The Vile Assembly

The Vile Assembly

The Great Detonations of the twenty-first age killed half the world. And yet more: it mutated we who survived. Our eyes don’t quite work properly, anymore, though our other senses are far greater. The average human will experience the perfect culmination of light and color to see the world properly roughly once every few years.

It’s not all bad, though. In the dark, you see, everything is anything it should be.

* * *

I found myself praying to Nailed God when I learned that my title of Lordess was balanced on a blade’s breadth. It wasn’t a rank bestowed by the Crown. I was, rather, the Lordess of a gang: the Murder of Crows.

I needed the Nailed God’s help.

A fortnight before my praying began, I’d found trouble with a Crown-approved gang: The Fangs; who lived down on Sandpiper Quarter, where the monsters dwelt.

My Murder reported one of the Fangs was selling thaumaturgical artifacts in my district of Elysium. So I assembled my Murder and set out to treat with him. Only to treat. Nothing more.

My Murder was wreathed in their own darknesses, and followed my orders to stay put while I approached. Halfway down the road, I’d heard the jangle of jewels against leather—a sack that held them, most like (In Morgad, you see, a keen ear keeps you safe—the ability to hear all the intricacies of sound and then translate them into sight is vital to survival in the blind city).

“What is your business in Elysium?” I asked.

The monster’s voice was raspy. It probably had teeth grinding in the back of its throat. I kept my distance, my hand holding the grip of my blade. “What’s it to you?” he asked.

“You encroach on my district,” I’d told him.

“I can sell what I like where I like.”

“Why?” I asked him, “Because you belong to a Crown-approved gang?”

“Because I’m a prince of the Fangs!”

“A prince of the Fangs,” I had to admit, the words flowed well enough. And yet: “How high, truly, is a prince of the gutters? Is that not unlike being king of the ashes?”

At his hip was a rattling–a scraping. He was unholstering his blade, I realized. So I mimicked the draw, though quicker than him, and cut off the hand that held his weapon.

He did not bother to scream—from shock or because the monster had no nerves to feel pain I’ll not profess to know. Nevertheless, he fled, hooves pounding down the stone street.

I followed him.

The street was empty, save us two and my Murder. I’d whistled across the way and heard one of my Crows whistle in return. I needed to keep track of where they all were. It was too easy to get lost in the dark city.

More and more of my Crows whistled, closing in on all sides.

And the next day, the minor prince from the Fangs was discovered in the gutter with his throat opened wide.

The Fangs didn’t like that. And having the Crown on their side gave them some authority to settle the dispute.

* * *

I finished my prayer to the Nailed God and sighed, hands falling to my sides and feeling the granite steps overlooking the battle-yard. Few dared to venture there, which was why I had—wearing a cloak of three layers of interwoven crow-feathers; and with fingers bedecked with rings of lapis lazuli. I’d chosen my favorite blade—the one with the good-luck wolf on the end.

I let out a low whistle. Far off in the darkness, someone matched my note. So I tried three notes, interchanging. Thrice-over the same notes returned. Then came the footsteps—three pairs, and the sound of canes clacking toward me.

It’s a trick everyone in Morgad learns sooner or later—to separate the rhythm of a man’s cane. To know the difference between one man’s click clack click clack from another’s clackity click clackity click.

I whistled again and more whistles returned. Five, then seven, then ten. I continued this way until my Murder was assembled.

They were wordless for they knew what awaited us. Soft hands and rough hands helped me out of my cloak and removed my hauberk. They rubbed oils and ointments on my arms and torso. “Relax, Isora.” It was Retcha’s voice. The one who spoke a quarter-octave above me, but softer. “Now isn’t the time for fear.”

“No,” I agreed. “That comes later.”

Another Crow spoke, then. I think it was Azoc, my chief lieutenant. His thrice broken nose made his voice sound all squishy. “Your cloak—It’s scratchy. What’s it made from?”

“Crow feathers,” I said. “It cost me a high price.”

“If you lose, can I keep it?”

Azoc would gain Lordship over the Murder of Crows if I lost. I might’ve given him the cloak, too, except that he asked.

So I snorted a laugh and turned to face him. “You want it?”

