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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.

FUNK brs @FUNKbrs

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Posted by FUNKbrs - January 10th, 2008


Chapter 9

Raz sat in his dimly lit den with windows blocked with tinfoil and a layer of white Rustoleum. The only light in this tiny haven came from various computer monitors and an assortment of mysterious gray and silver boxes, each festooned with lights and wrapped in wire like lesions on a cancerous and devolved Christmas tree.

Raz didn't wake up, because that term implies sleep. Rather, he merely switched mental gears from the silence of predawn to the zombie energy of morning. All-night raid sessions with his clan were an almost daily occurrence in his addiction to various MMORPGs, and he had long since learned how to make sixteen hours of sleep last for three days straight.

Raz used the manic energy that sunrise brings to the insomniac to look through The Fool's Card's web page, searching for people he knew that could entertain him during the dry hours of the player vs. player hacker servers. Many slackers keep their IM programs up all day at work, so it normally was no problem to find someone to chat with. At the least, Todd was usually available during his office hours at the college and worse comes to worst, Straight Mike was almost constantly logged in.

Raz checked the list and was surprised to find Caroline's picture under the friends log. She'd always given him a nerdy-girl vibe so it wasn't too out of the ordinary to see she'd posted her information on the club's website.

Clicking her profile, Raz soon discovered just how big of a forum whore Caroline actually was. Xanga and Myspace were only the tip of the iceberg on the gratuitous list of accounts on her profile.

Raz clicked again; his eyes the only sign of life in his otherwise deadened and sleep deprived body. He chose the first link on the list, which was a site devoted to political debate called "polibicker.com." He snooped around and eventually came across Caroline's polibicker account with the sadly accurate alias FLWRGRL101.

Raz was just casually bored enough to pull up Caroline's recent post history. Even his jaded mind was shocked to immediately see the last post was a vulgar and immature display of exhibitionist lesbianism. Still, internet being serious business and all that, Raz decided to sign up a quick vagrant account just to post in Caroline's topic. After all, if Caroline could be so blasé about posting a rape story about his girlfriend, the least he could do was pop in and shake things up a bit.

Luckily the name "Raz" still hadn't been taken on the relatively small website. Posting under his newly formed spam account Raz posted the spammiest thing he type up quickly.

"OMFGTEHNOES!!!11! MAI GF R TEH GHEY!! FLWRGRL STOELS MAH GF!!

MODSPLS BAN, kthnxbai"
Underneath in more civilized language he posted in parentheses

"(sup Carl, long time no see)"

He opened the window in a fresh tab and waited in case Caroline came back to post. He really hadn't seen Caroline in a while, after all, and it would be nice to catch up with her.

Caroline, of course, was in the worst emotional state possible to deal with this.

What Caroline was prepared for, however, was another six tedious hours of waiting for more work orders. Heartbreak specials paid the bills, and funeral arrangements were steady work, but after a while there was something blindly mechanic about what should have been a very liberating profession. Technically flower arranging is a fine art, but as time wore on Caroline felt more and more like a short order cook instead of an emotional concierge.

As usual Caroline chalked up her last night of frenzied mania to nerves, just as she had the Exacto knife incident. She ignored the warnings of Mrs. Black just as she ignored that scar: ignored purely for the sake of convenience and lack of mental discipline. Such vices have been the downfall of common man for all of recorded time, and Caroline was no exception.

The mere act of clocking into work that morning overrode the lessons she had learned both through advice and misfortune. Luckily, the school of hard knocks can be relied on for a level of consistency no human instructor could ever match.

Caroline logged onto her polibicker account and once again went trolling through the sludge of adolescent linguistic failure as she searched for a spark of interesting philosophy. She checked her post history, selfishly preening in the mirror of Internet.

Fresh posts in her topic? Maybe today's reading might be some fun after all. Scrolling past a pathetic dribble of spam, Caroline found Raz's post but didn't quite register it's meaning. She read the post again looking for a funny way to reply when the two names in the post clicked insider her head. A poster named Raz, with only one post under his account, mentioning the name Carl? Isn't Carl what all her friends from The Fool's Card called her?

This wasn't just some alt account. No alt would know Raz was Berry's girlfriend. The land without consequences Caroline had foolishly allowed her mind to lack the discipline to reside in had come back to haunt her. Raz didn't seem mad, but Caroline didn't have the confidence to reply. Raz and Berry's relationship was in a sensitive situation. Did Raz really know she and Berry had been sleeping together? What if he thought it was a joke now, but if she replied, he'd give it more thought and realize what was happening?

Caroline used the Internet as a way of avoiding real situations, and yet here she was placed in a worse dilemma by the very thing she used to escape them. Caroline kept attempting to write something funny to diffuse the situation, but when she read it before posting it invariably had some fatal flaw that could potentially destroy her friend's relationship with each other and herself.

She agonized over the wording for fifteen minutes, typing and deleting numerous messages without sending them. Finally her indecision won out and she gave up entirely on the matter. What was the worst that could happen? Besides, Raz drank a lot, so there was a chance he wouldn't even remember about it later to mention it.

Caroline rose from her chair and slid her right forefinger over the monitor's power switch with practiced ease. She avoided even looking at the blank monitor directly as she threw her patterned cotton scrub coat from the winter over it to block the screen from view. She turned and walked towards the worktable determined to do some kind of productive work. She carefully filled the time by breaking and taping the stems of the bland arrangements awaiting pick-up, the breaks subtly changing the angles of the heady blooms. These new angles, created by seeming random destruction, were actually strategically placed to create expressive curves and lines much like seemingly random scars and laugh lines of a human face add intelligence and emotional content to an otherwise blank expression.

Two hours later she was surprised to find herself still fussing with the arrangements when the noon carrier arrived for pickup.

Caroline drove home that afternoon without ever turning on the radio, using the gritty pseudo-silence in her car's interior as a whetstone to sharpen her thoughts. Passivity and repetition such as what her radio had comfortably provided for so many years now made her feel paranoid and anxious, wary of the trap such distractions seemed to invariably hide. Perhaps it was time to pay Mrs. Black a visit?

It was with those thoughts in mind that Caroline drove past an uncharacteristic black Cadillac parked in the lot of her low-rent efficiency complex. Her preoccupied brain, however, gave it no notice as she walked up the stairs to her personal safe haven.

She'd even made it halfway through sautéing spinach Alfredo in accordance with Mrs. Black's instruction when a sloppy arrhythmic knock broke her concentration. Caroline turned down the heat, mentally calculating whether it was Berry or Todd seeking solace at her door.

The large shadow cast when she opened the door quickly disillusioned her of such simple notions. Thug stood in front of her with the stiffness and composure of an experienced alcoholic. The smell of whiskey enveloped him like a cloud, drawing Caroline's eyes to a brown paper bag peeking out from his suit coat pocket.

"Hello?" Caroline answered during Thug's delayed reaction time.
"Hey Carl..." Thug said slowly and carefully as he enunciated Caroline's curious nickname for the first time within earshot, "Mind if I have a seat? She couldn't explain it, and it's ripping me up..." Thug continued, finishing the statement with a bracer from the bottle in his pocket.

Considering the door was already open and that Thug was too drunk to be anything more than a charity case, Caroline let him inside to the couch and surreptitiously eased a round metal garbage can next to him with her foot.

"Explain what?" Caroline asked, genuinely confused.
"What I did wrong..." Thug stumbled, still not making any sense. Caroline looked at him questioningly until he continued.
" I mean... I was polite, right? I made sure you got the invitation and everything. She said it wouldn't matter, but she was the one that taught me not to give up hope..." Thug's wet eyes stared blankly ahead, no longer motivated to take in his surroundings.

"Who? Mrs. Black?" Caroline asked, guessing the obvious.
"Yeah. Her. Who else?" Thug rambled, "I tried to convince her, you know, that there was... was... A CHANCE... you know? I mean... people make choices. You can't just KNOW what someone is going to do. You can change people... She smiled, like it was cute, and stopped talking about it, but I had to try."
"A chance of what?" Caroline sniped, getting irritated by Thug's indirect nonsense.
"A chance that she could live. But now it's too late, and I believe her."

Thug was drunk and talking out of his head, but his thoughts ran in circles that were all orbiting the same issue as if he were just too drunk to spit it out. Caroline studied his face and was surprised to see his eyelashes filled to the edge with tears that never seemed to fall.
"She's gonna die, and I couldn't stop it..." he finally spat out.

Thug hungrily gulped from his glass bottle and then placed it back in his pocket.
"Mrs. Black said she was going to die?" Caroline said in shocked reflex. Mrs. Black was old, certainly, but she seemed to be in amazingly good health earlier.
"She's never wrong." Thug mumbled despairingly.
"But how is she doing to die?" Caroline asked, still trying to understand what could kill a woman nearly two hundred years old.
"She wouldn't tell me. She NEVER tells me. Dad had the same problem, back when he was First Boy. 'Go get burned in your own kitchen' she always says. Dad says she used the same thing on him. He never could figure out what it meant either."

Caroline had a lot of preconceptions of who Thug was from what Raz and Berry had told her, and nowhere in that stereotype was any room for the idea that Thug spent a lot of time helping an old lady. Thug seemed so monolithic on the surface; it was disarming to see him so vulnerable. He looked like the kind of guy that would eat his grandmother before he'd run an errand for her, and yet here he was, out of his mind with grief over a woman who wasn't even sick.

Caroline tried to think of some words of comfort and dredged up a memory of her now long dead grandmother.
"Nana Parker was hard to let go of too. We knew she was leaving two years before she passed, but it was still just as hard on us when she died."

Thug looked at her with a quizzical expression as if she'd said something totally irrelevant and unrelated.
"She always took care of us," Thug said, ignoring Caroline's point, "She delivered my grandfather. When he died, she was the one that put him in the coffin. She delivered my father. When he died, she put him in the coffin. She delivered me. What will happen when I die?" Thug spoke distantly with his eyes never meeting Caroline's gaze. "When Mike broke his leg, she set the bone. I've been shot twice, and each time, she was the one that pulled out the bullet." His eyes looked up, finally facing Caroline. "Did you know I've never even been inside a doctor's office?"

Caroline felt completely impotent. Here was a friend in a moment of weakness, and she had no way to comfort him, not even the capacity to understand his loss. This wasn't just existential depression for Thug, it was the loss of his entire belief system, like the death of the Pope would be to a Catholic, but without the anticipation of a new papal appointment and on a much more personal scale.

Thug raised the bottle to his lips, a thin dribble of whiskey spilling on his black silk tie. His knuckles turned white around the bottle as his head hung low between his shoulders. The smell of burning cheese crept its way into the room, yet another unwanted reminder of the unstoppable nature of harsh reality.

Caroline sprinted to the stove; relieved to see her Alfredo sauce was barely scorched. Thug continued to sit where she left him, oblivious to what she was doing.
"I've got some spinach Alfredo. You hungry?" Caroline said, trying to use food to comfort where words had failed. Thug looked up and shook his head, then groaned nauseously and rubbed his stomach, indicating his guts were far too fried to even consider eating.

Caroline scraped off of the supposedly stick-free Teflon cookware and winced at the thought of how much of that flaky plastic must have chipped out into her meal. Thug's empty bottle greeted her when she returned from her attempt at culinary salvation, gleaming evilly back up at him as he played with his keys. Caroline choked back an insincere offer for him to stay the night on her weather-beaten couch.

Thug rose unsteadily to his feet and took a moment to readjust his equilibrium through sheer drunken will.
"Are you okay?" Caroline asked.
"Hah. I've only had a pint. I gotta get out of here, though. 'S been nice seein' you."
Caroline walked him to the door, ignoring years of government propaganda and countless beer commercials.
"If there's anything I can do, let me know, ok?" Caroline said plastically.
"Like I 'd have a choice..." Thug responded, and then turned to walk down the concrete steps to his car.

Caroline watched him appraisingly as he tottered all the way to his car from the bedroom window. The black Cadillac backed up with surprising ease and precision from its parking place and roared into the evening, its driving lights cutting through the overcast sky.
Caroline finished her spinach in silence with no television or radio to distract her from her situation. There was a faint plink sound above her head, and her living room light burned out.

It is interesting to note that before any truly great darkness, there's a small but interesting hint of what might befall. The screw that resists just a little too much before it strips, the small chip in a windshield before it cracks, the whistling sound of a tornado before it hits, these are all barely noticeable in comparison to what they portend.

Before the great plague fell over Europe, there was an epidemic of sickly and dying rats, and before Pompeii there was a curious blizzard of gray ash. It's no dark and arcane secret, but rather, it's the same knowledge that gives a mechanic his ability to listen to an engine and know what's wrong with it, or for a doctor to take a patient's pulse and diagnose their symptoms.

So when Mrs. Black found a dead bird lying with it's neck broken outside one of the large windows of her cottage, it didn't take her long to look into her crystal ball and find Ms. Caroline Parker.


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 9th, 2008


Chapter 8

Mundanity is the oft-underestimated force that has the power to fling newborns into dumpsters, heroes of war into gutters, and the great gurus into mental asylums. The law of supply and demand is not a natural law, but rather a perversion of man that led to great power. Not fifty years ago, moving images on a screen or a pocket sized two-way radio were miraculous inventions. Such marvels as televisions and cell phones are now consigned to the smashing hands of adolescents, armed with baseball bats and cinder blocks. What was once sacrilege to our elders, through the power of mundanity, becomes commonplace and unremarkable. It is important to remember, however mundane, that these profanities are capable of hitting a kind of critical mass. Pregnant like an underground cavern full of natural gas, all it takes is unsuspecting spark from an exploratory lantern to destroy everything a people once took for granted.

Berry's thin, soft arms failed to react to the coaxings of Caroline's shrill alarm clock. Unlike Berry, however, Caroline's body was well attuned to Father time as its taskmaster. Caroline woke up wrapped in Berry's entangling limbs acting as an awkward fleshy straight jacket. Almost stubbornly, Berry refused to awaken and cooperate with Caroline's self-extrication. Finally freeing an arm, she turned off her alarm clock and peeled Berry off of her with the slow deliberation of a snake shedding its skin.

Groggy, but filled with a zombie-like motivation, Caroline's frumpy naked body trundled the short walk from the bedroom to the bathroom. Mechanically she showered, this time not interrupted by her houseguest during morning ablutions.

She returned to her room with her damp towel resting lackadaisically over her shoulder to find Berry still fiercely asleep despite the fact that the bubble of warmth they had shared the night before was long since broken. Caroline turned her back and dressed for work, dismayed to find her emotionally unresponsive in the last few precious minutes before Monday's call of labor.

The clock crept towards Caroline's departure time, and Berry remained soundly asleep. Caroline didn't have the heart or the time to wake her and eject her in the gray morning sun. Instead she wrote a note and locked the door behind her as she'd done a thousand times before and stumped her sleepy legs down the stairs towards her car. She ignored Raz's car parked nearby in the background as she pulled away towards Jaleesa and the Gulag.

Caroline unlocked the heavy oak door to Pugh's Flowers and turned on the fluorescent lights. Without losing a step, she walked into the tiny break-room and made a pot of the black amphetamines that passed for coffee. She returned to what was once called a front desk, clocked in and laid her head down for a brief respite until Jaleesa got in with breakfast from some scandalous relative's restaurant. As an afterthought, and without raising her head, she clocked Jaleesa in as well.

