The Precipice

I know much about my cell, too much, in fact.  In my more lucid moments there, I explored every inch of it, looking for ways and things I might use to kill myself with and, just because I live now, it does not mean to say I found nothing.

My cell, cleverly designed to thwart such dismal behavior as suicide is an obstruction in itself.  For example, there is no hanging lightshade from which to hang myself, nor are there hooks or any other such devices to employ to similar purpose.  The walls, covered with thick vinyl padding, are about as dangerous to me as cushions, but in no way add value to the mechanics of suffocation.  My washbasin and toilet are simple affairs; made from heavy-duty plastic instead of the standard porcelain; they cannot be broken-up into sharp cutting devices and so, are of little use.

It seemed that at every nook and cranny the designer was one-step ahead of me, but for one thing:  the glorious error of others.

In 1862, the Veterans Administration began building the hospital that, many years later, would become my prison.  It was finished by the late summer of 1863, which was a good thing, because 1863 saw the catastrophe that was Gettysburg.  Thousands of Union casualties returned home, north by train, oxcart, and handcart:  indignant, diseased, maimed, only to be greeted by the irony of the hospital’s warm, red brick structure and Greek revival columns, so reminiscent of the southern styled homes belonging to the very people who had crippled and broken their bodies to begin with.

Bleeding from the hospital’s large, stone, brick, and plastered walls I sometimes imagine I can hear the echoes of their pain and suffering, especially during winter when the walls sweat condensation from the building’s uneven and unreliable heating systems.  The place just seems to seep misery.  Its negative energy runs freely down its walls without check, comingling with the drowned, mad voices of living.  All of us together gasp and scream for healing or death, or whichever medication serves us best.

It is a horrible place.  It reminds me of a moist coffin; and if not for my strange excursion into Wormwood, its weeping walls easily doused all hope in me before my happy escape into that magical place.

Ben and Jerry tell me the grounds about the building are pleasant and park like.  I believed them.  And the first time they let me out, I tried to run.  Where I was running to, I did not know, only, the feeling of the warm sun drying the damp of the building on my skin seemed to demand I do something.  I got about twenty yards before running directly into a tree, and I remember Ben and Jerry laughing kindly at my ridiculously poor eyesight as they picked me up and led me back inside.  When they took me out on later days, I found myself cuffed to a wheelchair.  And that served me right, I guess.

But the near-post bellum builders of the hospital did know a thing or two about quality masonry.  They gave its weeping walls the relief of bold, contrasting colors and materials:  deeply varnished wooden doors, highly polished wooden floors, baseboards, chair rails, skirting’s, and crown moldings brought character and compliment to the misery of its vain structure.  Sometimes art students from the nearby university come to tour their workmanship.  I wonder too if they hear the din the walls make as they admire its lofty halls and great rooms.  As for me, because of my awful eyesight, the things here I see best are the speckled grubby brass knobs and nameplates upon its innumerable doors.  I see patterns in their placement, geometric patterns:  boxes, straight and parallel lines, and Aztec styled rectangular swirls.  When walked or wheeled through its rooms and hallways they come together in a mosaic of golden spots and sticks, but taken individually, they are like little golden eyes staring out at me from beyond the grave.

The hospital stayed with the VA for almost fifty years and, abandoned to the textile industry, it served as the administration center for a mill built behind it.  Then, in the late 1920’s, when the World War came, it became a hospital once more.  And that sad, human endeavor of thirty years brought it more broken bodies and more death than anything the Civil War had ever managed to throw at it.

When the Great War ended, the place seemed abandoned for good.  The late fifties saw the old building crumble gracefully into a ruin.  Its only occupants: teenage boys bringing their dates for titillating, haunted excursions of which, I’m sure, the old place did not disappoint.

From the road, it and textile mill looked like so many ghostly relics one sometimes finds nestled deep in the wooded realms of the north east.  Little oaks became giant oaks, and its grounds became a wild land populated by deer, coyotes, and raccoons and, besides the fun-seekers, came the hunters too, and the building’s handsome brickwork became pocked with bullet holes and its windows shattered.  That time, I think, was probably when the water got in, giving the place its horrid, grave-like damp I feel in my bones today.  Its floors, ceilings, and slate roof held but its internals:  boilers, toilets, plumbing, and kitchens degraded quietly into yellowed, hoary lumps.

