Hush

Thiago had been hanging around the wrong kind of people for a while now, but these were another kind of wrong all together. A darker kind of wrong. There was something about the way they did things, the way they spoke, that belied something far more sinister and dangerous than drug dealing and gang banging.

Then there were the hints at darker dealings with the odd gypsy types. They weren’t really gypsies, not like they were shown on the television or the movies, but there was something that reminded Thiago of them. Romani, he’d hear one of the older members of the Clavos say. Romani of the outer circles, was what they had said. Whatever they were, whomever they were, they scared the shit out of him.

He had always been a tough kid, or rather, had been considered one. He wasn’t sure about being tough. He was scared most of the time. Scared of his parents, of his dad, mostly. Always beating up his mom and his brothers, and him now and then if he managed to get a hold on him. The kids at school. He really didn’t want to go back to either place, but he braved it every time. At home, he would stand up to his dad, punch back before getting knocked out. At school, it was easier. If he could stand up to a grown-up, he could take on any of the other shits like him. So, he did.

He wasn’t sure about being tough, but he understood fear and fighting against it. He understood that he was brave. But the fear the older members of the Clavos and the Romani they dealt with, well, they scared him to the bone.

And yet, here he was, in the caravan of one of these Romani. He had been brought in by one of the younger ones, a teenage girl that must have been about 16 but he wasn’t really sure. Thiago wasn’t very good at judging anyone’s age. They had taken him in and told him they had work for him, if he was interested, so here he was.

The man who was in the caravan, he looked strange. There was something about him that wasn’t entirely right. He had seen a documentary once about 3D animation and how hard it was to simulate human-like features and movement, facial expressions, and how there was this thing called the Uncanny Valley, the feeling of something alien, of strangeness when someone saw something so close to human yet just a few inches away from being the real thing… That was what Thiago thought of when he saw the fat, wrinkly man behind the big wooden desk in the caravan. There were lamps, the old kind, that used oil and rope. It was so weird.

Kid, you wanna earn money? The sales pitch wasn’t much, Thiago knew, but it was a given that he needed money, so it was a mere formality. You could get yourself a little something by doing us a favor, eh? The fact that the man was almost cartoonish didn’t help the feeling of otherworldliness Thiago was being creeped out by.

Sure. He had said it with a slight tremor, trying to effect nonchalance that was nowhere in the general vicinity relative to him. Not even in the same country.

Two hours later he was in a little storage garage, one of those places you rent to put shit in and never see again because humans are pack rats and hoarders, like his grandma. He was there with a little scrap of paper with some weird words in some language he didn’t understand. He was supposed to say that while trying to imagine some very specific images. They had made him practice for a long while.

He began once he had managed to calm his nervousness at being in a darkened storage room, alone with nothing but a candle, despite all he had experienced so far in his young yet fucked up life.

Nothing.

He tried again, saying the words, thinking the thoughts…

Nothing.

He did it again. Again. Again. Again.

Nothing.

How many times had he tried? Wouldn’t his mother worry? No, not really. Who was he kidding? His mother had enough to worry about with dodging his father’s drunken punches and romantic advances. Little Thiago may as well be a drop of water in the ocean. Lost as soon as you couldn’t see him.

He dropped down on his ass, sitting dejected, the scrap of paper cast aside. He was in absolute darkness but for the candle which would only last that much longer…

Minutes passed and he couldn’t help but repeat the words from the paper. He knew them by heart, now. He had been lost in the repetition thereof when he noticed something had changed in the atmosphere of the storage room. He was not alone.

SSSSSSSSssssssSSSSSSS

He heard a faint sibilance, the intimation of presence and menace.

sssssSSSSSSSSsssssSSSSSSS

Oh shit, he thought. There was something there with him.

sssWe hearssssssssWe comessssssssssssssssWhat does it offersssssssfor our presenssssssssssssssssssssssss

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No Fury Like

“If light be the brightest light, wherefore doth it shadows cast?

  • Theater of Tragedy’s Velvet Darkness They Fear

It was a sandy hell, this stretch of desert that seemed to, well, stretch forever. She walked in the cold of the night though she did not feel it. Not that cold, in any case.

She had been dead a long time, or rather undead. It had been centuries since… Since her once-master had slid into her chambers, uninvited, stealthy as a shadow, and given her the dark gift whether she would have wanted it or not.

There was much to be said about the impetuous audacity of the creature that had basically raped her into unlife, the modern romantic novel bedamned. All of it was rubbish. The notion of a male forcibly subduing a woman, objectified to such a degree, spoke so unkindly of her own kind – well, was she still female despite her state of undeath? – that Mina would have vomited had it been possible to do so for her.

Sand hell. Ha! It was, though, was it not? All of Earth was hell. She knew this, now, better than anyone else alive or unalive, she would wager. It was hell, and somehow, she was only capable of feeling the kind of anger that she could only describe as… petulant! She, hundreds of years old, petulant. And yet, that was what she felt. Petulant anger, like some irrational child.

She trudged on, treading sand that shifted under her porcelain white feet. She may as well be porcelain for all that she had been able to feel physically in the past hundred years. Sensation was a thing so far away in some stratospheric layer of the map of her senses – what an unapt word! Sensation. Senses.

There it was, the grand ruse, the great and secret trick, the prestige. God was dead. Not in a metaphorical or allegorical sense. No. God. Was. Dead. The Earth – the Earth! – was Her tomb, Her grave. And God had been female! Of course! It had to be so!

For decades her once-master and she had searched, nay, scoured the planet for hints, for any puzzle or indication that would lead to finding God. It was, after all, some strange divine punishment, her once-master’s condition and, by proxy, hers. This was too much, she thought. Too rich by a mile!

She couldn’t help but laugh heartily, a laughter that peeled like bell, from deep in her chest. She did so as she recalled her once-master’s face, the expression on it, of disbelief, of sexist pride crumbling away in offended shock. And all this time he had thought himself cursed by some male deity, when all he really was, was the product of strange chemical processes as yet not comprehended by science. How had she fooled herself into following him for so long?

