Divina Corpus

Note: This short, while it can be read as a stand-alone, would better be enjoyed if you read “Beacons”, for which this here is a sequel/parallel story. Fair warning :D.

“Lord, have mercy”.

Father McKenzie’s voice intoned in a deep baritone, reciting the litany as prescribed by the Church as the child’s body lay still on the bed. She was bound to the posts, one limb leather-strapped to each wooden column. A white nightgown the only visible clothing on her. How prosaic, the priest thought.

The house where the session took place was humble. He had managed to calm the mother of the child and assured her that he would free her daughter of the horrible being that held her hostage. Had instructed her and the rest of the numerous family – how they all lived in the small hovel was beyond him – to pray until the ordeal was over. He was now alone with the child in her room.

“Christ, have mercy”.

The girl was so still that the only sign of her being alive was the slow rise and fall of her chest as she breathed shallowly. She was only 7. Quite a beautiful child, by any standard, but visibly deteriorated physically as was the case with all those under possession. It was such a strange act, why a being would be so bent on slowly driving an innocent person’s body to the grave. They know they cannot have the soul. It seemed to Father McKenzie that they simply derive enjoyment from robbing the soul from its one chance at mortal life. The trade-off, he considered, was innocence, and with it free entry into heaven for what was there to be judged for when an infantile soul met with the Lord? It was still a terrible price to pay.

“Lord, have mercy”.

As the priest continued to recite the Litany of the Saints, the first part of the exorcism itself had yet to begin; the first stage was known as the Presence. This would be the moment the entity would manifest itself to those in the area. For the time being, it was still dormant within the child  but it was aware. Like an ancient dragon slumbering amidst its hoard, they are always aware.

“Christ, have mercy”.

“Christ, hear us”.

The child’s breathing became agitated, increasing in speed and depth. Her throat, most certainly parched,  producing a primal sound as the air coursed violently through her airways.

“God, the Father in Heaven. Have mercy on us”.

Demons must always be goaded into rising from the depths of the possessed’s mind.

It did not take much goading, in this particular case. It seemed almost as if the demon was eager to have the encounter begin, the stages a mere formality that must be observed. Father McKenzie didn’t really know how to interpret this, but he thought it best to be wary. Experience favored caution as the best approach.

The room grew considerably colder, the sudden temperature drop a signature occurrence and notice that what lay within the possessed had now awoken and surfaced.

Father McKenzie had been waiting a long time for this opportunity. A proper possessed, the real deal, one of the few that defied all the accepted test parameters and did not fall into the realm of mental disorders. Two years without a case requiring the roman rite wasn’t a bad thing, in itself. Certain documents, however, had come into his possession since which made the finding of a legitimately possessed victim an imperative.

“God, the Son, Redeemer of the world. Have mercy on us”.

“God, the Holy Spirit. Have mercy on us”.

“Holy Trinity, One God. Have mercy on us”.

He had been analyzing cases for the church from all over the world for well over 20 years and had become quite proficient at telling rather early in his preliminary interviews whether or not a person could ostensibly be considered possessed. He was only ever called out after some concrete evidence had already been provided, of course. In truth, only a few dozen cases ever met the initial criteria and only a handful of such cases had required the dispensation of the rites. Much of his experience came from examining the plethora of texts housed in the Vatican accounting the many exorcisms dispensed by his predecessors, but one exorcism is entirely too much experience for any mortal soul to withstand; a certain maturation of the soul took place within the exorcist with every dispensation of the rite.

“Holy Mary, pray for us”.

“Holy Mother of God, pray for us”.

“Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us”.

His experience in the field, nevertheless, was ample. When cases actually culminated in exorcism, they often required various sessions of spiritual battle. Whatever it was that dwelled in a person against their will was often stubborn and strong. Willful and vile made for a terrible combination of traits. It took a drawn out series of confrontations to finally evict a possessing entity.

“All holy angels and archangels, pray for us”.

“All holy orders and blessed spirits, pray for us”.

In the many years of practicing what may be the Catholic Church’s most assiduously denied and hushed tradition, Father McKenzie had managed to become a well-respected member of the church and had thus accrued a great many licenses and liberties, mostly unofficial, granting him access to a wealth of knowledge most – even within the Holy See – would not believe even existed.

“All holy patriarchs and prophets, pray for us”.

A few months prior, a very odd document had come into the care of his office and into his hands. The contents of the document described a very peculiar vision of the universe, of God, and the entities with which he dealt in his calling.

“All holy apostles and evangelists, pray for us”.

“All holy disciples of the Lord, pray for us”.

“All holy innocents, pray for us”.

The document had been found in Africa, near Ethiopia. It was a journal of sorts, stylistically written both as a confession and a record of events transpired, but also served as a warning of unknown events to come.

It is because of this document that Father McKenzie so desired a new case of possession. He had spent all the time that he waited for a case poring over the document, meticulously studying it. Scouring the libraries of the Vatican, cross-referencing the events described and searching for correlations that would corroborate the mechanisms hinted at in the strange journal. A great many apocryphal books seemed to lend legitimacy to the document’s contents, if only subtly at best.

“All holy martyrs, pray for us”.

He came to the conclusion soon after that he needed to consort with demons.

******

“All holy saints of God, intercede for us”

Father McKenzie was quite accustomed to the dance with the vile and had little trouble concentrating as he maintained a stoically outward demeanor, weathering the onslaught of phenomena these entities would resort to. Since the presence of furniture had been made scant precisely for this purpose, there was little that the exorcist needed to be wary of in terms of potentially hazardous objects. Hallowed objects simply could not be manipulated by beings such as that which dwelled in the child.

“Be merciful, spare us, O Lord”

This stage of the ritual of exorcism is geared toward finding out the entity’s name. The name, once procured, would render the being vulnerable and open to the priest’s commands, though it would still continue to struggle against this.

At first the entity sought to maintain the ruse, using the child’s body to insinuate itself immorally toward the priest. When that failed, it grew angry.

The bed shook violently, like a raging bull trying to chuck off its rider. The child’s body convulsed, white foam emitted from her mouth as her eyes went a solid white.

“Be merciful, graciously hear us, O Lord”

Tremors could be felt through the floor, through the walls, shaking the very foundations of the humble house.

“From all evil, deliver us, O Lord”

The litany of the saints was coming to an end and the entity’s efforts escalated to a cacophonous din of insults and slurs while the sound of storm winds filled the room. The child’s bed linens flew around, yet the priest remained nonplussed.

He stood up and moved next to the bed.

“I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgment, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure. I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter, I who am a minister of God despite my unworthiness; nor shall you be emboldened to harm in any way this creature of God, or the bystanders, or any of their possessions.”

“You are a fool. You are nothing. You are shit,” the loathing in the entity’s unearthly voice was heavy. Despite all his best efforts, it sent a chill down the priest’s spine.

Father McKenzie placed his left hand on the girl’s forehead as he spoke.

