Saturday, April 10, 2010

"The Weak Own a Might"

She was a weak girl, Warren knew. Weak and stupid. She never saw the signs, couldn't bear any weight. He'd educate her.

A 7-Eleven near campus, one-oh-seven. Warren parked his Subaru beside the dumpster, killing Sting's lamentations over broken bonds mid-verse. He wore a sweatshirt, jeans, a backpack filled with reference books and six inches of honed steel. He looked like an older student studying for a second career. But he could educate, too.

A bum squatted by the dumpster, grimy, weatherworn, stinking. As Warren slammed the Subaru's door, he thought he heard him say, "You need to let her go." Warren eyed the man, but the bum began writing in the dust with a finger. Indigent. Harmless.

Kaye Hall, one-thirty-three, "Intro to Finance," her first class of the day. She'd arranged it so she could work mornings at King Hardware. Work with him. Warren couldn't see her from the door. He'd wait outside. She didn't need finance. He'd taught her the store's books backwards and forwards. Stupid. She'd told him school would build her confidence. Weak.

Outside spring sunlight gilt squat, multileveled buildings. Warren bought a Dasani from a vending machine, discovered the liquid inside was red, viscous. Bottling error. He threw it at a fichus hedge and watched a score of frogs lurch out as it crashed through.

A breezeway bench, three-seventeen. She filed right past him in a mass of students, smiling, tossing tawny hair. She hadn't seen him. She also hadn't seen the paid vacation and six-month bonus he'd given her and her alone. Stupid.

Warren followed her to the library, prowled the stacks as she studied linear regressions with an Asian girl. Weak. Test or no test, she only needed him. In one row, a sharp itch stung him on the neck when he blew dust from Pentateuch as Narrative. In another, he found twenty-three flies inexplicably hovering midair. He crushed them against the shelving.

When she shouldered her backpack and moved towards the main entrance, he forced himself to count to fifty. He couldn't educate her in front of all these people. At forty-three, he finally pushed through the revolving doors and nearly stepped on six dead birds. They lay on the pavement as though felled by pestilence.

Student Services, five-fifteen, she disappeared into the crush in front of the cafeteria. Warren fought back panic. Stupid, he should've stayed closer.

He started up the cafeteria steps.

A man blocked his way, grimy, weatherworn, stinking.

"You need to let her go," the bum said.

"Move, or I'll move you myself," Warren said.

The students flowed around them like a stream around a stone, unnoticing.

"I do not think you could," the bum said. "I fought the night at Peniel. I held the way to Kirjath Huzoth. I -- "

Warren swung. Missed. The bum stiff-armed him in the chest -- hard.

"She isn't yours," the bum said. "Let her go."

"Hey, watch it," someone said, jostling Warren from behind.

In a blink, the crowd swallowed the bum. Warren strove for breath. The man was obviously insane, maladjusted. But not weak.

The Life Sciences complex, five-fifty-seven. Warren's chest throbbed. There was a local sandwich chain by the biology labs, and he slipped into their restrooms. He removed his sweatshirt, saw a patch of pustules, red and inflamed, over his right pectoral. It was the size of a man's palm. He rinsed it, dressed, went out front, bought a ham sandwich, put it in his backpack.

Room 116, College of Education, six-twelve, exam time. Quantitative Analysis met across the hall. He hadn't exactly needed to follow her. Online syllabi made reconstructing her schedule easy. But he'd wanted to see her, to consider if education was strictly necessary. Room 116 was open and empty. He locked the door behind him. Maybe she would listen this time. He would give her the world. Age was only a sum. His wife had never really loved him.

Seven-thirty-two. Four students had finished, none of them her. A burst of what sounded like ice spattered the classroom window. Odd. Ice in April.

Eight-thirteen. Twelve students done. Warren bit into the sandwich. It crunched. He peeled it open, saw a chitinous leg the size of his pinky. Disgusting. He threw it away.

