New Rourke Unmasked
Love of Insight
The crack in the wall grew. Plaster crumbled and flecked to the ground while the foul-smelling, milky fluid oozed forth. The little boy, transfixed by horrid fascination, watched as a hand reached out of the hole and gripped the wall. More hands of every size and skin tone joined it: wrinkly and smooth, muscular and boney. They pulled at the wall, frantically clawing their way through. They surged forward exponentially expanding the aperture until from within the mass of multi-elbowed limbs, an eye the size of a basketball appeared. It glistened with opalescent sheen as the otherworldly juice dribbled off it onto the floor.
Dream of me, the entity sang into the boy’s mind, beyond the threshold.
“It’s not real enough.” Sean said, staring at the drawings on the counter. His face scrunched up in thought the way it did whenever a particularly stubborn concept refused to express itself.
Likki shoved her head under his arm to get a better look. The scent of lilac and apple wafted up from her curly neon green hair invading Sean’s nostrils, calming him. “They’re not bad. A little rough, but you show promise.”
“If I’m not done by Thursday, It promises to be a pain in the neck.”
Likki turned over and smiled up at Sean. Light from the fluorescent lamp on the counter made her eyes appear milky blue. “You’re getting there. I believe in you, Sean Quistini.”
“It’s not about belief, Likki. It’s about talent. And skill.” Sean stepped back from the counter and rubbed his face. “Belief won’t get me a publishing deal.”
“It’s always about belief.” Likki corrected. “Trust me on that.”
He had bags under his eyes, and his neck itched from razor burn. He rushed that morning, electing to skip the shower. Now, he wished he took the time. His hands felt greasy after running them though his dark brown hair. He was hungry. He needed a haircut. Maybe he would find time this weekend. He needed more sun. He rubbed his hands on his jeans then looked down at his long, pale fingers. He was just out of college, but those hands felt old, heavy.
Likki, on the contrary, remained pert as usual. She was older, but still stunning. She leaned against the counter, arching her back in a slightly provocative manor. Her elfin features played enticing tricks on his mind. He wanted to give into to those look, the girl of his dreams, to slide his fingers up the peach skin of her legs, under the pleated skirt, wave away clothe, feast on flesh. The way her mouth turned up in a coquettish smirk showed she knew what he was thinking. She always did. But this was not the time; there was work to do.
Sean returned to the pages. “It’s not right.” he frowned. “It’s not real enough.”
Likki pressed against his back and peeked over his shoulder. “If I didn’t think you could do this, I would have dropped your ass years ago.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” he responded without humor.
Corrections, and deadlines, and edits. He felt so tired, but there always seemed to be more work.
Sean grumbled. “I’ve had this story in my head for forever. I just need to get it right.”
Likki pursed her lips. “Maybe you’re right. You have been working hard.” She wrapped one arm around his chest, one slid over his belly, pinkie finger dipping inside his waistband. She nipped his earlobe and whispered, “Maybe you deserve a little release.”
Sean exhaled a long breath that turned into a moan. His mind cleared. He looked at the pages again. The line errors in his sketches were more visible now. He could see how to fix them.
Loaded down with boxes, the aged hippie who owned the store coughed, “Kids.”, as he passed behind the counter.
“You’re no fun, Wally.” Sean mumbled, trying to focus on the task.
“Kids!” Wally coughed more urgently as he continued on his way to the backroom.
Likki pulled away. Sean looked up and forced a smile onto his face for the nine-year-old Morrow twins. “Pete, Sue, got some good stuff today?”
“Yup.” Pete said. He hefted a stack of DVD cases onto the counter next to the register.
Like many businesses in MayBurg, Movie Grotto started as a literal mom and pop operation. It changed hands from several times over the decades. A one-screen theater and rental store, it managed to survive the onslaught of recessions, vandalism, failed attempts at gentrification, fire, and big chain competition on the merits of community good will and eclectic inventory.
Sean took the cases and carried them to the shelf isles behind the counter to fill with their discs. When he returned, he saw the twins sifting through his pages.
“They seem to like it.” Likki smiled encouragingly.
“Whacha doin’?” Sue asked, scrutinizing the page in her hand.
“Uh.” Sean gathered the pages back and placed them under the counter. “Making a comic.”
Pete, his attention now fully engaged, blurted, “We like comics!”
Likki nudged Sean with her hip. “Told you.”
“What do you read?” Sean asked.
“I like Metro City Chronicles!” Pete exclaimed, clouds of excitement billowing off him.
“It’s so good, right? I’ve got a Chrome Cobra belt buckle.”
“Yeah!” Pete said, his prepubescent mind shorting out over the possibility of bonding with an much older peer.
Sue rolled her eyes. “Superheroes are lame.”
