Sic Semper Susurrus
paid little attention to the orations today.
“And let us send this to another vote shall we, Senators? But first...discussion.”
Same dull lot blathering on. Persuvius....Glomus....Horatius... Dullus, dullus, dullus. They may as well ALL be called Dullus. What are they saying? I don’t know and I don’t care.
“And the temple gates need replacing...”
The hard stonework of the benches did little to improve my mood. Oh, my gluteus maximus.
“There is an ink shortage. Perhaps we can send an expedition to capture a creature called an octopus...”
Oh good, Carius Litus, he of the flashy purple toga. That’s all I need.
“The toga weaver requires yet more cloth and dye to make our new togas...”
I think I moaned.
I could use some mulled wine about now. Maybe I could chat up that fellow Homer and see if he has a new play to boost my spirits. The one about that captain that sailed away and lost most of his crew fighting monsters was a good one. That was exciting. He should write another of those. Things with monsters.
Everyone is looking at me. Why is that?
“uh...what?” I replied.
“Galus, is something wrong? It is your turn to speak.”
“Monsters?” I said.
The onlookers and gawkers chuckled at me.
“Galus, are you feeling all right? You look...”
“How do I look?”
“Sad,” I replied sitting back down, “I look sad. Sad hail Caesar.”
I stared at my sandals. Grey. Like my heart. I didn’t need to look up again to know they were still staring at me. Leaning into one another, covering their mouths with the sides of their hands. As if that hid their gossip from me. Their words were of a poison proportional to the number of teeth they showed. Thankfully, it didn’t last long. They quickly went back to business, i.e. talking at length about themselves to make themselves look good. I left before they finished. I really needed to get out of there.
I walked through pockets of the storm.
How long has it been raining? Probably my whole life.
The cobbled street was long, the rain even that much wetter. The slip of my senator’s robe flung over my head and was blown back as the wind picked up. Mother Nature was even forcing me to listen to her, delivering special rain for my balding head. I retreated back down the lane. My house sat nicely to the right. I suppose I should go in. I started to walk towards it, then stopped.
No, I wish to walk and walk I shall.
I continued down the next street to the right. My friend, Tanus lived down there. The wind picked up again and blew me back.
No, this is my walk. I want to walk here. I am a Senator and I have business. Nothing, not even the wind shall prevent me. Nor the rain, nor the storm, nor the streams of water racing down the street. Not even... the noise ahead. Oh. A thumping. A sudden thumping.
Thump thump thump...
It was ahead. From Tanus’s bungalow. My eyes tried to adjust. The water flowed down the road on either side and pattered off the structures all about.
Thump thump thump thump thump...
I wiped my face and looked around, but I saw only the piles of ice and snow being melted from the pounding rain. The streets shall soon flood. This will no doubt be the next exciting topic of debate for the coming week in the...
Thump thump thump thump thump thump...
I stood perfectly still. There it is. What is it? It’s coming toward me. What? A little sphere thump-thump-thumping down the lane. What is it? Where did it come from? It’s a...it’s a...ball.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump...
I rushed to it, splashing through a muddy puddle. I’ll definitely need another toga now.
“Hold up!” I shouted.
I bent down just in time to pick up the ball. It was just a ball. A wooden ball. Nothing extraordinary about it. I looked up into the distance. The rain continued to pour and flow down the street. Tanus’s home was closed up tight, no light inside. Nothing. Not even a lit candle. No movement. Not even a houseboy sneaking tobacco. My eyes froze upon his home. The rain and wind echoed in my ears. I was staring at something. What was it? Was it a shadow? It did not move now. I thought it had moved. I thought it might be a figure, but then again, no. It did not move. I hesitated, then hastened back towards my home with the ball. I can give it to him tomorrow. I need to get home now. Don’t look back. It was nothing. I picked up my pace and became winded, splashing through the puddles. Right now I ---Zounds!! What is that? I stood transfixed at the wall beside me. Is it looking at me? It’s just...just a shadow. I turned and ran home. Brick after safe brick, step after safe step. I looked back. What did I see? Nothing. It is nothing. I sprinted up the stairs by twos, hefting my portly body up to my house faster than I think I ever have. Like I learned as a child, if you sprint up the stairs by twos, the monsters cannot eat you.
“Oh, hello Carius. I didn’t see you there,” I said. Actually, I did but it was more fun bumping into him. “Have you changed your toga or have you several flashy purple ones made for you. There is a cloth shortage, you know.”
