SERPENT the MILLIONS 097-098

The SerpentThe Millions

The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:

Demeter Thorpe spat as he left The Council of Skol. His stomach rumbled. He had already eaten his dinner, two pounds of rare steak with a tall glass of goat milk, but he was ravenous all of a sudden. Anger more than anything controlled his appetite.

He knew ahead of time that they would reject his proposal. Old men didn’t like to listen to reason, especially when it collapsed their foundation of knowledge. Knowing he knew better wasn’t enough. If only it was just his conditions that restricted others from giving him credibility. He was short, four and a half feet tall, fat, 230 pounds, and afflicted with a skin disorder called the gloss that made his skin so pale it was almost translucent.

“Fools upon fools,” he said aloud. So rarely in company of willing listeners, Demeter made habit of speaking to Mamoth. “Mercy, mercy. If I don’t drown in stupidity, Your name be blessed.”

Demeter put on his black wolf skin coat, his black sun hat and his protective indigo tinted shades before leaving the Temple of Skol. He walked down the white marble steps under the stars to the white brick road. His boots clicked against them and though he was used to it, his mind still went to the millions of dead below him. Mothopolis was built with the dead. Their bones were ground and mixed in to the concrete and bricks, ensuring their souls would belong to the cause of The God of Bones forever.

He was staying at the Luture Manor. It was the only friendly connection Demeter had in Mothopolis and each time he came he took board with his once mentor, Elder Finnis Luture. They met when Finnis was just newly crowned a Master of Bones and Demeter was still a child. He taught Demeter the histories and introduced him to the only love he had ever known besides The God of Bones: numbers.

Though he had stayed there with each visit back to Mothopolis, Luture Manor looked as if it had grown each time. There were always six stories, but Demeter counted each time anyway, swearing a seventh had popped up below the indigo roof and reptilian skeletal gargoyles. The gate was locked, due to the hour, but he reached between the bars to unlock it as he always did anyway. The yard seemed longer, but there was no sign of work done to extend the grounds.

When he was finally waddling up the steps, his knee giving him trouble again as well his mouth salivating just thinking of the decanter waiting for him, the front doors opened.

“Saleyah,” said Demeter. “Too kind of you. You weren’t waiting on me were you? It makes me ill just to think of such beauty waiting at the window.”

The girl’s scarred face twisted in to what Demeter had come to hope was a smile, but her disfigurement veiled the girl’s emotion from him and it could have just as well been a grimace.

“I apologize for the hour of my arrival. The Council keeps late hours no doubt. Have you dressed Finnis for bed yet? I was hoping to meet with him before I retire.”

“He -aits hor -ou,” she said. “Hood?”

“No, no, darling, I’ve more than had my fill for the day. I only hope to touch him in sickness as he did me in youth.”

Saleyah took his coat and hat, then bowed and disappeared.

“Beautiful,” said Demeter to Mamoth once Saleyah was out of ear shot and then began the long trip up the steps. He could have taken the lift, but the attendant was no doubt off duty and he had no desire to see anyone else tonight.

By the time Demeter had climbed the stairs and made his way to the back end of the manor to Luture’s door, Saleyah was already opening it from the inside.

“Sweeter every time I see you,” said Demeter. “If you wouldn’t mind, I know I said…” but he trailed off as Saleyah pointed to the table where a thick cut of meat steamed beside a decanter full of the good red. “You are too good to me, dear. One of these days I’m going to sweep you up and take you out of this place. I’ll put a baby in your belly and feed you grapes from the vine. I’ll-”

Hilthy -oy,” said Saleyah letting the door close as she walked away.

Demeter watched her leave. His mouth filled with saliva. “Exquisite.”

Slave mutilation was one of the privileges of becoming a Master of Bones. Each line had their own way of marking their slaves. The Rotsam’s shaved their slave’s heads and removed their ears. The Rexler’s split their slave’s top lip to the nose and bottom lip to the chin. The Modune’s removed their index and ring fingers and the Luture’s burned their slave’s faces. In the case of Saleyah, the fire had taken most of her lips causing her speech impediment.

Demeter locked the door after downing half of the decanter. The warm red filled him deeply and while he no longer felt hunger, he bit in to the perfectly rare steak and chewed with his eyes closed. This life was good, but not his. “One day,” he said to Mamoth. “Sixth of SIX willing.”

