My father stood revealed, primal and pure. Through the medium of my small hands, guided by dreams only dimly guessed at, I had cultivated the truth that had always hidden beneath my father’s flesh, waiting to be discovered, freed. Bear in mind, of course, that the truth is merely the fleeting property of a dream, caught momentarily at the scale of the universe. My tears came as never before, as they had been well earned for the first time. I could feel my father’s gaze, now joined by my (first) mother’s, sweeping across my face, searching for my eyes. But as they had no doubt hoped, my eyes had slipped from the world to wander and wonder beyond the cold, dead world. And my hands, while still of the earth, would now repair the way back—from death into dream. My brother and sister gathered by my side and embraced me, cheering me on, whisper after whisper. Together, united beyond sleep, slaves to nothing, my first family celebrated my second birth, between two worlds—artist to both.
It was as if the universe had shrunk to the size of my purpose, narrow but infinite, and every shadow was a signpost, leading to forever. There was song in me that night.
It was twilight when they returned, to gaze upon my labors. The twins were at my side before I knew it, their wild hair playing at my cheeks as they held me in the quiet of my first work. I knew they were pleased. Their laughter sparkled in the dark like sparks made from soot, twisting and turning in the blackened air of the gallery. I held their admiration inside like a last breath, not wanting to exhale. Then came the giant, and when he looked upon my work, his thunderous laughter filled my tiny body with everlasting strength. I knew, somehow, his strength would one day be my own. My smile grew wider.
Then she came to me. Gliding from the darkness of uncontained nights, red like passion’s fire, and endless with mystery—she stood revealed in the smoldering debris of the day. Her eyes followed mine beyond the solidity of the world, joining me in the gallery beyond the gallery, where vision was the sole property of the mind. She whispered, “Your work is the light the sun pretends at bearing. Your brilliance shines only to enlighten, never to expose. Your art is the voice of a dreaming god, Donald. And you need never again want for a family. You could have all of this, in us. You have only to say yes, and we are all of us yours, forever.
I whispered back, “Yes.”
We walked as a family into the darkness.
Finally, the recovered memory took its lasting place within my mind, even as it burned into murmuring ash. I placed my father and my grinning sisters onto the floor. Before I could speak my mind, a familiar presence invaded the place of my second birth, for a second time.
“We were gonna wait till you were napping again, but then you laid down your weapons. This is quite the little freak show you’ve got down here, by the way. Who’s the star of the show?” he asked, pointing to the Red Ouroboros. “Is it a friend of yours, maybe?”
He said we. I scanned the darkness and found others lying beneath the shadows with malice aforethought and weapons aplenty. Before I could take up my sisters, a creature rose from the stairwell and kicked them away. Another shape leaked across the stones of the ceiling, raining bullets down upon me. I leaped to the shelter of a rocky outcropping, disappointing the swarm of bullets that chased me.
The speaker began again. “We're social animals, aren’t we, big man? So how better to win this contest than to mobilize some help? And just in case you’ve got escape on the brain, don’t bother. I’ve got guys all over this place. You’re all done, my man.”
More shadows poured into the room. They bore blades, guns, and arrogance. Sparks leapt from the wall where more bullets came to a sudden stop. Lights and shadows played all around me. An explosion to my left, fire and pain. More explosions and fire everywhere. My father’s gallery—my gallery—began to burn.
I heard laughter within the flames. “A life’s work up in flames, eh, Family Man!”
I saw the eyes of my once forgotten family reflecting the flames within their perfect glass eyes. My father, clothed in fire, began to bow to the conflagration. I would see those eyes no more.
Something stepped in front of me. Knives and the eagerness to use them glowed in the orange light. My naked hands reached out and began parting ribs, lungs, and at last the spine. I covered myself in his cooling blood, threw his skin around me like a cloak, and challenged the ravening flames. The fire was cold to the touch as the rage within me humbled the heat without. My eyes returned to the world bearing killing dreams.
The murderous shadows fell upon me as I breached the inferno. Blades traveled the roads of my body, bullets sped into the houses of my spirit. My hands became monsters, devouring and killing and crushing everything around me. My teeth came together within throats and I howled into the flames, blood, and death.
I was almost to the stairs, but my family, both of them, lay behind me in the flames. I turned back around. A firing squad opened up, washing me in lead. The stone pillar nearest me came away in my ruined hands and I crushed the firing line beneath the crumbling weapon.
The speaker called out to his minions, this time no longer laughing. “Take him! He’s only one fuckin' guy, for Christ’s sake!”
My eyes defied the smoke and blood that filled them as I peered through the flames, seeking the leader of the gang of shadows. I saw him wrapped in a peal of churning smoke, conducting the violence, doubt and disbelief burning within him. I stepped without the maw of the inferno and addressed the other shadows. “Bring him to me and you can all live,” I growled, pointing to the slim killer who had once vanished like smoke. The army’s loyalty began to crack, as I could see sparks and knives begin to rise up at the emaciated killer. Yet before the revolution was complete, another explosion belched fire and force from behind, smashing me into the marble archway. Still I drew up, even as my broken bones ground against each other while others tried to flee through my skin. Before I could properly right myself, the mutiny collapsed and they fell upon me with all their numbers.
As I slowly began to lift their combined mass from my body, the thin man walked through the flames toward me, carrying the hammer my father would often use to drive his massive chisel. The thin killer rained blows down upon my skull. I caught a glimpse of my sisters strewn across the floor, all but buried in debris. I could hear them weeping. With one last blow from my father’s hammer, I heard no more.
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