Issue 013: The Gloom King Weeps
10 April 2012
“Nessun maggior dolore
Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
“I’ve built a kingdom on second chances . . .”
• • •
Six days ago I was tending to my mushroom patch in the eastern gardens, when a sparrow descended from some high place and, having found a spot to rest on a fallen log, said hello in his own sparrow way.
I whistled a little melody from the older times, and my little friend seemed to enjoy it. I felt I had made a new companion.
Since then, he has visited me every day, and we talk and talk. I mostly listen, though. I have little to say, these days.
I have named him Aeolus, after the Greek god of the winds. Aeolus the sparrow, I am sure, has another name, which is uttered by creatures of his kind. Yet try as I may, I am only able to decipher a fraction of what he says—”Oh, the wind is fair today” and “The sun is harsh”—and so I have given him a name in my own language, for it comforts me to call upon him this way.
“Aeolus, Aeolus!” I say. And here he comes, swooping hither and tither, happy to see this old man. I think we shall be friends for some time. I am happy to have a new friend. It has been a long while since I have had any at all.
• • •
They say I am the ruler of this land. They say I am King. I do not much believe them anymore.
They call me “Sire” and “Father” and “Lord” in my presence, but they have another name for me when I am not around.
I am King Theodorus Cecilius von Hessel IX. No one calls me that anymore.
As I have said, they have another name for me.
They call me the Gloom King.
• • •
My son Hector loves me dearly. He may be the only one. He says to me, when I have come in from walking my dogs, “Cheer up, old man.” His appraisal is one I cherish, for he sees me as I am.
• • •
Yes, and I have six other sons, who are called Lambert and Leon and Lars and Ludwig—and Otto and Theodore. They are fine sons, as far as those go. I suppose I love them.
I have a daughter as well. She is called Adelaide. We have not spoken in nearly three years, for she lives with her mother, the Queen, in my winter palace, far across the wastes . . .
I have fallen out of favor with both.
Adelaide and Zara haunt my dreams of late, when I am able to sleep. I do not know if either of them love me any longer, and I would not blame them if they did not.
Here I cough. Here I quiver.
• • •
I do not think I am particularly sad. I have my mushroom patch, and my sixteen cats. I have my four dogs, and the coat on my back.
I sometimes smile.
I read and write and sit by the fire. I sleep till eleven. I sip my tea and take my toast.
I am not all that sad.
• • •
It is winter. I do not think spring shall ever come.
It has been winter for nearly three hundred years.
Snow and ice. Freezing rain and sleet. Thank God, I say, that mushrooms are so resilient. I would truly be the Gloom King, were it not for those mushrooms.
As I have said, I have a whole patch of them—too many to count. I cut them up and put them in my soup. I eat them raw.
. . . Hm.
This old man is losing his damn mind. Where was I?
Snow forever and ever. Snow at the end of the world.
And it is the end of the world, is it not?
Mushrooms. I have my mushrooms.
• • •
I awake at night to screams that exist only in my head. I clutch at pillows in substitute of another human being, for I sleep alone . . .
Alone, alone. I am terribly alone.
• • •
You must excuse the brevity of the words I have thus written. I am sadder than I thought. I have only just realized this.
Yes, and long have I paced these halls in this catacomb of eternal winter; and long have I mourned the absences of warmth which were once kept so tenderly inside. Now all turns to ash. I crave the fruit of my younger years, and yet I am met with the icy nothingness of this rotten world—and am mocked and teased by the demons which tug at the ragged strands of me.
I shall never be happy, no, so long as I am kept in exile, so long as I am kept apart. And in my grief I have traversed the lands of my birth, and have sought the answers which I assumed them to hold. I have discovered nothing.
• • •
I am alone. I am a wretch and a fiend. I am protoplasm.
I shall turn this dagger toward its master; I shall say good-bye.
• • •
These are my final days—the last days of the Gloom King. I have held out for so long. I have waited in agony for you to call upon me. How I long to hear my own name.
In my dreams, you are there: “Theo, Theo, running hither and tither; come to me now.”
Darling, you must know I am badly wounded. I bleed and ache. I have drunk myself stupid over this.