“Nu-uh!” Pete challenged.
“Yeah-huh.” Sue parried.
“Your face is lame!”
Likki giggled. “Kid’s got a point, Sean.”
Sean pinched Likki’s butt and she squeaked. “Superhero comics are okay.” Sean said. “Some are a bit more played out than others.”
Sue rolled her eyes again. “They’re all the same.”
“What do you like then?” Sean asked as he tallied their order.
“My daddy bought me all of Sandman for my birthday.” Sue beamed proudly.
“Really?” Sean tilted his head incredulously. “Did he look at it first?”
Sue shook her head with the haughty air of experience. “It’s just magic and fairies and stuff. I like the scary bits.”
“A child after my own heart.” Likki mused.
“Can I read your comic?” Pete asked.
Sean looked to Likki who was flipping through pages and humming Bowie Moonage Daydream to herself.
“Ask your father.” Sean said to Pete, and then quickly scanned the store. “After he comes out of the adult section.”
Sean completed the order. As the Morrow twins walked away, Sue suddenly stopped. Sean felt suddenly cold. Sue’s head tilted fully over backward until she was staring into Sean’s eyes. Her mouth stretched open; from deep within the stygian chasm, an alien voice intoned, “Fhash klauth L’Ca dwarm. Ishmot Gorlath je-ckt fae.”
The hairs on the back of Sean’s neck stood up. “It’s a little early in the day for that.” Sean answered curtly.
“Hmm?” Likki asked, turning her attention from the pages in her hands.
Sue skipped along to join her brother.
“Never mind. Stray thoughts.”
“Okay.” Likki said and laid the pages back out for Sean to stress over some more.
Wally emerged from the backroom with a completely different box that he set down next to the register.
“Hey.” Wally nodded conversationally.
“Hey.” Sean parroted.
“You got your costume for the Halloween party yet?”
Sean winced. “I thought Juniper was working that.”
Wally pulled a Día de Muertos maquette from the box alongside a Frankenstein bobble head. “Man, I don’t know where her head’s at most of the time anymore.”
Sean took a googly-eyed spider on a string from the box and hung it on the lamp. “She’s your daughter.”
“And I pay you.”
”Ouch.” Likki quipped. “Got you with the old ‘needing to eat’ routine.”
“So, you got a costume?” Wally continued.
“Oh! Oh!” Likki bounced. “Maybe we could do a couples costume!”
“No.” Sean said firmly.
“Well, you better get something together.” Wally said in as much of an authoritative tone as he could ever muster. It was weak, but he still made the effort. “You’ve got till Friday.”
* * *
“Hurry up, Likki.” Sean called out from his apartment’s tiny bathroom. “We’re going to be late.”
“Have you called them yet?”
“I dropped off the drafts yesterday afternoon.” Sean tried again to make his hair sit flat, but the gel was not working. Since few people would recognize his H. P. Lovecraft costume anyway, he decided he might as well go with the disheveled madman look. “Driszer probably hasn’t even gotten around to looking at them yet.”
“He’ll like it.” Likki said assuredly.
Sean loosened his tie and tried making the tweed jacket he bought at the secondhand store that morning look frumpier. “And if wishes were horses, I’d open a glue factory.”
Everything Sean had read or heard about the industry told him how difficult it was for new creators to get published, especially in niche genres like horror comics. Fortunately, the samples of sequential art he sent in with his earlier proposal earned him a second look from one of the editors at Green Harbor Comics, but the prospect of handling the full workload of a series was daunting. He already felt like he had not slept in years.
Likki’s reflection appeared in the mirror, a brown towel wrapped around her. She held a long black wig and a long, silky, black, dress on a hanger up to her body. “You like?”
Sean flipped the collar of his shirt up and crumpled the edges. “What are you supposed to be?”
Likki grinned widely and in a dramatic voice said, “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.”
“Er, that dress is a more Morticia Addams than Elvira.”
Likki pouted. “What’s the difference?”
“Hair straight down, not a bouffant. More eye shadow, less eyeliner.”
Likki examined the dress critically at arms length. “I could go either way.”
Sean coughed. “And honestly, I love you, Likki, but you don’t have the tits for Elvira.”
Likki stuck her tongue out at him and walked away. Sean looked down at the sink to scrub the remainder of the hair gel off his hands. When he looked back up, the mirror showed his bloated corpse, wrapped in ropes, weighted down at the bottom of a lake, swaying gently with the current.
“No!” Sean shouted, clamping his eyes shut. On reflex, he slapped his hand into the mirror, hard; glass shattered under his palm.
He gulped down a few ragged breaths then opened his eyes. The mirror was spider webbed, but he could tell the reflection was of the bathroom once more. Tentatively, he pulled his hand back. Shards of glass fell down into the sink.
