Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Transcript

By Joseph Cunningham 

[A short story I wrote some time ago.] 

The following has been transcribed from an original document that was just recently found.

 I am writing this by candlelight, since it is getting dark and the lights have gone out in the city.  There is not enough time to relate everything, so I will recount only what is necessary for you to understand.  Just last week I read in the paper that the end was very near, so I came as quickly as I could to try and save him, for he was and always will be my very dear friend.

We were schoolboys together.  I would race him to the forest after school was out.  He was tremendously fast and would always win.  Both of us were quick but neither very coordinated when it came to sports, I guess that’s why we became friends, it was our mutual melancholy that brought us together.  He was a painter.  I remember he painted very beautiful pictures and I would sit and watch and talk to him.

We would take long walks in the woods and have wonderful adventures there: playing hide and seek and chasing after the animals, though we would never hurt them.  Once we found a rabbit caught in barbed wire and he talked ever so softly to it while he undid the snare, and it ran away free.

We were acolytes together and he was very pious.  We both served 5:30 Mass for the prelate and afterwards we would pray the rosary, a tradition we would keep long after we were too old to acolyte, while we attended university.  He was studying fine art and I was going to be a writer, but it was he that kept a journal, and he would sometimes jot things down in between Aves.

I remember clearly once he paused for quite some time before writing in his journal.  It so distracted me that I stopped praying altogether and stared at him.  His eyes were wide open, gazing at the tabernacle and he looked somewhat afraid.  When I asked him about it later, he just looked at me and handed me his diary.

“Asked for martyrdom today,” it said, “Felt like he said ‘Yes’ but that it would be different.”  And below,

“Very dark…Something is going to happen…I trust.”

One day he didn’t show up for Mass, neither for classes nor for lunch.  I was concerned that he was perhaps under the weather, so I went to his room, which was only four doors down from mine, and knocked.  No answer.  Strangely enough, the door was unlocked and I entered, but he was not there.  The room was torn to pieces: his books were scattered – thrown from the shelves and flung about the floor; his canvases, torn, lay everywhere.  The walls were covered with scratch marks and the window was broken.  There was no light on and I turned one on, for I was beginning to become frightened, thinking perhaps my friend had been kidnapped for reasons I could not understand.  Then I found a note on the floor.  I knew it had been written for me.  It was in his own hand.

“Don’t follow me,” it said.

Whatever suspicions of kidnapping I might have had were dismissed when I read the paper the following week.  “A NEW DISORDER” ran the headline and my friend was pictured on the front page, surrounded by a group of lackeys and a crowd of screaming picketers.  I read the article.  My friend, an activist? and what was more – their leader?  That was not like him.  I thought of his note, but I immediately took the first train to the capitol.

There it was chaos.  The picketing had turned to rioting and angry people clogged the streets.  I saw a brigade of soldiers holding back the mob from assaulting the state house.  My friend stood on a balcony across the street.  He saw me.  I tried to get up to talk to him, but his followers held me back.  He whispered something into the ear of one of them, who came down to me and delivered the message.

“Get out,” he said.

I stayed for two days more, in a hotel near the main plaza and left just as the bloodshed began.  There was nothing I could do.

For the next few months, I stayed in a house in a small town outside the country and watched the war unfold in newspapers, until the war came to me, and fleeing my abode, I witnessed horrors men should never have to see.  Something had gone very wrong: he was trying to kill us all.

I waited, until one day a telegram arrived unexpectedly.

“Come quickly,” it said, “You are the only one who will understand.”  Puzzled, to say the least, I spent that night in prayer and boarded the train the next morning.

I arrived at his headquarters.  It was an incredibly tall building, with elements of the classical architecture of ancient Rome, but warped somewhat in a sinister fashion.  A guard was there to escort me up to his office.  The long halls were draped with heavy red curtains and his portrait – a very large and menacing painting of my friend hung above the two tall black oak doors outside his chamber.  The doors were opened; I remember it was very dark inside.  There were no windows, only dimly lit lamps, and I was afraid.  I had come only for my friend and tried my best to hide my fear.

“You came,” said a voice from behind a large black leather swivel chair.  It turned around slowly and I saw the man I once knew, but there was something entirely different about him and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“I did not think you would come; but welcome.”  He held his hand out and motioned towards the chair in front of his desk.

“Please.”  I sat down.  His hair was wet and combed back behind his head and his clothes were of the finest elegance, far more regal than anything I’d seen him wear in all my life.  He looked at me long and hard; his eyes becoming locked in mine.  I tried breaking the tension with small talk.
“Is that a self-portrait outside?” I said, “It’s marvelous.”  He acted as if he didn’t hear me and started mumbling my name, over and over again.