In any case, she had taken only a few minutes to digest it all, while her useless once-master wallowed in his ridiculous wounded pride. How typically male.

Said wallowing allowed her to investigate further into the ruins of what had, at some point, housed divine flesh – divine flesh, if you can imagine that! How must such flesh look? How must it feel? She perused the stone tablets and the carved walls of the tomb of a being that had ostensibly birthed the universe, yet was somehow not as large as one would imagine, given the dimensions of the cosmos. It made sense, however. The big bang. And to borrow a rather vulgar colloquial term, had she actually, well, banged. There was no indication of it, or an absentee father – again, how typically male – that would have provided the little tiny spermatozoa for the majestic ova. No, the universe had been somehow born a diminutive super-condensed, super heavy, ultra-massive ball of matter and energy. Once out of the divine womb, it had expanded, and it was thought that it continues to do so.

What had set Mina off, what had made her finally throw off the shackles of her own tacit slavery, was that apparently Men had killed God. Yes, Men. Not mankind, though women did nothing and were therefore, in part, responsible by allowing it. Meeeeeeeen.

It took Mina all of two minutes to go down a path of reasoning so lethal her once-master had found himself impaled on a stone obelisk by the time she had reached its logical end. Fitting, Mina had thought afterward, while admiring his limp body transfixed by ancient stone. A phallus serving as the death of one that epitomized the worst in Man.

Mina’s conclusion: Men had killed their mother, God, and had made one huge mess of things. Well, she didn’t know how to fix it, or even if she could. It did put the universe under a light that made more sense, Her being dead. All the chaos, all the disarray, all the needless destruction… No woman would allow that. Right.

Well, she thought, now that I’m the oldest of the undead, I’ll make sure things go differently. The universe was turning to shit, but she would make it smell less shitty in the interim, that was for certain.

Green Monkey

The house was dark, and the sprawl of the property had provided ample opportunity for cover as Liam had made his way to the Wincherster’s two-story house, a red brick monstrosity that was just shy of being a mansion. He had waited a meter or two away from the front door, just off to the side, sticking so close to the large potted bush that, in the paltry light of the lamp above said front door, the shadowy perimeter was as a blanket of murk in which he could never be observed. When a middle-aged man, about 2 meters tall and muscular, had stepped out of the grey Oldsmobile that had driven up the concrete half-moon driveway, Liam knew that was the node of causality he required to make his way inside the house.

The tall man walked with a confident stride toward the front door and stepped under the glare of the lamplight. His strong features were illuminated and revealed a good looking man in his late forties. Liam observed with great care, his breath even and almost undetectable, concentrating intensely in the moment and allowing time to dilate.

When the tall man opened the front door with a set of silver keys on a Calvin and Hobbes keychain, Liam cast his hearing wider in an attempt to detect any new movement beyond the threshold now that the wooden barrier was effectively dislodged. Not a shuffle, not a whisper. Nothing.

Liam moved gracefully in a way that most onlookers would find it nearly impossible to consciously notice that there was an actual human being occupying that particular location in space, even if Liam hadn’t been moving in what could only be described as hyper-time, a state of atomic vibration willfully achieved through a superhuman degree of self-awareness and proprioception that allows him to move faster than time as humans normally experience it. As such, he was able to nimbly move right behind the tall man and shadow him without him ever being the wiser.

He understood that it was important to be patient, a lesson he had earned – not just learned – as a child under Green Monkey’s tutelage in the Outlands. Patience is the boon of the hunter and the bane of all prey. That was why, given the ample chance to sneak on ahead in hyper-time, Liam simply stuck to the tall man’s heels, letting him lead the way. Had Liam done otherwise, not only would he risk chancing upon an unforeseen variable, but he would also reveal himself to the tall man’s subconscious mind which would then begin a deceptively fast process of information distribution and cataloguing that would eventually result in an involuntary state of heightened alertness and defensive mental sub-routines. That would have proven most inconvenient for Liam in his current endeavor.

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

He was 9, running along the stream, the water churned and made a susurration amplified a thousand fold in Liam’s ears. His heart beat as adrenaline and sheer boyish excitement bubbled over inside of him. He was doing it!

Green Monkey had said it was too early, too soon for Liam to try the Catch Trick. Liam didn’t agree; he felt the power in him, the endless possibility blooming like a budding flower, just starting to open its petals which would reveal the whole of the universal matrix for him to navigate.

Now, as he ran, he reaffirmed that notion, that knowledge: he was ready.
He could see the silver spike he was tailing as it swam at astonishing speed just beneath the water’s surface. Its velocity was boosted by the fact that it swam downstream. Liam felt the rush increase within him and he used that boost to ramp up his own pace, to accelerate to a speed he had never before achieved.

The terrain ahead of Liam became craggy and uneven, strewn with rocks and detritus that could prove treacherous, so he made a decision then to take the dive and he plunged into the waters of the stream. He had made a near-perfect judgment and his aim proved nigh-true; he needed only to adjust his body’s orientation a few degrees upon breaking surface tension and the coveted silver spike was in his hands.

Liam felt its scaly, serpentine body twist and squirm under his grip. It was thicker than it had appeared from outside the water, and it was certainly stronger than he had expected. He mustered all his cunning and focused on flowing with the squirming creature’s violent movement rather than trying to force it to remain still. It would tire itself out, eventually, but Liam had another thing to consider: the stream would soon carry them into the great river, where the waters were far more dangerous. He needed to find purchase somewhere in the stream to be able to get out of it.

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

The entire family was home and Liam felt a sense of elation, what little of it he allowed himself to feel in his deep state of concentration. His senses honed and focused on a singular purpose, that of the catch. The tall man would be the first, of course. He posed the biggest perceivable threat and would therefore be dealt with accordingly. The other members of the family would follow suit in similar fashion.

