“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.
In an alley off the boardwalk David noticed a light in the window of a small shop. Red letters on the sign above the door announced, “Krapes Emporium.” He thought there might be something familiar in the shop to bring him back to reality. So far whatever he experienced seemed so bizarre that he felt lost in a mad man’s dream.
Everything inside was covered in layers of dust. Glass cases crowded the floor leaving very little room to maneuver. In one corner there was a metal grate beneath a sign that said “pawnbroker.” David felt slightly reassured by the apparent normalcy of the place, but the more he looked at objects behind the glass the more his reassurance disappeared. Some items were labeled — he saw “unicorn horn” and “dragon wing.” There were small black-cubes labeled egglets and glowing objects identified as oospheres. He noticed several large jars under a sign that read, “glandular conditions.” He was relieved because the glass on the jars was so discolored and cloudy he couldn’t make out the contents. A tall purple crate stood in a cage near the back of the shop with a sign that read “Martian Mummy.”
David was about to leave when he was accosted by Captain Crunch — at least it sounded like the cartoon spokesman for the cereal by the same name. “How goes it, matey m’boy.”
David turned back and saw a cadaverous man in a red-striped jacket, wearing black lipstick and an Andy Warhol wig. He was smiling. There was a bad taste in David’s mouth, “I was just about to leave.”
“Nay, matey — stay. I’ll show you some wonders. Perchance we can strike a deal. What’s your pleasure?”
“Just looking — really. I need to get back to my room.”
“No fun in that. Perhaps you have something to sell. I’m a pawnbroker — best in town. Of course I only handle unusual items. If you have an ordinary ring to sell I don’t want it, but if you have a ‘power ring’ I’m your man. I pay the highest prices anywhere. Let me show you some of my precious cargo.”
“Not really interested in selling or buying anything.”
“Don’t be a spoil sport, m’boy. Come along.”
David found himself drawn toward the smiling cadaver as he wove his spell.
“That’s it lad. This way. I deal in Neoteric Dimensions. I sell a preparation called ‘mental slop’ — you might be interested. It is guaranteed to grow hair follicles inside the brain — quite an extraordinary experience. I keep a regular stock of Loomies, but sometimes I run out of Draco Nins. I personally authorize all virgin births in the area. I have a large collection of poly-globular eyeballs. Right this way. For a small price, I sell glimpses of the future — invariably accurate. Well, matey is there anything I can temp you with?”
David’s stomach was doing flip-flops. He was convinced that none of it was real, but didn’t know how to escape. “I have everything I need . . . Just want to get back.”
“Going somewhere so soon. We’ve hardly had time to get acquainted. Let me give you a parting gift to show there are no hard feelings.” The cadaver handed David a stone.
“Don’t worry dear boy — it won’t bite. It’s the eye of a Venusian Swort. The creature died in the arms of an astronaut — a tragic love affair. The astronaut sold the eye to me in prostrate destitution. Stare at it — it will help you see.”
Nothing happened when David looked at the stone, but when he looked up he was on the street outside the shop.
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)
Red City was losing the war with reality. Land masses were shifting, volcanic eruptions and devastating storms were the undeniable evidence that the city was no longer Sovereign of the Earth. Conclaves of scientists gathered to solve the problem. They gathered in Stolemock Hall, a caverenous echo chamber named after Dr. Camine Stolmock who was a pioneer in Transference Technology. The Archons who ruled Red City revered Dr. Stolemock who unfortunately died while performing an experiment with the brains of unwilling volunteers. The modern crisis demanded leaders who were driven by the same genius and madness that drove Dr. Carmine Stolemock. Some of the students at the University thought old Carmine had been a raving lunatic, but they never voiced their opinions and the Archons had no idea regarding the true nature of Carmine or about the results of most of his botched experiments. Carmine was revered solely because he had been one of the ruling Archons at the time of his death. As a tribute To their old compatriot, the rulers decided all young scientists should be trained in the methods and practices of Carmine Stolemock. Of course that required a redefinition of science to include many of the old traditions of Alchemy. Stolemock originally trained as a Particle Physicist and he believed the basis of “true magic” was due to quantum entanglements — in other words, according to Carmine, magic was real. The scientists working on the current crisis were all alchemists — molded after Carmine. Many had long cascades of white hair worn on the head like a bun in the same way Carmine wore his hair. They aped the old scientist in every way — their dark laboratories in cellars and dungeons rang with Carmine’s favorite music recorded by “Crimson Death.” They studied ancient alchemists like Paracelsus and modern scientists like Schrodinger — as well as the journals of Dr. Josef Mengele.
The latest conclave of alchemists started with a discussion of Dr. Stolemoch’s research in hopes of finding some theory that might help solve the current crisis. Everyone was in agreement that Stolemock was a genius, but there were no hints to anything relating to current situations. A ritual was performed using the elements of fire, water, earth, and air; but to no avail. All the alchemist had apprentices as a way to continue the traditions and practices of the great scientist himself. From time to time one or more apprentices were used in some necessary, but radical experiments. Rufus Thyme had a pension for using apprentices in ritual sacrifices claiming they cleansed the city of unorthodox influences. Rufus was confident the current troubles were the result of too few sacrifices. Other alchemists were not so convinced. Jupiter Fogg was the defacto leader of the alchemists. At one time he was also an Archon of the Red City, but he hated politics and so he used a Shadow to take over his government post while he became totally involved with his passion to discover the Philosopher’s Stone, the secret to immortality. He was the oldest alchemist and he desperately needed a way to bypass death. Jupiter was clever and he knew exactly what caused the current crisis in Red City: a rift caused by climate change — dimensions were collapsing. He also knew there was no saving Red City, but he could save himself. Jupiter Fogg posed and prattled-on at the conclave pretending to be as clueless as everyone else. He was devious, he had no intention of sharing his discoveries. The Stone was the answer — it could open a hole in time and space. Fogg had evidence that Red City existed just below another dimension — he had actually peered through one of the ancient mirror devices that were built by Carmine Stolemock — he saw another world. Jupiter Fogg was the only alchemist who had access to any of Carmine’s devices. He suspected all the other alchemists had similar ideas. They all wanted immortality. They all sought the Stone, but Jupiter intended to stop them.
The conclave ended in a debauchery of drugs and sex. it was traditional . Madness reigned supreme. Demons were called upon and Trolls provided refreshments. In their drugged delirium the alchemists believed the magic was real. In their addled brains they bowed down to imaginary devils and made love to Gods and Goddesses. The hall echoed with screams of pleasure and pain. Young apprentices were used to carry out their master’s demands. Daniel Ot was Jupiter Fogg’s apprentice. Daniel was spared the indignities and shame that often riddled the lives of apprentices — he simply was not Jupiter’s sexual type. He was a diligent young man. Daniel was the perfect apprentice for Jupiter Fogg because he could keep a secret, but Daniel was also very intelligent — he knew what the old bastard was up to. (to be continued)