Chapter Eighteen

     Alphonse was watching the strangest thing he had ever seen. Someone, presumably one of the true ‘crazies,’ was dragging two bodies down the road below him. He and his ragtag group of followers had taken refuge in a church, and he was watching the strange scene from the bell tower, where he thought he would be the hardest to spot. It was more strange, Al thought, that he could just barely see the shapes of other crazies doing the same thing on other streets. All around the town, it seemed, people were dragging bodies through the streets.

     Maybe it was the odd orientation of the streets and buildings of Minde, all arranged to face Bonhelm Hill and all streets leading to the circular avenue that ran all around the town, but it seemed to Alphonse that all the bodies were being dragged towards that hill at the center of town. Indeed, looking towards it from the east side of the bell tower, he could see the even more strange sight of a short dark line of what could only be the bodies of deceased townspeople, all lined up in a perfect row at the bottom of the hill, just above the tree line. As he watched from his high perch, he saw more and more figures emerge from the trees, dragging bodies behind them and lining them up beside the others.

     From the west, gunshots could be heard almost continuously. From the direction of Geoff’s old store, to the north, there would be nothing but silence for long periods of time and then a single shotgun blast would explode through the warm evening air. In Al’s mind, he saw the old toothless store owner holed up somewhere secure, picking off anyone who dared venture near his precious store. The old coot had always been extremely protective, and it was common knowledge within Minde that Geoff Wisenhower stored several weapons behind his little counter, not all of them legal.

     Alphonse tried to remain confident, but really Wick and Jared had taken over the role of leadership. By himself, he could scarcely come up with any justifiable plan of action, but the other two could graciously step in, pretend to collaborate with him, and override any of his folly filled plans with something more cunning. That’s how they ended up at the church. It was no idea of Alphonse’s, for he had pretty much given up confidence in his decision making abilities ever since the fiasco with the theatre.

     So many people, I led into a trap, he thought from the bell tower as he watched the scene unfolding in the twilight gloom all around the town. He wished he could tell if any of the people being dragged through the streets were people he had attempted to lead, only to bring them right into the clutches of danger, but it was growing too dark and his eyes would fill with tears of shame whenever he thought he began to recognize someone.

     Some great leader you turned out to be, he said to himself. Even now, you can’t shoot any of these people because you can’t tell which are friend and which are foe. A good leader would not take so much time to decide. Your job is to shoot anyone who comes within ten feet of this building, but here you stand, watching as countless bodies are dragged by equally countless crazies right in front of you.

     Once again, Al found himself trying to suppress the nagging, critical voice within himself. It was merely his guilty conscience talking, he knew, scolding him for assuming the role of leader when he knew himself to be incapable of filling such shoes, but he still couldn’t help the feeling that it was someone else entirely, making fun of him in order to get a rise.

     His thoughts were cut short as he noticed a shadow. It was not one of the typical shadows of the crazies, who walked along slowly, scanning left to right, constantly searching for new prey. This shadow was the shadow of an extremely confident sneak-artist, Al could tell. It darted behind a dumpster, crouched down, waited almost an entire minute, and then darted out to their side of the street.

     Shoot him, fool! The voice inside goaded, but something about this shadow had caught Al’s attention. It seemed to pack a long gun on its back, and moved with such grace that Al could tell without a doubt that this was not one of the people under the control of the man who called himself ‘San.’ No, this one moved much too stealthily and with too much grace. The only thing that even betrayed the fact that the shadow was a man was a deep, chesty cough that the man seemed to attempt to repress as best as he could.

     He watched as the man crept closer and closer to the door of the church. He then knocked four times, as light as possible, light enough that Al could just barely make out the sound. From such a high point on top of the church, Al couldn’t tell what the person inside the door said in response to the knocking, but the harsh whisper of the man was loud and clear.

     “Open the stinkin’ door, for crying out loud,” the man whispered. “I’m not going to kill ya, for Christ’s sake. If anything, you need my help just as much as I need your help, so stop wasting my time before one of those damnable people start shooting at me again.”

     There was a long pause, the silence only broken by the gunfire in the distance and the muffled sound of the man trying to stifle his cough. He must be sick, Al thought. But for some reason, he didn’t think the man was a threat. He believed that the man truly was only seeking shelter, and was perhaps even more skilled with whatever weapon was on his back than any of Al’s crew was with their weapons.

