Directory – Pt. 2

Part 1


“You can keep going with this woo-woo mystical bullshit if you want, but no one’s buying it.”

“Well that’s handy, ‘cuz I ain’t fucking sellin’ it. It’s a fuckin’ fact. Snatch. Guy Ritchie. No?”

“You think this is some kind of game?”

“I do.”

“Yeah, well, it isn’t.”

“Sure it is. You’re just pissed because you’re losing. And you’re losing because you don’t know the rules. And you don’t know the rules because you won’t accept that it’s a game.”

“Yeah, well, looks like we fuckin’ gotcha doesn’t it? Or you just biding your time? Planning your great escape?”

“Says the guard with a wooden baton to Magneto in the plastic prison.”

“Keep it up, tough guy.”

“Notice you’re not wearing your badge. Must have forgotten it, huh?”

“How’s this for a fucking badge?”

“Looks more like a gun. And you look like too big a pussy to use it.”


The rain is a meteor shower. Life is a tidal wave of red and white and green and yellow.

The world is streaks of color that yell out like angry geese with megaphones.

He’s screaming, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” in his mind while his lips are silent – hands gripping the steering wheel like a gun-lobbyist on Christian morals. He’s frantic. The world a blur. Letters zip by, half-obscured by rain and dark, by the glare of street lamps where the insects of the night flock like Johns to brothels – like prayers to God…like rain to the pavement.

The rotation of blue and red and white like the star-spangled banner is playing in color is like a floating apparition in his world. It’s screaming at him like a harpy that’s being gutted. It’s a cat with a bullhorn in its mouth. It’s the exclamation at the end of the sentence that once said, “Shit always goes sideways. You can’t plan for it. All you can do is adapt.”

He’s thinking back to that night. The night she brought him the list.

“The fuck is this?” he asked.

“You need…” she looked so sad and he didn’t understand why. Maybe he never really did. Maybe he never really would. “There’s a lot that you need to have right and…” she looked away and sighed. She looked so tired but he was the one that felt like he needed a small coma. “Just memorize it, okay? Just…you need to know the words.”

“I don’t even believe in this shit. You know that right?” he said.

“It doesn’t…” she started to say.

“I swear,” he interrupted, “if you say some shit that’s akin to ‘Even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you’ line, I’m gonna vomit. Like…seriously. I’ll fucking vomit.”

She looked so sad. Why did she look like that?

She shoved the paper into his hand and looked up with those doleful eyes. Those eyes that said they’d seen too much and yet never seen half of what they’d wanted. Those eyes that were begging him to do what he needed to do and yet seemed to say, “I’m sorry. I’m so…so…sorry…”

He took it with a shrug and said, “What the fuck ever…”

It rained blood that night.

At least that’s what he saw.

“You’ll do things you never imagined.”

“You’ll do things that you wish you never had to do.”

“You’ll do things that, right now…in this moment…you would say you’d never do. But you’ll find yourself facing them like a broken mirror. You’ll have to choose which shard of glass to use as your truth.”

Letters and numbers flashed by like hieroglyphics in warp speed. He could hear the wail of America’s finest in pursuit while he tried to get his bearings.

He needed time to focus. He needed time to sort things out.

He needed time.

He needed time.

He swerved by a car that was taxi yellow, whether by mistake or by occupation, he couldn’t tell in a world where speed limits were suggestions and repercussions were theories. He saw it with clarity then. He almost grinned as he did.

Metal met with metal. Fiberglass warped and cracked. Glass erupted like a volcano of bad endings in every daydreamer’s worst nightmare.

His head moved forward with the urgency of life running from death and landing squarely in its embrace. His head like a melon as it struck the steering wheel, warping his skull and face like putty wrapped around a stick-figure frame of popsicle sticks.

In his eyes, he saw starlight even as the impact made the passersby suddenly shift backward like a bomb had gone off at their very feet.

He almost laughed at the irony.