He pulled the chair next to Finnis in closer, but before sitting down went back for another bite of the chewy steak, moaning as the juices filled his mouth with each chew. He brought the decanter back to the seat with him and chugged down the hunk of meat, loving the near choking sensation.

“How was it?” asked Demeter for Elder Finnis. “Well, I made it up all the stairs at least. Beat you there now didn’t I?” He took a long pull from the decanter leaving it only a third left.

Elder Finnis Luture could no longer speak. His eyes were open, but he was no longer capable of moving his head to see Demeter.

“Only teasing there. Don’t take offense. You know, if it were up to me I’d have had them wheel you up those steps. A silly rule, no doubt. I’m sure if Mamoth had made it passed his twenties he would have been wheeled up to his seat. One little trip, a misstep even if you did take a knee, not enough if you ask me to earn retirement.”

Demeter took another drink, leaving only a fourth left.

“You’re right. Don’t blame the council. Rules are rules. You live by them, you die by them, you live to die by them, you die to live by them and it’s the only way it should be. You know, all they had to do was listen. No one in Mothopolis listens. It’s a city full of talkers only silent when they eat, drink or think of what next to say.”

Demeter drank again. He swallowed, stared through his indigo shades and then removed them.

Pointing with them, he said, “Someone like you doesn’t get to see it like I have. You sit too high, too comfortable. Here.”

Demeter stepped off the seat and then hopped beside Elder Finnis Luture. The bed tipped with his weight and so Demeter leaned over his carpeted legs.

“Try this,” he said and placed the glasses over the open immobile eyes of Finnis. “There you go. Much better. You see, it makes perfect sense.”

Demeter finished the decanter and tossed it over his shoulder. It clinked against the wood floor, but didn’t break. He pulled the covers back and reached below the old man’s undergarments. He found his penis, withered and thin, and gripped it tightly.

“The Great Lie was a lie. Before The Great Lie, 145326, Sarora, Jokkol and Nithya conspired to make war upon the next reincarnation, employing the Demonks to infiltrate Marrow City and kidnap The High SIX as babes so as to skip the reign of Mamoth as first born, 614532. As the story goes, the Demonks were successful and made it to The Falling Tunnel of Center City, but instead of three girls and three boys there were two girls and four boys. Jokkol had switched sexes. The Demonks consulted their God of Eyes who instructed them to throw Jokkol, Xzicxy and Mamoth into The Falling Tunnel, saving Ethaum instead because the male incarnation of Jokkol was undoubtedly evil. Since that incarnation of The High SIX, the First, Second and Fifth God have locked in the higher birth order for six generations. So The Great Lie was to Jokkol as the histories teach. After the six generations, once Ethaum dies ending our current incarnation of 215463, Mamoth is supposed to return as first in birth order, giving Him a new start as first born, returning to 614532.”

Demeter looked around for his drink, remembered it gone and then pulled viciously at Elder Finnis Luture’s penis, twisting and digging in his nails.

“Lies. All lies. I know the truth because I know the numbers. You see, Sarora had it right. Alliance has to be made, but she couldn’t risk a male ruining her chance to rule. They didn’t throw in three. They threw in four. They got rid of all the males and it’s taken six generations for the cycle to reset. The curse is lifted when Ethaum dies.”

Demeter unclenched his fingers from Finnis when he noticed they were wet. He inspected his hand and wiped away the blood on the quilt. He took his shades back and Elder Luture’s eyes were closed. He hopped off the bed and leaned over with his lips to his once mentor’s ear.

“I’ve seen The Serpent and I know what to do. I thank Mamoth for every moment you spend in pain. May your life be long and intolerable .”

Demeter shoved the rest of the steak into his mouth and left to his quarters, anxious to taste more of Luture’s good deep red.

CALM the MADNESS 095-096

The CalmThe Madness

The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:

Beneath The Desert of Nails, the young girl shivered. She was not used to the chilled air of the underground and was still dressed nicely for the dinner party she wouldn’t be attending tonight.

“Look at me,” said Mother Devusi. She raised the young girl’s eyes with her chin and forefinger. “No matter what happens, I am your mother now. There are trials in life. You have had many and this will be just one more. I will be right here waiting for you. Trust in Nithya. She has chosen me to choose you. You are special and The God of Hands has recognized that and sought you out.”

