I knew a genius once. He was my mentor, actually. Taught me, first in high school. Then, once again, when I entered college. And then, again, when I went for my master’s degree. And my doctorate. And again, afterward.
When I became his assistant.
He taught me a lot. A whole awful lot. About tons of things. Theories and science and things you could see.
And things you couldn’t see.
The man I knew was a genius. An absolute genius. It wasn’t his mind that made him that way, or his IQ. No.
It was his determination. His willingness to explore. To find. Discover. He always saw himself as a pioneer. An explorer. Someone who wasn’t afraid of the turning seas. Of never reaching land again.
Because to him, it didn’t matter.
If he could find the unknown, delve into lands unseen…
If he got his answers, then it didn’t matter.
I’ve only just recently come to that conclusion. That understanding. The man I knew was a genius, yes.
But at what cost?
“The devil himself couldn’t stop me Hanz! I’m invincible!”
He’d been declaring nonsense for about an hour now. And I’d been subjected to simply follow.
Crazy old bat.
He’d gone missing for a year. A full year. Just… gone. Without a trace.
And now, he suddenly showed back up.
For which I was glad. Ecstatic, really.
Until he started talking, and I realized:
The doctor I knew no longer exists.
This doctor? The new one?
Completely, pants-backwards, punching-mirrors crazy.
“Ah, look at that Hanz. Even the moon fears me!” he shouted into the night, ogling the sky.
“Sir, the moon is right there,” I informed gently.
“But it won’t look me in the eye,” he insisted with a glare into the sky.
“Aside from that, did you see the way that black cat spat at me? He knows how serious I am. A threat that not even luck can best!” he hollered, leading the way up the hill.
In all honesty, I wasn’t exactly sure why I was humoring my mad mentor. Maybe because I still had some respect for him, or maybe it was because he was important to me. I wasn’t entirely sure. All I knew was:
I really shouldn’t be humoring such a crazy man. A mad pioneer.
Probably, I ought to be calling the police. Or, at the very least, a psychiatrist.
He still hadn’t explained to me where he’d been. Where he’d gone, and why. Instead, he’d give me cryptic, eerie answers when I asked, or just stare off into the distance for a bit before he made a weird, high-pitched moaning sound.
He was strange, that’s for sure. Probably suffering from some post-trauma mental illness. Or maybe he had just lost his mind completely. Was incurably strange now.
Either way, I was following him.
And I really wasn’t sure why.
“Doc, maybe we should—”
“We’re going to rule the world Hanz!”
He nodded, continuing his arduous hill marching. Nodding happily, a goofy smile on his face. “This is going to be grande. After this, there’s no telling what the world will become. All I know is: we’ll lead them Hanz. We’ll be on top.”
“…Sir? I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The Warlock’s Mane of course!”
“Of course,” I muttered.
He’d been going on and on about warlocks for a while now. Even before he’d gone missing, he was obsessed with them. Or, at least, one in particular. Though he wouldn’t tell me any details, just that the warlock was grande. Brilliant. Powerful.
Looking back, I’m not sure how I didn’t see before now that he was going mad. Clearly, all the signs were there.
What an idiot I am.
Regardless, I figured it best to at least try to get him to make some sense.
“Sir, don’t you think you could maybe explain that a little bit better? What do you mean by that?”
“GLORY! POWER! There is a well under the house my boy! A well of infinite possibilities! You think I was a pioneer before? Ha! I’m interstellar now! Mars may have mocked me, but all the moons bow to my whims. I am the king of the underworld!”
At this point, I was really starting to question my own sanity.
Why hadn’t I just taken him to a mental ward?
At the top of the hill, the doctor looked at me. His white hair glowing silver in the moonlight, his green eyes glowing with how it reflected on his spectacles.
Suddenly, he didn’t look like a madman anymore.
When I looked at the doctor in the moonlight, it wasn’t that brilliant spark in his eyes.
It was something… else.
Something considered “other”.
A shiver spiked down my spine, rocking my body for a blink before my mentor spoke again.
“Sacrifices must be made. But you’ll be part of this still my boy. You will! Once the warlock wakes, he will make you great!”
There was something about the way he said it… the way his eyes wrapped around me when he said the word “sacrifice”…
I should’ve called the cops.
“Uh, sir, maybe we should head back,” I began to say, hoping for some reason. Hoping that something sane still lingered in the back of his head.
Hoped in vain.
“Be still my boy, and enjoy the good life. This will be easy for you,” he said.
And then he stepped on something. Crushed it with his heel.
It burst open, oozing images. Things that felt more than spoke. That existed, more than showed. Things that dredged up a coldness in my belly. That stirred my soul into ash, and broke my veins down, ripped them away from my beating heart.
Green smoke poured. Turned red. Turned blue. Turned purple.
Then, turned to me.
And I knew then:
The doctor wasn’t mad.
He was insane.
He hadn’t gone missing. Not really.
He went exploring. Went exactly where he’d wanted to go. Because all this time, he knew. Hell, he’d even warned me.
There was more to this world than science. Than things that were seen.
There were other things.
Things like this.
Warlocks, and dark magic.
Smoke clotted my lungs, coated my throat. Chewed the air I desperately tried to swallow. Filled my lungs with thick, heavy clotting. Made my eyes hazy.
I was passing out.
I was fading.
“You’ll be him soon, I’m sure Hanz. No need to worry,” the doctor’s voice purred. Somewhere near my right ear.
I fell to the ground.
“I went exploring Hanz, and I found it. Found precisely what I was looking for. A way to dig deeper. A way to strip the fabric away. A way to gain what I’ve always wanted.
“The answers will all be mine Hanz. And it will all be thanks to you.”
It was the last words I heard from the outside. The last thing I felt was his hand on my head, the notion that my lungs were popping. That my face was burning up.
That last thing I heard before his voice.
Screams resounded in my ears. Loud and shrilly. Panicked. Not daring to make sense.
And then silence.
And then a voice that was a thousand voices.
Time to answer the call. The warlock wakes.
It’s time to begin.
In my head, I could hear my voice squeak. The last bit of existence I had on this planet. Words spoken in my own mind, thrown at the thing taking my body. Last breaths that weren’t taken, rather, they were forgotten. Tossed inside myself. Hiding from the world.
Begin what? I asked.
My last words in this world.
A laugh like cauldrons bubbling rose up. Crackling in my head like a whip.