Friday, October 27, 2017

"Peacock Therapy," complete part two

II.


“So Corbin, you ever fool around with the girls?” Dr. Phillpots inquired as he tapped Corbin on the shoulder and pointed him to the leather wingback chair positioned against the canted bay window that looked out on the docks.

The leather groaned as Corbin eased into the chair. An identical chair sat opposite, with a textured glass table, featuring a bowl of mints, interceding. Corbin glanced anxiously at the ancient cuddy cabin boats tethered below, rocking in the twilight breeze.

“Or maybe you like the boys?” Dr. Phillpots muttered as he searched his desk and gathered his notes, which consisted of a legal pad and a wodge of loose scraps. “I understand teenagers are more open these days.” When he returned and sat in the chair opposite, Corbin shook his head. Dr. Phillpots raised his peaked brows. His owlish pupils hung under a precipitous forehead and above a sharp nose balancing a pair of reading glasses. Salt and pepper wisps thickened at his temples to cover the helices of his ears.

“No? And no business with the girls, huh?” he asked. Corbin shook his head again. “Well, you’re young—let’s see.” He paused to look through his notes. “Fourteen. That’s young.” He studied the young man’s face for a moment. Corbin’s bangs hung down to his oily cheeks. His pursed lips concealed a web of gleaming braces. He had his left hand stuck in his jeans’ pocket, fiddling with something.

“Okay. I’m going to ask you a series of routine questions now,” Dr. Phillpots warned. “Just answer honestly.”

Corbin nodded.

“Ever do drugs, or drink alcohol?”

“No,” Corbin answered softly.

“No? What about smoking?”

Corbin shook his head.

“Okay, that’s good. Ever hear voices, or see things that aren’t there?”

“N-no.”

“Ever feel like hurting yourself or have suicidal thoughts, anything like that?”

Corbin paused before replying, “No.”

“What about hurting others? Any homicidal thoughts?”

Corbin shook his head.

“Excellent,” Dr. Phillpots declared. He lifted his wrist to show Corbin the face of his pin-lever watch. “Now here’s a puzzle for you: at noon, the minute hand and the hour hand are lined up, right? Twelve hours later, they’ll be lined up again. How many times do they cross—so that they’re lined up like that—during those twelve hours?”

“Um.” Corbin envisioned the clock hands spinning in the space between his eyes and the canted window panes. He tapped at the space to count each crossing. “Um, I think it would be, like, twelve? Because they cross every hour?”

“Close! Actually, it’s eleven. Each crossing adds a little bit more time to when the hands cross, past the hour mark. Every twelve hours, all those bits add up to an extra hour.”

Corbin frowned.

Dr. Phillpots scrawled a few notes on his legal pad. “So, let’s talk about what brought you here. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

The leather chirped as Corbin shifted in his seat again. His eyes began boring into the vaguely botanical spirals of the Tabriz rug spread out over the office’s mesquite floor. “I, um, wanted to see the peacocks in this place, a place where you’re not supposed to go? But I went anyway?”

“Mm-hm. I talked to your parents for a long time, on the phone. What I understand from them is that there was a lot more to it?” Dr. Phillpots peered down through his reading glasses at one of his scraps. “Let’s see: you were warned the first time by a security officer, but you went back anyway, and got caught. The officer called your parents to pick you up. Then you went back a third time, and got caught a third time. That time, they were going to call the police and have you arrested, but your parents managed to convince them not to, by promising to put you in treatment. Did I get that right?”

Corbin nodded.

Dr. Phillpots tilted his head. “So, what is so damn interesting about these peacocks?”

“T-they, um,” Corbin started. He pinched down hard on the object in his pocket, a plastic lenticular hologram of a peacock attached to his keychain, but it was too late—the question had already triggered a return of the image.

Corbin’s tear ducts ached as the image poured out from a focal point above his frontal sinus, spreading across his sinciput to its peripheral rim and blotting out Dr. Phillpot’s office. The image shuddered in its empyreal radiance, electrifying Corbin’s visual cortex. This was the image: on the frozen lip of a tiered fountain encrusted with icy fangs, an incongruous peacock perched. Even as moth-sized snowflakes fluttered down around it, the peacock thrust out its scintillating breast and raised its fan with all the poise of a dancer’s arabesque.

