The Come-A-Lot

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Lance has a new life as a bellboy in a hotel between worlds.

Submitted: September 28, 2018

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Submitted: September 28, 2018

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Three of Parvati’s eight arms caress me while the other five are busy touching herself all over. Some goddesses are like that, selfish lovers. I don’t mind. Three arms are enough for me and pleasing guests is my unspoken duty here at the Come-A-Lot Hotel. The bed groans as Parvati wiggles her abdomen and grabs the back of my head. Her thick fingers rub through my hair. She could crush my skull at any moment, but I know what she is indicating, and I obediently move to her massive nether area and get to work.

“Oh, Lance.” She purrs like a cat, “I like this Lance, a lot.”

I stiffen, and I mean emotionally.

She chuckles, “You are too hooked on your past.”

Usually I enjoy her silliness but this particular pun recalls a time before I began my employment as bellhop at the hotel where Art and Merlin brought me after our world burned. Most of the time it’s a job.  Parvati is one of my few and secret pleasures, and I await her visits with childlike expectation.

“You have grown.” She grabs me with one of her hands and tugs gently. You can’t imagine how it feels to have a Goddess hold your parts in a deadly but gentle grasp. I relax and return to my previous task with more vigor.

Parvati gasps. All eight hands tear at the sheets while she moans. The bed jerks with her orgasmic lurches. It rises toward the ceiling and hovers on a suspended zenith while the air around us densifies into a force field which explodes a lifetime-seeming moment later. The bed crashes to the floor.

Another job done, I wedge myself into the crevasse between Parvati’s chin and neck as the room sags into normalcy. Parvati snuggles around me, her warmth encircles, and I feel protected. That’s what I love about Parvati; she takes me away from all this, even if it is just for an hour. The soft pillows and the sounds of Parvati’s snores lull me to sleep.

**

We stand on the tunnel path before the opening to Parvati’s world. It’s the only area that exists outside the hotel. Thick fog twists around everything. There is never any sun here nor is it ever completely dark, merely continually gray. The path begins at the bottom of the entrance stairway, winds through the mists and passes hundreds of identical tunnels that lead into other realms. They are oval and black, so we’ve installed landmarks to aid the guests. A sculpture of an elephant that has a body shaped like a large but sensual woman marks Parvati’s world. I hold Parvati’s luggage, two large bags and a smaller purse. Parvati stands a foot and a half taller than me. She looks down and laughs because she finds my outfit amusing. I wear a blue suit with thick golden buttons, and blue brimless hat with an encircling yellow stripe. My official title is head bellboy. I hate it. I may have been a boy when we escaped the burning air and melting lakes of Olde England five years ago but I am a boy no longer.

I lay Parvati’s things down just beside the tunnel’s entrance then I take my bellboy stance: hands at my sides, legs slightly apart, face forward. She smiles and touches my cap unbelievably lightly with one of her large fingers. She says, “You are a cut diamond in this mist, a chiseled gem extracted from a once unshaped and gnarled rock.” I detect a cool tingling where her hand touches my head. With two of her other hands she grabs her purse and reaches into a pocket removing a gleaming white gem. She places it in my palm. Usually she pays with coin. This gem is something special, and I twirl it in my fingers as light glints off the edges of its clear facets. I look up at Parvati wishing I could leave with her but knowing my duty lies here. She winks at me as two of her arms reach over and grab her bags. Then she departs through the tunnel. I stare at the reflections within the gem, already feeling the loss of her.

I pocket Parvati’s gift but do not return immediately to the lobby. I’m the only employee who comes here, and I like to take an undisturbed break after a guest leaves. I remove the pack of cigarettes I have stashed under my cap. I take one from the pack and search my many pockets for a light. Damn, I have run out. A sudden flame appears in the air above my shoulder. I stare at it, unfazed.

A voice emerges out of a nearby tunnel. “Don’t mess with Goddesses, son. They have strange powers.”

And then there is Merlin. He enters the path from a black oval decorated with ivy two tunnels away from Parvati’s world. He is wearing a long filthy coat made from coarse gray material. His blue eyes study me as he approaches. I feel myself begin to tense and try with all my power to appear at ease. The tunnels are off limits for the staff but since Merlin created them out of his trick bag of magic and Art owes him his for the hotel, not to mention his life, the rules don’t apply to the wizard. I say nothing, light my cigarette on the wizard fire, and then offer Merlin one. He shoves his fist into a coat pocket. I notice he was holding something green but his hand is empty when it emerges and reaches out to select a cigarette. Merlin is a powerful fuck, and although I don’t like him, I am careful not to spark his anger. He rescued me from the dying inferno of Olde England as well and I’ve been paying him back with interest ever since, although not the monetary kind.

