Tick tock tick your time is almost up as did you pick.
Allen woke with a start from a sound sleep when he heard the woman’s voice coo to him in his violet hued dreams. He scanned the room quickly; he was in his own king-sized bed, in his bedroom, alone. He took a long drink from the clear water bottle he had placed on his night table, checking alarm click that sat beside it as he did so – eleven oh seven. It was still evening; the dark gap between the curtains that closed his downtown penthouse’s windows from invasion from the outside world told him so. Allen let out a groan and tossed the covers roughly aside and stepped onto the hard wood floor and walked to the washroom. The womanly voice faintly sounded in the back of his mind as he turned on the washroom light.
Tick tock tick your time is almost up as did you pick.
At fifty one, with the highest nightly audience numbers of all the other networks combined, Allen Forrest was considered the “Chairman of the Board” of the Cable News Channel. Prime time was his playground, he was the king of the castle and everyone else was the dirty rascals. It had been like that for over thirty years; politicians, celebrities, those wanting to be celebrities, even the Pope called Allen first in hopes that they would get that coveted “top Story” moniker posted atop a picture of their faces on his newscast. Allen found it laughable that on the eve of the new global amalgamation of the major media corporations to provide a unified perspective on world events and his ‘coronation’ as the first president and face of The News, he would be haunted by a voice he barely remembered from his past.
Allen smiled cruelly at his reflection in the mirror as he gingerly splashed the cold water on his cheeks; it was around this time years ago as a much younger journalist that he had been waking in the night with the same symptoms as he did now though those were much darker times. Allen patted down his face with his monogrammed towel and let his mind wander back into the past.
The year was 1986, fresh out of college and brimming with the brashness that his professors glowing remarks on his talent, when Allen had left all he knew and headed off for the journalistic big league of Edmonton with the intent of having his name carved in neon. What Allen found was that he was only one of hundreds of institutionally trained remarkable talents in the rough and that no one was willing to wield the buffer.
By day he kept hounding the newspapers, the television and radio stations to give him a shot; by night he bussed at a lounge on 95thstreet, the roughest part of the city. He spent the majority of his money on professional portfolio development, living in a boarding house that had an infestation of roaches inside while outside an infestation of hookers, addicts and pushers, door after door remained closed to him. For three months he tried to keep the burning faith he had in himself from turning to dying embers, but as the cold northern winds beckoned the winter to the city Allen could see that the chute was on its last piece of coal. What little money he had left after paying his weekly room and board he drank away in the dangerous of bars; half out of self pity and half out of the desire for someone to come behind him and slit his throat – at least in death someone would see his name printed in the media.
It was the early afternoon of December twenty fourth, Allen recalled clearly, when the last door slammed in his face, knocking his portfolio, and ego, onto the heavily slush trodden carpet of a media outlet. He was memorized by how quickly the costly printed summary of his life’s ambitions hungrily drank up the moisture turning the pages of white and black to a mimicry of an open binder of opaque Japanese scrolls.
Allen began to bend down to pick the portfolio up but stopped; the water logged portfolio capsulated who Allen was to Allen. It was time to let his aspirations dissolve into pulp just as the portfolio would be in a couple of hours left on the carpet. He turned, walked away and when the first opportune door to drunken amnesia presented himself, he entered.
At four Allen was unceremoniously escorted from his bar stool with a shove and a snarled, “Merry Christmas”, out the door of the bar. The sun began to hide itself away as Allen stumbled along the quickly quietening streets with no particular destination in mind, consoling himself every block or so with a swig from the rum and whiskey bottles he had stolen from behind the bar just after they had called for everyone to leave, muttering that it should have been his time to shine, to show the world that he was worthy of being paid attention to.
It had been hours since it seemed like the city had closed for night, his stolen liquor drunk, that Allen felt as if he were being watched. He barely managed to remain standing as he turned around to accost his stalker, but the street was deserted.
“Tick tock tick, your time is the one you pick,” a soft sulty feminine voice whispered.
