Part Four

Part Four

A Chapter by Seth Armstrong
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Part Four 


The child stumbled blindly over the broken land.  

One eye was blind, and the other was nearly blinded by the suffocating darkness that overtook him and all the world around.  

The child ran as quickly as he could on his battered legs, constantly tripping over protruding rocks and narrowly avoiding an endless fall into one of the ravines.  

The child found his path made out for him by these natural obstructions, guiding him endlessly one way then another, jerking him this way and that, leading him toward a destination he could not guess and did not care to.  

The roar behind him grew ever closer. It had no apparent problem with the ravines, with the constant turning and breaking of the land. It rolled over all 

Unimpeded, 

Hateful, 

Ravenous.  

The child ran as quickly as he could. 

 

The sick man arose from consciousness to find himself in a pool of dried vomit. The snake he found still wrapped around his neck, the spoon protectively grasped in his hand.  

He rose to a sitting position and beheld the door.  

The handle wasn’t shaking.  

He crawled closer to the door, pulled at the wall to pull himself up.  

It took several minutes of work for his hand to finally grasp the knob; he couldn’t help but to constantly slip back down.  

When the sick man finally found purchase, his hand disturbed a mound of dust upon the top.  

The sick man caught his breath. How could that be, if the handle had only just been trembling?  

Had he been out that long? Or, perhaps--

No, the latter thought was too difficult to bear.  

The waning strength of the sick man left him in that moment.  

He slunk back to the floor like a shadow being cast down by the light.  

With his head resting against the door, the snake whispered to the sick man.  

The sick man cupped the snake’s nose with the red spoon. He laughed, then fell into a fit of bloody coughing. 

 

The naked prince stumbled out of the room of letters when his mind lost the ability to process anything more.  

When he emerged, the naked prince saw the ghost standing in front of him.  

His hands were trembling, and his throat felt raw, but he didn’t have to say anything. The ghost knew.  

She blinked out of existence. 

 

The boy in the black suit sprinted.  

He hadn’t dressed warmly enough for the occasion.  

It was dark and dreary on the morning that the girl in the black dress left.  

This was the last time that he would have with her.  

He didn’t know that--not for certain; but he knew that this was the longest he would have with her for a long, long time.  

There was something beautiful in every move she made, in everything about her.  

Yet she was about to be hauled--to be hauled far, far away.  

There was something in this that made him rage, that made him coil.  

The boy in the black suit was a mess of broken ideas--a mess of fire that they could not contend with.  

The boy in the black suit was a god among them.  

He knew that He controlled the world. 

 

The murderer rose from the body of the woman and kicked her aside.  

He looked back out to the horizon.  

The next storm was only just beginning to form.  

He took a step back and wiped the sweat from his brow.  

He felt his heartbeat begin to rise again.  

The world began to spin. 

 

The religious man walked cautiously down the hall. On all sides, he could hear distant creaking and crackling in the foundations of the house. The religious man kept his entire body upon a swivel, moving quickly and anxiously at every slight breath the house took.  

The religious man felt a profound feeling of emptiness to be so far away from God. He worried that God hadn’t been properly pampered or primed in too long and that the religious man was failing as a servant.  

The religious man couldn’t stand it. He wasn’t even halfway down the hall, but he could go no further. He ran back to be with God. 

 

The child’s legs were numb.  

They had been steeped in pain for as long as he could now remember, and the feeling finally fell away to nothing.  

He wondered how much longer he had before they would give out entirely.  

There was no apparent end to the broken land that entombed him, and there was no guarantee that leaving it would stop the monster, anyway.  

And the roaring drew ever closer.  

The child began to hyperventilate. He had no ability to judge distances now, at a sprint, when all his focus had to be on willing his desperate legs to keep running, and on taking in every detail he could in the near-blackness through one working eye.  

The roaring drew ever nearer.  

The child knew he didn’t have much longer. 

 

The boy in the black suit held the girl in the black dress for as long as he could.  

He loved her more than anything, never wanted to let go.  

The girl in the black dress loved him, too.  

They both loved each other; they both needed each other.  

Yet the weight of the world crashed through them both. 

They held each other as tightly as they could.  

They desperately met each other’s eyes. 

 

The murderer stayed down for a moment after the second attack.  

