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I am super excited about one of my stories from The Other Side of Despair being featured on the latest podcast episode of Random Transmissions. This podcast is super cool and you should go and check out all the episodes!

Random Transmissions

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My story “Shockley House” was published in this year’s Halloween anthology The Yellow Booke.

“So, what do think?” Claire said. She and her neighbor Mike sat watching the video of Lucius playing guitar in the isolation room. Claire lived in an apartment complex and her neighbor Mike, who lived across the hall, was the first person Claire had thought of who played guitar. Claire had wired the camcorder up to her television so that Mike could see the playing better.

“Wow! Even though you can’t hear it, you can see how well his playing is,” Mike said as he sat on the edge of Claire’s couch and leaned forward to study the playing of Lucius. “And you say that this guy attacked you and escaped the asylum?”

“Something like that. Attack might be a pretty strong word for it. He tackled me and took my swipe card, then he ran out before anyone could stop him.”

“I’m so confused, Claire. Why were you taping him and then he just ‘tackled’ you and fled? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“What? You think I helped him escape?”

“No. I didn’t say that. It’s just all so weird.”

“Oh, it’s weird alright. Before he tackled me he literally clawed his own face. I mean diagonally across his entire face he dug all his fingernails in and just gouged long cuts across his face. He told me to stop and that he wanted to see me for what I was; then, I just watched in horror as he did it. The blood just started pouring from the wounds and then I started screaming. That’s when he tackled me and knocked me out.”

“What the hell! He knocked you out? Claire, I thought you said he just tackled you?”

“Would you relax? I’m fine. And I don’t think he was trying to hurt me or single me out. I just happened to be the one who was there when he decided to escape. He was just trying to go, ya know?”

“Do you think he was upset about you recording him?”

“No. He didn’t know I was recording him. At least I don’t think he did. Besides, he didn’t take the camera. He just took his guitar and my card and left.”

They sat in silence for a moment while Mike thought about the scene Claire had described. After a moment Claire said, “So, do you think you can learn what he’s playing?”

“I doubt it. Claire, I just plunk around on the guitar. I can’t even play fingerstyle without a pick, much less execute some of the things that guy is playing with his right hand.”

“Oh,” Claire said, her dejection evident in her tone.

“But I bet there’s someone who could.”

“Really! Who?”

“I don’t know. I mean I know a guy who probably can, though. I work with a guy named Ted who plays in a band. He’s a much better guitarist than I am and I bet he could do it. If not, I bet he knows someone who could.”

***

Lucius Rivers had made it to the Springs. It was a hard couple of weeks following his escape. He had no food, no money, no warm clothes, nothing but the guitar slung across his back. But the Baron had provided. Still, it was hard going and his spirit faltered.

He had crossed paths with other vagrants and homeless folks who had helped him to improve his situation ever so slightly. A ragged coat here. A worn out pair of shoes there. A scrap of food to stave off the gnawing pains of hunger.

This particular day had been the best so far. He arrived at the mission for the lunchtime doling out of hot soup and bottles of water. It was like a feast to Lucius. Afterwards, Lucius wandered the nearby streets looking for a secluded alley in which to rest. He found a spot off the main path within an alley and sat down. His belly was actually full and he proceeded to unsling the guitar from his back.

Lucius ran his hand over his face feeling the long scabs from where he had finally peeled away the mask for the last time. Naked to the world and to the new reality he now inhabited, Lucius tuned his guitar and prepared to play his first real performance of the suite.

Claire and Lucius walked down the hall of the South Wing to the small, padded isolation room. A chair and Lucius’ guitar sat in the far corner.

Lucius smiled at Claire as he entered the room.

“Alright, Lucius, you have one hour and then I’ll be back to escort you back.”

“Thank you.”

Claire shut the door and then proceeded to go into the adjacent room. This room was dark but Claire didn’t turn the lights on. Instead, she left the door ajar so that light from the hallway could illuminate enough of the room.

In times past this room had been used as an observation room. The shared wall with the padded cell was a one-way mirror. From Lucius’ point of view, it looked like a large mirror, but for Claire, it was a window. She could see Lucius adjust his chair and then almost lovingly pick up the guitar.

The room was equipped with a microphone and speaker so that Claire could have listened to Lucius, but that was unnecessary – she knew he would meticulously tune his guitar only to skew the tuning before playing. Besides, it wasn’t the audio she wanted to record, it was the visual performance.