Allen turned quickly once more, this time slipping on the frozen sidewalk with his ice-lined shoes. He fell hard onto his shoulder, his head bounced on the sidewalk. Allen cursed, picking himself off the sidewalk but he could still see no one. Allen knew the voice; it had awoken him from his anxiety driven dreams several times over the past month with the same words, the same seductive half whisper. He wondered if the voice was mocking him as once more it spoke up.
“Tick tock tick, your time is the one you pick.”
“When is it my time?” Allen screamed in demand as he raised his head to the night sky, his hands clenched tightly, his arms taunt into the sides of his body, “When is it my time? It should be fucking right now!”
Allen breathed heavily as he looked around then expectantly up into the falling snow. The only answer he received were those around of an active city with no concern about a drunk, hypothermic young man. Allen dropped to his knees, his knuckles crunching harshly into the packed down snow, bursting several capillaries but Allen entertained no thought about the reddish tinge forming, he simply hung his head until his chin rested on his sternum.
“My time is now,” Allen’s voice cracked out, “I want my time now.”
For how long Allen did not remember that he knelt in the snow sobbing, knowing only that through thick iced lashes that something had moved before him. It took several hard blinks to clear the haze that his eyes were in but what he thought he saw did not alter in the clarity of sight. Allen knew the temperature had to be minus twenty optimistically, in front of him were two sandaled, dark toned but luminescent lithesome feet, not shivering but seemingly unaffected by the frigid winter’s kiss.
Allen’s eyes tracked up from the feet. It was a woman, young but with an air of agelessness to her. The first thing that filled his sight were her eyes; they were like a pair of liquid violet pools outlined by carefully sculpted lines of black, drawing a person even more to plunge within. He pulled himself from drowning in her eyes to her long black hair that seemed to dance down her narrow face, along her long neck and tumble joyfully along her shoulder blades. The snow that fell seemed to bend as if not to fall upon her sun bronzed skin and what looked like a single silken fabric that hung over her right shoulder that fell to just above her ankles tied in the middle with a bright multicoloured sash.
“I am the Maiden of Sepphoris”, the woman explained in an over stuffed pillowy voice. “A multitude of life time upon lifetimes ago I was chosen to bestow upon the world a gift – I continue this mission to this day, and on this day, to you, Allen Christopher Forrest.”
Allen tried to stand but the frozen ground had numbed his knees; he fell backwards. He began to laugh.
“A gift for me?” he said with a harsh tone in his voice, “Why me? I have done nothing that merits nothing but...nothing.”
The Maiden of Sepphoris bent down and gingerly touched Allen’s cheek with the tips of her fingernails.
“When I received my gift I thought very much the same as you do,” she comforted. “When the angel spoke to me, I too tried to show that I was not worthy of the Lord’s fondness.” The Maiden stood back up and offered her hand to Allen.
“But who was I to question His wisdom? The Lord can see within us what we ourselves cannot. I had no right to deny but to accept that he knew that I could give the world something that it was in need of. I see this in you.”
“What can I offer the world?” he barked, “The only thing I want to do is show the world themselves – that’s nothing.” Softer he repeated, “Nothing.”
“Is that not His way, to make something from nothing?” The Maiden asked, Allen could have sworn he caught a hint of bitterness in her words, but the Maiden’s demureness quickly returned. “I was nothing but a mother yet from that ordinary womanly task did I deliver to the world...something. It is not yours to ask why me but to ask why not me?”
Allen took the woman’s hand and slowly rose to his feet. He looked into those violet eyes and told her that then he too would accept her wisdom that and give the world what he could.
“And so you shall,” the Maiden said then dissipated into the night’s snow leaving Allen standing alone. The cold that had bored into his bones had disappeared, his mind was sharp and clear without a hint of the whiskey or rum; Allen felt alive and burning with renewed energy standing on sidewalk with a layer of snow already covering where he had been kneeling moments before.
Tick tock tick, began has the time you did pick....
