The smaller corpses were the first to rise. They came in pairs mostly, thirty-five total, all bearing on their bodies a mutilated design like a brand. Gashes, bites, bludgeoned skin and torn muscle. It would have made the fisherman cry had he seen them. But he did not, the bodies were far off and away from the fisherman who kept to his reel and whose tired face clocked the time spent with the extra rings underneath his eye lids. He had been at it since five in the morning and had experienced the wasting away of hours in the cool mist of the lake.
News reports of days in terror had worn him the past month and he figured this would be the day to relax, on the lake face. Kidnap and murder would not bite into his joy he thought. This simple lake and its placid waters would not change, he thought.
Until he got his first bite.
The fisherman put his legs against the boat and brought up his heavy reel that whined as it went further out. His tongue smacked against the top of his mouth and he could not hold his hat from falling atop the water and float like a brown lily pad set off. His muscles were strained and he wished he was younger. Scarred forearms were made worse as his hands hit the edge of the boat, his palms were getting burned from the steel line cutting into him. It was a thrill though and he knew because of how wildly his white hairs stuck out through wet skin. He fought against the bubbling water, he fought against the rope and with one final yelp he fought against his strained heart. He collapsed on his back, something went flying above him and landed into the boat.
It was a shirt.
Striped, a polo perhaps. Torn to ribbons. His eyes opened and he could feel another two cracks form beneath his eyes. His rod rolled away. The embarrassment and anger was too much for his face it seemed with how strongly his hands clasped at his cheeks and forehead. He was yelling into his skin and bit. The fisherman raised his red face to the cool air and saw the foreign object floating in front of him. It was off in the distance, a bump in his vision that interrupted the blinding morning crimson. He rubbed his eyes as the morning haze often made him see confusing things. When he opened, he saw more bumps and specks and black foreign objects further back. His heart was beginning to beat wildly and it did feel like he was young again. The fisherman looked down the side of his boat and saw spurts. A collection that grew like cancer and swallowed the hull. Festering, septic almost, it looked like something rotten clung at his boat and beneath the darkness of the waters. Was he in a cauldron spun to the wooden spoon of a witch or an alchemist? No, it was the vomit of the earth and sea.
He stuck his hand in and saw the pinkish red on his palm whose sticky viscosity disgusted him. He drew back and fumbled in his seat and wondered if the noise and explosion of the water would kill him somehow so he just sat, palms extended, looking for balance with his heavy belly that shook with the boat.
“God damnit.” He shouted, a geyser came up, water sprayed like a pillar of white had been erected and shattered instantly into small wet daggers that jetted out.
The swells stopped. He stood up. His body felt limp. The bodies had finally begun to come up again from their sad graves in gentle rhythm. One, two, three, four, up and away towards the rising sun.2: Episode 1 - July 15, 2017
After spending a few hours with Apollo, Dion was considering driving off the side of the mountain. He remembered the greeting Apollo had given him: ‘I’m your partner. Don’t be annoying.’ And the bored face Apollo made as he situated himself inside the sedan at the parking lot. Since then, Apollo had taken out his laptop and typed away. When Dion had tried turning on the radio, Apollo had stopped him. Slapped his hand away too, and told him not to break his concentration. That was the ride, in that awkward silence made worse by the fact that Dion was the only one who felt uncomfortable.
Looking out towards the broken rail guards had made Dion wonder if it would be so bad to jump but he shook the thoughts out of his head. He looked up to the reflection of exasperated eyes. What a terrible start to a friendship, what a terrible greeting, so much so that Dion did not even know the stranger's name, only realized it now as he peered at snooped at the laptop that said Apollo’s computer somewhere in the corner of the screen.
“Hands on the wheel.” They swerved. Apollo straightened it out.
“Sorry.” Dion’s heart was beating and he found it odd to derive some pleasure from it.
“Keep your eyes on the road.” Apollo demanded.
“Sorry.” Dion was stiff and forward.
“Don’t apologize.” He closed his laptop with a ceremonious clap. “We’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
He waited for a moment then said sorry again.
It was worse now without the cacophony of typing clicks or the intermittent sniffs of air. They came along another bend and the fall down the side of the mountain looked steeper. Now Dion felt the urge to talk as he looked down the side of the mountain and felt his grip becoming loose.
“So, uh, is this your first mission?” Dion scratched his neck.
“No, it’s not.” Apollo said.
“How long have you been in the game?”
“Wow, you were young when you started.” Dion was smiling nervously.
Dion opened his eyes wide and began licking his lips, he did not know why he was dribbling drool and only realized it when it came down to his chin.
“A Vicar for thirteen years.” Dion mused. “So you’ve seen them right? Creatures. Monsters. Demons?”
“Sure.” Apollo drew his leather bags near to his seat.
“How is it?” Dion’s mouth was slack jawed now. A real child like curiosity from a twenty-two-year-old man.
Apollo looked past Dion to the window, then to the forest that colored the mountain range a drab green like cheap wall paper. He looked closer, to the lake and closer still to people he saw on the water surface, swimming and dunking each other with wisp-like clothes. A baptism, Apollo assumed. He felt an urge to shower all of a sudden as his clothes were becoming stickier and wet.
“It’s frightening.” Apollo answered.
“Oh, I’m sure. How many times did have ya fought?” Dion asked.
“Is this an interrogation?” Apollo drew his sharp eyes to Dion. Apollo could feel sweat upon his forehead, the summer sun was too bright for him.
“I’m sorry.” Dion went back into his seat. “Right. I get it. It’s rude to ask so much about you without introducing myself. Well, my name’s Dion and I - ”
“Don’t care.” Apollo interrupted. “I know everything I want to know about you. Taken into an orphanage, a Japanese-American from Virginia. Poor and abandoned, at the age of six you were indoctrinated and spent the next twelve years training in that lonely hell you’d call the Vatican. You had your operation five years ago and after adjusting, well here you are now. A real church boy, fresh out the fucking archways. Must be nice being outside that prison.”
Dion felt bothered like someone had poked his chest and left the hole open. “Hey come on. You represent the church as well, don’t insult it.”
“They give me work. That’s it.”
“What does that mean? If you weren’t raised there then where?” Dion sighed.
“Doesn’t matter.” Apollo said.
“Everyone has a back story, come on.” Dion turned and swore the corners were getting sharper.
“A man’s origins are important to him and him alone. To people it’s just a good way to play arm chair psychologist. And let me tell you something, that’s the worst thing to be, in someone else's small fucking box. I’ve heard enough of that psycho-babble-injured-child bullshit to know I don’t want it or need it.” He said with finality. Dion stared, confused on why he had even bothered asking. That was the end of the conversation in that car. For the final moments of the ride was in idleness, a jumping and wobbling idleness.
The drive had begun to lull them and even Apollo could feel his eyes getting tired to the cradle of the car. They would have slept had the giant sign not rose above their head, jagged and wilting down towards them, a nasty rust-red that blemished the sign. Apollo turned around and read it as they came past it, Welcome to Havenbrook. He turned around and saw what it meant. It looked like a city about to dissolve into the forest. The road was broken and inside of the dirt, you could see the black shards of asphalt. The stores were of stone, barely, and from the crevices of their walls, you could see the wild grass and weed growing out serpentine like. There was a pharmacy, a good will store, candy store and all of it was so barren and lifeless as to be mistaken for a photograph of some grim Depression-era stock photo. It had the same wasted palette too, gray, brown, black. Apollo almost confused it for those ghost town tour props, like the walls would fall down after revealing themselves as being cardboard cut outs. But it was real. As they came along the sidewalk and looked out, it was all real; the broken turbulent road, the empty-eyed people wandering about like zombies, an old factory chimney that looked like a pipeline straight into the heavens.
They stood in front of the pharmacy and looked across the street. There was a parking lot, the children were on the floor pulling out fistfuls of wild grass and driving their toy cars. The adults were looking up to a man and suckled on water bottles.
“Why do you think we have been punished? Hmm?” The man said to a speechless crowd. “It was by design, a design we have failed. The Lord's design, I tell you.”
“Amen.” Some old soul said in the background. The younger parents wanted to agree but felt choked to answer.
“Our debauchery, our gluttony, our worship of these false idols known as money, known as lust, known as man has delivered unto us a punishment we so deeply deserve.”
The discount preacher rose and stood atop a turned over shopping cart. The wheels still turned.
“Some may weep and moan for the fresh dead that litter the news and obituaries, I don’t I tell ye. I know the truth. I know God’s will let me tell you and it has offered me a kind of salvation. He offers it to you too. And know this, that this plague of death is His machination and if you listen, you too can avoid it! Let me tell ye!” He was spitting with the excitement. “He sends the trumpeters up and above the mountain, He sends the plague through the rivers! And the horrors, they live beneath us in want and wait. And we have deserved it. So let me help you, for only the word of God can deliver you from this evil. Let me tell ye. Amen!” The preachers baritone voice seemed to ring with a sweet timbre and finally force the rest of the crowd to cheer or gawk or leave. The preacher fell back to earth, nearly taking off with that throttle of blood rushed screaming. He began shaking hands, talking privately, mingling as they say. The non-believers looked afraid and ashamed of being afraid.
“I don’t think that’s in the bible.” Dion closed the door of the car with a gentle tap. He began to feel cold for a moment before he realized it was sweat against the gust of hot air. His head was high above the car, Apollo measured him with squinted eyes. A few inches taller than the six-five the church had reported. He added the mental note and turned that dissecting gaze to the preacher.
“It doesn’t matter what is in the bible. It’s a brand, honestly, one with a hell of a lot of name recognition. I’m sure to these idiots it may seem like Christ himself came down and granted some reverent truth.” Apollo wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Don’t be so snarky, man.”
“Doesn’t make me wrong.” Apollo watched as the people helped the preacher down and started throwing small coins from their light purses inside the hat. “Well, I didn’t expect any of them to be rocket scientists but this shit still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
“Come on.” Dion bemoaned louder.
“What? Their accumulative IQ sinks into the single digits, I’m observing what I've confirmed.” Apollo said. Dion walked around the car but felt like cutting through it with that imposing stride. He stood in front of Apollo.
“I know what you are now.” Dion frowned. “You’re one of those realists or nihilist or something or another. An insensitive child who can’t look past his narcissism to the good in people. How can you call yourself a servant of God?”
“Servant? No. Child of God? Sure.” Apollo looked back to the people still huddling. “You’re only a loud mouth because your ignorance allows it. This is a shit hole of a city, nothing you feel or say will change that.”
“That’s what I mean. You can’t see the good, they’re misguided and desperate is all.”
“Two hundred.” Apollo interrupted. “This city has seen two hundred rapes since last year from a measly population of about three thousand four hundred. Wanna know the only thing that out performs that? The rate at which a motherfucker kills another motherfucker. Five hundred out of three thousand four hundred. Wanna know the rate of drug abuse? Rehab admission?” Dion walked back. He felt trepidation coming onto him and his high risen chest seemed deflated in a way. “All right. I get it.” Dion said.
“All right. I get it.” Dion said.
“Most of these fucks can’t even read. Read, Dion, read. Wouldn’t be surprised if that preacher carries around the holy book for show.” Apollo pointed to the discount-preacher and the cart he drove with loose changing coming off it. “I’ve made a fair judgment. These people, they’re like Neanderthals. Some of them even look like it too. Like they came right out of the fucking wax museum.”
“Alright, that’s enough.” Dion looked down at Apollo. Apollo looked up. Dion’s shadow was wide across the floor yet looking closer into Dion he could see the innocence in his eyes and it made Apollo calm. He was a child in a man’s body, he thought. A bit dafter than one though.
“These people need our help. With the recent killings, you could be a bit more sympathetic, ya know? Stop judging them. Only He has that right.” Dion nodded his head and echoed his sentiment. “Are you even a Vicar? A savior for these people? Not with that attitude.”
“I don’t care to be a hero and I don’t care to be sympathetic. These people were already at the edge of self-destruction.” Apollo threw a sardonic laugh at Dion. “This thing is probably a huge fucking joke, the cities so shit they’ve confused their problems for the work of a demon or antichrist. They’re delusions, really.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I am. Nine times out of ten - from experience - these things tend to be false positives. I’m not surprised too. With all the shit man is capable of it gets hard to tell who has a decent heart and who's a monster beneath the flesh. The violence can just be too fucking palpable.” He drew his lung in for a deep breath of air. Dion’s eyes yielded to Apollo and he found himself craning his head in a kind of defeat. Finally, Apollo let him go and looked at his phone. He walked towards the noise of people and left Dion behind to bite his nails. There was a vacuous feeling inside of his chest that made him hunch over as if he was missing the very bones to stand himself upright.
He looked up, the sun was blinding and he said: "This is going to be terrible."
3: 12:34 PM
Mr. Molyneaux heard the whimper of the door as it opened but saw no one come through. He sat behind the counter with his glazed eyes and adjusted his glasses to correct the confusion. No one walked through, he assured himself. But there was a thud. Somewhere in the many aisles of his small shop, he could hear the thudding and tapping like light rain. His face shifted direction to the sound and the bag of discount razors that fell and scraped the floor.
“Who’s there?” Mr. Molyneaux said, hopeful that it was nothing. There was another thud on another aisle and he could feel the creeping sensation of fear tapping along his spine and playing music with the rapid tempo of his heart beat. Things would not stop falling, noises would not stop rising and he swore he could hear a distinct crawling sound from the floor.
“Who the hell is there?” He screamed out again and knocked over wooden shavings and miniature horses and blocks of wood. His carving knife rolled on the counter as he stood up, though he could not lock his legs. Between fear and old age, his seized knees could only hold a right angle and shake. He lifted his head as high as he could and saw nothing but a littered floor.
But he still heard the crawling. Like mice or some centipede dancing along the floor. He tried calming down but remembered the newspaper and it fed his paranoia. He was remembering the words and pinching his legs for doing so, ‘two old homeless people found dead, half-bodied and dragged into the sewers’. He started shaking and it looked as if he was having a seizure on his two feet.
Crawling noises, again. He walked back and bumped into a wall. He was going to die, he felt it. Then silence overtook the store. There was only his palpitations as if someone had thrown a wrench inside of a broken engine and turned the key to see it chug. He held his chest with his hand and pulled on his white hairs with the other. His breathing was uneven. His hand rubbed his scalp to fold the standing hairs back on his nape and balding head.
That was when he felt the long breath. A cold breath that seemed to suck the heat in his body, blowing against his fingers. He fell to the numbness like a weight on his back that pulled him to the chair. His skull pulsed with rushing blood that fueled the frightening thoughts in his brain, I will die.
He was in the jaws of the beast, he figured. All he could do was jump and give the illusion of putting up a fight. So in one swoop, he did all he could: cry, moan, beg, take his knife and push himself against the counter to a proper corner where he could huddle. He did it in such a quick succession that he tripped over himself and landed on the edge of the glass counter top, knife crying out as it scratched the surface.
“Don’t kill me.” He pleaded with that muffled voice as his face pushed against the glass. “Please, don’t.”
And all he could hear was a maniacal laugh.
A snorting laugh.
A stupid, childish laugh.
He turned and saw his grand daughter on the floor, red and turning purple as she chortled and suffocated herself with humor. Mr. Molyneaux’s shaking did not end rather, was transmuted. He no longer felt limp and oozing. His limbs felt like tree trunks filled with the sap of rage and he went up to her and grabbed her by the shirt.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” He screamed. She laughed. “I’m seventy-four, do you know how easy it would be to give me a heart attack?”
“I’m sorry gran-paw.” She tried to say in the brief moments of calm.
“Sorry? You’ve made a mess of me. Scared the soul right out of me, girl. God damnit, Sophie. What the hells the matter with you?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I just thought you’d be happy to see me.” She cleaned the drool off her overalls and blue shirt that came out. The old man looked at his grand daughter's small face in surprise. He couldn't believe the wide grin on her as if it didn’t even belong to her, stolen from a mad clown. She looked like a snake with its mouth unhinged.
Mr. Molyneaux sighed again and relief filled his lungs as he breathed what he now realized was precious air. He sat back, laid the knife down and rubbed his temples.
“Why’re you here? Shouldn’t you be at school?” He said.
“Well, aren’t you happy to see me.”
“I would be if it was after school.”
“They canceled school, got scared by the news today. Another abduction. Don’t you read the paper?”
“Are you lying Sophie?”
“The hell I’m lying.” She lifted herself up to the counter and let her legs dangle.
“Hell isn’t a curse. It’s just a place.”
“It’s both.” Mr. Molyneaux found his glasses on the floor. They looked bent to his eyes, felt bent on his nose. “Well, what’re you doing here anyways? Go play with your friends.”
“I don’t like playing games. I’m here for merchandise.”
“Merchandise?” He looked at her through the diagonal spectacles. “You certainly have my blood in you. How long you been selling those candies?”
“They’re chocolates. The highest quality, processed and manufactured in Switzerland since nineteen-forty-seven.” She showed her gums with a wide grin. Her teeth looked like broken down train tracks with all the gaps. "Besides… what are you, IRS?”
“What do you know of the IRS.” He reached for a half finished block of wood and began carving again.
“Enough not to answer to you.” She took out a wad from her overalls. “I sell enough.” In her closed hands was a bundle of twenties.
“Let me see if they’re real.” Mr. Molyneaux dragged his eyes to the money. Sophie reeled it back.
“Let me see the good stuff first.” Her tone became deeper and Mr. Molyneaux knew what the voice meant. Haggling.
“You want a box?” He asked.
“That’ll be thirty bucks.”
“It was ten per box last time.”
“You didn’t have money last time. I pitied you, honestly.”
“I won’t take anything short of fifteen dollars for both boxes.”
“God damn girl. First, you try to kill me and now you try to bankrupt me?”
“Twenty-five for the two.”
“Who the hell raised you when you were young? Me. Who changed your diapers and took you to the doctor? Me. Who lets you run amok in his store? Me.”
“Fifteen.” She did not blink, did not move. She looked like a blue wall. They both drew their stern faces but the old man was the first to turn.
He opened his counter and realized a depressing absence of green. He began to sweat again and felt the chill of another kind of death coming onto him.
Mr. Molyneaux twitched a bit but ended up shaking her hand.
“I’ll give them to you after I close shop.” He had to rip the bill from her hands. “Stay on the counter and take up space. I want the store to look like it’s open.” Mr. Molyneaux said. She stood for a bit, it wasn't long. He turned, she was gone. Disappeared into the back where she climbed the gondolas, a little metal jungle, searching and inspecting with the kind of curiosity of a primate. He smiled. She was his grand daughter. Very small, though mentally too old for middle school. She resembled him more than his own daughter, Sophie’s mother. For inside of Sophie was that stubbornness he found in himself. It was a likeness that vindicated Mr. Molyneaux and his failing bloodline, a collection of reprobates. He wondered if his genes must have played leap-frog for a generation. The thought made him chuckle and in the humor, he almost lost track of the door opening again. The creak, the bell ring.
Sophie dropped. She stared from the back room where her gaze locked on to the counter space, it looked like she would burn a hole through the glass.
Dion came forward first with a pumped chest and eager smile. Apollo was behind. While Dion wasted his time lurking the aisles with hungry eyes, Apollo made his way to the counter.
“I want a pack.” Apollo pointed down to a gold-branded box of cigarettes. He eyed a map of the town and put it on the counter too.
“You two new around here?” Mr. Molyneaux asked. Sophie felt pride from her grandfather's stiff face. He reminded her of an old oak tree, a slab left to dry and harden into a bulwark.
“Something like th- Put that back.” Apollo pointed to the bag of potato chips Dion came up with.
“Please, I’m hungry.”
“We’ll eat later. Put that back.”
“Stop being obnoxious.” Apollo hissed.
“What?” Dion looked around for sympathy.
“It’s rude.” Apollo said.
“You of all people? Calling me rude?” Dion went over back to the wall of many-colored plastic bags and almost knocked it down with his firm placing.
“That it?” Mr. Molyneaux rung up the number. Apollo looked at a silver wrist-watch hanging by the side and added it to the potpourri.
“Oh, but you’ll buy that huh. Real important to tell the time. And the cigarettes. You addict.” Dion said. Apollo threw an annoyed stare at him.
“That it?” Mr. Molyneaux repeated.
“Yeah.” Apollo said. He took out his wallet and set down some bills and when his eyes came up he saw the blond girl. Sophie felt cold as if the veins in her body had all stopped their transactions. She swore he would eat her, hurt her, kill her. She held her breath behind the wall though did not understand her fear. They were just people, weren’t they? No. Maybe. They were odd, she knew it, felt it. It was enough to justify her shivering legs.
“No, actually. I’d like some news if you don’t mind.” Apollo redirected his eyes to the wood-carved horse on the counter.
“We don’t sell the morning paper here.” Mr. Molyneaux said.
“Good thing you have a mouth and an ear, right?” Apollo could feel he had offended Mr. Molyneaux in some way. It was in the air like steam or mist. “I just wanna know if anything strange has happened around here.”
“Besides you?” Mr. Molyneaux said. He did not like them and it was clear on his face. Maybe it was because of how tall they were or the color of their skin or Apollo's rugged face, but they made him uncomfortable as if they were things pretending at being human and falling into uncanny valley.
“With that attitude, I’m surprised you even have a business. I just want information.” Apollo said.
“This is why no one likes you city people. Always insulting us.” Mr. Molyneaux mumbled. “Why do you care about the news so much?”
“What business is it of yours.” Apollo said.
“None. And since it ain’t my business to know it ain't my business to tell. Maybe you should try being a friend.” Mr. Molyneaux said.
“Right? Right! He's not anyone's friend.” Dion chimed. He walked up next to Apollo and donned his bright, piercing, smile. “We’re just with the church. Just here to help the people with a little faith, you see."
“Don’t know what the bible can do.”
“About what?” Dion asked.
“About the crazy weather, we been having lately. Or the strangeness of the city. Or the killings.”
“Anything you know about them?” Apollo pressed and they could all feel something drop. It was the sound of the little rapport they had thrown away, into an echo-less pit. Mr. Molyneaux frowned again.
“No. I don’t know anything. Go buy the paper elsewhere or turn on the tube.” Mr. Molyneaux opened the register, took the money and they both kind of floundered. They looked like fish breathing hopelessly on land. Sophie saw the wide mouth on Apollo and laughed. She knocked over shelves onto herself. Then her fear came back. Everyone seemed to turn to her but only Dion ran to help. He extended his hand and she crawled away from his worried face.
“Are you hurt?” He said.
“Of course she’s not.” Apollo said from afar. Mr. Molyneaux looked helpless with his quaking hands. Dion lifted the shelf, he picked her up and stood her though she squirmed. She looked angry and bitter, he backed away. He wanted to apologize, started on it but felt a tap on his shoulder. They left with the plastic bag of things on their hands. Sophie looked at their shadows through the windows of the store and how they dragged along with the falling sun, she could not help but feel small. It was the smallest she had ever felt and it incited in her an anger. Anger grew into desperation, desperation for a relief she wanted from her frustration.
She ran out.
She’d give them a piece of her mind, especially the brown one with the mouth.
Mr. Molyneaux called out for her, but she was too far ahead and hounding the men trying their way into the flow of pedestrians. She reached them almost but from the sideline, she saw darkness and then her whole face was smothered in that same blackness. When she looked up a man stared down at her, disgusted. His face was like clay, cracked and dry and beginning to harden and stay disgusted. She stood up. Rubbed her eyes and then she realized warmth on her nose. Warmth down her lips and on her chin. Her nose was bleeding and as the faces of strangers looked around to her she began to feel small again like some great weight was cast on her shoulders and forcing her to the floor.
She ran to her grand father and from the man with the blood on his shirt. He wiped his shirt and by now everyone around them had begun gossiping and observing. The strangers, the vicars. The bloodied man looked back at Sophie. He too was feeling nervous and he too experienced that same heaviness cast on his ankles. It was a strange thing, this moment, all four of them looking at each other. All ignorant to the nature of the other. The players all set, but blind to each other's allegiance.
Apollo and Dion who would kill the bloodied man. The bloodied man who would kill Sophie. Sophie who would die a lonely death.
They all looked at each other for a moment and split from the nauseous gaze of the crowd. All terrified in some way, all taking their separate ways down the same labyrinth.4: 3:15 PM
It was only a few minutes into the murder and John Alestor was already interrupted. It was a knocking that came from his front door, a familiar tempo. He rose and stood in his sweat, felt it collect on his collar. He set down the fish bone blade on a table and left the room in darkness as he skated across the wood floor, into the stairs that he hustled down through. All of him was white, the boxers, the socks, the shirt. All of it except for a particular red stain on him. Realizing it, he started taking off his shirt. The knocking was getting angrier.
“Hold on.” He moved button to button. Grunted. Ripped it, threw it inside of a closet to his rear to forget about it and walked towards the door.
"Hold on." He screamed. It sounded like a battering ram was oppressing his walls.
Alestor looked through the keyhole and sighed.
“You’re home early.” He opened a sliver of the door. His eyes spilled through the slit. The capillaries on his eyes throbbed, his iris's looked like black holes as if little red worms jumped into an abyss.
“I was studying.” The man behind the door said.
"Right, hold on." Alestor said.
There were five locks in total, two chains, three dials that thumped and clanked as they hit the the wall and the floor. When they opened he couldn’t help but sweat, especially with his son in front of him.
The look they gave each other was standoffish with their raised and stretched chins to give the appearance of an under bite. Their noses bloomed. It was a long look between the two. He was a slim boy, tall too but you would not have noticed with how low his head was. His clothes were too big for him and it made him seem like a mummy underneath a ceremonial wrapping.
“Why are you naked?” The son asked.
“Oh?” Alestor looked down. “Oh. Oh, some girl spilled her lunch on me. I wasn’t even mad, you should have seen her sad face. I took the clothes out, they’re in the laundry now.” The boy responded with a dull and pale look.
“Is that the truth?” He asked.
“Of course. What’s the point in lying about something so small.” Alestor said.
“I don’t know, you tell me. What is the point?” The boy said.
By now he was getting nervous again like he had gotten earlier before. He looked around to see who else was outside, neighbors who watered their grass lazily with beers in their hands, another who backed his giant orange truck into a pole. That one was in a hurry. Moving houses, probably, and Alestor was not surprised. His panorama gaze grew more intense and with it that narcissistic paranoia that drew his eyelids shut and made his eyes beady. He wanted back inside his cove and yanked on his son’s arm.
“Come on, get in.” He said. He dragged his son who plopped down on the sofa.
“Are you hungry?” Alestor asked.
“How was your day at school?”
“Fine. How was your day at the clinic?”
“Fine.” Alestor bit his lips and looked up the stairs. He brought his eyes back to his son.
"Just fine?" He asked.
“I dealt with a young mother, she left her husband and child. Didn’t know why she left them, only knew they made her feel terrible.” Alestor said.
“Sounds like it was rough.” His son turned on the television.
“A little, for me. A lot, for her. I’m just the man she talks to.”
“Rough, huh. Would you still do it if it wasn’t your job?”
“Maybe.” Alestor began to climb up the stairs and hung by the rail. This is how it always was, his son sinking into a sort of vegetative state. Ignoring everything, distancing himself as much as he could. It always made Alestor a little relieved, then sad at feeling relieved. His son looked to his direction as he put another foot on a step. It felt like he was under a search light with the intense heat on top of his half naked body.
“I need to go find a shirt.” Alestor laughed. "Then some forms and stuff afterwords. Long day."
“Dad.” Isaac lifted himself.
“I’ve been looking into transferring credits. We can go anywhere.”
“Where’d this come from?”
“A couple months of mulling it over. And the city.” His eyes narrowed. “The city, mostly. It’s draining having to listen and watch the nasty shit going on. They closed off half the school the other day. There was graffiti all over the chemistry labs. Crazy shit written. Junkies did it, the police think.”
“I understand. If you want to go I can pay for it.” Alestor was leaning off the guard rail.
“I don’t want to go without you.” Isaac stood.
“Don’t worry about me.”
“If mom was here I wouldn’t have to, but I can already imagine the loneliness you’d feel without me. That stuffs unbearable, you know that...” Isaac grabbed his elbow nervously. It felt like an anchor.
“I know it better than you.” Alestor gripped the wooden rail. He could feel his fingers digging deep and beginning to crack it into splinters. “I study it, I live it.”
“I want us out of this city. It’s not good. It’s like a fucking dungeon in here, with the people, with the streets.” Isaac said. His father seemed unmoved and only grew worse. “I went out the other day to grab a burger. I saw some woman dragging around some flowers in the corner of the street, weeping, just fucking crying and walking around. She looked like a ghost. I turned and next thing you know, she almost became one. Jumped in front of a semi.” He gave a desperate chuckle. “Good thing there was a fucking red light.”
“Who cares about that? What about the sto- I’m fucking nineteen.”
“I don’t care. You’re in my house.” Alestor punched the wood. It bent.
“Alright, that’s fine. That’s fine…That’s fine.” Isaac held his breath. His animated hands orchestrated some woeful plea. “We need to move. For the good of both of us. We have the money, I know we do.”
“I know we have the money because I made the money. I started the business. Me and your mother. Both. We made an empire through all the shit in our lives.”
“Empire? It’s an office. An office you can leave any time you want, like mom would have wanted. Don’t confuse your crutch for a dying wish.”
“To hell with that.” The wood broke. It collapsed and sent Alestor forward had he not readjusted his weight. Isaac fell back on the sofa, he could not speak. “I will not fucking leave, I can’t. You’re young and brash and lacking in foresight, you don’t know suffering. You don’t know starvation, you live in the luxury of my spoils. With fucking food in the fridge! With fucking air conditioning!” He began to kick the pillars along the stairs. “My work feeds you. It feeds me. It fed your mother and it would have fed our daughter. It was what made us. It was what we were good at, what we were meant to do until - ” His hoarse voice stung Isaac. Alestor was looking for the words. “You don’t think I want to leave this shit hole? I do, but I can’t. I don’t have that stern stuff in me to weather a future without it.”
Isaac was tearing up. “And I’m telling you that’s a good thing. It’s good to be afraid.” Isaac managed to say between sniffling and slapping his thighs.
Alestor ran down and put both hands against his sons face and he would have maneuvered them to his neck had he lacked the little sanity left.
“Some people like the idea of moving on, they can’t bear tragedy and think it’ll change. That it’s possible to change. But I know the truth. Eight years of psychiatric training, two decades of anecdotal evidence and insanity have taught me this: people don’t fucking move on. They can’t.” Alestor shook his son. “There’s a hole in my heart and it's scary to look at. It’s the type of terror that makes people want to jump. But the smart ones? They learn to walk around it Live with it even.” He let go of his sons face.
“Or live in it.” Isaac said. He rubbed the red markings off his cheeks. What a smite those words were that drew Alestor back. He raised his finger to his son but was too shaken inside, he could feel it in his chest.
“I’m not jumping in! I’m not letting go. I’m learning how to deal with her fucking death the only way I can. I’ll fix it too! Do you understand?”
Isaac did not understand. He only felt his face swell and in response looked for a proper meditative pose to sit in. When he locked in place, he looked like those gargoyle's atop the sky scrapers all brooding like. He sat in silence and turned on the television, raising the volume until the green bars would not go further. Now it was time to be patient. A perfect catatonic state. He hoped his quiet existence would help him disappear from his fathers eyes but it only stung Alestor deeper. He felt his heart fall into his throat, down to his gut. He cleaned his face of spit and a nose bleed that was coming out. His hands were hot.
“I need to get back to work.” Alestor said to no one. "We're not having this conversation again. You hear me?"
The air was cool against his naked body. He walked up, past a hallway to a corner of the house that seemed highest of all. There was a latch on the ceiling and he began working the lock. He looked back to the loud cartoons and silent son. His chest depressed. It looked clear so he entered, closing it behind himself.
He was in that dark room again where he heard a shingle of metal and shimmy of a man strapped in leather. Alestor moved his hand into the darkness of the room until he grazed the rope and pulled.
In front of him was a gagged man. Masked, devoid of identity. He looked like cattle to Alestor, disgusted him like cattle too.
On his back were the runes that spelled out Bael, written around the circumference of a circle. Further within was another circle and more long lines that made it seem like a strange constellation or the lettering of some primeval language. Alestor spoke the alien tongue and began to feel the sharp designs on the sacrifices back. The tattoo looked gray underneath the buzzing fluorescent light, his body looked gray. A stool sat to the rear of the gagged man. Above it a cup that smelled foul like something gamey. It was a boiled mixture, it steamed. Alestor drank the muddy water and ran his fingers to the right of the cup to a line of cocaine now ruined by his greedy fingers. He sniffed, his nose bled even more. But it gave him courage and he tightened his face as he closed his mouth to muffle a scream.
“He doesn’t understand but he will. Won’t he, master?” He said with a strained face. It was all hitting him like a diamond bullet through his brain and out his balls, shining out through his perforated body. Alestor pushed down on the gagged mans back with his palm and inspected the canvas. “You will too. Monster that you are. Rapist. Murderer. You will be redeemed and in your sacrifice we will all see the goodness of my cause.” He traced the seal with his fingers. “I’ve saved you from a terrible fate.” Alestor was trying to convince himself for his hands waned. He took another sniff of cocaine.
His heart would not stop slamming itself inside the cage of his chest. He could feel tingles up to his finger tips and at the touch of the blade felt his energy discharged, collapsing onto metal handle.
“Don't weep. You will not be the last.” He said. They both cried. The blade rose high up. There was nothing for the gagged man but the comfort of their heavy breaths like bodies in heat. He could see his death coming, from the corner of his tired eyes where the light reflected from. It looked like a lone star in the night sky and fell like a comet.5: 5:12 PM
"Does he have a name?" Dion asked.
"It doesn't matter. He's just the Priest. Might be the only one left too."
Apollo took two steps into the church courtyard and already a nervousness came upon his shoulders that made him shudder. It was the first time in a while since he had that visceral gut reaction like his belly had been punctured and everything acidic in him came out. His pace was slow and he looked with close attention at the miserable expressions on the statues around him. It was a mausoleum of pain. The statues of angels and of Virgin Mary and of Christ. His shoulders twitched again as he heard the sound of the giant wooden doors open. There was a clicking sound coming from within. The attendees were leaving and they wore on their face fresh humility.
“Ah, we missed the sermon.” Dion said.
"Good." Apollo said.
They slithered through the crowd, coming to the holy water and dipping their hands to put the wet cross on their foreheads. It tingled, it bit. It reminded them of what they were not. Human.
The halls were large and arched, the noise of their footsteps reverberated back to them. They looked at the Gothic pillars and the way they converged into a dome and they looked at the feet of those pillars where the devout sat on their knees. They locked their hands into unbreakable chains of faith. Past them was the Priest. He was smiling until he counted his money.
He jingled the basket and had disappointment on his face as he saw the yield.
“We’re here.” Apollo said. The painted glass followed them with their neon eyes. He looked side to side and swore their dull faces dragged.
“Who are you?” The Priest was shaking his little basket.
“The Vicars?” Dion said.
“Uh. Hmm. You texted us? Right?” Dion said.
“Mmm. Maybe.” The Priest looked up. “Follow me.” Perhaps he played stupid, perhaps he was stupid. Either way, it didn’t help Apollo from feeling that grating annoyance that made his eyes twitch.
They headed to the graves, through doors upon doors. Doors into doors. Just as Apollo's blood was beginning to boil they made it outside. To the grave and grass and chorus of chirping and of crickets. They were at the graves and Apollo looked down to the piles of dirt, more doors. Entrances into the lives of the long dead who breathed into the two men a sense of mortality as they went past the erected stones. The recent years were the most frightening and Dion felt life come out of him as he read over a strangers grave, '1996-2017'.
Gust broke into the yard. The sound of bells broke into them, their concentration scattered to the all-encompassing sounds. They were hollow tings all around them, coming from the graves. The bells were strung up on the tops of small plastic poles like broken pipeline.
“Why would a corpse want room service?” Apollo asked.
“What? Room service? Oh.” The Priest laughed. “Oh! The bells?”
“No, just the sound, really.” Apollo said.
“Aha. Yes. We install those into every grave.”
“Into? Install? What?” Apollo said.
“It's tradition mostly. Started out of a fear.” The Priest raised his hands up and away from himself like a whimsical jester. “We had an accident a few years back. We came around to move a body, Andrew Boyle - God rest his soul - Well about this Andrew Boyle,” The Priest stopped. Apollo sniffed, Dion rolled his eyes and looked at the butterflies along the slabs. "I’ll cut it short then. We found claw marks in his coffin.”
“What the heck.” Dion said. “Was it a dog?”
“In the coffin, you idiot.” Apollo said. “Not on. In. What kind of fucking dog digs six feet under anyway?”
“Yes, it was very strange. Poor guy must have suffocated.” The Priest stopped at a worn grave, made a gross expression and moved on. “You could see the stiff fear on his face, like a statue. Like those poor souls in Pompeii who I’m sure saw death the same way he did, superimposed on their eyes. Blackness.”
"How bleak." Dion said.
“Should have made sure he was dead.” Apollo looked around to spit and decided better to do it on the path than the graves.
“Aha. Yeah. Well it was a strange thing for us and since then we've added a bell and rope to every hole.”
“That’s some fucked up room service.” He rubbed the dirt off of a plaque. A small karmic gesture. “How can you tell if anyone's still alive when it's this windy?”
The Priest looked up. He closed his eyes and began scratching his head. That was all the answer the two needed to feel that sense of dread grow inside of them again.
“Why’d you move the body anyway?” Dion asked.
“Weirdest thing. His wife wanted it moved.” He looked back and Dion could feel the grin pierce him as if nails had been hammered into the gaps inside his vertebrae. He hunched and cringed and then the Priest continued out of enjoyment. “She said she had a dream about him, that he was drowning. She had it four days in a row before she had enough and well...”
“And well.” Dion repeated. Sweat collected on his forehead.
The Priest held the tension with his smile before he broke into a jovial mood. The laugh competed with the wind and it drove his hair up.
“Well, that was years ago. We’re better now. You make mistakes, you learn. That kind of thing.” The Priest said.
Out of fear, Dion laughed too.
The grounds keeper looked at them with his leaf blower aimed without care at a wall. He was driving grass trimmings up and to the vines that extended like green fingers. The Priest looked at him too and copied his dumb face.
“Who are you again?” The Priest said.
“Enough fucking around. We’re the Vicars from the Vatican.” Apollo’s loud voice straightened out Dion.
“How can I be sure of that?” The Priest said.
“On account of us being the only ones here and knowledgeable about the fact. You didn't exactly post up the job in the yellow papers. We have a schedule, a text, a name.” Apollo wanted to add more than that but tempered the thoughts.
“Us four. God is here too, you savages.” The Priest smiled.
“Us four.” Dion's face eased. He still smelled of sweat.
“You have quite a mouth.” He looked to Apollo who rolled his neck like a newborn child, he felt something was about to take off in his skull.
“But when you're right, you're right. Right? I’ve summoned you and for a reason. Come along.” He dangled a key. They were in front of a small shed, dense with the smell of dirt and oil. The planks on the wall were half eaten by termites, the room was full with tools; scythes, hammers, nails mostly. The Priest lurked inside of the darkness of the shed where they could only see the small rays of light from the holed ceiling and the ephemeral particles of dust.
He came out with two rusted shovels.
“I can’t kill anything with a shovel.” Dion said.
Apollo was still recovering from his headache and rubbed his temples. “I can come up with a couple ways.” He mumbled.
“You need to think harder.” The Priest pointed to Dion. “And you need to relax.” His finger shifted to Apollo. “Your friends brought your stuff in a very strange way. They buried it, didn't tell me where though."
"Because they told us." Apollo said. "It's under a 'Mrs. Ruth'"
“They didn't tell me.” Dion said.
"You'd probably forget it even if they did." Apollo said.
Dion kicked dirt towards him. The Priest kept shallow smile.
"Why's it so elaborate anyway?" Dion moaned. His spade dragged along the stony road and hit every bump along the curve up to the site.