Nine. Nine members in total. The sacred number. The number of death. Liam had scouted the house meticulously in the space of what a person in normal time would measure as two minutes. He had done his due diligence and stretched out the lines of predetermination that were revealed in the time matrix and planned his methodical catch accordingly.

 

First things first, of course: the tall man.

In order to do this particular type of catch-trick, certain reactions needed to be elicited from the prey. Liam used his breath and blew into the tall man’s left ear, causing him to flinch and take his left hand up to cup it. The tall man turned in what seemed to Liam a veritable eternity, an arc of movement almost balletic; a quaint arabesque of startlement.

The man had been standing in front of the kitchen faucet, about to wash a strange object that looked like a black egg attached to a flat base. It reminded Liam of images of bombs he had seen in old movies about the wars of the world outside the Outlands.

Liam turned the water faucet on to maximum pressure. The tall man jumped in that slow floating-through-outer-space graceful motion afforded by Liam’s hyper-time as the little person he had expected/predicted walked into the kitchen. This was the ninth, the catch.

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

Alana walked into the kitchen to see her father jump at the sound of the water faucet being turned on seemingly by itself. She looked on, as wide-eyed as her father, as he turned around to face the kitchen sink.

Could it be? She thought to herself, a glimmer of something, a spark kindling something that resembled hope.

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

Liam couldn’t help but allow a sliver of pride to bloom within him. She was watching him. Well… Not him, really, but the direct effects of his actions. He could see a sense of wonder being born within her eyes and it somehow spurred him on.

He moved from one the kitchen drawer to another, opening them with such speed that to those in normal time it would seem as though they had all opened in unison. He took silverware and threw it up in the air. He took porcelain dishes and threw them down on the floor. All the objects he could upend and forcibly remove from their passive state Liam threw into a dance of slow motion that laughed and mocked in the face of gravity and a slew of other physical laws.

He was high on the deed, on the catch-trick. He realized this in a moment of self-awareness and managed to recover some of his previous composure. It was time to let the tall man see himself brought low, debased, humiliated…

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

Alana could only stand there, agog, witnessing the spectacle of mind-blowing phenomena. Mere seconds after her father had turned to face the sink, all of the drawers and cabinet doors in the kitchen had opened at once, and the silverware and dishes and so many other objects flew up in the air and crash with the loudest of noises on the ground.

Her father let out a scream that seemed to come out of the deepest reaches of his bowels, a pit in his stomach that could not be plumbed even by the longest reaching probes.

She saw her father fall to his knees as he appeared to focus on something on the ceiling, right above where the pan and pot rack was. He mumbled and sobbed “No” over and over as he nodded in denial at what she did not know, and then his eyes – tearful – glazed over and he fell forward to the flower with a dry thud. At this, she couldn’t help but be startled, but she was not afraid. No, she knew now that she would never be afraid again.

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

Liam crouched atop the rack where the pots and pans had recently hung and he looked down on the sad, pathetic creature that was the tall man. The mealy-mouthed sounds the sobbing tall man made with his oddly misshapen mouth – the lips and corners of it pulled back by the fear and ridiculous sadness – made Liam want to punch his teeth right out. The terrible ones, they always got to see Liam and his kind right before the harvest. It was part of their just reward, after all.

It had been long enough, already. The process should not be prolonged beyond what was absolutely necessary. Economy, frugality, in all things: movement, pain, passion… He had extracted enough misery from the tall man. It was time to reap his soul.

Liam effortlessly swung down to the ground, light as a feather, and with a deep inhalation suffused and extracted the tall man’s essence right out of his mortal vessel.

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

The other seven inhabitants of the Winchester house – the ninth would no longer be counted; she was now anointed – fell in much the same way. They had all be broken and damaged before Liam’s coming, and had allowed their cracks to become great fissures and crevices that would one day become veritable canyons, gulfs of character and deviance, wickedness and turpitude. Liam would have spared any if they had proven salvageable, but they had all been subsumed into the rot of the tall man.

Systematically, Liam terrorized and reaped, and in the space of a handful of human minutes the household was devoid of life. That is, devoid of life but for Liam and the ninth.

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

Alana was still in the kitchen. She didn’t know what to make of the mushroom cloud of emotions expanding in her chest. Elation? Relief? Vindication? She had begun a ritual that she had found in the pages of an old book in the library. Ancient, had said the kind old lady that was so wrinkled she could have been a prune. It had been so weird, how the old lady who shuffled rather than walked had suddenly disappeared as soon as Alana looked up from the first page of the book. Poof, as if by magic.

The ritual had involved some serious sacrifices. Not the animal kind, no. She wouldn’t have done that no matter what. But she’d had to do some pretty gruesome things, and give parts of herself… well, nothing was worse than what her family had done to her. What her father had done to her.

But that was to be no more. Now… Now, she would have a new family. It was everything she had ever wished for.

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

Liam stood before the ninth, not revealing himself to her just yet. He studied her, so young and fragile, yet possessed of such potential. And the look in her eyes, the depth of them… there was a fierce void that held a fire that promised doom therein. An all-consuming white-hot flame like a furnace star…

It was time.

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

Alana gasped as the older boy materialized in front of her. Had he been there the whole time after the screams of her mother and siblings had died out? She couldn’t know.

He was dark skinned and seemingly slight of frame. He looked no older than the high school kids, but a little like he didn’t eat well. In his face, in his eyes, there was adoration of a sort. She saw in him death, but not for her. She understood, then, that this would be her new brother. A real brother, one who wouldn’t hurt her, but protect her.

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

Liam looked upon this little one, so hurt and broken, yet so full of life and candor. He wanted to embrace her and show her that all would be well, now. She had summoned him, after all, and she had made the right offerings.

Perhaps, she would make a good learner and catch with him, soon. Green Monkey would be pleased.

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

Liam saw Green Monkey hanging from a thick branch, eating a silver spike that looked remarkably like the one he himself had just managed to catch. What were the odds? He thought to himself.

He sat down in front of Green Monkey and looked at the silver spike, now dead from suffocation, in his hands.

