Monday, January 27, 2014

The Conglomeration (Horror)

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Ridalfo is worried, now, that it will get out.

How secure can his basement be? After all?

He wonders if he should ask someone, one of the professors who works at the museum where he has been borrowing things, maybe.  Or the security guards who have guns and tasers and have worked nights and maybe know how to distinguish between reality and fantasy and could tell him whether The Conglomeration is the former or the latter or maybe a little bit of both.

Or maybe his neighbor, the one who sits up nights listening to the radio in a room that is almost perfectly dark but not completely dark or Ridalfo could not see the man, staring off into space and listening to the music coming over the radio speakers, tinny and small.

He sits, and he eats his lunch, and he wonders, as he does, whether he should go home when his shift is done and if he goes home when his shift is done, what he will find.

Will it have escaped, The Conglomeration? Where would it go? He watches the television in the corner of the breakroom, where a few people are sitting and watching a game show.  Surely the announcers would break in to the program if something like The Conglomeration were to burst forth from the small house in the small back alley where Ridalfo lived and tear through the narrow streets of the city upturning small cars and bashing against trucks.


Then again, surely someone who sleepily walks downstairs to his basement to get a new shirt for the day from the old washer and dryer that was here when he began renting the house, someone who wakes up abruptly when he realizes that the statue he has been building out of bones and rocks and metals and a tiny ruby and other things swiped from the museum where he works as a second-shift janitor, swiped just because he could, from the rows and rows of drawers and boxes and containers and dusty closets, the statue that he has been building is gone, someone who, just as he realizes this is viciously attacked by the statue, who must grab a lacrosse stick and fend the statue off, bashing at it helplessly as it comes at him and attempts to... what? maul? eat? kill? talk? something to him, someone who just barely made it back up the steep stone steps leading to the cellar, who is able to close and lock the door just in time and who then pushes his couch and chair and large television and kitchen table and both chairs up against the door and lock The Conglomeration into the basement where it had begun its life, trapping it there... hopefully hopefully... surely that person would then call the authorities, the police, the national guardsmen, maybe, someone?

Surely that person wouldn't just go into work, would he?

Unless... that person was worried about notifying the police about himself.

Ridalfo sighed and looked at his fingers, one of which was missing.  The Conglomeration had bit it off.


Where, do you suppose, things come from?

You can't get something from nothing, right? So every thing that is once was and everything that was shall be again.

The Moon was born from the Earth, they say, in a resounding crash that split the Earth from the Moon and left the Earth smaller and needing to heal, but left the Moon (they think) cold and lifeless, spinning around and around the Earth forever more.

They think that, but that is not exactly what happened.

The Moon and the Earth were the same thing until the day the Moon climbed into the sky to escape its enemies, for the Moon had always been alive and part of the Earth, that is the way things are, but it needed to be freed by something to regain its own existence, and even the Moon's own existence was not the Moon's own, for before the Moon and The Earth were each other, they were other things, rocks and dust and atoms and light and empty, and each of these things had been a thing before it, too, and each thing would be a thing after it.  When, someday, the Moon can no longer hold itself up, it may crash into Earth and free other things trapped there.  It may destroy some of its enemies who will then become new things, enemies and friends and lovers and destroyers.

It may, true, wander off into space to die alone and cold and haunted, but the Moon does not want to do that.

That is how the Moon became separate from the things it had been, but not how the Moon died.

Where, do you suppose, you came from?

What were you before?

And what are you now?

And what will  you be?

Next, that is?

What will you be next?


Ridalfo's sandwich doesn't taste as fresh as it should. He is too preoccupied to focus on it, maybe, his mind thinking about things other than the pungency of the swiss cheese or the sweetness of the ham or the spicy zing of the sliced onions or the mushy brown pumpernickel bread.

He chews it gamely and looks at the people in the lunchroom, on the other side, the people who work in the gift shop and the parking garage and the movie theater that is attached to the museum and which shows movies about nature and history and mostly, the ocean.  The ocean is popular, in movies shown at the museum.

He looks away from them and back at his four-fingered hand, and he looks at the plastic spoon he has taken from the lunch counter to eat his yogurt with, and out of curiosity, mostly to see what will happen, he touches the spoon to his hand where his finger had been until this morning.

"Hello, Ridalfo," says a man's voice behind him, startling him.  "And how are you today?"

