Change (In The House Of Flies)

2019-08-09 17.46.48

Dedicated to Deftones

She came in at eight in the evening.  It was midsummer, but the shadows of the city had plunged my little tattoo parlor into early night.
“Sorry, but I already have a scheduled appointment tonight,” I told her.
The fluorescent light overhead was buzzing again. Its filament was going bad, probably. It was giving off that sickly yellow color that would have been cool any other time, but was a pain whenever I was trying to color-match somebody’s tattoo to their requested image. And the buzzing really got on my fucking nerves.
“I need it tonight,” she said. “Before sunrise.”
She did not look like she could have paid for a tattoo, honestly, or a sandwich, which she badly needed. Actually, she looked like an anorexic vamp scouting for twenties. She was emaciated and pale, her bones showing through her short black halter-top like a radiator’s ribs. The downcast light hollowed out her cheeks and eye sockets, and the black contacts covering her whites made her head look like a skull. Her scalp was shaven to the skin, but here and there sprouted long shoots of coarse black hair, somehow missed when she was giving her dome a weeding.
“Not tonight,” I said. “As I said, I already have someone scheduled. We can set up an appointment for next week, if you want. I’m booked up until then…”
She reached into the pocket of her frayed denim shorts and pulled out a fistful of Benjamins— crumpled and dirty, but real so far as I could tell. BJ money, I thought. Drug money, probably, too. Maybe even blood money. I didn’t know. Didn’t ask. They scattered across the silver tray like windblown snakeskins. Counting them at a glance, I saw at least thirty, maybe even forty.
“All tonight,” she emphasized. “All in one go.”
Normally, I wouldn’t have accepted a job like this. Too suspicious and too mysterious and too fucking presumptuous. But the gaunt-faced bitch seemed decided, and had the money to back it up in cold-wash sums. A lot of money. A lot more than what Joey One-Shoe was going to pay to have me touch up his OD’ed girlfriend’s portrait on his chest. To tell the truth, I dreaded hearing the asshat drone on and on about her while I touched up the blues and blacks. The bitch died at a blow party with the jizz of three different guys up her babymaker. And the dumbass sang the gospel about her like she was a goddamn saint. He could really bring you down.
“Give me a second,” I told her. I pulled out my cellphone and called Joey. He sounded so happy to hear from me that I felt guilty for a second— just a second— and then I told him I couldn’t touch up Jackie tonight.
“I’m just not feeling good, man,” I told him. “Maybe I can do it tomorrow. I won’t even charge you. How about it?”
Joey agreed, and I instantly regretted agreeing to work on his tattoo for free. Hell, sometimes it seemed like he was paying me to be his therapist rather than his tattoo artist. The only cure for his fucked-up head was a shotgun slug. I turned to the woman again, putting my phone away.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked. “Hello Kitty?”
It was a joke. I was being facetious. I could tell by the piercings and the ink that already decorated her body that this bitch was hardcore in her bones. Her sleeves showed dia de los muertos women among spiderwebs and syringes and mushrooms and anatomical flesh bisected to the bone. A pony galloped across her abdomen, almost as white as the translucent pallor of her skin. The most prominent tattoo, however, was the sow’s head drawn large upon her left thigh. Decapitated, the beady-eyed head was impaled on a stake, the blood still flowing.
She handed me a wadded-up sheet of paper. Uncrumpling it, I found what looked like a cross with bloated flies swarming around it. The drawing was crude and childish in its scrawl.
“Do you really want this?” I asked. “I mean, I can add some…um…depth to it, if you want.”
“If you want,” she said. She picked up my tattoo gun from my silver tray and pressed it into my hands. “Blow me away,” she said, smiling as if it had a double meaning that I didn’t understand. I looked at the bends of her arms, and saw heroine scars. Her teeth did not seem to be rotten, but then again they had seemed too perfectly white in the artificial light. False teeth, maybe. Her face— once pretty, maybe even beautiful— was a minefield of bright red welts and scabrous meth sores. She had seen some shit, and done shit to herself. A lot of shit.
She took out a glass capsule of what looked like black ink from her shallow cleavage. “I want this mixed in with the ink.”
I couldn’t get a fix on this bitch. Was she crazy? Too many trips into the medical dumpster? Sometimes I had sad cucks come in and try to get me to mix blood in with ink to tattoo them to remind them of some girl that broke their hearts. Sometimes couples asked me to use each other’s blood. I would, if they signed a waiver beforehand, but this black gunk didn’t look like blood. It looked like some kind of fucking nasty ichor.
“I can’t use this,” I said. “I don’t know what it is. It might be unsafe and I don’t want to go to jail for inadvertently killing you.”
Instead of accepting my refusal, she reached into her other denim pocket and pulled out another wad of Benjamins. These she added to the bills already littering my silver tray.
I considered the money, then sighed in resignation.
“You’ll have to sign a waiver,” I told her. “For legal reasons. Whatever happens, it’s on you.”
She signed the page promptly, impatiently. I pocketed all of the bills she had heaped up for me and she laid down on my tattoo bed, face down. Evidently she wanted the tattoo on her back. She wasn’t very specific in what she wanted; only insistent.
My tattoo parlor used to be a dentist’s office. The bed I had was actually a dentist’s chair that reclined out flat. As I prepared the ink, I stared at her torso, trying to plot out how the tattoo would look best. At the back her halter top was nothing but a narrow strap at the nape of the neck. The rest of it was open, revealing the bony knots of her spine and the ridges of her narrow ribs. Her veins were blue beneath her pale skin. I mapped out the revised drawing that I had improvised upon her back with a marker, then I mixed the capsule she had given me with the ink. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
The ink and the gunk worked well enough on her. Whatever the stuff was, it didn’t compromise the ink. In fact, it helped the stain. But it also stank. Badly. Very badly. It smelled like a rotten carcass left out in the July sun for a few days. Distilled roadkill. Liquid decay. But she did not seem to mind. I knew I would have to throw the gun away after I had finished this tattoo. No amount of alcohol or bleach would clean the gunk from it.
For hours I worked on her tattoo. Pale skin, black ichor, sallow fluorescence. Dizziness came and went, and sickness, too. My eyes ached from strain and the sickly light. But I soldiered through with a cramped claw-hand. She did not flinch or complain, and she wasn’t into small talk. The needle etched over bone-stretched skin and she seemed a cadaver on the dissection table— motionless. It was quiet in my parlor. I did not often listen to music like other tattoo artists because it distracted me. The silence could get on some clients’ nerves, but I preferred the silence. Or the silence that inhabits the city, anyway. It reminded me that there was a world alive beyond the door, and not an apocalyptic void left in the wake of nuclear holocaust. You could hear cars occasionally whooshing by, and the voices of pedestrians walking down the street; druggies begging for money from alleyways. The buzz of the light above my head. The whirr of an industrial fan that pumped fresh air into my parlor from the Summer night outside.
I had to take a moment and step over by the fan, letting the fresh air blow in my face. Nausea squirmed in my stomach like maggots.
“Do you need to use the bathroom?” I asked her. “Or to get a drink?”
“No,” was all she said.
I took a piss in my studio restroom, and drank a Sprite from my little fridge. Leaning on my counter where I kept all of my paperwork and receipts, I took a breather again. The nausea subsided only a little. My stomach was like a leaky boat that was slowly taking on water, and the passengers were bailing it out, but only enough to keep it afloat. Eventually I might be sick and have to throw up. The light in my parlor was intensely yellow now. Hungover, beer-piss yellow. The woman laid so still upon the black dentist chair, in the honeycomb light, that she looked like an insect in amber. The dentist chair was shaped like an insect, too, I realized. Head, abdomen, and long thorax. Looking at it made me more nauseated.
Emptying the soda can, I threw it in the trash and took a deep breath, then manned up and went to war with the ink gun again. Despite my sickness, I made good progress. The gunk in the ink was strong, but not too overbold for gradients and finer details. The tattoo was very large in proportion to her back, but her back was so narrow and sunken that it was not too big a tattoo to complete in ten hours.
I was adding details to the cross when she suddenly spoke.
“Do you have any addictions?” she asked.
It was not a question I had never heard before.
“No addictions,” I said. “I only take for fun, and not that often.”
“I have used everything,” she said. “But nothing beats what I am on now.”
She said nothing else. She just laid there, dead to the world.
The hours seeped on slowly, like pus. My hand hurt, and my stomach was queasy. I felt tired and dizzy. Had I eaten anything, even a candy bar, I would have hurled. The Sprite had helped a little. I needed the sugar for my concentration, though the aftertaste was like syrupy sap in my mouth now.
It took me a while to realize that the buzzing I heard wasn’t only the faulty light overhead. There were flies in my parlor. I mean, there were always flies around, buzzing and getting stuck on my flytraps, but there were a lot of flies in my shop; a lot more than usual. They mostly flitted around the sickly light, or crawled along the full-body mirror in the corner, or furiously struck the windows looking out into the neon-lit urban night. Some died on the bugzapper I kept in near the back, screaming their sweet agonies as they fried. Living in the city, you had to have as many things to kill vermin as you could get.
But one fly kept buzzing around my ear. I tried to shoo it away, and then I tried to swat it. It was persistent, landing on my earlobe, tickling it, echoing in my ear canal, and even flying through my ear gauge like it was part of a circus act. Pissed me off.
“She thinks you taste good,” the woman said.
I frowned, but didn’t dignify what she said with a response. I had heard a lot worse things from my clients over the years. Drunken sorority girls had the filthiest mouths on the planet. Then again, their upper shoulders weren’t pockmarked with meth sores, either. What she said irritated me, almost as much as the fly.
Finally, the fly landed on my forehead and I swatted it fast and hard, hammering my brow with my palm. The fly was a pulp that peeled away with my hand, and a juice that remained on my brow. Disgusted, I set aside the tattoo gun.
“Give me a second,” I said. I went into the bathroom to clean up, feeling irritable and sick. Reeling a little, I splashed water on my face and tried to breathe through the sickness. The world continued to reel as I returned to work. Everything in my parlor— the tattoo art hung on the walls, the dentist chair, the tattoo tools, the yellow light—overwhelmed me. I felt like I just wanted to lay down and die.
I told myself to suck it up and trudge on. Picking up the gun again, I resumed where I had left off.
“You killed a part of me,” the woman said, her voice barely audible above the buzz of the tattoo gun. “It’s okay. Part of me dies every day. Smashed by careless hands. Burning in bright lights. Born again in the corpses of believers…”
She trailed off. I hoped she had fallen asleep. My head wasn’t feeling great and I was not in a mood for listening to drugged-up nonsense. I just wanted to finish the tattoo and never see this bitch again.
Eventually, I was almost finished. It was six in the morning and I only had a little touch up work to do here and there— primarily just smoothing over the shade transitions and adding highlights with some white ink. Overall, it wasn’t a bad tattoo, especially for being improvised from a rough sketch. I wasn’t going to take a photo of it for the Wall of Fame, though. Wasn’t even worth keeping it recorded in my portfolio. I just wanted to take the money and let the memory of this bad night die away.
I finished, finally, and told her she could sit up. As she sat up, I gave her the usual spiel about treating the tattoo at home, and what not to do, and everything else. She didn’t seem to be listening. Instead, she stood in front of the full-body mirror, gazing at the tattoo while hugging her arms in front of her, so it stretched her translucent skin. The sickly yellow light embalmed her in a weird moment that seemed to last forever. The flies wreathed her reflection, embroidering her like black satin fringes beneath a corpse.
“My transformation is almost complete,” she said.
She looked at me and smiled emptily. I realized that she was not wearing black contacts— somebody had dyed her eyes jet black. That was something I never dared to do. I didn’t trust the dye, or my hand. Blinding people was not the reason I became a tattoo artist. What good were tattoos that you couldn’t see?
The buzz of the light became louder. I flipped the switch for a small lamp I kept by my desk, by the counter, and then turned off the overhead light. The buzz persisted, louder than before. The crackling of flies in the bugzapper intensified.
She walked toward the door, then paused. She did not look back at me as she spoke.
“I saw the Devil once,” she said. “I looked at the cross, and I looked away. He was there, waiting for me. At the burning bottom of the world, where the dung is piled high and the souls are on fire, Ba’al Zebub spoke to me. Blessed me with his essence. In Phlegethon. The river of filth…the river of plenty.”
Beyond the window I could see sunlight bleeding between the buildings and the skyscrapers. Cars passed by as the world roused to a new day, its blood quickening with the dawn. She said no more. She stepped out and the doorbell rang in a way that seemed to wake me up from a long dream. Alarmed, I watched her walk from the sidewalk out into the busy street.
She dissolved as soon as the truck struck her, blooming into a swarm of flies that scattered out upon the city.
I watched her change.

