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Authors: Peter S.; Peter S. Beagle; Joe R. Lansdale Beagle

The Urban Fantasy Anthology (63 page)

BOOK: The Urban Fantasy Anthology
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I was careful in approaching him. He resided in the most well-to-do building in the most well-to-do part of the City (naturally), holding an entire floor in a dreamlike blue metal and glass monstrosity; it overlooked the river, which, in its flowing blueness, hurt the eyes with all that visual concentration at one far end of the spectrum (he had once told me the color blue would hurt me; would make me, he said, “see nothing but blue until you are driven mad and want to tear your eyes out”). I had also been told, by one overly cautious individual who had easily succumbed to bribery for information; he insisted that we meet in a series of brief encounters in a park, where he imparted, on a bench by an ice cream custard stand—once, even, in the bushes by a children’s zoo—tiny snatches of information that, when added together, gave a picture of a man of immense power in the last throes of life. This hurt me terribly, because if He were already dying he would be that much less horrified by my appearance, never mind my actions, and would probably already be faced toward the last dark precipice which I would gleefully tumble him over. I didn’t want him to die. I wanted to kill him.

I made my way to Him with the utmost caution. Ironically, and to my delight, there was in the entrance to his entire fourteenth floor a statue remarkably like that wood goddess in our manse, which I remembered with so much fondness and which, in a way, was the catalyst to my new life; with her arrow she had pointed me in the direction of Salvation and Revenge and had, in her smooth and godlike way, brought me to this delicious point.

I hid behind this statue, distinct from that other only in that this one was clothed, and I methodically, patiently mapped the comings and goings to His suite. I did this for days, managing to hide myself from the watchful (or half-watchful—he was not very attentive to his job) orbs of the guard who seemed always to be present. There were visitors, all during the day—men with briefcases, dull brown suits always buttoned, grim grey faces; but I noticed that in the evening there were never any visitors, and that somewhere around nine o’clock the bored guard usually slipped off for a cigarette no doubt shared with other bored guards on other floors of the building. He invariably stayed away a half-hour, and no one ever checked on him, so after a week of this surveillance I quietly slipped from my lair (knocking my knees together once as I rose—damn Him!) and stole my way into his metal manse.

If possible, this abode of his was even more regally attired than the other; the richness of the furnishings—velvet-covered furniture in blacks, reds and greens, tapestries, oiled wood walls and floors and antique ceramics—not to mention the other artworks, paintings and, yes, sculpture everywhere—that I began to gag in reaction to it. He had been a Pig before; but the realization that he was now an even greater one, a public one—this was all too much. I fingered the blade in my overcoat pocket—I had searched long and hard through the manse for just the right instrument, finally settling on one that, if the little blurbs often found in museums next to art treasures are to be believed, was once used for ritual sacrifice in Celtic Ireland. Oh, yes, I would use it again for just such a purpose, reviving a custom….

Room after room of nauseating ostentation passed before me, until the hairs on the back of my head (“Don’t ever let the hairs on the back of your head rise in fright, Alfred: it will cause you, in time, to lose your hairs as they are pulled into the back of your skull by the action of forced straightening”) (!!!) stood on end and I knew that the richly carved, heavy hinged door (hares and hunters on that door, how delightfully appropriate!) before which I stood was the last in the apartment and would lead to his bedroom. And indeed it did, for as I edged it open I heard a faint but unmistakable voice call out questioningly, “Grace? Grace?”

I was going to answer that no, it was not Grace and that the state of grace was what I hoped he possessed for the journey he would soon take, but when I saw that the room was so completely black-dark that he would not see me until I stood just over his bed I decided to slip through that oily darkness and do just that. He called out again, very faintly, and then lapsed into a ragged, even breathing that told me he had slipped into sleep.

In a stealthy moment I was at his bedside, and leaning over him to turn on the Tiffany lamp by his bed.

At the instant I turned on that lamp he awoke.

“No!” was all he said, hoarsely. He tried to mouth my name, but I knew at that moment that he had suffered a stroke at this very instant of nirvana and would have trouble saying anything at all. I drew my blade out slowly, running it over my nails in front of his straining red face; he was gulping for air like a blowfish out of water.

“Alfred,” I said slowly, quietly, completing for him what he was trying so hard to say. He shook his head from side to side, his eyes never leaving my face.

“Yes, Father, it is I. Are you surprised?”

He was puffing hard, and I lowered my ear (as I had done so long ago for my dear mute mother!) to hear him say, “Go…back.”

I laughed. I pulled my head back and spat laughter, and then I put my face close to his.

“I don’t think so, Father.”

Again he was straining.

“Must,” he said.

“Why? To keep me away from you? Don’t you want me by your living side?” I lowered my wide eyes just inches from his, and brought the blade up close to his straining, yellow nostrils. “Would you rather I didn’t speak? Would you rather I cut my own tongue out, make myself mute like my mother?” His eyes went very wide and he shook his head violently from side to side.

