In His House
by Peter A. Balaskas
Table of Contents
Part 2 appeared
in issue 263.
|part 3 of 6|
A mysterious “Event” has unleashed blistering storms that have trapped a man in a kind of hotel. He finds himself in the company of others who have mutated into physical and moral monstrosities. As the protagonist moves through his strange environment, he struggles to remember his past and his forgotten identity.
She held her paw; eyes of lust turned into anguish as she peeled up her sweat-soaked shirt. Strips of fur were ripped off, revealing fresh red scarring just below her full breasts, each pierced with a nipple ring.
He muttered a curse under his breath, then shook all pity away. She was a volunteer after all. “I thought you liked playing rough.”
Minque softly growled as she shook her head. Both stared at each other; hers displayed a deep longing. She then whined, retreated to her room, and slammed the door.
Breathing in deeply with relief, he turned from the center landing and went to the left wing of the second level. Both doors were on the right, and after he passed Christine’s closed door, he walked into Francis’s open one, which lead him into a world of artistic glory that consistently stimulated his sight, smell, and in most cases, hearing.
In the past, the painter always worked to the sounds of hard rock music — boom box and cds courtesy of the house. Now, only the soft caresses of his brush strokes were heard. Scents of oil and acrylic paints pushed away the stink of Manny’s expulsions. He could almost detect a slight odor of alcohol emanating from the rows and rows of unopened beer bottles that were lined up and placed on top of each other against one of the walls. From his calculation, Francis was one row away from finishing his ten-foot-tall masterpiece.
But the fact that Francis hadn’t had one drop of the alcohol was what drew him to the painter even more. During the early times of the New Age of Man, he became the first and only person to taste Francis’s brew, and by God was it good! After praising its bouquet and flavor, he kept pushing his friend to drink away. Francis only shook his head, answering, “If it’s that good in a place like this, then it’s no good at all.”
After Francis recapped the bottle and placed it on the wall, both men heard a noise behind them. They faced the food processor, which of its own accord produced a bottle of sparkling soda, the painter’s true source of nutrition.
From that point on, whenever Francis required nourishment, he would hit the food processor key: first came the beer, which was placed on the wall, then came the water. After that day, Francis persuaded his friend not to drink anymore. He often wondered with all of that luscious beer if Francis was even tempted. He imagined so; but he knew this kind of ever-constant restraint just added to Francis’s strength and vigilance.
He turned from the glass bottle mosaic on the wall to the works Francis had painted over the years, each of which had captured an important moment inside the house. Beginning with The Event, where the Earth was bathed with an unholy green light. Another was an acrylic snapshot of the Earth as it is now: a world covered with brown, diseased clouds, except for the sandy oasis where they lived. The house in the center of that tan colored eye served as its haunting pupil.
He also created dark portraits of the tenants themselves. There was Minque and her enhanced sex organs, which glistened from the juices of her pleasures. There was also the muscular Cainye, with his blood-soaked claws and lupine head. Kat was portrayed as a scared little teen-ager, hiding in a corner surrounded by shadow.
There was a picture of a dung heap, with two pairs of yellow eyes poking out from the middle. Near the bottom of the mountain, Francis added a brass bracelet, whose inscription read Manny T.
Kao’s portrait was a pyramid of coins, with a gigantic, ancient hand popping out from the upper-right corner to grab a handful. Francis’s artistic rendition of Leech was a doorway floating in a dark limbo, with a huge, dripping, red question mark painted on the front. Surrounding the doorway was a grey barrier.
But Francis created some pleasant works. There were a few of Christine in various forms of play, whether it was with her dolls, her jump rope, or her just standing there with a heart-melting smile on her face. Francis even painted a self-portrait: him sitting in Rodan’s The Thinker posture. The hand that wasn’t holding his chin held a paintbrush.
And yet, Francis hadn’t painted him. He asked why, and the painter just waved his hand in dismissal.
His attention now shifted to the black, t-shirt sized tattoo which adorned Francis’s entire front, back, and forearms. One of the many side effects The Event deposited on the young artist, the tattoo was in a constant state of movement. The blackness swirled and drifted in waves and clouds across the muscular skies of Francis’s body.
Occasionally, animals would appear from the mercurial nature of the obsidian, cumulous tattoo. Francis affectionately called them his spirit guides. That day, his tattoo was in an avian mood. Mounted on his chest was an eagle perched on a tree-branch, gazing at him with eyes of wisdom. After adjusting his ponytail that contained his long, scarlet hair, the painter turned around for his palate, revealing a flying hawk on his back.