Directory pt.1

“The thing you gotta understand is just how…unremarkable he was. You know? Like…he was one of those guys that you could talk to ten times in two years and none of it like…none of it really stuck. You know?”


“So wait,” Jim said. His bottle of beer hovered so close to his lips he probably felt the chill of the glass. The trajectory of a drink put on pause as he set the bottle back down. “You think you guys broke up?”

“Yeah,” Adam said as he took a drink of a rum and coke that had already devoured a single ice cube and was now working its way toward a room temperature consolation prize.

“The fuck does that even mean? I mean…” Jim chuckled and took a drink that seemed intent on making up for the one he’d previously put on pause. Like a print queue after a paper jam has been cleared. “Dude, that’s some shit you should probably know as a definitive yes or no.”

Adam knew the answer in black and white terms the way a person knows when they see a car wrapped around a telephone pole that the person inside is dead. Their head and the steering wheel unceremoniously joined in unholy matrimony. But sometimes people lived through those sort of things. There was always that lingering percent. That trail of zeroes that leads to some seemingly erroneous non-zero digit.

“I think it was a sneak attack,” he finally said. Humor didn’t make it seem less absurd, but it was a lovely bandaid for the moment.

“She dress up in black garb like a ninja and leave a throwing star lodged in the wall with a red tassel and some obscure fortune cookie note or something?”

“Not quite,” Adam said. “That would have been more straightforward.”

Jim took another drink and gave Adam “the look”. Eyebrows seemingly both down and up at the same time. That sort of half-pursed expression that just said, “Dude. Duuude. Duuuuude.”

“So, you remember,” Adam began…

“Hold on, hold on,” Jim said as he flagged down a waitress.

She didn’t wear a name tag – it wasn’t that kind of place. She looked like a Sarah. Sarah? Maybe a Susan.

“Can I get another one, and uh…yeah…a long island for Captain Lonely Heart over here.”

Possibly Sarah or Susan smiled at that. She didn’t ask. That was something.

“Sure thing,” she said. “Both on your ticket?”

“Yup.”

“Alright.”

“Okay,” Jim said as she exited stage left, “so walk me through this. It might literally be the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“So, you remember when I moved?”

Jim sat with a bottle frozen at his lips for a moment – not drinking, but not setting the bottle down. “Not ringing a lot of bells,” he said behind his surgeon’s mask of brown glass.

“I don’t know that I talked about it much. Not like it was a huge deal,” Adam said. “Lease was up, found something else. Whatever.” He paused and finished his room-temperature rum and coke as the waitress returned and set their drinks down.

“Beer,” she said as she placed another bottle in front of Jim, “and a long island iced tea for Captain Lonely Heart,” she said with a bit of a smile. Sticking out of the top was a wedge of pineapple and, from the interior, – like some plastic Lochness monster – was a red straw that was shaped like a heart near the top and then swirled around and up so that you could actually drink out of it.

“Don’t officially get my Captain’s License until Monday,” Adam said jokingly.

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” possibly-Sarah or Susan said with a hint of a smile.

“So,” Adam continued as she exited stage right, “anyway, I moved. Or, I was in the process of moving. Standard stuff. She comes over and she’s helping me go through things.” He paused and took a drink and immediately clenched his teeth as the sweetened turpentine concoction that is a made-too-strong long island iced tea has the potential to be hit his tongue. “Anyway,” he said, trying not to cough, “she’s helping me go through things. I don’t really pay too much attention. Some stuff is going with me, some stuff with her.

“I unpack stuff at the new place. I get things put away. It doesn’t really occur to me that anything is out of sorts. I put her toothbrush there, deodorant, hair stuff. Whatever. But then, she’s not really texting very much, but she’s busy. I’m busy. We’re busy.

“But then I notice it one day. No shoes. No clothes. All the stuff that’s hers is the stuff that you could get at a Target on Tuesday. Like the remainder of a person who stayed at a motel for too long and was living on takeout. It was all random shit.”

