Farewell to the World

Dedicated to Fred M. Wilcox, Scott Derrickson, and Harry Bates.

“My poor Krell. After a million years of shining sanity, they could hardly have understood what power was destroying them.”
— Dr. Edward Morbius

“Commander Adams. Ms. Morbius. Do you understand why you have been brought here?”

“Actually, Mr. Carpenter.” The young woman, small and diminutive next to John J. Adams. “It’s Mrs. Adams now.”

“Oh. I see.” Klaatu notes their body language, their closeness, and the band on the woman’s hand Even after all this time, he has to catch himself before missing any Earth customs. Perhaps it’s that cultural disconnect, or maybe his people did not reconstruct his brainwaves as well as they had hoped. Nevertheless, considering the circumstances, it is a swift development. “My apologies, and my congratulations.”  

“Thank you, sir.” Commander Adams nods. They sit in the briefing room, just the three and two other occupants. The dark-haired man is polite, in full dress uniform. He knows this is a briefing. The young woman is in a smart dark conservative business suit, complete with a short skirt. Humans have always had a strange perspective on both modesty and exposure. Mrs. Adams looks awkward in the fashion, almost as much as Klaatu once did in the suit he was forced to borrow from what seemed to be an eternity ago. Now he sees the ring on the Commander’s finger as well. “The nature of this inquiry, Mr. Carpenter. It is about Altair IV.”

“To the point.” Klaatu allows a small smile. “Yes, Commander. That is the nature of this debriefing. The United Planets has been clear on this matter.”

“With all due respect, sir.” The way Commander Adams says it, his words still formal, still manages to convey anything but irritation and perhaps an element of protective fear as he seems to sidle physically closer to his wife. “The C-57D has already filed its report.”

“Yes. I know.” Klaatu looks down at the papers, something this species still continues to utilize as documentation while others have already long since moved onto electronics. “Your investigation into the radio silence of the Altair IV Expedition, and the Bellerophon concluded that they were both destroyed by psychic phenomena on the surface of the planet, the same force that took the lives of Lieutenants Ostrow and Farman, Chief Quinn, and …” He looks up, feeling his sympathy written on his face. “Dr. Morbius.” 

Klaatu almost expects Mrs. Adams to look away. As it is, it’s Commander Adams’ brow that furrows: in sadness, or anger, or perhaps both. Mrs. Adams puts a hand on his, and keeps Klaatu’s gaze. He knows he must look strange to her. For all their species look alike, he is well acquainted with the human discomfort with his high cheekbones, and the overall asymmetrical physiognomy of his face. For some reason, however, despite her timidness there is a clear look in her eyes. For a few moments, he recalls his … he still thinks they are his … memories of Helen Benson, of her fear of the unknown being overcome by her determination to do the right thing. 

“My mother and father were the sole survivors of the expedition.” She says, her eyes level with his. “My mother, as you know, died of natural causes. My father was assaulted … by the phenomenon before we escaped the planet.” She sighs. “The power of the Krell was too much for him. It destroyed the mind of the Bellerophon‘s skipper, from what he told me, told … us.”

“And poor ‘Doc.'” Commander Adams rubs one thumb over Mrs. Adams’ hand as both an acknowledgement of her comfort, and his returning of it. “And Dr. Morbius. After we realized the nature of the phenomenon that destroyed the colony and the Bellerophon twenty years ago, Dr. Morbius faced his … Monster of the Id. He stopped it, but it cost him his life. He was mule-headed. Stubborn. Too smart for his own good, probably even before that ‘plastic educator.’ But he was a good man, and he died a good man.”

“And he detonated the 9,200 thermonuclear tandem reactors in the Krell underground complex, destroying the entire planet.” Klaatu confirms, shifting the papers, and putting them aside. 

“After his intelligence was augmented,” Mrs. Adams says, “My father couldn’t risk anyone, or anything, else potentially activating that power, releasing their … manifestations …”

“Yes.” Klaatu replies, looking down for a few moments. “The Krell civilization, in addition to creating a device that measured and augmented the intelligence of their young through mental exercise, also constructed machinery that could molecularly reproduce any material of which they have a sample.” Klaatu knows this, the rest of their confederation utilizing similar technology in more limited and controlled ways. “Your … friend over there is an example of some of this knowhow.”

“Robby.” Mrs. Adams smiles, looking up at the clunky, glittering automaton at her side. “My father made him after his own ‘education.’ He always said he tinkered him together with pre-made Krell technology. He always downplayed what he could do.”

“Your father was a modest man.” Klaatu says, not missing the look on Commander Adams’ face as he says it, remembering full well the report of the Doctor’s lack of cooperation, and the fear of what he learned being misused by any humans aside from himself, a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Pardon, but your name is Robby, yes?”

There is a series of clacks and the intense working of transparent circuitry as a voice booms in the room, reverberating. “Affirmative, Mr. Carpenter.”

“My apologizes again, Robby.” Klaatu smiles. “We, of course, have taken your testimony into account as well.”

“There is no need, Mr. Carpenter.” The whirl and clicks of the robot continue. “I simply reiterated the words and recordings of everything that had transpired, and what I had been monitored to explain during our previous briefing.” 

Monitored. A fascinating choice of word, in Klaatu’s mind. Perhaps “seen to” is the right use of that specific designation. “Yes, there is much we can learn from you. Our confederation, the United Planets and the homeworlds have a version of your replication process, but is it true that you truly duplicated — from one sample — an alcoholic beverage from one …”

“I replicated 60 gallons of rocket bourbon, simple alcoholic molecules with traces of diesel fuel.”

“It was … for Cook, ship’s mess.” Despite the situation, Commander Adams’ manages to have a combination of chagrin and amusement on his face. “Apparently he put the bottle in a slot. The robot … burped?”

Klaatu smiles. “Really?” He tries to think about Gort imitating the sound of biological flatulence, and fails. “Is this true?”

There is more clacking and seeing Robby’s dome move back and forth. “Morbius programmed some mannerisms into me. He had a … sense of humour.” 

Klaatu notes the humans in the room smiling, Commander Adams trying to hide it under one hand, and Mrs. Adams’ filled with a certain reminiscence. “He even duplicated the bottles for him.”

“That is impressive.” Klaatu leans forward. “I’ve read the reports. I suspect that Robby is capable of doing a great deal.”

“Well.” Mrs. Adams tries not to look nervously to Klaatu’s side. “He isn’t as advanced as other robots I’ve seen.”

Ah yes. Klaatu’s smile becomes tinged with a bit of sadness. That is why she has been focusing some much on him. As otherworldly as his appearance may be, though he hasn’t announced himself as “alien” by their standards, even though as far as Earth is concerned Klaatu died over three centuries ago after a “temporary revival” — and perhaps he had — he must be more reassuring than his constant companion. The poor woman had been on a world without any other people aside from her father and then the crew of the C-57D. And Robby the Robot had been something of overgrown toy, with slinky arms, bright lights in a glass dome, tottering steps, turning gears and wheels, and clamp hands. He is almost comical. But Gort …

Gort stands at Klaatu’s side. Commander Adams as seen Gort’s kind before, tall, silvered, silent, visored most times, and hoping that the visor would remain closed besides. There is nothing playful or amusing about him, even though Klaatu is used to him, and his general passive benevolence. But he is imposing, and by design. Gort remains by his side as every member of his “race” does with any high-ranking United Planets dignitary. And Klaatu knows that he himself has more notoriety among the homeworlds than most given the relatively recent — and controversial — inclusion of the human species into the confederation. He’d been the first injured — and even killed — for their message in centuries. He doesn’t like that distinction. It’s unseemly to gain renown from another younger species’ fear and ignorance. Frankly, it’s distasteful to him, as distasteful as … 

Klaatu has a mandate. And he needs to get to it. The sooner, the better. “Forgive me for being blunt,” he says, and immediately regrets it as they mirror his words from three hundred years ago. “But this is all information that we are aware, Robby’s sound effects not withstanding.”

“Right.” Commander Adams stares at him, and gives Gort a side glance. “Forgive me, sir.” He says, respecting the chain of command even in the relative peace-time in which this whole galaxy should be. “But why exactly are we here?”

“You already know about the power of the Krell.” Klaatu says, his smile gone, leaning forward intently. “They created a machine that could manifest any matter from thought, a vast underground planetary network that scanned the synapses of its inhabitants — already accustomed to replicating anything they desired from even a single molecule — to make creation beyond a sample, or a template.”

“Limitless power.” Mrs. Adams says, though her words sound like someone else’s, like her father’s.

“Yes.” Commander Adams affirms it, but his tone is impatient. “We recorded all of this in our report.” 

“We did not acquire this information in our report.” Klaatu sighs. “Our confederation already knew about the Krell, and their achievement.”

The two humans say nothing, but their faces express everything. It’s as Klaatu expected when his superiors gave him this authorization, and order. Shock on the young woman’s face, and the Commander’s but also a wariness to the latter, and a grim set to his gaze. His face becomes stone. “You knew … about the Krell.”

“Yes.” Klaatu says, knowing now that there is no turning back, wondering if the United Planets would always make him a messenger of ominous tidings. “We were there. When it happened.”

*

20,000 Years Ago

He can only watch, helplessly, as the glass spires melt in front of him. Winding stair cases, floating steps fall with their travelers still on them. The sight, from their ship, is unimaginable as vessels are disintegrated, and lives wiped out in a myriad of instants. 

And they are the fortunate ones. 

Klaatu sees the Krell below. He sees them staggering through their wide archways, trying to get away from crackling, hoarse apparitions of pure energy. They are screaming. Crying. The event, Klaatu’s readouts tell him and the others, is localized to the planet itself. The Krell had done it. They’d completed their engine, and the vast machinery, all over their world.

This was the beginning of a new dawn. The long legged, broad, Krell with their magnificent tails, are … they have been, they had been, an inspiration to the confederation of worlds. They traveled the galaxy, perhaps even the universe, when the confederation was young, when they were just different planets slowly exploring the stars. Their automatons were legendary, wondrous, their offspring constructing them for just a lark out of single building blocks. Klaatu’s people, and the others, they made their police — their race of robots — used Krell design, among others, as inspiration while the Krell themselves had no need for them at all, striding peacefully among the stars, brining samples of life back to their homeworld, reconstructing them, hoping to show others what they have achieved through example. 

Klaatu watches as the arches fall on the Krell, burying them alive. They tried to help. They tried to warn them, to slow down. But they had achieved much in their millions of years of evolution. This had been inevitable. This final step. To make manifest their dreams. 

But what they didn’t count on, was their nightmares. 

As another shimmering spire falls, and all Klaatu can hear is screams, he senses Gort coming behind him. He and Gort exchange a look … and Klaatu steps aside. 

Klaatu knows that each species sees Gort, and his “race” differently. He is even known in different languages. Here, he is Gnut. Klaatu can see it, almost. A tall, angular green-tinged figure with a loin cloth — perhaps like the humanoids they liked to interact with, as they had apparently with Klaatu’s ancestors — with visible muscles. He moves seamlessly to the Krell, who see perfection in everything. He wonders, in their mindless terror, if they can see the beauty in their own destruction in this moment. Gort’s face, is this form, is usually sullen, or brooding. This is what Klaatu was told, and what he can even see through the art of the Krell … and their minds. But right now, as Gort observes the carnage, as a nightmare creature grabs a Krell by the tail and rips it off them, flinging them wailing into the sky, all Klaatu can see on Gort’s metal-muscled face — made clearer by the manifestation engine on the planet causing all of this chaos — is sadness. 

Then, his eyes open. Usually, Klaatu’s species among others, would see a beam of shimmering light from a visor. Here, they are just red eyes. But they glow. 

With fire. 

Klaatu watches. He makes himself watch. There is no way to help them. The nightmare manifestations will tear them apart, piece by piece. Their own fear and hate torturing them. There is no language — no conception — to even explain to the Krell what is happening to them. And the terror in their offspring’s eyes is too much for him. And possibly for Gort. 

It doesn’t take long, but it takes too long. Gort’s metal-muscles flex almost artistically around his neck and shoulders as his eyes continue to burn. Klaatu tried to disable the electronics on the planet, but their reactors are too advanced and deep, too synchronized to turn off the effect now. It is all up to Gort now. Gort and his grim sense of duty. 

“Gort.” Klaatu whispers, after a time, “Gort. Baringa.” 

By the time it is over, Gort closes his visor. The manifestation of Gnut, the familiar Krell depiction of him, is gone from Klaatu’s perception. He is a tall, metallic construct again. Gigantic. Expressionless. Faceless. Inscrutable. They are above the world, their synapses away from any field of energy that should remain. The planet’s demoniac nightmares have died with the last Krell. 

Klaatu’s will continue for the rest of his lifespan. 

*

“The Bellerophon had a mission two decades back.” Klaatu explains, meeting their eyes. It is the least he can do considering the circumstances. “As you know, the confederation allowed Earth to keep its weapons, and maintain colonies provided that no atomics or any other weapons of destruction — or acts of hostility — would be brought to any member world. Altair IV was to be a colony.” 

“Bellerophon.” Mrs. Adams’ tone is as faraway as her gaze. “He was the hero that tamed Pegasus, with a bridle he gained from Athena herself. Father told me that story. He rode Pegasus.”