And splattered all over his body — the only clothes he wore were a pair of jeans — were a kaleidoscope of paint-drops and splatters from his latest effort.
Francis looked at the easel with such penetrating intensity he seemed to somehow mentally disappear into the world of his creation. After a few brush strokes, he said without looking from his canvas, “Happy mornings, sunshine. Throw me a cold one, will you?”
He pressed a button on the food generator and an ice cold beer exited from the chamber. He picked up the bottle and held it up to Francis. “Should I do the honors or should you?” The painter displayed a sly smile as he pointed the tip of his brush at him. He grabbed a wooden box and laid it near the mosaic. He climbed it and placed the cold beer on the top row. The moment he stepped down from the box, the machine hummed again. He picked up the bottle of soda and tossed it to Francis, who caught it in his left hand, again, without looking from the painting.
He couldn’t help but smile at Francis’s graceful movements. It seemed effortless. “It’s weird not hearing music while you paint. This is a first.”
Francis chuckled as he twisted the cap off. “Everything that happens here is ‘weird,’ so much so that ‘weird’ is now synonymous with normal. Do yourself a favor and wipe that word from the dictionary, brother. You have The Event to thank for that.” He downed half of the bottle with relish before laying it down and continuing with the piece.
“Why is this painting so different from the others that you don’t need music?”
Francis paused as he stared at his work. “I don’t know. Perhaps the music would somehow taint the purity of this piece.” Francis finally looked at his guest. His blue eyes shimmered in the dim confines of the room. “Its overall theme is ‘clarity,’ the ability to see without distractions.” He returned to his work.
“Speaking of seeing, let’s take a look at it.”
He held up his hand. “Forget it. No exhibitions until its completion.” The eagle sank into the ocean of blackness. In its place was a lynx, which looked back at him with a subtle grin on its face. Francis took another swig of his drink, paused, and asked, “So, you ready to leave or are you going to continue with your head up your ass?”
He groaned. It was the beginning of a tired routine they had been performing since the first day. Francis would ask his eloquent question, which would lead to an impassioned discussion on the positives and negatives of entering the tempest until both would sigh in frustration. He had enough of it. He simply turned away from Francis and casually perused through the artwork.
When the painter didn’t get a response, he looked towards his friend. “Well, are you?”
He turned and answered. “Not today, Francis. This game is getting old. Unless you have something interesting to say, I’m just going to look at your work.”
Francis’s eyes widened with shock. He placed his brush on the easel and rested his hands on his hips. Appearing above the lynx was a butterfly in flight. Francis regarded his guest with suspicion, then began to laugh. “Son of a bitch. I am so proud of you. My kid brother has finally grown up.” He became serious again and turned towards his portrait, nodding more to himself than his guest. “My theory was right. It has affected the three of us.” He then continued to paint.
“What theory is that?” When Francis didn’t answer, he shrugged as he regarded the paintings. “No matter how many times I look, I can never really get over all of this. You have some frightening stuff here.”
“I only paint what I see. Keeps me centered.”
He shifted his feet and hesitantly answered, “I have something that keeps me centered, too.”
Francis grinned. “Yeah, staring at the tempest.”
“No, something else.”
He cleared his throat, feeling an uncomfortable tension in the room. He was about to tell him about the photo, but instead answered, “Christine said you wanted to see me. It’s about what she found in her room.”
“Actually, I need to talk to you about what might be happening to the three of us.”
“What do you mean?”
Francis placed his brush down and while he turned around and grabbed a rag to wipe his hands, the hawk disappeared from his back. A head of a wolf popped from the clouds and silently bayed at the moon above it. The artist faced him and answered. “Change. A break from ritual. Every morning, I see you walk to that,” he said as he pointed towards the tempest. “And you stare at it as though you were either waiting for it to disappear, which you know very well is not going to happen, or like you were about to go in there and leave this goddamned place once and for all; which, of course, you won’t. Then, you walk in here, we have our usual debate, you leave all pissed off, you play with Christine, then you get yourself in trouble with those losers out there, resulting in either me or Christine saving your ass, then you go back to your room, go into fetal mode for the evening, then start all over again. This chain of events has been constant, with only a slight varying link here and there. You with me so far?”
