VERMyN

VERMIN is a sequel to my first novel MAMOTH. It contains six storylines. This is one of them. Be warned. VERMyN will fuck you…

vermiyn

supper1

ONE: Supper

A chef in a tall white hat, the top poofy like a mushroom, bent over to cut through brown freckled skin, accessing the red meat beneath. He delicately sliced into thigh muscle with his knives, almost the size of swords, and pinched a slice of drippy red meat out from between the open skin flaps. It hung and then flopped onto the flatbed grill into a sizzling puddle of olive oil. He sprinkled spice shakers over the bubbling red filet and added chopped vegetables before returning into the sedated man with his knives like tweezers.

The game was already missing his other leg. The stub was blackened with scabs just under his ass and after this dinner he would be out both. That left maybe two more meals, depending on the party size and amount of servings, before they would get to his vitals.

Whatever his name was, he’s meat now, thought the Chef. Poor unlucky bastard.

The people he served were of elite status. Refined Culinary Cannibalism was an art, though no less illegal, and it was only the top of the top in the Union that could afford all that went along with this type of meal. He prepared their food on a flatbed grill with the prey of the day laid out between them. Surrounded by a white veil that didn’t even allow him to see the silhouettes of those he served, the Chef had only their voices. He never recognized anyone in the past few months he’d been at this job. Usually they kept their words low, but this time there was one distinct from the rest and its presence turned the Chef’s stomach.

Every word that came out of Syd Sylver’s mouth was enunciated perfectly. He was known for his smooth skin, so pale it was almost white, so blemish free it was almost plastic. He was known for his short length bleached hair that stood stiff on end and never moved. The suits he wore were only either white or silver and the color purple always accented them. Though his stride was without error, he used a cane anyway. It was carved of ivory and the head of a silver mammoth sat at the top where his fingers gripped between the tusks.

As the head of MediaNopCity, Syd controlled everything that was broadcast on television. It wasn’t until last week that the name of Syd Sylver was aired disdainfully for the first time. The terrorist group known as the RadiCons had hijacked a TV studio and audience to preach their message of radical conservatism against the immoral ways of MediaNop and its leader. While Syd’s Elite Force detained those guilty within the day, the following underdog victory of captured RadiCon Ebenezer at the live Global Gladiators event had everyone talking.

There were rumors about Syd Sylver that not many people spoke of in public or even out loud. The tusks of his mammoth cane had supposedly killed more people than MediaNopTower could hold at full capacity. Some believed he was truly a Satanist that practiced human sacrifice in his MediaNopTower penthouse suite. Some said he was a racist that wouldn’t put anyone of color on television unless they were competing on ‘Do or Die!’ Most agreed he was a cannibal and this at least the Chef could finally confirm, though he would never risk a foul word about someone with so much power.

Thankful for the veil between him and the monster elite, the Chef made himself focus. When serving someone like Syd Sylver, the difference wasn’t a tip, it was life or death.

“Chef,” said the unmistakable voice from behind the screen. “Where are you from?”

The Chef froze. The rules were not to speak and so he knew better than to answer.

“Your heritage? Culture? Ethnicity?” The voice rose into terse impatience. “Where are you from?”

“He’s not going to talk to you unless we say,” said an older man with a big voice. “Go ahead Benicio.”

“Wow, Benicio is it? What is that? Mexican? Hispanic?”

Chef Benicio Masters flipped the cooking flesh and shook his head. “I was born here. I’m a citizen of the Union.”

“That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking about your blood. I’m asking about your ancestry, about your race.”

“Oh, be nice to our Benicio. We like him. Don’t we like each other Benicio?”

“Yes, sir,” said Benicio. He went back to chopping more vegetables, mixing them with the browning meat and kept his head down, eyes to his work.

“Your skin color is gross and the reason your knives are so long is because we hate to think of you contaminating our food. We don’t like you. You’re a monkey and you belong in the bushes. The only reason you’re here is because we like to see you chopping up your own kind. You’re exactly the same as the caveman you’re cooking.”

Benicio kept his tongue as far back to his throat as he could while his teeth creaked against each other. There was something to the rumors after all.

“Don’t let him get you down, Benicio. He’s a fag anyway.” The other men laughed and another spoke up.

“Yeah, nice suit fag.”

“See what you got them doing? Great. I’m surrounded by human rights activists defending a primate. You gentleman are lovely,” he said with sarcastic disdain. “Real nice, the titans playing respectful in front of a baboon grilling his fellow ape. And you call me a fag? Because I know how to dress myself? Please. Tell me, which one of you boys is saving the cock for dessert?”

The table of men laughed heartily and Benicio finally got the cooked food onto plates. As he passed them under the screen in front of the men, it raised and Benicio was face to face with the richest and most powerful person he had ever seen face to face in real life.

“You know who I am?” asked Syd Sylver and Benicio could only nod, finding it impossible to stare into his terrible eyes. “Good. I want you to remember this because one day, I’m going to have my people find you and take you. They’ll bring you to me and I’m going to eat you.  You will forever be imprisoned with all the others I’ve killed inside my tower and inside my body. I want you to live in fear, everyday, knowing that you can’t escape. I know everything Benicio and you better pray to whatever useless god you have to save you because there’s nothing on earth that is going to stop me from eating you alive.”

Syd sat back down and shooed Benicio with a swat of his hand. “Run along.”

Benicio trotted off under the humiliating haze of laughter.

“Stay thick for me monkey,” Syd yelled after him. “I want to eat you slow.”

The men settled as Syd dug in delicately, pushing aside seared greens for meat. They ate in silence, savoring each bite and eating solemnly until the plates were empty.

“So let’s get down to it,” said Syd Sylver. “I assume you all have a point for bringing me here.”

“The point is that you fucked up,” said J.P. Richard as he leaned back in his chair and placed his hands in his lap. He cocked his head dramatically to the side and the ambient lighting glowed off his yellow eyes. “The only benefit to this RadiCon mess has been ratings. More people everyday are tuning in. Polls show an exceptional increase in our eight to fifteen aged demographic. People are watching, but what they’re getting is not at all what you want them to. You have the most impressionable of all audiences and they’re watching this Ebenezer defeat the odds and become a superstar. Not only that, but disgrace you publicly, on television for the world to see. How do you think you look right now?”

Syd maintained his sly smile through J.P.’s entire rant and took a moment to sigh mockingly before calmly addressing his superior. “First of all, I did not fuck up. I never fuck up. I make plans and they follow through how they do until I am satisfied. Do you think I’m satisfied? Do you think I’m done?” Syd’s head was cocked and he waited with his neck outstretched for a response he knew wouldn’t come.

The four men at the table all raised their eyebrows, uneasy and unimpressed.

“I…” he said leaning forward with his face muscles flexed, opening his eye sockets and exaggerating his cheek bones, “am not…” with another open mouthed pause, “DONE!”

J.P. Richard’s nostrils flared sternly, but he still listened even after the outburst.

“Ebenezer’s win was luck. Out of infinite outcomes, somehow, coincidence prevailed. So what? There is no win for him. He may be alive, but trust me, there is so much more we can do with him now than we could have with his corpse. He is not the problem. He’s broken already. He’s a dog and he’s barked. The real problem is that very demographic you just mentioned. The impressionable.”

“You mean the ones that saw Ebenezer throw a severed head at you? Do you understand what kind of following he already has worldwide? He’s a hero. An underdog. Everyone loves the underdog.”

“Not for long they won’t. Trust me on that. Tomorrow it’ll be solved. The real problem goes deeper. The vermin. These dirty half humans can’t stop making babies. MediaNop’s south side population is growing at an exponential rate because this infection,” he said tossing the fork onto the dark half eaten body before them, “won’t stop birthing out welfare sucking abominations.”

“What you’re talking about can’t be done.”

“What I’m talking about is different. The solution to our problem is education. Graduation numbers are low. Kids just don’t care because they don’t know how to. No one in the city knows how to care. I put gore and death and murder on TV everyday and they love it. It keeps them focused, keeps them careful, makes them constantly consider their own mortality, but the problem is, they all think they’re safe. All the people of my city feel safe because there are no threats you don’t put yourself in. That’s our city’s foundation. The RadiCons weren’t scary. All they did was make themselves into characters, TV stars, by going after TV stars. And so we put them through to Global Gladiators fast and by a strange swing of unluck, Ebenezer ends up killing them all. Everyone loved it.”

“Except for you and except for us. They’re all waiting to see what you’ll do. They want to know how you’ll handle this mess.”

“Not only will I handle it,” said Syd, “I’ll turn it in my favor. I’m going to make everyone love me. I’m going to take away their kids and have them raised by our Elite Force. We’ll have a trained and militarized youth force for any cause I desire. We’ll have the most strictly enforced education system worldwide. We will control and use our children from Kindergarten on.”

The other four men were silent and Syd’s mouth watered though his stomach was already full.

“So the question is, are you on board for my cause?”

The four men turned to exchange looks and J.P. Richard shrugged. “If you can do what you’re saying you can, sure. There is no price too high, but I think you’re full of shit. You look like a desperate man looking for more money to blow-“

“It’s not about blowing your money,” said Syd. “I have more than enough money and so do you. It’s about investing, and if you all aren’t willing to invest in a cause then we’re having the wrong conversation. What I’m proposing has incredible potential for everyone involved. MediaNopCity can be an example for the country. Even the whole world. We’ve already shown how dangerous high school terrorists can be. Now, we get to show how to stop them. Granted it will take false continuation, but after this thing is over, our city will revolutionize the way human beings develop. Eventually, we’ll control what they become. We can create a new class of human being created for purpose. The only question is whether you want a youth army trained for your disposal or not. MediaNopCity is already a symbol of the freedom of opportunity and expression in the Union. Do you guys have any idea how easy it is to imprison people that think they’re free?”

“It’s been done before.”

“But before it didn’t work,” said Syd leaning forward with a violent finger pointed. “Because entertainment wasn’t strong enough. Now, these people are mine…and yours if you want them.”

“What are you getting from this?”

“Same thing as you. Power. Control. More money. What else is there? If you guys partner with me on this, there’s no telling how big we can make my city. For fuck’s sake, when we’re done, it won’t be a city, it’ll be the country, and after that, the world. The timing is perfect. We are the elite, sure, but the fewer of us there are, the more power we get. MediaNopCity will do this for us as long as you let me.”

“People will die,” said J.P. measuring him.

“No,” corrected Syd, “lots of people will die. Lots and lots and lots. It’s the most important part. Fear is invaluable.”