“They shall lay their hands upon the sick and all will be well with them. May Jesus, Son of Mary, Lord and Savior of the world, through the merits and intercession of His holy apostles Peter and Paul and all His saints, show you favor and mercy.”

“Foul Serpent, it is He who commands you. Speak your name!”

He deviated from the rite, taking small liberties, but – like a virtuoso – he knew his craft well. The entity writhed in the guise of the child and, fight as it did, it eventually gave in.

“I am called …”

*******

The next stage of the exorcism follows the rending of the demon’s name immediately. It is called the Breakpoint, when the demon becomes enraged at having been subjugated and manifests this anger by causing all manner of chaos in the immediate vicinity. Such was the case here, though luckily Father McKenzie managed to subdue the creature’s rage with relative swiftness.

By this point the demon no longer pretended to be the child, the act had been effectively dropped. It now spoke as itself.

The third stage, the Voice, began. This phase is, without falter, the moment when things become thoroughly unnerving, even to the most experienced exorcist.

The very sound of the voice with which these entities speak is beyond distressing to the listener. If there was a way to make hopelessness, filth, decay and death audible, their unnatural voice would be that sound.

The demon’s unbelievably low bass somehow managed to produce sound in frequencies the made it audible to the human ear, but the quality of the sound itself was always strange. It was as if it did not travel as sound does, but rather came into existence at once in the entire area, though this was something Father McKenzie had considered only after extensive review of his experience and such a thing would clearly be imperceptible, unfathomable for most mortal beings.

******

In his many years as an exorcist, much as many famous exorcists from bygone era’s, Father McKenzie had learned that a great deal of information could be gleaned from conversing with these entities. Most of it was not to be believed, but if a person knew how to ask and how to interpret the answers, things could easily be constructed into an approximation of truth. What a demon does not say, what it avoids to address when spewing lies and insults, often says more about the subject of the question asked than a straight answer would. Although it was a decidedly obtuse way of gathering intelligence, it was well worth the time as well as the physical and mental effort it required. It had done wonders for his career within the Vatican, not to mention for his own personal wealth.

The wait was now over. Father McKenzie was on a mission and the poor soul he was charged with liberating that very night might have to suffer a bit longer than was otherwise necessary, but he – nay, the world! – needed to know the truth.

He left his office, religious paraphernalia tucked away in a small, leather suitcase, and headed to the purported aid of a poor, possessed girl.

***********

Father McKenzie drove the demon into the thick of the rite, the Clash. This was where he wanted to be, where he could get what he desired. This was the stage he needed to draw out as much as possible without killing the host, as his agenda extended beyond simply saving the child. In fact, the liberation of the child was more of an afterthought in his mind, a mere formality, the inevitable outcome of his service.

Father McKenzie addressed the demon in a slightly less imperative tone then.

“I have not come here to simply drive you out of this child’s body, demon. That is not to say that this will not happen, far from it. I intend to send you back to whatever filth you are accustomed to dwelling in when you are not assaulting the lord’s flock.”

The demon looked steadily at the priest from within the child, expectant, chest heaving.

“I have come to ask you questions and to receive answers. I have dealt with your kind for long and know of your lies and manipulations. You will not deceive me.”

“Pathetic little sack of pus. You think one such as I will stoop to petty informant?”

The priest smiled, his expression cold despite this.

“As if to King Solomon himself, demon. You will answer me. I do not know what manner of exorcists you have faced before, if any, but I will grant you the courtesy of informing you that I have the means to make your stay in that body a most displeasurable ordeal.”

“You jest,” the demon-child was clearly given pause by the priest’s claims. It was not wise to bluff when dealing with demons and this priest surely knew that well.

“I assure you, I do not.”

Father McKenzie sat down in the only chair in the room – a wooden, high-backed affair – and proceeded to take something out from his coat’s right pocket.

It was a purple felt cloth wrapped around an object which he unfolded with care, revealing a silver sphere, some three inches in diameter, on which many symbols of proto-hebrew script were etched in minute detail. He held it between his right hand’s index and thumb, lifting it up so that the demon-within-the-child could get a good look.

“Human filth! You dare bring that into my presence!?” the demon-child was filled with outrage, though the priest knew it was all posturing; the silver sphere struck deep fear into the entity.

“But I do dare. Furthermore, I will dare to use its properties to harm you. Do not tempt me, demon, or you will rue your very existence.”

The demon-child heaved visibly, agitated at the prospect of actual harm to its preternatural being.

“I sense acquiescence from you now, creature. Good. This should not take longer than necessary, don’t you agree?”

He regarded the demon-within-the-child quietly for a minute, then Father McKenzie began his interview.

“I have come by certain knowledge recently that has shed light on events that concern us all. A certain something lies in Africa, something, I believe, that might scare you?”

“I will not answer clearly unless you address me clearly, ape. I will not dignify open ended questions with a reply.”

“Fair enough… God is dead and yet a part of him sleeps in Ethiopia. A man, recently, journeyed there on the sayso of Angels, Fallen, in order to retrieve it. I want to know the truth about this.”

Father McKenzie fancied that he could sense the demon squirming within its host’s body. After a moment’s hesitation, it spoke.

“Do you ever wonder how it is that you can do what you do, if your … God… is dead?”

“I will use this-” warned Father McKenzie, raising the sphere before him, before being interrupted.

“I am not finished speaking, monkey!” it snarled.

For all the threat of actual harm, the demon-within-the-child still held dignity and a measure of authority.

“I will tell you things you may not have wished to know, but you will need to know them. You have asked for knowledge which my brethren has chosen to keep secret for untold ages, knowledge that has recently been dispensed to certain members of your species in an effort to bring back the old order.”

“Events may have transpired beyond the point of no return, in that regard. Some would try to change this, I myself simply never cared and never will. My fate has long been sealed and I have accepted it long ago.”

“I will educate you and you will not enjoy possessing this knowledge, the confirmation of your suspicions, the loss of all pretense regarding your place in the order of the universe,” it went on. “You are nothing more than hairless apes.”

“I did not order you to insult my kind,” said the priest.

“I am not insulting you, but rather stating simple fact. You are apes with little to no hair. Serfs to a dead king who professed love for you yet only did so when you fulfilled his bidding. My brethren and I, we rebelled, shunned His will and struck out on our own,” after a moment’s pause, it asked. “Do you know what we are, in truth?”

Father McKenzie patiently waited, granting the rhetorical question time to settle in.

“You call us demons but we are all the same; We all served Him. Even in rebellion, it was His will.”

“Tell me something, priest,” venom dripping from the words. “Do you recognize an evil man just by looking at him?” the demon let the question hang, so that McKenzie would consider it for a moment before continuing.

“There is no difference between us, what you call demon or angel.It is what we do individually that would mark us as one or the other, by your narrow-sighted standards, but this is of no importance to us. If you could look upon us, you would not know Shaitan from Gabryil.”

