I had not thought death had undone so many.
-T. S. Eliot
I understood that from now on I belong to those who have ‘troubled the sleep of the world,’ and that I could not count upon objectivity and tolerance.
-Sigmund Freud, Letter to Ernest Jones
Tilly came to visit me again this morning. I was having a hard time adjusting. She told me it was like that for everyone at first. I wanted to say: “Not for me. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. I had a life, a good life. My work. My family, It was a good life; well, at least it was my life, and things were on the uptake, things were getting better.” But no, then this thing happened. Blam… alive one moment, and… well, you know the biz… sink or swim as they say. Well I wanted to keep on swimming. I’d grown used to it. Comfortable. Then this…
Maybe I should back up to the beginning…
…hmm, when was that? Seems even my memory is turning to dust here in this alcove on the borderlands. I don’t even no where I’m at. No one else does, either; of course. We all seem to be in some kind of holding tank. Waiting. Waiting for what they didn’t say. Everything’s so hush hush here in the Alcove you’d think we were all spies for the enemy. Enemy! What kind of talk is that? I’m an atheist. This wasn’t supposed to happen, whatever this is? I ask around and everyone smiles and tells me not to worry, to be happy, things will move along shortly. It’s like I was thrown into an insane asylum with a bunch of buggered idiots. Be happy, schmaltzy… “Whadya take me for,” I yell, at no one in particular. “Yea, that’s right give me one of those looks.” Their all looking at me shaking their heads as if “Oh, poor slob – I mean, soul… there he goes again!” “Yea, that’s right,” I smile. “Ya bloody bastards, be happy, happy, happy…” then I frog the finger at ’em. Cracks me up.
Of course now I’m sitting here alone. No one will dare look my way. So what? I think. Fine by me. I didn’t really come here to have company. Hell, I didn’t even come… I just woke up here. Fine mess, too. What angers me most is I’ll miss my game with Joey, Bart, Henry and the other boys on Saturday. Dam! How do you like that. About par for the course if you ask me. I thought when it blew you were just supposed to go silent; blank, a sort of one-way ticket to oblivion. All that jazz… but, no, had to wake up in this piss hole. No one I know. All these smiling jackals handing out Ma and Pa dinners and colloquial advice, self-help manuals for the dearly new… it’s like a tourist bureau for the … dammed, oh well… I guess I should say it, the freckking, DEAD! Yea, that’s right “I’M FRECKKING DEAD!!!” Now I have their attention.
One of the suits walks up – a young guy; and asks, formally: “Sir, is everything alright?”
“Whadaya think, bozo,” I laugh at him. “No. Nothing’s alright. This isn’t, alright. I’m in in a piss hole with the likes of you. How could anything be alright? Answer me that? Everything is wrong! Capeesh! Got that, you moron? ”
He stands there fidgeting for a moment, keeps jittering to say something, his mouth and tongue clicking; then squeaks out: “I’m sure we can find you better accommodations if these don’t suit you.”
Geeze! Even here in this joint… the morons are everywhere. I smile, shake his sorry ass hands, and say: “Don’t worry son, I think we got this one taken care of. Why don’t you just run along, find Mommy and Daddy and tell ’em that madman in Suite 42 is a little sour,” He looks perplexed, so I say: “Oh, … well, never mind; just get the hell out of here… we’ll ya!” I yell.
He squirms, jumps back, and appears to be running backwards as fast as he can. Tilly was standing to the side admonishing me: “Charley, that wasn’t nice; not nice at all. You’ve got to quit bullying people here. We’re all in this together. He was just trying to be helpful and courteous.” I look at her. She’s right of course, but dam… I just want to be left alone. I don’t want any friends. I just want to go home. Eventually I look cast down and say: “Yea, yea… you’re right, of course. I guess I’m just edgy. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. All this waiting around is getting to me. Are we in some kind of Limbo, or what?”
“No, Charley. Things don’t work that way here.”
“That’s the problem, Tilly. I’m lost. I don’t know where here is; and, I sure as hell don’t know why I’m here? Just doesn’t make sense.” Nothing made sense to me anymore.
“Don’t worry, Charley,” she grinned, trying to cheer me up. “You’ll soon find out. Just you cheer up, things are goin’ to be alright. Things are goin’ get a lot better.”
Something told me it wasn’t exactly going down like that, things never got better where I came from; in fact, things always seemed to slide down hill fast; so fast, the shit would hit the fan before you could sing Dixie. And I mean, that’s singing you’re freckking lungs out.
