Friday, September 12, 2008

Getting In Late

The bus lumbered into a rest stop where another bus driver waited to take over for the first. the troupe got off briefly, stretching and yawning into a little parlor where a fat woman in blue was doling out greasy pancakes to sleepy travelers by the fistful. They found a booth near the back and settled in, waiting patiently for their turn to pay and eat.

"I think I'll do the next one," Parker said, idly lifting a carafe of water and tilting it over his glass. The others nodded sleepily and one of them produced the die. He dropped it on the table and nodded politely to the two staring up at him. "Hmm, one about children?" he asked.

"No, mate. One for children or something," Gordon said. Mali smiled at Gordon's attempt at patience.

"Gotcha. I suppose I could tell one from my childhood if that is ok?"

The others said it was fine and Parker wrapped his arms about himself, fending off the chilly inside of the early morning stop in order to begin.

When I was a young man my father used to tell me stories in order to teach me things. Parables, sort of. Like the ones that Jesus used to tell except not from Jesus.

One particular story was about a child named John who did not see to his father's wishes but sought only for himself. You see, John was not a bad child. He played nicely with other children, never smoked anything, took any illegal drugs, drank any illegal drinks, and was always very polite to the old women on the street. Yet when it came to his father he would hardly ever do the things that he was asked. If his mother asked him to clean his room he would do it on the spot. If she asked him to cut the lawn or eat his vegetables he would do them above and beyond, mowing twice over the wide green expanse or hating two heaping plates of leafy greens. If his father asked, however, he would turn up his nose and pout, ignoring his father or hoping that if he whined for long enough his father would just forget about it and do it himself.

Years went on this way with his father asking politely for things to be done and John crying over them, refusing his station. Finally the man had had enough.

"Young boy," He said sternly, hands on his hips, "bad things happen to those who do not heed their parents."

"But I do heed my mother," John replied, smiling to his mother across their kitchen table.

"But the word of the father is the key to the door that your mother opens, and grave things come to those who are willing to walk through doors without the key,"

John nodded as though he understood, only half listening to his father, and then kissed his mother for their meal and went outside to play.

The next morning John was asked by his father to cut the lawn, but he would not. He was asked to take care of the dishes, but he refused. He was asked to see to the leaves, but he was too busy playing with his toys. All day and into the night his father asked for things that were never done, and John went to sleep satisfied that doing only half of what was necessary was going to keep him safe.

As he lay tucked under the covers a man appeared at his window, his face hooded against the evening storm by a green rain slicker. He tapped the window with an evilly hooked sickle and smiled at John with jagged white teeth. John called out to his father.

"Help me, father!" He implored, but his father only sighed from the next room.

The man at the window tapped again with the sickle on the rain wet window.

"Help me, father, please!" He exclaimed again, but his father did not come.

The man in the rain slicker started to pry under the window with his sickle, bending to the work of loosening the jamb and lifting the heavy pane. John was coiled in fear on his bed.

"Please he is almost inside," He called out but his father never answered.

The man's sickle slid under the window and lifted it. He propped the cruelly bent item under the heavy frame and climbed soundlessly, one heavy boot at a time, into the boy's room splashing rainwater onto his toys and carpet. They say that when his mother went to wake the boy in the morning all that she found were scraps of his body left behind by the devil who came to collect him. They say there was a trail of blood that ran from his bed, across his spaceship comforter and to a spot on the floor that, no matter how many times it was cleaned and left alone, remained too hot to touch with the naked hand. The end.

The troupe sat helplessly over their pancakes, staring at Parker as the butter and syrup below them slowly congealed.

"What the fuck?" Gordon managed, spitting bits of toast on to the table.

"Your dad told you that?" Mali wondered.

"Certainly, I'm kind of surprised that you guys haven't heard it before. It's a classic,"

"A kid who doesn't do every chore his father wants is dragged to bloody hell by a sickle wielding madman, and you want to label it a classic? Keats is a classic, mate. Bloody fucking Shakespeare and that is a classic. Your dad is just mentally insane."

Parker looked around the table for help but only found sheepish or horrific expressions. He mumbled to himself and stuffed pancakes in his mouth, hopeful that he could get some sleep on the bus and that daylight was coming.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Means to an End

The bus hummed along the winding roads of rural California beneath the velvet swash of empty night. Charcoal-colored clouds seamlessly twined and untwined far and above the smoke-stained windows, dancing and careening, copulating and reproducing, but nonetheless exposing the pattern of stars for all the world below to see.

"You're going to have us in the loony bin by the time all's been said n' done," Gordon heaved at Joe, breaking a silence that pervaded their ride since his gruesome account. His companions came to with a start, rattled and shaken from their dreams of murderous Frenchmen and knife-wielding dolls.

"Who's turn?" Joe asked, ignoring him.

"Mine," Mali offered.

"'Sgon be as rough as the last trade, may'swell tell me a lullaby and put this little girl back to sleep," Casey said, watching the hills outside her window dive into the endless black behind them.

Gordon pitched the die to the vibrating, gum-stained floor of the bus. It tumbled and shook, crackling as it bounced along the finely-perforated steel. Six white dots stared back at the troupe.

"What's the word, then?" Joe asked.

Parker, who until then had remained hidden beneath his jacket (brilliantly cyan and embroidered with the ghoulish face of a dying Christ across the back), muttered, "Triumph." He didn't meet the eyes of his fellow travelers.

"A bit hard to speak of triumph when we're rendered to the dismal spirits of a nightly story, don't you think?" Gordon pondered, scratching at a mole on the underside of his chin.

"Not when it isn't my story," Mali said, producing a cell phone from the recesses of her clothes. She dialed and studied the screen for a moment, the luminescence of LCD reflecting in her dark eyes, before holding it out for all to see. She had directed her phone's browser to the archives of a local newspaper in the midwest, a bold-faced headline spanning the furthest reaches of the tiny screen, accompanied by a pixelated image of a church - no, upon further inspection, a municipal building, boasting as many spires and buttresses as even the most elaborate house of God - in flames. Parker's sigh of contempt was utterly audible. 

"Day will break soon enough, my new friends," Mali said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "So settle in, for I'm about to tell you the strange and lurid tale of how New Wales burned."

Even as far as California, the news agencies couldn't resist recounting to their readers the peculiar affair of New Wales. The rise of an religious executive to the highest office of his city and the literal collapse of his ecclesiastic manifest made headlines across the nation. 

In rural communities, they hailed him as a righteous vindicator of God's will, a testament to the true fighting spirit of a strong and devout Christian, and a true American. In the nation's larger cities and - of course - the college towns, he was criticized as a fundamentalist lunatic, a Jerry Falwell with wrongly-entrusted with a flaming sword, a Pat Robertson with executive authority and privilege.

His rise to power was swift and absolute, garnering the support of his townspeople with virulent castigation of the unjust and a pledge to rid New Wales of modernist demons. He promised them the world, and they, in turn, promised him their vote.

But of course, it was not Reverend-Mayor Maddox's views that caught the attention of the news media. It was the discovery of his body, torn and splayed and defaced, that captured the interest of journalists and conspiracy theorists, alike. Thankfully for them, it isn't hard to convince a private investigator to sell his crime scene photos.

You all remember, I'm sure.

The pictures on the news?

The ones where the connecting fibers at the back of his eyes were stapled to his desk?

Or how about his entrails decorating the sculpture of Christ that hung from his walls?

"That's enough!" Parker exclaimed, aghast.

"Quiet, biddy, this shit's getting good," Casey said, waving him away.

Rumors flew like the dead mayor's insides.

Anarchists? Atheists? Devil-Worshippers? Everyone had their own theory on who - or what - dismembered, disfigured, and devoured the good reverend.

Funny thing is, I know what really happened.

Two students from the local university - one formerly in the employ of the mayor's office as a speechwriter - they knew, too.

Poor bastards, they even tried to stop it, so the story goes.

Of course, as word-of-mouth recounts go, the accounts vary wildly. The common denominator I've always seem to run across is that one of them had a thing for the mayor's son, and convinced the other - a vocalist for a local band, and damn mean, too, if the stories are straight - to come to his aid, should the culprit strike again.

They found him - the mayor's son - in the cathedral the now-deceased mayor had built inside of City Hall, praying for his father's safe return to God.

They also found his father's killer, perched on the shoulders of a bronzed and crucified Christ, the blood of the mayor still caked to his clothes.

And mouth. And fangs.

I don't believe in vampires, you see. I think people who do get their good sense confused with too many reruns of Buffy.

But damn, you guys - were I ever to believe, I'd believe here and now.

Story goes, the assailant in black leapt to the floor with peregrine grace and produced a pistol from his hip. As the speechwriter took to his heels to save the mayor's son, the man in black put round after round into the poor kid's gut, laughing the whole time.

Didn't even have the decency to kill him outright. Fucking asshole.

Then he turned his gun on the would-be heroes. That's where everything gets a little stranger.

Though the bullets burst through the soft flesh of these two students, they did not falter, nor did they perish.

But man, oh man, did they ever bleed.

The nameless bards that spread this tale throughout the palest corners of the internet have all deduced their own reasoning for why these guys didn't die. 

The religious ones say God was protecting them, but I don't believe that. God had packed up and left New Wales long before, I think.

The crazies, convinced the assailant was himself a bloodsucker, espouse theories that these boys were werewolves and that the bullets funneled into them bore no silver. Bullshit, I say.

Most people just assume there was something different about these two. 

That one could not live without the other. 

That one could not die without the other.

Whatever the case, the musician - the mean one, remember? - he stumbled and bled his way to the alter at the feet of the bronzed Christ, rivets of deep crimson escaping from all the fresh holes in his body, and retrieved both a sash and a candle. He wrapped himself in the purple fabric that colored God's sovereignty and - without hesitation - lit himself aflame.

He, too, laughed. But he did not burn.

Everything else did, though, as you can see here.

Mali paused to indicate the image on the screen of her phone again.

The fire engulfed the cathedral, bringing half of City Hall tumbling to the city streets. Rescue workers would later retrieve the badly-burned bodies of Reverend Maddox's son and an unidentifiable man in his mid-twenties - the assailant, presumably.

The bodies of neither student were ever found.

"I call bullshit," Gordon sighed.

"Why?" Mali asked, scrunching her nose at him. She resembled an irritated mouse, in some ways.

"Vampires? Invincible university students? Please, miss, you're making the whole thing up." Gordon huffed, thumbing the stem of the tiny, plastic American flag he kept in his knapsack. "'Sides, how would anyone know what happened if everyone died in the fire?"

"Weren't you listening?" Joe interrupted. "They never found the students. Maybe they lived."

"Eh, bullshit," Gordon said, perturbed.

"Supposedly, there's evidence floating around out there in cyberspace, in the form of one of the survivor's journals," Mali insisted. She thought about it a moment, then relented, "But I guess that kind of thing isn't hard to fake, huh?"

Casey shrugged and offered Mali a smile. "It's cool, baby. I believe you."

Parker looked furious, and the bus rolled on.

Monday, September 8, 2008


"You would go and bloody call me out when it's night out" Gordon spoke annoyed at his christian compatriate. "Well, let's take this show on the road then right after I have a go at this die." He threw at like he was playing craps, all the while praying he gets something that jogs his creativity. The die steadily rolled, ending its journey against Casey's foot, a 1 staring up at her. "You better have somethin decent fish n chips, I'm already bored with the rest of em." Parker and Mali peered at their own feet while Joe glared at her as if he were trying to dissolve her by sheer willpower. "I didn't mean that as an insult, Joe was it? You'll get it, maybe." Her last line rang in his head, the condescenion echoing throughout. Whatever, he thought to himself, I'll give her the best damn story she has ever heard by the time this trip is through.

They started on their expedition ,taking a bus towards Irvine. About halfway to their destination Gordon finished scribbling in his Captain America notebook, jumping in his seat to the surprise of his colleagues.

"Well, ladies n gents, you put me in a bit of a sore spot seeing as how I'm not a real big fan of the darker side of things, but I suppose I'll give it the old college try." Gordon tried to cover up his excitement with a helping of modesty, to no avail. "It's about damn time, we've been waiting for an hour for your silly ass to speak. Get on with it." Casey's words didn't even phase the affable European.

"Righto then."

The year is 1438. The place is France. "My name is Jiselle and I am eight years old. Today I'm being sold to Gilles de Rais, a brother-in-arms to Joan of Arc, in order to pay off debts my parents owe. They tell me Messieur de Rais is an honorable man, and I've witnessed him praying every day at the monastary, but I don't like him very much. He took me by the hand, assuring my parents that I will be kept safe, fed well and educated with others my age. For some reason, I don't believe him. Messieur de Rais brought me to his large house, patted me on the head and told me if I worked hard, he would feed me and let me play outside. Every morning he had me clean his tools, peculiar tools that they were, looking more like the kind a butcher or a smith would use, not a knight. If I scrubbed them well, removing any of the dark stains that find their way on them every single night, I would get a tray of bread and meat. A day didn't go by where his tools were unclean. I developed a routine to get the bits and pieces off without exerting too much effort, so I would have plenty of energy to play. There were always other errands and such he would have me do, oftentimes encouraging me to speak to the locals to find out the latest news on their families. He said it was to get closer to the people. One day he simply tasked me with finding a local boy who had no direct family. It was hard what with all the wars being fought and illness at every turn. I found a boy my age named Jean begging for change by the market. I invited him over and we played for a bit. When Messieur de Rais arrived home, he immediately took a liking to Jean. I feared I was being replaced and he could see it. He patted my head telling me, i've no need to worry, he simply wanted to show Jean something. I waited and waited and waited until I fell asleep.

I awoke to Messieur de Rais tapping me on the head and handing me a brush. There was a long streak of blood from his work room, through the kitchen and to the back. He told me he had been hunting and wanted me to scrub it up before midday. I worked dilligently and managed to get it all done on time. He smiled at me, handing me a plate to eat. The meat tasted rather peculiar, but I paid it no mind, it filled my belly like any other.

This pattern went on for awhile, me inviting playmates over and Messieur de Rais taking a short lived interest in them. He would tell me that he found them homes in other cities, with friends of his and I really, truly wanted to believe him, I did, but I just couldn't. I would always have a task the next day, sometimes cleaning his messes, other times burying the pyres so they don't reignite, but always cleaning his tools. Then one day he hurt his hand in some kind of accident. It was wrapped in quite a bit of cloth and he couldn't fully use it. This was when I saw what he was really up to. He had me bring in my new friend Michel to his work room. There I saw what he was truly working on. All over the walls were inscriptions, some looked as if carved by bare finger, others done completely in blood. Before I could even scream, Messieur de Rais ran Michel through with a stilletto, using his good hand. As he pulled it out, Michel's blood decorated my dress and face with speckles. The Messieur wiped his brow with his injured hand and told me if I were to speak a whisper of this, my family was to be sentenced to torture and death at the hands of the church.

I had to avert my eyes at what came next. Messieur de Rais, took the boy, removing his pants and
had him, right there, as if he were a woman. I could take no more and tried to escape, but the Messieur yelled at me, panting with each thrust. He told me I was needed for more work, work he could not do in his current condition. This is for God, he said. He was removing the sin from them. I couldn't believe him, but I had no choice but to help. He had me remove Michel's heart, a task I had no great pride in doing, and told me to place it on his mantle, a piece of furniture covered in carvings. He then proceeded to try to take a bite out of it. He couldn't maneveur himself accurately so I was forced to feed it to him like a child. I had to sit on his lap, carving up Michel's heart into edible sizes and place them on the Messieur's tongue. It was wretched.

This went on until his hand healed. Not always children either. Sometimes he would bring home madams, women my mother would tell me to stay away from. He would have his way with her, then have me stab her as they climaxed. He took great pride in the women, and as such I would have to preserve as much skin as I could for later use. He had a cellar for them specifically, that I was not to go into, unless he willed it.

I couldn't sleep. All of them haunted me, ghosts in my dreams and if not them, thoughts of damnation swarming my slumber. I sat awake, trying not to scream when Messieur walked into my room. His hand had healed and he was telling me how I had done such a good job and God would be proud. Then he told me I should meet God and he gave me those same eyes he gave everyone before me, and right then I knew it was time.

"No wonder it took you so damn long," Casey said eying the behavior of her fellow writers. Parker's face was priceless, bearing the signature mark of a horrified christian, a tender combination of outrage and terror. Joe smiled approvingly while Mila nodded thoughtfully. "Well, it normally isn't me thing, but I do what I do when I do it." His cockiness didn't go unnoticed.