Part Five

Part Five

A Chapter by Seth Armstrong
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Part Five 


The boy in the black suit watched as his fingers trembled involuntarily.  

He felt something rending, tearing deep inside of himself.  

His eye began to twitch.  

He could feel the sanity fade in and out around him, began to wonder how much time he still had before he fell apart entirely.  

He needed something to focus on--something to anchor himself to the world.  

He needed a project.  

From a thousand miles away, the girl in the black dress called out to him.  

The boy in the black suit watched as his fingers stopped trembling.  

He smiled. 

 

The haggard old man watched with pitiful eyes as the dog began to draw into itself.  

It no longer seemed so interested in taking walks.  

It came to the door less and less.  

It rarely asked for permission to leave, to go outside.  

The haggard old man didn’t know what to do.  

He tried different vets.  

Every time, they couldn’t see the dog.  

They acted like the haggard old man was insane.  

The haggard old man knew better.  

He held the dog and petted him gently, whispered to him that it would be all right.  

He didn’t know what was ailing his faithful companion, but he would find out.  

That much, he knew for sure. 

 

The naked prince studied the prisoner.  

“If you aren’t here to let me out,” the prisoner persisted, “perhaps you’re feeling sentimental.”  

“For you?” the naked prince asked.  

“You must remember the days we were together as well as I do--perhaps better. They were better days, weren’t they?”  

“They were--in spite of, not because of--you.”  

“They were only good because of me,” the prisoner sneered. “I am the reason you have anything to look back on. If it weren’t for me, you would’ve rotted in your hut.”  

“I didn’t need you. I never have.”  

“You still do. Even from down here, I can sometimes hear them: the cries of a forgotten people doting on a derelict ruler who does nothing.”  

“You would have led us to ruin.” 

“I would have led us to prosperity. You yield the bare minimum and do nothing with it.”  

“And what do you do, except set fire to the halls and burn her alive?”  

The prisoner arched his eyebrows. He grasped the bars of his cell tightly and drew his face up between them. “Is that what this is about?”  

“I don’t know. I didn’t come to see you willingly.”  

The prisoner laughed. “We both built this castle. We both tilled the fields. We both washed the streets. We laid every stone and fixed every sconce, together. We built the thrones. We set the windows. We minded the gates. All these things, we did together.”  

“I did these things alone. All you’ve ever done was destroy.”  

“We both brought her to life, and we both killed her.”  

The naked prince fixed the prisoner in a hard stare.  

“Oh?” the prisoner sneered. “Not so eager to take all the credit now?”  

“You’re down here for a reason,” the naked prince returned. “You prove that with every word. I hope I happen to be down here to watch you die.”  

The prisoner snickered. “We will die the same way we built this palace.”  

The naked prince turned away, and marched back the way he came. 

 

The murderer’s heart began to race again--not from another attack, but from fear 

and failure.  

The victim got away.  

Through the gate.  

Mind reeling, spinning, flipping over and into itself, the murderer gritted his teeth and leapt back to his feet.  

He still felt weak. Flimsy.  

But he couldn’t stay down.  

The victim had made it past him.  

The murderer had to go after him.  

Everything depended on it. 

 

The sick man found himself at his feet.  

His legs were fragile, his ragged breaths heavy.  

Sweat beaded at his forehead, and blood still poured from the blind eye.  

He shut out the pain, drank in the metallic tang.  

The sick man took a step toward the bed, toward the cupboard, toward the medicine.  

The sick man’s leg gave out immediately, and he fell to the floor. 

 

The child struggled desperately against the grip of the monster.  

But the fingers wrapped themselves even tighter around him, and there was nothing he could do.  

The monster lifted the child up to the level of Its eyes.  

The child thrashed as wildly as he could.  

The fingers strangled him even tighter--so tightly that he could feel his ribs on the verge of snapping.  

The child tried desperately to look away from the hideous face--to see anything but what It wanted to show him.  

The child clamped his eyes tightly shut.  

The child was thrashing, hyperventilating, screaming, crying, begging, pleading.  

