The Walking Brain-Dead
Also available in ePub format.
The room shook. It felt like something had picked up the house and was trying to figure out what was inside. I tried to get off the couch, but Andria held me in place. Her fingers dug into my shoulders. There was a crash as if something had struck the floor of the room. The couch toppled onto its back. I struggled to drag Andria to the nearest doorway.
"No." Her voice was almost drowned out by the roaring that filled my ears. "You have to stop it."
I opened my mouth to shout back at her over the roar when the carpet in the middle of the room burst into flame. The fire formed a circle and began to expose the wood of the floor. A crack appeared in the wood. Something had struck the floor from underneath. I attempted to stand but was knocked back to the carpet as the floor was hit again.
The wood splintered and then burst. Pieces flew upward and pierced the ceiling. An arm, slender like a pole, with a pointed tip appeared through the hole in the floor and extended into the air. It was gray in color and made from rock or some kind of armor. Its single finger touched the edge of the hole. I looked up the length of the arm to where it almost brushed against the ceiling before descending back into the hole.
"Kevin!" Andria was shaking me. She must have crawled the small distance that had been between us. "It's the Lokah!"
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Andria. When had I seen her last? More years than I want to think about. But it had only been an hour since Jeff had stopped at the doorway to my office.
"You never mentioned you had friends like that before," he had said in the tone he reserved for describing women of negotiable virtue.
"Like what?" I asked without looking up at him. His appearance was a distraction, and I hoped that it would not last.
"Like the one downstairs. She's huge!" By this time he had stepped into my office and was giving an exaggerated description with his hands. "And you won't believe what she's wearing. It looks like a quilt with a hole cut in the middle for her head. It's full in front and back, but it doesn't cover her sides."
"What? And she isn't wearing anything under it?" The interruption was growing.
"No, only shorts! I must have stood next to her for a good five minutes while she tried to convince the secretary to let her see you."
"But she's left, then?" I thought that his story was almost over.
"No, I volunteered to bring you downstairs."
"You would." I turned away from him, but he continued to stand in the doorway. I didn't know anyone who looked or dressed the way Jeff described her.
But the words wouldn't go away. Her clothes like a quilt with a hole cut in the middle for her head. It did sound like something that Andria would wear. Andria? The repetition of her name surprised me. Andria as in Andria of Stonegarden Castle? It couldn't be her. I hadn't thought about Andria in. In?
I pushed Jeff out of the way as I left my office and made for the receptionist's desk on the ground floor. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could see her pacing back and forth in front of the receptionist. The summer dress she wore was divided into blue, green, purple, and red stripes. Jeff collided into me. I stumbled forward, and he stopped me from falling. I thought I was having another heart attack.
Between the stairs and the receptionist was one final glass door, which Jeff quickly opened. She turned as she reached the opposite wall. Andria looked as if she hadn't aged since the day I had last thought of her. She looked like she had not slept in a week; but when our eyes met, the expression of pure joy that entered her features was overwhelming. I must have looked pretty stupid as I lurched toward her. We met somewhere between the receptionist's desk and the glass door, and she caught me in a hug that threatened to suffocate me. Somewhere I heard laughter.
"I can't believe it. I can't believe it." I managed to say while fully expecting my arms to pass through her as if she were not there.
"Aren't you going to introduce me?" I tightened my grip around Andria at the sound of Jeff's voice, but she began to turn enough to look at him.
"Jeff," I said while still holding one arm around her shoulders, "this is Andria. She is." I glanced sideways at her, and our eyes met. She gave me a smile that was sheer delight. I felt as if the circulation had just returned to my body. "An old family friend from back-"
"Way back," Andria said.
"From way way back." I had to stop to keep from laughing and exchanged another glance with her. "You could say we grew up together."
"You grew up together!" Jeff's eyes were wide open, and his mouth never fully closed. "And you never mentioned her?"
"Well, she lived next door."
"On the left," she said.
"And when her family moved away." My words faltered, as her grip became momentarily painful. "I thought I would never see her again."
"And now that I have tracked him down we have a lot of time to make up for." She began to pull me gently toward the door. I didn't think that people could literally turn green with envy, but Jeff gave it his best shot.
"I suppose I could take the rest of the day off as vacation. I have enough of it saved up." I disengaged myself from Andria enough to sign out at the receptionist's desk. We left the building arm in arm and walked slowly across the parking lot to where my car waited. I held the door open for her.