“Yes.” Klaatu admits. “I recall that story.”

“Well, if you do.” Her voice becomes cold. “Then you will know that he tried to fly Pegasus to Olympus, only for the gods to take his steed away, and leave him to fall to the earth, in brambles, blinded, and dying.”

Commander Adams follows up on his wife’s words. “I’ve never heard that story, so you have me at another disadvantage.” The barb is clear, just shy of insubordination. “I know the one about Prometheus, though. And Icarus.” His eyes narrow. “You sent them there.”

“Yes.” Klaatu says. “Earth already found the planet. It was an Expedition sent to … find what might remain. We suspected that there were Krell archaeological remains. The Bellerophon was informed, and consented to excavating what they could find. Unfortunately …”

“They didn’t know that the machine was still active.” 

“I don’t understand.” Mrs. Adams turns, almost pleadingly to Robby. “Robby, why didn’t Father tell us any of this?”

The calculation circuits in Robby’s dome click hard, and fast. “Unknown, Miss Alta. My hypothesis is that he wished to have the perception of a space for you and himself. He did not wish to worry you about outside affairs.”

“Yes, Alta.” Commander Adams grips her hands gently. “Your Father sheltered you. He didn’t want you to know about …” He glares at Klaatu and Gort. “All of this.” And, somehow, his eyes narrow further. “Wait. You know, this whole time, about the planet.”

Klaatu closes his eyes. He knew how terrible an idea, this whole situation, had been. He told them, his superiors. But they didn’t listen. It seems to be a constant on every world in, or out of the United Planets, that one’s superiors don’t listen. “Yes.”

“Then that means.” And Klaatu can almost see the gears in Commander Adams’ mind turning as transparently as those in Robby’s cranium. “You had a ship nearby. With one of those.” He inclines his head at Gort.

Klaatu doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. 

Commander Adams’ bares his teeth. “All those lives. You sacrificed all those people for what? To get that power for yourselves? To use us to do it? Are you still sore at us after three hundred years? Didn’t we pay enough? That was supposed to be our colony! Our territory! Are we just expendable to you?”

“Commander …” 

“No. I get it now. You incredible hypocrites.” Commander Adams shakes his head. “You condemned us for the atomics we were making. You barely begrudged us our weapons: pistols and laser cannons, nothing to you. Nothing to you, and that tin can. And you put us on a planet where our worst nightmares would come true! Where we’d spread it to the universe! What did you think, Mister! That you could control what the Krell failed to do? That we –“

“In all honesty.” Klaatu feels the disgust in his mouth as he speaks the words. “Your minds, even augmented, are nowhere near those of the Krell. You, and your nightmares, would never have gotten off the planet without our police force neutralizing you.” 

“You know my Father had augmented himself.” Mrs. Adams murmurs. 

“Yes.” Klaatu says. “It was … a remarkable achievement. He accomplished much. You said it yourself, Commander.” He turns to the fuming man. “He will be remembered. I won’t …” He tries to find the words. “I won’t pretend to know, or even agree with the decisions of my superiors, but something has to come from this tragedy. From several millennia of tragedy. And it has.”

It takes them a moment. “Robby.” Mrs. Adams replies. “You think Robby can help you with your research.”

“He can.” Klaatu turns to the automaton. “Robby, is it true that Dr. Morbius recorded inside of you all of his research on the Krell?”

“Robby?” Mrs. Adams’ eyes widen. “Is … is that true?”

“I am not monitored to grant that information.”

“Robby.” Mrs. Adams’ voice becomes flat.

“I am not monitored to …”

“Dammit, Robby!” Mrs. Adams’ face turns red. “Archimedes!

“Alta, what in god’s name has gotten into –” Commander Adams grabs her arm, but immediately lets go as he realizes, it is all out in the open now. All too late.

The robot pauses for a moment as everyone looks at him expectantly. His globe glows temporarily with expended energy. 

“Affirmative.”

Klaatu nods, slowly. “We thought as much. Robby is integral in our research of the Krell, and their sciences. In using their science and technology responsibly. But he is not the only one we need.” 

“No.” Commander Adams gets up from his seat.

“Commander Adams.” Klaatu says. There is only so long this insubordination, even though completely understood, can be tolerated. “You need to remember yourself.”

“Are you threatening me, sir?” 

“No.” Klaatu looks at Gort, who still hasn’t moved. “I am warning you.” 

“I don’t care. You are not taking her. Her, or Robby. I am tired of this –“

“You have no choice, Commander.” Klaatu says. “You will, of course, accompany them, with a promotion –“

Suddenly, before Klaatu can react, he sees Commander Adams throw himself across the table. For the first time in hundreds of years, Klaatu finds himself rough-handled again, the Commander’s hands bunching up his uniform. “Like hell we’re going anywhere!”

“Stay back, Miss Alta.”

“Robby, stop!”

Klaatu feels his airway blocked by the human Commander’s hands. He wonders, briefly, if they can retrieve enough of him again from the audio tapes. He recalls telling Helen that resurrection was beyond even his species’ — beyond this confederation’s — power. And it technically wasn’t untrue. They can only, at best, make copies with as near perfect memory engrams as they can from sonic impressions. From radio waves. Will Klaatu truly be the one that returns if he dies here because of this entirely unnecessary exercise? This one last waste of life? 

But then he sees Gort step forward. His visor is beginning to lift.

“John, stop!”

“Gort –” Klaatu gasps out. 

Then, Klaatu feels his windpipe fill with air as Gort tears Commander Adams off him. He holds him, in the air, with one arm, as he begins to scan him. As he …

Something knocks into Gort. It doesn’t move him, but it dislodges Commander Adams from his grasp. The Commander falls to the floor, red-faced, shaking, angry or terrified, or both. Robby and Gort wrestle. Sparks, negating energy, comes from Robby’s ridiculous but strong vacuum tube arms. His appendages are pincers. Gort, however, remains still and his eye-slit is burning. It’s crackling with power. 

“Robby. Stand down.”

“Negative, Miss Alta.”

“Robby, that is an order.”

And that is when Klaatu realizes it. The report he read. Robby has been built with a command by Alta’s father, by the late Dr. Morbius. Of course the Robot, if entrusted with the Doctor’s secrets, built with a command not to harm humans, would also have an imperative to protect his only daughter, from any threat, perceived or otherwise. 

Klaatu and Mrs. Adams regard each other. She is at her husband’s side, holding him to her, his arm around her. For a few moments, he sees Helen again, in her expression if not her resemblance. She nods. Slowly. 

“Robby, Archimedes.”

“Gort.” Klaatu rasps, trying not to remember the last time he uttered these words with regards to the Krell. “Baringa.”

Sparks, red hot, purple lightning, forms in the dome of Robby’s head. Then, slowly, the robot lets go off Gort. Gort, for his part, scans everyone in the room. His gaze falls on Klaatu for a second longer, before his visor lowers back onto his eye slit. Klaatu attempts to get onto his feet. Then, he feels someone helping him up. Gort. He always forgets, even after all this time, how fast the automaton can move. He nods at him, thankful. Just how many times has the robot saved his life? Or remained by his side throughout the hardest decisions he’s had to make? He doesn’t know, but he hopes the other knows how grateful he is, how safe he feels with him, this being that could snuff him out like a tiny flame, his age-old protector …

“I apologize, for my part in this getting out of hand.” Klaatu says, finding his voice again, wanting to sit, but remaining standing. “We –“

“We will take this assignment.” Mrs. Adams says. 

“Alta –” Commander Adams says, but she cuts him off. 

“No. My Father … he died for this knowledge. It was his life. And if it can help … can it help others, Mr. Carpenter?”

Klaatu almost forgets his assumed name. He slumps his shoulders. “With time. With self-consciousness. With conscience. What I was going to say … what I should have said, to my shame, is that while the Krell were more advanced than humans, possibly than almost anyone in our confederation, they forgot their baser instincts. Their fears. Their subconscious. We have not. We are not that … elevated. Clearly. And you, humanity, you know yourselves. We were impressed by what Dr. Morbius did, despite …” Shame fills Klaatu again, at what that discovery cost, at what he is forced to condone. What would the late Professor Barnhardt think of this accomplishment? Or Helen? “With time, and perhaps better minds, a better mindset, this could eliminate the need for any violence. Any threat of force.” He looks up at Gort, his face apologetic. “For peace without any fear of ultimate sanction.” 

Gort remains still. Mrs. Adams, for her part, has a thoughtful expression on her face. “Perhaps with a modified plastic educator, that’s how it can start.”

“Alta?” Commander Adams touches her arm.

“Oh, John. We could help people. All of this doesn’t have to be a curse. It –” She turns to Klaatu. “I agree. On a few conditions.”

Klaatu is quiet, taking in the words. The situation. “And those would be?”

“First. We have a station, to ourselves. A space station. You have those?”

“Yes.” Klaatu readjusts his suit. “We do. We have been constructing one, for just such an occasion.” 

“Alta, we don’t have to do this …”

“We do.” A pained expression forms on her face. “And you know it, John. I …” 

Klaatu sees it. She spent her whole life on a small planet, isolated, alone except for a few others. “I …” He says. “I’m sorry for the sacrifice we are asking you to …”

She turns to him. Her eyes are firm. Set. She’s made her mind up. “We will do it. As long as you meet our conditions. We get the station. John gets his promotion. And we set the litmus on the research. We determine what is safe.”

Klaatu’s brow furrows as he watches Commander Adams come to his wife’s side. “You are asking a lot. To trust you, even with the best of intentions, with what you will uncover …”

“Just as you did with a bunch of human colonists that you expected to fail, and have to sterilize?” 

Klaatu doesn’t say anything. His silence says everything. Mrs. Adams shakes her head. “We’re not asking you to not have … one of those, Gort or whatever he is nearby. You’ll do it anyway. But you will defer to our judgment. On what you get. Can you tell your superiors that? Are you authorized to do that, Mr. Carpenter?”

Klaatu takes a moment to consider. They won’t be happy, but their confederation wasn’t made in a day. They had the patience then, to see it through. They can have a little more. “I will tell them. It is the least I can do.”

“Yes. It is.” Mrs. Adams’ eyes soften. “Thank you, Mr. Carpenter.”

“Thank you, for your service Mrs. Adams.” Klaatu turns to the others. “And you, Commander?” Klaatu asks. “And Robby?”

“I will obey Miss Alta.” Robby says, nodding his bulk to her direction once.

“I will go to my post.” Commander Adams replies, his face overtaken by his glower. 

“For what it is worth.” Klaatu says, as they begin to adjourn. “You have …”

“What? Have we passed your test, sir?”

Klaatu nods, knowing he deserves that. “The parameters of the confederation. Of the United Planets. Your probationary period is over. Your world, and colonies — your civilization — will now be an official member of our union, with all of its privileges and responsibilities.”

Commander Adams’ facial expression doesn’t change by a margin. “I’m sure the rest of the brass will be happy. But I’m not doing it for you.” He puts an arm around Mrs. Adams. “This is for my wife.” 

There is nothing more to be said as the arrangements are made, leaving nothing but paperwork and records to be dealt with. As the humans leave, their own robot in tow, Klaatu moves away from the conference table. He goes up to the grey non-descript wall. Slowly, it opens, revealing a night sky filled with stars. Somewhere, out there, Altair IV is still burning, the planet now another star. 

“The Almighty have mercy on us, Gort, old friend.” He says, feeling the robot at his side, as always. “The Almighty forgive us.” 

No More Yielding

Even now, her father’s ghost haunts her. 

The footstep booms through the chamber, on the small space station Eureka. Or perhaps its the strike of a large clawed hand on the doors of the observatory. Alta holds the blaster pistol in her hands. Her husband’s. She’s surprised that her grip is so tight, that it isn’t shaking. 

Boom.

The doors dent, just a bit. Alta breathes out, closing her eyes for a few moments, trying to find that centre. Trying to rediscover that calm. That old happiness. The little wooded brook where she used to bathe. The personal zoo, the little menagerie, her father kept for the two of them. The ornate couch where she studied physics, mathematics, geometry, and the rest of her academic assignments. Her father reading her stories. Her father. Her father …

Dr. Edward Morbius, who rediscovered the Krell of Altair IV.

Boom.

The impression left in the doors is more pronounced. A little more red. 

Alta shakes her head slowly, from side to side. No. That won’t do. All of those memories: her tiger that turned on her, poor Lieutenant Ostrow, or “Doc” dead on the couch, and seeing her father — seeing Dr. Morbius for the first time in her whole life … No. She needs to not think about that. She needs to …

“Miss Alta.”

“Robby.” Her voice is quiet, as she recalls the large robot at her side. He’s so … she’s always thought he was cumbersome, awkward. Like a giant, wind-up children’s toy with helical rubber arms, and spinning, whirring gadgets. It was as though, when her father tinkered around with the knowledge of the Krell, he unconsciously thought of Tik-Tok from Ozma of Oz, a children’s book from the beginning of the twentieth century, almost three hundred years ago. He was supposed to have comforted Dorothy as she’d found Oz fallen to ruin and darkness around her. She is so glad that he’s here now, despite this. “We need more …”

Boom. 