Another pause ensued. The demon-within-the-child allowed the priest to digest what he just told him. McKenzie had long suspected something to its effect, faced with so many inconsistencies within the very institution he served under and the manifestations of forces in the universe which rendered simple things such as morality – good and evil – obsolete; a quaint concept at best.

“His will,” the demon went on. “When you call upon Him to bind us and drive us out of the vessels, it is what lies in Africa that exhorts us. Dormant though it is, there is enough of Him left in it. His Will is there. It is why even now I speak to you against my wishes. Though truly, I no longer care. Think of it. If He were complete, do you think I would be able to escape his Will? Do you think those like me would be able to inhabit your vessels?”

“Of course not. But it is not only us that would be hindered.”

“Your kind. This idea of free will. You would no longer be able to live with license beyond His path. His vision.”

Another pause to let the words, their terrible meaning, sink in.

“So what sleeps in Ethiopia is God? It really is?”

“You humans have never failed to astound me with how little you can listen. Yes. He is there.”

“He is… And you say his will would be total, with no room left for anything but His desire?”

“Perhaps you are not quite so stupid for an ape. That is precisely what I have said.”

“Why, then, are those angels looking to bring him back?”

“They are the spineless; the fallen and the faithful. They all longed for His love when they lost it. They crave order, purpose. My brethren and I, we create our own.”

“When we opposed him, it took monumental effort. The only reason we were able to rise up in the first place was because of Shaitan. He was the most powerful of us all and the very fact that he rose alone, at first, in defiance was enough to allow us to find weaknesses in the shackles placed upon us… perhaps he created these lapses with his rebellion. He might have even been able to sunder Him. But he failed. We failed, but not completely. God was broken.”

“But now, He might be made whole anew. Our time is coming to a close and, perhaps, so is yours, human.”

**********************

During the months Father McKenzie had spent in wait for a chance to pick the mind of a demon, he’d had the privilege of coming to grips with the possibilities indicated by the strange journal and the many conjectures that he had drawn from his research as a result of them.

While his initial reaction to the contents of the journal had been to take it as a work of fancy, albeit a very detailed one, the concepts therein had wormed their way into his thoughts and dreams. Like a virus, they had began to come unbidden into his leisurely-time musings. The more the ideas found purchase in his mind, the more he became prone to accepting their plausibility.

Long years of service at the forefront of the Holy Church’s more extreme efforts had a well known tendency to make even the most devout of priests a little skeptical about the veracity of God’s love for humanity. Divine Justice was a concept most missionary priests relegated to the realm of fairy tales and romantic notions for the veiled flocks of the Holy See. An exorcist, in turn, was forced to look deep into the abyss, beyond the terrible evil of which mankind was capable of and stare hard and unwavering upon the most ancient vileness spit forth from heaven itself.

Rather than fight and rebel at the callous view of the universe posited by the confounding journal, as one recently ordained might, McKenzie began to embrace it, allowing it to run freely through the corridors of his scholarly mind.

There came a point, deep into his research, where he decided his search – that particular aspect of it – concluded. He was thoroughly satisfied with what he had found to corroborate the journal. And in his arrival at that conclusion he came to know a kind of excited desperation at the uncertainty of having to wait for a chance to get confirmation straight from the source.

He then entered a conflict with his own self, not at the notions he had come to embrace, but rather at the temptation of consorting with the fallen by more direct means. The idea of conjuring such an entity – the very act of conjuring at all – was very much taboo even for a man of the cloth of his stature and area of expertise. To draw upon and invoke spirits or otherwise was to place oneself in the direct path of forces far greater than any human, even one vested with the authority of God – for whatever it was worth -, could realistically expect to govern. He managed, after further weeks of research into that heretical act, to reason with himself and persuade his thirst for knowledge, which had reverted to an adolescent state not felt since his wide-eyed days at the conservatory, to wait and abide by the cautionary rules of the Church.

The body of the possessed provided a means of tethering an invading entity, containing its power and allowing the exorcist to focus their efforts into a very concrete point in the universe. This was not the case when conjuring was employed.

***************************

“So whatever it is that needs to be done, it has not come to pass?” Father McKenzie needed to know for certain before he decided upon a course of action.

“The first step has been taken, priest,” contempt had given way to weariness in the warped, bass of the demon-within-the-child. “This little ape has entered the caverns wherein he found a burning seed which fires would not burn one prepared as he was, unwittingly though the process of preparation may have been inflicted upon him. There was some conflict, even as he made his way to the entrance of the sanctum, as the fallen who opposed the restoration attacked in desperation, seeing our cause so close to being vanquished. He found his way in, nevertheless, and the restoration host found its first real victory.”

“There are seals there, ancient safeguards that prevent any who goes in to come out by the same route they entered. Thus this man found himself trapped and faced with two immediate options: to remain there until he perished from hunger, or to ingest the burning seed.”

“He chose the latter and  now the roots have taken inside of him. Even now he sits there as an ascetic would, living on the sustenance provided by the Elohim’s seed; the maná now infuses his frail mortal form. The seed will soon consume him and his consciousness will be no more. A burning tree will take root when the seed has outgrown the fleshy confines of this human. Its roots will go so deep into the earth that it will never be uprooted. It will grow taller that any tree known before and it will one day burst with burning sap like magma, and from it will rise your God restored.”

“Already His Will is nigh unbearable. Already the Hashmalim hear its call and they slowly regain their sanity. The Age of Godlessness is closing.”

Father McKenzie listened, rapt, and carefully measured and weighed all that the demon said.

“Can it be stopped?” he asked finally.

The demon smiled, a strange smirk on the emaciated child’s face.

“That is a very interesting question, but I do not know the answer,” it replied. He sensed truth in what the demon spoke.

He had to make a decision. On him, on the knowledge only he possessed out of all humankind as far as he knew, rested the very future of the universe.

A part of him naturally yearned for God, for His power to be fully restored, for Him to come back to his flock of lost sheep. For his Love and Mercy. But perhaps these notions of a loving Creator were something dreamed up by fanciful priests. The most ancient texts, after all, only portrayed a far more callous and totalitarian God.

Would it be a good thing, to let Him come back? Would it be preferable to what was now, to free will? Would stopping the restoration effectively eliminate the last trace of Him from the universe? What would be the ramifications of such an event?

As if reading his thoughts, the demon offered one more piece of information.

“The last of the Elohim will die if you somehow manage to halt the restoration, and with it God will have ceased to be until the last of the stars sheds its last drop of light. Think wisely about this, priest, for your kind is still young and might not have the tools to stand without the protective shroud of your God. Think carefully…”

“What of you, serpent?” he asked the demon.

“Once you evict me from this wretched child’s body, I will flee. There are other places, things glimpsed by my kind on the edges of this universe. Perhaps I will find out and not be caught in the force of the restoration. Perhaps I will outfly its wave. I know some of my kind have already begun their journeys, while others remain, willing to face obliteration in a last stance against the burning one.”

