Thursday, June 22, 2017

Window Shopping: Kingdom Without a King- Part 11

“He’s your father?” Praesus shot me a look that indicated he felt I was being less than truthful,
“How is that even possible? You are a stranger to this land!”
“I don’t know,” I stood, hands cupping my face, “I can’t imagine how this is happening.”  That was true, I couldn’t believe it. My father, here in this land of unearthly travels.
My mind reeled at the thoughts, but one thought stood out in particular; How and Why had Asta and Anton come to capture him?
I paced down the corridor, anger and confusion fueling my mobility. As I drew closer, Anton, who was now my puppet, stood at attention taking special heed to his master. When I was close enough to spit in Asta’s face, I hollered, pointing back at him, “How is it that he is here?”
No answer.
“Why do you have my father captive?” I shouted at her, close enough that my breath was warming her cheek.
Asta only stared ahead, unmoving.
“What have you done to my father?” The demand struck an emotional chord, as I imagined my father taking what must have been several beatings at the Allaine’s hands. “Answer me!”
But Asta was still, her eyes vacant, distant. I got more of a response from her brother, and he was dead.
Still at the other end of the corridor, Praesus shouted, “You’re wastin’ your time. She’s gone, wits s’spended due to losing her brother.”
I threw my arms up in a huff, walking back to Praesus, and more importantly my father.
“What now?”
“We free him of course.” I knew Praesus wouldn’t like that answer. I went to him, kneeling so our faces were even. I took his in my hands and spoke, slowly, evenly, sadly, “Dad, we are going to get you down. Can you move? Can you walk?”
A weak nod.
Thinking for a moment, I then remembered the keys we lifted from the guards earlier. Rushing back to grab them, I scooped them up from the jail floor. Returning to my father’s side, I tried each key on the ring against the hole in his shackles, save for the one that had opened Rufus’ cell. The final key, clinked, and though it was resistant due to its age, it slide the iron latch aside, freeing my father’s arm. It let the empty iron clang against the stone floor.
I repeated this action on his opposite side. Loose from his bonds, he tumbled in a heap to the ground. Mostly to myself I muttered, “Too weak to hold himself up…” Distraught, my tone implied a begging concern, “Praesus can you get him some water?”
Praesus spared me his incredulous gaze this once, and went searching.
“Help thirsty…” a sound more a whisper and a wheeze than a word escaped my father’s lips.
“We are Dad, we’re going to have to move you though we need to get out of here.”
Then, maybe then, you can tell me what the hell is going on.
I repositioned my father’s dilapidated body so he was upright, and steadied him with one arm.
Praesus returned with a bucket of water and a wooden ladle. “I dunna know how long it’s been in open air,” he said handing it to me.
I filled the ladle, and hovered it below my father’s lips. He drank greedily, and then hacked a bit. “Slow down old man. You’re too thirsty for that, you need to pace yourself.”
He nodded, “Robert…”
I couldn’t be sure if my father trailed off, or was interrupted. The old man tried to reach out for my face, but before he made contact, Praesus scooped him up, and over his shoulder.
“Hey, gentle! He’s obviously hurt.”
“We need to get goin’,” stressed Praesus.
I nodded, following behind, my father’s face lolling back and forth in front of me as he hung over Praesus’ back. He seemed to be trying to speak, and make gestures with his hands. The attempts were feeble, and Praesus’ lumbering movements were not helping either.
“Dad I know we have got to talk through some things, but first all of us need to get out of here before the others that live here discover what we’ve done.”
As the words left my mouth, we passed by Anton, the dead man still held fast to his catatonic sister’s arms, though the act seemed all but pointless. When my father saw the pair I saw his eyes bulge. It was the most effort-filled action I’d scene him take thus far.
I tried to explain, “Yes, that man is dead, I guess technically...I can do that now...I guess...since being here.” I felt like a little boy trying to explain his way out of a baseball breaking a front window. “But it wasn’t my fault. I’ll tell you more later.” Oddly enough embarrassment coated my cheeks and brow red. I motioned Anton to follow behind us, soon he and his sister were bringing up the rear of our little prison parade.
Praesus booted open the thick door that sealed the prison. The fresh air was magnificent, it quickly stamped out the fetid smell of blood and urine. As our party stepped outside, I could see night had fallen. It was cold once again.
“Sorry, you couldn’t be greeted by the sun old man.” I smiled at my father, noticing for the first time he had managed to retrieve that shattered crown from the floor of his cell.
There were a few guards scattered throughout the compound. Two were on foot, not far from us, talking over a small fire. Another, who I spotted in one of the towers without fully looking, had their feet propped up on the stone edge that surrounded him or her. I wondered if they were even awake.
“Mistress Asta, you’re leaving with the prisoners?” one of the men by the fire trotted up to us.
A bit frightened, at the potential, I turned to Asta and awaited her response.

