The Pigeon Man and the Plug of Vampiric Hunger

The Pigeon Man (and the ‘plug’ of vampiric hunger) 

I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve lost a lot in the last few years. I know someone out there can understand that, if you lose for long enough you start to get good at it. You can lose so much that you give up… and give things away. That’s when I knew it was time to get the hell out of here. A fresh start sounded appealing, a new beginning, so I focused all my energy on getting as far away as possible. 

I waited at the bus station, alone, with the sound of the late-night traffic of the overpass to keep me company. The bus arrived early. I took a seat in the back. The driver walked out to a coffee shop across the street. He didn’t return for several minutes, but when he did, a filthy old man accompanied him. The old man shuffled down the aisle, as the bus took off down the street, he stumbled into the seat across from me. 

The old man stared at me, as the bus meandered onto the overpass. His lips moved, as he spoke under his breath. He nodded and smiled, as he opened the right side of his jacket, revealing a pigeon in his coat pocket. The man’s smile widened and revealed the remaining few teeth, spattered in a grimy yellow muck. Grey and white fur peppered his beard, along with the mangy tufts of fur collected on his head. A few feathers poked out of his hair that went well with the dried bird shit staining his filthy brown overcoat. He stared for far too long without blinking. I nodded, without a word, and hoped that would end our interaction. Instead, the old man moved into the seat right in front of me. 

“Forgive me, sir, but my buddy Jasper claims you’ve got a bag of peanuts in your satchel. Is it true?” The man asked. 

“And, how would Jasper know that?” 

“Jasper knows all, Joseph. Jasper knows all.” He pat the right side of his jacket. 

“How do you know my name?” 

The bus driver let a few more people on at the next stop, before the bus continued on its path. I felt alone with the stranger, whose eyes I noticed had yet to blink. 

“I don’t mean any trouble. It’s what Jasper tells me… can he have a peanut?” 

He sat so close to me that the stench of three-week old unwashed asshole invaded my nostrils. A red discoloration surrounded a wound on his neck. I wasn’t sure if that was the cause of the smell, but it looked infected and pulsed with bright crimson dots. It could’ve been his rotting teeth or the bacteria crawling all over his flesh. I chose to speculate no further, as the answer wouldn’t help me overcome the foul odor. 

“Why not. Here. Take it all.” 

I held out the bag of peanuts. The man’s eyes lit up like fireworks. You would’ve thought I gave him a kidney. 

“Thank you, sir! Gracious. Kind, sir! Thank you. Thank you!” He bowed, in a reverence I neither deserved nor wanted, as he backed his way down the aisle. 

He backed up all the way to front of the bus, maintaining eye-contact with me, until he turned to the bus driver. The bus driver opened the doors, not even at a stop, and let the man out in the street. I’m sure the bus driver caught a good whiff of the man and wanted him gone as soon as possible. The man stood in the middle of the street, his mouth open wide, his arms outstretched. The pigeon flew out of his pocket. I watched, as he shouted at the pigeon, crying, as he fell to his knees. 

“Come back to me, fair godling!” He screamed, as the bus left him in the distance. 

Not long after, the bus reached the airport. I made my way to the terminal, but had a long wait until my plane arrived. I decided to wait in the airport lounge, and got a drink at the bar. I was alone with the bartender. The echo of several television screens repeating the same news story filled the air. 

“People in this town must have a real twisted sense of humor.” 

I’d not noticed someone sitting a few seats away. I looked up from my drink to see a bald man in a grey suit staring back at me. His darker complexion gave the impression of a crown embedded unto his forehead. The wrinkles seemed to wrap all the way around his head, like a halo. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Albany National Airport Lounge… an acronym is an acronym… but anal is…” 

I sounded it out in my head, and laughed when I saw the joke. 

“See! Good sense of humor, you people.” 

He raised his glass. I hesitated to do the same, as upon first glance, I swear I saw an eye floating in his drink. 

“To Albany.” We toasted. 

We drank in silence. I couldn’t help but admire the ritual of his drinking. He held the glass with both hands, and then sipped-sipped-sipped away. He focused with intention: never letting the glass get more than a few inches from his lips. He let out a loud, satisfied ‘ahhh’, and then lowered his drink to the napkin. He noticed me watching, and smiled. 

“Where are you headed?” He asked. 

“The fuck out of Albany.” 

He laughed. “That humor. You’re an ambassador for your people, the ethnic ‘Albany-ans’. I love it here. I love the people. You all have similar mannerisms, like, ignoring the fact that you all have the same mannerisms.” 

“What are you? An Albany historian?” 

“A historian dissects history from the framework of a modernized intellect. My mind is engrained in ancient wisdom. I see the world for what it was, what it is, and what it will always be. A historian sees the past of a place and interprets what once was. I’m just an ancient root, wrapping itself around any and all things that spring forth from that dirt. Your culture, your people, your histories… I’ve entwined my nature with the fabric of this place. A historian observes. I obey the whims of nature and evolve with what I know.” 

“What the hell does that mean?” 

“Ancient dirt is never soiled.” He placed between us a small ivory figurine, and laughed loud enough that I leapt in my chair. 

It was a small, hooded devil, holding a lantern in one hand and, in the other, a scythe. The jagged end of the scythe tugged on its eyelid to reveal the ocular bone underneath. Its ink-black pupil stared up at me with an unblinking agony. 

“Ancient dirt and ancient soil hide many secrets. I could tell you of a world that existed long before anyone ever settled this sacred ground. Before man ever walked the earth. Before he learned how to use primitive tools to shape his world. Would you like to know what once stood upon this ancient soil?” 

“I’ll bite. Tell me your secrets.” 

A toothy grin and a long, gnarled fang, eclipsed any humanity within his smile: 

“Ancient dirt and ancient soil are ripe with the corruption of the Ancient Ones. Their evil infested this land long before humanity came into existence. We, who were the world in that day, had naught to turn to for salvation. The land churned with the composted flesh of the tormented souls left rotting by the Old Ones. There was no salvation, until, from within the water of the acidic rivers, arose the serpent: the old man of the river. He came with a wisdom acquired from centuries in the wastes and dregs left behind by their bloodshed. He taught us how to overcome the agony inflicted by the Old Ones. By our hands, we dug up the earth. We tore away its poisonous flesh and discovered a world that stood before the Ancient Ones. We dug. We discovered. We rebuilt. We knew to no longer fear the old ones. As they rest in their eternal slumber, ancient dirt and ancient soil are their prisons. Lost cultures and dying ruins are the chains that bind them. Bloodshed and sacrifice are their seal. The suffering of the undying feed their hungers, in their long hibernation. The soil is the seal that keeps their madness at bay. If we maintain this sacrifice, the earth will forever hold them. They will not return, unless by some unforeseen, calamitous prophecy beyond the stars.” 

“You speak in Lovecraftian riddles… and, like any other nut-job, not a damn word makes any sense.” 

“That’s because you’ve reflected from a lens of modern history. You’ve not seen the serpent arisen from those boiling waters. You’ve not heard the cries of tormented souls climbing from the depths of that poisoned soil. You forgot your history. You blocked it from your memory, because the mind wishes to forget, not understand. The old man of the river allows not for your forgetfulness. His wisdom embeds into your psyche like a tick. All it requires is a will to remember, to understand your ancestry. Tap into that forbidden wisdom and see the world with the eyes of a madman, not a boorish, amateur historian.” 

“Suppose I wanted to see… how could I do it?” 

“Stick this relic up your ass.” 

A long pause. An awkward stare. A moment suspended by uncomfortable silence, then shattered by his loud, obnoxious laughter. 

“A good sense of humor, you Albany-ans!” He sipped his drink, shaking his head, still giggling to himself, muttering, as he nibbled on the glass. 

“I like you, Joseph.” 

“I don’t remember ever telling you my name.” 

“You didn’t.” 

“Then, how do you know it?” 

“Calm down. It’s just a name. We’re having a good time, you and I.” 

“Who are you?” 

A breaking news bulletin appeared on the television. The stranger turned his attention to the screen. 

“A homeless man attacked seven people today in the middle of Lexington Ave, biting and scratching several eye-witnesses, before being gunned down by local officials. The man has yet to be identified, but was taken to the Albany Med before being pronounced dead on arrival.” 

“Things have really gone to shit out there.” 

