Ten years after Dr. Ezra Mooney and I parted as enemies he was killed in a car accident alongside my wife Rebecca. They both died instantly. Ten years after his death I saw him again. He was suspended inside a large glass container, which was filled with a strange liquid I could not identify. His body had aged at half the rate of mine -- still lean and wiry, the physique of a proud non-athlete. His shock of red-orange hair swayed undiminished in the turgid liquid, like crimson seagrass on the ocean floor. When he spoke, his voice was carried in vibrations through the life-sustaining liquid to a transmitter positioned just below his mouth. From there the sound travelled to a pair of small plastic speakers attached to either side of the tank. Although warped by his bizarre conditions, the voice was unmistakably that of my former colleague. “Philip, I have a gift for you,” he said. His thin lips curled at the edges, forming the tell-tale half-smile I had struggled to forget these past twenty years. The cruelty in that smirk! The arrogance! Dr. Ezra Mooney enjoyed giving those unlucky enough to be his friends specific sorts of gifts, meticulously personalized tokens crafted to lead the recipient either to some petty revelation or drive them into temporary madness. This was his great amusement. I steeled myself against the horrors this floating, cadaverous lunatic doubtlessly had in store for me. Two of Ezra’s acolytes pushed me to my knees as the rest chattered in their ridiculous nonsense language. These were his most loyal fans -- shut-ins, outcasts, maladjusted nitwits fused into a cult by their shared zeal for the master’s published works. In the years after their idol’s death, these lost souls had come together to share in their grief. Their numbers had grown over time, building into a frenzied passion for Ezra’s theories, and it was not long before shared grief had become shared madness. These “wingnuts” as I call them, were always hidden beneath disgusting masks, bizarre constructions of thick latex, glass eyes and animal hair shaped into hideous, unnatural forms - mutant demons from an irradiated hell – worn to confuse their many imagined enemies. The most extreme of the fanatics had given up the masks altogether, cutting and burning their actual flesh, removing noses, lips and ears to achieve the desired anonymity. The deformed goons packed in around me now like spectators of a barroom brawl, clamoring for the show. Their master’s delight in my terrible predicament was contagious, agitating and emboldening his minions to prod and jeer at me with the sadistic courage of the tribe. Torn clothing aside, I knew they wouldn’t harm me. This was pomp and circumstance, a boast more than a threat, morbid proof that Ezra’s audience had always been more avid than mine. “Do you want to see her,” he burbled. I stifled a cry, knowing the sudden hope I felt was the springing of a trap. Still, the emotion forced itself free. “She lives?” I heard myself ask. “She thinks of you often, more every day. It is apparent to me that my time with her has run its course. You deserve to be reunited at last.” Rebecca and Ezra had been having an affair behind my back for years before finally running off together. In the end she would be with him longer than she was with me. I will not deny the heartbreak she caused me, nor can I deny that my own selfishness helped push her into Ezra’s arms. My success had stolen her place in my heart and that she could not abide. In the years of agony that followed her betrayal, I learned to accept my role in it, but I never came close to forgiveness and I never fantasized of a reunion with the cheating bitch. So it was with great surprise that I felt such hope and tenderness at the absurd suggestion of seeing my wife again, so many years after her betrayal, so many years after her death. A cycloptic acolyte fumbled behind a cheap curtain as if preparing an amateur magic trick. As he worked, I forced my hopeful feelings into a more useful shape. This obscene game hadn’t yet played to its conclusion, but already it was too awful to accept. I calculated the steps required to rip Ezra from his watery enclosure before his minions tore me limb from limb. The thought of watching the green bastard choke on the air like a landed trout filled me with purpose. My own death would be certain, but it was a sacrifice decades in the making. I longed for it. My flesh tingled. I sensed the cruel anticipation surging through the crowd of acolytes, their mad, false eyes staring at the thin blue curtain across the room. The parting of that curtain would be my cue to action. Whatever horror was brought out, no matter how awful, I would not gaze upon it. The acolytes were close and numerous and I could not afford the slightest hesitation. Whatever they had done to my Rebecca, I would not look. What had they done to her? Was I to be presented with some mummified shred of my former wife? A strand of her dark hair? A withered digit? Had she been preserved in the same bilious sludge her lover floated in now, alive but untouchable, barely human in her watery shroud? Plans are for fools. The curtains parted and I did not move a muscle. The one-eyed acolyte approached me, clutching a heavy object obscured by his lizard-scaled gloves. I could only stare, shamed and unblinking, as he placed the thing in my limp hands. The object resembled a crudely built wall clock, though half the size and made of heavy, unpolished metal etched with strange markings. On its face were a variety of lights arranged in a confused pattern; blue, red, yellow, green, all of different sizes and shapes jumbled together at random; a stained-glass window made by a backwards child. The glass was dark. “Don’t be shy, Rebecca, say hello,” Ezra ordered from his liquid coffin. Three lights on the clock-thing flickered in sequence: red, green, blue. It then emitted a short tone, the meaningless squawk of an electric toy, another absurd detail in this sickening prank. “She says ‘Hello.’ Are you going to say it back?” “You have gone insane!” I spat. “Insane and even more cruel.” “Quiet your mind, Philip. You need to listen to her,” he said, looking at the odd device in my hands. “Show him it’s really you, Rebecca. Tell him how you miss him.” More lights flashed, followed again by the electronic tone and a sting shot through me. Rebecca. Fragments of joy and sorrow splintered through my mind, a thousand moments frozen in time fractured then reformed, crushing our history into a single point at the center of my brain, pulling everything within me into its burning core. Then the core went out. In the dark hollow I heard her voice, still young and vital, calling my name. I emerged from my darkness to discover my own tears falling onto the face of the stained-glass clock. It flashed yellow and blue, droning lightly, almost kindly – was it trying to console me? Nonsense. My pathetic state had made me vulnerable to fiendish suggestion. As I choked back my sobs I heard the son of a bitch laugh. “Careful, Philip, she isn’t water proof.” “You’ve drugged me. You’ve made me susceptible to this nonsense,” I said. He ignored the accusation. “Physical death is not ultimate death.” He paused, losing his grin. “I do not intend this as torment, Philip. Take her with you. She speaks from a strange place now - an angel in a shoebox, if you will, but in time you will understand her well enough. She will be your guide through the great calamity.” What calamity? I felt the pressure of a needle on the skin of my neck and within seconds my vision failed as I slipped into cold unconsciousness. I awoke to daylight, sprawled on the dead grass of my own lawn like a reprobate husband. I couldn’t have been there long; even in these jaded times bodies on lawns tend to draw notice. Despite a throbbing numbness in my head I was unhurt. The stained-glass clock sat on my chest, heavy and dormant. I sat up, seething, buzzed with the urge to destroy, to obliterate this infernal machine forever. Rebecca’s soul, an angel in a shoebox, what absurdity! This was the punchline to Ezra’s twisted gag, meant to mock, meant to slash open ancient wounds with a salted blade and drive me as mad as he had obviously become, made all the worse for how finely it succeeded. A spasm of memories scorched my blood, the kisses and betrayals of a quarter century past boiled with their original heat. Too much. Too much for the old man I have become. My hands trembled as I picked up the clock-thing and raised it over my head, ready to bring it down on the concrete path and be done with it when the blasted thing chirped. It was a pitiful sound, sorrowful and weak, the tired plea of an old fire alarm running low on power. Was that all it was? Was that noise just an incontinent malfunctioning of a device losing its charge? It didn’t matter. Could you break a stone if it begged for mercy? I lowered my arms, tucked the machine close and carried it inside where we would await the approaching calamity.
Copyright 2017, Daniel Capuzzi