3LBE #12
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The End of Mr. Blame

by Kealan-Patrick Burke

 

On taking my leave of Hapsbury Manor (for reasons best not mentioned here), it occurred to me rather than flee homeward to my dismal haunt in Stokington — with its loathsome gray walls, mottled green carpeting and perpetual air of disappointment — that I should instead pay a visit to my dear old friend Caldwell Blame, whose residence sprawled across the mountains overlooking the very train station where I now found myself contemplating the futility of my recent ventures.

I felt an air of giddy excitement as I waved away the train — now absent one heartbroken and disillusioned accountant — and waited for the plumes of deceptively pure white smoke to disperse so that I could once again let my eyes alight upon those rounded hilltops and the faint cream smudge that crouched between them.

I chided myself for not having thought of it sooner, but a man who is content never needs to run from shadows. Now however, with shadows firmly in tow, I hailed a taxi, gave him the directions and ignored his odd looks as we rambled through the sun-dappled streets of Hampton, a place I had once looked to for a new beginning and now was quite relieved to leave behind.

The journey was longer than I had anticipated and the crude roads, carved it seemed by some novice god’s trembling hand from unyielding limestone, conspired with foul and unhappy memory to siphon from my soul some of the good spirit I had been so glad to entertain thus far.

We crested a serpentine path and the emerald green landscape rolled away from us, the taxi driver (an odious emigrant with some unpronounceable handle) quick to inform me how odd it was for someone to request passage through this hostile and wild terrain.

“Doesn’t Mr. Blame call on you to ferry him to and fro?” I asked and waited an eternity for him to respond.

“Neh,” he eventually replied and shrugged his shoulders. “No-one come here. No-one leef here.”

“Except Mr. Blame.”

“You say so.”

I was loath to continue our banter, even though it had taken my thoughts, however briefly, from Hapsbury Manor and all its inherent ugliness.

“Haven’t you ever seen him?” I enquired, a hand braced against the door to keep myself from being jostled up through the roof.

Again a shrug. “I tole you. No one here. You come visit. You leef here.”

The celestial spotlight so helpful in illuminating the solution to my quandary had faded and now thick iron-colored clouds roiled in the air above the vehicle.

Glass beads of rain speckled the window, blurring the landscape and so it was that Blame’s house was almost on top of us before I saw it.

The driver pulled the vehicle to a squealing halt and muttered something over his shoulder. Without knowing what it was he had attempted to divulge, I stuffed his grimy fist full of notes and exited the taxi. A tobacco-stained grin informed me that our business was concluded and he drove away, leaving me draped in the shadow of Caldwell’s magnificent house.

Built by his father, a tyrannical brute by the name of Hanson, it was a deceptively simple-looking structure. Rectangular as it rose but distended towards the roof by the protruding miniature turrets on all four corners, it resembled a shrunken castle. I recalled Caldwell’s concurrence when I had used a similar metaphor in speaking of the building.

“My father would have built himself a castle, had he been in a position to afford such a thing. I sometimes think he believed himself a king.”

Looking at the splendiferous structure, just a few rooms shy of a manor; I had no difficulty in believing such a thing. The medieval pretense was spoiled only slightly by more modern touches. New glass windows and electric lighting broke the illusion of antiquity as soon as one bore close enough to examine the Blame house more carefully.

With the sky above me rumbling and peering darkly around the gables, I resolved to get indoors as quickly as possible, not only for shelter but also to be reacquainted with the majesty of the house and my good friend, Caldwell.

The heavy brass knocker resisted me at first but with a final shuddering groan it allowed itself to be moved and I hammered it down upon the rusted plate. The resultant clamor resounded hollowly within the confines of the house and I shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as I awaited acknowledgement.

But to my surprise and disappointment, none came.

Unwilling as I was to simply give up trying to rouse some sign of life within the cold stone walls of the place, I thumped the door with renewed force. It had also come to mind that I had not requested that the taxi return to collect me. I didn’t relish the thought of being stranded alone in an unoccupied house in the mountains.

The echoes continued with apparently no ears to hear them and I was filled with unease. Struggling not to panic, I made my way through the bramble-choked garden around to the back of the house. I was greeted with only more darkness and silence.

How lucky was I then that the front door should be standing ajar when I returned to the face of the building?

Any curious fear such a thing might have incurred in me was forgotten as I rushed in from the cold and the deepening dark and called out the name of my would-be host.

