Poetry-Thing Thursday: Grim Spectre

A darkness dawned upon rotten lands,
withered gray as the common man’s hands,
whom,
forsaken by fire,
the Gods,
their elements,
Rises in perverse adherence to nature’s laws
and Grim corruption.

Shall not the dark of the evil rise
forsake what is left,
of this prehuman concoction?
This bubbling froth of witch’s-brew poison–
with a little hatred and fear
tossed right in–
simmered in shame,
and a death prone to tears.

O! yea though we know not what is left,
we do know what be our quest;
might the land be purged of its arcane hell,
if only for the fading moment,
of man’s dying flame.

For the Taken have come,
and the world has changed.

And though now we walk through many valleys,
enshadowed by the Grim spectre,
we know only what is left,
we fear no more death,
for life is too precious to waste,
in naught but pursuit of love,
happiness bereft.

Cleansed now are those souls,
who’d once been so rotten,
for though it took death,
their sins are forgotten.

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Short story: Fire Dark

Darkness loomed over the land like eternal midnight. A kind of darkness so deep, it became lit by its own obsidian, atom-honed edges. Amid it, were the gnarled roots of the tree of life. Ruts of Earthen-tangle deep enough to bury even the sturdiest climber. They reached upward into a stalk of barren, petrified limbs like old ventricles in a fossilized heart.

The stars seemed not to exist above them. Nor clouds or moon.

Dead leaves rustled in the distance, stirred from some forgotten hollow eternally belching them. War had swept through the land. Night came. Bombers spewed fire like dragon’s breath. By day, what lay not in ruin would slowly crumble to it.

Little was ever rebuilt. Most was cannibalized: chiseled away by the dual forces of need and time. Their actuators of brute force and terror. What remained was bone, fasting in darkness for eternity. Never to be seen again. Forgotten.

The spark of Humanity had dimmed, but so too had all else. Life itself, so far as all evidence suggested, was flickering and might soon fade. The terror that alone brought with it was underscored by one, haunting question: who would be last to go?

Day-by-day, what few abominable creatures managed to eke out an existence, did so by suckling moisture from corrupted dregs. Each breath, each drop, poison and necessary.

Those feeling the call, what might once have been termed honor, were rising in the stupor of all blood-drenched and ready to die. They knew of nothing. Felt nothing. Save the knowledge that death must be had, and the greater it, the greater the deed.

He was like that. Sitting across the fire, head draped in mail. Face empty and sallow. There was no telling how long he’d been on the road. His face, at first hidden, shorn with tattered links fraying from overuse. He’d tanked more than a few blows to the coif.

The crest-shield of a forgotten clan rest at his side, half covering the sword that now lay bare. Its hilt, still in-hand but resting rather than clasped. This creature knew only the ways of death and fire. Each step in its world was a battle against one for the other. Why, was not certain: only that something drove it onward.

Time passed. How long cannot be said. Omnipresent gloom turned morning into afternoon as much as evening into midnight. A heave of breath escaped the creature’s lips. A mannish sort of grunt. Mail scraped and strained. The creature rose as if mechanical, its sword metallic and polished in blood.

He stopped astride at the other creature’s gaze. The one whose perception made sure to ground his reality. Enough so it remained existent to uphold its shackles through him. He turned his face toward the gazing creature, something alike and different about it at the same time.

With a slight inclination of his head, the gazer corrected him.

Not that way. Death lies that way.

I seek Death.

The exchange thus ended, the creature turned again to leave. This time he did not step. On the ground the light sound of metal hitting stone.

Take it.

The gazer was standing now. Knowing he could do no better good than to aid the abomination. Even if he failed, he’d tried. That was more goodness than any else in the world. Especially in these times. As if the very soul and fire of Humanity rested on such actions, the armored creature defied will and turned back only a step.

There, he stooped. Lifting the trinket to the firelight reflecting off the obsidian skies. A gem glittered: hope’s eternal flame in abounding darkness. He removed a gauntlet, threading a gangrenous-looking digit through the ring. Then, fitting the gauntlet back on, he turned away hesitating only slightly in his step.

His coif shuffled in attempt to look back, but the angle of his destiny was too strong. The current of death too swift, and the fire too bright now. No longer healing, but burning. He breathed and started off again.

Armor echoed through the night for far too long. The remaining creature stood, one ring poorer yet richer within somehow. He knew not why. Only that he’d acted on a compulsion. As that of the creature whom sought that light so vehemently even death could not stop it.

Because in the end, it seemed, even the darkest soul carried light within it.

