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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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.”

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.”

 

Stranger Waters

Note: Dear Readers. I apologize for the previous story, which is admittedly bad. Perhaps not in the idea department, but in structure. I feel it could be so much better, but then again that’s the beauty of these shorts. I can mess them up, but I can then expand and improve upon them, non? 😀 In any case, here’s installment numero dos of the 12 shorts of Christmas. Also, apologies for any editing errors in this one… it’s late and I’ve been working my day job and this is way past my bedtime.

Bas was tired and a little drunk, though sadly that particular state was already in wane and the promises of a terrible hangover could already be felt just over the mental horizon; a headache was soon to come.

He had been traveling through Asia for some months, doing some back-and-forth commutes to his homeland of Costa Rica whenever he had procured whatever item his most voluminous employer – quite frankly his only employer for the past year, just about – had commissioned him to find and acquire. Mr. Mikoto kept his pockets full and, more importantly, was working on an issue Bas himself needed assistance with in exchange for Bas’ peculiar set of talents.

“Owari,” said the suited Japanese man that stepped through the threshold of an oldschool-style Japanese house – not an original but rather built to resemble a Tokugawa period palace – opening and closing his fists, stretching his fingers. Jin was not tall or particularly intimidating physically, but his presence and demeanor spoke of boundless capacity for efficient violence. He was his employer-appointed backup, and had saved Bas’ derriere on too many occasions. In fact, he had just done so.

“That was quick,” Bas remarked, though not entirely surprised. Not any longer.

“The Oyabun,” said Jin with a noncommittal shrug of the shoulders. “They don’t choose their men like they did in my time.”

Jin had once been a Yakuza assassin, many decades before, who having fallen from grace once his boss, his Oyabun, had died, had roamed masterless into chaos for some time. He was now under the care and benefaction of Mr. Mikoto, better known as the Tattoo Collector, and Bas’ employer, though that last detail was hardly a claim to fame.

Just fifteen minutes before Bas and Jin had been sitting on the floor of the pagoda drinking amicably with a few goons of the Yakuza, trying to pry some information about one of the many mcguffins Mr. Mikoto wanted. There had been plenty of sake, some whiskey, and more bare-breasted women than he had been witness to in forever. Despite the alcoholic haze and the cigarette miasma, Bas had managed to edge into a certain conversational avenue that started to yield success. The Tattoo Collector wanted a bone, a whale bone, but not just any such item, and like every single one of the items on his whimsical wishlist, this one required more than a little elbow grease.

The two goons Bas had been chatting up began to grow somber as it became clear what he was inquiring after. This was not something to trifle with, and they were not happy about the gaijin’s intrusion when it came down to something so instrinsically Japanese.

As is bound to happen when alcohol flows freely among tough men, any old little prick of discord can set off a chain reaction of macho bullshit, and such had been the case then. Within seconds the two men were standing, their bare, tattoo-laden torsos quivering with anger at Bas, speaking in quick, strong Nihon-Go that Bas simply could not follow but which underlying meaning he instinctively understood; they were going to kill him, or mess him up something fierce at the very least. The naked women, seeing the sudden change in the room’s mood and knowing better than to become collateral damage, quickly made off, which couldn’t possibly help make the remaining goons any less aggravated at whatever the hell had set their two colleagues off against Bas.

He wasn’t quite sure what happened, but he thought he could recall a fist flying toward him, unnoticed by his drunken conscious mind, but well perceived by his subconscious, the part of him that was the wolf. The wolf in him had caught the fist and unceremoniously broken the issuer’s arm at the elbow with an effortless thrust from his other hand. He didn’t really know what he had done, but the damage had been caused and all he really understood was that it was time to exit stage right.

Jin had already begun doing his thing by the time the now-broken-armed goon’s fist had flown, and so the scene was one of apparent mayhem to Bas as he exited the scene. Cowardly many may think him, but he knew how to pick his battles, and he sure wasn’t about to stand and get in the way of a far more effective killer than him, that being Jin.

