Happy Hallowe'en. This received an Hon. mention in 'The Years best fantasy and Horror' (I can't remember which year though). Anyway, hope someone enjoys it, please pass the link about if you do. My Mind has also totally failed at the name of the mag it appeared in and I can't find my record of it. If it's you please let me know so I can credit you and apologies for my brainfail (due to painkillers.)
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
It gets lonely sometimes in this big old house. As the years have passed my memory has started to wane as I rattle around the bleak corridors and draughty rooms. I forget things, little things, the important tasks of the day are always completed but things are sometimes hazy. I forget where I left things, scissors, coffeecups, bodyparts and the like.
I have lived here, oh so long. I do not think about time anymore I just move from moment to moment. Shambling around the echoing passageways of this house. I must cut my hair! It is long and ragged and tangles in my beard. My nails need trimmed as well, in fact I am a rather unkempt old man at the moment.
The house speaks to me, we know each others darkest places, we share the creaks and pains of age. The wind beats through the expanses of the house in time with my heart, we are old friends, we have an intimate acquaintance. I walk around locking doors, as I cross the entrance to the west wing I hear the smiling laughter of insanity beckoning me in, offering me a warm place to lay my head. A form of love in its sweet cackling voice. I must confess there are times I have taken some comfort there, but tonight I lock the door and move on.
In the north wing I feel the cold loneliness of the house, the way it remembers the days children ran laughing through it. Sadness wells up in me as I will never bring new life into here, I feel sad to have taken that from it. The house warms around me and tries to lift my melancholy. Do not worry old friend, we share our sorrows as we grow old. I laugh softly to myself and run a liver spotted hand down its cold walls.
As I step out of the north wing my candle gutters and shadows chase each other running into the night at the end of the corridor. Even now, even after so many years of visiting it every night. After the decades of fumbling in graveyards to find the ones that were just so, the ones that fitted perfectly. Even now my heart soars and my fingers shake as I reach for the twin handles that will let me enter the main hall. The bone room.
It rises above me, majestic beyond the dreams of most men. Art! Living art made from the bones of the dead. The house lives through this room, it is its mind, its lungs. It is my crowning achievement. I take little sustenance from it though, it keeps me barely more than an eccentric old man with palsied hands and failing mind
But the beauty of it, the way ribs curve around the ceiling making it seem to shudder and sway like a living thing. The skulls that fall like rain down the walls, embedded yet seeming to move and shiver. The finger bones that gather together in mosaics, seeming to hint at larger, darker, older things. It is my triumph, it is madness made form, those things that held flesh now hold a darker fascination, a magic.
A rack of thighbones held in elaborate metal holders hang down from the roof. I hammer on them with my hand and a chord of souls rings out through the room. Echoing, vibrating other parts until they meld together into the great booming voice of the house. I smile in awe as the great voice fills me. I brought it to life with my bone room. I am its father and now we grow old and derelict together.
As the voice dies a foreign sound travels through the corridors to echo round the bone room. Rhythmic, strange to my ears, rat tat tat, I hear, rat tat tat. It is an odd noise yet one that is strangely familiar, one that I feel I should know. My! The door, it is the door. Someone is knocking on my door. I do not know how long it has been since I have had visitors. How comical my little grey haired gnomelike figure must look. Scurrying down draughty passageways, my raggy clothes flying every which way. “Visitors! Fancy that?” I murmur over and over again to the house “visitors”.
A young couple, boy and girl stand before me looking somewhat taken aback at the ragged old man that has answered the door.
“Hello, I’m afraid the car has broken down, you don’t have a phone do you?” Asks the young man. Phone? Whatever is he talking about?
“No” I tell him, “But you are more than welcome to stay the night and seek assistance in the morning, it is an unpleasant night to be outside.”
They smile at each other and walk in. “Thank you, this was more than we could hope for.” Says the young lady. I take them to the parlour for tea. I can feel the house brighten around me at the new life within it. I take the couple into the study and leave them to themselves while I make tea.