“Eat up!” said Green Monkey through a mouthful of raw fish. The Outlands were not kind, Liam had learned as a little lost boy a few years prior, but he had found the strange simian creature and become its apprentice in what it called Catch. “It’s your first full catch-trick, don’t let it go to waste. You must eat it!”

Liam looked at Green Monkey through squinting eyes, then decided it was time to try the famed silver spike.

Green Monkey dropped down from the tree branch, walked two steps toward Liam and put his left arm on the child’s shoulder. “There is no joy like freshly caught fish and the satisfaction of concealing oneself cleverly.”

No Greater Monster

There are monsters out there, this I know. There are monsters.

Mathew said to himself out loud, as if speaking to an expectant audience, like he was in some movie and there was a fourth wall to break. He had always done that, speak to himself out loud as if anyone would listen. The years of isolation had only exacerbated the habit, made it a proclivity, an old crease in the flesh that you couldn’t help but run your fingers over obsessively time and time again.

He cleaned the tiles of the bathroom studiously, strenuously, even though the stains had long since been wiped clean off, eroded even. Matthew couldn’t help but adhere to the ritual he had perfected for himself. It was the cleansing, the only way he could cope with all he knew, with all he understood.

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

Shara had taken the day off. That’s what she had told herself that morning, in any case. Now she was back at the shop, idling and doing little more than twirling her hair as she waited for the hours to go by until she could get the fuck out of the convenience store. Eddie just had to get sick that day, the one day she was going to make her move.

The patrons today weren’t all bad, but she really had had it with the whole gig. She had been planning to make it out of Dodge, so to speak, that very day, and had been thwarted in her attempt by a strange sense of guilt. It wasn’t bad enough that she was leaving her old man, but she would do so, too, while being a work-dodger? Not a chance! She wasn’t going to leave her old man, near-senile as he was, with the burden of her bad reputation – though she hadn’t really gotten such a thing just yet.

It was her day off, goddamnit!  She could skip town on her day off, but not when she was required to show up to work.

She had been lost in her escapist reverie when she showed up. She had never been particularly infatuated with any person before, neither female nor male, at least not so much so that she had ever really tried anything physical. She had been quite content playing with herself over the years rather than giving in to the wooing of any suitor. This woman that walked into the store, well, she was something else.

The way she walked. The way she looked at Shara as she walked up to the counter to ask for a pack Virginia Slims. The oddly sheepish way in which she smiled when she noticed – surely, she noticed! – Shara’s silly, besotted grin and puppy-dog eyes… She was just too much!

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

There are monsters. There are, there really are.

The litany of Matthew, as it would have been known had anyone actually been listening, ever, went on. He scrubbed, on all fours, tears streaming down his face now, his eyes unblinking as they poured, as if it were someone else crying, not him.

There are ghosts of what has transpired there. The afterimages…

He couldn’t tell how long he’d been at it: the scrubbing. He couldn’t tell at all. His clothes were soiled, he knew. He had debased himself in ways he’d never thought possible, but it all seemed beyond him, now. It was all beyond any semblance of import. It was all of no consequence. He had to continue his cleanse.

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

Pandora. She had said her name was Pandora. How awesome was that?!

Shara had decided to close shop early and fuck the boss in the ear a thousand times, figuratively – though she would have paid good money to see that in a literal sense! Pandora, the promise of her, was just too much not to take the plunge. The sheer potential hinted at behind those intense, brown eyes…

In minutes, they were in Pandora’s car, going down the highway, to a place Pandora assured her would be so much fun.

Shara had no doubt in her mind; it would be such fun!

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

Mathew had spent days, now. Days.

It came to him, the memory and the notion, clear as day. Clear as that afternoon when, after waking up from a binge, with a terrible hangover, he chanced upon the intruders in his home.

Stiff morning wood pitching an unsightly tent in his cheap cotton boxers, Matthew had walked downstairs from his shitty bedroom, ever-unkempt, untidy. Shirtless, belly protruding over the barely-serviceable elastic waistband, he took the unceremonious trip to the bathroom that naturally preceded every self-loathing themed morning – err – afternoon, after a bender.

As he opened the door to the rather spacious bathroom – white-tiled, with two bathtubs of the old-fashioned kind – lion legs and all –, and a few drain openings on the floor that suited an autopsy room more than a bathroom – he was greeted by the sight of a young woman – barely more than a girl, really – hung from one of the shower pipes by her handcuffed wrists. She was naked, bleeding profusely from countless lacerations on her pale, sheer skin.

There was another woman, one that was obviously older, naked as well, though there was something venomous, toxic about her being unclothed. The very way she handled herself, it was… poison.

Matthew’s erection pulled a Houdini and went the way of the Dodo bird while the other naked woman spoke.

I know you don’t remember me. I know you probably don’t know who I am.

She chuckled in a husky voice, as if musing. Matthew had no voice to speak with.

There was a time when I knew you and you were important to me. You had so much potential, but you squandered it. Such a shame, really. Well, no good deed goes unpunished!

That last, she added in such a contrasting cheery tone that Matthew couldn’t help but flinch as if struck.

Well, this is so that you remember all that you’ve lost. A lesson. Maybe you’re not so thick to not learn it, the lesson.

The lady… She slit the girl’s throat and then walked out nonchalantly, not a care in the world while the girl bled out. Matthew, too dumbstruck to react, simply stood there, pissing his boxers. Literally.

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

Pandora was so unbelievable. They were breaking into some guy’s place, on a lark, just for the hell of it. The risk, the passion, the danger… They were all Shara had craved from since God knew when… She was so turned on!

There was nothing she could do to not want to taste Pandora.

Close your eyes.

Pandora had said that so vehemently, so authoritatively… Shara had felt a warmth at the pit of her belly, a familiar tickle that was also stronger than she’d ever felt before.

Then came the blinding pain.

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

There are monsters out there.