“That’s…” Jim began, his word hanging in the air like cigarette smoke might have in the days before it wasn’t okay to smoke inside buildings – bar or not.

“Fucking brilliant,” Adam finished.

“Not exactly where I was gonna go with that,” Jim said with a quizzical look that he punctuated with another drink from his beer.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Adam said. “It’s messed up. It’s cold. But you gotta admit – it’s fucking brilliant. She hit the eject button right in front of me. I literally watched her grab her shit and leave and was like, ‘Makes perfect sense to me.'”

“You think she was cheating on you?”

“Nah,” Adam replied honestly, “not her style.”

“Man, that’s…” Jim started to say. “Actually,” he said suddenly, “You know what? I know…uh…oh it’s…” he pulled his phone out and started to scroll through it.

“Not really looking for a hooker tonight, but…I mean…maybe after this drink…”

“Ha-ha,” Jim said, “I’m looking for… … …Kim. I don’t know her that well,”

“Didn’t think you were that kinda guy,” Adam quipped.

“But she knows her,” Jim said.

“And,” Adam said, “that’s helpful because…?”

“Women talk,” Jim said – clearly he was having a Matlock moment.

“Ok…”

“I wanna see if maybe she said something to Kim,” he said as his fingers tapped out a message.

“Because…?”

“Because…I…” he held his finger up in that ‘uno momento, por favor’ type of way.

Adam waited quietly and took another drink of his long island. Either he was getting drunk enough for it to not feel like he was sipping on diluted napalm, or his initial assessment had been off the mark.

He was betting squarely on the former.

“Huh,” Jim said.

“Has she ruined the moment? Do ladies not, in fact, talk?”

“She says she hasn’t heard from her for a few weeks.”

“I dare say that context is going to be a factor here. Like, are they ‘we talk on holidays’ acquaintance or are they ‘we talk on the phone while we watch the same Netflix episode’ friends?”

“No clue, man,” Jim said. “I mean, she doesn’t sound worried about it.”

Adam shrugged and took another drink.

“Shit’s cold, man,” Jim said.

“Yeah,” Adam said flatly. “Cold, man.”


Part 2

Aberration – pt. 2

Previously: Part 1


I’m looking out at the world. On the other side of the window is a thing of beauty, but not for the reasons you think. That’s neither here nor there and neither am I once I head back home.

My lair.

Let me dispell your hopes and dreams, cupcake.

My lair is a dark place under the city. It’s damp and I hear rats for more hours than anyone should have to. I don’t have lights. There’s running water, but not for the reasons there should be.

Your little cotton brain is asking why I don’t go for something better. Put on a fucking disguise to blend in. Go all Clark Kent on life.

You’re fucking stupid, did you know that?

You know how I know that? Because you don’t understand physics. I didn’t either until I got a crash course in it. Words like density, force, and inertia. I don’t have a fucking Ph.D., sunshine, so I’m not gonna walk you through Newton’s laws, but I can tell you a few things you need to understand.

You don’t get to be strong enough to crush a car and interact with normal life anymore – it’s like trying to play with ants. There’s no amount of careful that stops you from killing them eventually.

You can’t stop a fucking freight train just because you’re strong. You have to push back with the force of another fucking freight train. That force comes from somewhere. Put it like this, buttercup, you don’t want me walking on your roof.

Not being a whirlwind of carnage is more exhausting than any criminal mastermind on the fucking planet. I gotta tip-toe through life just to make sure I don’t crush everything, kill everything…ruin everything.

Know what people call me on the street? Shit Storm. Yeah. Warm fucking receptions abound.

Fuck it, though, right?

I was at that crossroad. I had god’s own brand of dynamite in my hand and the universe said, “The fuck you gonna do with that, precious?”

