Tag Archives: evil

VERMiN

VERMiN is a novella about madness, suffering and sacrifice. Along with VERMyN, they are two sixths of VERMIN, the sequel to my first novel MAMOTH.

VERMiN too will fuck you.

VERMiNcoverCLR

ZERO: “I do fucking everything in this shit hole…”

Hunched over, pushing his thighs and calves, Rat dragged two lifeless bodies across the sticky sludge of the sewer floor. Blood streamed from their wounds, but left no visible trail in the darkness of MediaNop City’s underground tunnels.

Rat shot the first in the shoulder, sending him down but not dead. “Shit,” he said then spat. The poor boy didn’t need to suffer, he needed to die. For the second one, he aimed for the head, but again missed sending a bullet through its neck instead. He groaned as he hobbled over to the downed bodies. Before they could plead he blew away their skulls. Only after he pulled the trigger did Rat notice the second one was a female.

Their sneakers protruded from underneath his armpits as he dragged them back to the tracks where his rail car was parked. He dropped their legs and leaned against the flatbed, catching his breath before lifting them up one at a time.

At sixty two, Rat was the oldest member of the Elite Force. The Bum Control Division accepted him years ago after he was forced to retire from his position as sergeant. No one wanted the job. Living in the underground and killing all trespassers wasn’t a sought for position, but he took it knowing it was his only chance at continued pay. Separation of heart and mind was the only way to deal and he kept them detached that way as if strangers.

After speeding along the rails, he parked at his processing post, one of the many abandoned stops in the old train system, and pulled the bodies one at a time off the cart. Brain matter leaked as what was left of their heads clinked against each stair up. He sighed and huffed with the fatigue of the effort and dropped their legs once he pulled them on to the landing. Stumbling over to his table of processing utensils, he exaggerated every move of his muscles as if for sympathy from an absent audience. He made sure to remove his night vision goggles before flicking on the overhead lights.

The knives dulled long ago, but it didn’t matter. A butter knife could separate skin with enough determination, so rusted butcher knives caked with years of dried blood worked just as well. He selected the sharpest and placed it on his work bench before lifting the male to the table.

Rat removed its shoes and then socks. He took off the rest of its clothes until it was completely naked. He pierced the skin first at the neck and then ran the blade down over the sternum, slicing through the belly button and stopping right at the base of the penis. Here, he grabbed the whole thing and stabbed it off, throwing it then over his shoulder to a dark corner where the vermin loudly wrestled for it. He continued, making lines down the legs and arms and once the proper incisions were created, he picked up a hacksaw from the crunchy floor.

The collected blood was like a scab below him that stretched out from beneath his processing table. He sliced through the wrists and then ankles letting the feet and hands fall to the ground. They bounced and rolled dumbly like oval balls and he kicked them over to the corner where the rustling creatures accelerated their feed frenzy.

Rat pulled its neck taut as he sliced through it. Blood dripped from the wound, most of it having drained through its open skull, and he tossed it into a sink. It would have his attention later.

With the body prepped, Rat set down his saw and dug his bare fingers into the incision. The skin leaving the flesh sounded like a wet roll of tape being pulled apart. It separated easily except for a few instances where his knife was necessary. Once the body was only a pile of flesh, tissue and bone, he carried the sheets of skin over to a taught line running from wall to wall behind him. Here, he draped the human sheet over to drip dry.

Just as he bent down to pick up the girl he made out the flash and buzz of his Bum Control Alert device. He paused, hunched over, as he waited to hear it again and once he did, he threw up his arms on the way to the sink.

“Son of a bitch,” he grumbled. “Stupid fucking cocksuckers can’t give me a single fucking second to get my shit done.”

He turned on the water that came out a dark orange, splashing over the severed head of the boy. It removed the blood on his hands and the obscenities continued.

“And not one fucking ounce of help. I do fucking everything in this shit hole,” he said as he took his time down the stairs. He opened the door of his rail car and picked up his BCA. The screen flashed red and he tapped it to reveal a map of the MediaNop underground. A green dot showed his location and, almost touching it, a red X flashed. The realization hit and he looked up to see a silhouette in the tunnel ahead. He threw the BCA back to the seat, pulled out his rifle and took a knee.

The light from his station put him at a disadvantage. He couldn’t tell which way the trespasser was moving. With rifle raised, he shot once. Nothing. He squeezed the trigger for the next. A yelp of pain came and Rat smiled.

He kept quiet on the approach. He could hear its deep gasping breaths. The silhouette again became visible as it rose.

“Stop!” it pleaded. “Herbert! Herbert Hubert!”

Rat shot again and the silhouette dropped. The shot didn’t phase it though because just a second passed before it pushed itself back up on to all fours.

“You have to trust me! You have to help! I have to find Herbert Hubert!”

Rat put the nozzle right to the back of its head and said nothing before pulling the trigger.

Click.

“Piece of shit,” said Rat as he dug into his pockets. The rest of his ammo was in the car so he kicked it to its back and stepped onto its neck.

“Please! Gundry told us to find Herbert Hubert!” it yelled as Rat began to pound the butt of his rifle into its skull. He missed the first few, just grazing the sides of its head, but stilled it by leaning in with all his weight onto its Adam’s apple.

Suddenly, Rat was in collision. Something from the darkness. He landed on his back and the thing on top of him spread his limbs at his wrists and ankles.

Rat didn’t resist. A throb in his head pulsed. Feet gathered around him.

His sight focused and he saw the person on top of him was naked. It was a teenager, dumb in the face with a collar around its neck.

Rat groaned. A baby was crying. Children were sniffling. Someone spat.

“Fuck,” Rat said. He squeezed his eyes with the shit storm he knew he just inherited.

Gundry, he thought, you asshole.

“I’m Herbert Hubert,” said Rat, “and you’re the RadiCons.”

He lit his pipe once the Dog-E-Tard was off him and took his time before even standing up.

Son of a bitch, thought Rat. I do fucking everything in this shit hole.

 

ONE: INJECT

Sleep, thought Isaac and it was the best thought he’d had since the killing started.

He did everything he could to stay alive. He was good at staying alive, but it was the keeping others alive too that was the problem. A teen, a kid, a toddler, a baby and a Dog-E-Tard all led by him. All with their lives and futures balanced on his slouched shoulders. He knew it was inevitable. No one fights MediaNop City and gets away clean. They were all going to suffer and if he ever woke up, he knew that he above all would receive the worst of punishments.

Sleep. The word rolled over and over in his head as he felt his bleeding body being dragged against the slimy brick sewer floor before unconsciousness took him. It had been at least 48 hours since he’d really slept. They stayed under a bridge along MediaNop’s south flowing river, the six of them tucked inside where the metal planks met the concrete supports. Isaac sat guard as the five others slept and he waited until just before the sun rose to wake them to make their next move.

With the Elite Force hunting them, the only safe place if there was one was out of the city. There was no way to get there unseen, unless Isaac did what he swore he never would. With the only remaining free RadiCons in tow, he led them down through what he hoped was a less sure sentence of death.

The abandoned MediaNop subway was patrolled by the Elite Force’s Bum Control Division. Not many people even knew it existed, but the sewer lids were unmistakably marked with the words ‘Trespassers Killed’ engraved into the metal pattern. The sidewalk entrances were cemented over leaving not a trace of what used to be below.

It was after high school that Isaac moved to MediaNop and by then the subway was already sealed. When he was still attempting to make friends, having moved to MediaNop without any, he asked around and found soon that the MediaNop underground was something no one could agree on. Some claimed they shut it down because of the rats evolving in to the size of dogs. Others claimed it was to be remodeled, but construction stopped when funding ran dry. Some thought it was a security issue, that MediaNop got rid of it to stop a potential terrorist attack.

The most absurd came from Grammy, the mother of the now dead RadiCon Gweniviere. “It’s haunted,” she told him once while making him a sandwich on rye bread. “Too many people die down there for it not to be.”

This whole city is haunted then, Isaac thought. MediaNop Tower and the Global Gladiators Stadium especially. And if that’s true, the RadiCons are haunting them now too.

But Isaac didn’t believe in ghosts because if they did exist then they didn’t care enough to let him know they did.

Isaac was born in East Luminot where the headquarters for The One True Church were stationed. His father was a deacon, his mother a saint, and he was a choir boy since before he could remember. He wore the white robe with the red sash that hung around his neck and down to his knees. He sang every Sunday morning and night. He practiced three times a week and attended special one-on-one vocal training sessions with the big man himself.

Pastor Scott was tall and tan. His forearms were abnormally hairy and his thin nose stuck out far from his orange U-shaped facial hair. His head was bald on top with a ring of white hair around the freckled center. His teeth were white as well and he wore glasses that made his eyes seem smaller than they actually were.

It was Pastor Scott that gave the blessing for his family to put Isaac on medication, something The One True Church usually frowned upon.

Learning how to swallow the small purple pill was one of Isaac’s earliest memories. The night terrors were the first.

In the morning he always pretended like he didn’t remember them, but that was only half true. The terror always started with an ocean. Not that he was in the ocean or even above it, but that the ocean was all there was, weighing so much, being so much that nothing else existed. Then the horizon would rise and all around him were walls of water until he was completely encapsulated, claustrophobia rising within him until it shook him by the nerves. The orb of air pulsed as the ocean pushed in and once it took him, swallowing him on all sides, the choking began. The water forced its way into his mouth and blinded him with its darkness. His temples compressed under the pressure. It swarmed around him, groping his naked skin and twisting his muscles. The force of water kept his jaw stretched open as a continuous stream jammed past his uvula and into his throat. Salty liquid burst from his nostrils. Only once the pain reached its worse did he submit his will to it and only then would the dream end.

But he wouldn’t wake up, not completely. From there he would get out of his bed, crying, stumbling and mouthing nonsense. He was there the whole time and remembered it all, but his body was not under his control. His mouth and limbs moved, his eyes flowed, and he thrashed his way to his parents room where his mother would hug him tight to stop his flailing and his father would stand with his arms crossed, observing his son’s odd behavior analytically.

It happened three times before his parents consulted Pastor Scott. His mother was convinced it was a demon. His father was convinced his boy just wanted attention. Pastor Scott was convinced the Lord wanted the boy drugged and so he was and it worked.

Isaac took one purple pill each night before bed. It took care of the night terrors by stopping the dreams all together. Through his school years and even after, the pills kept sleep easy. Without them, he couldn’t sleep at all. He had tried to go without them, figuring sleep would eventually come, but just as his body settled he would be jerked out of relaxation, wide awake though deathly tired.