Finally, in the fashionable eighties, a consortium of doctors bought the place to function as a private prison to house the criminally insane.  The price, insanely low and, with Federal grants for restoration and State dollars to house its inmates a better place could not be found.  The mill behind was torn down and its grounds and structure restored; the old hospital saw a new, albeit scary light, at the end of the inky, dark tunnel it had traveled during its long, sad lifetime.

But, as always, quality materials and expert workmanship, like the pyramids and the acropolis, stand as a testament to time and, as such, never go to waste; with added steel doors, computerized locking systems, and modern medical equipment, the building and everything round it was remade.  And one should think, because of the effort, no stone should have been left unturned.

The furniture, I have said, is of compressed pine board; it crumbles before it splints.  My toilet, made from high-grade plastic is bound by bolts and nuts cleverly fused with more plastic that does not slip.  My window is barred, its glass beyond reach.  Of electrical wiring, it is either guarded or hidden.  There is little I, or any other mad man could hope to use kill himself here, but for that one unturned stone.  For you see, my floor is made of three inch Northern Oak and, varnished only, over time the finish flaked away to nothing, it was allowed to dry, and other than scuffs and dents, the floor remained sound; but the ages did dry it well, too well perhaps.

My stone, my one ace-in-the-hole, my treasure, and lone secret is a single splintered floorboard that lies beneath my bed.  I can reach it easily between my mattress and frame.  I have touched it many times, fingered it and thought fondly of it.  It is in the shape of right-angled triangle, but to remove it–to tear and snap it from its board would be loud and take more time to turn upon myself than it would for my warders to be here to relieve me of its especial awfulness.

I think of it often and how it came to exist:  careless furnishers is my best guess, those who moved my bed to its spot probably caught this board’s dry edge and, pushing the bed heavily against it, lifted it to its deliciously fractured position.

I looked to Ben.  My one terrible, cycloptic eye dim and murderous, and I thought of Adam and his healing hands.  This is what He wants–He, the Father of all humanity.  Who am I to deny him?

Nonchalantly, I let my hands fall from my lap.  I slipped my left between the mattress and the frame.  Sliding my body into a prone, sleeping position that Ben would take for idleness, I touched it.  It was as I remembered it.  And touching it I became frightened, surely I could not actually be thinking of murder?  For to lift it and break it from its anchor meant I was committed.  I would have only this one chance.  And when it came, there would be an enormous sound and Ben, only a few feet from me, well… well, he would be on top of me in seconds.  Despite his ponderous size, like a hippopotamus, I knew he was fast over short distances.

I needed a distraction.

The chair shifted again and I swear again to you, the sound was Lincoln’s bark of encouragement.  I imagined Adam’s smile then, when Ben’s shape came to him.  Adam’s hands would be on Ben and then Ben would be home, restored and healed, and ready for whatever came last.  I daydreamed I was home in Wormwood and I let my mind go blank but for the wooden dagger beneath my fingertips.

“What you smiling bout, exnzpat?” said Ben’s fleshy shape.  “You got nuting to smile about.”

“Maybe…” I whispered.  But I said it so low I doubt he heard me.

*  *  *

Mia did her rounds.  There was no reason to hurry.  Lester was not ready yet.

When she finished, she nodded only and, saying nothing to the old nurse, slipped out the two sets of double doors of the ward and went into the hall.  She went quickly to a large stainless steel bin beside the elevators and opened it.  Inside she removed several rose stems and a few lilacs.  It was an incredible thing she thought to herself as she rummaged about the bin, that so many people really did not understand the concept of ‘biohazard.’  Children and adults with compromised immune systems, when exposed to cut flowers can become sicker or just die outright because of them and yet, no matter the signage about the ICU’s and the hospital’s gift shops, loved-ones remained optimistically obstinate and continued to bring them in.  Mia could not count the times she had security come to her ICU to remove both plants and irate family members who seemed to think pretty flowers a healing remedy to the chronically ill.  She shook her head in remembering and to the stupidity of normal people in general, while she gathered their nonsensical leavings under her apron and took them into the bathroom.

