There are many things Master Huntzberger thought he knew, (the benefits of privilege, and a moneyed education), but not all the money and power in the world could have purchased for him this singular piece of information, when and how he would leave this world forever.
His fate had been sealed, written on the back of a dead Autumn leaf, adrift over the tiny hamlet of Stars Hollow. If you could look back, squinting your eyes in the crisp, cold air of that night, you would see that fateful leaf, and the first flake of the October People's snow, drifting down towards two beings, animated in the roiling midnight shadows of the town's church.
"I want him eliminated. Time is of the essence," whispered the taller of the two. "No one must know, or suspect my involvement in this. Most importantly, the girl must never learn of this, never suspect my involvement. My future depends on this, and why I am paying you extra."
"His disappearance should be swift and surgical. He is to be erased from the very fabric of human recollection, the world moving on as the memory of him dies. I want him pruned from any connection with the girl, in all realities, from her inception, through all of her future possibilities."
In the beats of silence that followed this passion, the smaller of the two sat gazing off into the dark. Finally, the smaller one focused her attention, "Agreed." The taller shape approached, "Let our compact be sealed, in shadow and silence, forevermore." With that, the smaller one drank the offering, proferred on the back of a dead leaf, and smiled contentedly.
"His suffering shall be exquisite. How you must hate him," she rasped. "You have no idea," the other replied. The smaller of the two cocked her head to the side, as the other collected itself and turned to leave, scanning the dark for strays, and the peril of discovery.
The smaller continued, pressing, "Is it because he achieved so effortlessly with this girl, that which you would happily burn this entire world for? Just one chance to taste of beauty, and love, and...happiness?"
The taller paused at the threshold of the light. "Remember. I was never here. I never said this." The head turned into a shadowed profile, "I would pay for that one chance. I would pay beyond what you could imagine. I would give or do anything for that one chance, just one chance, to be with her...forever."
The smaller nodded sagely, "I will deal with my current contract first. I will make all enquiries as to this other want of yours, after completion of the compact. I value your business, and if past is prediction, this girl will generate many, many more opportunities for me to come." At this, the taller disappeared into the moonlight, and the small slaver was about her business.
Master Huntzberger leaned against the wall next to apartment no.8. He gazed with amusement into the depths of the hall in front of him, a knowing smile upon his lips. The object of that gaze was a small cat, sitting absolutely still, gazing directly back at him.
"Hey puss. Looking at something puss?" He peeled himself from the wall and stalked toward the cat. "What's the matter, cat got your tongue?" He was two feet away, but the smoke-grey cat never moved, never blinked.
Just as he rears back for a kick, he hears steps approaching from below, and moves back into position. The cat still doesn't move, but it's attention shifts imperceptably, as a beautiful girl, with shining auburn hair, perfect porcelain features, and the biggest, deepest, bluest eyes, appears in full view. Inside, the cat smiles knowingly.
The girl pauses when she sees Huntzberger, makes up her mind, and starts past him. "I brought coffee, but it's cold." The girl ignores him, sets down her things, and begins to unlock a series of several locks to the door of apartment 8.
"I have ten minutes to change, then I have some place to be," the girl says in a musical contralto voice. "It's going to take you twenty to unlock the door. This place is a dump. You can't live here. You'll get raped!"
The girl spins angrily, eyes flashing like sapphires. "You don't get to care about where I live anymore. You broke up with me. Through your sister!"
The girl begins struggling to open the door. "Want some help? No? Bet one of the brothers downstairs could help getting into your apartment."
The girl kicks the door twice. "Just go be you somewhere else!" The Bastard steps in, and bars her, his arm between her and the door. "I thought I wanted to break up. I thought it was a stupid experiment, me being a boyfriend, and if it didn't work, I'd just move on. I didn't. Couldn't actually."
The girl doesn't listen as she gathers her things. The Bastard leans in, and whispers, "I love you." The pretty girl becomes flustered, hesitant, uncertain. "I have an appointment! I have to go!" The girl opens the door, and closes it on him.
He listens as the locks slide back into place. The girl never sees him turn with his knowing smile, but the cat does. As the bastard leaves, the cat approaches the door, listening softly at the base. It nods once, then slinks off in the direction of the Bastard's departure.
