The Shimmer And The Abyss
This road wasn’t always here – or perhaps it was? Either by the seeming conspicuousness of day or by the succour of the moonlit sky, this road has been trod by some, whilst others have missed its path altogether. It is what lies within the hearts of those who may chance upon this vicinity which determines its very existence at any given time. For those unsullied of heart, an attractive yet entirely mundane, tree-lined thoroughfare lies ahead. Those who carry the guilt of transgression, however, find they have stumbled into the path of pure malevolence and may never reach their intended destination, sound of mind and undamaged of soul; that is, if they are to ever find their way from this road altogether at all. It is within these trees where the purveyors of duplicity orchestrate this elaborate chimera.
Though many have traversed this path without hindrance or misadventure, for the purposes of this story, we shall bring our attention to Malcolm Turnpike; one who falls heavily into the latter category. Although innocent of the murder for which he is now oblivious to pursuit, Turnpike is by no means virtuous. A victim of his own sordid dealings, acts of selfishness, violence and greed, Malcolm Turnpike has been cast into the abyss of his own making. Betrayed by his former peers masquerading as friends and loyal followers, Malcolm had awoken beside the corpse of a young fellow, brought to his occult gathering of debauchery the previous night.
It had all been a haze of chaos, induced by the hallucinogenic brew in which he and the presently dead man partook. Its effects now long worn off, Malcolm recalls the proceedings of the treacherous night in patchy detail. The vision of his most favoured paramour, the ravishing Gloria Speakle, gyrating in all her naked splendour before his mind’s eye, lowering herself onto the prone lad stretched and subdued on the warehouse floor and bringing him to his final, fatal orgasm, makes Malcolm shudder with a regret and melancholy so deep, his very soul threatens to devour him.
Malcolm is lost, even though he meanders not too far from familiar haunts. He is lost, both in his way and in his being. He wanders aimlessly, entirely unaware of the motives and machinations perpetrated by Jesse Vaughn and Barry Parker; his – what he thought to be – protégés, and as close to friends as Malcolm had allowed into his life. Now he is an unwitting fugitive from the law. Unbeknownst to him, the murder of Destre Norman had been set up to unequivocally implicate Malcolm directly as the killer. Adrift in the pondering vision of Gloria, Malcolm sets foot onto the road which will lead him into the darkest recesses of his tormented soul.
No sooner has he taken his first step upon this illusive road, a realisation batters his ruminating mind. The deep, gashing wound in his hand throbs with agonising abandon; a wound he has not an inkling of how it was procured. He recalls the very moment when Gloria leapt from the ecstatic Destre at the culmination of his release. Whilst in the throes of passion, what happened next was the last thing Malcolm saw before all became darkness.
It was Barry, standing above the lad and brandishing the sacrificial dagger which they had, until this instance, only used in mock offerings. Malcolm witnessed once again, by means of vivid recollection, Barry dropping at the head of Destre Norman and plunging the blade deep into the unsuspecting fellow’s chest.
* * *
Imps flurry amidst the thicket, peering excitedly from behind branches, licking their thin, sulphurous lips with the anticipation this wanderer’s inner turmoil brings. He is one for their mischievous and malign manoeuvrings; a perfect candidate for their ignoble ploys. They sense an arcane air about him; a dabbler they see. They love his kind, easily manipulated and corrupted by the fear these creatures so relish in dispensing. Malcolm’s eclectic immersion in occult practices, while serving his desires well in his former life, will now serve only to bring him grief.
Millic, a particularly bold imp, ventures clandestinely from the cover of the trees, creeping slowly up behind the distressed Malcolm. In its small, gnarled claw it carries a blade of tempered obsidian. The razor keen edge peppered with a mind-altering agent acquired from the desiccated remains of a native creature from its own realm, Millic endeavours to strike at Malcolm’s calf. Malcolm hears Millic’s approach yet when he turns to investigate the sound, the imp is nowhere to be seen. In that instant, the malevolent host of elusive beings cross his path on the road ahead, vanishing into the opposing tree line and bringing with them the remaining light of day.