“Mr. Galus,” he said recovering, “You did not see me there. Well, what in fact did you see? The time, Galus? The time? Or the day?”
Ah, Carius. Strict as a headmaster. I mean, seriously. Fussing about attendance again. What is the point of having our proxies for the district on hand if they can’t sit through a boring Senate meeting for us now and again.
“I don’t think I understand,” I said, trying to move past him.
“Did you see that you have just MISSED the Senate meeting?”
“Oh that,” I said, “Yes, yes, what’s the point of having a prox—”
“Mr. Galus, do you not know how important these Senate meetings are to our constituents?”
“I’m sorry, Carius,” I sighed, “but I had to find Tanus. You haven’t seen him, have you?”
“Find? FIND??? No, Mr. Galus, but you will FIND yourself out on your ear if you— Mr. Galus, what ARE you looking at?”
“What? Um...I thought I saw...erm...it was nothing...”
“Let us meet at the temple library,” he whispered.
“What?” I said, looking back at him.
“What?” replied Carius puzzled, “I said ‘What are you looking at?’”
“No after that! You said something else.”
“No, I did not. What is wrong with you, Galus?”
“We will kill him, this Caesar,” he whispered.
I went white and looked back at him. He definitely did not say THAT. I shoved past Carius and looked about. He was thrown off his feet into a table.
I saw robed figures below, some in colors, some in drab, some near, some far. I pulled at the nearest one revealing a woman petting a large pear.
“You there! What did you say?” I demanded.
“Beg your pardon, Senator. I was sayin’ to my precious here how good it will be to eat it once I gots home,” she replied.
Carius pulled me away, “So sorry, Ma’am. Please continue your discourse with your pear.”
He grabbed me firmly by the arm and ushered me back inside.
“Now, Galus,” he said, “You have been a good and faithful servant of Caesar for many a year. Your loyalty is noted, but your tomfoolery as of late has brought you into question. And I will not tolerate this insolence. Start taking your post seriously or you may be voted out. You can’t send your proxy again. One more time, Mr. Galus. One more time.”
“No Carius! Shut up! Stop! Did you hear that? Who is here?” I broke his grasp and shouted to the empty room, “Come out, do you understand?”
There was no one here. No one down the hallway, no one around the corner, no one up against the building, nor people hiding behind columns. There were Senators behind in the drawing room, another couple of stragglers on the Senate floor, passersby on the street. Who said it?
“You’re on thin ice, Mr. Galus. Very...Thin...Ice...”
Carius liked to say things slowly like that to make every word slither into one’s ear. Things like...
“One... more... time...,” said Carius. There it is.
He raised his nose even further into the air and started to waddle down the street.
Should I tell him? Should I tell him what I heard? Is he part of it? No, Carius wouldn’t be part of anything. He doesn’t even recall that Galus is my FIRST name.
“Carius, I think someone is plotting to assassinate Caesar.”
“What did you say?” he said stopping.
I looked down at my feet again.
I took my leave, not even checking his reaction. I did not think he heard me anyway. That afternoon I found myself at yet another hearing alongside Caesar. Hearings were the standard fair. He was judge, jury, and well, whatever else was needed afterwards. Ordinarily, he was in rather good spirits depending on how full of spirits his wine goblet was. But today was definitely not one of those days and as his advisor of the day, I found myself having to stop him from starting a riot.
“Caesar, be reasonable,” I said for the fifth time, “there is no justification for incarceration in this case. The boy simply kicked a rock and it hit a horse.”
“Of course, there is justification,” Caesar said, “I’m Caesar. And besides, you’ve taken away my dagger. I cannot simply slice their throats where they stand like I wanted to.”
“Sir, be reasonable,” I said, making sure I still had his dagger, “There was no damage to the horse.”
“That horse has more feelings than that peasant boy. If you whip a horse does it not whinny?”
“Sir, it was a simple accident. Giving the boy 180 years of isolation followed by stoning is rather harsh.”
“Be careful or I shall incarcerate you.”
“You cannot simply lock peasants away for no reason.”
“The commoners of the city do not show enough homage to me,” he said munching a stereotypical grape in a stereotypical way, “they shall suffer. Oh, yes! And the rest shall pay tribute or become my slaves.”
“Steward, are you certain this is only wine you are pouring into his goblet?” I asked.
“Enough! Carry out my orders. You are all dismissed.”
“Caesar, as your trusted advisor!” I shouted, “as appointed by your honor it is my duty to intercede on the grounds that...”
