Part Six

Part Six

A Chapter by Seth Armstrong
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Part Six 


The boy in the black suit surveyed himself in the mirror.  

He squinted--assessing his raiment, his manner, his appearance.  

He stood up on his toes and beheld himself for the Lord that he was.  

In the distance, he heard the girl in the black dress calling out to him.  

He smiled. 

 

The naked prince noticed the calls of his people once more once he reached the top of the stairs.  

He hadn’t even noticed their absence until they were back.  

The naked prince began to whistle a tune to shut out the noise. 

 

The religious man tried to piece the broken window back together.  

He collected the shards of glass that fell in the room after the quake and tried to fix them, but his jigsaw was incomplete.  

His hands began to bleed when he attempted to pick up his creation.  

He cast it aside in frustration and returned to prayer. 

 

The murderer pinned the victim to the ground, hands clawing at his throat.  

The victim didn’t fight back, but spoke with trembling, choking breath--“Why?”  

The murderer was taken aback for a moment, his grip loosened on the victim’s neck.  

The victim didn’t make a move to break free.  

“This is how it has to be,” the murderer said.  

The victim’s lip trembled. The murderer tried to recognize the face he had seen at first, but it was hidden away behind a mask of blood and dust. “Why?” he pleaded.  

“I can’t let you become like Him.”  

“Why do you think I would?”  

“You’ll tear everything down like He did.”  

“Look around you. There’s nothing left to ruin.”  

The murderer tightened his grip once more around the victim’s neck. “You remind me of Him,” he said.  

“How?” the victim asked.  

“The ignorance.”  

The murderer pressed down hard,  pinned the victim to the rocks by the neck, digging in deep with his fingernails until the victim’s eyes went wide and chest stopped heaving.  

“The innocence.” 

 

The boy in the black suit hovered over the girl in the black dress from afar.  

He waited for everything he determined to be a slip-up, everything he knew to be a mistake.  

He informed her of it as passionately as necessarily.  

Tears welled up in the eyes of the girl in the black dress.  

She spoke no word of blame, gave into no sense of abandonment.  

She spoke nothing of praise of the boy in the black suit.  

The girl in the black dress was a captive unsure of what to say--unsure of how to speak.  

They both smiled when they thought of each other--neither of them for the right reasons.  

They lovingly met each other’s eyes. 

 

The haggard old man was slowly losing focus.  

He grew afraid to touch the dog at all after the incident at the park.  

All he had done was try to pet it, but the pain and fear had been unmistakable.  

He had done something horrible.  

The haggard old man had hurt the dog somehow.  

He didn’t want to ever repeat it.  

Yet the dog was loyal as ever.  

It was languid; it stayed back further than usual; but it was still there.  

It followed the haggard old man, always.  

They were connected root and stem.  

They had been, since the beginning.  

They would be, until the end. 

 

The child awoke upon a hardwood floor with one blind eye and one useless arm that radiated a distant pain.  

He rubbed his bleary eye with his working hand and groggily rose to a sitting position.  

He was sitting in an attic cluttered with overflowing cardboard boxes and dusty knickknacks.  

There was no light in the room, but bursts of blues and greens and reds and whites and yellows flashed through a window in front of him.  

The child saw the stranger standing by the window, looking out. But she wasn’t the beautiful woman that he had seen her as before; she was younger now--the same age that he was, or at least roughly so.  

The stranger turned around when she heard the child stir awake. She smiled purely and warmly, with no trace of the feral rage that she had borne the last time he saw her. She held out a hand to him, beckoned him toward her. “Get up, silly,” she said. “Come over here.”  

The child hesitated, rose slowly the rest of the way to his feet. He scanned the rest of the room warily, looking for any sign of the monster, looking for any whiff of a trap.  

He could see nothing, and that made him feel even less at-ease.  

The stranger rolled her eyes and rose to her feet. “Oh, come on,” she cooed, walking toward him.  

The child flinched; his heart seized. He remembered what happened when he dropped the baby. He remembered the way she had morphed, the way she had screamed.  

She was the monster.  

He could hurt her; he could hurt It.  

The child charged the stranger. He barreled into her with his useless arm, and fire shot up it anew as they crashed into the ground.  

The child slammed into the ground face-first and groaned. He rolled to his side and tried to get up before the stranger could attack him again, but he rolled over the limp arm and fell victim to a torrent of hellfire that immobilized him, entombing him to the spot as easy prey for the monster.  