Nine-twenty-six. Warren saw her come out of the classroom with a boy. Saw her clasp his hand, kiss him on the cheek. Saw them part when the corridor split, him towards the computer labs, her the breezeway.

He'd been naive. She needed education.

Night had bled the warmth from the air. Fluorescents pooled light on the breezeway's sidewalk. Warren slashed the distance between them from thirty yards to ten. When he let the backpack fall, she whirled, startled.

"Hello, Katherine," he said, not breaking stride. An emergency response callbox stood right past her, but she'd never reach it. He was not weak.

"M-mister King," she stammered, "what are you -- " Her eyes slid down to the knife in his hand. "Oh no, dear Jesus, please, no."

He closed the gap in three fast strides, drew back the knife.

But her gaze had floated past him, her face gone gray.

A hand closed on Warren's shoulder.

Darkness fell, black as the underside of every rock.

Red agony, a wet crunching, and Warren understood it was his bones. He didn't need to see the hand that held him to know it was grimy and weatherworn.

"Nine signs," came the bum's voice, "and still you do not know against whom you strive. You will let her go. She is mine, and I am hers, and I am her might. Now, Warren Ramus King, firstborn son of a firstborn son, know the tenth."

The bum uttered a harsh syllable, and Warren knew it was one for which the human mouth had not been shaped. He felt it brush his forehead and branch through his synapses. He felt it slide along his spine to coalesce around his heart.

He even felt it when his blood began to boil.

26 comments:

B. Nagel said...

(thumbs up)

Lady Glamis said...

Loren, this is amazing, truly. I was squinting the whole time trying to figure out what the heck you were doing. Your work disturbs me on many levels, and I like that for some reason. I enjoyed this a lot. :)

Loren Eaton said...

B.,

If there's anyone who could figure out what's going on here, it's you. Also my college roommate, who is a semi-silent regular around here.

Loren Eaton said...

Michelle,

Glad you enjoyed it! I promise, though, that my entry to your short story contest won't be horror. I need a genre break.

I feel kind of mixed about this story. I think it may be too obscure. One kind of needs to get the allusions to Peniel and Kirjath Huzoth to figure out what's going on. Doesn't hurt to know the narrative framework either.

Lady Glamis said...

That would explain why some of it made no sense at all, but I like that, in a way. Sometimes it's fun to just be swept up in the character and the prose.

Ah, no horror for my contest, huh? Now I'm interested to see what you'll enter! Although I won't know until after the contest is over who entered what. Still, I suppose I can rule out any horror entries as yours. ;)

Loren Eaton said...

Oh, good! I was kind of trying to write in quasi-H.P. Lovecraft mode. He had a lot of private mythology going on in his stuff.

I'm interested to see what I'm going to enter, too!

AidanF said...

Loren, I like the creepy way that you drew Warren. I liked this story even though I didn't know the references or guess the narrative structure. The story as a whole still made sense.

Donna Hole said...

Maybe I'm a sic-o; I didn't know what the references were exactly, but I figured them to be religeous. I thought them religious because I got the feeling this guy was having a psychotic break; a true serial killer stalker. I thought the bum, the red water, the six birds, all the things and people he was seeing/hearing a part of a schizophrenic episode.

This really could have been combined with the murder scene blog fest.

I was riveted the whole through the entire read; waiting for the next thing he would see, the next place he'd be. Wondering when he would finally catch up to her and if he would actually kill her there, or kidnap her for torture.

I really loved this story. So completely creepy. You wrote it so well. Thanks for hosting this shared story fest. It has been great writing with you and all others who participated.

So, when's the next one?

.........dhole

Loren Eaton said...

Aidan,

That's actually more reassuring to me than you know. I had great trepidation as I pressed the "publish" button. Glad it worked even if the references didn't come through quite clearly.

Loren Eaton said...

Donna,

I don't know when the next one will be! We started doing Advent Ghost stories last year, and we'll likely do that again. We might have another in between if there seems to be demand for it.

