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Konstantine Paradias

Jeweler

Kewelery retail
Religious Icon Retail
Watch repair
Short story comissions
Konstantine Paradias
35 years old
Driving License
Athens (11632) Greece
Professional Status
Employed
Available
About Me
I work in retail jewelery, specializing in the import of semiprecious stones and the export of religious Icons.

I also work with short stories in the english language, seeking to publish my work professionaly.
Gordon's Torment
08 Jun 2019
A long time ago, artist Gidion Van Der Swaluw and I created a short strip that would be intended as the start to a graphic novel about the last man, living inside an evil supercomputer. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a publisher for it but the pages are still here, for your viewing pleasure..














Midnight In the Blind Spot of Prometheus
02 Jun 2019
Published in volume 14, issue 25 of Shlock! Magazine 



 
"No more, brother, no more," the Penitent said, before collapsing in the blue-tinted shadow of the hoar-trees.

He lay there, long-limbed and wide-eyed, his arms sprawled across the grim-shrubs, his fingers tangled against their skull-shaped warning facade. In the distance, the clanging, chomping noise of the Wasp came ever closer.

Up. Up, I gestured, but the Penitent stared up at me and nodded softly, pointing down at the red mess that were the soles of his feet, pulling up his dog-skin shirt to show the gangrenous wound, set against his ribs, laid out against his cracked and tearing skin.

"Tired. Hungry," the Penitent said, then nodded back at the stomping, clanking noise the Wasp made, crawling ever closer "doomed."

Close, I gestured again, pointing a patch of celeste colored grass, halfway covering the old sigil from the scripture of the Glow Church: a sun, surrounded by a trinity of gently curving blades.




"For you, close," the Penitent nodded and shoved at me, pointing out into the woods, toward the gently sloping ground. Like honey, the sunlight seeped through the trees, revealing the harsh, grey angles of the forbidden zone beyond.

The old song came to me, in the Church's tongue:

-Thees playse ees nat a playse ov honoor-

Again, I tugged at the Penitent, but he simply shoved me away, his withered arm suddenly filled with newfound strength.

"We'll meet again, won't we? Just ask God; ask Him to bring back the Runner and old Curious too," the Penitent said, groaning like an old man as he stumbled to his feet, fumbling with the row of mono-knives arranged on his belt. He held one up to the light, turning it to check its edge-so thin and sharp it was nearly invisible- and said "just don't forget the Penitent. I won't do well, out in the dark."

Remember, I gestured and the Penitent hissed at me, stomping his feet into the ground like he'd drive away a dog. The Wasp's whirring, skittering noises came closer, rising in frequency, then paused; I thought of it about to pounce, rolling back its hindmost row of legs, compacting its glistening body as it contracted its backside, releasing its stinger. I thought of old Curious' screaming turning into a gurgle as the sting went in and the blue foam came spilling out from the back of his throat and choked him, how his eyes faded into that shade of violet blue and I bolted into the vegetation, toward the forbidden zone.

Somewhere behind me, someone shouted a challenge, halfway heard through the sound of scraping stone. There was the barest whisper of branches of weathered metal and then just the sound of bare feet, slapping on hard, smooth rock, covered in hardy growing vines.

***

"God's stuck in the rock, whipped to it by his yellow regal robes," the Runner said, two days out of the  jungles of the Manhut'tan. They had been fumbling their way across the maze of thorns that had been set up since the days of the Glow Church, surrounding the place they'd called Anathema.

"Nonsense. God ain't stuck in the rock," old Curious spat, always eager to chip in with his knowledge of the Scripture "he's bound in iron, prodded and poked by many-fingered hands."

Drowned, I gestured, but old Curious simply waved  me away.

"I think he's just dozing," the Penitent said, always eager to chime in with a bit of blasphemy. We stared at him in horror, but Penitent just added "he wouldn't be much of a God, getting pushed around like that now would he?"

"Blasphemer," old Curious said and the Penitent shrugged.

"Heretic," the Runner said and the Penitent just waved him away.

"Tell the priest, if you can find one," the Penitent said and the others turned away, in  awkward silence. After all, the Glow Church had been gone a long time, their works and words only half remembered among their generation, all but lost to those born after their time.

Late that night, when we'd pushed past the thorn boundaries and the Penitent and I were stuck trying to map the way against the star-studded heavens, I nodded:

What if? Sleeping? Awake?

"Then I guess all we need to do is ask nicely" the Penitent said.

Eyes? Burning?

"Just don't look him in the face. Tiptoeing round his shadow might do," the Penitent said, his eyes halfway closing as he squinted against the starlight.

Danger? Church, I gestured but the Penitent had already lain himself down, gently snoring as he was sprawled across the wet grass. In the darkness beyond, two rad cats squared off against each other, dancing like fireflies in love.

***

The hard grey blocks at the heart of Anathema came closer, so tall they seemed to breach through the cover of trees, nearly touching the sky. A gash ran across them, one great diagonal slit that cleaved them from cloud cover to the teal moss in the ground, stretching out into the zig-zagging darkness beyond.

Above them, a word of binding, its letters still clinging on to the weathered rock-face. I read it out loud, the sounds coming out of me by rote:

                                                                                             "Waest Izol-esion Pie-lot Plant"


Cyan roots tangled around my foot, twisting my ankle as I came tumbling down into the dirt. For a moment, the world became nothing but a nonsense haze of pain and spinning color as I tumbled down, down and finally crashed into the too-smooth ground beyond.

Stomping out from the clearing, a hundred tiny legs clattering across the iris blue ferns, the Wasp came tumbling out, one eye run though by the Runner's mono-knives, stuck into its glistening skull all the way to the hilt.

Sanctuary, I gestured, making the sign of the Glow Church at it, willing it away. The Wasp paused, bobbed its smooth, flat head and then clicked its mandibles at me, as it came zipping toward the opening, almost too fast to see. I leaped back just as it cleared the distance between us, its carapace slipping through the opening, its legs clattering against the too-smooth surface of the slit before its head finally ground into a spark-spitting halt.

Not you. Never you, I gestured, laughing and the sound was all bent out of shape, even against the constant clatter and whirr or the Wasp's spinning wheel-teeth, the clacking noise of its vicious mandibles.

Forget you. Make sure, I gestured at the Wasp but it only lunged at me, uselessly swiping its mandibles at empty air.

***

"God is Glow. Beyond Him, naught but Dark. Notheen ov valoo iz heer." the Runner said, trailing down the final words of the half-forgotten prayer.

"Thees messetz iz ah wor-neeng ov denjer," the Penitent said, turning away from the makeshift mound of rocks we'd buried old Curious under. The blue foam still trickled out from the openings, seeming to shimmer as it seeped out into the light.

Denjer. Steel ther, I chimed in, making the Sign of the Glow. The Runner patted me on the back, as if to thank me. For all our piety, only old Curious had known the prayers.

"He won't be under there for long," the Runner said, as he followed the Penitent down the hillside, toward the edges of the blue forest. Out in the distance, the thorny spires on which God was bound, stuck out against the fading sunlight "we'll speak to God and he'll unmake it; the famine and the plague and the dead. He'll make it right."

Like prayer, I gestured.

"Aye, like the prayer" the Runner said, smiling.

"Let's hope you don't forget your verses then," the Penitent said.

***

Daylight fades into a sliver of starlight, then daytime comes again. In Anathema, time becomes nonsense and space is nothing but a series of slanted corridors, too-smooth walls covered in halfway faded signs.

Here, the sign of a lake, filled with dead fish, a man dipping in its waters as if in a baptism. Beside it, the sign of the man, coming apart like a paper doll, skin sloughing off him in layers.

Runner. Should have seen, I gesture at no one in particular, thinking of Runner, how he'd filled our water bottles. How many days had we drank from them? How long did I have left?

Past another turn, come the thorns, ascending from the ground. Among them, bird nests are laid out, their bedding withered and blackened. Malformed chicks look up at me, flapping their useless wings against the unforgiving ground. Their parents don't come, even after I take a few of the unhatched eggs and crack them, sucking whatever's in them without looking.

It tastes like old coins and rot, but I gulp it down.

Among the thorns,  there's another threshold, softly glowing. From inside there's the sound of waves, breaking against a shore. It's so small it forces me to crawl through it, across the weathered thorns that scrape at my belly and thighs.

The other side is an empty, warm place, peaceful like a womb. Warm water laps at my feet, making the cuts feel tingly. The floor slopes down into the dark, toward a point of light, revealing a mesh infested with greenish glowing algae that bobs softly in the half-light, so much like a beckoning hand.

And just beyond that, at the edge of the water, the shape of a man, wrapped in yellow tatters.

God? I gesture, but it doesn't respond. It simply drifts, slow as a mountain, toward me and I see that it is gaunt and withered and drowned, like in our prayers so I dip my legs into the water and I swim to him  and I hope I'll remember everything to bring the world back just right.

But more than that, I hope that he'll listen.

***

"Ask for green," a woman said to me, as she handed me the charm that hung from her neck.

"Ask for rain. Clean rain. Water, too," another man said, as he pushed a loaf of bread into the Runner's hands.

"Ask for the lumps to go away!" a hunchbacked woman called out, as old Curious lead us through the press of the crowd.

They asked for game and harvest and a new spring; they asked for cures to their ailments and for their dead to come back and I ran through the names again and again, even as I watched the cracked and drying patch of land we called Dixie fade away in the horizon.

"What are you going to wish for?" the Penitent asked me, as we reached the edge of the Charleoix jungle.

Remember. All of them, I gestured and the Penitent laughed.

"I guess it's a start," he said, as we began to trudge through the ferns, under the fading light.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

While this may defeat the original purpose of having the reader research the story themselves, this is actually a short based on the Waste Isolation pilot Plant (WIPP) made by the US government, as an experimental millenia-long warning against approaching nuclear waste dumps to the people of the future.

I hope you enjoyed this short story.

Robert, Sally And the Wasteland
02 Jun 2019
Published in in the Tales of the Zombie War webzine



The first time Robert saw Sally, it was through the scope of his hunting rifle. Joey hadn’t gotten himself killed yet.

“Let them at ‘er!” Joey’s voice echoed in Robert’s mind like a cartoon devil. “She’s a screamer, she’s gonna draw ‘em all on her, give us time to gather  the supplies and get the hell out!” Robert found himself earnestly considering this option and put his finger on the trigger.

He lined up the crosshairs to the back of her head, aiming for the tiny patch of exposed scalp where her pitch-black hair parted. His eyes traced the supple line of her neck, taking note of every tendon, every muscle as they clenched in unison under her skin. It made the walking cadavers that surrounded her seem all the more gruesome by comparison.

Robert was about to squeeze the trigger and watch the familiar red blossom materialize in the back of her head, when she turned her back toward her unliving hunters and ran. Her eyes were like November clouds, pregnant with rain. Without missing a beat, Robert aimed slightly to the left and planted a fine crimson flower on the forehead of one of the creatures, just as it was about to grab her.

She sprinted for cover. Of the remaining cadavers, two were distracted by the sound of Robert’s rifle and gave up the chase. Three stayed on target. Robert followed Sally’s progress through his scope, as she closed the distance toward him and Joey. It had been a while since he had seen a woman, though for the life of him, he could not say how long (his watch had finally given up on him on October the 21st, six months into the end of the world). She seemed almost unreal in his eyes: the set of her jaw, the lines on her face, the swelling of her breasts against her jumper…

Robert almost missed the cadaver that jumped out of the bushes and very nearly sank its teeth into her arm. His shot got it in the jaw, the bullet running through the bone, sending its teeth flying around. She kept running.

“Go get her” Robert uttered and Joey complied immediately. He may have been a golden boy once upon a time, but now that civilization was gone Robert was calling the shots. She had just reached the base of the cliff where he and Joey had taken cover. The five remaining dead were making their way toward it as well.

He lowered his gun and looked down at Joey, who was busy fending off two of the dead with his crowbar in hand, swinging it around like a madman. She kept on climbing past him, eyes fixed on Robert, on the safe haven at the top. Joey’s crowbar sank in a cadaver’s head and he fought to hold onto it. Another moved in and grabbed him by his shirt collar, ripping it off.

Robert thought of Joey’s fit body, his toned muscles and how they must have looked in the cadaver’s eyes at that moment: like bavette on his arms and side, butler’s steak on his chest. Sure he’d lose a bit of flavor (what with the dead not bothering with cooking their meals) but that wouldn’t make him any less desirable. Robert took his time, cocking his rifle and slowly brought the scope to eye level, when Joey let out a scream, kicked the remaining cadaver in the chest and sent it tumbling down onto the rocks. The he followed Sally all the way up, to Robert’s position.

“Thank you.” she panted.

“Don’t mention it.” Robert replied. He had already holstered his rifle.

“They’re coming up the hill! We need to go, now!” Joey shouted, pointing at the remaining cadavers, shambling up the rock face. Robert tossed him a backpack and they went down another path, easily avoiding their dead pursuers. Robert kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead all the way to camp. Sally didn’t make a sound. Joey wouldn’t shut up.

“What the hell, man?” he whispered in Robert’s ear. “You had that stiff. I know you had it, why didn’t you take the shot?”

“You were in the way.”

“Oh, that’s bull! Back in Mesa, you took that one down through the store window and it was right next to me!”

“You weren’t in the way then.”

“I could have died, you bastard!”

“You didn’t though.” he said as they reached camp. It was nothing more than an old RV, set by an abandoned mine, its entrance long since collapsed. Robert thought back to when they’d first found it: about the man-shaped bundle under the sheets that smelled like week-old garbage with the consistency of roadkill cats. Robert had smacked it once on the head, cracked it open to make sure. Joey put him in a sack and buried him under some rocks to keep the vultures away.

Now, the inside of the RV smelled like old sweat and machine lubricant. Sally didn’t seem to mind. She just crossed her hands and stared as Robert and Joey moved around, taking off the equipment, sorting out their supplies.

“I’m Sally” she said and her voice barely even registered over the clink of bottles and tin cans on wood. When she spoke again, Robert was sorting through half a dozen containers of antibiotics.

“I’m Sally” she said again and they both stopped. It was as if the previous events hadn’t even left a dent on their lives, as if the only woman they’d seen after a year of constantly fighting for their lives in the middle of the apocalypse hadn’t existed until she was heard that exact moment. They turned to look at her and she shrunk. She hung her head and kept talking.

“I used to be a kindergarten teacher, so I guess I’m not real good with a gun.” she said. “But I know first aid and I can cook, if I can get a fire going!” she added. “I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want you to kick me out.” she muttered.

“No one’s kicking you out.” Joey said and Robert felt suddenly cheated. He saw him put his arms around Sally and holding her, calming her down, reassuring her merely an hour after he had tried to convince Robert to leave her to the dead. “You’re among friends now.”

Robert nodded and smiled. Jealousy writhed and cracked its tail inside his guts like a frightened viper. He didn’t say a word. Sally kept talking for a while. Joey kept holding her.

“I came from Phoenix. I was with a group of people. We’d holed up in a fallout shelter. When food ran out, we…thought we could risk it. But Phoenix had got it way worse than we thought. We almost didn’t make it out that time.”

“Sh, sh, it’s okay, it’s okay…”

“There was this man with us, Ian Collins. He was Special Forces, SEAL or something. He kept us together. Those that were left of us after we almost got ourselves killed back then. There were six of us. We’d been about a dozen in the bunker.”

“You don’t have to go on if you don’t want to…” Joey cooed, but Sally went on:

“Ian helped us get out of there. He had what it took. We didn’t. There was a kid with us, little boy called Malcolm. He’d been bitten by one of the dead. His mom was a friend of mine, she made me swear I’d hide it. But I told Ian. And Ian waited until we’d gotten out of town and then he…”

She didn’t cry. She teared up a bit, but she didn’t cry. Hard as nails, thought Robert.

“Malcolm’s mom never forgave Ian. She tried to kill him once or twice. Ian never hit her, not once. I did, when she tried to shoot him in the back. He was our only chance. Then we reached the gas station by the interstate and there was a herd of the dead there, just out of sight. Ian didn’t see them, so they bit him and then they bit everyone else.”

“How did you get away?” asked Joey, feigning interest.

“We didn’t. I was lucky, just ran. You guys got me out of it.” she smiled at Robert. “Was it you? The guy who shot Ian, when he was about to bite me?”  Robert nodded yes. Sally smiled at him.

“So who did I kill? With the crowbar?” asked Joey.

“Mr. Wilder. He was an asshole.”

Joey laughed along with Sally and Robert went on with setting up the supplies. By the time he was done packing the antibiotics on the shelf, Sally was laughing at some of Joey’s made-up survival stories. While Robert was busy cleaning his gun and checking his ammo, Joey had cracked open the last bottle of whiskey in the world and was chugging it down with her.

Robert was halfway through reassembling his rifle while Joey and Sally were writhing on the bed, tearing their clothes off each other. Robert finished his work and left the RV. There was thunder in his head.

He took first watch and counted the time by Joey and Sally’s moans. By what he reckoned was Sally’s third orgasm, he knocked on the door and half-dragged Joey outside. Sally was sleeping on the bed, the moon peeking through the window at her naked form. Robert suddenly felt a strange longing, a desperate urge to have her, but he knew this wasn’t the way things were. Even now, even at the end of the world, he knew he couldn’t make her pick him.

And why would she pick him? Why pick a wiry, balding survivalist over a pre-disaster golden boy? Why choose tenderloin over rib-steak? Why pick the man who saved her life over the pretty bastard who took her for bait?

Robert lay on the bunk bed that night, his back to Sally. When Joey walked in, Robert kept himself wondering exactly how much pressure it would take to break a man’s neck with a single blow. They made love and Robert kept feigning sleep.

***

“When are you going to tell her?”

“Tell her what?”

“That you wanted to leave her to the dead. That I was the one who thought we should save her.”

“Hey, hey, man! We both did it, okay? We both risked our asses for her.”

“Yes, but you were the one who wanted to leave her.”

“That was then, this is now”

“She’s a screamer. She’s gonna draw every one of ‘em to her! Isn’t that what you said?”

“Jesus Christ, what is this shit? Where did this-oh you bastard. Oh, you bastard. You’re jealous, aren’t you? You’re jealous she picked me over you!”

In his mind, Robert’s fist smashed against Joey’s jaw, spit and blood fanning out of his split lips.

“Piss off, Joey.”

“You’re jealous because she picked me! You just can’t get over the fact that she’d rather have me than you, aren’t you?”

In Robert’s head, Joey pinned on the ground and the rock in his hands was rugged and just the right size. He brought it down on Joey’s skull and watched it cave in, popping an eye in the process.

“Shut up, Joey”

“Hey man, you were there! You saw me, I just saw a chance and I jumped at it! The lady made a choice is all!”

In Robert’s thoughts, he had taken his bowie knife and cut Joey’s tendons and left him there to bleed out, the scent and his screams drawing in every dead and vulture for miles around to feast on his living brain.

“Will you shut up? We’re exposed here.”

“Okay. You’re not mad, are you?”

In the confines of his head, Robert was killing Joey over and over again.

“No”

“Okay, then.”

***

Sally was hunched over an old cooking pot, stirring its contents with an old wooden ladle Joey had found inside an abandoned department store. Chunks of canned meat were floating inside the stew. Sally was muttering an old song under her breath. Joey was in the RV.

“Met a possum in the road, blind as he could be…”

Robert patted the handle of his rifle. He joined in:

“Jumped the fence and whipped my dog and bristled up at me.”

Sally laughed and Robert laughed right along with her. She sounded like the clinking of fine china. He sounded like steel beads rolling down a lead pipe.

“You don’t think we could find ourselves a banjo, do you?” asked Sally.

“I don’t play the banjo.”

“Neither do I. Joey used to play the piano, though. Got himself an award, back when it meant something.”

The thing inside Robert coiled again and spit poison into his brain. The words rushed out his mouth before they were even outlines in his mind.

“Joey wanted to leave you to the dead, back when we first saw you. I was the one who saved you.” Sally fell silent all of a sudden. The fire ebbed. Only the stew kept gurgling, oblivious to the dramatic tension of the moment.

“You’re a liar. A dirty goddamn liar.” she said but even Robert (who never was much of a judge of character) could tell she didn’t believe a word of what she’d said. Sally walked inside the RV. She and Joey didn’t make love that night or any other night since then. She wouldn’t talk to Robert either.

***

Joey got himself killed about a week later. Robert’s only regret was that he had almost nothing to do with it.

They were crossing the Fiesta Mall on their way to Best Buy, looking for ammo and propane tanks for the RV. Joey was in a foul mood and accidentally tripped over a carefully set stack of paint cans, which tumbled and thundered across the empty space, stirring up every cadaver inside the building.

They ran all the way to the third floor and locked themselves inside a gun store, but by that time the massed horde outside had grown so large it wouldn’t have any trouble bursting through the door and devouring them. Joey started praying. Robert looked for a way out instead.

“We’re going to die.”

 “No, we aren’t. There’s a door in the back, leads to the storage. We can take the stairs all the way down and run through the parking lot. I just need you to-”

“Just tell me this: you told her, didn’t you?”

 “Joey, shut up, okay? I need you to-”

“You did! You told her everything! Goddamn you, man, how could you do this to me?”

“You never deserved her, you stupid bastard.”

As if following some unspoken cue, the dead burst in through the reinforced door that moment. Their putrid mass rolled inside the store and Joey barely had time to scream as cold, rotting fingers went for his hair and clothes. He fought with the terrible strength that comes from desperation, but it was hardly a contest. Joey was pulled into the mass and he became sirloin and rib steak and juicy bavette, wrapped in cotton threads.

Robert ran across the store, back into storage, made his way to the ground floor and then ran from the mall all the way across Mesa to camp. Sally was waiting outside the RV. She knew exactly what had happened.

“Where’s Joey?”

“There was nothing I could do.”

“How the hell did it happen?”

 “Dead got him.”

“Was he alive, when they...bit down?”

“No” Robert lied. “Shot him in the head. He didn’t feel a thing.”

Sally walked away from him and sat by the mine’s entrance. Robert knew there was no point in trying to console her. He rummaged through Joey’s stuff, kept the useful ones and fed the rest to a fire.

“You hated him, didn’t you? Because I picked him over you.” Sally’s voice came from behind him like a condemnation slipping through the lips of a Fury.

“Yes. But I didn’t kill him.”

“No. You didn’t. What the hell am I going to do?”

“You can leave, you know. I wouldn’t blame you.”

“Leave? And go where, exactly? Mesa’s swarming with the dead and even if I chose to leave this place, I wouldn’t know where to go. I can’t shoot, I can’t hunt, I can’t survive out there.” They were both silent for a while.

“I need you.” she said.

It wasn’t an I love you, or even a half-hearted I want you. It was a desperate, short sob, barely over a whisper. But it worked. Robert looked at Sally and pulled her in his arms. They made something that certainly wasn’t love.

*** 

As Arizona summer retreated in the wake of winter, so did Robert and Sally. Mesa was tapped out, filled with the dead and the RV was hardly a proper refuge for winter. They trekked across the interstate, avoiding human contact (what little there was).

They spent the winter in the penthouse of an abandoned apartment building in Tempe. Robert tossed the corpses of the old couple that lived there into the street. He taught Sally how to scavenge for food.

In the spring, they left Tempe, which was suddenly drawing a large crowd of bandits, come to hunt for stragglers. They headed for Phoenix. Sally had to learn how to handle a gun.

In the summer, Phoenix smelled like an abattoir as big as the world. The dead were starting to rot and crumble. There was a fire that engulfed half the city, so they sought refuge in South Mountain. By the middle of July, Sally would set her own traps and bring some game back to camp.

In the fall, the world was silent. Sally hadn’t seen another person for days. Robert would let her handle a gun on her own and she knew she didn’t need him. She sneaked up on him while he was sleeping, holding the bowie knife that she used for skinning rabbits.

All she had to do was drag the blade across his neck. Give him a big red smile.

But the desire for revenge that had given her the strength to stick with Robert was no longer there. No matter how long and deep she searched her soul in that long instant she found out that murder was no longer in her heart. She didn’t love Robert but she didn’t want him dead either. She found herself lingering in that strange state between necessity and love.    

Robert’s eyes opened at that instant, transfixing her.

And she brought the knife down, driving it through his throat and into the ground, twisting it as he choked on his own blood.

He moved his hand slowly, wrapping his fingers around her wrist, gently squeezing

Sally clawed at his face, forcing him to release his grip and drove the knife through his eye and into his brain

She let go, the knife slipping from her fingers falling to the ground

She reached out and grabbed his neck and choked him until his tongue slid out of his mouth, lifeless and bloated

Robert got up and held her and there was a terrible weight in her chest that suddenly lifted, a door in her heart that was locked for a very long time and was now open

Before he knew it, she grabbed the knife and plunged it into his back

And Sally felt herself tilt and sway inside her own head, the emotional equilibrium broken, tumbling down inside her own mind, until the tears came and she held Robert tightly.

She wept, he held her and then they were finally at peace there, at the end of the world.



Runneth Dry
02 Jun 2019
Published in Schlock! Magazine



"Hole's dried out"

"What do you mean, 'dried out'? It's not filled with anything, it's just...a hole."

"Yeah, um, it's still...out, though."

"Did you check inside?"

"Yes, yes we did."

"You need to go way in there, you know. Past the elbow."

"We did that, yeah. Came back with nothing."

"Did you try a drone?"

"We tried drones, we tried clamps, we tried perispopic robot arms. We even brought in Kevin, that weird guy from Logistics..."

"Kev the Noodle? Did he get anything?"

"Not a damn thing. So we got to digging. Sent in a few boys with jackhammers, then a couple of excavators, then we blew the rest of the way down and we still got nothing."

"Did you ask Kevin to try then?"

"He was the first one in, last guy out."

"Good man, Kevin."



"Point is, there was nothing don there. Nothing but a whole load of dust and empty air. There's still a deeper, narrower point, but we haven't had a chance to get a depth reading yet."

"Can't you just...make it wider?

"Not unless we want the government to get a whiff of what we're doing. Besides, one of the guys in the prospecting  team thinks we're about to hit a sandstone bank. If we keep going, the sinkhole could swallow up HQ in the blink of an eye."

"What if we made a new Hole?"

"What in god's name are you talking about?"

"Simon and I, we didn't...find this hole. We dug it, you know. Back when we were kids. It's how we found the Perpetual battery prototype. If we could just..."

"I don't think you made the Hole, sir. Or if you did, I don't think that's the reason why it kept spilling out all those artifacts for the past 60 years. Sir, I think we...what are you doing?"

"I'm ringing Margaret. She ought to know where Simon's kept his toy shovels. He loved those things to bits, God bless his soul..."

"Sir, I think it would perhaps be best if we just...came clean."

"No. No, no no no..."

"If you will let me finish..."

"No. Out of the question."

"Sir, if we make the first move, we can control the narrative. We can spin this in our favor."

"Spin this in our favor? What the hell is so favorable about 'fraud finds tech in Hole'?"

"Try 'young dreamers stumble upon the future'."

"Try 'high school dropout steals tech he dug up and hires nerds to reverse engineer it'."

"Try 'tech giant proof of Many-world interpretation'."

"And how are we going to spin this to the auditors exactly? When they decide to contest our patents, or start looking into where those R&D subsidies really ended up? Unless you think I bought the board all those Bermuda vacation homes out of my own pocket."

"Oh."

"Damn right, oh. So if you don't want to end up penniless and afraid in a prison cell for the rest of your days, I suggest you get digging."

"Unless..."

"No more of this narrative nonsense, please."

"Unless it's not just a Hole."

"Of course it's not just a Hole, damn it. How many Holes can do what this one's been doing?"

"What if it's a wormhole? An Einstein-Rosen Bridge? "

"Uh..."

"What if it's traversable? I mean, where the hell else did all those thingamabobs came from, if not from another universe?"

"Then how come nothing else is coming through? How come no-one else came through, these past 60 years?"

"Could be, whoever's on the other side was treating this like the Voyager. One-way communication, real slow-like and now they're waiting for some sort of confirmation...made it so only living things could cross through, God I don't know but it's worth a shot, isn't it?"

"So what, we just slip on over and ask politely? What if they refuse?"

"We'd still have proven the existence of parallel worlds, maybe get a Nobel and live off the book royalties. And if push comes to shove, we can always just let the board buy us out."

"DeVries was a bit eager to see me off this company last quarter...you think he'd make a good fall guy?"

"The best, sir."

"How soon do you think we can get a man down there?"

"Kevin should be good to go; should take a couple more hours if we fit him with an EVA SUIT, for good measure."

"No, might as well rip the bandaid. Get our man down there so we can get to the bottom of this."

"Thank you sir. To be honest, I'd taken the liberty of doing so before reaching you. I was hoping you'd agree to this."

"So Kevin..."

"He's crossed the threshold an hour ago, contacted us through his attached tether. He made contact, sir. Kevin made contact with another universe!"

"So reel him in, then! Let's see what our boy's got for us! You think they want to discuss terms? Set up a contact post?"

"Site-team says Kevin's come back with a message."

"Well, what are you waiting for? Send it over..."

"Sir, site-team hasn't even had a chance to quarantine this yet..."

"Then get a damn picture, send it to my phone, beam it to my damn brain, just do it now goddamn it!"

"They're sending it up as we speak...bringing it up on the conference monitor and...oh."

OUT OF FREE STUFF. BRING VIRGINS.

"Get DeVries on the phone."


Buzz
02 Jun 2019
Published in Schlock! Magazine


We're two weeks out of exiting Q-space, halfway through slingshotting along the orbit of Kepler-186f when I finally hear the buzzing.

BbbzzzzZZZZzzt

It flashes across my ear, the sound of it like the crack of a tiny bullwhip and from the corner of my eye, I catch it: the tiny black shape, wobbling through the air, miniscule wings beating too fast to see.

It bobs in the dry, recycled air of the command module once, twice, then finally lands near a dried patch of mayo, stuck among the blinking lights of panel #3.

"No. No freaking way," I whisper, as I watch the first fly to make it outside of the Home System rub its front and hind legs in anticipation of the feast. Its tiny, compound eyes seem to almost glisten in the off-blue light of the simulated evening in the module.

Eyes glued to the fly, I reach out for something to swat it with: my hands trace the hard angles of one of the command tablets, a sheaf of laminated protocol papers, an edible plastic mug.

Finally, my fingers get tangled into a length of super-elastic hose that Tanaka had salvaged off the old food processor, its ends weighed down by squeeze-toy silicone balls. It's lacking some spread, but it should more than make up for it impact-wise.

"Atta boy, you stay right there..." I whisper, almost too soft to hear, as I pull back the rubbery length and line it up with the fly, pulling back as far as it will go. I hold back my breath to steady myself and let go, the stretch-toy whipping through the air as quick as a bullet.

Splap!

The weighed end slaps into Panel #3, just as the fly launches off the polymer paneling, letting the switches surrounding it take the bulk of the blow. Three of them flip at once and the lights in the command module flip to a sepia yellow, letting out a shrill alarm.

Jettisoning biome 4J , the ship's AI voice comes in and I flick the switches back into place all at once, before our entire farming strip gets launched into the cold, outer dark.

BbbzzzZZZZZZzzt!

The buzzing comes again, as soon as the alarm has faded, the fly zipping past me to land on a cryostasis-regulating touchscreen, zipping off it just as the stretch-toy slaps at the controls. All at once, the AI begins the process of thawing Alvarez and the rest of the Shift-3 crew and I have to scramble to get them back under before they go into cardiac arrest.