Art Credit: Ivana Besevic

Monday, May 22, 2017

Window Shopping: Kingdom Without a King- Part 10

I stepped closer to the man, immediately I felt Praesus’ hand on my shoulder. “What are you doing?”
Not knowing what to say, I said nothing at all. There was something that drew me to this man, to this prisoner. Who knew how long the Allaine’s and their cohorts had held him here against his will. Following some deep urge, I reached for the restraints that bound his right wrist.
Praesus, having never let go of my shoulder, pulled me back before I could make any progress at loosening his shackles. I could only see that their weight had gouged his wrists badly, leaving a circular trail of crimson over broken skin.
“He is not our concern.” Praesus spoke through clenched teeth. Old Rufus sniffed idly at the broken crown on the stone floor, and seemed to agree with Praesus’ stance.  In a hurry, Rufus trotted to Praesus’ side, an act I had never seen him to prior to that moment. I couldn’t tell if he was warming up to Praesus, or simply wanted to keep his distance from the shackled man.
“He is our concern,” I urged, pointing at the mam, “This could’ve been us!”
“We’ve no clue who he is, or what they are holding him for!” Praesus was, as usual, quick to anger and quick to expose the tenuous nature of our partnership.
I asserted, “You mean were holding, as soon as we are able, we are setting him free. I’m not leaving him here for the remnants of this  group to do with him as they see fit.”
Praesus’ face was the definition of disbelief, “You just used trickery, and the love of two siblings to subdue a woman who’s very reason for vengeance against you was due to you turning her brother into a flesh eating monster who you control, and now suddenly you feel like now is a prop’r moment for charity?” Praesus spoke slowly and methodically.
I shrugged, “You gotta pick your spots.”
Arms up in futility, Praesus swore and threw back his head in a hardy laugh.
“Hey, don’t try to make me out to be the bad guy here. I didn’t see you coming up with any morally acceptable means of escaping this shithole for the second time today!”
Old Rufus cut into our debate with a series of curt barks. Praesus and I turned to see the deceased Anton hovering with his open maw over his sister Asta’s shoulder.
“Anton get it together!” my voice rolled and echoed down the prison hall. The zombie Anton snapped to attention, immediately uninterested in the still living flesh that coated his sister’s arm.
Praesus took note of this, but said nothing. He was more focused on the unidentified prisoner. I didn’t venture any closer, but I gave the man a good once over to see if anything stood out. His garb, other than the well worn purple robe and cracked crown, was normal.
“Is he royalty, maybe from another portal? Someone they would’ve saw as a rival?”
Praesus was being more cautious than I, “He’s a burden we do not need. We need to fend for ourselves.”
“You need to fend for yourself, I am fairly confident with their captain under my command, and his sister captive, I can all but walk right through anything else they throw at me. Can you say the same?”
“Your newfound confidence astounds.” Praesus’ voice was grim, but my point stifled him, at least in the moment.
“I am not proposing taking him with us, just letting him go to give him a fighting chance.”
“He could be a cannibal,” Praesus was grasping at straws.
I stepped out of the cell briefly, gripping the torch from the wall that had concealed the man. “Great the arsonist, extortionist and kidnapper has views on the irreparable corruptibility of another.” Quickly, I hopped back into the cell and shone the torchlight over the man’s beaten face.

