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Sibling Rivalry in a Zombie Apocalypse: Fiction by Jon Park
Dead is Dead: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Rooms: Fiction by Harris Coverley
Do You Know the Pizza Man?: Fiction by Beverle Graves Myers
Testing the Waters: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Unclaimed Property!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
The Causeway: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Witchy: Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
An Assembly of Assassins: Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The White Nothing: Flash Fiction by Phil Temples
Carmelita: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
The Horror of Hidden Pond: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Kim Philby: Flash Fiction by Henry Simpson
Fear: Flash Fiction by Cheryl Snell
Homecoming: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Castle: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Head: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Something Wicked This Way Thumbs: Flash Fiction by K. A. Williams
The Charcoal Man: Flash Fiction by Fred Zackel
Tarot Tara: Flash Fiction by Steve Cartwright
Mr. Bunny and $88.01: Flash Fiction by William Kitcher
Don't Think Twice: Flash Fiction by Elizabeth Zelvin
Teasing in the Light: Flash Fiction by Bradford Middleton
Spider: Flash Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Infirmities: Poem by David Galef
Dreaming a Little: Poem by Juan Mobili
The Dead Mingle with the Living: Poem by John Tustin
The Flower in Your Lapel: Poem by John Tustin
May Day: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Procession: Poem by Partha Sarkar
At the Funeral Lunch: Poem by Joan Leotta
Dreaming My Way Home: Poem by Joan Leotta
The Silence: Poem by John Grey
Pacing: Poem by John Grey
Elementary Classes: Poem by John C. Mannone
Rage: Poem by John C. Mannone
Comfort Zone: Poem by John C. Mannone
Serpentine Line: Poem by Charles Weld
William Calley's Apology: Poem by Charles Weld
Steve J: Poem by Charles Weld
Thief: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Sweet Pleasure: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Courtship: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Again, A Bike Left: Poem by Rp Verlaine
Short Cuts to Madness: Poem by Rp Verlaine
Ingrid Leaves Vegas: Poem by Rp Verlaine
A Necessary Poem: Poem by Rob Plath
Last Gesture: Poem by Rob Plath
Carpe Sanguinem: Poem by Rob Plath
The Antitesis: Poem by Rob Plath
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Harris Coverley: Rooms

100_ym_rooms_kcwalker.jpg
Art by Keith Coates Walker 2023

Rooms

 

by Harris Coverley

 

 

My earliest memory is of sitting in my mother’s cool arms, trying to suckle and being rebuffed, a bottle’s nipple shoved between my lips. I may have only been little more than one year old, but the pain still feels real.

There are great black spaces after that, but by the age of three more and more thoughts of the day come into play, and the routine that dominated our lives becomes clear.

We had the run of most of our house, but we stuck mainly to the kitchen. It was there where we ate all of our meals at the big dark oak table, each meal cooked by my mother, a process often taking up most of her day. The rest of the time we sat at the table and talked, played games, and then early in the evening we would both go to bed at the same time. There were plenty of other rooms upstairs in the large house, but we never went in them. She had her small bedroom, and I had mine. The bathroom was the brightest room in the house, a colour scheme of rich sea blue, and kept pristine.

Our groceries were delivered to our doorstep, and anything else needed was ordered over a cracked, wall-mounted telephone, cast in green plastic.

It was only every so often that I saw the Master come and go. His room was on the ground floor, along the left-hand side of the hallway, behind a tall red door of a different design to the others in the rest of the house. Never did a single sound emanate from behind it, or at least nothing I could be sure of.

I don’t remember the very first time I saw him, but he was there, never looking upon his entrances and exits into our kitchen activities, me only occasionally being able to glimpse his person, shrouded in a wide-brimmed trilby and a shaggy grey coat that nearly dragged across the floor.

Sometime before the age of four my mother noticed me peering at his latest return through the crack in the kitchen door, and as soon as he went into his room and locked the door—as he always did—my mother knelt in front of me, took me by the shoulders, and told me never to look upon him, never to speak to him, never to ask after him, and, especially, never to enter his room, or else I would be punished. The threat of punishment from her, always so tranquil, scared me, but I was a good obedient boy, and so did as she ordered. The only detail of his being that she gave was his moniker: the Master.