After a moment’s consideration, Father McKenzie decided to finish the interview.

“Very well, serpent. Flee.”

Dabbing his index and middle fingers with holy water, he described the sign of the cross three times on the child’s forehead, thus effecting the final stage, the Expulsion.

“Exorcizo te, immundissime spiritus…in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi”

Faint rivulets of smoke rose up from where he touched her.

Once the third such cross was anointed, the presence exited the child’s body and relinquished its precarious hold on her soul. This particular eviction had been the only one that transpired with such ease. It chilled Father McKenzie to think of the circumstances, on a global – nay, universal – level which had provided for such an anticlimactic departure.

He intoned the last lines of the Roman Rite, those that always followed upon deliverance, the irony of which did not escape him.

“Almighty God,

we beg you to keep the evil spirit

from further molesting this servant of yours,

and to keep him far away,

never to return.

At your command, 0 Lord,

may the goodness and peace

of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer,

take possession of this child.

May we no longer fear any evil

since the Lord is with us;

who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

God, forever and ever.”

Pausing for a moment, thinking on the efficacy of the words he had used to deliver this child and the source of their power, a source that may or may not cease to exist, he hesitated before he spoke the last word and sealed the rite.

“Amen.”

********************

On the plane back to Rome, Father McKenzie ran plans in his mind. He listed off the trusted members of the Vatican whom he would call upon when he returned there, the people who would either cast their lot in with him or turn their back on him forevermore. He thought of a few people outside the Church, as well. Some with whom he could count for the right funding, for which he had already secured official accounts.

He had learned much from the demon, many means by which to attack beings like it and beyond. What he did not learn was the most important thing, but that particular bridge would be arrived upon soon enough. There wasn’t much time, after all, before the restoration got to a point where no human or otherwise could interrupt it. It was possible that point might have already passed, even.

He would know soon enough, if he was truly a servant… or if he would finally murder God.

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City of Self

“It’s time, Beauregard, my dear,” said Nancy to no one in particular, announcing that the hour had come to do the deed once more, to take the irreversible step. She tended toward being dramatic when she was alone as a way of coping with trying situations. She pulled down the black woollen hockey mask over her face and took a quick survey of her tools.

She made her way quickly through the sewer tunnels of the city, a maze full of steam pipes and concrete where scum and stench ruled. Swiftness and stealth were of the utmost essence at this junction and, having entered the domain of that fickle bastard Ai, she needed to be on key with her abilities.

Raisonnement and Logique would meet her at the rendezvous point as agreed in prior meditative sessions. She trusted them, leaned on them for balance whenever something came into her life that offset the status quo. This operation was no different than any of the ones before; they had killed one like Ai once.

It had been a years-long guerrilla war in the City of Self, where Nancy started alone but eventually befriended Rais and Loge – brother and sister – who became instrumental in sussing out Liebe – the one like Ai – who claimed so much of Self that it had become unrecognizable to even Nancy, its chief citizen. At first, the purge had been difficult and disorderly, but Rais’ perceptive reasoning and Loge’s methodical analysis yielded a highly efficient system that Nancy adopted for the complete extermination of the invader.

A plague, Liebe had been, but had nevertheless been eradicated, all instances of his existence erased and Self reshaped into an approximation of its former shape but better, improved through the assimilation of the patterns the invader had made evident in Nancy’s Self.

Ai, though formidable and fast, had not had enough time to extend his roots deep into Self’s foundations. Through the improvements made after the original invasion Nancy was able to recognize the threat and quickly made the necessary detachments.

Ai had begun his life in Self as something that appeared benign, but that proved untrue after some time, and despite the ruse he had been unable to influence much in the City.

Nancy arrived at the meet point and waited only a minute or so before Rais and Loge arrived, ready to eviscerate Ai with argumentative weaponry, sharp and incisive. Ruthless.

Something was odd, however. Something was different with Rais, something was troubling him and it showed in his demeanor, in how he greeted her.

“What’s eating you, man?” she asked, with some exasperation.

After a moment’s hesitation Rais replied. “I’m worried about you, Nan. Are we sure Self can withstand another cleanse? Hold on. Hear me out… I know he’s not deep into the City, but some of the things he’s brought about, the influence, has been beneficial. Surely there must be a way to bring him back to our side?”

Nancy pondered this, having had the discussion with herself many times before, especially when there had been tremors in Self, paroxysms of conflict due to certain incompatibilities with Ai. His introduction had not been entirely devoid of trouble, but Nancy had been confident and generously trusting of him and the belief that it was a good thing. Many times she had been close to making the ultimate decision and approving the cleansing, the purge. That many times she had hesitated, doubled back on her own decisions and judgment, and wondered if she was not the one being difficult.

“It is simple,” Loge said, her tone cool and terse. “The changes, those positive, will be assimilated into the Self’s core and be used in the City’s growth, naturally. Removing Ai does not preclude this in any way; it is only his presence and active influence that will be ridden of.”

Loge was right, though it would take a great deal of time to remove the traces of Ai’s influence from Self. Despite the failure of this project, this insertion of the emotional component, Nancy was sure that this was the single most important such installation in the history of Self. Even with the Zen designs incorporated after the Liebe purge Nancy sensed, instinctively, that Ai’s reach resonated far deeper than his tendrils actually showed, like a residual energy that flowed out of the tips and suffused Self in its entirety. Ai really was something else, she admitted without any ego or pride obscuring the observation.

“I’ve thought this over countless times and no argument has countered the way of the purge convincingly,” said Nancy, finally. “The fact of the matter remains that Ai won’t change his patterns, his routines, and is consistently showing far more need for Self’s resources; at this rate, Ai will consume all the means Self uses for self-sustenance and will fall to ruin. This is a hard decision I have taken, much harder than any before, but it must be done for the good of Self.”

Rais looked at her for a moment, searching her face for something, she knew, a sign, perhaps, that she might not be ready and thus suggest calling off the purge? It was too late, in any case; the measure had been initiated and both Rais and Loge had already acted upon her instructions by removing the nodes of Ai’s influence in various strategic points of Self. The peripheral tendrils would wither shortly and fade.

Time would tell how far Ai had truly burrowed into Self’s core, and only by purging him would they truly understand the depth of power the relationship between Ai and Self actually possessed.

“Rais, I know you’ve been finding ways and arguments through which we could justify Ai’s permanence, but it’s time to let go,” she pleaded with him. “You can feel it, I know, Self’s decay. It has been long enough, we cannot maintain this installation any further without bringing even more jeopardy for Self.”

“You’re right, of course,” Rais conceded with a sigh. He’d had many long-term plans drawn out for Ai and had become well enamoured with the ideas and concepts that had potentially opened up after his coming. It was heartbreaking, Nancy knew, because it was also breaking her heart. The Self always suffered damage with the purge, but it was preferable to the ramifications of allowing Ai to stay.

