Part Seven

Part Seven

A Chapter by Seth Armstrong
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Part Seven 


The boy in the black suit chased desperately after the girl in the black dress.  

He chased her into a forest of shadows, running breathlessly after every potential lead and hint to her whereabouts.  

Shaking, hyperventilating, panicking, the boy in the black suit ran as fast as he possibly could.  

It wasn’t until he got out of the forest that he found any concrete sign of her: on the ground in the middle of a field of tall grasses, a note lay sprawled upon the ground.  

The boy in the black suit raised the note to his eyes, read her final goodbye.  

Wracked with tremors and out of breath, the boy in the black suit involuntarily crushed the note in his hand. Wounded and weeping, he felt the air rush around him as he legs gave out, and he clattered against the ground.  

He lay there on his side, the grasses tickling every hint of bare skin, his eyes glazed, staring out into nothing.  

She was gone. 

 

The religious man was jolted from one of his unplanned naps at the sound of a great, horrible rending sound somewhere else in the house, followed by a deafening roar of a crash.  

The religious man felt scared for a moment, then foolish upon remembering that he was protected.  

The religious man inched closer to his god, reaching out until he could feel the flowers in his hand, and he smiled. 

 

The sick man found he could go no further.  

The last few feet to cupboard by the bed may as well have been a thousand miles.  

The sick man’s remaining arm fell to his side.  

The leg continued to tear away, a mess of blood and muscles that fell apart as easily as a pile of leaves are blown down by the wind.  

The sick man felt the tendons snapping in his leg.  

The sick man closed his eyes and waited for them all to fail.  

When the sick man could finally move again, the leg hung on by nothing, and he left the withered appendage behind. 

 

The naked prince was so absorbed in pride at the sight of his reflection that he didn’t notice the ghost materialize behind him.  

“You look nice,” she said.  

The naked prince jumped, and faced her. He stumbled over himself in his mind, looking for something to say.  

“Remember how this feels,” the ghost continued. “It’ll make it easier to get back to this point next time.”  

The naked prince worked the moisture back into his throat, but his voice still came out as a croak. “Next time?” he asked. “I don’t understand.”  

“No, you don’t.”  

“Don’t speak to me in riddles. Just tell me what you mean.”  

The ghost fixed him in her eyes, and said nothing.  

Tell me.”  

The ghost smiled, and blinked out of existence. 

 

The boy in the black suit lost all sense of time and direction.  

He wandered through the vast grassy field until he came upon a mountain pass. He stumbled through it and happened upon a burg on the other side.  

The guard at the gate stopped the boy in the black suit, her mouth agape. “It’s been far too long,” the guard said. “Please, friend, join us once more.”  

The boy in the black suit watched in a dazed silence as the gape swung open, and there behind it stood a horde of people to welcome him as family.  

The boy in the black suit nearly threw up at the sight.  

He turned away and walked back out into the wilderness. 

 

The murderer ran.  

He leaped over bushes and ducked under vines, head on a swivel as he sprinted for some way out. A pale light filtered in gently through the leaves above, and they guided his way into madness.  

There were no paths to follow through the forest; the chaotic overgrowth lay in all directions like a turbulent ocean with no boundaries. The murderer waded in further through the waves to find any sign of the shore, but all led into a distant unknown lit only by a fey light from above.  

The murderer’s chest began to clench. His head was swirling, and his breaths were ragged; but this was different from the other attacks; it was a deep sense of loss delving deeper inside him by the minute, clawing deeper until it would be able to condense within him and explode outward. 

He sprinted through the forest and crashed through more trees until finally--distantly--he heard a clamoring.  

He ran for it.  

He broke through a border of brush and leaped over a small stream to find himself standing on the edge of clearing within which a woman stood constructing a castle. She stood in the middle of the field in front of the foundation, raising and placing stonework and decorations ostensibly with her mind.  

As soon as the murderer crashed into the clearing, the architect froze and turned around.  

The murderer recognized her.  

She was one of his victims.  

The architect smiled warmly at the murderer, and waved.  

The murderer felt his heart seize.  

He turned away and sprinted back into the unknown. 