The child found himself on his back, his head turned to the side. He met the eyes of the stranger. She was taken aback but smiling. “What’s gotten into you?” she chuckled.  

Before he could stop her--before he could move--she lunged to his side, and crawled on top of him.  

The child wanted to scream, wanted to fight, wanted to stop her; but he found himself frozen by a power greater than himself. A kind warmth blossomed in his chest and quickly raced up and down the nerves all throughout his body, all throughout his limbs.  

As soon as the warmth reached the shoulder of his limp arm, he felt the pain fade. The warmth shot down through the muscles of his arm, massaging them, soothing them, healing them. He felt the bones mend themselves within his arm, knitting back together and fixing themselves in place.  

Within seconds, the arm was healed, and the pain was gone. He flexed his fingers, bent the arm. It moved easily--easier than it ever had.  

The child blinked, and he could see through both eyes again.  

The child stared warily into the eyes of the stranger on top of him. She smiled sweetly, ran her hand across his cheek. “You’re so silly,” she whispered to him.  

The child opened his mouth to say something, but he couldn’t find any words. The stranger chuckled, leaned down, and kissed him.  

The warmth took over the child. It was as if all the pain he had ever felt came suddenly undone, and every future pain was wiped away before it had a chance to happen.  

The child wrapped both arms tightly around the stranger and kissed her back. 

 

The sick man wept.  

The tears mixed with the blood and the puss and the vomit and the phlegm.  

The mixture spilled out on the floor and all over him and his snake.  

The sick man lay on the floor and wept for many days.  

When he finally began to see again, he drew back to ragged breaths.  

The sick man looked forward to the cupboard where his medicine was.  

He still had one good arm.  

The sick man left the shards of the spoon where they lie.  

The sick man threw the good arm forward and began to crawl. 

 

The naked prince took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust back to the light of the upper palace.  

He no longer felt the internal intuition that led him around the palace. With a shock at this realization, the naked prince briefly felt his heart stop at a pang of loss and hopelessness.  

Yet, after the shock began to die, he realized he wasn’t as afraid as he had initially thought.  

The light still shone through the windows, and he was still there.  

He was still there. 

 

The murderer waited until he was sure the victim was dead, and even longer still.  

The clouds dissipated above him, and the rain fell away. 

It felt like years passed before he finally rose from the body.  

He looked up at the sky.  

A storm was beginning to form, slowly. 

 

The boy in the black suit continued to chip away at the girl in the black dress from afar.  

Finally, the girl in the black dress could no longer bear the abuse.  

She snapped, she told the boy in the black suit off.  

She banished him, sent him away.  

With a sudden change in tone, the boy in the black suit fell to his knees. Crying, begging, pleading, he wept for his place at her side.  

The girl in the black suit could not help but feel pity as she lovingly met his eyes.  

Perhaps there was more to him than the slow chipping away she had experienced.  

She smiled slightly, worked against her better judgment.  

She held out a hand to the boy in the black suit.  

With a horrible smile, he accepted the help.  

She pulled him back to his feet.  

They lovingly met each other’s eyes. 

 

The religious man studied the sagging wall.  

It appeared to bend outward so that he was looking into the face of a bowl.  

It was decorated with a craquelure like spider webs.  

The religious man recognized the failing state of the wall, but he trusted in the power of God. 

 

The haggard old man grew steadily lonely.  

The dog was still there with him, but a distance grew between them.  

He no longer knew how to interact with it 

He didn’t want to cause any pain.  

He made his meals, watched TV, took his walks; and the dog followed him along; yet he tried to keep his distance, to restrain himself, to prevent further pain.  

The dog grew steadily more lethargic. It went on less and less walks; it grew steadily more comfortable staying inside, lying on the couch, watching the TV.  

The haggard old man sat beside it one night, trying to feel out its mood.  

The dog slowly drifted off to sleep.  

The haggard old man was lonely; he could hardly stand the separation.  

He reached out--practically lunged--and petted the dog.  

A rumble grew within the dog’s chest, and it grew into a horrible growl that crecendoed into a roar of pain.  

The dog snapped awake, yelping wildly at the sudden onslaught.  

The haggard old man quickly withdrew his hand, watching the dog come to awareness in agony.  

The dog met his eyes, and they stayed locked for the moment.  

The haggard old man tried to find an answer behind those eyes.  