Short Story: Blind and Bound

She stood in her shower, half-cradling a breast. One arm draped upward and around her, finger resting at her lips. The other worked to soap herself. Her eyes, stared: quite literally, dead-ahead. Their milky blindness told most of the story, but even her own circumstantial birth could not account for all of their current damage.

Something had happened. It was obvious and she knew it. What, she wasn’t sure– No, she was… but it seemed a dream. Someone else’s. It couldn’t have been hers. She’d been dreaming. A nightmare. Taken advantage of, but not. Caught off-guard, really.

She’d been blind since birth, born with a defect that kept the optic nerves from forming properly. Cataracts came later. She couldn’t help either, but as she’d known nothing else, she coped, adapted: to both life and circumstance, it was never a question of bothering her.

Until today.

Her senses were acute enough she’d never needed her cane outside the most populated areas; shopping malls, boardwalks, city-centers and the like– places where Humans couldn’t fathom that the rats and roaches scurrying about were actually people. People like them. Each with their own lives, memories, minutes and moments lived until and beyond their passing in the amalgamated haze of life.

For a five-five blind woman with less muscle mass than a proper steak, it meant nobody paid any attention to where you were or going. Short of having an attendant, she’d never have been able to walk city-streets without the cane.

She’d resented it her whole life. Not for any, one, irrational or emotional reason, but because she knew it made her appear outwardly vulnerable.

Her only feelings on the matter were that no-one knowing made it easier. Confidence alone held the facade of equal power in the streets. It allowed her to be one of the other cockroaches when needed. Otherwise, gave her strength to carry on day-to-day, despite her slightly more-unique set of challenges.

But if the equal-power perception were upset things change.

In other words, she remained a roach with her cane, but now one hanging from a candy cane on a dead Christmas tree. The conflict was obvious. She needed to be a chameleon using its color-changing to hide itself in plain-sight. Not a fucking clown.

At least, that’s how she’d always thought of it. Now, it seemed that wasn’t true. She’d been attacked without it, just another unlucky woman in the hands of some sick pseudo-human creature.

She’d screamed as soon as she’d felt his hands.

The smell! Something like motor oil and gasoline mixed with brill-cream. The smell of Human gone bad. Or old fruit too long rotting in sunlight. No good for liquor or anything more than decomposition.

She’d smelled it almost as soon as it hit her peripheral. As a deaf-dog smelled its owner in a garage from a second floor bedroom. She knew someone was near. An off-rotted someone. Were circumstances different, she’d have thought it a dead body.

The sudden rush of steps gave her pause, but the kind that didn’t hesitate in her step. Then, from nowhere, she was on the ground. Something struck her head, dazing her. Making her unable to scream. The world was spinning. Its motions unnatural, sickening. Dread burst into her limbs, doing its best to compel them onward.

It was too late. She felt cold air. Body heat. Stinking, Human-badness. Something pathetic and erect seeking violent, grotesque bounty. Before she could scream, he was inside. Then, she was screaming… but her mind was floating, drifting as if a sail-barge set adrift mid-storm and now consigned to float forever, alone.

Then, she was alone. Her limbs flailing, her tears ran.

It had only been moments. The little-pricked psycho couldn’t even last more than a few seconds, proving it was only the rush he got off on. She’d never gotten to touch his face. If she had, she’d have a good description, but her body’d been too heavily restrained.

Cooling water centered her on reality, pulling her back from a brink. Enough to warm the water, anyway.

Heavy. He was heavy. Not muscular, not obese. Heavy. Like the darkness of his soul was a lead-weight that kept her still. Part of it was herself: still too shocked to know how to think or act outside flailing. Utterly understandable, no-one would deny that. She’d managed a couple good scratches and a hit before her forehead hit concrete and she was dazed again, too.

So, he was heavy. And smelled. He’d have some scratches, and probably a bruise.

It wasn’t enough. She needed more, could only get it by revisiting that horrible memory. Over and over again. The way he slid inside with a kind of practiced-precision: he’d done it more than once. Nobody got that lucky on the first try of anything, especially not this.

Serial rapist. Heavy, but not fat. Smelling of badness and poorly endowed.

Still not enough. Better, but not enough.

He’d come at her from the side, along Fifth. Out of an alley. He’d have struck in the area again. Serial-anythings were predictable once identified. He’d hit her with something blunt, but not metal. She knew it from a thunk on the ground beside them. Wood on asphalt. The sounds replayed in crystal clarity. Clearer even than when they happened– for now, she had some grasp on their order of action.

Something wood and round. It had begun to roll, stopped and scraped when lifted. As if broken at its end. It was light, but precise. He hit her again.

