Micro Cuts

I know you’re in there, little brother, ever since they plugged you in. I know you’re there. What’s it like in my mind, cozy little dark place? Right, got some lyrics for you? tiny tube veins/ made of lead/ there is someone in my head/ he’s alive and I am dead cut it with the fucking lyrics, already! Yes, I am here and and we are stuck together so get used to it, at least till they find some way to unplug me. Not a funny place to be, Matt, trust me. And you wanted to kill father, how big of a cliché is that? No fantasies with mom, I’ll give you that. What do you take me for a deranged lunatic? Come on, remember, you were the one with the manifesto and the videos on the Net. Look at me, no one likes me, might as well kill them all…they deserve it it’s all in your head So are you do you like it in there yeah, it’s the fucking 4th of July and I’m doing the prom queen under a fireworks lit sky with confetti coming out of my ass I don’t like you here either they should have executed me always going for the easy way out

Centuries before, this would have been a psychiatrist’s couch but in this day and age it’s a cold metal slab in a septic environment. The metal arms lift me up and place me there. Their buzzing sound is calming and I almost fall asleep while the machines around me work their magic. Opposite to me, my brother lies still on a metal slab of his own. Our heads almost touch but that is not how this works. The true links are invisible, streams of nanobots chaining us to one another. Victor will be in my mind soon enough in quite a literal sense.

For one such as me this is half treatment half torture.

Imagine someone, even someone you care about, having full knowledge of your innermost thoughts. When we are done, Victor will know everything about me, all my desires, all my memories, every feeling I ever had. And they call this therapy.

You see, people like me have always existed. The troubled teenager, the nerd, the loser. Centuries ago they were either sad victims or spree shooters. In this day and age they found a new way to cure us. Insert another, a close one, into our heads and have them fix us. They have a whole list, reduced to initials, of every shooter there ever was, mostly from the Northe-American spaces, along with extensive bibliographies written by said killers. At least the ones who left behind any of it.

I feel Victor coursing through my synapses.

It hurts more than torture and they know it. But they do nothing about it. Based on my records, what I posted on the Net, my Logscribs, my YouVids, I am a potential threat. They are wrong, but I won’t protest. Sure, they know that sometimes

Phillip pushes me into the locker. He is big. The quarterback. I feel my ribs crushed against metal. They feed them high-level nutrients, borderline illegal stimulants, everything you could expect from the school administration. Intellectuals like me may be the future of Northe-America but Phillip and his ilk are the moneymakers. A boy like me might better the country, but men like Phillip better their pockets.

I cringe.

He wraps his unnaturally large fingers around my left nipple and twists, near the point of ripping it. Old-School move. They love those.

There is no day passing when I don’t get this kind of treatment. I am small and skinny. The girls ignore me, Bethany most of them, and I don’t know what to do. I never do. My parents, for the expensive treatment, if you can call it such, they paid only for is my brother’s full access to my thoughts.

I cringe once more. The line of nanobots connecting our minds hurts. I can feel Victor’s presence probing my brain. Yet he is not gloating. He caught my thread of thought and is reading it. He seems quite interested. But feeling him in my mind hurts.

This is what hurts you? Victor speaks, shooting electric impulses.

For me it was always the girls. Bethany is long-haired, hazel doe-eyed, gentle and kind. She never judges anyone. She smiles even to me. A short and small beauty, a woman in miniature. A nerd, they’d call her, but she is the most beautiful girl in school. And nice to every one. Every jock wants her so

John grabs the edge of my underpants and pulls it up. I feel the strap of cloth stringing my balls. The bullies in this place like their old-school methods. Some use worse. A boy in the other neighborhood died after a session of pain neurals wrapped in an inoffensive pill. Others puked themselves to the point of passing out, their schools too close to Apothecaries where everything can be bought for the right price. John pulls tighter:

‘You’ve been staring at my girlfriend, wimp?’

Bethany is his girlfriend only in his imagination.

And I like to think of myself as brave enough to answer him. I am not. But I imagine Bethany, even with the underpants strangling my testicles, the doe-eyed goddess who cares of nothing but her studies and nothing about this John who is torturing me right now.

Why the fuck did you put up to that? Victor’s voice is brimming in my mind. He explodes in rage and for the first time he understands me. If he did before the incident, Victor would have strangled John with his bare hands. He may be an asshole but he defends me.

If I were in your place I would have killed them all!