I whip the stretch-toy one last time, aiming at the fly, perched in a corner of the control module, well away from any panels, dials and screens, only for the weighted end to bounce right back off the smooth polymer walls and slap me right in the eye.

"Oh, your mother!" I shout just as white-hot pain lances into my brain and I whip the stretch-toy around like a madman, hear it slapping against the ceiling uselessly, then slap at the door controls and turn the air conditioning way up, until the artificial breeze shoos the fly out the door and into the ship proper, where it can't do any more damage.

"How the hell did you even get here?" I call out to the fly, as I watch it meld into the  shadows lingering in the twists and turns of the ship's bridge "thought the pencil-necks back home sterilized the food, put all our clothes through UV just to keep you out. Hell, they flash-freeze the seeds, you know that?"

Creeping into my field of view, the fly crawls out of the dark and onto the crescent shaped reinforced glass pane of the research lab. I whip the stretch-toy at it, missing it by a hair's breadth, the end of it slapping the security lock. The lab's door slides open, letting out a gust of cold, dead air.

"Unless..." I say, following the fly inside the room, watching it circle the gleaming counters, the spotless surfaces of unbelievably expensive medical equipment, before finally settling near a row of perfectly arranged beakers, connected by some inexplicably intricate series of tubes, a ruby-red liquid slowly dripping through them "you overwintered. Curled your little larva body up into a ball and slowed down your metabolism so you'd keep warm. It's how your kind got around, in the refrigerator days."

Again, the stretch-toy slaps at empty space were the fly used to be and one of the beakers gets thrown out of balance, let loose from the contraption. It spins slowly into the diminished gravity and I grab it out of the air but the rest of the liquid's started shooting out of the gap in the tubing and is punching a hole through the counter and into the flooring below.

Warning. Containment compromised. Engaging emergency measures.

A stream of acrid blue smoke starts to pour out of the vents as the doors start to close and the fly and I race for the gap, clearing the bridge just as the lab's magnetically locked doors clamp shut behind us. I go for a cheap shot, but the fly whips around me once, twice, then charges just as I try to go for a rebound shot. The end slaps against a jutting bit of plastic, then smacks me right in the liver.

It takes 20 seconds for the pain to kick in, just as the fly makes a victory lap around me then heads off toward the biomes. Pain washes over me like rolling flame and I crumple like a rag doll onto the floor, trying to catch my breath.

How can I say this nicely, Wong's voice echoes in my head as she's ticking off boxes during the last psych evaluation; you have trouble...letting things go?

But the company needed somebody that had handled 6 months' worth of in-transit isolation before and they wanted them cheap and Wong's diagnosis helped me get the job even if they did pay me a pittance and now here I was...

"Up against a shiksha fly!" I roar and step into the biomes, snapping away at the water regulators (letting a stream of lukewarm recycled water hit me in the face) and knocking down the tardigrade glass casing (the glass crunching painfully under my ship loafers) and popping off the oxygen regulator's cap (which caused a brief fire as it brushed by a length of temporarily exposed heating coils).

We pirouette, the fly and I, twisting and turning like poltergeists in love until the fly zipps right beside my ear just as the stretch-toy smacks me in the chin. I bite down on my tongue hard but keep myself from blacking out against the pain, as I watch the fly zip inside the fungal enclosure, laid out against the airlock.

"Goh yoo, yoo widdle noodgeh," I managed against my swollen tongue, as I shut down the door to the enclosure. The fly lands behind the glass, uselessly searching for a way out of the maglocked door, even as I fumble for the big red lever that causes the entire enclosure to bathe in red light and the ship AI to go:

Jettisonning biome 32D; unauthorized activity detected, please...

And I slapp my thumb against the DNA lock, bypassing the dumb machine, watching as the room hisses like a dying serpent and everything shudders then goes quiet right before the airlock opens up into the great yawning cosmos and the entire enclosure goes hurtling of out into the nothing, tumbling away into the cold and the dark.

In the space between the blinks of an eye, I catch the fly looking up at me, its compound eyes glistening with escaping moisture, as its legs are ripped away from the glass and it becomes just a speck of black against the stars. I stick my face against the glass and check, again and again, keeping the airlock open well past the safety limit until I am sure the biome is nice and empty.

I've only just closed the airlock against the AI's protestations about possible critical pressure loss, when the buzzing comes again, from somewhere near the legume patch, louder than before:

BbbzzzzZZZZzzt


The God Of Familiar Pastures
02 Jun 2019
Published in Issue 13, Volume 11 of Schlock! Magazine 


The Penitent came to the Holy Mountain on Good Friday, bounding across the steep rocky slopes in defiance of gravity. He weavedacross the crumbling rooftops of abandoned monasteries with infinite grace. Father Procopius was the first one to see him, as he exited the temple with the Epitaph rocking on his shoulders. Johnny the junkie, his nephew and only other person with whom Procopius shared the monastery shouldered the rest of its weight, clumsily struggling with the hewn wood balanced on his shoulders.


The Penitent appeared gigantic at first, his immense size stretching from one end of the horizon to another. It was a thing of impossible, alien beauty; a creature with a body that seemed to be made out of molten glass, translucent and radiant and infinitely malleable. In the blink of an eye, it began to decrease in size: first, it was as big as Mount Athos. In a heartbeat, it was as tall as a cathedral. By the time the Penitent's webbed toes crunched on the churchyard gravel, it was at eye-level with Procopius, a halo of light as radiant as the sun hanging above its featureless head.


Johnny began to howl at the sight of the Penitent. The Epitaph rocked violently as he let go, the effigy of Christ inside rattling. Stretching one hand gracefully, the Penitent grapsed the Epitaph and stopped its descent. Peace it said without speaking, raising one arm with five fingers outstretched, waving hello like a child. Procopius' heart jumped in his chest.


"We wish to finish our procession. Then we will talk." he spoke, marvelling at how level his voice sounded, even at the sight of the alien. He had seen others; footage of strange creatures broadcast from distant planets, blessed with strange intelligence. But he had never seen an other-worlder up close before. The Penitent's broadcast was measured, understanding. Procopius shouldered the Epitaph on his shoulder, its weight signigificantly reduced. Johnny skampered in the distance. The Penitent took his place without question. Taking the first step, Procopius began to sing the Epitaph dirge:


To the grave they set you
Oh Christus,

And the Hosts of angels hail,

Praises sung to your Descent



Procopius sang the psalm, keeping the tempo with every step. He sang with all his might, but still it was only his voice that echoed across Mount Athos. Two decades ago, the monastery processions would stretch along Athos, the gilded lanternsof the monks girding the harsh rock in a spiral of flickering lights. The singing of the pious would make Chalkidiki shudder, as they stuggled up the craggy narrow paths to the top of the mountain, there to lay Christ to rest. But mankind had long since lost interest in the God of the Earth, choosing instead to climb on gleaming vessels and head for the new pastures of the cosmos. Some had chosen to make their homes in the underground cities of the Moon. The criminals and the unwanted had established themselves in the domed colonies of Mars. And the dreamers, the visionaries and the daredevils had boarded black arks that skirted beneath the surface of space itself, heading for the distant pastures of the super-Earths.


Woe, Light of the World!

Woe, oh Light of mine!

My tormented Jesus

Cried the stricken Virgin


His brothers, the other monks, went the same way. Procopius saw them all go, saw the tinted windows of the monsteries go dark like empty sockets, the procession dwindle in numbers every year. Some said they would board the arks to bring the word of God to a new flock so they couldstrengthen their resolve as they toiled beaneath an alien sun. Others said they'd look for God themselves, perhaps hoping that Heaven was a place floating freely in the cosmos. The rest -these offered no excuse- left when the Church's coffers began to run dry. But he stayed. For three long, lonely years he stayed to take care of Johnny the junkie,the blight of his brother's life. For three long years, Procopius kept the faith alive, performed the rituals and fasted as he was supposed to, going through the motions even as the cancer in his bowels gnawed at him. Not once had he doubted the sanity of his actions.


Procopius climbed the final steps, setting the Epitaph at the top of Mount Athos, the Penitent mirroring his motions flawlessly. It kneeled before him, bowing its head, perhaps following some subtle hint or a deeply-rooted instict. Procopius sang the final verses, as he removed the effigy of Christ and placed it inside the symbolic grave hewn into the living rock:


We honor thee, oh weeping Virgin

we honor thee, oh Christus

we stand vigil at your Son's grave,

oh God above.


With the ritual done, Procopius turned to the kneeling Penitent, studying its inhuman beauty, its unworldly form. Only now, with his duties completed, did he grasp the strangeness of situtation: the  uneathly creature that had come to him on this day of mourning for...what? What could a thing like it want with an lonely old monk?


Forgiveness, said the creature without words, broadcasting a simple message to Procopius' mind. A world that spun around a hungry red star, its surface paved with gleaming cities. A race of things like the Penitent, reaching out across the length and breadth of the Universe and then...


...then the secret of Creation, unraveled at last. Young, questing minds pulling and pushing at the edges of the cosmosand finding the traces of the blueprint underneath. The knowledge for fine atomic manipulation, transmutation of base matter to anything. The Logos of the Creator bestowed to the multitudes, depriving matter and fortune and hunger and thirst of any meaning. Paradise, if only for a moment. The almost-gods, spreading out across the length and breadth of the Universe-their Universe- like a plague, sucking suns dry, extinguishing galaxies to sate their endless, pointless greed. Light-years worth of life and light folding into themselves, extinguished until finally everything becomes dark and cold. What is left of Creation cannibalizes itself in a frenzy of heat-death. Only the Penitent remains.


"Come inside." Procopius said to the Penitent, placing a hand on its shoulders. Its flesh felt cool and smooth like fine porcelain. "Don't stay out in the cold." The Pentitent followed in the monk’sfootsteps, the two of them a solemn procession. When they returned, Johnny had disappeared inside the monastery. From the crashing sounds inside, Procopius knew that he was rummaging pointlessly through the pharmaceutical supplies again; perhaps looking for something to ease the devil that gnawed at his brain. Procopius led the Penitent through the Chruch and into the mess hall. Rummaging through the kitchens, he rustled a plain dish of bread and olives, with a jar of honey. Perhaps the pentitent had no use for food or drink, but he felt duty-bound like a host to do so.


"Can you speak? Like a man, I mean." Procopius said softly. The Penitent examined the monk for a moment, looked past the man's eyes, traversed the fold of his brain and then spoke in impeccable Greek through a newly-formed mouth.


"Yes"


"I have very little to offer you, in way of answers. If it's widsom you seek, then perhaps I am the wrong man to ask. As for faith, I can safely say that there are more pious men than I in the Universe. Why have you come here?" Procopius asked.


"To seek penance." the Penitent said "to find forgiveness for the crimes of my race."


"I cannot absolve anyone's sins, not even my own. That is God's work, not mine."


"You are the last of your kind in this place. The others have either abandoned their purpose or decided to tread the path of plenty. You are alone, as I am alone. I have nowhere else to turn to." the Penitent said, its voice like clinging glass.


"Then stay and be welcome. All I can offer is understanding." Procopius said. Johnny stumbled inside the mess hall, shaking like a frightened animal. Opening his mouth, the young man let out a shrill, animal cry and then collapsed on the floor. "And patience." Procopius said, as he made his way to his nephew and struggled to drag him by the armpits. The Penitent grasped Johnny's ankles and they carried him to his bed.


"It will have to do." the Penitent said, as they laid him to rest.


***

The Holy Light did not come from Jerusalem the next day. The
Archbishop himself had boarded an off-world ark along with the rest of his flock, abandoned the Holy Sepulchre and the city of God to the hands of the people that lingered. Procopius throught of the ancient bronze-cast candelabras smoldering pointlessly in the ancient tamples, the wax dripping down on the cave floor where Christ was laid to rest, the divine light sputtering as the

candle-wick waned. Two thousand years of tradition, sputtering and hissing and finally disappearing. His heart grew faint at the thought.


Treading lightly across the stone floors, Procopius headed from the inner sanctum. A tiny flame burned in the cast-iron vigil, the last vestige of the Holy Light left in all of Mounth Athos. Fresh candle in hand, Procopius leaned closely and lit up the  fuse with infinite care before setting it on the notch in the wall above the gilded Gospel book. Perhaps the Archbishop would have frowned at such shoddy practice, but then again the Archbishop had abandoned his appointe place so who was he to judge?


In the vigil, the last vestige of the Holy Light hissed, sputtered and went out with a tiny little sound. Procopius found this to be eerily appropriate.


“I can make more.” the Penitent said softly, peeking into the inner sanctum. “All you have to do is ask.”


“It is not mere fire. It's the light from Jerusalem.” Procopius said softly, biting his lip as he felt his bowels knot themselves in his gut. Closing his eyes, he felt the needle-sharp teeth of

the cancer as they raked across his insides. “A symbol of his testament with man.”

“I know. I went through your Scriptures last night, studied them in detail. I know how to create it. For me, it is a simple process.” the Penitent went on “I can make a pillar of Holy Light, synthesize it out of clean mountain air.”


“Thank you, but I'll make do with what I have.” Procopius said, picking up the gospel. With trembling hands, he began to leaf through it, seeking the hymns for Good Saturday to begin his lonely ritual.


“I can cure you, too.” the Penitent said. “The thing that afflicts you, it is nothing to me. I can remove it with a touch if you will let me. I could restore the damage, if you want. Make you younger.”


“Why don't you take a seat? I'm about to start Mass.”


“You want to die?” the Penitent asked, prickling up his newly-formed eyebrows. Procopius saw his own expression in them, knew that the Penitent had picked it up from his mind.


“I want to live on my own terms. Deliver myself to God in my own time.”


“What good would that do?” the Penitent said. Procopius strode out of the inner sanctum, ignoring him. He began to sing the first verses of the hymn, preaching to an empty church. The Pentitent's shoulders sagged like a petulant child's. It stepped out of the hall in great bounds. Procopius watched the light of the Penitent's halo recede. The gnawing in his bowels became sharper, stronger. Perhaps the cancer had redoubled his efforts, feeding off his anger.


***

When Mass was done, Procopius replaced the fuse on the vigil and relit it with the Holy Light. The Penitent had not come back. The monk feared that perhaps he had somehow slighted it, treating it like an arrogant child when he should have shown some understanding.


Making his way to the cells Procopius heard a long, anguished cry. It pierced through the monastery, a keening noise that bore into his soul. He knew that sound, had heard it years ago; when he had visited his brother's house in Athens and tread through the blighted threshold on the day that Johnny first suffered his near-fatal overdose. The boy's room smelled like concentrated fear and old sweat. The boy's mother had burst through the door and held him even as Johnny spewed black bile on her lap, the needle still sticking out from his arm.


Procopius found the Penitent leaned over Johnny, cradling him in his arms.


“I didn't know! I didn't...” the Penitent pleaded. All around him, syringes were scattered in a crude circle. All of them empty. Johnny was convulsing in the Penitent's arms, shivering. His eyes had rolled back in his sockets. Procopius shoved the Penitent aside, cupped Johnny's head in his hands.


“Lay him down.” Procopius ordered the Penitent and leaned over Johnny's mouth. He began to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, stopping every now and then to pump at his nephew's chest. Blood pumped out of the puncture-points across the veins of his arms, the blood and the drugs mixing into a faint pink hue.

“Tell me what to do!” The Penitent pleaded, panicking. Procopius grasped one of its hands, placed it at the back of Johnny's head.


“Hold him.” Procopius muttered, blowing back the breath of life into Johnny's mouth, pumping, blowing, pumping again. Johnny began to convulse, his body shuddering, every muscle in his body jerking spastically. “Hold him!” Procopius howled at the Penitent, cupping Johnny's head in his hands. “No.” he muttered under his breath as he watched the boy's eyes shift back to focus for one moment, his mouth gaping wide before he spewed black bile onto his chin and then finally fell lifeless, to the floor. The monk's hands dropped to his nephew's chest. His lip trembled as the body slumped in the Penitent's hands, lifeless and still.


“What's wrong?” the Penitent asked, uncomprehending.


***

Johnny's funeral was a simple affair. The Penitent made a hollow in the rocky ground with a wave of its hand to put the plain wooden casket that Procopius had picked from the monastery's mausoleum. Procopius did not speak to the Penitent all through the procession, reading instead through his book of psalms. When it was done, the Penitent replaced the rock around the body, burying Johnny into the living rock of Mount Athos.


“You cannot bring back the dead.” Procopius said hoarsely, his voice breaking. “Can you?”


“No.” the Penitent responded, bowing its head in shame.


“Then what good are you?”


“I am not your God!” the Penitent protested. “Whatever you think I am, I am not omnipotent!”


“No-one is omnipotent.” Procopius said, his voice seething with rage. “There is no creature in this Universe, in any Universe, that isn't bound by death. I know I am not. I know that Johnny wasn't. And you? You who can make pillars of Holy Light? Are you immortal?”


“How could I be?” the Penitent said, shrinking before the monk's gaze. “How could anyone be?”


“Then you are a fool! A child! A monkey, toying with the foundations of the Universe! Your gluttony killed the place you came from, left you alone! Why would you do the same for my nephew? Why would you throw away his life like this?”


“Because I was needed!” the Penitent howled, falling to its knees. “Because I wanted to be needed!”


“Then you should know” Procopius said, leaning into the Penitent, staring into its almond-shaped eyes “that I don't need you. I'll never need you. I would rather have the cancer eat away at my bowels for all eternity than to ever have you hand anything to me on a silver platter. When I die, I will die on my own terms.”


And with that, the monk began to walk toward the monastery, fighting back his tears. Behind him, the Penitent curled itself up into a ball, shrunk in size until it was barely larger than an infant. It shuddered and convulsed, like a kitten fighting off nightmares. The sight of it made the monk’s heart go weak with pity. He called to it:


“I have no need for your moping either! Come, help me with evening Mass!”


***

The Penitent sat solemnly, watching with sheer fascination as

Procopius sang the hymn of Good Saturday, bearing the tiny flame of Holy Light across the church. The monk anointed the thresholds with the sign of the cross, lit the chandeliers and the rows of virgin candles. When he was done, the entire church was lit up, the flickering lights shining through the tinted glass windows against the encroaching darkness of the night. Procopius assumed the Abbot's place in the pulpit and read from the Gospel the story that he had heard a thousand times, of the Ascent of Christ up the rocky slopes of Hades to the world of the quick; the angel that greeted the mourning women, the word of resurrection spreading like wildfire.


The Penitent leaned closer, eyes wide, taking in every moment. Procopius lingered, the words sticking to his throat. There was a fire in his brain, all-consuming and terrible. A black egg of hatred was hatching in his heart for the Penitent, but he knew that the egg was as toxic as the cancer eating away at him. There was bile in his throat, but a lifetime of bitterness had taught him to fight it back. Johnny had been lost to him, but then again Johnny had been lost for a long time now, given in to the needs of a wasting useless body that hungered for poison. The boy had been abandoned by his parents and Procopius had been in turn abandoned by his brothers to keep vigil. Out of every creature in the length and breadth of Creation, he had nothing left but the Penitent. And even it, for all its awesome power, was little more than a child in need of guidance.


Singing at the top of his lungs, Procopius spoke the hymn of joy, the words of resurrection:


Christ has risen
from the dead
The kingdom of Hades conquered
Through sacrifice he gave eternal life
to the multitudes


The Penitent stood up as Procopius embraced him. There were no fireworks tonight, no joyous choir. The Holy Light didn't pass from hand to hand all across the length and breadth of Greece. But there was a small chapel on Mount Athos and a monk's voice and the Penitent and it would have to do.


***

On the dawn of Sunday, the Penitent asked the question that had been bothering it, as it leaned over the fire where Procopius was roasting a leg of lamb:


“Why would you be a monk, if you are not a man of faith? You told me when I first saw you, but I knew when I looked into your mind.”


“What does faith have to do with anything?” Procopius answered, looking into the Penitent's eyes.


“Everything, I would guess. Why else would you stay here, alone on

a mountain? Sing hymns on your own when your brothers have fled to seek God elsewhere? Why sacrifice your life to something that you don't really believe in?”


“Because others believe. Because God believes in others. I am only the middle man, a mediator. Look around you.” Procopius said, sweeping all of Mount Athos and Chalkidiki in a single motion. “All this around you but all this in here as well,” Procopius said, plaing his plm against his chest “this is Greece. This is what people think of, when they think of God. When a single part of it ceases to be, a tiny part of God goes with it as well.”


“And what will happen? If you are gone and there is no one to replace you?” the Penitent asked, worried.


“Someone will come, to fill the void. Someone who will know what this place means and they will look through the Gospels and search through the rituals. Who will speak the prayers and make their own processions.”


“Someone pious?”


“Someone good.” Procopius said, splitting the lamb with the Penitent. “Here, eat. I have brought wine as well. Today, we celebrate the Resurrection. Tomorrow, we can worry all we want.”


The Penitent looked down at the plain clay pot where the steaming bit of meat lay, took the wine glass in its hand, examined the sweet nectar against the sunlight. Procopius ate like a man destined to die; his eyes taking in the craggy rocks, the sea far away, the sky and the night beyond the blue where his brethren and his people had gone to, seeking new pastures.


“I am not pious. But perhaps you can show me how to be good.” The Penitent said.


“It's a start.” Procopius agreed.


They had their meal in silence, looking out at the Greece around them, above them, inside them. They didn't find God there, but others would. And that would be enough.


Butcher Make-Believe
02 Jun 2019
Published in Issue 11, Volume 11 of Schlock! Magazine 



Liese watched the long, unbroken length of meat shiver and hiss, as Dad eased the fretsaw’s mono-wire across its mass, cutting it into wafer-thin slices. Its juices hissed as they dripped from its freshly-severed veins and pattered, gently, on the floor.

The piece of plastic in her hands sagged as each slice plopped the steadily growing pile of flesh. The pieces seemed to writhe as they slid across from one another, dripping a fine trail of mucus and blood across the creases and between her legs.

“Why is it screaming, Dad?” Liese asked, halfway through wrapping the first dozen of Dad’s fresh, dripping batch in plastic. She was halfway through tying the red bounty with gaffer tape, when Dad put down his saw and motioned her to come closer.

“It’s not really screaming, sweetheart. It’s more of a reflexive response. Kind of how frog legs jump, when you run a current through them?” Dad said, taking her latex-clad hand in his. “It’s not really alive, unless you make yourself think it is.”

Liese nodded, even as Dad’s fingers wrapped around her hand and edged her palm closer to the smooth, evenly cut surface of the meat. She watched the length of red, dripping mass spill out of the aperture in the Plexiglas wall. It seemed as if it wanted to inch itself closer to her touch. Liese struggled to get away, but Dad’s grip got just tight enough to keep her in check.

She closed her eyes, just as the tips of her fingers began to brush against the surface. Even through the latex she could feel the soft, gentle pulse of the meat. Liese imagined its heart pumping blood along tens of kilometers of veins, its valves as large as school buses, each beat like a miniature earthquake.

“They give it a heart and kidneys and livers, just enough to keep it pumping, but it has a very simple brain without a nervous system, Liese. It comes out of a vat all fat and stupid and unable to ever really feel pain.” Dad said, even as he pulled her away and grasped the length of meat, hoisting it over his shoulder to replace it on the table before it touched the floor. “Alright, break time’s over. Go get the rest of the wrap; we need to finish this before it grows too long.”

Liese rushed for the length of plastic and spread it out across her lap, looking up at the edge of the tube-steak growing over the lip of the table. Dad’s fretsaw began cutting at it again, the familiar mess pattering like rain.

“But it can still be sad, right?” Liese asked, as she stacked four fresh slices neatly atop one another. “If it just sits there and grows all day, waiting for someone to cut out all its bits.”

A large, unevenly thick slice plopped down on Liese’s carefully set-up stack, toppling her little glistening tower. Dad cursed under his breath, his fingers slipping across the length of the meat, gripping it roughly to cease its growth. Liese watched bruises erupt across the tender flesh, just as Dad’s saw began to slice at it again.

“That’s why they feed it and pump it with electricity and water. It’s not alive, Liese. Not like we are alive. It’s not even an animal, really.” Dad muttered, as he began to cut across the length of bruised matter, tossing it into the little bin of pilfered flesh that he stashed away for home. Liese knew that Maddy wouldn’t be too thrilled about this. Then again, Maddy was never thrilled about anything, these days.

“So it’s okay to hurt it then?” she asked, as she maneuvered the plastic wrap closer, letting a quarter of sloppy slices bounce between her knees.

“You can’t hurt it if it isn’t alive.” Dad said, as he kept on cutting. Liese didn’t push the issue, even after the factory shift bell rang and the packets of tube-steak were neatly stacked in boxes and the robot workers descended from the ceiling for their night shift.

Liese caught the look on Dad’s face as he watched the robot’s spindly, spidery arms working at the meat, pushing the slices into wraps and tightly packing them, neatly placing them on the shelves at 20 cartons a minute.

For a moment, she wondered if Dad ever thought if it would be okay to hurt them, too.

***

“Momma says they keep it happy with TV. They play cartoons all day, so its brain won’t grow” D4nn13 said, as he leaned against the bars of his KiddieKage™.  “She won’t eat the stuff, though. Says it tastes the way real meat did when it went bad.”

“How did people make real meat, though?” Liese asked. “Did they really grow it from animals?”

“They killed the animals and took the meat out of them.” D4nn13 said, matter-of-factly. Liese look into the comfort-bot’s smiling screen-face, horrified. D4nn13’s expression shifted into an expressionless emoticon.

“What? Like cats and dogs and pigeons?” Liese asked, shivering.

“No, not those. They don’t have that much meat in them.” D4nn13 reassured her. “They used cows and pigs, mostly. But those needed lots of food and places to walk around in and make babies. Except for chickens. Chickens made babies everywhere.

Liese shivered at the thought of a chicken. She remembered Maddy’s last job at the Hatchery; sifting through the smooth, hard things that plopped out of the puckered, clucking masses of pink flesh in their mesh cages. Liese had poked one, once, when it poked a bony length of flesh toward her. It had made a strange, clicking sound through the tiny hole on the tip and drooled.

“They had to make them smaller. D4nn13 said, as if reading her thoughts. “So they would have space to grow. Not much of that left, nowadays.”

“But your Momma still won’t eat the meat.” Liese spat.

“Momma won’t eat anything, unless she has to. Sometimes, I pretend to be hungry just so she’d cook something.” D4nn13 said, peeking conspiratorially in the living room. Liese leaned closer. She caught a glimpse of Momma, plopped down on her armchair in front of the screen, watching the parade of flashing colors go by. “And sometimes, even when she’s done that, I can still hear her stomach rumbling.”

Liese nodded and pulled her knees close to her chest. She could feel the tiny rumble bubbling in the pit of her belly, slowly coming to a boil. Dad had given her the biggest unbruised portion of the meat and made her eat the whole thing. Liese saw Dad’s lips twist just like when he would see a particularly succulent dish beckoning him through the TV screen, a packed little bit of heaven just out of his reach. She had left just enough on the plate to make it seem like leftovers and knew Dad was thankful for it. She’d probably find what he left behind stuffed in her lunchbox tomorrow, chopped into tiny pieces for her to nibble on during recess.

“Think she could get sick? From being hungry all the time?” D4nn13 asked, “I asked the doctor, but he told me I should keep giving her the tablets. They don’t seem like they’re doing anything.”

Liese simply nodded and dug her nails into her shins to fight back the wave of nausea. The pain didn’t help much, but it kept her mind off her hunger. She thought of how Maddy used to dig her nails into her thigh to keep herself from heaving when she thought Dad wasn’t looking. Maddy had been taking the tablets, too. She went to the roof and perched with all the other worried women in the apartment building, hunting the few rays of sunlight that peeked through the cloud cover. She stopped smoking and drinking, slept 8 hours a day and lied about how much better she felt, even though Liese could see the way she wilted in the middle of the night.

“No, they don’t do anything.” Liese muttered.

“Oh.” D4nn13 said. His emoticon-face twisted into a scowl.

Liese kept hugging her knees, staring straight ahead until the rumbling in her stomach was slowly replaced by the throbbing ache of hunger. When she looked up, D4nn13 had left his KiddieKage™ and crawled into bed.

Beneath her, the city-state groaned like a wounded animal. From the living room, Dad sobbed through a mouthful of Nyam-Nyam© fungal mush.

Liese crawled under the covers and kept telling herself she wasn’t hungry, until she fell asleep.

***

The next day, Dad let Liese pick her favorite piece of the tube-meat, as they let it slowly slither out of the tiny aperture.

“How am I supposed to tell?” she said. “It all looks the same to me.”

“Just pick a piece. Make sure it’s a good one.” Dad said, his hands shaking as he glanced around his workstation, his eyes darting up to the hatch on the ceiling where the night-shift robots would descend. “Maddy’s birthday is coming up and we need to get her something juicy.”

Liese nodded, understanding. There was this gleam in Dad’s eyes, the one he got when the doctors shot a glance at her real mother, wasting away on the hospital bed and diagnosed her as a terminal case without laying a finger on her. The kind of look he had for days after they realized Maddy would never be able to give Liese a baby brother. That worried little glint that Liese could see in the mirror, when she lied to Dad about school.

“That one.” Liese said, pointing at a length of meat that slipped out near the end of the tube, all fat with blood, veins sticking out against the thin film of skin. Dad grasped the end of it and squeezed hard enough to bruise the meat, watching the dark blue splotches spread out across it. He brought down the fretsaw and cut through the piece in one clean slice. Moving across the spread of the bruise, he made the next incision and then tossed the piece in the bin. Liese bit her lip when she heard the thing crash inside.

“Should be enough.” Dad muttered, as he began to slice the rest of the tube-meat in quick succession, dumping the slices into the plastic wrapping. “We need to get twice as much as yesterday packed and ready. Think you can handle it?”

Liese rushed for the plastic wrap, began to tie up the slices into a tight bundle. “Dad? Are you in trouble?” She asked, as she stacked the pieces in the cartons and shoved them up into the shelves. Dad’s lips where pursed into a thin line, his face gone ashen.

“Just…work a little faster, okay?” he muttered, as he slowly massaged the length of meat out onto the chopping block, slicing the next dozen cuts. Above them, the digital clock clicked the final hour of his shift. “I know you can do it.”

Liese glanced at the clock face, the LED dots counting down the time left: barely an hour and the shelves were barely stocked. She kept stacking, wrapping and pushing the cartons one after another on the shelves. Dad’s hands became a blur, hissing their way down the length of tube-steak. “Dad? Are you okay?”

Dad nodded and shot her a worried little smile, even as the slices piled up. Liese pushed a good two dozen slices together into a single wrap, bundled them together and pushed them into an overstuffed carton. Already, she could see the fluids soaking into the carton. “Come on honey, just a little more!”

Liese bent her knees to hoist the carton. She felt the cardboard give from under her. She chanced a glance at the clock-face, saw the lights continuing their perpetual procession and bit her lip. Dad looked at her, tossed the fretsaw on the cutting block and reached out for the carton. “No, Dad!” Liese warned, too late. The entire cardboard box fell apart in his hand, as the gauze unraveled, sending the wrapped meat plopping down on the floor. Dad stared at the red mess in horror.