Suddenly, he felt the monster’s grip loosen until it fell away and was gone.  

The child took a slow, cautious breath, and slowly opened his eyes.  

The arid, scorched, broken earth was gone.  

There was no impending darkness.  

There was no monster.  

The child found himself standing in a meadow of beautiful flowers that stretched as far as the eye could see, and a pure, golden sunlight spilled all over the land.  

In front of him, there was a beautiful woman he didn’t recognize. She was wearing a hospital gown and cradling a baby in her arms.  

The stranger met the child’s eyes, and she smiled. 

 

The religious man hardly noticed the cracks that began to shoot up and down the wall.  

He had his head bowed in worship.  

Above him, God loomed mighty and sent out His blessing to all.  

The religious man knew this, and praised Him. 

 

The boy in the black suit and the girl in the black dress talked from a thousand miles away.  

They reached out for each other’s hands, each other’s hugs, each other’s warmth--and there was only the cold, desolate distance that lay between them.  

The two lovers spoke and comforted each other from far away, and it was not enough.  

Every word was muffled, no touch connected.  

Their heads began to hang low, their hearts weighed heavily in their chests 

They could see the pictures, see the projections.  

They were as connected as they could possibly be.  

Yet it was too much. Everything was too much.  

And something was wrong. The boy in the black suit knew that. Something was wrong with the girl in the black dress. He hadn’t yet pinpointed it exactly, but he knew it was there. He knew he needed to fix it.  

The two lovers reassured each other from a thousand miles away.  

They pressed their palms against the screen as if they could overcome the distance.  

They longingly met each other’s eyes. 

 

The murderer ran as quickly as he could.  

The path on the other side of the gate sloped down the mountain for several miles until it spilled out onto a broken valley, on a path that led to a fallen kingdom.  

The murderer wasn’t going to let his prey get that far.  

He couldn’t.  

Everything depended on it. 

 

The weight of the world began to crash into the boy in the black suit.  

He knew it crashed into the girl in the black dress as well.  

The distance between them became immeasurable.  

The boy in the black suit went to sleep at night thinking of oceans that couldn’t be crossed and mountains that couldn’t be scaled.  

The girl in the black dress was impossibly far away.  

He had to endure the chaos, the torture--to make it back through to her no matter what it took.  

The weight of the world crashed into him, but he had to press on.  

He had to press on.  

He had to press on. 

He had to press on.   

 

The naked prince made it nearly back to the stairs before he collapsed to his knees.  

The ghost flickered into existence before him.  

She smiled.  

“Is this funny to you?” the naked prince asked.  

The ghost said nothing, and blinked away. 

 

The child eyed the stranger suspiciously as she smiled at him.  

The stranger beckoned him toward her with one hand.  

The child took a step back, looking around for any sign of the monster.  

“Oh, come on, silly!” the stranger said, beckoning him.  

The child breathed in and out cautiously, kept his eyes peeled, and walked toward the stranger.  

She smiled as he approached, and she offered the baby out to him. “Here,” she said, “hold her.”  

The child reached out and took the baby in his arms. The stranger smiled.  

The child met the baby’s eyes. She smiled wide when she saw him and started thrashing happily in his arms, babbling loudly.  

The stranger laughed. “She likes you more than me.”  

The child held the baby tighter to keep her from rolling out of his arms. He looked up at the woman and offered a weak, awkward smile.  

The stranger returned a warm, pure, playful grin. She nodded down at the baby. “She has your eyes,” she said. 

 

The sick man tried to catch himself.  

He shot out his hand holding the red spoon out of instinct.  

The spoon hit the floor bowl-first, bent, and shattered.  

The sick man’s palm caught the floor next; the arm bent, and shattered. 

 

A horrid, rending tear shot up the child’s arm.  

He stifled a scream at first but couldn’t hold it back when a crack raced up from the bones of his hand up his arm, shattering them like glass into a million pieces.  

The child screamed in pain and dropped the baby in his arms.  

