A Night with Neither a Beginning Nor an Ending.
April 20, 2014
A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark
Lincoln could feel the heat of the flame as it roared through the broken front door of the asylum and began stalking its way down the corridor. Smoke from the outside streets was spilling through the broken glass of the window and turning the room a darker shade of gray.
His eyes were burning.
His lungs were bursting.
Would the world end with fire?
Or with water.
That had been the final question of the ages.
Now Lincoln knew.
He balanced himself, leaning against Celia’s shoulder. He scanned the room. The yellowed light bulb was growing dim. The air was pungent with the smell of burning wood. Other than the dead – other than Gusarov and Nathan, an old man who waited too long to die and still died far too soon – he and Celia were alone.
Even the hallway was empty.
The inmates had fled to the city, mad men among mad men.
It was better that way.
No bombers overhead.
No bombs tearing apart the city.
No sirens wailing.
No screams from the crippled and the dying.
Dalldorf had gone mute.
“What happened to the German?” Lincoln asked.
“No one mentioned his name.”
“The little guy go with him?”
Celia nodded toward the shroud lying on the floor.
The image had grown brighter, the colors more vivid. The bolt of lightning flashed in the sky and Lincoln could smell the odor of rotting beams that held the bridge and gate in place. The planks were old and scarred. The wood had been bruised and beaten by bad days and worse weather. It was ragged with splinters – wet with tears and some the color of blood.
Lincoln stared again at the edge of the abyss as it reached the edge of the cloth as daylight reaches the edge of a flat earth. He saw the darkness above and below, even in an ancient and sacred painting. He felt the wind grow colder and he expected the freezing rain to be whipping hard against his face. He knelt on top of the shroud and touched the lava rock earth.
The ground around him no longer existed. For a long and painful moment, he felt as if he would fall into a black chasm and fall for eternity. There was neither a ceiling above nor a floor below.
He clung to the shroud.
He clung to his sanity.
He clung to what he knew was real, and he knew nothing was real or had ever been real.
Life was time.
And time was life.
Time was no more.
And life was the great lie.
It ended at the edge of the abyss.
There would be no beginning.
The painting was bathed in streaks of a pale green and yellow light and illuminated in the distance by ragged blades of lightning cutting their way like a surgeon’s scars across a purple sky.
“The Germans opened the gate to the painting and walked through,” Celia said as she sat beside him. “They knelt as you are kneeling, and Heim reached out and placed his fingers on the gate. It opened. I could almost hear the rusty hinges. The far side was black as the night, and it was without stars or a moon or light of any kind. Heim entered the darkness, and he was laughing out loud. I’ve heard men go mad who laughed the same way. It was as though he simply parted a curtain and crawled behind it. He had managed to escape a world that wanted him dead. He beat the odds. He beat us all. He vanished on the other side of the gate, and the little pharmacist didn’t hesitate. He whispered a prayer – I think it was a prayer – took one step and the darkness swallowed him up.”
“You saw them go,” Lincoln said.
“We all thought it was a myth,” Celia said. “At least I did, but I was wrong. The painting is the doorway to another world, to another life in a place that man cannot explain or understand.”
“The German won’t like it,” Lincoln said.
“He is the victim of his own torment.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve been there.” Lincoln paused, looked at Celia and held her close against his bleeding chest. “We’ve both been there,” he said softly.
Celia remained silent for a moment, then said, “I thought it was a nightmare.”
“Maybe for you it was,” Lincoln said. “But not for me. On the other side of the gate, time has been torn. It’s like a narrow and ragged gash in the sky. You leave the same way you enter. The gate opens both ways.”
“I saw you leave,” Celia said.
“You wouldn’t come with me.”
“No.” Celia sighed. “The tattooed man said it wasn’t my time,” she said. “But I found you and still I don’t know how or why.”
“The German won’t be alone when he arrives,” Lincoln said.
“The little pharmacist went with him.”
“The little pharmacist will be worthless on the other side.” Lincoln paused, then said, “Caples will be waiting for the German.”
“He will be waiting for his money.
Lincoln grinned. “He’ll be waiting with a shotgun,” he said.
The silence was broken by the crackling of burning wood. The smoke had grown thicker, more acrid, more pungent. Smoke had turned from white to black. Flames were licking at the door facing leading out into the corridor.
“Then Heim may not be gone for good,” Celia said. “If he left, he knows how to get back.”
Lincoln stood, uneasily rocking back and forth, holding the shroud in his hands. “Not anymore,” he said.
He turned slowly and painfully, tossing the painting onto the fire that was boiling up in the doorway.
He held Celia and watched it burn.
The colors grew more vivid as the fire touched the wooden bridge.
The gate crumbled into ashes.
The bridge collapsed and fell into the chasm.
Ashes to ashes.
The fire burned hotter.
Then no more.
Lincoln thought he heard someone scream.
It may have been his imagination.
He waited until the painting, the Night Side of Dark, once described as the world’s most valuable piece of art, turned an ashen gray and scattered like dust and powder into the cinders, then he crawled with Celia through the broken window and dropped into the snow.
It was cold against his fevered skin.
As he stood, Lincoln allowed himself one final glance back into the room.
The Night Side of Dark faded to black, as dark as a night that had no ending and no beginning, and Lincoln was like the night. If morning came, it would be a miracle.
Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on Saturday and Sunday.
Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.