The Boy in the Room of Knives

The room hangs in the middle of nowhere. There are no doors, no windows. Each wall is the same as the other, as same as the floor and the ceiling–covered with standing knives, pointing inward toward the center of the room. In the center of the room is a boy, floating, his knees to his chest, his arms wrapped tight around his knees. His skin is pale yellow and dry. He cries dry tears, and makes the low, staccato sound of dry sobs. He stinks of sickness and death. His black eyes stare forward, looking into the truth.

He is a patchwork of innumerable open cuts, which cover his body yet do not bleed.

Every year, a pilgrimage is made to this place using unseen roads, and, through magic so old that it is beyond ancient, one question may be asked of the boy. The answers are always completely honest and pierce the core of the matter. For every answer he gives, he receives a new cut that will never heal.

The boy can never die.

Written Away

She thought his prose was beautiful. And his poetry. Dear God, his poetry!

She didn’t like the admit it, and was more than a little ashamed, but it made her wet.

Some of it was really, really twisted. Those were the ones she liked the most.

But it turned out to be just a horrible, horrible mistake.

At first, she felt full. His words filled her, made her life a dizzying tapestry of meaning. She had felt things she had never felt before, and thought not just new thoughts, but traveled along the labyrinthine paths of new ways of thinking. Very exciting.

He smiled at her, and wrote her more and more each day, and each day she became more enraptured. Before she knew it, she had moved in.

One thing led to another, as they say, and they got married.

But she had started feeling… empty. Something was missing. And she wasn’t seeing as much of him anymore and not writing for her as much. He was writing things and not showing them to her. She knew it.

She really got worried one day when she looked in the mirror and saw something slightly transparent looking back. She shook her head, and the image was gone. Just her staring back, solid, but she had rings around her eyes. Got to start eating right, she told herself.

She had been seeing less and less of her husband, and he had become more and more private, locking himself in his writing room. “I’m sorry, honey,” he’d say, “but it’s like this when I’m writing a novel. I just need my space, that’s all. Novel writing is a very intensive process for me, not like poems or short prose works. Bear with it. It’ll be over before you know it.” And he’d smile knowingly when he said that sentence, for he had said it more than once.

She really freaked out later when she saw that there was something wrong with her skin. What was it? Pale spots? No… more like… an absence of some kind… like nothing there. Strange shapes, almost like letters. She couldn’t focus. It made her think about the calls for some reason. There were calls where she’d say hello, but there was silence for a moment on the other end before the caller hung up. She was almost certain he was cheating on her, or starting to.

Days passed, more marks, more of that woman in the mirror becoming more and more transparent. What day was it? Had she even been to her job recently? Things were getting so confusing. Those marks were all over her skin. Some kind of crawling nothingness all over her.

And then she found the page, must have slipped from the table in his writing room and slid on a cushion of air through the slit at the bottom of the door.

It was a poem. The kind of poem that had won her over in the beginning. As she read it, she couldn’t really understand what she was reading, but it hurt. She felt that absence of herself in herself most keenly, and felt pains on her skin where those marks were.

A chill ran over her, and she knew in her bones what was happening.

He was cheating on her, and worse than that, he was turning her into stories. She was fading away.

It was irrational, but she knew it was true. In a panic, she ran to her room to gather her things to leave, but he was there, standing with many, many sheets of paper, all with his writing on them.

“I’m sorry, honey, that it has to be this way,” he said as he walked toward her. Somehow seeing those pages made her nauseated and weak. They almost vibrated in his hands with some kind of sick, stolen life.

He grabbed her arm, and she tried to get away, but his grip was like cold iron. He led her to the bed.

He had her sit down on it, and the room started spinning. He turned the sheets to face her. “Do you see? I think this is my best work yet.” Words spiraling, black, curved thieves on a floor of hospital white doing a kind of mocking, cruel dance.

Seeing the words made something in her stomach twist. She was going to vomit.

“This work is almost finished.” He turned the pages back toward himself and walked out the door, turned around, and started to close it.

“You aren’t the first, you know. And you won’t be the last. But you should have known in the first place what you were getting into. You should have known. Never marry a writer. He’ll just turn you into stories, and there will be nothing left of you.”

He then smiled at her, closed the door, and when she heard him lock it from the outside, she knew what was going to happen next. He was going to finish the novel.

The Poisoned Fish

There is a restaurant in a dusty place at the corner of the world. It serves a very special kind of fish.

The fish is both naturally poisonous and poisoned by way of preparation. No one knows how it is prepared. All that is known is that it is a natural process carried out by sexless dwarves in a very dark place. There are rumors about children’s hearts and the tears of widows and other such nonsense, but truly, no one knows for sure.

It is a delicacy, and its painful deliciousness is beyond measure and compare. Men eat it to become insane. Women eat it to hate themselves.

I’d invite you to have some with me, but I’ve already eaten and have cut out my tongue.

The Dinner Present

They had been meeting in secret for weeks.

It wasn’t exactly an affair, but it certainly wasn’t on the up-and-up.

The sexual tension, the knowing looks, innuendos… they’d been going on steadily. No barriers, though, had been breached thus far.

He didn’t know, but tonight was going to be different.

She was acting a bit nervous all evening, and he didn’t understand why. He thought that, perhaps, she was having more trouble than usual with her husband. He knew for damned sure that things were as dead as ever with his wife.

They ordered their appetizers and meal, as usual, but she was silent tonight. He joked to lighten the mood. She smiled and looked down at her plate and then up at him.

“What?” he said.

She drew her upper lip down over her upper teeth and pulled it in tight, as if to contain her words, the way she did when she felt shy and restrained. He thought it was adorable. It was a child-like thing to do.

She shook her head in that timid little way she did when she was being coy. He loved that too.

“Nothing,” she said, and stabbed at her appetizer with the fork and put it into her mouth so she could chew and not have to say anything.

In the middle of the entree, however, something in her broke.

“I have to tell you something,” she said.

“What?” he asked.

She reached down into her purse and pulled out an ornate wooden box and held it on her lap, looking down at it, her upper lip pulled down and tight against her teeth, again, this time with more pressure making her look a bit silly but very, very cute. Her upper lip became very thin and turned white.

