Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Narrator's Tale, pt. 3 of 3

When I awoke, I found myself in a darkened, circular room. My eyes adjusted to the sparse light and I found that the walls were of a smooth, black stone and they climbed up for what seemed like fifty feet. The ceiling seemed to be of the same material with a small, latticed grate in the center. Positioned around the walls were torches, small ones, but lit torches nonetheless. At my feet, there was a rifle—an old Winchester to be exact—and a box of fifty rounds. I picked up the rifle, cocked it, and loaded five rounds into the chamber. Now was the time to stand and face my adversary.
A wrought iron gate opened on the wall opposite me. A burst of light escaped the opening and momentarily blinded me. I shielded my eyes and turned away. When I looked back, I saw The Ravener standing in the doorway. He was even more hideous than he appeared in the painting. It (I shall refer to the beast as “it,” for assuming that this being was human degrades our race) was hunched over at a forty-five degree angle. Even then, it stood about five foot nine. Its skin was on the border of translucent and I could make out the crisscross network of blue veins just underneath its skin. Its lips were blood red and its teeth looked sharp enough to have been filed. A near-constant stream of drool dropped out of its mouth. As for weapons, it held none; it simply clenched and unclenched its fists.
“Hello there,” an Irish voice said. I looked around me. The Ravener certainly had not said it, so who had? I spotted a speaker just above the gate from which the beast had entered. “Welcome to the family. This is my colleague. I believe your fellow inmates call him ‘The Ravener.’ A charming name, but I do not believe that my friend appreciates it. Never mind. This is your initiation. It is a simple contest: kill or be killed. You have been given a Winchester rifle. Quite the interesting decision, I might add. This is, of course, due to your nationality; I presumed you would find humor in it. But I digress.
“Right,” the voice continued. “The rules are simple. In the interests of fair play, you will have a ten minute head start to find whatever shelter, perch, eagle’s nest, or ambush point you find appropriate. After this time, my colleague will be unleashed to kill you. There is no time limit, mind you, so there’s no sense losing your head trying to go about madly and make a kamikaze attack on him. The reward of your victory is simple: If you manage to kill—temporarily, of course; it’s the same with you—my colleague, then you shall be released. If my colleague catches you and has his way with your poor soul, then you shall be trapped here for a very, very long time. I believe that the last arbitrary number I chose was three hundred years, so we shall stick to that.
“Oh, a couple more words before we begin. First, I would advise against entertaining any notions of coming and finding me in an attempt to eliminate me. Even if you did manage to find me, and you managed to kill me, you’d still have to deal with my then very upset friend, and the whole matter will have been in vain. Second, I would heartily recommend that you pick up the box of ammunition at your feet. The five bullets you loaded in the rifle’s chamber wouldn’t be enough to do any significant damage.”
I had, by now, devised a plan, and killing this beast wasn’t in it. I chose the wrong weapon for that—if I were to attempt to kill this thing with a firearm, it would have to have been with a heavy assault rifle. Even then, it would be close.
“I believe that just about covers everything, don’t you, my friend?” The Ravener nodded and grunted. “Good. Well, newcomer—your new name shall be Seven when this is all said and done—your ten minutes shall begin when you exit the gate. Break a leg.”
The Ravener sidled away from the gate and sat down against the wall.
I took my time getting out of the gate. I tried to get a glimpse of something, anything outside that doorway, but could make out nothing. It was pitch black and, worse, it seemed as if waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness was futile: no matter how long I waited, I couldn’t make out any details. I heard a deep yawn, looked to my right, and saw The Ravener in its blue bell-hop suit giving me a gigantic grin. It clearly knew what I was thinking—no doubt all the rest had thought the same thing when they gazed out of this gate and into the darkness. I took a deep breath and bolted for it.
The hall ran straight ahead for a while (running full speed, about thirty seconds—so however long that was in distance). Eventually, I saw some light ahead of me and made for it. It got closer and closer until I found that I had run straight into a mirror. The Hunter laughed over the intercom—a maniacal laugh. Dazed, I backed away from the mirror and resumed my course in the opposite direction, this time towards what I hoped was actual light and not an illusion. I eventually came out of the stonework hallway and stumbled into a well-lit and well-equipped kitchen. Its pristine condition, in the few seconds I saw it, led me to believe that no one actually worked there.
I ran out of the kitchen, up a flight of stairs and found myself in a long hallway. Its rich, wood-paneled walls featured portraits of Gothic landscapes and scenes of vivisections in amphitheatres. It was sparsely decorated, with a few sofas and luxurious chairs flanking the tall, wide windows. I ran over to one of the windows and found that I was looking out over the courtyard. I could see my mentor still reclining against his column in a dope haze, and the rest of the inmates either still weeping or else wandering around aimlessly. “You should think about going somewhere not in a straight path from the kitchen,” said The Hunter. “Not that I think you’ll survive, but it would be a pity to see the first new contestant in years bite the dust without anything resembling a challenge. Oh, by the way, you have three minutes until my colleague is unleashed.”