"I wonder what Jeff would think if we told him that there wasn't a house on the left," she said before I closed the door. Her comment didn't seem funny at that moment. My parent's house was on a corner, and to the left of it was the road. When I sat in the driver's seat, Andria leaned across the seat and kissed me full on the lips. I couldn't breathe.
"Andria!" I said after I had finally managed to push her away.
"What's wrong?" She tried to move back against me.
"What about Celeste?" She drew away from me and settled deeply into the passenger seat. "And Paul? How are they?" She stared out the front windshield.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
A second arm began to extend out of the hole and touched the wood floor next to the first one. The wood around the hole bent upwards and then broke as the arms began to lift a body into the room. The two arms were connected to the back of the oval-shaped form, which was covered with dark red hair. Another pair of arms extended out of the sides of the body that appeared as thick as trees. Andria blocked my view of the creature with her body and looked deeply into my eyes.
"Do something!" she screamed, but I could barely hear her over the sound of splintering wood.
The creature had lifted its larger arms to the ceiling and was pushing against the roof with nine fingered hands. Cracks appeared over its head, and then the ceiling began to give way.
"I can't." I shook my head to avoid her gaze. "It's not my fault. I didn't mean to hurt anyone." Another crash and the floor began to tilt toward the monster. "I'm sorry."
Andria held my head still and looked into my eyes. The faintest traces of a smile touched the corners of her mouth.
"Did you really think I wouldn't forgive you?" She kissed me very gently on the lips and held my hands with her own.
I felt a staff form between our fingers. When she held it up, I saw that the staff had been created out of crystal. Andria pulled me sideways as a pole-like arm struck the wall. The Lokah had destroyed half of the ceiling, giving it room to stretch its slender arms high into the air. Andria stepped toward the Lokah, and the crystal staff appeared to shimmer in her hands. One of the slender arms swung down toward her. She blocked it with the staff. When the two came together, there was a blue flash. The creature withdrew the arm and struck again. I began to inch along the wall.
A slender arm hit the wall above my shoulder deflected by the crystal staff. The nine-fingered hands grabbed Andria. I watched the Lokah lift her into the air and then rip her in two.
I screamed for the both of us as Andria's upper body landed near me. The crystal staff clattered at her side. She looked as if she were trying to draw breath while blood stained the carpet around her.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Until we arrived at my house, Andria refused to say anything other than Celeste was dead. She sat on the living room couch and looked at the pile of magazines spread across the floor. I stamped my foot, but when she did not look at me, I sat facing her on the couch.
"You abandoned us."
"What!" I wanted to move away from her, but she restrained me with a hand.
"That's how it started."
"How what started? I never abandoned you!" My skin itched under her touch so I pushed her hand off. She closed her view of me and bowed her head as if she had fallen asleep.
"You never came back."
"I stopped thinking about you, if that's what you mean." I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. "I grew up."
"Is that all we meant to you?" I could barely hear her whisper the words. "A childish flight of fantasy?"
"No." I loosened my hold on her shoulders. "You comforted me when I needed help."
"How can you say that! I'm still alive."
"But you abandoned us." For the first time since we had left work, she looked into my eyes. "You left and never came back."
"Did Celeste think I abandoned her?" I moved back from her and sunk into the couch. "Is that why she died?"
"No, Celeste understood. Everyone who knew you understood. The problem was that many of your other children didn't understand."
"What other people? There were only you and Paul, Celeste, and maybe one or two others."
"In all of Stonegarden?" Andria shook her head from side to side as if under a great weight. "You invented many others, and nobody disappeared while you weren't thinking about them."
"What did they do?"
"Remember the creatures that had once lived in Stonegarden before we forged the Castle? The monsters became an army driven by a single force that wanted to destroy everything that you had created. The abomination had a name." Andria wrapped her arms around her shoulders. "The Lokah."
"I never named anything that." In the back of my mind, I felt the name take hold and feel as real as Andria, Celeste, and all of Stonegarden.
"I have learned there are many more things that exist than are actively thought of. The Lokah lay siege and finally broke Stonegarden Castle. It should have been me who died there. Not my daughter. Not Celeste."
I thought that my hand moved slowly across the distance between us as I moved to touch her shoulder. Celeste would sit at the very peak of Stonegarden Castle and look out across the land. I always liked the idea of sitting there with her, and I learned how to braid her hair just so she would let me touch it.
"Kevin," Andria said and placed her hand over my own. "You must stop the Lokah."
"What!" I tried to pull my hand away from Andria's touch. "I didn't start it."
"If the Lokah should reach this world, then the destruction would start again." She moved, closing the distance between us on the couch.