“I’d love tha—”

I threw my fist toward his voice and felt his nose crack on my knuckles. In less than a second there was a whump on the ground. I didn’t hear Azoc speak or move. There was only his breathing.

“Find my cloak, please, Retcha,” I said, not unkindly. “That cost me a fortune. I’d rather not lose it.”

I felt a force on my shins like a raven had spattered into then. Hands grasped at my leg. The soft hands of my green boy. “I’ll always be your man!” It was Orym speaking now, squeaky as a rusty door hinge. I felt the boy’s soft hand on my cheek. “No matter what happens tonight, I’ll always be loyal to you.”

I reached out and clamped down on the boy’s wrist. “You will not,” I said. “If they kill me, you’ll flee and go kiss the feet of the first brigand with a blade that you find on the road.”

“I cannot,” Orym said. “I will not! Don’t make me!”

I let the silence hang there. If he had anything more to say, he’d have filled it.

I could sense all ears on me, waiting for my voice. I laughed and then released Orym’s wrist. “You’re a fool,” I said. Though even I wasn’t sure if I meant it as an insult.

* * *

The Fangs arrived late to the battle-yard. Their steps were made heavy by what I assumed were royal-grade boots. I leaned forward from my seat on the steps. as they came stomping across the grass. There were seven rhythms to hail seven Fangs approaching. Seven cloaks snapped in the wind with a sound like war banners. Unless it was war banners, and they weren’t wearing cloaks. I could hear them mutter and hiss and growl guttural speeches to each other. The bootsteps fell silent, save one: their champion, who approached me.

“Are you ready, Lordess Isora?”

I spat on the ground in answer and then rose and reached out. “Who is this champion I’m speaking to? I would know your face.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this.” I reached out to touch him. My hands found his face and I traced its outline. Crows rustled and Fangs fidgeted with their blades as I measured the width of his shoulders; the size of his hauberk—where there was flesh there were soft, squishy bumps, even on his right eyelid. His flesh was slicked with a layer of pus and his hair felt damp as seaweed. I touched his teeth, solid and flat, though with some slick layered-coating for protection.

He was short enough that I could put my palm flat on his head without moving my arm over my shoulder.

“A boy,” I said. “You’ve sent me a boy. Do you think a trial by battle rewards a concave chest?”

A few of my Crows laughed at that. The boy slid out of my reach. “Blade!” He shrieked. “Bring me my blade!”

“Mine, too,” I said. My Crows returned to me my hauberk and cloak. “If I die, I might as well ruin my most costly possessions. I don’t want any of you looting my corpse Do you hear me?”

There were scattered yeses, so I unholstered my blade and turned toward the Fangs’ champion.

Across the battle-yard was a sound like something unzipping. Then I heard the unmistakable vrrrung of his weapon. I knew that sound. It was a weapon with metal teeth spinning around the blade’s edge.

For the first time, my confidence wavered. I tightened my grip on my blade and steeled myself toward the task at hand.

“He’s got a power-blade,” Retcha muttered. “Do you hear that? He’s got a power-blade.”

“And he’ll need long arms to use it,” I said, though I wondered if these monsters weren’t smarter than I’d anticipated.

But I knew the rules for engaging a power-blade. If I tried to parry against its edge my blade would be cut in half. So as we crossed the yard toward each other I kept my blade down and out of its path and hoped the boy would come to me.

His breathing was heavy before his first attack; his tongue, I assume, hanging out as he panted; his great slavering jaws dripping with saliva.

The pitch of his power-blade changed as he hefted it. I followed the noise, retreating as it grew louder and moving in when the vrrrunging grew fainter.

That was the problem with power-blades. They could kill you quicker than a blade, but your opponent could hear your weapon, which made defense easier.

The vrrrung changed to vrrraang and, anticipating a thrust, I sidestepped its path, listening to the sparks spit from the device, their heat nearly spewing onto my face

The vrrrang turned to vrrrung and the sparks crackled on the ground a mere foot away. The power-blade’s sparks lurched. The boy was stumbling, changing tactics. I could hear his breaths from across the yard as he worked some spell to sharpen his teeth and turn fingers to claws.

So I broke his concentration—I smacked him on the ear with the flat of my blade.

“Come, Fangs!” shouted Azoc, who had regained consciousness, “Let’s hear a fight!” There was laughter at that.

