By Kenneth Scroggins, (c) 2000
“The Autumn Wind is a Pirate,
Blustering in from the sea,
With a rollicking song,
He sweeps along,
“His face is weather-beaten,
He wears a hooded sash,
With a silver hat about his head,
And a bristling black mustache.
“He growls as he storms the country,
A villain, big and bold,
And the trees all shake
and quiver and quake,
As he robs them of their gold.
“The Autumn Wind is a Raider,
Pillaging just for fun,
he’ll knock you around,
and upside down,
and laugh when he’s conquered and won.”
— Voiceover for the Oakland Raiders by Steve Sabol, CEO of NFL Films, immortalized in recitation by the legendary John Facenda.
edwards knew his life was forfeit. The Fate had his number. It was just a matter of time before one of their occult hitmen removed him and his two travelling companions. He kept walking down the street, anxious to unload some Dreamer’s Gold at a fine metals shop before it faded away. His careful, wired, paranoid alertness was also on the verge of dissolving. It wasn’t as immaculate as the gold, not as pure. edwards became sloppy and dazed. He stopped and put his back into an alcove, trying to shake the sudden cobwebs from his brain. Drops of blood began to make rivulets from his nose as he doubled over. ed clutched at his gleaming golden eyes,
fighting the noisome fog imprisoning his brain.
Three Men in Black exited their stark black limosine and caught ed before he hit the ground. He fought them, lashing out like a drunken monkey. The mysterious figures stuffed his struggling carcass into the car like a sack of moldy old potatoes. Quickly, they vanished into the anonymous city.
Inside the warmth of the limousine, everything dropped away from the cold Autumn chill thickening his thoughts. His reflexes were about to turn around and do terrible things to the driver, but then he noticed the gun. An unidentifiable black toy outlined in chrome and silver pointed directly at ed’s head. Holding it was a Man in Black. He spoke with a deep intonation, mocking James Earl Jones.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you here mr. edwards,” said the MiB. edwards remained silent, awaiting further exposition. He wondered where the other Men in Black were. It wasn’t important. Noting his companion’s reticence, The Man in Black let silence fill the void for a twenty minute drive down into a neighborhood filled with brownstone buildings and bits of cobblestone on the sidewalks. It was a purple sort of twilight, the sky was graceful but filled with cold clobbering winds.
The MiB motioned for the unseen Limo driver to stop, and they pulled up next to a dark building with a red door. The number on the hand crafted wooden mailbox was seventy-seven. edwards cautiously followed the Man in Black out of the limo, underneath a tree slowly being robbed of it’s leaves by that raider, the autumn wind. They stood in the shadow of buildings, awaiting night and winter as the limousine pulled away and went out of their lives. The Man in Black walked up the seven stairs leading to the door and took out an esoteric black key, encrusted with seven red
“Join me inside?” asked the Man in Black, in his most hospitable tones. edwards ran down the street like a madman chased by the visions of the insane. His grey coattails flapped like the wings of a messenger pigeon bearing unbearable news. edwards fled into a twisty maze of deserted
streets, each one more like the last. ed’s breath became a furnace and his belly was a churning tornado of nausea. Finally, he came to a stop. For thirty minutes a madly dashing edwards hadn’t seen any traffic or people. Night had fallen on the anonymous city, and there, ahead of edwards, was the Man in Black, standing in front of a dark building with a red door. Parked on the curb was a 1939 Phantom Corsair, black and glittering like an insane obsidian jewel. The number on the hand crafted wooden mailbox was only seven.
“You can’t escape,” said the Man in Black, shrugging nonchalantly. “No one ever escapes their Fate.”
The woman in white raised a cup of steaming liquid with her elderly hands. She still had a firm grip. A young lady in lace attended her, removing a gleaming silvery tray. She watched the happy children running down the path alongside a carefully built low stone wall. Her green lawn rippled
with the passing sound of their laughter.
“Who is… this hell?” she asked, motioning towards a red card with a daguerreotype of a harsh young man in light grey. A series of papers with cramped handwriting lay on the crystal table beside the standing card.
“The Grey Man,” answered the young lady.
“So he has come at last,” commented the old woman, melancholy stained her voice.
“I will seek him,” said the young woman.
“That is what has been foretold. You do not have to listen to the prophecy,” advised the wise old lady. She sipped gently from her cup.
“The Queen listens to her own heart,” said the woman. A girl really, but royalty.
“The heart is a deceiver,” said the old woman, but the Queen was gone. Behind her she left lace and whispers. Before her she wore her silver crown of frost.
