Read the short story ‘The Custodian’ right here!

*

The valiant hills that on all sides sequestered the small town of Tultzik flung to the sky their damp, mossy heads and reared in the coming dawn, as the mist-soaked streets wept in the encroaching sun and dispelled with meticulous accuracy their nightmarish detention. As with all days, the townspeople proceeded in uniform fashion in acknowledging the night’s passing and the beginning of another day of unduly routine and trifling progression.

Tultzik was a nugatory town on the edge of civilisation, bordered by nothing but the farm lands that supplied the upkeep of the locals, desolate bands of woods and boroughs, and the occasional lazy stream that meandered close to the dark and shadowy places the locals refused to go out of vestigial fear. Most, if not all, of Tultzik’s inhabitants were generational farmers, raised on a diet of hard-work, toil and the sweat of a man’s brow, whilst instilled with the seemingly institutional mannerisms of pleasantry and reservedness well-becoming of a town so small.

This isn’t to say that any of the townspeople were rude or demeaning, but unless otherwise invited their stories and secrets were their own—bar one.

Along the cobble-stoned streets there blew a permanently warm breeze, though across the rolling hills and low-etched brooks a colder, chilling air resided with stubborn affection. These were the places the people of Tultzik avoided as though indubitably cursed, though none avoided more the particular acre of land owned by the Wilson family, which was always ambled by with feverishly avoidant gazes, whispered voices and delicate foot-falls.

This acre of land was the most prevalent stretch of farm owned by any of Tultzik. The many generations of farmers, of which there were countless since seldom did a member leave for brighter horizons, whispered in docile cadences tales of curses and demons to explain the almost eternally abundant crop growth present there, whilst completely absent in their own fields. No matter the weather’s hellish temperament, the acre of land would produce in profuse volumes yields of every sort, unharmed by tempestuous or frigid climate. There was a singular, peculiar exception to this rule, though the townspeople knew even less of this connection, other than that one existed.

The Wilson family were the subject of many far-flung rumours and conjectures, and were considered the single most curious and frightening topic that irked the otherwise pleasant and perpetually somnolent town. This was in part due to their ample harvest when the rest of their profession suffered, but also due to the horrendous cycle that so afflicted the family. That was, in no small way, the cycle of death and rebirth.

It was possible to trace the family’s arrival to 1842, shortly after the final, remedial construction of the town was completed, when the English-born Oban Wilson moved the more precious elements of his equivocally demarcated family in time for Tultzik’s consummation. In one fell swoop he attained the acre of land, later to become the sole object of curious rumours, and a now drooping hovel that was once said to be the resplendent jewel of the town, situated two blocks from the town centre and an hour’s walk away from his deceptively fertile land. It is said, though by whom is a complete mystery, that even in those days the Wilson family were the outsiders of town, and that their many strange customs and traditions excited the suspicions of the then close-knitted townspeople. For example, they seemed to carry several unexplainable hereditary traits; their skin was insipid, ashen, and looked to crumble when beset by an extreme wind, their persistently blue eyes were deep and too large for their long, articulate faces, their hair was consistently greyish with intimations of palatable red leaking through, and their fashion- that of archaic times, even in those days- lifted several eyebrows and sneering lips. Despite the family’s collectively abnormal appearance they were considered strikingly beautiful and such beauty summoned proposals from the locals, all of which were courteously refused.

In their own house they kept their secrets and stories, rarely attempting to connect with the other settlers and natives. They were never said to be rude, but were said to be firmly short, to the point, as though lacking the crucial social skills required to acclimate to a new area.

It wasn’t until one of Oban’s daughters, Selene, fell pregnant that the more startling and horrifying details of their family began to emerge, though exactly how much of those details in such early days could be considered true or hearsay is debatable- but sustained by recent events, the clear cut nature would suggest fact over figment.

Shortly after Selene’s pregnancy was discovered and related to the rest of Tultzik by one of the young farm-hands, the family all but vanished from sight. Where once they would go on long, largely silent walks around the town or to their fledgling farm land, they now kept to the confines of their hovel, apparently satisfied there with the social offerings of their own kin. In the town only one remained active, the elderly Oban, openly jubilant in regards to his daughter’s immediate future. He told the farm-hands that his daughter was providing for them in more ways than one, and that her child’s future would, in time-rippling swathes, defy and oppose the dominating hierarchy of menial occupation. Shortly after this, he sent all the farm-hands home, tending to the land with his own aging hands. Around the same time, by appointment of the expectant mother, a nanny of sorts was drafted into the hovel to take care of both the family and the new-born when the time arrived. The chosen was a young stalwart man named Tristan, of whom the locals knew little. He lived on the outskirts of town, denouncing the social intricacy that possessed the locals, to, on his own, hold against the rummaging of private secrets.

Since these were older days, and by the bigotry of out-dated prejudice, Tristan was not called a nanny but a ‘custodian’.

In the Autumn of 1845, on a blistering sunny day, when the golden leaves of the great oak trees in the nearby flourishing forests began to fall, Selene gave birth to a boy she christened Oban, much to the elderly man’s immediate joy. Very few were privy to the birth and it is believed, especially in present day, that at least one of the family is in profession a doctor since there were no midwives or external medical help sought for assistance, nor has such assistance ever been sought since.

There are many obscure details championed in the shadows of rickety houses, that the birth, which by all accounts should have been a chastely exuberant affair, was rocked by several horrific screams long after the child was present and breathing. Not much can be gleamed from these cloudy minutiae, especially since after centuries of whispers in the dark they have accumulated the speculations of hyperactive imaginations. What is certain, is that the young Oban was never shown to anyone. No-one bore witness to the new-born other than the immediate family, which was heightened by the strange Tristan, who took up a make-shift throne at the front door and warded indiscriminately any prying eyes seeking to observe the young Oban. Many commented on his resignation; the defeat in his weary eyes, as though this new duty was one that for countless centuries he was destined to endure.

Two months later, under the mournful gaze of the waning moon, and on a night that would cascade through infinite canals of time, a terrifying screech erupted from the Wilson home and echoed through the empty roads and streets, carried furiously over the chilling hills and to the brazen brooks. Awaking in terror, Tultzik was in a dazed shock. The true details of what occurred that night wouldn’t be unveiled until the morning, from the trustworthy tongues of the worryingly unnerved local police force.

In the early hours of the morning Tristan had ascended the fallacious staircase to young Oban’s room, and in an apparent bout of utter insanity, savagely slaughtered the child as it slept in an unspeakable manner, thereafter dying via bleed out from auto-nucleation. Why this method of suicide was chosen, that is the forced eviction of the man’s eyeballs, has always been unclear and very few have ventured a justification. Though Tristan had shown no hint of underlying mental fragility, his decision to stay clear of the nebulous tendrils of the town wrought against his favour and the child’s death was ruled as the result of a sudden onset fury conjured from the deepest gulches of a brittle mind. To say this event obliterated the town’s senses would be a bold understatement.

