Friday, April 1, 2011

Chapter 51

The Last of Charles Longstreet

          Inside his father’s mind, in his memories, Mike saw the point where his family’s destiny took a screaming left turn into darkness.
The moment Charles Longstreet met Araboam Sinestri.

It happened one night, when Charles Longstreet had returned from work. The apartment building where he and his family lived had an underground parking garage. Charles parked and exited his car---and almost walked right into an imposing figure he hadn’t seen was there.
The figure stepped out from the shadows.
He was a tall, ancient-looking man, with fiery eyes that looked demonic in their intensity. He had a grey beard and goatee cut like an arrow pointing down; and a thin moustache that curled up at the ends. His grey hair was short, and his long thin fingers ended in yellow, pointed, nails. He was wearing what could only be described as a wizard’s robe; black as night, with four lines of cabalistic writing crawling along the tattered hem, done up masterfully with silver stitching.
“Oh! Excuse me!” Charles said. He realized he was all alone in the darkened parking garage with what had to be a raving lunatic of some sort. He tried to walk past, but all of a sudden found movement of any kind impossible.
The old man lifted his hand, put his finger on Longstreet’s forehead, and pushed; tipping him backwards into a hard fall. Charles fell on his back, and the back of his head hit the cement floor in a painful explosion that should have knocked him out, but didn’t.
What is happening to me? Charles thought to himself, as talking was also beyond him right now, WHY is this happening to me?
The stranger towered over him.
“My name is Araboam Sinestri,” he said, his voice low and resonant, “And you, Charles Longstreet, will do as I say.”
Here, he took a stylized knife from the pocket of his robe. He flicked it’s sharp end across the pad of his pinky. A thick droplet fell, and spattered on Longstreet’s forehead.
Charles Longstreet grimaced and groaned in pain as the droplet burned its way through his skin. He tried to fight, tried to scream; all to no avail. A dead calm came over him, as darkness took him over.
I will do as you say, Longstreet thought; voice was still denied him.
“No need to talk, I can read your mind.” Sinestri said, “And I know you will do everything I ask; the tainted blood I’ve given you brooks no argument. Malevolencia, it’s been called of old; the stain of darkest magic. It is the crux of this very matter. However, the task I have for you will require years of your life; and being a mere Pah’jec, you will not last much more than a week before the Malevolencia renders you unusable.”
Sinestri put away his knife, and from another pocket, retrieved a ring. The band was of sparkling silver, with a small black stone pyramid. 
It matched the one Sinestri himself was wearing.
“Yes, like mine.” Sinestri said, catching Longstreet’s stray thought, “This ring will hold back the effects of the Malevolencia. When I put it on you, you will forget everything that has happened here, and everything I am about to tell you. You will seem to go back to normal, but you will do everything I am about to command you to do, anyway. You will think you are doing it of your own volition.”
What do you want me to do?
“You will take your children away from here; away from their mother. Out of the city; far away. Be gone before morning rises. I have cast a deep sleep upon your wife and children, so you will have no problems with them. Make no extensive preparations; just leave. Raise them and watch over them; I will have need of them later.”
When they are older they will ask questions.
“Tell them nothing. The mystery of it will pique their curiosity about their missing mother; and that will play into my plans, when the time is right.
“Now remember: never take the ring off. If you do, the full force of what has been held back will wash over you; as will memory of this moment. Not that the dam will hold forever, mind you. As time passes, minor leakage will occur, so to speak, darkening your personality. More and more as the years go by, I’m afraid; that cannot be helped. When the day comes that the ring is removed, be assured that you will see me again soon after, with new instructions.
“One last detail: after it has been removed, do not touch the ring again! With all the darkness it will have absorbed throughout the years, touching it will hasten your dissolution. Is all that understood?”
“Good. Now raise your hand.”
Charles did as commanded; Sinestri bent down and placed the ring on the finger of his uplifted hand. The hand remained in the air.
“I’ll be watching.” Sinestri said. He turned and made a gesture with his hands. A great tear in reality opened up into a large hole. Beyond it, an aqua-colored abyss waited. Sinestri turned back to Longstreet and said: “You can wake up now, slowly.”
He stepped into the hole, and it closed behind him.
Charles Longstreet awoke in slow waves on the floor of the parking garage, and wondered how the hell he had gotten there.
The pain in the back of his head led him to deduce that he had slipped and fallen, no doubt knocked unconscious. He got up, and walked toward the elevators, not feeling any different from the man he was before the fall.
When he got to his apartment, and looked down on his sleeping wife, however; a strange and powerful repulsion came over him, and he came to the realization that he had to get himself and his children away from this woman and this city, as soon as possible.

