I rarely if ever actively denied myself the pleasure of my art, but never before had I set myself against a living deity from antiquity, and so I left the orderly unconscious in the half-lunatic’s bathroom. I also loosened Cecil’s straps. What may happen, may happen.
When I stepped into the hall, it became immediately apparent to me that all was not well with the darkness—it seemed too rich, like the soil of a nightmare, where graveyards become gardens and forbidden things bloom from blight. It seemed as if the insanity of the patients was somehow being leaked into the darkness of the hallway, whipping it into a frenzy, shaping it. There could only be one reason for the disturbance. Tom Hush knew I was coming.
It should be noted that not all of the mad possessed a suitably tractable insanity for Tom’s purposes. Some lunatics are not entirely distinct from artists—they court dreams just as surely as the artist. But regrettably, their refusal to accept defeat for their efforts at conjuring dreams leads them to attempt to embody their work, and like art, they become mere symbols of their own dreams. Yet within their doomed enterprise, the madness they inherit is not without its bounty. There is wisdom in madness, just not of a type that belongs to this world. It was that dark apprehension that Tom Hush—a lord of darkest secrets—worked through, molding madness from a select category of madman, turning darkness into daemons.
While madness was busy endowing shadows with lungs, I couldn’t help but laugh at the passing sights. The wardens of the mad were being overtaken by the now monstrously physical infirmities of their tethered wards. A fairly stout man, who clearly possessed an infinite happiness only when cruelly exercising his limited authority, was being filled with locusts, and no small representation of the species, either. The faces he made as the insects turned him into a human hive were beyond hysterical. When they came bursting out of his mouth, flying away with chunks of his organs, I nearly burst open, myself. But it was to the madness-repurposed custodian with the handgun that I was forced to direct my strictest attention. He tried to say something—which his new foot-long tusks made quite difficult—as my sister passed through the pipes of his throat. Likely something terribly menacing passed along from the mind of Mr. Hush, but I had little time for the exchange of threats, as unfortunate as that was.
My shoulder opened the way into an adjacent room, as the way before me had become complicated by a web of barbed and knotted flesh embellished by dripping spears and hooks fashioned from the bodies of once-custodians. Some of them were still trying to push screams out of their red ruined mouths—those who still possessed that particular orifice, anyway. The dream was upon me again, engaged no doubt by my proximity to my prey—my strength ignored the customs of its construction, allowing me to smash through the wall and circumnavigate the fleshy custodian-barrier with relative and enjoyable ease.
Humorously, some of the remaining wardens and a small group of garden variety mad-persons took me for their savior, following my path, hoping that I might deliver them from wickedness incarnate. I had never been thought of as such, so I decided to indulge the fantasy, if only for the opportunity to paint nightmares into their troubled slumbers to come.
I could feel the lingering animosity as I gripped my father. Yet it was not the time for griping, and so he yielded to my strength and allowed me to lift him into the air. But before I brought him down upon the wall, which would have likely freed my small bevy of well-wishers, I decided to grant my father a boon, for reconciliation’s sake. When I handed my father to one of the custodians, the uniformed man smiled as if I had done him the favor.
My father’s strength was a poor fit for the man’s body, and so the eager custodian’s muscles began to rip and tear, for my benefactor exercised a willpower that ordinary flesh and blood could not contain, at least not without great and horrific expense. Unfortunately for my small gathering of followers, my father did not relish the role of savior and quickly annihilated the small group, howling and laughing and roaring all the while. Together, my father and I tore through the sanitarium, decimating the shapes that madness made, closing on room 349.
As quickly as I might have regained my father’s approval, I just as quickly and foolishly decided to stoke fires best left to die. “Why won’t you stand aside, Father? I must know.” The hallway we walked was empty save for darkness and the echo of battle. My father, still wearing the wrecked body of the now-dead custodian, paused briefly. He did not speak, only let his silent menace attempt to extinguish my curiosity. At least that’s what I believed he was doing.
My father struck out, his axe destroying the wall behind me in a glorious eruption of smoke and fire. I barely escaped—the attack was not a warning, it was a killing blow.
“And what, pray tell, do you want to know, exactly?” It wasn’t my father’s voice. At first, I didn’t understand. Then I knew myself for the complete fool I was.
“He may be your father, child, but his secret—that belongs to me. And now, so does he. Oh, what a secret he keeps, my boy!”
Suddenly, the antlered god Tom Hush appeared. He and my father turned to face me, their eyes seething with death, rage, and a terrible curiosity.
After staring at me for some time, Tom Hush spoke. “In time, all things are reborn, in one form or another, to lope across the stage of life, one more time in an infinity of pointless returns—but not you. It pleases me more than you could ever know to rob you of your fate, to sup upon one of the blackest secrets I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
Before I knew it, my father was bearing down upon me. For some reason, all I could think of was Cecil and what he might be doing to the unconscious orderly.
What happens, happens, I thought. My sisters rose against our father, all of us wearing smiles that had been worn countless times before, by gods and the fools who amused them.
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