It is the museum director, a man whose eyes Ridalfo cannot meet in case the man sees, in Ridalfo's eyes, guilty knowledge of the plaster cast of an old horseshoe crab that one day Ridalfo took home and lest the man see not just that but all the other things Ridalfo had added to his collection.

(Things that were now, it seemed, alive and joined together into The Conglomeration and which were attempting to escape, probably, from his cellar, with its dirt floor and old washing machine and dryer and hot water heater.)

"Fine, sir, fine... sir," Ridalfo said, looking down.

"Good.  Good.  See if you can't get to the second floor by the Egyptian wing today, please.  There was a field trip and the bathrooms are quite the worse for the wear."

"Yes, sir, yes," Ridalfo said, refocusing on his sandwich on the table on its wax paper, and stopping himself before adding a second "sir," and wondering if he should say more.

"Ridalfo, is your hand okay?" asked the director.

Ridalfo stifled the impulse to put his hand in his pocket, instead picking up the sandwich with it.

"It's fine, sir.  Just fine."

"Well, then," the director said.

He patted Ridalfo's shoulder and left the lunchroom, shooting a glance at the game show where something had just happened to make the people watching it laugh.

Ridalfo looked at his hand as the man left, and realized that the spoon was stuck where his finger was supposed to be.

He got up and went to the second floor, near the Egyptian wing, to see how bad the bathrooms were, leaving his mostly-uneaten sandwich there and wondering, along the way, whether he could pull the spoon back off, if he tried.  He wiggled and waggled it, zigged and zagged it, tapped it thoughtfully against his forehead, and hid it in his pocket whenever anyone walked by, making his way slowly among the display cases in the main lobby, showing artifacts from a shipwreck that were touring the countries of the world and which drew big lines every day, and an extra charge to see some of them.

In the hallway near the Egyptian wing, he paused, and looked around.  Nobody was there.  Nobody was near him.  The museum would close in 2 hours, but not many people came after 4 o'clock.

He looked down again, at his finger, the spoon, and with a determined tug he took the spoon off.  It pulled away with a little pop! and his hand was again missing a finger.

He stared.

He put the spoon back, and took his left hand away.

The spoon stayed.

Oscar sat down against the wall to ponder this new development, but before his mind had wrapped around it much, he for some reason without even knowing reached out and twisted his right foot completely off, again with a little pop!.

With his ankle ending in a blur of nothingness, he took his left foot off, too, and hefted each in his hands, and looked at them.

He laughed, then.

And then he heard someone coming and quickly tried to pop the feet back on but they would not stick, they kept falling off.  He heard more footsteps, a few people, at least, and scrambling on his hands and knees he crawled into the nearest bathroom, the women's, as it turned out, and he scuttled across the floor and pulled himself into a stall and pushed the door shut and locked it and sat on the toilet, breathing hard and looking down at the stumps of his legs.

That was when he realized that he'd dropped one of his feet.

The left one.

He held his breath, hoping nobody came in.  He heard the footsteps, the quiet talking, someone saying "Oh, hey, Egypt" and another person saying something about mummies, and then the noise was past.

Ridalfo shoved his right foot into the waistband of his pants and stood up, holding onto the stall door to steady himself on his peglegs, and cautiously opened the door.

Nobody was there, and his foot was still laying there on the floor where he had dropped it.

He scooped it up and looked in the mirror at his face, which seemed surprisingly calm, and seemingly in consultation with his own reflection, Ridalfo decided that he'd better just go home and not finish out his shift.

He hopped and hobbled his way to a side exit, where he used his service keys to disable the emergency alarm and opened and closed the door, quickly, stepping out into the side alleyway that was not much more than four feet wide, and which was a little damp and dark.  He looked both ways, decided to head to the lesser-traveled street behind the museum, where he could keep away from crowds leaving offices and heading home or to restaurants or cafes, people leaving the air-conditioned boredom of work to breath the fresh, still-hot air of the day as they went off to live their lives for another night.

Ridalfo hopped and jumped and got himself 2/3 of the way down the alley towards the sidewalk when he realized there was a problem.  A piece of board, a broken slat of a packing crate or something, had been below him when he stepped and it had pop! adhered to his right ankle and now he was walking on that.

Ridalfo patted his feet in his waistband and leaned back against the wall, wondering if he should just make do, for now.  He gingerly picked the board off, then put it back, then stepped on it again.

He rubbed his forehead and looked around the alley.  He saw another slat, a similar one, and he pressed his left ankle to it, felt the pop! and looked at his new, solid-wood, flat feet, one of which stared up at him with the partially-stenciled name of a kind of orange he could buy at the supermarket, if he wished.