“Ut-tut-tut-tutututututut! Spare me your quoting of Senate order. I hereby sentence the boy to 20 years of servitude toward the horse and all its descendants.”
I was speechless. First, because I was actually about to utter the same gibberish I so abhorred hearing and next, for...well, what I just heard.
“Does that satisfy you? I mean about the horse,” Caesar said.
“Of course, of course!”
“Meet us out by the cliff side west of the temple after dusk,” he whispered.
I stared at him, “the temple?”
“What’s at the temple?”
“I don’t know, monks, I suppose, praying, writing, that sort of thing, why?”
“But I thought--”
“You don’t want that horse to have another companion do you?”
“No, no sir, Hail Caesar, sir.”
I looked around the room. I peered around the pillars. What guard said that? Which scribe? Which deep-cowled old man? Was it me?
And what was I doing past the temple cliffs at night? It was cold out here. I must be crazy. Whoever said that could be dangerous. There were many shadows about. I looked up at the moon. The clouds began to swallow it.
This is ridiculous. I’m going inside before I slip and fall off the edge. No more jumping at shadows.
Wait, what was that? I turned and looked at a statue. It peered back at me. I heard a slight clicking. I should go. I rushed around the corner. Who knows who could be out here? Even if there was someone plotting something, which there isn’t, it could be dangerous if they saw me here. It is forbidden to be in the temple sanctuary after dusk. I hastened around another corner and up some stairs. I heard it, a clicking. It was nothing again. Nothing. That’s become my new favorite word.
I opened the door of the temple and rushed through. There was an entrance to the Senate stairs on the other end. There was a minute or two of silence. Was he really gone? I looked out. No one. I waited. Still nothing. An empty hallway lined with pillars. I could hide behind one of those. Or escape now. I went for it.
I rushed up the stairs as quietly as I could. Nothing up top. I hurried down a hallway to the end door. I hope this is the right way. Yes it is! I rushed for the door and hurried through. The door slammed behind me. Rows of shelves lined the room. I continued on. The noise returned. As I passed each row I heard a clicking sound behind me again. I quickened my pace. Tink tink tink tink
“Is it him? It could be him,” he whispered.
I stormed through another door. Scribes worked in corners on raised tables, scrawling their translations of ancient texts. I moved quickly.
I kept going.
A scribe turned, “Sir! Sir!’
“What is that? What’s going on?” whispered voices around me.
I turned around to face a rather large guard.
“You know you are not allowed in the temple grounds.”
“I’m sorry I was not in the temple,” I said suddenly and without thought.
We stood for several seconds, then he waved another guard over from the front.
“This is him,” said the mammoth in front of me.
“Senator,” said the second guard, “it’s after hours. Return to your home or I shall take measures.”
“Kill him,” I heard someone whisper.
I spun around.
“Do we have to escort you out or put you in stocks to make you leave? Carius told us to watch you and here we find you in the temple sanctuary after hours. That is out of bounds for all save the monks and priests.”
“I wasn’t at the temple sanctuary. I don’t know what you are talking about,” I said groggily.
“Senator, please leave or you will be incarcerated.”
I quickly walked away from under their scornful eyes, bumping into a scribe’s desk on the way. He looked up grimly and began to blot excess ink from his page, mumbling something that definitely was not something a monk or priest should say.
I exited the grounds and made my way home.
I know what they are doing now. A plot to kill Caesar. It must be true. And they know I’m onto them. That’s why they called the guards on me.
I lay in bed. The feathers beneath me were no comfort. There was something wrong. Horribly wrong. But what was I to do if no one would believe me? There’s nothing to be done. Simply nothing to be done. Caesar’s gone mad, people want to kill Caesar. It’s a horrible, crazy mess and I’m the one that doesn’t care about any of these people and I’m caught in the middle of...
“You are summoned.”
I sat up, surprised.
“You are summoned.”
I went to the window and pulled the gold tassel to draw back the curtain. There was a fog outside. Dense and grey. It spilled inside and swirled around the window like a frame.
“You are summoned. Take heed. You are summoned.”
The voice was out there, getting further away.
“Carius? Is that you?”
I quickly threw on my warm cloak and stumbled out the door.
“Who’s there?” I shouted.
I followed through the fog. The voice led me through the city, down the winding streets again past Tanus’s house, past the temple, into the arena square. The was a dim light all around the place. There were...faces, yes...well, no. Heads. Forms without faces in the dimness of the arena. A crowd without faces hrooming all around me.
“It is decided. He must die.”
