Naughty

The Old man settled further into his chair and gazed down at his attentive listeners. They were silent, staring and still. They clutched mugs of cocoa as a twinkle danced across his cataract laden eyes. The fire glowed bright, shattering the quiet winters night with the occasional pop and crackle. He stroked his beard and began..

“I trust you all know of Santa Claus, yes? That portly, friendly old chap who visits you on this night of nights and brings you presents. Regardless of how you’ve behaved, lets be honest. Well, I can tell you that’s a crock of shit. At least… part of it is. You want to sit on the lap of a seasonally employed man in padding or support the Coca-Cola company, you believe in Santa all you want. But listen closely when I say: it’s not Ol’ Saint Nick you need to be watching for tonight.

And no, I don’t mean the Krampus either. That figure of the season has become so overplayed as of late, every American thinks they’re an expert on the old legend. But an even older legend, well that’s the story of Sinterdaan.

Never heard of him? Not surprised. He’s older than myself and I’m an old f**k. He’s influenced all the holiday figures and characters of these days. You won’t see him as a fat, red man. Just the contrary, he’s tall, slender. Some might say too much so. He’s clad in a green cloak, for what better way to adhere yourself to the dryads, the ancient spirits of the woodland? Yes, he’s very in tune with nature is the Sinterdaan. Some say he even has the antlers of a great stag under that hooded cloak. But the beard yes, that is a constant.

What is his role in this night you ask? You see, he is, above all else, a hunter. He seeks this long, cold night when the thread between his realm and ours is quite thin. He seeks out those who would serve him well, those with malice in their heart. You might say, he likes the naughty ones. Oh yes, he’ll visit you all tonight. This old man, I may not see but I know what you’ve all been up to. You can lock the door, bolt the windows, stoke the flames. None shall cease his visitation. For the Sinterdaan travels on the very wind itself. If there is but a speck or a hole anywhere in this home, you can bet he will slither his way in and reform at the base of this festive tree in a form most foul.

And there he’ll wait. He’ll eat these treats you’ve left him, oh yes. But still he’ll wait. He carries a sack, a small one that writhes with those he chooses. And he harvests with a two pronged copper blade, adorned with melodious bells. Why bells you ask? Well, the sound of a bell will repel the dark spirits that may haunt the night and he certainly doesn’t need any competition now does he?

So take heed: if tonight in your warm, soft bed, you hear something moving about in the dark. If you hear the sound of bells or the rustling of a visitor in the night. Take my advice: stay put. For if you come to see what Santa has left you, you’ll find HIM waiting. Tall, stately, sage green. Standing silent, proud and patient. You won’t realize he’s not the tree until he removes his hood and abducts your sanity and your soul. And then, to the Sinterdaan you shall be indebted. You will emerge small, feathered, shrieking the voice of a pitiful raven. And you’ll be cursed to fly at his side on his nightly hunts, seeking more wayward sprites that flit through the winter wind.

Stay put if you wish to have a pleasant holiday. And pray he does not get impatient and come looking for you. For if you stay still and quiet, perhaps he will leave and visit the next home on his list. The next home filled with naughty children that he wishes to add to his cawing menagerie.

So stuff the stockings, drink the eggnog, trim the tree. But beware he that rides the wind, he that casts a shadow with a two pronged blade.

For Santa is not coming, but the Old HuntMaster, the Sinterdaan…. He just might.

Mind your manners, children. Do your chores. Spread joy and merriment. Only this will protect you from his will.”

With that, the storyteller stirred from his chair with a groan. His old bones had tired with age but he still had a few sparks in him.  He scratched himself with his two tined fork and ran a ragged hand through his thinning hair, exposing the small nodes embedded in his scalp. He grinned, green moss glistening in his teeth and he turned and began to leave. As the children nestled together in the tiny chamber, they began to itch and found it increasingly hard to hold their cups. Their quiet fascination began to devolve into frantic screaming as the feathers began to sprout and their lips began to merge into chitinous beaks. As the cawing echoed throughout the warm chamber, the storyteller closed the door but not before one final message.

“Joyous Yule and a merry Christmas, my naughty ones.”

*jingle jingle*

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Bink: An Atrocious Amalgam

 

They had said his ramblings were the work of a tarnished mind; a mad man. But to Victor Barnett, his words could not be clearer. They didn’t last long, of course. Eventually, the nurses would come in to check on him and they would find the scratching on the wall. They were markings and sigils of an arcane script known only to him and others whom he chose not to discuss. They removed him forcibly, placed him in a different ward. When he was eventually allowed to return, he found all his hard work, work performed at the expense of his own raw fingertips, had been scrubbed and painted over.

It didn’t bother him. He knew the script still existed, locked away in the tartarus abyss of his mind. Others needed to know though. And who better than his own flesh and blood? His days of disciples and acolytes were long gone. They seemed to have brushed aside his teachings the moment his own daughter had him locked up. All for want of the family cat, but where else would an insightful man acquire the fresh innards to scry at the behest of the ancients? Yet even so, there were still a few good ones left. Good ones like Malcolm, that sly, red haired nurse who spoke to him in hushed, curious tones. Victor taught him most (but not everything) that he knew and in doing so, acquired a powerful ally. For the word of the Elnitch must be sung high from the fragrant hilltops and he knew exactly whom would spread that word. He knew the day his daughter came to visit him with a swollen belly, ripe with burgeoning life. Malcolm knew that Victor was on restricted access but that wouldn’t keep the nurse himself from collecting the required wares and putting together a parcel.

Victor knew it would be all so clear. He just needed to bide his time and wait. He had all the time in the world.

 

 

 

 

“Do you want me to read you a story?”

Sage Langdon’s query went unheeded by the boy. Michael was busy performing that all important task that beset the mind of every ten year old child: he was making toast. The boy placed the bread into the toaster and pressed down on the lever.

“Click,” Michael said.

Sage knew what was wrong. She knew why the child hadn’t answered her. Damn, how could she have forgotten? She was a bad babysitter. Let’s try it again: “Oh sorry. I meant “Arrr, do ye want me to tell you a tale of the high seas, ye scurvy scalawag?!” Sage chuckled and brushed a strand of blond hair away from her face. She knew Michael would respond to the game.

“Shunk,” Michael said as the toast popped up. He still hadn’t answered her.

Sage frowned and adjusted the felt pirate hat perched on her head. She had bought it at Disney World a week prior and knew exactly what game she and the boy would play upon her return. Sage had been babysitting for the Barnett’s for a good year now.

Michael seemed to really enjoy her company, especially their theme days. Of course, Sage had the experience, what with spending much of her teen years helping her mom run her day care center. But now, at age sixteen, it was the time for her to branch on her own and take life by the reigns so to speak. This bothered her though; the boy was quieter than usual. He never was much of a talker but he usually responded to the games, especially “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (admittedly, not their first run of this particular day). She knew the boy’s poor mother was running herself ragged trying to provide. And of course, Sage had a life of her own but the time she devoted to the Barnetts were some of the most fulfilling moments of her young life.

She glanced out the window set above the kitchen sink in the small, one level home. The typical muggy, rainy central Florida weather was in full force today. It wasn’t hurricane force weather, but the lashes of rain and swirling wind beyond the confines of the glass portal made her shiver and long for something warm. Well, what a perfect idea.

“Know what goes well with toast, boyo?” she smirked. “Hot cocoa, fresh from Barbados. Arrrr!”

Michael buttered his toast and turned to her, his large brown eyes glistening behind his glasses. “Pirates didn’t really say “Arrrr”, you know.”

Sage smiled gently, happy that the boy was communicating. “Well yeah, but isn’t it more fun to say? C’mon, Mike, you used to love saying it. Go ahead and try.”

“That’s not my name today,” the boy replied.

“Hmm?”

“My name. Today, I’m…” he paused. He looked around the kitchen, past the chair upon which Sage was seated and into the living room beyond. The boy was looking for something. And then he found it. A drip of water came from the kitchen faucet and plinked into a pan that held the remnants of a nice, greasy breakfast. “Bink,” he concluded.

Sage glanced at the faucet as the drips began to grow steadier. She sighed. The damn thing had been a constant source of irritation but Sheila refused to spend the money on a plumber. “Fine, Bink it is. First Mate Bink, how about that? And you can call me -“ she put her hands on her hips for dramatic, whimsical effect and drew an invisible sword – “Captain Red Sage, scourge of the seven seas!”

