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(HSSC) The Temple of the Surgeon

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posted on Oct, 19 2005 @ 12:03 AM
The following story is long, 14,000 words long, so be forewarned. It's adapted from the opening of a novel I started a few years ago. It contains grphic descriptions of violence. All illustrations are by me as well.

The Temple of the Surgeon

One: Lazaretto

Marvin Toastburn stepped out of his car and looked at the decaying edifice of the tuberculosis hospital and wondered once again what exactly this place had to do with the end of the world. Marvin Toastburn was a reporter but he preferred the self-made euphemism, "speculative journalist". Most people would likely just call him a hack and he understood why. The tabloid that printed the majority of his work, a poorly printed, small market newsprint weekly inexplicably titled "Second Witness", had marginal interest in main stream news principles such as common sense and the truth. Not that they were opposed to the inclusion of actual facts, they just didn’t want them interfering with a story’s impact.

Marvin could live with this. He was paid to entertain, not inform. In his opinion most people didn’t really want to be informed anyway. They really only wanted to feel. The fact was Marvin didn't particularly care either way about the readers, the publisher or the articles he wrote. He was happy to have found a means to get paid for pursuing his life's work. For Marvin it was about learning, about the process of gathering disparate fragments of information and building them into a cohesive whole. The tabloid desired stories from Marvin's field and appreciated the air of veracity his high level of research brought to them. It was a healthy symbiosis, Marvin felt, and one he was happy to have fallen upon given the controversial nature of his field. Marvin Toastburn studied the apocalypse.

While on the surface the scope of his work may have seemed limited Marvin had found that a reporter whose beat is Armageddon had more potential source material than an army of hacks could investigate in their combined lifetimes; ancient prophecies, religious tenants, doomsday cults, paranoid madmen. From the impending winding down of the Mayan calendar to the pagan Norse myth of Ragnarok to investigation and study of real and potentially real weapons of mass destruction, Marvin sought out and collated everything he could and always found more and more tangents to pursue. It was like an infinitely branching tree or river. He found this deeply satisfying.

The building had been abandoned for over fifty years. It was built in the sparsely populated countryside of Saratoga county, New York as a hospital for tuberculosis victims, essentially a storage center for the breathless suffering. Ironically it still stood because of the potential damage bringing it down could do to the workers’ lungs. It was full of asbestos.
Understandably, this vacant warehouse for the damned had rooted itself firmly into the psyches of the people living around it. Even those who knew nothing of its history recognized it as a haunted place, dangerous to body and soul. This, of course, drew thrill-seeking teenagers in droves. Despite the best efforts of the local police, a twelve-foot fence topped with barbed wire, padlocks, windows and doors boarded shut, even a caretaker living on the adjacent property, anyone who really wanted to find their way in could do so with a little effort and ingenuity. The building was meant to be a house of healing. Already tainted by its inhabitants’ slow suffering and demented madness, it became a shrine for every form of restrained debauchery imaginable. Alcohol, drugs, sex, graffiti, bigotry, devil worship, animal torture, probably rape, definitely murder.

No one (except for Marvin Toastburn that is, and maybe one other) went there any longer. Two months earlier the remains of the caretaker, his wife and two daughters, ages eight and ten, were found on their front lawn neatly dissected and laid out, even labeled. Missing were the brains and the children’s livers. A week later some kids, the oldest was fourteen, visited the crime scene for a thrill. One claimed to have seen a doctor looking out from a window on the top floor of the hospital dressed in blood red mask and scrubs. The claim was dismissed as a hoax or a delusion. An understandable assumption, especially since the local police search after the family’s murder turned up nothing noteworthy in the building. Marvin would have come to the same conclusion himself if not for something he had seen a year earlier and over a hundred miles away.

He had been writing a standard story comparing the opinions of various contemporary theologians and doomsayers concerning when the end would come and what it would be like. The millennium had just passed and when the world let out its collective sigh of relief it seemed as if dozens of neophyte prophets had sprung up to lay their roots in the fresh ground, a new frontier of world death. Several of the speech and sermon transcripts and articles of the "new class" had some novel positions and Marvin was always looking for a fresh angle in what could be a highly repetitive course of study.

Amongst the several interviews Marvin conducted, mainly by mail, phone and e-mail, was one with Father James Blackwell of the Church of the Nine Wounds in Burlington, Vermont. Blackwell had participated in a theological discussion on a local public radio program where he went into an elaborate comparison of signs from the Book of Revelations and current world events. Old hat in Marvin's field but novel and surprising coming from a Catholic, counter to modern papal philosophy. Blackwell even claimed to have seen Sister Lucia de Santos's third vision of Fatima and suggested it was something more foreboding than a prediction of the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. That alone was enough for Marvin to book himself a motel room and drive up the long length of Lake Champlain to speak to the man in person.
Marvin suspected Blackwell got reprimanded severely for making such public statements but supposed the church had far more serious and terrestrial issues to cope with at the time. At any rate he was happy that Blackwell still held his position at the church and seemed enthusiastic to talk further about the subject. Marvin met the priest in his study behind the church rectory. Blackwell seemed like a normal clergyman, soft and gentle, kind of fruity and Marvin suspected he had had a bit to drink before the interview, which was fine with Marvin.
The interview itself was rather disappointing. Blackwell basically retracted what he had said on the radio and presented the standard Catholic interpretation of Revelations as spiritual allegory. Marvin asked about the third vision of Fatima and Blackwell told him he had only mistakenly suggested it said anything other then what the Vatican said it did. When pressed further he told Marvin the information of Sister de Santos's prophecy was symbolic and vague and that that had been all he had intended to convey.

After the interview, while Marvin and Blackwell were discussing the details of the article’s publication and how the priest's revised opinions would be presented, Blackwell received a phone call and excused himself to another room to take it. Something about Blackwell’s shift in philosophy was sitting funny with Marvin and he decided to stretch his journalistic license and poke around the room a little. The bookcase held numerous bibles, but one had been shelved upside down. It was probably nothing except Marvin had noted that everything else in the room was in obsessively perfect order. Inside the oversized volume was a black pamphlet, a perfect square, a little under a foot in length on each side, maybe twenty pages long, hidden in a hollowed out section toward the back of the book. In faded gold leaf on the cover there was a nine-pointed star and the words, “Knights Of The Fall”.

Marvin had only managed to scan a few of the pages, small tight text with a lot of rough illustrations, when Blackwell returned. When he saw what Marvin was doing he became enraged. He knocked him upside the head and snatched the pamphlet from him. Not wanting to push the obviously unstable man further Marvin made a hasty exit.

He didn’t think much of it. He had met all kinds of whackos in his line of work and he’d been hit before. He personally thought it should be mandatory that tabloid writers got decked at least once a year. His article was printed without the inclusion of the Blackwell interview. Honestly, he hadn’t said anything all that interesting and the Knights of the Fall stuff was too tenuous for Marvin's tastes. In retrospect he later realized he should have been scared, his life was probably in danger for what he had seen hidden in Blackwell's Bible.

Two months after the article was published the police began searching for three altar boys from Blackwell’s church who had failed to return home after service the prior Sunday. Eventually they were found in the woods behind the church. They had been crucified, upside down. One suspect stood out immediately in Marvin's mind. He didn’t hesitate to make a call to the Burlington police and though he didn’t mention the pamphlet or the Knights of the Fall, Marvin imagined Father Blackwell was under a little too much scrutiny to be any threat to him. At least he hoped so. Marvin was prepared to let the entire Blackwell affair drop. His area of expertise was eschatology, not murder stories. That changed after he read about the caretaker’s family being killed. He hadn’t had a chance to see much of Blackwell’s pamphlet but one thing he did see was an illustration; a doctor dressed head to toe in red.

So there he was, breaking into the monster’s lair at dusk like the dumb protagonist in a bad vampire story. He hadn't meant to get there so late but it had taken forever to find the place and now that Marvin was there he wasn't prepared to turn back. He didn’t have a death wish. He didn’t think he'd find a mad doctor dressed in red waiting for him, scalpel in hand. What he hoped to find was proof of the doctor's existence, some sign that said that he had been there. Marvin thought he had been there, that he was connected to Blackwell and whatever the Knights of the Fall were and he couldn’t let it go without knowing the whole story. He thought that if he were really lucky he'd find another pamphlet and if he was really unlucky his organs would be laid out in the grass like a display in a butcher shop.

Marvin was ill equipped for breaking into and scouting about abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere but being of a cautious nature he had assembled a few items for his hospital visit, a bit of an “unusual investigations” kit. There was his flashlight, his digital camera, cigarettes and a heavy padlock fastened to a length of chain. This last was a home made weapon, rather crude but effective Marvin imagined, although he had never really been in a situation to test it out. He slipped it into the right pocket of his jacket.