Merlin had been the one to prepare me for my new career. “Everything has a use, even boys rescued from death,” he’d told me while he had his way with me over and over again. I do not wish to recall these experiences but they whisper to me now as we puff at our cigarettes. Merlin’s desire for me has become less constant but every now and then he calls; I obediently answer. My heart beats a little faster while we silently inhale and exhale. Something in his blue eyes ignites as he stares at me through fog and smoke. But then, he deflates and looks wearily about him. The hand holding the cigarette feels his pocket. I can’t help wishing that the burning end of the cigarette will catch his coat on fire, and he’d go up in roiling flame. His hand moves from his pocket to my shoulder, and he leans in close. Stale breath tickles my ear.

“Tomorrow night, my son.”

I dislike the way he calls me son. I’m a man now, no longer the boy he saved, but the real thing I hate is what he expects of me. The stub of Merlin’s cigarette falls to the ground, and just like that, he disappears into the perpetual fog. With my foot, I reach out and crush the burning nub of his abandoned cigarette.

**

When I enter the hotel, Drake motions to me from behind the reception desk. Drake is a fellow refugee. He’s an older man, has been old since I can remember. I nod my head when tells me to report to the tower. I bypass the glass elevator and head for the stairs.

The door to Art’s office stands ajar, and I enter without knocking. Windows line two of the walls but since there is no real outside, they offer views of the lobby on one side and the pool on another, both three levels below. Art hardly ever descends, but he likes watching. The boss sits upon his throne, the name given for a high metal chair complete with silver armrests and smooth wheels attached to its legs. The chair is tall so even when standing I have to look up slightly to meet the boss’ gaze.

He hunches over his desk. The desk has extended legs to meet the dimensions of the chair. Why? I do not ask. If the boss feels better from his levitated position then let him. He examines something small that he holds in his hands and a gleam of light reflects off the scars on his left cheek. The boss hates his scars. Red and deep, they sully his left side distorting a once beautiful face into something unbalanced and, in his own words, grotesque. For me, the scars symbolize bravery for he received them when he saved Gwen and I, the true mark of a valiant knight.

Without looking up he says, “Look, Lance, what a trinket I have.” He reaches out his arm to show me the ring he pinches between two fingers. An extraordinary light ripples from it in cool bluish tones. The pulsing beam comes from the ring itself. “I paid well for this,” Art says still holding out the ring for me. “What else can we use the wealth we amass here for?” He places the ring upon the table and shakes his head.

Still gazing at it, he asks, “Do you think she will like it?”

He’s talking about Gwen. After the end of our world Gwen clung to Art; she was 13 and he was her savior. Things have become complicated since, and the boss is always trying to impress her with expensive things he buys through merchants that deal inter-worldly. Gwen’s closets must burst with the baubles he has garnered for her. I have never seen her wear any of them.

“What maiden would not?” I ask.

He peers down at me with calculating green eyes. I know what he is thinking. I have never committed an act of betrayal against my king, even so, he harbors doubts about Gwen and myself. He never asks though at times like these I am certain he wants to. I remain silent. To deny would cast more doubt.

He shakes his head again and lowers his eyes. “Wine?” he asks as he opens a drawer in the desk and removes a half empty bottle of red. He pours me a glass before I can answer. “It comes from a world that boasts the best grapes in all creation. It is said that the blood of fairies is used to water the vines, and the grapes are crushed by the feet of a hundred virgins.” He pushes the glass toward me and I reach to lift it from the table. He pours more for himself, a generous portion, and lifts his glass in the air. I mirror him with my own. We drink. “The finest wine that gold can buy,” he says after emptying his glass, “true by the price, if not the taste.”

He places his hand gently on the neck of the wine bottle as if he is caressing a lover. “What do you think of our kingdom, Lance?” He motions around him with one arm as he refills his glass with his other. In the beginning we had nothing but Merlin’s spells and a few salvaged valuables we sold to build the Come-A-Lot. Now Art’s office is crowded with things, years of profit turned into shelves full of wealth. “I can have anything I want,” Art’s glass stops at his lips. He stares into its bowl, “except what I most desire.”

“What is that?” I say.

He glares over the wineglass rim, two piercing green daggers. “To hold the lost sword again,” he says in a heavy voice.

The answer surprises me but if my face reads so, he does not, or chooses not to notice while he imbibes again. Art wheels his chair around to the windows overlooking the lobby and studies the view below.

“There are guests to see to?” He asks.

“Always,” I reply.

“Good. Then we can all get richer together.” He smiles but I do not believe it is from mirth. I know that the exchange was meant to be a dismissal but I can’t ignore the feeling that the boss needs something more.

“My lord. You should dine with your guests tonight.” He used to share meals with the guests, listen to the latest gossip, and tell stories from golden days of old. Art slowly glides his chair back behind the desk and pauses so long I almost think he might agree.

“No,” he answers, “too much work.” With a heavy hand, he puts his empty glass down on the desk.

I nod but remain silent as I turn to go.

“Lance,” I can hear the trickle of wine being poured. “If you happen on Gwen, send her up.”