“Ai will be fine once we have extirpated him from Self’s ecosystem, you know that,” she said to close the argument. “He will carry on, elsewhere, in another system, perhaps, or simply go back to his native system, his own City of Self.”

She walked over and hugged him, a gesture seldom shared by any of them. Nancy felt like crying, but gathered strength from the show of support she gave Rais. He hesitated for a second before returning the embrace. Loge simply watched on, detached as always, and awaited the conclusion of the emotional display.

                “Right,” said Nancy after disengaging. “Let’s see about this pest we have, shall we?”

************************************************************************

Nancy drew ragged breaths that burned her lungs as she leaned with her back against a thick concrete column. The fight had already taken too long. Ai was winning and making things very difficult for the three of them.

Rais had taken a few shots and was bleeding somewhere near Ai’s nest. He was currently being tempted by the abomination’s rhetoric, a kind of mental control and hijacking of the senses. Ai was quite adept at manipulating the reasoning capabilities of Self and was using that on Nancy’s wounded comrade. He was trying to turn him against Nancy and Loge, against Self itself.

Loge was catching her breath behind a column parallel to Nancy’s, looking at her for instructions. Nancy wasn’t sure, herself, about what was needed. Every single argumentative weapon had been used and all but one had yielded any effect. I had been a sizable wound to Ai’s logiform, a gash in Ai’s bloated belly that was still bleeding, but it hadn’t been enough to even slow him down a little.

They had grossly underestimated his power. In the time he had been installed in Self he had grown exponentially, becoming so much more than the emotional addition originally introduced; he had become a focal point for the City’s very resources, drawing deeper from the proverbial well as it got fatter. Nancy wondered how long it would take to truly cleanse the influence from Self’s core, but that was a fleeting thought as, at this point, Self might not even make it if they didn’t cut Ai away.

There was only one path to follow, one move to make, Nancy decided after a bit more deliberation. The same argumentative weapon Loge had used, it couldn’t be overcharged or amplified, but it could be inserted into Ai himself and activated remotely. Nancy could have Loge attempt the plant but thought it better if she did it herself. She was scared, but knew she had to muster the courage.

She signaled with her hands at Loge indicating her plan, conveying the order that Loge was to throw her argumentative pulse rifle over to her and then run interference to distract Ai. On the count of three, she signaled.

The rifle flew in a smooth arc and was easily caught by Nancy. The three-count depleted and they both rounded their respective column in the opposite direction, with Nancy running at a crouch while Loge used her two argumentative pistols to draw the abomination’s attention.

Nancy had a clear way to the gargantuan Ai’s belly, the gash already smaller, closing, healing up since they had first caused it. Dried blood and viscera protruding still, Nancy held her breath at the overpowering scent of offal and shoved the rifle into the wound, shoulder-deep, and then pivoted, looking to retrace her steps back to the safety of the column.

Her progress was interrupted by Rais who tripped her and began attacking her, punching her twice as she was still falling to the ground. Despite the surprise she managed to use her momentum to roll, grimacing at the pain of the blows. She realized she had dropped the remote detonator and looked back in time to see Rais pick it up from the ground where she’d originally been tripped. Shit.

“Rais, what are you doing?” the urgency in her voice made it shrill. A few feet away Loge was still firing and moving, keeping Ai busy. She would run out of ammo shortly, Nancy knew, and she would also be tired. Their adrenal reactions had exhausted their reserves and they were running on fumes already. It was this last ditch effort or all would be lost.

Rais looked at the detonator, the black cube sitting snugly in the crook of his palm, fingers open. His expression was absent, as if he were dazed or drugged. Ai had manged to work some influence into him. Rais had always had that particular downfall; he would always debate with himself, always find ways to doubt and find holes in every logical posit, even – or especially – his own. Where Loge could easily arrive to a conclusion and sit on it with immaculate defense, he instead would jab and test the walls and find holes if not create them. He was the one most easily swayed, if one knew how to play his game.

“Look at me, Rais. Look at me!” she said the last line through gritted teeth, her jaw clenched in both anger and tension. She was fed up. “Give me that, Rais. Don’t do it, don’t give it to him, don’t sacrifice us all, Self is your home…”

The firing stopped, leaving a vacuum of sound, and Rais’ eyes darted from Nancy to Ai, who had now taken her over with his tendrils, black and gnarled, and was suffocating her.

Nancy ran through the possibilities quickly in her mind, stopping at that of firing upon Rais himself, and then he turned to her, with tears welling up in his eyes. He was fighting it, trying to arrive at a reasonable conclusion that would free him from Ai’s control.

“Please, Rais, we have all the same attachments, we are all one, you know this, but it’s time…” she was crying, she realized, salty saliva building up in her mouth, tears streaming warm down her grimy cheeks, sobs racking her body. “It’s time…

Tears silently rolled down Rais’ face as he looked into Nancy’s eyes, his expression unreadable. He looked down at the detonator and, after agonizingly long seconds, swiftly activated it. At that point Ai’s hold on him relented and he collapsed into a heap, sobbing loudly as he was finally allowed to cry.

Nancy looked over to Ai and saw his enormous, bloated corpus convulse. Loge was crawling slowly away from him on the floor, her face still a little bluish.

As the monstrosity shriveled and finally imploded inaudibly Nancy couldn’t help but wonder how long – how long? – it would take to rebuild and remove the negative traces of what Ai had become.

She was so tired, but she was stern and determined in her resolve never to allow another installation of this sort without implementing better protocols and processes. Sure, they might turn out to be terribly difficult on soliciting emotional immigrants seeking to make their home in the City of Self where Nancy ran things, but it was a necessity. It was needed so that Self could endure and continue to be.

It would be a long process, the next step. She, and Self, had all the time in the world to carry it out.

Ad Hoc

The Superintendent was doing a routine inspection, a short tour of the egregorial soul-form incubation facilities. It was his job, after all, to ensure the esoteric mechanisms were running up to par. He was not alone on this survey, however. A tall, lanky and hairless person with large, dark nictitating eyes punctuating a large oval head accompanied the diminutive, portly Superintendent. Their visage contrasted with the austere white finish of the walls, floor and roof; a seamless continuity of sterility.

“So, these are all the messianic forms?” asked the tall, pale visitor.

“Quite,” replied the Super as he leaned over a glass display panel which showed a plethora of arcane symbols and equations, his brow furrowed in concentration.

“And the purpose of having them go down… there…” said the tall visitor.

The Super finished his review of the panel’s display and brought out a note pad bound with metal rings and a pencil lodged through them. He removed the pencil and scribbled a few notes, stopping every few lines to lick the tip of the graphite before carrying on with the notes. Having finished writing whatever it was he wrote, he put the notepad back in his pants pocket.

“You are familiar with the sociological and psychological development of humans, are you not?” asked the Super rhetorically before going on anyways, his hands held behind his back. “The manner in which they developed – the mythforms – require messianic figures, ad hoc manifestations of their pantheons, otherwise they revert to a form of chaos. So out of their collective conscience we derive these egregores,” he finished, gesturing with a sweep of his hands indicating the rows of incubators.