In a way I like my brother, but unlike me, he is the family’s golden boy. People like him, girls like him, everyone does, yet he is forced to live with a brother like me. The eternal loser. But his anger, and I do feel it within my brain, is not targeted towards me.

For some time he thought I was just a joke.

Now, inside my brain, he understands.

And I feel him burning. Not just anger but regret.

She’s just a dumb cunt who wouldn’t get you, Matt!

She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and I

I’m not saying she is to blame, just that…

You have no idea!

It happens weeks later.

There is no one to save me. John pulls tighter:

‘You’ve been staring at my girlfriend, wimp?’

I am pushed to a wall of lockers and my face hits the wall. I feel their hands tearing down my pants. IT HAPPENS. I feel ashamed. I shouldn’t have looked at Bethany but what I feel next is pure humiliation. Rape is never about pain.

It’s not about pain, it’s about being subservient.

I am sorry, Matt!

It’s OK, Victor!

No, it’s not!

I can feel my brother ripping himself from the micro cuts link that kept our consciousnesses together. And I feel Victor’s pure anger. Even as the nanobot link is severed between us.

Pain.

Weeks later I walked down a street. A regular street, one with a gun shop. I had the money. I had the time.

There was no way I could explain what happened but through Victor’s link. Yet I tried. And no one believed it, for it was not an age where people believed such things.

If you ever look at Bethany again I will

John’s words kept haunting me.

But at the end of the day I always ended up on that street. Victor keeps the distance. But not always.

I end up in a part of town where John lives. My name is Matt and I will become a killer in the coming moments.

And when I sit in front of John’s house, guns in hand, the micro cuts in my brain will reopen and I will hear Victor’s voice.

If I were in your place I would have killed them all! Cause somehow he left something behind.

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Border Crossing (1)

 

There was a girl on the shore. Amy didn’t notice her at first and didn’t expect seeing anybody else anyway. That part of the beach was completely isolated, more than one hour by foot from the resort. That was the main reason she went there, almost every day: peace and quiet, the perfect place for a bit of tanning, bikini off, sunglasses on, a thin joint waiting in the bag.

Then she saw the girl, strolling along the shore, stopping every couple of yards and squatting, her fingers digging through the wet sand as if she’d lost something.

She noticed Amy and for a second didn’t know how to react.

‘Uh…hi, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you’

She spoke English with a barely perceptible French accent. Her voice was soft, almost childish. Now that she’d got closer, Amy thought her no older than fourteen, though quite tall for her age. Shoulder-length, thick, black hair framed her heart-shaped face. Behind thin-rimmed glasses, the eyes were deep blue. The classic, one-piece yellow swimsuit underlined her boyish curves.

‘I didn’t expect anyone here’ she said.

‘That makes two of us. Thanks for not stepping on me’

She stood up, trying to shake the sand off her hair. The girl was staring her in the eyes, trying to ignore her complete lack of clothing.

‘I’m Amy’

‘Lea’

‘Nice to meet you, Lea’

There was a moment of awkward silence, then the girl mumbled something like:

‘Uh…well, I should be going. Again, sorry to have bothered you’

‘Hold on, just a second. If you don’t mind, how did you get here? I’ve been coming to this place every day for the last two weeks and you’re the first person coming here all this time’

The girl pointed to the half opened bag on her shoulder and Amy saw it was filled with little beach stones, all shapes and colors.

‘I don’t get it’

‘I just like to collect them. From the shore. Guess I didn’t realize how far from the resort I’d got’

Some get stones, some get stoned Amy thought, which reminded her:

‘You want some?’

‘Some what?’

She noticed the joint Amy was holding.

‘No, thanks’

‘Not legal for you yet?’ Amy smirked.

‘I’m eighteen and that stuff is illegal anyway’

The legal aspect didn’t matter, not to Amy at least, but she realized the girl was actually two years older than her, four years older than she had estimated.

‘Which is one of the main reasons I come here. Not going to tell on me, right?’ she winked.

‘Of course not!’

‘But you don’t partake. I can respect that’

Lea smiled, then took out a small stone out of her bag. It was a tiny, oval piece of quartz, a strange shade of gray but with an intricate network of thin silvery lines near the edges. For a moment, sunlight reflected in them, showing their complicated pattern.