Since that horrific day the Wilson family were further driven into a self-determined seclusion. In prolific aggregates police reports were written, collected and filed, though this particular file expanded substantially over the years. Little was said of the effect on the family, and the police were exponentially reticent on addressing the morbid curiosity of the town.

What was noted, however, was that for those two months the Wilson’s acre produced in full various crops in high abundance, enough to satiate the entire town two-fold. After the child’s death the land swiftly became desolate; the crops withered, the hedges outlining its lengthy borders turned black and frail, flocks of birds accumulated in gangs to assault what was left, and the soil irrepressibly galvanized, all as though afflicted by an unseen ailment oozing into the land. Established was the flimsy connection between the crops sprouting and decaying and young Oban’s depressingly short life.

Thus began a seemingly endless cycle of death and rebirth. Every few years one of the Wilson women would fall unexpectedly pregnant- the father was always unknown- at which point their land would gradually mature in fertility, until at the coming of the child it would swell in lurid colourations. Within the next few months the custodian- always selected from the town’s more insulated populace and always male- would go mad one night and in a brutal moment silence the poor child. Thereafter, almost instantly, the previously lush field would wilt and consequently falter. It seemed that there was a convoluted assembly between the bounty of crop and the bounty of child.

The Wilson women, from that awful night onwards, were seldom beheld. Until the age of eighteen they were allowed to walk somewhat free and unchained, and always convoyed by one or more chaperones, but when their eighteenth birthday arrived they were shut away, when a predictable pregnancy would emerge.

Naturally, the strange hellish history of the Wilson family enticed suspicious minds to educe the most fantastical justifications for the entire ordeal; the more decadent circles of whisperers suggested curses placed on the house that slowly drove the custodians to madness, or that in exchange for ethereal beauty a deal was brokered between the women and some unseemly demon, trading their children for continued extravagance. The saner versions of folklorist ramblings advocated ancient strands of malevolent fungi hidden in the rafters of the old hovel secretly excreted a maddening aroma capable of driving those unaccustomed to its scent completely mad, with the children being the ill-starred adjuvant damage. These sane ideas could draw the town an inch closer to understanding the custodians’ savage turnings, but could shed no light on the relation between this and the bountiful harvest.

Amias Watson, a learned man in his twenties, had observed with no small amount of curiosity the ongoing case of the Wilson family. Since the women were all home schooled he had rarely gawked at their apparently exalted beauty, but had stolen glances here and there as they roamed the streets. It was true what they said, he realised, the Wilson women were of the most extraordinary splendour.

One in particular, a tall, slender woman named Renata, frequently spotted roving the proximate hills of her family’s acreage, engrossed his attention. Though no words were shared between them, in her beauty he was wholly enraptured, and his stolen glances provoked compulsive intrigue.

As a former student of Ulhorn College, with several connections to help elucidate the lineage of the Wilson family, Amias made his quest one of hazardous inquisitiveness, delving into a world that, at every step, he desired to be a part of no more. He was one of the few studious inhabitants of Tultzik that believed there was a precise, albeit hitherto undefined motive for the custodians’ abrupt and violent frenzies. Of various fungi and strange odours he held no knowledge, expressly ones that could slowly erode the mind or bear the same vicious fruits no matter the subject or situation, but of underlying mental disorders he was sagacious. Into each family tree of the many, many custodians he dived, shedding ethical qualms to focus entirely on unravelling the mystery.

The custodians, as he already knew from the wildly circulated rumours and whispers, were unequivocally loners, lacking in close family or friends. A red flag was raised as extreme isolation can render the mind numb and more likely to engage in thoughts most would never contemplate. But these were men of every cast, class and type, by all accounts ‘normal’ despite their predilection for sequestered and careful company, then dragged to the Wilson household and enlisted as custodians. An underlying issue to connect all of them was unlikely, so he moved to a new thesis- the Wilson family as monsters.

Perhaps during their tenure the custodians were subject to severe mental and physical abuse, progressively fashioning them into the mad weapons they clearly became. He found this to be the most likely cause, as it was the singular connecting thread. The affability demonstrated by the family on their intermittent public appearances could merely be a reflexive façade, constructed for the light of day to conceal their nocturnal animosity.

But he had witnessed first-hand their spectacular beauty, their godly gait, and not the slightest detection of prudently harboured cruelty could be made. In his eyes there were no secret evils to be extracted from the Wilson family. Besides that, he was yet to find an explanation for the joined fates of the children and the farm land. No, he thought, the answer must lie in the beastly hands of the custodians.

Observation of the family was impossible since between their consecrated proliferations their shrivelled home was boarded up and the lingering men of the family, with their mouths practically sewn shut to avoid complications, guarded the place with intense scrutiny.

Through which extant stygian aperture to illumine the fraying threads of the vile enigma should he behold was unknown. All there was, was the mystery and no hint bestowed by the rumour-mill fancied unveiling the curtain. There was to him an element undefined, a marriage of oblique components missed in the licentious passage of hollow, haunting murmurs. What that was and its dark origins obliterated logic, a vacant shell of purpose and devilish connotations laid to rest under a pile of dusty, aging books whose lengthy existence epochs would shy from.

*

In the early hours of the morning, as sprightly splashes of profound auburn and cerise scrubbed the clouds and orbited the emergent sun, and through the streets tip-toed a tentative gust, Amias took to the dense mossy hills and arboreous belts to clear from his mind the insistent demands of inscrutable fears. Defiantly the great oak trees ascended beyond their homogenous confines; broad branches outstretched, impossibly entangled, bold golden leaves flaunted forbearing configurations, while the serpentine-enthused roots to the tender ground burrowed and knotted. It was through this snarled clutter of expansive limbs and itinerant leaves Amias wandered till on the zenith of a rutted knoll he spied a brown-painted, hoary birch-wood bench overlooking the unhallowed Wilson acre. As the day was young and in his mind still cried the limping ghoul of his fruitless night’s work, he sat contently on the ancient bench and absorbed all the particulars of the disquieted zone.

In a lazy decline the field gave way to a dusty old road that was less travelled by the year, and the spasmodic adventurers that ambled across its fissured back would tenaciously deflect their eyes as by the Wilson field they hazarded. Bordered by a predominantly shaggy hedge, its most discernible trophy was the enormous redwood that at the front-most entrance, as there were four in total, guarded the shirked pitch silently. A raucous klaxon squawked insolently somewhere in the borders of his mind as he observed with concentrated interest the sprouting yield poking from below the soil’s surface. Perhaps it was with some sense the other locals avoided the place, he thought. On which point the scene disturbed him he couldn’t discern; mentally wrought exhaustion obscuring the salient actuality, but even in this clouded judgement there was a progressively growing distress opining flight from the place.

So engrossed was he, that from his strenuous considerations he wasn’t roused until the unnoticed figure, having ‘floated’ to the other side of the bench with seemingly unearthly qualities, perched beside him. Amias nearly screamed when an ashen hand rapped his shoulder.