The girl knew it was obvious she was crying, but Mother Devusi showed no care.

“You are finally home, child. Now come and wash,” she said. “Your face and hands must be clean before I present you.”

The young girl used her knuckles to rid her eyes of tears and sniffled back her drippy nose. She noticed then that the room they were in was wall to wall and floor to ceiling stone. Etched into the surface was letters she couldn’t connect into words.

Mother Devusi brought her before a raised pool of water the girl mistook for a bird bath. Hundreds of hands were masterly cut from the same piece of stone as the rest of the room and looked as if they all gripped the wine glass shaped structure. Beyond it was a stone throne which too was composed of hands carved from the same rock the room was. It was empty, but still commanded her attention anyway. Her eyes didn’t leave until Mother Devusi spoke again.

“Wash and then kneel before Nithya’s throne. I will leave you to Her.” Mother Devusi reached in to the pool of water. It was opaque, but the reflecting candle light made the surface look like it was covered in a swirling rainbow. She opened up her sleeve and the girl couldn’t understand her new mother’s next quietly spoken words. A reptilian head rose from the liquid and crawled in to her sleeve swiftly, but the girl saw enough to notice its scales were a bright yellow, not reflecting light but shining its own from beneath.

The doors closed behind Mother Devusi and the young girl thought to not touch the liquid. She bit down on her tongue to stop more tears from coming. She was at the Mother’s mercy. If she disobeyed, there was no telling what they would do to her. She had been brought to this place so few had seen and if she refused she doubted they would let her leave. Even if they did and she got back home, come the night she would already be wishing herself to be back here.

‘You don’t have to,’ she heard. ‘Leave and you can go back to everything you once were. Stay and you can be what you never before could.’

The voice sounded like hers, but confident, and so she exhaled, preparing herself to obey.

Her tears were dried and she relaxed her jaw from gritting her teeth down in to her tongue. She ignored the taste of blood and then inhaled deeply before digging her hands in to the swirling rainbow liquid. Her cupped hands splashed the liquid into her face. She did it over and over until she was rubbing it in. She pushed through until she felt the slippery bottom and then rubbed her hands together. She brought them out, satisfied she had done what she was instructed to and ran her wet fingers through her hair. She wiped the wetness from her eyes and walked around the standing basin to kneel before the stone throne.

When her knees touched the ground she tried to close her eyes, but found them frozen. She shook her head, but her eyelids stayed still. The room looked as it had before. She looked down to her hands and they too were the same. She looked up to the throne and inhaled a gasp. There was no throne, but in its place a door. She recognized the pealing black paint and the bronze handle. It was unmistakably the door to her home, even the circle window at the top with the stained glass letter J in the middle.

“No,” she said aloud and rose to grab the handle. It turned and she walked in to the entryway of her home, the same as she’d left it this morning. The maroon carpet was the same, her father’s boots and her mother’s sandals sat as they always did in the corner. At the end of the hall was the portrait she remembered sitting hours for to be painted. Her father’s face stern with pride, her mother’s coarse duty stricken face and her own face, quiet and simple, but ruined and sad.

She heard a yelp and once again was moving before it had registered in her mind to. She turned the corner in to the living room and couldn’t breathe. There she was, wearing the same dress she wore now, but hiked up over the top of her hips, with her uncle, slacks to the floor, ramming his pelvis in to her. She backed away in to the dining room and stopped as she bumped the table. There she was too, her cousin’s hands over her mouth, wearing the same dress hiked up with her limp legs bouncing as he pulled her in to him. She ran through to the kitchen where she was on her knees in front of her neighbor, choking and crying. She turned around again and had to cover her ears as the sounds of herself squealing, weeping, suffering wouldn’t dissipate. They reverberated within her home, bouncing back and forth off the walls, but never escaping.

“Sweety doll!” she heard. “Come here. Come to Daddy.” Her body moved against her will and she was then in front of her father. “You’re filthy,” he said. “How dare you. You don’t deserve these clothes if you’re just going to ruin them.”

His mouth opened wide and his teeth wiggled.

“Take them off,” he said and his teeth fell from his mouth. “Give me your clothes.”

