The Eternal King – Prologue

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

 


His clock burst to life from the corner of the room, a cacophony of tiny bells chiming, its clamor announcing the top of yet another hour. The bespectacled man looked up from the parchment splayed across his desk. He had been busy at work, pouring over the paper – the latest report, summarizing and detailing all the events that had transpired in the land. A compilation of the reports that were edging out from underneath the large page, seeking respite from being suffocated, their once neat stack was now spilling out over the remainder of the desk – some had even fallen to the cold stone floor. His tired eyes confirmed what his old ears heard, it was time again for another moonlight meeting – time to gather one final report from the furthest reaches of the land.

His chair groaned as he stood, the feet sliding methodically across the floor. Smooth grooves were formed along the path the large walnut chair had traveled many times before. The chair was not without its signs of age either. Stain was faded where the man had sat, and the large armrests were rounded at the ends, the pommels’ finer details worn down as if to its bones. The only aspect of the chair that showed no signs of age was the head, which rose taller than the man’s own, even when sitting upright. On it was the intricately carved sigil of the Eternal King – an hourglass whose sand was frozen in time, draped by a crown inlaid with jewels carved into sickly faces around its circumference. The faces were said to be those of the gods he had slain; the sigil symbolizing his conquering of both gods and time itself.

The man who rose from the chair had done neither. His joints creaked with age, driven only by his stubbornness. He had often mused on the idea that he and the chair were very much alike, his body breaking down over the years, leaving only the head – his mind – sharp. Even that, too, he had to admit was now dulling. Despite this, he still performed his duties to the Church as fervently as he had his whole life, if only a bit more slowly than before. Everything took him longer, time was starting to escape the old man no matter how hard he worked to keep up. Part of him was resentful for that fact, what was left of his youth, he supposed; the other part of him was resigned to his fate. Lately, however, he found this rebellious spark, which condemned his old age, seeping in more and more of his thoughts.

Nevertheless, he had his duties to attend to, elderly or not. The clock had ceased its alarm and was back to its routine churning and ticking of tiny gears and levers. With a grimace the man removed his spectacles, folded them, and placed them gently in his robe’s pocket. He was wearing the traditional bishop attire, a long flowing gown that brushed the ground gently around him wherever he walked. It was made of the finest silken materials found across the land, skillfully tailored to him, with intricate designs running its length. Upon his chest, the gown bore the same sigil that topped his chair, centered in the middle of a large strip of white fabric that spanned the entire garment. The sleeves were long and baggy, easily concealing his arms should he desire. People often remarked that the Church’s outfits made their clergymen appear as if they were gliding across the ground – as if they did not even walk upon legs. In his old age, however, his strides made him appear more like he was dragging the robe painstakingly, than floating effortlessly.

He made his way round the table, moving efficiently around his office with practiced deftness that was surprising for his stature. It was a large chamber, part of a wing attached to the main cathedral, with white tiled floors and gray stone bricks making the walls. The ceiling stood tall at the front of the room with a gradual slope downward where it finally met the far wall. The rafters were bare, save for a large circular chandelier which hung down in the center of the room. A cluster of three candles were at the end of each of the four arms, providing just enough light to illuminate the room. The wicks were burnt low this late at night, and in the morning servants would replenish the spent candles in the church with fresh ones.

All along the wall across from his desk were bookshelves that stood tall enough to leave no room for the rafters to breathe. They were filled with a mixture of ancient texts telling the history of the Eternal King, records of all the head priests and bishops who served throughout the ages, and booklets containing the man’s own personal notes on various subjects or sermons he had written. There was a bookcase dedicated to the histories of mankind across the land after they had been set free of the control of the gods. Being that this was his private collection, he did not have complete records or volumes for everything, but for him it was enough to be proud of, and quite the collection for his lifetime.

Now, however, he ignored his prized books and made his way to the back of the room, passing the collection of four sitting chairs which encircled a small table, a set meant for holding meetings in his office. Beyond that, he reached the back wall, which contained a large window overlooking a small grove of white flowers which ended abruptly at a sharp drop off. The church sat atop a steep hill positioned at the heart of the capital city of Immortua. Many years ago when the city was first being built, the hill had been leveled at the top to make for stable construction. A winding path was carved into the hillside up to the entrance of the church’s courtyard to make for easier access to the top. Wild grass grew freely all around the hill, largely unattended due to the severity of the slope, its long blades would glimmer in the daylight breeze making the church appear as if it were sitting atop a living pedestal.

Tonight, it was cold and still. Not a single petal shifted in the night, seemingly frozen, reflecting the silver light from the moon, dotting the murky night, cautioning the black depths just beyond them. The man grimaced once more upon opening the window, the cold air crept in, it’s snaky tendrils clawing their way into the warmth of his chamber. He quickly shut the pane and locked it once more with a shiver. He made his way back through the room, grumbling for no one in particular but himself  – he had come to despise the cold more and more. He grabbed the lantern hanging at the doorway and lit it using the candle that was nearing the end of its life on his desk, its wax overflowing past the tray meant to contain it. Lantern readied, he reached for his gray wool cloak perched on the other side of the doorway. He wrapped it tightly and threw the large hood over his thin, wispy white hair.

The hinges of his chamber door groaned loudly, as if announcing his entrance into the dark hallway beyond. He slammed the door shut behind him and made his way toward the large double doors in the center of the hall. The same tiled floor ran the length – his office was at the far end of the walkway. Torches lined the walls, all had fizzled out this late in the night, glowing a soft glow, nearly extinguished completely to sleep until tomorrow’s eve when they would be set ablaze once more. The man paid them no mind, walking silently down the same path he had traveled many times before. He wagered he did not even need the lantern to make his way through the entire church complex, but it was best to be on the safe side, especially on a meeting night.

He fumbled for a moment when he arrived to the double doors, trying to find the brass key he kept in his overcoat. The folds of the large pocket ensnared the key, hiding it from his prying fingers as if it desired to keep the key for itself. After mumbling a few curses, he was able to retrieve the key and placed it firmly in the door; every part of the church was to be locked nightly. Far too many precious artworks, histories, and items were contained within. This door was silent, the hinges were well oiled so as not to interrupt sermons and worship should someone enter or exit. Beyond the doorway loomed an enormous cavern of a room, the main worship hall, it was barely illuminated by the moon’s soft light filtering through the large stained glass windows lining each side of the hall. The church was so large in size that the arches of the ceiling were steeped in pure darkness, shying away from the faint light.