Ridalfo began to have an idea, as he looked at his feet and thought about what awaited him, at home.  He watched, about 40 feet away, as the occasional person walked by the end of the alley, and he decided to sit down and think this idea through.

Something moved, near him, and he thought at first it was a rat.


At what point, do you ever wonder, do things become a thing?

You were once things, as was everything.  Every thing around you including you was once a separate group of things that came together, and once enough of those things came together, you were no longer things but a thing, and, it seems, a thing that never wondered whence it came.

There is no secret number, no magic formula, no set amount, you can know, now.  It is not that you must have so much of this or just a bit more of that to become a thing, a thing that can move and breath and roar and kiss and try to escape from a cellar or find its way home.  The things just keep grouping together until they are a thing, and sometimes those things are very small.  Sometimes those things are very large.  Sometimes those things hold together a very long time, or a very short time.

Some of those things want to kill you.

Others just want to show you the nature of things.

It is, to be sure, very difficult to tell the difference between those two goals.


"Are you all right?" the voice is one of a lady, and she is looking at him with concern.  Ridalfo jerks upright with a start.  Had he drifted off? Fallen asleep? Here in this alley?

It is not an alley.

It is a hospital room, the sort of room that can only be a hospital room: Small, painted a dull blue, with a counter and sink and cabinets and a bed and him in that bed and machines beeping behind him.

There is a tube going into his hand.

Oh, no, he thinks.

That is not good.

A nurse is looking at him.  She is pretty, very pretty, sexy, even.  Are all nurses sexy? Maybe because of how they dress? Or because they can heal you?

"Sir? Can you hear me?  Can you understand me?"  She is fiddling with the tube, and looking at her watch, and then is looking into his eyes.  Ridalfo does not answer.  He looks at his legs, beneath the sheets.  The boards, the crate slats that were his feet, are gone.  The spoon that was his finger is gone.

He can feel that the tube is part of him.

"I'll go get a doctor.  Don't get up," she tells him, and she leaves the room.

Ridalfo looks at the small window, which looks out onto a dark street with a building full of lighted windows across from it, trying to remember which hospitals are in this city and therefore figure out where he might be.

His phone is sitting on the bedside stand and he picks it up, looks at the time on it.  It is past time that he should be done with his shift, and he sees that he has missed four calls, all from the museum.  They had been looking for him.

How had he blacked out?

What had happened?

The doctor comes in, looks him over.

"You seem to be none the worse for the wear," he says.  "Lucky you were found there."

"Where?" he asked, finally.  "Where was I?"

The doctor is looking at his hand.

"You were in an alley, Oscar," he says.  "Did you get hit on the head?" Now the doctor is running his hands over Ridalfo's head, and Ridalfo realizes that he is bald, which comes as a shock to him.

"What did you call me?" he asks.

The doctor has finished touching his bare scalp.

"What happened to you, Oscar?" he asks, looking Ridalfo in the eyes.

"Ridalfo," Ridalfo tells him firmly.  "My name is Ridalfo."

The doctor purses his lips and shines a small penlight into Ridalfo's eyes, first in the left, then in the right.  Ridalfo squints at each.  The doctor picks up Ridalfo's hands.

"Squeeze," he says.

A few moments later the doctor says "Well, there's no sign of head injury or trauma, but I suppose we'd best get you checked out.  I'll order an X-ray and an MRI.  Someone will be in here in a bit to take you down."

"Ridalfo," Ridalfo tells him again.

"See you in a bit," the doctor says.  He leaves.

Ridalfo then pats his head, starting at the top where there is no hair and certainly not his own curly hair, not even thinning yet, bushy and needing a haircut, a tight curl that almost looks like a wig, never needing really to be combed: when he washes it in the morning, it dries and pops back up like a sponge.

His ears are too big, and seem to be further back than they should be.

His mouth feels saggy and with a bit of horror, and resignation, he realizes that he has jowls.  He has also, it seems, grown a moustache.

He reaches for the pants that were hanging over the back of a small wooden chair next to the bed.  He doesn't know anyone named Oscar and cannot recall meeting someone with a moustache, at least not right now, but he is shaken up.

He pulls out the wallet. It is his wallet.  He fumbles for the driver's license and looks at it, at first unknowingly, the face on the driver's license not his, and not immediately recognizable.  The address, the address, it is... next to his house?

