Crowns and Stuff: Part 5
June 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
Hello hello hello.
You know what is awesome? Being even closer to finishing my Master’s paper. Do you know what is not awesome? Being so burnt out I don’t know what’s what anymore.
You know what else is awesome? More stuff to read! Enjoy.
Chapter 5: A Few Meetings
The forest abruptly ended in desert. That was it: trees, road, and then sand as far as I could see. Spes walked on happily humming to himself, the wheels on his waggon squeaking in time with his song. I threw away a cigarette and resisted the urge to light up another. There was something in the air here, and I didn’t like how it felt.
“We’re here!” Spes suddenly said, excitement bubbling in his voice, “It’s here! Let’s go!”
I looked around at the wilderness of sand. “Really?”
Spes kept humming to himself and dug through his waggon. Now that I was paying more attention to it, I noticed there actually were a few things in it. Mostly rusted and worn bits of metal that rolled around, unnoticed. He pulled out a rusty whistle and winked at me. Raising it to his lips, he gave it a shrill, keening blast that reverberated in my ears. My ears itched, but I resisted the urge to cover them. I scowled for effect.
The long note trailed off into the distance, disappearing into the nothingness all around us. Humming again, Spes put the whistle away and sat heavily on the ground, raising a great whoosh of sand.
I was still scowling, and now I crossed my arms. “This is pissing me off, Spes. We’ve been walking for hours, I haven’t had a drink or a bite in what feels like days, and you keep on doing mysterious shit. I’m pretty damn tired, man.” I wasn’t very happy at this point. Truthfully, I hadn’t been very happy since I woke up in that damn hospital, but now that we were sitting down and nothing was chasing us, I could actually let myself be royally pissed.
Well…the Hor-ghast was still pulling itself along a couple of dozen feet behind us, moaning like a wounded buffalo. I was tempted to go back and give it a few more hits, but memories of exploding Hor-ghast were a little fresh. Besides, I was out of rocks.
A robed figure suddenly appeared about ten feet away, walking toward us. He was a short guy, maybe up to my chest but hunched over and ancient-looking. A ring of beads hung around his scrawny green neck and the animal bones tied to his staff rattled in the breeze.
I frowned deeper. If there was one good thing about this whole ordeal, it was that I was pretty sure I looked bad-ass in a leather jacket, rumpled shirt, and permanent scowl. But this guy earned it.
He was a turtle.
True, he was walking on his hind legs and seemed to have fingers, but when I looked at him, a god-damned turtle looked back.
“Oh that is fucking it.” I grumbled. “What the hell is going on Spes?”
The Turtle sniffed and clicked in his mouth. “A mortal is making an idiot of himself. As is usual.”
Spes giggled, and then shut up and looked abashed when I scowled at him. Bad. Ass.
“No, seriously Raphael. What the hell is going on? First I wake up in a hospital without knowing a thing about myself, I get chased by zombie nurses, crows, and Hor-ghasts, see a bunch of my memories get eaten and spat up to make a damn tar baby, and now I’ve got a damn turtle in front of me, calling me an idiot.”
It blinked. Can turtles do that? I wondered. “But you are being an idiot, mortal. That is pretty much the dictionary definition of someone who pisses off the one other person willing to help them. Good day. Try not to make it your last.” It turned and began shuffling away.
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “Alright, look, sorry about that. I’m really not sure what’s going on and I’d appreciate any help you can give me.”
It stopped. “Say please.”
“Are you fucking-”
“Say it.” With ice and laughter in his voice.
I swallowed bile, which was a nice change from motor oil. “Okay, alright. I’m sorry.”
“Say you’re sorry for calling me a turtle.”
“Uhh, aren’t you a turtle?”
It snorted. “And aren’t you an idiot? And isn’t Spes just a grimy hobo? And aren’t you standing in the middle of a desert? My name is Wisdom, thank you for asking.”
I gritted my teeth until something popped. I’m normally more pleasant than this, but almost dying several times in a horrific wasteland populated by nightmares will put a damper on pleasantries.
“I apologize, Wisdom, for calling you a turtle. Happy?”
Wisdom chuckled and pulled a cigarette out of its robe. “Oh mortals, you are such fun.” It snapped it’s fingers and a bottle of beer appeared. He took a swig and offered me some. “But I suppose you’ve earned a little politeness from me.” He nodded his head. “I’m Wisdom, and judging by your state, I assume you want to go to Memnos.”