The hallway was crowded with ghosts.

The gnarled hand of despair forced my shoulders down as I surveyed my surroundings, the furniture draped in white drop cloths, the floor covered in plastic sheeting, no light, no scent of habitation.

Alone. Draft-bidden dust swirled in the gloom like shifting memories and I shook my head, all trace of my good humor and excitement now banished and smothered beneath the drop cloths.

Overhead, the muffled sound of God’s hammer striking the Heavens thundered down through the stone and I shivered. For now, what had been to my bruised mind an escape to freedom appeared more cage-like than any of the fears I had entertained.

In fact it seemed if anything, I had stumbled upon a place that encouraged loneliness and whispered despair from its many cracks and holes.

The door groaned shut and I was left to ponder this quandary in the dusty hall.

Presently, I warmed myself with the knowledge that should it become necessary, Hampton was less than ten miles away. Certainly not a jaunt for a gentleman but a gentleman in the company of dust and age ceases being proud when there are no eyes to judge him.

With a sigh that caused the curtain of dust to whirl around me, I ventured forth into the living room.

“I dream of men with guns,” a voice said and I jumped, startled.

I followed the sound of what must surely be Caldwell’s voice and saw a high-backed chair, covered in sheeting but facing the fireplace.

“Caldwell?”

“But not any kind of gun I’ve ever seen in reality. These are surely futuristic devices, monstrous inventions that allow the bearer to unleash pure plasma beams, instantly turning the enemy to dust. Can you comprehend the significance of such a thing?”

Because of his tone, in which it appeared I was not the one he addressed at all, but rather some unseen guest lurking in the shadows, I slowly made my way around to the side of the chair. I was filled with a sudden sense of dread before I came face to face with my old friend.

Caldwell had aged terribly and I caught my breath at the sight of his thinning hair and haggard face. Odder still, even though I now stood staring by his side was that it seemed he had yet to notice me.

“Of course not,” he continued. “How could we possibly understand anything of the future? Our narrow minds prevent us from exploring the boundaries and limitations of our own untapped intellect. But there will be changes and these changes will bring about the end of everything.”

I put a hand on his wrist and he flinched and looked up at me, fear making a horrid mask of his face. “Don’t touch me!” he shrieked and I swear his eyes glowed. But that of course was impossible and I gather my fatigue exaggerated a lot of what I saw that day.

Caldwell sneered and turned his attention back to the fireplace, his chest sinking with a heavy sigh.

I pondered my options for it now seemed quite clear that my unfortunate friend had, by whatever cruel twist of circumstance, fallen prey to madness; a unique brand of insanity in which he believed himself a prophet of an evil and technologically adroit future. That he would start at the lightest of touches shocked and saddened me but, perhaps goaded by my newfound isolation, I deigned to arouse in him recognition, however slight.

“Caldwell? It’s me! Robert.”

He gave me no sign that he had heard, but I continued undaunted. “Your old college buddy, Caldwell. Robert Hayes!”

Licking his lips, he nodded and a faint spark of hope coruscated across my weary mind, only to be quenched almost immediately when he spoke again.

“There’s a man in my basement.”

I sighed and moved ever so carefully, slowly around toward the fireplace. “What?”

“His hours are unusual but I'm gradually figuring him out. He comes when I sleep, or at least when he thinks I should be sleeping.”

“Who is he?” I asked, deciding that if rational conversation were no longer valid then perhaps joining in the madness might yield some answers.

“Oh he’s a most awful thing, a ghastly visitor. I know he doesn’t belong here but I'm afraid to send him home. Afraid because of what it might do to us. To our home.”

My despair plumbed new depths the longer he spoke and I wondered if I should summon help to the mausoleum the Blame Manse had become. Caldwell was lost to me, that much was evident. The skeletal figure in the chair before me neither acted nor spoke like my old friend and my grief at his loss had already sprouted.

It was then I noticed his hands. Or rather, the peculiar object he held in them.

A slim black rectangular instrument with a series of opaque glass buttons running down the middle. At the top, a gray, segmented strip periodically lit amber. It was the most unusual item and I found myself wondering what race or obscure civilization Caldwell had stumbled on in his travels to acquire such an odd keepsake. But even as I wondered, I realized theobject was not something to which the term 'obscure' could be applied. If anything, it looked more advanced than anything I'd ever set eyes upon — a toy perhaps, something Caldwell had manufactured to add credence to his own delusions.