I exit the door and descend the stairs mourning the loss of the king who once ruled the land that I loved.

**

Gwen is in my room pretending to make the bed when I arrive. I don’t know why she bothers. Her official job is head maid but my room is the only one I ever find her working in. Gwen stares at me from beneath her long lashes although she pretends to be focused on her work. The folds of the blanket she spreads over the mattress billow about her. Her skin is ivory, her hair dark brown, and her red lips so ripe and ready one gets the feeling that unless they are kissed immediately it will be too late.

I stand by the door and watch her, afraid to close the door on just the two of us. I remember how we’d been when we first came to this place. Clinging together, two lost youths fleeing the fiery destruction of their home looking to Art and the Merlin for our succor. Art had given harbor to Gwen. And the Merlin had given me something else entirely.

“Are your morning duties over?” She asks while bending over the bed and smoothing out the soft blanket.

“Yes.” I say.

“I suppose sheets need changing?” She asks it but not as a question.

“One guest has checked out.”

Gwen looks directly at me. Her lips slip into a smile. She does not like Parvati much. She does not like any of my special patrons.

“The boss is looking for you,” I say.

Her smile becomes a displeased line, her brow furrows, and she returns to her task. My god, she’s beautiful. I wonder why I don’t grab her now, throw her on the half made bed, and soil some more sheets. Is it fear? What would I do, where would I go if the boss banished me from this place? But it is not fear that restrains my hands from touching Gwen. The boy who could have loved her had perished 6 years ago.

Bed made, Gwen advances holding a pile of sheets. “Your bed’s all ready,” she says.

I just nod as she waits. When she realizes that I’ve got nothing to say, she shrugs and brushes by me, a trail of white sheet dragging on the carpet behind her. I watch her, and she knows it, then she turns the corner at the end of the hall.

**

The rest of the day is busy. Lots of guests come in, a whole array of types from different worlds. A group of bedraggled and nervous scholars enters late in the day. They ask for a private wing. I listen to them talk while I lead them to their rooms, pushing a cart filled with various bags and boxes. There has been a sudden unexplainable shift in their world, and they have come to the hotel for safety and to plan retaliation. They do not look like warriors: gaunt tall bodies, spectacles, very mannered. Yet, they talk as if they wield power in their homeland, and somehow that power’s been threatened. I wonder what’s happening out there.

Bert arrives as well from a land where all the beings are short and a little furry, including him. He looks like a cross between a midget and a poodle. Bert’s a regular at the Come-A-Lot, I know him well. Tonight, he looks awful. His shoulders sag under an unseen weight, his eyes too, and his legs move sluggishly through the lobby. He is tired and tells me he won’t have need of me until later. I agree to meet him. Usually I’m a detached participant when a man requests my services, but Bert’s different. He’s only looking for companionship. I see him to his room.

**

I am exhausted and feel hot since my encounter with Gwen. I slip on my modest pair of bathing trunks and head for the pool.  The boss allows staff in the pool though we have to stick to the servant area toward the back. The pool is enormous. It snakes along in a convoluted manner mimicking the tunnel path. It’s easy enough to find a quiet corner all to myself. A few tiny lights twinkle but it’s mostly dark. I ease my feet into the cool water and enjoy the feeling that travels up my skin through my torso and over my head as I slowly submerge my body. Water is another of my secret pleasures. I come from a land that was all lakes and mist, the realm of a powerful lady who wielded a mighty sword. That was before the flames.

Something slimy slips over my ankle and I jerk my leg back as I come up for air. I take a deep breath and feel the tickling sensation again, this time against my thigh. I shiver. It’s awful and sensual at the same time. I feel it a third time and dive under.

A form slithers beneath the surface. A boy or young man, not human but Mer, his silky golden hair swims about his white face. A well-muscled upper body complete with a flat stomach merges into green fishy scales and the classic Mer fin. He circles around me, using his tail to tickle me as he goes, laughing out tiny bubbles from the sides of his smile. I remember Gwen telling me about him. He’s a new-hire seeking asylum from a world in upheaval. The boss wants him to eventually take some of my workload. The Come-A-Lot is becoming a regular brothel.

The Mer is handsome, in an exotic way, and his muscles ripple smoothly as he moves meretriciously through the water. He winks. I’m not interested in men in my off hours but something about this Mer triggers a reaction, and I don’t like it. I break the surface again and lift myself onto the edge of the pool. My feet still dangle in the water. The Mer emerges, water cascading over smooth pale skin that sparkles under the little lights. He places his hands on my knees and raises himself to my eye level. Doesn’t he realize that I’m staff and don’t have any coin for him?

“What have we heee-rrrrr?” His r trails off in a hollow guttural sound.

“Staff, “ I say, “hands off.”

“I like putting my haaands on staaaffffs,” And his hands move to do just that as his face nears mine, prepared for a kiss.