“Because it's too dangerous otherwise." Apollo said. "They used to just hand them to the keeper but there was an incident before with a rogue entity. Killed the guy, stole the weapons and used them to kill the Vicars themselves. Real fucking character that one. They sent a dozen Vicars after her. Most of them never came back and those that did killed themselves shortly after. The church never made that mistake again and you shouldn’t either. Don’t trust a single soul.” Apollo blocked the sun with his hand. Dion’s eyes were wide.
"But...but. What was her name?" Dion asked.
"Justiciar Léona." Apollo said "Don't worry, this was a hundred and fifty years ago. I’m sure the hourglass turned her over long ago."
Dion could not close his eyes as he imagined it. Apollo looked to him, hoping to see a frightened expression but suddenly saw Dion's face contort and scrunch. He was smiling.
Dion came out of the imagination, he looked at Apollo and returned his face to neutral before running up the hill. Something felt raw to Apollo as he processed all the faces around, Dion's moment of gladness, the priest, the wandering mourning characters, all black. He shook his head, it was nothing, he thought. But as he pushed his thighs up and put his shovel behind his neck he felt in his belly that acidic tingling as if, instinctively, he knew that the day would only get worse and that fact dragged on his soul.6: 9:37 PM
Officer Jeremiah came out of the house holding his pants and trying to finish the belt around his waist. He was smiling. Nearly glowing and behind him you could see a young woman with her hair still messy from a supposed wild ten minutes that really were, just seven. Jeremiah was a thin man, and he still had those juvenile marks of youth, acne, a confidant stride, an innocent smile. And here was Officer Heinz in the police car waiting for him, some old and saggy sack who melted into his seat. He would have been bitter had it not been for the vicarious nature of their partnership. For no matter how much Officer Heinz complained, he could not help but feel a second wind of youth through Jeremiah.
“You said you had something important to do. I thought it was a family emergency. A death, a fight, something like that.” Heinz started the car.
“It was a family emergency," He put the seat belt around his heaving chest. "We were discussing the future of our children."
“I'm sure she wants kids.”
“And you want another girl.” Heinz pulled into the street. "This is the fourth one in the last two months. That's not good."
“This ones a keeper, I'm done doing rash things.”
“All you do is rash things.” Heinz said. "Boy, you didn't even last ten minutes. That's rash."
“Ten? I thought it was fifteen.” Jeremiah began to laugh.
“You’re young. You’ll get better. Trust me.” Heinz said.
“How do you know? Does your cock even work anymore?”
“Longer than yours.” Heinz said. He couldn’t say he wasn’t impressed with the little exchange. He smirked, Jeremiah laughed again. At fifty he was double Jeremiah’s age and it felt good to talk to a young man, he couldn’t deny that.
They drove their banter around the town but after a while, even the comedy died with the rhythm of their job. They were police officers, policing nothing. Driving corner to corner, for nothing. They began to collect things. Half a dozen coffee cups, burger wrappers strewn on the floor like carpet, so many paper bags they could have polluted the whole western shoreline. That was the job in the nice cut of town where the fences were white and the lawns were trim and proper. Mundane, tiresome. It was such an anesthetic job that they did not realize the rosy sky falling into night. All the cars and people went with it. At least the sane ones.
It was nearing the last hour of their shift and their yawning became an epidemic.
“Want some coffee?” Jeremiah asked.
“Yeah, anything hot .” Heinz said. They pulled up to a sidewalk. Across from them was a shop, The Colonel Weiner and a construction site was across from it, to the left You could see the sulking crane and how it covered the moon and stars. It looked rusted, lonely.
“It was supposed to be a mall. They had to stop work a few weeks back though,” Jeremiah said. “Someone killed himself from the third floor. Workers couldn't work after that, too real for 'em."
They stopped the engine.
“You just gonna watch or are you going to go get some coffee?” Heinz asked. Jeremiah looked at the front of the Colonel Weiner where the window was being used. A young man stood there, his hair spiked like a porcupine and shaved at the sides. He wore a denim jacket, ripped and punctured like it had been put in an iron maiden. There were pins all around him. Bands, musicians Jeremiah had never seen or heard of, words that made him giggle a bit, pictures that made him angry. He was what Jeremiah referred to as, a punk. And he seemed to be flirting with the girl in the front of the window with more piercings on her face than hair. Their phones were out and the flash of their screens highlighted the smiles they wore.
“What’s wrong? We can go somewhere else.” Heinz said.
“Oh, fuck off. Let ‘em flirt.”
“But he’s loitering. Flash your lights at him.” Jeremiah was beginning to turn in his seat.
“Oh, for fucks sake. Leave ‘em alone.” Heinz groaned.
“If you wont, I will.” Jeremiah rolled the window down and with his light began to pulse it towards the couple.
“It’s a little late, isn’t it?” He screamed from across the street. Heinz shook his head. “Why don’t you head home.”
The two looked back. The boy processed the red and blue colors of the car in his head and immediately, off instinct, began to grow more feral. A kind of negative conditioning caused him to tighten up. His frown manifested, his teeth showed like fangs and at last, he rose his skinny middle finger up in the air.
“Why don’t you go fuck off, pigs?” The punk said.
“What the fuck did you say?”
“Oh let it go, you started it.” Heinz started the car hoping the noise would interrupt them.
“He’s obstructing the law. Right?” Jeremiah said to Heinz. He brought his head out the window “Hey, you’re obstructing the law!”
It was an arrogance born out of boredom. A boredom born out of the hours of nothingness. Heinz only shook his head, he was young, he thought. Both of them were. That was why he was not surprised when the punk began to walk away, further into the street where he found a nice dumpster and wall to urinate on and a nice alley to run into. It bled into the construction site.
“That’s illegal.” Jeremiah could not contain his smile and grating teeth. He gained scent of the crime.
“You love causing problems.” Heinz moaned.
“Me?” He slapped his chest. “The fuck did I do? He's the one who defamed that dumpster.”
“You can't defame a fucking dumpster, it's already defamed. Damnit, Jeremy.” Heinz said.
"Fuck, kid." He rolled the car up next to the alley. "I just wanted some fucking coffee."
Both came out of the car to the bite of cold and although the heat of the argument was still warm in them, it was difficult to move.
"Middle of summer and it's this cold." Heinz said. "This is unnatural."
Jeremiah touched his belt and tried to remind himself where everything was.
“Don’t even think about using your gun.” Heinz said.
“I’m not, man.” He responded. He flashed his light into Heinz face who put his hand against it and pushed it down.
“I know you’re new but here’s a good lesson to remember. We’re here to solve problems, not to cause them. Just for future fucking references.” He said. Jeremiah nodded and they both began walking loud through the muddled alley water. It seemed like a covert river, this black bough with its oppressive walls. It was Havenbrook's urinary tract for all around were toxins and trash. The blue tarps, cut and ruined into ribbons. The fence broken, leering over them. Trash upon trash, mattresses, littered diapers, used needles. They looked to the walls. Graffiti overlapped graffiti, in a kind of artisan warfare amongst the ghettos strongest painters. They saw a large eye in purple paint, a crown in yellow. They must have meant something but they were hieroglyphics to the two police. The names, the style, it all confused them as if they had entered a foreign land and they desperately looked for the instructions out.
They were lost. They began to blame the gallery. A turn lead to another which lead to another and here they were, unsure whether they were inside the alley or the construction site or if they were even near the city at all. All they saw was the tarp and the torn fence link and they looked at each other.
“Fuck it. We’re going back.” Heinz said.
“Coward must have ran.”
“Don’t start again.”
“I’m talking about that attitu-”
The silence broke. There was a cry in the air. Man? Woman? It was too shrill to tell.
“What was that?” Jeremiah said. He firmed his grip on his flashlight.
“Let’s call it in.” Heinz began speaking into his shoulder radio. They muttered things to that broken processed voice who distinctly told them, ‘Stand By’.
“We’ll wait then.” Jeremiah said. They heard another scream. It sounded like something broke. Wood? Metal? Bone. The thump bounced off the narrow walls, into their brain like a hammer strike. It sounded rhythmic. Like a beating, they thought. It was a noise that froze Jeremiah and that summoned Heinz who began climbing the fence.
“They told us to wait, man.” Jeremiah said. Heinz ignored it and fell over the other side. He took out his gun and perhaps it was then that Jeremiah realized how terrible things were.
He looked around and saw his partner run off. Dumb and brash, he thought. With courage, he felt. He was alone then with nothing to him but a fading sanity. He heard a hiss. It drew him mad and he climbed. He fell. He ripped his jacket and started chasing after his partner who stood on the wooden ramp up. They were both sweating and adjusting to the obscurity of night.
It was strange to have so many tripods and lamps around them, none of them turned of any use. All that was left to them was the flashlight, a shield, and the gun, a sword.
The darkness was thick. They could not see past an inch ahead of themselves and often Jeremiah had to hold onto the metal poles and concrete pillars as he followed the sound of foosteps. A touch of tarp made him jump, the cold metal made him shriek. They were torture devices, they felt like it.
“Calm down.” His partner told him and grabbed his shoulder. “Don’t point your light where I’m pointing. We’re trying to get as much coverage as we can.” He said.
Jeremiah shook. They heard sound. It was something wet, something dripping, something masticated.
“Lets go back.” Jeremiah said. Heinz went forward. It was a floor above them, on the third, and Jeremiah was taking inches forward. They came up a bend and up the ramp, up, up, inch by inch they made their way to the open area that tapered at the end to an unfinished hall. There they saw the outline of something, hunched over, vesicular, decorated with terrible boils, running with venation all across its body. They could only see its back but it was enough.
Heinz readied his pistol forward. It clicked. So did Jeremiah’s and the sound seemed to attract the thing that looked up. It turned and they saw it.
Nothing had made them feel worse in their lives than the image of the creature.
It felt like a hook had grabbed their spines and tore them out. It was a nightmare. It looked at them. Bird eyed. They were large dark circles hued with a sickly yellow, as if two dying lanterns dragged and dissipated into the caves of its eyes. It was moving. Not like anything normal, more like a frenzied schizophrenic. Bath salts? Heinz tried reasoning. But those were mortal reasons and this was something worse. These spasms were not of human ownership.
Its face drew forward even more and all the courage in their hearts shattered into a thousand flaws. For from its mouth they could see two legs dangling, kicking away in the air, kicking from a beak that would not stop chewing. A rude eater.
In its belly, the thin membrane hung out. From inside the full stomach, they saw a form. A human hand pushing out.
They broke then and there.
They shot. Shot. Shot. Shot. Shot at the light, shot at the dark. Shot until they were out, shot even when they were out. They were in the deafening buzz. Light flashed on their faces. Jeremiah turned for a second to see his partner.
Someone was there. But his partner was further behind.
Screaming. Spitting. Holding onto a stake that pinned him and clung to his bleeding stomach. Jeremiah heard the sound of falling blood, he heard the sound of drool. He looked up to the figure next to him and ran.7: 9:02 PM
They had worked well into the day. A woman and her child stopped to look at the pile of ever growing dirt and the two men whose rolled sleeves showed their sweaty skin. One Hispanic, the other Asian. Her eyes narrowed. She had always considered herself one to not assume but this was too wrong, the grave, the Priest who stood from above and the two men who dug with ferocity. The Priest turned and looked at the pair. He was sweating though he did not work, nervous though he was innocent.
“Hello ma'am, just an inspecting.” The Priest said.
“What’s there to inspect about a corpse?” She said.
“You’d be surprised.” The loud clank of shovel hitting wood alarmed the woman to put her hand over the child's face. Within moments the coffin shot up by Dion who leveled it by one side of the pit. The woman gasped and ran, shaking her head as the child looked back with a dumb, toothless smile.
“It’s pretty light.” He said.
“There’s no corpse in there, you know that, right?” Apollo opened it. Dion put his hand over his eyes out of reaction. A box came rolling out, without any particular flourishes. A simple red box that looked like a drawer ripped out and glued together with loose planks. They threw it over and rested the coffin back on the floor. Dion leapt up, grabbed the edge of the pit and lifted himself. Apollo walked up the slanted coffin with the box. The Priest looked at them.
“Aren’t you going to fill that?” He said.
“That’s not our job.” Apollo shook the box and put his ear against it.
“I’ll do it later, I swear.” Dion smiled. And he was being honest.
They headed inside, the Priest taking the lead with his angry wide stride. He slammed the doors, scratched the floor with a chair and sat. To his right was the basket of money. It was the only thing that comforted him. He tapped his hand against the surface of the box hoping to hear something mysterious. Hollow. The Priest snatched it from their hands.
“You don’t get this yet. I need to tell you your job first.” The Priest started. Dion straightened out and put his hands on his knees. It was a tight grip that got worse as they sank deeper into the conversation with the buzzwords that inspired Dion; job, duty, honor.
Apollo slacked in his seat.
“You're here by my demand - ."
"Gerosa Branch, Alpha Omicron Phi. Reporting, sir." Dion blurted. Apollo put his head away to the side where he tried counting the tiles on the floor to distract himself. He couldn't. He felt too embarrassed.
"Thank you, Dion." The Priest said. "As I was saying, I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t need you but things, well, they’re bad. Unpredictable is the best way I can put it.”
“What’s wrong?” Dion leaned closer, he looked like an eagle with his neck pushing outward. “How can we help?”
“It’s about the state of the police and their terrible relationship with the press.”
“Yeah, that’s very, very, unique. Go on a fucking talk show, we’re not politicians.” Apollo said. The Priest frowned.
“They’ve been sabotaging evidence, hiding corpses for God’s sake.” The Priest said.
“Don’t use the lord's name in vain.” Dion interrupted.
“Yes, of course.” The Priest looked at the table. “They’ve been getting rid of bodies, forcing cremations and well, hiding them. The pieces of corpses at least.”
“Do you have any evidence to support this claim?” Apollo said.
“No. I knew the man though.” The Priest said. “He came to me for advice, he was a regular. I told him to commit to the truth. The next day, he was dead. The tapes don’t exist anymore. He doesn’t exist anymore. Shot in the head, claimed to have been mugged. Poor Geoffrey.”
“How much corruption is there? Give me a percentage.” Apollo said.
“I don’t know, ten percent? Five? It’s a small group I figure, I don’t think they could maneuver as a giant body. It might just be a few heads on the police force and a few men. You don't need many to cause trouble.” He said.
“Well, that’s terrible.” Apollo searched inside his pocket for a cigarette. He lit. He puffed. He folded his arms. “But we can’t fix corruption.”
“I don't expect you to, but the nature of the crimes, the few that make it through at least, seem strange. They’re obscene, cruel, almost irresistible for diseased minds. The victims were bled like pigs, cut up like dog meat. Random too. Ex convicts, homeless, prostitutes, college kids. I’m afraid of them branching out.”
“We're not here to solve homicide cases either.” Apollo said.
“Why don’t you shut up and listen?” The Priest said. Dion smirked. “They’ll call it homicide but I call it ritual. The way they’re killed, like offerings almost. Bodies burned behind rings of salt, cut with a careful design, tattooed in strange ways. Whoever is doing this has a kind of faith behind their craftsmanship. Satanic, probably."
“Don’t assume their monolith.” Apollo broke his stiffness. “I’ve dealt with people like this but they were just that, people. No demons, no anything. Just people. Misguided, dumb, people”
“Well, that’s why you’re here right? To find out what they are.” The Priest put both hands on the table. He seemed ready to pray and the desperation in his quivering eyes worried them both. “It’s getting bad. It feels like I can't even breathe the air without tasting copper in my mouth. You need to help and do so with extreme prejudice. I don’t think there’s any saving this lot.” They breathed in the tension in the air and filled their lungs with it. Their chests felt heavy like lead was inside of them, weighing them to seats they felt could break at any moment.
"That's very spiteful for a Priest." Apollo said.
"There are limits to anyone's patience. Besides I’m Catholic, not Buddhist."
They heard a snap. The box opened and their first contract was here. There were two suit jackets out for them, a pair of gloves, and two long threads of what seemed like yarn. Apollo began to strip.
“Why do we need to change?” Dion said.
“They don’t teach you shit, do they? Consider it a loan. They’re letting your borrow your gear and they’ll take your coat as a ticket. They'll want their stuff back too. Can't let you take a joy ride, after all.” Apollo said.
“There’s nothing funny about that. Can’t they trust us?” Dion said.
“No. They need to know: alive, rogue, dead.” Apollo put on the blazer, he fitted his gloves and looked at the runes stitched inside of his jacket.
“Why do you get gloves?” He said.
“You should have asked.” Apollo said. Dion narrowed his eyes and tugged on the Priests arm.
“Hey, can you send in a reque-” He jerked back. The Priest yanked his arm away and slid back a few inches.
“Don’t touch me.” He said. His eyes were still and wide and staring into Dion, the wrinkles on the old father seemed more pronounced in his anger and his neck began to glow red with rising blood.
“I'm thankful. But that's it. I know what unholy marriage you two are, man and beast.” His dagger eyes stabbed at them. The sudden shift took Dion by surprise who assumed his desperation earlier would be the start of a friendship. As if desperation is any good of a start for friendship. But now the truth was out. Apollo put hands into a cross hatch.
“Yeah. We’re frightening monsters. So keep far away and let us do our job.” Apollo said. He seemed experienced in weathering the storm of insults, you could see from his straight face, mocking face almost. For his whole life perhaps had been one insult after another. That was something Dion could admire.
“We won’t cause trouble. Just don’t get in our way.” Apollo scooted up. The Priest sat still in the back, tensed on his shoulders. But Apollo was not concerned with him, rather the two pieces of woven string in front of them. He grabbed them without caution, uncaring to the startled mess of the Priest. He held them in his hands and ignored The Priest completely, as he glared.
“Helen used to make these.” He said. “I met her before she passed away. Now her son handles the business.”
“Threads of life.” Dion said. He wrapped it underneath his arm.
“Keep it hidden, let it touch your skin. When heretical arcana is close, they burn, when it’s even closer, they glow.”
“Are they supposed to be warm?” Dion asked.
“Of course, they’re picking us up after all. Let them calibrate on their own.” Apollo said. Dion couldn’t stop scratching his arm and each time he looked at The Priest he scratched even harder. They all felt on edge, all far and backing away from one another.
“That’s all we need from you. I’ll keep in touch if I have to.” Apollo put his hands on the table and dragged his whole figure towards the Priest. He left him a smile before he went for the door. “And only if I have to.” The Priest nodded. Dion couldn’t look him in the eyes. Discomfort was festering in his brain. It made his thoughts cloudy and fumbled his mouth, he did not know whether to thank or to apologize or to bad mouth. Whatever feeling it was, it tugged at every corner of his body. He walked out before it became too uncomfortable and closed the door. The Priest looked at them, then to the basket of money. He shook, it felt lighter.
Both Vicars were out. Dion huffed, he didn’t realize how little he breathed until he was out of the room. The nuns that passed stared at him, some of them smiled, some scrunched their faces in disgust. Dion was sweating again.
“Is it supposed to be this hot?” Dion asked.
“I don’t know. My neck, my face. My arm.”
“Your arm?” Apollo asked. He searched in his pocket for the string and began to put it on his left forearm. It was the first touch, but one coil around his limb and he could already feel it searing into his skin. His eyes opened, he bit his lips and pulled on Dion.
“Hold on. ” Apollo said. “There’s something here.”8: 12:25 AM
Oh, the stars would fall tonight.
They stood in a rented apartment room but could not fit themselves in it quite yet. For the last few hours, they had been in a fumble of fear. They sat around a table, hand out as they watched the pulse of the string of life. There was no movement, sometimes. There was, sometimes. Sporadic things.
“Are they working?” Dion asked.
“Yes.” Apollo said. Dion wandered around the first few hours, Apollo kept his eyes on the string. He did not want to see it move, he did not want to admit to a fear that was pulsing in his heart. He wanted this whole thing to be over and done with, simple, neat, orderly. But on the third hour, he saw the coiling. The string, like a snake, wrapped around his arm, burned his arm, stung his arm with a tight grip. The faint glow of the string reciprocated in his eyes. Dion could see it across the room like torchlight and began smiling. He unwrapped his arms, the same symptoms were on him.
"What do we do?" Dion asked.
"We," He held his chest. "We find it, see if it's here."
"We know they're out there." Dion spat and could not hide his jovial face.
"We need to make sure."
"Alright, let's go then. Why wait?" Dion said. Apollo was trying to relax his chest. He looked to Dion whose irises turned red with the manipulation of his excitement. Apollo’s did too as he tried filling himself with honorable rage, punching and scratching at his own thighs and finally committing himself.
“We’re leaving.” Apollo said.
“How will we find it?”
“Hotter the better, colder the deader.” Apollo chanted like mantra. He was bumbling between fear and anger. “That’s what she taught me.
“Well, alright.” Dion smiled. “Hotter the better, colder the deader.”
Apollo reached into his coat and put his hand against that esoteric design stitched on the inside of his jacket. It was the smooth feeling of felt at first until his whole hand was on it. Then it slipped. It felt like water as he maneuvered inside this curious zone like going through a pond blind. When his hand came out he had in it a strange mask. Waxy looking, almost, white except for the area and shadows around the eye sockets that seemed tainted with black lines. It looked like a Rorschach, odd design. Was it wild plumage? Leaves on pale dirt? A broken porcelain road, black veins perhaps. Its face was neutral, it had nothing else to it but the leather straps that attached themselves to the back.
Dion revealed his own, a simple smiling mask with crescent eye holes that dripped with blue-stained tears across the contours of its cheeks. These were their life masks, like thieves or jokes across the night.
Apollo put his feet against the window sill, he looked up to the edge of the roof top across from him and looked down to the singular ladder shoot and lonely street. He jumped like a leopard across the sky, narrow-bodied, and landed like a storm. Shattering brick, disturbing gravel. For the night came and the hunt called.
Standing high above the edge did not help Apollo's pores from leaking. He felt death upon them both. His hands shook and he could feel the vibrations and heat wrapping around him. They were above on an apartment rooftop where the steam and smoke of a ventilation shaft contaminated them with the hot air, across from them was the faint smell of processed meat from a factory. Rancid and processed, like rot in bleach. It did not help Apollo. He was nervous, too cold to feel the warmth of vapors and his limbs felt tight like they were hypertrophied, full of an anxiety that was bound to explode. A balloon animal, shaped and bent by a clown. Pressed, pressed, pressed. Pop.
“What do we do?” Dion asked.
Apollo looked down with crimson eyes at the construction site that spanned half a block. They could hear noise. They could see details in the blinding darkness, their inhuman eyes adjusted, they were made for these things. Yet it did not help his mind for every new figure in the shadows made Apollo’s stomach clench harder.
“We’re going to wait until it comes out, then we’ll kill it. We’re in a good spot to see where it runs.” Apollo knelt on the edge of the roof. He was surprised his gloves did not slide off his wet palms.
Dion tapped his foot. He shook his shoulders and began to kick around some plastic bags that floated. Apollo would have said something to him had he not felt the tightening of his throat. Then he stood.
Both of them got closer and reared their heads as they saw the first thing to come out. A man running, blood on his body. He fell. Something was thrown at him, a can of paint that spilled white all over and knocked him down. Dion tightened his hams to jump. Apollo held him.
The creature behind the man finally made his appearance and Apollo could feel his brain focus, all petty thoughts disappeared into the backdrop of his primal instincts. Live, kill, eat. He felt sick looking around the blurred and slow time around him as his adrenaline high pumped through. He looked down at the creature. Tall, big bellied, but thin limbed. Neck-less for on the top of it's torso was a birds head. They mistook it for a plague doctor until its horrible mouth opened and the small ridges of its teeth showed like serrated blades. It to be something worse. It squawked and shrieked like a banshee’s siren.
“I’m not waiting any longer.” Dion said. Apollo wanted to tug him back but was too slow. Dion went forward, to a closer rooftop. He reached into his clothes and out came his instrument of death. It was too big to call a revolver, too heavy for any normal man. It was pointed forward and seemed to carry Dion with its own weight. Dion aimed up and it sounded like the heavens collapsing down onto the earth. Apollo felt the air break and push out. He opened his eyes and saw the meteor falling down.
Pure silver, neon blue and heading straight for the beast. The creature heard it, too late but heard it and began to turn. His arm tore off into splatter and matter, black specks that turned the brown walls polka dot. Dion smiled behind his mask. So excited was he that he did not notice his own hanging wrist, the bone was sticking out, skin barely attached his hand to his body. He heard his gun fall and then realized the pain. Dion picked his gun with his good hand and pushed his broken hand back together against his chin. Apollo observed, it began to heal. Red mist came from the wound as the tendons and bones and muscles aligned themselves and reattached like self-healing machinery, red wires, red oil coming back to one another.
“You fucking idiot, don’t push it.” Apollo leapt down to him. “Let’s go.”
But Dion would not move. He watched the arm of the demon regenerate as well, cell by cell, skeleton, then muscle, then that onyx flesh.
Both of them seeds of the same breed, germinated in some unholy soil.
The beast stuck its long hand into its mouth and out came something out of a carnival side show, a sword swallower. He removed the blade. It seemed bony, perhaps it was a part of his own body, Apollo thought. It was not a thought to hold on to.
“Move!” He screamed and pushed Dion to the side. The spear whistled by and struck through the metal vent behind them. The fan went flying, the building shed bricks. Down below the monstrosity was fixing itself up from its bad throw and vomiting out another weapon.
“We can rout it, start moving.” Apollo said. He began to jump roof tops before he looked back at Dion who was standing again by the edge and who with one strong gallop of his feet, threw the brick beneath him all directions and headed straight for the monstrosity.
“Listen to what I’m telling you.” Apollo spoke into the mask. There was nothing but static.
Dion put his hand against the side of the wall and stone broke into dust as he scratched it all the way down. He hopped like some maddened cat, knocking and throwing pipe and wood as he managed down. It looked like a deforested jungle of pipe and cement and plank.
He was laughing. Apollo did not want to hear Dion laugh. He was sickly hungry.
Dion was shooting smaller bullets all the way down from different chambers in his gun. And all the way down he was cut and ripped. More spears were chucked his way, more damage was done to both beasts.
He landed onto a broken floor. To his side, the unconscious body of Jeremiah, to his front, the beast staring back. Dion watched it. He was curious, falling into a desire for violence, just as Apollo feared. The beast reached into its beaked mouth, out came the skewer. He was a machine.
Apollo gritted his teeth as he looked down from above. He decided to move again when he had his fill.
“Just push him back. That’s all you need to do.” He told Dion. Static again. Apollo spat, slapped his forehead and headed on wards, past them, to the flat stone foundation, barely fenced by wood walls, where incomplete cement pillars erected upwards like albino evergreens.
Dion pointed his gun at the beast and stood. He listened, somewhat, to Apollo. But there was another competing muse in him, Mars.
He shot. The thing ducked. It was quick. He was impressed. Both at the creature and his wrist that managed to stiffen itself better than before. He was only bleeding this time. He did not wait for his pain to subside or for the blood to stop dripping from his wrist, he shot again. Careful now, with tact to his rhythm, an uneven pressure of bullet shots as if a drum line had stopped and started only to trip over their abrasive beats.
The leg came off of the demon. It would not stop it though. It used its own stake to push himself back. The monstrosity hid behind the tarps and shot out its spears. Dion was stabbed in the foot. He grabbed the skewer and broke it, shattered it into bone dust. He would have chased through was stopped again. This one cut his shoulder and caused him to kneel lower. The creature was moving far and away. His body was fuming red.
Dion stared. His face clenched, his eyes closed as he held his bitterness back.
"You coward, come back." He shouted at the drifting footsteps. "What dignity is there in running."
So angry was Dion that he pushed through his healing feet, the pain, the blood and would have given chase but he stopped. For above he could hear groaning. A withered cry of death. This one was human. His heart was torn. Two voices, two desires roamed in Dion's mind. To help, to kill. He wanted to scream but he bit his tongue until it cut. He bled, drooled red. Hellish smoke released from his teeth as his tongue fixed its tip, it was the dying smog of his violent outburst. He fired an azure shot out at the sky. A flare.
"It's not heading your way specifically. But close enough." Dion said.
"What the fuck do you mean close enough?" Apollo started. Dion cut the sound off his mask with a press of the button.
He looked around himself and it seemed like the world was finally coming back to his blurred vision.
Dion rested Jeremiah against a wall. He looked up to the moaning inside the castle of wood and decided to run. It was an excuse, he lamented, to not fight.
Author Note: Now it's all caught up. New updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!9: 12:34 AM
The distant sound of gunshots died. The first thought that came to Apollo’s head was the idea that Dion had died. But then he heard the radio transmission.
The second thought was the fear that he would have to deal with the beast himself.
So it was.
Apollo put his back against a pillar of concrete and waited minutes that felt like days before he heard footsteps. He wanted to believe they were Dion’s, but they were more nimble and he was not, they slapped the floor rather knocked it. He stopped his breathing at the realization. Everything was quiet and silence felt like another enemy to Apollo. A draft blew. Tarp slapped the trucks they strapped to. The top of the concrete pillar was full of what looked like small hairs of metal. The wind whistled.
He waited. Until he could hear a screech, until he could feel the beast’s breath next to him he waited. This was the worst part, his hand in his jacket and his eyes peering out at the edge of his cover to a sudden nothing. Nothing was there. His eyes widened. His breathing started again like a high pressure vault at the bottom of the sea sucking in all matter. He exhaled and released all his intensity off the side of the concrete pillar. It was a high vault outwards.
The pillar collapsed into a storm of shrapnel that shot out every which way, that blew dust like a mushroom cloud up in the air and towards Apollo who could not see much in the warring mist.
The pike was coming for him, straight to his rapid beating heart. He had no time to move. No, he did not move his legs. Apollo dragged his hands out of his coat and there was a sudden clank of steel that shot out sparks. The momentum broke, halted. The dust settled on their bodies. Their shadow figures defined behind the mist and spark like a Hellenian vase, with the silhouette of their bodies in tandem. A sword and a spear. Out before the beast was the long pike attached to its very long arm like a black line had been drawn straight through the horizon. Stopping it was the slab. A hunk of metal that Apollo had drawn from his coat, larger than himself, larger than any man, four feet wide and rusted all along its body. You could not see a reflection past its worn metal. It had no hand guard, it had no sharp edge, it was hard to call it a blade or a claymore. It was just steel and handle like a piece of metal had been chipped and broken off of Vulcan’s anvil.
Its tip was in the ground and as Apollo removed it from its cemented scabbard. The beast watched with an expanded yellow iris. He was far away from Apollo, wondering if the tall blade would ever have an end. When it was out, at last, the creature looked up as the long swing arced and rested on Apollo’s shoulder. A missile, a mountain top. All along its rusted body were the cracks and creases that spilled dirt from their crevices, a shattered, dull, slab of silver and steel barely held together. Yet there was nothing more frightening to the beast than that bludgeoning tool. It was better to describe it as a jagged cleaver. Horribly large, horribly hard to manage.
Yet manage Apollo tried. As swift as he could and whatever speed lacked was made up for in its strength. One swing is all it took to split the air into a shrill cry and drag dust across the wide slash like a vortex. Everything seemed to break, whether work of man or God, under the blade as he chased after the demon. They went at it in the complex. The poles shattered. The wood turned to saw dust. The floors were beginning to collapse. It was hard to tell if Apollo was hitting, only that he was too afraid to stop and think about much of anything. Under prepared, under pressure, Apollo could not manage to collect his thought. The beast smelled it, that frightened sweat.
The intimidation of the blade was starting to wear as they dragged their fight back out, towards the unfinished pillars and trailers and pickup trucks that pushed out with each messy blow.
It was beginning to end up terribly for Apollo. For between each thrust of his own blade out came five thrusts back. It was no dance of death as the poets would say of war and battle. It was the butchering of a chicken, the chase, and the dissection.
And Apollo was getting cut. He retreated. He stuck the sword back down like a worn white flag. The beast was not appeased and Apollo hid behind the wide metal. Apollo felt his elbows gashed as they stuck out from the metal shield. He put his shoulder against the blade to help hold it together as the pike hammered down. Apollo looked out and almost had his eye plucked. He could not gauge a good read on the slender fighter, he could not tell what was arm and what was pike. He only knew the beast had as much range as him and his was much more efficient.
He tried removing the blade, tried swinging. But Apollo was kicked. He flew, blade and all, onto wheel barrel holding brick. It made him turn sharp. He fell on pallets and felt the shards of wood stab his back like deadly acupuncture. The creature ran. The red steam was coming off Apollo's back as his body rejected the wooden daggers. The splinters fell, the cuts receded. But not quick enough. The beast rushed him and he struck his blade into the floor once again. His body was not healing fast enough and he felt the air growing hotter. He wanted to run.
“Move.” Apollo heard through his mask.
There was a noise. A pop at first, then the sound of metal scratching.
At the sound, he immediately kicked his blade up, back to his shoulders. He jumped backward and watched the dirt cover them like murk. It would have fallen on him had he not moved and he could feel the strength of it as it pushed the air down and blew his hair back.
It was the crane that fell. High and mighty, collapsing onto the beast and leveling the floor. Apollo landed on a metal container and watched. He looked up, Dion was resting his smoking gun. He looked down and was paralyzed at the image. The beast was ripping its limbs trapped beneath the crane. He was pulling himself from the indentation, limb from limb. It could not wait to stand, it bit at itself like a starved cannibal. It would have stood, Apollo thought. It would continue endlessly, a program of evil running indefinitely. The thought brought something to life in Apollo. He put the sword to his side and watched each crack inside his metal ruffle and deepen its vein into the blade, he saw the dry cracks fill like rivers of hellfire. It was a long wait, but he had time to wait. He spun. One, two, three, four. He counted. And on five, threw his sword out. It flew straight, landed inside of the creature and all the world could see afterward was the large explosion like a pillar of the earths core shooting up.
The whole city saw the explosion and the smoke that jetted up. The police were hesitant to go inside, opting to watch from afar for the fire to settle. It was perfect. Apollo dragged his legs through the heavy camouflage and picked apart the body like a hungry crow. The burning remains of the demon lay charred and from its chest and belly out came the stone. A red, philosophers stone at the heart of it all. Fuel for any Vicar. Apollo took it, put it in his coat. He picked up his blade that felt lighter. Metal shavings were coming off of his weapon and it made him bite his lips and groan. Then came the torpor. His whole body scraped the hot floor as he tripped. His eyes closed though he begged them not to. Whatever effort was in him he spent on the last leap, across the crane now on fire and sticking out of the floor like a harpoon into the white, ashy earth.
The police saw the masked figure but did not shoot for they were afraid. The fire dragged at Apollo’s heels and spread all around as he scaled up the black brick walls.
“Monster.” One of the officers said. So it was.
He reached into his pocket for the red stone that pulsed. It felt rough in his hands and chalky as he bit into it. It got easier and his appetite became for voracious as he nearly ate his hand. He felt the drool on his palms and how it went down his arm. His legs that felt pruned, empty. He had hooks for feet, the way they dragged at the floor with their tiredness. And now they rose. His chest that took in hundreds of small breaths now relaxed to a proper pace. He could not say he recovered after all his stomach was still cut up, his back still bled and spilled onto his white shirt. At he was healing and more important than that, he was calm. He heard footsteps near him but did not bother to reach for his blade now half inside his jacket and half outside, like a magicians trick undone. The only crowd to laugh at him was distant, it was the helicopters cutting wind and the police and firefighters now drowning the flames.
“Are you alright?” The voice said. Apollo hung by the edge of the building and started to lift himself. Dion grabbed him by the arm to help.
“I don’t need it.” He gave him a weak push.
“I guess I just can’t touch anyone today.” Dion said. He took his mask off and put it inside his coat.
“We’re not home free yet.” Apollo said.
“We’re close. I don’t think we’ll be getting caught soon. Just as long as we properly come down from the roof.” He said. Apollo agreed though reluctantly put his mask back in. He let Dion go the way first and followed his clanking down the metal stairs on the side of the building. Apollo wanted his back just in case he did fall, better to do it on him than on the floor five stories below.
“What’d you do? That was a big explosion. Hit a gas line?” He asked.
“No. It’s nothing you have to worry about.”
“We're fighting together. Of course, I have to worry about it.”
“The only thing you need to worry about is that impatience of yours. What the fuck was that?” Apollo gripped the hand rail to his rear and heard it bend into a sharp cry as he nearly dislodged it. He was breathing fast again. Dion looked at him.
“What do you mean? That guy needed help and I helped him. What kind of man would I be if I just let him die there and then?”
“A smart man.”
“I’d rather be stupid and moral than smart.”
“You’re neither smart or moral. You're just stupid.” Apollo said. “You didn’t think at all. Besides the fact that I could have died - We could have died. Did you ever stop to think what would happen afterwards? You think that thing would just stop at us and that stooge running out of the fucking building? Of course not. He’d go on and on. And then the problem wouldn't be just one or three dumbasses dying.”
“Four. There was another man that I saved. That’s what we do, save people. Remember?” Dion looked proper in his stance, with his chest primed with courage and his head high up above. Apollo was two feet further, up the stairs and yet he looked so small. So he evened him out. He grabbed Dion by the coat and put him against the ledge.
“You listen up, Superman. I thought I told already that we aren’t heroes. But I guess the words became lost in your empty skull. Or are you deaf? Or stupid. Or both.” Apollo said. “Whatever you think you are, you should stop. It'll get us killed. And unlike you, I’m not a warrior. I don’t care for the security of idiots, I don’t care to fight fair. I’m a hunter. I track, I plan, I execute. I don’t do anything but the steps that guarantee success. And you should too. Because failure is much more frightening than you think you know.”
He let go of his coat and Dion pushed him back. Apollo fell down on the stairs and left his head to hang, his eyes fell to the floor.
“Striking a weak man. At least you’re learning.” He said. “But you haven’t learned enough. You don’t know what cost failure is. That’s why you strut around with the fucking finger on the trigger, shooting just because you can. Acting high, just because you can. Keep feeding that fucking ego, buddy. You’ll find out what the price. When you’ve got so many fucking bodies on top of each that you can’t even see the sun rise, you’ll see what playing gung-ho gets you.”
“You’re sick in the head,” Dion shouted. He no longer cared being hidden from the spotlight of police. His voice echoed in the narrow passage they were coming down to. “You’re reprimanding me for saving two people? So what. I shot early, so what. It ended up alright and that’s all that matters right? The end game, whatever the cost. We killed it, we saved more people and we did it my way. That would be good enough for anyone. But not you. Oh no, not you.” He walked down as fast as he could. He sounded like a storm with the drumming he did. “You’ll call me the narcissist when I help others, but here you are demanding everything be done this way and that. Calm. Cool. Heartless." When he had the chance, Dion jumped on to the floor. "That won't sate God's tribunal. I promise you that."
“Oh, you’re so selfless, Dion. So. Fucking. Selfless. Was it a selfless laugh then? That I heard when the bullets started flying." Apollo stood.
"So fucking selfless, with your boner as you beat the shit out of each other. A real Gandhi type of guy.” He was shouting down the alley to Dion who turned the corner. “You’re a modern day John fucking Lennon, aren't you. You god damn violent retard.” He was talking to no one now. No one but a man in the corner of his eyes, opening a door and throwing a bag of trash onto the floor. He stared up to Apollo, not as much afraid as he was confused.
“Fuck off.” Apollo said. The man gave him the middle finger and walked back inside and Apollo climbed down the ladder, walking out into the streets as he finally caught a second wind of energy. His exhaustion was at least not debilitating anymore.
He looked to the streets, a few cars would come by now and then but the sirens were low and the smoke was far off. It was a distant chaos that raged on in the city, like a shake of the earth slowly growing into a seismic raze. But it shook. Everyone moved, head to toe. Apollo could feel it. The Priest could feel it. Sophie could feel it. And so did Alestor.
