Horse With Human Hands
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Augur of the ages, cry to me
Tell me all the things,
you never let the worms believe
Bring me home with the sunlight
Bring me home in the deadlight
Bring me home, Niall
Bring me home.
– “Hame fi Karans” Chorus by Father Ni & the Family
“The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”Robertson Davies
“I am appealing to you today, council, to validate the confessions of the other accused. The death of one Simon Nye Albright was not due, in any part, to the actions taken by the staff of the Saint Mary’s Hospital, nor should they be held guilty for the behavior of the deceased prior to his death.”
It had been a long, long time since I’d gotten to see Simon face to face. When I was called, per his deathbed arrangements, to be informed of his passing I’d nearly forgotten what the poor sob looked like.
Years ago we were friends, the best of friends. So, sitting in the boardroom of the Saint Mary’s Hospital in Chicago of all places watching doctors and nurses argue with one another over the nature of his death was more surreal than I’d expected it to be.
Simon and I used to run Milwaukee with another friend, Clyde, I mean, back in our glory days, that is. It’s been a long time, almost two decades since we were breaking down mailboxes and vandalizing property. Truth is, neither of us had all that great of a home life. Could be why Simon wound up in the suit he did. I mean, it isn’t my place to judge. After we got out of school and started in the real world, we had to get to work.
World War Two churned out the highest rate of economic success in the history of America and for a couple of scruffy kids like me and Simon, it was work or work harder. I picked the latter, and my old friend picked the former. I was quick to land a gig at Harley Davidson working in one of their shops where I picked up a heap of life lessons and my own share of substance abuse problems, and judging by the posthumous report these doctors kept reading it sounds like Simon walked a more difficult path than I did.
When he was rushed into the hospital, according to their report, he was living in some kind of space-age fantasy. Crying about gods and devils and angels and all manner of things nobody had the right to claim as un-fiction.
I did some asking, and a sweet young girl in the stands, Ambrosia, mentioned that Simon was a close friend of hers. I suspect, judging by the volume of her tears it was a little more than a simple platonic relationship.
She didn’t bear the same marks as Simon did, at least.
Boy, seeing his body was surreal.
He was thinner than I remembered, and though they did good work, the sutures around his stomach revealed a little bit of pudgy weight he carried into his final days. Far be it from me to judge a man for his stature, I’m sixty pounds overweight and all of it came from after hours drinking, but the Simon lying in the casket wasn’t the man I’d grown up with.
I got the first call in the evening, it was June and nice enough outside for me to sit on the porch enjoying a drink with my wife and her brother when I got the call. A joint friend of ours gave me a rang about Simon. Multiple trips in and out of rehab, or jail, led him further and further from the stand up path.
“Murph, Simon’s gone.” Our mutual friend, Clyde Berringer told me with a grim tone. We expected it, and that was okay.
“What happened this time?”
Clyde took a long pause on the call. “That’s the thing, Murph. I don’t think it was the drugs or the drink. It was something else.”
The nature of the call, Clyde revealed, was not simply to tell me that Simon was missing. I’d heard he’d moved out of his parent’s place some years ago, but nothing more. I didn’t have a number to call, and none of our friends back home knew where he went.
“He’s gotten tangled up with something dark, Murph. I don’t know how to explain it.” Clyde was shaken by something. “I went to go talk to his momma about him, see if she knew where he might’ve gone.”
Clyde took a long drawn out breath.
“She was telling me about the last couple of months, he was talking about some strange stuff, man.”
We’ve all heard strange things, hell people were talking just that morning about President Nixon being involved in some kind of conspiracy. Needless to say, the gossip flies were buzzing and it was hard to believe Clyde when he came out with it.
“He joined this group, called the Niall Family, there were all kinds of papers and books scattered around his house about it. It looks like he’s picked up an accountability partner there, a man named, get this, Father Geoffrey.”
“Father?” I couldn’t hold back the laugh. “Simon went religious on us in his end of days, huh? Glad he made it to a better place then.”
Clyde didn’t laugh along.
“You haven’t heard, have you?”
His tone implied to me that I was, as usual, laughing out of turn.
No one by the name Father Geoffrey had popped up in my life, and for good reason, because that isn’t what they called him in public. This “Father Geoffrey” was a man of no small renown.
“Geoffrey is the pseudonym for a man named Greg Baker, a veteran from the west coast who was celebrated a few years back for his marksmanship during the war.” Clyde shot straight, I didn’t have reason to doubt him, but I didn’t know what any of this had to do with Simon’s disappearance.
“So he got tangled up with a guy having an identity crisis?”
“It’s not that.” Clyde shuffled some papers on the other end. “Baker isn’t stable, Murph. We need to do some digging. I’m worried Simon’s into something deep. I did some digging about this Niall Family and found next to nothing but I did dig up something you might want to hear about.”
I was invested by then and couldn’t get out if I’d wanted to.
“Go on and get to it, then.”
“Baker just set up a mansion in Chicago, where he’s moving all of his family to live together in a state of ‘expectant harmony’ and Simon’s already gone. I found letters the two of em have been shooting back and forth. I think we need to get out there and go find him. None of this feels right.”
I shared a look with my wife, who’d come inside to check on me. She rolled her eyes when I mouthed “Simon” and returned to our porch with a fresh beer in her hands.
“What do you expect either of us to do, Clyde? Simon’s a grown man, he’s making his own choices. If he’s part of this then that’s his problem. I have a family.”
Clyde wouldn’t take no for an answer. Ninety more minutes of him spoon feeding me lines from their letters and I eventually gave in. Father Geo didn’t look the suspicious type, and even if he was up to something sinister there wasn’t much I could do about it. That was until I got the letter.
