“I walk alone in the night like a specter. I see myself through distorted glass and warped mirrors that block my path. I recognize no one… I am no one. A dark shadow stalks me, haunts me. My quest for redemption is almost over…”
There was always music in the Darkk Museum. The night watchman listened as he made his rounds through the dank corridors and ancient halls where the city’s most revered treasures were stored. Raymond Rambush was only forty-eight, but he was already old, almost feeble. He was a fine artist, but his art did not sell. His only income came from working as a night watchman. He considered himself lucky to work in a highly esteemed museum where he could study the masterpieces on the walls. There was art and ancient relics on all three floors, but the most amazing contemporary work was stored in the underground museum, not open to the general public. Raymond always struggled. He never had the money to join professional art groups that might sponsor a show of his work. It was difficult getting influential people to come to his studio to look at his art. He was always living on the edge, between life and death, and the unrealistic dream of his art being discovered.
Ambrose Darkk built the museum from the ground up, a place to contain his unique art. While Darkk was in charge, the museum was never popular — too many accidents and strange encounters. A year after Darkk’s disappearance, the Trustees of the museum refurbished the building and stored the artist’s work in the subterranean vaults. Cultural artifacts and antiques were placed on the floors open to the public. The remake proved popular and an entrance fee was instituted to keep the museum afloat and earn a generous stipend for the trustees. Rumors circulated about Ambrose and his museum, but it only added to the public’s morbid interest; yet, no one wanted to see the work of the artist — old relics were enough to satisfy the viewing public. When Darkk was alive he was filled with hatred because most people dismissed him as a crank. He used his anger to infuse his art. A few collectors humored him because the Darkk family had money. Ambrose was aware of the sham. He grew more and more morose until the day he finally disappeared.
Raymond walked the halls and galleys of the Darkk, listening to distant sounds and eerie music that came from the basement. The sounds always led him to the underground vaults where rumors alluded to supernatural occurrences. Raymond saw enough of life to know there was no magic, no uncanny interventions. His life was characterized by tedium and torment … and the desire to create. For Raymond the only magic in life was making art. When he was a young man he desperately tried to break from the bonds of daily drudgery and discover some world beyond the norm. He realized how much he needed magic to make his life meaningful. He tried LSD and other mind altering drugs — he was seduced by strange visions and dreams, but when the drug wore off nothing really changed — he was faced with the dilemma of his sad life in a world where he was not accepted or appreciated. His art languished. His creative juices dried up. He tortured himself trying to regain his creative vision. Raymond threw himself into sexual abandon in hopes of cultivating some truth beyond ordinary reality. He experimenting with physical and mental sadomasochism. The rituals and fetishes amounted to nothing: no truths and no resolves. He fell to earth like a being from another world — ending in a pit of total despair. Raymond’s despair came from the realization that there was no magic and no life beyond death. In his despair he picked up a brush and discovered he could still paint — he was able to make art and that was his only value and function. He accepted the drudgery necessary to keep eating and breathing in order to create.
Raymond was intrigued by the art in the vaults beneath the museum. The Paintings by Ambrose Darkk were primitive and disturbing. They did not seem particularly sophisticated — filled with childlike splashes in a maze of atmospheric delirium, but the more he studied the art the more intrigued he became. Raymond began to see images in the paintings. The “altered music” became louder the longer he lingered. Night after night, Raymond spent more time in the vaults. His mind played tricks — he knew the wraiths he saw were merely shadows caused by his subconscious need for hallucinatory stimulation. A particular dark shadow frequently appeared. Raymond imagined it was the remains of Ambrose Darkk, appearing as some sort of necromancer. The paintings seemed to change. Faces appeared and vanished. Each canvas was a portrait — each told a story. Raymond no longer walked the halls of the museum — he spent all night in the vault. The portraits were alive. He heard them scream, but he could not tear himself away. One night, Raymond saw a blank canvas in the Darkk Vault. The next night he saw a man dressed in black like a shadow sitting in front of the blank canvas with brushes and paint. While Raymond starred at the apparition the music flowed like blood becoming louder and more dissonant… then, it stopped!