The man turned from locking the door behind him and faced steps leading up to a vacant stage, upon which stood a grand podium, surrounded by wooden railing. To his left were more steps, leading to a stage which stood lower than the podium’s, meant for the choir, which lead songs of praise to the King. To his right, another stage perfectly symmetrical containing a large organ, which accompanied the choir. He never grew tired of the awe inspiring architecture and performances this hall presented, nor did he get over how unnerving it was when it was hollow and dark. Hastily as he could, he made his way down to the floor, walking between the many rows of pews down the mosaic center aisle. It depicted King’s conception and conquering of the gods in one long flowing masterpiece of artwork. Midway to the main entrance, clouds rolled slowly over the moon, suffocating the church of any light, save for that of the man’s lantern – a lone ember in the void, slowly drifting in the nothingness.

The man chuckled at himself as a small wave of relief washed over his mind, cleansing him of the growing gnaw of fear that was rising from the depths of his subconscious – the clouds had lingered for the rest of his journey. The cold night seemed happy to have its tendrils around him once more as he opened the tall doors to the courtyard contained by brick walls on all sides. In the center, there was a large fountain in the shape of an hourglass, water blooming from the top and raining down into the large basin below. The pitter of the water masked the patter of his footsteps on the cobblestone as he moved to a wrought iron gate set in the middle of one of the walls. With a sharp, abrupt wail, he passed through into the church’s garden. It was small, as the church itself was so large that it nearly took up all the space atop the hill.

With a sigh and a pop from his knees, he sat down at the lone bench placed at the end of the walkway which stopped in the center of the grove. It faced the walkway and the gate he had entered. Bushes containing flowers and berries alike lined the path, and the circle of stones at the center where he sat. Small trees bearing fruit lined the walls, their branches barely reaching over the stonework. Rows of herbs were on either side of the walkway by the gate, and hedges separated them from the rest of the area, which were also covered in wildflowers of every color. It was in the sea of flowers the man sat waiting. Minutes passed and he began to shiver more strongly. The night air was beginning to penetrate his cloak, licking at his skin as if tasting its prey before striking.

Just as he was about to give up on waiting and retreat back to the warmth of his chamber, a large black shadow appeared at the gate darker than the night, seemingly absorbing the light around it. The shape was tall, taller even than the gate; it had to hunch down to pass through, and when it did, it was silent as if it absorbed sound itself. The man made no sound of displeasure or relief as he watched the shadow approach, he knew it would hear him and he did not want to anger it. The figure was uneven, awkward, and seemingly lurched in it’s loping approach. He did not think he would ever get used to it, no matter how many meetings they may have. Finally, the figure was close enough for him to make out the glowing yellow eyes which were peering at him from the back of its hood. He stood to greet the figure with a quick bow of his torso.

“Greetings, Lo’Vere,” the ancient tongue spilled awkwardly out of his mouth, despite his lengthy practice, “I hope your travels were safe and discreet. What news do you bring?”

“Indeed they were, your kind is none too perceptive, especially in these long times of peace.” Lo’Vere’s voice was a harsh growl, dripping with distaste.

He was standing at arm’s length from the old man and his head stood another two above the bishop’s. From the faint lantern light, his gnarled face was visible. The yellow eyes glowed brightly from their sunken cavernous sockets. Aside from that, his face appeared human enough, with a stunted nose that was closer to a wolf’s snout. He was sneering, as if his tone of voice were not enough to convey his mood. Large fangs protruded up from his lower lip even with his mouth closed, locked in a frown. He reached into his own cloak and produced a scroll of paper, bound by ribbon. He handed it to the bishop, barely extending his long, lanky arm. The man gingerly took it from him, careful to avoid Lo’Vere’s nails, which came to a point like small knives. He tucked it away in his own pocket as Lo’Vere continued his report.

“Our Master grows in power, slowly yet, but without issue. Our army is readying itself, soon we will be able to march from the Outerlands across Aeternum’s border. Proceedings are as planned.”

“Excellent,” the bishop coughed violently into his hand, and looked up with a smile, “everything is going well, then? I’ll have nothing to report at our council meeting tomorrow.”

Lo’Vere turned briefly to the church, and let out a low rumble. “So it would seem.” After a pause, he turned back to face the bishop, hate burning in his eyes. “What of the King? What news do you have from him?”

“More good news,” he chuckled, “hopefully this will cheer your mood. In the little contact we’ve had with him, his powers seem to be waning. Perhaps the seal tying his soul to our world is eroding. He should pose no threat to our plans.” The bishop was beaming expectantly at Lo’Vere, as if awaiting a reward for the good tidings. Instead, he was met only with the creature’s harsh yellow eyes narrowing scrutiny. Finally, Lo’Vere broke the silence.

“His power is waning, you say?”

“Indeed, there is no mistaking it.”

“It would seem our Master’s suspicions are correct, then.”

The bishop cocked his head, he was not following the beast’s train of thought. Lo’Vere eyed him suspiciously and turned back towards the gate as if he were ready to leave with haste. His head craned over his shoulder and he spoke one final time.

“His power is not failing him – our Master has grown enough in his own to sense that a capable human has been born. Another human walks – crawls, rather – that can slay gods. The King is surely aware, and readying a transfer of his powers. We are running out of time. Find the child if you can. Destroy it.”

With that, Lo’Vere departed. His shadowy figure disappearing through the gate before the old man could compose himself. He and the others had failed to deceive the King, and now they had to hurry. He grabbed his lantern, which was now running low on oil and shivered, not for the cold, but at the thought of what lay ahead.


 

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A long overdue update.

 

Hey all…  two or three of you unique visitors. It’s been awhile. So uh, to make things short, for your reading pleasure – not because I’m lazy – I’ve scrapped the last story I was writing.

