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Sometimes a small pneumatic combustion cannon is the right tool for the job. At least when the job is spraying blood and gore into a fine mist, anyways.

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Posted by FUNKbrs - February 13th, 2009


Chapter 6

The stars hung in the vast, cold vacuum of space like jewels carelessly tossed into the air by a joyous their, frozen in time and place, a snap shot of the great explosion caused by the creation of the universe from the unfeeling substrate of the Void. In them, people throughout the ages have glimpsed eternity, the wisest of whom studied them and with them discovered mathematics, the nature of the seasons, and ultimately, of time itself.

Unbeknownst to the trained operative speeding hastily down the country highways, his own Maya people had developed a calendar base on those cold stars a calendar bearing remarkable similarity in its organization to the western Tarot, a thirteen day week paralleling the thirteen card suite.

There are many things tonight that Pedro's servant doesn't know, and the spirit of Pestilence Rodney Cunningham had worked very hard to ensure this.

The sound of rhythmic slapping, like the sound of a playing card stuck in the spokes of a bicycle wheel stopped suddenly as the black leather clad biker reached up left-handed and tucked the loose end of his chin strap back inside his helmet. The hand hovered briefly over a patch of dried blood trickling down his cheek, then returned to its former resting place on the clutch lever of the left handle bar.

Zag's mind was devoid of conscious thought as the wind dried his uncle's blood onto his face, his eyes zoning out into the distance. He'd trained his entire life for exactly such missions as this, beginning under the instruction of Senora Maya, and until just recently, taking him deep into the Cashmere region near the border of India and Pakistan. He was a seasoned professional, acting on autopilot as his training took over, his conscious mind giving way to the deep-rooted animal instincts that ruled the more primitive parts of his brain.

Zag was in pure hunter-gatherer mode, his mind focused on his objective as the white lane stripes faded into the night behind his taillight. The purple velvet bag in the back bedroom was all that existed to him, just as the contact list that he had failed to retrieve not so long ago had, only this time, there was no roadside bomb, no ambush laid in wait for him, no convoy of unsuspecting soldiers being led to their deaths.

Uncle Pedro had given him this chance at redemption, this chance at regaining the faith he had lost in himself that fateful day. Not only that, but Pedro had ensured his victory with holy Maya blood magic, the warlock gracing Zag's eyes with his own life blood, hiding him from the eyes and ears of his soon to be victims. The midnight air carried a slight chill, but Zag felt nothing at all as he neared the city lights and ultimately Cottage Church Lane.

Left, right, left right, the experienced rider hugged the turns on that zigzag road to First Holiness Pentecostal Church, the church for whom Cottage Church Lane was named, the road itself so old it had to be broken into a series of jagged turns to accommodate it when the city's gravel streets had been paved and its urban designers had set the curvy paths into a respectable grid.

As he approached the historic district, small gardens turned to bushes, low bushes to hedges, and tall hedges to a wrought iron fence at least a hundred years old, the gap in which led to the gravel pathway to his final destination.

Thug's tell-tale black Cadillac was nowhere to be seen as the squat South American walked through the main gateway to the magnificent gardens that surrounded the church, his Pakistani made motorcycle tucked quietly into the shadow of one of those giant rosebushes, the size of baby maple trees, that dotted the peaceful walking path. Even in the dark chill of the night, fat black bees still buzzed industriously around the unnaturally large blooms, the bees matching the blooms in their inordinate size like a page torn from Gulliver's Travels.

The huge bees were almost invisible in the blackness, a slight buzzing through his helmet Zag's only warning as one of them infiltrated his face mask, landing viciously on his right eye under his helmet where he had no defenses. The hardened assassin scrabbled to whip off his helmet before the insect could blind him with its poisonous sting, caught off guard by the witches devious insect sentries, something no military tactician had ever prepared him for.

To his relieve surprise, he found his poisonous assailant dead inside his helmet, no more than a desiccated shell although still the same size as Zag's think brown thumb. The Maya family's enforcer laughed a silent soldier's laugh at himself. Whatever doubts he'd had of the effectiveness of Pedro's anointment fell away at that moment, as Zag realized that all his skills at infiltration and reconnaissance still were no match for the struggle of culture and magic going on between Pedro and Caroline.

Zagurio skirted around the garden path of the old church house as he searched for a back door. There was no point in using the front door if just a subtle backdoor entrance could do the same thing...

Harsh yellow light from a cheap reading lamp illuminated even more yellowed pages packed tight with cramped script as steam rose from a tannin stained porcelain cup. Caroline leaned back in her old battered computer chair, rubbing her eyes under her glasses as she stretched and yawned. She missed the old days sometimes, those good days when there was something interesting on television or at the very least there was a nice vicious flame war going on in one of her favorite forums. Was it that much different, she considered as she sat reading the dusty old book from Mrs. Black's library, than the old days anyway?

Sure at first things had been exciting, but anything, if you do it long enough, becomes yet another boring routine. Maybe that was why rock stars had such crazy antics, she thought as she smiled to herself. After all, once you become accustomed to all the parties, groupies, and drugs, how else would you keep that level of excitement going?

Still, that didn't make this dusty old place seem anymore exciting. Maybe she was just tired from staying up too late. Caroline's jaws split wide with a reflexive yawn. Bed. Yes. She'd read in one of those old books malaise was caused by a lack of certain fluids called humors in the brain, many of which were replenished during sleep. The book was a couple hundred years old, but maybe it was closer to the point than modern medicine with all its neurotransmitter mumbo-jumbo was willing to give it credit for. Still...

Plink

Wait... what?

Plink Plink

Caroline got up inspect the noise, a sound that wasn't a part of the pantheon of creaks and groans she normally associated with the old wooden church, coming from one of the windows...

Plink
Plink
Plink

The sound was steady now, almost mechanical, as though someone was trying to do something small and quiet, and had finally discovered an efficient system, like a Jehovah's Witness's door knock.

The window. Definitely. Caroline quickly jumped into the trance, a trick she'd learned with all the extra time she'd had since moving here. To her surprise, all she saw was the telltale signature of Mrs. Black's old bees, a pair of them, hammering at her window. Caroline had developed somewhat of a loving appreciation of those bees; they were remarkable tame for some reason. It wasn't uncommon for one to come rest on her finger for a friendly rub, almost like a tiny flying black kitten.

They never did this, though, not scratch at the window, although it was very kittenish of them. Still, it was worth popping open the window to see what they were up to...

The wooden window stuck a little as she pulled up on it, but with a grunt, she was able to get it open. A black knot zipped into the opening, swirling around her head at eye level and then finally settling on to the table under the reading light.

She inspected the bundle of black closely, realizing that the two bees had been carrying a dead comrade by its wings.

Strange. Bees were normally blasé about losing one of their own. Circle of life, and all that. The two living bees did some sort of wiggling, buzzing dance around their dead comrade. She'd read somewhere bees communicated by dancing, but she still had no idea what they were trying to say. She looked closely at the stricken bee, and surprisingly, stuck to one of its tiny legs was a flake of dried blood...

No back door. Zag couldn't believe it. Wasn't that some sort of building code infraction? Still, maybe this place was old enough to have been grand fathered in around such regulations, after all, the road certainly had been.

It was a test of faith, now, a test of faith in Pedro's magic. Either this vial of blood would open the lock, or it wouldn't. It was the last shred of his reliance on his own ability finally stripped away, his last illusion of strength finally shown to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. His success or failure came down to circumstance, to forces outside his control, and he was forced to recognize this before he would be able to lay his hands on that velvet bag.

The biker's stubby fingers gently twisted the crystal stopper from the jade jar, the lid stuck to the rim by a thin layer of gummy drying blood. Was there a right way to do this? Did the blood go into the keyhole, or just onto the knob? Compromising, he attempted both, although the jar was certainly a poor tool for injecting blood into a locking mechanism anyway. He poured every drop onto the knob, just in case. He had no idea how such things worked; he didn't want to take any chances.

Finally, the burly South American laid a fingerless glove on the bloody knob, his helmet tucked by its chinstrap into his belt and the empty jar rested just next to his pistol inside his jacket's inner pocket. This was the point of no return; once he opened this door, there was no going back. Anyone who got in his way was as good as dead...

The knob turned easily in his hand, as if the blood were nothing more than WD-40. The door opened with not so much as a creak, and Zag peeked his head in to find....

Caroline, hunched under her reading lamp, staring intently at a dead bee laying on its back on top of an old leather bound book. She apparently hadn't heard or seen him either, just as Pedro had promised.

There was barely a warning buzz as the two bees attacked. Zag knew what to expect this time, however, clapping the bees one by one out of the air between his thick, solid hands. Caroline looked up, the bees, but not him. Perfect.

Zag saw no reason to waste time, hurrying to the doors at the back of the sanctuary. Luckily of the two doors, he chose the bedroom first, saving him a fruitless search of the bathroom and it's connected basement. He was amazed at the collection of antique books that lined the walls, almost all of which were leather bound. The mattress laid in the floor squatter-style seemed so incongruous comparatively, but he had no time to critique Caroline's home decorating skills.

The wardrobe. Yes. There it was. He started at the drawers at the base, his training ensuring he left every stitch of clothing exactly as he found it. Nothing. He flipped through the cheap second hand clothing hanging from the central rod, just in case the bag was somehow hanging there. Still nothing. All that was left was...

YES! There it was, in the far back left corner of the top shelf above the clothes rack. His hand darted in like a striking snake, eager to take hold of his prey, his target, the validation of his newfound purpose in life. The new peace he had found in Pedro's service all hinged on this single acquisition.

The velvet was seductively soft in his hand as he whipped the bag open to ensure its contents were intact. He had no idea what Pedro wanted, but he wasn't fool enough to carry a package he didn't know the contents of. Probably coke, probably money, maybe both, something, anything, but....

A SHRUNKEN FUCKING HEAD!?

A shiver climbed up the spine of the hardened commando. Stupid. Was he asked to open the bag? NO. He had operated outside of orders. Blood magic had gotten him this far, of course the only thing Pedro would want was some form of voodoo. After all, it wasn't as if Pedro didn't have all the money and drugs he could ever want.

Thug tucked the bag inside his jacket and vanished from the room like smoke...

Where had those dancing bees gone? Caroline looked up from the dead insect she'd been inspecting only to see her door wide open. She hadn't heard it open! She rushed towards it, alarmed that the loud creaky antique door would just open on it's own like that.

As she did so, a sickening crunch exploded under her right foot. She slammed her door shut and inspected her bare toes. THE BEES! Stuck to the sole of her cute little piggies was one of her dead furry servants. It was then she saw the corpse of the other bee, crushed just as this one was.

But she hadn't stepped on that one.

She looked around, panicked. Something had come in her house! Something, some spirit, some demon, SOMETHING was in her house, killing things, moving in silence, opening doors at will...

NO!

Her bedroom door stood wide open, a position her nervous obsessive-compulsive mind never left it in. Whatever it was, it had not only defiled her sanctuary, but also defiled her holy of holies. Instinctively she ran to that room. Her whole home was protected by various potions against infiltration by demons and spirits of all kinds. Why had they failed?

She bolted into her room...

And found nothing out of place. Nothing at all. Her wardrobe door was closed, just like she'd left it. She checked all her books meticulously, all in order. She popped open the drawers of her wardrobe, seeing every sock in perfect place. Every shirt, every skirt, hung exactly as she'd left them. The few articles on the top shelf seemed undisturbed; there was no point in checking them.

Caroline cursed herself. She was acting crazy again, over nothing. So the bees had acted strange, and she'd forgotten to close a couple of doors properly. What was that? Nothing. Regardless, her hand sought out a single sharpened human femur bone she kept mounted in a leather sheath under her table. Sleep. She needed sleep, sleep that only finally came when she cradled that bone shiv close to her breasts after hours of sleeplessness.

Rodney pulled his tendril of compulsion softly off of Caroline's mind, amazed she'd had the discipline to chase her suspicions that far despite his subconscious manipulations. Pedro was so much easier than this; it was clear the combined power of Caroline's natural bloodline and Mrs. Black's made her a much more puissant opponent than any pure blood witch or warlock.

Interesting. Perhaps he shouldn't be so coy with his next move. Then again, now that M'buto's head had been liberated by a spiritless, soulless agent, the only kind that could penetrate Caroline's protections, he no longer needed finesse of anyways.

A chill crept down Mama Agnes's spine beneath her shift and blankets. A single phone call could have stopped all of this, and now, whether anyone knew it or not, the blame for what was about to happen ultimately lay on her head.

Unlike Caroline, there was no weapon powerful enough to give her the comfort to sleep this night as she lay awake, knowing one day perhaps this same choice could in Caroline's hands, and maybe SHE would be the one in the other position.


1

Posted by FUNKbrs - January 7th, 2009


Chapter 5

Mark's battered alarm clock made a noise like an old woman's vibrator with a broken wire. He leaned over the space his supposed "girlfriend" should have been, slapping the off-button lackadaisically. He rose as a zombie, warmth falling from his body like clods of decayed flesh from a leper while he stumped towards the shower. His still sleepy head knocked a solid crack into the flimsy veneer door as the knob failed to turn in his hand.

"Berry!" he mumbled as loud as his lethargic lungs could manage. He could hear some sort of water running inside there, but he got no answer.

"BERRY!" he called louder, banging on the door with the heel of his clumsy fist. The cardboard thin door rattled in its frame, but he still got no answer.

"Fuckin' bitch ..." he mumbled under his breath as he turned to get the screwdriver off of his nightstand. He tried not to think about how pathetic it was that he'd been forced to keep a lock pick nearby for just such an indignity in his own home.

Mark deftly picked the simple brass interior door lock with the small sliver of metal only to get a glimpse of a random twink applying some sort of dye into Berry's hair before the tiny girl kicked the door shut with a stacked knee-high boot, part of the same outfit she'd been wearing last night. He could hear her say something conciliatory to the twink through the door, but her little foot remained locked in place when he tried to force his way into his own master bathroom.

Mark resigned himself yet again to a quick shower with a sigh of disgust, yet again washing his hair and body with hand soap in the guest bathroom while Berry monopolized the bathroom that was attached to his bedroom. Sure, she was a cute girl and all, he thought to himself as he hastily applied the silk noose that marked him as a company man, but sometimes he wondered if it was really worth showing up to work with his hair frizzed to hell and reeking of that weird hospital smell of antibacterial liquid Dial.

Timmy was gently folding the tinfoil over Berry's hair when he heard the heavy ornamental oak door slam as mark made his frustrated exit.
"Girl, you're taking this man for granted. Hell, if I thought for a minute he was even a little gay, I'd be all over him like white on rice," Timmy said in a mixture between a high southern accent and a feminine lisp as his free wrist hung down expressively.
"It's hotter when I abuse them." Berry answered in desultory fashion. "It keeps the passion alive."
"Passion?!" Timmy said mockingly. "Berry-bear, that AIN'T passion, that's fruster-A-tion!"
"Same thing," Berry quipped, "he knows I could replace him with a snap of my fingers."
"Girl, you ain't nothin' but a man eater. Girls like you make me glad God made me gay." Timmy expounded with an air of superiority.
"Oh shut up and pass me that mirror, would you? Madame Berry needs a toot."
"Well yes ma'am." Timmy replied mockingly. He'd snorted enough of Mark's coke not to care if Berry was being bitchy. Being fabulous sure was hard on the nasal cavity, though...

Zag leaned hard to his left. Harder, deeper, tighter, faster... he gave it just a touch more before he redirected his eyes from his terrain and down the vibrating sights of his .22 caliber pistol, a pistol with no manufacturer's label, not serial number, and a smooth bore. A pistol so small that it barely existed, designed to be held by a hand that could later he denied to even exist at all.

Steadiness had nothing to do with accuracy, not on a fast and dirty bike, where even a surgeon's hand shook like a drunk's. Timing was everything, and it was predicting the wobble and pulling the trigger at one precise moment that made the shot count.

POCK!

Zag fired once into the tree he was circling, flinging a satisfactory sliver of bark into the surrounding tree line of Pedro's large but undeveloped plot of forest where he kept his lonely trailer, far away from the prying eyes of the law. He paid close attention to the circle he was riding around the tree, waiting for the exact same spot to pull the trigger again...

POCK!

A miss. Even for Zag, a trained assassin, hitting one out of three was considered good accuracy from a fast moving motorcycle in rough terrain. Patience, perseverance...

POCK!

The pistol jerked gently in his hand, like a young kitten jumping from its owner's arms. Another impressive sliver of bark fell from his target. Zag tightened his spiral around the tree, a rooster tail of dead leaves flying from his rear tire as trees whirred mere inches from his handlebars.

He changed tactics, quickly spraying his last seven shots in a flurry of flying metal and empty shells. At that distance, nearly every shot met its mark. Just as he had drilled so many times in his operative training, he gunned the engine and raced back towards home to Pedro's trailer on his expansive lot, cutting through the grazing area and startling the small herd of horses there. For a brief instant, Zag was part of the herd, a young colt's flowing mane streaming tantalizingly close to his left hand. In this instant, Zag was brilliantly and vividly alive, finally capable of putting the trauma of his military service behind him, at one with his place in service of his blood and kin.

"I hate it when you do that." Angelia greeted him petulantly as he putted up towards the doublewide trailer.
"Why? Jealous?" Zag taunted, flashing a twisted and unapologetic grin toward his cousin.
"No... it's cruel. It scares the poor dears half to death. How would you like it if I chased YOU around with a pistol?"
"You know I'd never shoot your horses. They don't even know I have a gun!" Zag placated against her unreasonable comparison.
"Well, I do, and it bothers me. You can really be a beast sometimes," she whined like a pouty little sister.

Zag hopped up the stairs to the porch where Angelia stood sipping iced tea and gave her a brotherly hug.

"Since when have I ever NOT been a beast?"

Angelia melted at his honesty. He did have a point, after all. To some extent her own sweetness was a coping mechanism for the harsh realities of Maya family life. She squeezed him back, deceptively hard.

"I'm sorry. It's just... I'm still a little on edge from Caroline's. Pedro has been avoiding talking about it for some reason," the girl confided.
"Look; it's not that hard. Just tell him what you two talked about, get it off your chest, and forget about it." Zag crooned.
"You're right," she said as she pulled away, her dark hair flowing down her shoulders like black liquid silk in the fading light of the sun.