“John, John, John, John…John, John, John…”

“He’s gone mad,” I thought.  He held his temples all of a sudden and stared at me through his fingers with one eye.  Though I could still hear his voice chanting my name, I saw his lips move quickly.  I stiffened in my chair.  I believe I am not mistaken: his lips mouthed the words “Kill him now” and then “No!”  He lowered his arm.

“You will be leaving now,” he said.  His voice was trembling.  I didn’t want to stay any longer and I headed towards the door.  I turned.

“You don’t look like you’ve been sleeping well,” I said.

He looked at me and flared his nostrils, blowing a puff of air from his nose.

“I never sleep,” he said in a very strange tone, “I never sleep.”

As I left the office I heard him dial someone on the phone.  His words startled me.

“Captain,” (he was speaking to the guard downstairs), “There is a man about six-foot-four walking outside this building with a brown trench coat and a plaid suit.  He is carrying a snub-nose revolver and a written order to kill me.  Arrest him immediately.  You know what to do with him.”  When I got to the street I saw that man being taken in, and saw them apprehend the note and the revolver!  But there were no windows in his office!

I didn’t know what to make of it all, but there was a vague idea cooking in my mind.  I returned home and pondered it, trying to make some sense of things.  It seemed he wanted me to hear him make that call, and I felt the young man I knew before was trying to communicate something to me through the beast he had become.  I had to respond after solving the riddle, but due to my own puzzlement and apprehension, I waited until it was too late.

Soon the war shifted course and turned against him, and the destruction of his monstrous empire began.  When I read that they had taken the last stronghold before the capitol, regardless of the still-grey cloud in my mind, I drove my car frantically through the rain in a last attempt to seek him out and save him.

It was a stormy ride into hell.  The country was in ruins and the city was in flames even before the advancing soldiers arrived.  I left my car in a pile of debris that fell and blocked the avenue, and dashing through the fleeing people, I made my way to his headquarters.

It was like a black torch burning from within.  I rushed inside while the tower was still not crackling like a complete inferno.  The wall curtains and the papers that flew out from every open office door were flaming, though the marble spiral stairway was intact.  I held my handkerchief over my face and sprinted up the steps.

There was no guard outside his office.  The black oak doors were swung wide open and above them dangled the portrait that was being eaten by the flames.  I ran inside, but the room was empty and not entirely dark: it was illumined by the fire that was consuming it, casting dancing shadows on the walls.  I thought for sure my friend was lying dead somewhere in there and had been suffocated by the smoke, but then I heard my name.

“John!”  I turned and looked down the long hallway and saw a silhouette against the moonlight, holding its arm out to me from the balcony from which it stood.  The hall was carpeted and all ablaze, but I ran wildly, as I never had before towards the terrace, to save him.

When I got outside, he was gone and the rain pouring down under the night sky hampered my vision.  I heard my name again and followed the voice across the roof to the northern-most point on the building.  There I saw him, standing on the highest point, the parapet.  I was perhaps twenty feet away, staring into his fierce-looking eyes.  It began to thunder and a lightening bolt struck the rod not fifty feet away beside us.

“Come down here!” I said.

“John,” he said, his face writhing in strange contortions.  His voice became deeper all of a sudden, “You should have known you cannot stop me, and you cannot save him.”

“You are wrong,” I said, “Do not lie to me.”  I had uncovered his riddle.

The wind blew the rain in our faces and the thunderstorm raged around us.  I could hear a humming sound coming closer from a distance.  Then his face became meek if only for a moment, and I saw my friend, very much afraid.

“Thank you, John,” he said, “Now run.”  I saw him pull a gun from his pocket and begin to point it at his head.  His other hand held it back and he was whimpering.  The humming sound was getting louder and I saw the outline of a plane heading toward us.  It was a bomber plane, with his own insignia.

“Run, John!” he cried.  I understood.  I took one last look at him and started running back from where I had come and I heard the shot.  I looked back over my shoulder and he was gone.  A crack of thunder roared and a bolt of lightning hit the parapet, and the last thing I saw was the bomb falling on the rooftop.

I must have fallen hard and far, for when I awoke, I felt both my legs were broken, though somehow I had survived, falling onto a pile of debris.  I dragged myself into this abandoned warehouse, where I found a pen and paper on this desk, along with the candle.  The storm has stopped and the moon is out now, but I feel something is not right.

However God will bring good out of these past evils, I know not, but still believe he will bring it.  But let this writing be a warning to men, that though they may be able to judge man’s actions wrong or right, his heart is known to God alone.


[The following lines are written hurriedly, and the last word runs off at the finish.]

Someone is here.  I write this by the moonlight.  The windows are closed, but the candle has blown out.



  1. Would like to see the whole transcript. A screenplay?

  2. Would like to see the whole transcript. A screenplay?

    1. @Cheryl: for the record - I did make it all up. It's a mental exercise into the hidden motives of history, things that [moral of the story] cannot really be known.

      Perhaps it could work as a film. I would have to add a lot/dramatize it more. Thanks for reading.