Wood. Dense. Rounded but too small for a full-size bat. Not strong or heavy enough to break bone or skin. She was guessing it had been a scale-model one; the type kids picked up as souvenirs at their first attendance of a real game.

She had an idea of the weapon, but what more could that help? How many of the things were there in the world? Let alone in a city with a Major League team? She couldn’t know, but it was another detail.

She’d begun to move again. The last of the creature’s vile poison leaked off her into the pooling warmth, suckled away into nothingness down the drain. Her body gave an involuntary quake, but her arms worked to clean herself. Her feet warm, soothed.

He’d been wearing sneakers. He’d gotten the drop on her only because he was lost in his spring. The steps had been heavy, confusing at first. Incapable of immediately registering themselves as boot or shoe. But now, they were sneakers at full-tilt. He’d have worked out a method, a serial case: probably repeat offender.

No belt either. He wouldn’t have worn one. It wasn’t his first time, after all. That was obvious still. She’d heard no zipper but had felt the press of thin material on her legs as his knees pinned the backs of hers.

Pants. No zipper. Synthetic Fibers. Athletic-wear.

It was the only conclusion. With his weight, he was probably in disguise– that is to say, his dress wasn’t usual. He’d have abandoned the dress of a so-called day-to-day job, its presence evidenced in the brill-cream scent between the gasoline and motor-oil. He wouldn’t have left work just to do this. He’d prepared to do it.

Meaning the car-scents were hobbiest scents. Probably, the brill-cream an identifying trait. People that knew him would know it. That too, would connect him with his likely hobby of auto-repair– or if not hobby, necessity. Which meant he either had enough money to work cars for fun, or none at all and against odds, did it for pay.

Compulsive gambler was also a possibility. Such was the case in cracked eggs.

She didn’t know any mechanics though. While a few gear-heads in the ‘burbs knew her, none would remember her. Certainly, none with that scent of badness.

She twisted the shower off and stepped out. Groping for the towel and careful of her steps on the slick tub. It needed to be cleaned. Like she’d been…

No! She wasn’t unclean. It was him! He needed to be cleaned: Scrubbed from society while facing his crimes head-on.

She’d already taken a sample from the homemade rape-kit she’d fashioned from cotton-swabs and airtight tupperware. It wasn’t perfect, but she wasn’t about to walk into a police station without having some idea of what to say. She wanted him caught, not to have herself coddled. The last thing she wanted was to be coddled.

No, what she needed was information. As much as possible before going to the police. If she could figure out who it was, she could act.

Statistics said a victim was more likely to know their attacker. It wasn’t much to go on, but it could temporarily narrow the field. All she needed was to connect the right dots so she could turn the guy over, let detectives handle it from there.

It was as decent a place as any to start. She made the call.

A half-hour later she was meeting in her living room with a cop. She didn’t particularly like the idea, given the reputation they’d gained, but it wasn’t that difficult to choose between the Detective’s presence and letting the tiny-pricked bastard do it again. She gave what information she could muster:

Heavy, taller than her. Sneakers. Sweats. Wooden mini-bat. God-awful smell. Probably a serial. Scratched and bruised.

The detective hadn’t bothered to question her. She could hear the disbelief in his breath. Not the kind that would write her off. Rather, the kind that said he was ashamed how he’d squandered his senses. She gave him the homemade kit, which he handled as if a fearful student given a task by a mentor, to be taken with all precautions and properly handled.

He asked if she wanted a ride to the hospital, offered it. She accepted, though mostly for efficiency’s sake.

Two hours later, her he calling: he’d found someone she should, “Erm, take a look at…” She chuckled in earnest. His relief told her he was equally in earnest.

She was guided into a room. “The DNA will confirm,” the detective said. “But he fits the profile. Make the ID, we’ll hold him for interrogation.”

She stepped in, immediately overwhelmed by the scent of badness. She didn’t need confirmation, her gut affirmed her feelings. Her senses screamed. Terror rippled chains over her body, threatening to rip her back to that horrible series of moments. She shattered them with a breath.

Stepping over, mind focused, she connected a few, choice aspects of the attack she’d missed before. He had a strong right hand, dominant, but a stronger than usual left arm. Probably, from driving. Racing, she guessed. It fit with the stench of motor-oil and fuel.

And, he’d had a certain way of breathing. A huff-puff beneath a wheeze. He smoked. Excessively. He smelled of it even now. Smoke and sweat. It poured from him. Not fear sweat, no. Junkie sweat. The kind that came from craving fixes. He didn’t believe she could ID him; she was blind, after all. So, he wanted her again. He thought he could get away with it. Again.

That cinched it.