‘Here. For you’

‘No, come on, I don’t want to mess up your collection’

‘This one, I just picked it up, from here, so I guess it’s not part of it yet. Please! Think of it as a toll for trespassing’

Amy reached out, taking the warm wet stone from Lea’s hand, their fingers touching briefly.

‘No’ she said. ‘You know what, let’s call it payment. You just bought yourself free passage’

There was something she definitely liked about the girl, though she couldn’t tell what exactly. Maybe the fact she seemed different. Amy couldn’t think of many eighteen year old girls with such a hobby. The ones in school, back home, seemed more interested in getting wasted with cheap beer and dating college freshmen. She couldn’t imagine any of them walking along the shore and collecting stones. And apparently, entire bags of them. Plus, the way she’d offered her the little stone. It was nice, a bit funny.

‘So, Lea, welcome to our little known piece of seaside, population two, clothing optional. I must ask again, not interested in any local treats?’

‘No, really, one hundred percent no. But feel free’

She sat down on the sand, watching Amy lighting up the joint and inhaling slowly. Far upfront, the sun had begun its slow descent.

‘So, you know the history of this place?’

‘What else do you collect, besides stones and local folklore?’

 ‘Oh, it’s just a story I heard from this old man, he owns a souvenir shop on the main street. There’s a reason why nobody ever comes here, why nobody advertises this part of the beach, besides being so far from the resort. A local girl drowned, killed herself, more than a century ago. Some versions of the story speak of unrequited love, some say she was murdered by a man she did not want to marry. She was all alone, you know, no family and no friends. It happened at sunset, right around this time, and if you watch carefully, you can see her,  floating above the waves, in the same white dress she was wearing the day she died, all alone out there, calling for someone to join her’

As she spoke, she stared at the ocean and Amy was looking at her thin lips, the way they moved, the way her voice was overlapping with the sound of waves.

‘You know’ she chuckled ‘It’s not nice, telling horror stories to somebody who’s getting stoned right now’

‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize…’

‘Lea, I’m kidding. I’m way too used to this stuff, probably don’t have enough brain cells left for a bad trip. But that was mean anyway, and, given I’ve already sold you partnership to this haunted place at a fair price, I’d say you owe me’

The idea had hit her while Lea was telling the story:

‘Why don’t you come with us this evening? It’s just me and my brother and a couple of friends. No stones and no legends, one night of fun’

‘Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to bother’

‘If you’re here with someone, bring them along. The more, the merrier!’

‘I’m on my own, actually’ she admitted.

Amy had been certain of that.

‘No problem, I’ll pick you up at….’

‘You don’t even know where I’m staying’

‘Which is exactly why you should tell me’

‘Ana’s Inn, it’s right off….’

‘We’re staying there too’

‘Sorry, I didn’t notice you’

‘But you must have noticed the drunken idiot yelling some fascist rambling at 2 AM last night. My one and only brother’

‘Actually, I slept soundly’

‘Must have been a rough day. But I promise I’ll keep him in check tonight’

‘So he’s a…’

‘Lucas? He doesn’t give a flying fuck about race or politics. He just likes pissing people off, and the more he drinks the less subtle he becomes. It’s his thing. Really, don’t worry, he’ll be nice and sober if I ask him to, and we won’t bring our Klan outfits this evening’

‘Well, OK then, why not?’

‘Excellent, I’ll pick you up at eleven’

‘I’ll be ready by then. Room 37. Aren’t you…?’

‘What?’

‘Cold?’

The sun had finished its descent on the horizon. Cliffs projected their shadow on the sand and the cold breeze smelled like seaweed.

‘Totally forgot about it’ Amy smiled.

She took out the bathing suit from her bag and began to dress.

‘It’s good you had your new neighbor to remind you’ Lea commented.

‘Now what’s wrong with a bit of breeze in all the right places?’

The girl chuckled, but didn’t answer.

‘I detect some issues on the subject’

‘No! No, of course not, just….never mind!’

‘I have to say, you have a very live and let live attitude. Just be careful what you say around my brother or he’ll bore you to death with his pseudo-libertarian bullshit. And, as a general rule, if he approves your ideas, he’s just trying to get in your pants. Anyway, I’m off. You coming?’

‘I think I’m going to stay just a bit longer’

‘Suit yourself. And watch out for that ghost!’

‘Of course, I don’t want to die a virgin’

After a moment of disbelief Amy burst into laughter.

‘You’re weird, kid. See you later!’