For the first time since the night terrors, Isaac had finally settled into unconsciousness with the aid of fatigue, lost blood and a concussion. There were no dreams and he woke up strapped to a table when fingers opened one of his eyelids. He tried to move his head, but it too was secured.

“Don’t move,” he heard and Isaac looked around frantically. “Stop it. Keep your eye still. You’re really going to want me to get this right.”

Isaac opened his mouth to yell, but a roll of leather was shoved between his teeth.

Then he saw the needle.

“Look right at the tip. Injection on three. One…”

Isaac tried to push the sweaty tasting leather out of his mouth but it was stuck behind his teeth.

“Two…”

He stared at the tip as it lowered toward him recognizing it as a syringe. All his muscles went taut and he pushed with all his might outward until his eye became blind with the puncture at his pupil. The metallic point went deep into the middle of his eyeball and his throat lurched to hold his sickness.

“There we go,” said Rat. He depressed the back of the needle and an ice cold fluid flooded the inside of Isaac’s eye.

Rat pulled it back, but there was no relief as he closed Isaac’s eyelid with his dirty fingers. He held the skin shut until he secured it with tape in an X shape.

“Good,” said Rat.

Isaac’s heart thumped desperately. His nostrils flared with each inhale and exhale. His hands were fists and his toes curled in the musty air. He only then sensed he was naked as the fingers pulled apart his other eyelid.

“One more and you’re done,” said Rat and before the horror repeated, Isaac felt the liquid, so cold it burned, traveling through his face. Rat didn’t count for the second shot and by the time his other eye was filled with ice too, the other injection had traveled to the middle of his brain, turning the spot behind the middle of his eyebrows into a molten orb. “Pay attention. You’re going to want to remember this.”

The words were hardly there and by the time the needle left his second eye, tape crossed in an X over his eyelid, the heat in the middle of his head was spreading. He pictured his entire brain melting and then bubbling up through his nose and out of his ears.

It was then that Isaac dreamt his first dream in almost twenty years.

x    x    x    x    x    x

Darkness everywhere. He felt he was not alone before he heard it and the lights flickered on, never settling out of their erratic strobe-like vibration after.

The man sat on the prison bench with his face turned away to the corner. His body rocked and his arms were secured across him in a white binding straightjacket. Wild long hair on his head and face was stained with grey. His body accelerated its shakes until he stopped abruptly, his posture erect as if suddenly possessed.

Then the bugs came.

Roaches swirled from dark cracks. Spiders rose and lowered from invisible strings. Ants climbed the walls in spirals. Cicadas rose from beneath the tiles and moths fluttered from wall to wall.

“You must remove them,” the bound man said. His voice was rough as if his throat was lined with scabs. “You must, but you will not. You want to see, but will not with their crutch. Sacrifice is the only way to salvation.”

Isaac was frozen, his legs weak, his mouth muddy and numb.

“Your eyes are your enemies and you must remove them in order to truly see. Truth is only visible with the eye of your mind.” Around them, the bugs accelerated until the room was saturated with movement. “Your inaction will kill thousands, but your actions can save millions. Your optical perception is cursed with sickness and the only cure is in its abandonment. The foundation of clarity is at your fingertips. Break the cycle and set us free!”

The rush of insects came to a stark standstill. Slowly, the bushy head of the bound man turned up to Isaac. Ghastly open space and shadow filled the man’s empty eye sockets. A shutter of shock tried to floor Isaac but his bones couldn’t even quiver.

The man had Isaac’s face. The nose, the mouth; it was unmistakable. He saw through the mask of graying hair and missing eyes. This person was him, but older and terrifyingly insane.

And then a wrinkle, barely unexposed by the hair on the bound man’s forehead, moved. It deepened and widened as it stretched across. The crevice severed and as it opened, white glossy membrane appeared. Isaac recognized it immediately as an eye. It was without pupil and once opened to its fullest, it glowed vibrant neon yellow light. The color hypnotized him and his equilibrium shuttered as his insides spun away under the sick influence.

Before he collapsed, the man’s voice changed to a deep impossible tone. “The death of thousands will incite the birth of the godchild and in His death will come the wrath of the apocalypse.”

The walls shook with explosions from overhead. Dust fell from cracks in the ceiling. The insects scampered off from their stillness to hide within the cracks and under the tiles.

“Be not afraid,” spoke the otherworldly voice. “Surrender yourself in blind faith so that the good in you may not extinguish.”

The shaking of the world broke Isaac from stillness and he crumpled to the ground. The bound man stood and kicked Isaac over, placing a foot on the middle of his chest. He lowered his face to Isaac and the third eye’s bright yellow light became all that Isaac could see.

The last he heard was the terrible voice, clear and guttural: “Cycles enslave us, but tangents will save us.”

 

TWO: IMBIBE

Isaac woke up. Pain clenched his injured body the moment he stirred. His abdominal muscles cringed and he rolled to his shoulder for relief, but was met with only more discomfort. Turning over to his other side, he saw Jacob. They connected eyes and Jacob lowered a large bottle of dark liquid that showed its sting by the bite in his twisted expression.

“I dreamed,” spoke Isaac fighting just to get the words out clearly. Memories came back to him and he checked his eyes with his fingers. No tape though a sharp pain lingered behind them.

“You’ve been asleep for like…days.” He took another chug and then offered it to Isaac who waved it away.

“I never dream,” he said. “My medicine-“

“Yeah, I know. Sorry. I threw it in the river.” There was silence and Isaac pushed up to a seated position off the side of the table.

Isaac couldn’t blame him. The teen watched his twin brother get hung and then set on fire by Elite Force Sheriff Gerald Fox off the top of a building before dropping ten stories to the ground. He remembered the sound. The crash of metal as he hit fire escapes on the way down and then the far away splat of his body’s final end.

“Where are the kids?”

“With Rat,” said Jacob. “The guy that shot you. He’s taking care of us now.”

Isaac dropped his head and took a deep breath in before he stepped off to the ground. It wobbled beneath him and his hand caught the table to stop himself from tipping. His vision fuzzed into black and he closed his eyes to wait for it to pass.

“There’s food down at the next station. He needed you here to operate.”

“I have to pee,” said Isaac as his mind and vision cleared. He walked over to a dark corner, unzipped and relaxed to let the stream come. The yellow line splashed into the grime caked floor creating a crawling puddle. Beside it, a mound of insects moved like TV static. Their bodies hid the source they crowded around and Isaac stared intently at the still yet moving mass.

They’re eating, he thought. Something once alive being picked clean by robotic organisms of decomposition. By shape, he imagined it a foot, but ended urinating and gave it no more attention.

Jacob operated the rail car down the track to the others. The start and stop pulled at Isaac’s wounds, but he suffered the pain alone, content with being alive.

Out of the car, Isaac took each step slowly up to the transformed subway station. Mattresses, ratty and tattered without sheets, rowed the floor. Plywood walls covered spaces that hid blocked entrances to the surface. A tri-monitor computer system with speakers rested on the floor and multiple oddly arranged keyboards sat inoperable in shadow. Jacob walked out ahead to the semi-circle couch where the TV lights reflected off its viewers faces.

On the rug in front of the television, the baby laid on its back, cooing and giggling at the face of Mr. Sparkles as the Dog-E-Tard hovered over it on all fours, moving up and down, making sounds and contorting his face into universally humorous expressions. On either side of Rat, Janice and Gregory were sitting as close to him as possible with eyes big and focused on the active images. Isaac took a seat on the end and no one noticed. Jacob came back with a bowl of steaming broth. Unidentifiable grey masses bobbed in the thick brown liquid.

“It’s good,” said Gregory without turning his eyes.

Well, if they’re eating it…thought Isaac. The taste was grabbing and required a second of acceptance before he could continue, but the calming of his crippled stomach turned the flavor into a nonissue. He drank down the final bits and stopped himself from asking for more.

On the television, Captain Kill was talking to the screen as if it was his victim. “Lights out!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, drool spattering from his cartoon teeth and blood running down his yellow face. He raised an army knife and plunged the long serrated blade into the camera’s lens. Red blood filled the cracked screen as the credits rolled.

“What time is it?” asked Isaac.

“10:30,” responded Gregory without hesitation from a watch Isaac had never seen before.

“Shouldn’t you guys maybe get to bed?” he asked and looked up to Rat.

Everyone beside him burst into a laugh.

“AM!” said Gregory.

“Well, um, Rat, could I talk to you?”

“Sure.”

“Alone?”

“No, here’s fine.”

“But the kids-“

“The kids already know everything you’re going to ask. You’ve missed a lot.”

A frustrated pause caught Isaac’s words.

“We can’t stay here,” he blurted out. “We’re all very thankful for your help, but they’ll be looking for us soon. We have to get out of the city.”

“No,” said Gregory with his full attention now away from the TV. “We have to stay. That’s what Gundry wants. Us to stay with Rat until he and Momma get here.” Sickness secreted itself and Isaac could only hold his stomach. The poor kid had no idea Gundry was dead.

“You’re safest here,” said Rat as he removed a pipe from his jacket and began to pack it with stringy pouch tobacco. “Gundry told me I was to look after the kids. I’m the only one that can keep them safe. There’s no doubt in my mind that if you leave here, you’ll be caught and they’ll find out where they are. Can’t risk it. Too dangerous.”

“Coming from the man who shot me. Twice.”

“It was an accident,” said Janice, now paying attention as well.

“And my eyes!” yelled Isaac.

Mr. Sparkles made a confused pout and the baby was silent. Janice and Gregory stared and Jacob chugged from his bottle.

He leaned in close to Rat and whispered threateningly, “What the fuck did you do to my eyes?”

“Fixed them. And I took the bullets out. You know my job, what I have to do, so just be glad I recognized you before I finished it.”

Off to the side listening, Jacob took an oversized gulp from the bottle and failed at stifling a coughing fit. “Wrong pipe,” he said wiping the stinging liquid from his lips.

“Take it easy on that,” scolded Isaac. “It’s the morning. Why the hell are you drinking?”

Jacob raised an eyebrow, but Rat answered for him.

“If I were you I’d worry about myself. You still have a lot of healing to do.”

Isaac felt the anger rise inside him and it tensed his body, agitating the holes in his shoulder and side.

“Even if I did let you go, you wouldn’t get far. Everyone in the country is looking for you now.”

Isaac looked down and sat on the couch. Every option in his mind slipped away one at a time into impossibility.