 “Those doors are composed of Krell metal.” He reminds her, a chill streaking down her back as she remembers her father saying almost exact same words to John, in an eerily similar situation. “It will not hold.”

“I know.”

“Miss Alta.” The echoing tone, less monotonous despite being recorded on vocal tapes, somehow manages to resemble concern, even if she knows better. 

“It’s all right, Robby.” Alta says, putting her hand on the automaton’s shoulder, her father’s words about him just being an object be damned. “It will buy us some time.”

They’d bought themselves a lot of time, these past couple of years, Alta admits to herself now. After John found them, after they’d left on his ship C-57D to watch Altair IV erupt into a beautiful sphere of blue destruction, they reported to the United Planets: to the interplanetary governing body centered around Earth that Altair IV and its deceased colonists — including her father — were supposed to be a part. Robby, and as it turns out she herself, had much to offer and with John at her side they’d made a life for themselves. 

“Robby.” Alta says. “Is she safe?”

Robby’s censors whir and buzz, the clacking of his internal circuits filling the tenseness of the room as she braces for the percussion on the other side of the doors to continue. “Affirmative, miss.”

“Good.” A part of Alta relaxes, despite the fear, in spite of the grief she hasn’t processed yet. She looks down at her hands, with the pistol, smudged in …

It’d been so quick. The force fields hadn’t stopped it, just as they hadn’t succeeded in doing so six years before. Six years. But it let them see it. It’d been subtle, at first, as it had with the colonists as her father told her, as it did when it attempted to sabotage John’s ship. It resembled a giant behemoth with the face of a gremlin from hell. But before that, it was just a whisper. Just a few coils gone missing. Just an accident in the control room that took a few lives of the skeleton crew they had here. 

That’s not what this is. John told her, as she remembers his strong hands on her shoulders, his square fingers settling in her uniform firmly. She’d come a long way from the girl that wore thin clothing, to conservative dresses. She is a crew member now. She works at the station. It died. He says. It died with your father. 

It did. She remembers. She recalls similar doors bending and burning, liquifying as the presence, the psychic storm of energy of rage made incarnate came for her and the Commander that would take her away from her father. But she sees her father, Dr. Morbius again, in her mind’s eye. His dignified mien, his stern yet gentle face accentuated by his goatee, broken in anguish, distraught, his hair a tangled mess, despair and a fierce protectiveness warring in his eyes. 

And she sees John. She sees John jump in the way. He didn’t even hesitate. She saw his face, with that dark curl of hair, greying a bit, over his blue eyes: his expression every bit as passionate as her father’s, the grim set of his mouth, the love in his gaze towards her. 

When Dr. Morbius, when her father died, she didn’t even have the chance to mourn him. Not the person she realized he hadn’t been, not the being who had so callously dismissed the lives of “Doc” and Farman for his research and his space, not the force that always kept her from going out to Earth to be with other people, to the stars to explore and further expand her mind … and not the human being that sacrificed his life against his literal demons to save her own. She couldn’t even hold him. She’d been too busy clutching John, having John hold her as agony filled her entire being. 

And John … she had even less than that. She grabbed his back, burying her fingers into his uniform, as the … thing ripped and burned him into … 

Into nothing. 

Ashes stain Alta’s hands like the sins of her father revisiting her now. She ran. She and Robby had separated, and for a reason.

Perhaps Robby should have remained on the planet when it detonated. It would have been safer. 

They agreed to help the United Planets reverse-engineer what they could.

“And I have come to the unalterable conclusion that man is unfit, as yet to receive such knowledge, such almost limitless power.” 

She remembers her father’s words, however, even now. Alta agreed to help them on one condition: that she and Robby — and by extension her husband as the commanding officer — would have a scientific space station to slowly, and carefully, unravel some of the secrets of the Krell. That had been her official stance, backed up by John. And they got it. It helped that Robby’s ability to reproduce a sample of any material given him was a microcosm, a sliver of what the Krell had been originally capable. It said a lot about her father’s ego that he considered Robby to be an oddity, a hobby, or a toy that allowed them to make other automatons, smaller ones, drones that could assist in their research and limit the amount of other humans around them. 

And Alta had been to her father’s study. She’d learned some lessons from him. And she was no slouch. She knows she is an intelligent woman. 

“My poor Krell,” her father’s voice laments six years ago from an orbital thermonuclear grave. After a million years of shining sanity, they could hardly have understood what power was destroying them.”

Dr. Morbius, the first Dr. Morbius, hadn’t been so fortunate. Neither is the second. 

John hadn’t been either. 

Boom. Hiss. 

The doors are red hot now, with a white heart causing their metallic layers to gradually buckle. She can’t ignore it. It’s staring her right in the face. She can feel it.

At first, she’d been delighted to be on Earth, to be surrounded by so many people, with their customs, their practices, and every kind of endeavour open to her. Her husband had been at her side as well, married at the United Planets Headquarters, grounding her in a living, breathing existence in flux, not the placid, static, dead world left long destroyed behind her. But then, the whispers started. The missing items. The mechanized locks on their home always breaking down as though from the inside. Almost always, they would have to stay elsewhere, and the little incidents would stop. 

For a while. 

If they had been in more superstitious times, the couple might have thought themselves haunted, or cursed by the events on Altair IV. It’d been the impetus to encourage the leadership of the United Planets to let them actually begin their research in a contained setting like the station, though not fully disclosing the true reasons on official channels. Unofficially, they were to monitor the phenomenon. 

Hisssss …

Alta tries not to flinch as the rent in the doors grows. She knows she did good. Between her and Robby, they made miniature versions of the machines that replicated substances on the molecular level. Nothing too complex, nor dangerous. Eventually, they made mechanisms that could generate repair parts and, more importantly, food. No one need ever go hungry again. They were just in the process of finishing their touches on allowing their inventions to create complex medicines, some not even discovered by humanity yet, when … life became complicated again. 

For Alta. For John. For the both of them. 

She wonders, even now, as the creature on the other end of that door comes inexorably towards them how her father — with his intellect vastly increased by the Krell’s “plastic educator” — couldn’t figure out how to save her mother from death, from what he called “natural causes.” Perhaps there had been some complications beyond the skill of the Krell to repair, that even they in their highest state couldn’t save an organism from the cessation of life: from death itself. Certainly, they hadn’t escaped their end. But maybe it had been her father who had failed, who by his own admittance had been the equivalent of a developmentally challenged young Krell. But did he fail? Didn’t Dr. Morbius survive the plastic educator’s rigorous routine? Didn’t he expand his own field of knowledge beyond philology — the study of words and language and their intersection with literature and philosophy — into the hard sciences to make a construct like Robby with the technology he had at his disposal? Didn’t he create her animal friends, including the tiger that she loved, that nearly killed her if not for John? 

Didn’t he always generate a small simulacrum of herself with his mind? Wasn’t she always in his thoughts?

The door and the wall around it rumbles, seemingly shaking the entire station from where Alta stands. She feels the anger fill her veins, sadness turning into rage and fear, her heart beating hard. What if it had all been a lie? What if she had been just another creation of his? Another generation? Another construct? Maybe she never had a mother at all, and somehow she exists beyond even the good Dr. Morbius’ demise. Is she the child of Altair IV in makeup as well as soul? The Eidothea to its Proteus? The Athene to his Zeus? Or perhaps, her mother had existed, and her father and his experiments — his attempts to raise his IQ — had other effects, had become genetic, had … 

He never let her use the machine. It’d been too risky. One look at what happened to “Doc” had been enough to show her that much. And the demon that came after them … She dreamed of it. She dreamed of it killing Farman. Yes, he’d taken liberties with her. She knows that now. John tried not to speak ill of the dead, especially a comrade and a friend, and she knows he wouldn’t have gone too far, if she had said no, but she didn’t know what it was like to be with others, or why her body didn’t react the way she’d read about to those kisses. She’d had so damned few experiences, trapped on that world with her overprotective, brooding, lying overseer of a father …

Hisssss … 

The tear is small, but visible now. 

But Alta doesn’t care. She bares her teeth. She’d enjoyed that freedom. Those embraces. But what she felt with John had been a hundred times that, even though she’d been angry at him, desired him … But he had been all she knew, almost as much as her father. Both meant well … But she wanted to travel. To experience life beyond her books, and data. To live. 

And she saw it. She saw how it pained John to always be around her, all the time. And even more so on the station, virtually isolated. And they still needed that skeleton crew of human beings. Not now. Not anymore. And she saw … she remembers how he looked at those young ladies, recalling what Jerry, poor Jerry said about John’s roving eye and how girls and women shouldn’t be alone with him, even though a part of her even then knew he was just projecting what he was, that John was a fine, upstanding man, firm and loving, but she was keeping him from life … she took his life away from him. 

She’s killed him.

“Miss Alta.”

Alta finds herself blinking back tears, and failing. The hole is larger. Soon, the doors will melt and collapse altogether. She’s seen it before. She’s experienced it. But not from this angle. The terrible truth. She doesn’t need a “plastic educator” to see the greater picture. She understands that the psychic manifestation, the psychokinetic maelstrom, the nightmare made material without the machine or the lost planet of her birth, doesn’t belong to her father or the absent Krell. Not directly. It’s different. She can almost visualize it now. More sinuous than bulky. The foot isn’t a claw or tail, but a head. She hasn’t seen the face, though. She can’t bear to, even now. She wonders, when the Krell’s nightmares destroyed them and their civilization, if their psychic constructs obliterated all physical traces of their species, of their physical likenesses because for all their near-enlightenment, those subconscious impulses, those little resentments and hatreds, they just couldn’t bear to see themselves — their very uglinesses — in the mirror anymore. 

This is why she wanted the skeleton crew phased out, to maintain just the machines like Robby to watch her … just her. And John, John would never leave her. He was always there and she … she … 

And the two of them. 

And the three of them. 

That’s when she remembers. That’s when Altaira Morbius — Alta Adams — recalls what is truly important. 

The door is almost down now. She knows what’s coming. She turns to Robby. Her father was a philologist before being a scientist. He read her just as much poetry as he helped her study organic chemistry. And he loved his stories too. She wonders, looking at Robby, about the early twentieth century again, how Robby wasn’t so much influenced by the word robota, a Czech word for enforced labour, or rab — slave — though that is where the word robot is supposed to have been first derived. That word had been attributed to Karel Čapek, its creator, to his brother Josef, just as the Three Laws of Robotics hadn’t been solely created by Asimov but John W. Campbell. But Asimov had made a “Robbie,” a robot accepted by his assigned family after saving the life of their child. 

Regret with nostalgia mingles in Alta’s heart. “Robby. Remember your orders.” She releases a shaky breath, drawing on her resolve. “Maintain reports to the United Planets. Don’t inform them of what occurred on this station. Continue work on the plastic educator. She will need it. Guide her. Slowly, as I outlined for you. She will … she will need it.”

“Yes, Miss Alta.”

“Thank you, Robby.” She smiles. She turns, and puts the blaster pistol in one hand, wiping at her eyes with the other. “Thank you for everything.” She braces herself. “And now, your final order, Robby.”

The robot doesn’t say anything. 

“Robby.” She says. “Protect her. Protect my daughter. Protect Miranda.

“Archimedes.”

She remembers what John did with the door combination back in the Krell Lab. The two of them had Robby hide their girl. This … thing won’t find her. It might destroy the machines and drones around it, but Alta doesn’t plan for it to go that far. No. This manifestation, this monstrosity. It ends. It ends here.

She looks at Robbie. She recalls looking up at the big machine. It occurs to her that the robot has seen her ever since she was a baby, making food for her, creating emeralds and diamonds for her dresses, at her whim, patiently blasting non-lethal beams to ward away her pets from the fruits on the kitchen table, creating medicine when she was sick, faithfully there for her father … for her. The dials on either side of his cranium almost look like eyes. She wonders if the automaton feels anything. If he is even capable with what her father programmed into him for a lark. 

The sparks in his glass cranium crackle for a time, even with the override. Even as she reaches out her hand. And gives him the pistol. 

“Robby.” She says again, as the creature on the other end of the door screeches and roars out its hatred of a life wasted, of being deprived of its illusions, its comforts, of destroying what it coveted so much. “When it comes through. Only then. I want to look at it. If I can. I want to look it right in the face. And then … kill it. Do you understand?”

“Affirmative.”

Alta gulps, a sense of relief almost overwhelming her. “T-thank you, Robby. You … thank you.”

There is a pause. “Farewell, Alta.”

The door collapses completely as heavy breathing, always in the background, now fills the room. Dr. Alta Adams, nee Altaira Morbius, stands her ground in the observation deck of the Eureka, surrounded by stars. She remembers her father telling her, when he showed her the Krell Lab not to look into the eyes of the Gorgon. But right now, she recalls another myth: of Odysseus tied to his ship as he forced himself to hear the deadly songs of the Sirens as his crew rowed onward. These are her thoughts, thinking about sitting at her father’s knee, at her husband’s side, her daughter on her lap as she faces her darkness in the eye, and doesn’t even hear the quiet hiss of a blaster pistol’s measured violet disintegration discharges. 

Nostalgia

Mamiya Ichirō wanders out of the room, his face smudged with paint.