She stayed like that for a while.

He tried to speak but she shook her head, indicating that he should remain silent.

She took a deep breath, raised her shoulders, let them drop with an exhale, and looked down at the table in front of her. Then she nodded to herself and looked directly at him.

“This is for you,” she said, and she put the box in front of him. “I’ve felt this way about you for a very long time.”

“I don’t…” he started saying, “I don’t understand.” He looked very concerned as he said it, looking first to her, then the box, and then to her again.

She smiled and nodded quickly. “Just open it.”

He opened it slowly and looked down at the contents of the box, and his face filled with a mixture of confusion, surprise, gratefulness, hope, and love.

He looked at her.

“I never knew,” he said.

She nodded.

“How long have you felt this way?”

“For a very long time.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“OMG. I didn’t know… I knew you liked me and I liked you, and I’ve always loved your company but….”

She looked hurt. “You don’t feel the same?”

“No!” he said, “I mean, YES! Yes! I do. I don’t feel differently. I just….”

He reached into the box, and removed what it contained with his right hand.

It was a silver handgun, with a pearl grip.

He looked at it, then he looked at her.

“I love you,” he said.

She smiled and nodded to him, understanding that he meant that he had always loved her.

He then took the pistol, placed it at his temple, and pulled the trigger.

“I know,” she answered.

The Devil Appear’d in the Shape of a Man

The devil appeared in the shape of a man, that man bearing the name Thomas Pleasant.

The devil appeared in the shape of a man, Thomas Pleasant being he who through 40 stokes of a stringent blade did dismember the most high judge of the court of the town of Wilkshire.

The devil appeared in the shape of a man, Thomas Pleasant, blood covered, his countenance sweating and red-purple and contorted with pain.

The devil appeared in the shape of a man, he being Thomas Pleasant, shouting at the ceiling, cursing God’s name with barbarous words and begging and demanding by turns with guttural voice–laughing and crying with madness–for the end of time.

The devil appeared in the shape of a man, Thomas Pleasant, as he covered himself with the filth of the corpse with his bare hands, undressing, and licking his hands, looking about like a wild animal while muttering profane words to himself in dead tongues.

And the devil who appeared in the shape of a man, Thomas Pleasant, did exit that house of the former high judge, breaking the door in transit, and burst forth into the night as the rain fell and the world cracked open with thunderous noise.

Flashes of lightning punctuated the dark, exposing the frames of Thomas Pleasant’s movement through the trees, first here, now there, the falling rain washing the blood from him, rivers of purity tracing paths through thick brown and red.

He ran, bounding with inhuman strength and speed, the high branches of trees becoming his ground as he did leap from one to another, going from height to height ever greater.

With a push of his legs, which caused the aged, strong tree beneath him to crack and fall, he flew into the sky, stepping onto an invisible, unearthly ground and laughing in his defiance of divine laws, nature being the devil’s church.

Up, up into the sky he flew until he was a mote and then disappeared, moving into an unknown place.

First Draft – Pt. 3: Conversation with a Brain Parasite

Kem awoke on the floor to a throbbing pain in his head and a faint sound of scratching.

He opened his watering eyes. A blurry black spot on the floor wavered in front of him.

He instinctively drew back from it and rubbed his eyes. Focusing better, he identified the object on ground before him as a grotesque, black bug.

No larger than the top joint of his index finger, its beetle-like, tear-drop shaped body (tapering in the front) bore six very thin, crooked, long, and spiked legs. Two black, beady eyes peered at him from stalks. Long antennae waved about. A strange, sinister-looking, thin proboscis stretched out from its head, more than three times the length of its body.

It attempted to move about in a slow, clumsy fashion, but failed. The black insect appeared too weak to be ambulatory.

“Incredibly selfish!” it piped a small shout, “You have rudely evicted me from my delicate, cushiony, and warm heaven of soft brain tissue, interrupting my intoxicating neuro-chemical bath and the sweet, soothing, tantalizing electric pulse-storms therein!”

Kem was surprised the insect could speak and that he could understand it, but then remembered Ajuk.

“Surrounded by such a dazzling cocoon of pleasure…” it said and trailed off dreamily, and then, as if rudely awakened from the reverie, exclaimed, “All gone because of your selfishness!”

The black thing clumsily and weakly yet indignantly moved its legs to turn its body so that it faced Kem squarely. It made Kem think of drunken oarsmen pulling black, misshapen oars in a small, black boat.

It continued its tirade, “Fiend! You had a tumor, did you know that? To think I saved your life by eating it! Is this gratitude? Look at me! I shiver on this cold, hard floor, sickened by whatever drug you took, which I can only guess was to force me from my rightful home. Who died and made you Pan-Creator, most holy judge of all? Do you think your flesh is just for you? You disgustingly decadent narcissist!”

As repulsive as the thing was, Kem could not help but smile at its ridiculous outrage and had to stifle a laugh. But one thing the bug said had concerned him.

“You expect me to believe that your intention was to help me?” he asked. “What tumor? You lie.”

At first, the bug reeled in surprise at Kem being able to speak its language. Kem was almost as surprised too, hearing the strange noises issue from his throat. The thing’s surprise did not last, however, as it was overtaken by self-righteous indignation.

The black insect gesticulated in agitation with its spiked, crooked front limbs, as if frustrated by Kem’s stupidity, “What do I gain from a lie? I suspect you will simply step on me no matter what I say. What a loss! Such a magnificent, rare life-form as me… winked out by a degrading gesture from an ignorant giant! Is the bottom of your foot to be my resting place? Perhaps you’ll scrape me off on some edge somewhere, and that will be my grave… What a tragedy and insult! For your information, you walking, talking hotel of meat, I did eat a tumor. It was a nasty one–small yet malignant–right next to your thalamus gland. Delicious, too, I must add. I was hungry, and it was there. So I ate. But that is of no matter. There was no harm or malice in my action. I did you a favor!”

Kem began feeling concerned as an unpleasant line of reasoning presented itself. “And did you eat anything else?”

“Not one tasty morsel did I consume! I have been a mountain of forbearance!” it exclaimed. “As I had promised.”

“Promised?”

Realizing its mistake, the bug hesitated and then wiggled its antennae and forelegs, chittering nervously. “A manner of speaking, nothing more.”