I could’ve been a right git. I could’ve put it in the center of the fucking earth. I could have made my little throne of blood and skulls and hooker tears and drank the dreams of humanity from the skulls of your world leaders.

Maybe I should’ve. It would’ve been easier.

You didn’t hear it, but I did. The sound of trouble. And no, I don’t mean that trouble has some neat little frequency. I’m not a fucking trouble bloodhound, but I can damn near hear the wheels in your head grinding from deep in the sewers. I hear the hammer of the gun cock back. I hear the bullets leaving chambers. I hear the sound of a knife when it screeches against bone. I hear you all crying like babies because the schoolyard bully took your fucking teddy bear away.

It’s a gift and a curse. Mostly it’s a curse.

I dash out. Putrid water on my feet. I use lift to keep my body from acting like an army of atom bombs marching through the underbelly of the city. I move so fast that rats don’t even startle when I move past them, but know they will when the thunderclap hits them when sound catches up to my fury.

My front door is a big pipe that flows water out into the great basin. I’m out it and up with the speed of a chimpanzee on crack. Up the broken, rotted earth and rock that clings to my door like a pile of shit from a titan who eats cluttered garages and failed gardens.

I’m moving down streets and, if only for a second, I stop. It’s a second for me, but you wouldn’t even realize I was there yet. I stop and take in the scenery of life and feel my teeth clench. Not for the reasons you probably think.

I continue on. I’m over scaffolds, and around moving cars.

As much as I destroy, you’d be surprised at just how fucking graceful I really am. My destruction is the exception, not the rule, but no one cares how many bullets you stop – they only count the ones you didn’t.

I’m on the top of a building. I’m focusing more on lift than I want to so that I don’t sink into the interior like a fucking anchor in an ocean of beanie babies.

He has a gun to her head. He being some shitbag with a gun. Her being some lady I don’t know who’s crying because some shitbag has a gun to her head.

“You got a fucking death wish, sunshine?” I say.

“Just a messenger,” the man says.

I only barely see it, with so much focus on not making the building implode like a god damn star gone supernova, but this fuck is scared. I mean, yeah, duh…he’s fucking scared. He’s him and I’m me. But no…this isn’t that.

“Why don’t you go ahead and let the nice lady go and let me have that message then, sweetheart”

I’m faster than a bullet. Believe that shit.

But when it’s put to the back of someone’s head, it’s a short path from Click-Town to Bang-City.

I’m dashing forward. I see the blood in slow motion. His hand is literal putty when I grab it. I can hear the bones and flesh rupturing. It’s happening so fast he doesn’t even know he’s in pain yet. I’m faster than your fucking synapses in some ways.

I hear her body finally fall with a thud. My own force has this scum bag down on his back with so much force I hear a crack from his spine and the stone beneath him. He’s dead and doesn’t know it yet.

“He knows,” the man says.

I don’t wanna know what he means, but I instantly know what he means.

I’m focusing so much on lift, on not being a warhead. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed anyway. But I notice it now. I feel it now. The force of the exploding C4 on this cocksucker’s back tied to a dead man’s trigger on the gun.

I feel a wave of heat like god’s fury. It’s a volcano vomiting last nights drinking binge. It’s enough to punch a hole through stone with the best of them. It’s enough to make me flinch – to lose focus. I don’t think about lift so much when there’s a hurricane of fire and brimstone in my god damn eyes.

I sink through the hole in the building like a meteor from outer space. I don’t stop until I’m in the basement.

The building doesn’t even realize it’s fucked yet. No one inside realizes they’re dead yet.

I do. I know it immediately. I know the reason why.

Because I’m a fucking atom bomb and someone just found my god damn trigger.


