Silus Flax was ready to go. Soon the moment he had yearned for, for what seemed a lifetime, would arrive. In a few moments the dimension door down in the depths of the city he had studied and guarded for so long, would be fully open and he and his two companions would venture into that world beyond. That place which held the key to his dark ambitions.
Flax’s prophetic dreams had revealed the gifts of power he desired lay there, but he had no real idea of what lay beyond the cobbled courtyard that he had glimpsed only once when the gate had been open briefly for hat those few tantalising moments. Soon it would be open again and this time he had calculated that it would be open for at least seven days. Seven days in which he would build the foundations for a new kingdom.
Now he stood high on a thrusting concrete and brick hill of buildings that gave him a view of the city from where he watched the red glow across the city that belched a column of black smoke into the warm, air of the city.
There, beneath dark plume, he knew was the Castler of Lepers burned itself out. He shook his head. The lunatic Caldecott seemed intent on burning down and suffocating half the city and had brought complaints from the Tan’s and the Tallmen themselves had angrily complained to the Council of the Upper City that a Venting was now necessary.
Flax sighed deeply as he watched the smoke plume levelling out and spilling under domed sky of Dubh. The boy was probably burned to a crisp or shot dead by Amaril’s men by now. Still, he boy was dead and that was a satisfactory state of affairs even if he had been deprived of the pleasure himself.
He turned around as footsteps approached him from behind. It was the Scholar, one of his chosen companions for his forthcoming trip.
“What is it.” Flax grunted.
“Your Eminence,” squeaked the chubby little man, his small eyes peering large through his thick glass perched on the end of his nose, magnifying his eyes to make him look like some predatory animal. “It is time.”
“Good man, then we shall go. Is Scoggins ready? “The Scholar nodded feverishly as Flax patted his bald liver spotted head. “And all the supplies and necessaries have been loaded as you instructed” the little man trilled, eager to please
Flax strode off with the Scholar in tow down to the bowels of the city and toward the High Hat stronghold that had been built around the dimension door. Soon they reached the Black Leopard and made their way down level after level now crowded with High Hats. They bowed as Flax passed and then moved rapidly back to their posts and tasks. An atmosphere of anticipation greeted them when they entered the great auditorium which adjoined Flax’s personal apartments. All of the most important High Hat’s had been instructed by Flax to attend, and all had, for this was the single most important day in the history of their organisation. For soon they would be in a position to tear power from the hands of Tan’s with the gifts their master had promised he would bring to them from the world beyond the dimension door.
Flax led an impromtu procession of the most important of his men through an ante-chamber and then into the privacy of his apartments and stood them in a semi-circle before the dimension door.
This particular tunnel of multi-coloured light led only a short distance and beyond its exit to a world in darkness which was clearly visible. It was night there and a most convenient cover for his arrival, Flax thought. He studied the scene beyond the door. A plain, cracked plaster wall obscured the view of what lay around the corner to the left of the exit point of the gate. The cobbles of the small enclosed courtyard were wet with rain and reflected the yellow light which washed the yard from the neon street lamps beyond.
It was raining furiously there, Flax and his High Hat’s could hear the hiss of raindrops as they hit the ground, but despite the roar of the rain there was little else to hear apart from the occasional distant hum of moving engines.
Ivor Scoggins stood close to the door and peered in. He had donned his ankle-length leather coat already, its collar turned up to his pointy ears beneath his top hat which was pulled down over his eyebrows. He appeared bored and now pared his already perfectly manicured nails with a stiletto which he secured in the folds of his clothing as Flax approached.
Flax nodded a greeting as he too donned a long leather coat and top hat. He placed a hand on the masochistic assassins shoulder.
“Have you seen anything else my dear, any people?” he whispered. Scoggins shook his head disinterestedly and looked into the courtyard. This attitude would not have pleased Flax had it been the attitude of anyone other than his favourite playmate. Scoggins rarely spoke or indeed made any other sound which Flax knew from the many intimate hours they had spent in one another’s company. Silus enjoyed inflicting pain and Scoggins adored being hurt – when he wasn’t the hunter himself.