“Perhaps promised the High Prax?” Kem asked, and raised a foot, menacingly.

“Do not squash me!” it pleaded. “Damn that High Prax to a thousand hells! He coerced me! I harmed not one precious, delicious cell in your big, lavish cranium! He made me promise not to! The tumor was nothing valuable… to the contrary! He said nothing of tumors! I did no permanent damage to your savory brain meat or its functions! I saved you from certain painful death and mental ruin! That tumor would have killed you for sure! Have mercy!”

It lowered its front half and raised two of its forelimbs in a gesture of groveling supplication.

“Saved me for what, inevitable death?”

The insect’s eyes wavered back and forth on their stalks. It grabbed an antenna with a front leg and began nervously cleaning it with its mandibles. It seemed indecisive to Kem, as if trying to choose between difficult options.

“Death comes to us all, sooner or later,” it muttered petulantly, and then self-consciously stopped cleaning itself.

Kem looked down at his foot. “For some of us, it comes sooner than others…”

“Your fate is not my responsibility! Only yours! Each must attend to his own interests! The High Prax threatens the life of my beloved Klk’Klk! If I did not obey him, he would kill her! Never again would I breathe the sweet vapors of her effluence! I would die a death of horrible agony! You do not know how it is for we males of my species… to be separated from your bonded mate is worse than death!”

Its legs twitched uncontrollably, and its body shook in small spasms.

“Even now, exiled from the bliss of your delicate tissues, I experience tremendous, worsening pain… though whatever noxious drug you took has has left me somewhat numb. For that, at least, I am thankful. But the pain will return… and worse by the day!”

It paused, thoughtfully, and continued, “Perhaps you should kill me. I fear the High Prax’s wrath! He will never again let me know the sweet bliss of Klk’Klk. I have never met a more perverted sadist!”

Remembering the words of Ajuk, Kem said, “Your supposed romantic bliss sounds to me like an ongoing torment. You say the High Prax is sadistic. What of this Klk’Klk you adore? It sounds less like love and more like enslavement, although it asserted among we Praxes that the two are the same…”

“I bless her and curse her in the same breath! She is abominable! Her demands are constant and her satisfaction is as a wink of one of your meaty eyelids. She is a creature of contempt. Her means of abuse are myriad and numerous! Nothing I do is enough. She pushes and pushes, and if I utter a word she simply waits with smug superiority as my withdrawal agony grows. Then she emits but a puff of her glorious aroma and a command… and I lack all will to resist! I obey! But what is a male Ch’k’t’t to do? I am bonded, along with the others of her harem. I could almost sympathize with my brethren if I didn’t hate them! Deceitful and loathsome, the lot of them! She keeps us in constant competition for her affections and at each other’s throats. Though I understand all this, I am helpless to act against it…”

Kem smiled inwardly.

“What if I told you that you could be free of your bondage? To be free of the chemical sorcery of Klk’Klk would to be free of the coercion of the High Prax, Never again would you be enslaved! You would be free!”

“Could a Ch’k’t’t dare dream it?” asked the bug. It stared at Kem in silence for a moment. “This supposed freedom, how could it be achieved, and at what cost?”

As if a quiet inner voice urged him, Kem suddenly felt an inspiring impulse.

Kem nodded. “As you know, we Praxes can overcome pain. It is not a matter of tolerance. We subvert the very sensation before it is felt. It is nothing to us. This method could be taught. You could overcome your addiction to the wiles of the female tyrants of your species. Never again would you be called slave.”

“The price?”

“I am trapped. I need to escape. Perhaps you could somehow help? I could teach you the first lesson now, which would allow you to achieve some relief. With further training, your life would be yours. Your actions dictated by your own designs and desires, instead of those of Klk’Klk or anyone else.”

The bug issued a buzzing “mmm” sound as it thought, as if it were savoring the flavor of the proposal.

“Freedom… but to never again feel the bliss…”

“Freedom is its own bliss. But think on this: perhaps the tables could somehow be turned. Do not the female Ch’k’t’t have dependencies? The sacred teachings of the Prax elucidate the dangers of Kamalah. The mistress owns the slave, true, but in turn the slave also owns the mistress. This is a great secret. If all males of your kind shared this sacred knowledge, no female could again enslave a male… at least not through the threat of pain. And in any case, there is always deception and manipulation. You could trick her. Otherwise, what is given willingly may also be taken by force.”

As the Ch’k’t’t thought on this, Kem found himself shocked at his words. These were not the words of a Prax! From whence did they come?

As Keg looked at the insect, for a moment he began so see colored shapes, like luminous shadows and ghost images, form around objects. It was as if another visual perception of his surroundings was superimposing itself on his own. He rubbed his eyes and the phenomenon vanished.

“I am willing to do this thing,” said the bug, “teach me your methods.”

Unbidden and of themselves, ideas and plans began to unfold in his mind.

“I will,” said Kem, “but first we must discuss the means of my escape and your role in it.”

First Draft – Pt. 2: The Transcendent Insect

Kem’s body shook and cold sweat dripped from his brow, stinging his eyes, yet he did not let this distract him. He continued the Grand Rite of Cultivation.

The Nectar of Ibaz had done its work. He circulated the energy throughout his physical and energetic bodies, directing the process of refining the base physical energies into more subtle forms, converting nervous energy into spiritual power, and then stored it in the sacred vessels of his energetic body.

The abnormal physical symptoms could come from only from one source: poison. He suspected as much when the High Prax had offered the Nectar and knew his body well enough to know he was not ill. Motivated by fatal urgency, he diverged from the accepted practice of the Rite.

“I do not know how long this physical form will last,” he thought, “so I must utilize it as much as I can while it still has strength, converting as much energy from the Nectar of Ibaz as I can.” The physical body, though gross in form, was necessary for this practice, without it, conversion of physical matter, such as the Nectar, to spiritual form was impossible… at least for a being at his level of progress.

The problem was the more he cultivated the more he could feel his body deteriorate.

“What an insidious poison!” he thought.

He accepted the immanence of his death. The best course of action was to reinforce the body of light, which, properly developed, could bring his ego, mind, and memories intact into the next realm. Then, once in the mystery, well… who could say what then?