I chose to do this because I couldn’t decide which direction I wanted to take it. Originally it was supposed to be about the mental effects of a genuinely good guy accidentally killing a kid and being painted as an evil racist cop. Then I had this idea of him actually being a bad guy along with his partner and them trying to hide all their dirty cop antics. A task made more difficult as the main character faced IA investigations and media coverage. It was during my exploring of that idea that I felt my original message had been lost and I was a little demotivated from restarting as I had started down the path of writing for the bad guy angle. Just looking back at it I could tell this weird hybrid thing I was trying to make happen was just a worse version of either of the two ideas. So that’s why I killed it. It’s dead. I’ll likely explore one, or both of the original ideas again at a later time – which at the rate I’m going will be when I’m on my deathbed. Wow, too many death references for just three sentences!

Moving on. It’s taken me so long to start writing again simply because of laziness. That combined with me graduating, trying to find a job, and doing nothing, writing fell to the wayside. I’ve now found myself in an interesting time in my life where not a lot is happening. It’s both kinda neat and kinda terrible at the same time. While it is nice to have all this free time, it is also kind of demotivating. So, uh, if anyone has any leads on some jobs that might be a good fit for a guy with a Supply Chain Management degree, feel free to let me know.

Anyways, I’ve mostly wasted all this time I’ve had, and I’m getting pretty bored with that. In this agonizing monotony, I’ve had more than a few story ideas float around in this empty head of mine, and one of them has finally stuck. It’s pretty rough so far, but I’m putting in some “work” to flesh it out further and even doing a bit of research.

“But wait,” I can hear you say to yourself already, “this guy said just one post before this that he didn’t want to do any research because writing was just a fun thing.” I know it looks like I’m flip-flopping like a politician out of water over here, but what you have to remember is that the post before this was published roughly nine months ago. Woah, right? Time flies. And in that time I’ve become so bored that I’m willing to do research. Mind you I use that term lightly. What I mean when I say research is that I have some other works and themes that I would like to have my own take on. So, can that really be called research if I’m just reading other books? Yes. Yes, because that’s what I’m calling it regardless of whatever you may think.

In a nutshell, I think I’ve covered everything I need to. Running it back real quick: old story dead, need job, and new story is brewing in my brain. All that being said, I’m also going to include what will be, or so I imagine will be, the preface to my next story. This is just a rough draft I threw together today. What I hope this preface will accomplish is a quick history of the world my story takes place in. That’s it.

Without further ado, I present the preface for what I’m calling – for now – The Eternal King. Enjoy.

Or don’t.


 

            Gather round, one and all; settle in and prepare yourselves to hear a wondrous tale. A tale that spans beyond our lifetime and whom ending has not yet been foretold. A tale concerning our people’s very creation, preservation, and prosperity. A tale that predates written history, and has been passed down for many generations by word of mouth, just as I am telling it to you tonight. I am indeed referring to the tale our Eternal King, whose true name has been lost to time.

            The sad reality of mankind’s beginnings are thus: man was created by and enslaved to the gods of this world, forced to labor endlessly in accordance to their machinations. These treacherous times became later referred to by man as the Devoid Centuries – simply named as we were devoid of good, of happiness, of hope… of everything. Monuments to these wretched gods can still be found scattered across the lands, hardened and weathered reminders of the cruelty we were wrested from so long ago.

            Born unto man was a child containing all that was lacking – happiness, hope, love, and most importantly: courage. His existence went unnoticed by the gods and their minions, races of monstrous creatures tasked with enacting the will of the gods. It was not long, however, that the beasts watching over man took notice of these strange new emotions appearing on the faces of the men and women. Not knowing how to deal with the foreign influences, they sought guidance from the gods themselves, who, in their arrogance ignored the beasts’ calls for help. So the beasts did nothing.

            The child grew into a man, and so did mankind’s faith in Him grow. He had given them something precious, He had taught them new emotions that gave meaning to their lives. In private, they elected Him their new leader, and agreed to no longer serve the unjust gods who created them. In taking upon His new role as leader of mankind, He swore to give His life in servitude to them, and to cast out the gods and their beasts from this world.

            Inspired by His words, every man and woman took up arms against the wretched beasts, striking while they slept. Many men died, but the humans so vastly outnumbered the beasts that they were easily defeated. The men and women were content to slay every creature, and be done with the fighting, but their King ordered them to spare one. It was this sole beast that He sent to the gods to tell them of what transpired, and to challenge them to battle.

            “Oh Great King, to war against gods, surely that is beyond us,” cried the surviving men and women. To which He did reply: “Fear not, my beloved people, for this is a war that I alone will wage.” Ignoring their protests, He commanded them only to forge Him a blade, knowing that their laboring tools would not be enough to slay the gods. And so they did. The women gathered hide from the slain creatures to tan into leather, and the men mined precious metals from the mountains and forged the blade itself. Every remaining man and woman took part in its creation. The weapon was presented to their King and He found it to His liking.

            Blade in hand, He left His people for the center of the very same continent we live on to this day. However, it was much different back then; in His time it was completely flat and barren, save for the mountains that marked one edge of the world and the vast emptiness that marked the other. It was in the center that He did find but one god awaiting His summons. In their arrogance, the gods did not believe the tale the surviving beast had told them. Surely no one man could inspire such an uprising from their very own creation. Surely, no one man could hope to defeat the gods, let alone one of them.

            Surely it was, that the King did strike down the god that awaited Him. Their battle spanned the entirety of the continent, where the King was finally able to cast out the god into the emptiness. In its last attempt to survive, the god grabbed the edge of the world as he fell, shifting the land entirely upon itself. This formed the world into its spherical form as we know it, and so the god did lose its grip and fell into the surrounding emptiness. His people did bear witness to this, and they saw the god’s defeated body rise and fall away from their world, and they called it the moon.

            When the gods saw that the first god did not return, they sent another to investigate; another who would not return. And so they sent another, blinded by their arrogance. And so the sun and the stars were formed from their defeated bodies. One by one the gods continued to march to their death. Their bodies spilling forth the waters that make up the oceans, the seeds that fertilized the land, and the lava that filled the empty core of the world. One by one their names carved into His blade, which came to be known as the slayer of gods.