“I can fix it! Don’t worry, I can fix it!” Dad said, dropping on his knees with Liese, poking and checking every wrap, sifting through the mess for the slices that had made it through the drop.

Liese caught Dad’s eyes darting up to the ceiling hatch. She could imagine the robot-worker’s dozen legs, flexing it arms. “Liese! Help me out here, goddamn it!” Dad barked.

The tube-meat had already slipped from the edge of the cutting block, the tip of it inching closer to the floor. Liese grasped the slick mess, pushing it back on the metal surface of the cutting block into a loose, curving loop. The meat settled for a second and then began to absorb its length back into its own mass. Liese let out a tiny yelp, but Dad didn’t listen. The meat was cannibalizing itself, the carefully-groomed tube fusing itself into a giant blob of flesh. She grasped the fretsaw and brought the mono-wire down on it. For a second, it seemed as if it cut clean through.

Then the blood erupted like a geyser.

“Liese! What the hell are you doing?” Dad gasped, pushing her away from the chopping block. The mass of meat let out a tiny screech, like a choking baby. Dad spat the blood from his mouth and kept cutting at it, pulling at the fused bits of meat that came together at the slightest touch.

“I’m sorry…” Liese moaned, as she watched Dad’s hands come away slick with gore. The chunks of used meat writhed in his hands as if they had suddenly come alive.

“Just burn them. Burn them all.” Dad shouted over the harsh ring of the shift-bell.

The hatch burst open from above, releasing the spindly-limbed robot worker. It stopped a few centimeters short of the table and hovered there, assessing Liese’s mess. After a few moments of careful calculation, the ends of its arms blossomed into a bouquet of sprinklers and rotating brushes that eliminated the gore on the chopping block. A tiny holographic display projected from the robot’s back:

UNSATISFACTORY SANITARY CONDITIONS. SEE MANAGER.

***

Liese kept her cool, all things considered. She didn’t let Maddy see her cry and she smiled all the way through dinner, even though Dad would snap at her over the slightest thing.

She nibbled just the right pieces, sliced the biggest bits of meat into little bits so Maddy could manage, nodded at the small talk and then kissed her goodnight. Dad simply waved her away.

“What happened to the rest of the meat?” D4nn13 asked her, leaning closer to his KiddieKage™ “Did your Dad get in trouble?”

“Dad took most of the blame on himself. They’ll take away his bin and they won’t let me help out after school anymore.”

“But he’s still going to keep his job, right?”

Liese shrugged. They hadn’t let her come into the office with Dad, but she could hear the rumble of the manager’s voice even through the padded doorway. Apparently Dad was making quota, but his work wasn’t ‘up to standards’. The manager had asked Dad if he would consider a ‘change in direction’ but Dad had politely declined and offered compensation for the ruined meat.

Turns out, there was a whole lot of it.

“They’ll cut down his pay for a while.” Liese said. “He’ll just have to work more hours than before, to keep up with the robots.”

“Momma says she won’t have any food made by robots. I told her almost everything is made by them these days, so she’ll probably starve.” D4nn13 said, his expression rendered into a frown. “She told me that would be okay.”

Liese looked through the bars, at the little ersatz boy in his cage. She thought how great it would be, not to be able to go hungry or get sick or ever have to run a fever. How easy he had it, just by being himself, all shiny and perfect with that silly pixelated grin on his face. Liese wondered if her parents would ever replace her with something like D4nn13, if they had the chance.

She certainly would, if anyone offered.

“I’m hungry” Liese moaned. D4nn13 didn’t offer any insight.

Liese thought of the hissing meat and the robot workers. When Dad started shouting at Maddy from the bedroom, she shut her eyes and lied to herself that she was having a nightmare.

***

When Liese came back from school the next day, she saw Maddy writhe uselessly on the linoleum, her legs kicking frantically at her wheelchair.

“Don’t tell your father” Maddy said, as she struggled to pick herself up from the kitchen floor.

Liese helped her up, clasped the belt around her waist and began to mop up the worst of the mess that had dribbled down her chin. “Please” Maddy muttered. “He can’t deal with it. Not with work the way it is.”

She daubed at the blood with a rag, wheeled Maddy into the bathroom. Liese watched her as she ran her fingers over the stick-thin remains of her legs. “Not even enough meat for a nibble” Maddy, cackling like a mad woman.

Liese didn’t talk to D4nn13 that night. By the time Dad came home, she pretended she had gone to sleep. The next day, she went hunting.

***

Cats were tricky to catch, Liese realized. D4nn13 had shown her a few videos on how to lure them, but they wouldn’t stick around long enough to get bagged. A few of the stairwell strays would let Liese get close enough to pet them, but they’d jump out of the way the second she tried to grasp them in earnest.

The alley ferals were even worse. Those wouldn’t emerge from the shadows until she was well enough away and when she’d grab them, they would dig their claws into her arms and rake fiercely. The dogs were more trusting, but Liese knew she couldn’t eat them, not when they wagged their tails and pushed their muzzles against her outstretched palm to lick for crumbs when she fed them.

That left nothing but pigeons. Pigeons were stupid and fat and lazy enough to fall for a few soy-bread crumbs left on the roof, slow enough not to mind the rumbling of her belly as she sat perched in the shadows, but even then she couldn’t do it.

“I can’t do it.” she hissed at D4nn13 from the top floor. “I need you here.”

D4nn13’s little emoti-screen lit up with joy.

Liese spotted a fat old cock with grey plumage, its breast large as a bellows. It cooed, stupidly, as Liese dropped a few crumbs for it to peck, inching closer to her and D4nn13. They stared at the bird, as it examined them with its huge idiot eyes. From the corner of her eye, she caught her own distorted reflection on D4nn13’s screen-face as she pulled up her schoolbag and brought it down on the pigeon in a single, fluid motion.

The bird cawed and flapped inside the bag, just as Liese zipped it shut. She watched the fabric bend and twist as the pigeon plucked and beat at it confines, still cooing in outrage.

“Now what?” she asked.

Without missing a beat, D4nn13 took the bag from her hands, moved it in a perfect arc over his head and then slammed it down on the concrete. Liese let out a horrified gasp.

There was a moment of perfect silence, before the pigeon exploded into a flurry of horrified activity. Liese bit her lip in horror.

“I think you should let it…” she began, just as D4nn13 smashed the bag into the concrete harder than before. There was a slight crunching sound. Then a gurgling noise. Finally, there was silence.

“Can I…see?” Liese said and immediately regretted it. D4nn13 unzipped it, unceremoniously and offered it to her.

Liese reached her hand into the mess, grasping at a handful of feathers and the outline of a wing. Her fingers wrapped around the pigeon’s chest, just as its beak plunged into the soft flesh of her palm. She squealed in pain, with the pigeon still gurgling in agony, its beak drawing blood. D4nn13’s fingers reached inside, pinched its neck and twisted.

There was a soft sound, as the pigeon’s beak went terminally limp in her hand. Liese let out a tiny whimper as she felt its heart cease to beat.

“Now, we prep it.” D4nn13 said. “To get the meat.”

***

“The trick is to pull and twist” D4nn13 said, his motorized fingers a blur as they ripped at the blood-caked mess of plumage, tossing handfuls into the waste-bin. Liese kept her nose pinched shut, struggling to block out the awful odour of pigeon-flesh.

A streak of blood stretched across the kitchen floor, dripping from her upended schoolbag. She didn’t have to look to know that the streak zig-zagged up the stairs all the way to the rooftop, possibly being lapped out of existence by a pack of staircase strays.

Liese held her breath as Maddy broke into a brief fit of hacking cough, before drifting back to sleep. On the kitchen counter, a tray carefully coated with layers of margarine waited for their cityscape game.

Liese watched D4nn13 slip his finger into the opening between the pigeon’s flesh and its meat and tug once, fast enough to tear the skin off its body. The meat flopped uselessly, barely hanging on the mess of shattered bone. D4nn13 laid it on the tray, spreading the flesh carefully across the metal surface.

“You think they’ll be able to tell what it is?” Liese said, biting her lip.

“I’m told it tastes a lot like chicken.” D4nn13 reassured her. After catching a glimpse of Liese’s horrified expression, he added: “Not the breeding kind.”

“Thank you.” Liese said, patting the ersatz boy on the back “For everything.” Her palm clanged gently against the aluminum chassis of his body.

“Next time we have some real meat, I want you to cook it for Momma. Maybe she’ll eat it then.”

***

Dad didn’t ask where the meat came from. Maddy was too happy to bother. The pigeon’s meat was stringy, but it was succulent and no one bothered to give up their portion for anyone else’s sake. They ate in silence, hands digging deep into the flesh, teeth working the white meat into a lovely paste that filled their bellies and eased their minds.

When it was all done and Liese was perched back into her KiddieKage™, D4nn13 crawled closer and whispered:

“How can you tell if someone’s dead?”

“I don’t know. You check to see if they’re breathing or you look for a pulse.” Liese shrugged.

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“Then you need to call the police.”

“I don’t know how to do that, either.”

“You don’t know how to call 3 digits on a holo-phone?”

“I can’t. Momma didn’t program that into me.”

“You want me to call them for you?”

“No. Can you…come over? See for yourself?”

“Alright.” Liese sighed. “You better not be getting me into trouble.”

“Cross my heart and swear to die.”

***

Liese had no problem undoing the clasp on the KiddieKage™ and climbing over. D4nn13 reached out his hands and grabbed her in mid-air across the gap between buildings, like they used to do when she was 4 years old and dumb enough to not care about dying.

D4nn13 eased her into the apartment, over the racecar bed, into the cozy little boy’s wonderland that was his room. There were wall-to wall posters of AnimauX and Build-A-Buddy sets and pictures of smiling women looking down from castles on the Moon. The carpet was strewn with toy cars, abandoned halfway through the Big Race and fully constructed little castle sets that no real boy of D4nn13’s age would ever have the discipline to put together on his own.

It was the room of the Boy That Wasn’t Meant To Be, kept in perfect working order by a machine. Liese tip-toed across the carpet to the door.

“She’s asleep, right?”

“Momma’s on the couch. If she’s up, you’re going to have to lie.”

Liese groaned as she pushed the bedroom door open, tiptoeing into the tiny hallway that led up to the living room. The TV was blaring its usual tirade of nonsense into the cluttered living room. Liese pinched her nose shut, to keep out the stench of overcooked food going bad at the foot of the king-sized couch. Something stirred under the velvet covers, writhing slightly beneath the thick woolen blanket.

“She’s moving. She’s okay.” Liese said. D4nn13 put his hand firmly on her shoulder.

“You haven’t even checked.”

“Dead people don’t move.”

“Please” D4nn13 said and his pixelated face turned into a simple, pleading emoticon. Liese bit her lip and turned back, struggling to keep herself from glancing hatefully back at the metal boy. Clenching her teeth, she stepped over the trays of stale take-out food and softly pulled at the blanket’s edge.

Something soft and grey and bruised in places looked up at her, its tongue swollen and sticking out past its lips. Liese gasped in horror and breathed in its smell (so much like candy, left out in the sun). Something writhed just under the hairline, sexless and eyeless and perched in the curve of its ear lobe. Liese stumbled back, fell on her back and crawled away, kicking at the air as she went.

“Did you check her pulse?” D4nn13 asked.

***

“Oh no, not this one too.” D4nn13 said, after Liese was done retching halfway through giving the bad news.

“You knew about death? And you made me check?” Liese cried out, hoarsely.

“I’ve never seen anyone get this bad. Usually someone noticed.” D4nn13 nodded, matter-of-factly.

“You can’t keep her here. You need to call the police.” Liese explained, calmly.

“No. If I do, they will void my warranty. That means they will wipe me again!”

Liese stared at the ersatz boy, dumbfounded. D4nn13 retreated to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water.

“I am a comfort-bot, Liese. I’m supposed to keep my owners company. They set up a personality for me and I stick to it. But when they die…”

“Someone…resets you?”

“Almost. They wipe most of my memories, but not all of them. They’re not really good at their job. But I’ve been through it before and…it’s terrible, Liese.”

“How many…have you gone through?”

“About 3, I guess. But maybe there’s more. I’m kind of old. You can’t tell the police, Liese.”

“What am I supposed to do? You can’t keep her here!” Liese croaked, fighting back the wave of nausea.

“I won’t, honest. But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone.” D4nn13 said, cupping her hands into his aluminum fist. “Please, Liese. I’ll do anything. Catch pigeons and bring you meat, as much as you want!”

Liese nodded, staring up at the comfort-bot’s blank screen face. “I don’t want to stay here anymore.”

“Go.” D4nn13 said, letting go. Liese was halfway to the door, when she heard the ersatz boy call out. “You promised!”

***

D4nn13 came back, two days later. Liese saw him, crouched in her apartment-building’s stairwell, with a plain brown paper-bag perched in his lap.

“It’s for you” D4nn13 said, as he offered it. Liese Weighted the thing in her hands, feeling the soft, raw thing inside.

“Where did you steal this from?” Liese gasped, as she opened the bag and checked the glistening bounty inside.

“I didn’t. I got it. It’s about 4 kilos of the stuff. Should keep your bellies full.”

“Oh my God, what is it?” Liese asked, beaming. D4nn13 flashed his reassuring-smiley face emoticon at her.

“It’s the least I could do. I’ll see you tomorrow, won’t I?” D4nn13 said, with a reassuring grin. Liese nodded, running across the flights of stairs to home. She whistled at the veal, still warm and soft in her hands as she stuck it in the freezer. Dad was going to love this.

Dad didn’t come home until late in the night, his hands raw from working the fretsaw all day. Maddy didn’t bother asking where in the world she had ever found the meat. There was food on the table and that was that.

“You’re such a good girl, Liese.” her mother would mutter between bites. “I’m so proud of you.”

D4nn13’s gift lasted for a week. Liese loved how much Dad loved the taste of it. The doctors were amazed by how quickly Maddy was recuperating. Every night, Liese slept to the cooing of her own contended stomach. For the first time in her life, she dreamt: Liese saw, in the chambers of her mind, the city studded with light, fusing into the star-studded expanses of the night sky.

D4nn13 didn’t show up for a while in the KiddieKage™ and Liese felt silently grateful for that. Talking to the comfort-bot didn’t feel quite the same, not after seeing the mess that was Momma.

D4nn13 came back on the day that the freezer had run dry.

“We’re out of meat.” Liese said.

“I can help you find more. Just pick your fill.”

“Will pigeon be okay?”

“If you think so, then yes.”

“Won’t it be too lean? Too little?”

“I can get you more, as much as you like.” D4nn13 said, reassuringly.

Liese nodded.

***

Maddy got sick the same night she ate the pigeon-meat. Dad’s worrisome frown, his awful mood, came flooding back. There was food on the table, but it wasn’t enough. Liese went with cats after that, but they were too wiry. Two days of dog and Maddy was sprawled on the floor again.

“We need more veal.” Liese whispered through the bars of the KiddieKage™. D4nn13 nodded. “I’ll come with you, where you get it.”

***

D4nn13 took her to the Pit, where the people and the things no-one had a use for anymore ended up. D4nn13 led her through the maze of rusted iron and the mountains of garbage-bags, into the pens.

“What is this?” Liese hissed, staring into the writhing, crying mass that pushed against the bars of the pen. Brown-eyed children stared up at her, between mouthfuls of slop.


“It’s meat, Liese. Real meat.” D4nn13 said, grasping one of the cubs from behind the bars. He coughed and squealed, kicking at the comfort-bot. A tattered t-shirt hung from his chest. “It grows all over the place.”

“Is that the meat? Is that what you’ve been feeding us?” Liese asked, choking back her horror.

“They’re not alive, Liese.” D4nn13 said, reaching for the cub’s fingers and shattering one in a flash. The child-cub didn’t even flinch. “Declawed, defanged, debrained before they’re even born.”

“They just eat and grow.” Liese said. D4nn13 grinned, reassuringly.

“Is it clean? The meat, I mean.”

“I’ll make it clean, Liese. It’ll only take a minute.”

***

“There’s my little girl” Maddy would say, between mouthfuls “there’s my little healer.”

And Dad was happy and Maddy would walk again, very soon, the doctors said, now that the treatment was finally working and D4nn13 would pretend-play with his toys in a dead boy’s room.

And Liese would smile and she would dream, every night, of the city lights and the night sky and the cubs, in their pens, below.

Sometimes, she would cry.


The Soft Confessional (AUDIO)
02 Jun 2019
Originally published in in Issue 10, Volume 11 of Schlock! Magazine 

This story has been adapted into audio and published by the Other Stories Podcast HERE
Abigail in the Marshes
02 Jun 2019
Published in Issue 22, Volume 10 of Schlock! Magazine
Reprinted in 
Volume 2, Issue 9 of Schlock! Quarterly magazine 



We’re three days into trudging through the jungles of New Guinea at a snail’s pace when Doctor Wilkiss says:

“She was supposed to be my baby, you know.”

Lieutenant Perez nods, halfway through hacking into a wall of monster ferns. Edington bites, as usual. The Corporal has always been a sucker for a good story.

“Couldn’t find a proper woman to take you on Wilkiss?”

“I’ve had more women than you’ve bedded whores, Edington. But none of them mattered more than Yumie.” Doctor Wilkiss hisses at Edington. “Now there was a woman: pretty as a picture and sharper than a razor blade. The kind of woman that could make a man worthy of her king of the world or bring him crashing down into the dirt, smashing him into a billion pieces along the way.”

“Looking at you right now, I’d say it was the latter.” I say. Doctor Wilkiss’ head snaps toward me, transfixing me with a dirty look. Edington gets a chuckle out of it.

“I’d say Liang’s got a point. You’re not looking too hot, from where I’m standing!”

“Yumie took me in, when she realized my quiet contempt for the world. She pulled me out of the black pit of despair the scientific community had thrown me into. Did you know they made me a Nobel nominee, just to spite me? Dragged me all the way to that pompous, cold hall in Stockholm just to make me watch that dolt Sancar get the prize! Yumie held my hand all the way through, kept me from spitting in their faces.”

“So you retreated in your lair in the boondocks and plotted how to show them all?” I say. Edington cackles like an evil genius straight out of a Z-list horror movie.

“I shall creeate a race ov atomic zupermen, vich vill conquer the vorld!”

“Corproral Edington!” Perez snaps. “Quit quoting Lugosi and get the hell up here! I need you!”

Edington mutters something under his breath and jumps through the foliage, machete in hand. Doctor Wilkiss turns toward me, teeth bared in a wolflike grin. “He’s a good dog, Edington. Are you putting him up for adoption yet?”

“Not until we get him spayed.” I say, barely holding back a smile. From the corner of my eye, I catch the look Wilkiss gives me, the way his eyes dart from my breasts to my face and back again. Perez was right, when he suggested I’d make for a great deterrent. For all his genius, the good doctor can’t help himself when it comes to women with attitude.

***

“What is your name, soldier?” he asks me, while we’re wading through a small clearing, rushing to escape the midday mosquito rush.

“Liang, Private First Class.”

“You’re a little old to be a Private. I’m guessing you were demoted, yes?”

I lean my head down and pop my collar. Even through the layers of Kevlar, the infernal buzz of mosquitoes comes through my helmet. “Pretty much.”

“Where was that, Kabul? No way you’re old enough. Punjab perhaps? There was a lot of belly aching over all those children that the Army doused with white phosphorus. Then again, you could have been in Kaepung. I hear that the South Koreans made all those concentration camps go away, after the war was over.”

“Amguema. The Big Rattle and Roll.” I say, just to get him off my back. I can almost hear Doctor Wilkiss scowling at the mere mention of the name.

“The greatest land battle in history and they name it after a children’s toy. A hundred thousand men and women scorching the earth, soaking the snow with their own blood for an inch of land at a time and we make it into a footnote in our histories. Is that fair?”

“Well, I didn’t get that raw a deal.” I tell the good doctor, flexing my prosthetic arm. I watch with glee as the mosquitoes struggle to break through the flexi-skin sheathe only to find a solid casing of plasteel and wires underneath. “Edington got himself a new spine, too. The Lieutenant’s the only one that didn’t get any cool toys to play with. That’s why we nicknamed him ‘Meatman’, I guess.”

“He’s an ape like all the rest, thrashing in the night against the technological boon. Yumie and I knew that the future lay in intelligent augmentation. She believed that, if we were to manipulate the world into generating bigger, better, stronger adversities, we could fuel a new stage in the evolution of the human race. Of course, I believed her too.”

“You could have just let history run its course.” I say.

“Is that so? Then I believe you could have kept yourself from killing two hundred prisoners of war with nerve gas, too.”

***

“GPS is shot to shit.” Perez informs us, on the sixth day into the green inferno. Looking at the frozen screen, he points southwest toward the distant trail leading back to Tori. “By my account, we’re about a klik off course. Team Wagner is at least twenty kilometers north of here and even if we haul ass, we ain’t gonna make the rendezvous in time.”

“So that’s it? We just missed the big secret lair shootout?” Edington says, kicking at wet dirt.

“What’s important is that we got our target with as little fuss as possible.” Perez says “All we have to do is get him to the extraction point, then piss off back to Manila. This setback’s been a blessing in disguise, if you ask me. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve had our fair share of getting shot at in new and exotic locales.”

“I think Edington’s just salty he won’t get to piss in Doctor Wilkiss’ gene-warping cauldron.” I say. That gets a laugh out of both of them.

“None of them is going to make it that far. The Pair Dadeni wasn’t supposed to be a super-lab.” Doctor Wilkiss says. “It was always intended to serve as a simulated habitat, to ease our new breeds into the wild. We always made sure to keep our projects and notes in our personal laboratories, just to work around the eventuality of knuckle-dragging grunts wrecking our collective efforts.”

“Couldn’t you have bothered with that bit of info when we pulled your ass out of the fire in Tori?” Perez snarls. Doctor Wilkiss waves him away.

“I couldn’t risk having a bunch of Delta drop-outs getting in way of my revenge, Lieutenant. It was never my intention to let my esteemed back-stabbing colleagues go. Not after what they did to Yumie and me. Trust me: not a single one of them has made it back to their respective hide-outs.”

“This isn’t a goddamn comic book, Wilkiss! You can’t just compromise our mission to bunch of hired guns and hope for the best!” Edington snarls.

“Hired guns? Why would I bother with a bunch of thugs, when I have Abigail? She’s far more thorough than any man could ever hope to be.”

Something howls like a woman from the deepest, darkest recesses of the jungle. A flock of striated herons shoots up from the trees and disperses. There’s a moment of stunned silence in the boondocks.

“Sounds like she’s gotten to Doctor Thoreau already. Atta girl.”

***

“What the hell is Abigail?” I ask Doctor Wilkiss at two in the morning, with my gun pressed against his skull. He blinks the sleep out of his eyes and smiles.

“I told you, Private Liang: she is our baby. Mine and Yumie’s proudest achievement.”

“No more of this mad scientist bullshit, Wilkiss.” my prosthetic hand grasps his receding hairs and tugs, with enough force to snap his neck back. “You give me the answers I want or I’ll snap your neck like a twig, swear to God.”

“Abigail is an Utahraptor baseline template, enhanced with certain…traits that we added with Yumie, to make up for the missing links in its damaged DNA. Naturally, we chose the ones we considered would make her the apex predator in an ecosystem where she could be introduced. Please, let me go.”

“What the hell did you put in her, Doctor?”

“Cone snail DNA, just enough to give her the capacity to generate a potent venom. Stonefish synapses, to allow for faster-than-life reflexes. A dash of hyena, to allow her to develop the necessary jaw musculature to chew through anything. It complimented the extra row of teeth she got from the Great White perfectly. Leopards were low on the list, but it allowed Abigail to move in hunting sprints. We added just a smidge of octopus, to account for a capacity to camouflage and limited regeneration. Finally, to make sure she would be smart enough to use these gifts to their fullest extent…” Doctor Wilkiss says, pointing at the hexagonal scar on the side of his head. “We gave her the necessary brain power. Mine and Yumie’s. The capacity for intelligence, coupled with certain antisocial traits. We believed it would make for a great deterrent in controlling her future offspring populations.”

I let go of his head and press my knee against the small of his back. Leaning into him, I whisper: “I told you not to mess with me, Doctor.”

“Believe me, Private Liang, I am not. We made Abigail to last. It’s a shame she killed all of her suitors.” he says, panting. I realize that my manhandling is arousing him, so I let go. Doctor Wilkiss looks up at me, disappointed. “Yumie was the last one to try and beat her into submission. I tried to advise her against it, but you know how that turned out.”

***

“We can’t afford to backtrack, Private.” Perez says, without pausing in his dry-shave. Even in the sweltering heat, he keeps his face nice and neat. Edington pauses in the middle of putting his Daewoo K11 back together.

“You can’t be serious.” Edington says. “For all we know, the mad bastard’s telling the truth! I mean, you saw the shit he had back in his lab, right?”

“All we saw were a bunch of writhing, snapping blobs of nothing that mewled in their cages, Corporal. Not a single one of them was capable of tearing apart a cat, never mind an able-bodied black ops team.”

“What about Yumie, then? What reduced her to a bunch of mince-meat, huh? You said it yourself: whatever tore her apart had to be as big as a Great White, at least!” I say. Perez cleans his razor and sticks it back into his survival kit, before turning to face me.

“We’re at least three days off schedule, Private. By the time we get there, the clean-up team would have gone in and wiped their asses with every single monster in the enclosure. All we need to do is drop off Wilkiss and then get to Bulldog so we can cool our heels in relative peace and quiet. Hell, we probably won’t even get to fire our guns once.”

“Goddamn it Perez, when was the last time you heard from the clean-up team, huh? How do we know that Abigail hasn’t gotten to them? How do we even know we’re going to make it?” I say, my voice tinged with the slightest hint of hysteria. Perez tutts with disgust, before reaching for his radio.

“Team Wagner, this is Valkyrie. What’s your status?”

A gentle hiss of static pours out from the speaker. Perez scowls before trying again.

“Team Wagner, this is Valkyrie, what is your status, over?”

Static again, broken by soft, whistling noises. A soft purr comes from the other end.

“Must be the foliage blocking our signal. We’ll try again once we’re past the ridge.” Perez says, by way of explanation. Edington shoots me a worried glance. “Hands off cocks and on with socks, we’re moving out.”

Somewhere in the distance, something yaps evilly at the sun. The metallic scent of blood and the chemical smell of reptile dung reach us, borne on the eastern wind.

“Sir, yes sir.” I say as I go to fetch Doctor Wilkiss.

***

The sounds of mating tree kangaroos keep me up during my watch. We’re barely a day’s walk away from the rendezvous point and still no response from the cleanup team. Out in the darkness, hunched furry forms are locked in mortal combat over a dying heron. By the time I’ve heard the gentle rustling noise of Doctor Wilkiss’ footsteps, he’s already got the KA-BAR knife pressed against my throat.

“Don’t try to fight back, Liang. I’d hate to have to kill you. There are things that you must know.” his whisper sounds like a viper slithering off its discarded layer of skin. “Abigail is close now, on her way to new pastures. I gather that she’s already had your clean-up team and has developed a taste for warm-blooded omnivores with too much protein in their bloodstream. Chances are she will soon attempt to move to more populated areas. I am about to let go of your mouth. Do not try to scream, or I will slit your throat. Understood?”

I nod, as he lets go. His grip on my shoulders weakens. I can feel him sniffing at my hair, taking in the scent of sweat and the barest whiff of lavender from my last proper shower six days ago.

“What are you going to do? Run off into the jungle? You know we could track you down.”

“I’m not running, Private. I’m off to meet Abigail. All you and your commanding officer have to do is run like hell for two days eastwards. You should reach a small research facility, one that belonged to good old Doctor Ulyanov. He had the entire thing stocked with enough food to survive a nuclear winter. Stay there and make sure you don’t come out until the screaming stops.” he says, as he lets go of me, his knife slowly retreating from my neck, gently caressing the outline of my carotid as it goes.

“What are you going to do? When you find her?”

“What a proper father should do for his unruly children: I am going to give her a long-overdue lesson in humility.”

I’m reaching for my gun, when Doctor Wilkiss strikes me at the side of the head with a rock.

***

“Fucking hell, Liang!” Perez says, kicking at the embers of the extinguished fire pit. Edington is hard at work pretending to fold his knapsack. “How the hell did he get past you?”

“He brained me with a rock, damn it! What’s your excuse?” I hiss. Perez grits his teeth like an angry pit-bull, before turning to Edington.

“Get your shit together. We’re going after the bastard!”

“I think it would be best if we just headed for the Russkie’s hideout.” Edington mutters.

“Please tell me you’re kidding.” Perez snarls.

“Lieutenant, look: we haven’t had any contact with the clean-up team, we’ve lost our target and we’re stuck in the middle of the bloody jungle with a thing that’s straight out of science fiction. I say we cut our losses…” I begin, just as Lieutenant Perez’s boot connects with Edington’s ass.

“Get. Your gear. We’re going after the mad asshole. And if I hear a single thing about that Abigail again I swear to God I’ll…”

In the distance, fire mushrooms out from the tree-tops. The chemical stink of napalm fills the air. Something howls evilly, yapping like a hyena bitch at the peak of her estrus. The boondocks shudder, hammered by monstrous feet. Perez clutches his M27 IAR to his chest, as if looking to it for comfort.

“What was that?” Edington whimpers.

“I think it’s Wilkiss’ idea of a spanking.”

***

We’re heading east toward the bunker, when the next battery of explosions rocks the jungle. An entire hill is enveloped in flames, sending shrapnel flying. In the overwhelming cacophony, I catch a dissonant human shriek. Against my better judgement, I find myself praying that this wasn’t Doctor Wilkiss’ final stand. That Abigail went down in the explosion and that her scaly corpse is sizzling in the hellish heat of an impromptu rainforest fire.

“I think that’s taken care of…” Edington says, just as an ear-splitting roar rebounds all around us.

“It’s getting closer.” I say, barely holding back a whimper.

“Must be around half a kilometer away. It can’t have noticed us, not from this distance. Not with all this smoke.” Perez says, even as his jog is slowly turning into a run.

“Wilkiss said Abigail was part octopus! Maybe it’s got feelers. Maybe it can find us, if it just finds his tracks. We need to burn them.” I say.

“Burn what? The entire goddamn rainforest?” Edington says.

“If we have to.” I say, as I remove my XM25 CDTE from its holster and launch its 25mm incendiary grenade. They were supposed to have been last-resort weapons, intended to eliminate any identifiable traces of our target in the event of a FUBAR. All things considered, this situation wasn’t too far off.

We watch the M14 grenade as it arcs into the sky, falters and finally impacts with the thick carpet of dead leaves underneath, unleashing its thermite payload on detonation. Its flame burns white-hot, enveloping the surrounding trees. Plant matter is reduced to ashes in seconds.

“For fuck’s sake, Liang!” Perez says, but doesn’t stop me. Two more M14s come down, creating a wall of hungry flame.

“Move goddamn it, move!” I howl at them. Thankfully, they begin to haul ass without the slightest signs of protest. Edington jumps like a mountain goat, skipping over tree branches like stepping stones, his rifle held high. Perez grits his teeth as he descends. I count each step, checking my remaining M14 grenades. Just three left. I should make them count.