As he worked, he heard a buzzing which echoed throughout his chamber. A presence, a warmth and feeling of spiritual power emanated in the air ahead of him. Through his closed eyelids, he could perceive a radiance of golden light. Looking upon it with his inner vision, he saw a form of dense geometric shapes written upon space with lines of brilliance. Circular waves of energy radiated outward from it. Bright pulses raced along the lengths of the circles.

A buzzing voice called his name.

“Kem!”

“Hallucination,” he thought, and he feared the end of his material form was near.

“No hallucination,” said the voice. “Open your eyes. Look. I bring hope!”

Perhaps out of a fatalistic urge, he did so.

A small golden insect hovered in the air before his face. An iridescent, multi-colored sheen covered the golden carapace. Formidable, bright eyes faceted with pentagonal shapes and reflecting every color stared back at him. They contained a cool, alien intelligence. The air throbbed around the creature, creating a sensation of wavering pressure, thrumming to a steady rhythm which was hypnotic.

The anthropomorphic bug gave the impression of a curmudgeonly old man.

“I am Ajuk. Aspirant of the Clear Fire,” the buzzing voice wavered in synchronization with the hypnotic pressure-waves. “I have attained the Ninth Level and possess Clarity and Power. I am here to sacrifice my physical form so that you may save yours.”

Though dizzy and bewildered, his physical senses failing, he could recognize the creature. “You are xing-fly!”

“That is what your species call my kind, yes.”

“Your color and shape are odd,” he said, becoming dizzier, “but you are a xing-fly.”

“The form of the Aspirant changes as he or she moves along the path. But this is unimporant. You have ingested a poison. This poison must be counteracted. When I instruct you, you will reach out to me. You will then pluck the eyes from my face and, after, consume my body. You will experience a tremendous heat. At the peak, crush my eyes and rub them into yours.”

“Doing so would expedite my passing. Your kind are toxic for people to eat. I may still yet cultivate and store more, and I must strengthen the body of light…”

“My kind are not people? Do not be so prejudiced. And, no. It will not expedite your passing. True, we are toxic to species you label mammals, but you have drunk the water which drips from the stone of this chamber, carrying with it certain minuscule particles which alter the body. And you have ingested yet another toxin with the Nectar. Consuming my body will interact with these elements, creating an antidote, and this will also force the parasite from your brain matter and out of your body.”

“Parasite?” Kem almost laughed as he said it. This must be a hallucination. He started to go back to his practice of cultivation, deciding to ignore the sensory illusions no doubt brought about by his advancing physical degeneration.

“Fool!” Ajuk buzzed loudly. Kem felt a wave of spiritual force strike his being, causing him to open his eyes in shock.

“I am no apparition of your deluded psyche or polluted body! I have sworn to sacrifice my life to you in service of a greater cause, despite your ingratitude and foolishness. Quickly now, I must explain a thing: the parasite has been introduced into your body by the High Prax. The High Prax has enslaved this disgusting creature and commanded it to control you. You have, up until recently, been a pawn of the proxy of the High Prax. The insect resides in your brain and feeds upon your cerebral-spinal fluid. The fibers of its proboscis branch out and control the tissues of your brain, manipulating your thoughts and actions. When you consume me, it will force him out. You must not destroy this abominable creature but instead negotiate with it. I will quickly instruct you as to how. Are you prepared to listen?”

Overwhelmed by these events and debilitated by the poison coursing through him, he almost laughed at the absurdity. But he contained himself, and nodded to the thing. With his inner vision, he perceived something in front of him. Whatever it was, it had the quality of a transcendent being.

“Good. Listen well: the foul being, once evacuated from your flesh, will crawl upon the ground, debilitated by the substance of my body. You must speak with it. Know this: it is bound to its mate, which is held captive by the High Prax. It is through coercion that the High Prax controls this thing of corruption. Every moment spent away from its mate is agony to this creature. The female of the species dominates the male and injects a fluid which changes the male’s bio-chemistry. It becomes imprinted with and addicted to her unique pheromone signature. It finds her feminine effluence intoxicating and suffers terrible withdrawals when deprived of it. Right now, the little beast is in an agony of torment, yet it persists, for it knows it will soon be reunited with its mate. However, the females of this species are malevolent, selfish, and sadistic. The males hate the females, yet cannot resist them, as they are compelled by their biology.”

“A terrible predicament, not unlike some situations among my species,” Kem said with amusement. “Females are notorious sources of the forbidden Kamalah. We Praxes have transcended this lowly form of slavery through mastery of our physical and emotional selves…”

“Indeed. And that is a great boon to you and will be the secret of your freedom from this place.”

“How…” Kem reeled. “The poison…” he thought, “not much time left. I hope this is no hallucination!”

“There is much to say and little time to say it! Attend! Using the energetic teaching method, you will instruct the thing how to overcome its attachment and the physical pain of withdrawal. Worry not! You will find yourself infused with power upon consuming my body and able to communicate with the creature. Convince it of the values of your training. Offer it freedom from the tyranny of its appetites and the oppression and control of the High Prax and its revolting consort.”

“Hurry now. First, pluck my eyes, then consume my body. You will undergo a variety of sensations. When the heat reaches its peak, crush my eyes between thumb and forefinger of each hand, creating a paste. Rub this paste harshly into your own eyes. I, Ajuk, sacrifice myself to you and the greater good in the name of the Clear Fire! Now, about your work, young Prax! Slay me so that you may live!”

Clumsily and with blurred vision, as the poison was nearly finished with him, he reached toward the most solid-looking of the many xing-flies which spun around each other.

He plucked the eyes. If Ajuk felt pain, he showed no signs protest. He then put Ajuk into his mouth and chewed. Oozy and flaky, fibrous textures and a strongly bitter taste filled his mouth. His tongue felt dry. No matter. He chewed and swallowed.

As Ajuk had said, a variety of sensations flooded his body. Fire and chills. Pressure and release. Lightness and heaviness. Tingling, stinging, spasms… He began to feel a steady heat increasing with each breath. Hotter and hotter. His flesh burned at greater and greater levels of intensity. He felt his body hit the floor. A blinding field of white light seared his visual field though his eyes were closed.