This may sound a little strange, but I think the Bible provides such great material for horror stories. The dismembering of the Levite's concubine, the disemboweling of Eglon by Ehud, the spirit who speaks to Eliphaz the Temanite "in disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night" -- fascinating stuff that no one seems to pay attention to.

B. Nagel said...

I'll second that about the Bible as fascinating source material. One I'm toying with right now is this phrase: "the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table."

Davin Malasarn said...

I loved the prose style of this piece and the details too. It's very vivid and poetic. The signs, even though I didn't know all of the references, created a great effect for me.

Aerin said...

Ah, you speak my language!! I am better suited even than Nagel to figure this out, despite not paying the best of attention in Old Testament at seminary. Bravissimi!

Loren Eaton said...

B.,

Yeah, you can satisfactorily turn that bit from the Last Supper in any number of ways. A few weeks ago, Nathaniel Lee was soliciting prompts for Mirrorshards. I provided the avenger of blood from the Mosaic law, an undefined individual(s) who's job it is to kill murderers. I rather like what he did with it.

Loren Eaton said...

Davin,

Thank you! The response so far seems positive, even when folks didn't get the allusions, which pleases me. Always nice when a piece stands on its own two feet, no matter how tottery.

Loren Eaton said...

Aerin,

The Queen returns! Gratzi! Is it a bad thing that comprehending this short requires a seminary education, then?

Phil W said...

Mercy! What a story. That's good, Loren. Surely that could work with several others in a story collection.

Phil W said...

OH! Water into blood! The first sign. I just understood it.

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, it's a little too subtle, isn't it? I wasn't quite sure how to strike the balance between "something odd is going on here" and "Warren is so mired in obsession he doesn't see it." The identity of the bum is a bit obscure, too, but if people Google "Kirjath Huzoth" and "Baalam," I think it'll come clear.

Anyway, glad you liked it!

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Rather cool.

Personally (and I may be an outlier here), I loved the obscurity and wished the reveal weren't so obvious. I caught a whiff of the Christ-figure when the beggar was "writing something in the sand" (and the fact that he was pursuing a girl only made my reading more likely). With that in mind, the water-turned-red evoked the most memorable of the Egyptian plagues, and prepared me for the tenth plague with him taking on the role of the tenth son.

I guess the obvious reveal just gave me the reaction of "aww...now I don't have to figure it out myself." Whereas if it were left hanging, I could've had the delightful lingering discomfort of figuring out the shape the dark shadows made, without the helpful aid of someone turning on the light switch.

Also, "delightful lingering discomfort." What in the world makes people (myself included) enjoy these types of stories?!?

Loren Eaton said...

(clear throat)

Not a Christ figure! Not a Christ figure!

(changes to indoor voice)

Just wanted to, you know, make it clear that Jesus isn't zapping stalkers here. Although you seem to have gotten the rest of it, and the bum is (obviously) not just a bum.

Glad this seems to be discomforting people a bit. That sorta was my goal.

Loren Eaton said...

Post Script: Also glad you enjoyed it!

Phil W said...

With the first sign, I thought Warren may have been pursuing a vampire who owned the machine he used. Of course, I was confused with that thought a bit later, but when the bum said he fought at wherever, I looked that up and learned something of what was going on.

This reminds of an idea I had sometime ago about a woman from a closed community going into the world for college. Her uncle goes with her to protect her, but she doesn't realize it, b/c the men in that community are all skin-changers. Of course, the woman gets into trouble, perhaps like your story, and her uncle has to take out of a few people. It's a bit silly, I guess, but I thought I'd tell you about it anyway.

Loren Eaton said...

Phil, have you ever read William Gibson's "The Belonging Kind" in Burning Chrome? Your story idea reminds me a little bit of it. It also happens to be one of my favorite stories in the collection.

Scattercat said...

I didn't get the specific Biblical allusions, but I liked this one anyway. I thought you were trying to do something with that fantasy idea you'd been struggling with...

Loren Eaton said...

No, that one's on hold. (Although I did get the "word" bit in there, didn't I?) Got an okay first draft done, and I'm just letting it mellow.