The child and baby both fell to the ground. The child screamed and cradled his broken arm. The baby crashed against the ground headfirst.  

The stranger screamed. A flash of gold shot through her eyes, her nose, her mouth, her ears.  

The child watched as the stranger writhed and morphed right in front of him, growing in size and might until she flashed for a brief moment in the image of the monster that had grabbed him; and then she shrunk back down to size, back to her beautiful form, panting and heaving.  

The baby lay motionless between them.  

The child’s mind oscillated from one end of insanity to the other.  

He was captive to the sensation of glass breaking in his arm over and over, slicing his veins and pulling apart all the nerves in his body. He was writhing and screaming on the ground, desperately pleading for any form of relief from the sudden, sharp, insurmountable pain.  

But there was just enough of him left lucid to realize what had happened.  

He could hurt It.  

The child met the stranger’s eyes once again. She was crouched low, eyes feral, teeth bared.  

The child prepared for her to charge, but she flickered quickly and faded away--as did the sunlight, 

as did the meadow, 

as did he. 

 

The boy in the black suit was on the edge of a breakthrough.  

He began to understand the problem--the problem with the girl in the black dress.  

She was perfect--so, so perfect.  

He knew that.  

But there was a problem with her all the same.  

She gave in too much to the weight of the world.  

That was it, he realized.  

That was it, he knew.  

She was far too impressionable--far too fickle.  

He needed to correct her.  

He needed to fix her.  

He could do it.  

He could do it.  

The girl in the black dress smiled on the other end of a call--a pure, beautiful, angelic smile.  

The boy in the black suit smiled back with a perverted sense of achievement.  

He knew what was wrong with her.  

She longingly met his eyes.  

He passionately met hers. 

 

The haggard old man paced back and forth in the living room.  

The dog lay in the corner, watching his movements but making no attempt to mirror them.  

The haggard old man needed something, needed some sort of plan.  

He rushed toward the door, pulled it open, beckoned the dog to come with him.  

The dog rose languidly, yawning and blinking as it awoke fully.  

The dog was hardly in the mood to go anywhere, for any reason; but the haggard old man could not be dissuaded. He prodded and pleaded, and the dog was compelled to come.  

The haggard old man led their walk, as he had uncomfortably grown accustomed to.  

The dog followed slowly behind, its eyelids heavy, its limbs sore.  

The haggard old man kept going, kept leading, kept leading--

 

The religious man found one of his sessions of prayer interrupted by a tremor through the earth.  

He himself was thrown forward to the ground, and crashed into the cracked hardwood.  

In a desperate haste, the religious man, thoroughly splintered, pulled himself up, and made sure that God had suffered no harm.  

The religious man sighed in relief to find Him okay, then turned to address his own wounds.  

As he tried to pluck out the splinters, another tremor tore through the ground. The religious man was thrown off-balance, the high window above cracked and blew open, and the wall to the side heaved and began to crunch under the weight of the roof.  

The religious man whipped around violently, waiting to see what fate these events portended.  

No more harm befell the room.  

The religious man sighed in relief, and dropped back down to pray in thankfulness for God’s protection. 

 

The murderer slowly regained his strength.  

The victim’s path was marked by a trail of crimson droplets that stained the dry rocks.  

The murderer followed it like a bloodhound.  

The victim was weakened, bleeding--maybe bleeding out. He was disorientated--had to be. He was going nowhere. He wouldn’t be able to make it.  

The murderer picked up the pace.  

Soon after, he heard the patter of footfalls ahead. 

 

The boy in the black suit insulted the girl in the black dress.  

He knew that it wasn’t right--perhaps that he had overstepped his bounds.  

But it was exactly what she needed to hear.  

He knew that.  

He knew that.  

There was something wrong with her, and he knew what it was--only he knew what it was.  

He saw the tears begin to form in the eyes of the girl in the black dress.  

He felt his hands begin to tremble.  

He knew what was wrong with her.  

He knew what was wrong. 

 

The sick man lay on the floor, caught between feeling the fire that raced up and down the broken arm and nothing at all.  

