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Asher Crown

"This is the place."  The cabbie cast a wary, disbelieving glance at the wrought iron gates ahead of them.  Asher sighed, fished a few notes from his wallet, and keyed the gate to open.  It was unmanned.  No servants remained after the attack.  Were he to want to live here, which was highly unlikely without spending thousands of dollars on repair and cleaning fees, he would have to hire new ones.


With the dark, heavy tones of the letters, the ring and its strange portents, and the vicious unsolved mass murder that had painted its walls, Asher had expected some Georgian monstrosity or dark, Victorian-dulled Queen Anne confection.  What loomed behind the gates was a garish Hollywood McMansion, somehow infinitely worse than anything he had imagined.  He felt his lip curl a little, and drew in warm air through his nostrils to fortify himself.


The electric key opened the gates, and Asher approached on foot.  He liked to think he was not a superstitious man, but something in the air felt heavy, turgid and dank, as if it were a swamp, a chill and freakish swamp.  He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, tapped one, and lit it, smoking silently as he stared at the concrete monstrosity blistering in the California October sun.


The ring, that thick bit of gold that looked like he'd won some sort of American sport trophy except for the flat black stone at its top and its etched ouroborous, a serpent eating its own tail, flared with a heat so sudden he dropped his cigarette.


He stared at the ring and swore, and watched a bright red ember dull to black, then flash in an arrow pattern toward the house.


"How f-cking dare you," Asher muttered, rubbing out the dropped cig in case its lit end might cause a fire, and following the ridiculously obnoxious little ring toward the garish Crown family McMansion.


He had keys, of course, and he opened the door, shaking his head at the few bits of police tape un-gathered, curled behind the front porch within the shriveled rose bushes.


The key turned easily and the door opened without the wild horror movie squeal he had half expected.  Instead, as he crossed the threshold, Asher felt a deep and terrible sadness grip him suddenly.  His hands clutched at nothing.  He had meant to close the door behind him but now he couldn't move.  Keeping his knees steady was all he could do.


Asher had fought depression many times in his life.  Mostly, it was a dull black negation, a thing that made him still, made him ignore everything, made him <I>not care</i> if he died, but sometimes... sometimes he had thought, "What if the next bullet ends me?"


That was what this sadness grasped. It dug its talons into the core of him that could want to die and ripped the wound wide open.  He shook.  Trembling fingers found the ancient wallpaper but barely touched it before his knees gave way, before he was kneeling on the old Persian carpet.


He was off duty and he didn't have a pistol on him, not on the plane to the USA, but he could find something... he could tie a noose... he could...


<i>slap himself in the f-cking face.</i>


"Jesus Christ on a Cracker!" he snarled, coming up from the rug and glaring around.  "How dare you?!  How absolutely bloody DARE you?  You think it's that easy?  I'll do your job for you?  Ridiculous f-cking tart."


And he smoothed his hair, pretended he couldn't still feel his heartbeat in his mouth, and focused on what was around him.
October 23, 2018 08:47 pm

Asher Crown

It was a bright, high ceilinged, airy room.  The architect had clearly intended a more open floor plan, and as such, there were no doors on the ground floor, only square archways.  The inside of each archway was not simply plaster, but decorated with blue and turquoise tiles.  The vibe from the shape of the rooms, the vaulted ceiling, skylights spilling bright yellow sunshine along the walls, which were painted a very pale robin's egg blue.  The vibe there, from the bones of the house, was almost appealing.  It was like being in a warm swimming pool, sinking to the bottom, and resting there, amid the blue and the the concrete and tiles, curled away from the world.

His relatives, whose intelligence he'd already begun to doubt, had ruined it all by filling it almost to the brim with expensive accoutrements.  The Persian carpets, the massive faux-period paintings that had clearly been copied from a photograph, the tiny-- real, mind you-- quality paintings doubtless acquired at auction and hidden amid the big portraits of the home owner and his wife and children and the obvious fake Pollocks.  

Ficuses sat, dust covered but still alive, in every corner.  There was a dark stain of uncleaned blood stretched over the hardwood just toward the base of the righthand staircase.  And ahead of him, the archway to the dining room yawned like an open mouth.

It smelled like salt, like old taxidermied bones from a museum archive.  And the sunlight was bright and brittle as if it was mocking him.

That familiar weight curled itself in the wound in his heart.  That feeling he got when he was drinking and he wondered about stepping in front of a car, thought he really shouldn't be alone.  The ring on the index finger of his left hand burned and he wanted to rip it off, to fling it away, to turn around and go.

What he did not want to do was go into the dining room, so he settled himself, put one foot in front of the other, and did.