Angelia stalked silently into the living room as Pedro stared blankly into the television while soccer players ran like gazelles across the screen.

"Uncle..." Angelia said quietly in the darkness, the only illumination coming from the screen.
"Yes?" Pedro answered. His abilities in English had grown exponentially since Zag had come back as though he had somehow copied the knowledge from his nephew's mind. Angelia tried not to think about that.

"We... we never talked about what happened at Caroline's," she said sheepishly.
"I know." Pedro responded bluntly, sipping his beer while his eyes remained glued to the screen. "I watched."

Embarrassment flushed Angelia's golden cheeks, suddenly remembering as if for the first time how Caroline had... there was no better word for it... molested... her. She has somehow suppressed the memory; her main reason for this discussion was M'buto's head, not Caroline's perversion.

Pedro sighed, having feared what he would learn from his niece's mind. There had been a black space when he watched Angelia's meeting with Caroline through his bond to her in the blood, but the only reason he could think of that Caroline had allowed him to see her having her way with his emissary was humiliation. He feared what was in that black space, every drop of his blood warning him away from that knowledge. Still, with Angelia here he had no choice. At best, he could limit his exposure to this truth to merely hearing it, as opposed to delving into Angelia's mind to see it in all its explicit glory.

The silence filled the room like a pink elephant.

The spirit of Pestilence watched the exchange between them with unabashed demonic glee. The feather that would break the camel's back was coming. Rodney could almost feel the gears clicking into place. He could actually SEE Pedro's blood instinct fighting against this exchange, as if the spirits of a thousand dead Maya priests knew Pedro was too weak to handle what he was about to hear...

Angelia swallowed in the darkness.
"Look... Caroline's not what you think she is. She's just a girl, a girl like me, who got caught up in things she didn't understand. You hear her name, and all you can think about is Nate, but Caroline really has nothing to do with him. She didn't even know who he was that night at the meeting with Starburst."
"I know this. I watched, yes?" Pedro affirmed slowly, still trying to shunt off the conversation as he hid behind his beer in the dim light of the soccer game.
"I don't think you understand, uncle... Caroline is afraid of us. The first witch she met after Mrs. Black was a woman named Mama Agnes, and Mama Agnes gave her the head of the last mixed blood witch to cross her family. Think about it Uncle! That poor girl! Imagine if someone handed you Senora Maya's head!" she finished emphatically.

Pedro's knuckles turned white against the dark brown bottle. He'd heard of this mixed blood witch in the books Senora Maya had left, and things were not as poor sweet Angelia had been tricked into believing. Marcia M'buto, the ancient cannibal witch queen, was now in the hands of a NEW mixed blood witch? The only way for bloodlines to mix was cannibalism; magic could only be inherited from the mother, never the father, which was why most family heads were women. This meant Caroline's admission of being a mixed blood witch proved she was at the very least, a cannibal who preyed upon the flesh of the bloodlines. How long would it be before she followed in M'buto's footsteps? How long would she be satisfied with the power of only two bloodlines, if she were willing to kill to gain more power?

Poor naïve Angelia! He should NEVER have been so stupid enough to allow that viper Caroline so close to his sweet girl!

Pedro's body was stiff with unreleased tension, setting down his beer with the ponderousness of a man with a heavy weight on his shoulders and nowhere to put it. He had indulged his pretty niece long enough, and proved himself a fool in so doing. Ever the victim, he was a victim of his own weakness and inability to make the right decisions. If only Senora Maya were alive! If only Charlita hadn't betrayed them all to serve Nathan! So much of this wasn't his fault, yet here he was, unjustly punished for it. However, for once, he knew of someone who was NOT innocent; who had proven herself deserving of his vengeance. But he would be benevolent; he had learned the danger of acting too violently. Instead, he would merely make himself safe while at the same time humiliate Caroline in the same way she had humiliated him.

The lights flashed on and the television flicked off suddenly, without a human hand being moved to adjust either. Angelia squeaked a bit in shock, realizing that her words, which she'd meant to make peace, had only enraged her uncle even more. She opened her mouth to speak... but was cut off suddenly.

"No. You finished talking. Get me Zag."

Angelia could feel the barely suppressed anger in the words. Uncle Pedro was incensed, barely in control of himself, looking for a victim to express his emotion on. She knew better than to say a word; her family obituaries spoke volumes about the wisdom of that decision. She turned her eyes down humbly and left, not giving Pedro the opportunity to turn his focus on her...

Zag rested his weight lazily over the porch guardrail, dark blue smoke hanging in front of his face in the still twilight air as he watched the sun set in the gash the road left in the tree line. He took a deep drag and savored the dying of the day as the sun sprayed up its lifeblood on the horizon. The symbolism of the death of the day bringing the peace of the night was not wasted on him, and it filled him with a sense of contentment.

The screen door creaked open behind him as Angelia slowly paced through, barely in front of the waves of fear and relief that pushed her body almost to the point of shaking. The lights went out in the window behind her once more as the flickering light of the television regained dominance in the living room.

"Uncle wants to see you," the girl said sheepishly.

Zag looked at her, the influence of eastern culture somehow more apparent than ever as he appraised her body language. He knew in an instant her conversation with Pedro hadn't gone well.

"You're too delicate for this family politics stuff," Zag said quietly. He put a hand on her shoulder as he passed her on his way in the door. "Don't worry; I'll take care of everything."

Angelia stood on the porch, mourning for the dying sun. She knew Zag was only trying to comfort her, but there was something condescending in it that disturbed her more than Pedro's barely controlled rage.

Mama Agnes sat between her grandson Sergeant George Jackson and her ever-immaculate emissary Starburst as they shared an expertly prepared meal of pork and cabbage, with a side of cornbread and black-eyed peas. The men on either side of her were near polar opposites, but both were unified in their devotion to family despite their differences.

"Let me cut straight to the chase." Agnes said abruptly, her Caribbean accent if anything making her voice sound more severe in comparison to her boy's south southern accents. "DON'T. GET. INVOLVED." She emphasized each word with a sharp shake of her fork. "I've been praying and meditating over this for way too long to let you two get your dirty paws in it. This will all work out."

"But Mama! They found a mass grave!" George whined uncharacteristically for his rank, flabbergasted at the impropriety of it all.
"I know baby, I know. But this thing is bigger than the law, and if you get involved, you're only delaying the inevitable. What's going to happen has more justice in it than any man made law." Mama Agnes consoled casually, as if comforting a child about an unfair game instead of a Pedro's murderous reign of terror.

"And Caroline's not in any danger?" Starburst butted in disbelief.

"Not any more than usual." Mama Agnes reassured. "Pedro's got a point to prove. He's stomped around the place in muddy boots for long enough, and now he's trying to be slick." Agnes winked at her boys, knowingly, "But he AIN'T slick."

"So what's gonna happen then?" Sergeant Jackson said suspiciously.
"The police aren't going to get involved, THAT'S what's 'gonna happen.'" Mama stated bluntly.
"So I'm assuming I'm not going to give Mike that obligatory phone call?" Starburst asked smoothly.
"Exactly. Now dig in, boys. I didn't whip up his dinner just so it could go cold with you two staring at it."

NOW.

Finally, the stage was perfectly set for the big move. Rodney had already insinuated his probing tendrils of disease into Pedro's mind, laying down the foundation to make his puppet dance like a marionette. Now blinded by anger against Caroline, blinded from the truth by his own prejudice, Pedro was foolishly willing to tread where someone with the wisdom of a Maya family head should never dare. Best of all, the man's foolish denial and inability to accept responsibility for his own actions made the man think he had no other choice, that Caroline had forced his hand.

Yes, yes, this was going to be sweet indeed...

Zag strolled confidently up to the recliner that served as throne to the ruler of the Maya family, a confident smile on his face. He could feel the action in his blood, the action that made him feel alive, the action he'd been trained his whole life for. He knew the chance to serve his family was coming, and he relished the opportunity as a hunting dog relishes the release of the leash to seek its prey.

"Angelia said you wanted to see me?" Zag said proudly, presenting himself at full military attention.
"Yes." Pedro said, all previous hints of cumbersomeness with the English language long gone as he and his nephew thought as one blood.

"Caroline cannot be trusted. She is a cannibal and a murderer. She has a thing in a purple velvet bag. It is hidden in her wardrobe. It is evil, and for the safety of our family, you must get it for me."

Zag's expression remained the same, not so much as blinking as he said the words.
"How should I deal with Thug?"
"You won't." Pedro answered brusquely, "My blood will protect you. They will not see; they will not hear; you will not stop."

Pedro's eyes went dead, the flickering light of the soccer game casting his olive skin in a garish caricature of a human face as his eyes entered the Maya blood trance. Without leaving his chair, he reached into an end-table drawer and pulled a razor sharp sliver of obsidian with a wrapped leather handle, an exquisite stone knife, presumably a pre-colonial family artifact.

Pedro's eyes remained dead as he gashed the stone edge into the outside of his left forearm, far away from any vulnerable veins. Zag watched in awestruck paralysis, realizing he was witnessing the ancient holy blood magic of his people with his own eyes. A trickle of blood began to seep from the wound, which ran as Pedro squeezed the fleshy part of his arm. He casually pulled a jade jar from the same keeping place as the knife. The blood was a bright delicious red as it ran in a single rippling rivulet down his arm. As the first drop began to form, Pedro deftly opened the jar to catch the precious life essence, his eyes still glassy and out of focus in the shifting television light.

Faster than Zagurio thought possible, Pedro filled the tiny stone jar with the crimson drops that fell from the smallest finger of his hand, the color contrasting sharply with the opalescent jade. As the blood neared the rim, Pedro staunched the flow of blood with a small wad of bandage, capping the jar with a crystal plug that allowed the grisly contents to be seen.

"Close your eyes." Pedro commanded, Zag obeying with military precision. Pedro gently wiped the blood from his left arm with his right pinky and rose to his nephew, placing a thin smear of blood on either eyelid with the corresponding hand, and another behind each ear, like some sick parody of eyeshadow and perfume. Finally, he placed his bloody left hand on Zag's forehead, and recited three phrases in one of the few languages Zag didn't understand.

"Open your eyes." Pedro commanded. Obediently, Zag opened his eyelids, the sticky blood squeezing from the corners of his eyes like a mockery of tears. Pedro took Zag's hands and placed the jar in them.

"Use this for the door. You will not return without the bag."

Despite his awe, Zag understood the warlock's meaning with deadly certainty.


Posted by FUNKbrs - October 28th, 2008


(continued)

Angelia's honey colored face flushed red as Caroline stimulated her pituitary gland, possessing her in the same way The Glass had infiltrated its victims a few short years before. Blood rushed to other organs inside Angelia as well...deeper, more sensuous organs...

Caroline wiped her mouth with her right thumb and stood up from her table, walking over to her paralyzed victim's chair and placing a soft warm hand under the girl's silky black hair onto her delicate neck. The result was a physical reaction akin to the street drug Ecstasy, every inch of Angelia's skin yearning to touch and be touched despite her natural timidity and complete ignorance of the homosexual implications.

Caroline knew what she was doing was wrong by normal moral standards, and didn't care. She'd been so lonely since Todd's death; she'd had no other romantic outlet since. This girl had presented herself of her own accord, and that was all the consent the more sinister side of Caroline needed to take delicious advantage of the girl's vulnerability. In fact, it was that very innocence that Caroline was attracted to, that caused her to lean down and release a hot, breathy whisper into Angelia's ear.

"Come with me."

Possessed by Caroline's spirit of sensuality, Angelia had no choice but to place her immaculately manicured and lacquered nails into Caroline's coarse fingers, hands chewed up by countless hours of working the extensive gardens with Thug as much as her own teeth. The young witch lifted her victim's soft fingers to her lips, the chapped skin of her face sending shivers down Angelia's body in waves of gooseflesh. Hand in hand, she led her to the back of the one-time sanctuary, back into the converted Minister's study with Caroline's ominous antique wardrobe looming in the corner.

Angelia's uncertainty was over powered by Caroline's influence, the reasoning parts of her mind struck dumb as they scrambled to ascertain the reason the more animistic parts of her were becoming aroused , especially considering her family's natural intolerance to homosexuality. After all, homosexual sex doesn't fill grandma's house with little grandbabies. Still, here she was, sitting obediently on Caroline's mattress as she spoke.

"When I look at you, I see myself." Caroline stated graciously, imitating her mentor Mrs. Black in demeanor and tone. She held her back straight, her shoulders back, all the traces of timidity from before now gone with Angelia under her control.
"I was never as...luscious..." she said the word with a lick of her teeth, "as you. I was naïve, innocent, living in denial instead. I've tried to do better since, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't still struggle with it." Caroline's meaty shoulders gave a surprisingly gracious shrug. "Do you know what drove it all home for me?"

"What?" Angelia answered sheepishly, yearning to feel that shivering touch again.

Caroline opened her wardrobe door on well-oiled hinges, reaching far back into the corner of the top shelf to grab an innocuous looking purple string bag.
"This, Angelia, is the shrunken head of Marcia M'buto," she introduced, giving the girl fair warning before pulling out the battered mummified remains.

"This was given to me by Mama Agnes the morning after I saved Raz's life, to remind me of the consequences of being what I am, a mixed blood witch. But I learned another lesson, instead. I learned the consequences of thinking power alone could protect me. I learned that in order to survive I would have to get to know the other families around me."

"This woman, Marcia M'buto, was also a mixed blood witch, but unlike me, she chose to destroy the families around her until the survivors of her dead enemies came back and put her in this bag."

Caroline leaned in close, her warm breath tingling seductively in Angelia's ear.

"I want to get to know you very well, Angelia," she said, slipping her hand up the girls firm thigh, "I want to do what makes you happy, so you'll want to..." She let the sentence drift off as she licked the beautiful girl's ear.

Marcia M'buto's head smiled.

Zag took a drag off of his hand-rolled cigarette, exhaling the potent unfiltered menthol smoke pleasurably as he leaned against his motorcycle.
"They've been in there for a while, eh? Makes you wonder what they're talking about."
"Sometimes I just don't wanna know." Thug answered bluntly. He still vividly remembered eavesdropping on his sister Lucille when Mrs. Black had explained the menstrual cycle to her.
"Yeah, but you don't every just get a little curious? I mean, what could they possibly have to talk about for three hours?" Zag prodded.
"Nope," was Thug's answer, taking his own puff from a cheap, thin cigar. "I know more than I want to already."
"Party Pooper." Zag replied sullenly.

A black bee the size of a fat man's thumb hummed into Thug's smoke stream and fell for a short distance before regaining his senses and drunkenly correcting its path with a feeble buzz.

Zag chuckled. "I still don't see how you can smoke those things. Blech!"
"It's called 'being armed to the teeth.' You ever jam one of these in someone's eye? It's better than a red hot poke." Thug drawled.
Zag didn't know about cigars, but he'd learned a lot about red-hot pokers in Pakistan.
"I guess you're right. There ARE some things I'd rather just not know."
"Exactly," Thug agreed with a macabre grin.

A seed is a tine compact unit, fully armed to discover opportunity and initiate growth. Seeds, especially those of weeds, are often remarkably mobile and aggressive despite their seemingly inert nature. Inertness, in many ways, is actually an efficient use of time. Seeds can last for hundreds of years, their nonexistent metabolisms enabling them to mimic death until a more fulfilling prospect of life can be found.

Weeds are masters of this technique, relying less on their stored energy and more on timing and opportunism. Who knows how long a grass seed can lay dormant on a flowerbed, waiting patiently form some lazy gardener to allow it to take root?

This may not appear on the surface to be arcane magical knowledge. On the surface, it all seems like a philosophy even the simplest subsistence farmer could understand, and in fact, that was where Marcia M'buto learned it: on the stone-age farms of her people.

Like a blade of grass, Marcia M'buto allowed her body to die, wither, and be burned as a single seed of her continued on, waiting patiently for its opportunity. This was the reason her mouth had been stitched shut, considering those who had destroyed her body directly had been struck by a curse, like a chili pepper that burns whatever would attempt to consume its precious seeds. Those entrusted with the head afterward knew of the horrible fate of blindness mixed with leprosy that struck those who had harmed M'buto's body, and they elected to keep it hidden, only taking it out to show as an example to the young and foolish until the original purpose of its storage was long forgotten.

This philosophy aligned perfectly with that of the spirit Pestilence. All witch bloodlines ally with different sides among the four brothers, following one or two of their philosophies. Mrs. Black had been allied with Death, Senora Maya with Satan, Mama Agnes with Famine, and now this unknown weed, spawned from time immemorial, was beginning to make its presence known in the footsteps of Pestilence. Should the paths of all four brothers become mixed, the prophecy of the Father would fulfill itself, bringing the end of all time.

And here was Caroline, a mixed blood witch of unknown true heritage, who had mixed her heritage with that of the followers of Death. If she were to mix the bloodlines of all four deities.... Even Rodney and wasn't crazy enough to want THAT.


Posted by FUNKbrs - October 28th, 2008


Chapter3
The spirit of Pestilence, Rodney Cunningham, watched Pedro's trailer with disproportionate interest. He had decided not to use an avatar for this; he preferred not to. Avatars were filthy lies, distractions from the purity of his being. He was no filthy human, and he wasn't the fool his brother Dom was to get wrapped up in trying to be. Spend enough time looking like a human and you started to think like one, and nothing offended Rodney more than the false sense of natural superiority that the ego-inflated ape-race carried with it.

For example, this idiot Pedro. He'd spilt rivers of blood for what? To be a second-rate warlock? To cripple his entire family? To Rodney, it was as humorous as watching a dog chase its own tail, only to bite itself with a pathetic yelp. To think all this was caused by what Pedro honestly believed was sticking to a "higher moral principal" was the most pathetic of it all. The man had put loyalty to a dead woman based on blood over... his loyalty to living women based on blood, as if the dead carried some sort of moral authority the living couldn't.

Still, a simple fool was a simple tool, and the simple tool is normally the most reliable one. And Pedro was reliable, oh yes. It was a simple task, during the short-lived reigns of Senora Maya's heirs, to use their successes as proof of their treachery. Using tiny seeds to achieve his goals was Rodney's specialty. All it took was a subtle touch on the mind to plant doubt, to encourage suspicion, and like a sprouted acorn, watch that suspicion grow all on its own, its massive roots chewing up the concrete bonds of blood and family into powdered gravel.

Speaking of which, Zag's deceptively compact dull black machine coasted itself into Pedro's blue-gray gravel driveway. This could be interesting...

"Angelia, va al porton."
"I thought we were working on your English..." Angelia responded petulantly.
Pedro grunted at being corrected, irritated by his own lack of discipline being pointed out by a girl young enough to be his daughter.
"Go," he corrected himself.

Angelia sighed to herself and looked out of the door just in time to hear Zag coming up the road. It was creepy how Pedro had already begun to be able to predict things like that, although it would have been much worse if he weren't. Zag parked with practiced ease, walking up to give his cousin a warm, heartfelt hug.

"Good to see you," Angelia said as they parted. "Pedro's waiting for you."
"Great," said Zag, taking that as an invitation to come inside.
Angelia left a hand on Zag's back. "Before you go in, could you do me a favor?"
"Sure. Anything." Zag responded without a pause.
"Only speak English with Pedro, would you? He's being really lazy about it, and he'll never learn if he doesn't practice."
"Gotcha."

"Hola!" Pedro greeted Zag, one of his favorite nephews. It wasn't too many years ago he was teaching the boy the finer tips of dribbling a soccer ball.
"Hello. By the way, Angelia said to only speak English to you. She says you need the practice.

Pedro grunted again, resenting being forced to use a foreign language with blood family.
"Ok. But I don't se like."
"Don't like it?" Zag corrected with a slight grin. He himself spoke three languages fluently.

Pedro finally relented, realizing his inability to master English only helped destroy his image as the new head of the Maya family.

"Yes, I don't like it." Pedro corrected himself, trying not to show his irritation by over emphasizing the word "it."
"I know your pala-problem." Pedro continued, still uneasy with the language.
"Really? So you know about the convoy?" Zag replied, surprised.
"I know about crazy. You got crazy. I know to fix." Despite his clumsiness with English, he'd taken the other part of his new education much more seriously.

Zag's stomach fluttered uncertainly, even his honed gut instincts confused by the change in his uncle. Pedro had always been stalwartly Catholic for the years he'd known him, and to see him embracing his position now only reinforced the stories he'd heard about the blood bath following Senora Maya's death. He was no longer the fun-loving, hard-working, beer-swilling uncle he remembered. This Pedro was different, different in a bad way, but maybe in a way that could help him with the flashbacks, a way that cold help him be normal again. It was that glimmer of hope that confused Zag's instincts, that glimmer of hope that made him feel like he was in a doctor's office waiting for the needle.

"Here. Sit." Pedro commanded, taking advantage of Zag's uncertainty to assume control. All appearances aside, Pedro HAD studied his art in the past two years. He'd had nothing better to do with the money rolling in from the border trade, and the skills he'd learned had proven invaluable in assuring his black-market business associates stayed honest. When you can crawl inside a man's head and read his mind, the lies and prevarications people make as casually as breathing all melt away.

"I don't know..." Zag said uncertainly as Pedro stood behind his ladder-back chair, but by then it was too late.

Pedro had learned the power of blood through the church, but only in studying Senora Maya's library had he learned how powerful it could truly be. The strong Maya blood pumping through his veins, blood he and Zag shared, connected him to the power of the family line, to untold numbers of Maya priests throughout history. In him they still lived, and by losing himself in the rhythm of his heart pumping this sacred blood he gained a piece of their ancient insight.

The mind of a man is defined by prejudice. The hard and fast rules of the brain are all gut level knee-jerk reactions based on faith in a short list of unquestionable truths, without which the mind is as useful as a body with no skeleton. Egocentrism is a matter of survival to the individual mind, regardless of what culture and society attempt to impose. The ultimate altruist can only survive when surround by other altruists; alone, they would expend all their energies on others while they themselves fell apart, like a successful and progressive moral man who neglects his own children's upbringing by devoting his time to mentoring under-privileged children only to have his own children end up addicted to drugs due to his neglect. The ultimate egoist, however, would view his own children as property, and do his best to keep the value of that property high by enforcing their functionality by any means necessary. Human minds may fool themselves with shallow denial of these base facts, but in the end, every mind is ultimately alone, and responsible to only itself. In order for one mind to truly be dedicated to another, the benefiting mind must be to some extent become property of the benevolent mind in order for their priorities to align. A Shepard may care about sheep in general, but it is only the sheep that belong to the Shepard in particular that receive his most diligent care, and among them, the most productive sheep is the most directly benefited and loved.

The egotism in Zag's mind was his faith in his own ability, his blindly reflexive belief that if he could be prepared enough now, he could compensate for and negate his failing to the people who were in his protection: possessions that had been stolen from him. His ego refused to admit its own powerlessness and constantly struggled to complete the chronologically impossible. The past is dead, beautifully and dreadfully frozen in memory. In a mind such as Zag's however, faith in his own ability to succeed, to defend himself and his charges, was causing a logical disconnect.

Zag's inability to accept his failure based on his faith in his own ability left him stuck in the past, his mind forcing itself to do the impossible and relive those irreversible moments over and over again in hopes of changing an outcome that had always been outside of his control. From Pedro's perspective on the outside this was obvious, but in the subjective world inside Zag's head, where success was only a matter of effort, things were much less clear.

The two men's heartbeats synched as Pedro reached out and gently touched Zag's stubbly head, feeling his nephew's pulse through his temples and aligning himself with it. Two generations of Maya blood became one blood again, two minds separated only by time fusing in the continuity of the generations. It was here, the now, the fulcrum Pedro needed to pass his rock-hard beliefs into the mind of his suffering nephew. Invincibility had been achieved through the blood, through the family, and any other death was a minor setback, nothing more. The ethos the military had tried so hard to instill in Zag melted away as he realized the fact of his own impending death was moot, inevitable and beyond his choice or decision. All that mattered was the preservation of the strong, heady flows of Maya blood. An individual was of no consequence, and his own destruction would only result in his reincarnation in a replacement. He, as a sheep, may be slaughtered, but his dedication ensured that other sheep just like him would follow. It was a kind of immortality in servitude, making him invincible in a way a "free" person could never possibly be.

Even in Spanish, Pedro lacked the articulate skill to express this. He too was a servant of the blood, just as the Shepard is servant to the sheep, protecting and feeding them as he would protect and feed himself. The liberty he gave was the unaccountability of a meaningless personal existence, of being a product of his environment, nothing more.

Both men gasped at once as the thought took hold. Then in unison they laughed, the mad sick laughter of soldiers running to certain death, the laughter of comrades in arms, fat and certain in the knowledge that it was better to laugh and die the death of the maniac than weep and die the death of a beaten dog.

If Rodney had anything even remotely resembling a heart, it would have been warmed by the ties of family reuniting the two men, healing the trauma of the ravages of war. However, what amused him as the deliciously virulent and subversive nature of the mind he'd cultivated in Pedro. Roman Catholicism had forced Pedro to think in very convoluted ways about the nature of virtue, duty, and guilt, and in his reversion to his tribal religion, those convolutions reinforced his faith in his own ignorance. Pedro refused to accept credit in himself for his abilities, refused to give himself any value because of them. Even as the dominant head of the Maya family, Pedro continued to see himself as a victim of circumstance. He truly felt he had no choice in his actions, that as property to the Maya family everything he DID do was outside of normal moral consideration. It was a way of avoiding the guilt of murdering his sisters and cousins that pervaded his entire mindset by presuming helplessness, like a man running down a child in the street because he was rushing his own injured child to the hospital.

This was exactly what made him such a wonderful tool, Rodney considered to himself. Furthermore, by imposing his belief system on his nephew, he now made deadly Zag a tool at his disposal as well. The belief, in a way, was almost parasitic as the lack of accountability spread from uncle to nephew, growing from a single egotistical act of intentional denial to a philosophy of cultural heritage completely devoid of morality.

In short, it was exactly Rodney's style.

Angelia brought the two laughing men beer reflexively, having just previously exercised considerable tact in staying out of their conversation. Her servitude and eagerness to please were the exact characteristics that had endeared her to Pedro in recent years. Her servitude to family gave her a sense of value, however degrading it may seem from the outside. Pedro had told her she would make a fine wife many times, and the idea of living up to the stout tradition of strong and sweet Maya women gave her a sense of self-worth that was unmatchable by any women's liberation movement.

"Gracias," Pedro said with legitimate thanks. The girl had been invaluable to him, and he never missed an opportunity to praise her.
"Thank you," Zag said pointedly, ribbing his uncle gently with an elbow to remind him to practice his English.
"Sorry. Thank you," Pedro mirrored, basking in the light of his once troubled nephew's smile. There was honest love here, a love that was sometimes perverse and often times misguided, but a love as genuine as a warm hand-knitted heirloom blanket.

"Guess who I saw uncle?" Zag challenged.
"Eh..." the back of Pedro's mind ground into overdrive, pulling the information from the rainbow static that vibrated in his blood. "The fat one?" he guessed correctly.
"Ha! His name is Thug, uncle. Thugnacious Black, to be honest. What a poor name for a fat kid!"
"He is adult now?" How is he?" Pedro's contact with Zag's mind helped him with the English.
"Still fat!" Zag laughed, his mix of accents making the words sound alien even to Pedro.
"And...?" Pedro prompted, hoping for a point. After all, what did he care for the fat kid from wrestling school?
"... and he told me Mrs. Black died, and left the family to some strange girl named Caroline Raz and Berry used to hang out with."

The name rang like a bell inside Pedro's head, for once his conscious mind admitting to itself what his subconscious mind was thinking. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been meeting with Mama Agnes's emissary Starburst. However, what he remembered most was the way Nate had been there, the murderer of Senora Maya. Pedro had been more foolish and rash in those days, thinking that just because Nate appeared as a man that a simple knife was capable of bringing down that devil. The humiliation of the broken hand he'd been left with after security had thrown him out of the restaurant was one of the reasons he had begun to take his new position as family head much more seriously.

"Caroline!?" Pedro said with disgust. Angelia looked away, remembering everything about that day. Pedro had rushed to the restaurant when he had been informed of the meeting between Caroline and Starburst, several of the girls of the Maya family including her working in the kitchen there. He had originally hoped to spy on the conversation in case the All-Saints family and the Black families were forming an alliance against him. Just because he accepted no blame for the blood bath after Senora Maya's death didn't mean he was ignorant of the possible reaction from the other local families.

Seeing Nate and his brother Death at the table had been too much for him to bear, and without thinking he'd rushed Nate with the same utility knife he carried now, not knowing how futile such an action would be. He'd learned more diplomacy since then, but it had seriously shaken his faith in his ability to lead.

Angelia spoke quietly as Pedro fumed. "Caroline was with Nathan Task the last time we saw her. He broke Pedro's hand."
"No...Thug would never allow someone like that to take control of his family. Thug hates Nate as much as I do!" Zag defended, struggling to keep his voice in check. He refused to believe Thug would condone consorting with the power that had been responsible for killing Mrs. Black, let alone Senora Maya's killer.
"I see what I see." Pedro answered flatly. His simplicity with the language only added to the eloquence of his statement.
"I wasn't there... I don't know what happened. But I KNOW Thug. This has all got to be a misunderstanding. It was one of Nate's demons that killed Mrs. Black!" Zag spurted, flabbergasted that his family would shun his childhood friend.

Pedro grunted loudly, refusing to dignify the alibi with a response. Angelia kept the communication going; she knew a stubborn testosterone driven standoff would achieve nothing. "Can you prove it?" she asked cautiously.
"No. But whoever this Caroline is, if Thug serves her, she can't possibly be allied with Nate. Thug said Mrs. Black was killed fighting on of Nate's demons; there's no way he'd just let go." Zag said with certainty.

Pedro pursed his lips, the mere mention of Caroline's name after the incident in the restaurant slamming his mind shut like a safe-box door. Angelia, however, remembered the frumpy, frizzy haired girl's look of nervousness and uncertainty, something Pedro was too blinded by his hatred of Nate to perceive. She remembered feeling sympathetic for her at the time, both of them wrapped up in a conflict they didn't fully understand but knew was vitally important.

"Uncle Pedro..." Angelia said quietly, never willing to openly express her questioning of his judgment. The unspoken drift of his name, however, told gentle volumes. It was exactly this level of sweetness and consideration that had endeared her to him, and was the reason he was never able to bring himself to deny her anything he felt she truly wanted, even when it contradicted his own motives.

Pedro looked her way, his eyes showing a vulnerability that existed only for her. "You talk with her. I stay out." It was as close to admitting defeat as he could muster.

"Thank you Uncle," Angelia answered with meaning. The fact he accepted her silent admonition proved his respect for her opinion regardless of his personal beliefs. By the same token, she accepted her considerable victory in family policy graciously. It was this grace that made it so easy for Pedro to acquiesce to her, something he did almost reflexively since they had become close.

Relief rushed through Zag's veins. His military mind was too well trained not to have already considered how he would have eliminated Thug should the need arise.
"Do you want me to make the call now?" he prompted, knowing Pedro would let the issue slip though the cracks if he could.

Angelia looked at Pedro, almost demanding the nod from him while at the same time making him feel as though he had the final say.
"Sure." She said, honestly more comfortable dealing with whoever Caroline's emissary was with her strong Maya family men around her, like a police office feeling more comfortable with a pistol on his hip.

Zag's fingers dialed Straight Mike's number from memory, having been a close friend with him some years ago when Thug used to get him in The Velvet Glove for free.
"Hello?" said Straight Mike's familiar and somewhat effeminate voice, the word slightly drawled like a stoned hippy. Not that that was surprising; he, Berry, and Raz had always been stoners.
"Yo Mike!" Zag opened cordially, "I'm over at Pedro's, and he wants to get a meeting between his niece Angelia and Caroline set up. You know... just to keep things above the table."
"Awesome," Mike replied, pleasantly surprised. Caroline and Mama Agnes had already had a meeting to discuss how to deal with the new Pedro-controlled Maya family, and both the Blacks and the All-saints were afraid the more violent aspects of the border cartel could lead to internecine casualties.

"Caroline's pretty much open these days. How does one p.m. at 646 Cottage Church Lane sound?" Mike offered, his digital date book already opened in his overbuilt cell phone, stylus in hand over speakerphone. A faint bubbling sound could be heard in the background, and stifled coughing.
"Wait, tomorrow? " Zag asked. His military trained had given him a razor sharp memory for addresses and coordinates. Besides, Cottage Church Lane bisected this city, albeit not exactly in a straight line.
"Yeah, yeah, sorry. Tomorrow." Mike filled in.

Zag covered the phone, and whispered to Angelia. "Buena?"
She answered in kind, "Buena."

"Sounds good. One p.m. tomorrow, right. She'll see you then." Zag said professionally, suddenly craving a cigarette.
"Cool deal. Peace out."
"Peace." Zag said, without a trace of irony.

Rodney watched as Zag sat with Pedro on the front porch, jovially rolling their own cigarettes and sipping their beers, as if they too shared in Rodney's victory, like some sick version of Stockholm syndrome. Soon... so very soon...

Chapter 4

1st Holiness Pentecostal Church, when it was first built, was the lynch pin of the community. Originally its famous rose gardens and manicured hedges were reserved for the wedding and funerals of its many members. At the time it was considered a living testament to the beauty of man working in accordance with God, and on any given afternoon it was normal for a handful of amateur painters to crow the surrounding yards and playgrounds looking for inspiration.

In 1852 Lillith Ivory Black was appointed midwife and put in charge of the medicinal herb gardens that were a part of the ornamental horticulture around the church. Under her diligent care, the roses became supernaturally beautiful, and many of the rose bushes swelled to the size of small maple trees, some blooms as wide as a man's open palm. The stems of these majestic blooms could be as wide as a man's arm at their bases; their thorns spiraling like shark's teeth in the dark bark.

Before she died as a result of the attack of a demon known as The Glass, an attack Caroline could have averted, Mrs. Black passed her knowledge down to Thug, bearer of the unassuming title of First Boy that originated as a type of proctor in the Sunday school. However, after the disaster of Mary Folkshire's violent curse-induced miscarriage during Sunday service, the title became more of a security guard and groundskeeper, as there were no new children to keep in line as part of the curse.

It is in this environment that we find Thug, industriously caring for his deceased grandmother's flowers as Zag's strange foreign motorcycle rode down Cottage Church Lane, past the hedge, past the black-iron fence and toward the arched greenery above the entrance that was created by an immaculate arch of shrubbery to the small cottage-like building.

Thug jammed his spade deep into the dirt, pleasantly surprised to see his friend Zag again. Not everyone who went to see Pedro Maya came back, especially not relatives. The girl with Zag bothered him, however. Who was she? What was she doing here?

Zag whipped his helmet off easily as his passenger struggled with her chinstrap.
"Sorry we're late. Pedro couldn't seem to be able to stop giving Angelia instructions."
"Angelia?" Thug asked, puzzled. He wasn't worried yet, but he was beginning to think he should be.
"Yeah, Mike said she could come over and meet Caroline today..." Zag's accent took a turn for Hindi inflection as he discussed the logistics.
"Well why didn't he tell us about it?" Thug mumbled with a touch of sullenness. Caroline was easily spooked these days, especially by strange visitors; there was no telling how she would react.
"Really? He sounded kind of stoned when I called him. Maybe he forgot." Zag explained.
"Maybe..." Thug agreed reluctantly, "Let me run in and tell Caroline. It makes her nervous when people show up without calling."
"Ok." Thug replied with casual nonchalance as Angelia waited behind him. Already his hands reached into the depths of his saddlebags, pulling out a small pouch of rolling tobacco.

Thug trotted up the short stairs of the porch, trying to be loud so as not to shock Caroline. Her nerves had never quite recovered from The Glass's insidious attacks, and it didn't take much to shock her into a state of near catatonic apathy.

She snapped open the door as Thug took the last step, her right hand reaching ominously behind her back.
"Thug?" she asked, sounding like a scared little girl. The appearance was deceptive, Thug knew. She'd taken a strange interest in stone and bone shivs, although she still had an aversion to full blown knives. He'd personally taught her how to use them, so he knew exactly how dangerous she could be.

"Hey, My old buddy Zag's here. Remember? I hung out with him a few days ago?"
"Yeah," she drawled, her mind changing gears as she realized she wasn't in danger.
"Well, he talked to Pedro, and Pedro sent him and some girl up here to see you. He told me Mike set it up and forgot to tell us." Thug said this smoothly, using his old strip-club bouncer voice. It had worked wonders with the girls at The Velvet Glove, and it did the trick this time.

Her hand returned to her side as she peered out the door at the visitors in her yard. Her eyes didn't see the barrel-chested South American and his cousin so much as they saw through them, inspecting their auras for tell tale signs of demonic possession. Zag was soulless, although this was no shock. Not all people had souls; sometimes they died before their hosts, sometimes people were just born without them. The girl, however, had an aura the brilliant color of fresh spring grass. The aura was complex, however, like sunlight though trees in the forest. Caroline refined the light...

"Angelia," she said quietly to herself.
"What?" Thug said, not understanding her.
"Nothing. You and Zag go hang out for a minute, will you? It's the girl that's here to see me. Tell her to come over here."

Thug ambled off towards Zag in the distance as heavily built biker smoked his hand-rolled cigarette. Both burly men helped his slight passenger off the bike and pointed her towards the porch. She walked sheepishly, like a child on her face day at a new school would walk to a class full of strangers.

The trance lowered its false serenity over Caroline's face. The girl had an unconscious sensuality in her cute little sneakers with matching pastel-and-khaki outfit, her clothing fashionably snug and revealing of her hourglass figure.

The witch wondered for a brief instant if this was how Mrs. Black had felt the first time they'd met in person. Angelia was so scared, so vulnerable, it was hard not to wrap the girl in her arms and carry her inside, to comfort her with warm sincerity, empathy and understanding. Her soft flat shoes barely made a sound as she ascended the short stairway up the old-fashioned porch. Finally, Caroline could no longer contain herself.

"Hello Angelia." Caroline said huskily, sounding more masculine than she intended.
"He...hello. Are you Caroline?"
The frizzy haired woman was taken aback by the scared curiosity in the girl's voice. Since when had the name "Caroline" been so charged?
"Well, if I'm not, then somebody had better come and get my stuff out of her house!" Caroline joked, her bad comic timing ruining what could have been a mood-lightening one-liner. Angelia didn't laugh.
"Oh..." she responded shyly, averting her eyes, "Pedro said we were going to have tea..."

Caroline's eyes snapped back to the gas cook-stove. Mrs. Black's books spoke highly of various teas that were supplied by the herb gardens out back, and she had followed in the habit of drinking them after some experimentation.

"Oh, right, of course..." Caroline stumbled, knocked off her game by the deceptively pretty girl's knowledge of her habits.

The witch poured piping hot water into two teacups from her cupboard. Mechanically she filled two of a set of four tea infusers with jasmine tea and a trace of mint, her personal favorite blend for relaxing and meditation. Hot delicious steam rose from the cups, melting some of the ice between the two strangers.

Angelia took a deep breath and summoned her courage to ask the question she'd come for. The answer to this question was the true reason she was here, and the wrong answer meant she was in serious danger. She thought almost longingly of getting the wrong answer and being quickly shoved out the door, back into the freedom of familiar surroundings.

"Is it true you're running the Black Family under orders from Nathan?"

Caroline's hand slipped, spilling a handful of scalding hot tea drops into her lap and over her left wrist.

"FUCK!" she yelled involuntarily, dropping the last vestiges of her façade, but luckily not dropping her irreplaceable porcelain cup. She carefully sat the cup down as Angelia's eyes widened like saucers, not yet understanding the reaction was to the accident, not her question.
"I'm sorry," Caroline admitted. "It just shocked me to hear that name again. You mean Dom's brother, don't you?"

Angelia had no idea what she was talking about.

"I mean, the Devil, Lucifer, Satan." Angelia repeated in no uncertain terms.
"Right. Dom's brother." Caroline affirmed, regaining her composure.

Angelia's doe eyes relaxed a little, realizing what had just happened. She waited patiently for a complete answer, her silence more effective than any spoken demand.
"No. The only time I ever associated with Nathan was through Dom, and Dom only brought him along to protect me against Pedro."
"That still doesn't make sense," Angelia shook her head, her black hair shining in the light, "What were you doing with Dom? Death and Satan are the LAST two people I'd ever want to be around." Her lips pursed with cute disdain.

"It's a long story. Mrs. Black first introduced Dom to me as a necromancer, nothing more. She was dying, and I had to learn fast." Caroline defended.
"So you know Satan because you learned necromancy from Death?" Angelia spouted incredulously.
"I...I...I didn't find out who they were until later." Caroline responded sheepishly, realizing how ridiculous she sounded.

Caroline had never talked about the incidents up to and after Mrs. Black's death, because in some strange way, they weren't real. She could barely believe her story herself; how could she expect this girl to believe her? It was almost as if she were two people: the old Caroline, who lived in a house, got fired from a job as a florist and now lived off an inheritance, and the new Caroline, who consorted with witches, viewed the world with the eyes of the trance, and knew Death and Satan personally.

It was this divide that caused her constant uncertainty and indecisiveness, this divide that had left her twiddling her thumbs for the past two years, letting Mike and his cousin Lucille make all her decisions for her.

The new Caroline hated the old weak Caroline, who ran from her problems to the television and Internet, constantly searching for excuses and distractions from her reality. In many ways the last two years had been the sickening of the old Caroline as the new Caroline grew in strength, like an old battered salmon in a clear mountain lake, waiting to be devoured by its offspring.

Caroline's facial expression shifted sharply to the manic, the sharp corners of her mouth stabbing deep into her cheeks. This was the Caroline who'd murdered Todd, who practiced the trance, who'd reveled in dark tantric acts of indiscriminate sexuality. The shift happened in the blink of an eye, and Caroline's voice immediately dropped the husky edge of her "tough-guy" voice as the seductive feminine hiss of new Caroline took over, sounding like the grousing of a predatory lioness choosing its share of a bloody kill.

The spirit of Pestilence was sharply aware of the switch inside Caroline. Rodney had been watching, waiting since the meeting between Zag and Pedro. There was a plan, after all, a plan that had been slowly building like the microscopic conquest of a tiny fungal spore, the tiny tendrils of its mycelium infiltrating the fertile substrate, lying dormant for weeks, months, before sprouting a series of giant poisonous mushrooms.

IT was in this diligent surveillance Rodney noticed the ebony streaks in Caroline's aura, streaks that had started when she'd first eaten the flesh of a member of the Black Family, pulsate and swell like the knotted veins of an Olympic weight lifter. Something was happening under that rat's nest of frizzy unmanageable Irish curls, behind that zit spotted forehead something had finally snapped...

"Come with me into my bedchamber..."

"What?!" replied Angelia, unnerved by the sharp contrast in Caroline's demeanor.

The mistress of the Black house didn't wait for Angelia to become comfortable with the idea of going with her. This wasn't Caroline the prevaricator; this was Caroline the predator, the Caroline that had the dark flows of Black family blood pumping through her veins. The half-trance that had made her appear merely glossy eyed deepened as her eyes became doll-like in their sockets. She took the last of her focus from the world as it is seen into the world of the trance, seeking Angelia's aura with an inky black tendril of thought in the dream space, a space in which a naïve girl like Angelia had no defense.

(chapter continued next post)


Posted by FUNKbrs - September 25th, 2008


Chapter3
The spirit of Pestilence, Rodney Cunningham, watched Pedro's trailer with disproportionate interest. He had decided not to use an avatar for this; he preferred not to. Avatars were filthy lies, distractions from the purity of his being. He was no filthy human, and he wasn't the fool his brother Dom was to get wrapped up in trying to be. Spend enough time looking like a human and you started to think like one, and nothing offended Rodney more than the false sense of natural superiority that the ego-inflated ape-race carried with it.

For example, this idiot Pedro. He'd spilt rivers of blood for what? To be a second-rate warlock? To cripple his entire family? To Rodney, it was as humorous as watching a dog chase its own tail, only to bite itself with a pathetic yelp. To think all this was caused by what Pedro honestly believed was sticking to a "higher moral principal" was the most pathetic of it all. The man had put loyalty to a dead woman based on blood over... his loyalty to living women based on blood, as if the dead carried some sort of moral authority the living couldn't.

Still, a simple fool was a simple tool, and the simple tool is normally the most reliable one. And Pedro was reliable, oh yes. It was a simple task, during the short-lived reigns of Senora Maya's heirs, to use their successes as proof of their treachery. Using tiny seeds to achieve his goals was Rodney's specialty. All it took was a subtle touch on the mind to plant doubt, to encourage suspicion, and like a sprouted acorn, watch that suspicion grow all on its own, its massive roots chewing up the concrete bonds of blood and family into powdered gravel.

Speaking of which, Zag's deceptively compact dull black machine coasted itself into Pedro's blue-gray gravel driveway. This could be interesting...

"Angelia, va al porton."
"I thought we were working on your English..." Angelia responded petulantly.
Pedro grunted at being corrected, irritated by his own lack of discipline being pointed out by a girl young enough to be his daughter.
"Go," he corrected himself.

Angelia sighed to herself and looked out of the door just in time to hear Zag coming up the road. It was creepy how Pedro had already begun to be able to predict things like that, although it would have been much worse if he weren't. Zag parked with practiced ease, walking up to give his cousin a warm, heartfelt hug.

"Good to see you," Angelia said as they parted. "Pedro's waiting for you."
"Great," said Zag, taking that as an invitation to come inside.
Angelia left a hand on Zag's back. "Before you go in, could you do me a favor?"
"Sure. Anything." Zag responded without a pause.
"Only speak English with Pedro, would you? He's being really lazy about it, and he'll never learn if he doesn't practice."
"Gotcha."

"Hola!" Pedro greeted Zag, one of his favorite nephews. It wasn't too many years ago he was teaching the boy the finer tips of dribbling a soccer ball.
"Hello. By the way, Angelia said to only speak English to you. She says you need the practice.

Pedro grunted again, resenting being forced to use a foreign language with blood family.
"Ok. But I don't se like."
"Don't like it?" Zag corrected with a slight grin. He himself spoke three languages fluently.

Pedro finally relented, realizing his inability to master English only helped destroy his image as the new head of the Maya family.

"Yes, I don't like it." Pedro corrected himself, trying not to show his irritation by over emphasizing the word "it."
"I know your pala-problem." Pedro continued, still uneasy with the language.
"Really? So you know about the convoy?" Zag replied, surprised.
"I know about crazy. You got crazy. I know to fix." Despite his clumsiness with English, he'd taken the other part of his new education much more seriously.

Zag's stomach fluttered uncertainly, even his honed gut instincts confused by the change in his uncle. Pedro had always been stalwartly Catholic for the years he'd known him, and to see him embracing his position now only reinforced the stories he'd heard about the blood bath following Senora Maya's death. He was no longer the fun-loving, hard-working, beer-swilling uncle he remembered. This Pedro was different, different in a bad way, but maybe in a way that could help him with the flashbacks, a way that cold help him be normal again. It was that glimmer of hope that confused Zag's instincts, that glimmer of hope that made him fell like he was in a doctor's office waiting for the needle.

"Here. Sit." Pedro commanded, taking advantage of Zag's uncertainty to assume control. All appearances aside, Pedro HAD studied his art in the past two years. He'd had nothing better to do with the money rolling in from the border trade, and the skills he'd learned had proven invaluable in assuring his black-market business associates stayed honest. When you can crawl inside a man's head and read his mind, the lies and prevarications people make as casually as breathing all melt away.

"I don't know..." Zag said uncertainly as Pedro stood behind his ladder-back chair, but by then it was too late.

Pedro had learned the power of blood through the church, but only in studying Senora Maya's library had he learned how powerful it could truly be. The strong Maya blood pumping through his veins, blood he and Zag shared, connected him to the power of the family line, to untold numbers of Maya priests throughout history. In him they still lived, and by losing himself in the rhythm of his heart pumping this sacred blood he gained a piece of their ancient insight.

The mind of a man is defined by prejudice. The hard and fast rules of the brain are all gut level knee-jerk reactions based on faith in a short list of unquestionable truths, without which the mind was as useful as a body with no skeleton. Egocentrism is a matter of survival to the individual mind, regardless of what culture and society attempt to impose. The ultimate altruist can only survive when surround by other altruists; alone, they would expend all their energies on others while they themselves fell apart, like a successful and progressive moral man who neglects his own children's upbringing by devoting his time to mentoring under-privileged children only to have his own children end up addicted to drugs due to his neglect. The ultimate egoist, however, would view his own children as property, and do his best to keep the value of that property high by enforcing their functionality by any means necessary. Human minds may fool themselves with shallow denial of these base facts, but in the end, every mind is ultimately alone, and responsible to only itself. In order for one mind to truly be dedicated to another, the benefiting mind must be to some extent become property of the benevolent mind in order for their priorities to align. A Shepard may care about sheep in general, but it is only the sheep that belong to the Shepard in particular that receive his most diligent care, and among them, the most productive sheep is the most directly benefited and loved.

The egotism in Zag's mind was his faith in his own ability, his blindly reflexive belief that if he could be prepared enough now, he could compensate for and negate his failing to the people who were in his protection: possessions that had been stolen from him. His ego refused to admit its own powerlessness and constantly struggled to complete the chronologically impossible. The past is dead, beautifully and dreadfully frozen in memory. In a mind such as Zag's however, faith in his own ability to succeed, to defend himself and his charges, was causing a logical disconnect.

Zag's inability to accept his failure based on his faith in his own ability left him stuck in the past, his mind forcing itself to do the impossible and relive those irreversible moments over and over again in hopes of changing an outcome that had always been outside of his control. From Pedro's perspective on the outside this was obvious, but in the subjective world inside Zag's head, where success was only a matter of effort, things were much less clear.

The two men's heartbeats synched as Pedro reached out and gently touched Zag's stubbly head, feeling his nephew's pulse through his temples and aligning himself with it. Two generations of Maya blood became one blood again, two minds separated only by time fusing in the continuity of the generations. It was here, the now, the fulcrum Pedro needed to pass his rock-hard beliefs into the mind of his suffering nephew. Invincibility had been achieved through the blood, through the family, and any other death was a minor setback, nothing more. The ethos the military had tried so hard to instill in Zag melted away as he realized the fact of his own impending death was moot, inevitable and beyond his choice or decision. All that mattered was the preservation of the strong, heady flows of Maya blood. An individual was of no consequence, and his own destruction would only result in his reincarnation in a replacement. He, as a sheep, may be slaughtered, but his dedication ensured that other sheep just like him would follow. It was a kind of immortality in servitude, making him invincible in a way a "free" person could never possibly be.

Even in Spanish, Pedro lacked the articulate skill to express this. He too was a servant of the blood, just as the Shepard is servant to the sheep, protecting and feeding them as he would protect and feed himself. The liberty he gave was the unaccountability of a meaningless personal existence, of being a product of his environment, nothing more.

Both men gasped at once as the though took hold. Then in unison they laughed, the mad sick laughter of soldiers running to certain death, the laughter of comrades in arms, fat and certain in the knowledge that it was better to laugh and die the death of the maniac than weep and die the death of a beaten dog.

If Rodney had anything even remotely resembling a heart, it would have been warmed by the ties of family reuniting the two men, healing the trauma of the ravages of war. However, what amused him as the deliciously virulent and subversive nature of the mind he'd cultivated in Pedro. Roman Catholicism had forced Pedro to think in very convoluted ways about the nature of virtue, duty, and guilt, and in his reversion to his tribal religion, those convolutions reinforced his faith in his own ignorance. Pedro refused to accept credit in himself for his abilities, refused to give himself any value because of them. Even as the dominant head of the Maya family, Pedro continued to see himself as a victim of circumstance. He truly felt he had no choice in his actions, that as property to the Maya family everything he DID do was outside of normal moral consideration. It was a way of avoiding the guilt of murdering his sisters and cousins that pervaded his entire mindset by presuming helplessness, like a man running down a child in the street because he was rushing his own injured child to the hospital.

This was exactly what made him such a wonderful tool, Rodney considered to himself. Furthermore, by imposing his belief system on his nephew, he now made deadly Zag a tool at his disposal as well. The belief, in a way, was almost parasitic as the lack of accountability spread from uncle to nephew, growing from a single egotistical act of intentional denial to a philosophy of cultural heritage completely devoid of morality.

In short, it was exactly Rodney's style.

Angelia brought the two laughing men beer reflexively. Her servitude and eagerness to please were the exact characteristics that had engendered her to Pedro in recent years. Her servitude to family gave her a sense of value, however degrading it may seem from the outside. Pedro had told her she would make a fine wife many times, and the idea of living up to the stout tradition of strong and sweet Maya women gave her a sense of self-worth that was unmatchable by any women's liberation movement.

"Gracias," Pedro said with legitimate thanks. The girl had been invaluable to him, and he never missed an opportunity to praise her.
"Thank you," Zag said pointedly, ribbing his uncle gently with an elbow to remind him to practice his English.
"Sorry. Thank you," Pedro mirrored, basking in the light of his once troubled nephew's smile. There was honest love here, a love that was sometimes perverse and often times misguided, but a love as genuine as a warm hand-knitted heirloom blanket.

"Guess who I saw uncle?" Zag challenged.
"Eh..." the back of Pedro's mind ground into overdrive, pulling the information from the rainbow static that vibrated in his blood. "The fat one?" he guessed correctly.
"Ha! His name is Thug, uncle. Thugnacious Black, to be honest. What a poor name for a fat kid!"
"He is adult now?" How is he?" Pedro's contact with Zag's mind helped him with the English.
"Still fat!" Zag laughed, his mix of accents making the words sound alien even to Pedro.
"And...?" Pedro prompted, hoping for a point. After all, what did he care for the fat kid from wrestling school?
"... and he told me Mrs. Black died, and left the family to some strange girl named Caroline Raz and Berry used to hang out with."

The name rang like a bell inside Pedro's head, for once his conscious mind admitting to itself what his subconscious mind was thinking. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been meeting with Mama Agnes's emissary Starburst. However, what he remembered most was the way Nate had been there, the murderer of Senora Maya. Pedro had been more foolish and rash in those days, thinking that just because Nate appeared as a man that a simple knife was capable of bringing down that devil. The humiliation of the broken hand he'd been left with after security had thrown him out of the restaurant was one of the reasons he had begun to take his new position as family head much more seriously.

"Caroline!?" Pedro said with disgust. Angelia looked away, remembering everything about that day. Pedro had rushed to the restaurant when he had been informed of the meeting between Caroline and Starburst, several of the girls of the Maya family including her working in the kitchen there. He had originally hoped to spy on the conversation in case the All-Saints family and the Black families were forming an alliance against him. Just because he accepted no blame for the blood bath after Senora Maya's death didn't mean he was ignorant of the possible reaction from the other local families.

Seeing Nate and his brother Death at the table had been too much for him to bear, and without thinking he'd rushed Nate with the same utility knife he carried now, not knowing how futile such an action would be. He'd learned more diplomacy since then, but it had seriously shaken his faith in his ability to lead.

Angelia spoke quietly as Pedro fumed. "Caroline was with Nathan Task the last time we saw her. He broke Pedro's hand."
"No...Thug would never allow someone like that to take control of his family. Thug hates Nate as much as I do!" Zag defended, struggling to keep his voice in check. He refused to believe Thug would condone consorting with the power that had been responsible for killing Mrs. Black, let alone Senora Maya's killer.
"I see what I see." Pedro answered flatly. His simplicity with the language only added to the eloquence of his statement.
"I wasn't there... I don't know what happened. But I KNOW Thug. This has all got to be a misunderstanding. It was one of Nate's demons that killed Mrs. Black!" Zag spurted, flabbergasted that his family would shun his childhood friend.

Pedro grunted loudly, refusing to dignify the alibi with a response. Angelia kept the communication going; she knew a stubborn testosterone driven standoff would achieve nothing. "Can you prove it?" she asked cautiously.
"No. But whoever this Caroline is, if Thug serves her, she can't possibly be allied with Nate. Thug said Mrs. Black was killed fighting on of Nate's demons; there's no way he'd just let go." Zag said with certainty.

Pedro pursed his lips, the mere mention of Caroline's name after the incident in the restaurant slamming his mind shut like a safe-box door. Angelia, however, remembered the frumpy, frizzy haired girl's look of nervousness and uncertainty, something Pedro was too blinded by his hatred of Nate to perceive. She remembered feeling sympathetic for her at the time, both of them wrapped up in a conflict they didn't fully understand but knew was vitally important.

"Uncle Pedro..." Angelia said quietly, never willing to openly express her questioning of his judgment. The unspoken drift of his name, however, told gentle volumes. It was exactly this level of sweetness and consideration that had endeared her to him, and was the reason he was never able to bring himself to deny her anything he felt she truly wanted, even when it contradicted his own motives.

Pedro looked her way, his eyes showing a vulnerability that existed only for her. "You talk with her. I stay out." It was as close to admitting defeat as he could muster.

"Thank you Uncle," Angelia answered with meaning. The fact he accepted her silent admonition proved his respect for her opinion regardless of his personal beliefs. By the same token, she accepted her considerable victory in family policy graciously. It was this grace that made it so easy for Pedro to acquiesce to her, something he did almost reflexively since they had become close.

Relief rushed through Zag's veins. His military mind was too well trained not to have already considered how he would have eliminated Thug should the need arise.
"Do you want me to make the call now?" he prompted, knowing Pedro would let the issue slip though the cracks if he could.

Angelia looked at Pedro, almost demanding the nod from him while at the same time making him feel as though he had the final say.
"Sure." She said, honestly more comfortable dealing with whoever Caroline's emissary was with her strong Maya family men around her, like a police office feeling more comfortable with a pistol on his hip.

Zag's fingers dialed Straight Mike's number from memory, having been a close friend with him some years ago when Thug used to get him in The Velvet Glove for free.
"Hello?" said Straight Mike's familiar and somewhat effeminate voice, the word slightly drawled like a stoned hippy. Not that that was surprising; he, Berry, and Raz had always been stoners.
"Yo Mike!" Zag opened cordially, "I'm over at Pedro's, and he wants to get a meeting between his niece Angelia and Caroline set up. You know... just to keep things above the table."
"Awesome," Mike replied, pleasantly surprised Caroline and Mama Agnes had already had a meeting to discuss how to deal with the new Pedro-controlled Maya family, and both the Blacks and the All-saints were afraid the more violent aspects of the border cartel could lead to internecine casualties.

"Caroline's pretty much open these days. How does one p.m. at 646 Cottage Church Lane sound?" Mike offered, his digital date book already opened in his overbuilt cell phone, stylus in hand over speakerphone. A faint bubbling sound could be heard in the background, and stifled coughing.
"Wait, tomorrow? " Zag asked. His military trained had given him a razor sharp memory for addresses and coordinates. Besides, Cottage Church Lane bisected his hometown, albeit not exactly in a straight line.
"Yeah, yeah, sorry. Tomorrow." Mike filled in.

Zag covered the phone, and whispered to Angelia. "Buena?"
She answered in kind, "Buena."

"Sounds good. One p.m. tomorrow, right. She'll see you then." Zag said professionally, suddenly craving a cigarette.
"Cool deal. Peace out."
"Peace." Zag said, without a trace of irony.

Rodney watched as Zag sat with Pedro on the front porch, jovially rolling their own cigarettes and sipping their beers, as if they too shared in Rodney's victory, like some sick version of Stockholm syndrome. Soon... so very soon...


Posted by FUNKbrs - September 2nd, 2008


Chapter 2

For centuries, purple was considered the color of royalty, purple dye being the most difficult of all to produce, due to the rarity of the sea creatures that release it. Of all the natural dyes in ancient times, it had the longest lasting hue, and was said to never fade but that its color only grew deeper with time, like fine blown glass.

And on the top shelf of Caroline's wardrobe, tucked back in the corner, was a forgotten purple velvet string bag, the kind in which a witch-queen might have kept a prized crystal ball, or a particularly sacred collection of polished relic-bones. And inside, is in fact, a truly rare and valuable object with the ability to foresee the future. Wisely, its previous owners had stitched its mouth shut to keep it from revealing whatever it was it saw.

In the very strictest sense, Marcia M'buto is human. Certainly every component of her mental and physical aspects came from humans, and originally she too was born from a mother's womb, grew up as a child, and became an adult. She knew all about a mother's love, a father's discipline, and what it felt like to belong to a group. She knew the meaning of having siblings, and neighbors, and friends. She knew of love, of the strength of love, of the lengths to which love will go for the objects of its affections.

At the core of what Marcia M'buto was was a devout belief in choice, that no goal is unattainable with sufficient sacrifice. When it all began, she'd been very young, barely sixty years old. Her close friend and mentor, her only friend since she'd inherited the M'buto tribe from her mistress, Ma, was on her deathbed.

Ma was a raisin of a woman, almost a thousand years old; her skin was as black and as ancient as coal. She'd never found an apprentice worthy in all that time, she'd explained in a breathy whisper. She said she'd found the key to earthly immortality, she'd explained that if two pieces of a soul could become one during sex to make a new, weaker child soul, then why shouldn't a weak and dying soul be able to fuse with that of a young living one, the two souls combining and feeding off of one another eternally?

It made a sick kind of sense at the time. A person eats the flesh of an animal, and it nourishes the body for a short time. How much more, then, would the body be nourished by human flesh? The flesh of un-souled humans would be no better than that of an animal, but the flesh of a witch...

Ma had been the first. She was dying anyway, and it was also a symbolic way of unifying the Taotao tribe Ma served with the strong M'buto tribe. The main reason Marcia had agreed to eat Ma's heart; though was curiosity. Was what Ma said true? Could a human soul be absorbed through such a simple means?

It was Ma who had the last laugh on that one, however, as her consciousness crept into Marcia's through her digestive tract and into her mind, mixing their blood together to create something slightly more than human, a being with the guile of over a thousand years of applied witchcraft. In the end, Marcia and Ma became one, the old entities now mixed indeterminately in a single conglomerate.

The cycle had continued, more and more, willing and unwilling, the neighboring tribes falling one by one to the cannibal warriors of the M'buto Empire. The recruitment of soldiers was easy; who could resist all the meat they could eat in a world where one bad crop meant starving to death? To the hungry young men of various tribes, whose only other option was a slow death by hunger pains, the answer was easy. In the span of fifty years, M'buto had conquered most of southern and eastern Africa, long before the Egyptians had raised their first pyramid.

That was until Mama Greta of the A'santi tribe and a hit squad of allied witch woman soldiers cloaked themselves in darkness and brought her to justice. With no trial, they abducted her from the very center of her war camp, the refugee blood heirs of countless defeated tribes. They'd dodged the cook pots of her soldiers for decades, and they took sweet revenge, sundering her body and empire in a single night. She was drawn and quartered between four oxen, her heart removed and burned like a rancid leper's bandage.

The power in M'buto was too great, and even in pieces her limbs still scrabbled to be together again, like the twitching limbs of a dead insect. It was then that the rest of her body was burned, her head skinned and stuffed with the ashes of her body, her skull ceremonially smashed in front of cheering crowds of her one-time victims. Her shrunken head was kept, its lips sewn shut to keep her silent as a reminder of the fate of any witch who would absorb the power of another.

And now here she laid, in her mocking purple velvet bag, a crown of thorns for who was once an empress, heir of the M'buto and Taotao tribes. For thousands of years now she'd been relegated to the bottom of sacks, the corners of trunks, and the forgotten spaces where relics are stored. What was once a proud woman of monumental power was now a shrunken head in a bag originally made for a bottle of liquor. The new owner, a mixed blood witch herself, would soon know just how potent a spirit this bag truly contained.

Thug looked at his watch, waiting for the tell tale thunder of Zag's Pakistani made motorcycle as he waited outside of a cheap twenty-four hour breakfast joint for his old friend. They'd both met at a tactical self-defense school Mrs. Black had sent him to after he'd had his nose bloodied by a smaller boy in the schoolyard, and had been friends ever since. .

They'd been the same age and weight class, although Zag was considerably brighter. It was hard for the wealthy South American boy to make friends in their mainly black and white neighborhood, but Thug was happy to finally have a friend who wasn't scared of him and his association with his great grandmother Mrs. Black. The stories of the boy who'd bloodied his nose's warts were enough to stop any further incidents, although it stopped most further friendships as well.

Zag's square bodied chrome-less matte black bike cruised comparatively quietly into the parking lot, its huge V-twin engine hidden behind a panel of insulated fiberglass. The bike, like the man, was built for function and not style.

"Hey Zag, long time no see!" Thug welcomed his childhood friend warmly.
"Why didn't you call me?" Zag said suspiciously, his multiple accents putting a strange tint on his words, not quite Urdu, not quite European as he swung his booted foot over the seat of his bike.
"What are you talking about? I DID call you. To come down here for lunch," Thug answered quizzically.
"No, no, about Senora Maya. About Pedro."

Zag wasn't angry, but spacey, his eyes opened a little too wide, his gaze a little too intent.

"What number was I supposed to call? You were on assignment in Cashmere." Thug replied simply, having nothing to hide.
"I'm sorry. I ... I went to see Senora Maya about my problem, and that's how I found out. Nobody will give me a straight answer. It's vexing." Again, he was spacey, washed-out and pre-occupied. The right side of his face developed a nervous tic.
"Did you know Mrs. Black died too? It was pretty bad. We were having problems with one of Nate's people..."

A waitress with a sullen expression wordlessly guided them to a greasy, hard-seated booth and handed them menus. Zag ordered water, Thug ordered orange juice, and both thick men sat down.

"Nate? I haven't talked to Pedro yet, but Horacio told me Pedro thinks he killed Senora Maya." Zag was cold, tactical, his shaved head belying his years in the military.

Thug was relieved to see his old friend acting like himself again. "Nate's been really active lately. He had one of his guy's get Berry and another guy you didn't know, Todd."
"Is Berry ok? I haven't seen her or Raz since the Velvet Glove closed." Zag said this wistfully, having once worked with Thug as security at the old bawdy strip club.
"I don't know. She cracked me over the head with a Molotov cocktail and tried to kill Mrs. Black after Nate's guy got her. Mrs. Black and Caroline handled it and kicked the guy out, but Mrs. Black got real hurt and died." Thug explained, rushing towards the end to get it all out.

Zag sipped his water, well acquainted with the code terms Thug was using. "Nate's people" meant demon, and "got" meant possessed. But to "kick out" one of Nate's demons? That was nearly impossible!

"Senora Maya used to get along with Nate and his people, though. When I was a kid, it was some of Nate's guys helping us across the border. Seeing that guy sticks with you."

"I know. Nate's normally not so aggressive. I mean, people normally come to HIM, not the other way around. Then again, Caroline popped up out of nowhere, too. Did you know Mrs. Black left the family to Caroline, not Lucille?"

The waitress lit a smoke off of the grill. It was that kind of breakfast joint.

Zag's eyes watched the slovenly waitress as he talked. "Yeah, they say Pedro's running things in our camp too, I mean, Pedro was a cool uncle and all, but he was always just one of the family. It should have been aunt Charlita or something."
"But Pedro killed most of his sisters. She's probably dead." Thug informed him gravely, as if he didn't already know.
"Yeah, I heard that too. Still, if they were working with Nate against Senora Maya, they deserved to be executed. You have to make examples." Zag said pointedly, his eyes darting to a round scar on his forearm for a fraction of a second, a permanent reminder of the results of trusting traitors.

Finally the waitress took their orders: a grease-ball burger and hash browns for Thug, a club sandwich for Zag.

"So what brings you back into town, anyway? Did your assignment in Cashmere end?" Thug opened, tired of talking family business and wanting to reconnect with his old friend.
"Nah, man, I got real messed up out there. Our convoy got hit with some Claymore style roadside bombs, and we lost the first two cars. I rode right past it, but the concussion knocked me off my bike from behind, it was so big. A squad of irregulars popped out of nowhere, wiped out EVERY body. I was unconscious; they thought the bomb had gotten me, too."

"Oh shi... are you ok?" Thug wondered, almost cursing.
"Nah, man, I got all messed up. I broke my wrist, but mainly I've got PTSD real bad. I had to get out of that country before I exploded, you know?"

Thug had no idea. He'd never been in the military, although he'd had his fair share of discipline and life-or-death conflict. But to be in a foreign country fighting people who didn't even speak the same language?

"Wow, that's really messed up. I got gut stabbed two years ago, but Caroline fixed me right up. Do you want me to pull some strings...?" Thug let the question hang, knowing a Maya would never accept help from another family.
"Ha, no, I've just gotta hunt down Pedro and see what he can do for me. The military shrinks are a joke. They just try to hook you on a bunch of meds and then drum you out as a druggie." Zag explained.

"Man, that's sick and twisted. Have you seen the new MMA fights?" Thug changed the subject.

"Yeah, I saw..."

After all, the conversation couldn't be ALL business.

Berry idly watched Japanese cartoons in her new boyfriend's opulent suburban home. His name was Mark, and it had only taken her one weekend to get her things moved in. He was a sucker like that, but then again, all men were. Show them a good time, and they want to make it last forever. They'd lock you up like a bird in a cage if they could, hoping you'll never change, not even knowing who they THINK you are is who you're only pretending to be.

She'd changed, though, changed though she hadn't wanted it. She'd met that girl that killed Todd, that delicious murderess Caroline, witch-queen of the Black family. At the time, she'd thought the girl was a green mark, a fresh piece of ass tumbling through the club scene, soon to be shipped off back to her mother's with a pregnant belly and a dead-beat daddy. That wasn't the way things had turned out, though.

Caroline was an enabler, who allowed Berry to be the sick twisted bitch she'd always wanted to be, but never had the chance. It was Caroline who'd tricked her into draining the blood from her then-boyfriend's arm and pouring the slick, savory ooze all over each other, licking it off like strawberry syrup. She did it with that innocent act, too, that "I've never done this before, I swear" squeak, but when the blood came out, she was all business.

The proof in the pudding had been the way she'd taken everything she'd wanted, from Mrs. Black's cottage all the way down to Todd's life. Todd had cheated on her with Raz, Berry's long-term boyfriend at the time, and she'd bashed his head in with a brick. A BRICK! Berry could barely contain the shiver of pleasure at the thought of Caroline's vicious retribution. She thought about it sometimes when she masturbated, or when she was having rough sex. Sometimes she'd punch a guy as she rode him, pretending to have a brick in her hand, or smash a brick onto the ground as she touched herself, just to get a taste of that pleasure.

It was never enough, though. Nothing matched that raw sexuality she'd felt, breaking the bonds of the leather straps that Mrs. Black had so lovingly tied her to the chair with. It had been so intense, right up until they'd yanked the demon out of her. She knew it was a demon now, now that she'd done her research. She wanted so desperately to find one, to have it inside her, controlling her, making her more than herself.

To live, even in Mark's affluent home, wasn't really living without it. She felt almost like a turned-out junkie, chasing the dragon of that night. Even with the random sorostitute she'd dragged home, a sexually confused rich girl pilled out on Xanax that she let Mark watch as she strapped down and played with, it never felt like enough.

She listlessly flipped through the channels, random images popping up with no relation to one another until finally she turned off the cable to stare randomly at the fuzz of channel 66, hoping for something, anything, even some stupid scrambled porn or Spanish language soap-opera.

She didn't even think about Raz, that weak idiot she'd played as a sucker for a handful of years, which Caroline had somehow managed to get to attempt suicide. The rumors of what exactly had happened to him were fuzzy, although she'd heard he'd finally broken his depressive streak and now had a successful contracting business with an older but still attractive boyfriend. She'd never cared about him anyway; he'd been just a place to live, a car to drive, just like Mark was.

She had no idea every thing she wanted was just barely out of her grasp.

In the beginning was The Void, and The Void was empty, and lonely, and it made a space in itself, a space that was beyond it, and it called this non-void Father. Father saw The Void, and saw that by creating time, things could exist within The Void, provided they eventually came to an end. And Father was infinitely wise, and loved The Void. Therefore, He decided within Himself to serve as a background to her beauty.

To this end, Father created Lucifer, to bring The Light, to exist as a reflection of Himself within time to create the world as it is seen. But Lucifer was not perfect as his Father was, and hated The Void, because it absorbed all light in its existence outside of time. And Lucifer's creations rebelled as well, creating as they themselves had been created, filling the universe beyond its capacity within time.

So Father created Death, who loved The Void as Father did, who's purpose was to bring to an end all of Lucifer's creation that it might fit within the bounds of time. But creation rebelled again, and cried out to Father, for it had been created with feeling by Lucifer, and suffered for lack of freewill to choose its own Death.

To this purpose, Father took pity on them, and created The Right and The Left, twins and brothers to Lucifer and Death, naming them Famine and Pestilence. And Famine was the path unto Death by failing to consume, and Pestilence was the path unto Death by being consumed.

After this Father rested, leaving the realm of time to co-exist with The Void and contemplate Her beauty. And in his leaving, he left a prophecy:

"In the last day shall the four Brothers unite, and Pestilence and Famine shall turn to serve Lucifer, and betray Death. On that day shall the end of time be, for Death shall send all of creation into The Void, that she may taste life. This shall be the bitter end, for in this, Death himself shall be consumed."

The truth is not kind. The ground we walk is made of decomposed animal excrement and grit, the oxygen we breathe the ethers ejected from the gangrenous infection that tinges what should be brilliant blue waters of the ocean a dingy green. There is no hope, only the freedom of the knowledge of eventual death after which the body merely joins in the earth's orgy of rot and fecophilia.

Perhaps this is the reason such seemingly pure metaphysical forces such as Lucifer, Death, Famine, and Pestilence would prefer to be known as Nathan Task, Dominick Borden, Peter Stallings and Rodney Cunningham. Perhaps this is why they choose to play such petty games with human lives, treating them as children might treat the ants they find in their sandbox. Perhaps, even, the concept of an ultimate mortality for those who are otherwise immortal is so disgusting, so aversive, it drives them insane, forcing them to waste what time they do have studying the process of lesser beings destruction in hopes of manipulating their own.

Whatever the core reason for this state of affairs, there are two forces with comparable power to that of Nate and Dom quietly in operation outside of Caroline's sphere of influence, a circle that is quickly expanding, whether she knows it or not.


Posted by FUNKbrs - August 25th, 2008


Grass in the Roses

Chapter 1

High in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado is a tower, far from the light of civilization. On top of this tower is a giant dish, large enough to hold the secrets of the universe in its monumental concave eye.

In the center of this eye is an antenna, and from this projection into the infinite runs a single coaxial wire. This wire connects to a maze of other wires and complex electrical equipment, each piece stripping away some opaque mystery of the universe, leaving a refined core of electromagnetic information. The same wire leaves this labyrinth and connects to of all things, a cathode ray tube and a magnetic coil attached to a thin, stiff membrane.

Sitting in front of this electrified viewing screen is a man, his ears pricked to the crackle and sizzle of supernovas bursting like popcorn throughout the ages as the rarified radiation filters slowly through the void surrounding his milky blue planet. On the screen in front of him are seemingly random patterns of light, pinpricks the man has been studying with limited success for the past twenty years.

Ironically, the answers to his decades old questions lay not in the diligently searched sky, but in a small cottage-like church in a quiet Southern city, the home of a girl one-third his age who had no idea what to do with them.

The house never did feel quite like home, not to Caroline Parker, who'd been living in the converted church house going on two years now. This was in no way the fault of her surroundings, which a forty-year-old bourgeoisie housewife would kill for.

The cottage itself was shingle-sided wood beam, each plank lovingly hand crafted by devout Christian workmen in the early 1800's. Age and wax had long ago turned the tongue-and-groove floorboards a beautiful sunburst amber. The large main room was dominated by a birds-eye maple table with the words "As oft as ye do it..." carved in the edge, and covered with a dark red table cloth.

An old-fashioned cast iron cook stove that had been converted to gas in the early 1920's protruded from the wall on the west side of the room, next to a dated Frigidaire with an old fashioned chrome pull-latch. This combination was paired with a small functioning sink and a waist-high cutting table with a dish drainer under a modest cupboard.

The very juxtaposition of this was unnatural, as though the building were naturally opposed to the existence of living people, having originally been constructed to feed souls, not bodies. The living arrangements were forced and contrived, the once Pastor's study still lined with books now home to Caroline's frame-less mattress. She'd had Mrs. Black's, the now deceased previous occupant whom she'd inherited it from, old cotton mattress burned at the welcoming party the Black family had thrown for her when she had inherited the place from the closet witch. The idea of sleeping on that surreal woman's deathbed was just too much for her to bear.

In fact, the only homey thing about the place was the old Sunday-school room, now a tiled masterpiece with a large shower and tub. Luckily for her Mrs. Black had believed cleanliness was next to godliness, despite that being a completely heretical and unscriptural saying. Maybe that was the problem in the first place, Caroline thought. After all, who determined when tradition ends and heresy begins?

Pedro sat in the easy chair of his mobile home watching English language news with is baby cousin Angelia, although "baby" was normally used to describe her voluptuous young South American body in a complete different manner. He'd gotten the basic phraseology of the thick, guttural English language, but he still needed her to help explain words and sayings he couldn't figure out on his own.

Things had been hard since Senora Maya was murdered, and he'd done things that were now safely locked away in the back of his head. Necessary things, that was all that mattered. The "who's" and "why's" were all over now, and whether he'd wanted it or not, Senora Maya's position as head of the Maya family had fallen to him by de facto. Not having Pedro's trust had proven to be a lethal disease, and even the more capable of his female relatives, women being the normal and traditional leaders of such witch dynasties, were smart enough to realize that it wasn't wise to put themselves forward however capable.

There hadn't been many deaths last year, but one was enough. They'd had more than enough.

Angelia was the only one he trusted any more, but only because he'd watched her grow up. She was the baby girl, incorruptible in his eyes, and these days Pedro's trust was worth more than a kilogram of fine Caribbean cocaine.

In fact, just last week it was worth twenty.

Pedro hadn't been groomed for the role as head of the Maya family of South American brujeria. When he'd seen his grandmother's murder, he'd only been a day laboring painter, glad to be able to use family connections to get north of the border and away from the more ruthless cocaine syndicates from his home country.

Since what he'd since been thinking of as "La Retribucion," everything had changed. Aunts he'd looked up to for years, matronly old-fashioned family orientated mothers, had turned out to be blood-thirsty Satan worshippers, willing to do anything to protect their drug running sons from border patrols, regardless of the morality of the situation.

He'd discovered it all in hindsight, having just dropped in to Senora Maya's warm little home to see an overdressed middle-eastern man jam a sharply manicured forefinger though the woman who had saved him from a life of ruthless violence and drug based insanity's throat. Pedro's jaw clenched as his mind flashed back, just the thought of it was enough to trigger an involuntary visualization.

He'd opened the door without knocking, Senora Maya was impossible to catch unawares, and she loved company as long as it was social only. The house smelled deliciously of garlic, hot spices, and freshly fried flatbread, a clear sign she had once again anticipated his arrival. She had an army of grown grand daughters, his sisters and cousins that kept her kitchen well stocked for just such a family re-affirming occasion.

Only instead of responding to his hearty "Hola! Estoy aqui!" as usual, there was an eerie silence in the house that should have been filled with ladies babbling about their children's misadventures. He tried not to think of the missing women's names, the betrayers that had deserted the woman that made their lives in this new country possible. He'd learned not to think about such past things, not to fall down that slippery slope, and Angelia had taught him in the turbulent months afterward.

He'd followed his nose towards the savory smells, to the place where Senora Maya should have yelled her happy greeting to him from. That was the first time he met Satan, who called himself Nathan Task, an olive-skinned man, like a Puerto Rican only taller and broader, with a hooked middle-eastern nose betraying his true origin. His hand had been on her shoulder, but in a stiff way at arm's length, not in the close way of family.

A sharp, toothy smile graced the man's face, and in Senora Maya's eyes, Pedro saw something he'd never seen there before:

FEAR.

Before he could open his mouth, before he could do anything, the man who stood a full head and shoulders above the tiny south American native swiveled at the hips and shoulders, every bone in his finely tuned body making a single line from his heel to the deadly point of his finger. The details were so distinct, it was almost as if it had happened in slow motion, although the image had burned onto his retinas in less than a second.

The blood gushed out of her in great systolic thumps as the stranger pulled his finger out of the neat dime-sized hole in Senora Maya's homely, wizened throat. It was then that Nathan Task turned and smiled that same toothy grin at Pedro, his left hand sliding up Senora Maya's shoulder into her gray speckled waist length hair behind his back If there was any doubt of his true nature, it dissipated as the left hand picked her little squat body at arm's length up from her hair, lazily swinging it around in a demonstration of strength. Still smiling, the bastard Nathan, the devil above all demons, pulled her gushing throat to his lips and drank the thick, savory blood with every sign of pleasure as it pumped all over his expensive suit.

Pedro's hand snatched for his utility knife, the knife at his hip he used for turning screws, cutting tape, cleaning his nails, and sometimes for slicing clean chunks of apple for his lunch. Before it was even clear of its sheath, Nate cracked Senora Maya's body like a whip, slinging the bloody soon-to-be corpse into her would be avenger, escaping in the gory confusion...

"PEDRO! PEDRO!! DESPERTASE!!!"

Pedro's hand was wrapped around his knife, just milliseconds from whipping it loose and attacking the imaginary murderer, the from hacking up...

Angelia...

Something had to give.

Starburst hustled his younger cousins out of Mama Agnes's expanded lower middle class home, situated just inside the city limits, a stone's through from the suburbs. Mama had asked for quiet, and it was his job to make sure she got what she wanted.

"Go on! Outside, all of you!" he hollered at the children, ranging in age from toddlers just old enough to be left alone to near-adults in their surly post-pubescent mid-teens, barely young enough to not have cars and jobs of their own.

He herded them like chickens out of the door, grabbing one angst-riddled thirteen year old and hoisting his skinny light-weight body up by his low slung belt, pulling up the youngster's pants to a more socially acceptable height as he carried the boy bodily away from his video games and into the bright mid-afternoon sun.

"Uncle Star..." the boy whined, disgruntled by this call to unsolicited activity and crime against his personal fashion sense.
"Shut up." Starburst cut him off, his effeminate voice taking on a fatherly edge from inside the house. "Mama says quiet, so you noisy little hoodlums have to get out."
"But it's BO-ORING out here," the boy whined continuously, this week going by the misleading name of Big X, a name his friends or "crew" from school had given him because of his love of X-Box games and the fact he shared Starburst's tall, lanky, track-star build.
"Go mow the yard then. Maybe that'll build you some character so you don't end up like your jailbird-ass cousins," Starburst retorted, rays of bright sun reflecting off of his perfectly pedicured toenails in the doorway, belying his weekend night life as a drag queen.
"This yard doesn't even need mowing!" Big X whined, unabated.

Starburst deftly pulled a bright orange basketball from its usual resting place behind the door, palming it expertly in one hand and bouncing it off the whiny little bastard's head, cutting his excuses short to the raucous laughter of his previously ejected peers and siblings.
"I hate you!" the boy shouted, just in time to have the door slammed in his pouty, mean mugging face.

Mama Agnes lit seven colored candles mounted in a rough circle in whatever crooks and cul-de-sacs she could find in her formal entertaining room, reserved for only the most important guests, a no-entry point for her countless grandchildren. Once candle was on a bookcase, one on an old Sylvania TV, two in tall decorative wrought-iron candlesticks, one in the windowsill, one mounted over the doorframe, and a final candle resting in a saucer on the end table next to the television.

She sat at the glossy mahogany table at the center of the room, an old-fashioned charcoal pencil in her left hand and a short stack of parchment paper in front of her. She wrote out the English alphabet in distinct blocky letters, numbering them to form a numerological code key. Twenty-six letters containing every imaginable concept in the universe spread out before her, ready to be used like a chemist's periodic table.

The lessons they had drilled into her as a girl rested in the background of her mind, the secret meanings of the ancient Arabic numerals having been memorized for so long remembering them was as easy as remembering to breathe. One was unity, invincibility and eternity. Two was beginnings, love, and progress. Three was strength and organization, reminiscent of the holy trinity. Four was the number of the seasons and natural cycles. Five was the number of humanity, the five fingered hand, the four limbs and head. Six was the number of the arcane, just one step above human capability. Seven was the number of purity and holiness. Eight was the number of mystery, of the unknown. Finally, there was number nine, the number of barriers and endings.

She wrote a name slowly with her left hand. P-E-D-R-O. The numbers she had assigned to the letters translated the name into 16,5,4,18, and15. She added them, trying to summate them into a functional core. She added them in her head, writing the sum of 58 under the name. Fifty-eight meant a man, a man of mystery. She separated the five and eight, adding them once more for an even deeper level of meaning. Thirteen was the answer, a one for unity, and three for organization, the sum of the two numbers making four, rendering the complex but well known translation that for by great strength something will be made at unity with nature for eternity, more simply as death and decomposition. Unlucky thirteen, the number of funeral processions a man must walk down in his life. Six pallbearers to a coffin, with no women allowed as pallbearers means a total of twelve turns of duty to bury both parents, the final thirteenth when a man rides inside the coffin himself.

Pedro, then, finally simplified, was a man of mystery with death at his core, roaming the earth. Mama Agnes couldn't suppress her shudder. It was uncanny the way numbers reinforced what her own people had already told her of the man.

There was another person of interest, another family head just recently come into power, the second anniversary of Mrs. Black's death now come and gone: Caroline.

Again she wrote out the name with her left hand, again translating the letters back into numbers. She couldn't help but register the number of letters in each name, Pedro the Man, with five letters, and Caroline the Mystery with eight. Getting back on track she translated Caroline's name into numbers: 3,1,18,15,12,9,14, and 5. She added these, resulting in sixty-seven, a mixture of the arcane and holy, the yin and the yang, both the negative and positive of the super natural. She added the six and seven:

Thirteen.

Just like Pedro.

Nothing could shake Mama's calm; her brazen acceptance of raw truth had been beaten into her as an apprentice witch with a cane switch. She'd been named with a knowledge of these meanings, 'Agnes" having five letters for her humanity, and breaking down to forty-six, meaning a woman of arcane earth magic. The final reduction rendered ten, which again reduced to one, meaning she was the unified eternal extension of the tradition of arcane earth magic.

Two years, though, since Mrs. Black's death, her first name Lillith rendering down to eighty-two: the spreader of mystery. Now dead, that added another thirteen to the mix, resulting in ninety-five, the end of humanity. Those numbers had bothered her for quite some time, but now that she saw the conjunction of Caroline and Pedro, she did a quick calculation.

Sixty-seven plus fifty eight yielded one hundred and twenty-five, a unified couple that would spread humanity to a mysterious new level.

Mama Agnes ceremoniously rose from her seat and methodically put out all seven candles with a pewter snuffer. She left the room in a quiet, gentle glide to the living room where Starburst sat industriously buffing his fingernails to a mirror shine.

"So what did you find out?" he prompted, not wanting to over play his curiosity.
"I think Pedro and may be planning a meeting with Caroline soon, now that both of them have had time to establish a chain of command. Get Caroline's assistant Mike on the line and see if he knows anything," Mama ordered, her husky Caribbean accent adding a warm feminine edge to her words.
"Ha, Caroline's scared shitless of Pedro. There's no way those two are going to establish contact. Besides, Pedro's a man; he's got no right heading the Maya family. Shouldn't we just wait until a female relative takes over?" Starburst was carefully playful in his tone, trying not to offend the witch-queen of the All-Saints family, the largest arcane bloodline in the area and his female ancestor. Mama Agnes smiled at his attempts to understand the game without knowing the rules.

"You wanna bet?"

This is the world as it is, everything broken down to numbers, ruled by invisible principles that when mastered can predict all things. There are no mysterious lights, no gaudy manifestations of power, no magicians engaged in epic battles of fire and summoned beasts from the astral plane. This is a world where the true magic, the magic of pregnant women, of family, magic of the blood so reliable it no longer seems magical reigns. This is the magic taken for granted every day by people too immature to understand that compared to the real world, the world of the imagination is a stark, simple and boring place.

The real magic, the real power, is hidden, disguised in the mundane to resist the understanding of the ignorant. The powerful understand the core nature of their strength is knowledge. By making wisdom seem boring and stupid to the ignorant, the rulers of this world cement themselves in power. Only those capable of seeing past these intentional distractions to the basic core of reality have the power to escape these traps of the mind.

Disillusionment is only unpleasurable to the willfully ignorant egotist, and the comfort of denial is the comfort of the firing squad's blindfold, the comfort of the coffin-pillow.


Posted by FUNKbrs - August 5th, 2008


So my last 20 posts were the rough drafts to my novel "The Cutting Garden." That's in rewrites right now, about 3/4's of the way done. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg, really.

A lot of people get the wrong idea about me because I'm a forum mod. Being a forum mod is just an extension of being a good writer; it's a way to practice being funny and intelligent in text. Long before I ever made my first BBS post, I started playing drums, and in teh IRL, that's where I get most of my recognition.

I've been playing drums in a band called Strangled Blue for about two years, previous to that Chiselfist, and previous to that a project called Dominion (ends up the name wasn't original. Who knew?). Anyways, over the years I've built up a bit of a reputation for being a hardcore moshpit freak, and I've met a lot of the hardcore freakshow scene people. In particular, I'm fairly good friends with Tony Myers of Sex and Violence Hardcore wrestling, and I've hung out with Paintribe on mulitple occasions, just shooting the shit. I'm also deeply entrenched in the local memphis Goth community, despite the fact I'm not technically goth. In fact, I'm mainly a beatnik.

Because of these connections, I was able to get my band booked for the baddest ass show ever to happen ANYWHERE, EVER, with Pain Tribe and Sex and Violence.

PainTribe is a group of whacked out piercing/suspension artists from New Orleans in the greatest voodoo tradition. They specialize in hook pulling competitions, where two members of the group will put hooks in their backs attached by chains, and then attempt to rip those hooks out of each other's backs in a bloody tug of war all while ambient techno and.... well... your boy FUNK play in the background with his band Strangled Blue. So if you ever wonder what it feels like to be a part of a real freakshow, honestly, it feels a lot like watching old ladies get the holy roller spirit in a southern Pentecostal church. It'll give you the shakes just watching, man. You won't leave the same.

Sex and Violence Hardcore wrestling is basically the most fucked up shit... EVER. Period. Bar none. I'm talking Cactus Jack style shit. They start the show with the Sex: straight up oil wrestling with super hot chicks. Oh yes, it was hot and greasy, and I was there, and YOU WEREN'T!! LOLOLOLOL!!!

Next, S&V hard The Abortionist VS FAUST VS. Psycho VS Chair VS. Madman Pondo of Juggalo hardcore wrestling fame (this guy is AMAZING!!! Look him up on You tube, ZOMFG!!!). These guys are NUTZ, with broken glass, barbwire, thumbtacks, you name it, they hit each other with it action. I watched a guy get WHACKED with a taxidermied deer hoof, for crying out loud!

Blood was EVERYWHERE. If you wonder where I get my blood descriptions from my novel from, it's stuff like this. There's no other group of people willing to bleed that much, anywhere, PERIOD. Imagine someone getting tarred and feathered. Now, instead of tar, use their own blood from a vicious beating. And instead of feathers, use broken glass. Then take that guy, covered in blood and broken glass, and THROW HIS ASS OFF A FUCKIN BALCONY. That's sex and violence hardcore wrestling at it's finest.

Faust started the match by hiring Psycho to destroy The Abortionist for revenge against The Abortionist hacking Faust face up (true story. I watched the shit happen. That scar is big as shit). However, Faust mistakenly hit Psycho with a flourescent light, and both Psycho and the Abortionist took turns slapping his faggy goth ass all over the stage. Pondo ended up pile driving him off the stage, where he layed crying like a homo until they realized he was too hurt to continue and let him go home to cry to his girlfriend.

Chair was the first eliminated, eliminated while Faust was still crying like a girl. A lot of people underestimate Chair, because they always see hot chicks sitting on him and just ASSUME he's just a piece of furniture. Originally he WAS a person, but after decades of the japanese hardcore wrestling scene, eventually every bone in his body was replaced with either steel or plastic. One night after mainlining a shit load of meth and heroine with some prostitutes, he got the idea to give up on being a person altogether, and had himself surgically altered to be a chair. Sadly, after just recently defeating Faust with his patented Chair Rope-a-Dope technique, he had Madman Pondo crush his legs and pin him, resulting in his elimination.

Now it was Pondo, Abortionist, and Psycho, the biggest and nastiest of the big and nasty. Abortionist and Pondo teamed up against Psycho, mainly because Psycho is WAY too crazy to be trusted with the Hardcore Sick Fuck belt. I mean, he might EAT it, or something. After a struggle, they managed to pick Psycho's fat ass up in a tag team suplex off the stage, right into a pit of broken glass, knocking him clean out in a pool of his own blood.

Now it was just Pondo and Abortionist.

At this point Abortionist had been wrestling from the jump, and was barely recognizable from the blood pouring from every inch of skin on his body. I really wish I was making this shit up: Tony's a close personal friend, and it's CRAZY to see how much pain he can take. I mean, I DRINK with the guy, so I don't see him in that light, but he is what he is.

Abortionist knew his only chance was to throw Pondo off the Balcony of the New Daisy theatre; Pondo had come in late to the fight, and was too fresh to beat any other way. Pondo was too glad to meet him up there, knowing that he still had the advantage.

After a brutal struggle on the balcony, Pondo managed to get the slip on Abortionist and drop him off the two story tall balcony, breaking his leg and nose (no shit). Finally, Pondo was Sick Fuck champion!

Then we spent like an hour scraping blood and broken glass off the stage before the venue owner shit a kitten, and went home. YAY.

Don't believe me? Go find Sex and Violence on myspace, and watch their videos. The new match will be for sale on DVD in a few weeks or so: RESERVE ONE NOW!!!


Posted by FUNKbrs - July 22nd, 2008


Chapter 20

Two pairs of dark-blue clad police officers slowly made the rounds of the brown brick two-story apartment complex with clipboards in their hands and black expressions on their faces. They worked from opposite ends of the two buildings that faced the cracked gray asphalt, gently informing the occupants of the murder and asking for information with the mildly interested tones of those people with government jobs who get paid by the hour and not the client. It didn't really matter what the witnesses said, and the officers knew it. They'd already been debriefed on the situation by a slim young man in a sharp silk suit.

It was their acquaintance with the effeminate suit that got them their jobs in the first place, in exchange for situations such as this. Officer Jackson remembered the day he'd met the slim black man at a small house near the train tracks after being laid off from his sporadic construction job. They'd been introduced by his wife's grandmother, Mrs. Agnes. It was Mrs. Agnes, in her bright old-fashioned head-wrap, that had given him a warm smile, and told him how a black man with no formal education could get a job at the police station and feed his daughter.

At the time, he didn't ask many questions. After all, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Well, not if you want to keep getting gift horses, anyways.

No one else did, either. Not the other two male officers of the one Spanish female officer. All four of the just kept on their blank masks, not talking about how strange it was all four of them were reassigned to a murder investigation unit on the same day without a single senior officer in sight. Mainly what they didn't talk about, though, were the short stacks of forged affidavits in their pockets, signed statements from imaginary witnesses that had mysteriously appeared after the most recent meeting with the silk suited man in gaudy alligator skin shoes.

Everyone's acting so normal, Jackson thought, reminded of the immaculate homes in the rich part of town that nevertheless managed to be red flagged for domestic disputes. It was the false normality of the assassin, the gray man that uses his mundanity to blend into a crowd in the street, stalking his victim in the open, pulling the trigger in full view before anyone notices he doesn't belong there.

They used phrases like "at this time" and "an investigation is proceeding," white noise, cop talk, nothing to see here. But the way the other officers didn't wisecrack and kept their noses in the job was enough to tell an experienced cop something was very, very wrong.

And an experienced cop was exactly what wasn't there.

Caroline followed the smooth gray aura into the back of the van with flashing light on it. Smooth, nice and smooth, she thought to herself. Not fuzzy or static-y, no flagellate tendrils extending from it, no dark black holes forming nearby, hungry to snatch the soul into oblivion. Just Thug, who cried like a baby when his grandmother died, who hid in the shadows to take a gut wound that would have killed her.

Soon the EMTs would make everything ok, stitch her poor boy shut and make everything ok again. The EMT, whose pale moon-shaped face looked eerily like...

Lucille.

"Oh, Caroline..." the stranger said, looking down at Thug's moaning body, blood still leaking from the nasty looking gash.
"How do you know my name?" Caroline said quietly, her dry mouth clicking after having been locked shut for so long.
"You're...you're Caroline. I saw you at the funeral. Mike said you were Mrs. Black's protégé. You're supposed to fix Thug like she used to do." The name "Thug" had a warm inflection on her lips. Her uncle? Cousin?
"No...no... I can't. I'm just a florist..." Caroline stammered, still in shock.
"But you HAVE to..." the girl said, a waver of desperation creeping into her voice, belying her true identity.
"How?"
"Like Mrs. Black used to do, with a needle and a strand of her own hair." The girl said, pulling up a white medical scrub sleeve to reveal a razor thin scar on her forearm.

Caroline bit her lip, dreading the next precious few minutes as Thug lay bleeding on the gurney on her right side. NO. She would not back away, not from the promise she made. She wasn't that person anymore, who would let Thug bleed to death while she did nothing. She plucked a hair from her head, wincing.

"Hand me a needle." Caroline commanded, taking on a touch of Mrs. Black's serenity as the old part of herself drifted a little father from her heart, the trance forming a buffer between her and reality, the blind focus of it shielding her.

The girl sighed with relief. She recognized this face. This was the right Caroline.

"Of course." The girl reached into a bulkhead drawer that looked like a thousand other drawers inside the ambulance as the engine changed gears in the background, the sirens only dimly registering to them as they stared at their ailing kin. She pulled out a white sterilized paper packet and pulled it open with professional ease, at once revealing she was at least partially medically trained.

"Here." She said, handing the needle of to Caroline's unnaturally still palm.

Caroline entered her own little world, saw her own pink aura streaked with black, stained by recent events, the taint roiling through her ragged strand of hair. Of course, a tiny piece of her to replace a tiny piece of him; her new blood making any part of her body a powerful component.

She carefully threaded the needle, using a doubled length of hair as her thread as ancient physicians had done before the invention of surgical silk, let alone dissolving stitches or medical glue. As she worked, the girl that looked eerily like Lucille eased an epidural into Thug's vein with professional exactness.

Wasn't she supposed to flush the wound with iodine or something? The girl didn't seem to think so. She saw the white fat under the skin, and decided not to waste time asking.

Thug's skin was tougher than she expected, her fingertips turning white under the pressure of keeping the needle from slipping in her sweaty hands. Each hole was a chore, a struggle to punch through the thick skin. Too late, Caroline realized she should have shaved Thug's hairy belly. There was too much she didn't know, too much left to chance. She tightened her stitch, eerily reminded of Marcia M'buto's skull-less rictus as the overlap of skin folded up between the whipstitches. Had it really been Jr. High when she'd last used needle and thread?

The nameless girl stared at her as she worked, like an electric guitar player might stare at a concert violinist. Nameless except for the tag on her scrub shirt, Caroline noticed for the first time. Madeline Mayweather. It was easier to focus on the girl than the wound, easier to let her hands fall into the blind, mechanical repetition of sliding each stitch through a fine thickness of skin and meat.

"So Madeline, how often does this happen?"
Madeline snapped out of her mystified reverie. "There's always someone in the family breaking an arm or getting in a car wreck. It happens every few weeks or so, but normally just fevers and colds. Maybe once a year for stuff this bad." She answered, the content of her words never touching her face as she stared at Caroline's sloppy stitch work.

Self-consciously, Caroline stared too, surprised to see her earlier stitches had disappeared, leaving a razor thin scar just like Madeline's without even a scab. She focused on the trance and watched the traces of her aura dissolve and be absorbed by Thug's, transfused as indecipherably as a pint of blood into an anemic.

Caroline plucked another hair from her head, having used all of the last one. Already, the wound was half closed.

"Wow..." Madeline drawled. "I forgot what it looked like."
"It's my first time seeing it." Caroline mumbled under her breath, catching the flow of the stitching, finding her rhythm and accelerating as she gained confidence.

Even as the wound closed, Thug's eye began to darken and swell from the concussion with Todd's devilishly strong fist. Caroline flashed back to Raz, how she'd entered his body and felt out his damage, squeezing the bullet out of his head as though nothing had happened. She tied off the last stitch, not bothering to marvel at the may it dissolved into the skin, leaving it whole and healed.

The trance, the trance was key. She formed the umbilical, pushing a piece of herself out towards Thug and into him. She roared through his blood, drunk on the power of his strong heartbeat, for once strengthened by her connection to another soul. The damaged blood vessels seemed so minor compared to what she'd done to Raz, shocking her that she'd been successful so easily with him.

She smoothed the ragged blood vessels like the fur of a wind-ruffled kitten, pushing the draining blood back inside where it belonged. Now only the epidural kept Thug incapacitated.

Madeline wrapped her arms around Caroline in the back of the ambulance, holding her close and tight.
"Thank you. Thank you for being who we didn't want to be..."

Straight Mike and Starburst passed a joint across the living room table in Starburst's high ceilinged historic home, each of them barking tersely into their phones.

"...it's a legally valid document. It's not my fault it's old..."
"...that job. You wanna keep..."
"...you six weeks ago..."
"...can't back out now. Too..."
"...wanna let him catch it? You're..."
"...right. All signed and legit..."
"...good money. Like last time..."
"...busy. But she'll be there..."

Finally, Mike snapped his phone shut with a resounding click, taking a long drag off the smooth rolled joint. Seconds later, Starburst joined him, taking the joint in one hand while putting his phone into its holster with the other.

"You done too?" Mike drawled, the sweet smoke making his voice sound thick and deep.
"Yeah... it was touch and go for a second. Jackson wanted to back out."
"Really?" Mike said in conversational surprise.
"Yeah. I had to explain to him he'd screw everyone if he backed out, even if he didn't squeal."
"You need to use the rose garden?" Mike prompted icily.
"No. He knows where his bread is buttered." Starburst answered, his lisp becoming a little more pronounced now that he was off the phone.
"Well, fuck it. You wanna hit The Card?"
"Hellz yeah. Let me put on my face..."

Lucille dropped the dusty portfolio on Mr. Jeff Jones desk, creating a small puffball cloud.

Mr. Jones looked the yellowed paper over with a professional eye, surprised to see such a document after years of grand fathered stipend checks.

"You mean you found Mrs. Parker?" He said, still officious in his astonishment.
"Yes. Her name and birth date match exactly."
"And you're sure you don't want it? Legally you have just cause as next of kin." He counseled her.
"No. It was written this way for a reason, and frankly, I already have a house."
"But she was born seventy years after this was written. Don't you want to keep it in the family?" he asked, owing her the question even as he itched to finally have the will executed and out of his hair.
"Oh, it stays in the family this way."
"Sorry. I had to ask."

Mr. Jones pulled a much fresher, crisper sheet of paper from his huge black walnut desk in his richly ornamented law office.

"Alright then. Just sign this release form, and have her sent up here."

Madeline waved from the back of the ambulance as Caroline walked away towards the downtown skyscraper.

15th floor, room 78, 6:00 PM, late for a lawyer's office, but then again these were special circumstances. Madeline said it was a special surprise, but something in her head rang false when she'd said it.

Lucille met her in the lobby, her newborn in the care of her husband for a change. Caroline didn't know how she knew this, only that it was true. Lucille gave her a warm hug.
"Thanks for everything, Caroline. You have no idea how much this means to us."
"Madeline told me Mike was handling the police. Why are we going into a lawyer's office?" Caroline asked suspiciously, prodding at the inconsistency.
Lucille broke down. "It's not about that. Mrs. Black named you in her will."
"WHAT?!" Caroline hissed.
"Look, we'll go see the executor Mr. Jones, sign off on some paper work, and be done."
"HOW?!"
"You know how. You know how probably better than any of us. She wrote the thing before you were born."
Caroline bit her lip, trying not to curse.

"Hello Lucille, and this must be Caroline Parker?" Mr. Jones greeted the two women.
A nod from Lucille proved his presumption correct.
"According to the will, you inherit..." he looked down at the yellowed paper, "646 Cottage Church Lane. Also, you receive a modest stipend for upkeep: Five hundred dollars a month. Sign here."

"What if I say 'no'?" Caroline whispered to Lucille.
"Then we forge your signature. Back out again, and we release the real way Todd died. Right now the official story is that he fell down the steps onto Thug."

This time, Caroline bit her lip until she tasted blood.

Then she signed.

There had been an awkward housewarming party, although Caroline had been minimally involved. Thug brought a grill and cooked smoked sausage and burgers for what seemed like an endless sea of elementary aged children and a smattering of smiling adults, glad to sit back and enjoy a few beers while their children made messes for someone else to clean up for a change.

Twilight came and the children left, Thug staying behind to pick up the paper plates and red plastic cups scattered throughout rose bushes so immense they could have passed for young Maple trees. A powder blue Impala showed up, with Mama Agnes's familiar head-wrap cresting the passenger seat like the prow of a battleship. Starburst exited the car, opened Mama Agnes's door, and sidled off to make small talk with Thug.

Mama Agnes sailed proudly up to the front door, knocking, then patiently waiting for Caroline. The door opened slowly, and she stepped inside.

"It's been speaking. You know that?" Caroline said abruptly, her voice sounding robotic.
"What's speaking? I don't hear anything." Mama Agnes answered, her eyes cutting warily.
"It won't shut up. It's speaking right now." Caroline continued, still entranced.
"Where is it? I can't hear it." Agnes said, her brow furrowing.
"Oh, wait... It's quiet now." Caroline's face and neck relaxed noticeably.

"I just dropped by to see how you were doing in the new place." Mama Agnes started, trying to refocus Caroline's mind. She'd slipped since the incident, still tortured by dreams, new dreams that were all her own creation.

"What? Oh... I'm sorry. It's been a busy day. Welcome to my home, Mama." Caroline said, her mind wrenching back onto track.
"Hm..." Agnes droned, worried, "I know this has been a big change, dear, but you have to be strong for the people who depend on you now. Imagine what it would feel like for one of the children, if they were to see you space out like that."
"I know," Caroline apologized, "I'm just so paranoid. I have to keep one in the trance, just in case."
"Hm... I guess he was right, then. But you're young, and it IS traditional. I have a solution, but I think I'll let Starburst handle it."
"A solution for what? All this slowly driving me crazy?" Caroline asked , exasperated at herself.
"Girl, you were crazy to start with. Never forget that. This will just help you cope."
"And this is what, a magic powder? A black cat bone? A bat's wing?" Caroline spurted, her irritation at herself showing by redirecting towards Mama Agnes.
"Nothing so hoodoo." Mama Agnes replied, chuckling. Caroline's hard head would hurt her more than any admonition. "I think I'll let Starburst handle it."
"Handle what?" Caroline asked sheepishly, suddenly guilty for her insolence, insolence Agnes had so graciously ignored.

"I'll let him tell you that."

Or maybe hadn't ignored at all...

Caroline beat herself up for running Mama Agnes off like that. She was only trying to help, and she'd acted like a spoiled brat. Luckily, it wasn't long before Starburst appeared, the smell of sweet skunky hydroponics entering with him.

"Mama was just messing with you; she doesn't smoke. You have to lighten up sometimes. 'You have to laugh to keep from crying' you know."
"Jesus, that stuff reeks. Todd's pot was..." Caroline trailed off, Todd's name driving a dagger into her heart.
"Todd's pot was one fourth the price of this stuff." Starburst joked. "And The Glass killed Todd. Not you. Get used to it; that's the reality you're going to be living in for the rest of your life."

Caroline took the thin joint, dragging deeply off of it.
"You don't understand. I became a monster. I didn't CARE who it was, I just wanted them dead. I'm some vicious... THING now, and I don't want to be vicious. I don't want to be anything at all..."
"And you think I'd be who I am if I had a choice? None of us do. You either change yourself, or you change the world, but as long as you live, nothing can stay the same. It's only when you stop growing that you die inside."

Caroline thought back to what Mrs. Black had said, about how people were flowers, and when they had finally bloomed, they were snipped and taken away. A person wants to stay alive, to wither on the vine, but how much better it is for those clipped in full bloom, to be a part of an other worldly bouquet?

From the perspective of the flower, it seems so cruel. But from the perspective of the gardener, it's only right that those who choose to grow the flowers get to choose when they are clipped.

Caroline giggled to herself as the sweet smoke killed the voices in her head, her own voice full of self-doubt, the voices of the dead with their remembered advice, and the voices of the living.

Sweet anesthesia....

END.


Posted by FUNKbrs - July 15th, 2008


Chapter 19

There are things known as dust devils, tiny tornados that are the phenomena of greater, world spinning forces. An individual dust devil is easily destroyed; it has no sense of self-preservation. It doesn't have to. It is the result of a greater force, the Coriolis effect. It could be said quite accurately in the terms of the supernatural that Coriolis is a demon, and each individual dust devil is one of its avatars.

To destroy an individual dust devil, then, is pointless. Another will appear as long as the air is moving in such a way as to bring the Coriolis effect into play. No matter how many times the wind currents of a dust devil are interrupted and destroyed, the Coriolis effect remains a true principle of physics. Such acts of destruction, then, are futile.
There are many dust devils all over the world at any given time, but only one Coriolis effect, only one planet rotating to cause the curvature in what would otherwise be a straight-line wind. Similarly, beings like Nate and The Glass may have many avatars all over the world wherever the situation is right, but they are still single forces. Somewhere else, there is another avatar of Dom collecting the souls of the dead wherever he is called. The avatars of a demon may emulate human thought, but the demon itself is still a single, basic force of nature. Only the most powerful and complex demons are capable of forming fully individual physical avatars, only the most intrinsic forces of reality are easily personified.

There is only one Sun, but cultures all over the world have different Sun gods. There is only one harvest, but this too has a deity in every farming culture. The form of the idol is unimportant. Every statue of Buddha may be smashed, but the principals of Buddhism will live on, and eventually, more statues will be made.

To fight a demon, then, is to try to stop the Sun, to hold back the tide, to jam yourself into the gears of the engine that spins the stars into space every night. The oceans are filled with the ground remains of mountains that stood in the path of the tides, now sand. The ground is filled with the carbonized remains of ancient forests, now coal, that dared defy the changing of the seasons.

The nature of a human, however, is to defy nature. The Sun is not defied through violence; a man left in the sun will burn, go into shock, and die. Instead, to fight the Sun, a man invokes darkness. To fight the fire, a man invokes water. Human kind survives by being the fulcrum at which the destructive forces of nature are balanced.

And if Caroline Parker had ever been an apprentice, she would already know this.

The inside of Todd's mind was a clean place, a place of deep reflections. Todd's mind was a place where a beam of thought could enter and bounce off the brilliant surfaces, its luminescence added to and combined with Todd's own to exit the mouth greater and with more clarity than when it entered.

Thus, it was the perfect home for The Glass.

Berry's soulless body had been a functional tool, but only just barely. Having no internal focus, it fought control like a car with a bent rim, skittering back and forth and pulling to one side or another. Todd's mind was much more disciplined, and as his would withered, The Glass's influence grew fat inside him, growing cozy in it opulent surroundings.

If The Glass were capable of sympathy, capable of emotions, it would have felt sorry for Todd's withering, miserable soul. However, given the circumstances, given it's nature, The Glass found it much easier to watch and wait. Todd's soul could be used as a valuable hostage in the right situation.

Caroline was a soft target. She'd barely survived being a bystander in The Glass's last escapade; there was no chance she could survive a direct assault. If anything, The Glass was a creature of finesse, and it could blur as well as focus. Should Caroline merely go missing, or The Glass somehow regain control of her mind, it would have much greater effect than Thug merely finding her mangled corpse in the kitchen floor.

The light glinted off of the Glass's crystalline surface. It was almost time.

Todd sat in his tiny one-bedroom apartment, staring at his soft, uncalloused hands in the dark. Somehow the light felt wrong to him; it fed something alien inside. There was something missing in him, too, as though some part of his brain was suffering from palsy. He'd tried drinking more water, eating more green vegetables, but he felt more and more abstract every day, as though he were becoming a mere shell of himself.

He was having strange urges, too, like some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He found himself polishing the cheap stainless steel cutlery he'd bout at the dollar store when he'd first moved into his apartment, washing his windows meticulously, buffing up a shine on just about every surface he could, right down to the kitchen sink. He felt so... focused, like he did when he was writing lesson plans, only in a strange, alien direction.

What made it worse was that at first there had been more conflict to it, like his old self was fighting back, but it seemed like the more time passed, the more the old him seemed to fade away. He couldn't help but think that recent events had done something to him, like some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder or something.

It was like when Straight Mike had called with the news about Raz, a piece of him had died, but something new was growing in its place. However at the very least it was making him a better housekeeper. He couldn't help but think there was something horribly wrong, but he couldn't seem to focus on it either, some OCD distraction always cropping up right before he could get a grip on what was happening.

He kept thinking about Caroline, too, but not in the warm way he once did. Things were so blurry...

Caroling had developed a habit of inspecting things since the dreams had started. The world she lived in now was full of concrete things she had to focus on to learn about, as opposed to the attention grabbing insanity that had filled it such a short time ago.

She petted the material of the velvet bag that held Marcia M'buto's preserved, skull-less head. It was so deceptively luxurious, like a mousetrap baited with gourmet cheese. This was a bag for jewelry, liquor, or antique coins, but inside instead were Marcia M'buto's shriveled lips, sewn shut possibly before she died.

Caroline had lost her squeamishness since the incident with Lucille, and had no qualms about holding the desiccated shrunken head in her bare hands. It was only a ball of leather in the end, albeit leather made from human flesh. If she could see a human placenta as meat, certainly she could see human skin as taxidermy.

She relaxed her breathing, for once noticing how it instantly increased her calm and focus. It was so much easier to breathe with her back straight and her head held high. No wonder Mrs. Black had always seemed so poised; familiarity with the trance state had yogic benefits as well as its benefits to perception.

It was the pan-spectrum snowstorm of the trance state, a state she almost defaulted to whenever she wanted to be at her best, that revealed the disturbing secret of the head.

It contained the light of souls.

She couldn't believe the smooth, whirling lavender core of the object, a mix-mosh of soul energy from male and female, clan and tribe, blood and blood. Despite its macabre origin, the severed head gave her a strange sense of comfort, like the antique wallet of a deceased grandparent. The mixture, the conglomerate, the diverse, it felt like a reflection of herself, like a piece of art she would have made if only she had the skill.

There was a puff of dust as a rotten stitch popped in the center or M'buto's jawless, toothless mouth. Caroline's inner vision and outer view split for a second, maintaining the trance while no longer ignoring mundane vision. The souls inside... they were alive, bound to this remnant, this zombie avatar. Did Mama Agnes know about this? Surely she would have mentioned it. Since Mrs. Black's potion, Caroline knew better than to take such a gift for granted.

Perhaps this was a thing of mixed blood, or some ability Mama Agnes's family didn't have that was a part of her own heritage. That could explain why Mama Agnes had been so eager to give it to her. Then again, perhaps it was also a way of being rid of it so that she would no longer be responsible for the souls trapped inside.

The dry lips tried to move once more, to do what, Caroline had no idea. Before she could inspect further, the trance went black, and she felt a shock like ice-cold water as once again Death, Dom, or whatever it was calling itself murdered her connection to the trance state.

What were they trying to make her do, that she should be kept ignorant?! Caroline's jaw set in steel reserve. Whatever it was, she was going to be ready this time.

Todd felt something break inside him, his body suddenly going numb to his commands, but not his senses. His eyes darted around in their sockets until the left one froze and focused a short moment before the right eye went perfectly still.

At first, Todd was paralyzed, his right arm going completely numb. Was he having a heart attack? He felt he should react, knew these were the symptoms of a stroke or a blockage, but the dead space inside him allowed no room for fear. The anesthetic haze lent a certain sense of detachment as his right eye watched his left arm drunkenly, surprised to find it lacked the spasmodic twitching of a stroke-induced seizure. There was a snake-like grace to it, the grace of an old man still too young to shake, but too old to shudder, a grace Todd had yet to achieve in his own lifetime.

The possession crept down the left side, stealing it's way through his torso, trickling past his pelvis and down into his left leg, there too taking control and enforcing an unnatural peace. The numbness in his right side gave way to passivity. The Glass wasted no time savoring its dominance, immediately pulling its new meat puppet up on marionette strings older than written language.

There was little left of Todd capable of fighting back, a mere pittance of himself left to watch was The Glass took his body for its own. This body was lithe and supple, eager to be at the command of a spirit with strength once more. The left hand deftly reached into Todd's right pocket across his body in a way Todd would never normally do, pulling his phone out. The left thumb dialed the numbers 877-7777, the universal code for a yellow cab he would normally never dream of affording on his meager salary. The voice of The Glass was greasy and smooth as it ordered a pickup.

The Glass knew that for this body, such material possessions as money would soon be pointless regardless of the success or failure of its current mission. The value of such a body was in its expendability. This face alone carried enough psychological charge to render its intended victim confused.

Confusion and mock-enlightenment were the favored tools of The Glass, having made such things useful against this victim in the past. The fog of war that could turn allied guns into friendly fire was the perfect weapon of the unarmed, although in this case The Glass had no intention to be.

The left hand slipped a small but razor sharp paring knife into its left pocket, and calmly waited for the friendly beep of the smiling and soon to be well-tipped driver to its final destination.

The Glass was evident in force, and a plate would only be needed after its intended butchery. The blood could come first. Such niceties as fine china could be arranged later.

Thug parked his black Cadillac at a gas station two blocks away from Caroline's apartment, his mind desolate and cold with the knowledge Mrs. Black had forced on him. He envied Caroline's ignorance of the situation, and steeled for what he knew was coming. He had to be careful not to be seen in case he tipped her off.

It was vitally important she react with her heart and not her mind. She didn't have the strength of will to do what was best for everyone; she still didn't understand the inevitable end, the choice would be just too painful for her to make.

Thug settled into the shadow of the stairway up to Caroline's second floor apartment, pulling out a chrome Zippo lighter and a smuggled Cuban cigar he'd saved from the days back before Pedro had gone crazy. He snapped the Zippo to a flame, blazing the blunt rolled tobacco to a dime-sized cherry. It would be a long time before he could enjoy a smoke again.

The yellow cab pulled up to the entrance of the complex with reckless speed, eager to be on its next commission. The Glass handed over Todd's last twenty-dollar bill to the driver, wordlessly thanking him in the only way a cabbie cared about.

The Glass slinked his way towards the stairway to Caroline's shabby second floor apartment, smiling eagerly with his human face in anticipation. Human forms had their shortsighted flaws, but their faces had a certain expressive allure in the reflections of the eyes. In only a few short moments...

WHAM! Thug's hammy fist made meaty contact with Todd's right ear, knocking him face first from behind into the steps in front of him. Todd's front teeth and nose shattered with the impact with the sharp corner of the steps, instantly blossoming into a flower of blood.

The Glass responded with inhuman reflexes, summoning inhuman strength to bounce back up with the impact, pulling the small knife out all in one motion. The demon endured the pain silently, still hoping to dispatch his enemy quickly so he could have the element of surprise against his main target.

Todd's human mind, however intelligent, hindered The Glass from anticipating the strategy Mrs. Black had armed her enforcer with. Thug's left hand jammed the smoldering cherry of the cigar hard into Todd's left eye, dragging the ember across the bridge of his nose and spraying hot coals into his right eye, viciously and callously blinding him.

The Glass took advantage of Thug's raised hands to slice with wicked force across Thug's tubby midsection, leaving a long gas that would have eviscerated a thinner man. Not waiting for his opponent to react to the cut, The Glass used the momentum of the slash to re-cock his arm and go for an intestine rupturing stab before Thug could dance out of his way. Without his eyes, The Glass had no chance of dragging Thug down before he had a chance to warn his mistress and help her escape.

Before The Glass could extend the knife into Thug's belly, however, Thug charged forward oblivious to the danger and pinned Todd's knife hand to his side, slamming Todd's head backwards into the hard concrete steps once more. The maneuver would have knocked even the toughest prize-fighter unconscious, however a body possessed by a demon as powerful as The Glass, with a demon's force of will is almost as invulnerable as the undead. Even with a cracked skull, The Glass was able to fight his way back up to his feet as though it had hardly been damaged.

The Glass's iron grip on Todd's body gave it access to every drop of adrenaline that body could muster, making the two men equals in strength despite Thug's deceptively muscular bulk. It was all Thug could do to maintain his hand's grip on one another behind Todd's back as the demon within him struggled to free his knife hand and finish off Caroline's only protector.

Thug kept his head low, his legs spread wide to keep from being whipped off of his feet and thrown to the ground. Todd's head slammed down into Thug's, every muscle in his neck snapping together to pummel Thug with his bony skull.

Thug's head, however, was tucked down enough to avoid serious damage, the attack only managing to further batter what was left of Todd's face. The Glass shifted tactics, using its uncanny strength to push Todd's head sideways into Thug's, pushing it out of position and exposing Thug's vulnerable neck.

"Caroline!" Thug screamed, having waited until this moment to make a sound according to Mrs. Black's orders, her voice of command reaching past the grave to struggle with every nerve in Thug's bleeding stomach to still win out.

Before he could bellow again, The Glass sank his teeth deep into the leathery skin of Thug's neck pinching for his jugular. The Glass's strength wasn't enough to overcome the weak engineering of Todd's blunt human jaws, but it was only a matter of time before he gnawed his way through Thug's bull-neck and finished him off.

"Caroline!"

The cry penetrated the chintzy doors of the discount apartment complex, and Caroline recognized it immediately as one of her own.

"One of her own": that was how she thought about it now in this split second. The Black family was the only people who cared about her anymore. Her own parent's divorce, bitterness, and anger had long ago made talking to them much too painful, and she'd been an only child. For a while she'd shared that closeness with Jaleesa, but since she'd been fired that too had been lost.

These lightening quick thoughts were incongruous with Caroline's gritty lock-jawed reaction to them. She snatched up a three-holed brick she'd been using as a doorstop and rushed out towards her baby's scream, instinctively knowing Thug would never cry her name out for anything less than bloody murder. The Black blood that flowed through her veins required nothing less, her reaction as reflexive and undeniable as disgustedly snatching a leech from the leg of a child, or yanking a toddler back by its tiny hand from traipsing into the freeway.

She flung open her door and ran down the stairs to Thug's face contorted in pain: her child's face. Fear turned to anger and disgust as some sicko bit her poor baby like a wild animal, like a rabid dog begging by its very existence to be put down.

Caroline hopped down the stairs holding her body weight up on the rail with her left hand and letting gravity pull her down to the disgusting vermin that dared touch the flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone. She skipped the last four stairs, slipping her fingers into the holes in the brick with her right hand, angling the chipped corner of the red ceramic point-first into the human cockroach that would sully her grandson with it's filthy touch.

Both men stumbled away from the stairs as Caroline's full weight dropped behind the blow, knocking Thug onto his back. The Glass's knife clattered to the concrete, doubling Caroline's fury. How dare this blood-sucking tick try to deprive her of her child!

The Glass continued gnawing at Thug's throat, intent on drawing Caroline closer now that it sensed her presence. The foolish girl had come within arm's reach, a mistake she would pay for with her life once she realized whose body it was attacking Thug. The Glass battered at Thug with his left hand, hoping the added impact combined with the shock and blood loss would be enough to incapacitate Caroline's only protector, giving The Glass time to finish its task before the swelling in Todd's skull shut down his brain and rendered this body useless.

Blood spattered the ground, making Caroline desperate. How hurt was Thug? Had that maggot already bitten through his poor neck? She brought the brick down again, raising it high behind the attacker's head with both hands, using ever muscle in her arms, back, stomach and thighs to drive it deep into the fracture Thug had already caused.

This time Todd's head was too badly damaged for even The Glass to maintain its grip on Thug's throat, rocking hard to Caroline's left. Thug lay on the ground breathing heavily as the pain from his sliced belly finally screamed through the adrenaline into his brain. Caroline struck again, rolling Todd's body completely off of Thug with almost demonic strength of her own as her labored breathing drove her into the edges of the trance state. The smooth grooves of her now well trained mind slipping there almost accidentally, just as how it had all began, just how The Glass planned it.

Fish tails of rainbow static filled the edges of Caroline's vision as Todd's face turned up towards her, mangled by the multiple impacts and rendered unrecognizable by a mask of blood and swollen face meat. What Caroline could recognize were the telltale traces of green aura that revealed the true identity of Thug's assailant: The Glass.

Caroline drove the brick down again into Todd's unprotected cheekbone as her anger at what The Glass had stolen from her took hold.

THUNK

The Glass had stolen her old life.

THUNK

The Glass had stolen her old job.

THUNK

The Glass had...

The green aura drained from Todd's mangled head, this body no longer being any use to it anymore. The Glass had possessed it only as long as it had value and opportunity, just as the devil winds only spin where the warm flows towards the Earth's poles, the pure fatness of the planet and its big round belly turned under the wind that was too ethereal to move with the rest of the planet.

Caroline paused, for once recognizing Todd's slim attractive frame, the stubbly once-shaven hair on his arms, his fuzzy light blue aura...

NO! But it was too late. Already, black hole of Death had formed instantaneously, just as Death can appear with no warning in even the most tranquil of lives. Death sucked the pitiful remnant of Todd's soul out into oblivion forever before she even had a chance to save him.

For once, the old Caroline returned, and she lay holding both Dom's living body and Todd's dead on weeping until the police and ambulances arrived.