Claire had already deposited a camcorder on a tripod in the room. She turned it on and ensured the angle and focus were correct, then she pressed the red record button and left.

***

Lucius wasn’t the least bit surprised that Claire had been the one to retrieve him and escort him to his playing session. The Baron had already told him that today was the day of his escape.

His patience and practice had finally paid off and he was ready to spread the performance now.

The Baron had requested that before he help Lucius escape, that Lucius play the entirety of the suite one more time. At the end of the today’s session, Claire would help Lucius leave Rathbone Asylum for good.

And so, Lucius poured his heart and soul into his final practice within the walls of the asylum. And his performance was incredible.

After he had finished, he placed the guitar back against the wall and sat waiting for Claire to return.

Shortly, Claire opened the door and smiled at Lucius. “Okay, Lucius, are you ready to head back to your room?”

Lucius merely smiled pleasantly and followed her into the hallway. They took no more than a few steps when Lucius said, “Oh, Claire, one moment, please. I must look upon you for what you are.”

Claire turned confused and Lucius proceeded to peel the mask completely from his face so the he might behold her in her true form.

What Lucius saw was shocking – almost too shocking for him to believe, but the Baron had not lied. Claire was one of the insect things just as the Baron had warned him. He stood transfixed as the human-like covering finished sloughing off into a pile in the floor. Her head reminded Lucius of the head of some great praying mantis. If was triangular with two enormous compound eyes. The antennae wiggled, testing the air and then the strange, sideways mandibles opened and a horrendous screech issued forth like the forest erupting with the sound of a host of cicadas.

Lucius’ hypnotic stare was broken and he realized that now was the time to act. He lurched into the Claire-creature and struck the thing exactly how the Baron had told him. There was a brief struggle where the creature tried to use its insect appendages to fend off the attack, but Lucius persisted through his revulsion until the creature was still. Then Lucius took the swipe key from the body and returned to the isolation room to retrieve his guitar.

After that, it was a relatively easy task to use the key to exit out of the little used and empty South Wing.

Lucius Rivers was now free to introduce the world to the Baron Shadowmancer’s grand Suite Insanity in E minor.

Claire, one of the night-shift nurses, and Jason, one of the night-shift orderlies, sat at the nurse’s station chatting and drinking coffee.

“So, is it true that Dr. Middleton confiscated Lucius’ guitar?” Jason asked.

“Yes.”

“Thank God we don’t have to listen to that infernal racket anymore, huh?”

“It’s hard to believe that he used to be an amazing guitarist.”

“What?” Jason said.

“Yeah, his nephew was telling me that he used to be this incredible classical guitarist who performed all over the place. You know, it doesn’t surprise me. There’s something about him that makes me think there’s something going on with him that we don’t get.”

Jason snickered at the absurdity of Claire’s statement. “Come on, now. Surely you’re joking. The guy‘s as whacked as they come. He plays in the toilet water and talks to the corner, for Chrissake.”

“I know he’s lost his mind. I’m not trying to say he’s lucid, but I do think that there‘s some kind of method to his madness that makes sense to him and no one else. For example, the talking to the corner. If you watch him, he only does it after dark when the hall lights come on. The light from the hallway casts a certain shadow in the corner that is kind of human shaped. It’s the shadow that he sits and talks to; no other time will you see him conversing with the corner.”

“That’s just creepy,” Jason said.

“Yeah. It’s so bizarre. And I’ve watched him while he plays guitar. He’s actually pretty good.”

At this Jason nearly spit his coffee out. “Now I know you’re messing with me, Claire. There is no way you can call that atrocious twanging, good.”

Claire giggled and continued. “I know it sounds horrible, but if you just watch his fingers, he plays the same patterns over and over quite deftly. The weirdest thing is that he’ll pause to tune the guitar and once he has it tuned, he’ll mess up the tuning in different ways before starting to play again. But then he’ll play the exact same patterns in that out-of-tune manner before doing it all over again.”

“Well, I think you give that kook too much credit. I think he’s just a nutty as the rest of these poor saps around here – maybe even worse.”

Claire smiled and said, “Maybe you’re right”.

“I know I’m right. Well, I gotta go walk my rounds. Thanks for the coffee, Claire.”

“You’re welcome.”

