A candle flame shivers as an uninvited wintry gale rattles the frigid window. The icy landscape on the silvery surface melts and flows like tears. Feral fire rages inside a prison of bricks—incinerated logs crackle and spits sparks into the living quarters.
“Do you think Rupert will survive the night, Fabricio?” Giles Says while fanning his straw hat.
Fabricio puckers his stern lips against his golden goblet and gulps down a burning elixir. “Damn if I know.”
Giles wipes a dirty hand across his brow. “People sometimes pull through, right? Shit. Goddamnit. I ain’t gonna lie. I’d bet my life savings he won’t survive the night.”
A foul fluid slithers from the corner of Rupert’s mouth. Invisible volatile fumes curse the stale air. Giles wrestles with a mouthful of vomit and then swallows it back down. He fans his straw hat. “Something is inside that poor fella.”
Fabricio puts down his golden goblet. “Wait…shhh…do you hear that?”
The silence is disenchanted by a rhythmic knock tapping against the front door.
“Stay here. I’ll welcome our friend.” Fabricio says. He drinks the last sip from the golden goblet, stands up, and adjusts his velvet tie. “Excuse me. Wait here.”
Giles waves his straw hat. “Don’t worry. Everything will be just fine, Piper.” A damnable substance dribbles from Rupert’s mouth. “…I think.”
Fabricio leans against the door frame. “He’s here.”
Thunderous footsteps echo down the hallway. Giles holds the straw hat against his chest as a delicate fellow drifts into the room. He’s holding a black bag.
“Hi, hello, hey there.” Giles says.
Fabricio eclipses Giles. “Listen. We don’t have much time. If you can revitalize that young man, I’ll ensure you’ll never have to awake past midnight ever again, Ollie O.”
Ollie O. places his black bag on the edge of the bed. “Don’t promise the impossible.” He says while placing two fingers upon Rupert’s artery. Something cold writhes under his gray skin.
“You’re the doctor who cured that little girl. Suzy Ann was her name. I’m friends with her mother, Daffodil. She was certain that her daughter was going to be whisked away by the Reaper.” Says Piper.
He opens his black bag. “I may have persuaded the Reaper to look elsewhere. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a barber, mam.”
Piper’s mouth opens but no words come out.
“Oh, well, ummm, I’m sure you’re really great at what you do.” Giles says. Fabricio pops open a bottle and fills the gold goblet. “He’s more than qualified, okay? Who do you think cuts my hair?”
Ollie O. listens inside Rupert’s gray ear as if it were a biological seashell. Swooshing whispers howl like an eternal wintry gale. “Get me a bowl.” He says.
Giles and the Fabricio stare at each other. “Well? Don’t just stand there! Get the man a bowl.” Fabricio says while slapping Gile’s sweaty shoulder.
“Right, right, right, a bowl. Gotcha.” Giles says.
Ollie O. twists the end of his gray mustache. “Hmmm…how long has he been sick?”
Piper looks out the cold window. “Ever since they went into the mountains. Rupert wasn’t the same when he came back. No one believed me. This was two months ago. He said moonlight made his eyes hurt, and that’s when he started to manifest…strange symptoms.”
“Symptoms?” Ollie O. says.
Piper looks at her pale feet. “Yes.”
“Describe Rupert’s symptoms, mam.”
Piper’s eyes drift inside the angry fireplace. “Rupert lost his appetite. Bread hurt his stomach. He eventually stopped bathing. The water burned his skin, that’s what he kept saying. The night provided no refuge, either. Rupert said the dreams scarred his brain. So…he stopped sleeping. And that’s when…forgive me…that’s when he got sick all over the floor. I never smelled something so bad. And I smelled a lot of bad things.”
“I got it. Here’s the bowl. I think it’s large enough.” Giles says.
Ollie O. flicks open a straight razor.
“Listen, doc, I mean…Ollie, listen, this young man needs to survive the night. Be…ummm…” Fabricio says.
Giles fans his straw hat. “…Gentle.”
“Oh, when will you stop the act? Rupert doesn’t know anything about no ancient relic. It’s all stories, lies, and more stories. And more lies. The relic doesn’t exist. You sent my husband on a fool’s errand, that’s what you did. You’re a selfish bastard! You used him as if he were your personal beast of burden. You couldn’t even carry your own equipment. Pathetic.” Piper says.
Giles steps between Piper and Fabricio. “Hey, it’s okay. The stories are both compelling and hollow. We all can agree there’s an underlining truth that still needs to be discovered.”
“Place the bowl over there. Thank you.” Ollie O. says. He rolls up his sleeves and dangles Rupert’s arm over the bed’s edge. “This may get a little messy, mam.”
Ollie O. traces the straight razor along Rupert’s gray arm. The red waterfall never flows. He traces another fine gash underneath the first cut and taps the still arm.
“He’s dry!” Giles says.
Fabricio squints. “Don’t speak too soon.”
Dark slime oozes from the cuts and crawls down Rupert’s arm. The unearthly glop clings to his fingertips—dangling above the bowel as if it were grotesque honey. Ollie O. closes the straight razor. “We need to drain the brain.”
He opens his black bag and reveals a metal clamp-like vice. A twisting piece of steel protrudes from inside the vice, which is attached to an ornate circular handle. Ollie O. attaches the device onto Rupert’s skull.
“Is that thing really necessary? Can’t we be a little more gentle? It’s not like we can put his head back to together if something goes wrong…right?” Fabricio says.