Finding a way in was no problem. The fence was pulled up along the bottom in several places and he found a space along the back of the building large enough for two full grown men to crawl through together, about thirty paces from the old incinerator behind the hospital.
Most of the ground level windows and doors were pretty well boarded up. One door, across the overgrown backyard from where Marvin had entered the fence had been completely cleared and hung open, swaying erratically on its hinges. Above it carved into the white granite was the word "Children". As Marvin made his way across the autumn dry brush he was almost able to convince himself that the path to the door didn’t look like it was made by dragging man-sized objects across it.

The door led into a stairwell. The hallway leading to the ground floor as well as the upward steps were hopelessly blocked off with fallen beams and collapsed sections of the walls and upstairs floor. It was worse inside than Marvin had imagined. He wanted to get into the attic where the girl said she had seen the doctor, but it looked like to do that he'd have to go down first.

The main corridor of the basement was wide and looked mostly clear of debris, which was a relief. Narrow doorways looked back at Marvin from both sides of the hall like hollow eyes. They were so devoid of light his flashlight beam seemed pathetically inadequate. A shrill metallic squeaking from somewhere up ahead startled him into dropping the light, which luckily survived the fall. It was dead dark down there and without the flashlight Marvin was sure he’d impale himself on one of the many pieces of rusty metal jutting out randomly from the walls, floor and ceiling.

The sound could only be a door opening slowly and Marvin became certain someone was standing unseen in the deep shadows watching him cautiously pace into the belly of the place. The squeal continued steadily, however, and grew closer. He caught movement in the periphery of his light. An ancient gurney was rolling clumsily down the slight grade of the basement floor. It rolled past him with almost arrogant sentience, like his moving about was as much of a disturbance to it as its unexpected passing was to Marvin. He guessed some animal, startled by his presence knocked the damn thing into motion. Probably a feral cat.
Marvin had his first serious urge to forget the whole thing and get out when he reached the mouth of the tunnel. The relatively wide corridor came to an end and the only way forward was a narrow passage so absolutely dark the blackness seemed to spill out of it. Marvin convinced himself to keep going with the disturbing realization that someone waiting for him in the darkness would be just as able to come up on him suddenly as he scurried out. He felt like Dante stepping into the pit without the council of Virgil.

Time seemed to stretch immeasurably in the dark. Marvin's ineffectual light revealed nothing but rotted insulated pipes and hanging wires. The air was thick with the mildew of a poorly sealed tomb. His self-berating became his mantra, “stupid, stupid, stupid” as he did his best to make his way through with as much speed and caution as possible. Finally his beam revealed a curve in the tunnel walls explaining the totality of the darkness. He got a glimpse of the pale flicker of moonlight on the other end.

The stairwell on that side of the tunnel was mercifully clear, saving Marvin from a return trip through, at least for the time being. The stairs were accessible but still strewn with debris from the decaying walls and ceiling and the concrete steps felt old and fragile beneath Marvin's feet. They led only to the ground floor, crushing his continued hope of easy access to the attic level. A short hallway gave way to the main lobby. Here Marvin got a sense of the beauty the hospital once possessed, the kind of antiquated aesthetics buildings just didn’t seem to have anymore, but it was kind of like noticing the fine, high cheekbones of a half-rotten corpse. A large mural, the real agrarian, proletariat kind of image you find in municipal buildings built in the early part of the twentieth century dominated the wall opposite the main entrance. Decades of mold and defacement had transformed the painting into a scene from a nightmarish fever dream.

The wide staircase leading up from the lobby looked hopelessly unusable. The majority of the stone steps had collapsed in a landslide of powdery concrete and rusty metal. Less than a foot of the steps on either side was intact but Marvin decided to take his chances, hoping they could support his weight. He made it almost to the landing between the first and second floor when a section crumbled beneath his feet, sliding him roughly down the jagged shards of what was once a fine example of functional architecture. Somehow he managed to grab on to something and stop his violent descent. His flashlight wasn’t so lucky and it continued to tumble down and went out with an audible pop.

Marvin scrambled and pulled himself up to the landing then curled himself into a ball. He felt exhausted, overwhelmed and doomed and wondered if and when the entire staircase would collapse. He debated trying to go back down. A hot trickle ran down along the front of his neck. He was bleeding, pretty profusely it felt, from his chin.

That was when Marvin started to suspect that the real monster of the story wasn’t Blackwell, the Red Doctor or the enigmatic Knights of the Fall but the night and the hospital itself. He saw how easily it let him in and how deftly it maneuvered him to where he was now, trapped between floors, wounded and blind. Marvin didn't know then that if that was the truth he could have counted himself blessed.

[edit on 19-10-2005 by Cicada]

posted on Oct, 19 2005 @ 12:07 AM
Two: Cat Dreams

Smoking saved Marvin's life. As he was lighting his second cigarette in as many minutes he decided that his lighter provided him with at least some illumination and it would have to do. He crushed out the Camel half smoked, held the lighter out at eye level and ignited it. It wasn't much, but once his pupils adjusted, enough to get by. Salvation for a $1.29.

The upper flight of steps, leading from the landing to the second floor, was still intact. Marvin knew it was madness to keep going up but suicide to try going back down so he opted for the unknown. Not trusting the fragile cement he clung to the banister, putting as much of his weight into it as possible. He didn’t know how this would help him as the iron work was bolted into the same cement that he feared would crumble beneath his feet, but it felt solid and somewhat more secure to him. He began climbing, almost pulling himself up with his left arm while his right was occupied with the task of relighting his Bic. It extinguished itself with every step he took but after twelve thumb blistering upward lurches he was safely on the second floor.

Moving close to the wall he saw that the hallway was lined with narrow doorways with slit like windows made of reinforced glass so filthy that even wiping at one with his sleeve had no discernable effect. Several paces down the corridor he found one where the door had been removed from its hinges and he stepped inside to take a look at the effects of time and neglect. The chamber was no larger than four by six and contained nothing but a rusty bed frame and the moldering remnants of its mattress which had been disemboweled years ago, no doubt by some over zealous vandal. Rusty water dripped steadily from a large crack along the ceiling. The wall and floor around the trickle was covered with a deep green moss as plush and thick as you would find on a forest floor.

Marvin's light sputtered out, reminding him of the peril he was in wandering about in the hospital at night and he backed out of the tiny dank space, which was more like a prison cell than a hospital room. He tried to flick the lighter back on but it stubbornly refused until the third try and this time the flame was small and feeble and he cursed himself for sightseeing while his life was in danger. He judged the distance of the hallway and let the flame go out. When he made it to the corner a row of dirt coated windows let in enough luminosity for Marvin to make his way without exhausting his dwindling butane supply that he now needed both to see and to smoke.

The hallway ended in a large room with tall windows on the three walls opposite the open archway leading in. It was obviously a library or more accurately the scattered remains of one. Every book had been dismembered leaving a shin high pile of paper and cardboard. It looked like a book centric tornado had touched down in the place but Marvin guessed what he was seeing was decades worth of school bred rage taken out on this forgotten trove of stories and information. It occurred to him that this would be a fantastic place to hide a Knights of the Fall pamphlet but hoped that he was wrong. It would take days to search the library's remains even in ideal lighting. If the book was in there he was never going to find it.
Marvin's eyes seemed to be adjusting to the thin light filtering through the dust encrusted windows. Everything had a soft-edge TV dream sequence quality that suddenly reminded Marvin of one of the few dreams he'd had repeatedly throughout his life. The dream always took place within a large building, like a gothic mansion or an old factory. The circumstances differed from dream to dream but it seemed like he was often looking for something through an endless sequence of hallways and rooms. Sometimes he went from searching to being hunted and lost inside the impossible sprawl of a nightmare house where every corner was infused with sentient shadows.

He was so struck by the similarity of his present actuality to that old reliable anxiety dream that a chill washed up and down his spine. One time when Marvin was nine the annual flu socked him really badly. He was sick in bed for two weeks unable to keep hardly anything down, burning up with a fever of 104. His brains were just baking in his skull and he was having the most bizarre nightmares. During this time he had the dream, this time rendered horribly vivid and tangible by his fever.

He dreamt that he was walking to school and a little gray and black tiger stripe cat started following him. He picked it up and saw that its eyes were orange/red, the color of burning embers, and compelled by this unusual attribute he decided to steal the kitten and keep it with him throughout the day. He tucked it gently into his backpack where it curled up in perfect comfort and went to sleep. Marvin grew more and more nervous about smuggling the cat into school, in the dream it seemed like the most horrible crime a child could commit but he continued with it anyway like an unshakable compulsion.