“I can see a clearing! We just need to reach the clearing…” Edington says, before his voice gets choked out by Perez’s awful howling. I turn around, just in time to see a pair of long-snouted jaws with two rows of pearly white teeth, clamped down around Edington’s waist. The Corporal struggles to free his assault rifle, but the jaws move to and fro, making him flail around like a ragdoll. Stray rounds clip at tree trunks all around us. Perez falls to the ground, struck on the thigh by a stray 5.56mm round. By the time Abigail steps into the mid-morning sunlight, he’s screamed himself hoarse.

Even in her charred and burned state, she is awesome to behold. Six meters of pure muscle, wrapped in a Cretaceous scaled frame with a skin mottled in places. Unnaturally long arms with five fingered, taloned hands clutch at the empty air. Her long snout is crooked, fit to bursting with glistening arrowhead teeth. Her claws, as long as combat knives, clatter as they graze against the bare earth beneath her. Her tail whips viciously in the air as she snaps her head, sending Edington’s upper half soaring through the air in a madcap whirl. Abigail’s eyes turn madly in their sockets, focus as they take in her new prey and I notice the compact black tint of her irises, the all-too-human way in which they squint and bring us into focus.

Abigail opens her mouth and lets out a deep, rumbling purr. Bits of Edington’s legs fall to the ground, ground meat and crushed servos wrapped in torn camo fabric and I can barely keep myself from laughing.

Looks like she chewed into a burrito without taking off the wrapping…

Perez brings his machine-gun to the front and pulls the trigger before I can stop him. High-caliber rounds punch into Abigail’s skin, leaving gushing pockmarks behind. She screeches in outrage before leaping onto the Lieutenant. In the blink of an eye, she has sunk her vicious teeth into his shoulder, tearing at the meat and crunching the bone. By the time I’ve brought up my own rifle, Perez’s arm is dangling from Abigail’s teeth.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God…” Perez is moaning, blood spurting from the ravaged gash where his arm used to be. He reaches out with his remaining hand, tugging at his still-flexing severed fingers, trying to pry his limb away from her teeth as if it were a stolen toy.

I turn and run, bolting for the denser greenery. Perez’s screams die down after a while. There’s a soft, crunching noise as Abigail stuff her face with prime US-Marine-bred meat. When she is finally done, the jungle is quiet, save for the rumbling sound of the thermite-induced wall of flame, spreading ever outward. I pull my rifle tightly against my chest and bite my lip, struggling to still my thumping heart. When that fails, I check my rounds: 3 magazines of AP bullets, three grenades left. I load one into the rifle, praying that I’ll somehow figure out how to make them count.

“Psst. Liang.” the voice coming from the undergrowth makes me jump. Edington’s arm flails around, trying to grasp at my leg. “Help me up, will you?”

I reach down and grasp his arm, pulling him out. A length of optic fibre and hydraulic cable viscera is sprawled out where his legs should be. Edington is spilling blood and coolant from the gash where his legs should be.

“She got a nibble and then spat me out. I think Wilkiss put more Great White in that scaly bitch than he ought to…” Edington says. I try to hold back a giggle, but fail. “Perez is dead, isn’t he?”

“The Meatman has left the building…” I nod. Edington attempts to smile. Blood and Freon dribble out of his lips.

“You’re going to need bait…”

“Corporal, no…”

“You need to draw out that beast, so you can get the drop on it.”

“Please don’t say it…”

“Give me those M14s. if it gets near me again, I could detonate them in her face. Give that bitch a proper suntan.”

“You’re not in a goddamn Rambo movie, you idiot! We don’t even know if that’s going to kill her!”

“It might not, but it sure as hell will give you plenty of time to get away.”

“You’re a dumbass, Edington.” I say, as I grab him by what’s left of his bandolier and prepare to hoist him up. Edington pushes against me, his hand darting for my grenades. His hands tear them out from their holsters. “You dirty little…”

Edington pulls his service revolver from his shoulder holster and fires three shots into the air. Abigail lets out a long, vicious hiss and then comes charging toward us. “Make it count, Private!” Edington grins at me, just as I push him away.

Abigail bursts out from the trees, showering us with stray leaves and splinters. Edington pulls on the trigger once, twice, three times, the small-caliber bullets barely making mosquito-bite wounds on her skin. Abigail opens her mouth wide, snaps her teeth. Edington’s shooting arm is gone in the blink of an eye. By the time Edington has released the M14s’ safety pins, Abigail has jumped ten feet into the air and straight into my path. The Corporal disappears in a blinding flash of hungry light, reduced to ashes.

I pull the trigger, watching the first rounds poke holes across Abigail’s skin. She begins to bob and weave around me, dancing around my pointed gun. From the corner of my eye, I see her crouch, ready to make her final pounce. My flesh-hand is numb from the kick-back. I gently press the trigger just as she jumps into the air, leaving herself open. My rifle lets out the awful, tiny klik-klik-klik noise, letting me know that my chamber is empty just as her crooked leg talon rips into my body armor and rakes itself across one of my breasts. The pain is excruciating. Abigail leans into me, her mouth opening wide to reveal a long, milky-white tongue, dripping with venom. I let out a tiny, useless whimper and wonder, for a moment, if perhaps she had coated her claws with venom beforehand.

Dead before I hit the ground. Now that would be nice.

Abigail takes me in with her eyes, divides me into bite-sized portions with lightning-quick calculations. Her taloned hands rip and tear at my armor. Her leg pins down my flesh arm and then twists so it breaks my arm in three places. Pain blossoms in my field of vision, as I bring my augmented arm up her snout, clenching it into a fist. Gritting my teeth, I rev the prosthetic’s engines into overdrive and unleash an accelerated one-inch punch into Abigail’s eye before blacking out.

Something warm and wet splashes against my face. I spit it out, when I come to. Blinking away the pain, I take in the scene:

Abigail, screaming as she clutches at the ruined socket where her eye used to be.

The smell of burnt plastic and the gentle fizzle of useless machinery, coming from my augmented hand.

The familiar weight of the XM25, resting against my leg.

I reach out for it with my flesh arm, but the thing is bent like a crazy straw, all but useless. Rolling out of Abigail’s stomping path, I grasp the rifle with my prosthetic arm and pull it in. The fingers twitch spasmodically to the motley rhythm of Abigail’s shifting skin color. She yelps and howls, letting out tiny noises that could be words. I wonder if Yumie and Wilkiss ever tried teaching her how to speak. I wouldn’t have put it past the bastards.

Abigail turns to me, stomping on the ground, head bent low. She’s mad enough not to care about the rifle. She doesn’t bother with the complexities of dodging anything I throw at her. Her monstrous tongue whips out and lashes at my chest, smacking against the armor underneath. Poison hisses against layers of Kevlar. Her mouth opens wide, revealing the fleshy grotto of her mouth layered with the neat formation of blood-streaked teeth. Abigail’s breath smells of rotten meat and poppies.    

I pull the trigger, releasing the final M14 grenade into her gullet. The explosion launches me off my feet, makes me roll down into a bed of thick ferns. In front of me, Abigail is breathing out a steady stream of white-hot fire. I watch the flames race up her gums, creating the ridge of her lips before setting her eyes ablaze.

“How do you like that iron oxide burn, you murderous slag?” I scream at her. Abigail coughs and shrieks, as she rolls down on the ground. She’s still kicking, even after the flames have reduced half her head into a mass of burnt skull and charred bone.

***

The extraction team shows up two days’ later, drawn by the looping message broadcast from Doctor Ulyanov’s bunker. By the sounds the combat medic makes when he examines me, I can tell I don’t make for a pretty sight.

“Where the hell is Team Wagner? Where’s Wilkiss?” a man in a Balaklava asks me. He still wears his full combat gear, even in the sweltering July heat.

“The Meatman’s gone. Edington’s up in flames. The good doctor’s all smoke and cauldrons.” I mutter. The man in combat gear doesn’t seem to like it, but it’s all I’ve got.

“Get her out of here. And get me General Cho on the phone. I need a burn notice on this place.” he barks at his subordinates. They scatter like blind-sided raccoons. “Goddamn it, what happened here?”

“Abigail…ask Abigail…” I whimper, as the morphine shot pulls me into the dark, dreamless place beyond pain.


Doll's Eyes
02 Jun 2019
Published in Issue 17, Volume 10 of Schlock! Magazine 



The old ogre sits at the head of the table, porcelain teeth clacking like castanets around a mouthful of mashed potatoes. His shriveled, shaking hand struggles with the fork as he shovels bits of overcooked beef past his dried, cracking lips. Gravy-stains dot the front of his shirt like freak oil spills.


I hate coming here every Sunday, forced to sit on the same creaking chairs in the same mahogany table, in this place that smells like chlorine and pine sap. I hate it that Dad makes me call the ogre ‘grandpa’. Grandpas aren’t supposed to be shriveled and angry and mean. They’re not supposed to look like fairy tale monsters.


Everyone else has long since finished their meager Sunday dinner. To pass the time, the grown-ups wipe their dishes of any trace of leftover food with slices of bread, scooping up every last drop of gravy before wolfing it down. To keep myself from nodding off to sleep, I take my fork and Dad’s (laying uselessly beside his plate) and built a makeshift arch on the tablecloth, setting them up in an inverted v-shape. Across from me, cousin Eve hands her own fork. Using the third one as support, I set up a rudimentary tipi, wrapping the foundation around with a napkin.


"Quiet." the old ogre mumbles through a mouthful, spraying bits of mash and beef all around. I'm halfway through folding the napkin to make an entrance to the tipi when Dad reaches out to grasp my hand. He squeezes my fingers together until I stop. When we're out of here andheading back home, he'll ask me if it still hurts and buy me a bucket of ice-cream, as usual. "I won't have any tomfoolery at the table" the ogre manages as he finally finishes lunch. Aunt Vera swoops in like a hawk, stacks the plates and cuttlery in her arms before disappearing in the kitchen. The door rattles in the doorframe as she slams it shut with the heel of her foot. Unlike the others, Aunt Vera never could stand being around the ogre. Not like Uncle Jeb, the firstborn son, always eager to please the wrinkled monster or Dad, never working up the courage to stare into those doll-like eyes on the ogre, perched in those sockets like bulbous freshwater pearls.


"That was a great meal, Father. Wasn't it a great meal?" Uncle Jeb says, nudging cousin Eve. He looks terrified. Then again, they all do. Scared of the old toothless, clawless ogre, stuck in his wheelchair with his bag of urine hanging by the arm-rest, scared silly of those doll-eyes, those tiny arms with the walnut-sized knuckles. I chance a glance at the painting set over the fireplace, an artist's depiction of the ogre back in the days of his youth: the shiny bald cap, the tiny moustache over his lip. It's all there, but the eyes are all wrong: they’re caring and intelligent, like a regular grandpa’s eyes. Not big and hungry like pits you could fall into forever.


"I've brought you all here" the ogre says, nipping Uncle Jeb's glowing tirade in the bud "to discuss the matter of my inheritance. I've decided it's time you each got your due." he lets the last word linger, savoring the tight-lipped silence that's come down in the living room like a black cloud. He savors it, maliciously. The ogre wipes his hands, the napking rustling across his parchment-dry skin. Bobby, my bother, he used to say that the ogre looked like an unbandaged mummy. It used to drive Dad up the wall every time he’d catch Bobby saying that. Except Bobby didn't care. Bobby hated the ogre. He hated how the ogre made him stay quiet all the time, how he'd never let him shut the bathroom door when he was visiting. Bobby hated how the ogre would always make him turn out his pockets to make sure he hadn't stolen anything or slap his hand away when he'd try to refill his plate. Boy's fat enough as it is, the ogre told Dad once. Bobby called the ogre something colorful and the ogre said Dad he'd strike him from his will if he didn't put a leash on the boy. Dad tried, of course, but Bobby wouldn't have any of that. He just turned tail and ran, soon as he was old enough to drive.


You know what's best for you, you do the same too. Bobby told me, the night he'd packed his stuff and went out the door. He stroked my hair even as I was bawling like a baby. Just six more years, little brother. I'll come by to pick you up myself, soon as you've blown outthe candles. And Bobby climbed into the beat up second hand car he'd bought with his savings from his crappy night shift manager job, drove off into the sunset with his mirrorshades on like a nascent rockstar. He drove that car into a fuel tanker on the highway, six months later. They wouldn't even let me see him in the coffin, after. Dad said it was for the best, between sobs.

"Now, I haven't been a bad father to you all." the ogre says, wiping his mouth. "I made you, I clothed you, I raised you; I worked myself raw to make something of myself, build this here house with my own two hands. Taught you all how to live in this cruel, crazy world and how to make a living for yourselves. Made damn sure you'd know better than to dily-dally" he stops, shooting a glance at our side of the table. Dad's hands are red and raw from washing them with hot water to remove any trace of the paint-streaks from his weekend workshop. The ogre didn't like to hear about Dad's painting, about his dreams to make something beautiful happen on canvas. Dad had to give up a Fine Arts scholarship because the ogre didn’t want him toforcing him to stick around to tendhis estate. Reduced him to scrawling on an empty canvass in the garage on the weekends, narrating the history of art to me as I sat on his lap. "Made Jeb a lawyer, didn't I? And a good one at that" the ogre beams. Uncle Jeb nods, cracking his usual empty grin, all teeth and gums. "Damn straight, Father" Uncle Jeb says. Never mind that Uncle Jeb had never set foot in a courtroom for the past decade, leafing through piles of discarded drafts of the Great Novel he never got to finish.


"And Vera. My little girl. Didn't I find her a husband, a cushy job, a big house?" the ogre says, at the top of his lungs. The dishwasher door slams shut from the kitchen. "You got that right, Father" Aunt Vera shouts from the kitchen, running the tap at full force so we won't hear her cursing from under her breath. None of us like Aunt Vera's husband. Sure, he is a big-shot doctor, a surgeon-king, the kind that other doctors would stand at attention the second he'd walk into the room. But Aunt Vera sometimes calls homein the middle of the night and Dad has to drive to her house, no matter how early he'd have to wake up in the morning and Aunt Vera sleeps in the big bed on her front with long red stips running down across the skin of her back. When the moonlight creeps through the windows just right, they look like zebra stripes. Aunt Vera would take a cab to go back, the next morning. Dad had stopped driving her back a long time ago.


"That last stroke" the ogre says, wheeling himself away from the dinner table, turning around to look out the reinforced window pane. A precaution he'd picked up after convincing himself that he was important enough to assassinate. "Gave me some very useful perspective. I decided it was time I arranged the matter of my legacy. Perhaps you can be trusted with it, after all. There's no will, not just yet. After today, everything will be put in writing. Permanently." the ogre watched our reflactions from the glass. From the corner of my eye, I caught the barest flicker of a smile. The kind cats have on their faces, after they've severed a rat's spinal column. "You must each prove your own merit to me." with that, the ogre swiveled his wheelchair, began to wheel himself around the table. "You'll be put to the test. You and your children. Judged by the merits of your brood."


"Come on, Father, quit it with the drama." Dad says. The ogre stops dead before him. His arm whips outin a flash, his withered hand slapping Dad across the face. The sound of flesh on flesh booms like thunder. I stare at Dad, as he clasps the red welt on his cheek. He seems to shrink, between blinks of an eye; by the time I've reached out to see if he's alright, he looks younger than my brother. When he pushesmy hand away, he's a teenager again. As soon as the ogre parks himself in the middle of the living room, Dad has turned into a frightened child. Now I know why Bobby hated the ogre. I know why they're afraid of it. Like a cone snail: he's tiny and fangless and shriveled, but every inch of the ogre's skin is dripping with venom. "I want each of you to come to me, stand at my feet. Prove to me how much you love me." the ogre croaks.


Aunt Vera pops her head out from the kitchen, her mouth a gaping O. I can see her eyes flitting back from the ogre to Uncle Jeb and Dad, back to the ogre. She struggles with the proper words, but nothing comes out of her mouth except a string of nonsense. Dad is the first to get off his chair. I grasp the hem of his pants, try to say he doesn't have to do it, we can just go. He doesn't need the ogre; he's big now. We can just go in the car, we can just leave. Except I don't say any of that out loud. Dad doesn't even spare me a glance. He walks to the ogre, grasps his shriveled hand and kisses his upturned palm. "Thank you, Father. For everything." he croaks, voice barely above a whisper. The ogre nods, leaning down close to his ear. "The boy, too."


"No." Dad says. The ogre takes his hand away from his grip, waves Dad away. "You never had the stones, anyway. Jeb?" he barks Uncle's name and he springs into action, taking cousin Eve by the hand. I watch her struggling to get out of his grip, but Uncle Jeb doesn't seem to care. He grasps her wrist tightly, leads her in front of the ogre and pushes her down to her knees in front of him. "Come on, sweetheart" he manages, his hand still grasping her shoulder. "Tell Grandpa what you told me, in the car." he coos, in that sickly-sweet tone of his. Uncle Jeb has always had a flare for the dramatic, the painstakingly rehearsed. The ogre loves that kind of thing. Cousin Eve struggles with it, mumbles a short 'no'. Uncle Jeb's grip on her shoulder tightens until she finally grasps the ogre's hand, looks him in the eye and says, in that sweet sing-song voice of hers: "I was telling daddy how much I love coming here, grandpa and how much I love your stories. I want to be as hard-working and rich as you, when I'm all grown up. I'm so proud of you, grandpa." A load of bunk, of course. Cousin Eve hates coming here way more than I do. But Uncle Jeb has probably drilled these words into her for weeks now, made her drop to her knees on the hardwood kitchen floor until her presentation was Oscar-worthy.


The ogre reaches out to stroke her hair. Eve almost pulls away, but Uncle Jeb keeps her in place. Shriveled fingers run through her hair, stroke her blushing cheeks. Jeb drops next to her, on his knees. He takes the ogre's hand in his, kisses it. "She adores you, Father. We owe everything to you." Once again, that knowing cat-grin spreads across the procelain teeth. The doll-eyes shift to Vera's shriveled form, lurking in the kitchen doorframe. "It's your turn now, Vera" he says, his voice like nails, dragging across marble.

"You can't be serious" Vera mumbles under her breath. "Of all the selfish, stupid things you've made us..." but the ogre doesn't bother with her. He spares a glance at her, contempt written plainly on his face. He looks at Vera as if she were a
pile ofgarbage, piled by the kitchen door. "The vacation house is your, Jeb. You're a good boy." the ogre says. He rummages around in his trouser pocket, takes out the dog-eared notepad, its pages smudged black after a thousand revisions of his Last Will And Testament, fills in his final verdict. "Now, for the apartment building in the city..."


Uncle Jeb gets off the floor, patting Cousin Eve on the back. She looks embarassed but she doesn't let Uncle Jeb see it. Evecan’t stand to see that ear-to-ear grin disappear. Dad looks crestfallen: he'd grown up in that vacation house by the sea, raised by his grandmother for the first ten years of his life. The ogre had left him there, as soon as Dad was cleared to leave the maternity ward. The ogre used to say that Dad had killed grandma on the day he was born. ‘The boy was born feet-first. Don’t take much more than that to see that he’s not good.’ he used to grumble when he’d get good and drunk, even when Dad was right there in front of him. The ogre only suffered the boy when he would hear his tiny voice on the other end of a telephone line. When he finally did find it in his heart to see his second son, he'd replaced grandma with Aunt Vera's mother. Every single photograph, painting, every trace of his mother's existence had been thoroughly erased. All Dad had to go on was the half-remembered stories of Uncle Jeb, shared over a bottle of whiskey on New Year's. "Father, don't do this." Dad says. "Do whatever the hell else it is you want, just...not like this. Not in front of the kids."


"You can go whenever you like. I’m not keeping you." the ogre says, waving Dad away. "Just don't expect anything more from me. This is your last chance. For all of you. And Jeb's already in the lead." I can see Dad's lips getting thin, the color draining from his face. His mouth becomes a pencil-thin slit, the lips tightly pressed together. I've seen that look before, when I was very little and very stupid and I found the bottle of chlorine under the sink and nearly drank it. Soon as I had vomited the worst of it and got home from the hospital Dad grabbed me by the ear. He twisted it good so he'd be sure I'd never do it again. Dad had that look on his face for the rest of the day. "Which one of you wants the fifth-story penthouse? A house of your own. Rent-free." the ogre says, enticingly.


Aunt Vera steps in before Dad's even had the chance to get off his chair. She shoves Uncle Jeb and Cousin Eve out of her way. "Father, please. You know I need that place. We need that place, Tony too. Get out of that terrible apartment back in the Heights, get our lives in order..." she pleads. The ogre nods, indifferent. Aunt Vera sets her back straight, shaking with rage. Her fists clench shut, the pale strip of flesh where her wedding ring should be flowing into the white of her knuckles. She drops to her knees, takes the ogre's ankles in her hands like an ancient greek war widow, bartering with the gods for her husbands' life. "Father, please. Please, it's the one thing I've always wanted. The one thing I'm asking. I gave up everything; I married Tony, just as you told me. I quit my job, became the kind of woman he wanted when he came to you. The things I let him do to me, just to keep him happy..." Aunt Vera bites her lip, stifling back a sob. "Please, Father..."


"You need to try harder than that." the ogre rasps, his voice sandpaper-coarse. He's keeping it together, his face a mask of apathy but I can see it, right there, I can see the tiny grin that's taken root just behind his eyes, I can see the apples go big and wide, he hairs on the back of his neck standing on end and I know that I hate the ogre, that I don't want to be near him ever again in my life. I take Dad by the wrist, lean in to whisper that I want to leave, I want to get out of here, please Dad, let's just go. But Aunt Vera is on her hands and knees now, her forehead bent so low it's resting on the marble tiles of the floor. Her hands grasp blindly, place the ogre's heels on the back of her head. She's letting him use her like a footstool. The ogre doesn't stop her. He leans back, stretches those scrawny legs on her shoulderblades, justlike a cat. "Any other takers?" he says. Dad is frozen with shock. Uncle Jeb's blushing. We exchange glances, Eve and I, utterly speechless. "I guess it's yours then, Vera" the ogre nods. Heretrieves the notebook scribbles in her name and the adress of the apartment building. Vera nods, breathes out a tiny thank you, Father as she returns to her place by the kitchen doorframe. Her arms are wrapped tightly around her chest. Like Dad before her, she seems smaller now, diminished.


"Now, for this house. My house." the ogre says. "This place I built with my own two hands. You won't have it until I am gone, but it is my most cherished creation. I won't give it away as easily.” His eyes drift over to Dad and I watch him freeze, just like a deer halfway across the street, struck by the headlight of a car; Dad’s shoulder’s sag, his hair stand on end. It’s so quiet I can hear the faint grinding sound his teeth make, see the outline of its jaw against his cheek, sawing back and forth. Dad takes a step toward the ogre and if I see him fall to his knees, if I see the ogre using him as a footstool I know he’ll never live it down. If I let Dad humiliate himself for the ogre’s pleasure, he’ll live out the rest of his days hating himself, hating me for seeing him like this. I’m on my feet and run for the ogre before he’s mustered up the courage to do it. There’s a tug on my shirt sleeve, but I brush it away. Time seems to stretch out forever with every step I take. If I was smarter, I wouldn’t be doing this; not for everything in the world. By the time I’ve reached him, I realize I’m taller than him, stronger and wider already and I’m just a kid, standing up to some cheap animatronic gremlin straight out of a cheesy horror flick. The ogre doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like the way I look at him, like a dung beetle stuck under the sole of my shoe. He hates how I can look into his eyes and know I’m not afraid of him, how he knows that there’s no contempt in my eyes, at least nothing that will linger; as soon as he’s dead, he’ll be discarded in the depths of my memory, left to rot like all those cartoon jingles and bicycle mishaps and schoolyard jeers.


“Please, grandpa.” I say, dropping to my knees for him. “Dad needs the house. We’re barely making rent as it is and he needs to be out of the city. He’s killing himself every day, driving two hours to work and back again.” The ogre looks at me, puzzled, as I fall to my hands and start to crawl on the floor, wagging my behind like a dog for him. I undo my belt and strap it into my waistband, letting it hang down between my legs like a long, floppy tail. Muzzling my face against his leg I try my best not to reel back in disgust as my cheek brushes against the fabric of his trousers, feeling his thigh against my skin. His scent fills my nostrils: green soap and old sweat, caked over for days. Old aftershave and stale air surrounds him, the kind of smell a vampire would have. Count Orlock, stuck in his castle with no one to visit. Nosferatu, his long teeth replaced by porcelain facsimiles, his talons chipped and split in places, his joints popping uselessly with every step he takes, his hunched form ravaged with arthritis. Jumping in place I bark out loud, yapping like a Chihuahua, sticking out my tongue to pant at him. It’s driving him crazy. I can tell he loathes the way I put my hands on his knees, fingers balled into fists like paws and muzzle against his chest. Aunt Vera cracks a tentative smile, then a steady stream of giggling. She barely has time to let out a tiny ‘sorry’ before bursting into laughter. Dad catches it next, his worried gaze slowly melting away, catching Aunt Vera’s giddiness like a virus. He lets out his signature snort before finally guffawing out loud. Cousin Eve chimes in. She bites her lip to hold it back like a champ, before she herself bursts out in laughter. Uncle Jeb manages to hold back the worst of it. He keeps it up for a good ten seconds, before he popping as well. The ogre’s magic is undone, with just a bit of fooling. Like Rumpelstintskin, the awful monster’s magic melts away, revealing the powerless old man underneath.


“Enough” the ogre groans, uselessly. I stop yapping and frown, turning my head to either side, this way and that, hang out my tongue. Another round of laughter. “I said, enough!” he roars and pushes me off him. I fall on the marble tiles with a thud, the belt buckle rattling on the floor as it slips away from my waistband. Everyone goes utterly silent. In his wheelchair, the ogre is shaking with rage. His hand reaches out to grasp me. I tense up, as his fingers run through my hair. He gives them a harsh, short tug. The belt’s in my hand the next second, wrapped in a half-knot. I smack it against the marble tiles to drive my point home. The ogre catches on quickly. He knows that I’m not afraid to use it. With his children here he might dodge a proper beating, but that doesn’t mean he’ll risk getting belted in the mouth. The ogre lets go, gives me a short harsh shove. “You can have the house.” He tells Dad. “But you’ll teach the runt some manners.”


“I promise, Father.” Dad says, taking me in his arms. He hugs me for only a few seconds: a quick, deep embrace that says ‘proud of you’. “We’ll take good care of this place. It’s everything to us.” Dad says, even as the ogre jots another thing on his last will and testament. When he is done, he doesn’t stash it away. Instead, the ogre wheels toward the dusty fireplace. He removes the grille with reverence, thrusting his hand into the pile of cold ashes that’s slowly congealed into a half-solid mess at the bottom, his hand covered wrist-deep in soot. He blows against the tiny bounty that he’s retrieved: a thin book, his prized ledger. The grown-ups look at it as if it’s a living, hissing thing. The record of the ogre’s entire fortune: every cent of it that he stashed away, all the gold and the bonds and accumulated currency. Dad has never told me exactly how rich the ogre is, but judging from their expressions, I’d have to guess he’s loaded. Uncle Jeb tenses up the second he sees the ledger as the ogre wipes it clean on his trousers, blows away the ash and flicks the pages, just so. Out of everyone gathered here, he’s probably the only one who knows how big that string of numbers in the ledger’s last page is.


The ogre seems to soak in the grown-ups’ tension. What little damage I might have done with my stunt seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. He’s grinning now, the sun’s rays glinting evilly on his porcelain teeth. “The money. Now there’s a clincher, isn’t it?” the ogre says, nodding. “My entire life’s work. I was going to divide it, let each of you have their share, do the best you could do with it in all your limited capacity. But then, I decided against it.” the ogre says, his eyes shooting daggers at me. With dramatic flourish, the ogre throws the ledger on the floor, in the middle of the living room “Winner takes all.” he rasps.


Uncle Jeb shoots up from his seat, climbs over the table. His patented leather shoes slip on the tablecloth. He falls halfway across, banging his knees on mahogany. The impact crashes the leftover wine glasses. The fine crystal shatters under his bulk. Cousin Eve lets out a tiny yelp when she notices the long red streaks that have torn through Uncle Jeb’s shirt, where the glass shards have poked into his skin. Uncle Jeb doesn’t seem to notice as he jumps into the living room floor. Dad watches him leap into the air past him. His hand grasps Uncle Jeb’s ankle, stops him dead in mid-air. There’s a short, snapping sound as Uncle Jeb’s teeth click together, then a muffled scream. Blood runs down his lips, flowing freely from his severed tongue. Dad steps over him just as Aunt Vera skitters across the floor to grasp the ledger. I watch in horror as Dad grasps her long, auburn hair and tugs back, snapping her head back. Aunt Vera lets out an animal noise and slashes at the air at Dad’s face, her nails dragging across his cheeks. She misses Dad’s eye by half an inch. Red streaks burst into being across the left side of his cheeks and forehead. Dad stifles a scream, twists Aunt Vera’s arm. She howls and kicks blindly, getting him in the shins. They both go down in a tumble of fists and legs. Uncle Jeb howls something I can’t quite make out at Eve. Blood trails from his lips. Something red and shiny plops out of his mouth! “’Edgeh! Het the ‘edgeh!” he shouts at Eve, who’s frozen in place. The color’s drained from her face, eyes transfixed into the red mess that’s her father’s mangled mouth. In the blink of an eye, she’s snapped into action. By the time I’ve worked out it’s time to get off my sorry behind she’s already halfway across the living room floor. Aunt Vera is pummeling Dad across the face with her delicate hands. He shields his face with his arm draped over it for a while before finally finding an opening, landing his fist on her chin with full force. Aunt Vera slumps on the floor, sobbing with pain. “Get her!” Dad howls at me and I know he’s talking about Eve but she’s too far away and my knees have turned to jelly and everything smells like blood and sweat and Uncle Jeb is saying something through the bile and the spit running down his mouth…


The belt flies from my hand, thrown clumsily across the room. The buckle strikes the back of Eve’s head. It doesn’t knock her out, but the pain is sharp and clear enough for her to stop dead in her tracks, bawling in pain. Jumping over Uncle Jeb’s grasping hands, I slide down across the marble tiles and make my way to the ledger. My fingers wrap around it and I grasp it. Eve’s nails dig into my palm the next second. Her vice-like grip draws blood. She sinks her teeth into my ear. The pain is unimaginable. My hand flails wildly, striking at her forehead, her shoulders, her cheeks. Eve grons, sinks her teeth deeper. The ledger crumples in my hand, soaked in sweat. Eve’s grip tightens and I let go, howling in pain. She snatches it it, making her way to Uncle Jeb already up on his feet. Dad’s getting up from floor, his face streaked with blood. Aunt Vera is against the wall, clutching her belly. Uncle Jeb’s has just gotten the ledger in his hands, when as Dad’s fist smashes into his temple. It sends him reeling on the big couch. Dad’s glasses are smudged, bent out of shape. Uncle Jeb is choking, spitting out his own blood. Aunt Vera is screaming something at the top of her lungs, too hysterical to even make out. Everything becomes fuzzy, the edges sinking away out of everything. My ears are ringing and I’m feeling sore and dirty all over but I can make it out perfectly now:

The raspy, hoarse sound the ogre makes.


He’s laughing. We’re killing ourselves for him and he’s laughing. He’s having his chuckle as his own children fight like animals.


