Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eternity Burning: Chapter 17

The Oxen were grimly silent and stern. It bothered Cain. He had wished that they would be screaming for Victory's blood. He'd told them all the treacherous story of how Victory had lost his job on purpose in order to besmirch the reputation of the Fellowship and for his own dark, personal reasons. Still, they seemed more bothered by Cain than by the traitor.

"Judas. Arnold. Quisling. Petain. You, Victory Halov, you join their ranks now. You have betrayed your morality, you have betrayed your Fellows, and you have betrayed me. And you will receive the punishment fitting a traitor.

"You've committed no legal crime, so the courts will not bring you to justice. But you have committed and unforgivable moral crime. And for that I will bring you to justice."

"Why, Adrian? Because you make justice? Because you decide what is right and what is wrong? Because you are God?"

"I am only a man, but I am an honorable man!"

"Oh, Brutus is an honorable man!" Victory exclaimed, "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"

"You call me Brutus? Am I so black a kettle? You betrayed us," here he gestured to the assembled oxen, "You betrayed this!"

Cain made a melodramatic gesture at the crossed pick and axe which hung on the wall. He grabbed the pick and waved it in Victory's face.

"You betrayed this," he repeated, "And now this will kill you. Duke!"

Cain's loyal follower slowly plodded from his place in the crowd up to the foreground. Cain handed the man the pick and pointed at Victory.

"Kill him," Cain muttered, shaking in rage.

"It's cold blooded murder," Duke said, not lifting the pick an inch.

"It's an execution!" Cain screamed.

"Then you do it."

Duke flung the thing into Cain's hand with a flourish of disgust. Cain turned a dumb look at the pick into a hate filled glare at Duke. Cain's eyes seemed to be screaming "You're as bad as him."

"Fine. If no one else here has a sense of loyalty, then I at least still do."

He lifted the pick high over his head and looked straight into Victory's eyes. The man didn't flinch or cower. He just stared straight back.

"If you kill me, you only prove yourself wrong. If I die, then I've won."

"No, Victory, you've lost."

Cain brought the pick down in an arc with the force of a hundred angry bulls and split Victory's chest open. The first blow had been so hard that he wasn't able to remove the pick. Victory toppled over onto his back, with the tool sticking out of him. His dead cold eyes stared out at the rows of Oxen.

"My God..." Duke spit out, under his breath.

"We embraced each other, then, hand in hand, we built a fort, and a dozen other buildings with foundations of fraternity, and now he lies buried in the ash of a great city. My heart is shattered by sorrow. I have done this to my best friend because I believe in more than dreams. I believe in reality. And in reality things must be done, things which are dirty, and wrong, but which must nevertheless be done in order to make life better for everyone. If you like, I will step down as your leader. I leave my fate in your hands, my loyal Fellows, because I know you will make the right decision."

The Oxen seemed to be entranced by Cain. His enormous charisma seemed able to blind them to the fact that he had murdered a man before them. Suddenly, they began to call out on his behalf.

"Don't leave, Adrian!"

"Lead us, still!"

"We need you!"

"Stay, stay as our leader!"

Soon the whole group was shouting for him to keep his post. He smiled broadly, a deeply heartfelt, patriarchal, benevolent, theatrical smile.

"I thank you for your kind outpouring of support. I did not think that you would see my act for the righteous one it was. I felt that I would have to leave in order to preserve..."

"Do any of you seriously believe this?"

The spell was suddenly broken. All eyes turned from Cain to the new speaker. To everyone's surprise, it was Duke.

"Have you all forgotten that this man is a killer?"

"You! I thought you were loyal..."

"I followed you blindly before, but I won't follow you to destruction. You're evil, Adrian Cain! I quit as your loyal henchman. And I wash my hands of you."

With a contemptuous snort, Duke flung off his jacket and walked through the crowd, which parted before him. Just before he reached the exit a shot cracked through the air, and a hole erupted into Duke's back. A bloodstain slowly spread and he collapsed.

"Traitor! Traitor! How dare you defy me! I rule you all! I rule everything! You are only my slaves, and slaves do not defy their masters!"

Some of the Oxen in the very front of the room grabbed Cain and wrenched the pistol from his hand before he could get off any more shots into the crowd. He continued screaming, his true nature suddenly gaining enough strength from his anger to break through his carefully crafted facade. His god complex rocketed to the surface.

"Bow to me! Bow to me!" he screamed, as the Oxen tried to pin him to the floor.

The crowd was suddenly thrown into turmoil. Many of the Oxen had been loyal to Cain personally. Others had been loyal to Victory. Others were completely confused as to what they wanted, and what was going on. The Fellowship polarized and a riot broke out. While fists flew and weapons came out, Greg Barlow simply stood.

Greg was puzzled. He'd been loyal to neither one specifically, he had always been loyal to Cain and Victory working together. Now one was dead and the other was a raving lunatic.

Suddenly two Oxen fell to the floor next to Greg, pummeling each other. The one who was being beaten was holding a switchblade. The other one grabbed his head, lifted it up, and brought it down hard on the floor. His head cracked open and he was left unconscious. The knife clattered out of his grasp as his hand suddenly relaxed. The winner jumped up from the prostrate form and leapt back into fray.

Greg decided what he had to do. When an animal is wounded, you put it out of it's misery. The same was true for any group. He bent down and picked up the knife and walked obliviously through the fighting. He reached the front of the room where two Oxen were still trying to restrain Adrian Cain. He was still yelling out prophetic doom. The two men were facing away from Greg, trying to stop Cain from punching and kicking, but Cain himself was facing Barlow. He stopped yelling long enough to notice Greg.

"Barlow?" he said.

Greg thrust the switchblade through Cain's sternum. The tip of the knife touched the ground beneath him. Suddenly he calmed down and stopped fidgeting. The two Oxen no longer had to fight to subdue him. Before his mouth filled with blood, he choked out a few words. It was a crazy, meaningless, jumbled string of words, the dying words of an imbalanced mind.

"The current of time is racing, but the flow is aflame. I can see our eternity burning. And so Cain ends."

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