The Chase

Andrea slowed down quickly, allowing herself to melt into the lunch time crowd beginning to coalesce outside of her favorite office building. All gray spires and industrial American architecture, it was the perfect attitude killer.

Exactly what she was looking for. She shot a quick glance over the tops of the mass of wriggling formal skirts and expensive ties, standing on her toes. Through the crowd, he was advancing. A menacing man three times her size, and he did not look happy at all. She smiled coyly, bumping into someone in her carelessness.

“Watch it!”

Shouted the young woman, her tray of cheap coffee toppling over the grimy sidewalk. It was hard for anything for Andrea to feel anything as she slipped back into the crowd, dissolving through the expensive glass doors of the building, she heard the woman yell something inappriopriate that began with the little c.

Andrea couldn’t help but think of herself a year ago, in a dead end jon just like that young woman. Running errands and getting cheap corner shop coffee for a myriad of faceless executives and greasy sales representatives. An event like she just caused would have caused a day of pain and struggle, but that was the way things happened here.

It was her own fault. She should have been watching herself a little better. She’d survive, no use crying over spilt coffee.

Making her way to the secretary’s desk, she strasightened out her cheap denim jacket like it mattered.

”Yes?”

The answering machine made of flesh and horned glasses asked with a sneer, icy eyes staring at her over the her rims.

Andrea slipped a crumpled piece of paper over the polished glass desk toward her, receiving a questioning glare.

“This is, miss..?”

”Moreleski. Janet Moreleski. And it’s a note, just for little old you, sweet heart.”

Andrea flashed a thousand kilowatt smile tapping her index finger on the note.

Cautiously the desk jockey took it and read it dismissively.

“Ma’am..”

She began, offending Andrea with her sudden change of tone and title.

“This is an executive building. We rent office space. We’re not a bank.”

Andrea rapped her fingers on the counter as the talking switchboard folded her note neatly in half and slid it back.

She opened her mouth to say something more, but looked past her.

He was getting faster with the years. Andrea grinned, snatching the note and vaulting toward the elevators.

The enormous african man toppled three security guards as she punched every button on the elevator panel. Andrea waved playfully as the doors chimed and closed.

Explain that, mother fucker.

Getting off at the sixteenth floor, she made her way to maze of cubicles and water coolers that was an internet giant’s headquarters. Strutting her stuff like a show horse down the long aisles, she got the approving stares of geeks and she-geeks alike. It took her awhile to find the right managerial office, but once she did Andrea slipped past a protesting secretary like she wasn’t even there.

He glared at her, his pinstripes crisp and fierce from behind an oak desk she could quite comfortably take a cat nap on.

“Miss..?”

He asked, clearly irritated. Andrea shot a glance at his name plate, sitting idly on the corner of his empty inbox.

“O’Brien. Molly O’Brien. I’m here for my interview, Mister Pennault.”

She helped herself to a seat, barely even registering his dismissive look of disgust. Did the faceless executive really have an interview? If Pennault didn’t he surely hid it well.

”Don’t you think you should come back at another time, Miss O’Brien? Clearly you’re not prepared for an interview.”

“I like to keep myself relaxed, sir. It’s one of my strong points. I work much better if I’m not worrying about if my stockings are straight. You know us girls, always fretting over this and that, mm?”

There was a beat, two.

She heard a crash followed by shouting beyond his office.

Damnit, he was moving a lot faster than she expected.

”Your resume?”

He inquired, holding out a hand that clearly did not expect anything impressive. Andrea leaned forward, trying to show off a little clevage and provided him with the same note she had slipped the paper surfer down stairs.

Pennault read it like it was a comic strip. She noticed a smile working itself into the corners of his bland mouth.

”But I don’t have any valuables, Miss O’Brien. How ever shall I meet your demands?”

What a fucking pervert.

She shot him a coy smile as he stood up and began unzipping trousers that really did nothing for him.

The door to his office exploded inwards, and he materialized like a black ghost. All muscle, sweat and torn clothes he thrust a finger at her.

“You!”

His french accent accused. Pennault noticably pissed himself.

“Hiya, Butch.”

Andrea grinned as Pennault stammered an explaination, his Calvin Kline’s dripping.

She bolted, throwing Pennault’s name plate at Butch, hitting him squarely between the eyes. While he was stunned, she disappeared into the office beyond trialing laughter.

Strange, she thought. He had been chasing her since she was a teenager. Why now become so angry over just a little scatch? How could she have known that tinted BMW following her down the street was his?

Served him right anyway. The pain in the ass deserved a little bit of humility. He had to be over compensating for something.

Looking back, she was lost in giggles and the image of that expensive beauty torched in a ditch. Lost in her own little world, she didn’t realize that she walked in on two faceless suits making it on a desk worth more than her car.

Laughing hystrically now, she could barely hear the one on top yell that he told her to lock the door. Andrea made her way out leaving both open.

It took her a couple of minutes to locate the stairwell, but she found it soon enough. Sensing that Butch was hot on her trial, she blitzed down skipping two stairs at a time. Getting off at a random floor she burst into the headquarters of the National Telegraph, a puny newspaper that serviced nothing more than a couple cities in the north east.

Snatching up two roses from an unattended vase marked with “Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!” she made herself at home, carefully walking with a purpose. She sat down in a cubicle with the alpha geek, his black tie stained with jelly filling.

“Hiya, Gary.”

Giving the stranger the two roses she kissed him on the lips passionately, slipping a hand on his chest. Fiddling with a button, she tore it off.

”I… I.. I.. think you’ve… made a mistake..”

He stammered sprouting a spindly erection inside of his cheap cotton dress pants.

“That’s what I thought this morning too. I know you’re upset that I did that with your brother Gary, but it meant nothing to me! You were in the Amazon on one of your business trips. How could I know that were were coming home early?

I know.. I know. That’s a mean thing to say. I’m sorry, sweet pea. It’ll never happen again. I really mean it this time. No more sleeping around for me. I’m a one woman girl.”

Andrea raised her voice to catch the attention of the few deaf individuals who had not already honed their ears on them.

”Uh.. “

He blushed bright red.

What a sweet heart this guy was. She giggled.

”I.. um.. mean man. I’m a one man girl. Forgive me, snuggle bunny?”

The door to the stairwell exploded open, both Butch and Pennault moving into the office with a vengence.

“Oh, bother.”

Andrea said mostly to herself, looking for that damned piece of paper she had been using all morning. It was missing.

Frantically she searched all of her pockets for it, but it coly avoided her.

”Looking for this, honey?”

Butch held the crumbled piece of college rule between his sausage thick fingers. He stank like piss and sweat. Pennault came out from behind him, then realized Butch probably wasn’t the culprit.

”He made me do it!”

She screamed, grabbing the man-who-wasn’t-a-Gary’s tie with desperation.

”He said he’d kill me if I didn’t have sex with him! He’s a crazy, Butchie! Mister Pennault, you gotta believe me! This little punk had a gun!”

Gary fainted as Butch bitch slapped them both.

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

Aeolus Aeneas found himself sitting quietly on a vacant examination bench and for the rest of his life, the one thing he would remember about that place and time would be the metallic stink and his friend’s dying moans.