This old house plays tricks, speech in one room can often be heard in another. The young mans voice comes floating through unseen holes to me.
“That was too easy! Little old man living alone in a place like this, he must be loaded.” Then the girl.
“I don’t know, it all looks rather run down.” Run down, yes we are, the house and I are gradually decaying, how perceptive of her. “This seemed like a good idea” she continues “but I don’t think it’s right now, robbing some eccentric old man.”
“Look, there may not be anything to rob, we’ll wait till he’s asleep and I’ll have a look around love. If there is anything we’ll leave in the night. I’m sure he’s insured anyway.”
So, that’s the game is it? They want to take our treasures, we shall see, we shall see.
I take them tea and watch in silence as they eat. I can feel their discomfort at my birdlike attitude as I scrutinise every movement. The girl looks unhappy, a conscience my dear? Troubling you that you think to rob us? Me and my friend the house? Do not be troubled, I am sure everything will work out for the best I think. Patting the old stone wall next to me.
“I hope you don’t mind but we had to walk rather a long way to get here.” Says the boy
“Of course! Of course! How remiss of me to keep you up but I so seldom have company, I will show you to your rooms.”
I take them up, winding the long way around old and ever changing corridors, I let them see the dust covered antiques and relics that reside in cobwebbed niches. I watch greed light up the young mans eyes and sorrow darken the girls. Good, good! It will be grist to the mill, make things easier for me.
They are unaware but I can hear the house moving and changing its mazelike structure behind me. Beware those that enter the corridors tonight! My old house has awoken to the new life within its womb. The girl starts as a great wheezing, bellowing sound fills our ears.
“What’s that?” Stumbles from her mouth as if it escaped a trap.
“Nothing, nothing!” I smile “I merely lit up the boiler. It is old. Like me! Like me!” I say to calm her, she does not look calm but nervy like a frightened doe.
We reach their room.
“Go in, Go in.” I say ushering them in with a waved hand, I give them the candlestick I have used to light our way through the house.
“Have a good night my dears, treat the room as your own.” I leave.
I scurry round the corner of the corridor and pullback an old picture that conceals the entrance to the hidden passages within our walls. A rain of small spiders fall from the crack that opens to let me in. I hide in the passageway that leads behind the room I have given them, ignoring the small creatures crawling around me and the crunching made by the carpet of dead insects that his built up over the years.
“This is wrong Toby, I can’t agree with this. It sounded like a good idea but he’s just a lonely old man.”
“Sssh” says the young man harshly “he’s probably listening at the door waiting for us to get it on. Randy old goat, did you see the way he was leering at you?”
“It’s still wrong Toby. I can’t agree, I can’t”
“Lou, do you really think he will miss anything? You saw the state of this place. I bet he doesn’t even know about half the stuff he has.” He says, his voice rising towards anger. Good! Good.
Far away in the bowels of the house I hear the clanking of the great boiler as the house pours more heat into the room. Then as voices start to rise, I start to weave.
Oh how difficult it is with these trembling hands! How hard to make the right shapes and gestures but I shall not give in. It has been too long since I worked. With much trial I start to see it, the silvery cats cradle of magic between my fingers appears and I send it questing out into the room. I push emotions that bit further, make angry angrier. Then at just the right moment I take the girls mind for just a second. At first I am overwhelmed by her lissom body after so many years trapped in the decaying shell my mind now calls home. But I do not let that break my concentration. I reach out with unfamiliar feminine hands, grab the candlestick and swing it at the mans head. He falls. I release the girl.
I hear her scream clearly through the wall, then the slam of the doors as she runs from what she has done. Good girl! Good girl! She will run. I hear the grinding of stone as the house starts to turn its corridors into an impenetrable maze. I will come to her later. We will play! Oh yes we shall.
It is only a minutes work to enter the room where the boy lies. I check his pulse. Alive! Good! Good. It is nice to know my judgement is not as addled as I had feared. How upset I would have been if I had killed him. Oh yes, tears! I would have cried great glistening tears.
From under the bed I remove my tools, I blow off the great carpet of dust. Has it been so long?