2019-08-09 17.46.04

My Bride Down Below

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When I tire of the hassle
of the business world I know,
I retreat to my Prussian castle
to visit my bride down below.

Raven-haired, lithe of limb,
her skin is like purest snow,
and her eyes glow like the lunar rim;
she loves me, my bride down below.

No sun has touched her pale face,
nor the feelings of mankind,
and the sickle of Time leaves no trace
upon her body or her mind.

Sleeping amongst cobwebbed dust
where the cold winds do not blow,
she only feeds whenever she must,
my beloved bride down below.

Cold though her broad, deep breast be,
and no heart to pump blood’s flow,
she lives nonetheless, immortally,
undying, my bride down below.

Dancing with her at midnight
we cross the courtyard in twirls,
and though she is so sharp of bite,
she only feeds on peasant girls.

Lovers, partners, and soulmates,
we were made for each other;
I may have family in the States,
but she is wife, sister, mother.

And though one day I shall die,
it is a comfort to know
she will go on, like all succubi,
till we meet again down below.

The Bag Men

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Run, you little children, go!
Through Halloween’s darksome kingdom
of gnarled trees and gables and each corn row—
but beware, for the Bag Men come.

Laugh and dance and trick or treat
in the maze cut by Farmer Brown,
but the Bag Men also seek sweets to eat,
stumbling along the lanes of your town.

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Lumpy, they come, alone or together,
as they sway and totter above the corn,
their mouths wide with the windy weather
to eat you before All Saints morn.

A sickle moon hangs at the ready
for the coming harvest held tonight,
all children too happy and heady
will see the shamblers in the moonlight.

Think yourself safe upon the road?
Or in the neighborhood with its human laws?
They will swallow you whole, like a toad,
stuffing you in their black-hole maws.

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Black as night, and blacker still
their gaping gullets that gurgle— Lo!
They can never truly have their fill;
gluttonous gourmands, they grow and grow.

Like bags of candy much overfed,
they wobble and thrash among the crop;
no arms, no necks, not even a head—
only mouths and legs, which never stop.

And in these mouths the many howls
of unwary children all consumed,
forever trapped in their saggy jowls
never escaping, always entombed.

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Do you really think you can hide?
No, they will swallow you, too,
and then you will see, from the inside
the victims who will soon join you.

You naive little trick or treaters,
think on what your sweet tooth has wrought,
for they come, those misshapen eaters—
it is too late, you have been caught.

Just Desserts (In Nine Flavors)

I can hear the ice cream truck again as I walk along the road beside the cornfield near my dad’s trailer. Its music is soft and faraway, and the sun is hot. I wish it would come this way soon. I would ask for an ice cream cone, take it, and then run into the corn rows while the ice cream man did fuck all to stop me. It is kind of annoying to hear that silly little chiming song and not know which direction it comes from. It almost sounds like it is coming from the cornfield.
School sucked today. It always fucking sucks. Too many stupid kids. Too many stupid teachers. I wasn’t in a good mood anyway since my arms were all scratched up from playing with that cat yesterday. Man, the way it shrieked! I was glad for the silence afterwards, when I finally shut it up.
My dad always said Jews had Jewy noses, but I didn’t know what he meant until I saw Jon at school. Jon had a Jewy nose like a pelican. When he was sitting in the cafeteria, eating the same nasty food his mom always packed for him for lunch, I realized how much I hated him. He had to eat different food than the rest of us because he was a Jew. Kosher, he said. But I was sick of smelling it every day, and I was sick of his Jewy nose. So I told him he was going to Hell for his shitty food. He told me he wasn’t. I stood up and told everyone in the cafeteria that Jews went to Hell because they were unbaptized. They didn’t believe in Jesus. That’s what dad says. The look on his face! He started crying like a baby. I got sent to the principal’s office, but I didn’t care. I get sent there every day. I tune Mr. Shaw out. He might as well be a bug under my shoe. I don’t care what he says, or what anyone says. Lectures don’t bother me. And detention doesn’t bother me, either. Not usually, anyway. It was just that today it was hotter than usual. Cheap-ass school’s cheap-ass air-conditioning. It was like being outside. It was almost as hot as it is now as I walk the road and wonder where the ice cream truck is.
Man, today is boring.


It’s hotter today, and the ice cream truck is a little closer, it seems. The winds sure are blowing hard, too, thrashing the corn against each other.
I got in trouble again for stealing Cindy Lansberg’s training bra on the bus. She should have known better than sitting in the back of the bus, though. She was asking for it. That’s my territory. She tried to get all puffy at me when I sat beside her, but she knew what would happen. She was asking for it. At first I tried to tickle her. She told me to stop. Then I reached under her shirt and snapped her bra, pulling it out. I could see her poking through her shirt, so I grabbed them. She started to cry and the bus driver, Mr. Cochran, pulled the bus over and grabbed me by the ear and dragged me to the front of the bus. They tried to call my dad when we arrived at school, but dad never answers the phone. He doesn’t give a damn about anything when he’s drinking.
They gave me detention again and I was told to sit at the front of the bus for now on. That’s fine with me. Still got to play with Cindy’s boobies. They were pretty nice. I couldn’t wait until they would get bigger. Like Mrs. Mattingly’s. Mark was so jealous. He asked me what they felt like. I told him he would never know what they felt like because he was a fag.
Is that the tornado alarm?


