Eye see you - Editor
Blood of the Father
by Philip Roberts
For the first ten years of Charles Mclemore’s life he knew only wealth and luxury. On his tenth birthday his father pulled him from his bedroom one bright, sunny afternoon, and led young Charles down plywood steps, across dusty cement, and through an entrance hidden behind an aged, rotted cabinet.
Eyes glistening with frightened tears and the sting of dusty air, Charles struggled against his father’s grip, a man he’d known as a face more than a parent. He’d always seen his father’s reddened eyes from a distance, pronounced jaw and chin firmly set whenever looking upon his own son. Hired help had tended to Charles’s needs, the word father itself meaning little as Charles was forced down crumbling stone steps, their only light held in his father’s outstretched hand.
They ended in front of a wooden door barely able to contain the bright red shining behind it. The sight silenced Charles, mute when the door opened and his father gently pushed him into the small room.
At first Charles thought he stared at a nude man inside a wooden cage. The only light came from a metal stand with a red bulb on top of it, but Charles ignored the light to focus on the stranger hunched in the corner of the cage, his arms draped over his knees, the skin pale white.
The man’s head lifted, shifted towards Charles, the movement sending ripples through the skin, bloating the flesh. The man had no face, the skin around the outside of the head pulled back into dark oblivion, and as the being pulled into a crouch, Charles could see the skin itself dripping to the hay covered floor.
Charles watched his father pull out a pocketknife and cut a deep gash in his own finger. He pressed the bloody tip to the glowing orb, and immediately the light shined brighter, forced the being in the cage to pull away from the glare, face returned to the void, arms pulling back over its watery flesh.
A gesture from his father led Charles out of the room. As soon as the door slammed behind them his father turned back on his flashlight and took up a seat on the bottom step.
“Dreams will start,” his father said, staring at his bloody finger rather than his son. “Now it’s marked you. Won’t just be dreams, just where it starts, and eventually, you won’t even be able to look in a mirror without seeing it standing behind you, waiting.”
“What is it?” Charles asked.
“Your great, great grandfather had a thirst for something unique. Well, he did some research, and he summoned that thing in there. He learned too late he couldn’t control it, couldn’t make it do anything.
“When the whispers first came to him, he understood he couldn’t release it, because it would get to him, and it would have vengeance. It had to stay contained, stay there forever. He made the orb, and his bloodline could keep it charged, keep the being captive, but nothing else.
“So he told his son about what he had done, and when he died, his son began coming down here as well, charging the orb with blood, and then his son, until my father brought me, and I’ve brought you.”
His father led him back up the stairs in silence. He gently tucked his son into bed for the first time, and kissed his son’s forehead. Charles fell asleep to the image of his father’s dark form perched on a chair by the window. Three hours later, when Charles awoke screaming, thrashing wildly in his bed, his father had the syringe full of sedatives already in hand.
His father gave him ten years. Charles found the body in the bedroom, a still smoking gun clutched tightly in scarred fingers. He sent the servants away to bury his father himself in the backyard. No one saw him spit on his father’s corpse.
That night he walked alone down the stone steps.
His father had confessed that he hadn’t been told about the creature until he’d been in his early twenties, his own father able to bear the burden alone for far longer. The orb requires more and more blood as a person grows older, Charles had learned, and in the final year, as his father neared forty, Charles had watched his father rub a blood soaked hand on the orb in order to return its glow.
Now, standing before the hollow face, Charles needed but a drop or two, and the orb glowed so brightly the creature seemed to recoil in pain. The sight brought a smile to Charles’s thin face.
He felt the creature’s hatred physically wash over him as he turned to leave, and understood full well the magnitude of the thing he goaded, but having understood his damnation at such an early age, the idea of digging the hole a little deeper didn’t bother him.
The mansion contained thirty-four rooms, including several bedrooms, two dining rooms (formal and informal), various rooms adorned with games of some kind, the majority of them outdated, three kitchens, and the portion of the house that had become the servant’s quarters.
Charles stood, nude, on the balcony adjacent to his bedroom, the moon a thin sliver of light amid an ocean of glittering jewels. He could hear the sound of undisturbed sleep from the bed behind him, the woman, Rachael, unaware of the voiceless stream of noise constantly flowing through Charles’s mind.
Rachael’s beautiful face didn’t stir as he left the bedroom. In the six years since he first began courting any woman his money attracted, Rachael was merely the third in a long parade of marriages. She had provided him exactly what he had wanted, the child he stood before, only a year old, sleeping just as peacefully as her mother.
He lifted the sleeping girl into his arms, careful not to wake her, and slipped down the basement steps. The dusty air didn’t make her stir and cry until he was far from any ears to hear her. The frightened wail made him smile.
He stopped before his prisoner. The hollow face rose to meet his gaze, head tilted to the side, curious, it looked to Charles, and he hated that curiosity. He always detected a hint of amusement in the creature’s body, even in the abyss of its face. He held out the screaming child, her young face wet red, tears pausing upon seeing the monstrosity crawling closer.