"The Lokah can't reach this world." There was nowhere that I could back away to. "It's a figment of my imagination. And so are you! If Jeff hadn't seen you, I would be crazy!"
"I can prove you're not crazy." Andria kissed me.
The summer dress that she had worn enveloped me and then tumbled in a heap to the floor. I held my arms around her and ran the fingers of one hand through her hair. The cover of the cushion of the couch felt rough against my bare back. I looked at Andria through a pool of water.
The couch shook. A sound like the roar of a waterfall striking the rocks far below filled my mind. I shoved against Andria to push her away, but she wouldn't release me. The couch jumped and toppled over, sending us tangled together across the floor. Holding onto her with one hand, I began to crawl toward a doorway.
"No." Andria was still fighting against me. "You have to stop it."
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Andria. How long had it been since I had seen her last? It had been twenty years since I had last dreamed of Stonegarden. Twenty years since I had last been with Celeste at the peak of Stonegarden Castle.
I would imagine the green sea of a forest that was far below our perch, and I could sort of picture the tops of the trees flowing like waves in the wind. We watched the birds flying over the forest and listened to the songs that they sang lifted up to us on the breeze. I remember Celeste leaned into me as I brushed my fingers through her hair.
Andria appeared out of the wind and found a perch on the wall where she could face us. A smile spread across her face, but she did not say anything. Celeste started to blush and twisted about in my arms. The three of us sat at the peak and listened to the song of the birds.
"We were wondering where your consort could be," I finally said.
"He's out there," Andria said turning to look across the forest. "Somewhere."
Paul refused to stay in any one place for long. Together we had traveled the length of Stonegarden and explored the land from the mountains to the sea. With the maps of Stonegarden complete and all of the monsters defeated, Paul had left for other lands. Every once in a while, he would return with stories of the adventures he had experienced, but he would never stay for more than a week before he would disappear again.
"Have you ever heard of the walking brain-dead?"
"The what?" I asked and then giggled because I felt somewhat uncomfortable. Andria's question had come out of nowhere. I wondered if she were trying to move the subject away from Paul.
"The walking brain-dead."
"What are they?" Celeste brought my arms around her shoulders and held them tightly. The image of Paul hurt by zombies or something far worse spread through my mind.
"People who are stupid." Andria shrugged her shoulders. "More than that really. People who are so stupid that it's hard to believe that they can do anything."
"Oh." I laughed, and Paul drifted out of my mind. "I had always thought of them as sleepwalkers."
"Have you ever wondered why?" Celeste asked.
"I always thought it was because they never tried." I felt Celeste shiver against me. "I mean they never put any effort into understanding the world around them."
"But that doesn't explain why," Andria said. "There must be a reason why they don't even try."
"Maybe they are numb to the world around them." Celeste moved away and turned so that she could face me. "Maybe they are overwhelmed by everything and can't deal with anything."
"But what would it take to do that to someone?" I held hands with Celeste; her grip was strong.
"You would be surprised," Andria said. "What is amazing is the number of people who can deal with everything."
"People like me?" I turned away from them and looked down at the forest far below. The songs of the birds filled the air and echoed between the stones.
I stood somewhat awkwardly because Celeste would not let go of my hands. Our perch was somehow much smaller, and Stonegarden appeared far away. Andria had disappeared. I struggled against Celeste and tried to make her let go. She looked at me through eyes that reminded me of her father. She didn't say anything.
I opened my eyes and sat up enough to look around my room. The walls around my bed needed to be repainted. The filtered light of the street lamp outside my window reflected off the small squares of white material stuck to the walls of my room. I leaned back in bed and closed my eyes.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My days had been spent in one world, and my nights had been spent in another. I had made Andria Queen of Stonegarden Castle. I did not want to turn my eyes away from her face and see the blood.
A nine-fingered hand touched her naked body. I turned to see the Lokah begin to drag Andria slowly across the floor. A dark space appeared in the middle of the red hair and then grew until it was a gaping hole filled with sharp fangs. Something snaked out of the darkness and wrapped around Andria's body.
I screamed. The crystal staff had fallen nearby, and I staggered over to it. The staff began to burn brightly when I picked it up. The Lokah's tongue was severed by the blow of the staff. It dropped Andria. Slender rock arms reached far into the sky. I held the burning staff to block the fall. The staff shattered. The severed finger of an arm struck the floor.
Wait a minute. The Lokah struck at me with both arms. I only felt one hit the crystal staff. Let me think. I can't remember what happened to the other arm. Wait a minute. The second arm struck down. Oh, my god. I'm dead.