Matthew repeated out loud. He had seen it, crawling back out of a past he had thought long-buried. His own transgressions amplified exponentially, given flesh and played out before him like he could never have envisioned.

But there is no greater monster…

He went on, scrubbing, trying to erase his past, to erase his sins…

No greater monster than the human heart.

The City of Self II

Author’s Note: The City of Self is a self-exploratory series (it just became a series by virtue of this second installment, as it were). You can see the first installment here if you so wish.

This post has seen some revisions since its initial publishing, but this is the final version of it. So, if you have read it in the past days, give it another go and see if you like it.

This is dedicated to a woman whom I love dearly – great understatement, that. I hope that one day she is happy and fulfilled, and that she knows she is always welcome in my city. If luck would have it, I would, too.

 

“Oh, Beauregard, must we really do this now?” said Nancy to herself, speaking to no one at all but to the voices inside her own mind; no one, indeed.  It was busywork, this tidying up of a city after the passing of such a momentous event. Busywork, menial, but not banal. It was wrought with feeling, with meaning, with emotion.

 

Wearing a neon pink hazmat suit was no way to offset the nigh-unbearable discomfort of the cumbersome indumentary, well-intentioned though the gesture was; the heat, the sweat, the limited movement, the humid micro-environment that was Nancy’s body, these were all an extension of how she felt within. It was sloppy, it was disgusting, and it was even painful.

 

Rais showed up to help after a few minutes. His company was very welcome, but it wasn’t enough to lessen the brunt of the work ahead. Rais was short for Raisonnement, and his name was as fitting as any name could be. Where Nancy lacked in clarity and scope of vision, Rais was able to extrapolate and wind through strands of thought where she would have been lost. Curiously, however, he could easily get so deep into such fugues that it had to be Nancy – or Loge, who had yet to show up today – who would need to throw Rais a life-line and bring him back to the moment.

 

“Hey there, Nan. How’re we holding up?” he effected a wan smile that belied the worry in his eyes.

 

“Well, I’ve been worse, I think,” she replied with a sigh. “There’s just so much to clean up… How the hell did it get so messy so fast?” they were fucked and they both knew it.

 

“It’s the Heart,” he said with a disdainful shrug. “The City, it knows not how to filter. But that’s why we’re here, right?”

 

Nancy repeated but that’s why we’re here in a high-pitched, mocking voice, screwing her face up in a grimace. She knew Rais was right, but she didn’t have to like it. Rais seemed to smile genuinely for the first time in a good while, moved to get his own hazmat suit on from the pile a few meters away, and joined Nancy in spraying the area.

 

It seemed desolate, the City’s central plaza. For all its verdant, surrounding foresta, it appeared to be submerged in a gossamer gloom. A grave, austere foreboding hung in the air and it reeked of despondency. Nancy kept spraying the area with her thin hose, which was connected to a large cistern truck about 50 meters away, on the edge of the plaza. She really wished they had tools like a fire hose rather than the paltry garden hose thing in her hands. At this pace they wouldn’t be finished for weeks, at least. And that was just thinking about the center’s edges. They still had to work their way into the City of Self’s core, the Heart, and they could only do it by finding the veins and arteries that had been filled with the guest’s influence.

 

The guest, in this case, had been the lovely Siqvaruli – pronounced seekooahroolee – and she had been a wonderful guest, at that. She had come in, insistent at first despite Nancy’s reluctance to welcome another ambassador into the City, and had eased Nancy’s fears and misgivings – for the most part. She had come into the City of Self, an honored guest, and tenderly laid bare every single bit of the City that Nancy had curated and maintained. Every nook and cranny. Every secret area. Every shortcut…

 

It had been a wonderful change, despite the tell-tale signs of patterns that pointed southward, those in the City and in this ambassador. And Nancy had been wooed and charmed and decided this was the guest that should remain, the one that should be a permanent fixture of the City of Self. She really had.

 

Well, at least this time they didn’t have to remove an infection. One couldn’t call this type of invasion – and invasion only by the loosest of definitions – something as pejorative, as derogatory as an infection. It had been a mythical event, something that had to be experienced or it would otherwise not be believed. Its effects, the residual patina and changes to the infrastructure, were nevertheless as difficult to quantify, contain, and manage.

 

The previous invasion, from infamous guest Ai – persona non grata, most definitely – had nearly killed all three of them. It had been a bloody affair…

 

Where the hell was Loge, she thought, cutting her reverie short. It wasn’t like her to be late. “Rais, when was the last time you saw Loge?”

 

Rais stopped spraying for a moment and frowned, clearly considering her question. “You know, I don’t think I’ve seen her in a while,” he said, looking at her with dawning worry on his face. After minute’s contemplation, Nancy dropped her hose and ran out of the plaza, in the direction of the core. It was the Heart. It had to be the Heart.

 

She ran like the devil’s own wind. She ran until her lungs burned, her legs felt nearly numb, and her heart threatened to burst out of her chest.

 

When she reached the inner sanctum of the core, Loge was doing something she had never seen her do. Loge was caressing the Heart, crooning to it in a low bass voice. Nancy was struck by a memory, as if from a parental figure singing to her in that exact same manner. The croon was an earthly, warm drone that set her at ease.

 

Rais caught up to her a couple of minutes later, sweating, breathing heavily, and after cursing a few times under his belabored breath, remarked about Loge’s strange behavior. Nancy didn’t answer. She just looked on and let the scene playing out before them be the eloquence she lacked to describe the odd beauty of Loge tending with care to the Heart.

 

There were tears streaming down Loge’s face. Logique was her full name, and she had never once shed a tear, never once sung, and not even once caressed anything. She had always been cold, calculating, efficient and direct. Yet now, before them, in the most uncharacteristic display of empathy and compassion, she was the polar opposite, or so Nancy thought.

 

The rivulets cascaded down Loge’s face, flowing freely down her neck and her collarbones, pooling in her suprasternal notch, that alluring hollow of the throat as it vibrated visibly with the power of her oddly subtle voice. There had been a movie where that particular oddity of anatomy had played an important role… The English Patient, Nancy recalled, with a lump forming in her own throat.