She stepped before him, senses screaming and gut knotted. The smell of badness floored her. She took off her sunglasses to stare him in the eyes with her milky-blind blues.

“You didn’t think I’d catch you.”

His breath stuttered. Imperceptible to anyone but her. He remained silent, but he was caught.

“The DNA will get you, but I want you personally to know, you won’t be seeing daylight for a long time. If you do, and you’re not changed, I will know. I will always be watching.”

The detective needed no further confirmation. He one, then the other, from the room: the former to sit and file paperwork, the latter to holding. Even as she boringly recited information for a proctor to fill out, she knew she’d never again fear walking the street– cane or not.

VIN 13- Monsters (Retribution Is Not Justice)

We have to stop looking at the people damaging our society as parts of our species. They are, but simultaneously, are not. They are aberrant. Anomalous. Evolutionary Fraknestein-monsters so hideous and frightening to look upon them is to vomit blood in repulsion. Not from any physical malady, but rather psycho-social and emotional ones– because the reality of their personalities and effect make them dangerously caustic.

But what to do once we’ve identified them, revealed their madness, located and cast them into light? How then do we seek retribution?

Simply? We do not.

Consider that idea, just for a moment; do nothing in retribution.

Why? Despite the damage and needless suffering, why do we not retaliate?

Why need we? The system these creatures have exploited is damaged and tearing itself apart. Thus, we need only push back where desired to bulwark what needs remain. Meanwhile, others of us can begin making repairs and changes to the new boundaries where required– at least until our society has reiterated, re-stabilized.

Huh? Exactly. This is why we seek no recompense.

So few people would understand these ideas, yet all of us exist via their principles– the mutational ones that dictate the simplest organisms survive. Also known as the path of least resistance, it is more than that; the shortest distance between two points, conceptually, of change in a system.

Society is a system. Change is the constant. For change to assert itself, its effected system must fracture, mutate, then reform having cast out its refuse and damage in the meantime. Again, in our case, these are concepts; ideologies, ideas, philosophies, ways of living incapable of coexistence between the two groups of Human and Mutant, “man” and “monster.”

But why do nothing, again?

Herein lies the point; not seeking revenge is not the act of a coward. Rather, it is the act of one whose mind and heart conflict with their nature. In essence, it is the benevolence of turning thyne other cheek, even if one knows it will be struck in turn.

Consider those monstrous aberrations for what they truly are; genetic mishaps.

We should neither fear nor hate them, but disallow them to possess the power they currently do. Not for any prejudicial reason, but because of the inherent, emotional instability at their own differences from the majority.

Ultimately, inside all of these Cronenbergs is an ugly child acting out from sadness and fear. Never having been loved nor sated, they simply grew bigger, uglier, and louder. Therefore, seeking retribution is engaging in that which perpetuates the cycle that has formed them.

Justice, on the other hand, will always be served. Swiftly. For life is much harder than death, and punishment need not be violent; only transforming, lasting. One need only find the perpetrator’s deepest weaknesses and pains, and strengthen or heal them.

Only then can Humans truly begin to heal themselves and their damaged kin.

Short Story: Forsaken Nightmare

Sunlight fired like pulse-beams through patches of a missing roof. It ricocheted off shattered remnants of a former med-cabinet and splayed itself across the grime and dirt of an old bathroom. A once-white-now-black cast-iron tub edged the room, half-covered by glass doors inexplicably better-weathered than the room.

Grime was smeared like liquid feces across fixtures and walls; the floor a half-inch taller than intended from piled dirt, piled wherever possible. The bits of ceiling still remaining appeared dangerously contaminated, while something piled and rag-like in the tub appeared permanently oil-drenched.

Yet, this was a kind of civilization. A so-called natural one at that– certain as the sun shifting exposed rafter-shadows before altogether tripling its rays across the tattered and oily rag-pile.

It gave a tired groan, stirring enough to resolve itself into the small form of a female Human. She yawned deep, instantly regretting it, then hacked and spit a wad of something. A moment later, she was scrambling for a more-suitable place to vomit.

Or, one that wouldn’t worsen her vomiting, anyhow.

She tripped from a bathroom into a bedroom over a warped threshold. Cool air blasted her face over blinding light as she fell toward a dilapidated corner and wet-heaved. The former bedside table’s remains became the receptacle for her expulsion– to what would’ve been its one-time owner’s dismay.

A cross-wind blew from the home’s open front-face, doing its best to soothe her. She heaved graciously, if that were anywhere near possible. The rubble she’d seen coming in confirmed a few explosives had detonated nearby– probably IEDs from the war, she’d guessed before.