            And so it became that only one god did remain. The final god approached the Great King, not to fight, but to make an offering. “You who have slain my companions, spare me. In return, I will grant you the knowledge of the gods’ immortality.” The Great King agreed to lay down His blade and listen. On that day, the slayer of gods slew no more. The last of the gods was banished from our world, never to be seen again, and the Great King’s soul gained immorality. So became the Eternal King.

            In His remaining years of life, the Eternal King led His people to create Immortua, the very city we inhabit today. He also founded the church which acts as the ruling entity in His absence. With His dying words He told the leaders of the church how to conduct Hearing rituals which would allow them to contact Him. His last words were a promise to return should His people need Him to deliver them from evil once more.

            Since His first death, only two Hearing rituals have been conducted. Fortunately for all of us, evil has not sprung its head up again, and man has prospered under rule of the church ever since. So ends what we know of the tale of the Eternal King. We are fortunate to be living to witness the next chapter of this tale. We all know that, though. It’s likely the very reason so many of you have gathered here tonight. It is indeed the eve of the third Hearing ritual, and we are all eagerly awaiting what our Eternal King has to say to all of His loyal peoples.

– Tale of the Eternal King, as told by a bard employed by Eternal Pint Tavern of Immortua on the eve of the third Hearing ritual.  

           

Chapter 1: The Suspect

I’m not yet entirely sure what I want to call this story, so for now I’ll just use the chapter names. I haven’t uploaded anything in over a week which isn’t meeting the deadlines I had envisioned for myself which would ideally be once a week or so.

I’m now realizing that such a deadline may be entirely too optimistic when I factor in the time required for work, schoolwork, and a reignited desire to workout again. Regardless, I just got a new keyboard and I figured what better way to break it in than by finishing up the first chapter of a story I started last week.

Keep in mind that I know nearly nothing about how actual police investigations, associated processes, and such work. I could always do research but for now writing is just a fun hobby that I like to do while listening to music and avoiding other more pressing responsibilities, so I’m trying to keep as much actual work out of this process as I can. I hope that doesn’t show too much throughout this story. Now, without further ado, Chapter 1:

* * * * *

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“Damnit,  I mean I don’t know!”

Detective Chase Kilgour jumped slightly as the man shackled to the floor slammed his fists down on the steel table out of frustration. He was glad there was a  two-way surveillance mirror between him and the suspect. He felt no envy for his partner who was in the line of fire of the man’s belligerent rebuttals. It had been nearly half an hour and no real progress had been made. He could tell the wheels were spinning and nothing they could do currently would free them from this mud pit. Chase walked to the side of the mirror and leaned into the intercom panel on the wall.

“Let’s wrap it up and grab some lunch, nothing is coming of this.”

Chase saw his partner, Detective Jason Stubner, who was facing away from the mirror give a nod of acknowledgement. He watched for a moment longer as Jason moved to gather his belongings.

He turned to face Jackie Pembrook, one of the lab techs helping out with the case. Jackie was a very particular man and one could tell it by looking at him. He was on the shorter side of average height, his wavy black hair was always combed neatly to the right side of his head and held in place with pomade. Crow’s feet were already beginning to form at the corners of his youthful blue eyes. Chase knew he was only in his late twenties and assumed this was due to the amount of squinting and furrowing of the brow Jackie performed while reading through test results. His usual attire consisted of button down shirts whose colors remained on the cooler side of the visible spectrum along with a matching tie. As his co-workers would say: one would be hard pressed to find a wrinkle in his entire outfit, about as hard pressed as his clothes. Every visual detail about him was meticulously prepared and his work reflected his scrupulous personality.

“So we’re entirely sure it was this guy?”

“All the results we got back from the tests seem to come to that  conclusion,” Jackie didn’t look up from the paperwork documenting the lab’s findings, “we got his prints on door knobs, the weapon – hell we even got partials on some of the underwear in the bedroom. The  man’s a creep. Not to mention we found his blood under the nails of the victims. Also the fact that he was picked up by one of our patrol guys covered in the blood of the victims. I think it’s safe to say this is our guy.”

Chase walked back to the table in the center of the room where Jackie sat and reached for his coffee cup. He took a sip and grimaced; it was cold. He forgot that he hadn’t taken his eyes off the suspect during the entirety of the questioning. The detective looked back over his shoulder. The suspect was in the custody of two officers who were preparing to move him to a holding cell.

His hair was grey and wildly unkempt; it reminded Chase of a dust bunny he might find hiding away under a piece of furniture. He was short, heavyset, and crooked. One shoulder was much higher than the other and his back seemed permanently skewed forward, producing a slight hump in his back. Chase had his doubts about this man’s capabilities in pulling off such a brutal multiple homicide. His gut was telling him it wasn’t this man, but the evidence certainly argued in favor. Chase grabbed the suspect’s file, he wanted to look it over once more. Something fell from underneath the folder and hit the table with an audible smack.

“Whoops,” the detective glanced down to see what it was. He found a picture of himself in the local newspaper looking back at him with emotionless eyes. Above his picture was a headline that read: “Local Police Department Investigating Details Surrounding Detective Accused of Murder.” He stared for a moment longer and glanced sternly at Jackie who quickly placed the paper under his clipboard.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring that in here.”

Detective Kilgour grunted and pulled out a chair to sit. That was the last thing he needed on his mind right now. He tried distracting himself by scanning through the details of the file. The man’s name was George Bishop. He was fifty years old and homeless. He had a few run-ins with law enforcement in recent years. Mostly petty misdemeanors that you would expect of a man in his situation – shoplifting, public intoxication, and subsequently public urination. Nothing indicative that he would do something extreme like this.

Chase re-positioned himself on the hard plastic chair and loosened his tie. He had to be comfortable to think clearly – both were proving to be difficult. Minutes passed. Finally he clapped the file shut and tossed it back onto the table. The momentum sent the cluster of pages sliding across the table as if it were ice. The contents nearly spilling out completely.

“Hey, careful now,” Jackie cautioned as he promptly reorganized the papers.