It was a full thirty minutes later when Jaleesa dragged herself into work. As a part of their now ancient pact, she brought steaming hot sausage biscuits and hash browns cooked in home-rendered bacon fat as propitiation for Caroline's time-clock manipulations.

Caroline, however, was blissfully asleep, and totally unaware of it being Monday.

Jaleesa plunked her crinkly plastic bag down roughly mere inches from Caroline's nose. She waited for the scent to do its sordid work and helped herself to the coffee Caroline had brewed. Silently she thanked God for its mud-like consistency and crack-like potency. She returned to find Caroline robotically eating the seared and macerated flesh of the world's most profane animal, her head still resting uncomfortably against the wooden desk.

Caroline's head slowly rose from her desk as her jaw acted like a jack to raise her neck above her shoulders by degrees. When her head finally reached an intellectual human posture, Caroline filled Jaleesa in on the day's work orders.

"We have three heartbreak specials, a small wedding with just lapels, corsages, and a bridal bouquet, and um..." She stuttered sleepily "a... uh... yeah, a centerpiece for some fancy dinner." In common language, this translated to "six hours of real work between us, and goofing off for the rest of the day."
"How many lapels and corsages?" Jaleesa asked as she tried to figure out her share of the workload.
"Three lapels, six corsages," Caroline replied, not even bothering to speak in complete sentences.
"I call wedding then," Jaleesa inserted, taking advantage of Caroline's groggy state to grab the easiest work, leaving her with the complex problem of the centerpiece arrangement.

Caroline rose in defeat to get herself her first cup of liquid motivation, trying to wash down the dry, flaky biscuit. Now fully awake, she even remembered a plastic fork and knife for her hash browns. She came back to find Jaleesa still standing and munching another sausage biscuit.

Caroline sat down and squirted bright red ketchup on her hash brown from its foil packet. She then methodically cut up the hash brown patty with her fork and knife.
"Using a fork and knife for your hash browns? What is this, dinner at the Ritz?" Jaleesa commented as she lifted her own hash brown in its wax paper wrapping to her mouth just as Caroline usually did. Caroline shrugged, not wasting the energy to think of a decent explanation for such a trivial thing. The spirit of Monday descended in earnest as they finished in silence. Jaleesa retreated to her worktable in the back to watch soap operas on a tiny television.

Plastic knife. Styrofoam cup. Sausage. Wax paper. On Mondays, even demons are just phoning it in.

"heartbreak-special" is a jargon term for the most common order in a floral shop: a dozen roses. The reason for its name is based upon the most common circumstances in which it is ordered. Any spousal offence committed by a man, whether it be infidelity or merely missing a family function can be properly absolved through the traditional gift of flowers. The number twelve in particular is significant, each flower representing one of the twelve apostles. The missing thirteenth flower, representing Jesus, is implied to be the recipient. This grants the recipient the power to forgive sins ceremonially.

What then, does this imply towards the florist? This common, yet still holy rite is enabled by a paid professional. A paid professional that engages in and facilitates holy sacrifices is by definition a priest, or in this case, a priestess. A florist is today considered a mundane profession; the ancient days of intricate cutting gardens has been replaced by greenhouse flower farms, days of searching for rare plants replaced by order forms and refrigerated shipments. Wrapped up in the technicalities, society has forgotten the true power that drives the industry.

Caroline was blissfully unaware of this as she placed the sprigs of Angel's Breath into the heartbreak specials, carefully inscribing the destination and message onto the cardboard card on each one and placing it near the door for the twelve o'clock courier. A single hour of the day standing for each apostle, the thirteenth Father God Himself, the maker of all time.

On the day of the moon, Caroline completed the three common ceremonies and then began the commissioned fifty-dollar centerpiece. This arrangement had the power to unite a family into a single cohesive social and cultural unit, not that Caroline noticed. She was too busy choosing a wide, expensive base to reduce the number of carnations and sunflowers she'd have to add to justify the fifty-dollar cap Mrs. Markie had set on the commission.

Caroline finished her work quickly, using a haphazard style to imply intimacy by informality. Finished with her duties she logged on to her favorite forum and interpreted the slew of linguistic symbols as she looked for an interesting thread. She didn't find one, however, so she decided to make one of her own.

The denizens of the Internet are strange creatures indeed, and Caroline was no exception to this rule. In common life, anal sex is considered reasonably perverse. On the Internet, such acts of sexuality are referred to as a matter of course. There the lurid and disturbing tales that Caroline has lived over the past few weeks are merely light reading. This may perhaps explain to the uninitiate the perverse and inherent joy she felt at explaining her escapades with Berry.

FLWRGRL101 posted:
Title: Me and Berry's V: a love story

Body: I just got back from a friend's house. And by house I mean pants. And by friend I mean vagina, or "the V" as her friends call her.

Berry's V is my BFF. We were frolicking through the cottony field of Hanes when we tripped and fell into each other and my nose gently bumped into V's clitoris. It is then that I realized I loved Berry's V. I whispered those words as Berry slapped me across the back of the head because I had her pubic hair stuck between my teeth, and when I talked I yanked some of it out.

That's when I raped her.

EDN.

The first three replies were the standard "Pics or it didn't happen" and "TLDR" posts. With nothing funny to reply to, Caroline let the thread slip deservingly into the abyss of other worthless topics. She stared listlessly at the screen until she finally dozed off with her head propped up by her left hand.

Plastic knife. Meat. Coffee cup. Computer screen. Eye, hand, foot.

The Glass peered gently into Caroline's undefended mind, pleased by her lack of urgency in following Mrs. Black's advice. Determining whether or not that was a result of its own intervention was of no consequence. The rough edges of this hole into the world were beginning to wear smooth with use, like an oft-tugged earring, and this opened certain new opportunities.

Caroline found herself sitting in a comfortable wooden rocking chair next to a card table covered with a purple silk embroidered cloth edged with beaded tassels. On top of the table was a shallow ebony bowl with straight sides, as if carved from a single round section of tree-trunk. Around this peculiar shallow bowl were eight impressions of the same symbol, equally spaced and symmetrical. The figure was made of three intersecting circles that formed a round-sided equilateral triangle in their center.

The space itself was small, with the walls either made of or covered with garish red silk curtains with large gold tassels. The curtains also, like the tablecloth, were embroidered with stylized birds made of straight lines and perfectly rounded curves. These curtains rustled and under an ornate tasseled edge the empty eyed face of the Glass appeared wearing a comfortable Asian cut suit and carrying a padded purple velvet string bag.

"Hello Caroline," said the Glass in greeting, seeing instant recognition on her face. Caroline stammered as she began to realize the importance of Glass's reappearance. How could this happen? She was at work! She was safe at work, right? Work is a normal place, where normal things happen. Nightmares were for her once lonely bed, or strange couches, not office chairs and scratched desktops.

"Hello," Caroline said in reply, still trying to collect herself.
"I brought you gift. Do you want to see?" the Glass offered smoothly in his now all too familiar sounding voice.
"Yes, thank you," Caroline lied. Politeness had served Thug well, and Mrs. Black seemed to be its queen. 'When in Rome,' after all. The Glass opened the bag to reveal a perfect crystal ball, large and heavy. The ball was completely perfect and flawless, like a bubble of empty space from a universe much denser than our own.

The Glass held the ball lightly, a gossamer soap bubble in his hands, but when he set it down it made a heavy knock against the ebony base that belied the Glass's adept handling. He carefully wiped off an imaginary smudge with a white cotton cloth from the string bag.
"This," he said, sitting in a chair that had not been there before he sat down, "is merely a tool. A device for analyzing reflections of one's self, nothing more. However, for a beginner it is a training wheel to keep the mind balanced and focused on the task at hand."
"What task? I don't even know why I'm here," Caroline replied, as she grew more nervous. Her ears pricked for the sound of buzzing wings.
"Why, it's the same task every person is faced with: living a gratifying and fulfilling lifestyle, and that is best facilitated by knowing the right decisions to make."

The Glass eased his eyeless face close into Caroline's

"Wisdom, Caroline. Wisdom comes from within. Thus, a device to reflect that wisdom back into itself so that it can be better viewed. A ball with a single focal point, forcing its reflections into the center where they can be properly rendered and interpreted. In the end, though, this ball is merely a reflective surface," The Glass rationalized.
"How can wisdom come from within?" Caroline asked dubiously. "I though wisdom was learned from life experience, or at least from the elderly."
The Glass tsked to himself, "Of course that's what they taught you. If you became too wise, you'd no longer be subservient to your teachers now, would you? That's why no one outside of yourself can be trusted to teach you."
"How can I teach myself what I don't already know?" Caroline asked again, confused.
"That, my dear, is what this crystal ball is for." The Glass answered, showing all of his perfect white teeth.

The Glass raised a hand gloved in white leather expansively. "The trick is to empty your mind of mundanity, of useless processes, of technicalities. Open your mind to the primary inspiration of your existence."
Caroline was beginning to get irritated with the Glass's word games. "And just how do you propose I do that, Mr. Glass?"
"Patience. First we must start with the obvious processes. Breathing, for example."

The Glass stood, and the lesson began.

"The trick is to empty yourself of breathing, to empty your lungs as a symbol of an empty mind. Merely exhale all the breath you have inside you, and stay empty until your body breathes in on its own, with no instruction from your mind," the Glass instructed.

Obediently curious, Caroline cooperated and looked at Glass for more instructions. The Glass waited for Caroline to begin the cycle of ever-deeper breathing before continuing.
"Now, open your eyes as you have already opened your lungs and try to look at the ball in all places equally with no particular focus. This technique is designed to tune your mind to its ultimate level of receptiveness."

For Caroline, the silence expanded to fill the tiny room when The Glass finished speaking. Her own breathing ceased to register in her ears as the baser elements of her mind relegated themselves back to running the engine of her body, freeing her entire mind to focus on the ball in front of her. Her eyes pinpointed on a single highlight on the upper left side of the sphere, causing all aspects of her view to dim in comparison. Over time she was finally receptive enough to see the static of her own nerve endings supercede the transient peculiarities of her surroundings.

Though her eyes were wide open, Caroline's internal panorama became a series of shifting and vibrant pinpoint colors. It was the ultimate expression of chaos, actively defying all patterns. It was at this point The Glass spoke again.
"This, Caroline, is the background noise. It's always been with you, ever since you first developed sight receptors in you mother's womb. These seemingly random colors are a complicated pattern encoded with every law of physics, the position, history, and future of every molecule in existence and all compressed into a space small enough for a human mind to comprehend."

Caroline struggled to balance her focus between The Glass's voice and maintaining the mental abstraction that allowed her to perceive the universal static. The room began to fade back into view, but Caroline steeled herself and focused on her breathing. The Glass paused while she struggled, neither helping nor distracting her. When her eyes ceased blinking and regained their focus on the chaos pattern, The Glass continued.
"Remember that your sense of the pattern can give you all the input you need. Sense my words through the pattern, not your ears. Your natural senses will only distract you."

Caroline struggled again to maintain focus, however, she noticed thin branching streams of green to her left but somehow behind her. At the end of every word, the streaks would disappear. As he spoke, she realized the lines bore a striking resemblance to an oscilloscope she saw as a kid on the Mr. Wizard show. Her own words came to her, not as sound, but as pink lines. Her lips didn't move as her voice answered.
"Wait, like this?"
"Very good." The Glass answered; just a bit shy of the way a master might speak when rewarding a dog with a treat.

It was then, that even through the pattern Caroline clearly saw a black bee enter the room. The lines of the curtain wrapped room became visible again as she turned to focus on it, and the bee faded ominously from view. She began her breathing once more and the bee reappeared and settled unnoticed on The Glass's right shoulder.

More bees followed, starkly recognizable only in the pattern and invisible to the naked eye. The bees, apparently invisible to The Glass, covered the demon. Then black bold-faced text appeared concretely over the pattern, unmistakably foreign yet somewhat familiar, like a porcelain teapot.

"You were supposed to open the bag." The words stated flatly, like text on the back of a traffic ticket. Caroline tried forming her own text and failed as she lost all focus on the pattern. She looked around and saw she was still in the curtained room. The Glass nodded encouragingly, apparently oblivious to what Caroline was experiencing.

Caroline recaptured the pattern more easily this time and broadcast her pink lines.
"What bag?"
The Glass apparently heard her this time.
"Stay focused!" he said with a note of irritation, oblivious to the other side of the conversation. The black text appeared again. "Housecleaning..." it read.

The black bees Caroline had perceived surrounded The Glass as he noticed them for the first time, immediately fighting back violently. They overwhelmed him quickly with practiced ease and carried him back through the curtain from which he came.

Caroline was shocked, and lost focus instantly only to see Mrs. Black standing in an empty concrete room, like some sort of third world prison. The gypsy-like furnishings had disappeared, and Mrs. Black pursed her lips reproachfully.

"The plastic bag. With the envelope. That was where I put the instructions on how to use the oil. Now it's too late, and there's nothing I can do. Up to now there was still a chance. Poor Thug will be heartbroken." Mrs. Black started sternly, but ended wistfully.
"Heartbroken over what?" Caroline asked.
"It doesn't matter." Mrs. Black replied bluntly, "Jaleesa's coming to wake you up soon. Make sure and remember to read the letter when you get home."

Jaleesa jerked forward on Caroline's left hand and snorted gleefully as Caroline's still sleeping face made rough contact with the clacking keyboard in front of her. Caroline sputtered in shock, spurring Jaleesa to gales of laughter.
"You slept through lunch!" Jaleesa explained after her laughter subsided. Caroline looked groggily at the computer clock and was surprised to see it read 5:00 PM so soon.
"C'mon slow-ass!" Jaleesa continued as she punched out on Caroline's computer, "They're not going to pay you overtime to sleep!"

Raz's car was still in the parking lot unmoved as Caroline pulled in, meaning Berry was still at the house. Caroline climbed the stairs, happy to know Berry was there, but concerned that she would still be there as if she had no place to go. As she opened the door, Berry rose from the computer to meet her with a cheap bottle of Boone's Farm fruit flavored malt liquor in hand. Berry spread her arms high and wide with her elbows slightly inverting to hug Caroline.
"Hey Carl," she said, drunkenly stroking Caroline's back.
"I'm surprised you're still here. I figured you would have gotten Raz's car back and locked up while I was at work." Caroline said frumpily.
"Fuck him." Berry replied shortly as she pulled back.

Berry and Caroline separated and Caroline immediately began looking for the brown bag Mrs. Black had given her. Shockingly it sat in the garbage of all places.
"Berry," Caroline asked as she tried to hide her pique. "Why did you throw away this bag? It was from Mrs. Black."
"I tried that oil," Berry explained haughtily. "It smelled like kitchen grease, no scent at all. So I threw that knock-off crap out."
"Berry!" Caroline shouted, no longer capable of hiding her irritation. "That was supposed to be an anointing for the house!"
"You don't have to talk to me like that..." Berry drawled, seemingly hurt by Caroline's outburst.