Yet there was more to Scoggins He was a cold viscous and calculating killer, a man who enjoyed, not just inflicting pain, but extinguishing life. He had, on the rare occasions he spoke, told Flax that life was a disease and he was the cure. Scoggins was a twisted monster of the highest order. Even physically he was different. Flax knew that he was a freak of nature, a hermaphrodite. Physically he was closer to a woman. His face was a collection of pale delicate features, studded with pale grey eyes. His body was slim and soft, his limbs long and supple. He moved with the grace and elegance of a woman, yet…
Flax knew the truth about what he described as Shemale. Scoggins could give him all he desired. He had chosen Scoggins because of his unquestioning devotion to him and Flax knew that Ivor would make sure that his beloved master was deprived of no pleasure for the duration of the time he was out of Dubh.
Whilst Ivor Scoggins was a practical luxury to Flax, the Scholar was a functioning necessity. He needed someone to advise him on the customs and laws of a society he would find himself part of for a short while. He realised that to complete his tasks without drawing unnecessary attention to his activities. He would need to be aware of what he could and could not do without flouting the laws and customs of this world he sensed was subtly different from his own and making himself vulnerable to those in power there. The Scholar would ensure that this did not happen, he hoped.
The trinity of High Hats now stood before the gate. Flax felt a tingle of excitement; his dreams were shaping into a reality. Scoggins remained his cool unaffected self. The Scholar was a bag of jangling nerves as his over-active brain churned into overdrive and his imagination plagued his logical mind with irrational fears.
Flax scowled at him as the Scholar’s teeth chattered together noisily. All three had dressed the same. All dressed as they would for a normal day in their far from normal world, hoping that such dress would not attract attention in the world beyond the door. The High Hats leader turned to his gathered captains and smiled a smile which made them all feel uneasy. “To your tasks then and remember that you are all being watched!” he said and his eyes commanded unswerving obedience. In a moment of swirling black cloaks they were gone, the heavy iron doors of Flax’s personal apartment closed behind them and the three stood alone at the edge of the portal.
Flax picked up the handles of a small, but incredibly heavy cart, which carried all their ‘supplies and necessaries’ as the Scholar had described the cargo, and set off at a measured pace into the tunnel of swirling light, Scoggins and the Scholar stepping in behind him. Inside the door, light whirled in violent vortices around them which captured their images and displayed them in a maddening, distorted kaleidoscope around them. The exit seemed further away now as they became enveloped by the swirling tunnel above them, below them, all round them. Here they were, caught in a vortex where time itself became twisted and torn, displaying images of themselves as they had stood before the door, inside it and, unnervingly, images as they exited it before they actually had.
Step by step they marched through, their pace measured slowed to the extent that it resembled a bizarre funeral march. A strange tingling sensation invaded their senses as flesh and bones adjusted slowly and safely to the vibratory rate of the realm beyond.
At last they emerged, to be greeted by a peal of thunder that shook the cobblestones beneath them. Each gasped as they took in lungfuls of the fresh, cold air around them, such a shock to their systems after their life times in the poor, degraded atmosphere of Dubh.
They moved out of the small outbuilding into which they had emerged and out into the unprotected yard. The rain hammered down unmercifully, drumming a manic tattoo on the cylinders of the top hats and splashing off the rims. Plumes of frosted breath poured into the cold air as they stood in the closed rectangle of the cobbled yard.
Tall flaking brick walls ran parallel left and right. The right wall was eight feet of weathered and flaky, moss ridden red brick, topped with a crown of cement and broken glass. The left was the wall of a house which had be hidden from view by the outbuilding wall. The house rose three stories high into a black night sky so unlike the Dubhian canopy which never came close to real skies.
Opposite them was an extension of the building and another wall and gates, which bordered the roadway. It was silent there now, not even the sound of the moving engines, which intrigued Flax, disturbed the steady hiss of the winter rain. He signalled to Scoggins and the assassin moved along the left hand wall of the building, stopping occasionally to peer in to the long rows of windows that reflected the yellow neon of the town’s illumination, until he came to a door half way along the house wall.
Scoggins nodded to his master and Flax moved out across the courtyard’s slick and uneven cobbles to join him at the door. Silent and secluded, this place was the ideal entrance point to a new and unfamiliar world. It was all that Flax could have hoped for. He smiled to himself, a shiver of excitement slid down his spine. The Scholar watched him nervously.