The teeth clinked against the floor, bouncing but never settling, the sound repeating over and over. She looked back up to him and more teeth grew in their place.

“How dare you disrespect me,” he grumbled, but before he could finish, his new teeth were falling and clashing to the ground with the others.

“Fuck her,” growled her uncle from the living room.

“Fuck her,” grunted her cousin from the dining room.

She was dead on the couch and she was dead on the table and their teeth were falling too, hopping across the floor and never stopping.

“I’m going to have to. You need to learn your lesson.”

The teeth were all over, covering her sandals, chattering against her skin and then their mouths were raining teeth. They rose to her ankles and then calves and she couldn’t move to back away.

“Show me yourself,” her father said as his tongue hung passed his chin, teeth sliding down with dripping saliva.

The teeth climbed to her knees and then thighs and the noise hurt more so she covered her ears. The teeth reached her waist and she could feel them consuming her, making her disappear.

Her father said something, but his tongue hung to his chest and the fluttering teeth made it unintelligible. He ripped her dress, his fingernails tearing skin away in stripes, and her hardly budded breasts were frozen exposed.

Then the sound was gone. The teeth still rose passed her tailbone and up to the bottom of her rib cage, but she could hear nothing. She lowered her hands in front of her and in her palms were her ears. She looked up to her father who no longer looked human, only a slobbering and flailing man, his skin sagging, almost melting.

“No,” she said. She was gone from the couch where her uncle’s head was all that was visible above the teeth. She was gone from the table where her cousin stared at her in bewilderment. Her father screamed, but it didn’t matter. She might as well have been watching him with a telescope blocks away.

Her father raised his fist, her uncle climbed over the teeth toward her and her cousin swam atop the teeth to her.

“Nithya,” she said and as soon as she did she felt the heat in her hands. The teeth receded from her and she raised her hands in front of her. They glowed so bright, but she was done with surprise and so clapped them in front of her. The teeth crumbled away into dust as her father exploded and disappeared under the teeth. She outstretched her arms and squeezed her fists, not even watching as her uncle and cousin showed their ugly innards. She remembered her neighbor and it was all that was needed as she could feel his life extinguishing behind her.

The teeth retreated, leaving a path to the door. She took off her dress and opened the door to neon yellow light. She fell in and welcomed unconsciousness like never before.

Her nightmares were gone and so instead she dreamt.

WHITEOUT the MOUNTAIN 093-094

The WhiteoutThe Mountain

The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:

The mute felt no emotion and only bowed to his Elder as he accepted his duty and took the day’s worth of provisions in a pack. No words were exchanged between him and his fellow Demonks because no one in The Vessel Monastery had a tongue to speak with.

They wrapped him with skins all over, covering his face until his eyes were of no more use and so he closed them and began the prayer within his head to The First God.

‘Keep me in Your sight,’ he demanded internally. ‘Hold me within Your focus and do not let me stray from the favor of Your gaze.’

Despite his layers, he felt the rush of dead air envelop him and heard the thick doors of the monastery shut behind him. He began his walk, ridding himself of memories. They would not last him for more than a hundred steps. Only Mountain was always changing and at this altitude, the highest known point in The Land of SIX, memory would surely lead to a frozen death. Instead, he repeated the prayer, ‘Keep me in Your sight,’ and took each step in faith as he waited for The God of Eyes to show him what he needed to see.

There was much to fear on Only Mountain for those that were still capable of that emotion. Giant arctic eagles, called sampry, with a wingspan over six times the height of a man, nested here. They dug holes with their beaks into the hard rock above where the clouds would reach and uprooted whole trees to make their nests. They chewed their prey into a pulp before letting the remains dribble out and into the mouths of their young.

Often, this prey was people.

Hopefuls who wished to show themselves faithful to The God of Eyes would set out annually from the village towns at the base of Only Mountain for The Joyous Morn. As the sun rose, willing men and women, and often unwilling teens, were sent up the mountain all together in hopes that The First God would find them in her favor.

Their numbers were usually in the hundreds upon departure and only about half on average made it to The Tear Drop. From there, only a fraction continued on and then only a fraction of that fraction made it through the whiteout. The storm of snow was always running above and it was only from above the clouds and their constant flurries that the tip of Only Mountain could be seen.

