The Witch’s Castle

Have you ever considered any photo of yourself to be good enough? Are you the sort of person who loves having their picture taken? Do you love the process, the result, or both? Fearless people dress-up, paint themselves, and pose willingly without apprehension. The more they dive into the shallow pool of narcissism, the more likely they are to emerge dripping with a radiant glow. It’s some sort of cold fusion of self-confidence, a scientific breakthrough that keeps burning without fuel or outside stimuli. Yet, the picture could always be better.

For some, the end result of a photo session is a Ming vase shattered into a million pieces. Even though it was a handmade one-off and there will absolutely positively never be another, they offered to let the clown spin it on a tall stick at the circus. The photo is not to dread as much as it is a well painted door that usually stays locked. It’s where they store self-loathing and doubt, and the one and only favorite photo of themselves that doesn’t really exist. The picture is never good enough.

I don’t sleep. I wonder if I’ve ever slept. I guess my mind turns off for a while, time passes, and I become sentient again. Focus.

I’ll rush him when he comes in, he’ll never expect it. He acted like he knew I was me, but he was probably just being folksy. He doesn’t believe, he doesn’t know. No way he figured it out, but I did, because I’ve had the time. They think they took time from me, but they haven’t. It’s the opposite. They’ve given me time.

The boy. The boy and his mother and every person who have stared into my eyes. I move because of them. Every person who talked to me, who almost seemed to care. Treating me so much like the man who used to be me that they’ll never know. They didn’t then and they don’t now.

Imagine their faces, the fear, the horror. They’ll care then, they’ll know me then. I wish they could know my name, who I was is who I am, and they made me. Through disassociation and zero regard for the person I was, they made me. Now through plastic injection molds and a spell, or maybe divine intervention they’ve made me again. They made me in God’s image, and now in the image of an image that probably never existed. But I do, they’ll see.

Roy waited patiently, sitting to the full extent his metal and plastic joints would allow on the small step ladder in the storage room. Every time he heard footsteps in the hallway or the jingle of keys he felt a heart skip in a chest where there was no heart at all. It was opening night, and this was the first time he was ever cast in the starring role. He had woken up from his bad dream and found his center, his purpose. His focus on revenge, his intent on making someone pay for his condition was the talon that clenched the backside of his sanity. It was all he had left. 

Here we go.

John swung the sticky door open with a bit of help from a hip-check. He looked towards the wall where he had stood the mannequin up the evening before and then to the floor where it might have fallen. His brain never bothered to substantiate the figure on the ladder in the middle of the room. There are certain things a person knows to be true, and the mind often erases all other realities accordingly.

“How did you…” John said.

He fully intended on finishing his question but was instead immediately faced with the certain impossibility of being attacked by a department store mannequin.

Roy came off the ladder with astonishing speed. He pivoted at the hips, cocking his body to throw a blow with both arms, one back, the other fore. Purely by way of luck and instinct John managed a partial block. The other caught his ribcage, inflicting a pain recognized by any individual who has caught the upper corner of his or her car door high in their side during careless closure.

Roy followed with multiple quick kicks reminiscent of a marching wooden soldier. He caught a knee, then a shin. He struck hard enough to make John bend to the side and give up his position. He could run and now would be the time, or he could stay and finish him, beat him with hard plastic hands, or a ladder. Maybe even kill him, murder an innocent man.

Roy’s hesitancy, his cessation of aggression cost him the opportunity to benefit from the decision he did not make. John struck back. With his knee in Roy’s left side he braced and pulled the mannequin’s arm completely out of it’s socket. Using it as a bat he swung hard enough to dislodge the head, sending it careening across the room into wall and unceremoniously into the corner on the floor. The body remained plumb, still pivoting and swinging, taking long, broad steps desperately holding onto balance. John used a similar strategy to remove the right leg. The mannequin fell.

The post battle silence intrigued John more than being brutally attacked by what on all accounts is generally considered to be an inanimate object. The fact that it happened at all didn’t seem to surprise him.

“If it were a man laying lifeless before me, he would make no less noise than you my friend. Why do you seem so much more silent?” John asked.

John closed and locked the door to the room and retrieved the head. He relaxed with it for a bit leaning against the very same step ladder Roy used to launch his attack. He held it by the base of the neck, looking soulfully into its eyes.  For a moment, before he spoke, it was a fall day, vivid yellow and brilliantly orange maples decayed to peak color while the occasional red oak would remind him that he was indeed still attached to the earth. It was warm out, his side ached from an uncharacteristic slip and fall on the rocks while fly fishing earlier that morning.

“Let’s not do that again shall we? I’m not sure who you are, or even why you are, but you clearly are. And I’m not sure what I have to do with it, but I knew the second I saw you. Your eyes were too unreal, too plastic. They fake them to look real, that’s their job, but yours, yours weren’t real enough. There’s something in you, something even more fake than plastic eyes. Who knows, maybe that’s what landed you here in the first place,” John explained.

He assembled the pieces, re-attaching the arm first and then the leg while the head watched patiently.

