Interview with Cloth from Black & Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
They came for me around three in the morning. I struggled at first but there was one guy with muscles like banded cables. It took him no time to slap some duct tape over my mouth and throw a burlap bag over my head. I wanted to know if they’d taken any of my family, so I twisted and continued to fight them. Somebody grabbed me by the neck and whispered, “You said you wanted to interview Chaplain Cloth. Well here’s your chance, writer. Calm the hell down and enjoy the hospitality of the Church of Midnight.”
That didn’t relax me all that much. These people were impersonating characters from my novel, BLACK & ORANGE. I’d wanted to do a fake-interview over at The Plotline with the villain of that novel, Chaplain Cloth. Somehow these men had found out and taken it upon themselves to take this a step farther.
They threw me into a car that smelled richly of leather. The drive wasn’t long. Shadowy men in black suits took the sack off my head, sat me on a chair, and removed the tape from my mouth. Afterwards the men posted by a stretched limo covered in desert dust.
I sat at folding table in a field of tumbleweeds. My heart thundered. Across from me sat the monster I’d up until now only imagined for my book. His jet black hair was combed straight back like I’d envisioned. His bone white skin had a strange luster from the single candle on the table. The black suit he wore was similar to the other men, except Cloth wore his like another skin and he had an orange kerchief tucked in his breast pocket. Then there were the eyes. One was black. One was orange. They were both evaluating me with subtle, intelligent madness.
CLOTH: Are you waiting for me to ask a question? I must have misunderstood our roles here.
BKE: Okay fellows, you’ve gone out of your way to scare me. Well done. I’d like to go home now and maybe I won’t see you before a judge later.
CLOTH: Must we go through this part, human?
BKE: What part?
CLOTH: The part where I prove who I am. I do something otherworldly and then you have a realization. Thus begins the interview.
BKE: I’d rather not be jipped.
Suddenly, to the right of me the air split open and a long corridor appeared. Writhing in tangled vines, pumpkin creatures came down from the walls, snarling like hungry wolves, chomping their fangs together in a rhythm. Some of them sang demented songs that caught in my heart like barbed wire.
CLOTH: Are we good then? This interview won’t last very long if I let the children come out. You understand.
The gateway vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
BKE: That was unreal.
CLOTH: Hardly. Now hurry on with this. I cannot be out of the gateway for long.
BKE: Except on Halloween, right?
CLOTH (amused, folds his arms): You can read the back of a book, it would seem.
BKE: I have too much to ask. I don’t know where to start—where are you really from? What is your origin?
CLOTH: I am from the Beginning and from the End.
I waited a moment, thinking he would say something else.
BKE: Could you be vaguer?
CLOTH: How do you answer this question?
BKE: I say I’m from Southern California. I was born in Riverside, where I—
CLOTH: Oh you catalogue your physical circumstances after vacating your mother’s womb? That’s miserably cute, Benjamin.
BKE: Okay, well then, speaking of parents. I noticed those things inside the gateway just now. They are called your children—how did this come to be? Do they have a mother?
BKE: Well what’s your relationship with them?
CLOTH: We have no choice but to be close.
This seems to upset Chaplain Cloth, so I quickly change the subject.
BKE: So what do you when it’s not Halloween?
CLOTH: I’m trying my hand at interviews.
BKE: Honestly, come on, tell me.
CLOTH: I wait, but not in silence. It could be described as something that simple, but I know you wish to understand it. Rest assured human, that while you might have a sense of what I describe, you cannot understand anything close to what I endure through November 1st to October 30th. I feel pain from every plane of reality, and I feel it thousands of times in every second I wait for Halloween.
BKE: That pain stops on that day?
CLOTH (chuckles): No, but I remember what it’s for. It makes sense again.
BKE: You dress rather cheerfully for someone in so much torment. What’s with the suit?
Cloth puffs out his handkerchief and smooths his bright orange tie.
CLOTH: This goes back to the first human I entered this world through. He didn’t dress in this suit, but he dressed well and admired colors. I keep little from the humans I use for vehicles, although I tend to hold on to the things I can find amusing. There are very few such things I find amongst your kind.
BKE: So some of us are amusing? Tell me more.
CLOTH: Don’t press your luck.
BKE: But let’s talk about people. Do hate all of us? Have you ever fallen in love with a human?
CLOTH: Of course.
CLOTH: Every year I fall in love with the Heart of the Harvest.
BKE: But that’s the sacrifice you use to expand the gateway. You try to capture and kill them every Halloween!
CLOTH: Absolutely. That’s surely the most human trait I possess.
BKE: You wear clothes. That’s about as human as you get. Wanting to kill people and loving them at the same time–
CLOTH: Benjamin please, you aren’t going to tell me humans are incapable of killing their loved ones? You really aught to watch the local news sometime.
He regards me over the candlelight with those disturbing multi-colored eyes. A terrible chill runs through my body but I try my damnedest not to let him see. His gaze is picking me apart like talons picking meat off a bone. I straighten and attempt to take control of this meeting.
BKE: I made you. What are your thoughts on that?
CLOTH (his closed-mouth smile fades after a moment): That’s the real fantasy here.
BKE: I wrote the book and put you in it. No fantasy there.
CLOTH: Yes, yes, I’m just a figment of your imagination.
Cloth leans forward. The candle’s flame flickers under his chin, but doesn’t burn him. He doesn’t even blink.
CLOTH: So if I were to kill you now, would we both cease to exist? Or would I go on without you? That’s the real question, human.
Next, a burlap sack went over my head and I was pulled to my feet. I heard Chaplain Cloth give some orders to the men from the Church of Midnight. I strained to hear but couldn’t. One of the men grunted with uncertainty and I tensed at the sound. What would they do to me?
They put me back into the limo and sped recklessly down the highway. A block from my house, they pulled me out of the car. I took off the sack and watched as they peeled off into the early morning sunlight.
My mind has been a place of chaos ever since. Despite this, my wife doesn’t believe me about any of this happening, and sometimes before bedtime my daughter gazes at me bizarrely now. The cats don’t eat the food or drink the water when I give it to them. The radio in my car is always set full-blast in the morning, even when I purposely shut it off the night before.
I wish I’d heard that last thing Cloth had told those men. Damn it, I really wish I had.
Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel Black & Orange. He received a Masters of Art in English Composition from California State University, San Bernardino, and his thesis was entitled: “Causes of Unease: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film.” When he isn’t staring into a burning computer screen, Benjamin is defending California’s water supplies as an environmental compliance inspector. Facebook: www.facebook.com/benjamin.kane.ethridge Twitter: twitter.com/#!/bkethridge. His official web presence is www.bkethridge.com