OCCULT GENERATION: Leon’s Story — “The Empty Witch” Part 3
The third chapter in a new prequel series to our upcoming graphic novel The Occult Generation set in 1927 New York, a weird mystery featuring pansexual private detective Leon Kleeman. (You can read part one here and part two here.)
The sound was ungodly, unlike anything I’ve heard before. It was the kind of noise I felt in the roof of my mouth, buzzing around like a wasp stuck in the middle of my head.
It was somewhere between an annoying squeak and a heavy vibration. More wobbly. Again, there’s no way for me to express what it was like in words. Just know that I could feel it more than I could hear it. It touched parts of my brain that deep down I knew should be left alone.
I kept my hands against my ears — to protect them, yes, but also to hold my head together so it wouldn’t fall apart.
Dutch was lying down nearby, curled up like a baby who was dropped on the floor. I could tell this was taking its tole on him far worse than was on me. The expression on his face told me his head was about to split itself open at any given moment.
I picked myself up. Something had to be done. I had to be the one to do it.
I grabbed a pillow off Dutch’s bed and wrapped it around the back of my head so I could better muffle the sound. It helped only a little. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on where the noise was coming from.
As I began to focus my attention on the sound, I started to hear a voice speaking through it. A man’s. Very faint. The words he was saying were drowned out. Probably on purpose.
And yet…there was a pattern in the words that voice was saying. A repetition. I could work with this, I thought.
I pulled the pillow tighter around my ears and listened more closely.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash. The nightstand next to Dutch’s bed toppled over for no reason.
I glanced over at Dutch. He was still grasping at his head, yelling out, eyes squeezing themselves shut.
Trails of blood started to leak from his nose.
I wondered what the hell was going on.
This sound was affecting him in ways I couldn’t understand. It was making him bleed somehow.
I hurried over to where I felt the noise coming from the most — the wall across the room from Dutch’s bed, where he said this “demon” lived.
He was right. The noise definitely got louder the closer I was.
“Hold on!” I called out in the sound storm, hoping Dutch could hear me as he writhed in pain on the floor.
I ran into the living room to look for something, anything, to bust open that goddamn wall.
“…seedara….super…voss…men tay…calm…kalkass…” The words seemed to get clearer the further away I went.
I considered using a frying pan to smash the wall open for two seconds until I spied a dusty hammer resting on the bottom shelf of the pantry.
What was this weird voice saying, though? I had to find out while I had the chance.
I decided to write them down. I grabbed a pencil and the corner of a page from the Times from a nearby desk. Yeah, I felt like an asshole because Dutch was still lying on his bedroom floor in agony. But he needed me to solve this case, didn’t he?
Besides, when did I start caring whether or not I was an asshole anyway?
After a moment or two of careful listening, I wrote down the sequence of words as I heard them: MEN TAY CALM KALKASS. KAY LUM VOBISS. CEE DARAH SUPER VOSS.
Another crash rang out from the next room, followed by a scream. I had to get back in there and end this before Dutch was pushed too far.
As I ran back in, I couldn’t help but notice that eagle painting above the love seat again. It looked extra vivid, more full of color and detail than it did only a minutes ago. It felt untouched by the chaos washing over rest of the apartment, a beacon of strength. The center of gravity. An anchor.
A moment later, I found Dutch balled up in the fetal position. Saliva leaked from his mouth, mixing with the blood that dripped from his noise. I felt a twinge of regret for taking my time to write down those words. I should have done what I was about to do a lot sooner.
I ran over to the wall where the noise came from and struck it as hard as I could with the hammer.
As if in retaliation — or a reflex — Dutch’s closet door flew open. His entire wardrobe flew out at us like a hurricane had been hiding away in there.
Again, I could hear Dutch screaming from the floor.
I struck the wall a second time. Harder.
The bed behind me leaped up by itself and slammed back down again.
This cause and effect bullshit was starting to annoy me.
I kept striking the wall with the hammer over and over, faster and faster. I guess shit kept flying around the room. Maybe some of it hit me. I didn’t care. I just wanted this to be over.
At last, I could see something dark and shiny hiding away inside the wall.
As I struck it one last time to break through, the playing cards that hung on the wall behind me rained down all over the room, like rain in a casino.
Dutch screamed the loudest he had screamed all night.
Finally, I grabbed what was making this awful sound. It looked like a radio. No, more like the speaker of a radio. Definitely mechanical, not demonic. The noise it made, however, was a different story.
I smashed it in with the hammer to get it to shut up. Sparks and smoke flew out but at last, that fucking noise had stopped.
Oddly enough, the silence that followed was much louder.
Dutch was still on the floor, breathing like he had just ran across town and back. I let him recover while I worked on pulling out the strange radio device from his wall.
