The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
“So tell me my ersatz apprentice,” the boy held the slender blade to Gawain Wight’s throat. “What were you about to do, eh?”
“I don’t know.”
The skyline around them seemed to twist and quake, as though the world they saw beyond the holes in the penthouse walls were just murals painted on a windswept sheet. The boy knelt on Gawain’s arms, pinning him a few feet away from where the Hanged Man had fallen.
Pam had regained consciousness; she made a groan of protest and pulled at her manacles. Gawain tried not to look at her, he tried to remind himself that since day one of his relationship with Carol Bloom she had treated him as an intruder. He told himself he owed her nothing.
“No you don’t do you?” The boy said. “Or are you hiding something from me? For a bureaucrat you have a profoundly oblique mind.”
Once, two marriages ago, Gawain had gone to Howe Caverns. He had taken the guided tour into the caves. At first it had been fascinating but about halfway through the trip he had started to become acutely aware of how absolutely surrounded by rock he was. The feeling became oppressive, there was no escaping the rock that rose up around him on all sides and hung down over his head. Gawain felt that way now; loomed over and pressed down.
But not by the boy- by his masters. How close were they now? How ready were they to tear aside the illusions that surrounded this building and reveal themselves?
“I imagine this is the closest attention you’ve ever paid to your son.” The boy said, “What was he to you? An unplanned error? A nod to vanity? When I gaze upon you I...”
No wait. Gawain realized. Not just the Monarchs. Something else, something cold.
With a swipe of the knife the boy left Gawain’s cheek bleeding, “I said pay attention!”
“Whatever you want.” Gawain said, “I’ll do whatever you want.”
The boy climbed off the older man and led him across the creaking floorboards and ruined carpet to the altar. Once again the boy pressed the needle-like blade into the Pharos Agent’s hand.
Pam’s voice was hollow, “Please don’t...”
“I’m sorry.” Gawain raised the blade, aiming for the mark that had been made in her abdomen.
The boy smiled in anticipation.
And Gawain Wight struck, lashing out with the full force of his mind. Every trick he knew, every curse he’d ever stolen was at the ready. He tore at the boy’s spirit only to have the attacks swatted aside.
To Gawain’s horror he felt his own mind and body invaded, he felt the boy take control. He was reduced to a helpless passenger in his own flesh. His mind and soul railed against the confinement but there was nothing he could do but watch as his arm brought the blade down.
There was a noise like the sound of a candle being snuffed. A shock of pain worked its way up Gawain’s arm. Blood pooled and ran from Pamela’s midsection. She was screaming, twisting on the altar in agony and loss but her voice was fading. And along with her voice, she was fading. The color was ebbing from her body. Breath by breath she was becoming a shadow, an outline.
A peal of alien thunder set the penthouse shaking. “They’re coming,” the boy said reverently.