To banish the image, Corbin gripped the bridge of his nose with his right hand while furiously rubbing the hologram in his pocket with his left. At last the image melted away.

“Is something the matter?” Dr. Phillpots asked.

“No.” Corbin worked to regain focus. “So, but, um, the peacocks, they, um … I need to be like, near them, ‘cause of this image of a peacock I see, like, in my head? That keeps coming back?”

“Really?” Dr. Phillpots’ renewed interest caused him to tilt his eyes over the rim of his glasses. “What do you mean by ‘need’? Does this image make you do things?”

“No. It’s not like that. It’s like—the image goes away when I’m near the peacocks? Before, I could just, like, look at pictures of peacocks, that would make the image go away. Like, take the image out of my head and put it in the world, outside. But now, that’s not enough. I need to be close to the real thing now. Or something.” Corbin cast his eyes back down into the convolutions of the Tabriz rug. “It was the same way with the other two, before, but I found a way to get rid of those. I don’t think there’s a way to do that with the peacock. Or, at least, I’m afraid—I don’t know. Never mind.”

“The other two? Oh, wait.” Dr. Phillpots thumbed through his scraps until he found the note he was seeking and laid his index finger on it. “Your parents told me about this also. They said there were two other incidents, before this thing with the peacocks. Let’s see—a doll and a record player, is that it? You set the doll on fire and smashed the record player?”

Corbin shook his head. “No. A witch in effigy and a phonograph.”

Although the two older images no longer possessed the occulting power of the peacock, having both been in some way extinguished through the apotropaic magic of their tokens’ destruction, Corbin could still recall them.

In the first, the effigy of a witch was burning in an Italian village’s Spring Equinox rite. The witch glowered down from her broken wicker throne atop a daïs of stacked fascines. She had been pieced together out of a throw pillow with a crudely painted-on face, evening gloves stretched over sticks for fingers, a gray macramé shawl for hair, and a peasant dress propped up by a broomstick. Curtains of flames rose around her, consuming the fascines’ branches in a bursting bonfire, quickly reducing the witch to a charred skeletal figure.

Incited by the oppressive recurrence of this image, Corbin had managed to build an approximation of the effigy from components found in his parents’ closet and attic. He had then dowsed the effigy in lighter fluid and set it aflame atop a pile of pine-needles and balled up newspapers. His parents returned later that evening to find a smoldering black mass in their driveway.

The second image was of a phonograph placed on the ledge of a bell tower’s open belfry arch. Arrayed along the ledge beside it were five lit candles. Behind it the bronze-alloy bell hung from its headstock. The brass horn of the phonograph emitted a warbling instrumental version of the L’Internationale that echoed down through the night. Pistol shots aimed at the phonograph hit the belfry arch. A shot struck the turntable, which knocked the phonograph from the ledge. It tumbled end over and end and smashed to pieces against the bricks below.

To recreate this image, Corbin used his parent’s credit card to purchase a replica Victor Victrola phonograph from an online specialty retailer for several hundred dollars. When it arrived, he brought it out onto the roof and placed it on the rain gutter. He then climbed down into the yard and began firing quarter-inch bearing balls at it with a wrist-brace slingshot. Eventually, a ball struck the horn, causing the phonograph to tip over and smash apart on the concrete patio below. 

Dr. Phillpots had been tapping his pen against his notepad in contemplation. “A witch and a peacock. These are pretty potent symbols. Burning a witch in effigy is some sort of fertility rite, I think. And a peacock clearly represents the male, uh, urge to mate. I don’t know what the phonograph could be. Anyhow, this is what those questions at the beginning were about. You’re entering puberty now. Possibly, these images are suppressed sexual thoughts trying to get out. But, uh, where do you think they come from?”

“They’re from a Fellini movie,” Corbin replied.

“What?”

“It’s called Amarcord. An Italian guy named Fellini made it.”

Dr. Phillpots squinted at Corbin in a mild pique. “Yeah, I know who that is. I’m not sure I know this particular film—how do you say it, ‘amour court’?”

