And so ends another shockingly unproductive week as I vainly try to keep myself afloat in a sea of drudgery. The nine till five crusade and my ever continuing passive-aggressive war against my co-workers has left me somewhat drained. So in the absence of anything new I give you the last remaining story of Callis. Although I’ve stuck up an excerpt previously and posted a link to the Zine it was written for, I’ve yet to stick the whole thing here. The Baker’s Dozen was not an easy thing to write. Not because of writer’s block or a lack of motivation, but simply because it was so very visceral. Not so much dark, nor gritty. Just undiluted malice, and anger, and rage, and all the utterly horrible things that will make you do. It focuses on Callis’ youth and the events which shaped him and ultimately put him on the road to what he later became. Callis is and always will be, very much a product of the society that made him.
At the feet of the mountains, at the hinterlands of the high plains there is a city; A city of malice and disimpassioned debauchery. It is a grey place devoid of soul and meaning. It is called Hacustra. It is the tarnished gem, capitol and seat of the 33rd Duchy. It is not a place you go to willingly. It reaches across the grasslands with serpentine and ethereal hands and gathers to it the dregs of the world, pooling them in its great sunken recesses of sin. It is where dreams come to die.
Where the land rises into sharp crags that snare the morning mists, at its highest point, on the rising shoulders of the mountains the Duke makes his home in a grand warren of mortared stone and unwashed blood. This palace was built with the blood of those ensnared in bondage and servitude and so it remains. The Duke calls it The Hall of Mastiff Point, the people call it Perdition. The Duke, being the type of man that he is, does not find this name entirely disagreeable. The stone is old, grey and leprous with a multitude of lichen; it does not look too dissimilar to its owner. Wind howls down through the mountain gullies and whistles through windows and gates; the effect is not unlike a very large pipe organ, but more melancholy and mournful. This howling elegy is almost enough to drown out the screams. There are a great many screams here in Perdition.
Somewhere in the dark recesses of this foul place, a boy stands chained to a post. The boy is stripped to the waist and behind him towers a thin man in an apron. In his right hand is a whip. Sharp cracks punctuate the night as he lashes the boy’s back. The boy cries out; the boy bleeds. The sharp kisses of the whip are instructional, they teach an important lesson; although perhaps not the lesson that is intended.
There is a saying: “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. The saying however makes no consideration that the rod itself may spoil the child in equal measure. Whereas its absence breeds irreverence and disobedience, its presence spoils the child in another, more insidious way. It spoils the child towards the one who wields the rod in their iron fist. It gives rise to the germination of the seeds of hate, from which sprout the flowers of malice and the thoughts of blackest and foulest murder.
A tight knot of anger begins to seethe in the boy’s heart; undulating and snake like, tightening, growing and festering. This was a lesson that would not easily be forgotten; the lesson that man is cruel and uncaring, delighting in evil for its own sake and for that of perverse self-satisfaction. It occurs to the boy that he does not actually know why he is being whipped. This begets an addition to the original lesson, that the reason for evil is often only a peripheral concern to those performing it.
The whip falls silent and the boy is left alone in the dark to bleed. His blood patters onto the stone floor in small round drops, they echo even against the howling of the wind. Were it not for the hate now rooted in his soul the boy might cry. It would not be the first time. The room is tainted a deep blood red by the ruddy light of the Doomsday Moon, dwarfing the wan and sickly light of her smaller, paler sister. He does not know how he came to be here in Perdition, nor does he know his name. He knows only the cruelty of his master and the ministrations of the lash; everything else seems grey and pale in comparison. The boy’s master is Henrick, Night Chef and Master of the Loaves, he who bakes the bread and toasts the crumpets of those who dwell in the mighty echelons above him; both figuratively and literally. Henrick is like many men who achieve power and responsibility without the merits that usually required to justly possess it: petty, mean and dreadfully insecure. The whipping is not so much a punishment as it is an amusement to assert his dominance and soothe a quavering ego. The lords and ladies do not particularly care from whence their breads and pastries come, so long as they do. They do not even acknowledge the existence of Henrick and this rankles him so. So the frustration pours down upon the backs of the least of the proletariat. Just like our poor benighted kitchen boy.
A flash of lightning ignites the scarlet sky and the boy’s eye flare in harmony with it. In that brief moment, a measure of time but thinner than a hair, all the malice and hate, all the vengeful thoughts and burning rage crystallise into one clear thought. A pure thought, bereft of any need for logic and reason, the decision that a goal must be achieved irrespective of any cost or effort that may be required. Simply, ‘Henrick must die’, nor more, nor less, just that. It is the sort of thought that sets men free. There is no innocence left in this child, the rod has seen to that, now there is only purpose. This errant child dreams where he lies, chained to this pillar; and in the uncertain twilight between the waking world and the oblivion of sleep brief flashes of thought spark and dance across strained neurons. All of it is consumed with thoughts of revenge and retribution, who he is, where he is, when he is; even what he is seems irrelevant. And even if they were not, they are facts currently beyond his addled mind. The flame of vengeance is hungrily eating through these things, and the flame burns bright.
Sometime during the night, while our kitchen boy dreams his fevered dreams of hate and revenge someone unchains him, leaving him curled around the pillar. When he awakes he dons a tattered garment, more sack the shirt. As it rubs across the fresh clots of his wounds they open and stain it red. The boy does not so much as even wince. That would be weakness. There is no place for weakness in his plans. He returns to work and waits, waits for the time to come.