As Jason moseyed down the hallway, Claire muttered to herself, “I wonder what it would sound like if it were in tune?”

***

Baron Shadowmancer: After the modulation to C minor, the piece also transition to five-four time. Beginning on C on the fifth string, next go to E flat on the fourth string –

Lucius: Hold on. I can’t keep all this straight unless I have my guitar in hand. It’s too hard to remember all of it in my head.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s alright, Lucius, you’re doing splendidly. Tomorrow you work on what we’ve covered and we’ll pick up from the C minor modulation after that.

Lucius: How much longer must we endure these arrangements?

Baron Shadowmancer: Not much longer. After you’ve learned this piece, I believe it will be time for you to go.

Lucius: Go? Go where?

Baron Shadowmancer: Out of this place, Lucius. Down south, I should think. Not too far; maybe the Springs or so. The time for your unveiling is very close at hand. But I want you to be ready – I want the Suite to be ready.

Lucius: I don’t know if I can make it out there. After all these years in here, I’m afraid I’d be lost. I’m afraid I’d just be . . . well, afraid.

Baron Shadowmancer: Lucius, my subject, my prodigy, my child. Lucius, you’ll be under my protection and my guidance. You have nothing to fear so long as you are the vehicle of my grand work. The Ne Plus Ultra of my creative output. My Magnum Opus.

Lucius: How will I get out, though? Those beasts are too watchful. Their cunning is too thorough.

Baron Shadowmancer: The one called Claire will help you.

Lucius: Yes, she seems nice. Are you sure she’s one of them. I’ve been so afraid to withdraw the mask and see her true form – afraid I’ll really see her as she is and then I’ll be devastated.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s probably for the best. You must trust me when I tell you that she is one, but do not look upon her without the mask, Lucius. Even though she is one, she still will serve her purpose – for me; for us.

Under his old, murky delusions, Lucius had suspected that his demonic captors disguised themselves behind masks. The Baron had dispelled this notion by showing Lucius that there was but one mask that needed to be removed – it was the mask that shrouded Lucius’ vision. Once Lucius had knowledge of where to grasp the edges of that mask, he need only peel away the proper amount to behold the world as it really existed.

Lucius had not the wherewithal to remove it all at once; the world was just too alarming. It required degrees. But he had removed enough to see the two “doctors” entering his room in their true forms.

The two demons strode into the room on their insectoid legs and the one who called himself Dr. Middleton spoke. “Lucius, this is Dr. Harris and we’re here to talk to you about your guitar.”

Lucius smirked, seeing through their ruse. He decided to confront them openly. “Did you know,” he began as he sat up on his bed, “that Benjamin Franklin invented the insane asylum and then invented an instrument that drove people mad just so he could use the instrument to fill the asylums?”

“Lucius, I don’t think that is true.” Dr. Middleton began, but then Dr. Harris jumped in.

“Just a moment, Dr. Middleton, I’d like to hear more about your theory on Franklin, Lucius.”

“Oh, it’s no theory. It’s the truth. Go research it yourself, if you like. Franklin created the first modern hospital. In those days, doctors traveled from house to house in circuits, just as circuit judges did – that’s why they’re called ‘circuit’ judges. The first hospital specifically had a ward for the mentally ill. It was done quite purposefully. And then Franklin unveiled the glass armonica – an instrument that produced insanity by its haunting and ethereal tones. Even Mesmer used is to subdue his victims. Now, why do you suppose a genius like Franklin would create an insane asylum and then create an instrument to produce the very thing he was claiming to want to treat?”

“Oh, come on now – “

But Dr. Harris held a hand up to shush Dr. Middleton.

“Lucius,” Dr. Harris said, “I’ll have to do as you say and research this. But we are here because of the music you are playing on your guitar. Do you realize that the things you are playing are causing everyone distress?”

Lucius ignored Dr. Harris and looked at Dr. Middleton who was standing defiantly with his alien, insect arms crossed over his thorax. “Dr. Middleton, does my music drown the calls of your cicadas?”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that I know your true form. You’re not fooling me anymore.”

Dr. Harris spoke again. “Lucius, we don’t want to completely revoke your guitar privileges; we just want to ensure that your playing doesn’t bother the other patients and the staff. Would you be alright with playing an hour three days a week under the right conditions?”

Lucius broke his glare upon Dr. Middleton and turned to look at Dr. Harris. “That’s alright, Dr. ah, Harris, was it?”