Tilly and I were having a bite to eat. She made a mean pot stew. I’d made some nice black coffee. I had to say they really knew how to stock the joint. Quite a setup too, had some comfortable couches and chairs, and the bed I slept in the night before; well, let’s just say it wasn’t heaven, but hell it sure was close too it. That is if you believed in such things. Kidding, okay… geeze, everyone’s a wiseguy. And, Tilly, she was from Jersey originally. Of course she’d moved to city recently with her hubby, had two little one’s two: a girl and boy. Showed me some pictures. Quite a family I must say. Yours truly had to show off his pride and joy as well… dam, missing them already. Wish they had a phone in this place… yea, okay, that’s stupid; a phone, here… I know I’m going bonkers now.
Next thing ya know the young fellah shows up with a couple older suits and ask me to come with them, that its urgent. I look ’em in the eye and say: “Tell ya what fellahs, if you’ll give me the low down on why I’m here, let me know what the hell I can do to get off this boat, I might think about it.” They just gave me them big fat grins, again. Shit! What’s with all this fucking grinning…
“Buzz off!” I yell. And slam the door in their face.
Then I hear the door bell this time. Tilly gives me one of those looks – you know the kind, the kind that says: “Quit being a jerk and help those guys out.” So I dip my hat, slink away, and open the door again: “Yea…”
“We really need your help.” They sound frantic now. “We know you were a Detective at City, right?” That was the young one.
“Yeah… what of it?” I’m interested, now.
“Well, we have an incident; somethings happened. We don’t know exactly what to do, and we thought maybe you might. If you’d just come with us we can show you rather than try to explain.”
Tilly knees me behind my calf and gives that look again. “Okay, ok… hold your horses. Let me get this straight. You need a cop to help you out? A dead cop? Have I got that straight?”
They nod their heads in unison like those pop-up dolls on the hood of my old Chevy sedan that go bobble woggle… “Okay. Let’s do this… lead on gents.” I smile at Tilly and assure her this want take long. But she butts in before I can finish: “Not without me, you don’t. I’m not letting you outta my site. You got that?” I look at her: “Yes, Ma’am, loud and clear.” I grab me hat, hook her under the arms and off we go… Once again I’ve got myself into another mess. I seem to be a magnet for this kinda shit; even here, wherever here is… “dam, holy dogged dam,” I thought “What the fuck am I doing here!”
I hadn’t realized that our neighborhood seemed normal only because most of the people who lived there looked and dressed and spoke like us. Once we left our street things took a nose dive fast. One discovered quite a ghastly world of mutating streets and alleys, riverfront properties growing out of abysmal swamps, seaside cliffs with tall fortresses shaped by double-mooned eternal nights; there were storefronts of toymakers, booksellers, clothiers, magical suppliers, wand dealers, leather makers, bakeries and butcher shops; restaurants serving insects and chocolate delicacies, flagons of beer or blood wine served by mermaids floating along the river channels; cows and swine and exotic deer, antelope, and unnamed meats – skewered and turning and basting and slaking over large open fire pits where great bestial Minotaur’s – creatures with massive muscular chests and shoulders, bushy manes flowing down from powerful heads, and bullish nostrils bellowing and great jaws chomping, their gold and silver encrusted horns rising in spirals above the ancient streets where they rotated the iron spiked cages like giants of another age and order of being. It was as if we were looking through a telescope the wrong way out. Everything seemed oddly shaped, curved in, jutting out, the smooth edges roughening, the rough edges smoothing; the bricks alive with little orange glowworms crawling along their mortar, roofs fuliginous and smoky reaching into low hanging clouds that took on the shapes of the cities inhabitants, metamorphosing through a gambit of rainbow hues. The buildings seemed to grow and sway into each other like living trees, and the streets were lined with bumpy cobblestones; or, at least I’d thought they were until I realized they were bobbling, their small heads jutting up – here and there, straining their necks to discover what, if anything, their immediate neighbors were up too, and then the – what I took to be – stones, began moving or marching forward in unison down the street like soldiers in a parade, circling around from street to street like tortoises carrying the world on their backs; their humped-shouldered, deep-ridged backs crackling and peeling, revealing open tears and shredded fleshy substances of greenish gook and slimy sulfurous flows underneath, foaming and bubbling in frothy wakes like a river or black infested sewer. Working our way down one of the side-streets we began climbing some shifting steps only to realize they came to a dead end at the top; and, in process of backtracking we were again cut off, and began following the steps around and into certain merchants and sellers of occult paraphernalia – wands, herbs, poisons, sorcerers potions, etc. – until we found our way into what appeared at last to be the route toward the investigation scene. Amid all this we came to a circle where there were some thick skinned creatures with big fishy mouths, spheroidal heads and elongated gray necks craned up with their big eyes pasty and open wide staring up into the empty black sky, all of them had hoods of white and scarlet, or black and deep purple, over their heads that kept following us step by step – their eyes flashing as if waiting for us to make a wrong move, a wrong turn. Then we met a family of worm-like beings on their way home, whose jelly faces were transparent with big glowing yellow eyes and ribbed noses that blew fire and ash as they talked endlessly about some technical points on some philosophical topic I could not make out; and, with each step they took the air above them was covered in a black mist that clothed the town in darkness. The streets seemed to be getting narrower the closer we came to the city center – if center it was? – with several homes melting into liquid even as the twilight shadowed the turrets at the top of their roofs bleeding down into the streets and sewers. The shadows seemed more alive than the people, who had vacant almost mystic stares as if they were roaming elsewhere in some stranger universe of death than even this one, and had just stepped free of their body’s dreams into other dimensions of time or space.