His neighbor.

He recognizes the face.

It is his neighbor.

The man who listens to the radio.

Ridalfo is able to find the phone on the edge of the table.  His fingers (are they his? are they him?) punch numbers, punch again, he gets a series of maddening tones before figuring out how to dial out.

An orderly walks in.

Ridalfo has the phone at his ear, waves the man away.  The man has a wheelchair and is mumbling that Ridalfo must get in.

Why had Oscar stolen his head?  On the sixth ring the phone is audibly picked up on the other end, but he hears nothing.

"Hello? Hello? Is this Oscar? Is this Oscar?" he is shouting into the phone.

There is a muffled banging clanking on the other end of the line, and Ridalfo says "What have you done to me?" before slamming the phone down and putting his head in his hands.

The orderly pats him on the shoulder.

"Come on," he says. "Doctor wants to take a look inside your head."


Once, upon a time? perhaps, although time had not yet been invented, there were rules upon rules upon rules all vying for supremacy, these rules like little bolts of energy through the fabric of the universe, some of them strong, some of them weak.

The rules, as you think of them -- THE rules, or The Rules -- are not the ONLY rules.  They are just the rules that are winning, the rules that for now hold sway, here and there, but there are other rules out there, think of them as snakes, crawling under your house and one day they get in and what you thought was a house is now a jungle.

It is these other rules that make the world a place you do not understand.

And never will.


The orderly leans in to help Ridalfo pick himself, with his lack of feet, out of the bed, and Ridalfo does not want to go.  He pushes at the man's shoulder, then changes tactics and pulls at the man's arm.

It comes off, with a pop!

It comes off, with a pop! and Ridalfo who is not Oscar as well as the orderly stare at it.

The orderly is coming to grips with what happened, and Ridalfo, not one to waste an opportunity,  puts the arm aside and pulls at the orderly's other arm, and it, too, comes off with a pop! and the orderly begins to yell, incoherently, words that are not words.


Ridalfo, four-armed, stands on the ground behind the hospital.  There will be some sort of inquiry but a four-armed, no-footed man cannot stay around and has no reason not to climb out the window and down the three stories to the ground, especially because he can, easily, with his four arms, even without feet.

He runs, now, like a monkey or a spider, his stumps of legs not helping him but bent at the waist, back stiff, he can use his extra arms like legs and he scurries down the side street.  It is dark, and he is wearing only a hospital gown, and he has too many arms and not enough feet, but he knows where he is and where he must go. He hides behind hedges, he ducks into alleyways -- staying far away from other scurrying things -- and in 30 minutes, maybe 40, he is there.

On his street.

Where his house stands, The Conglomeration still (he hopes!) trapped inside it, and where Oscar's house stands, Oscar, who must see more than he knows, must have seen... what? The Conglomeration? Ridalfo bringing things home?

Oscar has stolen his head and Ridalfo scurries around the back, the alleyway, to the back porch where Oscar's house, and his neighbor's, and Ridalfo's own, are only two feet apart and their porches almost shared.

He looks worriedly at his house, dark, and quiet and still.  He wonders if The Conglomeration is still there.  He needs to get his head back and go home and face that thing and put this all back the way it was.

He tries not to remember how his own feet would not go back on his own legs and tries not to wonder where his feet were, and he pushes against Oscar's back door.  It is locked.  With one of his new hands he rattles the doorknob and then with his old hand he pushes it, and then with two hands he picks up one of the work boots outside the door and smashes angrily through the window of the door, beating it ferociously with the boot, far more than he needs to to break the window, and he realizes that he is yelling over and over






in time with the rhythm of the boot.  And he realizes as he slows down that there is a metal, clanking, sound, a shuffling, and he sticks his head into the door and he sees a man crumpled on the floor of the tiny kitchen, but it is not a man.

It is not a complete... man.

Ridalfo backs slowly away from the door as the man.  The man? The man, stands up and Ridalfo sees that this man has only one arm, the other arm is a collection of things, a stapler, a whisk broom, a bottle of lemon-y cleaning spray, it looks as though someone was told to build an arm and given only the contents of a back closet to work with, but that is still better than dwelling on the fact that the man, Oscar, his neighbor who he came here to challenge, has a half of a plaster cast of a triceratops skull for  his own head.

Where the other half of the mold Ridalfo swiped from the museum not three months ago might be, Ridalfo does not know.  A low moan involuntarily escapes his mouth -- Oscar's mouth, now his -- as he stares at this and realizes that it was not Oscar who stole his head.