During Recess today I snuck back into class and went through some of the lunches the other students had brought from home. Jeremy Brennar had the best lunch: a box of lunchables and two chocolate puddings. Anthony Perry had the worst lunch. He had some kind of disease or something, so his parents made special food for him that tasted fucking awful. I ate it anyway, because it was there and it needed to be eaten. There were other lunches, too. Some good, some not so good. My stomach was so full by the time I finished that I fell asleep on the floor. Mrs. Mattingly found me surrounded by the empty lunch boxes when class returned from Recess. She threw a hissy fit. I didn’t care. My stomach sloshed around and I felt sick. She sent me to see Mr. Shaw again. He threatened me with Saturday school, but I knew better. There was no Saturday school for 5th graders. There was for 6th graders, but I had been held back twice since I couldn’t read so good.
Where is that ice cream truck at? I can hear it, but I can’t see it. Fudge bars, cones, shaved ice, popsicle— I want to eat them all. I got a bad craving.

I stole Cindy Loggins’s cell phone when she went to use the girl’s room. She just left it on the bleachers, like a dumb cow. I don’t carry a backpack so I gave it to Mark to hide it in his backpack until we got on the bus. Mark’s the only person I can use. He thinks we’re friends, but that’s because he’s a fucking idiot. Anyway, Cindy came back from the girls’ room and it was funny as hell to see her frantically search for her phone— looking confused at first, then panicking. She started to breathe really badly, since she has asthma, and she was bawling like a baby. Mrs. Mattingly went to me rightaway and demanded that I empty my pockets. I did. The look on her face was priceless. She even apologized for suspecting me! She didn’t ask to check Mark’s backpack because she already felt guilty about accusing me. When me and Mark got on the schoolbus he gave me Cindy’s phone. I went through her photo gallery, making fun of her pictures while Mark laughed. I then deleted them all.
I am keeping the phone for myself. It’s pretty cool. I use it to take pictures of stuff, like these farmhands pushing bales of hay onto the wagon. The idiots keep smashing them together and knocking each other backwards. They are red in the face and probably drunk. Dumbass Mexicans.
It is really hot right now, but the ice cream truck is nowhere to be seen. I can hear it, though. Its song sounds like ice cracking deliciously. It makes me thirsty.


Martin had it coming for a while, but I was glad I was able to knock his teeth out in front of class. The look on Mrs. Mattingly’s face was priceless. She should have known better. He should have, too. She called on me to solve a stupid math problem on the board. I didn’t give a shit. She kept henpecking me to try, but I didn’t feel like it, and then Martin, that little cumstain, laughed about at my answer. I walked up to him— feeling pretty damn hot like I do now as I walk beside the cornfield— and I just punched him right in his laughing face. Punched him so hard that blood splattered all over Mandy Armstrong’s desk and dress. Her face was priceless, too. The silence was priceless. Martin’s tears were priceless.
Mr Shaw and Mrs. Mattingly argued pretty loudly afterward while I waited in Shaw’s office. She said it was my dad’s fault, the way I was. He said I was just a natural bastard. He was probably more right than she was. I am what I am.
Man, it stinks out here today. The farmers must be dumping manure everywhere. Or maybe its Pig Shit Creek, the creek that runs by the old pig farm. The shit just washes downstream. I hear a scuffle in the corn rows and see two hawks fighting in the sky. Eventually, one falls to the ground and the other tears him apart with his beak. Awesome.
The ice cream truck is as close as ever, now. I wish I had a popsicle to cool me off. I feel like I could tear something apart, I’m so angry.

Man, I raised Hell today. Poor Ms Paige! Ha! Now everyone thinks she’s a slut, and Mr. Shaw is her sugar-daddy. It wasn’t that hard to do, neither. I just told Mark to spread the word, and then I spread the word, and soon everybody was spreading the word. But no one knew where the word came from, and so no one could do anything about it. The school was full of cockroaches now, and Mr. Shaw couldn’t squish them all, no matter how hard he tried. Actually, the harder he tried the more he looked guilty. And Ms. Paige actually cried! In front of everybody! Mark said he felt bad afterward, but that’s because he’s a pussy. A pussy and a fag. I don’t know why I let him talk to me.
Today is hotter than yesterday. My tanktop is drenched with sweat, and I can hear the ice cream truck somewhere on the other side of the cornfield. It pisses me off. Why doesn’t it come this way? A group of men are standing near a rattlesnake hole, stuffing it with hay. They set it on fire and stand by, leaning on their pitchforks, while the snakes burn. How can they stand so close to the fire when it is this hot outside? And why are they burning them in the middle of the day? Adults sure are stupid.

I went to the playground today during Recess, instead of playing with my other classmates on the field. It was too hot to play Kick Ball. I wished all of my classmates fell dead from heat stroke.
A lot of the younger kids were in the playground. There was a 1st grader playing in the sandpit. How could he play in sand when it was this hot outside? It made me angry. Sweat boiled in my eyes. I smashed the sand castle he was building and then whipped him with his plastic shovel. The 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Mullivan, was really peeved. I didn’t care, though. The little brat deserved worse.
Mr. Shaw called my father, or tried to. He couldn’t get through. He actually cussed in his office. I almost laughed and asked him where Ms. Paige had gone. He actually slapped me across the face and sent me out of his office. I made sure that all of the students and teachers saw the red welt on my cheek. It burned and stung, but I had never felt better. When Mrs. Mattingly asked me what happened, I forced a tear out and whimpered, “Nothin’.” She looked like she might actually cry. The dumb bitch.
The creek should be boiling today, since it’s so damn hot. There are a few bubbles, but that’s just from the fast currents near the rocks. I almost swim in it, but then I see the pigshit floating through the brown water. As hot as I am, I’m not ready to swim in pigshit. I only get my feet wet a bit, and it sticks to my toes like river silt. My toes don’t matter much, though. My feet are almost always dirty.
Walking away, I find an arrow in the ground. A neighbor probably lost it out here because of his shitty aim. There are also some hoofprints in the dirt. Maybe the shitty archer was trying to shoot a deer, or a horse. Can’t tell which. I pull the arrow from the ground and take it home. I can hear the ice cream truck driving on the road near the creek, but I never see it.

I got Mr. Tinnell good today. They’ll fire that four-eyed, sax-sucking bastard for sure. It’s what he gets for being a dick to me during Music Class. I told him I was playing Jazz, so he should have just shut the fuck up and let me play it. What’s the point of Jazz if I can’t make shit up as I go along? It’s what they call “improv”. Just wait until the mail comes tomorrow! The idiot left his wallet on his desk and I took his credit card. Ordered all kinds of stuff online and had it sent to the school’s address. Porn videos, dildos, condoms, sex dolls. All next-day shipping, too. God, I love the internet. I made sure to order some musical instruments, too, just so it looks even more legit. It’s gonna be funny when they start unboxing the flutes and find a big plastic dong staring them in the face. Blow on this, class. Follow the sheet music. I can’t wait.
I keep hearing the ice cream truck’s song. Ice cracking upon ice. Icicles falling in rhythm. It seems as if the truck will come around the corner at any moment, but it never does. I am sweating waterfalls. Dad is pass-out drunk again, as always, so I’m walking down the road, looking to see what I can see— cornfields surrounding me. The ditch along the road is pretty crowded. There are reeds growing up from the water. A frog jumps here and there, croaking. I see a cat poke its head out among the stalks, but when I try to catch it, it runs away. It is probably Candice Bowen’s cat. I wish I had her to play with.
Just when I am bored I see a dead dog laying in a jumble. It’s head is backwards, but otherwise it looks normal. I pick up a stick and poke at it for a minute or so before becoming bored again. And hot. It is too hot out here. Why do I keep coming out here when it is hot? It makes no sense.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that tomorrow Mr. Tinnell is going to be fired. And I am going to laugh and laugh. When I told Mark, that little coward said I shouldn’t have done it. He said I went too far and should have returned the credit card. But I did return Tinnell’s credit card, otherwise he would be able to claim that he didn’t have it— that someone stole it— and so he was innocent. Now he is going to look guilty as sin when he pulls it out of his wallet.