He was not a visual man, but old and gray in the distant future on his own death bed, he’d struggle to recall where and how Kyle was injured.

He supposed it did not matter much, just the fact the strongest man he had ever known was crumbling before him. Regardless of circumstance, the air was still calm as Wind Lipara patiently worked on the broken man.

“He didn’t have to go so far, Aeolus. Kyle was losing it, but the most he did was lock Mark away.

There’s enough bone and muscle mashed into his chest, I’m not sure what’s his and what’s not.”

His burgundy medical attire was caked in the rotting gunk he had been clearing out of the man for two hours. Altima’s magic was worked in deep, it seemed. The infection was spreading faster than he could remove it.

“You’ve known Mark as long as I have, we both know it’s overkill or nothing for him. My guess is our new “empress” shares his views. Wouldn’t you?”

His always laughing green eyes surveyed the expansive medical bay. He had never gotten used to it, all metal and bright lights. Aeolus was a man of the woods, a foot soldier. Such things were alien, and probably always would be.

His gaze never really wanted to focus entirely on the seamless inner sanctum of the light ship, it was as if it were coated in a visual Teflon.

There was a long silence between the men, the only noise being the quiet slurping of Wind’s gadgets.

“Do you think he knows what he’s doing to us?”

Wind inquired at last.

“Probably.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Mark, while he may look like us on the outside is no better than a hound. He isn’t human, Wind. The man is an animal.

“I suppose it isn’t his fault. That was just the way his people made him, and Altima only made it worse with her tinkering. Sure, we’re all predators here, but Mark is more of a tiger to our housecat.”

Kyle groaned in his heavily medicated sleep, dreaming of the wet horrors that savagely chewed on his body like a rag doll.

He stank of the sea for a brief moment, intense and vivid. Aeolus found it supremely ironic, but he couldn’t bring himself to smirk at his own musing.

“I don’t think you’re right. He’s too smart to be so violent consciously. With intellect comes some sort of restraint, am I right?”

Aeolus smiled sadly. His companion really was the compassionate one, always giving others the benefit of the doubt.

“Name two large factions of successful humanoids.”

The answer came instantaneously, even if the man was doing heart surgery.

“The Romans and the Keepers.”

“Would you say they’re less, or as violent as a whole as our friend now?”

There was a beat as he let in sink in.

Wind did not answer.

“They’re successful for a reason. They are predators, the best in their niches. You’ll appreciate that as a student of life, wouldn’t you? Prey don’t need to be smart, they just need to move fast or be big and dumb.

Predators need to have the smarts to outwit their rivals and their victims.”

Kyle’s nails skittered on the soundlessly floating operation table, his broken fingers like a nail on a chalk board.

“I still refuse to believe he’s this capable. Kyle was his best friend, with his best interests at heart. His betrayal was superficial.”

Wind stank of perspiration, regardless of thirsty microscopic fibers sucking away his slick sweat. Aeolus noted his breath was raspy and labored.

How long had it been since he had slept? He honestly could not recall.

“They’ve been rivals ever since Kyle laid eyes on him as a kid, and Urth’s fall only drove him to the edge more. You’ve seen the determination those men share, and Kyle has more than just that.”

“.. that is?”

“The kid hasn’t got a thing that matters to him anymore, and he sees Mark with everything.”

“Kyle has a wife, a child, and a beautiful mansion on the beach. He has more than most people could dream of.”

Wind replied over the whir of some gadget.

“Look at him. Smell the crap Mark shoved inside of him. I can practically taste it on the back of my throat it’s so strong.”

He threw himself to his feet and walked to the far edge of the room, allowing his eyes to move of their own accord. His fingers, independent of his command tried to make physical contact with the glossy wall. They were just shunted to the side.
“Do you think any man, sane or not would risk that sort of life if he cared about it?

“Kyle wants one thing. To be better than Mark. Everything else is either icing on the cake, or ape shit.”

Wind thought about it, regarding the broken man before him. Lena was a spectacular woman, and the boy was smarter than most adults. Any other man would have been angry, or felt pity.

Wind let his emotions swirl into what could be called empathy. He understood very well, but he couldn’t bring himself to pass judgment.

“It’s sad that he thinks the whole world revolves around that kind of power. That they’d destroy each other just to exchange mutual respect.”

He said at last, his voice quiet.

“Wouldn’t you in his position?”

Aeolus replied.

“Honestly? No. What about you?”

Aeolus took a moment to answer, apparently thinking about it. In reality he knew before his companion even asked the question, he just had to find the courage.

“Yes, Wind. Yes I would.”

Wind felt a chasm open up between them, but he didn’t speak. The silence stretched, and their relationship crumbled a little bit more.

The Blue Refugee stalked among the open aired temple, his gait heavy and defiant of the local cowards employed by the ruler of this empire of mortuus. They were the dead that would be alive, bastards of spiritual and biological tampering.

The linen around him blew softly in the tiny island’s trade winds, bright white in the excessive sunlight. His eyes were tight, sensitive irises closing to the world.

“You’re defying Her by having me meet you here, in secret. Mark, you’re a foolish, foolish man. What if She were to discover my little jaunt? We’d both be on Her altar by sunrise, regardless.”

Mark’s predator head, honed after millions of years of human evolution swiveled with his body. The man’s instinct yelled to grab a gladius that was simply not there. He was a snake without its bite, so to speak. It was both humiliating and terrifying at the same time.

Kyle had materialized behind him, and instantly he recognized his pupil, his best friend. On occasion, maybe the young man was a little more. However, such things were not to be brought up. It was not proper.

“Servus..”

The Blue Refugee stated his voice soft and hollow. If the student had heard him, he showed no sign.

“You claim to fight under our banner, but you show little respect to Her cause.”

Kyle, his face as hard as the claymore on his hip, began to pace around The Blue Refugee. Their eyes remained synced; two pairs matching one another in more ways either could count.

His predator’s senses began to overwhelm him. Time slowed to a barely perceptible crawl, causing his counter part’s words to stretch into what seemed like minutes. He restrained himself.

“You’re dangerous, we all know that. That’s why we’ve kept you here all by your lonesome, your precious short sword locked away in her data sphere.

The havoc you could cause.”

He clenched his fists, the wind rustling his shortly cropped blue hair.

“So, Headmaster, why have you sent the dangerous word to meet you here, in your little island cage? Do you think you’ll convince me to pass the word along you’ve been “rehabilitated?”

Kyle smirked, a thing he had learned so very well.

“I wanted you to pass along something, yes. My allegiance is not the subject at hand, however.”

His soft Roman accent was humble. This man did not take humiliation and isolation well.

“Then what?”

His pacing continued, but his light, playful gait was faltering.

“My allegiance is as strong as it was when you beat me fair and square. The question is, is yours?”

He detected a flash of fear shimmering behind his steely, artificial eyes. His mind instantly calculated twenty-five separate methods of attack, factoring in aspects his unconscious deemed worthy of processing power.

There was a heartbeat.

“Maybe you mean well, but we both know the truth behind Her little plan. She’s not merely looking to dominate; Her plans are far grander than that, aren’t they? Sure, it‘s great that she recovered her old stomping grounds, but her sights are on The Little Red Prince.”