She wasn’t guessing much now; retching with bilious acid, tongue ablaze despite leaking pools of saliva. Gut-punch heaves left her on trembling arms, knees bent beneath her and whole being shivering from flash cold-sweats. Even through layered rags, it cut through her like knives.

She wiped her mouth with a quaking hand, still propped feebly on the other, and clawed her way up rotted lumber. It stank and felt slimy, making her stomach lurch again, but with nothing left inside it, she stilled herself. For now the slime anchored her mind to reality. Mixed blessing that was, it focused her.

Get up, Mal.

“No,” she said aloud.

GET UP, MALAYA!

She was on her feet. Somehow. Her legs were rubber and the rest of her numb, like the moment of death before the mind goes, but she was moving again. Slowly. Deliberately. Had it not been so dark when she’d reached the ‘burb, she might’ve searched the nearby homes for better accommodations. What that might’ve been, she couldn’t imagine, but in daylight, the place was worse than she’d thought.

Of all the former homes, only one other remained in any recognizable condition. The environment made the rest of the rubble obvious as homes, but the most that remained of the least-damaged was a lone, I-beam half sunken into a former basement.

It was as if the whole area’d sustained a direct hit with some sort of planet-sized hammer.

Really, Malaya knew, it was just conventional weaponry. The whole planet might’ve looked the same but she couldn’t be sure. What little she’d seen of it was never so bad physically, but neither was it anywhere near the concept of “good.”

Mostly, it was just “different.”

Malaya rummaged through the last two homes for anything of value but left the ‘burb empty-handed. Her belly roared beneath her soiled layers, wishing to know food as the ruins once had. Nevertheless, she started off on her rubber legs, half-limping from premature aches and an old wound.

She’d left the place she’d called home days ago, never to return. She’d hold herself to that no matter what anyone said. No-one wanted  to be there  anyhow; Bleaker didn’t earn its namesake lightly. It was an internment camp turned refugee shelter– and kept that way four decades too long.

What passed and was built in those intervening years, from a former concrete-walled tent-city, was nothing short of a hell-hole. Unfortunately for Malaya, that hell-hole had been her home– however equally it was also a prison.

She fished an unlabeled can from beneath brick-rubble. It’d probably expired a half-century ago, but she tore at it with the ferocity of a starved, wild-animal– had any but Humans still existed. Nobody knew what started the war anymore, but everyone knew which side lost.

Which? Obviously the one fighting to keep people from living like Malaya.

She wolfed down something stale, rubbery, and equally as frightening as the scent that’d made her vomit. It wasn’t the scent really, but that was beside the point.

She ate, trying to piece together the fifteen or so years of memory she’d collected, and search it for anything of value. A veritable lifetime already; hers. It returned in flashes. Here and there, bits emerging from the fog Bleaker’d kept them in.

They were kids; she knew that much. Too young by the old-world’s standards to be treated the way they were– used the way they were. Most times too, a few disappeared. Here and there. Faces she knew only vaguely, suddenly never reappeared. Girls. Boys. Didn’t matter which.

Now, she was beginning to understand why.

She finished her pitiful meal and began to walk again. Whatever it was she’d put into herself wouldn’t stick around. She walked harder, pieced a little more of the world together. Desolation wherever she went confirmed what little she’d heard as rumors, or was picked up from the kids or elders.

“Adults” were generations gone and more scarred than even Malaya.

Even then, she’d never have traded her life for anyone else’s. Especially when the next morning came, and with the vomited remnants of that terrible meal came something else. Something lower. In her gut, but neither of bowels nor bladder.

It was the greatest relief when she found herself utterly dripping black blood and uterine discharge.

She fell to the freezing ground outside another would-be razed home, and wept gratitude to Gods she knew did not exist. At the very least, she wouldn’t have to be responsible– guilty, for bringing another Gods-forsaken life into this nightmare world.

She wept joy, vomited blood, and fainted.

Short Story: Kudzu

Sebastian Rower slid to one side of the bed, red from exertion. Beside him lie Drake, looking something the Greeks of old. His muscled form reflected low-light across a fresh sheen of sweat and saliva. The pair were slick and panting. The taste of salt lingered on Sebastian’s tongue. His body coursed fresh ecstasy, post-sex heat.

Sebastian thought he’d known love from lust; Drake taught him differently.

He’d come to Sebastian through a sea of bodies. Its current undulated beneath swirling spirals of neon. The Club, Sebastian was a perpetual wallflower there. Most nights he clung to the walls like kudzu, simply watching, people completely unaware of his existence.

Men or women. Straight or gay. Anyone in, around, between. They all sought The Club. Their reasons were varied but similar enough. Sometimes it was drugs. Sometimes booze. Sex or something similar; always a wiling from between the long-nights and docile daylight.

Sebastian watched, never bothering to do much more than nurse a drink each night. He might’ve been content to live out that obscurity forever, little more than a passing thought in the rarest of minds.

But Drake appeared.

He had an undeniable allure. It rolled in as if on waves from beyond a place of light. Even before adding in sexuality or magnetism, it turned crowds like pre-storm gales; ever-graceful but with auras of power, intimidation, awe.

Sebastian swore he saw them, however briefly. They rolled from him in auric waves, barely visible beneath twirling lights. It seemed too, to automatically repel those Drake felt unworthy; in effect, bestowing even the knowledge of his existence was a gift.

Yet of all the vibrant, colorful people there, Drake chose the dull, earthen vine; Sebastian. Otherwise doomed to creep, alone, merely existing. Drake’s auras decided otherwise. Like an old vid of lovers at first-sight.

Drake approached, auras firing and repelling the crowd so his forceful-grace never faltered. Their eyes locked, attached by a magnetism pulling one to the anchored-other. He saw them then.

For the slightest breath, Sebastian thought himself seeing things. He was center of this God’s attentions, feared to believe it, would’ve cast his eyes away to check could he bear to. Something more said he was both seeing things and their center. He, and only he.

Drake’s approach made time exist only for them. Its eventual return found reality muted, distant and hollow from an inexplicable force between them.

Drake introduced himself with a now-familiar, sonic equivalent of silken marble. He leaned in with only the slightest touch to Sebastian’s wrist. The effect a whisper in the muted sound; a distant sea-surf amidst the hot-spring of his touch.

They danced. For hours. An eternity, it felt.

Something powdered met hot blood. The night became a blur of spinning. Ecstasy, laced with exhilaration. The Club faded to the passing background between it and Drake’s place until the flow of time became impossible to track.

Hot, fast-tempo sex dominated after. Between long, slow moments of unbridled bliss seeming to last forever.

Sebastian could take no more. He gave Drake the last, best part of his remaining strength, then fell beside the God with a growing exhaustion. The Auras, until now empowering him, were finally taking their toll. No mortal’s waves, after all.

He let himself cool down, laid his head on the muscle-bound chest beside him.

Drake curled one arm around Sebastian, used the other to light a cigarette, and smoked. Sebastian watched, Drake seeming never to exhale. Sebastian closed his eyes, hypnotized to nether realms between bouts of fluttering eyelids.

He hard only the inhale, the deep chasm between it and the next. Nothing more.

Darkness flared from a cherried-cigarette. Utterly drained, Sebastian was forced to speak. His star-struck despair was the same as any whose euphoric fever-dreams were shattered by a painful reality.

“I guess I should be going now.”

Drake said nothing, merely lit another cigarette. Sebastian moved to sit up. Drake’s arm tightened, stilling him. Sebastian waited, taking the excuse to bask in the God’s glow.

It was no good. There was no pleasure there anymore. No fire. Just two people, alone, naked. At least, one person, however God-like the other. One, utterly drained, as if its parts were decayed from the energy he’d expended.

Drake finished his cigarette, forced a pause to the air. Sebastian took the transition, tried to rise again. Drake’s arm tightened in silence. His strength was immense, firm.

A lump of fear manifested near Sebastian’s brain-stem, forced him to try again, “I should–”

Drake’s arm held firm. Sebastian was caught, held by the threatening vice that was Drake’s mass of muscles, endless strength.

“Really,” Sebastian squirmed.

Drake was silent, smoking. Again, Sebastian attempted to rise. Drake’s arm gave only the slightest twitch. He was still again. The pill exploded along Sebastian’s brain, surged freezing electricity along his spine in icy, electric arcs.

Terror shook his struggling limbs, stilled by a force not his own.He was ready to run. Trying to. It was utterly hopeless. The body that had delighted him was now against him. With only the twitch of a muscle, Sebastian writhed, clawing in cold sweat at the beast beside him.

He begged, pled for release, fearful of the God’s sudden transition. Drake finished his cigarette and finally began to move.

Sebastian held his breath: one, swift motion forced Drake’s lips against his. The creature exhaled. Smoke billowed from it into Sebastian’s lungs. Acrid smoke smothered any hope for air.

His lungs filled. His sinuses.

Still it came.

The weight was too much. His airways bulged, overfilled. They began to tear; a million tiny cuts from a billion points of skin being drawn and quartered by one another. He wished to scream, smothered from the inside out; Drake’s smoke was too powerful, too thorough.

