Murmurings from the Hive

That Which Sees All

I’ve always been a seeker of the unknown; a vast interest in the strange, unusual and arcane often held precedence over what most would consider to be average. In that sense, I suppose I should have grinned with manic glee upon arriving at the tattoo parlor.

It wasn’t like the usual shop. There was no “Sailor Jerry” style bedecked facade ushering me in, nor the tell-tale sound of buzzing. What greeted me on this misty and cold spring night was a neon glow piercing the gloom of a forsaken alley, tucked away from the vestiges of humanity. This was the place though, I was sure of it. I pulled my jacket around my slender frame and pressed forward, kicking aside untold filth and piles of rotted food. The exterior of the shop grinned before me, an emaciated smile from a blue neon skull.

I shrugged. Strange, unusual. That’s usually how I like it. This was, however, an alien concept to me for my skin remained unblemished and inkless. I steeled my frazzled nerves before pushing my way in. The obsidian tinted door refused to budge. Pull, not push, obviously.

“Stupid,” I scowled at my own wariness and pulled the door open. I stepped in, unable to brace myself for the sensory onslaught: piercing, hair-raising cold inside. That smell: what is that? Sage and cleaning chemicals…is this how a tattoo parlor is supposed to smell? It was empty, no artist or proprietor in sight. A heavily worn couch sat forlornly along the grey bricked walls festooned with banners and sheathes of various tattoo designs. I ignored it because I knew what I wanted.

I knew exactly what I wanted.

A small display case on the opposite wall caught my eye. Within, a glass box held an ornately presented and weary looking book. I stepped forward to glimpse the interior, my nervous reflection catching off the glass. Compulsively, I wanted to see what was written, I wanted to know what lie upon the pages of this tome. I wanted to know what secrets it held, even if it was as mundane as a visitor log book or a ledger. But I never got the chance.

A soft tinkling sound betrayed my gaze. A beaded curtain at the back of the shop parted and ushered in a small, gaunt young woman. Her dark hair was strung with beads not unlike those of the curtain from which he had emerged and her hazel eyes were ringed with the shade of one who hasn’t slept properly. I turned towards her and immediately hoped she wouldn’t succumb to fatigue while inking my bicep. She looked to be middle eastern, copper sun kissed skin and a small rounded nose.

“Hey,” she greeted with a soft and raspy voice; brittle paper turning in a light breeze. “Are you just looking or-?” She trailed off and offered a slight smile.

“Yeah, I’m looking to uh, get inked,” I stated as confidently as possible. That was the correct parlance, right? Damned if I knew. I felt crucially out of my element. She seemed to sense this as she smiled again and gestured to one of two empty chairs.

I nodded in response and sat down, emitting a deep breath as she readied her tools of the trade. As she prepared the ink, I noticed scrawls of text on her left arm. The overhead lights seemed to glint off them, raising the text from her arm and appearing more like scar tissue than actual ink. They whorled about in a spiral surrounding her thin being.

Before I could ask about it, she prompted me: “What are we doing today?”

“Oh, OK, hi,” I stammered out. “Uh, first of all, I’m Hideo. Nice to uh, meet you…” I trailed off but received no reciprocation. She simply nodded, the beads in her hair jangling against one another in the quiet of the otherwise empty shop. I paused, licked my lips.

Awkward silence permeation. OK, moving on.

I pulled out my phone to show her the screenshot I wanted. The image was of an anime-stylized eye glaring forth from beneath a forcefully arched eyebrow. Savage, intense, perfect.

The girl nodded. “Tattoos often reflect the personality of those who choose them. May I ask why this…eye?”

“Yeah uh,” I started. Get a grip of yourself, idiot. “This is the logo of a comic and anime convention that I met my girlfriend at. She’s still living across country, it’s a long distance thing, y’know?”

She nodded. Nothing more and nothing less.

I continued: “Our anniversary is coming up and I thought I’d surprise her. After all eyes are the window to the soul, right? They still say that, don’t they?”

The artist nodded again, the lights glinting off her tired eyes. “They do,” she stated. A soft accent danced upon her withered voice. “Portals to the soul and…so much more. A watchful eye can see more than is truly present before you. They can glimpse truths beyond truths and secrets to be uncovered by the inquisitive.”

I frowned and rolled up my sleeve. I turned away instinctively as the needle approached my flesh.

Damn it.

“Wait, wait,” I cried and pulled my sleeve back down.

The girl grunted with annoyance and pulled the needle away.

“I have a few questions,” I stated. She gestured for me to continue. I glanced around, struggling for small talk. I needed a few seconds to calm my nerves. “Uh, are you the only one who works here?”

The girl hesitated. “There is…another. But she is at rest now.”

“Have you been doing this long?”

“Yes, I have. However, I believe you might be my last. If my inkwell runs dry after tonight, I might finally rest as well.”

I shrugged off the odd statements, simply pegged her as an eccentric. As long as she gave me the right response to my final question: “Is this…going to hurt?”

An odd expression coated her lithe face. Her thin lips pulled into an almost forlorn frown. Then she shook her head, her beads jangled and she seemed to come to her senses. That familiar smile painted her visage, a hint of mischievousness alighting upon it. “Oh, you are a pure one, then?”