There was a silence that stretched on for a lifetime. A wave crashed on the ancient beach, pummeling the grand angelic statues that stared ever outward.

Slowly, the lesser mortuus shifted toward the duo on half legs and broken fingers. Their undead ears unfurling like shiny satellite dishes.

“We don’t speak of it. But why else would she bend me to her will, Teacher? Why else would she capture you? It’d be far easier to have had me put you out of your misery.”

His agitation shone like a lighthouse, this meeting was supposed to be secret. Her servants, while mostly not possessing lips, would certainly talk of his treachery. Slowly, Mark’s simple plan was becoming evident.

“Yes, but she doesn’t know is that it’s going to be a slaughter.”

“Of course it’s going to be.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

The Blue Refugee began to stalk him in turn. Suddenly his dimensions increased ten fold; he had never before noticed in his adulthood how big the man was.

“You locked me away here, convinced her she needed to let me crumble on my own accord. That I’d be far easier to bend after a stay in this dismal, sandy place.

You assumed my plans were not in league with yours and hers. That I was a traitor whom would gladly watch as she marched those.. soulless things into Sjet’s maw.”

He smiled widely. Kyle had stopped moving.

“My allegiance is of convenience, of course. You’ve known me far too long to know I don’t see the big picture, Kyle.”

“You don’t care. You just want her to march right over whatever he’s got. Mark, why not have them be equals here? Let them take each other down, and anyone else in the crossfire. Isn’t that the better plan?”

Kyle’s eyes softened. The man whom he had known for the most of his adult life had lost it.

“Don’t you see? We can rebuild after they run out of cannon fodder. She needs us to kill herself in this great epic She’s scheming.”

Granted they were enemies now, but he could not help but feel a horrible sense of guilt wash over him.

“You don’t understand, Kyle.

I don’t care. Altima is only a tool to me, and while the three of us share the same objective; The death of The Little Red Prince, there are differences.

She wants to live afterward, you‘d prefer to see her alongside him, and I don’t care. If my goal of his demise is met, I’ve served my purpose. Let Her reign supreme in his power vacuum.

She, sadly, is more likely to find me a bit more trustworthy now, isn’t she?”

He stopped circling. Behind him, an army of pathetic soldiers congealed into a single, disgusting mass. Their heavily decayed bodies, little more than gritty trampled flesh and broken bone climbed over one another. They fused in many ways, their life force echoes forming some bastard intellect of a thousand lesser things.

“You planned it, both of you.”

He dropped to his knees, staring at the man before him. The ground shook as the Bastard Behemoth neared, its immense sledgehammer fists dripping garbage water.

The Blue Refugee just stared at him, hard and stolid. He refused to speak.

“… why, Mark? We could have had peace in the wake of their personal war.”

The man stood there, the mass of undead flesh approaching from behind for a moment. He thought it over.

“Tu decipio ego.”

He uttered at last as the mortuus creation blocked out the sandy sun wash.

“You betrayed me.”

Kyle shut his eyes.

Venting

His neighbors were mating again. Their neon plastered hides belting out colors so bright it blurred the edges of his vision. His entire room appeared to vibrate as the taste of blue invaded the back of his throat with a chalky burning sensation.

Jules groaned and turned over in his bed cradle. He screwed his eyes shut.

“Five more minutes..”

A strobe of purple went off in the far corner of his quarters.

Yawning lazily he opened his eyes to another disgusting morning. Checking the digital clock on his nightstand (the only normal thing on board) he cursed.

That was another hour of sleep he’d never get back.

When he had first signed up for this mission four years ago, it seemed a mysterious and beautiful thing. It was something that couldn’t possibly have any scientific explanation, an enigma like the prime numbers screamed out by black holes or the ruins of Dyson’s Odyssey.

Then he learned it was the way they talked dirty to one another. His view of them after that went a little down hill, to say the least.

It was on that day he had wished he had thought to buy a pair of extra strength sun glasses before leaving human controlled space. It made him feel remarkably dirty to know he was bathing in light that pretty much translated to “smack my ass.”

Pulling himself grudgingly out of bed he stepped on a sheet of glass suspended above a six mile deep ocean. It used to be a surreal experience, but now he just felt like he needed a shower.

He stripped to his birthday suit as he made his way to what passed for his bathroom. Why should he care if the folks next door saw his monkey wang? They were too busy doing the nasty above his bed, anyway.

His night clothes were absorbed through the floor before sinking out of his field of vision. He never thought to ask where.

Scratching his ass, he patted the shower stall warmly.

“Good morning, Pete.”

It squealed in delight and began to ooze. Jules gladly climbed in unphased.

Jeremy’s pout little face materialized inside of his shower orifice as Jules dabbed his body with salty discharge from the altered oyster. It smelled vaguely like ozone and marigolds.

“You’re up early, Julian.”

Barely glancing over his shoulder he scrubbed his hair thoroughly. Jeremy had donned his satanic horns today. The little puffer fish changed looks more than Jules changed socks.

Yesterday the little guide became intensely interested in NASCAR. Jules was not amused to see the adolescent Fish sporting Dale Earnhart’s colors and the McDonalds golden arches.

When he spoke, his voice was translated into that of unaccented English in the back of his head.

“My neighbors were at it again. You’d think they’d relax after a couple of weeks, but no. Every morning at the break of dawn it’s like the first day of spring for them. And you call us barbarians. Ugh.”

He reached into the soft yielding flesh of the giant oyster and fondled in the usual manner. It handed him an orange. Jules peeled it and ate slowly as the shower orifice did its thing. Whatever he didn’t eat, he dropped to the floor.

Jeremy swam nervously in his spotless worker cube, puffing out a dozen of his young before eating them in a fury.

“Dawn is a relative term, Julian. If you’d like I can adjust ocean sunrise to coincide with your biological clock. Perhaps I could manage your neighbors to sing your praise to wake you gently, would that be acceptable?”

”You don’t have to be a smart ass.”

He grimaced as his shower oyster groaned and began to lick the night’s build up of dead skin and sweat from his body. It was warm and incredibly gentle, but nothing would replace a standard shower head and an old fashioned drain. Something remarkably like a tongue sloshed between his legs.

Everything in the ocean that was his profession seemed hardwired to remind him of some disgusting earthly variant. When his tour of duty was up, he’d never set foot into a body of water again.

There was a rumble from beyond the bathroom.

He shook it off, thinking his neighbors were just getting into their occasional BSM fetish.

“Your first task for the day is to report to section 6, subsection 98, green. The sixteenth school damaged their oxygen recycler in last night’s festival. It is functional, but the carbon filter need to be fully replaced and tested.”

The Worker Fish could do that. Why’d that have to drag him into the drink? He hated getting his feet wet.

The lights flickered a little. Snow was working itself up into the corners of the organic display in which Jeremy’s image swam. Instead of the Fish’s unaccented English, he was left in silence.

The display sputtered and died.

He felt it before anything. The floor shuddered softly, the mass of wriggling salty brine around him trembled in fear as it slurped up a days worth of waste from around his toes hungrily.