A great confusion settles over Malcolm, turning back to face the way ahead and marvelling in shock at the foreboding night which meets his gaze. Certain that the day is still young, he turns his head to the sky to see the dark crimson orb of the Blood Moon, confirming in no uncertain manner that night was surely now upon him. This sudden shift leaves him disoriented and fearful. He peers forth into the darkness with nervous eyes, unaccustomed to the ambience they perceive. The ground disappears several feet in front of him, producing a shimmer not unlike the mirage cast on the horizon of a hot summer road. It is now that Millic seizes the opportunity, continuing his advance in stealth and looming shadow, to swipe the poisoned keen of the blade across the exposed flesh of Malcolm’s lower leg.
With a scream of surprise, Malcolm falls to one knee, frantically grasping the burning area inches above his ankle and throwing his gaze hither and thither, eyes wide and wild with fright. Once again, the assailing imp is nowhere to be seen. Millic has joined his dastardly brethren in the cover of the now spitefully whispering trees. Voices of indecipherable speech reach out towards Malcolm, only to retract mockingly at each turn of his head. The shimmer in the road advances swiftly upon him and Malcolm falls forward onto his elbows, covering his face with his hands and whimpering as he cowers in terror.
The shimmer passes over, around and through him, turning his innards icy cold, and a voice comes to him as though through a tunnel suspended in the passage of time and space. Not only does the sound assault his hearing, but also resonates violently in his bones. It is the unmistakeable voice of Gloria Speakle. Her words make no sense to Malcolm as she petitions him for a response. He is loath to remove his hands for fear of what his eyes might witness before him as he struggles to gain understanding of what he is now being subjected to.
In the trees, the imps watch on with gleeful interest. Millic has set in motion the pantomime to which they will now seek their unequivocal enjoyment. They tap their hands together lightly like a macabre theatre audience as Gloria admonishes her former lover, kneeling prone before her spectral figure. They chatter excitedly amongst themselves, pointing at Malcolm intermittently before resuming their almost polite applause. Malcolm can hear them, both Gloria and their mysterious spectators, but still refusing to uncover his eyes, he can only speculate in vain at the source of his torment.
The burning in his leg eases to an almost soothing sensation which spreads slowly until it encompasses his entire body with a light buzzing. He feels suddenly buoyant and weightless as the voice of Gloria comes at him in staccato waves, broken up into chaotic syllables by the clapping of impish hands in the surrounding gloom. With this buoyancy comes a spark of confidence; an almost imperceptible hint of courage. His Gloria; once most faithful of all the women in Malcolm’s former circle, is now before him, appealing to him on some baffling level to pay her heed. Perhaps she is his salvation from this hellish situation?
Malcolm looks up from his cowering pose to see just as he had hoped; Gloria looks down at him, every bit as naked as in the last moments his eyes had rested upon her desirable form. She still speaks to him as she holds out a hand in a gesture of helping him to his feet, but although she speaks words as clear to Malcolm as any he had heard before, their meaning is completely lost on him. Shame engulfs him; humiliation at his treatment of her above all of the women who had languished shamelessly at his feet. Gloria gave herself to him in her entirety when he had been in the prime of his power and influence and Malcolm had taken her devotion for granted, just as he had done with even the least desirable of his followers – both male and female. Her betrayal had come, entirely justified and without guilt or blame upon herself.
He hesitates momentarily and then reaches for Gloria’s outstretched hand. She smiles warmly but her grip is like ice, and tight to the point of extreme pain. His hand throbs excruciatingly in hers; the wound in his palm still fresh. Blood begins to seep at first, running in rivulets towards his elbow. As he looks in horror at his reddening arm, the flow becomes a gush, running down his forearm and pouring from his elbow to the road. Malcolm returns his stupefied gaze from his bloodsoaked arm to Gloria. Her smile now gone, replaced with a grimace as though she were exerting every bit of her strength to squeeze the life from him via his crippled hand.
