a Keyhole story
Clive Felton lay in a hospital bed awaiting surgery for a brain tumor. His collapse in the UPS store bought him two hours off of work. What worried Clive more was missing the activities of Muntus in Odnuvon, the other world. When his tumor went so would his access to his dreams of the other place.
The dullness of the hospital setting numbed tumorous young Clive. He flipped through cable channels and concluded that he had no interest in "CSI", "Law & Order", or repeat broadcasts of Two Weeks Notice. The man behind the curtain, in the other bed, was an amputee who spoke no English. Clive was isolated.
The staff allowed him a phone on the strict pretense of calls to relatives. Instead he phoned Wanda, Bernard, Terrance, and his boss, in that order. For his trouble he got the usual concern and the general assertion that after his surgery everything would be okay. Perhaps it would be, if Clive's normal life was an okay thing to start with. He considered his renewed need for his dreams. He was in truth addicted to them.
"They're making me nuts," he said.
"Like a squirrel?" a kid stood in the doorway who couldn't have been older than nine.
"Beat it, kid" Clive said.
"What kinda sick are you?" the kid persisted.
"I have a severe allergy to children."
The boy's mother came and grabbed its arm and gave Clive the trademark look of motherly outrage he'd seen on the faces of so many customers.
"What?" Clive said.
She glared back and said "You know what, mister."
"I have cancer. Do your worst."
She walked off, child in tow. Victory.
At one point a meal was brought. Clive only ate what he could identify, which excluded most of it. This reminded him of many hospital horrors he'd seen in the past including the hospital episode of "Twin Peaks". Lucky for him though, he could still walk and cruise around in his embarrassing medical gown to an actual bathroom rather than attempt excretion in the fabled bed-pan.
A couple times in the halls he saw customers from the store and turned away in time to avoid their predictable chatter. How could so many UPS store customers conceivably be in the hospital at once? He never asked, a bored nurse just up and explained, by way of a complaint, that a viral pandemic was sweeping the nation. The thing was basically the common cold but everyone thought they had it, whether or not they displayed symptoms. She rattled on about not getting to see her grandkids because of her double shift. Clive tuned her right out.
Sleeping proved difficult. It was like many a sleep over of his youth, the strange setting put Clive ill at ease. He tried to bore himself to sleep counting ceiling tiles and such. He decided to try the trick thr homeless man, Ronnie, showed him. This time he wouldn't be left vulnerable, that's what hospitals were for.
He covered his ears and closed his eyes again. He aimed for the same timeline his dreams always took him to. No need to mess with the future, he decided. Good old concentration would do it. Clive remembered a time when on vacation he hid from his parents in the lobby bathrooms at a resort and tried to summon his brother via telepathy. Instead he caused sinus pressure and earned a day long time out. He couldn't help but keep thinking.
Someone shook Clive's arm. He opened his eyes and let up the pressure on his ears. It was a man standing beside the bed, another patient. He looked to be about 30, had a long face, an eyepatch, and a bandage around his head.
"Uh... yes?" Clive said.
"I'm Marvin" evidently he was.
"You have a brain tumor?"
"How did you know that?"
"It's on your chart."
"I had one but they took it out."
Clive suspected there to be more wrong with Marvin than just the tumor "Glad to hear it."
"They're going to take yours out too. After that you'll be gone."
Marvin walked away. Clive frowned and wished he had a private room. "Gone" he muttered to himself. "I'd like to be gone already." He closed his eyes again.
When he opened them again he saw the Oradus stronghold, from the inside. Muntus and the others disguised in impromptu cult robes. At a glance they might as well be the Cogu. They stood on a walkway among wooden rafters. Below the Oradus were having some kind of meeting. One voice shouted in charismatic fury and brought cheers up from the ranks. The thieves knew they couldn't be seen.
Muntus crouched at the edge of the walk, trying to get a glance at the scene below from between the banners. He could make out the speech between cheers. The speaker rattled on about the new era the Oradus would usher in. Something about supreme order. The gray thief found it dull.
Strum crouched next to Muntus "What's on your mind?"
"Not much, Strum," he said. "Although I wonder what's worth stealing in here."
"It doesn't matter really, as long as men in Cogu robes are seen stealing it."
"That is important. I still think it's gotta be something good."
"We could steal that windbag down there," Strum pointed at the speaker. "But we'd never make it out alive."
Pon Dardrick came over and whispered "What the hell are we waiting around for?"
Strum giggled "What's the matter, Pon? Got a date?"
Pon snorted "Yeah, a date with not getting killed."
Another cheer went up from below. The crowd chanted something.
"They're like Zardoz's chosen ones," Muntus and Clive decided.