Mr. Tinnell was fired, but that was the least interesting thing that happened today. What was really good was when I snuck into Mr. Shaw’s office and poisoned his coffee. He started gagging and foaming at the mouth and they had to call an ambulance. Unfortunately, the paramedics arrived in time to save him. They say he almost died. After that, the police went searching through everyone’s backpacks. They found the window cleaner in Mark’s backpack, where I stashed it when he wasn’t looking. Mark bawled like a baby as they took him out of class and called his parents. He should have known better, though. He threatened to rat on me. The little two-faced fag. I showed him, didn’t I?
After that, the school closed down for the day. I got to go home early. Maybe I should poison Mr. Shaw more often. Maybe next time I will poison him for good.
I wipe my forehead with my arm. It looks like I have been sprayed with a water hose, I am sweating so bad. I hear the ice cream truck again in the distance— its stupid little chiming song—and wish it would hurry up and get here. I am roasting, inside and out. It is noon and dad isn’t home yet, so I am walking the road again. I hope I will see some of my classmates outside. Candice, or Cindy. But there’s nothing but the corn rows and the road and the stupid song of the ice cream truck.
And then it arrives. Out of nowhere. Scares me, the way it just rolls out of nowhere. I turn around and see it: big, white, shotgun-blasted with all of these colorful ice cream stickers. The man behind the wheel wears a little white hat and a white uniform. He is grinning, and I feel hotter than ever.
“Well, hello there, Judas,” he says. “How are you doing today?”
“The name’s Jude,” I say, though I don’t know why he should know my real name. “And it’s hot as Hell.”
The man nods his head in an exaggerated way, still grinning like a skull. It’s odd to see a guy like him working as an ice cream truck driver. He is so good-looking he could be on the cover of one of those romance novels my mom used to read all of the time before she left. He almost glows, he’s so good-looking. The bastard. I bet Mrs. Mattingly would drop her panties for him in a heartbeat. All of the girls would, and some of the fag-boys, too.
“Nothing helps with the heat like a popsicle or ice cream cone,” the man says.
“I don’t have any money,” I say. It is a lie. I have a pocketful of lunch money I stole from Henry Stayton just this week. I have a shoebox full of lunch money I stole from several kids throughout the year. I keep it buried so dad can’t take it and waste it on booze.
“Money’s no good here,” the man says, “unless, of course, it has been earned through an Indulgence. And you do not look like a priest, do you?”
If it is a joke, I don’t get it. The guy seems like an idiot, but maybe the ice cream is good. And I am so damn hot. I can feel the cool air flowing from his truck, and I just want to lay in the freezer and go to sleep. But not with this pedophile staring at me like he is.
“What kind of ice cream do you got?” I ask.
“Every kind,” he says. “Every color, flavor, creed, and nationality.”
I stare at the stickers on the ice cream truck. There are fudge pops and orange-swirls, pudding pops and pineapple-mango ice, ice cream sandwiches and frozen fruit bars. All kinds of ice cream. While I look, the driver puts the truck in Park and then steps back into the refrigerated trailer, rolling up the drop-down door where his serving counter is. There is a wall of pictures and names behind him. Many of the names I can’t make heads or tails of. Antony’s Neapolitan? Borgia’s Rocky Road? Usurer’s Sherbet? What the fuck?
I am too perplexed to understand what they all mean, and too hot to care.
“I don’t know what is good,” I say.
“I know you do not,” the man says, smiling angelically.
“Just give me whatever,” I say.
“You will get what you deserve,” he says.
He pulls a popsicle out of thin air and hands it to me.
“What kind is it?” I ask, ignoring his magic trick.
“Your kind,” he said.
I stare at the popsicle for a moment— wondering what kind of flavor it is— before sticking it in my mouth. It tastes awful.
“I don’t like it,” I say, trying to give it back.
The man merely smiles knowingly.
I hold it up for a moment, but when he doesn’t take it, I toss the popsicle into the cornfield. The green stalks and leaves wither and fade, the whole cornfield wasting to shriveled shoots of blighted stubble. I feel a chill that does not leave me. No matter how bright the sun burns down upon me, the heat I felt does not return.
I choke out the question as fear coils my throat like a snake.
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am,” the ice cream truck driver says, taking off his hat to reveal his horns. “You have always known who I am. Your whole life. I am your mentor. Your collector. Your curator.” He reaches for me with a taloned hand as the ice cream truck’s music crashes in my ears like breaking icicles. “Your destiny…”

The world is cold now. Everything is cold. I am frozen within and without. My heart does not beat; my blood does not pump. I am impaled on a giant stick and his horned head looms over me, nibbling on my soul and sucking whatever warmth remains in me. All around me is a dark, frozen lake. Icy bodies crack and break down below. Thousands are frozen here, unable to move or leave, their bodies shattering into icy fragments. There is no hope here. There is no warmth. At the bottom of the world, where the light of Goodness cannot reach, I shiver, wishing for the days when I could feel the heat of Hell’s other circles at my back. Somebody help me. Anybody. Please. I cannot escape that terrible cracking icicle song…

Broken Upon The Wheel (Part 1)

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A Bloodborne Tale

 

“I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’”

—John Keats, La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad

Feverish I have been; feverish near unto frenzy, for the blessed blood taints me, as it has done so many among us who Hunted upon the sprawling snowfields and spiraled spires of Cainhurst’s haunts. Too much spillage. How were we to avoid the Vileblood corruption when it rained down all around us in our bladed symphony and wheel-broken mayhem? Were I a stronger man I would not have feared beasthood. Yet, though thrust among the Healing Church’s ranks, I have always known myself to be more a failed scholar of Byrgenworth than an Executioner imbued with strength equal to my faith. Indeed, I had learned too much from the gaping-mouthed ghouls and dull-eyed scholars to have faith in the insidious Church, even whilst beneath the tutelage of Master Logarius, the purported paragon of faith. If I were to fault anything, it would have to be having been in such company as so many revered men. For my heroes have been revealed to me in all of their deficiencies, from Willem to Logarius, and even my most admired confidant, Nicolae.
But how had I come to this land of Vilebloods and its tantalizing heresies? Even now my mind is mingled with pasts and futures not my own— with lives belonging to the sanguine dregs of others and all the temptations that inhabited such individuals. Some things are more clearly branded in my mind than others. The rationale for my restless resettlement has always remained fairly pellucid. Even then I suspected that my addition to the Executioners was Willem’s scheme to rid himself of a scholar too flawed to be of use and too strong-willed to be obedient. After all, I was arrogant, naturally, and increasingly so as my sojourn at Byrgenworth proved my own insufficiencies as a scholar. I had been a feeble practitioner of the arcane arts. Laughably so, I must confess. I had no more eyes on the inside than the common Yharnamite. And the smirks and sneers of my fellow scholars further incensed me, tempting my transgressions. When I had stolen the Chalice and entered the Pthumerian tombs, Willem had no doubt been inclined to let me wander there until my death. But when I returned— my sword broken and my body on the verge of death— I held within my possession a valuable relic hitherto undiscovered. Willem ordered that I be treated well, so I might recover, and then he sent me to the Church, saying I needed to atone for my sins by becoming an Executioner. Knowing that to refuse was to forfeit my life, I obeyed him. I had seen the experiments conducted at Byrgenworth and had no desire to be likewise mutilated.
What an unsuspecting imbecile I was! A naif and fool. I wandered into Yharnam as a lamb unto a slaughterhouse. That is not to say that I was unaware of Willem’s intentions. As I have said, I was a disobedient young man disinclined to conformity. To send me to the Church, it seemed, was as to send an unruly charge from an overwrought governess to a military general. Either I should be disciplined or destroyed, and no additional course was to be considered. I suppose it helped in my “reformation” that Yharnam struck me so overwhelmingly when I first beheld it. It overawed me in a way that not even Byrgenworth and its many secrets could. Indeed, to see it was as to see a grim, black-hearted wastrel lurching out of an alleyway and looming large, his shadow dark and fetid and wholly encompassing you. It intimidated me, in short, and inspired in me a festering resentment.
Yharnam—what can be said of that dizzying edifice of vertiginous hypocrisy? One can see how the edifices and gables and spires of Yharnam rear upward toward the heavens like desperate supplicants to their lofty gods overtopping them. Thus city and citizenry are unified in their desperate conceit for deliverance. It was built upon Old Yharnam, as upon a fuming crypt of cremation. So, too, Byrgenworth was built upon the dead; that venerated seat of learning but a lectern whereat fools in dunce caps preach atop the bones of more learned sages of the Eldritch Truth. There are secrets in Oedon’s Chapel that would drive mad the Yharnamites huddled below it like stupid, blood-glutted farrows at a sow’s teats. I do not embellish when I say that Oedon’s Chapel is a cannibal mother to those of us clear-eyed enough to see it.
Yet, I had little time to accustom myself to that dizzying array of compounding architectural complexities. It was not long after I arrived in Yharnam and was introduced to my compatriots that Master Logarius led us upon the proverbial warpath. I was not yet settled into my quarters in Yharnam when I was rushed along Hemwick Lane with the others, ill-fitted with my clothing and my ridiculous golden helm. It was upon that road that I acquainted myself with my brethren. I had no formal introduction, nor even sufficient time to habituate myself to our cumbersome wheels. Hoisting the weapon upon my back, I wondered if it was merely a contrivance born of absurdity whereby to mock me as the newest recruit. But soon enough I saw that all of my brethren strapped the unwieldy weapon upon their back.
It was, in my opinion, no small amount of tomfoolery that we walked the entirety of the way to the threshold of our enemy’s domain. How ironic that we should walk while bearing upon our bowed backs the wheels wherewith we could outfit enough carriages to carry us. But it was as much a walk of Faith as it was a bonding exercise among our ranks. Master Logarius was, if anything, a man of certain principles. Adversity was his tempering stone. A hard man, he nonetheless inspired faith within the Executioners; perhaps because of his difficult temperament.
There were many of strong faith among the Executioners’ ranks. I felt misplaced among them, and unworthy. They welcomed me happily, and yet despite their camaraderie, I knew I was placed among them too late to be counted brotherly. I was, as a nuisance to Willem, expendable and likely soon discarded. For what was the reason for my swift induction into such venerated ranks except as a sacrificial goat? True, I had proven myself of some worth in the Pthumerian tombs, but much of my survival impinged upon wise retreat and selective killing. But this was war. The Vilebloods were warrior nobles of renowned prowess. They had imbibed forbidden blood and had gained horrendous strength from its occult legacy. How could an unseasoned scholar such as myself fare against such bloodlusting monsters as what enumerated within Cainhurst Castle?
The march was long and hard. I felt half-dead as we approached. Blood was made available upon the journey, to enliven us, and it helped to invigorate me, though it seemed to me to be lacking of essential vigors to compensate for my innate apprehension. My prevalent sense of dread only increased within me as we passed through the woods. It was truly odd, considering I had braved the Pthumerian tombs with nothing but my sword to accompany me. Yet, I would later discover in such apprehension the latency of a conflicted nature and inclination that would, inevitably, elucidate such fears as mere ambivalence arising from divided allegiances. Given time, of course. In the meantime, however, I was as a blind man groping in a hallway, confused as to which direction to go.
Thus, I turned to Nicolae, in whom I believed a trait of amicability presided and whom therein I might confide my apprehensions without derision or flippancy.
“I do not know if I am of merit or mettle to be among you,” I confessed.
He gave the most good-natured smile and patted my shoulder in a familiar way unknown to those cold-hearted minds of Byrgenworth.
“No one knows the worth of any untested tool,” he said. “It must be measured, as they say, when blade bites bone. Only then do we know if any of us are worthy of our call to serve.”
We came, at length, to the sleepy village of Hemwick. Here, in this backwater village, and on any misty morning, the fog rolls up from the sea and mingles with the ashen smoke of those charnel houses and mills, inseparably, as if a great fugue over the land; a forgetful dream rising up from the unplumbed depths. What a dilapidated sprawl of cottages and windmills! They were derelict not unlike the corpses they stripped and burned to fuel the Vileblood’s ambitions.
Women and men both worked united in this purpose. Yet, when they saw our arrival through the woods, they ceased immediately in their efforts. Initially I feared an altercation between our small army and that gaunt peasantry. But this fear did not manifest to form. Though its citizenry were enslaved to their masters, they did not contend our passage. Rather, they fled indoors, among their macabre labors, and did not emerge until we were well beyond their smoky village. Master Logarius commented that such an enterprise would benefit the Healing Church greatly. Ash marrow bullets were much coveted in the Church’s arsenal. Such an arsenal, he vowed, would help pave the road to the Church’s true ascension. Even now I cannot help but see a road cobbled in skulls and pooled with blood when I recall his words.
When I first saw Cainhurst Castle I was mesmerized by its forbidden beauty. Its ancient legacy was attested in every old stone upon which the towering edifice exulted itself. Its spires rose upward from the mountainous island, surrounded by the briny depths of the sea. A pale moon glossed the icy pinnacles and I felt a strange familiarity with such a forlorn image. Nor could I remember such a familiarity in my life. Byrgenworth’s insights had stripped me of my previous life. What memories I had were shattered glass shards. The attempt to summon to mind my past was, and even now is, as futile an endeavor as to draw out the blood from one’s own veins. It cycles, and determines who I am, yet I cannot harness it as upon a spool for closer reflection. What I knew, without one whit of doubt, was that Cainhurst meant more to me than either Byrgenworth or Yharnam could. At the time, however, I did not know if it meant my death or, perhaps, a new awakening.

