I have waxed lyrical about Mr. Callis and his adventures; it’s true they hold a special place in my heart. They are probably some of the best things I’ve written, but considering how little I’ve written this is quite an easy achievement. It was, however, recently brought to my attention that despite this I haven’t actually made available all of his adventures on this blog. I have by no means been hoarding them, they have all made appearances in SFFS’ Zine. But that is of course something that not everyone will have access to. So in order to rectify this most heinous of crimes I shall be posting the rest of his adventures for your perusal. This has been made a lot easier now I seem to have overcome my abject terror of sharing the bulk of my works on the unforgiving shores of the internet.
As I have mentioned in the past, the Callis stories don’t occur in a fixed chronological order. Although they are intended to provide a greater insight into the fevered workings of Callis’ brain the more of them you read, I don’t personally think that anything is lost by reading them “out of order”. After all this so called “order” is only the result of the order in which I wrote them, which is a little on the arbitrary side to begin with. Fire in the Night was the first to be written and is the seed from which the hideously twisted and diseased tree that is Callis grew. The entire character grew from the first sentence. A sentence which very kindly decided to stroll idly through my head.
I hope the inaugural tale meets with your nebulous approval dear reader.
Fire in the Night
Somewhere out there in the gathering velvety dusk, a city is on fire. Burning with great crimson and orange flames that dance like merry little children. Somewhere out there a man in a tattered weather cloak stands in the lee of a tree as the gathering storm whips about him. Cowled and cloaked he can only smell the ash on the damp wind, a warm, dry smell delightfully counterpoised amidst the clean smell of cold rain.
The coals of a crudely rolled cigarette flare like a dying star. The man knows about the fire. He smiles a guiltless smile. He knows about the fire. By his hand and his hand alone was it wrought and birthed. And here in the lee of a gnarled and ancient ash tree stands the man. The poetry of it all is not lost on him. Thousands will die this night, all because of him.
And he couldn’t give a damn. That is, after all, exactly what is supposed to happen.
Mr. Callis has, in his time, been called many things. Revolutionary, murderer, hand of fate, mad, instrument of justice. But he knows the truth. He knows himself to be nothing more than a chain smoking arsonist with financially malleable morals.
To call Callis an assassin would denigrate the art of what he did. With but a single carefully floated ember he had the power to bring governments to their knees and plunge whole countries into darkest civil war. If anything he was merely a facilitator of accident, misfortune and circumstance. That is not to say he did what he did out of the kindness of his heart or any sociopathic menace. The financial compensation for his artful strokes of incendiary brilliance was substantial; but then again so were many of the risks. But Callis did so enjoy money.
The westward horizon flared into pastel peaches shot through with tart pinks. Another building spewing hate into the night with its mournful death throes. Callis cast off the withered stub of his cigarette into the pooling damp around the base of the tree. Sodden ash fell limply from its end as it spiralled downward, finally coming to rest in its watery grave, cold and alone. Callis sighed. The stub was so like himself in so many ways, save that he was not dead. Not yet at least. That he would be burnt to cindered ash before the end was in no doubt. How would they find his blackened shell? Burnt to an unrecognisable marionette beneath a collapsed beam? Or smoked like a fine kipper? It was a conundrum that provided his diseased and fevered mind with hours of pleasure. A mind like a blighted harvest; from afar it looked so wholesome. Only when you drew near did you glimpse the putrid, mouldering stains that ran so deep.
Drawing his cloak about him like the shifting scales of some great leviathan the man who was Callis strode out from the slight embrace of the canopy and into the rain, striding towards the descending twilight of the eastward horizon.
By a battered and bent farm gate, lashed to a mouldering wooden pole, waited a simple cart of two wheels hitched to a horse that could be best described as a foul shade of equine pestilence. Thin, tattered, emaciated and imbued with a temperament most appropriately categorised as malignant. Deft hands clad in fingerless gloves of cracking leather untethered the reins from their decaying mooring. The foul horse whinnied angrily and snapped ineffectually at Callis’ hand, missing by a shameful distance. Reins in hand Callis turned to the beast and calmly punched it square between the eyes. The lashing fist slid through the air as if it were an oiled viper. Dazed and subdued the horse whickered pitifully. With the hand that had so recently meted out violence upon the horse Callis grasped it firmly by the chin and stared into its eyes.