This made the boy smile. “Can I wear the eye patch again?”

“We’ll have to ask your mom,” Captain Red Sage said. “We don’t want you falling and banging your head like last time. Anyway, how about that cocoa?”

The boy nodded and grinned. “Knock knock,” he said.

“Well now, who’s there?” Sage smiled.

“Knock knock,” he spoke again.

“I can’t answer the door unless you tell me who it is, First Mate Goofball.”

“No…” he trailed off, set his toast down and left the room.

Sage frowned and followed the boy. She circled around the kitchen wall and found the child standing on the tile floor of the foyer, staring at the white paneled front door. “Michael, is someone at the door?”

The boy stared a moment longer and hen flung open the door inviting in the raucous weather and God only knows what else.

“Michael!” she scolded.

First Mate Bink dashed outside and popped back in no more than a second later, shutting the door behind him. He clutched a sodden brown package in his tiny hands.

“Oh Michael, you’re dripping all over the floor,” she sighed and left to get a towel.

The boy ignored her, transfixed by the box. The rain had done a number on it. A smudged morass of indecipherable ink obscured the return address. He could make out his name though and that was all he needed to know. The young man rushed, still dripping into the living room. He took a seat (still dripping) on the plush and worn green couch, placed the package on the glass top of a coffee table and tore into it.

Sage sighed again as she returned, mopping up the mess in the foyer. With irritation, she followed the trail of drips to the living room. “Oh Mike, come on!” she cried with despair at the state of the couch. Her annoyance drifted to the siren song of curiosity as she beheld what the boy held in his hands. She sat down next to him. “Listen, don’t run to answer the door like that again, you don’t know who it could be. I didn’t even hear anyone at the door.”

“Knock knock,” he whispered with a mischievous smile.

He inspected his delivery with curious, youthful exuberance. Clutched in his chubby hands was a ream of paper. It looked old, brittle and worn. The pages were a bit smaller than standard and bound in one corner with a loop of dry red fiber. Michael began to leaf through the pages, turning them over and inspecting each page briefly. The papers were scribbled from edge to edge with a language that Sage had never seen before. Small curlicues and odd, tiny geometric shapes scrawled back to back with barely a millimeter separating them. Occasionally, a page would have an illustration doodled in the margins. Their eyes beheld shapes and figures that looked familiar but foreign all at once. Unmistakably plants and animals but what kind of plant had gaping, needle lined jaws and purple flowering buds? What fantasy laden mind dreamed up these waterfowl type creatures sporting scales and human looking feet? The penultimate page contained more of the arcane writing but also a doodle of what appeared to be nude figures frolicking in a fountain.

Sage reached out to pluck the manuscript away, far be it for Sheila to think she was peddling foreign pornography to the boy. He held tight and perused it all with a curious tilt of his head. It bothered Sage. It bothered her that her ward was so engrossed in this indecipherable mess of a book. It bothered her that it had appeared from seemingly nowhere. It bothered her that the drawings and script simply resembled the frantic doodles of an unholy Dr. Seuss perversion. This wasn’t what she had in mind for story time for the boy.

It bothered her most that young First Mate Bink was moving his lips silently, as if he knew exactly what he saw and what he was reading. And he seemed enthralled by it. He looked briefly at her and smiled. It was an unnatural smile, one that came from a child who knew he was getting away with something he shouldn’t but didn’t care.

 

That bothered her most of all.

 

 

 

Sheila Barnett kept one hand clenched on the shopping cart and the other around her phone in her purse. She was expecting it to ring any minute now and the unheeded anticipation kept her on edge, even more so than the harsh weather outside and the swarm of anxious shoppers clogging up the aisles in Publix like so many fatty deposits in an unhealthy artery. Speaking of unhealthy…she frowned and put a two liter bottle of Coke back on the shelf. She had promised she would be a good mother and feed her boy only good nutrition. But then, it didn’t hurt to cheat every now and then. Especially with Mikey’s tenth birthday fast approaching. She had planned to actually bake a cake this year instead of just buying a pre made one. Sheila expected the end result to be none too attractive of a pastry but that wouldn’t keep her from trying. She’d try to theme it to whatever new game that Sage had dreamed up for B-Day week but that girl switched things up so often, it was hard to keep up to date. Today was…what, African safari day? No, dinosaur day. No wait, that was last week. Shit, pirate day. That’s right. OK, so off to pick up some…well, damn what did pirates even eat? Maybe some oranges, she could say they were warding off scurvy.

She excused herself as she steered through the throngs of shoppers. The forecast had called for heavy showers, yeah, but why was everyone acting like the second coming of Hurricane Florence was at their heels? No matter, as long as it didn’t affect the offices of Weenasau Insurance. She shook her head at the thought of what had happened. She had moved out here to Florida after Ted’s job transferred from one coast to the other. But even mid-transition, things had been rocky between them. Things ended badly but she held main custody of the boy, thank god for small miracles. But then, things took a turn for the worse after the branch she had been promised to transfer to unexpectedly closed its doors. Now here she was, desperate for work but expecting that her experience at the California branch would lend her credence for a call back interview. Any time now…

Despite it all, she was determined to do right by the boy. She had a solid amount in her savings. Sage was understanding, the dear girl. She knew that Sheila couldn’t afford to pay her what was fair yet she took it all in stride because she loved spending time with the two of them. If anything, all of the difficulty of transplanting across the country had put considerable distance between Sheila and her father. She didn’t want to think about the man. About the night she came home, after inviting the aging man to live with them and finding what he had done to Chippy, her beloved calico. He had approached her right then, still covered in fresh blood and offered to her… she shut that part out. She had visited him a couple of times after that in the sanitarium. But the final straw was a double shot between the scars on his arms and the look he gave her when she informed him he was set to become a grandfather very soon. The look…eyes watery and glassy and unfocused. Much like the windows of the market as the weather beat down upon it.

 

No. Time to focus on the task at hand. Birthday cake for next week, healthy dinner for tonight. Her mind swirled as she made her way towards the produce aisle. Maybe some eggplant, tomato sauce, some seasoning. A nice eggplant parmesan.

 

She arrived home a little later, dripping wet from an umbrella that refused to cooperate in the increasingly fast wind. Sheila shook off the excess water as Sage ran forth to help her maintain her feeble grip on the soggy paper bags.

“Having fun out there?” Sage smirked.

“About as fun as finding snot on a doorknob,” Sheila responded.

“Ew, did that…really happen?”

“Ask Mikey, he’ll tell you.”

The pair made their way into the kitchen, juggling groceries. “Oh, that’s not his name today. Today we’re calling him Bink.”

“Bink?” Sheila’s mind raced, trying to think of any sound in the home that might conjure up such an unusual moniker. She was well aware of the onomatopoeic child and took his quirk in stride. Barely a sound passed that the child didn’t attempt to audibly imitate. Just harmless kid’s stuff, right? He’ll grow out of it. She heard the dripping of rain on the eaves of the house and the realization bloomed with a burst of annoyance.

“Oh no, not again.”

“Yeah, it’s still dripping.”

“I’m calling a plumber this time.”

“Like hell you are. Sheila, they’ll charge an arm and a leg and probably an ear too.”

“Well, let’s set everything down first and we’ll take a look.”

The pair finally managed to lug the bags into the kitchen. Sheila dropped hers with a huff onto the kitchen table. It immediately split, spilling food across the surface. Sage reached out and caught a rolling apple as it tumbled off and an eggplant rolled to an awkward stop at the crook of Michael’s elbow. The studious boy failed to notice the rogue vegetable.

“Good reflexes,” Sheila remarked to Sage. She spoke to her son: “Hey Mikey, what until you see what I have in this bag!”

The boy didn’t respond. Sheila frowned, placed the more intact bag on the counter and bent low to kiss her bow on the top of the head. He was engrossed in…what was that, a comic book? If it was, he must have found it in a dumpster.

“Oh right,” Sage started. “I forgot to mention that…thing. First Mate Bink here got a package today.”

