like fevered chanting. From Popinjay and Panjandrum he received naught but the wet guttural growl that took the place of snoring. No doubt they were off telling stories to feeble minded authors again; more than once they boasted of seeing publication 'from beyond the grave' as they so eloquently put it. Curse them. To think, from tomorrow, they would be free to roam the land again, acting out those red fantasies. It wasn't his problem anymore, he had taken care of the monsters for long enough; let some other fool learn his trade and devote his life, his very existence and meaning to exacting a suitable punishment on these perverted life spoilers.
It was time for him to retire from their wrath, and get as far away from their clawed reach as possible. Where better than another world...
A smash of glass below! Could they have slipped their chains so soon, before he had even begun the ceremony? Anything was possible.
He quickly propped the squirming picture against the balustrade, facing the guest rooms, and slipped downstairs. He was safe to take off his spectacles now and did so, folding them up and placing them in his pocket as he stood on the last step.
Another loud tinkle of glass! Were they after the blade? fools, only he had the power to wield it now, it would obey no other master but the one who called it.
He sauntered along the hall to the scullery door and took a quick and fervent glance at whatever the light from his candles fell upon. Someone had shoved a long white pole through his window, and was prodding it jerkily around in one of his high up food cabinets. The knife lay where he had left it, on the table next to his case, untouched.
What a feeble attempt at theft this was! Laughable, the way the pole went this way and that in the gloom, knocking over his preserves and smashing them on the hard stone floor. What kind of spell befits such an intrusion, he wondered. But why use good magic on a common thief who was probably after his gems? No, a gentle bit of force in the right direction would suffice.
He grabbed the pole with his unhurt hand and felt it soften beneath his fingers. In one swift movement the pole retreated from its foray, dragging its warm clamminess through Brook's fist. It was strong, or being strongly wielded, but he managed to grab what was at the very end of it. But no...it grabbed him: a pale, spindly hand with sharp nails.
He yelped and tried to disengage but its grip held as tight as a stiff knot. Somewhere outside, beyond the jagged glass window, something gave a cry of victory; something with a voice akin to an out of tune wind instrument.
Brooks cried out as the candle light picked out a vague form through the remains of the window; whatever it was it had no need of standing too close to grab its quarry: its arm stretching in a crooked pale line from the dark where his gazebo was sat. Another of its appendages was being sent crashing through one of the panes of glass to do its work. In a moment they would have him pinned down, incapable of fighting back but with his mouth and his feet. He had to act fast, he decided, and let the nine flickering candle flames of his candelabra run under the wrist of the hand that held him. A wooden roar emanated from the black garden and the fingers swept away from his hand. He immediately picked up the blade from the table and the case in one hand, and made for his parlour. It was time to get the hell out of there, for good.
The parlour looked out onto the other side of the grounds and would make a decent place to hold the ceremony. He quickly took a stick of chalk from his pocket and began to draw the shape of transference on the naked floorboards. As he drew the long white lines he called out the names of the gods they aligned with. Eventually, with the furniture shoved into the corners of the room and the candelabra in the centre of the floor, the shape was complete. Now to...
Two dull bulbs were peering through his drapes, shining their sickly beams on to the floor. Then the smashing of more glass and the drapes were parting. The arms were shooting towards him again, long fingers splayed like sharp flowers. Upstairs he heard the struggles of many creatures, as they fought at their ever diminishing restraints.
Brooks grabbed the blade of Lekker and lashed out. The hands saw no blade soaring through the dim air but there was no doubt, from the screams of their owner, that they felt it. One hand flew off into the darkness of the room instantly, spraying a fine mist of blue liquid across Brook's face. The other hand flopped to one side and swung there, dangling by a ligament, pouring a rich blue flow of its life blood down the fingers. Quickly the arms retreated. Brooks laughed loudly with his own victory now, and swung the blade this way and that, not stopping now he was in mid flow, preparing the opening of the way, into the new world that awaited him. The necessary mantra came to him without question of hesitation or inaccuracy and soon he could feel the warmth of split atoms whispering across his face. It was working, the doorway was opening; but he never doubted it would. He had figured out the true natural function of the blade, and now he was using it thusly, parting the boundaries that separated his life from that of another. The doorway would not hold for long, just long enough for him to slip through and be gone forever. No more Mr Popinjay and his brother, no more vicious creatures who would not pay penance, let alone confess, to the murder of his wife.
But freedom was in sight, and no he would have to lessen his hold on the house, to bring about the change that would allow him entrance. Soon the beasts would be ripping their way out of their cages and tearing their shackles like paper, and then the only thing stopping them from doing the same to his would be the dreams of the painting outside their doors. A thin illusion it seemed now, as he stood on the threshold of his new reality. There it was, an oval of light with a dark centre; like a gigantic eye on its side. Things were moving in the dark orbit, figures, animals, machines. No time to lose now, can't turn back.
He could hear the crash of wood above him; they were attacking the door to their room.