Am-ar-cord.

“Okay.” Dr. Phillpots jotted the title down. “But, what do you mean, they’re from this film? Your images are the same ones as in the film?”

Corbin nodded.

“When did you see this film? I assume you started seeing the images after.”

Corbin nodded. “The first image started, like, the same night after I saw it. It was, um, right after school started back, like, three months ago. It’s weird, I don’t know why I saw it? I was walking home and they were playing it. I guess I just decided to see it by myself cause, like, it only cost a couple dollars?”

Until that January afternoon, the Campanella Sun Theatre had never caught Corbin’s attention on his way to and from Montauk High, a few blocks away. The sagging marquee hung over warped French doors, beyond which only dark forms could be made out; the marquee’s letterboards featured mismatched, seldom rearranged characters, and the chase light sign had to make do with a third of its bulbs dead or broken. That afternoon, however, Corbin had left school early and was meandering along the sidewalk, indecisive about returning home, such that a “2$ Matinee” flyer taped to a placard was enough to entice him in. A tall man in a canola-oil spotted dress shirt seemed to be the Theatre’s sole employee. He grunted softly as he handed Corbin his ticket stub.

Corbin entered the narrow auditorium and found it empty. There hung over the raked rows of seats the smell of rancid butter sprayed with antiseptic. Corbin’s sneakers smacked when lifted from the lacquered floor as he walked down the center aisle to sit. When the lights dimmed, he remained the only viewer in the house. The audio strip of the 1974 print of Amarcord crackled and skipped.

Curiously, the picture seemed to contain a spheroid duplicate, seemingly laid within it at a fainter register, as if one of the projector’s compound lens components possessed both a spherical aberration and an optical filter for lower intensity light at certain wavelengths. This effect made Corbin dizzy. The film itself captivated him in its provincial pacing and parades of eccentric characters, perhaps because he had never seen anything like it. None of the three images that would later return to harass him stood out for him particularly during that viewing, though. 

“‘… Amarcord (the title meaning “I remember” in the Northern dialect of Fellini’s hometown of Rimini) returns to the director’s obsessions with the grotesqueries of the human form—specifically gargantuan breasts, buttocks, and warts—and the boundless lust of the naïve adolescent, this time through the genre stunts of the nostalgic memoir …’” Bending over his desktop monitor, Dr. Phillpots scrolled down through the onscreen text, humming to himself, before continuing: “‘… though often focused through the eyes of a teenage boy in the bloom of his sexual awakening, a boy who chafes against the ludicrous self-importance of his teachers and parents, as a kind of cinematic Entwicklungsroman, the film just as often strays off onto tangents about the fantasies of street peddlers, the ancient history of the town’s founding, the pompous processions and nighttime crimes of the Black Shirts, the perplexities and paradoxes of family and death …’”

“What is that?” Corbin asked.

“Huh?”

“What you’re reading.”

“Oh, a thing about the film, I don’t know what it is,” Dr. Phillpots replied. He clicked off the monitor and returned to his chair. “What it sounds like, with the ‘sexual flowering of a juvenile boy’ or whatever—it sounds like what I was talking about, though, don’t you think?”

Corbin frowned.

“Well, you can think about it.” Dr. Phillpots looked at his watch. “We need to finish up pretty soon. I want to show you a few things that I think will help before that. These techniques should stop you from seeing the same image over and over—what we call an ‘intrusive thought.’ At least, they should work well enough in the meantime, before our next session.”

The systematic desensitization, aversion therapy, and convert conditioning techniques that Dr. Phillpots then showed Corbin would turn out not to work well enough in the meantime, however.


                                                                                                              9.30.2017 (c)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Peacock Therapy," part 2.1

II.


“So Corbin, tell me, do you ever fool around with the girls?” Dr. Phillpots asked as he tapped Corbin on the shoulder and pointed him to the leather wingback chair positioned against the canted bay window that looked out on the docks.

The leather groaned as Corbin eased into the chair. An identical chair sat opposite, with a textured glass table, featuring a bowl of mints, interceding. Corbin glanced anxiously at the ancient cuddy cabin boats tethered below, rocking in the twilight breeze.