“Yes…please.” I squirted it out while I measured exactly how much of a swig would be polite but still give me as much beer as I could politely get.
Scaly head nodded while turtle eyes blinked lazily in the sun. “Alright. I normally charge for passage across the desert, but Thanatos isn’t watching me now.”
Spes looked shocked. “Really? But isn’t he, y’know,” he whispered with barely exaggerated terror, “everywhere?”
“Behind every shadow and in every silence? Yes, and you won’t forget it if you know what’s good for you.” Wisdom took the half-empty bottle out of my hands. “But since the incident he’s been busy. He’s well gone, I haven’t seen him for a day or so now.”
Wisdom brushed his hands against his robe and began murmuring. I blinked and when my eyes opened there was a door in front of me. I took a step back, but it didn’t attack me. Finally. The Hor-ghast moaned in the distance and began shuffling closer.
I looked at it carefully, but aside from appearing out of thin air, the door was totally normal. I gave it a tug, but it was closed fast. Wisdom’s scaly hand encased mine.
“Another piece of advice before I start charging. Don’t agree to any bargain they try and make with you. They might act friendly, but if they can fleece the skin from your bones they’ll do it, and happily. Capice?”
I nodded, and just as I went to turn the handle I turned back to him. “Thanks, whoever you are.”
He smiled a turtle smile. “You’re welcome. And don’t worry, you really aren’t meant to know.”
I turned the handle and fell into darkness.
I woke up face down on a enormous stone. I was inside a cave that was completely dark except for a pair of torches that guttered fitfully in the darkness. The light just seemed to stop after a certain point, like there was something in the way. Something huge.
Oh, and I hurt again. A lot.
Fingers ran down my back, softly massaging me and working the life back into my raging muscles. I groaned as warm feelings and peace returned to my slab of a back. The fingers moved up to my shoulders and neck, and some even began massaging my scalp. It felt almost too good to be true.
I blinked. There were too many hands.
Startled, I rolled over. A spider the size of a double-decker bus stood over me, claws grasping uselessly in the air. It cocked it’s head at me, rows and rows of segmented eyes ranging from the size of manholes to just bigger than my fist all covered with small pieces of cloth. It leaned its head, the size of a couple of dobermans taped together, and clucked the fangs an inch from my face.
“You don’t want any more, child?” It asked, in a soft, grand-motherly voice that tugged at my liver.
And then it opened it’s mouth and I started screaming.
I shuffled back away from the spider as fast as I could but the rock ran out first. Teetering over the edge, I almost jumped off just to get away from it. The spider reached out with one giant leg and pulled me back from the edge, bringing me closer to her.
“Don’t go too close to the edge, child, it’s dangerous down here.”
I almost started whimpering but held it to a pathetic panting. My shoes skidded on the rock but it was like trying to resist the tide.
Another voice sounded from the darkness. “Praetix, you’re scaring the boy.” A man stepped out of the darkness and onto the rock. He wore a pitch-black suit, pitch-black tie, and pitch-black skin. It was so dark the light didn’t even reflect off him. I couldn’t tell if he even had eyes but when he smiled, teeth as white as heaven shone out. His voice was as slick as oil but I stayed away from him too. Wisdom’s implied advice rang in my head. Don’t trust them.
“Oh hush, Nunc, don’t suggest such awful things.” The spider said. “He’s with someone who will love him, forever and ever.” Another arm came out, drawing me even closer to the gigantic abdomen, swollen and pulsing a few feet over my head. Her spinners gaped soundlessly, eager and waiting.
“If you wouldn’t mind…uh, Praetix, I’ll just sit over here. I’m fine, really, that would be great.” With great reluctance the blind spider unfolded her arms, letting me scoot away. The midnight man watched me, adjusting where his tie would be.
“Hmm. Mortal, coming to bother us, eh? Well, you must be the Lord of this Realm then.” He stuck out his hand. “My name is Nunc. It’s not the best, but I make it work.” Warily, I took his hand. It felt insubstantial, like his skin was made of tissue paper and nothing filled it. A spider arm dangled itself in front of my face.
“And I’m Praetix, so nice to meet you, child.”
I took the claw in hand and carefully gave it a shake. It pulled my hand back to an eye. “Oh, dearie, if you wouldn’t mind, would you help an old spider here? I can’t get these scarves off my face.” She struggled with her legs, which were obviously too long to reach her face.
