This installment of Preludes of the Return, of the Crimes of Heaven and Hell, by Carl R. Moore, is intended for mature audiences only. Reader discretion is advised.
“Do you understand now, Mr. Brantley?”
It was Frakes speaking, but the voice he knew now to be Grunbeck’s. The figure stepped forward and drew the taser from his belt.
“What exactly do you plan to do with that?” asked Brantley.
Grunbeck aimed the taser as Frakes spoke: “We are making our last offer,” he said. “Take your recording and depart. You will be a messenger among your kind, that the return is imminent, the return is upon thee. Carry out this function and thou shalt be rewarded with a great many balms. During the tribulation, thy suffering shall be eased. Do not refuse, for you have already witnessed the alternative to redemption.”
“What I have witnessed,” said Brantley, standing and facing Grunbeck, “is an employee making some very poor choices. The restraints were bad enough. This piece of theater, this playing along and putting this thing on your head, has earned a direct call to Doctor Johnston, who in turn will call security. You’re lucky we don’t call the police!”
As he spoke, Brantley’s phone was already contacting Johnston’s direct line.
“Mr. Brantley, please,” said Frakes, this time in his own tear-laden voice. “Please don’t do it. Iron rain, Mr. Brantley, iron rain!”
Grunbeck stepped forward again, hands taking hold of the veil. Its material scintillated, as if made of silk stitched with platinum. He lifted it back, revealing a face that had gone pale blue and stretched. His lips looked thin and cold, and his eyes clogged with odd shapes, prisms sketched with a sludge of cruel gears.
“Listen to him, Mr. Brantley. End your call. It is your final chance to do so.”
Grunbeck loomed over him, the taser aimed at his chest.
“I will not be intimidated,” said Brantley.
A voice sounded in his phone’s speaker: “This is Doctor Johnston.”
“Yes, Doctor Johnston,” said Brantley.
Grunbeck fired the taser. Brantley’s body exploded with pain as he collapsed.
“Hello?” said the voice on the phone. “Who is this? Is something wrong?”
“Yes, Doctor… it’s Grunbeck. We have an emergency on the special ward. It’s your student.”
“Oren? Something’s happened to Oren?”
“I’m afraid something’s come over him,” he said. “He’s suffering an attack of some sort.”
Brantley felt Grunbeck roll him over with his boot. His body was all pins and needles, and it took all he had to move his legs.
“I have the situation under control,” said Grunbeck, “but if you could come down here, I’d appreciate it.”
“As soon as I can,” said Johnston, and hung up.
Brantley managed to crawl up onto the chair he’d sat in while he interviewed Frakes. He reached for his computer, but knocked it on the floor.
Grunbeck stepped forward, crushing it with his boot. As he stood over Brantley, he drew the sword from the scabbard that hung across his back. “You chose this,” he said. “For it is written, those who comply not with His bidding shall be cast down, forever.”
Brantley mustered all the strength he could and leapt upward. He launched himself past Grunbeck and made a dash for the door. At first he thought pain was still from the taser, the tearing and burning below his calf. Then he collapsed and saw his severed foot behind him on the floor. Grunbeck stood above it, sword dripping with blood.
Brantley half limped, half crawled into the hallway. He followed brightly lit, immaculate tiles leading to an empty nurse’s station. “Help! Help me,” he rasped.
Grunbeck’s footsteps thudded behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw a trail of blood pulsing with his heartbeat. The edges of his vision were beginning to blur, but he could see the gruesome nurse standing over him with his reddened blade. He leaned down, leering, his white jacket open, revealing a flak vest imprinted with a white cross. The cross had an eye in its center, and in his dizziness and ailing sight, the eye danced and blinked above him.
“Thou wast once saved,” said Grunbeck. “Commanded to be Our messenger, a harbinger of His return, thou hast instead chosen poorly. He had redeemed thee from sin, and instead, thou hast damned thyself.”
Brantley felt a boot slam into his stomach, cracking his ribs. Grunbeck pushed a door open behind him and delivered a second kick, sending him sprawling down a dingy hallway. Brown stains caked the walls. He breathed the stench of sickened breath and heard the sound of moaning.
When he opened his mouth to plead, instead he only screamed. The sword whirled, its hilt cradled in Grunbeck’s right hand. Brantley felt its sting as his remaining foot separated from his calf. It cut off one of his hands next, then another. He began flailing like an infant in a soup of blood. A coldness descended, then darkness.
* * * * *
Elena Epsen toggled the address to the University’s website, searched for her name, and found her essay on Stockholm Syndrome. It had won the Side-Minder grant in excellence in academic refutation. The department chair’s comment appeared beneath her “E.E.” signature with a simple “Brava!” She smirked—it had been written after the ski weekend where they’d spent most of their time in the hotel room, which spoke well to sincerity. Old Doctor Bentham wasn’t bad in bed, and more importantly generally agreed with her distrust of anything related to 1990’s post-Freudian theory. Literally laughable, they’d proven, giggling over cognac by a roaring fire. “Can you believe Brantley’s comment on transference?” she’d said.