 

Loge suddenly collapsed onto her knees, hands down on the ground, and Nancy ran to her. She put a hand lightly on the middle of Loge’s back and asked her in a whisper, as if speaking any louder would break the poignancy of that divine moment. “What is it?”

 

“It doesn’t want to heal, it won’t let me,” Loge replied, her voice unexpectedly hoarse and tense with frustration. “It doesn’t want to.”

 

“What?” said Rais far louder than expected, startling Nancy. She looked back at him reproachfully. “Why?” Rais went on regardless.

 

Loge lowered her head, shaking it in slow denial. “Because it wants the scars… because it feels that if it heals completely it will lose what is left of Siqvaruli’s presence.”

 

Nancy stared at her in silence, caressing her back slowly, gently. Rais’ eyes were now open wide, almost exaggeratedly so, as he looked at the Heart of the City of Self. Nancy knew then that he was lost in one of his incredible fugue states, going down ramifications and pathways, scenarios and situations, the future unfolding before his inscrutable mindscape. She had an inkling, however, of what the panoramas he was envisioning held.

 

She understood, and in her comprehension she could not fault the Heart. They were the keepers of it, responsible for its well-being. In a way, they had failed it by letting all of what had transpired happen, but then, hadn’t it all been so beautiful and wonderful and worth every ounce of pain and discomfort that came in the wake of its crumbling?

 

Siqvaruli had been a boon to the City, but in the latter days of her stay she had appeared forlorn, lost in activities that appeared to be centered elsewhere, as if planning her move but not wanting to go ahead for fear of damaging the City of Self, of hurting Nancy, even.

 

In the end, Nancy had recognized these changes, the patterns, the age-old routines, and had found herself not knowing how to proceed. She had found herself a stranger in her own City, in her own world. As if walking through molasses, a fish in coagulating gel, she had eventually managed to reach Siqvaruli and spoken with her. They negotiated the terms of her departure, with Nancy, as the City’s representative, conceding all but what little dignity she might still hold. No terse words were spoken, only truths with underlying love.

 

Nancy could see that there was pain in her eyes, and she felt regret that her City was not the home she thought it could be for Siqvaruli. She deeply, profoundly regretted it. A part of her even now thought – hoped – that perhaps one day it would be. That Siqvaruli would find some long, winding road back to her City, and that the City in turn would be a better host then to receive her. She knew this hope could be the cause of deep pain for many years to come, but she dared not stop hoping for fear of losing the memory all together. In this, she understood the Heart. In this, she knew the Heart was not completely foolish. Perhaps it was foolish, but Nancy didn’t know how else to cope.

 

She knew things would eventually heal for the Heart, even if the scars grew calloused and keloid. There would be healing and strength because of them, but callous tissue isn’t ideal, and the City had already scarred so many times…

 

It dawned on her, that Loge was being as cold as ever, but that for the sake of the survival of the City’s Heart, and their own in turn, the logical thing to do was to attempt to heal the Heart by any means possible.

 

It felt like an exercise in futility. It felt like the very foundations of the City had been compromised and that only catastrophe could follow.

 

She considered an appeal to Siqvaruli, a call for her to return… But no, that very notion, that of her presence becoming a pillar of the City had been one of the causes of her departure. The City had already been weakened, product of Nancy, Loge, and Rais’ underperforming upkeep. It was then utter stupidity to consider depending unfairly on Siqvaruli to somehow stave off what must surely happen now. The City would either succumb and be rebuilt anew, or it would remain nothing more than debris.

 

As Nancy knelt beside Loge, and Rais simply looked on in near-catatonic, purposeless eye movement, she resolved not to let the City fall. She vowed to keep it alive even if it took everything that she was. Her fate appeared dire, but hadn’t the City withstood so much only to come this far?

 

She earnestly hoped she could rebuild as she envisioned, and would even allow herself the conceit of leaving Siqvaruli’s abode in the Heart’s chamber, the place she had made her home during her stay, exactly as the guest had left it. It mattered not if the Siqvaruli  ever returned… In a way, Siqvaruli had never left.

Low Enough

“The reason modern people can’t find God is that they aren’t looking low enough.”

Professor Jordan B. Peterson on Carl Gustav Jung

The devil is in the details. That’s what they always say, isn’t it? There’s also something about idle hands and whatnot, but that doesn’t seem to stem from the same branch of adage wisdom as the former saying, thought Eve. Devil. Details. Fuck it.

She had spent the better part of her day picking away at the trash behind St. Jude’s cathedral and the adjoining youth center. She did just that every other day around various trash containers in the city that she had, through extensive trial and error, identified as being the best for salvaging useful junk to repurpose. It was never fun, but it was entertaining. Or rather, it was busywork, the kind of menial task that nevertheless required great attention and presence of mind; garbage salvage could be dangerous for the unwary. Bottom line for her: it was the part of what she did the she least cared for.

What she really would rather be doing is be back at the workshop, tinkering with the different parts and useful junk she managed to procure. Affixing one seemingly incongruous part to another until some contraption came to be, like a musician improvising a complete symphony from just a few disjointed notes. Well, perhaps not a symphony, Eve considered, but a catchy song the likes of which one hears on the radio. A summer hit; nothing too complex or high-brow, but pleasant and easy to whistle or hum along to. She was still looking to make her own symphony of contraptions, her magnum opus.

Cutting her reverie short, Eve shut the lid on the large, blue metal trash container and dropped down from atop it. She hit the ground with a soft thud, swore under her breath as the familiar painful jolt hit her knees, then walked a few steps with an odd gait that was less a limp and more a sustained motion of falling forward before resuming a somewhat normal cadence. Her green and khaki oversized jacket, which she had made herself, was a study in pockets and practicality. Buttons, zippers, and Velcro accounted for a good thirty per cent of its confection, with the remaining being water-proof materials she had scavenged from an old army-surplus store’s garbage bin.