By noon Christmas Day Allen was standing in the local television’s newsroom breaking a story of the city police’s ‘golden boy’ – that Allen had discovered to be a serial killer, complete with records that backed up those allegations. Within three years he had been promoted to the national press’s reporter at large, travelling around the world reporting major events. By the time he was forty Allen became the face of the national news broadcast then two years later he became the spokesman for the international broadcast with the American networks and BBC courting him to work for them. Six months ago the United Nations had approached him on the global news pipeline and he accepted. It was not lost to Allen that the premiere broadcast of the new super news station was set for noon Mountian time Christmas day, thirty three years to the day that his life had changed.
Allen chuckled at himself; perhaps he should have taken some time off before the change over. Imagine, he chided himself, attributing his success to someone who wasn’t real. He got back into bed, rolled onto his side and grasped tightly onto the pillow, still nervously guffawing as his eyes quickly called for the end of consciousness, the back of his mind cautioned him, still.....
Tick tock tick, your time is up as did you pick.
It was ten in the morning; Allen had been at news central since five that morning preparing for the broadcast set to begin in a matter of hours. The rehearsals had gone off without a hitch; all the graphics and cues had worked without fault. Allen felt confident and told the crew to go out for a well deserved meal at the commissary – his treat- leaving him alone on the set.
Allen stood in the middle of the set, looked around, taking in the majestic looking wall of green behind the business like looking desk, the lights, cables and cameras; this was his world. He became lost in how he thought the newscast would play out – who should he ordain as the VIP of the world by having their faces up on that green screen? Should it be the American President? The Dalai Lama? Allen did not realize he was not alone until the semi-forgotten voice of his dreams penetrated his thoughts.
“It was thirty three years ago I came to you to bestow a gift,” said the woman that stood metres from Allen.
Allen nodded, numbed by the sense of familiarity clashing with the physicality of the unexpected. If it had not been for the memory of those very vivid violet eyes piercing deeply into his psyche years before, Allen would not have been convinced that the woman was being truthful of whom she claimed to be. The remembered silken smooth lustre of eterne filled flesh had deflated to pull taunt against vein, artery, tendon and bone of a barren mesa parched by an unwavering dry season. The cascade of black tresses that poured down her shoulders now hung as frozen trickles of dirtied water; the woman’s frame that Allen recalled as powerfully straight had curled over as if a steel girder hung tightly around her neck threatening to crush her larynx at a moment’s time. The memoried mint with a hint of honey that had swirled invitingly along his nasal passages upon their first meeting sloughed away at the reek that she now presented – one of urine, feces, and rotted linen.
“What do you want?” Allen asked in a smallish voice.
“I have come to collect payment for the gift of giving you to the world,” the Maiden answered.
Allen pulled out his chequebook from his inside breast pocket along with his monogrammed pen and asked, “How much? Ten, twenty, fifty grand?”
The Maiden’s head slowly turned once to the side and then to the other side.
“What do you want then?” Allen asked, clicking the pen back and forth. Allen forced himself not to jump back in revulsion when the Maiden’s snake scaled fingers gently scraped against his left cheek.
“For you to step from the blinding light of recognition and return into the unassuming mass of humanity once more,” she replied.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Allen snapped out at the woman. “You think that I’ll walk away from this –“ Allen waved his hands around the set, “This is what I worked my ass off for, this is what gives meaning to my life....hell, not just me, but how many millions are expecting to see me tell them how it was, is and will be in the world?”
“Once I allowed the folly of pride forestall what should have been done,” the Maiden in a threatening tone, “Eternity is not praised immortality but punishment so hollowed thinly upon what is humanity. To end I must suture the tear that I let render itself.”
The Maiden advanced towards Allen. Allen retreated step for step with the woman’s until the back of his legs were against the oak veneered metal desk that he used during his broadcasts. The Maiden did not stop. The rubber stops on the bottom of the desk screeched along the tiled floor as Allen forced it to move to keep a space between him and the woman. When the desk came to a halt against the cement wall concealed behind a large sheet of blue screen, Allen climbed backwards atop the desk never breaking eye contact with the woman. He pressed himself firmly against the wall seemingly to attempt to will himself to dissolve into the thin material. The Maiden stopped a metre from the desk.