The boy was still stumbling—still changing, so I smacked him again. His transformation stopped and something fumped to the ground. I could hear sparks leaping into the air with fizzling cracks as the power-blade chewed up the ground. The loose dirt sprayed my shins. Beyond the weapon I heard the boy huffing, but otherwise there was no sound of movement. He was regaining his strength to make ready for another attack, or spell.

I came forward, stepping around the power-blade and I threw myself into a sustained, attack, swinging my blade with well-practiced figures-of-eight.

The boy’s bootsteps were uneven in his retreat, distracting him from the attack he’d been readying. I heard a short, sharp shout and a sound like a box on the ear.

In my pursuit, I almost fell victim to the same trap—the hole that had no doubt turned his ankle. Treachery he planted that had been turned against him. If I had the breath I’d have laughed at the irony.

But I regained my balance and brought the blade down hard, yet I sliced only through empty air. I whirled about, looking and listening for my opponent.

Then a line of pain panged the back of my shin. I fell to the dirt, spitting loose soil when  a weight fell on my stomach, driving my breath from me. I reached up and seized pus-slicked wrists. “That’s not how you fight with a dagger, boy.”

“One of us is about to get stabbed,” he said, “You’re in no position to tell me how to use this.”   

My arms burned with the exertion of holding his wrists. I didn’t reply. I just waited and calculated. One false move and his dagger would go through my throat.

“You killed one of our princes!” He grunted.

“He was in my district,” I said through my teeth.” I twisted his arms and my hips all at once. The boy and I toppled in a tangle of limbs. I pried the dagger from his hands as we struggled and threw one leg over his chest.

Our positions had changed as I pushed the knife toward his chin while boy pushed my hands back in an attempt to stave off the point. “He was making a profit off of my people!” I said. His pus mixed with my sweat, turning both our grips slick. “He was a monster, besides!”

I could feel his arms trembling, about to give way. The boy laughed, then, in spite of it all. “Is it too late to negotiate?”

“There’s no negotiation with monsters.” I said.

His arms collapsed and I drove the point up through his chin.  I fell off of him and crawled across the battle-yard, retracing my steps to retrieve my blade.

I remember the power-blade vrrunging, the salty sweat that I blinked out of my eyes. I took up my blade and stood, my knees trembling. “Fangs!” I shouted. “Our dispute is settled. Leave now and we can forget what has happened.”

As I spoke, the sun pierced the sky, turning the world brighter and brighter. I could feel my eyes adjusting as light and color made themselves known to me for the fourth time in my life. The Nailed God had no doubt heard my prayer. Sight was not known to stay longer than seconds. I shielded my eyes at first, raising a hand to protect from the light of the sun.

But then I saw the rings on my fingers—there were no stones of lapis lazuli. There were only rusted bands. The sun had stolen my jewels.

But it had taken more, too. For the sun had stolen my crow-feather cloak and exchanged it for one of mottled green wool, so weathered it was almost gray. My blade had little shine to it, and the wolf on the end was nothing more than a chipped block of wood.

And then I saw the five other Fangs—children, down to the last. Then I turned to the boy and saw that there was no monster. There was no pus or monstrous bumps—only big white pimples and grease. He had yellow teeth but nothing that belonged to a whale. He was just a boy with a dagger shoved up through his chin; his mouth hanging open, revealing the blade.

I collapsed to my knees and vomited. “Just a boy,” I sputtered. “Just a boy…”

But as it was before and as it would be the world began to blur as my sight left me until I was in my own darkness again. I wondered what trick the sun had played on me. He was the Nailed God’s agent, truth be told.

So I checked my belongings to see if the sun had returned them. My rings felt the same as they had before my sight returned. It must have returned to me my lapis lazuli. My cloak and blade, too, seemed no different than any other time I had felt them in the dark. The sun, in its power, had returned my belongings to me, safe and now sun-blessed.

But there was one last thing I needed to check.

With shaking hands, I felt the boy’s face. Felt the bumps, touched the teeth—careful of the blade in his mouth—I felt no difference between what my hands told me now and what my they had said before we’d dueled. The only difference was the sweat and the blood. To this day I’ve no idea why the sun played such a cruel trick on my eyes.