I grab him by the throat. I get hard at the same moment. Something is wrong here. I suspect a glamour or a charm. Whatever it is, it isn’t stronger than my resolve, and I tighten my grip. I surprise the half-fish, and his body wriggles beneath my grasp. His mouth opens and emits a horrible throaty noise. His hands leave my legs and rise up to meet my own, not the kind of handholding he was hoping for.

I let go, and he falls into the water with a shriek. Violent ripples move outward. I take another deep breath and will my erection down.

Hands capture my ankles and pull me under. I lash out with a fist that finds fish meat though the blow is softened by the water. He twists his tail around my midsection and starts squeezing me now. I claw at his scales with my blunt nails as best I can. I guess it does some good because he releases me. I try to backstroke away: too slow. His tail whips forward and smacks me in the face. The watery world tingles around me then begins to drift away. I sink.

**

I wake spluttering and coughing on the hard edge of the pool. The Mer looms above me. I try to get a hold on my breathing, and he leans back to give me air. I notice he can hover over the surface of the water using his strong fin as support. Then I snap my head to the side and vomit water.

“Not so sexxxxy noww” He says.

“Good,” I say between coughs, “because I’m not interested.”

The Mer laughs. The sound is even more awful than his voice. He’s looking directly at my swim trunks, and I realize that I am hard again. Damn, that’s one strong spell. I raise myself up and look directly at him.

“I can’t combat magic,” I say.

He looks confused. He frowns, his shoulders drop, and suddenly the desire eases off a bit, though it never completely goes away.

“He told me I am heeerrr to pleeeease. Pleeease everybody…” the Mer still looks at me oddly.

“Who,” I ask, “the boss?”

“No. Nooot him. The Merrrllll.”

At first I think he is naming a Merlord. The audible spell allows all the guests and staff to understand one another but doesn’t always account for accents. Then I realize he means the old wizard, Merlin. Now, I truly understand. Merlin’s been at this guy too. Poor kid. Although the Mer is strong, he appears young. Maybe about the same age I was when I came to the hotel 6 years ago? That sick bastard. The thought of our mutual experience disgusts me, and I feel like vomiting again.

I try to be kinder. We talk for a while, and he tells me his name in an unpronounceable gurgle. It sounds something like Garron and we settle on that. Garron explains to me how his world was once run by a great Merking who wielded a magic trident but the trident was stolen and the world fell into war. The Mer were rounded up as slaves, many of them murdered or tortured. Merlin saved him from the slave dens and brought him here.

“I must pleeease himmm.”

The story is way too similar to my own and it brings up bile mixed with memory.

I try to shove the memories away but can’t. As Garron speaks, my own experience begins to waken. The sickness, the pain, the even worse feeling of perverted pleasure as the old wizard introduced me to my new career. I have to fight off a thousand images and thoughts that try to squeeze me like the Garron’s tail. All of them reveal the same face, his face, the scraggly gray hair and rough beard, the blue eyes deeper than any sky and more violent than any storm, the wandering hands that cannot be denied access to anything.

Garron stops in the middle of a sentence and raises his hand to my cheek. The action distracts me from my thoughts and I look into his eyes. I imagine we both see the same, or nearly the same image staring back like looking at a reflection in water. Garron leans in and lightly touches me on the cheek with his lips. There is nothing behind it but gentle care and understanding, and I squeeze his arm before standing.

I wish Garron a good night and return to my room, dripping pool water as I go, slipping into bed without even toweling myself off. My heart feels weak and heavy when I think about Garron and what the wizard might require of him, and what the wizard has done to me. I fall asleep to the sound of the air conditioner pumping out cool air and the beating of an empty heart.

**

I wake a few hours later and go to my scheduled appointment with Bert. He’s already in bed, and I slide in next to him. Bert immediately wedges his body close to mine, his back against my chest, and reaches behind to grab my arms which he pulls around him like the edges of a blanket. The fur on his head tickles my chin. He reminds me of a dog we had when I was a boy. The memory is so clouded, I can only capture a wisp of it before it burrows beyond my awareness.

This is how it always goes with Bert: hours of embracing while he talks nonstop about anything that comes into his head. Tonight is different. Something seems to be bothering him, and for a long while he remains silent. Then Bert begins to shake almost violently. At first I worry that he is ill but then I realize that Bert is crying. The tears have wet his fur and thereby my arms. I don’t say a word. It’s not my job to ask questions.

“Aww!” he says in a voice so heavy with despair it sends a chill through me, “the fire!” He wriggles in my embrace turning his body until his head is buried against my neck; I think of yesterday and Parvati. “Ri! And little Erta. Awww.” I tighten my hold on him in an attempt to give him comfort.

He suddenly sits up.

“Forgive me, Lance,” he says while brushing wet fur out of his eyes. “It was wrong to come here, weak… I must return. Tonight. Now.”