There you are, across this loathsome land. Here I am, weeping before your altar. My kingdom crumbles; my rule is weakened. I am absorbed into darkness.
• • •
This morning I spoke to Hector in the great hall of the west wing. Our voices echoed against the wooden walls. The servants, I am sure, are now aware of my eternal sorrow. They know their master is cracking.
“Hector,” I said, placing an old hand on his shoulder, “do you—do you miss your mother? And your sister?”
“Father, of course. I miss them every day. I miss them now.”
“O, Zara. O, Adelaide. Alas! How I mourn thee!” I lowered my body to the ground and wrapped my imperial purple cloak about me like a security blanket. Hector placed a porcelain finger on my quivering chin. He raised my head towards his, and scanned my face with his gentle blue eyes.
“I must admit—” he said, now joining me in tears, “I miss my father as well.”
He spun around and disappeared into the gloom of the vast chamber.
Alone, alone. For God’s sake—alone!
• • •
I am too old to care any longer of how I am perceived, and of the words which are uttered about me. So I tell you now that I wept like a child, and, when the comfort of tears was no longer of no use to me, placed my thumb in my own mouth.
Gloom King, indeed!
• • •
Love me; leave me. Tell me you do not need me.
(I need you.)
• • •
Lately I have been falling asleep on my throne. I blame old age. I blame sadness too.
A servant will wake me—”Master, master!”—and I’ll say, “For God’s sake, what?”
And the servant will go on to say that my brother has arrived, and that he seeks my counsel, or some such madness. What anyone could ever hope to get out of me, I shall never know. Seek my counsel? Hah! He should sooner consult a cantaloupe, if cantaloupes still existed!
My brother, Elias, comes to visit me often. He says he is worried about me. That is what everyone says, these days.
Invariably I ask him about my sister, Elaina. Invariably he tells me she is dying.
Dying is just about the only thing I have in common with my sister.
• • •
He will say, “Brother, brother—how is the medication working?”—and when he says this he places a hand around my shoulders, and narrows his eyes a little, as if to brace himself for the joy he shall feel when I say what it I always say next, which is this: “Oh, it just does not work anymore.”
“I see, I see.”
Elias, I think, would like to wear a bigger crown on his head.
Elias, I think, will someday soon have his wish.
• • •
The doctors give me a little green pill to swallow. They say it will make the nightmares go away. It will turn “no” to “yes” and “yes” to “no”. It will make me feel fit and able to rule.
All it has done is give me terrible headaches, the occasional erection, and has robbed me blind of my creative output.
They once said I was a genius playwright, after all.
So much for that! I can barely assemble a sentence. I can barely think a paragraph ahead.
They say, “old age”. I say, “green pill”.
The worst part is the erections. Having an erection, at my age, is akin to a quadriplegic receiving a pogo stick for Christmas.
The feeling is the same: “Just what in God’s name am I going to do with this?”
• • •
In case you were wondering, and bless you if you were, I have not masturbated in over thirty years.
I have been busy!
• • •
There is something wrong with my brain, you see. No one wants to say it, so I shall say it for everyone: I was born broken.
I am tripolar, which means I have three moods: mildly sad, hopelessly, devastatingly, catastrophically sad—and completely nuts. I swerve in and out of each mood as if they were lanes of traffic. It is a superhighway up here! (And here of course I refer to my brain.)
More often than not I am mildly sad. Mild sadness asks me gently, politely, if I would not mind watching the birds dawdle in my garden or catch dragonflies and keep them in jars or sit by the fire and watch the snow fall.
The next kind of sadness is where I find myself today. It is poisonous; it is sinful.
• • •
I shall haunt these halls, and curse this blackened sky, and weep in secret rooms where no light has shone in decades . . .
I have not seen the stone towers of my winter palace in nearly three years. I have not seen my wife and daughter in nearly three years.
I have not rested without the torment of nightmares in nearly three years.
Alack! Call me Woe; call me Fiend. Call me anything but King fucking Theo.
• • •
My children are having me see a psychiatrist. They say it will be good for me.
Eighty years old—and I am talking to a psychiatrist. I feel like a damn fool.