Within the whiteout and around The Tear Drop, the travelers weren’t safe from the sampry, but above the clouds, death was considered certain. Unless The God of Eyes intervened.

The mute continued over the rocks without sight. The ground was becoming steeper as he went and he kept his pace as even as he could so as not to fall in to a run down the mountain. At any moment the ground could give out below him and he could find himself falling to his death, but he felt this wouldn’t happen. His god had yet to show him anything, but he thought the prayer again and again to push any thoughts from his mind.

When he was hardly a man, his father had pushed him out of his home, not caring whether he trekked up Only or made his way south into the Orange Lands or even if he stayed in The Lashes and begged for food. His father never liked him, but to be fair he never liked his father. His mother was shrewd and lost interest in him once he was taller than her.

He set off on The Joyous Morn with the rest of them. He saw a woman break her leg falling in between uneven rocks and disregarded her like the rest of them. He saw a cougar eat a man alive, even heard his bones crunching. He saw a boy slip off the edge and disappear between the evergreens below. By the time he reached The Tear Drop, he didn’t recognize anyone.

They were served tall glasses that steamed with warmth. He was hungry and thirsty and would have drunk the entire glass if he hadn’t closed his eyes to pray first.

‘Keep me in Your sight, my God,’ he thought. ‘Show me Your path so that I might follow You.’

Before he could open his eyes, he felt his skin rush with warmth and his stomach shrink out of discomfort. His eyes remained squeezed shut as the world formed around him. From above, he saw himself with his head bent over the steam of his drink. All around him, the others moved in a flurry of speed. They downed their drinks and filled their cups again and again with pitchers. They laughed maniacally, slapping each other, hugging each other, and eventually they were on top of the tables, dancing and shedding their clothes. All around him, they became naked and he watched as his body was still and all of the others thrashed their way in and out of each other, rolling on the ground, bent over tables and clumped together in piles with their mouths sucking each other.

They passed out one by one, laying atop each other and snoring away their drunkenness. It wasn’t until they were all immobile, though it lasted only seconds, that his mind shot back in to his body. He ran in to the cold rushing air, stepping over their bodies to get there.

He ran through the night, through the whiteout and up past the top of the clouds in frenzy. He didn’t know about the sampry then. He didn’t see one then and learned of their existence only after his exhausted and near dead body crawled to the doors of The Vessel Monastery.

Still no sight from his god, but he prayed none the less until he could mistake the beating of wings above him for wind no longer.

‘Do what You would,’ he thought, maintaining pace. ‘Nothing happens outside Your will.’

Just as before, his mind shot from himself and from above he saw his body walking just steps away from a drop off with a mile of empty air above where the whiteout began.

The undeniable screech of a sampry slit the air.

‘Your will alone,’ he thought as he lunged himself off the cliff.  Against the wind, the mute soared and saw his skins shedding, flying up, away from him. The wind fought gravity as his body pushed and pulled simultaneously. He shot back in to his blinded self and as he entered the whiteout, his fingers touched feathers.

CURSE the FOG 091-092

The CurseThe Fog

The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:

The boy didn’t really feel the realness of his lover’s death until she sank below the coagula and they took her under Still Lake, bobbing back to the surface once she’d passed, rocking to and fro until they gained equilibrium and matched their fellow organism’s fitting mass. A tear ran into his eye and blinded him on the right until he wiped it away realizing it was sweat from his brow. The sky was grey, two afternoon, and the opaque clouds above cast their spell of translucent fog in front of the funeral audience. The audience watched through the haze as Marciia Bent, the former Sixth Wife of Dr. Skarpo Bent, sunk beneath the coagula. No one cried, not even Skarpo and not the Bent children, staring at her young 14 year old body as if she were just one of them, like them, never coming back.

The boy knew Marciia before she was a Bent. Before she’d reached maturity they had played in that same lake. The Still Lake was a playground on the coast for brave children. While there were beach houses around its coast, the rich inhabited them but never used the coagula infested waters.

Coagula floated on top of The Still Lake, covering the whole thing, but smaller and more compact where the water met the shore. Marciia and the boy met on that coast as children, first throwing rocks that bounced and flew out of view off the coagula, but eventually stepping out on to them.