“And you expect us to-“

“Fund,” said Syd leaning back and placing his mammoth cane across his knees. “You have to pay your way in. I’m doing the work and it can benefit all of you as long as you cooperate. We can have more power and riches than you could ever imagine.”

Suddenly, the four men burst into laughter. Syd watched them, their skin flushing before him and their yellow eyes squinting in and bugging out.

“Okay, Syd,” said J.P., “Why not? But just so we’re clear, if you fuck up again, and your plan goes to shit, your city is ours and the first thing I air on all your networks is your execution. Understood?”

“It’s a deal,” said Syd. “Now get something to write with. I want your signatures on this.”

“Not yet,” said J.P. Richard. “You see Syd, our organization operates on this type of level only with its own members. The good news is you’ve already been approved by the council to undergo induction.”

“Who said I want to be a member?”

“Who said you have a choice?”

Syd held his tongue. He had heard about the council’s involvement in religious ceremonies and wanted nothing to do with them. “You know I don’t do that hocus pocus bullshit.”

“All the better. It’ll just be a formality then. Besides, judging on your history and behavior, I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

“I’d be finer if I didn’t. I’m not going to lower myself by acknowledging the superstitions of the under evolved around the world. All religion is good for is controlling lesser people. I am-”

“Spare us. We know what you think. The truth is, we don’t care what you think. Believe what you want, it’s of no consequence to us, but keep in mind: we own you. Your city is already ours. Whatever time we continue to allow you on earth is a gift you should be thankful for. You’ve killed a lot of good people Syd. Be glad you’ve made it this far with your way, but don’t be too stupid to realize your superiors. It’s time you play by the rules. Our rules.”

Syd squinted. He imagined pulling out J.P. and the others’ eyes with a fork to cool his temper. “Fine, but after I do this shit, participate in your stupid little ceremony, we get to work. No more Sunday school. I have an important timeframe to keep.”

“Timeframe?” asked J.P.

Syd grinned. I hate all four of you, he thought. And I’m going to kill every one of you the first chance I get.

“You ever think of turning abortion into a spectator sport?”

vermYnXskull1

TWO: Sacrifice

When the lights turned on inside Syd’s top floor MediaNop Tower penthouse suite, Kongo, his Dog-E-Tard, uncurled from the fetal position and patted his dry food and water bowls to bang against the inside of his locked cage. His back pushed against the top of the metal wires and he whimpered at his new master with his shoulders hunched below his knees. Syd paid no attention as he crossed through his lounge into his bathroom.

Since Kongo was gifted to him the other night at the Global Gladiators special, Syd hadn’t let the Dog-E-Tard out of his cage. It was a silly plan that Patrick Aswell had, to turn mentally retarded people into house pets. The scam was going to work no doubt. He had his show-boats, the ones he advertised. Mr. Sparkles, Waffles and Treasure. These were strictly for the celebrities. The rest came from actually mentally retarded person donations. Families sick of their burden could just drop them off, sign a release and as easy as that, Dog-E-Tards were trained and sent back in to society to families that would actually love and want them.

Until they realize what the parents did when they gave them away, thought Syd. Taking care of mentally retarded people sucks.

Kongo was not mentally retarded though. The few show-boaters Patrick pulled around on leashes were actually feral children, raised by wolves, big cats or in Kongo’s case, apes at the Dog-E-Tards facility on the south side of MediaNopCity. The animals raised them from birth in an enclosed zoo-like atmosphere and once they reached the age of six they were separated and trained. Kongo had proven his ability with amazing flips and tumbles last night. It would come in handy for the future no doubt, but Syd would have to supplement the training once his new home was ready.

Once he got back from his dinner with J.P. Richard and the others of the council, Syd began the arrangements for his new home at the north of the city. It would be another tower, but this time it would look down at his city as a whole instead of being surrounded by it. Most of all, his view of MediaNopTower had to be perfect.

The white marble sparkled immaculately from the glowing ceiling in his bathroom. He undressed slowly, watching himself in the mirror the whole time. He inspected his pale hairless skin over his chest and stomach. His legs and arms were just the same, his whole body toned into his own definition of perfect. He had made extra effort not to become too thick. Too much muscle was just as gross as too little and he smiled after a full run through of himself, finding no imperfection anywhere. Even his penis was perfect. He engaged the hot stream of the shower. Too perfect for anyone alive. It was proportionately exact and he hadn’t found a vagina to match. Every pussy he saw was either too saggy or too weirdly shaped. Too hairy or too smelly. Some too big and others too small.

There is no one on this earth suitable to compliment me, thought Syd. I am perfection itself and cannot be completed.

Syd stepped into the shower and turned the faucet. From the ceiling, water shot down like searing and violent rain. He let it cover him as steam formed around him. His pale skin turned from white to pink. He stepped back out of the shooting lines of water and covered himself in lather. The suds slid over his smooth skin without the drag of body hair.

It was the first thing he did when he started at MediaNop. The electrolysis procedure took eight hours, even with two doctors working, hair by hair, zapping all follicles into a state of neuter.

What others want, I am, he thought. I am above all and there is no elite besides me.

He let minutes go by as the pour of water and wrapping of steam massaged him. He leaned forward with his palms against the wall, watching the water shoot to the floor and run in streams down his body. His mind cleared with each exhale and renewed with each inhale. He renewed himself through his body’s processing of oxygen. Memory snapshots coupled with emotion flashed behind his closed eyes and he exhaled them. Ebenezer hissed out his nostrils and disappeared into nothing. He inhaled. J.P. Richard tumbled between his teeth, becoming invisible and nonexistent. He inhaled. Time fluttered away inside the shield of running liquid until the timer turned off the flow and Syd snapped back into now.

“I’m going to kill tonight,” he said to the puddle gathered around his pristinely manicured toes. “A lot.”

Syd had heard very little about the secret organization within the rulers of LuminatCity. J.P. Richard ruled more than just his city, he ruled the Union to which MediaNop was the entertainment capital of. Though all cities within the Union were free to make and enforce their own laws, Luminat city owned and dispersed the currency for them all, leaving no city truly free of them. Home to not only corporation and banking headquarters, it was also the home of The One True Church of God.

Syd laughed as the compressed air jets blasted him from all angles, shedding him of water. While he ran MediaNop with the illusion of freedom through entertainment, J.P. ran Luminat with the illusion of truth through religion.

Though they taught moral values based on their belief in one God, J.P. was anything but the servant he portrayed himself to be to his people. Whatever ceremony he was about to be a part of, Syd knew it would be directed toward the powers of evil, which was just as big a crock of shit as the power of good as far as he was concerned.

Syd took his personal elevator to the roof of MediaNopTower after dressing. He chose to go without the suit jacket and rolled his gray button up shirt to his sleeves. His tie was royal purple along with his socks and he picked white suspenders to match his albino alligator shoes.

While walking under the spinning rotors of the unmarked black helicopter, he didn’t bend as most would and carried only his mammoth cane which he laid across his lap as the door slid shut beside him on its own. He didn’t buckle in or put on the noise muffling headphones. He didn’t say a word or acknowledge the pilot who turned only once to look at Syd before the blades accelerated and lifted them upward.

Sunday morning, 2:30 a.m., and MediaNopCity was alive as always below them. Syd looked down at his people as he traveled over them.

Nothing like the city, he thought, to prove there is no god. Even if there were, the city proves his uselessness. I am their god and they are my following.

It took twenty three minutes for the helicopter to fly over the northern suburbs and reach their destination. They passed the old cemetery and Syd took mental note, looking back once over the grounds to see the distance from his tower. As he thought, it was perfect.

The homes and corporate shops blended into big blocky housing projects as they exited MediaNop’s north side and entered Luminat city’s south side. Factory warehouses blew smoke from stacks and in the distance a neon green luminescence glowed from the city’s center through the summer night mist. They rose higher above the dissipation of grey clouds and headed straight for J.P. Richard’s Union Complex. Three skyscrapers glowed in the night above the rest in the shape of a triangle. Tubes bridged the three buildings that shined their cutting green light from behind reflective tinted glass. They linked between the three in a spiral, making a triangular triple helix.

The helicopter landed atop the tallest of the three towers and Syd waited for the rotors to slow before addressing the pilot. “Wait fifteen minutes and then gear back up again. This may be a quick exit.” The pilot nodded and Syd stepped out the copter door into the hectic air below the blades.

A security guard waited at the entrance and opened the door for his approach. Syd didn’t acknowledge the man at all who blabbered excitedly in his presence. He led Syd into an elevator and then down a hall of gray walls with landscape photographs lining both sides. There were no windows anywhere and their path stayed straight.

Successfully, Syd blocked his talking guide out and he was glad the way back was easy to remember. His focus was unaffected and the blubbering uniform eventually fell off as Syd crossed the boundary of which the guard was permitted.

Syd walked through double doors and then parted a curtain that blocked him to enter.

It was another world completely. The walls were covered in red satin drapes all over. Candles spread their yellow unsteady light in too many flickering flames to count. He walked forward slowly where a circle of black hooded men stood with their heads down and faces concealed. The floor was a checkerboard distorted into diamonds of black and white.

“You can’t be serious,” said Syd.

From behind the curtain, a nude wrapped in a python brought out a cloak to match for Syd. He shook his head and waved her away. “You must,” she said as the snake moved over her, twisting itself around her arms, breasts and neck.

“I’m not wearing that.”

The nude looked over to the hooded men. One lifted his head, nodded, and she left back into the curtain.

Syd stepped forward. “Where’s J.P. Richard?” he asked and the back of their pointy hooded heads bobbed as they laughed.

“You must be indoctrinated before you are acknowledged. It is only then that your questions may be answered.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“You must worship our Gods with a gift of sacrifice to gain Their holy understanding.”

Syd laughed over him and every head turned.

“He dares to mock the Holies?” asked another in complete shock and disgust.

“I worship no one,” said Syd as he clicked his cane tip against the marble floor to walk closer, “because I myself am worshipped. If these ‘holies’ have a problem with that, I encourage them to say so themselves.”

“The mortal dares to mock our Gods. He is unworthy.”

“Cut the bullshit. I’m here to close a deal, not to play Sunday school with you children.”

“The time is nigh!” yelled one of the shrouded men. “Bring us the sacrifice!”

The curtain opened again with the same python wrapped nude now holding a baby swaddled in burlap.

“Repent your blasphemy with the gift of pure soul to our Devil Lords!”

The nude laid the baby down in the middle of the circle of black hoods. Syd stepped forward as she grabbed the head of the snake suddenly from her shoulder. She unwound the reptile and it cracked its jaw open to snap into her forearm. Its teeth were hidden within her and she hardly started from the pain. The snake held for a moment, wriggling its fangs under her skin until she pulled on him to release. He let go only to snap back on to create a fresh wound. Blood collected and ran down her arm.