     Finally, there came a click and a creak as the oversized door to the church was swung open, followed by another creak and a slam. As soon as the door was shut, Alphonse saw a slowly moving dark shape emerge from the alley where the man had been only moments before. It lumbered out into the street and stood there, seeming to look back and forth as if in search of the noise.

     Al watched as another appeared from somewhere near the church, and was horrified to see that the second shape was carrying what could only be a rocket launcher or a bazooka. He ducked down and waited until he heard footsteps wandering off into the darkness. He didn’t want to take the risk of one of them seeing him and attempting to fire whatever the large gun was at him.

     The sun was almost entirely down now, and looking at his digital watch, Al saw that the ‘Game’ had been going on for nearly six hours. He decided it was time to take refuge in the church with the others, and so he unlatched the trap door in the floor of the bell tower and made his way down the short ladder into the darkness below.

     This is going to be a long night, he thought. Good thing Marilee had the foresight enough to check all our guns in the gun shop and grab extra ammo.

     The church was now warmer than when he had left it earlier. They had all agreed to leave any lights off, but everyone had agreed that the drafty old church needed some heating if they were going to make it through the night. Even though it was only the beginning of the autumn season, the wide halls and stained glass windows made drafts and cold air the norm within the church.

     He reached the bottom of the ladder and climbed off onto the landing at the top of the stairs, he heard the raised whispers of his group echoing up out of the darkness.

     “I don’t care,” Jared was saying. “He’s a stranger, and doesn’t belong here. How can we possibly know if he’s really one of them or not? He might kill us in our sleep.”

     “That’s very unlikely,” Wick retorted. “We all saw the way those people act; slow, dim in the eyes, and hardly able to even speak, much less beg for sanctuary.”

     “Well then how did he know we were here?”

     “Because I saw you,” came the man’s voice, followed by a stifled burst of coughing. Apparently Wick and Jared had been talking about the newcomer as if he wasn’t even in the room.

     “From where?” Jared asked, always the skeptic.

     “From right under your snotty little noses,” the man said. His voice wasn’t all that gruff, but it definitely had a slight rasp to it as the cough took its toll on him. “I’ve been hiding out across the street, in a dumpster. The smell keeps them from smelling me, and I am pretty sure that they don’t have enough wits to really sense me in any other way. I’ve been watching them for a lot longer than you folks have.”

     “But they have only been on the loose for the past five or six hours,” Jared retorted. “It seems to me that you lie more than you speak sensibly.”

     “And it seems to me that you need to shut your mouth unless you know what you’re talking about, boy,” the man spat back. “San may have only released them upon you folk when the bell struck five, but the rest of us who haven’t been holed up like cowards have been dealing with these lazy excuses of life for over seventy two hours now. I was there when it happened.”

     Alphonse emerged from the shadowy flight of stairs, where he had held back to listen objectively, and walked over toward the small cluster of candles that served as the only light they felt safe enough to keep going.

     “Please, Jared,” Al said. “I for one want to hear what this man has to say, and if he can really help us in any way at all, even if he only helps by giving us information, then you need to start treating him like a guest instead of like an intruder.”

     Jared mumbled something under his breath, something like he is an intruder, but Al didn’t feel like calling the boy on it. It’s been a long enough day, he thought. No need to fuel his temper.

     “Ah,” the man said through the gloom. “You must be the LeBray boy who fancied he could kill the lunatic with a sharpened broom handle?”

     Alphonse was glad that the light was dim, or else everyone would have been able to see his cheeks become red as the embarrassment overtook him. That was an instant of the terrible day that he had hoped would be forgotten.

     “I am,” he managed to reply, trying his best to sound dignified. “And if put in the same situation again I would try it.”

     “And you would fail once again,” the man said. “I have not figured out what he is, but this San… I heard all of his early speeches, his sermons, if you will… and everything I can gleam of the man seems to point to him being some fantastically talented hypnotist. Destructive, frightful yes, but fantastic at what he does nonetheless. I was there the day he took these pawns. He had been spreading hate towards you Hallers, blaming all of these problems on the people of City Hall, until he had pretty much whipped up all the riff-raff in town into a frenzy. The younger hoodlums who had begun to raid and pillage the town now began to terrorize you folk. And that’s when he had the meeting at the Lodge.”