He stops banging the boot on the now-empty windowframe of the door and turns to look at his house, which, he realizes, is open to anyone who might want to come in because the back door, locked this morning, is slightly ajar.


Things must decide what they are to be, and rules help them decide that, by channeling things into areas.

But things can buck that trend, can resist, can alter the currents of fate and math and can become other things, can move and twist and turn and cause rules to blend together or fade out for a while, can maniuplate the rules like threads on a loom or strings of a guitar, plucked softly and slowly in a sad progression of chords.

Once, a thing existed so terrible and awe-inspiring that it could not be tolerated by many other things.  This thing, you should call it something but it could have almost any name, so make up your own for it, came together with the blended power of white dwarf stars and giant blue whales and tiny stinging bugs and thunder, which used to be alive but was killed by this thing, the entire then-living Thunder coming early on to challenge this thing and force it to fight.

This thing was, at the time that Thunder arrived on the great plains to challenge it, still somewhat small, but very powerful. Deceptively powerful, and Thunder immediately knew it was in for a fight.

But some things may not be tolerated, and Thunder bellowed and boomed and shook the ground and rolled and pounded, and when it was done,

when it was done,

when Thunder was finished,

this thing just stood there watching, and this thing then reached out and caressed Thunder's face, with a hollow talon made up of dozens of crocodile tails taken while those animals slept, and so great was the evil energy of this thing that Thunder collapsed, then and there, simply disintegrated, its mighty bellows of pain and fear at what was happening to it echoing forever more around the clouds, over and over, the sounds you hear at night and in hot weather now simply the reverberations of the anguished sobs of a being struck down.

The thing took Thunder's body, and made it into wings and now the thing could fly.


Ridalfo ran from Oscar, of course, thinking I cannot help him and he scurried to his own house, pausing outside the open door and peering in.

It is quiet.

He does not know whether he is more scared to go in, or to stay out.  Finally, he pushes lightly against the door and creeps in, the kitchen dim and full of shadows. He lurks near the edges, walks on his four arms and two stumpy legs into the den, where his chair is lit by the streetlights.  The television is gone.  The chair is still there.

Upstairs, his bedroom: empty.  Parts of the bed appear to be missing.

He pauses at the door to the cellar, behind the staircase, but it does not matter: the door is clearly unlocked, and has been, in fact, ripped from the hinges and replaced carefully.

He goes downstairs, without turning on the lights, and looks around.  The washer, the dryer, both there. The coat rack he was going to repair, the boxes of things left behind when Taria moved out, his winter clothing:  all undisturbed.

A sound above.

He looks at the top of the stairs, sees, improbably, his own face in the half-light from the kitchen, but it sits atop a jumble of other pieces, electronics and bones and tiny wrenches and a mishmash of other things that he sees to quickly to register and then the thing, him, The Conglomeration! is turning around and the door is being slammed shut against him!

He has rushed up the stairs faster than he thought possible and he pounds against the door as on the other side, The Conglomeration pushes it back into its frame.  The two of them struggle, and Ridalfo gets his fingers, the fingers of two arms, through the crack of the door, but his stump-legs betray him on the narrow stairs and he slides down, tumbling to the dirt floor where he quickly gets up again and charges up the stairs, but The Conglomeration has braced something now against the door and he cannot move it.

"Let me out!" he howls.  "Let me out!"

He shrieks that and wails it and moans it and when his voice gets hoarse he rasps it, until he can only whisper:

"Let. me. out."

And he slumps there, sobbing, still weakly pushing against the door that traps him.


The thing could fly and could take other things and it grew larger, stronger, more hateful.  It began to be powerful enough to warp the rules itself, able to alter the currents of power that flowed through the universe. It began to worry more of the other things that lived.

It would be tempting to say that there were more strange and wonderful and, yes, frightening, beings that existed back in that time, but that is not the case.  There were simply fewer mundane creatures in existence, yet, and so the world seemed more fantastic and unbelievable and, yes, frightening, than it does now, when the things that lurked back then have become a smaller percentage of all that exists.  They are still there, many of them if not all of them, and they exist among and between the rest of the world, slipping in and out of knowledge, but the mundane world has multiplied and multiplied and so the fantastic and frightening -- the creatures and objects and rules that truly merit those descriptions -- seem scarce and nonexistent to those, like you,  who wander through the world thinking only of eggs for breakfast and work on Saturday, how you hate it, and who therefore are not ready when those others make themselves known.