“Got the info?” he asked Jin.

Un,” he grunted, meaning yes. “Don’t know what good you are, if I have to get the info like this every time,” he was joking, of course, but Bas couldn’t help but feel the sting of truth behind the jocular barb. He really hadn’t been that efficient at his job as of late, but then again, he still had the upper hand in certain areas over Jin despite the fact that they hadn’t come in handy lately. Also, what the hell was up with the jokes? That was Bas’ thing, the cracking of the whip of sarcasm and the jab of hazing. He did admit the man’s accent had watered down since he first met him. He figured the man must have been real quiet before getting paired up with him.

“Ha. Ha. Ha. Enjoy that smug smirk, see if I tell you there’s poison in your food next time someone slips you something.” There had been only one time Bas had returned the favor for the many times Jin has saved his ass, a bad episode in Hong Kong a couple of months prior.

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

Par for the course, Bas thought to himself. Just more of the same with the Weirdness. Here he was, alone in a small fishing boat off of the coast of Okino Island in the Shimane prefecture, waiting for something out of a sailor’s nightmare so he could get the job done, while trying not to be noticed by the thousands of water Yokai – spirits, basically, though that’s hardly an approximation to what it really means, Yokai – that inhabited the sea of Japan.

There was something to say about the Japanese and their culture, the rich folklore full of things that go bump in the night. It likely was one of the reasons why the Japanese people were so apparently stoic in the face of hardship, having been bred of cultural fear, a tiny island nation surrounded by fearsome oceanic forces, at the mercy and whim of things beyond their comprehension. This sure was no land of Totoro, despite what any Miyazaki film might try to tell movie-going audiences.

He was there to collect a bone from a Bake-Kujira, a ghost whale, one of the rarest types of Yokai in Japan. Legends about it were few and far between, since this was a spirit creature aloof and rarely sighted near the coast, but what was known was that it was a violent, aggressive creature that did not suffer mortal onlookers lightly.

Bas was prepared. That is, he was as prepared as he could possibly be to tackled the feat of wresting the bone of a cetacean spirit creature that was anywhere from 15 to 20 meters, like a baleen whale, all bones, no flesh, with a penchant for killing sailors.

It was a moonless night but the sky was clear, star-studded, breathtaking. For a moment here and there, in the loneliness of the small wooden boat, he would forget his self-inflicted predicament and lose himself to the majesty of the universe around and beyond him. Then little things that go bump in the night would bring him back to the there-and-then. Meh, he thought, at least he wasn’t getting molested by the Kappa, the pervs. He chuckled at his own shitty joke.

He had been warned about one particular sea Yokai specifically, something that would look like a rogue wave, a wave alone with no actual swell, the Umibouzu, or Sea Monks. Despite the endearing name, there was nothing monk-like about these Yokai. They were likely named thus because they resembled a monk’s shaven head, but black and slick, with eyes that pierce the darkness of the ocean.

Umibouzu were attracted to light, and fire, because they despised it, so Bas’ boat had no light at all. Despite this precaution, he was already seeing the nasty, gigantic creatures rising above the surface, looking out hatefully at the stars, lights they could not snuff out. He remained calm and focused despite noticing one of the terrible things no more than 10 meters away. He stifled a shudder at the idea of just how big the creature might be underneath the subfuscous surface.

A few more minutes passed and he was now, thankfully, deeper out into the open sea. He had three tools; a harpoon made out of the bone of a whale that had been posthumously named under Buddhist tradition during the Great Tenpo Famine of 1837 – the aptly named “Bone of The Great Whale Scholar of the Universe who Brings Health”, the aforementioned Scholar yadda yadda being the posthumous Buddhist title bestowed upon the deceased aquatic mammal is its beached corpse fed a starving village –, the tooth of a Megalodon said to have been blessed by some Buddhist saint, and a small glass jar filled with dirt from the shore.