Caroline saw other bottles laying around and realized Berry was completely wasted. Raz and Berry had been fighting, hadn't they? Maybe Berry had come for a place to escape, and here she was yelling at her.

"I'm sorry." Caroline said softly, but it was too late.
"No, I understand." Berry slurred, "'I've got some things I need to care of anyway..."

Berry kissed Caroline gently on the cheek and left to drunkenly drive Raz's car to God-knows-where.

Caroline pulled the bottle of oil and plastic-wrapped letter out of the brown paper bag, and then threw the ketchup and garbage stained thing away. She opened the plastic bag encapsulating the letter pleasantly surprised by Mrs. Black's forethought.

:

"Dear Caroline:

Hopefully if you're reading this you've opened this letter promptly. However, should you be reading this on a Monday afternoon, please know that Thug has always been an obedient grandson, and he has always known the line between the guilty and the innocent. Hope, however, can do strange and evil things to a man's heart."

"Now for the practical instructions. Use this oil on all entry and exit points to your home AND work, and any other place you may be for an extended period. Anoint all doors, windows, and air vents three times with this oil, making sure to leave a small amount of salt at each site. This is designed to prevent demons from entering the sanctity of you home, which is considered your altar. The three applications represent the trinity and is a number of unshakable strength. "

"Also, continue to avoid eating meat, or being exposed to naked television or computer screens. Your sensitivity to these objects grows with every exposure, so it will take fewer and fewer sacraments to induce scrying. If you're not careful, it may begin to happen with none at all."

"Best wishes
Mrs. Lillith Black"

The first paragraph merely confused her, but the last was disturbing. Caroline had never considered the option that her mind was somehow being broken in by The Glass, like some sort of old shoe with the heel beaten down like a slipper. How much damage had already been done to her mind? Was she slowly going insane?

Caroline spent the next three hours anointing every door, window, air vent, faucet, and drain, hoping to somehow undo the damage by making up for her past apathy with last minute industry.

Now tired and frazzled, she ate a garlic-laden vegetarian meal ravenously from having slept through lunch. She was now no longer able to use the computer or even watch television without paranoia. She found herself lying in bed and staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep, dreading what she would find once she finally did.


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 9th, 2008


Chapter 7

Sunday, the day that commemorates the giant burning cloud of gas that sustains the Earth and every living thing on it. It is the first day of the week, the cold reality that remains after the hellish fires of Saturday have been quenched by the cold, liquid light of the midnight moon. Sunday is the day of purity, with all the complexities of the past week left behind, leaving only what is fresh and new. A day for new beginnings, for taking stock of fresh opportunities, and ultimately, Sunday is the day on which the time for corrections has passed, and only judgment remains.

Caroline dragged a disconsolate spoon though her soggy cornflakes after, apparently, passing out early and waking up at the ungodly weekend hour of 7:51 AM. Unable to go back to sleep or wake Todd, here she sat, attempting to outstare a half empty bowl of eyeless breakfast cereal.

Needless to say, the cereal was winning.

A warm, gentle creak, however, broke her melancholia as Todd ghosted his sleepy way into the room, wearing a frayed cotton quilt.
"Hey Carl," he mumbled, as he grabbed a spoon from the dish drainer and helped himself to the milk-logged remains of her unwanted meal. Caroline thought about keeping her dream to herself, and then second-guessed.
"I had a nightmare again last night. There was this weird creature that kept telling me ... things, and then it turned into a giant zit and exploded. It kept warning me about the woman from this," she shook some spilled milk off of the tract, "church. I'm invited to go today, but now I don't know if it's such a good idea."
"Why not? It's just an old church," Todd reasoned, "Besides, it sounds relaxing. You always have weird dreams. Don't worry about it," he continued dismissively.
"I guess you're right..." Caroline equivocated.
"Of course I'm right." Todd asserted, "Me and my grandma used to make grave rubbings on the tombstones in old churchyards all the time. The worst an old lady did was give me a really nasty burnt coconut macaroon."

Caroline considered this. She'd had pleasant dream about Mrs. Black up to this point. Glass claimed to be an angel, but Caroline was never more than customarily religious. Old ladies with tea and cookies, though, she believed in ferverently. A childhood of visiting her grandmother couldn't be broken by a strange dream and a couple of hardly reputable web pages that were probably made up by Blair Witch fanatics. She was surprised none of the stories called her "the black witch" for crying out loud.

Caroline's spine stiffened, her mind stimulated by early morning conversation.
"You know, I met you by going somewhere by impulse. My life does need more gardens and old ladies now, not more dirty techno clubs. I've decided to go." Caroline concluded.
"Good for you," asserted Todd, "I've gotta teach my three hour Sunday class today, though. Mind if I use your shower?"

Todd's mind had more in common with Berry's than perhaps Caroline was willing to believe in.

Caroline dropped Todd off at the university and pulled away, fumbling for her hastily printed directions to 646 Cottage Church Lane. Ten minutes into her drive, she realized her deceptively simple directions failed to mention that although Cottage Church Lane did in fact completely bisect the town, it did so by dead ending into every major thoroughfare and continued a block to the right of where it ended. Consequently, she spent the next thirty minutes a course that should have only taken fifteen.

Cottage Church Lane, with all its twisting narrow ways, eventually straightened out as it entered the historic district. The wrought iron fence of a gated community became recognizable from her dream, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in an oxymoronic way.

624...626...628...

Caroline counted down the house numbers as she drove, waiting for the iron fence to break into hedges and roses, or, better yet, not. 632...634...636... only ten large historic homes between her and her destination. The tiny car buzzed slowly down the lane as Caroline rubber necked the house numbers.

644...650...652...

Caroline swore, and continued down the lane looking for a safe place to turn around. 664...646...668... and there, standing under the arch of roses between the gap in the hedge, was Thug, sweating into the collar of his suit.

"Good morning Ms. Parker," Thug said nervously, wiping his forehead with an over starched ornamental handkerchief. "Mrs. Black asked me to wait here, in case you got confused by the street numbers."
"So I guess she's in the front room waiting for me with some hot tea then?" Caroline replied jokingly.
"She said you'd know that..." Thug replied, staring at the stepping stone path that led to the small church. Thug took off his shades, and looked at Caroline with stunningly blue eyes that contrasted his dark features.
"I just want you to know...I never hurt anybody that didn't deserve it..." he said in a voice barely above a whisper, and then turned to walk back into his aging Cadillac.

Caroline was left alone, standing in the rose arch absorbing Mrs. Black's magnificent garden. The flowers here were cartoonishly large, with rose bushes bigger than inner city trees. Roses of every color sprouted from stalks that had been carefully braided as saplings, now as thick as Caroline's ankle. Caroline followed a smaller stepping stone path that branched off the walkway to the small church, inspecting the impressive blooms there with a professional eye. When she reached out to touch them, however, fat black bees raised a buzzing chorus that matched the volume of the chirping birds in the background. Taking this as an omen, Caroline reluctantly continued into the open door of the church.

"That's okay, dearie, take your time. I have all evening if need be," chimed Mrs. Black, speaking to Caroline for the first time with human lips. She looked exactly as she had in the dream, thin, but not emaciated, and dressed in an almost school-marmish fashion, as if the small church were some kind of one room schoolhouse from earlier in America's history.

"So...you're Mrs. Black?" said Caroline, her voice rising slightly at the end in doubt.
"Of course I am, sweetie, I've been Mrs. Black for longer than that street outside has been paved. When you get the time, I'll show you my vegetable garden and beehives out back." Mrs. Black responded soothingly.
"You raised those bees?" asked Caroline, still only reacting to her current surreality.
"Hah, girl, this is going to take forever if you keep questioning things. Here, have a seat and a cup of tea, and I'll explain everything." Mrs. Black said with finality.

Caroline sat and sipped her tea with honey and cream, better than any Starbucks she'd ever tasted. Mrs. Black began to explain: "Your dreams-everything that's been happening to you-are all caused by you accidentally becoming an initiate. As time progresses, the world gets more and more wicked, just as John the Revelator predicted. He had the dreams too, you know." Mrs. Black said with a wink. "Anyways, getting to the point, you happened to have brought together the seven sacraments of scrying, and of course, the inevitable happened."
"Seven sacraments? I've never even studied magic! I'm agnostic!" Caroline announced, suddenly wishing this old woman would show some sign of senility, give her some reason to discount these words.
"Oh, I imagine the first scryer found it all on accident too. However, the fact remains that you ARE having prophetic dreams. How do you think I found you? How do you think I know your name, Ms. Caroline Parker, employee of Pugh's Flowers and friend of Jaleesa Jones? How about the scar on your left hand, or the scab on your stomach? You didn't think those came from somnambulism, did you?"
Caroline was dumbstruck. If Mrs. Black wasn't the real deal, then she was at least having someone spy on her. Considering the main suspect for that would be Thug, she was at least powerful enough to hold a strip club bouncer in thrall.

"So, if this is all true, then why do you use Thug?" Caroline inquired pointedly.
"I don't 'use' Thug, dearie. He's a good boy, and he does what his Grannie Black says. I'm every bit as old as you think I am, and I try to keep an eye on the children. There may be ten generations between us, but he's still my grandson." Mrs. Black paused a moment, letting this new revelation sink in. "Why do you think he's so nervous about you? He knows that to some extent you are what I am, and he's seen what I do to the girls he brings here. Sometimes they're in awful shape, but I straighten them out like a wrinkled shirt in a steam press."

"Enough about my family, though. Let's get down to brass tacks." Mrs. Black's face took a serious expression as she steepled her fingers over her steaming teacup. "Somehow, you combined a knife, a dish of some sort, blood, a scrying glass, and a human subject with both eyes, hands, and feet intact, namely you. When that happened, you opened a window into the spirit world, or dream world, and a demon found you through it. From then on, that demon has been using you to keep that window open." Mrs. Black paused in her lecture, waiting to see if Caroline understood.
"So let me get this straight," Caroline interjected into the space left for her by Mrs. Black's Socratic speech, "You mean Glass, don't you?"
"Is that what he told you to call him? I guess it's pretty accurate. He has other names, of course, being a demon." Mrs. Black provided.
"How am I possessed by a demon, though?" asked Caroline, visions of The Exorcist floating through her head.
"Well, demon possession isn't as dramatic as they make it out to be on television. For example, there are the common demons that are summoned by potions. So common, in fact, you know them by other names already. Alcohol is a perfect example. Alcoholism is merely the demon Alcohol trying to maintain the same kind of window the Glass demon has found in you. Ever notice certain neighborhoods are always infested with drugs? Those are places where a certain demon is extremely powerful, and can attract hosts at will. After all, what is a bar if not a type of altar, and it's tender a type of priest?" Mrs. Black spoke quickly and clearly, trying to pack as much into Caroline's malleable mind as she could.
"Is this demon in me now? Is that why I'm here?" Caroline asked, her situation sinking in.
"Hah, no, this particular demon cannot possess the body without explicit permission. He's physically very weak. Even in the dream world, I'm more powerful than him." To emphasize her point, Mrs. Black placed a small drop of honey on her fingernail and allowed one of her tame black bees to drink from it contentedly in a casual kind of way, like throwing a meat scrap to a dog.

"As to how the convocation of sacraments happened, you probably didn't know a television screen is a type of scrying glass." As she spoke, Mrs. Black stroked the oversized bee affectionately with her free right hand, "All you would have had to do was fall asleep watching television and eating undercooked bloody meat to make it happen, really. People forget television is a form of witchcraft these days. You just got unlucky that the Glass found you."
"So...the changes in me... That's the Glass?" Caroline wondered.
"If you mean the lesbian blood sex with Berry, then yes." Mrs. Black supplied in the kind of cut and dried way only a midwife can discuss sex with.

Mrs. Black sipped her tea graciously off of the table that Caroline now realized was emblazoned with a cross. Tea as a communion for a temperance minded woman from the 1800's, and there, in front of her, was a cup from which she had partaken in it.

"Go ahead and have your cookie, dear." Mrs. Black said, "It's only a sugar cookie, although, yes, this is technically a communion. 'As oft as ye do it' said the good Lord, not just whenever they serve at the church, after all." Caroline ate her cookie, which was deliciously buttery, and was definitely not a nasty burnt coconut macaroon.

"Now, however, is the day of your first lesson," lectured Mrs. Black.
"First lesson? I thought this was a church," interjected Caroline.
"Oh, it WAS a church, and IS, for that matter. However, like it or not, you're known to world of demons now, and it's not safe to let you leave without you knowing how to protect yourself. Come to my garden, and I'll explain the basics." Mrs. Black said as she placed her empty cup with it's smattering of tealeaves unnoticed on the bottom.

Mrs. Black strolled through her backyard vegetable garden with the poise of God the Father strolling with Adam in the Garden of Eden.
"Let's start with the nature of life and death; why you, and the Glass, and the rest of the world exist." In true pedagogical fashion, Mrs. Black walked slowly as she talked, her hands clasped loosely behind her back. "We, human beings, exist much like these roses; sustained by our creator for His aesthetic sense, to be cut at His choosing, the world being his cutting garden." Caroline followed slight behind Mrs. Black, keeping the elderly woman's left shoulder in clear view. "Angels are like the bees, who freely traverse to and from God's garden which is the world of the living, and back out the other side fertilizing the flowers of this garden and other gardens. Demons like the Glass are like wasps, or ants, free like the angels, but existing off only those things they can plunder from the various gardens and dung heaps. This is of course an oversimplification, but we've covered a lot for your first day." Mrs. Black said with a tone of finality.

Mrs. Black stopped, and turned to look Caroline directly in the eye.
"Now for your practical advice. Throw out all your knives, especially new ones. Cover any shiny object with a cloth, especially televisions. No more meat, cooked or otherwise." Mrs. Black said sternly, shaking a finger, "You can't live without dishes, we all have to eat, but keep them all put away if possible. You have to fight this thing on its own ground, so I've made you an anointing of salt and rose oil to put around the windows and doorframes of your apartment to de-consecrate your home as an altar to the demon."
"Anything else?" Caroline asked, her mind boggled by this new wave of actionable information.
"Oh, there's always something else..." Mrs. Black said, leading Caroline around the path to the rose arch at the gap in the hedge. She reached into her oversized beaten leather purse, and pulled out a brown paper bag, "In this bag is the anointing oil and instructions on how to use it. Just remember you only know the bare minimum right now. You won't be safe until you're an adept due to your exposure. If I was able to find your true name and the names of your friends, just imagine what a malicious demon might do now that you've stopped cooperating."

With that, Mrs. Black hugged Caroline, kissed her on the neck chastely, and sent her on her way.

Caroline felt as if every stitch of logic had just been beaten from her brains with a lacy tea cozy. Mrs. Black wasn't just an old lady, or even some closeted wiccan, but a true mystic gifted with shamanistic wisdom that allowed her to command even the most basic aspects of nature such as horticulture and human longevity. Even worse, she had called Caroline an initiate. She wasn't human anymore; she was something like what Mrs. Black was in the first stages of its infancy.