“First Mate?” Sheila asked. Sage picked up the pirate hat from the counted and placed it back on her head with a jaunty flourish. “Oh right, Pirate Day. Must be an early birthday gift, kiddo. You shouldn’t have opened it already. Who’s it from?”

“We don’t know,” Sage explained. She leaned closer to Sheila to whisper: “You might want to take a peek at it; there are some…questionable pictures.”

“Why didn’t you take it from him?”

Sage shrugged unhelpfully and turned to help unpack the second bag. “I dunno, I thought I’d leave it up to the parent to decide what may and may not warp the guy’s fragile little mind.”

Sheila glanced over the boy’s slim shoulders and frowned at the contents of the brittle looking, yellowed pages. Indecipherable script, weird drawings in the margin. It was…discomforting. She wasn’t quite sure why. “What do you have here, Mikey?”

“Elnitch,” he said. Just one word. One word that didn’t mean a thing to her.

“The who-what?”

He flipped over the penultimate page and continued to stare at the gibberish without offering further enlightenment. Sheila looked at the sitter quizzically and Sage simply shrugged again in response.

“Can I see it?” Sheila reached for the collection of pages.

“Not yet,” Michael said in a tone that was a bit too sharp than Sheila would have liked. She decided not to press the issue. If anything it was just a little odd. Maybe it was a prank from one of his (sadly few) friends or some kind of detective club thing.

“I got your favorite, pal” she said, turning away from the boy. “In a few days, young man, you’re going to have a homemade coconut cream cake and it will be the yummiest thing you’ve ever had. That’s a bonafide promise from Chez Barnett!”

Michael didn’t respond to this playful declaration either. He had discovered a new mystery in a manuscript already frustratingly packed with them. The final page of the collection was thicker. The page was decorated with an assortment of yellowish-green shapes that looked like commas with squiggly hairs growing from them. They intrigued him and as he reached out to brush the page, his fingers ran over a ridge in the paper. He traced it up to the top of the page where he discovered a seam. The final page was actually two pages glued together creating a makeshift pocket. He found the opening in the small space and turned the manuscript upside down. A packet the size of a small envelope fell to the table top.

The boy brushed aside the tattered bag and spilled groceries and opened the packet. It exploded in a small puff of dust, causing the boy to sneeze.

“Oh, you’d better not be getting sick, kid,” Sheila said good-naturedly, yet distracted.

Michael glanced back at the two women, rubbed his nose and shook out a folded piece of paper. The child’s small hands trembled with something that might be excitement or anxiety; he wasn’t sure which. He had known what the collection of papers was the minute he had laid eyes on it. First Mate Bink held a distinct interest in the unknown, the mysterious and the unusual. He knew he wasn’t like most boys his age. Instead of his browser history being filled with tips for Fortnite and Minecraft or queries as to which Avenger was the strongest, it was filled with forums dedicated to cryptex cracking and exploring the (in)accuracy of Dan Brown novels. He held a vested interest in solving the mysteries of our world and whoever had sent him the package must have known this. Indeed as he pored over the contents of the note, even more mysteries were unfolded to invade his young, embattled mind.

It was very brief, written in a jagged and spidery script that evoked hands that were trembling much as the young lad’s were…

“You know what to do, boy, and if not, you soon will. Make me proud and heed the word.”  – Victor

 

Michael didn’t know what to think. He didn’t recognize the name. The closest name he could think of was a boy named Vincent, but he had moved away to Pittsburgh with his family and didn’t even know his current address.

Michael took a deep breath and leaned back. A soft, velvety touch brushed against his cheek. He turned and found himself staring into a soft, dark oblivion. He gasped, startled. Sage giggled and gently grasped his shoulder to steady him.

“Whoa, Bink, you OK there?” she asked.

He gasped for a breath of precious air and nodded, wiping away the beads of sweat from his brow that he didn’t even know were there. Sage frowned and offered him the source of the darkness. First Mate Bink reached out and grasped a small rectangle of black felt fabric.

“An eyepatch, like you wanted,” she explained. “Every good pirate needs one.”

“Right,” he agreed.

“Put it on,” she urged. “Then you can go ahead and slit my throat.”

“Wh-what?”

“Then we can have hot chocolate floats. Betcha never had one of those before huh? The trick is to eat the ice cream really quick before it melts.” She smiled and Michael felt both cold and warm all at once. It was a curious sensation. An interesting one to say the very least.

The coldness spread yet not in mixed adolescent emotions. A crack resounded like a gunshot in the warmth of the room and cold water began to seep with a mighty force into the kitchen sink.

Sheila spun away from her task of putting away the groceries. “Oh shit, what now?!”

“Damn it, hold on Sheila, I’ll get…something,” Sage muttered.

She dropped the felt pirate eyepatch next to First Mate Bink. It landed on the discarded eggplant and as he touched it, Bink could swear he felt it move. No…it did. Yes, the vegetable squirmed and writhed under his touch. He brushed his hand over it, exploring the purple vegetable and found green spores of dust flittering away. It looked like the same dust that had emerged from the envelope in the manuscript.

The eggplant continued to writhe and boil as the women frantically tended to the broken sink faucet. They were distracted and Michael knew what he had to do to solve the next step in the puzzle. The boy pushed his glasses up on his head, brushed aside the toy eye patch and stood up. Had the women looked at him, they would have noticed that he moved with an unnatural gait, one of steadfast, frightening determination. Moments later, Michael Barnett left the room with several items in tow: the manuscript, the discarded and writhing eggplant and a gleaming kitchen knife.

 

Four stained, wallpaper-less walls. A poster of the newest and most popular detective show; the current hot topic star of the UK staring thoughtfully into the distance as a double decker bus perused a roundabout behind him. A masked and caped vigilante striking a typical ground-punching pose before an ill-advised background explosion. A single twin bed adorned with a basic geometric patterned comforter. A 16 inch TV, wedged carefully against the wall, fat black cables snaking out of the wide backside of the device leading down into a Nintendo Wii console. Everything electronic was a generation or two behind but the boy scarcely minded. His bedroom ensemble was completed by a cork board hung crookedly above a plain cherry wood roll top desk. The cork board was adorned with maps, ideograms, unsuccessfully attempted ciphers and yes, a black and white copy of the Elnitch manuscript on plain copy paper. It was tacked up alongside a map of the Caribbean that sported hashmarks denoting a triangular space of sea mapped out between Florida, Cuba and a nondescript isle. True, it wasn’t the typical hideaway for a young boy of his age but then, Michael “Bink” Barnett wasn’t a typical child. The desk was his haven, the sanctuary where he plotted out everything unknown about his world and the very locale where he plotted courses designed to voyage deep into the curious and the arcane. And so, naturally it was here that he sat, alone and quiet and staring down at the writhing vegetable. He plotted his next course of action carefully, as he has done so many times before on so-called treasure maps. A clear mason jar was sitting on the desk filled with pens of varying degree. He selected a simple ballpoint and held it in one hand and the knife in the other. He placed the authentic manuscript alongside the purple plant and cut into it with an indiscriminate hack.

“Chonk,” the boy said, imitating the sound of blade into veggie-flesh.

The eggplant bled. It bled and sloshed and deflated like a tired balloon. The innards gushed and spilled out over his desk and yet the boy hardly reacted. No gasp of disgust, no recoil of horror, no sigh of curiosity. Just a blank expression as the ruined vegetable reflected ungainly off his glasses. The eggplant bled a chunky, lightish-green substance (one might describe it as chartreuse) yet the most curious aspect of this wholly curious scenario was what lurked within the spilled essence of the eggplant. The blood (?) of the plant continued to writhe even as it filled the tiny cracks and natural whorls of the desktop. He leaned closer and poked a finger cautiously at the squirming green substance. His hand came away sticky and tacky like tree sap. Dancing lightly upon his thin fingertip was a tiny, curled, green pod not unlike the curlicue shape of a comma. Tiny, filigreed hairs sprouted from the unusual form. The pod’s brethren shook and squirmed furiously in the rest of the green pool and young Barnett noticed that the substance was beginning to spill towards the manuscript.