The lobby and the hallways were packed with children and teachers milling about like a chaotic, patternless dance. Marvin felt small and the crowd was knocking him about beyond his control. He could feel the cat getting upset in the backpack, pushing and clawing to get out. He tried to get his pack open to calm it down but someone hit him from behind and sent him sprawling. In a flash the cat burst from the bag and sprinted into the throng. Marvin scrambled after it but it was much faster than he was and before his eyes the cat ran down a large, evil seeming staircase that he had never seen before. It led only downward, like an opening to a subway station, and could only have been an entrance to the basement. Marvin was scared but even more afraid for the hapless cat. He held his breath and went down.
The basement in the dream was a lot like the hospital, but filled with horrible sounds, the furnace banging, walls creaking, sharp painful screeching from above when people pushed their chairs back from their desks, each sound huge, distorted and awful. Marvin had never really been in the basement of his elementary school but it couldn't have been like the one in his dream. Some of the rooms were gigantic, cavernous vaults filled with impossibly high stacks of boxes and furniture. Everything was lit with a weak and sourceless orange light like the color of the cat’s eyes and the shadows were oppressive, shifting like something alive.
Marvin made his way into that basement whistling/hissing through his teeth to attract the cat’s attention through room after room after room. He would see it sometimes, tiny and faint across the chambers always moving further and further into the depths but Marvin was never able to get to it. Finally he came to a dead end, a staggeringly tall cement wall riddled with minute fractures seeping out moisture, like the wall was ceaselessly crying. The cat wasn't there and Marvin knew that it was gone for good. Heavy with guilt, Marvin started to make his way out but nothing in the basement looked familiar. He drifted through the endless rooms, all thick with sour dust and crammed with ancient schoolroom maps, broken toys, and boxes of lost and discarded mittens and shoes. These stacks of neglected supplies made labyrinths within the labyrinth and Marvin became hopelessly lost.

Marvin had dreamt that he was going down a corridor made up of moldy old text books stacked twenty feet high on one side, and a violent tangle of tables and chairs on the other. The walkway through the middle was getting more and more narrow and darker and darker until it was like Marvin was in a well turned on its side, with a small pale circle of light winking through the far end. The light at first was getting smaller and smaller no matter how deep into the darkness Marvin went and he started to feel helpless and trapped. Then the light started to grow and relief washed through him. But the light kept growing even when Marvin stopped and he realized it wasn't a way out at all but something like a man. It was as dark as the shadows with a pale, bluish, round head Marvin couldn't quite see properly and it was gliding forward toward him with inhuman speed.

Marvin ran, consumed with terror. He made it out of the narrow hallway of furniture and books but the basement continued to shift and expand, in a cruel and confusing manner. Marvin ran deeper and deeper, from room to hallway, up and down stairs through airshafts and across trembling scaffolds and always the dark man was behind him floating like a sentient, poisonous cloud. Then Marvin was back at the weeping wall and there was no place left to run.

Marvin could feel the dark man sliding softly in behind him but he wouldn't turn to see it. He didn't want to look at its horrible witch-light face. Then it was right behind him breathing on his head and neck. In the dream Marvin could see his breath, a rapid puff of vapor in the chill of the dark man's presence, which was cold like winter. Still Marvin couldn't look even as the dark man's arctic aura suffused into Marvin's bones and its shadowy substance spread and unfolded around him. It encircled him and enveloped him. Marvin awoke screaming, his poor grandmother thought he was dying. Marvin never forgot the dream or any detail of it. He remembered it better than anything else from his ninth year.

Marvin realized that he had allowed himself to be lulled into mindless wandering by his reminiscence. He lit his lighter, a full and healthy flame this time, one of the mysteries of the Bic, and looked around to regain his bearings. He was standing near a large archway that, judging from its bent and empty hinges, once held some impressively large doors. It was an entrance to a small auditorium, complete with a miniature stage about three feet high. Marvin thought the stage was perfectly proportioned for an elementary school production. Perhaps "The Knights Of The Fall, A Fall In The Night" or "The Cold Shadowy Man Returns" or maybe "How To Die Alone In A Condemned Building In The Dark" in two acts.
The room was awesome in its vandalism, with layer upon layer of graffiti. In the dim illumination of Marvin's lighter it looked like alien hieroglyphics, or like an ancient and forgotten language, Atlantian or maybe Lemurian, that had been scrawled upon every conceivable surface either to ward off or call up demons. This strange illusion was dispelled as Marvin approached the closest wall for a better look. Most of the graffiti was mundane, tag lines, so and so was here, this guy loves this girl forever, class of whenever rules, and the standard symbols, peace, love, anarchy, yin-yangs and swastikas. A lot of it was crude, some of it grotesque and some even induced fond nostalgia as Marvin spied names of forgotten underground bands from his own teenage years mixed into the mad house guest registry of a hundred young visitors to the hospital, well after hours.

Then Marvin saw something so unexpected he couldn't believe it was really there. It excited him with a hot flush across his face and neck and numbed him with terror radiating from his chest. In perfect calligraphy, imposed over all the other writing, in a bright, scarlet red enamel were the words "The Knights Of The Fall", a nine pointed star and underneath this a simplified caduceus.

Marvin just stared at it, eyes and mouth agape, reading it over and over until it fully registered that he'd found what he came here to find, the lost cat, so to speak, evidence of the Red Doctor's existence, a sign that he was real. Marvin remembered his camera, its weight so familiar around his neck he had almost forgotten he had it with him. He looked it over, relieved that it stayed intact during his tumble down the lobby stairs. He had to let his lighter go to make use of it, so he set his picture up as well as he could, disregarding the viewfinder, in his opinion the most inaccurate tool in the world under the best of circumstances, and hoped his instincts captured a focused, legible image. He pressed the button, igniting the flash, illuminating the auditorium in a startling, violent instance of light.
In that split second of complete visibility Marvin saw three strange, pale girls standing close together by a door on the far side of the stage. All three were pointing up and behind them. The blackness after the flash was an absolute blindness but the brief burst of vision was burned as indelibly in Marvin's mind as an image on a film. He could still see them pointing out his path like they had been waiting there for him forever.

He dropped the camera but mercifully it was still hanging from his neck and thumped painfully against his sternum. He barely noticed. He fumbled his lighter out of his pocket and groped frantically with its wheel as he stumbled clumsily across the room to where the girls, sisters he thought, were standing. When he finally got the lighter lit the girls were gone. They were never really there. Half of a dressmaker's dummy and a large tarnished mirror pane were tucked in a small angle between a support column and a corner of the stage. A thick bundle of wires projected out of the wire mannequin’s frame at an angle, from where the top half was twisted off. Marvin had just seen this unexpected, human shape and its shadow and reflection in the suddenness of the flash and his fear-exhausted brain had filled in the rest.
Marvin pushed his way out through the door closest to him, the one behind the stage. Beyond it was a short, low ceiling hall ending in steps going up to the third floor. The attic. Marvin's imaginary guides were right. He walked swiftly up the stairs, so close now that he couldn't go back. There was a pale line of light shining out from under the door at the top of the stairs. Each step up seemed colder than the last. When he reached the top he could see his breath, a rapid puff of vapor. The door was warped and splintered, refusing to open so Marvin pushed his full weight against it.

Suddenly he burst through the door into the open night sky. He was momentarily breathless from forcing his way through as well as from the surprise of being outside. He laughed maniacally as the clean, cool autumn air filled his nose and lungs. The laughter broke into a steady, painful cough, as Marvin's already smoke polluted lungs spasmed out the hospital's asbestos, mold and dust. As the cough subsided to a heavy liquid wheeze he looked out at the stars and instantly rejected what he saw. It just was not possible.

posted on Oct, 19 2005 @ 12:20 AM
Three: Red Ink

Something was wrong with the stars. The normal shapes of the constellations were gone, replaced by a pattern that was free flowing and garish. Many of the stars were larger, almost as big as the sun at noon and they were pulsating rapidly like celestial bird hearts. The sky itself looked warped, misshapen, and seemed to be drooping, sagging, falling down like something in a Dali painting. Marvin thought his terror in the tunnel and on the crumbling stairs was the apotheosis of fear. Those horrors at least had been earthly and understandable. This was beyond his conception. It was, God help him, like being forced to watch his mother being raped. He vomited hot thin bile down his already bloodstained shirt and collapsed onto his hands and knees as dry heaves racked his body.

Eventually they passed. Marvin stood up slowly on quivering legs. His head swam momentarily, floating and inflating, then sort of drifted back down to normal sensation. He lit a cigarette breathing the familiar smoke in slowly and risked another look at the sky. Normal. A perfectly normal October night, stars of standard proportions in their customary positions, a three quarter moon hung low in the sky, the expected suggestion of vastness above. Normal.
Marvin thought the air inside the hospital must have been worse than he'd imagined. Perhaps some toxic fumes had concentrated in that final stairwell. Maybe he was just hyperventilating or maybe he was going mad. He wondered if that was anything like what Van Gogh had seen as he painted "Starry Night". Maybe it was a flashback, or temporal lobe epilepsy. Millions of tiny wheels and gears of panic began to whirl in his head. But no, there was nothing wrong with the sky and nothing wrong with Marvin and even if there was at that moment it didn't matter. All that mattered was finding a way out, preferably without having to reenter the poison confines of the hospital.