The oil stained brown paper bag might as well of contained a dead body for the weight it carried in Caroline's mind as she made the series of difficult left turns to return to her apartment. It was barely noon when she finally pulled into the lot below her building. She managed to carry it all the way into the main room of her efficiency before daring to open the bag's arcane contents. To her surprise, all it contained was a zip lock baggie with an envelope addressed to "Mrs. Parker" and an ornamental looking Bath and Body Works style bottle of oil. The oil had floating inside of it three of Mrs. Black's curiously braided-stem roses, somehow in full and vibrant bloom despite the bottle's comparatively small spout. Below this, a sediment of large crystal sea salt rested on the bottom of the bottle.

A knock on the door broke Caroline's inspection of Mrs. Black's gift. Cracking the door to see who it was, Berry smiled brilliantly at her from the other side. Caroline released the chain on the door and allowed Berry to enter carrying a small but tightly packed bag. Before saying hello, Berry pulled out a magnum of chilled wine. Face still beaming, she pulled out take-out steak for two from a western-style steak house nearby.

"Hey Carl," Berry said demurely, "I brought you something," holding her treasures high for Caroline to inspect. Caroline had been so preoccupied with her meeting she had forgotten all about lunch, let alone Berry's overweening curiosity for the arcane.
"Effin' excellent!" Caroline exclaimed hungrily, tearing into the bloody rare steak Berry presented. Berry wasted no time opening the bottle of sweet red wine and decanting it into a matching set of wine glasses, also cunningly packed into the small black bag.

"So, how was your visit?" Berry asked, already prying into Caroline's escapade with Mrs. Black.
"It was crazy, is what it was. Thug was there. Did you know Mrs. Black is Thug's grandmother?" Caroline informed Berry.
"Really?" Berry responded dramatically, ready for more juicy gossip, "You know he and Mike are cousins. That means she's Mike's grandmother too!" Berry deduced. Caroline took another bite from her bloody meal, and sipped from Berry's shining glass, settling into another night of girlish bonding.

In Caroline's dream, she sat in a giant banquet hall, the table stretching as far as her bleary eyes could see. Lying before her was a plate covered in a bright red sauce. To its left, a knife. To its right, a shining goblet of crystal clear water, its delicate stem seeming to dribble from its truncated sphere of reflective fluid.

It was only then Caroline was made aware of what sat before her: the sacraments Mrs. Black had warned her about. Involuntarily, her left hand reached out towards the knife. Incredulously, her traitorous eye forced her to watch as her hand picked up the knife gingerly and dragged its sterling blade through the plate of blood, rising to drip the crimson fluid into the goblet, the blade's point held down ominously.

The solitary droplet of blood maintained most of its viscous integrity as only its outer extremities dissolved, making a pattern akin to the design of a cat's eye marble in the once unpolluted water. The blot lost color and darkened as it spread within the glass, turning the water a dark but partially translucent mist gray.

Caroline tried to move, to somehow get away from what was happening to her, but her left foot turned against her and wrapped her soft bare foot hard against the sharp edges of square chair leg. Her left hand grabbed her chin, forcing her to watch as the gray mist inside the once pristine water coalesced again into the animated shape of a flying bee. As the bee became more concrete, the mist in the background cleared to reveal a tightly knit spider's web, some victims already entrapped.

The bee held in place in the center of the goblet as the web approached unseen from behind. Then the bee shrank in perspective as the vision scope of the glass increased, revealing the web wasn't anchored to any stationary object, but was held in place by six huge wasps flying in unison formation. Suddenly, all six wasps converged turning the web into an inescapable net. The whole mass, wasps, bee-victim, and web fell to the bottom of the glass in a frenzy of stinging rage. The bee swelled in perspective again, the glass violently depicting its death throes. As the bee died, so did the image, snapping back to its necrotic gray state.

Caroline awoke to find Berry still lying against her breast, but despite their close contact, she still felt desperately, desperately alone.


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 9th, 2008


Chapter 6

Warm surgical steel caressed Berry's neck and the supple underside of her chin as she snuggled gently against the blunt side of Caroline's Farberware fillet knife. Even in the dull illumination of sleeping electronics, the knife's finish shot dim, dazzling lines of reflected light towards the ceiling. Caroline lay on the bed next to her; wearing silk pajamas Berry didn't remember her having on the night before. The consciousness of texture, however, led towards half sleeping luxuriation, which quickly grew boring as Caroline seemed too dead asleep to notice her sleeping partner's early morning stirrings. Berry's ascension into the waking world struggled against her natural passivity like a juggernaught, bringing her slowly and unwillingly towards Saturday morning wakefulness.

Berry inched her way out of Caroline's bed, looking forward to the solitude and security of having a sleeping lover in the next room. After all, the soft tantalizing touch from behind caressing the back of the neck or the scented recess of the ear didn't happen on its own. Such seduction required a level of orchestration that could only be achieved by artful separation.

Intimacy is a direct result of comprehensive knowledge, and nothing gave Berry that thrill quite like examining the personal effects of her lovers. The color of a curtain, whether there were pictures or posters, the state of the furniture, all these criterion educated her to the passions and artistries of her intimate companions. Berry surveyed the efficiency's main room, picking up and examining trifles that sparked her curiosity, and then carefully placing them back in the positions she'd found them in.

The knife, however, slept gently in her sleeve.

What was this? Thug's invitation! Berry picked up the still remarkably pristine tract. The names "Mrs. Black" and "1st Holiness Pentecostal Church" reminded her of something she'd read in an occult sampler somewhere, or possibly a book of saints. Luckily, there lounging in its own dark crystalline opulence, was Caroline's sleeping computer. Berry slid into the wheeled, teacup-like chair and fell into the arcane sea of endless information.

Surprisingly, there was a Wikipedia article on Mrs. Black, and after a quick scan, Berry saw the same picture as the one on Caroline's invitation in the body. She'd heard the story before somewhere but she'd had no idea that it was in town. Considering the nature and history of the place it was no wonder it didn't attract the same kind of tourism most locations with that nature of story did.

Standing to stretch her burning tendons in the early morning hours, Berry realized the knife was still carefully tucked in her sleeve. Her proprietary senses tingled, and she ceremoniously rinsed it and respectfully placed it back in its wooden block. Sliding back into her pattern of peeping investigation she opened the refrigerator door, revealing cheap beer, a large pot of beans, assorted odd vegetables, including a half eaten head of cabbage. A candy or nothing girl herself, the most appetizing looking thing she found was a sweet potato, and even that was a stretch. Behind a bloody tub of chicken livers she found a carton of pineapple juice, easily moochable. Helping herself to a full day's supply of vitamin C, she settled back down behind the computer to finish reading.

Caroline awoke to the sound of a brief burst of running water, followed by a few clunks and random shufflings from Berry's explorations. Yawning and stretching her way to her feet, she wandered into the main room where she discovered Berry perusing the Internet. Disheveled bits of hair that had broken from Berry's nighttime pigtails formed a dark halo around her head in the strengthening morning light.

In an uninhibited moment, Caroline placed her right hand gently on Berry's lean, defined neck, then snuggled the bridge of her nose in the warm recess under Berry's jaw. Berry turned in appreciation, placing her left hand on Caroline's tousled head and casually continued her search for information on Mrs. Black.

"Say, that's the picture on the tract, isn't it?" Caroline inquired.
"Uh-huh. The name seemed familiar when I thought of it this morning, so I decided to have a look around. Mrs. Black is apparently quite remarkable" Berry explained.
"Did I tell you about my dream last night?" interjected Caroline.
"No...." Berry hesitated. She knew how bad Caroline's dreams could be. That was part of the danger that made Berry so enchanted with her. Berry knew Caroline was dangerous and unstable, but she didn't act dangerous and unstable. It was almost as if Caroline were the perfect liar. Taking a deep breath, Caroline explained:
"The dream was short, maybe the shortest one. The woman in that," she pointed to the screen, " picture was in my dream, telling me my dreams were dangerous, that I wasn't safe there, or something."
"So, she can really do that?" Berry asked, incredulous. After all, these sorts of witch stories were all over, but almost none of them were actually true, and those that were were still never current.
"Either I'm crazy, or she did. I saw her in another dream before, in the same country church, waving at me. If there's something you know about her, I need to know it too before maybe it's too late," Caroline concluded, looking worried.

Berry clicked on the largest, most believable article she'd found yet. Apparently there were a lot of people who hated Mrs. Black over the years; there were conflicting stories about things she had done. Some stories said she stole all the children from a church nursery, cooked them in some secret recipe, and made an elixir that kept her alive eternally. Others said she'd poisoned a communion with syphilis. Still others said she'd never done anything wrong, and she was just a poor old woman who'd outlived all her friends and lost her birth certificate. The most complete article, by a student of religious sociology in Berkeley named Allison Rice, said something even more outlandish than that.

According to Rice, Mrs. Black was born in 1809 to Phillip Bones and Goodie Franklin Bones in her parents home. Phillip Bones was flunked out of seminary correspondence school for holding "primitive fundamentalist beliefs." Goodie Bones was a woman; apparently no record other than her genealogy remained from that more sexist time. They named their only child Lillith Ivory Bones, after her maternal great-grandmother

Phillip Bones became a cobbler, but his passion for the faith led him to become deacon of 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church. According to Rice's research, Mrs. Black was saved and baptized at the tender age of 3 years old, remarkably young even at that time, on Easter Sunday in 1812. From that time forward, church records indicated she never missed a single service, not even during her seven later pregnancies.

At the age of 16, Lillith Ivory Bones married Conscientious Adam Black, normally referred to as "Mr. C. Adam Black" in records. Two years later, Mrs. Black gave birth to Stalwart Marcus Black, and had six other children over the next fourteen years, two of which, Patience Alice Black and Fortitude Richard Black died of dysentery in 1835, survived by their older brother Marcus, and two younger siblings Precision Adam Black and Chastity Angelina Black. Afterward, two younger children were born, Purity Gertrude Black and Temperance Mary Black.

Rice's in depth biography continued, mentioning the death of Mrs. Black's husband by being kicked to death by a mule in 1852, and the appointment of Mrs. Black that same year as church midwife.

At this point, Rice's biography became more interesting.

In 1854, Mrs. Black revived a child declared dead by a licensed doctor after a drowning incident. In 1855, Mrs. Black cured a case of polio using an unknown tea and a salve containing, reportedly, an extraction of poison ivy. In 1857, she was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. During the trial, the head prosecutor was diagnosed with smallpox. After a visit from Mrs. Black, the prosecutor was cured and all charges were dropped. In 1858, Mrs. Black performed an amputation of a gangrenous toe, which reportedly grew back over three months with another mysterious ointment. In 1860, Mrs. Black "gave a stern talking to" to a young mentally challenged boy who was disturbing a sermon. Afterward, the child was reported as having "above average intelligence" in studies.

The juiciest part, however, was not initiated by Mrs. Black at all. In 1861, the bodies of three young black men were found under a compost heap on the property of one Reverend Victor Belforte, Pastor of 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church. The bodies had been beaten, sodomized, and eventually lynched.

There was never any investigation or charges filed. Rev. Belforte wasn't even excommunicated. According to Rice and some of the more believable accounts, several motions were filed in the church minutes by Mrs. Black herself demanding investigation by the church internally of Rev. Belforte, all of which were voted down unanimously. Rice provided a copy of a letter to the editor of The Tribune by a Mrs. C. Adam Black, demanding investigation of Belforte. In response, the editor defended Belforte by claiming the evidence was as setup by the "true sodomites" who supposedly chose Belforte because of his vehement stance against homosexuality.

What made this case noteworthy in that time period, according to Rice, was the obvious homosexuality, and not the act of racist lynching, which was common. Basically, there was no investigation because no one cared what happened to three blacks, even if it was the heinous act of violent anal rape and murder. To compound the issue, all three bodies were the same level of decomposition, insinuating that the crime was committed by an organized group. Common knowledge was that lynch mobs were organized by white churches, and in this case 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church.

Publicly, Mrs. Black did nothing mysterious. However, from the date of the discovery, not a single female member of 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church became pregnant, at a time when child mortality was a whopping 50%. None of Mrs. Black's five living children had been members of the church for two years previous to the incident, for unknown reasons. For two years, not a single pregnancy occurred among the thriving congregation of young, active members.

Then Rice threw the icing on the cake.

In 1863, Mary Folkshire, a pregnant woman visiting from Carolina and relative of a member of the congregation, attended Sunday service. Within thirty minutes, Mary had a violent miscarriage.

Berry stopped to read that line again, and tried to imagine what a "violent miscarriage" must look like. Caroline merely shuddered.

After that incident, a large portion of the congregation split and joined another nearby Pentecostal church. Due to the now infamous story of Mary Folkshire, church records revealed no new members. 1st Holiness Pentecostal slowly dwindled down over the years with no incidents of note until 1923, when the last surviving member other than Mrs. Black died of congestive heart failure. Mrs. Black had been living off a church pension since she was appointed midwife in 1852, and the church assets were rolled over into a care-taking fund. Upon Rice's investigation, it was discovered that Mrs. Black still held the deed on the church, and furthermore Mrs. Black was never issued a death certificate. No attempt has ever been made to have Mrs. Black declared legally dead due to the political cumbersomeness of the church's history.

Caroline did some quick mental math.
"Wait... that means Mrs. Black is almost 200 years old!" she exclaimed.
Berry sat there for an empty moment, still assimilating what all this meant.
"I think this is real..." Berry said quietly, " I mean this is really happening to us..." Berry had seen Caroline the night she stabbed herself, but she'd assumed that was simple insanity, a plague that ran rampant in even her best friends. Berry herself, certainly, was not famous for her mental stability. After all, Berry knew Thug. He and Raz used to hang out by the bar on weeknights while she tried to get free dances from the girls at the Velvet Glove, back before the cops shut that place down. Thug believed in Mrs. Black enough to make him nervous around Caroline for some strange reason, as if he knew something no one else did. Thug was no sucker, either. If he was involved, this was serious business.

However, today, Berry had Caroline all to her self, and that, as the British say, was a more pressing matter.

Animal blood, if you're indiscriminate, is remarkably cheap and easy to get. Sure, you can't just buy it by the bucket at your corner grocery store, but it comes free with all sorts of delectable organs. Hearts, giblets, livers, they all come floating in their own delicious juices by the tub.

Human blood is potent, to be sure, but a mage that uses his own too willingly ends up too faint and scarred to be of much use afterwards. While preferable, the blood of others is difficult to obtain in any substantial amount willingly. Thus, animal blood is the staple choice of the working class diviner who wishes to avoid criminal charges.

Caroline rubbed her right hand over the fresh scab on her stomach, and then looked at the scar on her left hand. She had always been clumsy and prone to accidents, but she'd never thought of herself as being scarred or hacked up looking before. Berry had taken the car and a little money to the wine store to get a magnum of something red; Caroline still had no idea what kind of wine she liked. Regardless, it would be nice if she'd get here already....