Likki walked into the bathroom. The dress clung to her curves perfectly. “What was that?”
“Nothing.” Sean cleared his throat. “Just startled.”
Likki frowned at the mirror. “That’s not nothing, Sean.” She took his hand in hers, turning it carefully. “Thankfully, you’re not bleeding, you big idiot.”
“You my nurse now?” Sean teased.
Likki flicked Sean’s forehead. “These hands are important. You need to treat them better.”
* * *
Sean walked out of the booth after realigning the frame on the old projector for the third time that night. The Movie Grotto theater’s tiny balcony remained closed to the public. Most of the seats up there were falling apart from age and lay in disassembled piles.
The movie marathon included the original Planet of the Apes, Beetlejuice, and now, finally, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Likki sat in a chair at the front of the balcony leaning forward on the railing so that she could watch both the film and the audience reaction. Sean took the seat next to her. He moved the armrest between the two seats up. Likki sat back, leaning into the crook of his shoulder.
“I love this scene.” she said, her eyes wide and locked on the screen, or maybe, Sean thought, on Harrison Ford.
“Really?” Sean considered the Thuggee sacrifice ceremony. “Didn’t people in India get pissed off about this?”
“Sure,” Likki conceded, “but the pageantry and staging is really evocative.”
Sean watched as Amrish Puri, playing the evil cult leader, pulled out his victim’s heart while leading his followers in their mad chanting. “But it’s fake. There weren’t really groups like this.”
Likki shook her head. “That doesn’t matter. Most people who saw the movie believed it was authentic enough. Now when they hear the name Kali or think about foreign jungles, this is what pops up in their mind.”
The drums grew louder. The shadows in the theater grew longer.
“Like your work,” Likki continued, her voice growing distant, reverent, “it doesn’t have to be perfect, only enough to plant the idea. The idea grows and spreads, it takes on a life of its own. Until enough people believe that it might as well be real. That’s the power of belief. That’s how you fight gods.”
The cult’s chanting neared climax. At the edge of his vision, Sean saw the shadows take new shape.
“Okay,” Sean said, “but what about when someone comes along and pokes holes in the meme?”
“Then you tear out their heart, and throw them in a volcano.”
On screen, the sacrifice screamed as his body fell into the lava pit. The still-beating heart in the cult leader’s hand burst into flames.
“Effective.” Sean chuckled uncomfortably, trying to ignore the ethereal crowd taking phantom seats throughout the balcony. Murmurs of conversation and ancient oaths slithered into his ears.
The scene changed. Likki reached over and gently ran her hand over Sean’s leg. He took her hand and the shadow people disbursed, drifting away like fog in a breeze along with their whispered knowledge of things lost. Likki removed her wig, the dramatic makeup she wore clashed with the vibrant color of her hair. Sean stretched his arm over the back of Likki’s chair, and she nuzzled closer.
“Do you really think I can do that?” he asked.
“I know you can.”
“Even though, I get all my best ideas from you?”
Likki laughed blithely. “It’s fun to be a muse.”
“I’ve got your belief in me.” Sean smirked and hugged Likki tightly. “I’m full of potential and talent. Guess I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“Great job, kid.” Likki said, affecting a Harrison Ford impression. “Don’t get cocky.”
“Not only is that a different movie but a different universe.”
Likki sighed. “There are so many. It’s hard to keep track sometimes.”
Likki sat up suddenly then turned around to stare mischievously into Sean’s eyes. She kissed him once then took a quick look around the balcony.
“What are you—” Sean began, but Likki shushed him with a finger to his lips.
On screen, the cast of the 1984 adventure film stopped what they were doing to watch wordlessly as Sean received a blowjob. He did not care. He was going to be famous.
* * *
Wednesday afternoon, Sean sat on the kitchen counter in his bathrobe, eating a bowl of cold cereal, feeling particularly tired. He knew he needed to shower and go buy more groceries. Unfortunately, an hour ago, crimson ichor began pouring from the oven. It formed a bubbling pool across the entire kitchen floor. Something swam beneath the surface.
His cell phone rang beside him; the display showed an unlisted number. He stared at the phone suspiciously.
“If you’re another dead relative, or heavy breathing, I’m throwing you down the garbage disposal.”
Sean took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and nervously answered, “Hello?”
A friendly sounding voice on the other end answered, “Hello, this is Eric Driszer from Green Harbor Comics. I’m looking for Sean Quistini.”
The floor made a squelchy noise. Sean pulled his feet up onto the counter. “That’s me.”
“Great. I’ve been looking over your stuff, and I must say I am impressed.”
“That’s great.” Sean said warily. He watched the pool slowly churn and swirl itself into the dark beneath the fridge.