His eyes saw the wisps of dark clouds above him coalesce, but his sight was far beyond them. He saw the glory of former days, of paved roads and tall trees, of bonfires and laughing voices.  

The murderer thought of the bonfires.  

He thought of the Cataclysm he thought at first was only bonfires.  

His eye began to twitch. 

 

The haggard old man’s concern grew by the day.  

There didn’t seem to be anything fully wrong with the dog, but he knew that something ailed it 

He tried to feed the dog different foods. He took it for more walks, then tried less walks. He held it and petted it all the more. He read to it at night. He bought it a better bed.  

Nothing worked.  

The decline of the dog’s health was slow, but it was noticeable. The dog didn’t seem fazed at all. Chipper as always, it held up its head and barked happily at the haggard old man. But the haggard old man noticed the nuances of the dog’s movement, saw the slight pitfalls in its demeanor.  

The dog jumped up and licked the haggard old man, but the warmth was less than it had been.  

Something ailed the dog.  

Something was falling apart. 

 

The sick man tried to come to terms with what the dust meant.  

There was silence in the room save for the sick man’s breath that rattled like a coughing engine as it fought the mucus built up in his lungs.  

The sick man rubbed at his blind right eye. He felt something crack and break, and the blood began to pour once more.  

The sick man did not concern himself with the blood this time. It ran like a river over the contours of his face and spilled over and into his mouth.  

The sick man let the iron tang wash over him, and he thought about the meaning of the dust. 

 

The child’s chest was on fire.  

Each heaving, ragged breath felt like a hammer being pounded and lodged into his lungs, followed by another, and another, and another, and--

The roaring broke out nearly right behind the child, and his ears went numb; sound of the world went dead, and there was nothing left to hear but a distant ringing.  

The child kept running.  

The roaring drew ever nearer. 

 

The boy in the black suit and the girl in the black dress stood on the foot of a sloped driveway and tried not to cry.  

“No tears,” the girl in the black dress kept repeating. “No tears.”  

“No tears.” 

“No tears.”  

“No tears.” 

With tears brewing, they desperately met each other’s eyes. 

 

The murderer pushed himself back to his feet to find that the storm had already begun to draw nearer.  

Black spots danced around his vision, and he could feel his chest tightening.  

He wanted to stay down--to shirk this responsibility and allow the consequences to wash over him.  

But that wasn’t an option--it couldn’t be.  

He was a protector--a guardian.  

He was the gatekeeper.  

He had to hold Them back before they could follow in the footsteps of the boy in the black suit.  

The murderer drew himself together.  

His eye began to twitch. 

 

The naked prince followed the ghost.  

He had no clear sight of where she had gone, but he keenly felt the same sense of intuition that had led him to the room of letters.  

His heart shuddered in apprehension at whatever nightmare could come next.  

But the naked prince pressed on. The vaulted halls and trappings of wealth fell away from his tunnel vision as he limped through his palace.  

The naked prince found himself going steadily downward--further and further into the depths of the castle until he finally found himself standing outside the entrance to the palace dungeons.  

Without hesitation, the naked prince stumbled through the doorway. 

 

The religious man knew himself to be a coward, a failure. He had not gone through with the task appointed to him.  

But he could not stand to be away from God for that long.  

The floor of the hallway groaned and seemed to crack under the religious man’s feet as he returned to the sanctuary.  

He ignored this. His mind was focused on one thing only.  

The religious man burst back into the room and was awestruck by the beauty and majesty of God. In a tearful outburst, he murmured and cried out at the sight.  

The religious man fell to his knees and crawled forward to God.  

Without raising his head, he reached up with his hands and caressed the pot that his god grew in. He groveled and wept, begging and pleading for forgiveness.  

A sense of serenity beset him. Weakly, he raised his head.  

He could see no stain of blame or disappointment in the eyes of God.  

Rather, he saw pride.  

Overwhelmed, the religious man wept. 

 

The sick man knew he wasn’t dying.  

That was impossible.  

The sick man would live until the Visitor came--and then he would be cured.  

Yet the sick man’s very bones felt more fragile than glass, and each breath became more ragged than the last.  

The sick man glanced to the cupboard next to his bed. There, he knew, was his medicine.  

The Visitor was still, perhaps, a long way off.  

The sick man knew he wouldn’t die.  

But he knew the medicine would make the waiting more bearable.  