     Alphonse looked over at Wick questioningly, but he was staring just as intently, legs folded beneath him, eyes fixed on the newcomer. The man shivered, looking as though the memory filled him with a great chill.

     “It was the second day after his arrival, and the first day that Benny Jorgens began his killing rampage. He told his closest followers to gather everyone in town who was faithful to the anti-Haller cause and bring them to Masonic Lodge three thirteen. I was there, but not as a faithful supporter, I promise.”

     Jared snorted.

     “I was a non believer, and yet I had become fascinated with the man. I couldn’t accept the idea that all of the disappearances were just natural occurrences, or chance happenings where one or two of our townspeople snapped, nor could I give up the thought that somehow San himself had played a part in it. I mean, right when our town was falling to pieces after Harrison disappeared, Benny Jorgens showed up ruined, one kid turned up missing, another turned up dead, and the interim sheriff killed himself and his wife after the death of their son, this guy just wanders out of nowhere and expects us to believe that he had no part in it? The thing that kept me enthralled was just how many people were falling for his ruse, hook, line, and sinker.

     “Anyways, I showed up at the Lodge to hear the speech, expecting it to me yet another of his preachy sermons, but this time it was different. He seemed to have a different goal. Now he wanted us to see that we had lost all hope, and needed him to save us. Well, I just couldn’t stomach that either. So I got up and walked out. I knew he wouldn’t dare do anything to me with so many people ripe for the molding, all in the same crowded room. That would be risking the loss of several of his pieces. I remember, once I was leaving through the door, I heard him ask them if they wanted to see what fear and hatred could do to a man. I didn’t turn back, but as soon as the crowd gave a collective affirmative, I am guessing he showed them his eyes, like several of them had been asking for.

     “Now, this is where my story gets a little speculative, so just bear with me.”

     Marilee was watching the man, eyebrows creased, focusing on everything he said. Jared was scowling at his feet, warming his hands over a vent in the floor, his downcast face only barely visible in the dim light. Looking towards Jynx, the newest member, but certainly no less valuable, Al saw that he was dozing in a corner, well away from any windows (the boy was courageous in certain ways, but cowardly in even more.)

     “At the moment that I suppose San showed his eyes to the people,” the man continued, “the murmur and the gossip within the crowd just went absolutely silent. There were no startled gasps that one might expect to hear from a crowd being shown blind, mutilated eyes. There was no thanks to the man for opening up to them. There was nothing. My guess ever since that moment has been that he did… something… to the them at that point. Like I said, I don’t know exactly what it was, but judging by the dead silence and the way I saw the people file out of there, in a perfect line behind that insane bastard, I assume he performed some kind of mind control.”

     The man raised his hands in front of himself in a defensive gesture as Jared started to retaliate at this ludicrous story of events. “I know, I know,” he said. “It sounds crazy. And it is. But I am telling you, its true. I holed myself up in an abandoned two story house just up the street from the lodge, and I watched it all. I was there to hear the man’s last speech to them, I didn’t look back and heard as they went dead silent. I waited around, thinking he would say something more to them, anything, but there was nothing else. I left, I waited, and I saw them emerge, marching more perfectly than any army ever did, with dead eyes. Then they all disappeared until his speech in front of City Hall. I watched that, as well, and saw them acting as his little swat team, holding the crowd at bay. Some of the people who were left on the outside were still being driven by their hate, the hate that he had stirred within them all, but they all realized by the end of it that he was no friend of theirs.

     “This is my main hypothesis: I believe that Benny Jorgens is not directly under his control, but Harrison and all of those drones certainly are. You can tell the difference by how fast or slow they move, as you well know. My idea is that San is somehow controlling them all individually, and the strain of doing this is what makes them so slow. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to make them all move fast. It’s too much of an impossibility. So he controls them all in a very basic fashion. This is why they can’t smell very well, and the main things they rely on to track their prey is sound and sight. That is how I have so easily avoided them. But as each one of them dies, the others will be easier to control, you see? I cannot stress this enough: if you don’t want to have a powerful group of those things to contend with, find any way possible to restrain them without killing them.”