This is what I usually say to her: “Let me die already!”
“Now, now,” says she, “we mustn’t say thing likes that.”
She is a fine doctor, though. Bless her heart, she truly does try. I may be in love with her.
Often I complain about the very people who have sent me to her. I tell her most of my children do not love me. I tell her I am not sure if anyone loves me.
“And Hector?” she says. I speak of Hector often.
“Hector, Hector.” I let the name roll over the tired slopes of my mind. “Oh, how I love Hector.”
“And does Hector love you?”
“I am not so sure of anything, these days.”
“If you had to guess.”
“I think so.”
“So, is that a ‘yes’?”
“That is an ‘I think so’.”
“Please,” I say, “just ‘Theo’.”
• • •
I have taken to roaming the palace wrapped in blankets. Let them call me a loon. It is cold in here.
Yes, and I wear long thick socks doubled over at the shin. I glide around the marble floors like a mischievous child, yelling “Fuck!” and “Shit!” and “Testicles!” I strum at my guitar, the old thing, and sing songs no one could ever want to hear. It is the only way to stay sane.
This guitar shall be my salvation. It will take me home to Heaven. I can hardly wait.
• • •
If one more person tells me to stop playing this guitar, I will hit them with it.
• • •
Do you know what my sister-in-law, the Duchess of the Hinterlands, said to me yesterday? She said, “That instrument is far too loud. You are acting strange, Theo.”
And when she said “instrument”, she meant “device of evil”.
“Really,” said my brother, Elias, the Duke, “you need to calm down. What is the expression? Fake it till ya make it?”
I did not say it then—I was running a fever and was focused on putting new strings on my guitar—so I will say it here: “Am I acting strange? I sure as hell am. I was born strange. Strange is what I am.”
“Let us get weird,” is what I should have said, thinking about it now.
And to my dear brother I say this: “I shall forgo ‘faking it’, as you have suggested, and will instead ‘be miserable forever’.”
• • •
If one more person tells me to fake it until I make it, I will scream. Balderdash.
Utter fucking nonsense.
• • •
I am frozen. I cannot move. I may not move ever again.
Who on Earth could ever want an immature, manic-depressive king to rule them? Who could ever put up with such an insufferable loser?
See, and I am weak to criticism. I cannot bear it. Occasionally I will say to Lambert or Leon or Lars or Ludwig—or Otto or Theodore or Hector: “Will you please, please spend some time with me?”
And one of them will say, invariably, that I am “too much to handle”—too moody, perhaps. Too mercurial.
They throw up their hands and sigh when they say this.
I am beginning to think that the people who do love me only love me because of what I used to be, rather than what I currently am and will mostly likely be until my death. And when is that? Soon, I hope—soon.
• • •
Just the other day, one of my advisors, Malcom, asked me what I would do if food were ever scarce again. “What would you do,” he said, “if you had to fight to survive?”
I am rather fond of Malcom, so I humored him. I said I would not fight to survive. I said I would blow my brains out before I ever fought another human being for food.
“I can sense,” he said, “that the end is near. I can taste it.”
This is, of course, a screamingly funny thing to say after the world has already ended.
• • •
Why would I kill myself? Because I am inches away from killing myself now. And I have everything a man—or a king, even—could ever want. I eat the finest vegetarian cuisine in the land, and have a large and sometimes tolerable family—and horses and dogs and cats and lions and tigers and zebras and so on. (I even have a panda. I have named him Paul. They say he may be the last panda on Earth.)
Yes, and I have a mistress whom I do not sleep with, and a gun collection I despise. I haunt the wastes on horseback in fearsome black armor embossed in spiraling imperial purple. I play tennis and eat strawberries dipped in chocolate. My pajamas smell of lavender and lemon grass. I bathe three times a day in my own personal hot spring.
I pluck tulips from my garden.
My garden, of course, is one of a kind. Flowers and fruits and vegetables and ivy and moss and so on spring up from the ground, even in the dead of winter.
I have a team of scientists who can figure out how to perform such miracles when God is not willing.