The door by which they stood now had been left slightly ajar. A pleasant aroma of pastry and cooked meat hit them as Flax pushed the door inwards. They both tiptoed inside. The small room was a compact bakery illuminated by the blue light of a lighted gas oven. The work top was strewn with unfinished pies and a multitude of empty bottles. This baker was a man of great skill and only his thirst for strong beers exceeded to his culinary talents.
A stack of crates reached the ceiling in one corner of the small room and almost every bottle was empty. Scoggins found a half full bottle on the baker’s work top and tasted the contents. He nodded in approval to Flax and handed the rest to him, which he finished with relish. A large oven was the source of the mouth watering aroma which filled the room. Flax assumed the baker was not far away, or else his creations would soon be burned to a crisp.
They searched the room quickly, but the baker was not sleeping off an afternoon binge here. Pulling Scoggins away from the stack of crates in the corner, they crept out into the yard, moving like a pair of silky shadows to the door at the far end of the wall.
As they slid along the wall, they passed large windows that were evenly spaced along its length. Flax peered in through the rain washed glass. It was an ale house he deduced. He saw tables and chairs, strange furniture was stacked against the walls. An odd beer glass stood pathetically alone and deserted on a dusty table.
It was much tidier than any ale house Flax had ever visited. In Dubh were never empty and furniture was reserved only for those which served only the most affluent and powerful clientele. This one was empty and remarkably clean, except for the thick layer of dust which covered everything. This had been an ale house once, but no longer had he deduced. They now stood at its door. The stone step had been worn concave with the feet of the many visitors who had come this way over decades. Flax pushed his large and sensitive nose to the keyhole and sniffed in air like a blood hound.
His delicate organ informed him of the absence of the usual smells of an ale house - sweat, beer, blood, vomit and urine. The place was definitely no longer in use, he thought. Flax tried the door handle and found it locked. He gritted his teeth and sniffed the door seams. There was someone here, although the scent was strange.
The air inside was warm and there was a faint aroma of perfume, but the woman’s scent here smelt like no woman he had ever run his nostrils over. At least he knew there where no men here, only this strange woman.
His mind raced. What should he do? Kick the door down perhaps? He turned around and beckoned the scholar. The small, fat man scurried to his side at his signal. Flax held him by the neck.
“There’s a woman of sorts inside, will she be armed? How do we get in?”
The little man rapped hard on the door, causing both Flax and Scoggins to jump back behind the wall for safety.
“Let me handle this, just keep quiet.” he commanded Flax, something twinkling in his eye. A humorous irony, thought the Scholar, that he had the power to order his ‘Eminence’ Silus Flax to be quiet. He stifled a chuckle.
Flax was flabbergasted at his servant’s cheek, but his plans hinged on the intellectual qualities of the small, bald bespectacled man and he indicated that Scoggins put away the knife he was aiming at the Scholar’s kidneys. Ivor mouthed an objection, but Flax waved it down. It was acceptable at the moment, but the Scholar would eventually regret what he had just done, he would pay for his moment of amusement at Flax’s expense and the price would be high. After what seemed an eternity of knocking, a light inside lit up the door frame.
Scoggins leapt back from the keyhole. The door opened a fraction, a security chain ensuring that it opened no further than necessary.
A small, round heavily wrinkled and worried face pushed itself up to the gap.
“Yes?” said a voice quivered with age and fear. The scholar moved quickly into the light, his bespectacled smiling face seeming to reassure that these three, strangely dressed men at her door in the early hours of the morning, meant her no harm.
The scholar spoke.
“Ah, my gracious lady of the inn, my sincere apologies for awakening you from your well earned slumber, but we are travellers in sore need of lodgings on this foul night.....would you have rooms to let?” he said injecting a tone of desperation into his voice. Then as an after thought; “We will pay you well.”
Agnes Lovenberry considered her position. She was alone here, she was eighty-eight years old and half crippled with arthritis. These people had obviously mistaken her home for a hotel or inn. It was true that this place had once been an inn, then a public house, but it had not seen a customer for twenty-eight years.
“Oh, dear.” she mumbled to herself. Such a dreadful night, Oh, Well perhaps they could use the empty rooms upstairs, they had beds and sheets although generation after generation moths of would have made a meal of them by now.