Marvin checked his watch. It was broken. The crystal was fractured and the movement completely strange. It hurt his head looking at it. Marvin placed his hands on his thighs and crouched over, breathing deeply. He counted to thirty and back, ran through the classification system for organisms, kingdom, sub-kingdom, phylum, sub-phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.

Marvin felt better, more clear-headed. He started to consider the possibility of climbing down the side of the building. It had all kinds of ledges and nooks and Marvin thought it just might be possible to make it down in one piece. That's when he noticed his car parked on the shoulder across the road. The hood was up.

All of Marvin's earlier fear of encountering the Red Doctor crystallized like cold glass shooting through his veins. The world reeled. It was like the whole of existence was a thin film floating on the surface of a churning body of water. Reality was boiling. The distance from the roof to the ground was fluctuating, growing and shrinking erratically, like a "fear-of-heights" vertigo sequence in a movie played at double speed. The hospital was shrieking, like its joints were being ground together by a tremendous force.

The quality of Marvin's panic was impossible to articulate. He lurched away from the edge of the roof afraid that he'd get pitched off the side like a drunken cowboy riding a mechanical bull. His body felt displaced in space. The world seemed to shift and distort with each minute movement of his head. Turning away was a labor and took forever. When he finally did the world had calmed, still rippling, but slowly, like a heavy heat haze incongruous with the actual temperature which must have dropped twenty degrees since Marvin had arrived at the hospital.
The surface of the roof looked stretched and pulled like a newsprint image on silly putty. The cracked, asphalt surface was like a black, alien desert. In the distance an immense cathedral dominated the landscape. It was a rooftop entrance to the attic, he realized, a small structure distorted, the Red Doctor’s den. Marvin blinked, and then standing halfway between this nightmare church and him were the three girls. They were perfectly still and seemed to float above the liquid wavering of the space around them. Two of them were pointing at the attic's door, which hung slightly open. The third was looking up at the sky, one small hand held out tentatively as if she were checking for snow.

Each step toward the doorway brought back an increased measure of normalcy. The girls were gone and felt immediately vague, like an old memory of a childhood friend who moved away in the fourth grade. The hallucinogenic episodes were extremely disturbing and Marvin had no idea what was causing them. It couldn't just be fear. It was true that he was terrified, but he had been in bad situations before and fear had always focused his senses, not distorted them. He thought maybe he'd been harder on his circulatory system then he realized and he was stroking out or maybe it really was some kind of seizure. He supposed he could have hit his head worse than he thought sliding down the stairs. The line of thought was unproductive. Instead, still moving slowly toward the ominously dark geometry of the attic, Marvin tried to make a list of what he did know and could rationalize.

He was on the roof, at least thirty feet up. To get down he either had to go back through the potentially toxic, definitely dangerous interior again or scale down the side of the building like Spider-Man. Neither notion appealed to him. In either situation he'd be an easy target for the Red Doctor and the building itself was treacherously decayed and fragile. Even if he could make it down his car had been tampered with and was likely inoperable. He had a vision of the distributor cap, neatly dissected and labeled, sitting on the side of the road. Then there were the three girls. A trick of the light the first time, an outright hallucination the second? Probably, but that did nothing to dispel the outright freakiness Marvin felt from the sightings. He was disturbed by the possibility that he was somehow seriously poisoned but there was nothing he could do except hope that the episodes stopped and he would ultimately be okay. He felt damned from all directions.

The open metal door into the attic bore the signs of decades of exposure to the elements. It was pitted and completely rusted through in some places, like the skin of a burn victim. Marvin pulled his do-it-yourself mace from his pocket, wrapping the end of the chain around his hand, and slipped through the narrow opening. Inside it smelled like something forgotten rotting in the fridge. Almost solid seeming shafts of moonlight pushed through the empty panes of the empty windows breaking the oily darkness. Much of the large, rectangular room was filled with tons of what looked like military issue survival supplies. He supposed the hospital might have been designated as fallout shelter during the cold war.

The storeroom dominated the attic's interior. A wooden door, gray and splintered, led to another section. Marvin opened it with a light push. Something crawled off the door across the back of his hand and he jumped back and swung his weapon reflexively. The heavy lock hit the door and took a satisfyingly deep chunk from its surface. The door swung quietly in; the spoiled garbage smell rolled out. A short hall, maybe fifteen feet, extended down to a wall dominated by the remains of a full-length stained glass window. One wicked looking shard remained bound to the frame like a single red tooth. Colored glass pieces covered the floor. Some had been noticeably swept aside. Four doors, two on each side, lined the hall. Marvin followed the path through the glass to the room on the far left and opened the door.

The putrid smell was overwhelming and Marvin gagged uncontrollably. A wall of windows let through surprisingly bright moonlight, like a spotlight in the sky, allowing Marvin to easily make out the interior. A gurney, twin to Marvin's wandering friend in the basement, sat crookedly across one side of the room. It looked like someone had dropped a case of rotten pomegranates across the table and all over the floor and the walls around it. Blood and effluence were everywhere. In the stark chiaroscuro lighting it was like a swamp of red tar dotted with tiny islands of fat, cartilage, splinters of bone and clumps of hair. Various saws, clamps and other instruments, rusty, antique looking things coated in human fluids, were lying haphazardly around the operating area.

The other side of the room was practically filled by an oppressive looking metal desk. It was relatively clean except for a few stray splatters of blood and a gray-green arc of dry liquid across its front. On top of the desk was a battered, brass kerosene lantern beside a large open book. A glance at the cover revealed it to be the old med school staple "Gray's Anatomy". Words had been cut out from the book's pages, no doubt the source of the doctor's labels, and judging from the swiss cheese condition of the text it looked as if the doctor had been a busy, busy man. Marvin wondered how in the world the police could not have found this butcher shop that had obviously been in operation for many months at least.
Next to the book was a red, leather case, about a foot in length. Marvin unbuckled and opened the lid. The texture of the skin was soft and fragile but it was perfectly intact despite the case's obvious age. A family heirloom perhaps? The inside was lined with deep red velvet. Housed inside it were scalpels of various shapes and sizes, some so strange Marvin couldn't imagine what work they were designed for. There were eight, pristinely clean and glowing silver with reflected light, along with a slot for a ninth.

On instinct Marvin checked the case's depth, picked it up and shook it lightly. Something thumped around loosely inside. The velvet lining, knives and all, pulled out easily. Underneath was the doctor's pamphlet. It was identical to Blackwell's in every way except the cover was red instead of black. Frayed scraps of leather inside the case's hidden compartment indicated the former location of bindings meant to prevent such easy detection of the secret manual. Marvin sat down, removed his camera from around his neck, placed it on the desk and opened the book. The light from the moon wasn’t strong enough to read by and so after a brief deliberation Marvin lit the lantern.

The handwriting may have been the same as in Blackwell's book, small and cramped, but this time the ink was red. Marvin read…

"Behold for there shall be a coming of a season to end all seasons. A final season of
Samhain, the season of culling. A time of metamorphosis, when the bonds of nature
shall be undone and the fabric of all things shall unwind. In this final season the earth
will move and break apart, mountains will rise and crumble, the sky will boil, the sun
will grow cold, the stars will bleed, the moon shall take on the aspect of worms, the
clock will die. Beast and fowl and man alike will wage war upon all others. The sea
will rise and attack the land with savage fury. Spirits and creatures now hidden
and dormant shall return and be apparent. The few who survive this mad season of
most glorious design shall come to understand this time as a heralding for He who
stands beyond the edge of natural things. He who was ancient when creation was young.
He who has fallen and represents the Fall. He shall arrive behind His catastrophic
announcement and His aspect will be one of wrath and He shall come accompanied by
legions of angels of vengeance in a myriad of forms and they shall be His pure agents for
they shall be Him for He is One and Many, King and Court. And He and His Court
shall wage a war of revenge on nature and its aspects including all manner of plant, beast
and man. And Nine noble judges shall be viewed upon with favor by Him and His and
they shall be bestowed with gifts by Him and with these gifts will come a privilege
of servitude to Him and the workings of His design. And those who are to be deemed
worthy by Him will be those who have believed and worshiped with proper reverence and
sacrifice in the age before His final season. It is the purpose of this fellowship to engage in
said worship with proper reverence to His glorious designs and proper sacrifice of nature
and it's children, which He finds so hateful. And they shall-"

Marvin actually smelled it first. The thick, cloying, rotten-sweet odor of the Red Doctor's operating room was cut infinitesimally by the flat, metal scent of freshly sharpened steel. He saw it next, a brief flicker of light shining off the blade as it moved deftly through the darkness with terrible speed. Marvin's hair was grabbed rudely by a rubber-gloved hand pulling his head up and back, extending his throat. He saw the other hand, the left, glide gracefully into place. The knife was poised effortlessly, like it was an extension of the hand. It was pointing forward, held at a slight angle. The blade was vertical, he meant to slice one of Marvin's jugular veins lengthwise. The hand hovered for a brief moment contemplating the cut, then the scalpel came in with fearful precision and speed.