“Daaaad!” I scream, over the howling and the growling and the screaming and Vera’s bawling and Eve’s weeping. They stop,  just long enough to see what me pointing at the ogre with my grimy hands, let them take a good long look at his rotted tree-bark face. At the way his false-teeth rattle against the gums, how they fall out of that slit of a mouth and tumble down to his lap. The ogre stops, too late. The game is over now, for good. Dad lets go of Uncle Jeb, hands shaking. Aunt Vera stumbles on her feet. Tears roll down Cousin Eve’s red-raw cheeks. Patent leather shoes crunch on the shattered remains of wine glasses. Uncle Jeb puts down the ashtray he was about to brain Dad with. The ledger’s still in his hand.


“Well then.” the ogre says, the cat-smile crawling across his toothless, collapsed lips. “I guess Jeb wins this one.” His gnarled fingers grasp the false-teeth, set it back into his mouth. “Good boy, Jeb.” is all he says as he wheels himself back to the head of the table. Uncle Jeb’s shaking all over. The ledger’s a bloody, pulpy mess in his hands. He opens it up to see, making out the smudged mess of a sum on the last page.


“You vulture. You dirty bastard vulture.” Aunt Vera breathes out. The ogre waves her away. “Don’t be a sore loser, Vera.” just like that. And I know that Aunt Vera could just reach out and choke the life out of him right then and there and no one would stop her. All she would have to do is put her thumbs against his windpipe and clench them shut. It wouldn’t even be a fight. But she doesn’t. None of them do it. I watch Dad and Uncle Jeb and Aunt Vera as they file out of the door, not a word exchanged between them. There’s a patch of hair missing from the back of Dad’s head, torn out. Aunt Vera’s nose is bent the wrong way, bleeding. A bruise is blooming over Eve’s right eye. I know that I’m never going to see her again. The ogre is still at the table, his eyes fixed into mine. A vein’s throbbing on the top of his head. “Don’t you look at me like that, you little creep. I’m not old enough to come over there.” he grumbles at me.


Dad reaches out for Aunt Vera in the drive way. She’s fumbling with her car keys, struggles to fit them in the latch. She slaps his hand away. “Don’t” she whimpers. Dad doesn’t push it. We watch as Uncle Jeb speeds away from the curb, his car fishtailing as he takes the next turn. Aunt Vera is gone in the blink of an eye, clipping one of the hedges as she goes. “Easy now” Dad tells me, then suddenly goes pale when he tries for the passenger door. He pats himself down. “I left my car keys back there. You wait here” he says. He looks horrified.


“It’s okay. I’ll go get them.” I say. Dad looks relieved and terrified at the same time. Even now he’s still afraid of the ogre. I am, too. But I hate him so much more than Dad ever will. If Dad’s hatred for the ogre is a black iron ball, then mine’s the size of an island. Big and roiling and black than a starless night. Halfway up the stairs, I notice that the door is halfway open. None of the grown-ups bothered to lock it. It creaks on its hinges like a cheap horror movie sound effect. My eyes look around the ruined living room, drift down to the streaks of drying brown on the wall and the carpet at the fine powder of glass peppered around the dining room table. A soft, rasping sound catches my attention. I turn my head, thinking that the ogre’s somehow sneaked up on me, his hands reaching out to grasp me, his thin, scrawny legs rushing toward me with inhuman strides. I bite my lip to keep myself from screaming as I turn around…


Except there’s no one there.


The tiny sound comes again. ‘Ack, ack’ it goes. Like a pigeon’s heartbeat, dying with its wing crushed by a passing car. It’s coming from under the table. My eyes scan the room. Dad’s car keys are on the tablecloth. Tip-toeing on the tiles, I go for it, stopping only to make sure that the ogre hasn’t set a trap. My hand darts out and I clutch the keys in my palm. They’re in my pocket in the next heartbeat. I’m about to head back, when the sound comes again.


‘Ack, ack, ack’


And my heart plops down into my stomach. My knees turn into jelly and I know, I just know that I have to look under the table. I wrap my fingers around the fabric, take a deep breath, plunge under it.


The ogre’s there,. His eyes are wide open. His mouth is a glistening 0-shape, his tongue hanging out. “Ack, ack” it goes. The left side of his face is frozen in horror. The right’s hanging limply. The veins on his bald head are sticking out, throbbing weakly. There’s a patch of red just under the skin of his left eye. The doctors had told him to watch for a stroke. They’d had Dad and Uncle Jeb and Aunt Vera swear up and down that they wouldn’t over exert him.


I feel the ogre’s hand grasping my wrist, holding on to it. He tries to say something, but his lips move uselessly. His plea is just a string of nonsense. Slapping his hand away, I let the tablecloth drape over his body and walk away. Just to make sure, I slam the door behind me shut and walk to Dad, giving him my best frustrated expression as I hand him the car keys. “Can we go now?” I tell him. Dad doesn’t suspect a thing. He has no idea that the ogre’s dying in the living room. I won’t tell him until at least tomorrow. Or the day after that, just to make sure.


“Sure thing. You wanna grab some ice-cream?” Dad says. I nod, smiling. It sounds like a great plan.
Eyes For Holes, Holes for Eyes
01 Jun 2019

 

Published in Issue 3, Volume 10 Schlock! Magazine 


The second time Alesha Newton saw Isaac Nielsen, she was rushing out from her monochromatic prison, blinking the memory of gunmetal-grey swamp water away from her carnivore-green eyes.

As usual, she pushed herself against the yielding membrane that was the inside of a flat-screen TV. She let gravity overtake her, allowed her body to flop halfway into reality. Alesha dragged her body across the hardwood floor and prepared herself to pounce.

When she looked up, Alesha saw a linen tablecloth and porcelain plates ringing a single licorice-scented candle. She caught the faintest whiff of fresh-cut roses and the scent of a man who was not pissing himself in fear for the very first time in decades.

Isaac Newton sat in his discount IKEA couch, bouquet of flowers in hand.

“Thought you might be hungry” he said. Alesha very nearly fainted.

***

Alesha’s manifestations had long since become a chore for her.

She would felt the short, forceful prodding of the endlessly repeating hell around her subside; the black-and-white loop that she had been mired in subsided, if only for an instant.

Alesha would feel herself drawn toward a viewer’s like a moth to a flame. Slowly, she would uncoil her body from the clawed her way back to the surface of scummy water, dragging the dumbbells strapped around her neck along for the ride.

Nothing worked as it should in Alesha’s personal hell: the water was gummy and malleable, like silly putty; the air was a malleable almost-gas that she could latch on to. She found great joy in distorting the landscape around her, twisting it into esoteric messages that her victims would obsess over before she pounced.

She would come at them like a stop-motion cheetah, moving deceptively slow, skipping frames in between blinks of an eye. One last game of green light/red light, before the bitter end.

Alesha didn’t kill through sorcery or with occult toxicity. She didn’t bare herself as the hellspawn that she was or force the beholder to stare into the red, glistening guts of the universe. She would only straddle them and whisper…

“Help me”

Over and over again, but all they would do is scream themselves hoarse, let their hair go white with horror, soil themselves as their hearts ceased to beat from the horror of the dead girl. Once the awful mess was done, Alesha would simply drag her dumbbell weights right back into the monochromatic hell and wait, in her perpetual swamp.

***

Isaac Nielsen knew that he was madly in love with Alesha Newton since the very first time he saw her crawl out of the TV screen and flop on his then-girlfriend’s carpet. Later, he would tell himself that it was Alesha’s almost spiderly grace that had drawn him to her, the erotic way in which her blue-black tongue lolled in her mouth when she moaned.

Wine bottle in hand, Isaac watched as the girl of his dreams straddled his ex and moaned against her face. The sight of her blackened teeth on her bloated, water-logged face sent blood rushing down to his cock.

A thought-shattering orgasm overtook him, as he watched Alesha kill his girlfriend by inches in her grasp. He blacked out halfway through his third release, coming back to his senses just in time to watch Alesha crawl feet first back into the TV screen.

Isaac checked the woman on the couch, her beauty shattered by the awfully hinging jaw and the shock of white where an auburn cascade of hair should be.

Later, Isaac realized that his most lasting memory of the day was how much Alesha’s hair smelled like roses spiked with freon.

***

Isaac went through the motions of testifying to the homicide department, consoling and being consoled by friends and family, being interviewed by every local tabloid. It gave him enough time to make the HR department pretend-fire him from his job, get away from his friends and use the tabloid royalties and his severance pay to try and find the girl that had crawled out of the screen.

Isaac looked for her by using the expertise of ‘ghost hunters’. He tried a séance, run by a jittery Roma woman. He consulted closet necrophiliacs with a taste for the occult, attended cult meetings and had long, soul-searching talks with paranormal investigators trawling for clients in anonymous internet boards. He hung around with people who claimed they could traverse the unknowable dimensions below through the use of illegal recreational drugs, got mired with a group of Deep Web pretend hackers with a penchant for tall tales, ended up stranded in a New England fishing town following a nonsense lead and finally settled for an off-hand purchase of a haunted DVD off a used pornography website.

The DVD was called the “Retch Reel”. It was delivered to Isaac’s address in a clear plastic case, written in felt-tipped marker. Its back was solid black, like an old console game.

Just finding it made Isaac so happy, he even visited his mother, just so she could hear the good news.

***

Isaac Nielsen had promised his hypochondriac mother that he would never get himself a credit card or ever use the ‘Internets’. Both of these things were the tools of the Antichrist, come to Earth in the guise of Joseph Reynolds, their next-door octogenarian neighbor.

His mother scoffed at him, staring through the hazmat suit visor she had forced him to wear. This week, she was convinced that she was dying from Beri-Beri disease, which she had caught from Thursday’s Ethiopean take-out. White noise was pouring from his mother’s hi-fi speakers, obscuring their conversation from the ever prying ears of Joseph Reynolds, born of Jackal and mortal woman.

“He watches, always watches, the Adversary…” his mother shouted in his ear “We must be ever watchful.”

“I met a girl mom. On the Internet.” Isaac shouted in vain.

“I saw one of his people today, watching me from the windows across the street. I think he was trying to read my lips.” she shouted conspiratorially.

“She’s really nice. But I think she could kill me.” Isaac said, unheard.

“They thought they would break my spirit, bring me over to their side with their false splendor. They called me the other day and wanted to give me a TV set, for free! Can you believe that? In exchange for my name and address, they would send me a brand new TV! I hung up on them, of course.”

“You ordered that TV a month ago, mom. You must have forgot about it.” Isaac said.

“They knocked on my door and tried to deliver it to me by force. Satan’s footsoldiers are always ham-handed beasts. But I held them off, I did. Kept myself pure.”

“You beat one of the delivery men over the head with your broom handle. You’re lucky he didn’t press charges.” Isaac corrected her, unheard still.

“You father would have let them bring it in, the weakling. It was his weakness that drove him out the kitchen window.”

“Mom, please. I need to talk to you about this girl…”

“Oh Isaac” his mother said, caressing the clear plastic visor with the tip of her fingers. “Thank God I was there…thank God I made you strong…”

“I might not be back mom. I love you.” Isaac blurted out, teary-eyed.

“Please, Isaac, I cannot hold you. Not with this terrible illness. Please, go. Go away.” she said.

Isaac half-ran all the way back home and began to plan his date.

***

Before placing the DVD in the player, Isaac went to his bathroom and shaved. He had long hot shower, spent two hours trying to pick an outfit, settled for a plain t-shirt and jeans and pressed PLAY.

A short clip, reproduced from an old VHS tape, played out on his screen. It was footage from a girl’s birthday party. Track lines obscured her face. A glitter-choked HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALESHA banner hung over her.

The girl looked down at her strawberry flavored birthday cake, examining the candle, shaped like an eight. A woman’s voice softly sang:

“Happy birthday to you…”

The candle’s wicker sputtered, before spontaneously lighting up. The girl looked up at the camera, her face going out of focus.

“Happy birth…day…” the woman’s voice petered out.

“To…you…” a man’s voice chimed in.

The candle was lit now, a tiny little flame burning at the top.

“Happy…birth…day…Alesha…” the woman’s voice was choked, terrified.

“Make a wish, sweetie!” the man’s voice blurted out, as the candle flame grew in intensity. The candle wax began to melt all over the frosting.

“How come no-one came?” the little girl said.

“Make a wish, sweetheart, blow the candles!” the man said, his voice demanding.

“Why didn’t no-one come to my party?” the girl demanded. The fire grew, melting away the layers of frosting.

“Please, baby, just…blow the candle. Please, sweetie…” the woman begged.

“Why does everybody hate me?” the girl asked.

“Just blow the goddamn candles!” the man screamed.

And then there was static. An awful whistling noise pierced Isaac’s ears. He was about to stop it, when he saw:

A great grey field, dead grey trees jutting from its surface, their dried branches reaching for the grey sky, a grey wind upsetting the waters of a grey lake.

A blue-tinted drowned dining room, a hundred-year-old child, a woman with holes for eyes, an empty chair where the father would sit, a broken window behind him, looking out to a drowned street.

A woman resting on a morgue drawer, prettier than Monroe, lustier than a pornstar, fingering the Y-shaped scar on across her chest, between her breasts, mouthing silent obscenities. Isaac found himself aroused at the sight.

Disembodies hands clawing, at the walls of a house hewn from bone.

A birthday candle’s flame, illuminating a dark room, infested with skittering, all-too-human things.

A sack, sewn with threads made of sinew, something small and helpless silently struggling to free itself from within.

A face looking back at him, infinitely reflected through a roomful of mirrors, its features distorted and blurring.

A woman, sitting on a high-backed chair in the middle of a room made out of eyes and hands and torsos. Faces creeping in from the edge of the frame to stare at him.

Static and a high-pitched wine, drowning out a voice that said:

“Help me”.

The ‘Retching Reel’ ended. Isaac found himself feeling uneasy, very much ill. He sat with his knees folded all the way up to his chest, staring at the empty screen. The DVD player’s tiny screen blinked at him menacingly.

The phone rang. Isaac squealed at the top of his lungs. He let it rig twice, before picking it up.

“Hello?”

The whine of static. “…me…” a girl’s voice, barely heard over the maelstrom of dead noise.

“Hello, can you hear me?”

“…please help…” the maelstrom subsiding, the voice heard more clearly.

“My name’s Isaac. Isaac Nielsen. I want…” he muttered, the words sticking in his throat.

“…Please help me…” her voice was barely above a whisper, the words crawling through the speaker and into his ear, laying there to nest.

Click.

“I want to see you…” Isaac said against the forbidding tone at the other end.

Isaac fought back the rising wave of panic, took a deep breath and then star-69’ed her call.

There was a ring on his phone, which seemed to echo through infinitely empty corridors.

Another ring, this one tinged with the purring sound of great cats on the prowl.

A ring that sounded like glass marbles, tumbling down the staircase the day grandma slipped and busted her neck.

And then silence, preceded by a click, the sound of a receiver picked up.

“Hello?” Isaac asked.

“Who is this?” a voice. A woman’s voice. Isaac’s knees wobbled.

“My name is Isaac Nielsen. I believe that you called me.”

“How did you even…” the woman stuttered. Isaac made his move before she could hang up.

“I saw you the other day. You crawled out of the TV screen and killed my ex-girlfriend.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it. Listen, can we like, meet?” Isaac said, his heart racing.

“See me? See me how?”

“Like, up close In the flesh? Dinner and a movie?”

There was silence for a while. Isaac realized he sounded ridiculous.

“I don’t do dinners.”

“Just a movie then?”

“Is this some sort of joke?”

“No. It’s not. This is just me, trying to ask you out on a date, not afraid to make myself sound like an ass. Throw me a bone?”

“I need to think about it.” And then the crash of an imaginary speaker on an insubstantial phone, followed by the wail of a call-tone.

***

Against his better judgment, Isaac went to tell his mother the good news. He made sure to pack his hazmat suit, so he could shield himself from his mother’s current bout of pretend-schistosomiasis. The speakers were blaring out Johnny Cash’s greatest hits, in an effort to drive away the Adversary.

“I’ve got a date, mom!” Isaac screamed at his mother, as she was busy running her fingers over her flaccid belly, searching for parasites nesting under her skin.

“Oh, Isaac, that’s wonderful!”

“I need some advice.”

“Just take her out for dinner and a movie.” his mother said, as she fingered her navel in search for parasites. “It’s not rocket science, Isaac.”

“She doesn’t do movies. And she’s not really big on dinners. Honestly, I’m stumped.”

“Send her some flowers, then. Call the radio station, tell them to play something nice for her. Could you pass me the boning knife, sweetie?”

“I don’t think that’s possible, mom. She’s kind of a loner.” Isaac said as he came back from the kitchen, Kutting Blok™ boning knife in hand.

“Don’t be silly, Isaac. She’s just playing hard to get. Just call her with some Presley playing over the speaker and her knees will turn to jell-o. Hold my blouse, will you, Isaac?”

“What if she hangs up?” Isaac asked, as his mother prodded her imaginary bump in her navel, boning knife in hand.

“She won’t if you go with ‘Love me Tender’. That’s how your dad got me.” Isaac’s mother said, as she plunged the boning knife all the way to the hilt.

“Thanks mom!” Isaac said. He let go of her blouse just as his mother dropped to the floor with 5 inches of steel buried in her belly. He tip-toed around the blood pooling in the carpet and head back home, just as Johnny broke into a song about a boy named Sue.

***

Isaac decided he didn’t want to come off too strong, so he popped in the “Retch Reel” and watched it. When the phone didn’t ring, he watched it again. After taking a 5-minute break, he want back in and put the player on repeat.

The phone rang at 3 a.m. in the morning, halfway through his two hundredth repeat viewing.

“Hello?” Alesha whispered from the other end.

“Hey there.” Isaac blurted out, hoping that the desperation didn’t come out too strong from the other end.

“Am I calling at a bad time?”

“No. My mom just died.” Isaac said, matter-of-factly.

“I’m sorry.” she said and Isaac said thanks, but neither meant it.

“I want to see you.” Isaac said “When can I see you?”

“You can’t. I’d kill you.” Alesha said, but she wasn’t sure she meant it.

“Oh come on.” Isaac replied, pacing across his living room. “It won’t be that bad.”

“You don’t understand. ‘ve never met anyone that hasn’t died, as soon as they saw me.” Alesha explained. Isaac browsed through his music folder and clicked on a song.

“Sounds like quitting talk to me, Alesha.” Isaac said, as Elvis Presley’s voice started to trickle through the speakers like honey.

“Isaac, I’m telling you…” she stopped mid-sentence. “Is that ‘Love me Tender’?”

“Yes, yes it is.”

“Is it for me?”

“When can I see you?”

“Isaac, I…”

“When. Can. I. See. You.”

“Isaac… tomorrow. Can I show up around 8?” she replied and Isaac could feel her blushing through the receiver.

“Sounds great.”

“Good night, Isaac.”

“Good night, Alesha.” Isaac said. He did a little jig before collapsing into his couch.

***

Isaac’s reverie was broken the following day, after being called in to the precinct to identify his mother’s body. He was later questioned by the detective who had taken up his ex-girlfriend’s case, who grilled him for the better part of six hours.

In light of the circumstances, Isaac lied: he did it with such gusto and skill, he even surprised himself, making sure to stick to hard facts without embellishing any of his excuses.

Yes, this was his mother. No, he did not know how that happened. Yes, his mother was not entirely sane. No, he did not bear any ill will toward her. Yes, his mother did suffer from chronic delusions regarding to her health. No, he had never once goaded her toward her delusions.

It was around quarter to 8 when Isaac finally realized that he was going to be stand up Alesha for their date, so he settled for an outburst of very convincing fake tears, before finally being excused.

***

When Isaac got back home at 9 o’clock, there was static on the TV screen. The room smelled like roses spiked with Freon. His phone was ringing furiously.

“You stood me up” Alesha said.

“I was in for questioning!” Isaac pleaded.

“Liar. You chickened out.”

“I was in the police station. I was being questioned for hours!”

“Why?”

“They think I killed my mother.”

“Did you?” Alesha said, excited.

“No, I just didn’t help her.” Isaac admitted and there was a warm glow in his belly.

“Alright. I’ll bite. Can I see you tomorrow?”

“No, they’re probably going to call me in again tomorrow. How about an hour from now?”

“All right. But that’s your last chance. Make it count.” she said.

***

All in all, Isaac did a great job of disguising his Italian take-out dinner for two into an actual home-cooked meal. Alesha didn’t have any, but he picked at it, for the normalcy’s sake.

They talked until morning, about the mundane details of each others’ lives. Alesha told him about her monochromatic prison and Isaac told him about life with his mother. She told him about the way the little people in her home town treated her, terrified of her power. He told her how his mother had driven his father to suicide.

She told him how the children in her home town had shunned her, when she made the writing on the blackboard dance in the middle of a pop quiz. He told her about Cynthia and her controlling attitude that had stifled him for nearly half a decade.

She told him about the mob that had come to her house to kill her, after she broke every bone in Diana Miller’s body. The homecoming queen had run over Alesha’s cat in her brand new convertible. Isaac told her how beautiful she looked that night.

When they were done reminiscing, they lingered in the calm of Isaac’s apartment, savoring the silence.

“I can’t stay here. Not because I don’t like you.” Alesha said, finally. “There’s something I haven’t told you yet.”

“Let’s hear it then.”

“I’m dead, Isaac. When the mob got to my house, they trapped me inside, set it on fire. I crawled out, but they wrapped dumbbells around my neck and drowned me in the lake. I only survived because I projected myself inside someone’s smartphone camera. They were recording the whole thing. I’ve been keeping myself alive by powering myself with rage.”

“Okay, but why can’t you stay?”

“Because I’ve been holding myself back with everything I’ve got, Isaac. If I let go, even for a second, my power would leave you severely brain damaged at best.” Her form wavered for a second, her face turning into a blur.

Isaac was silent for a while, then said: “What about your DVD, then? Can you control yourself in there?”

“Of course I can. But you can’t come with me, Isaac. Not in there.”

“What if I really want to?”

“Isaac, it’s hell in there. There’s no color, no sound. There’s only the trees, the lake…I couldn’t possibly ask you to move in there with me!” Alesha protested.

“But I’ll be safe in there from you, right? And besides, how bad could it be if we’re going to be together?” Isaac said.

“You’d have to die to be in there, Isaac.”

“Okay then. Will suicide do?”

“You’re insane.”

“I’m in love. Same thing, when you get right down to it.”

Alesha watched Isaac’s cocky grin melt away into a warm, reassuring smile.

“Allright.”

***

They found Isaac’s body two days later, his limbs contorted and his face twisted in a horrific visage. His partially censored mugshot made the rounds in the 10 o’clock news.

The forensic specialists ran the “Retch Reel”. All they got when they tried it was a constant loop of an endless gray field under a gunmetal-grey sky, with grey trees surrounding a lifeless lake with a small house set on its banks. The crooked chimney was smoking grey gouts of smoke. A distorted rocking chair was swaying in a silent breeze. A man and a woman stood with their backs to the viewer, their feet dipped inside the murky waters.

From time to time, the picture would distort; tracking lines would run across the image and then the man and the woman pop up inside the house. Other times, they would disappear altogether, leaving the trees twisted into strange, calming configurations.

In time, the DVD in police custody was also misplaced. Alesha Newton became a footnote in small town horror story. Isaac Nielsen was forgotten. Across the world, copies of the “Retch Reel” began to disappear. Those that remained, had been robbed of their gruesome charm.

All that was left of the terror was the occasional muffled ring of Isaac’s old phone, stashed under layers of old junk in some nameless warehouse.

It was said that every now and again, some stupid teenager searches for the phone and picks it up, as part of a dare. A man’s voice screams for the other end, before it’s vut off by a blood-chilling shriek:

“Help Me.”

The teenagers that don’t just drop the phone and run like hell, usually hear the distant sound of a man and a woman laughing their asses off, before hanging up.


Marbo, Kallo And the Goblins
01 Jun 2019
Published in Issue 2, Volume 10 Schlock! Magazine 


Once upon a time, before mankind could dispel night with the flick of a switch and when the winters were cold and killing, when the gears of the world ground thanks to the muscle of man and beast with blood for fuel, a widow gave birth to twin girls on the night she was told of her husband’s death.

She screamed and she kicked and she called out for him, even though she knew he was dead, until finally, with one great push, gave birth to a little girl. She held the screaming infant in her arms, but as she looked upon it closer in the lamplight, she wept and cried and beat her chest. For the babe had been born with a hunchback and great long teeth and eyes narrow and slitted, like a snake’s.

“Christ and his Mother in Heaven! How happy it makes me now, to know that my husband is dead and did not see this terror.” Hardly had she spoken the words, when the convulsions began anew. Before she even knew it, the widow gve birth to another girl, who she beheld in the lamplight and exclaimed:

“I take back what I said; this little thing is the very picture of delight!”

Exhausted, she cut the umbilical cords of both girls with the knife and fell asleep halfway through nursing them, even through the first one’s teeth would bite into her nipples and occasionally draw blood, threatening to rouse her from her slumber. But the other would be quiet and careful and not make a sound, easing the widow’s mind and letting her sleep her dreamless sleep.

The children were both girls and they grew up so fast, that the widow barely had time to think back and mourn her husband, until she gave up the black and everyone forgot she was a widow and called her mother instead.

The first-born girl, who was uglier than sin when she was born, did not get any prettier. She grew to be taller than a boy and stronger too. Long, coarse hair coated her arms and her long teeth grew longer, the hump on her back grew bigger, her toad-green eyes became narrower. Boys no longer made fun of her, but feared her. When one of them got careless, the first-born girl would catch up with him with barely two great strides and then knock him on the ground with one blow.

She was tough as marble and with strength to match, which is why her mother named her Marbo.

The second-born girl, on the other hand, who was the most beautiful baby in the village when she was born, grew up to be the very picture of delight. She grew up to the perfect height and her legs were long and slender. Her arms were milky white her teeth appeared in her smile like diamonds set up by a craftsman, her back straight and her waist narrow, her maiden-blue eyes big and round and observant. Boys never made fun of her and in fact, bent themselves over backwards to woo her. But the second-born girl would deny them all, for her sister’s sake, who she could not bear to see hurt.

She was prettier than the moon’s reflection in a lake and had a soul to match, which is why her mother chose the prettiest name she could find. She named her after the word her ancestors used for beauty and thus named her Kallo.

When Marbo and Kallo came of marrying age, their mother left the village and headed to a nearby town, to look for proper grooms. The men in the town had heard of Kallo’s unsurpassed beauty and followed the mother to her home, where they brought her silk and mother-of-pearl and inquired naught of her dowry, asking only her hand and promising riches. But Kallo would turn them down, telling them she’d marry after her sister had found a husband of her very own. But when the grooms looked at Marbo, they would ask for six times her dowry and the mother would weep and they’d return to town, their offers of marriage revoked.

So the mother went to the village soothsayer with a bag of wheat and asked her to give her answer, a way out of her conundrum. The soothsayer (who had been older than the village itself) looked at the wheat, stirred it over and over in her hands, then said:

“I cannot make out your daughters’ futures in the wheat. It’s too coarse and hard.” Handing the bag of wheat back to the mother, she said: “Have your daughters take the wheat to the miller, ground it into flour.”

“But tomorrow’s Christmas!” the mother exclaimed “and the miller won’t be working.”

“Then have them take it to him today. His mill won’t have ground any wheat today and so the flour will be purer. It will help me see the future all the clearer.” ,said the soothsayer, running her tongue across her toothless gums, a glint in her eye.

The mother hung her head at the soothsayer’s news, but went back home anyway and handed her daughters the sack of wheat and bid them to go to the miller and have it ground by tonight. In vain did Marbo protest that it would take them near the whole day just to get there and Kallo that tomorrow was Christmas and that they wouldn’t bear being away from home. The mother only commanded the girls and sent them on their way.

By the time the girls reached the mill, the sun had already hid behind Kissavos. Kallo cried that they would not make it in time, but Marbo only grunted and picked her up on her shoulder with one hand, the bag of wheat on the other and reached the mill in an hour, without even breaking a sweat.

The moon was slowly rising from her resting place, when Marbo knocked on the mill’s door so hard that the plaster on the walls shook. Upon receiving no answer, Kallo climbed on her sister’s shoulders and looked through the window. The mill was silent and seemed deserted, but for a hunched old man by the fire, whom the girls knew to be the miller.

“Push me just a bit higher, Marbo” Kallo said. “I’ll climb up the window and go stir the miller from his sleep, so we may be done and get back home before the dawn.”

With a flex of her muscles, Marbo shoved Kallo into the window and inside the mill. But as the girl approached the miller, she noticed how still he was, how perfectly and utterly at peace. She gently nudged his arm, when she saw the great wooden spike that had been driven through his neck and up his skull, transfixing him to the floor, his vacant eyes staring into the fire in horror and disbelief.

Kallo tried her best not to scream. She would have done it too, had she not heard the thumping of something round and hard down the steps and seen the miller’s wife’s head roll down the wooden steps and land by her feet. She saw that her ears and nose had been cut off and hair had been torn.

As if stepping from the shadow or conjured by the fire’s smoke, short and wicked forms burst before her and around her. They were short creatures with crooked noses and skin as black as coal, with eyes that were large and without pupils, the color of murder. In their long, clawed arms they held axes and lashes and a few of them the arms of the miller’s wife. They stared at Kallo and grinned their tooth-filled grin. The girl screamed.

Marbo, who heard her sister’s screams, began to pound on the thick wooden door with her shoulder, to no avail. She ran down the slope and found herself a young oak tree, which she uprooted with her bare hands and ran back to use it as a ram.

Kallo knew what the creatures were, those short and crooked little horrors. She saw their stone axes and their bent backs and their long, dirty berets and knew them for goblins. Of course, she thought. It’s Christmas eve, today! She thought of the warnings, that her mother had taken for tall tales: of the wicked, spiteful goblins, hacking and sawing at the foundations of the world all year, given free reign on the surface only on the night of Christmas eve.

The head of the goblins, who wore the miller’s donkey’s head on his brow like a crown, clotted blood running down his face, jumped on the dead man’s back and stood face to face with Kallo.

“What have we here, then? Pretty little thing. Bet your milky-white skin would make a pretty coat.”

“I want her eyes, to make earrings out of for my beloved!” said the second in command.

“And her teeth! Her teeth will make a fine necklace for my daughter’s dowry!” said the eldest goblin, whose daughter’s dowry, the others knew, was his only chance of ever marrying her off.

Kallo kept backing away as the goblins advanced on her, dividing her into spoils even as she stood there. She looked at their long, clicking teeth and their green tongues that spoke her name and heard the sound of whetstones grinding their axes, when her heel struck the miller’s dinner plate and she heard the sound of bone rattling on the wooden boards. Kallo looked down then and saw the thighbone of a pig, near stripped of meat, which was probably the miller’s last meal.

Without thinking, the girl grabbed the bone and swung it at the small goblin that had reached her, the blow striking it across the forehead. There was a short exclamation, a crunching sound and the goblins ceased their babbling at once, as they saw the bone planted on their brother’s forehead halfway through his brain. With a stutter and a mutter and a torrent of brain and blood, the goblin fell dead on the floor.

At once, the goblins moved to grab the girl, who started running for her life, thinking back to the goblins’ weaknesses that the priest had told them about when they were but toddlers: the pig’s thighbone, that killed them in one blow. The blessing of a house’s threshold, that drove them away and holy water, which made their skins blister and boil. The burning of hemlock, that choked them. And lastly, the sign of the Cross, which made them sick to their stomachs. Kallo fingered her little wooden cross, but did not know whether this would be enough. Screaming for her sister, she ran upstairs, looking for shelter.