“When,” he thought, “is the peak?”

Trained to not simply endure pain, but to, upon reflex, transform the sensations before they reached even the most primitive reptilian aspect of his mind. Even so, he had never encountered sensations this intense. It threatened to overcome his conditioning.

He felt faint. This was beyond his training. Peak or not, he must act now. He crushed Ajuk’s eyes as instructed and then rubbed them into his own. Something on the surface of his eyes began to penetrate and move inward. As they did, a display of unearthly, dazzling colors and shapes played across his vision. And then a shroud of pure darkness as his body lapsed into unconsciousness.

First Draft – Pt. 1: Betrayal and Nectar

Kem finished his proposal. It met silence in the holy chamber. Not one stolid priest changed his stoic expression. The High Prax stared at Kem with his fierce, penetrating eyes. Kem felt an increasing sensation of pressure. Danger.

“Your words are corrupt,” said the High Prax. Kem felt an involuntary shock. The High Prax continued, pointing a finger at Kem, “They carry the taint of krem-krem!”

“Krem-krem!” the body of priests chanted with condemnation, “Krem-krem!”

Kem reeled. Each word caused a tightening of his stomach as if he had been struck. Betrayal! For months now, he had confided in the High Prax about his propositions regarding the sacred understandings, and it was the High Prax himself who had suggested the he make the proposal during the Great Convocation.

Why? What was happening?

He had believed he had grown close to the High Prax in the past year. Manipulation! In the shock of realization he saw that the series of events had been planned. The High Prax had slowly encouraged his line of spiritual reasoning, cultivating it in Kem. Was this the High Prax’s way of teaching that it was arrogance to assume any sort of intimacy with him or to diverge from the sacred teaching? Or something else?

The Praxes continued to chant, “Krem-krem! Krem-krem!”

Kem felt his face redden. “No!” he thought. “No!”

“Behold!” cried one of the priests, mockingly, “The face flesh reveals the presence of the scarlet seeds of Kamalah!”

“Impure!” several of the priests shouted. And then, again, they repeated their chant of accusation and judgment: “Krem-krem!”

For Kem, the world began to spin. He felt an hot, icy feeling work its way up from his stomach into his throat. Where was his sacred control? A clammy sweat upon his face. A cold, disgusting trickle under his armpits. Waves of nausea threatened to make him bend over and retch. “No!” he thought, “Where is my purity? The body reverts, suddenly, and obtains dominance over the spirit! Years of training ruined in an instant! I reek with the stench of Kamalah like some unclean, undisciplined neophyte! What has happened to me?”

He had passed through the Fifth Travail long ago and had rid himself of base instinct and involuntary physical reactions. The animal had been tamed. How could this be?

The High Prax raised his hands. The Convocation resumed silence.

“Prax Kem clearly demonstrates the signs of krem-krem! He has fallen into the filth of Kamalah and must be cleansed. Kem, leave this place. You have soiled it with your impurity and weakness. You will go immediately to the Site of Holy Excruciation and begin the Rite of Purification.”

“No!” thought Kem, seeing his years of spiritual progress fade and his hopes for future progress vanish. “I will never ascend!”

“But then…” he thought as his mind raced in new, unthinkable directions, sensing new possibilities here-to-fore forbidden to him. This crisis and loss of control had somehow propelled him past his inculcated inhibitions. He felt his body moving as if he did not move it, leaving the holy chamber as if in a trance. As he walked, priests averted their gaze. He knew that the High Prax, after speaking his judgment, had turned his back on him. Until the Rite of Purification was completed, looking upon him risked contagion.

As he moved, his thoughts were filled with new possibilities. Those who were krem-krem had certain opportunities other candidates did not. Ascension was lost, but forbidden roads were opened by way of sin, for those who dared. There were the Twisting Bridges, the Paths of Profane Geometry, or the Depths of Shadows, among others. Heretical, composed of pariahs, but each had their place and function and were begrudgingly and secretly accepted by the High Church. A toleration born of necessity. But he must escape, somehow…

Was this another planned temptation? What had happened? He must meditate on it during the Rite. He would have time and much solitude. The painful rites would send him to the Other Space, and there he would have a much needed clarity in timelessness and could recover and cultivate his spiritual strength.

He would have to make his choice and take action, however, before the rite was complete. Afterwards, he would only be fit for service as a krem-skel, a cleaner of filth and doer of menial tasks. He doubted he could tolerate the daily rituals of humiliation of that position, and, once the purification was complete, he would have no more vital spiritual strength.


Gargantuan, rounded stone slabs form sky-high, concentric rings at the center of which sits a small, cold, solitary, circular chamber. It is here that the Rite of Purification occurs. Water, the only allowed sustenance for the body during the ritual, drips slowly, drop by drop, from above into the center-point of the chamber. Its echoes can be heard throughout the zone, which is silent except for the sounds of the Purificant or the occasional Ministers, who provide cleansing tortures to the body, mind, and spirit.

His body already ritually purged of food-stuff and waste matter, Kem knelt, naked and shorn of all hair, in the position of obeisance, spine erect, head tilted back, mouth open, receiving the nourishing yet poisonous drops as he meditated. He had learned at the end of his first year as an acolyte the means by which bodily and psychological pain can serve as the gateway to the Other Space. He knew the way well and navigated with skill. As quickly as his control had vanished from him during the convocation, it had reappeared. He felt already that his being had been voided of krem-krem. How strange…

It was rumored among the neophytes that the water of this place contained subtle poisons which while taking vital energy from the body enhanced spiritual potential and progress. An irony, considering the end result of the rite. Using the spirit to permanently cripple it.

It was here–the Other Space, the place of silence, where the body and emotions were but memories–that he dwelled, chanting the sacred phonemes which would purify him of krem-krem and purge his spirit of the remnants of Kamalah.

Much of it was a repetition of his early training, but with an increased intensity. The last part, however, would forever bar his spirit from the Path of Z-El, the path of spiritual power which is the privilege and domain of Praxes. It was a form of spiritual castration. It would deprive him of his source of primal, creative spiritual energy. He would be forced to live off of the reserves his acolyte training had created and taught him to store deep within his sacred vessels.

He would be a faded shadow of a real being, living not as a human and yet not as an animal.