In the privacy of a stall, she offered a small, simple blessing over the flowers and began to strip them down into small pieces.

Mia hid the tiny pieces of blessed leaf and twigs in a pocket beneath her uniform and, before leaving the bathroom, filled her left hand with liquid soap.  Its polish and thickness would make an excellent base for cartilage and fat, she decided.

Mia looked at herself in the mirror and smiled.  She could see minute lines of red and gold rimming her eyes where the wrinkles of age had been only hours before.  The new lines radiated outward, forming whirlpools about her eyes.  They swirled brightly round her cheeks giving her the look of a painted gypsy woman.  The lines were the tattoo of Earth and Sky.  Invisible to others they were the first true mark of the Magus of the Earth.

She had been too long in the absence of magic.  Magic, by default, made one younger and Mia smiled because she saw the heady days of her youth appear beneath the little whirling halos.  Here and now, Mia was in her element: power of life, power of death.  She was a walker of both worlds; she smiled and the Magus in the mirror returned it in kind.

She turned away from the mirror and straightened her uniform, careful not to smear the soap concealed in the palm of her hand.

Mia returned to the ward, passing by the old nurse like a ghost.  The duty nurse did not see her come in.  Mia stood before the duty station watching the nurse and, using her mind, cast a heavy blanket of malaise over the elder woman and the space between her station and the entry doors.  If an intruder entered the area, the spell would break and send phantom alarms ringing in her head.  It was almost two in the morning.  It was unlikely Mia would be disturbed, but there was no harm in it she decided and, passing from the station, she went down the hall to Lester’s room.  Mia felt the old exhilaration that came with communing with the dead and the dying.  It had been a long time since her last and her skin prickled to the long forgotten invisible fingers of her craft–no, not Craft, she thought–Calling, that was its proper name.  And feeling useful for the first time in a century, Mia entered Lester’s room magnanimously, the way the Queen of the Earth should.  Mia’s entrance created such a bow wave it shocked Lester’s soul as she approached the bed.  Lester felt as if she had touched an electric wire; her soul leapt violently against her cage-like carriage in dismayed wonderment at the glorious presence of the Magus Great.

Mia smiled once again.  “Gently, dear-heart, gently, gently,” she whispered quietly to the near-dead shape of Lester F.  “The end is simply a new beginning.”

The hospital room was a little larger than most.  Rooms in intensive care units are always much larger; the extra space is needed for family, friends, and priests.

Against one wall, there was a long couch.  It could retract into a bed for exhausted relatives.  There was even a small locker with drawers in which to keep their articles of clothing.  Pushed against the wall was a small coffee table and, Mia saw, trapped behind it, a few tattered birthday streamers and balloons.  Atop it sat the remnants of Lester’s birthday cake and four birthday cards.  She saw the crumpled remains of birthday wrapping paper in the wastepaper basket, but what object it had wrapped, she could not see.

Mia dragged the coffee table before the couch and sat heavily.  She lifted the cake thoughtfully from the table and rested it beside her.  The birthday cards and miniscule bits of paper and other leavings from out of the birthday cards she brushed to the floor.  With the tabletop cleaned, she dropped the glob of liquid soap from her hand and rubbed it into a swirl in the table’s center.  It made a pearly blob upon the table’s surface, and in the dim of the room and with the sound of Lester’s quick, excited breathing filling her ears, Mia readied herself, taking in deep, long droughts of the room’s air and filling her lungs with the essence of Lester’s shape and soul.

Slowly, and with great care, Mia removed a candle from the birthday cake.  Its wick was barely burned and the candle barely used.  She placed the candle between the palms of her hands and, in heavy concentration, began to rub it quickly between her hands.

Mia called for and felt a powerful breeze come up to her.  It pushed on her and she allowed it in.  Almost immediately, the candle wax became wet and sticky, melting from the strange, dark heat inside her hands.  She cupped her hands and, holding the liquid wax above the blob of swirled soap she incanted a brief but powerful spell and blew into her hands, letting the liquid wax fall atop the soap.