That was when the power cut out completely and the door to his little shower stall moaned in effort. Usually opaque it became horribly clear.

Not more than three feet from him was a wall of frothing, seething water. It boiled with a fury that Jules had only seen once. That was when a small subsection of the greater ocean was damaged in a close quarters fire fight.

It had vented to hard vacuum.

Through the seething mass of turbulent water, Jules could see pin pricks of life being extinguished like candles. His neighbors, probably in the filthy act of depositing their young on his personal oxygen recycler, were thrown into the blazing heat of a neutron star.

He stood there for a full ten minutes, watching the ocean boil away into space before dissolving into nothingness. Stepping from his shower cell gingerly, he looked beyond his tiny compartment of life.

His quarters were gone, and where a solid mile of ocean had stretched, crammed with razor coral cities and feeder fish farms there was a solid hole, hundreds of meters in diameter. He couldn’t tell the difference between frozen Fish and stars.

The shower oyster cried. The sink clam suckled on the thin stream of fresh water nervously. The toilet mewed like a hurt kitten, he hadn’t fed it yet.

Putting his hand onto the clear door, it felt remarkably cold. Too cold.

Somewhere he heard a low whistle and his ears popped. Suddenly he wasn’t nearly as tired as he was fifteen minutes prior.

Adriana

Adriana stood there like a ghost from his past, all curly red hair and dark green eyes. The stupid smile plastered on her face almost made him want to walk out on the woman (again). Leave her here in this filthy backwater to rot like she had intended him to do all those years ago.

It was what she deserved, probably wanted. The bitch would go to excruciating lengths to prove her stupid, profit oriented points. In a different world, she could have really made something of herself.

Today’s lesson he wasn’t quite sure about.

What is she looking to prove?, he thought to himself.

Michael sighed, exhaling the acrid ditch weed’s smoke in a dragon’s tail. His head buzzed. Good shit.

“Are you coming or what?”

She asked, holding open the passenger door open for him.

“Who said you’re driving? It’s my Buick.”

1956, brand spanking new off of the factory floor, all suede interior. It was his pride and joy. It was his baby girl, pastel pink with a chrome fender. To her it might have well been a tractor, covered in donkey shit.

”M, I always drive. Now get the fuck in, will you? It’s cold out here. I don’t have the energy to deal with your bullshit, got me?”

The smile dissolved.

He stared at her blankly and flicked the doobie off into the brush.

Okay bitch, let’s tango. One more shot, and if you fuck me over this time, you’re dead.

Walking up to her the wind started to whip at his coat tails, sharp and cold. He could smell her perfume. It was different, like gasoline marigolds.

“You got it, toots.”

He got in.

She closed the door.

The car exploded.

"Opinion? Who asked you for your opinion?"

Annette the pseudo drill sergeant nearly screamed. The woman resembled a lopsided pear, even her color matched the dull beige I was used to from childhood. The blotches on her ancient skin resembled an abused piece of fruit, too. The woman was uncanny.

"No one,"

I replied, lighting up a smoke. Inhaling the metallic tobacco, the woman coughed and wheezed. Surely this wasn’t helping her already deteriorating health.

"Cut that shit out, it burns my eyes."

Sucking down a long drag, I blew it in the bitch's face.

I could see the vein twitching on her forehead as she stifled her raw throated gags. Beating with the rhythm of a snare drum, I swear one of these days it’s just going to pop like a giant zit

“You need to relax,”

I started, taking in another defiant drag; the tip of the fag burned bright red. Probably pretty close to the color of that pulsing varicose.

“Or else you’re going to give yourself another stroke. Really, you’re starting to make a scene, Old Maid. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t humiliate yourself in front of my God Damn Fucking friends.”

Back before her pops bit the dust (they never found all the pieces), Annette used to buy us all the stuff a sweet old lady shouldn’t buy. She never had kids (I never asked why), so I guess she sort of felt she needed to nurture something other than a tabby or a fern.

It was probably a good thing, her being sterile or whatever. If she treated her own brats like she treated us, those fuckers would have probably been lighting up at five. I liked to think of myself of a rebel, but no one needed that.

Ten maybe, but your mom had better have been a huge bitch to warrant that kind of usage.

“I’m just saying, in my opinion;”

Puff, puff, you old hag.

“I don’t see why you should be concerned with it. So what, he came home a little bloody. The kid has got to fight his own battles, eh Anna? You know what I mean?”

Her mud puddle eyes squinted.

“He’s your little brother for Chrissakes, Duchane. He’s not old enough to drive a car yet, how do you expect him to keep your creepy friends off his shoulders?”

I let it sit for a beat, thinking. Daft Punk was hammering out of Gil’s purple camaro.

“First, Robbie isn’t cr-“

I started, catching myself. I sighed, examining the woman. She crossed her arms over her sagging breasts.

“Okay, Robbie is a fucking gross pedo, I’ll give you that. But he’s not a queer, okay?”

I’d know.

“He was just putzing around and Eddie got a little freaked out. Nothing happened.”

“His jaw is broken.”

“He fell. Chicks dig head gear, plus no one hits a dude with his jaw wired shut.”

The guys were calling me back, going on about some asinine thing or another.

Annette wasn’t convinced. She was jerking like a nervous bird, those ancient mud puddles showing me something I only got from Ma. I cared about my little brother, but the little punk was asking for it. He wouldn’t shut up all night, he just kept bitching and moaning about what kids his age bitch and moan about.

I was surprised Eddie didn’t tell her what else had happened. Why he probably couldn’t sit straight. I had sworn Robbie up and down for what he did, but the guy didn’t need another offense. They’d lock him away for what he did.

“Eddie just hurt his pride, is all.”

I said with a smile, crushing the fag with my filthy sketchers.

“I know,”

She whispered, her eyes watering.

Somehow I doubted it was because of the smoke. Inside of me something snapped. I’ve had my bitch rages like anyone else, but this was different. It wasn’t a white hot, seething flip out. My chest felt cold and heavy, like a thousand bricks were crushing me.

It was the first time I felt it, confused I left Annette there alone. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my skull.

I buried my face into my hands.

Reness

Old Reness was coughing up blood when I found him. The old bastard had crossed me two days before and wound up with a round in his back. I thought I had killed him outright, but again the old man had surprised me.

He was tough as a cockroach and twice as ugly. When I came strolling around throught he doorway of the burnt out cathedral he didn’t bother to scramble.

He knew he was breathing his last couple of breaths. So, being the nice guy I was I sat down on a half collapsed pew and offered him a shot of my flask.

Giving me a smile, he pounded back a round. His rugged fingers left greasy smears of oil and blood on the last piece of my past life. I shook my head when he offered it back.

“So, this is the end old man. I have to say, you’re one touch son of a bitch. I tracked you all the way from the airfield to here. It was really a hike for me, how the hell did you manage?”

He paused for a minute, probably trying to scratch and claw onto the last shreads of juice from his busted internal power supply. His blood was already beginning to corrode his exoskin.

“Brunus, how the hell do you think I got here? I fucking walked.”

He laughed, coughing and gagging on the bile that was probably eating him inside out.

