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.

Mr. Leeds

Mr. Leeds was a melancholy sort of fellow. Dapper, certainly; courteous and gallant, of course, but ultimately a tenuously sorrowful man. He dressed out of the current of the times, not paying much heed to what passed for fashion these days, but managed not to seem too terribly anachronistic by staying close to rural areas. It was, after all, safer for the likes of him.

He had been the thirteenth child of one Deborah Leeds back in the 1800’s, the devil child, or so had his mother proclaimed upon learning of her being with child for the thirteenth time. She could not have known how right she was when exclaiming in such a fashion, though surely she had not meant it beyond the joke of having to go through labor and child-rearing yet again at her age.

Mr. Leeds had come into the world in the seemingly usual way, midwife assisting his mother through what was now rote for them both, and out had the babe come. Struck to elicit crying and dry breathing, the newborn Mr. Leeds had come brutally awake and aware to the world he had been born into and something in his nature sprung into action defensively. He transformed before the very eyes of his sweat-soaked mother and the wide-eyed midwife. Wings like those of a bat sprung from his infantile back, his hands drew claws and his feet turned like those of a horse. His face elongated in reptilian fashion and a more horrible wail came therefrom.

The midwife screamed, matching the wail’s pitch, which startled young, drake-like Mr. Leeds, who reacted on instinct dealing the terrified midwife a blow to the throat. His mother’s eyes grew wide as the full moon outside and, though her mouth opened wide and worked as if to vomit sound, nothing audible beyond muffled groans exited through her troubled windpipe.

The midwife was fast bleeding to her death out of the gash in her throat, his mother only stared, and the child-think that was Mr. Leeds leapt out the window, crashing through the wood and glass, to be lost to his family forevermore.

One could understand the moroseness that would build the character of Mr. Leeds, how having left his family was never given a formal name. It was only later that he learned of his family name, by piecing together bits of folklore and street rumor, and subsequently spying on his relatives, those descended over the years from his older brothers and sisters.

It was the XXI century, now, and despite now only recently reached what would be the outward appearance of middle age for a common human being, he was none the wiser about what he really was.

He had learned from the recovered diary of his mother, which he had only come by a few months ago, that she had been unfaithful to her husband, and that the man she had lain with had been Native American. However, after having learned the name of the man, he had only been able to gather strange yet ambiguous information about who and what he was.

Skinwalker, some of those he had contacted has said, thereafter refusing to speak more on the subject, those who didn’t hang up the phone right after he mentioned his possible father’s name. Email correspondence was rarely ever possible with those knowledgable enough about the man who went by the Navajo name Ooljee, which apparently was a female name meaning Moon, and when there was some address that could be reached, no replies were forthcoming.

He was beginning to lose a bit of hope. He had not had much of that, to begin with, but he was having too little success with his inquiries.

He would have to leave the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey, which had been his home since his strange birth, when he had fled the mother he had never truly met, his more animal side taking over his infant consciousness and ensuring his survival in the woods for years, allowing his child-mind to mature, taking the world in as a co-pilot in some vehicle.

He had time, however. Yes. Time. And if what he understood about these Skinwalkers was correct, that man – nay, the thing that might be his father, was still somewhere in the world, living, if living is what a Skinwalker did.

Dog Days

He had spent long enough trying to get it right, turning it over in his hands while scrutinizing it under the intensity of the magnifying glass propped on a mechanical arm and accompanying high intensity light, a necessity for the kind of work Mook earned his keep with.

This particular item was not the average piece of history he would often have to appraise for his callers; grave-robbers and unlicensed archaeologists – weren’t they all the same? – were the brunt of his clientele, but now and then he would get genuine requests from respectable establishments and individuals with private collections who would offer a considerable stipend for his services.

This latter was the case of the fine item he was currently inspecting, a strange metallic object that had been unearthed in Göbekli Tepe and procured by its current owner through means better not discussed. Its origin a mystery, for it did not belong to the place of its discovery, the ancient mysterious city which the Turkish government had sealed off from both the public and any researchers for reasons unknown; no one really thought their national security blanket statement held any water.

The object was most confounding. Mook had pored over its every minuscule detail, every millimeter of craftsmanship, analyzing every little hint at what its makers may have intended and who they were by extrapolation, only to come up with the strangest of notions. It would seem that, if he was reading all the information available to him correctly, the item was of alien origin. That is, it could be either extraterrestrial or extradimensional, but it was certainly not from this Earth, not in its actual state.

For one, there was the composition of the metal. It was rare enough, but there was one element he did not recognize from the lab analysis date that had been provided with the object by the person who commissioned his expertise. Second, there was the attention to detail, which was perhaps impossible even with current day’s laser technology; any such details would have had to have been made with either nanotechnology or something other that worked on a level the neither the human eye nor hand could possibly achieve on their own.

Mook understood little about the object, what its purpose might be. It was a simple circular plate, just about 7 centimeters wide, with the finest little lines of inlaid gold etched into its surface in elaborate designs that would put even the finest Celtic knot-work to shame. There was something odd about the designs, though, a pattern, it seemed, that he could not quite identify but intuitively perceived, and so he kept at it, tracing the myriad lines in hope of devising this pattern and thus find an inch of leeway in the mental knot that the object had put in his mind.

Mook thought about the debate surrounding Göbekli Tepe, about what it meant as an archaeological find, whether it was a temple or an observatory, or something else entirely. The much publicized theories of the late Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist who’d lead the team that worked there before it had been shut down, and of the strange theories the man had posited. He kept going back to Giuglio Magli’s proposition of it having been built to worship the Dog Star, Sirius. The Italian archaeoastronomer posited that the various structures marked the rising of the luminous body in different years, and as such held a connection to the religion of the area.

