The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy and critique if possible.
The Head Phil looked perfectly normal. Speaking to him, Percival had trouble addressing the Castle instead of the Head Phil.
“We’ve decided to take the Castle up on his offer to let us down at the Holy Island of Lindisfarne,” said Percival. “Once we reach it, we’ll leave the Castle.”
“You speak of me as though I’m not in the room,” said the deep voice from the Head Phil’s mouth, “when in fact I am the room.”
Percival searched the Head Phil’s face for any sign of anything out of the ordinary, but everything pointed to a normal state of mind. Well, normal for Liam.
“I know it comes as a shock, Mr. Aardvark,” said the Head Phil deeply, “but as with eggs, books, and gift-wrapped abacuses, it’s the inside that counts.”
“How soon can the Castle—I mean, how soon can you let us down?”
“If it were in my power, I’d let you down every day. Unfortunately, you don’t put much trust in me.”
Percival stared at him blankly.
“It was a joke. We’re already hopping around trade winds to England. A few hours on this westerly and we should be there.”
“How do we disembark?” asked Percival. “Should we do controlled falls, or ferry people around by dragon?”
“Whatever works for you, Mr. Aardvark—I’m only the driver.”
“What should we do about Sam? He’s still in the basement.”
“Is he really? I suggest you take him with you,” said the Head Phil.
“What does the Head Phil say about it?” asked Percival.
“He’s trying to hijack my mouth to protest your decision. Apparently, he wants you to stay as far from Lindisfarne as possible. I think my work with him might be done—he’s already mad.”
Percival strode to the door.
“Is that all, Mr. Aardvark? I thought you were coming for a nice long chat.”
Percival turned back in the doorway. “Sorry, Mr. Castle. I’ve got to look through the basement.”
The shadows flickered across the stone walls, darkness melting into light and back into darkness. Cobwebs clung to Percival’s face. They slipped into the cracks between the stones of his face and stuck to his fingers as he tried to brush them away. The uneven ground kept him off balance. He heard noises in the distance: screaming, groaning, and advertisements for car insurance. An overpowering, sickening smell forced him to breathe through his mouth. Every step crunched. Every crunch made Percival shiver. What was he crushing underfoot?
He stopped and lowered the torch. The light revealed a collection of toy cars, LEGOs, and potato chips. Percival was glad he was wearing shoes.
“Horrifying, isn’t it?” asked Quirk. “It’s not the worst you’ll see down here.”
Percival shuddered and lifted the torch again. Shapes moved in the darkness. “Let’s keep going,” he said, his mouth dry. They walked on.
“Crunch, crunch, crunch,” said Quirk at every step.
“You’re such a child,” hissed Percival. His voice quivered.
“Some might argue otherwise, when I’m calm and you’re afraid of the dark,” said Quirk.
Percival didn’t say anything. He kept walking. After a few steps, he held up a fist.
“I remember that signal,” whispered Quirk. “You punched me in the face last time you used it. Stop silently, right?”
“Crunchy footsteps behind us,” whispered Percival. “Either there’s a good echo, or we’re being followed. It sounds like a lot of feet.”
“ECHO!” shouted Quirk. The dead air swallowed his words. “No echo,” he said.
“Who could it be?” whispered Percival.
“It could be one of the Phils, an evil monster seeking to devour our skins and juice our eyeballs, or the IRS agent I’ve been avoiding for the past few years. He doesn’t like me.”
“I meant, who do you think it is?”
“One of the Phils, an evil monster seeking to devour our skins and—“
“Never mind.” Percival kept walking. After three steps, he stopped Quirk again and listened. The footsteps continued. “They’re catching up,” breathed Percival. He broke into a run. After a few steps he turned his ankle on the uneven floor.
Quirk caught him by the arm. “Calm down and listen,” he hissed. After a moment he said, “They’re moving away. I guess it’s not the tax guy.”
Percival listened. “You’re right,” he decided. He limped another few steps.
“I hate this place,” said Quirk. They had just entered a circular chamber with thirteen archways. Beside each archway was a mural of a small, pastel-colored pony. Shifting shadows filled every archway. Here the wailing rang louder in Percival’s ears.
“I can see why,” Percival said, shuddering.
“Look,” said Quirk weakly. “They’re singing. The ponies.”
“Their mouths are open, but they’re just pictures.”
“That’s what you think,” said Quirk. “Let’s keep going.”
Percival didn’t disagree.