“Plus, I didn’t want to give you the satisfaction of getting another, cleaner round in the back of my head. God knows your aim is terrible, but I didn’t want to take another chance. You might have wound up blowing my wang off when you were going for my forehead.”

I stared at him for a moment. This was the last moments of his wretched life. We had plagued one another for three decades. The ending didn’t seem quite right. I hate to say, I didn’t expect to win our brutal struggle.

He was wiser, stronger and a thousand times more agile. My shot had been a lucky one while he was taking a leak.

“I wish I could do something.”

I spat, barely sounding sincere. He glared at me, his flickering powder blue eyes turning with gears and liquid sentience.

“You little shit. What the hell do you want from me, an apology for dying? You shot me in the back while I was pissing, five minutes after I woke up. You feel bad? You should. I wouldn’t have offed you that way and you know it.”

There was an awkward beat.

”You were pissing on my power cells.”

The old man cracked a smile and took another sip of my flask. He drained the precious fifty year old whiskey. I didn’t mind.

“You’ll get a lot of use out of them now, eh?

”We had some good times, kid. I must admit, you’re a cheating, dishonorable snake in the grass but I enjoyed every minute of hunting you. We must have covered half the world fighting it out. I’ve seen some mighty fine places.

”The ruins of Moscow, New Tokyo, I even got to eat a steak in what was left of the great plains”

He was my father in some sense. I never knew my real one, but I always suspected Reness was capable of more things than I could imagine. Who knows, he may have just banged my mother just for the thrill of a chase in his later years.

Reness didn’t seem like the kind of gentleman who just settled down somewhere in a quiet Brazilian suburb, sipping lemonade on a farmer’s porch.

He was a fighter and a loner. Like me.

Our eyes caught and he saw right through my fa├žade. I broke down, tears welling in my eyes.

“What the hell am I going to do now, you old piece of scrap? There isn’t another person for a thousand miles. Who the hell is going to keep me company?”

”Before you shot me in my power supply, we hadn’t seen each other for a week and a half.”

”You know what I mean.”

I said, running my hands through my hair. It was greasy and sharp around the edges. Like oiled barbed wire. I didn’t bother to heal the wounds on my hands. They’d fix themselves over time anyway. Efficient little buggers.

His body grew ridgid and he convulsed, legs rattling against the ancient foundation. It wouldn’t be long now.

Even in his last moments, the old coot seemed to look smugly upon me, as if my tears weren’t enough for him.

“Look, you little shit. You’re going to get along just fine. You’ll find some tidy little toys in my pack over there, enough to last you through the winter. When its over, go find yourself another nemesis. I’m getting too old for this shit.

”I should have retired when I got the chance. But no, you had to go and piss me off.”

”They were really good peaches if it makes you feel better.”

I smiled at him, and he tried to smile back. But before his lips reached the corners of his mouth his powder blue eyes flickered and drained. The gears stopped moving, and the liquid that was Reness froze and chipped.

The fine powder leaked through his optics, making him look undignified and beaten.

I sat there for a good hour, staring at the man who had been such a pain in my ass for the majority of my life. He had taught me how to be quiet, and how to hunt. He even taught me the value of a good night’s rest.

All through his trial by fire.

I wondered as I collected my things and what remained of his of what I’d do next. The world was a big place, and there a lot of people still left in it. Maybe I’d find myself a nice, tidy girl to keep me company. I was fast reaching middle age.

Maybe have a son.

That’d be nice.

But as Reness would be the first to admit, I’d never be the type to settle down and let the flow take me where it pleases.

It was snowing by the time I found myself a suitable hole in a bombed out office building. I laid down and plugged myself in.

It’d be a good night’s sleep.

Goleb

Joan smirked and issued a little giggle from the back of her throat as she tinkered with my spell pouch. I wasn’t exactly sure what she was up to, but it was probably something that’d cost me a pretty penny. I had a lot of valuable things in there.

I craned my neck and tried to look over her shoulder, but the woman was enormous. My short legs didn’t help matters.

“What are you doing?”

She paused for a moment, looking over her shoulder. Her clothing was worn and faded; I could see her mottled grey skin.

“Fleesh..”

“… excuse me?”

Her voice was guttered, rough and scratchy. It was difficult to understand her even after all the years I’d been with her. Joan had always been a curious friend of mine. The soul of a little girl trapped in the rotting body of an Orc. I wasn’t entirely certain if that was literal or not.

“Fleesh. Soffft. Ike ah lamm.”

Oh. Fleece.

“It’s the second pouch on the left. That’s the hand that looks like an L, dear. It has a picture of a star on it.”

She squealed, spooking a couple of crows that had perched above us in the dense forest. I guess she found it.

They settled back down a couple of heartbeats later. They always seemed to follow her. Were they just hungry, or did she have some connection to them that I wasn’t aware of? She always avoided the question.

“Come on, you’re going to break something..”

I implored to her while edging closer. She caught me in the corner of her eye like a tigress. One of her tree trunk arms lashed out and held me at bay.

“Noooooooooo!”

Her pudgy fingers were stained with red clay.

“Nnuuuut yit!”

I backed off, not about ready to cause the 600 pound little girl to have a temper tantrum. She frantically went back to whatever she was doing.

“Peen.”

“There’s a pin in the sewing pouch. It’s the one with the picture of a pin… on it.”

She giggled manically.

I could have sworn I heard a mewling noise, an injured animal or something.

“Joan, you’re not doing anything bad, are you?”

I edge closer again. I taught her not to “play” so rough with animals a long time ago. It was an undead habit. I wasn’t about to allow a relapse.

“Noooooooo!”

She looked over her shoulder at me again, her tennis ball sized eye was frantic and dilated.

It’s difficult to look menacing when you’re 45 pounds, dressed in a woman’s sorcerery robe. But I tried, stamping my feet and edging into her “threat” zone.

“Joan Ellis Mitchell. Show me what you’re doing. Right. Now.”

Something made a soft noise in front of her. Like a sheep.

“Kay!”

She spun around, nearly losing her balance. Her hands were stained red with clay and grime. She had cut her palm.

In her hands she held an expertly crafted sheep figurine. She had never shown any interest in art before. The fleece pattern was expertly etched into the clay.

It remained perfectly still until I drew closer to admire her handiwork. The tiny figurine shook its head and nudged toward me on its little legs. It issued a small plead for food.

Looking at her in amazement she simply grinned back with broken teeth.

“Hiz ‘am iz Goleb.”

“Golem?”

“Nooooooo! Gol-EB!”

I offered an uneasy smile as she gently placed him in a small sunny spot to dry. The animated sheep shook its head and settled on a warm rock. It grazed on grass that didn’t exist.

“Goleb it is then, sweetheart.”

Aceline was severely bleeding from her compromised exo-plating as she dashed for the surface. She never thought the sting of the brutal northern winter would feel so good and homely on her chapped and weather beaten face. But it did and she savored it the best she could as she clambered over shattered military-esq relics.

How many people had sought shelter in this literal dump, only to realize at the last possible second that their only hope was a horrible, dirty place? She wouldn’t be the last.