Part 3

One

Run, you, my one,
To lands wherein the dreams
Within your heart
Are golden doors
That ever whirl
Into your home

Let there be sun
To bask within and streams
That never part
And glowing moors
At every turn
For you to roam

And when you’re done
A hand for you, serene,
And vivid art
To go explore
With wings unfurled
But not alone

For you, my one,
Are more than any dream
In any heart
Or any door
To any world
I’ve ever known

Aberration – pt. 1

I’m standing at the peak of a tall building. It’s the iconic view you’d think of when you imagine a superhero surveying the city. I’m waiting. I’m watching. It’s everything you imagine when you think of a superhero ready to protect his city.

You, unfortunately, don’t know a fucking thing about life, my friend.

You can forget all that those wonderful tales you’ve been reading about. You can shitcan those movies. Those serialized shows on whatever networks are currently tossing out episodes like metaphorical dollar bills to the stripper that is your nerdy little DC vs Marvel heart.

I’m probably the most hated man in the city. Only reason I’m not the most hated man in the world is that the rest of the world doesn’t have to deal with me. That’s not an accident either. It’s not an oversight. It’s a choice on my part.

I wanted to be everything you’d think when you imagine a superhero.

I AM everything you’d think when you imagine a superhero.

The rest of the world, however, is nothing like you think when they have one.

So where do you want me to start? You want me to tell you about who I was before? Where I got my powers? What my costume looks like?

Later, sunshine…later. Right now, daddy’s got work to do.

I hear the sounds being carried on the wind. The world is a stranger place for me. I focus on the sound that’s currently catching my attention. It’s a blur under the waves of noise being produced by everyone and everything. The world is a loud machine, and none of it’s working in rhythm. But I hear it all the same…

I make my descent. I leap down and down again. I grab ledges single handed and slip toward the ground with more grace than should be possible. None of it feels difficult. There’s no strain. I’m not even breathing heavy.

I dash forward through the streets. I’m over cars and moving up the sides of other buildings like the most absurd Jackie Chan movie that he never got a chance to make. I see people stop to snap pictures. Some of them stop to give me the middle finger. Some spit. Some cheer. Children cry. People look away. People pray as they close their eyes and hold their crosses.

I don’t give a fuck what they do. I got a job to do, sunshine…

I round the corner and see the first man fly out of the doorway like Kramer in Seinfeld. Except this guy has a gun and less balance. He almost falls over in his egress. Another guy comes out shortly after. I hear the screaming from inside the building. I hear gunshots.

I walk forward calmly. The first guy finally sees me. Gasps. It’s the look of a man who’s spent his whole life sinning and now he’s standing before Saint Peter. My name isn’t Peter, sunshine…

Like a dog reflexively thinking it can go alpha on its owner for just long enough to regret it, the man raises the gun. I grab it and snatch it from his hand so fast that fingers come off with it. Blood sprays and spatters my outfit. The red does nothing for the aesthetics of the black and green. He drops to his knees and starts crying like a little bitch.

His friends see me and panic. I can smell one of them pissing themselves. I launch myself forward and drive my fist into the next man, I can hear the sound of his spine crumble even as my knuckles drive into his flabby stomach. His mind isn’t even registering what happened. He remains doubled over for a second before he drops to the ground like a puppet whose strings have been cut. The third man just lays down on the ground while his face leaks sweat, tears, and snot.

The shop owner comes out for a second, sees the scene and ducks back in. No hero’s handshake. Kiss that shit goodbye, sunshine…

I wait until the sirens come screeching in. Like all wild animals, they’re more afraid of me than I am of them. They have their guns out. You know the drill. Freeze. Step away. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t do any of that shit.

One guy is either an idiot, new, or so shaky that he just fucked up. The gun goes off. It hits me right in my left cheek. It’s an explosion of bone and wet tissue. I watch their faces as they watch the escaping parts of my face stop mid-flight, and pull back…reconnect. It’ll never look the same again.

