Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The men shivered, inching away from the dead man on the floor and followed the black wind that was Dundee out the door and into the bright day light.
Birdie was enthralled with her steps. The tensile strength in the seemingly delicate lily pads. The flowers that arose here and there through the steps.
Images flashed through her mind as she continued climbing, bits of memories or something else. Her sister and her brown eyes glaring back at her like an angry mirror. The taste of white tea and lace cookies. The smell of old books and rotting leather bindings in her grandmother's house in Connecticut. A place she hadn't been in 10 years since grandma died.
She was always drawn to the light
The words were in her mother's voice. Lily. Lost at sea with Birdie's father. It was only an afternoon sail celebrating their anniversary, and everything had fallen apart when the squall appeared from out of nowhere and left their little boat broken and overturned, with no sign of her parents.
The money they'd left paid for art school and more. Maggie had taken her share and run to the other side of the world, doing who knew what. But what did money mean when she was left all alone in the world? Left with only her uncle Samuel who popped in now and again to check in on her and borrow some cash when he'd lost too much gambling.
Birdie shook her head as if to clear her mind and found herself standing improbably high, so high the land below her shimmered with distance.
Why was she not afraid? Why was she not in shock?
She stood and looked around the landscape.
Ah yes. Because she knew this place. She had dreamed it. Sometimes, the dreams had seemed more real than reality. She knew that if she looked in just the right spot, from just the right angle it would be there. She spun around on the lily pad, the warm breeze rising from below and lifting her hair, lifting, almost, her. And there it was.
It was nothing but a hole, really. If seen from the wrong angle it would be invisible, but from the right spot, high in the air, left of the sun, it should be here. She took another step on the pads and she rose higher. If she had wings, this would be so much easier, she thought with a laugh.
And then there it was. A shimmering disc just waiting for her to step through, just like in her dreams.
And just like in her dreams she knew who would be waiting for her on the other side. There was no reason to wait, really. What else was there to lose? She was balancing a hundred feet up on lily pads that were taller than the highest trees. There was no one waiting for her at home but her cat, who seemed to be able to take care of herself, her boss, who while he couldn't take care of himself, could hire someone else to take care of him, and her uncle, who really should stop betting, anyway. Her life was gone, it seemed, why bother holding on to it? Why hold on to the sanity she had always worked so hard to protect?
Why not just go with the dream?
She laughed then, and couldn't stop laughing, and it was with that light in her chest that she stepped through the hole.
Monday, February 2, 2009
. . . needs to clean up a bit.” A slim, dark figure stepped forth, wrapped in a long black coat. “And I think I’ll start by taking out the trash”, he said, withdrawing a curious looking knife from his sleeve. The blade was short, curved back on itself; the handgrip ebony, inlaid with ivory skulls. The metal seemed to glow with a cool blue malevolent shine.
Weasel’s eyes maxed out in panic-stricken fear. “Whoa, wait a minute, Juno, I was just foolin’ around. I didn’t mean to, I mean,” his words suddenly cut off as the knife, arcing through the space between them, ended it’s trajectory in the stubbly flesh of his throat. He staggered backwards from the impact, colliding with the table and then folded together into a writhing bloody heap. Max and Dundee were on their feet, chairs over-ended, stunned and backing off. Weasel tried to speak but merely gulped up mouthfuls of blood, his carotid artery severed and windpipe sliced open.
“Leave him be,” Juno said, moving menacingly towards them. “He’s already done his fair share of talking. In fact I’d say he topped his limit. I was just having a chat with Mr. Bossman. Tells me he caught this little piece of shit jawing it up with a Djemba over in Cantones. The little greaseball was too stupid to find a proper meeting place. Cantones; can you fuckin’ believe it? He probably wanted a pizza. Why not take out an ad in a newspaper, while you’re at it?
