My sisters were innocents in all of this. Carved from the cleanest darkness, they smiled out of the softest love for blood, spilled only for fun and family. I could not bring them before our father, not like this. As the Lord of Secrets hedged his bets by flooding the hallway with more of his madness-transformed orderlies, I thrust my sisters into the metamorphosed flesh of two of the nearest abominations. Instantly my sisters’ sweet smiles transferred themselves from steel and bone to insanity-infected flesh, their new bodies dripping with the honeyed and horrible laughter of the Devil’s children. They were beyond Tom’s reach, as they were absent of worldly complexity, having long since chosen to fill their minds only with the brightest, sharpest thoughts a child could kill with.
As for my father and me, our battle would commence in earnest, and our weapons would be will and strength alone. But first I would have to relieve him of his weapon, for its lightest touch promised death. The axe (now no longer the seat of my father's spirit) moved with prehistoric brutality, smashing about furiously, ceaselessly. Yet behind the apparently unrefined violence worked the minds of two slaughter-honed monsters, each one’s wit whetted upon the broken bones of countless victims. With each swing of the giant weapon, my death drew closer and closer.
The dream that unfurled around us translated my father’s seething indignation into fire, which poured upward and spilled across the ceiling. Pent within the raging flames was visible the shape of my father’s ruined face, filled with fury and stretched apart by the smile of a horned god.
I found a drifting patch of shadow and called it into my service, moving the itinerant darkness between myself and the deadly axe. I then discovered a surging vein of silence that had been concentrated by the surrounding cacophony, and I quickly submerged myself into its ghostly rhythms, disappearing into the collected quiet.
My sisters sugarcoated the scene with wildest laughter and the squeals of the dying monstrosities. My god, how beautiful the two of them were, free and feral, like animals of wildest fire, laughing and killing and dancing for the love of their dearest brother.
They spun and leapt as they called out to our father. “Unburden yourself of your secret, Father, and join us! What good is a secret but to ruin those who keep them? Secrets want to be told! Look at what fun our sweet brother has given to us! Look at us, Father! Look at us killing and dancing and singing! Hurry and join us, before we’ve used them all up and there’s nothing left for you!”
My father’s burning eyes looked to his deadly daughters, where they played with death like two clever cats toying with wounded rodents. His envy ran thicker than the fire that poured from his dead flesh. It was then that I struck, springing from shadow and silence, seizing the handle of his axe and tearing it from his momentarily distracted grip. But the axe was sent crashing to the floor when my father’s fist collided with my face, detonating across my skull like solid thunder. His strength was brilliantly monstrous. My own fist answered his bone-cracking attack by smashing open his dead, flaming mouth. Despite his hatred at being used as a puppet, I could see that he thrilled at the prospect of a good fistfight.
Tom Hush rudely violated the purity of our contest, smiling words into my father’s burning, broken mouth. “What secrets your father could tell you, boy! My goodness, what a horrible and wonderful thing that mother of yours was. That is, of course, if she is indeed your
mother.” I could feel Tom’s hand moving around inside my mind, seeking out a secret for the seizing. I felt his power washing through me. He found something.
“What’s this? Tell me, who are all those children in cages? Who put them in there, I wonder? Care to tell me?” I only half-remembered what he was referencing, but his claim over me increased with each pass of his hand across the emerging face of the tarnished memory. Tom forced my arms down to my sides, allowing my father’s blazing fist to crash into me, crushing my left eye into wet pulpy blindness.
Tom bellowed through my father’s fire-breathing mouth, “Who put them into the cages, Donald!”
My name. He found it. He was running amok through my mind, carelessly flinging secrets to the wind like a child pillaging a toy box. Strangely, I found myself trying to mentally reinforce the barriers around the secreted memory, though I wanted nothing more than to see through the fog and alight upon the truth, horrible or not.
My father carefully studied my face even as he went about destroying it, blow after bone-smashing blow. But I could tell that the eyes which now looked upon me belonged only to my father, and something powerful was stirring deep within them.
Another layer to the hidden memory was torn away beneath a storm of Tom’s laughter, and a terrible knowledge began to trickle into my once ruined recollection. I remembered that the cages were filled with little muses. There were also paintings, such beautiful paintings, filling the walls of a wine cellar. I remember looking out at it all from my own cage, which hung from the ceiling by a rusty chain.
He put us all in there . . .
Before the memory could reach its terminus, my father roared like never I’ve heard, his stolen body freezing, disallowing even the slightest twitch. He was trying to fight back the secret-eater’s grip. Tom only laughed at my father’s efforts, but perhaps sensing change in the wind, the god-thing chose to rip my memory free of its prison rather than wait for the slow process of painful recollection to conclude its awful course.
A man’s voice emerged into the blacked-out spaces of my mind. “Donald, what a fine collection of cherubs you’ve led me to. That raw sugar of innocence! Oh, how I admire the sweet crudity of childhood, its vast potential mixed with little limbs and soft skin. They will do nicely, my boy. Very nicely, indeed. There’s a showing next month, in a gallery not far from here, and my mind is already alive with the art from another world. Those lovely little ones will brighten my paints and bless my canvas, allowing dreams to flow like blood from the deepest wound, and all the world will love me for it!”
My body trembled as poison memories began to master my body. What had been done to me? What had I done? The man’s voice belonged to no one I could clearly remember. Tom was laughing again, holding my secret in his hand and squeezing it over my head, allowing its terrible juices to fall over me, seasoning my soul for the eating. I knew that once I remembered completely, I would be over, just an unhappy tenant of Tom Hush’s churning bowels.
“Poor little Donald, all alone with your terrible truth. No mother to whisper to you. No fiery father to save you. Your sisters all but lost to their darkest passions. Where, oh where has your family gone . . . Family Man?” Tom almost sang the words.
I looked to where my sisters whirled and laughed, splattered with death, having forgotten me within their wild red dance. I moved my eyes to my father, where he struggled against the power of his captor, apparently in vain. I was almost entirely the property of the antlered god. I was no longer a wolf, but merely a caged animal—and not for the first time, it would appear.
I could feel the finale of my once-forgotten memory fast approaching as the maw of Tom Hush widened. I could feel myself falling across the bloodied alter of ancient stone, where man sacrifices to the horned god of darkest secrets.
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