The report rang out amidst the immutable silence of the empty airport bar. I noticed his eyes, in a terrible duality. The darkness of his pupil seeped within the ocean of white, divergent from his being, as if it wanted to escape. I realized it’d been some time since I’d seen the bartender, and yet, our drinks refilled as soon as they emptied. Nobody walked outside the lounge. No one sat anywhere inside the restaurant. It was as if we were the last two people on earth. 

“These are neither signs of beginning nor end. Yet, they are signs and they are all around us. Perceive with the right set of eyes and you will know the fate that awaits us all. Your people survived cataclysms beyond comprehension. Do you ever wonder how? Tell me, Joseph, do you want to know your history?” 

“No, but I know you’re going to tell me.” 

“The Old Ones no longer concern themselves with annihilation and power. Now a days, they toy with human existence… like a game. In their boredom, they mold human history. We are no more than playthings to the Old Ones. Your species is unkillable, because they find you entertaining. They’ve molded you through cataclysms in countless centuries. You play a game, in which you know not the rules, and yet, you play it so well, to entertain them to a point that it will never end.” 

“Why are you telling me this?” 

“Because, I’m here to change your life.” 

He held the relic in front of me, rolling it between his fingers. “You want to change your life. Don’t you? That’s why you’re leaving this place. That’s why you think things will get better on the other side of the world? Let me assure you, it won’t, because the rules are all the same. Here. There. Everywhere. If you want things to change you have to appease the Old Ones.” 

“How do you expect me to do that?” 

“Go, now, into that bathroom… and stick this up your ass.” 

“Why in the fuck would I do that?” 

“I don’t know, Joseph… really, I don’t know. I’m just an altruistic messenger on the verge of setting you free. I can only bring you so far. It’s up to you to fulfill your destiny. So many of you never get this close to attaining that pure enlightenment that will set you free. Go on. Have an experience for Christ’s sake… in the very least, this will be a ridiculous story you can share with friends… you do have a few friends left, don’t you, Joseph?” 

Staring within the beady black eyes of the figurine, I found myself lost in the question: do I have any friends? Have I ever or did I lose them somewhere along that wanton trail of life? So much loss can make you feel like you’ve always been alone. When I looked up and saw that the stranger was no longer there, I felt it even more. 

“Care for a refill?” The bartender asked. 

“Thank you, no.” 

The bartender’s eyes looked too normal. I didn’t trust him. They had not the same duality as the stranger. I kept thinking he’d leap over the counter and sink his fangs into my throat. 

I tucked the relic into my pocket, and walked to the restroom. I studied it beneath the bright lights in front of the mirror above the sink. It was nothing significant, a toy figurine in ivory. It was smooth with a bit of curvature where the crafted shape of the figure aligned with the ivory. I went into the stalls… and thought, the harm that this thing could cause if I stuck it up my ass might be more embarrassing… if I had to go to a doctor and explained that, on a dare from a stranger, I stuck this uncomfortable toy up my ass. 

A news report came on, blaring from a television mounted onto the bathroom wall. It startled me and I laughed. I wasn’t listening this time. All that chaos out in the world. All that devastation. No rhyme or reason to anything. It doesn’t have to be an answer, just… play the game. I undid my belt buckle, sliding myself apart… to stick that smooth round object up my ass. 

An overbearing hunger consumed me. I went back to the bar and ordered a burger with fries, a vanilla milkshake, fried mushrooms, an extra order of fries, the club sandwich with extra bacon, fried pickles, and a diet coke. I engorged myself, without ever feeling like I was full. Instead, I felt like I could eat for the next hour. When the waiter brought the check, I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. He brought that with another check, which was when I realized I couldn’t afford all this food. I felt so panicked that I started to walk off, which is when the waiter caught me. 

“Sir… you can’t just leave without paying.” 

Of course, he was right and within reason to call me out. I took what money I had and put it in the waiter’s hand. In that split second, his pulse antagonized my hunger, and I sank my teeth into his neck. Crimson invaded my vision. I bit down harder, as the taste became so intoxicating I moaned in delight. I chewed, spit and swallowed every morsel of his tender flesh. Screams echoed all around me. I sat there, with the pile of delicious waiter in my lap, holding him, as I eviscerated what remained. Every bite made the hunger worse. I wanted more and more to fill my belly. I tossed him aside and went after a woman running in a pink jumpsuit. The word ‘Juicy’ was written across the ass of her pants… and that she was. I chased her down, tackled her to the ground, and felt the beating of her heart ringing in my ears. I was so enraged by the sound that I slammed my fist into her sternum. The crunch of bone rattled against my knuckles. My hand tore straight through her and wrapped around her heart. Feeling the incessant beating against my palm soothed me, as I tore it from her body. Blood rushed down my arm, as I sank my teeth into her neck and tore the flesh from her body. I let her fall to the ground, no longer interested in anything more than the beating of her heart. I lapped up the blood all running down my arm, and stuffed it, whole, into my mouth. The organ was too big to fit down my throat. I choked for a moment, before my jaws unhinged, and my mouth widened enough for the heart to slide down my throat. It descended like a warm ball of fire into my stomach, where it appeased not my hunger. 

Police arrived at the terminal. I hissed through my teeth. The beating of their hearts formed a migraine between my ears that was so severe it would tear my skull apart. I ran as fast as I could at the officers, as the booming of them shooting straight at me became deafening. I thought nothing could stop me, but damn, those bullets were quite potent. The hunger stopped, dead, like me… as I collapsed to the ground. Still, I felt the craving, making me lap up the spilled blood seeping across the ground. It. Was. Delicious. Life faded out with the hunger, as I lay engorged and bloated across the terminal floor. An intense rigor struck my body. I wilted away, staring up at the bright lights of the terminal, as life faded out of existence. 

Looking through the bright lights, I saw a figure walking closer. The man from the bus, the pigeon man, smiled wide, with a few good teeth still rotting in his mouth. 

“Howdy!” He waved. 

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. He turned me onto my side, spread me open, reached in, and plucked the mysterious relic from my sphincter. He held it in front of my face, before tucking it into his front coat-pocket. 

“A little puckered, but good as new!” He laughed. Quite the sense of humor, these Albany-ans. 

Movement returned to my fingers and toes, arms and legs, abs and torso. One steady inhale returned me to consciousness. The pigeon man helped me up, helped me dress, and then helped me out into the street. 

“What a world, ain’t that right, friend?” 

He led me a few blocks down, to where the river flowed, east to west, alongside the city. We walked into a wooded area to a matted pile of brush, mud and clay that covered a manhole that led deep within the earth. I looked down through a tunnel that was no more than a few feet wide, to which he entered by crawling on his knees. 

“Come now. Let us not waste a moment more. The old man of the river awaits.” 

I decided to make the best of my time, in this place where I’d always been. I’d taken this place for granted, having accepted its history, I chose not to think of its past. After all, we can accept whichever past we want, whether it’s good or bad or beyond our comprehension. I’d taken my past for granted, accepted the shit-end of it, and vowed never, ever to do so again. 

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Death Machine

Always the nightmare that is memory. Sleepwalking down the stairs of his family’s ancestral home, Doctor Jack Skully is greeted by the most polite apparitions. They wander in the dark, having the most decadent of dinner parties, to which Doctor Jack was not invited. They stare, as he wanders toward the basement, sipping their tea and cramming desserts into their pockets. He stands in front of the metal door he installed in his parlor. Oscar was having nightmares that kept him from sleeping. He claimed Doctor Jack’s house was haunted, but with quite unsubstantiated claims. The first night, he thought he saw a head rolling down the hallway and bouncing down the stairs. Then, blood soaked through the walls. The nightmares got worse from that point. He assured Doctor Skully that, if he installed this big metal door it would make him feel better. Being a good friend, he constructed this security door and locked the basement. It helped Oscar sleep for a few days, before the nightmares returned. Always, the familiar sound of shoveling, hammering, digging in his basement. He made sure not to make a sound, as he walked down the wooden steps. The lights were on and the basement was as bright as day. Oscar stood in the corner, hammering away at the opposite wall. Clumps of dirt fell from the wall, revealing the large, metal sphere hidden behind. It was the first time Doctor Jack Skully saw the machine… as well as the skinless, marauding madman who was once his best friend.

“Oscar… what’s become of you?”