“Or maybe you like boys?” Dr. Phillpots muttered as he searched his desk and gathered his notes, which consisted of a legal pad and a wodge of loose scraps. “I understand teenagers are more open these days.” When he returned and sat in the chair opposite, Corbin shook his head. Dr. Phillpots raised his peaked brows quizzically. His owlish pupils hung under a precipitous forehead and above a sharp nose balancing a pair of reading glasses. Salt and pepper wisps thickened at his temples to cover the helices of his ears.

“No? And no business with the girls, huh?” he asked. Corbin shook his head again. “Well, you’re young—let’s see.” He paused to look through his notes. “Fourteen. That’s young.” He studied the young man’s face for a moment. Corbin’s bangs hung down to his oily cheeks. His pursed lips concealed a web of gleaming braces. He had his left hand stuck in his jeans’ pocket, fiddling with something.

“Okay. I’m going to ask you a series of routine questions now,” Dr. Phillpots warned. “Just answer honestly.”

Corbin nodded.

“Ever do drugs, or drink alcohol?”

“No,” Corbin answered softly.

“No? What about smoking?”

Corbin shook his head.

“Okay, that’s good. Ever hear voices, or see things that aren’t there?”

“N-no.”

“Ever feel like hurting yourself or have suicidal thoughts, anything like that?”

Corbin paused before replying, “No.”

“What about hurting others? Any homicidal thoughts?”

Corbin shook his head.

“Excellent,” Dr. Phillpots declared. He lifted his wrist to show Corbin the face of his pin-lever watch. “Now here’s a puzzle for you: at noon, the minute hand and the hour hand are lined up, right? Twelve hours later, they’ll be lined up again. How many times do they cross—so that they’re lined up like that—during those twelve hours?”

“Um.” Corbin envisioned the clock hands whirling in the space between his eyes and the canted window panes. He tapped at the space to count each crossing. “Um, I think it would be—like, twelve? Because they cross every hour?”

“Close! Actually, it’s eleven. Each crossing adds a little bit more time to when the hands cross, past the hour mark. Every twelve hours, all those bits add up to an extra hour.”

Corbin frowned.

Dr. Phillpots scrawled a few notes on his legal pad and sighed. “So let’s talk about what brought you here. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

Corbin shifted in his seat, and the leather groaned and chirped. His eyes began boring into the vaguely botanical spirals of the Tabriz rug spread out over the office’s mesquite-wood floor. “I, um, wanted to see the peacocks in this place, a place where you’re not supposed to go? But I went anyway?”

“Mm. I talked to your parents for a long time, on the phone. What I understand from them is there was a lot more to it?” Dr. Phillpots peered down through his reading glasses at one of his scraps. “Let’s see: you were warned the first time by a security officer, but you went back anyway, and got caught. The officer called your parents to pick you up. Then you went back a third time, and got caught a third time. That time they were going to call the police and have you arrested, but your parents managed to convince them not to, by promising to put you in treatment. Did I get that right?”

Corbin nodded.

Dr. Phillpots tilted his head. “So what is it about these peacocks that’s so interesting?”


9.30.2017 (c)

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Peacock Therapy," part one

I.


Corbin Knopf, age fourteen, had tried his best not to think of the peacocks—the swaying stalks of their coruscating blue necks, the spray of their brush-tipped crowns, the convex pivot of their meters-wide, fanned trains, with elongated coverts flashing arrays of their painted eyes.

His parents had brought him to a psychiatrist after he had been caught trespassing a third time into the gated neighborhood of Peacock Grove. He had been stalking after the peafowl there that strut between the citrus trees in the Grove’s central roundabout and drag their trains along the lawns, shedding their precious covert stems. It began one afternoon when Corbin had slithered on his belly through a gap between the iron gate’s lower lip and the gully running along the shady gravel road to the Grove. He was seeking the source of the spectral ululations he had heard from a nearby artery and identified at once as the cry of his favorite bird.

Security Officer Mandy Nutate, sitting in the logo-stamped microcar parked catawampus to the Gatehouse, had watched with languid amusement upon first spotting Corbin. He was crawling on hands and knees to position himself among the peafowl. It seemed he wished to inch as close as possible to them without drawing their attention. This was as much to be among them in their unconscious meanderings as to avoid spooking them.