In the comfortable house, the old woman sipped her nearly frozen drink. A coldness brought forth by the Ghost Queen. The eternal summer of Kuranes took a chill. It was a gift, not from the Winter grace of a royal hand, but from the mocking Autumn Wind.
“What was that little trick?” asked edwards, edgy and exhausted and leaning against the rough bark of an tall oak tree. The wind pillaged the two men of their well-concealed warmth.
“Does it really matter? Come inside, ed, someone wants to meet you,” said the Man in Black. He unlocked a Red Door with a large black key inset with seven small rubies. They entered the dark building. A soft warm light could be seen coming from the first floor window. Someone was waiting.
“It’s about time, you no-account weasel,” said a tart feminine voice. edwards looked at the floral wall prints, the matching wallpaper, and the hand-crafted mahogany furniture. Even the wainscoting was a deep rich mahogany, carefully stained to the pinnacle of perfection. The floorboards creaked and echoed, betraying the existence of a basement. As edwards walked further into the house, the wallpaper yellowed with every step, phantom rats in the walls gnawed holes at the wainscoting, and the nutty smell of oily termites filled the room.
“Hey, he went for a little jog, what can I say?” shrugged the Man in Black, making excuses like a adolescent.
“You’re a second rate hood, that’s what you can say. I never should have asked you for help in the first place,” continued the rapid staccato delivery of the woman. She fired off words like biting keystrokes from a steel typewriter. edwards turned the corner out of the entry hall and saw
the Woman in Red. She looked, acted and sounded like a female gangster out of some bizarre noir pulp fiction. Behind her a crimson Persian carpet was cut to accommodate a coppery radiator. edwards could see an intricate venous network permeating the pipes of the radiator, glowing with radiant heat, and radiant menace.
“Don’t do me like that. You know I can’t take it from the dames,” said the Man in Black, attempting to evoke false pity and failing miserably. edwards saw the dame. She was wearing a scarlet skirt and jacket. Red smoke drifted from a slim, nearly finished cigarette attached to a red and black holder. She took a drag with her bright red ruby lips and blew a red smoke ring towards the Man in Black. She sat in her hand crafted overstuffed wooden chair was draped with a black leather coat rimmed with white mink and a red satin interior. A golden .32 automatic lay on the iridescent glass top of a nearby endtable. The gun was well lit beneath a brass lamp with a marbled crimson lampshade – the kind a kindly old academic might use at his desk. Like all the rest of the furniture, the endtable was mahogany and masterfully made. A relief carving under the glass showed strange half bird, half insect creatures flying through alien skies carrying men and others. edwards knew them to be Byakhee.
“You Men in Black are all alike, see; a buncha knuckleheads looking for a chance to get another wisecrack in… Call me a dame one more time and I’ll break your kneecaps,” she threatened, only half joking. “As for you, you louse, you need to clean yourself up and turn yourself into a
presentable human being when you come to see a lady,” she advised edwards, flicking the last of her ash into a cracked and flawed ruby ashtray next to her gun. She twisted her cigarette holder and half-tossed the butt over her shoulder. Before it started falling the Man in Black shot it out of
the air with a needle thin green beam from his tiny black and chrome pistol. The butt vanished instantly. He immediately strode boldly to a standing position behind the Woman in Red’s chair, then protectively clasped his hands across his solar plexus, staring at edwards through faceted
“Enough bullshit, what do you want?” asked edwards, eternally detached, eerily calm and utterly devoid of tact. edwards was existentially tired as always. The Woman in Red took a long cigarette out of a shiny golden case. Some of the cigarettes within were wrapped in a silky red paper, others were matte black, and still others in several different variations of the two colors. She fitted a red satin coffin nail into the long black section of her holder and held it out impatiently.
The Man in Black indulged her by clicking open a black and chrome lighter and activated one of many functions, placing a small jet of burning violet plasma before the red cigarette. The violet flame silently hissed like the slithering sibilant whispers of tru7h. The Woman in Red gently clenched on the short red mouthpiece with her perfect teeth. She inhaled a smooth lungfull of unknown vermeil smoke and gracefully exhaled. Her breath was red in Autumn. Her permanently coifed hair was black as coal, her exquisite lips as red as blood.
“I want you to go upstairs,” she said with slow, regal and almost imperial grace. “Someone wants to meets you.”
“And who the fuck would that be?” interrogated edwards, “This Queen of Hearts nonsense is getting tiresome.” edwards yanked off his raggedy grey trenchcoat and went to hang it in the hall. Only everything there had turned blue-litten, ethereal and slimy like cumbersome rubbery
cephalopods, or griseous cheese, everything except the Red Door had decayed and stunk like rotten meat. But, in the sourceless blue light, the Red Door appeared to have been painted black.
