The People’s Masterpiece

by Christian Riley

The humanoids of Phellbane–a city located on the gaseous planet of Zenthal–slowly rise into the atmosphere when their flesh is punctured, and their heavy blood which binds them to the surface of their home is released. Released with a sound similar to a thousand drops of rain trickling to the ground…

Mortemis Rand had a dream.

***

As a child, they tortured his body and mind. His delicate frame of bones and flesh, seemingly vacant of all muscle, was often made to perform ungainly athletic maneuvers. He walked in an awkward fashion, which was comical to observe. He climbed with horrible accuracy, which was delightful to interrupt by the casting of small, round fruit at the back of his head. And he crawled pitifully, through muddy swamps that reeked of decay. For the great pleasure of the children of Phellbane, the repugnant creature known as Mortemis Rand was made to do these things.

***

“Throw him onto the table!” His first victim; the city tailor. A pudgy little man with pale skin, and red eyes. He had stared too much at Mortemis. The bland attire the old man wore each day. Stared with eyes that reverberated a self-boasting sound.

“Yes…you fat little pastry! I can hear your thoughts!” Mortemis squealed with laughter, his frail body enveloped within a bulky chair as he stared at the helpless tailor. “What do you think of that? No wait..! I shall listen.”

Beside him, two three-legged hulks of muscle, each with a single eye, picked the tailor up and slammed him onto a table embedded with sharp needles.

“Look who’s laughing now.”

And then the tailor began to slowly rise.

Mortemis sat back in his chair quietly. Listening. The tailor’s punctured body rose away from the table, leaving a wet outline upon the surface. His eyes rolled back behind his head, and the old man observed this.

“Yes. Yes, you fool.”

Minutes later, Mortemis inked words into a notebook. His data: The drip of this man’s blood falls like rain, which is pleasing in and of itself, but still…the sound is off…

***

“Repugnant” was only the term given to him once Mortemis had grown older, as it is uncommon for a child to own such a word within their vocabulary. And although Mortemis was not unlike anyone else on Phellbane–save for those few dissimilarities of his physique, and personality–it doesn’t take much in a civilized world to become a target of disparity. Search every book of history, and find this; a target of disparity.

***

“Who’s really gonna miss a handful of laborers?” shouted Mortemis, perched upon the spiral stairs overlooking the great table of needles below. At the sound of his voice, his lumbering henchmen shuffled forward, picked men up, then crashed their flailing bodies onto the puncturing bed of death.

Six men in all. Six men who, shortly after they had been skewered under the sounds of their wailing protests, began to rise up and off the table.

Mortemis quickly took out his notebook: Hmm… The shouts were obtrusive. Consider disengaging vocal chords next time. But the many drops are…they’re pleasing. Getting there…

***

Mortemis had inherited a precious-metal mining company from his family. He had more money than he knew what to do with. But the old man could’nt have cared less. His passion in life consisted of only one thing; composing music.

Master of the creation of sounds, it was not uncommon, even as a child, for Mortemis to lock himself away in his room and write music. For him, it was the ultimate quest. Whereas, many people of Phellbane took thrills climbing vast cloud tendrils, or racing through the atmosphere in airships, Mortemis found his grand adventure searching for lost sounds. The perfect combination of notes, harmonies, and rhythms. And it was a passion that further divided Mortemis from the people of his world, for music was a lost art. No one listened to music anymore.

***

“Ha! Would you look at that? The ceiling is full of them. It is raining in my own dining room. Sticky rain. Wet, and dark.” Mortemis spread his open hands out, catching the drops of blood as he silently paced the room. Perhaps it’s this room. Too…confining. Not right for the overtones that I am indeed missing here. And I’ll need more of them. Much more than a dozen, that’s for sure.

***

The citizens near his estate mocked Mortemis. His mind knew this. They snickered at the same clothes he wore every day, without fail. Tight, black pants. Flowing, gray shirt. And then the contrast of his wispy, white hair. Of thin presence, it revealed the gleaming flesh of his bald head underneath. This, the people of Phellbane considered to be a minor abomination. Indecent exposure of a lesser degree.

In their thoughts, they referred to Mortemis as “The Madman.” They thought this as he walked through the market collecting various teas, and incense–his instruments of inspiration. No one spoke these thoughts, of course. Mortemis, and his money, and his pair of lumbering, tri-pedaling, cyclopean masses of sheer muscle were always met with gracious smiles. Being older was nothing like when he was a child.

But then again, it was. Mortemis had never forgotten the many faces that laughed, and leered, and made sport of his disparities.