“You never damn well learn do you?” Callis’ words were parched, almost dusty. He spat on the ground with a contempt that seemingly bordered on the habitual. Seating himself upon the small bench at the cart’s front Callis snapped the reins and the still dazed horse set off onto a track stirred into a thick soup of mud and grass by the lashing rain. As the horse plodded forward its hooves sank deep into the mire, their removal making a sound like a toothless mouth sucking on an ancient boiled sweet. A chill wind howled out of the north tearing leaves from the trees and setting stout hedge rows swaying and bouncing as if they were nothing more than long grass. Callis swayed as the wind buffeted around him, swirling and embracing him, and trying to carry him off into the night. The horse resolutely plodded on, seemingly refusing to admit the existence or even the mere suggestion of wind. Callis tightened his cloak about him and began to whistle. It was shrill and jarring dirge, barely audible over the howling wind. The notes could not truly be heard, were anyone in a position to hear them they would more have felt them; the emptiness they left in the air, a bitter sweet sorrow that lingered in the heart and instilled a sense of forlorn whimsy. The notes soared up the scales to glorious warming heights to only come cascading down to mournful lows. Callis leant a feeling of wearied age to the tune, he made it sound worn out and lethargic, as if he’d whistled the selfsame tune a thousand times before. The dirge was interrupted by a thunderous crump from the city and once more the sky was lit with fiery hues. Callis spat over the side of the cart and began to whistle again. And with that, Callis rode into the night and all its gathering gloom.
It rained long into the night, yet Callis and his horse forged onwards away from the scene of his latest work of art. He was not fleeing, fleeing would imply some measure of speed or admission of guilt. Neither of these things entered his mind. Speed ever so often aroused suspicion, even toward those who otherwise seemed perfectly innocent; in fact, more often then not, the innocent would appear guiltier than a guilty man ever could. It was a small and delightful psychological bent to which the human mind so kindly clung. It was for this reason that shortly before Callis had set in motion the events that would swallow the city in the marvellous conflagration which now raged he had hired a man to deliver a letter to the far north, pertaining, of course, to a matter of great urgency. The letter was blank. The recipient did not exist. And thus was the blame so expertly diverted to another. It was always the smallest of the details that gave Callis such delight.
There came a faint fluttering and almost before the presence of the sound could be registered a crow had landed on the bench beside Callis. It turned its head toward Callis, its feathers glistening a slight purple, almost imperceptible in the darkness of night. The crow turned toward Callis and cocked its head quizzically. Small, black eyes gazed at Callis. The errant moon shone through an intermittent gap in the roiling clouds above and a passing white flash shot across its eyes as the moon light caught their surface. Callis spat and turned to regard the crow.
“What do you want?” said Callis brusquely.
“Caw!” replied the crow.
“Of course it’s done”
Callis glared at the crow from beneath his hood, his eyes boiling with a barely contained anger.
“I don’t care for your tone hag”
“Ka-caw!” came the crow’s reply
Callis’ fist lashed forward and grasped the crow around the neck. Raising his hand he brought the crow to eye level and into his withering gaze.
“I don’t answer to you crone, and I never will”. Without even a barely perceptible flinch his hand tightened and the crow’s neck snapped like it was nothing more than a tinder dry twig. With a casual flick of the wrist Callis cast the crow’s body into the muddy road. Callis spat at the corpse and muttered to himself.
“She never damn well learns, does she?”
The promise of dawn hung heavily upon the eastern horizon, a faint and elusive hue that haunted the sky. It put Callis in mind of a distant fire, not to dissimilar to the one he had left behind him; this was surely a good omen. It would take at least a week of arduous travel before he would reach his next port of call. A city wouldn’t burn tomorrow, but it would burn soon enough. Callis spat and a crooked smile stalked across a face where no love dwelt; but for now, the passing residency of delight had descended.