The first item was to attack the Bake-Kujira, the mystical weapon said to be tailor made for such creatures. The second another aid in attacking such a yokai as sharks in Japanese mythology have some bond with humans since they, well, eat humans. It is considered taboo to eat shark as it is tantamount to cannibalism. Aside from that, the ancient Megalodon used to swallow whales whole and the tooth, being jacked up with all the mystical steroids you could possibly want, should make old boney Moby Dick that much more vulnerable. Finally, the third item should keep Bas grounded, anchored to this his reality, his dimension, as the fearsome creature he hunted was reputed to transition between dimensions, likely not being native to this one.

Bas was losing hope that the night would prove fruitful, having spent hours out and having no luck, until he noticed a glow out of the corner of his eye. Bioluminescence, he immediately thought, and then he recalled the stories of the ghost whale’s entourage of bizarre, glowing fish and birds. He turned his head in the direction of the glow and was met with close to 50 meters of glittering schools of fish that had features unlike any fish he had seen before. Some had faces that could pass for human, some had legs like those of deer, others tentacled and excreting luminous, rainbow-like ink. The sky was filled with gulls of silver and gold, their cries so familiar yet somehow alien, a subfrequency marking their voices as something not from this earth. And amid the panoply of strange animals, the crowning jewel of the menagerie; the Bake-Kujira.

It was larger than he had expected, whatever its actual size was. It was large and he felt his bowels threaten with loosening. But he also felt wonder at the magnificent spirit creature he saw before him. It was a thalassic marvel, a being that may as well be the god of whales, an oceanic proto-deity that predated hominids. The wolf in Bas felt cowed by the majestic image before it, the presence of a true force of nature.

Minutes passed in silence as Bas could do nothing but stare, awed at the seemingly ligament-less bones held in place by a gelatinous transparency, a tenuous tissue hardly noticeable by the human eye, a living ossuary swimming beneath the surface of an otherwise dark sea.

Then he remembered the task at hand.

He braced himself , realizing in the space of seconds that this was likely the last time he drew breath freely, that he might never be reunitied with the daughter he lost what seemed now like so long ago, that he would probably not survive his task but the price was just right for him to risk it all…

… and so he lauched himself out of the boat, diving into the cold, dark waters, holding the bone-fashioned harpoon in one hand, the megashark tooth strapped to his wet suit, the miniature jar of soil hanging underneath the suit and around his waist.

The mythical whale felt his presence the moment he entered the water, and it’s light was noticeable even in the murk of the water. He oriented himself so as to receive the enormous beast and braced himself for impact with the harpoon held at an angle so that it might cause damage and somehow spare him some of the brunt of the hit.

One second.

Two seconds.

Three.

The impact knocked the air he had been holding right out of him, his ribs ached and burned and his head was on fire. He felt the drag of the sea water as the baleen monstrosity pushed him along. He realized he was still holding on to the harpoon, that it had not struck the creature as he had hoped, but he still had it, and that was a most welcome outcome.

He tried to get his bearings and get a notion of his position relative to the creature’s body, and then used the tell-tale map of the skeletal creature’s anatomy to find where the eyes would be. He fought against the inertia keeping him glued to the creature’s head, raised the harpoon, and scored a glancing hit, missing his mark by a few centimeters. He would have cursed but he was already out of oxygen and his body was threatening with shutting down, so he mustered the last of his taxed muscles’ strength and tried again for the eye socket. This time he found his mark.

Blinding light was the last thing he saw before he passed out, bleeding light, right out of the creature’s wound, which for a moment was as clear as day, not a translucent film of tissue but a perfectly pigmented sheet bleeding white light with rivulets of oily color. Then darkness.

He woke up with a start, a hoarse, deep breath, heart pounding. It was a miracle that he hadn’t drowned! He looked about and he was still surrounded by the bioluminescent school of bizarre fish, the sparkling birds still flew overhead, and now there was a carcass of a still-majestic creature floating nearby.