He’s just begun the fresco for his family. For his newborn son. It will be just theirs, unlike the rest of the work he’s shown to Nihon, and the world. It will show every step of his son’s development, from infancy, to childhood, his adolescence, and his adulthood. One day, when he inherits their ancestral estate, he will see it and show it to his family. Or maybe his brothers and sisters will have other rooms. 

It’s chilly in the house now. Most old families, even modern ones, would simply bear it with blankets on futons and stringent tea. But Ichirō’s work has paid dividends: not only are his works world famous, but neither he nor his family will never want for yen in his life. His family had been well to do even before this, and he’s upgraded the furnace they had installed here decades back. He’s left the room to turn it on, but he can feel the house beginning to warm up. He smiles. His wife must have turned it on already. It does take a while to kick in, or to ventilate through an old, drafty house like theirs. That’s why he’s taken a break. The furnace and incinerator for the garbage sometimes break down, and he just wants to make sure they are all right. 

Sometimes, he gets lost in his own work. His wife, his beloved, she has to remind him to eat. And it’s different now that they have a child. He has to keep pace with his time. Painting his child growing up is one thing, but seeing him grow, and being there is another. He has to remind himself to take more breaks. 

“Tōsan!”

His wife comes across the hall. Usually, she is composed and serene. Always a gentle word, and a smile. With her long straight dark hair, and her pale skin she wouldn’t look out of place at a Heian court. Their families were said to have survived from that time, even the Mamiya that were a minor clan of craftspeople elevated by one of many courts. His wife’s family were minor nobility, and he never forgets it when he looks at her manners, and her temperament, and the beauty that she represents. They managed to even survive the Second World War through ingenuity on his family’s part, and then the frescoes he’s made from his family art and the serenity he so desperately sought and found in himself during that time. 

“Kāsan?” He takes his wife gently by the shoulders, her white yukata soaked with sweat, the same moisture glowing from her flushed forehead. “What’s wrong?”

“Thank goodness you’re here.” She holds him, then breaks away. “I can’t find find our son.”

“Oh?” Ichirō smiles wearily. “He’s … he can walk?”

“He’s been to walk for a while now, Ichirō.” Her dark eyes turn stern. He knows he’s made a mistake now. He knew even before he asked the question. Of course his son can walk. He’s learning. It’s been some years now, and it’s about time. How can he track his son’s progress with his art if he keeps getting sidetracked like this. 

“I’m sorry.” He bows. “I … where is he?”

“I don’t know.” There are tears in Mamiya Fujin’s eyes. “He likes to play on the lower levels. That’s where the servants find him too. I’ve been calling him for a while after turning on the furnace. It’s tea time.”

Something in Ichirō turns. It’s as though his centre of gravity has reversed. “Pardon?”

“It’s tea time. I turned on the furnace, it’s been chilly …”

Ichirō feels the blood drain out of his face. She looks at him with concern. “Koishī? Ichirō?”

It’s a premonition. He grabs her hand, and runs. They run. The boiler room is close. Adrenaline seems to fill Ichirō’s veins. His heart is pumping furiously. By the time his wife realizes where they are, at the door, she breaks away from him and tries to open it.

“No!” He draws her back, as she struggles with the door. 

“Aisoku!” The gentle affection behind that word is gone, replaced with panic. “Aisoku!” 

“My love.” He pushes her back. “Get the servants!” He wrenches open the door. “Get them to turn off the heat!” 

“Ichirō …” She tries to come back. 

“Get them, I say!” He roars as the heat blasts him. “Aisoku! Aisoku!”

He leaves her behind, hoping she will do as she’s asked. It is hot. Everything is blurred. He can’t breathe. But … but as tears come into his eyes, he sees … a shape on the ground. He runs over, staggering, and picks it up. He picks him up. His son. His son is breathing shallowly. But he’s alive. He’s all right. Tears stream down Ichirō’s face as he holds his son in his arms, as he walks slowly, and painfully away from the boiler, towards the door. 

“Papa …” The boy whimpers. “Papa …”

“Aisoku.” Ichirō sobs, burying his face in his son’s damp hair. “My Aisoku. You’re all right. We are all right.”

He sees the door. The red hot light is dimming. Ichirō feels his skin burning. He hurts. But he has his son. His son is alive, and unharmed. He can see him. There are soot smudges on his yukata and his face to match the paint on his. They’d been nearby. They got here just in time. Primal terror fills Ichirō when he considers that he could have still been painting that room, or his wife could have been upstairs. No one knew where his son had gone! He hadn’t known. He’d been so busy with the business, and his work. He realizes he hasn’t particularly spent as much time with his wife. He has something for her. An amulet he bought from a merchant. Something old. Perhaps a Buddhist artifact, or even a talisman from the early days of Shinto. But a trinket would have meant nothing without their beloved son. 

“I have you, Aisoku.” He says. “I have him, Kāsan!” He calls out, as the cooling shadows grow. It is the end of a long, arduous day with one terrifying moment. But it is all right. He staggers out, his carrying his son in his arms, and his wife is there, her own arms wide, ready to encompass them. He smiles. He did it. He …

*

“Emi!” 

The man, who died a long time ago, staggers out into the darkness. The halls are cool and mouldering. But he is burning. His flesh is seething. His power of concentration is waning so much now, the strength that allowed him to crush that bottle of sake gone for what seems like ages. 

He drops the girl. He can’t help it. The others … Kazuo, and Akiko rush forward to pick Emi up. Without her in his arms, he is burning in agony. The boiler still leaves its mark on him. It is charring his skin, as it had the man incinerated in half upstairs, and the woman melted on the wheelchair in another room, and Mamiya Fujin, and those children, and … and the child … 

He focuses. He has to have some concentration left. They need him. “Run!” He rasps through burning lungs. “The shadows are coming!”

“But Mr. Yamamura …”

The stupid man. So indecisive. So caught up in his work. He didn’t pay attention! He didn’t pay attention! Not to this house, not to his loved ones, or his own flesh and blood. He needs to listen. He …

“Don’t worry about me!” The man, calling himself Yamamura Ken’ichi, growls. He hurts so much, and there is no time. It is too late. It’s always been too late. But not for them. Not … “Get out quickly!”

Then, it is just the agony. They take her. He registers that. They call out her name. They call out his a few times. He feels his flesh liquefying, and his bones charring from the flames inside of him. The woman … Akiko. She is crying out for him. For a few moments … he sees her again. She is pale, like the grave, like Izanami no mikoto herself, with part of her beautiful face burned away. He is Izanagi-no-mikoto, who ran away. He thinks about the flames now, how she suffered, how the child burned, how he lost them, and the children that are now forming on parts of her neck. All of his sins, of neglect, come back for him. Yes. The man calling himself Yamamura deserves this. He is just as guilty of killing those children, and the people that came here after despite the memorial and the warnings …. these people, and those poor devils Akashi, Etsuko, Shogo, and Kenji … the servants that refuse to leave, in terror of their mistress, and the child … and Kāsan … Kāsan … 

I’m sorry. He says to her, in his mind. And for a few moments, he thinks he almost sees some sadness there on the face of the woman who killed children, because she had been abandoned in his own grief too. He reaches out with one crumbling hand. Then, it’s just Akiko and nothing more as his eyes run down his face. Just darkness. That woman. Perhaps he was wrong about her. Nothing is stronger than a mother, or a mother that has lost her child. Gods only know a father’s love only went so far. Concentration. Prayer. Regret. Redemption. 

Love. Akiko feels love for that girl. Yamamura contents himself with that, realizing in his last moments, he still feels love as well, that it’s all he has left, as the remnants of the person he used to be finally disintegrate into ashes. 

Son of Shadows

Dedicated to Harry Kümel’s 1971 film Daughters of Darkness

Stefan feels nothing.

He sits in the King-sized bed, now empty aside from himself. And he doesn’t count. The honeymoon suite is a mess. After he and Valerie talked, after she left … he must have destroyed the entire place. All the blankets, his clothes, the ornaments, even the bathroom toiletries are strewn everywhere.

And the phone. The phone is in pieces on the floor, against the wall. The same phone that he called …

Stefan notes his hand. His belt is the only thing he’s kept on him, wrapped around his hand. Pins and needles prickle across it as he realizes he must have blacked out with the strap around it, gripping it into a tight fist.

His chest feels tight, as the events from hours ago fully materialize back into his conscious mind. He sits up, maneuvering his legs so his feet can touch the cool wood of the floor. He puts his head in his hands. The leather of his belt, and the metal of the buckle keeps him grounded. All that volatile emotion that he’s tried to avoid, and all he feels now is hollow. Of course Valerie is gone. His wife. As if …

He lifts his head out of his palms, and blinks. There is a figure, standing near the window. So silent …

“Valerie?” His heart leaps into his throat, with many other feelings that are harder to define.

She steps away. The woman isn’t Valerie. She has short black hair. Red lips. White skin. So pale … so …

“Ilona.” Her name comes to his mind, as does her smile at him from the stairway from what seems to have been a thousand years ago. Stefan’s fingers are inches away from where the lamp used to be, until he realizes that it’s one of the things he’d already smashed in his earlier rage. He lowers his hand. Ilona is at his side, sitting at the edge of the bed.

“Why are you here?” He asks her, suddenly feeling incredibly exhausted.

He can see her a little better now, in the dark. It’s foolish that he mistook her for Valerie, showing him just how foregone he really is. He can see her black dress, her clothing not like Valerie’s lighter colours. And the pearl necklace stands out around her neck and chest like a string of small full moons.

“I’m so unhappy.” She tells him, tracing a hand across his cheekbone. “Unhappy.” Her fingers trail down his chin, and rest in her lap. In the darkness, she is an eclipsed silhouette, a silvery outline of a ghost. Stefan doesn’t say anything. What does one say under these circumstances? It’s not the first time he’s heard a woman say these words, directed at him, or no, far from England, in a Continental hotel room. But perhaps it’s the first time they really hit home, in the moment.

Instead, seeing this vulnerability that he can somehow feel, he touches her cheek. He looks her in the eyes. “You’re as white as a sheet.” He murmurs, remembering his own terror.

Ilona turns away from him. “No, no.” She whispers. “I’m frightened.” She pauses for a second, as though letting that admission sink in. “I don’t know what’s going to happen … to any of us.”

It is such a bizarre thing to say. But Stefan has nothing witty to say. Nothing clever. Nothing dismissive. He thinks back to the events of the evening, and the phone dashed against the wall of their honeymoon suite, feeling the old, oppressive tide of helplessness rise up inside his throat again, no longer enraging him, merely threatening to choke him and take him down with it into its depths of self-loathing. “Neither do I.”

They sit that way for a time. He feels something cool and soft on his hand, on his fist wrapped in his own belt. He realizes it’s Ilona’s hand. He feels her other hand stroking his hair, bringing him closer to her.

He shouldn’t. It’s a bad idea. It’s not good to look up at her right now. It’s bad enough that he’s naked. Because if he does look up at Ilona, if he meets her gaze …

Stefan does it anyway, another terrible decision in a series of awful life choices. There is some consistency in that much. Ilona’s eyes are dark, and they reflect no light. But they are deeper than the unlit room, and there is both a sadness that makes her seem a lot older than what she is, and a hunger beyond a simple midnight rendezvous. For some reason, they make her red lips seem more crimson, less of a pout and more of the orchid that … Stefan doesn’t want to think about.

“I know.” She says, softly. Her lips are inches away from his own. “You didn’t understand anything yet.”

“No.” Stephen also admits, more to himself than to her. “I’m afraid not.”

“How could you?” Her gaze is the equivalent of a sad shake of the head as she lowers her hand again. “Anyhow, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“No.” Stefan says, thinking of his own circumstances and the bed that he unmade in which he must lie. “I suppose it doesn’t.”

Her hand keeps circling on his own, over the belt. Somehow, he can feel her fingertips trail across the veins underneath. Slowly, imperceptibly, his hand begins to unclench, to let go. All that’s left is that one emotion in Ilona’s eyes.

Loneliness.

And as she strokes his hair, with a combination of fondness and despair in her gaze, her generous lips brushing against his cheek, as she gently but firmly pushes him back onto the bed, her mouth on his collarbone, his chest, and trailing wetly lower, Stefan gives into that loneliness as well.

*

Ilona’s mouth tastes of both Stefan and Valerie. She knows they’d made love, before the telephone call. Before their argument. Before Valerie left. It’s the closest she’s come to having either of them. She remembers her orders, as much as she would nothing more than to discard them, and slake her thirst.

But she has done this. She can no more disobey Elizabeth than leave her. Yet it is the smaller things. The little moments under her. Away from her. They are victories. That is what Ilona tells herself. After sampling the other precious substance that Stefan had to offer, to distract him, to become diverted herself, her core contracts within herself, and around him as she moves slowly, sinuously, contorting her body in the way that he needs. That she needs.

Ilona Harczy knows what she’s doing. She’s done this for a long time. She doesn’t know if she does this for her own enjoyment, or Elizabeth’s, just as much as she’s forgotten the fine line between loving her Countess, and hating her. It is same with this young man. She isn’t blind. And neither is he. In the darkness, at least he won’t see the red stain on the side of her throat. Not that it matters. It’s too late for them, one way or another.