The painter smiled; his eyes and teeth gleamed in the dim room. “We all have our rituals here, ever constant. But right now, we have change. A break in the link. I’m creating a work that is totally different, yet for the life of me I can’t stop for longer than five minutes to figure out why. No other painting has ever driven me like this. Christine then shows me her little discovery, a little discovery that I too find familiar, and a little frightening. Again, change. And now we come to you, breaking our little ritual. Something is happening here, brother.”
He paused, letting the information sink in. “I have my painting and Christine has her little item. Now, have you felt or found anything new?”
He felt his insides churn. Reluctantly, he pulled out his picture. “I found this under my glass knife about two weeks ago.” As Francis took the photo, he continued, “I recognize her.”
The painter studied the picture. “Who is she?”
“Don’t know. But I have a small feeling she’s a part of my past. I can feel it.”
“Who else knows about this?”
“Christine. She accidentally saw me holding it earlier this morning.” He paused until he added with reluctance, “And Kat.”
Francis whipped his head up. “Why the hell did you do that?” Francis glared at him, but the only response was shamed silence. Then, the painter’s intensity softened with understanding. “Never mind. Now I know why she left you.” He gazed at the picture, then said, “Brother, you better let me keep this.”
“I’ll be okay,” he responded as he tried to grab the photo away, but was too slow as Francis kept it away from him.
“No, you won’t. If the others hear about this, they’ll use every nasty method to take it away from you. Jesus, I’m surprised she hasn’t said anything already.”
“She won’t. Believe it or not I think she still cares about me.”
“Or she knows Christine and I will be on her if she does.” He paused, waiting for him to respond. When he didn’t, Francis shook his head. “You do realize this makes you more of a threat to all of those losers out there. You are on your way to having a past. That’s considerably powerful.”
“You got to be kidding me?”
Francis held his hand up. “Listen, if your past is coming back, maybe other things might as well. Maybe powers that will take care of all of them. Remember what I said about change. I can’t believe what is happening to the three of us is just a coincidence.”
He let the words sink in. Deep down he agreed with him. And the more he spoke about it, the more the reality of the situation came into being. Still, a part of him wanted her so much. It would be worth the risk. “I’ll be fine. I’ll always keep it with me,” he answered as he held out his hand for the photo.
But the painter didn’t move. The lynx and butterfly disappeared. A horse and a wild boar emerged; both frozen in motion, running, exhibiting the power to face any adversary. His face hardened like stone. “Sorry, brother.”
He couldn’t believe what was happening. He hadn’t seen Francis like this since the painter shielded him from Cainye. “Francis, cut that out! You’re not frightening me. I don’t care if it’s for my own good. I have to face those guys without fear. Hell, you taught me that. Please, let me have it back.”
Francis took in what was said. After a moment of silence, his mood lightened and he gave him the photo. “Okay. Your call.” Francis then frowned in embarrassment. “I was only trying to help you. You do know that, right?”
He nodded as he pocketed the picture. “I know. It’s okay, Francis.”
“I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t tell me or Christine sooner. Why didn’t you?” More silence. “Paranoia starting to increase?”
He shook his head. “It’s not you.” But he had no idea why he didn’t tell his friend. Everything was an acceptable constant at the house until the picture appeared. Ever since then, his confusion had been more severe, as well as the pain at his temple. “How long has it been since The Event?”
Francis shook his head as he returned to his work. “Don’t know. From what I can tell, the sun goes down faster on some days, slower on others. It’s feels like years, though. Why?”
“And during that time, you never saw Leech or Kao leave their rooms, did you?”
He chuckled. “If it weren’t for that force field, I would’ve doubted Leech existed at all. As far as Kao is concerned, yeah, I saw him leave. Once.”
“The night after The Event, when you were sound asleep and he crept into your room with a filleting knife. He thought you had money.” Francis set his brush down and picked up a small, two square foot painting that faced the wall opposite the beer mural. “Besides my tattoo, you still don’t know what I gained from The Event?” After his friend said no, Francis revealed his work.
Painted on a black background was a white, male hand which appeared from the right side of the frame. The hand held a large canvas bag, bulging at the bottom. Two holes were cut out on each opposite side. A long slender hand poked out of one hole and Kao’s head came out of the other at an impossibly twisted angle. Judging by Kao’s painful expression, he was still miraculously alive.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Peter A. Balaskas