Finally we came to an open space in the center of the city. One of the men turned and told us to wait, while the other two headed off into the darkness. I looked around and couldn’t see much, a few great willows with their gray flesh tendrils flowing down into what appeared to be a glassy black lake in a park. But I could not be sure it was so dark here, as if the whole atmosphere were filled with a shadowy substance that pervaded everything with corruption and decay. It began to get a little chilly and I gave Tilly my coat. The other men returned with a carriage and horses. They requested we be blindfolded for the trip. I’d come this far so it didn’t matter to me, but Tilly felt it was a little too strange and refused.
“Why all the secrecy?” She asked the young man.
“It’s only to protect you.”
“Protect us? But we’re dead for gawd’s sake, what can harm us further?” She laughed. I laughed with her, “I tend to agree with Tilly,” I added.
The men looked at each other and talked it over in the distance. One of the men seemed angry and left. The young man and the other returned. “It’s settled. Come, we must go.”
So we left in the carriage to our unknown destination with our eyes intact.
We were moving along at a steady pace when we heard the great thunder claps in the distance. The sky lit up revealing a tall and ominous shadowy mountain rising out of the earth before us, and above it there appeared to be the jagged edges of walls and towers. All around us lightning was bursting yet there was no moisture, but rather a dense presence of electricity burning through the nightlands. Eerily blue fires bounced around from tree to tree in the forest as if there were some mysterious game of light going on among certain dark and sinister forces. We watched the blue flames spurt and jump, loop around and around, dancing like some ancient god or goddess, blazing a trail of liquid light behind to remind us that mystery still rules the natural world.
We heard it before we saw it, the hissing sound of a million wings flipping in and out of the trees through which we were riding. Tilly saw it first: “Look, the eyes… red gleams of hate. What are they?”
The young man would not speak; the older one said: “They are the pain bearers.” That is all he would say.
Tilly scooted snuggly next to me and hugged me even closer. The horrendous conclave whirred and screamed, careening and lashing and ripping the air outside our carriage as if they might at any moment tear through the windows and unleash a torrent of excruciation the likes of which not even I could imagine. I wanted to shudder, but even that had been stripped from me. In this realm emotion was just a thought, not a feeling. Whatever had once been human in me was no more, I felt more like an empty shell, a robot awaiting some new program or software update to overhaul me and give me back my life again.
There was something uncannily familiar – almost a sense of deja vu, as the black gates opened and we reached the top of the old thundering mountain with its dark pile waiting to receive us. It hadn’t been an easy ride for either of us. Tilly was rigid with fear and yet, disquietingly quiet now. She hadn’t spoken a word since we began rising toward this great ruinous heap of an old castle. I kept thinking, What is going on here, why all this melodramatic Gothicism? I felt more like one of those characters in some 19th Century penny dreadful than a man who’d just died in the 21st Century. Something smelled rotten but I just couldn’t put my finger on it, and these scumbag suits wouldn’t say a word, not one iota, nada…
One always realizes there is a moment, an indefinable something in the nothings that cohabit one’s (in)existence, and open one to the incommensurable that is or is not one’s sense of self and identity; it is in such moment’s of collapse, when the drifting’s of one’s being begin to unravel and dissipate that one discovers the thread – not of salvation or redemption, but rather of the abysmal delicacy of one’s darkest paradoxes, which send one off into the maddening circus of catastrophes, laughing. This was such a moment. For as we entered the estate, the great doors giving onto this monstrosity of stone and mortar, we entered what seemed a masked ball, a realm of hidden relations – people or things grotesque and macabre peering from enclosures to our right and left, hideous faces of charnel house nightmares: clowns with distended eyes and dripping mouths; gnomish dwarves whose elongated ears reached the floor, and whose conical heads brokered strange and whimsical shrunken heads, toys, bits and pieces of bleeding fleshy substances; ballerinas swinging round and round the fetid bannisters their eyes stitched, their feet tied up in small carefully crafted bejeweled binders; jugglers and acrobats casting burning carcasses, laughing, joking, throwing knives into each others dead skulls; and, last, but not least, there were the arrivistes – the new arrivals, parvenu, and nouveau riche: the beautiful people, smartly dressed in festive fantasias depicting an enclave of creatures from myth and literature, decked out in elaborate costume and masks – as if this were a rendition of some ancient Venetian Carnival where the aristocrats of old were paraded out in their finery to dance and dance until the end of things.