He was right. I needed to get somewhere that would lay off the beaten path. I chose a door at random, burst in, and found myself in a large restroom. It wasn’t exactly what I was thinking by off the beaten path, so I dashed back out and tried the next room. This one was a large music room, with guitars and violins hanging on the walls and a grand piano off in the corner. In the wall opposite me, there was another door. I closed the door behind me and ran across the room.
Opening that door found, I found myself in a large solarium, with a couple of small palm trees and a few lounge chairs. At the other end of this room were a couple of doors. I chose the one on the right and walked into a home theater. Towards one end, there was a gigantic screen which filled the wall with a few rows of seats facing it. In another corner, there was a drawn curtain which jutted out from the wall with an L-shaped frame. On a whim, I went over, opened it, and saw The Hunter, staring at me open-mouthed and shocked. “What is this,” I said, “The Wizard of Oz?”
He didn’t respond and I saw my chance. I put him in a headlock and, with my other free hand, punched in the general vicinity of his kidneys five or six times. Judging from the coughs and screams he let out, I believe that I found them. “Where is the library?” I asked. “The library with the top hat.”
“Fuck off,” he said.
I punched a few more times and he told me to follow the corridor and make a couple turns and I’d find myself there. I thanked him and then bashed his head against the wall. His face now covered in blood, he slid down to the floor. He’d be getting back up, but I didn’t know when. I heard an electronic ding, looked up, and saw a timer with red digits flash “00:00” and, hearing the roar that echoed down the various hallways of this prison, I figured out what was coming for me.
I ran faster than before, hope that The Hunter wasn’t lying to me, and eventually, after what must have been a minute and a half, I came to the library. It was grander than it seemed to be in the portrait, with four floors of bookshelves packed to the brim with leather-bound volumes, long reading desks, extremely comfortable-looking leather chairs, and, off in the corner, the desk with the top hat. I didn’t have much more time to admire the scenery, though, as there was another roar—this one sounding close enough to have come from the electronics room. (It was then that I realized that The Ravener could not have been a human. The human sense of smell is not powerful enough to track another person through such corridors in such a short span of time.)
I dashed to that side of the room and, true to what I believed would happen, found a portrait showing the pub. In the center of the portrait, I saw myself staring with a blank and mystified look straight at the viewer. (“I need to shave,” a part of me thought.) There was a loud, defeaning crash. I looked to my right and saw The Ravener tumble into the room, stand up, and scream bloody murder at me. Without thought, I hurled myself at the painting and hoped for the best.

When I came to, it was outside the pub and there was a crowd of people surrounding me. I immediately started, scrambled to my feet and shouted gibberish, but then realized that these were normal individuals. They enquired as to my mental well-being and I thought I would best answer this by giving the best advice I could: Not to go into that pub, the pub in which time stands still.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Narrator's Tale, pt. 2 of 3

It was at this moment, staring in awe at the work of a surely diseased mind, that I felt the world go sick. That may seem an odd turn of phrase, but I assure you, that is the only proper way to describe the way the world around me gave a sudden lurch, pitched forward, and then, for just a couple of seconds, throw everything into absolute blackness. After, I found myself in a large courtyard of a vast mansion. Green, manicured grass filled the whole of the courtyard, with white stone paths leading from various doors in the walls of the mansion. In the center, there was a Romanesque fountain spewing forth black water into a large pool of sewage. Sprinkled around the courtyard were marble tables, around which sat the same people who were in the pub, glass-eyed and still. Here, though, they were animate, and, by and large, weeping. The only man not looking morose was the man in the business suit, and I chose this man to be my source of information.
I walked over to him and introduced myself. He nodded in response and said, “For what it’s worth, my name is James. Call me Jim. There is no need for formality in this damned place, as you shall soon see. Yes, lad, coming here—well, I would call it the worst mistake of your life, but that implies that you shall have a life after this. You shan’t, I’m afraid. After this, it’s the same thing every day. What? Yes, sometimes we are allowed to go back into the pub for a bit of a reprieve from our torture here, but, you see, the pub is not much of a comfort.” He gave a great sigh. “Should never have taken my Abigail to London.”
There was a single electronic beep—the sort of which one would expect to hear from a digital watch announcing the time—and all those prisoners in the courtyard looked around them for any sign of any movement from the mansion. After five minutes, there being no sign of movement, they resumed their weeping. “How is it,” I began, “that you are the only one not weeping? Surely you are not in collusion with whatever it is that has begat this strange place.”
The man smiled—judging from the strained, uneasy look of the grin, I imagined that it was the first time in a long while that he felt the happiness (or perhaps lack of despair) that precipitated such an expression. “Oh, you see, it’s quite simple. Abigail and I—that is, my wife and I—have been here since the time this place was created. At first, I was like them, and like you will be, I should imagine, but after time, well,” he sighed again. “One simply learns to cope.” He looked up at the sky, and I matched his gaze. The sky was overcast. The clouds were low enough that I could make out the ways the grey beasts were formed in their underbellies. A wind carried them quickly by. “The good news is,” said the man, “that it hasn’t begun raining black pitch yet.”
