Al Bruno III
Listen to me!
All of you sit down and listen to me! I will be heard! Do you think I’m kidding? One press of this button and I’ll kill us all!
There. That’s better. Back in your seats. Get the camera back on me please.
All right then. Shhhhhh. Shhhhh.
My name is Ophelia and just because I am wearing a bomb to a town council meeting it does not mean I’m some kind of a lunatic.
I am here to voice my opposition to the referendum to fill in the sink hole on Garenne Street and replace it with a park.
It’s not that I have anything against parks, they can be wonderful things, but that place is hallowed ground. I should know I lived there most of my life.
It’s part of my very first memory. I was just a nursling and I tumbled out of a dream to find myself lying on what I would later learn was a called a futon that sat in the center of what I would come to know as the solarium. I felt cold and wet. I wanted to cry but then I saw I wasn’t alone. Mendel Boggs was in the glass walled room with me, playing his Fairlight CMI and scowling.
His expression changed when he saw I was watching him his bearded face broke into a wide smile. I didn’t know the words to describe how I felt but I loved him from the very first. He was my Papa.
Do you understand now? That big old house that had stood so long at the end of Garenne Street was my home. The person you called ‘Old Man Boggs’ raised me there, in secret.
Because of my condition it wasn’t safe for me to play with other children but I was never bored. I had all kinds of toys; from dollhouses to teddy bears to tin soldiers. Papa always made time for us to play games like hide and seek, backgammon or The World of Synnibarr.
And I never needed school because Papa’s library took up three floors. He taught me the basics of reading and from there I went on to read at least one book a day. One day it would be the Collected Works of Jane Austen and another it would be the Physician's Desk Reference. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to read was the books of poetry.
Don’t think I was lonely, Papa was all the friend I needed but there were always visitors to the house. None of you ever saw them arrive but they were there.
The New York millionare Boris Fowler vacationed with us every spring, he said our basement was the only place he could really relax. He always came alone, leaving all of his servants and bodyguards waiting waiting in a hotel on the outskirts of town. Boris Fowler always brought all his financial records so he and Papa could get roaring drunk and do their taxes. What I remember most about him is his bright red hair and how every evening after supper he would smoke a cigar and tell stories about his crimes and misdemeanors.
In the summer Dr. Helena Tarr would come to visit, she had bright eyes, crooked teeth and long hair she kept anchored beneath a brightly colored babushka. She was the only doctor that ever gave me any kind of a checkup and she always found the state of my humors very perplexing. The nights she was there were always marked by an early supper of lamprey pie, then she and Papa would retreat to his bedroom and not emerge until the afternoon of the next day.
No one ever came to see us in the Fall, that was our time. Papa would pick a project and spend the next three months working on it. One year we built ships in bottles, another we taught ourselves the accordion, my favorite though was the September to December we spent making prank calls to the payphones at Alexandria University. By the time the first snowflake fell we had engineered a blood feud between the political science faculty and the first year culinary arts students.
Surama came with the winter. Every November his superiors sent him on a pilgrimage that mirrored the Appalachian trail. His masters kept him busy at this time of the year, delivering precious godweb elixir to heretics and scientists all along the coast. I was always a little afraid of Surama, his leprous skin, his unblinking eyes, the way he was always chuckling at some private joke. During his visits all he and Papa talked about was where to find more gods to add to his collection.
That’s right, I said gods. Papa had dozens of them locked away in his study.
He kept them in little bottles that he sealed tight with wire and red wax. He kept them on a shelf above his desk, arranged like spices. Some were full of squishy parts, some were just cloudy, and some were full of what looked like little crumpled leaves. He could tell me the story of how each was caught. Some stories were exciting, like the time he saw ‘Ygorthac the Mad’ gropingly pull its gelatinous green body through the crack in the Earth. He told me that after vigintillions of years the stars were right and it was ravening for delight. Luckily he was able to catch it with his trusty butterfly net. Some were said, like the time he found ‘Toggar Lord of Chaos’ drowned in a rain barrel.
Using the information he received from Surama as a guide he would travel the world in search of the divine. Once I asked Surama why the gods in Papa’s study were tiny and frail. How could gods be put to death with the same ease as a mouse?
There was a mischievous twinkle in old leper’s eye when he explained that these gods seeped from world to world to deliver their telepathic gospels to the beings they found there.
But when they came to Earth they grew weak and found themselves trapped. Powerless all they could do was hide and dream of a rapture that would never come. That was the thought that made Surama so happy, no matter how right the stars might be, the world would always be wrong.
Hey! Don’t pay attention to those sirens. Listen to me! I’m not done yet! This is too important. This is just how the house lived, you haven’t heard how the house died.
I was twelve years old when Papa left home for the last time. It was a warm fall evening and he had just learned where where Dievini the Chaos Sultan had gone into hiding. He couldn’t wait to find it. He’d almost caught Dievini once before but it had escaped by crawling into gopher hole. He stood there at the doorway with his two suitcases; one for his clothes and the other for his bottles, tweezers and formaldehyde.
