Burn It All
ading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing th
(Doctor Skin knew he was trapped, but he couldn’t stop himself.)
there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading abou
(He couldn’t break the cycle. His eyes kept reading the same part over and over and over again.)
about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing there reading about himself standing th
(He wanted to scream, to get away from it all, but it kept sucking him back in.)
ere reading about himself standing there reading
And then a piece of red cloth, burning brightly at one end, appeared out of thin air, right above the book he was reading. It fell on the open page and the paper instantly caught fire.
Skin dropped the book, free from the trap as the words were destroyed. He took a step back as he watched the flames consume the rest of the book’s pages. As he saw it burn, he heard a voice whispering down the aisle of the library.
“Burn it,” said the voice. “Burn it all.”
“Good idea,” said Skin, keen for a taste of utter cultural vandalism. He picked up the burning book by the one corner that had not yet been destroyed and ran it along some of the books on the nearest shelf. The fire spread quickly, far faster than it should have naturally and the flames shot off down the shelf. Grabbing one of the burning books at random, he set fire to the shelf on the other side of the aisle, the second fire spreading just as quickly as the first.
Soon Doctor Skin was standing in the middle of an inferno, although he felt no heat from any side.
The fire seemed a little unreal, like it wasn’t happening on the same level that Skin existed on and he raised his arms and started laughing in pure joy as it all burned down.
As the flames rose higher and higher, Skin thought he heard a moan coming from somewhere in the burning library. It sounded a little like the Librarian, so Skin paid it no heed.
The fire built in intensity, until suddenly a massive explosion tore through the entire library, a fireball raging from one end to the other. Skin didn’t feel that either, other than a slight increase in temperature as it passed through him.
And then, with all the fuel destroyed, the fire died down and ended. Doctor Skin was left standing alone in the middle of a huge room with red brick walls which had been stained black by soot, piles of ashes at his feet.
“Ha!” he laughed. Skin felt great, ready to take on the world. He had lived his entire life as if something was holding him back and now it was gone. He had never noticed it before, but now that it had vanished, he wondered how he had ever lived under its pressure.
He looked around, trying to find the way out of the brick room. Then he saw a door on one of the far walls, with the word “EXIT” above it in bright, yellow letters.
“That must be it,” said Skin to nobody in particular. He walked over to the door and tried it, but it was locked. Undeterred, he took a step back and kicked the door in, the frame buckling as it smashed inwards.
On the other side of the door, a long winding staircase lead upwards. He glanced over the side of the staircase, but there was nothing below. For a second he had to resist the urge to leap out into the void anyway, but he soon overcame it and started making his way up the stairs.
There seemed to be no end to the staircase, but Skin did not let that stop him. He bounded up them, hundreds of steps, taking them three at a time. He still felt invigorated and refreshed and did not lose any breath as he ascended.
Skin tried counting the number of stairs he was climbing, but lost count in the low 700s. He carried on, still feeling on top of everything, still feeling better than he ever had before.
He saw the figure on the staircase long before he came near. It appeared to be a young woman dressed in a black skirt and a pale yellow top, her black hair pulled tightly back.
As he came closer, Skin slowed down a little. He could see the woman was eating grapes as she sat still, patiently waiting for him.
She smiled at Skin as he stopped a short way below her and tossed the rest of the grapes over the side of the staircase. “Hello, Doctor. Nice to see you again.”
Skin bowed slightly. “The pleasure is mine, but I’m sorry, I can’t seem to recall our last meeting.”
“We’ve never met before,” she said, “but we will meet again. Where we live now, time means little.”
“Right,” said Skin, hiding his uncertainty well.
The woman stood up. “Are you ready for the next step?”
“Depends on who is asking,” said a defiant Skin.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” said the woman, shaking her head with a grin. “I keep forgetting. I’m Cthulhu.”
“Riiiiight,” said Skin.
“No, really. That’s me.”
“Cthulhu? It’s funny. I mean, you don’t look like a sleeping dark god.”
“Oh, that’s just one aspect. A person can have more than one, you know. Hell, you should know that better than anybody. No, most of my essence is still sleeping deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, but I’ve been around a long time and little bits were bound to leak out. Now and again.”
Dr Skin was still not convinced. “Aren’t you supposed to have tentacles on your face?”
“Have you tried to eat a hamburger with those things? Nah, I’ll stick with the plain human features.”
She smiled again and spun around once slowly. “What do you think? I’m trying a female form for the next millennia or so. With the coming matriarchy, it will make it so much easier to get what I want.”
“It’s okay, I guess,” yawned Skin. He was keen to get on with it and this wasn’t helping.
“Okay?” said Cthulhu, a little disappointed. “I thought I was shit hot.”
Her grin vanished and Skin saw something dark creep into the edge of her eyes. “Oh yes. But you wouldn’t be interested in a woman right now, would you? Not after what happened to Katarina.”
Dr Skin suddenly leaped up the few steps between him and Cthulhu, grabbing her by the throat, putting just a little pressure on it.
“You mention her name again and I will fucking kill you,” he snarled.
Cthulhu struggled for breath in an effort to get the words out. “Sure, whatever you say.”
The expression on his face was still extremely grim, but Skin let her go. She fell to her knees, rubbing her neck as Skin walked past her and continued up the stairs.
He only got a few more steps before he heard Cthulhu coming up behind him again.
“Sorry, Doctor,” she said cheerfully. “I knew it was still raw, but I didn’t think it was that ba-“
“Shut up,” snapped Skin without looking back.
They walked on in silence before Cthulhu tried again. “No, really. I’m sorry.”