“Ha, you don’t care about Rupert’s head. You only care about what’s inside Rupert’s head, right? Well…guess what? We’re going to find out. Right now. Go ahead, doc, drain the brain.” Piper says.
Giles hovers his straw hat in front of his eyes. Ollie O. turns the ornate wheel. A twisting piece of steel spirals toward the side of Rupert’s skull and then vanishes beyond the jungle of Rupert’s tangled hair. Ollie O. keeps turning that ornate wheel until it refuses to move.
“Just a little more.” Ollie O. says while squeezing the wheel. The spiraled metal punches through a wall of bone. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Fabricio closes his eyes. “Wait, what did you just say?”
Ollie O. steps away from the clamp-like vice and then twists the end of his mustache. “I have a feeling this is going to get very interesting.”
The spiraled metal pushes its way out of Rupert’s skull as bodily tremors twitch his purple fingers. A squishy appendage entwines around the spiraled metal as it pops out of the hole inside Rupert’s skull. Fabricio swigs from an open bottle of wine. “Cheers…it was nice knowing you all. Sincerely. I mean it. I really do.”
Four appendages wiggle outside the excavated wound. They stretch over Rupert’s face as four more appendages squeeze out of his head while wrapping around the clamp-like vice. The glossy shimmer inside the appendages pulsates splotches of iridescent colors which radiate away like a fading thunderbolt.
A tentacle swipes the black bag off the bed as another tentacle sticks to the window. Barbed suction cups pull at the glass—wavy fractures travel along the delicate surface. The window explodes into glassy fireworks. A piece of edged shrapnel bounces off a painting and then slashes Giles underneath his eye.
The cold wintry wind screams as a tentacle sticks to Piper’s leg. Giles grabs onto her shoulder. “I got ya!”
The tentacle lifts Piper’s leg into the air as she locks her arms around Gile’s neck. “It’s eating my leg!”
Ollie O. crawls on the floor and snatches a bone saw near his open black bag. “Forgive me, mam. I need to perform an amputation. Be still. Please.”
Piper’s eyes flicker as she faints.
Ollie O. pins the tentacle to the window frame and then lets the bone saw have its dinner. Giles watches his arm saw back and forth…back and forth…back and forth…
…the tentacle unravels from Piper’s leg and drops to the wooden floor. Ollie O. sighs near the fireplace. Purple gunk and pieces of unidentifiable matter smother his face. Fabricio takes another swill from the wine bottle. “You, sir, deserve a raise.”
“The bone saw did all the work.” Ollie O. says.
Giles taps Piper on her shoulder. “She won’t wake up!”
Fabricio takes another swill, wipes his mouth, then stands over Piper. He slaps her across the face. “See? There you go. You gotta put your arm into it.”
Piper’s eyes flicker open. “How long was I out?”
Fabricio pulls her up. “I have a feeling you’re just in time for the show.”
Seven tentacles rise toward the ceiling. Rupert’s head splits in half like a fleshy egg. Both halves of his face wince—a frozen reminder of the last thing he ever felt.
“He’s dead! No, no, no…Rupert…you’re okay…can you hear me? Speak to me!” Piper says. Giles wraps his arms around her. “Don’t look, Piper. Don’t look.” He says while staring into Rupert’s blue eye. A bulbous, shapeless thing emerges from Rupert’s open cranium. Dazzling lights glow inside its body—a hypnotic universe of stellar orbs. Nebulous filaments swirl around its arms…except for one.
The severed tentacle sways toward Gile’s ankle. Barbed suction cups drag across the floor as Piper stomps her feet into the conscious muscle. Pieces of grimy pulp splatter all over Gile’s plaid shirt.
“Die, you bastard! Die!” Piper says while jumping up and down into a mushy puddle. She wipes a purple smear across her face. “Well…do you think I got it?”
The mangled mass underneath Piper’s feet glistens as if it were some kind of kaleidoscopic oil. “Yeah, I think you got it.” Giles says.
Frigid air cyclones through the room as open tubes along its bulbous head gulp the aerial soup. The elastic membrane inflates as if it were some kind of antagonized puffer fish, while the mouthy appendages detach from the ceiling. Two spherical eyes squint as it levitates toward the fireplace. One of the appendages wraps around a metal poker, then dangles the spiky hooked tool within the flame’s maw.
Ollie O. snatches the bottle of wine from Fabricio’s hand and then pours the pungent elixir on a tentacle. Barbed suction cups retract as tremors ripple through the entity. The hooked poker glows orange as it’s jammed inside the severed appendage. Purple ink squirts into the fireplace-—the room turns to night. Gile’s feet slip on the slick goo. Piper crawls underneath the bed.
The cold wind dies.
Ollie O. turns on an oil lantern and rests it on the table. Giles steps toward a vacant chair as one foot slides through the ink. The other foot stays planted. “I almost did a damn split! Don’t walk over there.”
Piper crawls from underneath the bed. “Where did it go?”
“Back to the mountains.” Ollie O. says.
Giles looks over his shoulder. “Has anyone seen Fabricio?”
“Ahhhhh!” Piper screams.
“What? Is that thing back? Where is it?” Giles says.
“Look.” Piper says.
Ollie O. follows her finger toward the far corner of the room. The fire poker is sticking out of Fabricio’s chest.
“Is he dead?” Giles asks.
Ollie O. retrieves the metal vice. “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
Wintry wind embraces the seven-armed thing as it floats within wispy clouds. The membrane expands until it eclipses the Moon in the sky—a moment of unnatural darkness that insults the ancient celestial order.