Ignoring him, Chase hunched over, resting his elbows on his knees while holding his eyes shut in the palms of his hands. His mind was untenable right now. His train of thought couldn’t navigate with the other pressing matters plaguing his mind. Often he found himself idle at the train station afraid to venture forth and face what lie ahead of him. He let out a languished sigh.

“Sorry to interrupt your hard work, but I do believe you mentioned something about lunch.”

Somehow, Jason had managed to sneak his way into the room without Chase noticing. Detective Kilgour was always surprised at the man’s ability to seemingly appear out of thin air; he thought he would have been used to it by now after years of working together, but it was uncanny how well a man of Jason Stubner’s stature could be so stealthy. He begrudgingly dislodged his hands from his face to look up at his partner.

“I didn’t realize they had finally widened the doorways so you could fit without having to squeeze through.”

“I see your sense of humor hasn’t left you. It’s a shame that what was left of your youthful radiance has gone – you look terrible.”

“Ha,” Chase scoffed, trying to rub the redness out of his eyes, “and you look like a lion stalking its sickly prey. A lion whose fur migrated from the top of his head down into that damned beard of yours.”

“I just might be if you don’t hurry up and come talk to the Chief so we can get out of here.”

“Only if you carry me. I don’t think I have the energy,” a playful glint flashed in Chase’s eyes followed by a smirk, “it must have left with my youthful radiance.”

“For you? Anything,” Jason smiled back through his thick beard.

 

Minutes later the trio found themselves in Police Chief Thomas Addams’ office. Addams was an older man, in his late fifties, and an ex-marine. The two detectives had worked under Addams for nearly ten years at this point and despite some tensions when they had first started, a friendly rapport had been fostered over the years.

Today, however, Chase could feel something was slightly off with Thomas and he knew it was his fault. His face was tired, seemingly defeated. His facial expression was sad and soft as opposed to the usual hard, statuesque ferocity that many people found intimidating. Chase felt as if he were responsible for the desecration Thomas Addams’ intense persona.

“Stubner, flex your muscles and scare the door shut, please.”

“You got it Tom,” Jason struck a valiant pose and held it until Chase kicked the door closed, “Atlas may have held up the world but not once did he close a door simply by flexing.”

“Actually I’m pretty sure he would have caused several earthquakes were he to pose in such a manner.”

“That’s not the point, Jackie.”

“Whatever you two are about to debate is certainly not the point of this meeting. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

Thomas Addams, despite his down turned mood, was able to reign his employees back in line. He sat straight as a board in his large leather chair, his hands crossed and resting on his desk. He looked expectantly at the three men above his small reading glasses that sat low on his nose. His short white hair looked exactly the same and as neat as always, Chase was convinced he trimmed it every day as it never seemed to change. His office was neat and arranged perfectly, it was as if he had never left the military.

“Right at once, Tom,” Jackie was assaulted by the Chief’s harsh gaze, “Uh, I mean, right at once, sir.”

Chase chuckled, Addams never did seem to like Jackie. He suspected Tom was secretly jealous of how Pembrook was able to keep his clothes so well pressed and wrinkle-free. Whatever it was he was certain the lab tech would never make it to the first name basis with Tom.

“I think it’s safe to say that Bishop is our guy, despite our inability to get a confession from him,” Jackie stared once again while handing Addams the completed paperwork he was working on earlier, “As I was saying to Detective Kilgour earlier, the DNA evidence we have on him tells the tale. We didn’t find any other matches on DNA in our system, in fact the only other DNA we found in the house belonged to the elderly couple. It’s quite sad, really, it seems like no one has visited them in a very long time.”

“Yeah, that is sad – oh and also the fact that they’re dead.”

“And in pieces, not really much left of them to visit.”

“Alright, enough you two,” Addams put an early end to a line of conversation he didn’t have the patience for, “So we have enough to put him away. Any idea what his motive would be? Why would a homeless man like him do something so brutal to these elderly folk?”

That very question was the one that made Chase feel uneasy about claiming George Bishop guilty of this murder. No explanation he could think of made any reasonable sense in his mind, and with no confession or witness testimonials his gut would not be swayed. He proposed the only logical answer he could reach.

“No reason. If he did it, the only way I see him doing it is if he just snapped. You know? That’s the best I’ve got. Maybe Bishop was tired of being homeless and angry at the world for not allowing him to piss where he wants when the world put him in that position in the first place.”

Addams leaned forward, eyes trained on Kilgour.

“You said ‘if he did it,’ are you not convinced by the DNA evidence?”

“No sir.”

“Why not?”

“At this point we don’t have any evidence that Bishop knew these people or that this was premeditated. I believe that if someone were to pick out a random house to break into and kill whoever was inside must have some kind of serious mental problem. From what I could tell during Jason’s time with him in the questioning room I think Bishop is of sound mental health – at least as sound as an alcoholic homeless man can be. That’s not even mentioning the man’s poor physical stature; he’s been living off fast food scraps and alcohol for the last few years. I just don’t think he would have it in him to do something like this.”

“I have to back him up on that one, sir, the whole time I was questioning him I got the sense that he wasn’t insane or anything. Now that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree on whether he did it or not, for all we know the man could be a psychopath and a damn good liar.”

Chief Addams processed everything he had just heard for a moment. He removed his reading glasses and let them hang around his neck as he leaned back in his chair. He rubbed his eyes – there had been a lot of that going around lately. After checking the watch on his arm he finally spoke.

“Okay. I’ve worked with you two long enough to know I can’t dismiss your intuition without further investigation. Right now I’m partial to agree with the lab on this one, I’ve seen the evidence we have on him and it’s more than enough to convince the DA that we’ve got the right guy. I’ll wait on that, though, I want the footage from the questioning when I get back from lunch. Stubner, you and I will be working on this from here on out. That’s all I have for now. I’m hungry, so you’re dismissed.”

“Music to my ears, Chief,” Jason’s lips strained to listen to the aforementioned music as they formed a large ear-to-ear grin.

The three men turned to leave, eager to satiate their hunger. Addams’ voice cut down their enthusiasm like the brush he had cut down in the jungles during the war.

“Except you, Kilgour. You and I need to talk.”

The Gatekeeper

I was given this prompt:

A poet once said that there is one thing between living and dreaming. What is it and why?

What follows is my result.