It was crafted of metal, hot and oily to the touch. Had the smell of an oven. Crude copper wires sprung out on both sides. Looked like it was part of a larger system of similar devices spread out across the apartment. Since they were all connected, I guessed that if you dismantled one, the rest of ‘em wouldn’t work. Or at least, that was the impression I got. But what did I know?
“Leon,” Dutch said hoarsely from the floor. “Help.”
I knelt by his side, still grasping onto the hammer. His nose was messy, his face was sweaty, and his eyes looked like he’d just been in the fight of his life.
I’ll admit — it hurt to see him like this. Almost.
I held his hand.
“It was a radio,” I said. “Not a demon.”
He stared into my eyes like an animal I had just rescued from a trap, suspicious of my intentions.
“Then what did all of this?” he asked, glancing around at the destroyed room.
My eyes wouldn’t look away from the blood crusting around his nostrils as I tried to come up with an answer.
It took us a good two hours to clean up the chaos from the “demon” and its noise.
I let Dutch rest up while I folded his clothes, arranged his furniture, swept up debris, and put his life back together as much as I could.
I picked up all 48 cards that had been on his other wall, put them in a stack, and told him the he wasn’t allowed to hang them back up.
“You don’t need to keep doing that to yourself, Dutch. This is serious now, OK?”
He looked up from his his glass of water. “When was it not?”
It was around three in the morning when we were done. I was tuckered out. Dutch was quieter than ever. It was time for bed.
A few minutes after we laid down in it, pretending that the smashed wall wasn’t going to gape at us all night, Dutch asked me a question.
“What was her name?”
I knew who he was referring to, but I played dumb.
“You know who. The girl I caught you with.”
I sighed. “Gretchen. I think.”
There was a block of ice stuck between us now. Listening to Satan’s orchestral symphony for a good ten minutes while having your home torn apart will do that, I guess. The connection we were beginning to feel again before that interruption couldn’t exist in this void.
“So where did you meet her?”
I really didn’t want to talk about this. “On a train.”
“Why do you want to talk about this right now, Dutch?”
“I want to know why you did what you did to me.”
“I didn’t do anything to you.”
“You cheated on me.”
“Dutch, did we get married?” He had nothing to say to that. “Did we?”
“No, but we had…something.”
“Seems like we still do,” I said.
He pulled away from me, proving a point. “Oh, you think so. After how you treated me?”
I grabbed him. “Dutch.”
“You’re a piece of shit, Leon.”
“Shut up, Dutch.”
“Why did I even let you come over tonight?”
“Because you’re in trouble. You’ve got a real problem here and not much time to solve it. Who else is going to bail you out of this?” I asked. “Who else was able to stop that noise?”
“But you don’t care, though. You don’t care about me.”
“Would I really be here tonight, cleaning up after your ghosts if I didn’t?”
I had a point.
“Listen, if this is about you wanting me to tell you that I care about you, then fine, I’ll say it: I care about you.”
He was starting to warm up again. What was I getting myself into?
“I don’t want to die this week,” Dutch said after a long moment.
“You’re not going to.” I kissed him. And then, digging out my mapmaking tools, I gave him a good reason to to believe that.
I wake up.
Not in bed with Dutch, but on a cold floor in dark, earthy basement somewhere.
My shirt is off. I try to lift my head but it feels so heavy. It stings to even try, like I have the most crippling hangover ever. I let it fall back down on my arm. I need the rest.
I can barely see my surroundings thanks to the light slipping in through a naked doorway.
I might be in the basement of Dutch’s building.
I try to sit up again. I cry out. My whole torso stings with pain.
I think my ribs are broken.
Someone has beaten the shit out of me.
I need to get out of here but I can’t get up. It’s hurts too much.
I feel like I just walked in on the last moments of a motion picture that’s not going to end well.
Thoughts about Dutch come to me, about how safe we felt together, about how good our sex was. That’s all so far away now.
I try to sit up again. Another cry comes out of me. It’s so dry and strained, I barely recognize it. I lay back down and say oh god. It’s all too much. I roll over and throw up.
After I’m done heaving and coughing, I continue to lay in the dark, waiting for everything I’ve ever been scared of.
Was I set up? The question lights the entire room.
An indescribable amount of time passes. I lose consciousness.
I jolt when I hear the rumble of a heavy door open somewhere out there. My heart slams against my chest.
I hear the sound of men dragging somebody in. It’s another guy. I can hear him protesting weakly.
“Set ‘im down over there. No, not there. There.” I hear a man’s deep voice say.
“He’s not…well shit.” Another voice says, a younger man’s.
“Hold him, no, not like that. Jesus, you’re a stupid fuck.” The first one again.
Laughter from someone else.
“All right boys. You know what to do. Get to it.”
I hear whoever they dragged in protest more, yelling out in frustration, then pain.