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When we arrived at the Cainhurst Castle’s bridge we were met by silence. There were no forces awaiting us on that long stone bridge. Nor were there forces hailing us from the castle’s many windows. The wind skirled sibilantly against its tottering beauty, but apart from the elements we heard nothing. Snow fell, as if patting down the silence with its own immaculate hush. My unease grew in such silence. Yet, I was not certain what I was truly uneasy about: my own life and its potential loss, or our imminent disturbance into that silent, stony mistress that lorded over this land. It seemed sacrilegious to intrude there. This excited in me dread and euphoria, as one would feel in taking pleasure from one of Yharnam’s many whores— whether from her gaping thighs or her gaping veins.
The Castle was silent. The moon reigned above it like a skull-crowned monarch, glowing pallidly with its endless life.
“Have they alighted?” an Executioner asked, voicing what we all thought at that moment.
Master Logarius said nothing. He instead pointed wordlessly toward the portcullis. There was an audible gasp from someone among the Executioners. Perhaps it was from myself. Regardless of its origin, the gasp was justified, for the portcullis mocked us with its Pthumerian gawp, it being lifted— as if in betrayal—to invite us in to ravage the castle it was intended to protect. Perhaps, I thought, the Vilebloods had indeed alighted from the castle, seeking sanctuary in a distant land, or some distant sea. I hoped so, for I was in no mood for bloodshed upon such alluring grounds. We followed Master Logarius beneath the portcullis and into the moonyard of the inner walls. There was a water fountain there, frozen in the wintry wastes, and statues allotted here and there in intermittent clusters. To one side I saw the land fall away into a descending hollow that appeared to have been a cave once upon an age. The crush of rocks at the bottom indicated a concerted effort to close that passage. It begged the question as to what had been discovered there, and why it was feared.
The silence was unsettling. Indeed, it reminded me of still waters wherein a predator lurked, circling a fool oblivious to the teeth at his ankles. Instinctively, I drifted toward the center of our army, sheltering myself within our ranks. I feel no shame in admitting myself in want of advantage by their insulating numbers. They were, so far as my untested mettle was concerned, a mobile bulwark within which I might protect myself.
It was as we passed halfway between the portcullis and the Castle’s large, imposing doors that the sinister silence erupted into a clashing cacophony. Two large bodies of Cainhurst knights rushed us from afore and behind. It was a trap! To one flank gaped the hollow of crushed rock and to the other were the sheer walls of the Castle itself. Master Logarius was in front, and met the knights with his scythe, cutting them down like harvest-ready wheat. I had never seen such a terrible bloodletting before. His soldiers did no less in their efforts, crashing into, and smashing, the Cainhurst knights with their heavy Wheels. The Cainhurst knights were fast with their swords, but the Wheels overpowered their thrusts and slashes, turning them aside. Those whom were mounted upon horseback advantaged themselves of their height, slashing down at the Executioners below them. However, the Executioners were trained well— discounting myself—and soon overcame these knights by forming a phalanx with their wheels. Like a carapace of spokes and rims and hubs, they moved together, protecting each other while Executioners beneath them used their swords to cut the horses to stumps, thus throwing the knights for efficient dispatch. My brethren were coordinated and calm, even while surrounded in ambush. I had neither the collection of mind, nor the training of arms, to be of use in such a chaotic fray. I cowered among the Executioners, as a worm among armored beetles. Their power was matched only by their ferocious animosity toward the Vilebloods they smashed and mangled and mutilated. And their hatred was fostered by their faith in the Church. I was not possessed of such faith. I was an apostate.

