Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yet still she turns her restless head

I stood in front of the wooden door and the sign above it - FORTUNES TOLD & PALMS READ - and wondered why I was there. What had brought me here.

After my visit with Professor Hamilton, I went back to the motel I was staying at. I knew it probably made no difference, but I didn't want to stay in my own home, so I had gone to a motel and covered up every single reflective surface I could find.

As I walked into the motel, however, the desk clerk saw me and said, "Mail for you, Mr. Lee." That was impossible. Not only was I staying under a fictional name - Oswald Lee - I had only been checked into this motel since last night. It might have been the snake woman - but why mail? She already showed she could phone me if she wanted to.

I took the envelope from the clerk and went to my room. Carefully, I opened it:
Dear Mister Walker, 
You have questions. I have answers.  
Please go to this address: 
            [Complete Address] 
Good luck, 
A Friend

If it was a trap, it would have to be an incredibly obvious trap. And why try to trap me anyway? However, it was, perhaps they were sincere. They knew my name and where I was sleeping, perhaps they knew more.

So that was why I was here, in front of the door to "MADAM MORRIGAN'S." I was about to knock when the door opened. The woman on the other end was tall and statuesque, with dark skin and long black hair. "Well?" she said. "Are you in or out, Mr. Walker?"

What the hell. I walked inside and she led me down to a table in the center of which was a genuine crystal ball. "Are you gonna read my palm now?" I asked. "Maybe bring out the Tarot cards?"

"Don't be facetious, Mr. Walker," she said. "It doesn't become you."

"Fine," I said. "What do you know about my situation? How can you help me?"

"Those are two different questions," she said. "The answer to the first is that I know a lot. About your situation and others like it. You have been targeted by creature not confined by the rules of this world. A creature eldritch in nature, godlike in ability. The one that hunts you is one of many."

"Many?" I said. "There are others?"

"Yes," she said. She removed a deck of cards from her pocket and for a moment I thought she actually was going to try and tell my fortune with Tarot cards. Instead, when she flipped the cards, I saw they weren't Tarot cards at all, but had other things on them. A boy colored completely blue; a tall man in a suit without a face; a flock of birds; a large dog with blood-red eyes. "There are many others," she said as she spread the cards out in front of me. "They have been gods and monsters, myths and tales told in the dark." She turned another card and it was the image of a coiled snake with the body of a woman. "The one you have encountered hasn't appeared in quite a while. You are an unusual case, Mr. Walker."

I looked at the cards and then at the woman - Madam Morrigan - and asked, "Can you help me?"

She smiled and said, "I can." Then she turned another card and on it was the image of two triangles on top of one another, mirroring each other. As I looked at it, she grabbed my hand and said, "You must embrace the Archangel." With her other hand, she pulled out a knife from her sleeve and tried to stab me.

I backed away, but she held onto my hand tightly. She thrust the knife forward again and I moved out of the way, but she sank it into my shoulder and I screamed. Finally, I pushed her away and grabbed my gun from my pocket and I shot her three times in the chest.

She sank to the floor. And then she appeared again in front of me. She was lying dead and she was standing alive. I couldn't understand it.

She smiled at me with bloody lips and I turned and ran.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Out of old mythologies

Professor Hamilton turned out to be Professor Edith Hamilton from the state university. It was an hour and a half drive to there and I spent all that time nervous, glancing over my shoulder at every stop. Even though I had all the mirrors covered, I had no assurances that the snake woman wouldn't be back.

I had never been to the university, so finding my way to Professor Hamilton's office was a jumble of confusion. Finally, I got out the correct directions from a random student and walked there, carefully checking over my shoulder every few minutes.

"Professor Edith Hamilton, Greek Mythology Department." That's what the sign said. I knocked and then pushed the door open, without waiting for a response.

"Tests still aren't graded," the professor said. She was forty-ish with graying hair. Not bad looking, but not my type.

"Hello," I said.

She looked up quickly. "I'm sorry, I thought you were one of my students," she said. "How can I help you?"

"I think a friend of mine visited you a little while ago," I said. "Frank Meyer?"

She scrunched her eyebrows in confusion. "Yes, I remember him," she said. "He wanted to discuss snake goddesses in mythology. He kept on saying it was life and death. It was kind of a strange visit." She paused and then, probably to be polite, asked, "How is he?"