     He paused then, maybe for effect, maybe to let the words sink in. Al didn’t know. But he mulled over what the man said anyways. It made sense. Al had decided long ago that the people were under his control, but he hadn’t thought of this as an explanation for how slow the people moved. If anything, he had been more optimistic, hoping it was a sign that the people were still inside, trying to fight the man’s powers off.

     “How close have you been to them?” Al asked.

     “What?” the man replied. “What the hell kind of a question is that? I’ve tried to stay as far away from them as possible. They’re like homing missiles; you get spotted by one of them, they are relentless in the hunt. Even now, there are at least six circling this place. I’m sure you saw them from the bell tower, no?”

     “How did you know I was up there?” Al asked. He thought for sure he had been quiet and stealthy while keeping watch.

     “I was in the military, and I won’t tell you which branch, so don’t ask, but suffice it to say that knowing things… well that is what I was trained for.”

     “Anyways,” Alphonse said, “the reason I asked how close you’ve gotten is that I have some suspicions of my own about them, and one of them includes the idea that they might be starving, just like most of the townspeople I saw. I would be hard pressed to convince myself that this San fellow has been keeping them well nourished. I’m just wondering if you have seen any signs of this. Sunken eyes, lack of body fat, anything that might confirm this?”

     “Well,” the man said, thinking it over, “I don’t know for sure, but I suppose a lot of them did look a tad bit on the skinny side. But I don’t understand what relevance this would be of to anyone.”

     “I’m pretty sure there is a way to combine our separate observations,” Alphonse replied coolly. Looking over at Marilee, he saw the fierce glitter in her eye that always meant she had caught on, the look that told him she was on the same wavelength as he.

     “Meaning…what, exactly?” the man inquired.

     “If we can spread the word to keep away from them, or restrain them if confrontation is inevitable, then we can starve them before they can kill us all,” Marilee said. However, as was the case whenever she got excited about something, she said it all in a terrible rush, blurring all the words together for anyone who hadn’t practiced hearing her fervent rushes of thoughts.

     The man only looked thoughtful and made a hmmm sound, staring at the ground as he thought it over.

     “That’s pretty much right, yes,” Al said. “But I would take it a bit farther. I propose arranging a raid on whatever remains in town, be it the Shavo’s freezers, the stores, even abandoned houses. I must admit, under the circumstances I would even support raiding the houses of the deceased. We must gather everything there is to gather from town and bring it here. If we can find a way to advertise that we have all the food, the people who are left out there will have to come here, and then we can warn them about killing them, while also keeping everyone together. We can utilize our advantage in numbers if everyone is disjointed. I tried gathering them together once, but I failed.”

     “I heard about that,” the man said solemnly.

     Something about the fact that he had heard it from someone else, someone who could have only talked about the situation critically, made Alphonse mad. “Who are you, anyways?” he finally asked. “And how did you hear about it?”

     “My name is Peter,” he replied. “That’s all the more you need to know about me. But I also came to tell you, there are more people out there. Some are in the most amazing places of hiding, some are right out in the open, like snakes waiting to attack, but they all understand the situation. Since first walking out the door of the meeting at the Masonic Lodge, I have been spreading the word. It may have only been a few days, but I reached as many people as was possible in that time. Its not much of an army, but it’s an army, and they’re waiting to join forces with you and anyone else you might be able to muster up. But please, don’t misunderstand my warnings. Sometimes it will be necessary to kill in order to stay alive; San was at least in part demonstrating the truth when he demonstrated the outcome you would face if you did nothing. But he was also, in part, bluffing. He wanted us to do something, though I don’t know why. Bastard has to be getting something out of all of this chaos, something more than just a sick satisfaction, I’m sure. But he won’t get anything if we don’t kill any of them, and there might be some way that we can restore them to their bodies if we can destroy him without killing more people.”

     “That sounds a little too optimistic to me,” Jared said.

     “And you sound like a little baby, to me,” Peter said. It was obvious that he was growing frustrated with Jared Black, but there wasn’t much Al could do to stop the situation, so he kept his tongue.

     “Hey, I’m not the one spreading fairy tales at a time of crisis,” Jared said. “If I see one of those fucking things, I don’t care if it’s my own sister, I’m going to hack her head off.”

     “Then you’d try to face the next one and find it just the smallest bit stronger,” the man retorted. “After five or six of them you would find yourself overwhelmed by faster, stronger, more alert foes.”