The Rite of Purification killed many. Many others committed suicide before completing it. Death, the ultimate purifier, was always an option for disgraced Praxes who had fallen to krem-krem and embraced Kamalah.

Poison or not, he would use what was offered him to gain spiritual strength and clarity. It would be some time before he would be forced to chant the destructive phonemes which would disintegrate the generative organs of his energy body, yet some of the sounds of the chants he now recited were unknown to him and felt strangely suspect. Could it be that he was imperiling himself by participating in the rite at all? No matter. There was no choice. For the present, he was trapped.

He must find a means of escape, go through the ritual, or commit suicide. Those were his only choices, and to make his escape he must gather his spiritual strength and re-unite himself with supreme bodily control, of which the High Prax had somehow temporarily deprived him. The spirit must rule the body.

Within Other Space, somewhere in the distance was a faint echo of sensation. His spirit urged connection with the physical body. He reached out with the body which was not a body to connect with the world of imperfection. Spikes of throbbing pain threatened to enter his consciousness, though they could not reach him. Shadows and false ghosts. Impressions subject to perceptive frames which could change the very nature of the impressions. Such was the power of the spirit, a power which could control naming and labels because it was beyond them.

His body sensed footsteps. Strange, it was not time for the Holy Excruciation. Was this inconsistency a part of the ritual?

He performed the chant of acceptance and moved slowly back into the body, interpreting each assault of agony not as pain, but as sensation without judgment or classification attached. Thus, agony was not agony. Pain was not pain. What is the natureless nature of things before they are known? What is pain before it is pain? This was the lesson he had learned.

Kem returned, slowly, to his body. He began the slow, methodical post-meditation muscle exercises which would ease and nourish the body, relieving it from the stiffness of prolonged non-movement. Subtle and almost imperceptible flexing and releasing of every muscle group, improving blood flow and making the body once again limber and vital.

As he faced forward, stretched his arms upward, and inhaled, he felt a presence in the open archway to his chamber. By dint of sound patterns and scents upon the air, he recognized the identity of the figure. He allowed his eyes to remain closed as he greeted his visitor.

“Good afternoon, High Prax.” Kem sensed a reaction of surprise in the High Prax. Almost imperceptible. Contained and controlled, but there.

“What is this?” thought the High Prax, “Vanity? Insouciance? This is new. Insulting! Yet… interesting. Vital and aware when it should be otherwise.” He felt the impulse to grimace in his nervous system and redirected the nervous energies before they reached the muscles.

“I was right in making my choice,” he thought.

Although the High Prax had bristled inwardly at the brazen disrespect, he chose to ignore it. “I must be careful with this one. Soothing. He must sense no conflict,” he concluded.

“Good afternoon, Kem. I trust the purification proceeds as expected?”

“It proceeds as it will and must, your Sagacity.”

“Ah, does he accept?” the High Prax asked himself. The High Prax counted a few beats, performing a quick rite, cleansing and opening the gates of perception. “My mind must be empty of expectations and judgments! My consciousness is a mirror and reflects only truth, thus nothing can remain hidden!” Filled with pure sense data through the cleansed instruments of the body and its senses, his spirit perceived no duplicity or resentment in Kem’s statement. “Good,” he thought.

The High Prax nodded. “You must have many questions.”

“The questions of an impure being are only the graspings of a soul drowning in illusion. Like a mindless animal, it will reach for anything, thus, such grasping should not be trusted. Once I am cleansed, when I am once again with my spirit, only then will I seek answers for that which eludes me.”

“He endeavors to show me his faith, that he is not completely lost. He hopes!” thought the High Prax.

The High Prax smiled and replied, “Well spoken. Offering light in the darkness is a kindness, and it is the duty of the enlightened to provide. Such is the injunction. I offer an explanation, if you will have it.”

“I must take what is given,” replied Kem, who had finished his exercises and opened his eyes. He looked at the High Prax impassively.

The High Prax nodded, and thought, “He responds as a wandering Prax? Does he realize what he reveals by this? Does he seek to escape? Ah, Kem, do as you will. No matter. There is only one escape for you, my acolyte, and soon it shall reveal itself.”

“It was a test. You failed. I blame myself. You were not ready.”

Kem absorbed this, looking at the High Prax with a relaxed yet focused gaze, and nodded.

“His eyes! So clear when they should be dull. Is that little beast inside Kem betraying me? If so, he will suffer dearly. No… unthinkable. He is bound! Is it the water of the Holy Cylinder, perhaps? Some unforeseen interaction? No matter, no matter. But look at him! He’s reading me. What has caused this change? Is Kem aware of it? This must end quickly.”

“I have done you a great disservice. You could have been a great priest of Prax, and I took that from you. My assessment was in error. Though I am High Prax, I do not perceive all. I tested you for placement among the Five Circles.”

“So,” thought Kem, “this is how he tries to distract me. Candor. False sincerity. Was he testing me? I cannot sense incongruity, yet my spirit cannot accept these words.”

“Regret is for those who cannot accept reality,” Kem replied, “I accept my fate. The flavor of wine is only known in the tasting. I failed, and, so, infected myself with krem-krem and the taint of Kamalah. Indeed, I have felt the presence in the purging. I am being cleansed. It is for the best.”

“About that,” said the High Prax, “I am able to do a thing. Though the Rite of Cleansing is a necessity, if I can aid you, then I must. As High Prax, I am given a certain latitude.”

The High Prax then presented a small flask and a cup.

“The Nectar of Ibaz,” he said.

Kem could not restrain an involuntary look of surprise, no matter how slight. The High Prax smiled inwardly. “Ah, at times the sacred control yet evades him! He has not fully recovered. Good!”

“But such a thing is forbidden. I am krem-krem! Don’t I risk death?”

The High Prax allowed a smile. Kem regained enough control to prevent a physical reaction which showed his anger. “He seeks to deceive me! See? I give you a smile. An allowance which demonstrates our intimacy. More lies! Why? What is behind this?”