Startled, Oscar Blakeman stopped what he was doing, and turned. The pulpy mess of innards pulsed within its skeletal prison. Oscar hung his flesh from a hook along the opposite wall. He wore it like a Christmas sweater and took it off, as if he’d gotten too hot during this excavation. Now, he stared at Jack through eyes bulging from their ocular cavities. Jack wished, more than anything, that his friend could blink. It looked like hundreds of pink worms spun in circles around his fleshy sac of a body.

“Me?” Oscar laughed. “Me? What’s become of me? I’m down here working my ass off… thinkin’… hey man… what’s become of you?”

That’s about the time when Oscar lifted his pickaxe and briskly walked toward Doctor Jack.

“I’m worried about you… Jack. Truly, I fear for you, for I have seen the face of God… and you, well, I doubt you’ve even seen the face of your father.”

At the end of their discussion, Oscar charged at him with the axe in hand. Before it could crash down into his skull, he awoke, assured that this was all a nightmare. That’s right. This was absolutely, positively based on nothing that could or did happen in any reality.

I

Doctor Jack Skully awoke without the usual sense of impending damnation. The terror of his nightmares didn’t follow him into these wakeful hours. Visions of death and imminent doom haunted his dreams, but today he awoke with a sense of revelation. This morning, despite the usual nightmares, he felt far more optimistic. He turned to see the words ‘Etemono Leshe Doma Da Re’ or ‘the face of God falls upon you’ written in blood along the wall. The words written in blood provided no motivation for him to crawl out of bed. He took a deep breath, remembering his meditation, and sank a little deeper into bed. He looked up and saw ‘the face of God’, bleeding through the ceiling. God wore an ugly scowl; no smile, just one flat line of stern judgment. A hooked nub of a nose sat between two congruous lines for eyebrows that clung to curved little ‘u’ shaped eyes. Three red lines cut across his forehead. A darker red silhouette outlined the rest of the head that dripped from the ceiling. Still, he chose not to get up, until one drip landed between his eyes.

The sound of a tea kettle signaled imminent danger. He went to the dining room, where plates and silverware were set along the table. He heard shuffling in the other room. The whistling kettle persisted. He peered through the doorway leading to his kitchen and saw the dead girl in her lovely summer dress. Ages of dirt still stained the otherwise beautiful dress. After several weeks of decay, her flesh hardened to the texture of eroded plastic. The time between death and post-reanimation left little to the imagination. She would never be alive like he wanted, but neither would she be a testament to his failure. Sally was everything he wanted: the truth. A walking, ‘breathing’ revelation of a wisdom greater than anyone had yet to understand.

She removed the kettle and it calmed in no time. She filled two cups with warm water and set them onto separate plates. She brought them up with care, as she turned towards the doorway. When she realized the doctor was there, she fell back in surprise and almost let the plates fall to the ground.

“Oooh, doctor! You startled me!” Her face held together well, despite the several weeks she’d been dead. The rot at the point where her forehead met her full, lustrous hair was the only point where he saw any cracks. A layer of skull poked out from the busted sinew. He’d stitched her together several times, but that point never stayed.

“Sally… why are you here?” Doctor Skully asked. “We’ve been over this… and over this… again and again.”

“But doctor, I have a good reason this time I promise!” Sally always had a reason to see the doctor. Her cheerful smile was hard to deny. The doctor always let her off with a kind warning.

“What might that be?” He asked.

“I saw the face of God today.”

“You know not to joke about that.” The doctor warned. “If you’re not being serious… I’ll find a way to ensure you never find me again.”

“Oh doctor! Don’t say that! I would never lie about something so important!”

“Would you be willing to prove it?”

“Of course!”

II

Doctor Jack Skully lived a life of austerity well within his means. His home was small, but he had no need for anything bigger. It remained almost completely unchanged from when his father built it decades ago. It was a simple home, well within his means: a place to live until he died.

The only alteration he made was a thick metal security door between the dining room and parlor. The door had thick black bars like a prison cell, along with three locks, one of which required a key. He told the dead girl to close her eyes, and removed the key from a compartment in his shoe. The lock turned. Before he could open it, Sally touched his hand.

“What is it?” The doctor asked.

“Why would he be down there?”

“What do you mean? Where else would he be?”

“No, I mean… he’s the most powerful being in the universe, correct?”

“Yes, of course. So?”

“So, why hasn’t he killed you? Why would he let you live after you made him your prisoner? Why doesn’t he go somewhere else? Do you think you can keep him here forever?”

“I don’t have answers for any of those questions,” Doctor Skully said. “I’ve thought about them, but I’m starting to believe there might not be an answer. Maybe, it’s just my time to suffer… or maybe, he chose me knowing I’d never want this agony to stop. Sometimes things happen and you have to make the best of them. Why would he let me do this? To torture me. To kill me and eat me. I have no doubt, his wrath will be excruciating. I can’t help myself, though, even knowing the outcome… I have to know. The creature knows what I want and enjoys feeding me bits of wisdom, knowing I want more. He thinks he’ll make me enough of an addict that he can lure me into the netherworld and rip me to shreds. It’s a struggle… a quest… for which I’ve come too far. This beast will be the death of me, but there’s no turning back. He knows that… and loves to torment me, every step of the way.”

“What happens when that monster decides it’s time to catch you in it’s trap?” Sally asked with concerned eyes.

“I explore the netherworld… dead or alive… or as some tormented puppet to that… thing.”

Doctor Skully unlocked the door and released it into the side wall. He found the light along the wall, which illuminated a wooden stairwell. He walked halfway down the stairs, when he noticed Sally had yet to follow. “Are you coming?”

Sally thought about it for a moment, but took that first step into the basement. She turned and pulled the door closed and it locked behind them. Doctor Skully continued into the basement and flicked on another switch. A row of work-lights hanging from the ceiling vanquished every inch of darkness. Scattered papers covered three separate tables. A computer sat alone in the corner. He hardly ever used it and preferred to write everything down. Even half-used scraps sat pinned all over the basement walls.

She could not remove her eyes from a rusted metal sphere projected from the wall. Half of the sphere was still embedded in the dirt wall, while the rest was a featureless, rusty brown. A rectangular glass panel stood at the center so they could look inside. Several wires hung around the sphere and made a mess, as they coiled together along the ground. Cameras sat in the corners and propped all along the ceiling. Sally walked in front of the sphere, thought about it for a moment and couldn’t resist staring into the glass. She moved with caution in front of it and saw nothing beyond an impenetrable black.

“It’s so dark in there… why would you do that to him?”

“His eyes concerned me,” the doctor replied. “I could feel them on me at all times. I still do. At least now, I can act like he’s asleep.”

“He never sleeps.” The girl replied.

“He never sleeps… and he never dies…” Jack said. “I’ve done this a million times. He doesn’t seem bothered by it every time he dies, at least not as much as me. Every time that I kill him… a bit of myself dies in the process.”

“He’s taking you, then.” Sally warned. “How many more times… until he reaches that delicate center… how long until he chews into your core?”

“I don’t know.” Doctor Skully replied. “It’s as inevitable as death itself.”

“Death, for him, is not inevitable.”

“We’ll see.”

III

The engine turned on. It needed a moment to wake up, as it sat idle for so many hours. It hummed back to life in no time at all. Doctor Skully pulled another lever on the side of the machine. The revolving arms and legs within the sphere were awake. The hum of the engine grew louder, until an incessant ticking alerted them to the finality of moment. A red light flashed throughout the entire room. Everything bowed before the radiant light of a red bulb, as they neared that final stage.

He took a deep breath, engaged in that blessed finality, before he pushed a blue button. The lights within the machine revealed the creature staring back at him. Its penetrating stare never left him. Its eyes never blinked. It wore the same emotionless smirk as always, as it remained bound within the machine.

“Leave him there,” Sally said. “Leave him and let us leave, right now.”

“Do you not think he would find us?”

“His awakening was foretold. You think you’ve found the scientific discovery of the ages, but that’s what he wants you to believe.”

“What does that mean, Sally?” Jack asked. “I know he’s leading me to a trap. I know that this won’t have a good ending, but what other choice do I have? If I can unlock the secret behind his power… what choice do I have?”

Doctor Skully made a point to look into the eyes of the monster, as he waited to let the machine perform one last task. Several restraints lined the walls inside the machine. Two separate metal poles held the creature’s ankles, while two more held his knees. Two poles held his hips, torso, and neck, while a cranial vice held his skull. Metal poles and wiring restrained every inch of the creature.