“I’ll get your things,” I say, automatically switching into bellboy mode.

“No, I will not need them.” He considers a moment. “Yes,” he says, “but bring only the brown bag.”

“I’ll hold the rest for your return”, I say.

He shakes his head sadly. “Do with my things what you will.” He gets up to dress, and I follow his example. I am not naked like he is—but for his fur—but I do need to don my cap and find my shoes. He puts on short trousers and a hooded cape. When we are ready, I grab the brown bag and lead Bert down the hallway and through the lobby. The hotel is quiet. Even Drake has abandoned his post at the lobby desk. We exit the building onto the tunnel path and head for Bert’s tunnel, a small oval resting upon a squat mound of earth, its only landmark.

As we near the tunnel Bert takes my hand. He turns to view the hotel half lost in the fog. Then he tightens his grip on my hand and releases it. Without looking at me, he takes his bag, steps through the tunnel opening, and vanishes. I stare at the black oval for a long while feeling numb. Bert has been a patron for many years. He still sees me as the youth I never was but perhaps seem to be from the outside. And yet, something does leave me at this moment, a bit of the boy before.

Something is wrong here. Bert has left with no explanation never to return again. I cannot help myself. I do what is forbidden, lean forward, and push my head through the tunnel entrance.

The landscape I see is dark with what I think are clouds until I smell the air. Smoke. The sky is filled with it. Bert is nowhere to be seen. The view reminds me too much of my own burning world and I pull back, the scene melting away as my face emerges. I stare at the oval. My mind races with memories of the fire, the destruction, the end of Olde England and anything that had been my life before. The blood in my veins rises to the point where I begin to feel that I will faint.

I turn away and begin moving along the tunnel path. I am determined now although I am not quite sure where my destination lies though I have a vague recollection of the place I seek. The path is twisted and has many dead ends like a labyrinth of myth but I am not daunted. After searching for a time I find what I want. A new oval faces me marked by an urn filled with salt water and sand. A relief upon the urn depicts a three-pronged weapon, the trident. Without pausing I go to the tunnel entrance and walk through. Stupid of me, this is a world of sea. Luckily the tunnel empties onto a narrow beach so I am not assaulted by the full blast of the heat which bathes this world. The sea blazes. The water boils. The air sears my lungs.

I fall backwards through the tunnel coughing, my body prostrate on the cold ground. For once I am grateful for the chilly fog of the tunnel path. The strange affliction has struck at Garron’s world as well. I get up, and now I run still coughing at the burnt feeling in my throat. It is not far. I stop and freeze in front of the stone Elephant-woman. Parvati’s doorway looms before me. I cannot enter, cannot face another possible burning world, at least not one in which a friend exists, or existed. But then a hint of green twinkles at the edge of my sight, the ivy bordered entrance of another tunnel. I move toward it, and cautiously look through.

It is early evening. Dying light reveals this world. The air is clearer here and I can see no signs of fire but a faint acrid scent troubles my nose. Tall brick-made structures with marble steps and pillars surround me. Green ivy grows everywhere scaling walls and choking windows. Even as I stand there, the hint of smoke increases. This world does not seem to be an inferno yet but its doom nears. I can feel the oppression in the atmosphere. Something terrible is about to erupt.

I exit the tunnel. I should return to the hotel, find the boss, tell him all I’ve discovered but I have one last world to visit. Now that I have broken my word truculence comes easily. I do not rush but take my time thinking about the tunnels in a new light. Each of these doors opens onto a land, an entire world filled with uncountable millions who breath, love, exist. What is happening? I can guess at the menace responsible for the destruction but cannot fathom the why.

The entrance I seek lies at the very end of the path, or the beginning depending on how it is determined. No other tunnel stands near it. Here the gray mist is so complete the dark oval exists only as a darker place than the air around it. I have never returned here since that day six years ago; I had no need.

I enter.

Almost nothing greets me. A wind whines. Dim light seeps through an ebony clouded sky. The charred land has settled into a black dessert that stretches far into bleak distances where hollowed bowls of earth reveal the now empty beds of deep lakes. Nothing lives, not even a remnant of who I had been, who I might have become. I stand for a long while and listen to the wind, breath the ash-tainted air, close my eyes and try to picture how it once had been. I wish I had ended here, my ash mixing with this burnt earth and in a way I did. It is the most unnatural sort of life, to live past the time of the land that made you. What have these years at the hotel amounted to? What meaning can I find in my existence now?

These thoughts adhere to me, like rust on an old weapon. If anywhere there exists an agent to remove its corrosion at this moment I do not believe I will ever discover it. No, I will wield the rusty weapon as best I can. Use it as it is meant to be used, however that may be.

Perhaps, for vengeance?

At this new idea, it seems the air lightens minutely. I turn away from death and return through the tunnel.

