Hell’s Half Hour
So I haven’t been doing enough writing lately. I’ve done everything but write, actually. So in honor of October, the best of all months (not coincidentally being my birth-month, upon the ides) and Halloween and all things wonderful, I’m trying to do a short piece of fiction a day. Trying to limit to a half-hour, but failing (at least for today’s entry.) Others will likely be considerably shorter. Though I do hope to have some EATERS-related work, and maybe a STRANGEWAYS fragment or two before I’m done.
Now, without further nattering: Hell’s Half Hour, episode one.
October 1, 09
It hadn’t worked. A lifetime’s collected efforts distilled into a single day, yielding nothing. Stahl was drained, drained by years of energy focused into books and scratchings of ink or blood or other less savory fluids on paper or stone or hide. His brain was wrapped with vellum yellow and translucent from centuries of age covered in faded brown markings that only a madman would make or decipher. Then there was the book that had been written on human skin, or so he’d been told. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about the dreams of the person that he had read, of their wants, of their desires. There was no room for that in him.
Stahl pinched out the yellowed candles, relishing the flare of pain on his fingertips, if only to drive out the sensation of deadening failure that soaked him to his very bones. Another feeling, that of the tack of dust and neglect, another feeling sticking to himself that he could not wish away. Years spent, no wasted, in pursuit of what? Of knowledge, of power? How many days consumed by picking through decaying libraries, objects that he could not even touch but simply look at through a glass, for fear that they would crumble like a dream lost to waking. How many days?
How much could have been done had he not clung to this path? But that thought was quickly dwarfed by the question of why. Why had he failed? What had he done wrong? He had solved the contradictions that Dee had observed, catalogued, but ultimately could not negotiate. Three hundred years of a stopping block, and Stahl alone had found a way around it that didn’t involve the ivoker being consumed by the object of his desires.
Or had he?
Stahl was no less consumed by this process than if he had been eaten bodily. Maybe the contradiction had to be served, no matter what the invoker hoped. Perhaps he’d only been fooling himself all along. Perhaps that is why there had been no result.
Wind passed through the naked branches around him, arrayed as a crown. The trees’ fingers grabbed at but could not hold back the cool of dusk. Red leaves littered the ground, many already falling to brown and mottled gray. The sound whistled, ice-high and sharp. It was time for Stahl to return to his study. He could not attempt the invocation for another year, though he would not allow himself to contemplate that possibility. Dry scuttle of leaves shifting on the ground like pages turning, pages of skin.
He stood, slowly, with resignation. His body burned at the new motion, having assumed a posture of meditation since sunrise. Joints flared and his feet did not want to move. It would be no easier next year, he thought. Perhaps if I—
The candle before him was lit now. The flame swayed slowly, not in time with the gusting breeze. It had its own rhythm, its own master.
Stahl’s heart pounded, each pulse as if viced by a fist beneath his ribs. He stopped breathing, unsure if he’d remembered to snuff the candle himself. There it was, golden glow hot in the deepening cool, final band of sunlight fading now.
Birds flew above him, sudden rushes of flurried wings. Too many. They chattered and called to each other in sharp and brittle voices like bones breaking. Tiny bones. The candle glowed still.
He willed himself to breathe and did so, with some effort. Every feeling of insignificance and failure was washed from him in that moment. He was elated, absolved, judged and found worthy. Dee’s contradiction was no more. The pages of skin had given up their secrets, blood words and sigils bound together by my intellect, though Stahl. Mine. Where history’s others had failed and fallen short, Stahl had succeeded.
Now he would look upon the Blind Heart, the source of all shadow, the darkness that existed before the word and the light and was older even than the myth of god itself. Sweat poured from him in spite of the cold. His hands shook as if wrapped in strings of epilepsy or ecstasy.
The wind blew again, smelling like acres of burning skin, like wet dust and decay that would not end. It was hot breath.
It was big. Too big. There was no room.
It was so large that it curved around the sky, bigger than clouds remembered from childhood. Writhing like a cancer, a twisting ulcer on existence itself, it wrapped around everything in sight. Pulse pounded through it, radiating through countless and misshapen finger-tentacles that curled and uncurled with a chaotic irregularity. It was too big, too enormous to fit in this world, rapidly shoving away anything not itself. Unfurling, uncurling, expanding into its true shape, it had neither hate nor hunger in its heart. Neither consuming nor corrupting, it merely became. It encompassed the sky, so big that it annihilated even the curve of the horizon.
Stahl wanted to feel triumph, but he realized that there was no room for it.
No room at all.