September 6, 2018

A Requiem for St. George - A Thirty-Three Flash Story

"Within every good man is a demon of sorts—lurking fears, temptations, and greed that he carefully keeps at bay. But, sometimes all it takes to turn the man into his demon... is a monster. St. George killed the dragon, but what did he do in the years to come? What dragons haunted his dreams and lurked around the corners of his feeble, aging mind?"
-Randolph Midian

“I hope you’re comfortable, Uncle Lewis,” he said dryly, exhausted as he stretched his stiff back and braced himself against the cold, masonry wall. He was not quite so able-bodied as he once was. Although, for a man of sixty-eight, Gregory Stonewall was unusually spry—he made sure to keep himself in decent shape. He was a survivalist, an enthusiast of preparation, as he might call himself. Uncle Lewis made no reply and Gregory sighed, “Alright, I’ll just get the door,” as he gently closed it on rusty hinges. “No need to thank me,” he grumbled.

He hated the shrill noise those old doors made, but he simply had too many more important things to do than worry about oiling hinges. As he walked down the hall, the pale florescent light fixture that hung overhead blinked and buzzed. Gregory reached up and tapped on the bulbs, grunting under his breath, “Shoddy workmanship. Not like the old days.” The bulbs flickered for a few moments and finally normalized.

His steps echoed down the empty hall. It was lonely, quiet, and clinical, but Gregory did not mind. He had grown accustomed to it after being there for so many years. His fingers tapped methodically against his leg as he walked—a compulsive habit of counting his steps that he had developed since altogether retreating from social life. “Nine steps. Nine divided by three is three. Three plus three is six. There are two units of three in six… three and three. That’s when it came, the thirty-third year,” he thought to himself, with no conscious effort. Numbers were important. Everything was important, every event holding some significance. All he had to do was observe causality and connect the dots from one to the next. That’s how he survived, after all.

“Good afternoon, dad,” Gregory announced jovially, as he knocked on another door, “at least, I think it’s afternoon, give or take a few hours.” Without waiting for a reply, he continued, “Uncle Lewis didn’t have much to tell today. The old boy never did have much to say though, did he?” Pulling another door open with a rusty squeal, Gregory smiled through his scraggly beard, “Let’s go then. It’s story time.”

After some laborious lifting, Gregory was leisurely wheeling his father down the hall. As he walked, he knocked on a few other doors along the way, “Good afternoon, mother. Hello there, Nathaniel. Stunning as ever, dear Amelia.” He kept smiling, as was his habit. It was to keep cheerful thoughts flowing through his head, to crowd the memories out.

“I have a specific problem, dad. I’m hoping you can help me figure it out,” Gregory said, cheerfully. “You see, I need to know what size it was when you came across it.” His brow wrinkled as his thoughts started to wander involuntarily. He pressed on under some strain, “I have a theory I’m still trying to work out. I think it’s gotten larger over time, but I don’t know how fast it grows.” His teeth started to grind as he began to lose control of his thoughts, “Of course, there’s no need to talk about it in the present tense. I did kill it, after all. Of course, I killed it. You believe I killed it, right, dad?”

Despite his attempts at levity, Gregory’s train of thought barreled out of control. He stammered as he could no longer see his current surroundings, but instead, the stony ground of the worksite beneath his feet from thirty-five years ago, “Of course I did. I remember how…”

With only a few utility lights barely clinging to life overhead against the night sky, it lumbered in place, the huge beast, vaguely bipedal but altogether inhuman. It turned around at the sound of the engine roaring to life. Gregory, gasping for breath and mad with fright while climbing into the cab of the giant machine, tried desperately to get a better look at it in the dark. Although the quarry was veiled in a thin wash of light, even when he should have caught a glimpse, the thing seemed always just out of focus, like a photograph taken in motion, a slightly blurred phantasm. It was real though, real enough to tear that poor security guard in half like a ragdoll. Blackness pressed in around Gregory as he frantically resisted the shock and tried to remember how to work the controls of the excavator.

The beast saw him though, taking heavy, crunching steps on the loose stones. Gregory had no time left. He grabbed a lever, any lever, and jerked it sharply in the direction of the thing. The spear-like arm of the great machine lurched into full swing, almost tossing Gregory from the cab, as it crashed into a drum of diesel fuel, then into his intended target. The collision sent pungent fluid splashing over the beast, the twisting steel sparking flames that instantly enveloped it. It howled an otherworldly sound that echoed from every direction. The thing stumbled, clawed blindly at the flames, and flailed like mad until crashing through a wooden enclosure.

Gregory flashed back, still wheeling his father into the examination room. The bright spotlights hummed, drowning out the sound of the creature plummeting down the mine shaft that still echoed through his mind. He had begun unconsciously whistling to the tune of “Whistle While You Work.” Shaking his head, he smiled again, “Sorry, dad. Got lost in thought. Best not to dwell on it, though. Never know when it might come back. Don’t want to end up like all of you, after all.”

He dragged a long steel tray off the gurney and slid it onto a steel table. “Now let’s put you back together properly, eh?” Gregory said, as he carefully turned a withered, grinning skull upwards to meet his gaze. Having been interred for over thirty years, the remains of William Stonewall were relatively well preserved. Gregory kept them all well preserved.