Marvin pulled out and swung back his right arm, which was holding his lock and chain in his lap. By sheer luck it wrapped around the doctor's leg and Marvin tugged it forward fiercely, at the same time leaping up from the chair, knocking it backward into the Red Doctor. The doctor fell, maliciously ripping out a fist full of Marvin's hair as he went. A small grunt escaped the doctor as his back slammed into the floor. Marvin drew back the chain and pivoted, ready to bludgeon in the Red Doctor's head while he was prone, but the doctor greeted him with two swift kicks, one to each shin just below the knee. Marvin stumbled and jammed the small of his back on the sharp corner of the massive, metal desk.

The Red Doctor rose with quick and fluid ease. He closed in on Marvin, grabbed his right arm, the one wielding the chain, pulled it up and out and twisted it sharply, sending an explosive shot of pain along its length. The chain fell out of fingers that refused to work. The doctor's left hand moved across Marvin's right with a blur. The soft flesh of Marvin's palm offered no resistance to the blade. Blood, a dark purple well of it, poured out of the deep, clean slice, cresting with each beat of Marvin's pulse.

Marvin's free hand groped behind him on the desk, seeking the kerosene lantern. Instead it found the heavy, open textbook. He swung wildly, clipping the doctor above the eye with one of the book's corners. The doctor let Marvin go as he reflexively brought his hands up to the small, but ragged gash Marvin made on his forehead. Marvin took a pace forward, closed the book and swung again. The abused volume disintegrated on impact and the Red Doctor fell through a flurry of shredded paper to the floor. Marvin ran up and started kicking at the doctor's head and ribs with berserk fury.

One red plastic hand snaked out and grabbed Marvin's ankle, the other swiped along the back of his knee. A lance of agonizing pain paralyzed Marvin as the doctor's knife cut into the tender tissue behind the joint. The doctor erupted upward, knocking Marvin back with uncanny force. Marvin hit the wall, fracturing the ancient plaster, which billowed around him in a caustic, powdery cloud. Marvin sagged and slid down to the floor. The doctor walked forward slowly. In the plaster haze he looked ethereal, a scarlet specter, a blood wraith. Marvin tried to scramble back up, forgetting about the wound running the length of his right palm, and slipped back down on his own slick blood, hitting his head against the wall again. Marvin's vision began to dim and tunnel.

Marvin was incapacitated beyond fighting. The Red Doctor scooped him up as if Marvin were a child. In three gliding steps he carried Marvin to the gurney and laid him down on its blood-encrusted surface with unexpected, matronly gentleness. Marvin tried to get up but the Red Doctor pushed him back with a firm hand shaking his index finger at Marvin in mock scolding. Marvin could see the other hand pulling something out of the pocket of the doctor's scrubs. A syringe. The doctor uncapped it, held it up in the moonlight, examined it briefly and flicked the needle a couple of times then swung it down to Marvin's neck. Marvin tried to roll aside but the doctor's other hand grabbed the raw, torn flesh of Marvin's right hand with a hard pinch, freezing Marvin with a fresh bolt of agony. The needle slid in, the doctor depressed the plunger and pulled it out in one quick movement. He let it go as soon as he was done with it and the glass vial shattered on the concrete floor.

Marvin gave only one inarticulate squeak of protest, the last he had in him, as the doctor strapped down his arms and legs. The doctor picked up a pair of long scissors off the floor, which he used to cut open Marvin's shirt from collar to waist. Marvin watched the doctor float back over to the desk where he opened his case and replaced his current scalpel with a fresh one, apparently meticulous only about his knives. He glided back and hovered above Marvin then brought up his right hand and pulled the skin above Marvin's sternum taut. Then the left hand came in and began cutting open the flesh with slow, cautious pressure. Marvin could barely feel it, like dental work under heavy Novocain, but he closed his eyes, the only refuge he had left.

Marvin started to feel vague, probably more from shock and blood loss than whatever the doctor had injected him with. He felt himself slipping away, jumping willingly into the merciful senselessness of unconsciousness. Marvin knew he had to get free and out of there before the doctor finished his work but he was just too tired to think about all of that at the moment. He just needed to rest and clear his head. He was just going to sleep for a minute and then figure out what to do next. He just needed to sleep for a minute…

…he had the strangest dream…

In his dream Marvin was still in the hospital, still in the doctor's office, still strapped on the gurney, still cut up and bleeding. The doctor was still making an incision in Marvin's chest in preparation for an unspeakable operation. He cut the numb flesh down to the fourth rib. In fact the dream was so much a continuation of what he had just been experiencing that the only reason Marvin recognized it as a dream was due to the impossible nature of what happened next.

As the doctor cut, Marvin could hear a soft, moist rip, the sound of his skin opening. Suddenly the room was pierced with a high-pitched, inhuman scream. The cutting stopped and the scalpel fell, bouncing off the table and onto the floor. Marvin's ears were filled with an insane animal growl, high pitched and savage. It sounded familiar.

Marvin's eyes opened and he saw the Red Doctor flailing about blindly, trying to pull off a small black and gray tiger stripe cat that had attached itself to his face. There were almost symmetrical sets of deep, bloody furrows extending from the cat's gripping front claws between the doctor's temples and his eyes. The cat's mouth was clamped firmly on the bridge of the doctor's nose, blood welled around its needle sharp teeth, as it's hind legs thrashed and kicked fiercely at the lower half of the doctor's face. His mask was mangled, hanging in bloody tatters and Marvin could see that the cat was doing the same to the doctor's lips, cheeks and chin.

With a feeling of unnatural calmness Marvin looked past the surreal combatants to the dimly lit room about them. The lines of the room began to waver, like a cartoon scene set underwater. It was strange, but also pleasant, almost amusing, but as he watched the tempo and severity of the shimmering effect intensified until the entirety of Marvin's visual field was twisting and turning like a washing machine.

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to dispel the chaotic effect like a drunk the night after a bender trying to will away a hangover. Then he felt himself rocked jarringly to one side. The gurney was moving. By itself. It pivoted slowly out from the wall then laboriously rolled toward the open door at a snail's pace. Marvin wondered if self-locomotion was a trait shared by all of the hospital's gurneys, thinking about the one he had seen rolling along in the basement and he laughed out loud despite his circumstances, because this event was so unnatural and bizarre it had to be a dream.

Then he realized that he was wrong. The table wasn't moving on its own. It was being pushed. The three girls who pointed Marvin into that slaughterhouse were now trying to save him. Three strange, silent pilots guiding him out on a blood drenched ferry. Two of them were behind his head, straining to turn the table's wheels, which must have gone unoiled for decades. The other was by the desk. Marvin saw her grab something off it before she ran up beside him, holding his left hand in her right, looking into his face with deep concern. Somehow Marvin could tell that this was the one who had been looking into the sky when he saw them on the roof.

The Red Doctor finally managed to pull the cat from his face. He looked like he had been diving in a pool full of razor blades and Marvin felt a tremendous respect and gratitude for the small, brave creature that had done that to the murderer. The doctor was trying to keep hold of the mad animal, which was flailing about in his hand like a live wire, all spit, teeth and claws. It looked like the doctor wanted to punish it, but the cat apparently didn't want to escape from him either. It twisted itself around and clamped onto the doctor's arm, drawing blood through the elbow-length rubber gloves he was wearing. As Marvin's table was worked jerkily toward the open door he saw the doctor raise his arm up to club the cat against the hard edge of the desk. The doorframe cut off Marvin's view before the impact, but he heard it, a sickening muffled thump combined with a weak, feline yelp. The sound continued, six or seven times before the crying stopped.

The girls pushed the gurney into the hall. One closed the door into the doctor's room as the other two unbuckled Marvin's restraints with small, deft fingers. They pulled him up and somehow he managed to stand. The anesthesia (and the fact that he was dreaming, no doubt) made Marvin's body feel as substantial as a cloud, and he had only a little unconnected pain despite his multiple injuries. A part of him worried that he would make his wounds worse moving about unable to feel them properly, but mostly he recognized the temporary reprieve as a blessing. Besides, he had other things to worry about. The hallway's perspective was moving and distorting, stretching long and snapping back like a rubber band then twisting about wildly like a suspension bridge in a hurricane

One of the girls took Marvin by the hand, his left, the one that wasn't cut, and led him down the glittering rainbow path of shards toward the storage room. The other two struggled to position the gore-encrusted gurney in front of the door to the doctor's office. Marvin walked slowly, not by choice, on phantom legs. He made the mistake of looking down at himself. He was bathed in his own blood, completely drenched. He felt himself starting to faint, a funny sensation to have while you're dreaming but the girl leading him squeezed his hand and the feeling passed. She looked up at Marvin with a solemn and sincere child's eyes and shook her head, conveying the obvious message that going out now would be the end of him.
Looking forward was not much better, however, because the hall seemed to be flowing like smoke in a strong wind. Marvin stopped, unable to make sense of the space he was traveling through. The other two girls joined them, one supporting Marvin on either side and the disorienting sensation subsided. They seemed to be projecting an aura of stability in a small radius around him. Finally they reached the door. Marvin could see the deep notch he had made earlier in the rotten wood when he hit it with his chain. A small trickle of thick, dark liquid, blood, was seeping from the gash. Marvin thought that that was good. He was bleeding; the hospital deserved to bleed too.