 

The haggard old man picked the most beautiful plot to bury the dog at.  

He had walked far and wide to find it, and found it in the middle of a forest, next to a waterfall.  

The roar of the water drowned out all the noise.  

It drowned out the weeping of the haggard old man and the sound of the shovel breaking the ground.  

It drowned out all these noises until the task was finished--until the grave was covered, the dog laid to rest.  

The haggard old man stood over the grave at a loss, tried to find some words to say, some sensation to feel, some thoughts to entertain.  

There was nothing, 

there was no one.  

There was nothing, 

the dog was gone. 

 

“Who are you?” the child asked, his breath growing thin.  

The host looked puzzled. “I’m you,” he answered. “I’m you as you will be many years from now.”  

The child shook his head, stepped back, drew in several more panicked breaths. The chorus of merriment from the feast lessened slightly. The starlight upon the forest floor seemed to grow sharper--perhaps angry. “You’re It,” he said. “You’re the monster.”  

The host laughed--a light, clear, pure sound that rang through the forest, fluttered lightly in the breeze, and penetrated the walls of the child’s wariness. The child found himself suddenly more trusting, suddenly more open.  

The child realized this at once--realized the potency of the host’s attack. He gritted his teeth and hardened his heart.  

“That is your perception of me,” the host said. “That is not what I am.”  

“You’ve been hunting me,” the child snarled. “You’ve been torturing me.”  

“I’ve been pursuing you, yes. You’ve been running circles foolishly down a road that leads to a dead end, eschewing the wealth and glory that you’ve been guaranteed on the way forward.” The host took another step forward, then another. Before the child could react, the host was right there, right on top of him, and the child had no time to scream or cry out before the host reached forward and grabbed the arm that had been broken, held it aloft. “The torture you’ve undergone has come from your own decisions. I never hurt you.” The man applied pressure to the arm he held. There was no pain. “I’ve healed you.”  

The child suddenly found the strength to move. He pulled his arm roughly out of the host’s grip and stumbled away from him, glaring sharply. “You’ve done nothing but hinder me,” the child snarled. “I have an obligation.”  

The host laughed again. The child hardened himself against the noise to not be persuaded even for a moment. “Yes, I know your charge,” the host said. “I remember it well.” He paused, inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Do you know where you are? Where you’ve been?”  

The child made no answer.  

“You’re in my memories,” the host continued. “You’re in our memories.”  

“I’m not you,” the child snapped.  

The host smiled kindly. “You’re simply afraid.”  

“I’m not afraid of you,” the child sneered.  

“I didn’t say that you were afraid of me.” The host held out his hand. “Come along. Join me.”  

The child made no move to take the host’s hand, but it didn’t matter; moments later, the world faded away. 

 

The religious man noticed that the sagging wall seemed to be growing fatigued at holding up the weight of the roof.  

He ran his hands over it and whispered soft prayers for its strength and security.  

The religious man protected the wall, and himself, by the power of God. 

 

The boy in the black suit began to cry for help.  

He stumbled through the mountain paths and slept in dark caves, trying to chase away the memories that lay within every shadow.  

The winds whipped wildly at him and threw him to the ground. He clawed along the rocky terrain and made it through each day with new scars, new bruises, new blood.  

As he crawled through the barren paths toward the peak of the mountain, he used all his voice to cry out for help.  

It wasn’t until he reached the peak that his plea was answered.  

There, standing atop the mountain, was a figure bathed in bright light.  

The boy in the black suit crawled up to it, and, with failing strength, drew himself up to stand.  

The figure said nothing, seemed to regard the boy in the black suit cautiously.  

“Help me,” the boy in the black suit said.  

The figure was silent.  

“Please.” The boy in the black suit raised his hands, summoned his strength. A surge of fire and lightning raced up his arms and danced along his fingertips. “Please,” he repeated. He held out his hands to the figure. “Take this away from me.”  

The figure laughed. “Such a thing is beyond my power,” it said.  

“How can it possibly be beyond your power?” the boy in the black suit returned, a surge of fury juicing the fire and the lightning.  

“No one can take that away from you. No one can take that away from anyone.”  