“It’s okay,” said Gregory. He patted Isaac’s knee. “They’re looking for us too.”

“So what then? We just wait here? How long can that last?”

“As long as it takes to blow over,” said Rat. He lit his pipe and stared blankly. The eyes behind his glasses were plain and unconcerned.

“What day is it?”

“Saturday,” said Gregory who grabbed the remote and flipped channels to avoid commercials. Rat stood and disappeared into a dark hall behind them as Gregory landed on an episode of Elite Force: Brutality Edition.

Sheriff Gerald Fox spoke into a bloodied and swollen black face. The man’s eyes squeezed tears and his sobbing mouth drooled. “Thought you’d get away with it didn’t you? Tell the camera how old she was kiddy-fucker!”

“Change the channel,” said Isaac.

Jacob walked behind the couch. He wobbled as he tried to focus and snarled as he forced another swig.

“Rat said we can watch whatever we want,” said Gregory.

Janice scooted in next to Isaac and interlaced her fingers in his.

“No, you can’t. This is not for you.” He tried to swipe the remote, but Gregory squirmed away.

On the screen, Gerald yelled, “It’s time I showed this worthless molesting piece of shit rapist what it’s like to be forced against your will.”

“I’m going to kill him,” said Jacob through a slur.

“Gregory, seriously, nobody wants to see this.”

“I want to see it,” said Gregory.

Mr. Sparkles turned his head up to the conflict as the whimpering head on TV was turned to face the car window.

“We’re watching it,” said Jacob as he stumbled into the back of the couch. “Watch the evil shit-bastard.”

“I don’t get it. What’d he do?” asked Gregory.

The man’s face was clenched in agony with Gerald’s palm gripping the back of his bald head. Snot ran into his mouth and bubbles came out instead of words.

“Nothing,” said Isaac.

“The Sheriff is a murderer and I’m going to fucking kill him for it.”

Janice squeezed Isaac’s hand as blood flew on the television screen and the bald misshapen head of the Dog-E-Tard rose between them.

“Mr. Sparkles!” yelled Gregory. His pet turned happily, tongue hanging with drool, still blocking the screen. “Sit!”

Mr. Sparkles obeyed and sat waiting for his next direction as Rat came back into the room.

“Here,” said Rat. A black film case rattled as it landed on Isaac’s lap. “You’ll need those for when the pain comes back.”

Isaac took his hand from Janice and opened the top. He tapped one into his palm. It was a green square shaped pill with an X imprinted on its surface.

“What are they?”

“Pills.”

“I know that,” snapped Isaac as he checked for a label on the blank canister. “What do they do? I’m already on medication.”

“For what?”

“For sleep.”

“Good. That’s what these are for.”

“I thought you said they were for pain?”

“That too.”

Gerald Fox ran the face on the television in and out of the shattered window. Blood ran down the criminal’s face in patchy stripes and then Gerald gripped the back of his victim’s neck. He leaned on it with the other hand on his hip and crossed his foot to balance, pushing the man’s throat into the jagged glass.

“The legal age of consent is 14, folks. Anyone having any kind of sexual relations with anyone 13 years old or younger is breaking the law.”

Blood gushed from the sides of the victim’s neck as he squealed and choked.

“What did he do?” asked Gregory to Rat.

Isaac wasn’t paying attention. The terrible dreams were too real. He without eyes was all his mind could see. Against his better judgment, he swallowed the green square and felt the edges the whole way down.

“Gregory,” said Rat before he paused to suck in from the pipe and inhale, “that man treated someone your age as if they were someone older. You don’t understand certain things about life and your body right now. Sometimes older people can be sick in the brain and do bad things with younger people’s private parts.”

“You mean sex,” said Gregory and Janice laughed.

“Yes, but sex isn’t good until you’re older.”

“Sex is gross,” said Gregory with a scowl. “Do you like sex Isaac?”

Isaac’s stomach turned and he grabbed it, sending a shock of sharp pain to his shoulder. “I don’t know,” he said, squeezing his eyes to block the sting, but only creating a new one inside them.

Janice and Gregory laughed, making it a chain reaction, infecting the baby, Mr. Sparkles who laughed like a seal and lastly Jacob, more laughing at the Dog-E-Tard than anything else.

“Hey, it’s you!” said Gregory. Everyone went silent, staring at the photo of Isaac on the television.

It was his license photo from years ago and he couldn’t help but smile, though even that hurt to do.

His hair was wild, hanging up and out in every direction. It was so big that all of it didn’t fit in frame. His beard was big too, though he remembered wishing he was able to grow it out longer. He did it to be funny and cut his hair right after down to a buzz the way it was now.

His photo shrunk and moved to the top corner of the screen beside the orange and wrinkly skinned news anchor Jeff Randall. “The Elite Force is calling on the citizens of MediaNop to assist in capturing this dangerous fugitive. Isaac is believed to be hiding within MediaNop City with three small children and the famed Dog-E-Tard Mr. Sparkles. The Elite Force is actively searching for their whereabouts with heightened security around the city. Syd Sylver has stressed the importance of apprehending this dangerous child molesting terrorist as soon as possible.”

“What?” Isaac leaned forward and pushed Mr. Sparkles’ head down.

“Now we go to the mother of these poor children, Cashmere Sticky, the brainwashed victim of the RadiCons that allowed her children to be used and abused by her sick captors while under their manipulative influence.”

As Miriam, better known by MediaNop as Cashmere Sticky, the mother of Gregory, Janice and the baby, came up on screen, the kids yelled, “Mommy!” in unison and Isaac was too stunned to change the channel.

“Isaac is evil,” she said through glazed eyes. “Please find my children. Please stop him. Bring my children back to me. Save them from him.” She spoke earnestly and even Isaac thought she might actually believe the lies she said.

“What about me?” Jacob asked the television. “What lies you got for me you piece of shit?” He upended the bottle over his mouth and then wound up, almost tripping as he pitched the bottle at the television. He missed and it sailed over to burst into pieces against the subway tracks.

The television went black and Rat clapped his hands twice after putting the remote in his pocket. “Alright kids. Enough television. Go get your story books.”

Gregory obeyed and Jacob stumbled over to a mattress to collapse. “I miss my mommy,” said Janice and Isaac watched as her cheery face slowly disintegrated into despair. Before he could make a move to help, Mr. Sparkles scooped up the baby in one arm and took Janice in to his other. She sobbed into his neck as he sat cross legged and the baby began to cry as well. Tears formed and dropped down the Dog-E-Tard’s face too though he made no sound.

“I want to show you around,” said Rat. “You’re going to be here a while.”

“Yeah,” said Isaac as he followed Rat in a daze. This was worse than being killed, worse than torture. Everyone he ever knew would think he was a child molester. Not only would he die and be tortured, but now even his name and everything he thought he stood for in life was tainted. The world would forever know him as the worst kind of criminal possible.

Through a curtain, Isaac followed Rat down a pitch black hallway. As the curtain closed behind them his eyes became useless.

“Those were lies?” asked Rat.

“What?”

“From Miriam. She’s lying about you?”

“Of course. Yes. Definitely. They must have made her.”

“Hmm…”

A door opened under a jingle of keys and Rat flipped a switch. Bright fluorescent lighting brought pain to Isaac’s eyes. Once he could open them again, he noticed there was tile at his feet and mirrors at his side. Exposed pipes stuck out of the floor and walls.

“What’s this?”

Rat pulled out a mattress from beneath the counter where the sinks were cracked and disconnected. “You have to stay in here for the sound.” He kicked the mattress and multiple generations of roaches scattered away from the inside. “We can’t have you scaring the children.” He picked up a dead stiff rodent from a corner, held it by the tail and raised it to Isaac. “No matter how hungry you get, don’t eat these.”

Isaac backed away. “What are you talking about?” he asked, but as the words came out, slurred and difficult, his question was answered. He wobbled finding his feet unsure and difficult. “What did you…”

Rat grabbed Isaac’s elbow and helped him over to the mattress. When he let go, Isaac fell, unable to keep his heavy head up.

“Don’t worry,” said Rat as he pinched tobacco from his pouch and thumbed it into the bowl of his pipe. “You’re probably not going to die, but you’ll feel like you will.”

Isaac’s head pushed into the brown stained material. Drool piddled out of his mouth and his eyelids closed on their own.

“You’ll only be conscious for another minute so listen to what I’m about to say.” He lit his pipe. “Your body will have to adjust to the medicine. The best way to do that is to cooperate.”

“Whaddayammmeee-“

“Don’t try and talk. Just give into it. The more agreeable you are the easier this will be. If you fight it…”

Rat trailed off as Isaac fell completely into the medicine’s grip. He bent down and grunted as he moved Isaac to his back.

“Sweet dreams,” said Rat. “And good luck.”

He closed the door and locked it from the outside as the medicine paralyzed Isaac’s body and began the transformation.

 

 

THREE: INGEST

The sounds came first. Clinks of metal versus rock in random and frantic succession. Cracks of leather and yelps and grunts. Marching, shouting and screaming. Gunshots harangued, only momentarily blotting out the chopping mumble of hooves. He felt the ground pulse beneath him with explosions in the distance and opened his eyes to the city.

Floating above it all, he saw both from close and a distance simultaneously, his body was inexistent and his vision was never clearer. The skyscraper skyline was overlapped by amazing pyramids, gothic castles and spires on cathedrals. The cloudless sky was full with rain, snow and sleet. It ignited in lightning and rays of sun. Fighter jets tore through amidst blimps and hot air balloons. Kamikaze planes aimed for battleships swimming through concrete streets. Commercial airplanes disappeared into skyscrapers, their jet fuel erupted a never ending volcanic spurt.

All the while, black skinned slaves were whipped by white skinned owners. Brown skinned men sacrificed more brown skinned men. Women were burning on stakes. Elaborately dressed men on horseback shot down loin clothed men with spears. Bombs exploded everywhere, melting people, taking off entire sides of buildings. Chain gangs banged away at boulders. Barbarians axed people into parts, killing children and tying women’s hands. Piles of emaciated bodies were dumped by bulldozers into a hole. The sound of champagne glasses clinking mixed with the sound of bodies splattering against the pavement.

And then from far away, a single bus-sized missile grew from the horizon. Its approach was steady and slow until it was finally completely in view. On the side, hand painted, were the words, ‘PEACEMAKER’.