The machine itself was something akin to a ‘human meat slicer’. It cut through each of these restrained parts, as it made its way to his throat. The machine moved to cut its body to ribbon. Every time it cut, the body of the creature fused and the wounds disappeared. One final incision severed the neck from the head. The split remained for a second, before the creature’s flesh pulled together.

Doctor Skully took a moment to consider the look in the creature’s eyes, before he pulled the final lever. The supports pulled away from the wall, for only a few inches. It rotated for a moment, moving the creature around. Another metal support moved within the sphere. The difference was the thin, metal wire that dangled from the top. It revolved a few times, until the wires cut through the creature’s throat. The creature’s eyes went wide, as blood pooled around the wound and healed right away.

The creature kept its eyes on the doctor. Wires cut through its ankles and knees, hips and torso, wrists, shoulders and elbows. The last cut sliced through its throat. A flicker of light went off with every cut. The light flashed over and over from several bulbs lining the inside of the machine. All he saw in its eyes was patient rage: anger dampened by the promise of atavistic return. The bursts of light illuminated the unremitting rage clenching down on the monster. It bubbled against its cold, dead skin, until the light flashed once more and went out.

The lights in the basement went out. The doctor called Sally, but she didn’t respond. Doctor Skully tried not to make a sound, as he crept toward the desk. He found the flashlight he kept in the lowest compartment, turned it on and waved it around, until he found her. Sally floated a few feet in the air. Her empty eyes spewed worms and roaches that crashed down to the basement floor. Beetles burst through the seams of her flesh, as her body uncoiled and fell apart. She collapsed to the ground and the parasites feasted on her remains.

Red lights flashed, as the machine turned back on. Tied within the machine, he saw Sally. She cried and fought to break free. Doctor Skully tried to open it, but its internal mechanisms were already engaged. He moved to the emergency override panel. It took some time, but he put the code into the system and everything shut down. The room went dark, until the light inside the machine flickered. It flickered over and over. Sally spun around with her mouth hanging wide, as she screamed in a noiseless terror.

The first cut of the machine went through her ankles. The next went through her hips. The next followed up to her torso. It cut her to pieces, as her body parts dangled from the restraints. A vomit of worms and insects poured down her chest and splattered against the glass. The lights went out. Doctor Skully knocked on the glass, crying out for Sally, until the light flashed back on and he saw she was gone. The chair sat empty. The red light repeated flashing in and out, illuminating the room in its menacing light. Dozens of shadows lurked in the darkness and more appeared in every flash. Hundreds of black masses seemed to surround him. They didn’t move. He brought the flashlight up to see the empty eye sockets spewing pus and worms.

IV

“Sally… I know you’re in that place… help me find you…” Doctor Skully pleaded, as her distant cries echoed within the walls. Locating the source proved difficult, as when he got too close the sound dissipated in his ear. “Sally… please… don’t be mad…”

“You do this every time…” Sally said. “You use me as bait. I can’t do it anymore. I’d rather be dead.”

“Don’t say that!” The doctor asked. “But, please… say something. Is he with you?”

“He’s somewhere in here.” Sally said. “But I can’t see him. The clouds are much thicker this time.”

“We’ll have to remember that. I noticed several black masses in the basement. If clouds come in on that side, it’s likely what lives on that end could come through here.”

“Doctor… It’s not the same this time.”

Doctor Skully walked into his parlor. The words ‘Vincieno… vincieno’ or ‘Vengeance… vengeance’ dripped in blood down the wall.

“Doctor, he’s here!” Sally yelled. “What do I do?”

“Remain calm. Remember to follow my voice.”

“Doctor, he’s levitating again! He’s coming!”

Doctor Skully closed all the doors around his dining room. He lowered the curtains and an impenetrable black filled the room. He hit the second switch and a purple light on the ceiling illuminated all that fell beneath its gaze. Various markings and crude designs in white chalk mired the walls, ceiling and floor. The symbols shined brighter in the darkness, beneath the purple light.

Sally called out, her voice becoming fainter. Doctor Skully got everything in order, when he realized two people were sitting at the table. He turned to see a man wearing a hunting jacket and a woman wearing a wedding dress. They turned to him and he saw the cherry-red spattered over the bride’s dress. The same mess soaked into the hunter’s flannel sweater. Buckshot left their bodies a pockmarked mess. Bees pestered the hunter’s neck and face, along with the honeycomb that stuck out of his left eye.

“Doctor… where are you?” Sally cried. “He’s right here! I can’t run anymore!”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know!”

“Come on Sally! You need to focus! Find the sign and I’ll find you!”

“He’s so close!”

“Just do it!”

Sally went quiet. The hunter stood up at the table. Both people kept their eyes unblinking, as they watched Doctor Skully’s every move. The woman started to cry. Amidst her sobs, Doctor Skully saw three corpses full of buckshot laid out across the room. Two young girls lay with massive wounds in their chests. Bones poked out from their rib cages, along with busted organs and blood. The other woman was the bride, except instead of the wedding dress, she wore a black nightgown. Blood covered most of the gown, leaking from a wound in her neck.

The images flashed between Doctor Skully’s dining room and this other world. The bride shook in her chair, wrapping her hair into tangled knots around her fingers. She tugged once to tear it from her scalp and then raised her eyes to the ceiling. The light folded in her eyes, collapsing into an impossible black, as she screamed.

“What was that?” Sally asked.

“Find the sign.” Doctor Skully kept his back against the wall, as the hunter walked away from the table. The two girls appeared in white dresses. They blocked both doors and sang a nursery rhyme, something about ‘little lambs all alone’. The symbols projected a few inches from the walls and danced in place.

“It’s the pumpkin…” Sally began. “A fat little pumpkin with a circle around it!”

Doctor Skully looked around for the symbol. The bride picked up a butter knife, as she stood up and tossed her chair aside. The table and chairs levitated a few feet off the floor. The pumpkin stood on the other side of the room. The girls rocked in place, sitting with their legs folded, as they repeated their rhymes. Their eyes shifted to a horrible white with hundreds of red cracks.

One of the girls leapt and bit into his leg. He fell over and the other girl grabbed his arms. They held him down, as the mother came closer.

The hunter leapt with joy, clapping his hands with a childish smile on his face. The signs spun in place on the walls. The groom put his hand through a sign of a tree on fire. The symbol blazed in a fiery crimson, before collapsing to dust. A vortex spun into existence, churning grey clouds and dust vapor into the room. Sally’s head burst through the vortex and clogged the rift.

“Doctor! He’s somewhere behind me!”

“The sign! I can’t reach it!” Doctor Skully yelled.

The bride hissed at Sally, before leaping over Doctor Skully’s body. She came down with the butter knife and stabbed him in the chest. The butter knife didn’t cut far, but made a slight incision a few inches beneath his collar bone. Doctor Skully shot up from the pain and pushed everyone away. The hunter fell back against the wall. His hands reached out, swirling to touch every symbol, as he laughed and danced. He leapt up, grabbing Sally’s cheeks, before planting a kiss on her lips.

Doctor Skully moved as fast as he could to the symbol of the pumpkin wrapped in a circle. He put his fist through the wall. The symbol emitted a putrid green, spinning faster and faster, as it floated toward the center of the room. The bride and hunter sat back. The bride pouted, as the symbol sucked her in, dragging her along the ground by her backside, as she waved goodbye. The hunter was much less agreeable. He held onto Doctor Skully’s ‘China Cabinet’ and pulled it over. The suction became too much and he lifted by his feet, as he held onto the cabinet.

“Please…” the hunter pleaded.

Doctor Skully had a moment of pity, before the hunter opened his mouth with a wide smile. His teeth were pristine and white with worms dancing around his gums. He let go and the symbol took him away. The table and chairs fell to the floor. Sally remained locked in the rift. Doctor Skully climbed on top of his table and pulled on her shoulders. She budged enough that he could wrap his hands around her. He dug deeper into the rift and took her hands. He had her almost all the way out, when he felt a pair of cold hands wrap around his knuckles.

“Doctor, he’s right behind me!” Sally cried.

In a panic, he gave a swift tug and sent Sally flying across the room. Her body held together well for a dead girl. The rift closed behind them. Doctor Skully expected to see a sinister watchman on the other side.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

“I guess so…”

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask… did you see it?”

“Yes, but… the thing is…”

“What? What is it?”