The hrooming got louder. Hands were upon me. They grabbed my sides and suddenly my feet were no longer touching the ground. Up, up I rose. I could see nothing around me, nor any wires above me. I flailed and kicked but their grasp only tightened. From all sides, the thick fog rolled over me and I was lost. Where are my legs? I can’t feel them now. Oh God in Heaven, where are they? I hovered there for what seemed like an hour. And finally, the fog parted as if it were a red curtain beginning a show. At last, I could see them. Men. Shrouded and draped in robes, their heads bobbed and pulsed.
“What is this conspiracy against me?!?” I shouted until I was purple.
A large form stood from the top of the arena. Red lights from within its cowl lit and it extended an arm. I gazed into the crimson bright eyes, pleading with it. And then its hand dropped.
...and I fell...
The thunder boomed overhead. Lightning cracked the sky. The pounding rain stabbed every pore in my body. Where was I? What was happening? It felt like an earthquake, but it was just my body trembling. Another crash of thunder. I gazed between the thick raindrops at the arena around me. Empty and cold, it looked back at me. No one was about. I turned and tripped over my feet, which sent me sprawling face-first into the mud. I shouted some expletive I hadn’t used since I was a teenager, a teenager that had gathered with his friends at night to gamble at this very spot. Now I’m face-first in a mud puddle. No dice. I scrambled to my feet again and ran toward the gate, leaving my mud soaked cloak behind. It took another several minutes of staggering about to actually find the exit.
There was once a bird that flew to the sun. And its name was Caesar.
Why did that drift into my head just now?
“Let me out. Let me out. They are coming,” I shouted through the gate.
I grasped at the thick chains and rattled them several times.
“Let me out!”
I leaned against the heavy door. For a good twenty minutes, I stood like a statue staring back down the hall to the inner square. Why don’t they pull me back? They are there, watching and waiting. What’s their game? What are they planning for me? They are coming. They will strike. The conspirators. A hand went upon my shoulder.
I inhaled and squirmed away before the hand could grasp me.
“Sir, come with me.”
I looked back and saw nothing. Blackness through the gate. Shadow. The chains rattled and echoed to match another thunder crash.
“Sir, the arena is closed. What are you doing here this time of night? And in the rain?” came a low voice.
“I won't go anywhere with you, Creature.”
“Sir, I insist you come out of there this instant. How in the world did you get in there?”
The iron door creaked open, but I did not run. It felt as if a great weight were upon me. This creature was forcing me to stay against my will. Hands were upon me once again and pulled me through the door.
I could see the creature now. It had a shiny carapace and a red back. It quickly wrapped me in a thick cocoon, then led me down several streets.
“What did you say, sir?” it said.
What does this creature want? I will play along. I can’t do anything right now. I am in its power. I just hope it doesn’t kill me right away.
The restraint about me was wet and heavy and I could not lift his arms.
“Here, sir. You’re home. Let's get you-“
I must not let him get information from me.
I must have been in its cave. Being dissected. The thick webbing was pulled from me as was my skin.
“What was that sir? I've got a fire lit now. How about a drink?”
The creature forced something down my throat. It had a slight burning effect and was very sweet. It began to have an immediate effect on me. It was turning me into one of its spawn.
My eyes became heavy. Oh no. I’m losing myself. I never wanted that to happen.
“Oh dear. Here let's dry you off and change your clothes”
My skin was peeled off. I was freed from myself. I was becoming one of them. The warm feeling in my gut and swimming of my head was...
I found myself in the curate’s office next day. It was rather the equivalent of being in detention. The previous night’s affairs filled my head. I mustn’t speak of them. I must protect the Caesar from those who wish him harm. This man, this curate, he’s probably in on it.
“I’ve read the reports on you, Galus. Reports from Carius, reports from the guards, reports now about the arena.”
I stared back at him.
“Your loyalty is in question, Senator Galus. One might find one’s career destroyed over less. You’ve entered the doghouse and now I must regretfully inform you that as of this moment you are suspended from your duties. Your place will be filled by your proxy while you take a long recess to get yourself in order. And you WILL get yourself in order. Do we understand each other?”
I looked at the ball on the scale.
“I said, do we understand each other?” he said looking into my eyes.
I picked up the ball and turned it over in my hand. It was the same one, the same wooden ball. I looked back at him clenching the ball very tightly.
“Yes, we understand each other.”
I placed the ball back on the scale. I understand now.