Todd strolled into the virgin apartment nonchalantly, with a bottle of dark pink, almost red sparkling wine in either arm, cradled like a set of breast-feeding twins.
"Hey there, Carl," he said, turning Caroline's head away from her old addiction.
"Todd, where's Berry?" Caroline responded, not knowing how to react emotionally to Todd's welcome but uninvited and unexpected presence.
"Oh, Raz finally tracked Berry down to the liquor store. I don't know if you've ever seen them fight, but it gets pretty nasty. We spent three hours trying to break into Raz's car; that crap's not as easy as they make it look on TV," explained Todd.
"Wait... where's my car then?" Caroline asked, trying to tie up the loose ends of her derailed evening.
Todd struggled with the bottle in his right hand, "Oh, I drove it..." POP! The cork flew out of the bottle, hard enough to snap the filament in the ceiling light as it struck, "Sorry about that," Todd rallied, "But I don't think we'll have any use for the light for a while."

"Wake up, Caroline. It's me."

A soft, steady nudge poked Caroline in her shoulder.
"Todd?" Caroline asked, snuggling deeper into her fleshy pillow.
"No, it's not Todd," said the voice, only slightly drier and deeper than Todd's voice. "You're asleep, in a real dream. I'm here to help you."
"Who are you?" Caroline asked in her sleep trance. A human face appeared as Caroline rose to greet the dream phantom, remarkably similar to Todd's. The eyes, however, were made of pure, clear glass, revealing the gray and crimson workings behind them.
"You may call me Glass," said the demon.

"I'll tell you everything you need to know, but you have to let me. Will you accept my story, and all of it? I would never want to intrude on your dreams, after all," said the Glass smoothly. At this moment, Caroline felt all the gravid power of the dream-trance leave her, regaining her full but limited logical processes. Knowledge, after all, was power, and all this Glass wanted to do was educate her. Maybe this was one of those things, like demolition chemistry, where a little knowledge was a lot more dangerous than none at all?
"Yes," she assented, and the power of the trance took hold once more.

"First of all, please let me explain just who, and what, I am. It could be said with some accuracy that I'm your guardian angel. Certainly, I was created by God to watch over and protect you. It's a little more complicated than that, but that would take a thousand years to explain. At any rate, as an angel my specialty is dreams. I'm sorry you couldn't stop the plane crash; I thought maybe there was some way you could stop it."

The Glass paused for a second, considering his options. The plink of some sort of flying insect hitting a windowpane rattled in the background.

"Do you like Todd? I sent you Todd, because I knew you needed someone in your life to make you happy. You seemed lonely in your quest for knowledge. I, of course, always support education. I want you to think of this as a learning experience. You're perfectly safe with me."

The Glass's voice dripped with honey and wisdom, like the maitre de of an expensive Asian restaurant.

"Now, the dreams that I give you, they all come true. They're complex metaphors, but they're all true. Just figure out the symbols, and the dreams tell you what's going to happen, or in some cases, what has happened or is happening. This is not one of those dreams, though sweetling, this is a real dream, just like normal. I'm not real in any physical sense; I only exist through and in dreams."

There was a faint cracking sound, and the tinkle of a tiny piece of broken glass. There was a brief buzz, and then the Glass's hand snapped out and crushed a tiny black bumblebee that floated near his face, flicking its mangled corpse into one of the corners of the dream space.

"I don't want you to be scared, Caroline. Maybe you'll never see me again; I just want you to know that the dreams aren't from some sort of scary dream world, someone who cares about you sent them, and that person is me. I'm not going to lie to you, or try to frighten you, or tell you what to do. There are people out there that just want to use you for the dreams. Don't let them fool you...."

Three more bees entered, this time with no tell tale sounds, each from a different direction. The Glass crushed two of them with Shiva-like quickness, but one of them got through and stung the Glass's temporary dream form on the face.

"Not everyone is like me, Caroline. Someone is trying to cheat the rules," the Glass said, his face beginning to swell. Veins in his forehead began to pop out, and his cheeks flushed bright red.

"It's not fair... there's been no convocation...this is a real dream... that witch should have no power here..." moaned the Glass, as his face continued to swell to inhuman proportions. The wound turned crimson red as it grew, then purple. It formed a white head of purulent material at its center the size of a pea, the swelling itself the size of a grapefruit protruding from the right side of the Glass's face. The Glass's voice became muffled as the swelling filled his mouth.
"That witch.... Mrs. Black... she doesn't want me to warn you... to protect you..." The Glass gasped. He leaned garishly close to Caroline's face, and the giant cyst on his mask burst into a malevolent mix of blood and pestilence...

Caroline started up from her dream, gasping. Who was this Mrs. Black? Worse, what was she?


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 9th, 2008


Chapter 5

On a sleepy Friday lunch break, Caroline pulled two steaming bowls of leftover red beans and rice out of the microwave and placed one in front of Jaleesa on the cramped break room table.

"Berry's been begging me for your number all week," mentioned Jaleesa as she plunged her plastic spoon into her unevenly heated rice, mixing the scalding outside edges with the lukewarm center, " do you want me to give it to her?"
"Wait, you mean she's been asking and you haven't told me?!" whined Caroline.
"Meh, Berry's kind of worthless," explained Jaleesa, "all she ever wants to do is get fucked up and club hop. I figured it wasn't your thing."
"Did she tell you about last weekend? We had a blast!" countered Caroline.
"Well, to be honest, Berry's a dyke, and I figured she was just crushing on you. I know you're freaked out by that kind of shit," admitted Jaleesa.

For the first time since they'd become friends, Caroline realized that there were some things she just couldn't confide in Jaleesa anymore. Up to this point, Caroline had never done anything Jaleesa didn't write the book on. Apparently sexual deviance was the kind of vice even Jaleesa wouldn't touch. Drugs, alcohol, violence, infidelity, Jaleesa had never failed to understand and have the answers for it all. It was a kind of loneliness even Caroline's reclusive lifestyle couldn't prepare her for.

"Please, Berry couldn't handle all this," Caroline said in what she hoped was a decent copy of Jaleesa's voice, pushing up both breasts to emphasis what on another woman would be luscious curves, but in Caroline's case was more like just hanging skin. Jaleesa's head cocked to the side suspiciously, but she decided to get back on topic.
"So, you want her to have your number or not? Or do you need a REAL woman?" questioned Jaleesa, actively diffusing any latent homosexuality with traditional locker room flair.
"I think I'm mainly going to stick with Todd," Caroline replied, "at least he doesn't have to bring his penis in a bag." Jaleesa chuckled, and Caroline relaxed a bit. Caroline had never realized how difficult it was for freaks to fit into so-called "straight" society. Racism isn't the only kind of prejudice, after all.

"I don't have Todd's number, though, and I know Berry has it," continued Caroline, thinking quickly. She did after all, want Berry's number.
"Mmm... you have a point. Hand me that old flyer over there, and a pencil," requested Jaleesa. Obediently, Caroline handed Jaleesa a small brick of Post-It Notes and a Bic mechanical pencil over the table. In bold, looping letters, Jaleesa wrote the numbers 652-0013 and slid the brick back across the table to Caroline.
"There you go. Now I'm going to clock back in so I can get paid for sleeping."

As five o'clock rolled around, Caroline became more and more anxious about calling Berry. Last weekend had been one of the greatest, strangest, and most frightening of her life, and the idea of that being the be-all and end-all of her life scared her in the desperate way a junkie is scared of losing all her dope connections.

For example: What about Todd? They'd had fun last weekend, but she'd never remembered to give him her number. He'd never given her his number, after all. Was it just a one-night stand? Did Todd sleep with every new girl that showed up to The Fool's Card? Berry was Raz's fiancé, though, and Raz spent a lot of time at Todd's.

Thinking like that made Caroline feel guilty and manipulative, even though she was pretty sure that's what Jaleesa would do in her situation. Still, here was Berry's phone number, and if there was one thing Caroline knew, it was what Berry wanted her around for.

Jaleesa had gotten a phone call from her married daughter earlier in the afternoon and barely responded to Caroline's wave on her way out. Caroline slid slowly into her car, savoring the freedom only granted on Fridays. She still had half a pack of cigarettes left over from last week in her center console, so she pulled one out, careful to leave a single inverted cigarette in the box. It was a superstition harkening back to her days of smoking old butts behind the school and trying not to get caught, but as a non habitual smoker, she'd never had enough packs of cigarettes pass through her hands to make it an inconvenience.

Caroline took a long drag of smooth but cheap menthol smoke from her 100-millimeter cigarette. She picked up her bedraggled and much ignored cell phone and dialed Berry's number. Already, she began to feel the glossy slick sensation movie stars must feel schmoozing socially over the phone from the patent leather seats of their limousines. At that point, it was a shame when the robotic voice of Berry's answering machine picked up. Rallying suavely, Caroline used her smokiest voice to allure Berry into a few drinks at The Fool's Card. Even if Todd was just a one-night stand, he wasn't the only fish in the sea. However, if she were going to ignore the attentions of people like Straight Mike, she'd need Berry to pull her away from their blandishments.

It was 6:43 in the evening when Berry had finally finished putting on her make-up. Being presentable to the world was on a long list of things Berry had to finish, or risk spending the rest of the day feeling "unsettled" as she liked to think of it. Perfection, after all, was not a state achieved with mere intent; only through compulsive measurement could some form of order be maintained. Half-measures and dabbling had long since been broken from her nature after years of dynamic emotional turmoil. Controlling the state of her life was impossible, but her hair was definitely a known variable.

Berry turned from the mirror and walked towards her baby: a sleek, matte black phone. Inside its memory was the combined result of five years of social networking proficiency.

She removed the stubby black umbilical chord that connected it to Raz's computer. It's R2-D2-like beep of dismay at being separated from the big mother power grid sounded cute to her ears in its own special way. The only difference between her and the homeless was that tiny black box. It was a dependency, to be sure, but luckily there's a short list of dependencies still condoned by society.

A message from a new number? Hopefully some schmuck hadn't dropped her number to some random horny loser again. A familiar voice, Carl's voice, was on the message, doing what sounded like an impression of a drag queen with a decades long smoking habit.

The contents of the message, however, were quite pleasing to the ears:

"Hey there, Berry. Whadya say you give me a call and we what we did last weekend?" Carl was naïve, true, but it seemed like she had some kind of untapped well of creative perversity inside her. Carl was acceptably attractive, but by no means beautiful. It was the freshness of her personality that attracted Berry to her like a moth to a flame. She'd never met anyone so good at hiding their sexually deviant fantasies. Considering how many Berry had to hide, she could do well to take notes.

Slipping on a mental mask of socialism over her already painted face, she dialed the number Carl left on her phone.

"Hello?" said the familiar, insecure voice.
"Hey there, cutie!" Berry replied, "So... The Fool's Card at 8:00?"
"Of course," Carl said back, in that cute little 'I don't know I sound like a drag queen' voice.
"See you then." Berry closed.
Then, almost as if stolen from a bad 80's movie about New York, Carl said, "Ciao."

Berry could tell this was going to be another crazy night.

Caroline strolled through the shadowed doors of The Fool's Card attempting to coolly smoke an over priced black clove cigarette she'd had offered by some random stranger. The bar was as empty as a church on Super Bowl Sunday, and Raz sat disconsolately drinking overpriced draft alone at the bar. Straight Mike was blissfully preoccupied talking to a pair of obvious drag queens while trying to sip his rum and coke huskily through a straw propped between his fingers.

Caroline tapped Raz on the shoulder, "You wouldn't happen to know where Berry is, would you?"
Raz turned slowly and drawled, "You didn't really expect her to be on time, did you? Besides, she's still driving my car."
"Wait, you mean you're stuck here?" Caroline asked.
"Hah! No, I'm technically stranded at Todd's. Berry has a bad habit of running off with my car while I'm passed out 'so I don't drive drunk'. It's one of the many reasons I'm over there so much." Raz explained
"So, where's Todd?" questioned Caroline, looking around the bar disappointedly
"Oh, Todd's grading papers in his office on campus." Raz told her.
"Hmm.... So, what's going on?" said Caroline, steeling herself for a night of crying alcoholism with Raz.
"Well, I don't know if you know him, but Thug showed up to the club tonight. Last time that happened, someone had sold Straight Mike some fake X, and Thug ended up ripping the guy's face off" gossiped Raz.
"Wait, which one is he?" asked Caroline. She'd seen a lot of bad bar fight movies, and wanted to be prepared if guys in cowboy hats showed up chucking bottles and waving switchblades.
"Thug's the one in the overpriced suit smoking a cigar," pointed out Raz in his detached drawl.
"Wait, which one?" Caroline asked, squinting in the dimly lit club. A cherry the size of a dime glowed into existence after shedding its load of ash. It partially illuminated a shaven face and shades, under what, against all odds, appeared to be a fedora hat.

It was as if Jake Blues himself had gotten out of prison after ten years of fighting in the Folsom Boxing league, sitting alone behind a rickety table in a seedy niche bar.

"Don't stare." Raz warned her in his easygoing monotone. "Thug is probably here on business. He used to work security at The Velvet Glove; he's not so bad to hang out with. He's probably looking for Star again."
"Why would he be looking for Star?" Caroline asked curiously, completely ignorant of who Star was.
"Star's had a coke problem for a while. Whenever she gets in debt or stops doing shows, Thug shows up, takes her to rehab, and she comes back a few weeks later with a couple of extra pounds and religion."

"Oh shit! Scar's here! Watch this, this is going to be funny!"

A tall, lanky but muscular man with a pierced eyebrow entered the bar, paid his door fee, and strolled up to the bartender. As he got closer, Caroline noticed a huge scar extending from the corner of his mouth midway into his cheek. He was shirtless under his leather vest, sporting a waxed chest and gauged nipple rings. As he went to order his drink, the bartender whispered in his ear and pointed down the bar towards the dime-sized replica of hell floating beneath the gaudy fedora. Then the bartender reached into his own tip jar and placed three dollars, the exact amount of the cover charge, into Scar's outside vest pocket. Swallowing visibly, Scar broke into a cold sweat. Briskly turning, he walked out of the bar at a pace that would be considered jogging by any other standard.

"Ha ha!" Raz chuckled, "normally Straight Mike and Scar just ignore each other these days, but it looks like Scar's not taking any chances tonight."
"You mean that scar on his face... that was Thug?" assumed Caroline.
"Well... yeah. It's a small scene. You get in a fight with somebody, you're still gonna see them around. Unless you're Thug, of course," Raz corrected.

A pair of car keys slapped Raz in the forehead and fell into the empty cup in front of him at the bar.
"You wanted these?" Berry said demurely, posing in front of the bar. Raz sighed, turned towards the bartender, and ordered a stout mixed drink.
"So, did I miss anything?" Berry asked Caroline. Raz had already withdrawn into his alcohol, the position he always seemed to be in when Berry was around.
"Some guy came in, saw Thug was here, and left. That's about all I know." Caroline supplied.
"Was it Scar?" Berry giggled.
Caroline nodded, "I think so."
Berry shrieked with schoolgirl laughter, "I guess this means Star's back on blow, then. That's weird... she didn't seem coked out when I saw her last night..."

Berry went slightly stiff, as though her puppeteer had raised her strings a little too high.
"Oh crap...Straight Mike is looking over here. Damnit Raz! Stop making us look so single!" Berry exclaimed, punctuating her exclamation by slapping Raz on the back of the head. In response, Raz chugged his drink and ordered another. The bartender solemnly served the empty cup containing Raz's keys to Berry.