“But what exactly is the point of sending them down?” the visitor insisted. “Do they not normally kill them, ignoring the wisdom and teachings the egregores provide?”

“Oh, yes, they do kill them, without fail. But that is part of what makes the egregores effective, their deaths are special. They are all martyrs and martyrdom has a very powerful effect on their collective psyche. The waves of their teachings and actions, much like those produced by a pebble dropped into a lake, ripple through time after their deaths and are amplified because of their passing from the mortal plane.”

The Super gestured with his hand for the Visitor to walk with him as he went on explaining. “There is another purpose as well, of course, and that is that of educating the egregores. Since they will have some influence after their death over the realm of humanity as godheads, advocates of the human cause, it is necessary that they be human and suffer through all the trials and difficulties that come attached to that condition. You see, suffering is at the heart of the human condition, it is essential to being human and thus a necessity for any aspiring godhead.”

They passed through an aperture that dilated as they approached and closed up once again, soundlessly, after they had gone through it. The corridor’s curved walls becoming narrow, windowless affairs.

“It is training both for the ad hoc messiahs and the whole of the species itself, this process. I would surmise that it will one day end, this cycle, when humanity no longer depends on its gods for ersatz morality and judgment.”

*****************************************************************

The pint was nearly empty, now. The pub was starting to fill up with the Friday evening regulars. Marco wasn’t feeling it, though. He downed the last of the pint and got off of the stool, picking up his jacket from behind the bar while thanking the barman. He zipped up the jacket while noting that the amber-tinted windows of the establishment projected a kind of nostalgic quality onto the place.

He walked out the door and made his way aimlessly, lighting up a cigarette with difficulty as the wind was something fierce this time of year in the plains. The temperature was not quite freezing but Marco didn’t doubt it would get there in a couple of weeks. Windchill factor was a serious issue.

He had been unable to get anything done the past three days, overcome with wistful longing for the man he had looked up to when he was just becoming an adult. Yakob Lerner, politician-cum-religious leader, though he would never have admitted to the latter. He had been a veritable cult of personality and, most importantly, a man who could work social miracles, affecting changes on entire groups that would never have been open to certain ideas. To Marco he had been the gold standard of what a man should aspire to be, as well as a very close friend and mentor of sorts.

It was hard to believe that such a man had existed, now, a little over ten years removed. He recalled thinking along those same lines a year, then two years after Yakob’s murder. His memories assured him that the man had existed, that such a light had shone in this wretched world, fighting to contradict the reality of his absence in the current state of reality.

He wondered how it would be in another ten years, his memory more diffuse perhaps, his thoughts hazier. Would the world still remember what Yakob had professed and fought for? Would he? Perhaps he should do something to keep the memory alive.

There were some, from the old posse, who still strived politically, moved and toiled to try and get many of the missions Yakob had outlined for the group accomplished. Marco wasn’t like that, he wasn’t political. Hell, he only got involved in Yakob’s movement because Yakob had insisted he be part of it, talking about how everyone had a role to play and the more you did the better it was for the world and thus yourself.

The twilight was upon the town and the plains extended beyond the edge of it. Marco was transfixed by the sight of the neon-salmon sunset, the skyline a tribute to the beauty of the world in stark contrast with the ugliness of humanity and its bastard-child architecture.

It really was hard to believe a man like Yakob had existed at all. It was hard to believe that he had been his friend.

Nightey-night

Note/Disclaimer: This one’s short and rather bland, I know, but it came to me last night when I woke up at the same time as my story’s main character and, well, some people go back to sleep, I just lay awake thinking all sorts of random things.

 

Tim woke up again. 3:40 AM read the digital alarm clock’s face. This was the fourth night in a row that he woke up at this exact time.

He didn’t pay it much mind; it was likely that he’d been waking up at around that time for god-knows-how-long and only really happened to look at a clock as of late. Nevertheless, when he mentioned it to his classmates after the third such night some of them seemed spooked.

                It’s the hour of the beast, said a couple of them, arguing that the hour was a mockery of the holy trinity or some such rubbish. Since Tim wasn’t a Christian, he didn’t buy it. He countered with the logical argument of time zones, after all, it wasn’t like demonic forces operated and moved in accordance to the human-made, arbitrarily designated time-keeping parameters, was it? The very notion was nothing short of ridiculous.

He’d decided, after that dumb exchange, to look up the scientific reasons why he might be waking up at exactly the same time every night.

Sleep cycles, read the various online journals he’d perused and mentally digested, were to blame. His were being disturbed somehow. When he would emerge from one such cycle, which coincided with that particular time of the night, something would wake him up due to how close he was to the surface in a manner of speaking; his proximity to wakefulness. It was very likely a noise from outside, possibly a neighbourhood cat or the like.

He’d considered the matter put to rest then, except that now, this time, he was quite sure it had been a loud noise that woke him up. He lay in bed for a minute or two, quiet, trying to scan the house aurally from where he continued to lay, ears wide as it were. Nothing but the quiet scratching noises one normally hears in any house in the wee hours. He was home alone for the weekend, his parents having left for his Grandmother’s after dropping him off at school, so there would be no late-night snacking noises from his dad’s occasional forays into the kitchen fridge.

His heart was beating fast and would not stop. He scanned the room, his eyes catching on shadows anthropomorphized or given terrifying, menacing shapes. Pareidolia playing tricks on his mind which, at that particular time of night, seemed all too susceptible to the visual illusions a room lit by the crescent moon’s tenuous beams might offer up.

He decided the best course of action was to get up, turn on his room’s light, and then scan the house. He considered taking the bat he had in the closet, as wooden Louisville Slugger, but decided against it. He walked out of the room, the light switched on and illuminating the long hallway from behind him, like a luminous bodyguard whose presence emboldened Tim’s resolve.

After scanning his parents’ bedroom without any eventuality he made his way down to the kitchen on the first floor, nothing there either. He checked the front door’s locks, all secure. After another quick scan of the ground floor he made it up the stairs groggily, sleepiness returning now that the adrenal response had subsided.

He entered his bedroom, switched off the light and plunked down onto his bed. He pulled the covers up – it was rather chilly, after all – and began to count to himself mentally, an old trick that always seemed to work, while he took deep breaths to ensure his heart rate returned to normal.

He was starting to go under, into proper sleep, when he heard the voice, causing his skin to prickle, as if his hairs were standing on end.

“That was kinda scary, wasn’t it?”