**

Once inside the hotel again, I walk passed the main desk ignoring the surprised look Drake gives me as I charge by him without a word. I head for the pool removing my clothing as I go. A few guests watch me in my tirade pointing at me and whispering to each other. I toss everything aside and let it land where it may, all but my pants which I continue to wear, and I dive into the cold waters letting the dust of dead and dying worlds wash away. I swim to the back of the pool without tiring though it is a long way. There are no other swimmers here. I search for Garron as I go but despite my efforts I see no flash of scaly tail or streak of white skin. Is he hiding from me? I wish to ask him several questions and tell him what I have seen. I leave the water without success and head for my room.

I enter the room and close the door. My pants are sodden and cold against my skin. I look for a fresh pair. A movement startles me. Gwen sits on the bed facing the door. She looks terrible, still beautiful, but her face is streaked with tears, her nose is red and swollen, and a purple mark mars her right cheek. Is everything and everyone falling apart?

“Oh Lance!” she says as she runs to me. “The Merlin, he came looking for you and found me here… cleaning.” Then she stops abruptly shaking her head and tightening her fists. Her voice hardens, “No. I was waiting for you.” She sways and then laughs although the sound chills me, “I feel safe with you. I just want…”

She looks directly into my eyes, her smile fades, and she holds the sides of my face lightly in her hands. This close I can see the remnants of dried blood staining the inside of her nostril. “I want what once might have been…” Her eyes fill with water that waxes into glistening moons then steadily begins to descend down her cheeks.

What might have been?

I hold her.

“He came for you and found me. His face was red, and he was…” She searches for the word rocking her head back and forth, tiny motions against my chest, “feverish.” Her hands clench into fists, and they fall heavy upon my shoulders. “He said he needed comfort.” She retracts her head for a moment to catch my gaze but immediately looks away when she meets my eyes, and now she presses her undamaged cheek against my naked chest. Then in her smallest voice Gwen whispers, “he has never been so crude.”

A moment passes while I comprehend her words. Filth! I had not been his only victim? No. Of course there would be others, but Gwen…

He searched for me, and I was gone passing through tunnel doorways, discovering the evidence of dying worlds. Could he somehow detect what I had done? The spells are his own after all. I do not know how magic functions.  Could he have purposefully stained Gwen to cut at my own heart?

All these thoughts are useless. The Merlin had done this to Gwen. Gwen, Garron, myself. Who knew what others there may be? We are like toys to him that he keeps in a box taking us out to play when the mood strikes him. And we, like mindless playthings, allow it. I feel Gwen still leaning against me. No, not allow, at least in her case. We are simply unable to stop him. Or are we?

Gwen cries and cries and I lead her to the bed, pull back the sheets, and lay her down softly. Her head twists to the side viewing me through her tears. I lift up the sheets to cover her then gently kiss her forehead like a mother putting a babe down to rest. I remain until she falls asleep, her lashes fluttering into a soft stillness.

**

All lights have been extinguished in the tower office. Only the vague edge of the lobby lights three stories beneath reaches the windows here to create a dim gray world similar to the tunnel path. Art sits upon his throne a glass in one hand, a shell of the man who once ruled our world with the blessings of the lady of the lake. His other hand covers his eyes as if the minimal light is too bright for him to face. On the desk stand many empty bottles.

He notices me enter and turns away.

“What have you come for?” he asks.

Before I can speak he wheels round in his chair, and his eyes hurl acid at me.

“She did not accept my gift.” Spit cascades from his lips as he speaks, “she says she requires nothing from me.” He raises his glass filled hand and points it at me accusingly, “There is only one who has the gift that she desires.” The glass comes hurtling at me, its contents spilling out onto the floor as it arcs. I move to the side and it shatters against a window.

I do not care about this twisted circumstance. My main concern is greater than Art’s misplaced jealousy. Can’t he see me standing half naked before him?

“You are the one she loves.” His fists cling to the sides of his chair. They strain against the metal as if preparing to rend it, end from end.

“And you would have her love this?”  I say, meaning the endless amounts of riches that decorate the room, meaning the hotel itself on its cold island surrounded by fog, and, yes, even meaning the fallen king before me.

For a moment, Art looks ready to explode. His face bulges and reddens, his teeth clench, his eyes whirl in chaotic anger.

 “Ahhhhh!” Art’s upper body slumps upon his desk. His arms lash out striking the bottles and glasses from the desktop.

I wait until silence falls.

“She loves the man you once were.” I say. “She loves the king who saved her. She loves the memory of the world we have all lost, those we might have become.” I move forward and place a tentative hand upon his shoulder stretching my arm up to reach him. “I remember the king as well.”

“Oh Lance,” he moans into the wood of the desk. “I have failed my people.”

“No,” I say, my hand giving his shoulder a shake, “you salvaged what you could.”

He lifts his chin slightly and looks at me, our eyes on the same level, “How will God judge that?” he asks.