 

* * * * *

 

“You know, I once found myself in the very same position you find yourself in today, “ the weary old man was interrupted by a violent fit of coughing that shook him down to the last fiber of his being. One final cough was spent into a handkerchief he had produced from his pocket. The man cleared his throat, folded the small garment, and grimaced as he placed his hands back on the handle of his cane which was resting betwixt his legs.

“Please, excuse me – I’m not quite as resilient as I once was.”

Before him on the floor sat a young boy who had previously been preoccupied with an assortment of toy figurines who were engaged in a ceaseless battle orchestrated by his hands. Now, however, all conflict had come to a temporary halt as the boy stared curiously at his grandfather, his wide eyes full of wonder with a wisp of concern – though he didn’t quite understand the concept of that emotion quite yet. He was only half-listening to what his elder was saying to him before, but the harshness of the coughing fixated his attention like a dog to a whistle.

“What… what do you mean, grandpa?”

“Come again,” the old man raised a shaky hand to his ear, “I can’t hear so well these days. You’ll have to speak up a bit, child.”

The boy repeated his question, this time with more confidence.

“What do you mean you were in the same position as me?”

The old man looked upon the boy with tired eyes. A slight shift of his lips formed a wry smirk and the wrinkles on his face mimicked their movement. He leaned back in his chair which grumbled at his decision to do so until he remained dormant once more. His elbows were now placed firmly on the armrests of his chair and his right forefinger was tracing the weathered wedding band that was seemingly embedded into his ring finger. He made the boy wait a moment longer before he responded.

“I remember a time back when I was around your age and I spent a day alone with my grandfather who sat and watched me play with my toys. It seems it’s becoming somewhat of a tradition in our family.”

“Did he live here too?”

The man chuckled and looked around the room. To his left was a small side table with an olive lamp atop it. The base was fairly plain with smooth indentations around the lamp that ran the entire length vertically; the shade, which was at one time white, was now grayed with dust and crooked. Opposite of him was an aging loveseat covered in floral patterns whose cushions had long since passed their prime. They had become compressed over the years and the sides had creases that numbered nearly as many as the wrinkles in the old man’s face. Beyond it was a relatively bare beige wall save for a few family photos and the doorway into the kitchen. To his right sat an old tube television whose rabbit ears were contorted – the skewed shape was deemed to provide the best picture according to the old man. Behind it was another wall which housed two symmetrical windows with tattered curtains half drawn whose patterns resembled that of the couch.

For a few seconds longer he basked in the scenery the room offered. In the past he had disagreed with his wife on nearly everything in the room, thinking most of her design choices to be ugly. He could remember the petty arguments they had looking at catalogs and in furniture stores, all of which he had lost – save for one, the television. At the time it was a distraction from all the horrid decor, which was enough to satisfy him. Since the passing of his wife he rarely spent time watching the images dance behind the television glass anymore. Instead he found himself simply sitting in his chair staring at the objects in the room. What he once opposed he couldn’t cherish more, now they were the closest physical remnants he had of his wife. He shook his head and finally answered the impatient boy who had ceased the interlude of the epic battle.

“No… no he didn’t live here. I built this house for my wife, your grandmother, and we lived here happily for many years. My grandfather’s house wasn’t too different, I suppose,” the man trailed off, now staring at a photograph on the wall behind the couch.

“Oh, okay,” the boy wasn’t entirely sure how to respond, but his question had been answered.

Some time passed along with more outbursts of coughing, several body slams performed by action figures, and imaginary explosions brought to life through the boy’s practiced noise making. Finally, after wiping away the remnants of another cough with his handkerchief, the old man spoke.

“Would you like to hear a story?”

“What kind of story,” the boy’s curiosity had been piqued again.

“A story that my grandfather once told me when I was your age.”

The boy looked down at his toys, pondering which activity would bring him the most enjoyment. After some contemplation the boy set his toys down and faced his grandfather, crossing his legs to get comfortable. He nodded to signal his interest in hearing a story. The old man smiled once more, pleased with the answer.

“Ah, very well then,” he clasped his hands and rested them on his lap, “I suppose it best to begin with a little background information. I was born seventy-two years ago during what my parents told me was the coldest winter night they had experienced. Of course I don’t remember anything from the first few years of my life so I’ll skip ahead to when I can remember a few things. I’d wager that these foggy images that remain in my old brain were from around the age of four or five – about as old as you are now.”

The boy nodded. Even with his vivid imagination he had a hard time picturing his grandfather being the same age as him. He missed a few minor details about his grandfather’s parents while he was trying to visualize what he might look like as a child, but his focus was restored when his grandfather made a connection to what he had said earlier.

“One of my most vivid memories, probably the only one from that age, was when my parents had to travel for work and left me in the care of my grandfather. It was during this visit when my grandfather shared a rather interesting story with me; it was that very visit that I was referring to earlier. I find it odd how well I can remember his tellings because at the time I was very young and not much of his story made any sense to me.

“Anyway, I got a little off-track there. I was at my grandfather’s house which I mentioned was somewhat similar to this one. I can’t exactly remember the entire house, mostly just the room I was in when he would tell me stories. It was a small room, smaller than this with no windows, no television, no carpet – the floors were hardwood. I recall now that he used that room for sitting and smoking with his friends and family. My grandfather was a big tobacco smoker, in fact the only other piece of furniture in the room besides the chairs and floor lamp was a liquor cabinet in which he kept whiskey, cigars, tobacco, and his assortment of pipes. I remember playing with my toy cars on the floor, seeing how far I could get them to roll on the slick floor.”

“Wasn’t it uncomfortable to sit on the wood floor?”

“You’re right, it most certainly was, but the only alternative was to sit in the other chair. I didn’t like to do that because smoke would get in my eyes and make them sting, so the floor was the safest place for me despite its lack of comfort. It didn’t bother me, though, and actually it was quite mystifying to watch my grandfather exhale the smoke from his mouth when I didn’t have to worry about it getting into my eyes. The smoke would slowly lose traction and swirl lightly around the room until it eventually faded into nothingness.

“On that particular evening he leaned forward, parting the shroud that separated us and he asked me in his raspy voice: ‘Boy, do you know what a poet is?’