At the age of five I was sent to school, and as we left each weekday, I averted my eyes from the window of his room as we departed and returned. It was not until after I turned six that I gained a little rebelliousness to glance quickly at the window as we set out one day, and I saw what the insistence of peripheral vision had long suggested: the glass was covered with ancient, glued on newspaper. My mother did not notice, and we carried onto school, a short walk away, but as the days went on, I tried to steal more and more glances.

School proved nice enough, and made a break from the monotony of home life. I made friends, but was often at a loss for stories of any adventure to tell. Other children went on holiday, called on their parent’s places of work, had grandparents and other relatives visit.

One night I asked my mother why we never went on holiday, and she said that holidaying was impossible. I asked her where my grandparents, and aunts, and uncles were, and she quite nonchalantly told me they were all dead. At some point in the past I had already learned of the concept of death, so this did not trouble me, and I threw no tantrum at the prospect of never going on holiday, although I never did throw any tantrums.

A short time after I fell ill with a severe cold, and was forced to stay home from school. Our routine reverted to those pre-school days of us in the kitchen, although I found my previously solid schedule of going to bed at eight and rising at eight suddenly interrupted by an onslaught of headaches and vomiting. It was during one such interruption, a midnight trip to the toilet to empty my stomach, that I happened to look down the stairs and spy the first instance of my mother and the Master communicating. I caught her kneeling before his door and sliding a small brown envelope underneath. She stayed for a few moments, me peeking out from behind the upstairs wall, before a similar, but definitely not the same, envelope was shoved back from the other side. As she stood up with the delivery she looked up the stairs and, fatigued by illness, I was unable to retreat fast enough. Our eyes met, and for a brief second our own individual fears were mirrored in each. I regained my strength and rushed back to my room, the covers pulled up, new vomit forced back down my throat.

The next day, as we finished our breakfast—she some wheat cereal, me, still liable to vomit, dry, unbuttered toast—she turned to me and told me that such letters were the only way for the Master and her to communicate safely, but that’s all she would admit. I plucked up some courage to ask her where he sometimes went in the middle of the day, but she told me she did not know. In retrospect, it was clear she was lying, but I did not raise it again.

A year passed, and I moved through my classes, becoming more curious. I asked more questions at home, about this and that aspect of the world, but I made sure to avoid the topic of the Master. My mother, acknowledging that I was cracking the shell in which I had long since existed, bought me books, such as a junior encyclopaedia, and compilations of fairy tale I could read by myself. There was no television in the house, so I devoured them quickly. Before long, I had exhorted her to take me to the local library on an almost daily basis, and I began to make my way through the children’s section. I admit that stories of the supernatural were what really got me going, along with natural science and evolutionary history. Soon the juvenilia proved too meek for me, and I moved onto more adult sections, conquering them shelf-by-shelf.

One day, about a month before I turned eight, I found a yellowed pad of paper in one of the spare rooms—clearly I was already getting a little adventurous in exploring the unlived-in parts of the house—and I started to write ghost stories, inspired by my library adventures. I was a boy with a growing imagination, and like anyone at that age I truly believed that I was writing the finest horror fiction on Earth. I must have, over the course of a week, cracked off a dozen or so tales of haunted houses, spectral invaders, and mad scientists. By the weekend, I was confident that these tales would make up for a lack of real life stories to tell, and so planned a full reading at school break-time on the Monday. But when Monday morning fell, the pad was nowhere to be found—not in my dresser drawer where I had left it, not in my schoolbag, not in the kitchen; it was completely absent. I pondered this throughout the day, and when walking home with my mother I asked her if she had seen a yellow pad anywhere in the house. She did not answer, and remained silent until we crossed the threshold.

“I threw it away,” she said, taking off her coat, and expecting to leave it at that.

I almost cried immediately, all my good work gone, and I asked her why.