Anyhow - if it wasn’t for Weasel’s flappin’ lips we’d all be dining on Birdie stew right now instead of mucking about in this piece-of-crap garage.” He walked over and looked contemptuously down at Weasel, who, with a convulsive choking rattle, finally lay still. “Well, looks like those lips won’t be spilling any more secrets,” he said, nudging the body with his foot. He reached down and withdrew his knife, wiping it clean on Weasel’s jacket sleeve. “See, like they say, crime don’t pay. Not when it’s against me, it don’t,” he said, finishing off with a nasty excuse for a laugh. “Anybody got a problem with this?” he asked, still waving the knife about.
Max and Dundee looked at each other and then back at Juno. They both demonstratively shook their heads in unison, like two cartoon characters.
“Hell, nobody likes a sell-out, Juno.” Max said. “I got no problems with him. He was a just a creep anyway. But what’re we gonna do now? If he told a Djemba, like you’re sayin’, that Bird probably knows everything by now. She could be half way to the Portal, for all we know.”
Dundee came forward, not wanting to be left out. Left out meant keeping company with Weasel. “Yeah, for all we know she might even be through the goddamned Portal by now. Then that’s us, over and out. Shit, if that’s the case, we might as well join him,” he said, motioning towards the body.
“Cool your fuckin’ jets, the both of you," Juno said. "The Djemba’s not telling her nothing. Not yet. He can’t, see. If he does . . .
Saturday, January 31, 2009
"You should not go wandering off the path if you are not ready to step out of the world you think you know best. Stay to the path, Birdie. You hear me? Stay to the path."
Birdie began, "The world I think--?"
But the stranger, the friend, the whatever-he-was had begun to shimmer and dissolve before her eyes: opaque, then translucent, then rippling air, then all of him gone for a moment except his smile and eyes hanging suspended before her. Finally the golden-eyed man (Goldeye, she thought, that's his name isn't it?) was gone, and Birdie was alone in the center of the garden.
Stay to the path. But which path? The flagstones, or the lily pads? The known, comfortable, indeed stolid? or wobbling uncertainty?
The first pad seemed to flutter the instant before she set her right foot upon it. By the time she reached the fifth pad, though, her footsteps were more sure. When she reached the tenth she considered how strangely solid these broad leaves felt; she wondered why the water was no longer shimmering around their edges.
But she did not look back.
So it was that she missed the gathering of the dark gray mist, now closing up behind her. She missed the garden's disappearance. She failed to notice that the water was already far below her feet, and that she was ascending ever higher with each confident footstep.
In the center of an otherwise darkened warehouse in an ugly part of an ugly city was a pool of light. In that pool of light was a small table, and around that table sat three men and an empty chair. The only sound for a few moments was the snap... snap... of cards being dealt and then laid down, face up.
Finally, one of the men -- the skinny, dark-haired one, known for obvious reasons as Weasel -- broke the silence. He threw his remaining three cards on the table; one skittered across the surface, off the table's edge, and landed face-up in the empty chair. Jack of Hearts.
"Shit," said Weasel. "How much longer we gotta stay here playing cards? I don't even know the goddam rules of this game for crissake. I'm bored. Can't we at least call out for sandwiches---"
"Shut up." This came from the man on Weasel's left, the greaser: Max. "You don't know the rules of the game? Forget the game. you don't know the rules of nothin', pally, and that's why we're here in the first place."
To Weasel's right, the third man, heavyset -- no, fat -- looked up from the cards in his hand. "'Call out for sandwiches,' he says," said the fat man (whose name was Dundee) in a constricted and phlegmy voice. "Don't suppose you actually tried getting a signal in here recently?"
Weasel got up from his chair, walked around the table, retrieved the Jack of Hearts, and sat down right there. Leaning forward, he scooped up all the cards on the table and shoved them into something like an orderly rectangle. He riffled the edge of the deck with his thumb. "Okay," he said, "so we're stuck here, until he gets back and unblocks us. But Jesus do we have to play the same stupid goddam game the whole time?"