It dropped and landed on them all. Doctors pulling fetus’ with cracked skulls from between shaved legs. Men behind bars raping men behind bars. Rows of people bent over guillotines. Rows of people standing on trap doors with nooses around their necks. Rows of people strapped to chairs sizzling under never ending electrical currents. People strapped to gurneys getting injected against their will. People strapping their arms with belts to inject themselves. Children with guns. Babies in microwaves. Fashion models on catwalks. Boardroom meetings with laser pointers, projected graphs and tables. Men yelling with pieces of paper raised over their heads. Men yelling with signs raised over their heads.

From near or far, micro or macro, Isaac realized it was all just fungus. All just a growth. All just bacteria eating its innocent host.

White light took everything.

The omnipotent avalanche of yellow was a sun on earth that bathed him in its violent vibration.

The mushroom cloud left nothing standing. All buildings crumbled. All people died if not already dead. Life within the cloud’s wake became death. Mass movement became an abrupt stillness and in amazement, Isaac watched the all encompassing apocalypse.

Within him, his beyond body self, he felt the death toll rocket fast in a rush of extreme misery, but as the dead extinguished, overlapped atop them, the living continued to kill. Those that died were dead yet their premonitions repeated in cycles what they once did best. They murdered, maimed, enslaved, raped, terrorized. They created to destroy and destroyed to control.

The cloud eventually cleared and it was as if it were never there at all. Mankind’s history recycled itself over and over, all at the same time. Being born, killing, being killed. Being born, killing, being killed. Being born, killing, being killed.

Being born…

x    x    x    x    x    x

Isaac woke up with his eyes already open. His head throbbed as if a pulsing tumor flexed against his brain. His eyes ached and he pushed hard with his lids over their dry surface, seemingly scratching them. He tried to bring his hands to them, but his body was weak and he could only quiver, laying flat on his back.

The pain was like sandpaper scraping over his delicate tissue. He couldn’t keep them closed and his muscles instinctually pulled back their lids, tearing again. The white strips of light burned at him. Minutes passed before he could move his eyes freely. His body slowly became unfrozen, starting at his core and spreading to his extremities.

More time passed. How long have I been awake? he thought before a more pertinent question struck him. How long have I been asleep?

And then the dreams came in floods. So many and for so long, it could be days, weeks even. Were the kids still safe? Had Rat turned them in? What of Jacob? Mr. Sparkles? What about me?

He could hear fine. The electric buzzing of the lights. The rustle of bugs, crawling and flapping around them, right above him. Then footsteps. A door opened and the steps were at his feet. He heard the familiar huffing and puffing of the old man responsible for this insane daze and dreams.

Isaac attempted to move the muscles of his mouth to speak. Nothing but slurred syllables found the air. Unintelligible vowels and consonants scrambled like eggs into incomprehensible and formless blobs of sound.

And right after Isaac smelled him, the sweaty funk carried with his reeking pipe tobacco breath, the upside down face of Rat came into view.

“How was it?” asked the inverted lips fuming tobacco breath. Isaac forced a small urgent groan and Rat laughed. “Enlightening I’m sure.”

He felt his body lift from beneath his armpits. Rat grunted with the exertion and suddenly Isaac was sitting. His neck fell and his head was caught and then strapped back at the headrest with a belt over his forehead. Wheels creaked rusty and Isaac was moving. The bathroom tile clicked until they exited into the hall of darkness. Ahead, a sheet covered light that glowed through the holes dimly and then bright in shards at the edges.

This is it, thought Isaac. This is where he turns me over. Where I’m imprisoned as a criminal. A pedophile. A terrorist. Definitely tortured and eventually killed. This is where my life ends. As a terrorist. As a child molester. Hated by everyone.

Rat pushed him right into the sheet which glided from his knees up to his eyes.

And it was nothing like he expected.

A blackboard dashed all over with words and numbers, diagrams, pictures and graphs faced two desks and Isaac could see right away it was Gregory and Janice. On the carpet beside the TV, Mr. Sparkles cradled the diapered baby who sucked from a bottle. It took a moment for Isaac to recognize the Dog-E-Tard. He’d never seen him in clothes before and though it should have, it didn’t make sense. Both the baby and the Dog-E-Tard’s eyes were lovingly attached and unblinking. Rat wheeled Isaac between the two desks and Isaac’s peripheral vision was all that could catch the blurry profiles of Gregory and Janice. They didn’t address him and kept their pens down, drawing on the paper. Isaac attempted communication but there was none. His body was locked.

“Okay class, are we ready?”

“Yes, Mr. Rat,” Janice and Gregory said in unison.

“Good, now who knows what yesterday’s class was about? Do you two remember so Isaac can catch up?”

“Slavery,” said Gregory, “and the history of corruption in capitalist government where banks and corporations rule the world.”

“Good,” said Rat. “Now why do you think banks and corporations like slaves?”

“Because they’re bad,” said Janice. Her face was down, watching her balled fist scribble her pen on the notebook paper.

“True, but they’re also good. Corporations make things people need readily available and banks help people keep what they earn safe, so they can’t be all bad.”

“Because they’re evil and all they care about is profit,” said Gregory.

“Rat?” asked Janice raising her hand, but not waiting to be called on. “How are they good and bad too?”

Rat smiled and chuckled, obviously pleased with them, but more with himself. “Well…everything has bad and good in it. Just because something, or someone, is bad doesn’t mean they can’t do good. And good people do bad all the time, so it’s not about being all good or all bad. Nothing is. Instead, it’s about being more good than bad.”

Gregory and Janice were puzzled still, as well as Isaac, his head spinning, wobbling his already fuzzy vision.

“It’s like the Elite Force. Their job is to protect and serve, which is good, but that’s not what usually ends up happening.”

“Oh! Like, remember when on TV the Sheriff was kicking and punching that one fat guy?” asked Gregory, punching above the table and kicking under it. “That was good because the fat guy was bad.”

Janice snickered, covering her mouth to laugh. Gregory laughed too and Mr. Sparkles turned his head from the baby curiously.

“No,” said Rat ignoring the disruption and regaining their attention. “The fat man did do something bad and it was good he was caught, but the Sheriff was bad too because he hurt the fat man when he didn’t have to. So it’s good the Sheriff caught him and stopped him from doing it again, but bad that he beat him up instead of giving him a fair trial.”

“What’s a trial?” asked Gregory.

“It’s a…well, something they used to have when people would decide if a person was guilty or innocent.”

Silence again as Gregory and Janice waited in confusion.

“But we’ll get to that later. Now, the reason banks and corporations like slaves is because they save them money, or…”

He pointed to Gregory who added in proudly, “Profits.”

“Good. Now when slavery first started being used, the slaves weren’t paid at all, they were owned like property, or even pets.”

“Like Mr. Sparkles?” asked Janice.

At the sound of his name, the Dog-E-Tard perked his head up to his children.

“In a way, yes, but Dog-E-Tards are at least treated well, for now. The slaves were only supposed to work all day, but then as people started to realize that it was bad to have slaves, they made it illegal.”

“What did they do with them?”

“They were people,” said Rat, “so they let them go so they could live like people. You see, the slaves were people of different races. That’s how the people in charge justified keeping them as slaves. They pretended like they weren’t really people, but instead like animals.”

“Is Mr. Sparkles a person?” asked Janice. Mr. Sparkles looked away from the sitting baby to turn to Rat. The five of them, baby and Isaac included stared up to Rat who thought hard on an answer. His brow and mustache furrowed and he dug for his pipe while he considered it.

“Yes,” he answered, opening his tobacco pouch.

“So is it bad to treat him like an animal?” asked Gregory.

The silence let Isaac hear the surroundings. A slow gust crossed along the absent train line. A drip somewhere became audible. The ceiling vibrated and he realized it was the life above them. The city moving and working without them.

We are nothing, he thought. We are the same as it has always been since the beginning. We are worthless. We are scavengers, parasites, vermin. We only take, giving nothing. Our world would be better without us. We’re lucky, he thought, to have even this.

Rat lit the bowl of his pipe, the match flame inverted into the tobacco as he pulled it in, he held it long and only after releasing the mushroom cloud of smoke said, “I suppose that depends on how you treat animals.”

Footsteps on the stairs and Isaac tried to move his neck to see, but couldn’t. He heard Jacob before he saw him.

“Got it,” he said. “There was just one. Old. Put it out of its misery.”

“Good,” said Rat. “Where is it now?”

“On the table.”

“Take over for me here. He’s ready.”

Jacob walked in to Isaac’s frame of view and Isaac wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t spoke. The teenager wore black jeans with rubber boots that went up to his knees. A leather jacket was unzipped over his shoulders and he held a rifle with the long end pointed down. His face was bruised, swollen over the eyes and crooked at the nose, and his head was shaved. As he spoke, Isaac could see darkness where teeth used to be.

“You’re doing good,” said Jacob. “Rat says you’re what we’ve been looking for.”

Isaac could hardly keep his eyes connected to Jacob’s as he spoke weakly. “Help me.”

“We are,” said Jacob patting his shoulder. “I know you’re confused, but we are. Everything is just right.”

Pulled backwards, Isaac’s view swung and then pushed forward, back in to the curtain.

“Bye-bye, Isaac,” he heard Janice say.

“Thank you for saving us,” said Gregory.

Rat opened the door and they were back in the room. He pushed Isaac in to roll to a stop and then placed a chair in front of him to sit. He lit his pipe and let out a long sigh before pulling out a small flat screen from his pocket.

“You’re not going to believe this, but I’m going to show you anyway.” Rat tapped the screen and then dragged his finger across it. “Tell me what’s happening here.”

It’s the view of a night vision surveillance camera, green, filming a man laying face up on a mattress in the middle of a bathroom with pipes sticking from the floor and wall instead of toilets. When after a second he realized it was him, Isaac instinctually tried to look up to the corner, but his head was firmly in place.

“Watch,” said Rat and it was then that Isaac noticed the video was sped up.

Around him, bugs appeared and disappeared. Rats shuddered in one place, then the next, then were gone. Everything was moving so fast. Except him. He lay on his back without moving and Isaac squinted to verify that his sleeping self on the screen had his eyes open.

“How long do you think you’ve been sleeping?” asked Rat.

“I…uh…days?”

Rat smiled wide and thin, his mustache hanging over his grin. “Weeks.”

Isaac tried to shake his head, but it was still in place by the buckle.

“Here,” said Rat as he placed the flat screen on to Isaac’s lap. He unbuckled each of Isaac’s wrists and forearms. “Feel your face.”

Isaac raised his hands to his cheeks where they were met with a mat of hair.

“Keep watching,” said Rat and stood up to unbuckle Isaac’s forehead strap.