He didn’t move it out of the way, His eyes moved from the curlicue pod on his finger to the blank final page of the papers, even as the goo began to seep into it. Words appeared, scripture from nothing; a most unholy of miracles. He knew it would have worked that way. The substance seeped and became absorbed into the paper, leaving behind naught more than a single sentence and dried up husks of seed pods. Images formed next, crudely hashed representations of the very tools of Michael’s trade: a vaguely alien plant that only slightly resembled an eggplant, perhaps if scrawled by a blind toddler. A collection of green, curled pods wrapped almost lovingly around a slender and feminine wrist with tapered, delicate nails.

The sentence: “And lo, I heard, I will show ye sights unseen and worlds unknown if only you write of both my essence and yours.”

 

Michael stared stoically down at the sentence, a phrase likely unseen for untold generations and perhaps last seen from untold, eldritch eyes. He dipped his ball point pen into the green substance and began to swirl it about on the blank page. Nothing appeared, not even the ink from the pen, lest he tarnish this mysterious and captivating piece of yellowed paper. He frowned and read the passage again. And then: a knock at his closed bedroom door. Michael swiftly emptied the jar of his writing utensils and brushed as much of the green blood as he could into the container. He placed it under his desk and opened a drawer, placing the manuscript inside.

“Knock, knock,” he said.

“Mikey, honey?” Sheila called. She opened the door sans permission. No matter, she was the boy’s mother. She didn’t expect her son to be doing anything unsavory behind closed doors for at least another few years. True to form, Michael was sitting at his desk, glancing back at the intrusion. A comic book was open on his lap and nothing seemed amiss save for the mutilated remains of one of the night’s planned dinner ingredients.

“Hi,” she said with a hint of apprehension. “Um, mind explaining why you went all chop happy on the eggplant? And why exactly, young man, that you have a knife up here?”

“Um,” he started. “Where did you get it from? The eggplant.”

“Really?” She asks with a raised eyebrow. “You’re going to answer my question with another? What are you, getting ready for law school a couple decades early?”

He answered with a shrug. She responded with a sigh and rubbed the bridge of her nose wearily.

“I got it at the grocery store, OK? And it WAS going to be part of my big eggplant parmesan ordeal but NOW…well, I can still do pasta, I guess. If we get the kitchen mopped up. You didn’t answer my question, Mikey. I’ve had a stressful day and I really don’t need another mess to clean.”

“I’m sorry. I was practicing for…Halloween. To carve…you know…”

“Halloween isn’t for another six months, son. I guess you’re just wanting to get an early start, huh?” She sighed. She didn’t need this right now. Better the boy is exploring dissection with vegetables instead of animals, right? She walked into the room and picked up the dry, desiccated vegetable. “After dinner, I want you in bed early, OK? Big day tomorrow. And clean up…” she gestured at a sticky splotch on the desk, light green with a black tinge. “…the ink or whatever it is you spilled.”

“We’re still going tomorrow, right?” He asked.

“To the zoo? Hopefully, kiddo. If the weather lets up. And IF you clean up the rest of that mess. I’m going to come back up here in 20 minutes and if you’re not in your pajamas and your desk isn’t spotless…well, we’ll still probably go to the zoo. BUT I’ll end up locking you in the monkey house, you hear?”

The boy nodded and grinned. She smiled back, blew him a kiss and walked back into the hall, still clutching the ruined remains of dinner. It was then that she heard another burst of water from the kitchen and Sage’s startled squeal. Sheila Barnett sighed.

In the room, Michael Barnett said “Sploosh.”

 

 

 

The weather let up. A quartet of individuals enjoyed an agreeably sunny day at the zoo. Sheila and Michael were joined by Sage and her boyfriend Luke, a young man of wispy goatee, shaved head and almost certainly not parent approved tattoo of a bloodshot eye on his neck. Sheila certainly didn’t approve of the young man at first glance but the brief time he had spent with the family had seemed agreeable enough and he seemed to make Sage happy. In turn, Sheila was glad for the sitter and unofficial Barnett, even as she felt a third wheel part of both her and her son.

Sage certainly didn’t let her beau’s presence lighten her sense of whimsy when dealing with Michael. “What’s your name today, pal?” She ruffled his hair as he peered over a pit at a sleeping Sumatran tiger.

“I think I’ll still go with Bink,” he said softly.

“What about “roar” or “growl”? Luke offered. “Oh, babe, speaking of…” he pointed to a pretzel cart near the entrance to the habitat.

“Growl, indeed,” she said, rubbing her stomach. The pair wandered off to procure salted, doughy satisfaction, leaving mother and son to gaze down at the big cats.

Michael stared into the forested pit as the tiger sighed mightily and rolled over, seeking warmth on its tawny furred stomach. It was funny. They had been to the zoo many times before but the young boy had never noticed how a tiger’s stomach rippled and wavered in the sunlight. He had never noticed before how tendrils of greenish-yellow ropes spilled from the back of their knees or curled out from behind their tufted ears like mighty horns. The entire day, the boy had gazed with each animal in deep curiosity, noticing new details that he had never seen before. Never in person nor in any nature documentary or magazine. He had never known that a giraffe’s neck was prehensile and able to curl up upon itself like a tightly woven, yet elastic band. He had never known monkeys to possess tiny grasping arms reaching from the palm of their simian hands nor to possess chitinous mandibles that were perfect for cutting through tough matter. He had certainly never noticed how beautiful the lorikeets were. How they flashed in the Florida sun and cast tiny, wavering streams of light as they flitted from perch to perch. He had definitely never noticed the green curls emerging from their brilliant plumaged heads or the fact that they sported multiple wings connected by a thin, veiny membrane.

The natural world was a realm of curious creations to be sure and young Michael Barnett couldn’t help but feel that his eyes were opened further on this day than they had never been before. He was entranced by the living rainbow wisps in the lorikeet aviary and made sure that the adults knew this was his next intended destination.

The two teenagers returned with two pretzels, one for each pair. The women reacted with enthusiasm at the prospect of feeding the lovely little birds although Luke displayed an uncharacteristic bout of ornithophobia upon approaching the squeaking masses in the thatched hut habitat. He chalked it up to getting nipped by a pet cockatiel while his parents watched Hitchock’s The Birds. Sage didn’t press the issue and the trio ventured into the aviary.

“Chirp chirp,” said Michael Bink

The trio passed into the faux thatched hut that served as an aviary and feeding station for the winged prisms. Sheila dropped a fiver to a zoo attendant and presented her son with a tiny cup of nectar.

”OK, now be gentle,” she instructed.

“Like this?” He asked, balancing the cup carefully in a cupped hand.

“Exactly, now watch.”

The sky flashed brilliant colors that shouldn’t have existed yet Michael was happy to know they could. He knew too, that this was a beautiful and unnatural display that was only privy to those who had read certain tomes, to those whom had unlocked secrets withheld to all but a select, special few. The universe held a secret and it was spilling its guts to him, him of all people, in a display of flashing rainbow lights all connected to tiny wings and dainty beaks.

The birds alighted upon the boy causing him to giggle and his mother to smile at the melodious sound of joy. It had been a while since she had heard her son laugh like that and she couldn’t ask for a better gift at this time, in this place.

Another utterance emerged from nearby, this of a feminine persuasion and of slightly less bemusement.

“Ow!” Sage cried aloud as one bird took a fairly aggressive nip at the nectar cup, missing the treat and piercing her hand. “You little punk,” she scolded the bird. “You need to be more careful!”

“Sage, honey, you all right?” Sheila asked the girl that she often thought of her own daughter.

Sage Langdon smiled and nodded, too enthralled by the experience to really take much umbrage in the dot of blood on the back of her hand.

Michael Barnett had always seen himself as something of a problem solver. He had, after all, solved a Rubik’s Cube in 89 seconds flat (for from the world record yes, but an impressive feat nonetheless). At the current moment, the boy noticed the birds and their oh-so Rubikian plumage but the color he noticed most was red. The red of the blood on the back of his sitter’s hand.

 

 

Write of both my essence and of yours.”

 

 

And just like that, Michael “Bink” Barnett knew what to do.

The birds were beautiful and yet they suddenly dispersed from him as if driven away by some unseen disturbance in the air.

“Tweet”, the boy said.

 

 

That night, things had settled down for the mother and son. The wonderful horrors and horrible wonders that had presented themselves to the boy were a thing of the past. Now, back in his warm home, it seemed to the young lad a fever dream of colorful mosaics, many angled and splendored things and preening monstrosities that unfurled their awe only for those that knew to look.