Into another fantasy he was inhaled; into the sparkling cerulean eyes, grey wan mane, sculpted cheeks and enthralling angles of Renata Wilson. His embezzled glimpses bested and conquered, what little left of reality’s command slipped and slackened. Not until it reapplied its dominating grip did he notice her inaudible mouthing.

“I’m… I’m sorry, what?” he spluttered.

Renata’s eternal, congenial smile could liquefy the harshest of hearts, as it did Amias’.

“I was asking if you like the scenery,” she repeated sweetly. In the sweetest intonations her voice elevated regal melodies to the clouds and all above, as of those mellifluously hewed opuses permeating mundanity from days gone by.

Dream-like beauty imbibed, Amias upheld and matched its owner’s countenance.

“It’s beautiful,” he lied, withholding his indeterminate grievance. “I don’t get out here often, so it’s nice to have an outlook at the whole thing.”

“I come here as much as I can,” she said. “I don’t like being cooped in the house like a battery chicken.”

“I guess at some point,” Amias blurted out indifferently, “you’ll end up being cooped up anyway.”

Instantly, Renata’s eyebrow rose inquisitively. Surely, Amias thought, her family history had been intimated to her, and she must remember from her youth the last Wilson to bear a doomed child? Had his blasé nature challenged an ill-informed existence?

Before he could apologise or in contrition employ, the otherworldly Renata swiftly propelled the subject forward.

“Have you ever been outside Tultzik?” she asked.

“When I went to college,” he replied politely, “I moved away, just for a few years. Why do you ask?”

“I’ve never left the town,” she explained shyly. “We’re not really allowed to leave. I’ve always wondered what the outside world looks like, I’ve only seen pictures of it. It must be wonderful to go or leave as you please. What’s it like out there?”

To not see the great striking vistas of the Earth, to witness the misadventure of life from vigilant peeks above cubicle walls, and to lack the experiences imparted by the reflective bearings of the enduring rally of unremitting progress, would be a vacant existence hardly worth the effort of drawing breath. An exhaustless supply of knowledge graciously delivered by the world would be left untapped if all its occupants were so ready to forsake and disregard the generous prominences freely accessible. Amias pondered what such a sealed mind would summon in place of true experience, and to expound the undiscovered vistas for Renata was all he could do, and even then there was only so much he could clarify.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he claimed. “There’s a lot to explore. But it’s beautiful out there, I mean, you might think this place is scenic but there are places out in the bayous, at the feet of spiralling mountains and the heads of eddying falls, where you feel like you’re part of a different world. You should go exploring at some point.”

Renata went quiet. What churning questions might she be contemplating? Captivated in the thrall of isolation, it would be bizarre for illicit knowledge bequeathed upon her by a complete stranger to shatter such a prolonged quarantine, but it was conceivable that the steely parapets were beginning to dissolve.

Presently she wrestled free from whatever uncouth infirmity rendered her silent and on the green acreage now focused.

“I guess you’ve heard all the rumours about my family,” she chuckled. “I’m surprised you didn’t run away, and that you’re actually talking to me. Most of the others hide away and keep their distance, but it doesn’t bother you, does it? You must be mad.

Astonished momentarily by her abrupt brazenness, and arrested by a lurking opportunity, Amias determined to equal her brashness.

“I don’t think those are all rumours,” he said. “I remember twenty years ago, the last time one of you got pregnant and what happened next. You can’t deny facts.”

“I suppose not,” Renata admitted, still beaming delightfully as though the conversation irked her not. “That was before my time, but I remember Alba, the mother. She took care of me when I moved here, she was like a new mother to me. She was such a kind woman, it was a shame when she died.”

Awareness of the female Wilsons’ state, after their children were inexorably cleaved far too early from the waking world, was in as grey an area as their puzzlingly dust-like skin. Locals took to resolutely, perhaps erroneously, believing that shortly after the doomed brood had violently passed on, in the heartless domain they inherited they were incapable of remaining and dissolved away like ash caught in the rain. The indulgent folklorists trusted in a detached province; assigning myth where none should exist. Copious claims were lodged that with the putrefying timber walls merged the shrunken mothers. There were further reaching deviations, advising extremer disparities of acute conceptions but never again are these to be expressed.

Amias breathed in deeply. Distinguished in the air, a baffling scent of lavender and pine prospered trenchantly, apparently clinging to the thick fibres of Renata’s convolutedly embroidered jacket. He noted the detail.

“You’re old enough to explore without your family’s permission,” he said boldly. “And there’s not much reason to hang around this old place.”

“Then why do you?” Renata inquired.

Amias considered carefully his answer. “I can come and go as I want, I’m not stuck here. It’s good to be home but you can’t miss it unless you’re away. I’ll be gone soon enough, fingers crossed.”

As though indicted and constricted by encapsulating interest, Renata’s attention wholly grappled the conversation, her wide blue eyes dilating at every word. The espousal of knowledge as munificently donated by the presently amicable Amias detained fully her assiduity and for no other reason than the impending and haunting devils skimming through the field would she be pulled from it.

“You went to Ulhorn College, I presume?” she continued her line of questioning.

“That’s the one. I studied linguistics for a while, then changed to psychology.”

“Quite a change in course,” Renata mumbled. “Why the change?”

“Why the interest?” Amias grumbled, waving dejectedly.

Renata’s smile caused unexpectedly a quivering lip and a blip of remorse.

“You’re the only person, outside person I mean, that’s willing to talk to me,” she said sweetly. “I thought you’d like to talk about yourself first.”

Amias, a perturbing fancy spurred from the perpetual grin the girl wore, aside tossed his apprehensions and into the conversation bounded unswervingly. An opportunity like this to relinquish and bestow his affluence of knowledge to the tragically ill-informed was rare and to alleviate such ignorance was a relished gift. For the next half hour they spoke of the outside world, all its ostentatious riches, sheltered obscurities, glistening secrets and unfamiliar conventions. Renata consumed the information rabidly; her sheltered life starving mental expansion, cultivating a void she was feverishly zealous to assuage. Gratefully, Amias accommodated this desire, her wide-eyed interest harmonised to his ceaseless rambling.

“You know,” he said eventually, as timidly behind a tumultuous black cloud the sun bowed, “no-one bothers to wait for an announcement from your family anymore. All they need to do is wait for the field to grow, then they know for sure one of you is pregnant. Isn’t that weird?”

“I suppose it is,” Renata answered quietly.

Amias observed as the greyish woman in a surreal moment of total vulnerability exceeded her ignorance and recognised fearfully what terror lurked in the flustering field; why the incipient tips of the numerous crops were like blood-crowned lances, why the floating, whimpering gale was like a heinous deluge of deprived abuse, why the burgeoning stalks and prosperous hedge-line maleficently cried of unbridled abhorrence and beguiling lunacy, and why Amias mined unsullied horror and defeat from the scene. Nothing but palpable truth from the fettered field screeched and of its extensive, ghastly saga it carolled urgently, prompting Amias mildly of the Wilson family’s awful history. Sluggishly, awareness clutched his shoulders and the less inclined fragments of cognizance shambled to the finish line.