     “You don’t know that,” Jared said. “Sorry that I don’t take guess work as a means of survival when someone is coming at me with a weapon in their hand.”

     “You’re a damn stubborn boy,” Peter said quietly. “But maybe one day that will prove useful. When this is all done, if you haven’t gotten yourself killed, and if you have nothing left in this awful place, apply for the US military. We could use a few more bull heads.”

     Jared snorted but ceased his argument, deciding instead to take out his frustration on his machete, sharpening it with a whetstone furiously, sending sparks flying. Unfortunately, Al could see that this had a worse affect on Peter than any of the boy’s arguments. He looked in the direction of the sound, then his eyes darted to the window, wide as quarters, and back to the blade, throwing off sparks.

     “You fool,” Peter hissed. His voice had suddenly become very sharp, and he darted forward and attempted to grab the blade from Jared. “You trying to get us all killed, you little son of a bitchd?”

     Jared had a strong grip on the blade, and wasn’t about to give up his only weapon. “Get off of me!” he shouted as Peter knocked him onto his back.

     “Shhhh!” came Marilee’s sharp hiss.

     “Fool!” Peter whispered once more, pinning Jared to the ground. Jared Black was stubborn, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. He ceased his squirming and listened with the rest of them.

     Through the silence of the church, slow footsteps could be heard outside the door. After a few moments it became clear that it wasn’t just one person, but several. Al suddenly got a vivid memory of the shadow below him as he had watched from the bell tower, with its large gun like a bazooka or rocket launcher. His stomach lurched.

     “I don’t think we should be in here,” he said quietly. “Someone wake up Jynx. We need to move, and move now, before its too late.”

     “Surely we can hold off a few of them, can’t we?” Jared asked. This time it was Peter’s chance to snort.

     “More foolish than I thought, that one,” he mumbled.

     “I hadn’t had a chance to tell you guys yet,” Alphonse admitted. “I didn’t know if it would be important if we kept quiet, but I saw something out there.”

     “What is it, Alphonse?” Marilee asked. In the light of the few candles they left burning, Al realized how beautiful she looked, even when concerned and frightened. “What did you see?”

     God, I hope I can protect her, he thought.

     “I’m not sure,” he said quietly. There came a hard thump against the door, followed by another in quick succession. “One of the…people walking down below me, he or she—“

     “It,” Peter interjected.

     “--it had something large in its hands. Like a large gun. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I could have sworn it was a rocket launcher. Something along those lines. I don’t know. But I don’t think we want to be in here if that particular one hasn’t left the area yet.”

     Slam! Slam!

     Now there seemed to be several of them, outside the door, pounding on it with something. One of the windows nearest Jynx exploded inward as someone smashed it with a rock, and he jumped to his feet instantly, scanning the area around him like a drunk scared out of his drunken nap.

     “Wha was that? Wha was that?” he asked, looking around, frightened. He saw them all gathering up their things and realization seemed to dawn on his innocently stupid face.

     “We have to go, Jynx,” Wick said from the other side of the room. He was halfway out a door leading to a hall in the back of the foyer, waiting for the others. “Grab your shit, mate.”

     “Oh, right,” Jynx replied groggily. Al knew he had killed at least one person during the course of their tumultuous evening, and had been badly shaken by having to do so, but he had proven himself excessively sneaky and an invaluable driver.

     The other’s had grabbed the small amount of possessions they had and were now waiting by the door for Jynx to get all of his things. For some reason, he had felt the need to pick up every little thing he spotted over the course of the past few hours, and for yet another reason unknown to Al, had spread them around himself before sleeping. Old teddy bear, a classic revolver with no sign of any bullets, his small handgun he had chosen from the remains of the gun shop, an alarm clock. Alphonse’s best guess was that Jynx thought he was going to return the items to their owners when all of this was over.

     He had finally crammed the last of his things into a backpack, and the rest of the group moved through the back door into the hall, away from the rows of pews and the loud thumping on the main double doors that opened directly into the foyer.

     Through the stained glass that had been broken through the rock, Al saw something slowly move its way in and point in their direction.

     “Coming!” Jynx said. Al tried to talk, to warn the young fool, but it was too late.