“It’s a monster,” I muttered, smiling. “It’s only a monster…”

 

The Geography of Dreams

Crow Fodder (1)

The birth of a legend is a peculiar thing. There’s a reason, you see, why folks like you or me cannot put a date to something like the Fall of Camelot. If you follow this passage you will see that there is sufficient evidence that Father Time conjured the Great Forgetting in order to untangle the threads Arthur and the others wove into history. When the Forgetting ended, the threads strong enough to be remembered wove themselves into tapestry, and the legend was born.

But in the meantime, the folk who lived during the Great Forgetting walked amidst the geography of dreams.

* * *

Gyneth had not been sleeping well. Though she could not remember a night when she had. Her small little house had no fireplace, for Roland had forgotten to build one. The nights were cold and her covers were thin and scratchy; and Roland snored like a crumbling mountain, which didn’t help.

But that was not why she couldn’t sleep lately. She would wake in the night, and a thought would wedge its way into the forefront of her mind, which led to more questions, which lead to less sleep.

Why did Roland forget to build a fireplace? Was there ever a fireplace? She thought there was, once, but the memory was faded like dying embers. What was it like when they had a fireplace? Did they have children? Or was Roland her brother—if so, did they have parents? Surely everyone must have parents! But what if Roland was only a friend? Were there other friends? Were they orphans? Or was it always just the two of them?

Tonight, her questions led her to the embers of her memory of someplace called Camelot. But that Kingdom was long gone—though she wondered if Roland hadn’t left the fireplace in Camelot—but that couldn’t be. Camelot had fallen centuries ago. Or was it weeks? Days? Gyneth’s head hurt.

Already her recollections were veiling themselves. Memories, she decided, were like dreams in the seconds after waking.

A week ago, perhaps longer, Gyneth and Roland had left their village behind in search of the fireplace. “I don’t want to be cold anymore,” Gyneth had said.

“But there are others with fires to spare.”

“I want my fireplace,” Gyneth had said. “Not theirs.”

Roland reminded her of all the stories of shamble-men. “They’re out there,” he said. “There are more of them than us. They’ll trap us and kill us.”

“Don’t you want to be warm? We can’t always expect others to lend us a fire. We must find one ourselves. Don’t you want to know what happened to our fireplace?” Gyneth snapped.

“Well, yes, but—”

“Good,” she interrupted, striding toward the timbered gates of their village. “Then let’s go!” She hobbled along, old bones squealing inwardly like rusted metal.

* * *

The next morning, she awoke in a field atop a hill. The morning mist shrouded the horizon. Sometime in the night Roland had blanketed her with his cloak. She held it close, feeling safe. It smelled like him—like freshly cut timber.

Roland himself awoke as the first notes of birdsong entered the air. “Sleep well?” He asked Gyneth as he stood. He offered Gyneth his hand and helped her up.

She fastened his cloak about his shoulders. “Wonderfully,” she answered, grinning. “Let’s go find that fire.”

They set off, wreathed by mist, into the countryside.

* * *

The fog had come after Camelot fell, somewhen ago. A thick, moist blanket covering all of Briton. But it seemed to veil more than just the eyes along the countryside.

Sometimes in her village, Gyneth would remember a name or a face in her mind’s eye, yet when she spoke of the person to Roland or anyone else, they didn’t quite remember her. It would only be after a long conversation that the fragments of what memories they still had left to them would fit together, and they’d recall the person had been eaten or carried off by shamble-men.

She wondered if the shamble-men were not responsible for the abduction of the fireplace—or her memories of it, at least.

* * *

 “Are there shamble-men hereabouts?” Gyneth asked. Her own question had stoked the dying embers of her recollection of such creatures: a nasty, jumbled patch of flesh and stone that would come stumbling into their village in search of people to eat.

Or had that just been a story?

“I’m not sure,” Roland said, squinting through the thick mist. “The shamble-men have to come from somewhere.” Roland tripped, stumbled, and then regained his balance.

“What was that?” Gyneth snatched up his hand. I won’t lose him in the fog, she thought. I won’t forget him.

“Nothing,” Roland said. “Just a tree root is all.”

Gyneth glanced back, squinting. “It looks like a bone.” She knelt to tug at it, but it was wedged firmly in the ground. “I don’t see any trees,” she said. Her knuckles whitened around Roland’s hand.