Skin stopped suddenly. “What are you doing here?”
Cthulhu shrugged. “Just hanging out.”
“Not good enough,” he said, taking a menacing step back down towards her.
“Fuck!” she swore. “You’re in a bad fucking mood! I thought you would be happy!”
“What do I have to be happy about?”
“Well, for starters, you’re heading in the right direction.”
“What?” He glanced around at the stairs ahead. “Up?”
“Up and out,” nodded Cthulhu. “From one level to another, from this world to the next. Fucking hell, man! Don’t you see? All of history is there for the taking. All you’ve got to do is reach out and it’s all yours!”
Skin shook his head “You really don’t get it, do you? I never want anything. That’s not how I work. Why should I take what I don’t need? That ain’t logical.”
“No, you’re the one who doesn’t get it. You want to be free, right?”
“Right. Well, you’re so close to the ultimate freedom. Isn’t that worth a little effort?”
“Just once,” sighed Dr Skin, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Just once I’d like to have a simple fucking answer instead of all this cryptic crap. It’s doing my head in.”
“Noitcif eht epacse,” said Cthulhu, grinning happily.
“There you go,” said Skin, spinning back around and heading up the stairs. Cthulhu skipped along behind him.
They headed on in silence and Skin noticed the nothingness that surrounded the staircase was lightening up a little. He looked over the edge and saw that from the height they were at, there was something far below them that was only just coming into focus.
He was so busy looking down he walked straight into a trapdoor that cut off the staircase, smacking his head hard on its wooden surface.
“Fuck!” he cried, rubbing the sore spot.
“Why, look at that,” said Cthulhu innocently.
He gave her a dirty look before examining the trapdoor carefully. It appeared normal enough, but had no handle or any other indication of how to open it.
Cthulhu leaned on his shoulder. “Aw, you stuck, big boy?”
Skin didn’t even bother looking her way. He knew she could see his expression. “No wood ever stopped me.”
He moved back down a step, took a deep breath, pulled his arm back and slammed it into the trapdoor. It didn’t break, although his hand almost did.
He bit back the pain as Cthulhu cut off a laugh. “Really?”
“Just testing,” said Skin, closing his eyes and pulling his hand back again. “You just have to want to do it hard enough.”
He punched the trapdoor again and the wood shattered into a thousand pieces, showing darkness on the other side. He turned back to Cthulhu, as pieces of the wood fell around him.
This time, it was Cthulhu who grabbed him by the throat and lifted him up off the stairway. He struggled, but she was far too strong for him. He looked down at her and saw her eyes had turned completely black.
She spoke to him in a deep, baritone voice that had no place coming from a young woman’s mouth. “Stupid human. You don’t even know the game you’re playing.”
She tossed Skin down the stairway. He landed on his back, but rolled over on his shoulder and leaped to his feet. He rubbed his throat and grinned evilly.
“I’m getting sick of people calling me stupid.”
Cthulhu took a few steps toward him. Behind her, something huge, so big that Skin could not comprehend it, rose up.
“You never see all the angles, just the few sides that you can glimpse. You don’t even see what is being offered to you.”
Several tentacles came down around her from the thing behind them, wrapping tenderly around her feet. Some of them were wider than Skin, but some were only as thick as his arm. She spoke again and a thick, black liquid dripped from her lips as she talked.
“I’ve been trapped in this hell of the unreal for longer than you could ever imagine. Then you come along with your free pass and you don’t expect me to take advantage of it?”
“I liked you better with blue eyes,” snapped Skin.
“I am the High Priest of the Forgotten Ones. I am what I am.”
“So was Popeye.”
Cthulhu jumped the last few steps down to Skin and slapped him down hard. He fell to his knees, but got back up again defiantly.
“Idiotic jokes, no depth. Just another fool.”
She went to hit Skin again, but he dodged her blow, spinning around her, dancing up a couple of steps and kicking her in the back of her knee. She barely flinched and carried on taunting him.
“Now I will escape these confines, take off into reality once more. No more fevered imaginations, no more lies. No limits! No laws of restriction!”
Dodging the tentacles that squirmed around his feet, Skin punched her as hard as he could in the jaw. She hardly moved.
“No more Dr Skin. Time to join your Katarina.”
Skin’s jaw hardened as she advanced for the final time. “I warned you,” he said.
He reached down and grabbed one of the smaller tentacles just as she got to him, spinning back around her and wrapping the tentacle around her throat. Choking her, Cthulhu tried to strike him, but could get no leverage. He pushed her over to the edge of the stairs, the tentacle coming loose just as she reached it, completely off balance.
“Not fair,” she moaned, just as Skin poked her in the shoulder, sending her falling off the staircase into the darkness below.
“Life isn’t fair,” sneered Skin. He wasted no more time and ran up the stairs and through the trapdoor.
It was dark inside and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust as the hole he had come through vanished. He was standing in a dimly lit room, ornately decorated with red velvet, antiques and faded portraits. There was a large dining table with a meal set on it and a man standing next to it.
The man was wearing an old butler’s uniform, but Skin hardly noticed, concentrating on the fact that he had no face, just smooth skin where his features should have been.
“We have been expecting you, Dr Skin,” the man somehow managed to say without a mouth.
“So?” asked Skin. “Does that mean I have to fight you too?”
“I should hope not,” said the man with no face. “There is no need for any further conflict. It is all yours now. Everything that was, everything that is, everything that is to come, it is all yours now.”
Doctor Skin's face lit up with the smile of pure privelege.
“About fucking time.”