It did not pool, as a liquid should.  Instead, it hit the soap with a splash and together the soap and wax rose up from the table and stood erect.  It looked like an upended carrot.  Remaining fixed in the middle of the table the carrot-thing began to rotate slowly.  It wavered too, like hula girl in dance.  Elongated and looking like a ballet dancer, the little thing waltzed merrily upon the tabletop while Mia’s face darkened and wrinkled brightly above it.

From the bed, Lester’s breathing came faster and more forcibly than before as it found the rhythm of the dancing aberration trapped under Mia’s dark spell.  Weird magic began to fill the room and, invisible to all but the Magus, it too found the rhythm and momentum of the swaying, swinging, moving carrot-thing atop the table’s center.

Without taking her eyes from the thing, Mia pushed a hand under her uniform finding the pocket in her dress where she had hid the shredded flower, leaf, and twig.  She removed a handful, brought it to her lips, kissed at it gently and stood; suddenly, in a violent motion, she tossed the handful of detritus at the waving, weaving, little thing.  As the flowery debris struck it, a brilliant red flame flashed-up and filled the room in rotating, golden light.  The leaf, flower bits, and twig were immediately absorbed into the carrot-thing and it began to pulsate like a beating heart:  it was as if it breathed!  And like the moon, its heaving kept to the breathing tempo of the two females in the room.

Lester cried out just then and opened her eyes and, seeing the nurse before the strange carrot-thing, closed them tightly in confusion.  What was nurse doing?  Her mind reeled, giving in to the mad twirling of the carrot-thing and outpouring of magic sweating like steam from the glowing face of the Magus.  Her hospital room was a sauna now.  It stunk of ozone; it was the stench of lightening striking the earth and its stink, the burning of metals, stung her nostrils and bit at the back of her throat.

The room spun and its spin was inward.  Spiraling downward, the room and everything in it seemed to fall into the dancing carrot.  Everything was a confused revolving, falling darkness.  Lester felt a part of her melting like a chocolate block stuck in the bottom of a dark, cast-iron pot.  What part of her, she did not know, only, she seemed to be coming to pieces.  All was black but it was not black.  The room itself contained light:  that from the instruments that were keeping her alive and that from the small desk lamp at her bedside, nevertheless, the darkness seemed to absorb this light, swirling and twirling it, mixing it in time to the wild musical spell sung from nurse’s thick, moist lips.

The song of the Magus was a tempest of notes and half-measures crashing together in prestissimo, Lester its instrument, and the carrot-thing its tuning fork.

Lester cried out to the Magus, her voice barely a squeak, was drowned because the roar of the song.  “Nurse!  I’m afraid.  What’s happening?”

“Oh, child!  It is wonderful.  It is a wonderful thing.  I’m making you a friend.”

“A friend?” Lester whispered, afraid.

“Yes, a friend.  Together you, he, and I, will make a little adventure together.

“Now hush, child!  …I must concentrate.”

Mia’s eyes never left the dancing thing upon the tabletop while she spoke.  She had not forgotten Lester, far from it.  She could feel pieces of Lester’s soul dancing in time to her song.  All of them struggled to be free of the shape that held them altogether, dying there upon the bed.

As the song’s pitch climbed feverishly to climax so too did Lester’s soul in strength.  It pushed, pulled, and clawed its way through the sticky, finite shape of its human prison.  It could sense the freedom round it and the infinite beyond and, in a hungry frenzy no wild animal had ever experienced, it fought harder still… but it was a trap.  The Magus knew it was coming and she was ready for it.  The blurred blackness of the spiraling room and the noise of the song hid the Magus from the spirit’s sight.

And Mia, paraded her sinister orchestra to the fugue of three.  The horrific carrot-thing growing on the tabletop before her; the teeth of the spiral trap to enclose that especial part of Lester’s soul needed to summon of the string-ghost she had found in the belly of the dragon; and me–she wanted to find me–my eyes–her savior from the jaws of that same dragon which had almost killed her.

The Magus Great; she sought me out.

The Magus did not need all of Lester’s soul, for to remove it would cause Lester’s immediate death.  No, she needed only a tiny piece of it.  Souls are powers unto themselves and if Mia drew it out completely even her power, she knew, could not contain the spirit-creature and it would escape easily from her grasp.