With his palm-sized camera, Corbin began snapping apparently hundreds of shots of the dozen or so peafowl. He crouched to frame the birds among the encompassing crescent of waxy trunks. The peacocks turned elliptically to the dull gray peahens in the center of their group and shivered out their trains’ fans at them. The larger peacocks would now and then jerk their iridescent displays and dip their beaks threateningly toward the other males who edged too close to their intended mates. Corbin held his finger depressed on the autofocusing camera’s shutter release, filling its memory card; his eyes were as wide and glassy as the camera’s lens.

Officer Mandy was content to watch Corbin without interfering while she sat draining her bodega-purchased Suplex-Soda. Her wage was too pathetic to inspire in her any special jealousy over her ambit. Besides, the looping cobblestone lanes and yawning front yards had lain vacant in the sloping sun all afternoon. The only entities in Officer Mandy’s sight were a dragonfly twitching on the microcar’s windshield, the peafowl, and Corbin.  

Then she noticed Corbin collecting the stray coverts left in the wake of the peacocks’ spurts; he carefully coiled them to stow in his red tote bag. She feared questions from the residents. Specifically, the twin girls from the hacienda-style manse just above the roundabout who often harvested these feathers upon returning from aerial contortion practice would ask if the gardener had composted them. She imagined the twins’ mother, if she were to learn what happened, peppering the neighbors with portents of an insidious feather snatcher economy plaguing the Grove. Officer Mandy snorted and resigned herself to cautioning the boy.

She jammed her Suplex-Soda in the cup-holder and heaved out of the microcar. When she scanned the roundabout again, though, Corbin was gone. She threw herself back into the driver’s seat and flipped the ignition switch. The electric engine sang in a high-pitched glissando as she swung the microcar onto the cobbled lane in pursuit. After triggering the front gate remotely, she found Corbin half-way down the gravel road. She pulled into the shoulder ahead of him and got out. He stopped short and looked down at his sneaker, drawing an S in the dust with its toe.

“Hi, excuse me! Hi. Let me see what you got in your bag there,” Officer Mandy demanded, marching at him, her hand reaching forward.

“No, why?” Corbin asked defensively, tightening his hold on the tote bag’s handles.

“I saw you take those feathers,” Officer Mandy stated, frowning. He was not budging. She sighed. “Wellyou can’t just go in there uninvited. Did you know you were trespassing?”

Corbin nodded, his face etiolated.

“Uh huh. Don’t let me catch you in there again.”

Corbin nodded vigorously. He started off sprinting toward the freeway. Officer Mandy turned back to the microcar. She felt confident that would be the last of him.

The following afternoon, however, Corbin shimmied back in.  


9.15.2017 (c)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

ANAPESTIC HEROIC

In a moment of wonder those girls in the window had gasped.
In the street beyond towered a glittering machine that rasped.
It had dizzying arms full of lights and a spectrum of paints.
From its hands fell the dangling seats in which dips can cause faints.
All their wonder went spinning as workers rewired a spline.
But the machine vanished as the girls were recalled up to dine.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

ARISTOPHANIC COLLITERATION

Tell me a tale of droll tricks.
Sing me a song of choices.
Wind up my watch the witch way.
Feel down my fringe: the fringe feels.
Know that these nights are missed, so
let me say “love” once you leave.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

ANAPESTIC BROKEN

Every vehicle passes in urgently murmuring style.
Interchanging, they sweep on around between causeway and pyl-
    on. And on, from the morning, from the time of the lightening dark.
If the vehicles rattle their darkness, their onwards, they spark-
    le their turns through her sleep. Under glass that has frozen, she spins.
Even older, this cat in her sleep will still prick up her tins-
    el-hued ears at each rattling sweep, of these hours and this mile.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

ADONIC AICILL

Salt of the slack sea
slips through her free hair.
All will have care here,
beaches of drear days.
Cold are the glaze-glass
pools among grass slaked,
fetid of caked brine,
over which whine gulls.
Scroungers in lulls’ wash
fly from the splash, tricked,
ruffled then pricked back.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Politics of Horse Thieves: A Syllogism

1. Fascism is government by criminals.

Fascism is what happens when criminals attempt to rationalize their criminality through the apparatus of the state. There is no fascist ideology, no fascist set of principles, other than crime enabled by state power. Corruption, fraud, extortion, theft, torture, murder, rape—fascism has no other content, no other meaning than the will to crime of con artists, gangsters, thugs, and murderers who have dressed themselves up as statespeople.