He had left to his office after the murder and had spent the last few hours in his study. He looked out to the small spinning dots of light. They were clear even in the cloudy night. His arms were shaking on his chest and he had to sit for he felt his legs were getting weak. It was the first time he felt afraid of leaving out at night. He would sleep in. He looked around to the bookshelves and desks and small figures for something to entertain him as a fidgeting body infected him. He closed the window. He shut the curtains, the chill was inside. A strange, summer cold. He sat down on the sofa and looked up to the ceiling. He wanted to send the message to his son to stay in tonight but could not move. The cold was too strong and his body was turning stiff and long like an antenna. He heard a voice. He turned, something was speaking into his ear. It felt like every cell in him stopped their process like paralysis, like death. He felt the grip on his neck. It was his master's hand and finally, the words became clear.
“You’ve failed me again, haven’t you?”
And Alestor froze.
Author's Note: New episode on Monday! Peace.11: Episode 2 - July 17, 2017
Sophie’s feet dragged on the floor as she was taken to the principal's office. The accusation was simple, a boy with a bloody mouth crying to his mother in the nurse's office. She had been reminded of this all the way there and how she should pity him, and how she would feel if she was there with the bloody nose instead of him. When they told her this she had looked at them, with her bruised cheeks and said “If I was him? Well, I wouldn’t be crying that’s for sure.”
They didn’t ask her much after that and were glad when they sat her down in the soft, large chair. She was too small for it and it was too low to the floor and she had to stand to see past the horizon of the dark-wood desk. She looked around at all the memorabilia stuck along the walls, trophies, and pictures, vignettes and declarations of achievements. A panorama of the schools' success the principal had adopted over the years. Her eyes came to the window and the shadow there. A little figure, her friend Pip.
The judge was not here, she noticed. It was cold and quiet and Pip began to shout at her.
“Sophie.” He said. She turned away. “Sooo-phie.”
“So-so-sophie.” His front teeth were missing and he spat with each s. “Psst, psst. Sophie.”
Finally, she threw a pencil at him and hit the window pane.
“What?” She said.
“You shouldn’t be thanking me. You should be depressed. You can’t even defend yourself and you’re supposed to be a boy.”
“I know. But he was fat and big, I got scared.” His voice quivered.
“I know you did. Wanna know how I know you did? Because I’m here with my hurt face.”
“I’m sorry.” He said.
She adjusted her lips into a neutral position, somewhere between resentment and pride.
“Do me a favor.” She nodded her head. “Make yourself useful, start selling. I’m losing business because of you.”
“At how much a bar?” He asked.
“The same price we always have.”
He scratched his head. “How much is that?”
“Two-fifty you dunce.”
“Okay. Where do I get the candy from?”
“What do you mean? What happened to your stock.” She walked to the window with her backpack. Her eyes were beginning to narrow. He knelt and look small under her gaze.
“I lost it.”
She wanted to drag him up to her to eat him, a horror-movie monster. She scratched at the wood frame and looked up to give herself room to breathe. She undid the zipper on her backpack after reflecting - It was her fault, she shouldn’t have trusted him - and she dumped three pounds worth of chocolate on his forehead. She shut the window, tired of hearing his moaning and heard the door behind her open.
“Trying to escape, I see.” The Principal said.
“What? No. I was just.” She bit her cheek. “Just looking outside at the kids.”
“Sure you were.” The Principal fell atop his chair. “I can’t keep one eye off of you without you wandering off and doing god knows what. You’re like a damn imp, girl.”
“You always say that.” She sat and crossed her legs. Her arms were close to her.
“And you seem worse every time. You’re too stubborn, it’s like a shield against good advice.” He shuffled paper and found a red note.
“Are you going to call my mom?” Sophie asked.
“Yeah.” Her eyes fell. “I don’t think she’s home.”
“She doesn’t answer it. Not at this hour.”
The Principal searched her face, what little he could see past her blond hair covered her face. It was just like the other interrogations and it felt just as bad, but he could do nothing but pity. That was worse. Leaving her like a castaway on her small island. He wondered if she was even aware of the S.O.S written on her face.
“Your grandpa then?” He put the pencil down and rung up the phone.
“Yeah. Grand paw can pick me up.” She looked up. He left a message and looked her over again.
“Why don’t you find a hobby. Join a club, do something with your time. You aren’t dumb. I know that. You know that. But you sure as hell act dumb.”
“I can’t be that smart if you say I’m acting dumb. I thought part of being smart was acting smart. Like a scientist or somethin’.”
“You’d be surprised. Plenty of people act smart without knowing the part and the dumber they are the more opinions they seem to have, probably trying to make up for how little they know.” He said. “You can find them on TV all the time. Loonies, the bunch of ‘em.” He was writing down information on a slip, that was his kind of justice.
“I wish you’d act for your own self-interest, Sophie. You could do a lot with your life, you know that. Mrs. Breyer says you’re good at math.” The drag of his pencil sounded sharp to her.
“I am acting for my own self in-te-rest.” She mocked.
“Doesn’t seem like it. You’re like those dare devils, head strong and always shooting yourself out of a god damn cannon. The problem is, girl,” He sniffed. “I’m afraid you don’t even realize you’re flying straight into a dumpster. Have some sense.”
“You keep calling me the senseless one, but have you ever thought that maybe it’s the world that acts a little dumb.” She said. “Everyone’s too selfish if you ask me. Too demanding.”
“Sophie.” He rubbed his nose bridge. “You punched a kid.”
She lit up.
“I pushed him too. I brought him to the floor and got him three good times before he punched me. It reminded me of when I socked Clarice. She deserved it too, I don’t hurt nobody that doesn’t deserve it you know that.”
“What I’m worried about what you qualify as deserving it.”
“Hurting me or my friends. That’s it.” She crossed her hands and blew the hair from her mouth. The Principal raised his finger and all a sudden came the grandfather like a rogue white-strawed tumbleweed. He blew it, went across, looked around and kind of spun in his excitement.
“Where is she?” He said. Sophie raised her hand. “What’d she do this time?”
“The same thing she always does. Got in a fight.” The Principal handed out the slip.
“Whatever she did she can explain. She’s responsible and I trust her.” The Old Man said.
“I know. You do this every time, I know the both of you pretty well. You’re frequent customers.” The Principal sighed. “I’m not even going to bother. She knows what she did, don’t you Sophie.”
“I’m Mr. Colefield to you.”
“You’re just Nicholas. Just another old person.” She said.
“Alright Sophie, alright.” He almost laughed and would have if he didn’t feel so red about the name Nicky. His father called him that and he hated him. “What kind of punishment do you think you deserve? Be honest.”
She looked at her Grand father and the dazed face he had, she looked outside to where she imagined Pip crawling. Her face still stung and it began to stain her white face.
She smiled. “A week suspension. I think I must’ve broken that prick’s nose.”
“Don’t curse.” They both shouted.
“I’m not giving you a week. You might enjoy that, you’re getting three days instead.” He said. She smiled. “And don’t be so proud of that fact, for God’s sake Sophie.”
He pointed them away to the door but with held the grandfather for a bit.
“Have you considered sending Sophie to therapy?” The old man pried the principal's hand off. It looked like he hurt the grandfather. “I know a guy, he’s local too. I have a teacher who goes, she’s even recommended me about it too.”
“This family has never seen a quack doctor and never will. Good day, Nicky.” He puffed up.
The Principal sighed. The old man left and out they went to the car. Not a word was spoken as they drove. They sat in silence, the radio provided white noise as they toured the city. On the corners of streets were the drawn out flowers and candles. Sophie kept her eye at the offerings and the pictures, she did not want to forget their faces, she felt that maybe, that she was the only one who’d remember them and it meant that much more being the chronicler.
She realized it had been like this for a while, staring out at the families and police and the pictures that had fallen and cracked their glass frames. It only got worse as she got closer to her house, by then the whole sidewalk seemed like a garden of misery. But there were no officers this time. There were only the lonely men and women on the porches sitting and scratching away at lottery tickets, the stray pit bull who barked a muffled warning at her. They stopped, there was a distant wail of a police officer car.
“I’m sorry.” She said.
“That’s good. Remember how sorry you are and behave next time.” He said.
“You aren’t staying?” She asked.
“No, I got the store to run.”
“Let me help.” She tried closing the door but the grandfather would not allow it.
“If I let you help this wouldn’t be much of a punishment. Stay home, behave, play nice.”
“No one's here.”
“Good, God knows your mother can’t handle you. Lock the doors and study you hear me? Behave.” He said.
She dragged herself out of the car and stood on the side walk. The old man felt bad for her as he waved at her. But eventually, she waved back.
She turned around and the sound of engine roared before it died into a distant howling. This was home. The broken chain link fence, torn and bent. The ruined lock. It all reminded her of home. She pulled at the fence door, it would not budge. She hopped, opened it from behind and started for the back of the house where the trash was collecting into an overstuffed black container. The plastic bags and cartons of milk were spilling out as she rolled it to the front.
Ah, this was home.
Grimy, unpleasant. It felt like a part of her she did not want, but it was hers. She walked into the house and found the phone on the side of the wall. Looking around at the sheet of dirt around her furniture, the broken glass face of the table, the clock ticking away, it all made her dial faster.
“Who’s this?” The voice asked.
“Pip. We’re going to work.”
“Right now?” He asked.
“When else? The business forecast looks good for the next couple of days.” She smiled. “We’ll follow those crazies with the money-baskets.”
“Ain’t they priests?”
“Doesn’t matter. They always bring a crowd.”12: 10:34 AM
Alestor did not want to be here, working, the therapy room was too cold for him but he had to be here. It was demanded of him, as everything was always demanded of him.
Seven times they had been at it, Mrs. Breyer and Mr. Alestor. She was confidant that today they would get to the root of her psychiatric deformity. That’s what Alestor called it anyways, a bump, a mutation they could easy cull. An over grown limb to be amputated. That expression always gave Mrs. Breyer confidence. But today was different. Alestor had no patience today and she was beginning to get afraid that they’d actually get close to her problem. Then she couldn’t laugh, then all of her treatment would be very sincere and that would be terrible for her.
She sat in a tight position on the leather chair too big for her small frame. Her knees were tucked in, her back was far into the seat in what she hoped appeared as a guarded stance.
"We’ll begin the auditing process." Alestor said.
"Can we do it without him?” She pointed to a man in the corner of the room with a black blazer over his shoulders. Alestor sniffed, threw his pointer finger elsewhere and he was gone.
“Back to the auditing process.” He said.
Her eyes were glazed and her face was vapid like the contents in her skull had been siphoned out. There was music in the background and a small drumline of footsteps, the man outside mingling with more people. Alestor knocked on the wall and the noise stopped. Mrs. Breyer was worried now and her thoughts filled with curiosity over the noise. In between them was a coffee table. They were scooted close enough to embrace at any moment. Or to kill each other.
"Yes, Mrs. Breyer. The human heart has an affinity for delusion and blindness. We are here to cure that, to see what is in you. Both of us, hand in hand. This is the last step of our healing process." He said.
“Yes, I think today we can get somewhere. I feel it.” She began to sweat. Mr. Alestor reached into his pocket for the rattle of a gold chain. It was a watch.
"I will demand you look at me behind this moving stopwatch. All you have to do is answer my questions, that's it. The quest for inner most reflection begins with an honest question after all." He said. His voice sounded raspy, antique like the medals and goblets and statues and books that decorated the room.
"Well, okay." She looked away at first and fidgeted with her jacket, nervous things and twitches. He stared into her and it was not until she stared back that they began.
"What is your name?" Alestor asked.
"Where were you born?"
"Utah. But I moved here a few years back."
"I did not ask that." He said. She looked slapped her leg. They began again.
"What is your name?"
"Where were you born?"
"Did you have a family?"
"How big was it?”
"We were four, now we're three."
"I did not ask how many there are, only how many there were." He barked. She twitched. She felt her throat tighten and wanted to leave but could not, something compelled her to stay. Perhaps fear drained her legs of strength, maybe it was the hope of salvation. He asked her name again. She stuttered, he barked. She cried. Softly moaning, it had been like this before but never as quick or as harsh.
There were tissues for her and as she looked around she began to miss the stranger in the corner of the room. She felt alone in the dim room with the lifeless color beige wall paper all around her. She began to breath fast and felt a hand over her shoulder, it was Alestor. He would guide her she reasoned. Mrs. Breyer breathed in and she stared into the stopwatch and its movement like a pendulum. Although she felt pressed, although her chest felt filled with cement she continue with the guiding hand in front of her.
"There are only two things the soul demands, Mrs. Breyer." Alestor said. "Honesty and will. I’ve never seen anything as deadly to vice and suffering as those two." He lifted her chin and their eyes fell on each other. "We will do this together, again. What is your name?"
"Where were you born?"
"Did you have a family?"
"How big was it?"
"We are four."
"How many do you have?"
The air suddenly became thick. "Three."
"Of how many there used to be, name them all."
"Michael, Carter...and...Abel." She muttered in between the rapid mouth breathing.
"Which one was your favorite." He studied her face. “Between them all, who did you love most?"
"I..." She wanted to believe she couldn’t say what was in her. That it was beyond her. But it couldn’t have been, she had felt it in her heart as intense palpitations every time she was asked the question. Her eyes looked to the speeding watch like a metronome to her rapid thoughts and she felt she needed to move to the rhythm. It was false courage.
"Carter, my oldest son was my favorite."
"And who was your least favorite?"
I cannot, she thought. Not this one. She had no saliva in her mouth. No air in her lungs. No feeling in her body. It felt like she cast away, floating atop a dark sea and now falling dangerously low to the ocean floor. She sat staring at the watch before he removed it and stood up, rubbing his eyes.
"We always stop here. It has been like this for the past five sessions, Ma'am." He stared at the ceiling. "You’ve traveling a dizzying river bend and you’ve forgotten where it started. Oh well."
She was trembling and could not contain herself, the emotion was coming out of her eyes and nose and mouth.
"Say it." He slammed the desk. "Who was your least favorite."
"It was." She was choking. "It was. It was.”
“It was?” Alestor tapped on the wood.
“It was Abel.”
"Did you hate him?" He asked.
"Did. You. Hate. Him."
"...Yes. Yes, yes." It came out of her, a decade of guilt..
"What did you do to him, Ma'am?" He took off his glasses and got on his knees in front of her. He held her hand and gave her warmth. She was shaking worse and the words were jammed in her throat. But he held on to her anyways. And the more epileptic she got, the tighter he gripped, almost crushing it.
"I let him die." She shouted and Alestor looked from within his corner with a terrified curiosity. The white in his eyes grew in this small shadow. The other man looked at the door, afraid that someone had heard.
"He was just playing in the river. I didn’t think he’d drown. I didn’t think he was a bad swimmer and I and I and I”
“But you did know he was a bad swimmer, didn’t you?”
“I let. I let. I let him drown. And. A-and die. No one was around, I thought, I thought no one would care. I just hated him so much. So, so much. And and and then the water bubbled and then. Then. He was" He leaned in to hold her. He wanted to lift her, help her and just as he wrapped himself around her, they heard a knock. It reminded him of yesterday.
His face was neutral. There were no lines or cracks, all his features were softened as Alestor looked perplexed at the door. He walked slowly to it and opened it. It was the man from before along with another group of people who could only be described as, important: the mayor, the police commissioner, a mailman. Alestor’s mouth was open. He could hear Mrs. Breyer settling down and could hear the walls of her heart, once again, closing shut. He felt anger all the way to his shoulders like little bumps had collected on them.
“Whens the next the sermon? They want to know.” The unimportant one mumbled. “They need proof of the beast.”
Alestor growled. He closed the door on them and looked back at Mrs. Breyer who now lost her emotion to the interruption. They were both sad in a way.
“I should be leaving.” She got up and started to the door. Alestor ran past her to his desk.
“Wait, wait. Hold on.” He opened the drawer.
“I mean, we can do this again.” She said. Her eyes stared down. “We can, right?”
“We can?” Alestor said. He looked down himself, to the drawer. Amongst its contents, in no particular order was a bottle of chloroform, tablets of DMT, cocaine and a black bible.
“Yes. We definitely can. I’ll schedule it in the front.” He said.
She smiled a bit and dried her eyes. “Thank you doctor.”
“Don’t thank me yet.” He closed the drawer. “We’ll break through next time. I promise you.”
He lead her outside, past the men, to the cold waiting room where the secretary typed away and on his way back he could not hold his grimace. The men saw it but they walked forward to question him anyways. He slammed it again, locked it and screamed as loud as he could until he felt his lungs rattle.
“I almost had her.” He ran around the room, banging his head on shelves and walls, he felt his forehead bleed. The walls shook now and above he could hear the low sound of rattling metal.
A goblet stood a top a shelf. He reached for it. He looked inside to what seemed like emptiness, then slowly saw it coming down from the sides of its lips. Black goop.
“I was so close. She would have been mine, I know it.” He spun the liquid. “And he’s been getting more demanding.” The carpet looked ruined with how hard his feet struck the floor and tore the hairs out. He put his lips to the cup. “Maybe I should just do it, right now. Fuck it.”
And as the blood came down to him he saw in the corner of his eyes the white bird. Yellow eyed, staring at Alestor. He was at the window still and did not chirp, did not move even as Alestor got closer. The bird turned to him, squawked once and flew away, worms in its mouth. Once again he fell to his seat, like the night a few days back and once again he called in the group of idiots at the front. He looked down, put his hands behind his neck and said: He’s coming to meet me soon.13: 11:23 AM
He sat removing the contents of his burger. The lettuce first, onions second, tomatoes and finally pickles last which he put in neat piles around the plate. Dion entered the table with his own plate, staring at Apollo. His face convulsed as he looked at the man picking at his food like a confused surgeon. He looked around at the people who stared strangely at them now, to the customers who spilled out of their seats. The smell of grease lingered around them and around the orange and yellow restaurant whose mascot, a hot dog holding an onion ring, looked terribly happy and almost insane.
Apollo looked out at the statue. You’d have to be insane to work here all day, he thought. Dion sat across from him and ate with giant gulps.
“We’re finally talking? You were gone for a while.” Dion said.
“It’s your fault. You didn’t listen.” Apollo ate a fry. “I told you to wait and what do you do? Rush in. No plan. No anything but a hope to win.”
“I helped two people.” Dion ate. He was nearly done with the burger. “If I hadn’t come, they’d be in a grave with the freaking bells on top of their coffins.”
“Don’t say freaking.” Apollo rolled his eyes. “It’s such a terrible word. We all know what you mean to say and what you mean to say is ‘fucking’. You put the word in our heads, fucking, but you save yourself the guilt of saying it. Terrible.”
“I freaking helped those two.” He grunted with the fries sticking out of his mouth. Apollo was just starting on his lettuce pile.
“And what if we didn’t kill that thing? What if we were too impatient and it managed to get away. We’d be dealing with more than two deaths.”
“You already told me this. But I’ll tell you again, that didn’t happen so why does it matter?”
“Everything matters.” Apollo brought his hammered fist down to the table. Dion looked at him and the eyes that seemed to look into a far reaching memory. “I know exactly what happens when we make mistakes, when we lose control of the situation or ourselves.”
By now the other guests had begun to look around and with their curious eyes peered around the corner of benches and leaned towards the two noisy hunters. A woman came by with the baggy white pants and the bright Colonel Weiner hat that made her seem like a half-peeled orange. She smiled and stood carefully away from the table.
“Is there an issue?” Her voice was peppy and nearly hummed at the end of her words.
“No, thank you.” Dion smiled. She smiled back.
“No.” Apollo grimaced. Her face fell as she looked at Apollo and she retreated back. They waited a moment for the nosy eyes to look away and in the silence the two forced boredom upon the restaurant.
“They really sent me some new guy.” Apollo shook his head.
“Who cares man. I held my own, I fought. As far as I’m concerned, I have as much experience as you. I’ve been practicing this stuff for nearly two decades.”
“There’s a difference between studying something in books and living it. I’ve shadowed under a mentor, I know these fucking things inside out. Their origins might be different, but deep inside, past the blood and guts, they’re all the same. It’s a mindless violence that grows in them. I can’t even call it evil, they’re too senseless for that. It’s more like instinct. They’re animals.”
“You're not as bright as you think you are, I could have told you that. I saw that last night. I know that.” Dion said.
“A one time affair doesn’t make you an expert. I have years of this stuff under my belt.”
“Years? We’re both twenty-four.”
“Physically, sure. Mentally, we’re about a century apart.”
“Forget that, forget you.” Dion rose suddenly. He nearly spat and foamed at the mouth. His eyes narrowed to Apollo who was looking around nervously and beginning to feel the grip of attention at his throat. The people scared him more than Dion. His throat became dry.
“Calm down.” Apollo said.
“Don’t tell me to calm down you hypocrite. I won't be lectured by you. I don’t need a lesser man who pretends that hiding and letting innocents die is any kind of sound strategy. Yeah, I rushed in and yeah, I’d do it again. A hundred times over, I would help a stranger out.” He got the words out and spat with his voracious mouth. The people again stared. The woman behind the counter shook her head and the manager nudged her to talk to them again because he had become nervous now. Dion was now aware of it all, finally and sighed.
“We should go.” Apollo lifted his tray before Dion stopped him.
“Don’t waste food.” Dion said.
None of them could believe it. Dion at the counter carefully putting everything in within the brown bag that soaked with grease at the bottom. He didn’t seem to care for everyone who watched, slurping their soda through straws that made an annoying draining sound.
“What the fuck is wrong with you. You’re not emotionally sound.” Apollo opened the door for him. They both left, Dion finding the nearest homeless man. A stray who wandered about with a half full cup of pennies. He handed him the bag.
“That wasn’t yours to give. I believe that was my food.” Apollo said.
“And I gave it to those that need more.”
“So you’re still pissed at me.”
“This has nothing to do with you, narcissist. I helped him out, fed at least for a day.”
“And he’ll be starving the next, you should get him a job application instead.”
“Is that why you brought me here? To make fun of me, of homeless people of all things?”
“I’m not making fun of anyone.” Apollo said. “I came to see if you’re willing to work like a professional.”
“So you’ll listen to me this time around?”
“Maybe. If it’s morally sound.”
“Morality is flexible. Very few people ever think they’re evil. Even the rapists, or the pedophiles, or the murderers.” Apollo stopped him at a corner they were turning into. “I’ve come up with a few leads here and there, you’d be amazed how often evil makes friends with evil. A murderer can know a drug dealer, a drug dealer a corrupt politician, and so on and so forth. You start to wander around the underbelly of the city and you realize it’s like a facebook hang out for every piece of shit in a fifty-mile radius.”
“How’d you come up with a name?”
“If I told you what I did, you wouldn’t listen to me because I would not be moral. By your standards at least.” Apollo said. Dion was already rolling his head in disbelief and making a turn into the opposite direction.
“Hey, I don’t want you helping me either.” Apollo said. “But I believe in getting the job done and I’ll take whatever help I can get. I don’t have any pride or concern for anything but the job. I’m asking you if you’d like to help, if not, fuck off and go get me someone who will. Otherwise, we’ll meet up at our apartment tonight and leave.”
“You wanted to ask me out?” Dion asked. “Send a love letter next time.
“Is that a yes? Do you want to cooperate?”
“We’re not helping anyone, are we.” Dion murmured.
“Is. That. A. Yes?”
“Yes. Yes, whatever. The sooner we get this done the sooner I can get away from you.”
“Great. I hope you enjoy clubbing.” Apollo said. “I know I don’t.”14: 12:24 PM
The fire lapsed around him, it swelled and it grew up on the walls, it licked and ate and spread itself in streaks like tendrils, sporadic and gluttonous. He saw the fire grows and nodded to what he heard. His eyes were open wide and they watched as the fire came and went like a giant surf. Then he felt hot, though not for the fire that did not feel much of anything, he felt the heat of excitement.
“When will you bring her back. Like you promised.” Alestor’s voice broke.
“That’s up to you, isn’t it?” The voice repeated. Alestor nodded and watched as the fire began to turn sickly white, like rot. It turned and regressed. Alestor ran to the table, took out a bag of pink salt and pitched it into the fireplace that spat out like an ill child.
“When can I see my wife back?” Alestor asked.
“When the rapture is brought upon them all."
“But when? When do I do it? How? When? What do I do while we wait for you?” He said.
“Wait?” The voice screeched and the fire rode up to the ceiling where the smog seemed to lash out like a storm-ridden sea, the waves crashing about and foaming. “I’ve never taken you for a passive fool.” The sparks spilled and danced on the floor. “Every ritual needs its servants, every moment of worship needs its faith. And every summoning, you know, needs its proper penance. A human hecatomb. I want it, the highest quality lifeblood you can give me.”
“And the hunters?” Alestor sat on his knees throwing salt into the fire.
“They ruined the last pact I made. They’re here now.”
“I didn’t think people like that existed in your world.” The voice said.
“They're Vicars, I've heard rumors about them before. But I thought…with how small a city we are…I thought they wouldn’t bother.”
“Hunters…” The voice hummed at the word, amused. Alestor sat as he heard the voice of the demon chuckle. His eyes were to the floor, his body was prostrate as he waited for an answer. But the voice would not talk back. The demon was mumbling. It seemed distracted for once and Alestor sat with a growing pain in his legs and in his chest.
“What do we do?” He coughed.
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” It hummed again. “Give me proper retribution today. I’ll help you deal with them.”
“I already a killed a man. What more can I do?” Alestor slammed his hand against the floor. It seemed painful for him to say - killed - and it grew in him, a stabbing conscious that felt like it was bulging out of his heart. His chest hurt.
“You killed a criminal. Scum. Shit. And you got shit back. What did you expect? It’s an exchange, did you forget? If you want more, give me more. Give me virgin blood, give me nubile souls. That would be proper, those high quality souls.”
“What do you mean high quality?”
“The price of a man is weighed in his merit and his soul. Give me your best and I'll give you my best. Give me children." It said. There was silence. "If you want help, if you want your wife and your child and me, there, with you, give me your best.”
Alestor thought about the words and they seemed to bounce off the cavern of his skull. There was nothing there but the words and his brain rattled. His hand fell and stiffened. The pink salt in his grips slipped out and drizzled onto the floor.
“Now you know my price. You do want your wife back, don’t you? It’s not like you’re really killing someone anyway. They’re coming home, to me. I’d say you’d be helping them out. I'm sure they’d forgive you when they taste paradise. When the burdens of life are cut and the shackles are thrown.”
Alestor was still. The flame began to die and he did not bother to fuel it, he let it recede and with it a piece of him. There was nothing left for him to hear. He walked back and stumbled onto a stack of books that collapsed on his feet. He held himself against a book cabinet and held it for fear of his legs giving out. Then he heard a knock, the ravenous knock of his students, the hasty knock that demanded of him a certain composure. He breathed. He evened his hair that had split and run from him throughout the conversation and collected all the bits of himself that seemed to escape or break. Some sanity, some confidence, some goodness. He was trying to make sturdy of this failing body. His body snapped into place on the fifth knock.
With his face taken back to a dull, assertive expression, he walked to the door. The men were waiting outside and sweating.
“There. You heard him, didn’t you?” Alestor told them. They were all lucid, drooling and heaving. The mayor was the first to speak.
“Did you tell him what I wanted? The money, the boat. Did you tell him?” He was shaking Alestor.
“No, but he told me what he wanted.”
“Yes, we heard.” The police commissioner said. “Children.”
They were all silent and huddled together, their shoulders were in tandem as they thought about it. Who would break it first? Who would show his selfishness first?
“I know some routes.” The paper man said. They all swallowed spit, and one man’s courage led to the other, a boulder gaining stride down the incline.
“I know some men who can work it out.” The commissioner added.
“We’d have to do it after curfew, fewer suspects.” The mayor said.
“No, no. We just need to get the right people. The people no one would mind gone. Would that be considered high quality though, Father?” The commissioner said.
Alestor looked at them. He could understand the words. The mayor, a pudgy man with his suit tearing at the seams. The commissioner, tall and proud, thick jawed. The mailman, pious and desperate in his eyes. He could not understand their demeanors or their beings. They wanted this more than him, they loved this more than him and the idea of murder seemed too little a cost for their promised wealth. It was a lottery they felt was too easy to pass up. Alestor could not believe himself. That he ever convinced these men, that they weren’t faking their conceits.
Was that all it took? Wealth and power and knowledge. Was it because they had finally experienced the demon for themselves? They had never heard the voice of God, though it supposedly lived in all things. But they heard the Djinn, the devils. They knew those to be real now and perhaps that’s what they moved them most, a higher power, regardless of what or where it came from.
Alestor walked back, he hit the door and felt for the knob.
His wife was important but this was different and he felt the urge to run, but they all held him. The believers grabbed onto his black coat and pulled themselves closer to him.
“What do we do?” The lost lambs said in unity. And Alestor, like a father afraid of his new responsibility, reeled back.
“Do what you need to do, then! You heard him.” He lashed out. They all soaked in the words. Some of them frowned, some of them smiled.
“Alright then, we’ll get on it.” The commissioner said. There was no misinterpretation, no language barrier. They knew clearly what must be done and Alestor ran back inside as he realized it.
“What have I done?” He asked to no one. He found a seat, opened his drawer and pulled the first drug he could find. A bag cocaine ripped and spilling. Then he pulled something out again, a flask. He ate them like a starved man and rubbed his head with powdered hands. Depressed and awake at the same times, a mind in dissonance with his rapidly beating heart.
Now he knew how Mrs. Breyer felt. Now he knew that he could not take it back.
15: 5:22 PM
They had not sold anything in the two hours they were there and it was enough to make them look into the sky and beg for a falling anvil. The sun was oppressive, though hidden, lurking in the gray waves of clouds like an invisible ray beam pointed directly to the back of their heads. Their brains were frying. Slow. Burning, slow. Their tired eyes wobbled underneath their strained necks. They were small, constantly looking up to the grimaced faces of customers. They were in a parking lot, made into a pseudo-swat meet but there was no one to meet. The littered streets were empty, the plastic bags of trash must have been dumped by ghosts. The frugal were at home, the frightened were at home, Sophie presumed. They must have felt safe in their small wooden homes.
“Let’s go. My feet hurt.” Pip said. Sophie looked at him, her eyes went first before her heavy skull followed. She felt sweat in her overalls and her armpits were wet. Looking at Pip’s slick, bald head only made the humid feeling worse.
“This is all your fault, you know that?” Sophie said.
“I told you I was sorry, I didn’t think the chocolate would melt.” He said. She brought her hand down to the box and felt the clay like substance between two finger tips. Like turds, like the sewer was laid out on their small chair. She looked down to the jar of money next to the plastic table they borrowed. She could see the bottom of the glass, where the street ran broken and black.
“I’m not talking about this.” She continued. His head lowered. He rubbed his legs against each themselves and his knees looked just about to collapse. “I’m suspended. You know that?”
“And I said I’m sorry.” His voice was high pitched, and his shaking body was getting angrier. He could feel his stomach knot tighten.
“What’s sorry going to do for me?” She asked. He bit his lips and moved his nose around as his head struggled for an answer. He was sniffing for something that did not exist.
“I don’t know.” He said.
“You never know, do you. I’m wondering if there’s even a brain in there.” She said.
He put fingers into the holes of his shirt. They were at the bottom, where the red and blue stripes began to stretch out. He pulled, it was just a goodwill shirt anyways, wasn’t worth much and wearing it, talking to Sophie, he began to feel that he wasn’t worth much. When he felt a tear he undid his hooked fingers from the small mouths of his shirt and put his hands down on the table.
“Why do you always talk to me that way?” He asked. This was the first time he had spoken back and Sophie did not know how to feel. She looked around, expecting the faces of strangers to give her a direction but there was no one. They all had their backs to them. A homeless man wandered with a scarf dragging through the dirty floor. The wheels of his cart whistled her off. A local baker in the corner of her eye picked his nose, he was supposed to be brushing leaves and grass into the dry street gutters. It was a very lonely place, here in the parking lot. The silence made her angry. She slammed down on the desk this time.
“Why do you always mess everything up?” She asked.
“Why are you so mean?” He asked.
“Why are you such a coward?” She asked.
"Why are you a bitch?"
"Why are you a pussy?"
He was silent. His gaunt face looked out to the street where the pickup trucks were roaming in their low hum that sounded more like a bee than an engine. It was the mild buzz of the city, like white noise, a television channel that no longer worked.
“You never cared about being suspended before! How many times have you gotten in trouble? You can beat up half the school without caring.” He said “No, you’re mad because your mamma doesn’t care about you. No one does and I'm just here to make you feel less alone. Aren't I?”
Her right eye twitched and she felt her hair split and move like bugs were crawling and picking at her scalp. These small sensations came to her neck and waved all across her body. She rose and kicked one of the table stands, it felt like the earth was shaking beneath Pip’s scrawny hands. They looked like spider legs and danced back to the sides of his hips. The crows above the roof tops heard the noise, they too ran and left half-eaten cigarette buds on the floor. Some people looked at them now. Most of them curious and not so much concerned with stopping them as they were with watching, entertaining themselves with folded hands over their fat chests.
“Don’t you talk about my mom.” She pointed to Pip. “I’ve known you for six years but I don’t care to lose you. When’d you suddenly get balls anyway?”
“I’m just tired of you screaming at me. You’re a bully.” He said.
“Must be high school. You want to practice at looking cool for all your new friends, don’t you?” She asked, “You should tell them about how you ball up in the floor whenever you get punched or run to me.”
He grabbed her pale wrist. His hand was in a tight grip and he was tensing his muscles like he had never done before. It was a bad fist, she noticed. She did not blink. She was not afraid. She was ready for it, had been for a while now and she too began to tighten her own fist. But before they could pull each other into that deadlock of violence, they felt the shadow of a person. It was imposing and set over their bodies. It held Sophie’s shoulder and did not let go.
“Don’t fight now.” He said. It was a man, wearing too tight of a suit, black undershirt, red tie. His brown shoes did not match his belt and that was the first thing she noticed as she looked up to his tall presence. His bald head was spotted brown, his skin was ashy and cracked like sea water had been made to dry and salt his face. He was holding a sign that had fallen over. It was the advertisement, “SOPHYES FAMUS CANDYES, TASTE U-CAN TRUST.”
She regretted letting Pip write. She regretted Pip. They pulled away from each other and Sophie detached the arm on his shoulder.
“I thought you were selling food, not a fight.” He smiled. "I was hoping to get some lunch, though I'll settle for a good show."
Pip dragged his feet to the table and started looking for the cleanest bar.
“I’m not selling anything.” Sophie closed the box on his hand. He whimpered and pushed her, she pushed back and the man stepped in again.
“We found a customer and you don’t even want to sell him anything?” Pip asked between his deep breaths.
“We’re closed.” She huffed back. He began to convulse in anger and pointed to the floor near her feet to spit. She felt her shoes get wet and wanted to lunge but the man held her back.
“I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” He said. “I’m done with this. We never play games, we never have fun. It’s just this dumb shit every day.”
“I don’t care. You mess everything up anyway. Why would I care? I’ll do better off without you. Now go on, run away like you always do.” She reached for her backpack. Pip’s eyes were swelling and he wiped fresh tears with his sleeve. It was discolored from the constant bleaching, the tears dampened the stain and made it his shirt darker.
“Fuck you.” He walked away. He knocked over a plastic chair and stood up to apologize to the nose picker it belonged to. It was an awkward goodbye, him fidgeting just to turn the corner. When she saw his body disappear into the city, she turned around. The bald man was looking at Pip's direction. His eyes were dead. Discolored. Gray. Were they used too?
“Hey, you," She said. He turned down. "We’re - I’m not doing business.” She said.
“Oh, won’t you sell me one. Sweat heart?” He undid a button on his coat. His stomach rolled out. “They’re famous, aren’t they?”
“I don’t sell. Definitely not to people like you.” She said. Some people were beginning to close in on them as they felt it in the air too.
“What do you mean people like me?” His bearded face rustled as he twitched his mouth. It was unkempt and grew like wild bristles, she was afraid of getting scratched by it as he lowered his face.
“I mean weirdos.” She tiptoed though could not reach him even as he bent. She repeated, louder. “You hear me, weirdo?”
“That’s cruel, girl. Is that how you conduct your business?” He asked.
"Yeah. It is. I say what comes and goes, don't you think otherwise." She said. "And don't you butt in either. That's not proper to do."
"It's not proper to fight with friends."
"I don't have any friends." She said.
He backed away.
“Well then." He showed her his loose teeth, it looked like a half a smile. "Have a nice day. Make sure you apologize. It's not good to lose a friend.” He walked. He bumped into a plastic chair and he walked, steady in a slow pace at first, then gaining speed as he neared the corner. When she saw him disappear, she felt a drop in her stomach like a needle had fallen down her throat and poked her. But in the heat of it, with her face flushed red with anger and with the noises of coming footsteps and loose sign posts creaking at the intersections, she could not make sense of her feelings. She wanted to get home. She’d be there for a while after all, it would be nice to start her nest.
She reached for her box of melted chocolates and gripped it. She felt the black, ooze onto her fingers and stain her skin.16: 9:05 PM
“Are you ready, Father?” A young woman said. They were not his children, rather, just children. They were in packs and in want of some knowledge. Four faces stared back at him, some old, some young, all with the same desire in their glazed eyes. Alestor walked past them. The dark room seemed to narrow as he went up the stairs and through the caverns of the halls. The light bulbs hung from the tops of the room as wobbling chandeliers. They did not light much, only gave a buzzing sound and parceled shadows across the walls. He was in a small room, it could not have fit more than two men at arms length but was wide. There were tables, mirrors that could not reflect in the obfuscation and the faint violet of flower bouquet resting upon one of the dressing room tables. He drained his sweat from a ragged coat hanging on the side of the table. He looked around, the rusted metal and brick whose rotted and chipped holes were homes for small hands of grass, lazy flowers. Alestor sighed and remembered the words, quality of a soul, he thought. It seemed to burrow into him. It planted a seed of some evil design in him, he knew it. He wanted to dig it out but couldn’t find a grip among dirt on his conscience. He looked inside of the table whose drawer squeaked. A black stole hung by the edge and he took it out and felt the velvet in his hand.
He had germinated it, watered it, fed it. Man after man he had killed, picked up from the streets, murdered. He had started with suspects and criminals and moved on to the homeless and sick and now here he was.
He felt his pocket. The knife was stiff.
He remembered his wife then and there and the horrified face she made before she had died. Pinned against a tree by a car, a freak accident they said by a drunk driver. Alestor put the stole on his shoulder, wrapped it around his stomach and returned it to his side. He remembered the man who had killed her too. He had found him, had crashed his own stolen car into him. He had gotten out, felt the cool air and felt his cheeks which were colder still. He had walked to his drivers seat and dragged his hand past the dirtied car dice to the shit head's nose. He closed his mouth and watched his broken body squirm. He dodged the police, but would not dodge Alestor that day. The sound his wife’s murderer made when he choked on his blood, he had found to be too intoxicating. He was the first man he had killed, the killer of one love and mother of another. He was ashamed at first to have it in him, but grew with it and then the demon came after. Murder was always a small joy when they were evil.
But his joy ended today. There was no pleasure in this.
His head straightened up and the years of stress appeared like cracks on his stone face. He walked through two doors and settled it in his heart: there would be blood.
The light was bright here, on the stage, or maybe the dusk of the halls had reared his eyes to blackness. Alestor put his hand to his face as he blocked out the overhead glare and looked up to the fleet of row where the plentiful sat. A symposium that stretched to the end of the rusty walls. Exhaustion pipes hung at the tops of the ceilings. This stage creaked. It was all cracked, jury rigged, this old theater that leered at him with broken gas tubing.
He walked to a pedestal that stole his courage. His eyes were intense, narrowed, as he looked at the book… and the boy in front of him. The people around looked at him, their curious and doubtful faces painted white as he unveiled the child.
“We should begin then. Of mans first transgression, his rebellion and his freedom.”
Amongst the dozens there, only Alestor’s voice rung out.
Isaac watched his father from afar, from a balcony where the tattered red drapes were violent as the wind drafts roared.
“Our salvation, the morning sun.” The voice was loud.
Isaac looked below himself, at the steps and seats. He tried to remember their faces, but could only recognize the famous. The commissioner, the mayor. Everyone else was a strange to him and that frightened him. The idea that they ran around in his city, that they were here now like anonymous emissaries slithering around with invisible streaks of filth.