Meanwhile, instead of coming over to annoy the two girls at the bar, Straight Mike walked over towards Thug and whispered in his ear. He pointed towards the trio, and then slunk back over to the queens he'd been talking to previously. Thug took a large hit from his cigar, and killed his neat whiskey. He thumped the cherry from his cigar, wrapped the stub in a napkin, and placed it in his inside pocket. The cherry fell from his fingers in a tiny spray of sparks and dropped cleanly into the ashtray in front of him. He pulled a small card from his suit coat pocket, his hands cupping formally around the card like an usher carrying communion.

"Excuse me. Ms. Parker?" said Thug politely. Caroline turned. It was her last name, after all. And last time she checked, none of the people at the bar with her knew that. She didn't know how to respond, but Thug was being polite, and Raz didn't think he was all bad.
"Yes?" she replied. What else did she have to say to him?
"Mrs. Black has sent me to cordially invite you to 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church Sunday" Thug said formally. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead and trickled down under his black-framed shades to drip from his chin. His eyes were covered by the dark, almost matte black lenses, hiding his expression.
"She asked me to give you this..." he continued, and handed her the card.
"Thank you," Caroline said instinctually. Thug sighed with relief.
In a much coarser tone, he parted," Alright, you guys have a nice evening." Thug turned and left almost as fast as Scar had, nervously relighting his cigar on the way out.

"What was that all about?" Caroline asked Berry.
"I'm not sure. What does the card say?" Berry asked with kittenish curiosity. Caroline looked at the card, and realized it was actually a bible tract. The tract was folded in a Z pattern, and the front panel was a picture of a cottage-like church surrounded by a tall, thick hedge. A black wrought iron fence, in turn, surrounded the hedge. The address read 646 Cottage Church Lane.

Exactly like her dream.

"I think I want to get out of here," Caroline told Berry. Berry was still holding the plastic cup with Raz's keys in it, a parody of ice. Raz had killed another drink since Berry had shown up. The bartender gave Berry a knowing look.
"Yeah, I know how you feel. Whatever can make Thug sweat is something I don't want to stick around for," Berry agreed. She took Caroline's hand, and led her to Raz's car.
"Wanna go to your place?" Berry asked.
"Yeah, why not?" Caroline answered. Nonchalantly, Berry opened Raz's car door, locked it, and then threw the keys in the driver's side seat.
"If Raz is sober enough to jimmy the lock with a coat hanger, he'll be sober enough to drive home," Berry explained. Then she reached into Caroline's purse, snatched her keys, and raced her to the car.

It's startling how big of a bong you can fit in a tiny purse.

Grayish white smoke filled the air of Caroline's efficiency. It appeared, however, that under all of Berry's façade of social sophistication, down inside she was just trying to re-enact the 80's cartoon "Gem" with her life, with her playing one of the 'bad girl' characters. Thanks to the power of file sharing technology, Berry had access to Rainbow Bright, Strawberry Shortcake, Punky Brewster, and all the other cartoons that had filled the void in her life left by her parents' complete inability to raise a child, let alone coexist peacefully with one another.

While Caroline proudly displayed her computer skill in downloading cartoons, Berry snooped through the house looking for a nice fuzzy blanket. Lesbian seduction, after all, required slightly different tools than the heterosexual kind. When she came back, Caroline was holding a bright, shiny knife in her left hand, with that strange, dreamy expression she'd had that first night they'd made love. Caroline's eyes never left Berry's as she gently drew the blade across her own lower abdomen.

At first, no blood exited the wound as the pressure of the blade reduced circulation to the affected flesh. Berry stood there, holding the fluffy blue blanket, as blood began to well from the shallow cut and formed droplets that hung from Caroline's slight love-handles. And to think, she was the one attempting the seduction. A call of blood, however, cannot be denied, at least not by Berry.

Berry fell to her knees, and pulled down Caroline's boyish khaki's and panties. Fresh blood was not to be wasted on mere clothing.

The Glass gleamed happily. Everything was going according to plan.

In Caroline's dream, she sat in a cozy, candle lit room. Across from her sat Mrs. Black. How she knew this, she didn't quite know. Mrs. Black smiled, and handed her a cup of tea.
"One lump or two?" she asked pleasantly.
"Two please," Caroline answered. Tea, she could deal with. If the worst thing about Mrs. Black was dreams about tea, she was in the clear.
"So, do you know what's been happening to you?" Mrs. Black asked in the same tone one would use to ask about the weather. Uncertainty opened a black hole inside Caroline.
"Not really..." She stammered in answer.
"Make sure you come and see me at the church then, dearie. It's not safe here for you. In fact, you'd better wake up right now."

And she did.

It was a show cut, a mere scratch. The kind of thing fakirs and shamans have used for centuries to prove their impunity to pain. It burned more that it stung, but that was most likely due to Berry's intervention. Berry lay sleeping at this point, snuggling a fancy and overpriced knife Caroline had been given as part of a set. She'd never needed to use a nine-inch fillet knife, so it had sat unused in its wooden block. Maybe she'd used it once to open a tub of chicken livers or something, but it was curious to see Berry act so attached to it.

Caroline nudged Berry, who was now soundly asleep. Oh well, there was always morning...


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 4th, 2008


Chapter 4

The funny thing about prophecy is how boring and mundane it can be. Sure, seers have prophetic dreams about disasters, wars, famines, and fires, but the ones that tend to be more reliable are the ones who have dreams about traffic tickets, broken dishes, finding a quarter on the street, or walking into a room with a blown light bulb. You just don't hear about mailbox psychics, who can tell if they've received a bill or a check just by resting their hands on their mailbox. You don't hear about psychics who can look at an old man driving a Cadillac and can tell whether or not that turn signal means "left turn" or "left on." In fact, you could have a prophetic dream every night for a week and have all of them come true and not even notice, if they were about things like gas stations or what outfit a friend is going to wear. The ability to finish other people's sentences is normally considered more annoyance than clairvoyance, in the final analysis.

Just as the stripes of a tiger can look as mundane as overgrown underbrush to the untrained eye, the dreams of a seer can appear to be just normal dreams to the uninitiated. Those who have learned to cope with tiger attacks wear masks on the backs of their heads so tigers think they're being watched, and don't strike.

The Glass gleamed smugly, considering this. You can't wear a mask on the back of your mind.

Six concerned emails. Considering that Caroline was by no means e-popular, that was a lot. Sure, there was a bunch of irrelevant spam breaking it all up, but it was comforting to know so many complete strangers actually gave a damn about her well being.

As an Internet nerd, Caroline could only respond one way; she made a topic bragging about sex with Todd. None of these people would ever meet her or him, so she felt free to embellish as only a hardcore forum regular could. In the thread, she described her own body as hard and lean, with rippled abs and perfectly rounded hips. Instead of describing Todd as dorkishly emaciated and covered with stubbly once-shaved body hair, she described him as having the body of a middle weight prize fighter.

It was a boring weeknight. You can't expect one good weekend to turn someone into the life of the party.

It was strange, the way things she had cared about so much meant so little to her now. There was a time when she would have happily spent a weekend arguing that the only difference between Andrew Jackson and Hitler was that the Jews had more allies than the Native Americans did. These days, though, she was more concerned with art, wine, and food, all things that are best enjoyed with company.

Caroline had had such a great time over the past few days, she had difficulty believing she ever settled for whiling her hours away trying to explain to some 13 year old that no matter how big of an ass hat George W. Bush may be, he's not a fascist dictator because he hasn't abolished the House and Senate yet.

For once in her life, Caroline had felt wanted, smart, funny, and capable. Her acne and bad fashion sense had ruined any chance of her being a socialite in high school, but when she was at Todd's, she felt she was part of the in-crowd. The Internet had always reinforced her sense of alienation. Just being a female user in a male dominated medium had destroyed any real empathy she could have felt for her fellow posters.

Berry and Raz, though, made her feel like a real human being. There was nothing she could do or say that would make them reject her; they actually appreciated her quirks. She could suck the eyeballs out of a live rabbit, and not only would they not be disgusted, they'd be fascinated. She'd never thought of herself as half the extrovert they acted like she was, but the more she saw of the social scene around her, the more she realized how great of a time she'd been missing out on. The best part was the feeling that things were only getting started.

She still had to sleep sometime, though.

Tired, and with that boiled-eyeball feeling that only a boring night on the computer can give, Caroline trudged into bed. Slug-like with sleep, she oozed out of her clothes on the way to the bedroom, leaving her dirty laundry on the floor behind her like some sort of slime trail. She didn't so much as climb into bed as she did inject herself into it. Almost instinctually, her left hand crept out from beneath the depths of her quilts and sheets and laid her glinting glasses on the pile of books she used for a night stand next to her bed.

The Glass smiled, as much as a thing such as the Glass could be said to smile. In this place, even when it's ability to touch the world was weak; the Glass still had the power to command.

Soft green light shined off of two small reflective discs. In this world, there was always a crack, and it had been found. The left foot slid from its hiding place towards the floor, and the left hand pushed away from its soft support. The left eye opened, and led the foot to the place where the reunion could occur.

The hand found its tools there in a small, recessed alcove. The knife was found in a dark wooden block, and the blood revealed itself in a cold closet. Soon, more blood would be needed. Purer and more plentiful, yes, but for the purposes of this night and until the spiral came around again, this blood was sufficient.

The Hand thought about all of this very carefully. It was only alive during the convocation, after all, and besides, thinking on its own was still a novel experience for it...

Caroline's dreams were myriad over the next few days, but all were equally and thankfully mundane. This time, she was a tiny hamster in an exercise wheel. At first, walking in the wheel seemed futile to her logical mind, but she noticed with each revolution of the cage the bars grew thicker and stronger.

With the compulsion only a dream can carry, she continued running in the track. Soon, she began to notice her body lengthen and strengthen along with the bars of the cage. Her tiny hamster ears rounded and dropped as she ran, her little forepaws became more articulate as her rear legs lengthened, and her gait began to change from quadrapedal to bipedal as she passed through an ape-like proto human form.

The cage continued to expand as she ran, her fur receding and being replaced by pale sweating skin. The spokes of the wheel flattened to a solid floor and slowed down to more of a walking pace. On the left edge, however, the spokes sprang upright into chest high tripods, each topped with a block of dry, familiar Styrofoam.

On the right edge white and yellow roses appeared, pre cut and resting in trays. The wheel slowed to a strolling pace, and Caroline began plucking the flowers with her right hand and arranging them into the floral stands that had formed on her left.

She placed a single yellow rose into each block as it passed. Each tray held three yellow roses, three white roses, and a single five petaled violet. The wheel was made of twenty-eight flat panels, each three feet wide and four feet long, each panel with a tray on the right and a floral arrangement stand on the left.

After she'd placed a single yellow rose in each of the twenty-eight blocks, she placed another six inches to it's right. Another cycle completed, she placed the third yellow rose below the first two to create a perfect inverted equilateral triangle.

She didn't know why, but the numbers seemed very clear and important to her. She looked at the floor and knew the panel was three feet by four feet. Deep in her gut, she could feel where each flower belonged, like a Cajun chef who sprinkles in spices with his bare hands, measuring by feel and by tradition as opposed to some hard, cold, stainless steel measuring cup.

Three cycles complete, she began again with the white rose, assembly line fashion, inserting them in another equilateral triangle, this one sharing the same center point with the original yellow trio. The combination of roses re-created the Star of David, with six points.

The wheel slowed again, with only the five petaled violets left to place. On this, the seventh revolution, she placed each violet in the center of the star. As she placed the final one, the wheel crawled to a stop. Fully human, now, Caroline was finally free to leave the wheel.

As she stepped outside, she noticed a fat black bee crawl out of the final violet. She followed it with her eyes as it flew to catch up with her. Ignoring it, she strolled in a random direction away from the wheel, only to be confronted by a very solid looking set of bars.

As she stared into the blank limbo that is the edge of the world of dreams, the bee sussurated directly in her ear. When her head turned towards the right, the black bee flew a few feet away, and then circled. With nothing better to do, she followed it.

The wood chips that had made up the floor hitherto began to transition towards compost along the bars between her and the abyss. The ground she walked became harder packed and drier, forming a kind of forest trail through the softening soil.

The bee continued to lead the way as the rich black soil gave way to luscious flower bearing vines, like one would find in the shade of a large oak tree. These became interspersed with low azalea bushes, bordering a tall hedge, more than a foot taller than Caroline's head.

The hedge, however, continued on through the bars and out the other side, blocking all view of what lay beyond. The path cut through the hedge by means of a leafy green portcullis, almost like a doorway arch made of living plants. As she spied through the portal, she saw a small, cottage-like church in the distance. On it's porch sat a tall, thin woman drinking tea from an antique teapot.

The bee flew away into the garden surrounding the church and the woman, dressed in a modest black ankle length dress and tight, silvery white bun, smiled and waved, like a lonely old grandmother running across a grown grandchild in a supermarket. In the first human voice Caroline had heard since leaving Jaleesa that afternoon, the old woman spoke.

"See you Sunday!" her brittle voice called. Above her head, the address on the doorway read "646"...

6:46 AM, the alarm clock read, just inches away from Caroline's bleary-eyed face. Fourteen whole minutes before her first alarm was even supposed to go off, and she was already awake.

"Well," she thought as she rolled over, "at least I didn't have one of those crazy blood dreams."

In the dish drainer, the soft pre-light of the dawn sun glinted off of the still wet plate and knife.


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 4th, 2008


Chapter 3

Monday, the word corrupted from moon-day, the second day of the week, when the powers of original creation still linger in the air. Sunday was powerful for primary causes, but Monday, Monday was the day of power for those things contrary to normality.

The Glass was one such thing.

So much blood, and so pure. So...available. Where there was life, there was always blood, but not so cooperative, not so willing. The dim glint of the television shined like the teeth of a child-molesting clown. The Glass knew compulsion; the Glass was compulsion, but this was like it's human embodiment. For once, even the Glass felt compelled.

Hell, someone had even gone through the trouble of tying the girl's right arm behind her back this time.

There was a different knife. There was different blood. In this world, the Glass was omnipresent. The hand, the foot, and the eye were always with the girl. The plate was a stretch, but the power of this day was close enough to suffice.

The girl's eye opened, but the rest of the body was held in place. This time, there was no need to move, although there was no real capacity for movement. The glint of one shining surface touched the glint of the shining eye, and the dream began...

In Caroline's dream, she was lying on a bench, surrounded by the scent of roses. She tried to sit up, but she found herself wrapped in thorny vines. She opened her eyes, and the center of her vision was filled with a huge, pink rose, the size of a large man's widespread hand.

The flower retreated from her face, and she could see that a single thorny vine supported it. The flower acted like an eye mounted on a tentacle, scanning her body from head to toe. Like a breeder inspecting a newly acquired purebred, the petals of the flower gently touched her naked body.

Caroline noticed that despite being wrapped in sharp brambles, she hadn't been pricked by a single thorn.

As if satisfied with its acquisition, the flower retreated again. Surprisingly, painlessly, the vines encapsulating Caroline gently constricted and pulled her into a sitting position.