2. Fascism within a state is a symptom of unchecked crime.

When fascists gain power within a constitutional democracy, it can only be because that state has systemically failed to hold a group of criminals to account. It can only be because the state's democracy itself is failing by allowing a criminal class to go unpunished, thereby permitting criminals to leverage their criminal power into state power.

3. The unchecked crime of our own state, and of global capitalism, is white collar financial fraud at the highest level.

Today the unchecked criminal class is the coterie of fraudulent financial firms and billionaires that caused the 2008 crash and that continue to siphon off state funds with no repercussions.

4. Ergo, our newly elected billionaire fraudster, fascist president, Donald*.

5. Ergo, the global surge of fascism, which is a symptom of liberal democracies’ systemic failure to hold plutocrats to account for their crimes.


---


*An April 5th, 2016 New York Times article ("Donald Trump Settled a Real Estate Lawsuit, and a Criminal Case Was Closed" by Mike McIntire) describes a case in which part of the terms of the settlement were that the plaintiffs were to state that they did not wish to participate in a criminal investigation into the same fraud charges their suit had been brought on, the result of which is that the criminal investigation was closed-- and nota bene, if a criminal investigation had gone ahead and resulted in charges, Donald would not now be president-elect:

"And hovering over it all was a criminal investigation, previously unreported, by the Manhattan district attorney into whether the fraud alleged by the condo buyers broke any laws, according to documents and interviews with five people familiar with it. The buyers initially helped in the investigation, but as part of their lawsuit settlement, they had to notify prosecutors that they no longer wished to do so.

"The criminal case was eventually closed."

This is how the super-rich get away with committing crimes that the rest of us would go to prison for.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Creepy Stories (On Themes Picked Randomly: No. 26)

Theme 821: Ordinary Objects


The tarantulas, coruscating chafer beetles, deathstalker and black emperor scorpions, white dragontail butterflies, and praying mantids, all frozen in lucite domes or cubes and lined up along bracketed shelves, did not interest Cyrus Quaich. Nor was his attention attracted by the barbastelle bats with outstretched wings, the hingeback tortoises with battered shells, the splayed hearts of jackrabbits and snakes, or the bleached resus monkey skeletons, also all suspended beyond the touch of time in light-refracting acrylic blocks. Cyrus was not diverted even when shown the plateglass-shielded lab in the basement, where oven-sized vacuum chambers, vats of formaldehyde and acetone, stacks of glass molds, and incandescent heat lamps were arrayed among numerous specimens left thawing or steeping atop steel counters.

Nevertheless, Cyrus listened patiently to Mr. Alastor, owner of Alastor’s Still Life Emporium, as he proudly rattled off the newest items in stock, noted which arachnid or amphibian might make an appropriate anniversary gift or living room curio, and elaborated on some of the concerns and hazards of procuring and properly fixating these critters.

It was only when Mr. Alastor turned the deadbolt on the heavy iron door behind the last supply shelf in the Emporium’s basement that Cyrus’ excitement began to return. Mr. Alastor pulled the single hanging lightbulb’s string to illuminate the closet beyond, which contained two tall cabinets on either side of a squat gunmetal vault-safe with a five-spoked handle. Beaming, Mr. Alastor gestured to the lucite-cast items displayed in the cabinets, which he described as among his finest work: human eyeballs with curving veiny stalks and intelligent emerald pupils; human hands gesturing in poses reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Adam or Raphael’s Zoroaster; human fetuses caught in developmental stages ranging from batrachian to fully formed.