For what feels like an hour, I listen to the sounds of someone getting beat within inches of his life.
His cries, they sound familiar. I pray that they’re not Dutch’s. I beg any and all gods that they’re not.
But a big part of me feels that they are.
It gets worse.
I hear them spend time snapping each one of his fingers.
He yells out each time, unintelligible, like a cross between a sick animal and a child who’s half asleep.
A long time passes. He doesn’t make any noise. I still hear the sickening thuds and cracks. These men have no mercy.
Eventually I hear a splash of fluid on the floor followed by a chorus of laughter and groans.
“Okay, that’s enough, that’s enough!” The first voice has supervisory disapproval to it. “He’s been out for a while.”
I look up at the dark ceiling and think about what my life has been.
I think about my mom and my dad, how they eventually became strangers to me. The love there ran out. I think of my sister, the one who I haven’t seen in ten years. She ran away to the west coast with her illegitimate child. I was never her friend. I think of the uncle that I met once when I was thirteen, how he was the only member of my family who had a genuine smile. I wish I knew him better.
Then I reach for a a time where I felt safe, a shelter for my mind.
All that comes up is a memory of visiting Niagara Falls when I was six or seven with my mother, aunt and cousins.
The powerful rush of water seemed enormous to me then. I had this impression, this naive childlike intuition that it was fueling the whole entire world. That it was responsible for making the globe spin around on its axis.
The falls, with their flowing and roaring and smoking steam, was a place that gave the earth some kind of power. A clean, protective power. Something from up above.
My mind holds onto the images of the Niagara from that clear afternoon, hoping they let me run away with them if I could remember hard enough. If could keep reaching. If I could fly.
“Alright, now go get the other one,” I hear the older voice say.
My stomach clenches. I know he’s talking about me.
I try to block out the sounds of footsteps approaching the doorway with the sound of Niagara‘s roars.
The door opens wider. The room is bright now. I’m blind. I realize my eyes are bruised and swollen.
“Morning,” The man standing in the doorway says. I can’t see his face.
My voice cracks. “What.” It sounds small and far away.
“We invited your friend over to party. He fell asleep on us. Can you believe it?”
I don’t want to be here. I don’t know how to leave. I know I’m going to die.
“Well don’t be antisocial, kid. Get up and join us.”
I don’t make a move. He calls to one of his friends outside. The guy comes in and they both pick me up because I honestly can’t move on my own.
As they sit me up I fight back puking again but it’s useless. It spit up all over my chest. I don’t know what color it is. I’m glad I can’t keep my eyes open. I prefer to have them shut.
The two men hoist me up, ignoring my vomit. I scream. My legs, it seems, are broken too.
They help me limp outside the room, gingerly, almost as if they care about me. I can barely stand up because I’m so damaged.
This room is brighter, colder. Lots of concrete. I realize that we’re not in a basement, we’re in some sort of garage or construction area. Not sure which. I don’t care. I want this to be over.
I suddenly can’t stop shivering. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s cold or because I’m that scared.
They guide me over to what looks like a wet hole in the ground. I know they want to lower me down in it. I’m in no condition to fight back.
I hear myself calling out no, no, no as I go along with being lowered into the hole in the concrete floor. I just don’t want to be standing up anymore.
I try to look around. I see men in suits but I don’t recognize their faces. It’s too bright. The only one I can get a good look at is wearing an all white suit. When he speaks to me, I realize he’s the one I heard with the older voice.
“That’s it. Settle him down in there, like so. Good.”
I see a bloody mess a few feet away on the floor. Someone’s lying face down in it. The clothes look familiar. I try to focus and see who it is. Please don’t let it be Dutch, I pray to what I don’t know by name.
I jolt. My eyes tell me it’s not Dutch lying there, beaten to waste.
I look down and myself. My skin’s darker, warmer. Definitely not mine. Then I know.
“Tell, me Irving. Why did you hide from us?” The older man in the white suit asks me as I collapse into the cold hole in the floor. He calls me by Dutch’s real name.
I can’t bring myself to speak. I’m still shocked.
“Gee. You never were great at the small talk thing, were ya?” He laughs. “Here, you’ll want these where you’re going. I hope they help you in death as much as they did in life.”
He throws a deck of tarot cards down in the hole with me. I cough, closing my eyes and resting my head against the concrete behind me. I taste my own blood.
He saves the Death card for last, throwing it my face.
“So where’s your spooky help now, kid? Huh? Looks like that angel gave up on you.”
I think I’m crying but I don’t feel it.
“Get it over with. I want this fag dead. Now.”
The white suited man gestures to someone. I hear something rusty rolling across the floor.
I try to get a better look at my own broken body on the floor across the room, seeing if it still breaths. It’s not.
The two men who helped me into this hole bring over some contraption, a steel barrel on wheels.
It’s a cement mixer.
