On through the morass of the membrane between places, Thiago had found purchase in the caliginous murk and mustered enough propulsion to break through the thick barrier and into the filthy streets of Gideon’s Promenade. It wouldn’t normally be a destination of choice for him, but this particular gem of the many circles of Cannalbrae – the one’s populated by life-forms he could recognize as such, at least – would serve him well in his struggle to lose his tail. He needed to make haste, nevertheless. No time to take in the smells and sights of the place he had once called home when he had possessed a very different form. That had been, effectively, another life. The barrage of memories that flooded his mind then was almost overwhelming in its nostalgic bitter-sweetness. Gideon’s Promenade was anything but pleasant, in reality, but the ironically-named midden-of-a-city had been his whetting stone when he was still in his original human body. The otherwise stifling atmosphere where most would fall under the pressures of being so close to the Odd Circles had sharpened him, turned the lump of coal he was into a most cunning diamond.
As he picked his way through the labyrinthine alleys into the market sector, he wistfully recalled the day when he had first punctured the membrane between places. He had done so inadvertently, quite by accident, really. Having a fertile imagination and a volatile sense of the fantastic had actually helped him adapt to the singularity of his circumstances at the tender age of eleven. He had quickly found a place in one of the myriad child-gangs that ran amok in the sub-society of Gideon’s Promenade. He almost missed those halcyon days of petty theft and larceny. He had moved, for better or for worse, up to much grander schemes and now he was paying the price for his ambition.
He had to weave a tangled route, making sure that his traces would describe such a psychic knot that his pursuers would have to take a considerable amount of time to undo. He made no pretenses as to his ability to lose them completely, but he knew that the thick collective psyche of this particular circle-city would keep them busy. They may be ineluctable, so far as he could see, but that did not mean he couldn’t delay what appeared to be the last price he would pay. Satisfied that his weaving through the crowds and stalls had left a sinuous, almost inscrutable psychic wake entrenched in the psychic soup of the Gideon’s Promenade, he prepared to pierce the membrane between places once more.
This was the last such puncture he’d be able to do for some time. At least, not without external aid. He was already missing his right hand, his right eye and both his ears. He knew that this body would only be a temporary measure when he procured it, but he had used up his physical currency a considerable tad faster than he had projected. The onus, of course, lay with him and no one else. He could be a great many despicable things, but he was never one to shorn responsibility for his own actions.
His concentration was beginning to focus, narrowing; his vision attuning to the universal sub-anatomy. He moved with determination, tracing the currents and pinpointing a soft spot in the membrane between places. He increased his concentration, visualizing his inner-charge burning to white-hot and ready to melt through the membrane with ease.
He didn’t know what hit him, but only felt the electric blast of an Interruptor-gun. He hit the ground hard but was not knocked unconscious, much to his fortune. He looked up before attempting to stand back up and saw the ugly mug of a membrane-hound as it bore down on him. The bastard must have been coincidentally close when he broke through from the last place and been shadowing him since. No matter; he wouldn’t join his kennel today.
Thiago used the last charge, which he hadn’t released thanks to the interruptor blast, and let out a gas-ball on the hapless hound. The bulldog-like face – that is, if bulldogs mated with silverback gorillas – virtually melted as the gas-ball hit the anthropomorphic mongrel-thing.
Fuck. Now what? He had to break through the membrane soon or else his pursuers would be on him. He remembered a time when he would have demurred on making deals as offhandedly as he had in the past weeks, having to jump bodies repeatedly as he ran out of currency. Those had been very different circumstances. This conjuncture warranted any and all possible measures, and he was not one to be stingy when it came to saving his own hide, figuratively speaking.
He still didn’t like the idea of calling on the vile Susurrus. The very name made him shudder with dread, nausea bubbling in the pit of his stomach and threatening to empty it inside-out. He had no choice, however. What could he give in exchange this time? He had to think quickly on the merits of one piece of anatomical currency over another, what he would most likely need after the jump and what he could do without in the short-term. His tongue! He would not need it and he would find a body as soon as he hit the other place. He had to admit that, despite the strange emotions that came with leaving the body he was born into, being metempsychotic was possibly the best card The Lady had dealt him.