Before Max or Dundee could stop him, Weasel held up the deck flexed between thumb and fingers and shot it into the air. Cards whirred crazily in the light, face up and face down and face up and left to right, raining down in a blizzard of white and black and red.
From off in the darkness came a voice: "Untidy. Very untidy. I think someone...
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Of course. Of course.
And as the clocks in the room in her dream all went off, a cacophony of risings, she knew it was time to wake up.
She felt herself rising out of sleep, slowly, like falling backwards into a pool, inside out rising to the surface.
But before she could wake, her grandmother rose from her chair, what she had taken to be Grandma's favorite shawl unfolded and stretched behind her into wings the color of midnight blue silk.
"It's not a dream," her grandmother said, looking directly into Birdie's eyes.
Birdie could hear Maggie saying, "what, Grandmother? what's not a dream," but it was muffled and indistinct and then she was in her own bed in her room, and it was dark as night. But she knew she was not alone.
She slipped from under the covers and padded through the shadows. At her kitchen table were two men. A skinny dark haired guy who was eating the Chinese food she had been saving for dinner tonight, and a nervous little man who was pacing the floor.
They didn't see her, and she liked it that way.
"Mike, I don't like it. I don't like it. This place gives me the creeps, that guy scares me. Something's not right about this gig, Mike." He didn't seem to be able to stop talking and he kept rubbing his arms, as if he were trying to rub away his goose bumps.
"Hey," Mike said. "You should try some of this. It's pretty good." He offered, but never held out the carton to his friend, just shoveled my dinner into his mouth.
"I don't like it!" the little guy shouted again. He was shorter than her by an inch or so, and she was only 5'2". "What did this girl do that was so wrong, anyway?"
"Not our business, Duff. We get paid to bring her in, that's all. We get paid a lot, too."
"But what's he gonna do to her?" Duff said. Birdie settled in to her shadow, willing the slimer eating her food to answer the question. She focused on his beady little eyes, whether he could see her or not, and drilled her gaze into him. Tell me.
"Why the heck do you want to know, anyway? We get in, grab her, take her back to the place, and that's it. Why do we care if he wants to stick her in a dungeon and lock her away until she turns to dust?"
The little guy stopped his pacing and looked surprised. "That's what he wants her for? That doesn't make any sense. Why keep her locked up and not just kill her? It's not like he is afraid of killing people, we've both seen it."
Mike sat up, swinging his feet onto the floor and putting the carton down on the table. "What? Who said that? I don't know that. Why would I tell you that? I don't know nothin'."
Duff looked up into the night time shadows of the room as if he could hear something.
"Someone's here," he said. Birdie shrunk into her corner.
They both whipped out guns and looked around. She was afraid they could hear her heart pounding.
Then, a flash of green light caught her attention. Outside the window on the fire escape. Two cat's eyes. Dinah. She looked right at Birdie and blinked.
Go, Birdie heard.
And then Dinah jumped through the window frame and screeched an ungodly sound.
The men spun on the cat and there were gunshots but Birdie had already started running and before she could turn back to check on Dinah, she found herself stumbling through the curtain of greenery and back onto the path.
Birdie came to a halt, her breath coming fast and heart in her throat. Her "friend" was standing there, his warm golden eyes glinting and a small smile on his lips.
"You should not go wandering off the path if you are not ready to step out of...
Monday, January 26, 2009
Then she was through the opening, which closed behind her like a drape. Before her sat her Grandmother and her sister Maggie. Birdie stood in her Grandmother's sitting room watching and listening to her sister telling familiar fibs. Grandmother rocked in her chair, frantically writing down all Maggie was saying in her battered leather notebook. Her pencil scratching on coarse paper.
The room looked smaller, grey, sticky with grime, unpolished. It smelt stuffy - of old boiled cabbage. Birdie shook her head because the ticking was getting louder, tapping on her eardrum. Then Birdie noticed the clocks stuffed on the shelves, all shapes and sizes, some ornate, some digitally flashing.