The thing, back then, flew and circled the world, and it changed the rules, altered them, made other beings weaker.  It was responsible for the extinction of unicorns, and it nearly prevented the creation of music, but other beings took note of this one's power, other beings who had let Thunder die, fated it to rattle emptily around the heavens for all eternity, and these other beings decided that the thing must be broken and its rules destroyed.  It was too powerful, already, and any more power would let it take over.

Many of them got together, and most of them agreed on a plan.  A few disagreed and objected and went to warn the thing.

They were killed before they could get very far, all but one of them, who climbed up the highest tree in the world and saw the thing flying towards it, and waved its claws until the thing noticed it.  When the thing flew near, this creature told it what was planned, and the thing thanked it by disassembling it and rebuilding it as part of the thing's heart, a gratitude by which the creature was not itself pleased.


Ridalfo awakes with a start as he feels a tugging at him, at his arms and he screams hoarsely as he realizes that The Conglomeration has opened the door while he slept and had already removed a leg and now was taking an arm.  He pulls back but hears the familiar pop! and his arm is gone.

One-legged, three-armed, he tries to stop the thing from closing the door on him again but fails, and is shut in the dark, listening to thudding, stomping as The Conglomeration does something outside the door, pieces dropping.  He gets down and peers under the crack of the door.  He can see...

his feet!

walking amidst a collection of junk, and he knows what it is The Conglomeration is doing now and knows that he must stop it.  Forgetting, he tries to stand and keels over on his one-stump leg and falls, rattlingly, down the stairs, where he lies bruised and sobbing with the cold truth of what comes next.

When the feeling passes, he is left with just a lump in his throat and a headache, and he lays on his side and peers around the gloom of the basement, one small window letting light in.  It is lamplight from the street.  It is still night.  There is still time to do what he would rather kill himself than do, only that is not true, because he would not rather die, or he would have let the thing kill him, disassemble him and end it.

Would that end it?

Where would it end?  If replacing his head had not ended his life as Ridalfo, what would?  Would he live on, conscious, as part of this thing, this Conglomeration?  Would he eventually fade out? Become part of it?


You probably think you know how this story ends.

You probably think that thing that flies is destroyed, but its energy lurks about for milennia, eons, maybe, and that it has now found a way back out and is again building itself.

You are wrong.

The thing won.  It won the fight.  It won the first Last Battle and destroyed the other things that lived, destroyed them or accreted them into itself, lashed at them with energy and teeth, with light and dark, smothered them, ate them, chewed them up and spit them out and became more powerful than ever, more powerful than it believed it could have, and it soared over the world, over worlds, roaring and howling with might, growing ever more monstrous and ever more desirous of new parts, until it was a dragon, a serpent, a wolf, a bear, it was every animal and every planet, it was comets and stars and meteors and even black holes, stretching across galaxies that it blotted out, and then, when it was too big, it exploded, each particle of each being of each thing of each solar system of each galaxy that had made it up breaking down into finer and finer parts, doing so before it had consumed the entire universe but just barely, the rest of creation hiding in the outer reaches of all that existed, cowering on desolate moons and behind tiny stars or in the nooks and crannies of swampy planets, the thing exploded and began to break down, and the rest of the remaining universe charged in and tried to use the thing's own power against it, tried to accumulate pieces for themselves, tried to grow and become more powerful, showed that desire to gain, to add to, to incorporate was one of the strongest forces alive, and they fought and fought amongst themselves and amongst the remaining pieces of the thing, which still had some life, and eventually all were dead, all the things that had lived at that time-- all except the thing itself, which had won.

And except also for the moon, which had run to the other side of the universe.


Ridalfo first picks the hacksaw.  It should take him a moment, or maybe a while, to absorb and be okay with what he begins doing, but maybe his mind is already running automatically and maybe the act of taking apart the orderly has done the work of reorganizing his mind into something that can do this, and so almost before he could decide he had decided and he took his arm off, his own left forearm, and replaces it with a hacksaw.

Then pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! his right forearm is a hammer with fingers of small wrenches.

He does not want Oscar's head but does not want no head either, he is not sure what will happen if he takes his head off, whether he would go with it and a new monster would have most of his body or whether he stays with his body.  He does not know the complete rule that makes this possible, this transformation, this rebuilding, he just knows, by trial and error, that it does work, it does but he must be careful about how he tests it, and so he decides to keep most of his body.  The door to the washing machine is ripped off and becomes his chest, though, and he builds a new leg out of small shovels and other gardening apparati.