A rusty nail, embedded in some poor sod’s mutilated and moldy forehead ripped a gash in her smart-webbing. Most of what she had in the world spilled to the ground mixing with cigarette butts and rock hard lumps of feces. There were a couple of crunches as glass and over used reactive plastics shattered. Her last grenade rolled off into the inky darkness.

She didn’t bother to check if it was live or not.

Bending over for a mere split second she snatched up her light-blade and left the rest behind. A lot of it was climbing gear anyway. Hopefully she’d never have to use any of it ever again.

The white beyond the cavern was blinding. A fierce blizzard was about, whipping dry ice and nanodiamonds. Aceline turned, throwing her long platinum hair about. She caught the soft glint of red, blue and white metal in the darkness. She smelled the sickly sweet smell of high fructose corn syrup. The air from the darkness was humid and sticky, like the bottom of a dumpster on a hot summer day.

She was standing in the middle of two stark contrasts. There was a horrible metal on metal grind from the darkness as it began to advance. She never gotten a full look at it and despite her severe injuries, she was intensely curious. Which probably explained why she was attracted to such god forsaken hell holes.

She only managed to see bits and pieces of it as it mangled her hours ago, deeper in the caves. It had been the worst wake up call of her life.

It had long, aluminum claws and it belched ingots from between dingy buzz saw teeth. It was particularly interested in her mouth.

She was getting dizzy. A lot of the blood on her back was already starting to freeze from the cold blizzard wind. Her face was pale and sweaty.

It roared, spraying her with flat Mountain Dew spittle. Turning back toward the opening in the rockface, she broke into a full run.

The metal grinding increased in pace. It was a constant and steady thrumming that shook the cavern floor, sending nuts, bolts and old beer bottles rattling from beyond her field of vision. The walls and ceiling began to close in on her. A rain of condensed garbage water rained on her from above, only to freeze in her already filthy hair.

The opening wasn’t much larger than a windshield. She scrambled up a steep incline, her curiosity again replaced with terror.
Her lungs burned as she burst into the freezing light of day. She gasped and rolled in dry snow, still frantically trying to escape the horrible metal monster.

She could hear it. The behemoth was still giving pursuit. It had to be 30 feet tall, it’d never fit through the opening.

Scrambling up to her feet she ran away, embracing the freezing cold day.

There was a horrible sound of rock giving out behind her. What felt like a sheet of metal sent her sprawling into the snow again. Trying to regain some sort of balance, she turned over on her back.

Her last sight was an enormous mouth composed entirely of spent and crushed soda cans.

The old wizard’s body was failing when I found him in his derelict tower. It had been gutted by a recent fire, likely of his own mad design. The floorboards had been dissolved into ash days before, but the fine stone masonry of the stairwell and the top floor was still as stable as it ever was, so secure was the magic embedded in the red granite. His robes were stained in soot and his finger nails were black and ragged. Obviously he had spent the last several days scrambling through the ashes looking for something. A pile of metal scraps adorned the far corner. The place was probably his workshop.

I didn’t know it then, but that moment would shape the rest of my life. My parents had always told me that the wizard was a bit touched in the head, so mad was his ramblings about extra dimensions, mechanical automatons and empires that spanned more than the stars. A young lad at the time, I did nothing more than ferry his taxes to the magistrate and perform the odd, mundane chore on occasion. It was rare, but sometimes he’d give me lessons on alchemy.

But as I rushed toward him, so weak and pathetic looking a strange feeling came about me. Tears welled up in my eyes like I was losing my best friend. He offered a warm smile and coughed, the soot in his beard sending a cloud that filled the wood ash smelling air.

He was enormous to me, even in his sickly state. He was bigger than most humans, and even the smallest of his kin would have two lengths on my father any day.

His giant’s hand ruffled my hair into a sooty mess. I didn’t mind.

“Rit, my boy. I knew you’d be the last. You’re right on time.”

“I’ll- I’ll- I’ll get the doctor!”

I stammered. I’d never seen a dying man before. I didn’t know what to do.

“Your doctors can’t help me now, boy. There’s only a couple men in this world who could make me well again. But.. it’s been so long since I’ve seen any of them. I think they’re still alive. But they’re too far away. It’s probably for the best anyway. I betrayed them too long ago for them to care about what happens to Ol‘ Aeolus.”

I didn’t even know his name. I had always called him “sir,” like my parents taught me. He never offered his proper name. How wrong he was about his companions. I’d discover later that long after his death in my own manhood.

He was shaking, but he managed to prop himself up against the wall using me as a crutch. Aeolus smiled, his green eyes devoid of much life.

“Be a good boy and listen, won’t you?”

I nodded, my tears turning the soot on my cheeks into mud. I was so young and naive.

“I’ve spent many years in your village, Rit. I was an old man long before your grandfather was born. There was a time when you would have been given a far grander education, a time when your life would have been much more fulfilling. That’s why I exiled myself, my boy. To give some of you a chance at becoming something more. The others, they didn’t think you were ready. But I’ll prove them wrong yet!”

Old wizard Aeolus fished around in one of his pockets for something.

“The fire, ugh. It’s destroyed much of my work. My eyes are not as good as they used to be. I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. But this.. this is more precious than all of what this tower used to contain by a hundred fold. I almost lost it, too.”

He narrowed his eyes, producing a beautifully crafted metal bracelet. Tiny rubies studded the entire work at regular lengths and as it caught a ray of sunlight, it shone. It was sized for a Halfling, it would never fit on one of his own kind. Even where he touched it, the bracelet stayed beautiful and clean.
“When I die-… and I will die Rit, no matter what you have to say, people will come looking for me. Tell them of me as you knew me before this moment, Rit. Tell them that I’ve missed them so very much, but I had to do it.

“They won’t hurt you or your family. There will be a small man with eyes and skin like mine..”

He coughed for a long time. Flecks of blood found their way to his sooty beard.

“Tell him that I never stopped loving him. Even after he stopped loving me.”

As I stared at him, he took my wrist gingerly in his enormous hands and slid the bracelet on me. The rubies gleamed and produced a light of their own. I could feel an itch inside my head, as if something was wiggling around in there.

“Never tell them I gave this to you, not even the man with my eyes. They won’t understand. They’ll steal it from you and pulverise my tower into the ground. I’d like them to think I left this world contributing nothing.”

I couldn’t fathom what I was being told. Why me, of all the people in the village? Was I the only one who he knew?

“Sir, … I don’t understand.”

I said, rubbing my wrist. The bracelet felt oddly secure, like it was part of me. I’d later find out that was exactly the case.

“Of course you don’t. How could you? But you will, oh.. you will.

“Keep it on, always. Get plenty of sun. And talk, a lot. If there’s anything she likes, it’s that.”

She? Was the wizard really as daft as everyone thought he was?

But as I was mulling over his sanity in the back of my head, the little life that was left in the wizard’s eyes had bled out. He looked so pathetic and undignified. I had never seen a dead body, and I was so scared.

So I ran. I could hear soft sobbing as I sprinted through the forest toward home. At first I thought it was my own but as I distanced myself from the tower, I came to the sudden realization that it was a woman. And it was coming from my own head.

