My current state of incarceration may dissuade you from accepting that what you're about to read is true, or if in fact it could even be real. I might not believe it myself if I hadn't lived it. I remember the evening I met that monstrous machine. If she were a ship, I would think to name her Serendipity, having met her somewhere between coincidence and fate; but that reveals nothing of the nefarious nature within. My name is Henry Pickman and as of three weeks ago I earned my wages as managing editor for a local newspaper. The town is of no consequence, as hundreds if not thousands of towns like it litter the canvas of America. Hundreds if not thousands of managing editors labor waist deep in high school football and library bake sales. The small town paper offered the last refuge to the human-interest story—except humans had ceased to be interesting.
As per my usual routine on Friday evenings, having an insatiable hunger for horrors grim, I perused the local 'everything used' shop to see what new books made it to the shelves. I used to frequent the larger bookstores but my habit became too expensive. Besides, I loved that old book smell, and the ones from the consignment shop had a head start, like whiskeys aged in oak barrels. Having resigned myself to no new acquisitions that week auspiciously on my exit I saw what could have been a piece of history itself. The frame was a wrought matte black, heavy and solid. The keys perched on small rusted armaments. Near the top of the carriage, where it bore the word Remington, a few small paint spatters added to its persona. It was straight out of the Lost Generation, and crazy I'm not when I tell you it called to me. A press of the space bar advanced the Remington's carriage. A press of a key and the mechanical arm swung like a trebuchet into the ribbon. A small puff of dust drifted up as the head hit the matte black silk. And for twenty dollars I owned it, or as you may come to suspect, it would soon own me.
I stumbled going through the door trying to unlock the entry while carrying the thirty-pound machine. I set it down on the kitchen table and called to Shelley, excited to share my find with her. There was a note on the counter from Shelley. "Out with friends." She had underlined friends. I poured a glass of merlot from the green bottle on the counter. After draining half the glass I carried the antiquity down to my study in the basement and put it down on the old oak desk with a thud. Once more up the stairs, returning with the half empty glass in one hand and the bottle in the other. I went over the Remington with a damp rag; top, bottom, and sides. As I turned the machine over and around its precise mechanics captivated me. I wondered about the history of the machine: who had been its previous owner, and what words or histories had been typed upon the age-old keys.
Thinking I heard the door upstairs I got up to see if it was Shelley. While moving toward the stairs I accidentally scratched my wrist on a piece of the undercarriage. It burned more than I would have expected for a minor scratch. Ascending the stairs I noticed a dribble of blood, perched on my wrist like a tear about to fall. Across the street the neighbor's garage door closed, swallowing its light. Realizing it wasn't Shelley that I had heard, I returned to the study.
I turned the newly cleaned machine upright. The paint spatters near the carriage remained, but otherwise the Remington looked several generations younger than when I'd brought it home. A lever raised a bar across the roller and I fed it the first sheet. I advanced the wheels to expose a fresh patch of ribbon.
I dashed off my favorite exercise to warm up my fingers for typing.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
I repeated the line of mischievous Jack again, then emptied my wine glass. Without thought I started typing. For five years I'd written nothing but my weekly articles, my petulant tributes to the proletariat. Sitting in front of the Remington something happened to me, something I still cannot explain. I say this as the act of writing became more like a trance than a conscious action. And so began the memory lapses that my white-coated conspirators find so convenient for keeping me in this fluorescent purgatory.
Henry should have known from the dream, the primordial premonition, that life had no recourse for him but to be a monstrosity of fate. Decades later he would still remember it as if it was just last night that the images of horror burned themselves into his memory. He was eight years old. There was a party being held in his honor, in the basement of the old house in Newark where his family used to live. There was a young boy there, Tommy. Henry and Tommy’s older sister often played together as children. It was convenient with her living directly across the street, as he had yet to make the acquaintance of any of the older boys at the end of it. In the dream, Tommy approached.
"What's wrong with your eyes?" Tommy asked with a childish lisp that wouldn't escape him until years later as a college freshman.
"Nothing" said Henry. "Why?"
Tommy muttered something about Henry's eyes being red and he walked across the basement to the washing machine, where there was a hand mirror hanging by a leather strip from a rusted nail in the wall. He raised the mirror to inspect his eyes. The orbs reflecting back were barely eyes for long. At first they only looked bloodshot, but as he stared into the mirror they assumed a brighter and brighter shade of crimson until a sanguine sea of scarlet shifted and crashed behind each eye. Henry turned from the mirror crying tears of terror, tainted red. He couldn't speak and could barely move, leaving him to look upon the children with a pleading grimace as ruby droplets stained his cheeks and collar.
"Help me!" he screamed. A dark robed figure emerged from the crowd of children, his frame dominating theirs with the black silk of his garments a striking contrast to their T- shirts and dungarees. He waded through the throngs of screaming children, their little bodies barely measuring up to the white cincture around his waist. The figure reached beneath his cassock and withdrew a silver crucifix. The shining icon further obscured the hooded face. With arm extended he drew closer, muttering Latin in an icy baritone. Henry heard a rumbling as if the bowels of the earth itself were about to erupt in a great chasm and swallow him. As the priest drew near, Henry's muscles tightened in spasms and he collapsed to his knees with his head in his hands. Blood from his eyes dripped through his fingers. In a fleeting moment his body was no longer that of a child. His skin became the wrinkled jaundice of a junk addict, his hair a cascade of pure white splashing past his sloping shoulders. The hollow sockets of a wraith replaced the eyes that had bled Oedipal tears just moments before. A snake for his tongue danced over his teeth.
Henry awoke in a sheen of sweat, his pajamas and the sheets beneath drenched, to the shrill cry of his...Continue Reading