I’d been asked by the good folks at Channillo, a serial story website, to write a piece, so I settled on Grim & White, a story about a madman who wants to own Lucifer’s heart, and his companion, a man with a clockwork heart. You can read most of the first chapter below, and if you want to read more, feel free to subscribe here: Grim & White
Night, A Discussion
“Have a seat.”
Arthur looked at the man sitting in shadow on the headstone. The nearest light was by the cemetery gates, and the man’s face was obscured. He seemed to be dressed in an overcoat and slacks, and his shoes shone a dim black in the occasional moonlight.
He thought about the invitation the man extended. It had been a hard night, walking the paths, making sure no one was trying to climb the wall or the gate. He had given a little jump when he’d first spotted the man; then his surprise gave way to anger as he realized someone had gotten in after all. He’d confronted the man, only to find he’d been there since the gates were open, though Arthur wasn’t sure how he’d missed him the first time. Visiting a friend, he’d said.
Still, the man made him nervous. Something about meeting a stranger in the dead of night did that to a man. He thought of the flask in his pocket, and the cigarettes in the other, and decided that despite his misgivings, he could use a break. He sat in the grass across from the man, careful not to sit on the grave. The ground was cool and damp, and the chill crept through the fabric of his pants. He pulled out his flask and took a swig, then offered it to the man, who declined. He followed up with a cigarette, and the man took him up on it.
They sat in the quiet for a few moments, Arthur feeling the warmth of the bourbon creeping into his bones against the chill in the air, and enjoying the way the cigarette made him slightly light-headed. He watched the stranger on the headstone, who had crossed his legs, and was blowing a plume of pale smoke into the air where it curled away in tatters. The cherry on the cigarette glowed a bright red, but did little to light the man’s face. After a moment, Arthur spoke.
“I didn’t catch your name.” He said.
“Grimsby. You can call me Grim, if you like.”
It was an unusual name. To Arthur, who considered the setting and time, it seemed fitting.
“Do you know what I do, Mr – ah…”
“White.” Arthur supplied.
Grim seemed to mull the name over, almost to taste it. “Ah, yes. Mr. White. Do you?”
Arthur shook his head, frowning. How could he? He thought
A smile entered Mr. Grim’s voice for a moment. “Of course not. How could you? We’ve only just met, after all.” He took a final drag on his cigarette and flicked the butt away, into the headstones. “I’m a watchmaker.”
He reached into his overcoat and pulled out a small round object on a chain. It glittered in the moonlight. He was silent for a moment. He took a deep breath, and spoke.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? Everything in its place, no piece superfluous, all working toward a common goal. ” He flipped it open, and the glass on its face caught the light. “Nothing wanted, nothing wasted. Wind it, and you’ll always know the time. You’ll always know just when you are.”
A thought occurred to Arthur. “What about knowing who you are? Isn’t that important, too?”
Mr. Grim closed the watch and tucked it back into his coat. “Well, yes, I suppose. Not as important as when, though. You see, if you know when you are, you’ll know the person you are by extension. It’s only through a reference in time you can know your true position in the world. Think about it.” He pointed at a headstone.
“That bit of rock there? I know where it is, and what it is, but without the date on it, I don’t know why it is. Make sense, Mr. White?”
Arthur wasn’t sure that it did, but he nodded anyway.
“Well, then.” Mr. Grim patted his palms against his thighs and stood. “Speaking of time, it’s time I should be going.” He looked around the graveyard. “Quiet here. I think you’re safe for a time. Would you care to join me?”
Arthur stood as well, declining the helping hand Mr. Grim offered him. He took a look around the quiet grounds of the cemetery. No one had rattled the chains on the gate, or rustled the bushes by the wall. He looked at his watch, and saw it was halfway between dusk and dawn. He took another pull from his flask, and found it empty. Mr. Grim was looking at him.
“Well, Mr. White?”
Arthur vacillated for a moment, and then made up his mind. He shrugged.
They walked out of the cemetery together.