“At the time I did not, so he explained it to me, and I will tell you what he told me in case you do not as well. He said, ‘a poet is a person of words. A person who can fill your mind with images using only his words like I can fill this room with smoke using a pipe.’ He then proceeded to tell me about a time when he met such a man in his younger years.

“‘I was in a bar I had never been to before. It was late and the only other patron there sat two stools to my left, nursing a beer and writing tirelessly into a leather bound journal. He was a small man, older than I was at the time, but not quite as old as I am now. He was mostly gray in his hairs and had spectacles that were slightly too large for his face. The only times he stopped writing was to either adjust his glasses or adjust his glass to sip some beer from it. Normally I wouldn’t have bothered him, but every so often I would hear him mutter under his breath or feverishly strike through something he had written. I couldn’t help but be a little curious. I got his attention by buying him another beer when he had about finished his. He was appreciative. I inquired about his notebook and he happily showed me what he was working on.

“‘Turns out the guy worked for the local paper and liked to write poetry in his spare time. The poem he was currently working on was quite the mess; the thing had scratched out words almost every other line. This particular one, he told me, had something to do with a magic place or something to that effect. The poet told me that it was a place he described as being between the living world and the dream world – apparently the only thing between them. At the time I deemed it to be drunken rambling and thought nothing more of it since then. I had completely forgotten that night, but now… now I think I’m inclined to believe the man.’”

The old man paused to clear his throat; mimicking his grandfather’s gravely voice was harder than he’d expected. The boy was now laying flat on his stomach, chin supported by his hands, looking expectantly up to his elder.

“Was that all he told you?”

“It’s about all I can remember. I think he spoke more about what the man had written in his journal, but I can’t be sure. I do remember that was the last time I ever saw him, though. After that he seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. There was never a funeral for him because nobody really knew what happened to him or where he was. It was almost as if everyone had forgotten about him; I must admit that what I told you is the only memory I have left of him.”

“He disappeared?”

The boy’s eyes were now wide with wonder, excitement, and a hint of fear. He wasn’t expecting the story to take such an unexpected turn. He couldn’t imagine his grandfather disappearing never to be seen again. This was the first time the concept of never seeing anything again had been presented to him, and it was fascinating if not a little worrying.

“Indeed he did. Like I said, though, he all but disappeared from our minds too. After that life went on as usual. I grew up, went to school, graduated, met my wife, opened several businesses, had children, and became old, as old as you see me now. I’ve lived a good life, accomplishing everything that I’ve ever wanted to do. Not once can I remember thinking anything more of my grandfather, not until recently.”

The old man closed his eyes and smiled to himself, reminiscing about the life he had lived. He spoke the truth, he really had accomplished all that he wanted to do.

“What made you think about him again?”

The smile disappeared from the man’s face. His eyes remained closed. So he sat for a time before he opened his eyes to the boy and answered.

“I believe I visited the place my grandfather told me about. The one that the man in his story was writing about. The place between living and dreaming.”

The young boy became uncomfortable. He could tell something had changed in his grandfather’s demeanor. His eyes weren’t tired and comforting as they had been moments ago. Now they were dark and emotionless. The man was gripping his cane strongly now – his knuckles as white as his hair, pressing against the skin that contained them. This place his grandfather spoke of was foreign to him, and he didn’t know if he should fear the unknown.

“You mean you think the place is real? The one from the journal?”

“I do.”

“What was it like?”

The man could tell the boy was becoming afraid, an emotion he hadn’t meant to inspire within him, so he composed himself and tried to put an uplifting spin on his experience.

“It’s a bit hard to describe, but I’ll do my best. I don’t know exactly how I arrived there, but I do know it was some time after I had laid down in bed. My consciousness was fading. I was drifting off to sleep, or so I thought. An instant later I found myself standing in a large space devoid of anything. The ground I stood on was completely white and flat; it stretched out in all directions for what seemed like miles. Above me was the color white. Toward the horizon appeared to be tall grayish black shapes, they looked to be trees or something similar. In all directions they were consistent in height and shrouded in a mist of sorts. It’s almost as if I found myself in the middle of a large-”

“Forest,” the boy cut in excitedly; he was captivated and no longer scared.

“Yes, exactly, it looked as if I was in a large clearing in the middle of a forest,” the old man was glad to see his grandson was eager to hear more.

“Why do you think that’s the place the man wrote the poem about?”

“Because of what happened next.”

The man paused; what had happened next had been so bizarre that it made him shiver to think about it again. He hardly believed it had happened himself, and it was certainly not appropriate to tell his grandson what proceeded exactly as it had. He would have to change the story to protect his youthful innocence.

“I had been there for what felt like hours. I was walking in one direction; the horizon never grew closer. At this point I thought it just a strange dream so I stopped walking and tried to wake myself up. It was then that I felt a presence all around me, yet it mattered not where I looked, nothing had changed.”

“What was it? Did you ever find it?”

The boy had inched his way closer to his grandfather, engrossed. His imagination was running wild at the possibilities of what this mysterious presence could be. A cold sweat started to form on the brow of the old man. His hands shook slightly more than normal. He averted his eyes from the child to a picture of his wife on the opposite wall and took a deep breath.

“The presence did reveal itself to me in time. It turned out that what had been watching me was… was an angel.”

“No way! An angel? What did it look like?”

The image the man had in his memory was far from the description he gave the boy. So as not to scare the child he gave a fairly generic answer: the halo, wings, and the white gown. In fact what he had seen was much worse.

 

* * * * *

 

The old man had wandered for hours, gaining no ground. Finally he decided to put an end to his efforts and attempt to wake up from what was surely a dream. The stillness around him shifted when he halted; a gnawing feeling that he was being watched from every angle emerged. The man became anxious. He could not wake himself and his sense of urgency felt all too real. He tried the one thing he had yet to try: speak.

“Hello,” his voice did not echo or travel far, he felt he could hear it fade into the silence mere inches from his mouth, “is anyone there?”

