In His House
by Peter A. Balaskas
Table of Contents
Part 5 and Part 6
appeared in issue 266.
An apocalyptic phenomenon called The Event has wiped out most of the human race, leaving a screaming sand tempest in its wake. The only area of the planet that remains unaffected is a circular plot of land containing a special house.
Ten survivors live in this house, all of which have had their memories wiped clean of their past. Most of them have mutated into unspeakable monsters, all except an unnamed protagonist, the only normal human survivor in the house. Recently, he discovered a picture of a beautiful young woman who may be a key to his past, as well as the cause of The Event.
The unnamed man’s friends, Francis and Christine, have also found artifacts to unlock the mysteries of their fates. But how long will it be before the seven other mutated tenants cause this man’s demise?
He gaped at Leech. “But you’re still like us. You don’t know your own past.”
He nodded. “As well I shouldn’t. But I know about Tabula Rasa, young man. Wipe the slate clean and begin anew. In the beginning, a higher power than I said, ‘Let there be light.’ Well, I am going to make bloody damn sure that new light stays lit; and it sure as hell isn’t the past.”
“What is it, then?”
The older man smiled. “A tree, my dear boy. A tree called bliss. Ignorance may be an unpleasant branch of this tree, but it is much more preferable than unspeakable pain resulting from knowledge. Do you want that, son? I don’t think so.”
He scowled as Leech returned to his meal. He saw the older man chew, bite, swallow, grunt and sigh with pleasure. The landlord relished the performance he was giving, the way he ate with such self-assured regality. He focused on Leech’s neck, how it expanded and contracted every time a scrap slid down his gullet. He narrowed his eyes at the pulsating jugular vein. That blasphemous vessel. He grabbed the knife and thrust its blade towards the old man’s throat.
The tip of the knife snapped off just inches from its target.
The old man continued cutting his piece and devoured it as though nothing had happened. After he swallowed, he looked at his stunned guest and every muscle in his large body completely stiffened.
He dropped the broken knife and was forced deeper into the chair. He couldn’t move and when he noticed his host smiling, he discovered the reason. Leech had him, utilizing the same force-field that protected his bulky form. He could only move his eyes and mouth.
Leech stood up and looked at him with disappointment. “Why is it the young colts always have to prove themselves?” The landlord grabbed the carving knife, towered over him and pressed the tip against his guest’s crotch. “Maybe turning you into a gelding might help you see the light.”
He squealed. “No!”
Leech pressed harder; the sound of torn fabric reverberated throughout the room. Then, he pulled back. “No, that would be too crude. Hmm.” He stood still and contemplated until his black eyes widened with realization. “’See the light.’ Ah yes.” Leech walked around his immobile form and appeared on his left side. He spread his guest’s left eyelids apart firmly with his left hand, keeping them in place. Leech aimed the knife towards his eye.
The older man shushed him and said in a calm, professional manner, “Don’t worry, young man. This won’t take long.”
Leech was right as always. It didn’t take too long. The sounds of him expertly cutting, slicing and scraping the left eyeball out of socket were drowned out by the owner’s howls of hellish agony. When Leech was done, he wiped the blade clean with a napkin, then used it to clean the blood from his guest’s face and neck.
He looked at his host with his remaining eye. He panted and groaned, waiting for Leech to plunge the knife into his chest. Instead, the older man relaxed his posture, resulting in the force-field being removed from his guest.
He crumpled within the large embrace of the chair. Leech gave him the bloody napkin. “Just keep it covered until you go back to your room. Wash out the socket and everything will be in order.”
Order. The word echoed in his mind. He took the napkin and gingerly patted and covered his mutilated orbit. He bit his lip until he drew blood, preventing himself from breaking down in front of the tyrant. He looked at Leech, who for the first time, glowered over him with raging evil. The polite host vanished. He muttered in a soft growl, “Now, what are you going to do?”
He swallowed and whispered, “Stay.”
Leech gritted his teeth; pieces of chicken were trapped in between the incisors. “Stay, what?”
He answered softly, “Ignorant.”
Leech nodded. “That’s my boy.” His composure switched back to the kind British gentleman that welcomed him for dinner. He sat down once again and picked up his glass of wine. Leech’s eyes turned to white. They glowed as bright as his teeth. “I am doing this for all of our good, trust me. Just do what you have always been doing and the harmony of this house will remain status quo. And you do have a little something over the others. You met me. Be happy for that. And, most importantly, be grateful.” He raised his glass and toasted his guest. “Ta, young man.”
He strained to get up, the pain in his eye spreading throughout his body. He staggered out of the attic in a searing daze. He didn’t know where he was going. He just shuffled along the landing. All hope left him.
There was no point in speaking with Francis and Christine. After many years of questioning his survival, he had been categorized within five minutes. Being a blinded puppet for everyone, especially Leech, was a Hell he couldn’t stand. And as he reached his door, the Ring of Pain flashed throughout his body. He screamed as he collapsed. The eye injury paled compared to the pain at his temple. He wanted it all to end.