“Roots can stretch far enough,” Roland said. “Come, we should keep going forward.”

“Where?” For a moment, she’d forgotten, and then a chill wind blustered her cloak and she remembered the fireplace. “Ah, yes,” she said. “Let’s go.”

* * *

“What’s that out there?” Roland asked. His red-brown fingers closed on his small, half-moon shaped axe. Gyneth had forgotten he’d brought that. She huddled close to him. He smells of timber, she thought.

“Do you see them?” Roland pointed and she followed his finger. The fog was thin enough to see two figures squared against each other.

Both of them had their swords drawn.

The one on the left seemed almost nonchalant as he came towards his opponent. The other one, large, had his sword angled at the other, gripped in both hands levelled just over his shoulder.

He charged forward, sword high, but his opponent sidestepped the thrust-down and drew his sword across his foe’s belly. The movement was simple, though awkward. It got the job done well enough. The fallen foe made a wet noise and spattered to the ground. Something spilled out of him and he landed in it.

Then the victor turned his attention to them. He limped forward to close the gap between himself and the other two.

“He’s shambling,” Gyneth said, “He’s a troll! A shamble-man!”

Roland hefted his axe.

“Travelers,” the stranger cried as he cut through the fog. Gyneth saw he was missing his right arm. “What is your business here?” When he had bridged the gap between them she noted his pallor. She had heard of men with skin dark like that before. She couldn’t quite remember where they were from. She knew that one of them was named Nubia.

“We seek a fire,” Gyneth said. Without looking away from the man, she put her hand over Roland’s and lowered his axe.

The stranger laughed. “There are many fires to be found. Do you have flint? Kindling?”

Gyneth corrected herself. “We seek a fireplace. A specific one.”

The man sheathed his sword, seeming more at ease now. “Where is this fireplace, may I ask?”

“Forward,” Roland said. “We’ll know it when we see it. And what about you? What’s your business here?”

The man sighed, seeming to deflate. “Long ago—I think it was long ago—I served a King. A good and just King. But I’d turned to some sort of folly. Because of me that King is dead, and now I’ve turned to errantry.”

“What’s your name?” Gyneth asked.

“Lancelot,” said the one-armed man, and then: “Do you need a guide?”

* * *

Gyneth, Roland and Lancelot rested that night on the precipice of the forest. The only sound was the crickets chirping. They each huddled inside their cloaks.

“Who was it you killed?” Roland asked Lancelot.

“A shamble-man,” Lancelot said.

Gyneth broke in, saying, “He didn’t look very shambly to me.”

“That’s because they only walk like that when they’re hungry, my Lady,” Lancelot said. “And most times folk only chance upon them when they stumble their way into a village.”

A howl noised in the distance. Gyneth thought she recognized the noise well enough—but did not remember the name of the creature that belonged to it. Her heartbeat quickened and she thought she heard scuttling feet—or was that just the leaves? Shattered shards of memory tugged her mind this way and that until—

“Wolves,” Roland said, hefting his axe. But Lancelot caught the haft a second later and eased him back down. “There are no wolves hereabout,” Lancelot said. “Leastways the ones on four legs.”

“Are there wolves on two?”

“Only those that come on silken banners carried by men shelled in steel.”

“But you said there were wolves on two legs.”

“I did?”

“Of course!”

“I don’t remember…”

Gyneth squinted through the fog at the one-armed Nubian. “Can a man be a wolf, Lancelot?” The thought—or perhaps the cold—made her shudder.

Lancelot nodded gravely. “In a sense, aye my Lady.”

“What was that howl, then?” Roland asked.

Lancelot tilted his head. He leaned forward, through the thick fog. “What howl?” he asked.

“There—there was a howl…I think. Wasn’t there?”

Gyneth could only bundle in her mind the fraying seams of the incident, but already they were unspooling. The fog grew steadily thicker, so she decided it was best to let the matter go.

* * *

Gyneth had awoken early to a mist thick enough she could scarcely see her hand in front of her face. So she sat there and waited, listening to everything around her. The birds in the distance and small things tramping over twigs.