“The face of God… it’s the creature. His is the face of God.”

V

They returned to the basement. Sally took a seat at the bottom step, while Doctor Skully made his way to the machine. He looked inside. The light was out. When he flicked the switch it didn’t turn on.

“He’s in there… doctor… but… there’s something I can’t tell you…”

“No secrets,” Doctor Skully warned. “Please… just tell me…”

“Well… I’ve always had a crush on you and…” Sally considered. “Well… have you ever wanted something so bad… you’d do anything to get it?”

“What are you saying?” Doctor Skully asked.

“Well… you see, doctor… I wanted to be with you… so I had to… I had to make a deal…”

“What kind of deal?”

The machine turned on by itself. The light inside flashed and revealed an empty seat. The lights inside flashed one after the other. Doctor Skully’s computer turned on out of nowhere. It turned on right away and several files popped up and made a mess over the screen. Enclosed in one file were hundreds of pictures taken during his studies. All that he’d never noticed, were the dozens of shadows surrounding him. Every image showed fewer and fewer of the forms. He noticed the date. The further back in time the images went, the fewer the bodies. More and more bodies appeared over time. More and more ghosts broke through the gateway and entered his home.

“Sally… where is he?”

“Doctor… I love you so much…”

The lights went out. Darkness filled the room. Doctor Skully yelled for Sally. The red light flickered and illuminated countless forms. More of the forms appeared with every flicker, reaching closer and closer. Doctor Skully backed away as far as he could, until he leaned against one of his tables. The shadows tackled him to the ground. The machine opened and the forms dragged him inside. They restrained him. Doctor Skully screamed for Sally one last time, before the door closed.

Red lights continued to flash from the outside, while the inside of the machine lit up. He heard knocking against the glass and saw the creature. It never blinked, as the machine came to life. The restraints shook, pulling him upright by a few inches, before leaving his face in front of the glass. Sally appeared. She kissed the glass, leaving a faint outline of red lipstick, as she watched the machine pull Doctor Jack into position.

His restraints pulled him upright. The rig set behind him whirred with motion, dragging the metal wiring up to his neck. Several pieces from the restraints broke off and moved beyond the control of the machine. They moved to sever his hands from his body, as well as the restraints that held him in place. Doctor Skully screamed, as it cut pieces of flesh from his legs, then trimmed the flesh off his thighs. It cut through his right leg, leaving it dangling from its harness. The metal wire spun through the air and wrapped around his forehead below his left ear and above his right. The wire tightened around him, until he thought the pressure would make his brain explode. It cut right through. Blood poured down his face and covered his mouth. He couldn’t process thoughts any more, but his eyes remained rigid with terror.

The wire cut through his cheek, as it made its way to his other arm. It cut through his arm, both arms severed, leaving him dangling by his throat within the machine. The wire came up one last time. It floated in front of his face. Doctor Skully whimpered, as it tied around his throat. It tightened, cutting into the soft flesh around his neck. He lost his breath and his eyes bulged from his skull. He couldn’t collapse, as the wire tightened more and more, cutting into him deeper, until it cut right through. His head fell from his shoulders and bounced against the side of the machine, rattling by his feet.

It took a moment, but the machine shut down and opened. Sally picked up the pieces of Doctor Skully, taking care, as she wrapped them up. She brought them to his room and laid them across the bed. When she had every last piece, she laid alongside them. She kissed Doctor Skully’s shattered face and wrapped her arms around him. The parts of him folded under her, but she held them together.

She heard a knock. She went into the hall. The noise became a thunderous boom that echoed throughout the hallway. Sally ran to the kitchen. She set the kettle on high and waited to hear it whistle. Before it could, she turned and noticed the Doctor sitting in the doorway. The sight of him startled her. He walked with caution, as the individual parts that now represented his body buoyed in place. He took a seat in a chair by the table. By some miracle, the pieces held together.

“Sally…” he choked on blood, bugs and worms. “Why are you here?”

“Ooh doctor,” Sally watched in horror. “You startled me…”

“Sally… why are you here?” Doctor Skully asked. “We’ve been over this… and over this… again and again.” The pieces of him held together, but he worked to push his hips and stomach into alignment. It helped him remain upright and he sat with a straight spine, angling upward around his neck.

“But… doctor… I have a good reason this time! I promise!” Sally recited from memory their conversation. It was one they repeated several times.

“What might that be?” He asked. The top of his skull slid a little too much, but Doctor Skully didn’t seem to notice.

“I saw the face of God today.” Sally said, as she walked to the table. She let her hand rest on the imperfect line that cut his skull in half. She pushed it into place. He did the same for the broken seam between her forehead and hairline. Doctor Skully let his finger touch the bit of skull that was always showing on her perfect face. He couldn’t help but smile.

“Funny… I think I saw it, too… right before my eyes.”

Sally pushed away, as her smile revealed fangs. She couldn’t blush, as she’d been dead for far too long.

“Oh doctor! I’d be glad to prove it to you… if you’d let me.”

“I think I have just about all the proof I need.”

Sally set a glass for him along with a plate. They drank their tea and enjoyed the morning. Doctor Skully didn’t bother with the machine. He never bothered with it again. They stayed in the house for the rest of their afterlives, until the property was condemned. People came to the house all the time, but nobody stayed for long. Several issues deterred potential buyers, like the ‘star-crossed lovers’ with stitches, dangling flesh and broken frames… who, without fail, always stayed for longer than breakfast.

Elon Musk Pees Upside Down

Edgar Sphynx shouted biblical death, the end of days, and the omnipotent wisdom of the toad. He spoke with conviction despite not having an audience. The shuffling passersby on the busy street corner paid him no mind. Not a soul stopped to listen. No one seemed to care, and yet, he yammered on without concern, assured and overconfident in his conviction.

“Hearken! Blessed children of toads! Hear these words. They speak not of salvation, but damnation. Damn-Nation. Blessed, God-Damn-Nation awaits this world of sinful attrition. Now is not the time to sit with indifference until we’re forced to choose a side. It’s time to join your brothers in God and fight for the kingdom of heaven. The toad of holy wisdom croaks the word of God. Ulphia, in her infinite wisdom, sends her flock from the Isle of Amien, to save all who listen to these words. The time of biblical death and end of days is at hand!”

A man walked up within a few feet of his pulpit. He looked Edgar in the eyes, spelunked deep within his esophagus and hocked a colossal wad of phlegm onto his shoe. Edgar stopped and stared into the spit upon his slick black loafer. Entranced by the massive loogie, he heard the voice of Ulphia, patron saint of toads, whispering in his ears of biblical plague… and Toad Jesus. Edgar looked up and the man was gone, amidst the endlessly shuffling crowd, he stood alone, with only the voices in his head to console him.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

The walks home from the ‘pulpit hours’ felt longer, as his situation became more desperate. Nobody cared about the wisdom of the toad. His followers left in droves, and nobody was joining the ranks of ‘holy toad warriors’. Doubt crept into his mind. He wondered if he wasn’t a man chosen by God… and, in fact, might be a deranged schizophrenic. The voices that led him to this place became less prophetical and more belligerent, as the line between prophet and madman drew thinner by the day. 

He reached the sign for ‘The Isle of Amien’, with its caricature of a smiling toad looking down on him. He noticed someone spray-painted a big black penis between the toad’s surprised eyes.

Brother David shuffled along with his wife and daughter, each with their bags in hand. They lowered their heads when they noticed him, as if to ignore him without a word in passing.

“Brother David, Sister Claudia… where are you headed at this hour?”

“Gone, Edgar. We’re gone from this place.”

“What do you mean?”

“Edgar, forgive me. I’ve believed in you for a long time. I held on for longer than I should because I loved you and your father. Now, I see the folly in my ways. I’m worried for you… for my family… we have to get out of here. We beg you, save yourself before this madness consumes you.”

“What happened to your faith? Where is your conviction?”

“Back there. In that rancid swamp, where you chose to bury our people.”

They left without another word. Sister Claudia spoke not, though he saw the anger and disgust in her eyes. More people followed behind them; the remnants of a congregation for which he cared for in ways he couldn’t express. He stood with a sullen grin, pulpit in hand, without a prophetic voice to console him. Last to leave was Constance, his future wife, packed and primed for her departure. Edgar stepped in front of her, took her wrists in his hands and fell to his knees.

“You can’t go.”

“Edgar, please… get help.”