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Neither was sheer strength my forte. I was not an Executioner imbued with brute force, nor were the arcane powers mine at easy beck and call, as I had learned alongside my peers in Byrgenworth. Something else was my acuity, though it would be some time before I learned of my latent talents.
The ungaily Wheels we used by the Executioners were cumbersome for me, and so I carried mine only as an observance of my newly acquired duty, preferring my blade in such butcher’s work, as I had during my exhumation of the Pthumerian Catacombs. Speed was an endowment advantaging me, and clever, furtive hands. While I could never wield the Wheels as my brethren did, I made use of the blade in an efficient manner when I could not longer cower behind my brethren. I was surprised at my own bloody work. The Pthumerian Catacombs had not been an ordeal like that of war, and here, in the moonyard of Cainhurst Castle, I discovered that when confronted with annihilation I had, at my disposal, a natural deftness for swordplay. I suppose this should not have astounded me so greatly. Though a thorough skeptic concerning the legacies of the Church, and the first Ministrations of the Old Blood, I still claimed for myself a certain pantheon of figures whom I admired. Ludwig, the Holy Blade, and his strange sword, had always intrigued and inspired me, even when I was an inept scholar at Byrgenworth. My admiration for Ludwig was why I allowed myself the use of the Holy Blade, despite it being a pale imitation of that great glowing moonlight sword of legend. To my shame, however, I must admit my inability to wield the imitation’s secondary form with any aptness or dexterity of hand, my strength being inadequate. Rather, the sheathe remained exactly that: a sheathe. I did not partake in such cumbersome additions when my natural disposition toward speed would have been disadvantaged for no particular betterment.
My inadequacies were mirrored, fortunately, in Cainhurst’s forces as we destroyed the ambushing forces and entered the Castle’s great hall. They had neither strength of numbers nor quality of strength in their warriors to hold the tide. As we ascended the central staircase, and killed whosoever was unwary enough to intercede our path, it became increasingly apparent how minimal their forces truly were. Indeed, they had supplemented their forces with the many stone statues that adorned that gigantic complex, arranging them like farcical imitations of the forces they lacked. It would have been laughable had the circumstances not been so serious. Perhaps they were desperate. Perhaps the were mocking us with their stolid-faced statues. Perhaps it was both.
There were more knights within the castle, and upon every level of its tottering heights, but they fell before us as do sand idols before the thrashing tides. Their armor, forged of thin silver in pompous fashion, offered little protection against the blunt impacts of the Executioners’ Wheels. Rather, the refined finery of those silver plates collapsed inward alongside ribs and skulls, inlaying the crimson pulp with smeared silver wrapping— nothing more.
I was not unaware of the stories concerning the servants of Cainhurst. The nobility had quaffed much of the forbidden blood, and, consequently, were given to inhuman transformations should the blood have provoked their more bestial natures. It was not unlike the Beast Plague in Yharnam, and, as such, these unfortunate circumstances necessitated the employment of Hunters. Only, here in Cainhurst the servants of the nobility were often trained to cull the nobility of the affected among its ranks. The knights, too, engaged in these culling efforts, but I found it endlessly fascinating that such duties should fall to inferiors and subordinates among what I presumed to be an arrogant aristocracy. Perhaps, I thought, they were not so arrogant after all. Perhaps there was a bond between them quite to the contrary as that of the Healing Church and its legion of unsuspecting naifs. Here, the nobility inspired fealty by laying their napes beneath the blades of their servants. The Healing Church, on the other hand, promised salvation with their ministrations, all the while opening veins to greater, more terrible infections than mere Ashen blood.
The Cainhurst servants engaged us as heartily as the Cainhurst knights had. They were formidable with their rapiers and unassuming, slinking ways. Ultimately, they were smashed like the many scores of other bodies left in our wake. Yet, I felt a keen sorrow for them as they ran to meet us on behalf of their masters. The small, withered men and women were half the height and stature of their betters, and still managed a certain nobility in their brave, foolish deaths. Apparent as their mistreatment was at the behest of the nobility, the servants nonetheless were— or wherefore became— dedicated to that ancient bloodline.
I have oft wondered what went through the minds of our victims that night. I would have thought it strange to see a siege led by men in golden helmets and carrying those impractical Wheels about. But I did not doubt that, once the battle had been engaged, whatever mirth might have assumed itself in their minds at such a ridiculous sight rapidly transformed to horror. Having never seen a Wheel utilized in such a barbarous fashion, I was myself quite shocked to see the butchery that followed. Broken bones, smashed guts, caved-in heads— for being such an absurd weapon, the Wheel manifested shockingly gory proceedings. Vileblood blades were either turned away by the cumbersome rims or arms were snapped by the ensnaring spokes. The small, hunkering servants were pulverized to steaming heaps of meat and bone within moments. It was horrifying.
But I noticed a more horrifying phenomenon beyond the mere spectacle of slaughter. Following behind my brethren, like a gosling in the currents of its parents, I could see much what they, in their murderous frenzy, could not see. And I am grateful that I had enough sense, at first, to fear for my well-being. Moreover, I was appalled by so much rampant carnage and delayed enjoining my own blade in service to the Church except in instances where my own life would be forfeit. Yet, among the visceral nausea, there came, parallel and intensifying the former, an Eldritch abhorrence. At first I merely dismissed it as the fanciful notion of an overwrought mind. Yet, thinking back on it now I know it to have been no mere fancy born from the violence arrayed around me. What I saw had indeed transpired: as the Vilebloods perished, their blood circumscribed those abominable Church weapons, girdling them like a torrential stream upon a waterwheel. I do not claim to know if it was a crimson curse of the Vilebloods in the throes of their deaths, or some diabolical upon the Executioners’ Wheels imbued by the Church. But what I saw, as my brethren smashed knights and servants alike, was a literal cyclical curse.
That is not to say that the scholar in me was not intrigued by the apparent phenomenon. My mind subsequently rifled through its admittedly limited tomes of knowledge, seeking a corresponding phenomenon or similar account. The nearest similitude readily recalled was a brief overview of Pthumerian sanguinomancy and an anecdote concerning an incident in a fishing hamlet. Regardless of the unfamiliarity of the phenomenon, I understood it for what it was: a bloody curse. Nor was it superstition that deemed it so in my recognition. The more my brethren killed, the more blood-drunk they became, and consequently the more blind they were to the vengefulness of the spirits harnessed about the rims of their Wheels. Even mild-tempered Nicolae was besot with the crimson lunacy. His countenance was disquieting to behold.
The resistance within Cainhurst diminished by degrees of quality and quantity. Soon the knights were all destroyed, and the servants rapidly fell in succession. We came to a dining hall, and there within it were noblewomen armed with daggers. Attired in flowery dresses, beautiful and damned and damning a man with their winsome beauty and false frailty, they gave me pause. Even the blood-crazed Executioners looked upon them with some hesitation. Yet, Master Logarius had iron in his soul sharper and stronger than any manmade blade and, so, bade us bind and blind those that did not immediately fall in the ensuing violence of disarming them. This, I knew, was to spare his own flock the temptations of their beauty. Indeed, the noblewomen tempted the cloistered scholar in me with their seductive eyes. I felt pity for them, and knew it to be a failure in my human flesh, or perhaps a foible of my beast’s blood, and therefore a vermin of soul to be silenced with a merciless boot. When my brethren slit their throats I felt a great pang crying out to those wretched beauties, even as I abhorred their power over me.
We ascended the Castle, coming to a vast library that would have shamed Byrgenworth with its collection. The scholar in me bemoaned so many unread works. Who knew what arcana inhabited that vast, many-storied library with its labyrinth walkways and oaken staircases and tiers upon tiers of shelves? And yet, even here great butcheries were perpetrated in the name of the Healing Church. Master Logarius was like the Wheels with which the Church armed his followers: ever grinding inexorably onward in his bloody path.
‘Twas easier to gain entry into the depths of the Pthumerian labyrinths than the upper reaches of Cainhurst castle. Battle was bloody up its heights, with both knights and maidens raising arms against us. They all fell, however, as we wound our way upwards, led by Logarius and undauntable Nicolae. The castle was as a puzzlebox, demanding due vigilance and keenness of mind. Many times we found ourselves confronted by dead ends, and barbarous traps, but Master Logarius and Nicolae both persevered, leading us upwards, never once stonewalled for long. I marveled at our progress, for I felt quite heady and troubled by the entire foray, my mind bucking me like an obstinate stallion. The castle itself held some sway over me, it seemed, though I dared not voice such misgivings to my brethren.
One thing was certain, though: the Vilebloods were ill-prepared for our assault. They had not expected the Church to be so bold, or perhaps their pride assumed themselves too strong to be overthrown. We slaughtered their horses and laid waste to their servants long before they could muster a defense.
Logically, I thought of it as no massacre, but merely as an impersonal culling of the beastly herd. It was no secret that the Vilebloods had partaken of filthy blood and in so doing doomed themselves toward the plague of beasts. The ashen plague was of their making as well, and would undo them in time without the Church’s machinations.
Or so I had been told.
We ascended to the very heights of the castle, finding ourselves upon its windy roofs and snowy turrets. The frosted crown of the castle was as treacherous as its inhabitants. A chance misstep and I nearly lost my foothold as we scoured the rooftops for the remaining beasts and royalty. Master Logarius must have had a keener eye than myself, for he led us along the precarious catwalks and spires toward some unseen . I almost thought him mad, for a time, and wondered if he was chasing cold phantoms from the foggy sea.
We were met by the Vileblood King upon the rampart of the remaining expanse of the castle. When he arrived, with his heretical Chikage, we thought our revenge near its end. He was unaccompanied, standing solitary against a score of us. His last stand was hopeless and vain.
Foolhardy as I was, I was caught unawares when the King thrust his sword into his own body. I mistook his actions as a final act of defiance, and aristocratic arrogance to deny us the killing blow, and so I dropped my guard, struck thereupon by his blazing blood as he withdrew the blasphemously steeped blade. I fell and did not rise until after the King had been slaughtered by my brethren. Nicolae knelt over me, surveying the damage. I could see only with one eye, the other benighted by the vileblood fire.
I attempted to stand, but Nicolae ordered me to rest, and so I rested. When I awoke later, I felt delusional, for I saw my brethren manifesting from thin air upon the battlements of the castle. Their demeanors were grave, despite our victory. I rose unsteadily to my feet and asked them what was the matter. They informed me that Master Logarius had been slain during the execution of Queen Annalise. I felt a great pang of guilt, thinking that my absence might have forfeited our Master’s life in the final confrontation. Yet, my remaining eye alighted upon the bloody head of the fallen Vileblood King, and I wondered at his missing crown. It was curiously strange, but I said nothing of it, knowing that discretion in Church matters was holy in its own way.
And yet I recalled it vividly, intimately, as if I had known that crown my entire life. It had been embedded in its long, slender turrets with jewels of jade, amber, ruby, sapphire, and amethyst. It was a garish piece of ornamentation, and yet I had sensed within it a jewel beyond equal; a jewel yet unseen, except perhaps in dreams, and a jewel to which access was granted solely through such a strange crown.
We left that forsaken castle and returned to Hemwick Lane, greeted by its residents as heroes. They were all of them now liberated from their ancient bondage to Cainhurst and its Vileblood dynasty. Nicolae assured us, with his naive smile, that the residents would find salvation in the teachings, and the ministrations, of the Healing Church. Yet, even then I could discern the ravages of the Ashen Blood in their gaunt faces. They were dying slowly, painfully, and cheered us with agonized grimaces. What would the Church do if Hemwick should succumb as Old Yharnam had? Its weaponry against evil was maintained through the blessed work of Hemwick. Without bone ash the Church would lose power, despite having just conquered its greatest enemy.