His steel toed shoes left squishy footprints in the fading floorboards. He backed off, and saw the mahogany again. The flowery print of the wallpaper was blandly pastel again. edwards hadn’t noticed it before, but the three linked scimitars of the Yellow Sign was carved over and over again, vermiculating the woodwork. It stood out, and almost… just barely… they seemed to wriggle. edwards hung his leathery coat on a horizontal mahogany rack with seven brass hooks and hastily returned to the comfortable den.
“What kind of place are you running here?” asked edwards, with angry awe.
“Welcome to Carcosa,” said the Man in Black, toasting edwards with brandy swirling in crystal.
A brass tray and a half full snifter lay on a desk/bookshelf. Some shelves contained curios rather than books. The top of the wide furnishment was decorated with an intricately carved headboard. The ends were crashing waves in a wooden sea, and the middle raised like a bordered wooden hill or giant ocean swell. In the middle of the headboard a inexplicably
fearsome crystal ball protruding halfway out. Within the ball, ed saw a letter or rune of some sort spinning rapidly as the smallest gear, or a blurred and wild top. edwards raced toward a significant and unreasoned anxiety. He smelled brimstone, and hell came near. Then, in the sudden ultimate horror, it stopped, and edwards recognized the sulfurous citrine Yellow Sign.
“Join me for a drink before you go upstairs, ed?” asked the Man in Black, downing his swirling brandy in a single guilty gulp.
“Oh, and while the King was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown…
…And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died.
We were singing…”
edwards headed up the long straight staircase, his hand finding purchase on a mahogany rail with cleverly cast bronze struts. Old photographs and portraits of a long lineage of American Kings lined the wall. The second to last picture showed two angry brothers. The last was a sad and grey old Emperor, sitting in a park amongst the pigeons. Beyond that was an empty space, with a lightly colored oval betraying the age of the yellowed wallpaper surrounding it.
edwards turned the valve controlling the mostly blood red fluids feeding the low scarlet flames in the upstairs hallway. The brightened flames were unquestionably red, but lit the hallway with a natural light. The hall contained a checkerboard doily-topped credenza with several picture
frames. edwards looked into the three dark bedrooms and saw no one. He could hear the Man in Black laughing downstairs. It was a flickering mocking noise, followed by the sharp smart moxie of the Woman in Red.
Every instinct of ed’s told him that now was the time for sudden, violent, surreal action. He expertly flicked open his silver butterfly knife and waited. Here, even the walls could not be trusted. He waited… and waited. The tension mounted, and edwards remained calm, detached, and devoid of panic.
“YOU DOING ALRIGHT UP THERE, ED?!” shouted the Man in Black from the bottom of the staircase. edwards jumped around and violently stabbed the wall above the credenza. Blood leaked out of the Carcosan wound and dripped down the wall. After he caught his breath, ed slowly pulled his knife out of the quivering wall. This provoked a creaking from the dark building that almost (but not quite) sounded like a tortured shriek. ed looked down and saw that the gilded framed photos on the checkerboard doily recorded the life of a young upper-class woman in the late 19th century. She was quite handsome in her prime. All the pictures of her were
wan and lonely. ed’s knife spilled a few drops of house blood on the hungry lace flowers of the doily.
Other pictures showed the Woman in Red. Without exception they were all Black & White shots, except the mysterious woman’s clothing, makeup, and jewelry always managed to get in some red. Most seemed to be at famous landmarks, but some were at fancy parties and one even showed her at a “Swing Dance” event. edwards guessed that the Man in Black’s favorite was the one of the Woman in Red provocatively raising a leg and smiling in front of a nuclear powered American NB-23 Heavy Jet Bomber, posing like a pin-up queen for the crew of the supersonic Enola Gay. Attached to the picture was a faded rusty USO button.
Downstairs, a needle started up a scratchy tune on a RCA Gramophone, and it “swung harder!” with jaunty swing jazz. edwards walked to the end of the hall and put his hands over the window. In the next building, a tattered hooded figure withdrew into a darkened glass window across from edwards. ed stared real hard at the other building, nervously twisting his folded silver knife in his fist like a roll of quarters. He was ready, and when the ghastly phantom came up, edwards coldly punched his hard fist through the window glass – striking nothing but a spiral of rags and
leaves borne by the larcenous Autumn wind.