“What are you saying?”  

“That will always be with you. The only thing you can do is decide what to do with it.”  

The boy in the black suit opened his mouth in protest, but the figure was already gone. 

 

The murderer fell to the ground to catch his breath.  

He had no idea how much distance he had put between himself and the architect, but he felt like it had to be enough.  

Still, he didn’t want to stay down too long.  

He stayed there and hands and knees, panting and fighting for each ragged brea--

“What brings you here?” a voice asked.  

The murderer jumped to his feet and turned to face a wanderer by a fire, his eyes illuminated by the orange light.  

Still, the murderer recognized him; he was yet another victim.  

The murderer tensed and said nothing, fanatically watching the wanderer’s every movement.  

“Care to join me?” the wanderer asked.  

“Why are you here?” the murderer returned.  

“I’m foraging. We need more food to feed everyone.”  

“Who’s everyone?”  

The wanderer laughed. “How long have you been away, standing guard atop the mountain? There are so many new arrivals, with palaces for everyone and wealth of all kinds bursting through the cracks.” He pointed behind himself. “The nearest town is only about ten minutes that way. You should go.”  

The murderer bit his lip and ran in the opposite direction. 

 

The haggard old man fell back into his old ways.  

He knew that he shouldn’t, but he felt there was no other way to cope.  

He found the ground of his room once more littered with wrappers and bags.  

The dust that settled once more upon all the surfaces of the house reigned uncontested, and reveled in their victory.  

The haggard old man lay long in bed, watching the intricacies of the ceiling.  

He sat long at the couch, watching the dead TV screen.  

He ate as little as he could, 

he slept even less.  

The haggard old man saw the bags under his eyes grow dark, and the darkness he felt consume him.  

He was lost, he was lonely.  

The dog was gone.  

He was lost, he was lonely. 

 

The naked prince collected himself, fixed his outfit, and came down the stairs from his chamber.  

He walked calmly, deliberately, and poised down the halls of his palace. He walked with the dignity befitting a king in a procession no one could see.  

He walked down the stairs, down the halls, through dark corridors, and past ruined rooms.  

The heavy thud of his boots echoed off the vaulted ceilings like thunder on a silent night.  

The naked prince marched carefully, deliberately, confidently.  

The naked prince felt, once more, at home in his palace. 

 

The child materialized holding the hand of the host, and he found that he couldn’t pull himself away.  

They were under an overpass of an interstate, in a small clearing cut out of a mess of thickets. There was a fire burning in the middle of this, and there was a group of people all around it, singing and drinking and talking and playing games, the din of merriment a worthy rebellion against the rattling and roar of the rumbling above it.  

The child recognized a slightly older rendering of himself among the revelers.  

The vision faded away, and the child and the host were now on the hill of a park. The child recognized himself, slightly older than in the previous vision, playing fetch with a dog. The dog faithfully brought back the tennis ball until one time that he came running back with a scarf in his mouth. The child’s older-self snatched it from him and admonished him for taking it.  

Someone cleared their throat. When the child’s older-self looked up from the dog, he saw the stranger standing there abashed, looking expectantly at the scarf in his hand.  

The vision faded away, and--

The child had enough. He yanked his arm away from the host. The grip was too strong, but he surprised the host and pulled him off-balance. They both tumbled to the ground, and the reverie was broken.  

The grip on the child’s hand weakened when they hit the ground, and the child rolled away before it could be reinforced. He jumped to his feet to find that he could barely see the host in front of him in a world of darkness.  

“Is this your plan?” the child asked. “This is how you intend to turn me into a faithless liar?”  

The host rose groggily to his feet. He stared at the child cautiously for a moment, then closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, his face had fallen, and his voice was hollow.  

“You didn’t even see them,” the host murmured.  

“Didn’t see what?” the child growled.  

“The scenes I showed you--you saw them only in snapshots. You didn’t see them as memories as I was showing them to you. You only saw a few moments of them when you were meant to see them in their entirety. You’ve built walls so thick around yourself that you can’t even perceive your own happiness.”  

“It’s not my happiness. My happiness will come when my task is finished.”  