The first drops landed a foot away from the child and the nude traced a square around it. Her blood ran quickly and once she met its start she traced diagonally from the corners, creating an X of blood over it.

It’s the shape of a pyramid, thought Syd. The view from above.

“Present the tool of sacrifice,” bellowed the leader as the nude left weakly back through the curtain. The shrouded man across from Syd stepped forward presenting a large knife, the blade, guard and handle in the shape of a cross. The gold of it glowed with the candles and Syd took it by the handle over the blood spattered child on the floor. It wiggled and spat at the hot fluid on its face and hands. He bent to a knee and rested his mammoth cane flat to the ground. With one arm he reached under to cradle it.

“With this sinless death we glorify You our Lords,” boomed the deep voice behind Syd. “Let this soul be an offering of allegiance and willing slavery to our Masters.”

Syd looked into its eyes. The baby, so calm and oblivious, spattered at the blood in its face and smeared it in worse with its hands. Syd smirked and rose to his feet.

“This baby,” he said, “is more intelligent than all of you combined.”

The group scoffed.

“Every one of you is pathetic and every one of you deserves death far more than this child. You all sicken me. Wasting your brain on bullshit. Worshipping your invisible man. Use a little common sense and realize you are all delusional. The only sacrifice I’m willing to make tonight is on you. Every one of you.”

“Blasphemer! He is unworthy! Remove him from Their temple of worship!”

Syd remained calm as always. Though usually surrounded by security, usually they weren’t necessary. This was one of those occasions.

The first of Syd’s victims approached from behind and Syd sidestepped and spun, slicing the surprised man’s throat straight through to where his spine met his skull. As others jumped in, he danced around them, slicing their vitals while cradling the baby close. The knife ended up in someone’s stomach and Syd knelt to retrieve his cane. He batted away at their heads, sending one after the other to the ground either unconscious or dazed. Some scrambled away in retreat, but those that didn’t found death quick as Syd stomped them, tainting his albino alligator scaled shoes while crushing the skulls of the rest with the silver mammoth head.

The square and X pattern disappeared beneath the cloaked bodies and their escaping blood turned the aerial view of a pyramid into a red flooded wasteland.

The room was silent besides the steady breathing of the baby in Syd’s arms. All were inanimate except for one. The leader of the group pulled the knife from his stomach. A pained grunt turned into a cackling laugh. He stumbled toward Syd who spun out of the way, landing the swinging head of the silver mammoth cane into the side of the doomed man’s knee. The joints dislodged and cords snapped before his body hit the ground.

Syd used his now crimson red shoe to flip him over. He placed his heel into the leader’s stomach and rested the end of the cane in the socket of his eye. He hoped this might have been J.P. or at least one of the council, but there was no recognition from Syd. Just another nobody.

“Tell me, fool. Where are your gods now?”

“My Gods are everywhere,” he spurted in a manic calm. “And whether you believe in Them or not, They like you!”

Syd was taken aback and it was just enough time for the leader to grab the knife from beside him. Once Syd noticed, he leaned in with the cane, but it was too late. As the tip of the cane pushed into the hood’s brain, the knife entered Syd’s calf, scraping against the bone as it came out the other side, stuck in his meat.

The pain took the reins of Syd’s attention and he hobbled away, still holding the baby and using the cane that left dots of blood and brain matter across the floor.

He burst back through the double doors and the security guard ran up to him. “Mr. Sylver, what happened? Are you okay? Holy shit!” he said, noticing the knife sticking out below his knee and the growing red spot on his white slacks.

“Hold this,” said Syd handing him his cane.

Syd grit his teeth hard and let out a growl as he ripped the blade back out. It was only in the open air for a second before he drove it back into the warm chest of the security guard. He picked his cane from the guard’s fingers as he fell and hobbled up the flight of stairs, baby still in tow.

As planned, the helicopter’s rotors were spinning and ready. A trail of blood followed Syd’s limp, but he made it into the door and the copter lifted just as he stepped on. The door closed and the pilot veered south to MediaNop.

“Mr. Sylver, you need a doctor,” said the pilot looking over his shoulder.

“No shit.”

“Is that a baby?”

“Just get us back.”

The helicopter leaned forward, transitioning into full speed.

Syd Sylver looked down into its eyes. Big and blue.

“You’re tough,” he said to it. “Not even crying. I may have a use for you.”

The helicopter’s racket made a strange silence in Syd’s head. He looked out the window, then back to the baby. He undid the burlap, the babe still calm. Its legs became visible and Syd parted them in inspection.

He sighed and then shook his head. He looked up to the pilot and then looked back down to the baby’s innocent crotch.

“Open the door,” said Syd.

“What?”

“I said open the door,” he repeated loud and stern.

“Why?” the pilot asked as he obeyed.

The door slid open. “Because it’s a girl,” said Syd, but with the noise, the pilot didn’t hear. Syd looked into the baby’s eyes. Its mouth quivered and just as it opened to scream, Syd let go.

The burlap fluttered away with the wind as the naked baby fell right through it. Syd stared down at the empty, but lit, city streets. Few cars strolled between the buildings. Its body looked as if it shrunk, traveling in reverse from infant to fetus, to embryo, to zygote. It became a dot and then was gone.

The door stayed open for the rest of the trip and Syd stepped out onto the landing gear, balancing over a world of insects so far below.

It wasn’t the rushing air or the throbbing in his leg that made him feel so alive. It was the murder, plain and simple. It ran through his veins, expanded his lungs, flared his nostrils, dilated his pupils and flooded his mouth with saliva.

His blood stained outfit rippled with the wind and though it was cold, he felt as warm as ever.

SINS

THREE: SINS

The mammoth’s skull with the tusks curled into a circle branded the crest of the podium Syd Sylver stood behind as the camera switched to the leader of MediaNopCity. His introduction by News Minute anchor Jeff Randall was needless. Microphones hung out of view, waiting for the words that everyone within the Union was tuned in to hear.

“Citizens of MediaNop, I come before you today humbled. Our city, truly the greatest city in the Union, is under attack.”

The countenance of Syd Sylver was always serious, but not like this. His perfect face lacked the usual calm and his skin was stern over his muscle and bones, wrapped tight with the severity of the words he delivered.

“During this last week, we have been introduced to a new enemy against our way of life. Not a foreign enemy, but one of our own breeding. An enemy that we all must take full responsibility for. It is in hope that I address you today. Hope that you will stand by my side to fight their opposition to our cause. Our enemy wants nothing to do with freedom. They want nothing to do with justice. They want nothing to do with security. If we allow them to, they will turn our great city into a desolate wasteland run only by chaos and injustice. I stand before you today undeterred because I know you will not let that happen. We as a people are strong. We are different than any other city in the world. We are the epoch of creativity, art and entertainment. The Union comes to us for their culture and it is for this reason that our enemy wants to destroy every one of us. They despise our very core. They can’t stand our progressive originality or our ever evolving civilities. They want nothing to do with our rights as human beings and that is why they try to take them away from us. That is why they want to enslave us with the only thing they think they can. Fear.”

Syd paused as he stared into the camera lens and kept the somber feel, letting a squint out from the pain of his leg wound, but only because it fit the mood. Not one for medicine, Syd’s only comfort was pain. He dug the silver mammoth tusk of his cane under the nail of his thumb to diffuse the hurt and spread it away to more of his body.

“Citizens of MediaNop, I come before you today to let you know that I am not afraid. I am angry. We have seen what happens to cities in the Union that fall to compromise. We have seen what happens when people allow themselves to take exception in order to appease the threats of anarchists. We have seen the consequences of submission and that is why we will stand firm against the opposition that these terrorists hope to manipulate us with.

“Our recent intelligence into the actions of the RadiCon terrorist group has shown us that we have only reached the tip of the iceberg. Threats against the lives of everyone within our city have been posed by people furious with the freedom that we all enjoy and deserve. These people want nothing but chaos, death and calamity. They want to watch our city burn to the ground. They want to see your children spit in your face and destroy the support structure of the life you’ve made for them.

“As of right now I am personally promising each and every person within our city that I will not let that happen. We must stand strong against all adversity and never give up our God given right to freedom, liberty and the MediaNop way. As of right now our city is under attack and it is up to each and every one of you to stop our oppressors before they get started. Anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of RadiCon terrorists must enact their civic duty by reporting any possible threats to the Elite Force immediately.

“It is important that everyone is properly informed about whom the RadiCons truly are and what they truly stand for. Ebenezer is guilty of multiple counts of child molestation, rape and the solicitation of minors. Keep this in mind. This is what the RadiCons stand for, something that MediaNopCity never will.

“There is much to do to keep our great city safe and changes to ensure the security of all our citizens will have to be made. During this time of potential unrest I ask for your cooperation. The best way that you can assist us in weeding out this threat is to keep yourself informed and to cooperate with the direction of our trusted Elite.

“I leave you now with hope for the future and with a promise of strength. No other city in the Union is as versatile and determined as MediaNopCity. All cities within the Union look to us for what’s next. We are the trailblazers for the development and betterment of the Union. We will not be deterred by danger nor violence. We will fight because that is who we are; warriors for freedom, gladiators for liberty and crusaders for justice.

“Stay vigilant, MediaNopCity, whether it’s convenient or not. It’s in times of uncertainty that the leaders of the future are born.”

The red light on the camera flicked away and the signal transitioned to commercials for the Behind the Crime special on the RadiCons that was to air on all channels later that night.

Syd Sylver used his cane as he exited the podium. The technicians who worked for him kept their heads down as they moved about busily. Whether actually or just in an attempt to appear so didn’t matter.

“Inspiring,” said Chev Mason as he held the door open for Syd. “I’m anxious to hear the plan. That and the story. I’ve never witnessed you stumble over a word, let alone your steps. What happened?”

Syd waited until he was in the elevator to speak. “Later.”

Chev knew better than to enter after Syd without an invite and the doors closed between them slowly.

Chev Mason was the VP of MediaNop City and only recently had it come to Syd’s attention that the man he’d hand picked out of LuminatUniversity to mentor and train was the reason Ebenezer was still alive.

Your death will be painful, thought Syd and it was enough to calm his disgust and redirect his thoughts.

Syd Sylver arched his back and felt the cracks throughout his spine and neck as he wormed it around. He breathed in deep through his nostrils and let it out, closing his eyes hard with his face to the ground. The pain in his leg seared. The internal separation took slow to heal, mending him painfully deep in his calf muscle. The bone felt unsure and the cane was more for support than he wanted to admit.