As I walked back to my quarters I saw them all around me. All eyes. The passers in the street. Looking at me. I heard them talking. Heard them whispering.
And then I heard it.
I ran towards the Palace.
Not on my watch.
“I must speak to the Caesar,” I said to the guard minutes later, “Hail Caesar.”
“Hail Senator Galus, What business do you have?”
“An urgent matter of state.”
“Stop. Search him.”
I was patted down quite briskly, although our togas do not leave a lot to be desired lately. There is scarcely room on my rotund form for a weapon of any sort.
There he was. The Caesar. The ruler of a million men. Lounging on a rose duvet-covered chaise longue.
“Hail Caesar,” I said, holding my hand in the air.
“Ah, Senator Galus, what do I have the pleasure of this meeting? I hear you’ve gone round the bend. Care for some wine?”
The whispers came. I heard them behind me. Conspirators all. I was glad I beat them.
“Caesar. I must...speak to you in private,” I said, eyeing the wine steward and concubines around.
“Nonsense, Galus, if any here spoke of important matters to others, their tongues would be removed,” he said coyly.
I stepped forward towards him and spoke most discreetly.
“Caesar, I must warn you.”
“Warn me of what?” he said rather loudly.
“Your life is in danger,” I urged.
“Foolish, foolish Galus,” he chuckled, “Foolish, sad, and serious Galus, you are dismissed.”
He booped my nose. I stood rather dumbfounded.
“Caesar, listen my liege. You are in trouble. There are conspirators. I have seen them. I have heard them. They are coming to kill you. We must hurry.”
“Yes, I have heard of your jibjabbering and late night rain walks. The whole court is abuzz with your craze. I don’t think you understand, fool. You are dismissed. Of service. Of rank. Of home.”
“Caesar, you can’t mean that. I have been your trusted advisor and servant for years. You must listen!”
“Be off, knave.”
He struck me with the back of his hand. He had never done that before. Why won’t he listen?
“Guards, there is the traitor! Kill him!”
His eyes. There is something about them. What is it? They are glowing. They haven’t glowed like that before.
I stopped listening. There was no alternative. I took out Caesar’s dagger and plunged it into his heart. There was no struggle. He did not even flinch. Had I carried this with me since yesterday? How did the guards not find this?
“Et tu, Galus?” he said.
“Yes et tu! Damn, right et tu! Damn you Caesar! Damn you!”
Caesar went limp in my arms. His glowing eyes were extinguished. I looked at his face and wept. Yet the whispering continued. Whispering. He was one of the whispering creatures. Yes. The eyes. I stood there holding the leader of an empire. The greatest race of humans in history. But what other race would he be leader of? I soon found out.
The creature peeled its own transparent face out of Caesar’s like an orange off a rind. Its body followed. It looked at me. I could barely make it out its shape. A faded, brown creature without substance. Like a sandy shadow. Only its eyes. Its eyes glowed once more.
“What is happening?” shouted a booming voice behind me, “Caesar! Freeze, Galus!”
“No, you don’t understand,” I stammered, “There is—”
“Traitor! Treasonous traitor!” said the guards as they rushed toward me.
I turned to face them, the laurel leaf crown on my brow, “It is you who must bow to me now and say “Hail Galus!””
“Oh, I like this one,” whispered one from behind, “So easy to manipulate.”
I covered my mouth.
“Take him! Take him now,” whispered a guard.
I whirled around. There was no one there. I looked back. The guards held their spears, not sure what to do.
“Take him,” shouted one.
“Take him. Take him now,” one whispered from behind.
“Guards! Protect your Caesar!” I shouted.
I saw sand shadows out of the corner of my eye fly left. Then another right.
“Yes, this is the one. He will whisper,” said a raspy voice deep within my ear.
It sank its teeth into my neck, deep.
“Guards...” I said weakly, but the guards were no more. They lay lifeless on the ground.
“Drink...deep...from the one,” the new whisper said another as another set of formless fangs sunk into my neck. I looked skyward, my mouth hung open. I called out for help. I heard an airy whistle, like that of leaking pipes.
“Hail to the new Whisper,” whispered the ones around me.
“Ooooo so sweeeet. Like none other...”
Another bite...and another and another.
“Hail...Whisperer...,” replied lifeless and airy voices all around.
“Guards,” I whispered, “Save me...your Caesar. Why me?”
“You looked...sad. ”
“So sad and tormented. A rather perfect specimen,” I whispered back. Why did I say that?
My body melted into pale airy sand and we flew into the shadows. The laurel crown