Bas couldn’t help but feel a sense of dismay at the sight of the thing now dead by his own hands. He had killed a wonder, and it would not return. Was this the only one? He did not know. He really hadn’t thought about it before, but now it was all he could think about. He thought he could almost cry, but the tears wouldn’t come despite the tight knot in his throat. It was done. No used crying over spilled salt, was it? Yeah. He could not take it back, whatever it was that he had done.

He swam slowly toward the floating carcass, his muscles still taxed terribly by the scant seconds of oxygen deprivation. He hope he hadn’t sustained any brain damage. It hadn’t been long enough for that, had it? That was something he would have to contend with later. For now, all that mattered was retrieving the bone and getting back to the boat, assuming he could find it, before any of the other lovely yokai that inhabited the waters came to see what the commotion was all about.

He tore open the translucent flesh with the Magalodon tooth, the tissue giving way and the blubber underneath, somehow not transparent at all, yielding bones. They were large. They were heavy.

Bas moved in and up onto the carcass which floated a little above the surface so as to cut into the dorsal area of the creature where the vertebrae would be. He figured it would likely be the least heavy of the bones in its bone structure.

Once done, he swam about 30 meters and found his boat, luckily aided by the luminous fish’s incidental presence. As he rowed back to shore,, which took him a considerable amount of time, he couldn’t help but muse over the fact that the Japanese were so intrinsically tied to whales as a culture, and the sea.

They had been long condemned for whaling in a time in history when this was forbidden, yet they continued under the guise of scientific research when everybody knew it was bullshit. But their country, their coasts, littered with whale shrines and the evidence of whale cults, show a strange symbiotic relationship with the noble creatures on many different levels. Whales have long been a staple of the Japanese pantheon, often equated as avatars of the god Ebisu – the god of plenty –, and yet they are killed wholesale for no good reason. It didn’t escape Bas that he had done one such killing himself, though he justified his own trespass against nature as the means to an end. An end that trumped all moral causes and all ethics. His daughter.

He would deliver this bone and, he thought, it was high time he called in his payment, the real one, from the Tattoo Collector. It was most definitely time.

Weltanschauung

Note: This is the first of the 12 Stories of Christmas I’ve challenged myself with. Check back tomorrow for another.

 

A man stood on the threshold of Ur’s abode; it was Genar, his tall, lanky frame made him appear alien to most people who regarded him, the extreme slenderness of his limbs often provoking revulsion and a nigh unbearable need to look away. To Ur, however, his visage was welcome, always.

Ur was a taxidermist of sorts, one belonging to a very particular specialization of the craft that focused on the taxidermist’s own body rather than that of deceased fauna. A very rare school now lost to the annals of history, what little evidence is left of the existence of this current lies with Ur, the last of the master craftsmen of the Hidden Ways, and a few scattered notes and diagrams that may be come by through no easy means.

It is a time of last things, thinks Ur to himself not for the first time in the past months. Many ancient, nearly timeless things have drawn to a close, leaving but a vestigial representation of their former ubiquity, the glory of halcyon days faded, corroded. A time of last things, things that will not come again, things that have been but will be no more, things – peoples, gods, religions, cults, universes – expiring and giving their ghost up to the origin, the Eye.

Ur, thus, was the last of an order which name is not spoken, nor written, but expressed with symbols of a script system that twists like snakes before the gaze that falls upon it and it communicates the essence of its meaning directly to the mind of the beholder.

Genar was paying a visit to Ur in order to watch and stand as a witness to the last work of the craftsman, who was working on the culminating opus of his life, and which would soon end as such. Ur enjoyed the company, even if Genar always asked, despite invariably getting a negative reply every time, about becoming Ur’s apprentice.

Ur could not even allow himself to consider the request, though he was sure Genar, if applied, would make a fine taxidermist himself. It was the nature of his final work itself that precluded the possibility of bringing someone new into the craft. Ur had to complete the work and simultaneously ensure that no other such craftsmen would remain thereafter. It was pivotal to enduring the success of a great many future endeavors.