Isaac watched as blurs of movement darted to and from him, but at his mouth they were still long enough for him to realize not only that they were rats, but that they were feeding him.

“You’re alive because of that. I left you in here to rot. Something saved you. Something wants you.”

“What are you…” said Isaac before trailing off. It was too much. His mind was spinning. Nothing was anything anymore and he couldn’t find words anywhere.

“You took one pill before. That was just to see. Now you take the rest. Now we’ll know for sure.”

“No,” sputtered Isaac. “No more. I don’t want any more.”

“That’s not true,” said Rat. “That’s never true.” He laughed to himself and lit his pipe. He inhaled deeply and let the smoke out between them as he walked back to his chair and sat down. “That’s the thing about this stuff. All you have to do is see it. Then you can’t resist.”

Immediately as the black film canister came out of Rat’s pocket, Isaac’s mouth flooded with saliva. He gulped it down, but more rushed into its place. Drool slipped from between his lips at one corner and Isaac couldn’t swallow enough to keep it all inside.

“Magic,” said Rat as he leaned Isaac’s willing head back. Isaac’s teeth parted and his tongue crept out of his mouth almost reaching for the pills as they one by one dropped into Isaac’s throat, his saliva rushing them to his stomach.

 

FOUR: IMPURE

The ocean was back. Terror came at him just like the horrendous waves that took him once again. He closed his mouth and thrashed to reach a surface that didn’t exist until his lungs were clawing at his throat and forcing his mouth open. His lips splayed open, but no water could enter. Instead he felt fur and claws climbing his esophagus and dilating his throat as whiskers first and then scaled tales last passed from between his teeth. There was one and then another and once he was able to close his mouth behind them they were pulling him deeper, tales wrapped around his wrists, into the terrible water’s mass.

Before the liquid salt found its way in to him the water was gone and his body was pulled through mud by his rescuers. His hand felt air first and he pushed down on earth until his head was above, desperately thankful to have finally found gravity. He sucked in clean air, gasping for it and dragging his body out until he was lying down atop the thick mush of land.

He dug the mud from his eyes and face to see rats. There were two of them the size of cats and they rested on their hindquarters, paws together as if in prayer and tails twice as long as they should be waving behind them as if to signal for his attention. Above all, their eyes drew his focus with bright yellow light that glowed with streaking beams, illuminating the darkness around them.

He told his arms and legs to move him upright, but they stayed, as stunned as his mind. So paralyzed was Isaac, not even his nerves would stir.

“You are here to hear,” they spoke in unison, though their whiskered snouts and triangular buckteeth remained still. “Hear. Not fear. After all, we are not here and neither are you. Learn to not fear us now so that when we are, when you are, you will fear us not then either.”

Isaac tried to talk, but his face was without muscle.

“Hear, not speak. You will see and you will listen. Your tongue would only stifle you. Now stand.”

His body obeyed before his mind agreed to and once he was standing, the rats hopped to his knees and climbed him up to his arms. He found his hands held out in front of him and the rats climbed over his chest then across his arms to rest on his palms. They were weightless and left no sensation in their ascent.

“You have questions because you believe your mind can make sense of this. It cannot. Yet. Not until you see as She sees. Question nothing, for though this is not happening, it is much more real than if it actually were. Walk.”

The rats turned their backs to him and their glowing eyes were beams that illuminated the dark as Isaac stepped through the sinking mud. Their tails wrapped around each wrist in a spiral that led all the way to his elbows.

Their light only reached so far and as his body moved at their will he noticed the ground losing its give and turning into hardened dirt and eventually grass. It was damp on his feet and then there was light besides the rat’s eyes. Stars were there as if they had always been. Trees were there as if they never hadn’t been. Leaves and twigs crunched under his bare feet and though they hurt, there was no way to change his remotely controlled self.

They reached a clearing where the light was no longer brightest from the rats’ neon yellow eyes and suddenly they stopped him and turned to face him once again.

“Above us is The Tunnel. You must not go into The Tunnel. You must not look into The Tunnel. When the moon is orange it is not the moon.”

They turned back and he was walking again and while his neck wouldn’t turn to see it, Isaac could feel the moon above him, pulling at him strangely, urging him to see its beauty and he would have had the choice been his. Instead he saw its light and it grew brighter as they continued, reflecting the color orange off of the grass and trees like city streetlamps.

The grass became gravel and it hurt his feet until it was blacktop pavement followed by sidewalk and then laid brick. The building was doused in orange from The Tunnel, the moon, whatever it was. For as much as they would let him see, it sat right above the doors of the building they stopped in front of.

“Inside you go,” spoke the rats together, “but without us. What you will see not even we know. The eVERMINd forbids us entrance. She alone knows what lies inside. Only you have the ability to enter. Only you have the ability to exit. No matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, remember that this is only the beginning. Worse things happen everyday than what you will face within.”

The rats unwound their tails and crawled back up his arms to his shoulders. One at a time they squirmed their way back into Isaac’s already open mouth. His jaw popped this time as they pushed through. After Isaac doubled over, he found new control over himself and spat away the hair they left behind. Once they passed the tube down to his stomach, their scaly tails sliding over the length of his tongue, he could feel them no longer and was sure they were gone.

With control over his body once again, he was able to see the building in full, still mindful not to stare into the source of the building’s orange glow. Double doors before him opened as his eyes scaled the structure. It was stone, all seemingly one piece with a spire topping a tower, and he entered slowly through the threshold of the cathedral, so much bigger than the outside could realistically allow.

“Children,” boomed a familiar voice from the pulpit, “are the foundation of society.”

The pews were packed with eager listeners that nodded their heads.

“Our youth are the future and it is our duty as their guardians to usher them in to the adulthood.”

Isaac walked down the middle aisle and stopped as the speaker came into view. He wore a royal purple robe with a heavy gold sash that was draped around his shoulders and hung down past his waist.

“We must guide them, mold them, so that they may continue our legacy and facilitate the future of a One True Church. We must teach them the ways of adulthood. They must be ushered in to their enlightened selves by the bodies of The Holy Elders.”

As Isaac continued down the aisle, passing by row after row of attentive listeners, it became clear that the speaker wore a mask. Big round eyes with slits instead of pupils were larger than goggles. The nose was feline and curled ears stuck out at the sides looking more like devil horns. The teeth, so purely white took up the majority of the purple face. They were long and thin, squeezed together forming a hideous smile, and the corners of his mouth curled to create the shape of a crescent moon.

“By their holy hands, we will teach them to grow mentally, emotionally, physically.”

Isaac stopped in the middle of the aisle, unsure of whether the speaker could see him.

“Love is the strongest of all emotion. It is a creation of our God and it is a sin to withhold it from the unholy.”

Only recognizing it then, but sure it had been going on since well before, Isaac turned to a sound from the pews. It was wet and smacking like how he remembered his father used to eat chewy rare steak. It was the audience. Not one, but all of them, crunched emphatically on something tough and juicy between their teeth.

“Today we offer up our children to The Holy Elders that they may take them under their tutelage and transform them in to Holy beings.”

Isaac’s throat closed and his stomach became sick. The people of the audience were eating. Blood overflowed from pools in their mouths down their chins. Some held their tongues with their fingers to chomp through them. Some already had and chewed on their disconnected organ noisily.

“Bring us The Innocents of Impurity so that they may be assigned their Holy Elder.”

The smacking was so loud that as the audience applauded, their clapping hands were only secondary in volume.

Children, no older than five, walked in single file to the front of the stage and stood in a line facing the pews. They were boys, all naked and all wearing purple masks of skulls that stopped at their upper lip, leaving their mouths below uncovered. There were six at first until another line came out and stood behind the first, naked and skull covered. After them, a third line came out, six as well, and out of them all there was no way to distinguish one from the other.

The audience stopped clapping and in unison they all swallowed with one loud and terrible gulp.

“Now bow your heads as we appeal to our God.” The speaker raised his hands and Isaac saw then that they were orange.

On both sides of him, the followers obeyed. They bowed their heads, but instead of putting their hands together to pray, they covered their ears.

“We appeal to You wholeheartedly our Holy Beloved,” said the speaker. His orange hands hovered over the purple skull children as if they were his marionettes. “God of Bones, we humble ourselves, our bodies, and our wills, that You may be glorified by the gift we lay before You.”

From all around him, there was movement. Isaac didn’t hear it all until he saw the first ear rip. A man right next to him with his fingernails dug behind his earlobe pulled the skin to stretch until it gave and the disconnected membrane shrunk back. The sound of tearing skin and separated cartilage rose until blood gushed from the sides of all their heads and their ears were shoved into their mouths two at a time. Once the chewing started, louder than before as the cartilage crunched between their teeth and the skin became mashed into pulp, the speaker raised his voice to finish his prayer.

“In the name of the OverminD, we baptize The Innocents of Impurity into Your gracious terms of subservience. Praise be to MAMOTH!” yelled the speaker.

In response, tongue-less with mouths full of pieces of ears, the audience repeated. “Praise be to MAMOTH.”

“Elders, approach and select for yourself the vessel of your Holy deposit.”

From the front row, The Holy Elders rose and faced the audience who stood and clapped, applauding with their hands and some still with the chewing and swallowing of their ears. Their cloaks were golden and though their faces were darkened by the hoods, their long and pointy grey noses protruded from the shadows.

The audience, mostly done with their ears, began on their fingers as The Holy Elders took to the stage one at a time. The speaker clapped his orange hands twice and all of the children simultaneously arched their necks and opened their mouths. As The Elders walked from child to child, they inserted their fingers into each child’s mouth to inspect them. They stroked the smooth toothless gums of each of The Innocents of Impurity with their fingers until they were satisfied and stood behind their chosen child, gripping its naked shoulders.

Crunching bones, sloshing skin and spattering blood became louder until it was all Isaac could hear. He stepped backwards.

This isn’t real, thought Isaac. This is just a nightmare.

He turned around to leave, but once his head turned he was still staring at the rows of naked purple skulled children with the golden cloaks towering above them and the masked speaker with his hands raised over them all. He turned around again, but it was only as if he hadn’t, the people in the pews still facing forward, still chewing off their fingers and cracking their bones between their teeth.

“Elders, repeat after me,” the grinning masked man spoke. “I hereby baptize you…”

I hereby baptize you…” they spoke together with a single raspy, congested voice.

“With the Holy fluid within me…”

With the Holy fluid within me…”

“That you may enter in to the favor…”

That you may enter in to the favor…”

“Of our God of Bones.”

Of our God of Bones.”