“If that means this is my first tattoo, then yeah. I guess I’m uh, “pure”.”

“We shall see how long that lasts,” she said with an uncomfortable hint of malice. “To answer your question, this will only hurt if you allow it to. You do ask a lot of questions, don’t you Pure One?”

“I guess I’ve always been the inquisitive type,” I shrugged with a half-hearted grin. “I’ve always been rather curious about new things.”

“Then, my dear, you’ve come to the right place.”

And then, as the sprinkling of a light spring shower continued outside in the dark, I felt the first pierce of the ink forever stain my skin. I never knew the girl’s name but she seemed to know what she was doing. I still had a lot of questions to ask but no time to seek the truth.

Trust in the ink, Hideo.

This will only hurt if I let it…

 

 

I did. Just a little bit. It wasn’t as bad I as had suspected but the temptation to remove the covering on my freshly inked bicep was more of a struggle than anything else. I wandered home that night after paying the odd young woman for her services. I noted the strange look on her face, the unflattering melange of regret, elation and relief. What was going through her mind? As I walked out, I couldn’t help but notice that she watched after me intently. I shrugged it off and that was that.

I took one last look at the strange little shop as I departed and reflected with curiosity on how the lights in the establishment flickered off immediately upon stepping back into the grungy alley. The neon sign, formerly a bright and leering skull, now a silent and vacant spectre. It sat slightly askew; unexpected dilapidation that I hadn’t noticed. I need to be more observant I suppose, keep my eyes open.

I decided to do something I really should have done earlier: research. I made my nightly mug of decaf dark roast and plopped in my sagging recliner. I browsed on my phone for any information about the shop but to only mild surprise, found nothing. I sighed and rubbed at the new design. After it healed and I could remove the covering, I planned to take a few pics and send them to my girl. In the meantime, I pulled up my social media page and browsed around a bit, chuckling inwardly at the latest ridiculous memes to spew forth from cyberspace.

There’s an unusual one: a textless post with nothing but an all-too familiar eye. The logo of the convention, the very same that now adorned my arm. Curious that they would post it, it wouldn’t be held for another several months. I clicked it out of sheer curiosity and boredom.

My finger touched the screen. It immediately melted into the glass. My digit pushed forward into the glass and circuitry as the screen melded around it like gelatin. It was warm, malleable and almost pleasant to the touch. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I should have been more concerned. I was tired after the experience in the parlor. My shoulder and arm ached. And this felt..good. I deserved a pleasant sensation. I could dig a little deeper. Why not? I deserved it and I knew it wouldn’t hurt. Not if I didn’t let it. I pushed my finger further into the digital eye as the rest of my hand sunk into the tangible soup. So good, so damn good. All the way up to my wrist now. Maybe just a little furth-

NO

NO

I pulled my hand out, threw my phone away with a startled yelp. I leaped up from my seat and stared at the fallen device, quivering with confusion. Then: sudden pressure in my left arm. I dashed into the bathroom and rolled up my sleeve. Beneath the gauze of the freshly inked flesh, something strained at its confines. I tore off the bandage, curiosity overriding even the basest of common sense. The eye, that stylized eye that represented what I loved and cherished the most: it was staring back at me, rolling wildly in an unseen socket.

As I stared back in the mirror, the eye suddenly stopped rolling and titled upwards, staring directly back at me and boring a hole into my very sanity. My arm rippled, waves of impossibility surging up and down. Even as the tiny eyes emerged across my arm like a hellspawn rash, I attempted to scream. But a scream is hard to emit as one’s tongue emerges from their own mouth like a sentient snake from a world that one ought not to know.

My own fleshy appendage strained at its very root and my tongue rose up in a serpentine motion at an impossible length. It ran itself down my eye bedecked arm and the taste that I could still experience was too much for me to bear. I began sobbing there in my own bathroom as my body betrayed me and the inked eye began to spin wildly once more.

The serpent tongue began to turn black, blemished and blighted and it turned towards me before splitting at the seam. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t let it.

The Black Serpent spoke, still spewing forth from my own mouth. Dear God, it spoke and I understood it.

Inquisitive and Pure, one who hosts the Eye of Agalia, Discoverer of Secrets, That Which Sees All. You bear our mark, you call our name and we arrive to show you sights unseen. Rejoice for only those chosen, those embellished with our blood will be granted the Sight, which is a very precious thing indeed.

“I don’t want this!” An attempted scream; my own own begotten tongue was too soiled and violated to speak what I wanted.

The Serpent didn’t heed my protest. My infected arm raised on its own accord. I struggled against it but I knew it was a losing battle. My arm raised up and pressed the Inked Eye across my own face.

Eye to Eye.

It showed me things then as The Serpent wrapped around my head. I saw what I had never wanted to see and now would never forget. Things from ages past, from times before. Shadows from other civilizations. Abominations, half human and half beast worshipped by ancient priests. Lovers torn apart and sacred texts recovered yet swiftly lost. Unjust executions, cursed blood and ink. Bottled and shifted through time and space until it bedecked the flesh of one whom would simply stumble across it unexpectedly. I was not the first nor would I be the last. I knew the cursed ink would continue to spread its blight across the land. It said it all in that book in the tattoo shop, the one I never read but now knew every sentence.