“Godammit!” he blurted, frustrated and furious at this non-stop surreality. The Autumn wind blew past him from the broken window, audaciously stealing the illuminating red flames of the hallway right out of their glass shields. edwards felt an intense chill behind him and he spun around in the darkness, slicing blindly with his unfolded blade; as his eyes adjusted to the wind’s gift of darkness, he saw her at last. Floating intimate whispers from where the tip of his blade had slashed seconds before, was the Lady in White.
“You going to kill him?” asked the Woman in Red, apprehensively. The Man in Black considered his words carefully.
“No. Not yet. Not today,” he said, studying her eyes.
“You should. That mook could end it all,” advised the woman. She hated the shiny black wall over his eyes.
“I don’t think he will. I really don’t,” he concluded.
“I suppose you suppose I’m wondering why you brought me here?” asked edwards. “Or are you going to tell me that someone wants to see me?” Probably both, thought ed.
“I have come to warn you of the Red Knight,” she said, exhaling frost into shadows.
“Consider me warned, now I gotta go,” ed turned in the near darkness, towards the stairs, but there was a gabled window with a inset couch where the stairs used to be. The house was changing.
“This warning comes from the Stele of HYPNOS,” said the etherial young lady. ed slowly turned and looked at her with murder in his pale violet eyes.
“Don’t even JOKE about that!” he warned her. “The Obelisk of the Dream Lord is none of your concern, Queen of Celephais.” He became ready. He looked up at her and opened his violent eyes.
“How can you know me?” the Astral Queen asked. Terrified, she recoiled, putting her hand to her mouth. Snowflakes crystallized out of the softly glowing air around her.
Lit only by the glow of her aura and the sparkling of her cold crystal mist, edwards threatened her, “What I know would drive you mad, so you’d better take more care when crafting your deceptions against me.”
“I speak the tru7h, the stele has grown and shed it’s stony skin, making new revelations known. All of Dreaming is faced with armageddon. The doom of Eibon the Black is upon us,” she said, appealing for aid. edwards watched her closely.
“Tell me,” he said, after a lengthy interlude.
The Ghost Queen spoke her prophecy.
“Tell me,” said the Man in Black.
“Fuck off,” replied ed.
“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be,” urged the Woman in Red, still sitting in all her elegance.
“It will be any way I choose,” said the Grey Man. “This sorcery does not concern you.”
“Yeah, well maybe we can talk about this on the pavement,” finished the Man in Black.
ed tried to slip away, but the Man in Black grabbed him with a speed that belied reality. ed was tossed outside the Red Door under the two moons. The Man in Black followed, he kicked edwards to the ground, and began beating him with edwards’ own grey trenchcoat.
“Try again, asshole,” suggested the Man in Black. “You want us to rape your mind?” he questioned. “You want to be a drooling vegetable?” he asked. “What did that fucking white ghost bitch tell you? TELL ME!” shouted the MiB. The wind blew harder.
“Will you two idiots knock it off and come inside,” chided the Woman in Red. She stood in the doorway, one hand on her hip, and the other holding her otherworldly smokes.
edwards lunged at the Man in Black with his whole body, trying furiously to grapple the MiB around the hip with his right hand, and stabbing deep into *something* with his left. The Man in Black fell backwards towards the ground with edwards’ shoulder spearing into his kidney. Trenchcoat whirling, the MiB turned in midair with edwards’ head cradled under his arm. He threw ed face first into the oak tree like a bouncer ejecting a drunk.
An immpossible roundhouse kick sent a black clad foot into the back of ed’s head. The noise of the blow had been preceded by a shockwave; the Man in Black had moved faster than the speed of sound. Finally, a burst of leaves gently fell to cover the night’s ground, commemorating the newfound relationship between ed’s face and the tree’s coarse bark.
“You’re pretty fast for realtime,” said the MiB. Tossing a folded and locked silver butterfly knife back down to where it’s owner lay slumped.
“Screw you,” ed offered. He tasted blood, bark and soil. A griseous burning uneasyness filled his nostrils. A black trianglular craft was silently decending in the road. Pressure mounted in edwards’ head. The Man in Black knelt down.
“It’s nothing personal,” his voice echoed, as edwards slipped into a dreamless land of slumber, “but we have to know.”
The sun rose to scour the night’s filth from the anonymous city. edwards awoke dazed and confused in an alley, the denim clad Robert Masters and the huge albino form of Daniel Cloudtoucher were picking him up off the filthy asphalt. The three men entered Daniel’s beat up Dodge van. edward’s Dreamer’s Gold had long since faded away.
In the alley behind them, a yellow squiggle wormed it’s way out between the bricks. Flourescent coloring filled into the horrid contours of a three lobed occult symbol. The Yellow Sign blended in perfectly with all the other strange graffiti.