The girl remained there, staring at the ocean as it got darker, her hand wrapped around the bag, her fingers tracing the stones’ contour through the fabric. The ghost however, did not appear, and anyway she was more concerned with what to wear for the upcoming evening. All across the resort, lights were being turned on. Music had started playing in the beach scattered pubs, a distant rumble growing stronger and stronger.

Old Encounter

There was something of a romantic sadness in the air that evening, though she knew it had nothing to do with the bittersweet endings of a love affair. It was the warmth of the crowded, yet unusually quiet restaurant, the cold rain outside, the taste of cigarette smoke and red wine.

She was happy Max had wanted them to meet in Venice. She hadn’t seen the city since the end of the Second World War. For fifty years she wandered across Europe, finally settling in England. The old continent was her latest passion, the British Archipelago and its inhabitants in particular.

She looked across the restaurant: a motley crowd of tourists and a few locals. Most of them were couples. The sound of their voices blended almost every language into undecipherable background noise accompanying the piano music. There were Norsemen, Britons, Spaniards, Franks and Slavs, the entire Europe gathered in a restaurant while outside the windows, rain was pouring over the Grand Canal.

Then she saw Max entering. As he walked past them, people would interrupt their conversations for a few moments, staring at him. He had that effect on most.

It was something about his attitude. Physically, he was anything but imposing: a thin and rather short man with gray military style haircut, wearing an expensive black suit. It was something in his walk or his manners, as if he owned everyone and everything. As he reached her table, he took off his gloves and kissed her hand as usual.

Horrible weather”, he said as he sat on the chair in front of her. He removed his black spectacles: the eyes were completely white. He closed them for a second, and when he opened them blue pupils appeared instantly.

Tired of playing the blind man, Max?” she smiled, offering him the half empty pack of Dunhill.

He took a cigarette holder from his pocket.

I have to admit, it is fun, every now and then. And it helps me with the annoyance of finding a seat on a public bus. But no matter, tell me, how’ve you been lately?”

He spoke in English, but there was no particular accent in his pronunciation It was the King’s English gone bland.

Oh, it’s pretty much the same like seventy years ago when we last met”

Is that supposed to be a reproach? You need not feel offended, my old friend. You know I prefer to avoid the companionship of our kind. My last two students were too much of a disappointment, wasting their lives on trivial matters. Ever since, I’ve spent most of my time among humans. A pretty interesting bunch, far more…predictable than us”

He looked at her through the thin wreaths of smoke. She hadn’t changed a bit, not that he’d expected her to. With her milk-and-coffee skin tone and charcoal eyes she still had the looks and gestures of an oriental princess. There was envy, admiration and lust in the eyes of those around them, masked under speech and gesture. For them she was an elegant, exoticwoman in her early twenties, for him she was the oldest of their kind, a being that had seen the freshly lain foundations of ziggurats.

So why the sudden change of heart, Max?” she asked. “I doubt it is nostalgia! Business as usual, I suppose?”

He moved the tip of his finger along the ivory cane propped up against the chair. The silver handle had the shape of an eagle with the letters SPQR inscribed on its unfolded wings.

Let’s order something” he sighed, grabbing one of the menus on the table. “I haven’t been to this city in quite some time. Let’s stay here for a couple of hours. I miss the air, and the cuisine. And I want you to tell me about the place where you live now. Deva Victrix, if I’m not mistaken…what did you say they call it nowadays?”

Chester” she smiled.

Yes, Chester…I still find these barbarian names too awkward. But it is better this way, I guess. The Empire belongs to history now”

And I’m in no mood for history, Max, not on an empty stomach, anyway”

I wouldn’t say empty” he replied, pointing to the bottle of wine.

She burst into laughter.

I could never tell why I allow you to babysit me”

You were never much for conventions, and I don’t think they would apply to us anyway”

I guess not”

They remained silent as the waiter brought the order.

Ah, can you feel that?” he said, savoring the smell. “If there’s one thing that never stopped evolving in all human history, it is gastronomy. Are you sure you don’t want anything?”

I already ordered” she answered, pointing to the second bottle of wine. “How do you like my manners?”

She poured herself a glass.

I will never understand why you’re supposed to let the waiter do that. When it comes to wine, every gesture has its meaning. I remember I wanted to buy my own vineyard at a time, I think it was after the First World War. I’m really not sure how I lost my savings back then”

The risks of modern world”

Or the risks of old age” she replied. “It wasn’t my first bankruptcy and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last, but I’m still committed to not printing my own money. It’s a lack of respect for the sterling pound”

Max gazed at her.