"Dead," I said bluntly.

She looked taken aback at that. "I'm sorry," she said. "Is that why you're here?"

"Something like that," I said. "Can you tell me everything you told him?"

"Well," she said. "I don't think I was much help. He wanted to know about Echidna and Medusa and the Naga - which aren't actually Greek mythology, but rather Indian. In fact, there was a lot of snake worship in ancient times."

"Really?" I said. "Any of them have to do with mirrors?"

"He asked that, too," she said. "I'm afraid the only one I can recall associated with mirrors is Medusa. Perseus used his shield as a mirror and was thus able to kill her without seeing her. Although, now that you mention it, snakes and snake monsters were often associated with water and rivers, which acted as mirrors back in those days. Not many people could pay for a real mirror, even one of polished metal."

"Anything else you told him?" I asked.

"Well," she said, "he wanted to know about Echidna. She was called the Monster of All Monsters and wife of Typhon. Actually, he didn't seem that interested in the male snake monsters, but rather the female ones. Can I ask how he died?"

"Aneurysm," I said. "How do you kill them?"

"I'm sorry?" She coughed. "That's something he asked, too, and I'm afraid I'll have to give you the same answer: you can't."

"You can't?"

"Well," she said, "first of all: they don't exist. You can kill an imaginary monster because it's, well, imaginary."

"Say they do exist," I said, "what then? How would you kill them if they do exist?"

"I'm afraid the answer is the same," she said. "Unless you have enchanted armor or magical powers or the gods on your side, you can't kill them. Perseus used a sword and shield granted from Athena to cut off Medusa's head. Heck, even cutting off the head didn't work in some cases. If you cut off one of the Hydra's head, two more would grow in its place." She put her hands down on her desk. "And that's it, I'm afraid. I'm sorry your friend died, but there's really nothing else I told him. And I have to get back to work."

"I understand," I said. "I must sound like a loon."

She shook her head, but I could see it. I nodded and turned to leave.

The phone on her desk rang. She answered it. "Hello. Who is this? No, I want to know who this is. What? Who...I...okay, I'll get him." She put down the phone. "Mr. Walker? Mr. Boyd Walker?"

I hadn't told her my name. "What?"

She held out the phone for me. "It's for you," she said.

"Hang up," I told her. "Hang up the phone right now. Just hang up."

"I can't," she said. "She...she knows me. She said she'll eat my young if you don't speak to her. Please, Mr. Walker."

I took the phone from her and put it to my ear. "She is ready," the woman's voice said. "She who has mirrors for scales. The Mother of Snakes. She waits for you. You must be ready for her. Be ready, Boyd Walker. She is ready."

I hung up. As I left, I could hear Professor Hamilton crying and calling her children.

I didn't stick around to see if they were alright.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cast a cold eye

I needed information. I needed to know what was going on. I needed to stop panicking and start figuring out what the hell was happening.

I started with Little Frankie. There was the starting point. After the incident of the church, after sitting at the side of the road for several hours trying to calm myself, trying to make my heart stop beating so fast, I drove to Frankie's house. The house he had left behind when the Feds flipped him.

I unlocked the door with a well-placed kick. Inside, it was dark and musty. He must have packed lightly, because everything still looked like it was here.

I did notice one thing: no mirrors. I checked the bathroom and confirmed it: the bathroom mirror had been completely covered. Whatever was after me had also been after Frankie. Frankie must have fled to the Feds in order to get away from it. Too bad it didn't work.

There were books scattered around his bedroom. Books on Greek Mythology and Hinduism and lots of books on snakes. In one book, written on a slip of paper was the words ECHIDNA? MEDUSAE? NAGA? SEE PROF HAMILTON.

Professor Hamilton. There was a lead. Did Frankie go to see him? If he did, doing so didn't help him. But I would see him anyway.

What did I have to lose?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor

That night, I had strange dreams. I dreamt I was playing poker with Little Frankie and Mike Molloy, an old friend from high school. We were all drinking and smiling and laughing, but I noticed that they both had holes in the middle of their foreheads. Bigger than bullet holes and perfectly round.