In the following days, the Bastard couldn't understand the folded notes that kept appearing with increasing frequency under his door. Yale hadn't had a breach of security this large since Jodie Foster attended.
They were simple. Lightly perfumed velum paper, in an elegant copper-plate script. Innocuous words that accumulated in threat and foreboding. Telling him to seek adventure elsewhere. He blew it off, until he almost died in a campus restroom.
Just as he had entered a stall, someone grabbed the back of his head and pushed it fast and hard into the bowl. Everytime he thought his lungs would explode with the water, his head was jerked back up. He was allowed one sputtering gasp, then back into the bowl he went.
When he finally thought he would die, the image he held was not of the girl, his family or friends, or a life wasted, but of himself. Crisp and clear and arrogant, it begins to fade, and burn at the edges, dissapating like smoke in the wind.
The Bastard awoke from the black, sprawled in the toilets, surrounded by people he considered inferiors, smiling down at him in amusement, his hair slicked to his head as if he'd just been birthed by a walrus.
After the "accident" that put him in the hospital, the Bastard decided he definitely needed some time away, and made plans to leave Connecticut. He visited the girl, keeping his bed made with her, for when he returned, his game not yet over with her. He paid no attention to the darkening of the light around him, as well he should have.
The Bastard first saw her on the dancefloor, in a little "club bar" called Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill. She was surrounded by people, yet she was alone, dancing with herself, oblivious.
She was tall, about six feet before the crimson stilettos, in a blood red Mandalay cocktail dress. Her complexion was as pale and flawless as cream. She had long, straight, platinum-gold hair, that swayed with a rhythm of it's own. Large, piercing grey eyes, like lightning flashing in a leaden, storm-stained sky.
She topped it off with an angled, refined, Eurasian cut to her features, cheekbones higher than her legs were long. Punctuated at the center by an alabaster, knowing smile.
The Bastard headed for her, soft, like a wolf on the prowl, his scent arriving before he did. She turns her full gaze upon him, colorized lights strobing off her, giving her a soft halation, a tiger in the tall grass, playing with a puppy.
"Hey Gorgeous!", he says. She continues to gaze at him, unblinking, unspeaking. "I'm new in London, and was wondering, maybe you could take a little pity on me, and tell me some spots that are, well, interesting."
He turned on his best mega-watt smile, and ran his hand through his hair with a boyish flair. Her smile fled like a deer, and sucked some of the easy confidence off of him. "Hey listen, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. Just looking for conversation."
He turned around. "Wait." She impelled him to turn, her voice as smoky and musical as the room around them. "If you're interested, meet me here, tomorrow, at noon." She deftly hands him something with a quick flourish.
The Bastard looked at the card in his hand. It read, "Lucretia Severance." Below the name, singular and bold, was the word, expeditor. He turned the card over. On the back was a hand written address, "British Library, Euston Road." When he looked up, she was gone. The room seemingly a little darker than it had been moments before.
The Bastard arrived for his "date", an unfashionable hour late. She was nowhere in sight. It was thirty minutes later, as the sky began to loom lower, swollen with rain and threatening to break, that she appeared, suddenly, and all at once, by his side.
"You're late Gorgeous." Staring into the distance, she whispers, "I've been here forever." "Someone told me King's Cross is up the street from here. It's where Harry Potter goes when he travels to Hogwarts." Whispery again, never looking at him, "I wouldn't know."
She turns, suddenly explosive in her movement, "Would you like to go somewhere? Have some tea,...talk?" "I'd love that Gorgeous, lead the way." "You may call me Lucretia, for the moment." "Whatever you say Gorgeous."
She turned, gaze as sharp as a hawk's. "You enjoy nicknames, do you?" He just beamed at her, with what he thought of as charm. She walked to the street in silence, hailing a beetle-black cab before her.
They sat in an open-air Chinese cafe in Soho, under a huge lime parasol, a light drizzle tapping softly in time around them. The Bastard sat sipping his tea, lightly creamed, observing. Her cherry hand bag, her wine colored heels, her scarlet Burberry raincoat, the arch of her crossed legs, the 50's cut of her bangs.
They talked intermittently of little things, as strangers often do, of tastes and interests, ambitions, and the hidden currents of desires unsaid. "Tell me," she says, leaning forward and in slightly, "What do you want to be, when you grow up." He smiles knowingly at her, thoughts drifting behind his eyes like motes. "Besides a dillettante bad boy that is."