I came to a sudden halt, terrified. That was then that a hot wind blew through the forest, and I could see ghostly shapes materialize in the direction from which I came. They coalesced from nothingness. They shouted a language I still don’t understand to this day.

That was when things got really weird.

It was moments like this that Decima lived for. Her long life had brought her many heartaches and even more joys, but she lived for the all or nothing moments her line of work often brought her across. She’d spent weeks tracking it across the ruined city scape that sprawled across the barren plain. She often abandoned sleep entirely for the off chance at picking up just the right hint of wind or the faintest bit of its tell tale scent.

It smelled dusty and old. Like ancient papyrus and stale leather. There was always the smallest bit of a gritty talcum powder that hung in the air and stuck to the back of the throat just before it fed, the smashed remnants of objects too precious and unique to ever be replaced.

It quite literally was a relic of an age long since passed into dust.

She crawled on her belly putting further abuse on her antiqued breast plating. The sky was washed out and grey, hinting at rain. It must be so desperately hungry to risk destroying itself in a downpour. It had to be here, the path of destruction it left was unmistakable. She’d come across delicate cedar carvings ground into drift wood, remarkably well preserved masonry pitted with tiny meteor impacts, even a king’s tomb ground down to the sarcophagi feet. Each of her findings were more recent than the last.

Her technology may have been out of date and in-operational half of the time, but years of tracking its kind honed her senses. She could feel it in the air, a faint electricity. Or a magical aura thatpermeated the physical world. Something science couldn’t explain quite yet.

Hastily she tied her hair back into a pony tail and scrabbled through the remains of a toppled and sand blasted Romanesq column. Her line of sight was filled with debris and tumbleweed, but she could feel it. It was close. Her heart was pounding.

The city was well planned and even in its death she could easily navigate the grid of streets and alley ways. There were no street signs, but they wouldn’t have helped her anyway. Every where there were signs of the golem.

Just as she peeked her head above the cracked bust of a long forgotten war hero in what she believed to be the epicenter of the forgotten civilization, she heard it. A terribly loud cry that cut into her head like a scythe. She flinched instinctively.

Instantly Decima was in a maelstrom. Tiny pebbles and a fine powdery grime drove into her hardened flesh as a confined whirlwind roared over her. Wiping her eyes frantically she stumbled in a completely random direction. Not interested in the puny woman it happened upon, the construct continued its rapid escape from the city.

Decima wiped her eyes and managed to catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared behind a cathedral. Bipedal and roughly humanoid in shape, it had to be well over 20 feet tall. It’s limbs were constructed of a fierce confined windstorm and painted a dull tan by ground stone work and tiny shreds of paper. It blended in perfectly with its surroundings. The creature was surely native to this city, it was entirely made of local materials.

In what would past for its chest cavity, there was a promising glint of shiny metal. The dynamo that drove it. Her prize.

The fierce sound died just as suddenly as it started.

She gave pursuit not even bothering to spit the dry muck out of her mouth.

The sun had just disappeared completely from horizon as Joel hastily fiddled with his antique lantern, lighting the kerosene soaked wick with exquisite care not to spill any fuel. His father’s fields were over grown and parched, there was dried grass and bales of uncollected hay for as far as his eyes could see in the shadowy light cast by his lantern.

It was strange being home again. After all this time so much had changed in town. People used to look at him with happy, optimistic faces. But as he strolled through the deserted main street just hours before, he was met with only a couple of hollow stares. His town definitely remembered him, but it was as if he was a ghost barely in their realm of perception.

He gleaned from a couple of friends that were too poor to flee the drought that the wizard of the four winds had died just after he left. His tower had been found ruined by a fire that ground the granite walls into dust. They never found the body, but the old man claimed to be hundreds of years old. Everyone had assumed he simply burned in the fire, simply too old to escape the flames he had likely carelessly created.

Everyone had always been cautious of him and it seemed they were right in doing so. With his death he was told that the air became hot and brutal, an oppressive dusty thing that zapped the earth of life. It wasn’t long before the rains stopped completely. Grass withered, dried and ultimately died.

He had been gone little more than a year. The devastation wrought by this Wizard of the Winds was remarkable.

So lost was Joel in thought of the disaster that he did not notice the grass around him shivering in a nonexistent wind and coalescing around an especially large bundle of hay.

He had been told his parents had not been seen for several weeks. They were still young enough to maintain their family farm outside of town, but the disappearance was strange. Times had been especially rough recently and no one had the time to check on them. The walk was too far, the air too hot, and the chores at home too many

He suspected that his brash father had a falling out with his neighbors and they simply didn’t care that much. Joel had always been the white sheep of the family.

Secretly he hoped that was the case and nothing else had gone wrong. His grandfather had a weak heart when he died, his father likely did as well.

There was a faint grumbling from a bundle of hay, the iron strips that bound the tightly compacted grass together whined and snapped.

Joel spun around. His free hand instantly went to the bronze gladius he kept sheathed at his side.

“It’s Joel, dad. Stop messing around, I’m home!”

He swung the lantern out before him. Ghostly images materialized from just on the threshold of darkness. Bales of hay he had just past were shifting positions. The field around him seemed to be suddenly alive with movement and odd noises. The rustling of dry vegetation was pierced by the occasional loud CRRRAA-ACK of bindings giving out.

Turning, he began to sprint toward the farmhouse in the distance. The ancient structure was cold and quiet and not at all reassuring.

The field churned around him as if blasted by a tornado, but the air was still, heavy and incredibly hot. It was like being in an oven.

He ran until his lungs were burning and the sound around him grew into cacophony. Clearing the fields, face slicked with sweat he came to a sudden stop as the house suddenly materialized in front of him.

While the structure as a whole was left standing, the north facing wall had collapsed inward and was littered with hundreds of pounds of hay. His childhood home was in ruin.

There was a stale scent he recognized from his younger years. When he and his friends wandered through the halls of the ancient mausoleum in the hills. It was the smell of old death, an unattended and dry smell left to its own devices. It came from the interior of the ruined first floor. The lantern light played over smashed furniture and shredded books flecked with brown and red.

The ground shook behind him.

He turned slowly, gladius in one hand and lantern in the opposite.

Joel craned his neck upward not comprehending the sight before him.

He barely had enough time to gather his faculties before it swung its enormous arm.

Jeremiah sat idly, his weary feet resting in the lake of fire. The shore was less polluted today, and he was taking full advantage of it, by the Demon’s horns. The rickety old dock groaned, and his companion joined him.

A huge shadow loomed over him, and irregular hooves plopped themselves into the licking flames. They hissed as the fragments of trampled souls puffed into noxious farts.

“George.”

Jeremiah acknowledged.

“Jeremiah.”

The beast replied, his cavernous mouth expelling moths, maggots and caterpillars against the immortal wood. The demonic voice caused crows, ravens, and other spooky things to flutter and fly.

Cowards. The carrion eaters always had been Hell’s lowest rung.

The two sat for some time in respected silence, Jeremiah, a tired man of four thousand five hundred and sixty four years young (but he certainly did not look a day over half that) simply enjoying the view. George, a demon born of fire, hate, and the loathing of a thousand mothers easing his sore hooves after a long day of forcing repentance.