To her chest, Renata’s chin sank morosely. Defeat, as of the conquered bastions of formerly mighty soldiers, cleaved from her soul whatever exquisite pearl might keep her sane.

“Yes,” she said gravely, glancing prudently at the ostensibly blossoming field and all such a moment unpleasantly inferred. “I suppose it is.”

*

The subsequent day Renata’s pregnancy was discreetly announced to the town via an indefinite channel. Decades and generations of this harrowing news, in permutations unmoving and horrifying, rendered the town mulishly apathetic, so when the pregnancy was subtly broadcast not a single person batted an eye. Quietly tired was the town, by the continuing and unbroken cycle exhausted, and no one would entreat a modicum of care for Renata’s unborn child.

To the grubby luxury of Ulhorn College’s lesser known rooms and forgotten alcoves Amias dolefully retreated to partake committedly in rigorous study. Antediluvian and dusty tomes for nine months were his only friends; social comforts abandoned for the crutch of cavernous knowledge. For the purpose of saving Renata from her impending doom and her child’s inevitable destruction, he was incorrigibly focused. He began with more grounded examinations of the human condition; namely the lengthy and tormenting lineage of the Wilson family and their predestined custodians. For four months such extensive research consumed his entire waking life, line after line of tortuous family data decreeing diminutive enlightenment, joining filaments of buoyant exclamations to construct a superior, more edifying portrait of truth. When this failed, to the outer boundaries of logic and the deeper paradigms of occultism he peered probingly, interminably sanguine that some degree, no matter how small, of fleeting and inhuman wisdom could be siphoned from the aging pages. What he learned could never be effaced from memory, and the persecuting chronicles roiled the senses, and caught in a swirling and repellent tumult of vindictive sprites and black magic and eldritch horror that tittered maddeningly he found himself, and from its unyielding pull he discovered escape was impossible.

It was on the ninth month he finally returned home, drained, tangibly wrecked, but hideously shrewder than he ever thought possible. What he gleaned from the pages of those ancient and forbidden volumes of lost lore would haunt him, and he already felt the strenuous influence they had on his rational capacity. The world was no longer an uncharted or rousing expanse of possibility, it was a pejorative and warring limbo in which he would fall a broken man. Worst of all, this consequence didn’t outweigh the gain. All he had accurately grasped during his solitary tenure was that humanity swirled in true obliviousness amidst decadent and abysmal woes it could never fully understand. Not an inch closer to the Wilson family’s mysteries had he advanced.

Having touched base with his family, who commented at length on his haggard exterior, Amias hastily discovered the identity of the new custodian- Gerald Perry, a young, obtuse man whose proclivities and inclinations remained nameless to the town. On the brink of reliability lurked an obvious certainty, and Amias was too fatigued to attempt circumventing the disaster. In some way his new wisdom crushed anticipative optimism; this was going to happen whether he tried to stop it or not.

By the Wilson farm he strolled mechanically, as though compelled by some unseen and supernatural authority, where from beneath the lenient loam sprouted garish crops eager to reach the apex of their terse existence, and the azure dome looming above daring to touch. The child was close to birth, Amias thought, given the loftiness and fortitude of each prospering stalk. Perhaps nine months and thousands of haunting pages ago a strike of loss might stab him, but the burden of illicit understanding weighed down the knife of grief, so that on discerning the field only languid acceptance dashed to hail him.

Two days later, on the eve of an aberrantly lambent and lustrous July morning, where the murmuring, forgiving breeze through the delicate vanes of luscious pastures gallantly bowled, a bellow of triumph boomed proudly from the dissolute hovel in the heart of town. That morning Amias learned from one of the senior locals, who had subsisted through numerous generations of luckless Wilsons, that Renata had given birth.

Amias felt no snag of care or concern on his cerebral coat-tails as the prodigious information was judiciously conveyed and no internal demons came to reproach his choice to slant indifferently. After all, what difference in a dispirited world would the imminent disaster beget? It had happened countless times before and was likely to happen countless times more; there was no preventing the ceaseless, assiduous revolutions of unavoidable tragedy. Conducive to his novel conviction was the cloyed cicerone of the immoral realm into which he had charged, and around which the soaring barriers of brevity reared asinine and robust. He wondered if one day he might escape back to juvenile ignorance and inanity, that to the leaves of the extravagant saplings and springs of water colour could be restored, and the stroke of the snivelling gale might caress rather than thrash.

At the mouth of the conjoining street, Amias glowered at the wrecked hovel that auspiciously accommodated the Wilson family, and had done since its inception. Inconsistent with its more contemporary and gaudy surroundings, as some attempt had been made by the neighbours to overcome their street’s singularly devastating moment, the roof’s aft had partly buckled and from its corners scarcely clung to the timber skeleton, the murky brick was distorted and in several places seemed to melt over the severely splintered windowpanes, around the door enclosed a scrawny, cloying green rim, and the entire abode wholly reeked of desolation and disrepair, utterly foreign to its balmy, more delicate environment. Amias assumed, the longer he observed with forbearance, that it shifted and sagged critically to the left on its decaying, unsteady foundations as though dodging in fear from its right-hand neighbour.

Abandoning the degenerate house that catastrophe built, Amias entered the local shop, situated contentedly at the foot of the street, to momentarily indulge in an enervated perusal. Inside, he was immediately confronted by a devoted affiliate of the gossip crew.

“Amias!” Hayri exclaimed. “I didn’t know you were home!”

Hayri was a middle-aged man, too old for the fresh faces pervading the profounder circles of intrigue and too young for thorough inclusion into the elderly blabber contrivance, topped by a dome of receding brown hair, and dappled all over his face with odd blotches. Amias had little time for him before and now, with a throbbing encumbrance boiling his acuity, he warded with sincere partiality.

“Hayri,” he mumbled, wandering aimlessly through the aisles.

“Where you been?” the man pressed.

“Studying.”

Amias stalked the lonely, food-cluttered gangway, hoping to avoid additional exchanges with the peculiar man, hoping further that on his lips would appear no mention of Renata or the forthcoming calamity, but it seemed fate refuted his desires.

“You heard the Wilson girl gave birth?” Hayri continued, overlooking Amias’ clear disinterest. “Heard it from her younger brother, David. A bouncing boy she calls ‘Pasi’. Some folk are taking bets on how long it’ll take ol’ Gerald to get rid of him. I reckon it’ll be two weeks.”

“Really,” Amias grumbled, perfunctorily inspecting an array of fresh fruit.

“You were quite close to the girl, weren’t you? Marian Moor saw the two of you talking on the hill above the farm, must’ve been, oh,” he paused, “nine months ago.”

Amias reluctantly agreed to play along.

“Only time we met,” he said quietly, invariably grasping exactly what Hayri was implying. “And I’m sure Marian watched us for the whole conversation.”

The peculiar man’s eyes funnelled, draining from focus the immediate world.

“And the field’s all flush,” Hayri added sternly. “Looks like it’ll be another shallow grave to add to the hillside. You know, you should go talk to her, see if her and Pasi’s all right. You might get her talking, since you’re so close and then… y’know.”