The torchlight was illuminating, in more ways than one. I was able to look past the man’s battered countenance; numerous welts and the long-dried blood spatters were caked all over his face.
Praesus continued in vain, “...a thief, some other kind of deviant. I am simply saying, you do not know this man, nor what he is capable of.”

“Yes, I do,” my arm went slack, the torch fell to the ground. I turned to Praesus and spoke weakly, “I do know this man, because this man is my father.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Goodbye to An Old Friend

            I’m sitting here in front of this page feeling two things I haven’t felt in a long time. The first is true sadness. The second is intimidation.
            The sadness is easy to understand. I can be at times an emotional guy. I cry during sad scenes in movies- hell I cry during those medication commercials when they list all the side effects.
            The intimidation is harder to define, but understandable. I want to write something to honor you, to do you justice. To get right down to it, I want to make people that never got the opportunity to meet you, to know you, understand why I’m so sad.
            One of my earliest memories of you is opening the door for you to come in the house. You trotted down the hall, head cocked sideways, doing your little shuffle/dance on almost comically short legs. You looked at me as if to say; Hey newb, this is the part where you get me a treat. Who was I to argue?
            I can also remember when you knocked Gretchen down a peg or two, deservedly so. A dog 3 times your size, and 4 times your weight, no less. You didn’t take shit from nobody. I had no choice but to respect that.
            After that day, I realized there was more to you than I initially recognized. At first glance you were a curmudgeonous, food glutton who’s main accomplishments were sleeping 18 hours a day and having an on again-off again affair with the pet bed. But you were also ferociously loyal to those close to you, a fun-loving goofball, who at times reminded me of a dog much younger than he.
            Over time began to see you as ageless. In fact, that’s why all of this is so shocking. Deiter never gets sick, never takes ill. He has an iron stomach, and a secret stash of youthfulness for which people would kill. Deiter is there- Every. Damn. Morning. - to get his breakfast, doing that ridiculous little shuffle/dance, with his head cocked sideways, still looking at me, reminding me; Hey nothing has changed, this is the routine and you and I are going to do this dance til the end of time- Now feed me newb.
            But then this morning…you weren’t there. I didn’t wake up to the sound of your persistent whine, or your paws-out-stretched-in-a-double-high-five-Dachshund-meerkat stance. I woke up to the realization that we had lost you...
            You were your own individual, with your own loving personality. You may have been an old man, but you weren’t the mean elderly dog that I had assumed you to be. You may have started out as my “step-dog”, but you became my “Deiter-boy”, Deiter McDeiter”, “Deiter Burriter”… Although, it took us awhile to really get know and trust each other, I think our bond was stronger because it wasn’t an easy camaraderie at first. I am proud to have known you. Even more proud to have earned the right to call you my friend.

            R.I.P. buddy you will be missed. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Window Shopping: Kingdom Without a King- Part 9