“God judges not until the end,” I say, and then I tell him all that has occurred, all I have learned and suspect. I do not go into detail but the words rush from me with such vigor I fear I may lose control of them.

“The Merlin?” He asks, distraught.

And then I tell him about Gwen.

He cannot speak. His mouth opens but no sound emerges.

“Give me the key to the dungeon,” I say.

Art looks as if a protest will break through his silence but instead shakes his head. He opens a drawer in the desk and takes out a small silver key. He slides the key to the edge of the desk. I take it immediately and start to go.

“Lance.”

I do not wish to delay but still feel allegiance to this man. I turn to listen. “When the world began to burn, I gave him the sword. It was the only way… the only way to save us. I gave him the sword and power over us all.”

**

Something clicks inside my mind as I enter the elevator, turn the key, and begin the long descent. The Merlin has been my boss all along. The sword wields the land’s power. The land gave life to me. Merlin’s control of the sword has allowed him to use us however he wishes because our lives are beholden to the power within the sword. I realize now that my deranged and skewed sense of loyalty was not truth but tainted by Merlin’s power. I am reminded of Garron’s glamour that had tempted me weakening my resistance to him. Yet the sword’s power waxes greater than any Mer spell and against it, perhaps, I was helpless.

“No more,” I swear aloud to the empty elevator but I am not certain I believe my own oath.

The elevator slows then stops. The door glides smoothly open. Without, darkness hangs over a cold vast cellar, the sub-level of the Merlin, where I have been a few times before when obeying the Merlin’s call. It runs the entire length and breadth of the hotel. Alcoves and cave-like rooms fill the entire space. It’s a snake’s warren and within it Merlin lurks.

I step out onto the chilly floor and only then remember I wear a pair of dampened pants and nothing else. I shiver but continue into the dark. The elevator closes behind me, and its light is lost as it ascends away, called by a patron or working through some magic of the wizard. Either way, I realize too late that I have left the key within turned in its keyhole. I can hear a distant sound, a faint echo somewhere in the dimness.

After a few moments I am able to see a little as my eyes adjust. There is light down here, an amber glow that oozes from the walls. Fog emerges from cracks within the stone as well, the same fog maybe that plagues the tunnel path. I progress slowly trying to guide myself toward the muffled noise. My foot touches something lying upon the floor and I squat down to examine it. It is long and tangled like the strands of a woman’s hair. After a moment, I recognize it, several tendrils of ivy. The source of power from the world I saw Merlin exit from? I have no way of knowing. I leave the ivy where I find it. I notice other shadows lying about on the floor. I glance at each as I progress: a coat of armor stacked in a pile, a large dark stone, a golden horn.

I hear a scream. My spine tingles.

It comes from deeper within the cellar in the direction I have already begun to move toward. Careful not to tread upon another fallen treasure, I pick my way more quickly toward that terrible sound. It’s a familiar sound and my heart turns to lead. I know before I see him that Garron is here ahead, and he is in pain.

My expectations do not deceive me. I turn a corner and find the wizard standing beside the Mer. Garron writhes in pain. His tail slaps uselessly against the floor. Blood decorates the floor, walls and him. Merlin holds a three-pronged weapon, the trident. He acknowledges my entrance, as if he knew I would arrive, and without a word, Merlin plunges the trident into Garron’s abdomen. I jump forward to stop him but Merlin pushes me aside with ease and then twists the trident around in the Mer’s belly while Garron’s screams first increase and then fade away.

“That little performance,” says the Merlin as he wrests the trident from Garron’s body, “is to show you how little affection I have for my boys.” He lifts the trident, “This is my true passion, and the other powers like it.” He throws the trident upon the floor with a clatter and bends down to pick up something lying beside it. “Although, I still desire comfort from time to time,” he says as he raises Excalibur.

I stand before him. His eyes rove over my body with uncloaked desire.

“You want to kill me but you cannot. You want to avenge Garron but you cannot. You want to escape but you cannot. I know your very thoughts. You are helpless beneath the power of the sword.”

The Merlin is right. I feel a heavy wave of acceptance come over me. I recognize the feeling. I do all the Merlin asks of me then. And it is horrible.

He tells me to lie down upon the blood splattered floor, and without protest I do. He uses the sword to cut my pants into shreds, taking no care as its point also pierces my flesh. He rips the material away. I lie naked in the muck. I think he will use me again but instead I feel something hard and cold along my back. The weight of it staggers me, and as Merlin moves it, its edge slices a line along my spine; it’s the sword. I can see the point emerge over my shoulder. Heat sears the wound Merlin has drawn from the top of my buttocks to my right shoulder blade. Blood begins to seep from it. I writhe in pain. I feel another sharp pain against my right hip. This is nothing compared to the agony induced by the sword but my hand moves to find the cause. It is a small stone. Parvati’s gift to me. I clasp it within my palm and everything changes.

**

I feel a tender weight upon me. It covers me with warmth. It is the sun. How many years have passed since I have felt the sun’s heat upon my skin?