“As I said,” continued the High Prax, “I enjoy a certain latitude. Your impurity is definite, and fatal to your role as priest, but mild concerning the use of Ibaz. Ibaz only kills the truly degenerate spirit. You well know that the core of your spirit shall have its organs of generation neutralized. The quality of your life will then rely upon your past cultivation, which only began as an acolyte. In the best of cases, 20 years of vitality would be left, and that only with the most rigorous efforts of conservation. With the Nectar, you will have a full life. Your spirit will be nourished, although never again will you have the spiritual prowess of a follower of Z-El…”

Kem looked at the flask and small glass before him. “How much,” he asked, “should I take.”

“Ah. Usually, one must consume the Nectar in very small portions and that very slowly, but in this case… there is no time. I have had the holy chemists make a special preparation. Drink it all, and drink deeply. It will aid in your cleansing and will increase the quality of your life as a krem-skel. Regarding that, I will see to it that you hold a position that is the least unpleasant possible. A cleaner of dust in the libraries, perhaps.”

“You are most gracious, your sagacity.”

The High Prax nodded.

Kem observed the flask and the High Prax. His senses detected no poison. His body did not give a danger reaction. But his spirit… Yes. Deception. Yet, the spirit bade him to drink. Strange.

“Then you accept my gift? You may reject it, though the going will be more difficult for you. I warn you: beware the temptation of hardship and suffering! Some hardships strengthen, others weaken. Wisdom is to know the difference.”

“I do not trust my own judgment, High Prax. I trust yours. Though I am impure, if you bid me to drink, I shall drink.”

The High Prax nodded. He felt a wave of relief wash over him. Did Kem sense it? If so, there was no indication. Once Kem drank the Nectar, the problem would be solved.

With an expression showing no emotion, neither eagerness nor hesitation, the High Prax said, “Though those who are too impure and take the Nectar risk death. This is not the case with you, good Kem. Drink.”

Kem opened the flask and poured. He breathed the strong aroma and felt his body threaten to react involuntarily to the pleasure stimulus. Measuring and balancing himself, he slowly brought the cup to his lips and drank. The flavor created intense sensations which washed over his body.

He stopped.

“I risk sensuality…” he said.

The High Prax nodded. “No matter. You shall be purged. The Rite of Purification shall do its work. Drink. Drink it all and quickly.”

Kem did so. Liquid energy coursed through him and nourished his spirit as spirit transformed the crude body/sense-reactions into something more subtle and sublime, which could be stored in the secret vessels of his energetic being.

“I permit you to perform the Grand Rites of Cultivation and absolve you from the need to undergo your excruciations this night. They will re-commence on the morrow.”

“Praise to you, High Prax. You are most gracious.” said Kem.

The High Prax nodded, “Be at peace, good Kem. Sleep well tonight. All shall soon be as it should.”

“The poison is slow,” thought the High Prax, “but effective. Tomorrow the world will find itself rid of you. All will accept that your death was caused by your impurity.”

Even as the High Prax left, Kem steadied himself and began the Grand Rites of Cultivation, unaware that a slow poison was beginning to systematically destroy his body.

Eyes – Horror Short Story

eyes

My seventh son was born without eyes.  In the place where each eye should have been, he had teeth.  These teeth were surrounded by lips in place of eyelids.  The jaws within each socket were considered fully functional by the doctors.  Each mouth had a tongue and throat-like passage which connected to the child’s throat proper.  I was more amazed than horrified at this strange occurrence, having seen this child of mine born with three mouths, two of which prematurely contained teeth, having heard it cry with three mouths. The cry was of two distinct voices, not three or one as you might suppose.  One was a cry of fear and pain, a cry of being born in to a cold and unknown world.  The other was the shrill cry of ravenous hunger.

My wife died giving birth.  I never really cared for her.  She was a warm, wet hole into which I spat my lust.  Nothing more.  My lust was greater than her.  Greater than anything she could have ever been.  I was surprised that she could, even given the union with my desire, produce such a thing as this child.

The doctors, who I despise, who exist without any fascination or regard for anything, having no drive, no lust, had little reaction to this occurrence, save some professional intrigue at this mutation.  Of course, they suggested the course of “corrective surgery” on the child if such a thing was possible, which it was not.  All veins and tissues that supported the function of the two unlikely mouths, the two unlikely throats, were connected to several other major veins and tissues of the child’s face.  To alter these mouths or throats in any significant way would disfigure permanently the rest of the child’s face and would put the child’s life at risk.  This, of course, could not be done.  The other suggestion was to surgically alter the lips, to make them look more like “normal” eyelids, and to sew them up.  I would not have it.  I wanted the child the way he was.

I reared the child alone, bringing as little attention to him from my so-called friends and associates as possible.  It was a task that my wife’s timely death made easy.  This was the child that killed my wife in being born.  No one had the desire to ask to see it.  My friends and associates were far too polite for that.

I knew very little about caring for a child.  My first six died at birth.  I found most of it surprisingly easy.  Most of it, except feeding.  Feeding the child was a problem, always a problem, an incessant, unbearable problem.  The child’s “proper” or larger mouth demanded fairly normal, almost less than normal, attention.  It was the other two mouths the laid in place of the child’s eyes that create an intolerable nuisance.  These mouths, without end, hungered and cried for food.   They devoured amounts the one would consider unhealthy, amounts that left the child bloated and crying.  These two mouths cried for food, always for food, and nothing else.  They knew no pain except hunger, and their hunger was eternal.  At one point they cried and cried no matter what I fed them.  They would eat whatever I poured into them and would still manage to scream unrelentingly.  I had to ignore this incessant yelping.  I knew that these mouths would consume to the point of killing the child.  So I did not feed them.  I kept all sustenance from them and ignored their hellish wails until I found out, by accident, what they had been craving.

The child was sitting at the table in the kitchen when I was moving raw meat from the freezer to the counter in preparation for a meal.  Upon smelling it, the child’s two mouths began the shrill screeching I had come to know too well.  Curious, I cut a few scraps and held one in front of the child’s face.  His head flew forward, the two mouths snapping and ripping at the meat.  I had to drop it and withdraw my hand for fear of my fingers being bitten.