Taxidermy, a Greek term that translates to arrangement of skin. The craft is relatively common in its most basic application, but Ur’s specialty is focused on the taxidermist working on their own body through the years and using it to tell stories of sorts. In Ur’s particular case, for his final work he was to give the enigmatic tools for some cosmological puzzle he did not even understand himself, but he understood what tools he was tasked with providing for the one that would come in time.

Ur toiled away under the curious, hungry gaze of Genar, sometimes for days on end without rest, carefully altering the nature of his corpus – which had previously displayed a great many different works – so as to change its architecture into a pattern that would communicate the necessary information to the one foretold. There was a certain amount of prescience in the craftsmen, some minor oracular abilities, that were tied directly to the work of the soon-to-be-extinct taxidermists.

Transmogrification by way of taxidermy is a painstaking process, one that requires a high threshold for pain, utmost control of biological process of the body, and a steady hand to ensure the best result. The craftsman has to convert sinew and bone into an architecture that mirrors the cosmos in a way, to portray a vision and awareness of the universe at large that needs to be conveyed with great eloquence into a language of dead-yet-preserved tissue.

Much like the current of the times, today would be the last of the work, the day Ur finished the crowning opus out of all his opera and simultaneously ceased to be. He was settled into place, as he had been for weeks already, allowing his living portions of body to slowly become inert, working on his own organs, removing, rearranging, trans-substantiating.

Over the recent days Ur’s craftsmanship had begun to take intelligible shape out of the apparent haphazard chaos that had preceded it, a form which even one who was not versed in the interpretation of the taxidermists’ designs would appreciate as a fine thing, a product of skillful, dedicated labor. Ur had modeled his body into a thing that, while retaining a semblance of the human form, anthropomorphic, was now a cosmogonic mosaic of former organs arrayed in a spiraling fashion that closed and narrowed into what was arguably the center of Ur’s body, a nautilus representing the real nature of the Universe or rather Multiverse for it is, in truth, multitudinous.

Genar watched on, and Ur could feel his beaming gaze, perpetually filled with amazement and wonder at what Ur produced. He had always found it childlike. There was no more blood left in his body, his life artificially maintained by arcane mechanisms, and the time drew near for even those artifices to cease their labor. He was done, now, and he could only exit the mortal coil with hope that it would be enough and that the one foretold would find his remains. In that, he trusted Genar to go forward with the final preparations and arrangements after his expiration. He really did wish he could have passed his knowledge on to Genar; he would have made a fine craftsman. Genar would have to settle for stewardship of the taxidermist’s legacy.

Time had been long in the place where Ur had once lived and plied his singular trade, and time has a curious way of distorting even the most well-meaning of hearts and gestures, to both the benefit or detriment of those involved, oftentimes independently from their intentions or actions.

And so it was that the body of Ur was sold by a debased Genar, who in his lonely stewardship had become plagued by a disease of the soul, one that gnawed away at his sense of duty and morality, and eventually his sanity as well. The taxidermist’s legacy traded off for scraps of the very craft secrets that had procured Ur’s final state.

What future Ur had envisioned and endeavored to honor was now jeopardized – lost, perhaps – and Genar? His bizarrely shaped body had transformed from what it once had been in those better days when Ur still lived into something only vaguely related to humanity in some primitive, and atavistic animality that was relegated to the dreams of small children who in their innocence were less shielded from humanity’s ancestral memories. Genar had toyed with the tools and what little remained of Ur’s ancient trade, effectively becoming a perversion of that lost craftsmanship, an abomination, a base affront at nature itself.

The one foretold by Ur had yet to arrive, and if they ever did, they would have to contend with Genar’s terrible, gnarled form and his even more twisted mind. They would not find Ur’s body there, no. What will become of the future Ur saw once, we might never truly know.