The Maiden smiled cruelly, the darkness of her pupils dilating as if a nova had burst within them. She gave both of her wrists a quick twist sending ripples up her sleeves. From the material a wooden mallet shook free from one arm into her hand, from the other sleeve slipped four long crudely fashioned and rusted iron spikes. Allen looked incredulously at the woman; he could feel his heart slamming violently against his rib cage. He went to step back but found that the desk and blue screen that had been for so long his proclamation of authority had become the shackles of immobility.
“Back in the time past it took me year after year to build up the courage to atone for the sin of entitlement that I unleashed upon the world. I sought and found one close to what I had made, manipulating him to find those who would erase what should never have been drawn so poorly,” the Maiden said, never taking her eyes off Allen’s. “The original sin never washed itself from the mortal world, leaving me still stained ere more – so I thought.” Allen wrestled with emotions of disbelief and awe as the woman rose from the ground until she hovered just above the height of the desk.
There was a rush of wind by Allen’s left ear, a flash of dirty red, of wood, a rough jerk of his shoulder then a searing pain that streaked from his left hand, laying siege to his brain with catapult fires of synaptic firings. There was warmth tickling the center of his left palm and though Allen didn’t want to break away from the Maiden’s glare, he could not help but steal a quick peek at her hands. Only three of the spikes remained. Allen closed his eyes as the Maiden giggled. Taking a deep gulp of the spittle that was building up around his tongue, Allen turned his head and opened his eyes.
The missing spike was embedded to its head into the wall behind the blue screen, a hand acting as if it were a washer to cushion it. It took a moment longer for Allen to realize that his left arm was outstretched and connected to that hand. Blood seeped from the edges of where flesh and metal met, collecting at the bottom of the spike’s head then loftily dripping to the floor. He could not muster enough breath to scream but instead a small moan crawled out of his mouth. The Maiden’s voice bade to him to turn his attention to her once more.
“Sin is naught but a stain,” she stated, “Stains are not gone after a single wash – especially ones that so deeply seep – but if one patiently takes layer after layer of the damage away it will eventually become as if it were new once more.” This time Allen saw, as if she wished for him to witness her power, as the wooden mallet swung up, knocking his arm straight up. He had not been given the time to react to the assault before her other hand shot up with one of the spikes jutting out of her fingers stabbed into his hand stopping its upward motion or the mallet swinging once more to drive it effortlessly through the flesh and into the blue screen’s wall.
Watching the Maiden’s action unravel brought Allen out of the state of shock that had padded the majority of the pain leaving him bare to the full onslaught of the visual and other sensory information frantically bouncing from both his arms. Allen lost control of his bodily functions; warm fluid ran freely down his leg into his sock, bile that had lay dormant within his stomach erupted through both his nose and mouth along with the coffees and sandwiches he had had only a few hours before. The Maiden made no motion to move, letting Allen’s stomach contents spatter and slide down her as if the multi-coloured sludge were nothing more than the rays of sunlight bronzing her sallow skin. Between forced gulps of air Allen whimpered a single word, “Monster”.
The Maiden let Allen’s loud sputtery heaves subside before she continued to speak, for the first time that night letting slip her conciliatory tone to one of a harsh rasp.
“Monster? What do you know of monsters?” the Maiden snarled. She brought her face within inches of Allen’s own dirtied one. “I was told that I was chosen – not given the choice! The privilege of divine rape! Bah!” The Maiden flew back and above Allen, looking down upon him with a venomous glare.
“A gift! To whom? For a lifetime of suspicious glare from a husband accepting yet denied the promise that had been arranged? To bear children who feasted, slept and grew within a womb graced by all powerful seed yet only to be graced with a touch of which came before?” The Maiden’s body shook with rage. “To see that touch bring to bear untold suffering upon them after their predecessor was found fouled to the mortal notions?”