The carrot-thing, with the addition of the plant pieces, had grown to almost a foot in length now.  Upright, it danced.  Rotating counter-clockwise now it no longer looked like a carrot, for its spin had caused two appendages to protrude from its sides.  They were nubs and now growing, they began to look very much like little arms.  And at their ends, it seemed grotesque hand-like and finger-like features were beginning to form.

Mia reached for a chunk of cake without looking at it.  She dug her hand in and lifted the mess over the weird object spinning on the table.  She held the cake in her hand as if it was molding clay and, cup-like, she placed it round the middle of the thing.  Her face was dark and beginning to perspire just then from the tight bounds of concentration filling the horn-like cavity at the top of her forehead.  She was unstoppable and inseparable from the weave of the universe and, although it would be many tens of thousands of years before the Horn of the Magus would be visible upon their heads, Mia knew it was there and she felt the golden threads that tie the universe together gather there and fill her full.  She was becoming one with the universe–tuning into the very stuff that stitches us and everything else altogether.  The Magus felt herself blossom under its presence and she began to laugh wildly as the magic lashed at the room, Lester, and her great self.  She was captain of this mighty ship amidst the mightiest of storms.  There could be no relief now–no surrender now–just her–just her, and her will, and her need.  The universe was hers for the taking.

The cake disappeared into the abomination and suddenly, a nub at its top appeared.  It was a head.

Mia brought her hand away satisfied with the result, laughing still, she thought how sensual this magic was.  An image of Ben flashed across her brain but she pushed it aside.  That was for later… later!  Right now, she needed focus… sex later, dark and golden magic now!

The Magus reached out with her mind and, finding Lester she…

*  *  *

There was a clanking of keys and I saw Ben stand and step to one side.  “Safe?” came Jerry’s query.

“Safe,” Ben replied, moving the chair aside and opening the door.

Jerry came into the room.  His big body seemed to take up all of its remaining space.  He must have seen something in Ben’s face that alerted him at once, for his tone became suddenly sharp.

“Everything okay?” he asked of Ben.

“Yeah, sure.  He said something crazy about there being two world wars, but dat was bout it.”

Jerry snorted and said to me, “Shit, exnzpat whydya say sometin stupid like dat?  I only got high school–you got college.  You know better, man.”  He turned to Ben who was reseating himself in the barking chair.  “Is he still saying he’s the other guy?”

“No.  He’s back.”

“Shit Ben, I been telling you he’s bin bullshitting us the whole time.”

“Jer, you know he ain’t crazy.”

“He’s playing a game whit us, dat’s all, Ben.  Stop being so chicken shit.”

My nails caught under the splint.

“I ain’t afraid!  I ain’t no chicken shit.”


I applied pressure to the splint.  It rose slightly from its hold upon its board.

“You been freaking bout him since you came in last night.”

“No I ain’t.  It’s…  it’s just weird.  You know.  He wus talking jus like the other guy!”

I applied more pressure.  The splint lifted for a second time and my index finger slipped under its edge.  I felt a sting of pain as a sliver of wood slid into my finger.  Oh, it was sharp.  Very sharp.

“He’s playing a game.  Dat’s all.”

“No.  No he ain’t!”

Jerry went to the other chair in the room and, for a moment he obscured my target as he pushed the chair with his foot across the floor and placed it squarely in front of the door.

I heard Lincoln bark at the movement of it.

I pushed and lifted again.  All four fingers went under now.  The splint made a cracking sound.  I held my breath and looked to the arguing men.  They hadn’t heard!  I pushed and levered at the splint once more.  I felt the sticky ooze of blood from my speared finger run across my hand.

Jerry moved to sit.  Lincoln again!

“Shit, Ben.  I heard ‘nough.  He’s fooling wit us–fooling you.  Making a fool of you.  Not me.  I know bullshit when I ‘ear it!”

Through the darkened fog of my one eye, I saw Ben turn his head angrily toward his friend.

“We known each other a long time, Jer.  Since when have any of these nutters ‘ere ever scared me?”

To Jerry’s credit, he gave Ben’s question a second of thought.  My thumb was on top now and the palm of my hand completely beneath the splint, and still it had not snapped free.  I felt my blood everywhere.  It was slick.  I needed a good grip and, finding it, I pulled again.