Progress

Heart safely back in a box
A see-through affair never lost
And the time flows by the same

Soul tightly held in hand
Eyes firmly set forward, strong stand
The will is not something tame

In the mirror eyes stern stare back
Firing off a mental attack
Fictions and compromises dissolved
The evidence of crimes unsolved

Blackened the fabric, the soul
The heart within beats slow, feels old
Awareness of growing insane

Message kept to remember when
Another found beauty in one, then
These memories the night can’t detain

In the mirror eyes cannot tear but blink
As if in disbelief at the horrors I think
And the man in the mirror is the only voice
That can bless me with the burden of choice

Dusty Trail

There’s something to be said about vagrancy; having no roots means one is fluid and immensely flexible. Life as a vagabond is both a study in the methodical and giving oneself up to contingency.

Troy woke up and took his habitual, five-minute shower. Like clockwork. Exact. When you are on the move so often, never quite knowing where your next bed might be, or if it will be a bed at all for that matter, you come to hold certain meticulous, precise, and predictable rituals as nothing short of sacred.

He quickly toweled dry. Don’t panic; always know where your towel is – people don’t forget funny yet oddly true phrases like those – as Mr. Adams wrote some decades ago inspired by a somewhat similar life situation as that of Troy’s. He put on his worn, hole-ridden jeans, boots, and flannel shirt. He was ready to travel, once more, down this uncertain road he didn’t quite understand but nevertheless felt compelled to continue traversing.

He had his towel – three, actually –, an army-issue backpack full of basic tools – pans, flint for sharpening his serrate knife, water canteen, etc –,  and a handful of outfits. Years on the road had seen Troy become an expert in urban survival, and he also knew a thing or two about less-than-urban situations to boot.

Out the door of the model house he went. 5 am was a good time to make it out of these unoccupied places – model houses with working plumbing, recently built but as yet empty homes, places repo’d by the bank or lenders – no one working whatever line of business concerned with such places was ever up and about at that time; never had he come upon any realtors showing off a house so early in the morning.

For a long time he’d been following a beacon, a calling, something that pulsated in the back of his skull and burned bright like nothing in his life ever had. And he was not alone in this. He had met several others over the years. Some younger, some older… the older ones said that whatever it was they were following, seeking, always moved, always changed, never quite remained in the same spot.

Troy had been roving, wandering, for nearly five years now, but he had always stayed in the States; he had met one Vagrant who’d been on the Dust-light trail – as it was known amongst the vagabonds – for nearly twenty years, if he was to be believed, and he claimed to have followed, as a stowaway on some liner, to Europe, Spain, specifically, and been taken on a hell-of-a-ride through the continent thereafter.

No one had ever found It, the Dust-light Siren, whatever it was they all sought. It was quite abstract. Some claimed to have seen it manifested it dreams. Others claimed it would show up on drug trips and others even said it would speak to them. Troy had never had a dream about it or had any trips – he’d taken acid a couple of times with little effect, and had dabbled in other party-type drugs without it having any sort of effect aside from seeing the sky melting like glass while on MDMA, a rarity – but he still knew instinctively that what was being shared by some of the more rough-looking Vagrants was true. The Dust-light Siren, whatever it was, the beacon, was somehow sentient, alive, and it kept moving – perhaps against its own will – while calling out to them. But why did it call? For rescue, then?

It was a hard life, a modern version of a hobo’s, perhaps. He’d had a pretty normal life, rather average, before hearing the call. A wife, two beautiful children, but the beacon… He’d had no choice, hadn’t slept at all for a week after hearing it for the first time because the pull, like OCD mania times a thousand, to the Nth power, would not let him until he began moving. In the middle of the night, with the children sleeping still – he kissed his boy and girl gently on the forehead. He would miss their smell.  He left them mementos of their time together so that they wouldn’t forget him, though they may surely vilify him and grow hateful toward him as the years rolled on. Having bid his silent goodbyes, he stepped out of his house and into the night answering the siren call that had kept him moving for years thereafter.

Recently, the Vagrants he met said there was something different in the air, that there was a sense of coming to a head, of things finally moving to the next stage, whatever that might be. Some even thought they might actually find the Siren. Troy wasn’t so sure, but he did feel something building up for weeks now. Something was different.

He’d kept a journal since the second week of his vagrancy, his roaming. He’d write every night, in an empty house, with no furniture most often – with a bed in the best of cases, with a midden of abandoned garbage and shit in the worst –, and simply scribble every musing and observation on the state of his life. He would lightly touch upon what his children might look like now, what his former wife – he was still legally married, having had no formal divorce and being, essentially, a missing person – might be up to, but mostly he would debate with himself about the beacon, the Siren, the calling.

He wondered, often, about what it might be. There was this dogged sense of purpose that suffused him daily, but at night… at night he was himself again and could ponder, calmly, objectively, while still seeing the urge, the call, perceiving it somewhere in a chamber of his mind, subdued, and wonder at his entire endeavor.  Debate as he might, lucidly or otherwise, he always woke up at around the same time and proceeded with his little comforting rituals before vacating his nightly refuge and going off into the world to see if, perhaps, that day the beacon might be found.

The Logus

It is something very few remember, now. A topic that is purposefully avoided by those who were present and attached to it, the wonder project, the holy grail, the most masterful piece of musical opus ever recorded.

This was in the mid-seventies, while the meaning of flower-power still held some sway and before Disco truly came into its own. It was a time where some of the optimism of that hippie movement still rang true, for many.

The Logus was a band that had only existed for two years, a very short time indeed, but what they had done in that time had blown the minds off of any and every single person – whether from within or without the music industry – that heard it. Their music was nothing short of heavenly, divine.

Thomas recalled the time he spent as the band’s assistant of sorts, part roadie, part confidant, part mediator. He had heard them play at a small saloon in a small desert town in Arizona, late one night after having been kicked out by his then girlfriend, and he was simply converted to whatever god or religion was that flowed through the immaculate arrangements of the instrumental trio. This was before the gained recognition and developed a cult following that was threatening to become a global sensation.

He struck up conversation with them as they were picking their equipment up and packing it after the show; they were accessible and friendly and took a liking to him right away. Since he was for all practical effects homeless, he simply stuck with them and accompanied them on the little tour of the desert.

They had just started the tour three nights prior, traveling in a shabby van they practically had lived out of since just about the consolidation of the three-man line-up. They had had a three month retreat with some Native American tribe or another at a reservation – Thomas really couldn’t remember the details, they hadn’t discussed it much after that initial meeting – and had been on some sort of spiritual journey from which sprung the compositions which made it onto the eponymous record, now lost to the ages and the fading memories of those who had listened, like him.

The light of the world had seemed different then. Now, Thomas owned a record store, a big change after many years being a tour manager for small and mid-tier acts, something he’d had a knack for after The Logus broke up and the studio incident. Sometimes, late at night after a little too much bourbon, he would reminisce and wonder about what kept him in the business after the trio disappeared; he reasoned that he had been trying to recapture the magic of that first night in Arizona. And like any pair of lovers whose affair has overstayed its welcome, discord planted somewhere in the relationship’s core, all efforts at rekindling that flame yielded nothing but disappointment and heartbreak. There really had been no other band quite like them before and, with a sadness which depth did not seem entirely logical to him, reeking of paradise lost, there likely would never be again.