Do you realize it, Cara? I sit here with you, a couple of yards away from the Rialto Bridge, in a restaurant that can be considered old by human standards, and I cannot understand how it all changed”

What do you mean?”

This entire century has left me behind. Instant communication, weapons of mass destruction, social revolutions, the Cold War and now Europe unified, like in the imperial days, computers, music and trends I will never understand and everything happens faster and faster”

She smiled softly.

Take a deep breath, Max. If I didn’t know any better I’d say you’re on the verge of stroking out or something”

It’s just that I feel like the world moved past me, like I slept all this time”

But you haven’t, you kept finding the new arrivals and teaching them, showing them what they’ve become ”

Yes, an old teacher, that is what I am. But teachers have retirement, Cara. And I feel like I need one as well”

The world is moving on, Max. We have to change with it. I know that some of us grow tired and withdraw, sleeping years at a time, sometimes even centuries. I, for one, chose never too miss a moment. So did you. I remember the first time we met. You were sitting near a tree, at the edge of a swamp, blinded, crazed by pain, not knowing what had happened to you. You were in disagreement with the world, as you are now”

He reached for her hand tenderly.

How could I forget? Can you forget your own death? For years I tracked down the Hun who blinded me, the one who poured the molten silver in my empty eye sockets. Vengeance helps, sometimes. I enjoyed making him choke on his own blood. Enough had he spilled that of others”

You had a purpose. You can find one once more. Actually, I’m guessing you already have, and that is why you wanted us to meet here”

She watched him pouring a glass of water. He touched the glass surface and the liquid instantly turned golden, crowned by a thin layer of white foam.

Bürgerbräukeller” he whispered to her. “That was the place. I used to have a pint of this every time that clown began his speeches, cursing the fate that made our kind impervious to alcohol”

What’s with you, Max?” she asked. “You don’t usually do these things in public”

I’m in a drinking mood after all, I guess”

Outside the windows, the rain had stopped. Looking across the Canal, Cara pictured the missing gondolas.

I wanted to talk to you because I needed to confirm something, something that has been a bother for quite some time now. Please don’t laugh. It’s not about my previous rambling. It’s something recent, a bad feeling I can’t seem to shake off. I’d say that that my entire previous…speech, could be compared to a midlife crisis, if I weren’t dead already. But in the last couple of days I somehow sense a change. I am not the only one either. Before I arranged this meeting with you, I saw Mendez. After that I spoke with Wolfe, in Frankfurt. They both confirmed that something feels wrong but dismissed it as nothing more than coincidence. I don’t agree. Damn, I was even going to speak to that Irish witch of a woman, but you know Flynn, she would deny anything just to spite me. There is something wrong with us, Cara. And I don’t think that Our Common Acquaintance has anything to do with it”

Cara emptied her glass.

I have to admit, I didn’t feel anything, Max. But I trust your instincts, especially with these things. What did the others say, exactly?”

Mendez said I should talk to you, as usual. I don’t think he ever got over you, anyway. Wolfe’s only interest is his business, he had an upcoming merger or something like that, and we only spoke on the phone. After that I called you directly”

Well, maybe Mendez and Wolfe are too young to actually notice the implications of this change. And maybe I am too old. If we were to look into this, the only one who could confirm your theory is Flynn”

I was afraid you were going to say that”

I guess age and experience really don’t matter when it comes to relationships. You and Flynn have been going on and off for five hundred years and you both act like you just hit puberty. It’s annoying, Max. If this is as serious as you think, I say we go straight to her”

You are coming along, right?”

Yes, but I’m in no mood to act as a mediator between the two of you”

I was hoping you’d agree. It’s not about mediating, but you know you’re the only one she actually respects, out of all of us. She’ll tell the truth if you’re there with me. As for my…relationship with her, I hope I don’t have to remind you that last time we met she tried to kill me”

You died once already”

And I prefer not to repeat that experience”

Understandable. Tell me, what is this bad feeling exactly? Or what’s it about?”

