Once Touched, Twice Scarred
The vessel of hypocrisy, anatomy of gluttony, the gift of which he shouldn't see, forever to be divided
Mila was a kind soul. A tall slender woman, with soft African features complimenting her chocolate skin tone. She wore her hair in a parade of coloured braids, often donned by one of an array of colourful headscarves. Alongside interpretation of lost languages, she practised as a spiritual healer, often using crystals, homemade candles and herbs of which she would recommend different methods of use, dependant on the client and their purpose. Levi had always been fascinated with his mother's tattoos. They were an intricate mesh of beautiful patterns, wording that he could never read, images of distant lands and the strategic placement of constellations, decorating her skin. "Words and symbols of love and protection" she'd reassure his puzzled face "The truest words of the soul"
Antonius Pious stood a proud 6 foot 2. Broad shouldered, barrel chested and slightly potbellied, his constant squint had made the skin around his eyes age, however, the Greek’s eyes themselves did not want to follow suit. Deep hazel with a curious green glint, they housed a widely revered intensity, of which he always coined his "Spartan Will". His slick Greek curls were always neatly combed with a strict side parting. "Presentation is power" he would say to Levi, adjusting his tie before school. He studied anthropological artefacts, alternative history and religious scripture while working with a coalition of archaeologists from around the country, for a large investigation into secret societies, that was being conducted by a mysterious benefactor.
Antonius had been investigating the crypt of a man, believed to have been a long-serving member of the mysterious Knight’s Templar. He lived his life under numerous pseudonyms and harboured a heavy obsession with all that was esoteric, and particularly the seven Hermetic principles and how they elegantly explained the interconnectivity of the universe. Over time, he had studied under numerous philosophers and acclaimed occult historians and legend had it, he achieved capabilities beyond that of his mortal counterparts. Among those in the know, he is claimed to have been capable of fluent dictation and a fascinating insight into numerous ancient languages. There were claims as far as describing his ability to recite speeches, prophecies and poetry as though he had been present at their conception. Over time, becoming adept at summoning spirits and to even have transported his own spirit, into the vast outer reaches of the heavens, returning with beautiful stories of comets and stars, carefully and meticulously manifested in grand pieces of art.
In his youth, he had been a charming man, who had written poetry and studied the arts. It is said that one grey and wet winter’s eve in Gloucester, after a Guild performance for some of the local lords, he had been in an outhouse with his mentor, when he had been presented with an old parchment. The musician went on to exclaim how, no matter how many attempts he made, he had simply been unable to reproduce the musical piece that had been etched onto this ancient document to create this work of musical genius. He could see that the wooden handles and the blue-black ink had clearly aged, however, the papyrus parchment had been preserved in an almost pristine condition. He gripped the handle and looked upon its lines, eventually concluding, that this simply could not be the work of man. Not much else is known of his life until the later associations with the Knight’s Templar.
Antonius returned home elated with his findings but wore a puzzled expression as he spoke to his wife in the hallway. Levi had been creeping along the landing, as he usually did on early mornings when he heard his mother wake. Mila was always an early riser, and as the days grew to winter, Levi found comfort sitting in the hallway with a book, with the background noise of the sounds of his mother pottering about downstairs. This morning there hadn’t been any pottering. The couple were sat at the dining table, a 5-foot canvas placed in front of them. The painted image of what appeared to be a tree, with white flower blossom. The delicately light paint strokes making it appear as though the tree had been glossed with the first snows of winter, sat before a corner fence among a cosy rosette of smaller flowers and dwarf fruit trees. As Levi’s curiosity grew, he listened to his parent’s talking. “This can’t be ours? Can it?” Antonius exclaimed.
“Well that’s my nectarine tree, and I know I planted her three years ago” Mila shrugged. “So that would make that, the pear tree, in blossom, in our garden”
Levi craned his neck over the bannister to get a better look at the picture. Creeeaaaaaak. Antonius and Mila looked up at their curious child as he smiled bashfully.
“Sorry… I didn’t mean to eavesdrop”
One November, in the small hours of the morning. Levi awoke. There was a feeling of unbearable pressure. "Mummy" He uttered. He paused. He tried again. He strained his eyes as he repeated himself, faster and faster, becoming painfully aware that there wasn't a single sound leaving his trembling lips. Was he dreaming? He felt awake, but his body lay frozen, stiffer than wrought iron. He wrestled with his neck, as he looked around the room. What? What was that?
Something's there. He knew it. He could feel it. Through the white panel window, the pear tree eerily loomed in the moon’s luminescence. Then he felt it. Bloodthirsty pressure waves beat their way through the open vulnerability. Levi felt their focus. It was him. He wrestled more and more with his still body. He had no idea what it was, but something was there, and it wanted him. Move. Move. MOVE! His eyes clenched shut as he tried with all of his might to move. He suddenly had a terrible feeling. As he opened his eyes, he noticed, the picture projected by the night. In the dance of the swaying shadow of the pear tree over the moonlit winter’s dew… was that his dad?