The golden cloaks parted to reveal terrible skin, grey and shriveled. The Elders’ hands turned the children at the shoulders, grinning with thin lips. As the heads of the children bowed in to the grey torsos, Isaac tried to yell, but his immobile mouth allowed no sound. The grey hands gripped the backs of the children’s heads, pushing them in then out and Isaac ran. His mind was in flurry with no thought of how to stop them.

Before he could reach the stage, the grinning masked man pointed and Isaac fell to his knees. The speaker walked down the steps as the slurping sounds joined the cracking and gobbling of the audience’s hands.

“You have come back, Isaac,” he said. “This pleases me. Greatly.”

Isaac tried to panic, but he couldn’t even do that. His will was frozen and now under the control of the mask before him.

“Do you remember my voice? No? How about my face?” With that the man pulled back his mask to rest on top of his head. “You have fallen from the faith Isaac. You have denied the gift our God commanded you to take from me. You have forgotten your baptism. You should thank the great MAMOTH. He is a forgiving God and He has granted you the chance of redemption. It is time for your second baptism.”

Isaac couldn’t express surprise, disgust, fear or any other emotion that his mind rattled with. Instead, he could only stare in to the neon orange face of Pastor Scott as he dropped his robe to reveal his neon orange body.

The audience crunched the bones of their hands with their teeth, tongue-less, ear-less, with eyes wide and attentive as Isaac’s lips parted and his throat filled.

The only thing more terrible than the pain, humiliation and helplessness was the memory that resurfaced with it. That this had all happened before, a long time ago.

 

FIVE: IMPAIR

From nothing, Isaac came back into awareness. He didn’t realize he was moving until Jacob spoke.
“Stay close. The Cunts are skittish.”
Isaac didn’t understand which meant this wasn’t a dream.

He saw Mr. Sparkles stumble over. He didn’t recognize the Dog-E-Tard at first since he was walking on two feet and had a head full of shaggy blond hair, but he was still naked as usual. Mr. Sparkles put a hand on the arm of Isaac’s wheel chair and lowered his face to Isaac. His collar, marked with the letter ‘S’, swung back and forth beneath his big rounded chin and fat, hanging lower lip. The Dog-E-Tard scrunched his nose and despite the low light, Isaac could see tears forming under his beady eyes.
“Is he awake? Isaac? Can I talk to him?” Mr. Sparkles’ lips didn’t move and Isaac was confused until Gregory’s head swung in front of his. “Isaac can you hear me? Blink your eyes if you can hear me.”
“I can hear you,” said Isaac. “Loosen the straps.”
“Here,” said Jacob and unbuckled the belt that strapped back his forehead. “Alright?”
Isaac rolled his neck to each side slowly. The muscles were stiff, but he could hold his head and he lifted it only slightly before laying it back against the cushion.

“Where are we going?” he said, pushing past the dryness in his throat, and trying to look back at Jacob unsuccessfully.
“It’s a surprise,” said Gregory. He was jogging backwards, smiling big. “Sparks, ride!”

Gregory clapped his hands twice and stopped with his legs spread. Mr. Sparkles ran up to him, ducking between his open legs, crawling under and then rising to lift Gregory as he continued walking for them both on all fours.
“See? I taught him tricks.”

They were in a corridor, some kind of catacomb to the underground subway system. The ground, ceiling and walls were hard dirt and jutted out rock. Wood support beams crossed every few feet with strung lights leading them through the winding tunnel.

Gregory wore tattered jeans, holes in each knee, a black t-shirt with neon lettering hid by a red zip-up hooded sweatshirt and red shoes Isaac didn’t recognize either. The boy was bigger than he remembered.

“How long?” he asked through his throat’s dry stifling.

“Almost there,” said Jacob.

“No, have I been…” Isaac trailed off under the effort of thought.

“It’s winter,” said Jacob. “I don’t know the day.”

The tunnel curved and as they rounded the bend they were met by two figures with rifles raised at them. They looked like boys, or at least petite men, with shaved heads and baggy t-shirts hanging over tight and holey jeans.

“Peace,” spoke Jacob. “To the Mother.”

“The Mother,” they responded and lowered their rifles.

“This is Isaac. Isaac, these are The Cunts. Mug and Limey.”

The two approached and bent to stare at Isaac. “Looks like a bitch,” said Mug. Her head was shaved with scabby stripes over her scalp. “The Mother must be out her mind to want this shit.”

“Well she does, so you can tell Her that next time you see her.”

Jacob pushed Isaac past them and Limey went to the steel door they guarded. She spun a wheel at the middle that withdrew the locks from the rock frame. It swung open slow, the hinges creaking loudly with rust.

“She’s waiting for you,” Limey said to Isaac. “Don’t disappoint. People are counting on you.”

Jacob pushed him inside with Gregory and Mr. Sparkles following behind. The tunnels within were dark and they passed more of the Cunts, armed with rifles and heads shaved with scab designs sticking out from their scalps.

They passed many doors but the one at the end opened for them and they passed through after a steady decline into a high ceiling sanctuary. The floor, walls and ceiling were all covered in hard dirt and rock, but supported by wooden beams that crossed over head. Candles were the only light within and pews rowed the aisle on either side that they crossed. The stage was covered in red carpet and a pulpit was unmanned. Behind it were paintings. Tall and large, three of them were the backdrop for this makeshift chapel and the flickering flame of the candles didn’t allow Isaac to concentrate on their images.

Jacob knew where to go and pushed them down the aisle and then through a side door.

It wasn’t until they’d left the sanctuary that Isaac realized he had seen it before. The terrible dream with the masked Pastor Scott and all of the memories, once forgotten, that flooded Isaac afterward. And it wasn’t just the bad memories that came back to him after that. Once the dream had ended, Pastor Scott’s salty and sour penis ejaculating its disgustingly thick liquid gel down his throat, all of Isaac’s memories were all of a sudden back in to his mind. From the trivial to the pivotal, each one was bright and articulate. He remembered each time that Pastor Scott had taken him in to his bedroom that adjoined their choir practice place. He remembered the smell of cinnamon coming from the red candles that were always lit. He remembered how he would sit on the bed while the Pastor unrobed. He remembered every word the Pastor would say, about how this was normal. About how Isaac owed it to God to reward the Pastor. About how the penis was a holy instrument and that if he obeyed, he would be rewarded with eternal life. And how if he didn’t, the Devil would prey on him for his lack of faith. How he would go to hell for not pleasing Pastor Scott. About how if he told anyone, the Lord would punish him by giving him to the demons who wouldn’t be kind to him and who would do even worse. The demons wouldn’t rub his head while they put it in his mouth. The demons wouldn’t be gentle with their hands on his body and their fingers on his nipples. The demons wouldn’t go slow when they stuck it in him. The demons wouldn’t stop when he started to bleed.

Every memory all at once, all there and still there.

The next room’s walls and ceiling were covered completely in fabric. Every color of the spectrum wheel covered the dirt and rock in a rainbow of shiny satin.

Candles burned from wicks dripping wax. Music was playing from somewhere, but Isaac couldn’t tell if it was live or a recording. The room was foggy with smoke burning from incense that trailed up from trays in long lines to the ceiling where it dissipated.

“Sit,” came a voice from the corner. It was soft and loving, a suggestion, invitation, instead of a demand.

“Yes Mother Nithya,” said Jacob who stepped in front of Isaac’s wheelchair to bow. He led Mr. Sparkles and Gregory between an opening to a sectioned off area to the corner covered in mirrors.

Isaac watched as from the opposite corner, Mother Nithya rose from shadow and walked toward him.

Her beauty didn’t stunt him, he didn’t even notice it until after when they were all seated. Instead, his throat swelled and his uvula felt as though it sagged to hang inside his acidic empty stomach.

On each shoulder of Mother Nithya rested a rat. They were cat-sized and sat on their hindquarters with their paws together in front of them. Just like his dream, except for their eyes which were beady instead of glowing that horrendously intense yellow light.

“You are surprised,” said Mother Nithya. “This surprises me. I would of thought you used to the unusual by now.”

Isaac was staring at the beasts on her shoulders and didn’t notice that her eyes were closed.

“You must walk,” She said. “The eVERMINd will not meet you weakly.” With that she walked passed him and the rats turned to stare as she turned him back to enter between the gap in the mirrors.

“But I’m stuck,” said Isaac. He pulled at his arms and legs, but each were bound at their wrists and ankles.

“Are you?” she asked as she disappeared in to the mirrors.

“But…” trailed Isaac. He pulled at his feet, but they were too firm in place. He tried to curl with his biceps, but he could hardly move them. He pushed up at the straps with all his might until he felt his hands tingle. He stopped at the strange sensation. They felt light, but strong as if replaced all of a sudden. He pulled in, but his wrists wouldn’t fit through and so he lifted them one more time, surprised when they burst from the straps.

Isaac raised his hands to his eyes. His fingers waved like flames and his hands were the pit of a fire. He stared at them for a moment. His fingers rippled and he out focused to the mirror where in his reflection his hands were unmoving.

“Still dreaming,” Isaac said and undid the buckles at his ankles. He stepped out of the chair wobbly and fell immediately to his knees. He crawled to the mirror and used it to stand himself up. He stepped inside and took the seat nearest the opening between Gregory and Mr. Sparkles.

“Good,” said Mother Nithya and the door behind Isaac slammed shut. Within the enclosing was dark, but she lit a candle at the middle of the table. The two rats climbed down her arms and sat at each of her sides.

There were only six seats and Jacob was not at the table.

“You are here to meet the eVERMINd. I am here to appeal to Her on your behalf.”

The table before him was segmented into six parts, one of each color of the spectrum.

“We will now summon the spirit of The God of Hands so that She may decide if you are fit to carry Her spirit.” Mother Nithya, eyes still closed, put her hands over the table. She stayed them there for just seconds before they begun to shake. They vibrated as if charged electrically and suddenly a deep yellow light came from them. It shined its light in beams and then the eyes on both of the rats illuminated with their neon yellow rays.

Beside him, Gregory was awe inspired. His mouth hung agape and his hands were over the table too, shaking them, beckoning them to ignite as well. Mr. Sparkles sat back afraid. He was already awkward in the chair, but jumped up to curl in the seat, hugging the back.

“I appeal to You, oh God of Hands, that You will allow this follower to free himself of his afflictions so that they may be consumed by these two innocents, giving them Your infinite understanding and blessing.”

In the light of her hands, Isaac could see her face and realized her eyelids weren’t just shut, but the eyeballs beneath them were gone causing the lids to concave in to her sockets.