Mook wasn’t sure why he kept thinking of Sirius. He certainly didn’t give credence to the wild fringe speculation that had been thrown about in recent years about ancient little green men… er… grey men, that had somehow visited ancient man and taught them how to tie their shoes. Nevertheless, there was the matter of the object in his hands, its singular design a stark contrast to all that could have logically been fashioned in South Turkey around 10,000 B.C.

He was dumbfounded by this, his mind looking for any path leading away from the implications of the object’s possible origins. The dating analyses carried out at various institutions, according to the dossier he had been provided, said that the results of the tests were inconclusive. The reason for such a deliberation on the subject? The fact that the results indicated an absurd age that predated Homo Sapiens Sapiens by several hundreds of thousands of years. Of course the people reporting the results would state their conclusions as “inconclusive”; who would want to stake their reputations on such a wild find and all that it might entail? No one in their right mind would lend credit to such results, never mind that they had been corroborated by five different and unrelated institutions. In the presence of something so fantastic any expert would doubt their own procedures and be done with it, eager to sweep away that which challenged their long-held systems. Such an artefact should not be possible, it should not exist… and yet it did.

One word popped into Mook’s head: Lokabrenna. It was ancient Scandinavian for Loki’s Torch, or the burning that Loki wrought, and it was the name of Sirius for the Vikings. What a curious thought. He certainly didn’t ponder Scandinavian myth often, but the name had clearly stuck from whenever he had read it – he must have read it – and his mind deft enough to associate it with his current line of thought.

It was late enough, now. Mook knew he shouldn’t be burning the midnight oil quite so often any more, not at his age. 67 isn’t terribly old, but he was no spring chicken, certainly. It was now 2 in the morning and the old aches were in attendance. With some regret and not being able to continue his exploration of the artifact for the day, he put it down, back into its metallic box, built to protect it from anything up to a high speed crash. It was certainly invaluable.

 

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

 

Mook woke up sweating profusely, his clothes damp as if he’d had a particularly generous bout of incontinence. It was still dark, so he couldn’t have been asleep for very long. He fumbled for the digital alarm clock on his bedside table; 3:33 read the digital green numbers.

Burning.

It smelled like something was burning.

He shot out of bed clad in nothing but his sleeping gown, like young man and not a creaky old geezer, the urgency of fire driving his body in uncharacteristic intensity.

He ran into the kitchen, nothing. He looked about the living room where he had just passed on his way to the kitchen, nothing. He checked his workshop, there it was.

The disk was propped on the table, balanced, and the table was burning as if being branded. No actual fire, just intense heat producing smoke.

Before he could question the veracity of what his senses informed him, he took his thick welder’s mitts from the wall where many tools, instruments and accoutrements hung and took the disk, quickly placing it inside its protective case once more and shutting it closed.

What the hell had just happened? He didn’t believe his own recollection of what had just taken place, but it had taken place, hadn’t it?

He only now remembered his soaked night gown, which clung uncomfortably to his think, reedy body. He would have to change now, since the sweat was cooling and at his age pneumonia was likely waiting at the turn of any corner.

Walking back to his room to get a different night gown, he almost failed to notice that there was someone now sitting in his couch in front of the television in his living room. He did a double take with his head and, panicked, ran to his room to retrieve a baseball bat he kept next to his bedside table for precisely such instances when an uninvited guest might turn up, though this would be the first time such a thing actually happened.

He returned to the living room and the man had not moved an in, but rather regarded him with a smile that seemed, after a moment, honest enough, jovial. Mook wasn’t sure what to make of it. He still held the bat aloft, his arms cocked like a batter’s at home plate, ready to deliver a blow at the slightest sign of danger.

Then the strange spoke. “Well met, man. Well met,” his voice was odd, like it wasn’t quite the sound a human windpipe was meant to produce; maybe the man had a deformity or accident which caused his voice to sound like that. “I want to thank you for welcoming me into your hold, friend. I did not mean to startle you too much, albeit it is an unavoidable effect for certain means of travel.”

“Wh- Who are you?” Mook was still shaken, but could still muster the right things to ask. “How did you get in here?”

“My name changes considerably depending on whom you inquire to about me, but for now you may call me Low,” there really was something unnerving about the voice’s quality, like a duality of sound in a spectrum that should be impossible for humans to sound, the way it rang within Mook’s head was almost like being drunk on a particularly heady wine. And the eyes, there was something about them, the iris, the shape of it, and the color was golden with a slightly fiery hue.

“Low,” Mook said, trying the name out without having intended to say it out loud. “How did you get in here and what do you want?” he said, regaining control of his own voice.

“I arrived by way of the curious object you have in your possession, for I was summoned through it. As to what the purpose of my visit is, well, that, like my name, is also fluid, mercurial, and if you wield your words with wit and insight, it may very well be beneficial to you.”

 

Off the Wall: Number One

” Aging with Grace and Dignity, Songs of the Elder Worm, Part IX. On Draconic Diagnostic Procedures: The Rectum”

The fay, the fell, the false abased decry
Our Nemesis has come to loom and see
The lark, the lake, the rune, let arrows fly
His dark visage from sky be torn, then flee

Obtuse, the monk, will call forth three to come
And cull the willow tree. The fruit secured
Then carried out by wing and claw, undone
The very song of lords, our fates obscured

What votary could make him see the truth
That this proctology would show, for once,
The secret hoard of his behind? Forsooth,
Such dooms and ills and pains it does ensconce.

This opulent visage of his cannot
Belie the warts betwixt his scaley butt

Between Places

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.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSssssssssssssss

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.