Hang On St. Christopher

A couple of years ago my buddy CP and I were walking down to the liquor store to grab some beer. As we walked- doubtless discussing something important like the boobs of our wifes or what gun would be best in a ZomPoc situation- we passed a little old lady who put her foot where there wasn’t sidewalk. The LOL starting to pitch to the side and probably would have careened into traffic or crashed down to a nasty hip injury, but one of us stepped foreward and caught her by the arm.

I think I actually said something like “First step is a doozy” or “careful there miss!” as I aided the LOL back to her feet, but I don’t recall. CP and I like to tease each other somewhat mercilessly, so “Lifesaver Klein” was bandied about a bit, and when I intervened in a domestic altercation taking place in my garage a few months later, rousing cries of “Did you wear your cape?” could be heard.

Please understand- I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Boy Scout. Nontheless, when Annika and I discovered that Sam adored hiking (and that we did too), I filled a zip-lock bag with some band-aids, draw-out salve, wound wipes and the like and tucked it in the bag we would leave in the car when we got to Vasquez Rocks or The Devil’s Punchbowl.

Then came the time we saw the guy get thrown by his horse and suffer a head wound that had me wishing I had EMT training. He survived, but it was scary for a few moments (it always is when someone loses consciousness), and since that time, the first-aid kit has gone on my belt whenever we hike or climb.

I feel kind of douchey- like I’m some paramilitary dad or something. Now, understand: that is MY fault. I approved the cool MOLLE attachment coyote-brown milspec pouch that Annika picked out to keep the first aid gear in. I’m the one who suggested a web-belt with canteen pouch for carrying our water supply. So if I look like an out-of-shape Airsoft enactor, it’s my own damn fault.

On Saturday I took the kids hiking at Placerita Canyon with our friend Jim. The web-belt now has the first aid pouch (which also has room for the digital camera), a 1 quart canteen, and a general purpose pouch that we tuck diapers, wipes and a wet bag in for Miss Grace’s needs. With that much weight pushing down on my hips (I am prone to a bit of a hip problem if I carry too much on them for a time) I said “eh, fuck it, so I look like a retard” and picked up a pair of old Y-frame suspenders to help distribute the load-out weight on my shoulders.

I guess I don’t look too much like a creepy wannabe guy. I just really like the drab coloring and rugged functionality of surplus gear.

Anyways, as we set out on our epic uphill climb (15% grade! And Sam walked the whole 3 miles himself, there and back!) we passed some young kid with a gory elbow. Seems he’d taken a nasty spill near the top of the trail and janked himself up on some rocks, and he was a little concerned that the Nature Center had a first aid station.

“Let me take a glance,” I said. I had just re-packed the first aid kit that AM, so I knew where everything was, cleaned and dressed his wound and sent him on his way. The kid was almost absurdly grateful.

“I think he was worried about bleeding out,” Jimmy dead-panned as we hiked on.

The thing is, I kind of like having the 1st aid kit. I’ve used it on a nasty scrape Sam got across his chest when he made a poorly timed jump, and on my own self for a few minor injuries.

But I get to a point where I start to worry. Should I have a tourniquet in there? What if there is a BAD injury, a Holy Shit injury. What about a snake bite? We live on the edge of a desert biome; a rattlesnake bite isn’t an unrealistic concern. But are snake bite kits even viable?

I just found out today that my friend Keith’s kids were in a really bad car accident- they are all ok, but I cannot imagine how terrifying that was for him and his wife. What good does being prepared do then? And how prepared is prepared and how much water should you really have in your closet for when the Big One hits and…

I never used to worry much, because it was just me. And Annika can take care of herself. But with kids…

I remember Sam and I saw another dad out with his two kids at Vasquez Rocks once. He had a huge fucking Rambo type knife on his belt, tied down to his thigh. Now I have a knife, it’s a folding blade attached to a Gerber multi-tool. I usually just stick it in a pocket when we go out- not because I think I’ll need it, but because it is small and compact and “what if”.

On the one hand, guy kinda was asking to be chuckled about. He had a giant fucking machete lashed to his hip while walking around a state park where you have to work extra hard to get out of sight of a house, and there are tourists everywhere (unless you go way into the back country, like we do, but he wasn’t). But maybe he was just “what if”ing it. At what point do we stop being “prepared” and start becoming goofy assholes?

The rural New Mexicans I worked with on crews in Colorado often carried a chunk of Osha root in their pockets, because a snake will not bite someone carrying it (they told me). And are things like first aid kits and snake bite kits and pocket knives just our Norse safe travel medallions, Hindi good luck bracelets, osha root and St. Christopher on the dash?

Little Deaths

Like a great lumbering beast- continuing to charge forward after its already dead- the 1st book in a series (which I could honestly continue to write for as long as I draw breath) comes to an end.

At 6 Parts, 119,889 words, this puppy was written in- you know I don’t honestly remember when I first started writing it. It FEELS like a year, but it wasn’t. I didn’t break ground on this manuscript until late spring, early summer of ’08- I think.

Oof. It’s been hard going. And it isn’t done- there is still a possible postscript that might be necessary to lead into Book 2 and… editing, of course…

But the nice thing is, unlike with DOGS which was written so helter-skelter herky-jerky, this one flowed out. It took it’s own time, meandered into some side stories- and I think it works pretty well.

I can’t believe it!

Hopefully I can avoid the post-partum depression this time around, I’ll be pushing Annika to hurry up and read it so she can give me notes (requests for same from others will follow close at hand)… and maybe I need to start working on book 2. Or maybe I need to start figuring out how to write a query letter or maybe…

Maybe I need to pick up a bottle of tequila on the way home and have a nice stiff drink tonight and relax.

I can’t believe it!

Two Fisted Tales of Adventure and Suspense

There is a world outside of this one and another outside that; and another and another and another. There is a crawlspace between those worlds: those who control that space control the secrets.

What secrets?

Shhhh. We’ll tell you.

The devil drives a lime green Geo Metro.

What they say about Blue Hole, Ong’s Hat, Montauk and Hoop Snakes is all true- mostly. 

Devil Bats swarm the crawlspace between worlds, looking for a way to get in. 

The Lizard Men aren’t under Mount Shasta anymore, the Vampire Clans wiped them out. 

There are no Yeti in Pennsylvania, only Squonks and punk rock succubi. 

Don’t go to Pilot’s Knob after the sun has set. 

Eustace the Monk was on to something. 

Always trust the blue haired girls, if only a little. 

There is no Welsh room within the Cathedral of Learning, no matter what they may tell you. 

Hagstones work. 

There aren’t 9 Unknown Men, only 7 are left. 

Please do not annoy the Yokai. 

The Invisible Library is hard to find. 

Pope Sylvester II really did. 

Night Riders will see you on the iron road, skag.  

Blind Pete always said you’d hang.  

Who are the Convergence Generals?  

Ghost Lights never burn out or break.

The Jersey Devil was framed. 

The World Snake is sleeping… for now. 

 Low Odysseys has been gathering dust.  Why?

 Why? Because it has gone way past the point of being a roman a clef and it’s about 40,000 words into a novel.  -none of it reprints of this stuff- I had intended for this website to be a thinly veiled reportage of the daily drudgery but it became a bit more and the story took on a life of it’s own with many of the characters borrowed from my near and dear, once and future friends and loved ones… and now it’s a novel.

It’s not unlike what has come before, but it’s far less self-indulgent and with a surprising amount of heart.  Shit, I’m surprised at least

Originally, I thought “A” Novel, as in one.  Except I’m at the halfway point of telling the early years of The RevDoc and his first brushes with that old devil Floyd, and how he met his various lovers, allies and worthies… and it looks like the first novel is going to end beforethe college years.   So as much as I have enjoyed keeping this site more-or-less up to date with two-fisted tales of gun porn, the paranormal, and high camp- I feel like it is important to tell you all why it’s being ignored, for now.  While this is going on, while I’m actually trying to catapult this unwieldy fucking thing into a low orbit, Low Odysseys will continue to gather some dust for a while… but I won’t be gone, not entirely. 

Much of the secret history is yet to be told.  Of the amazing Grimm sisters Nora, Nova and Nina…

…how Dr. Israel Hands became the world’s only living zombie…

…of the early years of the man who would be The Reverend Doctor Syn, two-fisted adventurer and the only defense between our sideways world and The Convergence.  A roadie, roustabout, rake and rounder, trucker, preacher, hobo and beerslinger…

 All these stories,  and all the weirdly familiar characters you’ve tuned in to read about… Alexei Viktori, the Poison Lady, GunWytch, Mister E and the rest (and many, many that you haven’t met yet)… well, you might get to read about them again. 

You just have to be a little patient.  The RevDoc’s patient. 

Turn Back, O Man

The deck of the Shiftship trembles under the soles of my pointy-toed cowboy boots.  My spurs don’t go jingle-jangle-jingle, but the silver-filigreed iron ornaments hanging from them (jingle-bobs) do. 

“I could just blow your guts all over the multiverse,” I shout over the steady throbbing moan of a newly born world’s core.  “But that wouldn’t be very fair to the multiverse.” 

My weapon is at my side, muzzle down.  The weapon is loaded, the safety is off, but I’m not pointing the handgun at my opponent.  This is partially because, with the Shiftship lurching and leaping in this gravity storm, I’d look silly, and partially because I don’t want to scare my opponent into firing his weapon. 

“Perhapssssssss,” hisses Lazslo the Lizard Man.  “And perhapsssss not!” 

I think it over, get that confused pain in the front of my brain. 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I wonder, not loudly enough to be heard over the birth rumbles.  The Shiftship lurches again, and I grab onto the safety-wire with my left hand.  The Lizard Man has his toe-talons dug into the polished deck of the Shiftship.  That’s gonna leave a mark.   

Of course he has a hostage. He’s clutching Miss Twist by a handful of hair, she’s kneeling in front of him, face furious.  In the Lizard Man’s other hand is a hi-tech weapon with a view-finder covered with blinking LEDs and other gizmos.  Some kind of next-gen machine-pistol fucked a camcorder or something. 

“Just waste him, RevDoc,” shouts Miss Twist.  “Waste him and go get Nora back, but whatever you do let’s quit fuckin’ around, cause my knees are getting sore,” 

I glance around the deck: we passed through the Crawl into a new inner-orbit, some world in its birth pains, pursued by a swarm of Devil Bats.  Things got hinky, and I might be the only one capable of stopping this fucking Lizard Man.    

Wer verfolgt dich, daß du schon fliehst?” loudly croons the soprano voice of the GunWytch: Urbania Codwainer Spurlock, 24 year old pacifistic goth fetishist opera singer who wields twin-submachine guns in a skin-tight bodysuit in battle against the Unnatural.  While singing Wagner.  Oh yeah, and current possessor of some half of my wife Nora’s memories… 

Nora Synn.  Born Nora Grimm.  My lover, partner in crime, mother of my bloodson, Clyde.  The Convergence Generals took her from me when we accidentally activated the Ourobourus Element and slid sideways into The World-Crawl of the 10-Spiraled Multiverse.   

The Convergence Generals: Evil incarnate, possibly a demonic cabal of Illuminati controlling the world from beyond the veil, or possibly something much more horrifying.  We’re not sure, it isn’t like they left a note saying: “we’ve got your family-stop- The Convergence Generals-stop”.  They sent a telegram with that message.  Fuckers.   

The Ourobourus Element: the pulsing egg-sack of the great World Snake.  Pure matter.  Or possibly anti-matter, we’re unclear, but apparently limitless power once harnessed has allowed us to tap into The Crawl.

The Crawl; that strangely eldritch and eerie spooky-space that exists between worlds, space, time, and thought.  Possibly also smell, though we’re still not sure about that one.

Christ, what else am I leaving out?  Catching you up isn’t easy… uh, Convergence Generals, family, The Crawl, World Snake eggs, oh yeah!  The Shiftship.  Or Slipship, we don’t want a lawsuit.  Miss Twist’s incredibly skilled paramour, Perfect Tommy, procured the Slipship when it crashed onto a dry lake bed in the high desert near Palm Springs.

“Damn near crushed some old sun worshipers,” PT had told me over a few cold margaritas at Pappy & Harriet’s.  His was strawberry & blended, mine on the rocks, hold the margarita mix.  Despite, or perhaps because of, a blood-soaked childhood spent in the swamps of Southern Louisiana and a distinguished career in the highly deniable SEAL Team 13, Tommy Twist likes girlie drinks.  With umbrellas. 

“And I mean old,” drawled my former comrade-in-arms, a highly capable old war dog if I’ve ever known one.  “One dude, I swear, he was so weathered it was like a beef jerky with eyes!”

The Slipship is a flat-bottomed vessel with a retractable mainmast, mizzen, and bowsprit.  It has a short fo’castle, and a bridge only slightly higher, (masts retracted), from deck to gunnel top, she’s only seven feet tall, twelve at the bridge.  From bow to stern, the Slipship is forty-two feet long, and twelve feet wide.  Despite the ships deceptively low profile, there are spacious accommodations below deck: galley, cargo hold, cabins.  It’s all flat-space technology, or is that folded space?  It’s like a Bag of Holding, or at least that is what my sister-in-law, Nina Twist (née Grimm) tells me.  And now Lazslo the Lizard Man is holding her hostage.  And hissing at me.  Fucker.

GunWytch has come up empty, every magazine in her arsenal depleted at the Devil Bats.  She stands proudly upon the fo’castle, surrounded by the corpses of her enemies, her hands futility clenched at her side.  As well as some of my wife’s memories, Urbania also has pre-developed emotional warmth towards my wife’s friends and family, except for me, for some reason.  She dotes on our (Nora and my) son, Clyde.  She adores Nora’s two sisters, Nova and Nina, she is sweet to my friends and even civil to my ex-girlfriends.  Which is more than I can say for Nora.

My friends and family have followed me into this mess, and I owe them more than I can possibly repay- and to some of them I won’t be able to.

Alexei Viktor has fallen.  The man we called Professor Victory sacrificed himself to save my son, and give me and my college roommate time to get clear.  His sacrifice still resonates; as well it should, it’s only been like 40 minutes.

Toxic Viv’s blue hair is matted with dark red, our Poison Lady was struck by a hurtling Devil Bat and is collapsed across the blister-compartment that controls the Ourobourus egg discharge, which in turn powers the Slipship: I think she’s still breathing, but I honestly can’t tell from this angle.

Dr. Israel Hands, my family physician, Godfather to my son, has been torn in half.  His innards are strewn across the deck of the Slipship.  His lower torso, legs bent and shattered,  is beneath a truly huge Devil Bat, the one that Lazslo the Lizard Man (Major to the Convergence Generals) had ridden into battle. 

The Queen Bat, a great festering creature that, crouching, could barely fit its weird shape on the deck of the Slipship had made for my shrieking son.  Clyde, blue eyes filled with tears of fear, nonetheless (and only two years old) clenched tiny fists in defiance as the massive beast shambled towards him.   

“EEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeya, no?” screamed Clyde.

“Get away from, ssslrrrrruurrrrp, him you bitch!” roared Dr. Hands.  Dr. Hands has a drooling problem, sort of like Tourette Syndrome, but he is trying to moan, or say “braiiiiiins” rather than whatever the other sufferers of TS are grunting.  Oh Christ, I wonder if they’re…  never you mind that yet.

Dr. Hands is the world’s only (I think) Living Zombie: half man, half undead brain-chomper.  He regularly injects himself with a strange concoction drawn from weird plants that grow on the side of theHindu Kush when the moon shines full and bright to combat his zombie urges, and Jesus, he won’t ever shut up about it!

“When the moon shines, brrrrraaaaains, full and bright, I climb the side of the Hindu Kush;” he’ll say, pushing his spectacles back on his nose and swirling a glass of wine before deeply inhaling it’s bouqet.  My Gods, if I had a dollar for every time he told that story at a cocktail party…

But, right, so the Queen Bat tries to get at my son, and Dr. Hands attacks it, hand-to-claw!  It was over in about three seconds, with half of Dr. Hands going one way and the other half going under her clawed feet.  Still, brave.  Brave and futile.  I couldn’t race to Clyde in time, a tiny red-headed boy of 2 years wearing little cowboy boots and a wild look in his eye shrieking as the lumbering monstrosity took a step towards him, hissing… when a small dark shape hurtled down from the mainmast: Mr. E.

I met Erik Thorson at University, we were roommates our first year at Miskatonic.  Back when he didn’t wear a strange mask covered in eldritch glyphs that seem to shimmer and dance in eerie and hypnotic mirror images…

Mr. E.  Nasty, brutish and short.  He landed atop the Queen Bat and yanked something from his pocket: his wallet chain?  No!  It was a Manriki-gusari, the ancient Japanese length of chain with a forged weight at either end.  Nice one, E!  Whipping the weapon around the roaring beast’s neck, he caught the weight and pulled, steering the creature!  Unhappy, the great monster unfurled its massive wings and beat them once, twice, starting to fly up…

But the violent winds created by its forty-foot wingspan was devastating.  Even as I caught onto a safety-line, I saw Clyde, hurtling along the length of the Slipship’s deck as the entire vessel canted in air over the molten lava of a forming world core…

“CLYDE!” I shrieked.

“Yabababababaaaa?” yelped my son.

Israel, at least the upper half of him, was all Hands: One clutching the gunwale, the other gripping Clyde by his small hand.  He’s still alive!  Or, whatever he is.  I guess the upper half is the zombie half.  Or something.  Dr. Hands’ upper half smiled reassuringly as Clyde giggled and wiggled back and forth in the world-storm. 

With a roar, Mr. E drove a series of lightning-fast blows into the back of the Queen Bat’s skull, driving the creature down… so that the Mainsail pierced its foul and noisome flesh!  The creature collapsed with a shudder and a spasm, the broken Mainsail sticking out of its huge furry ribcage, black ichor bubbling forth.  It was awesome. 

“Dude!  That was soooo God of War!” I shouted jubilantly to Mr. E.  He threw me a thumbs up, but in the Queen Bat’s death struggles, he was thrown clear across the length of the Slipship, SLAMMING into the wall of the cabin with a sickening crunch, and disappearing through the hole his body made in the wood.  Ouch.

It was at that point that Lazslo made himself known, at the same moment that The GunWytch coolly shot down the last remaining regular-sized Devil Bat and tossed her spent and smoking weapons aside.  Fucking Lizard Men, always making a good entrance… 

“Let her go, Lazslo, you sibilant shitheel. That’s family, and you’re clawing up my deck.”

We’re back in the now.  The Lizard Man, predictably, opens his red maw and hisses.  A forked tongue dances out and uncoils down towards Miss Twist, stroking her cheek.

“Nasty!” she grumbles.  She’s weighing the situation, her hands are free, but the hi-tech sub-gun is pointed at her head.  She’s no dummy.

The Slipship shudders again.  “The fuck did we pick this World Vent to slip into,” I mumble.  I glance down at the deck, Clyde is holding Dr. Hands’ upper torso around the neck: my son appears to be asleep, covered in gore and grime.  Dr. Hands grins at me, white frothy fluids spurt out of his mouth as he smiles.

“Not bad, for a, slrrrrrrp, human,”

“Are you puking milkshake all over my kid?” I snarl at my oldest surviving half-zombie friend.  He sort of shrugs, and I shake my head and turn my attention back to Lazslo.

“Look, Laz, Lizard dude: are you a gay?”

Miss Twist furrows her brow at me, Lazslo’s tongue stops in mid-wiggle, even Dr. Hands belches up some milkshake in surprise.

Welch Licht leuchtet dort?” croons the GunWytch softly.

“Seriously Lazslo,” I say, playing for broke.  “Yer queer, yer here, and yer taking it out on us, right?”

I could feel assurance rolling through me.  This just might distract him, even piss him off!  Make him forget Miss Twist and come after me.

“Chasing some ass, Laz?  Come on, you big hissing girly-lizard-“

“Actually,” hisses Lazslo.  “I came out to my hatch-brethren many moonssss ago.  Nor do I care if you can ssssensssse my proclivitiesss, what doessss it matter to me?  I am ssssstill going to ssssshoot your friend-“

Well, shit.  That was pointless. And now I feel like a dick.

Dr. Hands is shaking his head at me.  “Poor form, gay jokes,” he grumbles.  “Don’t be a dick,”

“Yessssss, you ARE a dick, Sssssyn,” hisses Lazslo, cocking the sci-fi weapon clutched in his claw.  “We have heard that you had cleaned up your act, ssssstopped sssssmoking and being an asssssshole, but mayhapssss these are liessssss, yessssssss?  Why not call me an asssssss-pirate or sssssomething, you fuck!” 

The Lizard Man shakes his head, and prods the muzzle of his hi-tech weapon into the back of Miss Twist’s skull. 

“Thissss isss a Rayonac Glamdring 10mm SssuperSssshooter,” the Lizard Man’s bulbous eyes flick down to the bull-pup sub-machinegun covered with sighting devices and tactical lasers and the like.  “It’ll put five or ssssix bulletssss where I tell it to, thankssss to all thesssse ssssscopes”

Hi-tech gun with super scopes?  Okay, I can grok that.  A Smart-Gun.

It’sssssss a sssssssmart-gun!” says the Lizard Man.  “From the Mount Sssssshassssssta Armory!”

So shoot me then!” I shout over the world-storm.  Lazslo shakes his head.

“We don’t want you dead, Ssssssyn,” he hisses, yellowish teeth gleaming in the eldritch gloaming.  “But we will kill all your friendsssssss-“

So I shoot Lazslo.  Or rather, I just fire the Glock 21 pistol that I’m holding once, into the deck next to my foot.

It’s a big plastic-composite pistol, chambered for the venerable .45 ACP.  It’ll knock down most people, and if I hit him in a vital it might even kill Lazslo.  But not before he kills one of my sisters-in-law.  I don’t even aim at him, I just fire blind, into the deck.  Which is fine.  Because there isn’t a .45 ACP loaded into the Glock’s 13 round magazine.  I’m probably going to have to replace the barrel:  it’s a hand-loaded Banshee round.  

The sound concussion causes Miss Twist, Toxic Viv and Dr. Hands’ eyeglasses to explode, those bespectacled and conscious wince.   Clyde wakes up, screaming.   The GunWytch clamps her thin pale hands over her pierced ears. 

And the hi-tech future-gun that Lazslo is holding at the temple of Nina Twist loses its myriad scopes and gyros and geegaws. 

A cornucopia of falling splintered plastic and glass litters the deck of the ship.  The multiple LEDs flickering on the barrel, grip, stock, magazine and rail-system of the sci-fi gun stop flickering.  Sometimes you can be too hi-tech.“Oh, sssssshit,” mutters the now unarmed Lazslo. 

And Miss Twist half-turns in a blur, snapping his forearm with a savage blow, thrusting her head into his solar-plexus and standing suddenly, the top of her skull thwacking resonantly into his lower jaw, sending one of his huge fangs up through his own upper-lip. 

Simultaneously she is kicking his instep far enough out that she can lever him onto the deck, shoulder-first, and drive the heel of her combat boot deep into his thorax, splintering the bone there.

Lazslo splutters and groans, hisses, and spews greenish blood high into the air.

“I can tell you where hisssss wife issss!” shrieks the creature before Miss Twist stomps on his larynx.  Hard.  Cartilage and flesh give way to bone.  He turns a darker green: dead, no blood or air reaching his brain.  Miss Twist turns to me quickly, tears gathering quickly in her big pale blue eyes. 

I shake my head, waving away the unspoken apology.  “Its okay, Twist,” I tell her.  “He was just treading water, trying to buy time…”

I walk to the edge of the Slipship and look down at the roiling and boiling surface of a new world.  Clyde walks over, rubbing his eyes, and puts his chubby little hand in mine.  Nina Twist walks up on my other side, laying a well-manicured hand on my shoulder. 

“We’ll find her, Nick,” she whispers.  I glance over at The GunWytch, tending to Toxic Viv’s scalp wound.

Dämmert der Tag schon auf?” sings The GunWytch softly.

Mr. E pulls himself from the cabin, bloodied and battered, but still mobile.

I think I’m gonna piss blood, dude,” he grunts.  Then he pulls Dr. Hands up by an arm, dangling the upper torso from his shoulders.

Ain’t so tall now, are you, Israel?” laughs Mr. E.  I can actually see the corner of his mouth through his torn mask.  It isn’t a happy laugh, but a grim grin of combat joined and never to be unbroken, until the end.

“We need to regroup.  If we keep chasing their vector through the world-storms, we’ll end up whittled down to nothing,”

“We can’t give up now!” says Toxic Viv, limping towards us. 

“Yeah, brrrrains, we’re with you all the way!” burbles the upper-torso of Dr. Hands.

Heng Dai, dude,” whispers Mr. E. 

“Hi!  Hi!  Hi!” happily chirps Clyde, waving shyly at Urbania.

“So jach sah ich nie Walküren jagen-” sings The GunWytch.

“No, he’s right,” says Miss Twist.  “This isn’t working.  They’ve got numbers and time and we’ve got neither…”

I wish, not for the last time, for a cigarette, and lean on the gunwale to stare down into the churning mass of color and form that is a world-birth. 

“Travel Stations, people” I sigh, tired to my very bones.  I run my hand down over my face and turn.  “Viv, poke that egg and get us up to half-power for a full vent.  Twist, set course to St. August, Florida.  Earth VII low Crawl orbit.”

My teams move into their roles with practiced ease.  Which is funny, because we’re all pretty new at world-venting and Slipship operations.

Urbania and Mr. E manage to get the deck cleared of carcasses.  Miss Twist and Viv power up the Slipship and side-vent us into one of the faster-moving coronary arteries of the core worlds.  Dr. Hands drags himself towards the cabin, with Clyde hanging happily from his shoulders, giggling and making horse noises.

“What is in St. August, Florida, Rev?” asks Toxic Viv from the belly-blister, the clear convex shield beneath her console makes it look like she’s floating over fire.  The greenish-purple glow of the Ourobourus Egg that powers the Slipship castes her face into an eerie light.  I don’t answer her question; finger the old iron belt-buckle on my waist.

Only one man I know of can help me pull this off.   I haven’t spoken to my brother in almost fifteen years, and I don’t know how happy he’s going to be to see me now.   

Where Eagles Dare

Soon: somewhere near the coasts of the 5th dimension, adrift betwixt light and shadow, science and superstition…

The massive air-cooled turbine goes “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa”, powered by the massive pulsating ova of the slumbering world snake.  The deck of the Shiftship shudders violently, and I catch hold of a guy-wire leading from the bowsprit.  The spinnaker flares out wildly in the muted light, all Halloween orange and chimney red.

“The fuck was that?” I growl through yellowed teeth clenched around the soggy end of a cigar. 

“It’s just the Mitty Effect! The turbine should blow clear in a sec!” shouts Miss Twist over the roar of the World-Vent the Shiftship is slowly circling.  She has lashed herself to the helm atop the stern deck.  We don’t call it a poop deck.  That is just immature.  And taken from the French, so: doubly immature. 

The Shiftship jolts again, the spinnaker folds and collapses on itself and the browspit retracts.  Wearing a bright yellow rain slicker, Dr. Hands stands stoically upright in the lashing spray of dreams and nightmares frothing below us.  He bellows something to me, no doubt punctuated by a slurpy “brains!” but I can’t hear him: between the roar of the engines, the shrill throb of the Crawl and the rasping crackle of the massive Vent that has opened into another world off our port bow, I can’t hear shit.  The deck jolts again, and I stumble, slip, stagger.  Maybe cowboy boots aren’t the best footwear for this sort of thing. 

The open deck of the Shiftship doesn’t feel very safe in these world storms that roil through the Crawl from time to time.  There is a good chance of being tossed clear, and once adrift in the Crawl- who knows where or when you might end up?  Indeed.  The Crawl; that strangely eldritch and eerie spooky-space that exists between worlds, space, time, and thought.  Possibly also smell, though we’re still not sure about that one.

Where or When, or even Who?  That is what we think happened to beloved Nora, the Mrs. Reverend Doctor Syn.  After disappearing in a mysterious lab explosion involving the Ourobourus Eggs, some part of her memories -less her personality- have been implanted into a twenty-four year old pacifistic opera singer named Urbania Cordwainer Spurlock.  The Gunwytch, for that is what she has become, is standing near me, arms crossed over her incredible décolletage.  She is sort of like a bodyguard/nanny who sings Wagner and dresses like Aeon Flux.  It’s a long story. 

“Nanner nanner weeblo?” bleats The Boy, stumbling from the open hatch of the cabin.  It wasn’t easy, retrieving him from the tomb of the Convergence Generals.  But retrieve him we had, at great cost…

Then: Deep beneath the plasma wells of Bohemian Grove

The exit-wound from a Vent into any world heals quickly, with a hiss and a wet sound like a sack of underdone pot roast being dragged over a damp floor.  For a few moments as the Vent closes, the weird glow of the Crawl can be seen through the tear in the fabric of reality. 

This exit-wound won’t completely seal over: the microscopic fibers of a Fortean lifeline woven from fate-worm silk and encased in plastic keeps the dimensional doorway just open enough for communications to go back and forth. 

It’s quiet down here; in the subterranean caves far below the gathering place of the most powerful men of this island Earth.  The steady wet splat of a mineral drip is slowly forming a stalagmite over the calcified corpse of some sort of bipedal skeleton with saurian features: one of the legendry lizard men, no doubt. 

“Neenoo nawo?” comes a plantive voice from somewhere in the caverns.  I feel the muscles in my jaw tense and my teeth grind together.  I drop my hand reflexively towards the weapons on my waist: but this isn’t the time for combat.

This is a stealth mission.  To rescue my son.  You have been following the plot, right?

“Shhhhh!” stage whispers Professor Victory on my left.  “We should be quiet.  Lizard Men have really, really good hearing!”

I fix a glare on his beaming visage and shift my glance to Mr. E.  I can’t read his expression, ’cause he’s wearing that damn mask.  He must have realized this, because he shrugs.

I thought bringing him would allay the risk of unnecessary sound: like his slurping ex-roomie,” hisses the diminutive killer. 

It’s my turn to shrug.  I dig a finger under my clerical collar and adjust it: I need to shave.  It’s hot down here, and we can hear the roiling sounds of the plasma pools even through the rock.  We didn’t bring Dr. Hands because of the uncontrollable drooling, or Gunwytch because of the singing.  We’re an undermanned rescue attempt: rarely a good idea.  But sometimes, a few men can silently pull off what a shitload singing can’t, if you know what I mean.  If you do, let me know?

Suddenly we hear another sound, a tea-kettle his: a cadaverous, filthy creature stands in the entrance to a smaller cave, branching off the main chamber, ahead: its back is to us, we might have a chance-

But no, the thing must have smelled the booze in my sweat, or the capiscum in Victory’s.  Mr. E does not sweat, he says.

Its luminous yellow eyes fix on us, and it bares its unnaturally savage fangs as it hisses again, it’s long greasy hair dangles over its tortured face and i’s talon-like hands reach towards us as it’s vulpine gait covers the floor of the cave and brings the undead scavenger into range…

A new hiss fills the chamber as Mr. E draws the short-bladed sword from a sheath at the small of his back and steps into a defensive crouch.  As the hissing beast rushes us, he sidesteps and the headless body lands into a pool of condensation at his feet.  The head-still hissing and gnashing its yellow fangs, lands near my cowboy boot.  I step down, hard, the steel-shank and reinforced toe crushes the razor-sharp fangs as the undead thing ceases to be.

“Shit, I thought you said you killed all the vampires!” gasps Professor Victory, wiping sweat from his brow. 

Gwai lo, I said he killed all the vampires in Malibu!” whispers Mr. E, cleaning the wide blade of his Wakizashi on the dead creature’s clothes.  He returns the weapon to its sheath and pulls his coat around him tightly. 

We continue through the twisted caverns, carefully, quietly.  We come across no other vampires, nor reptile men.  And of course we don’t find any of the latter: the vampires were imported by the Convergence Generals to wipe out the reptile men, in preparation for their takeover of Crux Society at the next gathering at the Bohemian Grove..

“I thought it was the Order of the Black Circle who were resting power from the Scottish Rite Masons?” whispers Prof Victory, sotto voce.  I glance at him.

“Was I thinking out loud?” 

How long we wander through the weird, antediluvian chambers I cannot say.

At one point we come across a strange, batrachian, half-mad albino thing… that had once been a man

“Hey, do you guys have any idea how to get out of these caves?” it asks us, hoarse voiced, through a mouthful of broken teeth.  We point back whence we came.  It thanks us and leaves. 

Weeyoowatcha?” echoed the sad voice of my lonely son, from somewhere in the maze.

“Shit.  I feel like we’re going in circles…” I hiss. 

Professor Victory shakes his head and points to the hex paper he has been maping our progress on.

“Nope, see?  West, south, down, west, north, west, west.  We came-“ Suddenly, the air is displaced and there is a whirring sound: Mr. E has spun into a brutally efficient crouch and produced a collapsible metal-mesh bag on a chain.  Hurling it through the air, the bag closes over the head of an insect-like thing  standing immediately behind Prof Victory with open mandibles and quivering poison- then Mr. E yanks, and the monster’s head, in the bag, flies back across the room into the martial artist’s hands.

Xue di zi, bitches” rasps my assassin friend. 

His victory chuckle is cut short: A snarling War Wolf leaps from the shadows behind him.  My hand drops to my side and whips the heavy Walker Colt from its custom holster.  The massive blackpowder handgun roars once and the War Wolf goes down, a smoking crater in its chest.  Even as it lands, I see the thin-bladed Stiletto sticking out from under its chin.

I haven’t lost my edge!”  chuckles the masked killer. 

“Or your point!” I say.  We both laugh, nod at each other. 

I keep the 12 pound pistol in my hand.  The original weapon only weighed 10 pounds, but we welded a scythe blade under the barrel. 

Professor Victory holsters the silenced .22 he’s been carrying and un-slings a short-barreled Remington shotgun. 

“You guys always show off,” he says, managing to not quite whine.  “I was totally gonna cap it, all silent and shit.”

Professor Victory is not a small man.  Easily 6’2’’, his broad shoulders fill out his loose fitting Safari style shirt, pockets bulging with shells, maps and chemlights, flares and wax pencils, all sorts of survival gear, like polyhedral dice…

“So much for stealth.  The rest of the pack will have felt that one’s death spasms,” he nods towards the dead War Wolf, product of the Fenris Project.  He pumps the weapon, chambering a round, and pulls down his dust-wind goggles. 

“Let’s do this shit,” snarls Professor Victory. 

“Yeah, fuck all that ‘brain trust’ stuff,” says Mr. E, pulling a collapsible polearm out from under his trenchcoat and locking the sections into place.  “Let’s get our kicks dirty,”

I replace the load in my Colt, cross myself, and take a slug of Bushmill’s holy water from my trusty flask.  My hands are sweating.

There ahead of us, a thick wooden door.  Big enough for a man to fit through easily, for a War Wolf or one of those Insectoids it’ll be a tight fit.  I nod at Victory, he aims the shotgun at the top hinge, blows it.  I hit the door with all two hundred and ten pounds of angry preacher-man, and we spill into the Tomb.

A large room, with a wooden scaffolding of some kind inlaid with arcane symbols and surrounded by clear crystal rock formations.  A series of grooves on the scaffolding, or really an altar, seem to need a human being’s extremities in it.  You know, the kind of thing people are always getting to strapped into in preternatural situations in cavern complexes beneath places of great power.

There, strapped to some nefarious device of unimaginable arcane power, despite not being tall or long enough to fit into the grooves, is my Son.

“Weewoodah?” he asks, smiling, as I come into view.

“Clyde!” I rush forward and cut him loose, embracing him.  He starts rummaging in the pocket of my leather butcher’s apron for a snack. 

“Cyril?” he asks.  “Cyril?  Daddy, cyril?”I turn apologetically to my co-rescuers. 

“He wants cereal, you see.  But his pronounc-“

“RevDoc!  Duck!” 

It is never good to see a friend pointing a shotgun at you.  Sometimes you just need to trust.

I do as Victory suggested, and can feel the boom of the scattergun and the passage of the buckshot overhead.  I am rained upon by War Wolf innards as it flails back wildly, disemboweled by the Professor’s shotgun.  We are swarmed as the minions of the Convergence Generals pour through the huge double door at the other end of the chamber-  the creatures outnumber us by a lot. 

“Twenty to one!” roars Mr. E, as he dances through their ranks, cutting and dicing and glaiving and being all stabbity-stabby on a pack of War Wolves bearing the Crimson Sigil.  We are between the enemy and our escape, so it’s a fall-back combat pattern.  Of course, there is the out-numbered and under-armed aspect…

A huge, hulking, bulky, tall, really big Vampire stalks towards me, pointing a pointy finger at my son. 

“Fresssshh meaaat.” it hisses. 

I fuckin’ hate hissing vampires.  Why do they hiss?  Are vampires part snake or something? Lame.

My Walker Colt is empty; four War Wolves writing on the floor and two Insectoids with shattered carapaces can attest for this.  I hold my son in my left arm, the massive weapon in my right fist is dripping blood: I buried the scythe deep into the skull of the last War Wolf to rush me. 

I swing the blade at the side of the Vamp’s neck: he casually slaps the weapon aside and growls.  Growling I can understand.  It’s an apex predator thing.  But hissing?

I turn and gently place my son atop a colorful geode.

“Honey, you stay here and play for a second, okay?  Not with the monsters!” I caution, yanking the thick bladed Roman style short sword from my belt.  The fire-hardened, sharp-pointed wooden sheath it rests in comes with it. 

The Vamp laughs: “Can’t even pull-” and I lunge. 

The wooden sheath penetrates the monster’s chest as it roars.  I trigger the release switch and pull backwards, leaving the sheath imbedded between the bloodsucker’s ribs and my arm is whipping back and around, bringing the keen edge of the heavy cutting blade into the side of the muscular Vampire’s neck, cleanly decapitating the chupa fuck.

It doesn’t go poof into a pile of dust, sadly.  It does stumble a bit, hands waving around at the blood-spurting stump: I love it when they do that.

I retrieve my weapons, grab my son.“We gotta go!” I roar, kicking a snarling War Wolf in the nards as my son giggles and points. 

“Yeah, yeah, wolfman’s got nards, come on, boys!”

I start towards the cavern entrance, Mr. E by my side.

Behind us, we hear a human shout of pain, Professor Victory’s shotgun booms again, and then is silent.  We both turn to check, and see him, struggling towards the infernal device, several Insectoid Enforcers hanging from him.  He shoves his fist into one’s open mandible and grabs something, yanks it out: the Insectoid goes down like a marionette with the strings cut.  A second rakes it’s talons across his back, and the Prof shrieks, snatches the long-barreled hushpuppy from it’s shoulder holster and jams the barrel into one of the creatures multi-faceted eyes, pulling the trigger of the silenced .22 twice.  It may not have stopping power, but a .22 rattling around inside a hardened carapace does a lot of damage.  The Insectoid drops, greenish gore dribbling from its ruined skull. 

“Go!” roars Professor Victory, dervishing his way through the crushing press of demonic creatures. 

“GTFO!  I’ll keep ’em busy!”

He staggers under a barrage of War Wolves leaping on him, seems to sag under their weight, then throws them off, squaring his mighty shoulders and stumbling forward.  Blood from a dozenish wounds spackle his clothing and the ground around him.  Victory swings the empty twelve-gauge like a club, snapping the carapace of a chittering Insectoid.   He’s a monster-killing Davy Crockett, sans goofy hat. 

He blanches as an Insectoid’s stinger jams into the big muscle of his thigh, shudders, and slams the stock of the shotgun down hard on the creature’s skull, smashing it into chitinous pulp.  He staggers forward, still moving under some vicious destructive glorious last-stand kind of motivation…

A half dozen rounds whispering from the barrel of his .22 drop a pair of War Wolves in furry piles of bloody dead nasty.  He dumps the empty handgun, headbutts a snarling vampire, and jams the barrel of his shotgun down through its snarling mouth, the barrel protruding from the rear of it’s skull and pinning the writhing creature to the scaffolding. 

I struggle to reload my Walker Colt: it takes a while even under good circumstances. 

“No!” says Mr. E, putting his hand on my arm. 

“He’s buying us time.  Save the boy; save the world.”

I turn to him.  “Huh?” 

Mr. E shrugs.  “Well, when we find yer Missus, she’ll be less likely to kill you if you have the boy…” 

We run towards the exit and Professor Victory makes his last stand against the waves of Insectoids, War Wolves, Vampires, Winged Lampreys and Shit Monkeys that pour through the cavern entrance.

 “This is an arcane power generator!” shouts Professor Victory, standing atop the weird altar with its steam and piston machinery. 

“If I plug myself in, the thing’ll overload, take out the entire cave system!”

I stop, panting, and our eyes meet over the hordes of beasties.

“Go then!”  He says bravely.  “There are other worlds than these!” 

“What?” I call.  “What does that mean?”

“I’m blowing the horn of Gondor, motherfuckers!” Victory roars, kicking back a pair of monsters and decapitating one with his M9 bayonet.  He’s fighting like a guy from one of those 80’s movies, only cooler.

I look at Mr. E who looks as blank as a guy wearing a mask can look. 

What?” we both turn to Victory, dancing atop the eldritch alter, kicking monster ass.

“This is Super Six-Two, requesting permission to defend the crash site!” he screams at me, backhanding a vampire into a jar of acid, kneeing a War Wolf into unconsciousness, and drop kicking an Insectoid so that is is flung up and impaled upon a stalactite.

“Tonight, I’m dinin’ in hell!” and Professor Victory plugs himself into the Eldritch Engine, and the mystical powers began to tear the caverns apart.

“Oh, shit!  We gotta bail!” I shout.

“Now I know why humans cry!” screams Victory.

“He’s really stretching the heroic sacrifice thing, now, isn’t he?” asks Mr. E as we run for the lifeline, hitting the transmitters on our rings to warn the Shiftship of our emergence. 

The ground is shaking; a weird low-pitch humming makes the fillings in my teeth ache.  My son is clutching his hands to his ears. 

“Good night, sweet fucking prince!” hollers Victory from behind us. 

“That one didn’t even make sense!” I say to Clyde.

“Nonononononoo!” yelps Clyde, eyes wide, as the Cavern begins to disintegrate into multi-colored waves of discordant reality.

With Mr. E leading, we leap through the throbbing Vent, away from the cataclysm behind us, sliding over to the Shiftship on zip-lines.

“wheeeeeee!” shouts my boy.  But my eyes are downcast, for Professor Victory is not with us. 

Soon: drifting around the crackling World Vent amidst a World Storm in The Crawl, aboard the Shiftship…

As soon as the storm abates, we’ll all lift a glass for Professor Victory.  For a brave man who joins the ranks of Boromir, Shugart & Gordon, and all those half-nekkid Greeks. 

I look fondly at my son, being held up by his strange bodyguard who, despite being a virgin, has memories of giving birth to him.  My son stares at the reinforced glass dome that covers the pulsating egg sac that powers the Shiftship. 

Mr. E stands by himself, hands tucked in the pockets of his gore-stained coat, implacable, unseen eyes staring over the rail into the near-distant nothingness of the great streaming empty between here and now.  He might feel my glance upon his shoulder, he must, because turns to me and he draws his right hand from his pocket, gloved fingers crossed. 

Heng Dai, RevDoc,” he rasps at me.  We’ll see this through.”

Indeed.  All the way. 

Soon enough, there will be time for grief and memories and-

“Three O’Clock high!  Slurrrrrrrrrp- movement!“ cries Dr. Israel Hands, the half-zombie master healer.

We all look, even Viv, the poison lady, climbs up from the belly blister where she manipulates the directional thrusters of the Ourobourus spawn-powered Shiftship. 

 “D’aw, hell,” I say, wearily walking towards the weapons locker. 

“Get the boy below, perky-tits,” I say to the Gunwytch.  “We got incoming monsters.”

“DEVIL BATS!” yells Toxic Viv, pointing. 

Indeed:  A swarm of man-sized winged monsters, hundreds of them, are diving towards the Shiftship as it circles the pulsating Vent that leads- home?  We might not find out… 

High Caliber Consecrator

“He's an oversexed alcoholic cowboy on a mission from God. She's an
elegant goth opera singer with someone else's memories. They fight
crime!”

The Bog Hags who had circled us kept pressing in, their long soaked hair indistinguishable from the clumps of soggy Spanish moss that clung to their squamous bodies… “Taste Puritan justice!”   I shrieked, raising the muzzle of my m40a1 Flame Unit.  The pilot light hissed.  One of the Bog Hags returned the favor, rotting teeth bared, yellow in black gums.

“THESE are the burning times!” I cut loose with a blast of jellied napalm, turning the nearest groping monstrosity into a screaming, flailing torch.  Stamped along the barrel of my hand-held weapon are the words: “Puritan” in a really kickass font.  I think it might be Lucida Blackletter.   

The Bog Hag collapsed in the ankle deep filth of the tarn.  Something made a grotesque rattling noise to my left: I spun in the chocolate pudding colored filth capped with pestilent streaks of shining toxic rainbow, like an oil slick from hell.  One of the Bog Hags was poised next to me, filth-streaked forearms lifted high, the long curled finger-talons flexing as she prepared to tear my throat out!

Suddenly:

“Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Heiaha!Helmwige! Hier! Hieher mit dem Ross!”

Sang the sharp contralto voice of the gorgeous creature that fought by my side.  The twin death-dealing sub-guns in her hands spat a tri-burst each, the heavy caliber slugs tearing through the vicious Bog Hag’s head and chest, bursts of briny blood spackling against my leather butcher’s apron and splashing somewhat on my face.  I licked the corner of my mouth reflexively as the Bog Hag collapsed, wheezing, into the mucky muck.  It’s blood tasted faintly of the sea, a sea filtered through a rotting pile of green and gooey crab guts on an Innsmouth pier. 

“Zu Ortlindes Stute stell deinen Hengst; mit meiner Grauen grast gern dein Brauner!” my companion sang, her voice blending with the staccato roar of her TDI Kriss Super V submachine guns.  Brand new tech, tri-burst or fully-automatic .45 caliber weapons with virtually no muzzle climb or recoil: the entire action or firing mechanism, instead over the hand of the firer, takes place forward of the grip, with built in stabilizers and gas releases.  They are vicious, perfect close-quarter weapons, meant to be fired while gripped in a stabilizing two-handed grip: these machine-pistols look like pneumatic staple-guns.  But my companion, the sultry creature who calls herself The GunWytch, uses them in tandem, ambidextrously: John Woo style.  She pauses in mid-cartwheel, goes into a crouch with one shapely leg stuck out at a supportive angle, and adjusts the level of the weapons so that they are aimed sideways: style points!  

John Woo never got Chow Young Fat to squeeze into a skin-tight deep blue body suit made out of some sort of flame-retardant, bullet-proof spandex-type, curve-hugging material.  Or if he did, he never released the photos.  And IF he did, Chow never looked so lithesome.  With the physique of a gymnastic contortionist, and the body of a fem-bot, The GunWytch, she of the jet-black hair with purple streaks, ultra-porcelain pale skin and black lipstick & eyeliner, is the hottest goth opera singer I’ve ever wanted to… er; kill monsters with.

Her dulcet tones soar over the muted roar of combat.  I unleashed a burst of liquid flaming death on one of the creatures as it attempts to flank her.

“Arbeit gab’s!  Sind die andren schon da!” she sang, her pierced tongue waggling in her mouth.  The twin weapons spat steel-jacketed death at the last of the creatures which expired, noisily, in the manner of all semi-mortal monsters smashed with big fat bullets: messily.

“What are these things we’re killing, cowboy?” she asked me as she reloaded her death-dealing devices and sheathed them in customized holsters festooned with a Sisters Of Mercy sticker (left holster) and a Rasputina decal (right holster). 

I slung the Puritan on my back and stuck a finger under my starched white clerical collar, loosening it a bit.  “Boy Howdy!  These are Bog Hags, darlin’,” I said.  I reached into my hip pocket for the whiskey flask and tilted a tipple down my parched throat, keeping the shakes at bay. 

“Bog Hags?  Man, thats a mouthful.  Hey, why do I look at you and think of… fumbling sex that smells like bourbon?”

I glance at the GunWytch nervously… my bloodshot eyes roved up and down her skintight fighting togs.  My beloved wife of ten years, The Mrs. Reverend Doctor Syn, also known as Nora, has disappeared into The Crawl, the strangely eldritch and eerie-spooky space that exists between worlds, space, time, and thought.  Possibly also smell, though we’re still trying to figure that one out.  Nora’s memories, or parts of them, have somehow turned up blended into the mind of Urbania Cordwainer Spurlock, a 24 year old pacifistic goth girl who trained for the Met and now sings Wagner whenever she goes into battle against the Unnatural.  

Together, we were trying to rescue my Son, The Boy, from a diabolical evil so heinous and diabolically evil that I cannot speak it’s name…

 

Oh, hello, faithful members of the congregation!  A lot has happened since I last sat down to talk with you… for one thing, all the experimenting with the World Snake Eggs?  Didn’t go so well.  Shit has happened.  Floyd is still one step ahead of us, The War Wolves have been released from their kennels, and the man with the bandaged hand has accepted a contract to blow a hole the size of a manhole in my skull…

But what of all that?  I have so much to tell you, about rescuing my wife from the Underverse… my long-standing feud with my slightly younger twin brother…  about the adventures I shared in the Chthonic Realms, and the plains of Leng, and the bedrooms of Dunwich with Urbania Cordwainer Spurlock…. About my Son, The Boy, and his time in the terrible tombs of the Convergence Generals…. And about the sad and lonely death of one of Team Ourobourus’ best and brightest members…

But that is another story, shit: that is a lot of another stories.  And the hour is late.  And I don’t really feel like telling you right now anyway.  Just remember: John Wayne knows that he whose name is not writ in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire, buckaroos!  I like gin!

Dark Days Indeed

I’m sitting, alone, in the quiet compound.  It’s a new kind of quiet, the kind that makes my fingers itch.  I power up the complex and incredibly elegent Control System.  The hum of the various tech is the only noise.  My Wife and The Boy are safely out of the way down South, past the kipple, at the Cassandra Orchard. 

“Bye-bye!” I waved to the Boy as we strapped him into the armored vehicle.  “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm” he said. 

“He sounds more and more like his Uncle Israel every day,” I grabbed the Wife around her waist and pulled her in close, kissing her roughly. “But, you know; not undead.”

She pushed me back.  “This stinks, hubby,” she sneered.  “I ain’t no yeller bastich. I should be up on the rough roof-top under my ghillie, with a fifty-cal and a thermal scope, not running down to The Garden!” she slugged me in the arm, hard enough to let me know that she cares.

 I leant in and kissed her gentle on that spot on her temple that I love.  “Babe, I don’t want no one but you watching my six.  But this ain’t the fast-flash to bang time, see?  This is where we play it real cool and smart, and careful-like.   Besides,” I cuffed her gently on the chin and grinned at her crooked.  “I’m a lot better off if I don’t have to worry about you two.”

“Oh, Nicky” she said, leaning in and nuzzling me but good.  I swelled up and felt all warm and tingly.  We kissed again, and she climbed into the Desert Highliner, slamming down the hatch before I could notice the wet on her cheeks in the dim light of the control panel…

But that was this morning.  By now, Wife and Boy are safely off the grid, down at the Garden.  It doesn’t show up on satellite, GPS, or most maps made after 1900.  The phone only rings when it’s someone you want to hear from.  Plus: beer tree.  They’re safe.  For now.

 From what I have to do now.  I make sure that the System is running smoothly: Laird McQ installed some new software since we got back from The Devil’s Punchbowl.

BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM!

Sigh. 

I hit a few switches and the floodlights snap on, illuminating the perimeter wall of The Compound.  The minefields are on, the 1st-floor doors and windows are wired with 1,000 k volts of electricity.  The windows on the 2nd floor are sealed shut with motion detectors, heat sensors, and air-current displacement monitors.  The roof has razor-wire, tanglefoot gas dispensors, flares and claymores on trip-wires and pressure-pads. 

No one is getting in.  Not even a ghost: a neural-electric web is in place in the walls.  Professor Victory hates ghosts.

I sit down on the leather couch opposite the massive HD television and pour myself a shot of Irish whiskey.  I speak softly, but audibly for the microphone: “Teleconference Brain Trust.”

The TV screen glows as it comes to life, a series of boxes filling the huge screen.   Miss Twist looks tired but in good spirits in the upper-right hand corner, the cocktail glass in her hand looks chilled to perfection.

“Hey darlin'” I drawl, toasting her with my glass.  She flashes dimples and returns the gesture, sipping from hers.  “How’re things up North?”

She shrugs, spread sher hands out in front of her.  “It’s kinda boring.  I miss my beau: Perfect Tommy is still on site out in the desert, dealing with that vehicle that came through the temporal disturbance I told you guys about-”

I hold up my hand to interrupt.  “You told us about a what?” I all but snarl.  Miss Twist’s eyes narrow to slits.  “Don’t take that tone with me, boy” she speaks slowly and clearly, pointing one finely-manicured finger at me through the TV set.  “I communicate something to your camp, it ain’t my problem if you are out of the loop.  Look to your own,”

I toss back my shot and nod.  “Ok, you’re right: I’m sorry.  I’ve been a little tense lately,”

The upper left-hand box of the TV stops being black as the feed to New York patches through.  Mr. E is standing in front of a brick wall, his fedora pulled low, the collar of his trenchcoat-turned up.  “Good evening, heh-heh-heh-heh!” he intones nastilly. 

“Why are you wearing your inkblot mask?” I ask him.

“Er-  no reason,” he shrugs.  I pour myself another shot of Irish and sip it.

“Ooh, is it a cocktail conference?” asks Mr. E.  “Hey, honey?  Could you-”

“Oh, sure!” I can hear Nova off-camera opening a fridge and cracking a can.  I can hear the hiss of the widget.  She steps into frame and hands him the beer and a glass.  “Hi!” she waves at the camera and then steps back out of frame.  Mr. E rolls his mask up over his mouth and sips his stout.  

The box below Mr. E ceases to be quiet as Professor Victory’s lair appears in a burst of static.  He’s got his bourbon glass half-full and looks flustered.  “Whasssssuuuuup?” he drones, topping off his glass.  “Sorry.  I’m not late, am I?  No?   You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve been having.  Did you know it was Bourbon Heritage Month?” he asks anxiously.

“I had no idea,” I respond, sipping the Bushmills.

The lower right hand box on the screen lights up to a laboratory somewhere in the heartland.  A blue-haired scientist wearing a lot of lacy black under her lab-coat is on the screen with a hand-crafted silver goblet in her hand.  “Howdy?” she snarks, glancing up and around the screen.  “Is this how we became the Bastard Bunch?” 

“Welcome, special guest.   Vivian, you are on-line with the Brain Trust.  Miss Twist is a legal and financial genius, as well as running her own Field Team in the northlands.  Professor Victory is our resident global technocrat, as well as a paranormal investigator.  Mr. E is a boogeyman that lives in the darkest shadows of black ops.  And Dr. Hands…”

Right on cue, and late as always, in the center of the screen, is Dr. Israel Hands.

“And I’ll form the head!” he enthuses.  “Brains” he adds as an afterthought, toasting us with a bottle of wine.
There is a terrible screech: feedback.

“Could you turn down yer intercom?” says Professor Victory.
“Mine is turned down, did you-brains-check yours?” replies his roommate.

They could be on the same monitor, of course, but it spoils the effect.

“-Dr. Israel Hands is a healer, global shaman, and all around nice guy; for a half-zombie.” I finish, trying not to roll my eyes.  “Everybody, please welcome recently activated reserve Team member; Toxic Viv the Poison Lady.  She deals in things that ain’t healthful.”

“Pretty crazy brain-trust,” purrs the Poison Lady.  “But what are your credentials?  And what am I calling you these days?  I haven’t seen you since-”

“You call him Reverend Doctor Syn, lady!” chirps Mr. E  “He’s been running black-bag and dirty ops missions for the past seventy years, and the guy is only 32!”

“He’s Tactically off-the-charts, deadly with most small-arms, ruggedly handsome-” adds Miss Twist, popping an olive into her mouth.

“He’s a certified preacher in the Outer Church, Our Lady of the Broken Spine, defender of the ggrrrrrrrrra-weak, known associate of judeo-chthonic entities, and struggling artist,” continues Dr. Hands.

“He’s a fucking combat mage and he doesn’t even know it: tightly controlled solipsistic non-magic(k).  He doesn’t believe he can die, so he’s virtually indestructable,” finishes Professor Victory. 

I spit Irish whiskey on the glass-top table in front of me and wish I had a cigarette. 

“It’s not so much non-magic(k) as it is luck manipulation, like Longshot!” enthuses Dr. Hands.

“I’m a- you know what?  I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear most of that.  Anyways, let’s get down to brass tacks: Labor Day weekend, my Field Team made a hell of a discovery:” I raise the remote in my hand and click it: floating in front of each of us, whether in LA, Seattle, NYC, Bloomington, or even West LA, is a three-dimensional sphere the size of a VW bug, rotating slowly.  Sphere is the wrong word.  It’s more like a giant lumpy ball of neon-green play-dough dipped in something with a half-life of fifty thousand years.

“Ooooh, pretty!” gasps Miss Twist.  “Can I touch it?”

“It’s a -slrrrrrrrrrrpppp- hologram, so: no,” says Dr. Hands. 

“Actually, yes.  You could.  It is a hologram, but it’s being projected 3-2 into Real Space from a dimensional satellite currently in a holding pattern in the Crawl: it’s outside of our world, but it’s simultaneously at our fingertips despite our distance,” says I.  There is a moment of silence. 

“The Crawl?” queries Professor Victory. “Like, crawl-space?”

“Between worlds?” asked Mr. E.

“The Bleed?” asks Miss Twist. 

“Picture several universes, or dimensions, layered one-on-top of the other-” begins Dr. Hands long-windedly. 

“I know what the fucking Bleed is, Israel, I read comic books,” snaps Miss Twist.  “I just didn’t know we had the tech to use the fucking thing!”

“We don’t, not yet” says I.  “But we’re obviously going to very soon, thanks to Perfect Tommy,”

“Ow,” says Miss Twist, rubbing her temples.  “I hate time-travel shit,”

“So we can touch it?” asks Mr. E “Should we?  I’m not going to,”

I shake my head negatively.  “Laird McQ explained it to me: there is about six to twelve inches of shared space around the thing.  Once you reach into that shared space, any temperature or gravitational, or soul-sucking, properties of the thing would effect you, so only people who have something to contribute touch it.  Carefully.  With precautions.”

“Back to the matter at hand,” I say, using a 17th century basket-hilt rapier as a pointer.  “We found this thing in the middle of the desert, in a well-protected cavern deep inside The Devil’s P- in the desert,” I finish lamely.  “I don’t think any of you should actually touch it” I add hastily.  “Except for Toxic Viv, and maybe Doc Hands.  Cause, you know: Zombie.”

Toxic Vivian has put on a shoulder-length glove and is scraping some goop off the side of the gently pulsing glowing thingie.  “This is soooo awesome!” she breaths, scraping the goop onto a slide.

“It feels like play-dough, and tastes like baby-food!” chortles Dr. Hands.  “Hey, it’s melting my skin!”

“Dude, we’re in the same house.  Could you not play with the possibly dangerous intra-dimensional substance while I’m in the other room?” says Professor Victory.

“They’re roommates,” I explain to the rest of the Brain Trust.

“Looks like a giant alien took a dump,” says Miss Twist.

“Right idea, wrong orifice” grates Mr. E

“Are you saying-” begins Miss Twist.

“If he’s saying it’s a giant egg sack, filled with some sort of energy radiating life-force, than he’s right!” shouts Toxic Viv, leaning over a bank of computer read-outs.  “There are, like, a shitload of potential life-forms in that thing!  Most of them really, really unhealthy to be around.”

“Grrrhmmm.  It doesn’t taste fertilized,” says Dr. Hands speculatively.  “It tastes like burning!”

“I have to go put out my roommate,” apologizes Professor Victory, running off his screen.  We can all hear a door slam, and then he comes onto Dr. Hands screen and douses him with a chemical fire extinguisher. 

“Is your dog and monkey show over?  Because this is a big discovery” states Mr. E flatly.  He rolls his ink-blot mask up again and sips his beer. 

“Yeah, kinda huge,” I say.

“And giving off a ridiculous amount of energy, just radiating!  It’s off the charts!” gasps Toxic Viv. 

“What kind of energy?” asks Miss Twist.

“Well, thats the thing… I can’t really tell.  All of them?”

“Nonsense!” exclaims Mr. E heavily. 

“There are at least nine forms of energy,” says Dr. Hands, no longer on fire but only smoldering.  “Energy cannot be destroyed or created, but it can change forms,”

“The walking text book speaks some truth,” says Professor Victory.  “But what gives?  What is it?”

“Highly fucking toxic,” says Viv. 

“It’s unprecedented!  It’s amazing! It’s… could this be what the inside of a black hole looks like?” enthuses Professor Victory.  “Sooooo scary.  Though, you know: I thought it’d be black!”

“How can we use it, who wants to stop us from using it, and who wanted us to find it?” queries Miss Twist.

“What led you to where it was? Random chance? Treasure map?” asks the Poison Lady as she records the levels of sound being emitted from the specimen globules. I fidgit nervously in my seat.

“Yeah, who would benefit from my having this thing…” I wonder to myself.

“It is older than anything we know,” says Mr. E grimly.  “It is one of the eggs of the World Serpent,”

“The Ouroboros Worm?” I gasp.

“The Uroboros Snake?” shouts Professor Victory.

“The Dragon Ourorboros?” squeaks Toxic Vivian.

“That ring symbol, what eats it’s own tail?” says Miss Twist.

“slrrrrrrrp,” drools Dr. Hands.

“Yes,” says Mr. E in a voice that makes ice cubs shiver with cold.  “However you spell it.  Or pronounce it.  It is the Infinity Wyrm.  One of the Deep Secrets of this world.  And we’ve uncovered a piece of it.  You’ve uncovered a piece of it, Syn.  Think about that.  What was your 2nd tattoo going to be?  Meant to be?”

I glance at my right shoulder and squirmed a little on the couch.  “The Ouro-well look here!  It’s a hard design, and I haven’t found one I really want…”

Mr. E is shaking his head on the monitor. “Instead you got a tiny religious icon,”

“Totally saved his ass when that -mmmmmmmmmgggggggg-vampire tried to get him in Malibu,” points out Dr. Hands.

“Eeew, there are vampries in Malibu?” shudders Professor Victory.

“Nonsense!” roars Mr. E.  “Not anymore, there aren’t…. moo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha!”  He sobers up almost instantly.  “Er, look: this is big.  You’ve come across a true piece of The Mysteries-”

“A piece of you?”

“Wha-No!  The M-Y-S-T eries, not Mr. E’s!” he shouts.

“Myst was cool,” giggles Miss Twist.

“Oh, mysteries,” sighs Toxic Viv.  “Totally.”

“It’s probably your Dreaming, the big snake,” enthuses Professor Victory.  “You’re getting it inked on?  Totally a sign,”

I glance down at my hand, I’ve been aimlessly waving the sword around.  The point of the rapier is glowing white hot and has scored what looks like an 8 into the hardwood floor.  Wife is going to be pissed I didn’t use the family brand.  I gasp and look more closely at the figure-eight. 

“A true piece of The Mysteries?” I say, standing up.  “Yeah, we’ve found one all right,”

I walk away from the slowly rotating in-not-quite-real-space globular egg-sac of the Great Worm.  I slide open the glass door to the deck, deactivating the security grid as I go. 

“What are we going to do with it, Rev?” asks Mr. E 

 “Do you have a plan?” asks Toxic Viv.  “And is it terrible?”

“He’s -grrrrrrrrr- forming one: I recognize the set of his shoulders.  I am a licensed massage therapist, after all,” grunts Dr. Hands.

“Where is the World Snake now?” asks Professor Victory plaintively.  “At the bottom of the Mariana Trench?”

I light a cigar and stare up at the night sky.  “She’s asleep- for now.  We want to keep her that way, we tread careful, savey?”

“But where-” begins Toxic Viv. 

“When the snake wakes up, the moon will writhe…” I begin.

I hear a gasp, as if the world’s imperilment was night and whip around to look at the monitors.  

I can hear Nova’s voice coming from off-camera: “Erik, you’ve spilled stout on your rorshach mask, now the inkblots aren’t symetrical!”

 In light of the coming darkness, these are dark days indeed.

Burden in my Hand

Labor Day Weekend ran hot in Los Angeles County this year.  Very hot. 

 “Sweet merciful Jesu, ’tis broiling!” muttered Sir Eamonn as he climbed down the rock-face behind me.  I nodded and swished a little water around the inside of my mouth.

“Might help if you took off the chainmail, buddy,” I said.  Sir Eamonn glared at me as he adjusted the shield strapped to his back.  He glanced around.  “Dragons, varlet, dragons,” he scowled, loosening his blade in its sheath. 

“OhMyfuckingGodJustfuckingLetMeRest!” shrieked my Wife, collapsing along the desert trail, face-first into the talcum-powder-fine dust that lined the path.  The Boy climbed up onto my shoulders from his Yoda Harness and looked down at her from under the brim of his French Foreign Legion kepi.  “Mamamaaa?” he inquisited.

 “Did you know, that there was that time we were lost on the plains of Leng, and there was wormsign, and I said that it couldn’t be any worse?” asked Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden, the long gauze veil hanging from her conical hat flittered and fluttered in the light breeze that swept down through The Devil’s Punchbowl. 

 DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM!

“What was that?” asked Lady McQ, shielding her eyes from the glare and scanning the canyon walls.  “Injuns?” posited my wife, lifting her dirt-caked face from the dust and gasping.  “Tend yer scalps!” she said, rolling onto her back and reaching out to me.

 “Gunga Din!  Help!” she moaned, and the Boy laughed as I poured the water into her mouth.  “I can’t believe we’re off the marked path, on the hottest weekend of the year, miles from a bar, lost and with limited water in The Devil’s Punchbowl!”

 DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM!

“Ach, nae wha the fuch?” garbled Laird McQ, resting the barrel of the elephant gun on his shoulder, and scanning the canyon walls.

“Hey!  Buster, you find something else to scan!” snapped his wife, smacking him in the shoulder.

“Ach, slotted by me own bon wench,” grunted Laird McQ, but he went to scanning the foot of the canyon walls anyhow. 

“Avaunt!” mumbled Sir Eamonn through dry, cracked lips, pointing to a distant storm-cloud that covered the vast breadth of the Antelope Valley. 

“We were promised milkshakes,” said Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden primly.  “We are not amused.  There was that time, when we were rapelling down the Cliffs of Insanity, and the blood-hawks were coming for our eyes, and I said it couldn’t get any worse?”  Her knightly brother sort of nodded his exhausted, sweat-stained head and tried not to follow his plumed helmet to the ground, where it crashed and rolled up against my Wife.

The sky was the color of a crow in the distance, and closing in fast.  In the high desert, you can often see the rain coming, the air is so clear.  It was like that.  And there we were, at the bottom of a canyon formed by God only knows what, known only as The Devil’s Punchbowl.

BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM!

“Oh, Christ,” mumbled my Wife, her bloodshot eyes resting on the rapidly closing-in clouds.  “We’re gonna get washed away in a flash flood.  Drowned, during the hottest weekend of the year, in the middle of the desert, in the fucking Devil’s Punch-”

BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM!

“FUCK OFF, WE GET IT!” she shrieked, shaking her fist at the sky. 

“So how has work been?” asked Lady McQ, heaving my Wife up over one shoulder and Sir Eamonn over the other.  She foraged on ahead, pushing through the mesquite and sage.  Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden gamely followed, holding up the hem of her pink gown as she carefully picked her way between catci. 

“Works been ok,” I wheezed, swinging the Boy down into my arms, to give my aching shoulders a break.  My chest felt like a smoldering coal was lodged in between my ribs.  My eyes were stinging from the sweat pouring down into them, despite the bandana & boonie hat I had on my head.  My calves trembled as we trudged up the steep path. 

It was because of work that we were here, indirectly.  I do a lot of thinking and reading, sitting on the loading dock.  And I was doing research… and I found out something about a spot out in the desert.  A spot called-

The Devil’s Punchbowl.

BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM!

“Ach, laddie!” whispered Laird McQ, elbowing me in the ribs and pointing back the way we’d come.  He wasn’t showing the strain of the hiking and sweating.  He plays soccer.  Er, football.   

“What is it, McQ?” I muttered back.

“Ah ken, we’re bein’ shadowed!” he whispered to me.  He pointed along the route we’d taken, but I couldn’t see anything.  I was too tired, to heat-beaten and too dehydrated.  Laird McQ tried to hand me the large bore weapon he’d been carrying for me, but I shook my head and stared him hard in the eye.  “You have to do it, Laird.  You.  Think of sniper movies, and you’ll be fine.”

He looked glumly at me, and then furtively back at his wife, while working the hammer of the side-by-side elephant rifle.  I wiped the burning sweat from my eyes and peered intently back down the trail.  The Boy craned his neck to peek as well, his tiny teeth bared defiantly at whatever or whomever dared to follow us.

“Make sure you aim for center mass,” I hissed at Laird McQ, who carefully pulled the first trigger of the elephant gun, setting the hair trigger forward.  “They normally travel single file, to hide their numbers.  Punch the leader K-5, and you’ll probably knock down whoevers right behind him too…”

Laird didn’t nod, didn’t say anything, but his index finger kissed the set trigger of the bench-made weapon, and it BOOMED! The .700 Nitro Express round roared on it’s way, travelling 2000 feet per second.  So, as you can imagine, it was less than a second before we heard a roar from the bushes we’d left behind as the massive bullet slammed into it’s target.  But it wasn’t Tusken Raiders, or Injuns that had been trailing us that day…

“Frak! Recoils a wee bitch!” shrieked Laird McQ.  “Shoot again!” I screamed. 

Just then, my cell-phone rang.  I lifted it to my ear and said “Yes?” as Laird fired the 2nd barrel after the first.  The report of the rifle caused me to drop the cell-phone, and the Boy caught it, holding it to his ear upside down, so that the receiver was at his mouth and the speaker at his ear.  His brow furrowed, the Boy muttered a quick “MmmmmmMMM!” before nodding and handing the phone to me.

“Yeah?” I snapped, starring back down the path the way we’d come.  “Speak!”

“Hey, Rev,” said the familiar dulcet tones of BabyJ.  She was chewing and swallowing, and I could hear the murmur of voices and silverware in the background.  “What’s the rumpus?”

Then the Giant Spider broke from the underbrush and rushed right at us.  I heard Lady McQ gasp and say: “To arms!” and then Sir Eamonn suddenly hurtled into the beast’s legs, his heavy armor and weaponry CLANGING as he slammed into the creature, already bleeding from two massive bullet wounds, now knocked ass-over-tea-kettle by the diminutive warrior.  I glancer over my shoulder, as Lady McQ rolled up her sleeves and leapt over Laird and the Boy and myself, and went at the monster fist-to-claw.  My Wife was laying on her side, pulling a can of OFF! out of a pouch and beckoning Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden to her.

“So whatcha up to?” chewed BabyJ. 

“Are you at a fucking steak house?” I hissed.  I could hear the chewing stop.  “Calling me from a steak house, where they have things like cold beer and martinis and, dare-I-say-it, steaks, while I am battling hostile arachnids somewhere out past the barrier mountains?”

“N-no,” said BabyJ cautiously.  “I-I, Dr. Hands and I… we’re just, um… calling to see how work has been!”

“Oh, fine” I said suspiciously.  “Medium rare, right?”

I could hear Dr. Hands over the sounds of cutlery and revelry.  “Ask him -grrrrrrrbrains- ask him if they’ve found the thingie yet, that they are looking for.”

“The thingie?” asked BabyJ, I could hear her hand covering the phone, but that never works well.

“DIE BITCH!” screamed Lady McQ, and the earth shook as she locked her fists together and hammered them down on the Spider’s hairy skull.

“Yeah, you kno-BRAINS- the McGuffin!” cheerily said Dr. Hands. 

“Where are you, anyways?” BabyJ asked, no longer muffled as she had likely removed her hand from the receiver.

I started to open my mouth to reply but didn’t, due to ducking, as Lady McQ hurtled past me and slammed into a boulder which splintered under the impact.  Boy was she pissed.  She dug her heels in and launched off the ground, rocketing back at the spider and nearly 60mph.

“I think they’re out at-BRAINS!-The Devil’s Punchbowl,” said Dr. Israel Hands. 

BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM!

“Hey, this connection is all weird, did you hear that?” asked BabyJ.  “Our waiter is here, I have to go,” she hung up on me quickly.  I could practically hear the sizzle of blooming onion.  If I had any spit left, my mouth would have been watering. 

Laird and the Boy had grabbed Sir Eamonn by the gorget of his breast-plate and pulled him clear of the terrible conflict: Shelob Vs. Lady.  Lady was strong, to be sure, and the spider was weakening from the two giant bullets that had struck it and the pounding the amazon was delivering, but we were in it’s natural hunting ground, worn down by hours and hours of burning sun and constant dehydration.  Shelob was fading, but Lady was fading faster.

“Pull!” shouted my Wife, and Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden hurled the can of bug spray towards the combatents.  “Aw!” shrieked Sir Eamonn, pushing his visor back.  “You throw like a girl!”

My Wife aimed carefully and fired the .38 hold-out piece she often forgets she is holding out, and WHUMP! the canister of poison exploded over the spider, the fine acrid mist settling onto it’s furry hide.  Lady McQ took the initiative as the monster roared and trembled, and drove her piston-like forearm deep into the creature’s skull, killing it outright.

“Gosh,” I said.  “ah-ah-ah!” laughed the Boy.  “There was that time when Mom grabbed the giant squid by the tentacles and spun it over her head and threw it really far?” asked Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden.  “That time, that was pretty neat,”

My Wife was collapsed, exhausted, and I ran to her, plying her dry mouth with wet kisses.  “Eeeew” said Sir Eamonn and Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden in unison.  “Maa, di-di-da ma hoooooOOOO?” giggled the Boy, grabbing his toes and pulling himself from a sitting position onto his back.  Laird McQ leaned on the impossibly long barrel of his elephant Gun and reached out to gently cup Lady McQ’s chin in his hand.  Her right arm was covered in greenish spider ichor, so a lack of embrace is perhaps understandable.  “Ah love ye, always have!” he cheerfully brogued. 

“So-so, tired!” gasped my Wife.  “Are we…. there yet?”

I nodded, glancing down at the map that the Boy was helpfully pouring water on.  “Waaaaa!” he shrieked.  “I know, sweetheart, but it isn’t thirsty,” I said as I took the map away. 

The storm clouds were closer, and we were many miles from the edge of the canyon. 

“We’re looking for the mouth of a cave, and that is a cave over there,” said Princess Lady Adventure Girl Dame Eden pointing at a rocky overhang.  “At last!  A dungeon crawl!” enthused her knightly brother, apparently fully recovered at the thought of buckling his swash and brasting a pate. 

“Was it… such a good idea… to search for the McGuffin?” wheezed my wife as I poured the last of the water down her throat.  I shrugged.  “Worse case scenario, we die and go to hell.”

“Heh,” laughed Laird McQ, reloading the elephant gun.  His wife stood next to him, wiping the gore off her arm with a towel.  “We’re Quaker, we don’t believe in hell!” 

“Or violence!” laughed Lady McQ.

And then we all laughed.  Because sometimes you just have to.  But the sun was still beating down, and we were almost out of water, and the rainstorm was getting closer, and the mouth of the cave was very dark…

Deep in The Devil’s Punchbowl

BUM-BUM-BUM-BUM!!

A Gentle Man’s Jihad

So there I sat, looking at my bare feet sticking out into where the gravel and dirt roads intersected. 4am, give or take. I saw a faint blueish-green light in a field far off to the right, and later felt the hot air displaced as something big and impossible to see swooped low through the still summer night.

I don’t know how much time passed. Minutes, probably, but it felt like hours. The scarecrow’s post remained empty, and I felt cold fingers creeping up under my skin: “Jesus, that horrible thing is probably stalking around right now…” I giggled a little. Get it? Stalk? Scarecrow? Corn?

Then I saw someone sitting across the crossroads, he was chuckling too. I saw him because he was lighting a cigarette off a flame in the palm of his hand. His hair was shorter than last time I saw him, but that was the 90’s. Times change. Still, the same hooked nose. The same dark eyes. Maybe a bit heavier, but those high cheekbones still made it look like he was always sucking in his breath.

“Hey there, killer,” he rasped. What a voice. Ragged. Like cheap bourbon run over jagged gravel. “It’s been a long time. It’s been quiet nights in Pandemonium, of late,”

I nodded, feeling a little strength returning to my limbs. Maybe because I felt cold, rather than the languid summer malaise I’d been feeling up till I heard that familiar sandpaper laugh.

He tossed a pack of cigarretes across the road, they landed inbetween my legs: Marlboro Reds, of course. I tossed them back.
“I quit, thanks anyway. How’s your sister?”

He shrugged, looked vaguely uncomfortable. “Crazy as ever.  Feh, kid: look around you. Animals dying in the streets. It’s like… the fall of Rome or something. Hey, did you watch that? On HBO?”

I shook my head. “I was a Deadwood man.”

Floyd yawned and waved a dismissive hand. “Figures,”

He stood up and stretched. Jerked his head to the path off to my left.
“I hear you need work, hoss.”

I shook my head slowly, trying to work the kinks out. Yeah, I wasn’t paralyzed anymore. Which means this probably wasn’t a nightmare.
“You got nothing I need, Floyd,” I said, trying to sound tough.

His eyes met mine at the crossroads. “I need a… a loading dock supervisor. You can supervise, right?”

I folded my hands in my lap. The tattoo over my left breast felt like it was just getting inked, even though it’s almost a year old. “Good money, hoss. All you gotta do is… supervise. Rents late, right?”

I glanced up at the sky: I didn’t recognize any of the constellations. Floyd sighed.
“It’s only temporary, hoss. Just work, okay? Nothing long-term,”

I crossed my ankles and popped my knuckles, yawning as I did so. I glanced past Floyd, down one of the roads and saw a herd of cats streaming silently acros the dirt road in the waning moonlight. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Among them was a young girl, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old and naked as the day she was born. Her hair streaming out behind her, and she ran as silently as they did.

We’ve had a long and sometimes tricky association, Floyd and I.  We first met when I was 19, the first time I thought I was going to die.  He’s never exactly lied to me, but I don’t trust him.  Reputations can be a bitch, as I’ve since learned. Debt can be an even bigger one.

Floyd yawned, his jaw opening wide, his tongue lolling out of his mouth like a dogs. He grinned up at the moon and spat into the dust on the side of the crossroads. A black stain splashed on the gravel.

A deep “brOAW!” cracked through the night as a frog suddenly croaked in the underbrush to my right and then burst apart; splattering me slightly with swamp brine.

“Sorry,” muttered Floyd. “Startled me…”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll take it. No tricks? Just a job? Just work, right? Temporary? I owe you nothing?

Floyd grinned that big white-toothed grin of his and I felt my bowels twitch. I heard his car coming up the road: that same old lime-green Geo Metro.

“You’ll love it, hoss. 9-5. Nice and quiet. And why would you owe me anything? I’m paying you for services rendered, no fine print, trust me.”

I wagged a finger at him, managing to keep it from shaking too much. “I don’t think you’d be wantin’ to be trying to trick me, old snake,” I told Floyd. I had a glimmer of an idea. I exhaled suddenly, thinking back to conversations Mr. E and I had shared. Smoking, cigarettes…

Floyd’s eyebrows arched up his smooth forehead, almost meeting at his widow’s peak. “Well now. Why would I be wantin’ to be trickin’ you, meat?”

I struggled to my feet, my rubber-band legs wobbling beneath me as I leaned on the split-plank fence and got my balance. “Well, um: It’s kinda what you do, dude,” I said shakily. I rubbed my palms on my jeans, my hands were sweating.

Floyd laughed that cat-pissing-on-liter laugh of his. He lit another cigarette off the glowing ember perched on the filter of the one in his hand. He closed his fist around the spent butt, and dragged the smoke from the fresh one deep in before exhaling casually. He shook the dead butt into his pocket.

“Can’t be too careful these days, killer,” he purred. “It’s awful dry out here. Wouldn’t want to start a fire.”

My legs sagged a little, but I managed to turn away from him and smile into the dark. I could see beady little red eyes at ankle level in the pitch black: fucking weasels in the corn.

“I just don’t want to start any trouble for you, Floyd. That’s all,” I said, an honest desperation in my voice.

Floyd’s narrow hands slithered over my shoulder and patted me on the biceps, his long slender fingers gripping me above the elbow. I hadn’t heard him get up, but he was there most rickey-tick; I could smell his charnel-house breath without turning my head.

“No problem at all, just helping an old friend,” he rasped into my ear. “Why would that be any trouble?”

I shrugged. “Well, it’s just that… I mean… I got a. I got obligations now…”

Floyd laughed and hopped up onto the fence, facing me. The rodents in the witchgrass hissed quiet little rodent sounds and scurried off.
“Yeah, hoss. That’s why we’re havin’ this conversation. It’s all about family,” he looked really sincere. He leaned in, his eyes studying me. On second whiff, his breath didn’t seem that horrible at all. Kind of minty. “Or- obligations? Is there something you ain’t telling me?”

I shrugged and reached over to him, my eyes not leaving his as I dipped into his pocket and pulled out the cigarettes. I shook one out and tapped it on the fencepost. “No, nothing. Why?” I glanced furtively over my shoulder as the lime-green Geo Metro pulled to a stop. No driver, natch.

Floyd held out his hand, flame cupped in the palm, but didn’t quite come in range for the cigarette. He was staring into my eyes. “Who you been truckin’ with, these days? Zombies, actors, parents, creative types-”

“You already said Actors,” I interrupted.

Floyd sneered: “Yeah, and then I said creative types. Parents…” he got a faraway look in his eyes. Then the flame in his hand went out and he snatched the cigarette from my lips.

You sonofabitch. Them?!” his eyes were narrowed to slits. The pupils looked less round/black and more like a cat’s. Probably just the squinting.

I stepped away, hands out-stretched: “Hey, you said this was just a friendly little-”

SHUDDUP!” Whew. A blast of charnel breath again. I guess he can lose concentration, or something. “Aw, sheeeeeit, you two-timing, no good, pencil-dicked, cocksucking, desert-rat! With those fuckin’ trollops?!” He was kind of doing a jig on the top rail of the fence. The legs of his pants looked really weird where his knees were bending backwards.

I looked ashamed. “Hey, c’mon Floyd. I-I didn’t wanna tell you. I mean, we’ve known each other for a long time… I didn’t wanna hurt yer feelings.”

He was back on the road now, pacing. His hair was coming loose in his rough-skinned fingers as he nervously tugged on it. I don’t think he was really talking to me so much as…

“…fucking Outer Church was bad enough, bullshit secular-beliefs, bullshit beastly priest! Our Lady of the Broken Spine indeed! Goddamn Cthonic cunts! I have never ever liked Italian food! And now!” he was spitting fire. Literally.

I shrugged. I opened my hands: “Hey man, you weren’t around. Ok? I’ve been trying to figure things out… and why not, you know?”

He back-handed me then, and my ass was sticking through the windshield of the Geo, my legs on the hood, the back of my head uncomfortably leaning back against the roof. I peeled myself out, safety-glass popcorning all around me, and rolled off onto the road: ouch. Now my face is bleeding, my back hurts, and I’ve got gravel to pick out of my hands and the tips of my toes.

“I’ll tell you something, Reverend,” spat Floyd. “I told you I’d bail you out. And I’ll set you up working for one of my Horsemen… but I am soooo pissed at you. No holiday cards, no visits to Pandemonium! It was bad enough when you didn’t know who you were, but this? Believing in that craptacularly unimpressive Trio of sagging Crones? The annoying trinity of latin-monickered moos? The three motherfucking mothers? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND!?!” he was roaring now. He’s so immature and over-sensitive, it always comes to this. My way or the highway. Me-me-me-me. No wonder we’re always squabbling: we’re a lot alike.

I grinned ruefully at him, picking a sliver of granite out of my palm. “Shit, Floyd. I didn’t say… wait, Rupert Murdoch is one of the four horsemen?”

Floyd sighed and sat down on the hood of his car, cross-legged. He rubbed his spindly fingers over his beak of a nose, his eyes shut. When they opened again, they were back to normal. For him.

“Ah, crap. Fine. Mater this, mater that. Whatever. Believe in what you believe in. Let them have your soul, if thats who you are.” He started swaggering down the gravel road, his feet kicking up dust as he went. “You start work on Monday, if you still want a gig,” he was picking up speed now, and I had to strain to hear him over the clop-clop-clop of his feet, the horseshoes striking sparks on the rock. “No strings…”

And then in an unfolding rush of black wings, he was gone. The Geo Metro’s headlights turned off and it drove away, it’s tiny motor puttering in the dark.

I finished picking the slivers of stone and safety glass as best I could and tore up my shirt to wrap around my feet. I glanced around at the crossroads: the scarecrow was back on it’s cross. Creepy bastard. I threw a quick benediction in it’s general direction, just in case, and picked a direction. I glanced down as I left: the cigarette was sitting there next to the fence, bent but not broken. I glanced around, hearing the hum of crickets starting up again, glancing up and seeing familiar constellations returning, winking back into the night. I pocketed the cigarette. For later. When I could find a trashcan. I read somewhere that the filters take forever to decompose, and that squirrels and rabbits are attracted to the sweet smell of the packing, and who wants to be responsible for little bunny foo-foo getting squashed by a car?

I started walking, the sun was rising. The funny thing is, Floyd and I are similar in a lot of ways. We both lie pretty good. I’ve always found the best lie is the lie of omission. I never said that I worshipped or followed Le Tre Madri. Do I believe in sighs, tears and shadows? Of course I do, Momma Reverend Doctor Syn didn’t raise no fool. But what I’ve discovered isn’t those creepy old biddys, or how to avert the Zombie Apocalypse (though surviving it I am still looking forward too), or the best way to skin a cat (I always say start at the tail, but I’m always wrong). I mean, I’ve discovered many things in the last years, it’s why my beard is shot through with grey. But Floyd can think what he wants. I know the truth.

Sometimes the truth is closer to home.

The sun is rising when I make it to the highway. I see a familiar red car parked outside of an all-night diner. I limp in, the bell jingling, and slide into a booth opposite my Wife who has a cup of coffee and a .357 snubnose on the formica in front of her. I raise my eyebrows at her and nod at the piece.

My Wife’s eyes are red, and she’s sniffling. “I wasn’t getting good service. I don’t think they wanted to serve me at first.” I nod. Because I’m very understanding. I glance around.

“…” I start to say, but my Wife points over to the pinball machine, where The Boy is sitting on the face of the game, watching the lights flickering beneath the glass. “dadadadadada-da?” he asks it. The he nods vigorously, as if the light sequence has told him something. He carefully backs off the edge of the machine and trundles over to me, grunting. His face lights up, and I feel pretty good for the first time in a long time.

“So, everything okay?” asks my Wife. I shrug.

“Eh. Nothing a few cold beers won’t fix. I got a job,” I say, hugging the Boy. I reach across the table and pat her hand, and then give her the cigarette. Her eyes light up and she glances at me.

“As soon as the Boy is asleep, let’s Do It, and then smoke this!” she grins. I smile back at her. We try not to ritually sacrifice each other. Try to plant a beer tree. Try to raise an Attack Boy. It’s a life.

A Goose Walking Over My Grave

Back in seminary, your humble narrator smoked a lot of cigarettes. I mean just ludicrous amounts of smoking. I smoked more than I drank, and I did a lot of that too… but beer never caused Roping.

Roping was when I’d wake up, with some… horrible fucking thing in my chest, in the back of my throat… this awful presence… and I’d hack and cough and hack. But instead of the normal detritus fired out of a chain-smoking 20-something’s chest and lungs… I got this thick viscous strand of nearly sentient mucous that wouldn’t… quite… come all the way up by itself. Like a spaghetti strand of cigarette excrement.

So I’d desperately, gagging, bloodshot eyes and heaving breath, spittle and spume everywhere- desperately try and get a grip of this slimy thing protruding from up my throat. And I’d pull. Eventually the tail end of this parasitic phlem would come whipping out of my raw throat, and I’d collapse on the cool tiles of the communal bathroom floor, retching and gasping and spent.

“Jesus. You look terrible,” Mr. E. would say looking down at me, his first silk-cut of the day wafting smoke over the layer of toothpaste on his teeth. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Roping,” I’d whisper, wiping the back of my clammy hand across my mouth.
He’d shake out a cigarette and hoist himself up on one of the sinks, dropping the fag on my chest and whipping out his battered old zippo lighter. I’d gratefully light up and inhale, fish a lukewarm can of Pabst or Strohs out of the pocket of my bathrobe and have my own particular breakfast with my friend, talking about the old days in Thailand or Borneo. Those were good mornings.

Lately, the pain of not having money has reached Roping levels, without the nice beer & a smoke breakfast with Mr. E. My chest was collapsing on itself, or so it felt, and I was often finding streams of blood dribbling out of my left nostril.

“You….rrrrrrrrrrrrrr… never really did a lot of inhalents, right?” asked my half-dead physician, Dr. Israel Hands.
“Right,” I said, sitting comfortably on the massage chair as his preternaturally strong hands worked on my shoulders.
“Well, brrrrrrrrrraiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-well, it’s probably stress. I think I need my ball peen hammer,” he said, trying to work a knot out of my back.
“Stress? Bah! I know no stress! My mother was an alligator and my father was a grizzly b’ar! I piss Coors and crap napalm. Stress is like a breath mint to a bulemic!”
I looked over my shoulder, wondering why the nice shoulder pressure had stopped. Dr. Hands was looking slack-jawed (granted, normal for him these days) at the shattered handle of his hammer.
“That is one hell of a knot,” he slurred.

But that was before we headed down South, past the kipple, to Cassandra’s place. It isn’t on any maps, and GPS won’t work there. Cell phones rarely take calls you don’t want, and there is always meat in the freezer. Plus, she has a beer tree.

After a few days relaxing, I made us a lovely dinner one night. Mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables and steaks: tofu and beef, respectively, sauteed with onions and mushrooms in butter and then deglazed with Rebel Yell bourbon whiskey… it was lovely.

That night, or rather, the next morning… I woke up around 4am. At EXACTLY 4am, to be honest. I felt weird, wrong, drugged, disordered… and I was moving. I was in the back of a car. The car was moving. I could hear road sounds, and the faint backwash of the headlights gave me a little idea of where I was… that and the glow of the console. Which is also how I knew what time it was.
“Whu?” I muttered through thick lips. I was sprawled out across the backseat, in my own car, my wife’s car, my head resting in the Baby Seat. I painfully turned and saw The Boy standing in the passenger seat, looking at me, hanging onto the headrest. I could see the clock. My Wife was driving.
“Whu?” I grunted through a swollen throat. “Owwww….”
“Hey, don’t get all weird on me, mister,” she snarled as she turned the car abruptly onto what felt like unpaved road. I bounced and my head slammed back down onto the car seat. The Boy giggled from the rapid movement.
“This was all YOUR idea. I’m just following orders. It was in our pre-nup, for Christ’s sake!” She slammed on the brakes and I wrenched something, spilling into the space normally reserved for leg-room.
“Guh?” I muttered through bloody lips.
“Wheeeee!” shrieked The Boy.

I heard the car door opening and felt the hot, still summer air and then the rough gravel as my Wife dragged me by my feet and uncerimoniously dumped me.
“I don’t know why this is a good idea, Honey,” she said worriedly, propping me up against a fencepost. I could barely move anything. Except my eyelids. And they felt like they had sandpaper adhered to the insides, so I was trying hard not to move them much. “But I’ve always been a dutiful wife! And when you give me a scary black envelope, telling me it’s time… well. I know my place! Love you!”
She gave me a peck on the cheek and climbed back in the car, stowing The Boy into the child carrier.
“Why are you abandoning me… at a crossroad?” I said. Only it came out: “Mrahguh? Rossroff?”
The Boy let out a wail and my heart surged: he didn’t want to abandon me on some godforsaken meeting place of a dirt and gravel road! He loved me! On second thought, no: he just didn’t want to have to get back in the child seat after getting to ride up front.

The car roared off, the Wife blowing me a kiss as the dust settled on me, covering me in a fine layer of greyish brown silt. I wheezed out a cough and twitched my fingers, trying to wipe the dust from my agitated nose. At least the movement was coming back. Yeah: that’s it!

I shakingly raised my right first and extended the middle finger. I tossed a gentle benediction at the retreating tail-lights of my family and then used the finger to pry a huge dirt-booger out of my mustache.

It gets quiet pretty quickly, out in the middle of nowhere. Especially in those wee hours of the morning when you should be asleep. Terrible things happen around 3 or 4 in the morning. They say it’s when the KGB used to come knocking. Bill Moseley always said thats when The Devil Wind came and woke folks up when they were worrying over something… Old Blind Pete always said I’d hang.

I heard a rustling sound in the witchgrass as some nocturnal animal snuffled its way through the dark. By the light of the crescent moon I could make out a barren field on one side of the road, an old cross-beam holding up the raggedy silhouette of a scarecrow. When clouds rolled across the moon I shut my eyes: I could hear clopping footsteps on the wind, way far off, like rundown bootheels on still-warm asphalt.
When I opened my eyes again, the scarecrow was gone. Just the crossbeam remained in the field.

So what was I doing, partially paralyzed from strong drink and good food, unarmed, propped up against a fencepost in the middle of the backcountry, at a crossroad, abandoned by my family, at the Bad Time?

What indeed. What indeed, dear ones.

Dare I say it? To Be Continued…