“There are some things you cannot possibly know, or write about, even in jest,” was her reply.

For the first time in in our shared life we argued, violently, like so many parents and children do, and also for the first time I was exiled to my room. She refused for the rest of the week to take me to the library, her idea of punishment, and my mind grew stale and listless. Searches for new pads of paper proved fruitless.

That Saturday I was reading a ragged textbook on animal husbandry, having adopted a strange notion of moving North and establishing a farm, when I decided to go down to the kitchen to get a drink, the day being a warm one, while hoping not to encounter my mother’s severe eyes.

As I made my way down the stairs, I saw something that stopped me dead: the Master’s door was wide open. It was never wide open. He had always left and returned with the solid securing of its brass locks.

At first, I stood halfway on the steps, curving my body to look beyond the frame. There appeared to be nothing unusual to see, and his room seemed devoid of life. I made my way to the foot of the stairs, and surveyed the hallway up to the kitchen, pricking up my ears. As far as I could tell, I was completely alone; neither the Master nor my mother made any sound or sight.

The impulse came to me and I surrendered to it: I would take the opportunity to see the Master’s dwellings for myself. To hell with my mother and her years-old warnings! What power did she deserve over me given the way I had been treated? It was all complete nonsense! I had lived as an idiot for so long, and even at such a young age, I desired an insurrection, truth, a chance to figure out for myself what was really going on.

I calmed down and walked slowly to the edge of the doorway. I took a deep breath, and sharply turned in.

The door may have been of a different design to the rest of the house, but the decor inside the room matched: the same dark lime carpeting, the same worn brown floor panels and kickboard, the same off-cream wallpaper. At the front of the room, under the papered window, was his low wooden bed, covered with a rough blue-and-white tartan sheet, neatly and tightly made. On the far wall, opposite the door, was a combined bookcase and chest of drawers, adorned with dull brass handles. I went up to the case and gazed at the books, the titles of some of which are still scorched into my mind, despite at that time having no knowledge of Latin: Tomus de Clamoribus, Liber de Oculis, Niger Verba, Ad Superior Caro…there were more, but those remain with me. There were also English-language books on subjects that I recognised the library as having copies of, or similar, on occult subjects, astrology, lost civilisations, and “science” that even a small boy could recognise as at best junk, at worst insane, along with general textbooks on chemistry and biology, neurology and mechanics. As I looked closer, I noticed on the desk section above the drawers that there was a line of seven glass items, bauble-like and misty in hue, with copper stands on their bottoms. I leaned in and observed within them…movement.

I stood up straight and rubbed my eyes. The situation was getting to me I was sure; the rush of disobedience was causing me to see things. I leaned back down for a new look, and soon wished I hadn’t.

Within those baubles swirled clouds of unknown colours, propelled by the ecosystems of their own individual worlds. Each bauble’s world was different, and yet related to each other’s. The patterns, the shapes… indescribable, not re-creatable by human language or the artistry of human hands. As I continued to stare, I neglected to notice the front door open and close.

I settled on the central bauble for my deepest observation, thinking at one point that my pupils would touch the glass. I entered its world, and soon began to see an even deeper level to the madness inside. It became increasingly obvious, although I still find it hard to believe, that the waves of smoke that made up the clouds were not mere smoke. No, the smoke waves were but a composite of hundreds upon hundreds of faces, many human, some not so human, and all screaming, crying, yelling, in states of agony and inconceivable terror.

Suddenly, I heard a voice behind me say, “Boy, you have finally entered the fold…”

I spun about and looked directly into the face of the Master who stood in the doorway. He was so hideous to me: ironclad eyes of blue steel under that trilby, his orangey skin laced with black pockmarks, the teeth of his vile grin like the broken fingers of a skeleton.

He stepped forward, seemingly ready to embrace me.

“My son,” he continued, “how wonderful it will be…”

“What will?” I said, managing to break through the shock gripping me, holding back my bladder.

“Me and you, side by side,” he replied, that grin growing ever wider. “What we can achieve, what we will accomplish together…”

As the Master moved forward, my mother revealed herself in the doorway, reflecting my look of fright.