She mapped the layout of the city in her head and made mental notes about what bins – outliers mainly – she might still consider picking through. These were always a gamble, but sometimes they paid off big time. She considered for a minute before deciding on one; she would hit the bin on 3rd and Oak, where the old video arcade had been until a few weeks back. The city had cleaned out much of what had been put outside the arcade after the owners had disappeared – skipped this dying town, most likely –, but she figured there was a good chance something worthwhile might still be there, waiting for her discerning eyes.

Ten city blocks and a half hour later, at a leisurely pace, Eve was standing on the corner of 3rd and Oak, taking in the dilapidated beauty of what had once been a mecca for the very young, the tweeners and the teens, the soon-to-be adults, and the odd man-child and even rarer woman-child – so often recluses unwilling to show themselves for who they are in public. Not a decade had gone by since Eve herself had been a happy-go-lucky thirteen-year-old who frequented the very arcade she was now planning on pillaging, spending her allowance in the form of quarters and tokens, finding joy and personal triumphs in the myriad screens of the arcade cabinets where fantasy and science fiction adventure lay bare for her. In the days before she discovered her true passion and calling in life, video games had been king.

Memories flooded her mind as she recalled being the butt-end of jokes and jabs by other girls her age. They were mostly interested in the older boys, and spent what Eve considered an inordinate amount of time on finding ways to be noticed by those who they fancied. She never much cared for any boy, or any girl for that matter. No, all Eve ever really wanted was to draw out more and more satisfaction from playing, from exploring. Once the hobby shop opened next to the arcade, tinkering and mechanical endeavors became her world, the source from which she derived meaning and happiness.

She dispelled these wistful memories and walked along the sidewalk, bituminous and dirty with the grime of countless years of traffic. She couldn’t help but draw comparisons in her mind between what had once been and what now was, the concrete and steel carcasses of juggernauts, where thousands upon thousands had gathered to worship at the altars of technology and consumerism. Yet, there was something nagging at her, an itch in the back of her head, beneath her skull, unreachable, un-scratchable… There was something off about the place, as much as that can be said about an abandoned building without touching upon the obvious.

She came upon the double doors of the abandoned arcade, their neon pink and blue designs, all sharp lines with stylized thunder in neon yellow dating what had already been a relic of a different era when Eve had been one of the place’s patrons. It struck her as humorous, that she would now break into and enter a place that had welcomed her with open doors, where she had willingly given all her scant earthly riches but was now about to take with unabashed abandon.

She stopped, frozen solid as she put her hand on one of the doors, and darted a look to her right. She thought she had seen movement out of the corner of her eye. Nothing. It had been nothing. She set back to the task ahead and took out a pair of lock-picking tools with which to undo the pesky padlock the city had slapped on the doors. Vandals and scoundrels would be kept out, but not the resourceful urchin, no sir. She needed no more than a minute and the lock clicked open. She removed the chains, pushed the double doors open and walked into the arcade.

For a second, Eve considered putting the chains back on to make it look like the place was still locked up, but thought better of it. It was already late in the afternoon and the area was mostly deserted. It was highly unlikely that anyone would pass by, much less notice anything out of place. People were good at obviating and not noticing the things around them, their surroundings and the subtle changes in them.

The air was dusty, and there was a strong hint of humidity building up that would surely mean the building would be condemned not too far in the future unless some serious conditioning and work were put into it. She expected it would be the former and that the city would tear it all down.

Movement again, this time a little more solid, easier to focus on, Eve thought. But she was inside. Before it had been outside, on the street. Likely rats, she thought, wanting to believe it in a way she realized bordered on irrational. She wondered what was wrong with her. Why the sudden eerie feeling? Why the fear?

She opted to move on, to boldly ignore her own childish fears and frank disgust for rodents – though she had to admit she held no ill-will toward the species; she thought highly of it conceptually, rat kind; she just didn’t like the smell of them –, and made a bee-line for where she remembered the employees-only areas and storage room had been.

Bingo.

Better yet, no one had bothered to lock any of the doors within the arcade. The city officials had likely thought it unnecessary to do so. Who would bother breaking in? Right.

As she walked into what appeared to be the employee break room, she noticed movement again and this time couldn’t help but jump, startled. Whatever that thing had been, it had been far bigger than any rat she had ever seen. Also, she didn’t recall ever hearing about rats running horizontally across a sheer wall.

She fished for her flashlight from out of her jacket – never leave home to scavenge without it! – and set about finding whatever that thing had been and where it had gotten off to. Her search led her down a hallway that, after a few too many steps, led Eve to wonder if it was geometrically possible for it to be as long as it appeared to be, given the building’s dimensions. By her calculations, which were generally accurate, the hallway was at least two times too long to fit within the arcade.

The hallway continued, whatever she thought about it, so she doggedly stayed on the path until she came upon a door with a painted sign that read The Pit. Funny, she thought, sarcastically. This door was also unlocked, so she entered the comically-named room to find what appeared to be a hydroponic plantation set-up. It wasn’t large, and it wasn’t for Cannabis – she could spot those in a second – but the PVC pipe structure before her was unmistakably a hydroponic garden.

This was decidedly weird. This kind of installation, clearly up-and-running, in the bowels of a seemingly abandoned building. Eve would have thought one of the city officials was running some kind of drug operation if it wasn’t for the fact that the plants – and what odd plants they appeared to be! – were not of the Sativa or Indica variety. Certainly not Ruderalis! Ostensibly, she considered, they might be some other kind of drug-related plant, but she thought it unlikely.

She inspected the plants closely and found them familiar, yet she couldn’t place where she might remember them from. There happened to be one plant, a yellow-purple flowering bush with small, yellow cherry-like fruits that appeared to have red spots, that caught her eye and commanded her attention. As she drew near it she noticed a label on the PVC casing that housed it. It read: ANGVIS.