I didn’t even raise my hand. “No, sorry Praetix. I can’t help but think you’re wearing them for a reason.” I heard a turtle chuckle from a mile away, and Nunc laugh uproariously. His laughter was muffled, as though it came from far, far away. His whole body seemed to be only half there unless I was looking right at it.
Praetix rubbed her hands together, seemingly unbothered. “It’s just as well, dearie. I’d probably eat you the moment I saw you anyways.” Sudden light filled the cavern, illuminating miles upon miles of caverns filled with spiderweb. Wrapped objects of all sizes struggled against the constricting silk. Most didn’t move. I shuddered.
Nunc tapped his foot against the ground. “Now, where is Relica?” There was a rumble and Nunc put his head in his hands. “Oh my,” he grumbled, “always the frightful diva.”
A thousand stars sparkled into life in the darkness, casting a shimmering diamond light on the stone. Praetix clapped her many arms and legs together excitedly while Nunc just tapped his foot, impatient. A fountain of water rose in the distance carrying a beautiful woman aloft. She was dressed entirely in white, although not in what most people would be generous enough to call “clothes”. The water carried her over to the rock and with the grace of a flock of eagles she stepped on the stone, shimmering like crystal.
Nunc coughed. “Hello, Relica. So kind of you to finally join us.” Praetix squealed with glee, her enormous voice sounding like a broken subway.
Relica took my hand and swept into a curtsy. My eyes unconsciously followed the swell of her cleavage and my pants unconsciously tightened at the feeling of her lips on my hand. Praetix gently swatted the back of my head, scoring a huge gash in my skin.
Rubbing my head, I stepped away from Relica. I used my bad-ass scowl on Praetix, but it apparently didn’t work on blind, six-ton spiders. Nunc snapped his fingers and reclined in the easy chair that had suddenly appeared by a roaring fire. He smiled at me, his featureless black face more than a little disconcerting.
“Now then, Lord,” he said, “What can we do for you?”
I thought for a long minute before answering. “I want my memories back. I was told that if I came here, I could get them back.”
Nunc’s smile dropped away. “I see.” He said, curtly. Another snap brought a glass of brandy which he slowly sipped.
“I can show them to you,” Praetix said, eagerness in her voice. “You’ll just have to help me find them. They’re back there, somewhere.” She motioned around her abdomen at the miles of spiderweb.
Wisdom’s voice was even more insistent in my head. “No, just, get them for me.” I guess. Do they, like, physically have them or something? Is it something that can be physical? What the hell actually is a memory?
Relica laughed and waved me over. Parts of me desperately wanted to walk over there and see what she was suddenly holding in her hands, but I forced myself to stand still. I tried my best scowl again. “I don’t want to argue, and I don’t want to bargain. I’m here for my memories, and that’s that.”
Nunc shrugged. “I’ve no complaints. If he wants them, I can’t hold them from him. I’ve no power here, anyways.” Another snap and he had a cigar to go with his brandy.
Relica scowled, an enormously cute sight, may I say, but also shrugged. She got up and began to dance, but I looked away, with some effort.
Praetix hemmed and hawwed but eventually sighed. “You’ll be sorry, dearie,” she said in a mournful tone, “they all are when they see what actually happened.”
She took a glistening strand of silk from her spinner and wove it into the web behind her. Taking the length, she severed it with a claw and made to attach it to my forehead. I pulled my head back and she tisked.
“It’s what you asked for, dearie. Don’t argue now.”
With more than a little trepidation, I took the strand. It was searing hot and pulsed in my hand. I gingerly lifted it to my forehead. Still an inch away, tendrils shot out and buried themselves deep in my brain. I started screaming and know that I kept doing it while I blacked out.
It was bright and sunny, but not too hot. A beautiful day.
I stood on a crowded street and watched people stream around me in all directions. Cars zoomed back and forth on the road, everyone in a hurry to go somewhere. It was a totally normal summer day. It even smelled like summer: hot asphalt and street meat. Over the rumble of cars and conversation, cicadas sang from the power lines.
A ten-year old blue sedan rolled up to the light with it’s left blinker on. I suddenly laughed. I knew that car. It was mine. Holy crap, I thought, I drive a crummy car.
Laughing, I followed it from where I was on the road. I saw myself behind the wheel, talking quickly to someone in the car. Looking closer, I saw a young girl fidgeting in the front seat and a baby in the back. I watched myself pull into the intersection just as the girl undid her belt. I saw myself lean over to try and get her to put it back on while I tried to finish the turn.
And then I saw the fully loaded pick-up truck smash into the side of the car.
Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeee-