Aberration – pt. 7

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

I’m sitting under a small shower of dust.

I’m imagining it as a storm of ashes. The remains of a dead world raining down upon me. I’m a demon. A devil. One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I’m the end result of a lot of bad decisions, and even worse intentions.

I hear the ricochet of bullets and the sound it makes when it tears through flesh and bone. I know that none of the damage is mine – at least, not really.

Reality speeds back into existence and slams into my primitive cerebrum and everything feels like its no longer moving in slow-motion. Not that it ever was. Not really.

I hear the chaos behind me where a hole the size of three of me is left like a gaping wound in the side of a building that should only fear tanks and tomahawk missiles. I can hear the people outside as they creep forward like voyeurs who can’t seem to understand that you shouldn’t come running when someone yells fire. It’s a maelstrom of tires screeching, of feet shuffling, of that camera clicking sound that people put on their fucking phones so that they feel retro.

It’s the sound of people screaming while they pay for my mistakes. Past and present.

I’m wondering if it was always going to lead to this. Hell today or hell tomorrow.

I’m wondering if it matters.

I’m wondering if it ever did.

I’m tearing through walls and leaving the scattered remains of idiot henchmen behind me like they’re nothing but exhaust and I’m a tanker truck. It makes me think of the movie Akira when Tetsuo paints the hallway with those guys after he gets out of his room. He didn’t know what he was capable of yet.

I do.

Words like “caution” fade out like whatever patience I have left.

I’m leaving staircases as piles of splinters and stone. I’m up walls and through them and I hear sound catching up with me with a roar that deafens anyone who isn’t dead yet.

I’m telling myself that he pushed me to do this.

I’m telling myself that if it wasn’t him, it’d be some other asshole.

I’m telling myself that this is it. High noon. Showdown.

I’m coming to terms with words like “end”, “final”, and “death”.

Words that I thought I’d escaped a long time ago.

Words that are proving that you can’t ever really escape from. Taxes and death, they say. They were apparently half-right.

I’m at the top floor of what looked like a fucking accounting firm. I’m looking at a door that shows nothing of the chaos I’d left behind me and I’m watching it open wide while this smarmy prick stands there giving me the slow clap.

I see the chair behind him.

I see her sitting in it.

She’s crying. Tears running down her face. She doesn’t recognize me. I’m wondering if that makes it better or worse.

I hadn’t stopped to see her before I opted for war. Blood pumping in my ears. Gunfire and debris. Hatred running in my veins. I hadn’t thought to pay attention to the obvious details. I should have known.

Too late now. This is where I am.

“So we go with option C, eh?” he says when he’s finished clapping. “Burn it all down. Fuck the innocent. Fuck it all.”

“No,” I say, “Just you. Fuck you.”

I’m looking around. I’m starting to think. Wheels are turning.

He doesn’t need to pull a gun. I’m faster than he is. He knows it. I see the red dots on her blouse even if she doesn’t.

“As last words go, they’re a bit thin, don’t you think?”

I’m smiling.

“You didn’t know.”

I hear the gun after I see the bullet wound. Her body jerks from the impact. I clench my teeth. I try to tell myself it’s collateral damage. I try to tell myself that it’s not the worst case scenario. I try to tell myself that that makes it any better.

I try not care that she’s hurt and crying and doesn’t know why.

I take some small solace that this dickless piece of shit had all the pieces of the puzzle and put together the wrong fucking picture.

I’m moving faster than people blink. I’m in front of her like a human shield. I know I can’t grab her and move her as fast as I do, the physics would kill her. People underestimate reality and how deadly it is.

Bullets are for amateurs.

I know I can’t move until she’s safe.

So does he.

It’s the worst kind of stalemate.

“Get under the desk,” I say, knowing that they’re not as bullet-proof as TV shows and movies pretend. Still, it’s something.

She’s not moving. She’s terrified. I’m trying not to let that be the most important thing on my action-item list. I’m not succeeding.