When he saw an eye come up to him he froze. He laid on the floor, waited for something to happen but was made calm as he heard his father’s voice again. He was not found. There was no disrupting the murder.
Isaac brought his head up again and he put his hands over his mouth. His eyes felt like popping out of his skull and all he could see was the red, waving above him. The red, wrapping over him. Red everywhere.
He urinated himself, he only noticed it an hour later after the violent throes of death. After the noise and clapping.
He was quiet up in the balcony with the golden rimmed edge and the ruined Victorian design. Time had eaten it away. He sat on his belly, on the floor for hours now. Heavy steps, light steps, monstrous steps. He heard them all. He begged his heart to stop. He put a second hand over his mouth when he realized he was crying too loud. And soon all he heard was his crying.
When there was absolute darkness he had wandered out. It was an hour before midnight and by the time he had made it to the main hall of this ruined theater, he had wished to get caught just to die and rid himself of the images. He pulled his hair, stretched his face.
His feet were dragging and he fell.
“This is dad.” Isaac said. He looked around at the fauna and forest surrounding him. He looked westward, his red eyes pointed that way. There were no lights here, deep inside of nature, where the vile tendrils of nature reclaimed and wrapped over him. He was swimming in grass as high as his waist. He had trouble finding his bike and even more trouble riding it as he fell constantly on pocket holes and wild roots.
Color was draining from him. He swore he could hear the voices in the silence of the forest. He heard it in the silence of the city. Death throes, monstrous screeches, his father’s roar.
He thought for a moment of where to turn. Not the police who had betrayed his trust, not the city. Not the journalists, nothing made him safe. He wanted to run away, looked through his phone and began searching for the nearest train. All he saw projected on the screen, through his warped imagination, was the young boy dead on the altar. Burned. And the thing his body bred.
He cleaned mucus from his phone screen. He cleared his face and looked up. He would confess. He rode on. His brain echoed like a mantra, confess. Confess. Confess.
He threw his bike when he saw the doors and slammed his body against them. He slapped with his hand. He punched. His bit, he tried everything and felt his face drag down the walls. Dirty, smelly, moping on the floor. He held his head and waited for a death that would not come.
But there was a crack. Then a tired, groggy voice.
“Yeah, yeah. What can I do for you?” The Priest’s face looked out at the boy. He tapped Isaac on the shoulder. “My child? What can I do?”
And he shook him.17: 1:39 AM
The world looked slanted as she walked. Her friends were like walking canes, three wandering trees. She grabbed at their necks and their arms and held them as she fell. A few shots, a few drinks, a few dances had made her tired. Her body felt hot but she could not feel the sweat, only the cold from the outside that felt good against her skin and chilled her.
“That annoying prick wanted to fuck me for so long.” She said. A friend to her side only nodded and typed away at her phone.
“The uber is coming soon.” She said.
Another friend stood by the edge of the street with her hands wrapped around herself for the cold had become almost unbearable. They were beneath a light post that felt like a hot lamp right above their scalps. Though the drunk could not feel much.
“Yeah, he wanted to take you home. We saw.” The friend was annoyed, she always spoke low when she was annoyed. The drunk only giggled and looked behind to a door that opened from a bartender taking out trash. The drunk held onto her friends sweater and stood herself as she pushed down. She rubbed her legs together and suddenly felt how full her stomach was.
“Can I use your restroom.” The bartender stared at her for a bit. She grimaced, scratched her head. She didn’t say yes or no, just mumbled something and the drunk rushed past her.
“Sorry. She gets a little aggressive when she’s wasted.” One of the friends said. They looked at each other in the dimming light and smiled all the while the drunk ran through the bar, past empty bottles that laid on their sides on tables that laid on their sides, chairs with uneven legs up above the tables and the smell of urine and nail-polish scented whiskey that permeated the air. It almost made her want to gag and she ran to the bathroom faster. There she turned the faucet and ran the water down her head like baptism. She wanted to get rid of the layer on her face. Used makeup, spotty with dirt and sweat that seemed heavy on her. And when she was done and her legs finally could not bother being still she went into the restroom.
She sat and urinated and looked at the numbers of whores, mostly men and few hearts with strangers names etched in them. These were all around her. Some graffiti, too.
It made her head ache, a pulsing that came in waves. This wasn’t the fun time she was looking for.
She put her head down, away from her phone that buzzed and bounced out of her pocket. It cracked on the floor but all she could stare at was the cracked tile as her eyes were heavy and she wondered if she still had her makeup on as she drooled. The faucet ran, her leg tapped to keep her awake.
All she felt was cold and relief. It was like that for a while, just the buzz of the phone and her head nodding off and her body slanting away on the porcelain throne that made her legs a little numb and prickly.
The phone stopped buzzing sometime in her fading attention and somewhere in that she heard the stall open. She thought nothing of the sound of the rubber guard scraping against the floor or the light footsteps, like hooves against rock. Clack. clack. Someone’s here. Clack. Clack. It was only enough to wake her up. She opened her eyes to the tile. Her neck was stiff. She heard the stall open now and the noise it made as it crashed against her adjacent wall. She did not breath. Only yelped slightly. The person did not hear her it seemed as it just rubbed against the walls and the toilet and dropped something into the water.
She listened. She stopped breathing. A strange sound.
She heard the slobbering sound of eating. The wet gritting of teeth, a noisy hunger. The drunk hoped it was just her head and the half bottle of tequila and she begged it to be just that. But the noises became louder and when she stood and put her shorts up, the noises stopped. She wished they hadn’t, that they were just tricks of the mind. But they stopped. And she heard something plop again into shallow toilet water. It flopped, it fell out from the rim. She looked down at the tiles and saw the bloody fingers half eaten, she saw ivory and the knobs of bone. She saw blood pool and fill every broken crack. Her hair rose. Her body was stiff. And she ran.
Out the restroom. Into the bar room. Her heel snapped somewhere along the running line. It flew off like a bullet casing. She pushed herself off the wooden bar and looked back to see worse things. Her friends, what was left of them. She saw them in strange ways. Ways the human body should not have been shaped and torn. She saw them, strewn along the ceiling like ribbon decorations and across the floor like red lacquered wood. It was everywhere, the bits and the pieces that made her shriek and her eyes bulge. She moved. Almost slipped on Abbey. Moved and screamed out for her friends that were not here anymore.
She did not notice her sprained ankle. She did not wobble anymore. She ran out to the street with her hands waved up in the air. The taxi had just arrived, only barely and braked hard.
“Drunk idiot.” He nodded his head and looked at the blinking GPS on his dashboard.
“Get me the fuck out of here!” She forced herself into the passenger seat and he did not debate it. He was entranced by the look of her dirty face and the way it seemed broken and half-frightened, half-mournful. The nose dripping, the eyes glazed and unable to blink, the mouth trembling. He did not think much and switched gears on the car.
Then she screamed again.
For the driver was gone.She scratched her face. There was only a body next to her, spilling out of his waist. It was over the clutch, it was down the seat, across the window. There was no driver. Only matter, and the slowly leaving blade like a sharp whip, coming out of the punctured body.
Her voice cracked, she moved forward. There was a layer of makeup on her face again but she did not bother with it. She only pressed down on the twitching leg and felt the pedal pushed. There were howls all around. The engine, the girl, the beast.18: 12:33 AM
“Try not to make a scene. We’re getting some info and then we’re ditching.” Apollo said. Dion stared at the flashing lights on the sides and top of the building and the figure of a man slipping and stuck in mid-air. Above this man was the word, 'Tipsies'.
“I’ve never been to a club.” Dion said. His eyes were engrossed and glossy with the bright red and orange of the lights.
“You don’t drink, do you?” Apollo asked.
“Let’s keep it that way. Just do what I tell you and stay put.” Apollo said and he knew by the curious look that that, would not happen. “The man we're looking for goes by the name Mr. Lovinski.”
“Is he Jewish or Russian?” Dion got out of the car and felt relief.
“Doesn’t matter. He’s scum. That’s his breed, shit. Son of a mob boss, a drug dealer. I want the names of his LSD dealers, I looked into the autopsies of all the victim in the past month. Nearly all of them had it in them.”
“Right.” Dion took the lead and Apollo narrowed his eyes as he looked at the quick stride Dion took. They came to the bouncer who eyed them both. Dion cut in line, he was mesmerized by the sound that caused his skin to vibrate. He pushed past three people, two men with pants too tight and a girl with a skirt too short. They all seemed to rip when they fell to the ground and Apollo felt his hairs rise and a sudden need to slink back and disappear. He grabbed Dion by the hand.
“Watch out.” He said. The bouncer grabbed Dion by his other hand too. The bounder wanted to tell him the same thing, in a more intimate way. He cocked his hand and punched Dion in the jaw. His hand broke and Dion stood bewildered. The oversized man slunk into the ground and holding two fingers that now limped, swollen and black and blue.
“Get in before the camera sees us.” Apollo pushed him. The line behind them stared at the fallen man.
The two fell into the crowd and began squeezing themselves between the hot bodies so doped on ecstasy and heat exhaustion that their pupils began to look like giant black craters, from the moon, from the volcanic nether of the earth. A young man collapsed, Dion caught him and found a nice seat to put him on. He slunk, pushed Dion away and looked for his spot in the amalgam. His perfect pocket in this giant ocean.
“Don’t waste your time on these idiots.” Apollo said. “They love killing themselves.”
“Why?” Dion screamed. The bright lights made the music feel louder than they were. Their ears had long since collapsed and all they heard were muffled waves of bass crashing against them.
“These people, they’re hollow.” Apollo said.
“They look like they’re having fun.” Dion said.
“And yet they’re hardly conscious of it. Anyone having fun would probably want to be aware of it." He said. "These people need this. They’re like fragile pipes, ready to break at any time. Too small and weak for the world. This is the shit they need to fit themselves properly.”
“Sounds like your kind of people.” Dion smiled. Apollo pushed him and walked towards the bar. He whispered something into the bartender's ears that made her wide-eyed. She ignored the brutish catcalls of the drunkards falling from their stools and brushed away women passed out on the wooden counter with a mixture of vomit and drool drizzling out of their mouths and nostrils. She led Apollo and Dion to a fleet of stairs and the small neon lights on the corners of the hall that eased them with a blue hue.
Deeper they swam in the shark tank, deeper they turned, past rooms that banged and beds that creaked and the sad laughter of people hitting themselves against the walls. They stopped at a pale man who changed his color skin with whatever the DJ was deciding at the time. He was a chameleon. The light was flashing through some glass walls around them. They had taken the stairs to a sort of penthouse and behind this man were the red drapes, and further from that were the sounds of coupling people. Apollo stood against the chameleon, Dion stood a safe distance away from the both and looked down at the people dancing on the flashing tiles.
“I’m here to see Mr. Lovenski.” Apollo said. “I’m with the cartel.”
Dion’s eyes opened.
“You're alright, but he," The chameleon pointed to Dion. "He doesn't even look Mexican."
Apollo took out a wad of cash rolled into a cylinder and flashed it, the man saw the hundred dollar bill behind the rubber band and wanted to grab at it.
“The rest is in the car. Your boss should already be expecting this meeting.” Apollo said. The man did not move though was growing tenser as his eyes fluttered left and right.
“Do you understand? Muévete. Hijo de puta. O, te mato.” Apollo whispered towards him. He lifted the curtains and Dion drew him to the side before he could enter, around the corner.
“What the heck have you been doing?” He asked. “None of this is right.”
“What’s right is what gets the job done.” Apollo said. Dion grabbed his arm and shook him.
“What have you been doing these past few days?”
“This isn’t how we should do things. What kind of justice is this? When you do it with dirty hands you just stain the whole thing.” Dion said. Apollo took back his arm.
“Then just wait here.” He said.
“The problem isn’t me being there with you, the problem is this being done at all.”
“You said you would be willing, you said would listen to me, right? Well, deal with it.” Apollo said. “This is the only way I can get what I want, the most convenient and best way and that’s what I’m doing.”
“I don’t feel good about this.” Dion was biting his lips and chewing on the inside of his mouth.
“There are a lot of things you wouldn't feel good about. And they still happen day to day, all over the world.” Apollo said. “But do you lose sleep over every atrocity committed? Over every grand or small act of injustice? No. Because that wouldn’t be convenient. So just stay put and relax. Pretend like you didn’t see it at all, that’s the best way for moral people like you to get through the day.” Apollo walked towards the red curtains. Dion regretted everything, he regretted mocking Apollo earlier, he regretted climbing the stairs and in the confluence of his mind, between a curiosity and a fear and an anger he went down. Rushed down. Ran down. To the people, down to the counter with the drunkards because they seemed like better company that Apollo. And Apollo felt better with Dion at distance, at an arm's length he could grab though very, very away. He could finally breathe as he stepped into the room with the satin curtains and the man at the center staring at a pole dancer across from him. Apollo looked, he should bear witness to it all. He frowned and saw the man with a woman wrapped around his thin arms and two bodyguards with their buttoned-up shirts looking across. They looked like vacationers, with the tropical flower patterns all across the fronts of their shirts.
“They lost a bet, I made them wear them.” Mr. Lovenski said. The bodyguards smiled. What right do they have to be so jovial, Apollo thought. Lovenski slapped a seat to direct Apollo. Apollo grabbed a stool and sat with the pole dancer behind him. It was easier to talk to the man that way.
“I’m here to discuss a deal.” Apollo said.
“Come on, you don’t even want to get to know me?” He said. Apollo eyed him, he was ashamed to admit that he was not ugly. Or greasy. Or hairy like the movies had painted villains to be. He was rather handsome, he treated his staff right. He smiled and it was warm and homely and it only served to make Apollo angrier. Anger was coming onto him. Dion’s words were still in the back of his mind like a painful cyst.
“I like doing my business quick. How much product can you move within a month?” Apollo asked.
“A hundred fifty kilos, maybe.”
“That’s a lot for such a small town.”
“It’s all supply and demand.” Lovinski said. His hair was neat but the few strands that dangled above his right eye. “Why would you want to do business with us if we weren’t profitable?”
“You’re right.” Apollo said. “I can get some in by the week. We’ll supply, don’t worry about that.”
“Don’t you want a drink?” Lovinski waved for one of the girls to leave.
“No. I don’t drink.” Apollo said.
“That’s terrible.” He said. “The only men who don’t drink are men with secrets worth keeping.”
“And that’s why I don’t drink. Is there anything wrong with being secretive?”
“No, it’s not. Mr. Lorenzo.” He said. Apollo was afraid he had jerked at the fake name, even if it was the name he himself had given out days ago.
“It’s absolutely fine to be secretive if you’re with enemies.” Lovinski grabbed the woman's shoulder.
Apollo’s head was getting hot. Here was a small, handsome man, who made his wealth from the suffering of others and here was a Vicar, inhuman as could be. He could have snapped his neck at any moment, killed everyone in the room and it would not make Apollo feel comfortable. He felt like he lost in some way and leaned closer to Lovinski.
“Are you suspecting me?” Apollo said. “I’m not police. I promise.”
“I know you’re not. Because I know every cop in this town. Some FBI agents. Some CIA even.” He said. “But someone from the cartel would know about that, right? He would know how big of a business drug trafficking really is.” He smiled.
A girl came in and set down a drink in front of Apollo. Apollo felt the music on his skin like a strong surf and he was getting hotter. He felt the girl dancing behind him, and the small wafts of air come his way. He looked at Lovinski and his smile and took a sip, then gulp of the drink.
“It’s good.” Apollo said. It came to him immediately, the movements and the plan all at once. His muscles, flexed beneath his coat and his legs veiny underneath their socks as he planned it. And Mr. Lovinski smiled. He got closer to Apollo and took the drink in front of him. He finished it for Apollo, smiling.
He punched the first bodyguard he saw in the jaw and felt it snap out of place like a broken jigsaw. There was no rattle of his brain. His face turned and he was unconscious. Apollo reached to the other man with his hand and grabbed and felt two bullets enter his thigh but the glass was thick and to the crowd was too intoxicated to notice. Apollo slammed the second ones head into the pole and watched his unconscious body fall, the gun went off again and shot Apollo's foot.
But his body was healing and already he could not feel the pain. He picked up the pistol and felt Lovinski shooting at his back. He did not flinch. He only hurt for a moment and with precise hands dissected the gun and threw its pieces at the chameleon who peered in. It hit him in his temple and the veil of darkness was over his dazed eyes.
“I can’t believe I lost.” Apollo winced. The bullet casings were coming out of his back and rolling on the floor and the women could not move as Apollo came closer to Lovinski and his shaking hands that fiddled for another clip.
“What are you?” He asked.
“Give me a list of names of all your LSD dealers. Last name, first name. And tell me how much product each of these fuckers moves.”
“Fuck you. I’m not saying shit.” He was calming down and his face bore fangs. This was the famous stone wall, truly a man who was used to interrogation. Apollo snuck his hand under the table, under the cloth that draped it and suddenly Lovinski felt ill. He jumped, he put both his hands underneath the table now too and Apollo flexed his muscle. There was a groan.
“Get the fuck off me. You’re crushing them.” He screamed. He tried slapping, tried punching Apollo. He loaded his gun and shot two bullets in Apollo’s skull, the rest in his chest. The bullet casings fell to the floor and blood that should have been there on his cheeks retreaded back into his body. The holes closed.
“Not strong enough. You need more power than that.” Apollo said.
“What are you?” He asked again. Apollo flexed his arm again.
“The list.” Apollo said. Mr. Lovinski was shaking and drew blood from his tongue.
“Fuck you. I’m not saying shit.”
“A normal man would have confused this for honor.” Apollo said. “But I know you for what you really are. You’re afraid they’d break much easier than you. And that’s all under the implication that I won’t kill you, right?”
The man huffed. He struggled through the pain that ran up his head and caused him to sweat. The women were crying.
“You’re right. I won’t kill you.” Apollo said. His arm shook, the table shook. The man shook. His mouth was open and he was surprised at the warmth. More surprised than pained, more curious over the feeling and the blood that trickled down as if the satin had turned liquid and spilled over. The woman to his shoulder wanted to peer. She wanted to know what it was that made Lovinski silent and that had made his face dumbfounded. She tried unveiling the cloth.
“Don’t look.” Apollo stopped her with his free hand. “This is a secret between us.
Lovinksi finally screamed. Pain found him. His legs shook, his body rattled and he was scratching at Apollo and trying to pry away from his iron grip.
“You still have one chance to be a father. Start writing.” The man writhed in his seat. The women were screaming, there were shocked gasps coming from the hall now, but people were too afraid to go up the stairs. And most of them were still dancing below, still filled themselves with each others touch. Lovinski slammed himself on the table. He scattered everything. Glass shattered. He pulled a napkin up.
“I need a pen. I need a pen. Pen. Pen.” He was shouting. He looked around, everyone's faces showed despair. Silent. Gasping. “I need a pen you stupid bitch!” Apollo wasn’t sure who he screamed at. Him or the girls or the people below. Apollo reached into his pockets and threw it at him. He wrote and each time he stopped to think, Apollo shook underneath. Like whipping a mule.
“That’s the secret about men, ladies.” He said. “They’re easy to handle if you get a hold of their horns.”
Lovinksi screamed and pushed the paper to the side. Apollo read it and thought about letting go.
“That’s all you want, right you fuck?” Lovinski said. “I’ll fucking kill you. I swear it.”
“Don’t make promises you won’t keep.” Apollo said. “You’ll never see me again. Live with that pain. You will never get revenge.” Apollo said. He looked into his quivering eyes and at once pressed again. It was all gone. The man, the girls. They all gave into screaming and Lovinksi sat in his seat, grabbing his bloody groin. Apollo let go.
“I saved you the sin of having children. You’ll never bear any kin to take hold of your rotten business. You’ll never pass it on. That’s good. I hope this whole shit show dies with you, honestly.” Apollo said.
“I’ll fucking kill you.” Was all the neutered man shouted between his crying moans. One of the girls was calling an ambulance. Apollo looked around, there were no cameras and he felt calm at last.
“When they ask you. When they mock you. When you're dying, fatherless. When someone asks you about the origin of your troubles. Tell them. Tell them! It was the devil, come to take his dues.” Apollo walked out. He hugged the dark walls and steered clear of the light and found the nearest window to drop from. He looked below, he sighed and felt his bones press down. He stood. He looked at his phone and held it with his fingertips, trying to find Dion’s name among the screens. The light made the blood brighter than it was and he looked at his hands with disgust.
He should have put his gloves on first.19: 12:58 AM
The crowd of people around him jeered and laughed. They pumped their fists and drank from red cups and bottles that fell into lakes of broken glass. Dion watched a man come from this crowd, shirt removed. He was not thin nor strong, but very tall and drunk. The man looked at him, clenched his face and pointed his fists before he shot out. He was pushed forward. Then he found stride. He ran. He put his hand forward to him and aimed it at Dion’s face.
Dion stepped to the side and kneed him. He dropped almost instantly. The crowd was silent for a moment, wondering what would happen next and disappointed mostly. But the man stood again and held at his abdomen and breathed with a voracious appetite as all the contents of his lungs had been taken from him. He was not as forward anymore. He put his shoulder towards Dion, only had one fist to him and kept his to its side like a knife. He went forward and Dion stopped him. He kicked his forward leg and watched him limp. He tried again and again Dion kicked. It was more a tap for him, more of a hammer for the limping man who had to stop and feel if something had snapped in his leg. The man would not rest though. He was too drunk to feel it fully and this all excited Dion. Though he tried to hide his grin and hide the feeling of his gut that jumped up to his chest with the growing cheers of the crowd. He did not want to enjoy it but he did.
And the drunk man? The drunk man jumped out again. He did not realize it this time, when he was punched square in the nose and shot back, he did not realize he was down. He only held his knee and rested his whole body on his leg as warmth and embarrassment spread out from his face. Shame was growing in him. The only pain a drunk could feel. A pain that made his heart rush. He raised himself, hoping to uppercut, hoping to do something.
He was slapped. He laid out on the floor.
His arms were shaking as they stood him. His lip was burst and his violent heart would not rest as the blood ran down his face. He could not win, he knew that. But shame would not let him leave.
At that moment, with his feet dragged on the floor, the drunk man had found a knife in his pocket and lunged out to Dion. The two men shouted. They tried pulling back. He screamed. His eyes were bloodshot, yellow hued. He felt himself stop and felt blood spill onto his forehead and was confused for a moment on what or who or how it was there. He looked up, his eyes dragged and slurred and they stopped at Dion’s hand. The knife laid there, in his palm. It was bleeding, he saw. Then stopped, he saw. And the drunk walked back with wobbly legs, fear and injury both catching him and causing him to slip on street water.
He hit the back of his head and was out.
And Dion looked at the people with eyes open.
“I’m sorry.” He said. He put his back behind him, he put his whole back against a wall and watched the people now silent. Two of the drunk’s friends were dragging him out. A woman came out of the crowd to see the wound.
“I’m a doctor, let me help.” She said. He would not give her his hand and nearly ran from her and stopped when he touched another person's chest. It was beginning to feel claustrophobic. With the people staring, not laughing or pumping their jovial hands, not entertaining themselves. They just watched. He wanted to push them all. He felt palpitations. He felt like he was dying and asked how he got himself here in the first place. Why he was here. Why he had ever fought. Somewhere in the middle of his zigzagging eyes, he found the reason. The beautiful, brunette reason.
“Thank you.” A young girl’s voice said. “Thanks.” She was raising her hands in the air. Dion cut through the crowd or rather they let him pass. And with him gone, the whole thing sort of disintegrated into nervous laughs and the phones of people calling ambulances and police. But the young woman was there. A brunette, turtleneck sweat, hoop earrings and a ponytail style in between lazy and mischievous with how wild the hairs flew out.
“You didn’t have to do that.” She said.
“I did.” Dion smiled. He wiped blood on his face.
“Let me see your hand.” She said. He held it back and she seemed mad at his doing so. He felt bad at lying to her. There was no knife anymore, no wound. He felt looking at her eyes and feeling good in his stomach. For next to her laid her boyfriend, or husband, or what he hoped was her brother. His cheeks were swollen and he was looking in a daze at the half-eaten moon and the slow appetite of the clouds.
“I’m fine,” Dion said. “I couldn’t leave it like that. They ganged up on your brother.”
“My fiancé.” She said. Dion’s smile died.
“Let me pay for your hospital bill at least.” She kept bugging him.
“It’s fine, I swear.” He was trying hard to seem neutral, trying to hide a growing discomfort. But in his guts and his pockets he could feel it, the buzzing of annoyance or maybe disappointment. He thought, that he no right to think she was single or that he was deserving of any kind of prize for playing the white knight. Then he felt terrible for calling her a prize and it grew, as his face lowered, it grew. More she kept pulling at his arm and thanking him. And more he felt terrible, head falling and drooping. He was lost and felt the urge to run away. At least the drunk had put a fight, he thought.
“What the fuck is this.”
Dion heard from a distance. He saw Apollo and the cell phone on his ears and he saw him coming up to him with his angry, wide stride and Dion felt relief. He was salvaged. Like a wave crashing against the shoreline, dragging all the mirth and garbage into the depths.
“What the fuck did you do?” Apollo asked. Dion sighed. He felt air at last.
“These guys were picking on her fiancé. I stopped them.” He said. The woman looked at the two.
“You beat the shit out of some drunk asshole. Congratulations. That must have been real tough, real grand for you.” Apollo said. “But I’ve been fucking calling you for twenty minutes now.”
“I was inside most of the time, why didn’t you just look around. I was by the bar.” He said.
“I wasn’t interested in staying, alright? What does that have to do with you not answering your phone anyway?” He said.
“My phone? Your phone is ringing,” Dion said.
“Yeah asshole, your phone was ringing. So fucking answer it next time. I need you alert.” Apollo shouted. His foot tapped. His legs were uneasy and shaky.
“Your phone is ringing.” Dion said again.
“Alright, you’re breaking my balls now.”
“No, your phone is ringing. Answer it.” The woman interrupted. Apollo shot a glare at her and felt his pocket. He looked at the screen and grunted like a savage man, lost to time, lost to place. His brows collected on his nose bridge and he pouted as he answered. And all the while, the shadows were collecting on his face as the desperate words were being spoken. But the two did not care.
The woman tugged at Dion and they both turned away from him.
“If he hadn’t started the fight.” She looked the broken man on the floor. “If he just relaxed after the first few drinks, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt. I’m sure your hand isn’t fine. I’m sure it’s going to cost a lot.”
“No, no, I swear I’m fine.” He said.
“I don’t like being talked down to. This isn’t a joke. I feel guilty and I wanted to at least help you the way you helped us.” She began working her purse.
“Believe me, lady. I’m fine.” He said but she kept working her purse anyways and seemed more anxious as Dion spoke.
“If you need some money. Maybe a place to stay, any help, give me a call. I don’t like owing people debts, I don’t like owing anyone anything.” She handed the paper to him. He wanted to shout. All feeling came back to him. His depression died, stabbed in his stomach and the wounds were being filled with some new excitement.
He double checked to remember which hand wasn’t supposed to be injured and grabbed it. He tried containing his grin and looked down at the lover and his spinning head. He shouldn’t have smiled but did. He shouldn’t have wanted the urge to call but would, though tried saying otherwise. And the two shared that brief moment, of politeness and humility. Yet Dion’s feelings were anything but just. He came in to shake her hand. He wondered if he was too sweaty. She leaned in to shake his and they both felt the brooding face of Apollo. Like a fucking sledgehammer.
“We’re leaving. Right the fuck now.” He said. The sirens were wailing in the background like the violent voices of a shade.
“I think I need to speak to the police though.” Dion said.
“Fuck that, we have bigger problems.” Apollo said. Dion opened his mouth but understood. He looked back to the girl.
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“Ophelia.” She said. Ophelia, he repeated, every vowel of the word feeding the fire in his chest. He waved and they were gone. There was another sighting and it was time for sterner men.
20: 2:02 AM
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that back there.” Dion said.
“Shut your mouth. It doesn’t matter now, none of it does.” Apollo said. Dion listened. His head was held at an angle as his ear followed the low roar.
The fumes felt hot. They rode up Apollo, up from his leg and all the way out at the top of his suit where it was caught beneath his mask. The sweat collected on his collar as small stains and gave the illusion of rain. He did not know if the heat made him this wet or if it was the danger that raced across the streets, red-colored, like a comet plucked from the black sky. He could see the creature well as it hung low with many legs and many furred ends to his limbs, the tongue shot out at the car and stabbed it, a rapier's deadliness. The car hiccuped. The driver jumped. It fell into the dips of the uneven road and crashed into a fence whose metal dragged along the front of the car and filled the ground with sparks. Then it jumped again, past a factory, past another fence, into a culvert. So fast, so hot it went down, sliding against the diagonal walls of the culvert.
Apollo saw it all but waited atop the safe balcony because he was scared. Every bone snapped into position. His whole body refused to move. Until he felt the rough hand. Until Dion tapped him forward.
“What are you waiting for?” He said. Apollo looked out to the screeching car. Dion was putting his mask on. Both wore the ivory on their face, rough and simple and chipped. It stopped the wind against their red eyes, it hid them well, it made them anonymous ghosts across the rooftops. They jumped off brick and concrete pillars that held the freeways above, they ripped through fences that dangled off their feet like caught weeds. It did not take long to find the car again, speeding into the small sewage shoot. Apollo took out his blade as he ran and rested it on his shoulder. The wind currents grazed it, scratched him until he was finally low and lean and his blade no longer suffered the molasses of drag. He was a half crescent moon. A failed abortion of the celestial bodies, half in shadow and half in blinding moonlight. Dion followed the searchlight his partner left to him.
He tucked his shoulders and raced forward, his guns pointed to the floor. They looked like dogs, acted and hunted like them, heads forward, weapons forward as if in a four-legged sprint. Dion galloped, his mouth open, he felt his tongue dance and he shot at the height of his jump. The beast felt one of its legs go. It passed their racing bodies and drizzled blood. The beast did not jump. It had too many legs, to even feel a loss of speed.
Dion shot again. The car honked. The creature shot back.
It stabbed its tongue into the ground, the mighty Excalibur of a weapon it held. It vaulted. Turned, faced them, whipped his tongue around the floor and watched the rocks shoot out at them like an anchor sweeping against the ocean floor, uncaring of all the fauna and creatures harassed by its wide move. They put their arms in front of their faces and lost sight for a moment. It gained on the car. Three dogs after the shiny object.
“Don’t fucking miss.” Apollo ran ahead.
“I’m trying not to.” Dion watched him. Dion shot again. The air pushed Apollo’s hair. And he missed and missed and missed. And Dion spat. A clever animal it was, hiding behind the body of Apollo as the meat shield he was. And Dion grew hungrier. He went forward, past Apollo and nearly pushed him away. Rage was in his hands and his legs that raced forward. The wind snapped and broke at his ears as he was approaching the pace of the car with those inhuman muscles.
Forty, forty-five, fifty, sixty miles per hour.
He shot twice. Too wild though. Too unrestrained. The floor looked molten where his bullets ricocheted and missed. The casings shed off. He was getting closer. His heart pounded. He forgot to breathe. His red eyes were stuck in that glazed craze like the drunkards before, so intoxicated by adrenaline.
He pulled the trigger. Click.
Click, click, click, click.
Out of ammo. His tension died and he was afraid he would too.
The creature turned. He stared. Dion was searching inside his coat for bullets that spilled to the floor. The barrel withdrew, the smoke rose. Red hot, steaming. He was about to be thrown away and stomped on the floor, turned to ash. Dead. He was going to die. The beast opened its mouth and Dion saw the circular teeth like a shark, a vortex, a blender, a black hole. Dion thought, a precious brief thought. The last thought. He asked himself, would the world die with me?
The blade-tongue shot out. Apollo shot out.
His shoulder pushed Dion aside. His giant steel was held firm in front of them. It did not matter. Through the steel, it went. Breaking the reflected light into a thousand brilliant flaws laid on the floor like a water surface. It stabbed through to Apollo and they all saw blood color the cement floor. Dion was still. The beast charged forward to the car.
Apollo was still on the floor.
“Hey, come on.” Dion shouted.
He was still. His body looked stuck into deadlock, crooked on the floor. But Apollo breathed. Dion breathed.
Apollo raised his hand. The hand went to his mouth, he was trying to hold what ever was spilling out. It felt like teeth, teeth in the river of blood, like paled-struck people dragged along flood waters.
“My hucking hace.” Apollo said. He had no bottom lip to say f. The mask was embedded in him and he his head could not stop rattling.
“Let me help.” Dion said.
“Go.” Apollo shouted. "Go!" Or at least, Dion figured. Apollo laid out, he grabbed his face and shook it around, shook the pain, tried to make sense of his throbbing skull.
“Alright.” Dion said. There was a loud crash and Dion stared at the hot streaking marks. The smell of ruin was intense as if he was baptized in gasoline. He could smell so well he began to taste the bitterness, ash mostly, in the back of his mouth. Dion ran faster as he saw the creature inspect the car. He was looking inside. It would have grabbed her had the bullet not sounded off and had the rear mirror not snapped into the air. It hit the graffiti-laden walls and the creature took offense.
It shouted out, high-pitched. Like an after blast shock of a missile, a loud horror in the night, the stuff myths were made of. The devilish choir bells, here to alert everyone to the congregation of chaos. The fires that rose and danced like Satan’s tongue, the smell of sewage emanating from the dark hole behind the two, the dying woman, burning and bleeding. It was primeval.
It spat. It ran. It raged. The rustling of it's furred face frightened Dion. It looked like a chimera, half-reptile, half-lion. It wore the crown of hair around its body. Yet it had no pride. It disappeared into the hole.
Dion looked back to the crashed car, to the woman. It was like before, with the men, with a heart that could not decide. Or he thought at least, that it would be a hard choice. He thought his mind could argue better. But his adrenaline was too much, the thought of failure was too much, the thought of killing the monster was too much.
He looked to the car. All he could see was blood on the windshield or what was left of it. It looked like netting. Though it caught no one, only piece of someone. A wheel rolled away, tapped along the surface like a drum line, and fell flat.
‘She’s probably dead.’ He thought. He reloaded his guns. ‘Yeah, she’s probably dead.’ He reasoned.
He prayed for her.
"I need to go." He said. Like a child reasoning for play, for his toys, for his fun. Dion smiled. He walked into the hole, dipped his feet into sewage and his form disappeared into the darkness.21: 2:17 AM
The walls of rusted metal expanded outward into the small tunnels. He could feel the shit and piss up his leg and his feet that tried desperately to stay stable as he swam through the trash and murk. His feet felt like sponge. The ceilings were dripping with gunk and filth and the smell was oppressive. He held his breath. Rancid, putrid, it was like the rotten sweet smell of death was all around him and it made the small tunnel feel larger than it was. His shoulders could just fit.
It was in this dripping darkness that he had stopped thinking. He was more so driven by a rapid beating heart and the pulsing in his fingertips that made his guns feel lighter than they were. He was close. The string on his arm showed it. He came to a crossroad, he looked at all six directions and the small light they showed from the curb gutters. He could hear clacking, cars hums, the deep moans of the city night. They came like small whispers through the holes and he made sure to steer clear of the light. He lifted his arm and chose the third tunnel, it seemed arbitrary though.
Is this it?
A bag floated past him, a rusted soda can cracked underneath his feet. He turned!
Nothing. Just cardboard, spilling from a metal grate and fluttering.
He looked down and began to see the murky green. His eyes fell into the trance of his image and his muscles relaxed as his shoulders fell. It was almost enough to get him killed. Almost, had his legs obeyed him, had his heart stopped racing, had he totally relaxed he would have died. But every organ in his body knew. His lungs that stopped all of a sudden knew. For the feeling of air behind his head had broken, like a whisper spoken and draped around his neck. You’ll die if you stand still, ya know. He rolled forward. The blade went past him and up the wall. It scraped along and broke pipes that spilled water across his face and made him blurred.
The water fell on his head and it felt cool. There was steam coming off him, he held the back of his head and watched the direction of which he was attacked.
The darkness devoured the monster. All he could tell was the snarl, the scratching walk like a dragging executioners chair.
He cocked his gun. The creature ran. Under him. It aimed to trip him. It would have, had he not jumped. But in the air he felt wrong, the tongue shot out. He caught the broken metal pipe and lifted his legs from being amputated. He could not tell sweat from water or blood, only knew he had no time to breathe and held the air in his lungs with that tight face as he touched the ground. He shot, a bullet into the narrow space like a canon through a slide. It scaled the walls and ducked. Black hairs shaved off and fell. He could see its shape then. He could count seven legs, would be eight had he not blown one off earlier. It bled and dripped on the water but did not seem bothered by the septic smell. It was too focused to. Both of them were, as the light segmented them into slide shows of anger and rage, a new face, a new growl with each passing shadow of the bars. Dion was counting space, though he winced for somewhere in the tussle his thigh must have been ripped open and it bled now, faster than it healed. His eyes blinked and the creature was gone.
He shot. His wrist snapped. He shot. The tunnel was filled with the noise of his frustration, the ricochet of blue bullets, the smoke that rose up and his muted scream that had died underneath the buzz of his deaf ears. The cloud of smoke rose. It was enough to push away the smell. But not the demon and from the curtains of white, he saw the jaws of death.
He groaned and felt the teeth dig into his shoulders. Rows of teeth spun and eviscerated his flesh, he could feel each time the beast moved. It held this position. It tightened, he could feel its muscles tighten.
And Dion began to laugh. That’s all that went down the holes and the pipes, the laughter and the drop of his pistol into the murk. He was beginning to enjoy the pain, it felt like the embrace of a lover and so he hugged. He tightened his arms around the creature, squeezed it through until he could feel something pop and with a great push, slammed himself against the metal walls. He could feel their shape lump the concrete and metal. He could feel the dirt moving as he slammed himself and the beast against the wall. Laughing. Holding, caressing almost as he slammed away. After a while the chimera let go, its mouth was tired. Dion felt its breath yield. It was wheezing. He grabbed it by two of its legs, at random, and launched it one final time.
It drooled. It fell from the walls and drooled black blood. Dion felt his shoulder, he didn’t realize how much it was ruined until he began to slack from one side. When he couldn’t move his arm anymore he spat, he’d use his feet then.
Dion reached for it. The tongue shot out in retaliation. It went through the palm of his hand, cut his cheek and dug itself into the ceiling above.
“You’re tenacious. I respect that. But you’re only tenacious in the way an animal is, with the fear of death guiding you. I have more than that, more to fight for, more to die for.” He heckled. The mouth closed. He made sure of it, as he kicked it shut. The tongue was lopped off, it fell. It looked like a noose as Dion removed it from his arm and let it hang from the ceiling.
He grabbed his pistol and thought to shoot it. But he turned it, last second, and pointed the butt of his gun on the monster. He could not help himself, it was what made his stomach flutter. It was what made him happy as he brought it down over and over, a mechanical swing that lifted the blood to his face. By the fifth bludgeon, the beast had stopped moving. By the tenth, Dion had stopped. He was ripping it apart, butchering it, looking at what to eat.
He did not remember what happened much, only remembered as to why he left. There was a voice above, a curious group of eyes, obviously drunk with how they rocked standing. Dion did not remember what they looked like, he was too drunk by food too. He only remembered their hushed breaths, only remembered their eyes as they looked down to the sewer to the pair of ruby’s they had spotted. They stared down and Dion stared up, his mask half lifted, his mouth chewing on something that no longer resembled meat.
One of them snapped their heels and it fell on Dion like a heavy raindrop.
He looked around almost as if he had forgotten where he was. He looked in his pocket, the heart had long since been stripped. So why am I here?
He sighed, rubbed his head, slapped himself a bit. His legs felt heavy, his neck felt weak and he smelled like shit.22: 2:35 AM
“I’m alive.” He gargled. “I’m alive.”