Every time he brought another child down here, saw the creature’s skin pull forward into the face of the infant, Charles considered again whether this thing really did have thoughts, and what it thought of Charles himself. If it could feel, it never chose to have mercy on the children Charles showed it, and just as before, its face returned to nothingness, and it withdrew to its corner.
Before leaving he made sure to bite open the tip of his finger and torment his prisoner with the fierce glow.
By the time he reentered the nursery his daughter had drifted away. He pulled back, watched her intently, curious what her name was. He didn’t know the name of his other children any better then he did this daughter.
An hour later he had the blankets pulled over him, Rachael’s warm body beside him, his eyes closed as if asleep when the shriek echoed through the house. Only Charles didn’t rush to the nursery to check on the screaming child. He returned to his balcony, unable to see the stars through the glare of so many lights turning on, everyone but him trying to console an infant forced to share the same fate as Charles. The thought made him smile.
The next day he threw Rachael and her infant from his home. A week later he filed for divorce.
Three jars full of dark red rested beside his feet. He opened a fourth above the glowing orb and drenched it with cold blood. In front of him the hollow face watched the thick red drip to the floor, but the orb’s glow never changed.
Charles shattered the glass jar against the wall. He glanced upward briefly before hurrying from the room. Halfway up the stairs the exhaustion set in, the wariness of age in his muscles.
He knew which servant he needed. The young man was rarely on time, always stealing breaks whenever possible, and unreliable enough that no one would think anything of it if he started missing work. The boy barely had a chance to turn towards Charles’s before the needle pierced his neck and dropped him to the floor.
Charles dragged more than carried the young servant down the stairs and into the prison. Sweat trickled down his forehead, through his graying hair as he lifted the boy up and took a knife to his throat over the orb. Hot red poured everywhere, down the side of the orb, pooled on the ground, a faint moan the last sound the boy would ever make. Charles threw the body against the far wall in disgust, the orb dimmer with every second.
He took the knife to his palm and pressed his hand against it. Even then the glow only slowly rekindled, his prisoner closer to the edge of the cage now, and Charles could swear he saw the glow of something within the dark abyss watching him.
“You won’t have me,” he shouted, hands trembling, unable to swallow.
He struggled up the steps, winded before he could reach the top.
When he reached his studies one of the maids asked him if he’d seen Julius. Charles informed her he hadn’t seen the boy all day.
The hand caught him across the face before he could attempt to stop it. If he’d had a gun then, Charles honestly believed he would’ve shot Vanessa, but instead he struck her back, the sharp end of his cane cutting into her cheek.
He stepped out into the freezing February day with her voice screaming after him. Snowflakes floated around him and collected on the New York street. Just six months ago he’d never personally witnessed such poverty in his life. A homeless man on the sidewalk in front of the dilapidated apartment complex asked Charles’s for money. He ignored the request and stepped into his limousine.
Before threatening to call the police Vanessa had shoved the photograph into Charles’s hands, and he ran a finger over the wide-eyed boy, no more than six, in the picture, a forced smile on his face. The image reminded Charles of the few pictures he’d seen of himself during his teenage years.
The boy, Fredrick, had taken a screwdriver to his ear in an attempt to drive out the images Charles had grown accustomed to. Fredrick was the fifth Charles had searched for. All but James had committed suicide. James had been the first child, and had somehow managed the longest, nearing thirteen when he knifed to death three of his fellow students before the police shot him dead.
How many were left? Charles watched the aged city flying by his window, but saw instead the faint red glow of an orb deep within his basement, the light fading with each day.
The driver couldn’t see him slump back in the corner of the seat and cry. He wept without control, reddened nose a mess of watery mucus, hands trembling, crumpling the picture, mind crying desperately for some form of escape. Forty-seven years weighed too heavily on him, and he had only three more children to seek out before his condemnation was complete.
In their own way, the years had been crueler to Amanda than they had Charles. Neither retained very much of the physical beauty each had once been blessed with. Years of anxiety, lack of sleep, and poor appetite could be seen in the deep sags below Charles’s eyes, the thin, gray hair atop his head, and the unsteady hand he held a cup of coffee with.
A single light bulb shined beneath a gaudy cover in the corner of Amanda’s living room. Two cockroaches crawled aimlessly along the floorboards. Charles had to pause when the train roared by, rattled the windows.
Amanda’s slender frame had bloated considerably in the sixteen years since he’d first seen her. Her eyes marked her own lack of sleep, caused by late nights at a second job to pay the rent for the awful dwelling she inhabited. Charles hadn’t been content in his youth to simply divorce those he’d been with, but to try robbing every last penny he could, imbue in them the same misery he lived with every day.
He could tell in the sharpness to the eyes Amanda held him with she had learned her lesson. He couldn’t hide his eagerness towards the boy seated beside her, his only, as Charles had come to conclude, child left. Violence haunted the boy’s distant eyes.
“I want it in writing,” Amanda told him, fingers clasped tightly around her knees.