The sick man took a deep, horrible, shaky, fragile breath in.  

The sick man grabbed at the wall, and pulled himself to his feet. 

 

The boy in the black suit knew that time was running out.  

The girl in the black dress knew this, too.  

They couldn’t hold onto each other forever.  

The world was impatient, rumbling as it waited to sunder them.  

They tried to exchange gifts, parting words, distant promises.  

All of it felt hollow there in the cold, dreary blackness of a bleak morning.  

All sound of the world had melted away and fluttered into the wind.  

Everything fell apart and disappeared except for two lovers on the brink of separation.  

The world stood still and silent around them; yet it moved far too fast, screamed far too violently.  

The two lovers hung on even harder.  

They desperately met each other’s eyes. 

 

The murderer watched carefully as the storm formed in the distance.  

It crawled along the sky toward him.  

He flexed his fingers and breathed deeply.  

The next victim was on their way. 

 

The haggard old man decided to take the dog to the vet.  

The sickness could only get worse, and he needed the help.  

He scrounged through his house for all the money that he could find, hoping it was enough to pay the bill.  

He beckoned the dog toward the dog, and they walked to the office.  

The haggard old man walked up to the front desk. The receptionist seemed at a loss when the haggard old man tried to show him the dog that needed treatment, but he made the appointment anyway.  

The haggard old man waited by the fish tank with the dog in his lap, petting it gently as it barked happily at all the colorful creatures.  

After a while, the vet called them in.  

When the haggard old man came into the room, the vet seemed just as lost as the receptionist had been.  

The haggard old man sat down on a chair, brought the dog to his lap, and began to explain the problem, but the vet interjected--“Sir, where is your dog?”  

The haggard old man was taken aback, and asked for clarification.  

“Your dog--where is it? You talk about it like it’s here.”  

The haggard old man held up the dog, implored the vet to look at him--to see.  

The vet shook her head. “Is this some kind of prank?” she asked.  

The haggard old man blinked a few times. He could think of nothing else to do. The dog barked happily.  

“There!” the haggard old man exclaimed. “You heard it bark! You had to!”  

The vet narrowed her eyebrows. “I didn’t hear anything, sir. Are you feeling all right?”  

The haggard old man bit his lip and held the dog up further. Maybe the lighting was wrong? Perhaps the vet was going blind. The dog was right there--with him, with her, in the room. It was right there. There was no way she couldn’t see it.  

“Ma’am, my dog,” he said, holding it aloft still. “It’s right here. It needs help.”  

The vet didn’t seem to know what to say. She simply shook her head.  

“My dog--it--it needs--” the old man stammered, looked for compassion in the eyes of the vet.  

All he saw was pity.  

He bit his lip harder, began to breathe heavily. He could feel his face burning.  

She had to see it. She had to.  

The haggard old man didn’t know what to do. He brought the dog in closer to his chest and felt the tears that began to stream down his face as he ran out the door, and back home. 

 

The naked prince found light down the path to the dungeon to be sparse, and to grow ever more so as he cautiously descended flights of stairs with no apparent end.  

The concept of time became lost to him by the time the pad of his feet echoed against the stone walls at the bottom of the stairs, and a wide room of empty cells opened on both sides of him.  

The naked prince persisted forward, fading in and out of existence in the plains of shadow that existed beyond the domain of the few torches that still burned.  

The hall stretched endlessly--perhaps even longer than the descent.  

The naked prince felt the strength in his legs begin to wear away before he found his first sight of another person.  

The prisoner leaned forward against the bars of his cell. The rattle rang throughout all the hall.  

The naked prince jumped, and turned to take the sight of the man in.  

The prisoner narrowed his eyes. “You come to let me out?” he asked.  

The naked prince shook his head.  

The prisoner blew raspberries. “Figures.”  

“Do I know you?” the naked prince asked.  

The prisoner smiled. “Has it been that long? We built this palace together.”  

“I built this palace alone.”  

The prisoner shrugged. “If you insist.”  

“Yet I do remember you now.” The naked prince inched closer to the prisoner, taking in every detail of the emaciated man’s appearance. “You were a wild, unkempt beast.”  

“Yes,” the prisoner returned with a laugh, “I did my job well.” 

 

The child was desperate, lost, and terrified.  

The roaring could be only a dozen yards away, at most.  