"Like who?" Strum asked.
"Never mind. 20th century stuff."
"You're going to stay weird aren't you?"
In the conical slope of the ceiling some tangled pipes rattled. Every man was on edge as a hunted man should be. They all continued their quiet creep around the rim. Pon gave a quiet chuckle.
"This reminds me of when I used to do vaudeville in Drango music halls."
"I'm sure it does," said Nash. "Only your performance probably didn't involve stealing props."
"Not at first" Pon shrugged.
Strum stopped in his tracks. He stared down into the hall, a clear shot between the banners. He pointed. "That's our prize."
"What is?" Muntus asked.
Below, the green un-masked skinned speaker, with his two small horns and a cape, pontificated in front of a statue four times his height. The thing, carved in white polished stone, was a mockery of the figure of justice. Instead of being blindfolded the stone lady wore an Oradus mask. In one has it held an absurd and elaborate sword, and in the other held platinum scales with a carved skull on either side.
"The scale?" asked Muntus.
"Yes." said Strum.
The stage where the speaker stood was more or less in the middle of the fray. It stood off center in a circular floor, half covered in cheering soldiers. Four decks of seats ringed up to the dizzying height where our thieves perched and waited.
"This is gonna be interesting," said Muntus.
"Like you said, we want the Cogu to take the blame. There's no way they'll miss us taking that."
"This was a dumb plan from the start."
"I don't know, there's a nice symmetry to it."
"Getting away with it could be really messy."
Below the speaker raged his words, frothing at the mouth: "The unjust are our prey! It is an era of order everlasting that we set into motion today, my brothers. The law in its purest, most righteous form is our guideline. The ancient tablets from pre-history, handed to our kind by the godly lawgiver himself shall be obeyed by all, for it is absolute truth. The heads of the enemy will roll. Their blood will flow over every continent until the world itself is cleansed of evil. Only then will the lawgiver know that we are again worthy to receive the light..."
Words like "law", "lawgiver", and "blood" caused especially loud cheers and animation from the crowd. The whole lot got caught up in the mad fervor. Clive recognized the whole divine right thing. It bored him through his high school history class and now it bored Muntus in his reality.
The false monks moved themselves to a part of the walkway that passed behind the stage. From that vantage point they looked down at the statue and their prize. At least three of them did, Nash went off to secure four Oradus guard uniforms. This was, after all, only the first half of the job.
Muntus stared down shaking his head: "It'd be so much simpler to kill them all."
"So why don't we?" Dardrick asked. "I mean, besides certain death."
"It's gotta be two birds with one stone. They have to blame the cult and have the strength to retaliate."
Below the tone of the cheer changed. The crowd got to its feet.
"Why bother?" Pon asked. He seemed insistent.
"Because if we don't the city fathers will have us all put to death," Muntus said.
"Fuck," said Strum. "We're working for the man."
Muntus noticed a series of ropes and pulleys anchored at the lip on the platform they stood on. "Don't worry except about the prize. I think maybe we can get down to the statue on these."
Strum took hold of one and tested it. The length had knots along the way. The reverberation of the rusted pulleys barely registered over the onslaught of cheers from below. Expirimentally, Strum lowered himself a short way and then heaved himself up again.
"This would be a lot easier without the robes," he said.
"Deal with it," Muntus said.
Strum stuck out his tongue and started down again. The other two followed the example. There weren't any seats behind the stage since all of the crowd wanted to see its fearless leader. Three robed things descended onto the shoulders of false justice.
"...no longer shall anyone blatantly mock the order of the land," the green speaker continued. "The gleam of the just will remain inviolate. We know this is true because we are the chosen and this is our time. You go forth to cleanse the land wearing the face of true justice." At that moment he gestured back at the monumental figure behind him, not looking at it himself.
The tone of the revelers changed. Fingers pointed out of the shadows at the three monks wresting the scales of justice from the stone hand. After confused seconds the leader looked back to witness the blasphemy. Candle fired spotlights pointed up at the sight. The violators climbed back up ropes from the profaned idol. Hundreds of soldiers trampled one another heading for the single target.
"Halt!" the speaker yelled over the fury. "Only one party to take down the robbers. The rest to the temple of the Cogu, in full force!"
The thieves ran like hell. The rage of the uncontrolled masses threatened to shake the building to the ground. Feet and talons and hooves pounded up the stairs all around them. Three monks ran towards the predetermined exit point, joined by a fourth. The robed thieves zig-zagged through twists of the dark attic. The roar of enraged soldiers rolled like a wave from behind.
"I think," Strum panted. "They ignored their orders."