Mike saw it all…
He saw his father pack away several things he was going to need in the back of his old station wagon. He had purchased a new car two years prior, but had kept the wagon in good condition in order to sell it. Now he figured the wagon, rather than the car, would be better suited for a long voyage with children, such as the one he had in mind.
He worked without haste; somehow he knew his wife and kids would not wake up for hours. When at last he was ready to get his children, he went back to the apartment, and entered their room.
He bent over to lift Michael from his bed, when he caught sight of his own reflection in the dresser mirror, and froze.
Something in the eyes of that other Charles Longstreet staring back, terrified him; something unfamiliar and alien. A shudder passed through his body and into the depths of his soul. It was like looking at a monster hiding in his own skin, bending over his son.
Longstreet held his breath and closed his eyes for a moment; when he opened them again, his reflection was his own.
Mike saw his father take him and Callie, and drive out of Cathim.
They passed through another, if smaller, city, some towns, and then the Vawx Woods on the old Gavalin Road, which was much better kept back then. He saw their stop at Murgent for gas (that small idyllic town was still six years away from Zedda’s terrible vengeance). He saw their passage through Metromax City, through the Rough Country, through Kraddok (where they stopped at a Mom and Pop store that stood where Friq’s Food Farm now stood). Day after day of traveling. Places familiar to Mike rolled by; Gough, then Crayton, finally Noah’s Oak. Back to the house where Charles Longstreet’s journey had begun; as well as theirs. The place he had so longed to escape, to find his destiny.
The children did not take well to this situation, at first; but their father calmed them with lies that their mother would join them soon.
Mike at least quieted down, for a time; truth be told, he enjoyed traveling, and could be absorbed for hours in looking out the window and enjoying the scenery in silence.
But Callie wanted her mother, and NOW. She threw a major tantrum when they were passing through Murgent, and her father did something he had never done before, and had never thought he would ever do.
He slapped her. Hard. 
Slapped her on the very cheek he would one day hit with a closed fist.
As Callie exploded into a crying jag, her father’s face became a miserable mask of conflicted emotions and self-loathing.
The slow and agonizing death of the good and kind man he once was, had begun.

Mike now felt a hard slap at his cheek, and realized Callie was trying to get his attention.
Then, his father’s memories went dark, and a suffocating coldness descended upon the entirety of his father’s mind. Mike slipped out of it as quick as he could.
“MIKE, GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!” Callie screamed, damn near shattering his eardrum.
“I’m out already!” he yelled.
He did. He knew already what he was going to see, but it was still startling nonetheless.
Their father was turning into a man-sized pillar of thick black goop.
“It just started,” Callie said, “It spread real fast. I didn’t know what would happen if you were still in his mind when he went full gooey; that’s why I slapped you.”
“I know.” Mike said, “Thanks Cal.”
As the three watched, the black goop utterly consumed the last of Charles Longstreet. Then, the pillar collapsed on itself into a gelid mass of black putrescence, of loathsome odor.
“GAA!” said Callie.
“UGG!” said Jon.
“Behold the wonders of magic.” said Mike.
The three backed away, hands over mouths and noses, both to avoid the stench, and to keep from vomiting.
“JEESH! Even Kitty didn’t smell like that when she went gooey.” Callie said, “And this stuff doesn’t seem to be turning into those black snake-like things either.”
“She didn’t have it in her system for eleven years, like Dad.” Mike said, “Hers was still new, his was played out. That’s my guess anyway.”
“What did you find out in there, Mike?” Jon asked.
“Dad was an innocent victim of Sinestri, not a willing accomplice; at least not until that stuff began its work on him. He was a good man; a loving husband and father. Sinestri destroyed him.” Mike said, “I saw him, Callie. I saw how he did it.”
Into Callie and Jon’s minds, he poured everything he saw in his father’s memories.
“Woah!” Jon said, putting his hands on his head.
“Oh! Sorry about that, Jon.” said Mike, “I just felt you should know everything we know, as you are taking the same risks. Callie had no problem with the brain exchange; I figured you wouldn’t either.”
“I’m okay,” Jon said, “I was just…startled. That was interesting, though. Kind of ironic, how you two have inadvertently taken the same route to Cathim, that he took, going away.”
“No wonder he always knew where we were going.” Callie said.
“That’s my fault.” said Mike, “I must have retraced the whole route by memory, without even knowing I was doing it.”
“No reason to change now.” said Jon, “Only these woods and some towns stand between us and Cathim.”
“And Sinestri seems to have run out of lackeys to set against us.” Callie added, “That we know of, anyway.”
“And we may not have to walk to Cathim after all.” Mike said, “I doubt very much that Dad got here on foot, or on Babbidaz’s back.”
“On that subject,” Callie said, taking out a pair of keys on a keyring, “I got these out of Dad’s pocket while you were in his head; a few seconds before he started to go bad.”
“What would I do without you, Cal?” Mike asked.
“You don’t want to know, doofus.”