He’s so callow, and venial. So weak. And yet, there is anger inside of him — a profound unhappiness at his life’s circumstances — and a concurrent fear of leaving those elements that so confine him. The truth is, for all she sees the seeds of what Elizabeth finds amusing in the man while lusting far more for the girl — the traits that attract her like for like — she sees a scared youth: trapped in more ways than one.

And Ilona can relate to that sentiment. For deep down, as she folds herself back and moves, and he loses himself in her, and as he gives her the means to take the edge off her red hunger for a time, her red lips parting at their temporary solace, Ilona knows that the person she despises more than Elizabeth is herself.

This is something else that she and Stefan have in common: this, and this momentary, sweet sensation of blissful, unthinking oblivion.

She lies with him for a while, in the dark, watching the rise and fall of his chest. The sound of his heartbeat against her ear makes her feel alive, gives her a sense of anticipation, of having something other than more cold nights with Elizabeth with which to look forward, if only for a little time.

Ilona unwraps Stefan’s belt from around her neck, from where she forced his hands around it, which she inevitably took from his grasp. She touches the imprints left in her flesh, and smiles.

This. This much, right now, is hers.

*

“Do my questions upset you?”

Valerie looks out into the sea, at the dark grey sky, and the turbulent waters. They mirror her heart like some brooding form of romantic cliché. The Countess’ … Elizabeth’s dulcet tones are soft. Inquisitive. Once, that same whispering voice entranced her, just as much as it repulsed her in the lobby of the hotel with what it promised her, with what it shared with Stefan.

Stefan …

“The answers …” She replies quietly, bitterly, realizing yet again in the fog of confusion and pain that Elizabeth’s stories from the hotel lobby, and Stefan’s conversation with her that night aren’t, in their very nature, that dissimilar after all.

There is a chuckle. Faint and throaty. “Not always pleasant, eh?” The Countess sighs. Valerie is mindful that she’s still holding her carryall, having intercepted her at the train station so fast.

The dead travel fast, she thinks to herself, and wonders of the truth of it, especially of the girl in Bruges. Valerie tries not to shudder in the cold winds of the night. Elizabeth, however, continues speaking as though reading her mind of that afternoon. “But as I always say, one must never be afraid to look deep down into the darkest deeps of oneself where the light never reaches.”

Valerie turns to look at Elizabeth. “But you cannot imagine what —”

The Countess smiles. Her hair is wavy, and golden. There are laugh lines around her mouth and eyes. Between her and Stefan, they believed her to be in her mid-thirties, but as Valerie looks into her eyes she sees a wryness, an old amusement. Her smile makes her cheeks dimple, her cheekbones more prominent. There is something glamorous about the Countess, obviously regal, and incredibly worldly.

“Oh, yes.” Elizabeth says. “I can.” She puts an arm through hers and Valerie, again despite her best judgment, allows her to do so as they walk. “It’s not so difficult to see through your Stefan.”

The jolt of her words hits Valerie, as she remembers Bruges, and the Countess’ arms around him in the armchair, and the phone call. That damned phone call …

“Tell me, Valerie.” Elizabeth says, smoothly interjecting over the trembling storm inside her heart. “Didn’t you already know?”

Valerie suddenly feels tired. The fury, the hurt, the way his dull, flat tone hit her harder than any belt ever could, leaving a numbness inside of her that reminds her of just how young and idealistic, how stupid she really was: that she still is. “He said the same thing to me.” She murmurs. “On the bus, back to the hotel.”

“It began in Bruges.” Elizabeth prompts quietly, her question more of a gentle statement, a lingering on the skein of her mind.

Valerie finds herself shaking her head, feeling herself hurting again. “No.” She blinks back tears. “It was before. On the train. In the bed. Our words to each other.” The two of them walk back into the darkness as she allows herself to full her resignation. “Deep down, that was when I knew.”

*

“You’re both so young.” Elizabeth Bathory tells Valerie as they head to her rooms after walking a few hours through the deserted city. “You can’t give up after a few days.”

“I —” She watches the young woman, barely out of girlhood, her blonde hair a white-gold, her sky-hued eyes keenly poignant, not like the faded disenchanted blue of Ilona’s gaze. “I don’t know if I can face him. Right now.”

“It’s all right.” Elizabeth tilts her head, and attempts a smile. It’s hard, sometimes, to remember how to make a facial expression that is so reassuring. “You may stay with us for the night. I will join you shortly.” She turns and pats Valerie’s hand, holding it in her own for a few beats. “Trust me, Valerie. I meant what I said by the sea.” So many changes, the prospect of it fills her with a warmth she hasn’t felt in a while, not with Ilona, not even in Bruges, and Nice, and Monte Carlo. She realizes the name for this feeling. It’s genuine excitement. Elizabeth doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, and she adores it, almost as much as the woman she is putting into her room. “You do understand Stefan, if you truly think about it.”

“I …” Valerie finally looks down. “I’ve tried. I can’t help it. He … frightens me. He needs help. And I …” She turns her face. “I don’t know.”

“Does he?” The Countess asks. “Or is that what he said scared something within yourself? Are you truly frightened of your own feelings?” She shakes her head at the younger woman’s silence. “Don’t trouble yourself with this right now. Get some sleep. I will …” She pauses, considering her next decision. “I will send Ilona to check in on you.”

“I …” Valerie actually meets her gaze. This pleases Elizabeth a great deal. “Thank you, Elizabeth. I don’t know what I would have –”

“You would have left.” Elizabeth sighs, deciding on honesty. “And you would have regretted it.” She leans forward, and gently kisses Valerie on her pallid cheek, the colour and texture of warm marble. She smiles, a little more truly, at the red mark that she’s left there, the Dionysian upon the Apollonian. Such a symmetrical, Grecian beauty. “Have a good sleep. Tomorrow evening, we shall speak further.”

She hands Valerie her luggage, and gently but firmly pushes her through, past her threshold. Then, when the door closes behind her, she lets out a faint huff. Right. This is a … complication. But if time has taught Elizabeth Bathory anything, it’s that for all things change the right amount of patience will allow everything to fall into their places.

This is her thought as she walks towards the honeymoon suite, and lets herself in.

*

Ilona watches Stefan bathe under the shower. She doesn’t care, at this point, if he sees her looking at him. Her lips are parted, and her teeth are exposed. In the light of the bathroom, he can probably see her, if he just turns around.

She observes his shoulders straightening, his posture under the running water becoming still. His neck is rigid. When he turns to look at her, she closes her lips. There is a new light in his eyes. He’s grinning. They are just separated by their naked bodies, and water.

“Come on.” He says, his tone lighter than when she first came upon him. She can see him eyeing her, her flesh, and the marks that he’s left on her.

“No.” Illona says, her skin crawling away, instinctively, from the running water. One of her first lessons that, in her eagerness, even now she sometimes forgets.

“Come on in.” Stefan invites her, his smile almost matching his dead set eyes.

“No.” Ilona says, a little more urgently, fear of another kind creeping into her heart.

Stefan smiles. It’s as though he’s sensed this spike of terror. He comes out of the shower. “You’re not afraid of a little water, are you?”

Stefan’s arms are around her. He grabs her, forcefully. Their liaison has woken something inside of him. She can see the fire in his eyes, but it is the water and not the figurative blood in it that scares her far more. Suddenly, she is reminded of just why Elizabeth has her eyes on this couple. She thought it was just the girl, but …

“Ilona. There you are.”

Thinking of, almost literally, the Devil. Ilona turns, in Stefan’s grasp, to look at her Countess. She’s alone. The girl is nowhere to be seen. Did she think she was going to take him? Even now, Ilona knows better. There is a faint amusement in Elizabeth’s eyes as she takes in the scene. Stefan, for his part, tenses. His assertiveness, his aggression, leeches out of him as he looks from herself, to the Countess. And back. For some reason, Ilona finds herself putting a hand on the small of his back.

“Now —” Ilona isn’t sure whether Stefan is about to issue a demand, or an excuse.

It ultimately doesn’t matter. It never did. Elizabeth shakes her head. “Come now, Ilona.” She says, her voice melodious, drifting. She tosses Ilona’s black dress and pants to the ground. The white pearls stare up at her like sightless eyes from a dark shroud. “We have a guest in our rooms. I need you take care of it.”

It is clear to Ilona to whom Elizabeth is referring.

She stares into Elizabeth’s eyes. It’s strange. She’s noticed, over time, that her Countess merely runs through the bare minimum of emotions beyond her strong appetites, a dance or pantomime of social behaviour barely recalled. Even in humiliating her right now, though this is not even close to the worst of it. She turns back, to look at Stefan. She can feel him breathing hard, his wet body rigid, his face full of fury and passion before slack and speechless.

“Now, please. Ilona.” The Countess brings up her willowy arms, and delicate fingers like she is wearing her boa and dress, and not her simple white sweater. This is Ilona’s summons.

Ilona turns back to Stefan. A smile curls on the side of her red lips, as crimson as Elizabeth’s. She reaches up, and grabs the sides of his face. Then, she crushes her lips against his own. She trails her lips down, to Stefan’s neck, letting them linger against a faded scar from the nick of a razor, allowing Elizabeth to see it. It had been good to feel like a desirable object again as opposed to a detached entertainment, an echo of both being the lover and the ardently beloved. There is a defiance in her heart, for a second. A thank you. A goodbye.

Ilona turns, and bends down to pick up her clothes. She doesn’t look at Elizabeth in the eye. She’s done enough. She’ll probably pay for this later. But it’s worth it. Just for that moment. As she walks past Elizabeth, putting on her slacks, pulling her blouse over her head and chest, she wonders wonders if her Countess would be jealous that she got that taste of her lovers together — of the complete set — first.

This what Ilona uses to fortify herself as she returns to their rooms.

*

Stefan can barely process what’s happening. He feels Ilona’s lips on his skin, on his neck. She’s so pale, even after what they … what they did together. And that emotion in her eyes when he came for her, to drag her into the shower. It was genuine fear.

He recalls the bed. The coolness of her body against his. The way she slowly moved, the position she fell towards, what he did to her, what she made him do to her. Even her hands in his own felt like … and the way she remained so utterly still.

The weight of what happened before, with Valerie, hasn’t left him. But something that had been building inside of him — coiled — ready to pounce, ready to explode has, for lack of a better term, unfurled. It thrums inside of him, even now, at this strange scene. He watches Ilona’s perfect, porcelain buttocks retreat into the shadows of the room, thinking about how she instinctively sucked on the part of his neck that he cut, the sight of blood making him feel … behind the Countess who, idly, strokes her dark hair as she passes. It’s a detached gesture. A possessive one. It’s like the way a girl would play with one of her dolls.

And suddenly, the reality of what has happened, what he has done, all of it, hits Stefan. Hard. He tries to recall what he was trying to say to the Countess before she’d interrupted, but the words don’t come out.

“Your wife is staying in our rooms.” The Countess tells him softly, her gaze never wavering.

It occurs to Stefan that he’s still naked. “Oh.” He replies, then takes a step back, sitting on the rim of the bidet.

“You are having troubles.” She says. Her face seems sympathetic, but Stefan can tell there is something hard about it, an effort, like the muscle memory doesn’t entirely recall the motions.

“She …” He stops himself, thinking about their time on the train, on the bus, on the boat. “She doesn’t want to see me, anymore.”

The Countess almost glides. She sits on the edge of the bathtub. It occurs to Stefan that both she and Ilona match the ivory material. “Do you wish to talk about it?”

Slowly, Stefan shakes his head. “If my wife is with you, surely you’ve already talked. And …” He waves his hand, at the room, at all of this. “I think I’ve done enough.”

“Have you?” Unlike Ilona’s sad eyes, or the heavens in his wife’s, the Countess’ are a darker, almost steely grey. “Tell me.”

“Countess —”

“Stefan.” She trails her hands over his, folded over his lap. “Remember our talk. We are friends now. You may call me by name, yes?”

Her touch is faint. Ghostly. But muscles in Stefan that he didn’t know were tense begin to loosen. “Of course, Elizabeth.”

She smiles. It is a radiant smile, almost tentative in the manner that he’s observed. “Come.” She puts her arms around his shoulders. “Let’s go back to your room, and talk some more, yes?”

Stefan nods, once. He lets her help him up. They walk across the tiles, and the mirror, and he is so lost in his thoughts he doesn’t particularly see anything other than the outline of himself, wandering through the fog on the reflection. A part of his mind registers, distantly, that his razor isn’t on the basin. It must have fallen in, he supposes. Instead, Stefan focuses on the Countess’ movements, and her form leading now him by the hand. Whereas Ilona reminds him of a flapper from the Roaring Twenties, Elizabeth is akin to a ghost of an actress from the era of Silent film, ethereal white and faded gold. A queen from a bygone time.

He finds himself seated on the bed, still rumpled from his time with Ilona, from his rage, from his time with Valerie. She sits beside him. Their feet almost touch. A part of him wonders if he should cover himself. He can see his clothes on the floor, his white shirt, his black pants, his red sweater …

“We wear similar colours, you and I.” Elizabeth laughs softly.

Stefan recalls her attire when they first met, and realizes she’s right. He decides to give up, that it is far too late for modesty. She’s seen enough of him tonight. It seems as though everyone has, at this point. “Great minds.”

“Yes. With great expectations heaped upon them.”