Clink clank clunk he puts metal parts on his arms, he builds six arms, altogether, and three legs, because why not? He will figure out how to remove them and rebuild himself once he has his head back, for as he assembles himself he has been thinking thinking thinking thinking thinking and he figures he does not need his original legs and arms.  He can get legs and arms from

... his mind finally makes him say others to himself, to realize that he is talking about stealing parts from other people.  Maybe criminals he thinks, that he will be like Robin Hood and take limbs only from criminals, but that is only a little better...

...and he can maybe figure out how to put his own head back on most of his body when he has The Conglomeration defeated.

He opens the door to the kitchen, struggling, pushing, heaving with his many arms and legs scrabbling for purchase, for he is built for fighting, and not for lifting, but he wedges it far open enough to get out into the kitchen, and he looks around in the darkness, sees nothing.

Outside, the horizon is gray and daylight will be here soon.  Where is it? Where is the creature, The Conglomeration? Where is his head?

Ridalfo regrets ever beginning to build it, and he does not know why he did it.  It just seemed a lark, a thing to do, walking home that moonlit night looking at the tooth he had taken, a paleozoic or something tooth from a shark that had not been classified or logged yet and so was free for the taking, and it had sat on Ridalfo's desk for a while until it was joined by a magnifying glass, one that Ridalfo had simply pocketed one day while he mopped the offices, it was sitting on a chair and he'd taken it, and when he'd put it next to the shark tooth the two had joined together, almost as if magnetic, and he had been fascinated by that.


It was just the moon and the thing, alone in the universe, and now the moon had nowhere to hide.  The moon  had already run to the sky to escape one enemy and now had run to the far end of creation to escape another, and this plan was not working, so the moon turned to face its enemy, who had eaten all the rules except this one, the one that let it take parts and animate them and join them.

The moon stared at the thing, and the thing stared back.

The moon needed some rules of its own.

But only a god could make rules out of nothing.


Ridalfo sits and waits, on the couch.

It is getting too light out and he could not see himself stalking the streets, three-legged, six-armed, armor-headed.

So he watches the morning news, an MP arrested for solicitation, taxes to increase, a general strike of some union or the other, the weather to be hot and sunny that day with maybe some rain in the north later in the week.

He drums his fingers on the edge of the table next to him, a cup of coffee steaming untouched. He made it out of habit, then smashed the coffeepot to pieces and took the shards and poppoppoppoppoppoppop! placed them all on the backs of his hands and arms.

He waits and his coffee grows colder as the sun rises up over the horizon and then he hears it, a thump! or clump! on the back porch.

He rises and stands there as The Conglomeration enters.

It has become more human, yet, and he gasps, alerting it to his presence.  There is almost no way to tell that this thing, this thing with his head, was once a pile of discards- and not-yets from the museum, a craggy rocky pile of mishmash that had come to life and attacked him.  It is almost human, The Conglomeration, and it stares at him from his own eyes, the thing that has almost become human eyeballing the thing that has almost completely abandoned its humanity.


The moon stared at the thing.

The thing stared back at the moon.

Both new that only one would survive this battle.

The moon's heart raced.

Then the moon reached inside itself and pulled out its own heart, glowing and glimmering and shimmering and flickering with all the magic of the moon, all the mystery and wonder of the moon, and held it up before the thing.

It takes a great deal of power to create a god, and some of that power must be left over to create the rules.

The moon opened up its heart and let all the energy contained in it, out.

In doing that, the moon died, its body going cold and lifeless and white, all color and energy fleeing from it, the moon shriveling up into a tiny ball and hugging itself to try to contain at least some warmth against the cold of space, to keep itself alive long enough to do what it must do, spinning around itself as its energy first coursed through the moon and then back out, shaping a new universe that would eliminate the old, hateful rules, including the one that let the thing live, that would make a beautiful new universe that looked like the moon, a universe of pleasure and happiness and wonder and light, but the moon was not powerful enough to do that for an entire universe.  Its rules fled from its body and the body itself grew colder and colder and the moon saw, in its last fleeting glimpses of the universe it had known and the universe it was creating, that it would not work entirely, and so the moon with its final act as a living, sentient thing, opened up again and trapped the thing where the moon's own heart had been, killing it and containing much of its evil.