As they crossed the room, Quirk shot a black look at a tunnel to the right. “I haven’t forgotten you, leviathan.”
“Leviathan? That’s a Big Mouth Billy Bass, in good condition, too.” Percival was startled to see something remotely normal. “Does it still sing?”
“Unfortunately so,” said Quirk with a shudder. No sooner did he say that than the fish started flapping and singing.
“Let’s go,” said Quirk, leading the way into the fourth tunnel to the left.
This tunnel had none of the obstacles the other contained. It was brightly lit and neatly swept. Immediately Percival’s confidence returned; there were no strange noises, no cobwebs, and no shifting shadows. He quickened his pace.
Through two great doors, they entered a cavernous hall. It was filled with enormous blue spheres, which lit the room with a diffuse, shifting glow. The spheres seemed to be filled with an opaque liquid, flowing gently within as the spheres hovered a meter above the ground. At the other end of the room, a shadow moved slowly across the surface of a sphere. It was human.
“What are these?” asked Percival in shock. “They’re like giant marbles of doom.”
“Eternity spheres,” said Quirk. “This qualifies as the Castle’s dungeon. All the enemies of a thousand years are stored here.”
“A thousand years? They can’t be still alive.”
“They’re eternity spheres.” Quirk paused. “Do you not know what that means?”
“Each of these is filled with a liquid that takes the person inside out of time. They are preserved in the same state they went in. They live without breath, never changing position or thinking anything different than the thought they went in with.”
“You ended a sentence with a preposition,” said Percival.
“So sue me. We’ve got work to do.” Quirk walked to a small console near the closest of the spheres.
Percival started. “Hey, that’s my job!”
“Do you know the password?” asked Quirk, pressing a button.
“You’re supposed to tell it to me,” said Percival, pushing him away. “What is it?”
“No!” said Quirk. He pushed at Percival. “You didn’t have to suffer through a week of the Castle’s possession; I did. Get your own control panel.”
“Does it start with A?” asked Percival.
“It’s in another language or something,” said Quirk. “I have to do it.”
“Where’s the keyboard?”
“It has to be spoken.”
“Then say it, and then I’ll say it, and then it’ll unlock.”
“Whatever. The password is Zhagadikah.”
“Zhagadikah!” shouted Percival immediately.
“Once was enough,” said Quirk, already pressing buttons. “Initiate release of prisoner two-four-six-oh-two.”
Percival glared at Quirk, but he was distracted quickly. A bubble appeared in the sphere closest to them, stretching downward and separating from the mass. A small orb dropped to the ground and the bulge retreated again into the sphere.
“That was disgusting,” said Percival.
Quirk slid his hands into a pair of yellow rubber gloves and knelt by the ball. He picked it up and pushed his finger into the amorphous orb. It tore apart and formed itself into two smaller balls.
“Try it again,” said Quirk, tossing the miniature eternity spheres into the larger one.
Percival cleared his throat. “Initiate release of prisoner two-four-six-oh-two.” The eternity sphere stretched again and dropped another small ball into Quirk’s glove.
After poking around it, Quirk stood up. “It’s not working. I’m sure this is the right sphere, though.”
“Could the Castle have moved Sam?”
“It’s possible he did while we were in conference.” Quirk threw the gloves to the ground and pressed a button.
“How do you know how to work this?” asked Percival. “There isn’t any screen.”
“I was in the Castle’s mind as much as he was in mine,” said Quirk. “I might have given away Phil secrets, but he gave away more of his own.”
“You gave away Phil secrets? I didn’t even know we had secrets!”
“It’s a perk of being Quirk.” He pressed a last button and a picture formed in the eternity sphere; a man’s face, pressed against the camera. “I give you our thief.”
“Not him!” Percival rubbed his face. “I thought he was finished with us.”
“Well, he is now,” said Quirk. “We were keeping his boss captive. We should have known he’d be back.”
“Yeah, but… him. Do you think those were the footsteps we heard?”
“Probably. They must have been wandering around, lost. He led them in, but he couldn’t lead them out.”
“I didn’t expect this; it’s him.”
“Get over it, Percy. I think it’s best if we leave as soon as possible.”
As he turned to leave, Percival took one last look at the face filling the surface of the eternity sphere. It was General Public, thoroughly dead.
Note: The latter half of this post inspired this post about writing horror. I don’t think I did that great a job at it, but I’d still like to know what you think.