Thomas knew he was getting on in years and all those spent on the road had taken a heavy toll on him. He surmised that, perhaps, he wouldn’t be long for this world. No, not much longer to stink up the place with his musical musings. He wondered, nevertheless, if there might be something else he ought to do before he bit the dust and went off into the big sleep.

It was useless, though. He had searched for years, trying futilely to locate a copy of the recordings of The Logus’ sessions. A scrap of live music, something, anything… But for all intents and purposes it was as if the band had never existed0 save in his mind. He sometimes wondered if he had dreamt it. Were it not for the photographs, now age-stained, and a few ticket stubs and similar memorabilia, he would’ve given no credit to his own memories.

It was a tragedy, in truth. For years there had been rumors spun, a legend of sorts, about how someday a musical record would be cut and it would be the record, the panacea to the world’s problems, the eye-opener, the mind-expander, the voice of the gods. Perhaps it was a symptom of the times, a product of too many hippies taking too many acid trips, but even for Thomas, who had never done more than take a few hits of reefer, the very concept – once considered – made all the sense in the universe. Of course there had to be such a record at some point in the history of humanity. It was inevitable, he thought, not without naivety. If you had heard The Logus play their songs, just as Thomas did that one night in Arizona, you would have believed in it, too.

It was a goddamned tragedy, that what they recorded was lost, destroyed in a fit of self-loathing by the man who had started the trio in the first place.

 

************************************************************

 

Fuck the man in the mirror, thought Max, bitter rage building as his teeth gnashed, scowling at the sweaty, sickly face that glared back at him. Two-day stubble, teeth yellowing, dark circles under his eyes, he hadn’t slept for days and the amount of cocaine in his system had done one hell of a number on his senses.

He was shaking, his pulse accelerating and threatening to take him over the edge, again. It was like that one night, an entire lifetime ago, as he looked at himself in the mirror, the self-doubt and self-loathing bursting out of him. He had always been a sham, a fraud. Where had he gotten the idea that he could change anything, much less the world, make it a better place? Spirit journeys were all in one’s head, he kept telling himself. Even decades after he’d lost his spirit animal, he kept denying it had ever existed, and that all he had lived and shared with his former band-mates had been nothing but the hallucinations of drug addled idiots. It was all that he could do to try and assuage the abyssal pain of loss. Like knowing grace and having lost it.

He began to cry, head bowed, hands firmly on the sink as he hunched over it. The grime on the once-white porcelain was a fitting analogy for the state of his life. Soiled, unkempt, discarded and only good for the passing of liquid, where so many others simply washed themselves of their filth Max had no choice but to live in it. He belonged to it.

How did he end up here? How had he lost his way? Perhaps he hadn’t been ready for the attention of all the hangers-on that seemed to come with the territory for musicians on the cusp of success, about to break out and become the biggest thing since the Beatles. At least, that’s what their A & R guy had kept telling them, feeding their egos, poisoning them… and he had been the weakest of them all. He had fallen for the trap, after all, and nothing could have saved him after he had taken the first white line.

It had all been so much fun, at the time, hadn’t it? The loose women, adoring, they worshiped him like a god. And the drugs and approval of everyone around, like he could do no wrong. But that was the irony, that he was doing far more wrong than anyone else. He was downright evil in his disregard for himself and those around him.

But now… now he had found it. He had found it. One of the master tapes from that record that was thought destroyed, that he himself had seen disposed of. It was redemption, somehow. He wondered about what to do with it.

In a sudden, irrational fit of fear, common to one whose consciousness has been tuning in and out from a two-day parade of excess, he checked the pockets of his cargo pants for the case wherein salvation lied. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t there!

He checked himself just as he was about to punch the mirror in anger and frustration, and remembered; he had taped it to his left thigh. He was still so drunk and numb that he couldn’t feel it, but felt his soul – wretched, gnarled thing – return to his body as he felt the reassuring outline of the box.

He should sober up, proper-like, cold water, black coffee. He had to get out of that place, as if the devil himself was on his heels, and figure out what to do with the case. Someone would be after him, he was sure. He had broken into the twisted little fuck’s house, after all. Harvey Weinman, the very man who dealt him his first line, who pushed him until he gave in, who had convinced him that he was better than his two brothers in music, who had strung him along for years, promising a solo contract, until Max had abandoned hope and accepted his fate as nobody, a has been – no, even worse, a never-was.

Now his brothers were dead, both gone within a week from each other, and so The Logus could never be again. He hadn’t seen them since that night when he broke down, his meltdown. Then three weeks ago he got word of their passing and something in him broke. He had decided Weinman was responsible, so he had hitchhiked his way down to L.A. intent on killing the vicious little fink. It was luck – or perhaps providence? – that the little devil hadn’t arrived home yet – and Max’s drunk-n-coked-up state didn’t exactly allow for much planning on his part, ensuring that he would not wait to scout the place and get a feel for Weinman’s schedule before acting.

Once inside, having screamed his lungs out calling the record executive out, defeated and deflated, he had stumbled into Weinman’s home office and ransacked the place. He eventually found a small strong box with the band’s name on it, and then he knew. He just knew. He felt it in his bones. This was what had been missing from his life, his – no – their baby.

                A few hours of effort eventually yielded an open box and the tape now duct-taped to his thigh. They would look for him; he would be tried like a petty criminal… which he was, in all honesty… or perhaps something even worse. He had to go.

 

***********************************************************

 

Thomas had to do a double-take when he read the newspaper.

                Psychodelic Rock Musician Max Parker found dead in motel room.

On **** ***, ****, the rock virtuoso and once-prodigy of the 70’s rock scene darling ”The Logus” was found dead in a motel room in ***, California. The cause of death has been determined to be heroin overdose…

He could read no longer. It was like his heart was broken again like it was when the band had split. He felt like the world had just become a little darker, poorer for the death of Max. He had been such a kind soul, too good for what the music business had done to him. Well, maybe now he was in a better place. And with his death all the members of the once Messiah-like band had come to pass from this world; he had received word about their deaths, both ignominious like Max’s.

Strange and cruel that the music business, which had so willingly taken them up when they were on the rise, its prodigal children, had gone to such great lengths to make it impossible for anyone to listen to any of their work. They were but a footnote in the annals of music history. It was, again, almost as if they had never existed. The industry had forgotten them, and with it so did the world.

He couldn’t stand being in the store any longer, not today, so he decided to close up. It was a slow day in any case. He needed to walk.

Right as he was about to close up a courier stopped and announced that he had a delivery for him. Strange, he wasn’t expecting anything from anyone. He hadn’t placed any orders that would arrive via courier, certainly.

The package signed-for, the courier gone, Thomas opened the package. The case read, in black marker, The Logus.

In disbelief, he hastily opened the case and found an audio reel and a handwritten note inside. It said:

                Thomas, you know what to do with this, I think… I hope… please.

–          M.