“It’s here. Don’t you believe me?”

“No.”

“But why? What made you lose faith in me?”

“All that money… Edgar… you wasted your fortune on that godforsaken swamp!”

“It will get better. I promise. The patron saint of toads will-”

“Jesus Christ, no. No more, Edgar. I will not listen to more nonsensical toad ramblings. You need professional help. I love you more than my heart can say… and I want to be with you. I beg of you… give up this fantasy.”

Her hand touched his cheek. Constance lowered herself and gave him a kiss goodbye before she left him forever. The whispers fed on her words and the ripple of thought that followed spoke of toads falling from the sky. They spoke of comets dancing in the midnight air, and Frog Jesus’ arrival for the rapture. He watched Constance’s shadow fade into the darkness. He crumpled beneath the sign of the toad with a penis between its eyes. He hoped for some words of comfort from the voices. Instead, he heard a solitary, nonsensical ribbit.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

Edgar sat alone in his shack, within the blessed Isle of Amien, with not a soul in sight. He propped up his feet on the pulpit, as he eased his back into a wooden chair. He downed a shot of vodka, then refilled the glass and left it on the table. He stood up, stumbled, kicked the pulpit over, and went in anger to a portrait of ‘Toad Jesus’ on the other side of the room. Jesus in toad form looked out from the painting. He sat with one hand raised, two webbed fingers sticking out, with the other hand folded on his chest. A golden hue surrounded his green, reptilian flesh. Jesus stared with bulging white eyes and cancerous black pupils that saw all.

“I lost everything for you.”

He slammed his fist through the portrait. Blood leaked from Jesus’ swollen white eyes. Edgar wiped it away with his fingers and noticed the liquid seeping through the back of the portrait. He tore it from the wall, and saw the rancid mess collected in the moldy wood of his shack. Everything crumbling. Everything swollen and stained from this putrid swamp. He stumbled out of the shack and fell to his knees before the pond of Ulphia. A statue of the patron saint stood on a small island at the center of the pond. Faithful parishioners dressed the statue in jewelry and decorations long before they abandoned the isle.

“What more do you want from me?”

Edgar kicked off his shoes, removed his socks and walked into the pond, until the water was up to his armpits. He brought his hands together in prayer and lowered his head before the statue of Ulphia.

“Please, give me a sign.”

He stood in the cold pond, with his feet sinking into the muck. The soggy wood of his shack creaked and crumbled, then came crashing to the ground. The candle which should’ve died in the crash ignited the brittle frame and set his home ablaze. Flames mounted the deprecated ruins of his cabin. Shadows danced like gypsies atop its remains.

Edgar sank, as the flames created a wondrous show of lights against the surface of the water. He thought he might drown and end his suffering, when he saw a red light in the sky. A round red object stood above the flames. It moved not, stood within the dark sky of its own volition, and then split into three. The three red lights moved in a circle, but never broke from their triangular form. The three lights became one, but the size of the one never changed. It remained the same circular shape and then sped off across the water.

It stood out over the open water, not a mile away, and hovered in the sky. Edgar found a small paddleboat and pushed it into the water. The little boat could hardly move at the pace he desired, but the thing in the sky wasn’t going anywhere. It sat in the sky doing nothing in particular, beyond drawing his attention to the middle of the open water. The voices in his head spoke in unintelligible words that became warnings, and then a simple plea: ‘go back’.

“I’m through with you… ya hear me… not a word or a croak or a god damn false vision again, do you hear me?”

An immutable silence filled his mind, as he noticed the object hovering within a few feet of him. The ball of crimson light enveloped him in its radiant glow. He sweat, as a migraine made his head feel like it was about to explode. His eyes went wide, staring into the radiant ball, as a fresh wad of spit struck his forehead. He gasped, as the air escaping his lungs left a hollow pain in his chest. His eyes went white, then everything went black.

He awoke, sitting at a bar, with the bartender offering an unblinking stare.

“What’ll you have, buddy?” A black, fluffy mustache covered the bartender’s upper lip.

“Vodka.”

Edgar burped, and almost vomited onto the bar. The bartender caught the stench and stepped back in disgust. He reached for a glass and filled it with vodka. Edgar looked around at the few people in the dilapidated establishment. The hour was late. The lights were off beside the ones above the bar. People sat with their heads leaned against the walls or lowered to the sticky tables. A man a few tables behind him snored himself awake, before slipping back into his coma.

“Where’s your restroom?”

The bartender pointed to a hallway on the other side of the bar. He walked until he saw a sign of an alligator wearing a suit and tie, along with a gentleman’s hat. Edgar walked into the restroom and reached the stall before vomiting into the toilet. Fire bubbled up from his guts, as he doubled over and vomited again. When he got up, he stumbled back and rested against the wall. He sank down the porcelain tiles, until he reached the ground, and stare at the graffiti on the opposite wall. He read aloud these words etched into the slimy brown metal, “Elon Musk Pees Upside Down”.

He looked again, and yes, that’s exactly how it read. He shook his head, laughing at the absurd declaration, and finally, he felt much better. Edgar got up and went back to the bar. His drink was ready. He thanked the bartender, downed it in one gulp, and asked for another.

“Say, did you spot that graffiti on the wall in there?”

“What graffiti?”

“You know… Elon Musk pees upside down?”

The bartender snickered, until his laughter overtook him and he smacked the countertop. His laugh was loud and out of control, as his furry hand came down hard on the table. He shook his head, even cried with amusement, as he poured Edgar’s drink. His laughter was loud and boisterous, before it stopped. Everything froze. The liquid pouring out of the bottle of vodka suspended like a frozen waterfall into the shot glass.

“Lovely night.”

A man raised his glass, from the seat right next to Edgar.

“Not a star in the sky. Ain’t that strange?”

Edgar looked to the frozen bartender. His eyes glistened with an enigmatic light, trapped within his icy stare, as if it wanted to break.

“Who are you?”

“Daclan O’Lara: Purveyor of oddities across the stars, Supplier of stones from beyond the sea, Instructor of seers from all corners of the universe. You’re a man of great vision, aren’t you… a man who sees further than most… a fortuitous prophet of frogs, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Go on, make your jokes.”

Edgar took the half-filled glass and downed it in one swig. Daclan waved his finger and the glass refilled.

“I never jest. Most can’t understand the fortitude it takes to follow through on your vision. I’m sure even those closest to you refuse to comprehend the force of will it takes to act when it’s only you the universe has chosen. I must admit, even I can’t comprehend it all, but who, besides you, really could? Wasting your fortune on some toad sanctuary is an unreasonable folly to a sensible man. It’s not my vision or anyone else’s. It’s yours. So many who follow their vision end up like you: lost, defeated and left for dead in some piss-ditch mired in madness. Do you know what separates the ones who fail from the ones who succeed?”

“What?”

“Luck.”

“So, what? I’m un-lucky?”

“Far from it. My friend, you’re the luckiest man alive. You’re one good decision away from shattering the veil of madness.”

“And what decision might that be?”

“Being my friend.”

Edgar snickered. “I’ve not a friend left in the world, and some magician who sells stones is sidling up to me… is that my luck or what?”

Daclan raised his hand and everything on the counter spun into the air. All around the bar, silverware and mugs and napkins and place-mats all hovered in the musky air. Daclan moved his finger and a butter knife floated into Edgar’s vision. It floated in front of him, before the blade stopped spinning, and shot like a dart into the bartender’s forehead.

“Neither magician nor salesmen of stones. I’m what lucky men need: a financier who provides the opportunities that allow you to succeed.”

“Is this where you ask for my soul?”

Daclan laughed. “What I need is to make you the man you wish to be. Do you wish to fester away in this filthy swamp or fulfill your prophecy of toads?”

Edgar finished his drink and Daclan made another appear out of thin air. The various utensils and place-mats crashed down to their respective tables. Edgar sank into the stool. The voices chided him along with biblical prophecy, of a comet in the sky, of a sign from god of end of days. He remembered the signs and visions that brought him to the middle of nowhere. He thought of his fortune and all he’d squandered, sinking into the swamp along with the remains of his cabin. All that waste from a simple vision, one solitary dream amidst a lost and senseless waste.

“The prophecy. My dreams. I wish for them all to come true.”

“I’ll need that in stone.”