Amias sighed. “And then?”

“Then you come tell your good friend Hayri everything!” He laughed.

Resounding like a deafening siren, the bell appended to the shop door trilled stridently, and through it assertively tramped two young female members of the Wilson ilk, grey hair rolling lithely and cobalt eyes penetrating the jocund ambience. Hayri took the sudden appearance markedly worse than Amias, who for all the curiosity he could adopt, from callousness refused to be incited.

At the shop’s interior they glared furiously as though endeavouring to extinguish the building employing the sole conduit of incensed stares, then caught Hayri’s startled and dazed fluttering with immense elegance and incomparable harmony.

“We’re sorry to bother you,” said the younger one thoughtfully. “We were looking for steaks, any kind will do.”

Hayri collected his jaw swiftly enough to answer. “Oh, yes, yes! Of course! We have Sirloin right here, how much would you like?”

The older one reviewed with concentrated scrutiny the assemblage of swollen slabs strewn haplessly on the produce shelf and nominated two germane lumps.

As Hayri bagged and weighed the steaks, and Amias endured a carefully deliberated analysis from the younger woman, he probed ambitiously.

“Must be tough with a new baby in that house of yours,” he said. “Are the steaks for the happy mother?”

“Yes,” replied the elder unconvincingly, “a little something to help her feel better.”

“Of course, of course.” Hayri totalled the cost, from the wraithlike figures never shifting his gaze. “You must be needing supplies for the kid as well, you can take a look around if you’d-”

“No, no, we have everything we need,” she replied quickly. “Just the steaks will do.”

Under the bellicose coercion of the Wilson woman’s narrow scowl Amias spurned his attenuation, and instead in a flash of insolence tested the invading glare.

“What is it?” he asked coldly.

“Your eyes…” she said cryptically, “they’re strange. Are you from around here?”

“Yes. What’s wrong with my eyes?”

The older woman by the hand abruptly seized her overtly curious relative and in a cloud of grey hastily fled from the shop, the latter’s gaze locked still on Amias. The strange realm he inhabited, devoid of rational conventions, lacked any motive to pursue an answer. Hayri traced the lingering stare as the women vanished into the vaporous street and proceeded to study Amias.

“You know,” he said suspiciously, “she’s not wrong. There is something strange with your eyes, I don’t know why I couldn’t see it before.”

Amias, impelled home by an indeterminate beckoning, shuffled to the door and into the unsettling flurries of the turbulent street he was flung, deserting Hayri to churn out his conceitedly bitter rumours. As the unruly squalls flogged and lashed the block-stoned road, Amias observed the two Wilson women retire swiftly into their derelict abode as though eluding a pursuing entity, anxiously glancing around to locate their hunter. He stayed by the corner and waited for them to disappear through the oblique portal, then advanced gingerly from the hazy shadows. Whatever had so possessed them to betray their habitual countenance, and obliged them to abscond so hastily, hid from certainty with measured deliberation, and cast its gloomy, abrasive shadow over the Wilson’s shoddy hovel. Amias wanted desperately to care, for the miserable shadow over his mind’s abode to be lifted and for the rosy glow of an expectant dawn to purify the sinking feeling his chest was presently accepting, but such a connection was numb and his yearnings rendered null.

As the sun set and night washed the rocky boulevards, and through the snarling, sinister branches of the partitioning trees glided effulgent lunar beams, Amias stared from the mount of a hill at the chalice of his unquenchable curiosity. Something had struck him during his fleeting conversation with the Wilson women- if it could be called a conversation at all- and once more their absurd mystery, with all its stagnant advancements and brick-wall defences, stirred the pursuit of knowledge; the need to catalogue, explain and comprehend the unknown. Much of the world was no longer unknown to him, and this greatly demeaned his posterity, but there was now a potentially untouched colliery patiently anticipating his advent. He decided, then, that the house would be explored- for science, not safety- and finally, at long last, he would lay the Wilson puzzle to its long-awaited rest.

He waited behind the house, at the stone wall flanking the garden, until the crescent moon claimed possession of the night sky and then vaulted the barrier and infiltrated with ease the small, unlocked window on the bottom floor.

The wooden flooring nearly collapsed under his feet and bent menacingly at all four corners, the withered walls and cracked paint appealed for assistance, splatters of cobwebs and clouds of dust clung to the various, eccentric ornaments and strangely assembled fixtures, the disintegrated ceiling in troublingly numerous places wilted dejectedly, and Amias was certain that unseen creatures were scuttling to the safety of their extensively occupied dwellings- no doubt the yawning knolls in the wood and the shattered recesses in the slack brick. He noted the overpowering, unnameable odour overwhelming the air; and even the crisp breeze migrating leisurely into the room from the open window couldn’t contest its imperious supremacy.

Apprehensively, he crept through an open door and into a decrepit hallway. On the right wall ascended a rickety staircase, linking with a limp landing displaying a portentous triumvirate of wooden doors; on the left wall another hallway led into absolute darkness, and directly in front of Amias, facing the front door and slumped idly in a crude chair, was the heaving figure of Gerald Perry.

Amias stopped. Fortuitously, the custodian was facing the opposite direction and appeared to be in a deep sleep, and so Amias cautiously approached the back of the chair, eager to slip by unnoticed and climb the staircase. Calculated was every footfall, every breath drawn hushed and muted. Through a freakishly constricted cavity between the staircase’s barrier and the chair’s spine he would have to slip undetected- a single erroneous movement, a misplaced foot on a destabilized floorboard, and the current custodian would wake. Amias wasn’t sure exactly what would happen in that case, what horrors the potentially manic man might generate, but given the custodians’ history of violent predilections it was likely he would be added to the extensive and laborious archives of their unfortunate victims. He was keen to avoid this possibility.

With the sincerest valour and precision, Amias held his breath and through the slender opening prudently slithered, only to abruptly halt a second later- as Gerald twisted in his slumber. He coughed, spluttered, jolted, grumbled inaudibly, then reverted to an enchanting dream-world far surpassing his current and deprived habitation. Amias subdued a pang of austere jealousy; for this man would be free of his mental shackles, of the incapacitating caucus of squalor, of the mournful awareness and comprehension from which he himself would never be liberated. For a moment his hands trembled, and for Gerald’s neck they seemed to covet; for the end of his perpetual idiocy, and in some way, the infinite continuation of his dream-like condition as the most compassionate gift.

As Amias gradually scaled the staircase the walls took on a new, alien malignancy; the wooden steps shrivelled under his heels, the atrocious odour seemed to further accumulate and like a foetid hoard blitzed him, and the rhythmic snoring from behind two of the three approaching doors was a disdainful sonata executed on spiteful instruments.

He never once stopped to consider what he was doing, knowing full well that the remotest lapse in confidence would force him to abscond and the mystery would be left unfulfilled. Wholly on the matter at hand, on the exploration of the scrambled Wilson mess he was engrossed, and not for anything but the final unsullied truth would he be stopped. More than once on the unsteady climb he marvelled at his taciturn disregard and the extent to which his perspective on the brittle cupola of human life had altered; where before his interest was in defending Renata and saving her child, it was now concluding the staggered episode and for the forbearance of his agitated obsession.