Asta was now being restrained in the arms of her dead brother. Tears had spilled from her eyes, made their way down her cheeks. She could not wipe at them due to her arms being gripped tightly at her sides. Although, based on the forlorn look upon her face, I don’t believe she would have cared to do so anyway. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if the blank stare signified some level of catatonia.
Kneeling, I quickly searched the guards and found the key to open Old Rufus’ cell. He was padding impatiently in a circle across from us. When I opened the cell and slid the steel door aside, Rufus looked up at me as if to say, What took you so long?
I began to head towards the prison’s exit, for the second time that day.
Praesus’s voice boomed behind me, “We are to leave now?”
I turned behind me with a look that I thought accurately conveyed What else are we supposed to do? But for good measure, I verbalized it for Praesus as well.
“Where are we going to go? The windows, the portals, they are dormant.”
“Shit,” Praesus was right, even if we got out of this dump again, we didn’t really have a destination- at least not one we could currently get to. I thought for a moment, and then whirled to meet Asta’s eyes. “What do you know about the window-like portals that enable people to travel between worlds?”
Asta only stared blankly ahead, I might as well not even been there.
Praesus  stepped in, “Woman, if you can’t tell us how we can get out of here, your utility has just plummeted.”
Though he towered over her, Asta stared through Praesus’ mighty chest. Her eyes were a million miles away, I guessed somewhere dark and cold.
“Then there’s no need for your brother or you, for that matter,” Praesus stretched a threatening hand towards Asta’s neck. She didn’t even blink. With a heavy sigh Praesus turned back to me, “Useless, she won’ budge.”
I looked at Anton, his face was slack, the only energy was in those green pits in his skull he called eyes. I wondered fleetingly what the point of view might’ve from his side might’ve been like. He held his sister in a reverse bear hug. Her body was limp to the point I thought she might’ve slipped through his arms at any moment.
Anton, if it weren’t for your untimely demise, your sister might still be worth something to us.
“Well squire?” Praesus mocking emphasis on the word squire, was particularly evident this round.
I shushed him. “Quiet, listen.”
Faintly coming from the rear of the prison was a strange murmur. I began to follow its source, leading to the back of the cell. Praesus followed, while Anton and Asta stayed unmoving in what was maybe the strangest sibling embrace in history.
Carefully, I traced my hand along the perimeter of the prison hall and listened. The sound was muffled, but growing. It was low and harsh, it was the sound of desperation mated with a whisper.  
Ellen? Yellow?
I could almost make it out now, as we closed in. It was low and harsh, it was the sound of desperation mated with a whisper.
Praesus and I reached the terminus of the prison. We were stymied by a large brick wall flanked by two torchlights, only the right was lit. We, well I, hunkered and waited, listening. Praesus just stood, looking at me like I was mad.
“...Hello help...”
It was coming from behind the wall. “See! Did you hear that?”
Praesus nodded, “They must have a prisoner beyond that wall they do not want anyone to know of.”
I turned, beginning to shout at Asta, “Who’s behind t--” I waved a hand dismissively at Asta, the newly mute.
Old Rufus had followed us inquisitively down the corridor, eager for a hunt.  
“You think we should break it down?”
I shrugged. And then casually pulled the unlit torchlight on the left. With a rumble, almost as great as the arrogant smirk on my face, the wall receded into a space within the floor. Behind it was a man held aloft only by the taught chains that were shackled to his wrists. My eyes followed them as they ended in large metal clasps that were fastened to the wall about ten feet above him on either side. The man lay awkwardly, with his legs tucked underneath him. As if he had fallen that way, and no longer had the strength to change positions. His face was covered in aged bruises and masses of contused skin. These matched the dirty purple robe that had grown too large for him. He had either shrunk, or had been missing meals.
“He’s been tucked away in here for awhile,” Praesus pulled a handkerchief from his vest and used it to cover his nose and mouth.
Old Rufus barked. This time I took it as a warning.
The man, perhaps in is late forties, was in bad shape. And while all the dire details that made up his full set of circumstances were compelling, none drew more of my attention than the splintered crown that lay at his bare feet.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Window Shopping: Kingdom Without a King- Part 8