That was then. And yet, in spite of the images of the beasts remaining at bay beneath a veneer of brain fog, Michael felt that he still wanted more. He wanted to know more and especially to test the theory he had formulated into unlocking the rest of the secrets held beneath a sheen of paper and arcane script. It didn’t take him long to find the remnants of the eggplant, that bane to sweet toothed children the world over. Yet to Michael, it was his most prized possession, festering amidst cracked egg shells, used coffee grounds and scribbled upon sticky notes.

The sound of the master bedroom shower provided peace to his fear of being discovered at the task at hand. He figured what his mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. She had sacrificed a lot; even at his young age this truth rang true. She needed some me time. And so, while the warm water cascaded upon her weary shoulders, Sheila Barnett’s son retrieved the remains of the eggplant from the garbage bin and stole back to his bedroom.

There, beneath the jaundice light of his gooseneck desk lamp, the boy decided to do what he knew would prove a fruitful endeavor, if not a bit painful. But then, pain often bred results, didn’t it? He justified this as he took a pair of scissors out of his desk and pierced his own finger with a grimace.

 

He hissed in pain and brought out the mason jar containing the remnants of the writhing green soup. He hovered his cut finger over the jar and squeezed out a few drops of fresh red. Next, the boy used a paintbrush to stir the concoction into a mélange of a grotesque brownish fluid, a perversion of the finger paints he used to utilize with childish glee not more than half a decade prior. He withdrew the brush, now coated in brownish red and green (primarily symbolic of a merry time of year, yet here and now bearing nothing festive except the jubilation of those before whom used this very paste to write). Echoing those who had scribed the Elnitch Manuscript (he knew…knew…that these pages were not of this world), the boy began to coat the nearly blank final page of the document.

 

It didn’t take long for the words to appear.

 

[-}  \~/

    <> \ \/_}   []  ~;[]   /*\ read and behold [+\\/\/ ~~~

~_[] [;] 

 

(*author’s note: If you, reader, see naught but blank space above, know that it is because the words witnessed to appear by Michael Bink are impossible to replicate by our own humanly technology. If you do in fact see something written there, no matter how arcane…maybe there’s something you need to look into…)

 

True, he was not able to decipher much of the text but there was one line half way down that stood out to him. He knew anyone would be able to read it for his young mind comprehended it as a universal truth:

Sacrifices must be made

 

The universe and the fell beings within it, behind the blanket of the cosmos: they all beat with him and his hurried heart. He felt his pulse quicken, his breathing rapid, his vision blur. All of this beset upon a boy only fresh out of his first decade of existence. But he was a special one; he was able to behold the truths within these musty pages. He saw, felt and heard everything. Except for the thrumming of water, a sound most familiar to him but curiously absent now.

The shower. He hadn’t even noticed the sound cease until now.

Michael snapped back into focus and crammed every instrument before him into the desk. He managed to unfurl a half finished Sudoku puzzle and pore over it with a ballpoint pen just as his bedroom door creaked open.Sheila walked in, wrapped in a towel and kissed her boy on the top of his head.

“C’mon, pal, Doctor Who is going to start soon, don’t you want to watch?”

He nodded and turned to look at her. Michael Barnett smiled at his mother and took her hand as the two left the room, only half of their combined consciousness aware of what lurked and festered within the innocent and unassuming desk.

 

He was quiet while they watched TV but no more so than usual. His mother did not take heed of the boy’s silence, likening it to his usual demeanor and engrossment in the science fiction shenanigans occurring on the small flickering screen. But in truth, his inner mind was anything but quiet. The young lad thought about everything he had witnessed in the past couple of days.

His mind kept drifting back to particular details. He hadn’t considered much of it, but when he opened the envelope sealed within the manuscript, that green powder had exploded outwards. Dust, eons of neglect and age settling within the pocket between the two pages.  But…it had smelled weird. A strange combination of sweet and sour, like wilting and decaying flowers. He knew he had inhaled some of it and he had certainly seen it frost over the eggplant like a blighted snowfall.

And then…there was his unseen benefactor all the while. Victor. He didn’t know the name but felt as though he should. Who was the man? Why had he sent this package to him? Did he know him? His mother? How much blood can a human body hold?

The last thought came to him with black, rapid suddenness. His eyes widened in alarm at the thought, perfectly synchronized to the appearance of a vicious marbled, stone monster onscreen. Why had he thought about that? Well, it was obvious. If he wanted to continue to unveil the hidden writing on the final page, he’d need more of his concoction. He still had the infected eggplant; there would be plenty of chartreuse essence and writhing pods to add to his new ink. But the second ingredient. Well, a boy could only hold so much blood in his own body, right?

He HAD to know and he had to find more ink. He glanced up at his mother. The thought crossed his mind for only the fleetest of seconds before what good dwelled within the boy quickly snuffed it out into oblivion. Not his mother, surely not her.

But who else?

He knew. He hated the thought. But as the Elnitch pages said: Sacrifices must be made….

 

 

He slept fitfully that night, still dreaming of iridescent, unbelievable beasts and men and women he didn’t know. They frolicked and danced amidst a soft, green meadow that rippled and waved even though a breeze was not present. The sky overhead was a soft gold and all the people were completely naked. He thought this was funny yet not quite in a humorous way. The whole dreamscape felt that way…pleasant yet not quite…right.

And then someone grasped his hand. An older man and a woman, each clutching one of his hands with urgency. They were strangers but then they weren’t. Both possessed the same sharp chin that both he and his mother were graced with. Both had ears that tapered off just a little bit past a rounded edge. Both had round faces and slightly long necks. He knew they were family yet people he had never met. They dragged him up the meadow, past flowering plants that resembled cabbages and eggplants yet expanded in upon themselves with unnatural whorls and spirals. Many winged, membraned birds buzzed amidst the plants, collecting a light green nectar upon their dainty beaks.

All along, there was a sound. A melodious sound, a singing of joy and jubilance. He wanted to sing along but he held back. He didn’t know how to sing and Michael didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of family.

“La”, was the only word he spoke, his fragile attempt at a single musical note.

The man and the woman grinned with chartreuse, worn teeth and dragged him up upon a hill. There, positioned between two red, worn boulders sat a stone shrine. Tiny candles blazed on either side despite the rich, bright warmth of the golden day. Upon the shrine sat a very familiar book. Yes, a fully bound  book, pristine and intact. New, supple and ready to be cracked upon to impart whatever wisdom lie within.

Here in this golden, unsettling and beautiful dreamscape, young Michael Barnett found and lost himself almost simultaneously. The couple placed the Elnitch book gently into his small hands and helped him turn to the very last page.

And there amidst the revelry and surrounded by cold warmth, he began to read.

 

 

He awoke to a flurry of movement and sound and without knowing his name. The boy wasn’t sure if he still wanted to be Bink on this day and certainly not First Mate Bink (after all, Talk Like a Pirate Day had come and gone) but more troublesome, he didn’t know if he wanted to be Michael Barnett. He decided he would think about it after he discovered the source for the frantic aura of this Monday morning.

Yes, it was Monday. His mom had decided to keep him out of school for the next couple of days to celebrate his birthday. Sheila rushed by his open door hurriedly, attempting to button a nice blouse and speak on the phone simultaneously (with only mediocre success as evident by the hushed curses she uttered)

“I know, honey, I know. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t an emergency. But you were planning to stop by either way, right? Yes, as soon as you can. I think for maybe an hour. I trust him, of course.”

Michael rubbed the sleep from his eyes, picked up his glasses from a bed stand and put them on sleepily. What was going on? His answer came in a flash of brunette hair, a burst of sickly flowery perfume (not decaying flowers, he noted) and the swish of a black pencil skirt.

“Hey pal, guess what? Mom’s got an interview, isn’t that exciting?” Sheila said breathlessly. It was obvious that she had not been expecting an early morning phone call and most likely, a rather abrupt summons.

“Yeah,” He said, attempting to muster a smile through the stubborn veneer of sleepiness. “Will you be home in time for the movie?” He had been anticipating the newest Hollywood blockbuster, one consisting of an unprecedented team up of superheroes of all different sorts. He didn’t want to miss it for anything!