The nice mannered man had also said that they would pay her well and the pittance the government paid her as a pension was hardly enough to keep her from starving. A little cash would help her this week,
after all, that drunken baker had forgotten his rent again. She took the door off the security chain and opened it wide to allow the three strangers in. As they entered, Agnes Lovenberry wondered if in fact whether she was not still asleep.
The three men in black top hats and long coats looked very much like undertakers. A shiver of fear ran down her spine. Perhaps she was not asleep at all, perhaps she was actually dead and having one of those out of body experiences she had read about in Take a Break magazine and these three had come to take her away!
The confused thought resided, for a while, in her sleep muddled mind as she pinched her self hard and finally pulled herself back together as gust of cold wind and rain blew in from the doorway and convinced her that she was still very much alive. She slammed the door against the storm and turned to face her guests. They had removed their hats and she indicated that the hat stand was vacant. Obediently and without, a word the three trooped to the indicated object and considered it as if they had never seen one before.
It was a relic of pointlessness to them, hats went on the floor or tables or chairs, but never on a strangely carved piece of wood. The scholar however, figured out what they were to do and placed the hats on the hooks and removed his own coat, then the coats of the others, and hung them on the adjoining coat pegs.
Mrs. Lovenberry was wide awake now and observed the three men intently as they disrobed themselves. Without their long coats and hats the image of undertakers faded. The little chubby man wore baggy, black trousers and a dark blue waistcoat over his scarlet shirt. He was untidy and slightly dirty she noticed as he fumbled with his pocket watch.
The large shouldered man with the huge nose amnd large teeth was crisp and clean. He trousers were of a good cut and quality and he too wore a waistcoat over a white ruffle necked shirt. But he made her extremely nervous, he had not taken his penetrating eyes off her ever since he had entered the house. He looked at her as if he had never seen an old woman before.
The other man, if it were a man she thought, wore clothes which were of a feminine nature with frills of lace and embroidered flowers every where. He moved like a woman too, which added to her suspicions and his feminine features and well manicured, long fingernails finally convinced her that this was not a man at all or he was some sort of ‘Nancy Boy’, although of course you couldn’t use such names nowadays. He was the first to turn and move toward her. He bent down close to her face, his eyes looking directly into hers.
“Are you ill?” he asked in a contradictory deep male voice. “I have the cure for all known ills.” he licked his lips and smiled sympathetically at her. A loud throat clearing came from the area of the hat stand and Scoggins scowled and moved away from the old woman.
Mrs. Lovenberry returned to her observations of the three men’s attire and noticed their footwear. The two normal, if they were normal men, wore heavy hobnail boots, the other, slim pointed ones. Then she felt a sudden recognition of what she was seeing, it was like her childhood memories, her life was filled with memories of heavy boots, waistcoats, ruffs and top hats too! It was as if part of the past had come through her door tonight and stood in her parlour. The men stood now watching her and, realising that she was staring at them, she coughed nervously.
“Oh I beg your pardons, your rooms of course.” she said.” Silly me, I nearly forgot” Agnes laughed nervously. “Follow me gentlemen.”
The plump old lady hobbled to the bottom of the stairs, her arthritic hips and knee joints cracking loudly in the near silence. Flax wondered whether or not to kill the freakish woman now. How could she have become so old, she was an abomination! In Dubh a woman was lucky to survive to her thirtieth birthday, the only way she could have survived, Flax reasoned, was that she had never been a real woman at all or she would have been burned out by childbearing and male usage years ago, after all that was their purpose as women wasn’t it?
Then he realised that this wasn’t Dubh at all and he had to be prepared for such strangeness, such perversity. Erring on the edge of caution, Flax decided that the old woman could live, at least for the time being. She might be missed and, after all, killing her wouldn’t be much fun.
Staring around him Flax realised he was now in a bar room. The tables were absent and had been replaced by an old and worn settee and two armchairs. The three High Hats followed Agnes Lovenberry as she made her way painfully across the well worn carpet into a small hall way between the bar room and the rest of the public house. Flax was suddenly hit by the silence in this place. Not even the sound of the pouring rain reached here and the absence of the familiar hum of machinery, which had always been part his life, unnerved him. He was used to the clamour and noise of the city, this tranquillity disturbed him. This was a strange world, he mused as he reflected on his short exposure to it, a quiet place where the men allowed their women to grow old, or more disturbingly, perhaps there were no men here. Not a nice place at all.