The talk was that if you fell under you could never come back up. Once the coagula engulfed you, you were theirs and there was no survival post-immersion. For months they tested this with steps onto their rocking surface. They never went far out at first. Each trip was a dare to the other, the boy taking further steps out and then Marciia matching him so he’d have to up the standard, two steps further out than before each time.

But Marciia was dead and when the canoe paddled back to the coast through Still Lake’s coagula covered surface the boy grit his teeth hard until they hurt and then bit harder.

Dr. Skarpo Bent stepped off the ceremonial canoe onto the rocky beach and helped Elder Best of The God of Ears onto the uneven earth. Everyone was tired in the eyes and no one wanted the ceremony, but for keeping up with duty after the death of Ethaum. The boy was glad the 22 days of mourning were passed, but for his childhood love, his best friend for years, to die on the 23rd and be buried now on the 24th at the age of 14, older than the boy had yet to turn even, it infuriated his senses and he knew deep down inside she was unrightfully dead.

The boy hated Dr. Skarpo Bent from the moment he first saw him. The man was too confident, holding his chin above everyone’s gaze though his height made it completely unnecessary, even awkward, for those of shorter build. He was tall and skinny and wore always a long stained overcoat that barely missed the ground, exposing his thin ankles just like the sleeves which left his long vein raised hands exposed higher than the wrist.

Skarpo walked with his neck loose and his hands hidden within each other’s sleeves. Elder Best began the traditional recitation, but Skarpo kept walking. His face hung to the ground and none in attendance made move to address him. Elder Best continued as if Skarpo were not of issue, but there was no food served after and everyone in attendance made their way home.

The boy watched them leave. He sat on the pebble covered beach until the canoe was carried off, loaded onto the traditional cart followers of The Second God used in these ceremonies.

The boy spat just thinking about it. He took minutes to fume until the clouds had darkened the evening sky and the fog was closer, all around him.

“Curse The God of Ears,” said the boy. It was under his breath at first, but he felt strength in isolation, strength in the fog that promised him privacy. “Curse you Ethaum. Curse The Second God. Curse The Blue God. Curses to all that align themselves to You. I renounce you!” yelled the boy and when he did he was taken back with the shock of his own excitement.

Since birth he was taught to praise The God of Ears. He was born under the “great” reign of Ethaum, the embodiment of the most powerful God of The HIGH Six of his generation. Ethaum was good, he was told, and if you wanted to be good too you would do as Ethaum would.

But the boy never found faith in Ethaum. There was something inside him that combated the God even though he’d seen him in person. The God was more of an old handicapped man who did nothing but lay in his cart as The Church of the Eternal Drum paraded him through the streets of Sattofer City. When he died, it was all over the streets printed in bold: OUR GOD DEAD. The newspapers sold well, but no one kept them and by afternoon the streets were full of discarded headlines.

The next day, the mourning began. Twenty two days with boarded stores, grieving masses and streets filled with slumming sorrow.

Skarpo had this planned, thought the boy. Marciia was his fifth? No, sixth wife. He knew he could get away with another death so close to Ethaum’s demise. He killed her just like the other’s and now I’m going to kill him, thought the boy.

Dr. Skarpo Bent did not kill them like the others. It was true that Marciia was his sixth wife and that she had died from a seeming suicide, wash basin filled to the brim with her sunk under and thighs slit with a straight razor on each side over and over until she found the right artery to end it, turning the water she passed in to a deep and nearly opaque red.

The boy didn’t believe it for a second and so he stood from the stony beach and walked to where the rocks met the cement and made all the right turns to arrive at the infamous stoop of Dr. Skarpo Bent.

Above the door, attached to the frame was a sign that read: BENT- Adjustive Surgical Extraordinaire. He turned the door handle, but it remained firm as he expected. The boy stepped back to check the windows, but there was no candle light from within and the clouds were just losing their claim to the shed of darkness as the sun slid below the horizon.

He knocked hard with an authority that he only imagined he had. Surprisingly, the door opened right away. It was a face he feared, the face he didn’t want to see, but had came there to anyway.

There was a pause where the boy swallowed and Skarpo glared at him, towering over the boy from behind the open door frame.

“Yes?” asked Skarpo.

“You klled her,” said the boy.

“So?” asked Skarpo.

The boy had no answer.

The door slammed and the boy stayed there until there was no more light. Just dim stars.