Sebastian’s innards stretched, bled. The smoke infected his blood, filled, swallowed, replaced it. The process repeated endlessly, every inch of him torn by the next and last. Inexorable terror accompanied the stomach-drop of blood and fluid spilling into unrightful places.

Still, Drake exhaled.

Sebastian’s lungs were no more. Utterly annihilated by the force of persistent smoke. Its tearing, shredding, quarter. Until its threads severed at ever level of existence imaginable.

Then, the rest of Sebastian went too. Piece-by-piece. Tear-by-tear.

Sebastian gave a final twitch and dissolved into smoke. It dissipated slowly, taking Sebastian with it forever.

Drake eased himself back and lit another cigarette.

Short Story: Riders

She was seeing it all through his eyes, would be until it was over. That was how it worked. Riders were like ghosts; like the little, niggling thoughts in the back of one’s mind that drove them to do a thing they normally wouldn’t.

That was how the agency liked it. More importantly, that was how Riders needed it. To allow further levity meant revealing more of the Host’s takeover. Two-twenty-three didn’t think she couldn’t handle that anyhow; the final moment of betrayal in their hearts was too much already. It was like hating yourself for so crassly leading to your own demise.

She couldn’t bear to think of feeling that the whole ride, especially knowing it was validated.

No, it was best for Hosts to live in as utter an ignorance as possible. She made sure they did, too, as every other Rider. It was an unspoken agreement that Riders do their level best to whisper thoughts that kept their hosts calm while re-forming them.

It was like the oxygen mask on a plane, deploying as it went down; Riders soothed for the sake of all aboard so the Hosts accepted their fate.

Fact was, Riders were necessary. Even if they didn’t quite understand why. Even if they never saw the full-effect of their Ride– the actions of their host– there was always an explanation, a bigger picture. The Agency assured it, promised it.

Riders couldn’t handle riding pointlessly anyhow. They’d all heard the stories of the first Hosts, their Riders. 223 didn’t need to be reminded, it was part of their training to know it. A body could only play host to more than one consciousness for a few days, a week at most. After, both Rider and Host began to lose the delineation of one and the other. It was an effect, the Agency said, of becoming too exposed to the mental processes of one another.

In essence, because both consciousnesses were encountering new methods of processing thought, they began emulating them in bits and pieces. That was perfectly fine for the short term, enlightening even, but the longer it lasted, the more permanent it became.

The block was simple human thought; certain thoughts took longer to unravel or understand as a result of mental intermediary between them and action. Generally, those intermediaries were often evaluatory, acting as filters of morality, experience to dictate decision making.

But a ridden Host had shortcuts, even longer paths. Their Rider did too, if only temporarily. The longer that connection was maintained, the longer those basic requirements were over-written, over-stayed or altogether avoided.

As a result, traits of both Rider and Host bled between them, freely exchanged. Before long, the lines blurred to non-existence. Then Rider and Host became part of one another in a sort of quasi mental-merge.

But since the Human psyche wasn’t meant for such uses or abuses, it wasn’t long before both Host and Rider were utterly insane. They became unwitting schizophrenics, completely unaware that the voices they were hearing were one another’s. The only way to really handle them then was to eliminate them.

Reasons there were two-fold; if for some reason knowledge of Riders were discovered, the consequences could be disastrous for every universe involved. More than that, it meant mistakes had been made, needed to be corrected as cleanly and painlessly as possible.

223 wasn’t a pup by any standards. She’d been a Rider nearly forty-years. Course, that was by a measure of time that didn’t exist where she hailed from. Though ostensibly human, her people had long outgrown the need for singular universal inhabitance.

In fact, if the Agency were true, the Riders efforts were to raise remaining universes’ to their level. 223 believed the Agency’s aims at least. But as much as she believed in it, as a goal-oriented entity, she had a hard time believing in its people.

After all, they were human– or near enough– and especially susceptible to error and manipulation. Riders were a pure manifestation of that.

Still, she saw his world through his eyes and would until she backed out, was pulled out, or the Host was killed. The harsh reality of being a Rider was ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the Host ended up dead, in trouble with authorities, or worse. The rarer good ending did exist, and a Rider was guaranteed to have a few over time, but they were far enough between to easily forget them otherwise.

It was all for the greater good, the Riders knew, and it was never a comfort.

223’s current ride was no different from any of the other forty-years of Hosts. She rode three to four new Hosts a week these days, but had long ago abandoned hope the odds of good-to-bad would be altered in any way.

To do so was pointless. All hoping could lead to was damaging her back home. Either through some misguided attempt to help, rebel, or more emotional scarring than was necessary.