A few more strides, and It would have him.  

The child’s head was swimming in pain and exhaustion, bathing in a pit of loss and despair.  

The child cut a corner to avoid another ravine, and he stopped.  

He couldn’t let It get him.  

But there was nowhere else to run.  

There was no way to keep ahead of It.  

He had to jump.  

The child drew himself up on battered, shaky legs. They were more than willing to drop him at last.  

The child closed his eyes, took in the searing fire of the fatigue that held him captive.  

The child took a deep breath, and fell forward into the ravine.  

But it was too late.  

The monster was already there.  

It reached out quickly and grabbed the child around the chest.  

A sudden burst of adrenaline gave rise to a final effort by the child. He opened his eyes, screamed, thrashed against the rough fingers of his captor.  

It was no use.  

The monster didn’t even register the child’s attacks. It raised him from the ravine and turned him around in Its hand.  

In a final burst of desperation and defiance, the child screamed into the most repulsive face he had ever seen.  

His cries were drowned out entirely by the monster’s answering roar. 

 

The murderer saw the victim come up the path toward him, bringing the sharp rain and bright lightning. The victim was a wide-eyed and cautious man, taking in the barren and blackened scenery with languid trepidation.  

The murderer crouched behind a rock and prepared to strike.  

The victim walked slowly into the trap, and the murderer struck.  

The murderer leaped out with a terrifying screech and slammed into the victim, hands grasping at his throat. The victim yelped and began to thrash about, but the murderer held on tightly. With a crazed, frantic mania in his eyes, the murderer lifted the victim’s the neck to pull his head up, moved a hand over his face, and slammed his head into the rocky ground.  

The stunned victim went slack for a moment but recovered quickly and tried to bite the palm over his face. The murderer dug his fingers deep into his neck and drew blood with his fingernails as he prepared to slam the victim’s head again.  

The victim thrashed against the murderer to no avail. The murderer slammed his head into the rock again and again and again until the resistance to his attack became weaker and--

Something seized in the murderer’s chest. His eyes went wide as he found himself suddenly short of breath, then coughing, then choking on the air he was breathing. His grip slackened and fell away from the victim as he brought his hands up to chest and neck to assess them. His heart was beginning to race, and the world began to spin rapidly. He fought for each desperate breath as he stumbled to stay balanced and--

The victim had recovered enough to seize the opportunity. He wiggled his way out from under the murderer and kicked him back, knocking him on his side.  

The victim hesitated for a moment, looking over the body of the murderer as if he wanted to do more. The murderer watched him, eyes wide and fearful as he could no longer control his body to defend himself.  

The victim took several shaky breaths, stumbled back, turned, and ran past the broken gate. 

 

The boy in the black suit knew that time had run out.  

He could refuse to accept it all he wanted to, but he knew it was gone.  

It had always been fleeting.  

Now it was gone.  

The girl in the black dress kept chanting. “No tears. No tears. No tears. No tears.”  

Time was out.  

The boy in the black suit hugged her tighter. She hugged him tightly back.  

But the weight of the world sliced too heavily between them, and they were sundered apart under a cloudy sky.  

They longingly met each other’s eyes, but there was now a distance between them that could not be bridged.  

The girl in the black dress got into the car. Her hands were shaking, her eyes were watering, her breathing was ragged. But there was no more time. She could not delay the inevitable any longer. It was time to go.  

The boy in the black suit stood destitute upon the sloped driveway as the girl in the black dress leaned out the window, and the car drove away.  

As the car rumbled down the road, slowly growing smaller, the girl in the black dress leaned out the window and screamed, “I love you!”  

The boy in the black suit screamed back, “I love you, too!”  

He wasn’t sure if she heard him.  

The car rounded the corner.  

The girl in the black dress was gone.  

The boy in the black suit stood there on the sloped driveway as the light rain pattered against him.  

He desperately watched after the spot where the car had disappeared.  

He couldn’t look away. 



© 2020 Seth Armstrong


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Added on September 25, 2020
Last Updated on October 1, 2020
Tags: dress, girl, old, haggard, man, religious, suit, lightning, fire, prince, naked, child, sick, black, in, boy, muderer, time, of, guilt, until, the, end


Author

Seth Armstrong
Seth Armstrong

Tuvalu



Writing
Blurb Blurb

A Chapter by Seth Armstrong