     Flames erupted from the broken window, fanning out. Jynx had the smallest of moments to notice the light, hear the whooshing noise, and begin to turn, but there was nothing he could do to protect himself. The flames engulfed him and as he turned back toward Alphonse, who was still in the door along with Peter, they were able to see that the half of his face that had been turned toward the broken window was already charred off, and his clothes were burning.

     The boy let out an ear piercing scream as the flesh melted from his skull, exposing his teeth, making a terrible grin.

     Peter was pulling on Al’s arm, but he couldn’t allow himself to be pulled away. His mind wanted to help, his body seemed to know that helping would mean death, and the conflict between the two had caused him to rigorously grip the door frame. The newcomer Peter was shouting something in his ear, but Al could not hear him.

     His mind had gone blank as he watched the dim but likeable boy who called himself Jynx fell to the floor, skin dripping from the muscles in his face, the eyeball on the left side of his face nothing more than a burst container of jelly like an overheated egg. The boy fell on a pew, which was already burning, and then Alphonse looked past him and saw the body of a man crawling through the window with the long thing he had seen from the roof, a small flame flickering on the end.

     This finally broke his catharsis, and he allowed Peter to pull him through the doorway and slam the door shut. Just as it was swinging shut, Alphonse caught one last glimpse of the now lifeless body of Jynx, and saw the man turn his torch in their direction. There was a flare of light, and then the door slammed shut, pulled by the powerful arms of Peter.

     They ran down the hall and emerged into the cool night air, facing two of the crazies. Wick and Marilee had already smacked one over the head with a rock from the garden which surrounded the back of the church, and the other was coming up behind the first. Alphonse was too dazed to see where Peter pulled it from, but somehow a rope appeared in the man’s hand and he went straight at the second of the crazies. He waited for the slow moving, lifeless man to raise his weapon before dodging beneath his arm and wrapping the rope around his neck from behind. In just two steps, Jared Black was there, and he pulled the crazie’s feet out from under him, causing the man to lose his grip on the gun he was carrying.

     In just a few short moments, the man was disarmed, gasping for air, and bound by rope.

     Marilee and Wick were doing something to theirs, but Al couldn’t see what through the dark night. Whatever it was, Peter must have deemed it acceptable because he shouted, “Let’s move!” and ran off into the night, closely followed by Jared, then Wick and Marilee.

     Alphonse thought about what San had said.

     Do nothing, and die.

     He forced himself to run after the others, before they got too far away to see where they were heading. He soon found himself running alongside, Marilee, who had hung back slightly.

     “What happened back there,” she asked, apparently not winded by the jog. “Where is Jynx?”

     “Jynx is dead.”


“Things seem to be going well,” the thing inside Benny Jorgens’ body said.

     “Fairly,” replied Natas. “But too slow, if you ask me. There should be more dead by now. I’m on strict deadlines, as you well know.”

     “Well, some would call it fast.”

     “Not I.”

     “Not I, says Sanrunai,” the thing mocked, laughing.

     “Must you always try to push my buttons?”

     “Why not? You kill me, then you need me, bring me back, and it all starts over again. Despite what you may think, I don’t exactly want to be in this damned place.”

     “You’d rather be back where you were? I would have thought limbo had grown rather boring for a restless creature such as yourself.”

     “I hardly know I’m there. To me it seems like you always bring me back so fast that I never even get a chance to relax before I’m being dragged back into this hell.”

     “The time when you can be free to roam whatever realm you choose is at hand, I promise you.”

     “It’s a shame, you know. In this pitiful excuse for a body, I can’t even enjoy some of your more… pleasurable skills. Unless you’ve suddenly turned queer.”

     Benny’s white haired body grinned, and the constant consumption of blood from its victims had nearly stained his teeth red. Natas cringed.

     “God damn it, Chi, why can’t you refrain from that ridiculous habit?” Natas asked. “Your breath smells like shit.”

     “A murderer such as yourself hasn’t yet learned to relish in the joy of blood?”

     “I am not a murderer,” Chi replied. “You do that for me. I’ve never killed a person in my life. Unless you count the frustrating recurrences of my double.”

     There was a book in the lap of the body of Benny Jorgens. The thing inside him was reading it avidly, searching—apparently—for stories of itself. Suddenly it cackled and looked at Natas.

     “Listen to this one, Sanrunai,” it said.

     “I told you to stop calling me that,” Natas replied from the stage, where he was currently drawing something in chalk on the smooth wood that made up the stage floor.