But not all, not all.

The moon was not big enough or powerful enough to capture and trap all the rules.

Some, including the bad ones, escaped.

The moon, dead now, was powerless to prevent their infiltration into its universe, a universe that instead of what the moon had hoped for was largely empty, devoid of air and light and filled with dark, dark dark dark that pooled around and contained the bright spots of life the moon had tried to create, leaving each alone in its own pool of dark, and leaving the moon rolling around and around in a circle, sleeping in death forever.

But at least, you can think, the moon gave you a chance!

A chance to live some sort of life among the terrors that surround you, most of which you will never see, until you do see them and then you will be thankful, like the moon was, that you had, before seeing them, lived a little, at least. What you do with that chance is up to you, and good luck to you.

You will need it -- and you will not have it.  But good luck to you!


Ridalfo cannot win, but he does not know that, and so though the fight is brief, it is furious, and he charges at this thing in his body, which charges back at him, and while Ridalfo slashes and hammers and snarls and claws, the thing expertly dodges around, using its trickery and knowledge of what, exactly, it must do, and it pulls and tweaks with a genius insight.

Ridalfo takes his hacksaw arm and swings it wildly at The Conglomeration's chest, hoping to spare his own head.  The Conglomeration, though, backs up and follows the swing, grabbing the dull edge of the saw and pulling pop! and the saw is harmless in the corner.


When The Conglomeration has ducked down to get behind Ridalfo, Ridalfo spears his trowel-foot down onto its leg, missing the flesh but pinning the pants to the floor, only to realize that the leg itself is suddenly numb, no not numb just not attached, it is falling into separate pieces, too, each kicked by a human foot into separate areas of the room and far enough that they will not rejoin.

Ridalfo had been planning a fight but this is not a fight.

It is a dismantling.

Ridalfo spins, not quickly enough, and feels a chill wind on his back.  Something else has been removed.

He now pummels wildly and creates huge gashes in the wall, gets his arm caught momentarily on the arm of the sofa, pulls back, feels a twinge, and the arm crumbles to the floor.

Before long -- in less than two minutes -- Ridalfo, sweat dripping into his own eyes, has only one leg left, which he weakly kicks in the direction of The Conglomeration, standing over him, staring at him wordlessly and lifelessly, and it is this which will haunt Ridalfo's long nightmares in the years to come: his own eyes, staring at him, devoid of any sign of life or hope or kindness or even energy, his own dull lifeless eyes staring at him without emotion as they guide hands that might have once been human to take apart the thing that Ridalfo has become, bit by bit.

Ridalfo watches as these parts of him that he has built into himself are picked up and separated, are put several feet apart from each other.  He cannot see the entirety of his living room,  where, inanely, the television is still on, a game show blaring in the background.  He can see the screen, he can see a fat woman with a terrible hairdo jumping up and down and clapping her hands joyfully as an amount of money is flashed on a screen, and this distracts him as The Conglomeration begins cleaning up.

The creature walks into the room and picks up two pieces of what has lately been Ridalfo and then disappears, and then comes back in a few minutes, and does the same, until the room is devoid of pieces of Ridalfo but for his torso and his one leg and his head that is not his.

The game show is now over and a report on farming conditions drones about the price of wheat.

Ridalfo cannot breath, he feels, although he must be, or wouldn't he be dead?

Is he dead?

If so, when did it happen?

The Conglomeration comes back in and stands over him again, staring down again from eyes that once were Ridalfo's.

Then it picks his leg pop! and his chest pop! and Ridalfo's head, Oscar's head made his, slowly rolls to the side until it is looking under the couch.  He does not see The Conglomeration leaving the room, left to stare in the only direction he can, under his couch.

A spare key that he thought he had lost is under there, together with a news magazine from last year.

In a minute, the farm report has ended.  A commercial for ice cream is on.  Ridalfo wants to cry, but cannot, and he feels a human hand pick his head up.  He is carried, a head alone, through his kitchen and down into the basement, where he sees that there are now boxes and crates and cabinets, each newly shut up, each containing, he presumes, pieces of the Ridalfo that thought he could fight The Conglomeration.

He is put, his head, Oscar's head, is put into a box, and the lid is closed.


CLICK HERE for a list of more horror stories by Briane Pagel


Andrew Leon said...

This is the same story you posted before, right? Glancing through it, it looks like it. If so, I really like this one (but don't have time, at the moment, to read it again).

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