Yet I would, at the drop of a hat, place a pistol in my mouth and give it all away if I meant leaving this behind.
That gun collection, I wager, would come in handy for something—for I would sooner turn a gun on myself than aim it at another human being.
And who would rule in my place? Hector, that is who.
Not that I give a damn what happens to my kingdom after I am gone.
Is that selfish?
• • •
Our thoughts live inside fleshy containers full of bubbling chemicals. And those containers get old and older still. Mine is, anyway.
And then it is hard to care. But it is easy to hurt.
• • •
Were I a younger man, I might say that self-preservation is important. I might say to Malcom, “Sure, I would stick around. I would kill or be killed. I would play that game.”
But how young are we talking? Sixteen? For as long as I can remember I have been a pacifist-coward. I do not know that I have ever been a fighter.
Which is why it was hard to convince me to go to war with the Western province, even if it was a war we did not start. Whenever my Secretary of War comes to my bedroom to tell me about advances we have made on the front, or the casualties we have suffered, or whatever, he usually finds me hiding under the bed praying in a fetal position. “Your Highness,” he says, “I have some urged matters to discuss with you . . .”
“What?!” I say. “What, God damn it?!”
“Uh. The, uh, casualty reports are in. I just wanted to—”
“Write a note and leave it on the dresser!” And then I shake a little, and cry maybe.
I seldom read the notes. I am terrified of fighting and hearing about fighting.
And see, my father was a great warrior. He led the armies of the Hinterlands into battle against the Northern savages and created the vast empire which I am slowly destroying . . .
I do not have any sort of witty remark to apply to this statement. I really am destroying everything.
Wait, here you go: So much for that!
• • •
Are my requests for happiness unreasonable? I do not think so. Is is so much, I ask, for a man to want to be reasonably comfortable and not feel pain? Is it so much, I ask again, to want peace? And here I mean inner-peace, though it would be all well and good if the war stopped as well.
I say, “No.” I say, “That sounds perfectly reasonable, Theo.”
I am sick to death of pain. I am sick to death of wondering where my life will end up. I can only envision the grave.
No more happiness for King Theo. No more fun.
• • •
I miss my wife and my daughter. I even miss the winter palace.
“Winter palace” is a bit of a joke, if you have not figured that out, for it is always winter here.
Still, it was a nice place. I prefer it to the summer palace, which is in the south, and vastly prefer it over the moon palace, which, yes, has a pleasing view of Earth—but the three-day journey is far too much for my eighty-year-old fleshy container full of chemicals.
See, and I liked that place, once upon a time. Terraforming the moon was one of my most popular decrees. It was also the most expensive.
On clear nights, one can see vividly the oceans and jungles and forests of the moon. One can always see the lights of the cities. The moon palace is somewhere in that mass of green and blue. It is where my brother and his wife and children stay most of the year.
They do not much care for winter.
Oh, but, my wife and daughter.
They live north of here—in New Montreal.
I am staying away. I am staying put. The last thing Zara said to me was this: “Theo, you stay in that God damn castle and you think about what you have done.”
She took Adelaide, because Adelaide is smarter than me, and because Adelaide knows her father is a bit of a scoundrel and a fiend.
I said, “OK.” I was sick with guilt that day.
Have I told you what I did to her?
I have not? I ought not.
It involves wolves, if you can believe it.
• • •
Happy to be of use.
• • •
I miss my family.
• • •
I am creating a machine. Or rather, I am having my scientists create a machine. And this is genius, see, because this machine will revolutionize the way people live.
It will make people happy again. Maybe it will even work on me.
It is called the ‘Incurable Sadness Machine’. I aim to cure incurable sadness.
It harnesses energy from the sun, and creates a sort of invisible infrared blanket over the entirety of my kingdom. It will cheer everyone up by jacking up their serotonin levels. People will be bubbling over with endorphins.
Now, I am no scientist. I will be the first to admit that. Even with my four doctorate degrees (and seventy-four honorary doctorates), I have not taken a single science class since intermediary school. So I am not so sure how this thing works. I have been told it does work, though.
I had it tested on real, live human subjects, because I long ago outlawed animal testing in all the kingdom.