I walk over casually enough. I can smell one of them is pissing himself. Bunch of fucking Nancies…

I can smell the gun that fired. I stand in front of that squad car and punch the hood so hard that it bends in half like cheap cardboard. I keep on punching. The cops are cowering. One of the brighter ones goes forward and deals with the scumbags I just put on the ground. Let them get their hero’s handshake from the shop owner. Whatever…

I walk past the other cops who are still too scared to move. I jump out and up, grab the ledge of a building and dash like gravity is more of a suggestion. I hear the sound of people taking pictures or mentioning me in whatever conversation they’re having on their cell phones. I hear children crying and women praying under their breath.

I’m a god damn superhero, sunshine…

Buckle up…It’s gonna be a bumpy ride…


Next: Part 2

Coal – pt. 6

coal

Previously: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5


Chapter 6: The Details in the Devil


He walked from the dark perimeter of the Citadel walls that night with a moon that hung low, held in stillness, a silver token locked in place where the pendulum of life no longer offered momentum. The sounds of movement below the ashen sands spoke of the dangers that long ago had pressed so much of existence to cling tight to the very rafts of salvation that were left burning in the seas of betrayal.

It was the failure of humanity that it found itself comforted as a mob holding tightly together as the ship went down. Every hand and foot fearful to move that they might make it sink all the faster. No one thinking for a moment that everyone should be bailing water.

In the Valley of the Gods, he looked upon the remains of those great deities that had long ago fallen. Their bodies locked in place with spears and blades marking their bodies like the growth of odd thorns or twisted calcifications. Their odd, rigid entrails left dangling like an army of octopi had begun crawling from within in some feeble attempt to escape – left frozen in place as though their last meal was medusa’s glare.

Rust and sand, time and decay mounted against them in their massive graveyard that stretched for miles. A sacred place. A doomed place. A place that reminded everyone that everything fails. Even gods.

In the outskirts of Temurin, he could already hear the chaos. The waves of anger and fury that roiled within. He saw the friction of old decisions that had been dragged upon the gravel road of ineptitude and callous grandeur for too long. He heard the sound of when those who thirst too deeply have finally realized that the wine they stole would not last forever.

But they had set their arrows in place so long ago. They had pushed the rafts of men with gentle hands and pleasant smiles while the oil-soaked wood was set ablaze. All for a few steps of ascension.

He recalled the frantic screams in the streets of his youth when life had turned like a moon left facing a capricious sun. When chaos spread because what had been before had suddenly shifted by the actions of traitors and liars. Because the world of men was weak and frightened. Because those who tried to keep that ship floating were no more prepared for the task than a child is to rule a kingdom.

This was a different form of fury.

It was not the irrational anger of loss and worry. It was not the frantic lunacy of those who grabbed what they could for fear that they would soon have nothing left to grab, and possibly no fingers left to grab them. This was the storm of simple men made savage by the sins of those who wore the caps and crowns of saints upon their spurious certitude.

It was the sort of storm that made whispers of those who would yell. The sort of storm that washed the detail of trees in a land of forests and fires.

He pulled the slip of paper from his shoe before he moved through the crowd that rose and fell, pushed and pulled, ebbed and flowed like a raging current of livestock set upon a landscape of torrential tides. Others seemed locked in the mechanical force of it like a note held in position by its stem, resting as an ornament upon the scale of some twisted elegy. He slid through them with ease, feeling the pulse of the crowd, deaf to the roaring din that swelled like tornado feasting on the broken buffet of an earthquakes final meal.

Pressed to the walls that rose up like titans before the herd, he slid by on the perimeter to find the point of weakness.

Training had taught him much and more of the failures of men.

Only the foolish thought to fight through stone, march through fire, sail through monsoons. It was true that most men took shelter from storms. It was true that foolish men ran into them.

He had no intention of doing either.

The weakest point of men was, and always will be, other men.

It took little time to find the right man to kill. Less time still to take his garb. From there it had fallen into place with all the smooth alacrity of sand within an hourglass. He moved like some odd harbinger, breaking easily the teacups in the storm before he took their chipped veneer and moved to whoever was next.