Still, she admitted that familiar pang of pity for the guy as he straightened his poorly knotted tie in a mirror. He was a well-meaning dud, but a dud nonetheless. The Multiverse was swarmed by them. It was sad in its way, so much wasted potential.

He grabbed his suit-jacket, completely unaware of the phantom taking possession of him. Before long, she had him waltzing about his kitchen to kiss his wife and kids good-bye, grab his briefcase and coffee, and slip out the door.

223 slotted herself into the correct mental state. Good riders could do it instantly, but the best took their time, got to know their Host first to develop the right empathy, the right control. 223 was nothing if not one of the best.

Thing about it was, the Ride was really just that; a ride. Good Riders knew how to nudge their Host onto track with a few, specific thoughts, nudges that turned out to be all anyone ever needed.

They weren’t really thoughts though. That was important to remember. More like feelings, shadows of feelings, shifts or sparks sometimes so deep in the psyche a person didn’t know they existed. They were phantom’s phantoms, ghostly shadows of desires, dreams, hopes. They were the little darknesses Jung built his career off.

At least, most of the time. Sometimes they were lights, but those lights were rare.

In forty years, 223’d learned to tell when big events were near. She’d been through a few; armed revolutions, bloody coups, massive, sexual awakenings– her personal favorite– and everything in and around. They were all experienced through various Hosts, eachusually only for a short period.

Usually too, the closer the event was to its climax, the darker the rides were.For some, it was assassinations, suicides, public or private but with massive repercussions. Sometimes, it was a cheating or cheated-on spouse meant to become the next Gloria Steinem or Jane Roe.

This time, it was looking bigger, darker. She wasn’t sure what, but the rides had gotten darker. Moreso than she’d ever seen. Whatever was set to happen, even this waltzing family-man had his dark part to play.

His day wasn’t rough. She’d seen worse, but she nudged him at every necessary turn. It was a testament to her skill that mere hours allowed her to turn the wife-loving, tax-paying smartly-dressed family-man into one of the most depraved monsters to have ever walked his Earth.

It started with a near accident in his brand new Lexus. The car was fine, but left him covered in coffee, neck to navel. The second nudge came minutes later at a store, when stopping to buy a new shirt. Only few pennies off the exact change, he was forced to use a credit card.

Such little things could be important; tiny sparks that fed big fires, stirring massive resentment via the way people viewed the world at-large. 223 was almost proud of how easy it had been to turn him from upstanding citizen to monster brewing.

The next nudge came an hour later. He’d changed from the ruined shirt but the suit-jacket and tie were still drying. He was forced to shake hands with his company’s CEO for the first time, neither looking nor feeling his best.

In the back of his mind, a pill of rage had formed.

223 hated herself for being so damned good, but a Rider directed their Host as per the Agency’s objective. It could take minutes, it could take days, but sooner or later the Host wound up where the Agency wanted them.

If it weren’t 223, she knew, it would’ve been someone else. Someone that might’ve made their Host suffer unduly, whether through malice or ineptitude.

223’s skill allowed her to ride The Host’s humiliation all day, nudging and prodding him into the rabid, froth of bilious fury she needed. He arrived home an hour before his wife and children a miserable wreck, then soused himself to the gills until they appeared.

The show began.

223 half-suspected the wife was a Host too. It seemed too-well played, too-well matched, for she alone to have done it all. Whether the wife was a Host too she’d never know. It didn’t matter anyway.

It took all of ten minutes before two, upstanding people became absolute, raving animals.

The wife hurled insults better than 223 expected. The husband hurled them back. Then, some plates and glasses. The children cowered, bawling in a corner further scarred with each moment.

223 couldn’t focus on them, they’d be provided for. Hell, for all she knew, they were the point of this.

Then it happened; the Wife lunged, struckhim. Humiliatied, terrified, and cooked to a boiling rage by the heated nudge of a phantom Rider, he struck back. The wife reeled back, slipped on broken glass, and slammed the back of her skull on the edge of a counter. She was dead before the crack finished resonating.

The children erupted in screams.

The last nudge. 223 watched the Host drop to his knees, lift broken glass. He jabbed, pulled. Arterial bloodspurted and sprayed the air like a demented fountain.

Then, his body hit the floor. She felt it then; that last feeling of betrayal oozing through her, but not at her. Never at her. Always at the host. Child-screams faded into the light of the Rider’s chair, and she felt it automate and sit her upright.

She fell from it into a desk chair, body shaking with grief. She slugged back something vaguely liquor-like to settle her nerves and poured. She lifted a pen, slid an ancient-looking notebook from a drawer of the glass and metal desk, and began to write:

20,073. Male. Caucasian.