I looked at the mansion around me. It was a gargantuan building, vaguely like a Victorian palace of some sort, but the angles were off. The entire structure of the building was off. It wasn’t something you could actually pick out or articulate. It was simply that there was something dreadfully wrong about the whole property. Like the painting in the pub, it filled one with a tremendous amount of mortal terror. Throughout my time in that eldritch world, I somehow managed to keep my calm, but, if I were going to lose it at any moment, I would imagine that I would have lost control when I first studied the mansion. I shook the thoughts from my head and asked what it was that happened in this place.
The man took out a pipe, packed the bowl, and lit it. I expected to smell the rich, strong aroma of pipe tobacco, but instead found that the man was toking ganja. I gather that I must have made some shocked face, for he let out a hoarse bark of a laugh. “What?” he asked. “Surely you didn’t think I managed to cope through sheer English pluck alone, did you? By Jove, you did. My God, man, no. The horror of this place would be enough to drive any sober man absolutely mad. My wife, for instance, had a cooler head about her than any man I ever met, but look at her now. Gibbering and weeping like an asylum inmate.”
“How did you come across hashish in this place?”
“I did not come across it. I survived and triumphed in an ordeal and, thus, am allowed certain favors. Every two weeks, it is marijuana, the rest of the time it is gin.”
“Why do you not share it? Certainly, with everyone calm, you could overcome whatever force it is that is holding you here.”
“No, it is not mine to give.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
The man leaned against a stone pillar and took another puff on his pipe. “I shared once, and found myself being devoured by three buzzards. No, it is not worth it. I may have a calm head, but that does not mean that I am a saint.”
“What is this place?”
“This is the playground of a diseased mind. We are the toys, the experiments. You, old boy, are the newest addition to the shelf, so to speak. I warn you, the initiation is a bit rough, as you first meet The Ravener.”
I cocked my head to the side.
“The lad dressed as a bell-hop in the painting. The one ripping out the butler’s spinal cord. Ah, yes, you know the one. We call him The Ravener, and he will come at you with all the hatred humanity is capable of. I expect, though it’s never been, that you might be able to escape if you were to best him in combat. Of course, that is impossible when you are facing a being who has decapitated individuals with a twist of his hands.” The man’s eyes shut for a moment, and then he shook himself awake.
I enquired about the other man—the man dressed as a hunter.
“Ah, well, no one has seen him. I have not seen him, and I have been here since 1891. I have, though, seen his dogs—great big beasts with red eyes and dripping maws. Killed two of them. That’s why I have the marijuana. But, all the same, good luck to you. They will come for you at the third signal, and then you will wait for The Ravener.” His head drooped to his chest and the man fell asleep, slowly sliding against the pillar to the ground.
I took a place on a bench at a near table. I knew that I was doomed from the start; I had never been a part of anything that could be termed combat. The closest I had come was the occasional paintball match and, while I was a dead shot in that, running around the woods was a far cry from fighting a being—for, from the instant I looked at the painting, I was not sure that this thing I was facing was a man—capable of ripping out a man’s spinal cord. I decided that my only hope was for me to rely on my intellect. In this case, I thought about what I could most use. It sounded as if this thing was a creature composed of terror and rage, and that, further, to stand up against it would be suicide. (From the center of the courtyard, there came a second electronic beep. The others in the yard ceased their wailing for a few minutes and then resumed as before.) And so, I considered, my only, and therefore best, hope was to bog the bastard down long enough to find some means of escape from this place.
I took a deep breath—and immediately wished I hadn’t, for a gust of wind took the stench of the fountain directly to me and I found myself retching. When I recovered, I reasoned that, since there was obviously a portal to this world, there had to be a portal back out. The only hint of a portal I had was the painting in the pub. In a fit of wild conjecture, I guess that, since The Hunter was staring at the viewer of the painting instead of some other subject in the scene, the painting was the entry into this world, The Hunter’s gaze being the equivalent of a siren song. (This may have been absolute bunk, and a portion of my mind told me that it certainly was, but it was the only thing I had to grip on to, and, sometimes, even the worst-reasoned ideas are the only things that give us hope.) So, my logic went, I had to find this library, and, from there, find a way to go through this world’s twin painting and back into that damned pub, and from there, out as fast as my feet would take me.
For all the man’s logic, Jim’s mind probably would not have been able to get him to where I arrived for a couple of reasons: Initially because of the shock of his new surroundings. (I imagined that I escaped this shock by finding a man lucid enough to introduce me to the realm, as it were.) Subsequently because of his dope and drink. No doubt they kept him from going mad, but certainly clouded his mind enough so that he did not think as clearly as he should have.
A third tone sounded, the others in the courtyard wailed, and I, preparing to meet the worst, stood and steeled myself. I was, immediately, rendered unconscious by some unseen force. So much for meeting my adversary with a courageous face.