What Jerry said next, I did not hear; a woman’s voice came to my ear.  She whispered softly, “exnzpat, we are here to catch him when he falls.  Do it!  Do it now!”

It was the blessed, sweet voice of my accomplice to murder, Eve.

I pulled as hard as I could.  And with giant crack my dagger was freed.  I leapt to my feet, barely conscious of anything but Ben’s breast in front of me.  And standing there, with the chunk of wood in front of me and held up high in my left hand, I was startled by its size.  It was easily TWO FOOT IN LENGTH!  OH, MY GOD, I thought as I began to move forward.

Blood roared in my ears.  Lincoln barked madly.  He was wild.  I was wild!  The two men turned towards me, surprised.  So surprised they did not move.  A strange vision of a small girl dying in a hospital bed flashed across my mind as lurched toward Ben.

*  *  *

…netted only those pieces of Lester’s soul she needed.  The rest of it she forced back into its bony, little prison.  Lester cried out from the physical pain of her doing it.

“Nurse!  Oh, nurse.  I hurt!  Something hurts!”

On the couch, locked in deep concentration, the Magus did not look up, instead, she muttered, “Lester, you are not dressed properly for your adventure!  What have you to wear?”

The question caught Lester off guard and, for a moment, she forgot her pain as she thought of the dress her mother had given her for her birthday.

“I… I have my new dress.  In the wardrobe.”

“Then get it child.  Get it and put it on.  We have much to do.”

Lester rose easily.  Something inside her pushed her.  It had strength and it propelled her from her bed.  But she was suddenly stopped by the tube of the IV drip in her right arm.  Without thinking, for she knew how the little needle within the tube worked.  She had seen it inserted and removed many times in her life, and she twisted it and slid it from its lock, and now free of it, she jumped from the side of the bed, went to the wardrobe and flung it open.  Inside she found her new, happy-blue dress.  She tore her silly hospital garb easily from her body, grabbed at the dress and slipped it over her pale frame.  But now that it was on, she felt suddenly weak and faint.  She crumpled to the floor in a small heap before the wardrobe.

*  *  *

The man approached Lilith.  He came up from behind her.  He did not speak.  He did not need to, for she knew he was there.  She continued to stare into the mossy glade and rocky crevasse where the ebony bridge joined that part of the mountain to that of the Hive Mound of the Chora.  Beside her, unconscious in the moss, lay executionerofthewill.

“Wife,” the man said.

“I am not your wife.  Do not call me that,” Lilith said without turning.

The man hesitated.  He was unsure.  He had never understood Lilith.  After a moment he said, pointing at the prone form of executionerofthewill, “He cannot be here… it is bad enough you brought the other.  Crystalson will be angry.”

Lilith turned and looked scornfully at the man.  “Adam, God is no Greek or Roman myth toying with our lives.  Our lives are our own to do with as we please,” she shook her head in irritation and returned her gaze to the Hive Mound, and added, “You would understand that if you had paid attention during our division.”

Adam said nothing believing her wrong; and when he did not reply Lilith said quietly, “Be quick Adam.  Exnzpat brings you your corpse.”

*  *  *

When Lester regained consciousness, she found herself back on her bed.  Her eyes fluttered open and she saw two things:  the first, a thing that made her glad, and the second, something that terrified her.  The first was her dress.  She was still wearing it.  It had not been a dream that she had left the bed and had put it on.  Nurse, standing above her was smoothing it out and pulling at its tresses to make her look pretty.  But the second thing, that second thing that frightened her so terribly, stood silent and mute, waxy and cakey, beside the nurse.

It was a monstrous thing.  It was a thing in the shape of a person.  It looked to be made of glassy plasticine.  It was ashy gray in color and seemed covered in tiny specks of brown, red, and yellow leaf and yellow cake, and although the overall visage of the thing was gray, the spotty mixture of detritus gave it an eerie, golden glow.  It stood upon the coffee table like a sickly, yellow ghost.  Its face and body had no features other than its immutable shape.  Lester shuddered in fear and tried to close her eyes, she did not want to look, but the strangeness of it all brought her eyes flickering open once more in horrific curiosity.