The Inked Eye and the Black Serpent showed me. I knew it all. But I decided then, that I didn’t want to see. I summoned one final ounce of strength and tore away from my tormentors. Naturally they rebelled and attempted to halt my mission but I pushed on. I pushed my way into the kitchen, struggling against my own body, shuffled blindly though the drawers until I found what I wanted.

Sharp objects had pierced my body mere hours before and now, in the comfort of my own home, they would do so again. They would do so at my own behest, of my own free will which I would not let be torn away. The scissors did their work splendidly. I cut the Black Serpent free and watched it writhe and squeal upon the black and red that festooned my kitchen floor. I took the blades to the smaller eyes next that covered my arm, popping each one like an overripe grape. But the Inked Eye, that one could not be pierced. And oh, how I tried. Even then, with the defilers strewn about on the floor and my own arm running fresh with filth, they continued to reveal their secrets.

I saw the girl from the parlor. I saw her run ragged blades across her own arm as she chanted in arcane language. I saw the piercing and parting of her skin and watched the red sea surge forth. It poured into a clay bottle at her feet. She thrashed in agony and the beads in her hair clinked together musically, almost pleasantly. Something spewed forth from her mouth, a coiling black foul thing that I recognized. In this age that I gazed upon, it was older and larger. Multiple hands stretched forth from the coiling horror as it chanted the word “Agalia” repeatedly. It streamed into the clay bottle, thick smoke and greasy mist. The girl dipped her blade into the concoction at her feet, held back a sob and began to tattoo her own arm…

I had seen enough. If I couldn’t see, I couldn’t watch and then I wouldn’t know and then… much like the woman who had cursed me with this Sight, I could rest. Perhaps.

I turned the scissor blades toward my own two eyes, granted to me by a God I thought I knew and not the fiend that had forced its own eyes upon me.

The scissor blades, blessed steel, came closer and I held my eyes open. I once was blind and now I see but I didn’t want to see anymore.

At least I knew it wouldn’t hurt.

Oh no.

I wouldn’t let it.

Borborygmus: A prologue

Below you’ll see the rough draft of my new work in progress. Obviously rough being the key word but I felt it might be of interest for you all to see what I’m working on. Let’s see if this one has more success than my last crack at full length over tale…

 

 

It is unseasonably cold for a bright summer day in the woodlands of Southern California. Here amidst the coast and scrub oak of the Black Water Canyon National Park, something stirs within the retreating frost. It is a day of anomaly and if one were to traverse these wild lands, they would question the unearthly chill in the air, the banks of red tinged snow and the grayish crystalline structure adhered to the forest floor.

Life begins here in these woodlands in as much as the same fashion upon which it ends: warm and then cold, indistinguishable between the two and yet slathered in blood. Life and death simultaneous wails a cry of primal need as something stirs within the crystalline chrysalis. It is the perfect size to contain something humanoid and such a form strains at its bonds and emerges from the structure; a resounding crack of shattering carapace splitting the quiet morning.

The Newborn tumbles forth ungainly over dirt, foliage and refuse coating its sticky and embryonic form. She bleats the cry of a newborn seeking warmth and comfort as she stands ungainly, blinking away hours of stillness.

Here on the forest floor, the struggle begins as something savage and ancient takes root and yet retreats all at the same time.

She cries out and holds her head in her hands, hair matted against her raw scalp as she struggles to make sense of what she feels. Her hands ripple unnaturally as though something is attempting to take hold and a wave of nausea waves through her. She glances skyward at the canopy with sleep gummed eyes and feels her head, expressing surprise at the slender smoothness of her scalp.

And yet, for all the wonder her eyes impart upon her, she remembers. It is the worst part of her awakening.

She remembers it all. The screams, the curses, the rending and tearing…and then a low growl. Oh yes, she remembers this feeling. It is not as intense as before but it is still an unwelcome sensation. The growl comes from within and she abhors the hollowness she feels.

She’s hungry, famished even and her feet, they hurt her so. Her feet burn and she stands erect unwarily on shifting form as the sensations of the wild overwhelm. She wishes she could crawl back into the crystal and sleep, sleep forever until she can no longer feel the burning from within and from below.

The Newborn smells something nearby, all at once tantalizing, inviting and beckoning. It rustles in the brush, the beating heart of fresh prey. And yet, something holds her back from pouncing upon warm flesh and partaking in the fresh innards. The conflict cause her to sob, opening her mouth amidst the strands of amniotic fluid as she bleats pitifully again.

Here in the vast wilds of the canyon, the Newborn has but one concern: to quell the ravenous complaint from within. She stumbles forward, slowly regaining her footing as she follows the scent. It’s so familiar, a musky odor that leads her away from the trembling creature in the brush and down towards the melodic tinkling of a shallow creek. Whatever it is and wherever it leads, she knows she will find food, warmth, shelter and companionship.

Creature comforts, of the basest form.

Her stomach rumbles…

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*

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.