The Maiden threw her head back, her back arched with her fists as if bound with leather pulled taut by a pair of pachyderms as if to crush the mallet and spikes, and let out a wail that assailed Allen’s ears with such intensity that he thought that his eardrums may burst. The Maiden’s form dropped back to where her face was to Allen’s once more.
“Do you know what it is to be touched by that which cannot truly die – or perhaps truly live?” she asked hardly above a hushed whimper. Allen saw not a glimmer of the vile woman but in her violet eyes swam that of untold hurt.
“When told that the second foretelling had not been eradicated, the first of the foretold took revenge upon those who intimately had been held by that gift. To have those arms that wrapped lovingly taken, the eyes that had gazed upon without preconception pulled away from their body...the tongues that had spoken of intent nonsensical and of dreams, to be plucked...yet without the ability to drift to the endless sleep easily?” The Maiden lifted her hands to her breasts. “To hold those that you had given to the world freely and strum across their throats deep to hum their coda when for day upon day, night upon night, they lay drained of all that is human to a withered shell but to able to harken a yonder foul that travels by?”
The Maiden rose once more, just high enough that her pelvis’s skull-like form mirrored Allen’s fleshed one. She pulled the end of her robe up to her waist; the wall held Allen fast though he wrestled to recoil at the sight: greyish flaps of skin feathered down to half cover where once the woman’s sex had been – the remnants of it former appearance carved and removed to leave gouged, pockets of plump flesh and broken curled hair.
“And what of the bearer of the gift?” the Maiden said, her voice rising with each word she spoke. “To remove all evidence in the field of a second foretold coming only to leave plowed carnage of unresult?” The edge of the robe dropped back down to the Maiden’s ankles.
The Maiden’s hands slipped to her side, her face dropped for a moment as the memory of actions before swept themselves back into the corner where they had collected before. When her head returned to look straight at Allen, the harshness had returned, the quiver of un-understanding of her lower lip had been stilled. The maiden sunk down until her feet rested on the desk.
“Do not speak of monsters to me, Allen Christopher Forrest – Those who would take a gift and bastardize its meaning to rationalize torture...enslavement...death... as righteous, that is what makes a monster,” The Maiden spat.
The Maiden’s furrowed brows relaxed, the sternness of her features softened as she took a step back from the desk and gave the faux-wood and metal structure a small tap with the wooden mallet. The desk shuddered momentarily then shattered to ashes as if it had been thrown into an incinerator at high heat.
“It needs to end –I raised you ahigh to be akin in what gift I originally gave wrought today...I should have stopped it before the height of martyristic acclaim brought in the sunless dawn. Now I make my repent.”
The strobe lights that hung above Allen swayed in response to the force of his scream as the spikes in both his hands did not yield to the weight of Allen’s body. His blood gurgled and spat as the flesh of his hands stretched from their tight seal against the spikes to present a gap the size to support a second spike within. Allen’s screams became half-choked sputters of agony from the blood that drizzled furiously down from his hairline and into his open maw. Allen tried to stop his body from instinctual convulsions but he failed, with every flail came the sound of slight yet thick sounding tearing and a doubling of pain that he thought a man could endure. Though it threatened to, the flesh of Allen’s hands did not tear apart to release him from the wall.
The Maiden of Sepphoris knelt before Allen, laying the mallet and spikes on the floor in front of her. She raised her arms up, and then brought them down with a slow swoop until the rested at her sides. She bowed her head down, closing her eyes as Allen’s hoarse sputters and cries of agony became nothing more than faint echoes that mixed with the ones she had heard so long ago.
“Forgive me my little Yeshua, forgive,” The Maiden whispered. “You will hurt too many...”
When her eyes opened once more she was no longer in the news room but knelt upon a sun parched hill surrounded by strangers in merchant, peasant, and Roman garb as the shadows crowned the sixth hour in front of her son upon the instrument of his penalty. His features were darkened by the eclipsing of the sun above his head but she could see the whites of his eyes; they whispered, “Thank you, Mother, thank you”.
Tears rolled from the Maiden’s violet eyes as her hands took hold of the mallet and spikes and moved closer to Allen’s feet...