He cleared his mind and began to recite the whispering rhyme that would bring the dread-rustle to his aid. The ancient words so ingrained in his brain that he could even say them backward if he so chose, though he never would; to utter the whisper-rhyme in reverse was to invite certain death, or worse. That was what those in the know said, in any case, and he wasn’t about to chance finding out first-hand.
Within seconds he began to feel the localized breeze that stirred nothing but the air immediately around him. He heard and felt the sickening susurration of the vile beings in both the holes that had been this body’s ears. He had to fight his gag reflex as well as this body’s pressing need vacate its bowels.
Despite being filled with sickening dread, the puissance in the atmosphere was thrilling. It made him high and he hung on to that in order to get through what he must to stay alive.
SSSSSS ONE THAT STEALS THE FLESH CALLSSSSSSS
He opened his eyes at the greeting of the Susurrus collective. No matter how many times he had dealt with them, he always found their appearance – what his eyes could actually focus on – abhorrently repulsive. The vile presence did not actually have a readily visible form, but the very sounds and presence made the mortal brain produce a great many visual effects and feelings. He had thought long on the configuration of the physical visage often produced by the Susurrus and could not draw any origin. There was, however, something ultimately atavistic about their physiognomy. Something that spoke to the most primeval parts of the brains of all the bodies he had occupied, something that was equal to the most basic of fears. Much like the instinctual fear of the dark, but with hints of something even worse, that which the most ancient of darknesses might harbor in its folds.
The Susurrus was essentially indescribable. Thiago had theorized that the strange disturbances in the air, like heat emanating from pavement under a Summer sun, was indeed a quasi-physical manifestation of the collective. One could not properly fix their form with one’s vision, however, as if the brain refused to acknowledge what might be there. What was glimpsed amongst the visual hallucinations when the eye managed to catch something resembling solidity in the disturbance suggested a variegated assortment of predatory features and anatomical configurations in arrangements that defied logic.
SSSSSSSSSWHAT DOES IT OFFERSSSSSSSWHAT DOES IT WANTSSSSSSS
The rustling and whispers were not deafening, but they were thick and all-encompassing, like an ocean’s breaking waves. He felt as though they caressed him the susurrations, the implications lewd and decadent.
My tongue in exchange for the ability to pierce through the membrane between places into the place of my soul-birth, he answered peremptorily to the collective’s query. That was the trick to dealing with the Susurrus; one had to be assertive despite the dread, despite the fear, or else they would take the summoner and give nothing in exchange. That was not to say that they hadn’t turned on one self-assured in the past. Such tales abounded, cautionary or not, and Thiago always had them in mind. Dominating one’s fears did not ensure success, by any means.
At the diminished hiss from the collective, the habitual indication that the offer was accepted, he felt his jaw open forcibly, his tongue held and pulled by unseen hands, and in a second it was severed. Cut as if by the sharpest blade. The pain was sharp as the body’s nerves were severed. He felt the blood flood his mouth and drip down his chin and drip onto his neck and chest. Then he felt the searing pain of the cuatherization that inevitably followed. The Susurrus did not desire the death of their clients, after all. He nearly passed out, barely managing to remain conscious as the blackness adorned his vision.
SSSSSSSS IT IS DONESSSSSSSS
He felt the psychic pull and a funnel of ethereal substance took him across the membrane, depositing him gently on a sidewalk as if he had never moved but the world around him had simply been switched from under and around him, like a theater’s stage settings.
He took a look around and, with a pleased smile, decided it was time to be rid of the glabrous body he had almost run dry. Some humanoid species were just not good to walk around the streets of San José, Costa Rica in the planet called Earth, a place in the realm where he had originally been conceived.
He quickly found a tiny dwarf-of-a-man, a hobo. He wasn’t about to get picky at the moment and he really needed something that would allow him to get around. The hirsute little man’s body would do for a time.
He moved behind the beggar and quickly dove into the man’s mind, his psychic projection evicting the poor soul from his rightful vessel. No valedictorian motions to the switch, his hairless hitherto body dropping down on the ground, lifeless, like so much discarded clothes. It was good to know, thought Thiago, that despite his spirit’s lassitude after so many jumps through the membrane, he was still able to perform his tricks at will.
To business, then; he had to find Sparky quickly, assuming he was still alive. He was the only person he remembered clearly from his days on Earth and the only person with whom he had been close. He should be able to tug at the man’s heartstrings for his own benefited, he hoped.