His jaw was having difficulty growing back. He was having difficulty standing up. His arms could not lock in place, his arms dropped him on the concrete many a times and he was forced to feel the rough surface on his skinless jaw. He was bleeding everywhere, atop the dandelions that grew in the cracks of the culvert, atop the small stream of gutter water at the center, atop the piece of his mask now laid out everywhere.
“No evidence.” He mumbled. He used his sword to stand, and fell. He put it inside of his coat and waited in a prostrated position for the pain to subside. It never did. When he was done resting, he sat on his knees. Apollo picked the small pieces of his mask, putting them in his coat. He was like a bird with bread crumbs, knocking and tossing ten pieces with each he picked up. His eyes were the first to heal and his blurred vision of the sky fixed on the north star that shined through the clouds.
“No evidence.” He said. He was noseless, his voice sounded nasal and as he dragged his body around he noticed his teeth falling before they could find a grip on his gums. He was removing pieces of his mask from his mouth, they were like toothpicks, dug in between his loose teeth. He wanted to cry but had no tear ducts to, those came later. He was following the stars and after a while, following the bullet casings and putting them in his palm. He looked like a child in red, picking flowers and fungi from the forest, all bountiful with the shells falling from his fingertips.
He came to the wreckage and the car that had tried to drive up the wall, only to fall at an angle upwards, lopsided against the wall with the top portion ruined into a scrunch. He dropped the bullets and watched with strained eyes. He swore he could hear breathing, though his head ached and filled him with false sounds. But he was sure this was a person, sure that it was no schizophrenia.
He leaned in and the soft noise of strained lungs responded back. He walked closer to the car, put a hand on the trunk and jumped when it burst open. There was nothing inside, a false jack in the box. The car was just so wrecked that it took every opportunity to burst out. The wheel rims fell to his feet. The glass knocked back. And he was hearing the woman, somewhere in the cluster of metal, he heard her.
He also heard the choppers.
The heavy blades that cut through the air, the light that was far off yet closing in. He saw it, it started at the knocked down fence wire and followed the trail of carnage. It was coming to him.
“I need to go.” He said. “I can’t get caught.”
He turned his legs to move and heard her breathe again. Softer now, more desperate like she was drowning. He heard the loud sirens of the police too. And wondered why they even bothered if the whole point was to catch people, why make any sound. That seemed counter-intuitive. But who was he to judge about bad hunting practices? He was beaten. He looked like a ghoul and felt like an idiot.
“You’re not worth it.” He said. The car lit into flames and he nodded his head. He could talk now. And bitch. And he stomped the floor as his body moved towards the car and threw the door outward. It echoed off, the light was looking for the sound.
“I must still be fucked in the head.” He said. Though he wasn’t, he was very clear and he punched the airbags that deflated with a droning waft. The girl looked up at him, she almost looked as bad as him and when her eyes opened to the sight of the fire reflected from his fleshless face, she cried. It wasn’t loud. She could barely breathe.
“Zombie.” She said. She tried to push him away, her arms were trapped behind the dashboard. That was the first thing Apollo got rid and it seemed the more he helped her, the more frightened she became. He was getting slapped and she was getting frustrated and frightened, her hand kept slipping from him.
“Will you stop it.” He said. He ripped the seat out, laid her on the ground and would have reprimanded her, his pointed finger was already in front of her, but he noticed her legs. What was left of them, and he just sighed.
“How are you alive?” He asked. His felt weight on his face, his nose must have come back.
“Zombie.” Her face would not move.
“Look who’s talking.” He said. He looked back. They were arriving and he bit his now freshly formed lip. He was an idiot. He put his hand in front of him and blocked what little light he could. The other hand was wrapped around his lower mouth.
"You don't know how lucky you are." He reached over to her and ripped a sleeve from her. He wrapped it around himself.
“Freeze.” He heard an officer say. They were opening their doors in careful unity. Their bodies were hidden behind the white cars and their guns were pointed through the gaps of the row of cars.
"Next time you should fucking use those car brakes."
She wasn’t listening, simply mumbling, they’re dead. He nodded his head. He was staring at the barrels of the guns. Facing them, seeing where they ended.
"All units to 4622 Edmond St., near the freeway. Yes. Yes"
Can I make the jump?
“Freeze or I’ll blow your fucking brains out.”
You’re a little too late for that.
“No one has to die today.”
Except for me.
“Put your hands up. You’re surrounded.”
Like it matters.
They sang their warnings like a choir of fear. Apollo grinned, with what little face he had to grin. Somehow, they could tell what it was. His body seemed loose, ready to move and they all steadied arms.
“Go fuck yourselves.” Apollo said. He ran. Up the side of the culvert, he felt the bullets hit his shoulder and he kept his head low. He felt his knees shot. He jumped with the single good one he had left. He stabbed his arm through the side of a wall, it was a storage house and it was being drilled through as he scaled it up. His back felt like it was on fire, an acupuncture of bullets had begun to bleed him. But he stood. He growled. He ran, jumped building to building with the light struggling to catch up to him. He held his leg, he shouted and put his hand against the stream of burning light.
“Fuck off.” He mumbled.
“Fuck off.” He shouted.
He led them. A few gallops, a few miles away, he led them. And smiled once again, as the Colonel Weiner sign flashed neon across from him, on the other end of this very particular rooftop. Here, everything was heavy. The food, the smoke, the sign. He walked through the trails and puffs, he walked over to the giant E and watched it spark and scream as the metal was amputated.
“You should have left me alone.” He said. They could not listen, if they did, they would have avoided it. The giant E shot off, throwing at them. It hit the glass and shattered it. They persisted. They would not stop, they flinched and shook in the air and shot down at him. He grabbed and L this time, L’s were sharper. This one he aimed for the light and watched as it flew off, like Medusa’s head, cut off and rolling in the air and spinning it’s vile gaze everywhere. They lost track of him. They shot at nothing and turned around the store that now read “Colon Weiner”.
They would have laughed. But the men with their rifles and heavy armor were too busy cursing. By the time support came, Apollo had disappeared. The grand escape. They cursed, where was he? How could he avoid us?
He went nowhere far, really and the police hadn't expected it. He was resting. He was on a bed of plastic bags and half eaten food. He had fallen into a dumpster somewhere in between a jump, an accident really, and had decided just not to move. And when the noise of the chopper was too loud, he pulled down on the dumpster door and rested his eyes. They were shouting, they never found him. No one did. Not till morning came and the opening pimple-faced burger artist came to him by accident. Until though, he slept.
It had been a long time since he slept that well.
23: 7:45 AM
Apollo came to the front door and knocked four times before he realized no one was there. He sighed and fixed the cough mask the covered his mouth and nose, he still looked like a terror. He felt like one as he began to shove his shoulder into the door, wondering what tension would make it break. He was about to remove the knob before he smelled Dion. It was like a dung heap, creeping up on him across the hallway that seemed cluttered with the ghastly smell in the air. There were curious faces that showed their eyes, they took a whiff and they ran back inside.
“I forgot my key.” Apollo said.
“You look tired.” Dion said. “I thought you said part of being a Vicar was not standing out?”
Apollo lifted his coat and showed him the bullet holes across his abdomen, where the blood had dried and where the scars protruded. The lead was still inside of him and moving to his desk in the room, sitting down, seemed to shake them and grate against his rib cage.
“Please tell me you killed it and that you’ve got the stone.” Apollo said. Dion lifted the red rock from his coat, he threw it and Apollo ground it in his hand. He lifted his mask and show him the image, Dion looked disgusted, it was bizarre staring at such an injured man and it made him feel guilty.
If only I had dodged.
“I didn’t ask you to help me.” He mumbled. He was surprised the words had come out, something moved him to say it, like a second soul inside of him.
“If I didn’t you would have gotten your head cut off.”
“I won’t apologize for what happened to you. You should have just acted like you always do, alone, calm. Collected. You had no right.” Dion said.
“I had no right to save you? Do you think I care about you?” Apollo shoveled the powder into his mouth. It tasted like candy, coating his tongue and fizzing, melting into him. “You’re church property. I was just protecting an investment. I understood the risk and I thought that me getting injured was a better alternative to you getting your head cut off.”
“Well don’t next time. You’re not my mother. So stop with your patronizing.”
“Did I hurt your pride? Let me kiss your booboo, sweetheart.” Apollo mocked. His voice was high and it made Dion reach over, with anger in his fists, to remind him that he too was a man. He was about to swing before the door opened.
“Another one.” Apollo rolled his eyes. He leaned back into his chair and kicked his shoes off, it felt like steam escaped him and he was only gathering the smell. He reached for his nose and fixed a bone in place.
“It never heals right.” He said to the crack of his face.
“Did you think I wouldn’t read the news.” The Priest was screaming. He held the paper in his hand and waved it like a town crier. Here ye, here ye. Dion was trying to grab it but his hands flailed around and the Priest threw it on the table across from Apollo. He grabbed it and looked it over.
“They almost got a picture of my pretty face.” He said. He felt his skin and watched it recede from a purple, burned and sickly color back to his tone of brown. Though lighter, less tanned.
“You destroyed a helicopter. You destroyed a couple thousand in property damage. Roads will need to be rebuilt, fences will need to be re-stood.” The Priest was drooling. His dog face was drooping and his eyes would not blink. “It’s anarchy out there and you’re adding to it.”
“A couple thousand seems like a better number than last time. It was just a couple scratches, some small infrastructure work.” Dion said. His head was low in reverence to the rabid holy man.
Apollo touched his stomach. The bullets were coming out and falling on the floor.
“We killed it.” Apollo said.
“I did.” Dion corrected.
“You’re right, I just got my face stabbed.” Apollo said. “The point is it’s dead. What’s the big deal?”
“You couldn’t have done it a little cleaner?” The Priest was slapping the back of his hand. There was no deal to broker though.
“Nothing is ever clean with hellspawn. Maybe you should do it yourself if you want it done better. Assuming you have the balls to pick up the sword in the first place.” Apollo picked up one of the shells and laid it out in front of them all. The Priest slammed his hands on the table and watched the casing fall off.
“I’m your boss. Don’t you forget it. When I tell you to do something, you do it.” He said. He took his hands off it, he backtracked and touched the wall and looked at them both. They could barely look at him, only passed a glance before straying their vision away.
“Are you getting closer to these freaks, at least.” The Priest said.
“Yeah. I have a name for a drug supplier that might have a connection to them.” Apollo said.
“You dragged me all night for a name?” Dion asked.
“You seemed to have enjoyed yourself.” Apollo said.
“This guy doesn’t even know what the heck is going on?” The Priest rose and dropped his hands. “Maybe you should act, you know, like more of a partner.”
“Another one with the fucking hecks. Is that hard to curse?” Apollo stood and threw his coat to his bedside. He walked over and laid himself on the mattress. His eyes were beginning to fall and he couldn’t help but feel wanting of another nap.
“Whoever is doing this mess is an amateur.” Apollo rolled around. “He’s not really summoning demons, more so, personifications of demons. Very shallow stuff.”
“What do you mean personifications.”
“I mean to say, they’re like puppets. He thinks the idea of one of the demons but doesn’t really call upon him. For example, the first thing we killed.”
“The bird.” Dion shouted, as if in a game show with the buzzard ringing off to his joy.
“Yes Dion, the big bird. That was a very simple rendition of Amon, one of the lords in the second layer of hell. Of course, it wasn’t actually Amon, more like the idea of Amon.” Apollo traced fingers into a sky, imagining the incantation that must have taken place. “Yesterday’s monstrosity took the shape of Bael, or at least, what we think of Bael. Lord of the third circle.”
“Why doesn’t he just conjure up the real things then?” The Priest asked.
“Because you can’t just conjure up princes and nobles and lords, they’re stuck in hell for a reason. For someone to undo the chains of God would require a godly power. That's equivalent exchange. For that reason, it’s very hard getting a real, tangible prince or noble up here on. Demons usually appear as shades, ghosts, as animals or illusions. They're more interested in haunting, pushing people. They’re rarely ever tangible and if they are, they usually aren’t very strong.” He said.
“Listen, I’m glad for your demonology lecture. But this only affirms one thing: you need to do your job better.” The Priest went off.
“I’m putting the squeeze on them. It doesn’t matter why this person is doing it, who he’s doing it for, he’ll be fucked in a couple days.” Apollo yawned.
“You could speed it up if you got off your ass.” The Priest tapped on Dion. “Convince your partner to stop being lazy. Sloth is a sin, after all.”
“There’s no convincing him. He’s a dog. A stubborn dog.”
“Part of catching a criminal is giving him room to breathe and you do want to catch the right criminal, right?” Apollo asked.
The Priest nodded and rubbed his scalp. He looked around the room and the mess of clothes and papers scattered about with important, giant red circles over them. He looked at the map and the threads and pins that wrapped around the city and it made his head spin. He felt anger for his powerlessness, his inability to understand and remembering last nights face only made his feelings worse. The idea that people were suffering, the idea that they bled and died underneath what he felt was his city made him yank his hair. In the end, he took a deep breath of air.
“By the way.” Apollo started. “How’d you know there would be a demon last night? You of all people.”
“Someone gave me a heads up.”
“Did you bother to get his name? Address? License plate?” Apollo rubbed his chin.
“Right. Well, I’m going to sleep.”
“And if you’re going to sleep, then I’ll pick up after your slack.” Dion said. “I need to make the city safer since you won’t.”
Apollo began to laugh. “Go ahead superman, just don’t cause any trouble.”
“Not any more than you would.” Dion said. The Priest exhausted his anger, felt something underneath his flesh that just disappeared into the environment like heat or energy. He could not move them, they were stones and he was too weak to push them on the incline. He felt like some Egyptian slave, empress-less, just pushing and moving and getting crushed. How could they not feel urgency? How could they not pity the weak?
He sighed. He scratched his head and the spot where his hair used to be. He let the small gray threads fall to the floor. They looked like broken cobwebs.
“Take some showers at least, you both smell terrible.” He said. And he was gone, getting ready for the new day.
Author's Note: I did not forget to write Friday's chapter. I forgot to move it from pending published to actually published. Sorry!24: Episode 3 - July 20th, 2017
This had been the first time Jeremiah would see his partner since he was nearly killed and it frightened him. He had thought about leaving four different times on the way to the receptionist desk. He had hidden inside the restroom on the way to the room. He had stared at his feet for half an hour at the door, the big ‘601’ in black letters, and he had memorized the number of black tiles in the checkerboard pattern underneath his feet as he opened the door.
The first thing he heard was the strum of a guitar out of tune and how it made a hollow, low pitch note, like a bellow or a boat creak. He looked immediately from left to right. Everything was white and blue, clean and cold. He heard the noise of a machine and what it pumped into Officer Heinz’s tired lungs. He looked stuffed like a turkey roast, tubes and tape and bandages all over him to keep him from falling apart. Jeremiah dropped a bouquet of flowers he had bought for the occasion. The laid on the bedside.
His injuries felt small now that he looked at his partner, an injured arm, some cuts, that was it. He could not think of any of his aches as any kind of meaningful pain. He felt small in front of the man lifeless on the bed. And then he heard the guitar again. He looked to his side, his mouth was open and his face searched for the noise. There was a little person, quivering, strumming.
Beady eyes looked back, they felt like bullets. It was a small face of a boy and he put his so close together as to seem like one small black tree brush, his hair like dead leaves, muddy, straying out.
“You must be his son, your mom told me you’d be here. How are you holding up?” Jeremiah said.
The boy did not talk, only stared. It made Jeremiah feel cold.
“You’re here alone? I know your moms working but don’t you have any relatives?” He asked again. Nothing. Jeremiah smiled, it was fragile.
“I was his partner. He was very kind and brave, you’re dad that is. Funny too!” His face felt weak. “I’m just here to pay my respects.”
The boy nodded. He stared and when it felt like Jeremiah could not bear the judgment of his glare any longer, he started counting tile again. They were two mutes bound to by a respirator that was too oppressive for them. Jeremiah couldn’t look without being disgusted. None of what he suffered was enough, not enough to this coma. He clenched his fist and felt his stapled hands bleed. His knees shook. Then he just held his breath and the snot and tears that began to ride down his face. The beeping was so low but it felt like a hammer on his heart.
I wish I was on the bed instead.
He moved. He ran out. He would have reduced himself to a puddle if he hadn’t. The thought was too heavy. He put a stray rose into the sink and let it drip water that carried the aroma out the room, out the receptionist office, out the giant glass sliding doors at the front. The boy, the doctors, the crowd stared and he wanted to rip his eyes out.
I know I’m terrible. Stop looking, I know.
“Fuck. Fuck.” He told himself. A pair of doctors, smoking, moved aside as he came through the street. The hot air made his eyes burn and he just let go, all the way to his car, he wept. All the way to the liquor store, he wept. Through the day, through the night, he wept.
Drunk by his sadness, drunk because of his sadness. Bottle after bottle, he hed himself the shots.
Now, this is medicine.
He was parked by a sidewalk. A giant man holding a donut hung leered overhead, an empty box of donuts rattled underneath him. He moved his hand across his face to see how bad it was, he counted twelve fingers on one hand.
“I should have manned up. I shouldn’t have let him take the lead.” He remembered the night, the bird that made his shoulders shiver. The darkness, the spear, the fear inside of his gut. He could not find a single scene of heroism from himself, not even on the ride back. Or in the medal of honor lying on the passenger's seat. He remembered his urine stain, he remembered that.
Nothing felt good inside of him.
An hour into the stupor he had the idea to look outside, it was getting too hot and he opened his mouth thinking it would cool the burning in his throat.
“I need to let go.” He told himself. His face was strained like he had eaten something sour. “Why the fuck should I feel guilty. I only did what was normal, what anyone else would have done.”
He pulled his wheel and nearly stripped it with his mad grip.
“What the fuck do you expect of me. Huh?” He screamed at the sky.
He looked up, proud of his outburst almost. His eyes kept to the slow-moving cloud and stars that looked like streaking lights in his blurred vision. They made lines of bright white and he followed them, followed them and where they lead. He faced the west, his upper half was hanging outside the window as he followed the light. And then he realized there were no stores. That these lines were not still, that there was a light dragging across the sky. He saw it. A comet tail, azure like a bright blade of water cutting through the dark horizon. He followed it to the donut man and his giant, plastic, smiling face. Then he saw the donut man, the statue of him, decapitated. The head, blown into molten, dripping plastic. Jeremiah laughed. Until the head fell on the rear of his car. Then he wobbled. Then he cried.
The metal was bending above, it anchored over him and he leapt out of the glass. The weight collapsed on his empty car and he crawled away, dragging his weak legs through the broken pavement. The light posts came down, the whole street looked like it would burst open and he found a nice corner, near a fence, to fall into fetal position. He kept his eyes shut as he heard the explosions, as the metal fell and collapsed and when it was all done, when all he heard was a raging fire he opened his eyes. The street in front of him, his car, were all swallowed into the sea of fire. There were people with him, looking, then firefighters, then paramedics.
“He’s not hurt, just drunk.” A paramedic said.
Hah. Only drunk.
The police officers looked at him, some of them familiar with his face. When it start, when did it happen, they asked. He did not know. He couldn’t explain much. He only knew what they knew. The street was filled with brimstone. And the lake of fire had tried swallowing him whole.25: 8:06 AM
It had been three days since the sewer incident and they were pressed. Apollo bit his nails as Dion drove around the corner. They looked on outside to the shoeless children and the arcade cabinets they tiptoed in front of. Street fighter, or Metal Slug, they couldn’t tell with how ripped and broken the cabinet stickers were. There were liquor stores every other house, it seemed. Then the houses disappeared, then the road did too. Wooden fences became chain link, dogs roamed around, eating off sewer gutters. Crows picked and dragged carrion from the mud roads and from a sidewalk they could see a man in a wheelchair with a sign that read, ‘help a poor veteran’ and the cup that laid below him.
The first thing Dion did when he stepped out was hand a few coins to the poor man. The second thing he did was shiver. He couldn’t tolerate the feel in the air, though Apollo did. This was the real heart of the city and the darkness was everywhere. They walked towards a parking lot half transmuted into forest.
“They’re gon’ take me to the Saint Jones you bitch.” A woman was flailing her arms in the air, blue plastic bags hung on her arms like the swollen, rotten fruits of trees. Her hair was held together by a rag, a piece of an American. It was red and white. “Those devils are gon’ take me to the saint jones where the CIA live, let me tell you. They gon’ fill me with poison, ‘ell take my soul away I know it.”
Another woman came by to drag her back to a small cove underneath a tree, a patch of blue tarp. She was apologizing to them with a very fragile smile.
“She’s sick.” She said. They sat and Dion couldn’t take his eyes off them.
“Don’t even try helping. Some things are beyond your control.” He said.
“It just makes me feel wrong.”
“Weak, you mean.” Apollo said. “You can’t punch disease in the face. You can’t wrestle it. You just fight it, endlessly, until it comes for you. For all of us, really.”
“Well, not us.” Dion said. “We’re different.”
Apollo spat. He whispered yeah in a dismissive tone and wandered.
There was no path to follow, just an endless patch of black asphalt that bled into the forest. The homeless were scared but they gathered around the flowers. Some slept, some drank, some picked the little joys from the floor. It had rained yesterday, Apollo was reminded, by the heavy dew collected on the poles and tarps that drizzled when they shook. It was as if they were sprinkles, watering these poor whithered souls. Well, it hadn’t done its job, Apollo thought. They all seemed dead.
“What are we doing here?” Dion asked.
“What’s the matter. I thought you liked helping people, why don’t you go around offering your services.”
“I can’t help any of them.” Dion said.
“Hey come on, don’t be such a defeatist.” Apollo egged him. Dion frowned at the sound. “We’re just here to get a name, there was a murder nearby. Some kid, Matthew ‘Pip’ Lafayette. I have a belief that his murderer was one of our guys. One of our many guys. I just want to see if anyone here has some information.”
“Jesus Christ, that’s horrifying.” Dion clenched his fist. “Are you sure it was them?”
“No. That’s why I’m here though, right?”
“What about the drug dealer?” Dion asked.
“He comes later. Don’t worry about him. Just ask around. Here.” Apollo threw a couple twenties into Dion’s hand. “Go buy some information. Don't. Give it. Away.”
“We’re just giving them twenties?” Dion asked.
“You’re right.” Apollo reached for his hand. “That’s more than they deserve.”
Dion pulled back and glared at him. Apollo smiled and watched him wander about into the little town of homeless.
The poor were everywhere, walking in droves, hanging clothes by the tree branches, hanging themselves by the metal stakes stuck in the floor that held their little bright-colored roofs together. They ate bread and crackers, they boiled water on small portable stoves and drank from little flasks in their jackets. He went around them carefully, watched them stack up on each other in the trees like a tower. The tall grass hid some sleeping on the floor and after a while Apollo became nervous to walk at all. It was like that for at least an hour. A dreadful hour, as he stared at their dirty faces and the way they looked at him like he was common place, like to some capacity, Apollo was like them. He hated being similar. He looked to his suit, it seemed neat and clean. He looked at his skin, it was not blemished or dirty like theirs. Yet they smiled, yet they passed him on as one of them. Apollo stepped on a man’s foot and looked away. He would have been caught in a disagreement if he didn’t hear the loud voice of Dion.
“There’s just no speaking to you, is there?”
Apollo walked by. He touched Dion on the shoulder.
“You talk to him.” Dion walked away. He opened the door of the car and slammed it and waited inside with his arms folded on himself. Apollo looked down to the man, it was the person holding the veteran sign who Dion had donated to.
“You should be more grateful.” Apollo said.
“You should get the fuck out of my sun.” The vet said.
“That’s probably the reason why you’re homeless, you’re unreasonable. I just want to ask some questions, old man.”
“Ask away. You ain’t getting any answers though, you little shit.” He turned the wheel on his chair, Apollo stopped him.
“I’m not done with you.” Apollo said. “Were you here on July sixteen, at around noon, maybe dusk.”
“Get out of my sunlight.” He said.
Apollo stepped aside and looked at him underneath the brightness of the sky. He wore a beret and over his black shirt he wore a green sweater. There was a marines patch on his shoulder, the pins of his service and sacrifice were attached to his hood.
“What platoon did you serve in?” Apollo asked.
“Fuck off.” He said. Apollo put his foot in between the wheels again. The veteran felt himself stop and he looked up. He smiled and in one move, pushed Apollo. Tried to at least. He fell back to the chair and stood again to retry.
“You’re not even crippled?” Apollo asked. “Did you even serve?”
“No.” The man answered. Apollo let go of his wheelchair. “I didn’t. What the fuck do you care?”
“I thought you’d be the one to care. Stolen valor and all that shit.”
“Valor is for dogs. So is pride, so is respect and decency. Ain’t no one ever been decent to me.” The old man said. He was wheeling down, Apollo followed himself and found himself jogging just to catch up.
“That’s shameful.” Apollo said.
“What the fuck are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing.” He held his wheel. “So long as you give me some information.”
The old man wheeled back to the streets and to the corner that he was yearning for.
“You think I give a shit about being blackmailed? If I cared, I wouldn’t have told you in the first place.” He said. “I’m not like you city folks. I have nothing to lose, I have no need or desire to stay here, no fear of being caught. Run me out of town and I’ll find a new spot, scream at me and I won’t listen. That’s the difference between you and me. You’re a dog and I’m a horse, I go where I please, I graze where I please.”
“I’m glad to hear you have so much to look forward to in your life, you old fuck.” Apollo said. “But a kid died. A kid that didn’t have a chance to go anywhere, do anything. He was cut to pieces.”
“What do I care for kids. They die everywhere all over the world, what’s one more body?”
“Everything,” Apollo said. “It’s everything to me. You tell me about this body.”
“Or what? You’ll take my life. Go on then. Do it here, let's see if you have the balls.” His voice was loud. His eyes were red, his breath smelled of cheap vodka. Apollo started to laugh, mostly to diffuse the staring faces.
“How about I just buy your information, you over dramatic fuck?” He asked.
“I’m not selling anything for a shitty twenty your friend was offering me.” He said. "Give me five hundred."
“He already offered you twenty huh…” Apollo said. He smiled. He could a vein crawling around his neck, he could feel his face redness. Dion could too, as he rolled up in the car. Apollo smiled, there were daggers behind his teeth and he felt the urge. He grabbed the man by the collar. Dion opened the car.
“I know exactly what to sell you.”26: 8:24 PM
Pip’s death had made her angry at first. She blamed him for it, blamed his stupidity, blamed his meekness. It made her so frustrated she didn’t eat all day the day she found out. Then the next day came. It made her sad, then, come morning when she was trying to remember a kind dream she had about him. She didn’t eat all day either. She committed herself to small things at least, to keep herself alive and sane. She showered, breathed, watched numbing television. She wept that night and she dreamed of Pip again. This one was a nightmare and this one she could not forget, though wanted to. On this third day, she was hopeless. She wandered to the police station asking questions to his death, to the whereabout of the rest of his body, to an answer, it took them an hour to get her off the premise. They almost tased her with how stubborn she flailed about.
They said he was abducted, that they were on the case and that they had no suspects. She called them incompetent and came home late, her mother wasn’t home for the whole ordeal. So she spoke with Pip's mother instead. Mostly listened actually. Mrs. Pip was too busy crying to talk.
“I don’t know where he is.” She wept through the receiver. Sophie couldn’t answer her. No one knew where he really was, only where he had been kidnapped and only where they found a piece of him. The rest of Pip was out there and it hurt both of them. It was not enough to just die, but to be forgotten, to have an empty grave and a wandering soul. That seemed worse than just death to Sophie. She said sorry and hung up.
She didn’t sleep much that night and on the fourth day, the twentieth of the month, she became resolute.
She spent all night planning it, there was no room for sleep and throughout the day she planted small siestas and naps whenever her racing heart allowed it. She almost slipped in the shower as fell asleep.
She had in her backpack, in no particular order: a map of the city, a fresh sweater and a few bags of treats. Candies mostly, she was still a child. She threw in a packet of jerky to pretend it was a healthy, good trail mix. She had the plan outlined, she rewrote it and redrafted in ten times throughout the day. It was simple, really, she wanted to know what happened to Pip. She thought it to be an easy plan, retrace her steps and interview the people around the scene of the crime. The places were named, Pete's Bakery, Lowdrie's Loundra-mats, The Devil's Tail. She didn't want to the latter in particular, it was a loud nightclub. But she would, like she would the other places and homes in the area.
“It’s not like the police are doing anything, right?” She said. She stood in front of her mother lounging on a sofa. A plastic clock ticked away, it was in the shape of a black cat and the pendulum tail swung for each second dialed. Eight twenty-four, it was about time to go. She looked down.
“I’ll be back home soon. I left dinner for you.” Sophie said. It was just a styrofoam cup of noodles, now waterlogged. They looked like small slugs inside the cup. Her mother didn't care. She was snoring. It sounded like a cackle in the emptiness of the house. It was the first time she had ever felt the house to be too big but as she looked around, she felt small. The dark oak counters with linen cloths stained months ago, the rings of dirt that decorated the glass tables from cans of forgotten beer, the walls peeling their paint and paper like old bark. They seemed so far apart like small islands. Though she would miss it, horrible as the scenery was and she swore she would be back. It was enough to make her nose sniffle.
“You can’t even take out the trash.” She spoke low, her voice was strained. She walked to the kitchen and swung the black bag over her left shoulder. It was bigger than her but she carried it with ease. Her mother laid on the sofa, mouth open. There were green shadows around her mother's eyes from smudged makeup, her drooling lips dripped brown lipstick. Her cheeks were flushed red, though she was not afraid or ashamed or angry like Sophie was. Sophie found a cigarette bud on her mother's chest and flicked it to a glass cup. It had left a burned hole in her shirt. She kissed her mother on the cheek and wiped her lips of the taste of foundation and of rouge. Sophie wanted to put a sheet over her, the ugly sweater of hers, but her mother rolled to the side and dug her face into the soft cushions.
“You’re all useless, aren’t you? The old men and the old women. You tell us to stop playing pretend and to stop playing games and here you are, years later, pretending to be good, pretending that this madness isn’t another kind of game.” She wasn't speaking to her mother though it didn't matter, no one listened. Her mother was too far gone in the drunken, tired, sleep.
“I love you.” She finished. “I’ll be back soon.”
Sophie did not sneak out. She did not play thief like all the Hollywood movies had made this kind of even to be. With tired, poor mothers like hers, she didn’t need to play false espionage.
She walked out the front door, took out the trash until it laid on the edge of the sidewalk, and waved goodbye. She turned off the lights, closed the door and locked it and walked down the street. No one bothered to say anything to her, no one was there to care.
The broken lights of crooked posts rained down upon her pieces of light. She met travelers, some few minutes into her walk into the city who passed her smiles. Their teeth looked like daggers but she pressed forward, weak and wobbly, she moved on.
She neared a park whose dry grass felt rough against her Achilles heel. She scratched herself going to the large tree at the center and climbed it like a conning tower and looked out to give directions to the worried captain, her heart, there was fear in her as she looked out to the thin veil of darkness and faced away from the wail of wild wind. There was curiosity in the small lights of apartments and of streets, like small stranded stars. There was mystery for her, but to you, dear reader, I will leave no surprise: Sophie would die tonight.27: 6:00 AM
The sweat came off Alestor’s back and stuck his skin to the bed. It had been a night of strong images. He looked to his side and found a picture of a woman whose smile made a cold feeling drag across his spine and he put the picture face down as he became worse. The feeling would not leave. Not for an hour, as he went around the house looking for all the photos of his wife that smiled and stood and reminded him of the feeling in him that worsened. It was one-thirty-four in the morning when he was done. He fell on his bed and sat. It wasn’t long. He stood. He paced.
The stands of the knocked over photos shook like scared, wagging tails.
Alestor looked out to the moon and the dreary voice came to him underneath. It was in the floorboards. It was in the door frame. It was in the walls. The color, a light blue, he painted with his son years ago, flushed out. Everything turned malicious, everything closed in on him and the walls looked dark, like a black sea washing over him. He felt washed up. He sat down, catching his breath. He ran out the door, down the hall to a room whose locked doors annoyed him as he rushed through the combinations. It was his study. He struggled to the table on the end of the room. He quickly took out a brown bag. Like an addict, you could see the dependency on his face and his shaking hands when he felt the coarse pink salt pinched through his fingers and spilled all cross the floor and table. He threw, as quickly as he could. He threw in pinches, then handfuls. Then the whole bag all at once which gave life to the fire.
The flames licked and he could hear the voice through the snaps and crackles of the fire. He immediately knelt and felt his shins bleed as they dragged across the rough floorboard.
“I’m here, oh bountiful one?” Alestor said. The fire dimmed for a moment and all he could hear was the quick breathing of the being from beyond.
“Be quiet.” It said. “I should have your tongue ripped off that you would suffer me another failure.”
“You said” Alestor started. The fire slapped the ground.
“I said? What does my saying have to do with your lack of action, with your failure?”
“We tried. We even gave you the boy.” Alestor said.
“And now his pride is wasted too. He tells me so.”
“You’re with him?”
“Where else do you think he’d go?” The being asked.
“Pip was his name. He’s as embarrassed as I am.”
“Pip,” Alestor repeated. It shook him. Pip. The familiar face, the blood.
So that was his name.
He was rattling. “Is my wife with you too?”
Alestor felt the fire ride down to him and burn his hands. He broke from his prone stance and rolled away, holding his hand.
“Do you think you’re in a position to negotiate your wants? Another death and you haven’t even killed the hunters. Are they that much of a problem?”
“They’re durable. They’re getting closer.” Alestor said.
“Let them get as close as they want. You’re almost, right?”
“Yes but I’m afraid we’ll need at least another ceremony. I don’t know if we can hold on till then.”
“Then don’t.” The voice said. “Let them come, I doubt you have it in you to commit to the plan anyway.”
“What?” Alestor asked. “I won’t compromise this. I need this.”
“Oh, suddenly, you’re full of conviction.”
“I want my wife.” Alestor said.
“And what a nasty desire that’s been.”
“I’ve only done what you’ve demanded.”
“Will that suffice?” The voice laughed. “When you stand in front of the tribunal, will that work? I was only doing as told. Will everyone accept it? Will your wife, if you ever meet her, enjoy this?”
“Why torment me.” Alestor cried. “Don’t you want this as much as me?”
“I’m beginning to want more. Those two vicars seem more the toy than you could ever be.”
“They’ll kill us both.” Alestor said.
The fire wrapped around the room and he could feel the grip, a manifestation of all the fumes and heat, choking him, squeezing his body and forcing him into convulsions.
“I would never lose. Thousands of years, I have never lost, thousands of years more, I will never lose. You’ve shamed me twice. Maybe I should cut my deal then?” The hand let him go, dropped him to the floor and receded. The walls were covered in soot, ash like the volcanic earth had been spread over his study room. Alestor was coughing, finding breath amongst the smoke and heavy air. He heard the voice laugh.
“But that would be something, wouldn’t it? Every day these two make me happier, is that love.” He laughed. “Lust, maybe. I’d like to meet them more. But for that, I’d need you, wouldn’t I?”
“I’ll have it done night.” Alestor massaged his throat. “No more errors. No more hesitation. Then we’ll see you soon.”
He could see the smile, the cool veneer and the rows of ivory through the heart of the flame.
“Oh, by the way.” The demon said. “Keep an eye on your son. He’s got quite the mouth.”
It crackled and died, both voice and fire. Like a poor joke and its poor audience made to laugh and to pity him.
And nothing remained but the pink salt turned to pink glass, like the painted church windows had shattered onto his fireplace. Alestor knelt, his pain now gone and he walked over to the fire pit. He reached inside, nothing burned and it felt cold. The life of the room had been sucked through this hellish vortex. He touched the glass and it shattered in his hands.
It was enough to make him cry for all that he was to do. He put his hands on his scalp and wept. He could hear his son and it made him feel worse, he heard knocking and he covered the sound with his hands.
After a while, Isaac had stopped and so had Alestor. His cheeks were red, the scratched marks below his eyes glowed and his fingernails were covered in dead skin cells. He could hear the grandfather clock ring at six, a familiar alarm. It was early morning, what madness had warped time for him. He shuffled to his desk, what was left of it. Half of it was burned to a dead pile of ash. He picked up a phone on the good side of the desk. He looked in his drawer for something to help him cope, for he knew, that today he would accept his fate. The executioner's bell was ringing, after all, and it was loud in his lonely house.28: 9:00 AM
“Puta madre.” Apollo cleaned the specks of blood from his chin.
“What’d you do that for? He’s half-dead.”
“He said he knew something about the murder.”
“So you beat it out of him?”
“No. I gave him a good reason to use that wheelchair, then I got it out of him.”
“What’d you find out?”
Dion looked at him. He rolled his eyes and shook his head around. He was staring across the parking lot, at a man whose teeth now spread out across his shirt. He looked to Apollo and the growing concern of people now walking towards the beaten man. He started the car, it roared and they drove off.
“You learned nothing?”
“Well,” Apollo spat out the window. “He said there was a police officer at the theater during the crime. It just confirms my suspicion, honestly. You can’t commit that much murder without the police knowing something or another, they had to have had men on the inside.”
“So what do you want to do?” Dion asked.
“Take me to the crime scene. I want to see if anyone's tampering with the evidence.” Apollo said.
“How do you expect to do that?”
“Very quietly.” Apollo put a finger to his lips. “With you as lookout.”
Dion stuck his arm out of the window, he looked for the nearest road that drained into the wild lands along the edges of the city. The mist was growing inside and Dion looked up, he was surprised to remember that it used to be sunny. It seemed like the whole earth was steaming, bleeding smoke from the many cracks and crevices of the broken town.
La Croix Theater 4025 Mulbarry Drive, Havenbrook CO
The address was written in bold. It lay crooked on the side of the fence now half-swallowed by high-grass. Apollo fixed his fingers into the small gaps and looked at the two police cars parked at random around the premise. He found his mask from under his coat and wore it.
“You text me if you see something that looks like trouble, alright?” Apollo said.
“What does that mean? What’s trouble?”
“A small army, that would be pretty bad. If it feels wrong, you just tell me, alright?”
“I have the right mind to just leave you here,” Dion said. “That would be a fair sentence for your actions.”
“Well, you’re not exactly of right mind, choir boy.”
Dion honked the horn. Apollo turned, eyes wide like a cat, to the police across from them.
“Are you fucking stupid, shut the fuck up.” Apollo said. He shouted as loud as he could, under his breath. A very silent scream. Dion smiled and found a phone in his hands to fiddle with as Apollo climbed up the fence. He stretched his neck out and scanned the horizon. His body hung low. His body was a flash, white, that danced across the grass. He found a gutter pipe and climbed it, heard it snap out of its bolted place and dug his hands into the brick walls. Every step was a new hazard, the walls were falling apart. The long Roman pillars next to him showed this best of all. They were half broken, one even laid lopsided on the dirt.
“Beauty doesn’t last. Nothing does, huh.” Apollo said. He carried himself to a window and propped it open. He slid in, he was above the set and standing upon the metal lattices hung by rusted metal wire. He heard the policemen and they heard the snap of metal. They looked up.
There was nothing.
They flashed their light, dragged it across but no one was there. Apollo had hidden behind the large cardboard set piece, a giant cherub, red blushed with his bow and arrow pointing down to the four policemen in the room.
“I don’t think this place passes infrastructure safety protocol.” One of them said. He was fidgeting and making sure to stand below nothing, but even that seemed pointless. The ceiling was dripping small chips of wood like brown hail.
“Don’t think too hard about it, things are only bad when you think about them.” Their voices were confusing from high above. Apollo couldn’t tell them apart.
“That makes no fucking sense. Of course, everything feels better when you’re willfully stupid.”
“If you’re that lazy and afraid to look around the place, why don’t you go fuck off outside.”
“Well, alright then.”
“You all should go outside.” One of them hunched over the floor, above Pip’s chalk outline. His face was tense and he pointed to the two wide doors.
“This job is fucked.” The clenched man said. All three gulped, the searchlights went across and Apollo found himself behind the curtains. “There’s nothing left for us to find. I’ll go call in the detective, he can deal with this rock-bottom shit hole.”