"Phone her boss," hissed Maggie, "he's not a normal boss."
Maggie looked straight at Birdie, but didn't see her. Birdie recoiled, she had forgotten how alike in appearance she and Maggie were. It was like looking in a mirror. Maggie - her toxic twin.
"Are they at her apartment now?" Asked Grandmother.
"Yes, they are waiting. Silly Birdie, she's taken the wrong path. Again."
Maggie began to laugh and crossed her fingers behind her back as her Grandmother continued to write notes in scratchy graphite.
The clock closest to Birdie's head began to chime; another, the other side of the room, replied. Time to.....
"And we have got to close that thing before any of those troublesome not-friends slip through behind us."
The Stranger, Birdie's new "friend" -- if friend he was -- gestured upwards at the hole. Birdie thought she saw a hand reaching through the hole but it suddenly (perhaps sensing what was about to happen) pulled back. Like an iris, the hole winked out, plunging them both temporarily into darkness. Then there was a sound like a grilled-cheese sandwich being bitten into, an odor like that of new mint being crushed underfoot, and a sort of whirring sensation. When the natural light returned, Birdie and The Stranger stood in a garden which Birdie thought she knew, vaguely. Was it from a story...?
But the garden wasn't the main attraction. Nearly all Birdie's attention was drawn to The Stranger -- her savior or her abductor.
He stood well over six feet tall -- it couldn't have been seven, could it? -- and his height was accentuated both by the dark broad-brimmed hat and the... the cloak, she decided (fighting her intuition): it had be a cloak after all. His face was long, his hair ebony, his eyes, yes, warm and kindly.
But his mouth looked warm and kindly not at all. The thin lips bespoke cruelty, and the way one corner turned up and one down seemed to taunt her: whether he turned out friend or foe could, in her mind, well depend upon which way he faced when she decided.
It was time to test his "friendship" with something a little more substantial than a sudden miraculous escape from a subway platform.
"So you're my friend," she said. "And you've 'saved' me. Now that I've been saved from a threat I did not feel or recognize, then as my friend I assume you will let me now go?"
Both ends of that strange mouth twitched. "But of course. There's the path." He gestured, and Birdie saw a line of flagstones leading from the spot where they stood. But then he said, "...and there's another path," gestured again, and there was a pond on the other side of the garden, across the surface of which floated a line of sturdy-looking lily pads.
Birdie looked once more at those eyes. Not good enough, friend, she thought. She turned and set out directly between the flagstones and the pond, straight through a bed of periwinkle, in the direction of what looked like it might be an opening through a hedge around the garden.
Over her shoulder, she heard The Stranger's voice. "You are a very difficult girl." She approached the hedge, pushed the opening apart further. "...or a very foolish one," she heard him add. And then, although she couldn't be sure, as she stepped through the opening she thought she heard him say, "...or perhaps not a girl at all."
But that wouldn't make any sense, of course.
Then she was through the opening, which closed behind her like a drape. Before her...
Thursday, January 22, 2009
She was still falling into the darkness, but so slow, she saw the lid drop down on her exit and felt the shockwaves of sound as they passed through her body, although they didn't register as sound.
And then she was dissolving.
Oh no, not again! she thought, as she felt her skin disappear, her muscles disintegrate, her very bones un-becoming.
She wouldn't let this happen again.
The last time it happened, she woke up in a mental institution being pumped full of anti psychotics.
With nothing but the force of her will that she would NOT go crazy again, she re-knit her very body, holding on to her knowledge of herself, putting atoms back together, labeling the anatomy of her own limbs as she forced herself back into being. She imagined flipping through the pages of Gray's Anatomy, a book she had poured through in Art School for precisely this reason. Never again, she thought, would she lose herself.
She knew it didn't matter what happened when she hit the ground if she wasn't there when it happened. And then.... her recreation seemed to hit a tipping point, and instead of flying apart, she was flying back together.