Above Lester, the face of the Magus was purple with dark windings that reminded her of cords and ropes.  They spiraled from out of her head like that of an enraged octopus.  The strange windings filled the room, balling it up and filling it full; the very air of the room felt compressed and squeezed by its presence.  Lester could breathe only by using short, sharp little gasps.  She felt like caught fish fresh out of water.

The hands of the Magus were upon her now and Lester felt like she was fading.  She was not dying but she felt suddenly lifted and carried.  Her body and the remnants of her soul rose from the bed, lifted by invisible hands.  Lester’s automotive functions were all that remained to her now and those remaining things told her to be afraid and run, run… run if she could.

And then nurse did a strange thing.  In her hand, a small piece of string appeared and, whispering strange words over it, she divided it into three equal parts.  The first part nurse placed into her own mouth.  The second part nurse placed into Lester’s gasping, gulping mouth.  And with the third part, she turned to the ghostly, grey monstrosity standing upon the table top and poked it into its soft, doughy head.

Lester’s bulging eyes followed nurse’s hands.  She gasped and her eyes brimmed in terror, for everything was so strange, so wrong, and so, so… obscene.  Suddenly, the invisible hands lifted Lester higher into the air.  And the nurse, strange and bound with so many windings, cried out a single word, and although Lester had never heard the word before, she shook at its hideous annunciation.

“CARTHAGE” was that word, and Lester closed her eyes as tightly as she could, for now it seemed it was her only escape.

The Magus, in full glow with a black light, wound tight by the living roots of the earth, was full of joy.  Demons rushed into her feet and, finding their way through her body, nestled deeply in her horn.  They filled her full of the rich power of all BAAL had to offer.

Carthage!  It was not a place.  It was a state of being, Punic and Foul.  And upon seeing Lester floating above the bed because of the magic wielded by the great Magus, Moloch jumped-up and exploded like a firework into the small room.

Light was everywhere.  Dark was everywhere.  And Lester’s world faded to horrid gray.

*  *  *

I lurched; and barely conscious of my own actions, I raised the daggered piece of wood and aimed it exactly at Ben’s undefended beating heart.

Lincoln barked… there was no stopping me now.  My head was a roar of black noise.  I felt like thunder in a winter’s night.

*  *  *

Lester died but not quite, the Magus, with the power of Baal inside her, held her tightly in her windings.  The Magus gripped at Lester’s lingering soul and took them to the shadow lands that exist between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

The Magus had been there before and so she knew her way.  The Magus knew also, she and Lester were safe from their own Eidolons who appeared immediately, running alongside them.

The Magus laughed in mad delight, seeing herself in Eidolon form carrying Lester’s own Eidolon in her arms.  And running along the precipice together, side by side, the Earthy Magus and the dead Magus, at the same moment, removed their pieces of string from their mouths and tossed them into the nonexistent air between them.

The strings collided and a mighty CRACKING sound ignited the air between them.  Below the burning string, a brown smoke formed and within that lifeless air, a dark smudge in the shape of a small boy puffed into existence.  The smudge of the boy rushed too.  Remaining between the humans and their Eidolons, it kept their pace in the wild race along the precipice.

The precipice stretched into infinity.  And as they moved, both Lester’s opened their eyes to see.

The sky held no stars.  The walls of the world were mud, worms, and beetles.  There were no colors, only gray and a backdrop of bitchumen black.  White did not live there.  And the blackness behind the gray was death.  It was not a world but a tunnel to nowhere and yet, everywhere else as well.

The boy-smudge took on greater definition and Lester heard the dead Magus cry out, “He is yours, Sister.  Keep him well!”

The near-dead Lester closed her eyes and suddenly the rushing madness stopped.  She felt herself safe once again upon her hospital bed.  The pain in her body was terrific and she cried out because of it.  A concerned voice came to her.  “What’s wrong?”  It was not the voice of the nurse, but that of a young boy’s.

Lester opened her eyes to see.  Leaning across her hospital bed stood a boy.  The boy was the size and shape of the strange waxy thing nurse had made upon the tabletop, but now it… he… it was real.  But that was one thing.  The other thing was that the hospital room was gone.  To Lester’s astonishment, she saw she was outside, and it was snowing.