It became apparent that it would be impossible for me to raise this child without letting the outside have any contact with him.  I invited only the most intimate of my friends to come over to see him.  There was an initial shock and curiosity regarding these two mouths in place of eyes.  The apprehension and interest ended quicker than one might expect, almost unnaturally so.  The child was beautiful, despite the mouths… or perhaps because of them.  He was pleasant to be around and play with when the mouths were satiated.  I always fed the two mouths well with blood and meat before guests arrived and always had the guests leave at the slightest sign of hunger. The way the child devoured his food was not a sight for guests to behold.  The two mouths had long tongues which would flick and curl around the child’s face, searching for blood and pieces of meat which always slid down from the gnashing teeth and over the lips.  The teeth would snatch and rip and gnaw.  Blood would often splatter over the dark wooden table at which the child ate and on the cold white shiny tiles of the floor.  I would spend hours caring for the child’s mouths.  In fact, the child and his two mouths seemed to be two separate entities.  The mouths required more care and attention than all the other parts and needs of the child put together.

Soon the child learned to feed himself.  He could not feed his two mouths with his hands.  The mouths would devour his fingers as soon as they would anything else.  Great care had to be taken, but the child learned quickly.   The child learned everything quickly.

The were no difficulties until he learned how to speak.  It was after he learned how to speak through his normal mouth that the two mouths began making strange and vulgar noises.  clicks and groans and screeches began to pour out of these mouths like blood from a deep wound.  Shortly after the child became verbal, these mouths began shrieking vulgarities with the voice of a sick old woman.  This voice was, perhaps, more abrasive and sickening than what was actually being said, which in itself foul beyond description.  The voices were unnaturally loud and caused the child to cry.  They became so unbelievably loud that they caused the child’s ears to bleed and the neighbors to complain.  It became necessary to control them and their incessant squawking as well as their appetite, which was growing at an alarming rate.

I explained to the child that he must control both his appetite and these voices.  Remarkably, he was able to gain some control over it.  The vocal outbursts became less and less frequent, and the cries for food were controlled if not abated for some time.

After the neighbors had grown accustomed to the fact of such an unusual child lived nearby, I allowed him to play in the back yard.   It was by his own accord, however, that he avoided other children and playing in the front of the house.  When I asked him about this, he merely replied that “It is safer.”  I never asked him to elaborate on that statement, for I always respected him and his stated wishes, which were few but succinct.

Around the age of five, his mouths began to change their appetites.  They refused to eat the raw meat which was offered to them.  I had encountered this problem before and had solved it by changing the kind of meat that I served.  It did not, however, work this time–perhaps for the better, for I was running out of alternatives, alternatives withing so-called legal and moral bounds by any rate.

It was about this time that I found a variety of dead animals in the back yard.  First it was birds, then squirrels.  These animals always had particular parts missing from them and other portions left intact or semi-intact.  In the initial period, these portions were cut off nearly, apparently with a knife.   After a while, it appeared as if they were ripped apart by teeth.  I found blood from this on the child’s clothes.  I discussed this situation with the child.  He silently listened and nodded.  He said he understood but admitted that he could no longer control the appetites of his mouths anymore and that if he tried to deny them what they wanted he would experience a pain he found unbearable.  He apologized for the mess and said that he would find a way to manage.  After this, there were no more animals in the yard or messes on his clothing.

After I learned that he could satisfy his hunger in secrecy, I hired a professor from the local university (a dear friend of mine) to home school the child.  The professor was a dynamic individual of various interests (a mortician and occultist, among other things) who held a great capacity for enduring the bizarre without the slightest flinch.  He was perfect.  He schooled the child and was amazed by him.  The child’s scope of interest was broad and his hunger for learning was without parallel.  The good professor did not question the strange hours and being required to leave once the child began to exhibit changes in behavior I had learned to detect which indicated hunger or an oncoming fit.  The professor, being a good friend, merely accepted the fact that when I indicated it was time to leave that he must do so and as soon as possible.

During the child’s sixth year, I looked into the refrigerator and found what I thought were several marbles, smooth, shiny, and white as milk, lying between the gleaming rods of metal that made up the shelves.  Three rows sat, containing 27 spheres of different sizes.  Looking closer, I realized that these were not marbles at all.  Underneath, on the almost glowing white bottom of the cold interior of the refrigerator were cakes of reddish brown.  Coagulated blood.  They were eyes.  The child must have procured them and placed them there for safe keeping.  They were apparently those of small children and animals, for in the neighborhood several had been reported missing in the past few weeks.  I began to worry for the safety of the child.  But if this sort of thing was necessary, then it was necessary.  The child had appetites.  He had needs.  And he was clever.   He had not been caught so far.  Wherever the bodies of the victims were, they had yet to be found.

I installed the basement freezer and brought the child down to show it to him.  I looked at him and said, “This is for you, do you understand?”  He nodded.  After that, I found no more surprises in the kitchen.

My friend,. the professor, soon gave me notice that he would not be rendering his services anymore.  He admitted to me that the child had begun to disturb him long ago, but not unbearably so.  It was only recently that the teeth of the child’s mouths began grinding audibly in the most unnerving way during lessons and that the child began making obscene noises through the mouths in his eye sockets.  It was when they started grinning and cackling at him that he decided that he should leave.  He went on about the impression the child had left him with; the child sitting in the room, his smiling teeth glinting in the darkness, making shrill laughter-like noises and making predictions about the deaths of the professor’s loved ones, of whom he never spoke about to the child and of whom I had never spoken of as well.  I paid the man generously and gave him my thanks, and apologized for any pains he had suffered in doing his work.

The two mouths had begun to control more and more of the child’s behavior.  After accepting my friend’s resignation, the two mouths began to screech the words, over and over, “Kill him!  Kill him!” to me, and described scenarios in which I could cause his death and make it look like an accident.  I cannot describe the number of times they related such things to me, nor can I account the variety of ways in which they contrived his death.  It unbearable.  The mouths only stopped when I threatened surgery to have them removed.

On the morning of what would have been the child’s seventh birthday, I found what was left of his body in his room.  The child had eaten himself.  Every part of the child that could be consumed by the mouths in the eye sockets had been eaten, and what I found was a mass of gore, atop of which sat the child’s uppermost torso.  The one mouth was in a grimace of agony, the two others, bloody and smiling.  His appetite had groped in every direction until it found what it had been craving.  All his life, the child’s two mouths had been hungering for himself.