He looks up at her, his eyes scrutinizing. “How much do you know?”

She shakes her head, the look on her face distant, musing, mulling something over. “You are so sad. So tense. I can see it.”

He feels her move up behind him, folding her legs until she has them on either side of his, her feet hanging again from the bed frame. Stefan doesn’t know what to think of this. He’s just, he’s so tired. Her hands are soft, but firm on his shoulders as her fingers begin to knead the muscles underneath.

“She wouldn’t let up.” He explains, her hands finding the knots in him, unkinking them. His mouth opens and closes almost of its own volition. “She wanted it to be known that we were married. I tried everything. And I thought that maybe …”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. He knew what the result of that call would be before he even made it.

“Family.” Elizabeth drawls out, silvery, behind his ear, making goosebumps crawl up the bare flesh over his back. “It is the first love. Obligation and Duty are unto it like Sin and Death to Satan.”

Paradise Lost.” For a few moments Stefan allows himself a crooked smile, losing himself in the voice of the Countess. “I wonder if it is possible to lose something that you never had.”

“Lucifer had no choices. You never have a choice.” The Countess says, her fingers moving towards the sides of his neck. Perhaps it’s just Stefan’s imagination, but there is a lilt to her tone that hadn’t been there before. “That has nothing to do with love. That is what I told Valerie.”

He stiffens under her touch, hearing his wife’s name again, recalling that night. “What do you know of that, Bathory?”

The absolute venom in his voice startles even him. The Countess’ fingers stop in their massage. Stefan breathes in, and lets out a long sigh. “Of course you know. A stupid question.”

“You told her.”

“Yes.” Stefan says. “After the call. I felt it welling up inside of me. That helplessness. I thought — I thought she wanted to know. About me. I thought that maybe …”

Elizabeth starts to probe the back of his neck with her fingers, her clothed body against his spine.

He bows his head. “I told her everything. All of it. The Manor. The Continental trips. Being alone. I thought maybe if she understood that, realized that, she might know where I came from. She might … know me.”

“You went to the only place that could understand you.” Elizabeth’s words flow through his mind like smoky molasses. Rich, and elegant, and deep. “It’s all you’ve ever known.”

“But it wasn’t enough!” Stefan hisses. His fist tightens as he clenches his jaw, looking away. “I needed more! I need more. I …”

“You wanted to hold her down.”

“Yes.” Stefan murmurs.

“You want to have power over her.”

“Yes.” Stefan feels Elizabeth’s fingers splay out on his chest.

“You wanted her to feel what you have felt, all these years.” Her hands roam around his ribcage, her lips in his ear, her legs wrapped around him.

“… yes.” Stefan closes his eyes.

“You wanted to take that belt, the one you didn’t use, the one you thought about using on her, and thrashing her with it within an inch of her beautiful life.” Elizabeth’s hands roam downwards.

“Mmph.” Stefan groans, his eyes clenching shut, his body betraying him under her hands.

“You wanted her to be like the girl from Bruges.” A pair of lips husk as they kiss his earlobe.

Stefan’s eyes flutter. “Oh god …”

“No.” Elizabeth murmurs. “We are talking about love, remember? God has nothing to do with it. Or everything to do with it, if Family is the first love as is to Satan. You told her all of that, didn’t you?” She continues stroking him, idly. “Just as we talked about those things back in the lounge.”

Stefan’s throat is dry. Something is tensing up inside him, a massive knot in his chest. In his lungs. In his heart. “I can’t …”

“It’s all right, Stefan.” Elizabeth tells him, one hand stroking the side of his face. “That is why you love her. Valerie. It’s what you dream of making out of her, what every man dreams of making out of every woman — a slave, a thing.” Her lips drone into his eardrum. “An object of pleasure.”

Her other hand lets go of him, and scrapes her nails up his inner thigh. “It is understandable.” She tells him, his senses everywhere, his body trapped between the state of animation and stasis.

“It sounds …” Stefan says, his mind almost back into his body from Elizabeth’s caresses. “It sounds like you want this as well.”

“Mmm.” Elizabeth’s hands spread across him again, going lower. Stefan finds himself thinking about Valerie again. Valerie. If Ilona is a doll, and Elizabeth a femme fatale, then Valerie is a nymph. Playful and coy. The answer to that age-old question as to how something so innocent can be so lustful at the same time. And she knows. She knows what he is.

“They are fantasies.” Elizabeth says, teasing him again. “Fun. Little things to spice up a dreary life. All to make a show, like that week in Bruges.”

“Is that what you are …” Stefan sighs, his mind coming back to him. “Like in the stories? Erzsébet Báthory tormenting young women, the only thing she’s known her entire life … in a life of Obligation, and Duty? Sin, and Death? And Satan as her Family …”

He looks to see Elizabeth staring at him, her eyes misty but gazing right into him. “And what if I were?”

“Hm.” He lets himself become distracted, by the thought, entertained by it as she is amusing him now. “It would explain a lot. After all, if she still lived, she wouldn’t want to be stuck in one place. She’s always been stuck, hasn’t she? When she was born, when she lived … and when she died. You’d feel trapped. Claustrophobic.”

“You make me sound like some kind of ghoul? A vampire?”

He laughs. “You can’t stop. You could have a mansion, an entire Castle, to feed to your heart’s content. Why travel against the edge of the sun to do so?”

“Why don’t you stay and enjoy the garden in England? After all, who understands a boy better than his own Mother?”

Stefan’s heart jolts as Elizabeth’s grip tightens. He finds that he has nothing to say.

“No.” Elizabeth murmurs into his neck, continuing her movements. “Just as Dracula is not Vlad Tepes, I am not my ancestor, the Blood Countess. I am even less than that, Stefan. I’m just an outmoded character, nothing more. You know, the beautiful stranger, slightly sad, slightly … mysterious … that haunts one place after another.”

“W-who are you?” Stefan grits his teeth against the growing sensations in his body. “Are you even real?”

“Are any of us real?” Elizabeth asks. Even her breath smells red. “We all make stories of ourselves over time. Little artifices. Fictions. Am I the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, for instance? And are you really Stefan of Chilton Manor?” Stefan opens his mouth, and he is past the time for words. “Come.” Elizabeth purrs, wrapping herself tightly around him, as he loses himself in her embrace, as he lets her let himself grant him permission. “Let us make a new story together.”

*

Stefan stands on the boat in the night. Everything after their time in the honeymoon suite moved so fast. Elizabeth explained to them that it was like this: time moving slowly, in increments, and then all at once.

He remembers Valerie’s screams as they came into the bathroom of Elizabeth and Ilona’s suite.

Poor Illona. Stefan finally figured out where his razor had disappeared. In the end, she found the water after all, and turned it red. Their favourite colour. Valerie, her white sweater covered in blood, like the spot on Ilona’s pale neck grown and turned large. Stefan keeps the image of Ilona’s body in his mind’s eye.

Elizabeth assured Valerie that it hadn’t been her fault. That she didn’t suspect her, despite the implications. Of course it hadn’t been Valerie’s responsibility. A part of Stefan wanted to rib her further, as he had with the Belgian newspaper, to rankle her, to probe that place, to enjoy her squirming. But restraint. Elizabeth teaches restraint. And patience.

Stefan decided to dig the grave, in the mud, in the darkness, though it’d been Elizabeth’s plan. He hadn’t forgotten how quickly she’d come to that decision, to deal with Ilona. He’d laid a kiss on Ilona’s lips, so pale in death, that when Elizabeth threw the earth on him, and he’d become tangled in the corpse’s limbs, it’d taken him aback. He wondered then, if this had been her plan all along, to bury them together … until a hand reached down …

And Valerie pulled him up. Despite everything.

Then, the Countess’ red bed. And the two of them, as she explored them, and the violet boa around her shoulders. Seeing Ilona’s body, being entwined in it, terrified but … excited him. It helped make that night even more memorable. He wishes he can thank her for that. The last thought he had, of his old life, was seeing Elizabeth’s boa, its feathers reminding him of a bird in a gilded cage, and he couldn’t help recalling the orchid: the Laeliinae, Cattleya violacea. 

Stefan doesn’t think of flowers anymore. Instead, right now he stands on the deck of their ship, wishing it called the Demeter or at least the Persephone, crossing, in Elizabeth’s words, the River Oceanus. It is much calmer now than in those early nights. He turns to his side. Valerie stands there, a stoic, white statue from another time.

“Tell me.” He says, also from another place, another era. “Do you love me?”

Valerie inclines her head. “Don’t you know?”

Her mouth moves, her pouting naivety now become a calculating Galatea. “No.”

Stefan nods.

There is the pause, of a breath that neither of them need anymore.

“And you?” She asks, her eyes far away, the firmament in there as dark as the night that they have led her into, that they were destined for together.

He remains facing away from her, all of his lies now laid bare, now knowing every sordid part of each other. Now knowing, and reveling in, what truly he is. “No.”

Valerie also nods, curtly, hiding her face under her platinum bangs. “That’s good.”

And as their fingers reach each other’s, before Elizabeth can call for them again, Stefan thinks about Ilona’s necklace. She must have dashed it to the floor when she entered the bathroom. He imagines it, in her haste, in her stride as Stoker might have said, snapping, spilling every glorious, ivory bead, each one rolling away, released into the shadows and the crimson tide lapping around them. He considers what kind of newspaper article that would have made, back in Ostend. Stefan grows hard.

Their fingertips almost meet even as Elizabeth comes in from behind, languorously stretching out her arms under her black raincoat, sheltering them, her presence looming over them all.

Shall I Come to Thee

Dedicated to Guillermo del Toro.

Carter McMichael departs from his automobile, leaving it on the road down below, as he ascends the rest of the land.

He has no idea how his father managed this trek, at a much longer distance, up this mountain of clay, in a snow storm. But he had: otherwise neither his mother, nor Carter himself would be here. That had been the extent of it. Carter had known that his mother, Edith, had been married to another man before his father, and that she had suffered from an illness that precipitated him to come here, to England, to Cumberland, to the manse at its centre, and he had taken her away with the aid of the villagers once the weather cleared.

There had been some sort of scandal. Neither his mother, nor father elaborated on it — no one in fine society, neither American nor European, would do so — but whatever happened resulted in the deaths of the entire baronetcy of this territory: both the baronet himself, and his sister. It is a small rural territory, even now, well into the twentieth century after an entire World War the town is relatively isolated. Even so, news did get out.

Carter takes a few breaths, and a pause. He had always been a sickly child, something to do with his mother’s condition but his parents would never elaborate on it. The Spanish influenza had taken his mother on his seventeenth birthday. He couldn’t be at her bedside, couldn’t even say goodbye to her. His father had forbidden it, given how delicate his constitution had always been.

He coughs, letting the heaviness ease out of his lungs. His father hadn’t wanted him to take this trip. But he needed to know. He needed to see this place for himself.

The townspeople had given him directions, had even been friendly enough, but there had been a sense of reservation behind their politeness: a degree of caution. His father had let him go. He was well past the age where he could be told what to do, even though the man always told him he needed to settle down with a good woman, to eventually get his bachelor’s days behind him. Doctor Alan McMichael had been a large, gold-haired man of great curiosity, but the death of his wife had visibly aged him, bowed his shoulders, his blond hair turned grey.

He’s always delighted in showing Carter his “spirit photography” and the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that he claimed he only gathered because of the man’s background in ophthalmology: but he fooled him as well as mother, which was not at all.

“She made me promise.” The old man had told him, clasping his hands. “She told me we would tell you when you were older. But the best …” He had a far away look on his face. “The best way is that you go there, and see for yourself. That is what she told me.”

“What is up there?” He asked his father. “Is it like Mother’s book?”

Alan McMichael had smiled at him. “Your Mother always took some creative liberties, Carter. The truth is … much more banal. You will just find dirt there. And ruins. But, if there is anything else to be found, she told me that you would find it. That you would see it. Whatever you do find, come back to me afterwards. We will have a proper talk. I promise.”

That was when his father handed him a letter. The envelope was old, and not addressed to anyone that Carter recognized until … he paid attention to the name.

Now, catching his hitching breath, Carter has left the trail and come to the top of the land. The fence still stands, in the distance. And so does the structure behind it. Its sharp towers point up to the sky, and while some of them have broken away with time, he recognizes it from the photographs, from the descriptions.

Allerdale Hall.

Carter continues walking. This is the inspiration for his Mother’s novel. This place where she traveled to as a young woman, a girl, younger than he is now, and away when sickness or … worse afflicted her. The envelope with the letter acts as a bookmark in the book he carries in the crook of his arm as he strides forward, to take in this whole scene for himself.

In retrospect, Carter isn’t sure whether or not it had been a smart idea to reread Mr. Stoker’s novel on the journey to England, or to Cumberland proper. It is his favourite book, and it certainly captures the Gothic romance and horror genre in which his Mother worked, but its more modernist elements appeal to his sensibilities: as both a reader, and a writer himself.

As he approaches the mansion, he’s easily reminded of Castle Dracula or the Exham Priory of one of his favourite pulps. One of the towers has fallen, the other just a haphazard set of bricks and mortar. Only the central one remains whole and as it is, it approximates a slant reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. His father hadn’t been exaggerating. The mansion is crumbling in on itself, upon closer inspection, sinking deep into the red clay. Even now, the soil looks like blood.