He heard his door open from the inside and felt two pairs of hands gently pull him inside the room. He opened his eye and saw his friends looking over him. Christine was still in her dress, but Francis actually wore a blue shirt, jeans, and work boots, void of any paint drops. His ruby hair flowed unrestrained across his shoulders. Both looked at him with concern. When he opened his left eyelids, revealing the hollow orbit, Christine cringed and covered her mouth. Francis’s eyes narrowed.
He whimpered, “Look at me. Leech did this. I can’t take it anymore!”
Francis answered, “You don’t have to, brother.”
He sat up, his temple pounding. “What are you talking about? How did you two escape?”
They both looked at each other in silence, as though communicating telepathically. Francis nodded, reached behind him and pulled out a framed canvas. “Here.”
“My latest painting. The last one, actually. I finally did a portrait of you. Take a look and you’ll understand. As both of us do right now.”
He took the painting with his shaky hands. The background of the canvas was black. In the foreground was a likeness of him on his knees, with shoulder-length hair, head down in sadness. A pool of translucent tears formed on the floor below him. Rising from his head was a stream of thin smoke and the higher it got, the wider it became. Towards the top of the painting, the smoke plateaued, forming into a floating island whose umbilicus was connected to his alter ego’s head.
On top of the island was the house, with its angry tenants pressed against the windows.
He brought the painting closer to his face. He almost could hear the seven voices screaming for him, beckoning him so he could be consumed by their torments.
He frowned and placed the painting down. A wave of green liquid fire washed throughout his being, causing him to scream again. Causing him to see...
... himself in a studio surrounded by a variety of artworks: paintings, sculptures, lithographs, pencil sketchings. He examined the paintings; they were Francis’s. The style was unmistakably his. They were portraits of his beloved from the photograph. How her olive skin enhanced her exotic nature in the paintings and how her athletic, elfin form was brought to frightening realism within the statues. He felt something on his shoulders; his hair had grown longer and wavy past his neck, just like Francis’s last painting.
But he looked towards the bathroom, the same bathroom from his dream.
He walked to the iron-clawed tub. The red bubbling began inside the oval cavity. He stared at its eruptions until it settled into a calm, maroon pool. He held his breath, waiting for it to come, a part of his erased past which ultimately surged its way to the surface.
The naked form of his beloved burst through the membrane and floated inside her watery coffin, her velvet skin white as ivory and her black hair -- tinted with crimson highlights from the blood -- framing her heart-shaped face. Tiny red streams caressed down her smooth body into the wine-colored lake of the tub. Her petite beauty became immortalized; he could almost feel his soul scream with a fury he had never felt before.
And when he saw both of her wrists slowly rotate in the water, revealing deep, vertical slashes, he broke down. “Marisol!” Ripples caused by his tears spread out within the bathwater.
He retreated into the studio when his right toes touched something small and made of stone. He bent down and picked up a marble figure. It was Christine’s doll of Marisol: cracked, chipped, damaged beyond repair. It crumbled in his hand and he fell to the floor. He gaped at the copies of Marisol that seemed to multiply around the room, filling every space. His attention shifted to a metal object on the floor a few feet away from him. He crawled towards it, the pieces from the stone figure digging inside his left hand.
He picked up the revolver; it felt surprisingly light. Guilt filled his being; it felt as unholy and unclean as the bloody waters from the tub. The fluorescents made the gun shine a sickly green and when he focused on the barrel, he knew what he had to do. The world around him exploded in an emerald nova. Feral energies shot from his head throughout the rest of his body.
The plasma hurricane of The Event swallowed him, digesting him, and he heard the laughter and catcalls of his seven evil tenants, welcoming him into their domain. He shut his eyes and held his head as though it were about to explode and the only thing holding it together was the last of his willpower. When the heat from The Event died away...
He was back inside his room. Tears welled up and streamed down his right cheek. He turned to his friends, who were crying as well.
No words were spoken aloud for a while; none were needed. They all knew. They all remembered who they were.
His body began to spasm from the sobs as he looked towards the doorway. “What are the others?”
Francis answered solemnly. “They’re the Seven.”
He shook his head. “We can’t beat them.”
Christine said with a small, sad smile. “We can, but only in one way.”
Francis shrugged. “Just walk away from them, and then their power vanishes. Just walk away.”
Conflicting thoughts bathed him just as the red waters bathed his beloved. “Marisol.” He closed his eye and lowered his head. A puddle of his tears formed around his legs, mirroring his portrait. “It was all our fault.”
Francis lowered himself down so he stood level with him. “Brother, whether it was our fault or not is irrelevant. What is important is facing the situation without destroying us. We can’t let them win.”
He continued to weep as he felt the comforting hands of Christine and Francis. Subtle warm fibers traveled through his being until they reached his heart, embracing it.
“Please,” said Christine.