“We have a horror anthology in the works right now with some of our other artists, and I think a short piece from you could help flesh it out.”
What appeared to be a large, blue, cat paw reached out from under the fridge, clawing desperately, then returned to wherever it had come from. Sean shook his head clear. “I’m sorry. An anthology?”
“Yeah. You’ve done some intriguing work, but we don’t actually have any slots for new series at moment. So, the anthology is a good way to get your name out there. Test the waters. Although, I talked to Nina, who’s in charge of Equinox Gate. She said she may have an opening for you to sub art in a couple months.”
The last of the blood slurped away, and Sean hopped from the counter. “I would be totally down for that.”
“Great! You’re local right?”
“We have a story conference next Monday at three. If you could come by around one, we can start on paperwork.”
“Wow! That’s…that’s perfect. Thanks!”
“Alright. We’ll see you then.”
Sean hung up. “YES!” he shouted, punching the air.
From the living room, Likki said, “And you had so many doubts.” She was lounging on the couch in a dress shirt, her bare legs propped up on the far armrest.
“I’m an artist. I’m insecure.”
“That is definitely true.” Likki stretched. Sean could clearly see the shirt was the only thing she was wearing.
Sean sat down on the coffee table; she looked up at him expectantly. “I never would have gotten this far without you believing in me.”
Likki chuckled. “I can’t take all the credit…On second thought, I could, but I’ll let you have some.”
“I’d probably go nuts on my own.”
Likki looked up to the ceiling. “Maybe.”
Sean leaned forward. “Seriously, thank you.”
Likki’s brow furrowed, and she sat up on her elbows.
She turned her head, studying Sean’s face. “That may be the first time you’ve honestly thanked me.”
Sean shrugged. “My life would be infinitely less interesting without you.”
Likki’s expression became thoughtful. She took Sean by the hand and led him into the bedroom. Light from behind closed venetian blinds illuminated the room dimly. Likki sat Sean on the bed, then shut the door and paced. Every few steps she stopped to consider him.
”Um,” Sean said, “you’re kinda freaking me out right now.”
Likki stood in front of Sean with her arms crossed over her chest. “Am I wasting my time?”
Likki straddled him with her hands on his shoulders, Sean instinctively wrapped his hands around her waist. “Tell me you love me.” she said.
“I love you.” Sean answered reflexively.
“No.” Likki pushed him down on the bed. He tried to move his arms to her back, but she took them, and held them over his head. “Really tell me.”
Likki face filled Sean’s vision. In the dark bedroom, her irises dilated, forming greenish rings. Likki’s eyes showed him deep tunnels stretching to infinity. He could spend a happy life mapping out that labyrinth and die satisfied. “I love you.”
Likki blinked. “You really do believe that don’t you.”
Sean sat up; this time, Likki did not resist. He placed one hand on the small of her back, and the other on her cheek. “You’re in my soul. You’re a part of me. That will never change.”
Likki’s breath quickened, and she kissed him hard. His arms clutched her back, pulling her closer. Frantically, she reached down untying the sash of his bathrobe. Sean pulled the shirt up from her waist, and ran his hands over the curves of her thighs. Likki pulled open his bathrobe then forcibly pushed him onto his back again. Next, she pulled the shirt off over her head and presented to Sean a goddess resplendent.
“Say it.” Likki said, stroking him to life. “Say the words.”
“I love you.” Sean breathed. “I need you.”
Sean felt the temperature in the room drop, as she pulled him inside.
Her hips gyrated in serpentine patterns. Sean felt his consciousness open up; his body focused on drinking in every sensation she offered. The words flowed into him unbidden.
“I am yours, L’Ca.” he intoned. “L’Ca of the Insight.”
She moaned as golden ice crystals danced out of her mouth forming a cloud of shimmering fractals.
Pressure built up in Sean’s head. He strained to speak; the words demanded to be said. “I worship at the fount of your blessings. Fill me with your glory.”
L’Ca’s arms stretched above her as if trying to pull down the sky. Her hair spread into wings of starweb.
Sean’s mind blossomed along planar vectors. For a brief moment, he was floating weightless in the warmth of a stellar nursery; his body pulsed along in time with the cosmic clock of a sentient universe. Millennium old, L’Ca’s multitude of arms fanned out around him, weaving stories into his mind.
Sean rolled over sweating and spent in the dark loneliness of his bedroom. One hand eagerly reached out for a body he knew was never really there. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. He felt so, so tired.
Dream of me, L’Ca sang into his mind, beyond the threshold.
Sean Quistini slipped into unconsciousness. A moment later, his body drug itself up out of bed and crossed the room to his desk.
He picked up a pencil.
No More Room in Hell: The 2014 Halloween Horrorquest