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 gallows gleamed orange in the light of the setting sun. The old mahogany looked newly varnished. As if eager for its next victim, the worn rope swung gently in the sea breeze.
Percival did not find execution equipment beautiful. Quirk, however, fawned over the gallows as if it was a sports car.
“Cherry trim… authentic carvings along the crosspiece… And is that the original rope?”
“Yes indeed,” said Erik proudly. “I saved it from the execution of someone famous. I can’t remember who it was.”
“Pity,” said Quirk. “Some people would pay a fortune for this! The workmanship is excellent.”
“I didn’t have to pay a penny,” said Erik. “The world doesn’t understand people like us.”
“How unfortunate,” sighed Quirk.
Percival had nothing to say, but he couldn’t have spoken if he did. Pain had never felt so painful. Breathing almost made him scream. Since their arrival, only a day had passed, but it felt much longer. The statue experimented with all kinds of pain, cursing them with restless limbs that never stopped thrashing, were-hair that would only appear on the full moon, and ventriloquism that forced Percival to speak in Quirk’s voice and vice versa. The effect of everything at once was terrifying. They had to keep a large part of their bodies moving at all times to counteract the restless curse, but hearing his words in Quirk’s voice broke Percival’s concentration. Every morning, Erik gave them a look in the mirror to see how their hair was doing. Percival’s baldness horrified him. Every day he could remember, he had woken up with a full head of hair, until now. At least now his scalp blended in with the rest of his face.
They knew from Erik’s memories that he didn’t often listen through his castle, so they were able to hold many peaceful conversations, chained to the wall in the dark room. They came up with a plan for Erik’s defeat—five of them, actually—none of which were practical. One involved a catapult and a very large squid. Unfortunately, neither of them kept small squids in their pockets, let alone large ones.
Percival’s inability to keep Erik out of his mind crushed every one of their plans. Since all of Erik’s favorite curses spread through the mind’s connection to the body, he entered their minds whenever he cursed them. He had considerably more trouble with Quirk than with Percival. Once, he likened Percival’s efforts to resist as a noodle against a cannon.
After a day, however, Erik grew bored. He wanted death. He introduced them to his gallows.
“Do the hinges still work?” asked Quirk, inspecting the trapdoor beneath the rope. He played an air guitar wildly with his hands to satisfy the restless curse.
“I haven’t checked,” said Erik, walking over. “I confess, I ran out of lubricant a few centuries back and forgot to send for more. They might well be rusted over.”
“Too bad,” said Quirk. “The boards might be rotten enough to break through, regardless. You might not need the trapdoor.”
“Thank you, Quirk, for giving him ideas,” muttered Percival.
“Of course, then the condemned might fall right through before they get into the noose,” said Erik. “Hopefully they’re still strong.”
“How old did you say this was?”
“Four hundred years.”
Quirk whistled. “It looks its age, but it could be a lot worse. You’ve taken good care of it.”
“It’s been in my basement for the last few centuries,” laughed Erik. “I can’t take credit.”
“Does it still work?”
“Apart from the questionable trapdoor,” said Eric, climbing onto the platform, “it should work. The rope is strong, the scaffolding is sturdy, and otherwise it’s in good shape.”
“Let’s try it,” suggested Quirk.
“No!” muttered Percival to himself. If he had telepathic abilities, now would be the time.
“Absolutely,” said Erik. “Who’s first?”
“Percival looks eager,” said Quirk.
“What?” yelped Percival.
“Yes, he does,” said Erik. “Let’s get him ready.”
“Before that,” said Quirk, “may I have a few moments to say goodbye to my comrade?”
“Of course. I’ll get the gallows ready.”
Quirk led Percival by the arm up to the wall.
“Why did you volunteer me like that?” hissed Percival.
“Let’s get out of earshot before we yell at each other,” said Quirk. Once atop the wall, he turned to Percival. “You aren’t going to get hung,” he said. “It seems like it, but in the next hour you won’t get any closer to the gallows than you are right now.”
“That’s comforting, but I still don’t like you playing with my life like this!”
“Question: how much money do you have on hand?”
“I don’t know, maybe a hundred US dollars.”
“Great. Promise me something. If I kill Erik today, you will buy me a hundred dollars’ worth of my favorite dessert item.”