"I want to be many things Gorgeous. The world is vast and ripe. Immediately though, what I want is to get out from under my father's thumb, and see where life takes me, and...I'd like to be with you a little longer."
He leans back with his Cheshire grin, all expectation and smarm. Her smile is crisp and precise, a small white slit, razor-like. "That can be arranged."
Just then, The Bastard's phone rings, breaking the spell. "Let me get this." He turns away, the tinny voice of the girl can be heard upon the air. "I thought we discussed this, I told you I'd see you when I got back. You can't just keep calling me all the time without a reason. I'm on business. Don't be like that. Look, I gotta go." He turns back, pocketing his phone. "Girls," he shrugs disingenuously, "you know?
"You like adventure, and the unknown, don't you?", she says. "I'm up for just about anything Gorgeous." She stands, grasping his hand, pulling him to his feet. "Come. I have just the experience for you."
The silvered Jaguar had been traveling steadily through the night-blackened English countryside for close to four hours. "Are we there yet Gorgeous?" "One should not be in a rush to arrive at one's destiny," her voice seemed to hang in the cool night air like fog.
A little while later they drifted into a small, dark, shuttered, medieval style village. There was no one about, and the only light came from the archaic gas lamps, and the newly blossomed full moon.
The car came to a stop at the edge of a moon-flooded field, that stretched out in a luminous aquamarine sea of grass, like a Mediteranean summer. "It's time," she said, and drifted across the field like a red-gold apparition.
"Wait up Gorgeous." The Bastard followed her to the edge of a large hedgerow, where she paused. "What's the plan Gorgeous?" "Come and see," she says, and steps through the hedge. The Bastard pauses, a chill from the edge of the world catching up with him, and impetuously, he makes his choice, and steps lightly into the end.
The Bastard had to look around a couple of times to get his bearings, and even then he was still uncertain. Behind him, the hedge no longer existed, and what had been awash in moonlight, was now deepest shadow, the edges of blackened trees touching the night, swaying in the breeze, like black hulking beasts.
Even the moon had changed, now lower, larger, and dead-white. Before him was a forest, back-lit like Paris in flames from a painting of Rousseau's, and the red lady beckoned at it's edge, fully naked. The bastard came to her, and hand in hand, they walked towards the dark heart of that shadow blackened wood.
In the center, a circular opening loomed in the trees, the moon overhead at an apex. The reason for the orange glow he had seen revealed itself to him in a breathtaking, searing rush, like a blow to the chest, his breath quickening in a heated assault.
An old, gabled, Victorian mansion squatted in the emptied area, fully ablaze. It burned hard and bright and absolute, but the fire seemed never to consume any of it. In front of the house, was a half-circle of twelve women, like a horse-shoe, facing him. All wore white robes. All were naked beneath them. All wore elaborate, ornate, full-head masks.
Some of the masks he recognized as animals. Cats, a goat, a great feathered owl. Others were of creatures he'd never seen before, mythological, Bosch-like, a mix of scales, teeth, eyes, beaks, tentacles, horns, and things he couldn't describe. Some seemed to shift and move as if alive, not like masks at all.
This vision botherd him, but he steeled himself. After all he thought, I'm me. A loud tolling bell echoed through the scene, from where it came The Bastard couldn't say, but it boomed thirteen times, each stroke taking him a step closer to the house, and a step further into the circle of women.
When the thirteen chimes died upon the air, the circle closed behind him, and the door of the flaming house opened.
Out stepped an impossibly tall woman of a sinister yet regal beauty. She was over seven feet tall. She had light emerald skin that shined in the night like fish scales. Long, coppered-black hair flowed nearly to her ankles.
The picture was completed with big, slanted eyes the color of fire and blood, delicate pointed ears, a small set of horns spiraling upward like a hart's antlers, a gown of sewn together white scales, like mail, a crown of silver down-turned daggers that drew little beads of blood, and a knowing smile of tiny sharp teeth.
He turned to the red lady, but she was gone, all he saw was a smoke-grey cat gazing up at him. His blood froze when the cat's unblinking face split in half with a dreadful, knowing smile.