He awoke in a world of darkness, atop a tall peak amidst a starlit sky. A stone, etched in countless names, stuck out of the ground. Wind brought the howl of devils from the beckoning darkness beyond the peak. Their voices called for Edgar, cried out for him not to follow in their footsteps.

“Place your hand on the stone.”

Edgar did.

“Repeat after me: I, Edgar Sphynx, want my name written in stone and all my wishes fulfilled.”

Edgar repeated.

“Then, it is with great pleasure that I may grant your every wish and prophecy.”

Daclan placed his hand on the stone and where he touched illuminated in a crimson glow. Red cracks spread across the obelisk. The earth trembled beneath them, as the winds sped faster along the high peak. Daclan’s stare remained on Edgar, as the crimson light invaded his eyes. His vision sank within the crimson oblivion, until everything disappeared. He awoke, floating in Ulphia’s pond, barefoot, with the early morning sun rising in the distance. It’d hardly broken the horizon, when a gentle rain fell from the sky, amidst a downpour of toads.

Frogs fell from the sky. The rain baptized his sanctuary, amidst the croaking, leaping forms of his saviors. He stood in the pond, as the toads gathered and swam, bounded and croaked, as if this was all part of their routine. Edgar basked in the brisk torrent, as he noticed a red dot on the meaty flesh between his thumb and index finger. He turned to see some magnanimous scar on his palm, something akin to a dagger burned into his flesh.

“Ulphia!”

He cried, with a widening smile, raising his hands as he basked in the refreshing shower. The rain stopped, washed away within a silent gasp of wind. The silence that followed was unbearable, as even the frogs seemed embittered by the calm. They sat in silence around the statue of Ulphia. Some floated in the pond’s refreshing waters, while others piled onto one another in front of the statue.

Edgar fell to his knees and prayed.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

It’d been hours since frogs rained down from the sky. Edgar had been hard at work, rebuilding his sanctuary. His was the only shack that’d fallen and burned the night before. He was in the middle of putting it back together, when he noticed several people walking in his direction.

“Can I help you?”

“Are you Edgar?” A woman wearing a red bandanna over her head, as well as a cross made of fabric around her neck, asked.

Edgar nodded.

“We read about you on twitter… if it’s alright, we’d like to help your cause.”

“My cause?”

“Yeah, man… your cause.”

A man with bushy black hair and thick eyebrows placed his phone in front of Edgar. A trending topic on twitter read: #ElonMuskPeesUpsideDown. The account to which the tweet originated was, Daclan O’Lara. The man showed him more under the account. Edgar saw directions to his sanctuary, and a message that involved his prophecy. Under it all, he read thousands of likes, comments and retweets.

More visitors arrived at the sanctuary. A few of them brought various tools, lumber and equipment. They arrived singing, smiling, as they entered under the entryway of Saint Ulphia. All around him was the slow, sullen hum of several praying tourists, bowing with their faces to the ground.

“I’ll be damned.”

 *                                                                     *                                                                      *

A lot more people arrived at his sanctuary. Hundreds of eager individuals went to work, constructing Edgar’s toad dream. He needed a break and decided to head out into the water.

Edgar peddled out to the middle of the lake. He kept going, until he saw the other side, then kept on until he could see the bar. A seagull squawked above him and then shit on his forehead and shoulder. Frozen, for a moment, as the voices laughed inside him, he turned his attention to the other side of the lake. He peddled until he reached the bar, then pulled the boat onto shore. He went in and found the same stool from last night, unoccupied, and took a seat. An elderly woman served drinks behind the bar.

“What’ll it be, sport?”

“The gentleman from last night… the bartender… is he alright?”

“Sully? He’s fine! Why do you ask?”

“No reason.”

The memory of Daclan O’Lara sending a butter knife through the bartender’s forehead felt all too real. He got up from his seat and went to the restroom. The writing on the wall in the disgusting bathroom stall was no longer there. He went back to the bar and saw an old man eating a basket of chili fries in his seat.

“Got ya good, didn’t he.”

“What?”

“You got bird shit all over you…”

“Ah yes… the little bastard got me good.”

“Eh, forget about it… they say its good luck!”

Edgar took a seat next to the man. Before they could say anything else, a ball of fire appeared on the television screen. The bartender turned up the volume on a television above the bar. A newscaster reported a comet within earth’s atmosphere. The ball of fire shot across the night sky on the other side of the planet. Its trajectory shifted, and it hooked and shot like a cannonball, crashing down to earth. In that moment, the ground trembled. He thought it impossible that he could feel the aftershock of such a phenomenon so soon after impact.

The camera focused on a wall of ash rising above the devastation, as it became a wave rushing in their direction. The terrified spectators ran for their lives. The sound cut out amidst their screams, then the camera, until it all went black. Everyone at the bar sat in silence, in an eerie comprehension of what they’d witnessed. The loss was incalculable. Homes and cities and thousands upon thousands of people gone in a flash.

“What a terrible, preventable disaster.”

The old man next to him sucked down a chili fry, his head bowed in reverence to their greasiness.

“How does one prevent a comet?” Edgar asked.

“Well, for starters… don’t let women vote!” He raised a chili fry to make his point, before tossing it into his open maw. “Can’t piss all over God’s law and not expect any consequences. And, while we’re at it… well… ain’t there no one around who will do something to stop all the gays?”

“Stop them from what?”

“You know, just stop them!”

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

Edgar went back to his paddleboat and peddled out to the middle of the lake. He sat and wondered if a trail of cloud hanging in the air was not the ash of the comet poisoning their atmosphere. The moon stood brightest among the stars, which were few in the early night sky.

“Wave’s comin’, son.”

Edgar leapt in his seat. The boat rocked and he almost fell overboard. He managed to keep from falling, when he realized the person next to him was his father.

“Not one ripple spares the wave. Thousands upon thousands recoil in agony, when one desperate man makes a deal with the devil.”

“He’s not the devil.” Edgar shot back.

“Devil in the flesh. Devil in the eyes. Devil in your desperate gaze. Tell me, son. Did you really believe that Toad-Jesus was coming for the rapture?”

“With all my heart… I believed what the voices told me.”

“Don’t blame any voices. Blame your actions. I doubt the voices told you to sell your soul for a few fancy words of biblical death and end of days.”

“All those people… I didn’t know-“

“The ripple is coming, son. Do you think thousands of people can die without any justice? A redemptive wave rises from across the continent. You gave that creature power to invade our world. Now, he won’t leave, until the balance is restored.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, dad, please don’t speak in riddles.”

Edgar turned and his father was gone.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

He paddled until he saw what was once the Isle of Amien and stared in confusion when he saw an aluminum dock and a beach. People laid out on towels, sunbathing alongside the silent and stoic toads. As Edgar approached, everyone sang:

“All toads go to heaven,

 All stars see the sky,

 All that’s good will always win

 And all that’s bad shall cry.”

He shared the simple hymn with a few parishioners not a few hours ago. It should’ve touched his heart that so many celebrated in his faith. He faked an ingenuous smile, but his face waned in agony. All those lives erased from the planet felt like an anchor weighing on his heart. He’d not forgotten his father’s face, as he smiled through the pain, and shook hands with countless strangers.

“Edgar!”

A familiar voice shouted above the singing crowd. He looked out and saw Constance, smiling so wide her cheeks burned bright as crimson. She waved, as he rushed through the crowd and made his way to her. His arms wrapped around her and held her hard against him, not wanting to ever let go, as they found each other’s lips. He lifted her off her feet, amidst the cheering of the crowd, all eyes on him and his beloved ‘matriarch of toads’.

“It’s happening, Edgar. It’s all coming together. I never should’ve doubted you.”

“You were right, my love.”

“What do you mean?”

He thought to explain, ‘Constance, my love, I’m insane. I’m diseased. I’m sick in the head.’ All that brutal honesty lost out to a simple retweet. A gentleman brought his phone in front of Edgar. On it, he read the third part of his prophecy, within a retweet from the profile of Emilia Clarke. All that was in her response were the words: “Let’s make it happen”. His mouth sat agape. How could he forget the ridiculousness of his beliefs? It all returned to him, now, as he read the third prophecy:

‘The Father of Toads shall lay with The Mother of Dragons… on the moon’.

“Son of a bitch.”

“What amazing luck, Edgar!” Constance kissed his cheek. “You must go to her, as soon as possible, and fulfill the prophecy.”