Suddenly, there were snakes slithering through the holes. The snakes slithered, half hanging out of their heads, but they still smiled and laughed like this was nothing. I backed away, dropping my hand of all blank cards.

Then, without transition, I was walking down an alleyway talking to Mike Molloy. "She knew you were there," he told me. "She wanted you to see her glory."

"What is she?" I asked.

"She's the Serpentine Mother," he said. "The Mother of All Lamentations. The Lady of Shining Scales. You know, the mirror-scal├Ęd serpent is multiplicity and all that."

"What?" I said.

Mike Molloy turned to me and he looked as I had seen him last: emaciated and dying of cancer. "She is ready to return, Boyd. She waits. Don't say a word." He raised a finger to his mouth and made a shushing sound. He smiled and his teeth were black and oozing.

And then I woke up. I tried to dismiss what happened yesterday as a dream. I went to the bathroom and splashed water in my face. Then I looked in the mirror and saw my sink was filled with snakes. I jumped backward, but they were gone.

I went to my normal pub, DeSelby's. There, I met the man who hired me, Caleb. "Great job," he said.

"I'm sorry?" I asked.

"I don't know how you did it," he said, "but that was a great job." He slid over this morning's paper and pointed on an article near the bottom: Federal Witness Dies of Aneurysm. Little Frankie was dead. "I don't know how you got it to look like an aneurysm," Caleb said, "and I'm not going to ask. Must be like being a magician, you know, everybody's got their secrets."

"Yeah," I said, "secrets." I ordered a shot of whiskey, even though it was early. Caleb was already on his first Guinness. I wondered what I should do. Everyone thought I killed Frankie - but from what I had seen, whatever did kill him was something else entirely. I thought back to the woman I had seen.

And I saw her again. In the mirror behind the bar, I saw her walk behind me and smile. I turned quickly, but nobody was there. "What is it, Boyd?" Caleb asked.

First the snakes in the mirror, now the woman. What was she, some sort of Bloody Mary monster?

I downed my whiskey and got up. "I gotta go," I said. "I got errands to run."

"Errands, right," Caleb said. I let him think whatever he wanted to think and left.

The window outside DeSelby's shown like a mirror and I saw the woman behind me. She reached out with one hand and touched the back of my neck and I felt something wet. I turned, but she wasn't there. She was only in the mirror.

In my car, I covered the rearview and sideview mirrors with duct tape. So what if the police pulled me over, it was worth it.

I drove around, not knowing where to go, when finally it came to me: church. I could talk to a pastor or priest or something. They had to believe me, right? Luckily, there was an abundance of churches where I lived. I chose the closest Catholic church - hey, old habits die hard, that's how I was raised.

As I walked inside, I passed the baptismal font and looked inside. There was my reflection and there was the woman, her dark red hair flowing down onto her chest. She was still the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I turned, finally expecting her to be gone.

And there she was. Right behind me. "She is ready," the woman said. "She is ready to reveal herself. She waits to reveal herself." She moved forward and I moved back. I couldn't stop looking at her. "She allowed you to witness the birth. She waits to reveal herself. You will see, Boyd Walker. Open your mouth and-"

"Excuse me?" I heard the voice, probably the pastor, but I couldn't stop looking at the woman. "Can I help you?"

The woman turned away from me and I watched as she walked towards the pastor. "You will witness," she said and I knew she was still talking to me. "You will be witness to her return. She is ready."

"I'm sorry?" the pastor said. He was tall and gangly and looked like he was around twenty. "Did you...can I help you with anything?" The woman strode forward, somehow becoming sinuous. I looked at her legs weren't legs at all, but the tail of a snake. She coiled around the pastor and he began blubbering and then sobbing. She coiled around him tighter and then opened her mouth and I saw her fangs, long and white and sharp, as she quickly bit down on the pastor's neck.

After a minute, she dropped the pastor's body to the ground and looked at me. "She waits," she said. "She waits for you, Boyd Walker. You will open your mouth and speak for her. You will give her more. She is the Lady of the Shining Scales. You will never escape her."

And then she slid down the rows of pews and out the door. I slumped to the ground and tried to figure out what the fuck was going on.

The only thing I could think of to do was run away, away from the dead pastor, away from DeSelby's, away from any and all mirrors.

