A Heart Full Of Dust
Al Bruno III
...Death struggles from a straight jacket, suspended upside down in a glass cylinder filled with amniotic fluid.
As always the Magician watches raptly, feeding himself sweets from a crumpled paper bag. The Hanged Man stands and turns to find the seats behind them unoccupied.
“Not to worry,” the Magician comments, “we have the beach to ourselves for a little while .”
“Are you real or are you a figment of my subconscious?” the Hanged Man asks.
The Magician smils thinly, “Yes.”
Death frees himself from the straight jacket and pulls himself from the cylinder. The Magician claps and whistles. Dancing girls flood the stage.
There is a dilapidated library on the beach. The Hanged Man walks towards it.
“Where do you think you're going?”
“I have to find a way out of this.”
The Magician leaves his seat and hurries after him, “Can't that wait until intermission?”
The beach is quiet save for the whispering crash of the waves. Dark sand barely covers the withered bones that litter the shore and with each footstep they crunch and crackle underfoot. On the stage Death watches his audience leave with a pained look in his eyes. He begins to tap dance, hoping they'll notice.
“I have to find a way to save her, to save what’s left,” the Hanged Man opens the door, the rusty door squeals in protest.
The Magician stops and takes one last look at the stage. Death grabs one of the dancing girls and begins to pull out her intestines, hastily fashioning them into a variety of balloon animals. “Who have you been talking to?” he asks following the Hanged Man in the library.
“The High Priestess,” the library reeks of decay, shelves are toppled and books are strewn everywhere, their spines are broken, their pages yellow with age.
“Well are you going to believe some has been or me?”
The Hanged Man kneels and picks up one of the books at his feet, “Why should I believe you?”
“And after all we'll be through together.”
After skimming the book the Hanged Man throws it aside and grabs another, “You're the Xenon Splinter aren't you?”
“You're the Hanged Man aren't you?”
The Hanged Man flips a few pages into the latest book only to shake his head sadly, “I prefer my own name.”
“Why?” the Magician sits on a toppled bookshelf and stares off into space. His spangly red jacket glitters in the darkness, “you'll have many, many, many names.”
The Magician grabs a book at random, “Hey! How about this? O for a muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention- A kingdom a stage, princes to act, And Monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
The Hanged Man shakes his head, “You’re just trying to confuse me.”
“When will you learn that the cosmos is governed by three principles. One- The power of Entropy permeates every aspect of reality. Two- Everything, from the tiniest microbe to the very universe itself will be claimed by it. And third- Love is always the first thing to die.”
The Hanged Man studies him, “What do you want from me?”
“I need you.”
“If you knew that a newborn was going to die a just few years after he first learns to walk, wouldn't you try to stop it?”
“Do I detect a sentimental streak?” the Hanged Man clasps his hands behind
his back and studies the Magician intently.
He angrily kicks aside a pile of books, “I don't have time to explain everything. We're at a crucial point. The opening moves must be decisive.”
“Opening moves? Opening moves? Take a look out there! It's all over!”
“When you're older you'll understand.”
The Hanged Man's shouts fill the ruined library, “When I'm older?”
“There's no time for this,” The Magician begins to absent-mindedly tug at the gray strings dangling from his clothes. They hadn't been there moments ago, “I still have so much to explain, you were never this difficult before. We can't afford to start off on the wrong foot.”
“Look unless you're willing to help me...” the Hanged Man's voice trails off, his eyes filling with realization “...just a moment here.”
The gray strings seem to be multiplying, and they go deeper than the Magician clothes. They go right to his flesh.
The Hanged Man looks at him, “You said these were the opening moves but obviously it's the last days of mankind out there.”
“Probably,” he replies, “by the way do you have any scissors?”
“You told me that we were getting off on the wrong foot but you also act as though you've known me all my life.”
“Whose subconscious is this anyway?” the Hanged Man asks only to realize he’s alone again.
The library trembles and begins to crumble around him. He runs outside to find the Magician is on the stage, suspended by gray strings. He is dancing like a marionette. There is a tormented look in his eyes.
Without thinking the Hanged Man runs for the stage. The bones crunch and snap under his feet, sounding like gunfire. The chairs disintegrate into kindling, the stage collapses.
The Hanged Man stumbles to a halt. He looks up and sees a Devil standing above the stage pulling the Magician' strings.
“I'm afraid that your marvelous little toy is mine now.” the Devil says.
“Step right up!” the Magician cries out, “Step right up!” He pulls the deck of Tarot Cards from the pocket of his red spangly jacket, “Party tricks! Pick a card, any card.”
The Devil manipulates the strings until his little puppet has covered his mouth with his hands. Cards fly everywhere. “It's too late for that I'm afraid.”
“Ltolox isn't going to reward you for your service you know,” he intercepts a card fluttering to the ground. It is the Hanged Man. Of course it is. “You'll be just as dead as any of us. And when you get to Hell- and believe me that's where you're going- how many angry souls will be there waiting for you? A hundred? A thousand? Five hundred thousand? A million?”
The rest of the cards drift downwards, falling in the shape of a pyramid. The pyramid glows and then a moment later it collapses.
Pocketing the card the Hanged Man takes a step forward, “Give the Splinter back to me and we fix this, we can confound the Monarchs for all time.”
“You're a fool,” the Devil snarls, “Ltolox and I shall leave this world together. But you sadly will not be able to see the consummation of our union.”
Beneath the beach, something begins to stir.
The Hanged Man pretended to shudder, “And I'm glad really, the thought of seeing you two consummate anything...”
Bony hands burst from the dark sand and claw at the Hanged Man. He screams and topples backwards. He feels himself being dragged under.
There is a sharp pain on his right cheek, right below his eye. The pain is enough to...