“What is that unusual-looking thing?” I asked eventually, unable to stop myself.

“It belongs to him,” he whispered as if he feared his 'visitor' should overhear. “I took it from him the night I crept up on him. He thought I was asleep you see but I had been in hiding for hours. I knocked him out cold when he appeared and took this thing from him, keeping him here and all of us safe.”

I frowned down at him, wishing he would spare me a glance not brimful of malice. “Keeping him here? Then from where has he come?”

Caldwell sniffed and put a hand over the strange object. “The same place you have, the future. The same bloody place all of you bloody strangers come from.” He was growing more excitable by the second. “Tomorrow, next year, next month, next week. Anywhere but where people are supposed to come from which is now! And I have to keep you all here or our world will be destroyed. Why is that so bloody difficult for all of you to understand? I can’t let you return or you’ll knock normality off of its axis and where will we find ourselves then?”

I raised a hand to calm him and he snapped his head toward me. “Which one are you from? Which new order? Which time? What bloody year spawned you?”

To my surprise, he jumped to his feet and backed away, his eyes as wide as full moons, teeth bared, skin pulled taut over the harassed skull beneath. He jabbed a threatening finger at me. “I know! I know what it is you people have done to our world in the whenever and I won’t allow it.”

He smiled grimly. “Caldwell Blame, prosperous and secure, suddenly finds himself in the position of gatekeeper for all the eldritch dimensions science has kept a secret from us. Will history be ready to remember one from its own time once they discover this?”

I shook my head. “Caldwell, old friend. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is the man in the basement?”

“Why don’t you go see for yourself? He doesn’t have long more.”

He stood there then, breathing huge gasps of air and staring at me with hatred seething on his gaunt features. And then he retook his seat and began to whisper. “Go see. Tell him you were unable to get it from me.”

I ignored him and searched the dusty vault of my memory for directions to the basement.

• • •

It transpired that Caldwell hadn’t been entirely delusional after all.

On descending the rickety stairs into the basement, I saw that there was indeed a man below. At this point however, my addled friend’s mind had ceased reporting from reality. The man in the basement was dead and by the look of him, had been for some time.

What caused a ripple of unease in my composure was not so much the sight or smell of the body but the clothes adorning the corpse. From them I could see the extent of Caldwell’s madness for surely it was he who dressed the dead man in such curious robes, the likes of which I had never seen or have ever seen since.

Had he also administered the unconventional haircut and the strange silver carvings that studded the man’s ears? And what of the spectacles?

It was most unsettling and the longer I stood studying the prone man on the dusty floor, the more disturbed I became. What kind of a theatrical madness had descended upon Blame that he should construct an alternate reality within the confines of his home? And who was his mysterious visitor?

Instinct and better judgment begged me to leave immediately and heeding it might have spared me a lot of distress, but I am and have always been stubborn and terminally curious and so, I returned upstairs, armed with questions for my delirious friend.

“Who is he?” I asked, striding determinedly toward Caldwell. “The dead man in the basement. Who is he?”

“Someone who shouldn’t have been here,” he answered, “even he admitted that much, the fool. 'A mistake' he said, ‘miscalculations’ led him ‘to the wrong place.’ And how right he was. But yet he continued to appear, apparently content to repeat his mistakes and endanger our time in the process.”

I circled his chair and towered over him. “So you killed him?”

“Spiders die but yet they live as soon as you turn away. Let them pretend for as long as they need to. You too know the tricks and will most probably use them. When that happens, I will be forced to deal with you too.”

Control abandoned me then and I grabbed his shoulders. Visibly startled and outraged, he began to thrash. “Damn you, Caldwell! You know who I am. I'm your friend. I'm Robert. Remember me you fool!”

He ceased struggling and a dim light brought a sheen to his dark eyes I had not yet noticed. Again, I allowed myself to hope and again, I was disappointed.

“I know who you are Robert and yet I can’t know you. You went away, just like DeFaux.”

“he’s the man in the basement?”

“And now you’ve returned,” he continued, ignoring my query. “From where I can’t know, from when I haven’t the slightestinkling. But I do know this. I guard Time now and nobody can be allowed to put us in danger. I’ve seen the horrible, horrible things they have there. I’ve seen them in dreams, in reality and in the space in between. They want to destroy themselves and that means destruction for all of us.”

He began to tremble and hoisted himself up with a grunt. “There are more of them, Robert. More like you. New strangers, old faces, deception, deceit, violence and evil. It has to be stopped.”