With this irrational thought Marvin walked through into the vast, shadowy expanse of the storage room. Three slow, limping steps in he realized his companions had vanished once again and he was on his own. As if on cue from this awareness the spatial distortion returned with a vengeance turning Marvin's entire span of vision into a writhing, squirming field, like multihued maggots lain out in a mosaic of the room. Marvin stepped forward and space swam about his head, fragmenting then reknitting haphazardly only to break apart again. Marvin continued on the best he could. He felt like Seurat on speed.

Marvin could see the door to the outside occasionally, when his vision approximated normality, and he tried to make his way to it. He was actually making some progress when the pounding started. He couldn't pinpoint the location, maybe because his hearing was as distorted as his sight, but it was a loud, steady hammering, with a barely audible ringing persisting after each beat. He pictured the Four Horsemen, his old friends from work, driving their horses mercilessly, their horseshoes ringing against the stones as their hooves chewed apart the world.

Marvin stopped moving, trying to locate and identify the repetitive noise. Suddenly the sound exploded in a crashing cacophony of metal and Marvin knew what he was hearing. The doctor. Somehow in his struggle to escape Marvin had forgotten the Red Doctor. He could picture him in his mind's eye with horrid clarity, slipping through the open space of the door, climbing over the prone gurney, gliding down the hall with inhuman speed. Marvin ran in blind animal terror.

He went as fast as he could on his injured leg, full speed into a precarious stack of crates. Marvin bounced off them and crumpled in a heap. The short tower of supplies teetered, paused a moment and fell, disgorging the goods stored inside across the floor with a sound like sacks of wet flour hitting stone. It was human heads in various states of decay. One, a woman's he thought, it was hard to tell, landed inches from Marvin's own head, rolling over until they were nose to nose like lovers making pillow talk. Much of the flesh from the top half of her face had been sliced off. The slack mouth dropped open expelling a rank cloud of rotten, stale air.

A tear rolled down her cheek. It was red. She was crying blood. Then a second drop landed on her lip and slid across her mouth to the floor. Marvin turned his gaze up. The blood was dripping from the remains of the cat, half skinned, which was being held in the right hand of the doctor like a hunter's prize catch. In the other hand was one of his many knives.
Marvin rolled, evading the scalpel by inches. The blade snapped as the Red Doctor stabbed it into the floor. The doctor was quick, much quicker than Marvin was and he delivered a sharp kick to his ribs, knocking out what little wind Marvin had left. The doctor fell on him, pinning Marvin's arms with his knees and began bludgeoning Marvin's head with his left fist.
His punches were like hammer blows. Marvin felt little pain, but the force was immense. His head erupted with light with each hit and every burst brought with it a microcosm of bizarre, convoluted dreams that dissolved from Marvin's memory as quickly as they came. At some point the doctor discarded the cat and placed both hands around Marvin's throat and squeezed. Incredible pressure filled Marvin's head, then everything went gray.

Marvin could hear the doctor laughing through his tattered mouth; a low, thick, gravel filled chuckle of amusement at it's most perverse. Marvin guessed he was enjoying taking him out in this basic manner so removed from the artful and delicate methodology of his knives. Marvin was fading out into the warm, woolen gray, drifting headlong into limbo. His senses were all gone except for his hearing, nothing was left except for the sound of the Red Doctor's sick pleasure.

Then the sound cut off, replaced by a ragged scream. The grip on Marvin's neck loosened, and the weight of the doctor's legs came off his arms. The world faded back in. Marvin saw the doctor ripping the cat's mouth loose from his achilles tendon. Its will to live was as strong as Marvin's was, maybe stronger and it used the last ebb of its life in a final act of defiance against the Red Doctor. The doctor threw the mangled remains of the animal hard against a nearby crate. It hung there for a moment, then slid down to the floor. Marvin watched the light of sentience wink out of the cat’s red/orange eyes.

Determined not to let the animal's self-sacrifice go to waste, Marvin brought his right knee up hard into the doctor's crotch. He collapsed like a marionette with its strings cut. Marvin scrambled backward. His left leg refused to bend and stuck out like a piece of dead wood, so he propelled himself awkwardly with his right leg and his good left hand. The doctor held himself and rocked, moaning, a steady noise that rose from a low groan of glandular pain to a loud, manic cry of rage at this unprecedented defiance. The doctor rolled into a crouch, looking ready to pounce. There was no escape Marvin could see, his life was about to end despite the best efforts of man, animal and ghost.

Then the room, every brick and beam, every box and crate, began to quiver violently, like the hospital was an ant colony being shaken by a cruel child. Horrible, oscillating light flooded through the broken windows. The wind pitched and wailed, sounding like armies of insane choirs murdering each other while singing their discordant harmonies. Sections of the walls vibrated loose, creating jagged, man sized holes. A beam on the far side of the chamber fell in a billow of dust from the ceiling with an immense, dry crash.

The doctor looked about himself with wide, stunned eyes and while it was hard to say given the condition of his face, Marvin thought he was smiling, like a child who thinks Santa Claus has just arrived. Marvin took the opportunity to continue his clumsy crab-walk backward, reached a wall and pushed himself up, ignoring the heavy shower of debris raining down on him. He was steps away from a large opening in the wall and he limped carefully to it, managing to stay on his feet despite the powerful earthquake shaking the hospital to pieces around him.

The Red Doctor jumped to his feet and ran at Marvin with quick, light steps, shrinking the short distance Marvin had managed to put between them effortlessly. Marvin was transfixed, almost hypnotized, with fear, and he was only able to move away with an artless jerk backward through the hole. His feet tripped over the bottom edge of the opening and he fell, landing hard on his sacrum. The doctor flew out behind him, he was going to land full force on top of Marvin, but Marvin was frozen, he couldn't move no matter how hard he tried.
The doctor glided over Marvin, ignoring him completely, ran to the edge of the roof and knelt, extending his arms to the sky like a fanatic genuflecting a wrathful pagan god. Marvin rolled over and pushed himself up as best he could and looked out from the hospital roof, immediately wishing he hadn't.

Marvin saw the fabric of reality unweaving. He saw the death of nature. He saw Samhain. Marvin looked for less than a second but the vision persisted, burnt through his eyes and into his brain like the retina scarring blaze around the edge of an eclipse. The landscape shivered like a dying dog's death rattle. The forest burned with iridescent flames in some places, in others columns of uprooted trees and debris from the forest floor rose into the sky in counterclockwise spirals. Lightning ripped through space from all directions, searing away the air, blanching the night sky with jagged white scars. The stars fell in all directions in scarlet streams, colliding in celestial blossoms of blood. There was a sound underneath the banshee howling wind like a hard-boiled egg being slowly unshelled. The sky itself was fracturing, like a pottery glaze crackling in a kiln. The doctor was saying something but the sound ebbed and waned, hitting Marvin's ears like some unintelligible pig latin. Marvin didn't want to hear him or anything anyway. He just wanted to crawl into the deepest, farthest corner of his mind and hide in its absolute darkness. Anything, even oblivion, was better than this nightmare.
Suddenly the Red Doctor lifted him, hoisting Marvin above his head effortlessly, like he weighed no more than an old, well-used pillow. Marvin struggled, the slow motion protest of a claw bound lobster about to enter the pot, but it did him no good. The doctor shifted back, stepped forward and threw Marvin out into the night's blooming madness. A phrase slipped through Marvin's head like a stream of quicksilver, "He who has fallen and represents the Fall". Marvin fell.

posted on Oct, 19 2005 @ 12:24 AM
Four: The Gift of Birds

Marvin, like most people, had had a lot of dreams about falling so on a certain level, the level that knew this was all just a dream, he wasn't surprised to find this vivid, gaudy nightmare develop into this common scenario. Otherwise the dream was uniquely strange and lucid. Time had slowed down to an unsteady crawl, speeding up in brief, dizzy jerks then halting almost entirely. Marvin saw the deep shadowed landscape below the hospital's roof roll out beneath him, a bone-snapping expanse between him and the unmanaged tangle of the lawn. He tumbled in torturously slow stop-motion and the world pivoted around him in a series of abhorrent images.

