Hallowe’en; or, The Throwback

It was one of those Octobers of relentless thudding and hammering, when the throwback was on the throne. The throneback, some called him, behind his back, but of course nobody had ever seen the back of the throne, not even the carpenter who made it, who was blind. As soon as it was finished, the throne was installed, its back rammed fast against the chamber wall, and there it had remained. When renovations and redecoration were undertaken, the work had to be arranged in such a way that the throne itself was never moved. And sat on it now, this October, with his oxygenator and his paper bag of salt water taffy, was the throwback king.

The drains were blocked. There were a couple of chickens roasting on a spit. A peasant was being tortured in an alcove. And still, the constant din of thudding and hammering, drowning out the squeaking of bats, countless bats, up in the rafters.

We know the bats were countless because the king had tried to have them counted. It was one of his first acts, after taking his place upon the throne. First he called for his oxygenator, then for his taffy, and then he summoned a calculator pursuivant and told him to count the bats. He was a bat-minded king, he liked to say. His uncle had advised him to speak very rarely. The fewer words he pronounced, said this uncle, the greater the force he would lend them. But the throwback king took no notice of this sage counsel, and he babbled, and had his uncle tortured in the alcove, like the peasant.

There was a staircase leading from the chamber, obviously, at the foot of which was a brick-kiln, Each brick baked here was stamped with an image of the king’s heraldic beast, a fish with the head of an owl, the thorax and abdomen of a snapping beetle, and the trailing appendages of a jellyfish. It was called Desmond. The king’s greatest amusement, chewing taffy apart, was to watch his weediest fool try to juggle hot bricks while standing in a puddle.

Milk played an important part in the life of the court that October. The throwback king, with his faux-Flemish affectations, pronounced it melk. He said coo instead of cow. Over and over again, he liked to watch the scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941) where Cary Grant carries a glass of milk upstairs to Joan Fontaine. Hitchcock placed a small light in the glass to make the milk glow. The king made his cows glow, by training Klieg lights upon their byre,

It was only a short walk from the chamber to the cow byre, but one the king never made, for he was stuck to his throne. As with his forebears, so with the throwback. Once settled upon the throne, its seat coated with powerful adhesive gum, he would never rise from it again. Would he live beyond October? Towards the end of the month the thuddings and hammerings grew ever more clamorous. The king’s oxygenator gave out, the salt water taffy was as dust in his mouth. His minions circled, their faces expressionless, unreadable.

Come Hallowe’en, when they prodded the king with a stick, he did not cry out.

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