An ice-cold hand gripped his chin in a vise-like grip and twisted his head back around. The Queen peered into his face, her eyes like an eagle's, turning his head back and forth. "Ignorant boy. The circle is complete. The door to High Magik has been opened. Do you remember us? Pity. You might have saved yourself." The Queen turned to the smoky cat.
"He is exquisite. His misery might just satiate the ravenous hunger of my court. For a time." The Queen tore his clothes from him, and snapped a collar with a chain across his throat, and began to drag him toward the house of fire.
He stumbled along, trying to crane his neck to the cat, his face gone grey, panicked, eyes wide and scared, realizing he was in a trouble money would never be able to buy him out of. "Please," he cried to the cat. "Help me, this isn't right, this isn't fair. I don't want this. Please. Please help me, please, please."
"Silence," said The Queen, as she felled him to his hands and knees with a slap. He started to cry as he tried to pick up some of his teeth and put them back into his bloodied, ruined mouth. The Queen jerked him backwards and began to drag him by the chain and collar. The Bastard began to wail, hands clawing furrows into the earth, drumming his heals like a baby.
"A moment your majesty, if you please," spoke the cat. The Queen stopped and nodded once. She grabbed a handful of his hair, and jerked his head up fast. Speaking in his ear in a fast, low growl, "Quiet toy. Your attention is required!"
The cat walked to him. "Is this enough adventure and unknown for you?", she asked. The cat cocked it's head and puzzled him out for a few seconds. "Do you think anyone will think of you as handsome, or thrilling, ever again?"
The cat seemed to grow larger without moving. "You made someone very angry. Someone very powerful. Someone who loves that girl. More than you're ever likely to know. Something to think about on the road ahead."
"He is all yours, your majesty, my compact is complete." At this. the cat turns and heads for new opportunities.
"Someone really hated you toy, to loose the greatest slaver of men on you, and to arrange for your transferance to me. I wonder if your unending pain shall in the end, be all about a girl?" The Queen drags him whimpering through into the burning house, and The Bastard fades, as the world turns on.
Gliding over fields of pink-gold grass, and trees the color of night. Just past a river of blood and wine that burns like flame, through the goblin markets, you would come to a castle, carved from basalt and diamond, bone and stardust.
Inside, you would find a pageant in progress. The Queen's court is in session, in full revel of the endless games and diversions they partake of eternally.
They are wealthy and arrogant. Cold, cruel, and heartless. They are exquisetly bored, endlessly patient, and highly imaginative. They are monsters, and they used to rule our world.
Now they just laze about, seeing how far they can push their artform of unending pain. Misery and agony, in the medium of the flesh of men.
As they create new and wondrous masterpieces in this majestic art, they sell their creations to demon connoisseurs, who prize the rare memory of human happiness, the spare dream of a better time or a wonderful place, the unforgettable vignettes of newly taught horrors.
If you looked closely, you would see a cage next to The Queen's throne. Inside, you would see a creature, both pitiful and terrible in aspect.
A bloody lump of pulp, with wildly darting eyes, perches on a stalk of a neck. A flayed block of a body fitfully tries to regrow new skin in clumps. It shuffles about on stumps of what used to be arms and legs, leaving clots and smears of blood in the dirty straw and bedding of it's prison.
Approach the cage and listen, and you would hear the soft, plaintive mewling of the creature. It sounds as if it's saying something. Strain, listen closely, the cracking, mewling croak becomes clearer, tangible.
"Once a man...was once a man," it hisses at you through the glistening hole that might have been a mouth. It smashes it's face into the bars, close to yours, wailing, "Once a man...was once a man!!!"
A javelin lances through the cage and impales the creature, skewering it and ripping a long, agonized wail out of it. "A boy", The Queen says. "An arrogant, wretched, too-clever, boy", and she twists the javelin, the creature screams, and the entire court laughs at their wonderful new plaything.
As you leave, and glide up past the stalls and wares in the goblin markets, the creature tracks your flight up and away, to new worlds and more, and he dreams.
He dreams of the memories and tastes of long past freedoms, and the unyeilding desire for oblivion. Of all his dreams and memories that are currently all the rage in the darker corners of Hell, not one is of a beautiful girl in Connecticut, with eyes of the deepest, deepest blue.