The doorway quivered as he strengthened his blows upon its remaining membranes, producing a fervent splash of jerky light at each severing slash of the magical implement. He was almost through, and his body registered this with a slackening of his legs; the power was draining out of him and the house, and the guests were coming down the stairs. He kept on slashing and gouging at the portals final strings of luminescence, crying out with each agonised stab. Then he was finally through, being sucked through the hole into a dark corner of some alley. He grasped out for purchase on the slippery floor, smelling foul meaty odours and hearing machines growl near by. With trepidation and wonder he peered upon the world...
But the portal was still there, and his case, his jewels and gold were still beyond its fizzling splendour. He could see the case just a few feet from the burning lip of the doorway to his old world. Without his means of support he would be doomed for sure; he had to have them. So he crawled to the blazing edge of the portal and snaked his hand through, feeling the pull again, but in reverse. It meant to take him back into that nightmare house of monsters. But he must have the case, and now, for the portal was soon to heal up for good. His hand crept towards the handle of the case as he peered this way and that in the stirring darkness of his parlour. The candelabra still stood, its nine colours of wax now half their size. He could even see one of the dismembered hands of the creature, curled up beneath his chaise lounge like a dead leaf. The handle of the case met his grasping finger tips then, and he fought against the ebb of the doorway to yank the thing back with him, into his new world.
He had to dig his free, and his bandaged hand, into the corner of a brick wall to gain anchorage in his struggle; his wound burning as it reopened. He screamed out with the effort, hoping no one would come running to see this insane spectacle.
"Are you going somewhere, Brooks?"
A scaly, dry hand closed on his wrist in the dark parlour. His wide eyes saw the owner of the voice and the hand. It was one of the monstrosities form the first floor guest rooms, which he could not guess at; they had ceased to have names when they had ceased to have any human semblance. But, he did recognise the particular lack of a nose in this one, and the slime that issued from its throat from several stubby pipes brought a name to his lips.
The thing, possibly once named Colehurst, nodded and pointed a fleshless stump towards him, or the world he now shared. It looked out and turned its blue eyes of pain across the darkness of the alley.
"Is this where you are going, Brooks? Is this your new home? "
"Let me go. Give me the case."
Brooks twisted his arm in any way he could and managed, almost, to lose the creature. But its swiftness was the match of his, and he was once again trapped.
"Dont go just yet, will you Brooks. I want to tell you something. I want to tell you about your wife."
"Get off me you ugly bastard!"
The creature roared in response, and shoved his monstrous face towards his captives.
"Ha! Call me ugly will you? Ugly? I was a handsome devil before you worked your magic on me, on us all."
Brooks made one final effort to take his arm back, summoning up all his strength, and was paid for his work with agony.
"We were all as handsome as your wife and you, Brooks. Mind you, once we'd had our way with her, she was no pretty picture herself."
Brooks stared into the monster's eyes.
"Yes, it was I who slaughtered your wife. And now...now, I'm going to slaughter you."
And brooks felt himself being pulled towards the narrowing portal, and the dark parlour. He had only one option, and the chances of it working were slim. But he simply had to try.
He snapped his fingers, hoping he had enough magic left to produce even a slight spark, anything that might ward off his attackers. The sound issued from his fingers and bounced around the parlour, knocking off walls and the ceiling, and entering the ears of the monsters who waited, salivating. At first Brooks decided it had failed, and screamed and fought against the claw around his wrist. Then, after a few seconds, he heard the first cry of terror... and pain. It wasn't from the creature that held him, but the cry startled it form its work nonetheless. He was still not free, however. He clicked his fingers again, and again and again each time earning an answering cry. The monster that once been Colehurst was now distracted by something in the parlour, and he felt his attention drop slightly from gripping Brook's arm. He used that lapse to his advantage and forced his arm, and the case of gold and gems through the almost closed portal. He reeled away from the foot wide loop of cold light and watched the ragged face of Colehurst catch fire. It was the last thing he saw of his world, before the door shut forever, with a sigh of atoms reforming.
He was exhausted, drained of all his power and strength, but still he found a cry of joy...before he passed out.
Dreams. Swift and delicate and vanishing from every door. Golden wings beating up a storm of leaves and dust that crackled with power. Then he was waking...
He was somewhere bright. Rods of fire stuck to the ceiling. He had seen them before, in dreams. But the name evaded him. A figure stood over him in pink and white attire. Another, all in black. He knew what they were too: Policemen. That's what they called them here. Quickly he concentrated on the tall man in black, and attempted to speak.
"My case, is it here?"
The man smiled, and approached.
"Your case is in a locker for the time being. You were lucky not to lose it; mind you we had to prize it out of your hand."
"Good. Good. Now I suppose you want to know who I am and why I came to be sleeping in an alley."
The policeman produced a note book and a pen.
"Were you mugged, sir? Can you identify your attackers?"
"I...yes...my hand was cut when I tried to fend them off, the vagabonds. I think they were wearing masks though, so I couldn't even tell you if they were male, sorry."
The policeman frowned and the nurse moved towards the bed, and fiddled with Brook's newly bandaged hand.
"Is it hurting you at all? She asked.
"No, not at all, thanks. Have you sewn it up good for me? It should heal here, now."
In this domain, he wanted to say. This domain without threat, without pain of ever having a chance of breeding magic. He was free now, free of it, once and for all. Free of magic, and the hurt it spawned.
Get used to it? No, you never get used to it.