“You’ll have it,” Charles assured her, and he was more than willing to. After all, he had already intended to will his full fortune to the boy. “All in the child’s name, of course,” Charles added.
He knew what the smile plucking at the corners of her pudgy cheeks meant, along with the shrewd gleam in her eyes. She expected him to give his money to her son, who would then shower it all upon her, the hard working mother who had raised him. She didn’t know how the sight of this boy’s true inheritance would change him, would force him to drive away anyone he might’ve once loved. The visions it offered did more than simply frighten, but deadened the very senses, the ability to feel. Charles saw hints of it already in the child’s demeanor.
Charles stood from the frayed, sunken chair and grabbed his hat from the door. “I’ll have my people contact you shortly. Benjamin will have to come to live with me for a time as a part of our agreement.”
“I will as well,” she said, her eyes unyielding.
"A nuisance, Charles thought, but one worth dealing with. “Understood.”
From its brightest glow, to the moment of no return, the orb could last exactly twenty-three days, the elder Mclemore had written in his note generations before. Charles’s own tests had shown similar results, though he’d never allowed it to go beyond nineteen days, and even then only in his youth when a few drops was enough to bring a piercing light.
Now he journeyed daily down the confined staircase, hobbling with a cane for support, his left hand a mess of deep, vicious scars. Each time he became less capable of eliciting even a bright shimmer from the orb, forced to let his blood run until his head grew fuzzy and his vision dimmed. His days were certainly near an end, a very tragic end if not for the boy he dragged along behind him.
Benjamin gave little protest, heeding almost any request Charles made with the dutifulness of a student begrudgingly doing as his teacher tells him. Charles had seen Amanda kneel down on the day the two had arrived and ordered her son to follow whatever Charles asked of him.
The boy didn’t protest even as they neared the wooden door, silent and hard eyed as Charles pulled it open. Only then did Benjamin’s expression change, but to one of wonderment, rather than fear, walking slowly into the room to face the monster crawling towards the cage, barely contained anymore by the soft light.
Quick fingers grabbed hold of the cane beneath Charles’s right hand before he understood what was happening. Charles crashed painfully to the cement, pain arching up through his arm from his elbow. He stared up into Benjamin’s cruel smile, hands tightened into fists as he snapped the cane across his knee.
Charles smiled, laughed dryly. “What, were you waiting for this then?” He shifted to lean back against the wall, the low light of the orb casting deep shadows across Benjamin’s youthful features, his black hair cut long, partially obscuring his eyes. “Suffered through the dreams, the visions, but adjusted, did you? Better man then I, I guess, but if you’re seeking revenge on me, trying to feed me to that creature over there, I’m afraid there isn’t much you can do to get at me. I’ve read more than you boy, and it doesn’t matter if you throw me to the wolves, you’ll suffer the same as I if you don’t keep it contained.”
Benjamin’s eyes shifted back to the creature, to the depths of its face. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and held it to Charles.
He had to use his flashlight to see the picture drawn in crayon. He saw his tormentor, the liquid flesh bubbling and dropping down the body, and the head overly large, nothing but blackness inside it. The image looked like it had been drawn by a four or five year old, maybe slightly older.
“It really is the same,” Benjamin said with wonder.
“It’s your fate,” Charles said.
But Benjamin shook his head, pulled another object from his pockets. It took Charles longer to understand what the boy handed to him, even in the glare of the flashlight. “What’s in it?” He asked, starring intently at the small bottle.
“My brother’s blood,” Benjamin said. “He filled it about a day before he leapt from our roof. The dreams told him a lot, and he told both my mother and I about his heritage, and what you had done to him. He aged fast because of you.”
“You’ve seen it,” Charles said, groped forward at the boy, but Benjamin pulled away from his grip. “It’ll mark you as well.”
“It might, but my brother didn’t believe it would, and I trust my brother more than I ever would you. I saw what you did to him.”
“It’s no worse than what my father did to me,” Charles whispered, feeling broken in a way he’d never felt before, just an enfeebled old man as he groped once last time for Benjamin before the boy stepped into the doorway.
“I don’t know how long the vial will last you,” Benjamin said.
The wooden door slammed shut, and he heard the click of the lock falling into place. By the time he dragged himself over to the door, Benjamin had left, and the door wouldn’t open, not that it mattered. He fell back to the floor laughing.
He struggled to pull himself up, unscrew the bottle, and let a few drops run across the orb, fill it with a light brighter than it had held in years. He watched his prisoner remain by the edge of the cell, its flesh sizzling, but it didn’t pull back, relishing the pain, Charles thought, waiting patiently for its moment to come.
He stumbled back to the wall, the vial held tightly in his grip. How long could he keep the orb lit: certainly longer than he could survive without food.
The small vial shattered against the wall across from him. The splash of blood ran slowly down the stone. Charles’s gaze focused on only the orb, ignoring the entity watching him, just waiting for the glow to start diminishing.
He tried to believe he was ready for whatever fate he had ahead, but deep down understood he could never be ready for a revenge over two hundred years of imprisonment had created.