I wish that had helped. Oh God, I wish that had helped.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways

My name is Boyd Walker. Up until very recently, I was a hitman. I did not kill cheating spouses or rival cheerleaders - those are the hitmen who get caught, who wind up in jail, their names fodder for jokes. The jobs I took were mainly for the local mob, hitting rival drug dealers. I'm not ashamed of what I did. I never killed women or children.

Two weeks ago, I was hired for a new job. It was a little more complex than the normal 'kill rival dealers' job: there was a rat that had to die. Frank Meyer, also known as Little Frankie, had recently been picked up by the FBI and flipped. He had agreed to provide testimony against one of my employers. So my job was to find him and kill him.

In the old days, this would normally mean staking out his normal haunts for a few days or weeks. Seeing if he called any of his old friends or family. But that was the old days. In these days, everyone has a cellphone. Everyone has a tracking device, it only needs to be turned on.

I have a hacker buddy who is good at doing that. All I had to do was provide him with Little Frankie's cellphone number and he would do all the rest. Something about triangulating the signal from cell towers. I just had to hope Frankie hadn't ditched the phone.

He hadn't. I had an address and a few hours later, I was on my way. The Feds had put him up in a cheap motel somewhere in a distant part of the city. My orders were just to kill Frankie, but there would be people watching him, probably at all times. I needed more of a plan than bullets.

My plan was pretty simple, actually. I would pull the fire alarm, wait until everyone comes out, and shoot him from behind. The best part is that the motel looked crowded, so there would be plenty of people in a crowd for me to hide in.

First, I checked the floor Frankie was on. Then, carrying a newspaper and wearing a baseball cap, I walked past his room, just to see what security was like.

That was when the weird stuff started happening. Security? Nonexistent. Hell, the door to Frankie's room was open. I couldn't resist taking a peak inside.

There was a woman in Frankie's room. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Just recalling the memories is making my eyes hurt. She was inside Frankie's room and she was looking Frankie right in the eyes. Neither of them were speaking.

I tore my eyes away from her and looked around the room. The Feds assigned to watch Frankie looked like they were sleeping. They lay crumpled on the ground, but I didn't see any blood.

Finally, the woman spoke to Frankie: "She is ready." Her voice was sharp and melodious. "She is ready to reveal herself. She waits to reveal herself. So many others have revealed themselves too quickly. She waits to reveal herself. She is ready."

Frankie looked sick. He was sweating and his skin looked real pale, but he didn't stop staring in the woman's eyes. "She is the Lady of the Shining Scales and she is ready, Franklin Harrison Meyer. Open your mouth and speak."

Frankie opened his mouth, but didn't say a word. It looked like he was choking. There was...there was a bulge in his neck. A large bulge. It moved upward and a snake slithered out of his mouth. The woman leaned forward and opened her mouth and the snake slithered out of Frankie's mouth and into her's.

I recoiled. This...this was some fucked up shit, if you'll pardon my language. This was unlike anything I'd seen before. I didn't know what to do, so I just hightailed it out of there.

This was just the beginning. My real troubles didn't start 'till the next day.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart

That line comes from Yeats. The poem "The Circus Animal's Desertion." I always liked Yeats. I mean, most people can only quote "The Second Coming," which really bugs me, because he had so many other great poems. "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death," "Sailing to Byzantium," and heck, even "The Stolen Child." Just read this:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

See, unlike the ridiculous amount of allusions and mumbo jumbo in T. S. Eliot's poems, Yeats actually wrote about things. His early stuff had a lot of Irish mythology in it. His older stuff was mainly about growing older. "The Circus Animal's Desertion" is about his well of imagination drying up and him being unable to write anything anymore. "The foul rag and bone shop of the heart" is the empty page. He's lost the will to fill it.

That's sort of like me. However, I'm no poet. I'm what you would colloquially call a hitman. I kill people for money.

Perhaps I should but that in the past tense. Because I don't think I can do it anymore. I mean, it's not the morality of the work - most of the people I kill are bad people, some of them worse than me - but there was an...incident. Something happened during my last job.

I have to write it all down just so I can make sense of it. This whole thing is probably incredibly incriminating, but I don't care. I need to make sense of it. I need to write it down.

This will be my foul rag and bone shop of the heart.