When he came back up for air he noticed for the first time in this elevator that he could see himself in the reflection of the gold tinted doors. The image was wrong though. Not only blurry, but positioned different and its legs were spread wide. The balance of his reflection held no weight to the cane because there was none.

Syd angled his head. He leaned and then waved his free hand, but there was nothing. No movement from the blur. It was white and it was not him. The eyes were holes and the face was flat. The stance was mocking and steady and the body was a smudge of thin bone. What he mistook at first for arms were in fact tusks.

The elevator doors opened and a body slumped in, banging its dead head against the carpet floor. Blood bubbled out of the hole between its eyebrows and Syd recognized the face though had no clue of a name. It was a member of his private security team. Usually they wore sunglasses and Syd noticed the broken pair on the floor, separated where the bullet had entered the man’s head. His security team was supposed to be the best, but he figured when the Order came for him they’d bring better.

Syd stepped over the body keeping his new SapeSkin shoes away from the creeping fluids. Three more dead in the hallway, each with faces to the floor craned awkward at the neck and asses in the air. Syd took a snake’s path around them and entered the waiting room to his office by stepping through the shattered glass door.

His secretary wasn’t as lucky as the armed guards. Her neck looked to have been sawed through, but only a little over halfway. It still hung on at the side and there was a slow drip bridging the gap between the flesh. Her name started with a ‘K’ he thought, but couldn’t be sure. She did her job fairly well and her tits were still perky enough to be nice to look at. Not like the last one he had to put down.

Syd smiled. It was a soldier’s reasoning. They killed other soldiers respectfully with a single shot. Their deaths were quick and efficient. The secretary’s suffering was intentionally meant to bother Syd.

As if they could hurt my feelings, thought Syd. As if I have feelings to hurt.

He could tell that after they sliced her they let her die out, splashing in her own blood until she stopped wiggling and then they sat her back up to greet him. The desk had bloody smeared handprints on either side of a puddle and splatter patterns were all around behind her.

She had struggled.

They probably think I’m fucking her, thought Syd. Only the dumb think with their dicks.

There were two more dead he didn’t recognize. Their heads were blown clear away and their bodies slumped into each other on the couch. The splash pattern reached high up the wall behind them and bits of stringy brain and matter clung to the cooling sticky blood.

The door to his office was closed. The handle was the tusk of a mammoth and as he touched it he realized this situation was a rarity. He had opened this door before, but he couldn’t remember how long ago. This one was always opened for him by someone. The others were automated and would react to his approach. He gripped the tusk handle and pulled, separating the mammoth skull in half. The door was heavy to his office and somehow the weight made him feel like it was no longer his. As if the effort to enter was the first step toward the loss of his throne.

From the other end, the walkway up to his desk seemed longer. Armed guards stood in a line on either side of him, bordering the path up to his desk and chair. It was the spot he had once judged so many from and now it was the spot he would be judged from.

Words are your only weapon now, thought Syd. Arm yourself.

The desk looked foreign from this angle. It was large and threatening. Its wood was stained an elegant onyx and everything on top of it had been pushed off to the floor. His chair, the one-of-a-kind albino SapeSkin handmade by Laredo Hanshi, was turned so he could only see the back of it.

Syd hobbled down the path between the armored guards with the cane’s assistance. Their suits were black and bulletproof with the word ‘LUMINAT’ bold and white across the chest. They held their automatic rifles pointed down toward his feet. Their faces were covered with mirror visors from their helmets and there was no skin visible on them at all.

Their stillness was statuesque.

He made it to the end of the line and steadied himself on the cane so he could lift the weight off his leg. The throb was worse and he wanted nothing more to sit in the seat that turned around slowly to reveal itself occupied by J.P. Richard.

Syd kept a smirk despite the pain in his calf and the disgust in his lungs.

J.P. just waited. It was a trick that Syd used over and over when in the power position. If you waited long enough, guilty people started confessing.

Syd didn’t last as he intended. The fuel of hatred that connected between their eyes was so strong it began to pull at his smirk and his defiant eyes, almost making them turn to obvious disgust.

“Why would you wear the color of shit?” asked Syd. “I never understood that. It seems odd that a man as influential as yourself would choose to clothe himself with the most disgusting color. I have a very hard time understanding how the color brown has any appeal, but its repulsion. Are you trying to repulse others or is your taste really that poor?”

J.P. Richard was not amused. Syd noticed his eyebrows were curved down like the still paddles of a pinball game. They were brown too. The man was about halfway through balding with his remaining hair dyed that dull dead color of brown and his face was clean shaven with just one crimson scabby speck from the blade. The beginnings of wrinkle between his eyes and his ears suggested he was at least forty. He had never smoked, but he had been fat once. The sag of his cheeks and neck told of at least forty pounds dropped.

“You failed Syd.”

“Yeah I do do that.”

“Today is the day you answer for your sins.”

“Okay.”

J.P. stared, the scowl deepening. “You’re wanted for the murder of ten people.”

“Ten Devil Worshippers. Would that be the headline?”

J.P. removed his folded hands from the desk, placing them on his stomach and reclined back into Syd’s chair. “The headline is never the headline because I pick the headlines. I decide. My truth is the truth. Do you understand?”

“Yes, of course. I’ve understood that since I’ve been in this seat. Since the news comes trickling from a one source drip that we feed out to the mongoloids of the earth. Since before I even started in MediaNopCity. I understand the Union and I understand the world. I’d think you’d want to at least hear me out. No sense pressing charges when my plan is already in progress. Just a matter of time now.”

“You murder ten of my people and expect this to go unpunished? You are delusional, Syd. It’s time for a wake up call. Your grandeur is near passed its expiration date.”

“Were those your men? Is that why you don’t have your little tagalong posse here with you? Tell me J.P., were you there for the ceremony? Obviously your lackeys were, those are the ones I put down, but I know there was at least a few to escape. Could that have been you in one of those cloaked robes?”

“You concern yourself with me, but are oblivious to Those above. There is always someone above, no matter how high you climb.”

“I understand that completely, but I have an aversion to those that hide their true face behind the shadow of a hood. Those people deserved what I gave them.”

“And what of the baby? Did that deserve the end you gave it?”

Syd scoffed. He’d almost forgotten about the infant girl. She was so silent, comforted even, through all of it, up until the fall that transformed her into nothing. Syd still imagined the unrecognizable smear she undoubtedly made.

“The Serpent’s Order takes your actions very seriously. If you think this is a slap-on-the-wrist type of situation then you are sorely mistaken.”

“Well what did you think was going to happen? The child was an innocent. I saved it from a meaningless death to give it one more worthy of its situation.”

“My orders are to kill you Syd, but only after you’ve endured severe torture.”

“If you wanted me dead I’d already be dead. Seems to me I did you a favor. You wouldn’t have put me in that position if you didn’t want the results I gave you. If anything, I’ve proved my allegiance to you Richard. I’ve cleared house. The Serpent’s Order is now open for enrollment. Granted, I refused the sacrifice under their terms, but I created my own sacrifice. The last man I killed told me your lords liked me. They don’t want me dead. They want me initiated.”

Did want you initiated. Now They want you to suffer.”

“Suffering I am and once my plan is done the suffering will continue.”

J.P. thought about this. His angry eyebrows relaxed into contemplation. “I like you Syd. You understand us more than we give you credit for. Forgiveness for your actions is possible, but only under complete cooperation. I’ll give you a second chance. You defied and failed the Order, but your actions have pleased Those we give our worship to. True power and true life can come only from absolute submission to Their will. Are you willing to perform sacrifice to appease Them?”

Syd sighed, but his smirk was still there. “My whole life I’ve been slave to the imaginings of those who once controlled me. I loathe nothing more than the assumed control of others. Power is the most important. When I kill, it gives me that power. Murder is the foundation of my doctrine. If I perform another sacrifice it will mean nothing but reinforcement for my own belief system.”

“That’s the very reason why you aren’t dead already. But the ultimatum stands. Sacrifice must be made to atone for the sins against the Lords of our Order. The Serpent King will settle for nothing more than your whole hearted allegiance.”

J.P. nodded at a soldier behind Syd and within the second Syd felt the cold barrel against the back of his neck.

“Sign the contract and your induction may begin. It will not be easy and it will take time. Your mind and soul must be in complete resolution. You must surrender absolutely to our Devil Lords or you will find Their wrath worse than is imaginable.”

J.P. Richard pulled out a document almost as thick as it was wide and placed it on top of Syd’s desk.

“I suppose I don’t have time to read what I’m agreeing to here, now do I?” asked Syd.

“Does it make a difference? You have no more privileges. Sign or die.”

“You have a pen?”

Now J.P. was smiling. From within his brown suit jacket he removed a knife, the same gold encrusted and cross handled weapon Syd killed the hoods with last night. The same one he left stuck in to the chest of his escort. “You’ll have to excuse our process. We take this very seriously.”

J.P. walked around the table and the barrel pressed a little harder into the back of Syd’s neck. “You want my blood. To sign my life away. A pact with the devil it seems. A devil I think is bullshit.”

J.P. grabbed Syd’s hand and he let him. The knife drove through quickly with the tip emerging from his palm. J.P. held on to the cross handle. “Wait until your blood drips to the end. I want a clear signature and it must be your full birth name.”

“Syd Sylver is-”

“Your legal name. We need your full birth name. The one you were given before you could choose.”

The pain set in and J.P. twisted the knife just slightly enough to shoot the pain all the way up to Syd’s shoulder. He grit his teeth and stomped his injured leg to force the pain away into the rest of his body.

The blood slipped down the blade and before it could drip to the floor, Syd put it to the paper. It took one long minute with his hand slowly inscribing each letter, careful not to tear the paper and slow enough not to leave gaps in his strokes. All while balancing on his cane against the pain.

The signature read ‘SYDNEY SOLOMON SNIDER II’ and it was surprisingly legible.

“Good,” said J.P.

“Now get the fuck out of my city and let me do my job.”

“Oh, no no. This was only the beginning step. The process of induction will be nowhere near this simple and easy.”

“Never is.”

The barrel released from his neck but was replaced with a needle that shot through his skin and into his spine, entering with almost enough wrenching nerve tear to topple him, but his cane kept his balance.

“You have about 2 to 3 minutes before you lose consciousness. I suggest you follow me up to the helicopter before then.”

“Where are we going?”

J.P. smiled and put a hand on Syd’s shoulder, staring directly into him with his yellow lizard-like eyes, the pupils almost ovals with pointed ends at the top and bottom. “Telling you would defeat the purpose of making you forget.”

