Plugs

Although this could be appreciated alone, two others of the Hollow Men series have appeared:  part I and part II.

I trudged for a day in a direction that had not existed the day before.  Tramping to the bleak beacon was like plowing through mounds of slushy snow seeping through your boots.  When the pair of shining black beams smote me, the going slowed to a crawl.

I’d passed beneath the lower angle of the black light’s reach before sensation returned to my flesh.

A white-bearded dwarf exited the base of the beacon waving a lantern, a replica of the one squatting on the beacon.  “Turn back!  Look not into eyes!”  His voice was mechanical, gear-grinding.

The journey had worn my patience, so I toppled him.  He fell back flinging his lantern behind.  He hit with a clang; the lantern’s hinged glass door swung open and cracked against the rocky soil, and the cold, coal-black flame soared, guttered, and winked out in the indifferent wind.  The man groaned as I carried on.

Years of severe weathering had pocked the formerly sleek obsidian surface of the beacon.  I ran my hand along its rough flank and steered myself up the inner winding.  The rotting wooden planks protested the load as I pushed wide the trapdoor.

Inside the lantern room, I swung open the glass lens and slid shut the iron vent to suffocate the coal-black flame.  Ice crystals formed in the cracks spread across the vent.

The lens separated into smaller, distorting glass blocks–each chanced to point at the spire that had been my home since my days as unformed crockery.  From this vantage, it looked little more than a mossy screw, but each lens block also pulled it in some direction that made my attachment to it laughable–fat, skinny, hour-glassed, warped.

I pivoted and found myself gazing, across a broad desert, into a land leviathan’s slow blinking gaze.

“You fool!”  The dwarf was hoisting himself up on the floor.  “You’ve opened the gate to misery!”  He brandished a dagger, slashed and thrust.

I dodged.  “Wait.”  Again.  “I see your point.  Please.  Let me open the door, so the flame can breathe, and men do not look.”  With an elbow, I broke the ice and slid the door open, careful not to let the chill black light fall on me.

The dwarf tilted his head back and absorbed the light.

I threw his heavy metal frame into the flame and slammed the door shut.

Sitting in the shade and relative cool of his yurt, the vulture keeper realized he had company. Someone was walking back and forth in the blaze of light and heat outside. The keeper hadn’t heard a camel, and anyone crossing the waste on foot–well, they’d be crawling by now, if they were still moving at all. Which left only one possibility.
“If you’re here to haunt,” said the keeper, “save yourself the aggravation. I’ve got wards. Ground ’round here’s full of quartz, so they’ll hold.”
“I’m just,” said a voice like a sigh, “here to talk.”
“Don’t particularly want to talk,” said the vulture keeper. He went back to tuning his zither.
“You have something of mine,” said the ghost. “Or you will, when your flock returns.”
The keeper strummed and made his answer into a little tune. “Whatever they bring back, it’s something of mine.”
“It’s a particularly valuable stone,” said the ghost.
The keeper worked a troublesome string. “That’s what I deal in: carbuncles (twang), snake stones (twang) — any brain stone my vultures find (twang) and you wizards will buy.” (twa-ng-ng-ng)
“I need you to deliver it to my heir-apprentice,” said the ghost, “in the hidden city of Ar-Zellekan.”
“I’m semi-retired. Only go as far as the caravanserai. Don’t go to cities, even ones I can find.” The keeper had tuned the last of the strings. “Give up and move on, little wisp. Like the priests say: rise up as rain and come down again in the Afterworld.”
“My enemies will pay the merchants ten times its worth to kill you and take it.”
The keeper stopped his strumming. “That seems…” he said, “unnecessarily harsh.”
“The stone will bond with you by the time you reach the settlements,” said the ghost. “They won’t be able to use it with you alive.”
“My retirement’s getting shorter either way, although…” the keeper reached into his pocket for a zither pick, “this isn’t my first retirement.”
“Oh?”
The keeper strummed a complicated tune.
“You were a wizard, weren’t you?”
“Wizard-king. Nearly wizard-emperor,” said the keeper. “Had the skill; lacked the power.” He stilled the zither’s strings. “Guess that won’t be a problem much longer. Just hope your heir knows some good war-spells.”
“He’s a pacifist,” said the ghost, “like all our people. Perhaps I’ve exaggerated the stone’s power.”
“A hidden city would make a fine capital,” said the keeper.
“The stone’s strong, but not that strong,” said the ghost. “Nothing special. Nevermind.” He blew away with the next breeze.
“Good,” said the keeper, and returned to his zithering.