     “Oh, cool it,” the thing replied. “Seriously, you gotta hear this. ‘One tale tells of three travelers who stopped at an inn to seek shelter. The innkeeper didn’t have any available rooms, but the weather was terrible and so the people asked for any little room the man  could spare. So he put them in a shed out back of the inn, where unbeknownst to the travelers, the man’s daughter had been placed that very day after dying from a strange illness. One of the travelers instantly got a sense of foreboding, and could not sleep. The other two fell soundly into slumber, while the other staid up all night. Somewhere around midnight, the traveler who stayed awake saw the veil at the back of the shed slowly move to the side, pulled by the hand of the corpse. It sat up, its eyes glowing green…’ man, San—I mean Natas—I wish I really did have glowing green eyes. How cool would that be?”

     “I think you’re allowing the body of that child to affect your mind, Chi,” Natas replied. “You’re acting more like a child than the boy himself did.”

     Chi tittered and went back to reading. Natas dropped his chalk, leapt from the stage, and grabbed the book out of the thing’s hand, tossing it off into the mezzanine.

     He grabbed the white hair on the body of Benny’s scalp, yanked him to his feet, and kicked him in the butt forcefully in the direction of the door.

     “Maybe you’ve forgotten,” Natas said, “but this is no fucking joke, so unless you want to repeat this gods-damned process over and over and over again, I suggest you get the hell out there and start doing what I brought you here to do.”

     Still laughing, despite the chunk of hair that had dislodged itself when Natas yanked him out of his seat, Chi headed toward the door without another word about his legendary tales from the past.

     When the body of Benny Jorgens and its parasitic inhabitant left the building, Natas returned to the stage to lie down on the diagram he had drawn. It was an inverted pentagram, with a specific rune from the elder futhark on each point. A saying ran around the edge of the circle, also written in runes.

     In the spaces between each of the points, Natas had drawn detailed alchemical symbols. He laid down on it, except not in the direction one might expect. Instead of placing his limbs on each of the points of the star, with his head completing on the top point, Natas put his feet between the spaces, so that his legs rested on the alchemical symbols. The upper point (which was actually the lower point on his inverted star,)jutted out from between his legs, symbolically representing the phallus. He lined his hands up with the remaining two points, so that his body formed an ‘X’ over the design.

     His formation was complete, a bodily depiction that he was entering the lower realms. The Head point of the star was his phallus, the Leg points were lined up with his hands, and his legs went into the open space between the arm points, to symbolize his lack of physical existence and lack of need of physical legs. Within the Inner, he would be walking on spiritual legs alone.

     He began to chant, low at first but growing louder as he progressed through the speech he had first discovered in the thirteenth century of the Upper Realms’ Common Era. Louder, and louder still his voice grew, until suddenly it stopped.

     His breathing caught in his chest and slowed almost to a complete stop, along with his heart beat. Below his specially tailored, thick sunglasses, the eyes of ‘Madman,’ as people loved to call him (including himself,) drifted shut.

     His consciousness was gone from the Upper Realms.

     Just then, the thing that was called Chi walked back into the room. The night air swirled in behind him. “Hey, Sanny, I need my—“ it began, but stopped short when it realized that Natas was lying on the stage.

     Slowly, it approached the stage and peered across at the near-lifeless body of Natas. “Hello,” Chi said with surprise thick in his voice. “What have we here?”

     It jumped up onto the proscenium and inched it’s way closer to the man who kept it perpetually in a state of limbo, constantly dragging him back into the hell of physical existence.

     “I could kill you,” Chi said. “I surely could. And wouldn’t that be fun, you—“

     All of a sudden, the thing stopped its wicked grin and emitted a rasping noise, and found that it could no longer move. “Got…you…now, bitch!” Benny’s body said.

     “Fuck if you do, little boy,” it said back to itself.

     Chi was trying to force it’s gaze away from the comatose body of Natas, but for once the boy inside had a good grip on the body.

     “I’m coming for you,” Benny said once again to the creature inhabiting his body.

     Then the hold was gone, and Chi fell to the stage, gasping for air.

     “FUCK!” it screamed, slamming its fist against the floor. “FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!” More slamming of the fist, one for every ‘fuck.’

     “He saw,” it muttered to itself. “That little bastard saw.”