“You cannot complete your task. I tried. That happiness won’t come.”  

“You gave up.”  

“I searched longer and harder than you. There is no cure.”  

You gave up.”  

The host shook his head. “You’re acting like a child. Your understanding of the world is pitiable.”  

The child’s breaths grew hard and ragged. A fire burned bright in his chest. His mind went blank.  

“I’m not like you,” the child snarled. “I will never give up.”  

At these words, the host seemed to trip, and fell to the floor.  

A flash of pain raced up the child’s arm, and he yelped.  

The host writhed on the floor, and, for a moment, he flashed into the monstrous avatar that tormented the child.  

The child’s eyes lit up.  

He could hurt the monster once again. 

 

The religious man’s eyes began to burn at the sight of anything other than his god.  

He wanted nothing more than to sit in front of the altar and behold the magnificence of God forever and ever on end.  

He needed nothing else but this salvation. 

 

The sick man kept crawling, down a leg, down an arm, down an eye.  

The sick man glanced up at the bed from which he had sprung.  

He thought of the days to come, of the nursing of the Visitor. 

The sick man took the image to heart.  

The snake whispered in the sick man’s ear.  

The sick man knew that he would make it. 

 

The boy in the black suit struggled to find his way back down off the mountain.  

When he finally reached the bottom, he found himself in a narrow valley of barren rock.  

In the distance, far beyond the valley, he could see a glimmer of a paradise almost too wonderful to behold.  

The boy in the black suit sighed. He knew where his place was.  

He found one of the tallest rocks of the valley and nestled himself in its shadow. 

 

The religious man jumped at the sound of another terrifying roar, and another crash.  

Then another.  

And another.  

The sound seemed to be growing closer, inching evermore toward him in the sanctuary, in the house of God.  

The religious man ignored these. He focused on prayer, on worship. He made sure that God had enough water. He made sure that God had the room He needed to grow as tall and proud and beautiful as He needed to.  

The religious man did his duties with proud tears pouring out. 

 

The naked prince arrived at the last hall.  

Ahead, he could see the door to the balcony.  

From there, he could look out and see the entire kingdom.  

He could see all his people, and all the visitors who came to wish him well.  

There were monarchs and peasants alike waiting down on the grounds.  

There was no level of nobility that hadn’t been affected by his absence.  

And all were ready to welcome him back to power.  

He could hear them crying out to him beyond the door.  

This time, he didn’t try to shut them out.  

He welcomed the noise, and greeted it with a smile. 

 

The murderer was exhausted by the time he reached the bridge.  

It was wide and strong, made of impressive masonry that arched over a ravine.  

On the other side, there was a massive city of golden palaces that seemed to stretch on indefinitely, hemmed in by the forest on either side.  

The murderer stopped at the foot of the bridge and tried to regain his breath.  

He blinked, and the victim appeared in front of him.  

The murderer jumped back and fell to the ground. The victim stood passively, eyeing him.  

“What did you do?” the murderer growled.  

“What I would’ve done,” the victim returned. “We all have.”  

“No,” the murderer said. “None of this is real. It can’t be.”  

At these words, the murderer felt a tremor race through the ground around him.  

The victim was unfazed. “Regardless,” he said, “it can be, in time.”  

“It can’t,” the murderer snarled. “Not anymore. I know all of your minds now.”  

“You know everything about one person; you know nothing about any of us.” 

I know your minds.”  

The victim held out his hand. “Come on,” he said. “Let us help you. We can fix all of this, together.”  

The murderer laughed. “No, you can’t. Neither can I. Not even He can. No one will ever fix any of this.”  

“We will, if you let us.”  

The murderer laughed harder.  

“Let them in, and come home.”  

The murderer couldn’t stop laughing. He fell back and rolled around the ground until he began to run out of breath and choke, and he kept laughing still until he coughed up blood; and only then did he begin to recover, to recuperate, and to rise.  

The murderer met the eyes of the victim and shook his head. “You’re a monster, as am I. We can’t fix anything. You’re a lie--as is everything else here. I won’t be manipulated into a false sense of security. You’re dead, thank God, as are they; and now I must mind the gate.”  