The three looked at each other. Some of them were relieved, others more curious. But the leader did not allow them a line of questioning, he walked back to the scene dock. The muted blue of cardboard clouds littered the floor, beyond them was the wardrobe room. He stopped there, Apollo saw. The other three had walked down, their steps filled the auditorium with the loud bangs. Apollo kept himself close to the single individual in the room. He followed him, climbed down the sky room and the metal jungle, he was hanging by rope and he fell a bit. The bags of sand tied to the end came up halfway to him and he held his breath. The policeman looked around.
“This place is falling apart.” He mumbled. Apollo breathed. He waited and kept still and saw the man feeling out the brick wall with his palms. He was a human seismograph, one ear to the wall and both hands to slap and feel the clay bricks. He stopped at one. It did not look particular, it was at the end of a long wall that had profanity and graffiti stretched across. ‘DIE YOUNG’ was in bold red, there was an Anarchy symbol right above.
The only thing particular about this brick was how unremarkable it was, except for the single purple flower that grew from its cracks. The man took out a pocket knife, he chiseled around the brick. The worn stone fell, he inched his fingers in the gap and put the brick on a counter near him. His arm navigated the whole and Apollo watched to see how deep it was, it swallowed the whole arm before it came out. The object of interest: a knife. He was too far to tell its design, he could only see the crescent sneer like a cat’s smile and the reflection of light that came off it.
The man looked for a pocket to put it in, he was about to tuck it in when he heard a sound. His body snapped and looked up. He was licking his lips, the nerves were growing on him. His shoulders looked like bad drum symbols, rattling and shaking mindlessly.
He looked up again and didn’t realize his chest slammed the floor. His hair was held by its length, Apollo stood on top of him with his knee carefully placed on his back. It was lodged against one of his shoulder blades. One hand on the scalp, the other on his carrying hand. Apollo squeezed, the knife fell out.
“Rock bottom is a myth. There’s always a way for things to get worse.” Apollo said.
The man did not respond. He tried turning his head but it was locked. He turned his eyes, he could see the black leather of gloves, nothing more. But he knew who Apollo was.
“What is that knife for? Who’s is it?” Apollo asked. He could hear a chuckle and slammed the face down on the wood. The floor was beginning to give way like the stage trap doors. He raised the face again.
“Aren’t you tired, Vicar?” The man said. “Aren’t you tired of this circular life?”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“There is no secret to it. I asked, are you tired? Living life moment to pre-destined moment? Living the same existence over an infinite stretch of time. You’d call that prison, wouldn’t you? Every particle, every action, every decision already made. The path of all matter, all humanity, coming to dark oblivion. Isn’t that horrible? Don’t you want more?”
Apollo could feel himself sweat.
“Shut the fuck up.” He tried breaking his fear. “Who does that knife belong to. What’s it for? I can’t imagine you’d stop at child killing, you fucking losers.”
“We’ve known about you two. We’ve known for a while now. He told us, He knows.”
Apollo slammed down again. He could feel the officer's mouth wobble and yield, his lips flinched.
“Who the fuck knows?” Apollo asked. He out-stretched the officer's arm. All either of them was grunt as if it never hurt at all. Apollo felt the flesh of this man, his body was limp, he was like the sandbags from before, hotter but just as reaction-less.
“You’ll meet him soon. You don’t have to worry about it, it’s already been destined. Astyanax has willed it so.” The officer curled his broken face into a smile. His free hand inched for his gun. Apollo let his face fall to seize the arm. Both were behind his back and both made him still, almost gentle, in the harsh caress.
“Put your hands up.”
Apollo heard the voice behind him. A gun was pointed towards him.
“That won’t help either of you.” Apollo said. The broken man below him gargled blood, he was clearing his throat to laugh. He sounded like pond or lake vomiting a geyser, the blood splattered everywhere, the teeth like pearls rested between the gaps of floor.
“It’s time, Michael.” The broken man said. "You're too arrogant, Vicar."
Apollo switched glances between them, he could feel something in his stomach.
The officer standing at the edge looked to his rear, the two officers were barely approaching. Their footsteps were far, an echo only.
“Nam amor sui.” The broken man said.
“Hold the fuck on.” Apollo let go of his hands and reached for the one pointing. He was too far.
“Nam amor sui.” The armed officer said. There was one bullet, it splattered red across the graffiti and the floor. Apollo put his hand forward, he lunged. Bang.
Two corpses laid, their brains scattered, mush and pink across the walls. The body fell, the contents of his skull spilled out from the bullet hole, an open dam now flooding the wardrobe with the raging red waters.
Apollo could not hold his surprised face for long. He was still longer than he wanted to, the two officers were fast approaching and he looked around. His eyes narrowed at the floor and he moved, his body, a giant blur of black across the room he dashed.
When the two officers arrived. They called in more support. The fidgeting man fidgeted worse. The stern man kept his gun close to him as he went across the room. But there was no one, Apollo was low, below them. He went through the trap door, went through the floorboards that rained the blood of two lambs. The suicides, the promised.
He was out before Dion could make his pocket rumble with warnings. He was out before he could think too hard about what just happened. All he knew was in his hand, the ornate knife, dried with old blood.
Author's Note: Going to rework these titles so they make more sense.
P.S.S Religious Batman is back at it again.29: Chapter 28
July 20th, 2017
“Do you know anything about this boy? His name was Pip.” Sophie held the photo to the twenty-fourth bitter face she had seen today. He nodded his head, Sophie bit her lips and made the scorn clear with a groan. Useless.
They walked away and she wandered, next to a metal unicorn barely recognizable. It looked like someone had sanded down all feature and paint, she sat upon it and put her feet up against the coin machine to her rear. The heavy bustle of laundry machines churned behind her.
All day she had to tolerate their faces.
‘I don’t care. That’s not pleasant.’ She remembered an old man saying such. He was throwing unlucky lottery tickets out to the birds like breadcrumbs. She wished to say that he was the only one, but that was wrong. There were also the shaking, falling weaves of old women who ran from her at the sight of the picture. She did not understand. Are they even human?
The unicorn below shook, she fell on her butt. She heard a man laugh to her rear, he was beside a soda machine chained behind a metal gate, she was sure, was there to keep the thieves away from wobbling and breaking the mechanisms. He was taking out money and collecting it into a small black bag held at his waist, she began to laugh.
“Fanny pack. You’re wearing a fanny pack, loser.” She said. The man looked quiet. He was glaring, behind the shades and the folded mustache.
“Why don’t you go home, kid.” He said. “Actually? Stay there. I’ll go call my boss.”
She didn’t stay there. She ran off into the light posts that flickered. They felt like vintage cameras, light bulbs bursting at the image. She ran through traffic, dashed through the honking cars.
“I’m the only one with balls in this town.” She said, her middle finger up in the air to the two guards across the street from her. She didn’t hold it for long, it was obvious they stopped looking for her after a while, and she walked down the street. Her map was out, her feet were kicking around a stray bottle that rattled with the pebbles lodged inside. Artisan Lager, it read. It smelled of urine. And it rolled down the corners, it led her through the streets and the growing noise and the bustling groups of people.
There was a buzz in the air from the red fluorescent lights, she felt it on her face. It was the hair on her body sticking out, pointing, attracted to the magnet of red light. The people around her felt it. It was on the streets, in the liquor stores. The people acted on it. She could hear the voices of smacking lips all around her, in the alleys, in the gutters she swore she heard it. There was nicotine and the nostril flaring smell of alcohol and the cooling agent, the herbal note of marijuana that made her calm though she did not know why.
Then there was vomit. It was distinct. Bile. She had made it to The Devil’s Tail. This is where the scum is. One of the windows was broken, a plastic grey sheet had been put over it and the fabric breathed with the music inside. She didn’t feel so courageous anymore. She looked at the people going in and the weird ways they had made their hair. Could gel do that? She looked to the men. Where do their tattoos end? She shuddered.
All she wanted was an answer, she’d settle for a hint of Pip. Sophie took a breath, fixed her over-alls and dragged her blond hair into a ponytail. She took a step and felt the breeze of a man. He looked studded, a robot with too many buttons, glistening brighter than the stars.
He showed her her teeth and unhinged his jaw for a laugh. The thought appeared only once, could what happened to Pip happen to her? No. She was stronger, she thought, better, smarter.
She stepped on the laughing man's shoes and dug her heel deep in his toe.
“What are you laughing at?” She said. He held his foot and the people around her, hanging by the walls of the alleys, began to stare.
She clutched her pocket and the outline of her knife. Some of them went to stand and she walked quick, deeper in. Her hands were to her pockets, her eyes dashed along the shadows of the walls and the irking sound of people dragging themselves through alley water. When she caught her hands trembling, she punched herself. When she heard the loud creak of a straggling cart, she ran. She turned back to catch the fleeting feeling, the stalking sound of people. A mod, perhaps. There was no one. She did not feel courageous, she did not feel much of anything but a want to go home. Regret, bursting her heart with a constant beating.
She hit something. Her body fell, a crash of metal resounded out.
“The fuck is your problem.” A man yelled.
“I’m.” She stood wide-eyed as if struck in the face. “I’m looking for someone.”
“Fuck off.” He said and lifted his cart away. Sophie looked at the man and how he picked from the garbage and how the other villains in the alley knocked him aside. The homeless man spat, it looked like sludge hitting and filling the cavities on the floor. Sophie knew not to talk to him or the people who had shoved him. She walked away to the back end of the club and where she could see a bouncer throwing someone into the floor. He did not stand, rather laid on the parking lot, head sitting on the stone obstacle on one end of a lot. She groaned and almost felt his pain and imagined her own face scraped against the floor like that. It made her shiver and retreat, she stepped back.
“Where are you going?” She felt a hand on her shoulder.
She wanted to amputate it off her. It felt like a parasite on her that leeched from her all strength. An infection of the touch, a bite from Medusa’s head, petrifying her. Sophie turned her face, slow and careful. He wore no tattoos and no studs and was not particularly strange and that frightened her the most. The black shirt, the shaved face, and teeth that showed through darkness. His hat was thin and crooked like a birds beak. She felt like a worm.
“You’re looking for someone I hear? Maybe I can help you. I keep trying to tell the police but they don’t believe me. But maybe they’ll believe us together.” His eyes were beady and small and his breath smelled like something putrid. She could see the toxic stench as fumes, watched them go up like a spirit leaving his body. She moved her hand and the photo of Pip escaped her arm. It fell. The man picked it up and Sophie stared at him. She hoped the bouncer would help now, perhaps throw this man out like the other. But he was not there, only the door and the swishing sound it made as it went in and out.
The man put a finger to one of his nostrils, he blew out the other. Sophie wanted to leave, but could not. She couldn’t shake the idea that perhaps he knew something. That he was involved. She drew her hand from him and put it over her heart, the other hand was to her knife and her eyes fell on the face of the man. A rat.
“I’m trying to find out what happened to him. Would you have any ideas?” She could feel her heart through her chest. Louder than the music, louder than the far-off laughs of fools and drunks.
“I might,” He said. “I might’ve seen him somewhere, sometime. Maybe you can help jog my memory.”
“You’ve either saw him or you didn’t. He’s dead already.” She felt his breath.
“Well, that’s unfortunate. Maybe I know something about that too.”
She felt her blood freeze. The man threw the photo away. Sophie clutched her knife, she varnished the small blade. She swung. Horizontal, across from her. It cut him and he took a step back to hold the palm of his hand. The wounded dog.
“You fucking bitch.” He sucked on his wound. He was very much a stray dog with his famished frame. The small wrists and necks. He was a sick man, she figured, of mind and body. She held the knife to her side as she faced him. They looked like two crabs locked in dance, wide hands outward. She cut him again. This time made him howl. She looked around for help but there was no one conscious, not the frenzied men and women inside, not the drunks outside sleeping on bags of trash. Alone. Alone she fought. Stabbing, slicing, the small feral cat against the hound. She cut him and tattooed his arm with the tribal marks. But he pressed. Angrier each time he bled a new way. He backed her to a wall and she screamed when she felt it against her back. He grabbed her at last and she could feel his hand bleeding onto her own.
“Everyone thinks I’m funny. I swear baby, you’ll think I’m funny too.” He grabbed her neck. It felt slender and limp in his grip. He reached for her. “Come on, fight like you did before. Fight like your friend did.”
She swung. Her mouth could not fight a finger to bite, so she swung. She couldn’t reach him, but she swung. Nothing mattered much but the swing. Even as he laughed, as he felt her and pushed her further from him. She swung.
And eventually, he fell.
Face first into the mud, nearly dragging the girl with him. He shook violently a bit, his eyes rolled up his skill. A police officer with his flashlight lit her face.
“Are you alright?” He said. He dragged her out of the alley and towards the street where he screamed at the club goers. “Nothing to see. You hear me?”
Another officer went to the direction they walked from with cuffs. She read the name tag of the man guiding her, Officer Palas.
“He’s yours.” Palas said.
He took her to the car and sat her and immediately began typing on his computer screen. He wrote some things, heard the radio and slowly began to turn it all off until there was silence.
“I had a call in about a girl causing trouble at the Laundromat, then I got another from an anonymous tip. Apparently, she was watching the scuffle from inside the club. But not out of mind, I guess. I put one and one together.” He smiled. “Glad we found you when we did.”
“Me too.” She looked down and her depressed arms.
“You know what freaks are running around town at this hour. Why would you think of running around like you did?”
“I’m looking for a friend. Or at least learning what happened to him.” He presented the photo in her hands and let it droop like her arms. He grabbed it. His eyes widened, she saw and fell back to the wheel as he handed it back.
“I’ve seen him in reports. You must be the girl I keep hearing about, the mule, they called you.” He started the car. “You’re the one they couldn’t kick you out? The one screaming at all the officers a couple days back?”
“I’m not ashamed. I was just trying to figure out what happened to my friend.” She lied. She felt her cheeks go red. He laughed then saw her and stilted his humor with a cough. They went off and followed the golden-yellow lines.
“You should really let the police handle investigations.” He started off with his arm dangling out the window. “Some answers aren’t worth finding out. The truth hurts, you know?”
“I can handle it.” She said.
“It’s rare to see someone as young as you act like you do. You really are a mule.” He smiled. “And that’s a good thing. It’s good to be tough and to be stubborn. Even if it gets you into trouble.”
He looked at her, the red light reflected off his eyes. The air felt cold. His smile did that veer off.
“But boy is it stupid huh? To do something like that in public.” He said.
She could not move. She was held by a fear as she looked at him. She looked at the badge and the numbers, she looked to the name and the face that looked excitedly out towards the street. She saw ahead, she knew they were driving but she did not know where.
“Don’t you need to know where I live?” She asked. Her breathing stopped and she felt her pocket for where the knife should have been. He confiscated it.
“Homesick all of a sudden?” The windows rolled up, he threw down his hat to her feet. His arms looked flexed and the streets were empty. “I thought you wanted to know what happened to your friend?”
Author's Note: I'll go ahead and change the older chapters, eventually.30: Chapter 29
July 20th, 2017
Dion found Apollo winding around the corner. He hung by the dumpster and raced to the door.
“I always find you in the trash. I’m beginning to think you have a fetish for it.” Dion said. Apollo fixed himself and checked his cuffs for blood.
“That’s new.” Dion pointed to the red polka-dot tie Apollo wore. Apollo was grabbing his scalp. When he grew tired of scratching himself, he slapped at Dion's hand. Then the dashboard. It felt like a carnival game and Dion would have laughed if Apollo's face wasn't so terrified. He must have hit it five times and activated the air conditioner three before he calmed down.
“You alright?” Dion asked.
“Just shut up.” Apollo said. He was rubbed his face on his sleeve and dropped the knife hiding under his coat onto the floor. It slid and stabbed through the carpet rug, it sounded like the tearing of a leaf or flower pedal.
“What’s that?” Dion started the car, he was growing antsier and shook his head across the window to search for the police he expected to be close by.
“Two men killed themselves.” Apollo said. “Worshipers, they made it clear.”
“Yeah, something like that. They mentioned someone, Astyanax or some shit.”
“What does that mean? I thought they’d be you know, Satanists or something.”
“Me too. I guess they have someone else in particular that they’ve staked their desires on. They seem pretty convinced of him too.” Apollo said.
“I’d think so, they killed themselves, right?” Dion rolled to a corner of the street and began to push the tires into stress. The floor cried out with each sharp turn.
“Where do we go? What do we do?” Dion asked. He was driving into a frenzy. “We should get fingerprints right? Or something, blood samples?”
“Does it look like I have a forensic lab in my back pocket.” Dion said. “Slow down before you add two more to the body count.”
Dion stopped. There was a red above him, he felt his neck shake forward and hit the wheel. Drivers around them were sticking their middle fingers at them.
“You act too irrationally, just relax. We won't be catching them until they’re ready to be caught.” Apollo said.
“What does that mean, you’re talking like a damn monk. Just say it straight.” Dion said. He honked the horn at an old woman in front of him who was lazily taking a left.
“I mean to say. There’s nothing we can do to find them, so we have to wait. And I don’t think we’ll be waiting long.” Apollo said.
“That means we’re giving them a chance to hurt someone. Or worse.” Dion bit his lip.
“Yeah. And that’s all we can do.” Apollo let his shoulder fall and nestled his hands to the side of the seat. He sunk inside, his body looked like black ooze dripping to the floor.
“We can’t just wait.”
“Well, I am. I need to look up this Astyanax guy, I need to redraw some maps. Re-evaluate some sources.” Apollo let his head tilt.
“Well, I’m not. I’ll go out, I’ll investigate.” Dion pulled over. Apollo stepped out onto the noiseless street, a trail of smoke was warping the air and filling his lungs with the taste of tire.
“If you find something, I know I can’t trust you to not rush in,” Apollo said. “But can you at least give me a call before you do. Can you do that?”
“Alright,” Dion said. “Are you sure you don’t know anywhere they could be?”
“Somewhere with as few people as possible. Abandoned places. Which considering the state of this ghost town, might be very hard to miss.” Apollo said. “I don’t expect much from you, but be careful.”
“You’re not very optimistic,” Dion said. “Have a little faith, wouldn’t you?”
He went off. They shared the brief moment of a hand wave, the cut carpet floundered on the floor and reminded Dion every few minutes of a certain dread. The day kept growing worse. And nightfall came, and he was empty and he bit his nails and shed off the fear from his quivering hands. It was like that for a while in the silence of his car. Until he felt the feeling on his arm. Something brief, a flicker of heat like a lighter gently fanned across his fore arm. He shifted to gear and dodged three red lights. His arm felt boiling, his face grew worse and when he felt the most unbearable pain he knew he had made it.
It wasn’t a factory, it wasn’t an apartment complex. It had the rotten words of wood at the front of the two halved door, Cosmic Sun News. He looked inside and broke into a stressed stance. A pipe fell ill with patina. The rusted color leeched into the water and the cats that hung around stared high-shouldered to the Vicar coming in. Dion was holding his arm that could barely make it to his pocket. The pipe was still rolling, still spreading until it died in the murmur of its echo.
The shadow of moonlight cast out on the front desk. There was an old printing press, for show, adjacent to the empty secretaries desk. The knocked over typed writers looked small next to the giant machinery and its elongated metal hands, like puppeteer hands and string. He looked down to the shadow cast, to the long stretched lines like harp strings, they played to the orchestra of this sad song.
The cats hissed. They ran.
“Angel of God, my guardian dear.” Dion stepped over glass. It cracked like a pained chuckle. “To whom God’s love commits me here.”
He took out his phone and typed out the number.
“ever this day be at my side to light and guard.” The phone rung. “To rule and guide.”
A rat walked under his feet, pale and dull. It looked up with a squeak and shook its nose to Dion. It watched him, stared and did not change its intense gaze.
“Amen.” Dion said. He felt his hips and felt his guns for this lonely home felt of burial grounds, and smelled of death.31: Chapter 30
July 20th, 2017
The first thing Sophie felt was the feeling of some rough blanket all around, like webbing. Then the cloth lodged in her to keep her quiet. It made her gag, it tasted of gasoline and salt. Drenched in her sweat, a suffocating feeling that sucked into her mouth and left her gasping. Gasping that made her choke. Choking that made her struggle. She looked like a silkworm in its cocoon as she wriggled to and fro in the back seat of the police car. Rope bit into her legs and arms. She could not see behind her, only felt that they were going over rough terrain and jumping and dragging something below the tires. Metal, a sheet, cardboard.
“Fuck” She tried to say. Her mouth coughed more than spoke. The car came to a stop and she rolled onto the floor and hit her head. It was a sharp bumpy pain across her chest and her head like jumper cables had been latched onto her face. It made her mad, much more than fear, she wanted to bust someone's skull open.
The laughing outside only made it worse. She tried standing but couldn’t and when she nearly made it to her knees, she heard the door open. Never had she roared that loud before that her own lungs would break into pieces, like needles prodding her insides. She wagged her legs around. The rope was cutting deeper into her.
“Get off me.” She said between the fits. She didn’t know why she wasn’t afraid. It was a surprise to her but hearing the laughing people, feeling her body dragged, it all frustrated her. Dust was rising, she could tell and she being dragged across the floor. It left her cloth brown and blackened her vision. Upstairs, she hit her legs across the sharp angled steps. There was loose wiring and wandering light bulbs that exploded underneath the footsteps of her kidnappers. She wasn’t even grabbed by her body, they were lugging the sack around like a confused Santa Claus, a gift giver possessed. They threw her. She landed on, something. She couldn’t tell what it was. A desk, the floor, she could feel something rough though, like splinters. It must have been wood, old wood. It was heavier than the cheap furniture they sold at the furniture stores, this was older. It felt it.
Sophie bit into her sack as the people wandered about, going in and out of the room with pacing steps. She ripped a hole open, swallowed the cloth and spat it out onto the floor. Her nose was out first. She was glad about that. The air was better outside, even if it was dank and dirty like wet dirt rubbed across her nostrils. Everything smelled of mold, asbestos, it wasn’t just the desk that was old she figured. She lowered her head and peered her eyes. She wanted to take a good look at the monsters in the dusk. They looked human. Only looked. They spoke English, they breathed and were upright. Their mannerisms, their poses, human. She was almost deceived. But the laugh. The stuttering, dragging laugh was anything but of someone sane.
She looked up to the grimly dressed figures, more so shadows in the light of the moonlight that seeped through broken windows. She tried to figure them out, they were wearing suits and above their noses, all across their foreheads and their eyes was a white cloth. Like guests at a ball, confused and blinded by handkerchiefs. She didn’t want to look any longer or to their purple iris flowers pinned on their chests. She took a deep breath, they caught her. All three veiled eyes in the room looked back. She spat at them through the small hole, it hit one on their leather shoes. The person smiled, then ignored her.
“Was there supposed to be another one? Who’s this extra girl?” One of them said. He had a birthmark on his neck.
“No. We already had what we needed but I can’t imagine she would hurt.” A woman spoke, her lips were yellow. A man nodded next to her, he had fat on his chin that shook with him, like a prideful turkey with its hanging neck.
“Do you think Mr. Alestor will be happy?” The woman was more desperate, giddier in her speech. She lept over five panels of the ceiling, nearly dancing across the broken floor and through the door. They weren't just dressed for the ball party, they acted the part too. Cordial, terrifying dancers, drunk on the feeling of their faith. It felt like a funeral for her. She spit again. It hit no one. She felt her face go red and she wriggled, she slapped the desk and rolled down to the floor. Her left side hurt, but she smiled when it finally brought one of them close to her.
“You’re just so obnoxious, aren’t you? A young girl should be a polite girl.” A man screamed. Sophie said nothing, only stared through the hole in the sack with the single eye. She laid on the dirty floor, she felt the broken tile, she felt the glass and stayed quiet. As the man dragged her feet, she stayed quiet. As the glass below her ripped her sack, she was quiet. Though bleeding, though angry. She was of mind enough to find a glass shard across the floor, and she was of mind to take it.
For she would need, wherever she was going. She worked on the rope on her arms and listened to the scurrying footsteps. The paths confused her through the loud halls, there were faint voices, like ghosts in the walls. The stairs hurt her body with bump, but she would be ready. Arms being freed slowly, she convinced herself that these people, if anyone, deserved to be hurt most.
She came to a stop. She heard four sets shoes clank, a unified tap dance. The blare of a voice burst through the corners of the walls, it was filled with static and was coarse against her ears.
“The hunters are here.” The deep baritone voice said. “Do your business and do it quick, we need to prepare the dogs for them.”
The whispered to themselves, they split. And with one twist of her glass blade, she felt her bonds break.32: Chapter 31
July 20th, 2017
It was the good, old call of the fight. He found it rumbling in his pants, the bold letters that read ‘Last Call: Dion, 12:45 AM’. He never picked it up, though he knew what it meant and looking at his desk he knew it would happen again, tonight. Another sacrifice perhaps, someone's death though he did not know whose. His mask was already laid out before him, his notes had been put to the side, the ceremonial dagger laid on the kitchen counter, sneering at him. His own sword, massive as it was, spilled quietly, chipped pieces of steel. He did not know how to fix it, the edge looked like an uneven set of toddler's teeth. Apollo nodded, it would do. He hid it in his coat, like a rabbit in the hat and strapped the mask to his face.
Hopefully, we’ll catch him today.
He thought. His mouth salivated, his heartbeat. He tried swallowing his spit but he felt his throat stop like he had been punched in the neck.
I don’t think we will, though.
He galloped along the buildings, his neck was bent over to the bottom as he looked at the street signs that read the small street. When he stopped reading signs, when the streetlights no longer existed and the road seemed like some shambled thing, he realized he was not safe. They were all empty, the homes and the apartment and the warehouses with their giant pipes that rotted and collapsed onto themselves. He could hear the rats scurry inside the small holes. He dropped down the side of the building and ripped through fence link before he was at the spot. The sprawling, worn News Paper press.
“Where are you?” He was talking to his phone.
“I’m almost onto the third floor.” Dion said.
“Wait there,” Apollo said.
He went through the building and went over the small things laying about. The plastic pots of died trees laid on their side, the dirt was blended so well with the floor it was hard to see where it had spilled. But the flowers were there, their heads low and limp. Apollo stepped to the overgrown stairs laying on one side. There was cement collapsed into it, the stairs were blocked. He went the opposite end, looked at the machinery and was almost tempted to stick his hand and fiddle with it out of a curiosity. But there were worse things about, he went up a floor and met Dion half way who was running back, his guns drawn.
“What have you found?” Apollo said.
“Shh.” Dion had his finger to his lips and pressed down on Apollo’s shoulders. They looked around. There was nothing but wind and the sound of rusted doors creasing and shutting. It was a high pitched sound. Apollo went forward, he looked around to the corner, nothing. There was raunchy graffiti, beer cans, and bottles. There was a condom lying in a pool of a mysterious liquid. It looked like a tapeworm growing out of the floor. A bottle dropped.
Dion put his guns forward.
“Fuck.” Apollo said. He knocked the bottle away. It went out the window and collapsed onto the floor.
They heard it then. The loud voice out of speaker phones they thought didn’t work. It was a threat, it was a warning.
“The hunters are here.” It said. Their eyes illuminated red.
“Should we call the cops?” Dion asked.
“Why? So they can cover this all up.” Apollo said.
“Citizens arrest it is.” Dion put his back against the wall.
“I don’t think either of us is capable of that. We’ll just beat the shit out of them, that’s good enough.” Apollo looked at the foggy windows and put his ear to the wall, he was looking for sounds.
“Should we split up? I can climb the side of the wall. I figure there are six floors, I can come from the top and rout them down to you.” Dion said.
“No. They know we’re here and they don’t sound scared, that means they have an idea of something to kill us with.” Apollo started walking to the stairs. “Stick close and we won’t die.”
Dion followed him up. Covered the flank which they exposed themselves to many a times. They were on the third floor now and they were just coming to realize how thin and small everything really was. There were small cubicles with their plastic and wooden walls all around them, they were high and blocked the view. Apollo could see the tops of small hooded heads on the other end and saw them disappear into the maze-like alleys. Dion ran. Apollo grabbed his shoulder.
“Together.” Apollo said. They walked carefully through the cubicles. Apollo stopped. His foot stepped over something. It was a plastic bag, white and it seemed to bulge out, underneath a desk. He could tell what it was by the smell and his mouth dried up. The blood was dried and it stained the bag, the corpse seemed light. It was a bony hand he had stepped over.
“Don’t fuck around, Dion.” He dragged his hand past the body. Dion got a good glimpse of it and narrowed his eyes. “We’ll deal with it later. They come first.”
They had made it to the other end of the room and where the walls closed in on themselves.
“The Mad Hatter must have designed this shit hole.” Apollo said. They had their backs to each other and were especially careful at turning each corner. The ceiling was falling, the floor sank and bulged at their light footsteps. They went past a few doors and swore they closed in. They went into an intersection and spun around like a dancing couple, the doors were closing all around them. Those anonymous rooms that held anonymous laughter. It sickened Apollo. He put his foot underneath a doorknob and pushed in. He looked inside and caught glimpse of a black hood and dress, the ends of it as it left and jumped away. Tiny dancers in the night.
He didn’t even bother running after the image.
“They’re fucking with us.” Apollo said.
“They’re just people, who cares.” Dion grunted. His fingers were undisciplined, hard on the trigger and ready to fire.
The noises were coming stronger, the doors were shutting and closing all around them like an evil drum line. It sounded like heavy rain, it crashed like thunder. They retreated back to the intersection. Their eyes looked down four different halls and their faces turned to try and keep up with their racing heads. Something was drawing closer, it was a sound that was like bass at first, like a heavy chord against the clatter of the opening and closing doors. It droned though, a growl. It was a mad dog’s growl, drooling, sniffing into the cold air.
“Dogs?” Dion asked. Apollo couldn’t answer. He took out his blade, it was too large to manage in the closed space but he thrust out anyways. He swung it, Dion ducked at the coming arc. It collapsed against a wall and broke the door and the brick in half, a small demolisher. The schizophrenic doors finally stopped. The light footsteps of people faded out, then came back above them, from the fourth floor.
All that remained was the growl and the hot jaws of death that Apollo could feel making its way around the corner.
It smelled like shit, it felt like steam around his neck. A noose.
“Get ready to shoot.” Apollo said.
Author's Note: I'm thinking about starting a collection of short stories to expand the lore and mythos of my world. What do you guys think?33: Chapter 32
July 20th, 2017
The Vicars did not see the hellhounds coming. Only felt them, the wind that rushed past them with each of their violent passes through the doors around them. They saw glimpses of them. Eyes that they traced, that looked like lines of blue and yellow across the black void of the building walls.
They saw their fur like wild weeds growing into tangles of black knots. Dion shot out at a hallway. The bullet raced down, illuminating the area and eventually coming out a wall and into the abandoned building neighboring them. He hit nothing. They saw everything. Jagged teeth, snouts so elongated as to look like whips or tusks. They were deformed, awkward, drooping. Diseased hellhounds. With long, flat faces. Wide too, especially as they turned and tried napping at the two. Apollo stared inside their mouths and saw nothing. A void.
“We’re going to get cornered.” Dion said.
“We already are.” Apollo spat. His blade was resting on the wall he had just finished crushing. It was atop the pile of rubble.
“We need to move.” Dion kept his body low. He was breathing hard behind his mask, the fumes came from underneath his jawline.
“On my count.” Apollo said.
"One." He looked around him. No exits near him, the doors were too far and there were three dogs in between them all.
"Two." His eyes raced. He felt the wall with his sword. Like a walking stick, hearing for the low tap of wood. For any fragile walls.
“Three.” He shouted. The three dogs rushed at him, north, west, east. Apollo rose his blade to the south and let it fall, down. The floor exploded. The rotten wood and pipe fell burned, smoldered, melting around Apollo and Dion who sank further down. They were in the cafeteria, atop the tables and chairs now dented or lying injured, arms broken around their fallen bodies.
“Did you get ‘em?” Dion said. He was digging out wood from his legs.
Apollo said nothing. He tried to stand quickly. He couldn’t. The dogs were coming down, from the red, smoldering ring. Like fish in the lake of fire, jumping, flapping around.
But they bit. They bit hard.
The first thing eaten was Apollo’s hand. The jaw dug deep into his bone, into the veins that gushed violently, into the marrow slurped and sucked and dried. Then it climbed up. His forearm was gnawed it, it was meatier. More satisfying. And only when his flesh lay in ribbons in the air like some gory wind chime with its whistling tune did Apollo finally strike back. His sword lay on the floor, his only other arm was swinging strong. His fist was in the shape of a hammer as he brought it down on of the four-eyed great dogs. He dug deep into the furred darkness, he ripped hair out. He looked at its flesh, a cloudy mixture of gray and black. They were dead animals, demons, that much was sure. Apollo stopped punching. All four eyes looked at him and they bit harder into his arm. He couldn’t help but moan. It seemed to call the second animal. This one looked hungrier, he aimed at Apollo’s rear.
A bullet shot it down. The second dog spun in the air from in the impact, a ballet toss, and collapsed. It whimpered. One of its legs flew away. Dion smiled for a moment. Apollo struggled with the parasite on his arm. Then they both stared in awe as the leg regrew, as the dog mounted itself again.
“Don’t just stare in awe.” Apollo screamed. His voice was strained, high pitched. “Watch out for the third.”
He grabbed the beast with his only free arm and swung it down. Both Apollo and the monster fell, he slammed it harder again. It let at last, pinched between a punch and the wall, its mouth opened and Apollo retreated his arm. He stared at it, his face looked dull. It was different. White and red all across, he couldn’t tell what it was. Splintered, eviscerated. He screamed, at last. Apollo held his shoulder, it was the only thing that wasn’t hurting.
Oh, his arm was terrible. How it drooped on his side, lame and dead, and how it made him stand lopsided. He could not bear to look at it. He stood, his eyes focused. They were attentive. His body tried healing it, what little it could and the smoke rose up between him and the animal.
Apollo reached with his left to the sword fallen near him. He walked or rather the dog let him walk. He put his sword back inside that insignia in his jacket and there, dropped the jacket as well. He ripped something from it, black cloth from the suit. Cloth he held, cloth he wielded inside of his blade. And then he faced the animal. Handicapped.
They were both low, both primed and high-shouldered. They were breathing and sniffing the air and running around each other in their private dance.
The dog flew out. Like an arrow camouflaged in the darkness. Apollo moved forward and in the middle of its trajectory shot his only good hand out. It broke the beast's teeth and the shrapnel shot out. It cut his cheeks and left him with a Glasgow sneer. And his arm was inside the mouth of the beast, his only good arm. He wiggled, he scratched the inside of the beast mouth and felt his arm beginning to hurt and stab. The weight dragged him down and the hound pulled, hoping to leave him armless.
Apollo smiled. He bent his knee. He rubbed something in his hands, inside the steam and wet flesh of the hound's mouth. It was the very cloth of his jacket, sticky and damp. It was a special piece of his make. The only piece that mattered, the arcane symbol. He rubbed the embroidery of the design and his hand slipped in. Deep inside he thrust his arm and deep inside he removed the blade from its small scabbard. It was the magicians trick, the pull of the rabbit out of the hat. And he would pull it all out.
The beast growled. Then expanded as if to vomit. Apollo smiled, he kept dragging the blade out of the arcane symbol. it was too late for the hound to spit by then. It exploded. Too small to eat arm and blade. It was just too full.
The dog cried out. It rained. The lower half was scattered about, the mouth, the face just stared off and away from Apollo, all eyes looking at each corner of the earth, a cross-sighted death. Its grip became limp as the muscles eased and Apollo dragged himself out. His own arms fell as well. He could not move them, he only looked at what was left of the hound. His eyes were heavy and the sounds of violence and of Dion’s struggle were low behind him like a shout in an empty tunnel, fading away.
Apollo shook his head. He looked deeper into the body of the monster, he found the glow of the philosophers stone and rubbed his mask upward with the knob of bone hanging barely on his wrist. His mouth salivated, his chin felt cold in the open air.
Apollo reached down and dunked his head into the body of the animal. A carnival game, he almost laughed at the thought. He was bobbing for apples. And it wasn't difficult, there wasn't much left. He rubbed his mouth past some organs, past the stringy flesh and muscle, past the ropes of guts.
He found the gem, the sweet fruit and swallowed it whole. His arms returned to him, muscles regenerating first, then skin. Barely healed, barely moving. But there, at least.34: Chapter 33
July 20th, 2017
They sat on their bellies and rolled on the floor with an intensity that made Alestor cringe, lost pets dragged themselves on the dirty floor with mouths hanging from their covered faces and the hope and want in their bloodshot eyes. They took steps forward, like lizards chasing the hot sun that had passed through the sky many hours ago. They were here for worship. Of Astyanax, of that demon who promised their family names the world and who had delivered nothing but the false hope and the anxiety. Still, they would worship. Perhaps he would listen today and even Alestor began to believe it. They were close, that was sure.
The most excited for today's offering were those in the front, their knees were bleeding and their pants were ripped and stained with old floral wallpaper made to rot. They looked like scabs of the earth now, black and brown stickers that stuck to the worshipers as they slithered up the room. It was an office meeting once. Once, now it lay lopsided and uneven and on the end where an old projector screen once flapped around, was the makeshift altar. A collection of candles, of scripture and of those yellow flowers in broken vases. The cheap dollar candles stood lonely like acolytes in church. They flickered and illuminated nearly nothing. The worshippers came up. They picked candles and held them close to the heart. Like awkward pirouettes, they rushed round the table, the heartbeat of the fire shaking left and right. The tailcoats died at last and they stepped around to the maggot half-eaten roundtable to their rear. They propped them one by one and set a human femur in a certain place. They were forming crosses, tearing yellow flower petals and putting strands of hair onto the spots where the arcana symbol had been etched in. Unholy worship, unholy sacrifice.
A cup. A goblet, bejeweled and stained looking, shaped awkwardly, like a dented half circle. Alestor came up to it. He put it at the very center of all the pretty sticks and bones and flowers.
He looked back, the veil on his head was purple. Far different from the white they all wore, the eight others.
Alestor looked back at the girl, Sophie, lying in the corner of the room in a complacent manner. Her deep breaths sucked in the sack and blew it out like an artificial lung.
“Bring the chair.” Alestor said. One of the degenerates rushed to the other end of the room. There was a chair there, somewhere in the intersection of moonlight that broke through the metal bars outside the windows. There Alestor could see the chair, the feet dangling from its high legs. The worshiper titillated the chair, rocked it some. It did not move. He dragged it and Alestor could hear it cry and moan as it came forward. There someone there. Someone young, long passed. The life bled out of her, dripping down one side. He raised the cup and put it under her. The blood would not come off the wood and he raised her hand and rested it inside like a siphon of her life force. Vampires.
She did not move.
“Fuck.” Alestor began to sweat. I don’t want to kill another one. He thought. He felt the vibrations from under his feet. The struggle was continuing and his fingers were tingling with worry. Needle prickles, all across his chest, like his lungs, had become a living puffer fish. It seemed to pain him. He heard a man scream. He heard a dog cry. Now the other nine worshippers looked around, the seeming calm around the room somehow discomforting as they played with their hair and bodies like concerned children.
But what’s another one to the mound? What’s one more sin? Alestor thought.
It was time and he was closer, he could not wait and it seemed the world could not either. He looked to Sophie.
“Those hunters have made a martyr of you.” Alestor said. “They pushed me to this. Day in, day out with their nosy pickings. They dragged me and hurt me and forced me. Perhaps we could have used others. More deserving people than you, girl. But I don’t have that luxury anymore.”
He brought himself up and shuffled his feet to Sophie. His whole body was opposed to the action with rigidity. He stopped all of a sudden. Sophie’s hair stuck out from a cut in her sack, her lips showed, she screamed at him. He almost forgot there was a person under there. He wanted to forget there was and felt his cloth slip from his face. His nose, his large forehead, and chin couldn’t keep it any longer and he shook. Two gaunt eyes showed back, Sophie saw.