It was then that Marbo reached the door with her oak-tree ram and slammed it against the iron-bound wood. Smashed it once, twice, three times, cracking the wood and breaking the hinges. On her fourth blow, the mill’s door did crumble and fall on the floor and Marbo burst in, roaring her sister’s name.

Half the goblins stopped dead on their tracks at the sound of Marbo’s roar, which made even the mill’s great stone wheel rattle on its thick axle. The leader of the goblins sent his best men to check on it and kill whoever might have come to take away their prized woman. But as the half dozen goblin men came down the steps, axes and lashes at the ready, expecting perhaps a crazed beast or a foolhardy man, they found Marbo and they quaked with fear.

The bravest among them charged her, axe in hand, but the girl grabbed his arm, stopping him mid-blow, bringing the axe back down on his head again and again and again.  They heard her crush his skull and crack his bones and would have fallen back, had not their second-in-command lashed at them and screamed.

Howling, the goblins fell on Marbo and grabbed her arms, bit her legs and ripped at her dress but the girl, who was stronger than an ox tossed them off her like they were ragdolls. She broke their arms and smashed their heads against the floorboards under the heel of her boot. She ripped at their necks with her long sharp teeth, making her way up the stairs and when the goblin on the steps lashed at her, Marbo let his whip coil round her arm and pulled him close, driving her fist through his ribcage. The goblin died, his feet kicking at empty air, as he felt her fist bore through flesh and his bone, crushing his spine at the end.

As the carnage downstairs went on, Kallo had locked herself in the miller’s bedroom, where his son had been tied to the bed, bleeding from the head where the goblins had lopped off his ear. Crying, she undid his gag and shook him to cease his babbling.

“Where did your mother keep the Cross?” she shook him. When the miller’s son kept babbling, she struck him across the face and asked again:  “You will not die tonight and neither will I. Where did your mother keep the Cross?”

The miller’s son pointed with his chin at the chest at the foot of the bed. Kallo reached it and saw it was locked. Panic settled in, as she tried to pry the lid open, even as the goblins hacked at the door, breaking through the wood. Kallo stopped then, trying to gather her thoughts over the screaming and the babbling and the weeping. It was then that the moon shone through the bedroom window, making the shadows grow long and Kallo found the answer to her trouble. She ran back and gagged the miller’s son again, as she took from his mother’s bedside the bone needles she used for weaving.

By the time the goblins tore down the door, Kallo had hid beneath the bed, praying but ready.

Marbo had made her way up the mill’s floor, the goblins scattering in her wake. Coated in their blood, her dress torn, her hair ruffled, she seemed to them like Saint Marina, come to bash the skulls of devils and break their spines on her knee. The few that foolishly stood in her way, Marbo killed with a swipe of her hand or the snap of her teeth, as their brothers dropped their weapons and ran for dear life.

Kallo saw the door torn down, the headman of the goblins walking in the room, his form all the more sinister in moonlight. His great hooked nose sniffed at the air and immediately he knew the scent of Kallo over the fear of the miller’s son. Raising his axe, he struck at the bed and cleft it in twain with one blow of his mighty muscles, nearly crushing the girl underneath it, sending the boy flying.

Kallo would have died right then and there, had she not raised the bone needles in front of the headman’s face, holding them so that they made the sign of the Cross. The headman screamed at the sight of the holy symbol, his skin writhing at the sight of it, his stomach churning. His men grew ill upon seeing it and backed away, as Kallo hunted them with her improvised weapon before her like a shield.

They ran, the headman and his chosen men, when they fell on Marbo, who had reached the miller’s bedroom, a trail of gore and broken bodies in her wake. Finding himself between the symbol of his enemy and Marbo, the headman jumped the first-born sister, choosing death in battle over dishonor.

Like a wolf, starved for weeks, he jumped on Marbo’s chest, clawing at her cheeks, biting at her neck and shoulders. Like a tigress, cornered by a hunter, Marbo fought back and they locked themselves in combat, as the rest of the goblins ran and hid in the shadows, silently praying that the morning would come and dispel them from this place of horror.

Kallo drove the goblins away with her cross and ran back to the miller’s son, helping him off his feet. He was quiet now, the pain of his severed ear and his fear forgotten, overshadowed by Kallo’s beauty. She looked back at him and blushed, noticing his longing, when suddenly she realized that Marbo’s and the headman’s screams had long since ceased and had now commenced anew, changed in some way that Kallo could not comprehend.

But as she and the miller’s son looked into the corridor and saw the fight between her sister and the headman having changed to a wholly different kind of struggle, they blushed and looked away, laughing.

As the rooster crowed, the goblin headman, spent by the long lovemaking, fell on his knee and gave Marbo his weapons and his garb, making his men kneel on his command:

“Come with me, Marbo, you terrible baccha of the battlefield. Come with me in the world below and you will be showered with diamonds and dwell in the caves below the mountains, where my myriad servants dwell, your every wish becoming true with a flick of your fingers! Come with me and I will give you more than any surface man could ever hope to give you!”

Marbo looked at the little crooked creature, its long teeth, its wicked claws and hump, its eyes filled with a kind of longing no man that dwelt upon God’s green earth would ever hold for her. She nodded her assent, embracing her sister and followed her groom into the shadowy places that led to caverns below, never to be seen again.

Kallo nursed the miller’s son’s wounds, who fell on his knee in turn that Christmas morning and bid the girl to bring her mother, that he could ask her hand in marriage in the proper manner. The girl rushed back home and recounted the horrific tale, her mother crossing herself, exclaiming in joy, then embracing her daughter. She roused the priest from his preparation of the litany in Christmas morning and led him to the mill. It was there that Kallo confessed to the priest the events of the last night: the murder of the miller’s parents, her narrow escape from the goblins. She spoke not a word of Marbo, telling the story in a way that would seem as if she died, taken by the goblins as a trophy.

The priest heard Kallo’s words and prayed for the miller’s son and her sister to. Then, the four of them buried his mother and his father and spoke the last rites, then went back to the village, to celebrate the marriage.

But as Kallo enjoyed the joys of the world above, so was Marbo showered in the glory of the world below. The headman, true to his word, showered her with gold and the precious stones found in the bowels of the earth. The goblin men, awed by her beauty, did sing ballads for her long sharp teeth and her killing blows. The women envied her and did her every bidding, seeking to both emulate her and surpass her, in vain.

As Kallo drank the sweet red wine of Thessaly’s vineyards, Marbo tasted the liquor from the roots of the trees. And as Kallo lived under the constant care of her husband, so was Marbo given her own retinue of servants to obey her.

Kallo lived upon the green earth, her ever loving husband by her side. Marbo was crowned queen among the goblins. And as Kallo lived to see sunrise after sunrise and rear a brood of children, so did Marbo lead her subjects and give her king twice as many children. And as Kallo grew old and saw her children live to ripe young ages, with a brood of grandchildren of her own, so did Marbo watch the caverns below become crowded with her progeny, a great iron crown on her brow.

And as Kallo gave her final breath and was lowered in the earth, so was Marbo ascended by her children, grandchildren and their children too, upward, there to meet with her sister and be with one another forever.


The Final Night
01 Jun 2019
Published in Issue 1, Volume 10 of Schlock! Magazine 


There must have been thousands standing in the rain that day. The skies had split open and the tears of the gods were pouring down on the patient earth with such volume as it had never been seen before. The water soaked our bodies and ran down our brows, to our eyes. We shivered, the thousands of us, but we stood and we held hands, as we watched the great hollow war-bird land.

It screeched like the predators of the rocky planes, spitting fire from its sides, gliding through the air. My eye caught the brief outlines of faces and bodies, as they stood packed behind the war-bird’s transparent skull.

With a jolt, the war-bird touched down on the muddy ground, the flames quenched. For long moments it stood still, as if counting our numbers, weighing our mettle against its own ferocity. Across the One-Mind, one of us was praying. Unbeknownst to me, I found myself praying too.

With a whirring noise, the war-bird opened its beak and disgorged its occupants, the way schwirm-floaters do, upon finding prey, spilling out acidic fluids over their victim. We heard their boots clang down on the war-bird’s beak and saw them march into formation, light-spitters at hand. In unison, we shivered and felt great anticipation across the One-Mind, our hated enemies standing before us at last, vastly outnumbered. We picked up on their fear and we silently rejoiced.

It was a while before the Most Important Human Among Them left the war-bird’s belly, clothed in regal form-fitting clothing, his form gaunt and tall. The One-Mind tasted his contempt and we fought back against the rising tide of anger among us. They were in our hearth now and they would be defenseless against us, should they dare threaten us.

The Most Important Human walked steadily, reaching the One-Father, leader to our tribe and father to us all. He clicked his heels and saluted, the tips of his fingers touching the rim of his cap, palm extended outward to show that he was without weapons. The irony of this motion, in contrast to the armed men in armor behind him was not lost to us.

“Satrap Donovan Ben-Azal Al’Quar, representing the PanHuman Empire.”

The One-Father nodded his head in assent, blinking the top set of his eyes and responding in kind:

“One-Father Juk’kul, representing the Tribe. You are here to negotiate the release of the August D’ross, given power by Imperial Command?”

“That is correct. You are to release Brigadier August D’ross immediately.”

“And in return…?”

“In return, I will guarantee that you, your tribe or your land will not suffer the effects of the standard procedure according to Protocol 5-B relating to xenomorphic races openly attacking an Imperial troop carrier ship and taking an officer hostage.”

There was a short pause among us in the One-Mind, as we leafed through the sum of our knowledge. Of our people, many had suffered under Imperial yoke and had some knowledge of its workings. It took us two beats of a heart to find what Protocol 5-B stood for. The Satrap that called himself Donovan Ben-Huir, as if somehow picking up on what we knew, smiled and said:

“If you return the hostage immediately, then I will make sure my people do not rain fire upon your bald grey heads and then land here so they can pick off what is left of you. I am your only friend in this, One-Father and I am willing to give you every chance to get out of this little mess you got yourselves into…alive.”

There was poisonous, fierce joy in his words. There were thoughts spiked with venom and a desperate need for us to deny him his request, so he could slaughter the Last Free Men of Nudai. My warrior-brothers however reassured me: they would gladly die and be burned. They would gladly risk having their ashes scattered in the Nothing-Outside-The-World, instead of living as slaves and stripping the planet that birthed them under Imperial rule.

The One-Father crossed his lower arms and said: “Will you then listen to us, friend? Will you heed our words and consider them, even? We will not ask for much or even for things beyond your Empire’s reach. You will have your August D’ross back, in exchange for a flick of the Empire’s tiniest finger.”

“I give you no guarantee.” the satrap said. There was the faintest motion on the fabric of his clothes, noticed by one of the Scout-brothers, so small that it barely registered.

“We ask that the Telekill field that is set around the border of our land is lifted, that we may once again speak to our brethren. Not for long, though. Only for the interval of five minutes, that we may re-establish contact and find our lost kin that is in your domain.”

“It cannot be done. I can, however, provide you with a list of the kin you seek and tell you what you wish to know.”

To deny us even this tiny request? To tear down our dream of uniting with the World-Dream? They came here and they cut us off from the Nudai! They tore our One-Mind into shreds, wounding our brains and now they will not even give us a drop of balm? We thought in unison. The outrage among us was growing. But the One-Father, with a gentle thought, calmed our turbulent minds.

“Then tell me, Satrap. What of Qui’Koom, chief of the Shadow Mountain Tribe?”

With a strange motion of his hand, the satrap called forth a ghost image of Nudai, its suns and moons (daughters and sons of the All-Father, first and foremost of all living things) orbiting our sweet home in perfect harmony. But the rolling hills had been paved with asphalt and plasteel that poisoned the sweet red grass and the mountains had been ground down to plains by terrible machines that screamed like flocks of death-birds. The ghost-image spun, flickered and then finally stopped to a shore near a circle sea, the waters now a murky black where the engines of the Empire had regurgitated their deadly cargo.

“Deceased.”

Those among us of the Shadow Mountain beat their chests and sang a mourning ululation, lamenting the marvels that their leader could have performed, rattling their glass bracelets in their hands.

“Of B’ruk then? He was head Seer of the Dimmed Eyes.”

Again the screen flickered and spun and this time it stopped over a place that was once the forest of the Baobab, home to the Verdant Sages. What it had now become, I dared not even think of it. The dirges of the Dimmed Eye tribesmen among us told me enough.

“Deceased.”

“Look for Oogmotsi; she was mother to a hundred warriors.”

“Deceased.”

On and on the list went and on and on the ghost-image of the nightmare of Nudai flickered and spun, each revolution bringing only news of death and the mind-cries of the survivors, as their last glimmers of hope died down and were swept away. And all this time the rain did pour on us and mixed with our tears, as if the gods could no longer hold back their grief at the news of the slaughter.

Wearied and nearly broken, the One-Father at last asked:

“What became of the Mau’ruk? They were a clan of a few hundred, but they were artists and poets. We would wish to reach them and hear one of their songs, if only for a moment, to ease our grieving Mind.”

The Satrap smiled then, a great wicked grin. Something terrible formed inside his thoughts and projected into our mind, gangrenous and sickly. He said, each word dripping sickly sweet malice:

“Id-shattered.”

At the sound of those words, a rage of such magnitude as one that had never before risen through the One-Mind rose up; bile and curses that had never been spoken formed and danced across our minds. Our other brethren had perished, but their collective thought had descended again into Nudai and would one day be reborn; but to be Mind torn, to live life with a brain shattered into a million pieces, this was punishment unfitting to even a human.

The One-Father fell to his knees then, but quickly regained his composure. He set his lower limbs onto his knees as he crossed his legs and hid his eyes with his higher limbs. He wept not, even as we all mourned the final loss of the brightest among us. He stood in silence for a long while, until the Satrap said:

“Any other requests that you would like to make?”

“Yes” answered the One-Father and there was malice in his voice and murder in his thought, eager to lash out against the minds of the gathered humans and drive them mad before killing them. “We would wish that the Empire would perish, its ships fall into distant suns, its people killed by fire and light and violence of great ferocity. We your world to be crushed into powder by a million guns, held by the people that you enslaved and killed and had their minds taken from them. We wish every child that was born today to live a slave and die in a pit and every last trace of you expunged from the Universe. We wish that by the time this is done, not even the memory of humanity remains.”

The light-spitter was in the Satrap’s hand before we even knew it, as if it had materialized from nothing. In the time of a thought, there was only a great hissing sound and then the thump of the One-Father’s body, as it fell lifeless into the mud.

“Request denied.” The Satrap said.

And inside our minds, there was a crashing and a roiling that tore us apart. As our collective power shattered and turned back on us, we fell on the ground and reeled, holding our heads with all our limbs, screaming like children at the first sight of the sun.

I barely held myself together, so I could pick up a rock and toss it at the war-bird as it began to ascend, before I too lost consciousness. When I woke there was only grieving and the sound of jumbled thoughts inside my head.

Fire came from the sky by nightfall. It scoured the Lost Valley and decimated our tribe. But we hid inside deep caves and waited, until the sky ceased spitting flame. We stayed in the dark and the cold as we saw the hated humans, clad in their precious armor, wielding their terrible weapons while they searched for us through the ashes and then we struck from afar, killing them all.

And when the next day they retaliated with more fire and with killing gas, we hid deeper and we fought on, reaching into their brains and destroying them. For every one we killed, they killed a hundred, yet in the end it was us who celebrated victories and sang songs inside the bowels of Nudai, instead of them.

Now we hide and we fight and they drive us deeper. And across the One-Mind, I feel my brethren worrying, thinking of the possibility of running out of ‘down’ for us to go to, of places for us to hide. Our places of refuge will soon run out. I know that we will die fighting.

It is not much of a life, but it is better than what we had.


Razor-Edge Tango
01 Jun 2019

Published in Schlock webzine's volume 4, issue 12 



“I got his money sugar, I swear I do!”

“Your money ain’t good enough no more, honey. Bent Nose Tony’s tired of you wasting his goddamn time. He told me: ‘Honey, Gio’s been yankin’ my chain way too long and I’m tired of his crap”. He told me: ‘You can tell him he can pay me back whenever he wants, as long as I’ve got some collateral’.”

“Wh-what kind of collateral?”

“He told me: ‘Get an ear or a finger offa him. Or maybe poke an eye out, I don’ care.’”

“Now wait a minute! I’m telling you, I’ve got the damn money! Thirty grand, interest and all! Here, count ‘em yourself! I was just gonna-”

“He told me: ‘He probably got the money, Gio’s resourceful. I respect that.’ He does, you know, he’s got you in very high regard. Says you’re the best bookie he ever had. But then he told me: ‘But I’m tired of his tricks and his grin and I’m tired of him talking me into deals all the damn time. I’m tired of Gio the bookie not paying me back in time and I’m tired of Gio the bookie takin’ me for a fool. So don’t take the interest. Just get my six grand and a piece of him as you go, then come straight to me, you hear?’”

Click.

“Now wait a minute, this is ridiculous! We can split the money! No, no, scratch that! You can take the interest! There’s twenty thousand here and you can have it as long as you don’t hurt me! That’s more than you’d take for a hit, isn’t it? That’s way more than anybody’s paid you, period! So please put the razor down and we can AAAGH!”

Flick. Flick. Flick.

“My dose! You gut ov my dose!”

“Ain’t done cutting yet, honey.”

Flick. Flick.

“OH GOD! OH GOD, PLEASE!”

“Shhh. You be quiet now. I’ll be done in a minute.”


She could still feel the blood on her hands, no matter how roughly she washed them, or how hot the running tap water was. She’d rubbed her skin with green soap and a really stiff brush. Sure, the red was gone and the clotted mess had been scraped off from under her nails. But she could feel the coagulation under her skin, coating her nerves and muscles, and caked over her knuckles.

Sometimes she’d forget herself and scrub so hard she’d almost break the skin. Tonight wasn’t the case. Tonight she felt so much better. Tonight she felt clean and happy, like she’d felt the day she talked daddy into smashing her baby sister’s toys along with hers as punishment.

Tonight, she felt like dancing.


He caught her eye as she scanned through the dancing throng:

“Who’s the square?”

“Who, him? I don’t know. Some nobody from out-of-town, I guess.” Gracey’s beehive coiffe bobbed in the rhythm of the music.

“He don’t look like a nobody.”

“No. He look like somebody stupid. Who comes here and flaunts his money like that in this neighbourhood?”

“Maybe he needs someone to give him directions. A helping hand, you know?”

“Oops. Looks like you’ll have to wait your turn, doll. He’s already chatting up Barb.”

“Barb? That little Polish cherry? She turning tricks now?”

“No, she’s one of them hard-boiled Catholics. Says she’s saving herself but then again, who’s-where you going?”

The man ignored her for a while, his piercing blue eyes following Barb’s little buck-toothed smile. She felt her blood boil, a flush rising up to her cheeks. She’d had a lot of reactions from men, but she’d never, ever been ignored!

She poked his shoulder and he kept on looking at Barb, his bright white grin gleaming as the night club’s lights struck it. He looked unreal then, an apparition as bizarre as the Cheshire Cat, its smile bigger than he was, his teeth unnaturally big. For a moment, she felt like he was going to start fading out of existence, wagging his thin, long head at Barb, his eyes not having once acknowledged her.

But then he turned toward her and smiled and for a moment she thought she saw something that was thin and gaunt and mad-eyed, its face some unnatural skull with great blue fires burning in its eye-sockets, its smile a great big wound that bled molten silver. She blinked and the face was normal again, a round unattractive visage with a million-dollar smile.

“Dance with me, mister?”

“I’m very sorry, miss, but I was talking to the lady and-”

“Did your mama never tell you to turn down girls who ask you for a dance? Or do you want me to get begging?”

“Give me a minute Barbara, be with you soon.”

She led him to the dance floor and he stumbled behind her, his leather pointed shoes squeaking on the waxed wooden boards, his free hand flailing. By the time they were on the floor, the pianist started tinkering with the keys. Short, sharp notes jumped around from the piano’s guts, jittery little things that rushed to meet their twins that popped out from the bass’ strings. Like one, the band picked up the tune and the girl on stage started singing, swaying her waist and winking knowingly at every man in the room, who blushed in unison.

Every man, but him. He did not bother with the girl. His hand instead snatched at hers, turning the grip to his favor. Suddenly she could tell: this man could dance. He pulled her to him, leading her on and she felt as if her body was no longer her own. Before she knew it, the song was over and reality slammed her brain back into its place behind her eyes. She found it hard to breathe; her lungs felt like they’d been set on fire, her skin was glistening with sweat. She leaned up to him, pouting her lips into what she thought was an invitation to a kiss, when she noticed the contempt in his eyes.

It was a living, writhing thing, like some strange, exotic snake. It shot from deep inside the blue in his eyes and slipped under its fangs under her skin. She felt it sink in deep, tearing into her soul and releasing its poison inside her. Her terror carried the venom into her heart and then a great big wave of shame filled her, a terrible feeling like her sins were bubbling over, rising up to drown her brain.

She heard the first man she’d ever hurt bawl his eyes out like a little baby, clutching at his hamstrung legs:

“Why ain’t you fighting back, daddy? Lost your nerve?”

She reminisced on that girl she’d hated for no particular reason, the way her tears mixed with the blood seeping from her wounded face:

“Gonna gut you, you little bitch. Gonn’ gut you an’ nobody’s gonna care.”

She thought about Tony, his face all flushed, his eyes bulging when he was done roaring at her:

“You never told me what parta him you wanted Tony, so I had to improvise…”

The grace from him was gone. His hands suddenly became spindly, weak little sticks which let her go and she stumbled back. She grabbed his tuxedo, creasing it. He just brushed her hands aside, the way a person might swat at a tiny bug and let her go.

She suddenly realized she felt nauseous. She rushed inside the bathroom without saying a word and retched inside one of the sinks until she was spitting only bile. The face on the mirror was her face, forty years from now, an old hag with a face like a malevolent prune and eyes like buttons.

Her knees suddenly letting go, she found herself kneeling in front of that sink, her eyes tearing up and bawled like a baby.


The old woman next door cringed as she dialed the phone number. She feared that her vacant-eyes neighbor might kick the door down any minute now.

“I’m so terribly worried about that girl next door.” Gladice said into the phone, lowering her voice despite herself.

“What’s wrong with her this time?” Hattie’s voice came from the speakers, a soft hush. Gladice could see her now, hunched over the phone, glancing over her shoulder at her husband, slouched on his armchair, his eyes fixed on the TV screen.

“Poor girl’s been locked in her apartment for a week now. Haven’t heard her walk out of there, not even once.”

“You think she’s dead?”

“No. I stuck my ear to the wall the other night and I heard her sobbing in her bedroom. Her bedroom and mine are right next to each other, you know.”

“Oh, I know…” said Hattie and Gladice swore she could feel her hot, burning cheek on hers though the speaker.

“I heard her moaning. But it wasn’t a good moan. She sounded like she was running a fever, speaking all kinds of gibberish. I tried knocking on her door, so I could check up on her, you know? I saw her up close and she was a mess, the poor dear.”

“Makes sense, if she’s got the flu.”

“She didn’t look like she was running no flu. Looked more like my Johnny, God rest his soul, the day he came back from Korea. Looked like she’d been through hell and come back to tell the tale.”

“What did she say?”

“Not a word. She just…stood there. I was so scared, Hattie. She looked at me like…like I was a roach on the counter, you know? Like I wasn’t talking, really. Like I was just standing there, wiggling my head at her all silent like and she couldn’t decide if I was worth squishing or not.”

“Think she’s a junkie? Maybe she’s shooting h. Heard Cassie talking to Father Maxwell and she said her son was like that too since he picked up the needle.”

“No, she couldn’t be. I saw no spots on her hands like the ones the junkies got. And her teeth were just fine, I checked them when she smiled at me. She just looked…off. Oh I’m so worried about her Hattie but I don’t wanna pry. Think I should try going over, maybe giving her some soup? I made too much anyway and I’m never gonna eat all that…”

“I think you should stay put, Gladice. I think you should turn your TV all the way up tonight and sit down on the couch and then go to sleep ‘cause the girl sounds like real bad news. She might not look the junkie, but you never can tell, not with these people. So you stay where you are and you hit the sack early, you hear?”

“Yes. Yes, I probably should.” Gladice said and realized her voice was little more than a whisper now, her breath hoarse. She realized she had her eyes fixed on the cracked wallpaper, as if she was trying to make out the outline of the next-door girl, pressed across the tissue-thick wall, listening to her every word. For just a moment, she swore she could make out the shape of an ear, pushing against the checkered wallpaper, the sharp lines of her face…

“How’s Whiskers?” Hattie’s voice came from the speaker, making her jump. She bit her lip, holding back her yelp.

“He’s a pain in the neck, that’s what he is. Won’t have any other food than the one in the real expensive cans and he won’t stay quiet the whole night, not until he makes me get off my bed and let him out on the balcony. And then he just gets back in again and purrs at me, the little bastard, as if nothing’s wrong.”

“Well, at least he’s stayed, unlike the rest of them.”

She heard the cat creep on her balcony in the middle of the night. She heard it walk inside her house, purring happily. She got up and saw its great, gleaming eyes staring at her, surprised at the very notion that someone else might be inside the very space it was trespassing.

The cat wagged its tail, irritated and hissed at her as she got up from the bed. She knew exactly whose cat this was. It belonged to that old bag, the one who always pried and listened in to her every word. The one that always kept talking to that Hattie woman about her, thinking that if she whispered hard enough, she’d get away with it.

She walked closer to the cat and she saw it tense up and bare its teeth. It hissed at her. She reached out her hand and grabbed it by the tail, pulling it up. Still holding it, she grabbed its head and twisted. The cat let out a short, high-pitched scream and then went limp. She stayed perfectly still for a while, until she was certain she could make out the old bag’s snoring from the other side of her bedroom wall.

Laughing, she walked to the balcony and was about to toss the cat straight into the trash can, like she’d done with all the rest. Then she thought better, thought back at her owner’s condescending smile, her shrill voice feigning interest, her better-than-thou attitude. No. This time, she wanted the old bag to know she had had enough.

With a flick of the wrist, she tossed the little furry corpse into her balcony. She dreamed of dead things and weeping women, their faces streaked with tears.

She woke up smiling to the sweet sound of the old lady’s screams. Then the phone rang, ruining her perfect little moment. With the smile still on her lips, she picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Haven’t seen you since that job with Gio, toots. Where have ya been?”

The smile faded the instant she recognized Tony’s voice.

“Been feeling a bit under the weather. What’s it to you?”

“Hey, don’t get mad at me, toots. I was only worried about your general well-being, you know?”

“I’m fine.”

“That’s good. Cause I’m gonna need you in a couple days.”

“What for?”

“Gio’s been talking to the cops. Word on the street’s he’s gonna start naming names.”

“I don’t think they’re gonna make that much out, not with his lips gone.”

“Man can still write. I’m gonna need you to finish that job for me.”

“Send somebody else.”

“Haha, no pumpkin. You were the one messed him up in the first place. I need you to go fix it.”

“Think he won’t have told the cops about me? Think they won’t be expecting me?”

“Got a point there. How ‘bout you take it to somebody who gives a damn cause I sure as hell don’t.”

“Tony, listen. I can’t-”

“No, you listen. You go and you get that sonofabitch, y’hear? You go in his hospital room and cut off his jugular or do whatever other messed-up crap you like to pull ‘cause you were the one that put him there in the first place and got him mad enough to want to play at being snitch!”

“Don’t you raise your voice at me…”

“Gonna do whatever the hell I like, toots and you know why? ‘Cause I ain’t the one who flays a man’s face clean off when he’s told to get an ear! Understood?”

“Yes…”

“And another thing: Gracey told me she saw you get sick the week before. Told me she saw you with a guy at the club.”

“So what?”

“Can’t have me a pregger hitman now can I?”

“I’m not pregnant, Tony. And I won’t have you calling me pregger like I’m some Southern sow.”

“Don’t give a shit what you wanna be called, my point is I can’t have a girl with a baby in the oven working for me. It’s bad for my operation and it’s bad for you, too.”

“Aw, how noble of you Tony.”

“You best cut the crap with me, toots. If you ain’t pregnant, you ain’t pregnant and that’s a good thing to hear. Meet Jerry when the deed’s sone so you can get your money.”

“Pleasure doing business with you as always, Tony.”

“Yeah, sure. You take care, y’hear?”

“Okay.”

She slipped into the hospital and lured one of the nurses in the bathroom when no-one was around and choked her with her bare hands till something in her neck went crunch (an insignificant little noise that seemed to drown out every other sound in the room every time she’d heard it). Dressed in the nurse’s cloths, she walked up to the second floor. Flashing a smile at the guards watching over Gio’s door and telling them he needed his meds she went inside, shutting the door behind her.

The thing without a face opened its mouth, a red little ring lined with teeth to call out for help the minute he saw her, but she had more than enough time to clamp his mouth shut and slice his throat open with a razor. She held his mouth shut, trying to avoid the blood spurting from the wound. She held her breath as she smelt the voiding of his bowels under the sheets. Her fingers clenched tighter until he finally went limp.

She heard the screams all the way up from the second floor the minute she walked out of the hospital. She had just turned the corner, changed into her regular clothes, when she bumped into him.

“Hello again” he said and his breath smelled like steak Tartar.

“Hi” she mouthed and she knew what the little pink spots on his otherwise immaculate teeth meant.

“You’ve been busy, haven’t you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” she said, her head swimming. There was a rumbling in her gut.

“Come now, you look like you just stuck your hand in the cookie jar.”

“I…” her voice was hoarse, her skin felt saggy, old.

He leaned in closer, breathing in her scent. Her sight blurred.

“Love your perfume, by the way. Smells right raw.”

“Why did you brush me off? At the club, why did you turn me away?” she was running a fever now, she was sure of it. A jungle fever, that made your insides boil and made strange shapes crawl into your vision.

“Because I wasn’t into you.”

“You didn’t look the part, not when you danced with me.” Black dots danced at the edges of her vision.

“I tend to shed my…standards when I dance.”

“And what kind of standards are they? What would for ask for in a gal?” she said, even as she felt tiny spiders cris-crossing her arms.

“Pretty smiles, for starters. And eyes that don’t belong on a mountain lion.”

She laughed, despite herself. The swarm increased in number.

“I wanna dance with you again.”

“You will.”

“And after that, I want you to stay and I want us to talk.” Heart was pumping. He was the only thing she could make out, his face ringed with black.

“No, we won’t. When we’re done, there won’t be any more talking.”

She bit her lip and was about to talk back, when she saw the patrol car skid to a halt in fornt of the hospital, the siren’s cacophony snapping her from her reverie.

“You might want to make yourself scarce.” he said. She ran into the crowd and looked for him, but he was gone. There was only the afterimage of a smile, fading into the mass of faces.

She ran a long, hot shower that day and scrubbed at her hand until it was red and raw all over. She bit her lips as she tried to clench it, feeling the pain throbbing slowly up her arm, reaching her shoulder.

She looked herself at the mirror and saw her face again for the first time in a week. It was the sharp, young face of twenty-something years she always had. Absent mindedly, she rubbed at her skin, checking for hidden wrinkles, for any sign of the creases she’d seen back at the club’s bathroom mirror but found none. She checked her hair, looking at each strand, but found no white staining the auburn.