Cyrus nodded appreciatively, but what he had come for was within the vault-safe. Mr. Alastor studied Cyrus in silence for a moment before crouching to reach for the combination lock. He twisted the dial clockwise, then counterclockwise until a bolt snapped, which allowed him to spin the handle and swing the door open. From inside he lifted out a buoy-sized sphere covered by a black silk sheet. As soon as he set the sphere down, Cyrus anxiously shoved him aside and tore the sheet away.

Petrified within the large lucite globe was a young woman’s head, sliced cleanly from her body at the bridge of her neck. The gasping terror of her last breath was still painted on her ovate face: her freckle-brushed cheeks were etiolated; her glistering sepia irises were nearly eclipsed by her dilating pupils; her poppy pink mouth hung open in a choked wail; her cropped tawny curls were flung out in an erratic corona.

Cyrus held the sphere in both hands and turned to Mr. Alastor. “I must have it. I’ll pay any amount,” he declared.

“I won’t take money for it,” Mr. Alastor revealed. “This piece demands a special price.”

“Anything,” Cyrus agreed.

“Id like you to write a confession that explains why you killed her,” requested Mr. Alastor, tapping the sphere above the young woman’s forehead.

“What?! I—” Cyrus began to protest but halted when he saw Mr. Alastor’s smile crawl up his sallow, concave cheeks. He realized Mr. Alastor had known all along that the head in the sphere had belonged to Cyrus’ fiancée, Eidolia Pearle. When a gossipy auctioneer had informed Cyrus of Mr. Alastor’s possession of the head, she had sworn that Mr. Alastor was ignorant of its origin; she had obviously been misledor instructed by Mr. Alastor to lie. Cyrus scanned Mr. Alastor’s crooked, gnarled form and reassessed the negotiation. He pulled himself up and retorted, “If you’re familiar with the case, then you’ll know I didn’t kill her.”

Mr. Alastor tittered and shook his head. “No, what you’ll know is that I know what the retriever of Ms. Pearle’s cranium knows. And that person witnessed the original crime scene.”

Cyrus shuddered, for Mr. Alastor was right. Indeed, Cyrus’ real purpose in locating Eidolia’s head was to discover who had taken it after cleaving it away so sharply, as with a massive razor. For some reason, this person had disposed of all the incriminating evidence Cyrus had left behind—the pair of kitchen shears covered in Cyrus bloody fingerprints, used to penetrate Eidolia’s throat; the tuft of his hair she had ripped from his temple; even the boot scuffs made as he bolted in panic from the rear porch. Cyrus had speculated that this thief would try to blackmail him, but at the same time the actions in question suggested that the thief might have independently planned to murder Eidolia for her head. Was this person in fact Mr. Alastor? What did Mr. Alastor really want? Turning back to the entrancing sphere, Cyrus began to wonder what he himself was truly seeking.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Alastor counseled. His surprisingly powerful fingers clutched Cyrus’ arm. “I’ll never show anyone else the confession. I promise. I just want it, er, for satisfaction’s sake. The object obviously belongs in your hands.”

Cyrus’ gaze lingered over the sphere. Eidolia’s bright, motionless eyes were pulling him backward, through their reflections of his face, to the instant of her death, trapping him in the past. Cold despair began to worm through his thoughts.

Finally Cyrus nodded his assent to Mr. Alastor’s proposal. In response, Mr. Alastor took the sphere from Cyrus’ hands and brought it to the far southern corner of the basement. There he put it on a wooden desk table, on which a clean sheet of typing paper and a sharp-nibbed fountain pen had been laid out in preparation. He pulled out the desk table’s chair and prompted Cyrus to sit in it. So as to resume contemplating Eidolia’s time-snaring eyes, Cyrus complied without hesitation. 

Mr. Alastor smirked and slapped Cyrus’ shoulder. Before leaving Cyrus and climbing the stairs back up to the shopfloor, Mr. Alastor advised, “Take your time.”

A week later, no trace of Alastor’s Still Life Emporium remained in the building. Vagrants sheltering from the winter icewinds, however, discovered Cyrus Quaich’s stiffened body in the former Emporium’s basement. It was still seated at the desk table. The fountain pen had been driven into Cyrus throat, evidently by his own hand. On the paper before him, he had scrawled, “I killed her to keep her.” But the sphere-encompassed head of Eidolia Pearle had disappeared.



Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.