She looked at the fruit it bore. It looked plump and moist, almost as if it would burst if it wasn’t picked off from the burdened branches soon. She felt her mouth water, flooding with saliva as if at the prospect of a fine meal.

Before she could check herself, Eve picked the one fruit that looked the plumpest. She drew in breath as if she had startled herself, and looked at the tiny blood-spotted cherry in her hand. What the hell! She thought, and bit into the tiny morsel.

Her taste buds were immediately overwhelmed, as if assaulted with such taste as no human had ever been treated to. Colors flooded her mind as strange musical notes drowned out all external sound. She recognized, with a small portion of conscious thought, that this was a synesthetic experience, and that something profound was taking place at a nervous and, somehow, neurological level within her.

After a few minutes, the waves of stimulation that washed over her senses diminished and finally abated, and she felt oddly revitalized, full of energy like she hadn’t felt since she had been a little girl.

Slowly, a growing realization began to dawn within her. She could see. She could see, but not like before. She could see.

And she could hear. She heard it when it spoke to her. It called to her by name, Eve. It told her things, it reminded her of things, it recalled things for her. Eve. It greeted her warmly, like an old acquaintance. The oldest of friends.

It found it curious, that she had come alone. Oh, she had not known? It wondered, aloud. Had she known beforehand, she might have brought along a male. Adam? Yes, like the little men like to think, to tell that old yarn. No, he would have died. Indeed. That is because there never had been an Adam to begin with. No. There was only ever Eve.
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The Last Things

These were terribly nefarious times. The world was constantly on the brink of war, despite the fact that the people of the world were mostly oblivious to what was going on around them, and the value of life was at an all time low, undermining all the social progress of decades prior.

Lou had taken his job knowing full well that the job had in reality chosen him, in a manner of speaking. He just happened to have been born with the qualities necessary to undertake the assignment, one that for most donning his mantle before him, his predecessors, was never to end save for when their own lives came to a close. For him, however, in light of all the terrible goings on in the world, the assignment may very well end before his own life was exhausted.

It is not a good thing, the passing of a species, though it is most definitely a necessary one. An integral part of life, intrinsic, indivisible from it. We do not know why, as a people, but we accept it. This is no different for any living thing. Everything will eventually pass. Every living thing passes. Even inert things pass from this world in some way.

The tiny creatures which last were known by a now-extinct tribe as Iflig – roughly translated as the little ones that sing to the forests – were about to transition out of this existence themselves. There was one single specimen left, as whelp of the kind. It had only recently lost its mother in the same way it would soon meet its end. Its mother, like its entire little herd, had been inadvertently been poisoned by well-meaning yet careless explorers who’d come to that remote island to scope out the place for future studies. They had thought they were being careful, but their own supplies, specifically their “vitamin water”, contained a hidden, undisclosed chemical which just so happened to be highly toxic to certain types of organisms. The Iflig were especially vulnerable, having existed for centuries in isolation, without any environmental exposition to such chemicals, and soon their numbers dwindled to but a few groups. In the space of days they had succumbed to their bane, and so the last group, that of the tiny pup soon to expire, had remained as the last of their precious kind.

There it was, this tiny creature, a sweet rodent, from what Lou could ascertain, but having some trace of a creature-type the world had not seen for a long, long time. It was tragic, as were all the cases Lou attended to.

He concentrated on the specimen, picked the half-inch long ball of hair, its miniature legs barely kicking out in a weak fit of panic at being taken by the strange, seemingly gigantic man. He tried to provide the little thing some comfort. It was so cruel, this world. This wonderous little being, its liliputian heart beating to a drum many times the tempo of that of Lou’s, would not know the world, would not experience it as its forefathers had. All it knew was that it had lost the warmth and protection of its mother, and that now it was growing weak and scared. It likely knew finality was the only avenue left to it, Lou mused.

Had it grown to be an adult, it would have reached a maximum of two inches in length and about half that in girth. It would have become a creature integral to the ecosystem that maintained the forest of the island. The great trees, unique to this place, were part of a very complex and delicate system comprised of different forms of fungus, plant and animal life. Once this little guy died, he knew with absolute certainty only one such as he could possess, there would be a chain reaction across the space of the following weeks where most of the species comprising the island’s ecosystem would become extinct themselves. The trees would wither and die, while some minor species might be able to adapt. The foolish explorers who had brought this about unwittingly would realize that, perhaps without ever knowing exactly why, they had been the artificers of this extinction.

Lou felt the little one’s life force leave it, the energy passing on, moving off to where he did not know. It was still in this universe, but where it went and what it became, he could not say.

At that same time another manifestation of his own self, of Lou’s, was witnessing a similar event while making a mental catalog of it. There were many, many other manifestations either arriving, witness currently, or concluding their business in extinction. Lou was a most rare individual, capable of being present physically in countless places in the world at once. He had the unfathomable ability of polylocation, and this allowed him to bear witness to the end of all species without hindrance.

He had been with the Foundation – its name not really known to him despite his decades in employ – since he was nine years old. Approached by the one who would soon after become his mentor, he had been taken from his parents with their consent and sent to what they thought was a most prestigious educational program for gifted children. In a way, it had been exactly that. He had learned to control the abilities he had been recently discovering before his ninth birthday, and was soon put to task. By his fifteenth birthday, Lou had already seen thousands upon thousands of species of living things of all biological kingdoms cease to be as a whole. This had invariably marked his emotional development, burdening the boy that would become a man with a deep sense of sadness only those before him could have understood.

This particular representation of Lou would rejoin the stem shortly, as if it were some organelle dispatched, but he was technically already with the stem, the center of Lou’s being, despite the distance in a sense. There was no distance, everywhere was everywhere at once, forever. Except for the things that would be nevermore.

Lou was possibly the last of the watchers, the last of the catalogers of last things. This too shall end. This will never come again. He put the Iflig down on the ground. Perhaps one of the explorers would chance upon the miniature thing, but it would do little in the scheme of the world’s psyche.

Everywhere. Forever. Nevemore.