The dead man that was Anton Allaine stumbled towards Praesus and I with an otherworldly hunger. Someone had stripped him of his regal armor. Altogether, what was left of him was minimal. His flesh had a dim gray tinge, most of his chest was covered with blood. The only clue to who it belonged was the fact that there was so much of it, that I was certain it had come from multiple sources. In addition to the crimson liquid that seemed to be everywhere, Anton Allaine had apparently had his clothing nearly torn to shreds. It gave him the appearance of a long dead corpse, one who’s funeral suit had been eaten away by earthworms, insects and time under the ground.
Though his body gave the impression of one who had passed over to the other side, Anton’s face held a much different look. If you were able somehow see past the glowing green eyes, you might have noticed Anton’s lips. They were dry and thin, and his teeth seemed to be trying to push them out if the way, with his tongue in tow.
As Praesus and I took in the sight, Asta spoke to me specifically, “I am going to let my brother into your cell. One of two things will happen: You will either cure him. Or he will kill you.”
Praesus gave me a tainted glance. I held up a dismissive hand.
One of Asta’s guards swung open our cell’s door. The other prodded Anton to enter. Both of them regarded Anton with an equal mixture of terror and revulsion, they only went as close as they needed.  
Anton entered slowly at first, but as he got closer he must’ve sensed or smelled us somehow. His sleepwalking shuffle turned more urgent. And along with it, those teeth, pinned down by only his narrow lips began to search by snapping in our general direction.
Asta signaled the guards to shut the door, they quickly and gladly obliged her. Anton, or what Anton had become rather, in large part to me, was getting closer, teeth bared and making indicative guttural sounds in our direction.
Calmly, Praesus looked at me, “What are you waiting for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Now isn’t the time for jokin’ squire. Change the man back!”
My attention bounded from Praesus to Anton’s reanimated corpse, “I can’t do that…”
“What?” Praesus was now backing up, heading towards the rear of the cell.
“I mean, I dunno what I mean.This is all new to me.” I focused, tried to concentrate and see if my powers to bring the dead back to life might include the ability to reverse what I had done, and restore Anton’s humanity.
I reached out with my mind to Anton’s corpse. On some other plane, I saw my thoughts travelling towards him. My will itself flowed from me in a bright green arc, like a tornado crossing over a water’s surface. Then I thought of emptying a colored liquid into a glass of plain water. My will to control this man went from me like a green fountain, crossed the small cell and found him. It enveloped him, catching him up in a green swirling mist. I glanced back at Praesus who was in fact watching intently, but by his eyes I could tell he was not seeing what I was. The guards, and Asta herself, peered intently from outside the cell, but again I could tell they were not seeing this fantasm of power that I was.
Quickly, I swung my gaze back to Anton, the green array had all but subsided, and as it did, it evaporated into nothing- that being if it ever was actually anything to begin with.  
Anton was still. He had stopped with the growls and was standing as still as you would have expected, that is, from any normal dead man.
After several moments, I approached him. Although, I had no idea what I was going to do, or even look for once I reached him. Anton stood, back to the cell door, his eyes locked on mine.
Asta cried out to her brother. Anton didn’t respond, but he heaved slightly forward at his waist, and held up an arm, with his forefinger raised. It was if he were indicating he needed just a moment.
“Anton!” Asta, threw herself at the bars. Anton dropped his arm, as he simultaneously dropped to his knees. “He’s back, he’s hurting, let me in there!”
Oddly, the guards looked at me before making a move. “Let me in there now dammit!” Asta’s voice tore through the small space. This broke the guard’s hesitation and they scrambled, opening the door as quickly as they could.
“Anton, by Eve! You’re back! you’re okay!” Asta flew to him, throwing her arms around her brother’s shoulders. When this occurred Anton returned her embrace, the only difference was Anton grabbed Asta’s slender wrist, and then promptly placed it between his teeth.
Yelling to Anton, I said, “No! Don’t you bite down you sunovabitch!” I dashed towards Asta Allaine and her dead brother. Anton turned her around to face me, as he gripped her, teeth ready to meet flesh. I knelt next to her, and whispered in her ear. I told her how I had the events in the courtyard led to Anton’s death. I told her how all we wanted to do was escape. I told her how I had coerced her to get into this cell. I finished by saying, “All it took was a little hope.”
No longer at the back of the cell, Praesus was now standing at it’s doorway, looking over the battered bodies of the two guards. He stared at his knuckles, now covered in blood, “Cursed...”