The victim opened his mouth to speak, but it was too late; within a mere moment, the entirety of the forest--the trees and bushes, the flowers and grasses, the castles and people--folded up into themselves and shattered into a fine mist that dissipated in the air; and once more the murderer stood upon the barren rocky slope of the mountain overlooking the forsaken valley, and the body of the victim lay unresponsive on the ground.  

The murderer took a moment to center himself once more and was brought back to reality by the sting of the rain that began to pelt against his skin.  

The sky was all overcast.  

The next storm was nearly there.  

The murderer turned away from the corpse and trudged back up the mountain to the gate. 

 

The boy in the black suit finally came to terms with the words the figure had spoken to him on the mountain.  

He knew exactly what it was he needed to do.  

He stood up in the barren valley and called upon all his might. He summoned a storm as powerful as he had to destroy the girl in the black dress. Fire and lightning danced upon the sky and upon his skin and all throughout the valley.  

The boy in the black suit raised a hand up to the sky, put all his focus into one part of the cataclysm. Within that point, he funneled all his anger and rage and disappointment and failures and charged the bolt with every mistake he had ever made, every ounce of regret that he had ever felt.  

The boy in the black suit pulled down his protections, and he aimed the blast at himself.  

The whole of his vision was consumed by fire and lightning.  

He felt the force of the contact, and nothing more. 

 

The religious man noticed some white flakes resting upon one of the beautiful flowers of God.  

The religious man rushed to God’s aid, and brushed the flakes away, but he saw more sprinkling down around him, falling like snow.  

He felt some of these flakes land upon his head.  

He looked up, and he saw cracks in the ceiling, spreading quickly.  

The religious man got down to his knees and began to pray for strength and protection.  

The sanctuary began to collapse. 

 

The sick man knew nothing but pain by the time he reached the cupboard, but he reached it all the same. 

 

The naked prince marched toward the door.  

His footfalls were calm and deliberate.  

His breath was deep and pure.  

The door loomed closer before him.  

A pit of nervous excitement began to fill in his chest, growing until it was ready to burst in a maniacal fit of laughter.  

The naked prince couldn’t stop smiling.  

He had never felt better.  

The naked prince came to the balcony door, and rested his hand upon the handle.  

There, he froze.  

His confidence fell away. All the excitement withered in his chest. His heart crumbled, and he lost control of his breathing.  

The naked prince stumbled back from the door and fell to the ground.  

The naked prince couldn’t catch himself; he crashed into the ground. He lay there and hyperventilated, trying to will the strength back to continue.  

The naked prince could hear his people calling out to him beyond the door.  

Tears began to form in his eyes.  

The naked prince knew he couldn’t do it.  

He tried to shut out the noise. 

 

The boy in the black suit awoke groggily upon the floor of the barren valley. Every inch of his body was blacked and scorched and torn, skin peeling and falling away to the wind. He was covered and choked in a tornado of ash and dust that veiled his sight from everything.  

He shakily rose to his feet. The sky was now clear. The storm had passed.  

Yet he was still unfulfilled.  

The boy in the black suit called upon his strength again.  

The skies began to darken and howl.  

Fire and lightning danced within the heavens.  

He raised his palm to a specific point, drew all of his power into it.  

He aimed the blast at himself, and let it fly. 

 

The haggard old man awoke to a happy barking.  

He leapt from his bed and sprinted down the stairs, following the sound of the joyous noise.  

The haggard old man took the stairs three at a time, paid little attention to the strain it put upon his knees to feel the pressure.  

He raced to the bottom of the stairs, to the living room, and he saw the dog.  

The dog was sitting there regally, and he barked happily when he saw the haggard old man.  

The haggard old man couldn’t believe his eyes.  

He began to shake, to tremble, to sigh, to cry, to laugh, to scream.  

He began to feel something, to feel whole.  

The haggard old man couldn’t help himself.  

He sprinted forward and lunged, tackling the dog.  

The haggard old man sailed right through the dog and crashed into the ground.  

He yelped and cringed at the pain that shot through his nerves, but he mastered himself and turned around.  

