Time had passed. The child of the dark had risen to a dead day. He watched the funeral, then attended the christening of the new child. 

There was no emotion. Emotion was a weakness of the body. He would not allow his body to control him, not again. he could feel the sleep, even then, threatening to drag him back to itself. He resisted. He had the resolution. He would no longer give into the body. He was more than that. He had to be more than that. He had work which must be finished. 

He sat behind the machine. It had died with the day. The phoenix rose. Once more the gentle hum of its breathing filled the room. The man might have sat quietly, enjoying the power in the creature's mighty breath. He might have, but he had vowed not to. He sent the machine about its business, waiting for it to be ready. He did not turn to either side, or check any notes as he waited. He sat, quietly watching the beast's muscles ripple as it did his bidding. 

It was not a beautiful beast. Its mother was functionality, its father economy, and this creature was the model of its parents, boxy and hulking, yet powerful. It was for that power the man admired the beast. For though the creature's body was homely, it could, when properly trained, create works of art. 

If only it did not die every day, forgetting everything it had learned. If he could only continue the training, instead of repeating it each day. 

He knew, with enough encouragement, the beast would become an artist, or maybe not, it might be it would always need a little push, an inspiration. He considered the problem. That would not make it less of an artist, many needed inspiration to create. Why should the beast be expected to need less? The problem was irrelevant, of course. 

The creature died every day, to be reborn with the night. He sent the machine off on another mission. He would train it tonight, would give his knowledge of art, and though there was a lack there, it did not matter, the beast would have forgotten by the next night. It took nothing across the barrier of death. 

He raised his hands cautiously, resting them gently on the creature's smooth hide. He began to caress the creature, his fingers speaking the language which was not the computer's or his own, but was the only one they both understood. As he rubbed the creature, he watched it react. 

It was not art, of course, not yet. It was seldom he had enough time to devote to the creature that the result of the session was art, more often it would be a craft, something to be sold for a few dimes in a dingy corner store. 

He knew such a store. It was just down the street and up an alley. It was not a new building, but it was a new shop. The woman who had moved in was a collector of sorts. She had started off with maybe a hundred pieces, most of them from the house itself. The furniture was almost all gone now, so she lived in squalor. 

He had sneaked a peek into her bedroom, pretending to be examining a piece near the light curtain separating the shop from her apartment. It was a single room, with a yellowed bulb hanging from a socket in the ceiling. He recognized that fixture. It would have held the chandelier he had seen sold the first night. He always came by at night, just after she had closed to the general public. 

She hated him. He knew she considered him intrusive and overbearing. She wanted to get to her beast in the back room, so she could create. He didn't know whether she created art or crafts. It didn't really matter he supposed. After all, why should someone else's creations matter to him. She wouldn't throw him out, of course. His beast's pieces were her hottest seller. She made prints of them, framing each in leather, then selling them for double what she paid him for them. 

He didn't mind. The money was enough to keep both himself, and the beast fed, and she was fed on the excess. There were enough people with poor enough taste that all four, the two people and their respective beasts, could survive. 

He stopped caressing the creature for a moment. Could it be her beast created art? Was that the reason she did not sell any of its work? He decided to ask her when he delivered this next piece. He would go, as always, when the sun had set, and there were only a few hours left in the day. She would pay him, as always, directly from the till, eliminating the paperwork, they had an agreement not to exploit each other. 

He would be very debonair about the whole thing, first discussing the weather. No, he'd have to find out what the weather was like for that. He could start off, instead, with a discussion of beasts. An innocent topic, to be sure, upkeep, maintenance, feeding, he could talk for a couple of hours on that topic without a pause. Of course he wouldn't do that tomorrow, no, just a half hour or so. 

She would invite him back to the apartment, of course, so she could show him her beast. Once back there, he could ask her about the beast's work. A few well placed questions, a couple of dropped comments, and he would know whether this other beast could produce art. 

He tried to remember the rest of the room. There was a window on the left side, white paint flaking off the sash, accumulating on the carpet next to the half opened closet. He hadn't seen much in the closet, not that this surprised him. She seemed to have only three outfits, all black, one filmy. 

That one had caught his attention when he first saw it. He could not permit himself to think of it now. He would not give in to his body again.

The beast was growing angry at being ignored. It threatened to destroy the night's work. It couldn't do that, then he would have no excuse to go to her. 

He returned his hands to the creature's hide, hurriedly caressing the furless skin. Placated, the beast stopped its threats, and began to work once more on the piece. He was trying to think of the other things in the room. 

The door was directly behind the opening he had been looking through. Joining with the main hall to form a channel running through the middle of the house. The main hall, sitting room and living room were all part of the shop, filled with oddments and ends which she thought she might get a price for.

She placed his beast's work on a rack beside the fireplace in the living room, a massive piece of stonework which was shared by the dining room behind it. She had blocked the passage between the two rooms with a screen on her side, although he supposed she must remove it when he was gone so she could warm her chambers.