With slow and deliberate action, he found himself at last beyond the wall with the guise of a guard who had held access to the opposing side by a secret door held in a barren room that held the look that nothing but detritus and death would dare inhabit such a place of squalor.

Men are, and would always be, the failing of other men.

He lay in wait as he moved through the vast courtyards. Patience a greater weapon than any knife could ever be. Waited until, at last, he saw the moment of deliverance.

When the night came upon him, he ran. Ran until fire bloomed in his chest and his heart heaved so terribly that he thought it might escape from him in one massive, terrible beat. He ran through dark corridors and through a hall lined with faces that stared with a mixture of fear and tenacity, of courage and cowardice.

He took to his knee with his breath rushing, the blood pumping in his ears so hard that he could barely hear the storm of the uprising that raged without.

He held the piece of paper up to the man who approached. He waited until he’d taken it and read the words. Let them sink in. Strike like an arrow to his chest before he rose and ran from where he came.

It had given him the view he’d needed. The intended blockade to keep the room sealed. The failure to do so perfectly. It had likely been done by those who believed in paranoia a great deal more than they believed in a world that would see titans pulled down by the strike of a single stone. A world where some forces are too big to fail.

He moved through the castle that felt the rage beyond like waves buffeting the flat face of a cliff. The very force of it made it feel as though some slumbering giant slept below, its heaving chest making all the earth shift and shudder while its breath pressed so hard that one could hear it crawling through the stone walkways like an army of phantoms on the march.

He slid through the cracks, broke boards and bent nails. He moved slowly into position and lingered to watch as his prey fell into the mercy of a guilt-ridden sleep with a liar’s revelation left hanging on his lips as he wondered…

“Maybe we deserve this…after everything…”

He would not let the man leave the world in slumber. A kind death that would not make him face the world he’d help create.

He waited until he saw the flutter of the man’s eyes. Noticed the tension pulse in his worn and weary body that had spent too long running from an end he knew had to come.

“…h…” he began to say, like a man who did not realize that you do not greet your executioner.

“Yes,” Adam said.

The man tried to call for his guards who stood in the hallway, not a hundred feet from where he found his lung failing.

“Yes,” Adam said again, “you do…”

He had known what it was to have security seem a thing that waited in earshot from his voice. He’d known a world of trial that had turned into a world of torment and eventually one of tragedy by the teachings of those who had long since came to understand that sometimes the devils of this world can only be removed by something of equal measure.

He pulled another piece of paper from his shoe and unfolded it.

He looked over the list of names.

Ryman had been the first. This charlatan, Eldmoor was his second.

He still had so much work to do.

 

Coal – pt. 5

coal

Previously: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4


Chapter 5: The Advocate’s Devil


His chest wished to heave with the fire in his lungs. Muscles wished to scream for the pains and aches that marched his veins and tendons like soldiers casting torches in a newly taken town.

The sound beyond was little more than wisps of wind that stirred the dust and left it floating like false beacons of alarm. Each tiny mote a lying klaxon that set his nerves to rise like tendrils bristling from the droceccia’s twisted spine.

His breath felt frozen in his lungs, teetering like worn out shoes on a rounded cliff’s edge.

Silence seemed to bloom eternal. Both a comfort and a black seed of fear that swirled within his stomach like some hungry maelstrom in the churning seas of gray that offered no respite to whose who thought to trespass.

The sudden shift of light pulled his heart into his throat. The peering eye that broke his field of view. The hand reached in and pulled him as he kicked and clawed. Held tightly in that grip, another hand let strike a blade upon the stone walls that echoed through the corridors like the sound of hope escaping – growing thin in its egress.

True klaxons played for a moment after.

Within the chamber he was thrown. Looking at those before him, each upon the cold stone, looks of fear in their eyes. He’d been the last.