Papa always left me behind whenever he traveled but what choice did he have? I was not ready for the world. Maybe I’m still not.
But I knew how to take care of myself and he trusted me with every room in the house except for his study. That door he locked with the same key he used to secure me in our home.
Once he was gone I went to the kitchen to have a good cry. That was my favorite room for crying, I think it was the acoustics. Then I made some lunch, took three sips of my medicine and went to bed early. I could sleep for days if I wanted and sometimes I did, it made the time alone go by faster.
It was the third day after Papa left, my third day straight of sleeping that I felt a hand run through my hair. I started awake but didn’t move or open my eyes. I was too scared. This wasn’t Papa, I just knew that but how had they gotten into the house? I couldn’t unlock the doors and Papa had the only key.
“Oh my,” the voice that spoke was sweet and unfamiliar, “look how you’ve grown.”
Something about those words made me angry and anger gave me enough courage to sit up and look at the intruder.
No one was there, My room was empty.
I key the two-shot derringer Papa had given me hidden in the oldest of my doll houses. I retrieved it and spent the next hour searching the house from top to bottom.
And it wasn’t until I reached the basement that I found anything wrong. There was a crack in the floor, it stretched along the space between the wine racks and the hunting trophies. It was a foot wide and damp to the touch. I place an overturned table over the hole and retreated to the library to read the volumes on architecture.
Two weeks went by and I knew Papa would be home soon. I had convinced myself that what I had experienced was a dream. With my worries tucked away I made ready for Papa’s return; I tided up my room and the library, I cleaned every nook and cranny of the solarium. I baked his favorite kind of cookies and made fresh lemonade. That done I decided to pass the time reading the Apocryphal Book of Tobit.
Two more weeks went by and I started to grow afraid. This was too long, he was never gone more than fifteen days, even if he never caught anything.
Those kinds of trips always left him in an glowering temper and I knew it was best to stay as far away from him as the house would allow. He never hit me but he could lash out verbally if got underfoot. He would shout at me, calling me strange names.
Papa had been gone for six weeks when the electricity was shut off. I had been expecting it and wasn’t concerned, I knew the house so well I could navigate it with my eyes closed.
Winter was growing closer, that did concern me, so I spent my days in the solarium and my nights in my bed under a pile of quilts and blankets. My dinners were cold canned ravioli.
On the day of the first snowfall the house began to shake, for ten seconds everything rattled and shuddered around me, books fell off shelves, plates crashed from cabinets. The walls of the solarium cracked in a dozen places but didn’t break.
So I spent the rest of that day cleaning broken glass, righting furniture and straightening pictures. When I got to the basement I found the hole had widened and begun to collapse downwards, wine bottles and hunting trophies had tumbled into it. The sight made me want to cry. I thought to myself that this was what dying must feel like.
A pair of hands settled onto my shoulders. A voice said, “The doors were never locked.”
Just like before I didn’t move, or speak, or look; I didn’t even use the gun that I now carried with me at all times. I just stayed still and stared at the hole until I was sure I was alone again.
From that point on I rarely left my room for very long and I slept for days at a time. One day in a fit of anger I read every poetry book in the house, all I did was given myself nightmares and nosebleeds.
In January the food ran out. A part of me was willing to starve, but doing that would leave my body alone with the stranger that was hiding in the house. Soon I came up with a better plan.
The library had a handful of books related to locksmithing. I read each of them cover to cover before going to the door of Papa’s office with a handful of hairpins. I was going to pray to the gods arranged in alphabetical order there. I would beg them to bring my Papa back home. I knew from my lessons that they weren’t really dead just dreaming.
But the door wasn’t locked, it pushed right open.
Papa’s office was a ruin, his desk was flipped over, the coatrack snapped in two and everything was spread across the floor; the old books, the tubes and wires and careful notes, even the gods.
The glass bottles lay in a mound by the window, every one shattered, their contents had been left to rot away in a confusion of tentacles, eyes, teeth and wings. It was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
The voice was behind me again, it smelled of formaldehyde and ashes, “Have you finished dreaming?”
All around me the house began to shudder and shake, the basement roared, the walls groaned. I shut my eyes and ran, passing through something that fluttered like a curtain. I found my way to the front door easily and just like the office it was unlocked.
It wasn’t until I was far, far down Garenne Street that I turned back to look. My home was sinking into the Earth, collapsing in around itself. All around me strangers were gathering to watch, none of them noticed me, I was just a girl in a black polonaise.
Do you see now? Those gods are still down there, ugly and festering as one. That was what went wrong, there were too many of them there in the study and their dreams reached the Great Below.
That, I think, is why Papa left, he knew it was only a matter of time.
Every cresent moon I go to appease those gods with prayers and red offerings buried in the soil. It isn’t much but it’s enough but if you go through this, if you pave over that sacred ground I won’t be able to reach them.
And I don’t know what will happen then.
Do you see now? Do you understand?
No. You don’t do you? You think my story is just that, a story.
Fine. Go. Run away, all of you run away.
That’s it, every last one of you.
Who are you? I said you could leave.
What do you think you’re doing?
Look how you’ve grown.