He stared at the half empty glass in front of him, trying to find the right words. After a couple of seconds he began speaking in his native Imperial Latin:

Our kind feels the balance of universe, the fabric of reality, the stream of time, basically the things that make existence function. You know there is a disorder, a minor imbalance every time another of our kind appears. They’re easy to track, I find them, I explain the rules, teach them about what they’ve become. But now there’s only the disorder, with no newcomer to provoke it. Nobody dies to live a second time. Our Common Acquaintance is nowhere to be found”

Searching for her would be useless”

Yes, she doesn’t appear to us but once, when we are granted the second chance of living. She’s the only one who can create more of us. How, or why, is beyond me”

I don’t know either. But I guess it is human nature to want to have a greater purpose. After we see her, we forget about it and simply live. Or we choose our personal greater purposes. The fact remains that I am the oldest of all deadkin, Max, yet I know as much as you about who and what we are, or how are we being chosen to have this second chance.”

So what do you propose we do?”

I agree that these turbulences in the stream are too weird to be ignored. We’ll visit Flynn, she might have some idea. I know she keeps in touch with some others, mostly those that serve her purposes”

Thank you”

What for, Max?”

Trusting me”

I always do”

Their glasses clinked discretely over the sunset bursting through the windows.

And then there was no need for a carrot (5)

There was a man on the bench next to him. Short and fat, with huge eyebrows and a mustache to match. There was something in his eyes. Maybe their very aspect, blue, tiny, pig-like. He was watching Lucy and Sinttaal didn’t need to use his powers to know what the man was thinking about. Just another sinner in the city. Sinttaal knew his kind, many had been executed during his reign. It was delightful to follow the trail of his thoughts, all the chemical reactions, the electrical impulses. Beneath his thick skull there was a world of wonder where time was crawling. The idea of reading a mind was improper. It was more like watching a little light traveling from one point to another, trying to guess which path will it take. With just a little concentration, the light could be deviated to a desired direction. Control.

Just a little nudge in the right direction and he could make people fall in love. Find the right answers. Turn housewives into prostitutes, priests into murderers and accountants into rock stars.

Some minds were easier to dominate, others were like a pinball machine. He could only approximate where the thought would end. What action it will transform into.

Like this one. The man had the desires but not the courage to act on them. Just another wimp with the wrong kind of pornography. The city was crawling with them. They could not unleash their desires upon a world that feared and treated them with revulsion. So they compensated through surrogates. Watching children on playgrounds. Watching hardcore materials on the computer while their bored and boring wives were sleeping. Sinttaal realized he had awoken into a world devoid of any real dangers. So many of them were well fed, protected and safe that they could only turn such surrogates to get their adrenaline kick.

He smiled.

Catching the thread of thoughts, he shifted its direction. The man suddenly stood up. There were tears forming in his eyes. He would go. Home. And probably beat his wife, as always, a way to compensate for his unfulfilled desires. That, however, was no longer Sinttaal’s concern.

He walked slowly towards the far corner of the playground. Lucy was drawing curved lines on the snowman’s body with her tiny fingers in a pattern of decorative waves. He stopped, a couple of steps behind her, and watched.

She was short and small for her age, lost in an over sized, fur-lined red padded coat which made her look like a miniature Santa Claus. The tip of the same-colored fur cap was hanging out from her left pocket.

She stopped and stared at her work. It was exactly what she’d wanted, except for the carrot issue.

When Sinttaal touched her shoulder she turned around, startled.

“What are you doing”? he asked.

“A snowman”

The answer came naturally, even with a hint of the teacher-like tone children use when confronted with absurd adult questions.

Sinttaal smiled. She was more interesting than he had expected. He looked at her, but only at the exterior. Her mind was the one he sought, he was sure of it, and he couldn’t deny himself the pleasures of conversation by reading her thoughts. The surface was equally enchanting: dark blue eyes, an oval face, surrounded by a cascade of blonde curls, doll-like features, inhumanly perfect. A beautiful child.

She looked at the snowman, and Sinttaal unwillingly caught the thread of a passing thought. “Replacement for the father she never met”. He frowned for a second. “Why should such minor dramas mean anything? How many of them happened during my sleep?” The thought was nothing to the little girl, a glimpse of later reasoning, nothing more. The greatest current tragedy was an unfinished work, a snowman without a nose .

Sinttaal pulled a carrot out of his pocket and handed it to her. He waited while she admired her now finished masterpiece.

“What is your name?”

“Lucy Davenport. And what is yours?”

Sinttaal didn’t answer. He looked at the snowman.

“It’s very beautiful”

“He doesn’t have a name yet, just like you” the little girl said.