And she landed, with a thud, in the arms of the very stranger who had dropped her down the hole.
"You're a stubborn one," he said. "That will complicate things."
His hands were softer though, gentler. And when she looked in his eyes, in shock, she realized they were not the same eyes, at all. Everything else was The Stranger, but the eyes were meltingly warm, like sunshine.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm your friend," he said, and looked up at the hole she had just fallen through. It was only ten feet up, a fact that chilled her. "And we have got to...
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Suddenly the train braked, and with an ear-spitting hiss, slid into a brightly lit station.
“No time to explain. Just follow me; I am your only hope. I’ll tell you everything soon, I promise.” She looked closely into his eyes for the first time. No pupils, no iris, nothing, just an empty blackness. Depthless black spheres that seemed to be looking in all directions at once. Or nowhere.
He took her forcibly by the arm and with a jolting blur of movement she found herself suddenly standing on the platform. She was shaking, yet held tightly around her abductor for support. The people around them stepped back, confused, scared. Had these two people just dropped out of thin air? Goddamned terrorists, someone mumbled. Before anything else was said they were moving again.
“This way,” he said. Exiting the station, they were now running down what appeared to be a service ally. It was dirty, scattered with garbage and homeless trash. The stench of decaying urine was overwhelming. Other than a haven for bums it looked as if this tunnel had been abandoned for years, perhaps decades. The floor began to angle downwards. They were descending. The tunnel twisted and turned, a lone light bulb here or there dimly illuminating their way. Suddenly he stopped and went down on his knee. Birdie, exhausted, tried to catch her breath.
‘What?’ she heard herself say. The strangler, ignoring her, hooked his fingers into some sort of metal loop buried in the floor. He was trying to lift a circular hatch of stone or metal, Birdie couldn’t see clearly what it was in the dismal half-light. They heard footfalls from the direction they had just come. Someone was running down the tunnel towards them.
“Too late,” he said, finally pulling back the hatch. Birdie felt a mounting panic. Something terrible was going to happen. She quickly looked into the abysmal hole in front of her. He couldn’t possibly mean that they should go down there. There was no ladder, no walls, nothing, just an inky blackness. The man grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up as effortlessly as if she were a doll.
‘I’ll find you,’ he said and then dropped her down the hole.
As the train lurched out of the station, he whispered 'Down, lie down.' The metal of the roof was hard and cold against Birdie's cheek. She closed her eyes. She was shaking with fear, but as usual the moment she switched off from the real world other images flooded in. The noise of the shuddering train, the screech of metal on metal, the rush of the air faded away. As his coat covered her, shielding her from the tunnels above, she felt something warm, familiar. An image of a pillow fight when she was a girl flooded in. She had been at her grandmother's house in Connecticut. Old down pillows burst open. She remembered throwing armfuls into the air, laughing and dancing with her sister. 'Feathers?' she thought. Just as the last carriage disappeared into the blackness, three men raced onto the platform.
'Shit, we missed her.' The skinny dark haired guy balled his fist, kicked hard at the vending machine on the platform. Eyes narrowed in a sallow pock marked face. 'We'll find you. The time's come.'
'Do you th-th think she knows?' His friend with the greased back hair sidled up, flinching as he span round.
'She has no idea.' He flicked the collar of the little guy's jacket.
The third man ran a long, pointed thumbnail slowly across his lower lip. 'He's here. He's been here. I can feel it.' The other two stopped scrapping.
'W- w- what do you want us to do?'
'Go back to her apartment. Wait there.'
'Where are you going?' The skinny one raised his chin, sniffing the air. 'You're right, I can smell him. He was here.'
'I'll call you if I need you.' The man undid his black floor length coat, glanced round as he tossed it over to the little one. They were alone apart from an old tramp lying comatose on the platform. 'Make sure he sees nothing ...' The man shrugged, rolled his shoulders like someone getting up from a hard day at the desk. Then one, two dark wings unfurled. Black, glossy feathers flashed in the sodium light as he stepped off the platform.