“That’s correct.”

“You may take my guitar. I’ve been playing under guise anyway. The world isn’t quite ready for the Baron’s true compositions. When and where shall I polish the rest of the pieces?”

Dr. Middleton spoke up. “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons in the South Wing’s isolation room. I know you detest that room but it’s the only room where the sound cannot carry throughout the hallways.”

“Fine, fine. It’s only a temporary hindrance anyway.”

“Thank you, Lucius,” Dr. Harris said as he stepped over and took the guitar that was leaning against the wall.

“Yes, thank you Lucius,” Dr. Middleton echoed.

“You’re welcome, Gentlemen.” Lucius spat the last word with sarcasm because he knew they were creatures of the abyss. It was alright, though. The Baron had prepared him for this eventuality well in advance.

As the two doctors were exiting Lucius spoke up. “Oh, and, Dr. Harris, remember to look up the information on Franklin. But I must warn you, Do Not listen to Mozart’s Adagio in C for the Glass Armonica no matter how tempted you may be.”

Dr. Harris smiled and reassured Lucius. “Yes, Lucius, I’ll be sure and do that.”

After the two had gone, Lucius chuckled to himself. He knew that the demon Harris would give into the temptation and have to listen to the Mozart piece.

Mozart Adagio in C for glass armonica

Dr. Middleton and Dr. Harris strategized a plan of how they were going to handle the patient Lucius Rivers as they strode the sanitized, white hallways of Rathbone Asylum.

“His nephew said that he was a very accomplished musician in his youth,” Dr. Middleton said.

“I have no doubt that at one time he was,” replied Dr. Harris.

“He even studied classical guitar under the Cuban Maestro Rubio Colon.”

“I’m sorry; I’m not familiar with him.”

“Well, anyway,” Dr. Middleton continued, “after nearly fifteen years of seemingly no interest in playing, Lucius suddenly began to hum snatches of music and to ‘play guitar’ on whatever surfaces were available to him – mostly just his own body or the air.”

“Hmmm, interesting.”

“Yes, we thought so. You can see that we thought it would be healthy for him to have a go at playing guitar again after learning from his nephew that he used to be a virtuoso.”

“Really? He was considered that good?” Dr. Harris said with some skepticism.

“Well, that’s what his nephew claimed anyway. We gave him the green light to bring Lucius’ instrument to the asylum so that Lucius might be reacquainted with the guitar.”

“From the sounds of it, the two still hate each other.”

Dr. Middleton chuckled.

Ever since John Graham, Lucius’ nephew, had brought the guitar, Lucius had been playing the most grating, discordant music ever heard. Not only was the music insufferable, but it had actually caused the staff, and especially the other patients, to become more agitated and cross.

Almost immediately one of the patients had broken down in tears while another began to rage and curse and strike at anyone who came near. The nurses and orderlies were at their wits end trying to placate the patients while the ward deteriorated into chaos and dysfunction.

One of the nurses had gone to Lucius and attempted to confiscate the instrument but Lucius retaliated by screaming at her and threatening to boil her alive as he obsessively hugged his guitar.

The next step in the protocol of the ward was to isolate the patient and notify the senior Psychiatrists on duty. Dr. Harris was the most senior staff member and Dr. Middleton was the treating physician on Lucius Rivers’ case.

The two doctors continued to discuss Rivers until they arrived at the door to his room. Dr. Middleton knocked.

***

Lucius Rivers sat in his sterile, soft cell mulling over the Baron’s revelations. For so many years Lucius had struggled to understand his plight, knowing that things were askew. It wasn’t until Baron Shadowmancer arrived that he had begun to learn the true nature of so many things.

The first major revealing was the nature of the stone pillow. That was difficult to figure out. But after Lucius had determined that the smooth stone in the yard was to become his seer’s pillow, then the rest flowed quite quickly. Lucius had managed to elude the baleful eyes and sneak the stone into his pillow case. Almost immediately, his nightly visions had started in a glorious procession toward epiphany.

The first evening that he noticed the Baron’s arrival would be forever etched in Lucius’ mind. It was terrifying to behold. The Barron didn’t arrive alone – apparently couldn’t manifest alone. He had to come in the company of the Wild Witch. For you needed light to create the proper shadow. You needed the proper shadow to manipulate the gateway. At first, Lucius was confounded by the light, not realizing that the real power resided in the shadows behind him.