“Do you want to know a secret, Lucy?”

He almost burst into laughter, seeing her pricking her ears up in honest curiosity.

“Come with me. We’ll sit on the bench and I will tell you”

“No, I’m sorry but I can’t leave him alone” she explained, pointing to the snowman who was a bit taller than her. She had climbed on the body to place the head part and then carefully repaired the damage.

“We all have to be alone every now and then, Lucy, even him. But that is not why you don’t want to come and sit with me on the bench”

“It’s….”

He pressed his finger against her lips.

“Don’t lie”

“I…I never lie!” she protested, rather sulky. “It’s just that the others might come back”

“The other children?”

“Yes, and they will break him. They always do that”

Sinttaal felt the anger burning again inside him. He imagined calling each and every brat back on the playground and making them eat one another alive. It was a calming thought, knowing it was well within his possibilities to actually do it.

“They will not come back, I promise”

“All right, but it won’t take long, right?”

She wrapped her tiny hand around two of his fingers and led him to the bench.

“So tell me!”

Sinttaal looked at her. ”She really doesn’t know what mistrust is!” For a moment he was tempted to ask: “Does your mother never tell you not to talk to strangers?” But he knew it would be useless and would only destroy a little part of her innocence. Nothing bad was going to happen to her anyway, so why bother?

“Lucy, do you know why it’s a bad thing to lie?”

After a couple of seconds she answered victoriously:

“Because mommy said so”

This was the best answer for all complicated questions.

Dear mommy, who hits you after having a few extra drinks, imagining that this is the best way to compensate for a paternal figure…the figure of the man who left her for another woman, tired of her. But not of you, little Lucy. You are his only regret

“That is nonsense, Lucy!”

“My mommy is no nonsense” she replied. Furious and dignified.

The sudden anger in her voice surprised him for a second.

“That’s right, Lucy, and I’m sorry. What I want you to understand is that I never lie either. And I am no nonsense”

He lay back on the bench, stretching his legs.

“You see, I am very old, much older than I look. And I need your help. This place has changed a lot since I’ve left. And I think you can be the best help I can get”

“Mommy says I’m good for nothing…sometimes” she mumbled.

Sinttaal allowed himself another moment of inner contemplation: of the mommy and an entire parade of tortures only for her. It was better like this, to let the anger take control for a mere second and then suppress it. Unleashed all at once, it would have consumed him, along with most of the town.

“Well, I don’t think that, Lucy! I think you are a wonderful little girl and I think you are the only one who could help me”

“I’ll try” she promised.

“Good…and because you are such a good little girl I have a gift for you. Look!”

She was speechless: from the far corner of the playground, her snowman was slowly rolling towards them. It stopped in front of her, as if trying to bend over and kiss her forehead, though its body made it impossible.

“Look!” she cried joyfully. “He’s alive! He’s…”

A second later there was white mixed with red, as the blood from her slashed throat hit the snow on the pavement. Sinttaal wiped the blade clean against his sleeve.

“You reminded me of her, little Lucy. The girl who smiled while the world around was being torn asunder. Now wait there, little one. Soon, the Messenger of the Gods will appear. The blond woman will come to take you. And I will wrestle you from her arms and then Death will forget you as it did me. I need you, Lucy, to help me recreate that moment when I remembered what it was like to be happy. But this time, the world will not end. And I will become king once again, with you as my princess and daughter”

The night had set itself upon the city. And mommy was still out there, with her potion. Sinttaal smiled.

Hellovagood

She cooks pasta.

And she’s hellovagood at it.

Hellovagood is a word you invent at four o’clock in the morning, totally drunk and half-baked while thinking how awesome tattoos would look on your arms. You are you, so a permanent marker is too mainstream. Use a razor blade.

But hellovagood is a good word for Rachel.

She cooks pasta. Uses garlic and spices as foreign as her lips.

She’s a pasta Nazi, no comment should be heard in her kitchen. And whilst she cooks she tolerates your presence there only if you feed her booze and stories, smile at her and act as if you do not want to spread her legs on the kitchen cupboard.

Rachel’s eyes smile as she’s chopping up garlic.

Rachel’s eyes smile as she’s chopping up mushrooms and bell peppers.

Rachel’s eyes smile as she’d be chopping up you.

Put gemstone eyes on the body of a black cat and you might get her.

Rachel gives me straws for sipping beer out of a pint and I am stupid enough to accept that.

