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 shadowy man spake unto Quirk, and he said, ‘Thou shalt be dead.’ He bared his hand, and behold! it held a knife, newly whetted. The shadowy man leapt at Quirk.” As he wrote the words, the scribe spoke them to stay concentrated.
“That really isn’t helping!” shouted Quirk as he ducked. “Can’t you leave this section blank?”
“It’s your death scene,” said the cloaked man, swinging again. “Your death can’t be left out of your own story.”
“That isn’t my story!” Quirk ran to the other side of his own giant statue and peeked out. “My story was written by Liam, the old Head Phil, quite recently!”
“Did he keep it in a three-ring binder?” asked the cloaked man, swinging off the statue Quirk’s arm and landing in front of Quirk again. “Did you lose it, just yesterday?” He slashed at Quirk again.
Quirk frowned, then remembered the dagger and ducked. “Perhaps I did,” he said, climbing up on the pedestal again and running to the other side.
“And Quirk stopped as if stricken by some evil thought, and he replied unto the shadowy man, and he said, ‘Perhaps I did.’”
“We found this binder of yours yesterday,” said the cloaked man, not bothering to chase Quirk. “Go ahead and take a look.”
Quirk pulled up the cover of the book on the scribe’s table. The book itself looked old and leather bound, but the pages were mostly from his binder.
“But why are you adding to it, then?” asked Quirk, looking at the cloaked man. “If it’s my story, written down here, it ought to have an ending! If you’re that guy I’ve been fighting for all these years, I should have defeated you by now. Liam didn’t leave books unfinished like open-faced sandwiches.”
“An odd simile,” said the cloaked man. “I don’t see its relevance.”
“Have you read all of it?”
“Every last embarrassing detail.” The cloaked man began walking around the statue toward Quirk.
Quirk sidestepped to keep the statue between them. “Then you know the ending.”
“There is no ending. He left it unfinished.”
“I cannot lie.”
“George Washington said that too, and yet he falsified his teeth.”
“It is impossible for me to lie,” insisted the cloaked man.
“What color was the third pony to the left in the room beneath the Castle Under the Cloud?” asked Quirk.
The cloaked man inhaled several times, as if about to speak, but stopped every time. Eventually he said, “Blue.”
“You’ve been there before,” accused Quirk.
He shook his hooded head. “I tried every color I could think of, but the only result I could actually speak was the true one.”
“So my story really doesn’t have an ending?” Quirk’s heart sank. If there wasn’t an ending, he couldn’t actually realize his full story.
“How did Liam die, Quirk?”
“He was possessed by a domestic spirit,” said Quirk. “All of us—the Phils—had been cursed by that spirit. The only way to break the curse was to kill the spirit, and the only way to kill the spirit was to kill its body.”
“Hmmm… You say he wouldn’t leave a story unfinished. It wasn’t his way. How, then, can we explain this blatant violation of standards?” The hooded man tsked. “Why would a dedicated writer suddenly… stop writing? Perhaps he was bored. Or perhaps… Ahh. The fantasy writer’s nightmare.”
“You don’t know it? It’s a fear many writers have, actually—it’s the fear that you will die just before finishing an epic saga. Considering your lifespan, I’d say yours qualifies. Your leader died while he was writing it, correct? Perhaps he was never able to finish.”
It seemed hard to breathe. Quirk knew what the hooded man was going to say next, but he couldn’t stop it.
“Who killed him, Quirk? Who gave the final thrust of the knife, driving it into his heart? Was it the evil spirit, Quirk? Or was it… you? You didn’t say so, but I gathered as much. You killed him. You killed him, full of ideas to become the new Head Phil, to take his place as leader. You thought you could replace him. You did it on purpose.” The cloaked man’s voice dropped to a hiss at the last word. He waved a hand. “Honestly, I don’t think it was your best decision. You’ve never been a good leader, whether in this century with your Phils, or in centuries past with your other band. For example, just yesterday: your Phils are being held hostage after falling into a trap. With only one team member left, what do you do? You walk into the same trap they did, right through the front entrance, like you own the place. Then you get trapped too. You’re lucky I only wanted you—if I had held your entire team, you would have been a true failure.” The cloaked man chuckled. “So my question remains… Why did you want this position?”
Quirk’s throat was dry. “I never wanted it,” he said. “Liam wanted it. I never did. Whatever you say, I didn’t kill him intentionally. Well… I did, to defeat the spirit, but not so I could inherit his position.”
“Your words are weak,” said the cloaked man, shaking his hood. “I’m disinclined to believe you.”
“It doesn’t matter; I’m still telling the truth. I might not be bound to it or forced to it like you are, but I can tell the truth too. I never wanted to be Head Phil. I was content to let Liam lead. He was the writer, after all. But now that he’s made me Head Phil, it doesn’t matter if I wanted it or not—I still accept it, and I’ll do whatever I can to fulfill the position.”
“And Quirk was silent, and he thought, and his thoughts bespoke terrible things unto him of incompetence and fatal mistakes. And the shadowy man did laugh, for though Quirk thought himself safe from his verbal daggers, his manipulation was powerful indeed. And while Quirk was thus occupied, the shadowy man attacked.”
“What?” asked Quirk, hearing the scribe’s words. He looked to the other side of the pedestal, but no one was there. He spun in a circle, looking through the room. The cloaked man had disappeared.
Something cold touched his neck.
“I wouldn’t turn if I were you,” said the cloaked man as Quirk stiffened. “You might slit your own throat, completing the delicious irony of your incompetence: everything you do for the greater good only destroys your own dreams.”
The cold dagger disappeared from the back of Quirk’s neck, but before he could react, it was pressed against his throat.
“There’s a quote,” continued the man, his breath rustling his hood, “from a movie I once saw. It wasn’t the greatest movie, though it had its moments. There was one character who really excelled. It was an evil man, clad all in black, with a shiny mask and an airy voice. When his enemy walked into a trap—much like you, actually—the evil man said something very profound: ‘I have you now.’”
“If you really watched Star Wars,” said Quirk, “then you would know that the evil man didn’t actually have the good guy trapped—he only thought he did.”
Quirk heard the man nod. “And I suppose I should be frightened, then? You have some trick up your sleeve that I haven’t seen yet? Perhaps a light fixture is going to fall on my head and you will whirl, disarming me and decapitating me in one fluid movement. Is that what you had in mind?”
Quirk realized his muscles were tense, waiting for the light fixture to fall. It was a foolish hope.
He glanced around the room, looking for anything to help him. His eyes fell on a mural on the wall. It showed him from the past, escaping a charging pink rhinoceros by stepping to the side. Quite a lot of emphasis had been placed on the movement, surrounded as it was by arrows and notes on the transferal of weight from the right foot to the left.
Barely thinking about what he was doing, he reached over his head and pushed the cloaked man’s hood down. The man kept the knife at Quirk’s throat, but he used his left hand to pull the hood back up. Unrestrained on that side, Quirk stepped sideways and ducked to avoid the knife he knew would be coming.
He scrambled away and got to his feet, hoping to see the cloaked man’s face, but the hood was back in place. He stalked toward Quirk, every step deliberate, holding the knife almost inside the cloak.
With each of the cloaked man’s steps, Quirk took a step backward. He didn’t want to look behind him, but he knew he was nearing the edge of the room. Soon he wouldn’t have room to run.
The cloaked man saw it too. He chuckled. “You’re hopeless.”
A light fixture fell on him.