The left most door, carved like a repugnant sculpture on the crumbling walls, emanated little to no sounds at all, and since the other two loudly advertised their contents Amias deduced the new-born must be behind this soundless lumber warden. It was at this surreal moment he realised there was no plan of action, no strategy calculated in advance to assist his current predicament. How was he supposed to know what to look for? What would he do with it when he found it?

He almost laughed; what did it matter?

Trusting his intuition he turned the icy, decaying metal door-knob and pushed the fraying gate ajar, and then hastily stepped through.

The consuming stench, in all its noxious finery, was particularly pungent here and so Amias, for all the good it could do, covered with the neck of his shirt his mouth and nose and mentally digested the modest room. Like the rest of the putrefying house the walls split and melted, upwards curled the soiled floorboards, through a lonesome window pane sparked sliced beams of iridescent moonlight, antique, dust-crusted and web-layered cupboards, light fixtures, and children’s toys lined the crumbling walls, but most importantly, menacingly illuminated by the apprehensive light was a shoddy crib in the centre of the room. Though the light was brave enough to vaunt the crib’s sloppily crafted fixtures it was less inclined to reveal its contents, as Amias could scarcely see through the thick bars. He was astute enough, and his eyes had adjusted scrupulously, to distinguish a runty, helpless figure caught within, though its defining features he couldn’t so easily discern. This was Pasi, he decided.

A strange moment overcame him, if over the barrier of the crib he peeked he would be the first outside of the Wilson family and the custodians to witness a doomed child. Was his curiosity sufficient to explore?

Closing the door behind him, Amias guzzled the stunning silence. From the crib uttered not a sound, not a faint peep, so silent was the child that he almost considered the custodian’s moment of madness completed until he heard it stirring restlessly. The sound, to him, was sonically defunct and inexplicably distressing, though why it unsettled him so he was yet to decide. Perhaps it was the idea that a small child, barely a day old, could create a clamour markedly massive in comparison to its fragile size, or perhaps it was simply its categorical affront to the absolute hush of the night. Either way, he tentatively approached and circled the cot. No matter down which angle he peered, its contents were persistently obscured as though cloaked under an everlasting gloom. He elected instead to examine the other furnishings of the room, although nothing stood out as significant or intriguing.

Amias glared out the window, where he could see the heart of the town through an exceptionally condensed fog and surreptitiously wondered in astonishment as the moon’s magnificent rays escaped through the mist and ignited glistening jets throughout the dense hazy clouds. For a brief moment from his intellectual incapacities he was generously transmitted, so that on watching the sparkling jets dance across waves of foamy clouds he thought of beauty, of hope, and ephemerally extoled the magnificence of the universe. The feeling was transient however, and back to the cold heartless dominion of vehement loathing and lassitude he was despairingly jilted.

Enthralled in the pirouetting lanterns and his ultimate place in the universe, he didn’t hear the bedroom door squeak agape, or the groan of the floorboards as over them stamped the heavy-footed bearing of Gerald Perry. Amias, masticating the shattered bonds of his antipathy, was quietly oblivious to the giant man skulking deliberately toward him.

What happened next he couldn’t be sure; there was a definitive throbbing pain on the right side of his face and the cold floor willingly broke his fall, and for some reason his vision was violently reeling from a harsh blow, but definitely he could be sure that grave menace had adopted the lumbering form standing ominously over him, with fists poised to strike again. Amias dodged instinctively as a fist flashed by his nose and rolled backwards, hands stretched out and for physical assistance searching. They found purchase with a solid metal relief, and with it blindly swung to his right. His hands quivered as the petite ornate statue met its mark and from the attacking custodian drew splashes of blood. A fleeting window of opportunity offered itself as Gerald recoiled; and Amias was willingly prepared and ardent to take advantage. With another blind swing he forced the man to retreat close to the door, over his face defensively raising his hands.

Amias held back and collected his senses. Fighting was never his forte; unravelling the coiled secrets of the world was his vocation, not savage, bestial spectacles of ruthless expressions, yet here he was brandishing a provisional weapon and fearing for his life. He prepared for a succeeding offensive surge.

Such an attack never came. As Gerald composed himself, involuntarily over the crest of the crib’s barrier he peeked, and through him fanned a startling conversion. Instantly his body trembled as though in terrible shock, his arms went limp and his knees gave way, and from some deep, inhuman pit he summoned a petrifying, loutish roar. He snarled and stuttered, dabbed clear the torrents of tears, and jerked in and out of stints of passionate screeching. It was as though whatever slept soundly in the cot had inferred hellish associations his mind failed to assimilate, and as such buckled under the weight of accursed spheres the human mind would never grasp.

What Gerald had become, this disjointed mess of insanity, was the inflicted curse of the custodians, Amias figured. Sensing the inevitable violent snap murmured in darkened corners, he slipped between the writhing custodian and his eventual prey. Perhaps, he thought, he could ingest the necessary information essential to unscrambling the mystery if he simply waited for the unavoidable emotional rupture. The exact moment the snap occurred he could almost pinpoint. Gerald Perry, the colossal man enlisted as the ill-fated murderer, to his eyes thrust his fingers and for them seemed to sadistically crave. Amias watched in shock as he suspended the preferred form of self-mutilation favoured by his merciless cast to precariously rise, and on the crib and its sound contents pugnaciously focused. Amias was suddenly and unintentionally the new-born’s only hope for survival.

Forward Gerald lunged, jagged fingers hooked and precipitously moulded to the assumed breadth of a child’s neck, and primed himself for ferocious, rabid murder. Amias automatically and recklessly pitched, cracking the assailant on his left temple and reduced him to a crumple on the floor, thrashing in demeaning anguish. Blood-lust swelled emphatically in Amias, and so he raised the ornament high, targeting his opponent’s exposed forehead. Even for a second he didn’t consider withdrawing from the battle; this was his new expedition, the next uncharted vessel that might reinstate his enthusiastic paradigm.

But, amidst the din and chaos, Gerald trailed the tracks of his preceding dynasty and, having failed to wholly consummate his psychotic urge, reeled back to the window and as the streaming light illumined his warped, growling expression, plunged his fingernails into his eye sockets and hewed their wheeling, ogling innards from their equitable seats.

The scene, with all its inimitable carnage, would be impossible to aptly describe using any words in any language. There was blood in hideously teeming volumes, detached sinews and visceral connections, unpronounceable butchery and terror, nauseating violence beyond the mortal standard that even in war would shock the most stoic of soldiers, and of course, a dumbfounded Amias watching helplessly as Gerald committed the most appalling performance of suicide.

It didn’t take minutes for Gerald, the eternal chasm procuring him screaming, shivering and blood-sodden, to pass into a dreamless, lifeless void. Had Amias encountered this horrific exhibition before, a splash of regret or shock might whip him, but as it was a mild gasp was all he could manage. It wasn’t as though he had personally killed him, was it? His part in the death was trivial and meaningless.