“What, Father? What is it you want to say?”

I pulled him up by the shoulders, a little frightened by how light and frail he was, and pressed his lips to my ear.

“No…” he said. “Speak, damn you!”

“Did it…herself…”

“Did what?”

“Cut her…own…tongue out…”

I pushed him back down into his pile of silken pillows.

“Liar!” I said, raising my fist to strike him.

“No!” he said, suddenly finding his voice from somewhere down deep before it cracked off into a whisper again. “True…”

Calming abruptly, or rather moving off beyond rage to a calmer, more clear, more vicious place, I once again lowered my ear to his lips.

“Why did you leave, Father?”

There was a gurgle in his throat, and then, “…her…house…”

“What do you mean, ‘Her house’?”

“…kept me there. Gave me everything to keep me silent. Made me…”

“Made you what?” My voice was regaining its edge.

“Made me…” He was breathing very unevenly, and said with great effort, with what a fool could have taken to be pleading in his eyes, “You.”

My voice was very calm now, and I made sure he could see me drawing the blade through my fingers, letting it glint off the weak light from the amber reading lamp.

“You’re lying,” I said. “You’re lying like you always have to me. Your life is a lie from beginning to this, the end. You twisted my mind from as early as I can remember. It’s a sewer now, Father. It always will be. I am scared to death just to be outside that mansion. Just coming here made me tremble and sweat. My life is a catalog of unnameable things, sick things, tics and neuroses that I can’t escape. I fear everything. Except you.” I brought the blade down slowly, delicately toward his old man’s chicken neck.

“Did it for you, go back,” he croaked, looking at my eyes, not at the blade. “Hybrid. She…hated you. Only way to keep you alive. Statue,” he said, his face suddenly getting very red, blood pumping into it from the ruptured machine in his chest and making his eyes nearly pop out of his face. His voice became, for a moment, very loud and clear. “Alfred! She was from the woods, not like us! Go back, save your life!” He grabbed at me with his spindly arms, his twiglike fingers. He tried to pull himself up, tried to clasp his vile body to mine. “…back…”

His grasp loosened then, and he slipped, like a flat rock into a pool of water, down into death.

I sat up, panting, and looked down at him; the blade felt sharp in my hand and I entertained for a moment the notion of carving him up anyway, of taking the pound of flesh I had come for and at least giving to my mother the sacrifice I had vowed. But instead I lowered it into my coat and stood up. He was pitifully dead, and in death he appeared much less the object of hate; the soul had left, leaving only meat behind.

It was then, when I was leaving his bedroom and passing the massive, gilded mirror over the dresser by the doorway, that I saw something that made me stop.

My skin had turned red. I thought immediately of the meat I had eaten in the past months, of the bounteous meat I had eaten in the past days in the City. I shook my head to clear it, turned on the bright lamp on the dresser and once again my color was correct. I smiled knowingly at myself: for a chilly moment my teeth looked yellow and I thought of all the oranges I had eaten—the back of my throat became uncontrollably dry and it felt as though something tiny was ticking around back there—but then this passed too.

“Fool,” I said, and left the apartment in haste, throwing a fleeting glance at the statue in the foyer before passing on.

Everything outside was blue.

Overhead, there was a fat full moon, and as I looked up at it, it turned indigo and my neck began to ache, giving me trouble in lowering it.

I sat down on a bus and then a train, and my feet went numb.

I now felt, inside me, the movement of my organs and the gathering of bread crusts as they pressed out through my ribs, hernia-like.

Somehow, I made it back to the grounds of the manse. I think a servant found me outside the front gates in the morning, curled up like a gnarled root, my face pointed at the killing sky. I don’t know how he recognized me, since as they carried me in I passed a looking glass and saw that the features of my face had rearranged themselves, grotesquely mimicking that funny face my father had made at me so long ago.

They placed me in my father’s old bedroom; the dour doctor came and went, and from the look on his dour face I knew that he would not return from the woods from which he was summoned.

I don’t know what color I am now—red, black, blue, green, bone white. I do know that the pulp-ants are active this morning and that therefore my teeth must be a particular shade of yellow. Lemon yellow, perhaps. My genitals have retracted into my body. My head feels as though it will shortly fall off my shoulders.

I have had the statue of my mother moved into my new bedroom and placed in my line of sight. The arrow in her bow points directly at my forehead and I now see a look of lust and self-loathing on her features that I didn’t see before. I want to look at that statue; I want to look at it hard and long.

I think often of my father.

I know that soon my tear ducts will rob the liquid they need so desperately from my eyeballs, turning them into crackly paper orbs, and that, naturally, I will go blind.

BOOK: The Urban Fantasy Anthology
3.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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