Movement! He frantically wriggled his index finger and thumb until he felt his hand move freely.
Again! Levi felt the pressure grow, stronger and stronger, like the raucous of a crowd growing louder on approach to a packed stadium. His eye darted back to the window. The man that he thought he’d seen was no longer in the garden. At that moment, Levi’s mother’s words interrupted the boy's terrified thoughts. “Word’s of love and protection”. Levi felt the pressure wane, slowly to be replaced by a warming, light and free feeling. He felt upright, and as though he was there, yet somehow he wasn’t. He looked down at his hands, and the silver cord coming from the navel of his ethereal form. He felt the call of the moon on his spirit, like the ocean’s tides on a still night. He could see everything. He was in the centre of his room, looking back at his own, now peaceful little face, on his body, still lay frozen in the bed. Quickly spinning, Levi turned to the window.
There it was.
The figure was perched on the window ledge, like a crooked gargoyle. Clawed black hands gripped at the chipped white wood. Blacker than the void, the silhouette seethed with bloodlust. A hatred that made Levi feel a form of terror that he knew, even at his young age, lay beyond human instinct. Levi feared for his soul.
The figure slumped from the windowpane, and slowly rose upright. Levi felt as though he could hear the shadow figure creak as if it's very spirit was disfigured. The figure locked its hollow eyes on Levi and exploded forward.
"I AM LOVED HERE! YOU ARE NOT WELCOME! LEAVE!"
The silhouette’s pace halted. It jolted back as if it was a Pitbull, whose chain had snagged at the pinnacle of it’s leap. Wrestling with the invisible captor, frozen in a sprint, it’s shackles appeared to be recalled back towards the pear tree, casting the shadow back into the darkness of the night. At that moment Levi erupted from his bed.
With a sprinter’s gait, he evacuated the room towards the sounds coming from his father’s study. He burst into the door and looked around, fear-stricken and sobbing. No one there. Lights off. The only light in the room was the moon’s, peering through the double-glazed window. On the table, basking in the moon’s latent glow, was the pear tree painting. Had it been a dream? No! I felt it! I know it wanted me! I’m not safe! Levi yelled in frustration and grabbed the canvas, lanching it at the wall. “What the hell is going on here!” Antonius thudded down the stairs and into the room.
“The… The pear tree Dad”. The father looked at his fragile son and then at the broken canvas frame. Levi had always been a troubled sleeper. The books helped to keep him distracted from the things that could normally make him distressed. Which in turn usually meant he slept better. He sighed, as he unrolled the painting from the broken frame and stared at it, still as puzzled as the day he had brought it home. Levi spied something among the wood, that had been hidden previously by the canvas. Picking it up and unrolling the thick, perfectly maintained material, the scroll revealed a long page of musical notes. Antonius looked at his son, and at the scroll, now more puzzled than he had been before.
“Hand that to me, we’ll head up to bed”. He patted Levi on his shoulder “Get some sleep, this room gives me nightmares sometimes too, but it’s perfectly safe, we’ve got your mother” He smiled at his son.
“But… it was real”
Levi was awoken by screams the next morning. He still didn’t really understand what had happened. The police were there now, and the overbearing feeling of pressure emulated the events of the night, amidst all of the sorrow and the uncertainty. Two police officers were speaking to his mother, asking to speak separately from Levi, in order to take an official statement. Mila looked at her boy with her big brown tearful eyes. “Remember,” she said, as a tear rolled down her cheek, “The truest words of the soul” smiling and kissing him on his forehead before directing them into the kitchen.
“Levi?” A voice came from behind him. The young boy turned quizzically, to see a tall man, with dark, somewhat familiar eyes, in a long double breasted coat and a peak rimmed bowler hat. “I’m truly sorry about what happened to your father”. Levi’s lip quivered as he heard the words and truly processed them for the first time. He quietly dropped his head and sobbed.
“I know my boy. There, there, it’s a tragic shame…” His long, bony fingers dipped into his pocket and withdrew a plump green pear. With a crunch, he took a bite and crouched down to his knee, to get himself eye level with Levi. “You see,” he said, placing his hand on Levi’s shoulder, and chewing noisily through his words. “Your father always appreciated art. I’ve always been quite particular about my own”.
Levi listened but didn’t move.
“My paintings usually tell me things”
Levi immediately felt uneasy. The man cocked his head, clearly noting Levi’s apprehension.
“But you”, his eyes narrowed, “In all my centuries.” A crooked smile spread across his thin face.
“I never expected that it would be you that touched the scroll first.”
His blackened, yellow grimace flared as his eyes sunk into their hollow state from the night before.
The back of Levi’s neck began to tremor uncontrollably, survival instinct screaming at all of his muscles to run. But he couldn’t.
He was stuck.
Stiff as wrought iron.
He tried to call out to his mother.