He itched his single, asymmetric horn. His giant red fingers showering his friend with flakes of dried blood, shit, and other bodily goodies.

“Say, Jeremiah. We’re friends, right? I mean, I wouldn’t say great pals, but we respect one another. Right?”

The demon hissed with vipers. In its wake, a thousand earthly drug addicts shot up, four infants were aborted, and two basset hounds were left in an SUV, boiled by summer heat.

“Sure, George. We’ve had our differences, but I like to think I can count on you. Why?”

There was a beat between the two sentient creatures.

“Well?”

Jeremiah inquired after a lengthy wait. Satan’s army hardly ever hesitated.

“You’re human, right? Or, were. You died. You never said how. Or why God found it worthy to cast you into our hospitality. You’ve been here for life times, and you haven’t repented. You never said why.”

Jeremiah sat there for a brief moment, watching a six headed dragon devour Sister Alexandria, a nun who word had it, liked it rough and ready.

“You never asked, my friend. Ever met him, the big guy upstairs?”

“No.”

An earth quake shook a heavy urban metro.

“When I was a kid, I always thought god was some big white guy walking in sandals on puffy white clouds. You never saw his face, maybe a big fluffy white beard, or a giant hand. But never his face.

“I didn’t have an imagination, you might guess.

“But anyway. They burned me at the stake. I used to kidnap little boys and girls and use them, if you catch my drift. Little buggers were all brats though, I say I did their mothers a favor.

“They found a couple of the tastier ones in my meat cellar, the parts I didn’t fancy, anyway.”

Jeremiah smiled.

“So, sodomy, gluttony and murder.”

The demon said, causing gasoline prices to reach record highs.

“No, actually. Can you believe they actually set me ablaze because I ate them on Friday?

I tried to contest that it wasn’t really meat, but once you’ve pissed off the mob there is little turning back. So yeah, they tied me to a big fucking tree, covered me in sheep’s blood and made me the centerpiece to one of their book burnings.

“Illiterate Hillbillies.”

“Sheep’s blood?”

The demon contested, his voice churning up a tornado somewhere in the heartland of America.

“Yeah, can you believe it? Guv’nor said it was my color.

“Anyway. It took them awhile, you see. Morons couldn’t start a fire to save their lives. Upstairs right now that wouldn’t big such a big deal. Humans have all those fancy gizmos, lighter fluid, blow torches, flame throwers, Zippos. The works.

“But this was a long time ago. We lived off of sticks and pinecones for Chrissakes. Everyone knew had to start a fire in those days. Apparently to those Neanderthals it was a mystery. How they had the intelligence to keep breathing was beyond me.

“Imagine how hard I laughed when I found myself here, in this lovely place.”

He gestured all around him, the scene dominated by fire and lava flowes.

“So they had their book burning, me as a center piece. It took all god damned night, it was sort of like school, really. Waiting for every jerk off to get his rear in gear to finish the job up. So what did I do?

“I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was at God’s doorstep.”

The demon stared at him in anticipation.

“So, when I was a kid I imagined these huge pearly gates in the clouds. I didn’t get in of course, so I can’t tell you how the rest of it was. But the doorstep was sort of a let down.

“It was just a room, well furnished of course. There was a big cushy chair, an empty fire place, and some tea.

“I guess God fancies Darjeeling. I don’t care for it much myself, you see. I’m more of an Earl Grey man, but I was his guest after all. Who rejects God’s tea? I certainly didn’t have the balls at the time.

“There was a man sitting across from me. He was dressed in all white, except for a pair of purple gloves. I guess God fancies purple gloves too, because just as I realized that I was dead, the man opened his mouth and said

‘I am God.’

“Straight forward fellow, I‘ll give him that.”

“What did he look like?”

The Hell Spawn inquired quietly, causing super tanker to spill its guts in the Caribbean.

“Handsome fella‘, except for the gloves. He wasn’t the big white guy I thought he was.

“He sort of looked like Julius Caesar, but thinner and without the sweating. Or the holes oozing blood.

“So he looks at me over his teacup, which was probably of the cheaper variety, pinky in the air and tells me what I’ve led a very strange life, with the eating of little girls, the sheep’s blood, the foot fetish, the five years as a pastor, basically my life story.

“He says that if I truly repent my sins to him, he will spare me Satan’s embrace. He said it with an ominous tone, but after I prodded him a little, he confessed that if I just said sorry he’d probably let me in anyway.

“Just if I tried real hard to be a good guy, keep the music down at night. That sort of stuff.”

The demon, suddenly self conscious of his hooves curled them up under the dock. In the process he accidentally kicked a dolphin that had homosexual relations in the life prior. Hell was equal opportunity, apparently.

“So I sat there for a moment, sipping that tea that really could have been hotter. A pile of scones materialized before me, so I sank my teeth into one.

“Of course I was hungry, I had missed supper because I was on that damn stake all night. A man has his needs, even if he is dead, George.

“We talked for awhile, God and I. About life, the universe, what my life would have been like if I decided to be a doctor, that sort of stuff.

“There were no windows to mark the passage of time in this room, you see. And while I don’t know how many people went to heaven in those days and needed to speak with the big man himself, I figured it wasn’t many. We were there for awhile.

“He was good about it though; never for a second did he seem impatient. I guess you get that if you’re the alpha and the omega.

“Somehow, I don’t know why, the conversation came to Lucifer. Rather confident with our rapport, I asked him something I had always pestered my Sunday school teachers about.

“That when everything is all said and done and the rapture finally comes to man’s domain, will he finally admit Lucifer back into heaven?

“He jerked like a nervous bird and made a distasteful noise. He told me that he’d never allow Satan and his peons back into his good graces, ever. That they were good blokes who did their jobs, but never would they know bliss again.

… sorry George.”

The demon sniffled, a single tear of fire dribbling down his cheek.

“It’s okay, Jeremiah. Go on.”

He said, causing a hundred unfaithful men to “forget” their conscious once again.

“So I asked him if his forgiveness was infinite, and if he was willing to accept me into heaven after all the bad things I had done, why not forgive the fallen angel and his cronies after they did their jobs?

“He looked at me for a moment, and then he said something. I didn’t hear what the hell he said, though. I was so distracted by those purple gloves.

“When I asked him to repeat himself, he only smiled and sipped his tea. However much I asked him to repeat himself, he only sipped that damn tea and smiled.

Maybe he ate a scone or two, but that‘s not the point.”

“So what did you do?”

George asked tensely, causing a man to swat a housefly that could have evolved into a space faring race of super creatures, given time and life.

“I did what any other respectable man would do. I told the bugger to sod off, thank you very much. I’m not a rude man, by far, but the bloke totally blew off my question. I don’t take kindly to that, no sir.

So as I was walking toward the door that fireplace caught my eye. It was really quite lovely. Exquisitely cleaned with a really fine set of pokers. There was even a small stack of birch bundled up next to the wrought iron gate.

“I turned to him, my hand on the door knob and told him it was a really nice hearth, and asked if he had ever used it.

He told me that no, he had never used it. When I inquired as to why he just smiled and told me;

‘I don’t know how.’

That is why I’ve never repented, George.”

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