Raymond Rambush was never seen again and music was no longer heard in the Darkk Museum.
Contusions and bruising would heal quickly, but the boy’s mind was irreparably damaged. He was bullied at school because he was different. His parents expected the boy to mirror the lifestyle they chose for themselves. He could not. The expectations and bullying turned the boy against himself. He created a guardian in his mind for protection. The guardian was a monster named Mr. Hamm.
Mr. Hamm has no regrets. He lurches from room to room and from one disaster to the next. Hamm is an abomination and he delights in that reproof. He inhabits dark cellars and desiccated tombs dressed only in raiments stolen from graveyard corpses. For years, perhaps centuries, he served the Archons of Red City, propping up the regime with blackmail and murder. Hamm is a clever blood sucker who managed to stave off death by tricking other decrepit souls to take his place. But no one outsmarts death forever. Hamm’s day of reckoning has finally arrived at a fortuitous time as Red City descends deeper into the volcanic fires in the earth’s core.
Mr. Hamm stares into the green miasma of his favorite drink, absinth with a dash of embalming fluid, as if it is a crystal ball. He sits at his reserved table in the Charnel House Bar along with other denizens of the underworld. Every few minutes the earth rumbles sending another tremor through the warrens of Red City. Hamm is mumbling out loud and yelling obscenities. No one approaches or even looks at Mr. Hamm. He can do whatever he desires in the Charnel House; indeed, he has free reign anywhere in Red City. No one is feared or hated more than Mr. Hamm. Rumors abound about Hamm’s predilection for cannibalism and his fraternization with demons.
Mr. Hamm moans as if expelling his last gasp, “Been running a long time. It finally caught me,” he hisses, “I’m old. Old — and death is snapping at my ass.” Hamm gulps his drink and bangs the table for more. “I’m no smarter than when I was a piss-ant kid — I’m just slower. My bones creak. My head aches. I hear voices that criticize. They run daggers through me and cut me to shreds. I never had a choice. My bones are turning to liquid. I piss my pants at night. No one knows the truth. Mighty Mr. Hamm pisses his pants,” He cackles like a wheezing whore.
The rumors are true. Hamm committed horrendous crimes; but, he rationalized, it was for the benefit of Red City. He kept the city alive. He supplied the city’s lifeblood, literally — by draining victims who fell under his spell. “None of the donors were innocent,” Hamm relishes, “they were greedy nobodies eager to take advantage of anyone weaker than themselves. It was a delight to suck them dry and hang their bodies on meat hooks to mold and rot. I sold contracts to skulkers consigning them to hell for an eternity in exchange for a little fleeting power, money, or sex. I provided a service by eviscerating corrupt malingerers. I delighted in consuming their flesh and eating their souls.”
Although the people hated and feared Mr. Hamm the living-infrastructure that was Red City loved him. The city relied on Hamm to provide necessary ingredients — fuel for the machines and systems: blood, sinews, flesh and offal. Hamm was granted extraordinary powers to perform his tasks — in effect, making Mr. Hamm the power behind the government. He controlled the Archons who ruled the city. He was the shadow behind the curtain. The Archons were fed the blood of Hamm’s victims — they were nurtured and kept alive by blood.
Mr. Hamm recalls how he tricked the man who became Anton Bane who fell down a rabbit hole and entered Red City like an innocent pilgrim from another world — but it was a lie. Hamm read the man like a book, a bad pornographic novel filled with remorse and lust. It was easy to sign him up, change his name, and turn him into a killer — and, finally, condemn him to hell. Hamm fondly remembers a young Jupiter Fogg, an aspiring hedonist who enjoyed the art of murder. Hamm ruled Jupiter’s life, forging him into a powerful alchemist/scientist, forcing him to follow orders. Many lives, both living and dead, were effected or effaced by Mr. Hamm. Many plots were in play. The city was changing and Hamm was required to change as well. Mr. Hamm did not like change and he did not like feeling old and wary of death, but it was inevitable. The only wild card that remained was known as the Harlequin-beat Angel. No one controlled the Angel. (to be continued)