His incredulous stare was wasted on Constance, who looked back in unquestioning adoration. The faith in her eyes was unwavering. The joy on her face astounded him, as he thought of the ridiculousness of his prophecy. He wondered what sickness could make them believe this was real. The same, he wondered, for all these people who followed him to the swamp. He felt enslaved to a lie, and to the promise of his people, more than any redemptive wisdom he’d ever sought in the past.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

Night was full of merriment. The work on their meager village was far from done, but the day was long, and the night was much more welcoming. Darkness settled over the swamp. The campfires brought the attention of the parishioners to the fulfillment of prophecy. Edgar sat at the campfire for longer than he’d wanted, but Constance insisted he be among his people. His former followers all returned, and the new arrivals treated them like apostles. Everyone wanted to hear stories about the beginning days of their faith. He saw joy in the eyes of old and new members and felt relief in bringing them all together. Regret mired his every thought, yet the night felt blessed by eager people who spoke of a brighter future.

He took to his comfortable cabin and in no time fell asleep. A dream ensued of trumpets and saxophones… and Michigan J. Frog. Adorned in a black dress suit, a cane and black top hat, Michigan began:

“Tell me that I’m your own, my baby

Hello my baby, hello my honey

Hello my ragtime, summertime gal

Send me a kiss by wire, by wire

Baby, my heart’s on fire, on fire

If you refuse me, honey, you lose me

And you’ll be left alone, oh baby

Telephone, and tell me, tell me

Tell me I’m your very own, oh!”

The frog danced along the lunar surface, kicking, twirling his cane, and lifting his top hat. An endless line of smaller toads followed behind him. They followed Michigan beyond the edge of the moon, where they danced out into the stars. Edgar noticed the stars floating before him like fireflies. They twinkled, not more than a few feet away, hanging in the air like particles of dust.

“Like something out of a movie, isn’t it.”

Emilia Clarke lay across a large plush mattress. A thick fur blanket covered her up to her shoulders. She lifted herself as Edgar approached, exposing her body to him, with her arms to both sides.

“Is this part of your prophecy?”

“Yes, my queen.”

He muttered, as if in a trance. Emilia giggled, as Edgar crawled into bed. He kissed her ankle, her knee, her inner thigh, when she grasped both sides of his head and dragged him up for a kiss. Their lips met. She looked into his eyes and Edgar knew this had to be a dream. Emilia slapped him, hard, and tossed him onto his back. She mounted him like a Dothraki horsewoman, as her hand wrapped around his throat and squeezed. She sank down to him and he saw the burning ember of rage in her eyes.

“I will have what I want… by any means necessary.”

She kissed his neck and he melted into the plush bedding. It was all a blessed dream, as the beautiful Khaleesi rode him into daylight. The rolling ball of fire in the sky cast its beleaguered nightmare over Edgar’s fantasy. He held her hips against him, as she pushed, thrust, pounded her body into him. Her fingers grazed his lips and when they kissed, it burned with an agonizing pleasure. He saw her in every flash of the rising sun, before her warmth became too impossible to be real and was no more.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

“It was not your best idea to build a sanctuary in the swamp.”

Daclan O’Lara’s voice antagonized from beyond the dream. Edgar awoke, sweating, before a wall of fire. Screams echoed from beyond the impenetrable wall. It collapsed to reveal hundreds of people running for their lives. Alligators climbed out of the water in droves and snatched people up by their ankles. They twisted until their bodies contorted in pain, then dragged them into the water. Cries of despair rang out amidst the burning trees. Plumes of smoke climbed over the crumbling buildings. Madness unfolded before his waking eyes.

“A sanctuary to some, a smorgasbord to others.”

Edgar rushed through the collapsed wall of his cabin. He cried out for Constance amidst the screaming of the terrified parishioners. A tangible web of nightmare and suffering enveloped all within the sanctuary. He cried out, again, for Constance, and heard her scream back, “Edgar!” He looked in time to see an alligator’s jaws wrapped around her ankle. She clawed at the beach, as it dragged her beyond the shore. Edgar leapt and tackled the beast, wrapping his arms around it, until it let her go. The beast turned, slamming him over and over against the whirling waters. Edgar spun out of control, feeling the sickness rising in his stomach. He refused to let go. The beast’s form changed, molted within his grasp, and became an amorphous, reptilian blob. A creature of unimaginable form, a demon in the dark waters bit down on his arm. Its teeth sank into his meaty flesh, as its claw latched onto Edgar’s throat. It dragged him underwater, where he thought he’d die. The beast held him within inches of its face and he saw the crimson rising in its eyes. Its claw unclenched. The beast waded into the deep and was gone forever, trailing off with its enormous reptilian form.

He walked out to the shoreline, now decimated by smoke and burning embers. He cried out for Constance, over and over, amidst the scorched remains of his former sanctuary. The remains of his people scattered amidst the debris and rubble of their sanctuary.

“All gone… all of it…”

Brother David waded through the water. His wife and daughter were nowhere to be seen. He sat there repeating the phrase. The terrifying reality that he’d followed Edgar and lost everything set into his eyes. Edgar tried to speak to him, but the man wasn’t listening, not now, not ever again. Lost in his muttering, Brother David walked out into the water and sank below its surface.

*                                                                      *                                                                      *

Edgar waded for hours, without any signs of Constance. He left the wasteland that was his sanctuary and went out in his paddleboat. He wandered until he reached the other side of the water. He left the boat along the shore and walked in the opposite direction of the bar. He walked down the street, toward a small town a few miles from his sanctuary. Only one business was open in the early morning hours. Music blared through closed doors. The club had no windows. Various shades of pink and purple painted the walls. Glitter and other sparkly things decorated the outside with rainbows and smiley faces.

A familiar face walked out from the club. It was the old man from the bar, who’d been eating chili fries as they watched the comet shoot down on the television.

“Hey fella, why the long face?” The old man asked.

Edgar spoke not a word. He had to stare at the man’s glistening chest, rainbow-suspenders and purple ‘hot-pants’.

“Come on, now fella… it ain’t so bad. Just, look at that sunrise. Now, if that ain’t a miracle I don’t know what is.”

A ripple. A wave came rushing from the distant horizon toward the waiting coastline. A wondrous blue wave eclipsed the rising sun. Edgar accepted his fate, held out his arms, and waited for the ripple to become what his father warned about. The wave reached the shore without any such calamity. Hundreds of thousands of people arose from the water. The victims of the comet, in all their mangled glory, marched like an army invading the shore. Their corpses writhed in agony, as they crawled, crept and climbed over the beach toward Edgar.

Off in the distance, Toad Jesus, in his reptilian green flesh and satin white robe, adorned in both a halo above his head and a radiant, angelic glow, walked across the endless ocean. He reached the beach and the sea of corpses parted before his presence. All the dead fell to their knees and bowed before him. Edgar fell to his knees, hands raised in prayer, and cried before the holy toadman.

“Cry not, my son… for the day is new… and Toad Jesus will forgive all your sins, if you accept him into your heart. Do you accept Toad Jesus as your lord and savior?”

“I do, Toad Jesus, truly… I do.”

“Bow your head, my son… and let my love shine through you.”

He thought of Constance. Thought of the comet. Thought of all the pain he’d caused everyone who believed in him. Then, he thought of Emilia Clarke riding him like a Dothraki whore. Toad Jesus clenched his scaly hands against Edgar’s jaws. He lifted him to see, as he hawked the most blasphemous loogie into his face.

Blip, then unreality. Atop his black pulpit, Edgar stood with spit dripping down his forehead. Arise. Redemption in his gaze. He stepped down from his soapbox, aghast at his prophetic yammering. A crowd of uncaring passersby walked on without concern… and he couldn’t be happier. He checked his hand to see the tattoo left from Daclan O’Lara was no longer there.

“Did the comet come yet?” Edgar yelled.

The crowd finally took notice. A man walked up and put his hand to his shoulder, then guided him to rest atop his pulpit.

“Calm down, fella… there’s no comet… I think you’re having a bit of a meltdown.”

“In that, you’re right…” Edgar laughed. “Thank you, my… wait a second. Are you Elon Musk?”

“That, I am, my friend… and your luck is about to change.”

Endish.

Season Nine. Act One. Scene One. Moon Khaleesi, take one.

“I, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the first of her name, Queen of the Andals and the first men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the mother of dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains… declare Moon War on all the toads of the earth.”

Cut. Roll it.