The sick man glanced at the arm. He winced.  

The sick man glanced at the shards of the red spoon. He wept. 

 

The naked prince rose to his feet.  

He glanced over his shoulder--back down the hall, back toward the prisoner.  

His legs rebelled against him, jerking him around, encouraging him to return.  

The naked prince stopped himself.  

There was no key to the lock on the prisoner’s door. That power existed merely within the naked prince’s hands.  

The naked prince took in several heavy, rattling breaths.  

Inhale, exhale. 

Inhale, exhale. 

Inhale, exhale.  

The naked prince took another step back down the hall, winced, and mastered himself. He thought he felt a wind come up behind him, caressing him, and nudging him that way. A violent, desperate stirring took root in his heart and pulled at him. It took all the strength he could muster to not fling himself back down the rows of cells.  

The naked prince planted his feet. He mulled over the words of the prisoner, chewing them carefully and spitting them out one by one.  

The naked prince was not susceptible to any spell of guilt or false histories.  

The naked prince turned back around and ascended to the upper palace. 

 

The haggard old man brought the dog to the park.  

The dog seemed to perk up at the sight of the park, of being back where they had once shared such joyous moments. He barked weakly, but happily.  

The haggard old man was nearly brought to tears by such a declaration; but he mastered himself and led the dog along the trails, led it along the paths they knew so well.  

The haggard old man led the dog along to the tree that they knew, the one they always rested at. They arrived just in time: the sun had been setting, and the stars were now beginning to light themselves; silver spotlights flared in the sky.  

The dog made no move to coax the haggard old man to join it in a game. The haggard old man sat in the shadow of the tree, and the dog trotted languidly to join him, and plopped down heavily at his side.  

The haggard old man smiled gently. He reached over and petted the dog, trying to soothe it to sleep.  

The dog recoiled and let loose a terrifying screech. 

 

The boy in the black suit forgot what normalcy felt like.  

It was a rare occasion that he went to bed without another sharp word, another strong argument.  

He knew what was wrong with the girl in the black dress.  

She didn’t seem to understand--not yet, anyway.  

But she would.  

She was his perfect, beautiful flower.  

He would mold her into what he needed her to be if he had to.  

She didn’t seem to understand what the problem was.  

If there was one thing he would make sure of, it was that she would know the error of her ways.  

She would know the flaws he found in her.  

He would tear her apart if that’s what it took to put her together properly.  

The two lovers longingly met each other’s eyes.  

There was no greed behind the eyes of the girl in the black dress.  

There was nothing but behind the eyes of the boy in the black suit. 

 

The murderer saw the victim running desperately.  

The victim was bleeding from multiple lacerations on the head, swaying while he ran, stumbling over the rocky debris on the ground and the cracks that delved into it and slipping as the rain watered the mountainside.  

He was making poor time. He wasn’t even halfway down the mountain.  

The murderer’s crazed eyes grew wider.  

A shiver of anticipation shot through his spine.  

He sprinted even harder, ignoring the residual aftershock from the last attack in his chest.  

The victim looked back, his eyes widening at his waning lead.  

The murderer kept sprinting.  

The victim stopped abruptly, stumbling over his last steps as his flight came to a forlorn end on the slope of the bare mountain in a storm.  

The victim fell to his knees, eyes glazed as he looked out ahead--toward the Ruins.  

The murderer didn’t stop, didn’t slow down.  

He came upon the victim and tackled him to the ground. 

 

The haggard old man jumped back in shock.  

The dog howled and yelped and leaped away from the haggard old man.  

The haggard old man kept his distance, looked skeptically down at his hands.  

He met the eyes of the dog.  

He sensed something deep--something terrible--within.  

There was, of course, the indomitable love that was ever-present.  

But there was something else there that lingered.  

The haggard old man looked into the eyes of the dog, and he saw the past.  

He saw caution.  



© 2020 Seth Armstrong


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


Author

Seth Armstrong
Seth Armstrong

Tuvalu



Writing
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A Chapter by Seth Armstrong