You picture for a second that the two of you could be more than that. It is only a second.

And then hellovagood.

 

And then there was no need for a carrot (4)

At first he didn’t notice but it was the air around that made him feel so good. That and watching the little girl, of course, but the air…thousands of years of slumber, trapped in a cold tomb under the ocean. Perfectly preserved. The sleeping mummy. At least gods didn’t require oxygen.

He remembered another smell. It was back in his old life, when he was worshiped, before the temple and the entire island, his world, were submerged. The altar chamber was filled with the smell of incense but there was a subtle hint of blood beneath it. How many had died there? Maybe one every month, for hundreds of years. One body could sate his hunger for as long as he’d want it, as long as the sacrifice was properly staged. Oh, how they ran! Oh, how he chased them through the room, how they hid behind the stone columns, how they would run till their feet bled!

But not her.

When the priests brought her, she just stood there, looking him in the eyes. He had forgotten how defiance looks like.

He invited her to sit down. Who was she, who was her mother, who was her father where did she live? And especially, why was she not afraid? Her answers? He had forgotten them. When he realized who she was, nothing else mattered.

A blond girl with blue eyes who knew no fear. His last mortal descendant.

“You know my name, and you know my ancestor was a slave in your harem, God-king”

He was proud of her. She was the descendant of a deity and she acted accordingly. But the hunger, it had to be tempered. The priests were under explicit orders not to disturb him for the next month and the room could not be opened from the inside.

“Oh, my beloved, you sat there with me for days, holding me in your arms, as I craved for your fear. But there was no fear in you. I was alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean and you were my salt water. And I remembered the days of torture when I waited for death to come and save me from the pain and she wouldn’t…When you walked through the room I could see only the flow of your body moving, that flesh… It was supposed to be as young and delicious as this child I am looking at right now, but you were like a hard piece of meat for an old man with no teeth left. Yet I tried. I plunged my mouth into you and you fell on the cold stone floor, bleeding, dying. That was the day I knew I am condemned to loneliness. That was the day of my mistake”

He was a god. He could see through the illusion of the world, right into the core of reality. What made it function. Space, time, creation, death, all the other aspects, a raging river that was the stream of Universe itself.

And he turned into a dam, stopping time and her blood from flowing. The dying girl on the floor smiled and held his hand. In that moment, he remembered what happiness felt like.

One second.

One moment, yet he could remember it better than anything else.

Then the dam broke.

Like the waves of the ocean in times of storm, reality broke through him. And although he could hear the distant sound of the island, ripping itself apart around him, all he could notice was the girl smiling. That night, his empire collapsed to the bottom of the sea, with him trapped in the chamber and that moment of happiness turned into a millennia long sleep, for Death could no longer take him.

And then there was no need for a carrot (3)

It was already dark when the snowman was finished.

Well, it still needed some adjustments and the carrot issue had not been solved yet, but, all in all, it didn’t turn out too bad. She couldn’t think of a proper name for it…for him. “It” sounded so disrespectful. He had to be a boy because she had managed to make it a bit taller than she was, and his shape suggested one of those McDonald’s addicts. There were a couple of them in her class and they used to visit that restaurant at least once a day. The snowman reminded her of them.

She had no friends at school and the teachers had noticed that. She knew it, the way they looked at her and whispered when they thought she wasn’t looking. She liked school for the subjects, not the colleagues. And Miss Hayley was just like mommy when she didn’t use the sleeping potion.

Yes, mommy could be loving and tender and patient, sometimes. And she used to be like that all the time when daddy was around. She couldn’t remember him very well…but he used to take her in his arms and pretend she can fly. It was slow and safe, loving and distant. All the memories about him were blurry, sketchy fragments of the past.

With her finger, she began to draw a pattern on the snowman’s body, a zigzag all the way around. She couldn’t tell exactly why, but the model seemed to be pretty interesting. It was better than just putting in charcoal buttons. Her creation had to be different from all the other snowmen in the world. He would also have to have a name, to separate him from the crowd, make him special, and make him know who he is. She wondered how others felt everyday, the other children on the playground, her classmates, everybody else. They weren’t special. They all had their mothers and fathers and probably the same interests since they would always hang out together.

Being different was not so bad, after all. At least you could create something that stood out. And at least your mommy would have special potions, even if their effect was not so fairy tale like. And she knew that when mommy would finally wake up she would enjoy the fresh, cold air.