Phil Phorce: Hang It All

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.”

“What?”

“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.

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17 thoughts on “Phil Phorce: Hang It All

  1. Oh, gracious! You are getting better at suspense, Head Phil. And you are good at writing fights, too.
    I did not expect Quirk to push Percival off the wall. That was brilliant. And you also had me fooled into thinking Quirk really was interested in the gallows.
    The last little bit confused me. Erik’s final push– was that him physically pushing something or him trying to possess Quirk? Was that him trying to get out of the noose? I hope we finding out what was buzzing in the next chapter.

    I had a thought. Maybe what was wrong with Into the Dark‘s lack of horror was that we didn’t have enough information. We knew exactly what the Ponies were and what they were doing in My Lethal Pony. We know what gallows are and why they are not good in this chapter. With nothing to be scared of… we aren’t scared. Like what you said the other day about the bomb suddenly exploding under the table and we have no idea a bomb is even under there.
    Just a thought.

    1. Also, I really like Quirk. His smart-aleck, quirkiness, his ability to think quickly… the first two aren’t even good traits in and of themselves, but it’s getting him out of messes pretty well.

      1. Indeed he is.

        The push was mental. I wish I had made it clearer.

        Exactly! The difference in the suspense is because of the lack of red-shirts, or examples of what the unknown danger actually does. The ponies were little and quickly showed what they could do, but in Into the Dark there was no example like that. Here, I used a preset in the form of the gallows.

  2. You do a marvellous fight sequence my friend – really! However, Erik’s dialogue . . . I hate to call cliche, but “I’ll feast on your soul” . . . eh.

    Also, the fragment sentences in the first paragraph-bit are a little squicky. I wanted to read the first part of the last sentence as part of the one before. Not a big thing, it just got my attention more than I thought it would.

    That said, I LOVED the sequence on the whole – Quirk’s plan, the curses, “like a noodle resisting a cannon” – fab, fab, fab! And Quirk himself was pretty magnificent; you were really rooting for him, because he’d made himself so engaging. Percival’s not one we see outfoxed often, so this little reversal was just a GORGEOUS plot twist.

    Save those little ticks – great work!

    1. I will feast on your soul! I always love that sort of line.

      Yes, the construction of that paragraph wasn’t ideal. I’ll work on it.

      Ah, so I’ve done my work well. I really wanted Quirk to be the hero of this scene, and I’m glad it didn’t seem like he was stealing the show from Percival.

      I’m so glad you liked it!

  3. Interesting little flip with the whole Quirk being this ninja person who’s not too shabby at fighting and has a brain that works ten times faster than mine. Normally I see Quirk as well….a little quirky, a little jealous, and not all that….heroic. This time, I saw him in a different light.

    Like Robyn, I was wondering what kind of “push” Erik made there. Mental push? Physical push?

    Your fight scene was nicely done! For some reason I thought of the little sword fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride . I mean sure, fighting with pieces of wood isn’t quite as elegant as fighting with swords and cool little black masks, but, hey, it was quite good nonetheless.

    1. I hope Quirk’s change wasn’t too abrupt. I really wanted to highlight that.

      Yes, the push was mental. I wish I had made that more clear.

      I’ve never read the Princess Bride, but I’ll take that as a complement!

      1. For heaven’s sake, do not read The Princess Bride. Watch the movie. It’s one of those few instances in time where the movie was better.

      2. The guy who “rewrote/edited”… can’t remember his name, decided to put his own notes in it every so often… then again, maybe you shouldn’t listen to me on judging books. It’s been a loooooooong time since I read it, but I haven’t read it again since. I’ve always tended to base whether or not a book was “good” on if I liked it or not… I’m not a good judge of book quality. You decide.

      3. You know what? That last comment isn’t entirely true. I’m more likely to say it’s a good book if I liked it. And if I couldn’t put it down, then it was a really good book, regardless of anything else… Yeah, I’m not great at this.
        But content also factors into my opinion of a good book. I think there are things authors can and should leave out, if possible. Remember the Seraphina conversation we had?
        I also judge for style, but I don’t usually go looking for it. Most of the Phil Phorce style I’ve pointed out were things I read naturally, I think. I didn’t look for that stuff, I caught most of it as I was reading it.
        Thinking about it, I don’t remember The Princess Bride being such a bad book. I think it was the editor/rewriter’s notes I didn’t like and maybe the way it ended. It’s been at least seven years since I read it. I might reread it another time… I’m still reading Les Misrables, right now. After that, I am reading something shorter and more modern… of course, even LOTR qualifies here. 🙂 But I am enjoying the book. I just don’t like the parts where I have absolutely no idea what Hugo is talking about.
        Anyway, I’m logging off. Happy Easter!

      4. I’ve never read The Princess Bride either….BUT I did watch the movie. I realized there was a book about seven minutes after watching it. Heh. Now if I could just get my hands on it, I’d be quite happy!

  4. I have to say, I’m enjoying Quirk in this story. He wasn’t one of my favorite Phils before, but I’m really growing to like him.

    The one thing I found confusing was at the beginning where it mentions that it’s only been a day since their arrival, but then there’s this line: “Every morning, Erik gave them a look in the mirror to see how their hair was doing.” Which suggests that that happened multiple times, and thus they have been there longer than a day.

    Oh, and Quirk pushing Percival over the wall? So did not see that coming.

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