Weeks pass, Henrick still lives our young kitchen boy still works, still waits, still feel the ruthless caress of the lash. More weeks pass, still our kitchen boy waits. But he watches, he watches hard.
Waiting is always the hardest part of any endeavour, the endless suspense, the keening saw of impulse eating through your patience. Our boy has had many a chance to kill Henrick with knife or mallet, garrotte or bludgeon. But that would not be a fitting death for a man such as he. Our boy realises that a thing to be done should be done well, lest what is the point? And if a thing is to be done well, then surely it is worth making it memorable, precise…artistic. Our boy does not want to be caught, nor tried, nor hanged. Our boy knows that the greatest punishment to Henrick other than the last embrace is his escape, so that he may live. Live long, and live free.
The time of The Festival of Shadows was approaching, thenceforth the loaf kitchen would empty, leaving Henrick all alone. The plan itself was brilliant in its simplicity. So cowed were the denizens of the loaf kitchen that it was practically inconceivable that any of those poor wretched souls would raise a hand to their master. Well all save perhaps one, one for whom vengeance is a more o’erwhelming emotion than fear. Fear is the enemy, the killer. Fear is for the weak. Sometimes the weak are made strong by their fear, but what happens when the fear leaves? Some fall, dropping back into what they once were; weak and without purposes. Others are left strong and more whole than they were before; the fear was a scaffold to their might and it is needed no longer, for its work has been done.
Our kitchen boy waited on a small stool, ensconced behind a doorway, rolling pin in hand. Once again the waiting began. This time he did not have to wait so long. Henrick sauntered into view, posing arrogantly, surveying his terrible domain. All until the rolling pin struck him on the rear of his skull with a dry thump. Henrick crumpled to the floor, inert but far from dead. The death of a giant of such stature and loathing as Henrick requires, something far more exciting than an unobserved coshing from behind. Acts always convey more than words, deeds send messages. Thus an appropriate deed is required in order to send the appropriate message. And there are few messages more powerful than that of death. The task was not to be easy of course, Henrick, despite his somewhat slight frame, was a surprisingly heavy burden for a child of barely ten winters. It took time, but all things worth doing take time. It took effort, but all work does, especially if it is to be done well. Henrick’s instructions and ministrations had not been entirely wasted on our young kitchen boy. Something of a perverse irony would be reflected in the events which were to come. Cruelty and perfection made manifest in deeds. It was art of a most high and depraved form. Slowly, by inches, the still living body of Henrick was dragged across the floor of the loaf kitchen and bound at the hands and the feet with coarse string. Tied tight till it bit hard into his pallid skin, tight until would not have been unsurprising for it to draw blood. Were Henrick not so bloodless a man at least. Getting him into the bread oven was something more of a challenge for our little friend though. It again took time. The toil begat sweat, but that is merely a sign of the devotion to the cause, discomfort and weariness were not factors in the equation of beauty and art that our boy sought to create. Eventually Henrick was slid unceremoniously into the oven and left to lie. The boy busied himself now with the task of stoking the fires. Building them up so that they would burn slow, and burn strong.
Henrick stirred and groaned the low mournful groan of a man in pain. The woe riddled baritone of agony. The panic which overtook the beleaguered Henrick came on quickly, the futile struggling against his bonds, the screams and the shouts. An elegy of anguish, a dirge of despair. So delightful was the sound to the ears of that one small boy that he believed he had heard of nothing ne’er so sublime, nor so sweet. Henrick tilted his head backwards and locked his eyes with those of the kitchen boy. Henrick’s dry tongue licked his nervous lips. In the gaze that the boy returned Henrick saw all the hate, all the recrimination, the fear and the loathing, all the anger and resolve that brought the boy to this act. The towering animosity was enough to melt the steel of a man like Henrick. He was broken and lost and saw the end approaching quickly. The boy looked at Henrick, but did not see the cowed and terrified man before him, he saw only the effigy of his misery. And everyone knows that the best thing to do with an effigy is to burn it. As a helpless Henrick squirmed against his bonds and the rising heat of the oven, a realisation crossed the fields of the young boy’s mind. He remembered. He remembered why Henrick had been whipping him all those weeks ago, the reason behind the savage onslaught of the lash. The boy had felt that he had known all along. That the fact had been lurking into the dark and hidden corners of his mind, the serpent in his ear, the little whispering voice telling him just how Henrick should die. In retrospect it made perfect sense, a delightful and fitting dramatisation of revenge.
Smiling the boy said “Look Mr. Henrick, I remembered to light the fires!”
And with that he looked upon Henrick for the last time and shut the oven door. The screams of his former master were muffled behind the thick iron, leaving them sounding dull, flat and ever so slightly metallic almost as if they were not of this world. His deed done the boy gathered what meagre belongings he owned and what paltry food he could carry and began his flight up and out of the place they called Perdition. As he passed through the corridors and halls of the sprawling manse he started to whistle; the tune of a ditty sung by the children of the night kitchen, bright and bouncy, but at the same time grim and terrible. Whistling gaily he passed out into the city of Hacustra and drifting across the streets as he made his way to freedom came the answering song of all the other children embroiled in the revelry of the Festival of Shadows.
Kneed it, Roll it, Bake it, Cook it!
Make it quick and make it fast,
Or you’ll get a nasty lash!
Tall and mean!
Fast and keen!
Do it quick or he’ll make you scream!
Tall and quick!
Fast and thick!
Mr. Henrick’s such a prick!