He held up the slim black device. “If they get this back, then all is lost.”

I shrugged. “Then why not destroy it?”

“Because I don’t know what that might do! Maybe that’s what I'm supposed to do or maybe the result of such an action would be in line with their plans! Maybe they are trying to influence me to make such a decision. What should I do when any action could destroy us all?”

Without knowing I was going to do it, my arm shot out and snatched the device from his grasp. He screeched and dove at me. We tussled and cursed but I held fast and Caldwell slumped to the floor, defeated and bleeding but conscious.

He moaned in anguish, begged me to return it, but I ignored him.

My eyes were fixed on the gray strip at the top of the object. A soft blue light flickered beneath my thumb and words magically appeared across the strip. My breath caught at the sight of my name: Robert James Hayes.

My fascination soon turned to horror as my name vanished and was replaced by the exact date of my birth and what I could only assume was the predicted date of my death. It was four months away.

I spun and loomed over the stricken Caldwell, who was sniveling and coughing dust. “What is this? What kind of insane trickery have you designed in your madness, Caldwell?”

He shook his head and wailed. “Do it then, I have done all I can. If you must destroy us then make it quick.”

I looked from him to the device, still displaying impossible details of my life and projected demise. My finger slid down to the first button, beneath which was written 'INPUT' in a strange, barely legible font.

“God forgive me,” Caldwell cried as I pressed the button.

The room filled with pulsating blue light, from the floor to the ceiling as the readout on the object displayed the numbers '2291'. I looked up, mouth agape as the drop cloths on the furniture began to take flight.

“Caldwell, what is it? What’s happening?” I said, raising my voice to be heard over the cacophony currently whipping itself up in the center of the room.

An incandescent blue orb began to take shape in the room, mere inches away from where I stood transfixed and Caldwell lay pleading.

Was it possible that my deranged friend had been harboring a seedling of truth in his ramblings? Could there really exist such wonders as futuristic voyagers? And if so, why had Caldwell been driven to eliminate them? Fear? Or foreknowledge?

The ethereal blue bubble began to shimmer and inside the shape, I fancied I could see the faintest outlines of faces, ill formed and pale. And smiling.

Sudden overwhelming terror gripped me and I dropped the device.

A loud bang deafened me and sent me flying to the ground beside Caldwell, who continued to scream obscenities into the ozone-filled air.

The blue bubble rippled and slowly began to constrict, taking the air from the room with it.

A fierce wind blasted across the room over our heads and for a moment, we competed against one another in screaming loudest.

And then, silence.

After a moment, I looked up. Caldwell had risen and hurriedly retrieved the device. As I watched, he stuffed it into his pocket and turned to leave the room.

“Wait,” I called after him but he continued on.

I don’t know how long I lay there, looking at the point in space where the impossible had for the briefest of moments been reality. I wept and cursed and finally took Caldwell’s chair by the dark fireplace.

He was right, I thought with increasing agitation and dismay. The old fool was right. There are visitors and they seek to return to a time not their own.

• • •

I thought about what that meant but after a while my head began to throb with the sheer madness of it all.

It grew late, darkness rushed to shroud the house. Eventually I gathered together some old papers from the floor and set them alight. On the backs of some others and by the warmth of the fire, I set these words down lest they be my last to the outside world (a world I doubt will mourn me).

Caldwell, though somewhat portentous in his ramblings is most certainly mad and though I don’t wish to question how this state of mind was brought upon him, I realize his appointment as keeper of this device is at an end.

I don’t know what it is I plan to do. Perhaps I will take his place or perhaps I will explore the possibilities of this most incredible of discoveries.

Caldwell, my dear sweet friend, will have to go.

Such knowledge in a bruised and wounded brain is dangerous.

 

 

Kealan-Patrick Burke is the author of Ravenous Ghosts (3F Publications), and the editor of the upcoming anthologies Taverns of the Dead (Cemetery Dance Publications), Brimstone Turnpike (Cemetery Dance Publications), Quietly Now (Borderlands Press), Hour of Pain (Dark Vesper Publications) and Night Visions 12 (Subterranean Press). In addition to his editing, Kealan also has stories accepted for the following publications: The Fear Within, The Night Has Teeth, Vicious Shivers, The Book of Final Flesh, Fangoria’s Frightful Fiction and Fresh Blood.


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ISSUE #12

Winter 2003

FICTION

ART