The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
June 24, 1995
The three desiccated corpses were in the corner of the unfinished basement. They clutched each other as though they might be huddling together for warmth or comfort. Special Agent Gawain Wight trailed his flashlight beam over them, carefully observing the bleached, coriaceous skin and the gaping empty eyes. They looked centuries old. Then he turned his attention to their clothes, all off the rack, all crisp and new.
In a way this was how he felt at times- like something old and broken-down trying to hide behind a new suit and brightly polished shoes. He had just turned fifty a few weeks ago and wasn’t that the age where things really started to go wrong with your body? Gawain paced the unfinished basement examining the ceiling and walls, checking in every corner. Local police reports told him of a rash of murders, there was no pattern in the victims, they could be old or young, male or female but each body had been found beheaded and exsanguinated.
It made sense in a brutal sort of way. Offspring were a burden, at times an unnecessary one. Animals bred out of biological impulse, humans out of vanity and foolishness. Gawain chuckled to himself, what a way to be thinking- especially now.
Cardboard had been taped over the basement windows; Gawain tugged at it, letting the afternoon sunlight creep into the basement. Gawain turned to see the three corpses still curled up together, the sunlight seemed to make them look more emaciated.
He thought about the events in Troy a lot, at how desperate and helpless he had been. He’d spent most of his adult life researching and confronting the followers of the Monarchs but in the end he’d found himself beneath their notice. Both the Monarchs’ greatest apostle and greatest adversary had mocked him and shunted him to one side. In the end it had all been about Tristam, the events began with him and ultimately ended with him as well.
If only I could have been proud of him. Gawain thought, If only I hadn’t seen that cold inside him.
But he had seen it, and recognized it.
I should have killed him. I shouldn’t have lost my nerve. I shouldn’t have cared about witnesses.
Years of studying and expanding his father’s research had taught Gawain that in way the Monarchs were nothing new. Otherworldly carpetbaggers had been passing themselves off as gods and angels since before recorded history. Their empires and influence rose and fell with the centuries leaving only their magics and strange servants behind. The infamous Professor Geoffrey Martin Carella, in his suppressed manuscript suggested that in the end these were the same creatures, reinventing them selves over and over again to gain mankind’s favor.
Carella was a fool and most likely a madman.
Until the nineteen thirties the Dark Gods had been favored by cults and self-proclaimed wizards. The Dark Gods and their followers had squabbled and warred against each other for almost two centuries before they fell before the Monarchs quenchless hunger.
Gawain approached the bodies again and prodded one with the end of his flashlight; the flesh was rubbery and lifeless. Could he be seen now? Were they aware but helpless? He wondered to himself what he would see if he waited here until sunset, until Aldebaran rose high in the sky.
All the forbidden manuscripts and surviving notes said the same thing. The Dark Gods were consumed and their temples abandoned, but some of the faithful hinted that seven of them survived by concealing themselves in lost places. Gawain knew their names- the Bloodless Whisperer, the Broken Seraph of Longing, the Dismembered Soldier, the Harlequin In Ice, the Formless Lurker, the Goddess Clad in Worms and the Walker Through Worlds.
Flicking off the flashlight Gawain headed up the basement steps into the sunlight. Police cars and fire trucks surrounded the incomplete house, filling the streets of the development. Gawain nodded to the police officer in charge, “Burn it, fill it in and pave it over.”
“Are you sure?”
The lost places. Gawain thought, Old gods hiding at the bottom of stagnant wells and deep in old caves. It’s practically a cliche.
But six months ago he had learned it was true, now he knew where one of the Dark Gods was hiding. Was there anyplace more lost an abandoned than Tristam’s soul?
How long has it been there? Where does my son end and that thing begin? Was he ever really mine at all?
Four police officers carrying lit road flares approached the incomplete house. Walking back to his car Gawain wondered to himself if things would have been different if he had been there, if Carol had given him a second chance. All he could do now was make sure his son stayed under lock and key for the rest of his life.
And in his heart Gawain knew that might not be enough.
Special Agent Thalia Blackwell was sitting in the passenger seat of Gawain’s rental car. “Was it them?” She asked as he sat down beside her.
“Yes.” He smiled at her and patted the swell of her belly. Gawain knew he was crazy to be trying again, especially at his age, but the affair and the baby had been unexpected pleasures. “It’s over.”
“We going back to the hotel?” Thalia took his hand in hers and kissed it.
“In a few minutes.” He smiled at her. Thick gray smoke was curling up into the air, a dark line in an otherwise perfect summer sky, “I want to see what happens next.”