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A Room of Incense

by Brett A. Savory & Daniel Parker Lee



He sat in his one-room apartment and stared at his hands.

The lighting was shallow and incense burned in the far corner of the room. As the first tear fell from his face onto the hardwood floor, Chopin’s mournful Nocturnes floated across the room to him from the stereo in the corner.

Out in the street he heard a man and a woman arguing; heard the sharp, cutting sound of the woman’s heels on pavement as she walked away from the man, ignoring his pleas for her to come back. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

As the second tear fell, the telephone rang. He did not get up to answer it. His expression did not change. He simply sat and stared at his hands.

The scent of incense caused his nostrils to flare. Something else permeated the air, something vile, but he was only vaguely aware of it.

A third tear fell. Sirens in the street made him look up — eyes darkened by sadness. His hair, black and stringy, fell to either side of his anemic face, and swayed in the light breeze filtering in through the open window. Listening to the siren fade in the distance, his eyes returned to his hands as if they held some deep, dark secret.

The telephone rang again. And again, he made no movement.

He rotated his hands and, for the first time, his expression changed. It was one of perplexity.

The fourth tear fell.

Outside, the woman’s heels faded to barely audible clickings and the man gave up trying to convince her to come back. The door slamming as the disgruntled lover got into his car acted as a cue for the clouds to break, the rain coming down heavily, in sheets.

The man in the room turned his hands over and over, back to front, to the rhythm of the rain.

How can there be a rhythm to the rain? he thought, and put his hands between his thighs, rolling over onto his side. His hands began to burn, and he tried rubbing them together to stop the burning, but it only served to worsen the sensation.

The man thought of sleep and wished it would overtake him, knowing it would not.

As he stared at the wall, his sluggish thoughts turned over in his mind, awakening things that were better left sleeping; that were better left buried. In his mind it was happening again. In his mind it would never be over — that one brief instant of time, replaying itself over and over again.

The sixth tear fell as he realized that he would never be free from himself.

Or her



The old man looked out his window. His expression was of a man that has lived too long and only wishes to die.

But is afraid to.

Afraid of what comes after

He slowly closed his eyes, silently struggling within himself. That had been happening a lot lately — struggling with inner demons that he thought he'd left behind. But he knew they would never go away; they were a part of him.

And that scared him, too.

He sat in his one-room apartment and watched the rain fall; so close to the window that his breath was fogging it up.

He looked at all the people running around down on the street; blinked his weary eyes and, upon reopening them, found that the people were moving slower and that things were somehow brighter.

He glanced down at his watch and waited as the seconds tick by slowly intolerably. He did not think death would be like this.

An image of beauty came to him, then. A place where nothing was left wanting. A place blinding white. Ethereal. He knew that the image was taught to him many, many years before. He also knew that it was deceiving, for along with the image came the knowledge that that was not how it was going to be.

That frightened him most.

He heard someone enter his room; could vaguely make out the words that were being said to him. But it was not important. He had heard these words many times before.

Sitting in his chair by the window, he said nothing. After a while, the person left

He looked at his


hands and began to cry.

He did not like the feeling of sitting and crying. He felt he should stand and cry; was taught that many years ago, also.

The people on the street moved normally again. That comforted him. For some reason he could not fathom, he didn’t like it when they were moving slowly.

His sense of comfort diminished a little when he looked down at his watch again.

The watch had stopped. He tapped it once or twice, knowing it wouldn’t help. He brought his eyes from the watch back to the window and suddenly realized he was no longer fogging it up.

He sat down slowly and closed his eyes again, realizing something else. The demons did not come when he closed his eyes and he was no longer frightened.

The old man leaned back in his chair, let out a long, slow, breathless sigh and, noticing the rain has stopped and the day is clearing up, begins counting the clouds in the sky.



The young woman sat cross-legged in the dirt and looked down at the blood in her cupped hands. She would not let any spill. She thought this was very important.

She was sitting so motionless that there was not even a ripple in the blood; it made a reflective surface, mirroring the clouds in the sky. She did not know why she was here, or even where here was. But she felt that it was important.