“Lacan is for English majors,” Bentham said, shaking his head and sipping.
So when they’d returned and heard the news about Brantley’s breakdown, it was like arriving at the final act of a tragedy. And yet even in tragedy, there was opportunity.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Bentham had asked her. “I hear he was a perv into the bargain.”
She brushed back Bentham’s gray hair and kissed him, hand on his slacks while she was at it. “Aren’t we all?” she teased. “Besides, it doesn’t get more meta than interviewing the interviewer. What he thought was going to save his rep in the program didn’t only turn into his downfall, but another feather in my cap.”
She left before Bentham could answer. Probably crossing his mind that the twenty-four year old PhD candidate might be moving faster than even he wanted. But it didn’t matter. There was too much mutual gain in her success, and ego was ageless.
Elena took the folder from her knapsack and removed Johnston’s attachment to the police report. …at which point the subject severed his left foot in protest of the interviewee being in restraints. When the nurse attempted to intervene, he severed his right foot. By the time the psychotic episode had run its course, he had severed both feet and both hands. In the turmoil, the blade was lost and never recovered.
If fear was the simple root of Stockholm Syndrome, it had to be self-pity at the root of over-identifying with victims. The Twentieth Century had it backwards—the subconscious was simple—it was behavior that was complicated. Behavior resulted from a complex interplay of limited choices and existing skills. But Brantley’s motives were no multi-layered lotus. He felt bad for psychotics because he was one. He was too old to be ABD, broke, and bleak in prospects.
Elena left the coffee shop and hopped in her car. She didn’t share Brantley’s affliction. Instead, her self respect and self confidence were an antidote she wished to promote in her career. In putting the nail in the coffin of theories like Brantley’s, she’d be doing the history of the human mind a great favor.
By the time she arrived at the Melkor Institute, the clouds had cleared, revealing a pale, cold spring sun. She shivered inadvertently as she approached the building. Unwelcome thoughts began to appear—Bentham’s comment when she’d read him the police report—“How in the hell does a man sever both of his hands?”
A good question, admittedly. Johnston hadn’t expanded on that point, but there had to be an explanation. The police report was legit, so that had to have been taken into account in their investigation.
Melkor loomed before her, corrugated marble walls like great gray curtains. The small black door at the end of the walkway looked downright microscopic. She fought against the feeling she was some English waif in pigtails walking into a giant’s castle. Before she opened the door, she patted the pocket of her messenger bag. The fabric hatch made for a tablet instead contained a five inch Sig Sauer handgun.
* * * * *
“Mr. Grunbeck will take you from here,” said the guard when the elevator doors opened.
The tall, muscular nurse guided her down the hall. He wore a white jacket and black leather boots. His forearms were thick as sledgehammers and his smile reminded her of a military movie marine.
“Mr. Brantley is waiting for you,” he said as he opened the door.
She nodded and entered a cold, shadowy room barely lit by one high window. The part of her that had gloated over Brantley’s demise crashed completely when she saw him. He sat on the edge of a wheeled gurney, the nubs of his limbs wrapped in white bandages. His hair looked gray and greasy, his face purplish white.
“Oren,” she managed. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said. “At least they don’t have me in restraints.”
He waggled his handless limbs as he spoke, let them collapsed on his footless legs.
“I appreciate you being willing to talk to me,” she said.
“I believe you,” he said. “I will tell you of the veiled man, where he takes me. You will be my scribe. When we are finished, you will bring our message to the people.”
“The veiled man? I don’t understand. I remember Johnston’s notes on Frakes, wasn’t that something Frakes said?”
“Frakes is in his room,” said Brantley. “He is dreaming.”
Elena watched his face wince with pain with his last words. She wanted to reach out and take his hand. She cringed, remembering he had none.
“Are you good with that pistol?” Brantley asked.
“What? What do you mean?”
“He can reveal things,” he said. “He knows you are ambitious. He knows you are different than I was. Pride is the cloak of fear, in his case. You might have a chance at fighting your way out. Probably not. Your best course is obedience, to Him.”
At the word obedience, Elena’s sympathy withered. “You know me better than that.”
“I do,” said Brantley. “And I see now that you were right. I should never have envied you as a better student, for having better potential for future success.”
Elena tensed. His mania should have sounded like Hamlet; instead it was like Cassandra. Some small part of her was still pleasantly surprised, but it was overshadowed by a dread.
“I know,” said Brantley, tears forming in his dark-socketed eyes. “My coming around is little consolation, for neither of us will succeed, for that world is vanishing now. He returns soon, a great glory, the Lord Jarwhal. Let us praise Him now, and invite him into the bosom of the Earth. Art thou prepared to inscribe these dreams of which I shall tell you? The dagger of His servant waits outside the door. The dagger of His servant is at thy neck, scribe. Do not resist Him, rather, listen well, for I shall tell you of my dreams. Listen well, and I shall tell you of the iron rain.”