In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
August 27, 1993
Lucifer mewed at the top of basement stairs, afraid to go any further. The yellow light from a single bare bulb threw shadows across the cold walls as John rummaged through the steamer trunk that rested here. Lucifer meowed again and John shushed him. One by one he removed his precious things from the trunk and set them down on the floor. Every tangible thing Victor had ever given him was stored here, he'd never been able to bring himself to throw any of it away. At least once a year he would come down here and sift through it all, like some archeologist trying to make sense of the past.
The first item he pulled out was a leather-bound copy of Alice In Wonderland. It was as old as he was and it was the first tangible thing Victor had ever given to him. John remembered Victor reading it to him as a boy, trying to lull him into sleep that never came. Memories of the story flooded him, the rabbit hole, the Queen of Hearts, the tea party, and the transformations... He set the book solemnly down aside and pulled out a handful of mummified bird’s eggs wrapped in an old flannel shirt. Carefully unknotting the cloth he toyed with them for a moment, rolling the cool smooth shapes through his fingers.
When he was done he tied them up in their little bundle and reached into the trunk to pull out an old badge. It was tarnished with age, but the brass inscription with its lighthouse emblem still had a glimmer to it. John remembered the day in Washington when Victor had outlined his plans, “We will call it Project Pharos, after the celebrated lighthouse of ancient Alexandria and like it we will be a beacon in the darkness. We will cleanse this great nation from shore to shore.”
John remembered that the President had seemed bored by the whole affair, but J. Edgar Hoover had been impressed, his support and the support of a few key Senators had been more than enough to create and fund the Project.
In the leather slipcase with the badge was a yellowed ID photograph. For a moment John stared at the picture, stared through time to the John Sig of 1947- no, not John, just Sig. Everyone had called him Sig back then. His face had been clean- shaven, his hair short and slicked back; there was a predatory glint in his eyes that he doubted he could ever find again. It amused him to think that he'd been almost fifty when the picture was taken but he'd had the looks and stature of a man half that age.
He put the badge down and moved on. His service revolver was in a cigar box, he set that aside as well. He still couldn't believe the Project hadn't been closed down by now, more than anything else it was a tribute to the smoke and mirrors Victor had used. His father and master had told them what his supporters whatever they wanted to hear and they repaid him by giving him power.
That was Victor's only real addiction, his drug of choice and no matter how much he had it was never enough. In his heyday Victor had been able to perform a variety of feats that ranged from the miraculous to the profane but he always wanted more. Perhaps that was why he did what he did that terrible night thirty-five years ago.
There was a small velvet bag crammed into the corner of the trunk, he pulled it out and unknotted the drawstrings. I'd forgotten all about these. John thought as he shook the bag and poured a trio of black rubies into his palm. He's gotten these from Professor Saticoy of all people.
From the top of the stairs Lucifer mewed pitifully, as John poured the dark gems back into their bag and set them aside. If only, he thought, if only there was a way could store away all my precious things like this. If only I could keep all my loved ones hidden away from the world and from time.
His breathing quickened at the sight of what he found next. Slowly and carefully he drew it out. The six-inch silver blade was another gift from Victor; this one came along when he was in the depths of adolescence. His was as rebellious as any human boy but the Metastasis made his rages dangerous and his hungers bloody. Even with his connections Victor had been hard pressed to cover up the evidence and hide the bodies.
One night after a particularly gruesome escapade, Victor had brought this strangely fashioned blade to him and said, “Do you know what this is?”
And of course he hadn’t known, Victor had taught him little of the Vlodek ways. He always doled out the information and legends as a reward for obedience.
“It is called a anelace- a suicidal dagger for Vlodek that are too shamed or sick to live on. Hear me now boy, I didn't save your life so you could squander it with puerile behavior. Are you determined to bring ruination on me and everything I've strived so hard to achieve? I refuse to allow such a thing to come to pass. Therefore, you have two options, you either start remembering the things I taught you or you take this and do what any dishonored Vlodek would do.”
John studied the blade, feeling none of the terror he'd felt at the sight of it so many years ago. Sometimes he wondered if he kept it around for the day when he finally lost the will to go on; for the day when death became preferable to spending another night in this empty house.
He set the blade aside and went back to searching, the pile of mementos grew until with a grunt of satisfaction he found what he was looking for; a large metal ring holding a dozen small keys. He would need these when it was time to open his safety deposit boxes.
Something warm brushed his bare foot; it seemed Lucifer had gotten over his fear of the cellar. John stroked the cat absent-mindedly and promised, “Not long now. Not long until we know.”