To the frigid cradle of the floor Gerald’s cluttered, chaotic remains merged vilely to one day become a part of the horrid and unrelenting history of the rotting edifice in which it was contained. Amias dropped his weapon and very almost peeked inside the crib- something told him not to.

As his wits assembled, the door scraped open once more and through it poured a mob of ashen silhouettes clambering over each other to behold the scene. Identifying any as individuals was impossible; especially since their ethereal motions were frightfully nimble. Amias felt suddenly like he was a monster, a freak bating the scrupling attention of its wholesome peers into hunting it down. But, he told himself, he wasn’t the monster; he was the hero! By his hand alone he had stopped he monster, the freak, and though for the exaltation he desired little, he expected such from the family he had serendipitously defended.

The massive undulating throng, including both men and women, flooded through the room- several checked the crib and the child while others nonchalantly inspected the leaking blob of whitening flesh huddled below the window. They were eerily silent and methodical, contributing to him paltry recognition as though his presence in the child’s room was not only anticipated but characteristically typical. Finally, other than to declare his presence he could see no choice.

Even at his sweeping announcement the crowd flouted him and like a well-trained unit swarmed unwaveringly confident, and the precinct of the newly-crowded room they seized. As Amias considered the perplexing suavities of the Wilsons, and strived to capture a hint of irrefutable evidence with which to expound their external mysteriousness, the writhing throng split and through the presently vacant pathway gracefully strode Renata Wilson. She was, he noted, supressing his surprise, considerably older than last he saw her and carried with her an airy maturity apposite to her elegant stature.

“Amias,” she hissed pensively. “What have you done?”

“He’s gone and killed the big guy!” shouted one of the men.

“We’ll have to find another one,” said one of the women sadly.

“It’s too late for that,” said someone in the back.

They were all silenced by a floaty gesture from Renata.

“Amias,” she repeated. “Why are you here? What possessed you to do this?”

The dismal gambolling of mankind through the mire of their wastes, the tiny orb in the tiny galaxy sitting at the brink of the universe’s peripheral curve, the unsympathetic squandering of precious life seemingly as the desire of the whole, and the fragmentary construction of meaningless and hollow sentiments that for all involved were counterfeit landscapes disguising true significance as inconsequential and homogenised images, hampered Amias to breaking point. Finally, of his domestic, irrefutable animosity he grew exhausted; of the dark knowledge obtained from ancient tomes, of the cruel world smiting all his allure to beauty from his beating chest, he was fractured.

“I’m here,” he proclaimed, seething, “because of you- because you caught me! You have no idea the things I’ve learned to try and stop this from happening, to break the cycle! I did this, all of this, to help you. But you wouldn’t understand, you couldn’t! The things in my head, they’re like snakes, they’re like a poison, and it’s your fault they’re there. You’re going to explain what the hell is going on. What are the custodians? Why did he rip his eyes out? What is wrong with you people?!”

They all gawped questionably at him.

“He’s asking what’s wrong with us,” muttered one of the younger women, “and he’s the one that broke into our home and cracked our nanny on the head with an ornament.”

“Wait!” ordered a faint voice at the rear of the pack.

The throng separated once more. Amias recognised the approaching woman as the one who had confronted him in the shop.

“That’s him,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “That’s him, from the shop, the one with the right eyes. Renata, I told you about him, about what his eyes mean. And listen to him! He’s right, he’s so right.”

Renata studied Amias peculiarly, circling him, grasping what her relative was suggesting. It appeared to excite her as her lips divided to form a wry smile. By the hand she clasped him and to the gilded cot smoothly steered him. His legs told him to run, his eyes tried to close, but his rigorous plea to uncoil the spiralling mystery obligated him beyond his reservations.

At the precipice she held him, then leaned close to his ear.

“This is everything you’ve fought for,” she told him. “You want to know the truth? Here it is.”

Against the blaring voice in his head, Amias glanced fearfully over the crib’s cusp.

He recoiled, head scorching as though kindled. His eyes watered, his lip quivered, his limbs turned limp, his heart nearly ceased beating, his stomach churned, and instinctively he endeavoured to flee but the infernal damage was already done. Like a hellish claw from eldritch quarries by the soul he was snatched, and by the heart he was rooted in chains. Death, for a tumultuous interlude, disregarded the suffering man and condemned him to perpetual wallowing.

Amias dropped to his knees and clutched his throbbing head, seeking to silence the screams of booming flames and to apprehend the evanescent images racing athwart his vision. What was he seeing?! What was he hearing?! The array of maniacal phantasms battered him senselessly, assaulting with stark detachment, so that submerged and enfeebled were his tattered mental boundaries and not a gleam of rational meaning could be yanked free.

Of what was truly happening, he couldn’t be sure. He knew he was on the floor floundering, he could hear somewhere in the distance his desperate cries and screams, he could feel the burrowing fire make a nest in his mind, but of his external awareness he might as well have been blind. In such a moment of pristine inducement, sanity is a remote and short-lived fantasy; a delusion obeyed by terrified and unsophisticated minds. This abysmal delirium Amias now transcended, utterly engulfed in a barbarous blizzard that surpassed the squalid ditch of hysterical mania.

The thing sleeping in the crib, if it was indeed capable of sleep, suggested no semblance to any of humanity’s numerous branches and was wholly alien to even the deepest and most wretched fever dreams. No civilised mind could have fabricated into being the nauseating shade of its peeling membrane, the piercing taupe eyes that through the gloom emitted a foul beam, the coarse vales that whittled through its skin and impeded the basins of regular anthropoid congruity, the entirely bald and malicious reliefs that seemed to permeate from the crooked bone structure, or the tusked mandibles that reliably opened and shut as though chewing. Even its vile and hideous outline was distinctly otherworldly and defied the most strenuous and precise sequences of logic.

The image of the thing was like to Amias an indigenously inscribed effigy that imprinted his retinas with its confounding and impossible specifics. Each time he blinked it would momentarily evaporate only to spitefully rematerialize moments later with intent to repulse and offend- and in his mind it crawled and forcefully slashed, obstinate to eviscerate and cripple.

Against it Amias cogently resisted. His aggrieved howls perfused the otherwise silent room and looked to the mocking walls for an escape route; and in grievous swathes a sapping force exhausted his defences and ultimately incapacitated them, ferociously swarming over the imposing ramparts.

Of unspeakable and unnameable entities he suddenly became conscious; of the endless black gulfs that jabbed the verge of infinity, the roaring fronds of corpulent nebulas encircling devastating abysses, infested demonic gorges from which suspended fluorescent appendages of stringently daunting creatures, occultist gatherings of primordial barbarians venerating their carven deities and false idols, impossible streams impressed masterfully through astral flocks, and finally, a demising perspective that placed on his rapidly rupturing mind a belittling and dominant fist that crushed any sense of personality or uniqueness, and incisively eradicated whatever supports the human mind enough to stop it dissolving when confronted with the fathomless scope of the cosmos.