“You’re a dead man,” he’s saying. “You have been for a long time. You didn’t have to take her with you.”

“Only one I’m taking is you,” I say. It feels like a hollow threat, but I don’t give a shit.

She’s finally moving. She’s under the desk. A trail of blood like some macabre Hansel and Gretel story.

I’m at his throat while I hear guns fire. I have him on the ground. My hands are anvils. They’re tanks. They’re nuclear fucking weapons.

The ground falls out from under us. I’m a fucking supernova.

He’s nothing but red mist and a lumpy torso.

There’s a crater in the earth where his corpse is left.

I’m up again and moving as fast as I can without tearing apart reality.

I’m in a silent room. I see her under the desk. She’s not crying anymore.

She never will again.

Part 8


Transistor pt.3

Part 1, Part 2

A whirlwind of screaming beckoned. A tremolo effect that saw a roar of life and death set in peaks and valleys turned sideways and then shifted backward into yesterday; stretching forward into tomorrow. The world was a blur of dizzying light and chaos. A veritable vista of vibrant views that now played upon a viola at three thousand decibels and slowed down to one seventieth its natural speed.

The earth was nothing but quakes and quivers and my legs were very much the same. My heard pounded like a timpani beneath the world’s most aggressive arms playing Tchaikovsky in the world’s most extreme orchestra.

Life was a wall of death that spanned millennia. Death was a dot on the horizon that called like a siren song. Sang a tune of sweet nectar that flooded my ears with the warmth that might have just been blood.

Trepidation stayed my feet while curiosity moved my arms. Doors parted like the red seas before Moses. The person at the front was hidden behind a sheet of glass that only reflected my face – some unknown entity that made me think of the Wizard of Oz. It was like trying to exchange pleasantries through a glory hole.

Name? Why was I there? Who did I need to see? Take a seat.

Life in a standstill.

Eventually, I heard the buzz. Saw the man enter. Clean shaven, all blue and black and brass. Said to follow him.

T.V. always made it sound like you walked in and just asked for the detective. This made it feel like I was turning myself in. I started to wonder if that’s what I was doing.

We entered a room that actually looked a lot like T.V. shows seem to depict. Desks and shitty computer monitors, towers that were probably still getting Windows Vista updates. The door closed with a heavy thud – like a gavel hit from an annoyed judge.

Suddenly, I felt like all eyes were suddenly on me. It was that creeping sensation like when you wake up from a night where you’ve clearly drunk too much and you’re waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Waiting for that one person to finally say, “So…how you feeling today?” with that look in their eye that says they know more about what you did than you do.

I walked past desks until the officer points forward to an actual office.

“Detective Harvel,” he introduced himself. “Have a seat.”

My heart is a hive of hornets. My skin is nothing but goosebumps and sweat.

He pulled out a bag and put in on the table. My heart stopped and my ears dreamt a million accusations and a great blank space of rebuttal. My mouth hung open like a fish gasping for air. I barely heard his words.

Life in slow motion.

“You okay?” he asked.

I gave him one of those, “Huh?” replies that I imagine cops love so much.

“These are yours, right?” he said with a tone that implied he was repeating himself.

I looked over the contents. Wallet, movie ticket stub, key to my high school locker. Why the fuck do I still keep that? Oh…yeah…I suppose that…

“You need some water?” he said. “Coffee, maybe?”

I didn’t understand.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m just…” I just…what? “I’m having a hard time processing this…”

“Well,” he said, “these appear to be your things unless that license belongs to your twin…who also has the same name as you and lives at your address and has your same phone number.”

“Right,” I said, “I…I mean…I get that,” I half-lied, “but…”

“Like I said,” he said, “we found it on some guys down in Allensville.”

I looked at my hand. I thought about my injuries.

My desire for an inquiry was buried beneath a hesitation that said that too many of the wrong kind of questions would make me a suspect. “Uh…I…uh…” I eloquently replied.

“Look,” he said, “we got a call. Intersection of Marvin Boulevard and 36th. Get there and we got three dead. Still not sure what the hell happened. Turf-related, maybe. We’re still trying to sort it out. We found your wallet on one of the guys, a…” he flipped through papers while the silence spread out like an old afghan on a cheap bed, “a….Mr. Timothy Wallers, alias T-Wall. Ringing any bells?”

I shook my head.

“I was…” I paused, measuring my words, “I got mugged about a week ago. Wrong place, wrong time kind of thing.”

“And what were you doing in Allensville?” he asked.

“Stopping for gas,” I lied. “Guys came out of nowhere. I gave ’em what they wanted and limped on home.”

“And why didn’t you report it?”

“Group of random guys that I can’t describe in a bad location who took a wallet. I might not be a cop, but I know that the odds of that panning out is pretty slim.”

“Didn’t happen to be there last night, did you?”

“I was at home last night.”

“Anyone able to corroborate that?”

“I…I mean…I live alone, so no.”

He gave me a mile long stare. He sat silent for just long enough to make me feel more uncomfortable than I already did, and then he kept going for another minute.

“Well,” he finally said, “glad to get your belongings back to you.”

“Yeah,” I replied as smoothly as a man who doesn’t know if he’s guilty or not, “thanks.”

I went to leave while I stuffed my wallet back in my pocket. It felt out of sorts. It felt like there was something in it that didn’t belong. I knew I’d have to wait until I got home to find out what.

“Do me a favor,” the detective said, “don’t leave town for a while. In case we have more questions.”

“Roger dodger,” I said, knowing that I sounded like a fucking moron shortly after saying it.

Part 4

Transistor pt.2

Part 1

A wall of yellow-white stretched out before me while a cacophony of a world gone wild played a symphony of iron drums, on clouds of steel that screamed out thunder made of rusted nails that scraped a blackboard of confusion. All around me was the whirlwind of inevitability – the final sum of things.

I held the picture so hard that I felt my knuckles strain, felt my fingertips driving into one another. Even had I brought it to my face, I don’t know that I would have been able to see it over the glare. I was being swallowed slowly by a miasma of forced circumstance.

I could feel my heart vibrating – pumping like cannon fire. My lungs squeezed and heaved, and I couldn’t tell at times if I were breathing or not. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. Part of me wanted to run from that revelation as sure as I wanted to flee the raging torrent that barreled toward me – unrelenting. Ravenous. Unforgiving.

I almost let a tear form when I realized that I was not so different.

I spent days mulling over what to do. Like the appearance of strange advertisements on the sites I frequent online, I saw connections and told myself they weren’t there.

Unless they are.

I thought about heading back but thought better of it. I wasn’t a private detective, I didn’t need to return the scene of the crime. Even if I did, what would I say? “Hello, I’m…uh…well, actually you don’t know me…and so, yeah. Hey, do you recall about a week ago…”

I’d driven half the distance there on three occasions before I finally realized I didn’t have the stones to do it. I tried to find more information, but news has a strange way of not staying at the forefront of a news cycle when it isn’t big enough…dark enough…violent enough. I found little more than what I’d seen when it’d first been reported.

Boy returned home. He’d been missing for over a year. Person who had him had run a red light, hit a fire hydrant. He’d fled the scene, so the cops went to his house. He’d made it inside and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Cops found the boy in his basement. I couldn’t imagine what he must have looked like. What came to mine was these big, vacant eyes – a catatonic expression…like a body whose soul was now missing.

Bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes bad shit happens to bad people, too. Maybe it happens with the same frequency. Maybe we just hear about it in different quantities.

I still had dreams. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, my stomach tightened so hard that it was cramping, my teeth clenched so hard that my jaw ached.

James had been right, to a degree. Things hadn’t been going well. Not after…

Don’t say her name…

I didn’t know enough about drugs to try getting them from somewhere that I shouldn’t have. It was my own fault. Bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes bad shit just happens to people like me…not good…not bad…just…  …just… whatever…

I stayed home most nights after that. I didn’t have the stomach to put up with James. We’d been friends by default for too long, and actual friends almost never. Like that last two drunk people left in a bar that no one goes to anymore. We just kept talking. Maybe it was because we didn’t know who else to talk to. Maybe we just didn’t know how to talk to anyone else. Maybe we’d given up trying.

With a half a fifth of cheap whiskey in my stomach, I’d thought about that night. Half-pissed at myself for being stupid. Half-pissed at myself for being such a pussy. Fully pissed at myself for just being myself. The night turned into a blur of empty glasses and failed attempts to fill in the emptiness with the right song from the right artist or band. As if the right set of words or notes could make it better – a bandaid for a wounded soul.

When I woke up, my head was pounding. My skin felt tight and ill-fitting around my forehead. My right hand was cut but there was too much dried blood to tell where the wound was.

Two ibuprofen and a hot shower later, I put a bandaid on my left eyebrow and put gauze on my hand. I tracked down the part of the wall that I must have punched but couldn’t figure out what I’d hit with my head.

Two days later I got a call from the police department.

Part 3

Transistor pt.1

I stood there looking forward into what might as well have been the abyss. Some great, cavernous reality that was speeding forward at a rate that felt forever faster. It met me with beams of light that shifted from dimes to nickels to quarters to plates to a wall of yellow-white – a sprawling canvas of termination that was stretching out and away, reading itself for the paint of finality.

All the while, the world trembled and shook. Reality itself in the throes of a great, growing earthquake. The ground went from the slow oscillations of a giant’s hand steadily drumming upon a hollow drum of broken earth and grew in waves into a cauldron of storms that lashed out and through my mind – like a star gone supernova.
I clenched my hands, felt the wince of pain from where knuckles were still bruised, cuts were still fresh. I waited patiently. My other hand held the picture like a man of unwavering faith with a cross while he looked upon the growing visage of demons rising from the charred remains of a now-desolate church.
I waited.

And I thought about how I’d gotten here…

I sat across from James while I picked at scabs while simultaneously worrying about making them bleed. My knuckles were bruised, and I could tell by the looks I was getting that the black eye that I’d previously believed “wouldn’t be that noticeable” was anything but.

“The fuck you get into, man?” he said while he turned his tumbler around on the table as he was wont to do. The glass stuttered along as it turned back and forth – a noise that I always found somewhat grating. I found it even more so now.

In the distance, the TV was on but inaudible over the sound of other patrons.

I looked at it for a minute before looking back. “Got into a fight,” I said with the tone and timbre of a man who says such a thing nonchalantly, knowing I was anything but.

“And?” he said, eyes widening.

“We came here to drink, Jimmy. Can we just do that?” And who the fuck goes by Jimmy at your age? I thought to myself.

“No…I mean…” he shied back a bit, “Yeah…no, man. I’m not trying to pry…”

Yes, the fuck you are…

“I just…You know. I mean…”

“I’m me.”

“I mean, if someone’s fucking with you, man…”


“No. No one’s fucking with me,” I said with little finger quotes. “I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been.” I took a small drink of beer. “Lesson learned.”

James nodded, looked around a bit. “Where at?”

I gave a sigh the size of Texas and said, “Allensville.”

His face said plenty that his mouth didn’t. “Look, man, I know that shit’s been rough since…”

Don’t say her name…

“Well…since…well, you know.”

“It’s fine…”

“I’m just saying, man…”

“I…” I paused, “Wait. Are you saying…”

“Hey,” he said, his hands raise, “no judgment, man. I mean, hey, I know guys who pay for it. But, shit, man, you know. Just like…be careful.”

“You think I went there for a hooker?”

“You went there for not-a-hooker?”

I ran the words through my head. I thought about the truth. I thought about the lie. I thought about the lesser of evils.

“I mean, either that or you put a hood with bat ears on and go fighting crime,” he said with a laugh.

“Yeah, not really my skill set,” I said.

Silence stretched for a moment while the noise of the small bar moved to fill in the gaps.

“Just don’t tell anyone,” I said.

“Hey, no big deal, man,” he replied. “Who the fuck would I tell anyway, right?” he offered with a smile.

Literally anyone you talk to…

Yeah…no big deal, I thought while I picked at the scabs on my hand while trying not to make them start bleeding.

On the TV, I saw the news unfolding. I recognized the face I was seeing, even if I didn’t recognize the story that was circling around it. She’d been standing on a corner not far from where it had happened.

It was one of the only things I remembered clearly. Well…that and how much it hurt.

“How much did it cost you?” James asked playfully.

“More than it should have,” I answered.

Part 2

Aberration – pt. 6

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

I’m looking at a place that I’d rather not be.

It’s one of those moments like a drunk man staring at a bar, or maybe it’s more like a drunk man staring at the door to an AA meeting.

Maybe the difference is negligible.

For me, the moment is caught in a freezeframe that would feel like a blink to anyone else. I’m moving past it and around a corner through an alley. I’m up the side of a building and over rooftops. I make speeding bullets look like darts thrown from the hands of a drunk man toward some shitty board in the dark corner of a hole-in-the-wall bar that only sad people visit when the sun goes down.

Inside, my mind is racing – a storm that’s louder than the one at the edge of the city. A storm that’s little more than the sound of a falling pin upon a feather mattress when compared to the one that I represent.

Six days after my meeting with the nameless antagonist and I have answers that make me feel like Neo when he’s sitting across from Agent Smith in the first Matrix movie. I have that feeling like I can fight what’s being leveraged against me while facing the sad reality that I’m stuck looking at a loaded gun resting in my mouth – the only question is will I pull the trigger, or will he?

Their warning shot had been just that. But it was enough to let me know that this wasn’t a bluff. This wasn’t a game. This wasn’t some sad attempt to turn Superman into the Death Star.

Movies give us plots like that.

Movies tell us that there are bad men in the world that, when faced with supreme power, simply want to find a way to tuck it into their holster. Something to do with mommy issues or a small penis or something. I’m not Freud, your guess is as good as mine.

But this isn’t that.

This is a cold reflection of a mirror casting back an image of “You don’t belong here. You haven’t for a while. It’s time for you to go.”

I’m at the highest point in the city and I’m wondering what to do when I feel like I’m more of a villain than I thought I was. Wondering if this is how it works in the mind of evil. A thought process that says “I’m doing this for the right reasons. What I’m doing IS for the greater good.” A thought process that sits diametrically opposed to the virtues of another. And when those forces clash, both are villains.

Both are heroes – if only to themselves.

Her birthday is in ten days, not that it means anything. Maybe it never did.

I’m looking out over the city and listening to a storm of vitriol. The sounds of shit humans doing shit things to people who already have enough shit on their plate without having to put up with so much shit.

I’m wondering if I’ve actually made that better.

I’m combing through the things I’ve done. The destruction I’ve caused. I’m trying to figure out how to balance it out.

How do you put numbers to faces? How do you tally the lives lost and lives saved. It’s like shooting bullets at the rain sometimes.

I’m watching a black car pull around the building and park. I’m watching the man get out. I’m wondering about a lot of options, and if any of them are answers, or if they’re just poorly worded questions.

I see him pause and reposition a flower that’s in his front pocket.

Message received asshole. Message received.

I’m barreling through a curtain of rain and leaving behind sounds that, when they strike, will mix with the roar of thunder…not that I care.

I’m looking at windows as they race by, at faces that don’t see and probably never will.

I’m standing at a place I’d rather not be. I’m not even moving. People stop and stare at me. They take in the horror of what I look like…not that I care.

Her birthday is in ten days, not that it really matters.

I can feel the reality of steel in my mouth. I can feel my own trembling fingers on the metaphorical trigger.

I feel like a man with his one year chip staring at a bar, or maybe it’s more like staring at the confession booth in a church.

Maybe the difference is negligible.

I’m realizing that sometimes when you shoot bullets at the rain, the rain is gonna shoot back. I’m terrified of what comes next.

I’m terrified of what will happen if it doesn’t.

Her birthday is in ten days. I don’t want that to matter.

Part 7

Aberration – pt. 5

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I’m looking at the flowers.

I know you want to know.

Or maybe you don’t.

Everyone loves that moment of exposition. Everyone wants to understand the puzzle pieces. Everyone wants that moment when Neo was told about the Matrix, and no one wants the fucking sequel.

After the reveal, everything else is just a sad old man with a projector screen offering promises he can’t keep.

Tell yourself it’s a Dorian Gray kind of situation. Tell yourself it’s a curse from a warlock. Tell yourself that I was bitten by a radioactive monkey from Sector 9.

Let me ask you, sunshine, does the reason matter that much when you get shit-canned? Does it matter that much when you or a loved one catches a stray bullet that was meant for some nearby asshat, or, even worse, intended for no one because some jerk-wad is stupid, drunk, irresponsible, mentally inept, or some combination of the above?

Maybe it does.

Maybe it doesn’t.

I’m keeping my profile as low as I can which is lower than you’d expect. I feel like Dr. Manhattan hiding in a fucking petting zoo.

The messages stopped coming, and I don’t know why.

The trail of dead bodies is stretching like a newly paved highway in the roadmap of my mind. Rivers of blood are raging beneath those roads with the same fury as the blood in my own veins.

Every blip of a siren, every abnormal shift in the shadows puts me on edge.

I’m not afraid of people coming for me. I know that cops and feds and countless others from the alphabet soup of agencies are trying to get me…now more than ever. I’m not afraid they’ll hurt me. I’m not afraid of what they’ll do to me.

I’m afraid of what I’ll do to them.

I’m afraid of what they’ll do to her.

The coin of reality is flipping in my mind when a man walks by and I see him pull his hand from his pocket to check the time. A card drops from his pocket.

Say what you will about Nemesis Nancy, but the fucker has cloak and dagger down to a science.

I snatch the card and make a retreat. I don’t need to be near civilians when I decide to read what it says. A location. Old and out of the way. A payphone…one of the few remaining in the city.

I’ll cut to the chase. Moriarity wants to meet.

It’s a little building out of the way on Sheridan. Low traffic. Non-descript. No guards, which both surprises me, and doesn’t.

Inside I find him at a table. No fun shadow tricks. No all-white villain suit with a brimmed hat. No cigar. No fat cat in his lap. He looks like someone who should be named Brad and says things like, “Oh, for sure, man…for sure…” with a cocksure smile and an upper-management haircut.

Before I can do much, he pulls up a tablet and angles it toward me so I can see inside the room. I can see the flowers in that old vase that I always thought looked so tacky. I see a small red dot appear and move around the room and then it’s gone.

Message clear. Guns and what-not. No shit…

“I know you already know this, but I find that some people, in the moment, care less about what they know and more about what they feel,” he sounds like a man who spends times making above-board deals in nice rooms with well-lacquered tables.

“So let’s get to it, sunshine…”

“Now see…that,” he says, “that’s an interesting phrase. Makes you come off like some cocky anti-hero type. Like it’s a little quip. A jab.”

“Fuck you.”

“It’s always sloppiness, you know? That’s what gets everyone fucked up in the end. Those loose ends you didn’t tie. Those ones you let get away. You ever seen the movie Heat?”


“Whole thing turns to shit, and why? Because Waingro was a fucking cowboy who couldn’t keep his finger off a trigger? No. Because one idiot says, ‘Hey, cool it, slick.’ Every point from there is mere trajectory.”

“Cool story, Ebert. You gonna give me the ‘ol two thumbs treatment now?”

“What I want,” he says with a little sigh, “is for you to recognize your position and react accordingly.”

“You want Cerberus on a leash.”

“I want Cerberus back in hell where he belongs.”

“So dot that fucking i, Waingro.”