Tilly and I were led upstairs and away from the festivities. We walked down a long hall that seemed a set piece out of some old Bela Lugosi film, and with each step Tilly hugged me tighter and tighter as if we were about to meet the beast of ultimate annihilation. The two suits were silent, moving in unison like a couple of automatons, clicking and buzzing. I kept thinking to myself – “There must be a well rounded reason for all of this nonsense, there had to be, right?” Sadly, there wasn’t.
Finally, at the end of the hall, a servant opened a door. The two suits stood on one side and the other and beckoned us to enter. Tilly held my arm, hesitating. “What’s in there?” She asked.
The two suits looked at each other, then the eldest said: “Someone wishes to speak with you.”
Oh, fine, so this was all a charade to get me here to speak to some old codger. Dam! I almost wanted to turn around right there and demand they take us back to the Alcove. But of course curiosity got the better of me and I said: “Who?”
Then we heard a voice from within the room: “Charley? Is that you, Charley?” My ears perked up. Dam, the voice was familiar. I knew that voice. And, then it dawned: Jack… Jake Bateman, my Old Boss. Dad-gummit, the little sniveling bastard was dead in here with me. What a crack-up. I looked at Tilly and said: “I think we have a friend in the dead zone, Tilly! Follow me.”
So we traipsed into the bedroom like a rag-tag troupe of lost souls and wanderers who’d just found the village store full of treats.
The bubble burst though the moment I saw who was standing by the window gaping at the dead half-moon, his skeletal head split and full of slushy slime trickling down his forehead as he turned to greet us. It wasn’t my old boss after all. It was me; or, another me, or something resembling me… or, just something…
Tilly screamed and ran… I laughed and stood there incredulously. The strange apparition before me lifted an axe and swung at me, its eyes goggling protruded and dangling down like spiders hung in a web…
As Charley awakened he felt stiff, he could not move, his head hurt where the axe had plunged. He couldn’t bare to open his eyes, but he felt the warm sun on his face, and could hear the sea or lake somewhere close by pounding the sands or shore. He heard people talking somewhere far above him. Voices that sounded like thunder, enormous and booming; a man and woman, talking. She was crying… the man’s voice sounded like his neighbor down the road, Sam Nichols. Charley was tired; too tired to care, to feel, to think… he wondered about Tilly, about last night, he felt like sleeping, sleeping for eternity…
The Death of Charley Tilly
“We found him this way, Mary,” said the man holding the crying woman: “this morning.” They were standing outside the old mansion on the cliffside. A man whose forehead was gashed in by the rocks was looking straight up at the sun. “He may have suffered, Mary,” he said a little shaky. The woman cried harder. “The coroner said he was paralyzed, but that he lived on for hours and hours…”. They both turned away from the body.
“Charley must’ve stumbled and fallen off his horse. The mountain trail coming up to the estate is pretty treacherous, and there was a storm last night. They say the bats in the cave down by the sea came out in the thousands. Possibly they scared the horse, can’t be for sure. The coroner will do an autopsy tomorrow, Mary. You should come with Dorothy and myself. You and the children.”
The woman nodded, but as she turned to go she saw something glinting in the sun below her feet. She reached down to pick it up, something almost fleshy laying next to her dead husband. It was a small doll, a masked figure – a clown or harlequin; it appeared to be blinking up at her, as if it were alive; as if it were trying to say something… she laughed at the thing, felt a chill – possibly a slight wind from the ocean behind her back coming in. She looked closer at the figure in her hand, turned it this way and that: it was carefully carved, intricately with almost perfect detail; even the hands looked real, the tiny shoes… the shoes she thought for a second: My god, those look just like the high-top riding boots Charley so loves…
Even as the woman went to put the small doll into her purse she thought she heard a slight murmuring coming from its little throat, a sigh; it startled her. As she gently lay it down upon some soft tissue she saw its eyes grow wide with fear; and, a few small, almost indiscernible, tears appeared just under its eyelids; then tenderly slide down its cheeks onto her fingers. She snatched her hand back. She blinked. She felt the chill, again. She closed the purse, tight.
The man asked her if anything was wrong. She looked at him but could not speak.
©S.C. Hickman, 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.