“You killed him. Didn’t you?” Sophie asked. Alestor reached down for the cloth. He wiped his sweat and put it back on. It felt dirty like grease rubbed across his face and all of him felt slippery. Unable to stand, unable to move without feeling a need to fret and fumble.
“Shut up.” Alestor said. He reached for the hood and grabbed it. She was heavier than he thought and his knees buckled at each step towards the chair. One of the members offered his help with extended hand.
“Don’t. She’s mine.” Alestor said.
“I’m no ones.” Sophie screamed.
“Didn’t you gag her?” He screamed at the eight. They nodded and looked at their feet and pleaded with open hands.
“Just be quiet.” Alestor hunched over.
“My name is Sophie and you killed my friend, Pip.”
“Be quiet.” Alestor said. Names make it worse, just shut up. He thought. He stopped midway to the chair and let himself catch air, he looked up around him to the broken glass and the dirt and the furniture scattered like deforested lands. He walked over to one of his men, he ripped a piece of suit from the right sleeve of the follower.
“If you can't do your job then I’ll gag her.” He said.
“Why? Why not just send her off? We can do it quick” Another said. His voice was firm, booming. A natural orator. The mayor perhaps? Commissioner? What little importance, the sin was just as grave for either.
“Fuck you.” Alestor screamed. “I need to keep her quiet.”
“You can’t keep the dead silent.” Sophie shouted. Alestor reached for where he thought her neck would be but could not figure, he grabbed a nose instead, a head that kept slipping from his grip. He pulled her. She wrestled him. His mask fell off again. His hair broke. Chaos, a tussle between the weak old man and the young girl. Lunge. Punch. Headache. Pain, slow, pain. Sharp.
He finally took the sack from her. He hesitated. A young girl, just a young girl. His eyes narrowed. Her fierce expression changed his consternation. She had their eyes, the hunters eyes, though human. She had that resolve or seeming resolve.
"No one forgets. The world doesn't, you'll see." She said. "You'll face judgment, everyone does."
His heart raced with that same worry and he reached for her mouth to shut it. The rope from her arms now dangled from her, the other eight stared in that Mexican standoff, unsure if he could handle such an unruly child.
He got close, inches. He felt her bitter breath down his wrist like the hot knife. Up his sleeves, nothing hid.
She shouted. She revealed the glass knife. She cut him. The world shook.
The ground, the table, the bones, and candles all went dead and the room was filled with a renewed darkness that swallowed them instantly. It was a pop, a large jump that made them all fall. All furniture was pushed outward like an ocean wave had just washed them out and away. They rubbed their heads, all nine and looked around. The girl was gone. The door was rattling violently from its broken hinges like saloon doors. She was gone.
“I’ll go catch her.” Alestor rubbed his scalp.
“What was that explosion?” One of them said. Another looked outside, put his hands on the bars and faced down. The whole second floor was erupting with flames from the windows with the fury of Vulcan's furnace. Something was being worked, they all heard the noises of steel and of flesh and of mighty shouts.
“Don’t worry about it.” Alestor said. “Just get out, any way you can. There are plenty of escapes, you know them.”
“And what if we can’t?” A young woman said.
“Then you do whatever you can to preserve our security." His eyes looked cold in the darkness. "Anything.”
One of them raised his head and stepped forward
“Paradise waits for us. Why worry for any temporary suffering?” He reasoned.
“That’s right.” Alestor said. He rubbed his nose, blood was leaking. He walked up shaky like a pyramid of cards desperately trying to rebuild itself. The parts would not click. He fell, shattered. His face landed down, towards the cup and he felt it in his hand. Goblet in hand, he composed himself, his courage was with him. He felt it, a guardian devil over his shoulders. He walked out the door. On one end were the sounds of violence, of hounds and man. On the other, nubile footsteps. He retracted a knife from his belt and went to work.35: Chapter 34
July 20th, 2017
Dion heard his gun drop before he felt the bite on his shoulder like a bear trap had been clapped on the bone hinges of his arms and left there, to bleed him and to drain him and to leave him weak on one side. A bullet shot off as the gun landed on the floor. It made a hole through three walls, through pipe and concrete that spilled dirty water all over the floor. Dion pointed his other gun towards himself. He screamed, he aimed it at his shoulder and felt the beast fly off. Chunks of his body went with it. It did not die. It shook its wide, misshapen head, like a giant fan those Egyptian kings and queens used to satisfy themselves in heat.
Dion could feel the air it blew, the smell of its rotten skin and then heard it growl. His arm was teetering. He could not move it.
He shot at air, the smoke and the sound filled his ears with buzzing and made his nose stuffy. He turned his head to see where the creature ran as it dodged. It bounced around, it blended in with the darkness of the room and when he finally got a sight. He pulled. Click. Nothing, his gun was empty. From a distance, he could see the creature growling, four yellow eyes facing back. It looked like a piece of the darkness, a cancer that grew out from the corner of the room it hid in. It was facing him, he could see it and the intense expression on its face like Lucifer’s wrath.
It did not let go of its gaze. It kept its lock on him. Dion looked down, he searched for the other gun that had slid away a while back and now he was searching the floor for nothing. A piece of wood. Dion’s face tightened. His legs locked, his knees were bent. He could feel cold from his legs to his thighs as if he had been submerged in the ice-topped waters of the arctics. And the mass had broken. He was sinking. His body felt colder.
The dog lunged. The air whistled as its sharp face headed towards Dion. A torpedo, a giant nuclear warhead dedicated to Dion’s complete annihilation. Slobber, hunger all over the dusty air. Dust shot out, it painted the windows brown.
“Ass. Down.” Apollo shouted.
Dion ducked. It was easy, his broken shoulder was already weighing him down. His whole body fell ragdoll like a puppet cut from its strings, he just laid there. He saw the giant sword in the air, spinning, like helicopter blades. He saw it hit the dog and go further out. Go through one wall, two, before landing in a hall, have submerged into the asbestos and the cheap wood. It exploded. A torrent of fire ran out.
Dion could see it, go through the ceiling and the pipes. It looked like an engine exhaust, the way the flames flew out from the holes like clarinets filled with glycerin and brimstone. They made no beautiful music though, Dion covered his ears. It was nothing but crashing and violence and the explosion of metal and the ricochet of that metal. The shock wave made him deaf.
When his eyes woke up he looked to where the blade had been shot. Apollo was coming up. Both his arms were in rags, of skin and of suit. He was going through the holes and now shot out smoke. He disappeared in that darkness, his outline becoming a deeper shadow in the pillars of smog. The fires were just beginning to grow. And from one of the mighty torrents, from one of the waves and licks of the fire wisps, Dion saw a philosophers stone thrown out. It broke off and Dion eyed it. He ate and when all limps and weapons were accounted for, he ran through the fire. It felt like a carnival game, the burning ring. He wished it was just a ring. But every inch of the second floor seemed about to be swallowed. Glass broke from a distance, the floor was holed up and he walked on thin planks. It felt like an ocean vessel, tipping and cradling a wound that had destined it to sink.
"Where's the other dog?" Dion's eyes skidded. His posture became low, again.
"Who knows. We really can't go back now" Apollo said. "This place is going to collapse."
“Then let it, we're demon hunters, not construction workers. Let's go hunt.” Dion said. He ran to the stairs where the fire had not reached.
"Take it easy. I'm sure he'll be up there, with his master. They'll all get theirs. Trust me." Apollo said. Dion eased. He coughed a bit.
"The Priest won't like any of this." He said.
“Fuck the Priest. We’re not here for him.” Apollo said.
“You’re right. You're right...” Dion's eyes came up to the third floor, small clouds of black smoke were finding their way through the broken windows of this particular floor.
“I want them, to let the people sleep easy for one night. If I can at least do that, everything would be worth it.” Dion said.
“I just want to get the fuck out of here already. The sooner the better.” Apollo said.
They surveyed the land. They pressed their ears against the walls, they could hear the fire eating away at everything. But Dion heard something else. Coughs, choking. And he smiled.
“They’re like bees.” Dion said. “A whole lot of fuss until you smoke them out.”
Apollo scoffed. They put their wrists to their mouths and walked.36: Chapter 35
July 20th, 2017
It was a long struggle Sophie put up before she came to the spot of her death. Though she did not know it yet.
For at the moment all she knew was the sharp pain in her lungs from cold air. It transformed, it went to her lower body from a stiffness of her ankles and difficult twist as she came around a corner. She fell. The glass knife in her hand cut her palm. She switched hands, rubbed her ruined skin on her garments and wrapped it with a piece of her sleeve. So much of her body ached, it felt pricked and prodded as if returning from duress in an iron maiden.
"Where are you girl?" She heard in the distance. An echo of an echo, her body slow and steady as it came up. Her bruised knees were made to shiver and she looked side to side. Half the wall was ripped and laid to ruin to her right. On her left was a small hole in the wall, she ran into it. A toilet blackened with the years lay on its side. Its contents spilled, tar or coffee looking fluid that smelled of something septic. She crawled away from it. In front of her, there was another door or the door frame at least. There was nothing there really, just a small stake on the side of the wall. There were stalls and there were sinks. And she ran past them all.
“Come back sweetheart, I need you.” She could hear him. Closer now, a voice that boomed and seeped its way through every nook and cranny. She swore she heard something else, a bloodhound. Tender steps of something tactile slapping away at the floor. She came to the cafeteria, it was down the hall from the bathroom. Some tables were still there and the plastic bright blue colored chairs were there too. They fell into clutter and she held her breath for fear. Sophie looked back to the halls. She couldn’t bear the thought of watching him come through the hallway. She ran for the kitchen. There was a bar of sorts, a serving station that separated the two areas and she hid behind, where the rusted metal ovens now slept.
She passed her hand past a handle. She jumped.
The oven door opened and the pilot light rolled out. She could hear her heartbeat, felt it too, in giant pulses through her veins.
He was coming. Running, screaming inside. She raised her blond head and saw through the broken glass of the food concession stand. It was empty, most of the kitchen was stripped. There was a hose, like a snake, dangling from the wall. A few pots laid about.
“It won't hurt.” Alestor screamed. “I won’t hurt you, I promise. I’m just going to slit that tender throat of yours.” His hair was wild. His face, a blustering mess of grunts and deep breaths.
Sophie held her mouth again. She begged her body to hush. Past him, past the madman, she saw the dog. The dumb faced lazy legged dog. Wide and grinning, slobbering over the floor and biting the concrete floor into granite. The mass of tendril-like hairs and darkness. It was tasting for her footsteps. Her body felt torn, tackled in two directions. To fall, to run. A seizure of her heart.
She stepped over the pilot light. Oh, how she cursed, fuck, fuck, fuck. Maybe they hadn’t seen it? They turned. They knew it, though they could barely see her form and the fear shot into her skull, two wide, white bullets where her eyes should have been, they knew it.
She ran for it. The metal sounded off like a barrage, like a coming army onto the fielding. Canon fire, the screams of the dead and dying.
She ran to the exit. Ran past the leaking restrooms and the despondent libraries and the offices of writers and of editors and past the ocean of desks now breathing dust into the air.
She ran to a window. Thought to jump, saw the smoke and the flames and thought otherwise. Fine then, up further, up as high as the sky. She ran. The stairs nearly fell on her but she ran anyway past the shattering floor and its shifty steps. The rubbled she shot down sounded off like a rolling rock down the great temples and mountains.
The fire exit lay ahead. She pressed her body. Screamed.
“Open.” She yelled. The doors budged, the moonlight came in and her vision blurred. She fell and crawled a bit before her vision of twos cleared, zeroed in.
Alestor was there. All the loose robes and gowns on him pushed west. He looked like the dying sail of a sinking mast, the ship sunk. Her heart sank. She looked back. She could see four yellow eyes in the now obscure darkness. She didn't know how she managed to run through the nothingness, she didn't realize how bright the night was.
“It didn’t have to be you.” Alestor said. “You were just the one most convenient to us.”
She punched the floor.
“You shouldn’t have snooped. You should have just let things go. Don’t blame me for this.” Half anger, half morose. Alestor's voice died and inflected with the confliction.
“Your murderer.” She said underneath her breath. Alestor leaned in.
“Wh-what was that?” His hands shook.
“You murdering son of a bitch.” She repeated. Her nose dripped, her eye lids felt hot as if a hot ring was pressed against both sockets.
“I do what I do for who I love.” He said. He was screaming at the sky. “This isn’t the end. Trust me.”
“Shut up you liar. Shut up, shut up, shut up.” She stood.
“There’s more past this, you little parasite. And it’s more than you deserve.” His mind was made up. His guilt and his fear shook off, Alestor gripped his knife.
Sophie gripped her own. Glass, just a piece. She felt the weight in her hand and repeated as she had done on the school grounds, with the other bullies. With Pip.
She cocked her shoulder back, she brought her arm down and with one final throw, chucked it at him. The knife cut Alestor across the cheek. She cut the sympathy from his heart.
“Where are you looking at?” She asked. “You freak.”
He touched the line of blood. His blood must have been glycerin, gasoline, something explosive because his face was red. His head, shaking and on brink of exploding.
“You ruined my face, you bitch.” He said. He came to her. And she stood still, proud for a moment, that she was not begging. Not in fear, and only just beginning to cry.
She felt the knife run through her. A warmth came to her that spread across her body. A strong sting spread across her belly. The air made it worse. She put her hands up, they fell limp after a while though she did not know why. Her brain and body struggled, split. She wanted to talk, couldn't. She wanted to move, but her limbs refused. The struggle ended after a while and she fell, face first. But it didn't hurt. Nothing much hurt. She tried moving her face, nothing. She was becoming a statue, a museum piece locked into some stubborn pose. It was all guesswork after that, to see what moved and what didn't. A toe, fingers. That didn't last long.
And she went stiff.
And the burden of life seemed cut from her. The bark and the fire, the moaning and the screaming. Faded. Color faded. Of all things to last longest, she was glad it was her memories and her imagination and her dreams and her feelings.
The grainy film of memories in her head didn't know where to go or stop. So she thought of her mother and grandfather. That kept them focused and she was happy. And she was frustrated. A little worried and very sad.
Sad, but relieved, that she was cold now, cold and calm.37: Chapter 36
July 20th, 2017
“You’re surprisingly calm.” Apollo said.
“Well, we’re working, aren’t we? I’ve already messed up enough to know what it feels like to get burned.” Dion came around the corner, barrels pointed to the hallway.
Apollo turned as well, finger pointed to his lips. They both stood on opposite walls, ears to the walls. They could hear breathing. The house was alive. They opened the first door and looked around the room so dense with darkness and mold that breathing felt difficult, it was the dusty wreckage of the years harassing him.
“What’re we doing here?” Dion asked. “The fire is rising.”
Apollo hushed him again. They both looked around the room and the curtains that wafted lazily, they hung by one metal ring and dragged across the floor. Apollo watched them again, eyed them, and the contours they made. He came up to them and they breathed out. It was a quiet voice, like a mouse, an auxiliary creeping. He dragged the curtains out and watched them fly towards the hallway centerfold. A man was behind it, his suit ruined, he was on the floor with both arms to his face.
“Look at what we found.” Apollo said.
“Oh, you’re in trouble.” Dion rubbed his chin.
“Don’t you dare, I’m being watched over. He’ll punish you.”
“Who will?” Apollo laughed.
“Astyanax. The king, he knows and his eyes are everywhere. His form everywhere, he is the universe.”
“Right.” Apollo looked around at the silence. “You worship demons and you’re telling me he’s everywhere? Ready to strike?”
“Yes.” The man spat at Apollo’s shoes.
Apollo kicked him with it and rubbed it in his face. He dragged him out and towards Dion, threw him. He cupped his hand and put it to his ear.
“I can’t hear his voice. I can’t see his face. I can’t feel him onto him. Well, shit, I think you just got conned, buddy.” He twisted the sole of his foot into the man’s belly and watched the breath come out of his lungs.
“It’s time to get judged.” Dion lifted him. He put him over his shoulder and felt him slump.
They came out of the room. It was a small study, was, now it was torn and thrown along and soon to be burned along with the rest. The stained books and sheets of wood would go with the building, they knew as they looked out to the window and the weary fire now growing.
They came to a corner where the smoke was dense and saw someone trying to run. Desperation was in his eyes, he held a white cloth over his mouth and kicked the rusted knob of a window. It would not lift. Apollo came closer to him and offered his hand, he broke the lever and broke the glass and reached his neck around to meet the man’s horrified face.
“You looked like you needed a hand.” He said. The man screamed. He fumbled towards his belt and took out a knife, dropped it, picked it up again and looked to stab Apollo. He was inches deep into Apollo’s body. His scream was wild, a doe caught out in the woods on some maze of branches, with the bristles choking him out.
He looked up to Apollo’s mask, a little proud. He saw nothing. No pain on the dark, lines around the eyes, nothing on the white porcelain. Apollo simply removed the knife and chucked it out. It fell. It clanked when it hit the floor. And the second man began to sink.
“Say.” Dion said. “Do you think he knows where the rest are?”
“That’s a great question. It really, really, is.”
They both looked down at the slunk man and his sucked-in face. His neck was fat and he looked like he was frowning three times over.
They were done. Four of them were caught, three in a rusted chain, bound together and hauled around like cattle. Apollo held the chain. The other was hog-tied on Dion’s shoulder.
“This one went better than usual.” Apollo said.
“We burned a house down.” Dion climbed upstairs to the final floor, and from there, the exit at the rooftop.
“Yeah, those things happen in this line of work.”
“I’m just glad we caught them.”
“I’m just glad we’ll have someone else to talk to when we get back.” Apollo grabbed one of their chins and rubbed it like a small child, an encouraging nudge.
“You’re not going to torture them, you hear me?” Dion said.
“No, no. I promise.” Apollo yanked on the chain. “It’ll just be a firm, very firm, interrogation.”
“Please, stop.” Dion shook his head.
“This could have been done sooner if you didn’t lose your cool the first few times we came up against their little monstrosities.”
“Well, I kept my cool today.”
“Only because I was here every step of the way. I doubt you would have done it yourself.”
“Why can’t you just appreciate some good fortune for once?” Dion pumped the head of the man on his shoulder. It knocked him out. “See what you made me do?”
“I’m just glad that soon, I won’t have to see your ugly mug ever again. We’ll finally be leaving. I can taste it.”
“You’re already assuming one of them will talk. I hate that arrogance about you, it’s uncouth.” Dion walked up the stairs.
“Oh, trust me, they’ll talk.” Apollo stopped at the fire escape door. The rooftop was in front of them.
“After you.” Apollo pointed the way. Dion rolled his eyes. He put one hand on the door. He pushed. They were silenced. The fire burned diligently, it ate and ate and in the quietness, they could hear the digestion of the building. It sounded like brimstone, like hell.
In front of them was the last hellhound and next to it, they saw Sophie. And in that burning heat, in the smog and smoke, in the warping fumes of the flames of the fire, they both stood still. Frozen.
“Dion.” Apollo grabbed Dion’s shoulder.
But it was too late. All he saw was red.
And all Apollo saw, beyond in the horizon of the dark, was the blue meteor bullet shot out. It lept from building to building, eviscerating them with its fury. It stopped, finally, at a sign. A man holding a donut, and it exploded into a swarm of sparks. Like a migration of red doves had finally made their stop and scattered.
It burned. And the destruction was laid out in front of Apollo. He tried lunging for Dion to stop, in fear that it would not end with just the wreckage. But he was punched, hit in the jaw and he laid on the floor, absorbing with red eyes, an oncoming darkness.
He was unconscious and stayed that way until Dion was done with his maddened massacre.38: Episode 4 - Chapter 37
July 24th, 2017
At five in the afternoon, for the last three days, the Priest was always at the ready. He stood in front of the door and knocked. And by five-twenty in the afternoon, he would leave. It was like that. He felt like a debt collector.
It wasn’t unreasonable. He just wanted to know what had happened. The news didn’t share much information about anything, other than the number of corpses found and the destruction wrought by the burning building. He wanted to hear it from Apollo. But Apollo would not say it. He did not open his doors. Not until the fourth day, when he had patience, when the bags of his eyes receded into soft wrinkles. His body was slop. His hood dragged down on his back, sweatpants tore at their bottoms, made him slide as they wrapped around his feet.
“What in God’s holy name is this.” The Priest entered the door. Apollo had just unlocked it and had not even given him the courtesy of opening it.
“You’re a mess.” He said. Apollo sat in his chair, marking maps and throwing empty white bottles of orange juice to his side and into the trash can. He rimmed them, though did not land them. They lay, the bottles, in groups like dead seagulls at the shoreline.
“What do you want?” Apollo asked. He was drawing circles over pictures of men. Suspects, the Priest presumed. There were other papers on the floor, ripped in half or stained black with coffee.
“What do I want?” The Priest walked forward, past the desk and to the window. The blinds were closed and lay stuck at the bottom by a truss. He broke the rope and the handle and watched as the cloth ziplined up and all around the room, the cold dark air thanked him. A ray of gold cut the murk like a water jet, slicing through the coal-colored darkness. The dust particles were illuminated, they flew gentle and serene and dissipated.
“It's like a temple.” The Priest looked to Apollo. “And you’re the mummy living in this sarcophagus.”
“I don’t need a nanny, I don’t need a maid. Why are you here?” Apollo asked again. He ran to the table, he wrote a number down. His hairs were uneasy, he hadn't slept. Unwieldy.
“We haven’t spoken in a few days. Though I always expect that of you.” He said. “It’s Dion I’m worried about. I haven’t seen him come to church to pray, I haven’t spoken to him at all.”
“Why do you care?” Apollo asked. “You called him an animal the first day we were here. Or was it monster? I forget. Anyways, are you surprised he doesn’t want your company?”
“So what? I don't feel ashamed one bit by saying it.” The Priest stepped in front of Apollo. “I still think you two are monsters. Half-demons, ridiculous. Agents of god, they want me to call you that.”
“Not half-demons. Only part.” Apollo walked passed him. He tore a taped photo on the wall, it looked pixelated. “And for the second part of your question. It's not my business to know what Dion does, as a matter of fact, I think it's for the best.”
“He’s your partner.”
“Was. We had another spout.”
“You always have a spout. Your like cats, like children."
"Like animals or monsters?"
"Yeah, but at least you're half sensible. I trust you more than I trust him." The Priest said.
“Not my problem.” Apollo said. He looked around, his eyes fell to the floor. “Not Dion, not this city. None of this is my problem.”
“What are you talking about?” The Priest asked.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t tell me what to worry about. My coming here for Dion was only half the issue.” The Priest dragged a chair around the room. It was a small complex but it felt bigger without Dion, without the presence of his laugh or his kneeling body on the bedside.
“I’m here to talk about the fire.”
“What about it?”
“So you admit it’s your fault. Is that why you’ve dodged me? So you wouldn’t have to answer for it?” The Priest asked.
“We burned a building down and captured four degenerates. Rats, they weren’t even people.”
“And then?” The Priest’s eyes focused on Apollo. He could feel his stare burning the back of Apollo's head. A magnifying glass.
“And then the place burned down and the four went down with it. Or five. I forget.”
“There was another body though.” The Priest rested his head on his arms and leaned forward. “A small girl. Do you know anything about that?”
Apollo stood. The pen-marker in his hand fell and he looked to his side for it. It rolled some paces away and he went to go grab it but the Priest grabbed him. Held him firm.
“What happened?” The Priest asked.
“A murder happened. Dion lost it.” He undid the grip. “He knocked me out. Prick has a nice right hook."
"Then, well, I don’t know what happened after that. I woke up a few buildings away. In a dumpster, of all things. There was no one left. Just a howl of sirens, firemen, police... Paramedics.”
“The bodies were mutilated. You think he had anything to do with it?”
“Ask him.” Apollo swerved from him. He went to his suitcase laying on the bed. It indented the mattress and left it concave, the springs recoiled into a harsh swing up as he picked the pounds. He was looking for shoes, a shirt and undid his hoodie. The sweater revealed his lanky body. Thinner than the Priest imagined, scarred too, burned, mostly. Striped like camouflage, like the rouge of soldiers and commandos in the thicket of the wartorn jungle. Zebra striped. Brown skin, black marks.
“I want you to answer to me.” The Priest stood. Apollo walked up to him, he fixed his tie and set his tired eyes on his face. The air in the room felt swallowed, vanished and the Priest could feel his head empty as if in a vacuum. He was waiting, wondering, if his eyes would pop out, if his eardrums would shatter into bloodshed.
“I answer to no one,” Apollo said. “Not to the girl, not to her prick grandfather. No one. Fuck this city. Fuck it’s deranged people, fuck you. I’d let it all burn if it wasn’t tied to my payroll, believe in that.”
The Priest would have been afraid. If he didn’t notice his eyes blink, shift, scatter under the word girl. He rolled a bead of his rosemary. A prayer, not for him. For Apollo.
“You’re lying. I smell it. I’ve sat through too many confessions to not tell the quiver in your conviction.” The Priest said. “It doesn’t matter though. Lie or not, finish your job. I don't care what you fight for. Alright?”
“Stop bothering me and I might.” Apollo went to the door.
“I don’t expect anything else from you."
"Yeah." Apollo's voice was faint. Exasperated, the air was cold and steam came from his breath.
"I guess my prognosis was correct, huh?" The Priest said. "Your kind really are more demon than man. Degenerates.”
“Yeah, you old fuck. I guess you were right.” Apollo waved his hands. "Aideu, shithead."
“You machine man. With your machine heart. Follow your programming. Do your damn job.” He screamed out the door. There was no one there, just some footsteps that faded into clatter down the stairs. He slammed the door shut. Then realizing it wasn't his home, opened the door in shame and shut ut gently.
"At least lock your own door." He shouted down, to a car driving away. It skipped a red light and roared down the road.39: Chapter 38
July 24th, 2017
He grabbed her by the mouth and looked like he would not let go with that iron grip pinching the corners of her moaning gasp. By the fifth thrust, she began to wiggle away. By the seventh, she had enough and with one hand against his chest, pulled him out of her and let him stand in the naked, cold air. Erect and sweating.
“Why are you rough today?” Ophelia threw a wet pillow at him.
“What do you mean?” Dion went towards her for a hug. He thought, at least, that it was just play and crawled back on the bed with his belly and elbows. She pushed his face back, kept the predator look at bay.
“I mean what I say. You’re rough. You were much more gentle the first time. Now it’s just…like a god damn dog, what the fuck?”
“I’m just, distracted.” He looked down. “Some things in my mind have come back up.”
“The things that made you come here?” She nodded her head. “I knew it. I knew this was a bad idea. I knew the moment I saw your crying, moping face.”
Ophelia stood up and reached for her clothes that hung by the edge of a bleached-oak countertop. A tank top, some pajama pants. She started working her hair into a bun and Dion just stared, with the rose water smell in the air and the velvet underneath like smooth, warm sand, his fingers dug into it and the mattress and he watched. He was naked, flaccid, and outstretched.
It was cold.
Amongst the hot room, amongst her radiated warmth, that made him think that her pink cheeks were some kind of candle flame (for they looked the part in the way they bloomed), he was feeling cold.
She turned around and sucked in her lips. She could only massage her scalp as she looked at his sullen expression. He looked like a child, some lost animal wandering and shaggy with the dirty look of the streets caked like mud on his face. A heavy mud, a mud that made him downcast.
His forehead, his nose, his eyes, all down. His breath, sighing.
“Before, I didn’t ask you why you came here.” Ophelia said. “It just sounded like you needed a place, and I owed you one. But now you’ve been here for four days and I’m starting to get the idea that you don’t want to leave. So I have to ask, why are you here? Where did you come from?”
He looked at the pretty cabinets and the reflection of the pleasant pink lights radiating from the corner room, a giant fixture in the shape of a salt rock or a totem. He couldn't tell. His clothes were in a corner and in a square plastic box, the faux-lion carpet beneath his feet felt comfortable, a massage of fur for his toes and a panacea for the growing tensions in his muscles that made his calves spasm.
There really isn't a cure for nervous ticks though. Just suppressants, but no cures.
“I don’t want to tell you why I’m here.” He said.
“Yeah, you said that.” She turned away, opened a drawer and took out a cloth. She left for the restroom and seemed to take the glow of the room with her. Dion put a pillow against his face to suffocate, it seemed, the last of his hope.
“I’m sorry I put this on you.” He muffled.
“Why?” Ophelia asked. “I made the choice just as much as you did.”
“You’re married though.”
“Was planning to marry, actually. And you were depressed and I was stupid enough to give into that maternal instinct of mine, and well, here we are.” She said. “You can beat most things, not biology though. It follows us from the womb to the grave. A slave master, a whip, and a reaper all at once.”
“You’re starting to sound like someone I don’t like. Please stop.” Dion said.
"That Apollo guy?" She said. He groaned.
“I’m sorry I ruined your marriage, is what I want to get.” He said.
“Don’t feel guilty. My ex, he's probably fucking some other girl too. He usually does. Cat calls he calls business trips. There isn't a whore moan in this city I can't trace back to him, like a radiation trail. You find the hints over time, hairs, smells, neck marks. Then you confirm it, for me it, it was just a look. Or the lack of one. Like he couldn't even tolerate to look me in the eyes like the space between us grew, centimeter to centimeter."
She threw water at her face. Dion saw her imperfections. Freckles, a lazy eye, the years of strife on her forehead that made her wrinkle early. Imperfections like anyone else. And it made him sad to ever think her anything else but human.
“You know? When you helped us at the club? I kind of wish you didn’t. I wish my shitty man, if I could even call him my man, was beaten up just a bit more. Just enough to let him know how I feel, even if only vicariously.”
“You don’t mean that.” Dion said. “You’re better than that.”
“I wonder.” She said. She rubbed water on her face. She walked back in and sat next to him and rubbed his cheeks with tender hands. Then frowned. Dion went forward with puckered lips, she pushed his shoulders back.
“I’m glad you came, really.” She smiled. But he knew what the tone meant. “You made me realize I wasn’t ready for marriage.”
“With him, right?” Dion asked.
“With anyone.” She said. He frowned.
“But. We’ve, well, we’ve been together?” He asked. “It’s meaningful, what we’ve done. It’s the consummation of love, you know? It’s sacred.”
He put his sad mask on again, the face he made that made her think of the night four days ago. The wrangled dirty boy. It was an innocent sadness then and it looked like it again, now.
“Dion. We had sex a couple times. That’s it.” She said. “You haven’t even told me who you really are. You said you were the son of a pastor, here to sell bibles.”
“I am. I’m selling something, I guess. Was...” His hands fell.
“You expect me to believe that?” She went to the closet and the small square package of clothes. A new dress shirt, some new shoes. She took the bundle and put it to his lap.
“I expect you to understand.” He said. He turned away from the clothes.
“And I do. I understand you were just a passing moment, I understand that I’m one too. For you at least. You’ll move on and I’ll move on. Like two passing trains.”
“Well.” His shoulders sagged. “The difference is you know where you’re going. Me. Me...”
Dion wiped his forehead.
“Me? I’m fucked.” The word came out difficult. It dragged, the curse word, it seemed to burn because he touched his mouth afterward and rubbed his lips and closed his eyes in silent prayer. She narrowed her eyes. He was strange.
“I can let you stay the night but you have to go home by morning. I thought you were with that one guy anyways? Uh.” She rubbed her head. “Apollo, that’s all you talked about. Apollo.”
“The prick.” He said. “I hate him and I’m afraid if I see him again, I’ll hate him even more. If that's possible.”
“He’s the only person you really talked about.”
“Well, when you get to know someone, whether they’re pleasant or not, they seemed to stick with you. Like a ghost.” He said.
“Or like toilet paper under your shoe.” She laughed. She rubbed his arm, just a child, she thought. He started fitting his clothes and finding them to have shrunk, so he tugged on the ends of his pants and his coats to fill the draft where the cold air was coming through.
“You're just a runaway.” She said. “You look like it like I just found you crying in the middle of a store.”
“Are you calling me a kid?” He fixed his cuffs.
“I’m saying that you have somewhere to be and it isn’t here. Like me.”
“And where’s that?” He asked. She smiled and fixed his tie which was sloppy and slanting to the side, and fixed his collar which was puffed up like a cautionary cone for a dog. She turned him and pulled up his coat tail stuck to his belt. She reached for his coat flaps, put a finger on them and he pulled away. Another secret, she thought.
“Right.” She laid on the bed and watched him from the meridian glow, he stood by the door frame and his face was cross sections, half in, half out. “ Where am I going? I’ll go back to school, I think. I hate this real estate shit. And you? I think you should go back. Consider couples counseling or something.”
“You’re one to talk.” He shook his hip. His clothes felt tight, his whole body looked wound up. An explosive with a fuse that had run out days ago.
“We all have things to settle. Maybe it won’t be so bad when you settle yours.” She said.
“What I’ve done? What I've done.” He tried to remember, his eyes rose to the corner of his sockets and the baby blue painted walls disappeared. The picture frames of smiling youths, the vases and their flowers around him warped, the sofa across from him, a tomb. The flat screen television sounding static, a giant stone. Here marked Sophie. He shook. The images would not leave. One after another, so far down he went into the memory that he began to feel the heat of the room and his gun and the burning screams of the cremated like their long nails were up to his neck and making him sweat.
His eyes opened. She looked sad and distant and he looked away. “I don’t think I can be saved from what I’ve done.”
“I can tell that’s what you think.” She said. “You’re giving me my ex-fiancé’s look. And I’ll tell you what I’ll tell him; you won’t know if you can be saved if you don't even make the effort to try."
“How can you say that? You’re calling off you’re marriage, you’re not forgiving him.” He moaned.
“All apologies are selfish. You don’t do it for the person wronged, you do it for yourself. It’s like cutting a weighted rope. Yeah, you'll keep the scars but at least it won't be so heavy anymore.” She sighed.
“I'm supposed to be the pastor's son. The lord's servant.” He blew his hair and rubbed his scalp as if caught with lice. He couldn't stop scratching his hair
“You know, this is coming from me, but don’t act so holy. It’s not like you’re guiltless." He said. "I mean, you cheated too."
“You’re right. I’ve got my problems to face too. And I’ll face them. But will you?”
"You're sounding like him again." He said. "But he's a lot meaner. Less caring."
He turned around. He put his hands in his pocket and went past the vases and pictures and other novelties, a bass fish that sang with a button press, a collection of postcards from all they’re favorite vacations, history on top of history she was willing to throw away, and it began to anger him. Like the strength of will in her was somehow stronger than in him, and he kicked the door open. And he kicked a garden gnome in half and watched its broken feet teeter from the sidewalk into the gutter. He kicked the dirt. She watched from the window, not mad as much as she was curious about what or whom he would kick next.
So he went out, into the streets from the white painted fences and into the broken roads, from the orange u-haul trucks of the rich as if wandering life buoys, to the miserable with clutch children behind barred windows, drowning, but too scared to try to swim. He looked to the sky, the sky was just setting. He kicked the floor and wondered where Apollo was, or with whom.40: Chapter 39
July 24th, 2017
Apollo was irritated. It showed in the way he scratched his neck and how he slicked his hair strands back and tugged on his suit with that firm and bitter touch. Pulling, rapid pulling and scratching. He had felt this way on in the early dusk, all throughout the gray day. The sky had not done him favors. It seemed like everything ran thin, sunshine, patience, emotion. Days that ended too fast, nights that outlasted his dreamless sleep. He wanted the antihistamine for his ruthless insomnia, the soft pillow, the clearing emptying chamber for his heavy and full heart.
It was Sophie.
He didn’t say it or even think it. The opposite. He repressed the memory, the scene of red. Forgot it, pretended to forget it. And now it was hurting, not in the way of a dagger strike that cuts and stings and bleeds, but in that harrowing numbing wave, starting as a drop of mercury, now a shower that poisoned the ocean of his consciousness. His mind was deteriorating, the animals of his devices dying on the shoreline with their long purple tongues falling out of tired mouths and their gills sucking aimlessly at harsh arid airs.
His head hurt as he looked down. An old cable antenna was to his rear like a pitchfork to the sky or perhaps a lone hand in prayer. He could hear the person below him watching, laughing, a heckle he thought, aimed at him. Apollo bent the antenna. The man screamed at his static-filled television and Apollo jumped from the edge of the roof. The birds scattered to drop shit elsewhere, but not here, not anywhere near the lone figure in the night. His slick mask, cracked and glued with gold. He slid across the cornices, kicked off of statues that split and broke. The gargoyles looked away, faces down in shame.
He was following a car. The license plate that read ‘AS5MAN’, the juggling pair of dice below the car spoiler that somehow managed to stay on even through the wild turns that screeched and skidded. Like testicles, old, saggy, desperate. Apollo followed the car and the skittish hands within that he saw through the rose-tinted windows. It looked like four hands driving the wheel. He looked just as timid as Apollo, but unlike Apollo, he was guilty. And to Apollo, this man (if you could call any monster a man) might as well have been Shiva. He sure left the trail, smoke, and smog that made all the sad and small homeless cough and turn. But he was guilty of something more.
He was a drug dealer. A particular one. One Apollo had confirmed after many an interrogation and many a threat. And he was coming around the bent, trying to catch the freeway, going through the mountain range and wrapping around the black serpentine track. Drifting, slithering. Apollo followed him there.
The pines glared at Apollo like a platoon of archers. He was above the trees. His hands injected into the earth, his feet dragging his anchor like the swimming of sharks, his body a kind of rapid moving fin that shredded through earth and shot it out to the street. He was fortunate there was no one else driving. He looked ahead of himself and predicted where the driver would go, he saw the sharp turn up ahead and how it was flagged by a rebellious pine tree. He ran on the wall, ran ahead of the car with that inhuman speed and strength. He waited then, it wasn’t long. It was only a few minutes. He could feel the air vibrate with that masculine car engine, the assault of a two-thousand fifteen Dodge Hellcat. And Apollo knew, all the engineering and strength of that vehicle would be reduced to nothing. For it was just metal. Metal and fuel and sparks. Science and man, the devil’s instruments as he was taught. And they were right, for tonight he felt that same Luciferian anger.
His eyes flashed red as the car came around. He challenged the headlights. His shadow moved. Darted, he sped faster and faster and the car could not turn. The driver screamed, but his closed windows left his voice powerless. The car turned right, Apollo tackled right.
It flew. Five feet into the air. On its side. The tires flew out, the sparks shot out like a derailed train. Apollo laid on the floor. His shoulder was feeling it now, hot and bleeding and dislocated. A tire rolled passed him and spun circles, undecided before it finally sat next to him. He stood. With his only good arm, he found his bicep and rolled his arm around to find where the socket was where it was supposed to be attached. He could feel his bone click, rub, and with one strong push, snapped it back in. Pain and relief. A bulge of bone receded. It felt like the harshest bruise he could imagine, the feeling of muscle and nerves twisted and shredded and forced to work again. But it healed. Like most of everything in his body. But no kind of healing, regeneration, miracle, could fix that wound in his heart. The solemn denial. The bad dream.
The car was on its side. The hood touched the ground and the tree and the guardrail, it was bent in. All of it was. Apollo heard the man groan, he saw the door prop open in the air and he followed the sight and the markings of wheels before he was led back to his feet. He picked up the lonely tired next to him. When he saw the man move his arm up like a white flag, Apollo aimed for it. He saw it bent and break, the elbow pop out. The driver retreated back inside. But there was no other exit, the front windshield, like the webbing it was broken into, caught him. He tried kicking it. Apollo heard the faint struggle of the broken man. He came up the car and let him try, almost taunting him. After a few minutes, he finally brought the whole car to the ground again. They both assessed the damage, the red car now compressed, the headlight dangling out like an eye falling out of its socket. A constant flicker, a hopeless flicker of the headlights. The driver looked at Apollo.
The same strobing light lapsed in his own eyes as he faced Apollo’s grim mask. He looked for his keyhole and turned it and begged the engine that no longer worked. It couldn’t roar, it couldn’t even purr. It coughed then went quiet.
“What the fuck, man. I thought - ” The driver spat blood. “I thought I ran you over, man.”
“You must have me confused.” Apollo pulled him out of the car. “I am no man.”
