The dark tower stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly across black sands.
Nothingness falls from nothingness into nothingness.
-Alhrazad, The Mad Prophet
Macon Tobin knew there were things that happen that no one can explain, events so improbable that no one can ever be sure they actually happened much less believe they were real rather than just the insane gestures seeping in from some nightmare kingdom of the mind. Years go by and you put such events behind you, hide them away in the dead spaces of the mind hoping to gawd they get lost forever. He’d tried that so many times he’d lost count, nothing gets lost forever just like nothing will ever be redeemed; least of all, Macon Tobin. He’d known that for as long as he’d been in this living hell. Even longer…
Most of his adult life had been spent trying to forget things that wouldn’t stay forgotten. He’d tried to lose himself in marriage, work, and – even, whiskey; and, when that hadn’t worked he’d taken another path, lonely nights shacking up with some broad he’d of never been seen with in the daylight hours, one-night stands that just made him feel more guilty and less and less a man not to speak of his cheating heart. Oblivion was what he sought, but even that was out of the question. All he ended with was drunk on his ass and a three-night black out, an angry wife that was about to leave him and innocent children who deserved than to see their old man go down in squalor and self-pity. But the pain kept those memories coming back time after time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mary Beth he’d of been six feet under sure for shootin’, and he knew it. Knew it like the black marks on his body, marks burned so pure and deep they were never going away. Not as long as he was alive, anyway. So he’d sobered up, taken on his old life again, put on the mask of adulthood even if he couldn’t truly live up to it. He felt dead inside, going through the motions with job and marriage. He knew something had to be done, time was running out… yet, the memories persisted, and so did the nightmares.
Memories so powerful that they’d rise up out of the night, returning so twisted and out of joint, so full of animosity and judgment he never truly knew if they weren’t more real than reality; or, just the overwrought fantasies of his retched night long lucubration’s in the nightmare world. He’d wake up at times in a cold sweat just like he was now, his T-shirt soaked, underwear bubbling like lava, and his brain droning in distortion-sopped rhythms as if encased in a lapsteel guitar zinging to some Black Metal cadence of devilish chords that terrorized even the darkest of angels.
Swarming all around him, movement, churning, scuttling in the sands, waves upon waves of skittering, clattering, scuttling feet across the floors of silent wind-swept sands: the droning, chittering, ocean of carapaces moving in waves across the black sands; their clattering, chittering mandibles, an ocean of carapaces rising and rising around him in the sands, the black sands; their chittering droning voices, ten thousand or ten million million bodies, machininc drones chomping, eating, shredding anything and everything in their path… The Tower, dark and solitary, rising above the mass of black sands, above the sea of fitful drones, these machinic denizens clashing in the night under a starless sky; this strange vessel of the night, the Tower teetering on the edge of time and the abyss; floating on an island world of darkness, decay, and death – all around him, the desolation of all things at the end of light at the rim of the known universe… memories of an unreal world… The sirens of the Tower calling to him, luring him in, singing to him… their delicate tendrils reaching out to him, embracing him, lifting him above the sea of scuttling carapaces…
Macon opened his eyes, sat up, rubbed the terror of the black sands from his face… He grabbed a pack of cigs off the nightstand, looked over at Mary Beth, saw she was snoring soundly, got up put on his dingy mud encrusted jeans, pulled on his crusty boots, and then traipsed out to the kitchen. He grabbed what was left of the beer out of the fridge, pulled the half empty bottle of bourbon off the shelf, snatched up a coffee cup: – emptied the wet cig at the bottom of it, washed it out, and headed out to the back porch. Bull was laying there at the open screen eyeing him. “C’mon, Bull let’s me and you take us a walk, boy.” Bull didn’t much look like he wanted to go for no walk. He even closed his eyes as if to say: “Can’t be bothered, Macon – you’re goin’ have to figure this out all by your lonesome ole self, buddy.”
Macon laughed at the thought, kicked the screen door open and stepped over his old hound dog into the night where he could be alone with his thoughts and the stars.
He walked down to the Tree House he’d built for the kids a few summers back on a big Oak tree hanging over the river. It was still pretty sturdy, had a good rope and stairway going up, and a couple tires hanging down at odd angles so the kids could swing out over the river and take turns plunging down into those muddy waters.
He climbed up into the little alcove he’d constructed extra jutting out on the river side of the Oak for himself an Mary Beth, so they could come out some nights and just sit there sipping whiskey and watching the stars and comets fly by. There were some good times, and some bad times; but, for the most part he’d been happy with her and the kids. They were probably the only thing keeping him from going insane.
He took a swig of bourbon, popped a can of beer, poured it and another shot into the coffee cup and washed both down like an afterburner; it felt smooth and cool going down into his churning belly, cooling it off and letting him feel the numbness coming on. But his brain-pan was another matter altogether. His mind felt empty, cleaned out, purified; as if someone had singed it, burned it up with a blow torch at white heat; scorched it to black cinders and scraped his skull of every last piece of information except those old memories that wouldn’t come clean. His skull was on fire, a pitched furnace frying his brain in an incinerator like it was pigs guts on a griddle. He imagined flames bursting through at any moment from his skull, trailing a fiery plume of white fire across the river like some dragon’s tail of destruction and apocalypse.