Mrs. Lovenberry was now staggering half way up the stairs assisted by the Scholar. They chatted together as the Scholar skilfully extracted information about the old woman and her circumstances.
He was doing well, Flax thought. Information was what he needed if he was to succeed in his mission here. He quietly congratulated himself on his choice of companion here. The Scholar already knew that she lived here alone, was a war widow. Her only contacts were a mad, drunken butcher called Victor and Mrs. Simpson, the infrequently visiting, interfering and perpetually nosey, or so Mrs. Lovenberry had said, social worker.
She warned them about Victor. He was a big, aggressive, short tempered man who was at odds with the whole world and everyone in it, it seemed. They must avoid his bakery for it was a sacred place to him. No mortal, except he, could walk there, especially if they were from the environmental health office. On no account must they argue with him when he was drunk, which was most of the time of course.
They had reached the landing now and Mrs. Lovenberry opened a door of flaky, green paint to her right. Scoggins inclined his head towards her suggestively and gave his master a thin smile. Flax knew what he meant and shook his head. Scoggins ground his teeth together again, his displeasure openly displayed.
The door opened onto a long corridor which ran along the wall they had crept under and above where the bakery was situated, terminating in another green, brass handled door. The carpet in the corridor had been removed years ago and the bare floorboards groaned and squealed under their weight.
The old woman opened the first three doors on the right, revealing three single rooms as she switched on the electric light in each, a surprise for all three, since such a form of illumination was rare in ordinary dwellings in Dubh.
In the rooms all the furniture was covered in dust sheets which had been placed there twenty years ago. Mrs Lovenberry removed them with the Scholar’s help, which raised clouds of dust into the air. Agnes coughed and sneezed profusely, attempting to apologise, and promising to clean up in the morning.
All three rooms where the same, containing a dressing table, washstand, mirror, bed, small wardrobe and an armchair. Scoggins took the first room nearest the stair, Flax the second and the Scholar the third. Mrs. Lovenberry yawned and apologised for doing so, then wished them a good night before she retired to her own rooms through the door at the end of the corridor.
After her light was extinguished, the second door opened and Silus Flax crept out of his room bootless and shirtless. He smiled contentedly to himself. It had been a good day, one that demanded celebration. He was here at last and safely ensconced in a strange world without any problems.
He peered through the rain spattered first floor windows which gave him a clear view of the centre of the sleeping town. Strings of pearly white and amber light lit the streets, he was quietly surprised at the liberal use to which these people put their energy - either they had ample supplies or they were afraid of the darkness he much so loved. In Dubh, the Upper City had such light when excess energy was available, which was now seldom, and the Lower city depended on the use of oil lamps. Here it seemed all had the benefit t of such power. n the centre of the town the street, on which the ‘inn’ they were to spend the night stood, led to an open square in the middle of which stood a strange obelisk. It was obviously a giant stone phallus, Flax thought and gave it no more consideration. Beyond the square there was a great church, its tower and spire lancing into the darkness of the night sky. Another phallus he decided. The clock on the church tower struck three.
Flax could remember the church bells of Dubh, it was not since his infant years that he had heard them. But now the churches and their bells had been silenced, empty forgotten husks devoid of congregations, consumed by Dubh’s physical expansion and drained by its spiritual degeneration. The prospect of pleasure was the only thing which drew a congregation in Dubh now. The new Church of Hedonism, unshackled from any slavish morality, now the only religion.
The sound of the bells receded and the memories of his childhood in Dubh too. So long ago it seemed, but now he was close to his goal. What made Flax different from the rest of the hedonists of Dubh was that he made his own rules, no Tan or Mek council ruled him and it was not just pleasure he pursued. It was that which made pleasure possible and that from which pleasure exuded - Power.
Flax had power, but craved more and nothing and no-one would prevent him from having all the power he wanted, although, in truth, he knew that he could never be satisfied. He stared at the floodlit church. The poor wretches here were still slaves to false moralities which denied them their real essence, but their pain, fear and innocence would taste so sweet on the palate of evil beings such as him. Here he could be a god in his own paradise. He moaned at the prospect of what he might do to the unsuspecting here, then he laughed a single single syllable laugh. Tonight he needed a little celebration and he had brought it along with him, in the form of Ivor Scoggins.