chikagefinalsize

 

Love Letters

Emily sat at an escritoire that resided on the landing between the lower and upper floors of her ancestral home. The lower stairs were to her right, in front of the old grandfather clock, and the upper stairs to her left, both flights shrouded in shadow. At her back was an old chair— lion-pawed and adorned with arabesques, the head of which was a fierce face wreathed in a mane—and beyond it the balustrade overlooking the lower floor’s hall. In front of her, atop the cherry oak escritoire, was vellum, a black ink well, and her pale hands, the left sprawled atop the vellum in a most fragile, yet possessive, fashion, and the other crooked with a quill in its dainty claw. Beyond all this loomed the window, which allowed the moon in as that pallidly polished piece of silver rose above the garden, stretching the shadows of dogwood trees across the lawn. From here, too, could be seen the barn upon the hill, at a greater distance, where the cows slept, its asymmetrical roof angling toward the silent stars.
But none of these observations mattered to Emily. Rather, her thoughts were wholly consumed with one image, and that image was the face of her beloved. She wrote his name several times, and whispered his name all the while. Her parents were abed, as were the slaves in their shack, and so Emily made little sound as she toiled by moonlight. To have seen her working so, her parents would have disapproved—her father because he knew well how ruined a pair of eyes might become by moonlit labors, and her mother because she knew well how ruined a young woman could become by moonlit romances. Emily had at the ready a match and a candlestick, but she was not ready to employ them yet. For the spell to work the preparations had to be properly undertaken. The candlestick and the match lay beside a small, red-edged penknife.
Emily continued writing the name of her intended lover until the vellum was utterly wet with her scrawl. She began to feel faint, swaying as an anemic exhaustion overtook her. The wind blew susurrations through the pink heads of the dogwoods. The latter were all abloom, but black and white by moonlight.
Letting the vellum dry, Emily leaned forward and raised the window. It took great effort, for it was a large window and she felt very weak. At length, it rose and the wind swept in, cool against her wan skin. She collapsed back, her nightgown rustling, but the heavy chair silent and unmoved with the sudden return of her languid weight. Her lips trembled, colorless, and her eyelids fell heavy over her blue irises. Lolling a moment, she roused and rallied herself once more. Her bonnet seemed too great a weight upon her clammy head and so she peeled it off, letting her blonde hair spill down freely.
Emily drifted through a fog of memories. The ritual required sacrifice, and those sacrifices returned to her in inchoate flashes of images. She saw the little calf she had helped deliver and fed and coddled like a childhood playmate. She had slit its throat herself and through her own labors rendered the vellum from its skin. She saw the parrot her father had procured for her, and which she had taught to repeat loving words to her mother. She slit its throat, too, and sharpened its tailfeather into her needful quill. The tallow candle had been gotten from the fat of a farrow of piglets that, like her calf, kept her company for a time.
The vellum had at last dried and so Emily struck the match, its head flaring into a small flame. She lit the candle, holding its waxy tower in her stronger hand. The wax seemed warmer than her own fingers. With her weakened hand she lifted the vellum and, in the moonlight, her scrawl almost appeared black, though it shimmered red as the paper wrinkled and shivered in her unsteady hand. Her wrist stung where the cloth bound back its tide and her grip wavered. Willing her grip tighter, she lifted the vellum higher.
Now came the moment of revelation. She held the vellum by its top corner, letting the bottom corner drag across the candle’s flame. The moon was high as the flame greedily ate the vellum, racing up its whiteness and leaving only ash and flaring embers that drifted out the window, against the wind, and across the field, toward the hill. She held the vellum until the last bit of calfskin paper had been dissolved between the pinch of her blackened forefinger and her thumb. That hand did not matter anymore— it had been rendered useless by the ritual. What mattered now was the face she had seen reflected in the ivy-wreathed window, among the flames and the crimson scrawl. The wind rose once again, trees whispering. Emily heard them say her name. Looking beyond the windowpane, she saw another shadow upon the hilltop where the barn sat. There was a ring of megaliths where there had been none; three to a group, in post-and-lintel arrangement.
Quietly, Emily tiptoed downstairs and slipped out the door. The night air invigorated her, as did the promise of the ritual, and though her arm was numb she did not care. She crossed the garden, passed the dogwoods, and then the field. The only creature that stirred was an old black dog on the porch of the slaves’ shack; and it merely whimpered, trembling incessantly.
As Emily tread uphill she raised her thin nightgown above her head with her good hand, letting it fall to the earth. Clothed only in moonlight, the slender figure entered the ring of standing stones and was never seen again.

Caustic

Disclaimer: Adult Content and Gallows Humor.  Some might say this is politically incorrect, but such people are too blinded by career-oriented agendas to read between the lines or to see past their own projection.  It’s all in good fun, even if it is also a little bit, well, caustic.