J.P. pulled the knife from his hand and Syd hardly felt it slide through his meat and bone. He followed J.P. through the back entrance up to the helicopter platform above his tower. J.P. helped lift him and by the time he was seated he couldn’t muster the strength to strap his seatbelt. J.P. did it for him.

“Obedience is your only hope. Submit yourself and your mind and you will find the limits of this world lifted for you forever.”

The doors closed and Syd’s head slumped to the side. He left it there as the helicopter rose into the sky and watched as J.P. and his troop of Luminat guards became smaller.

The city was miniature. He willed his head up, barely making it to see white bandages wrapping around the palm of his right hand from someone with black gloves.

He was without his cane. He opened his mouth to inquire, or protest. He needed his cane. He swung his neck around and tried to keep his eyes open while he scanned what he could, but it was nowhere. His eyes closed and he envisioned J.P. Richard holding the cane over his shoulder and smirking under those evil alien eyes.

That was when the dreams came filling his mind with memories he had long blacked out, but knew one day would return, calling for atonement.

 sinsmamothskull

FOUR: SAVIOR

They were dinosaurs. The old men were that old and wrinkly. They sat in a line before him and stared with their yellow reptilian eyes in the only way they could: menacingly. There was no heart, just evil. There was no love, just teeth. Long and sharp and terrible. They dripped with the remains of their dinner, bloody splotches splattering to the table before them. Pieces of the infants were caught in their gums. Little hands, little toes, little bones. They took turns between screaming nonsensical orders and making their live squealing meals into mush.

Syd Sylver didn’t understand a word of it because they weren’t words. They were barbaric, deep yet sharp and complex in their own way. The language was beyond his simple mind, beyond anything he’d ever witnessed and he still wasn’t even sure he was witnessing this. The liquid kept at him. That second bee sting prick of a needle only accelerated him into another world, a state Syd couldn’t trust to be reality.

But even with the hallucinating, the old men were dinosaurs. He was sure of it. He saw how they changed. Right before his eyes their saggy wrinkled skin shuttered and morphed into scales of dark green. Their bodies shrunk and bulged all over to transform them from fat business suited men with glasses to tall muscular reptiles, teeth as long as silverware and claws the shape of boomerangs.

By the time they showed Syd Sylver their true form, proving themselves as his biological and psychological superiors, he was already won over. This was his induction and the last step towards inclusion into The Order of the Serpent.

X          X          X          X

Syd’s first memory was at six years old when he was dropped off at the boarding school where he spent the next six years. It was a large facility in the East suburbs of LuminatCity. From outside it looked like a mansion. The gates that opened for his taxi passed him into a large courtyard filled with statues. They were of all types of people in all types of pose and all at least eight feet tall. One in particular caught his attention, armless and clean white. It stood at the base of a fountain between mirror ponds that reflected its figure. A hedge maze took up the entire rear of the facility where the heads of more statues peaked over the bush walls.

Within the elaborate fortress it became devastatingly clear that this was nothing more than a prison. The main foyer had an amazingly tall ceiling, but the entrance to the stairs that led up to the top floors were all guarded by the front desk where he was signed in and escorted through winding white hallways to a cell. The walls were twelve by ten, enough for a bed, a dresser and a desk with a bar that hung in the corner in place of a closet.

There he was left, by his escort. The man in white. He didn’t remember his parents. Didn’t remember if he had any other family. He knew the man in white only as ‘sir’ and would refer to him only with that word followed by either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

That first night, he lay in bed and watched the white painted cinderblocks that were the ceiling of his cell. He cuddled himself and as always, didn’t sleep until he was curled into a fetal ball, holding his legs to his chest while on his side and digging each of his eyes into each of his kneecaps until his mind found its other world.

Surrounded by cage, the bars in diagonal form creating diamond gaps, he stirred and found he couldn’t unfurl his closed self. Red light made everything its color as it shined through the chain linked kennel and coated him and everything around him with its harsh color. He squeezed his eyes shut the moment he heard the footsteps, but the red light still caught him through his eyelids. He shut them as tight as they would go and only once he could hear the creak of his kennel door opening did he try to move, scream, thrash, breath, open, anything. But no. The functions of his body were no longer his. Frozen he became and not out of fear. It was the unknowing. If only he could look to see, or if it would just tell him who it was, it would be okay. He had to know because if he didn’t it meant it could be anyone.

In the dream, Syd’s unresponsive muscles belonged not to him. Floods of mental strain became dammed from leaving his brain and his mind panicked well before the hands were pulling at him.

But not just one pair, there were many. Millions.

He was dragged helplessly and though it felt like many, there was only one presence there with him, he was sure. He could feel at least dozens of prodding palms and fingers all over him, covering every part of him. The entity was like a humanoid mutant octopus that manipulated him everywhere, stretching his limbs apart, twisting his joints, squeezing so hard they rearranged his innards. The terror lasted long and it was only once the demon orifices within the palms stopped sucking that he could wake.

Every night the demon of his dream came to him and every night he was helpless to it, never giving up but that never mattering as the same end always came. He eventually learned to anticipate the palms and their sucking of his neck, earlobes, eyelids, lips and jaw line. They drew in his nipples and the skin of his ribs. His stomach, spine, hips and belly button.  His buttocks and groin and the space in between. His arms, the insides of his elbows, his shoulders, fingers and biceps. His legs, feet at the tops and bottoms and toes where they sucked in the digits completely.

It was once he was covered, blanketed with the sucking holes that he knew it was soon to be over. It was the sign that he was about to wake, though each night it was longer and longer until he did.

The waking life of Sydney Solomon Snider II was also a terror. The school, though in all actuality more like a penitentiary, was full of kids much more underprivileged than Sydney. Their skin color ranged only from the darkest of black to just a little dirty, no where near the color of his. Not only was his name too prissy, but his vocabulary was extensive to the point of annoying and, oblivious to him, arrogant. He was short for his age as well and that only sealed his fate, isolating him as the lowest of lows.

Hazing wouldn’t suffice for long. The shoulder knocks and hawked phlegm escalated into stealing, vandalizing and bruising. They executed swift punches conveniently in time so as out of sight of any authority figures whose eyes were blind to the attacks anyway.

Sydney was sure he was going to drown in the pool when three of the boys, not older, just bigger, pulled him under and drove his face to the bottom. In the shallow end, the three stood on him, stomping him down to keep him at the bottom as the air within him escaped in bubbles and did less and less to pull him back to the surface. Water rushed in through his throat from his mouth and nostrils and then blood started to rise from his gums where his six year old baby teeth, loose or not, cracked and popped.

When they pulled him to the surface, the kids were laughing. As the lifeguard resuscitated him, actually blowing teeth shards into his lungs, they were still laughing. And when he returned from the nurse, nothing done to his teeth considering, “you were gonna lose ‘em anyway,” they were all still laughing.

Sydney knew how to take the abuse. He didn’t think about why he didn’t remember anything before that place. He didn’t question why he was there at all. He knew that punishment was a reality. Things were normal there. Pain was just another carryover from before he could remember.

He went to bed that night lying on his back with his fingers crossed behind his head, thinking of revenge. Absurdities came to mind. Guns, knives, fire, poison, but they were too difficult to attain and way too ordinary. No, Sydney needed something perfect. He needed something that would shut down this place once and for all.

With that last thought on his mind, Sydney fell asleep.

He found himself in that same cage. The red light still monopolized everything. He could move though and when he turned he noticed the door to his kennel was open. He sat up. He could see and he could move and so he did, crawling out of the cage to better experience the horror that had always been there, but never noticed until now.

All around him were cages just like his, but locked with children still inside. They were his peers, all with skin color somewhere within the spectrum of black and brown. He never heard crying, but there was crying now and it came from all the kids he knew from his school. They appealed to Sydney, yelling for him to free them and he just watched their agony. He could smell urine and shit for the first time coming at him from every angle. Some banged on the cages, some put their fingers between the checkered grates and rattled them and others just whimpered, putting their faces as deep into a corner as they could.

“You are not them,” came a million single voices in unison.

The rattling and screaming pleas of the children came to sudden silence.

“They are nothing because they are trapped as you once were and no longer will be. You are now in control.”

Sydney didn’t want to look, but he forced his eyes up to his fear anyway. The man was white skinned, pale as snow and above his shoulders rested the skull of a wooly mammoth, tusks curled out over his head. The bone seemed almost yellow against the dead white of its skin.

“You can be free from them, from all of this, but there is a price you must pay.”

The question entered Sydney’s dreaming mind and was answered without any utterance of words on his part.

“You must kill, Syd. You must kill them all.”

He wasn’t going to try to speak because he was so used to the paralysis of his mouth, but he did and was surprised as he felt the words rise from his lungs and tumble over his tongue to be absorbed by his own ears. “Who are you?”

“I have many names. I am Millions. I am Silver. I am MAMOTH. Together, you and I can be ALL.”

The man was tall with legs so skinny they seemed like stilts. His upper body was slouched to fit himself within the low ceiling of the red lit dungeon, but of all the strangeness, what captivated Syd was the absence of arms. There were hands though despite the being’s lack of upper limbs. Millions of them swirled around the slender blinding white body of the demon, opening and closing, making fists and spreading fingers to reveal the mouth orifices in their centers. They moved swiftly in a swirl around him like a force field and Sydney could see well enough to notice the lips, teeth and tongues working away in the air as if communicating to him in their own strange language. The teeth chattered and bit. The lips puckered, tensed and gaped. The tongues rolled, lashed and slobbered.

“How?” asked Sydney. “They are so many. I cannot-”

“Yes!” interrupted Millions. “You, Sydney Solomon Snider II, cannot. You must change. You must give yourself to me. You must obey. Success is not possible for you. Success comes from me and you together. Accept me and we are as one. Allow me into you, Syd, and the world will be Ours to destroy.”

“I want them dead,” said Sydney. “Everyone.”

“Allow me in and it will be done. Say it.”

Sydney looked down to the filthy floor of the dream world. The piss from the children created streams that rolled between the wired cages carrying small clumps of fecal matter floating on top like dead driftwood. He looked at their eyes: big, watery and pleading.

“I allow you in. Help me. Save me from this. Show me how to kill them.”

“Say my name and make it your own. Give up your past and take me as your mother, father and only friend.”

A tear boiled in Syd’s dream eye. He didn’t want to cry. He was happy, but the realization that he had no friends, that the white man of a million hands was to be the first he could remember, filled his heart with a joy so strong it could only be evil.

“Silver. I am your son and I will obey.”