“Of course, love, it’s not until tonight. “ She held his shoulders gently but with assured importance. “Can you be a big boy for about an hour? Sage will be here and she’ll likely have something fun planned out.”

“Sure, Mom.”

“Good boy,” she said as she rustled his hair.

“Swish,” he commented on the motion of her fingers through his locks.                        “Wish Mom luck.”

“Good luck.”

Moments later, the sound of the door closing confirmed her departure. Michael knew then in the solitude of his room that he would have about an hour to prepare everything. He ran a mental checklist of everything he would need to make Victor (whoever he was) proud and to placate his own undying curiosity. Sage would be here soon. It would be a pretty neat day.

 

She arrived an hour later, punctual as always. Sage was a trusted girl, nearly a member of the family and she let herself in with the key that Sheila had provided.

“Hujambo!’ She cried out loud, a greeting that caused young Michael to do a double take.

He stashed his necessary tools under his pillow and proceeded to greet the girl he often thought as a big sister. She struggled her way in through the door, arms bulging with paper sacks stuffed with unusual paraphernalia.

“Hey, a little help, yeah?” She requested.

Michael rushed forward to accept one of the bags. The interior was soft and collapsed easily in his arms.

“Careful with it, fragile merchandise. Put it in the kitchen, OK?”

Michael acquiesced to the request without a word. She stumbled in a moment later and dropped two more bags onto the kitchen table.

“OK, Mike – is it Mike today?”

He shrugged.

“Undecided, huh? Don’t worry; I’ll help you pick out a good name.”

With a flourish, she dumped out two of the bags, spilling out a cornucopia of multi colored feathers, tubes of paint and packages of clay. It was not unlike the results of a crafts fair vendor vomiting out a rainbow. Michael reached out and felt the components with curiosity.

“Today is bird hat day!” She said happily. “Now here’s the thing though, pal, I didn’t expect to be here today. Not that I mind squeezing your little chipmunk cheeks-“ she added in one of his most despised physical acts in a playful fashion – “but I also had a day out with Luke planned. So he’s coming over here. And don’t you worry, your mom already knows and this isn’t going to turn into some clichéd babysitter-boyfriend situation. Besides, you like Luke, right?”

Michael nodded in affirmation.

“You all right, Mike? You seem a little quiet today.” In fact, the boy seemed unusually quiet even for him. He often opened up a little around her and Sage couldn’t help but feel the prickling pang of disappointment that he hadn’t seemed himself. Maybe Luke could cheer him up, a little masculinity bonding over a video game or one of the sci-fi shows that Mikey liked so much.

“I have to go get something,” he responded quietly. Sage nodded approval in a silent matter and went about organizing the craft components.

 

 

Michael Barnett returned to this room, closed the door quietly and retrieved everything he would need from its hiding spot. It smelled in here, undoubtedly the scent of decay from the rotten vegetable hidden in his desk. But he needed it still, just in case he had to add to his supply of ink. Better to bear the brunt of it.

He wrinkled his nose and laid out everything he needed on the bed and surveyed his instruments, making a mental checklist in the process. Everything seemed in order. Everything except his willingness to commit. Michael was conflicted more so than any other moment in his short life. He ran his fingers over everything lain out before him. His trembling hand touched smooth glass, lumpy liquid, soft paper and smooth, sharp steel.

He found himself crying and a teardrop dripped onto the cold metal with a resounding sound.

“Bink,” the young man said, imitating the sound of liquid on solid.

He didn’t want to do it. He loved her. He really did. She had been good to him but…the texts had told him what had to be done. He reviewed the words scrawled feverishly into the Elnitch pages and glanced at the bizarre, ungainly illustrations. The young boy was seeking guidance from an unknown hand and ancient tongues that he knew nothing about but KNEW he had to learn more. He was compelled to and his desire for untold knowledge exceeded everything else and snuffed out every other emotion under a veil of unheeded promise.

He felt the slightly healed cut on his own finger and knew he would never have enough. There was more than one page to be uncovered. The words of the Elnitch far exceeded that of physical paper and whatever else it had to say to him existed in a realm outside of what he himself could see. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes just to make sure.

Then, Michael Barnett alias not- yet- chosen- on- this- day took a deep breath and gathered up his tools.

 

 

“Damn it,” Sage sighed. She had ripped open a pack of modeling clay and it was stuck to her hands, refusing to relinquish its grip. Before her on the table rested a pair of plain white ball caps, the empty canvas simply waiting with baited brim, the application of colorful feathers and silly designs.

She heard the footsteps behind her but she didn’t turn around from her seat at the kitchen table. Why would she? It was just she and the boy. She hoped everything was all right with him and his mother. She hadn’t seen the weird book lately which was fine by her. It gave her the creeps and she had hoped Sheila had disposed of it by now. She must have disposed of something Sage thought; she wrinkled her nose at a sour, rotten smell that had assaulted her from the moment she had stepped in.

Shit. The clay was still stuck and it was making it difficult for her to remove the cap from a tube of greenish-yellow paint. Maybe she was in a bit over her head with this project. No matter, Luke could help. The lid finally came off.

“Pop” sounded a soft voice behind her.

Sage turned around just slightly. Just enough to see a wisp of dark hair and glasses reflecting in the light from above. Just enough to smile and smirk at the boy’s odd speaking habit. She turned just slightly to catch the breath of a conflicted yet determined child in her ear.

“Love you,” came the soft voice. “Sacrifices must be made.”

Sage turned around just enough to catch the feel of the cold metal against her throat. It wasn’t enough to wrench out of a surprisingly strong grasp or to resist the razor end of the kitchen knife razing across her neck. It only hurt for a moment. But then, Sage was confused. She had opened a tube of chartreuse colored paint. Yet the paint spilling into her hands and onto the table (damn, Sheila was going to be upset) was dark red. Had she grabbed the wrong tube?

It didn’t matter. Luke would be here soon and he would help. He would help her make the pretty bird hats for Michael because young children needed something to do, a hobby to occupy their time. Luke would help her stave off this spinning feeling in her head, warm her up from this building cold like he had on her couch last Friday night in front of the cool blue haze of the TV.

What had been playing? She couldn’t remember and it didn’t really matter. All that mattered was that he had felt good and warm not unlike this feeling coursing through her body right now.

The red paint continued to spill and mingled with the green. What a mess. She’d clean it up later though. Right now she just wanted to sleep. Michael was there beside her, a blank look on his face. He seemed troubled. Sage would help him. She would do anything for the little guy.

He was her family too. She would sacrifice anything to help him achieve his goals.

 

 

Michael went right to work. He hadn’t chosen a new name for himself on this day. He had too many other things to do. It was difficult to find a dry spot to work at the kitchen table but he knew it would be worth it. He set the knife in the sink and ran a stream of water over it to rinse it off. The sink worked today. He had no doubt it would; he knew his mother was a capable woman and he liked to help out where he could. One less utensil for her to wash. He set it in the dry rack to let it drip dry.

He sat back down at the table, dipped a paintbrush into his now full jar of ink and went to work.

 

 

Sheila returned home about 45 minutes later. She felt good about the interview. Sure, she had stumbled at one or two points but jitters were to be expected, right? She had prepped and felt confident going in and she hoped she had exuded an aura of positivity. She stepped inside, dropping her keys on a bowl on a side table.

Sheila paused. If Michael was nearby, he’d have called out the jingling of the keys but not call greeted her.

“Hey guys, I’m home,” she called out. “Did you already eat? If not, I’ll order pizza. Just no ghost peppers on it this time, I’m not having a repeat of last time.”

She took off her coat and surveyed the quiet house. If her son hadn’t greeted her, surely Sage would have. A boisterous girl like that couldn’t stay too quiet for too long.

Sheila headed into the kitchen, the location she often found them at if the TV wasn’t on. She paused to take in the scene before her. The kitchen was a mess. That was her first thought. Craft pieces lay scattered about, tiny false feathers in blue, green, red and yellow. It was as though a peacock had exploded. A tube of lightish green paint lie squirted on the table. Red paint pooled together with it and made a particularly nasty color that reminded her of vomit.