Monday, May 1, 2017

Window Shopping: Kingdom Without a King- Part 7

The three of us trudged back the very same way we had entered this land hours before. In the midst of a remote snow field stood a window of miraculous qualities. An ordinary window it was not.
When we stepped in front of the window-like portal, Praesus, myself, and even Old Rufus the dog, noticed a problem. Namely, that the portal, instead of showing us view of the interior of Praesus’ chamber, from where we had traveled, showed only a fuzzy grey-black smudge. It reminded me of an old television set whose picture tube had just burnt out.
“Can we go through that?” I asked Praesus.
Carefully, he prodded it with his club as Rufus sniffed its edges. “Solid, it does not appear we can enter.”
“No you may not enter, for you still have dealings with us…”
The voice behind us sounded familiar, however, I couldn’t quite place it.
“Hands up this time please!”
“Oh, the lovely lady archer.” I raised my hands and turned. Praesus did the same, although he harbored his typical look of chiseled anger. Rufus simply patted before us, the look in his eyes seemed to indicate he knew how all of this was going to end.
“Your plague sorcery has decimated my home, and…” the young woman grew emotional, but caught herself just before tears, “and you’ve cursed my brother. You will come with me, or you will die where you stand.”
“Young madam,” Praesus said stepping forward, “on your authority alone we will be doin’ no such thing.”
The archer confidently whistled between her fingers, and a bevy of troops appeared against the cold breaking wind. They all showed gritted teeth and an array of readied weapons.
“That increases your authority substantially, I assume you’ll be escorting us back to the prison quarters?” I asked.
She motioned back the way we had come with bow drawn, “March, and be quiet as yer doing it.” Her reinforcements fell in behind her as we all headed back to the fort we had only escaped from minutes ago.

Back at the prison cell that I had broken out of earlier that day, the lady archer sat in front of Praesus and I on an old stool, only a set of time-weathered bars between us. The quarters smelled of shit and our own failure, the scents so entangled I couldn’t separate the two.
How could we let this woman follow us, and then subdue us?
I saw Old Rufus beyond the prison bars, chained just out of our reach
“I know what you’re askin’ yourself,” Praesus said, in spite of the woman listening to our every word.
“How could we let this lone archer, and her band of merry idiots capture us?”
Surprised, I answered, “Actually, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Do tell…”
“We’re cursed young squire.”
“Eh, say again?”
“We’re cursed you and I, the two of us I mean, our working in tandem.”
“Right, and just how do you know this?” I spoke making sure Praesus would be well aware of my skepticism.
“No more talk.” the lady archer stood, as some noise came from the front of the prison. We heard a door open, the kind of sound you’d expect, ancient and medieval, hinged metal grinding against one another for the same space.
The lady archer shouted up the steps, “How is he? Is he ready?” her voice wavered with feeling.
Two guards came into view, they were escorting what looked to be another prisoner. With a closer look, I realized one of the guards was the man I had covered in Praesus’ elimination in order to prompt our earlier escape. They led, what I assumed was a man, down the corridor. Whoever he was, if it was in fact a he, was covered in a metal shroud that ended just below his neck. The contraption was something from Dumas' nightmares. This new prisoners hands were bound behind him, with a copious amount of chain.
They stopped in front of our cell, the now cleaned guard spoke to the lady archer, “He’s no better or no worse madam.”   
“Looks like we gettin’ a roomie squire.”

I didn’t fully realize what was happening until this new and mysterious prisoner turned towards me. The metal mask fastened to his head, had a narrow gap at eye level. Despite it’s small size, I could see a pair of those telltale green eyes glowing from within.
The lady archer nodded to the guards, one swung open our cell, the other unclasped the fastening mechanisms that held the mask on, letting it clang to the floor. Together they pushed the man into the cell Praesus and I shared. Without the mask, I recognized him instantly; Anton Allaine, the man who was commanding the opposing troops during our escape.

The lady archer’s resemblance to him was uncanny. As she leveled a finger at me, I saw the same sureness, same proud stance. In much the same way her brother had, she introduced herself, “You left my brother for dead and he ended up a ghoul. I, Asta Allaine would have you restore him or perish.”