The hands swirled around Millions and then departed, sharp and quick, directly towards Sydney. His young dream body maintained his balance as they covered him completely. Their mouths no longer sucked, but chewed. Sydney felt his skin tearing. He felt his flesh beneath leaving his body. He felt the fingers ripping off meat, digging in and pulling it out with their fingernails, and feeding it to the mouths in their palms.

Sydney tried not to collapse, but the pain, even in dream was too severe to withstand. He hit the floor, feeling his bones where the meat was picked clean clink against the musty brick.

Death seemed so close, so imminent, until the teeth and fingers relieved their attack and flexed backwards to allow the tongues to come through. They licked with a liquid so foreign it couldn’t be saliva. It was cold, freezing him, but with a strange comfort.  Stroke by slimy stroke replaced the flesh and skin their teeth had torn away with new material. Inhuman innards filled him back to what he once was, only better.

They were still licking when he woke up and the first word he spoke was his new, true, name. Now and forever.

“Syd Sylver.”

Within a week, twenty three children were found dead in their beds, either strangled or bled to death with their throats ripped out with what looked like teeth from a wild animal. The next week held forty seven casualties and after the third came up with seventy eight, the remaining survivors were transported to foster care. From there Syd worked his guardians with love until they legally adopted him. It was when Millions returned that the time had come for their celestial departure and the inheritance was the kick to the avalanche he needed into financial stability. Stability quickly grew to riches and riches to power and esteem.

On the first night in his first apartment in MediaNopCity, within the mirror of his bathroom, Syd Sylver saw his one and only friend. The mammoth skull, tusks and all, lowered its hollow eyes level to Syd’s.

“We are not done,” said Millions.

“I never forget. I will make you proud father. I will become King of this worthless city and then I will become King of the world.”

“You will try,” said Millions as he chuckled through the prehistoric mammoth skull. “And when you fail you will come back to me. Remember, your debt is never done. I am you and you are me. We are Us and Us are We. I will await your summons. It is not until you have risen to power that you may humble yourself to join with me completely.”

MAMOTH left, Millions gone, and just as planned Syd Sylver rose to the top of MediaNopCity, entertainment capital of the Union, with plans for the ultimate enslavement and destruction of the entire human race.

X          X          X          X

Twelve years had passed and it was in that time that Syd put Millions out of his head until the dream that began in the helicopter. With the medicine pushing him unwillingly into unconsciousness as his body hovered up and away to LuminatCity, Syd found himself in a strange place. He was looking out over his city from a distance. It was the North side he was able to collect from his view and at the forefront of it was MediaNopTower.

“You’ve forgotten,” said a voice so close to his ear that he swatted and felt his hand brush up against a hand connected to nothing.

“No,” said Syd.

“Then you are ready to complete what We started?”

“Yes.”

“You must tell them that you believe. You must submit yourself to them, but in your heart you must stay faithful to me. I have allowed you your time alone and you have proven yourself worthy. Your trial will be hard and I will not save you from it. You must give them sacrifice and once you do you will return to Our city and We will begin Our era as rulers of them all. WE will become ALL.”

“Yes,” said Syd.

“Good,” said Millions. The hands fluttered over his shoulders like butterflies and joined together to make the form of Syd’s savior. They molded together into the tall thin pale legs and the hunched spine without shoulders or arms. The skull of the mammoth sat on his neck and Syd looked into the hollow eyes.

“Tell me what to do.”

“Watch,” spoke MAMOTH. “Listen. Obey. When you come back you will build Us Our sanctuary. You will create for Us a following that will challenge any and all that would put themselves above Us. You are not human Syd. You are supreme. Our legacy will ever last.”

“Does the plan go on?”

“Yes,” said Millions and then his body broke away, disappearing into flying hands with singing mouths.

From outside the windows, Syd watched as explosions lit up the night. He watched as MediaNopTower teetered and fell and he listened as the sounds, somehow audible despite the distance separating them, fueled his soul to create the future.

X          X          X          X

When Syd woke up he was naked. His head was shaved and his face throbbed. He couldn’t see out of one of his eyes and the other was only a slit. The needle entered him and the hallucinations began and then he was in front of them. The council of The Order of the Serpent. They turned dinosaurian and Syd knelt before their nonsensical words.

Squealing infants arrived on golden platters and the monsters continued their feast as a figure, cloaked completely, came to him.

“You will die here now unless you appeal to our Devil Lords. Those that sit before you are those to whom you will speak. Guard your words and pray to Them you appease Their thirst. Speak now and do so wisely, for it may be the last words you utter before you are consumed.”
Syd Sylver stood up and there was no pain. His mammoth cane was nowhere but he felt Millions everywhere.

“I don’t apologize for my actions. I apologize for the disrespect I’ve shown you. I have been programmed since before I can remember to hold to religious belief and it is for that reason that I rebel against it. I see now as the doubting Thomas did when he looked upon the holes in the hands of the resurrected Christ.”

Before him, the dinosaurs snarled and steam rushed from their nostrils. One spat and blood and bits sprayed from between its triangular teeth.

“I understand the lies of the teachings of god and I have found new Gods today. Do not judge me by my ignorance. Judge me by my actions. I can see in You all that You care not for those I destroyed. Their lives meant nothing to You as they meant less to me. I know also that my life means nothing to You. Humanity is an infestation that must be controlled and I am only happy to now know that I can serve You, the Rulers that no doubt understand this truth. I am forever Your servant and I pledge to create in Your city of MediaNop an army that will fight for Your cause alone.”

Tyrannosaurus teeth halted the pitch of a screeching entrée and they watched Syd whose unaffected features spoke on strongly.

“You demand sacrifice and I will deny You that no longer.”

Syd approached the long table of seated lizard men and held out his arms. His wrists dangled over the table and there was only one squealing baby left, halfway into the mouth of one of the monsters, stalled from the words of Syd Sylver.

“I offer You undeniable proof of my allegiance. Take my hands for I have no use of them. If they do not appease You, take whatever You may, but I beseech You. Leave me my tongue, for it is my truest weapon, Your weapon, against those that I would make Your slaves.”
The last infant was devoured, creating silence. Its body passed through the dinosaur’s teeth untouched, swallowed, and the sound of its screams disappeared within its scaled belly. Syd thought he might be able to hear it in there, still screaming as if it were blowing through the monster’s esophagus like a muted trumpet.

The dinosaurs looked back and forth between each other. Their yellow eyes with reptilian vertical slits moved swiftly. Syd had no idea his plan worked, the plan of Millions, their plan, until simultaneously the jaws of two dinosaurs leapt forward and clamped down over his forearms. The bites were clean through and Syd watched as their teeth pulled away strings of his meat. Blood spurted from halfway up his forearms generously as if it was eager to do so.

You and I, MAMOTH, thought Syd. You are my hands now. This time I will never forget you.

Syd fell into unconsciousness as his blood drained him and didn’t have to hope to wake again. He had Millions to assure him of that.

 SALVATION

FIVE: SALVATION

Two hundred and twenty three days later…

Snow falls slowly when there is no wind. Gravity is patient and so is the ground waiting below. People, however, are not.

The streets were sick with traffic as the GGX Season Premiere was about to begin. With the first ever Pregnant Fencing match set as the grand finale for the night, the former Global Gladiators stadium that sat across the street from MediaNop Tower was filled to the brim, inside and out.

Across the city to the north, the mansion of Syd Sylver was large and new. Having been completed just a month ago, he was finally settled in. Finally truly at home.

The site for the mansion replaced the cemetery that had long been unused. The caskets and tombstones were carried in trucks out of the city on their way to the landfill below the south side where they’d be incinerated. There were no protests. The last to have been buried in the overcrowded underground were set vertically so as to save space and plans had been made to remove and reset the caskets all on end, until the due process for disposal of human remains was eliminated.

The incinerator was much more practical.

There were three construction crews working all hours to complete Syd’s mansion before the dead of winter. For its massive size, it was up in record timing. The grounds would take more time, but that could wait until spring came and the earth softened. Then Syd would have his garden, his fountain, his mirror pools and his statues. The hedge maze for the back still needed designing, but he would get to that eventually. For now, the gate that surrounded his property would do and once he could, he would have the ivy planted to obscure the view of outsiders, though the surveillance cameras and gun turrets diverted their attention anyway.

The main floor inside was all diamond checkered black and white. Long red curtains covered the floor to ceiling windows. Golden chandeliers hung from the ceiling with cross-like ornamentation holding the candle-flame-shaped bulbs of light.

Dinner was set up for Syd Sylver in his living room. He wanted to keep Chef Benicio alive long enough to see the extravaganza come to conclusion, but he was too hungry. Going on a week almost, Benicio looked more and more pale with each limb lost until his skin was almost as white as Syd’s. The game died two days ago, but Syd made sure to have his slaves save every last bit of meat they could. They sliced him down the middle of the chest and went in for the breast and rib meat as careful as doctors with Syd watching over them.

There were six slaves, each a gift from the Serpent and each adjusted to his specifications. Thirteen years of age, their skin was bleached white and their hair follicles were destroyed to keep them smooth all over. They were born boys, but Syd had that taken care of too. Now there was only a slight hole, hardly even visible, where their urine came from. Their tongues were taken, all except one, and over their faces they wore masks of black human skulls always. They never strayed from his side and took all commands dead serious.

They were his hands after all and Syd was good to them because they were good to him. They never erred and so punishment was never in need of consideration.

And they took care of Kongo the Dog-E-Tard as well. Throughout the mansion, along the ceiling, a canopy of ropes and branchlike structures made the perfect mode of transportation between the rooms for him. Syd’s slaves took enjoyment in them, though they couldn’t show it, and eventually the Dog-E-Tard forgot his days in the cage and found love for Syd and the slaves through gratitude for his vast playground.

Syd Sylver sat upright in his throne chair made of endangered redwood tree. He wore his silver suit, the one he only ever wore to special occasions. Under the light it sparkled everywhere and the light rippled across him as he moved. The suit was adjusted at the forearms where the sleeves were cut back halfway.

The doctors were able to save his arms at just below the elbow. The elbow was important. By saving that joint it left them with only the wrist and other finger digits to manufacture replacements. Those they had come up with so far were nowhere near what they would need to be to appease him, so instead he went with prosthetics more along the line of mannequin. They were white and the hands, frozen in stiff position, were set so that he could interlock them in front of him.

His hair was a little longer on top and he enjoyed how it fluffed and flipped back at the front. It was still cropped close around his ears and the back of his head. The color was still platinum and he made sure every few days to have the roots dyed to keep them that way.