I open my eyes to view the light. Instead I see the face of Parvati gazing down at me. She is not exactly the way I remember her. She still has her many arms but her face has changed, softened, and a red ruby rests upon the center of her forehead. She wears a crown.

“Welcome,” she says.

“Have I entered a tunnel?” I ask.

She laughs. “Your Merlin’s tunnels are mouse holes beside my golden bridges!” She gestures, and I see the bridge that spans two worlds. In the remoteness of the other side I can even see myself and the Merlin, so far away.

“He is killing me,” I say.

“We get stuck in life sometimes,” She says. Her face is angled up toward the sun and she squints her eyes. “Same old, same old.” She smiles again and looks directly at me. “You are no longer that boy. How can a sword that rules a dead world have any power over the man you have become?” Her arms hold me, all eight of them, like a mother’s. We kiss.

**

I wake on my back to find Merlin over me, making use of my body. Blood covers everything. I’m not certain how much of it is my own. The sword rests between us. Its pointed edge falls on my face. As Merlin pounds against me, I feel the blade cut into the soft skin of my cheek. Merlin’s eyes are closed, face muscles tensed in ecstasy.

Every part of me aches. I feel lost and degraded. Parvati’s words, if I ever truly heard them, seem futile now beneath this old monster while he uses me, and the sword slices into me. I lie as I ever have, still, detached, while Merlin’s gyrations come to a furor. I can feel his body preparing for its release. His eyes slit open and view me beneath him. He is totally triumphant. Thin lips part.

“Oh Lancelot,” he says.

The name whispered in that dreaded ancient voice sends a wave of disgust through me. Lancelot. Who is this Lancelot? And the answer: Lancelot died in a world of flames. Parvati’s meaning reveals itself to me, and as the Merlin sighs and deflates his body against mine, I revolt.

“Get off me old man,” I say and heave against his blood and sweat drenched form. A thousand pinpricks of pain remind me of the swords damage throughout my body but nothing seems so deep as to deter me.

Although Lancelot is dead, Merlin is still a formidable wizard, and he has not let go of the sword which he holds between us as I rise. He thrusts the blade at me, at my head, my chest, my bowels. With each lunge I am able to sidestep the blow. The sword cuts me but never as deeply as the wizard intends.

“Obey me!” he screams, “Excalibur demands it!” He believes the sword has power over me yet, and I know that now is the time.

I rush at him. The power of the sword no longer functions against me for I am no longer the boy given life by that power. And yet, the sword is still a sword. My hands wrap themselves around the blade as if trying to choke the life from the weapon. A pain greater than the rest I have already endured throbs through my clenched palms and fingers as the blade bites to the bone. I ignore it. I must. I jerk the sword. So surprised that this boy, this plaything resists him, Merlin looses his grasp and the sword is mine. Bloodied fingers clasp it, maneuver it until the hilt rests in my right palm.

My back sears me, my cheek throbs, and my hands drip with blood but I hold the sword Excalibur. Merlin stares at me in disbelief, his mouth gaping, his tongue moving but unable to form words. I consider plunging the sword into his breast. But I am no longer the one controlled by the Merlin, so I am no longer the one seeking vengeance against him. Still, his evil cannot be allowed.

“By this sword that fashioned you out of the dust of Camelot,” I say, “I strip you of your powers.” With the sword’s point, I make a cut down the right side of Merlin’s face. His blood mixes with mine upon the blade’s metal. With a brittle scream he flees into the darkness.

**

I sit in the sun of a new land and watch as Parvati closes her bridge to the hotel plain. Her eight arms sway in a well-rehearsed dance, and bit by bit the bridge melts away. She has been amazing. When I stripped Merlin of his power, the tunnels began to fade. Those of us remaining in the hotel, staff and guests included, would have been stranded in that empty place forever. But Parvati appeared. She brought each guest home over one of her golden bridges. She helped us to sort through the “artifacts”, as she called them, and to return these to their worlds as well. She also did her best to heal me, although I carry many scars. My face and body are riddled with them.

“I am the Great Mother”, she says, “I can’t fight my own nature.” Then she laughs, “and besides, think of the karma coming my way!”

The Olde Englanders, she brought here to her world. Only the Merlin remains in that place. Or perhaps he slipped through a tunnel before his magic dispersed. We do not know nor do we care.

The golden bridge is fading while the blue sky remains.

Beside me Gwen and Art have been holding hands while enjoying the display. They have also been making plans to return with Excalibur to the world of Camelot. Gwen thinks that the sword can bring healing to the land, and Art agrees. I returned the sword to Art. I have no wish to wield it.

They ask me to come with them.

I stare up at the sky and the sun. The Golden Bridge has completely disappeared. I watch Parvati end her ritual movements. She turns and sees me watching. She winks.


© Copyright 2018 Kevin Michael Smith. All rights reserved.

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