So, night after night, Lucius had lain in his bed as the yellow light summoned the Wild Witch and captured his awe. Mesmerized by her glory, he sat in fear and watched her cavorting in the light, not realizing that behind him the shadows danced too.

It was on the fifth night – for the Baron dealt in fives – that Lucius sat watching the play of light and heard a soft whisper from behind. Turning his head slowly and in growing terror, he saw the Baron towering in the corner’s shadows. Tears began to stream down his face as he realized the immensity of his power.

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Step by step, alone I crept

Step by step by lonely step

And then I felt a brushing touch

A gentle voice that whispered much

About which note and tone of choice

About the timbre and the voice

About the inflection of the string

And how to make the guitar sing

Step by step, together we crept

Step by step by maddening step

“The glass armonica’s ghostly notes will cause insanity in its musicians and listeners! At least this is what was thought to be true in the 18th century. People were frightened by the armonica’s sound due to it’s strange interactions with the human brain and ears. Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica in 1761 after being profoundly moved by the sounds of the glass harp.

The glass armonica’s sound is perceived by human ears differently than other instruments because its range is between 1,000 and 4,000 hertz, the human brain compares ‘phase differences’ between the left and right ears to triangulate the origin of the sound rather than comparing volumes. This causes hearing disorientation and a ‘not quite sure’ feeling about where the sound is coming from.”

“Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient’s knees, pressing the patient’s thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient’s eyes. Mesmer made ‘passes’, moving his hands from patients’ shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient’s hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass armonica.”

“Mr. Mesmer then seated him near the armonica; he had hardly begun to play when my friend was affected emotionally, trembled, lost his breath, changed color, and felt pulled toward the floor.”

“There were accounts of the instrument being banned by physicians who cited possible ill effects including prolonged shaking of the nerves, tremors in the muscles, fainting, cramps, swelling, paralysis of the limbs’ and seeing ghosts.”

Fifteen years in this asylum

I cry and cry

I laugh and laugh

Mostly at the exact same things

There’s no distinction between these scenes

Just my particular state of mind

“Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin ‘to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.’”

“A similar expansion took place in the British American colonies. The Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 as a result of work begun in 1709 by the Religious Society of Friends. A portion of this hospital was set apart for the mentally ill, and the first patients were admitted in 1752. Virginia is recognized as the first state to establish an institution for the mentally ill.”

I want to be a little bird

And fly out of my mind

And sing a new song

To drive the world mad

Mostly, I want to be free

This is the completed novella of “The Language of the Mad”. It is very reminiscent of Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow” in that the chapters are short stories tied loosely together in a unified arc.

In the case of “The Language of the Mad”, the stories are each about insanity and tied together in the evolving story of two asylums and the root of their madness. There are references to The King in Yellow as well.

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The Language of the Mad

Dr. Harris: “Charlie, you said you weren’t there the night Shockley House burned down. How do you know about it then?”

Charlie: “He told me all about it.”

Dr. Harris: “Who? Rathbone?”

Charlie: “Yes, of course. He said it needed to happen in order to prepare the way. He would’ve made me go too but I was hiding from him. He probably knew where I was and would’ve made me go if he really wanted me to.”

Dr. Harris: “I see. Why do think you are so important to him, Charlie?”

Charlie: “It’s not that I’m important to Rathbone. God, he detests me. I’m important to that thing.”

Dr. Harris: “In what way?”

Charlie: “It’s inexplicable, really. For some unknown reason, I can speak to it.”

Dr. Harris: “Like, another language?”

Charlie: “Something like that. It’s nothing I ever learned. It just comes to me unbidden. But we were talking about the night that Shockley House burned down.”

Dr. Harris: “Right, go on.”

Charlie: “The one he really needed that night was Donald. He was one of the surviving patients that was there the night that Remy lost it.”

Dr. Harris: “So, Rathbone took Donald to the house?”

Charlie: “Yes. He made Donald the sacrifice. He sent Donald into the house; deep into the basement and somehow had him trigger the explosion that caused the fire and destruction.”

Dr. Harris: “So Donald died in the house?”

Charlie: “Oh, yes. It was the plan all along. Rathbone planned every little step.”

Dr. Harris: “For what purpose, Charlie?”

Charlie: “To clear the way so that I might bring the white worm here to Rathbone Asylum.”