She continued to take in the scene. Sage, the girl she had loved like a daughter, slumped over in one chair. Drunk or high? No…no, not her. Michael sat in the other chair, spattered in paints of red and green. His glasses were stained, that was for sure. He was quietly working, running a paintbrush over a piece of old parchment. The boy dipped his brush into a jar of paint that seemed to swirl on its own accord. He frowned, reached the paintbrush under Sage’s unmoving head and rubbed it a bit. Then he dipped his brush into the green (moving) paint in the jar, stirred it a bit and applied it to the paper again.

What a god damn mess.

 

“Michael?” She asked haltingly.

The boy looked up, smiled slightly and then, without a word, went back to work.

“Michael, what are you working on?”

“Come see,” he said quietly.

Sheila pulled up a chair and sat next to her stained son. He slid the papers over to her. It was that weird bound book he had received the day before. It was turned to the final page, a piece of sodden parchment filled to the utter brim with a writing that she knew she shouldn’t have known but curiously looked familiar.

“Where did you…get this?”

“From Victor.”

“Who’s Victor?”

He didn’t answer. He took his mother’s hand and traced it along the wet pages.

“See, I just needed the right ingredients to reveal the writing. There’s more to read, but I didn’t have enough inside myself to uncover it all.”

“Ingredients”

He nodded. “The red and the green. It looks gross but it works well. See?”

Sheila looked at the arcane writing. She looked at her son, covered in red (blood) and green (?) paint. She looked at the unmoving form of the boy’s sitter.

 

She saw.

 

She recognized the name of the boy’s benefactor. She hadn’t seen her father in quite some time. But…she recognized the writing, oh yes. It had been the same marks that had been scarred into her father’s arms. He had said he had run out of room on paper and in his room and needed someplace else to write. A blank canvas upon which to continue THEIR masterpiece. Everything that everyone needs to know, whether they knew it or not. It had to be revealed. But, as he had told her upon her last and final visit, he was growing old and the endless words would have to be continued. To be passed to one youthful, one who had more time. And as long as there was ink to reveal the words and space upon which to write, they would have all the time in the world.

Sheila’s eyes unfocused and she heard something stirring upon the very air itself. Suddenly, she understood. Her family: they were a special kin. A bloodline chosen from those before to continue their word. She had never felt the call before but now, these words being presented by her own flesh and blood revealed all that she needed to know.

She had been looking for a project to start with her son, something to bond them closer. She had always held just the tiniest jolt of jealousy for Sage, the creative girl with all the flair and the fun to be had with her own son. None of that mattered now. It was a family affair.

“Swish, swish,” the boy said quietly. He stroked the brush across the page, lips moving silently as he read. “Mom?” He asked.

“Yes, son?”

“Will you read it to me?” He passed the pages to her. There was no more room to write.

“Of course,” Sheila smiled and brushed his hair lovingly. “But what happens when the story is over?”

He shook his head. “It doesn’t end. We just need more places to write and more ink. But don’t worry Mom, Sage’s boyfriend should be over soon.”

“And then…”

“And then he helps us make more ink and more places to write.”

She smiled. “You’re such a clever boy, Michael.”

He smiled and shrugged and scooted closer to his mother. Her eyes refocused and she began to read the words to her beloved son, speaking in a language that she never knew she knew yet flowed from her tongue like the sweetest libation.

Red “paint” dripped from Sage’s raw, jagged throat. It dripped from the paintbrush leaning over the edge of the jar. It dripped off the knife and into the dry rack.

He didn’t want to interrupt the lovely story his mom was reading. But Michael Barnett had one final compulsion to satisfy.

 

“Bink,” he said.

 

\/[}[    ~~~   X>

]]]}[{     \~/    ++{}

,   \C/    ____~___{}””

 

 

Voynich_Manuscript_(7)

Leftovers

It was a beautiful, crisp Autumn day in late November when a small handful of friends gathered in the woods for a belated holiday meal. The table was constructed crudely yet with care from a massive redwood stump, ensuring that all would be equidistant seating, promoting togetherness and equality.

The host beamed happily with thick simian lips and gestured to the grand feast of berries, straw, grass, nuts and roots that lie heaped before them.

“My friends,” said the Sasquatch, “I know we all had to celebrate the holiday alone, what with our friend Hodag’s unfortunate run in with two boys on a hike. As I hear it he and his lovely new bride are safely lying low until the fervor blows over. But in the meantime, I thank you for joining me in a leftover meal of brotherhood and bond.”

“Pleased to be here, to be sure”, Mr Leeds responded gracefully. His shock of wavy hair was tied back with root, his wings folded neatly behind his high angled back and his cloven hooves tucked below the table.

Pukwudgie, ever the curmudgeon grunted noncommittedly from his high chair. He was quite sensitive of a lot of his physical attributes, his diminutive size, leathery grey skin and bulbous nose and ears notwithstanding. But he was also the oldest of the bunch and an amazing craftsman. In fact, he had crafted his own custom chair and had assisted Sasquatch in building the elegant table.

The fourth guest smirked at the contents of the table, but he dipped his shaggy head below the table, his antlers quivering with delight at what he had hidden from view. He was tall, rail thin and yet possessed a voracious appetite.

“In brotherhood, let us all feast on this delightful natural meal!” Sasquatch said.

Mr Leeds raised a cup of honeydew, made from an airtight woven stalk of grassroot in a toast. But then.. a sudden and intrusive THUMP interrupted the festivities. The trio glanced over at the other guest. Wendigo stared right back, a roast human leg now spattered on the table, his jagged fangs already dripping red. Mr Leeds cleared his throat in indignation and flapped his bat like wings once.

“What…is this, Wendigo?” Sasquatch asked. “You know what we agreed upon.”

Wendigo belched, causing Mr Leeds to scoff and Puk to giggle lightly. “You guys were serious?” He asked. “C’mon guys. You expect me to eat-”

“To eat what, ruffian?” Mr Leeds asked, his horse like mouth chewing a dollop of hay.

“Well, what you guys are eating. I mean, I eat meat. It’s kind of what I’m known for,” Wendigo explained. “What I’m feared for!”

Sasquatch cleared his throat. “Well, I’m little annoyed he brought meat to the table when we agreed on a foraging meal but.. I suppose in the spirit of the day, we can.. entertain his particular needs.”

“Perhaps, but what I simply must ask is..WHAT are we known for?” Mr Leeds asked sternly, his amber eyes boring a hole in Wendigo’s gaunt face.

“I-whats that?”
Leeds answered with a direct stare. A single crunch of hay.
Wendigo sighed derisively. “Ok look, you guys are all relics. I’m sorry to say! Me, I’m in the public consciousness. There was a public image of me in a video game and 2 popular tv shows just last year! Leeds, you’re…The mascot of a hockey team. And not even a very good one.”

“Blasphemer!” A hoof pounded the table. Sasquatch raised a meaty hand in a silent plea for order.

“Our gracious host -I just have to say- people have been looking for you for years. You need to cut them loose, bud. Either make an appearance or just… fade away. And Pukwudgie… well, I mean… just look at you. Those ears..”

BAH!” Puk hollered. He banged his diminutive fist on the table and began to wail loudly.

“Wen, you know how sensitive he is!” Sasquatch shouted, choosing to ignore his carnivorous guest’s criticism.
WAHHHHH” shrieked Pukwudgie
“So inconsiderate! Thou art a lecherous whelp!” Leeds hollered.
“Archaic! Join the 21st century!” Wen screamed back.
“I’ll have you know good sir-!”
“WAAAHHH!!”
“Please tell me, I’m dying to know!”
“Those television programs are trifle-!”
“WAHHHH!!”
“Trifle! I don’t even know what that means!”
“SAVAGE!”
“WAHHHH!!”

ROOOARRR!!! “QUIET!”

Bliss.
Birds began to chirp gaily, bringing a peaceful aura to the round table.
Sasquatch was breathing heavily and lowered his hands. He took a scoop of berries and chomped them noisily. Puk feasted on a root strand and Wen took a nibble out of the leg.

“I’m sorry for raising my voice. But we all need to respect one another. Wen, you need to respect Mr Leeds and how he chooses to market his image and speaking pattern. You need to respect Pukwudgie’s… unique appearance. Mr Leeds please accept Wendigo’s choice of meal. I don’t agree with it either but we are all equal guests. Puk, I love you but… you need to love you for you.”

Hmph” grunted the little imp.