I hear the sound of where a bullet strikes. I feel a tightness in my chest. I feel a sharp pain creeping through my nerves an muscles.

“How hard do you want to make this on yourself?” he asks.

I wish I could tell you I had an answer.

Part 6

Dreamer – pt.7

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5Part 6

“I see zeros and ones til zeros are done and I hear, oh, I hear, oh, the heroes and nuns disappear in the sun. I circle and circle and circle and circle and where are the words that I wrote?  They hurt you, and hurt you, and hurt you, and hurt you with zeroes for sums and a mirror of one that can never reveal what you won’t…”

– Emily Chamberlain. Notes taken 08-02-2041. Third visitation.

The patient remains unstable. Further assessment required for a recommendation. The patient appears to have symptoms of psychological detachment. Root of condition currently unknown. Previous doctor, one Willam Salvatore, unreachable. Previous notes missing.

Personal note: Associated drawings and methods show elements of repetition and might be some mental concept that she has codified. Further analysis required.

He walked casually through the inky streets and their stained glass stars. He breathed in cool air that was like the tundra in his lungs. He could feel the disparity, like a man who drinks too cold water too quickly and now feels that strange freeze within his stomach.

He pulled the world to his view. Pulled forth miles of road that twisted and turned while his feet seemed almost inert. He called himself forward to the old wreckage of lean-tos and hold-fasts where things within the Mire would slink and slumber.

How many of them had become Mist? How many had always been? That line had always blurred for him and blurred rapidly.

He remembered asking once, “If we can enter and leave…can they?”

A lecture later, the question had been answered.

It always stuck with him, though, that he’d never once heard an answer of “no”.

He saw him standing there, amidst the people whose talked and gathered. A perfect scene that one might see in a movie where a crowd has gathered at the front of a theater building. No one saw the Mire as he did. No one felt the Fume the same. He could smell the shift about the man. The other faces looked like well-done oil paintings. His was crisp like a picture from an HD camera.

To the man, he would see a world that matched his own perception. So many did. It was how they failed. It was how they got burned.

He approached the man. No pretense. No foreplay. When their eyes met, he could see the uncertainty. He was trying to process. He recognized reality within rendition too late.

The scene froze, the sound like an old modem trying to connect. The crowd stuck with faces mid-sentence, but the oil texture moved like it was once again wet and running. The man was locked into a strange stance. Layer by layer he shivered and fluttered away as if made of salt in a wind tunnel.

Tyler watched him disappear. Smelled the scent of the surrounding Fume shift and churn. It smelled like burning cinnamon.

When it ended, the man was there amidst the crowd who resumed talking. This time, all the faces were oil.

Somewhere, in the land of Merit, a man would be sitting very still. His pulse little more than an echo. EKGs and whatever else a doctor might do would call him alive.

Tyler knew better.

He slipped away from the scene, noticed the ethereal eyes of trackers in the world around them. Dogs of the same pack, they no longer noticed his scent.

He pulled the world around him. Drew in the long dark alleys and wrapped himself through cold corridors and into old cathedrals. He listened for Echoes and felt the world for traces of the Glare. No one seemed to notice the dead spots in the Mire. Those places where life met lucid and melted together. No one noticed they were, in a way, all the same location in many different places.

He pulled himself through those broken halos. Drew forth the land where crimson waters churned under skies of bruised clouds and an angry black sun.

Tyler didn’t fear much, but he feared the Gallows.

Not far within the perimeter where rain fell like ash and winds wrote their fury in the sky like a whirling breeze within a room of thick smoke, he heard the sound of light coughing.

Behind a strange growth of earth and stone that curled and wrapped up into a mass of geometric boils, he saw him standing there.

“You look like shit, old man,” he said.

“I’ve been worse…”

“You sure about this?”

“Certainty is luxury we rarely get…”

Tyler let out a sigh. “Tell me what comes next…”

Warren stood up and put his hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “Follow my lead…”

This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.

Link for Part 8