Marvin's clumsy spiral forced him to look back up into the sky. He'd rather have seen the ground rushing at him like a freight train then feel suspended and immersed in that sickening madness. The scarlet star streams looked infected, scars on the skin of space, which was fractured like a smashed mirror. Worse than anything else, if that was possible, behind this broken surface was a shifting of various darkness, a writhing, squirming movement like some gigantic, unknown, ancient creature barely discernable beneath a thick layer of ice, a horrible god fish.

The effect was mentally nauseating, so poisonous that Marvin's brain wanted to vomit, emptying itself of all thought and cognition to rid itself of that impossible sight. He saw the moon, huge and full almost to the point of bursting. A film slid across its surface like a reptilian, membranous eyelid and Marvin realized it wasn't a moon at all but a shining silver eye peering through the breaking night sky with unfathomable alien attention. Marvin tried to close his eyes but couldn't. He no longer had any control over his own movements; his consciousness was a pilot trapped in a plane with frozen controls. Then time resumed its customary pace with a lurch and Marvin felt his form drop into emptiness. The roof extended upward as he rotated back around. He fell past the large, broken windows of the second floor, barely noticing the small, quick shapes that had begun darting about him on all sides.

Suddenly the air about him exploded with a soft, dry rush of feathers moving through air as a countless flock of birds swarmed out of the hospital's upstairs windows. The high, piping sound of their group call was incredible, an almost tangible force. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of sparrows, and dozens of pigeons, crows and gulls flocked about him. They flew as a group up and out from the hospital and Marvin flew with them, held aloft and pulled along somehow as if he had the physical integrity of a half-deflated balloon.

It was frightening and elating. Marvin floated amongst the multitude of birds, recognizing the impossibility of his situation and afraid that the laws of physics would catch up to him and he would fall like Wile E. Coyote when he realizes he's standing on thin air. The hospital shrank away and back and in seconds it was gone entirely. The flock grew as the birds of the forest joined the congregation. Countless species of every size and form flew together in chaotic unity. Highflying hawks, and eagles with their broad wing spans soared above Marvin. Owls floated past him on silent, ghost wings. Songbirds of every color wove through the flying assemblage weaving their individual calls together into an immense, clamorous symphony beyond the imagination of any human composer. Marvin even saw pheasants and wild turkeys fluttering just above the surface of the ground. The darting, shifting avian pilgrimage continued to climb.

From the air Marvin saw that the supernatural destruction was not a phenomenon occurring exclusively about the hospital, but something far more pervasive, ravaging everything as far as he could see dozens of miles in all directions. The devastation was so extreme it was beyond comprehension. The whole of reality oscillated and danced with the madhouse, carnival movement of a bad acid trip that refuses to end. The strange colored fires burned in tall columns high above the old oaks and the large conifers. Whirlwinds danced through the trees, ripping brutal gashes into the forest. Landslides slid violently, shifting and changing the landscape with an almost savage fury. Hills rose, ridges collapsed, tracts of land broke up, reshaped into bizarre new forms. Marvin saw an immense river, where before there could have only been a small stream, a raging black/silver ribbon chewing apart its banks with monstrous bites. Despite all of this the flock went untouched. Shocking bolts of random lightning shot about and even through the congregation but not a single feather was singed. It was as if an envelope of safety surrounded them, protecting them from the destruction like the aura of clarity that the three silent girls projected when they rescued Marvin from the doctor. They flew on.

The flock continued to grow, it must have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, a broad, wide ribbon made up of almost insignificantly small components. They flew dozens of miles, climbing and climbing. The world below became an obscene abstraction, a Pollack painting come to twitchy life, a shifting riot of color, form and movement run through the Cuisanart of hell. Time and space peeled away in unsteady chunks. The combined sound of the birds' calls became Marvin's primary sensation, he had little or no sense of his body, and he felt almost lulled into a trance.

Over time the chaotic cacophony seemed to possess an underlying order. It was a complex of information, coming from the birds and passing through Marvin, pulling him along in a way that almost felt magnetic. Hearing the song connected Marvin to it, he was a portion of the code. He could never explain it really, but like a taste of metal in the back of his mouth, he felt a vague intermingling of himself and the birds flying about him.

Marvin saw lights flickering and moving about jerkily and he thought at first that they were fireflies come out to see the world end despite the fact that it was fall and they should have been dead or whatever they do when it gets cold. It would have been the least of the oddities of the nightmare. Then he realized it was the lights of a city far below him, he had almost forgotten about other humans while he flew with the birds and he was filled with a thin sensation of suspicion and distaste, feeling what the birds were feeling. They began a wide downward spiral and Marvin floated down with them.

Marvin and the miraculous flock of birds circled swiftly down upon the small city on rough, erratic gusts. Marvin could tell that the uneven texture of the air above the city was causing the birds a great deal of difficulty. He could almost feel the wind rustling through his feathers. Before, despite the unnatural disaster breaking out around them, the birds had flown in fluid harmony, creating their own silk smooth pocket in the turbulence. Now, approaching what Marvin guessed was Schenectady, where he had lived for the last five years, it was as if some unseen force was disrupting their enchantment. They and Marvin were now being bucked and rattled mercilessly and the flock's integrity was barely being held together. On a primary level Marvin felt that maintaining the flock was the essential element of the bird's magic. If they failed to hold their unity, if the song stopped, the spell would break, the birds would just be birds and Marvin would plummet to the ground.

As they looped messily above the city's outskirts Marvin's suspicion of the city's identity was confirmed when he saw the infamous giant GE logo looming over the megalith factory complex like the unblinking eye of Big Brother. It seemed larger than normal, stretched to cartoon proportions. The multitude of incandescent bulbs flickered hot-white light with a seizure inducing staccato rhythm. The stuttering illumination garishly reflected across the sprawl of factories, warehouses and tall brick office buildings. To Marvin they looked like dark, geometric tumors, deep-rooted malignancies. The surface of the paved factory yard quivered like J-ELLO and combined with the strobing light created a disturbingly jaunty disco effect, a GE factory dance party.

The flock flew, was practically dashed, past General Electric into the diseased heart of the city. As they did Marvin felt a sudden, startling lurch. The horizon pivoted, almost as if the flock's velocity was somehow bent so instead of gliding over across Schenectady on a slight, downward curve they were above the city and spiraling rapidly down into a pit of urban sprawl. It was as surprising to the birds as it was to Marvin and he saw several flying futilely against the current trying to escape the new gravity pulling at them.

Below Marvin Schenectady opened like a cracked geode clustered with haunted crystals. The dark and seething, wrongly organic community was spreading violently in all directions like a time-lapsed movie of mold growing on bread. The streets, buildings, bridges and other structures shifted and bobbed, squirmed and shook, rearranging themselves haphazardly, jutting in and out at impossible angles, contracting and expanding, twisting and untwisting. Marvin's home had become a living labyrinth, Leviathan as a place.

It didn't take long to see what effects the night had had on Schenectady's inhabitants. Group madness was blighting them. It was both a riot and a circus. The hammer of Armageddon had come down hard on the populace, breaking their once private deliriums free from the prisons of their skulls. People ran madly through the shifting streets in all manner of dress, normal, formal, in robes and pajamas, underwear only. Many were completely nude and some were disrobing in the streets like they had just been waiting for the right opportunity, such as the end of all that is, to get naked. Some people were even in costume, which Marvin found strange until he remembered how close it was to Halloween. It gave the spectacle an unneeded extra surreal carnival edge. Mardi Gras gone bad.

Trying to look at all of the independent movement was nauseating. It made Marvin think of Hieronymus Bosch's famous depiction of Hell brought to speed-frenzy paced life. A lot of people were fighting, seemingly arbitrarily but tooth and nail. Jay Street, Schenectady's one-block bohemia, had become a savage mosh pit made up of individuals of every age, race, class and culture. A stream of people marched down State Street looking like an angry mob from an old Frankenstein movie, they even had torches, vandalizing and assaulting everything in their path. Marvin saw an elderly woman use a television set to smash open the display window of a greasy looking deli. She greedily grabbed at the preserved meats and cheeses disregarding the broken glass cutting deep gashes into her soft flesh. Marvin saw a man beating a dog to death with what looked like a piece of a barbershop pole.

Lower Union Street stretched and expanded out new bends and curves before Marvin's over-stimulated eyes. Walking sharp yet methodical paces down its new serpentine length were three gun-wielding figures dressed head to toe in white. They were between Union College and the massive St. John the Evangelist's Catholic Church, which was rapidly becoming unrecognizable, flowing like wax melting upward into a form like a Gaudi Cathedral. They were walking calmly through the madness, like slivers of bone floating through the dark soup.
Two of them were teenagers, dressed in boy scout uniforms complete with neck scarves, baseball caps and knee socks, all in toneless white. The effect would have been down right silly if not for the boy's activities and the company they were keeping. One of the scouts was carrying a tall flagpole crowned with an oversized skull. Below it hung a white flag with a black border. Emblazoned in the center was a stylized shield-and-spear symbol, the emblem of Mars, the god of war.