'Man, I w- w- wish I could do that,' the little guy said as they watched him fly into the darkness of the tunnel ...
Monday, January 19, 2009
Without thinking, dazed, Birdie reached for his outstretched hand. Images flashed through her head, unbidden:
A baobab tree, silhouetted against an orange sky... A dinner fork and a sharp knife, crossed, on a russet tablecloth... A cork, bursting from the neck of a champagne bottle... A small rodent of indeterminate species burrowing quickly into a mound of yellowing vegetation... A rainbow, across which passed the shadow of an airplane...
She fought the confusion. "I don't... I don't know you. Of course I want to live but I don't---"
"One chance," said the stranger. "One chance only. Take. My. Hand. Do it. Do it now."
Birdie blinked her eyes once, twice, and when they opened finally there was her hand in his. His palms were icy but his fingers strangely warm.
Most alarming of all: His coat opened behind him -- it was a coat, wasn't it? -- and he suddenly sprang to the roof of the train. Birdie rose effortlessly behind him, still hand-in-hand with him, and her feet touched down on the corrugated steel as though she weighed no more than a feather.
"But wait -- no, my uncle, I have to call my uncle---"
The stranger interrupted her. "No time," he said. "Follow!"
She didn't even get her coffee, and now not only was she disgruntled from being late and having to rush, uncomfortable in the clothes that she threw on, but she was also suffering from caffeine withdrawal. The crowds in the subway pressed in on her as they waited for the train to come, even at half past nine in the morning, when everyone should be sitting at their desks, checking their email and chatting with co workers, or whatever they did in normal jobs, they were still here crowding the platform. She'd never seen so many people waiting for the train, wanting to get in to Manhattan.
The train was late too, and all the everyday commuters were groaning and checking their watches. She made her way to the front of the crowd to lean over the edge of the platform, looking down the dark tunnel to see if the train was coming, oh she wished it was so she could get this over with. She was not looking forward to her day and the meeting with her boss that he had said was so important, although he wouldn't say why. Sure, he wasn't a normal boss, but he still had the power to tell her what to do, and to fire her, if it came down to that. She hoped the train would come soon.
And there, in the darkness, was the light of an oncoming train.
The buzz on the crowded platform rose in a wave as the waiting people realized their way out was coming. They surged towards the edge of the platform, as if that would get them on the train first, even though the train was still speeding towards them, the rumble roaring louder.
Birdie's heart beat faster as the first blast of air hit her, the crowd had pressed her so close to the edge. And then there was the train, the silver wall, speeding past her, just inches from her face. It screeched to a halt and she had to lean back against the wall of people to keep them from pushing her into the side of the train before she could reach a door.
And then, there was someone in front of her. A wide and tall figure, draped in a dark coat. His presence pressed her back from the sharpness of the train, the bright lights inside the car, the shadowy between places.
He turned around to face her. She felt of jolt of shock as she saw his eyes, a piercing green under the old fashioned brim of a fedora.
Then he hissed, "come with me if you want to live."
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Joe opened his eyes to see who was speaking. Several faces, including that of a little boy, were bent over him, their features blotted out by a blinding overhead light. He recognised no one.
“Where am I?” he asked groggily. His head felt like the wrong end of a three day absinthe bender. A shadow crossed over him, momentarily blocking out the light. Focusing, he saw it was a young man in a conductor uniform.
“Well, sir, you are presently lyin’ on yer back on the Newton Dee train platform. You took a nasty fall on them icy steps there.” The conductor’s accent was distinctively Scottish.
“Newton Dee? Where the hell is Newton Dee? Am I am in Scotland, for Christ’s sake?”