They were walking the street under hazy sodium lamps that pushed back the night in small globes of yellow. Arthur was pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Grim was not a monster or horribly disfigured as he thought he might be when the man was hidden in shadow. Instead, he looked like a kindly aging man, with a shock of white hair and a deeply tanned, lined face.
They had walked in silence for a while, when Mr. Grim spoke up again.
“You know, what you do is very important, as well, Mr. White.”
“Oh yeah?” Arthur mentally shook himself. He had been thinking of a bar or a pub. Someplace he could refill his flask.
“Yes indeed. You watch over the dead. I’d daresay you’re a modern Charon, watching over them as they’re ferried from this life to the next.”
“Huh. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.”
“No offense, I don’t think many do. They view caretakers and gravediggers as the unskilled, the low. Think on it, though – you are the shepherds of eternity.”
Arthur’s chest swelled a little with pride. “That’s very kind of you to say.”
“Not at all. Oh, here.” They had come to an intersection. Mr. Grim was pointing out a bar that stood kitty-corner from them. It was small and brown, with cedar shingles and blue and red neon signs in its windows.
“Up for a pint?” Mr. Grim asked.
Arthur only nodded. It was the second time that night that Mr. Grim seemed to be in his head, and he was grateful. They headed across the street, cutting through the crosswalk lines, and went inside.
The bar was full, but not crowded. Small warm lights hung over the booths, and made the place feel cozy. Arthur and Mr. Grim found a booth in the corner, where they had a view from the tinted window, and a subtle command of the whole room. After a few minutes, a waitress came to their booth, and took their order – a Guinness for Mr. Grim, and a scotch, neat, for Arthur.
They watched the waitress disappear into the crowd, her backside swaying gently. Mr. Grim turned to Arthur.
“Exquisite creature.” He said.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “How’s that?”
“Look at her. Every part working with every other part. Nothing wanted, nothing wasted. Bone and tissue, sinew and ligaments and muscle together, art in motion.” He inhaled deeply. “Even her scent is art. Doesn’t it inspire something in you, Mr. White?” He looked at Arthur.
Arthur blushed, and Mr. Grim smiled.
“Indeed.” He said. “Feeling Eros’ bite? Can’t say I blame you. Were I a younger man, maybe I’d feel the same way. But I can still appreciate, or what’s a Heaven for, Mr. White?”
The waitress was weaving her way between the tables back to their booth, and Mr. Grin drew quiet and winked at Arthur. She unloaded her tray, placing the tall dark glass of Guinness in front of Mr. Grim, and the scotch in front of Arthur. Mr. Grim produced a couple of bills, and laid them on the table. The waitress – her name was Helen, it was sewn into her dark top in white stitching – reached for the money. When she did, Mr. Grim grabbed her hand. She froze, her eyes a mixture of apprehension and annoyance. Mr. Grim smiled up at her, a venerable old man.
“One moment, miss. No, no, I won’t hurt you. I just want to ask you something.” He released her hand, and she drew it back with the cash. She tucked the money into her apron, and found a smile that said I’m humoring you.
“Okay, shoot, hun.” She said.
“When were you born?” Mr. Grim asked.
Arthur could see the relief slide through her like a chill. Her smile grew a touch warmer.
“August 15.” She said.
“Ah, I see. What year?”
He sat back in his bench seat, and exhaled. “So young. So young. I envy you, my dear.” He produced another bill and held it out to her. “For your trouble.”
“Thank you!” She smiled.
“Thank you, ah, Helen.”
“Anything else?” She asked. She had already made the tip disappear.
Mr. Grim shook his head. “No, thank you. Mr. White?”
Arthur blushed and shook his head. He thought the girl very pretty, but still too young.
“Okay. Well, if you need anything else, just holler.” She sauntered away, and the men watched her go for the second time that night. When she had gone, Mr. Grim turned to Arthur.
“Fortuitous!” He said.
“What is?” Arthur felt much better now that his scotch had arrived. He took a sip, and relished the warmth sliding down his throat.
“Her year, her age. She’s perfect.” He eyed Arthur for a moment, as though deciding on something. After a moment, he seemed to make up his mind.