***

“We’ll keep them in the basement until we’re ready.” He placed a metal instrument to his mouth and whistled off a few sharp notes. “And make sure to get a bunch of them this time. A whole bunch!” The pair of lumbering hulks grunted an understanding, then lurched out into the dark night.

A few evenings later, the spiked table was moved out onto the blue grass behind Mortemis’s mansion. “Begin the slaughter!” laughed the old man, notebook in hand. Once again, his henchmen jumped forward with frantic speed. They slammed bodies onto the table, then tossed them off as fast as they could. There became a rhythmic routine between the two beasts, like a processing line butchering fish, as one after another, people were fatally punctured then hurtled to the grass.

“Yes…this is wonderful,” whispered Mortemis, as he walked around the murderous procession.
The old man took note of the clumpy, hissing sounds of the people of Phellbane as they became swiftly killed. And he observed the panicked pleas in the eyes of the many gagged faces still waiting their turn. Mortemis stood on a patch of grass and listened with straining ears at the surmounting flow of blood that eventually trailed down upon him from the sky above. He listened with his masterful mind, knowing the sounds of his world, and knowing more…the sound he had been missing his whole life.

“Kill them all!”

***

A blessed evening to be sure. What a grand concert that was..! But even so…

***

But even so. It was the lake that spoke to him. Countless times, Mortemis had found himself standing on a balcony overlooking the massive body of water behind his mansion. A great black drum, with lurking depths that promised a penetrating, long-lasting resonance. On many nights, while he sat in a small boat in the middle of the lake during a rain storm, Mortemis imagined himself being in a thunderous concert hall. The ostinato of a million drops of rain pattering the surface left him speechless. Even mindless. It was during these times that he developed the habit of yanking on his wet hair, eyes shot open to the raining blackness above, while laughter of an absent mind squealed out of him.

But Mortemis had always known that blood was thicker than water. Ergo, the promise of a penetrating, long-lasting resonance.

***

“We must capture the entire town,” Mortemis said with a sigh. He was standing on the newly crafted platform built within the middle of the lake. Indeed, it looked like a small stage with its hundred musical instruments gathered about onto tables, and chairs.

The lumbering pair of muscles grunted an understanding.

***

For ten days and ten nights, the people of Phellbane were secretly captured. They were gagged, bound, then drugged into a state of lethargy. Their comatose bodies made huge, fleshy piles all across Mortemis’s property. And during these ten days, the old man spent the entirety of his time locked away in his room, composing music.

***

Mortemis smashed a round gong with a mallet at center stage; the signal to begin.

Grab, slam, hurtle. Grab, slam, hurtle. Grab, slam, hurtle, went the dying people of Phellbane. A perfect rhythm, thought Mortemis. And then the old man began to play. He played his many instruments under the backdrop of rising bodies over the black lake. He read the scribble of his sheet music carefully. Methodically. But occasionally he tore his eyes away, letting his ears and hands find the missing notes to his recital.

Hours passed, and the bloody rain grew heavy. Mortemis squealed with ecstasy as the deafening sound played out upon the watery surface of the lake. He frantically ran about the stage, playing instruments, exchanging them for other ones, stealing a peak at his sheet music, clawing at his hair, screaming. But when the crescendo of sound at last came to the forefront of his mind, as he was playing a certain stringed instrument, Mortemis suddenly stopped. Frozen on the platform, his eyes blinked away drops of blood.

Why am I here? he thought. The catalyst of a sequestered life now raining my revenge upon a great drum. A sound that is both wonderful, yet incomplete. I’m a composer, am I not?

“No. You’re a madman, Mortemis.”

“Who said that?” shouted the old man. He darted his head back and forth, searching the small stage. In the distance, he spotted his henchmen on the shores near his mansion, still engaged in the rapid killing of people.

“You’ve always been a madman.”

The sound came from the tall statue of brass chimes standing near the edge of the stage. “What is this?” asked Mortemis. “What are you?”

A madman…”

***

The concert finale came from twenty fathoms below. Chained to the heavy chimes, Mortemis then shoved himself over the edge, plunging through the vast body of water. He smiled as he sank into the cold depths, hands gripped tight over the chimes as if choking the life out of them. He was pulled through the black void with astonishing speed, until he came to a sudden, yet slow motioned crash upon the muddy floor below.

In the moment following his abrupt stop, Mortemis let go of the chimes, blinked his eyes, then looked up to the shimmering surface. The old man was wrong. He was dead wrong, he realized. Mortemis heard no penetrating, long-lasting resonance within that great drum. As seconds passed, he heard nothing but absolute silence. That, and the suppression of his own lungs fighting vehemently to hold on as long as they could, before the cold water rushed in and killed them as they were…

It was the perfect sound.

The End