“Get out of there!” she cried, the Master not reacting, far too focused on my trembling body. “GET OUT!”

Obeying her, I quickly ran around the now crouching Master and out of the door, my mother pulling it shut behind me.

“To your room, now!” she yelled, and I did as she commanded. As soon as I got there I hid under my sheets, shaking, my shoes still on, me ramming my face into the mattress and begging for sleep.

Several hours later I composed myself, and made my way out of my room and downstairs. The Master’s door remained closed and the room beyond was silent. In the kitchen my mother sat at the oak table with a bottle of whisky and a mug, taking the occasional sip. I had never seen her like this, so I knew to tread carefully.

I sat down at the table and we said nothing for a good many minutes, until I found the nerve to break the hush: “Why? What does it all mean?”

My mother didn’t say anything at first, merely taking a larger slug of the whiskey, but she eventually replied, “Across the eons, throughout history, some people, exceptional people, have been displaced, as it were.”

To this I just nodded, and she continued: “Some of these people attained something beyond what mere mortals have…some were evil, some were good…the Master is unfortunately one of the evil ones. People like him need a…caretaker of sorts. Someone to look after him, someone to monitor him…that person ended up being me.”

We sat quietly for a while longer, before I was able to say, “He called me ‘son’.”

My mother made to put her head in her hands, but she stopped herself.

“Even your own mother has her weaknesses,” she said with great sadness. “And for that I am truly sorry.”

After that I left it alone, and went back to my room.

As the years went past, I stuck to the old rules: do not go near the Master, do not look at the Master, and do not in any way interact with the Master.

However, I still went against my mother’s wishes in that I continued to write fiction and hone my skill at the craft. I eventually made my way to the study of literature at university, in spite of her disapproval, and since graduation I have managed to sustain myself by writing a popular-enough novel each year, usually of the dark or weird variety. Some have even been optioned for film, although none of them have been lucky enough to have been made yet.

A wife has come and gone, no children thankfully. But as I reach middle age, I admit I feel guilty. All those years I lived at home, I got older, and my mother grew tired and haggard, while the Master I know refused to age a day. Yes, the coat continued to fray, and the trilby grew more warped, but his face remained in its same ugly yet static state—so yes, I did not stick to the old rules as well as I should have.

Every time I visit her she is weaker and weaker, and I know it will not be long until my final visit. She refuses to leave, married to her duty until the very end.

It is obvious what will eventually happen: I will have to take her place as his guardian—I cannot entrust such a task to any other—and spend the rest of my life typing up my work at that same old kitchen table, making sure should he go out that he gets in by the end of the day.

I have no interest in what sick and terrible things he gets up to in that room, or what was really in those baubles of his. Well, I would be lying if I said I had ‘no interest’. Those books, that equipment…what evil deeds must he get up to day and night? Where did he come from? Who is he?

Regardless, I have half a mind to burn the whole damn house to the ground, and rid the world of him and my mother of her endless suffering. But I love her, and I couldn’t really bear to do it. It is just a reoccurring notion, kept down by the occasional single malt.

No, the end is inevitable.

I am, and will always remain, my mother’s son, and the Master’s keeper.

As well as previously in Yellow MamaHarris Coverley has had more than eighty short stories published across dozens of periodicals, including CuriositiesHypnosPenumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, and JOURN-E, amongst many others. A former Rhysling nominee, he has also had over two hundred poems published in journals around the world. He lives in Manchester, England.

Keith C. Walker was born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of Art and the Royal College of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant to Eduardo Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which is now De Montfort University. In 1994 he retired from Academia.

Keith says, “Digital technology has made and continues to make big changes to all of our lives: the way we communicate, the way we are monitored, the way we entertain ourselves, and much, much more. 

 

We now leave a digital footprint wherever we go, and with whatever we do. 

Do we already have one foot in an Orwellian world?

 

 My collages are an investigation, with a small “I,” on the impact of digital technology and its possibilities.”

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023