He saw nothing but pain. 

 

The sick man’s leg began to slough away.  

The skin began to rip and tear at the seam of the hip, the tendons to tense and snap, the muscles to splinter and rip.  

The sick man tried to crawl faster, but he could barely crawl at all. His remaining good arm could barely even grasp the floor in front of him, and the pain of his broken arm coupled with the grating of his skin falling away and the constant breaks to vomit and cough up blood and phlegm left him with little time to make progress. The hours sailed away, and the sick man found himself barely closer at all.  

Perhaps his medicine would save his leg. Perhaps it could.  

But it was so far away, and he could go no faster.  

Blood erupted from seams that began to break all up and down the decaying leg. It seemed to be caught on the floor at every inch, pulling back against him, trying to take him back to the door.  

The sick man could barely find strength to throw his hand forward again, but the snake whispered in his ear.  

The snake told him that he wasn’t dying.  

The sick man knew this.  

The sick man gritted his teeth.  

The leg began to wither. 

 

The child was lost in some sort of daze.  

He couldn’t keep his eyes away from the stranger.  

She blushed and kissed him again.  

The child marveled at the miracle performed on his broken body, relished in the feeling of being able to stretch his legs without pain, to think without his brain raked over coals, to flex his arm without shards of bone impaling his muscles--

He was fixed, he was protected, he was okay.  

The stranger rose from resting on the child’s chest and helped him to his feet. She took his hand and guided him wordlessly to the window where the bursts of color bathed the walls of the attic.  

The child looked out the window to see a brilliant firework display. He saw traditionally beautiful fanfare as well as intertwined explosions that molded together to create portraits of people and places that he recognized but had never seen.  

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” the stranger said, her eyes soft.  

The child nodded, transfixed by the lightshow.  

The stranger turned to him and smiled. She grabbed his hand, and they faded away again. 

 

The boy in the black suit was now emboldened, resting in complacency.  

He had driven the girl in the black dress to a breaking point, watched her snap, and watched her relent.  

She couldn’t bear to lose him.  

He was God, and had free reign.  

There was no more obstacle.  

He had all the might and freedom to work on his project--to fix the girl in the black dress.  

There was something wrong with her.  

He knew how to fix her, and now he knew he could.  

With righteous fury and godly power, the boy in the black suit rose to the sky with fire and lightning raging in his eyes and crackling upon his palms.  

No amount of distance could assuage his passion or stifle his crusade.  

The girl in the black dress stumbled back, cowered with tears in her eyes at the sight of the fire and the lightning.  

The boy in the black suit smiled, and laughed. There was something wrong with the girl in the black dress. He knew that--and only he could fix it.  

The boy in the black suit raised his arms. Clouds oppressed the sky, and thunder roared in the heavens.  

The girl in the black dress looked up at the boy in the black suit. Her eyes were full of caution, and fear.  

His eyes were fire, and hateful.  

He leveled his fire and lightning at the girl in the black dress.  

And the onslaught began. 

 

The murderer let his gaze linger upon the valley below for a moment.  

He lost himself as he remembered the glory of the days long gone.  

He could see the gardens, 

hear the bells,  

see the people, 

revel in the laughter. 

The murderer began to smile.  

His heart began to seize.  

He fell to the ground gasping for breath, his muscles growing sore and rigid, his eyelids fluttering violently, his heart begging to break free from his ribs.  

He breathed in and out rapidly--as rapidly as he could as he held onto any point of light in the world--until he saw it.  

The corpse of the victim lay still, but something began to stir around it; a soft wind blew over it and picked up traces of a fey dust upon the surface of his skin and swirled it into a vortex over him, delicately guiding and connecting the particles together until they molded themselves into an ethereal projection of the victim floating gracefully inches above his body 

The murderer lay paralyzed upon the ground, groaning and squirming under the weight of the onslaught that beset him, mind racing as he looked for a way out--a savior from the otherworldly apparition; but there was nothing, and no one.  

The victim’s apparition turned its head to the sky, then lowered it slowly.  

He locked eyes with the murderer and smiled warmly.   

 

The naked prince stood still for a moment in the halls of his palace, lifting himself up his toes and shutting his eyes to reacquaint himself with the floating feeling.  

The calls of his people sieged his reverie.  

He winced at the intrusion, but was struck by an instinctual flash of righteousness in a blow so mighty that he fell to the floor.  