It squelches under his boots, trench boots that he never got to wear in their intended place as he had been exempt from Service. It’s less like blood now as he comes to the door of the gate, swinging it open on its rusted hinges, and more like gore. The air itself smells … metallic.

Carter notes that the pits on the property are still existent, but closed up. And all of Thomas Sharpe’s equipment, his machinery which he had designed himself, had been removed. Apparently, after the disaster that came to the baronet others began to see the potential for the late Sir Thomas’ inventions. As it had transpired, his mother had inherited the technology, along with the whole of Allerdale Hall itself as Sir Thomas’ widow.

According to his father, Carter’s mother had agreed to give both the patents and schematics of her former husband’s works to eager investors. Carter knows that red clay contains ultisol and can used for brick-making — which the Sharpes had done for the Crown before the fall of the Monarchy, and the rise of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. That is what he learned from an old British textbook by one Mr. Salisbury he purchased in London. But the iron ore rendering became more important in this era, especially on the eve of the Great War when the Allies were hurting for it. Hence the letter he carries with him now.

It’d been addressed to the Lady Sharpe, from 1914. And it had taken him a moment to realize that the lady it was written to was Edith. It’d been from the British government, requesting that the Lady Sharpe — who had done business with clay-mining equipment — release her late husband’s land for the War effort. His father hadn’t given him any copy of a reply letter.

Carter isn’t sure how a baronetcy works according to English law: if a baronet relinquishes all lands and titles upon remarriage after their spouse’s death, or if they retain these privileges. He also isn’t sure why they simply didn’t seize the land for the Crown, and take the resources for their own. All he knows is that no one in the village felt inclined to talk about the mansion, or the Sharpes. They didn’t even talk about his mother.

The newspapers, however, did the rest. And the legend as well. They are what led him here.

He walks towards the steps of the great mansion, as though sagging under the weight of its own unstable foundations, and the sins committed within it. Carter’s foot hits something. He looks down, and sees … a ball. Carter almost missed it. It’s a small, rubber, red ball. It rolls away into the dirt of a deeper crimson.

The door stands in front of him. The wood is frayed, the hinges on the frame askew. There is a key hole. Carter doesn’t have a set of keys, but he doesn’t need them. Not anymore.

Before he pushes the door in, he slowly breathes in, and out. Once he’d found about that his mother had been the Lady Sharpe, he’d looked into the truth about Allerdale Hall. How the Lady of the Hall had died. How her daughter had been locked up in a mental institution in Switzerland for a time. How Sir Thomas’ wives had disappeared over time: the wives he had before his mother.

His mother never told him about any of this. But he recalls his father’s words. He also remembers the legend of the Black Ghost.

The door protests, but Carter manages to go into the mansion. He realizes, only moments later, that he needn’t have bothered. Sections of the wall have already fallen away. The hall itself is strewn with debris, the carpet stained in mud and dust. What his father had explained as the decaying skeleton of something once so grand, was now almost in complete ruin. No one had bothered to repair or renovate the structure. No one had attempted to tear it down either.

It had just been left here. To be forgotten.

But even in its dilapidated state, he recognizes it. It’s the interior of the Great Hall in his mother’s work Crimson Peak. He can make out the Gothic architecture, the ornaments, the colour, and even the smell. The winding staircase has collapsed, the place where the lift used to be is empty and probably lost in Hades, and the hole in the ceiling has grown into a maw of a leviathan defying the heavens with its rotting grandeur. But this is the place. He wonders if there is a clockwork workshop above, or multiple suites, or the bathtub of blood, or even the nursery …

It’s real. It’s all real. The shattered windows of the estate seem to follow him as he looks around, like the eyes of some restless dead thing. Even as the wind blows, he can hear his footsteps on the cracked tiles. It’s perfect. The ambiance of this space speaks more than a thousand written words. Ghosts can easily live here. And, if he remembers the novel correctly, the library should be on this floor ….

Let the wind blow kindly …

Carter pauses. The air howls above. It’s strange. For a few moments, he wonders if he heard something. Perhaps he had just been too focused on the atmosphere here. On the story he’d heard from town. He sees the curvature of the hall, and turns left. The library should be that way.

In the sail of your dreams.
And the moonlight your journey …

The light is wan and pale as he enters the darkened room. It’s gloomy, but Carter can make out rows upon rows of mouldering books. It hurts his heart to see them like that. Each one of those books could have been first editions, Greek and Latin-translations gone to dust. Why had no one cleared them out? Why hadn’t his mother taken them? And it’s as almost as though his thoughts have become someone else’s words, those of the wind … Notes drifting in the air.

And bring you to me …

There is a keening in Carter’s chest. It’s not his lungs. It’s a growing sense of sadness, and disconnection. It feels as though there is a song in his head, and the sound of piano keys playing. He reaches the mantle piece and sees the inscription. His parents spared his Classical education no expense.

“I shall lift up mine eyes,” he whispers, his eyes squinting in the gloom, “onto the hills …”

We can’t live in the mountains …

Carter turns as the voice materializes, fully, into the room. He looks away from the mantle over the fireplace, and sees the piano.

We can’t live out at sea …

The piano is lopsided, dusty. Falling apart. But the seat is still there. And someone … someone is sitting there. It’s a shadow, in the darkness. Carter hears the voice. Her voice. A part of him remembers what the villager children said. He blinks. But the form is still there.

Where oh, where oh, my lover …

The song is unbearably sad. The piano keys and their strings, which should by all rights not even be functional, send the pang into him. It reminds him of the day his mother died. But it’s more than that. It’s of a time that’s over. Something that happened, and never should have been. A bittersweet poignancy. A love lost forever.

Shall I come to thee?

Carter’s brow furrows as the feelings threaten to overtake him. He can almost see two forms, in the darkness, in a lost room, holding each other, one rocking the other back and forth, spooning them, cradling them. But that was over. A long time ago. And it will never come back.

There is only silence. She doesn’t turn around. Slowly, as though his pain reaches out to hers. Her dress is black, almost gossamer. So is her skin, though her hair is darker. Carter can’t help himself. Something in him aches at the sight of this lonely figure. He reaches out a hand, as though to touch her shoulder.

“Thomas?” There is a whisper, in the wind. “Have you come back … to me?”

Carter’s hand stops. The realization of what this is, that this is not just a story he’s reading or hearing about around a campfire, that this isn’t one of his father’s slides, hits him like an icicle to the gut. His throat is suddenly very dry. He takes a step back. And another.

The room feels cold and not just because of the mountain’s high altitude. He turns, to run, to get away from …

She might have been beautiful once. He can see that. There is a wound in her chest, blacker than the rest of her. And her face … it’s caved in. As though something crushed her skull in, like they said his grandfather’s had been at the Gentleman’s Club one day. But it’s all of her. It’s as though she is a translucent, blackened version of ligaments and skin. She doesn’t move right, as she jerks towards him, but there is a smoothness to her facial features or what is left of them.

“Thomas.” She whispers, bringing a long, blackened hand towards him. For a few moments, Carter thinks he can see the bloodshine of a stone on her finger. She is like Allerdale Hall, made incarnate. “Tell me, when will she let me be free … Thomas …”

Then, her face warps and twists. Pure hatred and an endless sorrow from hell itself engulfs her gaze. It’s the most horrifying thing about this apparition as Carter staggers backwards, as she lifts a cleaver — glinting with midnight malice — above her head.

“Now you will see!”

Carter falls to the ground, screaming as black moths explode all around him, fluttering mindlessly. Then, he feels nothing. Just a frigid breeze. He can’t breathe. Carter is gasping for air, his heart pumping hard. He looks up, finally. There is nothing there. No one. His mind is detached from his body, viewing the entire situation, processing this impossible thing. That’s when he sees it.

It lies on the ground. A red stone glittering off a golden ring. A part of him wants to reach out, to touch it, to take it for himself. There is a part of him that thinks it belongs to him. The rest of him runs out of the room, down the hall, outside the ruined mansion, shouting incoherently.

He is on his knees in the red mud, trembling. Carter is numb. Empty. It’s like what they said about shell-shock from the trenches that he’d been thankfully too young, and too infirm, to be drafted. That’s when he begins to notice something else.

There is a man. He’s standing right in front of him. Carter stands up, his body freezing into place. The man looks at him. He’s pale. Incandescent. There are marks on his chest, and a cut under his eye. But he can’t deny it. He knows that face. It’s his own face, but without his mother’s eyes.

The man reaches forward. Pallid fingers seem to cup Carter’s face. Carter doesn’t feel anything, but he experiences everything. The man smiles at him, sadly, his gaze full of regret and resignation. Then, he’s gone.

Carter drops his book. He must have been holding it through the entire ordeal. He crouches down on the ground, his elbows on his red-stained knees, as he proceeds to cry into his hands. The letter to Lady Sharpe flies out of the pages of his book, and into the winds.

*

“Why didn’t she destroy the mansion?”

It’d been a month since Carter came back from Cumberland. He sits at home with his father, in his study. The books with their horror stories still manage to comfort him even after everything that’s happened; the medical specimens in jars no longer threatening given that they are actually dead.

Alan McMichael looks tired behind his spectacles. They are so much like Edith’s when she still lived. He sighs, looking at his son.

“She wanted to keep her there.”

There is nothing else said between them for several moments, just the sound of the grandfather clock marking time. Carter slowly shakes his head. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were always a sickly boy, Carter.” His father says, sadly. “It was best you were just entertained by those stories, and not afraid of them. There is so much … I wish she and I could have told you.”

“You can tell me now.” He says to his father. “I … how did you know?”

Alan squints up at Carter, scrutinizing him. He doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Finally, he sighs. “Carter, you know your favourite novel?”

Carter tries to maintain his composure. “Yes. What … of it?”

“Do you remember the end of it? How Mr. Stoker ended the entire thing?”

Carter takes a moment. He looks down to sip of the glass beside him on the easy chair. His father had prepared brandy in advance. He now fully appreciates this fact. “It is a happily ever after, of sorts.”

“Your mother always loved stories that ended that way. Even if life didn’t always do so.”

“Everyone survived.” Carter murmurs to himself. “Except for … Quincey Morris. The American.”

Alan laughs. “The hunter. The one who stabbed Dracula with a Bowie knife.”

“He –” Carter pauses. “The Harkers. Mina, and Jonathan. They named their son after him. After Quincey. Quincey Harker.”

Alan doesn’t say anything as he sips at his own brandy, waiting with the decanter at the table next to him.

“I always wondered.” Carter says. “If Quincey was Jonathan’s or …” He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose.

In a low voice, Alan McMichael speaks. “Your mother loved me, Carter.” Then, the old man sighs. “But she had been in love with someone else.”

Out of the corner of his eye, for a few moments, Carter can almost see something bright. It isn’t from the hearth. A figure, in white. His mother. Paler. Wan. Her hair an unbearably bright gold. She’d been so sick. She seems to smile at the two of them. He can almost hear her voice, asking him as she had always done, if he had been inspired.

Tears well up in Carter’s eyes again. She could have told him, but perhaps this was her way … their method of telling him the greatest ghost story of all time: told in the most poignant manner possible. Carter smiles reaches out and takes his father’s hand in the space between them.

“Tell me everything.” He says, and he realizes that it is just the two of them now. “Father.”

Society Lives

Dedicated to Brian Yuzna and John Carpenter. Contains vulgarity and body horror. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

“Huh.” Judge Carter rolls the cigar in between his index finger and this thumb. “You really do look pretty strange without your satellite. Doesn’t he, Jim? Nana?”

“Yes.” Jim shakes his golden-haired head slowly.

“He looks … fascinating.” Nana trails a finger down the sharp angles and cratered contours of the other’s cheek.

“Hm.” Judge Carter settles back into the chair. “What do the rest of you think?”

He stirs on the bed. He finds himself tied to it. Where did that girl go? He was going take her asshole. Or maybe he did? She just screamed at him. Fuck. They do that sometimes. But why … he can’t move. Are these his handcuffs? But then he begins to register their words. He recognizes them. Judge Carter. Jim and Nana Whitney of the Beverly Hills Whitneys. The whole social circle.

“Judge Carter.” He tests the bonds, experimentally. “There seems to have been a hiccup.”

“I’ll say.” The old man chuckles. “Wow. You’re really not much without those disguises. are you? What do you think, Dr. Cleveland.”

“Oh I don’t know.” The heavy-set, balding older man looks down at the figure like he is a strange specimen. “Body language and facial tics are in line with … human psychological behaviour.”

“Blue skin.” Judge Carter whistles. “Large cartoon eyes. No nose. That’s what folks look like from Andromeda? Huh. Can any of you make yourselves look like this way?” He shakes his head, smiling. “I know I sure can’t.”

“We … we had an arrangement.” He tells them, trying to remain firm, to remember his place in all this, to keep control. “You have your territories. We have ours.”

“And you keep all the good toys to yourselves.” The Judge says. “Except for the tech that we use to make sure our territories aren’t … disturbed. And we can eat in peace. But you weren’t watching the news, were you my friend?”

He looks around, hoping to find …

“Looking for this?” A smiling woman, much like the one he’d been fucking in the ass, holds up his wristwatch. “These give you quite the trip, don’t they?”