Then she checked her eyes. The damage was still there. Little button holes with small brown spots ringing the irises, which were dilated as if she had been staring at some unimaginably horrible sight.

He’d hurt her, alright. He’d put poison in her brain and she could still feel it sloshing there behind her eyes, tiny traces of it still lingering on the surface of her brain. She could still see him: his unattractive face, his blue eyes and his terrible smile looking back. Somehow, she knew she had to find him.

She was scared shitless. Knew that for a fact. And she knew that if she met with him again, if she danced with him again (hell, even if she spoke to him), then he’d poison her one more time and that’d be that. She’d grow older and her soul would shrivel up inside her till it was a black, dried up thing like a week-old dead beetle.

But then why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? Why did every pore in her body seem to mouth his name, every waking thought shaped like him? Why did she want him so bad?

Cause he hurt you, you dumb broad. And you like it when you get hurt.


Her open palm struck Gracey the minute she saw her back at the club:

“Oof!”

Gracey doubled over as her punch connected to her gut. The dumb broad’s eyes were tearing up already. She yanked at her hair, hard as she could, forcing her to meet her stare.

“And that’s for telling shit about me to Tony, you tart!”

“I swear I didn’t mean to bad mouth you! I was just concerned, is all!”

Click.

“You best let me do the worrying about my welfare from here on out, we clear?”

“Yeah, yeah sure we are.”

“You seen that man?”

“The man you danced with? Sure.”

“Is he with that little skank, Barb?”

“No. She’s…she’s not been around since last week. But he’s been coming here almost every night. Think he’s looking for you.”

“Oh shut up with your sweet talk, Gracey. Go and make yourself proper now. You don’t want the johns to see your pretty hair all messed up like that do you?”

The song they’d danced to was playing the minute she stepped out of the bathroom. He was there, once again, leaning against the bar, that horrible grin on his face. His eyes locked onto hers the minute she noticed him, his head turning (no, not turning, swiveling) toward her, his eyes following her even as she walked around the dancers and walked up to him. She could feel her knees get weaker with each step. She could feel something in her mind trying to turn her away, some little reptile that hissed and ran in circles in the base of her skull, but she didn’t listen.

She was halfway from him when she felt her belly rumble violently, feeling sick. Her eyes never left his. She was just a couple paces away when she felt some strange sensation, a horrible burning erupt in her belly.

By the time she reached him, the fire had been licking its way down her stomach, tearing through the linings in her insides. She could feel her blood boiling, bubbling under her skin.

“Dance with me, mister?”

Without a word, he took her hand and led her to the floor and the dance started again and the fire in her burned brighter and she felt faint, but she held on. Straining, she said:

“Who are you?”

He twirled her and she could swear she saw sparks fly from where their heels struck the floor. Through clenched teeth, she said:

“What the hell have you done to me?”

He pushed her away, holding her by his fingertips and she felt her stomach give way, as the flames dropped lower. The pain was gone now. There was just this other sensation, this desire, which seeped down her thighs and crept between her legs. Swooning, she asked:

“Why do I want you so bad?”

He pulled her hard and she slammed onto him and she realized she was nearing climax; she felt faint, her knees trembling. He said:

“Because you deserve me.”

The sound of his words made her body shake like a leaf. Her eyes rolled in their sockets, her vision blurred. For a moment, she saw him once again the way she’d seen him the first time: that horrible visage, a thing all teeth and fire. Without actually moving its mouth, it said:

“But there’s nothing I can do with that shriveled little thing you call a soul now, can I? Hell, I can’t even get chump change for that!”

She was on fire now. Her body was convulsing and she felt her heart pumping  faster. She saw her dress enveloped in blue flame, matching the one in his eyes. The song played on. Her hand reached out to touch him and he let her go. The flames engulfed her body, eating at her flesh and searing her bones.

By the time she touched the floor, she was just a pile of glowing embers. He looked down at her and breathed in the acrid scent. The last part of her drifted upward, driven by the flames. He clicked his fingers on it and shoved them in his mouth. As his teeth clamped over it, cracking it with ease, a forked tongue uncoiled, savoring the juices. They tasted like death and mindless suffering. They tasted like pointless hate and perverted joy.

“You’d have made good company, though. Shame, really.”







LeftOvers
01 Jun 2019
Image by Alan McDonald


Sorty originally published in Schlock! Magazine Issue 12, vol.3
Reprinted in Static Movement's Long Pig Anthology

There’s one of those restaurants in every great metropolitan area. It’s not listed in any newspaper columns, or advertised on TV. You won’t find a single billboard promoting its fine goods or read any review about it, even on the internet.

There are only two ways you can find it: one way (considered the easiest one by most), is to accidentally stumble upon it as you walk through those seedy areas between hospitals, just a few hundred meters away from the closest clinic.

The other (the hardest one by far) is to be invited by one of its regular patrons or (rarer yet) by a member of its staff. To do that, of course, you’d have to cultivate a feeling of trust with them and ensure these eccentric and downright dangerous people that you share their peculiar culinary passion.

But even if you do reach this establishment, you will hardly realize it’s there. It has no decorations; no billboards on its entrance or any of the numerous colorful signs that betray it for what it is. These restaurants tend to disguise their fronts, bearing the facades of crack houses, or brothels. I was told that a similar establishment in St. Petersburg took no such measures, guarded instead by a very private security firm, courtesy of one of its long-time Mafia patrons.

I cannot divulge its name, but for the sake of convenience I shall call it Les Restes. I believe such a name would be appropriate. Its chef was, after all, French and the restaurant was modeled after some of his country’s more opulent establishments. It is a perfect example of fine taste; a culinary haven built from marble and imported Venetian silk. But its most distinguishing feature was the large Ionian style marble column set in its middle. I was told that it was a genuine piece, donated by the former administrator of the city’s museum of History, a token of appreciation for services provided. However, that was not the most fascinating thing about it. What caught my eye was the way the column was adorned, its surface covered from top to bottom with a number of fetishes; gifts, notes, traveler’s checks and in some places, what looked like torn passport pages or pieces of ID, the laminated paper cut crudely, as if by hand.

It was in the month of August that I first crossed the threshold of Les Restes, thus damning my immortal soul. My actual initiation into this chamber of horrors however, had begun since the previous year, in the month of October.

I was a practicing plastic surgeon then. I owned a moderately successful private clinic, even had a few clients that were people of some note, most of them actors. I made good money there, money that allowed me to keep up my luxurious way of living. I was surrounded by beautiful women who craved for my attention (and access to my bank account), though I had no intention of settling down just yet.

My success and newfound popularity had, of course, gone to my head. I had taken my success for granted and soon began to spend heavily on other luxuries and indulge in excesses that were way beyond my monetary capability. I purchased fast cars, a bigger house in the suburbs, even chose to follow other illegal pleasures.

By the month of January the following year, I was heavily in debt. I could handle my legal-goods debtors, by negotiating the price and means of payment, but some of my illegal debtors were far less…considerate. I found myself under constant threat of bodily harm and my attempts to sweet-talk a deal out of them were pointless.

I was barely managing my clinic, my waning funds and my steadily declining mental state, when I was approached by a man I shall call Ugolino. He was a wiry, nervous little man of Italian ancestry with piercing blue eyes that could stare through concrete. He acted as a middle man between me and my shady debtors, negotiating free plastic surgery procedures for his bosses and their family members for purposes both cosmetic and…professional.

He was an eerie, though lovable, character. He shared my love for literature, my taste in music and had some knowledge of the medical sciences. He was also a man who knew his way around the city, who spoke to me of the terrors that hid under its grey skin, the red and purple carnival that writhed right under its surface.

He told me about Les Restes jokingly at first, judging my reaction to it. He did not immediately divulge its nature to me, only hinted at it and waited for my response. Upon hearing about it, I was skeptical, though intrigued. I was in a foul mood that day and found that this little piece of macabre lifted my spirits. I believe it was this unfortunate turn of events that sealed my fate.

Ugolino took me to Les Restes the following week. He parked his car in the lot of a cancer treatment clinic and we walked the rest of the way, that cold February night. He took me across back alleys and down roads I had no idea existed. We crossed neighborhoods that got seedier and darker with every step and reached the places the authorities of the city refused to acknowledge they exist.

Les Restes looked abandoned, crumbling, positively like one of those buildings scheduled for demolition that ringed it. I looked at Ugolino and asked if this was some sort of farce, if he had brought me here so he could mug me. He laughed then and led me in.

The interior of the restaurant made such a contrast with the outside that I was rendered speechless. I stood in the threshold for a while, my eyes darting back and forth from the luxurious interior to the squalor outside, feeling as if I had stepped into some strange dimension; as if I somehow crossed from Hell into Heaven with a single bound.

I was fool enough to think that I was stepping in Heaven, see.

There was no music inside Les Restes. No speakers sang out tunes, no live orchestra played happy little notes that would aid in the patron’s digestion. The place was quiet as a grave, dozens of sets of eyes staring at me, sizing me up as I stood like a lost child beside my companion. The clam lasted only for a moment, however. We were on our way to our table, when Les Restes began to sing, by virtue of its patrons. The constant clinking of forks and spoons and wine glasses on porcelain created a symphony of pleasure, untainted by human speech. The patrons hardly exchanged a word between them, as they leaned over their dishes, hungrily devouring their contents.

Our waiter was a plump boy of Asian heritage, a shawl obscuring his lips and chin. His skin was full of spots that I could bet they were the symptom of some venereal disease that had forced him to hide his face in this manner. I refrained from commenting on this, however, as the boy handed us our menus and walked away. I noticed Ugolino looking over me carefully, taking note of my every move, as I opened the menu’s cover and saw…

Ugolino moved faster than I expected, immediately grabbing my arm the minute I let the menu drop from my trembling fingers. He mouthed for me to keep quiet and gave it back to me. I looked at it again, this time with trembling fingers.

There was only one dish on the menu, or to be precise, one sort of food, prepared in a variety of ways. To think of it alone made me sick to my stomach then (no matter how much it makes my mouth water at the mere thought of it now). Before me there was a detailed design of human anatomy, a woman’s body, to be precise, her glistening insides exposed for my pleasure, each part of her marked by a different arrow indicating a different dish.

I spoke to Ugolino, who had just set his menu down, asking him if this was some sort of sick joke. Ugolino assured me that this was not the case. I asked where this...person was, that supplied our food. He told me he did not know. Sweat trickling down my brow, I asked him: where in God’s name did they find it? Ugolino sighed, obviously accustomed to such outbursts by others who were new to this establishment and told me that she could have come from a morgue, or be the victim of a hit and run car accident. She could have come from anywhere, really. The point was that the meat had been checked again and again and that there was no sanitary risk involved.

I felt about to retch, when Ugolino told me that already a few of the patrons were staring at me. He told me that if I did not find my composure, perhaps I would end up in tomorrow’s meal. As I slowly calmed myself, he proposed I should try the hip roast. Perfect choice for newcomers, he said.

We ordered our meals to the waiter and I noticed, as the waiter’s shawl moved for a second, that his lips were missing. For a horrible moment I saw in perfect detail, the mangled and diseased mess that ringed his gums, the scabs that formed some crude parody of lips. The boy simply pulled up his shawl again and walked away. I looked elsewhere, fixing my eyes on the column, trying to dispel this horrible vision from my mind.

As a surgeon, I had taught myself to overcome my revulsion over the human body’s inner workings and its frailties. I had sunk my hands wrist-deep in human fat and I had peeled the skin of human bodies so I could look at muscle apathetically. I had treated men with frostbite; their noses, lips and cheeks blackened and peeling from their faces and I had cut off that diseased skin, looked at the blinding-white fields of bone (“After all, aren’t we all the same, deep down inside?” my anatomy professor in the University would joke). I had poked and prodded at the crimson, puss-filled epidermis of burn victims and sliced it open, calmly looking at the horrible fluid and the blood as they ran down the operating table and removed it until I only looked at pink, glistening muscle.

But at the sight of that boy’s lips, I had lost my cool. Because these wounds, they did not appear to have been caused by some accident or even by the rapid onset of some disease. They seemed to have been caused by teeth. An animal’s perhaps? Or was it one of the patrons, who had suddenly felt himself in the mood for a young boy’s lips?

We were both silent as I contemplated these horrible things, when Ugolino spoke up, his voice barely louder than a whisper. He told me he had brought me here on purpose. I turned to look at him, thinking that any moment now he’d say he’d found a buyer who would like to taste a surgeon’s lips (or worse yet, his fingers!). He told me he knew the chef here. That he brought me so I could meet him. I thanked him, though I knew that I did not want to meet such a ghastly man as one who cooks human flesh.

The waiter came back and served our food. A soup for Ugolino, thick and chunky, little white bits of what could only be entrails and a piece of the woman’s liver floating in the liquid. For me, the hip roast. I forked the meat and realized it gave way easily. It had been cooked to perfection. Carefully, I turned the fillet and looked around it, when I suddenly noticed a design, nearly erased by the grill’s fire.

The outline of a wing, very much like a butterfly’s, the ink that had drawn it into the skin now faded. I turned the meat more and saw the rest of it: a small fairy, probably tattooed on her hip long ago. Its expression seemed to be so calm, as she seemed to lay against my fork’s teeth, eyes closed as if she were dreaming. For some reason, I found this hilarious and started laughing uproariously at the sight. Ugolino smiled back at me, as he put a spoonful of soup in his mouth, chewing contendedly at the piece of liver. Without another thought, I cut through the juicy meat and tried it.

It tasted very much like veal, but not quite.

I could write pages upon pages on this meat’s divine taste, of its flavor, the impeccable aftertaste and the way it filled me then, how it made me feel sated and whole and how right everything felt at that moment, as I hungrily ate bite after bite, not wanting to waste another moment contemplating the morality.

Both I and Ugolino washed our meals down with a glass of wine and then my companion led me into the deeper regions of Hell, into Satan’s very own kitchen.

I honestly do not know what I was expecting. Some surgery room turned charnel house, a grill and rusted pans by the operating table, the chef some monstrous creature, tossing the meat inside the pots and pans, his goblin-like sous-chefs carrying out his commands? Or perhaps a medieval dungeon, with men and women hanging off rusted hooks, their pieces carefully prepared by a team of experts, who would stare at their materials with morbid fascination?

What I found behind these doors was a kitchen like any other you would find in a respected restaurant. It was big and orderly, its staff working tirelessly under the direct supervision of the chef, who barked orders at his assistants and waved his arms around like a maestro, as the meat cooked in carefully cleaned pots and pans, rice boiled in its cookers and strings of pasta rose from the water’s foam, like strands on the hair of a drowning angel. The scents of a hundred sauces wafted up through the air, masking the scent of the wonderful meat I had tasted, but it was there nonetheless.

Ugolino introduced me to the chef, a French man of ill repute but with a distinctly royal bearing. His English was fluent, though he did allow himself the pleasure of seasoning his speech with a few French terms. He offered me a cup of coffee and we talked for a while. Ugolino helped ease my mind, as he could see me stealing looks at some of the dishes, trying to divine what part of her body they were carrying to serve their patrons. He explained to the chef (who, from now on I will call Tarrare), about my current predicament and the man nodded and smiled. It was obvious he had heard of me before and that this meeting had been arranged many days prior.

Nonetheless, I was happy to tell him all of my problems, about my disagreement with Ugolino’s superiors, about my current financial state that was swiftly declining. Tarrare waited until I was done, then told me that I was pretty much doomed. I agreed. He suggested I help him, for a significant sum. Without missing a beat, I said yes.

The specifics of our agreement were not important. What is important, is that Tarrare needed meat. That his meat came from morgues and from associated funerary homes, which donated them in exchange for free product. That this had begun to hurt his business and that he would need to find another supplier, soon.

He calmly reassured me he was not thinking of murder. That he was only looking for materials, the kind I could supply him. Fat, skin, muscle. The ‘leftover bits’ as he called them, from my procedures. He assured me that he would pay me a pretty penny for my trouble.

The next day, an appointment had been arranged by one of my richer clients for a breast reduction surgery. Shocked at my good fortune, I immediately prepared the woman. She was quickly anesthetized intravenally (the kind of sedation that is called ‘twilight’ sedation). I didn’t give the matter a second thought, not even once considering the implications.

One of the most horrible truths of human anatomy, is that skin is the absolute armor. The skin is the very garb that makes humans human. When this garb is removed, torn or tattered, one ceases to be human and ends up being neatly arranged meat. To my horror, I found this to be entirely true. As I traced the first incision along the aureola, I found myself shivering slightly, as if I was going through a fever. As I performed the second incision, vertically from the aureola to the breast crease, I realized that my stomach was gurgling. By the third incision, along the breast crease, the skin peeled off and I was staring at meat. My mouth was watering fiercely.

My assistant was looking at me with a puzzled look. He tried to make sense out of the way I stared at the patient’s breasts, all naked and exposed, the flesh underneath so fresh, so juicy despite her age. I felt myself leaning in, wanting to touch that meat, to…

Dear God, what followed was a nightmare. It was unreal, the way my body leaned in and my lips smacked under my mask. How my fingers probed under her breasts, their outlines poking against the skin, stretching it, pulling it back. How I saw the fat slew off her muscle, down her chest and onto the operating table. The scalpel was in my hand and I thought how easy, how simple it would be for me to just slice off a piece, no more, no less, just a sliver of meat and put it in my mouth and chew it, savoring the raw, raw taste…

Then my assistant rushed in and placed the drain tube, breaking my reverie. At that moment he had saved me, but I felt such strong hate for him then. I guess that is why I treated him so harshly, in the end.

The procedure was a success and I took my meat and fat, carefully wrapped in pharmaceutical waste bags to Tartare along with Ugolino. But the Frenchman was disappointed at my small bounty. He said it was too little, that there was hardly enough there for a dish. He told me he needed more. When I asked him how much, he gave me the rough weight of a full adult human body.

The next week was slow for me. Most of my clients cancelled their appointments, while some of my debtors called in certain favors that left me only with useless bits of skin and hair. All the while, Ugolino missed no chance to remind me of my debt to his superiors and press me on acquiring more. It was during our long, heated talks that I believe my assistant overheard us.

Thinking back, I think he stayed because he needed evidence. He could not just accuse me of trafficking human flesh and selling medical waste, unless he wished to be kicked out of the police station, the ridicule of every officer in town. He obviously wanted to find more about me, about Les Restes and Ugolino.

And he would have made it, had he not been the victim of a stroke of terrible luck.

It was in the beginning of March that I had grown desperate enough to actually consider murder. I would eye every potential customer carefully and make up excuses so I could weigh them, trying to find the suitable candidate. Meanwhile, my debtors moved in and choked the life out of me. Tarrare promised larger and larger amounts for a whole human adult. Ugolino had ceased his pretense of friendship and was now actively demanding to see my debt to his superiors repaid in full the soonest possible.

I was on a night out in the city with a seductive little brunette I had taken an interest to, my scalpel, bonesaw and other equipment hidden inside my briefcase when I noticed it:

My assistant’s pudgy face, his eyes big as saucers, staring at me from around a corner, thinking himself unseen. Feeling suddenly reinvigorated, my thoughts of murder complete with a victim in mind, I took my companion by the hand and we continued our walk.

She made pretty good company, but I was oblivious to her advances. I just nodded and smiled when appropriate, conducted myself in as gentlemanly a manner as possible, while my assistant fluttered around us, considering himself a wolf on the prowl, probably.

We were halfway through our meal when I saw him run inside the bathroom for a break. I made up an excuse and followed him, briefcase in hand. Thankfully, we were alone. I stalked him closely and made my way into a stall while he was busy relieving himself and took out my mallet. It was a heavy thing with a solid stainless steel head, perfect for cracking bone. I hadn’t used it since I was in medical school, but right then, it felt just right.

To explain what happened next, the ease with which I performed the deed, is pointless. I knew exactly where to strike. I walked silently out of the stall and smashed the head against the back of his skull without a second thought. I felt him sag and his body fall limply against the urinal. To my horror, the mallet went down with him. My blow had been too strong, improperly calculated. The head had crashed through his skull with such force that it had embedded itself in the bone and had been impossible for me to remove. In my panic, I set my foot against his back and tried to pry it loose, but to no avail. Suddenly realizing that I could easily be exposed, I dragged my former assistant’s lifeless body inside the restroom stall.

The force of the blow had dislodged one of his eyeballs, leaving the thing hanging limply from its socket, dangling at the end of the optic nerve like a cat’s toy. His tongue had also slid out of his mouth. Naively, I tried to put them back in their place by pushing them with my fingers, but the tongue was slippery and wouldn’t stay put inside his jaw, while his eyeball popped in my hands as I tried to jam it back in, spilling the clear liquid down my palm.

Then there was the matter of the mallet. It had been jammed inside his skull and I couldn’t possibly remove it without making a mess of myself and betraying my connection to the murder. Additionally, I realized at that moment that I had not thought my plan through: how could I possibly ever hide him long enough so I could carry him to Les Restes, one way or another?

In hindsight, perhaps I could have attempted to squeeze his limp body before vigor mortis set in through the restroom’s window, into the garbage bin right outside.

Sadly, pressed for time as I was, I could not think of a better solution than attempt to carry him round the back myself. After dressing him up in his coat, my briefcase in hand, I half-carried half-dragged him outside, pretending that he was a dear friend, passed out after a heavy bout of drinking. Thankfully, my brunette companion didn’t notice me as I walked through the crowd and reached my car, where I tossed my fleshy burden in the back seat, then returned to pay my bill, to avoid any harassment by the restaurant’s staff.

As I sat in my car, checking myself in the mirror, I noticed the places where his grey matter had stained my suit, thankfully obscured by the fabric. It seemed to have caked it in places, pieces of his brain forming blotches in interesting, random designs.

I must have been too involved with these mysterious patterns, or else I would have noticed my former assistant, whom I had thought dead for certain, rise from the back seat and let out a blood-chilling howl. I screamed like a madman, as I looked into his one eye and his bloodied visage, as I watched the blood spill out of his mouth, down his great idiot face.

I was halfway through my little bout of screaming, when we collided head-on with that truck.

I was told that I was lucky to have survived, later on. That my (and my assistant’s) mangled bodies had shot through the windshield, flew ten meters into the air and then skidded across the asphalt for another ten. I was told I suffered severe spinal injury. My body is currently paralyzed from the neck down, though I still find that I can move my right arm after some considerable effort.

Ugolino told me that in the months during which I was in my coma, his superiors moved in and took over my business, selling it for a fraction of my total debt. He also told me how I had pretty much lost everything, how my fortune had been almost entirely repossessed by my debtors. I asked about my assistant and he laughed his heart out, as he turned my head to the side and I saw him, laying on the bed next to mine: his eye was staring silently, his breathing ragged, his face a mass of scars and stitching. The doctors had managed to keep him alive, though no one had achieved removing the mallet from his skull, which had proven to be intrinsic to his survival.

I tried to laugh, but found that only blood came out from my ruined throat. Ugolino told me that his superiors still had me in debt. He told me how he had finally managed to negotiate some way out of this for me. I nodded my head and waited for his reply. Ugolino explained that Tarrare was interested in trying to add a variation to the ikizukuri dish to Les Reste’s menu. He told me that he would pay handsomely toward repaying my debt if I allowed the patrons to dine off me here, in my hospital room.

So far, the event has been a success. I have met the mayor and several other celebrities  who I am told line up for a chance to feast off me. I have managed to repay half my debt, for the measly price of my left leg from the hip down. Ugolino tells me that pretty soon I’ll be in the clear. He has, however, informed me that an esteemed politician will pay my remaining fee himself, should he be allowed to consume my functioning arm.

I know that to lose it, deprived as I am of my faculty of speech and movement, would mean that I would be trapped in my body; unable to communicate to the outside world but in the crudest manner possible, through mere blinking. This is why I have chosen, through weeks upon weeks of effort, to write down this piece, my last and final record.

Tarrare is here by my side. He’s sharpening his knives, testing them on my useless right leg. He is making the incisions down my calf, deep diagonal cuts where he strips the skin and stuffs spices and herbs inside my living muscle. Ugolino is licking his lips and clicking his chopsticks, as the chef slices my muscle into thin ribbons, carefully draining them of blood. They look like starved animals, the way they bare their teeth and drool all over me, but who can blame them?

There’s no doubt that I am delicious.



An Interview with author J.C. Michael
23 Aug 2015
It's always great to meet a new author: sometimes, you meet them online, trade story ideas, exchange dreams of getting your weirdest ideas published by big-time companies and then go your own ways, thinking of what could be.


Other times, you end up actually sharing a table of contents for one such anthology and get to have a long, fulfilling talk about their stories on music that kills and other assorted weirdness. Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing one such author, J.C. Michael, with whom I share a place in Grey Matter Press’ SAVAGE BEASTS anthology.




J.C. is a horror author by choice, living under the shadow of Stephen King and Clive Barker, subsisting on a steady diet of horror flicks, pursued by dreams of living as a full-time author, a man after my own heart. His story, "When Death Walks the Fields of Battle", is one of hard dance beats and he has decided to share a few of his thoughts with me on the blog. 


Let's begin with a zinger: what caused you to want to be a writer in the first place?
I've always loved reading, and had a vivid imagination, but never really thought of myself as someone who could be a writer. For a start, my grammar isn't what it should be, although it is improving, and I wasn't encouraged at school as the elderly lady who taught us English didn't appreciate the fact that at 14 I was an avid Stephen King fan. I can remember when we were told to write a "tense" story, and I wrote about a guy getting mugged in an underground car park. I used the f-word, which didn't go down too well, and then argued my point that it was entirely plausible that a mugger would say "Hand over your fucking wallet. Now." Arguing didn't go down too well either.

Following that my writing was limited to that which I needed to do through school, university, and then work. I suppose the first creative thing I really did was the work newsletter, which was more like Viz than anything else. I generally mixed up legitimate news with made up articles taking the piss out of various members of staff but got away with it by a) poking fun at myself and my friends as well, and b) making sure it amused the owner of the business before it was issued.

Things then changed when I was basically challenged to write something by my partner. She was studying for a degree in Performing Arts, and I was often moaning that I wished I could be more creative than working in Finance allowed. I was also guilty of frequently criticising books and movies to the extent that she eventually said something along the lines of "Look, if you're so bloody clever write a book yourself." The result was a 90,000 odd word novel which I self published for a bit of fun. I sold a single copy and that was that until my son was born and I decided to revisit Discoredia. I put it up on Authonomy, took the criticisms on board, tidied it up, and eventually reached the editors desk in October 2012. The feedback I got from Harper Collins was largely positive and six months later I'd signed a contract with Books of the Dead press. 


"When Death Walks the Fields of Battle" sounds like a downright metal sort of story. What was your main influence behind it?

It's interesting how the different authors in Savage Beasts approached the concept of stories influenced by music. Some seem to be influenced by a genre, and some by particular tracks. Some, like yours, make direct reference to music, others, like mine, don't. My story isn't about music at all, it doesn't feature, but it fits the bill as I took the inspiration for the story from the lyrics used in a particular track; Zombie by PCP. I wanted to use a hardcore / techno / gabber track, so I looked through my collection to find one which I both liked, and which I felt had lyrics which could be used as a jumping off point for a story. The story the flowed from those lyrics resulting in a piece that was genuinely influenced by a particular track, albeit one which itself samples three other pieces of music. 



Which genre of music do you think mostly defines your work? Which genre of music do you think mostly defines you?

I'm a retired raver. There's no way I could handle an all-night rave these days, and there are also elements of the behaviour that goes with that scene that I don't feel to be appropriate alongside the responsibilities you have once you are a father, but it will always be the music that defines me and which will creep into my writing from time to time. In some ways writing Discoredia, which is a novel entirely influenced by those genres of music - hardcore, gabber, techno, and the like - was a line drawn under that part of my life. I used my own experiences to write that book, and poured a lot of myself into it. 



Seeing as how you are mostly a horror author, how would you choose to define horror fiction?

In general terms I think horror fiction is fiction which has the capacity to scare, frighten, or unnerve the reader. I don't think it needs to be supernatural, look at Psycho, but to go from thriller to horror I think things have to be pushed towards the extremes of normality. A book about a murderer could be a thriller, make that murderer a serial killer and you move towards horror but you could easily still sit as a thriller, or mystery, or suspense. Make the serial killer a cannibal who wears his victims skin, be quite graphic, and lurid, in the depictions of those acts, and write it in a way that makes the reader wonder if someone like that could be stalking them there and then, as they read it, at home, alone, then you have a horror novel on your hands. One thing I'm not keen on is the Young Adult / Paranormal Romance genre masquerading as horror. Children's books that can be frightening for kids, fine, they're kids, but once your an adult either read the real thing or don't try to pretend you're reading a horror novel. 

Quick! You're trapped inside a work of horror fiction. Which book is it and what (do you think) are your chances to see it through?

I'd love to be trapped in Discoredia as the main event of book is based on what would be, initially, my perfect night out. Admittedly it all goes wrong, and lots of people die, but I'd take my chances.

Lastly, tell us about any of your imminent works or publications that you might have in order.

I genuinely wish I had the time to write another novel, but I find it a very intense experience, and not one which I have the time, or energy, to devote to right now. The sequel to Discoredia is written, but in need of a re-write. One day. Perhaps. For now I'll stick to wring the odd short story here and there so that it stays as a bit of a fun sideline. I've got a pretty full on day job, and don't want to try to juggle two careers when one keeps me busy enough. As things stand I've a couple of submissions out there right now, two or three things I'm looking to start work on in the next few weeks, and a couple of releases scheduled over the next two months - two pieces in Fifty Shades of Slay from Alucard Press which is due out sometime soon, and a piece in Crossroads in the Dark from Burning Willow Press, due out on Halloween.

Thank you J. C., this has been a pleasure

Thanks for the opportunity of the interview.
STORE ADVENTURES, EPISODE 1500
25 Sep 2014
Closest possible approximation


Miss Tock lives in a house full of clocks. Her walls are plastered with time, her drawers brimming with thrift-store wristwatches. Miss Tock once bought seven wind-up alarm clocks from my store, had me wind them up and fix them until they were working in perfect sync with each other.

"I want them all to go off at the same time, one in every room." she said. I made sure not to ask why.

I was at Miss Tock's house today, to do the usual annual windup and some basic maintenance on her clocks. The cuckoo wall was 15 minutes behind today. Half the Swatch drawer had run out of juice. Miss Tock couldn't handle dissonance. If her entire apartment didn't explode with a sound of ringing bells at 6:30 in the morning, then she couldn't even muster the strength to get out of bed.

"It's important to establish a routine. Artists need routine." she said to me, as I struggled with the weights on a grizzled Swiss cuckoo clock.

Miss Tock has never composed any music. According to a customer who used to work with her, Miss Tock barely even taught music. She'd spent the entire hour whiling away at the piano, creating non-melodies and the students had to shut up and take it. When people would offer critique, she'd blame the metronome.

"Goddamn thing's against me. Messes up my tempo on purpose." she'd exclaim and people would nod and not press the issue any further.

Once, a tennant wanted to sue Miss Tock, have her driven out from the premises. Apparently having the house next to you explode in a cacophony of noise at the crack of dawn every day can be particularly vexxing. Miss Tock responded by locking herself inside the apartment to keep the police away, then climbing to the neighbour's balcony, threatening suicide. A compromise was reached, in the end: Miss Tock would give up half her clocks and pay half the price for installing the tenant's new sound insulation.