“Aberdeen, sir. And you’ll be wantin’ ta watch how yer speakin’, what with the wee fella and so.” The crowd had backed off and Joe, now sitting up, could see that he was in fact situated on a train station platform. Newton Dee? He had no idea how he’d gotten here. Nor did he particularly know where here was. His last thoughts were like a fever dream residue; vampires, devils and hideous blackened faces. And dwarves, hoards of dwarves. It seemed like reality, but that of course was preposterous. Had he had some sort of lucid dream after bumping his head? But what was he doing in Aberdeen, of all places. He rubbed his head but found neither bump nor sore spot.
Suddenly a tall, thin man in a dark gabardine overcoat was at his side offering him his hand. Joe took it and pulled himself up.
“Thanks,” he said, dusting the snow off his own jacket. He noticed a satchel by his side. Mine, he wondered.
The man kept a solid grip on Joe’s hand and began shaking it.
“Egidius Owl, medical doctor, in case you should be needing one. That was a bit of a nasty spill you took there. Saw you from the waiting room. I’m headed for London myself. Shall we travel together?”
“Am I going to London?” Joe asked. He neither knew where he’d come from nor where he was headed. How did this stranger know?
“Well, according to the ticket that you just purchased in there, I’d say you were. Unless, of course, you happen to buy and collect train tickets as a hobby.”
Joe felt about in his pockets and extracted a train ticket. Examining it he saw that London was indeed his destination.
“Yeah, I guess. I have to admit I’m feeling a spot of amnesia. I can’t seem to put anything into place.”
“Well then, it’s settled. I shall accompany you. Call it serendipity or perhaps synchronicity, I get them confused, but my specialities are hypnosis and amnesia. Fancy that. In any case, you are in good hands, Joe.”
The train was suddenly pulling into the station. Joe had hardly heard it coming.
“But I didn’t tell you my name, did I?” he said. Egidius Owl took his arm firmly in hand and guided him towards the coach.
“I know lot’s of things, Joe. Lot’s of interesting things. And we have plenty of time to talk.” The two men mounted the coach steps; the door shut behind them. A whistle was blown, the train lurched once, twice and then it was leaving the station. A light snow had begun to fall.
The young conductor took out his mobile phone and punched in a number.
“He’s off,” he said. “I don’t think he suspected nothin’. Right foggy in the head. You shoulda seen him when I tol him he was in Aberdeen. Fuckin’ gobsmacked, he was. Looks like yer Owly boyo knows his shite.” There was a voice on the other end, a woman. “Yeah, bye then,” he finally said; “See ya at the meetin’.” Pocketing the phone he started off across the platform. A glimmer of light caught his eye and he bent down to see if it was a coin or piece of jewellery. Nothing special, just a common brass key. He kicked it out on to the tracks. What’s more worthless than a lost key, he said to himself and, descending the steps, disappeared into the shadows. Behind him the platform quietly gathered the falling snow.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
And in the following silence, they were drawn backward, in curiosity and hope back to the bar.
Joe was the first back on the scene.
He took it all in.
The women, their bloodlust suddenly released into the smoking and steaming air, all blinked and looked up. The captain, he could not believe that she was what the dwarves called Giant Queen-- he'd just thought she was big boned, her guns silent now, as the men who had been attacked slowly got up from the floor-- or laid still never to stir again.
And then he saw her.
Bleeding on the floor. Unmoving.
"No!" Joe cried and ran to her side.
She stirred as he reached her. "Joe..." she whispered. "I'm sorry... I ruined it all."
The door banged open and all the people, shock-sore, jumped and turned at the sound.
"I couldn't do it!" Jack cried. "I'm sorry Violet, I tried, but I couldn't leave you. Violet?" He too saw her lying on the floor, and so did James, stepping out from behind him.
"Mommy?" he said, and ran to her side.
...except, apparently, for his current state, which was about as unboyish as it could be. His leathery wings flapped once, twice. His malevolent eye scanned the room, confident that he could start anywhere, uncertain just which victim to choose. Sparks and flames radiated from the upper portion of his "body," what served as his "head," and smoke filled the eyes of all present, blinding them all.