Ariat approached with her robes of blue and white slipping over the floor with all the liquid grace of maenads in procession of a queen. Her hand slipped around the back of his neck, gentle and warm as she ushered him to the front of the room. She squeezed in that way that bid him look upon those before him.

Huddled low. Some wore tears upon their faces. Some held jaws clenched tightly. Some kept their eyes cast to the ground or rather above, peering at the vacuous sky in that dire and roofless room.

He pressed his hand to his pocket, felt the little bit of bone that so many years ago had been a finger left dangling from his neck.

Ariat slid the blade from her side and held it casually before him. Terror moved as trembles in his fingers when he took it from her.

“Forward,” she said.

Slowly, figures moved, arranged in rows before him.

“Who fell first?” she whispered in his ear, her breath warm with the scent of tea and spices. “Who cried most?” Her cheek brushed lightly against his own, making him flinch as it did. “Who is the traitor among us?”

“The aim is…” she said.

“Not to fail…” they all replied.

“The treason is not…” she said.

“In failure…” they all replied.

“The treason is…” she said.

“Not aiming…” they all replied.

Gy stood and looked at these – his peers – each and every one fearfully awaiting the end reward for this macabre game. He knew that indecision would only add his woe to theirs.

“Who spoke?” he said.

The figures all shuffled uncomfortably. Many slid back and away. Three remained before him.

“What words were said?” Gy asked of them.

“This one,” Ariat pointed to the first who stood before him.

From the edges came the ones who had found them, pulled them from where they hid. Each and every one wore a left arm marked with the scars of fire that spread from finger to elbow. One of them stepped farther than the others. “This one said, ‘No. Stop. Let me go,'” and then he returned to stand in line with the others.

“And this one,” Ariat pointed at the second who stood before him.

Another of the captors stepped forward, ‘This one said no words, but let a scream escape when taken.”

“And this one,” Ariat pointed at the last who stood before him.

“This one said, ‘I’ll kill you'”

Gy looked over their faces, holding back his own tears, trying not to remember his own wounds, the scars upon his back, the bruises and the broken bones that he’d endured.

But later, when it truly mattered, this would seem a gentle game when faced with what they were to do. When that day came, failure of the wrong sort would bring the circle into a spiral that cycled down and down and down again.

Already the spiral had gone so far. Already the world had been set beneath the flames of oblivion. It was those failures that had seen such a path borne. When the cities raged and the great houses fell. When what little virtue left had been snuffed beneath the well calloused fingertips of avarice and narrow-minded cruelty.

Gy approached the first and said, “When we fail ourselves…”

“We fail each other…” came the reply.

Gy set the blade against the man’s chest, the man brought his own hands up and gripped around Gy’s. Together they pressed in while the man’s glossy eyes mirrored Gy’s own. Red poured and slid over his fingers, and when the blade came free a pulse of blood escaped like the last hope of freedom from feet too weak to run.

As the man staggered and slumped to the ground, Gy walked to the third and said, “When we fail each other…”

“We fail ourselves…” came the reply.

From the edges of the room, two of the captors came and escorted her away.

– – –

As Gy closed the massive door, looking at the ribbons of light that fell down in the sand pits, looking like wounds of light that bled from her body, he did so with a heavy heart. And yet, he understood that those who faltered must see their weakness magnified. That they must linger so with the reflections of those whose failure knew no bounds was the great looking glass. What pity he had left for those within had long since vanished.

Denizens of those who had moved so gently in the great structure of growth, winding like tiny fissures. They were, in so many ways, worse than those that they had served. Worse than the man that speaks was the one behind that whispered. Even now, in their broken state, they festered in their plots. Their kindness a symptom of their own weak corruption – a ribbon they pinned upon their chests to hide the blackened thing that pumped malice beneath.

Behind him, Ariat stood quietly.

“We are named by the words divine. Taken letters from what we are within our soul. You are gifted the letters of Malacoda, yet cannot be his equal. What, then, is your name?”

“Adam,” he said. “Adam Coal”