“Do you feel up to a bit of adventure, Mr. White?” He asked.
Arthur was feeling the effects of the scotch. Warm and fuzzy, he supposed he did feel like doing something different, something that didn’t involve his small apartment and his small TV, and his small bed. He felt like doing something with that girl, but he kept that part to himself. Instead, he nodded.
“Reckon I will, after I fill this up.” He produced his flask.
Mr. Grim smiled. “Certainly. If you’ll excuse me, I need to freshen up.” He smiled again, and patted Arthur’s hand, then left the booth. Arthur watched him go, his back disappearing in to the crowd, and presumably down a hallway to the restroom.
Arthur waited, thinking of his empty flask, and when Helen and Mr. Grim did not reappear, he flagged down another waiter, and slipped him a few dollars extra to run and fill his flask. While he waited on his refill, he thought about his new friend. The man was certainly interesting, and Arthur thought, maybe good for him. He could use to get out more, to have more conversations, to make more friends; maybe meet a pretty girl and settle down.
For a moment, while he sat alone in the booth, with the crowd milling around him, and no one really paying attention to him, he felt a pang in his chest, a loneliness that liked to creep in when he was vulnerable, and a whispering voice that told him his only worth was to the dead. He shook himself and drained his glass, and waited just a little longer. Finally, when he was sure both Mr. Grim and the waiter had forgotten him, and he would have to trudge home alone, both approached the table.
The waiter handed him his flask, and Arthur thanked him. Mr. Grim waited until the waiter had left, and turned to Arthur.
“Are you ready, Mr. White?” He asked.
Arthur nodded, and tucked his flask back into his pocket. They stood, and left together, the morning chill enveloping them and making their breath steam as they left the warm closeness of the bar.
“Where are we going?” Arthur asked.
“On an adventure, my boy.” Mr. Grim clapped him on the shoulder, and they walked on.
“Do you know the etymology of the word adventure, Mr. White?” Mr. Grim asked, after they had been walking for some time.
Arthur shook his head. He wasn’t even entirely sure he knew what etymology meant.
“It comes from Latin and Old French – A thing about to happen, or a novel or exciting incident.”
They came to an old building in the center of town, a brownstone that seemed to have been forgotten or ignored amid all the renaissance zones and gentrification. Mr. Grim produced a key ring and led them inside. They walked together down an old hallway that still had hardwood floors and sconces on the walls.
At the end of the hall stood an iron grate which Mr. Grim lifted. He waited for Arthur to pass through, and followed him into a small elevator. The grate slammed shut behind them, and Mr. Grim pressed a button on the wall. With a whir and a lurch, the elevator started upward.
Arthur pulled out his cigarettes and flask. He held them up. “Mind?” He asked.
Mr. Grim smiled. “Not at all, chum.”
With a look of gratitude, Arthur lit a cigarette, and took a pull from his flask. They rode in silence, and after a couple of quiet minutes, the elevator lurched to a stop. Mr. Grim lifted the gate again, and they filed out, into a hallway similar to the one on the ground floor. They came to the end of the hall, where a solid steel door stood. Mr. Grim unlocked the door, and opened it, then followed Arthur inside. Once in, he flicked a switch, and the room was flooded with light.
The room was done in red velvet and hardwood with brass trimmings. Arthur thought it looked like something out of a Jules Verne book, or those old Victorian houses in the old money section of the city. Against one wall, a long workbench was set up, with vices and a small lathe and several magnifying lenses and lights. Just the other side of the table, nearly in the center of the room, laid a steel table.
Mr. Grim had wandered to the workbench, and had pulled something from his pocket. Arthur walked over and peered over his shoulder. Lying on the bench was a plastic bag, the inside smeared with a visceral red. Mr. Grim had taken something white out, and was scrubbing it clean with a sponge. After a moment, Arthur realized it was a bone. A fresh one, at that. He took a step back.
Mr. Grim turned, and smiled.
“Told you Helen was perfect.” He moved toward Arthur, who was suddenly feeling light-headed and confused. He looked at the flask in his hand.