Where the dog had once been was now only empty air.  

The vision had gone.  

The haggard old man couldn’t accept this; he reached forth, tried to pet the dog.  

He called out for it.  

He told it he loved it.  

There was no reply.  

The vision, and the dog, were gone. 

 

The child charged at the host.  

The host was trying to crawl back to his feet and had no time to deflect the assault. The child crashed into him, tackling him to the ground. Pain raced into the child’s legs, his arm, his head. Blindness flashed into his right eye for a moment.  

The child screamed at the sudden pain. The host writhed against the floor once more, growing into the monstrous avatar, and bucking the child off.  

The child slammed into the ground once more and rolled to the side. A dull, aching pain radiated in his right arm again, and his legs felt suddenly weak.  

The child turned to find his opponent still as a monster. It roared and screamed, shrinking slightly, trying to revert to the warm, handsome form of the host.  

The child rose on shaky legs and approached the monster. “Stop!” he screamed. “I am not like you. I will not give up.”  

The monster’s concentration broke, and he grew quickly into his massive, horrifying form, and roared.  

A horrid pain raced up the child’s right leg, and he crashed to the ground. He tried to crawl back up to his feet, but the leg was limp and unresponsive.  

The child persisted.  

“I am not you!” the child shouted. “I have a duty to myself, to my happiness. I will not give up for your sake.”  

The monster recoiled sharply, and roared in pain.  

The child felt the bones of his right arm begin to break once more. The vision in his right eye began to dim.  

“You are a vile, worthless apparition of nothing,” the child sneered. “You are a distraction, a false idol, a fickle lie. This is no paradise; you’ve dragged me into Hell.”  

The monster writhed in agony.  

The child no longer felt the dead weight of the unresponsive leg. When he looked back down, he found it gone, and only his left eye had any sight left in it.  

The child had no time to process this before a tsunami of fire overwhelmed his mind, and the nerves of his remaining leg felt as if they were being stretched to snap.  

The bones of the child’s right arm broke apart even faster, shattering into fine splinters that lodged themselves into his muscles.  

The child screamed.  

He had barely enough conscious ability to process anything, but he felt himself being lifted from the ground. His nerves were overwhelmed, but he recognized the vice grip of the monster wrapped around his chest, crushing his ribs.  

The child was raised to the monster’s eyes.  

With his one good eye, the child recognized the cracked, barren, scorched terrain.  

They were out of the monster’s illusions; they were back to reality.  

The child wasted no time screaming, allowing no time for the monster to concoct any new deceptions.  

With the last bit of strength he had, the child drew back his good arm and rammed his fist into the monster’s eye.  

The monster roared and recoiled in pain, and Its grip slackened.  

The child slipped out of Its hand, and he plummeted into the ravine below. 

 

The murderer saw someone already at the gate as he approached. He flexed his fingers and bounced on his heels, preparing--

The murderer recognized Him.  

Even with skin charred black by some unknown injury, the murderer could never forget the visage of the boy in the black suit.  

The murderer ran now, ignoring the soreness that still ached in his recovering legs.  

Everything in his mind and body fired up; everything fell into place.  

This was what he needed.  

This was what he had been waiting for.  

The murderer sprinted until he was within a few yards of the boy in the black suit and stuttered to a stop, restraining himself from attacking immediately.  

The boy in the black suit calmly turned to him and beheld the wild eyes. “Hello again,” he said.  

“I should’ve killed you when I had the chance,” the murderer snarled.  

The boy in the black suit sighed. “Yeah, you should’ve. But it’s a bit late for that now.”  

The rain grew in power, turning into a thick curtain that began to blot out anything beyond their immediate sight and lashing into them like tongues of whips dipped in fire.  

The sky grew blacker, permeating a nearly impenetrable darkness held at bay by only the golden flashes of lightning that seared across the firmament, bringing an extra fire to the crazed eyes of the murder and elucidation to the sorrow of the boy in the black suit.  

The murderer planted his feet and cracked his knuckles.  

“We’ll see.” 



© 2020 Seth Armstrong


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Added on September 27, 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

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A Chapter by Seth Armstrong