“We’ll probably both be dead by the end of the day,” said Percival. “I accept. But if I kill Erik, you have to buy me a hundred dollars of my favorite dessert.”
“But I don’t have—” Quirk sighed. “Fine.”
“Now that we’re finished with wishful thinking,” said Percival, “do you have a plan?”
“I do,” said Quirk. Percival waited for him to go on. “It’s extremely risky for both of us, but as long as you know how to swim and how to survive a fall, you’ll be fine.”
“I’m going to stay here and you’re going to find the rest of the Phils and take them back to the Cloud. There isn’t much time. Farewell, friend,” said Quirk as he pushed Percival off the wall.
Quirk watched Percival fall for a few moments, then turned back toward the gallows, the scream still lingering in his ears.
“Where’s the condemned man?” asked Erik.
“He had an accident,” said Quirk. “He was weak. He fell off the wall.”
“That’s unfortunate. Would you like to take his place in our test?” Erik gestured to the gallows.
“No, thanks—but I’m sure you would.”
“Of course I would,” said Erik. “Unfortunately, I like this body and find yours rather lacking.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment in this case, but I’m not about to die,” said Quirk.
“Oh, yes you are. Don’t you know my brother sent you here so you could die?”
“That was the plan, I understand,” said Quirk.
Erik took a step forward. “Then you’ll understand that I must kill you.”
“And you understand that I don’t want to die,” said Quirk, taking a step back.
“To die is your destiny!” shouted Erik, lunging at Quirk.
Quirk didn’t try to escape. Erik brought him to the ground, but the restless curse kept him from pinning Quirk. Barely knowing what he was doing, Quirk poked Erik in the eyes, tweaked his nose, and kicked him in the gut. Erik rolled away, clutching his head.
Quirk scrambled to his feet and ran to the gallows. His earlier respect for the scaffold had been an act. He felt no reservations over tearing it apart, since it provided him a weapon.
“No!” shouted Erik. “Not the gallows! You said it’s priceless!”
“I lied,” said Quirk, whipping a short plank at Erik’s head. Thanks to a jerk caused by the restless curse, it sailed in almost the opposite direction. He quickly pried another plank loose.
“You… liar!” shouted Erik. He ran to the gallows and tore off the entire crosspiece. “I might not know where I got that scaffold, but you have no right to destroy it!”
“You just destroyed more than I did!” shouted Quirk. He swung his plank, but it jumped out of his hand when Erik parried. He ducked another blow and scrambled backwards, looking for something to use. Constantly dodging Erik’s blows, Quirk crab-walked backwards around the gallows. His wrists grew tired quickly. He tried to get up, but Erik’s weapon caught him in the side and sent him sprawling again. He scrambled away from Erik and got to his feet, barely dodging another swing. He ran at the gallows and tried to pull another board away, but none came free. He jumped onto the gallows as Erik swung again. The blow crashed through wood, sending splinters flying. Quirk dropped to the ground behind the base of the gallows and pulled at another board, but it didn’t come loose.
“I will feast on your soul!” shouted Erik. His weapon was stuck in the wreckage of the gallows. No matter how hard he tugged, it wouldn’t come free.
Quirk became aware of a low buzz, under the sound of his labored breathing and Erik’s destruction. He ignored it and gave up on prying the board loose. Glancing out from his hiding place, he saw the rope still attached to Erik’s weapon, the crosspiece. He jumped onto the destroyed gallows and grabbed the noose, dropping to the ground behind Erik and slipping it over his head. He pulled the noose tight and prayed the rope would hold.
The buzz was growing louder, and a flash from above caught Quirk’s eye. He squinted at it and started running.
Erik had seen it too and struggled to escape. He clawed at the noose and pulled at the crosspiece. He succeeded in shifting the entire structure, but the crosspiece collapsed and the rope pulled him to his knees. He looked up at Quirk.
Quirk had just reached the wall top when Erik’s powerful mind forced him to stop. He fell to the ground, curling up into a ball as he tried with all his strength to repel the invader. He only needed seconds.
The buzzing was loud and terrible, throbbing through Quirk’s head in tandem with Erik’s pounding. Something hurtled over Quirk’s head, enormous wind battering him against the ground. There was a crash; a wall of heat struck him; Erik made a final push. Quirk lost consciousness.