In her new seated posture, Caroline could see an endless field, every inch of which was covered by the creeping vine. Smaller pink roses in various states of bloom studded the ground. The large bloom was suspended off the earth like a rearing cobra, the petals spread like the hood of the snake as it stared at her eyelessly. In total, it was raised five feet above the ground, just slightly above eye level.

In her right ear, Caroline heard a rustling of dry leaves. The rustle grew louder and louder, like a ten year old walking through a gutter in the fall. She tried to turn her head to see what was making the noise, but the vines tightened around her.

For the first time in this dream, Caroline could feel the thorns.

The giant pink rose reared back, as if to strike. Caroline's eyes widened in irrational horror at its vegetable anger. Just as the vine was about to attack, a slender black rope whipped around the flower, like a lasso on a young calf.

Before the rope could wrestle the vine to the ground, brown withering death spread along the vine, turning its verdant expanse into dry brush. The thorns around Caroline's neck sharpened, then suddenly released as the vines that held them instantaneously turned into dusty twigs.

As Caroline tried to stand, she woke up...

...Only to find she was naked, and strapped to the couch. Todd's couch. And Berry was asleep, with her head resting in Caroline's lap. On the coffee table across from Caroline was a mostly empty IV bag containing the dregs of an entire pint of blood.

As Caroline looked around the room, she felt a dry, crackling sensation from her mouth all the way down her chest and onto her stomach. As a kid Caroline had often covered her hand in glue, let it dry, and the flexed her hand, feeling the dry, brittle glue crack and split as fresh air touched her suffocated skin. It felt like that, only less dramatic.

Looking at her restraints, she saw only her right dominant side was strapped to the arm rail of the cheap futon she'd spent the night on. Under the couch, she felt her right leg similarly bound. Her left hand and foot were unrestrained.

It took a clumsy minute, but Caroline was able to unhook the bulky chrome buckles on her glossy black leather restraints left-handed. The more she moved, the more crackling she felt. Tiny bits of whatever was caked on her face and chest fell into her lap like Greek baklava pastry without the syrup.

Caroline ran her hand over her breastbone to brush whatever it was that had dried on her. Only when she brought her hand up to see what was on it did she realize what it was: dried blood. Dried blood covered Caroline from chin to navel in a pattern of dribbles from the sides of her mouth like a thinner, more sinister kind of candle wax.

Now free to move, she gently pushed Berry's face out of her lap, trying not to wake her in what, according to the light in the window, was predawn sleep. However, she encountered more of that strange, crackling resistance.

Unlike Caroline, Berry's angelic sleeping face was covered from forehead to the point of her chin, the entirety of which was glued by the protein rich blood to the tops of Caroline's thighs. Still warm and dreamy from the afterglow, Berry's face slipped from her lap onto the couch without waking.

Not certain if she was still in some kind of freakish dream, Caroline's demeanor became almost ethereal as she wandered into Todd's small bedroom towards his bathroom. Pale white and naked except for the dried blood, she looked down at the bed to see both Raz and Todd shirtless with huge bruises on the insides of their left arms. Todd's chest was still carved with Caroline's name. Raz's chest was devoid of tattoos, but patterned with old deep scars, many of which spelled "Berry" in various styles and calligraphy. Some of them were not so old, but still disturbingly deep.

Todd's Panasonic clock/radio/alarm read 5:26 AM in harsh red letters. Plenty of time to take a shower, put on last night's clothes, eat breakfast, and make it to work on time, her half sleeping brain told her. Reflexively, and with uncharacteristic grace, Caroline slid behind the shower curtain and eased up the hot water. The cut on her left hand had scabbed up tight and clean, but otherwise the warm sudsy water failed to reveal any fresh physical damage on her skin despite all the blood.

Enraptured in sauna-like ecstasy, Caroline felt a soft set of exploratory lips on her lower back. Reaching behind her to pull Todd's face closer to her own, her hand instead found Berry's long locks. Still sleepy, Caroline rested her hand on Berry's head as her lips slid over Caroline's slight love-handles towards her navel as Berry eased into the shower with her.

"Hey Carl," Berry whispered in Caroline's left ear after her still bloody face slid between Caroline's humble breasts and across her neck. Only the sharp digging of Berry's nails into her right shoulder grounded Caroline to reality as the memory of last night's escapade returned to her.

Not Todd. Berry. But Caroline had never had a lesbian experience before. Why now?

Berry wriggled her face into Caroline's neck like a suckling kitten, using the friction of flesh on soapy flesh to soften and remove the blood from the night before. Berry recounted to Caroline in a lover's whisper what they had done earlier. How Berry had strapped Caroline to the couch while she had been sleeping, how she'd held her slumbering eyes open with scotch tape and forced Caroline to watch as she tapped Todd and Raz's veins to fill the pint bag with fresh blood, how Berry had forced Raz and Todd out of the room, how she had punctured the bag with an ornamental knife and forced Caroline to drink, how erotic Caroline had become once she'd tasted the blood, how she had writhed in ecstasy as Berry poured blood over her face and breasts, how Berry had fallen asleep licking salty blood from Caroline's body as Caroline pushed Berry's head hard between her legs...

It's times like these that make it a real bitch when the hot water runs out.

At 6:30 Monday morning Berry was dressed in silk pajamas and fast asleep on the couch again, but this time deliciously clean. Caroline slipped into worn New Balance shoes Jaleesa had picked out after her squeamish incident yesterday and strolled down the stairs like a jolly sailor who'd just gotten lucky the night before to look where Berry had parked her car.

Thirty minutes to get home, thirty minutes to change and eat, and another thirty to squeak into work on time. Normally Caroline's biological clock left her a couple of minutes late, but these days she was feeling more and more in tune with the cyclical nature of things going on around her.

Stepping into her apartment for the first time since her incident, she was glad to be alone with her embarrassment. Compared to last night, there was hardly any blood spilled at all. Looking at the state of the place, it was pretty clear she owed Jaleesa lunch, though.

Jaleesa stumbled into work sixteen minutes late with Caroline pulling the Cheshire cat face at her from over the top of the front desk.

"What's got you in such a great mood?" demanded Jaleesa grumpily. She'd spent the last night dealing with her oldest son's baby mama drama.
"Well, mainly I'm just happy I've got the kind of friends that would wash the blood off my sheets while I bang some hot guy I'd just met that weekend," said Caroline in a voice that sounded like a female version of Frank Sinatra.
"Yeah, well, friends like that don't exactly come cheap. For example, you owe me lunch...." countered Jaleesa.
"No problem..."quipped Caroline a little too fast.
"Wait! I'm not even CLOSE to finished yet," Jaleesa continued, "...at Red Lobster. AND you're doing all the wreathes for Reverend Johnson's funeral."
"The Johnson Funeral?! But Reverend Johnson had a congregation of over two thousand!" whined Caroline in a voice that sounded a lot more like her old self. Jaleesa smiled a bit, happy to have taken a little wind out of Caroline's sails.
"That reminds me. Here's the orders on it we've gotten so far. And yes, at least five of them want a Bible laminated to the backboard opened to a specific verse. You know how nuts they go when you mark the wrong one. And notice how I said 'you' and not 'we,'" said Jaleesa.

Sometimes, no matter how crazy your weekend was, it's still Monday when you wake up.


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 3rd, 2008


Chapter 2

When someone spends all their time on the Internet, they develop certain base reactions. For one, they instinctually do a google search whenever they're uncertain about something. They develop a certain turtle-like quality; their first instinct under stress is to withdraw into a hard outer shell.

Caroline wasn't any different. At first she was completely shell shocked. After all, last night was completely out of character for her. Sleeping with a guy she'd just met? Smoking pot? Sadomasochism? Maybe she needed the strong anchor of a computer to keep her out of trouble. Meanwhile, what she needed was facts.

When she heard about the way the passengers sounded, she could hear the screams from her dream all over again. In retrospect, it seemed so obvious. It was the dream that caused her to act out by hooking up with Todd. If she could disprove the dream, she'd be in control of her life again.

Some people will use any justification at all to dabble in their vices.

Two minutes after she heard about the screams, she was back in her car in front of the club. In the harsh light of day, she read the club's name for the first time. The club's name was "The Fool's Card."

Caroline didn't even turn on the radio on the drive home. It was 2:00 on a Saturday morning.

By 2:30, Caroline was already off the wagon. She had MSN news on one window, CNN in another, and the BBC up on a third. Pictures of the crash site matched the dream perfectly, right down the glittering stream that seemed so Eden-esque at the time.

She broke at 6:00 PM to eat a packet of ramen noodles. She didn't even notice her right hand going numb.

The Glass waited for her in the dark, shining. She had tried to escape, or rather; it had almost allowed her to escape. Now, however, she reassumed her favorite place.

There was a smooth transition from right to left. There was no struggle. The right became the submissive, the left the dominant. Balance was restored once more.

The eyes closed for twenty minutes before the Glass caught their attention, but only the attention of the eyes, not the mind. The body rose, and the left foot took the first step towards the blood.

The blood was important.

The left hand reached out, and grabbed a knife as sharp as broken glass out of its wooden rack. This was the only purpose this knife had ever been used for. The knife was laid carefully on the cutting board, the blade facing towards the wall on the other side of the counter at a perfect right angle.

The left hand reached up again, and just as ceremoniously extracted a clean, plain white plate. The plate was laid with the precision of a Swiss clock to the right of the knife.

It could smell the blood.

Inside a different, less permanent darkness, a light shone for the briefest possible instant. A round, lidded vessel four inches in diameter and three inches tall escaped into the room with the glass, the hand, the foot, the knife, the plate, and the eye.

The assembled convocation achieved their purpose. The glass could taste the blood once again.

In Caroline's dream, she walked through row after row of perfectly placed bushes. Each bush was adorned by dark, ripe berries, and each berry was either black or bright red. The sky was periwinkle blue and clear, and there was a faint hum in the background as if bees were busy making honey. She reached down to one of the bushes to taste its fruit, and she noticed each red berry was attached by the same stem to a black berry in an almost wishbone shaped configuration. She separated the two, and caught a spray of bright red juice disproportionate to the size of the tart fruit. She sucked the juice from the dripping red berry, and it tasted savory and slightly metallic, like the top of a weak nine-volt battery. It left the lingering aroma of old cast iron in the air.

Suddenly a trickle of stinging bees rose from under the bush on her right. They landed on the still fresh juice on her left hand and began sucking it up through their tiny proboscis. Frightened, she tried to brush them away, but this only agitated them. One stung her hand, and they began to swarm...

There are bad ways to wake up from a dream, and then there are worse ones. Caroline is about to experience the latter of the two.

Pain and stickiness preceded consciousness in Caroline's mind. Even with your eyes closed, it's pretty easy to tell if you've been stabbed. Although she'd never actually been stabbed before, Caroline knew one thing; she had been tonight

Snapping awake, her first thought was "PANIC!" The left sleeve of her pajamas was soaked in sticky drying blood from the wrist down, and her right hand held an Exacto knife in a white knuckled grip. She ran to the sink to wash off the blood instinctively.

The wound in her left hand was slender, but deep, and it fell just left of the vein in the space between the bones of her pinky and ring fingers. The blood on her hand was partially clotted, making it difficult to wash off without scrubbing. The cut's flow turned the sink's water pink at first, but once the scab had a chance to reform, the bleeding stopped.

The wide-eyed calm of shock gave way to relief as Caroline realized she didn't have to drive herself to the hospital or call 911. Flower shops aren't famous for their medical benefits, after all, and bleeding to death in an ER waiting room was definitely not the way Caroline had planned on dying.

The pajamas, however, were done for.
Desperate. Lonely. Scared. Jaleesa. It really was that simple. Jaleesa could get shot and not lose her head. Jaleesa was like a rock; if anyone could talk Caroline down at this point, it would be her. Caroline's hands were shaking so badly it took her three tries to dial the number right.

Too bad the wrong voice answered.

"Hello?" said a voice she'd never heard before.
"Jaleesa?" quavered Caroline.

The second it took the strange voice to answer seemed like an eternity.

"Oh, she's right here. May I ask who's calling?"
"Caroline," she said to the strange voice.
"Ok, let me get her."

Caroline couldn't even breathe.

"Caroline?" said that familiar honeyed voice.

Caroline actually felt her pulse slow. Jaleesa got her through Valentine's Day. She could get her through this.

"I.... I... I... bled..." she stammered.

People like Caroline go into shock for a reason. Their normal mind just can't handle stress. Now that she felt safe, she finally broke down in tears.

Jaleesa didn't even ask what was wrong.

"I'm bringing a friend over. We'll be there soon."

Hope like hell if you stab yourself, you have a friend like Jaleesa Jones.

Caroline was still crying when Jaleesa and her friend showed up with a white diaper bag full of bandages, antibiotic, alcohol swabs, and a fully loaded semi-automatic pistol.

"Open the door, Caroline. It's me and Berry," Jaleesa said in a voice that could have been used to say "Open Sesame."

Jaleesa's voice had a power only granted to single mothers. It had a natural harmonic that said without words that it was to be obeyed first, and understood second.

Caroline was weak willed to start with, but her fear and uncertainty had no chance against Jaleesa's maternal power. She opened the door and fell into Jaleesa's arms, still naked from the waist up after having taken off her silken nightshirt to wash her arm.

The cut on her hand was barely noticeable.

For once in her life, Berry was speechless. Just thirty minutes ago she was watching a movie with her sister in law, and now she was in a stranger's living room carrying a pistol. A hot stranger. Naked. And crying. She had heard there were knives and blood involved. Somewhere inside Berry's sick mind, something clicked.

While Jaleesa comforted Caroline, Berry wandered into the apartment. In the kitchenette, she saw a single plate and knife in the dish drainer. She continued looking from left to right in the main area of the efficiency, and her eyes stumbled across the first few droplets. Following the trail of red splatters in the carpet from the open bathroom door, she saw they led like ants toward candy to a sheet laying over an office chair and what appeared to be a small computer desk. The left corner of the sheet was splotched with drying blood.

Of course Berry looked under the sheet. She's one of those "types."

A computer mouse covered with blood stained fingerprints sounds cool in your head, but in actuality it has the same shock value as one covered in ketchup. No severed fingers, no disembodied eyes, just sort of a big, difficult to clean up mess. There's nothing mysterious or mythological about it, unless you count the efficacy of solvent based cleaning products to remove it.

Berry? Clean? NO.

Jaleesa's ministrations soon had Caroline fully dressed, cleaned up, and laughing about how big of a fuss she'd made over such a tiny cut. Jaleesa knew, though, that it would only take another peep at the bloodstains to send Caroline back into histrionics. Someone had to clean, and someone had to watch Caroline. Jaleesa could work wonders in an argument, but convincing Berry to clean Caroline's apartment while they went back to her place and had a cup of hot cocoa was out of the question.

STEP 1: Get Caroline out of the apartment before she freaks out again.

Jaleesa looked over Caroline's should to try and get Berry's attention. Berry, as usual, was snooping through the main room looking for something macabre. Before she could say something, Berry lifted the sheet off the computer desk. It was an impressive amount of blood for such a small cut, almost as if Caroline had lain there unconscious and still bleeding for quite a while.