“Equality. Solidarity. Ok?” The gentle giant pleaded. His bestial guests grunted in assent.
“Very well. Now we can eat in piece.. Mr Leeds, please pass me the pine nuts.”

“Certainly good sir,” Leeds replied.

“Jersey Devils suck,” Wendigo muttered under his breath. He cracked apart a femur and licked at the marrow.

“Right then!” Leeds screamed as he unfurled his wings and leapt across the table. Puk clapped his hands and tackled with glee.

“To family,” Quatch sighed wearily. He ran a hand over his leathery face as his cryptid brothers brawled wildly. He sipped the honeydew and decided he’d probably need something stronger.

The Autumn Child

 

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When the brown leaves crunch and the cold breeze howls, that is the time that imps and spectres are present.

Indeed, on this night of frolic, one small figure alighted upon the foliage dusted walk. This was a special child, embarking on a special night and it approached a brightly lit house with an air of youthful exuberance. It pulled its dark cloak around its lithe body and proceeded up the walkway, shadow lit by amber warmth and neighborhood beacons overhead.

The child paused on the doorstep. The bell rang, despite the notable lack of its physical contact with the device. Promptly, a pleasant elderly woman emerged, grinning and hoisting a orange plastic bucket heaped with confectionery delights. The air swirled from within the warm house, beckoning with the scent of nutmeg and spice and the child shuddered with glee.

The small, dark cloak flung open promptly issuing a gamut of sticky bile, running with foul greenish whitish mess. The concoction flopped onto the porch, pouring forth from within the cloak with a wet splat. Amidst the grime stirred tiny homunculi forms, minuscule bones stretching forth, orange gourds writhing, formless faces from worlds away stretching forth and disappearing with a pop. The concoction swiftly shifted to an orange hue and God help us all, it smelled pleasant. The scent of the grime mixed with the old woman’s cooking to form a misama of scents that recall youths spent on newspaper surrounded by yellowish muck and seeds, sightless eyes carved on gourds while cartoon children wait patiently in pumpkin patches on the television screen close by.

Hayrides, piles of leaves, warm cider, crisp air and crackling fires while unfortunate heroines run from masked killers. The old woman breathed deep and smiled wider as Autumn Incarnate swept into her home and transported her to times long gone but never forgotten.

Then, the child emerged from the Autumn Waste. A fleshless entity that gasped forth from below with pure round, black eyes and opened a fledgling mouth that unfurled as old stitches popped and strained against their fleshy confines upon this new, wet birth. The little one dripped goo and titled its wet, slick head expectantly. A vestigial sac of translucency extended from the child’s arm and the woman smiled once more. She placed a single, wrapped package of candy corn into sac and the child swiftly reached in, retrieving its prize.

The Autumn Child swallowed it whole with a primordial mouth and grinned in gratitude. The muck was swiftly sucked back into its cloak, an eldritch vacuum of air that swirled with intent. Nary a drop was left and the Autumn Child quickly covered itself up before returning down the walk, according one last cherubic glimpse at its benefactor. It took with it the spirit of the season yet the old woman felt no sadness. A tear welled in her blue eyes as the memories of years past swept over her once more. She was grateful for the Autumn Child and she closed her door, sweeping the vestiges of the warm aroma into her hearth.

The dark cloaked child continued down the walk, humming gaily to itself, the voice of the time of year when the air grows crisp and the line between two worlds is at its more gloriously narrow.

Halloween was the Autumn Child’s reckoning and as it passed a group of enthusiastic costumed children, it smiled within its cloak at the thought of another fruitful year.

There were tricks to be played, treats to be gathered.

But on this night of mischief and frolic and guise, one stood out more  that the other, clutching the spirit tightly within fabric woven just right for unraveling.

Seams to split, thresholds to cross, veils to break.

 

On this, the reckoning of Autumn’s magic

Lost and Found

Desert island

 

He had forgotten his name but that didn’t matter to him anymore because at least he wasn’t alone. He was lost, oh yes. The plane had gone down over the Atlantic not more than an hour after leaving Miami and yet all he could see was a vast sea of isolation. He had awakened on an island covered in fine black sand. It bothered him initially, but eventually he grew to enjoy the way the sun cast off of the deep onyx grains.

 

He was convinced this was the source of the orb. He had found it in the sand, perfectly round and black.  It was smooth as glass, dark as oil, iridescent and gorgeous to behold. And it kept him company. So yes, he was lost but not alone. Yet he still wanted to go home…

He resisted all temptation to succumb to cliche and parody and adorn the sphere with a painted smiley face. The sphere was too proud, too graceful for that. The Lost One sat in tatters and bare feet upon the black sand and kept the sphere pristine. It demanded so little, the least he could do was keep it clean.

He knew he was losing weight and should have been hunting the sparse island for food but he didn’t care. He didn’t even care the day another castaway drifted ashore, an old man fresh from a shipwreck. As far as he knew, this man was after his orb and so he proceeded to club him across the head utilizing the very object of his affection. This action troubled him: it had sullied the orb, painted the pristine black with a smear of unworthy red. He quickly washed it in the ocean and then returned to eat. He had food now; the orb had provided him with meat and to decline its offer of fresh flesh would have simply been rude. It tasted rather tangy, and although grateful he would have enjoyed some fresh fish. He did love the taste of fish…

The Lost One was content despite having lost everything in the blink of an eye. A simple mechanical failure on the plane, no doubt. There had been a jolt, a screech, a metallic whine. Not unlike the one he heard now. It startled him.

He jumped up from the shade of the palm beneath which he had been reclining. The arm of the second castaway lie next to him nibbled raw and wet, sallow fat exposed to the unforgiving sun. He cast it aside as the noise continued, now a soft humming. On the beach, the black sand began to shift. Something emerged from beneath, glistening, popping and shifting in impossible geometric shapes even as sinewy flesh stretched forth from the sediment. The Lost One stood slack jawed, orb clutched in chapped and tattered hand. The living thing emerged further and sloughed off the sand. He was reminded of an insect, a large and many angled thing beneath a shining black carapace. It was nearly 12 feet in length, sported a field of writhing antennae and clambered towards the missing man. Behind it trailed a wet, black net of fibrous material which supported a clutch of round, shining orbs.

The Lost One was agape, not at the sight of this eldritch being creeping forth but for the multitude of beautiful black orbs that trailed behind it. He wanted every last one and was determined to have them. Seeing no other course of action, he hefted the black sphere, his first and original savior (and you never forget your first). He emitted a savage cry, his first vocalization since a raw cry of anguish on day one, back when he was truly alone. He thrust the orb down below the shell of the beast into a place where it was soft and mewling. There, he pushed forth and slammed the orb repeatedly, over and over even as the great thing thrashed and protested. In minutes, he was coated with the black ichor of victory and a mighty feast awaited him. He combined the flesh of the great black insect with that of his first kill, the elderly castaway. The result was decidedly fishy and he wept with joy, for he did so love the taste of fish.

He wept with joy but also sorrow for the orb had been battered beyond repair. It rested in great, ragged lumps, tiny black things writhing within. He accepted the sacrifice of the orb and allowed its innards to run free. They crept upon him, the tiny things inside and he giggled as they tickled his worn flesh with spindly little legs and feelers. His laughter grew even more as the massive clutch of black orbs trailing the remains of the creature began to burst open. A fresh wave of life washed forth onto the beach, a cacophony of metallic sounding shrieks and caterwauls.

They clambered forth, past the bleeding body of their own ilk and towards the strange, laughing man. The Lost One accepted his new family with open arms, arms that swept the horde into his own clutches with manic glee. He rested then, against the creaking palms on the island of his own new, little empire.

His new family coated him, spread their webbing upon his chapped flesh until he was indistinguishable from the sand. He rolled onto the beach and lie serenely as his new children engulfed him and began to gently crawl into every available orifice. He accepted them with a full belly and a mind full of optimism and hope.

Bleeding, worn and weathered, the man was still missing, but he was no longer alone. Nor was he lost.

He was just where he wanted to be, needed to be. And it was with his new family that the The Found One embraced his lot in life and succumbed to the warmth even as the little ones swarmed inward and pulled him further and further beneath the black sand.

He was found, he was with family and nothing could be sweeter.
He was home.