All but one.
It is a curious and little-known fact that dwarves, creatures of the underworld and comfortable with darkness as they are, should be so naturally immune to smoke and fumes of all sorts. But through thousands of generations, natural selection has been doing its work: preserving the bloodlines of those dwarvish types most able to work in the bowels of the earth, with all the sputtering of magma and natural-gas emissions and digestive ailments which follow naturally when one cannot easily get to decent plumbing for weeks at a time.
A curious fact, yes. Little-known. And very convenient.
"Ah, shut yer piehole," said a coarse voice from behind the bar. Only Monsieur/Lucifer could see who it came from.
"You!" he cried. "No! All the dwarves fled for the exit just moments ago---"
"Miscounted, did ye?" said CJ. "Pity."
With that, the little fellow now standing upon the bar unbuttoned his trousers. "See ye back at yer place," he said, "someday. If yer lucky." And he unleashed a warm stinking stream straight upon the creature of sparks and flame and brimstony smoke. No one in the bar could see any of this, save for the diminutive executioner and his satanic victim, but they all could smell it, and they all heard CJ's continued muttering. "Blood of a bog unicorn, sure. Always helps. Maybe a little mead at the right moment. But a little piss never hurt, neither."
Then they all heard the hiss, and the long and seemingly endless and really, when they thought about it later, quite satisfying shriek of anguish:
"Nooooooooo! Look what you've done, you wicked little man... I'm meeeellting! Melting I say...!"
Then all was silence, stunned silence.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
“Oh my god, what the fuck is that?” Joe was petrified.
It was flapping about, slinging blood and gore from its satanic, leathery wings. He had seen some pretty weird shit these last few days, but this took the preverbal cake. This was evil incarnate. It was glowing, rays of dark, malevolent light emanating from the travesty of a one-eyed head.
The Captain turned and her face fell. She looked with horror into its cyclopean orb.
“No, please, sweet Jesus, no.” She raised her Remington 870s impotently, intuitively realising that the situation had just left the ‘handle it’ stage and entered the hopeless one.
“Who, what is that thing?” Joe turned to the Captain in panic, imploringly.
“What? Don’t you recognise Lucifer when you see him?” she stammered.
The thing made a sickly noise, its voice an open wound. It let out a wet, choking laughter, sounding as if were coming from the rotting throat of a putrescent corpse. The room stood still, everyone motionless, transfixed.
“Frailty, thy name is woman?” It said. “Ha-ha-ha, that’s so rich! These women make you pathetic men look like arthritic mice. Like sclerotic earthworms! Seriously! Vanity, that is thy true name, woman. You can’t kill that. Nor me. No one can; we’re as old as time itself. Tits, ass and a pretty face. That’s what makes the world go round. Especially a pretty face. Helen’s launched a thousand ships. Not bad. How many have you launched, dwarf-lovers? And please, let’s have some sympathy, let’s show a bit of taste. Use all your well-learned politesse or I’ll lay your souls to waste. I’m pleased to meet you, I’m glad you guessed my name. But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.”
“What??? Game? Lucifer? Like, the Lucifer?” Joe was in denial. He was overloading, his fuses were being tried.
“At your service.” The Thing made a mock bow in midair, its hideous leathery wings folding over the singular bloodshot eye. The air smelled of stale farts and sulphur. “THEY called me up, wanting their eternal beauty. THEY invited me into THEIR house. I cannot enter uninvited, you know. Against the rules, it is. But once invited, I delivered the goods. And please - your garlic, crosses and silver bullets – these are silly fairy tales, my friends. Spare me the humility.
Now, I kept my word. I gave you all boundless beauty! And now the bill is due, my lovelies, in blood money, if you like. Or dwarf meat, I don’t care which. I just want what is mine! And I intend to take it. A deal is a deal, especially with Lucifer. So, who is going to pick up the tab?”