"Caroline, have you met Berry? She's the one who gave me that flyer for "The Fool's Card," prompted Jaleesa.

Berry dropped the sheet almost guiltily back on top of the bloody mess. Berry had a kitten-like ability to be distracted, especially when it meant someone was about to give her attention. Years of club girl instinct kicked in at this point.

"Wait, I remember you now, you were that girl that left with Todd the other night," Berry said. Caroline got a chance to get a good look at Berry for the first time. Berry was wearing a crimson skirt and jacket, with her shoes and hair matching the crimson motif. Only her undershirt and hose were black, as if she were only dark on the inside.
"Raz was talking about what you did to Todd. So's Todd, for that matter. He really wants to see you again," Berry continued.

Jaleesa couldn't believe her luck. For once in her life, her brother's wife's sister might actually help out for a change.

"Hey, Berry, why don't you drive Caroline down to Todd's? The LAST thing she needs is to brood in this apartment on the Internet all night," Jaleesa had the ball, she might as well go for the full court press. "Go on! Get out of here before I catch honky!"

STEP 2: Do all the hard work while everyone else has fun.

If Caroline didn't basically do half Jaleesa's work and help keep management off her ass, she'd never put up with this shit...

Berry + Vulnerable Girl + Todd's House = Berry is going to be a bad girl.

Caroline liked Berry. She was smart. She was funny. She had style. She had a lot of friends. Caroline didn't understand why Jaleesa was giving those dirty looks. Was there something she didn't know?

"Me and Raz go way back, you know," said Berry.
"Really? I thought he was after some girl named Butterfly," replied Caroline
"Don't tell me, you came in the door with Todd, and then Raz immediately asked if there was a friend of his at the club?" asked Berry.
"Yeah, pretty much. How did you know?" said Caroline.
"Hah, that's standard 'Do you need me to leave so you can get lucky?' code. There's no girl named Butterfly that I know of down at "The Fool's Card," and I know EVERYONE that hangs out there," explained Berry.
"You make that place sound like some sort of machine, Berry," replied Caroline.
"In a way, it is. Freaks are pretty rare in this town; we have to huddle together for warmth. Speaking of which, gimme your keys," said Berry.

Caroline handed over her keys and followed Berry out to the parking lot. The second Berry stepped out of the dingy stairwell and into the lot, she hit the automatic lock button and followed the lights to Caroline's car wordlessly. Berry walked quickly to the driver's side with a certain kind of brisk determination. Caroline climbed into the passenger's side with the same attitude as a seven year old on the way to school.

"This is a pretty nice car. These days when I get to drive it's normally just some beater," commented Berry to Caroline as she backed out of the sandy blacktop.

Caroline began to notice Berry had a mechanical, almost marionette-like way of driving. Her elbows almost always hung down, as if strings at the shoulder and wrist supported her arms.

Caroline continued to withdraw as she rode along with Berry. In a box with glass sides, Caroline couldn't help but feel like she was some sort of fuzzy prize in a fifty-cent grappling hook game. The more she thought about it, the more she couldn't help but feeling that Berry wasn't another prize, but rather she was the hook.

Caroline followed Berry up the wooden staircase to Todd's apartment like a sheep following a judas goat into a charnel house. Berry knocked a complicated pattern on Todd's door, like a short version of "Wipe Out." Ten seconds later, Raz slowly opened the door with thick smoke still pouring from his mouth and nose, as if his face were some kind of giant, living incense burner.

Berry climbed into Raz's arms with the grace of a joey climbing into a kangaroo's pouch. Raz smiled warmly over Berry's shoulder and pulled her backwards into the room so Caroline had room to slip into the cramped apartment.

Todd lounged on the couch in a half-buttoned silk shirt with the sleeves still open, his smile warm and inviting. When he saw Caroline, he reared up from his couch like a stretching cat as Raz and Berry came back deeper into the room.

"Hey Carl," said Todd softly, comfortably close to Caroline's face. Caroline noticed Todd smelled like pot and jasmine, with a soft touch of the scent of leather.

All of a sudden, Caroline began remembering the events of the first night she and Todd had met. Not just the events she could admit to, but the other side of what had happened. The taste of his blood, the sound of his hiss of pain as she cut him, his visceral reaction to her; as if he was some form of escape for her.

You'd think with passion like that, they'd all have found something better to do than sitting around watching Betty Boop cartoons on DVD until they passed out in a stoned, drunken stupor a few hours later.


Posted by FUNKbrs - January 2nd, 2008


Chapter 1

There sat the darkened, semi luminous glass again. The right hand was supporting the chin, the left unnaturally resting on some sort of smooth, tepid object.

There was no startling awakening.

The eyes snapped open, but otherwise there was no indication of consciousness. The left hand twitched, just slightly, and the dark glass re-illuminated itself. Its previous hints of phosphorescence became painfully obvious to eyes only just recently rendered capable of sight.

The soft, resilient chair did not so much as creak.

Only in retrospect did the bass laden thunk register to human consciousness. The smell of tobacco, incense, and something familiar yet cloyingly exotic filtered through the haze. On a plain white plate sat a few small dribblings of coagulated blood.

The right hand was still completely numb.

The eyes conveyed meaning without focus, directly to a still sleeping mind. This mind, enraptured in a lucid dreaming state, was filled with symbols and foreign images, a Rorschach whirlwind to the active subconscious...

And that's when the stupid alarm went off.

In Caroline's dream, she sat on a warm, gentle foothill. There, she was counting flowers and gazing at the clouds, interpreting the patterns they revealed. She watched the chirping birds come and go from the nearby mountain stream. One bird, some kind of raven, buzzed shrilly as it approached. Its silhouette slowly grew outside avian proportions, and its abrasive cries soon blotted out the song of the whippoorwills. The closer it came, the more Caroline realized it was not so much flying as falling. It spun through the air, its death cry modulated with each revolution like a siren: "Grawk! Grawk! Grawk!" It left a rain of blood on the ground underneath it, and grew to monstrous proportions in Caroline's eyes as its screams became louder and louder. The beast's toothy maw was leaking blood; its broken leathery wings were flapping impotently in the wind of its flight. It struck the mountain, spraying blood in every direction like mist. Its unending scream continued even as it rolled down the craggy peak towards her...

But it wasn't a dying dragon. It was the damn alarm clock. And she'd fallen asleep at the computer.... again.

Caroline fell out of her chair onto the floor, and rolled with the grace of a one-legged gorilla into the bathroom of her tiny apartment. She had the water on before she'd even risen to her feet. That was actually fortunate, because it created less impact when she fell into the bathtub.

It took only a second for the icy cold water pouring out of the faucet to soak through her oversize t-shirt, ending whatever modicum of cozy warmth she'd retained from sleep. Her eyes opened wide with the shock of both the impact and frigid temperature, and she saw the clock on the wall said 7:33, meaning she'd be three minutes late even if she skipped her shower.

This being a singularly secular moment, she used the one name in vain that could even remotely be of comfort:

"GEORGE DUBYA BUSH!" she hissed under her breath for catharsis. If she hadn't stayed up all night arguing in that stupid political BBS, she wouldn't have fallen asleep at her computer. If she hadn't fallen asleep at her computer, her back wouldn't hurt, she wouldn't have a bump on her forehead, and above all, she wouldn't be late for work.

Finally, hot water streamed down her face and back, and the mind numbing cycle of work and breaks began anew. It was lunch before Caroline felt like herself again. Then again, Jaleesa tended to have that affect on her.

"Damn girl, do you ever get a good night's sleep" Said Jaleesa's feminine baritone.
Caroline's eyes closed as her head rested against the wall behind her chair. The soft hum of the microwave and her belly full of homemade bean burritos made alertness a futile effort.
"No" she mumbled, although the mumbling was mainly for show.
"You need to sell that computer and use the money to get out more. If I didn't have any kids, I sure as hell wouldn't be at home at ten o'clock at night," Jaleesa said, her neck flapping like a flag on the 4th of July. Jaleesa was 35, and only her two youngest children lived at home.
"Yeah, but you also like other people. Besides, I already have money. If I had more, I'd only blow it on booze" said Caroline.
"See, that's where you've got it all mucked up" Jaleesa said, "All you do is pay the cover, the MEN pay for all the booze. That's why your ass is so bony now, you don't shake that thang enough".
"Have you ever seen me try to dance?" Caroline asked.
"Oh, yeah... never mind," said Jaleesa, making a face that said she had seen Caroline try to dance, and "try" was definitely the operative word. Luckily, lunch was over before any other of Caroline's inadequacies came up for conversation.

After work, Jaleesa waited outside the door, smoking a cigarette. As Caroline walked past, Jaleesa waved to get her attention.
"I've been thinking about it, and you DO need to get out more. Here's a club flyer for a place that plays that techno you like," supplied Jaleesa.

Caroline took the flyer. Anything was better than waking up in that chair again.

"When was the last time I was in a club?" Caroline thought to herself, "It's either now or never."

Caroline was what you'd call a bit of a wallflower. Between her love of Japanese manga, her love of Reese's cups, and her hatred of assholes, she didn't even attend prom. She'd never wanted attention; she hated people like that. If she didn't know for a fact she'd end up asleep in that stupid chair again, she'd have never gone.

The club did not play the kind of techno she liked.

The club played Skinny Puppy. The club played Mindless Self Indulgence. They did not play Darude. They did not play Paul Oakenfold. The only vinyl in the place was made into a pair of pants and worn by an overweight twink talking to a queen in the corner. And she was staring straight at him.

"Hey girl, never seen you around here," said the twink in a voice that was much more masculine than Caroline expected.
"That's because I've never been here before." Caroline said, reaching for a cigarette. She only smoked when she was nervous, so she'd bought a pack to keep her hands busy. The twink already had his lighter out before she'd even looked up. While she fumbled for her Bic, he'd already lighted her cigarette. She'd taken two drags before lifting her own lighter to her face.

"Wow, you really are new. They call me Straight Mike around here," he said. Embarrassed, Caroline put her lighter back into her purse.
"That didn't take him long, did it?" said an effeminate lisp from the corner. The voice belonged to a 6'5" man wearing blue jeans and a plaid button up.
"Damn you Todd!" said Mike.
"Whatever. You've had something to prove ever since you let a trannie blow you in the bathroom." Todd replied.
"She was wearing a choker!" whined Mike, who ducked out and quickly walked to the bar for another drink.
"Sorry about that.... What was you name?" said Todd conversationally.
"Caroline," she said in return.
"Well, as you may have noticed, I'm Todd." He said as he extended his hand graciously. Caroline shook it, noticing his soft skin and gentle touch.

Caroline heard the DJ spin yet another breakcore beat, and winced visibly. The cover had been low, but the prices on the bar were sky high.

"I noticed you haven't ordered a drink yet," said Todd conversationally.
"That's because even piss is three dollars a bottle here," said Caroline, a little more waspishly than she'd really meant. Mike's greasy demeanor had put her off.
"It doesn't look like you're having a good time here, and none of my friends showed up," offered Todd. "Why don't you come to my apartment and cry into a glass of Shiraz with me? I need the company." Despite having just met the guy, Caroline already wanted to leave with him. After all, he was clearly gay, AND he had wine. What could go wrong?
"Sure," said Caroline. "Is it far?"
"You can walk there from here," said Todd. "C'mon, let's go."

Todd wasn't gay.

Somewhere between the parking lot and the street, Todd pulled a flask out of his coat.
"Care for a nip?" he quipped in a decent cockney accent. It was only 8:00 PM.
"Bloody right, mate," replied Caroline, in what had to be the worst Australian accent ever. Todd giggled, and they both took a swig from the metal pint bottle. Caroline's cigarette from the bar was still burning.

"Here it is," said Todd, "It's small, but it's mine."

Todd led Caroline up two flights of stairs to his one bedroom efficiency. Inside, the television was on, and a Goth kid was sitting on the couch smoking a bong that was all of two feet tall. Caroline had never even seen a bong before except on television.

"This is Raz," said Todd, "Raz, this is Caroline."
"'Sup Carl," said Raz, holding out the still smoking bong meaningfully. Todd took it, and took a huge hit, leaving Caroline in awkward silence with Raz. Raz squinted at Caroline and then at Todd.

"Is Butterfly at the bar tonight?" Raz asked Todd. Neither of them knew anyone named Butterfly.
"Yeah," said Todd, "She was asking about you."
"Fuck this place, then," said Raz, "Nice meeting you Carl." Before Caroline had said a word to him, he was already gone.

"Was that your boyfriend?" asked Caroline.
"No, he's definitely my man-friend," answered Todd. He wandered to the kitchenette part of the main room, and grabbed a bottle out of the fridge. "Do you like Noir? I have a collection. The movies, not the wine, I only have this one bottle of Shiraz."
"I don't know much about it," admitted Caroline.
"It's about the play of light and shadow. Metaphorical juxtapositions of good and evil. You know, gay art crap," explained Todd, motioning for Caroline to sit next to him on the couch. He leaned over and pulled two glasses and a corkscrew off the shelf. The apartment really was small.

Caroline sat down next to Todd, who took another hit from the bong and passed it nonchalantly to Caroline.
"It's got a carb, so put your finger over this hole before you hit it. Let go of the hole to clear it," informed Todd, as if he knew Caroline didn't smoke weed. Already buzzed from the alcohol, and bewildered by Todd's seeming generosity, she gave in and hit the bong while it was still lit.

She might as well have thrown her panties at him.

Caroline woke up with a prickly sensation on her back. She was lying on a soft cotton sheet. She reached behind her, and grabbed the offensive crinkly thing that woke her. She squinted at it in the light of Todd's alarm clock. The ripped packing read "Tro- -jan," with a clean rip between the "o" and the "j." Her lipstick was on the packet. Todd was frying eggs and watching the news in the other room.

Caroline crawled out of bed, wearing only a sheet.
"Did we..." She asked Todd, sticking her head through the bedroom door.

"Well, I sure did. And from the sounds you were making, you did a couple of times." With those words, the last night came flooding back to her. The wine, the movies, the blanket, the footsie, the cigarette burns...

There was a plane crash on the news.

Todd turned to face her. He was shirtless, and the word "Caroline" was scratched deeply into his chest in angular letters, as if done with a box cutter.

The news anchor said the company that owned the plane was Dragon Inc., a discount passenger service.

"Did.... Did I do that?" asked Caroline, disturbed. She'd never been into sadomasochism before.

"You sure as hell did," said Raz, sitting up from where he was laying on the couch.

The news anchor said there were frantic cell phone calls from the passengers. The victim's families said you could hear the spinning plane rhythmically knocking the breath out of the screaming victims. They said it sounded like a raven, or an alarm clock.

"Caroline?"

Sometimes it takes a minute for your brain to register what's really going on in the background. Only 10% of your brain actually thinks. The rest is just a filter to block out unimportant details, like gravity. But if you're Caroline from Pugh's flowers, it's only 7% doing the thinking. That other 3%? That part dreams of the future...


Posted by FUNKbrs - July 20th, 2007


They gave me a blog. On NG. Where I do my NG things. Don't they know what kind of fucked up shit I do on NG? I always fucking warn them, and they never fucking believe me.

Oh well. They'll get off light this time.... THIS TIME.