The boy is heavy and his flaccid body is unwieldy as I undress him. I cannot have these clothes covering my subject, my canvass.
I could weep with joy when I see the flawlessness of his skin and my mind starts to race as I see the odd mole placed around his body. I will make you magnificent child! That I will, I will.
It is a struggle for this old man to lift the heavy body high enough against the old four poster. My heart nearly bursts! I can feel it hammering against the cage of my ribs. How relieved I am when I drive the first nail through his wrist holding him upright against the post. It is so much easier then to nail up his other arm until he is positioned like the Christ from the altars of the churches I have seen.
The scalpel is sharp. How I curse my old shaking hands. How can I create art with these liver spotted gnarled things? Still I will persevere, I must, the urge to create is upon me.
I make the first cut and peel back skin, images flow through my mind but my wavering hands must go slowly. I peel back more skin, small triangles around circles of pristine flesh. Then I take the small pins I have and pin back the flaps creating skin flowers, the first on his shoulder. Then more and more and more until his body is blossoming, the paleness of him makes him look like a spray of carnations.
There is no blood. I am a healer! I cannot let him die, I understand the beauty of humanity. With each cut and pin, each flower, I feel my hands become steadier and small aches leave my body. Each tendon that is pulled out to create a stalk is a small triumph, a moment of clarity in my befuddled head. Every muscle I shred into moss around the base of my flowers is a forgotten memory waking within my head.
I open one of his eyes, knife poised, they are so blue! I shall leave them, it is only right that he should see his new beauty.
Eventually, finished I step back to admire him, oh! He is beautiful, a garden of sculpted flesh. With a thought I wake him and release his veins for just a second. Blood explodes from every cut adding vivid red to the white of his skin. His scream of pain is a sighing pleasure through my body. Then I stop. Close him down, let him return to sleep. He must live.
How glad I am of forethought! That I put them in the room with the old wheeled bed. I could never have moved him all the way to the bone room on my own without those little casters. As I wheel him through the corridors I catch my reflection in one of the mirrors. My hair is streaked with black and has lost some of its coarseness.
As I enter the boneroom with my new creation I can hear the high pitched squeal of broken windows mending themselves within the house. I feel new slates growing on the roof like scales on a lizard. The house changes its corridors again and the girl finds herself in front of the doors to the boneroom.
Come in my dear, come in.
I stand behind the door, stock still, cosh in hand as she enters. Thankfully I do not need it. The majesty of my art and the boneroom itself overwhelms her and she faints dead away. It is light work to drag her over to the bed and hoist her by her hands so her feet are just beyond the reach of the floor.
I cut the clothes from her and admire her nakedness. What a fine canvass she shall be. Her body is ripe and her breasts like swelling fruit on her chest. Fruit? Yes, fruit you shall be dear.
No cutting and peeling this time. I tease out great branches of veins, arteries which I wrap around her body like vines and from these vines? Grapes.
I take the smallest veins and capillaries and let blood flow into them, swelling each vein with rich dark blood, then tying it off. I create bunch after bunch of blood grapes and hang them from the arteries. How long do I do this? Long into the night, pull, swell, tie, again and again. Then I am finished. How majestic they look! The centrepiece for my boneroom. Him crucified to the bed, I shall title him flower of youth. Her hanging from a rope, she shall be the grapes of wrath.
No blood this time, it is too precious and I must have them alive. I awake them. Screams echo round the boneroom, vibrating the bones creating an orchestra of pain and suffering. It sounds like the house is laughing, a great booming laugh. How could I ever have let this feeling escape me? I leave them in the room and feel the great pulse of the house, stronger than it has been for generations. We are so happy! So well!
I walk out the boneroom down the airy well lit corridors and I straighten the expensive suit that I wear. I slick back my short dark hair and stare into a mirror at my well boned, handsome features. How attractive I am, How grand is this beautiful house I live in. I will need to be attractive for now I am young I intend to stay young. As I open the great front door and look out into the landscape of my garden only one thought fills my head.
I must create a gallery.