What was she doing here? Wasn’t there a village? Why was she out here all alone? Slowly, as she began to wake up, the mist seemed to clear, and she remembered Roland, sleeping next to her.   She smelled timber and clutched at the cloak he’d draped over her. It smells like him, she thought.

The one-armed Nubian was gone from the camp, though Gyneth hadn’t noticed his absence until his return.

Roland had woken up, climbed to his feet and helped Gyneth to hers. She had wrapped his cloak about his shoulders when Lancelot returned—though she hadn’t remembered his name, at first.

“Where did you go?” Gyneth asked. She couldn’t quite tell if his sword was blood-slicked. But she recognized the scratches on his calves easily enough.

“There were wolves I had to take care of,” he said. “Dress warmly. It is like to be windy today.”

 * * *

The wind billowed Gyneth’s cloak. She noticed that it was grass-stained, shards of green reaching up her shoulders. Then a fragmented memory seeped into her mind’s eye. “Roland,” she shouted to be heard over the wind, “Do you remember that emerald cloak you gave me?”

Roland smiled at that, and slowed his pace so that Gyneth could catch up to him. Lancelot forged ahead, undaunted.

“The emerald cloak,” Roland mused, “Was that the one hemmed with rhinestones?”

“Rhinestones?” Gyneth echoed. “I thought they were rubies.”

“Like I could afford rubies,” Roland laughed. “They were rhinestones, I swear. Hemmed into the softest satin.”

“I’m sure it was velvet—I distinctly remember you saying that you wanted it to have at least some practicality.”

“Was it velvet? Now that you mention it, perhaps that is so….”

Lancelot called back, “What happened to this cloak?” His interruption sent Gyneth’s heart abounding. How did he hear us over the wind? 

“It was lost,” Roland said. “I think she blamed me for it.”

“Did I? I thought I had torn it on a tree one afternoon in the woods and threw the silly thing out.”

Roland laughed, saying, “That’s what I had tried to tell you. For years you insisted I’d lost it.”

Gyneth wondered if this cloak came before or after the fireplace, but that was a thought for another time. She frowned and hugged her own closer. “I’d quite forgotten that part. It seems such a cruel thing, arguing over cloaks—rhinestone hemmed or not.”

Lancelot glanced over his shoulder. “Some things in this world are more precious than rhinestones.”

“Like rubies?” Roland jested, and all three of them laughed.

“Yes,” Lancelot said, smiling. “Like rubies.”

 * * *

The three sat beneath a large oak that night. The wind was dying down and fingers of moonlight brushed their faces. They had a modest meal from the cold rations Lancelot had been carrying, though he’d forgotten about it until that night.

With a mouthful of cold salt beef, Gyneth asked him, “What happened to your other arm?”

Lancelot wiggled the stump such that she could almost imagine him waving. “I…I lost it. What did you think happened to my arm?”

“I think she wants to know how you lost it,” Roland explained.

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Oh, said Lancelot, cheeks coloring red. “Well it’s quite simple, really. I fought with Arthur against his son’s men. One of them caught a gap in my armor–at the shoulder–with a heavy war axe and cleft it straight off. When I awoke, Arthur and his son were dead. Along with most. At least I think most of them were dead. In the midst of that battle, I remember a fog. A strange fog called down by some magician.”

“A what?”

“I’m not sure what a magician is,” Lancelot said. “It just seems like the right word. I’m not sure why. Whatever they were, they summoned a fog on the battle to help Arthur and his men.”  He seemed to be talking to himself now, “Yes, that was it. That was when I first saw it. Had I passed out from the wound, truly? Or was it…I’m not sure what else might have happened. I certainly have no memory of anything after that. And yet it might be—might it have been something else?”

“Like what?” Gyneth asked.

“I’m not sure…” Lancelot whispered, staring at nothing in particular. He shook his head. “It will be full dark soon. We should get some rest, friends.”

“Agreed,” Roland said.

Gyneth curled up on the ground, hoping against hope that they might find the fireplace tomorrow.

Sometime in the night, she felt something that felt like heavy wool and smelled like chopped logs draped over her. It smells like Roland, she thought, distantly.

 

The Cure

The Cure

Starting off 2018 with a glimpse back to see how far I’ve come: I present to you a story I wrote five years ago: The Cure, unedited for your amusement

The room was sharp with the smell of disinfectant and vomit. Jimmy vaguely remembered it had once been known as the Something-Something Children’s Hospital before every treatment and cure went over the counter at his local CVS.

Empty crates, once filled with medicine, were piled high. It almost touched the roof. A windowspan across from that pile was its little brother, full of smaller boxes stacked half as high. The light through the window was the only illumination in the room.

Jimmy struck a match and lit his cigarette. The embers on the end glowed faintly as he took a drag. He let it out steadily. He looked down from atop the pile of crates. He felt like a king, and Nicky boy could be his fool.

His eyes flicked to Ben, who paced back and forth from the window to the center of the room.

“Didn’t your mom say you’re not supposed to do that?” Nick asked. He pushed his coke bottle glasses up the brim of his nose. Bad enough he can barely see, Jimmy thought. But in this dark, the poor guy’s gotta be blind as a bat.

Ben straightened his jacket and paced in a rhythm that matched his heartbeat. “Doesn’t matter, Nicky,” Ben said, “If Jimbo wants, he can always get that over the counter shit for his lungs. Cures him right up. Like he never took a drag at all.”

Jimmy had always hated that nickname. Jimbo. That’s the name you give your puppy. “Ben’s right,” Jimmy said, “Think of it as a hobby.”

Nick kicked the crate he sat on with his heel. His legs hung limp over the edge. His gaze fell on the window. “Why do you smoke as a hobby, Jimmy? I mean you told me it tastes like shit.”

“Sure does,” Ben said.

“Sure does,” Jimmy echoed.

“Then why do it?” Nick climbed down his lesser throne, started for the window and reached to open the blinds. He had barely reached out when Ben’s hand clamped down on his wrist. The two locked eyes, Ben giving Nicky boy a wordless warning.

“Don’t.”

Ben did not immediately let go, even when Nick tried to pull away. “Why not?”

“People might see us in here,” Ben said, “They might think we’re trying to find some spare cures lying around.”

“I thought I saw some leg regrowth thing in the back.” Jimmy thumbed behind his throne. “We could take it. Maybe get us some money on the side—”

Ben turned on Jimmy. His nostrils flared, who had to resist the urge to laugh. Ben looked like a pissed off buffalo. He climbed the crates to be at eye level with Jimmy. “They’d know we took it,” Ben said. His voice came strangled as he fought back the urge to shout. “They’d come for us. Shit’s bad enough with whatever’s going down with that list they’ve got Washington. You want them after us on top of that goddamn list?  He snorted. “Besides, people can get that shit over the counter. We wouldn’t make a dime.”

“All right, all right,” Jimmy said. He held up his hands in mock surrender. “I get it, I get it, man. Cool your jets.”

“I ain’t cooling nothin’,” Ben said. He hopped down from the crates with a crash. It echoed through the empty halls. When he stood up, Jimmy noticed the tiles were cracked.

“Y-you never answered my question, Jimmy,” Nicky boy cut in. “Why do you smoke if it tastes like crap?”

“Like shit,” Ben corrected.

“Like shit,” Jimmy repeated. The cigarette hung limp from his mouth. He caught it between two fingers and took a deep drag. He tapped a finger against his cheek and popped out smoke rings one by one. “Tell me that ain’t cool.”

“Well, I—I guess it was cool,” Nick said.

“Damn right it’s cool,” said Jimmy. “Then I pick up a cure on the way home and boom! No trace of it.”

“Doesn’t the smell stick to your clothes?”

Fuck the smell,” Ben said.

Fuck the smell,” Jimmy echoed. “It don’t matter what I smell like. Mom already caught me smoking once. She catches the smell, I tell her these clothes were left over from last time. That smell’s hard to get out, ain’t that right, Ben?”

“It’s hard to get out,” Ben said.

“It’s hard to get out,” Jimmy said for the third time.

Nick dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. “Do what you want, Jimmy,” Nick said. “You want to destroy your body, go right ahead.”

“I told you, Nicky boy, I’ll get a cure on the way home. It’s just five bucks right out of my wallet,” he said.

There was a palpable silence that hung in the air for some time. Nick took two fingers and parted the blinds. A sludge of people roamed the streets. There was no pavement. Only a sea of heads struggling to push past everyone else. “They’ve got a cure for everything now, don’t they,” he said, to no one in particular.

“They sure do,” Ben said. He snatched Nick’s hand away from the window and squeezed it hard enough to make him wince.

“I heard the U.N even said they cured war a year or so back.”

“Like I said,” Ben released Nick’s arm and went back to his pacing. “They got a cure for everything. Even war.”

“Even war,” Jimmy said, as if he were raising the words as a toast. To war! May it rest in peace!

“Isn’t that bad?” Nick asked.

Ben looked at him as if he had suggested mass genocide. “What did you say?”

“I mean, we’ve had war for how long? And now it’s just…over? World peace, is that it?”

“We’ll never have world peace,” Jimmy said from atop the pile of crates. “There are just too many people who want violence. Sure, we’ll have no more wars, but peace? Man, fuck that!”

“We ain’t gonna have world peace, Nicky boy,” Ben said. He folded his arms behind his back, “Not ever.”

“Not ever.”

Nick plucked the blinds open again—and found he was looking down the barrel of a sniper rifle from the window opposite him.

“Oh, shit.”

The bullet slammed through his head, which arced backward. Bits of Jimmy-didn’t-know-what spilled onto Something-Something Children’s Hospital’s floor. When he collapsed, his head was sitting in a pool of his own blood.

Jesus Christ, would you look at that?” Ben said. He threw his hands up in exasperation. “See, man? This is what I was telling you about, Jimbo. It’s that damn list they’ve got in Washington! Anyone can be picked!”

“What are we gonna tell his parents?” Jimmy asked.

“We ain’t telling them shit,” Ben laughed, mirthlessly. “They’ll be dead, too, soon. If they aren’t already.”

Jimmy climbed down from atop the stack of crates and slung his arm around Ben’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. Feds or S.W.A.T or whatever the fuck they have for a cleanup crew nowadays will be here soon.”

“All right, all right,” Jimmy said.

The two exited Something-Something Children’s Hospital. They struggled through the sludge that was a crowd. They pushed and shoved their way past everyone else. Jimmy struggled to gain an inch in the onslaught of people heading every which way. No cars adorned the street—too many people walking nowadays for that. One man bumped into him with enough force to knock him sideways. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, “Jesus Christ, am I right, Ben?”

“You’re right.”

Jimmy struck a match and lit a new cigarette.

He’d pick up a cure on the way home.

Announcing: Patreon

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Dear reader,
My name is Connor M. Perry, and I write a lot. For the past few years, I’ve been putting my work on this site called Mythlings. As of now, I only update when I am able to. But it is my goal to be able to update it every Monday.
To quote the site, “Mythlings records stories that are semi-historical and semi-mythical. Here, we create our own legends. We tell small myths with a big impact.”

You can probably tell I love writing. I’m working on new material every day. But in order to continue writing as profusely as I have been, and so that I do not fall behind with my stories, I’m going to need help. Because while I love writing, but I’m also rather fond of being able to buy sandwiches or coffee or other necessities in life.
And that’s where you come in.
You can pledge anything–even as much as one dollar–and I would be ridiculously grateful. I would literally thank you to the Heavens and Beyond.

If you would like to do this thing, you have two options:

  • You can chip in a dollar or more to buy me a coffee thru Paypal
  • Or you can become a patron here.
    • These two options grant you some rewards. For patrons, they renew every month–for payments through Paypal, it’s a one-time deal. Notably, these rewards include:
      • The privilege of becoming or creating a character that will cameo in the story.There’s a handy contact form on the site if you’re interested in bending me to your will. I’ll send you an email once you’re subscribed to confirm whether or not you want this reward.
      • You can also have the opportunity to get a peak early drafts of whatever work I’ve published that month to see how it’s changed. Again, I’ll email you to check if you want this reward.
      • If I have any notes or worldbuilding that I write down, I will also share it with you through Patreon.

I’ve kept my account listed as “per creation” is to avoid payment should there be a month where I can’t update due to something unforeseen like an accident or a bad case of the flu or some such reason.
I’ll keep writing until my fingers fall off. I am tremendously grateful for your support–monetarily or otherwise. You’ve given me your time, and I appreciate that more than anything. Thank you. From the Heavens and Beyond, thank you.