Micah didn’t have a lot to work with when he decided to make the golem. He’d barricaded himself inside Shawanna’s spare bedroom after the gumdrops broke through the front door of the house. Only after wedging the bedroom door with a wooden desk chair did he notice the stacks upon stacks of jars of creamy Jif. O. M. G. Not since graduate school, when money had run out two weeks before the end of the field season, had peanut butter passed his lips. He shuddered, face twisting.

Gumdrops pattered quietly against the bottom foot or so of the door in fractal frequencies. The faint noises spelled out half-truths and lies in an iterative code. Candy communication or brownian motion?

Water from the sink in the half bath kept him alive, but he could not force down the peanut butter.

Micah had foresworn the practice of magic, but the human body can take only so much. On the third day he opened the first jar and reached inside. When the creature was fully formed, he inscribed the hebrew word for truth on its forehead. The golem stood, inclined its head.

“Okay, look. I want you to open the door, gather up the gumdrops, and put them in the fridge on the first floor.” The monster broke open the door with a quick jerk, passed out into the hall, and set to work.

The fridge was filling, and the few remaining free gumdrops huddled near the door. Micah shuffled closer to the door, but then he noticed that the golem was slowing. Its profile was subtly changing, and it was no longer steady on its feet. Scooping gumdrops into its paw, the golem dropped as many as it disposed of. It somehow conveyed a sense of distress, while continuing to gather the megalomaniacal candies and stuff them into the refrigerator. The golem fell. Micah saw ants, tens of thousands of them, each one carrying away its tiny piece of magic, or arriving unencumbered, seizing a piece of flesh in its jaws, and turning away. The golem continued to writhe silently, crushing a few gumdrops with its fists, but did not rise again. Ants stuck in the warm peanut butter became stepping stones for their fellows.

On the floor, a sticky brown blob, truth-marked, strove mightily to reach the refrigerator door handle.

It was lunch time.

end

Parthenia Rook, adventurer, renowned stamp collector, and backup drummer for The Ramones, paused to slather on a gloop of sunscreen before taking up her kayak oar once more. According to the GPS in her pineapple-frame sunglasses, she had three more miles to go before she’d reach the Magnetic North Pole and be able to reconfigure Doktor Mandrill’s latest nefarious device. Provided she could find it.

On the up side, the device had melted the polar ice, so she had open water all the way.

When her oar pulled at nothing but air, she briefly wondered if she had sunstroke. Then she saw the turrets on either side of her, and knew that she sat atop The Bonobo King’s submersible castle, a perfect replica of Neuschwanstein down to the last wedding-cake flourish.

A dozen dormer windows opened, and rocket-propelled robotic penguins shot out in crazed trajectories before locking on to her position. Parthenia shoved off a nearby chimney, and slid sideways down the metal roof. Her kayak caromed off a pipe, the roguins zooming low to follow, straight for the edge of the roof.

“Penguins!” she thought. “Trust the good Doktor to get his poles reversed.”

At the last moment she caught a rain gutter with the oar and hung three stories above the water. Her kayak slipped off and spun downward, followed by the rockets. They slammed into it.

The resulting explosion knocked her upward again and blew an enormous hole in the side of the subschwanstein. She landed running, and dived through one of the dormer windows. A launch tube led down to an ammunition dump full of roguins and roseals.

She briefly debated setting some to explode, but the castle was already taking on water.

She still had to find Doktor Mandrill’s machine. It must surely be in the castle somewhere. Even if it went down with the castle, there was no assurance its destruction would bring back the ice cap.

Quickly, she texted her progress so far and prepared to delve deeper into the castle.

– - – - – - – - – -

Here Parthenia Rook’s intercepted last report ends, with supplemental material supplied by satellite and Orcandroid surveillance. Observation continued as ordered for the next two days. The castle sank and exploded underwater, with no sign of life detected. The North Pole remains entirely liquid.

Respectfully submitted to his majesty the Bonobo King this 29th day of March, 2010.

– - – - – - – - – -

The previous appearances of Parthenia Rook by Luc Reid, Rudi Dornemann, may be found here.

Parthenia Rook, Episode 1: The Third Oldest Trick by Luc Reid

Parthenia Rook, Episode 2: The Shoe in the Brain by Luc Reid

Parthenia Rook, episode IV: In the Hall of the Bonobo King by Rudi Dornemann

Parthenia Rook V: In Rio de Janeiro with a Gnome by Sara Genge

Parthenia Rook, episode VI: The World’s Fair by Trent Walters

Parthenia Rook, Episode 7: The Gory Candlestick by Luc Reid

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