“Is it ready to pour or what?”
They’re going to pour cement all over me and leave me — in Dutch’s body — stuck in this hole forever.
“What the fuck? Start pouring ya mook,” the man in the white suit orders.
I hear Dutch’s voice say no again weakly but I can’t move. I’m stuck. I’m aware that blood is leaking from my mouth.
I want to go to sleep. I don’t want to go through this. I think of how to knock myself out? Should I bash my head into the cement around me?
The steel barrel tilts down. What feels like heavy grits spill all over my broken legs, over my head, into my eyes, my mouth.
I swallow the wet cement. It sticks to my throat and refuses to slide down all the way. I panic as I realize it’s going to harden there, that stone will be where stone should not be.
My body — Dutch’s — instinctively tries to move, wiggle out of this, but it can’t. It’s smashed. It hurts.
The cement is starting to harden inside of me. It enters my nose. I feel heavier. I want to puke again but the cement blocks anything from coming back up.
I don’t know why I keep breathing.
The time I have left is going to go by very slow.
I want to fly away to Niagara Falls.
Somehow, I found myself back in Dutch’s bed.
The sun wasn’t up yet. Dutch was still sleeping. The gaping hole in the wall I remember making a long time ago stared at me from across the room.
Everything was very quiet.
I was scared out of my wits. The silent safety of this room compared to what I had just experienced in my dreams made it all the more eerie.
That wasn’t a dream, though, was it? It felt too real. I’ve never had something like that before.
Was that something from the future? Were those men related to The Red Witch? Why did I have a dream like that?
I could still hear myself being beaten and humiliated beyond death by men I’ve never even met.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. I lay there for hours, wondering when the sun would come up. I wasn’t sure I wanted it to.
I listened to Dutch breathing. I looked over at him from time to time. His face was swollen up with sleep.
I stopped myself from waking him several times. What are you getting me into? I wanted to ask. I wanted to walk out of there and save my own ass.
But there I stayed, in bed, waiting for the start of a day I didn’t know what to do with.
I must have fallen asleep at some point, because when I woke up, the room was as bright as a summer afternoon. I wondered if I overslept.
I looked around for my watch and found it in my pants pocket on the floor. It was only 8:36 am. Why was it so bright? I felt hungover.
I stumbled out of his bedroom. I looked at floor below the front door.
There was a playing card lying face down, waiting patiently.
Fuck, I thought. I should have just stayed up all night and kept watch. But no. I decided to cut myself a break because of the dream.
I reached down and picked it up as quietly as I could.
The 4 of Diamonds.
I turned around and saw Dutch standing in his bedroom doorway, staring at me, hair tousled. I didn’t say anything, just handed him the card. He already knew what it was anyway.
His face looked like he had just received a bill from god.
“Three cards left after this.”
“What now?” I asked after waiting a long moment in the bright room.
“Am I going to die?” he asked me one more time.
A boulder got caught in my throat. I thought about the cement and the men and Niagara falls. The wet splat that I heard. I wondered what they had done to make that happen to me.
“Do you know a man in a white suit?” I asked.
He looked at me, not sure what to say. I couldn’t read him.
“Is that a no?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think I do. Why?”
Should I tell him now? I wondered.
“Leon, if these are my last days, can I ask you a big favor?”
“Another one?” I joked, but the timing was wrong. “Yeah, fine. What is it?”
Dutch paused. “Have you ever had egg tarts?”
“Egg tarts? Uh. No. Can’t say I have.”
“Well, OK. So there’s this oriental bakery around here. A couple blocks that way. They serve the best egg tarts in the city. I’ve heard people all over the world come visit just to eat them, even people from China.”
I cleared my throat. “They must be good. You’ve had ‘em?”
“Not yet,” he said. “Always wanted to. Nobody knows when they’re open, see. Some days they’re open for business and some days they’re not. When they are, it’s only for a little while. Maybe a couple hours.”
“Christ. How do they make any money?”
“When they’re open, there’s a line around the block. People camp out there, waiting,” he said. “I guess what I’m asking is, if this is my last week alive, would you help me find a way to buy some of their egg tarts? I want to be able to know what they taste like if...if this is…”
Once more, the image of my own body lying down in a bloody mess in a dark room flashed behind my eyes.
“Sure, Dutch. Whatever you need. We’ll find a way.”
After all, if I couldn’t save his life — or mine — I was going to have to make it up to him somehow.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in “The Empty Witch”, plus more stories featuring characters from the world of The Occult Generation, created by Ryan Fukuda and illustrated by James Zark. Click on the link to find out more about this project! (And feel free to visit my site here, too. =)
“While investigating the murder of a notorious drag performer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, a private investigator uncovers a secret war between remnants of the confederacy equipped with strange technology and a secret society that fights for justice through magick.”
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