Swimming in the left pool of crimson was an image of a young man lying on a bed in a small apartment. She could see something in the corner of the room something hidden in the shadows. And what was that smell? Incense? And

She suddenly felt nauseous. There was another smell beneath the first, but —

She could hear rain. She felt the pain that the man on the bed was feeling rubbing, rubbing at it

This was all so familiar. Something about his hands and that other smell

She cried as she suddenly realized what the thing in the corner was and who it was.

Then the image was destroyed as a tear fell into the blood.

Her gaze shifted to the right and, as she had expected, an image swam out of the pool in that hand. It was an old man.

The man was dead.

She stared at the scene for a few moments, but nothing changed. She looked harder at the image, concentrating on it with all her strength, and realized who it was. The pain she felt from this man was the same she'd felt from the young man; only it was sharper, having been given time to fester and intensify.

Grief overcame her again, but she knew if she cried or moved her hand to avoid the falling tears, the image would be lost.

This is important, she thought again. Something about all this is very important. It was for this reason alone that she was able to stifle her sorrow.

Then, as if to make her effort meaningless, the blood in both her hands began to slowly seep through her fingers. It made nearly inaudible little pat-pat noises on her pant legs. Her eyes grew wide in horror. She squeezed her fingers together as tight as she could while trying not to disturb the image held therein, but it was useless. The blood only leaked faster from her cupped hands, and the brief hold that she'd had on her sorrow gave way to open weeping that destroyed the shaky blood image that was so very, very important.

As the last few drops pattered onto her legs, she let her hand drop to her lap. She hung her head low and remained in this position Until she heard someone coming.

She looked up quickly, startled. The dirt ground and beautiful blue sky were gone; replaced with the grungy apartment walls, floor, and ceiling that she had seen in both the bloody images. That cloying, sickening smell was back, and more poignant than before.

The telephone rang and she wondered distractedly why no one was answering it. Looking around the room for it, her eyes came to rest on the bloody body crumpled in the corner of the room. She thought she recognized the woman’s face through the shifting of the shadows thrown by the streetlights just outside the open window to her right, but could not be entirely sure. Again, that feeling that this was all somehow very important crept into her mind, so she tried to get a better look.

As she concentrated, trying to will the cavorting shadows out of her way, something began to appear in front of her. It took shape like the scene inside a shaken-up snowglobe might — little bits at a time. Her heart lurched in her chest; eyes growing wide for a moment until she realized that it was a little boy, and that he was smiling. He had the most beautiful smile she had ever seen.

She stared at his lovely, round face; his quirky little smile, one corner of his mouth lifting higher than the other; the little dimple just under above his chin, making his bottom lip pout; and his eyes — his pale blue eyes that looked just like —

But how could that be? However amazingly real, the young man in her left hand and the old man in her right hand had only been images. This boy was real. And he had the same eyes, the same pain

The child approached her slowly and offered up his tiny hand. In the back of her mind she heard Chopin, her favorite, playing somewhere very far away. She cautiously extended her left hand and took gentle hold of the child’s trembling right, vaguely noticing that it, like her own, was covered in blood. He smiled sadly, and told her that he was sorry; that he'd never meant to do what he'd done. He told her these and many other things. And when he was through, she pulled him close and embraced him. It was the best feeling she had ever had.

Slowly the boy began to disappear from her arms. When he was just about gone, she softly pushed him from her, enough to look into his eyes one more time.

In that brief instant, she understood

(the smell of incense)

the importance of it all. She understood

(the counting of clouds)

her place in it all.

And she understood that she would never be free from him, either.



Brett A. Savory & Daniel Parker Lee - Brett A Savory’s most recent sales have been to The Asylum… Bedtime Stories for the Criminally Insane: The Psycho Ward Anthology, as well as the short story “That’s Some Pig!” (co-written with David Niall Wilson), which appears in a two-story chapbook called Of Pigs And Spiders; the other tale, “Charlie’s Web,” written by John Pelan and Edward Lee. He has sold stories, non-fiction, and poetry to several other print and online magazines. Visit him online at www.brettsavory.com.

Daniel Parker Lee has sold poetry to The Goddess of the Bay, and is currently writing a novel called Endgame with Brett Savory, as well as a few short stories in a series titled the Lupos Chronicles.


July 1999