And there, in the steeping district of true perception, Amias liquefied and wasted away, the blistering image erasing all that he ever was. This was the fate that befell every custodian, amidst the weaving chaos a voice told him, this was the truth he had sought. Suddenly, he desired to know not the Wilson family, to have not explored beyond the putative bounds of lucidity, and to walk back to ignorance and beseech forgiveness.

For his eyes his fingers hungered; to impound the spring of his immeasurable agony and unfetter from celestial insignificance any base of hope, and from vision remove the infernal image of the thing.

Unsteadily, his hands moved into position, and prepared it seemed he was to act on the only clear thoughts he could translate. It would be simple, he thought, simple beyond reason. It would take less than a minute and then it would be over; the image annihilated, the revulsion silenced, the pain quelled, and sublime peace invited.

No! he shouted- or thought, he couldn’t be sure- stirring from the subduing and smothering clutch of cosmic perception. There was a second option, one that even in the bewildering and stifling clutter that constituted Amias’ thoughts transferred significant, indisputable conviction. If the felonious agent was vanquished and eliminated like a cancer, then all its numerous contagious tributaries would wane to a benign grade. And that agent, coddled in the arms of an insecure cot, was arm’s length away. That thing wasn’t human and not a flutter of remorse or self-loathing would be incurred at its demise. If anything it was the right choice- the virtuous and pious alternative that would purify the thing’s hellish presence.

But unresponsive his lax limbs remained and alive the thing would persist, for Amias’ writhing suddenly ceased. For a moment nothing happened; the moon continued shunning the room and behind a frumpy cloud interred its broad beams, the flaking walls impatiently scowled, and from the Wilsons came no hint of sound or attentiveness. From the cusp of his eyes Amias removed his curled fingers, his breathing relaxed, and in elevating springs reprieve channelled his movements and steadily he rose. The scattering blazes along the ropy sinews of memory and knowledge unstoppably charred and like a purging surge expunged his recollection of primordial tomes and gruesome grimoires, from the bonds of awful and prohibited understanding releasing him like a buffering block that opposed the thing’s attack. Instead of abolishing every disjointed scrap of his consciousness, it dismissed the substantial affliction hitherto considered immortal. Free he suddenly was, from prodigious burdens extricated, and finally his forbidden knowledge was scrubbed clean- at a price.

Like a conquered warrior Amias resigned from sentient existence and in the improvident decadence of oblivion luxuriated. Freedom, as of the obtuse delinquents, bestowed him a remarkable submission.

As Amias once more plummeted to the floor and this time passed out cold, Renata glided unfeelingly to the occupied cot and to its rapt tenant donated a slab of raw steak, and then signalled for her fellow family members to collect the unconscious invader from the floor and relocate his inert body elsewhere.

“He’s perfect,” said an astute woman, moving aside to let Amias through. “He’s the only one who could cope with the kid. You made a good call, Renata.”

*

The subsequent morning, as terrible gales whined and croaked, the police arrived to investigate the scene, then left with both the bloated corpse of Gerald Perry and a crammed bag brimming with money- as was the customary procedure. Like the townspeople, the less they truly knew the better, and of the exigent queries they conceptually formed, they uttered not. None of them dared set foot beyond the immediate hallway and to evacuate the scrabbling hooks of the diseased and ailing walls all were anxious.

After they left, and undoubtedly the events of the night were tendered in esculent doses to the snooping neighbours, on the edge of the chair facing the sealed front door Renata perched Amias’ motionless body. He had said nothing, crooned not a cough or a growl, and from him it seemed all intelligence and care for the world had been immutably drained. With a vacant expression his dead and torpid eyes glared unmoving at the shedding and mocking paint of the door. To his ear she inclined and in a whisper illustrated the motions of indefinite monstrosities as they skulked frenziedly to mankind’s egress.

“The custodians,” she told him lightly, “are there for the protection of the child. Old Oban needed money, he needed his farm to grow and the harvest to be bountiful, so such a proposal was traded for. In exchange for the delivery of a great unit of power and dominance, Oban would get his wish. It was a simple deal, everyone got what they wanted. I’ll admit, we don’t much care for the farm anymore and we have more money than we know what to do with, but it’ll grow anyway.”

In his hand she placed an ice-cold, saw-toothed dagger which he limply clutched.

“But Oban couldn’t endanger the child, he couldn’t let anyone get near to it, so he created a position of protection- the custodian. At that time even Oban himself was a danger to it, his mind was closed and his perspective simple, so the custodian was there to keep prying eyes blind. You’ve seen what the child can do to the mind, how it can change things, how it can get into the brain and poison the senses. The distant worlds you saw are what I see every second of every day, that’s what we are; the heralds of the future and the progenitors of its destruction. Pasi will be the harbinger, the destroyer, as he was always to be since Selene first gave him life, since Tristan first stopped him, and you will be his defender until your last breath. You will protect him, you will protect all of us, and Amias, you are to play your part in humanity’s expiration.”

Renata momentarily withdrew and loudly exhaled, then to his immediate attention returned.

“You are not special, you are not unique, you are the dreg of the universe, a waste of life. You are nothing, nothing but a tool to be subjugated and used. You are the cosmic joke, and you will thank us for delivering you from your own pitiable squandering.”

On his shoulder she fleetingly offered a deceptively consoling hand, then in a graceful whirl to the arid restrains of his traumatized mind deserted him.

Of his surroundings Amias was painfully unmindful. What had been saved of his lesser brain functions allowed very little of comprehension, yet he could petition a paltry sum of functionality to measure in miserable portions his new position.

He chortled frantically. The cycle was indeed broken, the child safe and the inevitable vicious snap of the custodian presently prescribed ineffective; as he had desired since the beginning. This was the fruit of his labours, the complete motivation for his academic pursuits and all that drearily conferred to him, and even in his disconsolate dejection he knew this was not the yearned after accolade he desired. Amias had succeeded at a cost he could no longer grasp.

Along the thundering and feverish eluvium that venomously toiled and spiralled, buoyed on wings of psychosis and the turbulent breath of the anomalous, Amias’ hysterical cackles sprung from house to house and to the dying emerald hills disconcertingly voyaged, pursuing viable ears to obliterate with sheer mania. He laughed for his lost virtue, for the colourless candour of scholarly immaturity, the miserable sorrow of acceptance and infernal enlightenment, for the world he understood and witnessed was no longer the pleasant and jovial environ that blissfully supported courage, it was a sardonic parody, a meaningless clamour of insignificance and rejection, and now, thanks to him, by the clawed hand of Pasi Wilson it would be extinguished- and he was no longer sure he could mentally fund resistance.

Self-realisation serenely settled in, and truth pompously blared its frail voice to Amias’ earnest misery, as he unwillingly grasped why the custodians, with their appalling loathing, hectic cracks, and rancorous past, took extreme action when presented with the new-born child; and why this action was to censor from human existence the reborn child as swiftly as they could, and ultimately why their preferred technique of insufferably raw and chaotic suicide was so appropriate.

They were the sane ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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