"You think?" Nash said, lugging uniforms.
They found the door where they left it, opening onto a windowed room full of the smashed remnants of rocking chairs. This had also been their point of entry. A series of walkways connected it to the next building over. Most were barricaded by the Oradus. This particular one was easiest to clear. On their way in the robed thieves made a way through and then reconstructed part of the barrier to cover their tracks.
A wall of debris scattered as they ran on through. This distance seemed maddening. Muntus hauled one scale end, Strum the other, and Dardrick carried the joining piece. Pounding the ancient floor they closed the distance and reached the other building. A metal gate of hinged chinks shut behind them, completing their escape. Still at a mad dash, they went through the building up to an obscured partition on the roof. Catching their breath, they all switched costumes.
"This is a great way to get caught," Dardrick said, trying to get his mask on right.
"I don't really see them taking us alive," said Muntus.
"Cheerful news," Dardrick grumbled.
"Do I look the part?" asked Strum, modeling the black mask and harness.
"It'll do," said Muntus.
"Let's hope they don't quiz us," Nash said. "I'm a terrible liar."
"Any masked man can lie twice as well," said Strum. "No face to give him away." The masks varied in small ways from one another, but all had the same stern expression. Even with that face on, Strum still looked impish.
Everyone was in uniform. A pipe like an old well opened in the roof, a direct drop down to the sewer. They tossed the monk robes down into it, thus completing phase one.
"Can we reach the Cogu before the Oradus do?"Nash asked.
"We've got to," Muntus said. "Besides, we've got the edge."
From the streets below they could hear the rush of bloodthirsty soldiers echoed. The Oradus swept over the stone ways, more or less like a human stampede. High above of the varied rooftops the four thieves made their own advance. The cement tops of the residential maze allowed them a straight shot. Clive and Muntus would have preferred to take the flying machine, but they had no guarantee it would work again, not to mention the rest of them felt much safer on foot.
In the mad dash they passed under a crooked tower, cracked and yellow, three windows wide with a monument styled top like a cake or a chess piece. To Clive it resembled a 1920s skyscraper, like something one might see on a postcard. It marked the end of the building maze coming up and that the Cogu lair lay somewhere ahead.
"That yellow building," Muntus said, breathless. "What's it called?"
"The Tord Liberd," Nash said. "That shit's old."
"No shit," Muntus huffed. Who the fuck named these things anyhow? It was like being in California or something.
Spears started ripping through the air around them. Dust kicked up from the roofs. Killing shafts sprayed from the windows of the Cogu stronghold. Every one of them dropped down and tried to roll out of the way. They had no cover. Somewhere something blew up. The building shook. The swarm on the streets started catching up.
"What?" Muntus yelled. "What the fuck?"
"I have to prep you for surgery." a nurse said.
Clive stared at her. Daylight spewed in from the window he couldn't see. She had a needle. It probably contained vitamins or something equally harmless.
"Put me out," Clive said. "Just knock me back out. I don't want to be awake when they cut me."
The nurse chuckled and came nearer, injecting the i.v. tube already leading into his bloodstream. "You've obviously never had brain surgery before," she had a nasal voice. She sounded like early 40s but didn't quite look it yet.
"No, I haven't. Thank baby Jesus, etc." Clive grumbled. His neck bugged him. He kind of had to pee, but could still get back to sleep and preferred it.
"Patients are kept conscious throughout," she went on. Clive had seen TV before and remembered this. "That way we know your brain is in good working order."
"I already know it isn't," Clive said. "Knock me out, I promise not to sue."
"Very funny," she said. "How about some breakfast?"
"Put it in the tube. Knock me out while you're at it."
"We don't listen too well, do we?"
"The pineal gland is a useless part of the brain. You can yank the thing out and I'd never know it was gone."
"Take it up with the doctor, mister."
Clive squeezed shut his eyes. He could see Muntus vision again. He was in some vaulted hallway, fighting. The room filled up with smoke. He stabbed a robed man. He couldn't hear a sound though.
A doctor held Clive's eyes open. "Wakey wakey, Clive," the man said. Clive hadn't seen him before. The dude looked Korean.
"Maybe I will sue, after all," the patient said.
They fed Clive hospital slop and put him on a gurney. Once rolled to another room they shaved the back of his head. Staring at his hair dropping to the floor he wished he could lose consciousness again. He couldn't. The bastards had drugged him.
As they wheeled conflicted Clive Felton to the operating room, he said to one doctor: "Don't let them forget. I want to keep the tumor. Don't let them throw it away."
"It's written down," a bald young doctor said. "They won't forget."
"I need it close," Clive said.
"Don't worry about it," said the doctor.