Two of the slaves took turns feeding Syd while three stood behind him watching him eat. The sixth came back into the room, holding loosely to Kongo’s neck leash, just in time for the show to start.

They watched in silence as Syd thought about everyone he’d never see again outside of this final television appearance. Chev Mason: MediaNop’s VP. Patrick Aswell: the founder of Dog-E-Tards. Laredo Hanshi: the human skin fashion designer and creator of SapeSkin. Jeff Randall: News Minute Anchor and host of Behind the Crime. Nick the Stick, Debalish, Harvey Lee, but most of all Ebenezer. This was it for them all. This was the end and every end couldn’t help but leave opening for a new beginning.

Two hours later, during the commercial break and before the first ever Pregnant Fencing match, Syd Sylver left his dining room followed by his six pale black skulled boys. At the elevator to his viewing deck tower, the highest point in his mansion, Syd stopped and held out his arms. The slaves removed his prosthetics, and he walked into his self activating elevator only once the retinal scan approved him.

The elevator had only one stop and it moved on his own once he stepped inside, rising up slowly to the top of his viewing deck, the one place within the mansion that only he could go. Inside the elevator, mirrors surrounded him, replicating Syd’s image into millions. Staring into his own eyes, the world changed as the entity entered it.

“My hands,” spoke Syd to his reflection as the form wafted away, becoming his savior. The mammoth head replaced his face, the smooth pale boney frame became his body and crawling all over it like spiders were the millions of hands, ever moving. “I call upon you MAMOTH. Together we will witness the destruction of Our city so that We may rebuild in its place Our empire.”

The ceiling to the elevator opened once they got to the top and the image of Millions disappeared as the floor pushed up, raising Syd into the cleared room. The ceiling was low and there was nothing within. Surrounding the room were windows and Syd stepped forward to them, to face MediaNopTower. The sun was bright. The clouds had cleared as Syd knew they would. The snow was settled and waiting.

“Many die today at Our hands. It is for Us that their souls are extinguished. We will breath in their death through Our nostrils and they will never escape the prison of Our body.”

Behind him Syd could feel the comforting breath on the back of his neck. It was warm and it hugged him where his skin was exposed. Syd raised his arms and once again he could feel his hands. They were there as they were before, replaced by Millions.

Syd Sylver breathed in deep, closing his eyes for the inhale and then opening them wide for the exhale as he fluttered his hands to ignite the first sound of his symphony.

It was exactly 3:00 p.m.

X          X          X          X          X

     At exactly 3:00 p.m., the same time the starting bell of the Pregnant Fencing match rang, two buses crashed into the two west facing corners of MediaNopTower. The wave of fire came from not only the gas tanks, but also the hidden tanks of prepared explosives within the buses.
Craters etched out of the Northwest and Southwest corners of the building, but it was the third explosion, set in place well in advance at the West end’s foundation, that began the tower’s timber.
Fireballs flipped cars and imploded windows on all neighboring buildings. Those barely within reach became bald and deformed, while those well within reach metamorphosed to ash. It rushed over all like tsunami waves. The steel and concrete buildings crumbled away while people both within and without the building melted to nothing instantaneously. Souls ejected their bodies and were cursed with the best view to the horror possible.

All became soot and broken down matter. The material of everything whittled away to its finest.

Inside the tower, the first four floors were extinguished and those in the middle and the top felt the floor rise and fall with a boom. They were hopeful until the floor began to tilt. The spire at the top leaned slightly until the angle became dramatic and the tip of MediaNopTower pointed west as the building slowly creaked away from its erection.

Desks slid and the few workers inside wobbled to keep balance. The angle increased and all the furniture and equipment skidded with screeches that accelerated in volume as the angle became more and more severe. The Med-center, the offices, the studios, the dressing rooms, the stages and sets tumbled, crumbling those within their trajectory.

From far away, people heard the explosions and looked to see. They gasped in horror, but they waited for the building to fall level onto the stadium to really scream.

The sideways crashing of the building’s thick floor slabs pummeled the roof of the stadium, cutting right through, making portions of people flat instantaneously. Guts sneezed through compressed bodies, tossing innards easily. Sheets of glass sliced through some before squishing them flat. All within came to death and their pieces and organs joined the party of an all inclusive end.

The screaming reached the brink of human capability, but was nothing in comparison to the colossally immortal sounds of metal, glass and concrete colliding with the terrible, but patient, speed of gravity.

And for a moment there was no sound.

All along with each other, the rich, the poor, the old and young, and all in between extinguished just as quick and mercilessly as any other. Any religion or belief in God or higher power held no reprieve or hope for the destruction of so many so fast. Male and female alike crumbled into dissolve simply. Each race and ethnicity was represented and each one combusted equally.

Death proved wholeheartedly that it has no prejudice. Without distinction, the lives of thousands suffered massive eviction.

The rubble couldn’t settle onto the bodies it claimed before more explosions within the stadium ignited and what hadn’t already collapsed. Confusion raised terror on the streets as everyone lucky enough to still be alive ran as far as possible away from the bubbling apocalypse behind them.

Burning corpses lay amongst burning people that gurgled and crawled the best they could to separate themselves, to escape that similar fate. Fires burned in scattered clusters and muffled screams could be heard, but never located.

The rest of the tower that didn’t fall over the stadium instead fell on the building behind it. The top spire sliced straight through another skyscraper, trailing a scar into it before the rest of the building crashed into its glass and floors, sending the second one off balance like a domino.

People within this building, all their work qualms and relationship jitters, divorces, runaway children, health problems and all, saw it happen and suddenly, everyone was rushing for whatever little bit of time they could scrounge. Terminally ill or not, aged and dying or young and vibrant, all scrambled for the exits. People bulldozed through each other, trampled some beneath and tore others out of their way for the door. The weight of the building thrashed through the office floors and some who didn’t even know they were about to lose their life did in calm ignorance.

The clatter took long to settle and the dust of fine concrete, plastic, paper and humanity never really would.

Powder rose like smoke from the monstrous dying entities of glass and mortar. It grew up and out taking over air everywhere like wildfire to dry grass. People watched from blocks away, stuck. Their eyes became the all of their bodies as they watched something so far beyond their mental capacity they couldn’t hope to maintain, understand or control. They stayed still and stunned until the creeping dust and floating debris made it obviously clear that they were soon to be taken over, to be enwrapped within the opaquely grey blob-like moving cloud mass.

Then they ran.

The terror behind them, though not immediately life threatening, promised fate similar to those already incinerated or crushed, as if the dust were the very cause of the terror and was now running through the city streets rampant, wrapping around buildings still standing and filling every hole or crevice to rob it of safety.

They are overtaken and around them a rushing otherworld is now their reality. Inside the cloud, people appear and disappear from each other just as fast with the billions of floating molecules between them, hiding them and obscuring their vision. Everyone within is completely alone, save the few that hold each other, but all become blanketed in bits of floating building and death.

Those beyond the reach of the cloud watched, taking up the middles of streets. No cars moved and some people stood on top to get a better view of the disaster. From this distance, the far off clouds hardly seemed to move though the closer they were to them the faster they seemed to travel.

The rubble stayed invisible to all underneath the haze. From tops of neighboring buildings, cameras too late could only record the aftermath. In the back of their minds, the recorders cursed themselves jealous to not have captured the horrendous and monumental moment on film. They watched through the viewfinder the particle shield that hindered the sight of the thousands now dead within the beastly atrocity’s afterbirth.

For a while no one else died until loss of blood took those pinned beneath the avalanche of concrete. The slow process of digging them out began, but no matter who was saved, the dead stayed that way.

X          X          X          X          X

     Syd Sylver breathed out once all he could see was cloud in the distance. He took a bow, his symphony concluded, and when he rose back up his hands were gone.

The clouds came back. The snow started falling again and the wind picked up, sending the white flecks sideways as if the world was turned at a wrong angle.

Syd stepped back onto the platform that lowered into the elevator. The mirrors that surrounded him were infinite and he had to stare himself in the eyes this time. The way down was long and he strayed from eye contact with himself more than once until the doors finally opened.

On the television, for the first time under his reign of MediaNop City, the black and white insects of TV static ate and birthed each other under the buzzing racket of a distorted lost signal.

In that moment, They smirked.

This is going to be fun, They thought.

skullXroses

VOID the STORM 101-END

The VoidThe Storm

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

The sun was coming up and Master Grabe had yet to sleep. He’d replaced the candles once and they were already melted through. He moved to the window, thankful for the new light, and sat on the sill to continue reading.

‘By this time, I lost my ability to control my tongue so I stopped using it. My mates eventually let me be, though I’d hear them talking. It mattered none. I could see the logical conclusion to this curse and knew that biting my tongue was only biding my time. Soon, I will be found out for what I have chosen. Each day that passes I can feel the growth of anxiety looming over me ever more. It is all I think about. I know it will come and it will be terrible, but I will laugh through all of it. One can not be caught if they do not allow themselves to fall. The terror that comes from doubt is absolutely necessary. Terror is hilarious. SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES.’

Master Grabe didn’t hear the knock on his door, the sound of it creaking open and shut or the sound of his name being called. His eyes rose from the page only once out of his peripheral vision he noticed his page standing there.

He whipped his neck and was surprised at the bitterness in his voice. “What?”

“Are you ill?” asked Bo.

The kid looked hurt. “No, no, I’m sorry, I’m just…studying. What is it?”

“The bells have rung. Your robes are ready.”

Master Grabe looked out the window. The sun was not coming up, but had already come. It was free of the trees of The Hanging Jungle and well passed the point of his usual waking.

“You seem ill. Do you need tea? I can bring you breakfast if you wish.”

“No,” said Master Grabe. “I mean…no tea, but yes. I am ill. Leave me for the day, but bring me lunch after you eat. Cancel my classes.”

“But Master, it’s the seventh day. You are due to speak at-”

“Ill,” said Master Grabe. “Tell them. Go.”

Bo bowed and left him to his scroll. The paper was so long and he had been careless in rerolling it as he read. The top hung from his fingers and was snaked along the floor. He blinked his eyes to return them to focus and continued reading.