“Regrettable.” Mr. Grim said. “I had hoped you’d be more agreeable, but feared you might balk. So, I made the decision for you, with the help of an avaricious waiter.” Arthur turned to run, and tripped over his own feet. He hit the floor hard, and tasted blood.
“No, no. Just relax. You’re going on an adventure.”
He felt himself being lifted and carried, then lain on something cold and hard. He realized he was on the steel table, and Mr. Grim was tying straps around his wrists and ankles. After a moment, Mr. Grim hovered back into view, a kindly smile on his face.
“It’s okay, Mr. White. Just relax. We’ll have you right in no time.”
Arthur blacked out.
The room bled back into view. Mr. Grim stood with his back to Arthur, hunched over his worktable. He straightened, and turned, then carried something in a glass jar over to the table. Arthur looked at the jar, the light throwing reflections from the glass around the room in blue tones. It was filled with a light blue fluid, and a heart, made from brass and glass, seemed to be pumping inside of it. Through the glass on the heart, Arthur could see cogs and gears. He thought it would be beautiful, were it not for his present situation.
Mr. Grim put the jar down on a tray next to the table. There were several gleaming instruments there. They caught the light and shone silver. Arthur felt his own heart speed up, and his stomach clench. The room spun a bit, and he shut his eyes.
“Nothing wanted, nothing wasted.” Mr. Grim said. He held up a key, stark white in the light, and Arthur thought it had probably been carved from the bone he’d seen earlier. It looked like the type of key you’d use to wind a grandfather clock, and Arthur thought of the gears and cogs in the mechanical heart. He suddenly and fervently wished he had his flask at hand.
“Do you know what I’ve needed, Mr. White?” He paused for a moment, and when Arthur didn’t answer, went on. “A companion. Someone to share the long hours and days with. Someone who is understanding, and knows, as I do, just when he is.” He reached out and tapped Arthur’s chest, just over his heart, with the key.
“You were born April 25. A perfect date, by my estimations. Oh.” He smiled sheepishly. “Yes, I borrowed your wallet earlier. I do have a knack for sorting possessions when the need arises. But that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is you’re young, strong, and you listen.”
He stepped back, and picked a needle from the tray beside the table. Arthur’s pulse was beating as fast as he imagined any man’s would at that point, and though he wanted to struggle, to cry out, something in him – maybe it was the drugs – stopped him from doing so. He watched the needle slip into his vein with a growing detachment. A part of him hoped it meant he no longer had to be alone.
He heard Mr. Grim’s voice as if from down a long hallway.
“Your adventure, Mr. White, begins now. In all of human experience, there has never been – nor will there ever be – a man like you. You’re a pioneer, a positive anomaly. When you wake, you will be something more.”
For the second time that night, blackness took Arthur.
When he woke, it was to a peculiar clicking sound, and a strange feeling in his chest. He felt his arms and legs were free, and he was no longer on the table. Tightness around his torso made him open his eyes and look down. He saw bandages covering his chest and ribs, with a small opening over his heart. Mr. Grim was straightening up in front of him. He held something out, attached to a chain. Arthur took it, and saw it was the key. After a moment, Mr. Grim sat down in the chair across from him and poured from a teapot into two cups. He offered one to Arthur.
“Tea, Mr. White?”
Arthur took the offered cup with hands that only slightly shook. He was surprised to find he craved neither his flask nor a cigarette. “Thanks.” He said.
“Not at all.” There was quiet as they sipped at the hot tea.
“Once a year, every year.” Mr. Grim finally said.
“Eh?” said Arthur.
“Your heart. You need to wind it.”
“Oh, that’s fine, then.”
Mr. Grim pulled out his pocket watch, flipped it open, and looked at it.
“Well, Mr. White. We’ve some time until our first true adventure.”
Arthur tried to feel something, anything. He tried to be angry at what Mr. Grim had done to him, upset with fate, or even sad that his life had come to this. Instead, he only felt calm, patient. He sipped at his tea.
“What would that be?”
Mr. Grim waved a hand. “Whatever we feel up to, Mr. White.” He set his tea down.
“Now, what would you like to talk about?”