It was past midnight by the time Daria pulled into the parking lot below the tall apartment complex. She had taken her time that evening in her photography studio, developing several wedding photos before finally making good on Kyle’s invitation to come over. The wedding photos were not an urgency for her. They were for Mr and Mrs Bentley, whom she had started to call Mr and Mrs Getbentley because of their nagging. She always came up with dismissive names for wedding photography clients. She resented such clients most of all.  Still, Daria did not want to drop what she was doing all at once because a boy had called her over for dinner. No, Daria was taking her time developing the wedding photos for their album, giving them their proofs piecemeal and taking pleasure in cutting their faces up for a collage with which to taunt them, like a kidnapper cutting out letters from various magazine ads for a ransom letter. Or perhaps she was more like a serial killer taunting police. The truth was that Daria held nothing but contempt for couples getting married, and resented having to work for them, especially for their weddings.
Daria did not bother to dress up. She wore a black sweater and blue jeans, a pink shade of lipstick, but no makeup otherwise. She had only started seeing Kyle a month ago and she wanted him thirsty and aware of who held the keys to the libido kingdom in the pseudo-relationship. That wasn’t to say that they never had sex—they had sex the first night they met at a mutual friend’s art exhibit after going to his apartment for wine—but she wanted him to know she had full control over the limited resource of her body and that he was not entitled to any of it even though he was a White cisgender male that made six figures a year trading stocks. The amusement park could close at any time, and often did. Last time she came over to his apartment she left prematurely because he wanted to watch a Jackie Chan movie. Totally boring. Hopefully, she thought, he learned his lesson or she would blue-ball him again.
Kyle had already given her card access to the apartment complex. She used it to get into the lobby and to take the elevator up to his floor. On the way up she felt some pressure on her stomach. She belched, her throat burning with bile, and she was glad she was the only one in the elevator. She carried no purse—being a 10th wave feminist—but she did keep a roll of Tums in her pocket. Her gastroenterologist said that Daria suffered from excessive acidity. She called it acidosis. Her gynecologist claimed the same thing, more or less. Too much alcohol, they said, and not enough alkali to balance it out. She told both of them that she ate plenty of cheese with her wine, but cheese also had lactic acid in it, or so they said. Sometimes her skin blistered and rashes bloomed on her knees, elbows, and forehead. She resented makeup, mostly, but used it whenever she had flare-ups. She felt like she was being dipped in acetic acid by someone who did not know the first thing about film development.
Then again, she also knew the bulimia did not help. Eating a carton of ice-cream and then force-vomiting afterwards left canker sores in her mouth. The sores hurt when she talked, which only made her angrier when she had to talk to people she disliked. And she disliked a lot of people.
Kyle had a posh apartment on the upper side of town. He had no taste for movies or art, Daria reflected, but he did have good taste for amenities and material comforts. There was merit in that, at least. And he had good taste in women, obviously, since he was so hopelessly head-over-heels for Daria. He was like a puppy dog around her. Too bad she was a cat person. Still, she thought him useful for passing the time.
The elevator opened and Daria stepped out, popping another Tums tablet into her mouth and chewing it as she walked the long, high-scale hallway that led to Kyle’s apartment. The silence attested to the quality of the apartment complex. Thick walls and solid doors. Someone could be screaming bloody murder and no one would hear it next door, above or below the apartment.
Daria came to room 512 and swallowed whatever bits remained of the Tums tablet. The acidic heat subsided in her throat and stomach. The bile ebbed. The card Kyle gave her to the lobby and elevator did not work on his room, which irritated her. But it was a ritzy apartment building so they had cards for everything. She hated door buzzers and chose to knock instead. Kyle fumbled with the chain a moment.
“I didn’t think you would show up,” he said, both nervous and giddy with apparent joy as he opened the door.
“You sure look like it,” she said, frowning at his boxers, black socks, and white T-shirt. “You getting ready to go to bed? That’s okay. I’ll just go out with some friends if you are tired…”
“No, no,” he said hurriedly. “I just thought it was too late for you to want to come over. I was watching something on tv…”
“Nothing pervy, was it?” she teased, albeit with a tone so flat that he could not tell the difference. Daria disconcerted most people this way, including her own parents when she spoke to them…which was rarely.
“No, just some old sitcoms,” he said. “I like to jump around. MASH. Seinfeld. Frasier…”
“Old White guys sitcoms,” she remarked with a frown. “Whining about their privileged lives.”
Kyle smiled uneasily. He had shaved, which Daria did not like. She preferred him to have stubble on his chin. Since his hair was black it gave him a very Bohemian shade to his look, even if it gave nothing to his milquetoast personality.
“I guess so,” he said. His awkward, nervous laugh died in his throat. “What do you watch for comedy?”
“Nothing before 2010,” she said, walking past him and into his apartment. She went to his living room, which was dark except for the glow of the television and the city beyond the windowpane. “Anything before that is just too Patriarchal for me to stomach.”
“Oh,” he said, closing the door. “I guess I’m not up to date on that stuff.”
She felt bile rising in her throat again.
“Need to use the ladies room,” she said lightly. “Be back in a second.”
Daria went into his bathroom and closed the door behind her. Looking into the mirror she saw, much to her chagrin, that her forehead was broken out with an angry red patch of psoriasis. It was reptilian in its scaliness.
“Should have used makeup after all,” she grumbled.
Her brown hair was pulled back into a stern ponytail. She undid the tie and let her hair fall to her shoulders. Her bangs covered most of the rash. If Kyle kept the lights off then he would not be able to see the rash. She ate another Tums and rinsed down the chalk with some water. The cool water stimulated her bladder. Sitting down on the toilet, she peed. Peeing burned down below and up into her lady bits.
“Great,” she muttered. “Yeast infection. Or a bladder infection. Maybe both, knowing my luck.”
Her gynecologist told her once that condoms could cause infections. Of course, pregnancy was a worse infection—in her estimation anyway—but she really wished men would get more vasectomies. One little snip and that was it. But their pride got in the way of progress. Daria had been known to castrate men with a quip, so it was all a normal procedure for her.
She waited until the burning, and the tinkling, stopped, then washed her hands and went out to the living room. She was annoyed to find that Kyle had turned the lights on.
“No,” she said. “Lights off.”
While Kyle turned the lights off, Daria sat on his leather couch in front of the huge widescreen television. The lights blinked off and Kyle tried to nonchalantly sit beside her—as if he wasn’t under the delusion that Netflix-and-Chill was always a euphemism for sex while throwaway programming cycled in the background.
“No funny business,” she said. “If this was a booty call I’d tell you.”
Kyle eased off of her, leaning toward his side of the sofa.
“Sorry,” he said. “I just…well…I like you a lot.”
“Course you do,” she said. “I am awesome.” She frowned at the television. “This? Not so awesome.” She held her hand up and Kyle surrendered the remote control. She cycled through the Netflix browser. “This looks pretty good,” she said, selecting an Indie art house film.
“I’ve heard the reviews aren’t great,” Kyle said reluctantly.
“Anybody with a keyboard and an internet connection can critique something,” she said, as if explaining to a toddler. “You can’t let other people tell you what to think.” She crossed her legs, kicking impatiently as her nether regions began to burn again. “Now be quiet and watch. You’ll enjoy this.”
But half an hour later and Daria was not enjoying the film anymore than the critics. It was a slow burn— like the burn between her legs and at the back of her throat—and it went nowhere. Yet, Daria’s pride would not let her turn it off. Kyle fell asleep a few times, and she even nodded off once or twice, finally succumbing to sleep at the forty-five minute mark. She woke up later, the credits rolling down the screen. She needed to pee again.
Rushing to the bathroom, Daria relieved herself. It was painful. The bile rose up in her throat again and she spat it into the toilet. Throat, mouth and vagina burning, she examined herself in the mirror. Apart from redness—and the rash on her forehead—she looked fine. She left the bathroom and rejoined Kyle on the couch. They cycled through the browser again, finding nothing. Neither of them was in a mood to watch anything anyway. Kyle yawned, which irritated Daria. She was ready to leave, but then Kyle spoke.
“I met one of your friends today,” he said. “Or ex-friends, I guess. Toni Bower. She’s an intern at the office.”
Daria never laughed, but she did smirk often, and she smirked expansively at this. “I always knew she’d become an office waitress. She sure as hell was a shit photographer.”
Kyle cringed. “Yeah, she seemed nice enough. At first, I mean. But then I told her I was dating you and she looked like I had ran over her cat.”
Why were you talking about me?” she demanded. “And we are not dating. This is just…hanging out with benefits. Sometimes with benefits.”
Kyle raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “She wanted to grab coffee,” he said. “I told her I had a girlfriend so she wouldn’t feel rejected. I thought I had a girlfriend,” he added, looking at a loss.
“That’s pretty presumptuous,” Daria said. “Of both of you.” She eyed Kyle coolly, quite irritated with him and with Toni. Daria had planned on dumping Kyle sooner or later, but now she couldn’t. She didn’t like the idea that Toni would be Kyle’s rebound girl. Toni, she thought, was a damn scraphound.
Leaning toward Kyle, Daria rested her head on his shoulder. He could not see her face, but she was smirking— smirking at him as much as at the thought of Toni Bower working as an intern.
“That bitch has some serious crabs downtown,” she said. “She sleeps with just about any dude with a guitar. He doesn’t even need to know how to play it. In college her panties would drop if she saw a dude with a pick in his hand. She’s basically just a groupie for loser guitarists.”
“You are so caustic,” he said.
“What can I say?” she said. “I am a soup kitchen of sarcasm, and everybody’s in line for a bowl. And that bitch deserves multiple servings. Shit photographer and a shit feminist, too. 3rd Wave washout. She’ll probably be knocked up by one of the janitors there by the end of the year. No, it will be worse. She’ll probably marry one of the janitors. She deserves as much.”
“Toni seemed nice, though,” Kyle said. “Really, she did.”
Daria shrugged with smug self-assurance, then took off her sweater. “You’d be real nice, too, if you would just fuck me and stop talking about Toni Bower.”
At least Kyle was good at foreplay, she thought. Her panties were gushing by the time he put his rubber on. She ignored the burning downstairs, even after he inserted himself and began to thrust away. He was average in every measure, so the burning was not exacerbated too much. For a while, at least. He even managed to give her a couple of decent orgasms, her vagina tantalized into gushing vengefully against the image of Toni Bower crying in a lonely corner of an office building. Daria hated that bitch so much that it made her horny.
It was just before Daria’s third orgasm that Kyle began to grunt and groan and make painful faces. At first Daria thought he was going to orgasm. That irritated her. How selfish! She considered herself a 10th wave feminist— far ahead of the curve— and she did not want a man to finish inside her without giving her what she wanted first. So, she pushed him off of her and, before he could say anything, grabbed him by his ears and dragged his face down in between her legs. She was so wet now. He began to convulse, but she did not let go; no matter how loudly he screamed into her pelvis. When she had finished shaking from her final orgasm she let him fall back, moaning in agony. She was so taken away by climax that she did not care. If the building was on fire she would have just laid there, satisfied and unconcerned. It was when he began crawling across the floor that she realized something was wrong.
“Don’t be such a baby,” she said. “Eating pussy never killed anyone.”
He mumbled something, weeping and pointing to his face and to his penis.
“I am not going to blow you off,” she said. “Go finish yourself in the bathroom.”
He was shaking with sobs now and she lost patience. Sighing angrily, she stood up from the couch and turned on a light. Blood streaked the floor where he had crawled like a worm. He tried to speak, but could only moan ineffectually. His tongue, and his penis, had been melted to bloody nubs.
“Okay,” Daria said, after considering him for a long time. “I suppose Toni can have you if she wants.  Better than a janitor, I guess.”