October 24, 2018 07:09 pm

Asher Crown

To the look of things, the dining room was in better shape than the foyer; which was to say, there weren't any lingering blood stains.  A long black oak table sat in the center of the room, not prepared for dinner, but with decorative tiny place settings and a silver centerpiece that resembled a rearing horse.  The Crown heraldry was, Asher remembered with a faint wince, a warhorse crowned.  Thankfully the silver beast, rampant on the table, was vaguely stylized and didn't bear anything of the kind on its head.  It would have been nearly tasteful if it wasn't the size of a Doberman.

The walls held dark oak paneled chair rails bleeding to a dark green paint, which might have been intended to look cozy in the reflected light of the massive chandeliers, but instead sent wild shadows scurrying, light able to find no purchase reflected against dusky wood and somber paint.  Framed photographs or glass-fronted art prints might have helped, but while the front room was a riot of mismatched paintings, the dining room had not a scrap of ornament on the walls at all; not except for the towering painting that dominated the entire room, above an unlit fireplace that, if properly stoked, would have made the room hot as inferno given its size.

The painting depicted a hunting party in the clothes of the mid nineteenth century, carrying the guns common to the era as well as cavalry swords at their sides.  It was unique in that one of the hunters depicted was clearly a woman, her fair hair pulled sharply back from features that looked uncannily like Asher's own.  They smiled grimly out of the painting, spatters of blood and sacks held low in their hands showing their hunt had been successful without giving a hint of what the quarry had been.  Behind them was a house Asher recognized as the family hunting lodge in the Pyrenees.

Off-putting, garish perhaps, but the real problem was that Asher could scarcely breathe.  The room stank.  It reeked of rot, of feces, of putrescent wounds and decomposing bodies. Every horrible thing Asher had ever smelled while liberating a human being, or while investigating the spoor of his evil quarry, was like a miasma in the air.  It was eye watering, nauseating.  There was nothing it seemed to come from.  Everything seemed utterly clean.  Asher had the grotesque urge to tear up the floorboards as if it were some Poe novella and he'd find family buried underneath.

Instead, he tried to focus himself.  He found he couldn't tell if the smell was real, or if it was some ghost essence trying to warn him away or to tell him something.  He staggered around the table, noticed a small silver dumbwaiter hidden unobtrusively near the kitchen door, and opened it.

His knees buckled under the suddenly tripled stench.  His eyes watered, and when he opened them, bleary, blinking, swallowing wretched bile, he saw nothing more untoward in front of him but a small red and white ceramic vase holding dead flowers.

October 30, 2018 05:51 pm

Asher Crown

It was just a vase of flowers.  Yet the stench, the weight of the air itself, made Asher want to fall to his knees.  It made him want to vomit.  He raised his hand, or tried to.

His hand was trembling so hard he could feel the energy in every muscle. When it came close to the vase, there was a weight.  He literally couldn't push his hand through it.  His body shook, jumping wildly.

No.  No, he wouldn't allow it.  His family's murderers wouldn't play him like a second-hand fiddle.

"No," he said aloud, coldly.  And he, turned back against the disgusting dumbwaiter, lowered his hand and curled it into a fist.  He held that fist, sharply, strongly, till he could feel the strain in his tendons and his muscles and even his bones.  Then he released the pressure, turned, and snapped his hand out suddenly to grasp the vase.

Asher had been shot before. and counted that among the least pleasant physical experiences of his life.  When his fingertips touched the ordinary, white-and-red ceramic, he felt as if he had been shot in ten diffferent places, and each bullet froze the tissue it touched.  The agony was so intense he couldn't hold back a scream, and then his muscles tensed and he fell to his knees.  He coughed up bile, the horror of the pain in his gut too much not to stir the urge to vomit.

But touching it had told him.  There was something in there.  Something ugly, something that was made of hate for his family.  Something that wanted to watch him drown in his own blood.

While he coughed vomit into his own palm, disgusted, his body threads of agony barely kept aloft by the sheer force of his will, Asher caught the vase with his fingertips and threw it sideways, the dead flowers with their rotten stems and green, ugly water spraying around the thick, coarse break.

And there was a small, misshapen lump.  It looked like dark wood or maybe glass, and it was the worst, most grotesque thing Asher had ever felt.  To contemplate holding it was to contemplate cutting his own throat with his razor.

And that made him furious.

"F--- you," he snarled as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and got up to grab the doleful, disgusting item.  "You were wrong.  Stupid really.  Because I'm more of a sadist than a masochist.  I'd rather burn you to a crisp than risk anyone hurting from your bulls---."

November 19, 2018 06:09 am
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