“In case you’re wondering, the answer is no, I do not fear you. If I did, I would tell you. I would because there are men who go to war and return as heroes. These men cry themselves asleep at night because of fear, and of course guilt. Not for what they’ve done, but for not admitting their fear, to themselves more than others. Guilt is a tool, a one size fits all wrench of the damned, designed by the devil himself to build the very cage that holds you now. A cage you yourself constructed. You’re not a tool of evil but instead a victim of it, a tormented soul. That is why I do not fear you because if I did, I would very much destroy you,” John explained.

The head of the mannequin is attached to the body by a metal rod jutting out of the neck. John reverently slid the head back into place, stepped back and studied what he had done.

“There, that should do it,” John said.

Roy turned slowly to face him.

“So I have determined that you are indeed a man, or at least used to be. It was simple really, the possessed do not hesitate. Their decisions have been made for them. You could have finished me, but you chose not to. I’ve decided I’m going to help you, but the reason for my philanthropy is solely my own. Here, let’s put these on,” John said.

He slid a musty hemp woven coat onto Roy’s body.

“You’re not possessed so what’s left? It certainly was no accident so I can only assume that you have been somehow bewitched. In that case what better place to start our search for your cure than the witch’s castle? You, my friend, are going to be the new window display of Seely’s Unique Boutique, a fact I’m sure you’re already aware of based on your antics yesterday. Here, how about some cargo shorts to go with your shirt?” John asked.

Roy helped with the dressing, extending his arms and legs when necessary, even pointing to his bare feet.

“Socks? Yes, and some shoes. I suppose it could help with your lack of balance. Those feet weren’t exactly designed to walk with. Something rugged and outdoorsy. Hiking boots maybe, that should bode well with her clientele. Wait here. When I get back we’ll finish this and get you in place,” John said.

I could kill her right now and no one would be the wiser. It had to be her.

“John, thank you so much for all you’ve done. I never really thought much about this sort of marketing. And he, looks, great. I love the boots, really nice touch,” Tempest said.

“Like I said, it is my pleasure, and to be completely transparent, well… Your store here, your, how do I say it, your way of life intrigues me. I have great respect for people of the earth. You see I too gravitate towards the natural realm. There’s much to be learned here and part of me hopes that this will be the beginning of that opportunity for me,” John said.

“I knew it, I knew I sensed something about you John, something different than other people. How long have you known?” she asked.

“Known?” John said.

“Yes, known that you were, well, different?” Tempest asked.

“Since I was very young, after my mother died, there was something else, something I could not quite explain, something I do not wish to remember,” John said.

“I don’t want to alarm you John but what you’re saying lends itself to necromancy. You need to be careful John, the other side can be perilous,” she said.

“My dear, you speak as if there is only one other side. It’s oblivion, don’t you know? Go far enough and see yourself where you stand, upwards to the bottom of your own feet,” said Lady Pireau.

“Lady Pireau, I nearly forgot you were coming in today. John Buries, this is Lady Pireau, my friend and mentor,” Tempest said.

“A pleasure. I’m afraid I became lost in that conversation somewhere,” John said.

Lady Pireau did not answer John, nor did she shake his hand or even look at him more than for a second. Instead, she addressed Tempest.

“Why is he here?” she asked.

“He set up this display for me. He does this sort of thing for large retail chains. Turns out he has some interest in things we do so he offered to help,” Tempest said.

“Of course he did. I have brought you what you have asked for my sweet,” she said.

She pointed backwards over her shoulder as she moved towards the back side of the window display. She brushed John aside, ignoring his attempt at pleasantries.

“Excuse me,” he said.

Recognizing her obvious rude indifference to his presence, Tempest quickly dissolved the situation.

“Well John, thank you so much for all your hard work. Lady Pireau and I did have an appointment, so I guess we’ll talk another time perhaps?” Tempest asked.

“Yes, yes, I look forward to it. Like I said, it was my pleasure. Lady Pireau, also a pleasure,” John said.

As he left she still refused to speak with him.

“Might I ask what that was about?” Tempest asked.

“You invited him. No, no I cannot. I must leave very soon,” she said.

“Oh, well, let me get the dolls and I’ll go back and get you paid,” Tempest said.

“Very well. I will wait here,” Lady Pireau said.

She touched the mannequin lightly on his wrist then ran her hand lovingly across his face as she laughed quietly.

“You want to lash out mon amour, but you are frozen. I feel your anger. But as much as you would like, you cannot harm me. I am your mother. Nor can you harm your father for he is the world. He is all men, all women, every plant and animal, even me. We made you, fornicating in the darkest places in the shadows of men’s souls. This is the place where you were born, in that very darkness. Your path to light, to life, is to know him, to immerse yourself in the humanity that you have willfully never known. I warn you security man, if you are destroyed, if this erroneous body fails you, you will be gone forever. You have aligned with the like wicked. Bend to his will and say your name and I tell you the vessel of your despair will change with every wind,” she whispered harshly.

Lady Pireau backed away. With a rare and very slight smile she appeared to be thoughtfully admiring the display.

“What do you think?” Tempest asked.

“I think, I think… I think it needs more light.”

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