These people who have experienced the Incurable Sadness Machine—they were volunteers. I am no tyrant.
Apparently they are pretty happy!
• • •
Long ago, people who were doomed to be depressed their whole lives had very few options. They could do one of the following: 1) be sad forever, 2) kill themselves, 3) go nuts or 4) sit in front of a rectangular piece of plastic which omitted a soothing florescent glow.
I myself was all prepared for options one through three until a group of state scientists, fearing for my health, approached the throne one snowy afternoon and proclaimed that they would need funding for a machine which could cure sadness. I did not know such things could be made.
So I bolted upright, is what I did! I tore the lavender blanket from my body and screamed like a child.
“For God’s sake,” I said, “make the God damn thing already!”
See, and I am paying for half the cost of machine out of my own deep treasury. What am I going to do with all that stupid money? Cure the world, that is what.
Or, at the very least, cure the ailing citizens of this fine kingdom.
And then the world, most likely.
We shall see!
• • •
We have a patent and everything. It is going to be such a spectacular thing, when all is said and done. Imagine sitting in your living room, happy as a pineapple—oblivious to the ghostly waves penetrating your brain and leaving you at ease.
And listen: this thing is not going to make people grin like dopes, or anything. I have told the scientists that the machine shall only give people the ability to feel “just OK”.
For those unaware, feeling “just OK” for a hopelessly manic-depressive jerk like me is just about the greatest thing that can ever happen.
In this sense, the Incurable Sadness Machine is merely a platform—a stepping stone, really—to feeling like everything is not a complete and utter waste of time, and that life is worth living, maybe, and that suicide is perhaps not the best way to end a five-year plan.
As I have said, I often ruminate on the subject of suicide. I am hovering dangerously close to the big red button which reads “Press To Die”.
The Incurable Sadness Machine cannot come soon enough, I say.
• • •
Do you know what I would do with myself if this machine ends up working?
I would love my family dearly. I would turn myself around. I would stop being such a shit. I would send a telegram to my dear wife and daughter, far across this dead land, and I would say:
“Dearest Zara, and Dearest Adelaide, how I adore thee. Forgive your husband. Forgive your father. He has awoken from his gloom.”
And for the first time in thirty-five years, I would not sign the letter “The Gloom King”, as I am accustomed to doing, for I am one who enjoys a good joke. I would be sincere. I would sign it thus:
“Love eternal, evermore,
• • •
Which is not to say that I would not write such a letter now. I simply need this confidence, this boost of “OK-ness”. Were I a happier man, I would put pen to paper and pack a real punch. Oh! the poetry that would flow from my ink. How happy I would be, writing “I love you” and “I need you” and “Come home to meeeeeee.”
I’m getting excited just thinking about it.
And I would write them each a song, and strum it on my guitar.
Oh, happy day!
• • •
This morning I heard a pecking at my bedroom window. I sleep in the western tower, high up in the sky—and so noise of any kind is unusual. All I ever hear is the wind.
It was Aeolus, my little sparrow friend. I opened my window to let him in, and he hopped in on one foot and did a little bow.
“No, Aeolus,” I said, “I shall bow to you.” And of course I bowed back.
He told me something. He said he was King of Sparrows, lord of all birds. I chuckled a little at first. But Aeolus reminded me that I too am an unlikely ruler. He said that is why we are such good friends.
“Well, I cannot argue there,” I said, after he had pointed to my robe of purple blankets. I looked like a real loon.
He said, “Cheer up, Theo.” He said, “Be merry.”
Yes, and he told me happiness was the gift of a thousand mornings. He told me happiness was tea and jam and bread.
He teased me. He called me “Gloom King” as he pranced about.
And then he said something which stopped my blood cold. He had been to the winter palace, he said, and had spoken with the sparrows there—sparrows who have heard the whispers of my wife and daughter. I tensed up and had a seat on the bed.
“Yes?” I said. “What have you heard?”
“Chirp chirp, chirp chirp chirp,” he said. He did a little bow, and flew away.
I sat with my thoughts for a long while. I wept.
“Theo,” he had said, “you are loved, and not forgotten.”
—The Gloom King