He slung that bourbon bottle up and bottomed it out. He didn’t even need a chaser now. He was all done with chasers.
He left a guitar out there for such occasions. Sometimes it’d sooth his passions, but tonight he played a few chords and realized nothing was goin’ assuage the pain, nothing. He watched the dark hollers of the stars stretching across the face of blackness, the Milky Way roaring across that firmament like a flow of silver dollars in a stream. Smoked a few more cigarettes (another nasty habit he’d taken up of late!), and even climbed down and swung out over the river on one of the tires and plunged into the winter waters hoping he’d just sink away into oblivion. All that did was wake his ass up good and force him to gulp for air and hightail it back to the house. “Another failed idea,” he thought to himself as he saw Mary Beth standing there on the porch holding the screen door open for him with a big old beach towel ready to go.
“Don’t say it,” He said as he went by grabbing the towel…
She just smiled. She knew better than to say anything to him when he was in one of his moods.
After his shower he wiped the steam from the mirror and almost cussed himself out. He peered at the creature in the mirror: feral, ragged, hungry… He despised what he’d become over the past few months since the nightmares had begun to resurface. “Dam,” he thought, “no wonder people been giving me the eye of late.” His eyes were bloodshot and he had the lean haggard look of the insane. His hair was getting a few streaks of silver gray and white, and his mustache, which was usually wiry and full of life, looked more like a dead man’s daguerreotype snapped from the pine box just before burial. His skin tone which was usually rust toned from the long summer, and pockmarked by his hours in the wind and rain; looked peaked, emaciated and withdrawn: bony cheekbones and shadows under his eyes. It scared the shit out of him what he was becoming; it was like he was mutating or something… And, he didn’t like that “or something” at all… He’d have to do something about it. He couldn’t keep on keeping on with this sad sack situation. It was time to confront it head-on instead of pretending it would go away or get better. Enough was enough.
He finished shaving, put on a clean shirt and blue jeans, and decided to drop in on the kids. Matt was sleeping good. The boy made him proud. He saw a lot of Mary Beth in him, had her toughness and grit, her cussedness and ornery ways when it was needed; but she was also a good friend, someone he could talk to, too; or, at least speak his mind too without feeling he was going to be judged for it like his old man always judged him. He loved her. He loved the kids. He wanted to pick the boy up and give him a big hug, but thought better of it. Let him sleep, he’ll need it.
He stepped across the hall and looked in on Tammy. She was quite a sprite, mostly tom-boy and tough as a little boot; yet, he’d spent a lot of time trying to get her to be more prissy, or at least to like girlish things. Bought her nice outfits, and Doll Houses, all the typical things he’d seen his sister grow up with… There it was again, the pain… “Why want it just go away?” He said under his breath as if someone might care.
He closed the door to his daughter’s bedroom and went out to the kitchen.
Mary Beth was sipping on some coffee looking out the kitchen window when he came in. He saw she’d made him a load of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon; enough to feed an army. Plenty of butter and jam, too. She treated him better than she ought, but he knew it was her way and he loved her for it. He also tried to do his best by her, gave her space when she needed it; took the kids out at times when the moods struck her. They had a way of speaking to each other without ever saying a word. Something good about such a relationship. A certain trust…
Her long brown hair was knotted up in a curled tail exposing her neck and shoulders. She was wearing her nightgown and the robe he’d bought her last Christmas with all the flowers on it. Sunny. He like it. Yet, she didn’t look none too sunny tonight. She looked desperate, and as she turned back to him her eyes had that haunted look. Eyes that were sea-gray to violet were almost pitch blood tonight as if she’d been crying for hours. He felt bad about that. Knew it was his fault. All of it.
“I’m goin’ back, hon,” He said.
“I know,” She said matter-of-factly as if she’d been expecting it for a while. “I’ve been feeling it for a time, wondering when it’d come down to this day.”
He could see she was holding back some tears. He knew she didn’t like him to see her that way. He walked up behind her and gave her shoulders a rub, then squeezed her round the belly and kissed her on the neck.
She touched his hands, squeezing hard, saying: “I just wish it didn’t have to be today.”
“Me neither, love! Me neither…” Macon said, and meant it.
End Part One
Part Two being revised…
©2016 S.C. Hickman – Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
Note: Decided to do a complete re-write of this story. The second draft will be in 3 Parts, and I’ve pulled out as much as possible the abstract elements and replaced much of it with more character development and internal thought. Trying to convey the suspense and keep the interest going without letting the full details of the issue out of the bag in part one. Just gives a minimal outlay of the atmosphere without any details. More of an ominous: What’s going on? At this point in the story… that sense of the Southern Gothic that something heavy out of the past is weighing on Macon’s soul, something he cannot forget and must now face or lose himself, his family, his life…