“I’ll give you whatever you want.” The driver tugged Apollo’s arm the same way a child would at the father, pleading, in prayer. Apollo dragged him to the tree.
“I know you will.” Apollo said. The car was on fire and Apollo was brought back to that night. He grabbed the drivers twisted arm and turned it even more. He could see the skin in the light and how it turned green, diseased. The driver did not scream though. It was a silent expression that emptied out of his mouth, his mouth was open, his eyes rolled back. It was the point in which he was wishing for death.
“You will live tonight. I promise you that.” Apollo said. “How you will live afterward, however, will be your own decision. Yours alone.” The fires fanned in his eyes. The child, for all Apollo felt and thought, was here, bleeding again. And the heat of passion now drove him more than he would admit.
“I want a name.” Apollo said.
“Anyone! I’ll tell you anyone.” The man said. His stray teeth stained his purple blazer, his watch hung on his broken hand and with tears, he moved himself to offer the watch. Apollo stood still. The driver looked in his pockets and when his eyes and hands came up with the burning money, when he saw the face of death, he knew the gravitas of Apollo’s wrath. That impassive, silent rage.
“Every drug on the streets of Havenbrook have seen your hands or passed your inspection. You have every route, every small-time dealer and big-time drug trafficker in your phone book.” Apollo said.
“Who? Who do you want?” The man cried.
“I want neither. Not your constituents, not your employees. I want the man you sell your hallucinogens too. This man. This man alone will suffice.”
“I have so many who buy them.” The edge of barter was in the driver’s tone now.
"Give me your largest consumner." Apollo said.
The man bit his lips. He shut his eyes, in pain or in the imagination of a pain.
“Promise me, at least.” The driver said.
Apollo reached for him, he dug his hands into bruised skin, cut through the purple blazer and the black dress shirt. His fingers wrapped around a gold chain, then they went deeper, into the ribs. He had not penetrated the skin, only barely, instead he found one of those long curbed bones and, with dispassionate glare, broke it. Crack. Apollo put his arms to cover the driver's mouth. He felt his fingers bit.
He detached himself from the man again and let him scramble to the wound.
“You are the polluter of this temple. You are the beast, the whore, and the money-changer all at once. You will not be forgiven, but you may yet find another life after today.” Apollo said. “Silence suffers you. A name? A name buys you a future.”
“Alestor.” He shouted. “Doctor Alestor. He always used an assistant with his deals. But…”
“But?” The fire roared.
“I spied on him. I tracked him, he’s into freaky shit man. He wanted to kill me once he found out I tailed him, he would have. But I promised him to keep selling. To shut the fuck. To help him.” The world muted. Apollo heard the words and he felt, immediately, like drowning. Like he sank to the bottom of the ocean and all the stress and pressure collapsed on his ears. The muffled, rock bottom silence, the drowning silence of the ocean above him. He helped, Apollo thought.
”Man, you got to keep me same from him. Fucking shit, man. Do me that at least? He does things, things you wouldn’t believe. It’s fucking magic. I swear, no one believes m-” The driver reached for Apollo’s legs to plead. Apollo picked him up. He slammed him against the tree.
“You will survive tonight. I promise. It is not my place to execute a man.” He said. The driver cried, thanked him, his nose dripped. Apollo let him go and let him weep for a moment of innocent joy.
Then he took off his jacket. Then he lifted his sleeves and showed the veins of his arms, the rivers of violent passion that now pulsed through him and through his heart.
“But I will judge,” Apollo said. The man went quiet. The fire crackled. “You deserve no tribunal, you will get no tribunal. No. This is no righteous beating.”
The driver looked side to side. He almost forgot his legs were broken.
“I look upon you the same way a farmer would look at the harvest or a shepherd, his livestock. Because this, like any other bounty or burden, is just a chore.”
He looked at Apollo and the way he leaned in with that gaunt and gaudy mask. His mouth quivered and he took a deep breath. He would need it, for his crying howl into the night.
July 24th, 2017
Dion had called Apollo with no success, he had left a voice mail, texted, harassed the Priest who ended up harassing him back with questions. It wasn’t until four hours after the episode with Ophelia, four hours of walking and talking, of pointless wandering that he finally got a message back. An address.
He followed it. Uphill, it all led up, where he could see clearly the city for what it was. The rolls of hills, the waves of trees and of metal industrial chimneys that poked the sky. He could not tell what was cloud and what was soot. It was all gray, then black as he went higher up and the hour changed to nearly midnight.
The streets were better, cleaner, the cars sleeker. The chain link turned to white fence, turned to the giant bars of steel and the giant hedges. Every house was a kind of island. He could see the lights of their million dollar homes from the small, topsy-turvy streets. They were like the small glowing orbs of schools of fireflies. They moved around and looked outside at the wandering man, suspicious of him. Of Dion. It was practically a different city.
He stopped at the address and looked in front of him. There was no fence, at least. But the front yard was wide and upon it was a concrete fountain left to dry, there was a statue of a man holding a cornucopia but there was no water. It cracked and its cracks were filled with vine and grass. In that sense, it was different from the rest in how neglected it was. Past the statue, past an oak tree casting off its leaves, was a door. There was no stone path and Dion’s feet sank in the weak grass. The unruly nature of the house was made up by the fact that the lot was so large.
He opened the door, the locks were broken in already. There was no security system, the house was too old for it. The floorboards groaned and shrieked, the chandeliers shook from the rough shutting of the door. It seemed like a strong wind would have knocked the house down, the blow of a wolf maybe. And as Dion came to realize, the wolf had already done just that. In the kitchen he could hear the destruction of the house, the opening and removal of cupboards, that clunky cacophony as if the house was being reclaimed by scavengers. Apollo was turning over a drawer, spilling knives and forks all over.
“I’m surprised you came back.” Apollo said. He turned the fridge over. “It’s undignified to crawl back after what you did.”
“I stand by what I did. I’d do it again if I had the chance.” Dion’s eyes narrowed.
“You killed three people and left two to burn alive. You stand by that action?” Apollo looked underneath the table, went around, through a door underneath the stairs and peered inside the small safe room.
“You saw what they did. They killed a fucking girl.”
“Involved in the murder of a small girl, we don’t know if they did it or not and we never will.”
“What do you mean?!” Dion slapped the wood. A piece of the stair guard fell on his head and landed on the floor beneath them. Apollo came out of the room, picked it up and looked at Dion.
“I don’t really disagree with your choice. I understand it, really, I do. Even after the fact that you knocked me the fuck out.”
“I made sure you were safe.”
“Right.” Apollo said. He inspected the wood and the nice chipped end of which it came off of. It had been crushed.
“Did you tell the Priest?” Dion asked.
“No.” Apollo climbed slow and steady up the stairs. “I lied.”
“Why?” Dion climbed after him.
“Because what the Vatican would do to you would be much worse than any jail or any harassment that the Priest could ever give you.” Apollo said. “Death would be a very, very, merciful thing for you. If they caught you, of course.”
Dion stood. His throat felt dry and no amount of swallowing spit lubricated it. A hot dryness as if he had swallowed a handful of sand and let it chafe his insides.
“I’m sorry.” Dion said.
“What’s the point of apologizing, to me of all people?” Apollo stood at the top of the stairs. “You’re much more tolerable when you actually commit to something. Even if it’s murder.”
“I can’t call it murder.” Dion walked up past him. “I killed child killers, they weren’t people.”
It almost made Apollo chuckle. He went up, through the hall where the chandeliers fell close to their head, where it shook and spread their shadows out like and rotated them. Like a night lamp casting shadow puppets, thrown and left spinning on the floor. The light stopped and Apollo’s shadow fell upon a door, ivory oak. He put his hand to it. It would not move. Dion came to help but Apollo stopped him, instead, put his foot below the knob and pushed. It caved in. He took the hinges off with him. Dust flew back, wrapping around the falling door and hitting them with the antique smell of books and history.
“I can’t believe I’m just asking this, it makes me feel stupid, but why are we are?” Dion asked.
“It’s not just a feeling, Dion, but I’m glad you’re reflecting today.” Apollo said. Dion groaned. “We’re here to find the man who killed the little girl, Sophie. Or, the alleged murderer.”
Dion flared up again, eyes red. Apollo shook his head.
“He’s not here, so relax. When I first came in I noticed a struggle and a missing car. The fight came from one of the lower bedrooms, into the garage, out the driveway. I thought I could find something of a clue in the kitchen. Nothing. Then you came.” He said. "Are you wearing gloves?"
“No.” Dion said.
Apollo handed him a handkerchief.
"Well, make sure to wipe your evidence off everything. Everything.”
Dion rubbed aimlessly, nervously, as Apollo inspected the room. He passed him glances now and then, looking where he searched. He knocked on the walls. Looked over the stacks of books, lines of them, some midway removed. Nothing. He looked over the tops of desks and of cabinets where the film of dust had been disturbed. There was a clean stain in the shape of a circle and they both only wondered.
Dion came in at last. He went over to one end of the room and looked down at a rug.
“Don’t touch anything.” Apollo said. It was too late, with that wide mouth curiosity, Dion flipped over the skin of a bear and made it moan as he threw it off to the side with its body depressed.
Apollo nodded his head and they both looked. The arcana symbol was on the floor, smudged a bit but there, visible, an imperfect circle. Apollo knelt to inspect it.
“It’s amateurish.” He said.
“Well this amateur is giving us a lot of trouble.”
“You think he’s getting help?” Dion asked.
“Astyanax.” Apollo said. “I looked him up. Son of Hector of Troy, he was stabbed in the belly by the Achaean’s and thrown over the wall of Troy. Or Ilium.”
“Ever read the Iliad?” Apollo tilted his head. “Have you ever read at all?”
“No, it’s too boring.” Dion said.
“Right.” Apollo sighed. “Well, I thought it was just fiction. But who knows, maybe who we’re talking about is someone else. Probably a new prince in the upper levels of Hell, perhaps.”
Apollo looked back to the symbol, the geometry that was sloppy and the letters in Latin and in Hebrew, misspelled and misplaced. Amon was written there, at the bottom. On top of it, more Hebrew.
“I only know Latin.” Dion said.
“It says.” Apollo squinted. “Formless and Empty.”
“Oh, oh. Bingo!” Dion yellowed. Apollo put his finger over his mouth to hush him. “Jeremiah four twenty-three, I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; And to the heavens, and they had no light.” His voice was booming, his chest pumped like a proper preacher at the holy edifice, above the crowd and above the bible stand.
“Right.” Apollo said. He shook his head and put his hand against the paint. He removed it. Electricity shot out. A loud bang that popped the glass and left them deaf. Apollo opened his eyes, his jaw was moving uncontrollably in muscle spasms. He was shaking his hand, blowing air against it. It had been burned, the nails completely burned off and the concussion leaving large bruises all around him like a brown Dalmatian.
“Fuck.” Apollo couldn’t hear his own curse. His ears were still ringing, Dion hadn’t suffered much of anything and was clearing his face from smoke. He looked at Apollo’s wound, watched him try and blow away the pain. He was the first to look outside and nearby. No one cared, not the rich and their lighted houses. They were too far to care. He looked back to Apollo who picked himself up, then to the floor and missing glyphs.
“Fucking fuck.” Apollo said. “Self-destructing piece of fucking shit.” He was nearly foaming in his anger.
He lugged his body around like a rag doll, holding his hand low to the ground. His mouth was scrunching hard against itself, Dion could hear the sound of grating. They both looked to the broken window, to a docile albino crow. It scurried away. Apollo looked up. His hand was getting better, he could walk now.
“Let’s look elsewhere.” Apollo said. “Before something else annoys me.”
They wandered a bit. Apollo kissed his hand. It healed, mostly, and all that was left, mostly, were the twitches of damaged nerves. Those took longer to heal. The finer details always did.
They came up to an end and to nothing. The light switch at the side did not work, they looked back at the hall now dark. Apollo was holding his hand, Dion was looking around and putting his ear against the wood.
“Do you think the house can talk?” Apollo asked.
“Well, I saw you knocking. I thought I might hear something.”
Apollo nodded his head. He moved a bit in the darkness, then felt something over his head. A string perhaps. He raised his hands, the ceiling was too far from him. So he yanked the chord, Dion shuffled away. Stairs descended with what sounded like an annoyed croak of rusted metal. The sound of something wanting desperately to be ignored. And from what, both of them suspected, they would find out soon. It was immediate, almost.
The smell of death. Light came out from the small square in the ceiling where the smell came from.
“Are you sure you want to come up?” Apollo asked.
Dion’s face went still. His eyes focused, weighted, like they were a burden on his face. Two giant balls of cold, black steel.
“I’m used to it already, right?” He said. Apollo looked away then climbed.
Dion followed and he looked nearby at another beaded string. Dion pulled this one. They reeled back at the image.
It smelled of rotted pig, left to disintegrate in the heat of a dumpster. It almost smelled sweet, that same pig, drawn out and on top of it, cheap sickly sweet perfume poured over. A carcass, both rotten and sweet. A body dressed in that disingenuous sweet smell.
There was a corpse in front of them. There was a knife lodged in his back. Both of them could not tell who it was, for the body was too engorged and glossy red to tell. It seemed like a giant ball, ready to pop, foaming red where the bug-eaten holes were formed.
“Just another victim. Ten days old, it seems.” Apollo said.
Dion’s eyes fell.
“I want to pretend that he was the first. But that would be a lie, wouldn’t it?” Dion asked.
They both went silent. There was no need to inspect, there was nothing that could tell them who it was. All they knew was that it was somebody, all the knew, was that it was one amongst the many, a pile, a wall, that grew and grew and grew.
And they felt for some reason, that this body was just another promise, the promise of more death.
42: Chapter 41
July 25th, 2017
"This would be your thirteenth. Thirteen isn't that far from twelve.” The voice said.
The candle dimmed in front of Alestor and the cool wind blew across from one end of the car window to the other. The hairs on his arms stood. His nose dried, he could feel it, smoke congesting him and filling his skull with the musk.
“This one isn’t just one more.” Alestor said. “He’s my son.”
“More of a reason to get rid of him, the betrayal of the son ought to be punished.” The voice said. “He’s sold you out once. He’ll do it again.”
A candle (or maybe more apt to call it the telephone or receiver) sat in the glove compartment, eating string and releasing the smell of hot burning wax. It dripped on its sides and absorbed into the seats like white ink on for the draft of some great proclamation.
“You can’t say that with certainty.”
“I can say it with good faith. I've seen it, in the church steps, in the quiet solitude of the small room he's called haven. Some dusty hotel, with the whores and abusers to his rear, moping and crying and contemplating with his loose tongue what else to say. And to whom? Oh, Alestor. This is good faith I speak with, and good faith is all you've ever needed.” The voice said. “He told the Priest, he’ll tell the journalists, the police, the world. And the few who believe in that mortal, flawed law, will fight for him. Fight against you. Few is all anyone ever needed to start a war. Or end it. You should know that.”
“You’re not fucking helping me!” Alestor slapped the dashboard and watched the radio compress and change its tune. “Just orders, always orders. For what? The promised land?”
“Paradise. Not just any land, but the land, the only land worth fighting for. To breath air and not feel death creep upon you, to live without the anxiety of the day to day. The mocking, the sadness. To live with your wife. Paradise. And it has room, room for your son. You know that, don’t you? Death isn’t the end. It’s a new journey.”
“I’ve lost so much. How could I give you the only thing left?”
“You’re still thinking in terms of what is lost and what is gained. You lose nothing but stand to gain everything. Don’t consider this a murder. It’s a displacement. You’ll see your son, you’ll see your wife.”
“You say that.” He reached into the glove compartment. He found a flask and drank. “But can you prove it.”
“All I have is my word. But was it not my word that saved you from the Vicars? Ten minutes, ten minutes sooner would have killed you.”
“And maybe I deserve to die.” Alestor said. He drank, it felt hot down his throat.
“Maybe. But if you die, so does the dream. I can’t help you when you’re dead, not like your mother and your son. Paradise needs its key and you’re sitting on it, waiting on it. All it takes is one more death, blood for heaven. A cup, filled. That’s all this has been for, the chalice and your happiness.”
“This…” He held his nose bridge. “This is my son.”
“Your son, your faithless son. The modern Judas. I think he’d have more nobility in his sacrifice than his life. You know that to be true, too.”
Alestor teared up. They fell down his cheek and with it, sense, reason. The dribble, the stream, like a faucet on his chin. All of it, draining down that black hole.
“What’s it like?” He asked. “Is my wife there. What about my baby girl? I never got to see her first birthday. Never got to see her fall, or walk, or yawn or cry or laugh. Never got to see her face for what it could have been.”
“She's beautiful. Blonde, like your wife. It’s all beautiful.” The air nipped at his neck. “Joy, happiness, like a drug. You'd think it'd be boring. But they keep going, smiling, laughing. There is no feeling of tiredness, no boredom. Just a stupid, pure, joy. Ecstacy. The fields of grass, the marble temples. It’s holiness. As best as it could ever hope to be.”
Alestor drank and with each drink, falling deeper into the words. A whirlpool, spinning and flushing him, crushing him, tearing him.
“The sky is like a bubble. It feels so close, it wraps around you so tight and snug and comforting. A blanket of clouds. The weightlessness of it all. It's so close, the sky, you swear that by just standing, you might be able to touch it. The world feels so big here yet so small that you might be able to hold it in your hands. It's a goodness that swells your heart and that hurts me most. That you might not get to feel this. God has not promised you this land, God will not give you this land. I will though, I will, because it is birthright. All suffering is birthright to everlasting joy and you have suffered. Haven't you?"
Alestor's eyes glazed, he tilted his head up and down.
"It waits for you if you’re willing to fight for it, if you can muster the stern stuff to take it.”
“I feel weak. I’m scared. I’m chased and worried and waiting, waiting for them to kill me. Those fucking hyenas, the smell - My scent - The know it. My name, my home. They’ll chase, and chase, and chase. And it feels like the more I run, the more my feet and my body break away. It hurts, it fucking hurts.”
“Then let them find you. Let them come and face judgment. And you? You will be there too. As jury, when my guiding hand strikes upon them an endless fury and an endless pain. I promise you.”
He took a final gulp. The car turned on, the shield wipers sprayed and dragged across the foggy window.
"Remember. It was your son that brought them to you in the first place." The flames flickered with the finality of the tone.
"Is it necessary? His blood."
Alestor cleaned his face on his sleeve.
“I don’t need to make it hurt.” Alestor said.
“If only you knew what little pain means for true, good and proper eternity.”
“It’ll be quick.”
“If that will make it easier.”
“I won’t leave Isaac, not for a second. 'Till the very end.”
“As a father should. That's true devotion."
“Make me humble, please. Take me to him.”
There was a silence. Alestor rolled up the windows and listened in the privacy of his car. To his side, an old cabin in the woods. A forgotten summer home. Nostalgic pain. The holes were plentiful on the dark wood planks that boarded the home, the patches to those holes were few. The whole house rumbled to the car engine and in front of the door stood the porch, slanted and sinking deeper into the wet mud. Loose foundation.
A swing rested on the porch, next to a potted collection of roses now turned to rough, brittle black sticks. A swing set, two white ropes, and a dirt-colored plank. It jumped in the front of the porch. It swung. It went up, creaking, and fell down. Like the checkered flag fall of a race, Alestor drove. Like the pendulum fall, he chased.43: Chapter 42
July 25th, 2017
The high screech of cars was out in front of him. He could hear the police chases like the wound up machinations of the gear rotations of the great clock. One tick, another dead, a second tick, two now. One after the other in the interim, all driving to the same place.
He could feel it, not so much know it. Consciousness can only take so much from the murky waters of its underside before it has too much and he had too much. Isaac was moving, turning, not thinking of the future in precepts of months or days, not even in hours. He was thinking in minutes, thinking, with the sweaty upper lip, how he could make the best of the next five minutes he had.
There was an argument off, somewhere in the other room opposite or next to him (the noise was too hard to tell in distance or location) and he put his fingers inside of his ears to try and concentrate. He shut the blinds, watched the keyhole on the door and let public television run in the background. An ad, a plastic smile. Two men staring back through the tube. They were selling turkey shears. Hundred dollar turkey shears. Fucking scissors.
Fucking everything. He had his hands to his neck with the tight pressure of a man holding a wound, though he did not bleed. His neck sat on the incline and the air conditioner stopped breathing out from the ceiling panels above. He was in a cheap motel, with the cheap flower wallpaper and the cheap carpet gone coarse and blotched in spots from whimsical cum stains, perhaps a stray spill of lean. Isaac thought about it, the only thing he could think of that would cheer him up. He wondered if he was under the influence himself, his body felt that wrong disassociation, like his stomach had gone up and flown away from him. No. Fear was the real drug here.
A fear that he got when he looked at the screen of his phone and the lone message from his father.
Whre r u at?
He needed to leave. It came to him when he reached into the midget fridge and the beer bottle inside.
It wouldn’t be hard to leave, there weren’t any memories to keep onto. But for Isaac, the problem wasn’t the idea, but the execution. It wasn’t where he would go, he had enough money in his debit card to survive him the month. Nor was he in want for any particular luxury, a bed and roof and food were good enough.
The hard part was the how. A bike could only take him so far, he reasoned with those two long fingers against his chin, rubbing the juvenile hairs.
The police would find him. And the police would not help him. If not them, then another.
So the hard part was finding the car, and finding the car was what he did. He ran. Slipped on his long jeans, then ran again to the yellow book in the corner of the room. A taxi service, he looked for one, a foreign one. One he could not imagine ever existing in this city.
Ishmael and Friends Taxi Service, Family owned since 1964
He rung them. Did not hear so much as a voice as he was too busy screaming out his address until he ran out of breath and was forced, exasperated, to speak clearly again.
“I’m at the motel six. The one next to the bowling alley, yes. I need to get out.” Isaac said. “As fast as possible, to the nearest airport. Train station, whatever is closer.”
“Airport? Airport. That’s long way.” His accent was thick. Polish? It didn’t matter. Except it annoyed Isaac, so maybe it did matter. With how often he had to repeat himself before the raspy metallic voice could say a-ha, yes, done deal.
He walked out, the rusted door flicked its loose handle back as if the room wanted him out too. He locked the door, at last, pushed it in a bit, then left. His neighbor came out, a young woman raised her middle finger then turned to Isaac.
“Fuck you.” She spat and left.
“Have a nice day.” Isaac said. His eyes were open, it was more of a murmur in the buzzing night, the fluorescent lights would not hush, the flies would not stop zapping themselves and dropping like small bits of ash against the beige floor.
He ran out, down two separate sections of stairs, past a couple kissing, past a young boy being slapped upstairs by an angry grandmother. He went down to the parking lot and the car, green with a white stripe, that honked at him. Isaac lifted the trunk. There wasn’t much in his hands, he never had much, just a backpack. In it, a copy of Paradise Lost and some underwear, a flash drive containing in it, in no order, lesbian porn, pictures of a book called Goetia (amateur demonology) and a PDF file with some plastered bible verses across the page. He held the small flash drive and then thought, Though I walk through the valley of shadow and death, I fear no evil. He slid across the back. Fell. Fixed his hair and entered, it looked like the motions of a salmon in the middle of its heated lust, dashing through the air in an arc.
"The airport. As fast as you can." Isaac slapped the back seat.
"Alright. That hundred dollars, long trip."
"That's what I'm hoping for. I've got the money, don't worry about it. Get me far away."
"Alright, sir." And they were off. Through the streets bustling with life, the drunk drivers swerving. He heard all manners of noise, tribal, animal, human, so similar to one another he could not tell them apart from beast or war. Bass, so loud it shook glass, women hollering, men reeling into purses and bags reconditioned into vomit bags, the taxi driver screaming out profanities into the honking streets where people refused to drive slow. They turned two corners, five until they were on and about the highway that bled into the forest. The trees looked calm in the still air like bulwarks, guardians. He hoped to see some kind of protector, elf, fairy. Lord knows he needed one.
He spotted a night owl, white and docile, who wrapped around a branch and turned its head a full a hundred and eighty degrees. He swore its eyes followed him as they got closer down to the ground floor and the mountaintops became the mountain floors, where the loose dirt skidded and broke underneath tire and metal.
A blaring noise.
A honk. The car turned, nearly bled paint as it touched railing. They were still somewhat high, the arrow tops of trees told him so. They were so close, Isaac could feel it.
"Ah, fuck, third time today." The driver said. A police officer blinded Isaac with the blue and red in the rear mirror. He could barely see into the car and did not notice the two men that came up to the driver.
"Step out of the vehicle, sir." One of them told him. Isaac could not tell them apart, they seemed like two brooding statues with the stone faces hidden behind night veil. Or maybe it was sanded off.
"For what, What'd I do?"
"Can you please step out, sir." The second one said. He was smiling, Isaac could see that, the teeth at least. He saw the fangs and his stomach turned with the feeling of disgust. The creeping of it, like his stomach was an overflowing well with the poisoned water slowly steeping out and killing the grass and flowers and trees. Isaac studied their face, it was beginning to boil in him. Nauseas fear.
But the driver, he did not know better. He stepped, couldn’t afford another infraction after all. His hands slapped each other as he bartered.
“Come on, it was dark. I sped a bit, let it go, would you? No one here.”
And the police officer smiled at him. One of them grabbed him. The other rose his hand and brought it down, a swing of the baton, like a scorpion bite across his neck. The noise of his skull hitting the floor was low, like a tremor in the floor, a tremor that rose to Isaac’s hands and feet. He turned the handle, nothing. He kicked, nothing. He kicked harder, the glass broke, trapped his legs and made him squeal with blood. Dragging his stabbed leg back made it worse, like tiny razors danced across his foot.
The two were just finishing their beating. The sound of skull and brain turned to the sound of mush, the beating of ground meat. Isaac could not see, did not want to. He held his leg and tried with the other. He reclaimed his leg, prepped it fire but stopped. The glass above him broke, scratched him and he saw the batons. Shredding, pulling away from the sheet of glass. He was grabbed by the hood of his shirt, then by the neck and slowly they worked until his whole body was out. One of them got the idea to open the door from the made hole, and by then it was too late for Isaac.
"They ain't ganna find you." One of them said. "Who knew all you needed were a couple orange cones?"
“Fuck off me!” Isaac shouted. The birds flew from and reduced the forest desolate. He threw a piece of glass at one of them. It made a wound, nothing more, a small cut on the lip.
“Don’t get so mad, sweety.” He said with a low wisp. “The game was rigged from the start.”
He looked down at Isaac. Pitied him, maybe. Isaac couldn’t tell what the bleeding smile/frown meant. He couldn’t stop to see it close enough to tell. He was shaking, shaking up until they tazed him in spasms and cuffed him and forced him to watch the taxi driver and the car speeding off. A brick, all you needed was a brick to kill a man. To hold down the pedal of the car, to make it raise off and through the railings. To explode it, into a shower of metal, like meteor showers of prehistoric days. The driver and the car, burned. The splattered brain, stained. And Isaac, Isaac with the two maniacs in a car engine roaring that bloodthirsty yell. Like a predator, warning others, with the lamb gripped by the neck, this one is mine. Steer away.
They did not speak much. Laughed, some. It was terrible. What terrible fate, to be surrounded by people yet to feel so alone.44: Chapter 43
July 25th, 2017
He was led through the muddy floors of the forest where the wheels of cars stopped and rolled endlessly into the flutter of brown snow. It made the trees dirty, with the sputter of mud. The car engine went on for a bit in its mindless anger. The police officers slapped the wheel, nodded to each other and opened the back door. They pulled him from his feet like some kind of fish dragged about on the port floors, floundering and flopping the dark waters all around. He was gasping. His face was scratched and it went on for a while, hitting branches and snagging himself against shrubbery before one of them got the good idea of lifting him up. They cuffed his hands this time and undid the cuffs on his feet.
Isaac's first instinct was to kick. He did. Felt proud even, in having done it until he received two kicks to his stomach. Air escaped and he opened his mouth for the silent groan. He was led through the forest where the animals knew well from where to steer away. They observed, small auxiliaries, mute animals with their curved spines facing up to the three pairs of footsteps that sloshed around wet ground. Isaac turned to see them, a squirrel holding a nut now dashing through a fallen log, the log itself half eaten and a haven of spiders and of snakes.
The birds were the only ones uncaring. They stood and sang atop the pines. The trees were shaved. They did not rustle much, they seemed to get skinnier the closer the three got to their destination. A lake house. He had never seen it before or at least never remembered it. Below him, he could feel with the hole in his shoes, a trail of dirt left behind by wheels.
The rust-colored pick-up trucks were waiting. One of them flashed his headlights and they nodded, made some sign with their hands and walked inside. Cranberries were floating on the surface of the water, Isaac noticed the red from the small slits made along the boardwalk. There were vines peeking out. It smelled of fall though it was summer, it smelled of the late of the year where the bright flowers and the bright trees die, where the snowfall covers all and leaves the grounds desolate. There was no snow though. It was summer, after all, a strange summer he began to think. The mist jumped along the steady waters and it carried with it the parting fruity scent that felt more of a memory of a smell.
When he came inside he saw all around him the white shawls and the suits and the bright yellow flowers atop their heart. A pledge.
The cobwebs were forming in the corners of the rooms where the fishing hooks and rods lay. The head of a deer was across from him, a glass counter to his rear with the round patina stained bell that no longer rung the call. It was an empty, dead store. A fish on a plaque reminded him. Its weight and name were rubbed out, filed out by time. He was taken further to the back. Through a hall and past a bathroom and some kind of storage room. He was brought to the garage (if a fishing store could ever have a garage) where the boats were docked and held. He waited inside with what looked like six other men, three women.
There were four boats, three were rudderless. He looked to his side and where the small room bled out to. The placid dark waters and the cold winds that shook trees out of their summer bliss. Now he understood why the trees looked like starved wraiths, the lake was killing them. Sucking them, draining them. Like their very life force was pulled out of them and thrown into the water.
Isaac faced westward to the black lake, more a chasm than a mass of water. There was no sound from it. No sound of life, at least. He remembered there were fish here once, that constituted the very shop he was in. They were gone now.
His father came in a bit after five thirty five, two men behind him closed the metal sheet and covered the lake from their view. The waters were silent below them, they only heard the creek of wood and the light bumping of boats hitting each other. A fight with slaps, like playground children would.
Isaac was silent.
Alestor came up to him. He looked at him and put his hands on Isaac’s chin. He jerked away.
“What have they done to you?” He asked. No one answered. Everyone looked at each other and Alestor’s nostrils flared, he faced the two men behind Isaac.
“Do you think he’s a farm animal? Do you think it was right to treat him like one?” He asked. They didn’t answer. He slapped them, three times. Twice to make them think, the third to make them bleed. Their noses ran and they looked up with the white veil beaten off their face. They were middle-aged men who looked past Alestor and began repentance.
“I am sorry father for we have sinned…” They went on, practiced verse. “And I plead upon the divine nine to deliver me from my weakness.” And it went on and on and on and on until Alestor slapped them again. A fourth to hush them. He yanked the keys from one of their sides and undid the cuffs on Isaac’s hands. He looked down at them as if surprised he even had them with that childlike skepticism.
Isaac looked to his father who had his arms extended to hug him.
He punched him. Square in the nose. It sent Alestor back and made him hold his face as he landed on the floor, half his arm was in the lake water. Four men came to apprehend Isaac, Isaac who struggled and bit along their arms and who shouted.
“Let go, let go, let go.”
It felt like a body cast, paralysis as the men held from him from feet to neck. A pool of pythons, suffocating.
“Let him go.” Alestor stood. “He’s not yours to hurt or to judge, you hear me?”
They looked strange, surprised with the eyes behind their face masks low and beady. They hesitated for a while, kept close to make sure he would not attack but eventually turned away. And Isaac was back in the middle of the room facing his father, both of them dirty on the face.
“Come here.” Alestor brought his hand close. He was rubbing the mud and the dried leaves from his sons face. Isaac pulled his hand away and everyone locked up into that fighting stance.
“Enough with all of you,” Alestor yelled. “He’s my son, did you hear me? You animals!”
And Isaac was torn in that moment. For his body wanted to run but his eyes showed that strange resolve, not necessarily courage but anger. Anger over the night he had snuck into the theater and bore witness to the death of Pip. Anger for the child. The memory ran in his head until it came upon the demon and his legs felt shaky all of a sudden.
“You killed a kid.” Isaac’s voice was unsteady, between a high pitched shriek and those anger driven grunts. “You did something to him.”
“How’d you find out?” His eyes were wide.
“I saw you with the dagger and the table. You fucking stabbed him, over and over. You fucking killed him, dad.” Isaac held his mouth, his eyes felt those salty tears swelling. But his cheeks were fierce, hurting in how long they held that mad frown.
“I do what I do for the family, you have to understand. And not just mine.” Alestor extended his hand and spun to point out the room. “All of theirs too. I do it for them as much as us.”
“Us? Are you fucking insane? What the fuck was that thing?"
“Thing? What thing?”
“Don’t weasel out of this.” Isaac clenched his hands. “The fucking monster, it came out of the kid.”
Alestor drank his spit. His adam's apple bobbed.
“The uteri, the heart, the demon.” Alestor rubbed his chin, undecided on which to start from. “It was a womb. I was just giving it a Cesarean cut. That’s all. A process.”
“Pr-process? Cesarean what? You fucking killed a kid.” Isaac held his father by the collar. “Someone with a mother, someone with a father who had dreams and hopes and a promised life. Someone who could have been me.”
Alestor pushed him away.
“It was necessary. It was tribute.”
“For what? I don’t understand.”
“Because you haven’t seen it. That's the problem. The only problem. Yes, you haven't seen it.” Alestor ran to the back. He took out his pink salt, his wax candle, his flint and steel. And the cup. A goblet with a mixture so thick and so dark it was hard to call it wine. It did not spill, it did not leave the rim, it did not move. An unholy concoction. “If you see what I’ve seen, you’d understand. Let me show you paradise. He’ll tell you everything.”
He held it all in his chest and walked over to his son like a child with his box of toys, wanting to share, wanting to show. Isaac pulled away.
“Enough of this insane bullshit.” Isaac said. “I used to think it was just drugs, a sniff and that was it. Too much acid rotting your brain. But this, this is much worse.”
“It started like that.” Alestor dropped to his knees and organized his materials. “We saw something in a fire once, when I went out to burn your mothers clothes. It was the first week. The first... It was in the fire! I remember, I promise. After that we started taking psychedelics, I just wanted to re-watch what it. Heaven, I tell you, Zac. Heaven."
"What are you trying to pull? You found god, is that what you're telling me?"
"No. God let me suffer, God let me go. It was the opposite." Alestor's eyes flared. "Let me show you."
“Enough. I don’t want to hear it. It’s enough to know my father is a murderer, it’s another thing to hear him pleading his excuses. Have some dignity! Admit to it.” Isaac yelled. "At least lie. Let me pretend, at least, that you still have a moral compass. Any compass."
“It was paradise, Zac. It was the best thing ever. Better than the trips to the Bahamas, better than the cruises or the old birthday cakes you used to get at the steakhouse.”
“Is it better than mom?” Isaac began to tear up. Alestor looked up.
“It is mom. And your sister. It’s both of them. Let me show you.” He started the circle of pink salt. Isaac came up, his mud stained feet left the imprints on the wood. He looked at his father, his balding head and the crazy hair that flew down.He rubbed his feet and ruined the circle and kicked the candle into the water.
“You can excuse the act however you will, but you can’t change it for what it is.” Isaac cried. “Mom is dead and she took you with her, you’ve been dead this whole time. I can’t believe I couldn’t see it until now.”
“You’ve evaluated so many people on top of the couch, you never bothered though, have you? To put yourself on it, to see what’s inside of the fucked up brain of yours.”
Alestor lept up. He grabbed Isaac by neck and dragged him to the floor. The wood snapped and the plank fell into a plop inside the water. Alestor’s hands were hot, gloved in black flame. It burned Isaac, burned and suffocated. The more he put his hands around his father, the more he burned. His tears were vaporizing but his body would not. It was an empty pain, pain without the wound or the actual burn. Torture.
“I am trying to fix everything, you little shit.” Alestor shouted. The men around the room looked apprehensive. The contention exploded. The storm of their hearts orchestrated their fear. and they began to look, with skittish eyes, for a means of escape. They contemplated, so afraid of Alestor and his fire and his rage, to perhaps grab him away. But they were afraid of that even more.
“What can I do with a son that can’t see? That won’t see? Ignorance isn’t your sin, stupidity is.” Alestor spat. It hit Isaac’s scrunched face. He was shouting with what little air remained. “You’d dig the knife into your father? You’d twist it, wouldn’t you? You did it before, after all. You sold me out. You think I wouldn’t find out you shithead? Huh? Huh! Say something.”
“Off.” Isaac’s eyes rolled up. “Me.”
Alestor looked at him. He undid his hands, he sat on top of Isaac now. Isaac who was wheezing for breathing, holding his chest to see if it would even work anymore.
“I wish you had died instead.” Alestor said. Everyone seemed still at the confession, their bones hollowed out and the marrow replaced with some jelly-like substance. Isaac most of all wanted to collapse. But he was too busy holding his neck and reviewing the markings of his father's fingers.
“I could have replaced you with the other. I could have had more. And the piece of her that exists in you is nothing more than pain in me. You’re acid. Corrosive, running through my veins.” Alestor stood away. He reached for chains. “It took a while to finally get my dialysis. But I’m proud to say my blood is pure now. I know the way, it was shown to me.”
“Killing people is the way? Selfish murder?” Isaac huffed.
Alestor clicked his fingers. Two men came around and bound Isaac. Alestor reached and put the collar around his neck. He wedged it right, watched the skin spill out from the top and bottom. It would never be snug, it would never sit right. Every second Isaac would be reminded, with the yank and the pinch of the metal on his neck, that he was chained to the ground.
“I hate the son I have now.” Alestor said. “But I hope, within the next few days, that you come around. I really need you to. For your sake, not mine. I’ll come around every couple of hours to see your progress.”
“I hate you.” He cried. “Let everyone fucking know, let the earth and the heavens and your gods and devils know. I hate you. Let it ring in your heart, I fucking hate you. A stab, a knife? Yeah, yeah, I wish I could right now. I wish I could fix you with the only way I can see you being fixed. I hate you, let the words ring you fuck.”
Alestor looked down at him. An animal, all his son was. The rottweiler gone feral.
“It’s been a while since I’ve disciplined you, hasn’t it? Last time I yelled at you was when you were fourteen, just beginning to masturbate. You lied to me then. It seems as though I shouldn’t have stopped with just a yelling. Your whole life has been one giant wank. An annoyance, you gluttonous fool. To be given everything, yet to be so spiteful towards your father. Disgusting.”
“What father?” Isaac said. “I look and look but I can’t find any man you’d call a father. Only a fraud, a fraud with a belt. I can’t believe I haven’t stood up to you until now.”
“Well, our failures are the same. We never struck each other. You were never shown the man I could be, but you will learn. Consider this your therapy session, a correction to that faulty cognitive behavior of yours.” Alestor walked up to the door. The other men were beginning to leave.
“I really hope you’ll come around. I can show you the things He’s shown me. They’ll really make you rethink this whole rebellious streak of yours.”
“You can’t rethink a murder. You can bullshit that way, Alestor.” Isaac said. The defiance in his tone made Alestor lower his head. A hammer strike right on his head, he could feel the pressure of a headache building in him like a band around his head slowly crushing his skull.
“We’ll begin your conditioning tomorrow. Have a good night, Isaac.” Alestor took a final look at the chained son. It was short and he was stuck to a water pipe running up along the wall. Isaac shouted at Alestor, growled and dragged his fingernails against the floor to try and gain terrain. He couldn’t. He could not move more than four yards. He pulled on his chain, nothing. Steel was too much.
Alestor sighed, put his hand on the light switch and pressed. The room went dark.
But Alestor could hear his son. His shouting went on, like the waves of water rising high with the blue surf and crashing down into that loud bevy: Help me, help me, help me, please.