Too delirious to catch himself, he crashed against the stones. After a moment of wild, laborious breathing, he shot back to his feet and raced down the hall. 

 

The religious man lived entirely for his god.  

He spent his waking moments in prayer, in worship. He pampered God, he watered God, he caressed God.  

He only slept by accident, when his constant vigilance and devotion left him too fatigued to continue.  

Every time he awoke, he did so in a panic, horrified of his sin, and he fell back to pampering.  

The sagging wall became a source of constant crackling.  

There was a distant sound of screeching and tearing further down the hall.  

The floor winced and screamed at each application of pressure.  

There was a perpetual grinding that echoed against the walls.  

Occasionally, something crashed in the other rooms.  

The religious man smelled the flowers of his god, and smiled. He bowed his head and prayed. 

 

The child materialized in a clearing in the middle of a great forest, canopied by the wealth of the trees above that left only one small circle through which the sun could shine through uninhibited; elsewhere, it could shoot slender spears of gold through the leaves at best, creating a latticework of twinkling starlight upon the face of the clearing.  

Ahead of the child, directly under the uninhibited light of the sun, was a long, low table decorated with an immense feast, surrounded by too many empty chairs to count. On the side closest to him, a host chair stood tall and mighty above the others at the head, and it, too, lay empty.  

The child blinked several times, trying to reorient himself to this world; and, suddenly, the table was full. A chorus of singing and laughter and joyous banter echoed on the high ceiling and thick pillars of the trees. The child took a wary step back, taking in the sight of hundreds of happy people gathered round the table. Every single face he saw looked familiar, but he recognized no one.  

The tall chair at the head of the table was pushed back, and a man stood up from it, and turned around to face the child.  

The child froze by instinct before his mind had time to register what was happening. The host was far older than the child, but the similarities were too fine, too precise.  

The child was looking at himself.  

The host smiled. “Welcome,” he said, taking a step forward. The child wanted to run, wanted to hide, wanted to find somewhere quiet to collapse in on himself, but he was frozen to the spot.  

“I’m hoping that you will join us,” the host said, holding out his hand. 

 

The boy in the black suit’s vision narrowed until the girl in the black dress began to flicker and fade in his mind. He didn’t see the intelligent, talented, beautiful girl he fell in love with; he saw the partially-completed canvas he was working on. 

And he vowed to finish his masterpiece. 

There was nowhere for the girl in the black dress to hide. She took shot after shot, knocked down again and again by the fire and the lightning. Any attempt to run led to a dead end. Any attempt to fight back was futile. Any attempt to sue for peace fell on deaf ears.  

Her skin was seared by the vicious assault. She tumbled to the ground and tried to push herself back up. A bolt of lightning struck her hand. She reared back and screamed. She couldn’t escape. He was always there.  

The boy in the black suit showed no mercy. There was no end in sight for the assault. He leveled his hands and laughed, and sent wave after wave of fire tinged with lightning. He created a cataclysmic infernoa hellish storm he sent raining down from the clouds. No part of the world was left for the girl in the black dress that was not of the battlefield. The boy in the black suit left nothing for her outside of the Storm, outside of the Cataclysm.  

The onslaught dragged on for what seemed to be forever. Wave after wave, downpour after downpour.  

Everything faded away but fire and lightning. 

 

The haggard old man watched his every movement, his every step.  

The dog seemed to grow steadily more oppressed by his mere presence.  

As soon as the haggard old man would come into a room, the dog would cower away, the pain rekindled once more; yet, every time he would turn and go, the dog would follow him, at a distance.  

They were bound, root and stem.  

They had been, since the beginning. 

They would be, until the end.  

The haggard old man collapsed at his bed every night and prayed for an answer; 

but every morning, he awoke to find everything the same.  

The dog would cower away from him,  

the churning in his stomach would come back stronger,  

the guilt, sorrow, and shame would haunt him anew.  

He looked for answers within the dog--tried to find some semblance of comfort.  

He saw nothing in those eyes but pain. 

 

The naked prince burst back into his chamber to find an outfit lying upon his bed.  

He rushed toward it and threw on the clothes in a great, desperate haste.  

In what felt like mere moments, the naked prince stood fully clothed before the mirror in his room, beaming at his reflection. 

 

The murderer began to regain feeling and autonomy, but it was coming too slowly.  

Whatever the victim wanted to do, he had more than enough time.  