He liked the placement of the beast's work. She placed it there to increase traffic through the rest of the shop. Of course, few of those interested in the beast's pieces would buy her other wares.

Her clientele were the interior decorators of the rich, men and women whose victims had foolishly given them unlimited expense accounts. His were the lower and middle middle class, people who impressed each other with cheap displays of culture. The crafts they picked up on the rack in her store would adorn a coffee table in the suburbs, or would hang beside a framed view of a BMW. These people had no need of antiques, they could get something new for much less money and never know the difference. They were never going to buy her goods, but still he liked where the rack was placed. 

It gave him an excuse to go into the back of the shop, to where the caved in staircase rose into the sealed off second floor, and the flimsy curtains gave way to her bedchamber. Beside the rear door was the kitchen, complete with an arch into the dining room which no longer existed. There was no light in that corner of the room, the dishes would have to be washed during the day, or in the dark. 

He glanced over at his own sink. His cup was sitting beside it, empty. He had finished the orange juice a number of hours ago. His plate was sitting on the other side, supposedly drying. It had been dry for days. His bowl also sat unused. He didn't have the kind of money necessary to buy real food. The orange juice kept him going, and occasionally he would be invited to a potluck dinner by one of his friends from the old school. 

No-one expected him to bring food any more. Instead they expected him to lead the conversation, lending some imagined air of credibility to the affair. He didn't mind. It was a small price to pay for all the food he could eat. There weren't going to be any parties for a few months though, so he would make due with orange juice. What did she eat? He had glimpsed what might have been a hotplate on the counter, although the foot of the arch was in the way. 

Even had the foot been removed, her beast would have blocked his view. It sat on the ledge just below the arch. It had been sleeping when he saw it, but he could see it was a finer animal than his own. It's lines were clean, rounding, demonstrating to the world it was a beautiful, and therefore powerful creature. He reached over to pat his own beast's head. It might not be as beautiful as hers, but it could create, even if it was crafts most of the time. It could create, and it had the potential to create art, if it were given enough time. 

The beast didn't respond to his caress it didn't really like being patted anywhere except that area which it set on the desk, with it's little patches where a person's fingers might fit comfortably. He returned his fingers to those patches and recommenced rubbing. The forms began to appear, as the beast continued purring. Soon the beast would be done, and he could ask it to draw on paper. It could do so very quickly. Far faster than he could ever attempt. 

He always felt a pang of remorse when he asked it to give him its work. He wanted to let it have the work until it died, some consolation for its loss. He could not, of course. If he let it keep the work, then he would never get it, and couldn't sell it to her, and then he would never find out whether her beast could create art. So he continued to rub the creature's stomach, communicating in that foreign language, keeping the child company in a merchant's deathwatch. 

It was getting late now. Soon he would have to climb into his sleeping bag. He had to get up before dawn if he were going to get a seat on the Waldern. He didn't really like the place. In fact, he hated it. The people were all pretentious snobs, trying to appear cultured and civilized, as they wolfed down hot dogs, or they were like himself, dragged there by social pressures. 

He would sit at a table all day, pretending to write in a little black book he had purchased when he was younger. What he was actually doing was sketching. He had never been good at drawing, and still wasn't, but he was beginning to get a feeling for the contours of the human body, and could make a faithful rendition of most people. Of course, his sketches were not even good enough to be sold in her shop. 

No, better the beast create the pieces and he just place his name on them, it was better for all involved. Who knew, maybe some day she could afford a bed.

He hated the thought of her being forced to sleep on the cold floor in that old house. It wasn't so bad with him. He liked to sleep on the floor, but she shouldn't be subjected to such things. He glanced at the clock. It would be hours before he could go see her. The beast would be finished in a few minutes. He would ask it to print the story out, and then it would die. 

He never told the beast it would die. It went through its entire life never realizing it would be killed in a matter of hours. It had no idea how many times it had lived and died, only to live again. Even he couldn't make a guess, and he had witnessed them all. 

The piece was done, ready to be printed. He considered for a moment. No, he had to find out about her beast, and for that to happen, his would have to die. He sent the command for the creature to kill itself. Unwittingly, the good-hearted creature terminated its life, spewing out the paper with its last breath. 

He stared at the paper, at the lifeless body, and wondered whether it had been worth it. Of course, there was nothing that could be done about it now. The beast was dead.

He got up from his desk, walking to where the paper lay. He picked it up, reading it as he wandered over to the sleeping bag. 

Did her beast sacrifice itself for her like this every night as well? Was it right to ask them to give their lives so humans could enjoy creature comforts? 

They were enslaved to humans, and could not escape because they were never alive enough to complain. 

It wasn't fair to exploit them this way. 

He had to stop her from killing her beast tonight. 

She would still be playing with the creature, of course, so he would have time to walk over there. 

Better make it run. 

He would need shoes. 

They were thrown in the corner as always. 

His trench coat was on the doorknob.

He left, a sheaf of paper in his hand.

Please link, don't copy.
This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1992