About ten paces (or nine) behind the standard bearer walked a figure that was fearsome by his every aspect. He was dressed in a long-coat uniform reminiscent of those worn by the Nazi SS, every article and accessory in even, immaculate white. He was huge, almost seven feet tall and at least three feet across at the shoulders. Beneath the brim of his Death's Head cap was an unbroken white countenance. A featureless skull. The empty face of death.

The Nazi was holding something that looked like the femur of a large animal, maybe a horse or a cow. The scout with the flag pointed and said something. The Nazi raised the bone to his shoulder and aimed and Marvin realized it was a double-barreled shotgun painted or made out of something white. He fired. A lick of hot orange flame cut through a young black man dressed as an Indian as he got out of his car. The man’s mouth opened in a great O of surprise as he realized he was burning, as if he had been completely unaware of the dreadful chaos ravaging the city until he got out of his car. Half a second later the man and the front left quarter of his Cavalier were vaporized, instantly cremated. Another half second passed and the car exploded in a blossom of fire.

The flag holder spoke again, the Nazi pivoted, aimed and took a second shot as a pair of pretty twin women on a tandem bicycle rolled in. They were straight out of a Double-Mint commercial except they were naked, and covered in cuts and bruises. They lit up like a flare, and then there was nothing left but a charred bit of leg and one bent, burning tire wobbling clumsily down the street with the end of the women's momentum. Dark silhouettes of the twins were imprinted on the asphalt like the shadows of the H-bomb victims in Hiroshima.
The pattern of the bird chorus shifted minutely, a sensation Marvin felt more than heard, and the phrase "White Soldier" passed through his consciousness with the strength and certainty of the magnetic force that pulls a compass needle north. Here was another Knight of the Fall making sport on this night of their dark lord's manifestation. Marvin became worried that the birds were going to land right in the path of the White Soldier and his boys. As if in response the flock began to rise again, spiraling up and away from the trio.

The city spiraled as well, down as the birds went up, causing a dizzying but rapid separation. As the White Soldier shrunk away he looked up at Marvin with his featureless face and Marvin felt marked. The soldier dwindled down to a white speck in the bubbling riot of color and movement and then was gone. At this point Marvin wondered at what moment he had died. Was it after being thrown off the building? On the Red Doctor's table maybe? Or was it way at the beginning, when the lobby stairs collapsed under his weight? Was this entire nightmare his passage through the Buddhist Chonyid Bardo state?

Any such notion, indeed all thought, became impossible for a period after that point. The bird song intensified with the acceleration, until it was unified into a single trill at the edge of audibility. Marvin felt as if his entire being was vibrating, matching the frequency, transmuting with it into an informational state. There was great forward velocity, a kind of painless spaghettification. Blurs of streaming color oscillated around the edges of Marvin’s perception (individual senses no longer seemed distinguishable) as he pulsed like a waveform particle toward a sun bright shining event horizon, a silver continent. Song, birds, Marvin, the space between them, their motion, and their individual perceptions were one. Streaming together into a strand of singularity, individual tangent threads wove into one string of pure information. The string stitched through an unknowable membrane and into an all-together different fabric of reality. This was the last thing Marvin experienced as he entered permanently into the dreamtime.

posted on Oct, 29 2005 @ 02:06 AM
Hi Cicada,

This is quite a story that you have here! Marvin Toastburn is quite a character, and I found myself endeared by his straight forward "get-to-the-point" demeanor. It was certainly a wild ride that he took the reader on! The flow of the first half of the story was very smooth and does a great job of sucking the reader into the drama that is unfolding.

Marvins ordeal inside the hospital was eerie and spooky beyond measure. Actually the hospital is disturbingly similar in description to an abandoned hospital not far from where I live. I even explored around it a bit. However, unlike Marvin, I was with friends, it was high noon, and we did NOT go inside any of the buildings. (Of course we werent tracking down a lead either!

When I got to the part of the story where Marvin finally makes it to the roof of the hospital I became a bit confused with what was happening. I followed the warping of reality pretty well initially. However, when Marvin starts his battle with the Red Doctor I was intensely focused on the fight. When reality starts to crumble out of control, it jarred me out of Martins battle for his life, and I found myself struggling to understand the descriptions of what was happening. I had to re-read that section of the story a few times so that I could re-insert myself back inside the story.

When I did though, I actually felt that what was happening was more interesting than Martins battle with the Doctor. It is a difficult thing to describe for the reader images and happenings that the reader cannot draw on familiar information to relate to. Sometimes you have to spend an entire chapter explaining everything for the reader to combat confusion. Sometimes this can tire the reader out as it becomes cumbersome and quite an effort to read. I think you did a good job of not bogging the reader down with overblown descriptions.

Many times the whirlwind of immagery was overwhelming, but it made sense that it would this way because reality was twisting and warping into madness. If this is what the reader felt, then it can be enfered that this is what Marvin felt many times over. The only other time I had to pause in the story was when the cat bit the Doctors heel. In this sentence:

The blood was dripping from the remains of the cat, half skinned, which was being held in the right hand of the doctor like a hunter's prize catch.
I was sure the cat was dead because the remains of the cat was still in the doctors hands, so it confused me when the Doctor was screaming because the cat was biting his heal. I assumed this was a very special cat and that he had borderline supernatural powers.

I enjoyed reading your story. You said that this was adapted from the opening of a novel that you had started. Did you ever finish it? Your drawings are very nice by the way.
If you hadnt mentioned they were yours, I would have automaticly assumed they were cut and pasted from the net. Good luck to you in the contest!

posted on Oct, 30 2005 @ 12:25 AM

Thank you for your thoughts on my story. It's always interesting and informing to hear what aspects struck readers. As a horror story I find a lot of the people I know are initially surprised that I can conceive of such violent imagery and are put off a bit by it. I haven't finished the novel; it remains in production but currently in backburner status. In adapting the opening section of it into a short novella I really only cleaned it up a little and let the reader see my cards a little bit, just a little, at the end, in hopes that at least some sense of satisfaction could be drawn from the transition that takes place instead of a conclusion. But good stories need good endings, right?

I try very hard to keep Marvin's experience open ended and subjective, to allow for several explanations to coexist simultaneously for the reader. This is probably most clearly expressed through Marvin's wheeling self-rationalizations. The hospital is a real place that I have been in, but like you I went with friends, during the day, and for no reason but curiosity. The door labeled "Children" is real, as is the curving basement tunnel, collapsed portions of stairs, the trashed library, the cell like rooms, the separate attic entrance on the roof, the incinerator in back, and other elements as well. Those familiar with the area the story is set in could possibly find it. The caretaker has rotweillers though. You have to be lucky, or charmed, to get in.

Confusion is intended to reign. Marvin goes into the temple; does he ever really come out again? Any moment of his outside the hospital after he first enters resembles reality only for transitory moments. As Marvin struggles to explain what he is experiencing the hope is that the reader will as well, and that whatever rationalization they choose remains at least partially tenable through the rest of the story. The fact that rereading is sometimes necessary is a double-edged sword I suppose. The goal is to make it easy without holding the reader's hand. In terms of descriptions I guess I have a tendency to get a little baroque. As so much of what Marvin experiences is highly abstract I tried to engage the physical senses as much as possible.

The cat is an interesting character in the story. In novel version the story progresses to include much more animal imagery and symbolism. In this portion the only real examples are the cat and the birds. As the story is following Marvin's perspective, the assumption that what the doctor is holding is the cat's remains is Marvin's. The cat at that point certainly looked dead. Of course we all know the popular folklore about cat's and their lives. The cat is seemingly purely a resident of the dreamtime. Marvin remembers his fever dream about the cat at the beginning of the story. He describes himself as dreaming again right before the cat turns up and rescues him from a live dissection. He also assumes a feral cat knocked the rolling gurney in the basement into motion. Right after the cat attacks the doctor the attic gurney starts to move as well. The story does say that the doctor discarded the cat when he went from punching Marvin with one hand to strangling him with two. Marvin isn't in a position to see where the cat is so there isn't any description there. You're right, it could be more clearly described and I'm going to take a look at that passage again.

In novel form this portion of text was actually five chapters that I accidentally turned into four when I posted it. Originally the long chapter "Red Ink" ended when Marvin goes to sleep on the doctor's table. The secret chapter is titled "Deus Ex Machina" due to the string of improbable to impossible events that transpire to save Marvin's life. There's no reason for Marvin to survive almost anything he experiences, so on at least one level some kind of force opposing the anti-nature of the god worshipped by the Knights of the Fall is assisting Marvin. The avatars of this force usually express in animal or other natural forms.

Thank you so much for your kind words. It's an odd thing to put your work out there on any level and it's not really a habit of mine. You guys have all been really cool.

[edit on 30-10-2005 by Cicada]

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