“Wait, what?” asked Isaac. His answer came as Mother Nithya’s eyelids receded to show their hollow innards and a crease on her forehead formed. It spread apart as yellow light shined from the crease and her third eye opened.

There was silence and all sound seemed to be sucked from the room.

“He will not,” spoke a voice from Mother Nithya’s mouth not her own. “He is plagued by doubt. He is prideful. He is spiteful. He will not offer up sacrifice.”

“This is crazy,” said Isaac. “You can’t expect me to…”

“By denying yourself salvation, you have endangered the lives of many. Their death sentence is on your hands.”

It was then that he recognized the voice as the same otherworldly tone that came from his bound future self in dream. “This is not my fault,” spoke Isaac. “I haven’t done anything. I’m a victim!”

“We are all victims. Even a victim can victimize. You have denied your Savior. You have rejected blind faith. This is what the OverminD wants. Your last chance for transcendence is closing.”

“I have been a victim since before I could remember! This is not on me! If you’re really a god then You are to blame!”

The light of Mother Nithya’s hands, still shaking over the table dimmed. The eyes of the rats went back to beady. The eye of Mother Nithya’s forehead closed and they were left in darkness.

“You have failed not only yourself, but thousands. Your fate will be left to the OverminD now.”

The rats climbed back to Mother Nithya’s shoulders as she stood. She walked around with her eyelids closed and took Gregory by the hand with Mr. Sparkles following them out the opening.

“It’s okay,” said Gregory over his shoulder. “Don’t feel bad.”

By the time Isaac had steadied himself enough to walk back in to the room he was all by himself. He thought about sitting back in the wheel chair, but kicked it instead and slowly made his way back through to the chapel.

Fewer candles were burning now and he walked to the front, staring at the stage. Behind the pulpit, Isaac could now see the murals. They were painted expertly, but were confusing none the less. Two hands with an eye in each palm formed a triangle with their thumb and forefingers above a pile of skulls. Yellow light streaked out from behind the hands to a scene of missiles, aircraft, tanks, explosions and burning buildings. The scene spread out on to the adjoining canvases showing people running, screaming, incinerating inside fireballs.

“Bullshit,” said Isaac. He walked up the stairs of the stage and faced the pulpit. “It’s all bullshit!” He yelled. “You’re all being lied to,” he screamed at the empty seats. “Even by yourself! You can’t even tell yourself the truth!”

He laughed to himself in the silence and unzipped his jeans. He arched his piss stream up to douse the pulpit and the open book on top of it. Urine dripped from the podium as he left, still weak, out through the catacomb passageway. The Cunts were gone and he saw no one. He left the door open where they’d met Mug and Limey. He walked down the tunnel, not knowing if he would make it and then knowing for sure he wouldn’t when he fell to his knees. His weak body couldn’t push any further.

As he lay on his back, he put his hands to his face. He remembered then how it felt after the first time and was surprised. His beard was long and bushy. He smiled and then coughed and then laughed and then coughed some more.

“Finally got the beard I wanted,” said Isaac. “I’m ready for my picture.”

It was then that he felt something on his neck and heard the sound of sniffing. He was lifted and felt himself carried, his feet dragging and his wrists held as his body rested on a naked back.

It was Mr. Sparkles. It suddenly made sense. “You’re turning us in,” said Isaac. “We’re the only ones that matter. We’re the only ones they want. This has been the plan all along.”

The Dog-E-Tard said nothing as he carried him through tunnels he had never been before.

“They’re going to kill me,” said Isaac. “They’re going to torture me and then they’re going to kill me and it’s going to be all over television. People are going to cheer. It’s going to make a lot of people happy.”

Mr. Sparkles kept walking and was glad to pretend like he didn’t understand. He knew Isaac was right and made sure he cried without making any sound.

 

SIX: INDUCT

It took six days for Isaac to decide to take his eyes out, but his hands were still broken and so he couldn’t. He was passed out when they took him, dreaming about war. Bombs over the suburbs. Fighter jets shot down and tumbling through a row of identical homes. The smoke of destruction quickly overshadowed the smoke of barbecue.

They didn’t hurt him at first. Once he was dragged to the surface, pushed limply through the open manhole, the cameras never left. Shouting paparazzi rushed him and not even that was enough to pull him out of the dream.

The godchild, just a fetus spinning in a floating orb above a black castle, blanketed the city around it with yellow light. Bombs exploded off of its dome surface. Lightning bolts struck the electric dome and the whole surface rippled with the energy. Within, people stared up to a lightshow across the whole sky. Waves of light crashed away from the centers of impact constantly. It went on for so long that the people stopped watching.

The video cameras showed his hands being smashed by a hammer to a packed live studio audience. At home, viewers celebrated too with a live feed that was the starting bell to the six day celebration leading up to the premiere of the new GGX and the first ever televised Pregnant Fencing tournament.

From that point on, a countdown ticked backwards to Day X in the corner of the screen for every channel on MediaNop television. Day X was declared a nationwide holiday for the Union to celebrate MediaNop City, its entertainment capitol. School was cancelled and businesses, except the service industry, closed in recognition all over. Cities across the Union held screening events. Every commercial slot mentioned the event. Late night shows focused solely on the event and BloidTV did an expose on all involved.

Each day of the celebration Isaac was subjected to another torture session. Five days till Day X, with hands still broken and fingers crunched hanging in his gashed skin, they cut off his left foot with a saw. Four days till, they smashed his other foot until the bones and innards hung loosely. Three days till, they removed his front teeth by pulling them with pliers. Two days till, they laid him on his stomach and flayed his back, removing the skin in strips and then slapping him in the face with them.

The day before Day X he was strapped to a chair and paying tourists threw rocks of varying size at him, depending on how much they were willing to pay.

The rats came for him that night. As he slept, only under the assistance of drugs that kept him unconscious, his mind rose from his body and he hovered over it, staring at his broken self.

“I am sorry this is happening to you,” came a voice.

There was no one in the room with him. Isaac’s spirit rose through the underground cells and through MediaNop Tower above them until he was high above in the night sky. There were no clouds and the moonlight was strong.

“Come here,” said the voice and Isaac knew then that it came from the moon. He zoomed through the ozone and out in to space. The moon grew as he moved and he thought it looked pregnant, as if he were watching it grow with child at a fast pace in front of him.

He met with the ground of the moon, his spirit feet touching the surface but affecting it not and unable to feel its surface.

“I want to apologize,” said the voice and Isaac looked up to see Mother Nithya. She walked toward him, a spirit as well, with a flowing white gown that swung about her as if alive. “I didn’t want this to happen.”

Her arms were open in front of her and Isaac felt himself drawn to her body’s warmth. Though he wasn’t cold and though neither of them actually were with body, he went to her and she embraced him. He could feel her love and it raced through him like the warmest liquid. Every pain he had left, every fear and emotion of anger, was gone. The hug of Mother Nithya cured him through and through and when she released him he’d never felt better.

“There is no answer to the question why. There is no reason behind the insanity of the human condition. It is and you are and that is all that can be known. Your chance to become like me has passed. You are going to die Isaac, but do not think that a defeat. You were right. You are a victim, but we are all victims. It matters not what is done to you, whether that be fair or not doesn’t matter. It only matters what you do and you have done well. There are consequences for any choice that is ever made. The consequence to you not completing your sacrifice has already been endured. The eVERMINd does not have control over everything. She wanted to give you an opportunity to escape this. You denied that opportunity and you suffered the consequences.

“I come to you now with another chance. Your life cannot be saved. Isaac, you will die. You will suffer more than you already have, worse than you already have. There is no changing that. What you can change though is what happens to those you gave your life to protect. This is your last chance. Offer up your sacrifice of eyes so that in your final hours you may truly see. So that by the consumption of your eyes, the chosen others may also see and may use your sight, your sacrifice, to save the world from what it has become.

“The godchild will be born. The OverminD will see to that, but the godchild must not be corrupted. That is up to She. Your sacrifice will allow the eVERMINd to arm up against the powers of evil. We can do nothing for you now, but we ask anyway. Will you offer up your eyes to the eVERMINd in holy sacrifice that the godchild may be protected?”

Isaac stared in to the beauty of Mother Nithya’s glowing yellow third eye and without mouth, said, “Yes.”

His spirit dropped back to earth at incredible speed. The moon along with Mother Nithya shrunk until they were just dots and then gone as he reentered his body after moving through the floors of the tower and the underground.

He sat up immediately once he was back in himself. On the ground before him were Mother Nithya’s rats, eyes aglow with yellow. They lowered their vermin heads and closed their shining eyes and Isaac understood.

His arms were bound by the straightjacket and it took nearly no energy to burst them from the straps. He raised his crooked hands to his eyes and watched as he squeezed his fists past the pain. The fingers cracked and reconfigured themselves back in to their rightful place. When he opened his hands again from fists he stared at them in wonder. They were without blemish and he felt the eVERMINd there with him in the faint glow of yellow beneath his skin.

Isaac wasted no time in digging his fingers in to his eyes. He couldn’t fit all of them in as he’d originally thought and so instead used just his index and middle fingers to scoop them out. He yelled, feeling the air pass strangely through where his teeth once were, and pulled until his eyes were hanging outside of his sockets. He ripped the cords and veins that held his eyeballs to his face and threw the squishy orbs to the floor. He heard them bounce wetly and held the place where they used to sit with his restored hands.

The rats’ tails wrapped around his eyes and rolled them up securely before disappearing back in to a hole in the corner.

He fell to sleep as on his forehead, a wrinkle opened, separating his skin and pushing through the skull to let his third eye free.

x    x    x    x    x    x

     Rat sold the skins of the children for a high price. He told his superiors that the baby had died of neglect and that he’d fed it and the flesh of the kids to the vermin. It wasn’t ideal. The Elite Force had wanted all three kids along with Isaac and Mr. Sparkles, but they were satisfied enough with the most important two returned. They never asked about Jacob.

“Here ya go,” said the delivery man handing Rat a leash. “Hope you like ‘em. Such a pain in the ass.”

Rat nodded and walked away with the dogs following him willingly.

“Hey, asshole! What about a tip?” the delivery man yelled after Rat, but the old man didn’t acknowledge the proposition.

Rat led the dogs down the tunnel. There were three. Two pups and a mother. Doberman Pinschers held a special place in Rat’s heart. They were fierce, loyal and loving, three things necessary for a man in his line of work.