‘Our world is a lie. The histories teach the character of my blessed Fourth God as chaotic and evil, but in truth, Jokkol is the only consistent God of The High SIX. Realism is not evil no matter how harsh that reality may be. What separates The God of Teeth from the others is His or Her indifference to self. Each of the other is selfish and it is due to this distinction that they have shunned Jokkol. They refuse to recognize truth outside of what supports them as most deserving and just to hold the first place of birth order and power. They refuse to acknowledge their inconsistencies, refuse to respond to or acknowledge any question that would challenge their supremacy. It is not possible to worship all of The High SIX and any combination of the gods is equally impossible. It is taught that if you do not give yourself to a God than you are sent to The Void for all eternity to exist in nothing, becoming nothing yourself. If this is your only concern in this world then you are just as selfish as any of the other five gods. Those that give themselves to Jokkol are promised nothing in life after this. Is not that the most selfless way to live? To abandon your hopes of salvation and instead embrace the ambiguous? I have found my savior and I have rejected the silly presumptions of gods that can’t back what they promise. Sarora is a slut. Ethaum is a coward. Nithya is a prude, Mamoth is a tyrant and Xzicxy is the worst of all. The God of Tongue is a liar. I have never felt Xzicxy’s presence. I have been forced to worship the silly Green God my entire life and it was not until I learned of the great Orange God that I felt my spirit was touched. I know I will be excommunicated, but I have no fear. I laugh at fear. Fear is hilarious. I know I will be tortured. Torture too is hilarious and each act of revolt will bring me closer to my God. With every attempt to return me to Xzicxy, with every lash or beat or bruise, with every undue injury and refused kindness, I will worship Jokkol, my God of Teeth, my Orange God, The Fourth God, the Only God, and I will close my eyes and imagine Him, imagine Her, smiling, grinning their beautiful teeth. I will revel in their laughter. I will be saved! SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES.’

Master Grabe looked out over The Hanging Jungle after he read the signature at the end of the scroll.

The word ‘Vonx’ looped in his mind and he couldn’t remember his ex-student’s actual name. He watched the sun rise until he could see it no longer and then fell asleep on the window sill not realizing he hadn’t prayed to The God of Tongue in days.

 *      *      *      *      *      *

On the southwest side of SIX where the Desert of Nails ends and the Orange Lands begin, Vonx awoke because the backs of his hands were throbbing. He opened his eyes to see the earth moving below him and was confused. Instead of sand, it was dirt. He moved his hands from sliding against the ground to see their backs black with dirt and scabbed blood, but he forgot about them once he saw the live bed of scales he laid on.

“Are you afraid?” he heard and looked up to see a black silhouette floating ahead, moving backward as if leading the bobbing head of the giant desert lizard.

Vonx tried to move his mouth, but it was so dry that the skin of his lips tore away.

“You are afraid,” said the shadowy figure.

It was light out, but there was shade. Above the clouds covered the sun and a crack of lightning answered for him. Rain fell and stung his raw back.

“I have saved you. Go back to sleep. You will be treated soon.”

Vonx tried to open his mouth again, but the fatigue from his raised neck was too much and so he let his head fall back to the scales.

He came to inside a hut with the heat now burning his front instead of back. Thunder rumbled and rain clashed above him.

“Sevil lives,” he heard and noticed then that he was suspended in a net, lying on his chest with his arms dangling. Smoke entered his lungs and the voice continued the chant. “Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives.”

Below him, a circle of orange skinned men and women kneeled, naked except for the animal bones and teeth that hung from them. Together, they all took up the chant.

“SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES!”

The smoke became thick and suffocating. His torso became hot and with the swaying of the net he turned his neck to see a fire burning below him.

“Sevil lives,” said the first voice. He turned his neck to see the Master of Teeth. The man too was covered completely with the traditional orange pollen of the virral flower, but unlike the others, his face was covered with a mask composed all of teeth. There were hundreds of them that connected into a rotting mosaic of yellow, brown and black.

“SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES!”

The net lowered and Vonx’s body jolted toward the flame, stopping hardly above the reaching tip. “No! No!” he yelled and laughter filled the hut.

“NO, NO, NO, NO!” the Orange people chanted before falling back in to laughter.

The Master of Teeth silenced them by waving his skull mounted staff over the fire beneath Vonx who recognized the skull and noticed then the bloody lizard skin to the side. Below him in a circle around the fire, the Orange people held up their dripping meat.

Vonx’s heart beat furiously. “No!” he screamed again. The fire burned intensely and he tried to move his arms, but his body didn’t respond. He tried his legs and then his back and shoulders, but nothing happened. His fingers and toes,  hands and feet, all played dead. He rolled his neck around desperately.

“No scream,” said The Master of Teeth. “Laugh.”

DROUGHT the DESERT 099-100

The DroughtThe Desert

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

Master Grabe never cared for Tinn. The boy paid his lectures no attention, instead using the course book to conceal alternate study. Grabe would let him, though. His students weren’t slaves. If they wanted to learn, they would. If they didn’t it was between them and The God of Tongue. As the youngest Master in the Hall of Tongue, he was alone in this practice.

Tinn’s hair was orange and over the school year it grew until it hung over his face and around his head like a mushroom. The boy’s hygiene was bad, which Grabe was able to perceive from the empty seats around him.

While Tinn paid no attention, he did pass his oral exams flawlessly and his lecture on the similarities between ‘The Secondary Gods’ was inspired, though it infuriated the more devout students who called him blasphemous for comparing Mamoth and Jokkol to Xzicxy.

Grabe never pictured Tinn becoming an excommunicate, but it made sense.

Supposedly, Tinn was worshipping The God of Teeth. Acknowledgement of the other gods of The High SIX was not forbidden, but actual worship was dangerous, especially worship to arguably the most dangerous of the SIX.

Any books that documented or mapped the dangerous Orange Lands were mysteriously absent from the library shelves. Other books not completely dedicated to the Orange God, but with at least sections dedicated to him were missing those pages. Every copy of ‘The Short Lives of Jokkol’ was gone as well as field journals documenting the mostly ruined country to the southwest of Center City. Other books that depicted illustrations of Jokkol were defaced with crowns atop his head. Most damning though was the phrase ‘SEVILLIVES’ he had scratched in to the margins.

That same phrase was what Tinn’s bunking mates claimed he spoke in his sleep. Over and again they woke Tinn from muttering unintelligibly. Each time he sat up and spoke the words, eyes still closed, saying, “SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES.”

The worship of The God of Teeth could not be tolerated. Master Grabe knew already the boy would lose an eye and undergo deprogramming with Master Tyliss. Grabe didn’t like to even look at Tyliss let alone hear the beast speak. If it were Grabe in Tinn’s position, he would have kept the eye and embraced excommunication. No one came back from the desert. Whatever was there though, he would have preferred to meet with both eyes functional. Besides, another offense he’d be blind and after that he’d be blind in the desert.

Master Grabe entered the Sanctuary of Tongue just as Master Tyliss was putting the knife to Tinn’s back. The Sanctuary made his stomach turn with vertigo. The ceiling was so high that his poor vision blurred it, obstructing the view of how high it truly went, though it made him sick none the less.

Surrounding the altar was the rest of the masters. They wore the traditional green cloaks, hood up, and Grabe made sure to pull his own hood up before he joined them.

Master Tyliss held a strip of Tinn’s skin high in the air as he pulled it back, slicing with the knife under to pull more. Grabe had seen this before, but it was the first time the excommunicate had ever been silent for the process.

Not only did this mean that Tinn had passed on removing an eye for penance to The God of Tongue, but it meant that the boy would be meeting The Desert of Nails soon. First Master Tyliss would have to finish flaying the X off his ex-student’s back. Then, Tinn would be paraded through the Budded Isles and Meral City where he would be whipped, beat and stoned. If he made it to The Desert of Nails alive, his feet wouldn’t get him very far.

Master Grabe turned around. Whether it was the vertigo of the endless ceiling or Tinn’s silence that was making him dizzy he didn’t know, but he was sure now that losing an eye would have been the smarter choice.

Back in his quarters, Grabe’s mind was a drought. He chose sleep over prayer though the sun was still up.

 *      *      *      *      *      *

No matter how many times he insisted they called him Vonx they wouldn’t.

“Out the boat, Tinny,” demanded the shirtless enforcer. “Time to see how little mercy your God of Teeth has.”

Vonx didn’t respond and so he got another crack to the head. The stick had been used on him so many times that this time it broke and Vonx laughed. “Sevil lives,” he said, but was shut up from repeating it all four times with a fist to the temple. His vision was fuzzy before, but this time blood obstructed him.

The enforcer pulled him off the boat to the sandy beach and Vonx found his footing only after disregarding his vision. They walked through the brush until the sun was in the sky behind them. The vegetation dissipated until there was only sandy wind and then the enforcer stopped them.

His hands were bound with rope to another excommunicate’s neck behind him. Vonx was the only one out of the three with eyes. He hadn’t spoken to either of them though they spoke plenty. One was excommunicated for his third rape, the other for his third murder and he imagined them doing this blind, laughing as they spoke. Bound and blind, they could only curse him.

They stopped once there was no shade and the sun stung his back.

“The three of you are now free,” said Master Ohm. “Before you is The Desert of Nails. The God of Tongue is forgiving to an extent, but you have each proven yourselves unwilling to reform. I will bless you with water and I will pray for you that The God of Hands may find mercy on your damaged souls.”

Master Ohm poured water in to each of the blind men’s mouths, but Vonx kept his mouth shut and head down.

“Is your faith so strong in The Fourth God that you refuse drink from The Third?”

Vonx raised his head. “The God of Tongue can tongue my ass.”

The enforcer raised his hand, but Master Ohm stopped him by waving his own. “What is it about The God of Teeth that has sealed your faith? Has not The God of Tongue spoken to you?”

Vonx craned his neck and tried to collect saliva to spit, but only the sand on his lips sputtered off.

“You are damned. May your death be slow and merciless.”

Vonx laughed, but it turned in to a cough bringing blood in to his mouth. “Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives,” he said weakly before splattering Master Ohm’s face with blood.

The enforcer’s fist punched through his jaw easily and Vonx hit the sand.

When he opened his eyes, his hands were no longer bound. He raised himself from the sand and after a moment of wobbling managed to stay on his feet. The wind had erased the footprints and the sun was high in the sky. His back stung terribly from his lost skin, but his mouth was so dry he couldn’t swallow. He took a step, then another, and then broke in to a jog to avoid falling which ended with his face in the sand.

“I renounce the first,” said Vonx as he clawed the desert sand and used it to slide himself forward. “I renounce the second and the third.” He swung his other arm out and dug his fingers in to the sand. “I renounce the fifth and the sixth.” He pulled himself forward again, the desert cutting his bare chest. “My life for You Jokkol. My life for You, The Fourth God, The Laughing God, The Orange God. Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives!”

The sun was bright and blinding and everything hurt, but the darkness came easily and Vonx let it take him, praying to Teeth and laughing himself into unconsciousness.