Malcolm attempts to rise to his feet but Gloria simply increases her grip, evoking an irresistible downward pressure which keeps him on his knees. A fierce storm brews behind her eyes and Malcolm once again cowers in fear at her feet; the blood continuing to flow at an alarming rate until he finds himself kneeling unceremoniously in an increasing pool of the sticky, warm fluid. All the while, the imps in the trees watch on in ecstatic glee, the rhythmic pat pat patter of their applauding hands beating Malcolm around his head like numerous whips of bamboo. And just as suddenly as it began, all falls deathly silent, the pressure around his hand vanishes, leaving it to drop limply to the road with a painful thud. He stumbles forward onto his elbows, his arm as useless and flaccid as a sodden towel, then continues his descent until his face meets the road, rolling him weakly onto his back. The imps can hardly contain themselves with the entertainment presented to them. Their clapping increases in volume and vigour, with even a few croaking cheers emanating from the trees.
As Malcolm lies there, bewildered and terrified, figures dart about in the surrounding gloom, just outside of his line of vision no matter which way he turns his head. Like a troupe of stealthy stagehands preparing for the next scene they scamper this way and that. Malcolm begins to feel like the leading actor in his own pantomime, a role he indeed now finds himself in. His hand still throbs painfully, iced to the bone, yet the copious torrent of blood he had wallowed in is no longer there; the wound in his palm agonising but closed and scabbed over. Tears seep from the corners of his eyes and a sob escapes his throat, followed by a wail of anguish. He feels his mind taking leave and struggles to maintain his sanity.
The host of imps take this opportunity to once again cross the road to the trees they had occupied when Malcolm had stumbled onto their road. With them, they pull away the blanket of night and Malcolm is blinded by the intensity of early afternoon sun. His eyes squeezed shut, a shadow is cast above him, relaxing the solar onslaught against his eyelids. He opens his eyes warily to find himself in the midst of the mysterious shimmer he had first witnessed when all had become mysteriously dark. The shadow above him is the silhouette of a man but the brightness behind him leaves his features indiscernible. It isn’t until Malcolm sees what the man holds aloft that the panic engulfs, screaming from his every pore. The man standing over him is none other than Barry Vaughn and what he holds brings back the memory of the last thing he saw before being knocked unconscious.
Malcolm now finds himself on hardwood floor; no roof, no walls, just the imposing figure of Barry standing at his head, hands raised high and clutching the sacrificial dagger. The sun beats down from behind and Malcolm feels both horrified by his vision yet strangely aroused as the warmth of the sun fills his body. He is Destre Norman. He is the unwitting victim of sacrifice, laying prone and ready to receive his comeuppance for all of his transgressions. An inaudible scream forms in his throat and his eyes widen with shock as the figure of Barry Vaughn descends in slow motion. Paralysed, he can only watch helplessly for what seems an eternity as the point of the blade advances ever closer.
The tension and anticipation emanating from the trees is palpable as the imps hold their breath collectively. Here is the culmination of their sadistic efforts; the moment where Malcolm Turnpike’s mind finally snaps. The shimmer fills the entire road, giving the whole scene a nightmare quality; one from which their distraught plaything shall never wake. Malcolm’s scream finds purchase but it escapes his mouth instead in peals of psychotic laughter. This is too much for his feeble mind to bear any longer; Malcolm Turnpike welcomes death as it draws ever so slowly nearer. The sun’s warmth radiates through him and Malcolm feels the onset of orgasm as the tip of the dagger breaks slowly through layer after layer of skin. The agony is exquisite - the ecstasy even moreso. Malcolm feels every iota of the penetration as the dagger seeks to enter his heart. Every moment dissected into all-consuming fragments of impeded time. All becomes dark once more.
When he comes to his senses – or what little is left of them – Malcolm opens his eyes to find himself face down on grass. His hands are bound behind his back by unforgiving steel and chaos surrounds him on all sides. The weight of two people keep him pinned and jumbled words assault his ears; angry, disgusted words which, just like with Gloria, hold no meaning to him. He is roughly hoisted up onto his feet by cruel hands and Malcolm sees the naked corpse of Destre Norman laying only a few feet away. Malcolm begins to chuckle at the absurdity of all that has transpired. More angry, indecipherable words fill his ears and he is dragged away as his little chuckle degenerates into uncontrollable, maniacal laughter.