“Guilt has a habit of making The Seven come out,” added Francis. “And it’s coming to a head right now.” He looked directly into his friend. He quietly urged, “Let’s go home, brother.”
“Let’s go home,” added Christine.
“Home,” he muttered as he looked back at the painting, how the tears from his alter ego seemed to flow down his cheeks, widening the pool of his misery even more.
* * *
With Francis’s calloused hand in his left and Christine’s soft hand in his right -- both holding his with delicate compassion -- he left the house for the last time.
Before leaving, he tore his t-shirt and wrapped it around his forehead, covering his left eye socket. He walked on the desert grounds without his shoes but he didn’t feel the pebbles and rocks bite into his flesh. The only thing he focused on was the angry tempest, with its winds surging and howling their outrage that he was about to leave its domain.
The trio stopped in front of the furious storm. He stared at its unbridled power. Wind, sand and dirt made up this omnipotent guardian, but he knew those components were nothing compared to what he had to face in order to return home. His true home.
With a deep breath, they entered the tempest.
The flying dirt and sand caused him to close his eye. All three of them walked blind, allowing pure instinct to draw them toward their destination. The winds shrieked their desperation, their pure disdain. They hurt his ears, but he didn’t let go of his friends. They held onto his hands harder.
Their walk continued at a steady pace. Sand and dirt pelted his face so hard he felt his hair and skin being stripped from him, followed by his makeshift eye patch. Layer by layer, his nerves were exposed under the tempest’s hungry knives. The winds eventually became a wall, pushing him back. He resisted, determined to move on. But the storm battered him with fists of sand that knocked him down, causing him to release his hold on Francis and Christine.
The tempest pinned him to the ground, burying him, consuming him. He struggled to rise from the mounds of sand and dirt but the winds sucked his energy and he fell back into the decaying earth. The ring at his temple shot into his brain. He gasped, trying to scream for help, for peace. The tempest only roared with its fury.
But The Seven responded. With mocking voices, they laughed at him for leaving his home. They promised him no pain at the house. No hunger. No death.
“Only bliss,” Leach chimed pleasantly.
As the storm swallowed him even more, he envisioned The Seven. The laughing Manny T and his sleeping twin. The scared little Kat. The lonely Minque. The brutish Cainye. The broken Kao. And the most dangerous of them all: the mighty Leech, wholeheartedly proud of his accomplishments.
He clenched his fists and growled at this deception, his own self-deception. After shutting out all of their voices, he punched through, lifted himself from his burial mound and pushed on. He stretched out his arms, hands open and welcoming. He called out to his friends with his mind. He felt both of their hands hold on to his and he led the way to freedom this time. He guided them through the storm until the wind was finally beginning to ease.
The Ring of Pain miraculously vanished.
Then, he felt Christine and Francis dissolve into vapor. They seeped into his body, bringing about his completion.
And as soon as the wind disappeared altogether, he opened his eyes -- both were in working order again. The wide, calm desert landscape continued until the path stopped at a wide, sand maelstrom, whose black eye beckoned him to enter. The green sun transformed into its golden glory once again.
He took two steps and faltered. He gazed at the immense, spinning vortex, focusing on that black, circular doorway leading towards his destination. He somehow knew suffering and misery of all kinds existed down that hole. Why would he want to live that life? But it was useless to doubt what he had to do. He had to return, to confront, to live once again.
He dived into the vortex.
He swam and glided along the tidal wave. Instead of the external sensations of the dirt and dust, he felt only warm energies of thought and memory. His own thoughts and memories. More of his past was absorbed within his being: the agonies, the joys, the loves, the victories, the ambitions, all of this he felt as he surfed downwards through the smoky waves of the vortex.
Everything came back to him and although he felt the most recent heartbreak of his beloved’s death with an almost debilitating blow, he maintained his focus. All of his senses came alive as he soared through the tail-end of the maelstrom, where he peered below him towards his destination: the planet Earth.
He then saw the country where he lived. He dived towards his state, his city, towards his studio apartment, the same from his final dream. Kneeling in the center was The Artist, head down in sadness, a pool of translucent tears forming on the floor below him, a pistol lying nearby, discarded and unused.
He floated above The Artist, noticing the little differences: the longer hair, the tattoo of a wolf, eagle and lizard on his body, the crystal blue eyes and light freckles. He also saw a red, circular impression of the gun’s barrel on the man’s temple. But both entities were almost a mirror image, which wasn’t a surprise. They were two halves of a whole. He only had one barrier to transcend.
The Artist looked up, discovering him. He stood up and nodded in recognition; a look of solace came to his face, free from debilitating guilt. He smiled, raised his right hand up towards him and said, “Come home.”
He smiled as well. With a deep breath, he pointed his hands, spun his body around in the air, and aimed himself directly towards the mind of The Artist. With the remaining energy he had, he shot forth and returned to where he belonged.
In his house.
Copyright © 2007 by Peter A. Balaskas