Jacob was out with the rail car and Rat grumbled with the strain of walking. “That boy will be the death of me,” he told the dogs who were all sniffing eagerly at the underground soil. “Out grab-assing while there’s work to be done.” He did like the walk though and felt good that his trials were over for now. No more children to care for. No more Dog-E-Tard to teach. No more Isaac. It was a good feeling and he would never admit it.

Mug and Limey, though the toughest of the Cunts, were soft in the heart for the puppies especially. “Okay, okay,” said Rat after a minute of the couple fawning over the animals. “I don’t have all day. You want something to love, find a man and make your own.”

The girls ignored Rat, but let him through after receiving more licks to the face from the happy pets.

“C’mon girls,” said Rat to the dogs as they walked through the tunnel. “It’s time to answer for our sins. The Mother’s going to save our souls. Ready?”

The sarcasm was lost on the dogs but Rat laughed to himself anyway.

x    x    x    x    x    x

     Mr. Sparkles licked himself like he remembered he used to before he met the RadiCons. He was curled up on pillows outside his indoor doghouse in the corner of his owner Patrick Aswell’s room.

“Oh, you dirty bitch!” yelled Patrick. “Yeah, that’s it! Give it to me! Faster!”

Mr. Sparkles looked up to his owner. He had seen Patrick have sex many times before, but never from this position. It was confusing watching his master on all fours. Usually Patrick was the one giving it, but this time there was a woman ramming her torso into his behind. Mr. Sparkles cocked his head as he noticed some kind of belt around her waist and then saw the color of the thing she was pushing into him, a luminescent pink that glowed much brighter than any thing like that he’d ever seen.

“Yes! Yes!” yelled Patrick and Mr. Sparkles turned his head back in to the cushions.

After his master was done, he made the woman lay down as he made waste on her chest. That was even more confusing and the smell that reached his nostrils was unbearable. He left the room walking on all fours. It was much easier for him, much more natural, to walk this way. The marble floor of Patrick’s mansion was cold on his palms and toes and he hurried down the stairs still on all fours to the security guard that manned his post with a copy of the Bloids open in front of him.

Mr. Sparkles whimpered lightly, just as he used to, to get his attention.

“Hey buddy,” said the guard. “You want out? I’m sorry. You know the rules. Not allowed on the lawn after dark. Use the litter room if you have to. Want me to take you?”

Mr. Sparkles tried his sad face, but the Bloids rose between him and the guard. On the front cover, Isaac screamed from his straps as a hammer crunched the back of his palm.

“Run along now, buddy boy,” said the guard. “Just be glad you’re not caged like the rest of them.”

Mr. Sparkles went back up the stairs and a similarly dressed guard was escorting the woman out. She was carrying bags with her and was cleaned, but he could still smell the fecal matter on her. The scent trailed all the way back to Patrick’s room and Mr. Sparkles couldn’t get used to it.

Inside, his owner was passed out face down on his bed, snoring already. Mr. Sparkles crawled up on to the bed next to him and his owner didn’t stir. His heavy breathing was even and once Mr. Sparkles was sure he wouldn’t wake up, he jumped back down to the floor and made his way to the walk in closet on all fours closing the door behind him.

It took twenty minutes for Mr. Sparkles to get dressed. He put on Patrick’s purple socks and purple silk boxers. He put on his shiny purple suit jacket and pants, not even bothering with the white undershirt. Over his hands he slipped on the SapeSkin gloves and left the SapeSkin shoes untied at his feet. They were uncomfortable, but he didn’t care or realize he’d put them on the wrong feet. Mr. Sparkles chose the SapeSkin scalp cap that most resembled Patrick’s hair, a long brown pony tail that hung down to his shoulder line.

Just getting down the stairs on two feet took forever. Mr. Sparkles had practiced walking and had gotten good enough at it, but it still wasn’t comfortable and he much preferred the stability of his hands and feet than just the latter.

“Going out Mr. Aswell?” asked the security guard.

Mr. Sparkles kept walking past him until he was standing in front of the door with his back to the guard.

“Should I have them bring your car around?”

Mr. Sparkles calmed himself how he used to when he was about to perform. He took a deep breath and very carefully, making sure to move his lips and tongue just right, said, “Door.”

“Yes sir,” said the guard.

The doors in front of him opened and Mr. Sparkles hobbled out the front into the lawn. It was a beautiful mansion with a long pebble drive that separated the huge yard surrounded by two story tall fences.

The gate opened for him at the end of it and closed behind him. Mr. Sparkles had to concentrate so as not to bend at the back. Posture, he remembered Rat would say. That meant to keep his back straight. When he did, he never felt more vulnerable.

The long walk made sores form in his feet, but he kept going. He was used to pushing through the pain, ignoring it, pretending it wasn’t there.

Three men stopped him in the south side projects, telling him to take off his shoes. Mr. Sparkles did so happily and gave them his SapeSkin scalp cap and gloves as well. Without the shoes he was able to run and figured it safe to go on all fours. He was faster that way anyway. He stopped and turned around to say, “Thank you,” but the men were already gone and he dismissed the confusion, unsure of how they knew he so desperately wanted to get rid of his shoes.

Mr. Sparkles followed the route that Jacob had shown him from the car, driving through the city with his face out the window and the wind rushing into his eyes and mouth. He made sure that no one was looking when he got to the manhole that read ‘Trespassers Killed’.

He knew the way through the tunnels and secret passages to Mother Nithya’s hidden chamber. Mug and Limey hugged the Dog-E-Tard with their rifles pushing into their chests and helped him out of the rest of the awkward clothes.

“Sparks,” yelled Gregory when he first saw him. Tears ran down the Dog-E-Tard’s eyes faster than they ran to each other. “You’re here! I knew you’d make it back!”

Janice grabbed onto Mr. Sparkles’ knee and squeezed it. The baby waddled over on two feet, dirt all over its drooling face and hands. Rat smiled as he smoked from his pipe with a dog and two puppies jumping and barking excitedly. In the corner, Jacob held a girl closely, her legs covered with red and white striped tights and they kissed staring in to each other’s eyes.

“It’s time! Isaac did it! We’re going to be superheroes!” Mr. Sparkles didn’t know what that meant but he followed them in to the room of mirrors anyway where he and Gregory sat with Mother Nithya and her two rats. They set slimy white balls with red veins in front of them. Stringy membrane connected at the ends made them look like tadpoles.

“Consume the eyes of sacrifice that you may connect your soul to the eVERMINd.”

Gregory took the eyeball into his hand and stared in to the pupil. “Is he dead?”

“Not yet,” said Mother Nithya.

“Is he going to die?”

“We’re all going to die.”

“Will he die soon?”

“He believes so.”

“Will he?”

“I hope not.”

“Me too,” said Gregory. He placed the eyeball in his mouth and chewed.

“Good?” asked Mr. Sparkles.

“No,” said Gregory shaking his head, but the Dog-E-Tard ate it along with his owner anyway.

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.

SERPENT the MILLIONS 097-098

The SerpentThe Millions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He -aits hor -ou,” she said. “Hood?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demeter took another drink, leaving only a fourth left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CALM the MADNESS 095-096

The CalmThe Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mouth opened wide and his teeth wiggled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her nightmares were gone and so instead she dreamt.

WHITEOUT the MOUNTAIN 093-094

The WhiteoutThe Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Often, this prey was people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The undeniable screech of a sampry slit the air.

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

CURSE the FOG 091-092

The CurseThe Fog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?” asked Skarpo.

“You klled her,” said the boy.

“So?” asked Skarpo.

The boy had no answer.

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

The God of Teeth 084-090

The Soul of Teeth

“The God of Teeth is the only god within the HIGHSIX that acts how he believes. If something is funny, you laugh. Any problem is to be met with a grin. If you are never serious, how can anyone else be taken seriously?”

The Six of Teeth

“The Fourth God is a liar. Those loyal to him cannot be trusted. Those that have gone to the Orange Land come back with lies or don’t come back at all. I am the only exception. I have been to the SouthWest of SIX and know it first hand. Listen so that you might be saved.”

The Five of Teeth

“There is a castle once you pass the ghost towns that the Orange people destroyed. They call them that for the pollen of the virral flower they cover their bodies with. The castle is made of bones and the rode to it is made of teeth. There is no sense in how this came to be, but sense holds little ground among followers of The God of Teeth. All that matters when you meet the true Orangies is whether or not you can make them laugh.”

The Four of Teeth

“I entered their castle a prisoner until I was put before the holder of the Orange Throne. He was a man, toothless, covered in that orange pollen and I had heard the legend, but didn’t believe until I saw it. The Orange Throne was not as I’d imagined it to be. It was far worse.”

The Three of Teeth

“Limbs made up the structure of the seat that the Orange Man sat on. JOKKOL was long dead and it was clear that this rugged man, skin orange, teeth gone, hair in long dreads and fingernails that touched the floor, was only sitting in his god’s stead. When he spoke, it was with fierce nonsense and I knew then what was necessary of me.”

The Two of Teeth

“I took out my dagger and held it above my head as I yelled the name of their god and then bowed as I placed the tip to the root of my gums. I used my palm as a hammer, ridding my mind and instincts of second thoughts.”

The Null of Teeth

“I have no teeth, but I have life, and now I know what true laughter really is: sustenance.”

The God of Eyes 077-083

 The Null of Eyes

“Not everyone gets the epiphany.”

 The Two of Eyes

“Just so you know, you’re being lied to. The Land of The SIX is not what it seems.”

 The Three of Eyes

“The Council of Skol runs Center CIty and the majority of SIX. They do this through minerals, monetizing the very land you sleep on .The same land that was here long before you and will be right there, for as long as the world is, after you.”

 The Four of Eyes

“Everything you see is controlled. There are curses worked in to every message you get from the world around you. Pretty soon, SIX will all be waste. Our planet’s small circle of land is habitable only temporarily.”

The Five of Eyes

“There is no way to stop the Council of Skol because they control everything. Like puppets on strings, everything you see becomes clearer of sense when you take a step back. That is what Only Mountain is like. A drawing framed in close that allows you only a fraction of the information necessary to discern it. With each zoom out of the frame, a new epiphany is made.”

The Six of Eyes

“If you think you know the history of SIX than you are wrong. No one can know the unknowable. All that is available to the historian is a collection of accounts it must trust. Without trust for history’s authors, one has no use for ‘fact’ driven education. The truth is, facts simply can’t exist. People are just not meant to really know because we are built fallible, victims to our own perceptions.”

The Soul of Eyes

“Perception is just like a ghost, unreliable and intangible.”