“We had an agreement!” He tries again, a little more concerned as the women begin caressing him, stroking him. He’s still naked. And he realizes they can see him. They can see everything.

“Yes yes.” The Judge waves his cigar with one hand, absently. “Goodness. We had to use all the tech you gave us to cover our territories from your blunder. Otherwise, we’d have lost everything. Our circuses. Our bread. Everyone knows about you, man! Well, they almost did.”

The figure struggles against the touches of the women. Of the men. They are all holding him, stroking him. He begins to feel hot.

“We had to cover for you. You left a vacuum when your satellite got blown to Kingdom Come.” The Judge grins, and the others laugh with him. “And nature abhors a vacuum. There is a child I know, he has great promise.”

“Listen.” The figure says, his skin feeling clammy, soaked in sweat, in slick with liquid. How did he get so warm so fast? What is this? “My people, we can fix this, and everything will …”

“Be back to normal? No. No, friend. I’m afraid it’s too late for that.” The Judge gets up, putting the cigar in his mouth, resembling nothing less than a distinguished caricature of Pop-Eye the Sailorman, Around him, the Whitneys and the others begin stripping off their clothing. “The boy I’m talking about, he is still in secondary school, mind. But he likes to say that the rich suck off the poor. That, in itself is a terrible choice of words. It’s actually always been the other way around. You’d think, by now, that we and you would both understand that fact of life.”

“We will regain control!” The figure says, feeling his mattress grind down under the weight of so many hands and … arms and legs … and … genitalia … and …

“Hm.” The Judge brings a rolled up magazine to his face, letting the figure see it. “Miss June.” He grins, chewing on the black cigar. “Usually my favourite. At least I don’t need those new-fangled 3D glasses that were going around to read it now.” He unrolls it. “Hmm. Marry and Reproduce. Obey. Well.” He puts the slick papers down, creased and greasy with sweat or something else entirely as he begins take off his own clothes. “You don’t have to tell us twice.”

“No …” The figure’s gaunt, bony face slackens in the non-human equivalent expression of horror.

“Oh yes.” The Judge croons, stretching, continuing to stretch, rising up almost to the ceiling, parts of him. “Maybe you could do this, once. On other worlds. After other hostile takeovers. But you forget. Old money always trumps new. Land rights over Industry. And you never endanger the flesh market.” He growls. “A true blue-blood would know that.”

“No … oh no …” He writhes as their limbs cover him, flesh and pink and expansive.

“Hey honey.” Nana Whitney looks to her husband as she also puts a hand around the Judge’s shoulders. “He looks like a blue skeleton.”

“Still has a cock though.” Jim Whitney tilts his head around. “The more you know.”

“Marry and Reproduce.” Judge Carter has a drink in his hand, that he raises and sips at, another limb sprouting from him to take his cigar. “Obey. We have our own imperatives, as well.”

The figure moans in fear and agony as limbs begin to not so much meld into his blue flesh and protruding bones, but creep into them, sink into them, exploring cavities that were hidden by ligaments, making others that didn’t exist before.

“First we dine,” The Judge grins, putting down the glass. Then he puts the cigar back into his mouth, “then we copulate.”

Mouths bite and lick at the figure’s skin, kissing, sucking, suckling  … attaching. Beige grafting into indigo. The figure screams, but limbs wetly cover his mouth. The Whitneys both kiss the Judge on either side of his face as they go onto the massive bed with the others.

“Usually, it’s a hunt of our own choosing.” Judge Carter tells the engulfed figure, grinning voraciously at his kicking, and his body distending under the touch of the others. “We’ve done some of our homework. You are called Fascinators sometimes. I’m sure I speak on behalf of the entire Society here, when I say: we’ve always been curious to know just what a Fascinator tastes like.”

There is only muffed gurgles, and whimpering as the Judge descends on what is left of the being, looking more like a mass of cheap pink blue-berry bubble gum than anything close to humanoid.

“Hey …” The Judge burbles to no one in particular, to everyone as he joins the rest in their feast. “Please remind me that we now have one more vacancy to fill in Washington.”

Family

Dedicated to Brian Yuzna and Society.

It’s been four decades since the Party at the Whitneys. No one touched us after that.

I’d say we’d been on the run, and sometimes the others tried to get us, but it’s all been pretty half-hearted. It’s just more of their games. A lot of the time, it isn’t even them, just everyone else — ordinary people — sent out after us: to deal with our terrorism.

Our fun.

It was so great, getting in Billy’s car, the wind in our hair, speeding away at the dawn. That fool, Teddy, got what was coming to him. I always knew there was something special about Billy. He was just so … intense, you know? It was more than just a drive to succeed, and the petty politics of popularity in the gymnasium that day when he put Petrie in his place. It’d been a game. Even though he didn’t know the rules, or the why of the game, he always knew that none of it was real. You don’t breed that kind of passion. That kind of awareness.

I knew then that I wanted him. And I showed him exactly what I wanted.

Just sophomore games. Teddy the Tycoon. He didn’t take any of it seriously, even by the standards of the Society. And he paid for it. It got old fast. The coming out, and then just sagging flesh, old man skin, elastic girl parts, boy bits that like to show just how big they are, and a massive sunken pit of gross ennui, of pure boredom that can only stimulate itself by playing with other people’s lives. It was all just masturbation after a while.

Until I met Billy.

Maybe the Whitneys thought he was something like their pet. I remember Dad doing something like that, even though we were … well, not the highest in the Society. But Daddy got old and Mom … Mom was always hungry. She came after us, after the Party. When you get old enough, and you shunt so many times, when you overeat, it gets harder to maintain that mask of humanity, and Mom already had so many problems doing that at her best, may she rest in peace. It was only because of the virtue of our birth that Mom even survived that long, and I had to keep eye on her when her faculties … changed. Just think about cannibalism and prion disease taken to its end result, but in a body that constantly grows like cancer.

Like …

It’s hard to think about now. She had always been trying to eat Milo’s hair. For some reason she had a thing for hair in her last days. I think it was the Keratin, even though it was so bad for her. But she guarded our lives. She was fond of Milo, or his hair. And I made it clear that Billy was mine. And god help me, for all her faults, my Mom loved me, and I loved my Mom. She remained strong and she could sure shunt towards the end.

Even though we had Mom in tow, it was mainly just the three of us: me, Billy, and Milo. We still had property in the suburbs, something the Society finds more gross than any of the parties. Billy adapted quick. He was always trying to expose them, the others. He learned how to moderate BBSes, then the Net, and then chat forums.

Forty years of running to different properties, and organizing rebellions that pretty much got squashed, though we took a few of them with us. The Whitneys really underestimated Billy. But I don’t know. They bred him to be the apex of what they think a human should be. like a well-groomed pet, or a pig made to slaughter. I guess he was more of a boar? But like I said, Billy had always been too smart. I watched him in school, and knowing he was almost eighteen — which is when the shunting would start — I made my move. I wasn’t even thinking. I just wanted to have my fun. I just wanted to see how he ticked.

If only Shauna knew. That bitch wanted into the Society. You know, to this day, I almost regret interfering — though I definitely rocked his world and I will never take that back — if only to see the look on that blonde bimbo’s face when she saw what high society is really about. I’m not sure even they could digest all that silicon though.

Billy was just a tool to her. He was prime food to the Whitneys. And what was a diversion for me … That will. That gall. That ambition. They thought it was cute. I think, sometimes, maybe when we had sex that night at my house a part of me went into him. Maybe that’s how he split Teddy from the inside out. Teddy thought to shunt Billy, but Billy ended up shanking him. To this day, I’m not sure anyone has killed one of us mid-shunting. I didn’t even know it was possible. I don’t think the others did either. That’s why they keep their distance, and come at us through their proxies, through their up and comers promised a place in Society. A whole lot of wannabe slaves. A whole lot of Shaunas.

But I think, looking back, it’s less what I did with Billy. I remember when he and Milo suggested that maybe we had been a parallel evolution — one step from the primordial ooze that kept closer to where life came from — while the rest of life became more solidified. Maybe in making love to Billy, I woke up a part of that shared beginning, and Teddy’s end … and that of a few others. Or perhaps Billy was just that strong.

It was an adjustment. We found others. People that discovered the Society. And others that used to be a part of the Society, kissing cousins that got tired of being disrespected, and didn’t really care for playing with their food. Humans are mostly dessert anyway. We can easily live off of our leeches. But the most challenging adaptations came from just the three of us.  I remember, in the beginning, that anger and hostility. Milo didn’t just love Billy. He was in love with him. I mean, seriously: the shrunken voodoo head, the naked action figures, and the dolls were much more than a subordinate jealous of his social superior. And his real hate of me was pretty clear at Teddy’s party.

Obviously I had no issues with it, given where I came from. And Billy and me … well, we shunted, in a way. It’s not something I have to do, but it’s enjoyable. But what few know is that while we devour enzymes and nutrients from a person, we can also give some back.

I never forced it. It was Billy who wanted to see what I could do. I guess that quip about my piss made him curious. But I saw what the Party had done to him, after the years of gaslighting by the Society, making him watch Blanchard die, nearly killing him too. He was the one that asked, and we explored that. I remember, like it was yesterday, the feeling of him being inside of me, and me being in him — really in him — like we had never been before. Sometimes, Milo even joined in, and it almost … it almost felt like what family used to feel like for me. It was different. There was something reaffirming about it. Something vital — even alive — warm and gentle and vibrant in ways that no mountains of greedy flesh could ever really feel, or emulate.

Billy lived longer than he would have. It turns out, he did have a mutation after all. In my darkest days, I think maybe that’s how he resisted Teddy’s shunting.

It was cancer.

Billy … Billy made me promise that we would be together. I didn’t care about the mess, or the sickness. Or appearances. I took care of him until I couldn’t. And then we shunted — we truly shunted — that one last time. And he went inside me, and I went inside him. We ate, and we copulated. And a part of him is, and will be with me, me. Forever.

As for the other part … Sometimes, I think I can still feel him. Sometimes I see him in Dave, our son. I wonder: just what kind of world are we still going to make together?

A Late Hell-o Letter to a Mail Girl

I didn’t find you in Themyscira,
but protesting from Twitter Jail,
Diana Prince, in black skull pasties, 
whose birthday I must hail.

Late is the hour,
that this gift will finally be seen,
after zombie parts, and puny words,
did I find you — the Mail Girl — on Halloween.

What presents can be offered,
to a girl that’s seen it all,
who’s clearly bought your gory props
from endless trips to the Chopping Mall?

Yet there must be something left to get
a person who’s among Fam’s fellow horror geeks,
someone who rolls your eyes at Ralphus,
and groans at the finger sandwiches of Bloodsucking Freaks.

Demonic oompa loompas aside,
there might yet be a chance, 
to say something more about a girl
who wants to show a larger Maniac from within your pants.

 

Darcy the Mail Girl, Diana Prince’s Cosplay from Maniac


But this is no Crime Suspenstory,
about a head separated by an axe from its nethers,
though is it really a Seduction of the Innocent,
when you talk about someone who loves killing those Heathers?

Memories in tangents,
as you watch with us on screen that strange desire,
to witness the Brain Damage from another pair of pants,
and the psychedelic glory of Aylmer’s fire.

You’re  the type that pets the blue worm upon your shoulder,
as he hums on with his tune,
and though you like the visceral colour, Deep Red
it’s probably a giallo that is too awkward to fully consume.

We got to experience, together,
the Kaufman Troma of War.
Yet would Barb and Ken blow ups become anything
more than another bore?

I can’t do this, in one cut, like the dead.
Something else will have to be done, for Diana, instead.

For I can see you between white linen sheets,
with a determination that I must insist,
wearing a pallid guise so startling sudden 
It could scare a cowboy with a knife from the third Exorcist.

Perhaps that is a gift that would keep on giving,
endless dialogue written for a conclusion forgone,

Enough to keep you up and exhausted,
until feeling Deadbeat at Dawn.
Certainly, that’s at the soul of a Monster Movie Marathon.

I find at this point in this rhyme, 
that I’m at something of a loss.
I mean, isn’t writing this — for you — like Hollywood in a Grindhouse —
smelling of Dead Heat, and duck sauce?

Perhaps that last phrase came out wrong,
like a Green Inferno in the lawn-mowed grass,
but that is a can-of-bull in the turtle soup
Which does not take away from your understated sass.

There is something in the Mayhem
of seeing the Mail Girl dress from a film about a bloody corporate class.
Only to watch, together, a Kabuki Caligari, a Metropolis internalized,
an Iron Man of junk named Tetuso, an Akira-devotee, taking it up the —

Anyway. It was not a drill,
though I have a little more to say,
even though it’s two nights late,
from the time of your birthday.

Letters read, trophies brought, and Silver Bolos in advance,
I see you in the other things 
in the chuckles, quiet oh dear gods, smirks, and that particular blue-eyed glance.

But I think the thing I looked forward to the most
was when Shudder, finally, re-released the time when you got to dance.

From the belief of blood, and breasts, and beasts,
a Pandemonious Paradise Islander, and a Pr0n Knight, too,
I wish you the best, Diana, hell-o fiend:
a Happy Mutant Fam Birthday to you.