As if to answer his call, a figure rose from the ground directly in front of his feet. It grew until it was at eye-level with him. It appeared to be a silhouette of a human-like figure. It was completely black and it seemed to absorb the light around it. The edges of the figure were constantly moving, as if shadows were flowing from it to the ground around it. The sight of the creature caught the man off guard and he stumbled backwards, nearly falling to the ground. A rumbling in the man’s head grew slowly more audible. As the volume raised, so did its clarity. The noise soon became recognizable as speech.

Hello. Do not be afraid.

The being was communicating inside the man’s thoughts.

“What are you? Where am I?”

He could feel his words being pulled into the darkness before him.

Do not be afraid. You find yourself at the gates of the void and I am the gatekeeper.

“What do you mean? What is the void?”

It is simply a place that exists between living and dreaming. Few ever find their way here.

“How many leave,” he was more concerned with that statistic than the one presented to him, “how do I get out of here?”

The gatekeeper started to sway back and forth as it began to circle the man, leaving behind it an invasive black trail.

You are free to leave at any time as you are not yet in the void. You are only at the gates. The darkness at the horizon is the void.

“Then I would like to leave at once.”

First, I would like to propose a deal.

“No thank yo-”

A sharp stabbing pain slid into the man’s head. He fell to his knees clutching his skull as the pain slowly subsided.

First you will hear me out, then you may leave once you have accepted or declined my offer.

The man looked up slowly from the ground. He did not trust this being, but he couldn’t see any other way out of this situation. He begrudgingly accepted that he was at the mercy of this thing, whatever it was, and would have to abide by its rules for now. It had now made one full revolution around him and it did not appear to be stopping.

“Okay. Tell me.”

Excellent. I know you, the life you have lived, and I know all those that were apart of your life. Your father, his father, your son, your grandson… your wife.

The man stiffened.

I know where those who have passed now lie. I know where their souls await to be reunited with yours. I know the future, what will happen to your children and your children’s children. I know everything.

A chill ran down the man’s crooked spine.

Not only do I know everything, I also have influence over the happenings of your world. Why do you think your life has been without suffering? Why was your life so fulfilling and happy while many others did not have that privilege?

It was a question the man had no answer for. He shook his head.

I’ll tell you, then. Your grandfather found his way here once. I proposed the same deal to him which I am about to propose to you. You offer me your life now, and in exchange I will take those few years you have left and enrich your grandson’s entire life. He will lead as successful a life as you were able to thanks to me. If you decline, I will not bother you and you may continue living out your days. Your grandson will not be guaranteed a happy life.

The voice in his head fell silent, but the figure still circled him like a wolf waiting for its prey to show a sign of weakness. He thought about the deal, and the memory of the conversation with his grandfather was made clear once more. What more did he have to live for? Could he trust this being? Probably not. He could feel its presence in his mind, listening to his every thought. He made his decision.

“I’ve made up my mind.”

If you decline, then I also cannot lead you to your wife’s soul. You will not be reunited should you decline.

The old man became very tired. It seemed as if the silhouette was now pulling his energy into its depths. He didn’t trust the self proclaimed Gatekeeper of the Void, but being here he knew one thing for sure. There must be some kind of afterlife. This was no dream. That being so, he in no way wanted to spend an eternity without seeing his wife again. His willpower was now completely drained, he couldn’t deny an opportunity to be with his wife once more. At the least his grandson would be taken care of.

Your answer?

His head was buried in his hands. Tears flowed from the corners of the man’s clenched eyes. He struggled to vocalize his answer.

“I… I accept your offer. Will you allow me another week to see my family once more?”

Excellent.

Suddenly the presence was gone and when the man scrounged enough courage to raise his head he found himself alone in his bedroom. Had this all been a dream? No, he knew it wasn’t. He had just made a deal that he was now worried he would come to regret. He looked at his digital clock that sat upon his nightstand. It was three in the morning. A wave of exhaustion washed over him and he drifted to sleep.

 

* * * * *

 

“So the place between the living and dreaming, doesn’t really exist? It was just a dream?”

The boy’s voice pulled his grandfather’s mind out of a fog. The man had spaced out after he finished telling the boy a false story of what happened. He nodded.

“You got it. It turned out it was all just a dream.”

“Well, that is kind of disappointing.”

The child was now beginning to think he should have played with his toys instead of listening to his grandfather’s story.

“Sometimes disappointment is better than the alternatives you may be presented in life. I think you may be disappointed once more tonight.”

“Why’s that?”

The old man rose slowly from his chair. His knees popped in retaliation and his chair gave a sigh of relief. He hobbled his way towards the door.

“It’s bedtime.”

The child grumbled as he left the room and looked back longingly at his toys. He was more tired than he thought, however, and was fast asleep soon after his grandfather tucked him in. The old man fell quickly into a deep slumber as well.

 

* * * * *

 

A slight rumble from within the man’s head awoke him from his sleep. He rubbed his eyes until he could see clearly. He went through is usual morning routine as if nothing had happened the night before. He was unusually excited this morning. Today his son was dropping his grandson off to stay for a few days while he was out of town for work. It had been many months since he had gotten to see them. He sat in his kitchen sipping coffee from his favorite mug, reading the paper and speaking to a photo of his deceased wife that sat on the counter.

The doorbell rang and he made his way to answer the door as quick as he could. Kind words and hugs were exchanged along with a suitcase containing the boy’s belongings. His son was running late and had to leave to ensure he would catch his flight. Before he knew it, the boy was settled in his room and now had his toys littering the sitting room floor. It pleased him to watch his grandson play before him. The image sparked a memory long forgotten in his head.

“You know, I once found myself in the very same position you find yourself in today.”

 

 

* * * * *

 

In the land of the living rested a worn out leather bound journal inside a box tucked away in the corner of an attic, destined to remain unseen. In it was the poem a small man once wrote and below it a note:

 

The one thing between living and dreaming is the void. It is a place where unfortunate souls are tempted, tricked, and trapped forever by a being called the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper is the void itself. Should a soul find itself at the threshold of the void it should ignore the Gatekeeper at all costs. Souls who interact will remain within him in the void. Here they will relive a fabricated memory created by the void itself for the rest of time.

 

* * * * *

 

In another afterlife a soul belonging to the old man’s wife waited an eternity to be reunited with her husband.