A couple weeks after the call with Clyde, he showed up at my doorstep with a briefcase full of letters and notes and all manner of looney.
Sandra came inside and dropped a stack of envelopes on our desk, mostly bills and ads and the like, but one of them was handwritten and addressed to me.
“Dear Murphy, It has come to my attention that you are one of Simon’s most beloved friends. He is wracked with sorrow at the path his life has taken and wanted to formally apologize to you for his behavior. He has asked me to write this preliminary passage, which will serve as an introduction. A similar letter has been sent to Clyde, who I’m told, is another of your friends. Simon and I have grown infinitely close since meeting, and I would like to extend an invitation to you, to come past our home and get to know me, and if you are wiling… get to re-know Simon Albright.”
It was signed by Father Geoffrey.
We knew, of course, that going to the mansion would have gotten us directly in contact with Simon, but when we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms. We knew the second we met the guy, greasy and wearing a crown of flowers that he was bad news. Not to mention his attempt to cover the stink of his unwashed body with patchouli like every other peace and love vagrant which had popped up like weeds over the last decade.
His welcome was with open arms and to his credit, he didn’t show his hand when we declined everything we could from him, refreshments, hugs and marijuana alike. Whatever Simon was wrapped up in was something neither of us wanted any part of.
We just wanted our friend out of there.
It was a short conversation and by the time it ended we were leaving with more questions than answers, but it didn’t matter much. That was back in June, and I’d been summoned to see his body in the middle of August.
Thing is, and I guess why I showed up to attend the processions and meetings and arguments between officials is, I stopped digging. I figured whatever Simon was a part of was his life now. I didn’t need to get any more involved than I had been. Seeing him at the Niall Family Mansion was enough. He was a shell of the man he used to be. Gaunt and hardly present. Half the day Geoffrey spoke on his behalf.
I felt guilty for abandoning him, but Clyde never did.
He’d call me every couple of days to update me on what he’d found. Baker’s past crimes, killing a man in San Diego, getting convicted of manslaughter. His accolades from the war in detail. An autobiography he wrote and “self published” in Fresno, which amounted to about two hundred books hand bound and given out at his “Life Giving Retreats”
Clyde worked tirelessly to pull the mask off of a man I assumed then, didn’t have a mask. You know, everyone has a conspiracy.
Turns out, all that stuff they said about Nixon was right.
So, I turned up to the meeting regarding a malpractice suit filed by none other than the Niall Family patron, Father Geoffrey himself. Clyde gave me the heads up and made his way back to the city to stay with me.
Thing is, Clyde never made it.
“As for the egg, and how it ended up in his system, none of us were able to discern its point of origin. However, we did discover after the incident spoken about in our prior case, the egg did contain Simon’s DNA.”
A well built doctor, a couple years my junior did most of the speaking. Doctor Chifley, he called himself, represented a swath of others who participated in the “fixing” of Simon.
This whole thing is what really gets me. In the hospital that day they found an egg inside of his body. What that means I don’t really understand, admittedly, but while I was sitting in the crowd they described it as “ostrich-like” and I aint no doctor, but I don’t think people are supposed to be carrying eggs.
The photos provided to us on little slides depicted, in a horrible brown gradient, the visage of Simon’s corpse, lying splayed out atop a surgery table with a robin blue egg the size of his head tucked beneath his ribcage in between his lungs, pushing his other organs out of the way.
Doctor Chifley went on to explain more:
“The egg was similar to that of an ostrich, remarkable in itself it was hard shelled and in the process of extracting it for examination, one of our surgeons cracked the shell. From within, an opaque white liquid spilled out, which was somehow both viscous and stringy, leaving behind a trail of strands not dissimilar to that of cobwebs, but connected to a large oozing mass which unfortunately, coated most of Simon’s lower abdomen and organs.”
That wasn’t right.
I sat through the whole thing on Clyde’s behalf, taking notes of what I could, and looking at the pictures of my old friend passed on a slide show like he was any old cadaver. A sample of the liquid was provided to the presiding council, no more than a teaspoon of it. It looked a little like shampoo.
There was a packet provided with information we all were suggested to review when we left for the day. Our next hearing will be tomorrow morning, pressured by the Niall Family to get things going as quickly as possible.
Back in my car a opened the packet to review what I’d heard, and it was all covered, for the most part, in the hearing. All except for the last page which was made out of something other than standard paper. It was curled and yellow and looked like it came out of the pyramids. A musty piece of crumbling paper which was, quite unfortunately I’d assumed, a piece of paper unique to my packet.
In red ink on the back, there were a few words scrawled.
“Clyde will be reborn with me, love Simon.”
Thank you for reading the fifth entry in Horse With Human Hands.
This was supposed to be the final entry, but I’ve decided to continue for just a bit longer. There are a few more pieces I want to lay out before I move on to the last series of the month. So…
Next Entry: HWHH: Six – Carnation
Horse With Human Hands is a fiction story I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time. This is only the beginning. These characters and the lives they’ve led are part of a much larger whole. Immediately after Lifeis+2023, I’ll be focusing time to expand this narrative into something I hope you are excited to be a part of.
This story is a little different, and you’ve likely parsed that by now. It isn’t a consecutive telling but rather a disjointed series of events.
Thank you for participating once more in the Lifeis+ celebration. I’ve got a lot to celebrate this time around so you’ll be hearing from me often. If you’d like to read more, you can check out me current fiction project Sisters of Westwinter & The Heart, Felt Series below!
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