"Some people just can't handle Art." she said to me "they see a creative mind and they want to destroy it."

I had no choice but to agree. After all, her hands were hovering over an unattended box-cutter on my workbench.
Augmentations- Stomping Landward
22 Sep 2014
Visti MrDream's Gallery here
STOMPING LANDWARD
Story by Konstantine Paradias; Art by MrDream



“No” Thr’Top said, as he burned under the concentrated roentgen beam emitted from the land-animal behemoth-suits. “This isn’t right. This isn’t right at all!”

They called Thr’Top crazy, when he presented his findings to the Elders. None of those fools could admit to the possibility of a world beyond the ceiling-sky. In their methane-addled brains, they considered the tremors from above an ‘inexplicable event’ and would ridicule Thr’Top by quoting Scripture at him. 

But Thr’Top knew the truth. He himself had sent probes up, to retrieve topside-animals. He had studied them for decades, before certifying that the creatures were borderline intelligent and impossibly frail. Crafty, sure. Adaptable, yes. But compared to his own sheer intellectual and physical superiority, Thr’Top could take them over, reduce their hive-cities to ash and then use them to make the elders crawls on their cilia and lap at the excrement from his suckers! Oh yes, Th’Top would show them! Thr’Top would show them all!

Thr’Top left his subterranean lair by squeezing his massive frame through the Idosawa fault, crawled into Nigata Prefecture and began to swallow the land-animal cities’ whole. It took the screaming, milling creatures exactly two hours to mount a counter-offence, sending their behemoth-suits against him, to burn his skin and cut through his exoskeleton with polymer rudimentary cutting tools.


What I Think About Stuff-6 reasons why the Hulk is the most tragic superhero in comic book history (and 1 why he is the greatest)
24 Mar 2014
What I Think About Stuff-6 reasons why the Hulk is the most tragic superhero in comic book history (and 1 why he is the greatest) [Collaboration with Dimitris Morakeas]

The world of comics is an overall colorful, upbeat place that leaps up out of the page and slams itself against your eyeballs every month. Tragedy is something that never sticks to a superhero. Spiderman lost Gwen Stacey but got to bang Mary Jane after all. Batman had his parents violently murdered in front of his eyes when he was a kid but he got to be Batman, which balances out. But the Hulk has never caught a break. Not. Even. Once. The Hulk just abides and endures, like a Gamma-Powered Jesus or a mean, green Big Lebowski.

I’m, like, always angry, man


You wouldn’t think of that, not if you’ve seen him toss a god-alien around like a ragdoll. Most of you probably think the Hulk just punches shit and screams in the third person. What has the Hulk ever been through that’s so terrible, you ask? Why, nothing less than…



7. Being constantly persecuted for just existing by every single person ever, up to and including himself.

“Why is there a woman in this panel? This isn’t a kitchen!” unpublished Stan Lee quote

The Hulk has been nuked, shot into space, ejected into another reality, nuked, struck by the Hammer Of Thunders and then nuked again . The US army has spent billions of dollars in personnel and experimental technologies just to subdue (never mind contain) him. The world’s greatest scientific minds and sorcerers have banded together time and time again just to get rid of him. The Hulk has been a bigger drain to the Earth 616’s resources than every occupation attempt ever. But the biggest threat to the Hulk has been none other than Bruce Banner himself.
Bruce Banner has created the only means to not only contain but nearly kill the Hulk in the first dozen issues is the final nail in the coffin, which makes it better than pretty much every Iron Man suit ever. Imagine being hated so damn much that even your subconscious keeps trying to kill you.



 The fact that the suit ended up in a ditch somewhere, forgotten by everyone is proof that the Marvel writing staff just like torturing the poor guy, when in fact they could have just had him beaten to death in the 60’s.

If Hulk was a video game in the Marvel universe, he would be E.T.

Why the Hulk’s got it worse:
Than Spiderman

When comparing this instance of persecution in the Hulk’s case against, say, Spider-Man (another character known for being caught up in a hate-love-hate again relationship with everybody), you will find that Spiderman’s death (or near-death, whatever) was never the result of open conspiracy or machination by everyone. In fact, even at his lowest ‘holy shit, I’m gonna die’ point, Spiderman was only targeted by his enemies and outright Marvel-Universe dicks, while remaining generally beloved by the public (and himself).


6. Being spared the sweet release of death by a cosmic entity.

Comic books are a cornucopia of marvels, filled with mind-boggling designs for impossible technologies. It’s only reasonable that the Ultimate Machine would look like fucking nothing.

Nobody knows the trouble Hulk’s seen, nobody knows but Uatu.
When The Leader teams up with the Hulk (because reasons) Uatu has his home invaded by two cosmic-powered beings. After The Leader steals the Ultimate Machine and kills himself by attaining omnipotence, the Hulk is nearly killed in the process. Uatu, abandoning his role as the ultimate daddy-figure of the Marvel-Universe, chooses to step in and save the Hulk’s life at the last second.


Thanks a lot dude

Uatu saving the Hulk allowed him to live a long and fulfilling life of:

-           Having to cope with the dead of three of his newly wedded wives.
-           Having to come to terms with the fact that one of his sons was imprisoned until the heat-death of the universe on multiple counts of genocide
-           Having every non-human creature that ever cared about him die in his arms EVERY GODDAMN TIME.
-           Having to experience multiple instances of betrayal by every single one of his friends, sometimes even twice.


We should stop here before this article starts turning truly tragic. Suffice it to say; even Superman would have probably given himself kryptonite full-body massage instead of even living a tenth of the crap the Hulk has gone though.

Why the Hulk’s got it worse:
Than the Ghost Rider

Another character known to be feared by every superhuman in the Marvel Universe (mostly because of his ridiculously undefined superpowers, which make him near-omnipotent), the Ghost Rider nearly had his soul ripped out of his flesh by Satan, only to be saved by A Dude We Are Sure It’s not Jesus. Being saved by the Son of God allowed Ghost Rider to go back to his long road to redemption on his bitching motorcycle and put his life back together. Even if it was for just a little while.

Dude, like, totally not Jesus man.


5. Being denied a release from his torment by a very close friend for no adequately explained reason.

“Hulk don’t wanna be nobody’s wife!”

After Doctor Banner realized that he couldn’t control the Hulk, he sought to excise him from his body, by removing the gamma radiation that was sustaining the Hulk, so he could die from cancer.

Obvious Breaking Bad reference

 That’s when the Silver Surfer enters the scene, offering to help Bruce Banner end his torment. However, after a five-panel lover’s spat, Hulk punches the Silver Surfer and unfriends him on Facebook, making the Silver Surfer change his mind and leave Banner to suffer in his own private hell.
Have you met Bruce Banner? Dude keeps bitching about how he would like to stop being the Hulk and when he isn’t bitching, he threatens everyone with complete universal annihilation just he can be the Hulk again. To top that off, the Silver Surfer is supposed to be good friends with the Hulk and yet he has never once mentioned that he can save him from his torment since the 70’s, even though the Hulk keeps saving his sorry ass like, all the time(like that time the Silver Surfer was enslaved and put to work as a gladiator).

Why The Hulk’s got it worse:
Than everyone else.

The Sentry is a stupid fucking kid that drank the wrong serum bottle while sneaking around a high-security research installation. Rogue is cursed to wear cool gloves for eternity and would have died a virgin, if not for the numerous innovations of the erotic industry. Phoenix is a bitch, but she can pull a death-reset whenever she feels like it, the Thing likes to bitch and moan about how good it would be to be soft and pink again, but he always jumps back to being an orange golem and have you ever heard Tony Stark bitch about how awful it is to have suit of armor that flies and shoots lasers?
The Hulk is the ONLY character with this problem. Being offered redemption and denied it for no reason whatsoever.


4. Being essentially the living, breathing cure for everything, with no-one ever acknowledging it.

Seeking a way to save his world’s failing ecosystem, a visiting alien botanist seeks a solution on Earth, because God knows we are the best at maintaining our own planet’s endangered species. After a tiff with the Hulk, he discovers that the gunk under his fingernails is the compound that will save his world.

And that shit is canon.

That was in the 70’s. In the 60’s, the Hulk’s blood turned out to be the cure for grievous injury

Exhibit (a)

the HIV virus

Exhibit (b)

and by the time Planet Hulk rolled in, the Hulk’s blood could make the barren earth fertile.


It’s only a matter of time before his farts turn out to be the ultimate source of unlimited clean energy, really.

This is not a secret, kept in the deepest sub-levels in the Pentagon, kept secret by pharmaceutical companies, or covered up by Big Oil. Pretty much everyone who has ever met the She-Hulk knows this. Hell, the She-Hulk whose life was saved thanks to a Hulk/Banner blood transfusion!

Everyone knows the Hulk is the best thing that ever happened to everyone, but nobody bothers mentioning it out loud.

Why the Hulk’s got it worse:

Than Reed Richards.

Reed Richards is the Homer Simpson equivalent of the dysfunctional Fantastic Four household. He’s a barely passable husband, a shitty father and a bullying friend. He keeps making shit up, but most of those are forgotten six pages into the issue, break down at critical moments or are outright ridiculous. If Reed Richards lived in our world, he would have been stricken from the record of academics in every civilized world ever, just for being a massive dick.

And yet, every time Reed Richards makes some barely-working everyday piece of crap, it makes the news.





3. Being bullied by nameless space-village idiots, finding love and then losing it, all in a day’s work.
 
Translation: “What do you want to do next, son?” “Let’s go fuck a cat, dad!”


The Hulk is an unstoppable machine of destruction that has sent gods crawling back home to their mothers. The Sentry unleashed the combined power of a million exploding suns and still failed to take him down. What if you knew that there was an entire race of creatures who treated the Hulk like the village idiot and had their kids kick dirt in his face and that their princess was the only creature that survived making out with the Hulk AND saving his ass?
After being severed by Banner (following his voluntary mental termination) in the aftermath of being alienated by every single one of his friends and allies (because beating people up does not build trust) and being abandoned at an inter-dimensional crossroads by Dr. Strange, the Hulk finds himself alone and threatened by mysterious creatures that beat him up like a green-skinned stepchild just for trying to save a captive princess in a castle.

For extra sadness, the princess bears a striking resemblance to his first dead wife

After said princess unleashes an oil tanker’s worth of whup-ass on  their red asses, the Hulk realizes (in true 80’s no-gurlz-allowed fashion)  that he cannot abide living in a world where he had been rescued by a woman and abandons her. While this is not proof of the Hulk’s troubles, it is evidence that Marvel’s writers hate him so goddamn much that they make spontaneously turn him into a misogynist just to fuck his life up some more.

Why the Hulk’s got it worse:

Than Beak

The Beak is Marvel’s uselessest character ever (rated #2 in Cracked’s own worst X-Men Ever article). His only superpower (besides being a hollow-boned human that looks like a bird made out of soft tissue) is his power to Deus Ex Machina, or make friends and have them fight for him.

We swear to God, we aren’t making this shit up.



So Beak is the perfect example of a bullshit last-minute save, except he is also loveable somehow. People can’t help but put their necks in line for his deformed ass, but can’t wait to try and kick the Hulk around.

2. Being burdened with acute multiple personality disorder for the sake of narrative convenience

At last count, the Hulk has 5 known personalities. What most people DON’T know is that these are just the personalities we’ve seen so FAR. At last count, over a hundred different Hulks have been documented to reside in the Hulk’s brain, most of them just aching to get out. 

Imagine being you. Now imagine that you are the most powerful being in the known Universe, with the ability to punch Time itself. You’re a pretty nice person, which is probably why we aren’t all dead yet. Now imagine that just behind your eyes, there’s a serial killer with godlike powers who can annihilate all life on Earth by luchtime.

This guy.

Now imagine that along with this guy, there is also a guy who’s nothing more than the personification of your inner guilt, another whose plain rage on legs, another one who’s a downright bastard, a pimp, a clown, a mustache-twirling supervillain

Evil Rancher Hulk is the worst of the lot.

and God knows what else, all of them just itching to get out. Imagine having to live with that, while trying not to be too mad at everybody for constantly trying to kill you.

Fratricide in action.


Why the Hulk’s got it worse than:

The Sentry.

 

The Sentry’s darker half/ archnemesis/ counterpart is the manifestation of his repressed homosexual urges. And while the Void is reportedly capable of annihilating the Universe, all it takes to make it go away forever is for Robert Reynolds to admit he likes cock, thus making his continued existence the weakest excuse in the Marvel Universe, by far.
The Hulk, however, has nowhere to go, nowhere to turn to and no way to dispel those horrible, horrible creatures in his mind. He’s alone with the monsters.

On the plus side…

1. The Hulk gets to kick the shit out of everyone at least twice and cosplay as a yeti, too.


There’s a reason why Hulk is so popular, mostly because everybody is his bitch. Nobody can ever keep him pinned. The Hulk dishes it out like it’s nobody’s business and if Garth Ennis wrote the entire thing, he would probably have the Hulk burst into Valhalla to do Thor’s mom while he was at it.

“It is pimpin’, being green”

Plus, there is the fact that Hulk don’t give a shit. Take for example, Hulk’s idea of how camouflage works.

“Why do these suits smell like masturbation and tears, Rick?”
“Furry convention.”

The Hulk, a creature that eats Cruise Missiles and craps pineapple grenades, considered that the only way to infiltrate a Tibetan village in order to stop a crooked Chinese general was to disguise himself as a giant white monkey. And while he got caught 5 panels in, nobody really gave a shit. Because the Hulk saved the day the only way he knows how.

The Hulk’s got it better than:

EVERYONE
Just for getting to punch the everloving shit out of everything in his way.


Dimitirs Morakeas irregularly maintains a blog, while majoring at manipulating the basic facets of everyday life, through dabbling in the occult science od economics. People tell him it;s a doomed field and that currency is certain to be replaced with bottle farts in the next ten years, but he just won't listen. Visit his blog at: http://aitherontd.blogspot.gr/
World War Cthulhu Promo-Sinking City
27 Feb 2014

Hey, you! Yes yes, you; lost child who came in here looking for porn. Bored nerd who use this page as a means to disguise your Ero-Game let's plays! Wanna see something cool?

So, a while ago, I and a number of other awesome authors sat down and wrote a series of stories about War and the Lovecraft Mythos. Now, we have set up and IndieGoGo campaign because frankly, we need your help.

To sweeten the deal, here's a short video of mine about MY story in it, just one of the many many goodies that awit you, on WWC's IndieGoGo page!

So click here, for Justice! And War! And Horror!

What I think About Stuff-Shapescapes Podcast, Ep 2: Pop Culture Catastrophe
06 Feb 2014
Welp, that's a good place to start as any.


Human Slaves Of An Insect Nation, Part 15-The Great Big Plot Hook Thread
23 Jan 2014
Why...can't I...look...away?



Human Slaves Of An Insect Nation-The Great Big Plot Hook Thread.

Story hooks. The treasured bounty of GMs and StoryTellers stuck everywhere. That little bit of nonsense that you can built an adventure around. The Philosopher’s stone that transmutes awkwardness into awesome and helps you move that hot potato from your own blistering hands to those of your players’.

In the interest of helping out, here is a smattering of random plot hooks, pooled together for your own interest and enjoyment, in no particular order!



  • Everything that has been lost, every person that has been forgotten lives in the scrapheap, their world made out of everyone else’s garbage.
  • The Holy Man offers absolution in the confessional, eating away your sin. He asks for no payment, but takes away what he considers ‘unclean’
  •  A word springs into the mind of every man woman and child who have been touched by a supernatural force. The word eats away at their vocabulary, until they lose any means of communication.
  • The town statue seems content and fed the night after a child has gone missing.
  • Gears grind away behind the floorboards, under the beds and inside the closets of children’s bedrooms. Adults can’t hear them.
  •  The works of art in a private collection come alive and wage war on the world.
  • A taxidermist is known for his craftsmanship far and wide; it is said that his clockwork copies of the dead are even better than the deceased.
  •  A watch only tells the exact time and date of its owner’s death, but never reveals the year.
  • The Harbinger Child ages backwards, to retreat into its mother’s womb on the eve of the end of the world. It is now a year old.
  • The food served in a specific inn at the side of the road always tastes like a favorite childhood dish to each person that consumes it. Sometimes, the patrons find a memento of thir childhood in their beds or their belongings, after they have left the establishment.
  •  A woman gives birth to a horse’s head. The creature babbles vague prophecy for a fortnight before it dies.
  •    A cult dedicated to serving an alien evil deity packs its things and leaves after receiving some alarming news.
  •  It rains dead bodies for a night. The dead are people that have gone missing during the recent war.
  •  The wrongfully accused and executed haunt the inside of mirrors.
  •  A madman combusts into flame mid-sermon in a busy street. His work survives him and causes others to investigate, with similar results.
  •  A multitude of dead fish of all shapes and sizes and species are washed ashore on a single night. They all seem to have been ripped apart by some huge and unidentifiable predator.
  •   A plague of gilded locusts with mother-of-pearl wings descends on a city, tearing it apart.
  •  The Necronomicon does not exist as an actual tome; it is, instead, an idea that is waiting to be born which haunts the psychically sensitive and the mad.
  •  A constellation of stars above spells a very specific prophecy of things that come to pass. Over the years, it predicts disaster on a larger and larger scale.  
  •  Laboratory rats and guinea pigs die in strange formations in their cages, formations that hurt the eyes to even look at.
  •  Once a year, a random door in the world opens into Hell.
  •  A mysterious agency pays a pretty penny to disinter specific people on certain days of the month.
  •    The multitudes of the faithless and the lost haunt the House Of Mirrors
  •  A freakshow carnival, its exhibits creatures from Earth’s distant past and unknowable future, comes to town.
  •  The forgotten superhuman returns to Earth, his exploits and works forgotten.
  • A terrorist organization that call themselves ‘Cancer Cowboys’ detonate a reality-altering bomb in the middle of a major metropolitan area at rush hour.
  •  A cartoon character leaps out from the TV set, begging for help.
  • All it takes for someone to step outside of reality is a wrong turn at the right time.
  • The ghost army of a wrongly waged war come back home and they’re mad as hell.
  • Make It Better! Inc. Buys out your problems for a nominal fee, in exchange for your first-born child.
  •  Contact with the future is established and televised; the world of tomorrow is not for man.
What I Think About Stuff-The post where I faff about with poetry and pop culture
10 Jan 2014
The Harlock Sequence (Based on Walt Whitman's O Captain, My Captain)





Detective Poets (DC meets the classics)

From John Milton's Paradise Lost





Poem by Lord Byron
Poem by Connor Oberst

From Piet Hein's 'Groaks'



Haiku by the poet Issa, image can be found here: http://laserdraw.blogspot.gr/2010/08/250th.html
 

Poem by Basho
Matsu Basho again.
Basho, because a great panel deserves a better haiku



From John Milton's the Second Coming



Other Bits:

Haiku by the poet Shiki

You can't go wrong with Schwartzenegger and Dylan Thomas
 






The Matildas
04 Jan 2014



On the midnight of his 8th birthday, when mom and dad were asleep, Jeremy flicked the ON switch of his little sister.

Jeremy wanted nothing more than a little sister of his very own. He had gotten tired of being the only kid in the house, with no-one to play with him when he was bored, without a little girl to share the stories the he wrote on his little notepad for her, that he was sure she’d like: they had unicorns in them and rivers of syrup and castles and knights.
“Oh sweetheart, you can’t have a little sister just yet” mommy would tell him in the brief moments they had together after she’d stop looking at the screens. He’d make a fuss of course, and bang his hands on the table.
“What if you had a baby brother? Would that be so bad?” his dad would ask him, between peeks at the mountains of papers filled with squiggly, wriggly lines spewing out of the machines. So he’d kick at dad’s papers and pour coffee on his jeans.
But Jeremy didn’t want a little brother; he would just take away his toys and bash them and break them. They would fight and bicker and when he was older, he would have to drive him to school. Little sisters need drives to school too, but at least they don’t fuss when you don’t let them sit on the passenger’s seat.
So Jeremy studied the schematics that his mom worked on and he read the books in the bookshelves. He got the joints from a yard sale and he ripped the wires from his teddies. He built the eyes from the digital cameras in the attic and painted them himself (one green, like mom’s the other brown, like dad’s). He borrowed a couple of processors from the 3d printer that was buried in the garage to build a brain and made feet and fingers from silly putty. The skin, he made out of felt.
He blew his candles and he was quiet and smiled for the guests, went to his bed on time and slept without a word, making sure not to arouse any suspicion. When his little sister began to function, she gurgled and purred and played with Jeremy, it made him so happy! She was smart and could write her name with the blocks, she didn’t cry or make a mess. She listened to his stories, clapping her little hands and went to sleep when he flicked her OFF switch.
So Jeremy took her and put her in his toy locker. He called her Matilda, because he liked the name and he taught her to record and say back his name. And the days passed by happily and mom’s belly got bigger, dad’s hairline got thinner until one day they left the house and came back with a little sister.
“Come say hello, Jeremy” they told him “we’ll call her Matilda.”
But Jeremy was struck dumb, when he saw the little thing in the blanket, eyes squinting and gurgling. That was not what he wanted! So he brought his Matilda from the toy chest and showed it to mom and dad. This was his sister, he’d built it himself!
His dad looked at Jeremy’s Matilda with grime in the felt. He saw her eyes washed out and chipping, the joints creaking, her voice and her gurgles a rasp. He took it from his hands and put it straight in the trash. “Go back to your room and no dinner tonight” and Jeremy bawled and he cried until he was hoarse. When he was done, his father came to see him “I’m proud of you boy, you’re a bona-fide genius. But what you made down there can’t be your sister. She’ll never grow up or learn how to love you. You’ll just scrap her next year when you’re older. But I bet that Matilda you made will make lots of kids happy.”
So dad told Jeremy about things like patents and MENSA-grants, about robotic applications and how young geniuses were treated in the scientific community. He’d made a crude living being, so it would probably set him for life. I guess I can love her then, Jeremy said. But he didn’t mean it, not a single word.
 They went to see the baby next morning, as she slept in the crib. But something hissed under the blanket, spokes and joints ground and whirred. Dad screamed when he saw the grimy felt on the blanket and mom bawled when she the little gray thing in the trash-can. And Jeremy winked at his very own Matilda, who smiled and gurgled and kicked her silly putty legs.
What I think About Stuff-Next Year in Review (a 2014 Futurospective)
17 Dec 2013

“Lemme tell you about the future. The future is just as shit as the present and twice more shit than the past”


2013 was a fucking disappointment on so many levels. We got out next generation games, our top-notch superhero movies (except for the shit ones where Christopher Nolan had a part), we got the Chinese on the Moon, we got drawing of dongs by virtue of remote-controlled treads on Mars but we also got a fascist party in the Greek Parliament, we mourned the loss of science fiction greats like Iain M. Banks, Syria was enveloped in a gruesomely bloody civil war, children die in their dozens by lead poisoning as a result of shitty  working conditions as gold miners and Slavoj Zizek became a pop culture icon, for re-examining American cinema through the dusty, red-tinted glasses of Stalinist political theory.

If your shitty political theory ended up killing twenty million people and driving them to the extremes of poverty the first time, then try again.

But you’re not here to read about terrible stuff, now. What you want to read is my little bit of augury, about the new vidyagames and movies that are coming out next year! So y’all best get good and fucked up on peyote and have your significant other strap you on your safety chair, cause we’re going future-surfing!

Movies I won’t Watch and Games I won’t Play-A Shapescapes 2014 futurospective.

FOR OPTIMAL VIEWING Adjust screen brightness until the screaming cockroaches in the background are barely visible.

Infamous: Second Son



Radical Entertainment’s failure to produce a worthy sequel to the black-hearted shoggoth-simulation masterpiece that was PROTOTYPE opened the way for Sucker Punch to conclude their vastly inferior franchise and drown themselves in powdered escort girls while doing it.

After discovering that they had just snorted the final remains of Kandi (the brunnete with the massive rack) on a fine May morning, Sucker Punch’s staff suddenly realized that they had spent every last penny in the studio’s coffers and decided to create a sequel to the franchise that they had just narratively terminated with Infamous 2, by shamelessly ripping off the original’s idea and replacing a couple words through the magic of MS Word’s FindàReplace All Function and enabling the track changes function, for ease of reference.

In this game, you assume the role of broke hipster delivery boy  graffiti artist Cole McGrath Delsin Rowe, a man who develops electricity-based fire-themed super-powers after accidentally detonating a McGuffin Bomb that gives everybody else superpowers as well coming in contact with another person who has gained superpowers because of Cole’s original fuck-up, because superhumans apparently have the awesome kind of herpes.

The game is set in the government-controlled near dystopian warzone that is Prototype’s 2 New York City Seattle and is in no way the same heavy-handed retelling of the same old anti-establishment class war struggle that was spot-on and immediately exhausted through Nikolai Dante. Instead, Sucker Punch goes the other way and paints Delsin as a superhuman supremacist, hard at work eliminating baseline humans in a global attempt to bring forth Conduit superiority across the Globe, ending with his rise to power as head of the National Genetic Superiority Party. Alfred Hilter, story editor of Sucker Punch, receives an award for his bold move and makes Hitler-staches cool again among the 12-18 year old demographic.

Noah: The Grimmening


      


After realizing that his one-dimensional narrative and stylistic approach makes everyone think he is shitting 24-carat gold bars, Darren Arronofsky decides to tackle his very first disaster movie taken straight from the Bible. Knowing that this is a terrible idea that is still going to pay for his car’s cocaine addiction, he makes sure he gives it a star-studded cast, because people are idiots.

Noah takes a radically different take on the Biblical epic by presenting the titular character as history’s first recovering drug-addict, finding God in the middle of withdrawal visions in prehistoric rehab (i.e: a cave) that convince him he should totally build a boat and put two of every animal in it. 
Noah’s wife and children, also laden with a number of burdens (two sons who are incestuous homosexuals in denial, a daughter who used to be a wizard trapped in the past and a wife who is in love with a unicorn), decide to help their madman of a father because hey what are you gonna do with all that free time. During the course of the movie, we get to see Noah struggle with his personal failings and family troubles for a good 120 minutes, before God finally decides to kill everybody and get on with the flooding which lasts for a good 40 minutes.

The movie ends with Noah leaving his Ark to discover a new World, only to discover that his wife is pregnant with the only human-unicorn hybrid baby which she conceived on the journey. The last 5-minutes are spent showing Noah braining the infant with a large-rock, before hunting down and killing the last Unicorn in the post-credits sequence. For his work, Darren Arronofksy is awarded with 6 Oscar Nomination, Two Golden Globes and infinite blowjobs.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: It’s not the Stanley Parable 2, but goddamn we’re trying.  

  

Following the unexpected success of artsy-parody-narrative-experiment of Stanley parable (or Wreden’s Inferno, as I like to call it), game develops the Chinese Room have decided to ride the wave of pretentiousness by releasing their own artsy almost-game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

In this game, you assume the role of Jeremy Pillock, a Southampton dock worker deep in debt to a number of shady dealers and also a deluded psychotic who one day wakes up to find that the world’s entire population has vanished except for three people, one of them being the hardest bastard in old Blighty and also his debt collector. After clicking shit and talking a bunch of vague bullshit for 20 hours, the player discovers that Jeremy was initially contemplating suicide but opted for killing everybody in the world instead at the beginning of the game. The final battle takes place in a Fish & Chip store, where the debt collector and the five survivors have fused into a giant flesh-monster that Jeremy has to kill using just a broken whiskey bottle and on-screen prompts.

The game becomes a stunning success and is let’s played by thousands of YouTubers, before finally being forgotten, two months later.

The Amazing Spiderman 2: We made a videogame, because we failed to make a movie the first time around.



The failure of the original Amazing Spiderman to convince studios that nobody wants to create half-assed teenage dramas drove Disney to take over the direction of the next Amazing Spiderman movie and try to actually make a halfway decent superhero movie this time around.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 is a 95-minute explody-fighty fest that tweens every single character of the Spiderman franchise and gives us the worst incarnation of Norman Osbourne yet (not counting the one where everybody forgot he was a serial killer and made him SHIELD director). All dialogue scenes are removed in the interest of steering attention away from crappy writing and because people have gotten over the fact that Peter Parker is a hopeless nerd who got to bang a 10 about 4 decades ago.

Kids love it, teenagers masturbate to it and old people hate it, but still buy the action figures making it a resounding success.

Final Fantasy XV: Got a problem with us ripping off windaria? Call 1-800-WE-ARE-SQUEENIX-EAT-SHIT



The visually stunning metrosexual masterpiece starring a hermaphrodite Japanese boy caught in the middle of a war between a magic-based and a technocratic nation sweeps everyone on E3 off their feet with its clear visual superiority that is guaranteed to put it ahead of the game in the next gen console war for at least 3 months or until people actually play it and discover that they have probably seen this shit before (PROTIP: it was one of the 3 good anime that came out in the 80’s).

The game follows the adventures of Noctis, the closest Squeenix ever came to ripping off Devil May Cry’s Dante, as he Dantes up the place by teleporting and jumping long distances and fighting people with swords and a pair of handguns with infinite ammo that he uses to fight giant bosses. There is also a love story thrown in that drags on for 20 hours, mostly because Noctis being a hermaphrodite cannot grasp the advances of either of his two suitors.

Final Fantasy XV becomes a shining example of Japan’s videogaming technological superiority and its gigantic budget becomes one of the reasons that causes the videogame industry to finally crash and burn.

300-Rise of the Empire: Frank Miller needs his coke money.



Instead of letting his past successes cushion him against his string of terrible ideas, Frank Miller decides to destroy 300 by writing a sequel to the comic book adaptation of a historical account written by Herodotus, whom we all know to have been full of shit, every now and then.

300: rise of an Empire tells the story of Xerxes, history’s most flamboyant ruler and his legendary clash with Themistocles in the battle of Salamis. The story abandons its façade of historical continuity and any smidgen of seriousness 20 minutes in, when Xerxes releases the Kraken, forcing Themistocles to climb on his Zeus-Mech and clash across the Aegean sea, before the one-eyed dude from the original 300 shoots a bow into space and it lands into Xerxes’ eye, killing him instantly. The movie ends with an awesome one-liner.

300 III: Alexander does Persia is scheduled for release in 2015

The Witcher 3: Racism is bad, m’kay?


Geralt fights fantasy Nazis and Elven Supremacists, overcoming every challenge by virtue of being the whitest man in the game.

The Witcher 3’s innovative sex and strip poker systems, as well as its extensive ‘flirt’ tree is however, what sets it apart from the rest of the games of its generation, along with the DLC that allows players to detect any women NPCs in the vicinity who are currently not on their periods. Nobody really notices the main storyline because the books are doing a way better job at it, to be honest.

RoboCop: Balls-less, life-less, blood-less two-fisted action!


Paul Verhoeven’s cyberpunk masterpiece gets gutted and the fun gorey bits are thrown out. Also, the screenwriters announce that ‘they cannot come up with an sf-style innovation for the movie’ except apparently making everything ipody and black.

The movie is absolute horseshit and a spit in the face of the original. People watch the 1980’s version at the comfort of their own homes and spend the 8 euro theater admission fee for nachos and beer.

Addendum:

Another year has come to an end and good fucking riddance to it, if you ask me. But at least I got a book done and someone’s probably got a laugh out of this article.
I dedicate this to you, dear reader; have a very Merry Christmas and an awesome 2014.