The victim smiled at the murderer a few moments longer before kneeling on the ground. He brushed his hands along the rocky terrain. He ran a hand over one of the cracks and sprinkled a fine dust into it. He leaned forward, breathed upon the fracture, and immediately sprouts shot up from the darkness--stems and bushes rose suddenly and flowered so quickly that the victim had to backpedal quickly to avoid being enveloped.  

The murderer tried to move out of the way, too, but his strength hadn’t returned quickly enough; he floundered awkwardly and tried to crawl away, but the encroaching shrubbery grew in might and marched toward him, invading the rocky landscape with a sickening array of colors as trees sprouted to the size of towers and flowers rose taller than anyone to have ever lived.  

A coverlet of soft grass and flowers spread in all directions of the ground, their gentle caress disagreeable to the murderer who had spent years knowing nothing but the painful lashes of the grey rocks.  

The murderer grasped onto enough strength to pull himself to his feet--to make some sort of escape.  

It was too late.  

The sky was concealed by a veil of leaves, and the murderer was lost somewhere in the middle of a maze of clustered trees and vines and flowers.  

The forest had overtaken all. 

 

The boy in the black suit sensed his project was nearing completion.  

He raised his hands once more and quieted the storm.   

He saw his project lying there on the ground.  

With a smile, he fell softly through the air.  

The boy in the black suit alighted by the girl in the black dress.  

And suddenly he was ashamed.  

Her whole body was wracked with spastic tremors. Her skin was blackened and, at some places, cleaved through to the bone. Her eyes were twitching and her teeth chattering. Her breathing was heavy, ragged, uneven, and she drew in gasps of air through fits of rattling coughs.  

The girl in the black dress lay there, destroyed, broken upon the battlefield.  

The boy in the black suit was speechless.  

He tried to gather his thoughts, come up with a rational explanation for anything he had done.  

He was left with nothing but dust on his tongue.  

He stood there, his hands shaking, his mind reeling. He watched the girl in the black dress struggle to breathe. He stayed there and watched until she finally stirred--

until the tremors began to die down, 

until her breaths became more even, 

until the twitching of her eyes stopped, 

and she rose from the ground.  

She was covered in a latticework of scars, her skin all charred and torn.  

Battered and bleeding, she met his eyes, hers shining with horror and disappointment.  

He stared blankly back, trying to come to terms with himself.  

Suddenly, the boy in the black suit spoke.  

He spoke rapidly, desperately, holding onto any flimsy justification for himself, for anything he could do to save them. His words ran forth and assaulted the girl in the black dress as a deluge of self-wallowing pity, a jumbled garble of desperate self-preservation.  

The girl in the black dress shook her head, and silenced him.  

All movement, all noise--all stopped in that moment.  

They met each other’s eyes--hers glazed with disappointment, his with fear.  

The girl in the black dress shook her head again, and turned away.  

The boy in the black suit watched as she finally walked away. 

 

The haggard old man awoke to a dreadful yelp.  

He leapt from his bed and raced down the stairs.  

The dog was there, lying on the ground twitching, apparently too hurt to move.  

The haggard old man knew not what to do; he panicked, and rushed forth.  

With every step he took forward, the dog twitched and yelped stronger, louder, harder.  

The haggard old man threw himself down at the side of the dog, his vision blurred by tears, his voice coming out as a mournful, unintelligible cry as he tried to whisper comforts to the dog.  

The dog didn’t seem to register anything he said; as the haggard old man wrapped his arms around the dog and pulled him in close, the dog looked up at him one more time, and growled and barked and yelped all at once.  

The haggard old man held on all the harder, tried to will his love into the dog--tried to force his solicitude to fix his broken yet faithful companion.  

The dog let out one last mournful howl.  

Its voice slowly faded as the cry decrescendoed.  

The haggard old man held the dog as it passed into an endless slumber, 

held it long after the end of the howl, 

long after the body went limp, 

long after the silence grew full.  

The haggard old man held the corpse of the dog all throughout the night. 



© 2020 Seth Armstrong


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Added on September 26, 2020
Last Updated on October 1, 2020
Tags: until, the, end, of, time, boy, black, suit, in, girl, dress, sick, man, religious, haggard, old, dog, prisoner, naked, prince, child, librarian, host, stranger, guilt


Author

Seth Armstrong
Seth Armstrong

Tuvalu



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A Chapter by Seth Armstrong