They trudged through the woods until they reached the road. On that road was a busted up station wagon (beyond repair), bracketed by logs, and an ash grey car parked behind it.
On the other side of the road stood Bell, with five other Bufaaru; they all held aloft sharpened weapons crafted from sticks and bones. Mike, Callie, and Jon walked over to them.
A quick sweep of their minds showed Mike that there had been seven; the other two had been sent to bury Edward’s body at the place where they had just buried the body of their leader. These here planned to go and search for the beast that had murdered Tullam.
“It’s dead, Bell. We killed it.” Mike said, and sent the images of Babbidaz’s final moments into their minds.
The five Bufaaru with Bell were startled and frightened at this trick, despite the fact that Bell had told them about Mike and Callie’s powers. They looked at each other to register that they had all shared in the vision, then they stared at Mike and Callie with open-mouthed awe; as if they were looking upon gods.
Bell remained stoic, but looked worn out. She had done much crying for her lost Tullam; and finding Edward’s body here had shocked her. She had been unaware of his death, though she had suspected the possibility.
“While you’re looking around in there,” she said to Mike, pointing to her head, “You will also see that I have some news for you.”
“Your group decided not to help us.” Jon said.
“You read minds too?” Bell asked him.
“No, just a guess.” Jon said, “Tullam’s death probably didn’t speak well for our plight.”
Bell’s composure threatened to fall apart upon mention of Tullam, but she held it together. “No, it didn’t.” she said, “You three are dangerous to know; and we have enough of an enemy in the Frellam, to go taking on yours.”
It doesn’t matter anyway, Mike thought to himself, We don’t need you anymore; we have a car now.
“Thank you for trying anyway, Bell.” Callie said, “And I’m so sorry about Tullam. We lost Edward to that monster as well.”
At Edward’s name, Bell’s face and heart softened.
“Edward stayed behind to save me.” she said, “I’ve sent his body to be buried where we bury our own. It’s all I can give him in return.”
“Thank you.” said Jon.
There was no more to be said. Bell motioned to the others, and they turned to depart into their side of the woods.
“Goodbye and good luck to you.” she said, as she and the others took to the trees and disappeared into their foliage.
“To you and your people as well.” Mike said.

The three took everything that was salvageable in the wagon, over to the car Charles Longstreet had so thoughtfully provided for them.
Callie used her power to move the wagon and the logs off to the side of the road, and out of their way. Jon took the opportunity to change his torn and bloody shirt with one from the duffel bag he had brought with him from Metromax. He then helped Mike clear the smaller obstacles (shattered glass, the wagon’s spilled guts, branches that had snapped off the logs, and the back hatch) off the road.
Then, the three stopped for a moment to contemplate the ruins of the station wagon.
“She served us well.” Mike said, sadly.
“When she wasn’t getting stolen.” Callie replied.
“Or impounded.” Jon added.
“Or beaten into a useless pile of wreckage by a pair of hairy giants.” Callie continued, “Speaking of which…”
“Yes, let’s get out of here.” Mike said, and turned to go.
“Goodbye, Edward.” Jon said, looking into the woods, “And thank you for everything.”
The three got in the car, and soon they were off.


K said...

How insanely, perfectly, convenient that Mike was only able to get deep enough into his father's head to see the "what" but not the "why" of this whole mystery. I'm glad that they had decided to keep going...and yet I wish that they wouldn't. I am afraid to see what they will meet up with when they get to their Mom's town.
Ah, another week of waiting!
Can't wait!

lazlo azavaar said...

Actually, Sinestri DOES spill the "why", but not in the way you think.;)
Thanks for the comment, K!

K said...

He does? How'd I miss that? I'll go back and read it again. I can't stand to be in the dark.
Oh yes. Poor little Edward.